Sunday, January 31, 2010

Technical Itch - Haunted/Wraith (Original TC Review)














Penetration Records: Cat. # TIP019
Released January 1996

Track List:
A. Haunted (6:13)
AA. Wraith(6:54)


(2010 Update:
Still no album, though plenty more singles in the digital realm. Like so many other jungle producers, Caro's also taken a few stabs at dubstep this past year. I've yet to hear them but if they're just as evil as his d'n'b, I should definitely try and scope 'em out.)



IN BRIEF: Evil business.

I’ve heard very few producers out there that sound like Mark Caro, more commonly known as Technical Itch. His fusion of industrial strength sounds with manic jungle rhythms can leave you gasping for air when the track is done. If you don’t have a good set of speakers that are generous with the bass, you can probably kiss those speakers goodbye when you’re finished with a typical Tech Itch song. It doesn’t just pound at you like a good deal of darkstep (the sub-genre term for this stuff -yeah, silly name, isn’t it) does; it’ll envelope you, clutch your very body in its firm grasp, then plaster you across the wall, leaving you looking like that poor guy who took a rocket launcher to the gut in Hot Shots: Part Deux. Well, maybe not quite that severe, but you get the drift.

But Caro wouldn’t have earned himself a highly regarded reputation if he was just all about killer bass sequences. This man’s rhythms can be utterly chaotic compared to all the typical Amen Break clones jungle’s overflowing with. Yes, he does rely on the standard break a great deal but the amount of manipulation with the sounds in effect is probably only taken further in the drill’n’bass camps of the IDM crowds. They are always dynamic, always filled with personal improvisation to suit the track, and never sound the same between songs. Throw in Caro’s use of choking, meanacing sound effects for his leads and ambience, and you have yourself a producer that has managed to stay ahead of his peers for many years.

It’s just a shame he’s only released one full-length album on CD despite all of his vinyl singles. It makes it tough for us CD buying crowds to keep up (if you remain honest and don’t download music illegally, that is). Sure, we have his numerous tracks appear on Moving Shadow compilations or Dieselboy DJ mixes, but it sure would be nice to have another Technical Itch full-length to follow-up the great Diagnostics. (yeah, that’s a hint in case you be reading this, Mr. Caro... but I’m sure you’ve heard it for the last five years anyways)

Anyhow, with that bit of intro out of the way for our non-jungle readers here at TranceCritic, let’s get into this latest Technical Itch single.

Haunted sees Caro going about business as usual. Eerie ambience with creepy dialogue provide the setting with numerous sounds and effects I’ve heard before recycled here from other Technical Itch tracks -they are by no means unwelcome; it’s just apparent. The strength of the track, of course, lies in the percussion, and Caro doesn’t waste a single beat. It is constantly busy, pounding and hammering away at you, never really settling into an easy loop for you to get a feel for. The moment you think you can guess how the next measure of rhythm will play out, our intrepid producer will throw in a random snare roll or guttural bass growl just to mess with us. Fascinating to listen to, probably infuriating to the jungle soldiers trying to bust out their best moves.

Keeping in tune with the horror themes is Wraith, with a suitably sinister synthy intro. The rhythm is still busy once it kicks in but it isn’t the main attraction this time around. Rather, this one’s about showing off various bass noises to suit the demonic vocal sample.

I made a joke in a forum last year: considering the way all things 80s have been seeing a revival, it would only be a matter of time before that spring of nostalgia was utterly tapped dry and we’d be moving onto the early 90s for our retro kicks -including seeing the hoover synth making a glorious return to popularity by the year 2007. Well, Tech Itch may be thinking the same thing as, amongst the typical grimy bass noises oozing about in Wraith, there is also a traditional hoover, um, hoovering at various points. You’d think it might sound cheesy today but there was a reason all those early hardcore rave tracks used it: that sound can be quite menacing when used properly, and Technical Itch certainly knows how to get the most millage out of his sounds.

Both these tracks are worth your attention if you’re in the mood for evil jungle. Caro may not be doing anything too different from what we’ve heard him do before but he can still deliver the goods as Technical Itch when called upon.

Now, about that second artist album...


Score: 7/10


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sub Focus - Sub Focus


Best Price: $8.99











RAM Records: Cat. # RAMMLP13CD
Released October 2009

Track List:
1. Let The Story Begin (4:53)
2. World Of Hurt (4:25)
3. Follow The Light (5:34)
4. Last Jungle (3:40)
5. Deep Space (4:37)
6. Rock It (4:35)
7. Move Higher featuring Culture Shock (4:13)
8. Vapourise (4:05)
9. Triple X (4:03)
10. Could This Be Real (3:36)
11. Splash (3:58)
12. Timewarp (4:38)
13. Coming Closer featuring Takura (3:35)


IN BRIEF: More jungle for the masses.

Thanks to Pendulum’s chart heroics, drum’n’bass has seldom been more popular. Okay, so maybe most of that success is primarily a UK thing but the genre is making some headway in bringing new talent to the masses. Nick Douwma, for instance. His first couple years as Sub Focus saw minor success but soon he caught the ear of jungle veteran Adam C (sending a CD-R of your own tunes to play out probably helps) and was promptly signed to his label RAM Records. Then the hits started to pile up, with tracks like X-Ray and Timewarp getting rinsed frequently at jungle parties.

Still, that’s not quite enough to explain his recent string of Radio 1 play. Nay, ol’ Nick must have realized to really make an impact on the dance masses, he was going to have to follow Pendulum’s lead and branch out of the safe confines of by-the-book d’n’b. Thus, he grabbed a clutch of currently trendy styles and tinkered with the formula, creating a couple tracks that are quite inspired, and a couple others that are absolute pish.

Let’s get the negative out of the way. Move Higher showed early promise, leaning on old-school jungle vibes with great effect. Then, that awful speed garage bassline drops, turning what could have been a fun track into a cornball fidget house tune. I’m sure it’s super popular with a whole bunch of kids out there, but whenever I hear a randomly modulated bass noise that has no funk, no hook, and no charm, all it inspires me to do is bust out my most exaggerated mock-rave dance. God, and people think donk music is stupid. The modulating bass nonsense continues in Could This Be Real, fucking up what could have been an amiable piano-house tune with funkless ‘wobble’ noise that’ll only have the floor acting out seizures as they try to move with it. Enough with the gimmicky bass modulations already.

However, Douwma manages to surprise with Rock It, a wonderful electro spin on Pendulum’s brand of rock-heavy d’n’b. This track has already drawn tons of Daft Punk comparisons (because, you know, the French duo invented talkboxes and all) and is about as straight-forward a cut as the description implies, making it all the more surprising that no one had ever thought of doing it before. Or maybe it has been done, but this is the biggest exposure this sound has ever received.

The rest of the album consists of jungle cuts of various types. You got some liquid funk care of Follow The Light, clownstep in Vapourise (a rather pointless tune considering it’s all tension builder with no proper release), more rocky tunes like Let The Story Begin, some spacey tracks with Splash and Deep Space, another go at diva soul with the cover World Of Hurt (original being Worla Hurt by nu-jazz mainstays Bugz In The Attic) and a total cheese-fest in Triple X. So a nicely varied album overall, with one nagging problem: much of it sounds tame.

Yeah, there’s some strong beats to be had. Splash kicks some serious ass, while World Of Hurt and Deep Space grooves with the best of them. Yet I keep getting the impression this is jungle for beginners, those who are ready to move on from Pendulum but are fearful of diving too deep into the scene. Follow The Light, though a fine liquid funk song in its own right, ain’t a touch on what London Elektricity or High Contrast have been churning out for a decade. Ed Rush & Optical’s efforts easily trump Douwma’s sinister cuts, and so on. Cagey jungle vets aren’t going to be too fussed with this album, as the only way Sub Focus has managed to stand out from the glut is by producing tunes that are well outside the scene’s boundaries, and as mentioned he’s incredibly hit-or-miss with that.

Still, even if this is entry-level d’n’b, Sub Focus will probably be a successful album for this very fact, as it’s an accessible starting point for the new generation of junglists. However, despite showing promise of a strong career, Douwma’s going to have to shake the formula a little more than what he’s done here. Rock It is an intriguing start but be wary if he takes the path of fidget-Hell instead.


Score: 6/10

ACE TRACKS:
Follow The Light
Rock It
Splash


Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $56.94













Sony Music Entertainment: Cat. # 474918 2
Released 1993

Track List:
1. Hermaphrodite (2:10)
2. N.A.S.A. Nocturnal Audio Sensory Awakening (11:15)
3. LSD Nikon (2:34)
4. The Future Is In Small Hands (5:25)
5. Salina's Afternoon (4:03)
6. V. Angel. Is Calling (10:11)
7. Words And Dana (1:00)
8. Ancient Dream (8:41)
9. I Saw The Future (11:32)
10. Castaneda Future Illuminations (2:04)
11. Secret Kind Of Love (8:02)
12. World Of X-T-C (5:52)


(2010 Update:
Had I heard The Orb's
Ultraworld album before I'd written this, I'd have been stunned by just how much Jam & Spoon bit Dr. Patterson's style for this album. As for my review itself, I don't know why I was so hard on it. Yeah, it's not a brilliant CD but I still enjoy it on occasion. There are some gosh-darned lovely little melodies floating about these songs. J&S just needed to trim the fat a little better. Its scarcity has made it rather expensive to buy though.)


IN BRIEF: The ambient fairytale.

