Monday, March 31, 2014

Anabolic Frolic - Happy 2b Hardcore: Chapter 2


Moonshine Music: 1997

This past weekend, I went to a ‘throwback rave’ party, including an honest-to-God chill-out room. Man, you just don’t see those anymore, hearing classics from The Orb, FSOL, and Hinterland’s Who’s Who (ask Boards Of Canada about it). More disappointing was the main room, where it seemed tech-house dominated, a style of music we hear more than enough of these days. Maybe I kept missing it, but isn’t the point of an old-school party the chance to hear genres that are no longer fashionable? Chemical breaks, German trance, tech-step jungle, big beat, gabber, uk hard house (donk!), speed garage, happy hardcore… uh, hmm, okay, maybe some music is best left to the past. I doubt anyone’s clamoring for a return of ‘toytown’, ironically or not.

That said, happy hardcore’s fun in small doses, its infectious, hare-brained energy seductive, giving into your most infantile tendencies. Then the novelty wears off (usually after half-a-dozen tracks for yours truly), and all you’re left with is unrelenting hard beats and sugar-coated sentiments that could rot your teeth through your ears. There definitely was an audience for it though, and all the power to the people who could go whole nights enjoying it.

Moonshine Music, with their impeccable micro-scene outreach, commissioned near-yearly DJ mix CDs spotlighting happy hardcore, helmed by Canadian DJ Anabolic Frolic. It lasted up until Moonshine’s demise, one of the label’s few long-running series from (near) beginning to end. The genre may have had plenty of detractors, but someone out there liked it enough to keep pumping these CDs out. Yet even happy hardcore couldn’t resist changing trends, the genre taking on UK hard-trance tendencies (freeform, was it? I can’t keep up with all these micro-genres), moving on from its old-school hardcore roots.

Make no mistake, I’m hardly an expert on happy hardcore. In fact, Happy 2b Hardcore: Chapter 2 is officially the only CD of the stuff I now have (attained unwillingly at that). Despite this handicap, I do recognize a number of names on here: Vinylgroover, Justin Time, Hixxy, Trixxy, and DJ Fade (when you live near an unapologetic hardcore-lovin’ city like Seattle, one can’t help but see their names pop up). As for the music, its happy f’n hardcore, what do you expect? I cannot deny this music plastering a silly grin on my face as it plays through, an unapologetic insistence at breaking down even the most dour, glum, jaded sort with joy and delight. Any track with rolling pianos is ace in books, no matter the ridiculous surroundings, and is that a touch of the ragga jungle I hear in Blitz & Blaze’s Big Up The Bass? Not the good kind, mind, but it’s there.

If you’re new to electronic music and need a primer on what happy hardcore's all about, Happy 2b Hardcore is as fine a starting point as you’ll likely fine. Might as well recommend Chapter 2 while I’m at it, since it’s the only volume I’m inclined to hear ever again.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Future Sound Of London - Environments 4


Jumpin' & Pumpin': 2012

It's surprising there's so little talk of Environments out there in interwebland. The Future Sound Of London was a big freakin' deal back in the '90s, why even a very important duo in the world of electronic music. I get that Dougans and Corbain are quite content in remaining independent with their output now, but the nice thing about being on a major like Virgin is the over-aggressive promotion such a label provides. Okay, such hype's annoying as Hell when the music's bunk; can you imagine FSOL putting out anything that wasn't at least average though? Thus here we are, three straight albums of class material, and barely a whisper about them within the usual rags. Sign of the times indeed.

As before, I must turn to the track list titles for an idea of what theme Environments 4 aims at creating, however tenuously. No Man's Land (dark ambient lifeforms), River Delta (psy dub by way of Ultimae!), Supercontinents (modern classicalism), Sediment (chilling on the shores of Goa), Vast Landscape (weirdness with closed frets plucks low on a guitar neck)... ah, geomorphology. Wait, that's what I've been studying for God knows how long now. I can't be mixing college and hobby here, it'll screw up my upcoming finals. Damn it, is this a nice rock, and is this a gneiss track?

No, wait, that’s not right. A chunk of the E4’s middle deals with fat ol’ Sol. Sunsets (slow jam prog rock), Photosynthesis (beach-view ambience), Stand A Little Less Between Me And The Sun (Robert Fripp’s in tha’ house), and maybe even Long Day (beatnik poetry in the park?) all could have links to that blazing white orb we see on the cover art. And if that’s the case, what of Architektur (noise rock jam in an Indian jungle!?), Murmurations (quick, let’s get this hippie music session on the rockin’ road?!), and Fibrillation (watch those proteins fibre-ize like mini-machinery!?!?) sounding all sciencey and egg-headed, having nothing else to do with the surrounding titles? Gads, is E4 every a confounding one.

Heh, no not really. What it does sound like is the ambient B-side to an album from FSOL’s psychedelic side-project, Amorphous Androgynous. Swell thing, if we were dealing with the ‘90s version of that alias, but most fans lost the plot with them following The Isness (which confounded fans further when Hypnotic released it under the FSOL banner in America). It wasn’t a bad album by any stretch (somehow earning a 6/5 from Muzik Magazine), but not the sort of music folks wanted from Dougans and Corbain at the time, if ever. Pft, as if they should cater to the wishes of a petulant fandom. The FSOL are followers of their oft-time weird muses, not pigeon-holed lackeys.

Environments 4 is yet another lovely collection of music, if you’ve a place for psychedelic jam-scapes along with your downtempo and chill. It’s understandable why those only familiar with their ‘90s output wouldn’t like it though. If only FSOL still had ace PR.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Future Sound Of London - Environments 3

Jumpin' & Pumpin': 2010

So I skipped the first Environments. It wasn't because of the general shrug from fan-based opinions on it, oh no. Rather, it was its presentation, a mere two tracks averaging about twenty-five minutes, each plainly titled Environments. If that doesn't come off about as lazy as anything the Future Sound Of London's put out, I don't know what else could top it (no, From The Archives doesn't count). Lengthy ambient soundscapes are already a dubious proposition, and while I've no doubt the FSOL can capably craft such music, part of their appeal's long been the quirky titles they give their tracks. They're like a guiding suggestion in what imagery is created with their soundscapes. Compared to names like Spineless Jelly, Smoking Japanese Babe, and Antique Toy, Environments is vague and dull.

Dougans and Corbain must have realized this weakness in the first Environments, every piece of music since of digestible length and with an individual identity. While it's unfortunate they still aren't composing albums as distinct thematic wholes, this approach is far preferable to the formless method before. At least, that's how I like my FSOL, hence skipping on the first one.

Okay, I shouldn’t say Environments is totally without theme, as II, 3, and 4 do have self-contained premises, even if it’s only hinted through track titles (do you see why it’s important?). E3 features names like Sunken Ships, The Empty Land, The Oldest Lady, and End Of The World, so we’re in future-shock desolation territory again.

E3 may as well be Dead Cities: 100 Years After, a reasonable assumption considering The Empty Land sounds like a mash-up of My Kingdom and In A State Of Permanent Abyss (and boy, does that ever further beg the question whether all these Environments albums are repurposed old material or spankin’ new compositions). The cataclysm that caused the fall of civilization is an old memory, occasionally retold by aging elders but seldom reflected upon by the surviving generations. Those who remain are eking out a new life for themselves, building upon the structures of old, a somber struggle of a stubborn people. Summer’s Dream has quiet, clicking machinery minding its own business as ominous pads weave about; A Glitch In Cellular Memory is cheerful and jubilant, while Recollection following it invokes child innocence and whimsy. Beware those that will steal what’s yours through dark ambient techno in A Diversionary Tactic, or false complacency as tranquil pianos play in Hall Of Mirrors and gentle guitars strum in Sense Of Being. For, in this uncertain world, who know what electro horror lurks beneath Surface Waters, ready to undo all that was regained.

Yeah, as I’ve said, writing the finer details of FSOL’s music isn’t the easiest, especially when they allow themselves this much freeform expressionism. Environments 3 is another great body of work from the duo though, one that can take you to captivating surroundings, provided you have a foundation to start from.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Future Sound Of London - Environments II

fsoldigital.com: 2008

Yes! A return to my normal backlog, however briefly. I'd been eyeing The Future Sound Of London's semi-return with some interest these past couple years, curious what the deal with all these releases were about. The From The Archives compilations seems self-explanatory, but my God they just keep coming out with them. Dougans and Cobain also released a few more Amorphous Androgynous albums, though as they're still exploring the roads of psychedelic music that was The Isness, I can't say an album titled The Peppermint Tree & The Seeds Of Superconsciousness looks promising. Then there's Environments, initially the mysterious album advertised in Lifeforms that never came to be, now up to its fourth volume. What's the deal, then?

