Friday, November 30, 2012
Marcel Dettmann isn’t a very important person in the world of techno, but he does regularly DJ at Berghain, the most important techno club in the universe. I guess that makes him a little important by association, but compared to the other Ostgut Ton guys, he doesn’t receive quite as much hype. Oh, there’s still hype - it’s Berg F’n Hain, after all - just more subdued compared to the likes of Ben Klock or Shed.
Subdued. Yeah, that's a good way to describe his debut album. Dark and stark? Hmm, that's not bad either. Abstract, enveloping, and spacious. Ooh, choice journalistic words there. Tedious and pointless. Well, after a fashion.
Let's get to the point. This is a loop dub techno album at its most functional. Every track starts with basic four-to-eight bar segments of sound and percussion, then repeats them for around five-to-six minutes. Then they end. Nothing more, nothing less. There's little tension or release in any of these cuts. Melody? Don't be daft. This are serious techno. Real warehouse hardware, or some faceless bollocks.
Okay, okay, it's not all monotonous loops. Dettmann does add and subtract things throughout, with neat reverb and echo effects scattered about. The bass is also wonderfully cavernous, each kick enveloping you (there's that word again!) as though reverberating off warehouse walls. Occasionally something draws my attention into the loopy nature of these tracks: the droning pads of Motive (it's almost trance!), the grumbling bassline of Reticle, or the funky rhythm of Captivate. Plus, the roomy sound design gives those with quality audio equipment much to gush about. It makes all that money I sprung for Sennheiser 650s, HeadRoom Micro Amp, and HeadRoom Micro DAC seem worth it. Mind, so does a lot of music now, and they also sound okay coming from my shit Acer whocareswhatmodel computer speakers. Not the stuff on Dettmann though, but that's a pointless argument as these tracks were clearly made with techno fetishists in mind, proper listening gear and all.
I've heard Dettmann's regarded as a better EP producer, and if this release's anything to go by, I firmly agree with that assessment. Despite the presence of an intro and an outro, this is not structured as an album; no narrative, no flow. Perhaps a little rise in energy as it progresses, but you could play these in random order and the listening experience wouldn't change much. Dettmann's a collection of singles, with him coming off as the very epitome of a DJ-producer who knows exactly what works for the dancefloor, but not so much for a home listening experience.
There's still some enjoyment to be had playing this at home, if anything for the sound design. Essential listening though? Not at all, no matter what the Ostgut Ton cult proclaim. Then again, even they seem to have already forgotten about this release, creaming their shorts over the latest Shed or Klock material instead. They are very important persons in the world of techno, after all.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
This was one of the albums that helped get me out of a writing funk I had in 2008, where I went nearly two months without contributing anything to TC. I think I made a big, melodramatic deal about not "having anything left to say" or some bullshit like that to explain my absence.
Detrimentalist has gone on to be a handy bit of ammunition for many forum arguments over 'awesome intense musics'. I've put many a bro-stepper into place by throwing Eurocore MVP and such in their faces. y0 betta' recognize, son!)
IN BRIEF: You thought this shit was easy?
As Venetian Snares, Aaron Funk has spent the last decade assaulting ears with all kinds of noisy glitchcore, gabber, and drill’n’bass productions, in the process building up a sizable following of aficionados for that sort of thing. Thus, whenever the curious inquire about the genre, Funk’s name is one that is oft repeated. What they’re usually stunned to discover, though, is there is more to the Venetian Snares moniker than distorted beats and scattershot rhythms. Modern classical compositions, chip-tunes, sprinklings of trip-hop and whatnot – it’s certainly an eclectic discography, and with something like “332” disparate albums (though realistically more like a dozen), trying to dive into Venetian Snares new can seem like a terrifying proposition.
So it’s just as well we bring our attention to his latest full-length, Detrimentalist; after all, if you’re looking to get your feet wet, it might as well be something relatively current. And fortunately for the fearful, this album is probably among his most accessible. Like so many, Funk has been bitten by early 90s nostalgia. And like his fellow IDM screwbars and nutballs, this also means dedication to old school hardcore rave. Ragga jungle! Hoovers! Big riffs! Oh shit, yes!
But allow me to reign in my unapologetic enthusiasm for the moment, as there’s more going on here than a simple love-in. This is, after all, Venetian Snares, and the project from Winnipeg never would have gained a well-deserved reputation without providing music that’s oftentimes compelling head-music. For sure, Dentrimentalist has old school vibes bursting at the seams, but when coupled with glitchy noise, confounding time signatures, and spastic breakcore, you have something that’s wholly unique in the process.
To put it bluntly, this some next level shit, motherfuckers! Ragga rave-jungle squared. Beats and patterns that are at once chaotic and infectious. An audio assault you can barely handle, yet crave more once the track ends. There’s acid, hip-hop samples, rhythmic drops that’ll have you moving like you’re suffering from an epileptic seizure. Leonard Nimoy going on about how his eyes and heart are flame (Koonut-Kaliffee lifts a nifty lengthy sample from an old Star Trek episode; the use of “I burn” is especially mint!). Screechy gabber will bludgeon your brain and you’ll thank Funk for it. One of the most common clichés in dance music reviews is that a track will “destroy a dancefloor” but some of the material off Detrimentalist could probably cause mass chaos, were it not for those good-time ecstatic rave riffs keeping a smile on your face.
Eh? Is all this talk of intense rhythms too much for you? Well if so, you could always scurry over to the deadmau5 stage, where you’re guaranteed a clap every second beat and not much else. Still, despite Funk ably holding his frenetic beats together, there are points where it does fly off the rails, and you begin to wonder if he’s about to loose all sense of direction. Flashforward in particular comes off wholly wayward, not only sounding misplaced on the album but directionless overall; as though Funk couldn’t resist throwing in a ‘breakcore-for-breakcore-sake’ track. Detrimentalist needs more of those snappy reggae notes found in Eurocore MVP, not less.
The final two tracks also stray from the general theme Detrimentalist tends to maintain, in that they are more along the lines of some of Venetian Snares‘ previous material. Bebikukorica Nigiri is all chip-tune bleeps, classical chords, and skitter-breaks, and fun in its own unique way. Finally, Miss Balaton dips into analogue ambient waters and orchestral strings before engaging us with rather subdued breakcore, providing us with a relatively soothing bit of music to ease us out of the intensity the rest of the album bombarded us with. Allow me to just add here that I am continuously amazed by these IDM producers’ yin/yang capabilities - they create some of the most ruthlessly noisy music out there, yet will often deliver incredibly gorgeous synth textures within the same album.
So, if you’re still wondering whether Detrimentialist is worth your time, the answer is a definite yes. Even if the notion of drill’n’bass and breakcore seems scary and absurd, this here new album from Venetian Snares should cure you of such concerns. Funk has thrown in more than enough inviting classic EDM conventions to draw in the most cynical of IDM detractors, all the while maintaining his signature complexity throughout.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
If you got through some of my earliest shit reviews, you may have noticed a minor gush over the name Audio Science. A four-piece group from Germany, they were one of the better hard trance acts of the early 90s, and seeing their name crop up on a Hypnotic Records release suggested at least some quality would be found within. They had another project too; an electro act named Kraftwelt that very much was inspired by that other ‘kraft’ German group that made it big in the 70s.
Electro was going through some lean times in the middle of the 90s. Though a few acts like Jedi Knights and Aux 88 kept it afloat, it’d take until the latter end of that decade before a proper revival occured. I can see Kraftwelt treating their project as nothing more than a fun tribute side-project but, for some reason, Hypnotic Records got behind it to an almost unprecedented level. Maybe they just really, really loved their covers on the Tribute To Kraftwerk CD?
So a whole album of fresh material was commissioned, and to promote it Hypnotic released this disc as the lead single. Fair enough, but were a dozen remixes necessary? Good lord, even the classics of dance music take years to acquire that many to their name, and here’s Hypnotic tossing out twelve in the first shot.
As you can imagine, Deranged In Space isn’t a great package. Hypnotic relies on artists signed to them (or parent label Cleopatra), and few were major names, even within the niche genres they covered. Kinder Atom, Zero Gravity, Surface 10, Coercion, and Space Ship Eyes mostly stick to spacey electro, while Leæther Strip and Virex take the EBM road. The remixes are fine for the most part, but it does grow tedious repeatedly hearing the same samples and pieces culled from the original Deranged.
Three cuts do stand out though. First, The Path is a totally different track, sounding like a proper nu-Kraftwerk track that suites the whole project. At the other end of the spectrum is the Controlled Bleeding remix, a glorious mess of a cut that befits the noisy bastards they are - it’s like hearing Deranged fed through a number cruncher, then expunged back into your face as digital vomit. Awesome! Finally, Überzone provides a rub, doing his chemical breaks thing, though rather subdued for his style (the Interfaith Super 8 Remix is probably closer to what folks would expect). ‘zone’s done better, but it did get featured on the old MTV show Amp, so there’s that. Man, Hypnotic must have pushed the hell out of this single.
