Saturday, November 30, 2013

Juno Reactor - Labyrinth

Metropolis: 2004

Labyrinth feels like the culmination of years of experimentation coming together, talent finally reaching the vision Juno Reactor saw possible (holy shit, what a pretentious way to open a review...). There were early glimmers of Ben Watkins breaking his project out from bog-standard psy trappings, but it wasn't until Shango where he took his first proper risky steps. It was regarded as... well, I'll get to that eventually. It must have given Watkins a strong shot of confidence though, as Labyrinth goes full bore outside the psy comfort zone as anyone could get.

Right, so part of that was likely getting more soundtrack opportunities, and the success of The Matrix franchise didn’t hurt in giving Juno Reactor more exposure (not to mention greenbacks). It got Watkins thinking bigger and bolder while putting together Labyrinth, as there’s quite a cinematic tone to the whole album. The opening salvo of Conquistador I & II may as well be your first act – the former dark, quiet and moody as the atmosphere of some desolate Spanish landscapes reveals itself, the latter erupting into a big action set piece with those galloping beats, tribal drums, and snarling lyrics (Danny Trejo stars). It’s basically what the opening two cuts off Shango would sound like if they sexed it up and downed LSD-soaked tequila afterwards. Awesome!

The rest of Labyrinth plays out in similar fashion, tracks jamming various genres into a blender, and everything coming out tasty. Want a little more thrash in your Juno? Try Giant, but stay for the operatic vocals too. Still hanker for the old psy? Mona Lisa Overdrive’s got you covered, but with more tribal fusion than you got on Bible Of Dreams. One of the few folks that found Watkins’ best ever single was Pistolero? Here’s War Dogs for your fix, now with backing orchestra! Prefer the mellow moments on prior albums? The one-two soft-punch of Mutant Message and Angels And Men should serve you fine, though the former uses its calm as a prelude to a musical eruption mid-song.

All this is fine and dandy, but everyone knows you save your best for the climax at the end, and Navaras serves as a perfect capper to Labyrinth. Apocalyptic choir, piercing industrial synths and beats, orchestral swells, tribal chants, and a meditative breather in the middle before erupting with the bedlam at the end again. Wait, how am I fighting the final boss of a Final Fantasy game all of a sudden here?

I can see why Mr. Watkins felt compelled to explore ever further deviations from the psy sound he grew popular with on Gods & Monsters - how could he top Labyrinth? Whether it’s the best Juno Reactor album remains open to discussion, as many still prefer the older sound to the genre exploration found in the post-Shango albums, which admittedly continues to be hit or miss. Labyrinth finds the mark about as close to flawless as he’s gotten though, and is definitely worth your time and pennies.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cheb i Sabbah - La Kahena

Six Degrees Records: 2005

Okay, I needed that break from this blog. Juggling it with near full-time work and scholastic endeavors was just too much to deal with. Brain drain on the job, coupled with necessary research and study for essays, there was nothing left in the think-tank for music reviews, even ones as concise as the ones I write here. This semester’s over now, so let’s get back to electronic music criticism. What’s next in my alphabetical list, then? Cheb i Sabbah’s La Kahena? Uh, what the heck is this? Traditional Middle Eastern music? I don’t know a damn thing about this stuff. I… need to research some of this. Oh, God, no! I beg of you, no more researching! My brain can’t take- *grey matter implodes*

Right, I should have known Six Degrees Records would release just as much proper 'world music' as their world beat offerings, but how was I to know Cheb i Sabbah would put together a project of this nature? I've only known of the chap through his DJ gigs (almost primarily at hippie trance parties), and few scattered productions on regular world dub-beat compilations. It was enough to pique my curiosity enough to pick up La Kahena blind, and hoo, was this something I was not expecting in the slightest.

I won't deny enjoying the music here, but it’s on a 'dumb' level, the sort of basic musical appreciation that comes with most things of a rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic nature. Despite the use of drum programming and synth effects, La Kehena is about as traditional as this music gets. Which tradition, you ask? I... honestly don't know. I'm guessing it's Middle Eastern, though maybe North African too, given it was recorded in Morocco. Bottom line is I have no cultural connection to this album (much less able to understand the language it's sung in), so any significance of content beyond “cool beat, neat sounds, heartfelt passion; me like” is utterly lost on my way-Western sensibilities. Maybe if I do a little resear- *grey matter implodes*

Mr. Sabbah must have strongly believed in the potential of this album, as he rounded up tons of musicians to perform on it (how much he contributes, I haven't a clue). Oh, there's Bill Laswell again, doing bass. Karsh Kale, a Six Degrees alum, also shows up. I don't recognize anyone else here. Hell, I don't even recognize some of the instruments they play. An oud? A ney? You got me, names sounding about as foreign as I'm sure a dobro sounds to folks of Yemen. Whatever they are, I bet they sound good on this 5.1 Dolby mixdown I sadly cannot enjoy (damn paper-thin apartment walls).

Is La Kehena worth your time? Sure, I guess. At worst, it'll expose you to a form of music that's just as lively as anything you'll hear in a club, perhaps more so by tapping into the communal nature of such performances. In the end, it's a great educa- *grey matter implodes*

Friday, November 22, 2013

Vector Lovers - iPhonica

Soma Quality Recordings: 2013

I had no idea Martin Wheeler was still making music. Part of that's my fault, as I failed to keep tabs on his output during the late '00s. For as much I enjoyed his debut album, there was a sense the themes explored would be a one-time shot, interviews for subsequent albums claiming he was in a different frame of mind than before. Yeah, that's musician code-speak for “if you liked my old work, chances are you won't like this newer stuff.” I only glanced at Afterglow and Code For One, with little giving me reason to spring for the albums proper. Maybe I will sometime down the road, but as Afterglow came out way back in 2007, I figured the Vector Lovers story was concluded, the 2011 singles collection Electrospective being the final chapter.

Maybe that release generated renewed interest and fresh listeners, because iPhonica came out just this year – it would explain the similar covers. Is it all original material since Electrospective, or had Wheeler been sitting on it unreleased? Indications seem to suggest the former, but there's something very reminiscent of his earliest work on this album, a similar melancholic tone that also ran through Vector Lovers.

