Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mahiane - Oxycanta: Winter Blooms (Original TC Review)

Ultimae Records: 2007

(2014 Update:
I go on about how awesome Ultimae is and how they're one of my favorite labels and that everyone should immediately check out their roster and I'll shut up now. In truth though, it took me over a year after stumbling upon Asura's
Life² before fully committing to digging into their catalog further. When I finally did, it was with this CD, again an impulse purchase based on the cover. The music within completely and utterly convinced me that Ultimae was a label I needed to keep tabs on, which led to further purchases from Solar Fields' Movements and the Fahrenheit Project series. You probably know how the rest of this story plays out by now.

Oxycanta seemed destined to have a short existence, scuttled like so many of Ultimae's compilation series as this decade turned. Lo', it returned last year. I guess Mahiane found inspiration again with the crop of new talent contributing to the label. It's... well, I'll save those thoughts for when I review it.)


IN BRIEF: ‘Tis the season.

As tempting as it is to start a winter-themed compilation of music with some sort of poetic metaphor tying into the frigid months of the year, my internal Corny-Countermeasure Procedure continuously denies me the opportunity – damn you, Corny-Countermeasure Procedure! Besides, for all the tranquil, pretty vistas a snow-covered landscape portrays, the reality of winter tends to be far more brutal. Ice storms, biting winds below fifty-degrees Centigrade, mucky gritty slush as snow melts, hideous displays of driving… there’s a reason so many birds flee to more hospitable regions of the world and several animals would just rather sleep through it all.

Being one of the more illogical animals of this world, however, humans prefer making the best of the cold climate while we can. Ice skating, skiing, festive light shows (it really does glow prettily off the snow), and, of course, music. At no other time of the year will you find more popular music directly tied to a season, such that we have to endure it over and over and over and over…

Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked. Oxycanta, then. The second of a somewhat infrequent compilation series put together by Ultimae co-founder Sandrine Gryson (aka: Mahiane), the obvious-to-everyone-now theme here is that of winter. Of course, this being Ultimae, the music dwells on the delicate and naturalistic aspects of the season, preferring to conjure images of quiet frosted forests and frozen-over streams, untouched and unspoiled by human influence. And it is stunningly beautiful to listen to.

Seriously, opener Strawberry Planetarium is ambient at its hauntingly best - layered pads and delicate timbre work together to create a sublime trip through tonal harmony. Along the way, spritely clicks and glitches add to the atmosphere; it’s like being trapped in lake ice as it slowly thaws. Of course, there really isn’t much of a song here, but then ambient seldom follows structure, merely going about its business as it sooths to the ears.

Much of Winter Blooms features passages and pieces of this nature. It isn’t until third track Flaktsystem from Amos that we have something resembling a proper song (though everything leading up to it is still engaging nonetheless). Even then, Flaktsystem is more of an excursion through tones and timbres, only this time with lovely piano melodies guiding us along laid-back rhythms. Aes Dana’s Nexus, nearly half-way through the CD, provides the first fully-formed piece of music, which is a quite a long while to wait. I’m sure this begs the question, then, of whether half a disc of lovely tonal textures and meditative passages is too much noodly music for the casual listener.

To this, I give a definite no. The beauty of Oxycanta is that it works in various ways. If you play diligent attention to the music, you’re rewarded with deeply considered harmonies, sucking you into a calming meditation of delicate tones and steadying rhythms, none of which ever dip into saccharine New Age mumbo-jumbo. If you just throw this on as background fodder, however, it’s equally effective as atmospheric ambient, setting a blissful mood that will tingle at the soul while you’re engaged in other activities.

Oh wait, you’re still wondering if that winter theme is ever-present - to a degree, yes. As mentioned, the first half touches upon the tranquil nature of the season; meanwhile, the second half delves into the less comforting aspects of winter: the cold textures of downbeat techno. Mind, Waters from Sgnl_fltr is something more akin to old-school trance, and quite brisk for a compilation of this sort. Beyond there, however, things get rather experimental, with clicks and glitches meandering around cold soundscapes; still, lurking underneath it all is some warmth, as though buried and patiently waiting for the season to change. And closer Nautilus from James Murray is definitely the perfect track to bring in some warmth, dipping into ambient dub’s bubbly waters with Far East influences.

As great as the music on Oxycanta is, though, it’s Mahiane’s arrangement of the tracks that gives this compilation that extra bit of shine. While not exactly a DJ mix, there are still nice blends between the each piece of music, and is sequenced in such a way that it rather plays like one long song. In the burgeoning age of digital downloads, it’s growing increasingly rare to find compilations of this sort, much less expertly arranged to form a cohesive flow. It’s reassuring to know this isn’t a completely lost art.

Eh? Oh, I guess you’ve noticed that, technically, Winter Blooms isn’t exactly current. Granted, as of this writing, it was released a year ago, but that’s beside the point. Like the season it draws influence from, there is a timeless quality to Oxycanta; while it may make better sense to listen to during the frigid months of the year, it works for any setting. Heart-healing properties indeed.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved.


ACE TRACKS:
Hybrid Leisureland - Stawberry Planetarium
Amos - Flaktsystem
Sgnl_fltr - Waters


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