Saturday, August 31, 2013

Daft Punk - Homework

Virgin Music Canada: 1996

The most important house LP of 1997, and no, I’m not joking. All the hype that preceded it, all the plaudits and criticisms it earned, and all the set trends following its release, I dare ask you to name another house album that had as much of an impact as Daft Punk’s Homework. It changed the way folks regarded the genre – in some cases, even dance music in general – and its aftereffects have rippled to this day. Whether you thought it was a good album, however, that’s been a contentious debate for over fifteen years now, and will undoubtedly continue as Daft Punk draw in new fans with each sporadic release.

While it'd amaze me if adding my voice to the cacophonous Homework dialog ends up having any kind of sway, here's my take on the French duo's debut: it's a good album, with two glaring problems. It's that simple, and surprising such furor over its merits has continued for so long.

There's a lot of strong house music on here. From the opening propulsive party vibes of Revolution 909 (first two tracks don't count), filter funk of Fresh, bumpin' vocal loops of High Fidelity, shimmering shoulder-shufflin' fun of Burnin', and all the way to the cascading synths of Alive at the end of the album, Homework is filled with tunes that have stood the test of time remarkably well. They’re not all-time classic, mind you, but solid enough, and would have been fondly remembered were it not for four tracks.

First, the wack. I won't deny Rollin' & Scratchin' is effective in a club, but the hard-stomp acid nature of the tune aggravates after seven minutes worth in an album format. Worse, it's quickly followed-up with a poor-man's version in Rock'n Roll, tediously dragging down the back half of Homework, including all the songs surrounding it.

Oddly enough, an opposite effect is caused by the two highlights of Homework, Da Funk and Around The World. These tunes are brilliant, and warrant the superstar status Daft Punk earned when they broke out. In fact, they're too good, as nothing else on the album comes close to capturing their delicious, vibey magic. Around The World marks the end of Homework's first half, and you're left wanting for another tune on par with it or Da Funk to emerge. But no, all you get are solid house tunes (and two duffs), memorable when out of context but unable to reach the highs Homework generated prior. And boy does that make for a frustrating album when played front-to-back.

The bitch of it is that the solution to this is so simple: jettison Rock'n Roll (or, if you must, reduce its ridiculous length), and add in the rare tune Musique, a b-side to Da Funk that's just as hooky as the Big Two. It won't solve the 'unreachable peak' problem caused by them, but at least the album's pacing would be vastly improved. Or lessen all those debates over Homework's classic status, anyway.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Various - Dirty Vegas: Homelands 2002 Preview

Muzik Magazine: 2002

So this Homelands music festival, it was a big deal in the UK? The way Muzik Magazine went on about it sure made it seem like a big deal. I never heard much about it outside of the rag’s articles, but then I do live on the other side of the hemisphere. Odds are I’m not gonna hear about every single music festival in the British Isles, though I have heard of plenty famous ones: Glastonbury, Reading, Creamfields, Global Gathering, and the like. Apparently Homelands reached upwards of 35, 000 punters, respectable numbers but, turns out, unsustainable, as the brand ended around 2006. I've no idea why the festival folded, nor does cursory Google searches reveal much either. Did it just grow too bring for its own good? Should'a kept it smaller, like our Shambhala festival. It’s still going strong, bringing in all the UK's big breaks acts for years now, yeah yeah!

I guess Muzik had an advertising deal with Homelands, hence all the plugging for it going on with the particular issue this free CD came with. Oh, they included write-ups for other summer festivals too, but not to the degree they did for Homelands. I wonder if it was as spectacular as they made it out to be; anyone have stories? Whatever, let's focus on what Dirty Vegas provides for an uber-festival preview.

Hey wait! Dirty Vegas! You remember them, right? They of the super-mega hit Days Go By, made famous by a snappy car commercial (I can't recall which one now – t'was over a decade ago). Seeing as how I don't own any of their proper releases, maybe I should go into a little detail about the group while I have the chance. Um... they had a super-mega hit called Days Go By (made popular by a snappy music video). Few gave a flute about their following debut album though, even less about their sophomore effort. They then practically disappeared for years, returning with a third album on OM Records a couple years back. Did you know that? I sure didn't. Boy, for a group seemingly destined for super-stardom, did they ever fizzle out. Kinda like those other early ‘00s hopefuls Fischerspooner, come to think of it.

Alright, back to the Homelands Preview. Some big names on this mix for sure, as the filthy folks from Nevada (South London) aimed for a set that built hot anticipation for the acts many could catch at the festival: Hernan Cattaneo, Royksopp, Basement Jaxx, Carl Cox, Slam, and X-Press 2 amongst others. The music itself is, um, quite prog for the first half – hey, it was 2002. Breaks care of Stanton Warrior’s Da Antidote 2 (The Unreleased Mix), liquid funk d’n’b on Peshay’s You Got Me Burning, and a funkier jam in Timo Maas’ To Get Down add variety at the end, but Homelands Preview doesn’t stray far from the unexpected. Except for those mooing cows when the music finishes - gotta capture that proper festival vibe, after all.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

L.S.G. - The Hive

Beat Buzz Records: 2002

In some ways, ending the L.S.G. project on Into Deep would have been perfect. Having successfully pushed the boundaries of his popular trance moniker down roads few thought possible, where else could Oliver Lieb go with it? House music? Jungle? Acid Jazz!? Nope, in a move that was somewhat surprising at the time, the fifth L.S.G. LP went back to its regular progressive trance roots, offering up an album of about as straight-forward Oliver Lieb branded trance as you could get. And then it was almost utterly forgotten shortly after, his mid-‘90s sound coming off old-fashioned and dated in the year 2002.

