Friday, January 31, 2014

Doc Scott - Lost In Drum N' Bass

DMC Publishing Ltd.: 1996/1998

Amazingly, you can DJ various sub-genres of drum n’ bass in a given set. It’s rare, as most jungle micro-scenes prefer sticking to their chosen sound through and through. Occasionally though, a set offers a broader range of what one might find in the wide sonic world of 'deebee'; even rarer, one that showcases damn near everything.

Right, compared to the branches that scene splintered into at the turn of the millennium, there wasn’t much ‘everything’ in jungle by the mid-‘90s. I maintain it’s mighty impressive of early ‘ardcore veteran Doc Scott to pull together what was out there on Lost In Drum N’ Bass. Originally titled Breakbeat Experiments and released as part of Mixmag’s tape order-in promotional series Mixmag Live!, it found a re-issue in CD form shortly after. This wasn’t surprising, as Mixmag Live! did this for several tapes. Finding proper American distribution, however, hardly occurred, and when they did, it was primarily due to an American name on the cover (Moby, Hawtin, Derrick Carter, etc). Guess Moonshine, who oversaw DMC’s promotion here, figured those were the only selling names in our market. Oh ye’ of little faith, Moonshine.

By 1996, and the darkside of jungle old began waning, the stripped-down sound of tech-step the new hotness. Meanwhile, atmospheric jungle and jazzstep were gaining critical plaudits, but clearly miles away in tone and approach from the aggressive basslines of Technical Itch Studios. Not so, says Doc Scott, bringing the polar opposites of the drum ‘n’ bass scene together in fine fashion.

After opening with the jazzy atmospherics of Jonny L and Krust, we’re treated to the smooth-as-silk Lemon D. Remix of Art Of Noise’s Eye Of The Needle. Yes, that Art Of Noise, odd-ball ‘80s synth-poppers galore. Apparently there was a drum ‘n’ bass remix album of the band’s material released that year, which just goes to show how much the scene was making waves in the UK.

After all that pleasantness, Mr. McIlroy (!) brings out the harder stuff, including Dillinja’s bassbin demolishing Threshold (how many times have I said that about Dillinja?) and Adam F’s Metropolis, it no slouch in offering the rough business. A bit more of the dark stuff follows with Scott’s own Shadow Boxing (as Nasty Habits), then we’re back to jazzy, atmospheric d’n’b again. Yep, instead of continually piling on the aggressive sounds, Doc instead opts for a long ease out. How long? The first track of the final stretch is Krust’s Brief Encounter (12 Minutes), and there’s still four more tracks after that of similar ilk, Decoder’s jump-up Circuit Breaker the only surprising detour among Omni Trio and Jonny L (again).

I won’t deny being disappointed in Lost In Drum N’ Bass when I first heard it, but that’s because I was young, dumb, and only interested in the dark and hard (...wait). Of course, I appreciate Doc Scott’s offering far more now, for its uniqueness as a d’n’b mix CD along as a strong collection of tunes of the era.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Bug - London Zoo (Original TC Review)

Ninja Tune: 2008

(2014 Update:
Oh dear, is poor, poor 2008 Sykonee ever unaware of what else was happening in dubstep, outside the MetaCritic narrative anyway. Little did I know it would be tracks by Rusko, Coki, and Benga, seemingly novelty wub-wub cuts, that would dominate dubstep's future. Fortunately, acts like Burial, Martyn, and even The Bug were retroactively reclassified as other branches of UK garage, thus properly being distanced by fans and commentators from all the bro-drop nonsense to follow. Guess that dates this review a little, in that it was still that transitional phase where lines were being drawn, but had I been following dubstep's development from the beginning, I'd have known of these differences already. Yeah, well, it took most American-side folks even longer than it did your's truly to figure it out, and I was just beginning to give it a chance in 2008. No blame.

Kevin Martin hasn't been terribly busy on the production front since releasing
London Zoo, a smattering of singles all to his name. Following up such a critically hailed album must hold some pressure on the long-time UK dancehall tastemaker, but if he continues down the acid road as he explored with last year's Hardcore Lover, here's hoping another ace LP is in the works.)


IN BRIEF: Delightfully deviant dancehall.

A year ago, a then anonymous Burial helped propel a then anonymous young genre called dubstep into wide recognition. His sophomore effort, Untrue, was not only hailed as a classic by those within its scene, but by nearly everyone who came within earshot of it as well. And something that I’m sure no one could have ever predicted, it sits atop the best albums of 2007 at Metacritic (interestingly, sharing the spot with The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime; who said electronic music was dead?). Surely though, that was just a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. After all, dubstep itself is far too urban, simplistic, and London-based to have any real impact beyond its core fans of jungle refugees, spliff-heads, and inner-city stylists, right?

For a good part of 2008, it appeared such a claim would hold true; very few dubstep producers that suddenly came out of the woodworks seemed capable of matching Burial’s impact. Then practically out of nowhere, longtime reggae and dancehall tastemaker Kevin Martin (The Bug) released his third album to much critical acclaim, such that, as of this writing, it currently sits atop Metacritic’s best albums of 2008. Considering it shares the honor with a retrospective from influential cut-n-paste hip-hop producer Steinski, that’s an impressive feat - an album of fresh material standing toe-to-toe with a double-disc of back-catalogue. With less than two months left in the year, it looks as though dubstep is set to be riding a critical high into the New Year once again.

Is it warranted though? Sure, the music is undoubtedly the freshest to emerge in some time but could all the critical praise for it be nothing more than a “nu-genre” honeymoon? After all, isn’t dubstep just a bunch of half-step beats, gratuitous dub reverb, displaced jungle basslines, and crackly white-noise fluff? Nay, mon - The Bug proves there’s a great deal one can do with the sound.

Truth be told, London Zoo isn’t a strict dubstep album; rather, Martin’s roots in, er, roots is the dominate focus, with the rich history of Jamaican-influenced music bursting through every pocket. Yeah, yeah… what’s with Britain co-opting their former colony’s culture for their own use, you quibble. [TranceCritic]’s been over this one plenty enough, so let’s not get into it; just accept that there are Jamaican transplants in the UK, such that themes of Jah and fights against oppression sounds just as pertinent here as on any Marley or Perry record.

Besides, with Martin’s skill behind the knobs injecting dubstep’s futuristic aesthetic into the works, classic dancehall jams are re-invigorated for the modern era with brilliant results. Even if you’ve never fancied the sound, the wobbly, punctual rhythms and grimey atmospherics will grab your attention right out of the gate and hold it until the final obligatory ‘repent, for Judgement Day is nigh’ finale. And that bass. Good God (Jah?), that bass! Every track’s bassline is totally unique from the other, easily putting to rest any qualms that “this stuff all sounds the same”. Sometimes it’s a low rumble but other times, like in Fuckaz and Skeng, it roars like some kind of Imperial Star Destroyer engine, with drops that’ll ensnare even the most conservative folk; the dancers that literally wobble to this stuff undoubtedly do so because these low frequencies liquefy bones, turning dancehall punters into masses of jelly.

Of course, no dancehall album is complete without some toasting on the mic, and The Bug has rounded up quite the cast of MCs to complement his tracks. Old standbys like Tippa Irie, Aya, and Ricky Ranking are in as fine of form as ever, but it’s members of the newer cast of dancehall toasters that steal the show. Aggressive chants from Flowdan and Warrior Queen, ominous spoken-word from Killa P, wobbly spitting from Spaceape, and cool crooning from Roger Robinson all combine to make London Zoo as much a showcase for all their individual talents as it is an outlet for Martin’s productions. There’s a sense of urgency in all their voices, as though they realize this is their biggest opportunity to let the world know just how vigorous dancehall MCing can be. They don’t disappoint in this regard.

In case it isn’t clear by now, London Zoo is certainly deserving of the critical praise that’s been handed to it. Even if you’ve never heard of The Bug (a large number of you, I reckon) and these Jamaican influenced sounds have only brought confused glances to your face (a lesser amount of you, I hope), this album should still find its way into your collection. It’s musically fresh, wonderfully paced (strong openers, classy middle, rousing climax), and proves dubstep – in all its forms - remains a genre to keep an ear open for.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Loreena McKennitt - Live In Paris And Toronto

Quinlan Road: 1999

When I lived in the hinterlands of Canada, I rented in a house with various other roomers who'd come and go. As I was the one with a decent stereo, my gear took up residence in the living room, where I'd often load the 3-CD tray with my own music. Fair enough, as my housemates shared similar tastes, what with being 'Rupert Ravers' and all. Every so often though, I'd play a combination of albums that threw them for a loop. One such day included a run of some EDM (I forget which now), the Hieroglyphics LP 3rd Eye Blind (“homie-b” music, the girl living with us called it), followed by this particular album from ethereal Celtic-folk artist Loreena McKennitt. They remarked how little sense it made for me to have such bizarre range of interest (for a 20 year old, anyway), and while hip-hop still had some connection to EDM, how did Loreena fit the puzzle of my interests?