If you’re curious about this project, you’re likely better off picking up one of the two Kraftwelt albums instead of picking up Deranged In Space. It could have been a respectable EP with half the content, but trying to milk a full remix album out of one relatively unknown song is bonkers. Oh, Hypnotic, always doing more than you should.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
When starting a new dance label, it's usually a good idea having a prominent DJ or two as a figurehead promoting releases. Sometimes, like John Digweed or Markus Schulz, they'll double as management. Other times, the DJ will simply be a hired gun, like Ferry Corsten was for Ministry Of Sound, or Scott Stubbs was for Topaz Records. Wait, who?
Apologies for that lame lead-in, but those were the thoughts swirling in me brain-pan while re-listening to this CD, and dammit, I only have an evening to write these. I can't be bothered to do that much back-checking into the relationship between Stubbs and Topaz, so I'm going with a gut feeling, on account ol' Scott had several mix CDs released on the label when it started out. I assume he was a hired gun, as info regarding Topaz has dried up when it folded around 2005, whereas Stubbs' career as a Las Vegas resident has carried on regardless.
Topaz itself began as a promising American-based label featuring trance, back in the glorious time when trance was at its commercial peak (that's the year 2000, kids). They roped in a few other well-regarded names like Blue Amazon and some Platipus distribution, but their primary focus was centred around US DJs that were just as good as any of the big UK jocks at playing out progressive trance. Noble intents for sure, and their first few releases hinted they'd offer competition against the likes of Renaissance. Sweet deal for those tired of paying import prices on such music!
This debut mix for Topaz and Stubbs catches progressive trance at the flashpoint of the genre's shift into the dark, dubby sound that would come to encompass 'prog' in the early '00s. Not surprising, as the opening clutch of tracks feature names largely responsible for that direction (Mara, Dominion, Bill Hamel, and Chris Fortier). The mix does pick up midway though, bringing in proper hooks for all your trance needs. Nothing cheesy or overwrought; just solid, energetic tunes offered by Expansion, Arrakis, Trinity Sight, and Dream Traveler. And say, do I see that Markus Schulz fella’ in a remix credit there?
Overall, it’s the sort of mix you’d expect to hear Heaven Scent near the end of, had Topaz managed to clear the rights for it. Guess it was just a bit too new when this one was released, so only ol’ Diggers got to milk it that year. Arrakis’ Medusa is an alright substitute, almost a missing link between the Bedrock classic and a prior anthem like Café Del Mar.
Scott Stubbs as a DJ then? Fine, I suppose, though certainly no Digweed (not even a Dave Seaman, to be honest). It lacks silky smooth transitions and the mixdown sounds flat, but there aren't any embarrassing flubs either. Promo mixes of similar quality were plentiful around that time, so there’s no reason to shell out major dollars for this CD.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Nah, fuck it! I get to invoke a reissue loophole here, in that all the remix material was bundled on a second CD of the Demanufacture package (plus a couple extra tagged on the end of CD1). Thus, Remanufacture is technically labeled as CD2 of its parent album in my media player list. Since it was initially an entirely different release though, I’ll talk about it separately.
Story goes Rhys Fulber and Bill Leeb were commissioned to do remixes of material from Fear Factory’s first album, Soul Of A New Machine, which led to Fulber becoming the band’s unofficial fifth member. Rather than making another EP length remix album, it was decided to give the full remix treatment to Demanufacture, each song having a re-rub to itself. Fulber was tasked with the bulk of the work, but several other tunes were sent to other producers, giving some much needed variety to the project.
I know what you're thinking. Remix albums suck, for the simple fact there's no cohesion or communication among the various remixers. Agreed, which is why having only four keeps things musically tight and flowing from track to track. They aimed to make Remanufacture just as solid of a standalone album as the parent one, and though it's not quite as good, it's still a fun ride.
Unsurprisingly, Fulber takes his remixes fully down the industrial road. Though he throws a couple surprises here and there - Zero Signal is turned into a bass-sludge EBM work titled Faithless - his work mostly retains the originals' pace and attributes. It's as though he's now the main attraction with Fear Factory backing him rather than the other way around on Demanufacture. The other remixer of note was Junkie XL, who provides two cuts for Remanufacture, and a few additional ones that initially only appeared on the Burn single but are included with the reissue as well. I've always felt he's best at block-rockin' big beats, and he's in as fine of form as ever here.
The show stealers, however, have to be Kingsize and DJ Dano. The latter goes full-on gabber with T-1000, outclassing all the other gabber remixes that were done for New Breed overseas (and yes, they're also included on the reissue). Kingsize's remix is utterly bonkers though! Titled Cloning Technology, it brings all the best aspects of big beat while making brilliant use of Fear Factory's thrashier side. Just when you think this track can't get any more headbangin', he adds another layer of intense mosh, over and over again. Some out there might be miffed that Replica's morbid theme (about a person born from rape) is essentially wiped away for the purpose of ravaging dance floors, but then that argument can be made for most of Remanufacture.
It does make me wonder how many within the metal scene appreciated these remixes. They certainly enjoyed Demanufacture enough to hail it a classic, but I don’t hear much mention of this one. Their loss, then.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Future Shock Week continues with Fear Factory’s Demanufacture! Huh, you didn’t realize we’re in the middle of a themed review week? Neither did I, until I noticed this trend starting with The FSOL’s post-apocalyptic Dead Cities. Of course there was Deltron 3030 just now, and Deepwater Black’s based around a future where humanity’s wiped out by a global pandemic. Even Deep Forest could count, hinting at a future where society has gone tribal again! Or maybe I just like Future Shock music, and it’s a total coincidence that we’d get a run of them in alphabetical order. Yeah, that's it.
I admit having almost no experience with this genre. I'm not Metal Mike nor Johnny Thrash, though I've had the odd roommate that was. There are undeniable classics to be found within that scene but very, very few I’m compelled to get for myself. This is one of those exceptions, as Fear Factory appealed to the 'techno boy' in me with their industrial leanings. Plus, what teenager of the 90s could resist Zero Signal, as featured in the classic Mortal Kombat soundtrack?
Demanufacture is a rarity within the death metal scene, dealing with futurism rather than historical fantasy and the like. The topics sung, growled, and bellowed by lead singer Burton C. Bell, though often covering contemporary issues (at least, contemporary for the 90s), work just as well if envisioned in an apocalyptic landscape like something out of the Terminator franchise; in fact, the band very much used Terminator 2 as inspiration. Helping them out with this was Rhys Fulber (of Front Line Assembly and Delerium fame), adding synth backings and industrial textures to complete the future shock vision. Fear Factory still dominate, but Fulber's touch greatly enhances tracks like Zero Signal, New Breed, and Pisschrist.
So the music's all around solid stuff, but I’m astounded by how good of a headphone experience it is, something I never thought I'd say about death metal. As long as you go for the ride, you’ll be swept up in by Demanufacture's atmosphere. It's like watching the opening scene of T2 for the whole damn album. The gatling gun drumming (double kick pedal!), the grinding machinery of the bass, the encompassing guitars and synths; the triumphant highs and the suffering lows, everything. I know I keep saying this about such albums, but it really does reward a full play though. Everyone should immerse themselves into it at least once, even if you don't like metal. Well, so long as you don't mind the thrashing side of rock anyway.
Sadly, it took me years to properly do that, despite knowing about the band since, um, the Mortal Kombat movie. Truth be told, the only material from Fear Factory I had was the remix album, Remanufacture, and burned from an aforementioned roommate at that. Not until Demanufacture was reissued with the remix CDs did I finally hear it in full. I’d talk about those too, but they come out of alphabetical order, so…
Saturday, November 24, 2012
After years of speculation, anticipation, teases, and delays, the sequel to the underground classic Deltron 3030 was to hit the streets this month. And now Deltron Event II has been postponed again, until next spring. Ergh, argh! I cannae take this anticipation any longer. Maybe I shouldn't have stumbled upon this album after all.
Oh, who am I kidding? It was an eventuality that I’d hear the project of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Dan The Automator, and Kid Koala. When I did discover Deltron though, it was quite a fluke, coming at a time when personal purchasing power was pathetic, made more so by the lack of options in a backwards interior BC town I briefly lived at. How this CD came to be at that lone music store, I have no idea, but lo’ it was a true blessing I saw it at a time I had rare spending cash. I was already familiar with Del’s work with his posse Hieroglyphics, and you couldn’t escape the Gorillaz hit Clint Eastwood that year either, so seeing his name on the wrap sticker of an intriguing cover, I took the gamble and bought it blind.
