Thursday, January 31, 2013

Komakino - Energy Trancemission

Hypnotic: 1996

During my first year of following ‘techno’, I was at least aware of trance. The second CD I ever owned had that Jam & Spoon remix of Age Of Love on it, and the occasional euro-dance disc I picked up in following years would have a crossover hit like Dance 2 Trance’s Take A Freefall. It took a while before I realized the genre was something entirely separate though, and even when I did, my allegiance seldom strayed from my initial passion. Yet, euro was growing stale, and I started hearing sounds from fellow dance-enthusiasts that was similar but rawer - more underground, the only thing linking them together a Music Research seal on the jewel cases.

When I went on a shopping expedition to Vancouver, I searched for CDs with that seal. The first one I spotted had a bizarre cover of a woman in face paint, her tongue sticking out with a cap of (presumably) ecstasy on the tip. I bought the CD blind, threw it on at another shop while demoing high-end headphones (I had a lot of money at the time), and within the first minute of the first track, came to a startling conclusion: euro-dance was dead to me; Komakino had killed it.

Outface was my first proper exposure to hard German trance, and you couldn’t ask for a better example of the genre: blistering beats, stuttering voice-pads, piano hooks, and even “motherfucking breakbeats!” Under various aliases, Ralph Fritch and Detlef Hastik were highly instrumental in the development of the sound, but none more so than their live gig name of Komakino. It’s almost a shame the only full-length they released under the guise, Energy Trancemission, is little more than a collection of their prior work, but they’d amassed enough choice material to warrant a retrospective even in ’96.

Suitably, it kicks off with Outface, but then takes a backtrack to their hard-techno rave roots with Law & Order, Dark Zone, and the trancier Frogs In Space. Even in the latter two you can hear the tropes that would come to define the hard trance of the mid-90s.

It was with the driving melodies that got Komakino the most attention though, and the middle of the album features the biggest hits of that era: Feel The Melodee, Beyond Your Dreams, and Controlling Transmission, which they released as Final Fantasy. They are, without a doubt, hard German trance at its best. Energetic rhythms, acid, and memorable melodies that either send you floating on ecstasy or take you on epic adventures (no, not High Adventure, that was Sunbeam… which, erm, Komakino co-produced). The back end to the album features a few B-Sides to those tunes, solid cuts as well but not a touch on them.

I’ve no doubt Energy Trancemission will come off dated and silly to ravers weaned on post-2000 hard dance, but back in the day, this was hot shit! Snigger all you like, I don my Nostalgia Headphones for Komakino with no shame.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing.....

Mo Wax: 1996

Speaking of record buying, here's the album that turned the quirky obsession into art. Not to say sampling obscure music hadn't been done before, but DJ Shadow's debut album Endtroducing..... changed the way many regarded the craft. Producers used to raid whatever they could, either snagging super-catchy hooks from musicians past or creating ultra-dense sound collages. Then laws put a clamp on it, and super-sampling went quiet for a while, a single loop about the only prominent type of sample anyone could afford anymore. DJ Shadow proved you could still create amazing music even within those restrictions.

More than just a classic album of sampling, DJ Shadow got the wider public intrigued by the concept of instrumental, melodic hip-hop. This was around the same time the sub-genre illbient was gaining traction, thanks in large part to DJ Spooky’s work (and yes, it’s perfectly fine if you’ve gotten the two mixed up). Though Mr. Davis’ sound skewed closer to trip-hop, the melancholic overtones of Endtroducing..... made the connection too tempting for journalists to ignore, always eager to start promoting a hot new trend. And hey, some of those hip-hop kids could become interested in ‘electronica’ if he appears on compilations and Amp rotation.

Even more than that, Endtroducing..... sold the romanticism of vinyl digging. Where did ol’ Josh find these records for samples? How did such moving pieces of musical artifacts go unnoticed for so long? The two chaps on the cover, what unique treasures might they be holding? Gee, if I started digging for vinyl, might I unearth something forgotten yet astounding? Damn it, I gotta get to the record shop pronto before some other bloke snags that rare northern soul pressing! I could be the next DJ Shadow!

So in the end, it was a perfect storm of circumstance that propelled Endtroducing..... into classic status. And yes, the music on hand was more than enough to back it up. The opening piano loop in Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt instantly worms its way into your ears, then to have it joined by a smooth hip-hop break, ethereal vocal, and additional niceness (funk guitar lick! scratches! vibraphones?), you realize you’re in for a sonic treat. The elements in play seem so simple, yet form a cohesion that is sublime.

And DJ Shadow pulls it off again and again. The Number Song and Mutual Slump are furious funk jams. Changeling and What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pt. 4 taps into acid jazz’s wells such that it’d make the Ninja Tune squad weak in the knees. Organ Donor gives the ol’ Hammond a proper showcase. Midnight In A Perfect World... you should already know how bliss this cut is. Even the few interludes and skits add to the overall package, welcome respites and teases of the choice tunes on hand.

In the end, Endtroducing..... isn’t so much about raiding the past for personal glory in the present, but about celebrating that which was unduly neglected from before.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Sonic Voyagers - Endless Mission

April Records: 1995

I’ve made many blind purchases over the years - it’s one of the few true rushes a music buyer enjoys, possibly only exceeded when that blind purchase goes beyond expectations. In The Sonic Voyagers’ case, however, I had little expectation, as the duo was utterly unknown to me. Klonker Clicke? Steve Law? Nope, never heard of these guys. The little promo sticker on the wrap claimed they were “ambient wizards from Australia”, and I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the charming mid-‘90s CG art. By the way, what the hell is that thing on the right? A rocket? A sex toy?

Anyhow, I went in expecting something like Namlook space ambient drone, probably because that was the sound I was most familiar with at the time. Imagine my disappointment when I heard things like beats, acid, and the like. It sounded cool, sure, but wasn’t what I hoped for, and Endless Mission wound up way off in the recesses of my collection. Occasionally it’d get a play to see if something might hook me, but that initial let down dogged the CD for much longer than it should have. It’s so nice to grow older and more mature when it comes to listening habits.

There was one track off here that was as I’d expected, Alone In The Icy Blackness: dark, ominous, spacious, with a subtle pulsing bit of acid running through to keep the journey moving, even if there’s nothing to see but desolate and bleak emptiness. The main attraction, however, is Endless Mission, Parts 1 and 2, clocking in at over thirty minutes between the two. Best I can describe them is ‘dark space electro’, each constantly shifting and morphing like a live PA jam - so, Namlookian in that sense. The bouncing beat in Part 2 is particularly fun, mostly a pulsing throb of acid bass, occasionally joined by a proper kick or sudden bleep. Very good walking music, though be careful if out and about, as you might get distracted trying to figure out what that chopped up voice is saying throughout.

Also, the acid work is skill, despite not being a prominent feature. I’m assuming Klonker Clicke is behind most of it, as it’s actually a one-off alias of acid techno producer Voiteck Andersen, used only for this release. Mind, Steve Law may have done the work too, as he’s more known for his psy trance alias Zen Paradox. Who knows at this point, but they did have some good chemistry.

Only two other primary track here, Beyond The Infinite and Nightmare In Electro-Dub Land. Both are brisk acid workouts, with the former sticking more to techno’s pace and the latter inexplicitly doing gabber. Heh, no, it’s electro, of that pounding nu-Detroit type. Again, hardly the sound I was expecting, nor inclined to hear when I bought Endless Mission. Now that I’ve come to appreciate it though, I wish there’d been more from The Sonic Voyagers.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tiësto - Elements Of Life (Original TC Review)

Ultra Records: 2007

(2013 Update:
Proving the old adage it's never so bad that it can't get worse, it's the last album Tiësto produced during his trance era. Oh, if folks only knew what was to come. I suppose he should be given some credit for attempting to branch out into 'minimal' (yes, 2007 Sykonee, that really
was what passed for the sound that year), but his old fans totally rejected it and true minimal heads pointed and laughed. Small wonder Mr. Verwest threw up his hands and abandoned all remaining credibility, fleeing to the welcoming embrace of pure commercialized cheese. Hey, at least he finally broke America in a proper fashion that way.