It was likely my mother's influence, who was into Enya and all that New Age stuff when it broke into the early ‘90s mainstream (yeah yeah, total cliché there). Enigma was also a part of her musical rotation of the time, which led to ambient and world beat I still enjoy, but another act she liked was Loreena McKennitt. I... didn't quite latch onto her the same way, though my sister did. Hm, guess that makes sense, Enigma's 'tough' beats appealing to male sensibilities (no, stay with me on this theory!), and Ms. McKennitt's harps and singing more of a chick’s thing. What gender stereotypes?

Okay, sorry for that lengthy, anecdotal introduction. I felt it necessary to explain why, on a blog called Electronic Music Critic, there's also a live Loreena McKennitt album here. I've strayed off the EDM path often, but this must be the furthest I’ve gone yet. I don’t think there are any other ethereal Celtic folk-pop records in my collection, so at least it’s a one-off.

For those unaware of McKennitt, she gained international fame mostly through association with the New Age market. While her music is definitely of an Irish and Celtic tradition, she imbued her music with mystical qualities that set herself apart from staunch traditionalists, an incredibly appealing attribute for ladies into fantasy works and that; the guys had their Viking metal, the girls got their Arthurian romanticism (was this all Excaliber’s fault?). While having a deal with Warner Music gave McKennitt greater exposure (especially here in Canada, where the Winnipeg native enjoyed plenty of Canadian Content rotation), she’s remained an independent artist, self-producing and publishing her music through her own Quinlan Road print. Proper underground t’ings, mon! (whoops, wrong sub-culture)

There’s plenty more to her story, but I’m not the best person to detail it. Maybe try Ethereal Celtic Music Critic. All you need to know from my end is I liked her music enough to get a live album of it (essentially a greatest hits package), and that’s about it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Neil Young - Live At Massey Hall 1971

Reprise Records: 2007

The idea of resurrecting old live gigs was definitely tantalizing to Neil Young fans, given the rumours of how much mint material remained untapped and unheard by public ears in decades. Yet while the first release of this series, Live At The Fillmore East, was cool for what it was, it still felt slight, barely a cursory glance of those particular shows. While I doubt folks would be disappointed if the Performance Series carried on that way, some had to wonder if the format could be improved upon.

Whether by coincidence or design, they got their answer in the second volume, Live At Massey Hall. This show was deemed so good by Young’s long-time producer David Briggs that he pleaded it be released rather than Harvest. Young decided against it, but considering how popular that album went on to be, the Massey Hall recordings must have been incredible. Yeah, it is, though in an unexpected way.

Despite having an established career playing acoustic rock and folk, there’d only been sporadic official live album of this side of Young, and even then with backing musicians. This was the first full concert album of Neil playing just by himself, nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a piano in his arsenal – not even a harmonica shows up!

Such a stripped back performance works well enough for small, intimate venues like coffee houses and cellars, which Young had toured in for some time when he first went solo. By 1971, however, he’d become quite the star, and small, intimate venues were a thing of his past. Yet here he is in Massey Hall playing his music for a large, at times rowdy audience, and treating it as though it was for a group of fifty.

Therein lies Live At Massey Hall’s magic. There’s a real sense of stage isolation while listening to this, Young retreating into his own space as he sings. At times, when he belts out the high notes of Old Man and Down By The River, his voice echoes across the hall, further adding to that sense of remoteness. You can easily picture him surrounded by darkness up there, a single spotlight glowing from above keeping him from disappearing altogether. Despondent songs like Bad Fog Of Loneliness, Tell Me Why, A Man Needs A Maid, and even Cowgirl In The Sand completes the picture, even without the DVD aid of concert footage.

And yet, this all creates a stronger connection to him as a performer, where he’s allowing us into his private domain. It helps that he has a very respectful audience (mostly hippies his age, apparently), enthusiastic between songs, and remarkably quiet when Young sings. Maybe it was unfamiliarity with the music he debuted at this concert (“Heart Of Gold? Never heard of it.”), or maybe it was the Toronto crowd welcoming back a native son. Whichever the case, Live At Massey Hall was an early highlight of the Performance Series, one that’s yet to be repeated.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Electronic Music Critic, now with Amazon Links & Clips!



I never intended for this. When I started blogging again, it was as a lark, something to keep the writing juices going while focusing on work, college, and other assorted pet projects. Little did I know that, not only would I find that groove again, but hold onto it for as long as I have, with no real sign of losing it either. And while the readership I've generated since hasn't been a runaway internet smash or anything, it's grown to the point where I'm getting requests for actual audio clips.

I neglected it at first because it felt like more committed time to scouring for such clips than was worth investing for a side-hobby. Most blogs rely on YouTube links, and as those can be taken down at any point, you're constantly having to maintain them, lest you end up with a series of broken ones over time. And hosting the music myself was out of the question, the legal hassel involved so not worth it, which left me with legitimate sources.

Well, I did have an Amazon account when I started EMC, one I hardly gave much thought because, back then, there weren't many MP3 options to share clips with. Lo and behold though, times have changed, and Amazon's MP3 store has grown significantly, such that not including available audio to all this music I'm reviewing is utterly foolhardy. True, they're crummy thirty-second clips, often not even playing the best portions of said tracks, but it's something. As for why I don't also get Beatport and iTunes accounts, I'm an Amazon slut through and through; plus, you can get actual hard-copies at Amazon! I'm not looking to make big money off including Amazon links - Hell, I'm not even expecting to make a pittance. If I'm praising something as 'must own', however, I should at least give you the option of nabbing a copy for yourself.

So here's what you can expect going forward:

AMAZON BUTTON: Underneath each 'ACE TRACK' list, this button will, if available, lead you to the release's Amazon page. If a hard-copy option isn't available, it will take you to an MP3 option instead. If there is no Amazon Button, chances are it's a free net-album (eg: Ectoplazm downloads).

MP3 PLAYER: Underneath the Amazon Button will be an MP3 playlist of the release, which will include most, if not all, the tracks contained on the release. If there's no Player, chances are the album doesn't exist in an official MP3 form at Amazon (common with many older CDs). I'll make franken-Lists for the Burned CDs I review, but cobbling together a Playlist of scattered tracks that appear on regular CDs is more time than I'm willing to invest right now. Maybe down the road, if there's enough requests for it.

ACE TRACK PLAYLIST: In the sidebar, there's now a permanent Playlist that contains clips of anything I've given ACE TRACK status, provided Amazon has it available as an MP3. Now you can hear what I've sung the praises of! As I'm always listening to something new, this list will be constantly updated with each new review.

And that's about it. I spent nearly 20 hours straight this past day adding Amazon links and widgets to everything I could since Model 500's Classics. That's 300+ reviews! Holy cow, I must have been insane doing that. Wish I'd just have included these options from the start, but I sure didn't think I'd have written this much in 15 months. Dunno if the effort will be worth it, but if folks now have a reason to check back some of those older reviews, I say it has.

*2015 UPDATE*:
Turns out Amazon don't like it when you aren't generating enough revenue, promptly cancelling my Associate's Account. Oh well

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live At The Fillmore East

Reprise Records: 2006

Yeah, another Neil Young album. Get used to this, as we’re a long way from covering everything I've collected from the guy, to say nothing of that massive Archives box-set down the road. He's also a rocker who does utilize the word “Live” in the titles for his live albums a fair bit; fortunately, there's only a pair of them to deal with in the now, the first of which was the first to be released of the ongoing Performance Series project.

Apparently ol' Neil had a habit of recording damn near anything he had a chance to, including several gigs that might have a preferred rendition of new songs destined for future albums. For instance, The Needle And The Damage done, as appeared on Harvest (and thus every classic rock station ever), was from his performance on the Johnny Cash Show. More famously, he released Rust Never Sleeps as all live recordings from the tour he debuted those songs. Really, many songs from Rusty saw concert duty before showing up in LP form, sometimes years later at that.

And yep, we got some such tunes on this tidy six-tracker from Neil and his Crazy Horse band’s two-day Fillmore East gig in 1970. Wonderin’, sounding like a b-side to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, didn’t appear on a proper Young album until 19-f’n-83, and in a “fuck you, Geffen” rockabilly album at that! There’s also Winterlong, which didn’t properly show up until the decade-spanning Young compilation titled Decade. Finally, Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown, a Danny Whitten penned piece of blues-rock that appeared on Tonight’s The Night (though also on the first Crazy Horse album shortly after this gig – yes, the band released music on their own too, though little as memorable as what they did with Neil Young).

Hearing some authentic Danny Whitten era live Horse was a big selling point in issuing Live At The Fillmore East. Aside from the few studio recordings, about all that we whippersnappers had to go by his brilliance was hearsay and shitty bootlegs of concerts. I mean, sure, Cowgirl In The Sand and Down By The River were pretty darn cool tunes on the first Young Plus Horse album, but no better than anything else we’d hear from later efforts when Frank Sampedro replaced him.

Well shit, son, here’s a proper education in these matters, twelve minutes of River and a whopping fifteen minutes of Cowgirl, and not a wasted second in either. Damn it, I’m playing this version of Cowgirl in the background as I type this, and believe you me I want to stop and just listen to these musicians jam away. The Youngful Horses had some time to perfect their roles since the first ragged recording sessions – still can barely carry a vocal harmony, though.