Though details remain sketchy, Environments was hinted at being what ISDN was: a collection of live-broadcast material of generally free-form music making. You can imagine Virgin, already feeling leery about FSOL's new-found experimental tendencies, would balk at such an endeavour. So to the back-burner Environments went as Dougans and Corbain focused on Dead Cities instead. As the millennium turned, the FSOL were back in charge of their own distribution, and started making available all that originally archived material. Thus, Environments gets its long overdue release in 2007. The world of electronic music shrugged.

Fortunately, that album garnered enough interest to warrant follow-ups, where the narrative of FSOL’s output gets murkier. Far as anyone knew, there was only one Environments, so were these albums new material, or had it also sat fallow all these years? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a mixture of both, but until we get concrete confirmation, we may as well sit back and enjoy what we do have.

While every Environments album is primarily about exploring sound-forms, Environments II has a loose winter theme running through it. Track titles like Ice Formed, North Arctic, Glacier, and Newfoundland are self-explanatory, while Small Town, Nearly Home, and A Corner may also work in you know your Canadiana (are we certain this isn’t a Boards Of Canada album?). Of course, Serengeti totally deep-sixes that theory, but that’s just one track, and it contains droning voice pads that could invoke glacial imagery just as easily.

As for the music itself... um, it’s FSOL? Describing their future sounds was difficult enough for albums with actual themes, and there’s little hope of proper detail here without bursting the self-imposed word count. Here’s a taster: electro crops up in Factories And Assembly; Glacier would go great with an opium den; Baco Manu comes off like Jan Hammer on acid; Colour-Blind cribs Vit Drowning’s beats; Journey To The Center and Viewed From Above features orchestral arrangements.

Stylistically, Environments II isn’t that far a leap forward from their ‘90s output, though hardly dated either, as the FSOL were already light-years ahead in musical craft back then. The fact they can still release music unlike anyone else in the experimental chill-out scene to this day is all the proof you need this album’s worth your attention.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Soundgarden - Down On The Upside

A & M Records: 1996

I could have skipped all these rock albums. I’m not required to review them, no overhead demanding I write about this or that. Plus, isn’t it self-defeating and counter-productive that a blog dedicated to electronic music deviates from its target field so wildly? Yes it is, but as my personal collection of music contains barely one-tenth rock, an occasional divergence into Neil Young or Yes wouldn’t hurt my overall scope. Doing so set a precedent though, and now I’m obligated to cover bands like Tool, The Offspring (soon), and Filter (way later), lest I turn hypocritical in providing preferential exposure to any music. Damn it, Ish’, why couldn’t you have discovered electronic music earlier in your life?

2014 Ishkur: You wanted the CD tower; you get my old CDs.

Right. Man, maybe I should get shelves next time. With this sort of luck, the next chap I get a tower off of will be a jazz enthusiast.

Anyhow, Soundgarden. They were a very important band coming out of the Seattle grunge scene. Many fans of the era place them on equal footing with the Big Two (Nirvana and Pearl Jam), despite not breaking through until 1994's Superunknown. Makes sense it took that long, as their first couple albums found them playing traditional forms of hard rock (punk, metal) as their Washington State peers were defining a genre and generation (however unintentional it was). That background led to a darker tone in Soundgarden’s music, Black Sabbath often getting name-dropped in comparisons. In all, it helped identify Soundgarden as a unique offering to grunge's legacy even as the scene was increasingly drowning in copycats.

The band also followed suit with other early grunge bands in quickly moving on from the genre before it grew too stale. Down On The Upside, their final album before taking a decade-plus hiatus, isn’t so heavy on angst and bleak Gen-X existence as their prior work, instead trying their hand at other forms of rock. They still allow for a couple ‘traditional’ grunge cuts like Blow Up The Outside World, but by ’96 the whole “quiet verse, loud chorus” arrangement was in serious parody mode, and I’ve no doubt Soundgarden were fully aware of it. No, ‘tis better to let inspiration and creativity flow rather than fall back on what fans undoubtedly expected of them.

And so they did. In tracks like Rhinosaur, Ty Cobb, No Attention, and Never The Machine Forever, they sound like the Led Zeppelin inspired band they were always likened to; other times they let their acoustic (Dusty, Zero Chance, Burden In My Hand) or blues (Boot Camp) interests dominate. They also experimented with odd time signatures and alternative tunings, because Wikipedia tells me so. Clearly, it’s nothing so overt that it detracts from the songcraft, unlike other hard rock bands of the time.

Down On The Upside’s a solid album, for sure. Can’t say I’ll ever listen to it again though. I’ve had my fill from alternative rock radio stations.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Tragically Hip - Day For Night

MCA: 1994

For the past twenty-five years, it was every Canadian rock lover's patriotic duty to enjoy The Tragically Hip. You really had little choice in the matter, Canadian Content legislature forcing a high percentage of national acts onto our airwaves - the more popular a band got, the larger chunk of that percentage they'd take up. As The Hip typically offered a brand of alternative bar rock that was quite easy on the ears, they were a safe bet for radio playlists. With each subsequent album released, their classy reputation and Canadian fame grew, hitting the perfect middle-road of rock 'n roll that wasn't too heavy, wasn't too wimpy, and rewarded fans with excellent live shows. So the story goes, I am told.

Yeah, I can't say I was bitten by the Tragically Hip bug, though was exposed to them when their third album, Fully Completely, started making the rounds among my peers and adult-folk alike. I specifically recall a classmate getting in trouble for wearing a t-shirt sporting the cover art, on account it had a boob on it, albeit mangled Picasso-like. He thus had to either wear no shirt the rest of the day, or go home.

Well, if The Tragically Hip are hip enough to force a day’s suspension, I had to check out that Fully Completely CD in my old man's collection. It was okay, quite similar to the music I heard from my Dad's practice sessions, but totally not my thing at the time (ooh, Dance Mix '93 is out!). To this day, that assessment stuck, and now that I'm forced to sit down and listen to another of their albums, surely my matured tastes have finally found enjoyment out of these Canadian icons.

I guess. Day For Night's considered The Hip's best overall album, combining their dependable alternative blues-rock style with craftier song writing, broader topics, and even new sonic tricks for flavor. The opener and big hit off here, Grace, Too, plays to their anthemic capabilities, a casual pace of rhythmic harmony building upon itself as singer Gordon Downie relates a simple tale of an urban rendezvous between a rich man and an unsuspecting young woman. What does this interaction lead to? Downie leaves it a mystery, as he does with many other narratives throughout the album (though seldom as ear-wormy as Grace, Too).

Most consider Downie's lyrics the highlight of Hip tunes, but I struggle getting into them – he strikes me too much of a Michael Stipe sort. As with most rock, I’m more interested in the music itself, and Day For Night features a few neat tweaks to the alt-rock formula. Johnny Fay adds a cool filter to his drum kit in Thugs, droning guitar feedback envelops the acoustic Titanic Terrarium, and any chance the band gets to rock out (Fire In The Hole, Nautical Disaster, An Inch An Hour) is A-okay in my book. Shame they don’t go the lengths Crazy Horse does though; maybe live they do?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Various - Dance Mix 90

Quality Special Products: 1990

This… actually exists? I had no idea Dance Mix went back so far. My first exposure to the series was with Dance Mix ‘92 (a CD that changed everything for yours truly), but I’d seen a Dance Mix ‘91 on shelves too. It doesn’t even look like it belongs with the subsequent volumes, font and airbrushed cover art seemingly time-warped from the ‘50s – small surprise the inlay shows advertisements for a pile of ‘jukebox classics’ compilations. It’s doubly bizarre seeing it in a collection of CDs filled with grunge and hard rock. Hey, Teenage Ishkur, how did you come about having this?

Teenage Ishkur: This isn’t mine. I don’t listen to dance music. This looks lame and stupid.

Oh. I guess he got this later, after electronic music culture lured him away from ‘angst rawk’. Still, young Ish’ isn’t too far off in his appraisal of Dance Mix 90, even if it’s for the wrong reasons. This is an incredibly sloppy CD, with a bizarre track selection for the time and mixing that would embarrass even a rank amateur. MuchMusic's oversight for later volumes vastly improved upon the formula of DJ mixed dance-pop, such that it became a Canadian fixture larger than any Chris Sheppard compilation.

Between licensing issues and probable lack of knowledge about the scene at large, Dance Mix 90 is hardly a comprehensive collection of electronic music of that year, even at a commercial level. For sure there are big hits – Roxette’s The Look, Yaz’ Situation, and Milli Vanilli’s Girl You Know It’s True - but they don’t make a lick of sense when paired alongside Depeche Mode’s Strange Love, Inner City’s Big Fun, and Soul II Soul’s Keep On Movin’ - to say nothing of the copious amounts of Stock, Aitken & Waterman productions throughout. While Dance Mix would turn the genre hopping into strength once they narrowed their scope, this first attempt comes off a mish-mash of instantly dated synth-pop and club beats.

