Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Various - min2MAX (Original TC Review)

M_nus: 2006

(2014 Update:
If this music is so minimal, then why is this review so maximal, AMIRITE!!?? Wow... I mean, just wow. How did I ever manage 1,200 words for this one? Right, a good four-hundred is spent at the start getting TranceCritic's reader-base caught up on what the whole minimal craze was about. We were just under a year late in doing so, but it needed addressing, and I was lucky enough to spot an eye-catching cover in the local HMV megastore that had a bunch of the music on it. Besides, it was a fresh stylistic movement that deserved
some attention. Surely something like minimal would remain just a short-term fad though, one kept in underground, off-road events; nothing this gimmicky could endure and infest nearly every other genre and club for too long, right? Haha ha.

Ah well, 2006 was the honeymoon year, and as such saw occasional clever works being put out. There's a few on here too, but Hawtin's iron-clad manifesto of what his assembled M_nus roster
should sound like is incredibly apparent on this compilation. While Magda, Wink, and Heartthrob break free of his shackles, it's apparent the rest struggled to meet his standards, coming out with relatively forgotten works now. Except that JPLS track - its suckiness is forever burned upon my poor ears.)


IN BRIEF: More than meets the ear.

Now here’s a style of music that’s sparked some debate. Minimal techno, in all its unassuming-yet-pretentious history, has dug deeper trenches in the Genre Wars than nearly any other genre out there. By listening and even getting something out of minimal, you’re considered far more cultured in music than the commoners of the pop world; a worthy gauge to test your sonic intellect. If you can’t comprehend it, then you simply must be a simpleton, so why not just go scurry on back to your Scooter albums, Junior, while the grown-ups enjoy their forward-thinking music.

Truthfully, the minimal crowds have a point when they make such outlandish claims. This music is not going to hold your hand and lead you to insta-melodies or pummeling percussion. Instead, it demands your undivided attention to pick out its nuances; those with short-attention spans need not apply. A slight change in pitch or rhythmic variation can have the same impact as a sputtering synth in epic trance or roaring bassline in jungle. This is music mostly for the head rather than the body or soul.

Of course, there’s always the trap of trying to be too clever, and this is often where minimal stumbles with a casual fanbase. Like other kinds of head music (psy dub, nu-jazz, drone), the old cliché of ‘rewards paying attention’ is suited, but minimal has the annoying habit of never anteing up such a reward. Too often what you hear is what you get, and this can be frustrating for those who want something out of the music they listen to, even if it’s subtle.

Richie Hawtin has bridged the gap between party hedonism and stubborn pretensions better than anyone, and has become the poster boy for minimal’s mission to bring a sense of class back to clubland without losing the fun along the way. I can’t say for sure whether he’s succeeding or not, but hanging out with Sven Väth certainly seems to have lightened up the Windsor native. In the process, Plastikman has gone ahead and started a label, Minus, promoting his manifesto.

min2MAX showcases a bevy of Minus producers, each giving us their take on the minimal sound. I suppose if you’re new to this music, such an idea sounds frightfully dull. Who has the time to sit through an entire compilation of minute beats and sound? Actually, further listening on min2MAX revels a decent amount of diversity within minimal’s structure.

Heartthrob’s Baby Kate gets this show on the road with a simple groover as bleepy sounds and bouncy bass bobble about. It’s all very subtle sounding, but bits of volume tweaks and reverb tricks do keep things ever-shifting. Similarly, follow-up Scatter from Gaiser pulls the same stunt on its percussion while a deep bassline grumbles about and sparse, static sounds do weird things in the background. Listening to these, it’s pretty apparent these tracks are more interested in creating atmosphere than anything else. In this, it does succeed, but your enjoyment of it will probably stem from whether you like mechanical mood music.

