Monday, March 8, 2010

Flowjob - Support Normality (Original TC Review)


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Iboga Records: Cat. # IBOGACD36
Released January 15, 2006

Track List:
1. Run, Baby, Run (The Big Escape Version) (10:13)
2. Everland Airport (7:45)
3. Flangers In The Night (8:19)
4. Have Fun & Survive (9:00)
5. Wannafrisbee (9:03)
6. They Are Not Alone (8:17)
7. Mood Food (7:56)
8. Wadley (9:32)
9. Glitter (7:47)


(2010 Update:
More wordy than it needed to be, but I think my enthusiasm still came through on this review. Unfortunately, Flowjob didn't quite break out in a way I thought they might have, especially since their follow-up wasn't quite as good as this. I still give this album a high recommendation though. It's insanely infectious and loads of fun!)



IN BRIEF: Gold where you least expect it.

The most common answer to the burning question “Where’s all the good music?” these days is “Underground. Deep underground.” No matter how much the lazy wish the best material was easily accessible, it is seldom the case anymore; folks yearning for material with more substance than typically overused structures and sounds have to put in far more effort to discover unique material since it seems label politics is making it tougher for DJs to be the outlet (especially when said DJs own the labels).

So, the remaining question is just how far underground you have to dig to find choice tunes. In the case of prog house, it seems all the way to different camps altogether.

Whispers and rumors abound lately that the psy scene, of all places, is seeing a resurgence of prog music which is daring to innovate. This doesn’t come of much surprise to me as there’s always been a bit of a tie between psy and prog -Oliver Lieb probably said it best when he quipped most prog sounds like slowed-down minimal psy. In general, both like to start from a basic premise, then build around it with various embellishments along the way before peaking out with some sort of climax or conclusion to the flow of the song -the difference being one’s more concerned with rhythm while the other on atmosphere.

Iboga Records appears to be quite interested in promoting this fusion of prog structures with psy aesthetics, and have earned themselves a decent reputation because of it. However, no label can sustain itself on just one form of EDM (unless your name is Anjunabeats, apparently) and Flowjob’s debut sees the label branching out from its usual psy trappings.

Eh? But isn’t Support Normality being distributed by psy shops like Psyshop and Saiko-Sounds? I suppose, but the material on here is hardly psy in any form; but that’s the trouble with underground niche labels: they rarely get the promotion outside their core scenes despite the music having a chance at big sales in others. In fact, for a good chunk of this album, I’d call it tech house with prog ideals (no, not progressive tech house, you ninnies -such a thing doesn’t exist).

Well, maybe not opener Run, Baby, Run. This song opens up with a dreamy ambient intro that lasts over three minutes. It’s not just noodly synth washes and echo-y effects, though; there’s a definite, meticulous path being followed, gradually building tension to when the first kick hits. When it finally does, all that nicely built tension is wonderfully released despite the laid-back house rhythms. While there are some hooks to be had later on, the focus of Run, Baby, Run is clearly on blissed-out atmosphere, and here it certainly excels.

Moving onto Everland Airport is where we start to see some of that tech house I mentioned two paragraphs ago. Ah, I can see that nervous glance forming on your face at the very mention of tech house. I don’t blame you. It’s one of those forms of music that, more often than not, makes good sense on a dancefloor but is mind-numbingly boring to listen to at home.

Indeed, for the first minute or so of Everland Airport, it appears the song’s just going to be a simple tech house workout, and my mind wandered on the first listen. Along the way, though, something managed to catch my ear and I tuned back in. When I did, my first thought was, “Wait a minute. When did this track get so good!?”

Well, there’s the bassline, a fun groover that’ll get your head bobbing no problem, but that was there from the onset; besides, a catchy rhythm isn’t enough to sustain interest for the nearly eight minutes this track runs. No, the real strength of this track is its refusal to settle into predictable loops. Percussion, effects, fills, minor hooks, and other assorted trickery keep Everland Airport constantly shifting and morphing throughout with the main rhythm tying it all together. Great stuff.

Staying on the tech house tip, Flangers In The Night gets more dubby with it. Once again, a groovy bassline ties the whole track together, and is introduced early on. And, once again, you’d be forgiven for writing this track off early on as another excursion into mediocre tech house. Yet, just like Everland Airport, you’ll probably find yourself suddenly turning your attention back thanks to the ever-changing elements.