His debut was a wonderful excursion through electro-anime ambient and cool robot funk, which interestingly gets linked to acts like Boards Of Canada on its page with Lord Discogs. I never associated Vector Lovers with such music, but I can see why the Lord That Knows All would. There’s a similar feeling of nostalgia in their music, of times past and memories hazily reminisced. Boards Of Canada often recall childhood innocence, Burial of those post-clubbing 5am ventures in deserted urban neighbourhoods; Vector Lovers, especially on iPhonica, conjures up wistful longing for earliest, heartfelt intimacy in a world grown more isolated by technology. With titles like Yesterday Is Gone, Big City Loner, and Sender To Nowhere, how could one not picture mournful glances in city park fountains at twilight (probably with cherry blossom petals billowing in the background)? The aesthetic of Vector Lovers’ music may come off simple and even youthfully naïve at times, but damn if it doesn’t seductively draw you back to those years when youthful naivety was a common, welcome occurrence.

That said, iPhonica comes off rather slight as an album. Most of the tracks are simple little pieces, often finishing just as you're getting warmed to them. And while it does flow reasonably well from beginning to end, it doesn't have the narrative strength prior Vector Lovers albums have, the back end almost drifting by without much notice. Plus, I cannot deny wishing for a few more uptempo numbers, but that's just personal bias (Electrosuite was such a mint tune).

If you're new to Martin Wheeler's project, iPhonica may not be the best diving off point. On the other hand, there's enough musical merit here to at least draw in a few curious listens. Let's hope there's more from Vector Lovers in the near future too.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Various - Klassic Kickbacks 4

(~): 2003

Having gotten (mostly) credible classics out of the way, you’re damn straight I’d make an all euro-dance burned CD. Everything on here had been on a previously owned disc before, but when the Great Pawning Of 2002 started, most of my generic commercial dance CDs was the first to go. Don’t worry, they wouldn’t be alone - even those backwoods used stores had ample Dance Mixes, MC Mario, and Chris Sheppard compilations taking up shelf space. But man, it wasn’t long before my heart grew fond for the cheesy delights of Haddaway, Black Box, and Captain Hollywood Project. Why oh why did I toss the What Is Love? man’s debut album into the microwave during that one party? Oh yeah, because there were only three good tracks on it. Woo, look at those sparkles fly!

Those three tracks were What Is Love? (duh), Life (Everybody Needs Somebody To Love), and Rock My Heart, which were about as euro dance as euro dance danced (if you cannot dance). The rest of the album was totally forgettable (no, really, I can’t remember how the other tunes sounded), but at least it wasn’t as abysmal as Captain Hollywood Project’s Love Is Not Sex. More & More is a bonafide classic of euro house music, encapsulating everything glorious and pure of the genre (stop sniggering, you). Lord help me though, the subsequent eleven tracks off that album are an utter blank. You’d think Nosie Katzmann – he of Abfahrt Records fame – would have produced at least one more killer cut on Love Is Not Sex, but nope, not a damn thing I can recall.

If there is an album I might seek out again, it’d be Black Box’s Dreamland, they of the brilliant Italo house tunes Strike It Up and RRBLIIIIDDEE On Time. I only had a tape of it (pro pawning tip: if you’re offered peanuts for a tape, take them, because at least it’s food), so wasn’t sorry to see it go. Another house act that had huge hits was Reel 2 Real, of whom I snagged up a dub version of I Like To Move It. Seeing as how Erick Morillo somehow maintained a credible career following the commercial success of this project, I’m somewhat curious to hear the album proper, Move It!. Odder dance hits have held up to modern scrutiny, after all.

Speaking of odd dance hits, that’s what rounds out the rest of Klassic Kickbacks 4. The Goodmen’s marching-band romp of Give It Up, the sports stadium chant-anthem Fluxland from XL, Afrika Bambaataa’s euro dance hit Feel The Vibe (because really, the Planet Rock guy doing euro dance…?), and Robin S’ Show Me Love. Oh wait, that one’s not odd at all, though definitely an odd-girl out on this CD. I also had the ’94 remix of Hithouse’s Jack To The Sound Of The Underground, but lost it due to the eventual degradation of the burned disc. If only there was a way to get that track again…

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Various - Klassic Kickbacks 2

(~): 2002

Electronic music is replete with classics, but for the longest time difficult to procure. Some of the best tunes were only available on long out-of-print vinyls, and while there might be occasional compilations gathering up a pile of greats, most of those could only be had on ridiculously expensive import CDs (woe be the Western Canadian). Other times, ace tunes came cobbled with crappy albums, eventually new homes in used shops during financially lean times and fried in microwaves during drunkenly drunk times. Ultimately, the whole point in my starting a mix CD series called Klassic Kickbacks was to gather or re-gather old tunes I figured would never find their way into my music collection otherwise. Of course, re-issues, online streaming services, and not-shit retrospective compilations makes such gathering a moot point now, but it’s fun listening to them in this order again.

I made four volumes of Klassic Kickbacks, but have since lost two (burned CDs don't last as long as official ones? Who knew.). I can't even remember what was on them, maybe some old Orb and KLF. For Klassic Kickbacks 2, however, I wanted to go all the way back, opening things up with Kraftwerk (Radioactivity and The Robots), and book-ending it with Trans Europe Express. Thing I remember most about getting those off of AudioGalaxy is the chap I downloaded from bumped me to the front of his queue because I had “great taste in music”. Oh yeah, and I follow those pioneering Germans with Boney M's Nightflight To Venus. Hey, it's technically keeping a ‘70s German theme, which is also why I threw in U96’s Das Boot, creating a proper link to more current sounding electronic music. Things go wonky on here after that.

I’d grabbed a bunch of Aphex Twin, but never could figure out where to put what. Schottkey 7th Path though, I knew I needed that on a CD pronto (Selected Ambient Works 85-92 was stupid expensive back in the day), as that was... ah, I’ll get into it later. For now, it made its way onto Klassic Kickbacks 2, and, in a move that baffles me to this day, is followed upon by East 17’s House Of Love. Lord Discogs has it down as progressive house, but damn, it sounds like a boy pop group trying to do rave music. Hell, East 17 looks like that. Maybe 2002 Sykonee had a good chuckle over that contrast, but 2013 Sykonee ain’t laughing.