A sort of B-side to Tripomatic Fairytales 2001, Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 didn't garner much attention with its lack of any clear-cut singles. The only folks who seem to be aware of its existence are ardent Jam & Spoon fans and it's not too surprising why.

Yes, there isn't any of the snappy pop hits that made casual consumers rush out and grab 2001 but nor are there any of the underground anthems that made them critical darlings as well. Rather, 2002 is Jam & Spoon flexing their muses as far as they're willing to go -and believe me, it stretches far indeed.

If you found the duo's more indulgent tracks on 2001 not to your taste, you'll probably not get much out of this release. If, however, you were genuinely intrigued by the more experimental nature of, say, Who Opened The Door To Nowhere, then this just might be right up your alley. Jam & Spoon must have had a ton of quirky ideas in mind while making 2001 but were held back due to the obvious necessity to make that album more commercially viable. Here, they get to do whatever they wish and the results, well, vary.

It gets off on a promising note, for sure. After intro track Hermaphrodite’s eerie, ominous ambience opens the doors, lengthy N.A.S.A. (named after a former club night in New York) takes us on a moody excursion through spacey ambient dub. Despite the sparseness of the track, it manages to keep your attention thanks to the breathing room the sounds on display have. The first third of the track alone consists of nothing more than a looping bassline, alternating Gregorian chants and noodly prog guitar bits, and little sounds effects sprinkled about; it's a simple yet effective combination. Eventually, things get a little more bouncy as the ambient cousins of the Stella synths gradually emerge, followed up by some reggae rhythms. The end gets a little odd with the soaring jet samples but it doesn't really detract from the track as a whole. It's not easy to create a ten minute plus downtempo song where the mind doesn't tend to wander, but Jam & Spoon pull it off with N.A.S.A.

From here, though, your patience for studio tomfoolery may be tested. LSD Nikon is an odd sonic experiment, taking an old soul-jazz song, muddying it up with effects, and throwing in camera shutter sounds played at varying speeds at random points. Sound interesting? Sure, but it doesn't really make much sense once it comes together either.

Alternatively, The Future Is In Small Hands is a minimal trip of beatnik ambience. Bits of pulsing bass, airy voice pads, and hand drums fill in the gaps but the song's mostly carried by lyrics sung by Hans Helmer Sauer. As such, your enjoyment of this track will live or die by his ability to carry a note. Well, let's just say the use of male vocalists in electronic music was suspect even back then.

If you thought Small Hands was minute, then Salina's Afternoon is downright microscopic. Aside from being bookended by samples of running water, this track consists of nothing more than gentle keyboards playing a light, improv melody -this is pure ambience at its calmest. Does the track amount to anything? Well, no, but that's always been the case for ambient music, to be honest. It's nice to play in the background.

V. Angel. Is Calling... Man, I don't have a clue what Jam & Spoon were trying to accomplish with this track. The first chunk of it consists of subtle eerie synth washes while sounds of phones being dialed and answered play out. Because the dialogue is all in German, I can't make out the details (you have to tri-lingual to get the full effect of 2002, as there's French as well as English and German on display in many tracks) but, as near as I can figure from rough online translators, it's something about a corpse trying to make a phone call but is unable to talk -hence all the "hallo, hallo?" on the other end of the phone. If that sounds odd, the rest of the track doesn't make much sense musically either. Sure, the synth washes, rolling bass resonance, and bubbly sound effects make for an interesting mixture but it isn't coherent either. This wouldn't be so much a problem if the track didn't run for so long. By the end of it, you kind of wonder what just happened.

Words And Dana is just that, and it doesn't make much sense as a skit either, so let's move on and get into something that, finally, makes sense as a song again. Ancient Dream is a quiet, gentle track which doesn't try to do anything fancy. Starting out with a briefly looping sample of some sort of folkish melody, Jam & Spoon pull a quirky little trick in adding another loop of it just a half second behind, creating an interesting doubling effect. Adding simple percussion (no kicks!) and synth washes to complement it, Ancient Dream becomes a lush, calming tune that'll put your mind at ease -that is, until a looping sample of a Bushman gathering emerges from the background, growing in volume until it drowns out everything else to finish up. O-kay...

Another biggie track here with I Saw The Future which, despite the live percussion provided by Dieter, comes off sounding like some sort of jam session with loops. Everything you're going to hear in this track - from various percussion, synthy pads, and repeating vocal samples - are introduced very early on. The draw of the track is to see how the trio will embellish these elements as the song progresses. They don't stray far, though, so don't feel bad if you begin to lose interest two-thirds of the way through -you won't miss anything you hadn't already heard.

As far as interludes go, Castaneda is probably one of the more interesting ones as Jam & Spoon play around with the speed of a vocal sample while ominous, futuristic ambient sounds threateningly weave about in the background. In contrast, the gentleness of A Secret Kind Of Love works wonderfully as a follow-up, even if the track itself might leave something to be desired. Again, not that this cousin of Small Hands is bad (it certainly comes off more successfully than the former track did), but because this too is carried by the vocals of Helmer, you'll pretty much enjoy it depending on how you like his singing.

And finally, as we come to the end of 2002, we find the only real similarity to this albums big brother, 2001. How the latter's final moments felt jarringly misplaced with the inclusion of Find Me seemingly tagged on when Stella's Cry would have been the perfect closer, this album also has the same quirk, although not quite as abrupt sounding. Whatever you might feel about Secret Kind Of Love, the gentle ambience it ends on would make for a nice closer. However, it is followed up by the bouncy, dancey World Of X-T-C. The reggae influence on this track is certainly fun but it sounds way out of place on 2002's experimental nature. Ah well, par the course in the case, I suppose.

I guess the big question remaining is whether this CD is worth your funds. It all depends on how much of a Jam & Spoon fan you are, really. Personally, I have very fond memories associated with Tripomatic Fairytales 2002, as it was the soundtrack to a significant time in my life (yeah, yeah, we all have earth shattering moments when we're sixteen). However, having listened to a great deal more experimental ambient music since then, I definitely can see the flaws in this release.

Make no mistake about it. Music of this sort can be very hit or miss with a great number of people. While I wouldn't say this is a major musical misstep in their career, neither does it distinguish itself much from the crowd. The music on hand with 2002 is strictly middle-of-the-road ambient music, with a few moments of intrigue interlaced with a few moments of bewilderment. If you go in expecting this, you'll be fine.


Score: 5/10

ACE TRACKS:
N.A.S.A. Nocturnal Audio Sensory Awakening
Ancient Dream

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

RipFork, a music writer's greatest annoyance.



When I first started writing music reviews, it was to give followers of EDM broader, honest coverage of the genre. There were far too many horribly-written brown-nosing writers on EDM websites, each coming off as desperately seeking free promos and never actually being critical of poor music -their scales of "1-10" seemed to forget there were actually numbers below seven.

That wasn't the whole story though. Another part of it was the infuriating pretentiousness of other websites that would cover EDM, specifically those that catered to indie crowds. Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, Drowned In Sound, and so on. Whatever practical facts or opinions they presented were so often buried in English Major prose, it renders reviews nearly unreadable. Boomer Rock journalism was bad enough in carrying annoying self-importance, but at least you figured they still knew how to, well, party. You seldom get that sense from indie rock journalism, with dry attempts at witty wordplay designed to impress their peers being the norm. It's why Mark Prindle remains one of my favorite music writers (check him out if you haven't yet!), as you can tell he's just a guy who likes to talk music, make his well-informed opinion, and throw in a few dick jokes along the way. He's not trying to create something as daft as journalistic art or something.

So it's quite refreshing to see someone take the time to actually critique these websites. It's a fairly new website, called RipFork, and he's already managed to tick off a few of the 'established indie journalism elite'. It appears to be nothing more than a hobby right now but many of his points are solid and amusing. Who knows how long he'll keep this up for, but provided he doesn't run into a rut, it could become a popular website for those weary of Pitchfork's shtick. Also, if you ever find yourself writing in the manner of some of the reviews he's taken to task, for the love of God rethink what you're doing!

I'll admit I'm far from the greatest music writer out there but I at least attempt to follow Prindle's form in being a personable writer. We need more like that out there, and definitely less of the Pitchforkian Prose types. Yes, I'm looking at you, Resident Advisor. Get your head out of your ass before it's too late!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yes - Yes: Remixes (Original TC Review)


Best Price: $1.73












Rhino Entertainment Company: Cat. # R2 73872
Released 2003

Track List:
1. Tempus Fugit (5:07)
2. Arriving UFO (5:52)
3. Heart Of The Sunrise (5:57)
4. Starship Trooper (7:33)
5. Awaken (7:47)
6. Sound Chaser (5:23)
7. Ritual (6:19)
8. Siberian Khatru (5:26)
9. 5 Per Cent For Nothing (4:40)
10. No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (4:44)
11. No Clowns (3:15)


(2010 Update:
One of my early cases of finding ways to worm unconventional EDM music into TranceCritic's archives. I don't think this was a terribly popular review, simply for the fact no one really knew who Yes is, or cared about a remix album from a classic prog rock group anyway. Shame, as my writing had definitely improved by this point, though a little over-anecdotal at times. Oh, and I think this was also the first time I took a blatant swipe at another website. Good times!)



IN BRIEF: This ain't your daddy's Yes.

Don't give me that look. I know what you're thinking: “Great, these guys at TranceCritic.com aren't even reviewing proper EDM like Special D. or DJ Sammy anymore. They're getting all pretentious with that rock crap with the guitars and stuff. That's it, I'm going back to Trance.nu.”

