Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Nebula: Cat. # NEBT082
Released September 26, 2005
A. UR (Junkie XL Air Guitar Mix) (12:34)
B. A Tear In The Open (Leama & Moor Remix) (9:57)
Boy, am I ever glad I waited to have my say of Tiësto. Had I tried to do it here, it probably would have come off like my other 'rants' of the time: poorly emulated of other online ranters. Remember, kids, it's a good idea to first find your own voice before you start taking a megaphone to it.
Oh, and I found out 'UR' means, um, 'you are'. Was a cute acronym really necessary?)
IN BRIEF: Tiësto in Progland
This being my first review of a Tiësto release here at TranceCritic, I'm sure you're hoping for some spicy commentary on the man himself: dissecting his over-inflated superstardom, or examine an amazing PR machine marketing the Tiësto brand, or analyzing the merits of his musicianship, or even giving the Dutch DJ props where they are deserved.
I'm afraid you're going to have to wait a little while longer. Yes, I have plenty to say regarding Tijs Verwest, probably enough to fill an essay. However, such material would be out of place on a little single such as this. Rather, you'll have to wait until I review a major release, past or future, before I cut into the Tiësto phenomena (don't worry, it's'a comin').
The main attraction on this single is Junkie XL's remix of UR from the Just Be album. I've never heard the original, nor am I in much of a hurry to hear it. I'll probably eventually have to but I'd rather wait until I see the album in a used shop or bargain bin (don't laugh -the latter was where I picked up Nyana). Let's just focus on this for now.
Despite generally lukewarm reactions to In Search Of Sunrise 4 from listeners abroad, many mentioned this remix was a highlight of the compilation. Questions were asked if or when it would be available as a single. Now that it is, I can see what the fuss was about and still be able to hold out on ISOS4 until it too makes its way to the bargain bins (hahaha!).
I have to admit I still have some difficulties in wrapping my head around the idea of Tom Holkenborg doing prog tunes. I first came into contact with his music by way of his more block rockin' breakbeat tracks and remixes for metal bands like Fear Factory. As such, seeing Junkie XL productions on typical Global Underground-esque compilations over the years looked quite odd to me, but it just goes to show the incredible talent Holkenborg possesses in crossing genres without so much as a misstep.
This remix of UR (does anyone know what that title means, by the way?) clocks in at a whopping twelve and a half minutes. You'd think with that kind of length, you'd get a bunch of throwaway lead-ins, outros, and self-indulgent tangents clogging up the works, but amazingly not a single second of this remix goes to waste -there's always something interesting bubbling about. Even the rhythmic intro, which lasts over two minutes, could have enough going on in it to make for an independent track. The song goes about its business in typical prog fashion, letting the original lyrics from Matt Hales (a.k.a.: Aqualung) do their thing while Holkenborg adds little sonic flourishes here and there before letting the more musical elements take over. Long periods of rhythmic or melodic stretches come and go, maintaining a steady climb although never quite going for the gusto. This is a song aiming for laid-back moments rather than dancefloor domination, although it'd probably get the job done in that department too in an equally low-key prog set.
As for the air guitar from which this remix is titled over, it kind of meanders about in a plucky, acoustic manner with plenty of reverb to give it tonal depth. As with the rest of the elements on hand, it's really just another piece in this Junkie puzzle rather than a feature begging for attention.
Leama & Moor provide a remix of A Tear In The Open (the original also from Just Be) for the B-Side of this single. The pair seems to have been making some noise lately, especially Andy Moor. And, while I've heard many complaints of twinkly, echoing melodies and simple, thick basslines in music from him these days, these attributes work nicely enough with the original song's ethereal Celtic chants and flutes. Even more laid-back than the remix of UR, it is also far more sparse. Minor pads and reverb effects do fill in some of the sonic gaps, but not nearly to the level that Holkenborg's work on the A-Side did, so this comes off sounding a bit simpler. Still, it's a pleasant little prog number. I'm sure my mum would enjoy it.
With all the hype centered around the Junkie XL remix, the Leama & Moor remix was kind of unanticipated to go along with it, but it finely serves as another lead-off single to the remix album of Just Be that was recently released.
Is this a worthy single to own? Well, prog fans will probably enjoy it. Heck, even the detractors of the Moor sound should enjoy his remix with Leama on the B-Side -I certainly don't find anything wrong with it. The only trouble I have with this release is, despite the fine production on hand, I can't help but feel things are on cruise control with these remixes. I'm not saying they should have been earth-shattering, revolutionary remixes -for what they are, they are quite nice. However, quite nice doesn't always cut it when so much music is being released in the world. Unless you've never heard this kind of stuff before (and I'm assuming most of our readers have had at least a few years under their belt), very little will leap out and grab you while either one of these remixes play in the background. As with most prog music, you need to be completely engrossed in the songs playing to get the full benefit of them, otherwise even the twelve and a half minutes of UR will pass you by without much notice.
Written By Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
OM Records: Cat. # OM 195
Released September 27, 2005
1. Chuck Love - Back In My Life (Miguel Migs Un-Released Bump Mix)
2. Kings Of Tomorrow featuring Haze - Thru (Simon Grey Dub Rework)
3. The Little Big Band featuring Simon Green - If You Don't Know Me By Now (Dub)
4. Orange Muse - Keep The Funk Alive (Andy Holder Remix)
5. Shik Stylko - House The Joint? (Original Mix)
6. The Realm And V - One Chance (The Realm House Mix)
7. LiSha Project - Feel (Miguel Migs Salted Dub Deluxe)
8. Chuck Love - Spread The Love (Miguel Migs Salted Bump The Tech Remix)
9. Miguel Migs - Remember (Dub)
10. Special Interest - Like This
11. The Sunburst Band - We Will Turn You On (Joey Negro Mix)
12. The Littlemen - Down With It
13. Only Freak - Tiny Forces
14. Recloose - Dust (Main Mix)
15. Sean Dimitrie featuring Tim Fuller - So Hot (Swag Remix)
16. Ron Basejam - For The People By The People (Schmoov! Remix)
Remember when this was the sound folks associated the term 'deep house' with? Compared to the material that passes for it today, this is a downright vibrant, bouncy set. It's still a rather generic release though, as the market continues to be flooded with 'soulful' San-Fran house music of this sort -is that the unofficial tag now?)
IN BRIEF: So much soul to give.
Whenever I'm handed a mixed compilation, I usually have an easy time deciding which angle to approach it from. If the DJs name is bigger than the title of the compilation, chances are he or she is the attention grabber, thus folks will get the release because of them regardless of the music it contains. As such, I tend to rate a mixed compilation more on the DJ's work rather than the music, and vice versa if the title's more prominent than the name.
However, every so often, I'm faced with a problem. If the size of the title is just as big as the DJ's name, which gets more attention: the DJ performance, or the music on hand? Why couldn't Miguel Migs have made my life easier? Why?
Eh, what's that? You've never heard of Miguel Migs? No, you're kidding, right? Well, if you've only followed trancey music for most of your EDM beginnings (and I'd wager a good chunk of TranceCritic's readers have), then I suppose a prominent deep house DJ might pass you by unnoticed. Without getting too detailed about it, Miguel Migs (or Miguel Steward, to his parents) has become a highly respected house DJ and producer out of San Francisco. Probably the easiest comparison would be to Mark Farina, though Migs often brings jazzier elements to his tracks thanks to a musical background in reggae. With the brief background out of the way, let's get back to this compilation.
Salted Music is Miguel Migs' own label but there's hardly any material from it on here. Heck, Salted Music only has about half a dozen releases anyways. Instead, this appears to be a straight-forward deep house mix of songs Migs would like to share for our listening pleasure. Such a nice guy, he is, but I'm here to review, not judge character, so if this compilation isn't up to snuff...
Mind, it's virtually impossible to make a bad deep house set. There's something about the music that connects with all of our psyches, moving and grooving us no matter how we feel. It warms the soul even in the coldest of environments.
Yes, indeed, house with soul is the common thread in Get Salted Vol. 1. Sometimes it's a little funkier, sometimes a little jazzier, and sometimes a little dubbier, but no matter the track, there's bound to be a hint of soul in there. So, if you have no room for soul in yo' soul, you'd best just go, bro'.
Migs opens up with an exclusive mix of Chuck Love's Back In My Life. So exclusive, in fact, this CD is the only place you’re going to find it! (Be sure to rub this fact in house vinyl purists faces every chance you get. Go on, I know you’ve been wanting to) Of course, such bragging rights are useless if the track is no good but it delivers as a nice bit of funky, bumpin' music to get us off on the right foot.
We move into dubby territory after the opener. Bits of soulful funk manage to peak in by way of guitars or lyrics, but the dubbed out atmosphere rules for these next two tracks. They provide a pleasant, laid-back warm-up for the compilation but Migs doesn't dwell on it for long. With a vocal sample declaring "y'all gotta keep the funk alive", Andy Holder's remix of Orange Muse's track does just that. Even during a few dubby interludes, the rhythms are guaranteed to move and groove you. And, while Shik Stylko's House The Joint? isn't quite as much of a mover, it's a perfect follow-up to Keep The Funk Alive, letting the dubby atmosphere suck you in.
However, Migs doesn't seem interested in rocking a party, as we move into the vocal number One Chance. It's undoubtedly more soulful, and there's still some groove to it, but considering where we just were, this track is a step down in the funk department. Mind, it's not too surprising since many of these are Migs’ productions, and he's admitted he prefers producing music for listening rather than dancing despite four-to-the-floor beats.