Then there’s the ‘mixing’. Oh my God, is there ever ‘mixing’. Key clashes, shoes in the dryer phrasing, nonsensical genre blends… Dance Mix 90 is so inept at creating a flowing DJ set, it’s entertaining in spite of itself. I’ll grant the DJ mix CD was still a young concept in 1990, but this has all the production chops of utter bargain-bin toss-off. Every beatmatching attempt is hilariously forced, other times we’re treated to clashing fade-slams that aren’t even timed properly, and there’s a complete second of silence between tracks midway! I understand this was intended for the tape copy of Dance Mix 90, but you don’t allow that shit on a CD designed to be a continuous mix.

This disc’s total pants, yet I can’t help being slightly intrigued by it as well, considering the legacy Dance Mix earned during the ‘90s. Like that Beatles’ Anthology, it sheds light on the inglorious beginnings of an institution many assume was great from the start.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stone Temple Pilots - Core

Atlantic: 1992

Of course a teenager would have a grunge album in their collection if they were a teenager in the early '90s. Wait, I never did, firmly planting my flag with 'techno' and making little concessions for other musics thereafter. I did have a single mixtape with some Nirvana on it, but that was about as obligated to the grunge scene as I ever got. Still, I have to give the former owner of these CDs credit, collecting mostly obscure grunge. No Pearl Jam, no Nirvana, no Alice In Chains, no Hole, no Smashing Pumpkins, and no Mudhoney; there is a Bush album with the lot I got though. Hey, Teenage Ishkur, why didn't you have most of the recognizable grunge bands with your CDs?

Teenage Ishkur: My older brother has them.

Oh. Well that makes sense.

Stone Temple Pilots may also be an obvious inclusion, but only if you have Purple. Carried by two of their most successful hits in Vaseline and Interstate Love Song, not to mention an iconic cover I’m sure Billy Corgan took notes on, the band’s sophomore effort has gone down as the only album by Stone Temple Pilots you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a fan of Stone Temple Pilots. Can’t say I was much of a fan myself, always mistaking Vaseline as a song by some other grunge act. By the time I did properly notice them, it was during the promotion of their third album, Tiny Music... Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop, specifically the Big Bang Baby video. With its cheesy So-Cal style, it was all kinds of silly, which I understand was the point, but 1996 Sykonee sure didn’t know that. Stone Temple Pilots thus remained with the rest of grunge on my ‘Don’t Give A Shit About’ list.

As with many things lately, I’ve reconsidered that foolhardy teenaged assumption. Their debut album, Core, is far more kick-ass than I thought it would be, and I see why this band was held in the same breath as Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Hell, with Scott Weiland really getting his Eddie Vedder on, they even sound like Pearl Jam, albeit with far heavier guitars front and centre. It’s like what Metallica might have sounded like if they’d emerged from grunge instead of thrash, a ridiculous comparison, true, but one that my limited exposure to this music made nonetheless.

When Core came out, Stone Temple Pilots were derided as bandwagon jumpers by the regular rock press, a not unfair judgement considering their early work as Mighty Joe Young was more eclectic. That said, this debut is also a competently written and strongly executed album from a group that had earned their stripes in the trenches. For that fact, Core has endured as a minor classic of the early ‘90s hard rock scene. Purple may be more essential to the casual, but if you’re gathering up grunge for your music collection, Core definitely deserves a spot on your shelves too.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

James Horner - Braveheart

London Classics: 1995

What a bizarre week of music. That's what I get for taking on someone else's teenaged CD collection, but some sense of it all would be nice. All of these, it just don't add up: ace synth-pop, corny euro-pop, old-timey rock, over-the-top rock, boring-as-sludge rock, and now this. At least James Horner makes use of a tiny bit of electronic music on this soundtrack – like, a brief bit of ominous pad in Revenge - but that's more synth work than half of the other material I've covered this past week (to say nothing of what's yet to come).

Anyhow, Braveheart was the movie that turned Mel Gibson from heartthrob action movie star into super-mega serious acting star. Also, quicker than you could say “bye, Costner”, Hollywood found themselves a sparkling new historical-epic director, ol’ Mel setting the world of film on fire in the ensuing decades with many more successful directorial follow-ups. Then he set his career on literal fire while standing on a rickety rope bridge, likely spouting a bunch of drunken nutjob nonsense.

It's been years since I last watched the movie, endless parodies and Mr. Gibson's increasing meltdowns making it difficult to take it seriously anymore. I never was in much of a hurry to make a repeated viewing of Braveheart anyway, a movie that had a terrific first half, then dragged as dry politics and blunt martyrdom replaced a compelling storyline and intense action. An extended public execution is the movie's climax? Well, that's just all sorts of depressing (and subtle-as-a-brick symbolic). Why not throw in the full Bannockburn Battle at the end, give the audience its proper cathartic release? Oh, right, it’s Mel’s movie.

James Horner’s score for Braveheart perfectly captures the narrative downward slope of this Mediaeval melodrama. By the mid-‘90s, Horner was well established as one of Hollywood’s A-list composers, despite his work never catching onto pop culture until Titanic. Braveheart inched him a bit closer to the top though, with stirring uilleann pipe themes conjuring images of romantic pastoral Scottish days long since gone. Funny, that, as the uilleann pipe is in fact Irish in origin (which explains why I think Celtic music instead), but as these pipes have a softer, melodic tone to them, it’s understandable why Horner would utilize them over traditional Highland Bagpipes.

The pipe theme is often repeated in the early portions of the score, as are many recurring melodies and leitmotifs, of which Horner’s always excelled at (possibly only rivalled by John Williams). As Braveheart plays through, it’s easy to recall all the associated moments from the movie, including the powerful build of The Battle Of Stirling. Unfortunately, the CD never recaptures that peak. As we move into the aforementioned ‘politics-n-martyrdom’ segments, it seems Horner’s run out of gripping music too. It’s still serviceable score work, just nothing as captivating as the pieces that made up the first half. At least they weren’t in danger of also getting turned into a trance tune by DJ Sakin.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell

MCA Records: 1993

Didn't I just say Bat Out Of Hell could only have been made in the '70s? Why on Earth is a sequel showing up in the '90s, then? This was the era of grunge and punk (again), leaving bombastic rock opera to the dust bins of baby boomer record shops. Jim Steinman, who wrote most of the music on Meat Loaf's most famous album, had been writing a second Bat since at least the turn of the '70s, but complications in development and a soured relationship with Meat Loaf stuck the project on hold for years. Some suspected Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell would end up another in the growing list of unrealized rock albums. Yet here it was, fifteen years after the first, and, amusingly, coincidentally, arriving around the time Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy was announced. Guess something in the rock world must carry that ‘indefinitely delayed’ banner.

So Meat Loaf’s BOOH II: More Heller came out, and unsurprisingly, it was a hit with aging rockers. It probably helped that Steinman and Loaf expand on the youthful nostalgia that made the original such a sleeper hit, showing mature reflection of aging times, themes anyone in their mid-life years could relate to. If there’s a big, anthem chorus along the way, all the better.

And like any sort of sequel, the music and arrangements up the theatrical productions to near breaking point on BOOH II: Helluva Boogaloo. The opening track and lead single, I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) almost seems like a parody of Meat Loaf (which is funny, considering some critics called Bat Out Of Hell a parody of Springsteen), with bigger string sections, larger choruses with choirs, lengthier guitar and piano solos, a run time easily breaking anything Steinman and Loaf penned together, and the ‘humongous rock star of the universe’ sounding more humongous than ever; or, to sum it up, one bloat of a song. Quite a few folks loved it, but I’d Do Anything For Love is flying into ludicrous speeds of pompous rock overload. How did this get popular in ’93 again?

Yeah, bloat’s a good word to describe this album. Bat The First had some of it too, but vinyl limitations prevented it from getting too excessive. The extra time afforded on CD, however, gives Steinman all the opportunity to go overboard. There’s still some fun cock-rock about though - Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back gets the fist pumpin’ good; the Wasted Youth skit’s a lot of fun, totally deserves a Jack Black re-enactment, and is a great lead in to the arena antics of Everything Louder Than Everything Else; plus I swear M83’s Midnight City nicked part of It Just Won’t Quit.

