Sunday, November 30, 2014

Antendex - Photons

Force Intel: 2010

I kicked this November’s batch of reviews off with ZerO One, an ambient techno producer that isn’t all that dissimilar to The Higher Intelligence Agency. Now I’m at the end of November reviewing an album called Photons from Antendex, another collection of music that bears striking similarities to The HIA. And in the middle of this month I reviewed Boards Of Canada’s Geogaddi, which only has tangentially related stylistic markers within ambient techno’s scope to any of these acts. But a tangent is a prominent feature in geometry and trigonometric applications, which is more math you know – just know - BoC intended as another hidden clue to that album’s deeper meanings that the music alone couldn’t articulate. And that message…? That I’m never gonna’ let fan-based theoretical bollocks go, am I?

Seriously though, it’s a remarkable coincidence that this month of reviews is bookmarked by a pair of such albums. However, where ZerO One’s efforts were of a more playful approach, Antendex (or Tamás Olejnik to Hungarian credit companies) goes for the serious, experimental side of ambient ‘bleep’ dub techno. Though I immediately thought of HIA when listening to Photons, you could probably namedrop plenty other early IDM acts who shared similar aesthetics with Bobby Bird’s work (Autechre, Biosphere, etc.). This album also smacked some sense into my jaded assumptions of ambient techno’s non-status in the new millennium. I had no idea anyone would make deliberately old-school ‘bleep’ dub, yet on reflection it shouldn’t have surprised me, dub techno finding all sorts of in-roads with budding laptop producers. That Mr. Olejnik would craft an album strong enough to gain Force Intel’s notice and blessing is remarkable, but then perhaps the Mille Plateaux offshoot had as much of a hankering for the retro style Antendex offered as I did.

Yeah, I should get this out of the way: as a collection of ‘bleep’ ambient dub,Photons is incredibly vintage, almost to a fault. I don’t know whether Mr. Olejnik was directly inspired by Bird, but these sound an awful lot like HIA b-sides. If I’ve never convinced you of the wicked-neat sounds of HIA, I doubt I’ll have any luck with Antendex. If you’re game though, stick around to the end of this review for some convincing. Or pie. I promise there’ll be pie afterwards.

Photons is made up of thirteen primary tracks, plus a remix of the first song Quanta. Other track titles include names like Emission, Amino, Modulation, and Dronflex. This is all very geeky sounding, and the music is too. It’s also quite pretty in that minimalist way spacious bleep ambience can go, though a few experimental drone tracks are littered about too. Very little breaches the four minute mark either, giving these tracks an bit of pop writing sensibility. Just as well since the sonic ideas Antendex brings up in each track didn’t need much exploration anyway. It’s all rather samey throughout, but if it’s a sound you can dig, your ear-holes shall be tickled proper.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Various - Phoenix Rising (Original TC Review)

Trishula Records: 2007

(2014 Update:
Whoof, is this ever a painful one to read. Grammar's incredibly clunky, the preamble lead-in has little to do with anything, and it has a return of the dreaded track-by-track analysis, a format we'd all but stopped doing half-way through TranceCritic's run. A big part of the problem is my attempts at 'journalistic impartiality' while still struggling at playing the PR political game with Trishula, hoping for continual promos from the label. I also had growing doubts if I was legitimately enjoying this music, or it was nothing more than an escape from my lingering frustration over euro-trance's regular nonsense. I wanted to praise this music, but didn't always believe what I was writing. Listening back on this compilation, I can at least verify it
does hold up for dark psy - Trishula were good at gathering talent with unique takes on the sound. Shame I wasn't more confident in conveying such sentiments back in the day.)


IN BRIEF: Trishula, twisted as ever.

Well this is different. Oh, not so much the actual music on here, although I’ll get to that in a bit. No, I’m talking about the cover. I’m so used to dealing with Hindu themes or psychedelic themes or alien themes that seeing one delving into Egyptian mythology is a nice change of pace. Okay, so there’s both psychedelic and Hinduism imagery lurking in the background, but it’s that flaming bird grabbing your attention on the cover, so it dominates the theme.

That’s Trishula’s game though. Mechanophobia touched on Judaism, so the label has no qualms with shying away from psy trance’s usual clichés. A unique sound has been bred in their roster, standing out from the crowded arena of wibbly glut. And by skewing towards the darker side of the genre, they seem intent on exploring twisted soundscapes rather than offer easy accessibility.

(I suppose this is about where I normally give my “psy trance isn’t for everyone” disclaimer, but is it really necessary anymore? Yes, this is fringe music. That doesn’t make it any less worthwhile for those seeking a little diversity in electronic music though. Deal with it.)

I think it’s safe to say Trishula’s roster is in top form on this release. These aren’t some bunch of Israeli ravers who’ve just been inspired by Infected Mushroom or Astral Projection, knocking out redundant full-on trance overnight, never to be heard from again. Rather, there’s a meticulous method to these producers’ madness; a steely control over their tracks can be heard once you get past the noisy surface (although Mind Distortion System does every-so closely flirt with excessive squibble on his offering).

And this is why, despite the brisk BPMs, Phoenix Rising works better as head-music than the dancefloor. These tracks would rather play wonderful twisted things with your mind, although should you give a little ass-shake in the process doesn’t hurt.

A nice bit of variety is on offer here for a collection of tunes that remain in the narrow field of dark psy. Attoya’s and Darkpsy’s tracks are more obvious than the rest, with immediate hooks and sounds you don’t have to concentrate to discover. Less so is Mubali vs Kindzadza’s Galactic Cannibalism and Mind Distortion System’s Underworld, both of which make ample use of squiggly synths that sound akin to binary droid speak (maybe). They’re odd, yet kind of fun too.

Meanwhile, Dark Elf and Detonatik try to show us psy has rhythmic worthiness despite claims to the contrary. Routeroot comes close but stumbles from a lack of direction with sounds that are over-aggressive in delivery; like listening to a cyborb meatgrinder, to my ears. Hot Bird Satelite soars though, with a kick-ass driving beat that intensifies as the song moves forward and trippy effects that add to the tribal-tech-trance feel.

A little further along, this compilation enters what I can best describe as The Cybernetic Swamp Section, as Detonator & Darkshire’s Mind Your Gap and Olien’s Drophole sound exactly like that. The former contains an assortment of eerie sound effects as a murky atmosphere envelopes your senses but it’s Olien’s offering that’s the highlight. Whereas Mind Your Gap dwelled on the critters, Drophole turns our attention to the lumbering beasts that move about. Strangely enough, there’s also a spaceport nearby too. Delightfully bizarre.

And finally, Phoenix Rising ends on a couple tracks borrowing elements of pop culture (I suppose Engine kind of did too with Riddick samples, but that saga’s still relatively obscure compared to Star Wars and Phantom Of The Opera). Normally, these sort of songs aren’t the best, often getting too caught up in playing “Hey, Recognize This Sample?” with the listener. In this case though, most of the samples used complement what the producers are doing, so Darkforces and Phantom Ki are fine closers.

And speaking of closers, that about wraps up this review. I guess it’s elementary from here, folks. Phoenix Rising is a solid compilation of psy. It executes with precision, doesn’t get bogged down in excess, and dabbles in enough variety to keep it fresh throughout. If none of this holds any appeal for you, chances are you haven’t even read this far anyway (and if you have, I haven’t the foggiest notion why).

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved

Tangerine Dream - Phaedra

Virgin: 1974/1995

I've got a hundred angles to approach this with, and I'm stumped on every single one of them. Guess that’s why I'm going with the “I'm stumped in how to approach this” opener, wasting valuable self-imposed word count in the process. Tangerine Dream's history, their lasting inspiration on future producers of ambient and experimental synth-pop (!), even specific details surrounding the release of Phaedra: all better options in starting this review with. Nope, I gotta' make this all about me and my dilemma. How selfish.

But also a disclaimer. Though I've listened to some Tangerine Dream and assorted solo works from various members and contributors (Christopher Franke, Klaus Schulze, Michael Hoenig, Ulrich Schnauss), Phaedra is the only album I've thus attained. I intend to gain more down the road, but I had to start somewhere, and Phaedra is generally considered the Tangerine Dream album you're supposed to have, even if you're not a Tangerine Dream fan. I think the only reason it got that status is from the fact it was their first album released on Virgin, so has had the longest-running significant PR behind it. Easy enough to pluck tracks from here for those ambient compilations the label put together in the early ‘90s, right? Instant importance established, especially upon a newly reinvigorated ambient scene owing quite a bit to the groundwork these guys paved.

Without boring you with minute details (as any Wikipedia entry should suffice), what elevates Phaedra above so much other Berlin-School krautrock was the way these guys manipulated sequencers into something free-flowing and improvisational. Many would replicate and even improve upon what was accomplished here, but the Phaedra and Movements Of A Visionary sessions captured a moment of exceptional creativity on the participants’ part (founder Edgar Froese, Franke, and Peter Baumann). With a bubbly synth-pulse as a guiding rudder, Phaedra moves through spacious alien terrain, floating kosmic music, and eerie lands of the unknown. Movements, at half Phaedra’s length, serves as something of a b-side, exploring similar musical ideas but with less emphasis on creating outworldly atmosphere.