I wouldn't mind this too much if for one glaring problem. Around mid-way through Miguel Migs' own Remember, my mind tends to wander due to the music just not being interesting enough. The previous couple tracks before it manage to provide a few noticeable lyrics or rhythms but not enough to really excite me for the next track. By the time Remember hits, my mind's starting to drift, and when Special Interest's Like This hits, I can honestly say I have never, ever recalled listening to it. Yes, it only lasts a couple minutes but there isn't a single memorable moment in this song, and without the lead-up to it keeping me attentive, I've always found myself thinking about other things rather than the music on hand. This is not a good sign, as it places such music into muzak territory -music that is there, but does absolutely nothing to spark interest. Is it the lacking rhythms? Or uninspired alto sax licks? Whatever the case, no matter how many times I've forced myself to actually pay attention to the middle of Get Salted, I get distracted by the tiniest random thought, as it's so much more interesting than what's being played.
Thankfully, The Sunburst Band always snaps me out of my daze during Get Salted's play-through thanks to the good ol' disco funk exuberance on hand. Singing divas, funky guitar licks, and energetic house rhythms give me hope this mix can be salvaged from merely okay to incredibly riveting.
Alas, it is not to be. Right afterwards, we are thrust back into interesting but ultimately unexciting deep house with The Littlemen's Down With It. While I do like some of the juicy soul and funk on hand with this next little run of tracks, much like the run of Migs productions earlier there just isn't anything to elevate this beyond 'just fine' music.
It's not until we get into Recloose's Dust that things get interesting again thanks to some unique rhythms. We're delving into pure funk here, with skippy beats that'll get the ladies hips moving no problem. Follow-up So Hot takes it further, bringing this compilation to a down and dirty close, but not before we go out on a bit of disco-y delight in Schmoov!'s remix of For The People By The People.
So all in all, Get Salted Vol. 1 is a tasty little appetizer for deep house fans. There's nothing revolutionary to be had here but the genre has managed to get away with this fact for over a decade now and still produce quality with all the quantity -as mentioned earlier, you'd have to be an incredibly inept producer to mess it up. Yes, there's a bit of a lag in the middle but it doesn't distract from the music on hand for long. With the exception of Like This, even if you aren't paying attention to what's playing the chances of some part of your body moving to the music are good.
As for whether I rate this a mixed compilation or a DJ mix, I'd say this is more of the former. Migs' DJing is as smooth as deep house gets but aside from a substantial tease in the beginning to the contrary, Get Salted seems more interested in showing off a collection of soulful tunes rather than building a set.
Orange Muse - Keep The Funk Alive (Andy Holder Remix)
Sean Dimitrie featuring Tim Fuller - So Hot (Swag Remix)
Written By Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Trancelucent Productions: Cat: # TP011
1. Pure Blue (7:11)
2. Sundance (7:28)
3. I've Got The Power (6:54)
4. Fucking Music (8:05)
5. Stretch (7:35)
6. Vanilla (7:26)
7. In My Dream (Album Edit) (6:44)
8. Momento (6:48)
9. Super Nova (6:32)
My first taste of contemporary psy trance, where I basically became the go-to guy for that material for much of TranceCritic's run. One thing I'm quite amused to read in this review is my notion that techno didn't have a sell-out sub-genre, when in the following years 'minimal' would go on to become one of the most popular sounds around. Who'd have ever thunk it though? Well, maybe those crafty marketers...
Oh, and I'd add In My Dream to the ACE TRACKS list now too. That tune's gone on to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures!)
IN BRIEF: Psy trance sells out? Perhaps.
One of the few styles of EDM that seemed to withstand a sell-out sub-genre is psy trance. With the music's stubborn refusal to comply with predictable structures and its willful use of warped sounds, psy trance never had a chance at general acceptance, even within the EDM community at large. The genre's fans were quite fine with this, though. When one is immersed in psychedelia and expanded consciousness (so they say), the last thing you want is to bump into shirtless barstars gooned on ecstasy. It'd crimp your vibe, man.
However, it seems psy trance's blissful tenure in the underground is coming to an end thanks to a form of it known as full-on, a style many of the old are decrying as too commercial sounding (see Cinos' review on a compilation of it for a good example). Of course, it was only a matter of time before it happened -nearly every major genre out there has a sell-out variation the new kids get into while the veterans dismiss as crap: jungle has its jump-up, house has its scouse, breaks has its Florida, traditional trance has its vocal, and even hardcore has its happy. Only techno seems to be immune, mainly due to the fact its purists automatically dismiss anything with a whiff of commercial intent as being anything but techno. Anyhow, back to full-on.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not as immersed in the psy trance scene as others. I got into the music quite by accident during my initial trance exploration, when I'd buy anything with the word 'trance' on the cover. I stumbled on some great material from the likes of Total Eclipse and Koxbox this way but saw little point in joining the psy masses' scene. I've pretty much only followed one scene: the one I create for myself.
That said, having listened to a fair deal of psy trance in the past, the recent commotion over full-on raised my curiosity whether the cries from the old goa guard were warranted. Plus, I felt it might be a good idea for TranceCritic to get a different perspective on the sound, considering our resident goa-head isn't too keen on the idea of reviewing more.
So, here I am reviewing this release from Electro Sun (real name Nadav Elkayam), a foray into full-on with virgin ears.
I may as well get this out of the way right off the bat. All the complaints about full-on making use of a bassline that doesn't change much in most songs seem warranted. While there certainly are minute differences in notes, patterns, and tempo on Pure Blue, you'll hardly notice it unless you're paying close attention. For the most part, you get familiar wubbila-wubbila-wubbila patterns and the sound used is exactly the same in every song. Even when the intros to the tracks might suggest something otherwise, it will all too soon fall into familiar territory. Immediately, this hurts the album. Without some differences on the rhythm end, you'll swear you're listening to the same song over and over. It doesn't matter how unique each melody is; when your rhythm doesn't do much to distinguish itself from track to track, it's going to get repetitive very soon.
However, one can still craft a decent album even if the rhythms don't vary much. I've listened to many a release where the hooks, melodies, and effects managed to lift it above mediocre fare despite repetitive rhythms (this is EDM were talking about here, after all) so, although Pure Blue's already been dinged for samey rhythms, let's see if the songs' other attributes help in making this a worthy release for you to own.
We dive into Pure Blue with Pure Blue, a solid bit of psy if I've heard any. Detailing what goes on during a typical psy track is usually a headache, to write and to read; there's just too much going on to keep it brief so I'll mention the highlights: stuttering effects, arpeggiating hooks, and chunky, acidy climaxes make up the bulk, always growing in intensity as the song progresses. Brief breakdowns and builds are scattered about but finely serve their purpose as the energetic riffs on the other side of them rarely let you down. As mentioned, it may not be groundbreaking, but Pure Blue is an effective bit of psy trance, and a fine opener.
Sundance follows, and it's here I notice the other complaint of full-on: the use of simple, catchy - even a bit too cheesy - hooks. I'm not sure why this is suddenly a new complaint, as I've heard many a psy trance track that didn't take itself too seriously, but I suppose the full-on movement is littered with them, so it gets the brunt of the blame.
Yes, Sundance does contain many sounds, hooks, and effects a psy veteran would deem psy-lite or McPsy, but they are quite fun too. The peak hook most certainly would get a crowd moving, although I wouldn't use it for a peak time track in a set. Like Obie Trice's women, it doesn't quite have the teeth.
Elkayam calls upon a guy called Bizzare Contact for a little collaboration work on I've Got The Power, and the influence makes for a tasty bit of psychedelia. One thing I really enjoy about the genre in general is the way the producers will mess around with bizzare sounds, crazy effects, and blind alley hooks for over half the track, all the while subtly sprinkling their peak riff about, teasing the listener for what's to come. I've Got The Power makes good use of keeping you distracted with some nifty percussion work (gotta love those random pauses on third beats) and the eventual payoff, while not the most memorable one ever crafted, certainly works within the song itself. It's just a shame the track kind of lost the plot towards the end with a more rhythmic lead-out.
From here, things start to get suspect. Fucking Music (and no, there's nothing bump 'n' grind worthy here) doesn't make much effort to distinguish itself. Sure, there's a moodier atmosphere to the track containing various odd pad effects, but nothing is really done with it and the end results come off as a bunch of random noise. Stretch descends us even further into "been there - done that" territory and Vanilla sounds just as exciting as its name suggests despite the go at buttrock guitar sounds. Whereas the first three tracks managed to do something different from each other, these last three just follow the Pure Blue model without anything nearly as catchy to offer.
At this point in the album, you'd be forgiven for writing the rest off. If the samey basslines hadn't aggravated you by now, I'd imagine the lack of any truly exciting hooks or sequences will disheartened even the most hardened psy trance fan. There's been some interesting, even catchy, moments but nothing with the fierce, dynamic intensity this genre's been known for.
The last third of Pure Blue doesn't do much to correct this but there are a few noteworthy moments. In My Dream stands out for the fun atmosphere and pure audacity of using samples of wailing divas (!) -I can imagine this pissing off a great number of psy trancers who take their music very seriously, which just might make this chipper tune a perfect cross-over contender. Momento, like Fucking Music, is moodier than the rest, but more coherent than the latter, if not as memorable with its sounds. And finally, Super Nova will definitely turn heads with its use of Gollum samples, and even perhaps its different use of bassline if you've actually paid attention to that in these songs (settling for a traditional off-beat throb) but it still treads the same territory as those that came before.
Now, I'll grant Electro Sun's debut certainly is finely produced -at no point does a lack of technical musicianship become apparent. Mr. Elkayam just needs to work on crafting some more memorable hooks and sequences to make this stand out more. For the most part, Pure Blue sounds serviceable on an individual song basis. All together, though, there's a real Stretch of Vanilla (hohoho!). Halfway through, no matter how a song started, I just kept thinking "Here we go again" no more than a minute into the tracks. There needs to be more spice to go along with the sweetness on hand.
