Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Often considered the definitive stamp of Berlin-School establishing itself as a Thing. Phaedra may have helped set the stage for synth wizards sequencing their synthesizers into outwordly compositions, but that album still had a little left-over psychedelic rock lurking too, with comparatively smallish pieces not so dependent on Moog manipulations. Rubycon does away with the short tunes altogether, serving up two lengthy tracks that would eat up the full running time of your standard ‘70s record side. Not that it was Tangerine Dream’s first tackling of this most pretentious of prog rock pretensions – their earlier experimental work with less synthesizers would drone on for complete A and B sides too. Heck, even Phaedra, the song, ate up one whole side of its record. Actually composing and performing such behemoths weren’t easy though, especially with archaic equipment like the Mellotron, Double Moog, Synthi A, Arp 2600, Vcs 2 Synthi, and gong. Simply putting the effort into one composition, then easing back into a few shorter works for the same album is totally understandable.
Tangerine Dream though, they were feeling mighty bold after the success of Phaedra - the plumb record sales that came with the Virgin deal undoubtedly helped ease whatever creative strain the trio might have faced. If one such track could earn them all the praise and plaudits, why not produce double the amount with their next effort? Surely Froese, Franke, and Baumann were now familiar enough with their toys and tools that, whatever kinks or troubles that might have occurred in the recording of Phaedra were well ironed out now. Indeed they were, Rubycon critically hailed as an even better album than Phaedra, though didn’t sell quite as well. Look, they can’t all be genre defining records.
Side A features Rubycon, Pt. 1, opening as most kraut albums of the day typically do: minimalist tones, vibrating timbre, weird ambience, placing the listening in a bizarre cosmic domain. Strings and soft voice pads eventually enter, followed by the pulsing sequencer and soaring spaced-out organs and synths most associate with the Berlin-School sound. Tune gently fades out with a few effects, and I can’t help but think of Pink Floyd’s One Of These Days as it does. I’m sure the similarities are entirely coincidental; no way prog musicians style-bit one another, nosiree.
On the flip of my CD, Rubycon, Pt. 2 opts for a creepier start than its predecessor, with discordant Mellotron choirs intoning some alien ritual. The rhythmic synths kick in much earlier in this piece, building in prominence as additional synth solos with delay effects join the fray. The final third is mostly taken up by calm, modern classical doodling, all the while maintaining Tangerine Dream’s outworldy aesthetic. Feel free to make the requisite 2001: A Space Odyssey comparison at any point as Pt. 2 plays.
Naturally, Rubycon’s yet another Very Important Album in electronic music's every growing history. The inspiration and imitation of many future producers is difficult to miss in this one.
Monday, December 5, 2016
It was a long time coming, about fifteen years before it came to fruition. Some said it could never happen, the odds just too against all conventional wisdom. The effort it would take, the soul-searching undertook, making sure the event was justified and earned. That it wouldn’t be some flight of fancy spurred on by nagging sense of unfinished business, but the culmination of years – nay, decades!(ish) - of plucky perseverance, vile guile, and steadfast conviction that this day would come. Yes indeed, folks, my collection of Albums starting with the letter ‘Q’ has finally doubled to a whopping two whole releases, No Mask Effect’s Quick Smart joining the lonely domain Jurrasic 5’s Quality Control lorded over for so long. Oh, and Keith Downey, label head of Psychonavigation Records, also makes his producer debut with this album too. Woo!
Okay, I can’t claim I intended to get Quick Smart for that reason alone. Come to think of it, I didn’t plan on getting it at all. The bizarre Ambelion reissue of Trance ExperienceI did though, and when I ordered a copy for myself, No Mask Effect’s album showed up instead. Uh huh… Well, maybe this could turn out intriguing too. Keith Downey’s been label running for over fifteen years, hearing plenty of musicians in that time from various facets of ambient, downtempo, IDM, and shoegaze. What sort of sounds would he incorporate into his own works? Blissy ambient drone? Groovy chill techno? Effects-drenched guitar jam wank? Yet another Boards Of Canada ‘homage’?
