Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Perfect Stranger - Learning = Change (2013 Update)

Iboga Records: 2006

(Click here to wander the barren wastes of my old writing.)

*blink* ...*blink-blink*

Sorry about that. My eyes dried out while trying to read that old review of mine. I still couldn't get through it. In fact, just thinking about it has left my creative process a desolate desert. I'm utterly stumped on what to say in this Update. It's still a good prog-psy album, far better than most of the material Iboga Records churned out in later years. What kind of material? Ah, you don't want me to tell you, it's really not interesting. I'm going to though, aren't I, just to burn some word count here.

Iboga was making a name for itself in the mid-'00s as a worthy contributor to a growing prog-psy scene, their finest offerings easily on par with the likes of Spiral Trax. Then, for some totally daft reason, the Iboga roster started getting bit by the minimal bug. Their tunes often had a deeper, tribal tone to them, sandwiched between the driving, melodic numbers, but not any longer. Perfect Stranger, Iboga's main man remember, was particularly smitten by this trend, churning out some of the driest tracks you could imagine. I don't know if they ever recovered from that nonsense, as I lost touch with the label as this decade took form. Didn't want to bother springing for music if it was gonna' be the listening equivalent of traversing the Gobi Desert.

I did have a chance to see if Perfect Stranger had changed his sound this summer, as he was one of the headliners at the Shambhala Music Festival. Unfortunately, he was slotted for a ridiculously early time at the psytrance-worldbeat-hippieshit stage, at which point I was slotted to work on the clean-up crew as part of my volunteer duties. Yeah, after six years attending this festival, I gave back to that which gave so much to me – the early-entry, gettin' fed, warm showers, and cool co-workers was a good incentive too. That Friday evening shift, I rode around on the trash collection truck; dirty work true, but a lot of fun too, hopping on a moving vehicle chanting “Trash! Trash! Trash!” along the way, dancing to music whenever we neared one of the stages. It was one, big, moving party, keeping the grounds tidy and that.

Still, my fondest memory of that trip didn't occur at the festival, but the night before my travelling posse got there. We stayed overnight in a small town called Trail, famous for a massive steel mill in the centre. We thought maybe a pub might be open late, but as it was a holiday night, Trail's downtown was dead, not a soul on the street, and a disconcerting sight for us city goers. Meanwhile, looming in the background of this abandoned area lay the massive factory, its evening lights eerily illuminating massive smoke stacks billowing thick clouds into the warm summer night. A real steampunk sight for this day in age.

What? Oh hey, Learning = Change. Still worth a listen, it is. Trust.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Enigma - Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!

Virgin: 1996

Enigma had beaten the sophomore slump on The Cross Of Changes, thanks in large part to songs you couldn't escape anywhere you went. In fact, I suspect it may have been overkill on the casual listener's part, as by the mid-'90s, interest in world-beat pop had significantly dwindled. What, another ethnic chant coupled with Shakuhachi flutes and dated breakbeats? Fah, who's got time for that when 'girl with acoustic guitar' is all the hotness now (then). Michael Cretu, crafty producer he is, also recognized the need to keep his project evolving. Thus his third album, Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!, was promoted as a marriage of his two previous Enigma works. Hey, now I get that title! It's, like, proclaiming old Enigma is dead, but here's new Enigma to lead the way. Deep, man.

Unfortunately, the album itself failed to generate much buzz beyond the lead single Beyond The Invisible, itself memorable mostly for the odd video. I mean, really, what’s going on here: Lola be running to the woods, where a figure-skating competition is being judged by steampunk cenobites (those oddballs on the cover) while tree sprites watch. It’s actually not a bad tune, though clearly a step below such hits as Age Of Loneliness and Sadeness, Part 1 - T.N.T. For The Brain comes close though. I guess if you’ve never cared about Cretu’s vocals, it wouldn’t grab you either. Tough beans if that’s the case, as he sings quite a bit for this album.

In fact, the more there are vocals on Le Roi Is Morty, Live The King!, the less interesting the album is. I appreciate the effort Mr. Cretu puts into his singing, as you can tell he’s giving his limited range all that he can offer (with a little studio boost too), but the tracks he leads on have almost always been the weakest cuts on his albums. His wife, Sandra, adds so much scintillating depth to admittedly daft New Age lyrics, and it’s a shame she doesn’t get more to do this time out.

Musically, The King Is Dead; Oops, He’s A Zombie! is softer than the previous two. Morphing Thru Time lazily coasts, Shadows In Silence floats on tranquil oceans, Almost Full Moon blissfully rocks back and forth in a dreamy daze, and Prism Of Life... well, would likely go good around a campfire. Even the upbeat tunes aren’t as driving in their rhythms as older Enigma, The Roundabout about the closest thing coming to a proper club cut.

LREM,VLR! is a better album than most gave it credit for back in the day, but has the feeling of an ambitious theme that never quite gels. Some trimming of the sappier moments like Why!... (oh God, Cretu just can’t sing here) and The Child In Us (oof, what platitudes) would have helped. If anything, the instrumentals are gorgeous, and worth checking the album out if you’ve been a fence sitter for all this time.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Neil Young - Le Noise

Reprise Records: 2010

It was about the mid-'aughts that I caught the Rusty bug, but even as ol' Neil continued releasing albums of new material at a good clip that decade, I didn't pay his post-millennial output much heed. I had nearly four prior decades of Young's discography to catch up on, and while press for the likes of Living With War or Chrome Dreams II was positive, I saw little point in catching such albums. They were good, so said the journals, but not going anywhere his classic material hadn't been before. Thus I figured I'd stumble along to Young's 2000s music long after the fact.

Then I heard the early promos for Le Noise. Say, this is different. I’d heard him as a solo guitarist plenty of times, but never with an emphasis on fuzzed-out distortion. Also, what’s with these songs about aged reflection? It’s almost as though his head was in an autobiographical mindset when he wrote them. And hey, Daniel Lanois is the producer? Holy cow, Neil ain’t never get professional producers on his work, always preferring the ragged, first-take approach guys like David Briggs provided. How would a guy known for spacious, perfected studio mixdowns mesh with a rocker known for almost the exact opposite?

Truth be told, Neil Young’s something of a music perfectionist himself, always aiming to capture the spark of his creativity as close to the source as he can. Couple that with an almost insatiable pursuit of discovering the highest-fidelity medium out there (he got no love for MP3s), and pairing up with Lanois isn’t quite so surprising. “Give me space for the music to breathe,” said Neil, “and you can use fancy studio gadgets to take it further.” Sounds good to me, as does Le Noise.

Instead of recording in a traditional studio, they set up a make-shift one at Lanois’ Los Angeles mansion, resulting in a fuller sound as Neil’s guitar tones filled large rooms. Also unique to the project was splitting the guitar into two amps, one for rhythm and one for lead, creating audio separation of the two. As Mr. Young’s never been the most technically proficient guitarist around though, flubbed chords are a consequence of simultaneously playing lead and rhythm. Still, as any longtime Rusty will attest, that’s always been part of his charm. As for Lanois’ production, it remains in the background while Neil sings about relationships (of course), global problems (damn hippie), and his sordid drug history (ooh, tantalizing!). When songs go pure instrumental, however, or during a coda, dubby effects emerge, lending Le Noise to something of a shoegaze feeling, though with a producer doing the sonic manipulation rather than the musician with footpedals.

This album received a ton of accolades when it came out, though I figure more for the concept than the actual content since most songs are typical Neil Young: simple. It’s definitely one of his most unique sounding albums though, and a must-have for anyone willing to take the Rusty plunge.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Lodsb - lazer.eyes.love

Force Intel: 2011

When pioneering glitch 'n experimental label Mille Plateaux relaunched in the late '00s, it was swamped by several up-and-comers’ promos looking to join the roster. I mean, when you're new to that scene and hoping to gain prestige, what better way to do so than having a Mille catalogue number attached to your work? Turns out though, some of these promos sent in weren’t weird enough for ol’ Plateaux, but would serve as fine examples of ‘classic’ IDM (bleepy ambient techno, scattershot breaks, etc.). If only there was a label that promoted the stuff still. Since Warp went all shoegaze though, I guess a whole new label was required, hence Mille offshoot Force Intel coming into its brief existence.