Michael Bay directed some of the videos spawned from Bat Out Of Hell II: Back To Hell, and this album comes off like one of his sequels: doubling-down on more of the same. Not for me, thanks.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell

Epic: 1977

My first exposure to Meat Loaf was an advertisement in an '80s Transformers comic. You know the one, where all the Marvel Superheroes (Spider-Man! Iron Man! Hulk Man! The X-Men Man?) chime in with kids that they'll help him with the Special Olympics, but they weren't sure how. What a weird comic, thinks 1987 Sykonee, more so this Meat Loaf character. I’d never heard about the 'Humongous Rock Star Of The Universe'. My second exposure to Meat Loaf was as an actor. No, not Fight Club. No, not Rocky Horror. It was the Patrick Swayze flick about big rigs, Black Dog; specifically, the TV ad where the gruff announcer does the cast roll, showing Meat Loaf glowering as he chomps down on a big stoggie. What a weird name for an actor, thinks 1998 Sykonee.

Okay, I likely heard his actual music a few times between those two points, but it never registered as anything more than “dad's rock”. And no, my old man wasn’t much for Meat Loaf, but many of his peers were, and Bat Out Of Hell almost certainly has seen rotation on classic rock stations, to say nothing of his ballads playing out at weddings I attended or helped DJ as a teen.

The creation and development of Bat Out Of Hell is a story of perseverance triumphing in the face of relentless doubt, which is likely why its retained rock-n-roll classic status despite so many things suggesting it shouldn’t (kick-ass cover art notwithstanding). For one thing, the music is so over-the-top, almost gloriously so, it’s surprising anyone could take it seriously. Jim Steinman, who wrote most of the music with Meat Loaf and already had a background in musicals, holds little back in unleashing his bombastic arrangements; little surprise Steinman lists Wagner and The Who as influences. Included within are string sections, piano ballads, full complement of blues musicians (including borrowing a few members of the Springsteen’s E Street), and a lead singer with the theatre chops to pull the concepts off with earnest sincerity. Bat Out Of Hell, All Revved Up With No Place To Go, and Paradise By The Dashboard Light may be playing up typical teenage rock ‘n roll tropes in a fantastical way, but they sure are fun regardless.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light in particular’s quite an ambitious bit of rock. Opening with honky-tonk, of all things, it then runs the gamut through arena choruses, goof-ball baseball innuendo, and a wonderful back-and-forth between Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley over going for the ‘home run’, and the implications it would mean for their relationship. Good stuff, and totally deserving of a Broadway musical supporting it.

Steinman reflected that Bat Out Of Hell is “timeless... that it didn’t fit into any trend”, but this album could only have been made in the ‘70s. While not a full-on rock opera, it retains all the swagger of an era fuelled by bold experimentation and aging reflection – it’s ‘70s rock in all its charming pomposity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Aqua - Aquarium

Universal Music: 1997

Yeureuo-daoncshh ofth the yeaurly ‘90shth ha’ all mwut die’ mwy 1997, mwut the worold wash shtill a cople yearsh away from the nu-italo exploshion that marked europop’sh next shtage of evolushun. Mwridg’ng the gap wash a curioush four-‘iece ‘ailing from the landsh of Danesh. Inishally a ‘appy ‘ardcore group going mwy Joyshpeed, they took thoshe mwumwmwle-gum anticsh to the mainshtream, produshing – eshcushe me a momen’…

Sorry, I had to remove that foot from my mouth, though why I would write like that befuddles me (I don’t talk aloud when I type). See, I recently made some disparaging remarks about Aqua on the TranceAddict forums, likening the group’s goofy presentation and novelty music to the cornball antics of current dance pop. Many contemporary videos remind me of that silly era, Yvis’ The Fox being a prime example, though it was tracks like Laidback Luke’s Pogo and Chicky’s Bunny that set me off. I felt Aqua marked the end of euro-dance’s glory years, a final nail in ruining whatever slight credibility the genre still had in the eyes of the general population when Barbie Girl was the flag bearer. And now I’m forced to contradict myself by reviewing Aqua’s debut.

I’ll get this out of the way: I like Lollipop (Candyman). Maybe it’s that piano hook that reminds me German trance (no, really!), maybe it’s the wonderfully campy sci-fi video, maybe it’s the totally obvious double-entre within a pop song, but I like it. A lot. Even back in the day, when I was anti-Aqua on principle. And I continued liking it, a lot. Now leave me alone about it.

Then there’s Barbie Girl, the inescapable hit you loved to hate, but couldn’t deny the surprising, thought-provoking subtext lurking within an apparent bubble-gum song, a dark statement on the vapid Valley Girl lifestyle. Okay, I’m giving Aqua way too much credit there, but they claim the tune’s a social commentary, so kudos for them in thinking a bit deeper where dance-pop’s concerned (to say nothing about pissing off Mattel to no end).

The rest of Aquarium features more happy-go-lucky euro-dance and the requisite forgettable ballads that pad out pop albums. Roses Are Red, the first single released under the Aqua banner, is pretty good for mid-'90s euro, though it's clear in follow-up singles like Doctor Jones and My Oh My the group were quite content at crafting cartoon music. Can't fault them for achieving their goals, and they look like they had fun making equally cartoony videos (which Katy Perry totally style-bit!), but listening to this is still no more satisfying than munching on cotton candy. Then again, everyone must love the fluffy, colourful stuff, Aquarium going down as Denmark's all-time best-selling album.

Guess I was too hard on Aqua back in the day. I still wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re perfectly fine with music at its most infantile, but they sure don’t deserve the ire of ‘music are serious’ types. Ann Lee and that godawful 2 Times, however…

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Beatles - Anthology 1

Apple Records: 1995

The Beatles are John, Paul, George, and Ringo, a very important band in the world of everything. When they started, however, they were “just a band”, as Lennon puts it in an interview kicking off this anthology of ancient Beatles music. And do I mean ancient, some of the demo scraps on here sounding like they were pressed on sixth generation wax, copied to eighth generation tape, and burned to two-decade old CDR. Who would even care about poorly-recorded, garbled covers of American blues? Everyone, man! It's the f'n Beatles, the most important band in the world of everything, remember? Okay, enough hyperbole.

Still, as The Beatles reached their 30th Anniversary of existence (and despite not being an actual band for two-thirds of that time), the well was running dry on how to milk their legacy. The albums already existed, plus the re-issues, the re-re-issues, the b-sides, the live recordings, the compilations, the greatest hits packages, the other greatest hits packages, and who-knows what else in the bootleg market. Likely, it was demand for unauthorized audio that got this Anthology series going – if people want to hear The Beatles in their crummy infancy, then give the people what they want (for a tidy financial reparation, of course).

They couldn’t release this music as a regular album though – the early demos were of such shit sound quality that even an ardent fan would feel ripped-off. Instead, Anthology presents itself as a historical documentary, spotlighting the behind-the-scenes growth of the band as they developed from unknown entities to global deities, including exhaustive liner notes detailing extra bits of obsessive trivia. Clearly only the hardcore would be interested in a CD version of a three-part VH1 special, but there is some fascination while listening to this, especially so with CD1.

After half a disc of warbly covers, slap-dash sessions, and playing music as little more than a lark, The Beatles suddenly get serious about their craft, songs and recordings much tighter and focused. It’s like someone convinced them they could be greater than they currently were, and it’s no surprise this transition is marked by Brian Epstein briefly reading passages from his autobiography. The man was almost single-handily responsible in fashioning The Beatles into the stars they’d become, and after he remarks how no one was initially interested in the band’s recording tests, we’re treated to two all-time classic Beatles hits, Love Me Do and Please Please Me. The boys were flying high thereafter, never dropping back to earth again.

CD2 features more live shows, TV spots, studio sessions, and covers of well-worn rock staples; again interesting as a chronology of their exploits than the musical content. There’s an appearance with the British comedy series The Morecambe And Wise Show, gigs with endless screaming girls (not The Ed Sullivan Show though), and other assorted wise-cracking moments that runs their career up through 1964. What happened after that… well, that’s detailing for further down the Abbey Road (no, I’m not reviewing the other two Anthologys).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tool - Ænima

Zoo Entertainment: 1996

Coming into Tool raw is well-nigh impossible, preconceived notions formed well before ever hearing the first rumble of Danny Carey’s drum kit, sludgy distortion of Adam Jones’ guitar, or billowing self-pity of Maynard James Keenan. Dammit, see what I mean? Without playing a single Tool song, I already know of the band’s tendency towards the musically proficient and lyrically po-faced bollocks, information gleaned through peer osmosis. For during their two-decade career, a reverent fanbase developed, one that wastes no time in preaching the Tool-Gospel of the band’s brilliance, and vehemently attacking anyone that presents such dissenting opinions like Tool are just okay, or not the brilliant song-writers legend purports. Thank God I’m way out here in the internet hinterlands, eh?

