Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sasha - Xpander (Original TC Review)

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Ultra Records: Cat.# UL1049-2
Released 1999

Track List:
1. Xpander (Edit) (3:52)
2. Xpander (11:30)
3. Belfunk (11:08)
4. Rabbitweed (10:23)
5. Baja (12:33)


(2010 Update:
First: this was not Sasha's debut.
The Qat Collection was.
Second:
Xpander was a remake of Spooky's Little Bullet.

There. Those two glaring factual errors/omissions on my part have dogged me for years. Why, then, didn't I just go and edit the review to correct it? As silly as it sounds, 'journalistic integrity'. I've been a long believer of "what's been published remains as is", as that holds true for anything in printed form. It also thusly forces journalists -professional and amateur- to be factually accurate once they submit something. Call it an honor system. Despite technology giving us cheats to go back and correct, I feel my initial error shouldn't just be easily wiped away. If I did, how could you trust me with anything in the future?

Besides, it was all Discogs' fault.)




I could go on at great length about the importance of this release, and maybe I will in a separate article sometime too. I'm assuming, however, if you are reading this you are either just curious on my thoughts of Sasha's seminal debut, or are genuinely unfamiliar with Xpander and are wondering what the deal with it is.

Well, if the opening synth chords of the first track here, an edit of Xpander, doesn't immediately draw you in with their entrancing reverb, I'll be amazed. Sasha and his producing partner, Charlie May, must have spent hours perfecting its sound. Throw in heavy, punctual percussion and a grumbling bassline that plays off the synth's chords, and you have yourself one heck of an excursion into trancey prog rhythms. An accompanying, glistening electronic riff joins a minute into this edit and synth washes add fuel to the fire. Absolutely marvelous!
Many of these elements retreat for the time being some two minutes into this track to allow for some effects and rhythm to carry us forward for a little while, but once the opening synth chords return in a minor build, they are drenched in effects that creates a sonic wash of fierce intensity. If you do not feel the urge to just explode in energy once everything comes back in full force, then you, my friend, are just not alive.

Still, at not even four minutes in length, the edit isn't really the focus of this release; let's dive into the main attractions here.

The full length of Xpander starts out with some heavy percussion as various paranoid electronic effects flutter and worm their ways about for a good minute or so. Things retreat for a bit, allowing just a pulsating electronic lead to throb away for a good half minute, ever so subtly continuously tweaked so it doesn't get lost in repetitive loops. Eventually, the synth chords that opened up the edit gradually emerge from the background, overtaking the pulsating lead. Once all that remains are the synths, the percussion is progressively added back in, quite content in slowly building momentum as we are lost in the trancey reverb of the synths. The glistening electronic riff and synth washes are progressively added as well, basically stretching the opening two minutes of the edit into four (or the edit pared it down to two, depending on how you look at it).

As with the edit, all these elements retreat for the time being a good six minutes into Xpander, allowing rhythm and embellishing effects to take over for a good two minutes. Soon enough, leads and synth chords are gradually brought back in, leading us to an effects laden build that, just as the edit does, demands a full outburst of energy from the listener. As things play out, elements are gradually withdrawn towards the end, capping off with a bit of delayed reverb fading off.

Which of the two versions of Xpander is better? Well, really they are identical in terms of structure; the full length merely contains more loops and DJ friendly percussive bookends. In that sense, it depends on the listener. If you prefer your songs to be focused and direct, the edit should suffice. However, if you don't mind taking a bit of a meandering excursion along the chosen path, by all means the full length is for you.

Having gone through the main draw of this EP, let's take a look at the extra tracks Sasha was so kind to include here.

Belfunk starts out with some synthetically eerie atmospherics accompanied with light minimal techno percussion. Gradually, extra sounds and effects are added, ambling along for some two and a half minutes worth of moody lead in. At this point, all but the bass kick is withdrawn and a dubby bassline starts out, soon accompanied by techy elements and effects that are progressively brought back for a minute and a half before some subdued, filtered synth leads emerge from the background. Percussive elements come and go as things play out for another minute and a half, drawing us into a subtle yet effective trance.

It comes as no surprise that once the simple, benign chords of this song emerge in a mild breakdown, we are well primed for such tranquility. The rhythm is kept steady as minor percussive elements play in the background, allowing the chords to glow and extra synth pads and effects added at points help accentuate their serenity. Quite lovely.

After two minutes of this downtime, a thick, acidy lead emerges as the chords retreat. Ethereal pads float as the lead grows in intensity, leading back to full rhythmic force over the course of a couple minutes before gradually fading back out into a percussive lead out.

While nowhere near as driving as Xpander was, Belfunk does allow for some groove-worthy moments. Make no mistake, though. This track's main highlight is within its breakdown and, while able to maintain a steady rhythm, isn't meant to fill dancefloors anytime soon. I can definitely bliss out to this, however.

Opening with some stuttering, schizophrenic synth stabs, Rabbitweed doesn't really get going until over a minute and a half in, when ominous effects start to emerge. By two minutes in, punchy kicks settle into a brisk breakbeat, playing off the synth stabs quite effectively. Effects and extra percussion are gradually added, leading to ominous organ and synth pads as even more paranoid effects are added. By four minutes in, we're headlong into quite a menacing excursion of prog breaks, further fueled on by more synth leads a minute later.

After this plays out for a while, we're given a breather with a brief breakdown, but Sasha doesn't let us rest long, building heavy rhythms and fierce synth leads with effects up for a good two minutes. Eventually, things recede for a bit, allowing for some sweeping synth pads to glide along diligently before giving way to even fiercer thick synth leads than we've been offered thus far. Once everything comes together again a minute later, the intensity is so vicious, it feels even more energetic than Xpander did. In fact, I'll be so bold as to say Rabbitweed is even better than Xpander for straight-ahead, infectious rhythms. Similarly, this track also has a slight percussive lead out once the climax finishes up.

Offering up the yin to Rabbitweed's yang is Baja. As floaty, atmospheric pads and effects drift about, crystal electronics, stuttering synths, and bubbling chants weave around each other for a good five minutes, quite content to wrap us in a sonic embrace rather than push forward. After a while, a bit of dub bass is added, eventually leading into a simple, distorted slow breakbeat rhythm. Extra effects punctuate the rhythm as it plays out for a few minutes, building with sonic eruptions until receding a good nine minutes into Baja, leaving only the barest bit of rhythm. Soon enough, Baja adds some dubby effects and ethereal leads, never allowing any element to become prominent as they are all gradually brought back in to put the cap on this track, and EP as well.

I guess the biggest question mark here is does Xpander live up to the hype. In a word, yes.

In more than a word, the title track is worth the price of admission alone. I still recall when this was a brand new song and Xpander seemed to appear in nearly every DJ's set. Yet, it never got old and, half a decade later, it still sounds remarkably fresh. Sasha and May managed to tap into something timeless here.

And that's not even getting into the additional three tracks on this EP. While Belfunk and Baja are pleasant excursions into relaxing rapture, Rabbitweed is easily an overlooked gem of a track that can pummel dancefloors. I cannot recommend it enough.

Get this for complementary tracks that will never date in a set. Get this for relaxing at home as you're swept away in bliss. Get this for a piece of EDM history. Whatever your reasoning, this deserves to be in your music collection.


SCORE: 10/10

ACE TRACKS:
Xpander
Rabbitweed


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2004 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.

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