The rest of this CD has well-known ‘electronica’ tunes rounding things out (Adamski’s Killer, The Chemical Brothers’ Morning Lemon, Keoki’s Catepiller, and Wink), plus Deep Forest’s Coral Lounge because I didn’t bother keeping the Strange Days soundtrack when I was pawning discs for ramen noodles to get by (I told you there were financial lean times in my past). Except for that bizarre middle, Klassic Kickbacks 2 was one of the better mix CDs I made. Shame getting so many of these on re-issues has rendered it utterly redundant now.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Felix Da Housecat - Kittenz And Thee Glitz (2013 Update)

Emperor Norton: 2001/2004

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)


Boy, reading that old review sure feels like a time warp. I'll grant it's almost eight years old now, so thoughts and opinions do change in the years between, but it's clear I'm still in the afterglow of my electroclash marriage, despite the genre having been subsumed into electro house by 2006. Oddball gimmick aside, I can’t imagine myself writing anything like it ever again. I’ve yet to come across a fresh ‘dumb-fun’ genre of music that I enjoyed as much as that one, and as I get up in these years, the allure of ‘dumb-fun’ music wanes, my tastes maturing with sophistication and class. Now where’s that new space synth compilation?

Actually, the real reason I and so many others got into electroclash and all things ‘80s revivalist was how it felt like reacquainting with an old friend. It wasn’t so much a wave of retro admiration or nostalgic memories spurring it on, but the realization of, “Hey, why did we stop listening to music like this?”

Basically, ‘90s music ideology could be summed up thus: if it sounds like the ‘80s, it sucks. The classic tale is how grunge kicked hair metal to the curb, and hip-hop saw quite an upheaval too, but electronic music was no less guilty. Classic electro all but vanished during the Clinton Administration, a few stalwarts like Aux 88 keeping it alive while everyone else moved onto evolutions of the sound (Florida breaks, technobass, etc.). Synth pop... hoo boy, did that ever get shunted by euro dance and its ilk. It’s amazing groups like Pet Shop Boys, The Human League, and such survived long enough through those lean times to be ‘re-discovered’ at the turn of the century (“um, we never went away, y’know”).

This isn’t to fault the ‘90s disassociation with the ‘80s, mind you, as electronic music took many brilliant steps forward during that decade; if forgetting the past to move into the future was what it took, then so be it. Sometime in the late ‘90s, however, a few scattered producers remembered all the brilliant steps electronic music took during the Reagan Administration too, not to mention the warmth those old synths carried compared to the slick polish the latest club cuts came with. Maybe some time away from electro-proper was required to appreciate the joys of synth pop, hi-NRG, and italo disco again, and Felix da Housecat was there to capitalize on our old-new fondness for the sound on Kittenz And Thee Glitz.

One more thing I neglected touching upon on that original review is the difference of this Stateside version of the album. There’s the changed cover, obviously, opting for a ‘60s spy thriller poster instead of a celebrity gossip rag mock-up the UK got. And since this is Emperor Norton, the US got two bonus remixes at the end, a Thin White Duke mix of Silver Screen Shower Scene and Röyksopp having a go with What Does It Feels Like? They’re... eh.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Banco de Gaia - Kincajou

Planet Dog: 1995

Aw yeah. Now we're talking. Kincajou was already one of Banco de Gaia's more captivating tunes off Last Train To Lhasa, and whether it was the spacey, tribal techno version on the main album, or the epic thirty-six minute Duck! Asteroid!! ambient version on CD2, there was more than enough to go around. Yet here we are with a single to itself, with none other than Oliver F'n Lieb and Speedy F'n J, two producers at the height of their mid-'90s careers, getting their hands on it! (Toby Marks also provides a new remix of his own) How can this not be awesome? Uh...

I guess it’s presumptuous assuming an Oliver Lieb remix would sound exactly like something from his L.S.G. work, but damn it, tracks like Hearts and Hidden Sun Of Venus were among his most popular cuts in 1995. And if not borrowing elements from L.S.G., surely folks assumed something similar would come from remixing the closest thing to trance Banco de Gaia had ever done. Okay, he did, sort of, but tech trance, really? The sub-genre was barely even a thing yet, The Black Series still a couple years away. That he would go down this bangin' route had to befuddle almost everyone involved. Lord knows it still befuddles me. None of the spacey attributes remain, opting instead for squalling sirens, burbling acid, and pumping rhythms (not to mention those distinctive Lieb claps). Aside from a couple token re-used samples, Oliver’s go with Kincajou sounds totally unrelated. This was some left-over Spicelab material before, wasn’t it.

If you think that’s weird, then get a load of Speedy J’s mix. I’m not even sure what those in charge thought was going to result in getting the Dutch techno don on Kincajou - maybe a Fill type track? But hey, this is Marks doing techno, so maybe Paap can do it even more techno ...which he did done. It’s not a particularly weird remix, though if you’re unfamiliar with Speedy J’s sound, it too can throw you for a loop. It’s definitely one of the oddest pairings you’ll ever find in the Banco de Gaia discography, as his brand of proggy world beat and ambient dub is worlds apart from the world of techno. I’m more fascinated by the theoretical conversation that resulted in this remix than anything musically related. Did appearing back-to-back on the Positiva compilation Earth Trance have anything to do with it?