Burns aside, it may seem a bit odd to see a release by Yes in the review archives here. Most famous for twenty minute epic, noodly prog rock-athons and Jon Anderson's choirboy vocals, it could be argued their lengthy songs resulted in the whole punk movement. Well, you'd win that argument because their music really was lengthy, complicated, and quite difficult to dance to for a long time. That is, until they had their 80s make-over, where suddenly it was quite cool to like Yes again as a retro band, but that's not where the focus of this remix album lies.

Yes: Remixes isn't a cobbled collection of DJ friendly four-to-the-floor updates. And thank God for that, I say. While Max Graham's remix of Owner Of A Lonely Heart wasn't too bad, I could see its success spurring on plenty of crappy imitations hoping to milk a very brief 'Yes is cool' revival.

Rather, this release is something of a concept album. There is only one remixer to be had here, by the name of Virgil Howe. Haven't heard of him? Doesn't surprise me. He's Steve Howe’s son. What? You haven't heard of Steve Howe? Why, he's the guitarist for the classic Yes lineup. The guy could absolutely shred like few others. There was a reason all the new kids jumped to punk music when they couldn't emulate Steve Howe: the man was phenomenal with the ol' six stringer. Anyhow, back to his son.

As is detailed in the incredibly difficult-to-read liner notes, Virgil Howe took it upon himself to do a remix of the old Yes classic Heart Of Sunrise using nothing more but the original LPs and an Akai MPC2000XL sampler. It was more of a test of the hardware's capabilities than any real attempt at making a release but, when he showed the results to his old man, The Verge was encouraged to do more of them.

I can't say I was a huge Yes fan growing up, but my father was so that influence was bound to rub off on me. Of course, I enjoyed the 80s styled version of the group but the 70s versions often flew well over my head. A kid like I would have a hell of a time sitting still for twenty minutes to comprehend what was going on in, say, The Revealing Science Of God, much less a 'shorter' nine minute track like And You And I. Slowly but surely, though, I warmed up to the big ones, and have gradually grown to enjoy those older epics. So, seeing a remix album like this was intriguing and I gave it a shot. I'm here to tell you, now, that unless you have a very open mind about little projects like these, you aren't going to get much out of this release.

These are not simple “clutch a verse and chorus, loop them over, and add a house beat” remixes. Aside from rhythms and effects, there are scant few new electronic elements added to the songs; rather, all the songs have been sampled and re-sampled from their original vinyls and re-arranged into new interpretations.

Opener Tempus Fugit, the only track here to not feature Jon Anderson on lyrics (although his replacement certainly did a close interpretation) could originally be described as the bridge between 70s and 80s Yes. Here, it is given a jungle rhythm to complement those oh so catchy guitar licks. The more prominent bits get looped to build tension, as is pretty standard to do in EDM, and the results are a fun, energetic romp. Plus, you've got to love Virgil's cheekiness in taking the "yes" bit from the verses and looping it during the peaks of this song. Arriving UFO works too, getting a funky workout to go with the original's happy-go-lucky theme.

Unfortunately, Heart Of Sunrise can't quite manage to match pace. It starts out promising enough, as Steve Howe's original fierce guitar playing in the original intro works fine with the added jungle rhythms. Once the track settles into the quiet parts though (heh, folks who aren't familiar with the original song probably haven't a clue what I'm talking about), it kind of just bumbles about without much focus. The piano bits sound nice, of course, but Virgil really needed to tighten this remix up to make it more engaging.

Starship Trooper fixes those problems up. I'm amazed at what Virgil managed to craft here, as the original's willful pace jumping wouldn't really make it conducive to EDM's more straight-forward approach. The ending's a blast, too, as he takes the final guitar sequence, a fairly laid-back bit from the original, and uses it as the backdrop to some energetic rhythms and a Moog synth solo that wouldn't sound out of place at a Yes concert (actually, I wonder if it was). Just as inspired is his take on Awaken, seemingly reversing the sections so the riveting opening serves as a climax to the gentle ambience that surrounds it.

From here, though, this album seems to run out of ideas. I get the impression Virgil had no clue how to approach a number of these given the original songs’ dynamic nature. It doesn't help he's using very little equipment to do this project, of course. As a result, tracks like Sound Chaser, No Opportunity Necessary, and Siberian Khatru don’t sound much different from the original, sans all the same sorts of effects and rhythms already displayed. The songs themselves are still great, of course, but as remixes they leave a bit to be desired. It's especially apparent when Virgil does show some clever tricks by taking the super short 5 Per Cent For Nothing and turning it into a five minute funk-fest, or condensing the super-long Ritual into an easily digestible ambient dub outing. It begs the question, though, why would you want to listen to some of these when you can just as easily listen to the originals and not lose much in the process.

Apparently, this album was given a severe backlash from many, many, many old time Yes fans, which isn't too surprising -most of them aren't hip to all this new fangled computer noise called techno, so any electronic element that isn't a Rick Wakeman synth solo is un-welcomed. Their idea of a remix ends at live show interpretations.

Likewise, many EDM fans probably never gave this much notice, mainly for the fact that this is a Yes album, something you find in the rock section of your music stores, not the dance/electronica section way off in the corner. You'd have to be a fan of both Yes and EDM to even know this album exists. Enter yours truly, I suppose.

And, as such a fan, I do admit I enjoy what I hear on Yes: Remixes. However, most of that enjoyment is due to the originals still outshining the electronic elements. Virgil may have been faithful to the Yes legacy almost to a fault by not taking the concept of remixing to further extremes but the lack of more equipment (extra hardware, master tapes, etc.) doesn't leave much room for experimentation. The score I give here reflects that aspect more than the strength of the songs themselves, as I expect more from remix albums. In general, though, if you're an EDM-only fan and want to see what the big deal about Yes was without having odd glances thrown your way for having Tales From Topographic Oceans in your collection, by all means do check this out. Just don't expect to be able to copy that Steve Howe solo in Sound Chaser... ever!


Score: 5/10

ACE TRACKS:
Tempus Fugit
Awaken


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 (Original TC Review)


Best Price: $2.08











Sony Music Entertainment: Cat. # EK 64230
Released 1993

Track List:
1. Heart Of Africa (6:49)
2. Odyssey To Anyoona (9:59)
3. Two Spys In The House Of Love (0:32)
4. Stella (6:19)
5. Neurotrance Adventure (5:42)
6. Zen Flash Zen Bones (6:10)
7. Who Opened The Door To Nowhere (2:44)
8. Right In The Night (Fall In Love With Music) (6:04)
9. Muffled Drums (0:40)
10. Path Of Harmony (7:02)
11. Paradise Garage (6:30)
12. Earth Spirit (6:28)
13. Stella's Cry (7:25)
14. Find Me (Odyssey To Anyoona) (Radio Mix) (4:00)


(2010 Update:
I guess for a review attempting to describe what this album sounds like to a newer generation of trance fans, this came out alright; albeit too wordy like so many other reviews I was writing at the time. However, I regret not really delving more into the significance of this release more, in that it truly was a daring attempt on Jam & Spoon's part to make a crossover trance album. Also, I neglected to mention all the various, um, variations of
2001 that were issued, as new hit singles kept cropping up and replacing less-favored tracks. Ah well, Discogs can clear much of that up for you if you're curious enough.)


IN BRIEF: Looking back in trance time.

I hadn't planned on doing this review anytime soon. There's always a certain fear in going back to a release you hold fond memories of but know will not stand up against genuine scrutiny as much as you'd hope. Equally difficult is when it is an album, for whatever reason, you hold a sentimental place in your heart -you would love to give it a glowing review but any trace of sentimental fanboyism will ruin your credibility faster than a lip syncing pop star. Yeah, it's not fun doing these kinds of reviews.

However, with the recent and all-too-soon death of Markus Löffel, a.k.a. Mark Spoon, I can't help but feel compelled to tackle this now. I never knew the man (obviously) so writing some sort of obituary is out of place -that's for friends and family. Also, I never really followed much of his career. Most of the music I'll remember him by came out in the early half of the 90's, a time when I was hardly clued into what was going on overseas. Still, the work he did with Jam el Mar laid the ground for much of what was to come in this whole trance thing. As with many others, it was the Jam & Spoon sound that swayed me to the underground.

This isn't going to be a typical review. To judge Tripomatic Fairytales against the history of trance is unfair, as this release is very much a product of its time. Likewise, it would be quite tasteless of me to try and spin some sort of perspective on this release with Mark's death. Instead, I'm writing this to give those who may not have heard much of the Jam & Spoon catalogue beyond the major hits an insight into some of the other works they produced.

Tripomatic 2001 has always been known to be a somewhat difficult album for casual fans to get into. The big hits - Right In The Night, Find Me - seemed strangely out of place on an album filled with oddball experimental songs like Zen Flash Zen Bones and Earth Spirit. Such was Jam & Spoon’s allure in those days, though. They were never afraid to test how far they could push their songs and, even if the results weren't always memorable, they were at least interesting.

Opener Heart Of Africa is a prime example. You get a bizarre assortment of tribal grooves, quirky sound effects, gentle synth pads, and bits of goobled dialogue all mixed into a synthetic soup. Interesting combination, to be sure, but the end result isn’t as coherent as folks seeking their poppier songs might expect. Not to say this track is a random mess of sounds -there's still flow to the way all the elements play out; however, the feeling of playing loose and fast with traditional song structure is quite apparent. Heart Of Africa is as good as a gauge to test the waters on 2001, as the style of this track tends to be the norm.

