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.

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