Okay, trance burnout had definitely settled in by that time, five years of over-exposure sending many folks seeking fresher genres. That The Hive would pass by with little fanfare is understandable. What boggles my mind, however, is how, in the ensuing decade, old schoolers decrying the lack of good trance in the '00s never brought this album up in conversation. Was it really so underwhelming that it slipped everyone's mind? So it lacked the 'firstness' of Rendevous In Outer Space, the killer single of Vol. 2, the ferocity of The Black Album, or the soaring sonics of Into Deep. The Hive was just... there, holding few surprises for the discerning L.S.G. follower to return to.

And I cannot deny I'm guilty of this too. It's been years since I last threw this on, and though I remember enjoying the Hell out of it, The Hive's always been the last L.S.G. album I'm inclined to hear. Even now, despite remembering all those awesome moments throughout, I just know when I reach for a Lieb LP again, other entries in his discography will find their ways to my ears sooner than this one. Such is the price one pays for maintaining such a high standard of quality, I guess.

So what does ‘awesome but forgotten’ L.S.G. sound like? Oh man, there’s some mint stuff on this album. Opener Loose Ends seems appropriately titled, coming off like a left-over tune from a prior LP. Then we’re flying out in space with Down To Earth (or returning from space?), kick ass tribal rhythms with Saviour… Hell, I could go track-by-track on how good this music is, but self-imposed word count forbids. And truthfully I’d be detailing things anyone familiar with Lieb’s work should recognize anyway, as he re-uses plenty of synths, melodies, beats, and effects from years past. If you’re wondering if he brings anything unique to The Hive, Everon features a bassy hook that I’ve never heard attempted in prior L.S.G. material, but that’s about it.

Still, Oliver Lieb going through the motions easily trumps many trance producers out there, such that The Hive, though not a defining L.S.G. album, remains essential for any collector of the genre. Don’t make the mistake so many others have made in turning a deaf ear to it just because it came out at the wrong time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2 Unlimited - Hits Unlimited

Popular Records: 1995

The only 2 Unlimited collection you need, if you've just a passing interest in the group. It covers the first five years of their discography, and, since it was released in 1995, totally ignores the woeful attempt on Phil Wilde and Jean-Paul de Coster's part to resurrect the brand with two new singers. God, was that ever a disappointment. I could forgive them for bringing those chicks in, but what the Hell happened to their hit-making ability? It’s amazing how a duo responsible for so many all-time great euro dance tunes (including other acts like C.B. Milton, Def Dames Dope, and more) could fail to change with the times when euro trance became the clubbing music of choice. On the other hand, with anthem house enjoying quite the comeback lately (what, you thought 'trouse' was a new thing?), maybe that proper 2 Unlimited reunion will occur as current rumours suggest. It was a similar sound that gave them their breakout, after all.

Let's be clear on this though: 2 Unlimited as a group can only exist with Ray Slijngaard and Anita Dels holding the microphones. Whatever you may think of their vocals, you cannot deny they brought a unique dynamic to the euro dance template. Plenty of rappers stood out enough to have a hit or three during that scene's early '90s heyday, and the same could be said of whatever gal happened to be singing on the chorus. None, however, had as many chart topping hits as 2 Unlimited generated. How many, you ask? Just look at this CD. Every single one of them hit Top 10 in some country (mostly the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK). That's sixteen songs, over a mere five years. In the freakin' '90s! I think only Madonna managed similar dance act chart success (whether you consider her included in that discussion or not). No wonder we still hear Get Ready For This, Twilight Zone, No Limit, Tribal Dance, Workaholic, and The Real Thing today.

So, my 2 Unlimited fanboyism gushing all over the place, obviously I'm going to give Hits Unlimited a high recommendation. Actually, that's not quite the case. As mentioned, this is a good CD if you're just interested in the big tunes and little else. Truth is I find the included versions of these singles lacking compared to their album counterparts. Twilight Zone's cut short, Here I Go’s cut short, we get the not-as-good radio version of No Limit (no, trust me, the album version’s better), and, unsurprisingly, we don’t get the snappy “Who the fuck are you?” sample in Workaholic. Only two tracks here are improvements from the LP versions, Let The Beat Control Your Body (much better!), and Maximum Overdrive.

I’ve little else to say regarding Hits Unlimited, as it’s about as straight-forward a ‘greatest hits’ package as you can expect. Only in this case, each track included well warrants its status as a bona-fide euro dance hit (except new track Spread Your Love... ugh).

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Various - History Of Hardstyle 4 (Original TC Review)

Atlantis: 2007

(2013 Update:
So bizarre hearing Frankie Knuckles'
Your Love in that Reforced track so soon after hearing the original and the 'remake' on the previous CD. Aside from that, not much else to add to this one. I probably gave it much more attention than it ever deserved, but I had some grief to get off my shoulders over the criticisms music critics often received. Figured a hardstyle compilation was the best outlet for it, and History Of Hardstyle 4 was the first one I stumbled upon.