Nah, none of that – well, a little of the first. Mostly though, Quick Smart is a field recordings album, musicality almost nonexistent beyond some abstract pad noodling. Opener Downtown makes use of eerie tones as sounds of passing vehicles, chirping birds, rumbling motors, and brief bits of distant dialog overwhelm your ears. It honestly sounds like Mr. Downey took a microphone stroll through a park beside a highway rather than a major urban centre, creating a weird disconnect between soothing calm and jittery unease. Sense sounds more like bustling downtown, what with noisy crowds and vehicle activity, all the while an unrelated tribal rhythm percolates underneath. And will someone answer that damn phone, fer gads’ sake! Forth track Grass is practically a white-noise assault with the cacophony of field recordings in play, the only thing musical here being some buried bits of… Beethoven, I think?
Really, the only track on here worth a look-listen is third cut Transfer Of Deed, Pt. 1 & 2, and at over twenty-one minutes in length, I’m sure ol’ Keith intended it as such. The first half features some rather pleasant ambient pad work before all d’em field recordings enter the fray, while the second part goes for a more throbbing approach to the craft. At least this piece is carried by actual music, though rather muddied and minimalistic. And if I’m in the mood for that, I’d sooner plop on Andrew Heath again. He’s at least subtle with his field recordings.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
I suppose the prime reason I put off gathering more albums from ZerO One is familiarity. Not so much that I knew exactly what music I’d be getting from Kevin Dooley’s project, but given the rather scientific aesthetic to the name and various titles, making an educated guess of ‘bleepy downtempo’ wasn’t hard. And that’s a sound I was comfortable knowing would always be there, waiting for me should I finally indulge in it. In the meanwhile, what else is Waveform Records offering for my interest? Ooh, names like Phutureprimitive, Omnimotion, Eastern Dub Tactik… those are all strange, new, and different from what I’m familiar with – let’s check those out first! And what the hey, Waveform sure seems to like that Sounds From The Ground a lot, I should hear what they’re all about too. I had to eventually finish exploring all the other Waveform material though, and thus it has come to pass, few releases left but those trusty ZerO One albums I always knew were waiting. What, am I some player working the Waveform meat market, finally settling for the unrequited love? Perhaps so.
protOtype2 was ZerO One’s second album, released two years after his debut on Waveform. Considering third record on the label, ozOne, wouldn’t come for another seven, and the follow-up to that, sOnar, yet another half-decade from that one, protOtype2 was definitely a comparatively quick release. Mr. Dooley isn’t the most prolific producer, is what I’m saying, so either this is an album of leftovers from his self-titled debut, or he was just feeling a super-surge of creative energy as the 20th Century drew to a close. Hey, maybe he was worried about a Year 2000 Apocalypse. At least a quarter of the country was!
No, wait, there’s a bit of saxophone in here, on track two memOry. Did ZerO One want in on all that jazzy vibe Waveform was so eager in pushing around this time? After all, this is the same year they put out Kozo and Sounds From The Ground’s also kinda’ jazzy Terra Firma. Come to think of it, protOtype2 has me thinking more Sounds From The Ground than Higher Intelligence Agency, totally at odds of what I assumed this album would be.
For sure we get vintage, bleepy ambient techno scattered throughout, with occasional space pad flourishes, but this is one darn groovy dub record considering all the egg-headed décor. seArch opens with simple bleep goodness, then adds some ethnic chants and woodwind samples to the proceedings, promptly plucking the track from the ranks of ambient techno into the domain of world beat. blueShift has one sluggish, chuggish beat going for it, the sort illbient folks would approve of. thiNk could have appeared on any ol’ downtempo dub compilation of the time, and bOt has a nice tribal rhythm going for it.
And though unexpected, it’s still a nice surprise that protOtype2 dashed my admittedly narrow expectations. Better get checking those other ZerO One records, then.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Not to get too ‘woe is me’ up in here, but I have to admit feelings of sloggitude with this blog as of late. I’m forever committed to completion of this mad project though, so another month-long sabbatical is in order – it’s been over two years since the last one. I’ll finish off the current backlog (at least a half-month’s worth still!), then likely ride out January 2017 in true hibernating style, picking back up with the 'U's come February. Nothing but rest and relaxation. Except for work, that takes precedent. And another music project too, come to think of it.