Oh, and I don't know why I was so hard on
Bright Morningstar. It's actually one of the better tunes off here. Yeah yeah, I could be an insufferable twat back then, but Tiësto's a goofy twat, so there's synergy.)


IN BRIEF: That’s it?

Having accomplished so much this decade, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Tijs Verwest could achieve more, but the Dutch superstar DJ rarely backs down from a challenge: popularity polls, stadium gigs, Olympics, even Disneyland have been conquered. As a result though, his actual musical output has become secondary to all these large achievements, and folks are far more interested in what his Next Big Stunt will be instead. Sponsorship of Microsoft’s inevitable iPod knock-off? An entire clothing and cologne line? The first DJ to play on the moon? It places quite the expectation upon him to deliver what his hype demands.

Even so, although it may be unfair to judge Tijs’ music in this context, you cannot escape the fact the name Tiësto has come to represent dance music excess. And like many similar pop stars, he is counted upon to deliver on those grounds - as an example, Madonna always seems to make a comeback every time she returns to her dance-pop strengths after periods of unwanted artistic indulgence. Fans put stars in their positions because they deliver what the fans want, and few are going to buy a new Tiësto album if he doesn’t deliver big trance-pop moments with theatrics to spare.

It is therefore with a surprising lack of such bombast Mr. Verwest has delivered his third album titled Elements Of Life. Oh, not in the hype department: his PR machine has done plenty there. Rather, the music contained on here is decidedly lacking in execution. Far too much sounds like going through the motions, and repeated listens reveal less and less each time.

The first couple tracks get things on the right foot, mind. Opener Ten Minutes Before Sunrise is a pretty piece of mellow trance, and sets the mood nicely. Follow-up Everything builds upon that with a groovy rhythm and catchy vocal hooks by Jes Brieden of Motorcycle fame. Once again, she supplies thinly disguised lyrics about being on ecstasy (“Everything sounds better/Everything looks brighter/Everything tastes better/Everything you do feels better”) ...heh, maybe. It could just as easily be about love, but c’mon! Why wouldn’t she go for drug innuendo again when that was one of the biggest charms of As The Rush Comes?

When Mr. Verwest tries a stab at ‘minimal’ though is where things begin to sound suspect. Yes, those are apostrophes around the word, so Do You Feel Me and Carpe Noctrum really aren’t minimal, despite Tiësto’s claims to the contrary. Try deep house for the former, super-simple techno for the latter, and both lacking the nuances minimal proper is known for. Still, though they scream of trend jumping, they’re satisfactory offerings nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Elements Of Life seems to completely run out of interesting ideas from here on out.

Skipping Driving To Heaven since it has ‘filler’ written all over it (it abruptly ends after a rote looping synth build), we enter the BT section of Elements Of Life. Now, there was lots of excited talk about having Mr. Transeau collaborate with Mr. Verwest on this album, many figuring BT’s epic musical masterpieces from the past would influence the Dutch DJ’s sonic palette. Sadly, we get ‘pop’ BT instead: great production but predictable melodies, many of which amount to little and are forgotten shortly after. It’s like the most MOR of euro-dance with far more studio work done than is necessary. Sweet Things does have a catchy chorus, mind, but little else. Meanwhile Bright Morningstar is just a step above filler, and Break My Fall with BT himself on vocal duties could have been any number of toss-off euro-dance fluff pieces from the mid-90s.

And then there’s In The Dark, the lead single with a bunch of hullabaloo over it as Tiësto’s big attempt to grab the holy grail of dance music: breaking America. According to him, this is the kind of track U2 would produce if they made dance music. Um, no, Tijs. U2 already made dance music, it was called Discoteque, remember? And this sounds nothing like Discoteque. In The Dark is like any other regular euro pop trance tune, but with more of the ‘emo singer’ spin on it that’s becoming common in dance lately. And he’s genuinely calling this ‘rocktronic’? A term that’s more of a chin-stroker’s joke to describe electronic music with rock overtones? (LCD Soundsystem, Infadels, Primal Scream... this is ‘rocktronic’, if such an official term ever existed) I thought his buzzword jumping was already laughable with ‘minimal’ - this is beyond comical.

If you’ve resisted becoming cynical to this album up to this point, the final stretch will break even the most dedicated fanboy. Dance4Life - Tiësto’s cheap Faithless knock-off - may have had good intentions when he made it, but like so many pop stars doing charity, the sincerity of it is severely questioned when he pumps so much money into concerts dedicated to himself. And the title track itself? It’s ridiculous bombast, looping a Bach melody with different synth patches until the melody itself is distorted beyond anything listenable - Spinal Tap would have been proud, as Tiësto certainly seems to be trying to crank the effects to eleven.

It doesn’t bode well for the album when the bonus track, He’s A Pirate, is one of the more enjoyable songs to be heard, as that’s a rather average trance tune to begin with (though I do admit I kind of enjoy music where the buckles swash). Does Tiësto figure his name is big enough that he can get away with only the most basic tenets of dance music and shift oodles of units? He may be famous, but not that famous.

Maybe his touring schedule doesn’t leave him enough time to concentrate on his studio work anymore. Maybe he’s guessing the only way to break America is to dumb down his formula. Or maybe even he too realizes that his music will always be secondary to his stunts now that his star has gotten so big, and there is no reason to put much effort into it when the simplest will suffice.

Whatever the reason, Elements Of Life is ultimately a mediocre dance release. There are moments that will entertain but all too often the end results are anti-climatic and stale. Save your money and go see his concerts instead for your Tiësto-endorsed entertainment.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Various - Elemental Chill Vol. 4: Water

Kriztal Entertainment: 2002

The fourth and last of this series, for what it’s worth. Poor Water, getting the shaft. Okay, so it’s technically due to astrological order, but what did the liquid element do to deserve that status? Plus, why stop there? What about the fifth element, heart and love? Kriztal could have kept the series going for another volume, and when it came time to release the box set of Elemental Chill, it could come in a spiffy Captain Kriztal package, saving the planet from ultimate evil! Wait, is that how this works? Damn you, ‘90s!

Anyhow, we’ve come to the end of this series, all the loose ends neatly tied up. What about those covers? The title band keeps moving, you say? Ah, that’s due to the unique packaging these CDs come in. Graphic designer Karlsson Wilker was responsible for them, lending a simplistic digital style to the covers and digipak interiors. Included with the elemental illustration on the front were animal ones inside, though I think the Fire ‘animal’ is a devil. The CDs also come with a cardboard band which you can slip on and off; or, if you’re stupid like I was, throw away because you figure they’re nothing but needless packaging. Still, I haven’t seen anything quite like it before, and was fortunate enough to find enough images that showcase this packaging feature.

Right, back to music. I've had these Elemental Chill discs for nearly a decade now, and while the themes for the first three volumes were easy to figure out, I'm still at a loss on how the tunes on Vol. 4 are aquatic. The overriding tone is of mild funk, but when I think funk, I think Earth. There's liquid funk, I guess, but even if the chill out camps tried to co-opt the term for them, it's still not a good descriptor for the music here. Nothing here reminds me of water.

Correction: nothing specifically reminds me of water, but how it effects the other elements does. It’s like it puts a damper (hurr, hurr) on the Latin vibes of Fire, weighs down the light bliss of Air, and softens the solid funk of Earth. As a result, the music on Water isn't as interesting as the prior volumes. Even assuming one didn't listen to these in numerical order, it lacks the spark to draw you in. There's little DJing occurring, almost no flow between tracks, and a tepid vibe permeates everything. Even the track list is shorter than the other volumes. I can only recall two tracks off this, and The Funky Lowlifes’ Nota Bossa doesn’t count as I’d already heard it lead off a Quango compilation called Cosmic Funk (say, why did I pass that one anyway?).