Despite only being a smattering of their Live At Fillmore East runs, this remains a tasty treat for folks fully bitten by the Rusty Psycho Equus. Just might convince a few doubters too.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Banco de Gaia - Live At Glastonbury

Mammoth Records: 1996

Much better. Much, much better! Maybe it's the Glastonbury vibe capturing these acts at their best; they sure were the strongest recordings from The Orb's live compilation (hard to call Live 93 a proper album). So if you're a young EDM chap thinking of releasing a live album, better make it a gig from the famous British festival.

Truth be told, I was incredibly hesitant to pick this up at first glance. It’d only been a few months since I’d bought Banco de Gaia’s first two CDs, thus I was still in that ‘eh, not as good as I hoped’ mindset regarding Last Train To Lhasa. Now here’s another CD containing most of Lhasa, plus Mafich Arabi and Heliopolis, another pair of tunes I was lukewarm over as heard on Maya (I was dead-set on believing Toby Marks produced worldly ambient dub and nothing but). Still, what’s that last track, Data Inadequate? Never heard that one on either album, nor was it on the Ambient Dub series. Is it a new song? Nah, probably some live dialog; maybe a corny joke that the show’s over, therefore has inadequate data to carry on. Yeah, that’s it.

Anyhow, I bought Live At Glastonbury regardless, because that’s what you do when you find a new musical love. And sure enough, once the CD played through, my hesitations over its merits quickly dissipated. The crowd’s properly present, their cheers never overwhelming the music while placing you among the mass. A few technical hiccups with the opener Last Train To Lhasa aside, the sound’s clear and full, with enough open air resonance giving the tracks fresh vitality. Mafich Arabi’s funky drum work is essentially unchanged from its album counterpart, but is far more vibrant and energetic with all that extra, delicious bass reverberating off open spaces.

Even better, some of these tunes have been reworked to serve the party environment of Glastonbury. Marks adds layers of cacophonous rhythms and acid squelches to the start of White Paint, turning a formerly sombre piece of music into a raucous build. 887 gets double-timed beats along with funky “whoop whoop” drops, and Kincajou... is actually rather mellow, despite a pumping rhythm kicking throughout. Heh, not like I’d expect another half-hour ambient excursion of the tune at Glastonbury; The Orb, sure.

As for that final cut, Data Inadequate, hot damn, where did this come from? Right, Marks’ first tape-only album Medium, and the old-school vibes are clear as day, all sci-fi space opera synths and chugging UK acid house beats. Its light years away from the typical Banco world beat sound, and a wonderful way to cap off an already fun CD.

Live At Glastonbury may only hold interest for fans of Toby Marks’ project, but for my money (and maybe yours!), it’s also an excellent example of how to do a live album right. Great sound recording, unique variations of tracks, and even a few surprises thrown in: what more could you ask for?

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Orb - Live 93

Island Records: 1993

Here we go – live albums. You just know I got a lot of ‘em. Ah, some, but surprisingly few with titles that start with the word “Live”. Shame, as I could have done a themed week around these. Oh well, let’s get this show on the road, listening to musical acts taking their shows on the road.

First up is The Orb. Say, this is finally the first CD of Dr. Paterson’s project I get to talk about too. Bloody shame it’s this one. The idea behind it is fine, as The Orb had developed quite the reputation early on as a trippy experience live, perfectly befitting of those chill-out rooms of the growing rave scene. I’m sure plenty of wonderful, primitive CGI floated across projector screens and the like. Even without the visual accompaniment, I can conjure nifty things while lying back with my headphones. Ooh, shiny globs!

But nay, it’s bloody hard to get into Live 93, on account this isn’t a single live performance; rather, a compilation of various gigs throughout that year, all arranged in confounding order. A Tokyo gig is followed by a Copenhagen gig is followed by a Glastonbury gig, and back to a Copenhagen gig, followed by a Live Orbient gig. Something like that anyway, and far from a proper live album experience when playing this through.

You may also realize that The Orb only had two albums out by that time, Adventure’s Beyond The Ultraworld and U.F.Orb. That isn’t much material to make up a live double-LP, even with The Orb’s typically long, noodly bits of ambience. What’s added to the live experience is just that, imagining yourself in such context, and the unique flourishes musicians may create on the fly. As The Orb make ample use of dubby echo and swishy filters, you bet you’re getting plenty of extras in these live renditions, so somewhat different from what you’d hear on the albums if you don’t mind sample-heavy dithering.

Unfortunately, I can’t ever hear ‘em without cranking my volume to near-ludicrous levels. The four Glastonbury recordings are okay, and about the only ones that stand out as worth listening to - you even get some actual crowd noise and full-aired resonance. At the other end of the spectrum are the four Copenhagen tracks, all hopelessly muffled and lacking any sort of dynamics. Perpetual Dawn should not sound this limp, ever, and enduring nearly twenty minutes of pants-sounding Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain is utterly pointless. The other ones are only marginally better than the Copenhagen cuts, and hardly worth the inclusion when coupled against the Glastonbury offerings.

I can only see two reasons why folks would have wanted this back in the day. One, it was a handy ‘hits compilation’, albeit poorly recorded. Two, a pair of then-unreleased tracks opened each CD, Plateau and Valley. Good tunes, true, but in superior form on the 1995 album Orbus Terrarum. Thus, beyond completism or curiosity, Live 93 is hopelessly redundant two decades on.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

DJ Aaron Carter - Lit Up

Moonshine Music: 1999

Not to be confused with teeny-pop heartthrob Aaron Carter, this is DJ Aaron Carter, of the Moonshine Music star act Cirrus. Yes, I know I'm only the hundredth person to have made that joke, but seeing as how neither Aaron Carter have been relevant in over a decade, the gag's undoubtedly sat fallow in all that time, waiting to sound fresh again for a whole new audience of doe-eyed party revellers! Well, if they gave a shit about either, that is.

And really, Aaron Carter, the DJ, wasn’t terribly relevant to begin with, at least outside his native Los Angeles. As a member of Cirrus, he helped create some buzz for the West Coast acid breaks scene, but as the group was forever tied to Moonshine, they promptly disappeared when the label folded. I wonder though, what they would sound like in this day in age, had they carried on ten years longer. I wonder... *cue Wayne’s World fade*

What? I got nothing.

Okay, that was pointless. If this DJ set’s anything to go by, however, Carter may have found a home with the London Acid Techno Crew, a track list heavy with their contributions. This whole set is a straight-up hard acid rinse-out, something of a surprise from a member of a big beat group. The cover says "hard trance", but we're dealing with a proper techno tear out of the TB-303.

In that regard, Lit Up, Aaron Carter’s first and only commercial mix CD, is hardly surprising in content, though perhaps a little in track arrangement. The first three tracks are the sort of tunes most DJs of the time saved for their bangin’ finale, including Jark Prongo’s Movin’ Thru Your System and X-Cab’s own acid remix of Neuro. Dear me, I cannae take the anthemage of Neuro so soon, and nor can this mix it seems, as Carter’s slowed the track down to accommodate the surrounding cuts. Eh, not the best way to open this mix.

Fortunately, once we’re done with that, we’re fed a bevy of choice acid techno, and nothing but. Carter comes off far more comfortable in these surroundings, his mixes much smoother and clever usage of tracks. Each cut builds on the acid lines, but never so much that the subsequent one is left faltering. By the time we’re in the presence of the pummelling Dog Inc. by Uneven Surface, you’re hooked in, the set’s rough start all but forgotten and wishing for more. Oh my God, I’m gonna acidgasm!

Cheekily, he speeds Liberator & Geezer’s 303 Power as a segue to the hard, bangin’ techno of DDR’s Tweaker (going by Trip Hazard here), and DJ Micro’s remix of Cirrus’ own Stop And Panic. Huh, there’s a surprise of a cut in this mix, much less from the vanilla trance-man DJ Micro.

All said, Lit Up is far from an essential CD to have, though if found at bargain bin prices, you can never go wrong with hard acid techno. Never!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

GZA/Genius - Liquid Swords

Geffen Records

The only solo-Wu album you're supposed to have, if you're any kind of fan of the Wu-Tang Clan. Yeah, yeah, you can point to plenty other albums as strong offerings from the group, though Liquid Swords almost unanimously holds a Top 5 position regardless. What separates this one from, say, Only Built For Cuban Linx or Supreme Clientele, is it’s as much a RZA album as it is a showcase of The Genius’, erm, lyrical genius. He’d had over two years to refine the minimalist, grimy, funk-soul groove by way of kung-fu style pioneered with Enter The Wu-Tang Clan, thus Liquid Swords comes of like the Wu-Tang album RZA could have made if he’d waited a little longer to unleash his master project.

True, Bobby Steele had worked on Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s solo albums in that time, but those seemed custom tailored to each of their personalities. Gary Grice, on the other hand, was on a comparable wavelength with his cousin in where the two hoped to take the Wu’s style, so it makes sense his first solo outing as GZA ended rich with the chop-socky mysticism and dark-as-fuck music.

My God, I could go on forever about how awesome these tracks are! Gold’s cold, operatic backing with a piecing whine; smooth as satin pianos in Duel Of The Iron Mic; the clumpity rhythms and twitchy synths of Killah Hills 10304; the guitar plucks and desolate emptiness of Cold World. And that’s just the music. GZA’s great as always with what he brings to the mic, and the rest of the Wu (all contribute in some way, though some more than others) are all still in mid-‘90s hungry mode, A-games from the whole damn Clan.