Oddly, upon first re-listen, I started liking this more than I expected - an almost refreshing sound compared to where popular hard dance has ended up. By the end of it though, I was bored of the repeated tropes. Oh well.)



IN BRIEF: A ‘march-a-long’ look back.

“If you don’t like it, don’t review it!”

Seen this statement before? Been tempted to write it yourself? It is one of the most common complaints any reviewer will come up against, and has become something of a hate-mail cliché along with “Let’s see you do better!” and “You’re just a hater!” Of course, such a complaint doesn’t make much sense when directed at major reviewers: they get sent items to cover either in the hopes of a glowing exposé or just for any coverage at all. It’s their job to be critical, and fanboys sure do hate them for it.

However, we here at TranceCritic usually have more discretion in what we review, as promos are still few for a young site such as ours; much of what we decide to cover tends to come out of our own pockets. So why would we review anything we don’t like in the first place? Simply put, we don’t know if we will dislike it until it goes into the player. Sure, we may have personal preferences, but we don’t feel certain styles of electronic music should be given the shaft because of them, nor do we let it affect our judgments (much). Our aim is to cover it all, as everything deserves a fair shake.

Still with me on this? Good. Now you know why, even though we haven’t been terribly kind to hardstyle in the past, we have yet another collection of hardstyle ready to go under the knife. Who knows? This could potentially be the one that gets the good grade! But until it gets the listen-over, we won’t know.

Initial impressions are in its favor. After all, anything with History in the title hints at a release containing choice cuts from the past. This being the fourth edition from Atlantis, surely they’ve managed to tap a well of hardstyle that was fresh and original when it was a new genre.

Wait just a moment. How old is hardstyle anyway? I know it sprung up when the residue of a decaying NRG scene merged with the gabber scene, but does it really have enough history behind it to start cranking out retrospective releases? Some quick sleuthing of the tracks on here reveals them to be from late 2002/early 2003. So... roughly four years then. That may seem like a short period of time but even ‘house classics’ compilations began emerging as early as the late 80s, so it isn’t much of a surprise to see Atlantis cashing in on their back-catalogue so soon. There’ll always be new kids in need of these to catch up on their scenes.

The first thing I noticed with these older hardstyle cuts is how much more sluggish they are compared to current offerings. While the tempo is still brisk, the emphasis on that trademark ‘WWWUUMMPA-WWWUUMMPA-WWWUUMMPA’ bassline drags the energy along. These are primarily interested in simple fist-pumping action, and everything is centered on that aspect. I can see why this had such appeal earlier in the decade for the hard dance massive: you don’t have to work as hard to keep pace with these tracks as you would for gabber or NRG.

The second thing I noticed is just how damned similar these all sound. The reason for this is easy to discover when you look at production credits: all but two of these tracks are by the same group of people! Cristiano Giusberti - aka: Technoboy - gets the most exposure on here, with eight out of eleven tracks having his hand in; also invited to this party are Antonio Donà, Mauro Farina, Luca Antolini, Paolino Nobile, Riccardo Tesini, and Luca Peruzzi.

Atlantic Wave, Builder, Droid, The Raiders, Hunter, Citizen, K-Traxx, Q-Zar: it’s all these guys, usually together, although sometimes a couple at a time - and Donà on his own as K-Traxx. Hardstyle has never been a terribly creative form of hard dance, typically recycling the same structures over and over, but a full disc of it when even the producers are recycled does not bode well for diversity. As for the other two acts - DJ Stardust and Tuneboy - they sound almost identical to all these Italians to render their inclusion moot if you want a little uniqueness in your hardstyle.

Differences through tracks tend to be marginal, as they all stick to the same march-a-long rhythmic structure and similar sounding gabber synths. Distinguishing characteristics between all these cuts are minute: Rave Train makes use of faux-train whistles; Sweetie gets ‘naughty’ with “bitch motherfucker” samples; Reforced sounds like it copied an old Frankie Knuckles tune for its build; Hardrive teases with tempo changes that hardly ever occur; Maori Fight uses war chants during a build, which is actually rather creative compared to the rest of these; and Tuneboy’s Demolition managed to turn my head by taking a vocal sample of 2 Unlimited’s Let The Beat Control Your Body. Most of the others use time-worn vocal samples heard in hard dance for ages (“Something for your mind...”; “So get up!”; etc.). And hooks? Riffs? Merely there to emphasize the throbbing beat, although Hardventure gets a tad more intuitive than the others.

There’s little more to discuss about History Of Hardstyle 4. This isn’t a form of music that requires much analysis, laying out its manifesto simply and bluntly. Play this at a big rave, and you’ll get the crowd enthusiastically jumping in the same spot with their fist pumping the air; listen to it at home, and you’ll tire of it quickly, as there’s frankly not enough going on here to treat it as anything but rave fodder. And while serviceable in such a setting, these are mostly rote examples, and won’t convert those who aren’t already fans.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Frankie Knuckles - His Greatest Hits From Trax Records (2013 Update)

Trax Records: 2004

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

Hey, kids, are you tired of blasting electro house at festivals, knocking you over with over-the-top 'complextro' nonsense? Have you ever wondered if house music could be simple and groovin', but without sacrificing catchy hooks and kick-ass bass? Then let's take a gander at the roots of the genre, born and raised from the good ol' American city of Chicago. Wait, where are you going? What do you mean you can get your fix elsewheres? New York? Ireland!? Ya'll be trippin', I say. Ain't no house like Chicago house, right from the source. And no, I'm not talking about The Source, from which became synonymous with Frankie Knuckles even though the two likely never even talked to each other over the phone.

