Various Artists ‘Leaf20’ (The Leaf Label)

Best-kept secret label celebrates two decades with tempting anniversary box set

Harvesting talent on the margins, the edges and the fringes with a beguilingly low-key and modest profile, The Leaf Label really is a hidden gem. Founded 20 years ago by former music journalist Tony Morley, the imprint is celebrating their relative longevity in this increasingly ephemeral world by releasing a 10-album box set, ‘Leaf20’, the contents of which were partly selected via an online poll of label enthusiasts’ favourite long-players.

“You will find Leaf in those places where electronic music, classical, jazz, pop, folk and rock meet,” declares the label and indeed the carefully selected 10 discs only cohere via their diversity. And it’s not all strictly electronic, but that’s part of the pleasure of this deliberately maverick little label that revels in the idea that there are no rules, no boundaries, no generic demarcations and much of their output flouts easy definitions.

First up, there are two divergent ambient sets: the late Susumu Yokota’s meditative and mindful ‘Sakura’ from 2000, which showcases electronic music with a gorgeous slowly-unfurling clarity to it. As gently entrancing as ripples on a lotus pond, it’s a great testament to Yokota’s talents. And then there’s Murcof’s standout 2002 release ‘Martes’, which, while being incredibly poised and minimalist, veers towards classical music with its eloquent use of piano and strings. The accompanying notes call it a “masterpiece” and while I wouldn’t go quite so far, it is very, very good indeed fusing electronica and classical with incredible poignancy and profundity.

Two of Leaf’s great discoveries are Caribou and Efterklang and both have landmark albums included. Caribou’s ‘Up In Flames’, one of the first examples of Dan Snaith’s prodigious talent, was originally released under his Manitoba moniker in 2003 and reissued as Caribou a couple of years ago. These shapeshifting pieces of Mercury Rev /Flaming Lips post-everything eclectica are not only supremely optimistic and dreamlike, they’re often danceable too.

Copenhagen’s Efterklang are represented here by ‘Parades’, their final studio offering for Leaf before departing for 4AD. With a sound somewhere between indie rock and electronica with full orchestration and a chorale, it is joyously eclectic with shades of Sigur Rós, Arcade Fire and Spiritualized. Yet another highlight of this incredibly rewarding collection is Polar Bear’s contemporary jazz odyssey ‘Peepers’, which kicks off with the lovely, loose-limbed and jubilant of spirit ‘Happy For You’ and continues in an innovative style through 11 further tracks that take jazz to the edges of post-rock and back again.

These five aforementioned standouts form the core of a great collection, in addition and notably, there is the haunting modern choral works of Swedish outfit Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ ‘Rivers’, the primal tribalisms of Melt Yourself Down’s ‘Melt Yourself Down’ and the contemporary take on traditional European folk music that is A Hawk And A Hacksaw’s ‘The Way The Wind Blows’.

Put simply there is plenty to keep even the most quixotic and capricious of listeners happy for many hours, as well as being a rather covetous bundle from a delightful little label.

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