Monday, December 31, 2012

Underworld - Dubnobasswithmyheadman

Junior Boy's Own: 1993

As far as most folks are concerned, Underworld’s discography starts here. Speak not of the ‘80s albums, for they are weak and undeserving of attention. You may, however, point and snigger at Hyde & Smith’s former group, Freur, and the ‘classic’ Doot-Doot. No, don’t listen to the other songs. They can’t compare, they’re not worthy, they- Hey! I said stay put! What do you mean they’re actually interesting? Come back, come back!

Ah, forget him. You know what I'm talking about. Yeah, those of use getting into 'electronica' in the '90s, and finding a soundtrack or two that had an Underworld anthem, almost always the highlight on the CD. For most, it was Born Slippy on Trainspotting, but for those a little more in the know (or just a little older), it was Cowgirl on Hackers.

Of course, if you were really in the know, Cowgirl was just the icing on delicious cool cake, a proper LP climax to this here album (yes, I was going to get back to it). Dubnobasswithmyheadman tends to keep things chilled and low-key, even when the tempo has vigor to it. Much of that has to do with Underworld's aesthetic, relying on dub production so their music has plenty of sonic space, and thus being less in-your-face compared to other dance acts (not to mention some of their later work).

Another thing that helped dnbwmhm stand out from the crowd was how unique it sounded. The UK acid house scene having crumbled, a dearth of practiced Brit musicians making house music formed. Say whatever you want about their prior work, but by the early '90s, Hyde and Smith knew how to craft a proper tune, provided they had good support. Darren Emerson was the spark they needed to find their way into dance music's scene, though he came just a bit too late for them to cash in on UK acid house. Still, the track M.E., originally released in '92 as Mother Earth, suggests they would have fit right in.

Mostly though, Underworld's strength is in their groove, finding a rhythm with enough of a hook that it'll lock you in, and you're ready to go for the ride for as long as they deem fit. Dark & Long, Skyscraper, Spoonman, Cowgirl, Dirty Epic... all great, uptempo tunes that never oversell. Even River Of Bass, despite being downtempo, finds the mark with cool groove (and, might I add, should have been the proper closer to this album). Sweetening the package is Karl Hyde’s odd lyrical style, almost poetic gibberish so long as it complements the beat (not surprising he’s apt at it, because seriously, “doot-doot”). It's all quite different from what UK house music did before. It's forward-thinking; like, 'advancing house', or something.

Definitely this is an album that deserves its classic status, but those in the know already know. Then again, those in the super-know, know the EPs off here are where the true gold lurks.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sly & Robbie / King Tubby - Dub Reggae

Proper Records: 1999

Here we go. Nothing gets to the roots of dub music better than a compilation featuring three of the most influential tastemakers the genre has to offer. Hell, King Tubby basically invented the damn thing, after experimenting with studio mixing techniques. Story goes, in an effort to make instrumental versions of various rock-steady and reggae records stand far and apart from competing soundsystem jocks, ol' Tubbs would play multiple copies through multi-track mixers and boost the rhythmic sections, thus creating cavernous echo effects that would define dub music forever after. Of course, only four-tracks were available at the time, so what we get here sounds incredibly simple compared to the sonic roads dub music would later explore, but it is a fascinating listen nonetheless.

The King's material on this particular release comes from music provided by The Aggrovators (though not necessarily written by The Aggrovators – case in point, the No Woman No Cry Dub). A band founded by reggae legend Bunny Lee, it featured a rotating cast of several more reggae musicians, many legends in their own right. Amongst them was one Robbie Shakespear, a bassist, and Sly Dunbar, a drummer. With dub music often highlighting drums and basslines, it’s no surprise that these two would go on to great success within the genre as Sly & Robbie.

Yet, their contributions to this Dub Reggae CD isn’t quite as interesting. The messy experimentation of King Tubby’s work is part of its charm, but Sly & Robbie’s production is crisp and clear in comparison. I suppose it can’t be helped, as by the time the duo began releasing records of their own, studio mixdowns must have improved significantly compared to ol’ Tubb’s day. Say, when were these tracks released anyway? *made up sounds effects of Discogs searching*

Huh. No wonder Sly & Robbie’s tracks sound so clean-cut. This is just a re-pressing of their 1991 album Dub Rockers Delight, only the tracklist is backwards. Really, Proper Records? You couldn’t clear the rights to any of their ‘80s material? You know, the records that would have been a superior showcase of the genre’s origins? Alexander Gelfand wrote such a lovely little essay in the liner notes covering dub reggae’s history, giving the CD proper class. Finding this out, though, makes me realize Dub Reggae really was nothing but a quick cheapy release after all. Guess that’s why it was lurking in the bargain bin along with several other Absolute Best compilations featuring other odd, obscure genre music from Latin America like ‘new wave Brazil jazz’ and ‘ska’.

And frankly, aside from the historical interest, Dub Reggae’s rather dull. The cuts are short, and I can only take listening to a bare-bones echoing instrumental for so long before the aesthetic grows tiresome. It’s like listening to a Dub Remix on Side B2 over and over and over. The King Tubby tracks are worth the look, but there are undoubtedly releases out there far more comprehensive of dub music’s history than this one.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bill Laswell - Dub Chamber 3

ROIR: 2000

Wow, another Bill Laswell release. Over-exposure, much? Now you know what it’s like following dub music, period. The bassist is quite literally everywhere, cropping up at times even when you least expect it. You’ll be listening to some world dub vibes when suddenly, that bass tone makes itself known. Rushing to the credit notes, you realize, yep, there he is again. Quite the mercenary, Mr. Laswell be.

Dub Chamber 3 is one of his solo efforts though; or rather, him and whoever he invites over for a jam. Don’t bother looking for a Dub Chamber 1 or 2, as they don’t exist. This was, however, his third album released on Reachout International Records, the two prior being his Sacred System material. To confound discographers further, his fourth ROIR album was once again as Sacred System, but also titled Dub Chamber 4 (subtitled Book Of Exit, a nice call-back to the first album). And, that’s not even the end of his ROIR output, where he released a compilation of Sacred Dub System Chamber material, plus a collaboration project with Roots Tonic, not to mention- help! I’m being swallowed by Laswell’s discography! It’s so massive, it has a gravitational pull of its own!

Back on this release, we have only four tracks to deal with. Yep, they’re long ones, and oh are they ever jazzy. Aside from second tune Cybotron, I can never remember how any of these go. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, as they’re currently occupying a slightly hazy corner of my brain, but that’s only because I just listened to them. Mark my words, within a day or two, they’ll be forgotten again until I happen to hear a clip (“Oh yeah, that one has that bit with the spacey trumpet. Now I remember, that one has the nice guitar tones. Oh, I didn’t know it slowed down there. Didn’t I hear this before?”).

Cybotron though, that one sticks out for me for a couple reasons. Obviously first, the name, but more than that, it’s one of Laswell’s spaced-out dub-reggae jams, and as a point of personal preference, I enjoy his material the more outworldly it sounds. Plus, the bass tones used are a deep rumble, some of my favorite under the Laswell name, and probably due to this being a collaboration with Jah Wobble, another bassist of significant note (are they dueling basslines? Awesome if so!). I recall Muzik Magazine often ripping into Laswell, calling him the “poor man’s Jah Wobble”, but as I’ve only heard sporadic material from the guy (much of which also paired up with Laswell) there’s no way I can back that claim up.

As for Dub Chamber 3, it’s not a terrible release, as all the musicians present are highly skilled at their craft. Unfortunately, if you don’t fancy the jazz side of downtempo dub jams, this album has little that might win you over. In the end, it’s just another drop in the endless sea of Laswellian downtempo dub-jazz jams.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bob Marley - Dreams Of Freedom: Ambient Translations Of Bob Marley In Dub

Axiom: 1997

Dreams Of Freedom was something of a stoner’s classic back at the turn of the century, many a pothead owning a burned CD containing tracks from this release cobbled from P2P search inquiries. Heck, I was such an individual, using AudioGalaxy to find more Bill Laswell and ‘ambient dub’ musics, only to discover tunes off here high in search results. It really is a can’t-miss idea: Bob Marley, dub remixes, and ambient textures; the prefect late-night, crash-and-spark album for ganja smokers.

This isn’t just a generic remix album either; rather, it’s a concept album, using classic Marley songs to create a journey of sorts. It helps that the driving force behind everything is Bill Laswell, thus maintaining a consistent tone throughout. There are a couple guest collaborations with Tetsu Inoue, but by and large, it’s Laswell’s show. And yes, his discography is incredibly hit-or-miss, but much of his Axiom output was class, and Dreams Of Freedom's no exception. He treats the source material with enough respect to let it shine through, while his deviations enhance the calming atmosphere.