Ugh, this isn’t working. I’m just blathering nonsense. Against all odds, that original TranceCritic review I wrote years ago has held up. Yeah, the grammar’s still clunky in places, and I come off pointlessly defensive in the opening paragraph (does it really matter what my sexual orientation is?), but all the information you need’s right there in white on black. And any sort of ‘updating’ I could relay about Knuckles’ music on Trax has been co-opted by the seemingly never-ending ‘classic house revival’ narrative that’s developed in the past while. Hell, I just touched upon that with Hercules & Love Affair.

So I’m left with a 2013 Update with nothing to update on. That said, and half this wasteful exercise over, I’m going out to get drunk right now, and when I come back, let’s see what I’ve to say.

*tick-tock, tick-tock, not much time passed on the clock*

Well, that was pointless. Sure, I got drunk, but all too quickly for my liking. I must be exhausted, a theory totally corroborated by the wonky work hours I’ve had since getting back from vacation. Normally I work late evenings, but it’s been early mornings this past week, screwing up my sleep cycles. Thank God for energy drinks, even if they do weird things to your insides and possibly eyeballs (why do I see so many blobs and dark dots floating about?).

Is anyone still reading this far? If so, don’t be expecting some sort of new epiphany regarding Frankie Knuckles and his greatest tracks from Trax while I’m in this drunken state. The CD remains as good as when I first heard it; so instead, here’s a c+p of my concluding paragraph from my first review:

This release is a good introduction to the house sound of the mid-80s. A vibrant, hedonistic, sexual energy runs through these songs, capturing the carefree days when a gay man could escape the torment of prejudice and lose himself in house music. The tragic breakout of AIDS sadly cut short those years, and, like any scene that sprouts from innocent intents, it will never occur again. This is the soundtrack to those times and, no matter your sexual orientation, you can’t help but get lost in the moment as well.

Friday, August 23, 2013

DJ John Kelley - High Desert Soundsystem 2

Moonshine Music: 2000

John Kelley's second mix under the High Desert Soundsystem banner was a disappointment when I first threw it on, lacking so many of the big anthems that made the first one quite fun. So of course, over a decade on, I find myself enjoying this one more as a DJ set. I'm not sure what the former funky desert breaks man had in mind when he started doing these CDs, but for the second (and last) volume, he's gone full shuffly, driving techno, with touches of house, tech-trance and a dash of prog. Blend everything in an arid, outdoor tribal vibe, and you have High Desert Soundsystem 2. Ah, Consistency, how you always make mixes better.

So while this makes for a solid CD for the ears, I'm struggling to find much of substance for your eyes. Kelley opens his mix with Samuel L. Sessions, gives us two Timo Maas tracks after that (boy, remember how big his star was supposed to be at the turn of the century?), some fine bangin' material plays out for a while (oh, two Ben Sims!), with a sorta-peak hitting with Trancesetter's classic Roaches, and an easy fade-out with the Fade mix of Carissa Mondavi's Solid Ground. There, done.

Even at fourteen tracks, High Desert Soundsystem 2 isn't a very long set, not even an hour's length. Since most of these tracks don't offer much other than keeping the tribal-tech momentum moving, it's not an issue, as each cut serves its purpose for the brief duration it plays out. Also, Kelley's mixing is quite smooth, a marked improvement over the previous HDSs, but by staying in such a narrow frame of genre-type, something's lost in the unpredictability that came before.

At best, High Desert Double-Loo is a snapshot of whatever John Kelley happened to be playing out at the Moontribe parties at the time ...I assume, anyway. If I wandered over to a stage where he was playing this, you bet I’d be down for these sounds, and if you’re perfectly fine with a CD that captures an hour’s worth of what sounds like at least a three-hour session, by all means scope this disc out.

And there it is. Absolutely nothing else to say. What happen to John Kelley afterwards, you ask? (no, just pretend you did, alright? I’ve still another hundred words to fill here, damn it) He made a mix for the United DJs Of America series (second to last one, in fact), released an album of original breakbeat material in 2005 (well, more of a mid-‘90s throwback, if we’re honest), and not much else of note, according to Lord Discogs. He’s still active, mind you, DJing and lending an occasional production hand to Eastern Sun (who?) – and, of course, playing for Moontribe events whenever they go down. All things considered, it’s unfortunate seeing one of chemical breaks’ biggest supporters seemingly disappear underground with such little fanfare, but such it goes with that genre in the current millennium, it seems.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

DJ John Kelley - High Desert Soundsystem

Moonshine Music: 1999

Back to Moontribe. Though the collective isn’t as prominent as it was back in the ‘90s, they recently celebrated a twentieth anniversary party. Right as the full moon passed us by, in fact. Holy cow, that was just a few days ago now! I swear I didn’t plan to get back to the desert party posse in such a timely fashion. Okay, they've had a couple ‘anniversary’ parties this year, but the Full Moon Gatherings were what made Moontribe so memorable, where many of their DJs became local legends for the hippie-leaning side of Californian rave culture.