So this Lodsb fella' got to release a debut album on the 'net label. The Lord That Knows All apparently knows very little about who's behind the moniker. There isn't even a name assigned to his Discogs page, despite two albums to his credit. Heck, the only reason I know Lodsb is of the male persuasion is because there's a picture of him on his Last.fm profile - still no name, though. Curse those IDM wonks making research difficult.

lazer.eyes.love primarily falls into the breakcore side of IDM, so if you’re a fan of Venetian Snares and the like, this is a good bet for you to download (it was only available as a digital album). The opener, Analogue Arcade, is rather mellow for this stuff, even settling on a pleasant house beat while glitchy harmonics weave in and out. Yeah, you aren’t getting much more of that beat on this release. Second cut Eve lets loose with the cacophonic rhythms, then things go down Squarepusher’s frenetic jazzy acid avenue for a few tracks after. In fact, the next number of tracks all kind of blend together, so short as they are and sharing similar aesthetics, if not actual musical content. It can get to be a bit much though, so thank God Lodsb cuts it back by track six (Bubblegum Hypothesis, if you’re wondering, but it’s not like IDM song titles are meant to make a lick of sense).

Apparently Lodsb has a background in orchestral music study too, which becomes apparent on tracks like Deer Ride, Juno, Rubiq, and Zebra, where arrangements are cut up to form whole new compositions. Heck, Deer Ride forgoes any spastic breaks altogether, and if there is any glitch trickery at play, it sure doesn’t make itself known, sounding as seamless as though Lodsb was conducting a one-hundred-twenty string section himself. Mind, it seems every IDM wonk has to show off his classical capabilities in such a manner, but it’s nice to have such music break up the breakcore on albums like this one.

Of course, music such as this remains incredibly niche, and if even the popular names in this scene hold little interest for you, I doubt lazer.eyes.love will sway your opinion on it. Cool as a curioso, but not much else.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vector Lovers - Late Shift / Babette (Original TC Review)

Simple Records: 2008

(2013 Update:
Hoo boy, is this ever a brief review. Guess it came at that point where we didn't really care much to review singles at TC anymore, though occasionally something would pique our interest enough to give it a shot. Had I gotten to this sooner in this year, I'd probably have written something about how it was a shame this MP3 single was among the last of Vector Lovers' releases. But lo', he came out with another album this year! Yay and stuffs, I suppose.

Also, in case you're wondering, yes, I do have an obsession with all-night noodle houses. They're quite tasty after a night at the clubs!)



IN BRIEF: Herbert would nod approvingly.

When last TranceCritic left Martin Wheeler, he was still manipulating R2-droid squeaks and squawks into sweet serenades while grooving to electro-coo’ disco dandies in Neo-Tokyo. That was a few years back now, and he has released a couple more albums since his lovely little self-titled debut, remaining quite on the fringe of dance music awareness, sadly. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of promotion on Soma’s part, but perhaps joining up with Will Saul’s Simple Records will help spur some renewed interest in Vector Lovers, by way of this simple little MP3 single.

It would appear Wheeler has found more funk to his flavor, as both Late Shift and Babette get down on some fine tech-house grooves. The latter is more straightforward than the former, bumping along nicely before gradually bringing in deep pulsing synths accentuated with brief bright stabs. It’s rather old-school sounding as far as tech-house is concerned; I’m quite reminded of the kind of material you’d hear the odd German kick out around the early-mid 90s. As solid of an offering Babette is though, Late Shift easily steals the show.

Even right off, the track’s cool-groovin’ synths and mildly funky rhythms are win, conjuring up 2am cruises through lonely metropolitan streets in search of an afterhours or all-night noodle-house. But this is par for the course where Vector Lovers is concerned. What lifts Late Shift into quirky class territory are funny little sound-effect samples littered throughout. Like what, ask you? Like these, I reply: breezy winds; click-clacky kitchen utensils; a noise that sounds like a saxophone player struggling with a broken reed, but is actually Wheeler’s squeaky fridge door. No, really! ...well, according to him, anyway. Whatever it is, it isn’t used as gimmicky noise either, but rather as though it’s some kind of jazzy instrument. My friends, that’s just daftly brilliant!

Folks who’ve followed Wheeler over the years will definitely enjoy this. If you’ve never taken the Vector Lovers plunge though, this is a fine single to get your feet wet with. While it may not encompass all that is his discography, it highlights his intriguing musicianship just the same.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Various - LateNightTales: Fatboy Slim

LateNightTales: 2007

This was a release I was supposed to review at TranceCritic, but totally flaked on because I had no idea how to approach it. For one thing, I knew very little about LateNightTales, other than it was yet another compilation series dedicated to showcasing the esoteric tastes of musicians and DJs. Fair enough, but with Back To Mine, Choice, DJ-Kicks (sometimes), and who knows what else doing the same thing, I had difficulty drumming up interest in this one. Second of all, the music contained within is very, very, very un-electronic, and for a website that already frequently skewed away from its main focus (trance!), going that far off our beaten path probably wasn't wise (or just bad for traffic). So now that I'm writing on a blog dedicated to all electronic music, but often skew towards heavy metal, prog rock, and even country (but not Western – I do have standards here), finally tackling Fatboy Slim's contribution to LateNightTales just be honky-dory.

I don't know if it's a running theme with this series, but Monsieur Normane Cookie opted for something akin to a mixtape here. He even goes at length in the liner notes about the lost art of the craft, which strikes me as odd even for 2007. I'll grant all the kiddie-Joes out there likely don't care much about it, but almost every music connoisseur I know of appreciates the concept of mixtaping, if not the practical application of it.

And as this is a mixtape mix, there’s hardly any mixing at all; mostly quick blending as a song ends and another begins, if even that. Frankly, I doubt anyone could reasonably mix this music anyway. It opens with a bunch of sunny, psychedelic rock by the likes of Nick Lowe, Mink de Ville, and The Modern Lovers that screams ‘70s, only to follow it up with a run of obscure funk, soul, and reggae of the same era. Oh yeah, Fatboy Slim’s penchant for fun-time music’s in full effect here, and as a bloke who’s undoubtedly gathered tons of vinyl in his time, Mr. Cook’s gonna give us one heck of a history lesson on this stuff.

Since this is such old music meant for singles and radio play, they all breeze by in a hurry, no track exceeding four minutes. There are a few recognizable names in the back half (Willie Nelson, The Velvet Underground, Taj Mahal, Sly & The Family Stone), often rubbing shoulders with utter unknowns like ‘60s r&b outfit The Sandpebbles and calypso singer (plus actor) Robert Mitchum. And of course there’s cute novelty bits like Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Linus And Lucy (yes, from those Peanuts cartoons), Fatboy Slim doing a Senor Coconut-ish cover of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity (!!), and ending everything with some poetry as recited by Bootsy Collins (!!?).

So an entertaining CD, all said, though not the most essential. If you don’t mind taking a stroll down music roads less travelled, this volume of LateNightTales is a handy soundtrack.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Various - Red Jerry: Late Night Drive Mix

Muzik Magazine: 2002

Oh look, we're back in 2002, and Muzik Magazine's been kind enough to rope in Hooj Choons godfather Red Jerry in for a mix. With that, you instantly know this is gonna be a good ol' prog-athon, of the deep, dark, (dull?), tribal bent. After enduring such a long stretch of plodding McProg beats, this'll be a breath of fresh air. Still, kind of odd seeing a mix CD of such music featured on Muzik’s part, as they were starting their snarky “lol, prog is boring, grime’s the mint, mate!” phase when this came out.

Fortunately, Mr. Dickens provides an excellent freebie of a set. He’d already made a number of mixes the few years prior, including constructing deeper offerings for the Euphoria series from Telstar TV. Curiously, Late Night Drive Mix is one of the last CDs he put out. Heck, his entire discography quickly dries up shortly after this, possibly due to Hooj Choons shutting down the year after. I’ll grant he was more of a label runner than a producer or DJ, but considering the dominance Hooj held over the progressive scene, its sad things ended so limply for him. Oh well, I hear he still DJs here and there, likely caning out classic Hooj with aplomb.