The best way I can describe Dreams Of Freedom is “Marley In Space”, as Laswell makes ample use of his outworldly pads between the songs. Each segues into the next, as though drifting through alien landscapes before settling at a stage where another Marley song is being performed. Sitting nearby with his bass is Laswell, jamming away between the choruses as dub rhythms dance about. Come for the memorable melodies, stay for the spliffed-out music sessions.

So this is a nice little album, but an elephant doth dwell in the room; or rather, a Mr. Bob Marley is missing from it. Yes, his face is on the cover, that’s his name on the title, and these are songs that he wrote, but aside from Midnight Ravers at the end, he only sparingly crops up during choruses, if at all. Of course, this is because Dreams Of Freedom is a dub album, of the traditional sense. Dig into the works of the genre’s founders, and you’ll find many dub releases were just instrumentals of reggae singles; in fact, the whole notion behind dub music was giving the music itself freedom to breathe between the spaces. This album doesn’t hide the concept, explicitly stating these are ‘ambient dub translations’ right in the title. If you know dub music, the lack of ol’ Bob shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, I maintain it’s kinda deceiving having a photo of someone known for his singing barely show up in the album proper.

I cannot deny the 'dub translations' scene being at times tedious, producers seldom adding much of note to the originals. And to be fair, Dreams Of Freedom falls in this category too. Fans of vintage Marley won't find anything new, and Laswell's style's long been 'like it or leave it'. Still, this album executes as expertly as one can hope, given the players involved. If anything, it's a great sleepy-time CD.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Robert Miles - Dreamland

BMG Music Canada: 1996

Right, Robert Miles. Children. The Dream Version. *cracks knuckles*.

I hate this whore of a track. Loathe it. Despise it. Every time I hear the first plink of piano, I cringe, but know I cannot escape the saccharine journey that is about to unfold. Maybe, just maybe, it might be okay. There must be something to enjoy, somewhere. Strings? Yeah, those are nice, but- What? That's your rhythm!? Holy hell, I thought the melody was sap, but this is pathetic. How do you ruin off-beat basslines and kick drums all in one shot? I know trance isn't the funkiest groove out there, but there was still some jump to it, some energy. This has nothing. It's just... there, sucking.

And I hate Fable even more.

That's only the first two tracks though, and seeing as I'm reviewing Dreamland, it can't be a total write off, right? I have kept the odd crap CD over the years after a used-shop haul (collector's obsession), but I bought Mr. Miles' debut album when it was new, hence me covering the original version without One & One (thank God!). Part of it was the lack of options living in the hinterlands of Canada while getting into trance-proper. Dreamland was about the tranciest thing one could find in any shop in 1996, and beggers can't be choosers.

More than that, I actually rather like the other tunes on Dreamland. Okay, they don't deviate far from the 'dream house' template Miles made popular, but it’s enough that it shows he can craft a half-decent beat. Fantasya: a bouncy bassline! Landscape: the rhythm has skip to it! In My Dreams: breaks ...that are funky! If you can craft a rhythm like this, why you no be funky elsewhere, Mr. Miles?

I should also bring up that plinky piano. I’m not a fan of it (shock), but Miles does sometimes put it to good use as a melodic counterpoint. In My Dreams starts with lovely, mournful string pads, which thus become the focus of the whole song - the piano merely dances around it to wonderful effect. He pulls a similar composition with In The Dawn, once again backing pads driving the melody, with his piano making only a brief appearance; not to mention the rhythm in this track’s got a nice shuffle to it. It’s not revolutionary, but for the ideas Dreamland presents, it’s far more intuitive than the big hits.

And that’s not even getting into the two tracks just about everyone agrees are good, the Original Version of Children and Red Zone. They’re closer to the sort of trance most folks enjoyed at the time and worth a look-see even if you wrote Robert Miles off because of Fable and the like.

Oddly, most of Dreamland has been forgotten, many disappointed there’s not more generic ‘dream house’ bilge. My God, those are the crap tunes. When Miles goes beyond the ‘limp-beat-plinky-piano’ template, that’s where this album get’s interesting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

BKS - Dreamcatcher

Quality Music: 1993

Wow, another Chris Sheppard release. Over-exposure, much? Now you know what it was like living in Canada if you followed the pop end of dance music. In this case, however, we’re dealing with his early production group, BKS, an acronym of all the members’ last names. At around the time their second album, Dreamcatcher, came out, EDM was growing quite popular, so damn straight their label, Quality, was gonna promote the ever loving hell out of the group.

First, it was a tie-in with the Don Cherry home video series Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em, which showed NHL highlights of the Canadian blowhard’s choice (mostly big, bruising hits). Since Quality was also responsible for VHS distribution, they thought it’d be fun to get BKS, then just a rave act, to make a theme for it, with Mr. Cherry guest... talking, or something. The result was one of the all-time hilarious-worst videos MuchMusic ever put out (if you’re wondering, Shep’s the one with a tuque). That could have sunk the group right there, but Quality was undeterred, getting the group to be less ravey and more commercial friendly.

Dreamcatcher certainly is that, hopping on a few early 90s house bandwagons. The titular track has an undeniably catchy chorus, sort of a meeting point between italo house and euro dance. The two big singles, Living In Ecstasy and I’m In Love With You (plus a remix of Can We Dance from Legion Of Boom), are modeled after the sexy deep house made popular by Lil’ Louis’ French Kiss and, um, Madonna’s Erotica. There are also a couple stabs at garage, but nothing Strictly Rhythm would tremble over. In all, it was quite a departure from their earlier sound.

Almost like a bone thrown, the second half of Dreamcatcher features remixes and B-Sides that are about as rave as the music could get in ’93. They’re fun, but two in particular stand out. The Moons Of Saturn (The Abbeywood Trance Mix) is, as the title suggests, something of a tribal-trance stomp, while dialog from an old documentary about Saturn’s moons plays out. It’s amusing to hear such dated theories, and since it involves Saturn’s system, it’s fucking awesome! Joey Beltram also shows up to provide a remix on Talkin’ Bout Love, a tune from the first BKS album (and which already had a rub earlier on Dreamcatcher). He does the bangin’ hoover techno thing, which is light-years better than anything BKS manages to kick out with their remixes (okay, that Do It Again, Vivaldi track’s spiffy as well - the ending feels like I’m riding Falkor!).

So overall Dreamcatcher is a mixed bag, and frankly I can’t see anyone outside Canada having much interest in it (boy, I’m saying that a lot lately). I won’t deny having fun nostalgia trips hearing Living In Ecstasy and the like, but only because BKS was so ubiquitous on Quality compilations, I can’t help but reminisce of my early ‘techno’ explorations.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

Nothing Records: 1994

One of ...oh, who knows number of industrial albums you're supposed to have, even if you're not a fan of industrial music. I've barely scratched the surface of that scene, so there may be at least two dozen releases the discerning rivethead will point you to. The Downward Spiral, however, received critical acclaim across the rags, properly exposing the rock world to the world of industrial ...again (oh, how the originators were forgotten because of EBM). All hail Reznor, then, for bringing respect back to the industrial scene! ...for a few years anyway.

Man, what the hell am I supposed to say about this one? I've only just recently heard this album in full, although I'm familiar with the big hits like Closer, Hurt, and March Of The Pigs. The fact it's taken me this long to check out an album that's hailed as a classic of the 90s – of any genre – leaves me soundly kicking myself. It even falls into my sphere of musical interests, being electronic and all. Yeah, there's thrashing metal and other elements of rock throughout, but that shouldn't have shied me away from it. I liked The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers, after all, and Trent Reznor's a far better producer and musician than either of those acts.

I have only the music industry to blame. 1994 was still reeling from the loss of their current rock poster child, Kurt Cobain, and left scrounging for another Next Big Thing. Instead of scouring for potential new stars in other scenes, they stuck things out with grunge, hoping acts like Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, or, if you were Canadian, Our Lady Peace would be the next Nirvana. Or hey, how about that Brit-wave thing, with Oasis and Blur maybe rescuing rock from post-grunge doldrums! Oh please, anything but industrial, where only weird computer hackers enjoy it. They are the only ones that enjoy it, right?

