Saturday, June 29, 2013

Insane Clown Posse - The Great Milenko

Island Records: 1997

Guess I can't hold this off any longer. I thought maybe I'd be granted another respite should my next batch of Amazon orders make it in time, but nay, I must finally reveal one of the greater shames of my music collection.

No, fuck that. Why's there shame in having a single Insane Clown Posse album? I've had ample opportunity to discard, sell off, or microwave the sucker, yet The Great Milenko has stayed with me all these years. Nostalgia, then? Not really, as I had barely a passing interest in the duo even back when I was age-appropriate to appreciate their schtick in the '90s. Could it be that, *gasp*, this is actually a great album?

Nah, guy, though for all I know, it's tops on the Juggalo scale. What I can tell you is The Great Milenko features far more metal influences than any of their albums, catching the burgeoning nu-metal sound of the late ‘90s just as it was about to blow up. And dammit if I can’t help but really enjoy Slash’s chords on the kick-ass Halls Of Illusions chorus, or shredding from Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones on Piggy Pie. This, along with some of the best production long-time ICP beatsmith Mike E. Clark managed to crank out (having a major label backing sure helps), tickles all the ‘fun-dumb’ pleasure centers in my brain (along with professional wresting, I cannot deny).

Heck, some of the themes are, dare I say, rather clever. ICP’s wit is often no brighter than a black brick, yet songs condemning the lives of the most sinful of society? The Great Milenko’s filled with them and I think that’s material we can all relate to, though I’ve grown well past “world against me” tropes as found in How Many Times?, or “organized religion’s a sham!” ‘shockers’ like Hellalujah. Still, their closing attempt at pathos in Pass Me By, a somber reflection on what the afterlife may bring, is surprisingly charming.

Then there’s simple, silly, stupid stuff like What Is A Juggalo? (ever wondered?), The Neden Game (the clowns try to impress a girl on a game show), and horrorcore insanity (Southwest Voodoo, Boogie Woogie Wu, House Of Horrors). One can’t hate on these anymore than one could hate on GWAR or an early Peter Jackson splatter film. Insane Clown Posse fully embrace their gimmick of ‘wicked shit’, and everything’s just cartoony enough that anyone with half a brain couldn’t take them that seriously (unlike other low-brow specialists like Limp Bizkit). It’s fun to take a ride on their carny ride once in a while.

Or maybe not. Make no mistake, Insane Clown Posse is an easily mocked group, and The Great Milenko won’t change your mind about their shock tactics. They’re still doing their thing though, and somehow made it work for a two-decade plus career. That’s an impressive feat for any act, especially a one-note group like ICP. Just might be the world of hip-hop needs its psycho clowns after all.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Various - Global Underground 29: Sharam - Dubai

Global Underground Ltd: 2006

Though I ordered all these used Global Undergrounds at the same time, 29 took over a week longer to arrive. Was there something special about Sharam's offering? I know the detail-blurb mentioned it was an “Ltd.Ed” copy, but surely it's not one of those copies of Global Underground - the super-expensive, long cardboard package with the large photo-booklet?

Sure is. Holy shit, and I got one for a pittance? Who cares if it's just Sharam, these deluxe packs are pimp, classing up any bookshelf they happen to occupy. I'm astounded someone wanted rid of it at only five-percent its regular price. So long as the discs work fine–

And CD1 is missing. Oh.

Gee, The Club (title of the first disc) isn’t that bad. Spider & Legaz’ Look Around has a funky house-jam going for it, Sultan & Ned Shepard provide a pleasant Balearic tune with Together We Rise, and... er, what’s with all the McProg? True, Deep Dish occasionally skewed pop, but their mixes were often deep and classy enough to forgive them for it. Free of Dubfire’s “music are serious” tendencies though, it seems Sharam went and unlocked his inner Tiësto, playing the sort of music you’d expect on CD1 of an In Search Of Sunrise mix. Hilariously, The Club only gets properly good as a set when Sharam goes full-cheddar towards the end, his attempts at breaking up the early vocal tracks with bumpin’ tech-house wrecking whatever flow the set tries to build.

This could not have been appealing for the Global Underground faithful. Paul van Dyk? Motorcycle? Folks were clamouring for the series to shake things up from the Deep Dish-Lavelle-Warren tedium that’d settled in, but I highly doubt they wanted things going in this direction - might as well check out Armada’s output instead.