Amongst the most prominent of these DJs was John Kelley. No, not the UK guy who played at superclubs - this is John Kelley, one of the earliest champions of the West Coast chemical breaks scene. His first pair of mixes for Moonshine, the FunkyDesertBreaks series, helped expose rising acidy goodness acts like Bassbin Twins and Friction & Spice to wider audiences, and also elevated Kelley’s status among the growing Moonshine roster of DJs.

Time forces changes within musical tastes, however, and ol’ John couldn’t keep peddling the same brand of breaks forever (especially since all those awesome chemical breaks had fallen by the wayside at the turn of the century – thanks, big beat and Florida). So when it came time for his fourth mix CD on Moonshine, there was nary a breakbeat to be found. Instead, we have… um, lots of other stuff?

High Desert Soundsystem (what’s with the lack of spaces for these Moontribe guys?) is very much a transitional set, in that you can hear Kelley working out kinks as he gets used to all the tribal, techno, and house he’s working into his programming. Almost as a crutch, there’s quite a few anthems in this tracklist, which I admit was darn cool to hear back when this was new. However, I’ve since heard tracks like Dave Randall’s Bombay, Jark Prongo’s Movin’ Through Your System, Jonesy’s Independence, and Krome’s The Real Jazz on several other CDs now, and ol’ John’s use of them fails to give them fresh context (except one instance). In a nutshell, this is the sort of set that sees lots of quick mixing in an effort to reach several peaks along the way, strong flow from beginning to end be damned. It’s not a terrible CD, but any tracklist that moves from Prongo’s stomper to the festive house vibes of Grant Phabao’s Tub to That bloody Zipper Track from DJ Dan (seriously, were all Moonshine DJs contractually obligated to use it?) can’t help but suffer.

I will give props to Kelley for his final run of tracks though. While using Independence as a climax is obvious, he follows it with some proper deep-tech vibes that eases the listener out with class. So good are the final two cuts, I almost entirely forget everything that preceded them. I’d love the set to continue from there, but then it wouldn’t be an ace finish, now would it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Various - High Karate

Mutant Sound System: 1998

Don’t you dare do it. I know you want to, and to be fair, the artwork totally invites it. To judge the CD by its cover, however, is to deny yourself all-time class, yet hopeless rare drum ‘n’ bass. Oh, there’s some wack material on here too, but the choice cuts more than makes up for it, trust you me.

First, the particulars. High Karate comes care of Mutant Sound System, a short lived American label that existed in the late ‘90s. Between albums and compilations, they generally focused on jungle and other assorted broken-beat bass music, plus a brief early flirtation with abstract ambient. Mutant Sound System was far from an original label, all things considered, but they released just enough unique material to reward the deep diggers of electronic music, should you look past some of their occasional questionable cover art. To be honest though, had I not been going through a minor ‘otaku’ phase when I stumbled upon High Karate, I may have passed by this CD altogether.

Even then, it was a while before I truly came to appreciate the music on offer here. Like so many fresh 'deebee' followers of the late '90s, it was the fierce, rough 'n' ready sounds of tech-step and such darkside spawns that got my attention (and, um, a little jump-up too), and the few cuts on High Karate that deliver those sounds were the tunes I frequently returned to. The Ray Keith and Nookie remix of the classic Scottie from Subnation certainly delivers on those fronts, while tracks from L Double and Acetate offer all the over-the-top basslines you could want from such genres. Yet once the initial thrill of those drops wane, you're unfortunately left with tunes that go nowhere, running on fumes for durations that far exceed whatever ideas these producers initially came up with.

Thank God for Nookie, then! Gavin Cheung, that is. Nookie was his most prominent alias, though he also contributes to High Karate as Cloud 9, and believe you me when I say his tracks are easily the highlights. They find a smooth, cool ground between atmospheric jungle and jazzstep, the sort of music you can easily float on as you could cruise with through urban streets at midnight. And bizarrely, most of the tracks he provides to High Karate can only be found on this CD! It was over a decade before Snow White was rescued for an MP3 Nookie album titled Lost Files. The Cloud 9 material, including a mint remix of Victor Romeo's The Italian Job, officially exists nowhere else.

A few other stylish d'n'b cuts from DJ Rap, Da Boss, Peshay (as Revelations), Rogue Unit, and Dr. S. Gachet round out an incredibly mature sounding CD, given how cartoony the art is. High Karate isn't an essential purchase, mind, but if you're after some surprisingly ace, obscure jungle (or are just a Nookie completist), then definitely snag a copy if you happen across one. You can't miss that cover.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Various - Heroes! Rewind!

Muzik Magazine: 2003

Muzik Magazine was nearing its one-hundredth edition and, like any long-running music publication, was straining for original content. What had once been a fun, if somewhat snarky, alternative to Mixmag, was now (then) turning into just another electronic music rag, floundering to find the next genre zeitgeist to help push papers from newsstands. And when the scene doesn’t provide such material for coverage, there’s only one thing left to do: retrospectives.