Two other tracks make up this album, another lengthy piece titled Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares, and a short sonic doodle at the end called Sequent ‘C’. The latter isn’t of much interest, unless you’re totally down for Baumann’s dark flute action. The former, on the other hand, has more in common with modern classical of the time than space synth and minimalism. Ol’ Edgar gets most of the composing credit for that piece, and it shows, lacking the musically creative melting pot the other tracks have. It’s a fine example of the genre (Tomita must have been impressed), but not as dynamic as Phaedra and Movements.

This album is unquestionably required listening for all folks interested in ambient music. It’s also rather spiffy for spliff sessions, as I’m sure some egg-headed sorts indulged in back in the ‘70s. Imagine hearing this for the first time in those years, eh? Schrägesten musik, mann!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

Capitol Records: 1966/2001

Pull up for a tantalizing tale of talented musicians of the '60s. The Beatles were going from strength to strength, Paul McCartney and John Lennon riding an unprecedented creative streak into Revolver. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, despite coming off old-fashioned in the wake of the British Invasion, sought out to do nothing less than top that album. And so he did, Pet Sounds the results. Gobsmacked, the Liverpool Four went out of their way to top that album, which they did with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. So Brian had to top them once more, which he tried to with Smile ...except he had a nervous breakdown and mothballed most of those sessions, save some psychedelic weirdness and one of the greatest pop songs of all time in Good Vibrations.

Whoops, I'm getting ahead of things there. Then again, can it be helped with Pet Sounds, an album so ahead of its time, rock scholars are still finding tantalizing tidbits to study? It’s utterly insane the amount of production poured into all these simple little pop jangles and ballads, some of which seemingly used for little more than a lark. The out-of-tune mandolin that opens Wouldn’t It Be Nice is a mere precursor to the ‘kitchen-sink’ approach Wilson implemented. It’s like he scoured studios for any instrument or relic and found ways of fitting them in. “A Theremin? Sure, it’ll make for a neat capper on I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.” Small surprise the BBC did a new version of God Only Knows this year that only matched the original by throwing in every damn musician they could find into the session. Even then, I still prefer the original’s simple clippity-clop percussion over a full orchestra.

Pet Sounds is a triumph of studio wizardry, no doubt, but technical achievement does not timeless music make. What elevated this album above so many others are the themes Brian brings up, poignant coming of age reflections that often escape us until well after the fact. For instance That’s Not Me touches upon the romanticism of moving to the big city in search of fame, fortune and romance, which many young hopefuls in the ‘60s did in earnest. Yet here’s one guy realizing such pursuits were foolhardy, nor his dreams – he only did it because everyone else was doing it. I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times follows upon such sentiments, while I Know There’s An Answer (aka: Hang On To Your Ego) calls out the stubborn few who figure they know better regardless for the confused, isolated sorts they are. Couple this with love songs among the most mature you’ll ever hear (God Only Knows, Don’t Talk, Here Today), and you’ve an album thematically miles away from the carefree, youthfully exuberant ‘fun-in-the-sun’ vibes The Beach Boys were known for. Heady stuff, which few could relate to – at least until everyone went glum in the ‘70s, and many more in the decades that followed. Brian Wilson just got there first.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Scuba - Personality

Hotflush Recordings: 2012

Did anyone honestly figure Personality a sell-out? I know the move away from dubstep on Scuba's part would have alienated the hardest of his core followers of the time, but surely not the scene at large, primarily hearing of Mr. Rose only as another hyped named from the super-trendy Hotflush Recordings print. Not a terrible distinction, but if he was to extend his career beyond the rigid, insular fandom that dubstep had cultivated, he’d have to abandon it altogether. Fortunately, his style was already drifting down a different path anyway – heck, his ‘dubstep by way of Detroit’ music was what stood him out in the first place. So bemoan if you must that he never took ‘post-future-garage-step’ any further before being seduced by tech-house, but take heart that all DJs end up playing house eventually.

Personality isn’t a house record (shock!), but it isn’t a gritty techno one either. Rather, it’s a throwback to the earliest days of techno, when the Belleview Three and their immediate successors pictured the future as a funky, fun, and wondrous place rather than a bleak, dystopian one. There’s no hiding Scuba’s inspiration on this album, as anyone with elementary knowledge of the genre’s history shouldn’t have much difficulty in spotting the influences and nods to the forefathers (Hints? Well, Action sounds quite a bit like- hm, no, I don’t think I’ll ruin your trainspotting fun after all).

The good news is Scuba capably keeps his music sounding about as contemporary as ‘80s Detroit techno through UK-bass lenses can, working in bits and pieces of future garage’s stylistic markers. There’s crackly vinyl effects (Underbelly, Gekko), singing soul sista’s floating on past memories (Dsy Chn, Tulips), and even a ‘proper’ dubstep cut in Cognitive Dissonance for your half-step, wobble-bassline fix. It’s not all Detroit either, July coming on more like a Herbie Hancock cut than anything from Metroplex; elsewhere, NE1BUTU falls deep into the raver’s unabashed anthem E-hole, replete with rolling piano licks and sweet-smelling vocal Vicks (??). Nothing gets lost in nostalgia glaze or respectful homage either, the production cutting edge and crisp.

In fact, I think he goes too far in the mastering department. This is one loud album – not in a brick-walled manner as so much pop music goes, but in how much punch it carries. Even with headphones, you feel the weight of these beats, and though Scuba provides plenty of sonic separation with his samples and synths, it’s all front-and-center, directly in your audio face. Imagine watching a High Definition version of O.G. Robocop at a wide-screen theatre in neck breaking middle-seats of Row 2. It looks awesome, but is a bit much to take in at that range.

If that’s the only major gripe against Personality, however, then who gives a flip? The only other complaint I can think of is if you’re dead against anything Scuba makes that isn’t dubstep. Hey, at least you get broken-beats on this album. You sure ain’t hearing that from his sets anymore.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Aes Dana - Perimeters

Ultimae Records: 2011

Ultimae’s has four acts generally considered the label’s main roster: Aes Dana, Asura, Solar Fields, and Carbon Based Lifeforms (can Miktek be an honorary fifth now?). I’ve mentioned before that Mr. Villuis’ material doesn’t quite do it for me like the rest, but it took me a while to figure out why. His albums often lack big musical moments identifiable to his style, an element that can elevate an LP to George Takei levels of “Oh my…!” Asura will have a composition with stunning orchestral arrangements demanding of a major blockbuster, Solar Fields will have emotional high points that’ll melt your heart to mush, and CBL always find clever ways of making clinical ambient techno sound full and vibrant. Aes Dana though, I dunno. I struggle to recall any distinct pieces of music like I do MOS 6581, Sol or Halley’s Road.

For the longest time, I figured it was simply a case of Aes Dana lagging behind his compatriots in song craft ability. I mean, not everyone can be the best-of-the-best, and there's no shame in taking up the rear in a group of awesome talent – someone's gotta' play the part of Ringo, after all. Listening to Perimeters, however, I realized the reason for his lack of huge musical moments is entirely due to the style he cultivates. The dark, brooding synths, touches of gothic atmosphere, and rhythms owing some influence to trance's industrial roots - all great in creating a seductive mood maintained throughout the duration of an album's run-time. Shoehorning an epic climax or ear-wormy mega-hook would go against the Aes Dana stylee, and all the more power to Mr. Villuis for resisting the temptation to go outside that zone. It would only sound unnecessary and out of place.

*Phew*… it was a mouthful, but I had to get that nagging quandary solved. Hell, I still may come back to it with the next Aes Dana album I review, but I think I’ve finally got it covered why I do enjoy his music, yet always have difficulty recalling specifics. Okay, time to finally discuss Perimeters, then.

His fifth album, this one hints at a few new organic approaches to his style - opener Anthrazit has orchestral work, In Between features heavily treated pianos, and The Missing Worlds works a bit of acoustic guitar in. For the most part though, we’re dealing with an upbeat trance LP, tracks like Resin, In Between, Heaven Report, and the titular cut going at a brisk prog-psy pace. Most of the rhythms are rather clicky-minimalist too, though not to such a degree that it renders the music sterile – Aes Dana has more than enough evocative synths and pads at his disposal to ever let that happen. A few tracks start on the downtempo side before upping the BPMs, while others are content remaining in ambient drone’s territory. All said, a good album for those who like the dancier side of Ultimae. I know there’s a few of you out there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Harold Budd & Brian Eno - The Pearl

Editions EG: 1984/1987

Most everyone is familiar with Harold Budd and Brian Eno’s first collaboration, if nothing else because it served as the second in Eno’s seminal Ambient series. Less familiar is The Pearl, released during that period of the ‘80s when Eno and Daniel Lanois were hanging out a bunch, making soundtracks for Apollo missions and awakening sleepers (but before elevating U2’s musical presence to the godly realms).