After all, who could like this? Okay, so The Downward Spiral has some amazing production going on; an incredible attention to all the little details, yet keeping things smoothly flowing as each song progresses. If Reznor’s a good musician then, why can’t he make something more radio friendly? All that choking industrial distortion, creepy sound effects, eerie ambient passages, counter-pointed acoustic melodies, and shout-singing that sounds as though the machinery of society is holding all his angst back - that no matter how much he tries to make his voice heard, it will forever come through only in a digitized, garbled mess of noise. Geez, none of that can be played on any respectable airwave. Maybe that “fuck you like an animal” song, if he cleans up the language.

So thus, The Downward Spiral was initially relegated to the fringes, where yours truly never noticed it until the momentum it caused for industrial rock made it impossible to ignore. Would I have liked it had I heard it the year it came out? Hell no, I had ‘techno’! *kick, kick*

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jamie Jones - Don't You Remember The Future (Original TC Review)

Crosstown Rebels: 2009

(2012 Update:
Yikes, but am I ever confrontational in this one. I couldn't help myself though, as the PR hype for Jamie Jones' debut album pissed me off to no end. A few years removed from it now, I actually found myself enjoying most of this album, if only marginally. There's an undeniable level of competent groove going on, which is fine if that's what you're aiming for. I think I alluded to such merit somewhere in all that snark.

As it turns out, Jamie Jones managed to last a little bit longer than the last deep tech house hero, enough to earn #1 DJ status at Resident Advisor. He's starting his drop-off though, the new hotness being Art Department and all things Seth "He So Crazy" Troxler. I wonder if it's backlash...)



IN BRIEF: Minimal-deep-tech’s latest hero. With luck, he’ll last longer than the last one.

What’s this? A concept house album? Oh my, whoever does that? Okay, so Kerri Chandler has (Computer Games being the most recent example). And Mark Farina (Air Farina). Also-

So there are a lot of house producers who do concept albums. It’s just not the expected thing to do, is all. That said, despite the spotty track record such endeavors hold, folks often look forward to seeing their favorite producers show a little musical ambition when it comes to the LP format. Simply hearing a clutch of old and new singles can be rather uninspiring when you’ve got a CD playing for an hour-plus-ten.

So, good on Jamie Jones, giving us something a little challenging with his debut artist album. After the near-ridiculous praise his hit single Summertime earned this past spring, it could have been an easy affair to simply ride that song’s coattails into an album format. Instead, it’s smartly placed into the k-hole trudge of Jones’ deep-tech offerings, turning a rather simple tune into an epic anthem. I mean, my God! Melody! Real melody!

I think I should make it clear right now that, contrary to what the PR blurbs have purported, there isn’t much concept going on with Don’t You Remember The Future. This is supposed to be a futuristic-sounding album, but aside from a few electro zaps, sci-fi samples, and bloopy bits, it’s about as contemporary as deep-tech gets. Frankly, there’s examples of tech-house from the 90s that’s more forward-thinking than what Jones offers here. What I can buy into, is the idea that an injection of retro-funk and soul is required to rescue the future from soulless music. Quite obviously, the Egyptian Lover featuring Galactic Space Bar works wonders in selling this notion, but again, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before from retro-futurism seekers. If you’re going to go on about how this is a concept album, actually go full-out with it - simply making use of synthy sounds that have been used in house music for years and calling it a future-concept album isn’t enough.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the biggest handicap on this album; rather, it’s the very nature of Jones’ music. Much of it is loopy, aims to be deep, but is executed as serviceably as deep-tech typically gets. Summertime aside, the opening half of Remember The Future amounts to little of consequence. Oh, I’m sure there will be plenty of excuses from the ketamine-crowds to proclaim its brilliance: “it works better on the dancefloor”; “you just have to really pay attention to get it”; “it rewards repeated listens”; etc. Fine and all, but the main complaint remains: it’s all just functional music, the kind of stuff that easily fades from your memory once the next track takes off, and easily overshadowed by tunes that have more funk, melody, or soul in them. Arranged so the vibe is continuously inclined, cuts Deep In The Ghetto through Sand Dunes have little quirks and shifting elements to keep them from being total write-offs, but it’s merely a simmer compared to where house music’s been and can go. That’s minimal-deep-tech for you though: never awful, but seldom riveting. Once we leave that segment, however, and Jones branches out a little, we finally see things pick up for the better. Absolute Zero is more of an icy-cool jazz outing, and I’ve already touched upon Galactic Space Bar; both serve as a welcome detour before we get back into the deep-tech again. Once in, Jones brings more funk to the proceedings with Tuning Tables, does the k-hole plod-step ‘menace’ thing with Belter, and brings the two together in Mexico, a track that suggests the album is about to take off for a strong climax. Alas, Mexico is the climax, a decent one considering where Remember The Future’s been (oh my God, it’s melody again!), but coming off more like a coda with its mournful tones. Still, it’s an effective way to wrap the album up.

Given Jones’ huge rise to stardom this year, there was a large amount of expectation going into Remember The Future, and some seemed eager to force themselves into finding the ‘classic’ they wanted to hear. It isn’t, though. Jones has crafted a deep-tech house album that basically keeps things at a competent level, and very easily becomes lost in the sea of competent deep-tech house releases that have come out over the years. His idea of doing a concept album is partly to blame for this, as he simply doesn’t shoot far enough with the theme; we’re offered little more than a cursory peek into this future of his, one that fails to offer anything unique in the process. You can still reasonably enjoy this on those chill days when you don’t want anything to assault your ears, but with hundreds of releases catering to that sort of thing, it places Jones’ offering squarely in the glut.

Various - Dogwhistle: The Life & Times Of An Afterhours DJ

Quality Music: 1995

For my un-Canadian readers, Dogwhistle was an alias of Chris Sheppard, one of the biggest DJs to emerge from my country’s dance scene during the 90s. He’s been relegated to something of a footnote now that he’s retired, but to any young Canuck discovering underground dance music back then, it was likely a Shep’ compilation opening the door. Primarily a radio jock, he’d play the occasional rave as well, which is where Dogwhistle comes in.

This came out around the time Sheppard was crossing over to the mainstream, so I suppose Life And Times Of An Afterhours DJ was an attempt at keeping some underground cred. The result is this odd little DJ mix, recorded live at the Outlaw Rave in Toronto, and somewhat schizophrenic in its attempt at straddling the underground and mainstream.

It opens with trance. Not just any ol' trance, but acid trance. Spacey acid trance. Hardfloor trance! Kick ass, but Armand van Helden's classic Witch Doktor is only two tracks after. How will Shep' transition to- ...oh, he doesn't. He just lets Into The Nature play out in full. What... kind of DJing is that? And this was done live? No, I can't believe it. It has to be a studio edit, for time considerations. Yes, that's it.

Anyhow, only the first two tracks are trance. The rest is house, some prog, some garage, some... tech, I guess? Not sure if tech house was a much of a thing in '95. The big tracks, Atlantic Ocean's Waterfall and Pizzaman's Trippin' On Sunshine, come in the middle, one after the other. Try and imagine that transition. There's also an example of the brief 'country twang' house micro-genre that was popular in the mid-90s (of which Sheppard was responsible for a few such tracks no less), in Bravado's Harmonica Man. Don't worry if you've never heard of it, because it was just a one-off novelty tune.

In fact, there are a lot of one-off tunes on here. Twangling's Twangling, Rollo Goes Camping's Get Off Your High Horse (yes, that Rollo), Lovechild & Rolfe's Time Travelers, Chameleon's Larger Than Life, Thats-A-Noise's Livin My Life. Not that this is the only CD some of these tracks have appeared on, but you have to give some credit to Shep' for selecting a few obscure tunes, wonky mixing and all.

Speaking of firsts, here's a funny story. My post-drinking puking virginity was taken while Life And Times happened to be playing. Hoo boy, was that ever a mess the morning after! I can't listen to Helicopter's On Ya Way anymore without the hint of corn chips affecting my nostrils. Ah, the follies of youth.

That's about all I have left to say about this CD. Canadians are likely the only folks who'd be interested in a Dogwhistle mix, and aside from the odd curiosity in the tracklist, there's very little here to recommend that you couldn't find elsewhere (and without that annoying MC).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle

Death Row Records: 1993

One of one Snoop Dogg albums you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not much of a Snoop Dogg fan (say what!?). Yeah, ol’ Cal’s released tons of albums since, but ask any discerning fan of hip-hop, and they’ll immediately point you to this one, and let you figure out the rest later. Doggystyle was huge the year it came out though. Along with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, it properly kicked off the G-Funk era of hip-hop, and cemented Death Row Records as the West Coast label to be reckoned with. And while an album’s legacy can distort some viewpoints, this one’s rep is totally deserved. Everyone got a kick out of Atomic Do- …whoops, I mean Who Am I? (What My Name).

