Thursday, October 31, 2013

Joey Beltram - Harthouse DJ Mix Series Vol. 1 - Lost In New York (Original TC Review)

Harthouse Mannheim: 2008

(2013 Update:
This CD must have utterly tanked, as there were no subsequent volumes to the
Harthouse DJ Mix Series. Or maybe Harthouse Mannheim couldn't lure in anyone else to do another mix for them? They did release a couple compilations, but in general this 'rebirth' of the label hasn't garnered anywhere near the same level of success as its '90s former self did. Too much minimal monotony, yes?

This has also apparently been Joey Beltram's last significant release, DJ mix or production wise. Geez, it wasn't
that bad, was it? Yeah, all those stutter effects in here are kinda annoying now, but did the whole process disillusion him to the techno scene? Has he looked at the rise of the festival circuit and thought, "No, this isn't for me. Not at all." Oh come on, ya'll don't really believe that, do ya? He's still doing the DJ circuit, but it'd be interesting to have a couple new productions from him, just to hear where his mind's at on that front in this day in age - please say he no longer are serious techno producer).

IN BRIEF: Lost in Berlin, more like.

Like an ‘energy flash’ from the past, Beltram is back. Well, no, not exactly. Like so many pioneers that helped shape techno of the early 90s, he never really went away; however, as tastes and trends changed with the times, many reckoned he fell ‘off a hilltop’. Of course, it’s silly to think such, but perhaps it was looking about time for the Queens native to remind the techno fiends out there of his ‘existence’. (no more bad Beltam puns, I promise)

As always, the way to go about doing so is getting your ear to the ground, find out what the hottest sounds are – in this case, minimal techno - and throw your stamp on it. Generally, it’s a 50-50 shot whether the crowds will regard it as a bold move forward or a desperate ploy for continued relevance, but in Beltram’s case, you figure contemporary techno fans will be more accepting of this direction since he’s flirted with the genre numerous times. Therefore, Lost In New York is as much a manifesto as it is a regular mix CD, with new productions and track selections designed to inform everyone that, yes, now Beltram are serious minimal techno DJ too. This may potentially strike as a horrible misfire, but fortunately for us, he still retains some of the bangin’ attributes of his past, and this mix is all the better for it whenever he does.

After a couple plod’n’murk tech-house warm-up tracks, the disc properly takes off with the rumbling resonance of the appropriately titled Analog God from Dustin Zahn, and peaks out with Len Faki’s Death By House. Despite the BPMs being lower than where you’d normally expect of a Beltram set (really, the same can be said of the whole mix), this is some kick-ass stuff, with beats that bring the Brooklyn techno-boom as fine as any year you may be familiar with. The follow-up with Beltram’s own evil acid workout Shaking Trees keeps things on a promising tip, but sadly the set takes a middling stumble heading into the second half.

McHugh’s H2O is what I like to call a ‘bathroom break’ track, and not just because the sound effects of water will make you want to piss. Y’see, after all that fine momentum built up, Beltram wrecks it with a tune that’s utterly tuneless, and sucks the rhythmic energy away with beats that are too dink-donk and hissy-hish to be any real fun – might as well relieve the bladder while it plays, right?. Granted, I have a good laugh over the super steam-release at the ‘climaxes’ (only designated as such because they come after apparent builds), where it goes ppssssSSSSSSHHHHhhhhheeeww, but I don’t think hilarity was McHugh’s intent.

Following that, Beltram nearly rescues the set with his own Scorpion - despite being filled with contemporary techno clichés, it’s still a fun bit of stomp-a-long stuff. Such energy is once again lost though, as he decides to go into an ‘I are really serious deep techno DJ’ section afterwards, where you’ll find ample time to bob your head and maybe even slightly shuffle your feet but nothing that thrills; as usual, it’s interesting to hear but this plinky-plonk stuff just goes on for too long. By the time his remix of Beyer’s Swedish Silver hits, it’s grown incredibly tedious. Fortunately, he brings the boom back with a couple of good techno groovers at the end, finishing this CD on the up.

All this said, and you’re probably still wondering about two things: how does this mix compare to previous Beltram efforts, and how does it match up against all the other techno mixes on the market these days. To answer the first, I’d have to say not nearly as much – when you listen to the energetic techno the Brooklyn native used to bang out, the stuff on here, while perhaps a little more clever, is missing the same level of thrill. Still, Lost In New York is more fun than many modern sets of this style, thanks in large part to the effects Beltram throws in. Instead of cold, clinical sterile mixing and computer-perfect layering, you get telegraphed transitions and messy stutter cut-ups - sometimes it sounds like an audio stream lagging, but when it works, it works! Just gander at the final track for a great example.

This is a fine set. It may not be innovative and cynics will probably scoff at ‘yet another old-timer trying to fit in with the hip clubbing crowds’, but compared to many other techno mix CDs currently out there, Beltram’s latest is at least fun. So long as you don’t mind enduring the plink-plonk-hiss minimal bits, Lost In New York makes for a worthy casual thow-on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ken Ishii - Jelly Tones

R & S Records: 1995/2008

Ken Ishii’s from Japan, making him a very important person in the world of techno by default. More specifically, he helped put Japanese techno on the map, establishing it as an actual unique branch of the techno pantheon when, at the time, hardly anyone figured the Land Of The Rising Sun would even have such a scene. At a glance, that’s seems incomprehensible. Japan – the country with an unrivaled fascination with future technology, where names like Tomita, Merzbow, and, um, Kitaro, were among the earliest adopters of synth music in the ‘70s and ‘80s – were late to the techno game. On the other hand, it’s not too surprising such would be the case, as the cultural movement that spurred techno’s growth didn’t really exist in Japan. Illegal warehouse parties? Dank clubs? Counter-culture spurred on by all-night benders? Japan had little, if any, of that going on, so the world at large continued regarding the nation as a place where weird noisy experiments or New Age dribble was their chief electronic music export (also: j-pop!), and that’s about it.

Then some Japanese kid gets signed to seminal London label R & S Records, and the rest is history …sort of. Japanese techno is still somewhat niche compared to other hubs of the world, but Ken Ishii helped open the door, especially so with this here Jelly Tones album released way back when, and given a recent re-vamp with ridiculously convoluted packaging.

Funny enough, aside from a couple instances, this album doesn't really strike me as 'Japanese' in tone, but still very much Detroit influenced. There are scant instances of Far East tonal harmony or rhythm, though the mood does feel more proper cyber-punk than future dystopia. Or maybe that's the imagery associated with Jelly Tones doing it. Ishii managed to get Koji Morimoto to lend artwork and even an anime video to the project, and as anyone who's seen Akira knows, that guy's mint at depicting future-shock Neo-Tokyo settings. So, neener-neener, Daft Punk fans, Ken Ishii did it first. Hell, those French robots were probably inspired by the video for the bleepy clicky-click tune EXTRA.

As for the rest, you get a couple bangers like Stretch and Frame Out, some ‘braindance’ kind of stuff in Cocao Mousse, Ethos 9 and Pause In Herbs (oh, there’s some of that quirky Japanese styled electro-cool vibe), and the requisite ambient leaning cuts with Moved By Air and Endless Season. And, um, that’s about it. Only eight tunes on here, though a couple remixes were added to the American release, and, as usual, Japan got extra tracks too (Rusty Transparency and The Sign; also, Sony Records released it there, giving Ishii quite the ‘mainstream’ bump in his mother land in the process ).

All said, Jelly Tones’ a sweet package of unique mid-‘90s techno, if you’re in the market for that sort of thing, though maybe not as genre-bending as Ishii’s later work. Gotta have that one ‘ease the noobies in’ album, I guess.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guru - Jazzmatazz, Volume 1

Chrysalis: 1993

Them kids, they seemed to like those jazz samples and loops in their hip-hop. Yet, were they really appreciating that scene's massive history, or dismissing it as something to be pilfered and exploited on the turntablist circuit? If the latter, that simply wouldn't do, at least as far as Guru (peace upon his floating soul) was concerned. No, all these urban youths vibing on the beats he and DJ Premier were showcasing as Gang Starr needed a proper lesson in what jazz truly stood for. Thus, in a project that had to be seen as utterly daft during the height of gangsta rap's first wave of popularity, the self-professed “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” set about rounding up several jazz musicians for a collaborative effort where guitarists, trumpeters, saxophonists, keyboardists and more could work their magic along with hip-hop beats, Guru, and other MCs.

Coincidentally, the results come off like the sort of acid jazz the label Acid Jazz was churning out at the time. So, if you're an electronic music follower who just won't have anything to do with the hip-hop scene, you're in safe hands with Jazzmatazz, Volume 1. And hoo, Guru must have had a lot of faith in his concept, what with such a presumptuous inclusion of “Volume blank” in the title; or perhaps he was so enthused with the results, he just knew this wouldn't be the only time he indulged with the jazz scene. In fact, nearly every solo LP he released would bear the word Jazzmatazz, whether an actual continuation of the project or not.