For that reason, I keep thinking this is the score to an obscure art film that aired on BBC or PBS. I picture a haggard galleon captain, writing in his log book as twilight has settled. His only light is a single candle at his desk, and a pale glow of a near-half moon filtering through his window. An inner monolog intones bleak loneliness, uncertain of his futile mission of travelling incognito along the Spanish Main hunting for dwindling supplies of precious pearls. Why are they pillaging wondrous tropical islands for an Empire having difficulty sustaining these expeditions? What news of his wife and family back home, what with war brewing on mainland Europe? Half his crew remains discontent, hushed whispers of mutiny leaking through the ship’s wet, wooden floors. Existential historical drama at its finest, 8pm this Friday on your local public station.

So that may or may not have been what Budd and Eno were envisioning when crafting The Pearl (I’ll wager ‘not bloody likely’), but the beauty of this album is it can represent whatever you wish. That said, there’s definitely a lonely tone throughout, Budd’s delicate piano work enhanced by wispy synth echoes and ghostly reverb. At times, it feels as though notes linger in the air forever, your ears wandering the vast stretches of seeming emptiness before another gentle bit of piano plays out. There’s never any urgency in this music, though sometimes a looming feeling of disquieting unease permeates the atmosphere. Screw the historical drama, this is a perfect soundtrack for writing modern-epic Russian literature in the dead of Siberian winter.

The Pearl is a lovely collection of music, but unfortunately has little else to detail. Budd’s on the piano, Eno’s on the subtle synths, and Lanois’ on the treatments. Each track only lasts a few minutes, none breaching the five-minute mark, which is nice in keeping the music thematically tight within each composition – no meandering dithering on this album, my friends. A couple tracks make use of natural sound effects, like dripping water in A Stream With Bright Fish, distant calls of the wild in Dark-Eyed Sister, or night-time critters in An Echo Of Night. Also, Budd doesn’t always lead with piano, Against The Sky sounding like he uses a soft organ.

Given how much minimalist ambient material Eno’s put out over the years, it’s all too daunting diving into his extended works and collaborations, especially albums that aren’t at the peak of recommendation lists. As The Pearl comes from his golden ambient period though, definitely check this one out if you’ve started past the essentials.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique

Capitol Records: 1989

Licensed To Ill is the Beastie Boys album you're supposed to have, even if you're not much of a Beastie Boys fan; or rather, if you're not much of a hip-hop fan. Those 808 beats were fine so long as thrashing guitars are right around the corner, and the Boys themselves were easy enough to follow as lyricists. It's a 'rawk' album in rap's clothing, and perfectly safe for unwilling strollers near urban music. However, if you do fancy yourself a proper hip-hop consumer, then Paul's Boutique is unquestionably the Beastie Boys album you're supposed to have, full-stop.

As is so often the case with these seminal records though, Paul's Boutique was a commercial dud compared to the Beastie's debut. Mind, it wasn't entirely their fault, many factors contributing to public indifference: losing the Def Jam deal, bringing on relative unknown producers called The Dust Brothers, gangsta rap becoming the new hotness, getting stereotyped as nothing more than a bunch of punk brats, going too artistically ambitious before the world of music was ready for it. God damn, 1989 was square.

The truth of the matter – and what everyone came to realize after the fact – was Paul’s Boutique took the concept of sample-heavy hip-hop to unprecedented levels. The Bomb Squad of Public Enemy were already doing crazy new things, but the Beastie-Dust dynamic strolled right back into hip-hop’s yard, dropped a flat of cardboard at everyone’s feet, and busted out the freshest moves on the scene, giving everyone notice that the game had officially been taken to the next level (wait, I’m getting my pillars mixed up). The album soon became an underground hit (lack of sales will do that), earning them the respect of hip-hop’s elite, and solidifying their status as rap artists of equal peer.

Paul’s Boutique’s also one of the finest ‘Americana’ records around. Obviously that’s in large part to the Dust Brothers’ liberal sampling, finding room for funk (Shake Your Rump, Car Thief, Hey Ladies), throwback 808-hop (High Plains Drifter), rock (Looking Down The Barrel Of The Gun), blues (To All The Girls), country hoe-down (5-Piece Chicken Dinner), goofball yokel nonsense (The Sounds Of Science), and movie scores (Egg Man). Okay, some of these are just samples, but it’s in there, making this album a collage of all the weird things you can find across the lower 49-States (Hawaiian folk music’s gotta’ be in there somewhere). Imagine browsing a mythical Paul’s Boutique pawn shop with all sorts of silly American cultural artefacts in crowded narrow aisles, located in the most meltingly pot of Brooklyn neighbourhoods. That’s what listening to this album is like.

Lyrically, the boys stepped up their game too (The Sounds Of Science invented nerdcore!), but they still find time for hitting on girls, carefree shenanigans and causing mischief. So if you’re one of those “only Licensed To Ill, yo” types, give this one a whirl too. How can you hate on a song about throwing eggs at people?

Friday, November 21, 2014

ACE TRACKS: March 2014

Ah yes, the “Sykonee Listens To Ishkur’s Old CDs” month. And that was only the last-half! Prior to that, it was all those Mixed Goods CDs of mine, and a few odds and ends of weird variety before that. We got ourselves a fun one, folks, for ACE TRACKS: March 2014!



Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
The Future Sound Of London - Environments 3
The Future Sound Of London - Environments II
Tool - Ænima
Fehrplay - Meow
And obviously all Mixed Goods, but at least a third of those tracks are available on Spotify anyway.

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage of Neil Young: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Aqua - Roses Are Red (not for the actual song, but for how I’ve strategically placed it for maximum “WTF” potential)

Whoa, a whole month’s worth of reviews with nary a hip-hop cut or Neil Young croon. And yet, this is undoubtedly the rock-heaviest Playlist I’ve done, and am likely ever to do. There’s hard rock, arena rock, alternative rock, metal rock, other-metal rock, and grunge too. Unless I take on another friend or associate’s old CD collection, I can’t see any more Playlists veering so far off the electronic music path as this one. And yet, it never feels like the house, techno, downtempo, and experimental chill-out are shoved to the side, flowing almost seamlessly between the post-guitar-blues material. I never though FSOL and Beck needed pairing together, yet here it is - now I desperately want them to get wicked-stoned in a studio and cranking out nothing short of a double-LP of weirdness.

I feared this playlist would turn into as much of a clusterfuck as April 2014’s, but as long as you don’t mind all the rock, it’s good listening. No doubt it helps when I don’t award ACE TRACK status to full 2CD-length albums.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kenji Kawai - 2002 Patlabor 2: The Movie "Sound Renewal"

Vap: 1993/2002

I indulge in anime every so often, but am nowhere near otaku levels (ignore that one year marathon in my early twenties, ne?), and definitely not to such a degree I'll snatch up soundtracks. Oh, there’s plenty of stunning works available should you go digging around, but I’m at best a casual watcher. Why, then, do I have the score to Patlabor 2, an anime that, while not hopelessly obscure, seldom comes up in discussion, especially musically. It's certainly no Macross, Cowboy Bebop, or [insert modern classic Sykonee should be checking out]. Heck, it's not even a Ghost In The Shell, the movie director Mamoru Oshii and composer Kenji Kawai worked on right after this one. In some ways though, Patlabor 2 is a conceptual precursor to their work on that flick. To get into those details, however, would utterly derail this review, and I’m here to talk music, not anime - you’ll have to find another site for that (I recommend Anime Abandon by Bennett “The Sage”, should he ever get around to reviewing Patlabor).

While Oshii’s gone down as one of anime’s most influential directors, it’s his partnership with Kawai that helped solidify his legacy. They share a film-making synergy similar to the likes of Burton and Elfman, in that you can’t help but think of the two in unison despite occasionally doing projects without the other’s input. Kawai’s also incredibly diverse when called upon, even within the Patlabor pantheon of movies, OVAs, and TV series. Peppy j-pop, traditional Japanese orchestral, and future-shock industrial, he finds ways molding his music as needed to fit the situation, and as Patlabor 2’s all about political intrigue and philosophical quandary in a near-future mecha-milieu, you bet we get ample amounts of the latter styles on this score.

As Oshii often makes use of montages in this movie (at least, when characters aren’t discussing the meaning of existence, or something), the music had to match the imagery in narrative drive. Thus, Asia’s slow tribal rhythm and ominous strings build upon the growing sense of unease as martial law is instilled upon Tokyo; ...with Love’s gentle pianos and pads contrast with harsh, tentative synths as Nagumo questions her allegiance between her duty and her heart; ”IXTL” trudges along a slow EBM beat and soft falsetto choir, far from the sort of music you’d expect from an action climax, but keeping in tone with the minimalist direction Oshii went with. Wait, when did this turn into a movie review too?