Oh, speaking of which, why couldn’t we get the Wild Monkey Fever Remix on here? Instead, there’s Here Come The Norse Gods, which is essentially the yang to Duck! Asteroid!!’s yin when it comes to Kincajou - it’s just as spacey as the original, but far more brisk and bangin’. Not as interesting though, which can be said for this whole single. Considering the names involved, you can’t help but come away disappointed. Whatever awesome music you preconceive with that first glance is likely better than what’s on disc.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sounds From The Ground - Kin

Waveform Records: 1995/1996

What the Hell? I know the first track, Gather. Wasn’t it on a Coldcut mix CD? Yeah, it was, Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too. But I don't recall seeing Sounds From The Ground in the tracklist. Don't tell me this was sampled from it. It's pretty damn close, but kinda different too. I'm confused. Help me, oh Lord Discogs! *brief moment later*. Ah, the group that initially made Gather, Path, was a project by Elliot Morgan Jones and Alan Bleay. Guess Mr. Jones took it for use when he and Nick Woolfson started their Sounds From The Ground work. And there are quite a few prior projects between both their discographies too. Did they recycle other material for their debut Ground Sounds album, Kin? It would explain the disparate tone running through this CD.

I'm not sure what prompted the duo to initially hook up, but their first production, Triangle, must have convinced them to keep making music together forever after. I can hear why, as the tune's a wonderful blend of early '90s ambient techno and dub, definitely a standout from a time when fans were spoiled for choice of this sound. Beyond snapped it up for their fourth and last volume in the Ambient Dub series, and naturally Waveform did the same, also offering them Stateside distribution of Kin.

Getting back to that ‘disparity’ I mentioned at first, folks coming to Kin expecting more Triangles would definitely be thrown for a loop by the opener Gather - on an acidy trip-hop tip, it’s small wonder Coldcut used the original version for a mix. Follow-up Drawn To A Woman is also in this vein, though sounding closer to acid jazz in this case. But yes, ambient dub be where those Sounds From The Ground come from, and the middle portion of Kin indulges in the genre a fair bit. Some of it’s fine – I can’t resist the pure dub funk of Loaf - but others are rather rambly, never going much of anywhere, seemingly content to remain wallpaper.

The last two cuts stand out as oddities as much as the first two, giving Kin a curious consistency, but not one that’ll have you reaching for a full playthrough. Where The Wild Things Were borrows elements from Gather, then throws it into a standard world beat jam. Banco de Gaia it ain’t. And finishing things off is... psy dub? That’s unexpected, and Seven Sisters is okay as a mid-‘90s example of the sound, but Simon Posford and his ilk have spoiled us with fresher takes on the genre since.

So Kin is a mixed bag, all things considered. Triangle is a great track, but it’s been whored to tons of compilations over the years - getting this album solely for it isn’t worth it. Jones and Woolfson were still discovering their sound here, which is interesting for those intrigued by their discography. It’s not an essential purchase though, most of the music on display following tropes rather than defining them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Radiohead - Kid A

EMI Music Canada: 2000

The most important album to have, if you want to have a credible taste in music. That's right, Boomers, your 'most important albums' are no longer relevant! Dark Side Of The Moon? Pet Sounds? Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?? Pft, as if they could compare to the true importance of Radiohead's most important album. Your old, fuddy-duddy classic be-bop is old, old timers. This one, this defines a generation. Not just any generation, but all generations. Bach couldn't compare to Radiohead. Nirvana couldn't compare to Radiohead. Hank Williams Sr, Jr, and III can't stand against the might of Radiohead. Maybe Miles Davis, Aphex Twin, and The Stanley Brothers can be held in the same breath as Radiohead, but those artists never earned the coveted Seal Of Pretentious Perfection from Pitchfork. Never, I says!

Okay, even the douchiest McHipster skinny-pants wouldn't come off that stupid, but man, the way so many contemporary indie rags went on about Kid A, you'd think that was the common line of thought. In some regards, I can't blame them for the over-reaction of adulation. Here it was, an album that our generation could claim as a modern work of art, one that could be held in the highest esteem along side all those Boomer greats that get carted out for regular Rolling Stone “best all-time” duty. And what was even better, Kid A was something we figured our parents wouldn't quite understand, what with all those electronic noises, effects, and tinkering that the guys at Warp Records had been doodling about with for the past decade. This was music that was looking to the future as much as utilizing the past, thus making it ours, ours, ours! What's that, mums and pops, you don't get the droning ambient bliss of Treefingers or the glitchy manipulation of Thom Yorke's voice on Everything In Its Right Place? Of course you don't.

Actually, I must say something that'll make me come off as the ultimate hipster around: I was into Kid A before it was cool. “How can that be possible,” you ask, “when the album was considered cool almost as soon as it the shelves?” Yeah, that was one of the perks about working a music shop, getting CDs before street date and such. Even ahead of throwing it on for a demo, I knew Radiohead's fourth would be special – no popular band makes album art and packaging that unique without something equally original committed to disc. I only had a passing respect for the band (OK Computer had some good tunes), but little of their output made me want to dig into their discography. And even after picking up Kid A, that feeling remains.

Therein lies this album's strength. You don't have to be a fan of Radiohead, indie rock, or whatever to enjoy it. All that's required is an appreciation for music and the limitless potential it holds. Just, y'know, don't be a smug, fedora-wearing, scarf-snuffling twat about it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Delerium - Karma (2013 Update)

Nettwerk: 1997

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)


Oh my God! I had no idea Leeb and Fulber recycled the main melody in Twilight from their earlier Front Line Assembly tune Outcast. Have they no shame? Ah, who cares, it's a great melody. Okay, that sorted...

That Silence, a track receiving very little promotion when Karma first hit the streets, would go on to (sadly) define Delerium forever after - and who’s subsequent remixes would also inspire a whole slew of copycat vocal trance upstarts - has always surprised me. Reflecting on the whole phenomenon as I re-listened to this album, however, I was struck by something even more surprising: why wasn't this song more heavily promoted? I mean, Sarah f’n McLachlan’s on the vocals, at a time when her star was finally breaking through into mainstream recognition (or was that Canada’s hype machine going into overdrive?). Who cares about that chick from Single Gun Theory or Ms. McLachlan’s backup singer when you have the real deal providing pipes on a song? I guess Nettwerk did, tapping Euphoric and Duende for lead single duty instead (sorry, Kristy Thirsk, you already got two singles to your credit on the previous Delerium album).