Seeing as how this could be considered a solo Guru album, I must admit some disappointment on the lyrical front. Aside from a couple instances, he doesn't offer much beyond respectful nods to the jazz masters of yore or smooth, luke-warm come-ons. Not that Guru often got rowdy or 'gangsta', but his material with Gang Starr had more street knowledge that made you pay attention to the words he manifested. Tracks like Transit Ride, Sights In The City, and Down The Backstreets, he does come correct with such lyrics, but it seems he'd rather complement the other musicians than let his words override everything.

And which jazz luminaries did he bring to Jazzmatazz? Trumpet player Donald Bryd's here (yep, heard of him). Vibraphonist Roy Ayers here (definitely know that chap). Guitarist Zachery Breaux's here (um...). Keyboardist Simon Law's here (wait, who?). Pianist Lonnie Liston Smith's here (I think... maybe...?). And... okay, I know squat, but I've already admitted my fears in becoming a Jazz Guy.

That doesn't stop me from enjoying these tunes, though not too often, if I’m honest. It's far from the first disc I'll ever reach for when itching for downtempo beats, nor one I need to hear for my hip-hop fix. Perhaps if I had more interest in jazz-proper, Jazzmatazz would spark more of a fire under my ass, but as it stand, Volume 1's better suited for days sparking.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jean-Michel Jarre - Jarremix (Original TC Review)

Disques Dreyfus: 1995

(2013 Update:
A little mis-information in this review, as Jarre really wasn't trying to get chummy with club culture himself. I'm pretty sure his record label was trying to do so though, hence the licensing of
Chronologie out for so many remixes. Oh, any apparently the Laurent Garnier Laboratoire Mix of Oxygene was removed from later editions of Jarremix due to some kind of beef between him and Jarre. Damn, maybe that N.W.A. comparison was apt after all!

Bit of a fun-fact here: way back before I ever started writing for TranceCritic, I'd toyed with the idea of online reviews for a while already, even drumming up about a half-dozen drafts. Most of those ended up recycled into the earliest I did for the website, but I also did one for
Jarremix. Never saw a point in submitting a review for this, as I figured interest in a Jean-Michel Jarre remix album wasn't terribly high. Of course, when it cropped up for a Random Review, I had no choice, but by that time, my writing'd vastly improved, and the early draft was scrapped.)

IN BRIEF: A pioneer tries to fit in.

In the year 1993, electronic music was riding high on a wave of unprecedented critical, commercial, and creative growth [2013 Edit: you hadn’t seen anything yet, 2008 Sykonee]. Dozens of fresh faces were shaping the way mainstream audiences regarded synths and sequencers (for good and ill), spurring on a cultural revolution that was quite youth orientated. As a result, many original electronic producers from the 70s were promptly being left to the dust of history. Aside from token nods or blatant sampling, names like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream were becoming irrelevant as the ‘90s took shape.

Amongst those originators being left behind was Jean-Michel Jarre, who’s seminal Oxygene and follow-up Equinoxe made him a house-hold name in the ‘70s, helping to legitimizing electronic music as something more engaging than quirky egg-headed experimentations. However, although he maintained a career throughout the ‘80s, the Frenchman was coming across as hopelessly dated in the ‘90s. He was probably looking at the house and techno producers that had usurped him as a household name, and said to himself, “Man, I started this electronic shit, and this the muther-fuckin’ thanks I get?” - except in French, and with less N.W.A. ‘tude.

Anyhow, in 1993 Jarre got it inside his head to prove he could match these ‘kids’ doing electronic dance music, as he’d already proved himself adept at the synth-poppy stuff. Thus he released the album Chronologie, which included some of his most club-friendly songs ever. Seemingly in an effort to promote the Frenchman even further into clubland, a series of remixes were also commissioned for the lead singles, Chronologie 4 and Chronologie 6. The list of names that were brought in should be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the era: Praga Khan, Sunscreem, Gat Decor, Slam… um, Jamie Petrie (Black Girl Rock micro-fame).

Skip ahead a couple years, and Jarre’s label compiled the best of the remixes and released a full-length CD of them. Strangely, only half of them were gathered for Jarremix (everyone but Petrie made at least two), with none from Praga Khan – thus, two from Sunscreem (the E-Motion Mix and S x S Mix for Chronologie 4), one from Gat Decor (Main Mix on Chronologie 6), one from Slam (Slam Mix 1 for Chronologie 6), and Petrie’s Tribal Trance Mix of Chronologie 4. Hardly enough for a full-length CD, is it.

Whatever was Disques Dreyfus to do then? Why, the same thing every record company does when in need of padding out a compilation: get one of the label’s sound engineers to do the job - in this case, Bruno Mylonas. A few years prior, he’d given a studio spit-shine to Jarre’s ‘best of’ release Images, so he was familiar enough with the songs to do some tinkering with them. Would he also provided credible club-ready remixes for Jarremix though? Not really, but, if nothing else, he did provide some variety to this release.

While listening through the CD, you can definitely tell which remixes have direct ties to club land and which ones seem like an approximation of what club land is about, as the out-of-house producers tend to strip the originals down and craft something fresh in the process. For instance, the not-so-subtly titled E-Motion Mix is a blissy trance affair that is pure mid-‘90s from Sunscreem, then opt for a funkier spin with the S x S Mix, making use of a deep acid bassline; each only take snippets of Chronologie 4 in doing so. Likewise, Petrie grabs a couple sounds that were only briefly heard in the original and loops them over a dark tribal beat, which would have made for a killer of a cut had he actually gone somewhere with it – instead, it makes for a nifty little transitional track. Meanwhile, Gat Decor follows suite with Sunscreem with a trance re-rub of his own. Slam, on the other hand, offer one of the more unique attempts at Chronologie 6, with interesting beats, subtle pad washes, burbling acid attacks, and other assorted mid-‘90s techno trappings; again, not much is retained from the original.

Mylonas, on the other hand, retains quite a bit of Jarre’s work for his remixes. The melodies are mostly unchanged, many arrangements don’t stray far from the originals… really, if you’re familiar with songs like Calypso and Magnetic Fields 2, you aren’t going to be hearing anything terribly different here aside from beefier beats. And even when Mylonas does remix songs with the dancefloor in mind, it comes across uncertain. Equinoxe 4 dabbles in funky breaks, but compared to what The Chemical Brothers were doing at the time, Mylonas’ offering is quite weak. Mind, the melodies are still catchy enough, but that’s based solely on Jarre’s work, which Mylonas doesn’t change.

The only Mylonas remix that seems able to match clubbing-wits with the other remixers is the one he did for Revolution, Revolutions. The original was already quite an energetic track to begin with, but here it’s given the prog-house treatment: chugging bottom-heavy rhythms, funky acid tweaks, ethnically-inclined breakdown, and a plethora of extras giving the remix plenty of vitality. If any of Mylonas’ remixes were to get used in a clubbing environment, this would be the one.

I don’t think any of these remixes did make much of an impact when they were released though – beyond the S x S Mix of Chronologie 4, I’ve seldom seen them playlisted. I suppose the notion of a Jarre club track was just as odd back in the ‘90s as it is today; club culture remains incredibly resistant in accepting the Frenchman into their ranks, as the recent abysmal reaction to Jarre’s ‘electro house’ attempt in Téo & Téa proved (and Benassi’s remix fell on equally deaf ears).

That said, Jarremix is still a fine enough full-length to throw on. Despite whatever preconceived cynicism you may have regarding a project like this, the fact remains the music here is perfectly enjoyable (well, aside from the Ambiant [sic] Mix of Equinoxe 4, which is a bit dull), either as club-rubs of the Chronologie singles, or as variations on other memorable Jarre tunes. Purists may balk, club culture may scoff, but as far as remix projects are concerned, Jarremix remains a respectable addition. (By the way, whatever happened to the Laurent Garnier remix of Oxygene 1?)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Zyron - Italo Classics: Mix 1 & 2

(~): 2004

These were a pair of mixes available from a DJ by the name of Zyron at Discogs, not an official release of any kind (and sadly no longer uploaded, though maybe he’ll offer a link if you ask). I don't review online sets here because, as there's no hard copy or proper Discogs entry, I don't count them as part of my current listening project (and Lord knows it'd add a ton more entries to the list, which I certainly don't need if I ever want to get through everything sometime this decade). However, back when I primarily listened to CDs on the go, I had to burn MP3 sets to discs, and as anyone who's done so back in the day can relate, sometimes you wanted special custom-made labels for those special CDs. I actually made several such mix CDs for myself, including a few running series for fun. Since I'm including them in my listening project, I may as well write about the music on these too, since they usually have unique tunes I won't get a chance to talk about otherwise.

Like italo disco! Oh man, is there any form of music more deliciously retro and cheesy than this one? Synth pop may have had the 'credible' groups to its name, and hi-NRG may have had the gay scene in its (front) pocket, but italo found a unique role between the two, bringing infectious tika-tika rhythms, off-beat basslines, tinny brass, and catchy hooks under one triumphant banner. Almost exclusively a European thing, the scene churned out a ridiculous number of hits that you'll swear you've heard somewhere else before (most likely recycled in following dance-pop genres).