All well and good, but the piece I ultimately bought this soundtrack for was Unnatural City. A recurring motif throughout the movie (there’s three variations), it’s a simple bit of music, haunting discordant pads casting feelings of contemplation and doubt upon the scenes it plays. The easy comparisons are Eno and Glass, but Kawai injects just enough traditional instrumentation underneath to make this sound wholly his own. It’s also perfect for late nights when you find yourself staring out at city lights.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Biosphere - Patashnik

Apollo: 1994

Patashnik is very much a transitional album for Geir Jenssen, which is odd considering it’s only the second Biosphere release in a discography that includes some dozen or so LPs. Even this early in his career though, the man from Northern Norway was looking beyond the ambient techno he helped define, away from the dance floors and chill-out rave tents and towards more noble pursuits like film scores and art galleries. Well, at least a Levi advertisement, the single Novelty Waves earning him some extra coin for its usage in a jeans commercial. And why not? With its groovy techno beat and stone-cold electro sounds, can you think of a better soundtrack for Depression Era Mid-West America? Wait, what?

What I’m getting at here is, while Microgravity’s rave roots were inescapable, Patashnik doesn’t indulge in them as often. Even when Jenssen does make a dance floor friendly track, it comes off as lip-service, many of his rhythms rudimentary as far as techno of the time was concerned. The aforementioned Novelty Waves is definitely one of the stronger beats found here, but Seti Project is little more than standard high-energy trance. You’d think ‘trance’ and ‘Biosphere’ would be a match made in arctic heaven, yet there’s little in Seti Project that you couldn’t find on dozens of Eye-Q or MFS records. Meanwhile, the titular cut doesn’t sound far off from an early Aphex Twin leftover, Botanical Dimensions carries on the ‘bleep’ techno movement in a quietly subdued manner, while Caboose and The Shield are essentially recycled ambient dub grooves. At least Decryption’s slow ambient techno pulse far better serves the Biosphere stylee than the rest of these tracks. Not that the melodies, synth sounds and song craft contained in all these tracks are bunk, but the rhythms oddly date Patashnik even more so than Microgravity’s offerings.

The ambient compositions, however, sound like they were intended for an entirely different album. Opener Phantasm is all kinds of creepy with children intoning they had shared dreams, and a melody sounding like an off-key radar-ping metronome only adds to the eerie atmosphere. Following that, Startoucher is endlessly desolate and cold, even with a charming bit of dialog about reaching out to the stars at night - you just know ol’ Geir was inspired by the dead of Tromsø winter on this one. Further along the album, Mir takes you to the lonely Russian space station, while En-Trance is… a completely different track from everything else under the Biosphere banner to that point. Gentle, strumming guitars? What are you trying to do, Geir, make ‘real’ music or something? Because you’d be totally awesome at it!

Despite the differing styles of music on Patashnik, they’re all arranged such that it makes for an agreeable listen from start to finish – Jenssen knows how to sequence an LP, even if he only has a general theme to build upon. Following this one though, he’d tighten his inspirations up to such a degree, he’d leave several ambient classics in his wake.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Alio Die - Password For Entheogenic Experience

Hic Sunt Leones: 1998

Don’t for a minute think we’re out of the single-track ambient-drone woods (The Noodle Forest!). The albums I reviewed at the start of September were only the ones in the back-half of the alphabet – we’ve still a whole second-half to navigate through, and you can bet there’s a few more super-long pieces of minimalist synth work lurking in the shadows. I think, I hope, JLIAT’s piece was the worst of it, because I can’t take any more mind numbing hour-length anti-music compositions like that one. I don’t care if it’s just two notes looping; at least the second note provides variety.

Still, there’s usually an interesting backstory behind these musicians and artists that I can shoot the shit for a couple hundred words over. Like this here Alio Die, or Stefano Musso to the Italian demographics bureau. Between solo output and collaborative work, he's released some forty-plus albums in twenty-five years of music making. That's a ridiculous amount of material for someone that hasn't gained much attention for his efforts beyond the most discerning of ambient connoisseurs. Then again, the whole 'post-Eno' scene is filled with such producers (Vidna Obmana, Robert Rich, Tetsu Inoue,Mathias Grassow... the list is nigh endless), to say nothing of the amateur ambient acts that have been inspired by their work. Standout names and captivating compositions are all too often overlooked by folks with only a passing interest in ambient, many quite content settling for your Enos, Roaches, and Namlooks while ignoring the rest. I mean, how bloody dedicated must you be to diligently buy everything from even one of these guys when they have dozens upon dozens of albums to their names? No wonder it’s easy losing sight of them in The Noodle Forest – every release is a tree!

Anyhow, here we are with Password For Entheogenic Experience, which I'm reviewing because, for all of Alio Die's lengthy music making, he doesn't often do the one-track album trick; two tracks breaching thirty minutes apiece, sure, but seldom a single one nearing the sixty-five minute mark. But here it is, officially listed as an album that I must honor in my mad listening endeavor. Ah well, at least this is ambient proper, good for the background.

Password For Entheogenic Experience is also good for meditation, given the style of ambient this is. While calming synth drones play a primary role, Alio Die occasionally adds field recordings, chimes, and synths resembling Indian instruments. Additionally, a curious bit of clicking in the background serves as a rhythm, which undoubtedly aids breathing exercises or yoga stretches. Remarkably, this is quite an engaging piece of music, Mr. Musso keeping things ever morphing and flowing as it plays out, arriving at quite a different place from where it started. While I can’t say I was one-hundred percent connected for its duration, I didn’t zone out as often as I have with other ultra-long drone pieces. That’s about as high of praise as I can offer with ambient of this sort.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ferry Corsten - Passport: United States Of America (Original TC Review)

Ultra Records: 2007

(2014 Update:
Was I ever prophetic with my quip of "blink and you'll miss it",
Passport folding after this one, only the second in the series. Not sure why Corsten canned it so quickly. Maybe it didn't do the business he'd hoped, or it was simply a short-term flirtation with a concept. Whatever the case, he established his Once Upon A Night series a few years after this, which is now up to its fourth volume and remains his regular DJ Mix CD franchise. As far as I can tell though, it receives even less notice than Passport did, but then most of his fans follow his Corsten Countdown radio shows anyway.

As for this CD, I think I was a bit too hard on the euro-trance offerings in the second half of the CD. While I maintain they weren't doing much new for the time, compared to where the genre's gone, these are perfectly enjoyable pieces of melodic fluff. Guess I was still in my 'anti epic-trance' grumble-mode when I wrote this, though at least more diplomatic and detailed in explaining such sentiments compared to my 2006 writings. That said, I doubt I'll be throwing this one on again for a
very long time. Why should I, when I have all those In Trance We Trust CDs from the same period? Hah-hah... ha!)


IN BRIEF: Workmanlike in every regard.

For a guy who almost single-handily propelled trance music into public consciousness, Ferry Corsten remained relatively humble. His Trance Nation series helped established the genre as the soundtrack for a generation of clubbers, yet he never overreached his ability, quite content remaining in a comfortable, competent niche. This may in part have to do with the fact he’s largely considered himself a producer first and a DJ second, so the desire to earn the accolades of the DJing elite never became a focus of his career.

With that in mind, most of his mix compilations in recent years haven’t been met with the same amount of fanfare as his musical peers. This new series, Passport, is as indicative of this as anything. Already out for a month, America has a feeling of ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ about. There are a number of contributing factors for this, but let’s deal with the most important one here: the music.

Straight up, this is a remarkably monotonous collection of music considering Corsten’s name is attached to it. Whether it’s trance or nu-electro, the guy can always be counted on for party rockers, and such moments are few on this release. Divided into two, the first half leaves the impression he’s mellowed out, proggin’ up his sound like many of the older trance jocks did when they shifted genres. Not that he’s ever played this style before, but it certainly isn’t what he’s known for, and to dedicate a large portion of this DJ mix to it is surprising.

Let me be clear, though: this isn’t prog like Bedrock or Global Underground - more like the lightweight stuff Gabriel & Dresden popularized a few years back, and really has no official designation [it does now! –2014 Syk]. It’s too sluggish to be trance, too unfunky to be house, and too pap to be prog proper. So it remains in prog limbo, derided as McProg and jumped on by epic trance jocks when they want to play something ‘deep’.

But deep it is not. Unremarkable rhythms, trite poppy vocals, and scant melodies are to be found instead. Solarstone’s Late Summer Fields is nice enough and Mind One’s Hurt Of Intention has a rather catchy chorus, but most of these tracks plod along, with Nic Chagall’s remix of Wippenberg’s Promisedland being the worst offender. I swear the Cosmic Gate member is on a one-man mission to turn prog into a lifeless parody of itself.