Okay, the album’s brilliance is common knowledge, accepted lore, and biological fact. I’m adding nothing here by repeating the Liquid Swords narrative. I wonder, though, of a review impossibility: someone who loved Mr. Grice’s first album, Words From The Genius, but loathed this one. I wonder... *cue Wayne’s World fade*

And gangsta rap claims another promising young hip-hop artist. It was ridiculous enough that Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff did it, but someone calling himself The Genius shouldn’t be elaborating street violence and drug deals. Well, okay, he did on his excellent debut album too, but at least Life Of A Drug Dealer retained Cold Chillin’s excellent upbeat, funky production. The music on Liquid Swords is so depressing and gloomy. Even the opening titular cut, the funkiest old-school track on here, is undone by bookending it with that samurai movie dialog.

Content aside, I guess The Genius – sorry, The GZA - still sounds as good as he did on his debut, but he hardly gets a chance to shine solo, tons of guest versus from that Wu-Tang group he’s now hanging with showing up. Man, what happened, Gary? You could have kept the old-school party vibes alive, not jump on this slummy bandwagon.


Mm, yeah, well maybe not.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Riley Reinhold - Lights In My Eyes Remixe (Original TC Review)

My Best Friend: 2007

(2014 Update:
I think this was the start of my ongoing, always-futile campaign to retake trance's good name back for the hypnotic, melodic side of techno. Maybe one day, long in the future and eurotrance has all but been extinguished from the public's memory, then it will happen. And I will be vindicated,
vindicated I say! Hahaha! HAHAHAAHAHAHA!!

Reinhold released a few more singles after this one, but production's taken a back seat to maintaining his Traum Schallplaten label while DJing on the side. He's apparently still doing the minimal shtick too. Pst, Riley, move on, it's not the aughts anymore.)



IN BRIEF: Is that you, neo-trance?

Far be it for Riley Reinhold to grab the spotlight, but when he released Lights In My Eyes last summer, the DJ from Cologne, Germany deserved a little recognition after all his years in the trenches running labels (Trapez, My Best Friend, Traum Schallplatten) and magazines (De:Bug). ‘Twas a lovely little single, and having been featured on the tail-end of Layo & Bushwacka!’s Global Underground contribution, Riley’s name was given the opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Plastikman and Larry Heard; fine company indeed. However, like the unassuming individual he is, Riley’s stepped aside once again to allow a pair of remixers steal the show on his very own track.

First up is Dominik Eulberg, whom steady readers of [TranceCritic] may remember from Will Alexander’s overwhelmingly positive review of the man’s latest album, Bionik. If this remix is anything to go by, I can hear where my fellow writer’s coming from. It starts out like pretty nearly any other minimal tech-house cut you’ve heard: interesting clinky-clonk mechanical percussion, but ultimately dry and sterile.

Then those strings appear. And grab hold of you. And never let go. This, my friends, is a marvelous remix! By taking the backing pads of Riley’s original and giving them the front-and-center, Dominik has crafted a track that is remarkably mesmerizing in execution. And as pleasing as these strings are, they are entirely co-dependent upon the rhythms to maintain your attention, as the subtle shifts and tweaks on the beats throughout keep the strings from falling into noodly loops; independently neither element would work, but together they create musical magic.

Dominik’s remix runs over eleven minutes, but you’ll hardly notice the passing of time. This marriage of soothing strings and minimal techno is quite captivating. It’s hypnotic. It’s, well, trance. Or trance-inducing, at the least.

On the flip, Patrice Bäumel - a relative newcomer to the field of production - get’s his stab as well, and he turns in a remix that is more dancefloor friendly than Dominik’s cut. Although a rather straight-forward tech-house re-rub, Patrice displays a fine sense of rhythm, and despite giving the original’s strings less prominence, they are no less hypnotic when they do make their appearance. Overall, a solid offering.

Which can be said of this remix package as well. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ladytron - Light & Magic

Nettwerk: 2002/2011

Electroclash wasn’t even a thing when Ladytron first emerged. They were more interested in recreating the late ‘70s new wave aesthetic, inspired by musical works of The Human League and the performances of Kraftwerk. When ‘everyone’ picked up on that whole ‘80s revival thing, however, the four-piece synth-poppers got roped in along with sleaze-meisters like Miss Kittin, Felix da Housecat and DJ Hell’s International Deejay Gigolos. Who cares if the lyrical content couldn’t be further worlds apart, all those vintage synths and drum machines is the link the binds them together. Right, like how using a TB-303 makes acid house and psy trance the exact same thing.

Anyhow, once the electroclash hullabaloo began its predicted recession, Ladytron re-emerged with their sophomore effort, Light & Magic. If folks figured the group would succumb to that scene’s irony-soaked topics and kitsch, they were poorly mistaken (and likely didn’t get what Ladytron was all about anyway). There’s a couple observations of the soullessness of fashion-obsessed vanity (Seventeen touches on the disposable nature of the photo industry), but by and large we’re dealing with melancholic relationships and relative emptiness in a digitized world. It’s 1982 all over again, baby!

So while the topics are similar to their debut, the tone is not. A charming innocence often ran through the first album’s songs, as though Ladytron struggled to make sense of all these weird emotions leaking from their robotic façade (having Helen Marnie’s lisping, whispering coo of a voice handle most of the lyrical duty certainly helped sell the image). A little older and mature now, Light & Magic has them clearly aware of what’s going on in relationships, and coming away rather cynical in the process, properly sold with detached vocoders and effects throughout (God, I can barely even hear Helen in the titular cut). Well, probably. Ladytron’s lyrics are usually intentionally vague, equally working at a surface level or with deeper intent. Good pop music, in other words.

And speaking of music, the synths and beats are much slicker and beefier without losing any of the retro-charm that made them synth-pop delights. Damn, the way some of these choral chord changes force their way into your ears is insidious. Seventeen’s is an obvious highlight, being that it was the lead single for the album, but Light & Magic, The Reason Why and Evil are no slouches either. As for the actual music, Ladytron run the gamut from icy-cool electro (Turn It On, Re: Agents, Cease2xist, and Black Plastic, sounding more like a Kitten & Hacker cut), chipper, rocky techno (True Mathematics, Nuhorizons), booming baroque (Startup Chime), and is that a touch of the old-school house I hear in Flicking Your Switch?

If Ladytron’s charms have yet to win you over, this album probably won’t convert you, as the pop potential of their sound is subdued compared to other releases. In fact, it took me a bit to warm to Light & Magic, but I can never resist Helen’s voice for long. *swoon*

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Future Sound Of London - Lifeforms (EP)

Astralwerks: 1994

Oh yeah, there was also a track called Lifeforms on Lifeforms, which became a single from Lifeforms. Fortunately, I can talk all about Lifeforms on this EP titled Lifeforms, so nothing was lost in bypassing Lifeforms on Lifeforms. This opening is funnier if you read-sing it like Data in Star Trek: Generations. “Lifeforms, you silly little lifeforms...”

Poor Virgin. They go and sign The Future Sound Of London, likely believing the duo a high prize in the early ‘electronica’ sweepstakes. With such a massive hit like Papua New Guinea to their credit, plus oodles more under other guises and remixes, surely the FSOL would put Virgin at the forefront of trendy club culture. Well, nuts to that, said Cobain and Dougans, they wanted to get all conceptual and shit for their major label debut. Fair enough, just make a couple singles available for Virgin to promote and- wait, FSOL are making the EPs themselves? But we had all these remixers planned already: one for the House Mix, one for the Progressive House mix, and one for the Techno Mix. Not even one for the Hardcore Mix? Dammit, FSOL, who do you think you are, artists?

Lifeforms (the track) was about as club-friendly as anything got on Lifeforms (the album ...ugh, this is getting confusing), so tapping it for single duty made sense. As the FSOL preferred turning their EPs into mini-albums in their own right, we’re offered seven different ‘paths’ taken on the Lifeforms idea. Beyond familiar nature sound effects, most of these paths bare scant resemblance to the album version (Path 3). Path 1, for instance, is mostly an ambient affair with water drums, droning industrial synths, and a chant that I don’t recall hearing in the album. Path 2, meanwhile, comes off more urgent and twitchy, throwing in different acoustic and wind instruments as a tense bassline bubbles and builds underneath – it rather sounds like an extended incidental moment from the album, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if that was the case.

Path 4 and Path 5 are the real highlights though. Both are refined takes on Life Form Ends (itself an alternate version of Lifeforms on Lifeforms), each exploring the expansive soundscapes FSOL enjoy indulging in, all the while excellent drum programming keeps things moving at a brisk pace. It’s the Papua New Guinea template taken to another level, if not in dancefloor effectiveness, then in conceptual execution (God, does that ever sound pretentious).