Full track list here.
Kozo - Planned Penetration
Segue - Over The Mountains
Sounds From The Ground - The Maze
Randal Collier-Ford, Flowers For Bodysnatchers, Council Of Nine, God Body Disconnect - Locus Arcadia
Dopplereffekt - Linear Accelerator
Aveparthe - Landscapes Over The Sea
Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 6%
Percentage Of Rock: 6%
Most “WTF?” Track: Anything Fear Factory - their aggressiveness is quite out of place in such a relatively chill playlist.
A fair bit of downtempo and ambient music in this one, though that’s almost par for the course with most of my monthly playlists. At least this one’s finally getting a decent amount of tunes from the current year within – only took me the nigh entirety of our current trip around the sun.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Along with Todd Terje and Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas formed a trifecta of Nordic producers with a love of chintzy disco music set among the stars. Heck, Thomas and the ‘strøm One started out as a producing duo, way back a decade past, and the trio have mingled off and on since. Prins put out a consistent stream of singles in the meantime, finally biting the solo album debut bullet in 2010, and remaining remarkably consistent in his output since, a fresh long player of music every two years. And lo’, earlier in this Dread Year Of 2016 (when the Dread Year wasn’t so dreaded), Mr. Thomas came correct with another album for our enjoyment, this time a double-LP effort. ‘Cause when five of your nine tracks average twelve minutes long, you gotta’ spread that stuff out over multiple plates of wax.
Principe Del Norte is also a small departure from Thomas’ typical brand of cosmic disco, the first CD casting its eyes to another form of ‘70s music less focused on dancefloors but no less rhythmic: Berlin space synth. Lots of pulsating arps, spritely pads, escalating sequencers, and all that good stuff. What it definitely is not, is ambient – far too much rhythm going on for that – though a nice chill vibe does permeate throughout. A1 provides a solid, throbbing low-end with its contrasting arps, A2 treads towards ambient techno’s domain, while B gets indulgent with effects for much of its running time. On side A of vinyl two, C starts feeding freely off those vintage kraut vibes, and D shows no fear in going as full space synth as one can without kicking out a standard beat – plenty of percussion though.
(note: a truly admire Thomas’ pisstake approach in how he titles his material – one of these days I’ll hear 2 the Limited, mark my words)
Alright, now that ol’ Prins got his artistic wankery good and out, time to turn on disc two for some right-proper club vibes. And Principe del Norte, Part Two doesn’t waste any time providing us with some boogaloo, E reusing elements of A1 and A2 for a bumpin’ bit of deep disco funk out on the moon. F opts for the swelling pads ‘n effects road, so show no shame if you need to reach for those lasers while grooving to this one. And G, well gee, if this one don’t beat all with its steady rhythm and shimmering arps – why, trance, is that you sneaking in again? Don’t worry, the nu-disco hipsters actually like you a little now. H, on the other hand, knows it’s taking us out at that 4am timeslot, and brings a deep tech-house grumbler filled with distant dub. No doubt Berghein approved.
So I liked this double-LP a good deal, as did many folks with more journalistic cred’ than I. No doubt Principe Del Norte is gonna’ feature on all the Very Important Year End lists. Better get this to claim you’re still ahead of the curve, then.
Monday, November 28, 2016
This has been an album that’s long intrigued me based on cover alone. Something about the saturated blues inexplicably tugs at a strange reservoir of nostalgic endorphins I did not know existed. Packed in a family Sedan at some point in the ‘70s, casually cruising a California suburb (or Okanagan road) in search of a place to rest in that brief period in dawn’s early blue-shifted light. I have no actual memory of such an event, not even an implied dream, yet the artwork on Kozo’s debut sparks such imagery within my brainpan just the same.
And that’s not all! Studying the cover a shade longer, a different form of brain matter sparkling starts flooding, that of musical expectation. Forget the lonely suburb street with the humdrum motel – take a gander at those power lines! Coupled with the color pallette, and I’m thinking all sorts of weird, experimental, glitch techno, or fuzzy Boards Of Canada weirdness. Now obviously, this being a release on Waveform Records, such could never be the case, but it intrigued me nonetheless. Who exactly is Kozo? What music might actually be contained behind that curious cover art? Do I really want to take a gamble on a CD from Waveform’s more ‘adventurous’ period, when there’s so much tried, tested, and true grooves found elsewhere within their catalog?