I'll admit to some jadedness regarding first impressions, rarely blown away within the first couple songs of a CD. Not so here. The opening mournful tones of 3030, Del's fiery future lyricism, and Koala's subtle scratching instantly won me over, but when that chorus hit in grand operatic fashion, I knew I'd be in for a proper ride. 3030, though brilliant, was just a tease, as the album kept getting better and better with every track! (except Upgrade, but few album's are that perfect).
The appeal lies in the concept. This is definitely a future-shock album, but all is not so bleak as most artists go (hi, FSOL!). Corporations run rampant and unchecked, the underclass struggles, and it's up to Deltron Zero to bring the fight in this era. Fortunately, he also finds time to partake in intergalactic rap battles and chill out after a hard day's endeavors. It doesn't hurt most of the skits keep the outlook humorous and tongue-in-cheek; yes, there are problems, but we can laugh at the absurdity too. By the end of it all, Deltron's world seems more akin to Futurama than the dystopia suggested at the start.
Deltron 3030's gone down as a classic of the niche 'nerdcore' micro-genre, where lyrics and themes focus on geek culture, scientific jargon, and sci-fi settings. It's also a rare feat of musical craft, maintaining a consistent motif throughout while appealing to any casual fan of undergroun hip-hop, clever production, or unique music in general. Del was on a creative tear in those years while Dan The Automator cemented his place as a producer to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, some guy named Damon Albarn, who guest-warbled on Time Keeps On Slipping, took notice of this duo's brilliance, and got them to make a couple tracks to launch his Gorillaz project. That turned out pretty good too, apparently.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Pete Namlook’s discography remains a daunting one to dive into, thanks in no small part to the deliberate scarcity of his early work. Story goes he never intended his Fax+ releases to attain any level of commercial success, pressing limited runs of 1,000 whenever he invited someone over for a jam session in his studio and leaving it at that. It strikes me as a crafty entrepreneurial tactic within the ambient scene at large, all these limited run releases. Few things make tangible items more alluring than rarity.
Musically, one must consistently deliver for hard copy hunters to willingly lay down that extra cash, and Namlook’s output featured a plethora of classics and gems for early 90s ambient and techno enthusiasts. There was also a lot of middling dross, in that he and his collaborators seldom had specific visions in mind beyond broad ideas. Much of their output comes across like jazz for ambient heads: plenty of ingenuity and enjoyment for the die-hard, but noodly wank for anyone else.
Rising High Records did most of the UK legwork for Fax+ distribution, several releases appearing on assorted albums and compilations. Namlook was assigned the task of gathering leftovers into these Definitive Ambient comps, which doesn't make these terribly definitive, does it.
Though lacking any of the true Namlook classics, this second volume does feature some of his more memorable projects: Silence (with Dr. Atmo), Dreamfish (with Mixmaster Morris), Escape (Dr. Atmo again), Sequential (with DJ Criss), and Hearts Of Space (with Pascal F.E.O.S.), plus his solo work as Air. Not a bad roster, but the track selection's wonky, ultra-long pieces interspersed with short sonic doodles. Confounding the listening experience is, despite Namlook's presence throughout, there's little similarity between these collaborations, thus the flow's bizarre.
Case in point: the 22-minute long Garden Of Dreams, sitting at the third position, and surrounded by three musically unrelated tracks not even reaching the same length in total. The track itself is incredibly New Age, relying on soft crystalline pads and voices for half its run time before meditative percussion emerges. Despite its ambient nature, it leaves you exhausted, and you forget there's still over half a CD to go through. Saturn Cruises, just two tracks later and fifteen minutes long, leaves you in a similar state, though I can vibe on its slow space acid groove much better (plus, anything involving Saturn’s fucking awesome!). Fishology's position at the end is much better for a long track, capping the album off with fun bleepy ambient techno. Such behemoths unfortunately render nearly everything else forgettable, even though tracks like Duane Sky and 1st Impression are fine tunes.
This is far from a classic compilation, most of these cuts available on the original albums from which they were culled. Even the Pete Namlook ‘mix’ isn’t much of a hook, very little blending occurring between tracks. Get it if you find it cheap, but the odds of that happening are low.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
This one again? I swear I've given this compilation more attention than anyone else. Or maybe it just feels that way since I've gotten a lot of mileage out of these tunes for one reason or another. Still a recommended CD if you find it super-cheap. And hoo boy, I really did get my geek on with this review, didn't I? No shame.)
IN BRIEF: Obscure tie-in compilation for obscure sci-fi TV show.
Far be it for us to occasionally review unknown EDM releases, but now we’re also covering unknown TV shows too? Hardly, but these Random Reviews do have a tendency to drag along quirky fun-facts from other fields. Here’s what we have in this case.
Deepwater Black - or Mission Genesis in parts American - was a short-lived Canadian-filmed TV series based on a trilogy of books written by New Zealander Ken Catran that aired in the latter half of ‘97. It holds the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first original series produced by the Sci-Fi Channel - ‘dubious’, because Sci-Fi Channel has an unfortunately long history of under-produced, somewhat cheesy original shows. On the other hand, this was at a time when television sci-fi was quite popular, so there probably wasn’t much harm in at least trying it. Just keep the cast small and unknown, the CGI special-effects video-game level (hey, it worked for Babylon 5’s first season, and that show went on to be critically hailed as one of the best sci-fi shows for most of the 90s), and your stories somewhat compelling for sci-fi, and you really couldn’t go wrong.
For what it’s worth, the show did have a strong premise: a sextet of young adults emerge from cryogenic sleep on a starship, discover they are in fact prematurely awakened clones designed to repopulate a decimated human population, and thus head back to Earth to do so, getting into adventures along the way. To the show’s benefit, the writers of the series decided to go the ‘bleak sci-fi’ style, which resulted in some fairly grim stories - when your backstory involves a virus wiping out the human race, how could you not? Oh, and irresistibly-cute Nicole de Boer was one of the leads (her pre-Deep Space 9 role - god, am I ever getting my geek on here…); even if the show was utterly lame, I could watch her any day!
Fortunately, Deepwater Black wasn’t lame, though it was obviously produced on the cheap and didn’t last long. Plus, it was just a little too youth focused. Mind, it’s understandable that it would be, as Canadian network YTV (no, I won’t tell you what that stands for - it’s really, really obvious) was a co-producer of the show, but that did effectively limit the potential audience since most teenaged sci-fi fans would have probably been more dedicated to shows like Trek, B5, or Xena anyway. Still, 13 episodes aired, and it’s retained cult status for the curious, at least at a level of any second-tier anime series.
Oh, and they also released a CD in conjunction with the show.
Actually, it was this CD that even clued me into Deepwater Black, as I saw it floating about in the racks at the music shop I worked for at the time. Naturally, my, er, ‘raver curiosity’ was intrigued by the tracklist. My manager seemed to be the opposite: “Oh yeah, that’s that show that has those kids with the funny hair,” he mentioned (huh?). I had no idea what he was talking about, especially so since Deepwater Black had been cancelled for a year by then, but any show that featured as varied names as The Prodigy, Delerium, Jonny L, and Gary Numan couldn’t be all bad, could it?
That’s the quirky thing about this CD though: aside from the Fred Mollin-penned theme song (Inclonation), none of these songs were ever in the series. Rather, and I quote from the liner notes: “These tracks do not necessarily appear in the Deepwater Black series, but do represent part of the producers’ dwb psyche.” Like, how, exactly? They were listening to these tracks while writing and filming the show? They just took the opportunity to make a kind of mixtape for fans of the show? Yet another excuse to milk an ‘electronica’ compilation (this was, after all, 1997)?
Still, even if you were to go with the cynical option, this is a surprisingly varied CD that manages to retain a decent spacey theme. The only track I’d really pin down as being an ‘electronica’ compilation cliché is Emperion’s Narcotic Influence; and maybe Delerium’s Euphoria (that one was getting all the promotional buzz on the heels of the album Karma), but the rest do manage to stand out from your standard ’97 ‘electronica’ glut. For instance, of all the Prodigy tracks to choose from, The Heat? Really? That’s… unexpected. Then you get spaced-out drum’n’bass from Jonny L’s Treading, Underworld cool-groove from Moonshine big-beat heroes Cirrus, the earliest of early productions from broken-beat producer Moonstarr (tripped-out acid jazz in Imperial Starr Cruiser’s case), underground hip-hop from Toronto act Mood Ruff… essentially a lot of psychedelic break-beats and chilled-out trip-hop to be had here. Then finally, of course, Gary Numan’s Metal - the original thirty-year old version. Talk about your musical swerves.