Path 6 serves as a minor interlude repeating sounds heard in the prior couple paths, and Path 7 bookends the EP with a similar tune to Path 1, but with more sounds and beats added from the other tracks. So a tidy conclusion to Lifeforms, the EP, and though not as varied as Lifeforms, the LP, it makes for a worthy companion piece. Kind of a closer study of some specific organisms you might have encountered while travelling the weird, wild world FSOL created with the album proper.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Future Sound Of London - Lifeforms

Virgin Music: 1994

The Future Sound Of London always struck me as an odd group, and as I didn't come around to them until their Dead Cities period, I had some catching up to do. The club-friendly material off Accelerator was an easy introduction to the sounds they were capable of, but Lifeforms seemed daunting. A double-LP with nary a recognizable hit in the tracklist? Goodness, what's a young raver taking his first, tentative steps into this weird, wide electronic music world to do? I mean, this must be a good album, if all those old-schoolers are loving it, though they don't talk of it as much as Papua New Guinea or We Have Explosives. Still, really cool looking cover art...

So yeah, Lifeforms was the last of the First Three FSOL albums I picked up, but it wasn’t that long after getting the other two; thus, I’ve had plenty of time to listen, re-listen, analyze, contemplate, and understand Dougans and Cobain’s weird ambient opus. I’m still working on that. For that matter, who isn’t? I wouldn’t go so far as to say Lifeforms is a hopelessly complex piece of abstract music, as the basic concept is straight-forward enough: raid all the nature sample libraries, mesh it with ambient house and trip-hop of the day, take a ton of drugs [citation needed], and see what springs forth from the muse.

Even that doesn’t seem too far removed from what The Orb was doing, but whereas Dr. Patterson had a playfully chill outlook to his music, FSOL have larger ideas on mind. I honestly don’t know if this was their intent, but the concept in Lifeforms I’ve gleaned over the years is each disc tells a different story of evolution: CD1 the primordial growth to complex organisms, CD2 the arrival of higher intelligence and future-shock technology.

I’m risking turning this review into a graduate thesis, so I’ll make my explanation brief. Aside from the interlude Bird Wings, disc one typically has natural sounds running through it: gentle washing pianos, tribal drums, bells, un-manipulated chants and animal calls. The clincher, however, is the benign nature of the music on this first half. Lovely melodies in Cascade, haunting synths in Ill Flower and Dead Skin Cells, and even a sense of innocent playfulness in Flak and Among Myselves. The Garden of Eden is a wonderful place to be.

Not so in disc two. As almost a parody of advancing intellect, FSOL open with a brief, ominous version of Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue in D Major. From there, harsh bleeps emerge in Spineless Jelly, and we’re on our way into a dystopian outlook of nature for the duration. True, there are lovely moments still found (Omnipresence, Elaborate Burn), but always coupled with aggressive electronics. We’re a far cry from the tranquility of CD1.

It makes Lifeforms no less captivating, even if many of the interludes are just effects wibble. Check it out, and discover what weird things come to your mind.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Asura - Life² (Original TC Review)

Ultimae Records: 2007

(2014 Update:
This was my first exposure to Ulitmae, and does this review ever show it. That is, I knew absolutely nothing about the label, so barely bring them up at all; plenty of research into Asura, however. Interestingly enough, even from the start, I was bemoaning the lack of journalistic coverage these guys were getting, though perhaps in a more confrontational way than I do now. Not much else to add to this review, though like much of my old stuff, a little wordy in places.

'Tis funny, my covering of
Life² was practically by random chance. I was in the process of giving my old TranceCritic writing partner, Jack Moss, a rather ineffectual pep-talk, as he was going through review writer's doldrums, dissatisfied with new material to cover in 2007. I urged him to take a chance on something unknown, perhaps discovering gold in the process. As an example, I fired up Juno Records and, browsing through their new releases, clicked the first cover which caught my eye, which happened to be this. "There," I told him, "why not review this CD? Looks interesting." He wasn't convinced at the time, but the samples piqued my curiosity further, so I went about getting it for myself to review instead. Ultimae has gone on to be a favorite label for both of us, though it was likely an eventuality regardless of that first arbitrary exposure.)


IN BRIEF: Don’t you dare miss this one.

I think I’m going to go right ahead and straight-off declare this album a front-runner for Criminally Overlooked Releases In 2007. It seems unavoidable, really. Already there are factors limiting its success, despite the music contained being exquisite: tiny French label few are aware of; paltry promotional power; general lack of awareness for the name Asura; a form of music folks tend to be afraid to take a chance on these days due to the overabundance of downtempo bilge souring tastes for it.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The psy scene has unofficially adopted Asura into their ranks, despite the fact the man behind the project, Charles Farewell, has never really claimed to be a part of it. And although he’s produced some music that easily fits into the psy chill category, Asura covers a far broader sonic canvas than mere trippy synthy soundscapes.

I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Let me backtrack a bit.

Although the brainchild of Mr. Farewell, there have been a few other names tied to the project over the years. However, on this third album, Farewell has gone at it solo, and raised the question if he’d be able to handle the marriage of organic and synthetic instrumentation that had become the group’s recognized style. Titled Life², the album makes for an incredibly strong argument in his favor.

Opener Golgotha will have you wondering if you even have an electronic album on. Thunderous percussion, somber symphonic swells, ethereal woodwinds, and haunting chants all combine to create something out of an epic biblical soundtrack; without the heavy-handiness such epics are often victim of, mind. It’s a gripping piece of music though, grabbing your attention right out of the gate.

Back To Light brings the synths and sequencers into focus, with many organic sounds wrapped around them. What may strike you as a bit odd, though, is just how plastic the beats sound. Considering the richly textures of everything else, it’s a bizarre contrast, yet fits within the context of the music just the same. The song itself? Lovely; stirring; exhilarating, especially in the second half where the rhythms turn breakbeat rather than steady... I could ramble on a number of adjectives, but I’d end up using them all up way too soon in this review, and this is only the second track.

Diversity is also the name of the game when it comes to Asura. Recalling the old synth composers of the ‘70s at their best, Galaxies Part One makes use of cascading soundscapes and pulsing melodies as soft gentle rhythms and chants float in the background. The second part, meanwhile, has a more modern take on this style, with urgency in its melodies, moodier synths, and grumbling dubby beats carrying it along. And unlike many ambient pieces, there’s never a sense of aimless meandering; it’s a meticulous path the way Farewell has written his music. Even The Prophecy, which even at seven plus minutes in length comes off more like an interlude in the album’s flow, has more going for it than a mere somber sonic doodle.

Of course, Farewell wouldn’t be known to the psy community unless he dabbled in that style too. Celestial Tendencies, Butterfly FX, and the title track pick up the pace, dipping into more proggy territory. There’s chunky acid burbling in the background, various synthy pads, electronic effects, tasteful vocal samples, and ethnic instruments sprinkled in for good measure to keep you constantly grounded. And while these tracks aren’t quite as evocative as the slower songs, they nonetheless manage to stir the soul with just as much finesse while providing something heavier to groove on.

There’s a couple more on here I could talk about too, but I’ll leave it up to you to find out how they sound - why should I spoil the surprise, after all (I will say the final track is a perfect capper) ? However, of important mention is how Life² is a complete package as an album. Everything flows seamlessly together, creating a gripping listening experience beginning to end. Typically, disparate tempo changes between songs can throw a wrench into things on other albums, but it works perfectly fine here, coming off like chapters rather than separate individual parts.

And all this probably doesn’t mean a lick to all but the most adventurous anyway. Well, maybe the psy scene will be more boned up on this release, but the rest of you. Yes, YOU! The one that doesn’t believe it, that Life² couldn’t possibly be as great as I say it is. Where is, after all, the love from the major players in this industry? Why hasn’t there been a glowing exposé in the magazines? How come there isn’t a ton of buzz online in all the trendy forums?

Honestly, I haven’t a clue why, but this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Many fine albums slip through the cracks, often rediscovered by hunters of great music in later years. If this is to be Asura’s fate, so be it. In the meantime, those who have found Life² in their players shall have their ears richly rewarded.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Various - Life: Styles - Coldcut

Harmless: 2004

It's a shame the Life: Styles series didn't last long. There was a clever idea going for it among all the other 'electronic producers show off their record collections' market, in that it featured personally influential songs that weren't specifically themed (afterhours, chill-out, early crate exposures). Right, mixtape action then. That’s fine, but apparently not much of interest in the overstuffed compilation market of the '00s. And now that online playlists, mixtapes, and podcasts offer much of the same, CDs like Life: Styles are all but good as dead. Damn it, I was kinda hoping to find more of these someday.

If their tracklists are anything to go by, they'd make for handy bluffer's guides to funk, soul, jazz, and '70s curiosities. Coldcut are no exception, though as the duo from Ninja Tune had a raging hard-on for all things break-beat orientated, you can expect some interesting funk choices for their contribution to Life: Styles. For instance, More and Black claim they picked up Betty Harris' There's A Break In The Road for the sole reason of the title. Yep, in their never-ending pursuit of new 'breaks' to sample and use in their DJing, they went into a slice of soul-jazz blind, thinking a fresh drum solo could be found within. Boy, have I ever done that kind of shopping before, though almost entirely based on covers rather than titles.

There’s about eight other funky tunes on here, though likely only the last two will be immediately familiar to most (The Temptations’ Power and Otis Clay’s The Only Way Is Up). I’m more interested in the funk-fusion numbers, like Chowen Few’s Do Your Thing (reggae!) and The Galylads’ Soul Sister (um, soul?), but they’re all cool tunes regardless.