CD2 is an even more bizarre affair, and not because it’s given the utterly unhelpful title of The Hub. Track selection is all over the place, going from pure funk house of The Reese Project's Direct Me at the start, then jumping around various forms of deep-pop (!?) prog house without any sense of flow, occasionally with a good tune dropped along the way (the twinkle-prog bliss of Simon & Shaker’s Zero, or Spider & Legaz’ dark Psych). No, check that, it's Sharam showing off a bunch of Yoshitoshi cuts, so I guess 'the hub' is simply Deep Dish's head office.

Easiest way to sum up CD2 is the utterly baffling choice Sharam makes in placing Felipe & Nicholas Bacher's kick-ass tribal-techno Manitou a mere two tracks after Armin van Buuren's limp-Balearic vocal cut Who Is Watching, then Planet Funk’s equally wack ‘rocktronica’ Everyday two tracks after Manitou! Given the musical surroundings, techno anywhere on these two CDs would have been a stretch, but Sharam’s weak set construction hardly allows him to go from tepid to tough and back in such a ballsin’ fashion. If he was so adamant in playing techno, might as well have pulled an Oakenfold and mixtape it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Various - Global Underground 014: John Digweed - Hong Kong

Boxed: 1999

In a bizarre coincidence, John Digweed’s our next offering of Global Underground on the cheap. Funny, since he and Sasha were still intimately tied at the hip as far as the clubbing consciousness was concerned in '99, such that Boxed likely thought it'd be right jolly having the two DJs release separate editions of their DJ mix series one after the other. Of course, the prior GU to Digweed's Hong Kong was Sasha's ridiculously popular Ibiza, but I get to enjoy the same cheeky fun what with having just done San Francisco.

And why has this particular copy of GU014 made its way to the bargain bins? Well, the jewel case pivots are cracked, and, um... hmm. Gee, there’s nothing else wrong with it. Even the original cardboard sleeve’s still intact, surprising since it’s almost a given you’re not getting those from a resell. Maybe the previous owner ...just hated it?

But... this is a Digweed set from nineteen-ninety-f'n-nine, at the height of the man's clubbing clout. His Bedrock label had become firmly entrenched within the burgeoning prog market (when the term ‘prog’ wasn’t even a thing yet), Heaven Scent was an inescapable hit with critics and punters alike, and he'd even broke Hollywood with his cameo in the movie Groove (pft, Carl Cox did it better in Human Traffic). How could anyone not like GU014?

Well, that second disc is rather muddled in execution. While it’s obviously the ‘peak time’ CD, with tons of big names (Tilt! Breeder! Bedrock! Quivver! Hole In One?) and big tunes, it doesn’t flow like you’d expect a Digweed set to. Track selection and mixing isn’t the problem here, as they all go well together, but that sense of journey most progressive trance sets have is lacking, songs playing one after the other and little else. It’s rather like an anthem trance set in that regard, only this being Digweed, like hell you’ll hear anything the Crasher Kids would cream their pants over – even Heaven Scent is the subdued Evolution Mix.

Most likely, he’d grown bored of trance in general (almost all the old progressive jocks had by ’99), thus he focused more on CD1’s arrangement. This is the Digweed that came to define his sound of the new millennium: deep, dark, tribal progressive tech-house (oh hell, that’s convoluted; just call it prog). While a bit dull in the background, it’s ridiculously infectious and absorbing once you’re locked into it. Hooks reveal themselves in patient, due time, making the peaks that much more rewarding. It’s music that forces the DJ to work harder to keep the listener’s attention, with teases, mixing, and phrasing that coaxes out a track’s full potential, and Digweed pulls off the challenge expertly here.

GU014 isn’t the best pair of mixes you’ll find in ol’ John’s discography, as his transitional period is apparent while listening to it. It’s still a solid Global Underground offering though, and a worthy companion piece to Sasha’s Ibiza, assuming that was Boxed’s intent.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Various - Global Underground 003: Sasha - San Francisco

Boxed/Thrive Records: 1998/1999

Oh yes, Sasha's down here in the bargain bins too, though in this case, it's understandable. You've likely noticed this edition of Global Underground is headed with 003, when everyone knows Sasha's San Francisco edition was number nine. By '99, the GU brand had grown strong enough that Boxed tapped American label Thrive to handle stateside distribution. Sweet deal, except in a confounding bit of marketing, it was decided these Thrive discs were to be re-sequenced as they released them, not the original order. Oh, and forget having all the editions either, just the- hey, wait a minute, why are you cutting ties with us, Global Underground? No, we'll be good, we swear!

Like hell you will. What's with cutting Der Dritte Raum's Hale Bopp from the tracklist? It's hilarious hearing the anticipated mix from Narcotik's Blue, only denied the spacey goodness Sasha intended. Poor form, Thrive, poor form. It’s almost as bad as Ultra’s antics.