As for Late Night Drive Mix, yeah, it’s 2002 prog, so you get some deep tribal cuts like Creamer & K’s Pipeline Mix of Blackwatch’s Foreshadow, Joshua Collins’ Phonosynthesis, Peace Division’s R U Somewhere, and 16B’s Escape. Meanwhile, Smith and Selway’s dubby chugger Yess makes for a strong mid-set peak, and a Tony Thomas tribal mix of 16B’s The Game hits another high point near the end. Good vibes, all said, especially for those 3am cruises down urban streets in search of an all-night beef noodle house (or the afterparty). I’m still bummed this sound fell off to the degree it did (deep tech-house just ain’t as fun), but maybe we’ll start seeing a retro-return in short order. It has been a decade since it was in vogue, after all.

What gives this freebie CD an extra bit of class over most ‘dark prog’ of the time is the inclusion of breaks and even electro. While it may not be surprising to find PMT’s remix of Creamer & K’s Wish You Were Here in the early going (deep prog breaks!), Anthony Rother shows up at the end with Red Light District. Okay, it’s an obvious cut too (Danny Tenaglia ended his Athens Global Underground with it), but it fits the feel of Late Night Drive Mix wonderfully, and makes for a great blend into the Smith & Selway remix of David Alvardo’s Blue, itself an excellent, pulsing slice of space-dub prog.

So perhaps not the most unique prog mix you’ll find out there, but for a freebie, Red Jerry gave Muzik a definite keeper for folks fancying this sort of sound. Definitely worth a pick-up if you see it lying about cheap in a used shop.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 019: Kris O'Neil

In Trance We Trust: 2012

Well, at least I didn’t have to endure a breakdown until two minutes this time, but there it is once again. God almighty, when will this trope- oh, it’s already back to the beats. Well, good then. But I bet this opener will come to a full stop for a standard build-up and- wait, it’s already doing the build-up? Without a pause? Holy cow, and it drops right after the peak; no dawdling, just hitting that anthem instantly. Okay, that wasn’t so bad, but it was just a one-off, I’m sure. The rest of this disc will- oh, wow! The entire first half of this mix has tracks like that.

I’ll grant some builds go a tad long (Cosmic Gate just can’t help themselves), but there’s no sense of momentum lost - just bangin’ tune after bangin’ tune, many with a hooky anthem and hard rhythms. Hm, and snares or claps on every beat, no less; rather like hard house come to think of it. Hey, this isn’t trance at all, it’s anthem house!

Right, so I should have expected it from a 2012 mix CD, as tons of DJs jumped on that genre’s recent resurgence (and stop calling it retarded names like ‘trouse’ or Trance 2.0). I can totally see the euro-trance faithful hating Kris O’Neil’s offering to the In Trance We Trust series, signifying yet another example of the scene they reverently coddled turning to sounds more popular to a general audience. Yeah, well, them’s the breaks, kids. Now you know how the old-old schoolers felt when the Dutch sounds ya’ll loved started dominating trance many moons ago. Stings, don’t it.

Anyhow, Mr. O’Neil’s quick mixes (average of four minutes per track!) of tunes that keep the energy escalating does peter out by the midway mark, after which he indulges in some tepid vocal cuts (dear Lord, that Wanrooy track with Blake Lewis is hokey), and tech bangers for the end. A couple are okay, but can’t match the unabashed stupid-fun the first half of the CD offered, which was more than could be said for so many other volumes.

Thus, that’s the last of the In Trance We Trust series, perhaps period. ITWT019 was released a year-and-a-half ago, and though the label still comes out with the odd single, there hasn't been word on a twentieth volume hitting stores any time soon, digi or not. Gee, I know the whole mix CD market’s got little appeal to most young punters out there, but surely a mega-label like Black Hole Recordings sees some merit in maintaining In Trance We Trust. Did Kris O’Neil’s offering tank that bad to kill it off? Or was the inclusion of so much anthem house a sign that In Trance We Trust no longer trusts in trance?


If this really is the end, then it’s only fitting to have In Trance We Trust put to pasture. Let ‘em have it, guys!

Gen: “Zan’ei!”

M. Bison: “Psycho Crusher!”

Akuma: “Shun Goku Satsu.






Dan: “Chouhatsu Densetsu!








Thursday, December 19, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 018: Marc Simz

In Trance We Trust: 2011

I've gone on about how bad some of these In Trance We Trusts are, but they haven't been dreadful-bad or anything. Despite many stretches of misery, unoriginality, or boredom, I can at least get through them with some decent tunes along the way. This one though... Oh God, this one...

Not even ninety seconds in, and I’m hit with a full-stop breakdown. What the fuck was the point of those limp opening beats then? You didn’t mix from anything, Mr. Simz. Either start your set with proper rhythmic build to hook me in, or don’t bother at all – use an ‘ambient intro’ if you’re going this route. Fine, the main track is nice as an opener, but the next track after that has another full-stop breakdown. And the one after that. And after, and after, and practically through the whole bloody CD. So much for set flow. Here’s the start of a new tune, it stops, here’s your dithering breakdown and build, thump-thump, and moving on. And dear lord do these breakdowns ever go on. It’s like the worst of DJ Scot Project, but with plodding prog beats rather than pounding hard trance.

And I thought I’d heard some wretched ‘melodies’ in such breakdowns before. Saint X’ Gabriel has to rank up there with the most overblown Dutch synths victimizing my ears, made even more hilarious by the ‘minimal’ bloopiness that forms the rhythmic backbone. Give me the good ol’ days where Dutch anthems were just supersaw nonsense. Wow, how I miss those alre-

Ah, fack me, I didn’t mean for you to actually include those sort of tunes at the end, Marc! Virtual Vault’s really getting his System-F on with Freedom, Simz teams up with Geert Huinink for an orchestral breakdown-build that lasts nearly three fucking minutes, and Juventa’s As You Are is, well, about typical for the classic Anjunabeats sound. Guess it was alright for what it is, but not after such a pathetically structured set such as this one.

Man, even some of the tunes I kinda like have things working against them. Fefelove & Abramasi’s Try To Catch A Goldfish has strong, spacey trance elements in play, but are undone by a distorted low-end drowning everything out. Ruby & Tony’s Praya kinda tickles my ‘dumb-fun’ centres with its anthem and chopped up McProg vocals, but it don’t last long enough.

Ugh. In Trance We Trust 018 is a total turkey. I can’t imagine the series getting worse after this, but there is still one more to go. Courage, Sykonee...


Is this the worst CD of this reviewing project? Let’s ask the worst Street Fighter, Dan Hibiki, if it’s so.

Dan: “Hey now, don’t be like that. I’ve proven myself in the fighting arena, as I’m sure Marc Simz has proven himself in the DJ arena. In fact, I don’t even need to listen to this to know it’s the strongest CD of them all. Yahoo! Am I right, Jimmy?”

Blanka: “Aaroohoaahoo! (You go, Friend Dan!)”





Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 017: Bobina

In Trance We Trust: 2011

Bobina is Dmitry Almazov, a very important person in the world of Russian trance. Wait, are there any others? I know plenty of Russians have made trance over the years, but beyond the occasional cross-over hit (hi, PPK!), none have made much of an impact on the scene at large. Not Bobina though. He got noticed by a few very important people in the trance scene of Western Europe, and gained enough of a following such that he’s consistently placed high in an online poll many folks used to take seriously. He must have blitzed his homeland for votes, and with no other heroes to support, trance fans of the Motherland dutifully came to his support, a Red Trance Army unlike any seen before. Sort of.

Anyhow, he got a record deal with the all-consuming Black Hole Recordings, and as such got a chance at In Trance We Trust. Unlike the recent string of jocks in this series, Bobina already had some experience in the mix CD realm, so we can expect something with a little more structure despite still being constrained by the same ‘play record label’s latest singles’ politics we always deal with In Trance We Trust now.

The first three tracks are vocal trance. Well f

The first track, Reverie by First State and ‘has some personality’ vocalist Sarah Howells, is kinda fun, only that it’s totally Real McCoy’s classic euro-dance tune Runaway. Whether intentional or not, I haven’t a clue, but you can’t hide that chorus from my expert euro-detection ability (the hook screams mid-‘90s too). The second track has a bored sounding Jan Johnston on it, probably because it was Cosmic Gate originally doing the production. The third track has Hayley Parsons on it, who’s done little singing of note so moving on.