If the mix didn’t grab your attention for most of the opening chunk, then Megashira definitely will. It contains a hook that is so hideous, it’s stoopid-good; like an amped-up hoover synth. I can see why Corsten would want to use this, as it sounds like the kind of thing he might have made himself lately.

From there, Corsten segues into trancier tunes. The good news is the atmosphere of Passport does turn more pleasant; the bad news is the set barely picks up at all. This isn’t so much a case of laid-back vibes keeping things mellow - which would be fine - but rather Corsten’s track selection and arrangement is middling: predictable melodies, perfunctory mixing, oodles of reverb and breakdowns. The same ol’ story with most trance these days, really. If you’re new to it all or still cling to 2001 nostalgia, you’ll love it; for everyone else, it’ll sound all too familiar.

Actually, very familiar in two cases. The new Flashover remix of Insolation is the obvious example but Casey Keyworth’s The Sunlight (as Breakfast) is the startling one. During the two-minute breakdown/build - amongst a wash of reverb effects - a backing synth pad plays a nice melody that strikes an uncanny resemblance to Robert Nickson’s Spiral of three years ago. Supposedly they were both written around the same time and the similarity is entirely coincidental, but fact of the matter is Spiral has had bigger exposure in that time, whereas The Sunlight only now has seen an official release on Ferry’s label. That’s how the ball bounces in the music business though.

As for the rest of Passport, there are a few fine moments: Corsten’s contributions shine compared to the rest, proving he’s still better at this sound than everyone that has copied him since; and Joni Ljungqvist (aka: JPL) continues to show promise at making trance that is actually trance-inducing. Beyond that, there’s very little else of note.

Now, don’t take my indifferent tone to mean this is a bad release. Ferry maintains an amiable tone to the proceedings, making Passport at least an agreeable listen. However, if you’re looking for something that will knock your socks off with energy or sweep you away in euphoria (much less be mesmerized by actual DJ technique), you’ve come to the wrong CD. This is a mix that doesn’t reach far, quite content to let the tracks on Ferry’s label be the centerpieces (of which about a third makes up the tracklist), complemented with a few well-known tunes to pad it out with the filler. Sadly, judging by the offerings on America, the current crop of Flashover Recordings probably won’t be much remembered a couple years down the road, lost in the annual pile of melodic trance glut.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved

Various - Passages: Framed By Nova

Ultimae Records: 2014

Mr. Nova – or Massimo Terranova, if you want to get fancy with him – first became involved with Ultimae about a decade ago, though not in any capacity most would notice. He often serves as the label’s PR man, and does the DJ circuit when called upon, deferring the limelight to producers and other folks about the Lyon offices. Occasionally he’s contributed a compilation or two to the Ultimae library, though unlike Mahiane, hasn’t settled upon any specific theme. The first was titled Albedo, the second Imaginary Friends, and this most recent one is called Passages. So… the reflective lights of ghosts will take us places? Yeah, no. These are all self-contained CDs, singular compilations that I guess Ultimae is obligated to put out at least once per year now that Fahrenheit Project is tripping the light retired.

Or maybe Nova just wanted his say on Ultimae’s ‘gray period’ before they moved on to another phase. At least, I’m assuming the label’s moving on from it soon, as their last couple releases have been quite colourful in comparison to most of 2013’s output. As Passages came out earlier in 2014, it would make a fitting conclusion to this chapter in Ultimae’s history – like, taking a passage from where they were to where they’re going, yes? I’ll stop worming significance into the title now.

So this CD has the usual assortment of familiar and outside talent making up the track list. James Murray pops back up, as does Lars Leonhard, Cygna and Cell, giving a rub on his Connect.Ohm project. Aes Dana naturally contributes, and it couldn’t be a ‘gray period’ Ultimae compilation without music from Miktek and Fingers In The Noise. Murya, who appeared on the prior Nova collection Imaginary Friends, gets a new track in, while Max Million pops up too. I haven’t seen the names Brando Lupi, Martin Nonstatic, or Zinovia before, but Lord Discogs tells me they’re raising talents modern chill's growing list of producers.

Right, the actual music. There’s little surprising on Passages, if I’m honest, but all of it remains totally class as Ultimae continuously is wont to do. The general style Nova’s curated here is minimalist, dubby ambient techno, with touches of modern classical piano and orchestral flourishes for good measure. It isn’t as pretentious as I’ve probably made it sound. I guess it wouldn’t help matters if I added ‘glitch’ to that description too? I mean, what else can I call Cygna’s Whitin? That rhythm is so restrained and clicky, it’d make Mille Plateaux say, “yo, beef that bass”; lovely cinematic swells, though.

The highest praise I can give Passages is, should you somehow have ignored Ultimae for this long (a near-impossibility if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, but bear with me), this is a good jumping-on point. It doesn’t tell their whole story, but effectively portrays the sound they’ve cultivated their last couple years. I’d expect nothing less from their resident PR man.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Psycoholic - Parallel Universe

Psy Spy Records: 2010

Why is it that every time I kick off a new letter now, it’s with something ridiculously obscure? ‘O’ had Wyatt Keusch’s Object-Relations, ‘N’ featured Dub Trees’ Nature Never Did Betray The Heart That Loved Her; ‘M’ was a little better with Macro Dub Infection, Volume 1 (can anything released by Virgin be rare?), but who’d have ever heard of Cheb I Sabbah’s La Kahena? You’d have to go all the way back to the ‘I’s for something everyone should have heard about (it’s an Aphex Twin album).

However, let me turn your attention back to the album that began my run through ‘G’, Aquila’s Gain Control. It was a free full-on psy trance album downloaded from Ektoplazm, and not a terribly remarkable one at that. I only bring it up because, coincidentally, our journey through ‘P’ begins with another free full-on psy trance album that I downloaded from Ektoplazm, Psycoholic’s Parallel Universe. And… if you look at some alphabet charts, ‘G’ is above ‘P’. Additionally, if you were to replace the letters by their sequenced number, ‘G’ is ‘7’, ‘P’ is ‘16’, which can be divided by ‘2’, giving us ‘8’. ‘8’ follows ‘7’, which means ‘G’ precedes half of ‘P’, and Boards Of Canada’s album Geogaddi starts with the letter ‘G’, which means… which means…

Which means I’ve wasted enough word count on this nonsense. Yeah, sorry about that, but sometimes my brain gets caught in feedback loops of silliness, wondering where it might take me once I’ve stepped onto that path. I could go on and on if I didn’t have a psy trance album I should be reviewing instead. So what information can I dig up on this Psycoholic chap… Uh huh, uh huh, is Russian, real name Mikhail Fedosov, released another album prior to this one called (*shudder*) Trance World Over, hasn’t released much since this one, though carries on a psy trance compilation series titled Psytrance Open Air. That’s about all Lord Discogs provides me on this front.

As should be abundantly clear by now, I’ve little to discuss regarding Parallel Universe. It’s certainly a fine collection of full-on psy, Mr. Fedosov’s production beefier than most acts I’ve come across in this genre. He’s also unafraid of getting his melodic trance on, some tracks sounding like psy coverings of classics of that scene, though more subtle about it than Alien Project’s blatant rip-offs were. Sevgilim could have been a proper Dutch anthem, Light Years Ahead has a charming melodic line to go with its ‘buttrock’ goa guitars, Alfaville has to have found inspiration from the Balearic trance branch, Kuzlaring features ethereal vocals (!), and We Will Make You Happy… ooh, I’m getting a bit of that vintage German trance vibe on this one. Minor key melodies and evil dialog samples for the win!

Parallel Universe has just enough cleverness going for it to check it if you need a little more full-on psy in your life, but won’t win you over otherwise.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sykonee Surveys Spotify's Senseless Suggestions, Round 3

The good news is Spotify’s senseless suggestions aren’t quite so senseless anymore. The recommendation algorithm has apparently given up trying to push seemingly random, popular artists down my ears and actually pay attention to what I’ve been listening to. And while there was some hilarity in seeing just how off Spotify could get, I prefer some progress being made by the music service helping to discover acts I easily overlook.

The bad news is it’s also changed the way Spotify does its recommendations, more often suggesting specific releases rather than acts. It also seems to have clued into the fact I prefer electronic music of a less poppy sort over other forms, nary a rap, rock, or country artist appearing since those first two rounds. Since odds are high I’ll give this music a chance regardless of style, I’ll be ranking these by how obvious a recommendation a particular release is instead. These will also remain scored out of five, with 1/5 being Too Obvious, and 5/5 being Unexpected Gold. After all, what point is there digging through lists if it’s all material I’d have sought out regardless? Give me the obscure, surprising stuff, mate!