Odyssey To Anyoona -ah, now this is what I always enjoyed about old trance. Loops and loops being layered and layered on top of one another, building and building to crescendo and crescendo -er, one crescendo. The remarkable thing about Odyssey is just how long Jam & Spoon dwell on the rhythm at the beginning, yet manage to keep things from sounding too repetitive. Give credit to that wonderful bass kick. It creates a cavernous resonance and the louder the sound system, the more full it gets. This ain't a track meant for your tinny iPod earbuds or mini-player (although the melodic bits work just as fine). Invest in that two-grand sub-whoofer and feel how this track was meant to be felt.
One little skit which may be an inside joke later, and we're gently slid into the somber opening pads of Jam & Spoon's first big single, Stella. This track has been remixed a number of times to keep it current sounding, but I still feel the original remains the most effective. Like Odyssey, it's another track that works with layered loops. Unlike Odyssey though, Stella doesn't dwell on lengthy, rhythmic lead-ins, getting into the thick of things rather quickly. In addition, the loops don't all remain static, allowing for pitch bends and subtle effects to keep them interesting. Yes, it's more of a slow burner than your typical remakes, and I'm sure many of the new cats will wonder what the big deal with Stella is, especially with guitar strums as fake sounding as those or no massive build or melody. But that's just how the music sounded back then.

Stella ends with the elements of the track getting stripped away and then gradually slows down to a crawl. In contrast, follow-up Neurotrance Adventure does the exact opposite. Starting with a simple little three-note hook, the track slowly begins speeding up for some thirty seconds until, surprise, it's gone on to form the bassline! Heh, clever for sure, but does the rest of Neurotrance measure up? Hard to say, really. It's a pretty sparse track for a good chunk of the beginning, doing the same layered loops thing as the last couple tracks, but without anything quite as catchy. Really, there is no major hook, as the track relies on layering sweeping synths playing a benign ditty for its melody. There's also a moment midway through where you have one of those synth noises getting a pitch bend, most famously done in the duo's remix of Age Of Love, but heard in many other works Jam el Mar's had his hand in. Yeah, Neurotrance is a nice little song, but not quite as memorable as the obvious tracks here.

And now, you might want to hold onto your hats for some very oddball sounds. Zen Flash Zen Bones spends a huge amount of time having fun with quirky rhythm effects and not much else. The bass definitely growls along, but what's with some of those... hi-hats? The added claps make for a decent little bit of tribal foolery, and you cannot deny the effectiveness of those glowing stuttering synths playing a little Eastern tune towards the end, but couldn't this track have been a bit more coherent in what it was trying to accomplish?

Who Opened The Door To Nowhere is another skit, this time in the form of bubbly acid, sweeping ambient synths, and robotized voices. Very cool sounding stuff, and makes for a nice interlude.

Right In The Night. Boy, what can be said about this track? Probably most recognized for letting Jam el Mar put those classically trained guitar skills to work, it is also quite famous for giving the burgeoning trance scene its first bona-fide club hit; really by drawing upon the styling of euro dance that was so incredibly popular back then. With lyrics sung by Plavka and some extra trancey elements recycled from the B-Side of this single, Follow Me, it crossed the barrier between the underground and the mainstream so effectively that both camps declared it a classic. Good work to all four of them on this track.

Huh? Four? There's Jam, there's Mark, and there's Plavka, so who's the fourth? Heh, you didn't think the commercial accessibility of Right In The Night was their doing alone, did you? No, the man really responsible for making this song so chart friendly was Nosie Katzmaan and, as the man who's had his hand in scores of euro hits, his touch can definitely be felt on this song. Not to take anything away from Jam & Spoon, mind, but if you've ever wondered why this song sounds so much different than the rest of the material on 2001, that is your answer right there. Anyhow, moving on (right past Muffled Drums, since there's nothing of interest there).

Getting back to Jam & Spoon's more quirky side again is Path Of Harmony. A very strange sounding bassline, bizarre percussion sounds, and rhythmic experimenting make up the beginning of this track, but fear not, my friends, this isn't another Zen Flash. Once we get past all that, we're thrust into a serious groover with catchy synth stabs and throbbing voice pads; call it the housey cousin of Stella. And, lo and behold, we get an actual breakdown in this track, where, *gasp*, the main hook, a happy little synthetic thing, is introduced with gentle pads, letting things build back up to a peak where those groovey rhythms are thrust back in. A certain Dutchman was probably paying attention.

Returning to the layered loop template is Paradise Garage, a tribute track to the club of the same name. A pure trancer in the traditional sense, there's no real hook to be had in this track -just arpeggio synths and effects getting their pitches tweaked out. Love the format or hate it, you can't deny its effectiveness in sucking you into trance, especially as subdued pads get a little extra playing time towards the end. Man, but did they ever like to make things sound distant sometimes.

And, once again, were getting some rhythmic experiments, this time in the form of Earth Spirit. It's a little more coherent than Zen Flash, and there's yet another great, growling bassline to be had here, but a great number of the added sound effects tend to grate just a bit much. If Jam & Spoon's indulging hadn't won you over in the earlier tracks, I doubt this one will sway you either, but the tribal energy to be had in Earth Spirit is quite infectious, and it's a nice experiment to give the bassline over to a bubbly bit of acid later on. Ending on some ominous stuttering voice pads, this might make you feel more in tuned with your animal instincts than any other track on here.

Alternatively, Stella's Cry will most likely get you in touch with your more humane feelings (aw, garsh). A pleasant little number that, despite actually having a brisk rhythm to it, is carried by benign sweeping synths, string stabs, and piano ditties. It definitely catches that morning after feel as the night's festivities come to an end and would have been a perfect capper on 2001...

...Had Find Me not been seemingly tagged on here. Well, that's because this track was thrown on the American release when it became the big hit it did (thanks to, once again, Nosie Katzmaan finding the euro hit capabilities of Odyssey To Anyoona). Not that it's a bad thing, really. The song is fine and dandy for what it is, being the birth of vocal trance (probably) and all but, with in sounding so out of place coming right at the very end of 2001, it doesn't quite leave the same feeling upon finishing this release as Stella's Cry would have. At least Right In The Night was bookended by interludes so it wouldn't interfere with Jam & Spoon's more quirky tracks.

And there you have it, my friends. There is any number of ways to conclude what sort of album Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 is: genre classic; underground burner; failed crossover attempt; hopelessly outdated -it tends to boil down to your level of cynicism, I suppose. Of course, I'd recommend this album for anyone who wishes to have a piece of trance history in their collection but it should be forewarned you will be getting a release with a lot of variety. Yes, I know this is supposed to be a good thing but I've known many folks who were disappointed in 2001 because it wasn't filled with copies of Right In The Night or Stella (for the record, I never even heard those tracks when I first picked this up -it was Follow Me that tuned me into the Jam & Spoon sound). Keep your mind open to what these two were trying out here, however, and you're sure to enjoy their little fairytale several years on.


Score: 7/10

ACE TRCKS:
Stella
Right In The Night
Path Of Harmony


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Various - Fabric 48: Radio Slave

Best Price: $5.00












Fabric: Cat. # fabric95
Released September 2009

Track List:
1. Baeka - Right At It (Michel Cleis Deeper Remix)
2. Radio Slave - DDB
3. Radio Slave - I Don’t Need A Cure For This
4. Dance Disorder - My Time (Radio Slave’s Rekids Tribe Remix)
5. Brothers’ Vibe - Platter Sugar
6. Spencer Parker - The Beginning (Michel Cleis Remix)
7. Nina Kraviz - Pain In The Ass
8. DJ Boola - Balada Redo
9. Radio Slave - Koma Koma (Steve Lawler Remix)
10. Spencer Parker - My Heart (Daniel Sanchez Easy Noise Remix)
11. Michel Cleis featuring Totó La Momposina - La Mezcla
12. 2000 & One - Wan Poku Moro
13. Nate Williams - Maximum Overload (Roy's Death Wish Mix)


IN BRIEF: Exactly what you’d expect.

So this one’s kind of late, and, in light of the Fabric series having recently reached the 50th edition of its long history (100th, if you include the FabricLive series alongside it!), makes talking about number forty-eight seem highly inconsequential at this point. Yet surely there’s something to be said about Radio Slave contributing, right? After all, Matthew Edwards has been a hot commodity these last few years, building his steadily rising star on the basis of an endless stream of singles and remixes that, er, always have the feeling of being endlessly looped.

Therein lays the problem though. Having firmly established his place as a producer with a limited, if effective, signature sound, Edwards’ name has cooled off in the clubbing conscious. Without even looking at a tracklist, someone even vaguely familiar with Radio Slave material will have a good idea what a Fabric release with his name on it will sound like. What could have been a thrilling addition to the series’ legacy a couple years back now seems safe and predictable.

Sure enough, Fabric 48 holds few surprises. The opening begins with a few deep cuts, recalling the sort of sound prog DJs were playing around 2002. Then, we move into tribal-house territory, which is interesting merely for the fact this stuff is in vogue again after some five-to-ten years of being not. A quick detour into dull ketamine-house with Nina Kraviz’ Pain In The Ass, then back into the tech-grooves, finally throwing in a few contemporary ‘gimmick-house’ cuts towards the end; a Latin-sample here, a soul-speech there… not all that contemporary, to be honest, as we’ve heard gimmicks like these for years now.

And frankly, Edwards’ set is summed up as much. You could probably walk into a used music shop and find a DJ mix CD from up to fifteen years ago that would sound remarkably similar to much of what Edwards plays here. No, this isn’t a bad thing, as his set is mostly enjoyable, the sort of dance music you can mindlessly bob your head along to; unfortunately, it’s also redundant. Unless you can’t get enough of this deep-tech-tribal-etc. house sound, such that you just have to have every release the genre offers, there isn’t much incentive to pick this up. You would be just as well off downloading a live-set for free.