So once again, I’m left with a classic album to talk about without much to add to the chorus. Eh, you noticed something odd about the title? I’m sure everyone knows Snoop Lion initially went by Snoop Doggy Dogg while still on Death Row. Technically, all copies of Doggystyle should still carry his original moniker, so here it is thus. Yep, even these reissue copies that came out in 2001. Speaking of this reissue copy, why was Gz Up, Hoes Down removed from the tracklist? To make room for the Who Am I? video? Curse this still limited turn-of-the-century ‘Enhanced CD’ technology. One benefit of the reissue is having most of the skits merged with the tracks, but they’re stupidly put at the beginning of each one. Dammit, that’s annoying if you want to skip W Balls, funny though it is.

Right, less ramble, more music talk. Gin & Juice. Classic! Seriel Killa. Classic! Doggy Dogg World. Classic! Hell, they’re all classics, perfectly capturing the ‘every day is summertime’ vibe that persists throughout Doggystyle. Even with darker moments like Murder Was The Case, this is one of the quintessential summer albums to own. Bouncing electro-funk basslines, squealing Moogs… you can practically smell the ganja smoke wafting by your nose as you drive past palm trees.

One thing that makes me double-take while listening to Doggystyle today is how much Snoop’s voice has changed over the years, and for the better. He’s always had a charming drawl with a touch of menace, but as he’s aged, the drawl’s now more lyrical, turned deeper, and filled with less venom. Understandable, as Mr. Broadus of 1993 was a very different individual compared to Mr. Broadus of 2012. Wow… nearly two decades since Doggystyle came out, huh. Can’t wait to see what the next reissue will have in store for us!

You don’t need me to tell you this is a classic album that you should own. Either you already know that and have it in your collection in some format, or you haven’t heard anything beyond Gin & Juice and Who Am I? I suppose some might be turned off by the gangsta overtones, but compared to the misogyny the dirty south promotes, Doggystyle is downright quaint.

Friday, December 21, 2012

2 Unlimited - Do What's Good For Me (BioMetal - Pt. 1)

Popular Records: 1996

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)


“I take it you're Anita.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied, offering a timid hand for a shake. “And you're the pilot, Ray, correct?”

“Sure am, babe,” he said with a wink, scratching his chin.

Babe? “They say you're the best,” Anita said after an awkward pause, withdrawing her hand. “Have you ever flown a ship of this sort before?”

Ray laughed. “Not at all. A few test simulations, but I'm getting thrown into this contraption raw just like you, babe.”

Anita rubbed the back of her head. “It's unfortunate they're forcing us to do this,” she mumbled. “I'm an exo-biologist, not a fighter pilot.”

“Don't worry,” Ray said, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Just handle those shields and tell me which BioMetals I need to worry about. I'll take care of everything else.”

“Very confident, aren't you,” she giggled.

He scratched his chin again. “Gotta do what's good for me,” he chuckled.

The elevator halted, its doors opening and revealing the starship's docking bay. Nearby, they both could see the HALBRED, a sleek red and white fighter-class vessel being fitted with the latest armaments WASP could provide them. General Wilde, whom gave them private briefings prior, was waiting. “Good to see you're both ready,” he said, turning to the pair.

“Yes Sir!” Ray and Anita replied in unison.

“Do you have any questions before launch?”

“Why the urgency, sir,” Ray asked, in a far less informal tone Anita would have guessed allowed.

General Wilde smiled, as though he'd long been used to Ray's casualness. “Just how familiar are you with the BioMetals, kid?” he asked.

Anita held back a snicker. Kid Ray, she thought with a glance over her co-pilot's youthful but embarrassed face. Seems appropriate.

“Only that they were responsible for the Armageddon, during the last Galactic Alignment, sir.”

“Right,” the general nodded. “With reports of their species in the process of re-multiplying, we have to strike at the heart of their nests before they overrun the galaxy again.”

“If I may, sir,” Anita said, “but why must we attack this moon of UP457 first?”

“The BioMetals only have a small colony here,” he replied. “It's the logical base to attack first.”

“Don't tell me you're afraid of a little atmospheric turbulence, babe,” Ray chortled.

Why's General Wilde tolerating him like this? “No, Kid Ray,” she shot back. “It's hardly a 'little' turbulence. They don't call it 'the twlight zone' for nothing.”

“All the more reason to destroy this nest before it grows too infested with BioMetals to launch another attack,” General Wilde stated, his voice firm and snapping the two back to attention. “We're counting on you two. Dismissed.”

“Yes sir!”

Once the general left, Ray turned to Anita and smirked, “'Kid' Ray?”

“Sorry, I just-”

“No, it’s fine,” he said, smiling. “I kinda like it. Come on, let’s get on board. Fame and glory await us!”

At that, he rushed to the HALBRED, Anita close behind.


(If you're hopelessly lost as to what's going on, click here.)


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Various - DJmixed.com / Keoki

Moonshine Music: 2000

Oh, Keoki, what a wild and wonderful career. The first self-proclaimed superstar DJ, at a time when the very notion of superstar DJs was ludicrous (though there were a number of very famous ones), and all the while giving Moonshine Records a proper face in releasing his DJ mixes, singles, and albums. Whatever faults you can lay on him (and believe me, he had plenty of detractors from the old school), he undoubtedly had a profound effect on the tastes of several young American ravers throughout the 90s. Then Moonshine folded and Keoki was left homeless. He tried to reinvent himself in the electroclash vein with Hypnotic, but that didn't work and hasn't released anything of note since.

This particular mix was probably a sign of things to come, for many reasons. If you're not familiar with DJmixed.com, don't worry, as it didn't last long, coming out during the transitional period between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. You have to give them credit for an attempt at translating the EDM magazine experience for the internet, but the technology simply couldn't accommodate all the things they wanted. I'm not sure if Keoki was to have a major hand in it, but he, along side Micro and Charles Feelgood were tasked in promoting the site through this series of CDs. Seeing as how nothing of note came of it, DJmixed.com is barely a footnote in Moonshine's history, much less the whole of electronic music.

Not that the music contained on these mixes was bad, just terribly redundant at the turn of the century when DJ mix CDs were multiplying like raver rabbits. Moonshine was one of the stronger American labels promoting such releases, but even they started showing fatigue.

As for Keoki’s mix, it mostly features breaks, much of which is on a progressive tip. Y’know, like The Light’s Expand The Room. Looking back, I’m surprised there wasn’t more Florida breaks on this (Tony Faline’s Mind Over Matter the lone offering), as that was an immensely popular sub-genre at the time, before Adam Freeland and nu-school breaks took over.

There’s also some trance, including Ravelab’s cover of Send Me An Angel, that used to cause whiplash among my partying compatriots. I’d tell the joke, but it involves a lot of knowledge of the party scene of British Columbia’s northwest - yes, there really was a party scene way out there. Short form, it’s got a breakdown that’s so stupidly over the top, it’ll roll your eyes to the back of your neck; yet, it follows with an incredibly catch hook that you can’t resist. Interestingly, Keoki mixes the track at the start of that breakdown. He could create clever mixes on occasion, though this set’s a bit sloppy.

I can’t give this CD much of a recommendation, but if the idea of a DJ mix ending with an epic trance remix of the Skywalker theme doesn’t curdle your blood, give it a try.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Various - DJ-Kicks: Tiga

Studio !K7: 2003

For much of his early career, Tiga remained safely sheltered within his Turbo label. His cover of Sunglasses At Night may have appeared on numerous compilations, and Tom Middleton’s mash-up of it with New Order’s Blue Monday gave it more life than anyone thought possible, but by and large the Montreal native was forever associated with his label. By 2003, however, his star had raised high enough that other labels came calling for his talents. Studio !K7, seemingly in an effort to steer their DJ-Kicks series away from all the broken beat DJs they’d featured in the few years prior, gave Tiga his opportunity to branch out. He wasn’t about to let it go to waste, knocking it out of the park in the slap-dash way only he could make work.

First, I should mention my copy of Tiga’s DJ-Kicks entry lacks Hot In Herre, which is almost unfathomable seeing as how that was his second biggest pre-Sexor hit. I can only assume Studio !K7 released this copy first, Tiga made the single after (including a charming video based on a Czech marionette duo called Spejbl & Hurvinek), then shoehorned it into this mix later. Looking at its placement on other copies, I’m not sure how that would have worked, as it’s lodged amongst several disco punk cuts in the beginning of the mix.