But Muzik had done a “Top 50 Dance Albums” issue just a year prior – a similar article would be redundant (to say nothing of Mixmag’s 2001 “Top 100 Tracks …Ever” list, which ranked Energy 52’s Café Del Mar tops …such innocent times). Instead, they opted for a look back at influential musicians of the dance music scene’s past; in this case, focusing on ‘80s acts that helped define club music. The article included such names as Kraftwerk, Prince, New Order, Larry Levan, Run DMC, and, um, Madonna.

One can't detail such influential musicians without some audio support though, so for that month's free CD, Muzik rounded up a number of current players and shakers and got them to make cover versions of classic cuts. I think. Maybe these covers had already existed and Muzik simply managed to gather the rights to use them here. I can't recall the specifics from that issue (its sadly missing from the .pdf archive) and I’m lazy, so no verifying the track release dates in Lord Discogs.

The CD includes thus: two covers of Prince; one of Joy Davidson (Squarepusher doing the honors – it’s not as frenetic as you’d expect); that wacky Señor Coconut having a go at Kraftwerk's Showroom Dummies; Rae & Christian getting their Funkadelic on; an almost unneeded stab at Marl Melle's White Lines by Grandmaster Flash; and hopelessly obscure duo Open Door take on Pink Floyd's Breathe. As a pet project, all these interpretations are perfectly fine, some of which you could even play out today if you're up for turning heads.

Oddly, Muzik didn't fully commit to their 'covers' idea, as few original tunes show up too, all from the relative new '90s new school of electronic music. LTJ Bukem's Music is here, though in stupid edited form. DJ Sneak's You Can't Hide From Your Bud is here, truly an important record for the filter-loop house movement, but out of place on this disc. Coldcut also shows up with Atmoic Moog 2000, though in a funkier form compared to the one I'm familiar with. And finally, Soul II Soul shows up with an exclusive track titled Soul II Soul Special. I've never been fond of the group though, so moving on.

Oh wait, that's all, isn't it. Not a long freebie, this one, and not the strongest collection of music either without the accompanying article detailing why these producers are represented here as heroes of the past. Then again, if you know your electronic music history, you likely don't need such an article to begin with.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2 Unlimited - Here I Go (BioMetal - Pt. 2)


Quality Music: 1995

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)


The black BioMetal frigate erupted in a furious blaze, the surrounding wind and rain unable to quell the explosion dealt by the HALBRED's blistering plasma weapons and homing missiles. A structure near its center burst open, green fluids spewing out on a direct line for the ship. Taking no chances, Ray jerked the ship's controls back, avoiding the bizarre last gasp of the dying BioMetal frigate. Yet his haste and the exploding aftershock sent the HALBRED flying from its hovering position, spinning downward into the storm surrounding them.

He couldn't steady the ship, the combined stresses stripping him of control. Ray knew of only one manoeuvre that could save them from certain death.

“Here I go!” Ray yelled, slamming the controls down with a sharp jerk. “Hang on!”

The HALBRED increased its spin as it plummeted to the moon below. Too much, and even the ship's advanced thrusters wouldn't get out of its descent quick enough. He had to ride the crosswinds, hoping the cloud cover would break before the surface broke them.

Nausea attacked his senses, momentum urging Ray to accept a blissful darkness until it passed. Death was certain if he succumbed, and he focused his eyes on the altitude read-out, a best guess according to the mothership's sensors. One thousand feet. Nine hundred. Eight hundred.

How bloody low are these damned clouds? he thought with a grinding of his teeth. The pain of a cracked tooth was much preferable to the sickness swelling in his stomach.

A dull, orange light suddenly washed over him, the HALBRED's spin easing into a steady rotation. “We're through!” he shouted, flipping a switch to initiate the ship's reverse thrusters. In a near instant, the ship righted itself from its descent, easing into a motionless hover. A quick glance over the on board instruments showed no sign of damage, even after the onslaught of BioMetals they'd dealt with coming through the clouds.

Way more than they anticipated, Ray thought with a wry smile, stretching his neck. And that had only been the initial wave, simple air strikers that had no idea an attack on their home was imminent. No, the opposition would grow fiercer the deeper they penetrated the BioMetal's nest. For the moment though, they could rest, catch a breather.

Ray glanced at his co-pilot's life monitor, showing a steady green. “Anita?” he called into the internal radio. “Are you OK?”

After a few seconds of silence, he called again, to no response. Is she unconscious? Riding a hunch, he flatly whispered, “Sensuality?”

“Pig,” came the reply in his ear.

“Good, you’re awake,” Ray chortled. “Sorry if that was rougher than the average flight.”

“Ugh, I was never prepared for that. I don't think I can handle this.”

“You did fine, babe,” Ray said.

“Thanks, I think. Where are we now?”

“Near the BioMetals' lair. We should-” Ray's voiced trailed off as the lifesign beacon began flashing again. “Well, rest-time's over. You better get ready for this, because the welcoming party is coming.”