Getting back to Sasha here, this was his first entrant into Global Underground, capturing his ascending American popularity like few other British-based jocks ever achieved before. His and Digweed’s Twilo sets in New York were becoming legendary (or just had really fucking good PR), so it was only natural for GU to set this one in New York. Sadly, that Oakenfield guy already did a GU based on the Big Apple, so the West Coast clubbing paradise gets the nod instead. Doesn't matter in the end anyway. San Francisco is essentially a Twilo set condensed into two discs, so the location's unimportant (as Oakenfold proved when he did his New York mix in the UK!), but hey, nice locale pictures in the booklet.

If you know your progressive house/trance/garage (!) double-disc mixes, then you know the drill on how this one goes: first disc features groovy, early evening vibes (with a touch of the dark dub), while the second’s all about the peak, late hour anthems. I’m almost tempted to claim Sasha and Diggers were responsible for the trend (their sets at Twilo certainly set a standard), but I’m sure there’s a few earlier mix CDs floating about that hold similar arrangements. What I do know for a fact is it went on to be highly imitated in the following years, and even improved upon from what we get offered on GU009/3. These are still a strong pair of discs, but a few odd choices flub up the flow towards the end of each (Movin’ Thru Your System from Jark Prango, really?). Mostly though, you get familiar names of the era (Oliver Lieb, Breeder, BT, Tilt), plus fun surprises (DJ Sakin, Joi Cardwell), expertly mixed (*cough*inastudio*cough*), and perfectly capturing a moment in time when prog house and trance was going from strength to strength.

If you’re relatively new to this scene, it’s worth your while to seek this out and discover exactly why many old schoolers feel this was progressive trance’s proper peak. Just double-check you don’t get a bust copy missing a track.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Various - Global Underground: Paul Oakenfold - Live In Oslo

Boxed: 1997

When I wrote the 2013 Update on that Dubfire Global Underground, Sharam’s offering was the only one available on the cheap. A couple weeks later though, while looking around for other material on Amazon, I found a few more Global Undergrounds in the ‘under-five’ price range. So what the hey, let’s grab them, since they’re surprising names to be rendered low.

“But wait,” you say, “this is Global F’n Undergroud! How can such a prestigious DJ mix series be so cheap?” (a likely crappy Sharam-solo effort notwithstanding) Well, these are used CDs, and sometimes they come in less-than-mint condition, which I'm perfectly fine with – chipped case here, minor doodles on the booklet there, a hint of white powder embedded, and so on. This Oakenfold one though... my goodness, but is it ever a disgrace. Jewel case wasn't the best, but the booklet appeared to have something poured on it, rendering all the pages stuck (until I tried prying them apart anyway, ripping them in the process). What was even spilled on this? Pop? Beer? The previous owner's splooge? Whatever. All that matters is the condition of the discs, which were fine.

So what is there to even say about Live In Oslo at this late stage? As the third entrant of the series, Global Underground was still finding its footing, trying to capture the superclub phenomenon without the direct superclub association. Swiping Oakenfold from his Cream residency of '97 certainly helped give them more clout, but it'd be another year or two before the series' mystique really took off, especially overseas where British media hype properly penetrated American clubbing (tapping other big-name DJs didn't hurt). At best, it’s fondly remembered as a unique addition to the Global Underground legacy compared to all the prog that came in the years after, so its weaknesses are overlooked.

Oh yeah, the music. This was during Oakenfold's 'jazzy, atmospheric jungle is cool' phase (really, all of Britain was on that), and the Side A of CD1 is where he indulges in the stuff. There isn’t anything here that someone with at least a passing fancy for Bukem won’t have heard before (and mixed better), but it’s a nice collection of tunes nonetheless. After that, plus the shameless plug of the Perfecto Mix of Olive’s You’re Not Alone, it’s all aboard the Balearic and Goa vibes. Standard stuff as far as most Oakenfold mixes of the era goes, yet I can’t complain about hearing Bedrock’s Forbidden Zone, Taucher’s Waters, Astral Projection’s Ionized, or Pablo Gargano’s Trance In Saigon again (Noob Sykonee fun-fact: for the longest time, I thought Chapel Of Rest’s Last Prayer was a remix of Banco de Gaia’s Heliopolis; silly, it’s just the same vocal sample).