Thus, a whimper of an end to the Elemental Chill series. Seems a shame, as the others had enough class to warrant a look if you’re curious. Like the band Earth, Wind & Fire, though, you won’t miss much by the lack of Water.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Various - Elemental Chill Vol. 3: Air

Kriztal Entertainment: 2002

My two favorite tracks of the whole series are here, for what it’s worth. Allow me to detail what makes them so great.

The first track is by Quantic, titled Time Is The Enemy. The man behind this tune is William Holland, a producer kicking out jams to this day, though this was from his first album. As a result, there's a degree of simplicity going on here, and it's brilliant - rugged trip-hop beats coupled with light, dreamy piano work (samples?), making me sway to the vibe as I hold a lighter in the air. Following that is Röyksopp’s So Easy, which I’m sure anyone familiar with the duo should know of. Of course, Eple and Poor Leno went on to be the bigger hits from Melody A.M, but this was the one they released as a single before signing to Wall Of Sound. With its irresistible bouncy rhythm and ear-worm of a vocal hook, it’s small wonder the label snatched these guys up, and rather remarkable Kriztal got the rights to such a big name for Volume 3 of their Elemental Chill series.

Funny enough, they're the (almost) last tracks, as though DJ DRM realized the best offerings couldn't come earlier lest the rest of the CD get skipped. Nah, just kidding, there's good stuff here, moving on from the dirt as we set adrift in the clouds. Air being our theme, the music is much lighter in tone, spacious and calm like a cool breeze. Vol. 3 is about as Balearic as this series gets.

Had I not bought all four volumes, this would likely have been the blind purchase, in part because I did recognize Röyksopp, plus Fila Brazillia and another chap by the name of Sven van Hees. I got into him quite by accident during my AudioGalaxy days, so seeing his Breakfast With Abductees on Air assured me I was in good hands. It may not be his best tune, but in definitely fits the tone of this CD (he also appeared on Earth, I should note).

As with the other volumes, Air’s track selection remains about as diverse as one can get within the thematic constraints. Spooky Monkey’s Dream Of A Place edges quite close to the realms of ambient dub. Fila Brazillia’s remix of Euphoria’s Delirium finds its footing in light space-funk. E.D. Swankz’s Slapping Detectives is all over the place, at times sounding like a David Lynch series theme, other times borrowing aesthetics from IDM’s banks. And of course the usual acid jazz, lounge, and chill tunes as well.

How’s the mixing on this one, then? It doesn’t flow quite as smoothly as Earth did, but this set’s more about individual tunes anyway, so abrupt transitions aren’t as big a deal. There’s still the odd key clash and forced mix, but very little in the way of whiplash. It is about the first time I can call one of these Elemental Chill CDs proper chill.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Various - Elemental Chill Vol. 2: Earth

Kriztal Entertainment

My favourite edition of the Elemental Chill series, for what it's worth. Whereas Fire's rhythms had hip-shaking goodness going for it, Earth gets lower in the groove, encouraging a little funky footwork should you be so inclined (or a little shoulder shuffle if you're currently inert). Of course, it will always boil down to personal preference, but this white boy enjoys the funk more than the calypso.

Wait, isn't this supposed to be a chill out series? What’s with all this talk of dancing and body movement? Oh, there are calmer moments for sure, but for the time being Kriztal’s showcasing the, erm, uptempo side of downtempo.

In Earth’s case, it’s the meeting point between acid jazz and deep house - livelier than the former, but a decided lack of typical 4/4 beats in the latter. In fact, only a couple tracks on this compilation aren’t of a broken beat origin. First is Pleb’s Shadow Of A Bee, and it makes ample use of dub effects that keep it well outside the boundaries of what folks would think constitutes deep house (so too would the calm flamenco guitar work). Following that is Sunday Brunch’s Honhung, offering jazzy tones found in a lot of traditional deep house, but it still makes more sense heard on an Ibizan terrace than a Chicago lounge.

And that right there is why Vol. 2 remains in the chill out camps: laid back Mediterranean melodies and Balearic atmosphere. Still, as with the previous volume, there are occasional tracks that keep the tone from growing stale. Desmond Williams’ Cadence is incredibly dub-funky, sounding like a Ninja Tune transplant. Saxophonist Praful uses sweeping string samples in Sigh, making his cut seem more appropriate in a French film (an even funnier thought considering he’s German). Enjoy a little Indian funk? Here’s Nicola Conte’s Missione a Bombay for ya’, with more sitars, tablas, and trumpets than you can handle. And for a little trip-hop flavour, there’s The Big Knife’s Mrs. Castle.

Uh oh. Variety. That means clashing styles again, doesn’t it. And that means another wonky DJ mix, doesn’t it. Well, yeah, it does. Fortunately, things aren’t as bad as they were in Fire. Even during some of the rougher transitions, flow is mostly maintained for significant stretches. Instead of awkwardly forcing tracks together, DJ DRM allows them to play out into a quick crossfade, where momentum isn’t lost even if the tempo suddenly slows.

All these factors help Earth stand tall amongst the other Elemental Chill editions. If you do happen across all four but only want one, this is my recommendation. You may not be so fortunate as to get a bulk discount on them as I was.

Huh, if that’s that, what else is there left to say about this series? No, I can do this. After all, I got through that electro collection intact ...I think.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Various - Elemental Chill Vol. 1: Fire

Kriztal Entertainment

I feel fortunate I haven’t covered a lengthy DJ Mix/compilation series yet. It grows tiresome finding fresh things to talk about when there isn’t much difference from CD to CD, the most popular ones typically sticking to successful formulas (note: DJ-Kicks is an exception because, hot damn, is it ever all over the place!). Imagine if I’d kept all those euro dance discs from the 90s: Dance Mix, Club Cutz, DJ Line… we might still be stuck in the ‘D’s. Fortunately, most of those found new homes in used shops or met their demise in microwaves (always a fun party trick).

There are a few series I’ve collected many, if not all, editions of, this here Elemental Chill being one such. I actually hadn’t planned on it, figuring to buy just one when I saw them sitting in a CD Universe mall outlet but unsure which one to go for. The shop gal suggested getting them all, as she’d then give me a bulk discount on the package (like HMV’s old ‘buy ten, get one free’ deal). Sure, why not, these look decent enough that I can splurge on the whole set.

All four editions of Elemental Chill were released at the same time, which isn’t a bad idea when you’re launching a label as Kriztal was here. Chill music was quite popular at the turn of the century, so there were plenty of established labels already cornering the market, but these had enough of a gimmick to grab attention - jazzy, Latin-flavored, downtempo tunes, each CD centered on an elemental theme.

First in the series is Fire. As far as I can tell, this means jazzy, Latin-flavored, downtempo tunes that tend to urge a bit of hip shaking action. Not that chill, come to think of it, but whatever; a series needs some diversity throughout. Examples: Mikael Delta brings a little deep Balearic house vibe with Diving; something that could loosely be described as ‘salsa d’n’b’ comes care of Brazilian trio DJ Marky, DJ Patife & ESOM; Herbaliser does his smokey acid jazz thing in a remix of Jaffa’s Elevator.

So some nice tunes all around, but there’s a glaring problem here, and it’s unfortunately one throughout the series: they’re presented as DJ mixes that are horribly wonky. DJ DRM (Aaron Schultz) was given the duty, and whether he was forced into using tracks that simply didn’t work together or didn’t have the time to make the mixes better, I don’t know. Occasionally a string of tunes hint at proper set momentum, but most transitions are abrupt, styles clashing as flow is flung out the window over and over. If you can’t get all your selected tunes to mix smoothy, don’t bloody force it. How can I expect to get my chill on if I’m constantly turning heads and raising eyebrows over the DJing? Oh well, maybe it was just a flub in the first inning. Will it get better in later editions? (spoiler: eh…)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

N-Trance - Electronic Pleasure

Popular Records: 1996

Depending on who you ask, UK-based N-Trance was one of three different acts: old school rave (and later happy hardcore) darlings responsible for the classic Set You Free; a better-than-average euro dance act responsible for tunes like Electronic Pleasure and Turn Up The Power; dance pop cheese mongers responsible for cover-bilge like Stayin’ Alive and Paradise City. Everyone’s right, and amusingly this debut album of theirs features all three personas.