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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hercules And Love Affair - Hercules And Love Affair (Original TC Review)

DFA: 2008

(2013 Update:
As tempting it is to claim Hercules And Love Affair was ahead of its time in predicting the return of classic house and disco vibes we're enjoying half a decade on from this release, let's be honest here: that prediction all the trendy publications were pushing as the 2008 narrative promptly fizzled out by the following year, an infatuation with k-hole grooves and druggy lyricism dominating underground house for the next while later. So thoroughly forgotten was the 'house revival' that, when Andrew Butler followed up this well-received debut, hardly anyone gave his sophomore effort,
Blue Songs, much attention. No, it'd take the efforts of post-dubstep UK chaps and two French robots before everyone finally properly claimed classic house was back. Or maybe not - let's see how we're doing on that front a year from now too.

This album's held up fine, and indeed is quite enjoyable if you're one of the late 'revivalist' bandwagon jumpers. Who knows what the Hercules project has in store for the future though, as what was once an unique offering in a sea of minimal-tech monotony can all too easily get lost in the current sea of like-minded producers.)



IN BRIEF: ‘Beardo disco’ you don’t have to dig for.

Contrary to popular belief, old-school house music never went away. For the most part, it’s lingered in the back of our minds thanks to endless classics compilations and nostalgic DJ mixes such as the Choice series. Unfortunately, such an association to the past has kept those vintage sounds of garage, Chicago, and acid firmly away from the spotlight as many producers continue to try and take house music in new directions. All fine and good, and sometimes they’ve even come up with winning results, but it was no reason to completely abandon the old either.

Actually, check that. One of the reasons classic house music was left to the history books was due to the genre’s refusal to move on in any significant way. Too much emphasis on adhering to The Rules laid out in the beginning left the genre quite stale by the time the mid-90s rolled around; and those who still produce the odd track in the old style are often guilty of honoring the past just a little too much, writing homages rather than songs. It seemed things were going to stay that way too; however, the year of 2007 saw a number of quiet singles break ranks and show there was still room for classic house to grow, and with the current trends of nu-electro and minimal growing stale it was the perfect time for a potential revival.

Amongst these singles was a debut release from an unknown individual by the name of Andrew Butler. Producing under the name Hercules & Love Affair, Classique #2 turned heads, especially so because it was released on iconic disco-punk revivalist DFA; while definitely fans of dance music’s past, the label hasn’t typically been figured one for house preferences. Not even half a year later, Butler has been given the full-length green-light and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the trendsters of the music press have jumped all over this self-titled album, all too eager to once again have their overflowing early praise be the starting point of yet another musical movement. Although some of the pure disco aesthetics help distance it from more standard house labels like Om, Naked, or (*snicker*) Hed Kandi, I can’t help but believe the hipster hype over Hercules would be near non-existent if such were the case.

That said, there’s definitely something more special going on in this album than what you would find in typical house music fare. Yes, all the elements of disco and house from years prior 1990 are here: Moroder staccato basslines, funk-band trumpets and strings, Knuckles grooves, soulful lyrics. What Butler has brought, though, is renewed vitality and inventive spins that keeps these songs fresh. Whether making use of unpredictable chord sequences (Hercules’ Theme; You Belong), crafting sonic depth with unassuming background textures (Athene; Raise Me Up), or throwing in quirky cartoony sound-effects (True False/Fake Real), this album is filled with hidden little sonic treasures.

And then there is Butler’s supporting cast (this the Love Affair?). Being tied to DFA, he already has amongst dance music’s most versatile session musicians to tap, with folks such as Tyler Pope and Eric Broucek bringing their A-game to this project; and the Tim Goldsworthy production touch is always, er, gold. Also thrown into the mix are a bunch of brass players few will be aware of but provide such an integral part to the disco vibes on here, you’d think this was a full-time band with plenty of years working together.

Probably the biggest highlight is Antony Hegarty, who’s vocals steal the show anytime he’s featured (Time Will, Blind, Easy, This Is My Love, and Raise Me Up, for the record). His earnest croon fits perfectly with the disco motif, elevating the songs he sings on to lovely heights. Small wonder the lead single for this album -Blind- has been getting so much play (if you haven’t heard it yet, you will soon enough). Like Knuckles and Principle, Butler and Hegarty are a potent combination.

This all being said, Hercules And Love Affair does have some hiccups too. For one, despite exhilarating songs like Blind and You Belong on offer, if you are not a fan of vintage disco and house, then this album probably won’t win you over; truthfully, I can’t see many under the age of twenty-five getting into this as the production seems geared for those with musically-matured tastes (hence all the brief solos throughout), but then that’s long been the hipster domain anyway. Also, the songs feel rather short, as they tend to end abruptly. Hercules’ Theme is a prime example: after a riveting funk-band jam build in the second half, the song just stops; a coda of some sort would have been nice. Perhaps when Hercules & Love Affair perform live, they’ll expand on these songs more, but that still leaves many of their offerings here coming off like teasers that could have been fleshed out more.