Whatever. Tiga’s mix truly takes off at Soft Cell’s …So, a B-Side to their single What?. It’s enough to get heads turned with an obscure bit of early 80s gold, but following it with the impossibly catchy Sacrifice from Break 3000 (That bassline! Those vocals!), all the while Antonelli Electr.’s Dubby Disco is running underneath them. Chances are you'll barely realize it unless you’re an expert trainspotter. Such DJ tricks aren’t new or revolutionary, but Tiga has a way of riding mixes such that it comes off thrilling, ready to go off the rails at any moment. Or maybe I’m just a Turbo fanboy. Could be, could be.

I’ll make no apologies for enjoying this CD though, as Tiga finds the right blend of kitsch and contemplative throughout. I’ve often found the set drags a little after Codec & Flexor’s Time Has Changed (why weren’t these guys more popular?), but Mr. Sontag hits the sweet spot again with his own haunting Man Hrdina, a rare-ish B-Side to Hot In Herre that was only included as part of the DJ-Kicks singles package. Folks talked plenty about Tiga’s partnership with Jori Hulkkonen, but co-producer Mateo Murphy deserves just as much praise.

And there’s more! Bang Bang Lover, My Biggest Fan, Tiga’s cover of Madame Hollywood (it's like Tom Cruise is singing it!)… Of course, if the whole post-electroclash/disco punk sound of 2003 never appealed to you, then there’s little point in recommending this edition of DJ-Kicks. It very much is a product of its time, but oh what a fun time it was.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Various - DJ-Kicks: Booka Shade

Studio !K7: 2007

Booka Shade isn’t an act I’ve cared much about, at least not enough to dig into their discography. Heck, when I went to check them out live, I instead spent most of my time in the near-empty second room flailing to jungle (it might have been more to do with the stupid crowding of the main stage though - I like my flail space). That said, their contribution to the long running DJ-Kicks series was incredibly influential to yours truly, being something of an inspiration to take up mixtaping again. Not that ol’ Arno and Walter were the first to ever release a DJ mix that sounded less like a club set and more like a mish-mash of personal favorites - the Back To Mine and Choice series were pretty much dedicated to that concept - but something about this one sparked me in a way no other set did.

Mind, for all I know, the whole DJ-Kicks series has been like that. It’s one that I really ought to check more of, but it’s difficult to peg down exactly what Studio !K7 aims to accomplish with it. Sometimes it seems to be hopping on bandwagons, other times it’s too esoteric for any hope of success. Whatever it is they’re doing though, it somehow works, as it’s outlasted nearly every other DJ mix series born from the mid-90s. Take that, Global Underground!

Booka Shade’s contribution is surprisingly diverse for a duo that made its name on tech-house, at least to anyone who came expecting more Mandarine Girls. The opening stretch of the CD plays more to expectation, with low-key house vibes, but never falling into minimal monotony. The inclusion of Yazoo’s Situation or pieces from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York might have turned heads, but as it fits within the setting of those tracks, it’s nothing to suggest things would go askew later.

Thus, it seems fitting the leap-off into eclecticism would be an Aphex Twin track, from where The Book & Shades dig into their crates. Heaven 17 and Brigitte Bardot are far from obscure, but they diversify this set wonderfully, keeping your attention to see what next oddity they’ll drop. Fortunately, nothing too out there, as it settles back into a cool-groove (the neo-Tokyo vibe of Quarion’s Karasu is lush), but enough to keep guessing. Like, The Streets, in a set like this? Sure, I can dig on those ‘morning after’ melodies. But, erm, I know Carl Craig’s Landcruising is a classic, but it’s never been a DJ friendly track, so don’t try to force it.

Ah, but that’s part of the appeal in mixtapes - the quirky, the unexpected, and the shock when two tracks that shouldn’t go together are, or revealing music you’d never expect from certain names (hello, Richard Hawley). Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does, it creates musical moments comparable to the best DJ mix transitions. It’s a methodology anyone who attempts mixtapes should strive for.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Daft Punk - Discovery

Virgin: 2001

Daft Punk's Discovery was quite an event when it first dropped, and continued causing waves in the EDM-osphere for many years after. It's an album that created what's known as 'Whiplash In A Rocking Chair' syndrome. Okay, I made that up just now, but let me explain.

Anticipation for a follow-up to Homework is high, everyone wondering if Daft Punk could make magic again (even if Homework was rather average overall). Lean forward. The whole robot gimmick is introduced, and One More Time is revealed as the lead single, shocking their followers as it's nothing what they expected. Snap back. One More Time wins them over regardless, along with much of Discovery. Snap forward. It’s subsequently overplayed and people get sick of it. Snap back. A quirky anime movie tie-in is revealed. Snap forward. The album Human After All is proclaimed a dud, and folks begin questioning Daft Punk's whole career. Snap back. Alive 2007 and the pyramid tour reminds everyone they actually like Daft Punk, including all their previous albums. Snap Forward.

I guess we're still in the 'leaning in with interest' stage with Discovery, thanks to the fresh influx of EDM fans acquainting themselves with the duo's past accomplishments. For sure it's a classic album though clearly a product of its time. Despite being a game-changer of sorts, paving the next road house music would venture on, familiarity with certain trends occurring in the genre back then would render much of Discovery as old hat.

Like, that whole French filter thing featured on tracks like Aerodynamic and High Life. That wasn't a French invention, but because French guys (or English guys posing as French guys) gained the most success from it, filtered funky disco loops became synonymous with French house. Also, there's a lot of nu-italo on Discovery. Yeah, that sub-genre, the first to properly popularize auto-tune and most known for super hits like Eiffel 65's Blue. Tell me Digital Love wouldn't sound out of place on a Gigi D’Agostino release. And as any detractor of d'ez punks will tell you, this album's loaded with samples from disco's days of yore. Harder Better Faster Stronger? More like Cola Bottle Baby, y'Ogre! ...or something.

It begs the question, then, just why Discovery was the huge hit it was, and continues to charm its way into the ears of listeners to this day. As with their early hits Da Funk and Around The World, when they want to, Daft Punk can find the catchiest of hooks and manipulate them around dance beats to maximum effect with minimal fuss; the punk music mentality. Discovery works better than its album siblings due to earnest song writing and stronger musical flow. The only real dip comes in the second half, with a string of short, melancholic filler; yet I’d take those minor melodic interludes over the endless abrasion that came at the back end of Homework any day.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Various - Disco Dub House: Mixed By Carl Michaels

Sixeleven Records: 1999

Disco house was king in the late 90s, but for those weary of Yet Another DJ Mix With Olav Basoski On It, they had to dig into the underground for their fix. Enter the realm of dubby filtered house. Mostly a marriage of Chicago and San Francisco deep vibes, it wasn’t so much a celebration of production, but of DJs working their filter knobs within the mix. Shortly after, the French took notice and incorporated the same tricks within the tracks themselves to great commercial success (more on that in the next review!), but for a while sets of this sort was primarily enjoyed by rooftop shufflers.

It certainly strikes the right chord for folks of chic taste. All the vibrant bounce of disco, but held just back so you don’t spill your drink. Disco Dub House is as good of a representation of the sound as any. The label it came out on, Sixeleven Records, was primarily an outlet for Philly-based DJ/Producer Nigel Richards, so it comes as a surprise that there's little label whoring going on with this mix. In fact, it’s loaded with well-worn house anthems of the time. Angel Alanis' Chicago's Revenge, P.J.'s Happy Days, Troy Brown’s Feel Allright, DJ Sneak's All Over My Face... I could go on. If you're a house connoisseur of any level, you should have a number of these tunes already. So, it falls to the DJ to present them in a unique way, and as mentioned, that was one of the charms of the filter knob twirlers.

The DJ tasked with providing us with all these disco dub house vibes is one Carl Michaels. Who? Good question. What do you have for us, Discogs? “Hell if I know, this is the chap's only entry.” Wow, that's... unexpected. Last.fm, what about you? “Nope, nadda, zilch. Not even a picture.” Well damn, even I have a picture on my Last.fm Artist page despite only releasing mixtapes. And like hell I'm gonna Google this further, as there's no doubt dozens of 'Carl Michaels' in Pennsylvania alone. Guess ol' Carl's a mystery here. If he wasn’t a pseudonym, my best guess is he was a buddy of Nigel's, perhaps a Philly club resident; heck, maybe even an employee at Nigel's shop.

Whatever the case, his set's about par for this type of music. He makes ample use of his knobs, sometimes to comical extremes, but nothing that detracts from the whole. I'm sure it’ll seem antique to those bred on Ableton and other laptop mixing programs. Oddly, he ends the set outright before the final track, allowing Taste Experience's Release play in full, like some kind of encore.