There’s also quite a bit of French connection music on offer too. Richard de Bordeaux & Daniel Beretta drum up some psychedelic francophone rock in La Drogue (he, he, I think they said “hashish”), Axel Krygier goes down the trip-hop road in Taxi Nocturno (yeah, it’s not all old musics here), and early jazz ‘n electronics dabbler Bernard Estardy shows up under his La Formule Du Baron guise, though La Gigouille’s a straight-up funk jam in this case.

And now for the oddities! Well, okay, T La Rock & Jazzy Jay’s It’s Yours isn’t odd in the slightest, but the Def Jam classic sure stands out as odd in a compilation filled with music other than hip-hop – guess Coldcut wanted to show the ‘breaks’ connection? The track preceding it, Cornershop’s The Easy Winners, is certainly an odd one, a sort of future electro-funk offering from what Lord Discogs claims to be an indie rock band. Ah, they bandwagon jumped during the ‘electronica’ boom, didn’t they. But no, the real highlight for goofy nonsense is none other than Archie Bleyer’s Hernandoz Hideaway, something of a minor hit in the mid-‘50s, and all tango-camp. I guarantee once you hear that hook (even in sampled form), you’ll have it stuck there forever after.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hardfloor - The Life We Choose (Original TC Review)

Hardfloor: 2007

(2014 Update:
Guess it shouldn't come as a surprise, but the mid-'00s 'minimal techno are serious musics' tropes in
Itz OK and Swiffer sound totally dated, whereas the rest of The Life We Choose's groovy acid techno doesn't sound dated at all. Strange, in that you'd think acid in general would sound dated, but the little silver box creates such weird, unique sounds that's yet to be topped in electronic music, I don't think it'll ever become dated. The stuff surrounding it, on the other hand...

Anyhow, this album passed by with little fanfare, though I did get to catch Hardfloor on tour while they were promoting it. I swear the crowd had no idea what any of the tracks off here were when they played them, the biggest reactions naturally coming from hearing the classics and nothing else. So it goes.)



IN BRIEF: Sing, acid, sing.

Alright, admit it: how many of you knew there was a new Hardfloor album out? Heck, for that matter, how many of you even knew Hardfloor were still around? It’s been a long while since their mid-90s peak on Harthouse, and despite their continued dominance of the Roland TB-303, the German duo hardly receive the same amount of fanfare they once did. Still, their absence from the general clubbing consciousness has yet to slow them down, as they keep plugging along, doing what they do best, pleasing their fans all the same.

And making the little acid box sing continues to be their forté. Ol’ Oliver and Ramon have been accused of not moving with the times but there is something to be said for sticking to your strengths too. Yes, acid hasn’t been in vogue for at least a decade and though it may be seeing something of a resurgence lately, it’s doubtful the sound will ever be as commercially viable as before. This grants Hardfloor a certain freedom when they make their music, as their productions are not weighed down by what is expected of them but rather how well they still do it.

So if you expect their seventh full-length of original material to offer anything groundbreaking or new, you may as well forget it. The Life We Choose sounds just as comfortable being in the mid-90s as it does hanging out in this year of ‘07. Much of Hardfloor’s equipment remains the same, so most of the sounds used stays within a rather limited sonic scope.

Most of these tracks follow a simple pattern: rhythm is laid out, a couple of acid lines emerge, and perhaps some additional dressing like pads complement them along the way. With spacey reverb and subtle tweaks, a typical tune works a slow build from beginning to end as Hardfloor work the 303 like a guitarist would work an improvisational solo. On paper, it may not sound like much, but the duo have an uncanny knack of hooking you in once an acid line appears, and the ride it takes you on is always a rewarding one. As much of a fucking cliché as it is to say it, these straight-forward acid tunes are more about the journey than the destination.

There are a few tunes that break the mold. Itz Ok and Swiffer are more in vein of the kind of techno you might see the hands of the Minus crew, including pitched-down vocals on Itz Ok that are rather trendy. They’re satisfactory offerings but aren’t terribly unique from what else is out there, and Hardfloor’s trademark acid work is mostly relegated to inconsequential atmosphere. Elsewhere, the duo take a stab with electro on The Life We Choose and chill vibes on Apollo & Zeus, with better results. I suppose its fine for them to branch out a little into sounds that are more contemporary; can’t get stuck in a rut after all.

But y’know what? Who needs bandwagon jumping and questionable innovation and needless experimentation? When Hardfloor work the acid into effective groovers, subtle builders, and ecstatic squealers, it’s like they’re slipping into the most comfortable of rolls; a natural talent where even though we’ve heard it many times before, it still delivers winningly just the same. It’s like when Snoop Dogg does his playa’ shtick. Or Neil Young doing his grungy folk. Or Jim Carey performing physical comedy. Or Martin Scorsese directing a mobster movie. Or Michael Bolton being a twat with bad hair. They are near-peerless in these chosen fields, and Hardfloor is the same with groovy acid techno.

The Life We Choose isn’t going to set the techno world on fire. Nor is it an album that will propel Hardfloor back into the spotlight. The duo have done better in the past but this is no slouch either. This is the sound of a pair of producers who continue plugging along at their own game despite the seas of change around them in continuous turmoil. And for fans of the TB-303, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill

Def Jam Recordings: 1986/1996

A landmark album of sorts, it proved you could trick white frat boys into liking that ‘black’ ‘rap’ ‘music’, provided it was bundled with as cliché a cock-rock anthem as you could make in the ‘80s. I think that was the point, Fight For Your Right an intentional parody of said culture, but of course the meat-headed jocks of the world wouldn’t get it. In fact, ask the Beastie Boys about their inspiration in creating Licensed To Ill, and they'll claim the whole album is one big joke. It's certainly goofy, I'll give it that, but for a collection of bratty hip-hop fronted by three white teenagers, it's held up remarkably well.

Does it have the stunning production later Beastie LPs hold? No, the technology just wasn't there in the mid-'80s, much less for a start-up label being run by some former punk guy who'd seemingly lucked out in signing future stars like LL Cool J and... okay, so only LL and the Beasties were the rising stars in Def Jam's early years; Slayer, too. Point is the bearded one Rubin didn't have much to work with other than bare-bones 808 rhythms, oodles of rock records to pilfer hooks and samples for, and a knack for a hook that complemented the Beastie Boys' back-and-forth raps. Already a successful formula for Run DMC, Licensed To Ill took the 'rock-n-hop' template to commercial heights never before seen, almost exclusively thanks to having a hit single that had nothing to do with hip-hop. Fortunately, The New Style, She’s Crafty, Rhymin & Stealin, and No Sleep Till Brooklyn prove it was a formula that could be milked more than once.

Even then, ol’ Rick and the Boys throw in a few clever tracks so Mr. 808 doesn’t get tiresome. Posse In Effect has a fun electro-snare splash going on, Paul Revere craftily loops its drum breaks in reverse, honking horns form the hook in Brass Monkey (that funky monkey junkie!), and pitched-up marching bells get lodged in your noggin’ after hearing Girls. Good stuff, given the limited sonics on display, and that’s not even getting into all the turntable scratches and cut-up samples throughout the album (most prominent though, in Time To Get Ill).

Then there’s the Boys themselves, showing mad skills on the mics- well, no, not really. We’re a long ways away from any sort of lyrical genius on Licensed To Ill, most songs consisting of shouting, call-and-response, and punk ‘singing’. Hey, it’s what MCA, Mike D, and King Ad-Rock had a prior background in, Rubin convincing them to also adopt raps into their arsenal. Though their punch lines are often witty (I always get a kick out of Ad-Rock’s lyrics in Girls), it’s still juvenile humour, a long ways away from the maturity found in their following albums.

For that reason, I can’t take Licensed To Ill seriously, but then neither did the Beastie Boys. Perhaps that’s how it’s never lost its charm, no matter how old I’ve grown.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Aes Dana - Leylines

Ultimae Records: 2009

Vincent Villuis has put together one of the best ambient and downtempo labels I've come across, and thus I have a great amount of respect for him; yet I struggle to get into his Aes Dana material. It’s not a matter of quality, as his music checks off all the things I enjoy of this genre (lush soundscapes, clever instrumentation, captivating atmosphere, the Ultimae Mixdown™). Unfortunately, Mr. Villuis has done such an impeccable job of gathering talent to Ultimae, he’s often overshadowed by them. Solar Fields, Asura, Carbon Based Lifeforms, holy cow, what a roster! Even his collaborative work with Solar Fields as H.U.V.A. Network is beyond stellar.

So why the problem with Aes Dana? I suppose it boils down to the minimalistic nature of his music. Villuis doesn’t often evoke the same uplifting emotional response his label chums do, perhaps a result of his industrial background. While not cold or uninviting as most industrialists go, there is a noticeable trend of it throughout the Aes Dana project, a nod to the dark ambient tone that scene embraces.

I haven’t heard every album under this banner (dang it, Ultimae, we need another round of re-issues), so I don’t know whether Leylines is the darkest Aes Dana album. Damn though, for an Ultimae LP, it’s dark. Oxyd oozes sinister strings and glitchy percussion as a thudding heart beats in the background, all of which complimented with gentle, disconcerting bells. Heights features disembodied voices and haunting orchestral arrangements, as though echoing off cathedral halls. And Signs is about as dark and ethereal as dark ambient gets. Even the uptempo cut Lysistrata has trademarks of industrial, utilizing a bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place on an EBM record. If Delerium had continued making music of this sort rather than seeking the bankable New Age market instead, I’ve little doubt they’d be producing what’s found on Leylines.