The association this CD has with Deepwater Black is fleeting at best (space-themed show - space-themed music?), but it’s a fine EDM compilation in its own right. Varied yet consistent, familiar tunes rubbing shoulders with overlooked gems, plus a sense that whoever did gather up these tracks, it was for a love of the music itself rather than trying to cash-grab with obvious hits. Granted, it’s yet another one of those releases that you won’t miss if you don’t pick it up (on the cheap, of course), yet nor will you be disappointed should you decide to check it out anyway.
Much like Deepwater Black itself, really.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Deep Forest was far from the first to do ‘ethnic samples with a dance beat’, but no one else had as much commercial success with it as Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez on their self-titled debut, including themselves. For better or worse (mostly worse), it kicked off the pop side of world beat (‘global pop’?) flooding the Easy Listening sections of music stores with Pure Moods compilations and such bilge. For every half-decent tune that’d emerge from that scene, there’d be dozens of cheap knock-offs cozying up with New Age and smooth jazz composers. *shudder*
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. In 1992, ethnic sampling was still fashionable and Deep Forest happened across a few such samples that provided them with the blueprints to make some pretty decent music. Much like that other French guy who was behind Enigma, their initial success lay in appealing to club culture first - the crossover fame came later. Over half the album is uptempo and dancefloor friendly, well-worn drum loops and tribal grooves dominating their wordly vision. It’s almost a shame Deep Forest’s primarily known for chill out music, as the beats provided in Deep Forest, Savana Dance, and White Whisper give most mainstream club rhythms of the time a run for their money.
But yes, it’s the pygmy chants that stood Deep Forest out from the crowd. I’d hardly call what they do with their samples unique, but they are creative and memorable. Whether as full verses or snippets to form parts of backing melodies, these voices from Africa (and the Solomons) worm their way into your ears such that you’ll be humming the words along despite not knowing what’s being said. Their technique was so effective that Sweet Lullaby became an international sensation. Yay global unity!
For the electronic geek in me, two other things make Deep Forest especially enjoyable. First, pads. Oh yes, pads again. Even when there’s a vigorous beat or emphatic chant, so many lovely, calm ambient textures flow through this album, never devolving into New Age noodle-pap, a remarkable feat considering the musical context. Also, though obviously dated by current standards, Mouquet and Sanchez make ample use of stereo effects, samples and percussion weaving back and forth across the channels, turning this into a fun little headphone album.
Deep Forest was re-released a couple years later as World Mix, which added an additional song Forest Hymn and assorted remixes (including a couple from Apollo 440, whereby Deep Forest returned the favor by remixing Liquid Cool, appearing on that Sasha & Diggers mix). I’d imagine this version’s the cheaper of the two just for this fact, but it’s not like either are rare. This was a multi-platinum album and despite some dated artifacts of the era it was produced, still holds up well enough. It has none of the sap you’d expect from mainstream world beat, and never oversells its intents. It’s global music at its charming best.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The good news is Spiral Trax is still operating, though in far lesser capacity than years past. The bad news is ol' Dag hasn't released much of anything since these retrospectives. I don't know whether he called it quits or is simply taking an extended break from production. Guess check back in half a decade for a 2016 Update?)
IN BRIEF: Only a taster.
Human Blue isn’t obscure. In fact, Dag Wallin’s project has a few albums to his name, not to mention been featured on several compilations over the past ten years. Considering the incredibly high turnover ratio of psy trance producers, he’s actually done quite well for himself to keep plugging along. Yet were you asked to name off the top of your head a ‘Human Blue classic’, chances are you’ll be hard pressed to respond with anything immediate. That lack of any recognizable hit singles has kept his profile out in the fringes of trance-land, which some may say has been for the better. Less corruption from popular trends… keeping trance ‘real’… those sorts of reasons.
Truthfully though, the reason Human Blue didn’t break out the same way others have is due to the very nature of his music. He’s primarily a progressive trance producer, but when he was releasing his first singles in the late 90s, Wallin didn’t follow suite with what the superstar UK DJs were pushing as that sound – rather, he decided to draw influence from psy trance instead. For better or worse, this instantly ‘ghettoized’ his work (that is, if you consider outdoor parties surrounded by a bunch of hippies as ‘trance ghetto’, heh), which is a shame because there are many tracks of his that could have fit snuggly into trance sets from that time.
So, Wallin wasn’t really progressive trance, but nor was he really psy. Sure, there were some elements here and there, but for a form of music that has long been characterized as busy and, er, psychedelic, Wallin’s tunes were comparatively simple; few superfluous squiggly bits and such. Rather, it was more groove orientated, with attention paid to building upon rhythmic layers rather than messing around with head-fuck effects. It became known as a distinctively Swedish take on psy trance, a sound shared by other prominent producers such as Vibrasphere and Atmos, and nurtured on the label Spiral Trax. It was progressive, yet also psy. It was… prog psy!
With prog psy being heralded as the last refuge for pure trance lovers in recent years, folks who fancy the stuff should be pleased that one of the originators of the sound has now released a pair of retrospective collections. When Spiral Trax folded in ’06 (though they’ve since re-opened), Wallin signed with long-time psy tastemaker label Transient, and promptly decided to gather up a bunch of Human Blue tracks that have grown increasingly difficult to procure. Why, though, spread it out over two independent CDs rather than release it as a double-disc set? Senseless, I says.
The reason for us choosing to cover Part 1 of A Decade Of Dance is purely arbitrary; similarly, so seems the consideration behind the track selection. There really isn’t much to differentiate the two releases, as they both equally cover the same time period, and the stylistic variation between them is nil. That said, Part 1 follows mostly a chronological selection, and you can notice the ever-so gradual shift in Wallin’s work as he moved from a pure prog trance sound to something a little more groovier. Only two tracks fall out of the Human Blue timeline, the unreleased Space Blues (probably the most rhythmically intense track out of the bunch here) and Breaking Limits, from the ’99 album Ice - you can definitely hear the early goa influences with this one. Everything else follows a similar pattern: basic beats and tones are laid out early, gradually building in rhythmic energy before some minor melodic ideas are introduced, finally capping off with everything coming together. Fortunately, the strength of Wallin’s production keeps things fresh through each tune, if not exhilarating.
And yes, the lack of variation is a chief quibble to be had with this CD. Part 1 is by no means a dull playthrough - I’d only rate Virtual Turnaround as a weak link - but the relative sameness throughout the disc keeps its overall rating mired in that annoying six-to-seven range so much music ends up; it’s just not quite a solid seven, but certainly far better than a six. Were we to utilize PitchforkMedia’s rating system, Part 1 would be something like 6.8473π²÷10 , but since we here at TranceCritic aren’t twits, I’ll just round it up to 7.
If anything, this is a nice little primer into the Human Blue discography. This or Part 2 (should you have picked that up instead) is easily enough to get you started on what Wallin’s music is all about, with just the right amount of potential tease to tantalize you further should you be curious enough to dig deeper.
Monday, November 19, 2012
A true magnum opus from The Future Sound Of London. Opinion tends to divide over which of their albums is their absolute best (Lifeforms? One of the latter Environments? The Isness... no.) but in terms of cinematic narratives via expansive soundscapes, Dead Cities is hard to beat. It helps that it’s one of their only albums to have a definitive theme right from the outset in the title. What’s exactly dead about these cities? Might that creepy guy on the cover and the stark artwork surrounding him be a clue? Dive right in, noble listener, and discover for yourself.
It’s probably not thought of much nigh fifteen years on, but Dead Cities was bold for its time. Backed by Virgin’s megabucks and promotion, The FSOL were being counted on to help propagate the ‘electronica’ surge. Undoubtedly the ‘artier’ group of a roster that included The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, and Massive Attack, they were given relative free reign on Lifeforms and ISDN. Lacking a proper hit though, it wouldn’t surprise me if Virgin started tapping their feet while leering over The FSOL’s shoulder as 1996 drew near. Well then, here’s a track that’s all ‘big beaty’ for ya’, We Have Explosive. Hell, you can even use it as the main theme for that futuristic racing video game you’re tied to if you like. Now let us get back to our studio, thank you very much. Well, maybe.
Here’s the thing about the rockin’ Explosive, and nearly any cut off Dead Cities: as standalone pieces of music, they’re all solid offerings. Even some of their transitional interludes were good enough to earn titles (somewhere, in that mess of a tracklist on the back). Variety comes in spades, tons of genres, sub-genres, and sonic experiments finding their way in bits and pieces that it’d take a 2,000 word review to detail it all (look at one of the old ones floating around TranceCritic for proof!). Scattershot IDM breaks. Bubbling ambience. Sampledelic psychedelia. Desolate opera, charming cyber-folk, lounge jazz, and piano noodling. 303s and 808s. Cheeky hidden metal.