The two mixes Mr. Johan “Zyron” Åstrand did were apparently done as a lark, but if you ever wanted a primer on the italo genre, they’re about as solid an introduction as you could ever get. So many classics are included in the mix: My Mine’s Hypnotic Tango, Baltimore’s Tarzan Boy, Scotch’s Disco Band, Fancy’s Slice Me Nice, Baby’s Gang’s Disco Maniac, Primadonna’s Angel You, Digital Emotion’s Get Up, Action... I could go on. It’s not a total italo-fest though, as a few nods to space synth – the (primarily) instrumental ‘proper musicians be here’ branch of eurodisco - crop up too, with cuts from Laserdance, Cyber People, and Hipnosis.

As for the mixes themselves, the first one is a little slower and – dare I say it in any relation to italo – funkier. The second is more upbeat for the most part, with a little ‘ballad-breather’ in the middle. Given the difficulty this music tends to be for smooth blends, Zyron ‘cheated’ by using beat-loops in mixing software, plus gave many tracks some post-mixdown shine so the low-quality nature of those old vinyls wouldn’t wonk things up track to track. All said, a solid job done for music that still has trouble being taken seriously, but who cares what scenester snobs think when the tunes are as delightfully fun as these are!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Irresistible Force - It's Tomorrow Already

Ninja Tune: 1998

I sure got this album in an ass-backwards way. The two singles off here, Nepalese Bliss and Fish Dances, found homes in my racks far sooner, for no better reason than I saw them on store shelves at lower prices than other CDs. And hey, Irresistible Force! He’s a guy I’m pretty sure I like, based on the few old ambient tunes I’d stumbled upon. Not enough to get a proper album from him though, until much later. Guess there was some fear a full LP of Mixmaster Morris noodly psychedelic ambient would grow tedious; plus material from Rising High's rather hard to come by these days at any reasonable price.

Fortunately for It's Tomorrow Already, Ninja Tune's doesn’t appear ready to fold anytime soon, so nabbing a copy of this album isn't hard. As such, it hasn't garnered the same level of 'specialness' in the ambient scene as Morris' early work, but seeing as it remains his final full-length, it should. Even better, compared to Flying High and Global Chillage, it shows musical growth, more emphasis on song-craft than soundscapes.

Mind, I use the term ‘song-craft’ rather loosely, as instead of lengthy ambient wibble, Mixmaster Force opted for something closer to jazz (must be that Ninja Tune influence). So there's structure in these tracks, but still lots of room for psychedelic improvisation. It's an interesting blend, one that you don't hear much of, if at all – truthfully, I haven't come across anything that quite sounds like It's Tomorrow Already, though as its style is quite rooted in the '90s (oh so trip-hop, mang), I wouldn't count on anyone style-biting it soon either.

Since I’ve already sort of talked about tracks like Fish Dances, Power, and Playing Around With Sound, and will be talking even more about Nepalese Bliss down the road (like, a year at best), here’s some details regarding the other tunes on here. The Lie-In King: pure mushroom bliss with gentle keyboards, soft rhythms, flutes, running water – complete chill tent fodder. Oh yeah, in case you weren’t aware of it, The Irresistible Morris is a total goddamn hippie, bless ‘em. 12 O’Clock is almost the chill-out version of Nepalese Bliss, which is weird hearing since it’s sequenced after the other, like the comedown part after indulging in that Nepalese bliss (what did you think it was?). Another Tomorrow’s after that, and is just as blissy as anything else on here (have I said ‘bliss’ enough yet?), floating on burbly acid, sitars, xylophones, and strings. And the titular closer feels more like a straight-up Ninja Tune jam, though high in cloud nine compared to most other street funk offerings from the label.

It’s Tomorrow Already isn’t a critical album to own, but if you’ve yet to dig much into ‘90s downtempo, it’s a safe enough purchase to get your feet wet with. His early work is more genre-defining (helped to be among the first chill tent chaps), but this one’s a worthy addition to Morris’ scant discography.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

Def Jam Recordings: 1988/2000

That this is one of the most essential hip-hop LPs to hear out there, you cannot deny. The only Public Enemy album you should own, however, that's just a ludicrous statement. Really, there's no such album, as everything they released during that Golden Age of hip-hop is something you should own. It'd be like trying to narrow Kraftwerk's peak era to just one, when everyone knows all their material from Autobahn through Computer Age is worth a hear-listen. Same can be said about Public Enemy, their primo albums being It Takes Of Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back through Apocalypse '91. Wait, I'm missing most of those. To the Amazon!

Okay, that's sorted. While I wait for them to show up, let's get into Public Enemy's sophomore effort. The group had already made quite an impact with their debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, offering a form of rap that was far more aggressive than what most folks were accustomed to from that scene. Of course, compared to the hyper-violence that would emerge with gangsta rap, Public Enemy’s early work can sound tame, and it would take something more than rock elements (hello, Rick Rubin) to stand out from the growing pack of hip-hop all-stars.

Something must have lit a fire under all the Enemy’s asses, because It Take A Nation improves upon everything that’d come before, and quite literally took the rap game to a whole new level. Chuck D’s lyrics turned more incendiary, charged with fiery words directed at the problems black communities suffered from in the ‘80s and taking to task those who were accountable for them (mostly white-ruling governments). He still finds the time for party lyrics too, but small wonder the political stuff got everyone taking notice, whether you agreed with his assessments or outright feared them (oh, if they only knew what was to come...).

Such lyricism got It Takes a Nation tons of attention back then, but where it’s come to be regarded as a proper classic is in the production. This is where The Bomb Squad came into their own, no longer relying on standard drum kits but raiding whatever funk and soul samples they got their hands on. And they got their hands on a lot, creating dense tracks that were any trainspotter’s wet dream come true, ushering in a sampling arms race that lasted for the next few years after. Again, this album doesn’t sound quite so impressive compared to what followed, but considering most turn to It Takes A Nation as their point of inspiration, its seminal status is well earned. Besides, with all the samples pilfered from this album, whole sections of hip-hop, breaks, and loads more beat-heavy genres owe it a debt of gratitude for setting the standard.

Specific tunes, then? Bring The Noise, Don’t Believe The Hype, Rebel Without A Pause, Night Of The Living Baseheads... Damn, nearly everything off here! Except Cold Lampin’ With Flavor. Sorry, Flav, you’re only good as a hype man.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pink Floyd - Is There Anybody Out There? (The Wall Live 1980-81)

Columbia: 2000

The only rock opera you're supposed to have, even if you're not much of a rock opera fan. What about The Who's Tommy, you ask? Pft, that one never had tunes as wickedly catchy as Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2 or Young Lust, nor as emotionally evocative as Hey You and Comfortably Numb. That's four classic rock staples, not to mention a whole bunch more should the station get more adventurous (though you’ll never, ever hear Bring The Boys Back Home, I guarantee ...unless it’s a The Wall tribute).

Oh, you’ve noticed this isn’t The Wall, but a live recording of the same album. Heh, it’s a good album, but I can’t see anyone other than completists needing both. It’s essentially the same thing, only this one comes with crowd noises (pretty cool hearing a cheer when Waters asks whether “they’ll like this song” in Mother), extended versions of some songs (including the awesome What Shall We Do?, cut due to vinyl constraints; not sure why CD versions haven’t added it back in though), and the usual extra energy good live recordings always have. So one or the other, it probably doesn’t matter which you get, but here’s my case for getting the live version.

The whole concept Roger Waters had in mind for the piece was one of audience interaction; or rather, losing contact with the very audience that’d come to see Pink Floyd in concert. What better way to depict such an event than by building a literal wall between the band and crowd? Along the way, a whole narrative came about, mostly based on Waters’ life growing up and alienation with the rock lifestyle. While the specifics may differ, the idea of building emotional barriers in our life is easily identifiable, and it’s no surprise The Wall was as successful as it was as a body of music alone. Taking it to the spectacle of the stage, where Waters could engage in all sorts of call-and-response moments with the crowd, only enhances the concept. A song like Is There Anybody Out There? is a haunting piece on its own, but imagine standing in a darkened stadium with nothing but a faceless wall looming in front of you, the band all but gone from sight. Or being urged on by Waters to tear down the wall at the end, a cathartic release for anyone that suffered from such insular depression. Damn, wish I could have seen that back in the day, but I’d only taken one trip around the sun by that point.

Anyhow, when it came time to pick up The Wall (because it’s a rock opera album- never mind), I went with this live version – it seemed appropriate, given the emotional punch of many songs being intensified with audience interaction. Not as good as being there in person but it’ll do until Waters carts out another tour for it over here. He’s still spry enough to do it at, what, one hundred and three?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wu-Tang Clan - Iron Flag

Loud Records: 2001

For a group that usually takes their time between albums, Iron Flag had a remarkable turnaround in the wake of The W, released a mere year after. As I recall, it wasn’t met with nearly the same amount of anticipation as their prior work, though the world did have quite a few other things on their mind late in 2001. Then again, general interest in the Wu-Tang Clan had dwindled, their inability to re-capture the same fire that marked all those ‘90s LPs creating talk of “they’ve fallen off” while fresh hip-hop acts took center stage. That they would feel compelled to quickly release an album called Iron Flag to silence the doubters and haters isn’t surprising, but it did little to stem the public apathy the group suffered from in those early ‘00s.