Actually, we don’t get anymore vocals until Bobina’s own You Belong To Me some midway through, and hoo boy is this ever set-up to be the anthem of ITWT017. Most of the tunes before were on a proggy tip, some nice synths and atmosphere created but little in the way of rhythmic momentum. Bobina’s cut practically erupts from there with rolling basslines, ultra supersaw washes and such. Really, it’s copying the ‘big Tiësto vocal remix’ formula, which he does pull off, I must admit.

Some good epic trancers with lovely sounding synths follow (I’m warming up to that T.O.M. fella’), plus some utter wank ones too (oh hi, Carl B). As many of them have halting, overlong breakdowns though, it naturally ruins any musical momentum this set had going for it. *sigh* Nothing changes is this bloody scene, does it.


Bobina’s from Russia. Of course the ‘Red Cyclone’ of the former Soviet Union has something to say about it. What does that big piece of beef, Zangief, think of ITWT017?

Zangief: “Comrade Bobina does the glory of Mother Russia proud, making music for European masses. I prefer the classics, Balakirev and Mussorgsky. Night On Bald Mountain good for wrestling bears in Siberia.”




Monday, December 16, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 016: DJ Observer & Daniel Heatcliff

In Trance We Trust: 2010

Hey, I know this Heatcliff guy! True, it's only just recently that I know him, on account he's had a track on but two volumes of In Trance We Trust ago, but it's something familiar. As I recall, it was also one of the better tunes off whichever mix that was (geez, it wasn’t that long ago – are these so interchangeable?). Don’t know anything about this DJ Observer dude though. According to the liner notes they’d been producing together for about half a decade, starting out with remixes for Gareth Emery (when he wasn’t so crap) and ...Robbie Rivera? Uh... *scurries to corner, rocking* It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright...

I’m not sure how the Misters Heatcliff and Observer go about their DJing, but judging by the arrangement of their set for In Trance We Trust 016, a suspected pattern emerges: one handles the instrumental cuts, the other shows love to vocal tunes. Oh God, are there vocals on the CD. Nearly every other song’s got some tart going on about something, and the first couple gals are annoyingly grating. Hannah Ray apparently got her break providing pipes on Armin van Buuren’s Mirage album, so I can give her some slack in not knowing how to handle vocal trance singing yet (and it’s not like Observer and Heatcliff give her anything interesting to work with). Not sure about Antonia Lucas though, as Lord Discogs may have her mixed in with another Antonia Lucas who sang on house records back in the ‘90s. Get your shit sorted, oh Lord!

After that bit of pain in the early going, things go prog-dull, plodding beats and uninteresting hooks one after the other. Matters aren’t helped when Observer and Heatcliff can’t even get figure out where they want to take their set, jamming in standard slices of euro-trance (Mastteo Marini’s Cosmic Place, their own Fall Call Right Back) in the middle before getting back to the trite McProg fluff.

Speaking of such, I must admit some enjoyment in First State’s Cross The Line near the end. Maybe it’s the better-than-average beats, or maybe vocalist Relyk shows more grace in her delivery than the gals at other points, but it did put a silly grin on my face. Following it with some interesting tech-numbers and an energetic offering from another pair going by T.O.M. & Tommygoff (Callisto Air seems like it learned from the Corsten Book of big-dumb-fun trance), I was almost saddened to have ITWT016 end when it did. Almost.


As luck would have it, Alpha 3 features a pair of fighters who you often face together, Juli & Juni, member of M. Bison’s elite super-soldier force known as The Dolls. What do they think of this CD?

Juni: Commencing audio sampling. Source indicates BPMs of 133 average, with error of 23% due to unfamiliarity of sound.

Juli: High frequency ranges possibly intended for non-human enjoyment. Low frequency ranges effective at stimulating left frontal cortex, left parietal cortex, and right cerebellum.




Sunday, December 15, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 015: Virtual Vault

In Trance We Trust: 2011

I'm embarking upon uncharted territory from here on out. All those DJs in prior In Trance We Trust mixes, I was familiar with on some level (mostly productions). I know absolutely no one going forward; though do recognize one name because of that blasted DJMag poll. After my tenure at TranceCritic, I saw no reason to keep tabs on the up-and-comers of the euro-trance scene (though I must admit some perverse enjoyment out of watching trance-crackers wail to the stars over the abandonment of their heroes ...excellent). It's not like the music was doing much to listen in on anyway. Seeing as how these forthcoming five volumes all cover the three year span following that time, I'm getting a crash course in what I missed whether I like it or not.

For instance, I've never heard anything about this Virtual Vault chap. Lord Discogs has him down as two guys, but all I see is photos of one, Ben Huijbregts. He's also involved in a few other side-projects like Trebbiano and Lagan Valley, all of which show up on his mix for In Trance We Trust 015. Well, at least it's being more creative than just whoring his regular name out for everything he releases. He's taken trance production back to the old school, when you could have a zillion aliases to work with. Heck, he even used Virtual Vault here rather than Ben. I think I like this guy already.

This music on here’s pretty nice for the most part too. While the only cut that got my blood pumping comes at the end – a fun, twinkly melodic trance collaboration with Ørjan Nilsen called Too Late (wow, I thought twinkle-prog was dead in 2010) - there wasn’t anything that had me burying my head as in the previous couple volumes either. No breakdowns overwrought, no vocals too trite, hardly any sub-genre bandwagon jumps, and ...what’s this? Off beat voices plucks in Kimito Lopez’ I Am Rave. Oh man, there go my German trance nostalgia endorphins!

If anything, Virtual Vault shows something of a fondness for trance before all the electro, side-chaining, brickwall mixdowns, yada yada – whatever you figure the sound of roughly 2002 euro-trance was. This may be a deal breaker if you only want up-to-date sounds and such, but if you’re in the market for a more recent take on turn-of-the-century trance, ITWT015 should serve you fine.


Okay, this one went well, but I still fear the future. I need a fortune-teller to provide guidance in how I should proceed. Say, Rose, you lovely lady, might you be interested in reviewing some music?

Rose: “Not music such as this, immature man. I prefer the opera, and these ‘musicians’ use of baroque chords fool me not, nor should they you. The cards point to other forms far more appropriate for your particular personality, should you remain on your chosen path. Do not falter, no matter how bitter the wine tastes. Fill my glass, please.”


Friday, December 13, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 014: Daniel Wanrooy

In Trance We Trust: 2009

The good news is the compression production is behind us – oh, the wonders of sonic dynamics and space between the beats, crystal clarity and not a trace of mud in earsight. The bad news is we’re entering the ‘generic vocalist’ era of trance now, with two such indistinguishable gals gracing us with their non-presence in the first few tracks of In Trance We Trust 014 no less. Okay, tons of vocal trance since even the ‘90s suffered from this; at least Black Hole Recordings had enough clout in hiring ladies with some personality. JES may have always sung from the back of her throat as though she was about to have a wonderful bowel movement, but she stood out as someone unique. Melissa Mathes sounds almost identical to Susie (4) in this CD though, and it only gets worse after this one (Lord help me, there’s still five more discs to get through).

Anyhow, Daniel Wanrooy. He’d already been DJing on the side during his days as one-half of Progression (they of multiple progressive trance singles you’ve heard but probably can’t remember), so he’d been active for a while before striking out solo. Having his chance at an In Trance We Trust volume was a good start in getting his name out there, but he fails to do much of note with his effort. The opening is the usual smattering of pleasant Balearic numbers and McProg vocal cuts, then he heads down the god-awful anthem road with tracks containing breakdowns and builds that go on far too long and seldom offer a memorable payoff (holy cow, is that Topher Jones cut ever pointless). It’s just like Carl B’s mix, but at least with better sound design.

Things got interesting with some strong tech-beats in Daniel Heatcliff’s Phoenix. Yeah, it abuses the breakdowns too, but when the tune’s on, it’s on! It definitely regained my attention in this mix, and I was engrossed in where it would go next when… Oh dear, those vocals, they’re awful. This whole track is awful. Who the fuck is this, and why is it so familiar? *checks tracklist* Fack me, Richard Durand! Not that twat again, I thought I was done with you. We’re getting this shoved in our face just because he had that album out too, aren’t we.

Wanrooy seemingly corrects this atrocity by offering up more tech bangers to finish, but it isn’t enough to save INWT014 from being a middling affair. Kinda like most of his music, sadly.


It feels like ol’ Daniel’s always been around, yet never made much of a mark. Adon’s been around since the very first Street Fighter, but do you remember him from any of the games?