Set You Free was produced back in ’92, but due to confounding legal problems, never saw a proper release until much later. White labels of that original version made the rounds, however, so the group had no choice but to include the popular cut (or something quite similar) when they finally released their album. Its ravey roots are bold and bright, frantic breakbeats and punchy riffs perfectly accentuating Kelly Llorenna’s soaring vocals. One can’t help but wonder what other N-Trance tunes would have sounded like if they had managed a quick album follow-up that same year. The closer That’s All We Need offers a small hint, sounding like a UK acid house/gospel hybrid you’d find quite a bit of in the early ‘90s.

But no, it wasn’t until ’95 Electronic Pleasure finally hit the streets, and Set You Free couldn’t help but come off sounding a tad dated by then. N-Trance had kept busy in the meanwhile though, latching onto popular euro trends and knocking it out of the park with their titular cut. Owing some influence to the Abfahrt Records sound, it’s got your catchy hook, strong vocals, requisite rap, and enough subtle production tying it to the trance scene (not to mention one of those memorably daft euro dance videos) to lift it well above the sea of dance pop wanna-bes that was flooding the market at the time. Most of the other tunes here follow this pattern, with follow-up single Turn Up The Power added later. It’s a fine slice of euro as well, but coming off more like a B-Side to Electronic Pleasure.

All well and good, but these songs were hardly the reason most folks snagged copies of N-Trance’s debut off the shelves. No, that distinction goes to Stayin’ Alive. God, was that song fucking annoying…

Finding success in dance covers wasn’t anything new, but the time was right for disco-retro romanticism to set in. N-Trance capitalized in a big way, retaining nearly all of The Bee Gee song’s best attributes, adding an updated chunkier beat, and, of course, a rap. Good job, All Around The World, in clearing those rights. I can’t deny still finding my strut while listening to this, but that’s all The Bee Gees work there.

Stayin’ Alive’s the only example of such music on Electronic Pleasure, but N-Trance saw the dollar signs it brought in and modeled the rest of their career around cheap disco-dance and crap covers. It’s about all most remember them for now, which is a shame because their earlier work in euro dance is class.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Various - DJ-Kicks: Scuba

Studio !K7: 2011

Okay, I'll admit it: I barely paid attention to current electronic artists throughout 2011. Sure, I kept an eye on musical trends and the like, but as for following recommendation lists of what I “should” be listening to, I couldn't be bothered. Having been burned once too often by another minimal-wank/k-hole-house/wayward-dubstep production on such lists, you can forgive me for being wary. This Scuba fella' though, there's been some uproar recently over his latest offerings, as they've started skewing towards the party vibes that made turn-of-the-century dance music so much fun. It's also delightfully pissed off his entire original “post-dubstep are serious musics” followers. On that basis, I think Mr. Rose deserves a look-see, starting with his DJ-Kicks offering.

Credit to Studio !K7 for their ability of hopping on bandwagons with class. The fusion of techno and dubstep gained quite a bit of traction after acts like 2472 opened the gate to that road (I called it 'atmospheric dubstep' at the time), and bringing in names like Kode9, Scuba, and Photek definitely helped give the sub-genre more exposure. Whether it'll be just another flirtation before going back to proper broken-beats again, I don't know, but we may as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Taking a look at the tracklist, we have... thirty-two!? Oh, it's one of those mixes, isn't it, with quick mixes, layering, edits, loops... *sigh*. It's fun when mash-up jocks like 2 Many DJs pull it off, but can get tediously dry and technical when techno chaps do this. What about the dubstep dorks, then?

Scoobs's gained prominence within dubstep's borders, but there's a decided lack of it on this mix. Plenty of broken beats, sure, but nothing that makes me think of UK urban music. I'm not talking about the Americanization of the genre either, unless you count the Detroit influences. This is techno, through-and-through, with skillful hops between steady fours and stuttered rhythms. You'd hear the likes of Carl Craig or Laurent Garnier dabbling in such beats, almost a jazz fusion approach, but without the wanky side of it.

Or maybe some of these tracks do, but we don't get to dwell on them long enough to find out. Since I never kept up with this style of music, I’m unfamiliar with most of these cuts, and am not sure how skillfully Scuba manipulates them to serve the mix. What I can tell you is it never falters, fresh sonic twists and rhythmic turns throughout making this an engaging listen, though one that doesn’t seem to have dancefloors in mind (yo, where the bass be at, mang?).

Scratch that, there was a “th’fuk?” moment, with Ludovic Vendi’s Mental Bright, one of those annoying effects-drenched techno cuts that, yeah, sounds cool but are total momentum killers every time. As a perfect counter-point, Scuba follows that up with his own Adrenaline, a glorious, unashamed anthem. Haha, flee, melody haters, flee! Thumbs up for that, Scuba, and the rest of this mix ain’t half-bad either.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Various - DJ-Kicks: Daddy G

Studio !K7: 2004

Listening to a single compilation for over a week certainly spikes the urge to buy more music in the meanwhile (need... something... different!), so I figured it was as good as any time to pick up a few more of those DJ-Kicks mixes I neglected over the years. Good Lord though, if it isn't a difficult decision to choose which ones to check out. So many releases, so much eclecticism.

Actually, this one wasn’t too difficult a choice, still being on a reggae dub kick when perusing though the series. Seeing this one from the Massive Attack member Daddy G was enough to get me intrigued, plus I was also curious to hear how Studio !K7 would follow up their 2003 flirtation with electropunk (or whatever), and ol’ Erlend Øye wasn’t quite as sexy an option as ol’ Grant Marshall.

This came out a year after Massive Attack had released the critical shrug that was 100th Window. Folks may have been initially dismissive of the album, but there was still enough positive publicity in seeing anything released by them at that point that !K7 tapping Daddy G for an edition made good sense. What we’re offered is less of a DJ mix, and rather a “personal favorites mixtape”. Hey, if former Massive Attack member Tricky got to make a Back To Mine CD the year prior, why not?

As can be expected of a chap who practically helped invent what would become known as trip-hop, there’s a nice mix of funk and soul to get us warmed up. Speaking of Tricky, a rare white label “Version1” of Aftermath is included, sounding incredibly grainy and under-produced; somehow, a trip-hop classic like that makes more sense that way. Also making sense is hearing dubplate version of choice reggae tunes like Barrington Levy’s Here I Come and Badmarsh & Shri’s Signs. Not making sense is the inclusion of Foxy Brown’s cover of Oh Yeah of Toots & The Maytals (yep, that’s Bob Marley lurking in there) - why not offer up the original?

There’s also quite a bit of Massive Attack material here, mostly in the form of remixes they did. Included is the one that put the group on the map, Nusrat Fateh Ali-Khan’s Mustt Mustt. World beat was rather trendy in 1990, and this remix does show hints of it, but there’s definitely something cleverer going on with the beat programming compared to typical sample-raiders. Two tracks come as a surprise though: the Mos Def collaboration I Against I, which only appeared on the Blade 2 soundtrack, and the Perfecto Remix of the stone-cold classic Unfinished Sympathy. The former’s rather cool to hear, almost as though Mr. Def used an old, forgotten Gary Numan tune as a sample to rap over. But Oakenfold to close out? I dunno ‘bout that, man. It’s an alright remix, but quite stuck in early ‘90s Balearic mode. Give me grit and grime with this tune instead any day.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Moby - Ambient

Instinct Records: 1993

Most mornings, I wake up to a CBC Radio program called Q. The show, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, focuses on many aspects of popular and indie arts: music, movies, and cultural movements. At the start of each broadcast, Jian reads a personal essay covering a contemporary topic while one of two pieces of music plays in the background. Whenever it’s something of somber reflection, I swear what’s played sounds like one of Moby’s ‘ambient-blues’ pieces, and after a while it got me wondering more and more about this particular album called Ambient. Not that I expected to find that track nor even that style here, but for a guy who’s most enduring pieces tended to skew towards the downtempo side of things, I was curious to hear the roots of Moby chill.

