Various Artists — Music for Shut-Ins (L.I.E.S.)

This time last year, Ron Morelli’s Long Island Electrical Systems imprint was just hitting its stride as house music’s go-to label and sonic pacesetter. True to form, American Noise feels like a long time ago: In the 12 months since last winter’s double-disc anthology, the New York-based label has churned out some 28 releases and shot from LIES-019 to LIES-041 (with a handful of 0.5 designations thrown in for good measure). If you thought the label was everywhere this past year, you were right.

Two things strike you in listening to American Noise's spiritual sequel, the generous 2013 wrap-up Music for Shut-Ins. The first is that the obvious supply of music the label had on tap was no temporary market-flooding ploy: Even in a year that averaged over two releases per month, Music for Shut-Ins still manages to tack on 11 unreleased songs from the label’s brightest lights (Marcos Cabral, Jahiliyya Fields) and newest names (Entro & Terri, P.O.I.).

Morelli’s prolific pace suggests he’s as excited about this music as the people who’ve tirelessly repped him this year; it also suggests he doesn’t spend much time concerning himself with the context and stupidity of a term like “outsider house.” That it’s coming out on CD with a bunch of bonus tracks is a kind of middle finger to the Discogs obsessives as well. He cares about his audience with a kind of considered, benevolent wrath. It’s part of his energy. 

What’s more important for people interested solely in the listening experience, however, is that Music for Shut-Ins presents a label whose artists are already outgrowing the reductive “analog house” tag. That’s not to say that Music for Shut-Ins sounds radically different from American Noise or that songs drift disruptively from one to the next; rather, the reliance on similar rhythms has been exorcised while maintaining the same general sonic space. 

Consider the first disc’s opener, Vaputeen’s “Basilisk.” A five-minute trip submerged in distant foghorns and an oscillating electronic white noise, “Basilisk” feels just as threatening as the vocal distortions of Shadowlust’s “Jute” but in an entirely different way. It’s not until Legowelt’s “Teen Romance” that you even get something resembling a lighter-hearted dance track. 

The experience varies wildly from there, though one disc doesn’t outclass the other. There’s the twisted jacking of Svengalisghost on “High Heel Sleeze,” the relatively placid house of Samantha’s Vacation, one of the label’s 2013 highlights in Florian Kupfer’s “Feelin’,” Terekke’s submerged “Amaze,” and Daywalker + CF’s echoing slow-mo jam “You Only Live Once.” There’s Marcos Cabral’s trance-like “Dancing on Manhattan,” Xosar’s cosmic head trip “Mind Mantra,” and Beautiful Swimmers’ roundly praised “The Zoo.” There’s a fair amount of stuff on here that will easily fill the void once Actress decides to hang up his hat after Ghettoville. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s also a feast for the ears best appreciated in smaller doses and piecemeal return trips. 

I’ve never read an interview with Ron Morelli where I came away thinking the guy was cynically striking while the iron was hot. The most heartening thing to be said about Music for Shut-Ins is that it reflects the opposite ethos, a go-for-broke glut of great songs in or around house music’s orbit. That it also suggests the orbit is widening without weakening may be the greatest argument for following the L.I.E.S. legacy in 2014 and beyond.

Patrick Masterson

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