Supposedly, Edwards intended this to be taken as such, a representative of what you’re likely to hear at a club he’s playing at. I can buy into that, as there isn’t any kind of musical narrative going on here. It simply starts, let’s the energy gradually grow, and simply ends, taking in few variations of tech house along the way. You can start this CD at any point and not have missed anything significant; or end it at any point for that matter. It’s like being able to leave the dance floor to get a drink or go for a smoke, secure in the knowledge the DJ isn’t going to memorably switch things up in the meantime.

Or, if he does, it’ll be a fall back on a worn-out anthem -in this case, La Mezcla. For whatever reason, this was one of the biggest tracks of 2009. As far as I can tell, it’s just Heater Part 2: Flute Boogaloo; the melody is apparently Spanish in origin, but I keep hearing the words to Frère Jacques whenever that flute starts bleating. It’s a fun little tune once in a while, though definitely not something you’d want to hear over and over and over once the novelty of the sample wears thin.

Even if you have a fondness for this music, Fabric 48 is hard to get terribly enthusiastic over. I’m just repeating myself in calling this safe and predictable but Edwards hasn’t given me much to work with here. Such seems to be the case with the Fabric series as a whole lately though. Aside from a few occasional standouts, what was once a leader in the DJ mix field has settled into something of a ‘Global Underground syndrome’: relying on high-profile names to deliver merely adequate DJ mixes to the consumer; unremarkably consistent. Radio Slave’s contribution is just another addition to this trend, and if you’re still wondering why I’m even bothering to review this CD four months after it hit the streets, it only confirms my point.


Score: 6/10

ACE TRACKS:
Nothing really stood out as a highlight.


Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Various - Buckle Up, Vol. 2: The Trancelucent Garage (Original TC Review)














Trancelucent Productions: Cat: # TPCD-IL012
Released July 2005

Track List:
1. System Nipel - Russian Gangsters (8:08)
2. Cosmic Tone - Element (6:51)
3. Electro Sun - Demon's Halo (7:20)
4. Aquatica - Skydance (Remix) (7:35)
5. The Misted Muppet - Snarling Zraw (7:56)
6. Noga - Acceleration (8:15)
7. Etic - 1 Day (7:38)
8. Systemic - Systec (6:53)
9. Noga vs Solar System - Above The Ground (6:53)


(2010 Update:
Well, at least I was getting the hang of talking about the music without going track-by-track, even if I only did it for the latter half of this compilation. A lot of these guys are still around, though have somewhat faded as the whole prog-psy thing started to get more attention than full-on. In fact, I think this was about the peak of full-on's popularity, not to mention creativity -a lot of subsequent full-on I heard wasn't quite as good as this stuff was. Maybe I just had bad luck of the draw?

Cover's still hilariously tacky too!)



IN BRIEF: We're missing a decade here.

Before I write anything regarding the music on Buckle Up Vol. 2, I want to direct your attention to the cover of this compilation. No, go ahead and look at it. Don't be shy, I know you want to.

Got a good look at it? What's that? You need more time? Okay, but don't take much longer. I have much to cover here.














Seriously now! You can stop looking. No, I mean it! Stop looking! Bloody pervert...

So what's the big deal, you ask. It's just a couple of naked gals. Plenty of covers have used this tacky gimmick to sell their CDs: thrashy, trashy rock music; booty bass hip hop; even superstar teen pop (well, they may be clothed in the last one, but they certainly don't leave much to the imagination either). You can hardly take such covers seriously.

That's exactly the point, though. All too often trance music, especially of the psy variant, takes itself far too seriously and uses overly pretentious images of Buddhism or fractal artwork. Fine and dandy for the most part but it'd be nice to see the genre have a little fun as well. It might actually attract more casual folks into the fold, if anything to sate their curiosity. The only time I've ever seen trance try to get kinky is back when Hypnotic would put devil chicks wearing S&M gear flopping their giant breasts around in moving cover art (plus other assorted fetish material inside, but perhaps too hardcore for many of our readers so I'll spare you the details). Whether you were turned off or on by the stuff was inconsequential -at least Hypnotic had the balls to do something different from the norm. These days trance covers play things safe with scenic art, contemporary computer art, Renaissance art, or 'DJ/Producer looking off in the distance' art.

So, no matter how many psy-heads may call this cover tasteless, I say Kudos to Trancelucent for breaking the norm.

That rant out of the way, let's get into the music.

Straight up I'll tell you there isn't anything revolutionary or groundbreaking on Buckle Up Vol. 2. This is un-mainstream trance going about its business as though the last ten years hadn't happened. The furthest thing from these producer's minds is having the likes of Tiestin van Corstenfold play them or to be broadcast on A State Of Global Deejays (or something like that). As such, this compilation would probably get lumped into the psy trance section of your stores, even though not everything on this is true blue psy -it's just a tendency for stuff that doesn't fit into popular niches to get shunted over to the psy camp. However, such concerns aren't all that important -how effectively these producers craft their music is the main question.

We dive into Buckle Up Vol. 2 with System Nigel, one of many members of the Trancelucent family I've never heard of prior to receiving this disc. Like many psy-trance titles, the song's name of Russian Gangsters doesn't make a lick of sense to what goes on in the song. As for the song itself, it's serviceable full-on stuff, building from simple, chunky acid sounds and bleepy hooks to more stock psy sounds anyone with a passing familiarity with the scene will recognize. As with most psy-trance, there are a few tangents taken during the course of the track before peaking out with rhythms that pick up the intensity as most of the hinted elements throughout come out in full force. It's a bit happy-go-lucky, which may scare off the purists, but certainly inoffensive enough as an opener.

Cosmic Tone's Element borrows the spoken dialogue from Danny Tenaglia’s track of the same name, but doesn't go through the whole laundry list of items that make up the track like the original, mainly because they'd be out of place here. Instead, it cuts to the chase by skipping right to the "I like it all" bit after the initial prelude. As for the track itself, it's a simple, moody little number. Not much happens in it, letting the subtle sounds create a sinister atmosphere and deep, rolling bassline groove you on.

As Element ends, we're thrust into the soaring pads of Electro Sun’s Demon’s Halo. The track doesn't waste too much time getting into it though, as chunky, acidy rhythms erupt with everything they've got after the paddy intro. From here, this song absolutely tears along. I mean it! Compared to most of the material on Mr. Elkayam's debut, Demon's Halo is leaps and bounds better. Okay, so there are a few odd tangents (is that a synthesized chicken being strangled?), and Electro Sun still hasn't changed the sound patch for his bassline, but these are just minor nitpicks. When the soaring pad work and invigorating rhythms are this infectious, who cares? Had I known Electro Sun was capable of this kind of stuff, I might not have been quite so generous in my rating of his full length.

Aquatica's Skydome makes for a decent transitional track on this compilation, but not much more. It's pretty standard full-on material, including a build that peaks with a typical full-on synth -it could easily be called Psy Synth 01 in a pre-set bank. The peak isn't nearly as good as the build would have you believe either but nice eerie pads are to be had in this track.

The Misted Muppet seems to be one of the main stars of the Trancelucent label, and if this offering of Snarling Zraw is any indication, I can see why. Whatever a Zraw is, it certainly snarls in this track as it oozes absolute evil with some of the most messed up sounds this side of a Hellraiser sound-effects studio.

And those rhythms! My God, I thought Demon's Halo was busy but Snarling Zraw is absolute chaos! I've listened to this track several times since receiving it from Boa Distribution (plug!) and am still discovering little nuances amid the mayhem. Most trance seems content to use around four elements in their rhythm sections -Zraw uses three times that in the first half alone.

Unfortunately, it's not all aceness in this track. It seems my compatriot Cinos was correct in his assessment of Zraw: despite a very promising start with things building in intensity for a while, it loses the plot around half-way through, veering off into just plain weird tangents for the sake of it. Ah well, -Zraw finishes off wonderfully with a chopped up female chant accentuated with shuffling percussion that'll get the hippie girls shaking their skirted asses if they hadn't already fled to saner pastures.

For the rest of this compilation, something strange happens. A feeling comes over me that recently seems to only occur with some the deepest prog around. I know what it is, but I'm almost afraid to say it. For so long now trance music has been mostly about mega-melodies and worshiping the guy who plays them; the name of the genre has gone on to only imply euphoria so saying what this feeling is would be out of place here. Ah, what the Hell. I'll say it.

From Noga's Acceleration to his collaboration with Solar System in the form of Above The Ground, I literally feel like I'm getting sucked into a trance -the inward, hypnotic kind, that is.

How does it do it? Simply put, it's all about the subtlety of these four tracks. The leads and sounds used are subdued and ever shifting as the tracks evolve. Pad effects - some gentle, some ominous - keep the songs afloat and whenever a main hook enters the fray (usually two-thirds of the way through), it doesn't smack you across the head for your attention, rather complementing the track as a logical conclusion to the lead up to it.

Of course, this isn't to say these four tracks are perfect. Certainly, some of the sounds in Systemic's Systec are odd, and, as mentioned earlier, it's not like there's anything groundbreaking to be heard. You wouldn't be able to tell if these were produced in 2005 or 1995. Indeed, some of the sounds used are a little primitive considering how far trance has moved. Still, within this field, these producers managed to craft tracks that truly do succeed where so much other trance fails despite better production values.

