Almost every week without fail you can read somewhere about how the end of the CD is nigh. Digital downloads of MP3s are no longer the way of the future; they are now. All those cumbersome CD players are now being replaced by teeny little iPod clones that can hold hundreds, if not thousands, more songs than one 700MB CD-R ever could. At one time, the downloading of music from the Internet was the province of hackers and considered an illegal activity. Now every major record company is in on the act and new releases are routinely available to download from iTunes long before they come available in hard copy.
Of course this saves them tons of money, as there's no longer the need to create physical packaging. If an item is being downloaded, what purpose is served by spending a small bundle on cover art or liner notes? Simply post the stuff to a web page once and be done with it. Well, maybe I'm old fashioned, but one of the things that I still miss most about LPs (long-playing records, for those folks under 30 who don't remember what came before CDs) is the great album art. CDs are such dinky little things that what you get is a postage stamp compared to the huge expanse of color that once covered LPs. Still, at least CDs offer something you can hold onto while listening to your music — some tangible proof that somebody, somewhere, went to some effort to produce it.
It turns out that I'm not as alone or weird as I'd thought I was as the independent Norwegian label Rune Grammofon is proving with the release of Money Will Ruin Everything: The Second Edition on February 3. Gathered together on two discs, a poster, and an accompanying book, it's their second package celebrating the various performers signed to their label. The two CDs contain samples from assorted groups and individuals who they've recorded; and the book is chock full of interviews, articles, photos, album art, and other mementos related to the past five years of the label's history.
To be honest, I'd never heard of the label until I received the press release from their North American distributor, Forced Exposure, and had no idea what kind of music they produced. What attracted me was the fact that this little label had the balls to produce this type of package when nearly everyone else is going in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. I had to know more about what this label produced that they would go to this much effort to celebrate their performers and who are the people responsible for making it happen.
According to an interview that's published in the book with label owner Rune Kristofferson it sounds like its pretty much a one man show with Rune doing all the work himself. Although it means he's unable to sign or record all the bands he wants to, it's a very deliberate effort on his part to keep the label small and not become another big corporation where money is the bottom line. I think that the sub-title of the collection, But The Music Goes On Forever tells you all you need to know about what motivates Rune and his efforts.
When I requested a copy of Money Will Ruin Everything I didn't know what to expect, but I thought it might be a collection of experimental and electronic music that verged on the edge of dissonance. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that although some of the music fell into that category, there was also a great deal of diversity to be found among the groups and individuals signed to the label. On the first disc for example the opening track, "Mono Hum" by the group Humcrush verges between avant-garde jazz and the type of compositions you'd might expect to hear from John Cage and other contemporary composers. Yet, if you think you've got a handle on what type of music the label produces you're in for a surprise as Ultralyd & N-Ensemble's "Conditions For A Piece Of Music" (track 5 on disc 1) is a throwback to the ambient sounds of Fripp and Eno in their hay day and the final track on the disc by In The Country, "Ashes To Ashes" is a haunting jazz piece featuring piano and brushed drums.
Disc two is more of the same wonderful mix. From the ethereal sounds of Susanna And The Magical Orchestra's version of Henry Purcell's "When I Am Laid" to Shining's cover of the old King Crimson cut "21st Century Schizoid Man" there's something here for every ear to listen to and be amazed by. Track 10 by Box, "Untitled 6" is an example of what happens when heavy metal meets experimental music – if you can imagine Moterhead mixing electronics in with their thrash it might give you some idea of what to be prepared for. Just to make sure that you know you could find anything for any taste on this Rune Grammofon, the last cut on disc two, "Daniel" by Jessica, sounds is a beautiful folk tune full of quirky harmonies that reminded me of the Roach Sisters from the early 1980s New York City folk scene.
The overall impression you get from listening to the two disc set is that Rune Grammofon is a label where it's the quality of the music that matters, not the kind of music being played. Considering it's only one person making the decisions behind what gets recorded each year you'd expect some sort of pattern to develop that would give you an indication of his personal preferences when it comes to music. Instead what you get is a wider range of music than anything you'd find on any label with multiple producers and talent scouts.
As for what attracted me to request a copy of this collection in the first place, the packaging, that doesn't disappoint either. The book is an amazing collection of images from the last five years of Rune Grammofon's existence including everything from examples of some of the most interesting cover art you've seen together in one place, images of Oslo Norway where most of the recordings have happened, and photos of most of the folk who appear on the compilation. The articles that have been written for the package reflect how so many different people mourn the passing of cover art, and respect and admire the work that Rune Kristofferson is doing with his little label.
There's also a wonderfully chaotic atmosphere to the layout that captures the free spirit of the label. Absolutely nothing about anything you see, or hear, in Money Will Ruin Everything says "corporate", which to my mind is a good thing when it comes to music, especially popular music.
In this day and age when less is increasingly becoming the adage of all music production companies and album art is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, it's taken a small independent label from Norway, Rune Grammafon, to remind us what a joy it is to have something tangible to go with the music you love. Money Will Ruin Everything The Second Edition proves that not only does music not have to all sound the same, but you can still make the experience of purchasing it a pleasure for more than just one of your senses.