On the other hand, a number of Ultimae tropes do crop up. Tracks like Bam, Blossom, and Inter check off many requisite psy-dub sounds amongst the droning synths. Meanwhile, the whole middle section, including Lysistrata, is made up of that distinct slow-trance style the label practically made their staple, often coupled with moody synths and world-beat effects. Hey, I love this stuff, but I won’t deny it all sounding similar in bunches, a subtle, sonic soup one can easily pass by without much care. If you’ve heard enough Ultimae, you’ll recognize many of the sounds and arrangements Villuis creates here. And as he does prefer the minimalistic route in his music, the lack of strong melodic hooks leaves Leylines lagging behind the label’s best albums.

Not the highest recommendation for Aes Dana’s fourth, then, though only if you’ve yet to take the Ultimae plunge (I say again, what on Earth are you waiting for!?). Leylines is an enjoyable album on its own merits, a suitable musical companion for introspective times and places. A necessary addition to one’s chill-out collection, however, it is not.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Raekwon - The Lex Diamond Story

Universal Records: 2003

Only Built For Cuban Linx is a classic, of that there's no debate; Part 2, released in 2009, was heralded as the follow-up everyone hoped of Raekwon. Unfortunately, no one knew whether we'd get such a sequel, so fans of Mr. Todd's music made do with what was sporadically offered instead. When it came out, Raekwon's third was received warmly enough, if not as a return to form then at least a decent effort. That perception's somewhat changed though in recent years. Unlike other 2000s LPs from the Wu-Tang, The Lex Diamond Story seems to be receding further from the collective hip-hop memory.

As an assortment of 2003 eastcoast criminology rap, Lex Diamond suffices. There aren't many surprises on the production front, though the tone does frequently jump from track to track – guess that's the price one pays for no longer having RZA providing all the beats. Instead, names like Brutal Bill, Andy C (no, not that Andy C), Crummie Beats, Zephla, Hangman 3, Ez Elpee, and Mizza handle the decks. Um, I don't know any of these names – I think I heard of Crummie Beats somewhere, but Lord Discogs lists Lex Diamond as his (their?) only entry, so I may just be blowing hipster smoke. Whatever, everyone involved (and nearly every track has a different producer credit) pretty much work with cinematic or jazz-n-soul loops and samples that'd been an eastcoast staple for over a decade by that point. Again, fine for the tone Rae' wants for this album (street raps by his street gangsta persona), but nothing particularly innovative for that year.

In fact, the few tracks that do break mode stand out from the rest for that very reason. That doesn't mean they're good tunes though. Ice Cream, Pt. 2 seems like a bad idea on paper – don't mess with a classic, right? - but DJ Khalid (who's done work for Dr. Dre's Aftermath print) provides a charming, silly cut for Rae', Method Man, and Cappadonna to once again use tasty frozen treats as pick up lines. Mike “Punch” Harper, on the other hand, creates a synth-heavy club jam on Wyld In Da Club, also featuring Raekwon's then-new pet project Ice Water Inc. (what happened to American Cream Team?). It sounds like a total trend-jump and in both cases, I wonder how either of them relates to a story about Lex Diamond's crime days.

And really, that's where this album suffers and quite possibly will continue to be relegated to forgotten solo-Wu joints. Say what you want about Immobilarity, but like both Cuban Linx, it maintains its theme for most of its running time – it feels like you're listening to proper long player. The Lex Diamond Story doesn't, often jumping from a Lex-related story to something totally unrelated. The final track - Once Upon A Time with somber pianos and singing from Tekitha (such a soulful voice) – is an admirable effort to tie everything together, but it's not enough.

Friday, January 10, 2014

King Cannibal - Let The Night Roar (2014 Update)

Ninja Tune: 2009

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)


It took me some time in finding dubstep I could get behind. There was the dancehall influenced stuff, sure, and also the material Burial put out that was retroactively called ‘post-dubstep’ or ‘future-garage’ or whatever. Yet something straight-forward with the signature half-step beat and wobble basslines? Dear Lord, no! Too much of it struck me as gimmicky nonsense (even before brostep ever got popular), and while I’ll grant my general exposure to it during the late ‘00s wasn’t the best (for the love of God, stop playing those same Benga and Coki tracks over and over), there wasn’t much incentive for me to dig further.

Then I heard King Cannibal’s Flower Of Flesh And Blood. It wasn’t one of those “OMG, EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS GENRE/MUSICIAN IS THE GREATEST THING EVER!” moments – and yes, I have had tons of those over the years. Heck, it wasn’t even one of those “Ah, now I ‘get’ dubstep” moments. I got dubstep quite early on, as it’s a very simple form of music to get in the first place. What this track did, however, was prove to yours truly that dubstep could, in fact, not only be good, but really damn good!

Yeah, yeah, the Hyperdub print kinda-sorta already did that, but I’m talking about the visceral thrills all the bro-steppers were going off on about. Flower Of Flesh And Blood has the same cavernous snare hits, the growling mid-range basslines (though rather similar to jungle tech-step), and an aim squarely at massive crowds. It’s also properly dark and nasty, not like all those try-hard attempts the likes of Excision and Datsik were offering – like the difference between Slayer and …anyone trying to be Slayer.

Maybe it helped that King Cannibal’s debut album wasn’t strictly a dubstep affair, though definitely owing much to the UK bass scene. With emphasis on the grimier aspects of the music than cheap thrills, Let The Night Roar has held up remarkably well while so much other dubstep of the time remains stuck in that era. Good ol’ Ninja Tune, they sure know how to pick ‘em, and if you missed out on this album the first time around, it wouldn’t hurt for you to give it a second chance. Unless, of course, you figure Borgore the height of dubstep sophistication.

And what of Le Cannibale De Roi? He released a Ninja Tune tribute mix the following year, titled The Way Of The Ninja. It features two-hundred fifty tracks from the label within seventy-four minutes of madness. The… fuck…!!? (!) I’m tempted to scope that out, for sure. As for Mr. Dylan Richards, his output dried up following Let The Night Roar. The… double-fuck…!!? (!!) What happened there? Did his Ninja Tune deal end? Is Lord Discogs being dishonest with me? Apparently he released an album called Kill The Lights as House Of Black Lanterns last year on Houndstooth. From what I’ve heard of it, it’s… different, I’ll give it that.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dirty South - Let It Go (Original TC Review)

Axtone Records: 2007

(2014 Update:
A little dated, this review, as electro house lingered on for a few years longer before the Swedish House Mafia upped the anthem potential, spurring on the anthem house revival (no, really, stop calling it Big Room, you gits) we're going through now. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't notice it before, but Axwell's remix here has all the hallmarks of the genre, right down to the sort of synth-plucks Rollo used back in the early '90s. Come to think of it, all of their biggest hits - even
before becoming the supergroup SHM - relied on that trope. Fuck me, no wonder they were so popular.

Dirty South, then? He finally got around to releasing a proper album this past year, though released on his own Phazed Records print, and only digital at that. What, no one bothered to sign him before? Wasn't he supposed to be a top-tier electro house producer and remixer? He still has some fans, I guess, but has gotten lost in the shuffle now that
everyone is making anthem house of this sort.)


IN BRIEF: Here yesterday, gone tomorrow.

Dragan Roganovic broke out of Australian obscurity quite quickly into his career. At first mostly tied to fellow Aussies TV Rock through their collaborations, Dragan soon brought his Dirty South project to the forefront on the strength of a string of high-profile remixes. Before long, he was getting tapped to lend his touch to singles from Fedde le Grand, Roger Sanchez, Tiësto, Kaskade, and David Guetta. Why him in particular? If these names are anything to go by, Dragan is quite chummy with the mainstream side of dance music, and he now is often contacted to provide a Big Electro-House Remix for such folk. Truthfully, when compared to the endless numbers of fart-house producers out there, there isn’t anything terribly unique in Dirty South remixes, but for whatever reason he gets the big singles handed to him and has built a tidy career out of it.

In fact, given that his remix work grabs most of the attention, you’d be forgiven in forgetting Dragan makes his own tunes too. He hasn’t released many, and they certainly don’t command as high a profile, but they are out there. Late last year, upon signing to Swedish house man Axwell’s Axtone label, Dragan released his first solo work in over a year, a simple little number titled Let It Go.

And yes, it is rather simple as far as house music goes; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in Dragan’s case, Let It Go is quite run-of-the-mill too. There’s a catchy vocal, a serviceable guitar lick, marginal nu-electro elements, and your requisite main-room build-and-drop structure; mainstream sell-out Bob Sinclar gets by on much the same. Really, the only thing rescuing this Dirty South single from Ministry Of Sound compilation fodder obscurity are the beats, which have decent bounce to them when compared to other typical offerings; unfortunately, it isn’t enough to make this a memorable slice of house music either.

For the remix, Axwell himself gets the duties, and offers little as a result. His go at Let It Go rests somewhere between the main-room structure of the original and rote execution of tech-house simplicity. The beats aren’t as interested, and his hooks are marginal even by Swedish House Mafia standards. Sure, it’ll get the job done on the dancefloor, but praising it for that is like praising a car for getting you to where you’re going: it’s the least that’s expected for a pass.