Adon: “What kind of introduction is that? I’m the ‘God Of Muay Thai’, and you want me to review European trance music? I ought to snap your spine for such disrespect! Get out of here, I’ve a date with destiny by defeating the man with the ‘Ten’ symbol on his back.”




Thursday, December 12, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 013: Carl B

In Trance We Trust: 2009

Wait, Carl B. DJ’d too? I recall he had a brief flirtation with popularity around the time this came out, and was even tapped for a track in Tiësto’s In Search Of Sunrise 7. I also remember calling that tune cloying or some derogatory shit. Dear Lord, and his mix for In Trance We Trust 013 features four of his productions. I can expect pain on this one, can’t I?

Well, no, just boredom for the most part. Say what you will of the track-by-track up-and-down quality in the old editions of this series, at least they had personality. Hell, even Johan Gielen’s effort in the last volume had distinct music throughout, dodgy though some of it was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Mr. Barrdahl to unleash the super-compressed epic trancers that was yet another awful attribute plaguing the scene (read up on the Loudness Wars, kids). His collaboration with JPL on Orchid Blossom is a perfect example of it, beats and synths hopelessly muddy, with no dynamics to speak of. Let these tunes breathe, for God’s sake. Things thankfully clear up with Existone’s Sunshower, an excellent slice of energetic trance that kicks everything that came before to the curb. Even the dithering piano breakdown’s tolerable, but only because all the bloody breakdowns that came before were pants.

Oh yeah, there’s a ridiculous amount of breakdowns in this set, easily the worst batch of the CDs I’ve covered. I can handle a few here and there, but these are of the gratuitously overlong type, with those piercing ‘melodic’ synths that are about as subtle as a boulder to the face. I get that was sort of Carl B.’s thing, and if you wanted to stand out in the trance glut in those days, you needed those ultimate anthems in your arsenal, but not one after the other. Wasting them in the early portions of a set is just overkill.

A couple dabblings outside this sound crop up on this mix, like minor electro elements found in Fred NuMF’s Directions and Mr. Sam’s Cygnes . Also, the track Sticky Tape features music on minimal techno bent, and is totally out of place in a set such as this. It does segue nicely into the dull final stretch of tunes though, so there’s that.


Carl B.’s production is like a brickwall of sound. Edmond Honda is a big brick of sumo. Clearly a perfect guest reviewing match if ever there was one.

E. Honda: “Ghaa, ha, ha! I like your gumption, comparing me to boisterous music like this. No doubt the great art of sumo is comparable to the impressive sounds on this CD. These were made by the Europeans? Hah ha, I knew the world had much to offer, but I never dreamed they could outdo even our finest kabuki troupes in theatrics. Maybe I should take in some concerts there. I’m certain they’ll welcome a world-famous rikishi such as myself at a club, ghaa haa ha!”


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 012: Johan Gielen

In Trance We Trust: 2007

After years in the underground, Belgian Johan Gielan seemed poised to break out into super-stardom along with those Dutch trance chaps. A popular production alias (Airscape), plenty of side-projects, remixes, and collaborations to flood the market with, and even a part of Tiësto’s inner circle when Mr. Verwest still had his hand in many things Black Hole Recordings related. Yet he never could reach that next level, at best relegated to second-tier status in the euro-trance pantheon. All things considered, it wasn't such a bad place to be throughout the '00s, but not for a guy who easily stood toe-to-toe with the big boys at that decade's start.

He’d done all that he could to stay relevant; that is, bandwagon jump at every opportunity. Oh yeah, he definitely got in on some of that electro house shizz, dragging the genre with him into the In Trance We Trust series. It’s odd even having Gielen helm another volume years after he did 004, given the label’s tendency of offering it to up-and-comers. The liner notes claim he was brought in to properly take the series into this uncharted realm of electro, which is funny since hardly anyone in the euro-trance scene even liked those farty sounds soiling their uplifting melodies.

In fact, I’m not even sure Gielen’s fond of them either. He only uses a couple such tracks at the beginning (which instantly ruins the pleasant Balearic mood set by opener Sex On The Beach from 8 Wonders), and much later care of the Wippenberg Remix of Super8 & Tab’s Needs To Feel (wow, did Wippenberg ever suck at electro). His set’s all over the place too, tracks jumping in tone with little care towards flow.

I guess there’s a decent moment in the middle when things get proper euro-trancey, but methinks he’s just attempting to build up his own track, Magnetic, as the centrepiece, going so far as to use Tiësto’s Elements Of Life as the lead-in. Hell, they even share similar orchestral aesthetics. Sorry, Johan, you’ll never be ol’ Tijs, especially at that late stage. Also, it’s rather sad that, with tons of familiar trance names on ITWT012 (Steur, Ottoviani, Kyau & Albert, Vincent de Moor), that the utterly unknown Ryan Blair trumps all them with Flapjack. Shame the guy only released the one single.


Gielen’s effort makes me think of a poor man’s Tiësto. How appropriate then, that we get Charlie (the poor man’s Guile) as our guest reviewer.

Charlie: “I’ve not much to offer in the way of musical analysis, but I can point out the technical attributes of this mix. Most of the transitions are functional, which I assume is what one expects of these mix CDs. I believe a DJ in this field is also expected to ‘maintain momentum’, which this one fails to do on numerous occasions, the rhythmic section often dropping out entirely. Research shows people enjoy dancing to this music, but reduced pacing confirms a tactical deficiency on the DJ’s part.”


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tiësto - In Search Of Sunrise 5: Los Angeles

Songbird: 2006

This was supposed to be In Trance We Trust 009, featuring Mark Norman. The bill of sale enclosed with my delivery claims this should be ITWT009. Even the barcode sticker on the back of the jewel case informs this should be ITWT009. Clearly, this is not ITWT009. It's Tiësto’s In Search Of Sunrise 5, a series that still falls under the Black Hole Recordings umbrella, but has nothing to do with the In Trance We Trust sub-label. I may as well review this regardless.

For a Mark Norman DJ mix, this sucks. No, wait, I haven't a clue what a Mark Norman DJ mix sounds like. If anything, at least where CD2 of this release is concerned, it sounds like a Markus Schulz set, a total bandwagon jump of twinkly McProg on Mr. Verwest's part. Ah, the Los Angeles tag makes sense now, likely suggesting this genre was wholly an American thing. Of course, using Miami as a setting would totally tip his hand, so here’s the West Coast instead. It’s also an excellent collection of the sound, all the big players bringing their spritely melodies, deep atmospherics, and grumbly basslines to the game (Alex Stealthy, Ozgur Can, Super8 & Tab, Global Experience, Jonas Steur, etc.). There’s not a duff cut in this mix, everything moving along with class.

In fact, I’m having a hard time believing this was all Tiësto’s doing. I’ve never heard such a smooth-flowing mix from the man. Always there’re those moments that leave you scratching your head. CD1 has a perfect example, the inclusion of Fonzerelli’s Moonlight Party early on, a single instance of electro house in a double-disc release where it has no place at all. It serves no context, and is utterly forgotten about by the end. Yeah, it’s that Basic Perspective cut totally stealing the show on CD1 doing that, rendering all those vocal cuts to the dustbin of forgotten hyped singles – I’m looking at you, Karen Overton.

Anyhow, In Search Of Sunrise 5 is definitely worth your attention if you’ve fond memories of this era of progressive trance. I personally didn’t, but listening to CD2 here, I’m warming up to it, like feeling the first rays of a sunrise. Wow, what sap.


Since this mix comes from a different branch of Black Hole Recordings, here’s a guest reviewer from another Capcom fighting game: Roy Bromwell, the “Strong-Armed American” of Rival Schools.

Roy: “I’ve no time for this nonsense. There's a football game coming up I gotta practice for. Hmph, it’s just because I’m American, isn’t it - that I know about everything here. You’re right, but this trance stuff? It’s not being played by an American, just some guy from Europe. Belgium, right? Tiffany’s into this stuff though, go ask her.”

Tiffany: “I get to review music? Oh, what fun! I looooovvveee Teesteo and his songs. I once went to a party, and there were lights, and glowsticks. Amazing! So’s this CD. So fun singing that JES song! Hey, where’re you going?”




Sunday, December 8, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 008 - Ton T.B.