As for full-on in general, the jury is still out -I'll need to listen to more than just a single album to give the style a verdict. However, if the predictability of Pure Blue is any indication, I may not have to listen to much more to come to a conclusion.
I've Got The Power
Written By Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Mastermind Music: Cat. # MMM2005001
Released November 2005
A. Runaway (Goldfinger's NRG Factor) (6:52)
B1. Runaway (Dancefloor Saints Remix) (6:36)
B2. Runaway (Dancerockaz Remix) (6:32)
Fortunately, we didn't get subjected to a surge of crummy hair-metal dance covers. Unfortunately, something even worse did emerge: ironic-hipster dance-rock -complete with ironic mullets. Ugh, I think I'd take a dozen tunes like this one than any more of that.)
IN BRIEF: Time to grow a mullet.
In a previous episode of Sykonee Reminisces Euro's Glory Years, I gave props to Deejay Goldfinger for being daring enough to give a whole verse to a rapper. Having personally given up on the genre since the rapper's unceremonious exit, the nostalgia factor in Can’t Stop Me earned the single a rather generous rating despite my complaints of the song very nearly ripping off Somebody's Watchin Me.
Recently, I was personally contacted by Goldfinger to see if I'd be interested in reviewing his latest single, Runaway. After my initial surprise had passed (after all, we here at TranceCritic have been rejected by others for reviews that were less sarcastic than my Goldfinger one), I accepted the offer. Even if I wasn't particularly fond of Can't Stop Me, I was generously curious if Goldfinger would expand the rapper's role further than a single verse. After all, someone has to lead the charge to spur the eventual retro return of raps in euro dance music.
However, Runaway doesn't feature any raps at all. This is a good thing, though, since this is a cover of the Bon Jovi hit Runaway. I doubt an MC would suit the theme of that song at-
Back up a moment there. Did I just type Bon Jovi? As in, hair metal Bon Jovi? You bet. Since modern dance music continues to look to the 80s for inspiration, it was only a matter of time before the most mocked of all musical styles from that decade was tapped as well. The big question is how competently it would be done.
I was never a big fan of hair metal but you cannot deny its, um, charm. Over-the-top? Certainly, but a great deal of music is. When you turn your brain off and let your hair down, it can be a most fun form of stupid music in decent doses. And no other kind of rock seems to inspire more folks to pull out their best air guitar moves without a care in the world. As such, the form of hard euro dance music Goldfinger is known for is a perfect template to work with, as it is just as equally stupid, fun music in decent doses.
Sure enough, the rhythm in Runaway is punchy with suitably throbbing bass driving the whole enterprise. What really knocks me over, though, is just how good Felicitas Zoë's singing is. Having grown so accustomed to gals doing poor interpretations of older songs in a dance format (heck, sometimes the lyrics don't even make sense from a girl's mouth, as many times they’re cover songs written by guys), anytime someone not only does a competent job but even raises the song's effectiveness is a welcome, if all too rare, surprise. She absolutely nails the essence of Runaway's original lyrics (about a girl who runs away from home, if you hadn't guessed), lending a tragic touch to the feel of it since it comes from a female's mouth. You also get some kooky hair metal guitar licks lurking in the background, which in turn adds to the more playful nature of this slice of euro. I really could have done without the simple synth riffage midway through the song, though, as the sounds used in it just don't quite mesh with the rest of the elements on play. Ah well, that's what the remixes are for, right?
The Dancefloor Saints provide a remix, and, just in case you didn't know it's by them, they repeat that fact throughout the song. The Saints aren't the first to use such a hokey technique but blatant advertising like this is annoying just the same. As for the remix itself, it's a little more groove-centric, Goldfinger's synth is gone, and you get some additional trancey effects during the chorus, but it remains almost identical to the A-side. The strength remains in Ms. Zoë's lyrics and the background guitars.
Ah, now this second remix (done by the guys who help produce Goldfinger) is much better. You get hair metal guitars galore, adding to the cheese factor without going too far over the top. With the rhythm a little less throbbing, it complements all that riffage wonderfully. Throw in Ms. Zoë's vocals getting some extra mileage with effects in between the verses and choruses, and you have a nice little bit of clubbing fodder that'll get dancers whipping out air guitar moves in earnest.
While I've never been a huge fan of dance covers of rock songs, this one outdoes most since it recognizes the strength of its source material and indulges in it gleefully. Unfortunately, because Runaway does tap the original source so heavily, this may also be its biggest drawback. It plays the nostalgia card perhaps a little too hard. The song would definitely get a reaction in a typical Top40 club but I can't see it having much longevity at home. Once you get past those hair metal retro vibes, the song is very standard euro club music.
Also, I hope this doesn't become a trend. Runaway works better than it really should because Ms. Zoë's vocals are more inspired than most euro cover fare. However, I can see dance covers of hair metal tunes going horribly awry in the wrong hands all too often.
Written By Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
In Charge: Cat. # ICCD002
Released October 15, 2005
1. False Light (7:05)
2. Second Bite (5:16)
3. New Dawn (5:27)
4. No Place For Silence (4:30)
5. Calling The Shots (4:23)
6. More Than A Life Away (3:41)
7. Red Blue Purple (5:21)
8. Stronger Now (3:46)
9. Toys For Humanoids (3:43)
10. Automanual (4:50)
11. A Great Escape (5:56)
12. Terminal 18!! (5:21)
13. C:del*.mp3 (6:55)
Includes a DVD with videos, live footage, and MP3 sets.
Marco's career didn't quite take off the way I seemed to indicate it could have. I wouldn't go so far as to say he's fallen off but he definitely doesn't command the same attention he used to. Not that this album was the cause of all that -just a matter of changing tastes and trends, and Marco simply was unable to keep pace.)
IN BRIEF: Sometimes it's best to just do what you're known for.
Whenever I go onto certain trance message boards, I can't help but feel left out of most of the fun. While most of the inhabitants of such boards were going through the second stage of their EDM fandom -the part where you find a particular underground sound and cling to it like glue through thick and thin- I was already well into the third stage of mine -where you start branching off and exploring every other style the music has to offer. The side effect of this is you don't follow your initial pet genre quite as diligently, and many new names the next generation of clubbers are gushing over pass you by. So, although the Fellers, Liebs, and Jam & Spoons warranted my attention, the Buurens, Moors, and Gabriel & Dresdens practically gained fame without me even noticing.
Oh, and the Marco Vs.
Not that Mr. Verkuylen is new altogether, mind. Along with producing partner Benjamin Bates, he's been around since at least '97 under various guises, and Marco's been DJing for much longer than that. However, it was mostly in recent years that he began to get noticed enough to step out from all the pseudonyms and start producing under his own moniker. By providing hard hitting trance when light, fluffy melodies dominated, Marco managed to establish himself as a name to be reckoned with. His go at the immortal Café del Mar by Energy 52 pretty much cemented Marco's place within the upper echelons of the trance community.
However, the man is quite new to me and, despite probably having the odd track of his floating around, this release is my first real foray into V territory. Having heard from pre-release buzz 200V (heh, clever) is a bit of a departure from the style that established Marco, this promises to be interesting.
While I've heard he's normally regarded as tech-trance, the opening pair of songs is anything but. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what to call them. Progressive would be a close estimate but there's nothing proggy about these either. In fact, both False Light and Second Bite bare some semblance to the Underworld of old with their pumping rhythms and murky atmosphere. These attributes are merely there to complement the lyrics to these songs, and it works wonderfully. Elliot Johns especially gives an inspired go on Second Bite with a sort of old punkish warble.
This is something I didn't expect. Well, truthfully, I didn't really know what to expect, but a pair of aggressive, sinister vocal numbers that inspire some of the most deviant actions capable on a dancefloor was certainly one of the most remote. The fact almost everything that gets branded trance these days has become so safe and happy-go-lucky to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (yes, even a lot of tech-trance) makes hearing something as ominous as these two cuts a pleasant surprise.
New Dawn seems to start out in the same direction with the mayhem, moving into breakbeat territory to provide the backbone. This comes as another welcome surprise, but a cautious one as sometimes a producer may stumble if they attempt styles they are not as well known for. Marco doesn't disappoint here, though. Despite some questionable choices in sounds early on (what's that trying to be, a distorted sinewave?), New Dawn re-focuses itself midway through into a pleasant bit of trancey atmosphere with soft pads and simple piano fills, never losing the initial momentum in the process.
Unfortunately, things start to get quite suspect as we move on into No Place For Silence. It starts out promising enough, following the same form as Second Dawn with menacing sounds, lyrics (although these are just loops of the title), and good rhythms. Some two minutes in, a little moody trance riff is introduced and, as the rhythm is effectively brought back, No Place For Silence appears to be another good track. Yet, just as soon as you think it's about to be taken to another level of intensity, the song ends.
Now, maybe I'm just spoiled by songs that start out like this building to something more intense for a few extra minutes but this track feels incredibly short, especially considering the two openers didn't (which is odd since Second Bite isn't that much longer). No Place For Silence comes off as quite a tease, which might have been alright for one track but this happens two more times in the following run of tracks (which alternate between two types, the latter of which I'll get to in a moment). J’ may have bemoaned that one of the best tracks in Politics Of Dancing 2, More Than A Life Away, was so short, but that's really how short the song is! And that, my friends, is a crying shame, as Bates does a wonderful little Karl Hyde impression. Along with the song's driving intensity, it could have been a classic anthem had it just been longer so we could enjoy it more. And Stronger Now, featuring Elliot Johns again, is yet another wonderful little vocal number akin to Second Bite that ends far too soon. These two tracks may not leave quite the gaping hole of energy at the end quite as badly as No Place For Silence, but they certainly feel like wasted potential for not doing more with them. Sure, you can probably find longer versions on the singles, but you're most likely going to come away disappointed when you hear these shorter version on 200V.