Of course, Oakenfold’s mixing is naff – almost mixtape like in some parts – but then Global Underground hadn’t quite become the progressive standard yet. Definitely hints of potential in this early edition though, what with such a slick package and all. Except my copy, sadly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gorillaz - Gorillaz

EMI Music Canada: 2001

While we're still on the subject of Del, let's talk about the project that propelled him from underground darling to crossover star ...kind of. While Gorillaz had been in developmental stages between co-creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett for a few years, it wasn't until Albarn teamed up with Dan The Automator and Del during the Deltron 3030 sessions that a pair of proper tunes were cut as lead singles. And hoo, what a kick-off it was, Clint Eastwood becoming one of the biggest tunes of 2001. In fact, Gorillaz never topped it, though some will argue Dare from Demon Days was a stronger song as far as Gorillaz hits are concerned. Still, Gorillaz was Albarn’s baby, yet despite Del’s involvement being rendered to something of a footnote in the cartoon band’s long history of guest collaborations, his raps remain the most iconic of them. Not bad for portraying a ghost in the Gorillaz’ quirky, fictional history.

That cartoon mythology is what’s enabled Gorillaz to endure in the public consciousness for over a decade now. While Albarn and Hewlett had a definite motivation in the group’s creation (“Fuck the charts, let’s make anti-pop ‘pop’ music!” …something like that), it eventually turned into an indulgent exercise in mainstream music exploration. It’s difficult to pin the group down to a tidy genre, because Albarn enjoyed the freedom such a project offered. That said, lo-fi hip-hop splashed with punk attitude is as best a starting point as one can hope for.

For a ‘group’ that’s been portrayed as very rock orientated (or at least would be if band-leader Murdoc had his way more often), Gorillaz can be startling upon first listen due to the lack of it. Only Punk is about as straight-forward rock as this album gets, with 5/4 adding chiptune-bleeps and fuzzy bass distortion, and M1 A1’s long, paranoid build-up hiding the song’s typical Albarn rock-anthem climax. There are hints of it here and there, but melded with trippy psychedelia and hip-hop beats so often, you’d think this was a proper Dan The Automator album rather him just being a supporting producer. Perhaps ol’ Damon wasn’t confident with this style of music yet, allowing Dan to dictate much of the album’s direction.

The music’s wonderfully diverse, and so is the tone. Melancholic musers like Starshine and Tomorrow Comes Today offer one end of the spectrum; at the other, upbeat party tunes like Rock The House, Latin Simone (ooh, love that shuffling rhythm!), and summery bubble-gum pop of 19-2000. And while the hit Clint Eastwood is immediate, other subtle tunes like New Genious, Man Research and Double Bass show album filler can be just as intriguing. And how does one classify the cinematic Sound Check? Ace, is how!

All said and done Gorillaz has held up incredibly well for a project that likely started as little more than a flight of fancy. Or maybe nostalgic memories of playing this alongside its stylistic-sibling Dreamcast game, Jet Set Radio, are clouding my judgement. Nah.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien - Golden Era

The Council: 2011

Oh man, I'm dodging a bullet on this one. Golden Era is a three-disc album, but two of these CDs are previously released 'net-albums, including Funk Man, which I already covered. And really, the differences between Golden Era Prime and Automatik Statik are minimal, so I may as well treat these remaining two as one. Besides, who even knew Del had released another online album? Lord Discogs draws blank on it, and even RapReviews.com’s got nothing, so I suspect whether Automatik Statik even did get any kind of proper release beyond, say, Soundcloud or Hiero Imperium email. Someone was clued in, though, an enigmatic label called The Council, who not only finally gave Funk Man and Automatik Statik proper hard-copies, but yet another disc of fresh material, from which entails Golden Era Main.

This has been quite a run for Del, three albums' worth of material released in such a small frame of time. It's almost on par with his turn-of-the-century peak years in terms of productivity, but then he had a pile of different projects pushing him forward (solo, Hieroglyphics, Deltron... you know the drill). He doesn't have quite so much on the go now, but someone must have informed him the best way to stay creatively sharp is to keep producing, keep rapping, keep writing. And so he has.

While this does benefit Golden Era to some degree, it also comes with weaknesses. Lyrically, Del’s as sharp as ever, wordplay and stylistic enunciation on par with any prior work. Content wise, however, he isn’t saying much that we haven’t heard before. He’s the illest mofo in the rap game, check. He still cannot stand them wack MCs, damn skippy. He’s a funky homosapien, of course. Del’s lyricism’s always enjoyable, but more variety in theme is needed to elevate Golden Era beyond nodding “yeah, it’s dope” assessments. At least Funk Man had some minor running theme tying it all together, redundant though it eventually got. It almost seems blasphemous to think it, considering how much they often ruined many a hip-hop album, but maybe a few skits, interludes, or monologs would help break up the monotony of Del going on about his impeccable rapping skills track after track.