I’ve already touched upon why such collaboration made sense in my old review. On the other hand, perhaps Nettwerk was uncertain whether the two had audiences within the same sphere. Despite a following career suggesting otherwise, Leeb and Fulber’s ambient side-project was still considered more in line with the industrial and goth scene most knew them by. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nettwerk saw potential in turning Delerium from dark, morbid, ambient drone into something commercially viable upon signing them, but even after Semantic Spaces, they fluttered between the two. Karma, however, was definitely taking a proper stab at ‘post-Enigma’ world beat and downtempo; yet only electronic music fans remained aware of the group, even in 1997. Lord knows I couldn’t namedrop Delerium to anyone outside my music circle without getting confused glances. The cliché may now be that both Delerium and Sarah McLachlan appeal to the same demographic (middle-aged housewives into spiritualism and that), but it was far from the case when Karma came out. Sarah had her fans in the folk music scene, Delerium had their fans in… elsewheres, and you’d never catch either of them interacting (unless by accident if they were watching a MuchMusic Countdown video with both making the list).

G'uh, I’ve spent way too much time on Silence, something I should instead do when I review the single-proper (which is never). Whatever the initial intent behind the song was, it went on to dominate Delerium’s sound forever after (ethereal, gothic world beat pop with guest female vocals). Ugh, it was okay as intermittent tracks spaced out between the pure instrumentals (if you can count a bunch of ethnic and Gregorian chants as ‘instrumental’), but not as their defining characteristic. Karma struck the right balance, and small surprise it remains a favourite for new and old fans alike.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Terry Lee Brown, Jr. - Karambolage

Plastic City: 2006

As Terry Lee Brown Jr., Norman Feller’s made a career of making deep house music for those who don’t really like deep house music. That’s not a criticism. The deep house scene has a long, long lineage, with many permutations and variations cropping up over the years, and as such several layers of ‘deep’ for any head to dig into. When Feller started producing under this guise (probably due to his proper name already being associated with hard trance), Europe already had a thriving deep house scene in swing, though of a decidedly different bent than America's take. Instead of drawing inspiration from soul, funk, and jazz, the Old World used blissy pads and Balearic vibes in their interpretation of 'deeper than thou' tunes, and Feller was no different when he started out. Yet, there was something a little different to his sound too, a tight techno aesthetic to his grooves (just can't escape being German). It was like... 'tech-house', or something, but no way such a silly term would catch on in the mid-'90s. Deep house was good enough.

A decade on from Terry Feller's take on 'deep tech-house', and suddenly the sound is all the hipster rage, made popular by several of his fellow Germans no less. Except it's not quite the same, more minimalistic, glitchy, and clinical than the classic euro deep house feel. Since that was where the trends were heading, ol' Norman had no choice but to step in line by ...making the exact same sort of music as Terry Lee Brown Jr. as he ever had.

So Karambolage has a win/loss thing going for it, depending on your stance. If you've always liked his sound, then you're in safe hands here, as this album is all sorts of class with that distinct, nicely approachable vibe Norman's long been ace at. The pads are warm and lush, the rhythms bump and groove, the vocal samples are tasteful, and the hooks are earwormy enough that you’ll never want a track to end. That said, there aren’t any surprises here, which has always been the complaint with a Terry Lee Brown, Jr. album. Feller’s found a formula that works, and four LPs in, doesn’t have much reason to shake it up.

If there’s anything that identifies Karambolage from the other albums, I guess it’d be more of a dubby, dreamy tone compared to the straight-forward tribal tone earlier Terry material had - tracks like Moody Afternoon, Dub_servant, and Time Out don’t sound too removed from Frameless Structure, while Side Of The Shark would be quite comfortable in a peak time late-‘90s Digweed set . Don’t worry though, denizens of the dancefloor, as It’s All About, Fix Me Up, and Cosmic Rise are just as indebted to Chicago of yore as any of Terry’s classic cuts.

Karambolage isn’t an album that will astound you with ingenuity. It’s Norman Feller doing his thing as always, and for anyone willing to give it a go, that’s plenty enough.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Various - !K7150

Studio !K7: 2003

I got this for exactly one track, which is a pretty ludicrous investment for a double-CD release. Oh, I had faith most of the other tunes would turn out good, as !K7150 came highly recommended by all the rags I gave a shit about, but I probably wouldn't have picked it up had Tiga's Hot In Herre not been among the cuts. And like Hell I’d pick up Ministry Of Sound’s The Annual 2004 for it. If I’m going the 2CD route for one song, I sure don’t want a case where it’s the only song I’ll like. Besides, everyone knows Studio !K7 is all sorts of class, and MOS is... whatever the opposite of ‘class’ is.

It didn't hurt some of the other names dropped in write-ups for !K7150 were acts I was mostly familiar in name only. What better way to finally check out Herbert, Trevor Jackson, Recloose, Funkstörung, Ghost Cauldron, and Tosca (what, I was a late to the Kruder & Dorfmeister party)? Pairing them with personally proven names – Swayzak! Princess Superstar! DJ Hell! Guy Called Gerald! Earl Zinger? - and this was about as far from a risky purchase for yours truly as I'd ever made back in my financially lean times.

More than just a celebration of one-hundred and fifty catalogue releases from Studio !K7, this double-CD collection serves as a strong statement of what the long-running German label had musically been up to. Quite a bit, turns out, with plenty of diversity between genres, though skewing towards the downtempo side of things more often than not (must be that K&D influence). Conveniently, these genres are mostly lumped together as things play through, so if you get tired of hearing dub or electroclash (hey, early 2000s), just skip some tracks and you’ll be hearing something entirely different instead.

Dunno why anyone would want to skip these tunes though. The opening stretch of jazzy downtempo oozes inner city cool, while brisk upbeat cuts like Guy Called Gerald’s jazzstep Humanity and Ashely Beedle’s remix of Smith & Mighty’s Same will get your festive vibes in full swing. And alright, the dub-cuts at the end of CD1 hit all the right head-bobbin’ centers in my noggin’.

CD2 goes into less familiar territory where Studio !K7 was concerned, but then electroclash in general still had plenty of unexplored ground to discover (and a shame it barely did anything in the following years). Most of the tunes included here’s closer to icy microhouse (because Swayzak) and techno, so more of an evolution from the coy irony that defined the genre in its early years (though Trevor Jackson calling his remix of Behind The Wheel an Electroca$h Mix screams it).There’s also some hip-trip-hop at the end that’s... um, there.