However, even mood music can use some melodic substance at times, and Magda gives us it with Staring Contest. Yeah, the rhythms are slight, and there still aren’t any major hooks to be had, but with twinkling sounds echoing in the background, there’s still an air of benevolence to be had. It’s the kind of stuff you might expect to hear on a Drexciya release, as it contains that ‘underwater resonance’ the group was known for. Of course, it also helps Magda has crafted a rhythm that is actually rather funky for something so minimal.

Unfortunately, Konrad Black’s offering here shows what’s so wrong with this genre. You get some bobbling bass sounds and sparse rhythms, and that’s it for the duration. Sure, a couple effects or percussion switch-ups occur at points, but none of which do anything remotely interesting, causing the track to loop along uneventfully. At least Troy Pierce’s GVRL retains some of that lost interest with an acidy bassline that’s nicely tweaked as it loops, all the while bleepy sound effects and better percussion fill in the surroundings. It’s still not terribly enduring, but a better effort in creating some of that moody atmosphere that was apparent early in this compilation.

Now here’s an individual that’s made the most out of the least. Wink’s Higher State from back in the 90s was pretty much just a funky electro beat, time-stretched vocals, and an acid line that got tweaked and distorted like a rockin’ guitar solo. So what’s he got in store for us here? Maintaining min2MAX’s theme, it seems. Have To Get Back is yet another dark, moody excursion into minimal sounds and layered loops. However, Wink does keep the tension on a continuous climb, letting layers overlap each other with increasing frequency. Eventually, some danceable tribal rhythms make an appearance via distorted percussion, but it never erupts the way you might hope the name Wink would lead you to believe. Still, it’s an interesting track while it lasts.

Marc Houle and Niederflur provide a ‘minimal-at-opposite-ends’ segment with these next two tracks. The former’s kind of similar to Pierce’s go, with a wobbly acid bassline and housey rhythms that groove you as plinky electronic noises work their way around them; probably the most energetic song thus far (although that isn’t saying much). Meanwhile, z.B. goes the other way, getting as minimal as minimal gets. The bassline is a mere pulse, synth stabs break the gloom infrequently, and clicky noises worm about, creating a rather choking atmosphere. Actually, this is closer to dub techno than minimal, but the two aren’t that dissimilar when you break them down. Is it any good though? Not bad at all, provided you don’t get distracted from all the yummy mechanical resonance. Yeah, yeah... I likes me some dubby resonance.

“But enough with all this dark, moody, serious stuff,” you say. “Can’t minimal get its head out of its ass long enough to at least have a sense of humour?” Look no further than Tractile’s Unquenchable then. The sounds used here, plinky-plonky electronic stuff sounding like some sort of dwarf-sized factory, end up taking a goofier slant on things compared to what we’ve heard so far, and it’s certainly a welcome relief to see some fun injected into this compilation, even if it’s only just this once.

With that out of the way, min2MAX gets back to business as usual for the final stretch, with two good tracks of groovey, deep techno sounds (Victoria Station and Orchidee), and an utterly horrible track lodged between the two of them. Seriously, this... Twilite 7; what on Earth is this? It takes the plinky-plonk sounds of Unquenchable and puts them in the sparse production of z.B., with none of the charm of either. It shows off everything that minimal gets mocked about in spades, and is an unfortunate blemish on a rather decent compilation in general.

Yeah, this is a decent compilation, and I’m sure fans of this stuff will love it. The bigger question, though, is whether there’s enough substance here to sway the anti-minimal crowd to switch sides. Frankly, it all depends on whether you buy into the agenda min2MAX sets out to accomplish. As mentioned, the music on here is more for your mood rather than to make you move; it’s far better suited to sitting back and listening to despite a few booty-shakin’ worthy moments. Although I’m not a big indulger of the minimal sounds of techno, I have to admit I still found myself occasionally getting lost in the murky atmosphere of these tracks.

min2MAX gives a suitable balance of sounds for the curious. If you want to hear what the fuss regarding minimal is, this is a safe purchase.


ACE TRACKS:
Magda - Staring Contest
Loco Dice - Orchidee

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.


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