Various Artists: PC Music, Vol. 3 Album Review

Despite PC Music’s high-concept visuals, shapeshifting production, and ambitious collaborations with multinational beverage corporations, the aims of the label are modest. For founder A. G. Cook, running the boundary-pushing record label has always been about releasing music that feels honest and intimate, first and foremost. He told Interview Magazine that when he makes tracks, it’s as if his computer is an extension of himself. “My brain is just operating on a different level,” he said. “[My computer] feels like a part of me.” Over the years, he’s made it clear that if he and his collaborators are making “personal computer music,” the emphasis is first and foremost on the “personal.”

PC Music Volume 3—a mix of new tracks and songs released since 2016’s Volume 2—is the first of the label’s compilations to fully deliver on that promise. In the label’s earliest days, it could feel like there was a house style of sorts—especially since Cook had his hands in so many of the label’s most memorable plasticine productions—but Volume 3 obliterates the notion that there’s any one PC Music sound. No matter the genre—from cyborg radio refractions to acid-burned rave memories—each track feels intensely detailed and emotionally rich, the work of producers as interested in self-expression as they are focused on shifting notions of what pop music can sound like.

In the case of some of the artists collected on Volume 3, that means edging ever closer to music that’d genuinely be fit for the Billboard charts. A. G. Cook’s “Xcxoplex,” for example, welcomes Charli XCX for a euphoric rework of one of his solo songs, and it sounds, in places, like the sort of euphoric EDM track that would have once soundtracked kids grinding their teeth at Electric Zoo. But Cook’s never been the sort of artist to embrace pure pleasure; the most ecstatic moments are cut with digital noise, rhythmic contortions, and pitch-shifted harmonies. Even as the timbre of pop music shifts toward more outré sounds—the head-spinning sonics of hyperpop, digicore, and plugg have emerged from the internet underground since the last PC Music compilation—Cook’s productions are still wonderfully jarring. Other dreamy efforts like caro♡’s “over u” and Namasenda’s “☆” (which features French singer-producer Oklou) are a little less complicated. This approach can be a virtue for pop music, but some of these moments feel a bit weightless in the context of a PC Music compilation that’s full of complex, rich takes on otherwise recognizable sounds.