And yeah, I could be lumped in that group as well. It took me over a decade to finally return to this album, my initial impression from some shitty p2p leaked download (hey, I was flat broke at the time!) doing little to inspire much interest to hear Iron Flag proper-like. This, from a guy who just a year prior couldn't get enough of anything Wu affiliated. If someone in the swoon of their Wu-honeymoon had feelings of 'meh' over it, then good lord, this must be a mediocre album.

Nah, but it is uneventful, something that you could seldom say about any full-on Tang Consortium release. Aside from “yo, we're the Wu, and we're still New York, represent” (something like that), I haven't a clue what the theme of Iron Flag is. Maybe that's all it is, a no frills 'back to the streets' excursion for all the members. The beats are generally bare-bones (though no Hollow Bones), with a whole lotta' wikki-wikki’ from turntablists. Wait, who even is the Wu-Tang DJ? Did he do them, or are they studio add-ons? Ain't no info in the liner notes on that, but whatever, it's awesome. For all the musical innovation RZA’s accomplished over the years, it’s good to know he can make do with the core essentials of hip-hop too.

As for all these MCs, the Clan sounds more fired up than they did on The W. Uzi (Pinky Ring)’s about the closest they reach the highs of Triumph or Protect Ya Neck, but plenty of other tunes hold up well enough. Dashing’s reggae overtones are a nice change of pace from the usual funk and soul loops, Back In The Game brings in producer tandem Poke And Tone for a far different sounding minimalist Wu cut, and Rules shows they can still kick out a standard club-bounce jam when bothered to do so.

If you’re a fan of Wu-Tang Clan, it’s hard to hate anything off this album, as it finds the group hitting a familiar groove most of their work maintains. It’s not breaking ground, but if you’re fine with them no longer bringing the mutha’ fucking ruckus, Iron Flag is worth having.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Menno de Jong - Intuition Sessions Volume 1: South Africa (Original TC Review)

Intuition Recordings: 2007

(2013 Update:
So much for being the "future of trance". Ol' Menno doesn't even rank in the very poll promoted by the magazine that gave him such accolades way back when this came out. Then again, judging by this year's results, trance itself doesn't have much of a future, at least in the commercial sense it did for so many years. Boy, did a lot of them tank. No, don't check for yourself, you can take my word for it. Still, you know what this means: underground resurgence, woo! One can only hope.

Listening back on this CD, I can hear why some of the newer cats on the trance scene would rank a year that had such utter tripe as Filo & Perio's
Anthem so highly, as there are some lovely tunes on here. Hell, I didn't even give Orkidea's Eternal Love an ACE TRACK nod, when it so totally deserves it. If CDs such as this had been their main exposure to the genre, then the kids, they were in alright hands in 2007.)

IN BRIEF: A 'nice' trance set!

Menno de Jong was mostly known only to the ardent fans of a decaying trance scene. A member of the new Dutch generation whom appear primed to take over where the likes of Tiësto and Armin left off, his style wasn’t particularly innovative but consistently solid. Along with producers like Jonas Steur and Paul Moelands, his fame would probably have never reached further than those still living in the year 2001.

In a flash though, Menno became known to far more folks than he could have anticipated this early in his career. Was it that write-up in DJ Mag proclaiming him to be “the future of trance”? Hardly. Rather, it was that picture. Captured at a show where things weren’t exactly going well, it caught the trance DJ in a moment of pure rage, flipping the bird at a bird whom was trying to get him to shut things down early. Menno’s since apologized for the incident, but why? It’s got to be one of the best DJ pictures I’ve ever seen! “Fuck shutting this party down, I’m going to fucking rock this motherfucker!” Well, it's better than yet another Jesus pose in any event.

Still, I can understand his hesitation to be tied to such a photo. This isn’t, say, the drum’n’bass scene, where attitude is just as valuable as the music you play. Besides, Menno has larger plans for his future than to be known as The Punk Trance DJ (not that it’s a bad title, Mr. de Jong!), one of which is to own a successful label. He’s certainly taken the right steps thus far to achieve this goal, as Intuition Recordings has seen a small but respectable number of trance singles released. With Intuition Sessions, Menno has taken the next step: the label compilation.

Much of what you see on disc one’s tracklist is new to this release, as Menno got in touch with a bunch of his trance buddies and asked them to spot him some fresh material for a DJ mix. In return, they’d get their singles released on his label as vinyl samplers. Certainly not an uncommon practice in this industry, but all too often this leads to very bland sets. Far too much emphasis is placed on making the forthcoming singles the highlights, even when the actual tracks themselves aren’t always worthy of such. The rest of the set is then padded out with filler and the odd well-known hit that’s been making the rounds to grab casual interest. Just glancing at the tracklist seems to hint at this being the case with Intuition Sessions as well. Remarkably though, Menno managed to elude this trap and crafted a decent mix in the process.

What aids him here is the fact these tracks are quite good. While this is still mostly melodic trance that hasn’t seen much innovation in years, the stuff on here isn’t the kind of tripe that is drowned in overproduction or sentimental sap; these producers keep arrangements simple and the hooks agreeable. Listening through, I’m hard pressed to find any particular tune sub-par. Honestly, the worst thing I can think to call the weaker ones is ‘nice’. Granted, a couple spots are questionable: the vocal in Cliff Coenraad’s Manjula is useless, and First State’s Evergreen contains an orchestral breakdown that teeters ever so dangerously close to gushing parody. However, they hardly hinder from the rest.

And of the rest? Quite a bit of variety, actually. Of course, you do have typical melodic numbers scattered about, some more on an Ibizan tip (El Cortez’ Desert Rose), others following the standard breakdown/build mold (Menno’s offerings, along with Kimoto Lopez’ Sub Runner and Yarune’s Airballoon). Elsewhere (mostly in the beginning), you get groovey spacers that are quite literally trance-inducing (Coenraad’s Escalate - under the Mulika alias - being a clear highlight). And at various points, techy hitters add some spice to the proceedings: Sjamaan (Menno as Myth) comes through on this, although Maor Levi (as MLV) holds his own as well.

Towards the end of the set, Menno brings in some heavier bangers, and ends on something of a surprise: melodic acid trance. Actually, Whirloop’s Cirrus Station could almost be considered the 'g-worded' sub-genre of psy trance, but I’m afraid to actually call it that, lest I frighten that lovely old style back into the nether regions of the underground again. It’s a sweet tune though, and a wonderful (and proper!) way to close a set on.

It’s a bloody shame Menno didn’t try to make more use of it. Yes, I do realize most of the guys that contributed here don’t produce in that style, but it would have made a good trance set even better. In fact, this is possibly one of the better trance sets I’ve heard in a while now, and certainly far better than what’s come from the superstars clogging up the top of popularity polls (Christopher Lawrence exempt, as always). If there’s any complaint, it’s that there’s a stretch in the middle where the breakdowns grow redundant, but even my calling it ‘redundant’ is small praise in itself - usually words like ‘annoying’ or ‘momentum-killing’ are featured in such instances.

Included with this release is a bonus disc containing four of Intuition’s early singles. Many of these you’ve probably heard in various sets since their initial release. Without getting too detailed, it’s nice to hear these in an unmixed version on CD for the first time, as these were enjoyable cuts to begin with. And Airbase’s For The Fallen remains a standout, in that it’s such a rarity: a breaks tune made by a trance producer that’s actually great!

While Intuition Sessions probably won’t light the trance world on fire, it is nonetheless solid. Menno has provided a release that makes good use of the melodic sound without abusing all the traits that turned the genre into a punchline, all the while adding just enough variety so it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to the same bloody thing over and over. While I don’t quite agree with DJ Mag’s assessment this is the future of trance, he has at least shown the potential to bring the genre some credibility again.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

L.S.G. - Into Deep (Original TC Review)

Superstition: 1999

(2013 Update:
Woot! And finally, I now have a review of every single L.S.G. album on this blog. Except
Best Of. And Unreleased. Hm, and that Hooj Choons Collected Works too. Okay, every official LP of L.S.G., and no, Unreleased is still sort-of un-official, at least to me. Give us a proper hard-copy version, Mr. Lieb, and then we'll talk.

I'm probably a little gushy in this review, but dammit,
Into Deep just doesn't get the love it deserves. What does it take, huh?)

IN BRIEF: His best.

And then Oliver Lieb peaked.

Oh, I’m sure many out there could point to several different singles across several different aliases that are better than anything on here but in terms of full-length albums, the veteran trance producer has never been better than he was on Into Deep. It seemed, having purged any and all instinctive id with The Black Album, Lieb felt free to explore his meditative ego in this follow-up - it’s the logical musical yin to the previous yang. Or he’d been working on this material alongside the Black Series but never found a proper time and place to release it until after the fact. Who’s to say at this late stage?

Point of the matter is despite the release of Into Deep making artistic sense, it was nonetheless unexpected to hear the L.S.G. moniker taken down this road (though perhaps not nearly as shocking as The Black Album was). This is, after all, the alias of such classic trance cuts like Netherworld, Hearts, and Hidden Sun Of Venus (the trance version). Didn’t Lieb already have an alias for his downtempo stuff? (kinda, but who remembers ‘O.Lieb’?)