That, above all else, was the reason I held out on Planned Penetration for so long, unsure of what sort of leftfield vibes I might get with this album. But I’m slowly catching up with getting Waveform’s entire discography, so it was inevitable that Kozo would find its way into my collection (Liquid Zen next, finally?). And lo’, it was true there was something quite unexpected within his debut album, though I was not prepared for what awaited me within. For you see, Kozo Ikeno is a trumpeter extraordinaire, and boy does he let his skill shine on through.
Straight up, I am utterly clueless regarding the full scale of trumpet musicianship. I know of the jazz greats (Armstrong, Gillespie, Davis, Baker), but by no means have taken in much of their work. Thus, whether Kozo’s skill on the trumpet is comparatively ace or bunk, I simply don’t know. What I can tell you, is he alternates between open and muted playing (sometimes playing off each other), mostly with a distant, hall effect in place, and in a woozy way that at times sounds weirdly flat and dissonant. He also provides his own electro and acid jazz beats in support, very minimalist stuff with a few glitch stutters thrown in for good measure. At times it sounds pretty cool and otherworldly, like I’m lost in a drugged-up dream haze of a road trip gone awry.
Mostly though, I feel I’m missing something only true students of classic jazz would understand (and have I ever been skipping that class). Once I got used to what I was hearing, Planned Penetration did grow on me, but talk about your dashed expectations.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
While Silent Season doesn’t have any particular core acts, there are a few producers who’ve frequently come back over the years. ASC’s practically made the label his second home now, while Purl, Shaded Explorer, and Edanticonf have contributed multiple times. One name that significantly sticks out for me, however, is Segue, as it was his album Pacifica that first drew my attention (that cover art!). It came out in 2013 though, when the Gospel Of Silent Season was thoroughly spreading out from the ranks of ultra, in-the-know dub techno disciples, so my crossing was inevitable. More interestingly, Segue was among the initial producers releasing material for the label’s 2007 netlabel launch – his Nostalgia EP ranks number two in catalog order. So, in a way, the adored dub techno print’s success might not exist without Segue’s help…? Yeah, that’s a stretch, but a fun little coincidence nonetheless.
Or maybe not, Jordan Sauer, the man behind the alias, originating from Vancouver. Makes sense then, the Silent Season posse would be familiar enough with his work to invite him over for a release or three. He’s floated about several labels since then, very little I’m familiar with (Sem Label, Dronarivm, Dtabloem), though he also had his own shared print in db (Duckbay). A fairly typical floater of a producer, all said, his most prolific output well in the past now. Guess Mr. Sauer was feeling a tad nostalgic for his homeland, returning to Silent Season once more, with an ode to those most rugged of West Coast terrains, the Coast Mountains. Sure, the Cascades get all the hype, what with their sexy volcanoes and geomorphic jewels (mm, Crater Lake…), but for pure, untamed alpine awesomeness, the Coastal Range is tough to beat our here in the West.
Some track titles will be instantly familiar to locals, though aren’t necessary to understand the music behind them. Sunshine Coast is all warm and fuzzy with glowing pads Boards Of Canada would swoon over, all the while a lazy hazy dub rhythm floats along. I know the folks around Gibsons are hippies (Green Party 4 lyfe), but maybe Sunshine Coast is a little too on the nose? Sea To Sky goes a similar dub route, spritely melodies sprinkling about as a heavy bottom end grounds the listener. Deep Valley has more a charming jaunt going for it, while Summits & Spires is almost a lullaby with its languid synths and deep dub. And hey, while you’re hanging out on these alpine glaciers, take in a little Aurora, opening Segue’s rich sound into a wide nightscape canvas?
I suppose the other tracks work for the setting, though they’re more generalized to any ol’ mountain range: Celestial, Exposure, Alpenglow. They too keep to Segue’s languid dub techno pace, though with the ample amount of local field recordings Jordan injects into his tracks (so much bird song in Exposure), it helps keep Over The Mountains firmly within British Columbia’s realm. Okay, maybe a little Cascadia too.