In Trance We Trust: 2003

Now this is a surprising mix. While Ton T.B. (Antonius H.M. Ton van Empel to his birth parents) is best known as one half of Three Drives (On A Vinyl) and numerous other productions, he’s never been seen as a DJ, and for good reason. This here In Trance We Trust 008 remains his only major mix CD credit at Lord Discogs, and while I’ve no doubt he does the occasional gig as most producers are wont to do now, all the glory he’s gained comes from the music he makes.

A little less surprising is the style that ended up on this mix. As you’d expect of a guy that became synonymous with the height of progressive trance’s late ‘90s peak, the early going of his set features some choice cuts of the genre, including Joker Jam’s blissy Traffic, and even breaks care of the San Project Remix of Coda’s Under Control. And here I thought this stuff was dead by 2003. It all reaches a mini-peak with his and DJ Enrico’s Air Traffic, a tune with a whiny hook that’ll have you initially scratching your head, yet somehow makes sense once all the other elements are in play. Say, why didn’t the other half of Three Drives get a mix as well?

The middle of this CD’s all a-muddle though, as if Ton T.B. didn’t have the knowhow to link the first third of his mix with the banging latter portions. Rather awful among this bunch is Tillmann Uhrmacher’s Friends, which includes a woeful saxophone solo in the breakdown. Ugh, smooth jazz and trance: a hideous combination. Fortunately, once things pick up again with Midtone’s Pearl, it’s high-flying energy to the finish, with galloping trance rhythms galore. Sweet, there’s even a nod to German trance of yore in Tyrome’s Bad Magic, and Tiësto’s remix of Jan Johnston’s Venus remains one of my few vocal trance guilty pleasures (yeah, that Cor Fijneman guy had a hand in it too).

So a solid mix of progressive and high-energy trance from Ton T.B. Name notwithstanding, I admit being unprepared by this turn of events, given the low expectations I had for the In Trance We Trust series going in. I wonder if the rest will turn out this good. (spoiler: nope)


A classy, efficient effort from a trance veteran? Only World Champion Ryu can give proper perspective in this guest review.

Ryu: “The way of the DJ is the way of the warrior, tirelessly striving for perfection of skill and craft. One must be consumed by an almost obsessive determination to be the very best, practice with patience, lest he is consumed by their darker desires. This Ton T.B., he displays these qualities here, for which I must commend. It is-”

Ken: “Geez, Ryu, lighten up. It's dance music, tunes for cutting loose and having fun. Stop being so uptight. Let go once in a while.”

Evil Ryu: “You're right. I must give into Satsui no Hado...”

Ken: “Wait, that's not-!”





Saturday, December 7, 2013

Various - In Trance We Trust 005 - DJ Cor Fijneman

In Trance We Trust: 2001

And right in the first track, I'm hit with a god-awful example of supersaw epic trance. Holy Hell, this Aloha from hopelessly forgotten Organza is pathetic. I know these DJs have to highlight some tracks from the In Trance We Trust label, but be pickier about your selections, eh? It's the opening sound of waves crashing you wanted, Cor, wasn't it. A Balearic feeling for your first of two mixes in this series. *sigh* Why couldn't 006 have been the cheap one? It's got Oliver Lieb, Airwave, Insigma, Orkidea, and Marco V on it. This one? Allure, Rank 1, and 4 Strings; Art Of Trance too, but it's Breathe, Simon Berry's regrettable attempt at a vocal trance anthem (okay, the acid's still mint).

Anyhow, the chubby, cherub-faced Cor Fijneman was one of Dutch trance's early key players, having a hand in producing some of Tiësto's first hits (Theme From Norefjell, Sparkles). This still being the early days of In Trance We Trust, Mr. Verwest’s also involved with putting these mixes together, though only given a 'compiler' credit along with Cor, while Mr. Fijneman handles the live turntable mix. I've no idea what the two had in mind while selecting these tracks, as there's almost no flow between tunes. It jumps through all sorts of epic, anthem trance of the day, some of it none too shabby (Freon’s Heaven’s Gate, Twenty-Something’s Morphing Mirror), others about as corny as you'd expect of supersaw trance in the year 2001 (Clubmasterz’ Cyberdrive, Ascension’s Someone). Yeah, the fatigue was definitely setting in with the old template.

So while the mix doesn't have much direction other than banging out various trance of the day, the high energy of this music is enough to keep you engaged for the most part. I'd grown bored of it by Denzel D.'s A Binary Star though, and a few tough tech-trancers for the finish weren’t enough to leave more than a passable impression on yours truly. Or maybe I’m still just bummed about not getting the mix with Oliver Lieb on it.

As for ol’ Cor, he continues producing and DJing, but as with so many of these In Trance We Trust jocks, never broke out of third-tier status. What, the Tiësto bump wasn’t enough?


Our guest Street Fighter Alpha 3 reviewer is none other than the Jamaican man with a perpetual smile, the “Southern Comet”, Dee Jay! Only he could be positive enough to enjoy this stuff so unabashedly.

Dee Jay: “Hey, mon, glad to see you recognize my great sense of music and rhythm, yeah! Only my amazing musicality can kick off such a wicked project. Speaking of which, have you heard my latest single, The Sun Rises Everyday? Dancehall number one hit like a Machine Gun Upper. It's inspired by my incredible Theme Of Sunrise super combo, mon! Hey, these Dutch guys, they like sunrises too, amirite? Can't say trance is much for me, too hard, but hey-hey-hey, they smilin' everyday, so they cool, mon.”


Friday, December 6, 2013

In Trance We Trust: Super Champion Review Project Turbo

Here’s the deal: way back when, I reviewed the eleventh volume of the In Trance We Trust DJ mix series, helmed by Phynn for that particular edition. As with so many trance mixes of the time, it was a middling affair for the most part, one that prompted me to derail my overly-detailed coverage to play some Street Fighter Alpha 3. An odd thing to do for a ‘professional amateur’ review, for sure, but fun nonetheless. I was rather looking forward to hearing it again in my alphabetical order, just for old time’s sake and maybe recount another Street Fighter session. One snag though: I no longer have that mix, which is odd considering I know I listened to it just a couple years back.

Whatever. I can just get another copy again if I really wanted to, probably at a reduced price through Amazon no less. Hmm, but if I’m going to do that, why not also do another ‘DJ mix series on cheap’ retrospective? It’s been a while since the last one, and though instinct tells me otherwise, I’ve long been curious to hear if the In Trance We Trust series might offer some long-lost gems. The concept of the label does have easy appeal, with classy cover art, a clubbier sound, and often giving up-and-comers a chance for greater exposure. Okay, it’s also a sub-label of Black Hole Recordings, which means there’s undoubtedly loads of Dutch trance cheddar to wade through. Yet, considering epic, anthem trance excess has faded from popularity, those tunes can now be appreciated on a different level, as appealing artifacts of a time passed. Shyah. Right. And Paris Hilton will win the DJMag Top 100.

There’ve been nineteen (!) main volumes of In Trance We Trust over the years, so I had to place a limit on how many were picked up. Since only a couple turned up under the $5 mark I used for prior retrospectives, I instead settled on everything I could find that was cheaper than Phynn’s edition. Turns out a lot of them were. I’m… going to regret this, aren’t I?



(Oh, and I didn’t bother getting Phynn’s mix again; funnier to see who’s considered of lesser value than him)

Finally, in honor of the Street Fighter derailment in my original TranceCritic review, each volume will feature a brief, guest reviewer from Alpha 3. Who will show up? Who will even know what trance music is? What characters are even in Alpha 3?? Stay tuned in the following week for these answers and more!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Model 500 - Deep Space

R & S Records: 1995/2011

Oh, what the Hell, R & S? I wasn’t too choked about seeing you replace the Aphex Twin re-issues with your logo, as those were rather drab covers to begin with (no, SAW 85-92 really is). Not so with Deep Space. This was the first proper LP from Juan Atkin’s Model 500 project, and to sell the image of a techno journey through the out reaches of the galaxy, the original cover showed a gorgeous picture of the Eta Carinae Nebula, and nothing else. What mysterious, wondrous soundscapes could be contained within that jewel-case/gate-fold? The vast expanse of gas and young stars, including the super-massive Eta Carina star set to go supernova at any time in the near future (if it hasn't already, crazy-ass light speed paradoxes!), it lures you in, ready to be taken on a cosmic ride by a techno legend. No, that's not it anymore. You get to see the R & S horse on a blank, purple front. Well, who cares about that, unless you're an R & S disciple?