What about those other tracks arranged in with these, then? Surely they can feed off the energy the short, intense vocal numbers provided. Eh, not so, sadly. In an effort to broaden his musical techniques, Marco seems determined to dabble in other styles. The results aren't inspiring. Calling The Shots is a bit of march-a-long techno using more of those distorted noises the V-inator is fond of, but it's just annoying to endure. Red Blue Purple starts out promising with some nice trancey pads and arpeggio work, but quickly descends into speed garage idiocy with hollow bass sounds alternating with farty noises. It sounds cool for maybe 16 bars before you realize, as with nearly all speed garage, just how musically bankrupt it really is. And do I really need to go into Toys For Humanoids? It seems Marco wants to try his hand at some funky nu-school breakbeats, but his choice of bass ends up sounding as hopelessly clueless as the Icy Hot Stuntaz.
Having finally gotten past that tedious middle section, we get into something that's far more effective. Automanual is a gimmick-free bit of techno, making use a distorted hoover pitched about as low as it can go for its bottom end and simple bell melodies to provide the hook. It's down, it's dirty, and, dammit, does it ever groove. Old school revival! More like this please.
Or, even better, more stuff like A Great Escape! This is hard trance the way it needs to be done: rhythms with punch, driving hooks with spice, and melodies that don't dawdle on how great they are. Of course, Marco V introduces his main melody in a breakdown but the momentum of the track never dies thanks to all of the little subtleties hiding in the background. When it all comes back, the energy of A Great Escape increases tenfold. It boggles the mind why more trance producers don't do this, as despite the simplicity of this structure, it is still effective. I guess if they did stuff this aggressive, though, their chances of having their material played on A State Of Global Deejays drastically diminishes. Thankfully, Marco V has other plans.
Terminal 18!! takes the grit of Automanual and throws in a simple bit of spacey padwork to complement it. C:del*.mp3 follows suite, allowing for more synthy patches to carry the song than rhythms, but even the nearly malicious use of prolonged stomping builds doesn't dilute the song's effectiveness. These two cuts are nothing fancy but remain miles more effective as dancefloor fodder than any of the more experimental tracks from earlier.
In fact, hearing this current run of tracks, I can see why Marco became so popular with folks who enjoy the harder hitting aspects of this style. He's practically nailed the template, making use of rhythms that don't disappoint and melodies that do invite you into trance. This is the same guy that did the idiotic Red Blue Purple? Most of the music on the opening two-thirds of 200V feels like nothing more than a bad memory compared to where the album finished up.
The whole middle section of 200V is a perfect example of wasted potential, especially considering how good the album started and ended. All the decent songs are far too short to make room for songs that are just bad. I'll applaud Marco V's willingness to experiment in other styles but, as A Great Escape and Terminal 18!! prove, he's far better when he sticks to his strengths.
In all, this release is a very mixed bag. I can see older V fans dismissing it almost instantly aside from the last third, as Marco strays very far from that sound for a good portion of the album. The vocal numbers are quite good but, aside from the first two, they really needed to be longer to make more of an impression. The rest of it is unremarkable with the liberal jumping of genres on hand. Heck, I'd almost be willing to call this an ‘electronica’ album. Indeed, it seems Marco is aiming for a larger crowd than his hard trance fans. Sadly, this might end up being a mistake since the tracks that attempt to appeal to other factions of EDM are just plain bad (well, New Dawn perhaps an exception).
More Than A Life Away
A Great Escape
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
E-Cutz: Cat. # EC2005/05
Released September 2005
A. The Drums (Back2Back Mix) (8:45)
B. The Drums (Back2Back Dub) (8:45)
Straight-forward enough. Typical 'average' release. Cosmic Gate's change of sound was still unanticipated though, so it dates this review somewhat.)
IN BRIEF: Not quite the hard trance version of Little Drummer Boy.
Cosmic Gate's a funny group for me. Despite their tracks containing elements my personal bias often detests -specifically overlong breakdowns and builds- I've generally enjoyed what I've heard from the duo. Granted, it hasn't been much, but you can't keep tabs on trance without running into your usual suspects like Exploration Of Space or Tomorrow on occasion. Whether it's their interesting sound patches or their crafty use of rhythms, their songs manage to work for me.
Yeah, that's it. Dem riddims! No matter how gratuitous the breakdowns get, the peaks in Cosmic Gate's work rarely feels anti-climatic because the following rhythmic payoffs are serious movers. Far too many hard trance producers seem to forget this, figuring four-to-the-floor hits with off-beat bass throbs are the way to go. Cosmic Gate knows better, hence their tracks are more memorable than their peers (some nifty hooks at times hasn't hurt either).
So, you can imagine I was quite interested in this single from the duo with a title consisting of the most rhythmic of all instruments. Apparently, The Drums was the first single made and released when Stefan Bossems and Claus Terhoeven paired up to make some tunes. This recently released Back2Back version is taken from the second volume of a series of DJ mix compilations they produce called, shockingly, Back2Back.
And things start out quite nicely on this single. With plenty of lead-in rhythm, The Drums has more than enough time to work its grooves. A mild breakdown three minutes later introduces a buzzing sawwave, filling out the aural background without being obtrusive. The energy building in this track is promising.
Unfortunately, things slide down after a longer breakdown starts just after the four minute mark; this sucker is a whopping two minutes long! Despite a continuous throbbing beat in the far background, it isn't quite enough to keep the momentum going for such a long downtime. Making matters worse is the main hook, which is introduced as the build begins. It's far too simple and lacking enough punch to get you excited for when the peak finally hits. Striking a single note every second beat just isn't going to cut it. The Drums seems to finally get going again a little around a minute after everything comes back together but we're only a few bars away from your obligatory minute-long rhythmic lead-out.
There's a dub on the B-side of this, which is the exact same song, sans some spoken dialogue in the breakdown. In its absence, you get a long stretch of just the throb of the distant bass. This actually helps in creating better tension than having some gal going on about taking you on a cosmic journey. The anticipation for a hook, or a hi-hat, or anything, absolutely aches for release. It's just a shame the hook is so drab; it can't hope to ever release all that pent up tension.
I guess the big question on everyone's mind is how does this version compare to the original. I honestly couldn't say, as I've never heard a decent version of the original. After plenty of scouring the net for a sound sample, the best I found was a thirty second snippet of opening rhythm you commonly find at Amazon (and I have my reasons for not using a p2p to find it). From what I could gather, though, the Back2Back version certainly is more energetic, more finely produced, and makes better use of current sounds. In short, everything you'd expect of an '05 remake -a modern shine on a tried and tested track.
Cosmic Gate fans will undoubtedly be excited to have a piece of old Gate goodness re-released for the modern times, especially since the original single of The Drums is getting harder and harder to find as time passes on. For the rest of us, however, this single may be a bit of a letdown if you were expecting something more along the lines of the duo's more famous work. It isn't all together bad but since this is a remake of Bossems and Terhoeven's earliest efforts, the lack of any kind of innovative or memorable hook shows the pair had yet to nail down a sound that would remain timeless as they would in the coming years.
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Flashover Recordings: Cat. # FLASHCD002
Released October 28, 2005
1. Fire (Radio Edit) (3:44)
2. Fire (Extended) (7:21)
3. Fire (Flashover Remix) (7:21)
Man, confrontational or what? I guess I was itching to let out some of my gripes of Corsten's brand of trance for a while, and went for it here. Not a good review by any stretch -even the snarky attitude here isn't as clever as it hopes to be.)
IN BRIEF: Give me 80's or give me death (by fire).
Well, gee, what more can there be said about Ferry Corsten that hasn't been psychoanalyzed to death by scene scrutinizers and would-be historians? As a guy who almost single-handedly popularized an entire musical movement, supplanting nearly every other form of EDM as the premiere genre in the process, his place in history is pretty much guaranteed. I suppose the only debate that still rages regarding Corsten is whether that place will be remembered with reverence or infamy.
But screw all that. I'm going to tell where Mr. Corsten stands with me.
To be blunt, I grew to despise the Corsten style very quickly (so apologies in advance for any snide comments to come, as some habits are hard to break). Not so much the songs themselves (although they'd get a bit loony on occasion) but the way they were used by DJs. I'm sure you all know the drill: pumping rhythm gets you psyched for a minute or two, it recedes to introduce a happy-go-lucky melody for a minute or two, song builds back up for a minute or two, finally accumulating to an energetic climax played out for a minute or two. Vintage Corsten, right?
This formula was so successful, nearly every new trance producer (and even a few older ones) shamelessly copied it, right down to the exact same synth patches Corsten used. To this day, the formula continues to be milked despite it having overstayed its welcome by a good three years (or six, for some). Worse yet, a great number of DJs ended up hammering these types of tracks endlessly through a night. While such songs make for good peaks in a set, when they are played over and over it creates an annoying stop-go-stop-go-stop-go flatline of momentum. Anytime you feel you get somewhere, you end up taking a few steps back due to killed rhythm.
Is it fair of me to blame Corsten for this? Probably not, but it was his tracks and remixes that set the atmosphere for many a flatlined party for me, and those boring nights have become fixated with his sound in my psyche. As a result, nearly every time I hear a standard Corsten type of track, such memories come back, and I'm bored of what I hear. It cannot be helped, as that's just the way music and our brains work. Until some good memories are replaced with the bad ones, those Corsten tunes that were overplayed with such redundancy by bad DJs will continue to draw my ire unless something amazing is done with it (looking at the state of trance these days, I do not hold out hope).
Of course, this has nothing to do with Fire.