Meanwhile, on the production front, things have improved from Funk Man. Apparently Del’s still behind the boards on everything (there are no producer liner notes, even on the hard copies), and he comes up with plenty of memorable, funky loops (ooh, love that nod to classic Public Enemy on Raw!). Mostly though, the beats are there to serve his rapping, so don’t go expecting fancy flourishes beyond what he’s spittin’.

That about sums up Golden Era. It’s a showcase of Del doing what he does best, over the course of three CDs. You probably wouldn’t want to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, although they aren’t terribly long discs (Golden Era Alpha’s less than forty minutes long!), so you can breeze through ‘em on a nice summer day.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Various - Goa Trance - Psychedelic Flashbacks 2

Rumour Records: 1999

That Psychedelic Flashbacks box set must have been reasonably successful for Rumour Records, as there couldn’t have been any other point in them releasing another volume of it (much less dropping ‘Goa’ from the title, and carrying on with four more afterwards). How could they even manage it though, when they barely scrapped together enough material from the first seven editions of the main series?

Remember that Jake Stephenson guy? Yep, he’s all over this collection – well, the first disc anyway. And if you can fool costumers they’re getting a bargain with so many unique, exclusive names once, why not do it again and again? The result is a different producer on each CD, all operating under numerous aliases, a ‘gimmick’ the series would continue peddling to the very end. Goodness, even Beechwood wasn’t this overt in their antics. Still, it’s too easy to rip into this sucker based on that knowledge alone, thus I’m taking the high-road here, and pretending each disc is a separate artist ‘album’ (since each producer retains distinctive aesthetics, they pretty much are).

So Stephenson's gets the first CD, and he carries on with the same 'wall of sound' style he used before, again a unique approach to goa, but tedious to endure if the loops used aren't all that interesting. His downtempo efforts are better, but if the Super Skunk stylee didn't work for you before, it likely won't here.

Faring better is Dave Hendry on CD2. Dare I say it, but this disc could have been a proper artist album. Despite the production coming off dated (even by '99 standards), his ideas and arrangements are sound, with enough variety between tranced-out groovers, bubbly psy-dub floaters, and acid freak-outs to satisfy goa heads with at least some aesthetic leniency. Seriously, Rumour, why didn't you release this as a regular album? Did Hendry even agree to have his tunes treated like this?

Much of the same can be said for Mr. CD3 chap, Phil Merrall. His sound is lighter, a little goofier at times, and very mid-rangey, if that’s any way to describe goa trance. Again, these tunes have some good ideas in them, even a few memorable hooks and amusing use of samples, but still under-produced for the year this was released. Merrall’s efforts make me think of Eat Static demos, not necessarily a bad thing given how ace that act’s material typically is.

Bringing up the rear is Dalisto Sajiawandani, which Lord Discogs lists as his only credit. His stuff’s woefully under-produced and forgettable, though some of his piano anthems are charming in their own right.

I can’t give Psychedelic Flashbacks 2 much of a recommendation, as the whole package just reeks of dodgy marketing on Rumour’s part. Should you stumble upon it though, it’s not quite as bad as you’d expect, as at least Hendry and Merrall offer agreeable tunes. Whether they continued to do so in the later editions, I haven’t a clue, as I’m done with this series.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Various - Goa Trance - Psychedelic Flashbacks (Part 2)

Rumour Records: 1998

I knew it’d take a while to finish listening to this box set, but I didn’t think it’d take me the whole weekend, especially considering I’d finished half of it before I left. Darn it though, I made my trip when it seemed everything went down in that little corner of the world. Graduation ceremonies! Children’s birthday parties! Epic moving! Waking early enough to receive free complementary breakfasts from the hotel! With so much to do in such a small crunch of time, who can listen to music, much less write about it?

Actually, I did listen to a little bit, though it was always whatever others happened to be playing. My sister’s almost random taste in contemporary and ‘80s pop; my father’s dedicated taste to classic rock; ‘50s music coming from a diner’s speakers at seven-thirty in the morning; a begrudging ‘top hits’ playlist on the local radio station where you can tell the DJ would give anything to never play Black Eyed Peas or Will.I.Am again; anthem house blasting from the waterslides' sound systems…

Eh, I’m supposed to be doing something else other than recounting my trip? Ah yes, finishing this review of Goa Trance – Psychedelic Flashbacks. Yeah, there was some goa trance on it. Not all of it good, though the filler on this collection was at least better than the filler on Goa Box – Trance 4 Motion was. I really only finished listening to it while on transit home from the airport, sporadically taking in a few tracks here and there while away. With so much distraction and activity, it’s difficult to recall any particulars. For sure, the last two CDs weren’t nearly as good as the first two, but properly pacing multi-disc compilations has long been a tricky task, and the Goa Trance series, though decent enough, didn’t have much to work with.