Cool, then. Good tracks, download the best ones and all that, right? Nah, what makes Dead Cities a cut above is how the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether The FSOL had an intended vision or allowed the listener to come up with their own, each track details another piece of their post-apocalyptic narrative. Hell, We Have Explosive, a tune that, as an obvious ‘electronica’ single should not have fit at all, serves as an inciting cataclysm to the whole enterprise (following it with such a beautiful, mournful somber piece in Everyone In The World Is Doing Something Without Me perfectly sells it too). I’ve often imagined the latter half of the album as a chronicle of the survivors discovering remnants of civilization deep underwater but personal interpretations will vary. Take a listen for yourself and let me know what springs forth from your imagination!
Sunday, November 18, 2012
I hated this when I first heard it, so much that I exiled it from my “To Review” list at TranceCritic, allowing it to collect dust on an MP3 disc off in a corner. I couldn't bring myself to slam one of the most unique psy acts I'd enjoyed, and perhaps a part of me couldn’t believe their career had come to this. I didn't even care about the music, it was how it all sounded! That... that... plastic production that so much psy of the mid-00s came out with, and now an elder statesman of that scene, the ever awesome Eat Static, had succumbed to it. And to top it all off, a full-on track! Now they're bandwagon jumpers too? No, this just won't do. I deny De-Classified's existence!
Of course, I was a moronic douche-nob. There were tracks I recall liking on that initial playthrough, but because I stubbornly dismissed the album outright, I never gave it a second chance until recently, where I discovered there's a lot of kick-ass music to be had here.
Not that this is Eat Static's best work. The production does come off plastic and fresh ideas are few, the duo having explored most of all they can the decade prior. That don't matter though, as Eat Static going through the motions outclasses nearly any other psy act into touch.
I may not enjoy the sheen this album comes in, but I cannot deny the space it provides all these fun, quirky sounds Eat Static throws into their tunes. Everything comes in crystal clear, and those soaring space melodies have seldom sounded more brilliant than they do in Trantaloid, Brassneck, and Tractor Beam. Oh, speaking of Tractor Beam, holy shit, does this song rock! Eat Static's dabbled in jungle before with great results, but this cut stands tall and proud with anything they’ve ever done. Why the hell did I overlook this before? God, was I an idiot.
Even within De-Classified's limited ‘for the party’ scope, their alien mojo is in as fine of form as ever. Strong hooks courtesy of Visitors and Trantaloid; fun downtempo funk in Invaders and Panchama; groove-heavy psy freakouts in Deadly Amphibian and Brassneck; even that full-on track (Sin-Quest) is good. I'd still put albums like Abduction and Science Of The Gods as better overall CDs, but De-Classified has enough going for it that any casual fan of latter-day psy should give it a shot.
One problem though: this thing's hard to come by, at least at reasonable prices. It’s rare to find used copies under the $20 mark, much less a brand new one. There’s MP3 versions, but something tells me the old Eat Static mark’s gonna want his physical copy. To that end, unless you happen upon a deal, De-Classified isn’t worth that much investment. Seeing as how this remains their last proper full-length though, it’d be unfortunate if it goes disregarded due to scarcity (rather than stupid ignorance in my case).
Friday, November 16, 2012
I got this shortly after my Dark Hearts 1 experience, the familiar Harthouse logo and Lieb production credits assuring me this was a can’t miss album. Well no, it was actually the charming 90s CG cover art that drew me in, thereby allowing the above to do the rest when I flipped it over. Something seemed off though. Only four tracks? My relatively young experience with trance music couldn’t fathom it, most prior bought compilations and albums holding at least ten to twelve cuts. Okay, these were long songs, averaging between fifteen and twenty minutes each, but I’d never heard trance music of such length before. How could it be done?
Intros, that’s it. Extended ambient soundscapes building atmosphere before proper rhythms and melodies hit. And don’t execute just one single musical idea either, expand upon it, then change things up midway through, creating different parts and sections like a prog rock opus. Don’t forget those outros either. And should you feel inclined to take an odd tangent, by all means go for it! There, fifteen minutes easily taken care of.
I recall reading that Oliver Lieb considered his Spicelab alias an outlet for experiments, even when staying within the confines of whatever sound typified hard electronic music of the time. This coming out during the first wave of trance, there’s definitely an undercurrent of sci-fi delights and spacey melody, coming up strong in up-front hooks on Falling and We Have Spice. On the other half of the album, hard tech-edged and electro sounds dominate, anything resembling a hook often shunted to the side except at key points - vintage voice pads at the climax of A Day On Our Planet and orchestral stabs at the end of Planet Spice. Throughout it all, nothing feels superfluous, though sometimes Lieb does take his sweet time getting to the point.
Oh, and beats? Seeing as how the first two cuts are straight-forward enough, the rhythms tend to be functional, but ‘functional Lieb beats’ outclasses many, so that’s fine here. Things get wonky on the back-half, with an odd pattern in A Day On Our Planet that somehow remains 4/4, and tougher techno dominating Planet Spice. Of course, anyone familiar with his forays into blistering tech-trance under the L.S.G. or S.O.L. monikers won’t be that thrown off, but it’s definitely enough to make these tunes a challenge for the doe-eyed trancecracker discovering Spicelab.
A Day On Our Planet is worth your time and pennies if you’re looking for trance that dares to break with convention, as there’s been scant little like this released after. Why is that, exactly? Techno and house are still releasing twenty minute long tracks, even though they’re often nothing more than slowly evolving loops. Come on, trance producers, let’s see more attempts at tunes breaking the fifteen minute barrier. I know there’s a few of you out there with the production chops, the musical ingenuity, and the gargantuan ball sacks to make it happen.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
One of two Pink Floyd albums you're supposed to have even if you're not much of a Pink Floyd fan. Hell, it's one of about a dozen rock albums you're supposed to have even if you're not much of a rock music fan. I do likes me some rockin' and some rollin', but the Floyds never hooked me, which is odd considering how much of a Banco de Gaia fanboy I am. Maybe I'll fall sway to their mopey, trippy charms some day.
You don't need to digest their discography to enjoy Dark Side Of The Moon though. This is a very good record, great, classic even. Don't take my word for it, just ask every single rock publication that has ever existed ever. Or if you don't believe me, throw on your local classic rock station to hear it for yourself. Chances are you'll hear almost all of it throughout the course of a day, maybe even the whole thing if you happen across a Pink Floyd tribute hour.
Still, this is an electronic music blog (most of the time), so I suppose I should mention some of the electronic things on this album. There's On The Run, the bloopy synth-effects second track that every young raver hears for the first time and thinks, “Holy shit, Pink Floyd could do that!? Maybe there's a remix of it!” And then they find said remix, which is nothing more than a 909 kick added or something equally lame, coming away disappointed by the wasted potential. Not that I was such a young raver, mind, but I did come across a few who thought they'd stumbled upon something revolutionary when discovering some white label bootleg of On The Run (Added Kick Mix).
Fortunately, there’re better remix efforts of Dark Side Of The Moon over the years, including Dub Side Of The Moon by the Easy Star All-Stars that got a lot of positive press at the time. I don't have that one, nor am I inclined to hear it if I'm honest. I like dub and I like Dark Side, but not at the same time, which is funny considering the studio trickery occurring in this album could be considered dub music as well.
Y’know, if I’m being honest about that, I’ll be honest about this: I wasn’t in the mood to hear Dark Side right now. It’s music that lets you savour a strong mope, best enjoyed on gray, wet, miserable, morning-after days that folks claim perfectly captures England’s stiff upper lip. I was in a good mood, dammit. The sky was blue and full of sun. I got new music in the mail. A lab mark I thought would bomb came back a near perfect. My back didn’t hurt. I had ice in my glass. Cheers, Mr. Pink & His Floyds, for ruining my day. Why do I have this again? Oh yeah, because I’m supposed to have it.
Alright, the music’s good too, great, classic even.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)
It’s time for a confession. I knew about Afrika Bambaataa within my first year of enjoying 'techno', even heard a couple tracks. I didn't know who he was though, until nearly three years later, and even then I had no idea of his legacy. I can only claim pre-internet teenage ignorance, but far as I was concerned, ol' Bam' was responsible for such euro-dance hits like Feel The Vibe and Feeling Irie, thus he was a euro-dance guy, but not as successful as major players like 2 Unlimited, Haddaway, or Culture Beat. Hang your head in shame, teenage Sykonee. Hang it low.
No doubt, that contributed to me covering Dark Matter Moving At The Speed Of Light for TranceCritic, as I hoped whatever trancecracker readers we acquired at the time would learn something about the Godfather Of Hip-Hop (a.k.a.: the Amen Ra Of Universal Hip-Hop Culture; a.k.a.: the Father Of The Electro Funk Sound; a.k.a.: the Grand Poobah Of Funky Vox; a.k.a.: the...). Sadly, it was one of my early stupid-long reviews, so who knows if my goal was achieved.