It's no secret Corsten's changed direction in recent years, moving on from the sounds that made him famous. While many seem to be calling his new style 'electro trance', I personally call it 'using a different preset because the sawwave button is busted'.
Okay, jokes aside, the newer sound used in Fire is kind of refreshing if you've followed his career. I'd hardly call it trance, as it almost sounds like the kind of stuff you might have heard in the early hi-nrg clubs. The songwriting is stupidly simple, with the main hook repeating throughout as additional twinkly melodies and harsh effects come and go.
Oh, what's that? You've already heard that hook? Well, sure. Fire is essentially a cover of Duran Duran's Serious, right down to Simon le Bon's opening lyrics being lifted and repeated throughout. I guess I could moan and bitch about how the pillage of the 80's continues unabated, but I like this track just enough to give it a pass. That hook is far too catchy to complain about the big picture right now.
The Flashover Remix sees Ferry having fixed the sawwave button on his synth, so we get a pretty standard trancey overhaul of Fire. The main hook is subdued in the form of sweeping synths as it gradually builds throughout while all the other elements play out as they did in the original. And, of course, there's a standard breakdown and build, which is inoffensive enough provided it gets used properly in sets (I wouldn't hold my breath) but nothing revolutionary either. Granted, there was a breakdown/build in the original too, but it was much shorter and far less obvious, as there were enough noisy effects going on throughout it that it never felt as though the pacing was thrown off.
And, to be honest, I think the fact we didn't have to sit through so many of the usual Corsten clichés is what helps this track out more than it really should. Yes, the hook can get a bit annoying if listened to for a while, but it is also perfectly catchy in that you'll find yourself humming it to yourself long after its been played. The rest of it sees Corsten sticking to his strengths and foregoing what I always perceived to be his one weakness: the danceable rhythms are still there but the peaks of the song aren't as anticlimactic as a number of his tunes have been in the past (yes, I know I'm in the minority on this one, but who's writing this review -you chowderheads, or me?).
Although I'm covering the initial CD release of Fire, I thought I'd be generous and also do a quick bonus review of the vinyl-only Ron van den Beuken Remix.
This remix is sweet! Consisting of hard, driving, German (styled) trance that scrubs away all the goofiness of the original in favor of a sinister atmosphere, there's far more energy to this than the other mixes. Beuken's version is guaranteed to pummel a dancefloor with its aggressive edge.
If you don't own a turntable (probably many of you) and you want to be honest and legally pay for this remix (probably not as many of you), I highly recommend you pester Mr. Corsten with e-mails to include it in future CD releases of Fire. Until then, I'd say hold off on picking this up, as you'll probably be hearing the original all over the place on radios (underground and popular), clubs, compilations, and passing trendster cars to get your fix in the meanwhile.
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Ninja Tune: Cat.# ZEN CDS58
1. More Beats & Pieces (Daddy Rips It Up Mix) (4:03)
2. More Beats & Pieces (John McEntire Tortoise Mix) (6:05)
3. More Beats & Pieces (Obsessive Behavior) (4:20)
4. More Beats & Pieces (I Miss You Blobula) (3:13)
5. More Beats & Pieces (Meet The Weasels) (6:05)
6. More Beats & Pieces (Beans & Pizzas Strictly Kid Teeba Jam) (7:06)
Er, yeah. I'm definitely grinding an ax here. Probably not the best idea to shoehorn an overlong rant into a review of a Coldcut single, but TranceCritic didn't really have a separate outlet for such bloggy editorials, so I went with this. Definitely is dated though -man, remember when the DJMag poll actually seemed relevant?)
IN BRIEF: DJing: proper.
Well, another DJ Mag poll has gone by, with Paul van Dyk fans rejoicing, Tiësto fans lamenting, and Armin fans still outraged with the results. Everyone else in the EDM spectrum couldn't give a rat's ass, especially many DJs. The fans of the Mega Trance Brigade seem to feel the fact their idols are ranked the highest in a DJ poll is a vindication that they do enjoy the best DJs in the world, and that those who say the DJ Mag poll is nothing more than a popularity poll aimed for the club kids are just jealous that their favorites didn't rank higher (or even make the list). However, these naysayers are, in fact, right.
When it comes to, say, movies, which award ceremony has the most prestige? The Academy Awards, of course. Why? Because these are selected by a panel of judges whom have poured over countless movies in their lives: studied film techniques, acting techniques, production techniques, and the whole shebang. We trust their opinions because they are experts in their field. On the other hand, the MTV Movie Awards are voted by the fans: the popular choice. You would think this would garner just as much respect amongst their peers, but you will very rarely, if ever, see a movie claiming MTV's Best Movie Award in its promo spiel (unless its targeting MTV's crowd, of course) or an actress putting “MTV's Best Supporting Actress: 2003” on a list of amazing achievements in their craft. Oh, it may look nice to the producer to see that such an actress is obviously bankable, but it's always the Oscar folks in that profession are proudest of, not the MTV Popcorn.
To throw this analogy into the EDM world, the DJ Mag poll is the equivalent of the MTV Movie Awards: awards voted by the fans. As such, while a number of folks in the DJ communities may say it's nice to see a respected individual make the cut, very rarely will they give much respect to the poll itself for one main reason. It may sound elitist, but fact of the matter is many who vote in these polls are not experts. They have not spent countless hours immersing themselves into the whole spectrum, meticulously studying subtle techniques and tricks of the trade, digesting all there is to possibly know. Most will pick a genre they like (usually trance) and follow the more popular names thanks to the massive amounts of promotion such names get, ignoring everything else the DJing world has to offer. How can one make an expert opinion on DJing with that kind of dedication?
Of course, this isn't completely DJ Mag's fault, as it's merely filling in a niche that seems to be lacking in the EDM community at large. Aside from the DMC Championships (which tends to promote turntablism techniques for the most part), there really isn't any kind of syndicate of EDM followers who are universally considered 'the experts' on DJing (and, no, I'm not saying TranceCritic is that either... yet *evil chuckle*). Granted, many publications have tried (indeed, some still do), but because DJ Mag managed to get its winners and runner-uppers to promote their list as the authentic one, it's the one that seems to get the most publicity -in trance circles, anyways. I doubt the jungle heads, techno heads, hip-hop heads, breaks heads, and ambient heads care one way or the other, as they have their own DJ polls to run.
Yeah, the reason why there is no all-encompassing EDM poll is pretty apparent, isn't it.
So, what does this have to do with Coldcut's More Beats & Pieces? Come on, you can't be that thick, can you?
Coldcut (comprised of Jonathan More and Matt Black) is one of the most respected duos in the world of DJing. Like all masters of the craft, they can take damned near any snippet of a song and manipulate it with others to create fresh new tracks. They make a weary, overplayed track sound brand spankin’ new within the context of a set. They're diggers of rare and obsolete gems, scouring the landscapes for that one last, undiscovered northern soul 7" that everyone else somehow missed. They epitomize everything a true DJ strives to be when he first picks up those two Technics. And they are never voted into the DJ Mag Top 100.
Really, that's fine and dandy by them and their peers. While I'm sure they wouldn't be upset at being picked the #1 in such a list (after all, who doesn't like to be the most popular?), it doesn't matter to them one way or the other, as they get into this music for the love of it, completely and utterly. Fame and fortune is not the drive; the essence of musicianship is.
More Beats & Pieces takes the art of DJing as far as Coldcut can take it. Using a bunch of pre-pressed drum loops and samples, the daddies of sonic stupidity throw them down and get wild, keeping everything moving and grooving with funky fusion. I could not even begin to list how many drum breaks, guitar cuts, and sonic samples are used. There's probably more songs mixed in the four minutes this runs than Tiësto plays in an In Concert set. I can ID a few of them, and some sample credits are provided, but More Beats & Pieces really isn't for the trainspotters (however much fun they may have with it).
Of course, this would all sound like crap if Coldcut weren't the sonic geniuses they are. It's one thing to mash random drums and samples together, but to create an irresistible piece of unique, catchy music in the process is a skill it seems very few DJs either use or possess. This is turntable trickery, DJ remixing, and expert track selecting taken to the extreme, and a far, far cry from the perfunctory beatmatching witnessed by your usual Dutch suspects.
Not to be outdone, the Coldcut crew gave the custom vinyls to a few of their peers to do their own live turntable remixes. Kid Koala's Obsessive Behavior version makes more use of the original drum breaks rather than the synthesized ones, speeding and slowing them down throughout as vocal cuts get tortured through meat grinders. At one point during Koala's more indulgent bits, a worrisome cut goes, "I don't think I can dance to this." Yeah, I tend to agree since there's a lot of stop-and-go scratching going on.
Q-Bert's own I Miss You Blobula mix is even more indulgent with the scratching. For sure, it sounds wicked cool (where'd that dialogue come from, a cheesy Fantastic Four reading?), and there's some definite funk to be had, but you aren't going to find any immediate hooks in this. Of course, that's not really the point to these two turntable jams, but considering how irresistible Coldcut's opening version was, Kid Koala's and Q-Bert's own versions seem a little lackluster overall.
Beans + Pizzas is a live turntable jam session done with six turntable and various Ninja Tune jocks, including DJ Food, Kid Koala, and The Herbaliser. A little less manic than the original Coldcut version, there's definitely more flow in here as drum loops, vocal snippets, and melody samples get more playing time while the DJs fiddle with all their various tricks overtop. It may not be as thumping as Daddy Rips It Up, but Beans + Pizzas is still energetic nonetheless.