See, that was a decent little gap between Cryo Chamber releases, at least a week’s worth of time before returning to the dark ambient label once more. The Dread Year 2016, however, demands no less than two morbid musical offerings on my homepage at all times, and woe be unto thee who dare besmirch the Dread Year’s decree. All this suffering I’ve endured throughout the month of November? ‘Tis my penance for indulging a Summer Of Trance, seeking epic uplifting refuge from our dire times. Thus I will not taunt moody serious 2016 any longer, keeping as steady a stream of dark ambient as need be. I mean, I can’t afford to lose hearing in both ears, now can I?
Halgrath (or Agratha Mirrait, if you wish) was one of the earliest additions to Cryo Chamber after Simon Heath launched the label in 2012, back when the print was mostly a means of self-releasing Sabled Sun and Atrium Carceri material. Makes sense Mr. Heath would invite Ms. Mirrait over, as they both were featured on Cold Meat Industry before that seminal dark ambient label folded. In fact, Halgrath’s Arise Of Fallen Conception was among Cold Meat’s final releases. There’s a ‘from death, comes rebirth’ metaphor here, I just know it. Comes with this scene no matter where you go.
Out Of Time marks Halgrath’s debut with Cryo, featuring the sort of dark ambient I’d long associated with the genre as its default stylee. There’s bleak droning pieces (Down, Here, He Led Me Through The Dark Caverns), noisy industrial sonic attacks (Dark Dusty Corner, Lethal Injection, The Resistance), and meditative compositions drawing upon the occult for inspiration (Horoathea Mass Of Aegorath, Deep Underwater).
This last one makes sense hearing on this album, Halgrath having a background in opera – exploring aspects of Dark Ritual is part her whole manifesto. I mean, if an opening track of Summoning Of The Goddess wasn’t enough of a clue, I don’t know what to tell you. I was honestly surprised Out Of Time didn’t have more of that ethereal ambient going for it, offering more variety within its twelve tracks than most dark ambient projects offer in their whole discographies. We even get cinematic orchestral pieces (Follow Eternity, The Light Of The Earth’s Spheres) and melancholic piano dirges (We’ll Go Through Sorrow, Holding Each Others Hands). Pretty sure that’s every sub-category dark ambient indulges in, save outright nightmare-inducing field recordings, though I’m sure Halgrath could do that too if she wanted.
Out Of Time isn’t really the album for that. Seems the themes explored here are about souls lost in limbo, wandering between life and death, uncertain of where their hearts pull forthwith. Or is it about those who’d use a ritual to journey within limbo itself? Such is the narrative I get as this album plays out, each piece another step in going deeper into the nether-realms beyond our own. Aw, it ain’t that bad on this side, is it? *2016 lurks over shoulder*
Friday, November 25, 2016
I thought I’d have talked about Space Dimension Controller well before now, his Welcome To Mikrosector-50 a most pleasant surprise of an album when it came out in 2013. Then again, I thought I’d have nearly completed this massive listening project too, well passed the ‘W’s, and maybe even considering taking on the first few letters again for this blog’s completionist sake. Then again-again, I should have known more music would have come into my collector’s gravitational pull, sucked into my domain like so much cosmic detritus. My desire to consume everything and all knows no bounds, more insatiable than an unholy merger of Galactus and Unicron (Galacticron?). Good God, imagine if I could actually afford all that I wished to buy? I’d probably still be somewhere around the ‘G’s! (so much fabric, so much Global Underground)
Jack Hamill, the young man controlling all this space dimension, has kept a sporadic rate of output since first emerging with the moniker in 2009. R & S Records gave him his first major break in promoting his early singles and proper debut album, but he’s floated among a few other prints in the meanwhile too: Kinnego Records, Royal Oak, and now Ninja Tune. Whoa, talk of unexpected developments – what would the Ninja crew have in mind with a producer primarily focused on electro and loving nods to Detroitism?