As an aside, because I listened to Faithless’ No Roots, Spotify won’t stop recommending releases they figure I’ll enjoy because of that. Though there’s some interesting music here, I’m not including them in these surveys, as I feel it narrows my focus too much into UK chart-friendly dance music. I prefer seeing diversity in these lists, and according to Spotify, Faithless’ peers occupy a very specific niche. To sate your curiosity though, here’s what I did get suggested:

Fluke - Atom Bomb
Renaissance Worldwide: Singapore – Mixed By David Morales, Dave Seaman, & BT
Armand van Helden - Old School Junkies: The Album
Superchumbo - Star 69 Presents: Let’s Go Chumbo!
Sander Kleinenberg - This Is Everybody Too
Basement Jaxx - Summer Daze EP
Orbital - Don’t Stop Me / The Gun Is Good
All Saints - Chick Fit
Fluke - Slid
Armand van Helden - Ghettoblaster
UNKLE & The Heritage Orchestra - ’Variation On A Theme’ Live At The Union Chapel
Kosheen - Spies (Remixes)

I honestly have no idea what Armand van Helden and Faithless have in common, other than being significant chart toppers. Maybe Armand remixed a bunch of Rollo tracks? Also, utter shock at the lack of affiliated Faithless projects like Dusted and Sister Bliss’ solo material. Okay, enough analysis of that list. Here’s what Spotify’s recommending me without that set parameter.

Swayzak - Loops From The Bergerie
Ooh, now this is interesting. I’ve long enjoyed Swayzak’s material, but haven’t checked many of their albums out. Part of that is the unfortunate weak reputation their LPs have, but also neglectful oversight on my end. I’m not sure why Spotify is suggesting this album though, the closest thing to their style of music I’ve played on Spotify perhaps a few fabric mixes. This particular album sounds like the duo’s trying to get their Underworld on while retaining their chill, dubby tech-house stylee. Not an outstanding album, but I’m not ranking these based on music quality, only diversity.

Recommendation Ranking: 4/5

Various - Highway & Landscape
Originally released as a 2CD set in 1997, the sub-line reads “Chill-Out Classics & Ethereal Anthems”. And holy cow, is this ever a find! Chill-out compilations with Balearic and psychedelic tunes weren’t doing much business at that time, so finding a collection with names like Sun Electric, Gas, Rabbit In The Moon, and Slam on it is cool enough, the sort of release you might luck out with in a used shop. There’s also tons of names here I’m not familiar with: Valleyman, Sie, T Tauri… half of ‘em, if I’m honest. I won’t deny some of the tracks are obvious choices, but that’s a pointless quibble with many more I’ve yet to hear. Well played, Spotify.

Recommendation Ranking: 5/5

Gus Gus - David
I kind of remember this track, though it wasn’t a huge hit in my crook of the world. David threads the line between funky house and a then-emergent electro house style, a fun bit of summer anthem bounce, but mostly forgotten these days. I’m guessing this comes recommended because of the King Britt remix? Not a surprising one, then, but certainly odd.

Recommendation Ranking: 3/5

Vitalic - Poney
Oh dear. I hate to do this. I mean, I love this single, absolutely adore it. Unfortunately for this survey, I’ve already playlisted all these tracks. It ain’t no sweat of Spotify’s shoulders to recommend music it should have a record of me playing, even if it’s not from this specific release. Yeah, it’s all because two-thirds of Poney are on OK Cowboy, isn’t it.

Recommendation Ranking: 1/5

16B - Escape (Driving To Heaven)
Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man! You know how you totally recognize a song, you even know you have it lurking somewhere in your library, but its location utterly escapes (heh) you? I’m getting a harsh case of that feeling with this song. Help me, o’ Lord Discogs! *checks* Ah, it’s on that Red Jerry Late Night Drive Mix. Okay, crisis of faith averted. I also figure this comes recommended due to the Topaz progressive trance CDs I’ve playlisted. Not a huge leap then, but certainly an unexpected choice of an artist and single.

Recommendation Ranking : 3/5

Plastikman - EX (Performed Live At The Guggenheim NYC)
Yeah, I’ve had a few minimal tracks playlisted. And who’s one of the biggest minimal guys around than Mr. Minimalisious himself, Richie Hawtin. Why look at that, he’s got a brand, spankin’ new album out this year too. You do want to hear it, right? Geez, the only thing more obvious would have been Spastik.

Recommendation Ranking: 1/5

Sasha - The emFire Collection
I know this is lurking somewhere in my library, but mislabeled, hence why it never showed when I reviewed all my albums titled with “E”s – probably down in the “S”s. Again, not terribly shocking having Mr. Coe as a recommendation after playlisting music he’s associated with, but quite odd seeing this particular one come up. Are the Involvers not on Spotify? Qat Collection, even?

Recommendation Ranking: 3/5

Hybrid - Can You Hear Me
Whoa, Hybrid are still around? Well, at least up to 2010, when this single was released. Heh, I’m just joshing, of course a duo with as grandiose musical aspirations as these two wouldn’t up and quit because everyone keeps expecting them to make Unfinished Symphony forever after. Still, I think only their most ardent fans would care for this overstuffed ‘rocktronica-orchestra-breaks’ track (Kill City Sounds Mix 02 is dope though). Spotify gets some props for suggesting a forgotten cut of theirs – heck, Hybrid at all, since I can’t think of a prior precedent to do so.

Recommendation Rating: 3/5

Gus Gus - Polyesterday
It’s that Sasha vs The Light rub of Purple on here, isn’t it. I’m starting to think, even though Northern Exposure wasn’t on Spotify, it figures I like all the associative music on those CDs. How can it figure that out just from search queries? David was a bit out there as a suggestion, but not so much this single.

Recommendation Rating: 2/5

Mystic - Mutations
Lord Discogs draws completely blank on this guy; same with the label Dalibor Brkic. The music on this album is… neo-trance? It’s got that minimalist melodic techno vibe going for it, and… oh wow, this is awesome! Reminds me of Peter Dundov, but with a house groove. How did Spotify ever worm this one into its suggestion list? Since I have no idea what Mystic’s background is, I’m assuming he’s new (Mutations is from 2011, so sayeth The Spotify). I gotta’ check out more from him (Mystic’s a ‘he’, right?).

Recommendation Rating: 5/5

Ulrich Schnauss & ASC - 77 EP
Surprisingly, I don’t have any Schnauss in my library – guess that’s another added to my never-ending list of ‘must gets’. ASC I do have though, and honestly, given my ultra-Ultimae whoring, it’s no surprise ol’ Ulrich would come highly recommended from Spotify. And hey, I playlisted ASC too, so here’s a collaborative single from both of them! Fair enough, but no bonus points for the low-hanging fruit, pal.

Recommendation Rating: 2/5


And our final tally of Survey 3 is 32/55. Hurray, Spotify finally got a score over fifty percent! Still not terribly high though. Yeah, yeah, the rules of the game have changed, but I feel this is a fair gauge of how effective the music service is at helping listeners discover new material. Now that it knows what sort of music I like, it’s at least making some improvement in specifics. Baby steps, baby steps.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Biosphere - Microgravity

Origo/Apollo: 1991/1992

Such an important album, this. Biosphere practically came out of nowhere, making his mark on a fledgling ambient techno scene before it had established itself as a distinct genre – most still referred to 'ambient with a kick' as ambient house, since The Orb was about the only act with enough clout to set trends. Microgravity didn't even get much notice at first, initially being released in Geir Jenssen's native Norway on Origo Records. Within the following year though, he was signed to seminal ambient techno label Apollo, bringing him greater exposure as he rubbed shoulders with other future stars of the genre like Aphex Twin and David Morley. And because this is such a quirky fun-fact, yes, Microgravity technically beat Selected Ambient Works 86-92 to the shops. Why isn't Biosphere more commonly name-dropped, then? UK press bias?

Whatever the case, this album remains one of the lasting curiosities of the early rave scene. Mixing space ambient and astro-chatter with house and techno wasn’t new, but Jenssen brought a fresh perspective to the formula. For one thing, he played things entirely straight, in that our ventures into the cosmos should be treated with gravitas – that the vast outer reaches of the endless black beyond can be a cold, desolate place we should respect and even fear. That icy tone went on to become something of a Biosphere trademark, but at this primordial stage in ambient techno development it was a stark contrast to the cheary, optimistic outlook most of his peers approached the subject with. Guess living in a region with long, cold winter nights will do that to a chap. Adding to that sense of emptiness are dub effects, sometimes cribbed from The Orb’s approach but also applied to Jenssen’s choice of sci-fi synths. The bell tones of Cloudwalker sound impossibly vast, and all the more alien with eerie melodies worming their way about.

Still, this is an early ‘90s album, and Microgravity does share some common traits with rave music of the time. For one thing, the UK ‘bleep techno’ sound is all over this, which makes sense since it was the hot new trend for producers aiming for a little ‘intelligence’ in their tracks (FSOL, LFO, Bobby BLO). Jenssen also can’t help adding in a few rave riffs (The Fairy Tale), standard dance beats (Chromosphere) and ethnic samples (Cygnus-A) here and there, instantly dating Microgravity to the era it sprung from. Meanwhile, the crisp looping samples, while giving these tunes a distinct flavour, shows Jenssen had yet to refine his production into something more musically flowing.