Where does this leave us now, nearing a decade on? Limbo, I guess. Make no mistake, this is still a solid album, even if the back-end drags, but it came out when crunk reigned supreme. The positive party vibe of Bambaataa’s music couldn’t cut it against the raw, sloppy aggression from Lil’ Jon’s factory. The other side of club culture didn’t pick up on this either. Only Metal got played out, though I suspect it was DJs making use of an updated version of a Gary Numan classic.
No matter what he does in the twilight of his career, Bambaataa’s legacy will remain intact. Cuts like Planet Rock and Looking For The Perfect Beat are guaranteed to play out for several years to come (hopefully without any silly trend-whoring remixes along the way). It’s just a shame his last proper album failed to carry on his resurgence brought about in the late 90s, when everything about its execution dictated it should have.
Or... I dunno. If folks won’t throw some love for Dark Matter, how about his euro-dance years? Yes, yes! Oh come on, how can you resist such goofy hoover fun like Pupunanny? What, you prefer that UB40 collaboration? An old roommate had that on vinyl. I wasn’t even tempted to hear it. Yeah, working with Fort Knox Five in recent years was definitely the wiser choice for ol’ Bam’s résumé. And of course there was Leftfield, James Brown, Uberzone, Adamski, Westbam, Black Devil Disco Club (no, not Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), several others...
Okay, ol’ Bam’s done good for himself. Do yourself good too and check this album out if you haven’t already.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I knew this existed for as long as I knew Dark Hearts 1 existed, as they both appeared on the 'dark trance' list I recently reminisced about. Unlike the first volume though, this turned into quite the elusive little CD to find. It probably didn't have to be, as a search on Amazon likely would have located a cheap used copy if I waited long enough, with most old Harthouse America CDs plentiful there. Instead, I played the patient game, waiting for it to turn up in a shop I happened to be browsing through, perhaps as a silly attempt at CD-buying nostalgia as it was how I found the first one.
No, wait, that's not right. I was hesitant. When I finally looked up proper info regarding Dark Hearts 2 in the infant Discogs, something about it seemed off. The cover was colder, uninviting. The tracklist lacked many of the names that made the first one such a classic. For sure, it was intriguing, but a hunch told me it couldn't live up to the expectations set out by Dark Hearts 1, thus I allowed it to slip from my “Must Have” list, falling to the “If I Stumble Upon It” one instead.
Turns out my hunch was correct. Had I bought this in my trancecracker year, I’d have dismissed it outright. A lot older and a little wiser now, I find things interesting and enjoyable among these ten tracks, but nothing revolutionary or unique either. The inlay tries to make the case that Dark Hearts 2 is about exploring new ground in techno, discovering where the genre could go next in the year of 1995. Admirable in ambition, but the results aren’t terribly revolutionary, even for then.
Mostly, we get attempts at jazz-techno fusion. Alter Ego turn in a strong cut, though it’s not surprising they’d be ace at it given some of their early work wouldn’t sound out of place in an alien lounge. Neil Landstrumm, Braincell, and Hardfloor also have a go, Hardfloor’s Pepper Penalty the best of this lot because, well, acid (thick, slow breakbeats don’t hurt either). The other half of Dark Hearts 2 consists of more traditional techno, though each cut offering something experimental to spice things up. Aside from BCJ’s Boulderdash (an alias of CJ Bolland), I just ain’t feelin’ these - Thor Inc.’s Here Comes The Sun is particularly annoying, sounding muffled as though my ears need popping. All wasn’t lost though, as Frank de Wulf’s Drums In A Grip was a track I wanted for years but could never find. Yay for that.
Ultimately, what makes Dark Hearts 2 a lesser compilation than the first one is its lack of cohesion. Dark Hearts 1 showcased an excellent roster of producers and their spacey music, plus crafted an otherworldly narrative with partial blends between tracks. That’s not the case here, tracks starting and stopping without flow, and the tone grounded by jazz cabarets in warehouses down the streets of Detroit.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Just when I thought I was out of the 'C's, I get pulled back in. I'd actually hoped to cover this in proper order but circumstances dictated otherwise. While doing the two Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Collections, I realized an oversight on my part: a lack of owning their classic debut EP Creepin' On Ah Come Up, primarily due to never seeing much point in getting it when a pair of its songs already appeared on The Collection, Vol. 1. It became one of many, many releases filed under my “Get If Have Ample Disposable Income” list. Fast forward, and I have ample disposable income. May as well get on filling in some blanks, right? Shame Vancouver now sucks for music shopping, so yay Amazon, but boo waiting on delivery.
Even in my 'meh, rap, whatever' years, I was familiar with Creepin'. This and Bone Thugs' proper debut full-length E. 1999 Eternal were quite popular in the town I spent most of my teenage/young adult life, regularly selling out at the electronics store I worked at. I think this one sold better, on account it was the cheaper of the two so even the poorest of teens could buy it. I know I heard it at some point, but it never sunk in for me then, probably because Creepin' sounded too typical of West Coast thug rap for my untrained ears to appreciate. Man, was I ever ignorant to hip-hop then.
The two classics from this are Thuggish Ruggish Bone and Foe Tha Love Of $, which I already talked about. Rounding things out are two (yes, two!) intros, the proper first that Eazy-E and Yella produced, and the second Mr. Ouija, where the group makes their presence felt. Given the group’s known melodic harmonies, the occult themes surrounding these two are surprising. In fact, this whole EP lacks the gentle tones of later work, instead keeping things raw and aggressive while maintaining their cohesion as a tight ensemble (guess they’d yet to be swept away in calming weed bliss).
The other three cuts are No Surrender, Down Foe My Thang, and the titular Creepin’. No Surrender probably could have been included on all those ‘best of’ releases, but since it’s similar to Thuggish Ruggish Bone, I can see why it wasn’t; still, kick-ass talkbox action to be had there. Grittier Down Foe My Thang and the titular Creepin’ are strong tracks too, but strictly album orientated material. For a mini-album as strong as this one though, that’s hardly a bad thing.
If you’re ready to take the Bone Thugs plunge beyond their Collections, this likely isn’t the best place to start; rather, try the platinum edition of E. 1999 Eternal which includes Creepin’ as a bonus disc. As for myself, I wanted to get this separate because it makes my CD collection look bigger. AND YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT A GUY WITH A BIG CD COLLECTION, AMIRITE!?
(he ain’t shit compared to the guy with the big vinyl collection.)
Sunday, November 11, 2012
(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)
So this was going to happen eventually too. I've already written a review for Dark Hearts, and it's already on this blog. What now? Well, if you're interested in the musical content, follow the link above to brave my early crummy writing. For this post, I'm going one-hundred percent anecdotal on your asses, so feel free to skip if tales of CD purchases bore.
In 1997, I was in full-blown trancecracker mode, having finally cast off all lingering eurodance interest but dismissive of anything outside the realm of energetic, acid space music. Unfortunately, my regular resource for it, the label Hypnotic Records, was no longer satisfying my need; hard German trance was fine for a while, but quite tired in ninty-seven. Seeing as how the internets proved useful in recommending material for my other ongoing passion of ambient dub, I fired up the ol' Webcrawler in search of lists of trance music.
This probably seems impossible to fathom for trancecrackers following the '99/2000 era, but finding info on trance wasn't so easy at that time. There was nothing like Discogs, no online radio stations or MP3 sharing, and wide publicity for the genre was still in its infancy, Oakenfold's ridiculously popular Tranceport more than a year away. I'd seen a few other compilations around like the Psychotrance series from Moonshine and the old Studio !K7 X-Mix videos, but wanted to dig a bit deeper. What would reveal itself to me on those old websites?
Eventually, I stumbled upon a site that not only listed a good hundred releases, but had even sorted them by genre. At the time, I was only aware of three types of trance: regular trance (re: underground/German), psychedelic goa trance (they were interchangeable far as I was concerned), and club trance. What the devil were all these other sub-genres? Progressive trance? Dark trance? Man, too much to remember, much less afford to buy. Moving on.
A couple months later, while browsing through one of my favorite music shops in Vancouver, I noticed a CD that I remembered from the 'dark trance' list, Dark Hearts. And hey, I recognized a couple names from other compilations I’d bought: Sven Väth and Alter Ego. Sure, I’ll give it a shot.
And lo, I threw that disc on back home, heard the opening haunting intro to Metal Master’s Spectrum, and instantly knew I’d made a purchase that would get heavy rotation from me for many years to come.