So, I guess you’re wondering why I've gone out of order with these tracks. Well, I figured I'd get the turntable mix versions out of the way first, as they segue nicely together for the sake of this review. Hey, review writers can be DJs too! *snicker*
Of course, DJing is about the remix just as much as it is the turntable, and Coldcut gave the 12" to a pair of producers to give their own re-rubs on them. The John McEntire Tortoise Mix is a slowed down groover of dubby bass and electro trip hop arrangements. There are a few bits and pieces (hohoho) of More Beats & Pieces scattered about but they bare little similarity to the original source. In contrast, T Power's Meet The Weasels mix makes use of some of the more atmospheric elements of the original to create a dark, moody bit of drum 'n' bass. Both remixes are quite good, and unique enough without distracting from the source material to make them worthwhile additions to this EP.
And, as with many Coldcut releases on CD, there are some additional CD-Rom goodies, including a video and detailed descriptions of the process that went into making these tracks.
I guess you'd think after the general slagging of mainstream DJs I gave and overall respect gushed upon these turntable technicians that I absolutely despise the beatmatchers over the scratchers. Eh, not so, to be honest. To think pure DJing is just about fancy tricks and quick cut-ups is just as bad as thinking DJing is just about laying down anthem after anthem. DJing encompasses a great deal, and, to be fair, for the first many years of DJ culture, all they could do was quick fade transitions; it was the track selections of many that would make or break a DJ.
The thing that irritates me about these DJ polls is only one aspect of what makes a DJ is usually considered when people vote. As Coldcut proves on this single, when you have amazing skills and great track selection, your presentation is taken to a level seldom seen in those who stick to only one aspect. They bring the whole package together whereas your usual popular suspects only cater to a specific niche. And, until these DJing polls quit catering to such niches and start considering names based on every attribute a DJ is capable of, they most likely won't garner much respect from the DJ communities at large.
To draw upon the acting analogy from earlier, it's like comparing Adam Sandler to John Malkovich. One may be far more popular, and even quite adept in his chosen field of expertise, but when bringing all the abilities that make up the profession head to head, Malkovich would bury Sandler in a heartbeat.
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Triloka Records: Cat. # TR-8062-2
1. Tulku - Meena Devi (Goddess Mix) (5:06)
2. Tulku - Journey Of The Warrior (The Funky Shaman’s Mix) (4:03)
3. Emer Kenny - Golden Brown (Tribal Edit Mix) (3:48)
4. Dissidenten - A Love Supreme (Club Mix) (5:03)
5. Tulku - Meena Devi (Funky Trigger Mix) (4:52)
6. Jai Uttal And The Pagan Love Orchestra - Malkouns (A Night On The Ganges) (Remix by Talvin Singh) (6:29)
7. Material - Ineffect (7:27)
8. Tulku - Meena Devi (Ambient Mix) (3:32)
9. Tulku - Live Force (Tripambient Mix) (7:27)
10. Jai Uttal And The Pagan Love Orchestra - Guru Bramha (Remix by Sunkist) (5:14)
11. Badar Ali Khan - Kalander (Trance Remix) (4:44)
Aside from the track-by-track stuff, this review also suffers from a rant that rambles too much at the end. In a nutshell, I was irritated by the herky-jerky way these songs were arranged. Meh, I was also kind of half-assing this one, since it was a Random Review I wasn't all that keen on doing, being the second sub-par one in a row.)
IN BRIEF: Cool concept; crummy presentation.
Anytime you see a pink elephant, chances are good you are incredibly drunk. However, when said pink elephant is on the cover of a compilation, chances are even better you have a collection of music that will have some Indian influences. The big question tends to be exactly how these influences will be used.
One of two possibilities exists in the EDM world. First, and most common, is the compilation is filled with psychedelic goa trance; knob twirlers and acid munchers re-creating their hallucinogenic journeys with Hindu gurus guiding you through a sonic assault; music that challenges your perceptions of thought while dancing on a West India beach under tropical starlights. It's good times to be had by all and the south Asia influences often make for very interesting cover art. However, that is not what this compilation is about.
Ah, so this is the other possibility, then. Western producers who sample ethnic songs and sounds to give them a contemporary feel. Acts like Enigma, Deep Forest, Banco de Gaia, Loop Guru, and so on. Surely this is what Planet Rave is about, specifically focused on the Indian influences, hence the four armed pink elephant. Nope, wrong again.
Well, if it's not those two, which could it be?
I may be preaching to the TranceCritic choir here, but I'm often stunned by how many in most EDM circles are quite ignorant of the third type of electronic music where a pink pachyderm wouldn't be out of place on a compilation cover. You see, standard dance music isn't just a Western thing. Cultures all over the world have managed to get their hands on drum machines, acid boxes, and sound sequencers. As a result, disparate cultures have managed to inject house, techno, hip-hop, and other assorted styles with their influences straight from the source rather than sampled from abroad.
Really, this isn't anything new, and anyone who's paid close attention to EDM trends was bound to notice bhangra beats slowly but surely creeping into Western musical acceptance, especially at the turn of the century. Sadly, its momentum was somewhat stymied due the 9/11 incident, causing American shores to be wary of any outside influence. At least the recovery seems to be on, though.
So, what we have here on Planet Rave is a collection of so-called bhangra beats from tiny label Triloka, all given a clubby shine to simultaneously showcase ethnic music and Western party vibes. Sounds cool enough; let's get it on.
And Tulku aims to get it on in a hurry. Often referred to as a 'world music supergroup' in the liner notes, comprised of Jim Wilson and Triloka head honcho Mitchell Markus (ah, self promotion is grand, ain'it?), Tulku's track Meena Devi barges right in from the gate with deep, acidy basslines and subtle stuttering synths. The fact there is no real lead-in here makes for a bit of a disconcerting opener, especially with the ominous tones on hand. Still, this opening bit is relatively mild compared to the chaos that quickly erupts in the Goddess Mix from Steve Snow, as scatter-shot breakbeats mix with steady, bouncy beats. There's plenty going on throughout, too: female chants, Indian woodwinds, and choking sitars all work together to create a sinister, is somewhat disjointed, bit of tribal music.
Ian Rich provides a minimal breaks-and-house funk remix on Tulku's Journey Of The Warrior, bringing the flow down a little with a quick crossfade transition that is quite jarring. Sure, this isn't a DJ mix, but if you're going to link the tracks together like this, you probably don't want to make the switch so abrupt. As for this song, it's a decent enough little transitional piece of funk. Nothing major happens, but you can groove to it easily enough.
With a tiger yelp and another incredibly abrupt crossover, we are slammed into Junior Vasquez' remix of Emer Kenny's Golden Brown. A cover of the The Stranglers' song, Ms. Kenny's traditional Celtic style (the, er, whitest of world music, I guess) is given a rather pumping, trancey overhaul by the former Madonna remixer. Her vocals are quite ethereal and Vasquez keeps the tempo building nicely from a pleasant ambient start by adding ever-increasing layers of rhythms. This energetic build seems to be escalating to a rousing climax but this is an edit of the track so it abruptly ends just as it begins. Fair enough if there's something to carry that wonderful momentum over, but there isn't. In fact, there's nothing at all. Ouch, a false build this overt is something that could turn off any casual listener. It's like listening to an incomplete MP3.
Okay, it doesn't exactly crossover into complete silence, but the pulsing bit of intro in Dissidenten's A Love Supreme certainly is quiet enough to pass off as silence. Enough moaning about odd, questionable transitions, though, otherwise I'll be doing it on every single track. Let's get back to the music for now.
A Love Supreme finally gives us a taste of those groovy Indian vibes, which is ironic considering Dissidenten is actually a German group. You certainly wouldn't know it from just this song, though, as the use of Indian lyrics is superbly flawless. To the rhythms of old freestyle, the hooks in A Love Supreme are pretty much carried by the singers, almost all of which has no Western influence (a few repetitions of the title through a slight vocoder notwithstanding). It's some seriously groovy stuff, to be certain.
Steve Snow gives us a different take on Meena Devi on the follow-up, throwing in hip hop breaks and turntablist trickery for a decidedly funky outing. Only some of the Indian instruments and chants are kept in to create the same moody atmosphere, most of which get stuttered up throughout as to not detract from the funk. The track also segues nicely into Talvin Singh's tabla heavy mix of Jai Uttal's Malkouns, which naturally suites Jai's vocal prowess perfectly. You can almost picture a row of Indian drummers jamming away while the ethnic singer croons along. I know typical bloopity-bloop-bloop-bloopity rhythms are often playfully mocked in the West, but Singh's funky breakbeats are incredibly infectious. Sitars and dubby electronics fill in the bridges for good measure.
Briefly moving us back in to club grooves is Ineffect by Material, a collective of rotating musicians that's held mostly together by bassist Bill Laswell. Of prominence in this track is international singer Fahiem Dandan, crooning along to bottom heavy rhythms (and, boy, does that bass kick some serious gluteus) while a myriad of ethnic string instruments bridge Dandan's performance together. The release notes seem to also make a big deal over some spoken dialogue done by William S. Burroughs, but there isn't really much he has to say until near the end. No, this is Dandan's song to carry and he does an admirable job of it, even if Ineffect does go on for perhaps a minute longer than it needed to (but then, that tends to be a Laswell trademark anyways).
And, with yet another abrupt crossover fade mix, we are thrust into yet another mix of Meena Devi from Steve Snow. Man, way to whore your own material Mr. Markus. This Ambient Mix is relatively uneventful, stripping the Goddess Mix down to just a bubbly acid workout, ominous pads, and the vocal chant. Fans of tweaking acid will most likely love it, everyone else mostly likely not.
After that acidy interlude, we are treated to one more Tulku track called Life Force, given a groove heavy ambient dub overhaul by DJ Cheb I Sabbah. Conjuring up images of Middle Eastern vistas as sampled conversations from those lands mingle with lonely woodwinds and chants, this is a wonderfully visceral piece of music. Thick bass rolls along to filtered, molasses-soaked beats, giving Life Force a wide-open sparseness fitting for exotic sojourns.