Okay, !K7150 isn’t perfect from end to end, but there’s more than enough mint material to justify nabbing this compilation should you stumble upon it. Exclusive, unmixed DJ-Kicks cuts? Hells yeah, that’s worth some digital-ca$h.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Various - Hypnotic: Electronic Purity

(~): 2002

Yeah, of course I'd make a burned disc based out of tracks from Hypnotic Records. Except most of the music I liked on their CDs was usually licensed out from Music Research. So really, this should be a collection themed around that. Yet only half of the music I did get was released by Music Research. So there really are Hypnotic exclusives on here? Nope. When I first started exploring sites like AudioGalaxy for music, I naturally punched in a bunch of names I was familiar with from all those mint Hypnotic CDs. Komakino, Sunbeam, Urban Trance Plant, and so on. In those pre-Discogs days (the Dark Times), info on artist catalogues could be rather sketchy, so I pretty much went into AudioGalaxy blind and nabbed whoever I could find, whether they had a Music Research or Hypnotic tie-in or not.

Still with me on this? If not, don't worry. All you need to know is the tracks I put on here were done by artists I felt were part of that 'classic Hypnotic sound', which was really just a bunch of hard German trance. That, in a nutshell, is what we got on Hypnotic: Electronic Purity.

Or not. Okay, it's my own fault for not realizing Sunbeam was only on Music Research for a short while, but how was I to know that they'd lasted through the turn of the century, long enough to release another proper LP called Lightyears. At a glance, it seems to be another round-up of their singles (including the much older Outside World and High Adventure), but you can imagine my surprise, stumbling on all these unknown-to-me Sunbeam tunes, and were mastered at such a higher clarity than their mid-'90s stuff. Oh, and they'd gone down the schlocky epic trance road too. Not that Sunbeam was all that credible even in their German trance days, so I included five tunes in this collection regardless. Yay?

Some good tracks then. One cut I knew I needed on that initial 'Hypnotic download spree' was Beyond Reality's Mind Runner, a true classic of hard German trance from a Danish duo that never made more than the one EP it featured on. But hoo, is it ever a blinder of a cut, hitting everything you could love of that era with perfection: acid, driving beats, one Hell of a spacey earworm hook, and claps - oh man, those claps are delish'. There were also a number of Komakino cuts I was missing, including their work as Final Fantasy like The Sequence Of Love and Sound Of The Atom Splitting. And rounding things out is A Passage To India from Urban Trance Plant, a group that could daftly be described as ‘deep German trance’. They love the slow build, the UTP does.

Yeah, I’m fanboy gushing hard here. Whatever. Hypnotic (or the sound I associated with them before I clued up) was there to lead me into the underground, so nothing but shameless love here, folks.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet

Def Jam Recordings: 1990

This should have been the first Public Enemy album I reviewed when all their CDs I ordered showed up, but alphabetical stipulation forbade. Its significance couldn’t be overlooked though, even when focusing on Apocalypse 91 - how many times did I namedrop Fear Of A Black Planet on that one? And it must be a damn important album if the National Recording Registry added it to the Library Of Congress. Woo, government approval from a group that rallied against the government all the time. How the world can change in fifteen years (wait, there’s still a Bush as President...?).

The reason for all this heaped praise is Public Enemy set out to do nothing less than make the definitive concept album with Fear Of A Black Planet. Mighty bold of them to do so within a genre of music that was still relatively new to the populace, almost exclusively focused on party jams and clever world play. Who did Public Enemy think they were in going where no one in hip-hop had gone before? Oh yeah, the same guys that had made the critical and commercial success of It Takes A Nation Of Millions, etc.. Well, that settles that. Go for it, boyeee! (dammit, Flav...)

Since Fear Of A Black Planet is now talked about in reverential terms, Public Enemy obviously succeeded in their goals. It certainly helped that the group's production crew, The Bomb Squad, had all the swagger in the world, confident their 'wall of noise' sample collages could see no bounds. And holy shit, are these tracks ever dense with samples. Good luck IDing even a fraction of them without a cheat sheet (apparently the opening minute-long 'skit' holds some fifty samples alone). Getting a ton of (uncleared!) samples ain't nothing if you can't make awesome music out of it though, but The Bomb Squad were masters of their trade by this point, each track or interlude never losing the plot with overindulgent wankery. Fear Of A Black Planet's beats may not be as immediate as other Public Enemy LPs, but they hold your attention nonetheless, your brain picking everything apart to hear all the little details. This is definitely an album you'll come back to time after time to discover some new morsel missed on a prior playthough.

Now for the nitpick: not enough Chuck D. Ridiculously, it’s almost five tracks before we get some serious verbal attacks from the PE frontman (second track Brothers Gonna Work It Out does have some spit’n’fire for the Black community, but barely to the level of his best work), and it feels like he only shows up here and there. I get that this album’s practically The Bomb Squad’s show, and that a musical concept album such as this requires some sacrifices on the lyrical front (not much, mind, but it is noticeable), yet the lack of Mr. Ridenhour (!!) firing lyrical shots all throughout does leave me wanting. Then again, what does a Canadian cracker like I know?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Various - Dark Prog

(~): 2002

Since I'm doing yet another alphabetical backtrack, I may as well also touch upon a couple burned CDs I listened to but didn't bother writing reviews for because, eh, why would I? Who'd care about collections of music that I have nowhere else, uniquely arranged nowhere else, with custom covers you'll find nowhere else? Well, okay, the only reason I didn't before was because I didn't think I'd be able to put those covers up, but now that I've invested in a scanner, you get to see all my rank-amateur mix CD artistic creativity. The music on these is worth talking about though, so here we go.

Like dark prog. Not really a specific sub-genre of any kind, but all I have to mention is “that 2002 Digweed sound”, and any follower of progressive house will know exactly what I'm talking about. As trance kept getting more overblown on one side of the club, DJs and producers looking to maintain a level of credibility would jump on anything that sounded deep, dubby, tribal... dark. 2002 was probably its peak before prog went twinklier (the Schulz sound) or was nearly abandoned altogether in favour of tech-house proper.