I figured there’d be some chance I’d like Tool if I gave them a chance, what with being known as ‘prog-metal’ pioneers and all. Well hey, I do like some prog (house or rock) and metal has its moments of awesome too. After giving Ænima three solid chances at winning me over, however, it’s safe to say I’ll never willingly listen to this band again. There’s simply too much nothing going on in this music for me to invest further.

Wait, that’s not accurate. The first half of Ænima contains several enjoyable heavy rock moments. Stinkfist’s hook has great thrashy bits, Eulogy’s even better and builds wonderfully from a quiet start to raucous climax, while Forty Six & 2 and Hooker With A Penis hold my attention with neat sounding guitar tones and drumming. Beyond that though, songs endlessly sludge along with staid musical passages, show-off bridges, and angst-ridden sentiments I grew out of ages ago (if I had them to begin with). The titular cut and a couple skits aside (mmm, ‘Satan’s Balls’…), the back half of Ænima drags with hardly any payoff. A perfect example comes in Pushit, where the band briefly switches to an urgent time-signature, suggesting an oncoming awesome build of tear-out metal; instead, they instantly retreat to a dithering quiet bit that goes on forever. Meanwhile, my thoughts wander to better metal and prog-rock like Pantera or Yes.

What caught me most off-guard though, was how grunge these tunes are – quiet, mumbly singing followed by loud shouting parts (and always unintelligible, buried in the mix). Granted, it’s due to Tool’s reputation as a metal band, but learning of their grunge roots, I totally get their appeal now. All those Holden Caulfields of the ‘90s alternative rock scene, desperate for heavy music that wasn’t so commercial and phony, found kinship in Keenan’s outlook, with challenging music to match. Throw in sound experiments cribbed from the industrial scene and weird, creepy visual accompaniments in videos and tours, and you’ve a grunge album unlike any other before, one that tried taking the genre down daring, new (progressive?) roads. A bold move on Tool’s part, for sure, one they could have pulled off on Ænima, if they’d spent more time on song-craft than technical masturbation.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Eurythmics - 1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother)

Virgin: 1984

It's a shoe-in, I tell ya', a shoe-in! Making a movie based on a book set upon a specific year, who could resist a chance at producing such a sure thing? What does it matter if the über-fascist society George Orwell created in 1984 never came to pass in 1984 – you can get away with an 'alternate reality' movie! Better make sure it hits theatres on time though, otherwise you'll look silly releasing a movie titled 1984 in the year 1985, or heaven forbid even later (suck it, 1956). Yep, only one chance at it. Don't let Big Brother down.

While the movie turned out a success, it didn't come without its share of controversy. Little to do with the actual content, mind you, although I'm sure more than a few folks found the Room 101 scenes squeamish. Nay, the main kerfuffle involved the soundtrack, specifically how two different scores were commissioned without either composer knowing about it.

The director, Michael Radford, had tapped orchestral writer Dominic Muldowney for music, while Almighty Virgin, which financed the film, wanted Eurythmics instead, pissing Radford off. Hey, can’t blame the director in feeling his vision was compromised by record suits, especially with Virgin editing the music cues with both scores as they saw fit. Stewart and Lennox, however, were apparently never made aware of the original score, and thus were caught off-guard by Radford’s ire. Compounding matters was Virgin toying with Eurythmics’ recordings for the LP release, making the soundtrack album as commercially viable as possible with nice, acceptable synth-pop versions of the score. Virgin probably figured they’d have their own Flashdance on their hands. No such luck, me buckos, 1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother) generating one single in Sexcrime, far from a memorable Eurythmics’ hit.

It’s best forgetting the politics involved with developing this album and regard 1984 as a concept LP Stewart and Lennox crafted on a lark, especially since little of their music as heard on this CD did end up in the film. All the icy-cool synth-pop awesome of Eurythmics’ glory years are present, with Lennox cooing on upbeat tracks Sexcrime (banned from Bible Belt airwaves!) and For The Love Of Big Brother, funkier jazz-scat in I Did It Just The Same, and charming ballad Julia. One thing that unfortunately dates these tunes is the use of a vocal sampler on Lennox’ voice, stiffly chopping it at various points (especially for Sexcrime), but it’s a quibble easily bypassed.

Besides, the true awesome of 1984 are the instrumentals, where Lennox’s non-lyrical singing becomes another tool instead of the centrepiece, and sure to surprise anyone only familiar with Eurythmics’ radio hits. Brief ambient interlude Winston’s Diary aside, the remaining tracks drive with mechanical, tribal rhythms and choking electronic soundscapes. Doubleplusgood’s incredibly ear-wormy, Ministry Of Love beautifully captures techno-futurism, and final track Room 101’s suitably menacing as it drags the album to its end with a final slam of iron doors. Chilling.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods XVI

(~): 2003

TRACK LIST:
1. Radar - Flying
2. Heller & Farlay - Deep Sensation (Peace Division Mix)
3. Holden & Thomposn - Nothing (Vocal Mix)
4. Golden Girls - Kinetic 2001 (Vincent de Moor Mix)
5. Blaze featuring Palmer Brown - Do You Remember House? (Bob Sinclar Mix)
6. Luomo - Tessio (Moonbootica Remix)
7. The Future Sound Of London - Slider
8. Future Prophecies - Stalker
9. Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax (Jam & Spoon Hi N-R-G Mix)
10. Holden & Thompson - Nothing (93 Returning Mix)

I've been too hard on commercial compilations in the past. Reliving these Mixed Goods of mine, I realize its bloody difficult maintaining a consistent theme when there's limited choices for track lists. At the start, I had plenty to work with, my initial downloading spree spoiling me for ideas on each CD. Here, however, at the end, all I've left are a couple new tunes I could snag, and a bunch of scraps. Mixed Goods XVI may have solid songs on it, but as a listening experience, it's a total mess (yes, even worse than Mixed Goods IV).

That Holden & Thompson classic is the obvious standout here, though I had no idea that the 93 Returning Mix would become the anthem it did. Heck, does anyone even remember the original version (mistitled Vocal Mix here)? The whole chopped vocals gimmick was just that, a quirky effect that turned decent lyrics into something quite unique for the time (and endlessly copied thereafter), and still holds up a decade on. It’s completely understandable why so many Holden fans are, erm, beholden to him, longing for a ‘03 returning stylee.

Hellar & Farlay bring the final 'dark prog' track to the series (more of a tribal outing this time), Future Prophecies the final d'n'b cut, Vincent de Moor’s mix of the classic Kinetic a final bit of trancecracker trance, Radar one more old-school trance tune, and the Bob Sinclar Mix of Do You Remember House? for the last true bit of house (Luomo's track is kind of electro-house though). Meanwhile, a pair of totally random songs in Slider and Relax round things out. I simply had nowhere else to put them until now (then). Huh, quite a coincidence to end Mixed Goods with such a summation; funny how it turned out that way.

That’s finally over though. Thanks for putting up with this nostalgic excursion into my year of personal CD burning. I was leery about this stretch, knowing full well it’d be almost nothing but anecdotes, which I prefer avoiding when possible. Still, maybe younger readers gleaned some interesting insight into that brief era of AudioGalaxy’s glorious heyday.

Okay, I’ve a huge pile of alphabetical backlog to get through now, on account I picked up another CD tower from a friend, under the condition I relieve him of his CD collection as well. Some of the releases and artists coming up, I thought I’d never review. This… is gonna be fun.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods XV

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Intro
2. Fred Everything - Let You Down
3. Blakstone - One Thing
4. Blaze featuring Palmer Brown - Do You Remember House?
5. Fred Everything - Universal Mind
6. Fred Everything - Another Soul
7. Barrington Levy - Under Mi Sensi
8. Fred Everything - Under The Sun
9. Fred Everything - Derby
10. Blaze featuring Palmer Brown - Do You Remember House? (Azzido da Bass Tech Drops)
11. Fred Everything - Without
12. Fred Everything - Revolution

Lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy. Did I not care about these anymore? Eh, not really. WinMX continued to suck balls as an AudioGalaxy replacement, and all the other suggested replacements were too sketchy for my liking. Also, I was employed again. And had real money again. And lived close enough to Vancouver that I could visit awesome music stores when I felt the urge to check new music! Downloading felt horribly unnecessary and so not worth my while any longer. I mean, just look at that track list up there! It's basically Fred Everything's album Under The Sun, with a few smatterings of other tunes. Why didn't I just buy Mr. Everything's album proper-like instead? Gathering MP3s was kinda fun at first, hunting about for music you knew was difficult to find at that day in age. Then, it became tedious, a chore for diminishing returns. Hell, I didn't even care enough to find a spiffy cover for this fifteenth volume of Mixed Goods, going with a rather generic 3D spheres thing.