There you have it. Definitely some interesting material on hand, if staying true to the source materia nearly to a fault. Buckle Up Vol. 2 probably won't win over any folks who still haven't jumped on the psy wagon, nor will it impress those always striving for the latest and greatest. For those of us who wouldn't mind a little harmless full-on action followed up by some good old fashioned hypnotic trance, this is as decent of a compilation as any which I've heard over the last ten years.


Score: 7/10

ACE TRACKS:
Noga - Acceleration
The Misted Muppet - Snarling Zraw


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for TranceCritic.Com.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Banco de Gaia - Memories Dreams Reflections

Best Price: $6.99













Disco Gecko Recordings: Cat. # GKOCD010
Released September 2009

Track List:
Disk One (studio)
1. Spirit Of The Age (7:17)
2. Starless (11:19)
3. Echoes (22:26)
4. Soufie (Now That’s What I Call 2009) (8:39)
5. Tempra (7:10)
6. Terra Om (5:35)

Disk Two (live)
1. Analogique (6:50)
2. Indecision (6:54)
3. Soufie (Blue Mix) (7:23)
4. Qurna (8:59)
5. China (7:24)
6. Celestine (11:50)
7. How Much Reality Can You Take? (6:36)
8. No Rain (7:37)
9. Drunk As A Monk (7:09)
10. Last Train To Lhasa (7:08)


IN BRIEF: Quite a career.

Geez, can’t Toby Marks release a typical album this decade? Okay, so there’s been three thus far - Igizeh, You Are Here, and Farewell Ferengistan - but there was also the 10 Years retrospective, the remix package to go with that, and now a 20th anniversary retrospective. For those confused as to how a 20-year package can come out a mere seven years after the 10-year one, apparently the very first instance of Banco de Gaia as a name came when Marks initially paired with Andy Guthrie and played a few live gigs way back in ye’ old year of 1989. Fair enough, though considering the last proper album was over three years ago, wouldn’t it be nicer to have some fresh material?

Well, that’s the quirky thing about this release. Technically, this is all new, or at least previously unavailable. The first disc contains a few covers of old prog/space rock songs, plus re-releases of old Banco tunes that were never officially released; the second is all live material cobbled together from various gigs spanning ’92 to ’04. With that, I’m sure Memories Dreams Reflections has the impression of a ‘fans only’ release, which would be doing this album an injustice. True, there probably isn’t much here that would interest someone who isn’t terribly interested in the odds’n’sods development of Banco de Gaia, yet the music is hard to dismiss out of hand.

Besides, it’s been nearly fifteen years since we’ve had a proper live album from the world bank. With so many gigs to choose from though, the only fair way to give ample exposure to Marks’ touring career is to take various tracks from various shows and arrange them into a set itself. CD2 (the live one) certainly is an eclectic assortment of Banco tunes. There’s obvious favorites such as Last Train To Lhasa (given an additional bumpin’ rhythm here, easily making this the best version I’ve heard) and big-beat inspired How Much Reality Can You Take?; live staples like Celestine and Drunk As A Monk, where the Banco band usually gets plenty of opportunity indulge themselves (flutes, saxophones, and guitars, oh my!); a few overlooked gems - Qurna and No Rain - get some deserved re-exposure as well.

And, of course, there’s the early-early tracks: Analogique, Indecision, and Soufie; aside from Soufie appearing on a couple old ambient dub compilations, these have never had a proper release. In fact, I don’t think Indecision did get a release period, as it doesn’t appear on any of the three Banco tapes. Shame, since this probably would have fit snugly in any number of prog-house DJ sets from the mid-90s, so if you fancy yourself a fan of that sound (hi, J’!), this track will undoubtedly sweeten the deal for you. Analogique is fun too, if anything for IDing various sounds and samples Marks would recycle for later tunes -though obviously the “hardcore, you know the score!” riffs were never seen again.

Speaking of early tracks, gander at disc one where we get three more oldies, here given a modern spit-shine -very modern, in the case of Soufie. Eh, I’m all for hearing that lovely melody again, but this ‘dancey version’ isn’t much to get fussed about -stick with the original (if you can find it) or at least the ambient one on the live disc.

There’s another three oldies on this CD: prog rock oldies! Doing that cover of Pink Floyd’s Echoes for Six Degrees Records Backspin compilation must have inspired Marks some, as not only do we have an extended 22-minute version of that here (with all the noodly prog-ambient sections you can handle) but also King Crimson’s Starless and Hawkwind’s Spirit Of The Age. These are quite well done, especially so Starless which includes a wonderful somber build, though like much of this release will probably only be of interest to fans of Banco.

Anything else? Nah, I say not. Memories Dreams Reflections is a tidy enough collection of obscure Banco, with plenty of material to please followers of Marks’ career. As for casuals, the live disc is the one you should get your hands on. It rounds up a few more choice tunes that weren’t on 10 Years, and is a better overall representation of Banco’s live shows than the Live At Glastonbury album.


Score: 7/10

ACE TRACKS:
Last Train To Lhasa
Indecision
Starless


Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Luciano - Tribute To The Sun

Best Price: $8.99












Cadenza: Cat. # CADCD05
Released October 2009

Track List:
1. Los Niños De Fuera (8:48)
2. Celestial featuring Liberty by Karen Ann (12:31)
3. Sun, Day And Night featuring Martina Topley-Bird (7:09)
4. Conspirer (6:59)
5. Hang For Bruno (9:01)
6. Fran Left Home (5:20)
7. Africa Sweat featuring Ali Boulo Santo (8:48)
8. Pierre For Anni (1:22)
9. Metodisma (10:51)
10. Oenologue (8:40)



IN BRIEF: ‘Minimal world beat’? Er…

Of the members that comprise clubland’s latest mega-DJ - the three-headed minimal-techno monster known as Luciardo Villalawtin - Lucien Nicolet seems to have sustained his career mostly on DJing reputation these last few years -despite lacking either the prolific musical output of Villalobos or the endless marketing stunts of Hawtin, he remains high in the consciousness of folks who fell sway to that scene’s great hype machine. Still, fans have been restless for a proper long-player from Luciano, with a string of collaborative singles and DJ tools having done little to ease the demand for a follow-up to his five year old Blind Behavior. Thus, as his fame continues to grow, so has anticipation.

This fact apparently hasn’t gone unnoticed by Luciano’s own PR team. Once word dropped that the Swiss-Chilean man was going to release a new album, they went into overdrive. The press release that preceded Tribute To The Sun was filled with the kind of overwrought hyperbolic praise typically associated with the likes of mega-trance DJs rather than techno jocks, which really just reaffirms the notion that ‘minimal’ has been the new ‘prog’ for a while now. Having phrases like “[The album] draws upon Luciano's extensive experience as a mover of bodies and a reader of the crowd's mind” and “this is the fullest portrait yet of Luciano as not just an artist but a human being” is enough to sound off your Pretentious Artist Alarm, while the incredibly gaudy cover art had even the most faithful of fans questioning where Mr. Nicolet was going with this. Still, perhaps it was all just an unfortunate example of over-enthusiasm on PR’s part. While the fanboy hype - of which such press seems to be shooting at - for Luciano has grown almost unbearable during his superstar rise, surely the man himself has kept a level head through all the headlining DJ tours. After all, it’s the music that’s coming from the speakers that counts, and the man’s track record in offering groovy ethnic-tinged minimal house, though somewhat spotty lately, has been solid enough throughout most of his career.

Unfortunately, right from the first few seconds of Los Niños De Fuera, no doubts are eased. The track opens with one of the most hideous vocal samples I’ve ever heard. Is it the clashing of flat, mismatched keys? Was it fed through an Anti-Tune program? Who the fuck knows but it’s awful, and you’re going to be hearing it through the entirety of the track’s near nine-minute length. And this is a bloody shame because Luciano does manage to do something quite catchy at the same time, bringing in a tribal chant overtop and adding a simple, infectious rhythm that’s nearly impossible to resist. At periods you even forget there’s an atrocious noise wailing in the background. You get the sense Mr. Nicolet was so confident in his abilities as a musician that he decided to intentionally make a tune that you will be simultaneously enthralled and repulsed by. It doesn’t work. A horrible sound is a horrible sound, and unless you’re purposefully making noise like Man Machine Music, no amount of sweet groove is going to change that. This is not genius music-making; it’s pretentious aspiration.

The opener’s problems are two-fold. Not only is it ruined by the backing vocal, it also doesn’t go anywhere, simply looping along as the bassline throws in little improvisational bobbles throughout. The weaker cuts on Tribute To The Sun all suffer from this directionless loop-noodling. Sun, Day, And Night rambles on with filtered percs and noisy crashes, giving Martina Topley-Bird’s vocal contribution little point. Conspirer fares better, its tranquil tones at least making for a pleasing little filler of a track; however, Fran Left Home is a total waste of time, style-biting about 16-bars of an old Vector Lovers track and looping it for a pointless five minutes -why would you ever put a DJ tool like this on a CD album?

Unsurprisingly then, the few tracks that do sound good are the ones that actually go somewhere. After some atmospheric jazz doodling, Celestial brings in an extended sample of Karen Ann’s Liberty, mostly featuring the backing choir vocals and melodies as Luciano improvises some groovy drum-work. It’s quite a lovely affair, easily letting your mind drift away as the music plays, though it must be said much of the solid music ideas in Celestial come from Ms. Ann’s original. Elsewhere, Hang For Bruno and Africa Sweat are solid numbers that continuously build in rhythmic and melodic energy -still, that these are probably the best cuts on here shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Luciano has some talented musicians working with him in this case.