Dark Hearts pretty much closed the door on one aspect of German trance for me, and opened a whole new one, introducing me to such artists as Oliver Lieb, Pete Namlook, and Ralf Hildenbeutel. Anytime I noticed the Harthouse logo, I’d snatch that CD up. To say it was influential in developing my taste in trance music would be a vast understatement, easily ranking top five of such compilations were I to ever make such a list. And yet, that’s not quite the end of this tale...
Friday, November 9, 2012
Right, disco punk. I fell head over heels for the stuff when it first (re)emerged in the early 00s, largely thanks to this free CD from Muzik Magazine. Well, that and the rag’s glowing exposé on the ascendant scene that James Murphy and his DFA label helped popularize. Though electroclash still had some momentum, the writing was on the wall the genre wasn’t going to last much longer. So, here comes disco punk to pick up the pieces!
Where it excelled - and for me appealed - was refining the DIY attitude clashcorewhatever did into something musically intuitive. It still sounded raw and intentionally under produced, but rather than borrow from electro synth pop, it borrowed from disco-funk and new wave rock. It made perfect sense to be heard in dingy basement clubs that held no more than a hundred, served cheap hi-balls and forced you to share but one single-stall bathroom with the opposite sex. It’s about as punk as club culture ever allowed itself to be, and for someone having just moved back to the big city, I was sold on the romanticism this New York City bred scene projected.
A CD like this didn’t hurt either. Mixed by DFA, it’s not a brilliant set, but it is an excellent primer into the world of disco punk as it existed in 2003. All the heavy hitters are accounted for: Metro Area, The Juan MacLean, Playgroup, The Rapture, Le Tigre, and both James Murphy projects DFA and LCD Soundsystem. Oh, and Fischerspooner’s Emerge is here as well, but in DFA’d remixed form, turned into quite a minimalist bit of dance music compared to the raucous original. About the only thing missing from this list is a band with exclamation marks.
Given the amount of DFA remixes and label mates, Dance To The Underground probably seems more like a promotional disc than a proper showcase of disco punk. To be fair, DFA pretty much was disco punk in that year, and their influence led to the rise of the scene proper as it migrated out from New York City. It’d be like complaining about a free CD of late 80s acid house that prominently featured artists from Trax Records.
Dance To The Underground has gone on to be one of my favorite pre-party sets. The only thing keeping me from recommending it is the fact it’s not a commercially available disc. It’s not a difficult collection of tracks to gather up anyway, many available through various channels or ‘best of disco punk’ compilations. Aside from the DFA remixes, there’s nothing monumentally unique about this a decade on. Even the mixing’s only adequate because, well, it’s just a free magazine CD. It might be worth dropping a couple dollars if you find it super-cheap in a used shop though, if you don’t mind paying for something that was initially given away to sell magazines.
That doesn’t seem very punk, does it?
Thursday, November 8, 2012
When darkside jungle emerged, Dillinja was a king among the other players. His army of bassbin demolishing tracks fuelled by sci-fi funk made sure few could stand against. Thus, like all breakout acts of those mid-90s heroes, he left his fans waiting anxiously for a proper full-length debut to complement his EP legacy, already rich with classics like The Angels Fell, Threshold, and Silver Blade.
Figures he wouldn’t release one until the new millennium, well after darkside was practically deceased from the drum n’ bass consciousness. Does this mean he tried jumping on trendier bandwagons that were occurring in the year of two-thousand and one? Nah, mate, he kept it old-school, producing an album that would have been deemed a classic by many had he released it five years prior. Instead, all that tardiness and refusal to change with the jungle scene left Cybotron overlooked by all but the faithful. I mean, have you heard what Hospital Records are releasing? Or that John B guy? That’s the future, right? Ah, man, fuck that future, Karl Francis is staying true to his sound, and that’s punishing, grimey bass anthems.
I don’t know if Cybotron really was slept on back then, but I sure didn’t know he had an album out, and I kept as close of tabs on all those classic darkside artists as I could while stuck in the hinterlands of Canada. I can’t recall much press, talk of acts like High Contrast and Bad Company getting most of the d’n’b publicity. For all intents, this album passed by and was forgotten, lacking any sort of classic like his previous productions or follow-up hits like Grimey and Twist ‘Em Out. Correct me if I’m wrong, jungle mahsive, but that’s just how I recall it in my corner of the world.
So is this a poor album? Not at all, as it delivers exactly what darkside fans want. Of course, that would come off dated in 2001, but over a decade later, the sound has become favorably vintage, context be damned. If you fancy the aforementioned sci-fi funk and bass that comes pre-distorted, this is the album for you. Mind, it does get a bit tedious towards the end, a few tracks coming off like B-Sides. Guess Dillinja couldn’t quite kick that EP habit even in long-player form.
And don’t worry, fans of variety, it’s not all darkside all the time. Mixing things up are a few soulful numbers with guest female vocalists. Also of interesting note is the track Human B Bop, using what sounds like a beatboxer to create a pure street-funk workout.
If you’re new to this whole jungle thing, I wouldn’t call Cybotron an essential listen, as there’s far better collections of darkside out there (including Dillinja’s retrospective My Sound (1993-2004), of which no Cybotron tracks made it on, incidentally). If you’ve already dipped your toes, however, and need more of that darkside fix, then definitely scope this album out.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Music storage comes in many formats, but few as curious as the mini-CD, or CD3. The idea behind them was sound, offering a compact format for singles much in the same manner as 7” vinyl did for the record industry. It never caught on though. Major labels made use of the traditional CD size for EPs, filling half its potential space with music instead. However, blank CD3s were still widely available in bulk at computer shacks, so they turned into a means for independent labels to hand-make small quantity releases of material.
The history lesson done, let’s look at this album from Djen Ajakan Shean, which was released on, you guessed it, a limited run CD3.
The first track on here is the titular Crows Heading For Point Blank. Anyone familiar with Eno’s brand of ambient music will feel right at home as Shean weaves droning pads of calming textures and various timbres throughout. About a third of the way through, slow tribal rhythms are introduced, providing a welcome change in tempo, if not in tone. A few atmospheric flourishes come and go, including what sounds like chatter at a subway train station. Overall, it’s a very pleasant piece of ambient music that never needlessly noodles about. Good enough for background music, yet just enough content to keep you engaged should you pay attention for the duration.
And that’s all. Yep, it’s a twenty-one minute long track, which is the maximum length these mini-CDs can hold. So… um, that’s that?
Naw, that’s only half my word count. There’s gotta be more. Djen Ajakan Shean? Eh, not much info there, as both Discogs and Last.fm bios are relatively blank, not to mention a very sparse discography. The label Amplexus? It had a few prominent names of similar ambient ilk release mini-albums - Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, Vidna Obmana, Tuu, and Robert Rich to name a few - but due to only releasing limited-run CD3s, the label was a very marginal player in the 90s ambient scene. Cool name though.
I’m sorry. There’s just nothing else here. Maybe I can talk about current events for a bit. Hm, hockey’s still not back yet. The LA Lakers finally won a game, so that’s good, even though I’m only begrudgingly cheering for them now that Steve Nash is on the team. There was that big kerfuffle at Anjunabeats over renaming their radio show to Group Therapy, for some reason. A country to the south of me had an election, which was apparently a big deal there. Prince Edward Island has a new Premier, but nobody cares. Saturn continues to be fucking awesome! I heard Karl Rove had a Scanners moment recently. Suzuki’s gone bankrupt, which is a shame since he’s such a decent human being that- oh, wait, the moter company Suzuki, not David Suzuki.
You know what? I suck at current events. Let’s hope there’re no more one-song mini-CDs for a long, long time.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Now this is an odd one. Moonshine Music flirted with many genres during its run, but never hip-hop. The closest might have been trip-hop or acid jazz, but nothing like this. It’s understandable though, as the label primarily focused on releasing compilations and DJ mixes, signing very few artists for album output. The world of rap music tended to go the other way, with a plethora of albums but few compilations and even less DJ mixes. I suppose it’s due to the fact hip-hop DJs are of a totally different stock than house or techno DJs. Their craftsmanship lay in turntablism and scratching, cutting up tracks to create whole new compositions on the fly as an MC spit rhymes overtop. Certainly an incredible skill to pull off, but not a commercially successful one as MCs became the stars of the show, stealing all the DJs’ thunder.
I suspect the hip-hop scene came to realize this oversight at the turn the century. Turntablists started getting their dues again and more media exposure came to DMC champions. All well and good for the scratchers, but what about those other DJs of the rap world, the pirate radio players? The mixtapers? That… took a while longer to catch on.
Moonshine, however, appeared willing to gamble on getting a head start, offering up this here CD featuring the late DMC World Champion Roc Raida (that’s Grandmaster, foo’). For sure, there’s plenty of scratchin’, rewinds, and assorted turntable trickery on display, but this is also a mixtape. Or rather, a radio set.