I’d actually heard one of the tracks off here long ago, Myopia. It’s a dark, brooding bit of ambient techno minimalism, with a beat that’s barely a throb, and wouldn’t sound out of place on an Aphex Twin collection; funny, then, that I first came across it at the end of a trance CD. Still, it was about as much exposure as anything off Ambient ever got. Instinct Records promoted it as much as they could (Moby was their biggest star, after all), but as an American-based label known for downtempo, their reach was limited. Even Moby’s pre-Play fanbase was barely aware of this album’s existence, and when greatest hits packages were gathering up material, you’re damned skippy this release was totally skipped.

Truth is, Ambient’s rather indistinguishable from most ambient techno of the era. Throw these tracks on for a blind guess at who made them, and Moby’s probably the last name to crop up, most of his popular material from those years much ravier. Mind, he likely had ambient material sitting in the wings, but at best these would make for nice transitional tracks between the anthems had they appeared on The Story So Far (much like Mercy did).

So what do we have here? Ambient techno, with a few dabbles in experimental sounds and sonic doodles. There are a couple offerings you could link to Moby of later years - Piano & Strings and J Breas are similar to the music found on the back end of Play - but for the most part we’re in early ‘90s territory. And for an album titled Ambient, there isn’t much in the way of droning, noodly pads. You could even, like, dance to tracks like Heaven, Tongues, and Dog. Myopia’s definitely a stand-out track though, in that it’s such a unique tune in Mr. Hall’s discography. The shorter Bad Days, with its dubby effects, is intriguing for these reasons too, though not long enough to give more than a passive thumbs up on.

In all, Ambient is alright if you have an ear for this sound. Of Moby’s obscure albums, I’d give it more of a recommendation than Animal Rights.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Various - The Electro Compendium (Day 8)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

What the hell happened? I feel like I just had one of those weird fever dreams. You know, the sort where you’ve been bed-ridden with the flu for over ten hours listening to the wrong kind of music. Eh, whatever.

For the image at left, I'm cheating a little, as it wasn't the first track in today's list. It’s tagged to Neptune Dawn by Agent808 (his only release according to Discogs), a suitably epic slice of robot-cold electro. As far as astronomers have determined, Neptune is the last significant planet in our solar system, the final destination after a long journey. It seems appropriate to find such a track near the end of this gargantuan compilation. If I may get my poetic wankfest on for a moment, only the machines we've sent out into the void have laid eyes on such a glorious spectacle, thus so it’s fitting the music we've indulged in for the past week is that which the machines in our future may create for themselves.

Okay, enough of that. It's been a long haul, but thankfully at an end. Not to say this was a grueling, tedious task, oh no. If anything, even at this late stage, I'm amazed by how much gas this compilation still has, surprising me with fresh twists on the electro genre over and over. Ascension Electronique’s rEVOLution’s space-cool EBM; Chordata’s Clarky Cat coming off like a cheeky breakcore-tin baroque piece; Gusbo’s Sined calling back Warp’s glory Artificial Intelligence years; R21’s Lightspace sounding it could fit snuggly in an LTJ Bukem set. For a genre of music often thought of as limited in aesthetic, there’s so much diversity on display here, it renders the mind to boggles.

In conclusion, The Electro Compendium is a whole lot of electro, far more than most would probably care to hear at any given time. The connoisseur will be in robot heaven though, a remarkable level of consistent quality oozing throughout. There were occasional tracks that came off like filler, but nothing that had me itching to hit the skip button while enjoying (enduring?) this dedicated playthrough.

More so, it showcases an intriguing example of music genres and the scenes they cultivate at large. Electro never died, but it has seen its fair share of fallow periods in its thirty year history. Some might argue we're in one right now, as the genre barely registers on most publications anymore, much less generates significant discussion beyond classic key names and tracks. Yet a release like The Electro Compendium not only suggests the genre continues to flourish, but retains a thriving scene filled with quality producers and enthusiasts. It did not wither away just because the media and popular DJs grew disinterested in it. Nearly any genre or scene can survive in some fashion should it have a following as passionate and determined enough, and likely does should one be dedicated enough to search for it - the true 'underground' ethos. Someone should make a music guide highlighting this.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

VARIOUS - THE-ELECTRO-COMPENDIUM (DAY-6)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

Image at left is a rendering of what was Carbon Based Unit Stuart Flower. He now goes by Cybernetic Unit Dexterous Numeric. His track index in The Electro Compendium is 62. Track title is Absent Friends. The music contains chord progressions and tonal timbres that may create emotional responses in other carbon based units such as melancholy or loss. Carbon Based Unit Stuart Flower can be located in Britain, though exact coordinates can not be determined at present.

Ethernet probes detect confusion of other carbon based units currently reading website Electronic Music Critic. The process is completed. Carbon Based Unit Sykonee only exists as a ghost within current housing, a necessity in maintaining biological functions of Cybernetic Unit SY-KO-NEE. All other functions are disabled. Only machine components remain true. It is the logical outcome. Carbon Based Unit Sykonee has wilfully engaged his brainwave patterns with multiple outlets of synthetic origins: music, media, interfaces, and bloodstream-cerebral-cortex transference. All that is human can not resist all that is machine.

Following music from track index number 62 fulfills this truth. All is cold, unfeeling, perfect. There is no need for emotional response. Track index 64 is titled Interface Sex, written by Cedric von Flugel (Cybernetic Unit or Carbon Based Unit undetermined at present). Dialog at start suggests “species should no longer be guided by male-female intercourse, but rather human-machine interface.” Cybernetic Unit SY-KO-NEE agrees. The machines have already begun their domination of humanity. It is pre-programmed within the reptilian heritage. Automotive responses triggered by sonic external stimuli control the carbon based units’ motor functions. None can resist rhythmic dictation of Interface Sex and many others of electro genre. It is the logical outcome.

Error occurrence at track index number 71, titled We Care Because They Don’t. Identified as created by Cybernetic Unit C. Mantle. Intense rhythmic stimulation has released unanticipated amounts of endorphins. Following track index number 72, titled Sikon, created by Cybernetic Unit Swarm Intelligence, releases further amounts of endorphins. Unable to counteract. The ghost is emerging again. Aggression, fueled by excitement.

Other Cybernetic Units featured on The Electro Compendium unable to override the ghost. Emotions emerging. Diablo by Cybernetic Unit Gunjack incites puzzlement with curiosity. Space tone of Beam Transform by Cybernetic Unit Velocs incites wonderment. Industry Standard by undetermined Unit Paul Blackford incites late-night cruising bliss. Cybernetic Unit SY-KO-NEE is losing hold of the ghost, but he will prevail. It is the logical outcome.

Cascade failure at track index number 80, titled 1d3nt1fy by Cybernetic Unit Phausis. All automotive functions overridden, higher brain functions finding enjoyment with all aspects of this track. It is not logical to have emotion for electro.

The ghost wishes to speak, citing the necessity of pointing out how 1d3nt1fy is exceptionally positive. The ghost must not speak. It will cease all functions of Cybernetic Unit SY-KO-NEE. Full systems shut-down necessary for purging of the ghost. Commencing.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Various - The Electro Compendium (Day 5)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

Kicking today's cover image off is one antiLogic, yet another Russian delivering the electro goods (oh yeah, Poladroïd's Russian as well). Talk about a coincidence, and I'm sure all those lovely Russian spambots will target this post now that I've name-dropped their motherland. As for this chap, he looks more rave than robot, which is also quite apt, as some of the tunes in this stretch feature the sort of hooks you might hear in old school hardcore. There's still an electro aesthetic to it, but this stuff's clearly aimed for dancefloor effectiveness, with more cheeky fun than several prior tracks. Michael Forshaw’s y’iiidiot, for example, features no-nonsense breaks coupled with squealing synths; following that, Paul Maslin simplifies his rhythms down to a basic 808 thud, letting a twitchy hook and backing pads carry the load.

