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LABRADFORD (Buy CDs by this artist)
Prazision LP (Kranky) 1993
A Stable Reference (Kranky) 1995
Labradford (Kranky) 1996
Mi Media Naranja (Kranky) 1997
E luxo so (Kranky) 1999
fixed::context (Kranky) 2001
PAN-AMERICAN
Pan-American (Kranky) 1998
360 Business (Kranky) 2000

You don't need to be a card-carrying krautrock connoisseur to plunge headfirst into the placid-looking waters that pool up beneath Labradford's vintage analog synthesizers and electronic gizmos — but it couldn't hurt. With an equal affinity for ambient soundscapes and Neu!-inflected mekkanik-rock, what began in Richmond, Virginia as the duo of Carter Brown and Mark Nelson (who also records on his own as Pan-American) manages to draw listeners off into an nth dimension where sound takes on cross-sensory attributes. Initial exposure is a bewildering, befogging experience — kinda like being relocated on a planet where the atmosphere is pure ether — but once you get used to breathing the stuff, ordinary air seems so...well, ordinary.

Prazision LP is sequenced with splendid alacrity: pieces like "Listening in Depth" and "Skyward With Motion" start as static washes but develop almost imperceptibly, with layers of synth and found sound that ebb and flow, creating frequency oscillations that seem to shift as you move around within them. The duo breaks the ambient mood with a handful of more conventionally structured songs (like the engrossing "Accelerating on a Smoother Road") that give the honey-throated Nelson the opportunity to murmur abstract but subconsciously uplifting lyrics over spangled backgrounds worthy of Spacemen 3.

Arriving bassist Robert Donne positions himself squarely in the center of A Stable Reference, adding a solid floor which presents a slight impediment to out-and-out astral projecting. Oddly, the addition of a member results in the subtraction of several sonic layers on songs like the stark "El Lago" (which is marked by Donne's cybernetic timekeeping and a cathedral-like organ wash loosed by Brown). A penchant for psychic drift still exists — witness "Eero" and "Balanced on Its Own Flame" — but Labradford's paths seem a little more clear-cut the second time around.

[David Sprague]