The thing that truly was astounding about Into Deep was in how, upon hearing it, folks’ perspective of Lieb changed. He’d garnered plenty of praise for years, yet could never quite shake the stigma of being regarded as “that really good trance producer”. Though many figured he was capable of it, no one really thought he’d actually go and make an album that could be held in the same regard as any of the best efforts from such ‘90s luminaries as The Future Sound Of London, The Orb, or Massive Attack. Yet he did.

For starters, this is one of the few instances you’ll find original lyrics of any sort on an Oliver Lieb album, here provided by one Cybéle de Silveria. Whether it’s to digitally-treated spoken dialog - Spanish for No Causalidad and El Tiburon, and English for Give Me Your Hand - or verses (I’m Not Existing), it adds a fresh angle to the L.S.G. moniker, bringing a proper human element to a project that was already well known for strong emotional music.

And it almost goes without saying, but the emotional punch of this album is of the highest quality. You have tender synthy soundscapes in Jillanity, Into Deep, and Give Me Your Hand; deeply meditative atmospherics in Concatenation, Tiburon Citriño, Quick Star, and I’m Not Existing; and riveting climaxes with El Tiburon, Phorus, and Westside. We’ve heard Lieb strike gold in this field several times, yet seldom with the same level of poignancy as he does here. The whole album ebbs and flows with these moving passages as only the greatest chill releases have. Remarkably, Lieb manages to blend the best of both electronic and organic textures together so they wonderfully complement each other, never compete. In almost all cases, producers have a difficult time accomplishing this, often letting either or overtake in prominence. The closest I’ve heard in recent years that hits this delicate balance comes from the Ultimae camps, but even they have a tendency to let the organic nature of their music take over. Into Deep amazingly stands tall and alone in how it sounds.

All this, and I still haven’t even gotten started on the rhythms. My God, the rhythms! Lieb’s always been excellent in this department but, again, he’d generally been constrained to the techno-trance side of things with tantalizing teases into other beats – breaks in Get Out from Volume Two, for instance, or something experimental like Fontana on Rendezvous In Outer Space and A Day On Our Planet as Spicelab. In producing a purposefully downtempo album, Lieb got to indulge himself with fresh patterns, time signatures, and effects, once again with remarkably stunning results. From steady heartbeat throbs that either pulse (Quick Star) or rumble (Phorus) to layered builds (El Tiburon and the dubbier Bengal Rose), Lieb gives us plenty of wonderful patterns that are just as effective in tapping into the primal recesses of your brain as anything else he’s done.

The two real highlights, though, have to be I’m Not Existing and Westside. The former, having been segued beautifully from the spacey tension-builder that is Quick Star, brings us some of Lieb’s grittiest beats ever, executed with trip-hop proficiency and supported by a disconcerting melody that would have Tricky approvingly bobbing his head along. Meanwhile, Westside, in being the album closer, opts for the pure positive vibe of communal chant, inviting you to clap in unison as the song plays out.

Into Deep is one of those rare albums that tends to occur only once in an artist’s career, if at all; where a musician will tap into the best of their inspiration and execute it with all the experience of a cagey veteran. Though Oliver Lieb successfully carried on, it was never to heights of what was offered here. Even the Best Of album, where he reworked a bunch of L.S.G. singles in the vein of Into Deep, wasn’t quite as good, as it lacked this album’s sublime narrative flow.

Despite bestowing this much praise on Lieb’s masterwork, there’s probably still a number of skeptics out there; after all, Into Deep is seldom namedropped when discussions of Best Electronic Chill Releases are brought up. I honestly don’t have an answer for this. Perhaps the trance association really was too much for folks unfamiliar with Lieb’s work to get over. Whatever the reason though, it’s their loss. Don’t let it be yours too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Solieb - Integrale / Inside

Maschine: 2006

Solieb is Oliver Lieb, a not so important person in the world of techno, even though by all rights he should- Eh? You say this is redundant information? Well, sure, I did a Solieb review half a month ago, but did you read it? No, not you, the other you, standing behind you, creeping, stalking, waiting for that perfect moment to whap you with a comedy inflatable mallet that squeaks upon impact. What do you mean that's bizarrely specific? Look, until you turn around, can you claim this person in a clown-ninja outfit isn't there? I realize this is one of those 'fallen tree, can anyone hear?' questions, but if you don't look behind, you can't disprove any more reliably than I can prove. And surely you're here at this blog because you trust me on something; most likely opinions on electronic (plus other) music, but still.

Anyhow, here's the gist of this release for all the cyborg-ninja-clowns that have joined us in the past couple weeks. Solieb is Oliver Lieb, a not so important person in the world techno, even though by all rights he should be. Dude’s been a part of the German club culture since even before the Berlin Wall came down, and was highly instrumental in helping establish the burgeoning Harthouse label. Yet, he didn’t quite mesh with Sven Väth’s outlook. One kept looking to the stars, the other kept having weird parties in Frankfurt basements. And besides, all that spacey sci-fi techno wasn’t going to fly in the ‘techno are serious’ scenes. So off on the Starship L.S.G. ol’ Oliver flew away on for a while, reaching stars he’d seldom seen in that old lab filled with spices (Väth was into some weird things). After returning to Earth, however, his re-entry had some complications, and the Starship L.S.G. crashed and burned after a glorious ten years of service. Somehow, Captain Ollie ended up near his old Harthouse haunt and, reminded of the wacky-doo times his former compatriot Väth would get up in, made a new track called Circus Maximus. But... the old bitter resentment persisted so, so to make sure no one knew who was behind the track, Mr. Lieb crafted a new alias to hide behind, that no one could trace back to him. The new alias was Solieb. Uh... did I mention ol’ Oliver wasn’t the most creative chap in those regards?

Okay, enough made-up silliness (been whapped upside the head by inflatable comedy mallets too much, methinks). How is this particular Solieb single? The A-Side features Integrale, which I recall being my first exposure to Lieb’s new stuff, appearing on Jimmy Van M’s Balance mix. For plinky-plonk minimal, it’s alright, certainly better than a lot of other stuff that was to follow. Inside on the B-Side is more fun, a skippity-skip marching rhythm and machine-lovin’ electro-clop sounds. It might even make sense in one of Väth’s sets from around the time. Say, an olive branch from Oliver Lieb? New alias alert!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Faithless - Insomnia

Blow Up: 1995

There has to be a zillion versions of this single out there (“Sixty-one,” gruffs Discogs. “Get your facts straight.”), with just as many remixes. The one I have in my possession is among the earlier copies, though not the earliest. No, those ones have the smiling Cheeky boy mascot on their covers, released at a time when the notion of Faithless as some sort of super-group was nowhere near folks' minds. Then, of course, everyone heard Insomnia (no, not hyperbole – everyone did, whether you liked it or not), and lo', Faithless was off and running. However, that old cover just would’t do, far too tacky for one of the biggest club singles ever. Quick, what’s available as a replacement? A group shot? Fine, perfect, whatever, it’ll do, just go, go! Get that tune in the stores pronto. And start figuring out something better for later. It must be far more eye-grabbing than the group standing around laughing. Something artful, and reminiscent of the forthcoming album, yes?

As someone residing in North America, it feels odd having this ‘middle version’. We got Insomnia two bloody years after it first hit the streets, which is understandable to a degree. Faithless’ shtick was unlike anything marketable in the big U.S. of A. Heck, they were still trying to figure out groups like Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, and now here’s something that has elements of that cheesy euro dance stuff, yet is stupidly popular and somehow seen as artistically credible. What is it, those barely sung lyrics from Maxi Jazz about suffering from insomnia?

Yeah, funny thing about those lyrics. You can take them at face value, about a poor chap who just can’t get no sleep, but gander at this theory: how many of you out there have had a night of partying or clubbing where, at some point, you’ve consumed a substance that was just a bit too stimulating. Woo, that rush was fun, but fun-time’s over and you’re feeling kinda tired now. Off to home, get some sleep, recharge, recoup, twist, turn, what the Hell, why can’t I fall asleep? It’s been hours, there’s daylight, twist, turn, and still nothing. Good Lord, what was in those things? Am I ever gonna sleep again? This is ridiculous! Wait, did I just fall asleep now, only to pop awake scant minutes later? I’m… not sure. Greasy insomnia, please release me!

I’m not saying Insmonia is an ode to all those poor clubbers who took too many stimulants, but that, coupled with that oh-so memorable anthem hook at the peak of the tune, definitely made it a club classic that Faithless seldom ever topped in their following career. Not bad for a tune that, fundamentally, could be called ‘epic garage’.

Oh, this CD? It’s got all the ‘first generation’ mixes on it (Moody, Tuff, Original, CEC, and Monster mixes), though the Monster Mix is edited. Only thing unique about it is the cover. Guess that’s why I was sucker enough to snag it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Various - Influence 2.2: A Hardtrance Experience (2013 Update)

Hypnotic: 1995

(Click here to have your eyes glaze over attempting to read my stupid long original review.)


No, really, what in God’s green and blue Earth was I thinking in writing such a ridiculously bloated review for Influence 2.2? I spend over 200 words detailing some tracks, and Argon-X’s Little Gamma’s Adventure gets a whopping 300 words. While some of them do hold up as good examples of classic mid-‘90s hard trance, they were by no means super-ultra-mega classics or anything. And Hell, it sure wasn’t like I wasn’t cutting a few corners with other reviews at the time, seeking brevity on some of the more repetitive CDs I’d be handed.