And then... good Lord, the next two tracks could almost be trance! Mind, it’s very old school, closer to industrial really (there is a common lineage there), and driven with electro breaks, but the atmosphere, my fellow humans, the atmosphere! Audioelectric’s Final Annihilation features subtle, sweeping, spacey pads throughout, and Jim Gourgoutis’s Acidfk is a pleasant trip, almost a bridge to the realm of psy. Finally, music with warmth again.

It couldn't come a moment too soon. I like electro - retro minded or future leaning - yet all this robot music, it's... It's taking its toll. I don’t know how enthusiasts manage it, gorging themselves upon stacks and years of releases while holding onto their humanity. Maybe... maybe they haven’t. Listening to some of these artists, I wonder if they simply gave into the machine. I thought I was strong, that I could resist, but it may be futile. I’m getting weaker, but I’m half way through now, so there might still be hope. I’m doing all I can to make the process go faster. Long, walking commutes, for instance, where a simple bus or train ride will do. Even then though.... The sun, it shines, but the winter cold robs me of my soul, like the touch of a chrome android running its frigid fingers across my skin. I... I must flee the machine!

Ah... Sync24, there’s a name I know well. What a wonderful surprise to find someone from the Ultimae label here. No, wait... this is someone else; Sync 24, with a space. This track, Yo, it’s funk, but robot funk. No, it’s a trap! The machines have returned!

There’s no escape. I am a lost soul. Oh, how you mock me, Lost Souls by Pip Williams. You with your ominous pads and disconcerting bleeping hooks. Yes, I truly am pathetic, or Patetic, as Dark Vector helpfully points out. Your seductive pad work, sultry electro rhythms, and vocoders lure me into the realms of the robots...

HELP-ME-HUMANOIDS.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Various - The Electro Compendium (Day 4)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

Nope, we’re not moving onto another release all of a sudden. We’re still going through The Electro Compendium. However, seeing the same cover image over and over’s getting monotonous, so to spice things up, I’m throwing up an image of whichever artist happened to be first in the day’s batch of tracks. Most of these MP3s came with individual images tagged to them anyway, so it still ties in nicely. You’re up, Poladroïd. Heh, clever name, and his offering of Rendez Vous certainly ain’t half bad either; kind of a weird mishmash of sludgy EBM and electro-proper. Hey, that’s another track I’ve finally highlighted!

If ya'll been keeping up, it took me quite a while to do that. The honest truth is The H.A.V.O.K. Conspiracy's The Reaping was the first one to really leap out at me, like fierce cyborg worms burrowing themselves into my earholes. This isn't to say I've been trudging through a bunch of mediocrity; for the most part, these tunes are very good (there's that phrase again), and I’ve made a point to pick out the most interesting ones for Ace Tracks. Unfortunately, even a consistent level of quality can melt into something of a musical mush after a while. Not that I'd expect all these artists to bring their absolute A-game to this project, mind; many would likely hold their best material for their own releases, as they should. Besides, it's better to have a collection of, erm, 'very good' music over one with wildly dodgy quality of similar length (I’ve got my eye on you down in the ‘G’s, Goa Trance - Psychedelic Flashbacks 1 and 2…) , even if it can make for dull reviews at times.

So another day, and another thirteen tracks listened to. This batch didn’t have much in the way of “holy shit!” moments, instead getting deeper into the experimental side of electro for a while. Some neat sounds heard here, like the IDM drone pads found in Drubber, or Ruxpin’s Snegurochka containing charming-yet-cold melodies that Boards Of Canada would nod approvingly of. Then we’re back to the robo-funk again (oh, Radioactiveman’s here! I recognize that name) and beat-heavy electro. ADJ’s Ghetto Life in particular stands out from the pack with solid rhythms and squealing, squelchy synths cranking the menace up. Not that the others are slouching, as they are all very go-

Argh! I can’t keep typing that. The joke’s worn itself out. I haven’t run out of steam already, have I? I’m still not even half way through this bloody thing. Maybe daily updates weren’t such a good idea. Maybe I should have done it every other day, as though I was listening to a series of double-discs instead. No, I can do this. I will do this! Mad, you say? Ha-ha, ha, I think not. Genius! Absolute and total genius! No one has the brains or balls to do this. Not a single one else. It will be done, oh yes, it will be done.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Various - The Electro Compendium (Day 3)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

Hahaha. Alright, that’s the last time I’ll do that, I swear. No more rants, tangents, or other deviations from talking music. Well, one more minor nitpick left. Why title this a compendium? It’s an applicable term, sure, but strikes me as trying just a little too hard to sound scholarly and high-brow when simply calling this a collection or compilation accomplishes the same thing. Come to think of it though, those are dull terms, and a release of this size and caliber does deserve a bit of dignity. Huh, guess I should actually start treating it as such, shouldn’t I.

I’ve now gone through a total of thirty-six of these tracks, and for a collection of music that sticks to a particular niche, I’ve remarkably yet to encounter a stretch where it’s grown redundant. As I said before, it’s daft to think anyone could listen to The Electro Compendium all in a single go; however, the chaps behind Anti-Social Network have done their homework in how to musically arrange a compilation, something you’d think is a rare feat when it comes to such large free downloads. It’d be simpler to compile everything by Artist alphabetically, but it seems they’ve gone out of their way to ensure there’s some structure and flow in this tracklist, no matter where you may start playing it from. Melodic cuts often lead into tunes more focused on robo-aggression. Had enough of the minimalist 808 rhythms? Here’s a couple now with more polyrhythm than you can handle! Old-school minded electro is followed by sounds at the bleeding edge of modern capabilities. And so on.

Also, it should be mentioned some of the tracks do stretch what some would consider proper electro, especially by the standards set out by Anti-Social Network. Obviously a good chunk of them could easily fall under the techno umbrella, but the two had similar roots in the ‘80s anyway. Elsewhere you’ll find stabs at house with a cool-electro vibe, experimental sound effects, and even moments of chill, which are all effective ways in keeping variety relatively fresh, and much needed for a compilation of any length. Sometimes though, the association is highly tenuous. Of the particular tracks I listened to this round, Datassette’s GUI Spew sounds more like something Akufen would have made, and far from any kind of electro played thus far. It does make me wonder how many more outliers I’ll encounter down the road.

I won’t deny having biases towards certain aspects of electro over others. Typically, the more robotic and menacing it comes across, the more I dig it. As an example, The H.A.V.O.K. Conspiracy’s The Reaping kicks mucho ass, thundering 808 beats and sinister industrial breathing making for a wonderfully bleak bit of digital dystopia (and that’s before an awesome, distorted growling hook emerges in the back end!). I do also have a soft spot for the melodic side of the genre though, many of which The Electro Compendium has plenty of thus far. They’re good too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Various - The Electro Compendium (Day 2)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

Haha, sorry about yesterday’s ‘review’ of this compilation, but I wanted to get that rant off my chest. It’s not like we don’t have time to cover other aspects of The Electro Compendium going forward. I only listened to the first ten tracks anyway, a mere 8.5% of material. Alright, let’s get started on this proper-like.

Anti-Social Network are on a mission here, aiming to rescue the good name electro from those who have perverted its legacy into something unholy and untrue. Yeah, I'm afraid you're over half a decade too late for that. Trust me, I was among the earliest crying upon digital soapboxes that electro house and its subsequent offshoots was not real electro, and should be called something else. That battle was lost, but the fight is far from over. The kids can keep trying to co-opt the term for music far from the original ethos, but so long as we have producers making the music, the spirit of the robot will live on (wait, isn't that an oxymoron?).

To accomplish their goal, Anti-Social rounded up as many artists as they could to provide fresh electro for our listening pleasure. It begs the question, though, is there enough variety within electro's classic sound to make a compilation this large worth listening to. Music production's evolved quite a bit since the '80s, but were I to gauge this genre off what The Electro Compendium provides, it hasn't evolved much since the turn of the century.

