Thursday, December 24, 2009

Various - Dark Hearts Volume 1: A Harthouse Compilation (Original TC Review)

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Harthouse (US): Cat. # HH1004-2
Year Released: 1995

Track List:
1. Metal Master - Spectrum (Double J Mix) (8:56)
2. The Ambush - Casablanca (7:18)
3. Barbarella - My Name Is Barbarella (1995 Be Zet Mix) (6:26)
4. Jiri.Ceiver - Short Waves (4:28)
5. Progressive Attack - Hypnoticharmony Parts I + II (9:22)
6. Spicelab - Quicksand (8:06)
7. Pulse - Cariño (Silencio) (7:08)
8. Alter Ego - Tanks Ahead (Black Dog Mix) (7:19)
9. Resistance D - Human (Laurent Garnier Mix) (9:01)
10. Pulsation - Pulsar (4:09)


(2010 Update:
Hm. I can't really think of anything that needs updating to this review. Oh, sure, the grammar's still a bit clunky and overly descriptive, but at least it's manageable in this case. I'm quite pleased that TranceCritic managed to sell a couple copies of these through Amazon. Let's me know that some folks out there trust my opinion on such matters, heh.)



Although this is a trance compilation, don't go into Dark Hearts expecting to hear sounds that have dominated the trance scene for the last five years. The songs on here are very subtle and slight in their compositions. What makes them so captivating, however, are the soundscapes created. Quite often it seems they were crafted on a far, flung planet by an advanced civilization, melding the synthetic and organic into gorgeous sonic textures. This compilation is a testament to Harthouse’s genre defining, and even breaking, style.

The classic track Spectrum by Metal Master (Sven Väth and A.C. Boutsen) is as good as any song to open up such an album. Given a remix here by Mike Edwards (more commonly known as Jesus Jones, hence “Double J”), this mix of Spectrum isn't too concerned about moving feet anytime soon as it gives itself plenty of time to build upon its elements from the start. The primary melody, a low somber piece played with either synthesized pan-flutes or pads at various points, starts the song up after a bit of opening with effects plays out. Stuttering, hollowed out synths, low acid warbles, juicy synth bass, and minimal electro breakbeats progressively add texture. Finally, some four minutes in, everything comes together for a gorgeous number, elements weaving and building upon each other until a rousing climax another four minutes later. This is emotionally stirring stuff, not easy to follow-up. Fortunately, if anyone is up for the task, it would be Oliver Lieb.

As The Ambush, Oliver Lieb has crafted some remarkable compositions and the offering here in Casablanca doesn't disappoint. With a simple bit of tom percussion accompanying it, this song starts out with benign synth chords lightly alternating between left and right, the lower tone on the former and the higher on the latter. After nearly two minutes of lead in with various sonic elements coming and going, the song comes into form as various heavy organic percussion chug along to a gorgeous synth pad playing a lovely melody. A minor breakdown and build using early elements takes over for a minute before giving way back to the main synth pad. Eventually, everything comes together for a climax, then gently retreats, leaving only a single, somber synth pad to play out.

Really, Casablanca isn't a typical trance song, as it's quite similarly paced with Spectrum and doesn't use any overtly synthetic sounding bits of percussion, much less a traditional 4/4 bass kick. Still, it is an amazingly rich song that shouldn't be overlooked for any reason.

The pace picks up a bit with another classic track: My Name Is Barbarella by Barbarella (Väth again, with Ralf Hildenbeutel this time), with a remix done by B-Zet. More benign than emotionally rousing like the previous two tracks, this song still has many great things going for it. The pads are minimal but always present in a synthetically lovely way and gentle, heavenly singing flutters in and out every so often. Simple little electronic riffs carry throughout, playing off of each other or the pads, especially in a breakdown mid-way through. Sonically delightful.