Jai Uttal returns with another vocal outing in Guru Bramha, but this mellow groover is kind of forgettable coming off the heels of Life Force and followed up by the wonderful Kalander by Badar Ali Khan. Steeped in the ancient style of song called Qawwali, this Trance Remix (though there isn't anything here 99.97% of folks would consider trance) provides a bobbling beat and pleasant string backdrops to complement Badar's vibrant chants. There is an intoxicating vitality to this song that inspires you to stand up and join in the chant, making it a perfect capper on any musical session, no matter the style that's been played.
So, given the generally nice things I've had to say about most of these tracks, I'm sure you’re wondering why the low-ish score? Well, let me get my rant on here:
The underlying problem with this compilation is the track arrangement. I can see Triloka wishing to expose as much diversity as possible, as there is a wide berth of world music that is criminally overlooked. Unfortunately, they seem to be trying to cram far too much in too short a space (this disc only runs an hour, kind of low for a compilation). And, aside from a few instances, the songs are so different from one another in the way they are arranged, it creates a very disjointed listening experience even without the bad crossover fades.
Ah, yes, the crossover fades. I tried to keep that gripe of mine until the very end but my displeasure of it managed to squeak in throughout anyways. Let me say this as bluntly as I can, since I can't think of any amount of tact to sugar-coat it: when you have very different styles of music in a compilation, a quick crossover fade mix just. Doesn't. Work. I can understand the studio doing this so there is no dead air time but when you have a house beat followed up with a very different hip hop beat, you almost need that two second pause between the tracks so it doesn't sound so jarring, abruptly taking you out of that nice little conscious zone music often takes you. Having this throughout a compilation doesn't let these songs shine they way they could.
The songs themselves aren't to be blamed here (although three different versions of Meena Devi is pushing it a little) but when there are better-arranged compilations of this sort of music, you'd be better off seeking those out instead. I'd only recommend Planet Rave Vol. 1 if you can't find these particular tracks anywhere else.
Tulku - Life Force (Tripambient Mix)
Badar Ali Khan - Kalander (Trance Remix)
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Universal Records: Cat. # USD-53139
1. Pacific (707) (3:53)
2. Cübik (3:33)
3. In Yer Face (3:55)
4. The Only Rhyme That Bites (Extended Mix) (4:17)
5. Olympic (Flutey Mix) (4:09)
6. Ooops (4:44)
7. Lift (EX:EL Mix) (5:12)
8. One In Ten (2:41)
9. Plan 9 (LP Mix) (4:02)
10. Bombadin (Quica Mix) (4:44)
11. Bond (5:06)
12. Azure (5:44)
13. Lopez (4:31)
14. Crash (5:11)
15. Pacific (808:98) (5:56)
16. Cübik:98 (5:11)
The info and descriptions are solid. The quips are clever (at least I think so!). The grammar's clunky. Not much more to say about this one, to be honest. It's pretty typical of the reviews I was writing in the fall of 2005: content's there, it's just 1000 words too long.)
IN BRIEF: A decade of doing it for yourself.
Poor 808 State.
When major American label companies were scouring the British landscape for acts that could fit nicely into the coming 'electronica' strategy, this group seemed to get the shaft out of it all. Which is odd, really, considering since the beginning of their career, the sound crafted by Graham Massey, Andrew Barker, and Darren Partington, (plus former members Gerald Simpson and Martin Price) was one of the few techno acts that managed to cross electronic, jazz, and rock music effortlessly. 808 State were putting guitar licks over breakbeat rhythms long before Liam Howlett probably thought, "That hook would sound much cooler with a metal riff." It should have been an easy sell, right?
Yet, somehow it didn't happen. Acts like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers became publicity fodder, old schoolers like Underworld, Orbital, and Apollo 440 became soundtrack fodder, and eclectics like The Orb, Goldie, and F.S.O.L. became compilation fodder during The Year of Electronica. 808 State, one of the oldest groups about, was left in the dust to remain in obscurity, their only contribution seemingly being their original seminal track Pacific to be played on regular video rotation at athletic shoe stores.
Perhaps this ten year retrospective of their material (ironically released a year after the electronica movement fizzled out) can shed some light on the subject. After all, what better way to get to know a group than to delve into a Greatest Hits package? Surely the clues to the answer lie in 808 States history.
Unsurprisingly, we open up with Pacific 707, a track that may have sealed 808 State's fate regardless of what they did next. By no means the first song they did, it certainly is the one that stands the test of time the best. Sure, the rhythms and chirpy sound effects may have early techno written all over it, but with gentle pads that wash over you with wonderful bliss, you can't help but get sucked into that special place only the best music can take you. Add to that a wonderfully crooning saxaphone to give Pacific soul, and you have a track that folks will fall in love with again and again.
808 State and Pacific were forever tied together after it was released, even over fifteen years later when the EDM landscape, and even 808 State themselves, had seen amazing changes and evolution since those innocent acid house days. As will become evident in the course of this release, creating a timeless song can often be a blessing and a curse.
Having released one of the all-time greatest acid house anthems ever, 808 State would need something just as irresistible yet different sounding enough as to not get pigeonholed. Enter their second biggest single ever: Cübik.
Tapping into the burgeoning intense Belgian beat of the 90s, the group crafted one of the grittiest, grimiest, ugliest, and infectious hooks to emerge from that era. It is unapologetically coarse, essentially techno's answer to power chord metal. And, just like Pacific, Cübik still manages to resonate despite the obviously dated sounds on display -the only thing that probably held it from the limelight as much as Pacific was its obvious made-for-Madchester vibe. Intentional dance tracks like Cübik aren't quite as an easy sell to mainstream music lovers.
One thing is certain with Cübik and the not-quite-as-catchy-but-just-as-energetic In Yer Face, though: the seeds of every anthem ever created are ever present. The synths remain distinctive and blast out so effectively, you probably wouldn't even need those funky techno rhythms to get off your nutter. This stuff's just a quirky rap and diva vocal away from the brand of techno that would soon come to dominate the charts for a few years.
Oh, hey, what's this here? A techno song with quirky raps, that's what. The Only Rhyme That Bites sees 808 State very aware of the dangers of being tied to a single track, so they open the song up with a brief bit of dialogue: "The ones who brought you - opening of Pacific plays for a couple seconds - bring you something different." And, boy, is it ever different. Back when hip hop and techno still held an uneasy alliance, this undoubtedly was killer, and MC Tunes' lyrical prowess shames most modern rappers, even if he does resort to lots of metaphors that don't make much sense. However, it is also firmly rooted in the early 90s so folks not too keen on that era will undoubtedly skip past. Also, because it is so different from both Pacific and Cübik, if you came here looking for more of that, you came to the wrong place, which is going to hold true for a lot of what's to come.
For now, though, let's pay close attention to a couple more tracks that some would call definitive 808 State: Olympic and Lift. Even more so than the classic hits, these two tracks meld raw techno sounds and natural instruments so effortlessly, it's small wonder the group were rave darlings. Even when incredibly dated sounds as heard in Lift blare out, it still has just as much soul as the little flute melodies in Olympic. Granted, it's still nothing as memorable as you-know-what, but these are very pleasant groovers in their own right. One thing's certain, too, is 808 State didn't seem concerned if some of the sounds used were relatively ugly compared to the rest of the song. In fact, one could surmise they relished in their cheeky use of it, saying these absolutely inhuman sounds have just as much right to be here as any piano, guitar, or saxaphone.
Still, they could craft a normal sounding song just as easily. Ooops features a then relatively unknown Björk on lyrical duties while the Cowbell Machine Association provide a proto trip-hop rhythm with strumming guitars and cavernous effects complimenting the Icelandic chanteuse's vocal prowess. As for Björk herself, well, she does what she's always been known for. Her style is one that is practically impossible to describe, as there's really no other comparison to her on the planet (that I've heard, in any event). It's a method that, for all intents, just should not work, yet it does. I doubt anyone else could sing like her and make it sound nearly as credible.
Sadly, for all the dynamic production that was offered from 808 State at that stage of their career, they never quite were able to connect to the mainstream crowd quite the way they did with the rave crowds. The next batch of songs seems to indicate an attempt to reach the other crowds while remaining true to their sound.
One In Ten is a perfect example. Featuring UB40, the song certainly sounds tidier but with an eclectic rhythm that could be construed as a hybrid form of reggae and jungle (no, not ragga jungle). Your natural instruments like saxaphone remain but the electronic ones are subdued now.
Even more so is Plan 9. This is a very pleasant track using Mediterranean sounds like acoustic guitars, chirpy effects, and sun-swept beach atmospherics, all with great sounding production to bring the organic elements to focus. In fact, one could cynically say Plan 9 is an attempt to replicate the success of Pacific with guitars. I'd rather just say it's an 808 State trademark instead of a rehash.
Not to be outdone by the pleasantries of Plan 9 is Bombadin, a fierce slice of tribal-something. Hmm, it's not really house, and far too natural sounding to be techno. Yeah, there are electronic elements about but as with the previous two tracks, 808 State manages to hide them so effectively, you'd think they actually hired a twenty-piece percussion group.
As we move on in the years to some of the most recent material on this release, it becomes very apparent 808 State has left its ravey techno roots far behind. Bond, a thumpy, grungy tune, Azure, a smooth, jazzy d'n'b track, and Lopez, a mellow, morning-after bit of Brit pop, all see the non-electronic instruments and guest vocalists dominate completely. Heck, Lopez is mostly carried by a slide guitar, an admittedly cool sounding instrument that even The KLF used effectively, but is more commonly associated with the country & western camp.