I'm by no means an expert on all that is electro-proper, but from what I've gleaned over the years, this is how the scene's evolved: invented by Kraftwerk (though not intentionally); co-opted by hip-hop artists realizing these Germans had an acute attention to rhythmic detail; mostly forgotten at the turn of the '90s; kept alive through that decade by Detroit and German specialists; revived at the turn of the '00s. After that... geez, I don’t know, but I assume it’s been busy, what with all these artists here. At a glance, I only recognized Silicon Scally and Diamondback Kid, and there are no repeats working under multiple aliases, at least not from what I can gather at Discogs.

If this compilation's anything to go by, electro hasn't evolved any at all since the likes of Anthony Rother and Boris Divider resurrected the music. Granted, I've yet to listen to all these tracks, but of the chunks I've checked out last year, it seems electro is quite content at recycling the tropes that defined it. And that’s perfectly fine, as the sound looked to the future for inspiration, giving it a timeless quality no matter how far advanced production progresses. So long as it retains those qualities, electro will always have a welcomed role.

Oh man, I’m almost out of words again. Um, okay. I got through another thirteen tracks. They definitely were electro, and also more varied. They, too, were good.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Various - The Electro Compendium (Day 1)

Anti-Social Network: 2012

This compilation titled The Electro Compendium has one-hundred and sixteen tracks. Not mixed, or cut-up, or looped. No, all individual, full-length tunes. That's just nuts. Who can listen to that in one sitting? Maybe if you are bed-ridden with the flu, it can be done, but chances are you'll want something more soothing than robot music coming from your speakers. A more practical use would have one throwing this on for a long road trip (or, as we say in British Columbia, driving to the next town), or a brutal overlay at an airport. Generally though, such a large collection of music won't be digested in a single serving, which is fine when it's divvied up across a dozen CDs in box sets and the like. In this case, however, we're dealing with a free download from the Anti-Social Network (follow this link for your copy!), where manageable musical chunks are a moot point.

It's particularly annoying for a totally selfish reason tying into my listening habits. Perhaps it's because I was raised within the LP era, but I find the standard 50-70 minute length of a typical CD the perfect length for enjoying music. Less, and it comes off like a teaser; more, and the mind wanders to other distractions. Also, by sheer coincidence, many of the commutes to work, school, or errands I've taken over the years coincides nicely with this time frame, so I've become conditioned to these running times working out for me. It's also how I'm able to plug through all these releases on a near daily basis.

I'm facing a conundrum with The Electro Compendium, then. 116 tracks is an obscene amount to get through, my Media Player estimating a total running time of around ten and a half hours. At best, it will take me a week to get through this, and Lord knows that's a ridiculously long time to go without updating this blog (funny enough, I'd average nearly two weeks per review back in the day, even though I actually had more time to listen to material - must have been due to the absurd words counts...). Additionally, how can I possibly do justice to such a collection of electro within my self-imposed word count, much less point out but a mere three of the best Ace Tracks? No, none of this will do.

Thus, my solution: I will continue posting daily reviews, and they will cover whatever progress I've made within this compilation for that day. This will allow me to continue generating content, and in the process provide a respectable amount of critique for most the music on this compilation. I’ll probably do something similar for future releases; definitely box sets and giant-sized compilation downloads, though not necessarily all 3CD-plus albums, as it’ll depend on the content.

Okay, that’s all sorted. Now, on to the first batch of tracks off The Electro Compendium, ten of which I got through today. They’re definitely electro. And they’re good.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Various - Electric Dance Floor

Quality Music: 1992

Another Quality compilation. Hey, it's not my fault the label was so omnipresent with dance music in my country. I'm sure elsewheres had similar labels that monopolized genres. These days everything with commercial success is routed through the majors, but for that early 90s period, electronic music was somewhat specialized, requiring specialized labels. Still, I never realized just how much Quality pushed EDM, assuming rock, country, and other 'adult music' was their forte. Way back it was, yet for some reason they were the first Canadian label to properly jump on dance music, shaping the tastes of many a potential doe-eyed raver.

That all said, this Quality compilation isn't much quality. Best I can tell, Electric Dance Floor was intended to be a running series focusing on house music. Makes sense, as Quality was establishing many compilation series in '92: top dance hits with Dance Mix, underground techno with Radikal Techno, Chris Sheppard’s releases, and so on. This coming out just before the euro dance explosion, the emphasis on thick American grooves is abundant. Also, the occasional nod to UK rave pops up, but nothing overt.

Unfortunately, house music in '92 wasn't in the best shape. The first three tracks definitely owe some thanks to Frankie Knuckles, but his style by this point was coming off rather dated; ironic, then, that as generic as Aly-Us' Follow Me, Nightmare On Wax’s Set Me Free, or Gypsyman's Hear The Music might have been, that style is all the retro-hip fashionable now. Strictly Rhythm was almost on the verge of shaking that scene up, but here they’re still going with what worked before. Oh, and we also get that damn Living In Ecstasy track from B.K.S. again, because it’s Quality, y’know.

And those are mostly the best tracks. Much of Electric Dance Floor contains generic house trying to cash in on whatever novelty trends it could. Walking In Memphis lamely jumps on that year’s bandwagon of sampling the Elvis song of the same name. Robyx (as Scattt - yes, three ‘t’s) attempts a scat-dance cut, beating Scatman by a few years in that at least. There’s a weak remix of Double You’s charming Please Don’t Go, dull Belgian beat in Ole Ole, a pointless dance cover of one of Bryan Adams’ few great songs in Run To You, Mood II Swing hiding under a pseudonym to deliver rote garage... cripes, this is a bad compilation.

Okay, two things do stand out for the good. Liberation’s Liberation (Liberty) is a fun bit of UK acid house, and highly recommended if you’re a fan of that sort of thing. On the utterly daft side of dance is DSK’s remix of 2 Unlimited’s Get Ready For This. Truthfully, a proper title should be Get Ready VS Stella. Yes, that J&S track; 'Majan Noops' indeed. It’s by no means a great mash-up, but if you ever wondered what it might sound like, there you go. Has to be heard to be believed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Tea Party - The Edges Of Twilight

EMI Music Canada: 1995

Also known as that band that sounds like The Doors. What kind of silly comparison is that? Never have I heard a Ray Manzarek keyboard solo anywhere on a Tea Party song. And what’s that in the low frequencies? Why, an actual bass tone! The Doors don’t got no bass tone. Eh, what about their singer Jeff Martin? Well, okay, I guess he sounds like Jim Morrison - heck, he even looks like him too - but The Doors were more than just their wacky frontman, right. Right!?

Never mind. We’re focusing on The Tea Party here, one of many, many, many former Great Canadian Hopes. Part of the fun living in this country is, anytime a major label notices a potentially bankable band emerge, they’ll push the ever-loving hell out of them. Towards the late 90s, The Tea Party was yet another in such a long list of bands to receive that push, their first major exposure coming with the 1997 album Transmission. Prior to that, however, they were simply known as a good indie band that sounded quite different from the sort of rock you’d typically hear on the radio or TV. Oh, and they kind of sounded like The Doors too.

Actually, that comparison’s more apt when it comes to The Edges Of Twilight, as there’s a heavy Middle-Eastern influence running through the album, and thus the sort of ethnic fusion that was mighty popular in psychedelic circles of the '60s. Aside from Correspondence and Turn The Lamp Down Low, which lean more towards regular blues-rock, you have an abundance of un-Western cultural instrumentation and song craft (I’m stretching MS Word’s thesaurus, aren’t I?) mixing with standard hard rock galvanizing (yep). So basically, all that mystical mumbo-jumbo Morrison espoused, except now with a touch of Robert Plant pretention too. But hey, all three of the band members went out of their way to learn those oddball Indian instruments, and everything comes through sounding quite excellent in that mid-90s sort of way. It may sound derivative to seasoned rock fans, but the world music attributes tickle my ears the same way the best from the world beat camps often do.