Releasing the Space Dimension Controller archives, it seems. Orange Melamine unearths material from Jack Hamill’s teen years, back when he was still figuring things out about where he’d take his wayward muse in love with retro sounds. Seems the UK underground was just as much on his mind, as this album’s filled with jittery, post-dubstep beatcraft, a style Ninja Tune has shown plenty of interest in (at least, much more than R & S). In fact, Orange Melamine has a fair bit in common with all those influenced by Burial’s romanticism of clubbing days gone by, crackling hazy recollection of music from a fondly remembered Before Time. Rather than getting all misty-eared over UK garage and grime, however, Mr. Hamill has his muse set on retro-future sci-fi, as heard through the archaic crusty technologies of the 20th Century. For real, when I first heard The Bad People’s opening warbling distorted arps, I thought my headphone wire had a faulty connection!
Orange Melamine is a conflicting listen, one ear firmly in pulpy futurism, another in nostalgic fuzz, loosely held together with scratchy beats like so much sonic duct tape. Even the track titles flit between such sentiments - Adventures In Slime And Space, Multipass, Melting Velcro Shoes, Leader-1 (wait, the Go-Bots character?). Other times Mr. Hamill dabbles in simpler influences, like freak-out acid rave (Los Locos, Velvet Gentleman), pure electro funk (Gullfire), or Boards Of Canada trip-hop (Volvo Estate). It’s also all rather under-written compared to later works from Space Dimension Controller, but that’s unsurprising consider Jack’s age when making these. Definitely worth a playthrough though, if only for a different take on retro-future sounds.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
How does one follow an album that creates an entirely new form of metal in the process - a unique genre cross-breeding with industrial while never losing sight of its thrash roots, and that few would or could replicate for years to come? By getting super-artistic, naturally, settling for nothing less than a high concept ‘rock opera’ opus, exploring ideas and expanding themes only touched upon in Demanufacture. Fear Factory would fully commit to an LP narrative, with a distinct Three-Act story, all the while pushing their songwriting abilities beyond the full-throttle intensity that marked their prior work – so many different time-signatures, mang! It would be bold, it would be unprecedented, it would challenge metal in daring, new- wait, are those record scratches in Edgecrusher? Oh no, it’s too soon to hop on the nu-metal bandwagon!
Obsolete (or ºBSΩLE†e, if you’re ace with your character map) was ambitious for a third recording effort, one that could have flopped had Fear Factory overreached their ability. Instead, the album would go on to be their best selling record, though clearly feeding off the positive buzz Demanufacture and touring generated (also, that cover of Gary Numan’s Cars, which obviously fit nowhere here). Things were definitely looking toppers for Fear Factory then, but a series of unfortunate incidents following Obsolete’s release put a serious grind on the band’s future prospects. Those are musings for another time though, if I ever review any of their albums between this and Genexus (not very likely).
The setting for Obsolete should be familiar to anyone clued into the band’s dystopian outlook, laying the future-shock stage plainly with opener Shock. Follow-up Edgecrusher gives us our protagonist – or antagonist if you’re cheering for the machine overlords – and aforementioned wiki-wikis aside, is a solid bit of groove-mosh. Stomp-thrasher Smasher/Devourer introduces us to the Edgecrusher’s foe, a police mech run amok (“you’re a loose cannon, Literal Walking Cannon!”), while Securitron (Police State 2000) gives us the ruling overseers keeping the rabble in check. All par for the course in this sort of tale.
The middle portion of the album gets into the society in revolt, ol’ Edgecrusher helping stoke the fires for freedom against humanity’s oppression from the robotic ruling class. This being Fear Factory, the titular cut doesn’t mince words in letting the silly homo sapien populus know their place in this strange forbidding world. Having original robot-fetish singer Gary Numan provide a digitized bit of opening dialog certainly helps sell that notion (hey, you already got him featuring in that Cars cover). Ol’ Edgecrusher seeks salvation of a sort in Resurrection, where the band’s propensity for grand theatrics soar high, ending the album on an uplifting, hopeful outlook for this ruined society.
No, wait, there’s one more track, Timelessness, a mournful dirge complete with backing orchestra (thanks, Rhys Fulber!). Seems our salvation was for naught, Edgecrusher captured and carted off to jail after all. Machinery always wins out in Fear Factory’s world. Resistance is futile.
Things I've Talked About
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