If you're already well versed in filtered funk, there's little point in getting this. If not, the CD's an okay primer, but unessential. In the end, Disco Dub House is Yet Another DJ Mix That's A Decent Used-Shop Purchase. Yeah, there's no end to such releases, is there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pet Shop Boys - Disco 2

EMI Records: 1994

The whole of Pet Shop Boys’ discography seldom struck my fancy, but I cannot deny they’re responsible for some of the all-time greatest synth-pop hooks in existence. So seeing this little CD sitting in a used shop, my interest was certainly drawn - all the wonderful choruses of the Boys, given the remix treatment by some of the best in the early 90s business. “Like who?” asks you. “Like these,” says me. Rollo! Jam & Spoon! Junior Vasquez! David Morales! Farley & Heller! Coconut 1! Wait, who? Oh never mind. This should be good fun, right? Right!? Haha …ha!

The idea for Disco 2 was fine. Euro-dance was at its club culture peak, and the Pet Shop Boys had long enjoyed a comfortable relationship with DJs rinsing out remixes of their hits. It only made sense to try re-capturing the creative spark that made the first Disco album a success. The difference with that one, however, was it was more tightly controlled, with less remixers - not to mention dance music wasn’t quite so diverse in ’86. Even someone with passing familiarity with early 90s dance should realize quite a gulf had emerged between American house and euro trance. The Pet Shop Boys may have tied everything together, but the disparity between all these remixes is wide indeed.

That’s not such a big deal though. Plenty of remix albums are like that, and they’ve never- Wait, this is a DJ set too? Oh my… that can’t be good, can it? Danny Rampling was assigned the thankless task and does what he can with the material provided, but this mix is a mess. Ugly crossfade slams, tracks that abruptly end, and a bizarre arrangement hobble Disco 2’s package.

Most of these cuts were singles from the ‘93 album Very. The house remixes are a fine way to start, with Go West’s rub standing out from the pack. E Smoove, however, practically destroys Liberation, sounding like any ol’ Strictly Rhythm release rather than a Pet Shop Boys single. Vasquez and Jam & Spoon do serviceable remixes of Yesterday, but you’ve heard better from them too.

The only real highlight is Rollo and Rob Dougan’s remix of Absolutely Fabulous, probably intended as the highlight since the silly outfits the Boys wore for the video is featured on Disco 2’s cover. The original was a one-off charity single tied to a British sitcom of the same name, relegating this remix’s appearance here as the only ‘album’ exposure it got. It’s gloriously over-the-top and something of a precursor to the club anthems Rollo would be churning out with Faithless shortly after. I mean, that twitchy hook! It’s… it’s… absolutely fabulous! Perfect ‘reach for the lasers’ material.

Does Absolutely Fabulous make Disco 2 worth the price of admission? Hell no, as it’s horribly botched within the mix, abruptly cut out near the final peak. Get that as a single instead. In fact, get all of these tracks as singles if you can. This CD’s a turkey.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Various - Dimensions In Ambience 2

Quango Records: 1997

Ambient never died, but it certainly went through a fallow period during the mid-90s, media attention hopping on the trip-hop bandwagon instead. One of the few prominent labels that continued promoting ambient was Quango, a curious offshoot of the mighty Island Records (they of the coloured CD spine). Mostly releasing the sort of jazzy downtempo you'd associate with Kruder & Dorfmeister, Fila Brazillia, and other assorted 'global groovers', Quango found a comfortable role within American borders, among the earliest US-based electronic labels that could find airplay in coffee shops.

As that overview of the label may hint at, Dimensions In Ambience 2 doesn't feature the sort of noodly ambient most would expect. One of the genre tags at Discogs for this compilation is Modern Classical, and though I wouldn't go that far in describing the music contained as such, some of it wouldn't sound out of place in an art hall.

Mostly though, there's an interesting mix of ambient techno and Balearic influences going on here. The most prominently featured artist on this compilation is David Morley, a major contributor to early R & S Records releases. I've noticed a slight uptick of interest in his collected works recently, so if you're after more material of his, here's a handy place to look. The lovely, spacey Frozen, Ibizan-tinged Calibration, and his remix of Kinetic by Golden Girls (the one-off alias for Paul Hartnoll) are all solid offerings. Oddly, Kinetic is quite chipper compared to the other tracks on Dimensions... 2, almost epic. I wonder if DJ Bruno Guez, the head of Quango and oft-time compiler of these CDs, was shooting for a mid-set peak with Kinetic’s placement. This release certainly has the arrangement of such a mix, including a similar climax with the final track Movements - Part 2 from Pentatonik.

Astute trainspotters may have already noticed something odd about a couple of these tracks. For a compilation released in 1997, there’s some rather old cuts found here. Truth is more than half the material comes from the earlier era of ambient techno, and though it’s a moot point fifteen years on, it wasn’t something in Dimensions... 2’s favor at the time of its release. That year was all about pushing forward (with massive marketing muscle from the majors!), yet here’s a CD with relatively dated material. That’d be fine if it presented itself specifically as a look-back at forgotten gems from Morley, Sun Electric, and The Connected Machine, but I suspect that wasn’t the intent, what with newer material from Morley, John Beltran and PVP.

And while the music is fine for the most part, Dimensions In Ambience 2 is slight in presentation. There aren’t any moments that will floor you in the same way classic ambient techno compilations often do, and the whole package runs less than an hour long. On the other hand, it makes perfect background music, late at night, lying on a couch while sipping hot chocolate in a coffee shop.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sandoz - Digital Lifeforms: Redux (2012 Update)

The Grey Area: 2004

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)

It's time for another edition of Sykonee Beats Himself Up Over An Old Review. Yeah, I self-deprecate mostly for jokes, but this time I'm serious. If there's one review out of all those old crummy ones I truly hate, it was the one written for Sandoz' Digital Lifeforms. Done during that awkward period where I still continued detailing track-by-track, made worse by the literal point-form of the second CD, it’s definitely a slog to read, but that’s not the whole of it. It sometimes comes off like I didn’t know what I was talking about, which was kind of true.

Anyone that spends plenty of time consuming music - of any genre - should acquire a good deal of knowledge about it in the process. So long as you never stop consuming, your knowledge base will continue expanding. I had a firm handle on most aspects of techno back then, yet I’ve learned much more since. It’s that absence of strong, informed facts regarding Richard Kirk’s influences that hurts my eyes the most. Sure, the liner notes were helpful, but I was utterly clueless as to what ‘Malian techno’ really meant.

That may be a moot point anyway. It’s not like I’ve gone and digested the entire musical history of Mali to truly appreciate Digital Lifeforms, as it’s not necessary. Understanding it, though, may have helped provide better insight into what it is about this album that just keeps getting better every time I throw it on.

Or maybe not. It's a feeling, that instinctive response one gets from music that's almost impossible to articulate. On a surface level, many things about Digital Lifeforms seems like it shouldn't work, that the production comes off hopelessly dated. Yet something about it always snags my attention, locking me into infectious grooves and harmonies. It could very well be the Kirk aesthetic, crisp but with grit; deliberate in its simplicity, allowing tracks to ebb and flow on their own merits.

It's why I despise the old review so much. I kinda-sorta touched on that aspect of Sandoz, but felt obligated to stick to 'journalistic writing', mostly ignoring my gut emotion about the music on hand and describe what occurs instead. One is taught not to write 'feeling' in journalism, as it's pure subjectivity. By that token, it's understandable why folks would prefer that format for music reviews, as all too often those trying to write reviews from a personal perspective end up lost in hyperbole and fail to offer anything insightful about the music. The best music writers I've come across capably blend the two extremes, going off on entertaining rants or interesting anecdotes while providing useful information pertinent to the release, all the while letting me, the reader, know exactly how they feel about what they're hearing.

After all, honest emotion is what we expect out of the musicians. Why not also expect the same out of those writing about those musicians' efforts as well?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

DDR - Dig It / Rockin

Stay Up Forever: 2009

Did you know hard London acid techno never died? I sure as hell didn't. Like so much acid techno born of the 90s, I figured it went by the wayside once shranz and minimal took over. Sporadically an isolated instance of the genre would crop up, but nothing to suggest the scene held strong for all these years. Despite the odds, The Geezer, Rowland The Bastard, Chris Liberator, all those Stay Up Forever and Smitten guys (plus multitudes of offshoots) kept going, offering up more and more of their brand of hard, fuck-off acid techno for the true heads. Or something like that.

