Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Drexciya - Harnessed The Storm (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $20.99Drexciya - Harnessed The Storm









Tresor Records: Cat.# TRESOR 181 CD

Released 2002


Track List:

1. Under Sea Disturbances (8:07)

2. Digital Tsunami (6:22)

3. Soul Of The Sea (4:31)

4. Song Of The Green Whale (4:59)

5. Dr. Blowfin's Black Storm Stabilizing Spheres (6:12)

6. The Plankton Organization (6:08)

7. Mission To Ociya Syndor And Back (5:13)

8. Aquatic Cataclysm (5:19)

9. Lake Haze (5:17)

10. Birth Of New Life (6:22)




(2010 Update:
So this was the first review I managed to upload to TranceCritic (after God-knows how many trial-n-error attempts). Clearly my writing wasn't anywhere near polished yet, but at least it was a start. It definitely is a better review than the early attempts of some other websites. As for why I wanted TC's first review to be of the Detroit-based underground darlings Drexciya, I loved the irony of a site called TRANCECritic starting with techno as the first submission. Not sure many appreciated it at the time though.)




Ah, Drexciya. Fans of techno swear by them while everyone else, at best, have only heard of them in passing.

And that, my friends, is a shame. Their sound, while at times delving a bit far into experimentation, is quite unlike anything I've heard before. The running theme in their work - an underwater civilization arisen from former African slaves whom cast themselves into the ocean while on transport to the New World - gives Drexciya's songs a unique quality that can only be described as the sounds one may hear penetrating the murky depths of the ocean.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the opening track of this album, Under Sea Disturbances. Thick, booming bass kicks and hi-hats that sound more like electronic splashes than anything natural get going quite soon as some atmospherics fade in and out of the beginning of this song. The remaining elements that come together, such as tinkling electronic keys, submerged synth notes, and a deep, wobbly bassline, are few but have a jazz element to them so they never become needlessly repetitive. Each of these elements are given their chance to shine or play off one another during the song's eight minute duration. Granted, the lack of several elements may turn away some listeners seeking diversity but for just lying back and immersing oneself into a sea of sonic excursions, this is not a bad offering.

The next track, Digital Tsunami, retains the same form of percussion as Under Sea Disturbances but comes on fiercer with a stuttering bass synth. The main riff line is a fairly simple little sound, quite subdued as it speeds along. Again like Under Sea Disturbances, things never quite settle into standard loops as the bassline gets tweaked about with effects throughout, especially when the riff is taken out at four and a half minutes in. An odd sounding effect, like some sort of marine mammal, also adds to the song's texture as it plays through. Digital Tsunami may have simple elements but the way Drexciya keeps things interesting with embellishment makes this track a league in its own.

Unfortunately, these techniques aren't as prevalent in Soul Of The Sea. Tinkling electronic riffs and chord stabs are overtaken by more booming bass, although at a much slower pace. By having these elements come and go during the song, things don't tend to come across as monotonous loops but when the only thing new added to the mix for the duration are burbling tones here and there, having the same sounds used can get tiresome without more variation (pitch bends or effects, for instance), especially coming off a song like Digital Tsunami where it was far more predominant.

Song Of The Green Whale gets back to this technique with an interesting excursion in minimal techno. Electronic chords play overtop a minimal breakbeat as squelchy synth stabs add variety for the duration. These synth stabs are continuously being fed through effects, never sounding the same in any given eight measures. The use of a very dark mellow pad, which does sound like a whale song penetrating the murky deep of the ocean, is a nice touch, although difficult to hear when everything else is in effect. One might complain there isn't enough going on with just four different sounds playing with effects switching them up every so often. Well, that's kind of the point with minimal techno; the listener is meant to just focus on these subtle changes. Of course, it isn't for everyone but I don't mind it. Such music can get quite trancey in a hypnotic way.

On Dr. Blowfin's Black Storm Stabilizing Spheres though, it just doesn't quite work. This track suffers from the same thing Soul Of The Sea does: not enough manipulation of the core elements to keep it from sounding repetitive. Although there are some imaginative sounds at work here an ever-present growling bassline, dark effects, and a glitchy electronic line- by three minutes in, you've pretty much heard all there is to hear on this track. For a song that's twice that long, there really needs to be more to keep our attention.

The Plankton Organization is another song that suffers from too much minimalism. Granted, the main riff, a glitchy, squelchy thing, gets some very subtle tweaking in effects, but a very simple electro breakbeat and a couple pinging and shuffling effects thrown in here and there don't add much and, in less than three minutes of this six minute track, you've heard all there really is to hear. The acute listener will undoubtedly find things to enjoy through The Plankton Organization but, in my experience, only techno purists tend to have the patience for it.

Things start to look up a bit with Mission To Ociya Syndor And Back (boy, do Drexciya come up with some long names!). While the beats remain quite minimal, various odd-sounding electronic quips, blips, and skips brings enough diversity to the plate to keep the listener interested, if not entertained. Two and a half minutes in, the sounds switch up into something more growling and squelchy. There's really only one thing holding Mission back from being in league with a track like Digital Tsunami, and it's a major one: pacing. Quite often Mission will just allow the bass kick, a rather flat sounding noise with a bit of wobbly delay, to play on its own in a rather uneven pattern. Whenever you feel like you're getting somewhere with this track, it just comes to a halt. Ugh.

Aquatic Cataclysm fixes this up though, by keeping the pacing consistent; albeit still with minimal electro percussion. While some of the previous tracks relied on loops fed through effects to keep things interesting, this track manages to accomplish this by using drops and cuts on its main electronic line, a wobbly, low metallic sound accentuated with a growling bassline. Various added sounds like electronic twerps, pings, and murky atmospherics keep this intriguing the whole time.

After so many tracks featuring glitchy experimentalism, it's quite a refreshing feeling to hear a track that relies on mellow synth chords, trancey electronic lines, and bass that's actually rather funky in the form of Lake Haze. Like the rest of the tracks thus far, these elements come and go, sometimes given prominence, other times playing off each other. Unlike most of the tracks, however, this song is more immediate, relying on simple melody rather than acute attention to details for the listener to enjoy.

Keeping with the tranquil atmosphere of Lake Haze is Birth Of New Life, a mellow track which is held together by somber pads in a way that only pads can hold a track together. For the most part the track is quite nice, featuring tinkling keyboard playing that embellishes a fair amount, though gets perhaps a little too fancy with pitch effects towards the end. In all, however, the song does have an innocent charm about it, especially when so many other tracks on this album are so menacing.

Now, this isn't an immediate album by any means. Indeed, it took me a few listens through just to figure out the nuances of many of these tracks. While Digital Tsunami and Lake Haze do stand out from the pack on this album, most of them demand your undivided attention if you are to get anything out these songs. As such, I can see many individuals dismissing a good chunk of them as nothing better than filler.

But give it time. It may take three, five, seven, maybe even a dozen listens before you really get what's going on. And once you do, you'll undoubtedly end up saying what many fans of techno have been saying all along:

Drexciya really are in a class of their own.



Score: 8/10

ACE TRACKS:

Digital Tsunami

Lake Haze


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

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