I’ve really backed myself into a corner here with so much Fred Everything. I could tell you a bunch about his career, and his style of summery, loopy deep house (some people call this ‘liquid tech’ now, for some stupid reason). If I did that though, I’d have nothing to say when I do get around to reviewing Under The Sun (like, probably over a year from now). Well, okay, I’ll let you know that Derby is dubbed-out bliss, but that’s all.

The Blaze tune was a minor hit when it came out, even if it deals in a house trope that’s almost as old as the house ol’ Palmer’s reminiscing about: the ‘back in the day’ monolog. Still, Blaze has never made a bad track in their career (if they have, please don’t tell me – I cherish the ignorance), and Do You Remember House? is no exception, perfectly capturing vintage house vibes without coming off retro. Learn from these guys, o’ ye House Revivalists of our modern times.

Blakstone provides my obligatory ‘dark prog’ cut, and I’ve no clue which ragga version of Under Mi Sensi that is up there; it was all I could find when I initially searched for the original. With that, I’ve said all I’m willing to with Mixed Goods XV. Tunes are fine, but are hopelessly redundant within my collection. Meh, why couldn’t Mixed Goods XII have survived instead? That one was great! Ah well, one more to go.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods X

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Aqualite - The Outback (DJ Taucher Remix)
2. O.T. Quartet - Hold That Sucker Down (Aquagen Remix)
3. DJ Kayos - Acid Vibes
4. Reverse Pulse - Flexible
5. Tom Wax - Amphetamine
6. Sunbeam - Solar Surfing
7. Stimulant DJs - Stop The Groove
8. Komakino - Dynacore
9. Spicelab - We Got Spice (Humate Remix)
10. Spicelab - Bad Rabbit
11. Sunbeam - Dreams
12. Shorty Bone - Dream Phase

My memory's hazy on this one. I distinctly recall seeing the image in an online gallery and thinking, “That's what I want for Mixed Goods X! It'll make for a wicked X-Files rip-off!” I'm pretty sure I'd also escaped interior-BC purgatory by this point, so my thoughts would have been on developing covers, including ones for future use since I had access to a printer again. Pity not the ink jet that handled this one, my friends, for it was a noble death.

The track list, however, has me wondering otherwise, as it's full of acts that don't make sense for the time. Komakino, Spicelab, Sunbeam, and such almost certainly would have been prioritized when I made my first searches in the world of P2Ps. Yet here they are instead, almost a good year after getting involved with AudioGalaxy. Perhaps after making the switch to WinMX, I tried my luck again to see if any new results came about? A smattering of leftovers I was saving for a theme-appropriate Mixed Goods? Or maybe it was that interactive Flash thingy I'd stumbled upon that pointed out tracks of ye' olden days, inspiring me to dig a little further again (Enlil's Tour Of Digital Rhythm, Melody & Harmony, or something).

I’m not sure what else to say about this one. As a collection of old school German trance, it’s alright, but I’d already put the best stuff on that Hypnotic: Electronic Purity CD, plus most of the other Spicelab material on its own disc (long since demised). The Aquagen Remix of Hold That Sucker Down pales compared to the classic Builds Like A Skyscraper Mix, and of all the leftover Komakino I’d yet to get, it’s an old, hard techno tune that makes the cut here. Still, gotta love Shorty Bone’s free-wheeling hard acid trance. So raw, so fun.

The outliers on Mixed Goods X aren’t much cop either. I have no clue why I got an NRG track in Stop The Groove, as I had but a passing tolerance of the stuff most of the time. Then again, when you’re growing desperate for any tune out of Muzik Magazine’s back pages, you’ll settle for Stimulant DJ’s. And Reverse Pulse’s cover of Depeche Mode’s Flexible barely sounds like the original at all – more like a left over German trance track the Pulsers had, and dumped some distorted vocals on top. Why do I have a feeling of déjà-vu talking about that one?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods IX

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Jondi & Spesh - Creep Phase (Dub)
2. Chiller Twist - Strings Ultd (Shelly Mix)
3. Futurecast - The Future (Is Now)
4. Powerplant - With Or Without You (Blackwatch Mix)
5. DJ Gollum & DJ Yanny - Watch Out (Mellow Trax vs Lars Palmas Remix)
6. Dirty Vegas - Days Go By (Galastasory Mix)
7. Jay-J & Chris Lum - Freaks Like Us
8. Walley Lopez & Dr. Kucho - Acid Journey
9. Jondi & Spesh - Creep Phase (Original)

This might as well be Dark Prog 2, even though the music here isn't as endlessly plodding as some of the stuff on that disc. It is a consistent theme on Mixed Goods IX though, and also having the dubious distinction the volume of I always forget what's onit. Yes, even the Dirty Vegas hit Days Go By. I remember that I did nab that track almost immediately after seeing that Mitsubishi car ad like everyone else (so cool, so class, so vibe), but not where I put it. In fact, even going back to this CD just now, I was surprised to find Days Go By on here. Incidentally, this “Galastasory Mix” credit must be mislabeled, as Lord Discogs has no return for such a name. It just sounds like an 'extended mix' anyway, and for all I know, it's the proper original version (I don't have their album, nor do I care to get it). I'm only keeping it titled up there thusly as a testament to the wilderness that was post-AudioGalaxy P2P hunting of the early '00s, where mislabels were common. Many times you thought you'd stumbled upon a new, unique tune or remix, only to find it horribly, incorrectly titled (remember, kids, properly label your rips), or deliberately misleading to give the uploader undeserved fame (oh hi, DJ Mystik). At least this MP3 of Days Go By wasn't credited to Paul Oakenfold with a Digweed remix.

*whew* Was that paragraph ever long. What sort of specific tracks are we dealing with on Mixed Goods IX, then? There's some deep, dubby stuff here from Jondi & Spesh – mm, like dub techno, but with warmth. Chiller Twist's Strings Ultz was a minor, melodic hit back in the day, while Walley Lopez & Dr. Kucho bring a proggy bit of acid to the table. Even hard dance mongers DJ Gollum & DJ Yanny get a classy acid-prog (!!?) rub for Watch Out. Also, why is nearly every artist and remix on here a duo? Even two of the aliases (Powerplant and Futurecast) are duos. I swear I didn't intend to piece together Mixed Goods IX as a showcase of that! Maybe prog was entering its “we cans Sasha & Digweed too” era with credits?

Despite always forgetting about this compilation, it's still a pleasant disc to hear whenever I do throw it on. Can't really say the same for the remaining Mixed Goods, but they're definitely memorable, if not for the best reasons.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods VII

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Dido - Hunter (MJ Cole Mix)
2. Acquired Sound - Online
3. PPK - ResuRection
4. Jamie Anderson - Can't Stop
5. Chris Zander - Lord Of Sunshine (Christian Hornbostel Mix)
6. David James - A Permanent State (Superchumbo Mix)
7. Oliver Klein - Timeloop
8. Biosphere - Chromosphere
9. Justin Scott Dixon - Pure
10. Interflow - Storyreel (Extended Vox Dub)
11. Jamie Anderson - Black Sun (Total Eclipse Mix)

7? What happened to 6? Heck if I know. I can't even recall what was on it, made in an uncertain time where I still relied on P2P sources, but with diminishing returns. Shortly after this one, my financial situation hit an all-time low, and I was forced to pawn off my CD collection for ramen noodles just to get by. I wasn't too choked to see those discs go, but a few had assorted tracks I wanted to keep for future use in these compilations. And now they're lost as well, lost, lost...

Well, not quite. That Justin Scott Dixon track, Pure, ended up on a future Mixed Goods without me even realizing it, which is doubly-funny since I already had the track on Sasha & Digweed's Northern Exposure 3. In fact, I think this is an exact rip from that set. Why on Earth did I even want that track so much? Sure, it was one of the few tunes in the back pages of Muzik Magazine I could nab, but it's not that good out of context.

Ah, I'm sure most of ya'll haven't even noticed Pure in the track list above. Yes, that's ResuRection you see, and yes, I unashamedly adore that track! Overlong breakdown aside, it's such a deliciously old-school sounding tune, I was stunned it even became the hit it was. Maybe it would usher in a new dawn of classic trance, one no longer reliant on Dutch supersaws and- oh, you naive little darling, 2002 Sykonee!

Aside from MJ Cole’s remix of Dido’s Hunter (was curious to hear what the deal with MJ Cole was ...wasn’t impressed) and another classic Biosphere cut (please point me to affordable copies of his early albums!), Mixed Goods VII follows a similar structure to those that came before: mix of house, techno, and prog. This one’s mostly prog though, as it was often easiest to find on WinMX, what with all those prog DJ mixes coming out in 2002. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that’s not psy-trance act Total Eclipse doing a rub on Jamie Anderson’s Black Sun; rather, a play on words for a darker version of the funky house original.