Yet, what we’re hearing on this album thus far isn’t terribly innovative or fresh. Frankly, the only folks that are going to be serendipitously impressed by Tribute To The Sun are those that have never bothered to wander over to the World Music section of their major-chain record store. Six Degrees Records alone has been churning out ‘world beat’ for over a decade, to say nothing of all the mid-90s ethnic samplers, and all Luciano’s done to spice up the sound is added some groovy minimal loop beats to it.

Confounding the whole enterprise are the final two tracks, a pair of bog standard deep, k-hole techno cuts that are all ominous atmosphere and sinister tones. Actually, Oenologue is a decent, if typical, example of the sound, but Luciano totally wrecks Metodisma’s mood with a few scream samples that are hilariously corny. Seriously, just make one of the cheesiest screams of pain you can possibly muster, and it’s probably similar to what comes out in Metodisma. How these relate to the rest of the album, however, is anyone’s guess (mine: they were intended for a separate single, and got tagged on here when Luciano realized he was short on running time), as they’re of totally opposite tone to the rather upbeat and pleasant nature of the album. Like, how can something so dark be a tribute to the sun?

To completely write this album off would be silly, as Luciano’s a strong enough producer to warrant a brief listen to any of these cuts -even Fran Left Home is interesting for at least a minute (doesn’t matter which minute since they’re all the same). Unfortunately, the lack of focus and inclusion of awful ideas also shows signs of a musician having an overconfidence of his abilities in the studio, convinced that his muse can do no wrong. Perhaps his fanboys will think so, but in the end we simply have a slightly above-average world beat record. Pick this up if the name Loop Guru draws a blank.


Score: 6/10

ACE TRACKS:
Hang For Bruno
Africa Sweat


Written by Sykonee, 2009. © All rights reserved.

2562 - Unbalance

Best Price: $9.99













Tectonic: Cat. # TECCD006
Released October 2009

Track List:
1. Intro (1:28)
2. Flashback (4:40)
3. Lost (4:21)
4. Like A Dream (4:21)
5. Dinosaur (5:01)
6. Unbalance (7:21)
7. Superfight (7:41)
8. Yes/No (6:08)
9. Who Are You Fooling? (6:27)
10. Narita (5:08)
11. Love In Outer Space (4:57)
12. Escape Velocity (6:08)


IN BRIEF: More unimatrix, less urban.

Being such a young genre, dubstep hasn’t had much opportunity to splinter off into micro-genres. For much of its early years, it seemed to be a curiously fresh amalgamation of the UK grime scene and displaced drum’n’bass vibes. Now that all the dust has settled, however, it appears we now have two or three distinct branches from which many will firmly make their bed with. Party kids obviously enjoy the ‘wobble’ side of things, where gimmicky bass tricks abound. Elsewhere, the ‘funky’ variety has found a home with forlorn UK garage fans. Then, you have ‘atmospheric’, which seems to be the favorite of most spliff-heads and music critics (this, of course, can be broken down further but then we’d be here all day -we don’t want to be here all day, now do we). It is in this last type that we find one Dave Huismans, or simply 2562.

Mr. Huismans has actually been around for a while, producing other broken-beat styles under guises like Dogdaze and A Made Up Sound. Yet once his offerings as 2562 got noticed, it alerted many to the idea that dubstep had plenty of creative room to pursue, should producers be adventurous enough to do so. In Huismans’ case, he brought a dub techno aesthetic to his tunes, leading the genre to something more deep and clinical rather than dirty and grimy. His first album under this moniker -Aerial- got plenty of kind words thrown on it last year, so obviously a follow-up is going to be met with higher expectations. Fortunately for ol’ Dave, he’s managed meet such expectations with Unbalance -for some, overwhelmingly so.

He’s taken the idea of tech influences to the next level with this album, creating a sonic soundscape that will have old-school Photek fans nodding approvingly. At first he mostly sticks to the dubstep template, with an assortment of half-step skitter beats (Flashback, Like A Dream) or funky-soul outings (Dinosaur, Lost, the latter also where you’ll find the only instance of a human vocalization) meshing with his cold outlook. Once that’s out of the way, however, Huismans begins to indulge himself, often with intriguing results.

Perhaps fittingly, it’s with the titular track Unbalance where things get wonky. The spirit of Parkes can definitely be felt here, as paranoid strings pair with an uncompromising broken tech-beat that’ll give even the most ardent dubstep dancer fits. For a while, you wonder if any sort of tune will emerge, and although a bit of structure does come about, it’s still unsettling. From there, ol’ Dave does settle his experimental drum-programming down with easily digested skippy-beats, but unfortunately can’t resist going too far in Who Are You Fooling?, a track that fails to amount to anything of note. Love In Outer Space, the lead single for the album, at least corrects such wayward beat noodling before the album ends out.

As for the rest, they’re a solid bunch of cuts, growing increasingly sci-fi in tone before the final tune, Escape Velocity, heads straight for the stars with spacey backing synths. It’s curious - maybe suitably so - that Huismans would stick the track with the most obvious bit of melody at the very end of Unbalance, but I can’t argue against it as a strong album closer.

And to be honest, if anything is going to hold Unbalance back with a general listening audience, it’s the lack of much melody to begin with. Yeah, tech-tones of this sort tend to shy away from blatant human emotions, yet the greatest techno records have always been those where the producer is able to coerce the machine to express their soul regardless of humanity-stripping technology. Such is so with this album, where cuts like Lost, Superfight, and Narita appear to be cases where Huismans let his right brain override, thus standing much taller than Like A Dream or Who Are You Fooling? -at least in a musical sense.

This is still a strong album -I’d only pin one cut as a real duffer (no points in guessing which one -no, Intro doesn’t count). Despite the singular atmosphere, I highly recommend it for anyone who even has a passing curiosity over expertly-executed tech-toned broken-beats (hyphenated enough for ya’?). Yet, is this a ‘classic’ album, as some of already hailed it as? I think not. Sure, the dubstep genre is in short supply of such releases, but Unbalance purposefully lacks what those few standout albums contain: an identifiable human soul connecting to the music itself. Even Parkes (yes, him again -can I help it if I find the similarities striking?) understood the need for this back when he was doing similar things to drum’n’bass back in the 90s. In short, Unbalance is good, but it’s no Modus Operandi.


Score: 8/10

ACE TRACKS:
Lost
Superfight
Escape Velocity


Written by Sykonee, 2009. © All rights reserved

Vitalic - Flashmob

Best Price: $5.00













Pias America: Cat. # PIASA37CD
Released November 2009

Track List:
1. See The Sea (Red) (4:04)
2. Poison Lips (3:52)
3. Flashmob (4:26)
4. One Above One (3:39)
5. Still (5:25)
6. Terminateur Benelux (3:50)
7. Second Lives (4:26)
8. Allan Dellon (3:09)
9. See The Sea (Blue) (4:05)
10. Chicken Lady (3:26)
11. Your Disco Song (3:36)
12. Station Mir 2099 (4:46)
13. Chez Septime (0:34)


IN BRIEF: Respect.

Yeah, so I called it two years ago while covering V Live, but I really didn’t think ol’ Pascal would take until 2009 to release his second album. Jokingly, it was to compare Vitalic’s career to Leftfield’s career -funnily enough, the comparison remains apt. Rhythm And Stealth was seen as a quality album, yet somewhat lacking compared to Leftfield’s first; the same can be said about Flashmob . At the same time though, few will contest both are amongst the best - if not the best - in the genres they made their name in. For Leftfield, it was progressive house; Vitalic, maximal techno.

Pascal certainly wasn’t the first to introduce aggressive detuned hooks to techno but once he managed to shake free of the electroclash association from earlier in the decade, he definitely lead the charge. At first, it seemed like only he and Mylo would offer anything of note. Then, a whole collective of fellow maximalist Frenchmen emerged, the Ed Banger Records group grabbing all the headlines. The summer of 2007 undoubtedly saw this movement reach the very apex of the genre’s popularity, as acts like Justice, Digitalism and Boys Noize gained a large amount of hype and momentum -but where was Vitalic during all this?

Busy touring, most likely. Unfortunately, at a time when Pascal could have really made a stamp on the genre, he started to fade from clubbing consciousness as the newer names in the scene grabbed the spotlight. Now that he is finally back, just how much demand is there still for a new Vitalic album, especially so with maximal techno having received something of a backlash due to talentless copycats flooding the market with gimmicky knockoffs?

Well, that’s a question that’ll probably boil down to one’s personal preference over maximal in general. If you still have a soft spot for the sound, though, then Flashmob will win you right over. Even after imitators and would-be maximal stars have come and gone, Vitalic remains head and shoulders above many at this. The reason for standing tall is the fact he knows how to write songs rather than tracks. You would not believe how much of a difference this makes.

Far too many maximal producers simply take a catchy hook, amplify and distort it so the monitors bleed red, then loop it for the duration; perhaps they’ll add a drum break or additional loop, but not much else. It creates music that is instantly appealing, but lacking in substance in the long run. Vitalic, on the other hand, tends to add melodic fills or quirky twists as a tune plays out, making them richly nuanced even when the whole point is an aggressive assault of techno bedlam.

Take the titular track, Flashmob. The hook is little more than a tension builder but every loop adds something extra with each go-around, plus an added break near the end for some decent release. Funky nu-electro monster Terminateur Benelux, acid-tweaker See The Sea (Blue), and the stomp-a-long Chicken Lady work in similar ways; these aren’t subtle songs, but they do have enough going on in them that you they’re worth repeated listens.