Frankly, had I gotten the chance to review this back when it first came out, Let It Go would have seemed decent, if not enduring (who’d even be able to recall it a year later, I wonder?). As we move deeper into this year of 2008, however, it just seems tired. A resurgent classic house revival has been upstaging all this electro-house stuff with cool class, funky fun, and soulful vitality, and I can’t help but suspect the trendy nu-electro material Dirty South produces will fall out of favor by year’s end. One can only hope.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

GZA/Genius - Legend Of The Liquid Sword

MCA Records: 2002

We're long past the age where most post-millennial Wu-Tang solo albums are met with disappointment. Now, articles crop up of looking back at potential overlooked gems, of which there were a few, let’s be honest. Everyone kept expecting the Clan members to continue their mid-‘90s brilliance, all the while bypassing several solid hip-hop albums in their own right. And poor Gary Grice, did he ever get passed by. Beneath The Surface generated some initial excitement, true, and his work with DJ Muggs on Grandmasters got briefly hyped as well, but his other two albums not so much.

Yet while Pro Tools has recently gained some level of respect, Legend Of The Liquid Swords remains one of GZA’s least talked about albums. For the love of me, I cannot understand why. Did it come out at the wrong time? I’ll grant 2002 was not a good year to be making a lyrically conscious album when the burgeoning hot raps consisted mostly of “WHO! WHAT! WHEN! WHERE!”, but surely anything The Genius had to say should have turned heads.

Oh, I’m sure it did, but as all things Wu related during those times, if it wasn’t on par with the ‘90s material, it just didn’t matter. Legend Of The Liquid Swords is damn good, offering about what you’d expect of an eastcoast lyrical showcase, but the beats are mostly bare with funk and soul loops, allowing GZA the room to tell his tales. Tired in the early 2000s? Perhaps, what with Neptunes and Timbaland taking hip-hop down strange new roads (to say nothing of that Kanye kid Roc-A-Fella had behind the decks). DJ Premier and The RZA may have set a standard the decade prior, but the kids wanted new shit. Unfortunately, shit is what they mostly got in the following years (hiya, Soulja Boy).

Gladly, what may have sounded dated in 2002 comes off vintage all these years later – oh hindsight bias, never will you do me wrong! I honestly don’t think regular Wu-fans cared anyway, as when it comes to a GZA album, it’s always about the lyrics. And I can’t find Mr. Grice at fault on anything. Whether waxing nostalgic about the old days (Auto Bio, Fam that also features RZA and Masta Killa, and Sparring Minds with Inspectah Deck), detailing shady record business activities (Did You Say That, Knock Knock), or displaying wizardry with his words (everything!), GZA offers plenty for that intellectual side of your brain. Even the ‘fun’ track Fame is genius, using celebrity names to tell his story. Sample: “Larry’s Bird flew outta Nicholas’ Cage; Joe Tex messages from Satchel’s Paige; Betty Wrights letters with ink from Sean’s Penn; Infinite bars, you couldn’t tell where the song end; Glenn Close enough to quickly duck the tapes; Richard Gere ripped while he was climbin’ Bill Gates.”

Legend Of The Liquid Swords wouldn’t do much for the Wu-Tang Legacy, but it does sit nicely as a companion piece to GZA’s body of work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Infected Mushroom - Legend Of The Black Shawarma (Original TC Review)

Perfecto: 2009

(2014 Update:
For a late-period Infected Mushroom album, this has held up surprisingly well. Too much of their work instantly dates, whether it be doing crap nu-metal years after that scene died, or jumping on the brostep bandwagon like everyone else. Since they went for more an industrial sound here, though, it doesn't come off so tired. Something about industrial has allowed the genre to endure far longer than anyone would have believed, and while Infected Mushroom's offerings wouldn't have Trent Reznor quivering anytime soon, it's at least respectable enough takes on the sound. Or maybe I'm just showing '90s bias.

This definitely was an odd time for the group, getting picked up by Oakenfold's Perfecto print while suddenly finding themselves rubbing shoulders with trance-cracker jocks at the top of popularity polls. They've since plummeted and are no longer on Perfecto, so who knows what the future holds for Infected Mushroom. Maybe full-on garage rock?)



IN BRIEF: Back in the right direction.

Someone must have sent Infected Mushroom a memo informing them that nu-metal and that entire ilk was a dead genre, something that grew out of favor when all the teenagers that listened to it earlier this decade came of age. Sure, it’s a shame the group didn’t actually read the damn thing until after Vicious Delicious was released, but at least they have read it now. Their latest album, Legend Of The Black Shawarma, thankfully sees a lack of rap-metal leanings, power ballads, and, most thankfully, Amit Duvdevani hilariously awful attempts at gravel-throated earnest singing (even the mock singing in those Creed Shreds vids on YouTube are better). Oh, there are still problems to be had with this album, but IM have at least abandoned the worst bits of their last one. In the process, they’ve also managed to refine some of the things that did work, and the group comes off far more musically taught than they have in while. In a nutshell, they seem to mostly be done exploring, and are now solely focused on execution.

Cause for celebration, right? Perhaps. If you’ve stuck with them through their last couple albums, it certainly is, and definitely so if you’ve only just recently discovered Infected Mushroom. Of course, you’ll still find an army of IM old-schoolers who’ve written this album off as a continued degradation of the psy trance scene, but Infected Mushroom are quite removed from it at this point. Sure, they still retain a few instances of the music, but this album aims for a different audience than crusty hippies and cyber-trippers. And by ditching much of the teenager angst that permeated Vicious Delicious, it seems they’re after a more mature audience as well.

Or maybe not. The CD opens with a guest acoustic strum by Everlast, suggesting the duo ha

The CD opens with a bit of acoustic strumming that reminds me of Everlast, but quickly turns to chugging metal guitars, faux-funk breaks, a bit of psy wibble, a few wordly trappings, and, um… not much else. Poquito Mas is hardly much of a song, sounding more like a mish-mash of ideas IM are preparing you to hear once the album properly gets underway. Rather pointless, to be honest, even if it’s meant to be an intro.

From there, the album unfolds quite entertainingly. You have catchy EBM tunes like Sa’eed and Smashing The Opponent, blinding buttrock goa with Can’t Stop and Herbert The Pervert (now there’s some effective use of their guitars!), and even a credible ballad with Killing Time (having long-time alt-rock favorite Perry Farrell on vocal duties here certainly helps). Elsewhere, ‘Duvdev’ does carry on with the vocal duties, but his voice is fed through so many effects, it actually helps enhance the tracks.

The only real duff track in the opening half is End Of The Road, which seems to be a woeful attempt on IM’s part to do a ‘minimal’ track - that is, a whole bunch of aimless, tuneless dull beats and sounds, with a couple instances of false-climaxes (here’s the build, but forget about a payoff); it does come correct with a typical psy ending, but the lead up is pure toss.

That’s the first half done. The second half of Legend Of The Black Sha-Na-Na sees IM get their concept on; in other words, having satisfied the masses with catchy tunes, Erez and Amit are now ready to get prog rock/metal on our asses. In terms of ambition, the triple-dose of Project 100, Franks, and Slowly can’t be faulted, as there’s quite a bit going on between these three tracks; however, as a listening experience, it wanders aimlessly too much.

Changes in tone, abrupt shifts in time signature, overcooked effects, and just plain dull stretches dilute the great moments to be had. For instance, there’s an excellent burst of strong harmonizing between the psy effects and chugging guitars at the climax of Project 100, but the song needlessly carries on afterwards with dull faux-funk. Meanwhile, Franks and Slowly wander all over the place more so than Israeli psy often does, never seeming to come together as a solid musical outing. If you skip through a track by a few minutes at any given point, it sounds like you’re listening to an entirely different song, and trust me there isn’t much to bridge these disparate sections in a convincing fashion. Any island of quality is thusly lost in a sea of mediocre wibble. For every winning wailing guitar peak, there’s a pointless dinky bloop-bloop bit elsewhere (I’m looking at you, Slowly).

The trouble is then multiplied by just how plastic it all sounds. Granted, Infected Mushroom have long had that aesthetic about them, but it served them well when they were dishing out typical full-on psy (or, in the case of Legend Of The Black Shamwow ’s first half, EBM). In attempting complex prog structures, however, they’re shooting for bold musical statements that can’t be done justice with the hollow sonics they use.

After all that, it makes the titular track a welcome, fun return to the material that worked in the first half of Legend Of The Black Shangri-La. As much as it may infuriate long-time IM fans, the duo seems to have found a comfortable niche in being more of an EBM group than a psy-trance one - they definitely show more aptitude for writing such music than they do in overly-ambitious prog. (by the way, the remix of Riders On The Storm is a love-it/leave-it affair; it’s serviceable, though hardly surprising if you’re at all familiar with IM’s sound)

Legend Of The Black Shawarma is not without its faults, but it is a step in the right direction again. Even if the album is split between catchy cuts and overcooked ambition, the gulf between the two isn’t nearly as pronounced as the split between full-on psy and rap-metal was on Vicious Delicious. You may want to give this a few listens over before making a firm purchasing decision, but it remains one of Infected Mushroom’s better albums in some time.

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