I've heard a number of 808 State's old fans were put off by the group’s latter material, and I can see why. The Don Solaris tracks (of which these last three are from) suggest the group gave into the electronica movement, as these songs certainly wouldn't sound out of place on a This Is Electronica compilation lodged between The Chemical Brothers' Setting Sun and Goldie's Inner City Life. Yet, if that was the case, why didn't we ever see 808 State appear on any of these kinds of comps?
In addition, it's not like these elements were never apparent in the group's work even in their early days. If they wanted to do the techno stuff, they were obviously quite capable of doing it, as the track Crash demonstrates. An exclusive new track to this North American version of 88:98, you hear the trademark 808 State sound in full effect as erratic rhythms, natural instruments, and quirky electronic sounds meld ever so easily together to form a delightfully jazzy outing.
Therein lays your biggest clue as to why they were never tapped for the electronica movement. No matter what, Graham, Barker, and Partington are musicians first and foremost. Regardless of the instrument, whether organic or synthetic, they will make use of it to do exactly what they please, friend or foe be damned. I really don't blame 808 State for moving on from the techno sound that made them, as that scene had basically sputtered out by the mid-90s, so they were actually quite free to now do things they may have been wanting to without being tied down by their past. If you didn't like the direction of their newer sound, it didn't really matter to them. They were going to make the music they wanted to make.
Major labels hate that in the acts they sign. It's no small wonder the Don Solaris material ended up getting picked up by the "What!? No one else grabbed the rights? Oh, we are SO on that!" label, Hypnotic, for a stateside release.
There are also a pair of updated remixes of Pacific and Cübik tagged onto this release. The basic structure of them is relatively unchanged but they sound much more cleaned up as 808 State make them ear-friendly for the newer generation of party kids. I'm personally more partial to the originals but that may be more due to nostalgia than actual aesthetic. Like so many others, Pacific was my first introduction to the group, and it still remains their most endearing track.
Why were they unable to replicate the success of it? Truth be told, it would seem Pacific was mostly the work of former member Gerald Simpson, who left shortly after. Was he the sole reason for 808 State's major success?
I doubt it. Even without Pacific, 808 State would have still been a sonic force to be reckoned with. They may not have had an all time classic in their catalogue, but then they wouldn't be constantly tied to it either. The results of their genre-smashing work would have earned them the respect of their peers despite having a classic track. While not everything on this collection may be the most stellar music crafted, it will definitely keep you interested as you continuously try to figure out all of 808 State's little musical tricks.
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Jump Cut Records: Cat. # cutupcd006
1. Subsonic Carrier Wave (23:00)
2. Lightspeed Re-Entry (7:38)
3. The Billion Dollar Conspiracy (8:41)
4. Spaceport Evac (7:51)
5. The Aliens Made Me Do It (10:36)
6. Destruct Sequence Eco (11:05)
7. Transfer Interface (8:07)
My second Random Review, and future whipping boy for many future reviews. Anytime I needed an example of how a release shouldn't sound, I just referred to this album. Probably ended up giving it more attention than it ever deserved.)
IN BRIEF: Mastering can be your friend.
With a name like Institute Of Frequency & Optical Research (or I.F.O.R. from here on out), you'll probably have some alarm bells ringing on your Pretentious Detector. Indeed, quite often producers or groups that take on long winded monikers with such egg-headed words like 'institute' or 'future' or 'radiophonic' tend to make serious conceptual music that only highbrow tech-heads seem to comprehend. Chart toppers are usually furthest from their minds, even if a few happen to squeak in every so often.
This is actually interesting stuff at times, though. After all, I'm sure radio astronomers, quantum physicists, and Mir residents need background music too as they unlock the secrets of the cosmos. Heck, it was such technicians that started this whole electronic music thing in the first place. Chances are they'll still be making it as music for their elevators to the moon even as human society crumbles around them in the coming Apocalypse, clinging onto the last remnants of technology while the rest of us are forced to beat each other up with big rocks for little scraps of radioactive blades of grass. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.
This form of astro-physicist ambience grew quite popular amongst chill rooms during the mid-90s, finding a pleasant equilibrium with the trance and techno of the time. A great number of acts came and went (probably Pete Namlook the most prominent of the bunch) but very seldom made an impact on the more mainstream audiences. It was just far too weird sounding for most folks to latch onto, which probably suited the ardent fans of it fine. Why should lowbrow commoners be privileged to listen to the sounds of the future, after all? Hnn... bunch of stuck up-
While I.F.O.R.'s music somewhat falls into this category, the duo don't. Comprised of DJ Decline and VJ Freewind, they were more known for doing a live music (frequency) and video (optical) show, melding the two to allow visual and audio stimulation on the senses. It's a presentation format I quite enjoy myself but, to be honest, has little to do with this release in particular. While details are sketchy over a decade since this release, Subspace Messages seems to be a collection of tracks used in their shows. The inlay is filled with all sorts of sci-fi computerizd pictures that are probably part of their show, but I can only speculate what I.F.O.R. actually did for their visuals. Instead, I'll just have to go by the music on hand here.
Opener Subsonic Carrier Wave starts out with some distorted radio chatter -really distorted, in fact, as I can actually hear the sound clipping. It didn't garner my attention for a bit, though, as many producers like to use this trick as a quirky effect. However, as layers of sounds are gradually brought in, I came to an ugly realization: the clipping is a result of poor mastering.
This becomes very apparent as the song carries on. Drum loops and samples are quite muffled while eerie pads and a bassline are incredibly overbearing. Nothing here sounds EQ'd properly. It's either too loud, causing clipping distortion, or too quiet, getting drowned out in the process.
How on earth did such a bad master get by? If this was a live recording, I could possibly see why the sound would be muffled, but I couldn't find any indication it is. As far as I can tell, this was how the source material came, and the studio just transferred it to the CD like this.
But let's ignore production gripes for a moment. If things had been properly EQ'd, would Subsonic Carrier Wave be a good track? Hardly at all, I'm afraid.
At twenty-three minutes in length, there just isn't enough going on to maintain our interest for such a long time. The closest thing coming to any kind of hook is some repeating radio chatter going "We have a problem at 1000 degrees. Um, come again?" It melds quite nicely with the rhythm but the novelty of it runs out by the halfway mark since nothing else is done with it. In fact, that's the main problem with this whole track. Even with the bad mastering, if the song was decent there'd still be some enjoyment out of it. Instead, it just sounds like a couple of guys fiddling with two different drum loops, two different pad sounds, one bass loop, a few different samples and effects, and recording it using a tape recorder mic for twenty-three minutes. Maybe this would make more sense with a video playing along, but not for a CD album.
As we move on from the tedious first track, the good news is the songs do get more intuitive. Lightspeed Re-Entry has more going on in its 'short' seven and a half minutes than the last behemoth. Brisk, electro breakbeats, chirpy acid getting an excellent pitch workout, and gentle pads make up the bulk, while additional effects and sounds work to provide minute melodies during the bridges. The bad news is the mastering is still whacked. The acid and rhythms drown out a lot of the other elements. If it weren't for the sparseness of those two features, you'd have a difficult time noticing anything else. In addition, the overall quality of sounds is kind of hollow. Well, at least it's better than muddy.
The music quality gets better on The Billion Dollar Conspiracy, a kind of tweaky acid breakbeat track with samples and effects moving in time to the rhythm. Cool stuff but it's a shame the production doesn't do it justice. Things still get drowned out and distorted but at least this one isn't as tedious to listen to as the previous two. I really do wish the mastering were better, though. Then I might have been able to hear all the details of that opening bit of dialogue concerning the infamous Face on Mars.
Moving on past the muddy acid-and-808 chug-a-lug borefest that is Spaceport Evac, we come across a pair of noodly ambient pieces that, really, aren't all that bad. As far as these kinds of soundscape tracks go, the minute twinkling melodies of The Aliens Made Me Do It, sprightly sounds of Destruct Sequence Eco, and clever use of speech samples and spacey pads on both make for some engaging, if at times indulgent, music. Oh, the production problems still persist, but they aren't as glaring here, if anything because less attention has been paid to the rhythms on these two tracks. It was always the percussion and bass that was causing the problems before. Without much attention paid to those elements here, things don't sound as bad.
Destruct Sequence Eco would have been a nice track to end the album on but I.F.O.R. have one more trick up their sleeve: an actual properly mastered track!
No, not really. Transfer Interface is pretty much a moody bit of acidy ambient techno with one feature that will grab your attention right from the start. Freewind makes no secret of his love of Star Trek: The Next Generation, giving a shout-out to the crew in his respects liner notes. There's been some speaking samples about that may or may not be from Star Trek, but the opening bit of technobabble being described in Transfer Interface most certainly is. Heck, I even know the exact episode that it... er, not that I am a big trekkie myself, that is. Um, moving on.
Now, don't let the very low score be totally misleading. There's been some interesting stuff on offer here as I.F.O.R.'s talent at making acidy ambience does come through on occasion. Unfortunately, there's far too much needless meandering in some tracks and crummy mastering in all of them to make Subspace Messages all that engaging.
Yeah, I'm still bitching about the mastering. I'm sorry, but it is just unacceptable in any official release within the last thirty-five years, no matter how small your label may be. I've heard tinny, I've heard mono, I've heard scratchy, and I've heard muffled, but that's bearable within reason. However, when you have to deal with unintentional bass clips ad naseum throughout a release, it can put you off in an instant. It just sounds horribly amateurish and whether it's I.F.O.R. or Jump Cut that are responsible, I can only deride them for such apparent lack of professionalism when bedroom kiddies with Fruity Loops can make more polished sounding music.
The Aliens Made Me Do It
Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for TranceCritic.com.© All rights reserved.
Things I've Talked About
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