The tech house groovers out of the way, Flowjob move into something a little more punctual. Have Fun & Survive relies on minute stuttery hooks and flowing synths rather than groovy basslines to propel it forward. Not to say this is without its fair share of catchy rhythm, but it isn’t quite as prominent as those that came before once the song gets going. As such, Have Fun & Survive also gets away with a minor breakdown and build near the end without disruption the flow. While it’s not as intuitive as the tracks before, it’s still effective in adding some variety to the album.

Wannafrisbee brings us back to tech house territory, and it’s here I’m fully convinced Flowjob are definitely in a higher league than many others. It’s one thing to produce good tracks, but quite another to craft an album full of material that can actually keep your attention, or at the very least keep drawing you back should you stray, especially when it comes to tech house.

Like Everland, this starts out driven mostly by rhythm and is carried by an infectious bassline. The beauty of this one, though, is once you pay attention to it for just a bar or two, you are instantly hooked, and are unable to escape the rhythm’s clutches. How? Simply put, Flowjob keep the energy of Wannafrisbee continuously building by adding various elements as the song progresses. Just when you think the rhythm couldn’t get any groovier, the next measure turns it up yet another notch. Then when you think it can’t get any more energetic, here are some minor hooks to keep you going. Even when the track briefly pauses at a peak to start this gradual build again, none of the momentum is lost as you’re already pumped to keep going. Wannafrisbee is dynamite on a dancefloor.

If there’s been a common theme apparent on Support Normality thus far, it’s each successive song manages to outdo the previous in some manner, and They Are Not Alone easily continues this trend with the best bassline yet. Surrounded by plenty of dubby atmospherics weaving throughout, this sees us leaving the funkier tech house vibes behind and moving into typical prog as hinted in the opener. The main hook is still carried by the rhythms, but the contributing pads, synths, and effects harmonize wonderfully, easily building anticipation for the main hook whenever it leaves for a bit. Mind, They Are Not Alone may not quite go for the jugular, but even in its understated presentation, the song is very effective in wrapping you in sonic bliss.

Mood Food takes us on a turn again, this time finally, yes finally, letting the hooks dictate the track’s path rather than the rhythm. There’s a few of them, mind, but they don’t compete against each other for prominence. Rather they each get a chance to shine before the next takes over. How do they sound? Well, the first one is pretty straight-forward synth stabs, and doesn’t last too long. A mellow gleaming melody accompanied by spacey pads takes over in a brief, unobtrusive breakdown, where it floats along with the rhythm for a while before the third hook emerges from the background. This one’s more aggressive, designed to get you charged up for the peak of the track, and it certainly does this when it has a chance to play out on its own with an accompanied bit of dialogue. It’s just a shame the payoff doesn’t take it to bigger heights. This is one of those times I really wouldn’t have minded an overblown climax, as Mood Food almost begs for one.

We come full circle with Wadley, as this track re-visits the atmospheric soundscapes as done in Run, Baby, Run. While more punctual than the former, there aren’t any major hooks or leads to be had in Wadley in the melody nor the rhythm. There are some subdued, stuttery minor ones, but nothing that leaps out at you quite like most of the other tracks did. The dubby, trancey atmosphere of it is still a pleasant listen, though, so no beef there.

And at the end of Support Normality, we have Glitter, a definite odd-man out. With its very simple growling bassline, twinkly hooks, and female vocals (yes, actual vocals!), this sounds like something that might make the rounds on McProg DJ circuits. While inoffensive enough as it is, Glitter certainly comes off sounding far less musically innovative compared to the rest of the material on this album. Is this an intentional try for a little chart action? Or perhaps a sly rib on the dumbed-down approach of most McProg by contrasting it with some of the best prog I’ve heard in a long time? We may never know, but don’t let this put you off on this song. For what it is, Glitter works just as fine as any other in this field

I suppose you’re wondering why, despite most of the glowing praise I bestowed on this album, it ‘only’ got four stars (since when is that bad?). Well, as good as these songs are, and as expertly they are arranged, they do all stick to a relatively narrow tech-and-prog sound, which does inhibit the scope of the music in general. Additionally, I’m hesitant to give something higher because these guys show excellent potential, and could really push the boundaries of prog house should they desire so.

Whether they do or not may depend on if they get the push this album deserves. Support Normality could get a number of prog heads turning, should such heads take that gamble and explore outside their core scenes. Otherwise, this may end up being one of those underground classics that gets slept on during its time, only to be re-discovered later on (at insanely inflated prices on eBay, natch). The choice is yours. Just don’t complain later on that you weren’t recommended it.


Score: 8/10

ACE TRACKS:
Everland Airport
They Are Not Alone
Mood Food


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

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