Mixed Goods VII is alright, but a cynical ear isn’t difficult to form playing this CD, much of it drab and plodding. For as much as I enjoyed ‘dark prog’, what came recommended and what I could find just wasn’t cutting it. Fortunately, things turned around by the time I got to gathering it again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods V

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Jacob London - Slom Time
2. D.A.V.E. The Drummer - Strictly Underground
3. D.A.V.E. The Drummer - Implant (Acid Techno Is Alive)
4. Brancaccio & Aisher - It’s Gonna Be… (A Lovely Day)
5. Ubu - Pixels
6. The Bangin’ Drummer - To The Underground (Vox Mix)
7. Danny Tenaglia vs X-Press 2 - Elements Vs Smoke Machine (Mayor’s Mix)
8. Derler & Kitzling - Nuclear Device
9. BPT - Moody (Future Shock Mix)
10. D.A.V.E. The Drummer - Evil Acid

When I initially made all these burned CDs, they’d all go into a simple, thin jewel case with hand-written tracks lists. It wasn't until I got the dodge out of interior British Columbia poverty and hands on a decent printer that I could do any spiffy labeling. Being endlessly nostalgic for early '90s CGI art, I scoured the interwebs for such examples. Every cover for Mixed Goods was culled from online galleries, and I kind of wish I'd kept the original artists' credits for them, as some of them are damned good, even making the discs aesthetically better than they really are.

Like Mixed Goods V!

I had ‘underground’ in the track list twice, plus all sorts of pummeling acid techno and chugging, basement tribal house (prog!), so I figured something appropriately properly reflecting that sound was required. I was also getting better at developing these covers, placing text, toying with fonts, and all that. Mixed Goods V may not have the best tunes out of my series, but as a complete package, I think its tops. Heck, even the CD label has unique charm.


Music wise, there aren’t that many surprises, as I was only just re-gathering up new material. Unfortunately for broke-as-fuck music enthusiasts, AudioGalaxy had just recently shut down, and most were left scrambling for alternatives. WinMX sufficed at the time, though was leagues behind in finding the specialist stuff. Suddenly all those wonderful MP3 rips of Muzik Magazine recommendations were gone, left with tons of D.A.V.E. The Drummer instead. Huh, okay.

Well, ol’ D.A.V.E. wasn’t too bad for acid techno (Implan still kicks), but I’m sure you’re all more interested in that Elements/Smoke Machine mash-up. Ah, it’s totally a bust, the entirety of Elements playing in whole, immediately followed by the entirety of Smoke Machine played in whole. Oh look, someone noticed Smoke Machine uses part of the vocal of Elements in its track. You so clever, bootlegger! Ah well, it makes for a nice companion piece in this CD, coming off the Tenaglia inspired (rip-off?) To The Underground from Bangin’ Drummer and into the anthem techno (!?) of Nuclear Device. Funky house jams from Jacob London and Branaccacio & Aisher, plus fine prog slices from Ubu and BPT (yes, this is the best remix of Moody), and you have a surprisingly well rounded CD of underground flavoured tunes. In fact, of the Mixed Goods I still have, V hits the peak.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods IV

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. BPT - Moody (Pete Heller's 'Stylus' Vocal Mix)
2. Quirk - Soft Focus (Hyperion Mix)
3. Quirk - Yebo
4. Funk D'Void - Diabla
5. Chris Carter - Plex
6. Andy C & Shimon - Body Rock (Live)
7. Matrix & Fierce - Tearaway
8. Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia - Dust
9. Soul Grabber - Release
10. Plank 15 - Strings Of Life (Pete Heller's Strings Of Dub)
11. Kosheen vs. DJ Tiësto - Hidden Flight (Windsidor Bootleg Mix)

The title Mixed Goods truly is awful grammatically, though intentionally so. Something of an inside joke among my old 'Rupert Raver' crew, we (mostly two or three chaps not me) had a tendency to invent slang almost on a daily basis. It definitely started well before I joined up with them (I was a drifter before finding musically like-minded peers), and Lord help me, did I ever endlessly crack up to some of the nonsense that'd come from their mouths. Their slang war grew incredibly competitive, always attempting to outwit the last clever comeback, and ofttimes rendering simple discussion an impenetrable haze of jargon. As I still had close ties to that crew while I was making these CDs, some of the lingo remained a part of mine own, “goods” such an example. Yeah, it's not terribly difficult deciphering that one, but then I figured only they would ever see these anyway.

Okay, I’m honestly just burning word count here because Mixed Goods IV is quite a mess. By the time I got to making it, I was down to leftovers for MP3 choices, most of the best stuff already burned to personal compilation series (this one, Klassic Kickbacks, Breakz & Bass, Chilled Kutz ...ooh, mint material there!) or feature discs, typically of a specific genre or artist. I likely could have waited for more Muzik Magazine recommendations, but I needed hard-drive space for more music (my old-old computer only had 2.6 GB!). So onto Mixed Goods IV these oddities went.

There’s a fair bit of prog on here, though seeing Pete Heller’s name shouldn’t surprise of that. Perhaps more surprising is psy-trance act Quirk also getting in on that prog action; guess it was a bid to stay relevant, and ultimately failed since the duo folded shortly after these were released. A few excess cuts from my Breakz & Bass series also show up, though only Matrix & Fierce’s Tearaway is any good (and kinda’ stuck in post-Bad Company dark-neuro-step-funk-whatever sound). Chris Carter’s Plex is a weird nu-school breaks thing, and everyone knows Body Rock; all I could find was a crummy internet rip to sate my curiosity over the ‘clownstep classic’.

I guess the rest of these tracks were gathered to sate curiosity too; obviously so the Kosheen/Tiësto mashup, but also Funk D’Void’s nasty techno beast Diabla. Bet that track would scare the piss out of today’s festival circuit. Also, I really ought to hunt down proper copies of Pychick Warriors Ov Gaia’s music, shouldn’t I?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods III

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Noiseshaper - The Only Redeemer (Flag Finger Mix)
2. Frankie Knuckles - Keep On Moving (The One Mix)
3. Sven Van Hees - Psychedelic Bellydancing
4. Wally Lopez & Dr. Kucho - Patricia Never Leaves The House
5. DJ GoGo - Sayna (Version 1)
6. Sven Van Hees - Serrano Anthem
7. Nigel Hayes - Que Pasa
8. Mateo Murphy - Love Express
9. Tom Wax & Jan Jacarta - Wormhole
10. Glenn Wilson - Release
11. Mateo Murphy - Impact
12. Tom Wax - …And Then It Hit Me

This was my stab at making a Balearic compilation. It didn’t quite work out, mainly because I ran out of Balearic music far too soon. It actually still makes for a decent ‘night out at Ibiza’ themed CD; at least I assume since I’ve never been to the tourist trap of an island. Laid back deep house to start, moving onto groovier, upbeat stuff like tech-house (no, it really was groovier back in the day!), some culturally tinged tunes as you wander the terrace to the next club, and finally settling on pummeling 4am techno to finish the night off.

If anyone’s paid attention to the previous burned CD’s I’ve ‘reviewed’, you’ll notice a couple familiar names already. Noiseshaper’s The Only Redeemer makes another appearance, a single that was heavily promoted during Quango Records’ re-launch in 2001. This Flag Finger mix, a short version of the reggae-dub house tune, doesn’t appear anywhere at Lord Discogs. Man, did P2P programs return some odd results back in the day. There’s also DJ GoGo’s Sayna again, though this version isn’t as mundane as the Dark Prog one – there’s an actual synth hook near the end, though minor. And here’s Sven van Hees, whom I raided quite a bit from Audio Galaxy for, almost entirely based on the cool track names. Most of the music I got from him went on chill-out CDs I made, Serrano Anthem is definitely in this vein (a mid-CD bliss-out moment), but Psychedelic Bellydance is… tribal-reggae techno? Awesome, is what it is; just awesome.

Nigel Hayes’ Que Pasa also has an upbeat, Balearic vibe going for it, though with a few jazzy guitar and saxophone licks thrown in. After that, techno, man, all techno. Well, not quite. Wormhole is definitely not techno, in fact rather out of place as a ’97 slice of trance surrounded by Mateo Murphy and Glenn Wilson tracks. I do recall stumbling across it when searching for Tom Wax’s …And Then It Hit Me, a tune I just had to hear after learning it was another ‘storytime techno’ tune (think The Horrorist’s One Night In N.Y.C.). Oh yeah, I’ve definitely been where this narrator’s been… once.