Everything being said, quibbles such as these are minor, and for a debut album Hercules And Love Affair is solid enough to warrant your attention. Sure, the ‘beardo disco’ brigade will be hyping the shit out of this but there’s also enough for casual fans to enjoy too without having to succumb to the hipster lifestyle. After these last few years of clicks and farts dominating house music, it’s refreshing to hear the old-school executed in such a pertinent fashion.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Various - Helsinki Mix Sessions: Jori Hulkkonen

Turbo Recordings: 2000

In its infancy, Turbo Recordings primarily focused on a DJ mix series titled Mix Sesssions. Initially an outlet for label-head Tiga, it was soon followed by other acts from Montreal. As he grew chummy with several Scandinavian artists, he also gave them opportunities to feature mixes set from their cities overseas – a small-scale Global Underground! It was only Jesper Dahlbäck and Jori Hulkkonen for those first couple years, but their contributions to Turbo were instrumental in raising the label’s prestige beyond some quirky Canadian imprint. Both brought a fresh sophistication to the deep house scene with their CDs that few were aware possible at the turn of the century, exposing a slew of virtually unknown producers to the electronic scene at large.

Ol’ Jori was still a relatively unknown entity when he put this together, at least outside his native Finland. It’d be another year before he teamed up with Tiga as Zyntherius for the hit Sunglasses At Night, but he’d seen the rounds with various projects before then (including that classic bit of European shenanigan in claiming an ‘American’ sounding name for his tech-house releases – you’re fooling no one ‘Bobby Forester’!). For his debut mix, Mr. Hulkkonen opted for more of a mixtape effort, selecting tracks based on personal preference rather than strong set construction. Helsinki Mix Sessions still maintains a strong, deep house vibe throughout, but it doesn’t flow like most house mixes do, more of a showcase on specific tunes and sounds for short durations while holding a steady groove throughout.

The good news is this makes for a deliciously eclectic CD, running the gamut of electro, Balearic, disco, funk (though not in that order) and other classy European flavours as only the Scandinavian house chaps are masters at. The bad news is, well, obvious: too much stylistic jumping leaves for a rather herky-jerky set, segments often coming to an abrupt end before Jori moves onto something else, with little to no ease between these disparate genres.

This in of itself wouldn’t be a deal breaker though, as I’ve heard plenty sets more musically erratic than this one and enjoyed them. Unfortunately, another problem hampers Helsinki Mix Sessions: the mixdown is incredibly muddy, the low end often drowning everything out. I’ve no idea if it’s weak vinyl sources (you can hear plenty of crackles), a manufacturing fault, or just bad luck on my part, but because of the poor sonics, I’ve hardly ever reached for this disc over the years. Shame it ended up that way, as I’d love to hear these tunes with better audio. Oh well.

Actually, no, that’s not alright. Helsinki Mix Sessions may have come out in Turbo’s early years, but none of the other CDs from Tiga’s label sounded this poor. Dammit, Mr. Sontag needs to amend this travesty. I’m gonna go to Montreal and demand a proper copy of Jori Hulkkonen’s only mix! I don’t care if it takes two weeks to do it, but it must be done!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

William Orbit - Hello Waveforms (2013 Update)

Sanctuary Records: 2006

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

Truth is, when I first launched this blog back in 2010, I never bothered looking at stats. I cannot deny it was partially due to ego (“don't wanna know how few are reading, don't wanna know how few are reading...”), but I wasn't expecting much anyway, so barely gave it thought. Fast forward over two years later, and I'm surprised that the blog was sitting just fine in all that time, ready to pick up right where I left off (with a few aesthetic adjustments). Well, just to sate curiosity, let's see what kind of stats I did gather in my absence.

To be honest, there wasn't anything remarkable, except for one anomalous item: my original review of William Orbit's Hello Waveforms had gained nearly four times the amount of hits as anything else! What the hell? I knew spambot spikes sometimes artificially inflate numbers, but this was bizarrely out of the ordinary. Was it being linked from somewhere? Ah, sort of. Turns out the cover image was highly ranked in Google Image searches, which is kind of cool. Maybe someone even checked out the actual review too!

Oh God, I hope not. It's really one of the weaker ones I ever wrote, struggling to find anything of substance to say in the ol' track-by-track method. It's weird to think a high-profile release like a new William Orbit album would garner such mediocre reactions, but can any of you seriously recall much about it, beyond the nifty cover art? There was nothing sonically groundbreaking as he crafted during his Strange Cargo period, nothing charmingly indulgent as found on Pieces In A Modern Style, and certainly nothing as radio-ready friendly as his productions with Madonna and Sugababes. Instead, Hello Waveforms finds Mr. Orbit at a meeting ground between all three, with little offensive to the ears (unless you just can't stand girly vocals on Spiral and They Live In The Sky), yet even less you'll be compelled to reach for again if you're well versed in the world of chill out music. Except Who Owns The Octopus?, that one's still mint!

I wouldn't go so far as to say Hello Waveforms derailed ol' William's career, but boy was he ever forgotten about in the pop world shortly after, the promised 'upbeat' follow-up My Oracle Lives Uptown passing by with barely a blip (is it any good?). Trouble is music of this sort can easily drift through one’s head without much fanfare, an almost death knell when written about with a customary 6/10 score. There's a word for it... oh, what was it? Amiable? Charming? No, wait, I remember! Cordial! No, that's not it. Cheerful? G'ah, not it at all. It started a 'p', didn't it? Pleasing! Nope, something more like mild. Homey? Maybe congenial? Copacetic? What the hell does that even mean?

Whatever. Hello Waveforms is something like that, and has held up in an unassuming way. Not really a critical album to own, but pleasant enough. Hey, that’s the

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