Right, right. I’m a big sucker for most things Music Research related. And, I suppose in my enthusiasm to share my thoughts on more music from the label, I went totally and utterly overboard on this one. Thing to remember is, in 2005, there weren’t many handy options for sharing audio, at least by any grey-legal means. TranceCritic was more than happy to provide Amazon links to these CDs, and if they just happened to have a thirty-second clip of it, all the better. But as we were trying to be something of a legitimate website, hot-linking to file-sharing services was totally out of the question, to say nothing of uploading such tunes ourselves (oh hello, you be shut down now). These days, it’s no th’ang to give a YouTube link – in fact, here’s Little Gamma’s Adventure for you right now. There, done, no three-hundred bloody words to let you know how it sounds; just my thumbs up required.

This is why I don’t bother uploading any audio to this here blog. Finding music online is ridiculously easy, a simple “_______ YouTube” search inquiry in your little Google bar all that’s required. If folks want to hear music for themselves, it’s not hard. Still, and call me a curmudgeon traditionalist on this, I believe there remains some value in the hunt for music, a certain satisfaction attained when that search turns out results. Don’t want to make things too easy for the kids these days.

So where does this leave us with Influence 2.2? Kind of forgotten and redundant, now that I think about it. The best tracks off here are worth having, for certain, but they’re coupled with some totally forgettable stuff too. Another benefit of modern music gathering compared to years ago is not having to get a whole CD for a few choice cuts, and believe you me Little Gamma’s Adventure, Influid’s We’re Always Behind You, and Phoenixx’s The Mongolian Rider are worth the pennies it takes to buy an MP3 these days. Maybe Retroflex’s Family Nightmare too, for the silliness of it all (woo epic gabber trance!). Of course, if you’re just some sort of crazy CD collector (*cough*), you’re gonna have to settle for Influence 2.2 because, believe it or not, this is one of the only places you’ll find Argon-X's cut (so sayeth The Discogs). Hey, maybe its rarity makes that old ginormous review worth- pft, nah!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Various - Influence 1.1: A Hardtrance Experience (Original TC Review)

Cleopatra: 1994

(2013 Update:
This was something of a turning point review for yours truly, in that I figured out how to detail a whole pile of music without resorting to the ol' track-by-track method. It wasn't the first time I did it, mind, nor would I totally shake the habit for a number of months later, but at least the result here was far more concise and easier to read. I really
could write an informative review under 1,000 words! When you compare it to the hideous bloat I wrote about the other Influence Records compilations, it's night and day in quality.

Kinda crazy to consider most of the music here's now twenty years old. I wonder if it's the same feeling our parents had when they realized
their hard 'dance' music (metal! punk!) had reached the two-decade mark. Does this mean we should be on the lookout for hard acid trance's version of Green Day soon?)


IN BRIEF: The start of Influence.

(2013 Edit: removed a pair of paragraphs that are no longer relevant)

So. Influence Records. The beginning. The was yet another of the many sub-labels of Talla 2XLC’s Music Research label. The main goal of this one was to provide an output for the burgeoning hard techno and trance sound spawned from the earliest hardcore days, a grittier edge to satisfy those growing tired of the goofier slant hardcore was being infected with. With Music Research’s goth and industrial background handy (sub-label Zoth Ommog), it was a tidy little marriage for a while.

Mind, it wasn’t all hard music in the early 90s. Influence also did some traditional trancers (traditional as in loopy, hypnotic stuff, kids), although most of which didn’t garner as much notice as the aggressive material. This compilation gives us a tantalizing taste of Influence’s various sounds from ‘92-‘94, all arranged in a decent little narrative to keep the diversity fresh (Cleopatra/Hypnotic were always great at this facet of their compilations).

Since the hard techno was the initial Influence output, let’s take a look at those tracks first, starting with the debut Influence release, Swamp from Influid. It’s grimy, abrasive, and noisy, with distorted, out-of-tune synths forming what could be construed as a hook. It ain’t pretty, but then what swamp is? Besides, Influid keeps the noises constantly shifting and tweaked with effects, a pretty nifty trick for hard techno in ‘92, though perhaps a bit dated today.

The track by Distortion is pretty similar in this regard, and you can definitely pick out the beginnings of full-out hardcore in Milk; although cruising along at a decent pace, the drum kicks are thick with resonance. When the song allows just the rhythm to get funky, their pummeling power is potent. Full Spectrum by Probe is effective with its aggressive rhythms as well, their rapid pace complementing the choking, mechanical soundscapes to be had within the track. The Postman’s Elysium plays ‘nice’ though, giving us a distorted hook for us to get into while his rhythms thrash away.

When not relying on abrasive noises, some Influence tracks went with the always reliable acid tweakage. Pain from Vene has some big hardcore beats, but the acid workout to be had eats the best offerings from Hardfloor any day. The amusingly titled track from Marble Cybos lays the acid on fiercer, although an accompanying ominous hook and dodgy quality of the track kind of dilutes its effect. For some reason, Fucked By A Vibrator sounds horribly flat. Did someone forget to master it, or was this just a crummy transfer? Who knows at this point.

As for the trancers, there are two types to be found on this compilation: spacey, minimal loop-fests, and brisk, upbeat melodic numbers. The latter are both produced by Reel X, and quite the classics as far as German trance is concerned. As for the former, the two cuts form Norman Fellar (as Phasis and with DJ Ufuk as Surface) have his stamp all over them: they both start out fairly unassuming with loops that don’t sound like much. However, as these tracks progress, the layers of loops that come and go draw you in regardless. The foreboding atmosphere of them in particular should be a nice bonus for those who like their trance sinister.

The two remaining tracks I’ve yet to mention, Unit 99 and Lighten Up, are also of the typical trance variety, and are probably some of my favorites from this time. Yeah, yeah, I’m always going on about how great trance was before the supersaws, breakdowns, plinky pianos, and so on, but when you listen to these two, their simplicity in sound truly is far more hypnotic. Gradual subtlety, spacey pads, and slight hooks: what more can an old trance fan ask for?

Well, consistent quality on a compilation I suppose. Despite the diversity on Influence 1.1, it really is all over the map with the types of music you hear. You’ll be cruising along nicely to a mellow trancer, only to be thrust into a distorted assault of techno without warning. Also, a number of these tracks really are starting to show their age, and their effectiveness as dancefloor weapons are probably going to have to rely more on nostalgia when played against current offerings of hard techno.

Still, as an archive of where this music stood in its beginnings, Influence 1.1 can be quite the fascinating listening experience. Times may have moved on, but it’s still fun to indulge in the past every so often.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nirvana - In Utero

DGC: 1993

Isn’t this a nice coincidence, what with all the 20th anniversary versions of Nirvana’s third and final album floating about now? I get to enjoy being on the pulse of contemporary-retro music discussion and- oh, everyone’s already moved on from In Utero’s re-re-release (start saving for the 25th anniversary version now, kids!). In fact, it’s growing rather tiresome to hear the same ‘Nirvana changed a generation of music’ narrative trumped out every opportunity the rock media gets some loosely connected release to tie it into. I get it, Nirvana was a very important band in the world of rock, but we all know, had they (re: Kurt Cobain) kept their shit together, they’d just end up like the Foo Fighters or whatever other post-grunge act you have. Or worse, attempting nu-metal! No, not really. Ol’ Kurt would never have succumbed to that. Guy was a rocker through-and-through, but was totally caught between worlds following Nevermind. Do you maintain that slick studio polish that won you a gajillion fans, or do you prove you still have your underground roots within, untainted by money and fame.

Both, it would seem! Bringing in “I’m real punk” producer Steve Albani is as clear of intent as it gets, coercing as much raw, honest emotion from their music as they could. If you ignore the band’s legacy (hard, I know), it left an album that leaves most listeners divided, as it did way back in ’93. Between the obvious ‘grunge by numbers’ cuts like Rape Me, Dumb, and Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle, you’re also assaulted by pure noise freakouts like Scentless Apprentice, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, and Tourette’s. Oh, and an acoustic number at the end called All Apologies, that gained quite a bit of notoriety following Kurt’s death (was he directly apologizing to us for what was to come?). Well Hell, that’s a frustrating album to get into if you only came expecting a bunch more Heart Shaped Boxes. Or the most awesome album if you feared it’d just be a bunch more Heart Shaped Boxes. Those people tend to get divided between Nevermind or Bleach, respectively, being the true authentic Nirvana experience.