Yeah, yeah, it’s my own fault for sleeping on Deep Space for so long. Had I found it in shops way back in the day, I’d probably have snagged a copy (that cover!). Truth be told though, I didn’t even know it existed until recent years. I definitely knew of Juan Atkins (who doesn’t? No, you aliens from the Eta Carinae Nebula don’t count), and even the Model 500 alias, but only his seminal singles from the ‘80s. It never occurred to me that he’d released two fully-realized LPs nearly a decade on from those early Detroit days, much less check with the good Lord Discogs to discover such tantalizing info.

I can imagine the anticipation from fans going into Deep Space …and the subsequent disappointment. Here was one of the Detroit (Belleview) Godfathers of Techno, coming out of the dystopian steelworks, hopefuls undoubtedly expecting Atkins to rescue their scene from the stagnation Hawtin minimalism had started settling in by the mid-‘90s. Nope, you ain’t getting that. This here a concept album, using techno to explore spacey pad work (Orbit), synths shimmering like glittering stars (Astralwerks), groovy minimalist shuffle (Starlight), cold, interstellar electro (Last Transport (To Alpha Centauri)), and stuttering bleeps and bloops as though hitching a ride on tachyon transmissions (Warning). Hey, this is some great sounding stuff, definitely on the Carl Craig side of techno where the ‘90s are concerned. Yet, not as genre defining as you’d expect a debut album from Model 500 might be. Though R & S deemed it classic enough to receive the ‘bland R & S Classics packaging’, Deep Space isn’t exactly discussed up to the degree other techno classics of the era are.

Ah well, it’s not like Atkins had anything left to prove. If exploring his muse by way of a trip among the stars was how he decided to drop a debut Model 500 album, so be it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Banco de Gaia - Last Train To Lhasa

Mammoth Records: 1995

I was so disappointed when I first got Last Train To Lhasa. All the expectations and preconceived notions of what Toby Marks' proper sophomore effort would bring, and none of them came about. In fact, what the Hell is this music on here? House beats? Techno? Weird wibbly ambient excursion? I thought Banco de Gaia was supposed to be a cooler sounding Deep Forest. This isn’t what I'd heard from him before. Okay, so it was only two tracks by that point, both on an ambient dub compilation, but it was enough to know exactly what my new favourite electronic act was all about. Don't judge me. I'm old enough to know what's up with music in the world, at this old age of seventeen.

Yeah, 1996 Sykonee had a lot to learn, but I'm continuously amused by that first impression of this album, one that obviously dissipated after a couple more play-throughs. Some things still hold it back from being a great Banco LP, yet there’s also things you’re not gonna find elsewhere in his discography either.

Like that thirty-six minute version of Kincajou on CD2! Essentially carrying on where the main album version faded off, story goes Duck! Asteroid came about during a studio jam. What, was Pete Namlook hanging out at the time? It definitely has the hallmarks of the ambient wizard’s lengthy noodle-fests, but somehow never meanders, feeling like you’re travelling about the galaxy in a space-born Tibetan monastery. The fact it’s followed upon by another spacey dub cut (Eagle) completes the sonic trip through the cosmos (I guess the tribal-trance Gnomes Mix of Kuos is the launch).

What about CD1, then? Well, Last Train To Lhasa’s here, made popular by its inclusion on the first Northern Exposure. I like it fine, but not as much as others do – good atmospheric moments and all, but rather lacking in the rhythm department. In fact, most of this album has that ‘some-good, some-meh’ production going on. Kuos has a fun idea somewhere, but is undone by using such an overplayed African sample for its hook. Amber builds wonderfully at the beginning (that bass!), then doesn’t go much of anywhere after; alternatively, 887 has a great finish, but ambles far too long to get there. White Paint’s pretty good, what with its soaring choral pads and dubby beat, but I’ve been spoiled by the chipper version on the Live At Glastonbury CD. China’s a pleasant little chill number, portraying the culture in a more positive light compared to the scathing indictment Marks mentions in the liner notes regarding Tibetan atrocities. Take a stance, guy.

Speaking of stances, I’m always surprised by how many point to Last Train To Lhasa as their favourite Banco album. Sillies, his follow-up albums were far better, ol’ Toby finally and firmly breaking away from standard dance music moulds marked by his early work. This one has its share of brilliant, sublime moments within the Banco discography, but not to the degree latter efforts offered.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Trentemøller - The Last Resort (Original TC Review)

Poker Flat Recordings: 2006

(2013 Update:
Oh my God, I thought ugly, bloated reviews like this one were a thing of my past by late '06. Way too much preamble about 'the state of the musics' in the early going, some of which is hilariously dated now. Mylo pushing "musical innovation"? Markus Schulz in the same sentence as Dirty Vegas and Audio Bullys? Save that kind of material for blog posts, guy, none of it has anything to do with Trentemøller. Right, I was attempting a segue into the notion of Anders becoming a proper breakout electronic music star, but even that angle is moot at this point. Despite earning all the accolades for
The Last Resort, Trentemøller's faded off into the realms of indie rock, shoegaze, and other assorted music unfriendly for clubbers the world over. Hardly anyone speaks of his output anymore, at least in the same reverential tone as his mid-'00s breakout.

We should have seen it coming though. This album has all the hallmarks of an electronic music producer with more on his mind than straight-forward club cuts for DJs to rinse out, for which Trentemøller was heralded for, a successful risk taken and accomplished. Even the following tour with a live band was met with kudos. Had anyone known that road would lead to the realms of indie rock, however, I wonder if those same folks would have been so eagre to sing his praises.)



IN BRIEF: A light in the dark.

In a recent discussion with fellow writer J’, our discourse led to the topic a few troubles afflicting electronic music lately. We by no means felt it was in dire straits, mind, but when compared to the critical, popular, and creative highs seen in the 90s, this decade’s certainly falling behind. While there are a number of contributing factors for this, a major one we agreed upon was the lack of breakout star producers pushing musical innovation. Sure, we have our Felix da Housecats and Vitalics and Mylos and Stuart Prices, but that’s small compared to what the 90s gave us (The Future Sound Of London, Underworld, BT, Orbital... I could go on forever). And, most likely, it was the unfortunate fact electronic music’s marketing power decided to push DJs more than producers which caused this gap, leaving many potential talented new kids on the block buried underneath the hype behind the guy who plays their records.

With the idea of superstar DJs growing passé and some of the old guard moving on, electronic music is starved for new stars. Every whiff of commercial success gets jumped on by the media, proclaiming many a producer with some unique wrinkle or clever idea as the next big thing. Many of them die quick deaths though, most of the time due to the over-hype that comes with such desperation. Audio Bullys, Markus Schulz, Fischerspooner, Dirty Vegas: just a few names that could never have hoped to meet the expectations placed on them. So, it’s been with a degree of caution many have approached Anders Trentemøller as yet another possible candidate for Breakout Star status.

Already a prolific and accomplished remixer in the ‘minimal’ scene, his underground credibility has substantially grown with each project. His music, though usually sparse, tends to surround you in a mesmerizing atmosphere of dark, dubby, glitchy soundscapes while groovy tech house rhythms play out. And while such music has been known to get lost up its own ass, Trentemøller balances it out with playful human qualities. Quite often when listening to a ‘minimal’ set, the track that will eventually snag you into actually paying attention to the music will have Anders’ touch on it.

With the underground positively buzzing and other media types picking up on it (Trentemøller has already become a punch-line for dance music pretentiousness in some circles, although it’s hardly warranted), Anders’ star was definitely on the rise. Many wondered if he’d live up to the potential many expected of him when he finally dropped his first album, or if he’d flop like other hyped producers.

I suppose the outcome of this has already been settled, as many reviews of The Last Resort have come and gone since the album was released this past October. And they have been good. Very good. In fact, Trentemøller’s debut exceeded many expectations in that he delivered a release that defied what you were supposed to get out of ‘minimal.’ Having finally managed to sit down and listen to it (living on the other side of the world often means delays... well, at least if you want to remain honest about getting albums), I must say I’m inclined to agree.