Trouble is so many tracks on this back-half fall into that generic trap of goa trance that has all the elements, but little of the song craft that elevates the cream of the crop. There’s some acid, some vaguely Indian tonal scale, an occasional trippy sample… the usual stuff one identifies with goa and psy. Yet, for the life of me, I cannot recall anything about, say, Darshan’s Warped Dimension when I stare at it on the tracklist, despite mentally noting that this was an Ace Track contender! Probably the only tracks I distinctly recall are Jake Stephenson’s, mainly because he has an odd ‘wall of sound’ loops approach to his tunes, no matter what alias he uses (they’re all rather interchangeable anyway).

Okay, I’m wrapping up this disgrace of a review now. The unfortunate side-effect of taking time off is you lose the momentum that can carry you through even the most mundane of material. In the end, this box set was probably best summed up when my seven year old niece asked to listen to a bit. After five seconds, she handed the headphones back, saying, “That’s weird.” Yep.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Various - Goa Trance - Psychedelic Flashbacks (Part 1)

Rumour Records: 1998

Yay, another four-CD collection. Like hell I’m gonna go through this one disc by disc though. There’s just not enough variety between all these tracks, and despite a few recognizable goa acts floating about, I’d run out of things to say in short order. Nay, I was quite content to do a simple one-off review for this one, whenever I finally plowed through it all; however, due to a weird coincidence of timing, I’ve planned a mini-vacation for this weekend, which means I’ve no idea when I’ll finish listening to this beast. So, here’s a review of at least half of Goa Trance – Psychedelic Flashbacks, and if I somehow find time to complete the second half while on my trip, maybe I’ll post it then as well. Yes, this has been a glorified explanation for the lack of updates in the coming weekend (trudging through four CDs of goa trance ain’t no walk in the park either).

This particular goa trance series – uncreatively titled Goa Trance - comes from Rumour Records, a London outfit primarily known for several other compilation series of various underground electronic music. They were the first to give Nomad their break, though soon abandoned the singles and LP market in favor of collections of old school rave, hardcore, techno, garage, ambient dub, trance… Rumour covered it all, really, with various degrees of success before running dry about a decade ago. As with so many other ‘up for any genre’ labels in the ‘90s, they jumped on the goa bandwagon with a few compilations. Eventually they’d licensed enough material (seven volumes worth) to put together a retrospective box set, subtitled Psychedelic Flashbacks. Of which I found sitting in a used shop for about a tenner. Well, at that price, there’s bound to be some decent stuff, what with names like Prana, ManMadeMan, Green Nuns Of The Revolution, and, um… hmm.

Hey, it's not like Goa Trance is some dodgy series - the first volume alone featured such luminaries as Astral Projection, Man With No Name, and Etnica. And to be fair, this collection holds fine 'second tier' acts. Unfortunately, of seven volumes to gather material up for a four-disc set, the selections are disappointing if Psychedelic Flashbacks is intended as a retrospective.

So what do we get, at least for the first two CDs? Solid enough goa trance – some brisk, others mellow - though rather acidy and under-produced compared to what the best of the genre has to offer. No surprise that the names I recognize right off provide the best cuts, and final track on CD1 - Nervasystem's Zones - is a strong, moody bit of psy. What's with this Jake Stephenson guy though? He crops up several times under a number of different aliases (Shamanic Tribes On Acid, Super Skunk, Mekhala). Lord Discogs has him under dozens more, some even to come in the later half of Psychedelic Flashbacks. You'd think he was some studio guy hired by Rumour Records to-

Uh oh...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Various - Goa Spirit 3

Cyber Productions: 1998

No doubt, the ‘00s saw a glut of psy trance, far too many start-up labels churning out generic Israeli full-on or dark psy. Why couldn’t things be like it was before, in the ‘90s, where instead of countless one-off compilations from quickly forgotten net labels, we’d get countless compilation series from somewhat remembered labels. Distance To Goa, Goa-Head, Psychedelic Goa Core, Goa Trance (yes, that’s all it was called), Sun Trip, Flight, Fill Your Head With Phantasm, Mushroom Trance, Tantrance

Yeah, I would run out of self-imposed word space before finishing such a list. Point is the ‘90s were no less guilty of flooding the market with psy, but that era tends to hold more fondness for collectors, if nothing for the fact that scene was still in its infancy. It may not have gained as much press as other ‘on the rise’ genres, but there must have been enough interest if nearly every label in Europe dipped their toes into these psychedelic waters.