Listening back on this, Mixed Goods III has held up remarkably well, if I do say so myself. Shame hardly any of these tunes are available at Amazon’s MP3 store. Who knew this music would turn out so rare a decade on.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods II

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Space Frog - (X-Ray) Follow Me (Funky Mix)
2. Dance 2 Trance - Power Of American Natives ’98 (DJ Scot Project Remix)
3. Komakino - Man On Mars
4. Tilt featuring Maria Nayler - Headstrong (Blades G. Remix)
5. Jam & Spoon - Be Angeled (Paul van Dyk Club Mix)
6. Final Fantasy - Controlling Transmission 2001
7. Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia - Exit (Drum Club Mix)
8. Biosphere - Novelty Waves
9. Slam - Alien Radio
10. Skylab 2000 - Higher
11. Space Frog - (X-Ray) Follow Me (Pants & Corset Remix)

No, really, I still had a touch of the trancecracker in me even by 2002. It was a very, very, very small amount lurking, probably hiding behind the spleen with any post-’96 euro-dance, hoping the invading electroclash couldn’t flush it out, but it was there. Well damn it, I had to purge it somehow, and if making my second volume of Mixed Goods a total cheese-trance fest was the only way to do it, so be it!

Okay, this isn’t that cheesy. I’d gathered an odd assortment of euro-trance though, and definitely knew I wanted some of the most shameless stuff on Mixed Goods II. Balancing it out at the other end were some ‘proper-trance’ tunes like Exit from PWoG (more of a dub tribal thing) and Biosphere’s classic bleep-techno tune Novelty Waves. Slam’s Alien Radio had more in common with techno (with spa-a-a-ace sounds!), but I liked the tune, so in it went as well. After that, Skylab2000…

Okay, anyone remember these guys? This track Higher is more of an old-school rave tune, and for the life of me I can’t recall where I got it from. My best guess is MP3.com, but I also recall some mass MP3 giveaway from a new electronic music magazine with a website tie in. Oh, early ‘00s, with your wacky internet gimmicks. I wish I could recall that one better.

Back to Mixed Goods II, the first half of this CD isn’t as corny as you might expect. Space Frog’s Follow Me was an undeniable hit in anthem loving circles, few able to resist that ‘call to arms’ vocal and stomping synth hook, and was regular weapon in Oakenfold’s Cream days. Naturally with any trance-associated hit, a pile of pointless remixes came out 2002, the Pants & Corset one the best of the lot; the Funky Mix is mislabeled, but I like it enough as an introduction to the forthcoming cheese. Amazingly, Scot Project’s remix of P.oA.N. is quite restrained from what you’d expect of the hard trance DJ – there’s pounding kicks and overlong builds, sure, but no blaring synths, my friends. As for a 2001 remix of Final Fantasy’s Controlling Transmission, well hey, it’s me. Not as good as the original though.

And that’s the end of this one. Honestly, about the only thing memorable about Mixed Goods II is the cover. I’d have bought more Trance Divas if they’d come packaged like that!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Various - Mixed Goods 1

(~): 2002

TRACK LIST:
1. Jam & Spoon - Be Angeled (Tweaker Mix)
2. Tendroid - Trendication To House
3. 2 Unlimited - Get Ready For This 2001 (Robbie Rivera White Label Mix 1)
4. Mark Ambrose - Destiny Angel
5. FPU - Crockett’s Theme (Tiga’s White Linen Remix)
6. Bushwacka! - Chorus
7. 2 Unlimited - No Limit 2000 (Razor & Guido Dub Remix)
8. Noiseshaper - The Only Redeemer (Needs Mix)
9. Mondo Grosso - Star Suite (Shelter Vocal Mix)

Mixed Goods was my main burned CD series; essentially where I shoved my current house, techno, trance, prog, and a few other assorted additions. I tried maintaining specific stylistic themes with each CD, and sometimes it worked out, but as I began running out of material, the later volumes turned incredibly hodgepodge. Just as well I lost a bunch of those. Out of sixteen Mixed Goods I made, only ten survive now, and even then half the CDs have oxidized (why didn’t anyone tell us these things about CDRs?). Most of the tunes I got for these were nabbed off AudioGalaxy or WinMX, typically after reading the back pages of Muzik Magazine and seeing what I could even find from their chart lists. Clearly I have no need for such antics now, but back then, I was broke, on the dole, and living nowhere near decent music shops. It was all I had to stay current on electronic music, so you’ll forgive a little sentimentality on my part as I now review my collection of Mixed Goods. Wait, where are you going?

Ah, forget those guys. Those that stayed, thanks man! Eh, what’s with the tracklist above? Well, wouldn’t you know it, quite a few of the tunes I gathered up for these collections are difficult to find now. Something like a (pre-shit) Robbie Rivera white label remix of 2 Unlimited, that makes sense, but dang, I had no idea Bushwacka!’s bouncy Afro-house Chorus would be too. Since the odds of making any respectable Amazon Playlist out of these tracklists is unlikely for music so old, I’m offering up the tracklist for these if you’re interested enough to scour the web for the tunes yourselves.

Okay, enough pre-amble. Mixed Goods 1 was my stab at a ‘funky, deep, classy house’ collection. Yes, even with a pair of 2 Unlimited tracks on it, though admittedly the Razor & Guido remix is more of an anthem house thing. Tracks like Mark Ambrose’s Destiny Angel and Tendroid’s Trendication To House Music are likely forgotten now, but house legend Blaze’s go at Mondo Grosso’s Star Suite’s a classic; sixteen minutes of groovy, shuffly jazz-garage with a never-ending empowerment monolog. Yeah, that’s some classy shit, mofos. Makes you even forget the CD opened with the corny Be Angeled from Jam & Spoon. Why would that even be made into a house track anyway? Jam & Spoon’s trance, no matter how pop they were going at the time. Give that track to Paul van Dyk or something.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thievery Corporation - The Mirror Conspiracy

4AD: 2000

Not to sound too up my own ass, but I was always a little smug around my peers in discovering Thievery Corporation before most of them. I shouldn’t be that smug, since I only found out about the Washington downtempo duo when 4AD, of all labels, redistributed their classic Sound From The Thievery Hi-Fi two years after it’d already come out on Thiev-Corp’s own Eighteenth Street Lounge Music. Dammit though, I was the first in my circle to find it, and it wasn’t until their sophomore album, The Mirror Conspiracy, that the duo broke out from underground-darling status with chill-out crossover potential. And for that, I… kinda lost the plot with them.

Not that I blame Garza and Hilton for refining the dubby, hip-hop groove they made for themselves - adopting Latin and jazz elements into a genre already filled with Jamaican and urban influences was a fine idea. They certainly proved capable of pulling it off, with tunes like Lebanese Blonde and So Come Voce getting tons of rotation on every loungey chill-out compilation that mattered (and then some).

The Mirror Conspiracy isn’t just some nifty bossa nova for smoky basements though, as oodles of ethnically diverse music finds its way throughout the album. Indra gets its bhangra on at points, plenty of Arabic nods crops up (Illumination, ), the Hong Kong Triad sounds like it could have fit snuggly in a ‘60s mod movie, and even that Afro-Brazillian percussion style batacuda gets its nod in Air Batacuda …hehe, ‘batucada’. Nearly every track features some unique stylistic origin while always maintaining a distinct dubbed-out cool vibe that’s wholly the Thievery Corporation’s. It’s just a shame so many of them are too damned short.

Perhaps I was spoiled by the lengthier tunes on their first album, but longer running time would make the songs on The Mirror Conspiracy so much more immersive. I want to get lost in Samba Tranquille’s blissy shuffle for longer than three minutes. I want to forever float on rivers of funky dub with Tomorrow. And what the Hell, Bebel Gilberto doesn’t even get three minutes at providing a soulful croon in So Com Voce? A few cuts do offer reasonable length – tribal Illumination, jazzy Focus On Sight clock in over four minutes, and Indra gets a whopping five-plus to strut her stuff (whoa, what is this, prog?). Considering, at thirteen tracks, the The Mirror Conspiracy runs well less of an hour, there wasn’t any reason for Garza and Hilton to indulge themselves a little - unless these were intended as radio-friendly versions, trotted out for easy licensing. Given how many songs did end up on compilations and chill-out mixes, maybe so.

I won’t go so far as to call Thiev-Corp’s newer style ‘pop’, but it is far more accessible for mass audiences compared to many other downtempo artists of similar ilk. Fair enough if that’s their goal (and judging by their follow-up albums, it was), but it wasn’t for me. Solid live shows though!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Various - min2MAX (Original TC Review)

M_nus: 2006

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

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


IN BRIEF: More than meets the ear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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