Which leaves In Utero in limbo, an album that, aside from the big hits, disappointed when it first came out. Now it’s hailed as a neglected classic, because that’s just what you do with final albums that capture a band at the height of their fame. I personally get a kick out of it, probably more the noisey thrash numbers since it’s easier to feel angry than mopey these days. Ultimately though, what we’re getting with this album is blues music for the pissed-off Gen-X crowd, which is how it’s endured when so much other grunge music hasn’t (much less get multiple anniversary re-issues). When it comes to the blues, authenticity of emotion is always key, and there were few people who came across as depressed and angry as Kurt Cobain did when this came out.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Colette - In The Sun

Afterhours: 2000

Now here’s a gal with an interesting career. Blessed with the looks you’d associate with euro-dance pop tarts, Ms. Colette Marino instead carved out a career in the relatively underground side of house music. She initially made her mark through the DJ circuit, but would often sing her own vocals over top tracks, helping her stand out from an already overstuffed DJ market (that whole ‘being a woman’ thing probably didn’t hurt either). She produced a few tracks for various labels in her early career, and OM Records eventually gave her an opportunity to let her singing and song-writing take front-and-center, releasing a pair of albums to mild success within the deep house scene. They were rather poppy, true, but a lot of that West Coast bumpin' vibe already skewed that way, ties to disco and funk of yesteryear undeniable. They weren’t crossover attempts (though if it had happened, I doubt anyone would complain), but simply enjoyable moments of clubbing fluff the house faithful could get down to. Y'know, Hed Kandi fodder.

Given the general reactions some scenes have towards their lady DJs indulging in their pop potential, it's a testament to the classiness of house-heads that they never turned their backs on Colette (like, say, the jungle scene did to DJ Rap). It certainly helps she earned more than enough respect at the turn of the century with her DJing, honoring the deep, soulful vibes inherent to Chicago's legacy in her chosen style. This here In The Sun, released on near-Chicago label Aftermath, is as fine a representation of her talents as any.

Right, so coming off that DJ Dan mix CD, she isn't quite that good. Occasional forced mixes do crop up, but I can live with them so long as the shoes are kept out of the dryer. If you think it unfair of me to compare the two, it’s not my fault that this disc features music of pretty much the same vein. And hey, what are the odds we’d get another mix of loopy, filtered disco house one after the other in this alphabetical stipulation of mine? Okay, so it could happen if it was a running series, or both happened to be named after the similarity of genre, but that’s not the case here. In The Sun and In Stereo are two totally different releases on two totally different labels by two totally different DJs of two totally different sexes. Released but a year from each other, and just happens to have very similar taste in music. THE ODDS!!

Colette’s take on this sound is definitely more Chicago-based though, so the disco gets dubby for durations while those filter knobs get their tweak on. One of the few things that helps In The Sun stand out from all the other disco-dub house mixes of the time is the inclusion of a Sombionx’s jazzstep remix of Colette’s own Try Her For Love. Ending your set in such an unexpected fashion? That takes some balls, woman!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

DJ Dan - In Stereo

Kinetic Records: 2001

At the turn of the century, if you lived on the West Coast of the Americana-Lands, DJ Dan was the man. Already a hotbed of deep house action, Mr. Daniel Wherrett was tops on the scene when it came to bringing the funky disco vibes at the peak hours of any party he played at. Or maybe it was just Moonshine Music recognizing his skills in a long-simmering underground capacity and giving him that extra promotional push as far into the mainstream as any house DJ could achieve back then (not that far, all things considered). Whatever the means he used to reach that star status, it couldn’t be denied DJ Dan brought the goods. He may not command the same level of hype now, but any West Coaster knows a show with ol’ Needle Damage on the decks is a guaranteed good time.

During that heyday, Danny boy released mix after mix through Moonshine, most of them respectable enough if you were a fan of his brand of house music, but lacking something truly special as far as this listener was concerned (not enough Olav!). He eventually branched out from their arms, establishing his In Stereo imprint – and not a moment too soon, as Moonshine folded shortly after that (hey, it’s like he was carrying Moonshine! …not really). So as expected with such things, he released a mix CD showcasing all the new tunes that were to be released on- What? There’s nothing from his label on here? Wait a moment…

*sacrifices bootleg vinyl of Sasha and Tenaglia mash-up titled Elements Of Gravy to Lord Discogs*

Oh, this mix came out a year before In Stereo was launched. Not only that, but barely anything was released on the label for the first few years, and has since become a sluggish digital vehicle. Can’t blame Dan for not focusing on running a label though, since he’s undoubtedly kept proper-busy touring. The struggles of DJing.

Alright, enough of that. Is In Stereo, the CD, any good, you ponder? Damn straight it’s good, even if there’s not a whole lot here anyone familiar with disco house won’t have heard before. Not so much in the way of familiar tunes – though there are a few of those too – but just in the execution. You got your samples, your filters, your loops, your repeating vocals, and all that. Ill Concepts from The Street Preacherz shows up, as does the original version of TDR’s Squelch - you do remember that one, right, before the Sander van Doornering of it?

The biggest peak of the set hits with Liquid People’s electro-funk of I Am Somebody and Scanty’s breaks of Get Next To The Opposite Sex, perfectly complementing each other. There’s a couple French house leaning cuts in this mix too (from Joey Beltram, no less), and DJ Dan eases things down to a deeper disco-dub house vibe towards end, the likes of Junior Sanchez and Todd Terry leading the way. But still not enough Olav. Fail!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Deltron 3030 - Event 2

Bulk Recordings: 2013

Yeah, it came out, been on the shelves for a week now. Not a big deal, though, nope, uh-uh. I mean, do you see massive hype plastered all over the interwebs for it? True, the first Deltron album has always been something of a cult-classic, a release that never garnered much praise beyond those who actually heard the damn thing (a might too few, it seems). Plus, it's not like a monumental musical leap forward was necessary. Deltron 3030 was well ahead of its time, practically timeless, but it never spawned copycats – really, who could top it but the original crew of Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Dan The Automator, and Kid Koala. That said, why should the group re-invent the wheel when most of the hip-hop world still seems stuck with rolling boulders?

So if you're expecting Event 2 to be light-year leap forward from its predecessor, forget it. Instead, they’ve narrowed their focus, opting to tell a specific story rather than provide a broad overview of our world in the 31st Century. Gone are Deltron's excursions into intergalactic rap battles, chilling on the downswing, or fighting the mega-corporation-man. For sadly, the mega-corporation-man blew it all up, leaving Earth in a sorry state for Deltron's crew to survey the aftermath.

As such, quite a bit of melancholy permeates Event 2. There are still moments of that Futurama humor – The Lonley Island turn in a skit that sounds like really old Beastie Boys dropping mad science skills from head-jars – but by and large we’re visiting a world that, having barely survived utter disaster, has seen better times. If you need proof, just gander at opening track The Return, a piece far less triumphant than the first album’s 3030, but no less epic in narrative scope.

Lyrically, Del’s sci-fi wordplay is as strong as ever, though not quite as ridiculously unpredictable since he’s not jumping between so many topics. He’s settled into more of a storyteller’s role, one that he seldom does (observational and battle raps are his main strengths), a loss of energy the result; yet, it perfectly adds to the somber outlook of Event II. Automator, too, has taken a step back from his various hip-hop fusion antics, opting for symphonic flourishes and guest collaborations. He can still write a damn catchy hook though (The Agony, What Is This Loneliness, City Rising From The Ashes, so many more), but those dense, sampling hip-hop cuts that thrived on the first album have mostly been jettisoned in favour of tighter song writing. Kid Koala, meanwhile… is still Kid Koala. Don’t you ever change, Kid.

Has it been worth the wait? Yes. They were never gonna replicate Deltron 3030, as the creative forces involved (all three players at the top of their game) made it an LP that could only be created once. By building upon the concept with a fresh environment to play in, however, Event 2 owns just as an unique place within hip-hop’s canon. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tiësto - In Search Of Sunrise 7: Asia (Original TC Review)

Songbird: 2008

(2013 Update:
In Search Of Sunrise was Tiësto’s series, of that no one can debate. Doesn't matter if you figured it was a good series or not, when you thought of DJ mix CDs from the Dutch icon, you thought of this one. Hell, he even named numerous remixes of his after it, almost as a means of cross-promotion. So while it wasn't in the realm of implausibility he'd move on from it, you sure didn't think Black Hole would be so presumptuous that they could carry on In Search Of Sunrise with an even doofier twat afterwards. Way to ruin the legacy, Black Hole.

Re-listening to the collection of pure uplifting trance vibes of CD2, I wonder if Mr. Verwest had already planned his musical change of direction that was soon to follow. It almost comes off as one last hurrah for his long-time faithful, a sort of "This be the last time ya'll gonna eat off my trance plate, bitches!" If you've never liked the vocals in his mixes, it's definitely the best (and only)
In Search Of Sunrise disc you're likely to find.)

IN BRIEF: In search of consistency.

Although Tiësto’s never hidden the fact he is an ambitious individual, it would seem he’s no longer satisfied with conquering specific locales like Los Angeles and Ibiza. No sir, now he aims to make his mark on a continental level, and settling with nothing less than the biggest continent on the planet: Asia. At this rate, subsequent releases of In Search Of Sunrise will probably be subtitled Earth, Sol (now there’s a concept, searching for sunrise on the sun!), Andromeda, and finally Sloan Great Wall.