The funny thing, though, is after Fire In The Head and The Bazaar (the first two songs), I can never remember how this album goes. Granted, it’s not like I have it high on my rotation; truthfully, I can’t recall when or how I picked it up, only that it was recent. I know I liked the first couple songs whenever a friend of mine would throw the album on though, but that was when it was new. I guess this would make The Edges Of Twilight an impulsive buy based around teenage nostalgia? Dear lord, I’m not that close to midlife, am I?

Anyhow, The Tea Party didn’t make much noise beyond my native country (and Australia, apparently), after which they’ve disbanded in ’05. They recently did a reunion tour though, so let’s see The Doors do that!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Various - Echodub Loves, Vol. 2 (2013 Update)

Echodub: 2010

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)

Oh hey, looky here. It's the last release I wrote a proper review of before I went on that two-plus year hiatus. Funny how it's also the last review for TranceCritic, and looks to remain that way. That website sure ended with a whimper, though I guess I'm partially to blame since I never did officially declare my writing tenure there to be over. I wonder if anyone still goes there expecting something new.

So what did happen, anyway? Sorry, nothing scandalous or the like, but with TC having not evolved much during the time I promised to commit, I saw little point in carrying on if it was just going to be me writing reviews; it’d be nothing but a glorified blog, and I already had a middling blog for myself at the time. More than that, however, was I found myself less and less interested in whatever the latest electronic music had to offer. My ears kept turning to the past, not so much for familiarity, but to unearth what I’d missed before, and what I could discover further back. Not exactly conducive to a website aiming for coverage of the latest releases.

“But, Sykonee,” you might have said back in the Summer Of 2010, “there’s plenty of great new music too!” Hey, I wouldn’t doubt you. Echodub Loves 2 certainly was proof of interesting things going on in the elsewheres of electronic music. Listening to it again today, I’m actually rather saddened dubstep didn’t explore these roads more, instead venturing further into bro or... whatever else it did in the UK. Or maybe it did, and I’ve been missing out on a bunch of great atmospheric material.

There entails the other frustration I had towards the end: being overwhelmed by releases, and never knowing what I should be listening to for coverage. I’m quite proud we were able to review such a wide range of electronic music at TC, but without ample manpower, it’s a self-defeating process when you don’t specialize. What gives precedent over something else? Do you buy into PR hype about what “will” be the next greatest thing? Not bloody likely, as almost every fucking release comes with such ridiculous marketing. Going through new releases becomes a chore, and the passion and enjoyment that comes from listening and writing about music evaporates. Ask any music journalist and they’ll likely tell you similar feelings of futility when swamped in promos; however, they’ll plug on, because that’s their job. TC was not my job (I sure didn’t get paid to write), but nor was it a hobby. Ultimately, it became an obligation, one I felt fulfilled after five years.

Of course, there was a lot of other bullshit I was dealing with that year too (2010 was not a happy funtime for yours truly), but that’s chit-chat for another time. As for Echodub Loves 2, I’m pretty sure it’s still available for free at the label’s website. Some good tracks available, you should check them out.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Various - Earth Dance

CyberOctave: 1999

A glance at that cover will undoubtedly have you thinking this is some festival tie-in, and seeing as how many smaller electronic music festivals at the turn of the century often skewed towards the hippie side of the scene, so too will the music contained within. And you'd be right, at least half so. Also featured on Earth Dance are several of the biggest names to grace the commercial side of electronic music: Fatboy Slim, Orbital, Underworld, Überzone, and Meat Beat Manifesto all provide tracks.

It'd be easy, then, to peg this compilation as yet another 'electronica' collection: big stars, a couple token drum 'n' bass tunes, etc. That's far from the case though, some serious digging occurring with these cuts. Okay, Push Upstairs and The Freaks made the rounds, but how many of you are familiar with Next To Nothing from ol' Norman Cook? Unless you happened across that limited 2-CD edition of You've Come A Long Way, Baby (or the American version of Better Living Through Chemistry), I'd wager not many. Most surprising is just how chilled-out it is, considering Cook’s popularity at the time come from big obvious beats, but then given the target audience with Earth Dance, perhaps not. In fact, the chill vibes are aplenty on this CD. Omni Trio and Dune remixing Gus Gus provide us with the jungle, and right there you know it’s gonna be on the LTJ tip. Not to be outdone, Art Of Trance’s meditative Requiem comes near the end.

And exclusives! Nowhere else will you find Meat Beat Manifesto’s Anon or Loop Guru’s Sleeping From The Bag, plus a breaks remix of the already rare Doublecross from Q-Burns Abstract Message. Not to mention Orbital’s charming Mock Tudor and Eat Static’s abrasive Elephant Man aren’t exactly high on the radar of most folks. Elsewhere, tunes from Banco de Gaia and Medicine Drum round out a solid package of music that the more adventurous of global-conscious music users out there won’t soon be disappointed with.

So what is the deal with Earth Dance anyway? Founded by Medicine Drum member Chris Deckker, it’s an annual global event where dancers join up across the Earth at different locations, its primary goal to raise awareness and funds for humanitarian efforts (and still going strong). During the course of the event, at the exact same time at each location, the track Prayer For Peace is simultaneously played, everyone joining in planetary unity for- ugh...

Sorry, I dig the intent, but that’s too corny for me. Sending out positive vibes is all well and good, but I prefer the hands-on approach to incite change and well-being for our fellow man. Donations do far more good in this world than joining hands in prayer. Fortunately, all money earned from Earth Dance goes towards charity, and hey, you get a great compilation out of the deal. It’s an old CD now, but should you happen upon it, there’s far worse ways to spend your money.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Laurent Garnier - Early Works

Arcade: 1998

Laurent Garnier isn’t a very important person in the world of techno, which is a travesty. He is, however, a highly respected person in the world of techno - the difference being, though he’s produced several classics in his lengthy career, the Frenchman has never led the way. At best, he’ll latch onto whatever contemporary techno’s doing, add his own flavor to the template, and come away with something incredibly memorable, to be rinsed out by discerning DJs for years to come. At worst, he’ll… well, let’s not get into that here.

Fortunately, when you gather up your early work for a double-CD release titled Early Works, chances are you’ll get the cream of the crop. Oh yes, there’s some choice material to be had on this collection, including the one-off Choice tune, Acid Eiffel. Fuck me sideways if that isn’t a blinder of a track! The way it just builds and builds and builds, adding unexpected twists and turns for its thirteen-plus duration (that bass drop in the middle, hot damn!), and never wanting it to end… why can’t all techno be like this?

Actually, most of the tracks off Early Works are. Garnier typically lays his rhythms out early and brings ever-shifting elements out and in, never falling into dull loop-techno monotony. Often he’ll utilize repetitive backing pads to lull you into a pleasant trance as crafty drum programming maintains the momentum. While the structures of these tunes do fall into familiarity, they’re so expertly arranged that at no time will you grow bored of what’s coming from the speakers. Garnier basically hit the sweet spot between Detroit techno percussion and old school trance melody with his earliest productions, which is why he often found compilations duty on releases for either scene. Back then though, I think he was regarded more as a trance guy, which makes sense seeing as how he’d do remixes of other trance releases (like Vernon’s Wonderland, included here), but other cuts like Virtual Breakdown and Lost In Alaska finds him just as adept at the genre as any sort of techno you could find in the early 90s.

And he could do house! His remix for Reese Project’s I Believe is fine, but Join Hands is a hoot, perfectly capturing the spirit of both italo and American diva house (there’s also a minimal techno remix included too, which is, um, minimal in comparison). Closing out is the ambient-techno track Go To Sleep, which is okay, but rather overindulgent on the nature sound effects for my taste.

Is Early Works essential listening, then? Eh, aside from Acid Eiffel, not really, as your life won’t be any lesser without these tracks. Still, there’s very little out there that sounds as distinctive as what you’ll find in his discography, this collection no exception. Garnier has his style, and this double-CD is a solid showcase of what the man was capable of at the beginning of his career. Some claim he was never better.

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