Of course, these attributes are all plusses for folks who can’t get enough of early ambient techno, roughness, warts and all. I’ve even seen a few bemoan the fact Jenssen took his Biosphere work away from the realms of techno groove so soon after Microgravity, but even here one can tell he was looking beyond what that scene offered. Remarkable aspirations for a guy who helped define a genre.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Emmerichk - Late Nineties

Offshoot: 2014

Sweet, a techno CD with a title recalling an era of techno that's no longer in vogue. Forget the logical assumption that Late Nineties won't be all on that tough, 4am bangin' shit - I've already convinced myself that's what will be on this album! Plus, it’s advertised by the intriguing ambient and experimental Psychonavigation Records label that released Oliver Lieb's Inside Voices earlier this year of Twenty-Fourteen. I’m not sure what that means in the long run, but it was enough for me to dive into this album from one Emmerichk Esquivel sight-unheard. Heck, I even sprung for the limited edition CD copy, which came in a thin plastic case that doesn’t open like traditional jewel or digipaks; instead, it has a spring load with a release in the top corner. Clever and crafty – I’m in love.

Of course, had I done some prior research into who Emmerichk even is, I probably wouldn’t have been so quick in getting this. His profile at Lord Discogs has musical jargon like “sound carpets” and “rhythmical micro-structures”, the sort stuff you’d associate with Mille Plateaux. Dear me, that’s nothing like what I imagined. Not even room for a fierce, percolating 909 rhythm? What have I gotten myself into?

A pretty cool album, is what. Oh, Late Nineties is definitely all about the dubby, minimalist sound associated with experimental branches of techno, but so was Plastikman’s Consumed, an album released – say it all together – the late nineties! Emmerichk states his influence in crafting this album was a paying tribute to the techno producers of that era while maintaining his own style in the process, so you have tracks with titles like The Hood andThe Jaguar, names anyone worth their techno salt should recognize. Alongside those, there’s Acid Twilight, Analog Fever, and assorted other stylistic points of reference. Alright, on board again.

Another thing that ties Late Nineties to that period of techno is the above-average BPM. Right from the opening cut (Deep Thoughts), things chug along at a brisk pace, far more so than most tracks in the dubby end of genre do these days. What’s remarkable about Emmerichk’s production is, without a good set of speakers or headphones, it won’t seem like it. You’ll hear the kick, but in most cases its very soft, barely a pulse as heard on weak sound systems – only Transforming The Past has anything resembling the chunky, distorted kicks of yore. Instead, Emmerichk somehow hides the propulsive attributes of his tracks within the sonic depth of dub effects, which is great for getting lost in the techno murk of his music but utterly reliant on quality playback gear. Don’t try playing this on laptop or smarphone speakers, is what I’m saying.

Despite not having what I (foolishly) expected, Emmerichk still turned out a mint album of high-tempo dub techno. Yes, I know those terms seem like an oxymoron, which is all the more reason for you to check out Late Nineties to hear how it’s done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ACE TRACKS: April 2014

I had a good writing groove going for myself recently. Then a brutal weekend of work on a six-day stretch ruined that – now my brain feels like it’s taken an arrow in the ear. Oh well, at least I can still make Spotify playlists. Here’s April 2014’s big ol’ bundle.



Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Musik Non Stop
Prince - Musicology
Nobuo Uematsu - Music From FFV And FFVI Video Games
Various - Moving Shadow 99.1 & 99.2
Various - Motion: A Six Degrees Dance Collection
Various - Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Various - Mortal Kombat
Banco de Gaia - Maya (20th Anniversary Edition)

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 7%
Percentage of Neil Young: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: unknown - Izlel je Delyo hajdutin (sooo ethnic)

Though the actual releases are not on Spotify, this playlist has an abundance of tracks from The Music Of ‘Cosmos' and Muzik Classics: Techno. This makes for a weird combination of incredible diversity with batches of similarity – this, in a collection of tunes that’s already freewheeling through more styles of music than you can imagine. It’s remarkable that, despite having classic albums from The Prodigy, Photek, Boards Of Canada, and Solar Fields, their music gets a little lost amongst the symphonic compositions, dub techno, and harder rock.

This is also the longest playlist I’ve put together, clocking well over the eleven hour mark. Obviously that’s the full tracklist, but even without the missing tracks, it’s a lengthy listening experience. I honestly haven’t even given this one a full play-through as of this posting, sequencing tracks based on quick clips and gut intuition. If I’ve stumbled upon some amazing run of unexpected groupings, I assure you it’s almost accidental, perhaps sublimely or hilariously so. Reason enough to fire this playlist up, to sate your own curiosity of the result, I wager!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Carl Craig - Landcruising

Blanco Y Negro: 1995

Here's something that will boggle your mind. For all his musical innovations, creative drive and honoured status within the world of techno, Carl Craig's album output is seldom name-dropped when talk of essential electronic musics goes down. Not that he helps matters by shying away from the LP format, having released fewer than you could count on your hand – it's apparently all about the singles with Mr. Craig. Still, should you find yourself bluffing your way around the 313 Posse and in need of a C-C album to talk up, you can't go wrong with Landcruising. It may get overlooked on lists of Definitive Techno Releases, but at least it's from the mid-'90s, when everything was awesome sauce and radical radish-relish. Of course that's a real thing – a decade that gave us Pepsi Clear and hypercolor shirts would definitely have radical radish-relish. Sorry. Dignity, that’s what Detroit techno demands, and by Belleview I’ll give it for Landcruising.

Craig had spent more than enough time honing his craft with singles, remixes, and aliases. The fans demanded an album, and though ‘proper’-techno albums were still something of a rarity, he capably handled himself in the format. He even bookends the experience with the sounds of getting into and exiting a car, because obviously you would if you’re making a Detroit techno album about cruising over landforms.

What seems to go forgotten about Landcruising is just how sci-fi and - dare I say - geeky the music is. Despite its steady techno pulse, opener Mind Of A Machine isn’t all that dissimilar to space synth of the ‘80s, especially when a guitar solo makes its mark in the final stretch – I can feel the mullet growing on the back of my neck as it jams away. Follow-up track Science Fiction has a guitar solo too, though the percolating funky rhythms in this future-leaning track at least adds some class to the prog rock wailing.

Like Model 500’s Deep Space of the same year, these are rather musically optimist portrayals of future-music, an outlook for techno that sometimes goes neglected given the general urban decay Detroit suffers from is typically the influence most producers from the region draw inspiration from. There always was a sense of escapism in Detroit techno, but the landmark albums almost unanimously glorify the griminess of illegal warehouse events and future-shock existence, feeding into a self-perpetuating 313 mythology. It’s why Landcruising, despite having lovely music like the ambient A Wonderful Life, epic Technology, sexy smoothness of Einbahn, and neo-classiness of One Day Soon, gets overlooked compared to its contemporaries – it defies the established Detroit techno narrative, and didn’t have many successors when folks figured the genre could only go one way (to Berlin, apparently).

Still, you can’t go wrong with having this in your library. Landcruising may not be a definitive collection of techno, but there’s very little else out there like it. I mean, who’d be so bold as to usurp the mighty Craig legacy?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Boards Of Canada - Geogaddi

Warp Records: 2002

Geogaddi came out about the time the Cult Of BoC was at its insufferable worst, ridiculous amounts of love and praise gushing in on any and all music scene message forums you’d happen to frequent. It wasn’t just the ravers slobbering over the Scottish duo either, but the indie kids who never gave ‘techno’ much pause were citing Music Has The Right To Children as the best electronic album ever. Okay, enjoy you’re stay here; there’s more than enough Boards to go around. For the love of God though, please cease the idolization and trumped-up mythology surrounding these guys - they just make charming music for the after-hours.

Whatever you thought about their PR and fanbase, you couldn’t fault the music, much of which remained quite exceptional for its time. Unfortunately, with all the garrulous hype surrounding them, some backlash against the Boards was inevitable. To take the mighty Boards Of Canada down a peg though, you’d need an album that proved these nostalgic-glazed chill-out Emperors were lacking in bell-bottomed accoutrements. Geogaddi was that album.

Already tasked with the impossibility of following upon Music Has The Right To Children, Sandison and Eoin tried going deeply conceptual with Geogaddi, offering tons of sonic Easter Eggs and numerological nonsense for the true believers to dig and discover with repeated play-throughs. For the rest of us, it’s just a rather dull record. For one thing, despite a track list detailing twenty-three cuts, less than half of those are fully-formed pieces of music, some of which are ridiculously tedious experimental loops. Gyroscope in particular is hopelessly annoying and inane with clunky percussion and muffled child dialog that probably has some cool secret that you’d only understand if you were a real fan of the Boards. Or how about the effects wankery of The Devil Is In The Details, barely a piece of music save the gentle echoing synth pulse underneath garble noises like an evil being of demonic origin contrasted with wisps of ethereal pads and, of course, children laughing. No, wait, how about Magic Window, literally one-minute forty-five seconds of silence, just to reach an album runtime of sixty-six minutes and six seconds (though my player reads 66:04, hah!). Gads, see how pretentious this comes off?