All joking aside, the Asia tag affixed to the seventh edition of Mr. Verwest’s annual DJ mix doesn’t have much to do with this release, as the continent's various cultures - from the Middle East to Siberia to Indonesia to nearly everything in between - aren't touched upon. Rather, this is still very much Ibizan in nature, with your usual plethora of acoustic guitars, poppy vocals, and melodic-driven dance beats. And although one could probably conjure some vague Far-Eastern imagery at various points, there’s only one track that seems to directly draw influence from the continent (the sitar use in Get Lifted). As it turns out, the main reason provided by the man himself for the subtitle was he happened to be touring through Thailand when he compiled this - so Thailand would be more accurate, although with so few actual ethnic aesthetics contained on this double-disc, it could just as easily have been subtitled Turkmenistan.

Specifically, My Hotel Suite In Thailand is the locale - and the first disc of this release certainly does sound like a bedroom mix, as there isn’t much of a theme or structure to the set. Tiësto seems to have rounded up a number of his current favorite summery vocal and prog house cuts and arranged them in quite an erratic fashion. We jump from Balearic house to girly prog to instrumental tunes to folksy male vocalists to... you get the idea. Each mini-segment, mostly lasting a couple songs, bares scant resemblance to a previous one, with transitions into the next that are usually abrupt and jarring. Tiësto’s mixing has long been quite noticeable and telegraphed, but he can often hide his technical limitations with at least agreeable set flow; however, with even this lacking, CD1 comes off as a mish-mash of mostly randomly selected tunes plunked in to fill up seventy minutes of playing time.

It doesn’t help some of the songs aren’t that good to begin with, Tiësto’s own remix of Cary Brothers being the worst offender - the lyrics and music don’t mesh at all and it's an unfortunate waste of an otherwise good bassline. Plus, having the set end with yet another Christian “Will Shed Tears For Sunrise” Burns guest vocal reinforces the fact over-emotional male singers in dance music does no favors for the genre’s credibility. Overall, despite strong tracks from Three Drives and 16 Bit Lolita’s (as Kamui and Dokmai, in a very obvious attempt on their part to help Mr. Verwest add some legitimate Eastern Asia attributes to this release) that are worth your attention, CD1's rushed feeling creates a lack of polish you’d expect from a high-profile name the likes of Mr. Verwest holds.

Oddly enough, the opposite holds true for the second disc. Here, the music is divided into two sections: current-sounding trance at the start, and classic epic trance afterwards. There isn’t much of a theme to this set either, but by sticking to a very specific style, the flow is stronger, especially so in the second half. In fact, the biggest highlight of ISOS7 is this ‘return to the roots’ section.

Although CD2 starts promisingly with a nice intro (the intro and outro tracks that bookend each CD, and are produced by Daniel Joaquin and Javier Rodriguez, are quite lovely) and a nifty little number from Zoo Brazil, it quickly descends into a trudge through overproduced, side-chaining, plodding music. Yet, just as you figure it can’t get any more wrought with Carl B’s cloying Just A Thought, all that is significantly scaled back into something far more, well, simple - and this is a good thing! Kimito Lopez’ Melkweg isn’t interested in assaulting your senses with vertigo-inducing side-chain washes or overdosing with ultra-melodies; nay, just a good groove, pleasing melody, and trancey backdrops. It completely changes the tone of the set, leading us through a string of one solid track after the other. The melodies are strong and to the point, easily outclassing Carl B’s effort; in comparison, Just A Thought comes off like a hyper-sensitive child desperately seeking attention, screaming “oh please please PLEASE love my super-wonderful mega-melody!"

And yes, by playing simpler trance tracks that get back to the basics rather than bumping and clawing at each other to be THE set highlight, the rest of CD2 does take on a pure trance-inducing attribute. Each song has the strength to stand on its own, yet expertly feeds off the previous one to maintain the energy; even the breakdowns and builds are tastefully executed, seldom coming off excessive (although Casa Grande does teeter close to the edge). Granted, even this section has some problems with transitions but the strength of the music helps gloss such quibbles away.

Ultimately though, this latest edition of the ISOS series is once again one disc too many. If you were to take the highlights from the first CD and couple it with much of the second half of CD2, you’d have an incredibly solid set of summery energetic progressive trance vibes. As it is, however, you have to wade through a bunch of overbearing mediocrity and sketchy arrangements to get to the good stuff. This still may be worth a pick-up on the cheap but with chances being only the last third getting consistent play-through down the road, you’d be better off just buying your top picks individually instead.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sounds From The Ground - High Rising

Waveform Records: 2006

Now this one, this is where one should check out Sounds From The Ground first. I can’t go so far as to say it’s the London duo’s best album, but of their Waveform releases, it’s definitely one of their most consistent LPs from front-to-back. With a title like High Rising, you might expect soaring sonics and uplifting melodies, but this is an incredibly subdued CD, executing ambient dub in ways that sounds boundless despite not venturing stylistically far. I guess Jones and Woolfson had finally got their sound… down to the ground? Ah heh… um, yeah, no.

I should make something clear right off the bat: if you've never had an ear for ambient dub, High Rising isn't likely to change your mind on the genre. Frankly, I'm unsure what sort of album would. Like so many dub variants of music, it's the sort of sound you're either into, faults and all, or figure just a bunch of mindless, middling musical-fluff only spliff heads could vibe on. This is a good album for those who enjoy the music, for sure, but if you're in need of something easier to get acquainted with, maybe start from the source in those classic Beyond Ambient Dub compilations.

Back to Sounds From The Ground, they'd been in the game for a good decade, and though occasionally exploring other forms of downtempo and chill, their bread and butter remained ambient dub. So if fans were to be treated to a full album of them doing what they did-done best, it must have been oh-so sweet catnip. Like if Oliver Lieb were to make a trance album again. Or Markus Schulz playing McProg again. Or Deltron making any music again (ooh, it’s finally here!).

Even within its relatively narrow confines, High Rising does offer some diversity of style for the discerning ambient dub head. There's the slight touch of bleepy techno on tracks like Rotorblade and Slate Grey. Viper Style has dashes of world beat, while Gaudi shows up in Palmprint for a proper reggae dub jam. As the cover art might hint at, some city-cool trip-hop action crops up in Beautiful Feeling and Blink. Finally, showing they were also clued into the growing popularity of psy dub, final tracks Speedbumps and Allsorts sound like they’d fit snuggly on an Ultimae collection.

In some ways, that the follow-up of Brightwhitelight coming off mediocre isn’t so surprising anymore. How could Jones and Woolfson top High Rising when everything on here is superbly crafted while staying true to just the essentials? (yeah yeah, I’m probably overhyping it) Small wonder they released an ‘odds-n-sods’ collection after that one, then started properly exploring different roads of downtempo with their next few albums. Those are reviews for much later though. Meanwhile, if you’ve just a passing curiosity about Sounds From The Ground, High Rising’s definitely the one to scope out first. Unless, of course, you can afford to splurge on the whole lot.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Various - Four A.D.

Waveform Records: 2003

Dammit, my alphabetical stipulation strikes again. Instead of delving into Waveform's A.D. (Ambient Dub) series in any sort of practical order, here we are dealing with the fourth (and likely last) edition first. And it's not like this gives me an opportunity to get all the history out of the way, saving me valuable self-imposed word count for the earlier volumes later - the next one's all the way down in the 'O's. It's taken me nearly two years to make the progress I have already. By the time we hit One A.D. (if ever), this review'll be long forgotten.

Or maybe not, but to be honest, Four A.D. didn't garner the same sort of buzz as its predecessors, for reasons that are both obvious and not as much. A.D.s One through Three had the benefit of being rather unique when they came out, the idea of ‘chill-out’ compilations for the clubbing generation still in its infancy. Heck, the Ambient Dub series from Beyond is often credited as kicking off the whole enterprise way back in ’92, and Waveform essentially served as their Stateside distributor for those releases. Taking things a step further, however, Waveform snagged a few exclusives of their own, setting themselves apart from their UK brothers while memorably launching their label.

So that Waveform would see fit to make an ‘anniversary’ fourth edition’s fair play; unfortunately, the dubby downtempo market had long since been flooded with options when Four A.D. came out, so standing out from the glut would take some doing. Which this does not, sadly.

Check that: this CD will get your attention, though in a way you’re not expecting. First, that Jake Stephenson guy’s on here, twice under two more aliases (of course). Okay, so only I really noticed that, but only because I couldn’t escape the chap on those Goa Trance 4CD packs. Long-time listeners of ambient dub, however, will be surprised by the inclusion of two cuts from the original Beyond series, G.O.L.’s Angelica In Delirium (think early Enigma in dub) and Rockers Hi-Fi’s Push Push, a remake of Underwater World Of Jah Custeau which they did as Original Rockers. Again, a nice nod to A.D.’s source, but considering how up-to-date the rest of Four A.D. is, their inclusion’s rather odd.

How up to date are we talking? Following right after G.O.L.’s ’92 cut is Asura’s XP Continuum. Yes, that Asura (if there’s another, Charles Farewell may be interested to know). If that’s not enough of a coincidence to Ultimae, Mystical Sun’s Blue Magnetic Ocean also appears here, which first saw compilation duty on Fahrenheit Project, Part 3 the year prior.

And I get it, Waveform linking a pioneering chill label of the past to one of the leaders of the present. In doing so though, Waveform sold themselves short, Four A.D. almost coming off gimmicky rather than standing tall and unique like the earlier A.D.s did. Pretty much only a completist’s option, this. *cough*

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