The concept behind Crossfaderz is Mr. Raida as a guest DJ on an underground station called WHAT! 187FM (they don’t give a fuck, what!). I have no idea if this was an actual radio station in New York, but given how many hilarious interludes and skits are scattered throughout the disc, I suspect not. Oh, and I’m serious in that these skits are funny - they’re all piss-takes on various hip-hop sub-cultures. My favorite’s the commercial for Slash Ya Face Records, featuring “smash reggae hits” like Sleepy Eepy’s Bitch Take Me Home Or Die When Ya Get Home (it’s a foc seen).
As for the music itself, there’s definitely some fine hip-hop on display (god, I sound white…), mostly all underground stuff, though a few big names crop up. Pre-coffee shop Common’s here with his Ice Cube diss track Bitch In Yoo; The Heist is an excellent crime story from Big L; Missin’ Linx’s Missing In Action will get your attention, as it did Dr. Dre’s when he used a very similar backing track for The Next Episode. Don’t expect mixing like most EDM sets though. Everything’s a sharp scratch cut into the next record.
One thing I’ve always wondered about Crossfaderz is whether it was intended to be a running series for Moonshine. Despite a quality collection of underground hip-hop, it was so far outside the label’s traditional audience, I could see it doing poorly. Too bad for those who slept on it.
Monday, November 5, 2012
Pads have long been one of my favorite components of electronic music, but I’d be hard pressed to provide a Top 10 example, as they’re so ubiquitous in the genre, dating back even to its earliest forms. On a personal point though, Peter Benisch’s use of them in Crockett’s Theme easily makes the list. Their beauty lies in their simplicity, prominent and enveloping, yet always lingering in the background as the best pad work does. Of course, it helps that the original composition was written by Jan Hammer, easily one of the best synth composers of the 80s; however, Hammer kept his pad work subtle, instead focusing on the rousing, building theme for the Don Johnson character. Though that theme is present in Benisch’s cover, it’s his pads that steal the show. And the remixers knew it.
Possibly even more successful was Tiga’s reworking of the tune into Ocean Drive. This came out when the Turbo honcho was discovering he actually had a decent singing voice and, following up on the sensation that was his cover of Sunglasses At Night produced yet another 80s homage. Obviously it’d be something relating to Miami Vice but who’d have thought he’d play to the show’s slash-fic audience. He’s never explicit about it, as there’s an artful homo-erotic tone to this version, made even more apparent by the video that borrows its aesthetic from a similarly homo-erotic art house film titled Querelle, also from the 80s.
Adding a hand to Ocean Drive was Mateo Murphy, a techno producer of some success in the early 2000s. He’s given solo remix duties on Crockett’s Theme, working an energetic layered groove before bringing his take on the pads for the finish. Rounding out the remix package is Jori Hulkkonen under his Zyntherius guise, treating the tune to an 80s house rub that’s fun for what it is, but ain’t a touch on the other versions here.
Man, all this, and I still haven’t gotten to Benisch’s FPU alias. The project gave him an avenue to explore spacey electro and synth-pop, the first single of which was this one. In an effort to promote the forthcoming album Traxxdata, this CD contained a couple extra tracks from it, Time Safari and Eastside Protection. As I’ve gushed before, Benisch is an excellent producer, and even though these electro cuts are of a significantly lighter tone than anything on Soundtrack Saga, his craftsmanship is still strong, injecting playful sci-fi sounds and digitized vocals throughout. Interestingly, he uses a similar pad texture in Eastside Protection to Crockett’s Theme, yet they don’t stand out as much as there’s much more at work in that track.
Or maybe it goes to show just how excellent they’re used in Crockett’s Theme. I can’t get enough of them. Excuse me a moment while I throw that song on again, and drift down Ocean Drive on a linen cloud of pad bliss.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
For the inaugural Grammy Award For Best Dance/Electronica Album in 2005, Paul Oakenfold’s DJ mix Creamfields was among the nominations. As it stands, it’s the only DJ mix to ever be nominated in the category, which makes sense since a DJ mix isn’t an album of original material and probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Why was it, then? As anyone will tell you, it's because the Grammy Nomination Committee’s filled with morons. They probably didn’t even realize ol’ Paul had only half-a-dozen tracks to his name on the double-CD, but he did have that pop charter Starry Eyed Surprise a couple years prior, so throw him on the ballot for the name recognition. See, club culture, we’re hip to your music. We know you like that Pauly Oaksenfield guy.
Still, wouldn’t it have been funny if he had won that year? Could you imagine the huge can of worms opened? All DJ mixes would have to be considered then. In a sense, that could work, as plenty of DJ mixes have just as much artistic merit as producer albums. Oh, who are we kidding? A Grammy for DJ Mixes would turn into a worse debate gong-show than even the DJ Mag poll.
Back to Creamfields, I recall this was hailed as a proper return to trance-form for Oakenfold, with many of his fans believing he’d given up his pop pursuits by getting back to his roots (re: the music his fans first loved him for - I highly doubt they’d want him to go all the way back to his Happy Monday roots). Of course, that didn’t happen, as his follow-up artist album A Lively Mind (also a Grammy nominee because it’s Oaken F’n Fold!) jumped on every EDM bandwagon he could find in Hollywood. Not that it should have surprised his fans since Creamfields is something of a bandwagon jump itself.
McProg - the lightweight, poppy variation of progressive house - was gaining traction in 2004; right alongside it was Markus Schulz’ ascendency, who offered a form of progressive trance that emphasized low, rumbly basslines contrasted with twinkling melodies. Oakenfold noticed, and CD 1 of Creamfields prominently features this sound, including cuts from Schulz and others of similar stock (Andy Moor, Probspot, Young Parisians, and Interstate being the biggest names). It’s a fine enough mix, though nothing you couldn’t find on a typical Coldharbour collection.
CD 2’s an odd one to conclude on, mixing a few genres up into baffling set. Opening with proggy breaks is fine, and it’s not long before we’re in trance territory, some tunes apparently winks to the sort of goa Oakenfold used to play out. Unfortunately, every so often, it’s broken up by pop remixes, throwing whatever marginal flow was built off the rails. Guess he couldn’t fit them on CD 1, so here they are instead. Gotta show off that new U2 remix, after all. Maybe he’ll get a Grammy nomination for it!
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Fellow Canadian Max Graham's been DJing for over two decades now, building a tidy career out of it. Yet, all anyone remembers him for is his productions, specifically two of them. The first, his breakout single Airtight, came out when progressive trance was enjoying a creative and commercial high, and getting the tune playlisted by Oakenfold's popular Another World and Tiësto's even more popular In Search Of Sunrise 2 guaranteed its classic status among year-2000 trance lovers. His other was a dance remix of Yes' classic Owner Of A Lonely Heart, where he took the brilliant idea of adding a house beat to the rock staple and... um, that's all. Why was that so popular again?
Anyhow, he’s released several DJ mixes over the years, including a running series called Cycles on Armada that I only learned about just now because, well, Armada. This particular CD was his first commercial mix, released just in time to capitalize on the good will he was garnering thanks to Airtight. It didn’t catch on, so he tried again with the fourth installment of the Transport series, which undoubtedly has caused you to ask, “They did four of those things?” Seven, actually, but yeah, it didn’t catch on either, at least in any significant way.
Wait, that probably wasn’t the reason this mix didn’t catch on. I mean, just look at the label here, Yul Records. Has anyone outside of Montreal heard of them? No, not the Rational Youth label. That was a different Yul Records. This one apparently co-opted the name since the original Yul had been derelict since the mid-80s. They released a few other DJ mixes and singles in the early 2000s, but didn’t last long, and doubtlessly never made an impact outside Canada.
So yeah, not the greatest start for Max Graham to make his mark, but we all start somewhere, and Yul Records seemed to have its heart in the right place, starting up a DJ mix series that paid tribute to the Cream festival. That was the intent, right?
The mix itself? Pretty darn good, I’d say. It’s progressive trance from the year 2000 after all, and there were some dynamite cuts to be found. Of course Airtight’s here, but you got contributions from Bedrock, BT, James Holden, Breeder, Way Out West, DJ Remy, and a few others rounding things out. The only real problem here is these are well-known anthems now, so Cream CD2 falls into that “same tracks you already got in a different order” category of DJ mixes. For as solid a track list this is, ol’ Max doesn’t do much to stand out from the pack, save a couple nu-breaks cuts to start (and I never liked that Timo Maas remix of Doom’s Night anyway).
Not much else to say here. Hearing these tunes again was nice, and worth the price I paid at the used-shop, but, like so many trance mixes from that time, hardly essential listening.
Things I've Talked About
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