Boards Of Canada’s strength is their seemingly effortless approach to song craft – no matter the depth in execution, the final result is simple and class. Geogaddi, on the other hand, sounds like the Scottish duo pushed and strained themselves in creating cleverness for its own sake, forgetting to write decent music in the process. There’s a flat, sterility to so much of Geogaddi, it’s small wonder it remains their most divisive LP.

That said, it’s the Boards we’re dealing with, and a few mint numbers do find their way in. I don’t doubt some fans will snicker at my inability to decipher all the codes hidden within Geogaddi, but I listen to Boards Of Canada for fuzzy, dayglow chill times, not to solve puzzled bollocks.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Speedy J - G Spot (& !ive)

Virgin Music Canada: 1995

The only Speedy J album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a Speedy J fan. I mean, who can argue with G Spot? It’s got future-cast techno, lovely ambient, big beaty electro, and even (whisper it) classic trance. Throw in the !ive CD that was released the same year as a double-disc package, and you’ve got yourself a definitive collection of mid-‘90s electronic music that many point to as essential Jochem Paap listening. Ginger? Definitely strong, but a bit stuck in early ‘90s mode and still playing by Detroit’s iron-clad rules. Public Energy No. 1 or A Shocking Hobby? He pushed himself for creative challenges, which is good, but in the process pushed away a number of fans he earned with his early work, which is bad. Loudboxer? Yeah... no – it’s a fun album for what it is, but far too musically singular for any but the most die-hard of techno heads. Many key tracks off G Spot and !ive have appeared on compilations and DJ mixes (erm, and music guides), especially the prog jocks who wanted a little techno roughness to go with their melodic grooves and constructs.

So G Spot it is then. Is that hesitation I sense though? Need a little convincing, do you? Since its kinda’ what I’m supposed to do with this blog, I shall tickle your most potent of music pleasure centers with what you’ll find on here …uh, in word form. In a totally non-threatening, respectful manner, if you want to that is. I suck at game.

Anyhow, this album features ten tracks, some long, some not. Mr. Paap opens with typical branches of techno that was making the rounds of the mid-‘90s: something a little jazzy with The FUN Equations, Ping Pong feeling the sci-fi electro, and Fill 25 has spaced-out acid groove. These all owe more than a debt to Detroit’s lineage, and though these are fine tunes, they aren’t that far of a stretch from what the various giants of that scene were up to. What’s G Spot’s big deal, eh?

Then Lanzarote and Extruma make themselves felt, ambient at its most lush – just eleven solid minutes of bliss. The only way to follow upon such a sequence is by hitting the listener with fat funky acid breaks as conceived by space station robots, but workers out at The Oil Zone will work too. Treatments comes off rather inconsequential after that, but it leads wonderfully into another great ambient interlude with Fill 17, which serves as a perfect respite before going back into the space acid techno-trance in the titular cut. Cap off with a final bit of cinematic ambient music in Grogno, and you’ve yourself an instant classic of the ‘90s. And then you can enjoy it some more on !ive, plus a couple older cuts (Symmetry, Pepper)and exclusives like Fusion, Scare Tactics. Yes, it’s the same Fusion that appeared on Northern Exposure 2, and the whole CD’s got music in that vein. No more excuses, mang.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Future Sound Of London - Environment Five

fsoldigital.com: 2014

Considering the seemingly endless volumes of From The Archives and, to a lesser extent, Environments, The Future Sound Of London must have had shed-fulls of unused material stored. At least with Environments, they gradually sprinkled in some new stuff too, helping create distinctive album narratives between each edition. And now finally - finally - Dougans and Cobain either found enough inspiration to craft an entirely new album of fresh music under the FSOL banner, or they've used up their entire backlog.

I’ll get the bad news regarding that out of the way: as we’re dealing entirely with post-millennial FSOL here, you bet your bottom dollar Environment Five goes deep into the psychedelic bubble, an attribute that has made their Amorphous Androgynous material a bit of a chore for all but the most dedicated listeners. No, wait a second, that’s not bad news in the slightest! Why shoulda musically dynamic duo remain stuck making tunes they hashed out two decades hence? They can’t very well go around claiming themselves the Future Sound Of London if they don’t keep pushing themselves in finding what future sounds they can craft (for London). Going avant-garde psychedelic-classicalism is good news!

The better-good news is, as Environment Five is all new material, it means Dougans and Cobain had a specific theme in mind while composing this album. Not that the previous Environments lacked themes, but those felt cobbled together - tracks served in creating general moods or milieus, but having little to do with each other. Five, on the other hand, flows like an album proper, with lengthy set pieces, short quiet interludes, and musical ideas and leitmotifs sprinkled throughout. Seriously, they sure love using that... saxophone? I think it’s a saxophone, but knowing these guys, it could be a Tibetan reed-woodwind that only sounds like a saxophone, or even an overlay of the two.

Anyhow, the PR blurbs described Environment Five as an exploration of death. No, not in a morbid, goth manner – there’s more sense of spiritual awakening and contemplation with the music here, as though death is a release from our limited, mortal shells, with realms both grand and humbling awaiting us to explore. Definitely an ambitious venture, and the music does offer tantalizing glimpses. There’s sombre pianos (Source Of Uncertainty, Viewed From Below The Surface), minimalist electro-dub (Machines Of The Subconscious), ethno-fusion baroque (Dying While Being Held), creepy cinematic ambient (Beings Of Light, The Dust Settles), future-shock freak-outs (Somatosensory), and jubilant psychedelic world-beat (In Solitude We Are Least Alone).

Honestly though, this concept of ‘death experiences’ isn’t iron-clad, at least compared to some of FSOL’s earlier concept albums (Lifeforms, Dead Cities). It’s nice they gave us something to latch onto if we’re so inclined, but as a collection of new The Future Sound Of London musics, it’s an enjoyable play-through regardless. Well, so long as you’re not still clinging to Papua New Guinea retreads. Let some of those prog rocks jams worm their way into your eternal being, guy.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Biosphere - Dropsonde

Touch: 2005/2006

Pretty much the Godfather of Scandinavian chill-out, this Geir Jenssen fellow is. I’m sure there were others who were making European Northland ambient before him, but Biosphere endeared himself to a young rave scene, finding a comfortable niche within the realms of early ambient techno and dub. As the years wore on, he kept his sounds unique and fresh with each album while maintaining a distinct icy-ambient style entirely his own. His first few albums are often hailed as stone-cold classics for discerning chill-heads, many modern ambient producers in Norway, Sweden, and Finland citing Mr. Jenssen as a significant influence (I’m looking at you, Ultimae All-Stars!). And while his current output doesn’t garner nearly the same amount of notice as his ‘90s heyday (influence breeds multiple new options), that doesn’t mean Biosphere’s gone quietly into the night as a new generation takes over. Well, okay, maybe a little quietly. This is ambient we’re dealing with, after all.

I suppose with Wolfgang Voigt’s Kompakt print getting all the critical love in the mid-‘00s, ol’ Geir thought it was about time for a stab at Voigt’s ambient-drone work as Gas. Autour De La Lune was a start, and Dropsonde continued this minimalistic exploration, tracks often looping into sedative works of drone, even with occasional rhythms. Essentially three types of compositions are on this album: music guided along gentle key tones that are reminiscent of Steven Halpern’s seminal (if a tad sappy) Spectrum Suite work; future jazz stylee that wouldn’t sound out of place on an obscure Shadow Records release; and straight-forward loop-drone that rides along synth pads and dub effects. As per the Universal Law Of Good Album Flow, these various tracks are nicely paced between each other, letting the listener immerse themselves in one style before taking in another. For instance, opener Dissolving Clouds is a key tone one, followed by Birds Fly By Flapping Their Wings’ going all groovy while riding looping hi-hats, then Warmed By The Drift comes through with, um, warm pads by a crackling fire in a snow-covered forest setting (probably). I shouldn’t have to tell you what fourth track In Triple Time features.

There honestly isn’t much more to say about Dropsonde. It’s a perfectly fine album of tastefully explored abstract ambient, but not a huge standout for that scene at large. While a few sounds and chord changes remind me of Jennsenn’s other works, it’s not as instantly identifiable as albums like Microgravity or Substrata. Thus Dropsonde gets a bit lost in the overall Biosphere discography, though the lovely cover art does help it stand out more than its surrounding abstract neighbors. For all the new musical roads Jennsenn explored during the ‘00s, they were still well traversed by others. Most of the sexy talking points regarding Biosphere comes from the ‘90s, which I’ll get to eventually – I don’t want to waste too much limited word count bigging up Patashnik or Substrata before I talk about them. Besides, it sells Dropsonde short in the process.

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