In this case, we're dealing with French label Cyber Production, who were more known for several 'acid core' CDs and other assorted hard dance than anything psy orientated. Still, they must have heard a kinship with all that acid goodness coming from the goa camps, this Goa Spirit series being the result. I've never even seen the first two volumes (stupid imports), and number 3 came into my grasp by total chance, sitting neglected in some box of CDs underneath the shop's main display shelves. Well hey, I recognized a few names in that tracklist – Koxbox, The Delta, Green Nuns Of The Revolution – so I plucked it out to buy, even if the store clerks didn't even know whether it was part of their inventory or not. Ooh, good karma points for my honesty!

Goa Spirit 3 turned out better than I expected. While I knew I was in good hands with a classic like the early full-on monster As A Child I Could Walk On The Ceiling, the duo Quirk stunned me with their crunchy freak-out Dark Matter and gloriously bonkers Ping (holy cow, that final build!), where samples of a ping-pong game are actually used for the percussion – so delightfully daft, even the early wibble’s fun. Elsewhere you get other examples of the emergent full-on sound from the one-off acts like Prometheus Process and Twisted Travellers, while Green Nuns and Kox Box keep the proper psy trance vibes alive (not to mention a surprisingly strong remix of Killing Joke’s Intellect from Johan). Overall, there’s not a duff cut found on this tidy nine tracker, a strong blend of fierce beats, fun psy-trips, and memorable acid. Only complaint is the CD’s title is misleading, as there’s barely any proper goa on here (yes, there’s a difference).

That all said, Goa Spirit 3 shares the same fate as so many psy compilations: lost in the goa glut. It’s a fine disc should you happen across it, but unessential if you already have these tunes.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Various - Goa Box: Trance 4 Motion (Original TC Review)

Hypnotic: 1997

(2013 Update:
Neglected to mention this before, but many of these tracks were licensed from Outloud Records. Even though the label's logo is quite prominent on the back, for some reason I never made that connection. In my mind, Outloud was responsible for dull hard acid techno at the time, and part of the reason Hypnotic kept releasing poorer and poorer CDs. Guess it's not entirely Hypnotic's fault though, as they'd pretty much tapped out Music Research once Talla 2XLC got back in the studio and DJing.

I'm also surprised to see this entire collection uploaded to YouTube - yes, the full three discs for a single playthrough! I know that's become something of a trend, but surely all the music on this compilation wasn't worth it.)



IN BRIEF: Very budget.

The cover is hideous, of that there is no doubt. The tasteless streamers, the ugly computer model, the annoying text - even kiddie rave flyers aren’t this bad. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from low-budget bargain-bin box sets (often provided by Beechwood Music). Were this from a no-name quick-buck label, it’d be understandable, but this is from Hypnotic Records. Their cover-art could at least be counted on for being spiffy, at least through the mid-90s. And therein lays the key to the puzzle.

This compilation is from 1997, a time when Hypnotic had all but run out of material to import from Europe (mostly via Talla 2XLC’s Music Research label). Many of their releases in the late 90s were dismal, and it could be argued they’ve never recovered beyond a few contractual big names keeping them afloat. With so many new and old labels able to capitalize on the growing interest in the rave scene at the time, Hypnotic appeared tired, under-produced, and unable to keep pace. This ‘goa box’ is quite indicative of the problem.

First off, there are no big names to be found, from the goa scene or otherwise. Possibly Michael Kjeldgaard - aka: Psygone - had the most recognition, mainly due to him being one of Hypnotic’s few original psy acts and thus featured on nearly every psy compilation they made. Kjeldgaard also contributes other tracks here under alternate aliases such as Nature Bug and Biller. Another name some may know of is Claus Larsen, who made a minor impact on the 90s industrial/EBM scene as Leæther Strip. Seeing him here making rudimentary goa tracks as Sunglory (along with Martin Nielsen, whom I’ll get to in a bit) and Phobia is quite surprising given his musical history. And Fuzzy Logic had seen the rounds on a few other labels, with Rumour Records being the most notable. Aside from that, Trance 4 Motion contains a whole bunch of tracks featuring complete unknowns that you’ll find nowhere else, or the same producers working under several aliases.