The tunes I gathered up for this CD were ones plucked from old P2P programs, based on recommendations in Muzik Magazine's reviews section (truthfully, that's how I made nearly every burned CD back in the day). After noticing quite a bit of 'dark prog' in a recent download session, I decided making a full CD out of the stuff was appropriate. You’ll never find an official tracklist for Dark Prog, so here's a quick rundown of the tunes I used.

Trancesetter's The Saga opens things up, which with quite the powerful hook introduced midway through, doesn't really fit with the deep, dark, dubby theme I wanted; on the other hand, it's one banger of a tune to start a disc on! Following that is Tilt’s Headstrong, specifically the Relentless Vocal Mix with spacey lyrics from Maria Nayler. Yeah, that’s the deep, chugging sound of 2002 prog for ya’ ...but still a little accessible what with singing and a subtle hook in there. What’s so dark about this?

“Fine,” 2002 Sykonee says to my future self, “you want the darkness, you got it.” Slide (of ‘Cass &’ fame) vs Healey’s Fear. Hamel & Blackwatch’s Discotek. Innate’s Roots Rock... oh man, that’s some good dark, dubby prog, mang. No, wait, Sworn’s Dark Amendments (Detract Dub), that’s the shit! (psst, it’s Andy Moor)

Dark prog could also get pretty tedious though, as evidenced by the last two tracks, both drab sludges clocking over eleven minutes each. Of course, I included the Sorrento Terrace Mix of Headstrong as a quirky counterpoint to the earlier mix, but DJ Gogo’s Sayna doesn’t even have that going for it. Only reason I did include it was my obsessive need to use everything I downloaded. It made for some weird compilations down the road, believe you me.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Public Enemy - Apocalypse 91 ...The Enemy Strikes Black

Def Jam Recordings: 1991

Here’s a controversial thought: as awesome as The Bomb Squad were in producing Public Enemy’s first few albums, there were growing too esoteric for the hip-hop community. Cool, you guys can cram a whole bunch of sounds and samples into your tracks, creating works of music like dense collages, but dammit, the rest of Public Enemy’s getting lost in the shuffle in doing so. Just as well, then, that they’d step back from the studio following the copyright clampdown on sampling, donning an executive producer’s role for this here Apocalypse 91 album. If they can’t play with all the toys, then they ain’t gonna play with them at all …well, much anyway.

Replacing them for main beatsmith duties are Imperial Grand Ministers Of Funk. And straight up, the funk be back up in this trunk, booyeee! Oh, damn, I’ve been hearing too much Flavor Flav lately. Sorry about that. Seriously though, it’s great to hear beats that come fast and hard, but with plenty of bounce in them. Since raiding tons of samples to keep your attention just wasn’t allowed anymore, the music’s gotten simpler for the most part, relying on infectious funk and soul loops complementing rhythms that bang. Here’s another controversial thought: I like the production on Apocalypse 91 more than the lauded Fear Of A Black Planet and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Not to take anything away from The Bomb Squad, and their touch still remains throughout this album, but if I’m reaching for a Public Enemy LP that’ll hit me with beats my EDM-tastes lean towards, this is the one that makes the cut for sure.

It also helps that Chuck D, Terminator X, and even Flavor Flav are hitting their respective peaks too. If Fear Of A Black Planet had them stepping back as The Bomb Squad took the spotlight, the three main stage players don’t hold anything back on Apocalypse 91. Chuck D’s as fiery as he’s ever been, going after targets ranging from political, corporate, and even criminal. Public Enemy’s often been called ‘militant’, their music the sort of rhetoric that’ll rouse the rabble, but Chuck D’s more focused in his attacks this time out, giving specific targets and even solutions when he can (quit all that boozing in 1 Million Bottlebags). And damn, here’s a third controversial thought: Flavor Flav’s gotten good on the mic. When did he find the time for that? He’s always been obligated one or two cuts to himself on Public Enemy’s albums, and they were guaranteed the weakest tracks. He still isn’t anywhere near Chuck D’s level, but I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Niga and A Letter To The New York Post are pretty strong showings from the comedy sidekick.

Apocalypse 91 may not receive the same level of plaudits as their prior albums, but it easily ranks high among hip-hop albums from an era filled with classics. This is Public Enemy with nothing left to prove and firing on all cylinders.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The KLF - Justified & Ancient

Arista: 1991/1992

I never really liked Justified & Ancient in its White Room incarnation. Despite a decent number to end the album on, it held none of the thrill Side A was stuffed with, and little to look forward to after the mostly bland slog of Side B. Of course, I had no bloody idea that the proper single of this tune was totally different until much, much later, but after learning such third-hand, I'd never find it, forever lost to the dustbins of time where- oh, there it is in a used shop. That settles that, I guess.

The evolution of Justified & Ancient is probably more interesting than anything I can say about the music itself. Already a running theme within Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond’s discography (popping up as early as the track Hey Hey We Are Not The Monkees in the album 1987 What The Fuck’s Going?, under the earlier The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu guise ...whew, what a wordfull), it seems appropriate this would end up their final single before calling it quits in the music business altogether.

Ironically, part of their retirement was due to the success of this single, specifically revitalizing Tammy Wynette’s career after she provided vocals for the new Stand By The JAMS mix. Suddenly The KLF were getting requests from a slew of has-been musicians looking for the Timelords bump. Well gee, can’t go becoming a part of the system they’d worked so hard to subvert, so screw you Music Industry, we’re done.

Included in this single is the ‘original’ White Room version, which I’ve warmed to since those blinkered early teen years of mine. Plus, in case you’re one of those ‘progressive house’ DJs needing an instrumental tool, there’s the Let Them Eat Ice Cream mix.