I only learned about this earlier in the year, when I went on a hunt for all electronic music within the scenes celebrating the Roland TB-303. Along the way I acquired several A-Sides and B-Sides, but never Both-Sides – just saw no reason to when one or the other of an EP would do. So how I ended up with this particular one, I've no idea. I don't want to make a habit of reviewing 12-inches, but whatever. It gives me a chance to talk about London F'n acid techno!

DDR, or Dave Lalouche as he’s known on his passport, is part of that original acid techno posse, often appearing in collaborations but occasionally knocking out a few solo joints too. This being a recent 12”, has there been some evolution in the London acid techno sound?

The A-Side, Dig It, starts off with strong, energetic beats, an occasional vocal sample popping up in the mix. Once the TB-303 comes in, it gets a decent workout for the duration. In all, about what you’d expect for acid techno of any year. The B-Side, Rockin, starts off with strong, energetic beats (though not as strong and energetic as Dig It), an occasional vocal sample popping up in the mix (though more frequently than Dig It). Once the TB-303 comes in, it gets a decent workout for the duration (though not as much of a workout as in Dig It). In all, about what you’d expect for acid techno of any year.

So, um... yeah. Nothing’s changed for that scene at all.

And that’s perfectly fine. The London acid techno crew has always been singular in their manifesto, supplying ample hardware for kick-ass, in your face, off your nut parties. Go in, get mashed, dance until dawn, bleed your sweat glands dry. Then go home, rest, and wait for another time to indulge, most likely weeks or months away. It may be simple, but it does the job, and that’s all hard acid lovers want or need. These guys are still kicking out the jams like its 1995, and if this 12” is anything to go by, it’s a formula that won’t die anytime soon. Respect.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Progression - Different Day, Different Light (Original TC Review)

Black Hole Recordings: 2007

(2012 Update:
Comparing these tunes to the ending of
Sopranos wasn't fair. Folks discuss that show to this day, but no one's talking about Progression anymore. Hah! Jokes aside, I am surprised this album seemingly tumbled off the face of the Earth shortly after its release, all but abandoned by Black Hole's marketing. Even the supposed 'big hit' Technophobia is forgotten. Me uploading this old review's probably the most exposure Different Day's gotten all this year. What the deal happened?

Well, the duo split up, with Wanrooy carrying on solo. Beyond that, who knows. At first, replaying this album reminded me of how much I enjoyed the aesthetics, giving me pause over my original assessment; however, I was also reminded of how frustratingly vacuous these tracks are. No wonder everyone ignored it.)



IN BRIEF: A step forward, a step back.

Daniel Wanrooy and Robin van de Wiel may have gained much of their initial momentum as Odysseye, but it was their Progression alias that drew the attention of the right person: Mr. Tijs Verwest himself. Having attained his blessing came greater exposure on his label and DJ mixes. After a half-a-dozen or so singles, the Big T suggested a full length. With the opportunity to indulge for the duration of an album, they spent a year in the studio making tracks. Now finished, the end result is Different Day, Different Light. Unfortunately, it hardly seems to have been worth the effort.

Yes, I know that isn’t exactly the most political thing to say but fact is the ideas are lacking on this release. There’s two discs worth of progressive trance for you to gorge on but you’ll be hard-pressed to recall much of it after it plays through, and this is a shame. Progression have lovely synths at their disposal: ethereal wisps, haunting chants, spacey sweeps - all winning ingredients where trance is concerned. Yet despite the exquisite production on display, their music is incredibly singular in execution. They utilize exactly one form of arrangement on every track - the tried and tested lead-up/breakdown/drop method of yore - with roughly two melodic ideas in each (exceptions to this rule will be delved upon, trust). The rhythms, for the most part, remain stuck in forward-drive, rarely deviating to bring us something funky or intuitive. And then there is the overall presentation of this release, of which I’ll get to in a moment.

Their album starts off fine, mind. Beneath The Surface is a pleasant groovy opener, with moody tech influences and vocals provided by Manon Polare that suit the atmosphere. Second track Echoes hits all the right buttons a follow-up in an album of this nature should, upping the energy in the rhythmic department and bringing more melodic elements than its predecessor. In fact, it’s bewildering as to how Different Day... lost its way after hearing this tune; Progression clearly display a talent for producing lovely prog trance that satisfies the body and soul.

Perhaps it’s because they made such a good tune with Echoes that the rest of the album fumbles, as it never quite reaches that lofty mark again (rarely a good sign when one of the best tracks is that early in a double-discer). More than that though, is much of Different Day... hints at wonderful prog trance possibilities that are, frankly, squandered with such bland arrangements. Go The Distance feels serviceable as a transitional track since it just came off a high point but for a long stretch in the middle of disc one, the feeling persists. And this is frustrating because these tracks sound like they could - they should - reach higher. They build anticipation that something better and bolder is about to be dropped, but abruptly end, moving onto the next track which does the same.

The Way Things Move is a prime example of pissing away potential. After the long trudge through “merely fine”, the duo show some promise of changing form with a beat that is tech-heavy, groovy, and fun. But just as soon as you get the sense we’re in store for something unique from the norm, they flush it right down the toilet by bringing in useless vocals to the forefront and an annoyingly hookless hook in the main breakdown (yes, the arrangement is still the same as everything else too).

CD1 ends amiably enough though. Their big hit, Technophobia, is here, and it’s a better-than-average prog trance excursion, although the white-noise synths are rather grating. The rest sounds like the duo were influenced by the stuff coming out of prog-psy camps, which isn’t a bad thing considering how ace that material’s been lately. Disc number two picks things up in the same vein, with Bell Shock being a blissy opener and Stranger slamming in with jagged tech rhythms. Could Progression show some actual progress now?

Sadly, no. CD2 proceeds much the same way most of CD1 does, with prog trance that is limited in scope and a sequence that remains flatlined throughout. Only two tracks sound fully formed, that being Hit & Run and Square Sky. As for the rest, there are flashes of good lurking about but the duo’s ideas never come into blossom. They’re sneezes that disappear into your sinuses. A peepshow that ends just before the clothes actually come off. A defensive re-assessment with an open look at the goal. An ending to an HBO series about a mob family.

Whatever you want to call it, ultimately Different Day, Different Light is unnecessarily stretched out. This album could have been better had a number of tracks been concisely fused into fewer rather than taking their ideas and crafting a standard prog trance tune around each of them. It still may not have been brilliant (they’d have to learn how to make a song in more than one arrangement for that) but at least it would have been solid.

I wanted to like this album. Really, I did. As mentioned, their synths sound great and the production quality is top grade. Unfortunately, most of Different Day, Different Light comes off as a bunch of tracks merely designed for the singles department - you can almost hear Wanrooy and Wiel planning how these cuts would fit into a DJ set rather than their album. And as transitional pieces for such DJs, much of this will work fine. However, like tech house albums of similar nature, this makes for a very bland listening experience at home.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Technical Itch - Diagnostics

Moving Shadow: 1999

Technical Itch was easily among the best names to emerge from the darkstep side of late 90s jungle, but his bizarre refusal to release a follow-up album to Diagnostics has left me wanting. Sure, tons and tons of singles, and perhaps Caro just feels comfortable sticking to that format. I see no reason why he should fear the long-player though, as he’s capable of knocking it out of the park.

Ah, I sense your Over-Hype Alarms beeping. Fair play, but you probably won’t find many hyping Diagnostics these days, if only for the fact it’s over a decade old now. Even then, this passed by with little notice. For whatever reason, Moving Shadow didn’t give the album much promotion, even though Dieselboy and other darkstep DJs pushed Caro’s tracks whenever they could. My enthusiasm for Diagnostics, however, stems not from a deluded belief that I own a buried treasure, but I'll argue this album is something of a rarity for jungle of the 90s.

Fact is, solid d’n’b albums from beginning to end were scarce that decade. Goldie’s Timeless managed to crossover, Roni Size/Reprazent’s New Forms provided some class, and Photek’s Modus Operandi was hailed as a game changer, yet beyond that? Certainly one could find the odd strong album within the niche areas of jungle, but for the most part that scene was a single’s game, the best long-players being compilations or DJ mixes. Even albums would come off as collections of singles.

Diagnostics does not. Whether by accident or design, Caro crafted a proper album, where each track builds upon what came before, all the while offering something different to keep your attention. The Technical Itch aesthetic – aggressive, abrasive, on edge, with a touch of future-shock – is the only linker between these cuts.