Chief among these producers is, yes, Martin Nielsen. The man is on about a third of these tracks, and that’s just what is actually listed in the credits (B.F.B Inc., O Zone, Spirit, Evaporator). It’s entirely possible he’s on even more. Chances are he’s an in-house producer for Hypnotic churning out goa trance at a quick clip to fill out their compilations. It would explain why so many of these tracks sound very similar to each other.

And yes, that’s another huge problem with this compilation. While maybe half of these tracks have some charm, the other half are very weak examples of goa, the kind of crap most kids knock out in their early attempts on Fruity Loops or other freeware studio programs. The hooks are hilariously rudimentary, the acid tweaks useless, and the atmosphere uninspired. Mind, this isn’t quite so apparent in the first disc, where the music tends to maintain a level of competence throughout. Beyond there though, many of the tracks have ‘filler’ written all over them, with the odd gem littered about.

Still, if you are a fan of older goa, the tracks that aren’t toss-offs are worth a look. When the spacey synth pads, acid builds, and punchy rhythms work, they do so as fine as any old school trance did. Unsurprisingly, the Psygone and Larsen tracks tend to be of the most interest, and Nielsen does manage a few decent cuts as well. Of the no-namers, I-Conez’ Rasta In My House is a fun enough track that bounces along cheerily, and Solar 5 from Raver’s Fantasy is a gosh-darned fun anthem, even if it is a cliché rave tune.

Ultimately though, for three discs worth, there honestly isn’t much cop. Nothing comes remotely close to a classic, and only a few tracks would be consider good by a casual fan of trance. As for the goa squad, they may get more out of this but there is clearly far better material to be found in the psy scene. Mind, for the price of this, you’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth.

Had Trance 4 Motion been a concise fifteen tracker rather than a bloated thirty, it would have been at least a more agreeable listen. Instead, the decent stuff is lost amongst the useless excess, making this a chore to sit through. Proceed with the utmost caution.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rascalz - Global Warning

BMG Music Canada: 1999

Every few years, the Canadian media jumps on some home-grown hip-hop act as our country's ambassador for that scene. So long as that one act is at the top, nearly every other one is seemingly forgotten about. Currently that title is owned by Drake, but this phenomenon stretches back at least two decades. The earliest I can recall receiving the MuchMusic push was Dream Warriors, who were then supplanted by Choclair as the Most Important Canadian Rapper. Rascalz soon followed him on the success of their second album Cash Crop (not to mention a Juno Award they famously snubbed), but their time in the spotlight was swiftly usurped by Swollen Members. The media finally gave K-OS a bump once folks grew tired of Swollen Members, and now we're with Drake. *Phew*... did I miss anyone?

As for these Rascalz, they'd been around since the early '90s, existing as a complete 'Four Pillars Of Hip-Hop' contingent based out of Vancouver. As such, it's no wonder it took so long for folks outside the Lower Mainland to notice, their strengths often lying within the live scene (sure can't capture breakin' and graffiti on a CD). Their talents couldn't be kept hidden forever though (especially when Canadian media's always dying for that next Great Rap Hope), and after the collaborative hit Northern Touch (which included Choclair and Kardinal Offishall) got them all the plaudits, anticipation was high for their follow-up album, Global Warning.

And why not? With their new found fame, they also had new found funds, able to bring in guest collaborations and slick production while remaining true to their underground roots. KRS-One! Barrington Levy! All those Canadian rappers too! Heck, even French rappers Consice and Sazon show up – how Canadian is that? Pre-fame comedian Russell Peters also gets a couple appearances with skits, and final track Sharpshooter samples Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Oh my God, I’m gonna Canadagasm!

Guests aside, the music on hand maintains mostly an Eastcoast conscious flavour (well, aside from that Beatnuts collaboration Can’t Relate, their stock gangterisms sounding totally out of place following the smart raps of Priceless). DJ Kemo handles most of the music, but rappers Misfit and Red 1 get time in the producer’s chair too. As Misfit and Red 1 share a strong dynamic between the former’s regular flow and the latter’s dancehall toasting, the music also plays to their strengths. Reggae jams, minimalistic funk (hello, Wu-Tang influence), boom-bap, all mint for those who crave their hip-hop underground and streetwise, not thugged out.

Whoops, maybe that’s why Global Warning didn’t perform as great as expected. Conscious hip-hop was still firmly in the underground, and despite strong singles in Top Of The World and Gunnfinga, not to mention the ridiculous amount of Canadian promotion, folks soon forgot about Rascalz’ efforts (to be fair, Dr. Dre’s resurgence that year overshadowed nearly all of hip-hop). While I wouldn’t call this album a lost classic, it’s held strong after all these years, as only timeless underground hip-hop can.

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