The opening track, Take Me Into Your Skin, gives us clear indication of the kind of eclecticism to expect on The Last Resort. Yes, you have your usual radio transistor drones and beluga whale clicks and micro beats that you’d expect from the minimal camps. However, Trentemøller uses such sounds as window dressing - the meat and potatoes of this track are the orchestral swells and building percussion, much of which caps off in a cacophony of sound. Easing us through it all are warm melodic tones that tenderly embrace you, like a reassuring friend guiding you down a dark path.

And with that sentence, we come to the reason for Trentemøller’s success as a musician: his songs demand metaphorical representation for description, as he creates mental imagery with his stark soundscapes. As such, the music on The Last Resort can be very personal for the listener. I could detail at great length the sort of things Anders’ music touches my psyche with but part of the charm of music in general is how it affects everyone individually, so I’ll leave that part up to you to discover for yourself.

Genres are skillfully hopped and blended without a care whether they fit into convention. Anders definitely displays a love for dub, as tracks like Evil Dub, Nightwalker, and Chameleon show. However, he doesn’t limit himself to what is expected of such music, having no problem throwing in a few glitchy squelches or dark ambient drones should it warrant it.

Other times, an affinity for score work becomes apparent, and will come as a surprise to long-time Trentemøller fans used to his club friendly output. The duo combo of Like Two Strangers and The Very Last Resort showcases just how adept at it he is. Amongst orchestral swells and pleasant bells, the former maintains a tender, if uncertain, atmosphere. Sliding into The Very Last Resort though (and tracks on here do slide into one another with ease, as any good album does), a gripping desolate feeling overcomes you. Paranoid guitars, choking sound effects, and uncertain, wandering melodies surround you with unease. It’s like The Future Sound Of London at their darkest moments.

There are other dark moments as well, such as tracks like the minimal Snowflake, but Anders does exhibit an occasional sense of fun too. Vamp in particular is a welcome jazzy romp, and the glitchy quirkiness breaking up the pleasant orchestral moments of While The Cold Winter Waiting are cute. Those aching for a club beat will find the dub techno excursion of Into The Trees satisfying.

Amongst all these various emotions Trentemøller tugs at with his music, he is most effective when he touches the tender side of sound. No matter the general feeling of a track, throughout The Last Resort you have a sense of hopeful longing, and that finally pays off towards the album’s end. Moan and Miss You are quiet, contemplative songs with comforting melodies, always a classy way to cap off an album.

Hmm. In spite of all this glowing praise, I still detect a smattering of doubt out there. I suppose Trentemøller’s association with ‘minimal’ won’t go away any time soon, and those who fear that style of techno are worried The Last Resort will be nothing more than monotonous droning, no matter what anyone says. While big riffs and boshing beats and screaming synths definitely aren’t to be found here, this shouldn’t keep you from getting this album. Even if you don’t have the patience to sit down and just listen to music, The Last Resort works just as easily as a background soundtrack - there are more than enough intriguing sounds throughout which will draw your attention, no matter how distracted by other tasks you may be.

Is Anders the potential star electronic music could use? The Last Resort certainly makes a strong claim in his favor. He’s displayed the ability of a producer who doesn’t feel constrained by what is expected of him and the skill to pull it off expertly. Trentemøller’s debut should stand up as one of the few classics of this decade future releases will be compared to. Believe this hype.

Note: You’ve probably noticed this review doesn’t contain coverage of the second CD that came with the initial release. Although I have heard it, because it was merely a limited edition bonus it’s rather pointless to discuss it at this point. This version is now the official release. However, I will mention should I have had the chance to cover it, the double-disc version of The Last Resort would have secured a rare five star rating from me. Yes, it’s that good too.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Moby - Last Night (Original TC Review)

Mute: 2008

(2013 Update:
Not much to add to this review, as it holds up just as fine as it did when it first came out, though calling it "his most accomplished album since
Everything Is Wrong" is a bit of a stretch on my part. Kind of a shame this was just a one-off return to early club music on Moby's part, but it was only ever intended to be as such. I wonder if we might see another one though, what with classic house again back in vogue after a couple-year gap of not. Man, was 2008 ever a weird year for house music.)


IN BRIEF: The Moby ravers enjoyed returns.

I don’t think anyone expected Moby returning to dance music in such a fashion, if at all. Granted, he tested the waters a few years back with a Voodoo Child album, but for the most part everyone figured Mr. Hall’s most recognizable project had forever gone the way of quaint bittersweet pop-rock. Still, it’s not like the mainstream readily accepted Moby. Although they enjoyed the music off Play (if anything because you couldn’t escape it) and the odd tune here and there if it fit the times, Moby remained the butt-end of numerous jokes, an all-too easy target of ridicule.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that as he nears mid-life, Moby has begun reflecting, recalling a time and place one was accepted no matter who you were or what you did. The second Summer Of Love certainly was such a time, and thanks to anthems such as Go and Next Is The E, Mr. Hall emerged as an underground darling of the early American rave scene. So if such fond thoughts have been on his mind lately, producing an album which captures those free-wheeling hedonistic years in sixty-five minutes is an intriguing idea; the fact this comes at a point when classic house music is seeing something of a revival just so happens to be a bonus for both parties.

Still, there have already been plenty of question marks, accusations and critical responses to such an endeavor. Cynically, you have to wonder why Moby would go back to a sound he hasn’t touched on in over a decade, especially when his last Best Of release ignored nearly all of his pre-Play output. Also, will his current fanbase even be willing to accept such blatant romanticizing of early ‘90s dance music when it hasn’t been in vogue since Madonna’s Vogue? And does Moby even have much chance of standing toe-to-toe with admittedly much trendier revivalists like Hercules & Love Affair or Dixon?

Last Night will probably fly right over your head if you’ve been fussing over such thoughts. On this new album, Moby doesn’t seem to care whether the popular press or the bloggers or even the current crop of EDM followers accept his retro-direction; it’s primarily the old-schoolers whom enjoyed his early output that will dig on this. As much as he says this is a love-letter to New York City of the late 80s, Last Night is equally a love-letter to all those fans that gave Mr. Hall his big break, with the giddy rave vibes oozing from every sonic corner.

Were I allowed to wear my Nostalgia Headphones while reviewing Last Night, it’d easily earn high marks. Even without them, though, there is some gosh-darned good music to be had on here. Take Everyday Is 1989: it’s an incredibly simple track on paper, consisting of rolling pianos, soul-sista’ samples, and string stabs looping over vintage house beats. It should sound old, it should sound dated, it should sound like a bygone relic. Yet every time those pianos emerge - and I do mean every time - my head can’t help but bobble along. There’s a groove to be had here, my friends, and it’s more infectious than most of what’s come out from the house camps in the last few years.

Much of Last Nights works in this regard. Moby keeps things simple and to the point, doesn’t get bogged down in fancy gimmicks or overproduction, and maintains the old-school uplifting spirit throughout much of the album. And while the house cuts like Everyday Is 1989, Disco Lies, and I’m In Love received most of the pre-album buzz, there’s plenty of other EDM genres dabbled in as well. The Stars and 257.Zero tackles the rave end of the spectrum, while I Love To Move In Here adds some hip-house flavor. The latter portion of the album provides an ambient-house touch; however, aside from Sweet Apocalypse, these offerings aren’t nearly as interesting as the rest of Last Night, coming off as mere sonic doodles compared to some of Moby’s more famous downtempo tunes.

For as much as Last Night honors his roots, though, Moby hasn’t completely neglected some of the fresher influences of his discography. Material like the titular track, Ooh Yeah, Live For Tomorrow, and Hyenas finds blending of melancholic pop and lounge, especially so with the hidden bit of jazz tagged on at the end of the finale. Trumping it all though - and even the retro stuff - is Alice, which melds a whole pile of Moby-isms into a single track: blues-shuffle rhythms, squawking guitar licks, guest raps from Nigerian based group 419 Squad, catchy pop hooks... Lodging it smack in the middle of the album definitely helps prevent the whole of it from sounding like too much of a nostalgia love-in.

Ultimately, Moby’s latest is quite probably his most accomplished album since Everything Is Wrong. He may not be doing anything new on here but that’s beside the point - Last Night is the sound of a musician finding himself quite comfortable with his roots again, and proving he is more than capable of producing a song that remains just as timeless as the era it draws influence from. The mainstream media may not understand it (but, oh, they certainly do when R.E.M. does the same thing); long-time fans of electronic dance music will.

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