Vitalic didn’t make his name doing maximal hooks though. Many times, it was the melodic moments that would catch your attention, and Flashmob comes with oodles of them. One Above One and Second Lives shoot straight for the anthem jugular, the kind of tunes Ferry Corsten only wished he could have made during his L.E.F. period; elsewhere, bursts of synth washes come at you in Poison Lips and Station Mir 2099. Plus, perhaps in a bit of a knowing wink to the scene that broke him, he offers an electro-trashy cut in Your Disco Song. Good fun, all of these.

That all said, Flashmob unfortunately doesn’t have many of those quirky unexpected moments that OK Cowboy had; nothing like the surprising Polkamatic or Valletta Fanfares, nor a tune like My Friend Dario, where you couldn’t help but break out into air guitar. To be fair, Pascal does bring us some decent downtempo cuts again, though Still and Allan Dellon aren’t quite as good as The Past.

It’s clear that Pascal has made his bed with the more maximal branch of techno, and if he’s going to kick out jams as solid as they’re offered here with Flashmob, who are we to complain? He was there at the beginning and, despite long breaks between albums, remains a force to be reckoned with. One can only hope that the Leftfield comparisons end here though; we wouldn’t want this to be the last Vitalic album, now would we.


Score: 8/10

ACE TRACKS:
Check ‘em all out. (well, maybe not the last one)


Written by Sykonee, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Trend - Trend EP















SPX Digital: Cat: # SPX006
Released November 2009

Track List:
1. Abscent Dream (8:01)
2. Abscent Dream (Shane Blane Remix) (7:32)
3. Always But Never (7:47)
4. Patience (8:55)


IN BRIEF: Fine debut.

The boys over at SPX Digital (U4IC DJ’s and Corderoy, specifically) seem to have done well for themselves in the year of 2009. When last mentioned on [TranceCritic], they had just released their second single, 3 Spirit -now, as we draw to a close in the year, SPX is on single number six, which is a decent rate of output for any up-and-coming label. This time, we have a duo by the name of Trend, which, according to the promo material, is comprised of Dean Anthony and Deep Cycle. Aside from appearing as remixers on previous SPX singles, virtually nothing can be found of them online (well, there’s a Deep Cycle on MySpace that appears to produce deep-tech house, but I kind of doubt it’s the same guy -correct me if I’m wrong though).

This self-titled EP features three original tracks, plus a remix. The originals are all with their charms, two of which are quite worth your while. They’re mostly on the tech side of trance, featuring a different spin on the formula that can suit a specific period of a typical set. Abscent Dream is the subtlest of the bunch, utilizing a simple-yet-effective hook that simmers throughout the track - yes, even during the breakdown - that gets brightly tweaked at key points but is never oversold; all-and-all a pleasant deep trancer. Always But Never, on the other hand, shoots for the epic jugular. Trend do a solid job of working you up during the breakdown/build portion, but unfortunately the payoff on the other side isn’t nearly strong enough; the second half isn’t without merit, just a letdown given the lead-up. Finally, Patience is your no-nonsense tough-tech cut. They do milk their build a little much but rather than trying to blast you with a massive drop, Trend instead ease the beats back in, which is remarkably effective.

The thing that struck me the most regarding these tracks is just how nicely produced they are. The sounds are clean and well spaced, featuring none of the annoying brick-walled over-compression that’s come to plague many a trance track in recent years. If you need an example of just how much better Trend’s tunes sound, take a listen to the Shane Blane remix of Abscent Dream, which is punchy to a fault and sometimes drowns with reverb washes. Compared to Trend’s cuts, Shane’s production is even a little painful on the ears, which is a shame since he does a decent job of taking the track in prog-trance territory.

Overall though, Trend’s E.P. is a solid debut. If you fancy yourself some finely produced trance, this duo’s three offerings will serve you well.


Score: 7/10


Written by Sykonee, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Fedde Le Grand - Output

Best Price: $7.99













Flamingo Recordings: Cat. # FLAMCD001D
Released September 2009

Track List:
1. Wild ‘N Raw featuring Rob Birch (4:54)
2. Feel Alive featuring Will.I.Am (4:13)
3. Scared Of Me featuring Mitch Crown (2:49)
4. Hard Days Work featuring Ida Corr (4:04)
5. Shotgun featuring Camille Jones (6:20)
6. Back And Forth featuring Mr. V (3:23)
7. Let Me Be Real featuring Mitch Crown (3:22)
8. My Faya featuring Andy Sherman & Dorothy (5:50)
9. 3 Minutes To Explain with Funkerman (3:42)
10. Rockin’ High featuring Mitch Crown (3:52)
11. Noise Reduction with P.L.F. (4:00)
12. Output (F.L.G. Edit) (4:08)
13. Dany P-Jazz - New Life (Fedde Le Grand & Funkerman Re-Edit) (4:07)


IN BRIEF: You’ve heard better.

It’s been three long years since Fedde le Grand became an overnight star, and he’s managed to maintain his profile on the strength of being an in-demand remixer and endless compilation duty. Still, though anyone can point to Put Your Hands Up For Detroit as a Fedde le Grand track, he’s had some difficulty in escaping the hit single’s legacy; few, if any, of his subsequent tunes have made anywhere near the same kind of impact. Not that anyone should have expected it anyway -such a track is a once-in-a-year event, and unless your name is Daft Punk, seldom replicated during the course of a career where house music’s concerned. Yet, the question remains: will he be able to live up to the hype of his past?

Well, no. It’s as simple as that. Let’s face it: three years is a long time between breakout success and debut long-player, and Grand may have missed the boat on really propelling his career to dizzying heights. Instead, most of the Swedish House Mafia has surpassed the Dutchman in popularity, while a Frenchman double-lapped him in the same amount of time. His chart success has been negligible since Detroit, with perhaps his recent re-rub of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You being the most significant. Beyond his loyal fanbase within the ‘handbag house’ collective, most will struggle to name-drop much of his recent material, especially with regards to his new album Output. I’ll grant Grand has been plenty busy with running his Flamingo Recordings imprint and headlining mainstream dance festivals, so he may not have had as much time to spend on his productions. Therefore, it’s all the more reason to bring his best to Output. Yet, if this is his best, perhaps Grand has been nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan sensation after all.

The weird thing about Output is it finds itself in a no-man’s land of attempted crossover pop album and credible underground house collection. Additionally, he’s thrown in every single style of house music he can think of (handbag, electro, minimal, tech, French, etc.), either in attempt show off his broad music palette or to hedge his bets that someone will enjoy at least a couple tracks if it closely matches one’s taste enough. On nearly every single track, he almost succeeds in accomplishing this too, but Grand’s far-too simple songwriting continuously holds these tunes back.

First, the pure pop tunes, of which makes up most of the first half. Rob Birch of the “yes, they’re still around” group Stereo MC’s opens things up, and as expected provides a suitably positive-party vibe. Grand, on the other hand, doesn’t really do much to give Wild ‘N Raw vitality. There are piano flourishes, trumpet blasts, and an adequate groove, all of which will provide some level of cursory enjoyment while you hear it but never really grabs you either. It’s the sort of tune you’d expect to hear on the radio and promptly forget right afterwards. And sure enough, once the Will.I.Am featuring Feel Alive hits, you do. As for that track, the rapper repeatedly refers to it as a “stinky tune”, which I have to agree -it does stink. The only guy who could credibly get away with using ‘stinky’ as a synonym for ‘funky’ was Ol’ Dirty Bastard; Will.I.Am, on the other hand, comes off ridiculous and clueless, all the while adding zero street cred by throwing in “punk motherfuckers”. Oh, and the track just sounds like a generic Black Eyed Peas cut anyway.

And so it continues. Scared Of Me apes Benassi, Hard Days Work is nondescript ‘handbag-electro’ (plus auto-tune!), and Shotgun is the ever popular barely-euphemistic “I want your penis” track. Really, every track on Output sounds like something that’s already been done, and already been done better. The feeling begins to sink in where you wonder why you’re even bothering to listen to this album when there are several superior examples of the sound out there. Even the straight-up ‘handbag’ moments are trumped by the likes of Roger Sanchez.

I’ll grant there are times that do make you feel like Output is worth your while. Let Me Be Real and Rockin’ High are good fun while they last, even if they’re total style-bites of French house (specifically Stuart Price) …but they don’t last at all. Heck, even for pop songs, these feel short; appetizers rather than delectable meals.

In fact, it’s one of the overriding problems with this album. The ‘short’ feeling has nothing to do with song lengths, but song writing. The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations (as an example of a great pop song) is shorter than nearly everything here, yet feels epic compared to Grand’s offerings. This abnormality is made even worse on tracks that stick to a typical house format. There are some good grooves to be had - 3 Minutes To Explain, Output, My Faya - but just as you’re getting nicely warmed up to the track, it ends, again prompting the thought of, “Well, that was pointless.”

Which kind of sums up this album anyway. Grand brings nothing fresh to the table here, simply copying better productions from across the field, and failing to offer a unique sound of his own in the process. Serious house-heads aren’t going to have much use for Output, as it clearly wasn’t produced with them in mind. The mainstream crowd may find more worth in it, but only if they don’t listen to much house music to begin with. In that sense, Output may serve as a handy and accessible introduction to the genre at large, in which case I’ll give Grand some credit. After all, he’s made a better album than the fucking Boomtang Boys ever did.


Score: 3/10

ACE TRACKS:
Rockin’ High


Written by Sykonee, 2009. © All rights reserved.
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