I have no idea what the blinking heck is going on with this tape but I dig it nevertheless. A compilation apparently structured around the theme of nordic walking – kind of like normal walking, but with sticks – it comes packaged with the sort of artwork you’d expect to see in your local health food shop. Track titles, too, evoke worthy newsletters of the type cluttering up medical waiting rooms worldwide: ‘Global day of ambulatory wellness’, ‘Brisk pace Bilbao’ and so on. Has there been a terrible mistake? Does Cologne’s Strategic Tape Reserve imagine that We Need No Swords is some kind of wellness blog?
The music, fortunately, leaves (almost) all that high-concept style behind, instead providing us with an exemplary collection of off-centre electronics orbiting around the ambient/vapourware/new age axis. Textures are usually airless and gloopy. Beats are subdued and avoid straightforward four-to-the-floor propulsion. Prickly glitches and huffs of static adorn glossy surfaces.
Familiar tropes – worn out synth washes, radiophonic bleepgasms, garish Muzak simulacra – are rarely far away, but they are treated with wary caution, ensuring that contributions rarely ebb into the generic. In moduS Pony’s ‘If you can’t be the nordicest, be the walkingest’, a chirruping blip chorale is swept forward on waves of rattling gamelan-style percussion. Jöns’ ‘Redemption in Jyväskylä’ mixes perambulative rustles with stern farts of low-end drone and brassy twinkles. Occasionally, as in VLK’s ‘Walking On Brötchen, grass’, a feverish hysteria breaks out, as plasticky synth licks pile up on one another like a beautiful Lego castle getting trashed by a toddler hyped up on Sunny Delight.
Listening to ‘These Carbon Composite Poles Are Made For Walkin’ is akin to experiencing a particularly spooked-out hallucination, in which the surfaces of our mundane existence are punctured by the intrusion of weird, brain-boggling forms. The reality distortion is particularly vivid in the album’s spoken word pieces, usually credited to the mysterious Fitness Instruktör, where fragments of – presumably – nordic walking instructional texts are set against bleary electronic backgrounds, the vocals often manipulated to produce further ASMR-style dislocation.
Bonkers as they are, these insertions also provide a coherent spine to what would otherwise be a fairly arbitrary (if impressive) tracklist. By linking concept to execution they ensure that, ultimately, ‘These Carbon Composite Poles Are Made For Walkin’ makes a bizarre kind of sense. I mean, the whole thing may be still be a colossal joke. But it’s an exceptionally well thought-out one.