Really though, we’re all here for the upbeat UK acid house, chart topping romp of Stand By The JAMS. It’s got Tammy Wynette bellowing out the verses (apparently time-stretched at points as she was unable to sing in time to the backing tracks – darn country singers and always getting their way with session musicians conforming to their needs), a bouncy rhythm that was quite popular with cross-over house music in the Isle O’ Brits, cheers, chants, raps, guitars, daft lyrics (no, really, what’s with the ice cream van?) and all the uplifting anthem choruses you can sing along to (and wonder just how sincere The KLF were being with them). Oddly, there’s also an All Bound For Mu Mu Land version, which has frequent KLF vocal contributor Maxine Harvey taking on full vocal duties (she also provided the choruses of the Tammy Wynette version). Was this recorded prior to Cauty and Drummond knowing they’d get the First Lady Of Country in the studio, or after when their session didn’t turn out as they’d hoped before Cauty manipulated them? Ooh, now there’s a hilarious set-up for a theoretical one-question-only situation, to have it wasted on something so trivial. I’m sure The KLF would approve.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Squarepusher - Just A Souvenir

Warp Records: 2008

You have to feel a bit sorry for all those pioneering IDM wonks from the '90s. They set the bar of ingenuity so bloody high in such a short period of time, that the expectation for them to continuously keep topping themselves would eventually be a futile effort. Not that they would feel the pressure to do so, of course, but some creativity burn-out would have to set in if they didn't explore other music for a while. So while some weren't too keen on Tom Jenkinson taking his Squarepusher guise closer to proper jazz-fusion realms (real instruments, what!?), in the long run it was probably for the best, letting him recharge before his braindance stuff wore itself out.

Still, he’d done his ‘jazz album’ with Music Is Rotted One Note, so even that could be expected of him, especially a full decade following it (ten year celebration! ...or is this just a coincidence?). So how about rock fusion then? Surely ol’ Tom could list several psychedelic and garage-fuzz jam works as inspiration too (much of it came out around the same time as Miles Davis’ peak). Yeah, sure, whatever, you’ve earned your right for musical self-indulgence, Mr. Jenkinson, by all means show us what you got in your one-man band cadre.

Well, not right away, it turns out on Just A Souvenir. The first few tracks are on more familiar ground, like the spritely space-funk works Star Time 2 and The Coathanger, while A Real Woman sounds more like what those late-‘70s avant garde French acts would kick out. Complete with vocoders? I’m sold! Shame the whole album isn’t like this, but the rest is good fun too, provided you have an ear for odd-ball jam-fusion music.

And you know it’s gonna be one of those when you hear that tell-tale tik-tik-tik of drum sticks at the opening. Then bass, guitar, drums, and occasional keyboards go at it, like some kind of demented punk outfit from a far-flung European province while wacked-out on acid. Though it’s just Squarepusher doing the music, you can almost imagine a three or four piece band giving their all on stage or in a garage. Considering there’s but one chap making all this racket, the music’s impressive enough that it sounds like there should be more there.

Yet, there’s something missing from Just A Souvenir that completes the illusion: it’s too tight. I’d imagine if this really was some long-lost psychedelic punk-jam band from the ‘70s, the music would come off even sloppier, wonderfully so; like the band members had all the inspiration in the world, but not quite the skill to pull it off, and you’d admire their gumption, if nothing else. As a musician and producer, Tom Jenkinson’s better than that, which has given him the chance to explore such diverse sonic avenues, but not the expertise to fully integrate into them. In the end, we all know what his bread-and-butter be, but thanks for the souvenir just the same.

Friday, November 1, 2013

2 Unlimited - Jump For Joy (BioMetal, Part 3)

Popular Records: 1996

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

“Dammit, Anita, what’s its weakness?”

“I… I…” The HALBRED’s scanner still drew blank, unable to identify the cloud of spores. “I don’t know,” she stammered, shaking her head. “Try the rockets.”

“I already have,” Ray shouted in her head. Why’d he have to keep shouting? Was he cracking under the pressure? What hope did they have if he couldn’t hold it together? “They pass through these blasted clouds. No effect at all.”

The HALBRED’s shields had held against the attack, but drained the ship’s auxiliary power fast. If she couldn’t find a way to defeat the spores, they’d overwhelm them, doing who knew what in the process. Maybe there wasn’t a way. Maybe the BioMetals had developed technology they weren’t prepared for. Maybe this was nothing but a fool’s mission, with no hope-

“The source!” she suddenly shouted. “Ray, punch it forward.”

“What? But-“

“Go! And get the main cannon ready.”

The HALBRED emerged from the hidden alcove, and instantly the spore cloud enveloped the ship, tiny balls of synthetic and organic matter attacking the shield spheres tightly orbiting them. Anita drew up another life-sign scan of the cavern ahead. Her first had yielded no BioMetals before, but then it wouldn’t if it was only scanning for familiar forms – frigates, humanoids, even insect types.

“Where am I going?” Ray asked.

“Forward. I’ll let you know when to fire.” With a sharp thrust, the HALBRED plowed into the cloud, carving a wake of yellow spores.

Anita recalibrated her scanner to pick up combinations signs of chitin and cellulose, and immediately her sensors flared red. No surprise the spores surrounding their ship would be filled with them, but she hoped her scanner could pin-point a concentrated area. Within moments, she spotted it, her eyes lighting up as an excited, “Yes!” escaped her mouth, nearly jumping for joy in the process.

“Here,” she said, punching coordinates into the HALBREDs computer. “Fire at this spot and don’t stop until the banks are dry!”

“But there’s nothing-“

“Do it! We’re almost out of shield power!”

A concentrated blast of white-hot energy erupted from the HALBRED’s main cannon. Though neither could see the target, Anita was certain it struck against a wall where three large polyps the size of their ship rested. An explosion rocked the cavern, the cloud of spores falling gently to the surface below soon after.

Anita couldn’t help but smile when she heard Ray’s bewildered request for an explanation. “All these spores were acting independent, yet together,” she explained. “Sort of like fungal communities. I figured they had to be controlled from a central source, but since we’ve never encountered BioMetals of such origin, the ship didn’t recognize them.”

“Huh. Well, let’s hope we don’t encounter any more of these things,” he gruffed.

Not even a ‘good job’, Anita sighed, but she wasn’t surprised either. If the BioMetals had evolved to adapt plant and fungal based organisms too, there was no telling what their deadly potential could be, especially ahead of them.


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

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