First few tracks display Caro's drum programming, which are fine, but when he drops the rhythmic intricacy and goes for the jugular is when Diagnostics truly takes off. Era's a great piece of darkstep, but Led will pummel you, so appropriately named because the bass in that one's heavy as fuck. Even though they both rely on the familiar 2-step Amen, Caro makes each iteration totally unique to his sound. Then he mixes things up with what might be daftly described as industrial broken-beat, and follows that one with a blistering acid workout that would have the London acid techno crew quivering. Oh, Reborn's still a jungle track – the bass drops are awesome! - but c'mon. Acid! Jungle! Together, and brilliant!

The album finishes strong with more darkstep tunes, though save Darkhalf, mostly winds things down while maintaining that twitchy edge. If there's any fault to be had with Diagnostics, it's that it makes no apologies for sticking to its niche, but that’s a complaint of nearly any jungle album, and few come away sounding as varied as this one does. Despite the limited ‘for darkstep fans’ scope, Technical Itch proves it can work in the long-player form.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Marco V - Combi:Nations:III

In Charge: 2007

Hi, Party Sykonee here. You might remember me as that counterpart of Critic Sykonee from a long ago review, Marco V’s Combi:Nations II. Now that he no longer feels shackled by ‘amateur journalistic integrity’ while blogging, we’ve pretty much become the same dude. Hell, even my grammar’s no longer questionable, isn’t that right, Critic Sykonee?

Critic Sykonee: “You know it, P’.”

Ah, some of you might have noticed I never re-uploaded that Marco V review here, even though it fell within my alphabetical guideline. Truth is, I no longer have that mix, as it was handed to me on a CD-RW I re-used for my next review. I do recall liking it, and figured should I stumble upon it cheap, I’d pick up a copy. Well hell, I didn’t find one, but here’s the follow-up, Combi:Nations III. Less than a fiver? Perfect excuse to do the schizophrenic gimmick again. Maybe the CDs will be good too!

And the first disc, titled Before, is good. It’s electro house, but it’s fun, funky, and rowdy in all the right places. Pure Main Room At Midnight indulgence. Heck, Critic Sykonee would even like this nowadays. Have we really merged that much in the five years since this was released? Hey, 2007 Sykonee, what would you say about this?

2007 Sykonee: “Trance sucks. Faux-electro is garbage. Minimal’s nonsense. Samim’s Heater’s a disgrace. Only good music now is Ultimae, which I just discovered, and twisted forest psy. Jungle’s still cool too.”

Wow, 2007 Sykonee was a twat. Fortunately, he’s stuck in the past, so forget what he has to say. Maybe even poke fun at some of his reviews whenever I upload them! (Critic Sykonee: “They weren’t all bad…”)

Back to Combi:Nations III. It seems after his dabbling on the previous edition of this series, Marco V found a proper groove with electro house, as all the tunes he uses maintains the peak hour bedlam with a few solid anthems thrown in here and there. One can never go wrong with Josh Wink’s Higher State Of Consciousness - yes, even in a remixed form - and Sander van Doorn’s last great track, Riff, is also present. Overall, the Before disc showcases all the ways electro house got it right.

However, what I was really looking forward to was the second disc, After, as that was a surprising highlight of Combi:Nations II. What kick-ass techno gems would Marco V unleash this-

Huh? That Trentemøller remix of Les Djinns is the lead-off? Okay… I guess that was a popular tune but… Oh, fuck me. Robbie Rivera’s here too? That guy’s been shit forever and… God, this mix is horrible. Track after track of plod-tech-hiss-dribble, arranged with no structure at all. And what’s with that rip-off of Don’t You Want Me? Marco, you totally lost the plot on this one. I never thought I’d say this, but compared to the music on After, the farty electro disc is brilliant. Isn’t that right, 2007 Sykonee?

2007 Sykonee: “You know it, P’.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ornament - Bleu

Cyan Music: 2004

Yep, it's been another round of used CD buying for yours truly, though I went about it in a different manner this time. I feel stupid for not realizing this before, but you can browse through a third-party store's inventory at Amazon like you're flipping through racks in a shop. There's a danger, however, in that the temptation for blind purchases increases exponentially. Well, it does for me anyway. I'm like a moth to a flame whenever I see a cover with interesting artwork. So long as I have a vague idea of what kind of music's within, I'll drop a few dollars for a gamble.

A quick check of Ornament’s Bleu at Discogs provided me with all the info I needed, the Recommendations list suggesting the likes of Shpongle, Ott, and assorted Ultimae releases. I’m sold. Wait a couple weeks, and voila, let’s see if this turned out alright.

Elgarhythms, the opening track, seems promising. Laid back vibe, dubby sounds ...almost Balearic in tone, which is odd considering the winter wonderland on the cover. As the song progresses, I’m starting to worry. There isn’t anything about it that strikes me as bad, yet if feels like we’re treading paths well worn by the likes of Bill Laswell, and rather substandard at that. Oh dear, might this be one of those albums, filled with meandering dub jams that, while never awful, comes away as pointless diddling only stoners can vibe on? Nah. The second track, Hypernicus, allays such worries, with soft rhythms and droning glacial pads. It does takes a few more cuts before returning to that style though, so be wary if you’re not a fan of the former.

Yeah, I was a little worried at first, but Ornament - comprised of a pair of studio guys from Australia, apparently - do keep things respectable with their dub jams; titular Bleu in particular tickles all the right dub-pleasure receptors in my noggin.

Their exploration of expansive Arctic (or Antarctic, I guess) soundscapes is where they find their stride. Plenty of sounds and samples they use could have come off as corny or cliché in lesser hands - talk of ‘eskimos’ in To Love Is To Laugh, or the use of woodwinds, voice pads, and ethnic chants in Yehuvaroom (by the way, are these tracks supposed to be lower-case titled?). Ornament never tumbles over that edge though, keeping things classy and restrained, their music drawing you in and easing you along their motif. The closing piece, ambeyond, is a perfect capper, desolate ambient drone that feels like you’re standing on frozen ice sheets in polar night, brisk wind biting into your iced-over skin. Are we sure these guys aren’t Scandanavian?

So in all, bleu turned out to be a sound blind purchase (okay, with a minor peek). I’m hesitant to say ‘pleasant surprise’ because I had some idea of what to expect (snow covered cover... winter themed music?). Check it out if you stumble upon it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Felix Da Housecat - Devin Dazzle & The Neon Fever

Emperor Norton: 2004

Felix da Housecat had to have felt some pressure when it came time to follow up his ridiculously successful Kittenz And Thee Glitz. What was no more than a fun ode to music and style decidedly retro turned into a phenomenon, and Felix found himself a fashionable tastemaker, a figurehead of electroclash, and a DJ-slash-remixer in demand. That scene was short-lived though, burning itself out on ironic kitsch in but a few short years. He had to push forward to stay relevant, but how does one accomplish such when your whole (re)claim to fame's based around something purposely dated?

He managed it though, not by reinventing the game as before, but jumping on a few trends that were gaining steam in the year of 2004. Disco punk makes its presence felt, especially so courtesy of What She Wants (with James Murphy on vocals no less!). There’s celebrity navel-gazing/bashing in the form of Everyone Is Someone In L.A., some kinky grrl-power pandering with Short Skirts, Hunting Season, and my god is this ever turning into a boring review.

Bleh, I don’t know why either. I like this album. It’s fun and though lacking any of the insta-classics that were on Kittenz, I’d call Neon Fever a better overall experience. For one thing, no damn phone call or interview interludes; just song after song celebrating this weird, gaudy late-70s/early-80s notion of high times on the Sunset Boulevard. A lot of people gave approving nods to it, and Watching Cars Go By somehow became a crossover hit few DJs felt ashamed to play. Sasha F’n... um, Sasha used it on Involver! What the deals, eh?

Yet, something about it feels off eight years later. No doubt there was a great amount of hype leading to Neon Fever, and Felix had turned into such a charming success story that folks from all parties were eager to see him maintain that momentum. We enjoyed this album because we wanted to, and whatever faults there happened to be were easily dismissed. Unfortunately, forgettable subsequent albums had everyone questioning that former optimism. Where once there was celebration in dusting off classic bits of italo disco, there instead came scoffing at a lack of originality. Innovative trend setter? Bah, more like lucky guy at the right time with the right people in the studio.

So therein lays the problem above. A regular review of Neon Fever at this late stage will either be apologetically analytical, or ridiculously disparaging - here, with me actually liking the damned thing, probably the former. Felix da Housecat simply has gathered far too much critical baggage in the years following it to treat anything within a vacuum anymore. Kittenz is still regarded as a classic, for good or ill depending on your stance over trashy electro house music. Neon Fever, however, is something only fans of that scene will enjoy, where ‘the larger picture’ doesn’t matter. It seemed more important at one point, but like so much celebrity fascination, you now wonder why.

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