Jiri.Ceiver makes things not quite as emotional with Short Waves. This track is a little mechanically menacing compared to what's been featured here thus far, with plenty of effects sounding fit inside a factory and a bass line that growls along. As a song, it doesn't go anywhere far since Jiri.Ceiver seems more concerned about showing off quirky noises rather than using them to make riffs out of. However, in showcasing some interesting sounds and effects in a traditional techno style, Short Waves is good stuff.

Leaving the grind of factories behind, Progressive Attack (Ralf Hildenbeutel on his own) seems keen on taking us through space with Hypnoticharmony Parts I + II. Using different layers of spacey, trancey pads, this song takes its time in setting mood rather than groove. The pad work really is quite lovely, and a synthetic-sounding female sample weaving in and out adds to a Bladerunner-esque atmosphere. Eventually, a brisk beat is laid out, but for the most part, Hypnoticharmony relies on its use of pad work rather than the minimal electronic riffs utilized. Towards the end, the riffs are given a chance to take the foreground as the percussion picks up but the track has been so mellow up to this point that it doesn't really seem to make much difference. Still, this is yet another sonically rich song on Dark Hearts. I'm beginning to wonder if this consistency will ever be let down here.

If the thought were to occur, Oliver Lieb'll have something to say about it. This time under the alias of Spicelab, we are treated to a creepy, alien excursion into sci-fi ambience with the song Quicksand. To dismiss it as merely that, however, would be doing this song no favors, as there definitely is a groove to it, however minimal. Still, the main focus of Quicksand is for synth pads to weave and work their way around plenty of synthetic samples and effects, and it accomplishes this with remarkable skill and finesse. Of course, I'd expect nothing less from Oliver Lieb.

A trancey, hollow riff starts Cariño (Silencio) by Pulse off, and pretty much dominates this song without much variation throughout. Bits of percussion and little electronic lines slowly emerge from the background at points but they tend to be so subdued behind the main riff that you'd be hard pressed to really notice them. While this riff in itself isn't too bad, the fact that it is so constant throughout can lead Cariño into quite a repetitive state, even if you are concentrating on the few subliminal things this song has to offer. Even a bit of echo subtly added to it towards the end doesn't help much. A perfect enough transitional track, really.

If Cariño seemed too repetative for some, The Black Dog's mix of Tanks Ahead by Alter Ego should be right up your alley. Uniquely dynamic percussion, electronic effects and sounds, subliminal pads, and trancey riffs all combine to form quite the listening experience. Everything continuously weaves about throughout this song that it never becomes repetitive. The unfortunate thing though, is with so much going on, nothing really stands out in the front and center either, rendering this song as filler; albeit incredibly diverse filler, but filler nonetheless.

Returning to the more minimal sound featured earlier on the album is Human by Resistance D, with Laurent Garnier providing a remix. Moving along at a brisk pace, dark, synth pads weave in and out while a deep, subliminal electronic line carries the song along, varying slightly at times through pitch effects and so on. Little acid bleeps and pulses appear every so often as well but are used more as background effect than anything else. It sounds decent enough but without more variance, and percussion that keeps itself simple almost to a fault, Human may have difficulty remaining lodged in your head anytime soon, especially after hearing so many textured songs on this album.

Ending Dark Hearts is Pulsar by Pulsation, a little known alias of Pete Namlook. Strictly an ambient affair, Pulsar is the perfect track to end an album on. Deep, spacey, synth pads cruise about as alien effects and tinkling pianos flutter in and out of this song. Without any percussion to speak of, Pulsar is about as ambient as it gets. It doesn't vary much throughout but is nice to listen to as background music and let your mind drift away.

There isn't much funk or big moments on this album, but really that isn't the point of these tracks. Why enjoy a moment when your emotions and imagination can be taken to such wondrous places as these songs take you to? Your mind will drift with pads and electronic pulses as you marvel at such a delicate craft of manipulation of synthetic sounds. From the serene to the inscrutable (sometimes even from the same producers under different guises), this album has it all.


Score: 9/10

ACE TRACKS:
Metal Master - Spectrum (Double J Mix)
Progressive Attack - Hypnoticharmony Parts I + II


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

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