Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Various - Fifteen Years Of Turnmills: A Retrospective Mixed By Tall Paul

Muzik Magazine: 2001

The November 2001 issue of Muzik was the first one I ever bought, for no better reason than I had no other options for my monthly electronic music reportage at the time. My usual purchase, Mixer, was nowhere on the shelves – not that I blame the New York City based rag to fall behind a bit, what with that whole 9/11 event and all. And my sampling of Mixmag the month before only showed me how ass that magazine generally was (ace free CD notwithstanding). Thus when I saw a cover featuring Kosheen (ooh, Sian Evans as a sexy pseudo-goth!), plus a cheeky Adam Freeland quote of, “I challenge Oakenfold to mix two breakbeat records”, I figured it’d be worth a shot.

And lo’, after reading (most) of this magazine front to back, I asked the heavens, where had Muzik been all my life? Not being sold in Rupert, that’s where! Who’d have thought I’d need to retreat deeper into British Columbian territory to find a British music magazine that delivered all that I ever wanted – smart reviews, interesting interviews, snarky humour, exciting exposés, celebrity mixtapes, quirky club gossip, and that. But wait, what’s this? A free CD like Mixmag, but with Tall Paul as a guest DJ? I know that guy, he’s the really tall DJ named Paul that a few of my house-lovin’ Rupert pals were into. There’s even a tune on it that I’d been searching for and wasn’t on some dodgy euro-dance compilation: BBE’s Seven Days And One Week. Man, who cares about the rest of the magazine, I’ll slap down the $12 I really couldn’t afford at the time regardless!

Shame this Fifteen Years Of Turnmills mix is utter pants. The Tall one didn’t make things easy for himself trying to sum up one-point-five decades of a club night into the tiny microcosm of a mix CD, given the disparate roads electronic music had taken in that time. It makes good sense opening with the disco-garage soul of Fire Island’s There But For The Grace Of God, but how do you get to Tony de Vit’s big-gay anthem Burning Up in between? When you’re cramming in piano progressive house like Outrage’s That Piano Track, tribal tech-house of Sil’s Windows 98 (yo, Olav!), Ferry Corsten’s rub of Madagascar (one of my most hated tunes back in the day – fuck standing around doing jack shit), his own slice of anthem house in Rock Da House, plus Jark Prongo’s Moving Through Your System on the ten-millionth CD I own (only third, you hyperbolic twit), you’re looking at a rough mix. Oh yeah, and the mixing between tracks is pretty rough throughout too.

Okay, I’m ragging on this CD more than necessary; after all, it’s just a freebie. Fortunately, Muzik’s record on these CDs would turn out much better than that initial impression gave me, which only sweetened the deal with every issue I bought going forward with the magazine. T’was a love that lasted forever after.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Various - Muzik Magazine Dance Awards 2001 Vol. 1: The Party

Muzik Magazine: 2001

It’s gotta’ be quite the ego boost holding your own awards ceremony, convincing others your insights and rankings hold weigh over others in the same field of expertise. Music journalism’s no different, nearly every rag with even marginal sway taking time out of their regular reporting for yearly ‘Best Of’ articles. If they have enough financial backing, they can even hand out little trophies at parties! I think the only electronic music magazines that still have that sort of clout are Mixmag and DJMag, but during clubbing’s last commercial peak at the turn of the millennium, several others got in on that action too, including Muzik.

Well, if there's any rag's awards I'd trust, it'd be Muzik's. I can't recall off-hand who won what, though Norman Cook, Sasha, and some bloke from New Order were on the cover, so they must have won something – maybe that cigar Sasha’s smoking? Oh, and a trashy looking Erol Alkan posing with his Best New DJ/Clubnight/Something trophy was hi-lar-ious!

With any music awards, there must also be a music CD spotlighting tunes. There were two giveaways with the awards issue, though us folks in the Americas only got The Party disc – some licensing hiccup denied us the other option, turns out. From what Lord Discogs tells me, we weren't missing much with The Future disc, what with names like PMT, Chris Coco, and Dirty Vegas in that track list. Not too hot a prediction regarding tastemakers of tomorrow on Muzik's part there, though at least they got that James Holden chap right.

Muzik Magazine Dance Awards 2001 Vol. 1: The Party features the sort of tracks you’d expect to rake in ‘Best Of’ lists for that year. Felix da Housecat’s Madam Hollywood, Fatboy Slim’s Star 69 by way of a techy remix, Röyksopp’s Eple, Stanton Warriors’ Da Virus, and Danny Tenaglia’s rub of Depeche Mode’s I Feel Loved all make the cut. Also, the track list offers a solid snapshot of all the trendy sounds running around the UK that year. Oxide & Neutrino’s Nuff Of Dem Watch Me shows off the emergent grime scene, Silicone Soul’s The Answer gets its groovy deep tech-house soul moving, trip-hop’s still in cool-mode thanks to Goldfrapp’s Utopia, and them th’ar nu skool, nu-nu-skool breaks have their moment thanks to Plump DJs’ Big Groovy Funker. Aw yeah, it’s like I’m playin’ Wipeout Fusion all over again!

Of course, anyone with a solid ear to the ground in 2001 would have gotten most of these tunes anyway. Well, maybe not that Warren Clarke Mix of Banda Sonora’s Guitarra G - while some seriously funky Latin Balearic house music, disco and French house were the king and tyrant of club land. This only helps prove that Muzik, for as snarky and off-base they could sometimes be, at least tried their damndest to promote fresh, unheralded sounds. I’ve yet to find a comparable replacement in contemporary EDM journalism, and maybe never will. Guess I’ll just continue ripping off their quips.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Various - Muzik Classics: Techno

Beechwood Music: 1999

Bliminy crimely, geezer, is this one mint collection. A two-CD pack spotlighting just about every important person in the world of early techno, complete with detailed liner notes at a wonderful Beechwood budget price. No, wait, come back! This isn't your typical crap Beechwood compilation of one-third recognizable tunes, and the rest a pile of no-name mock-ups. Rather, Muzik Magazine handled the tracklisting, as part of a short-lived series promoted by the rag showcasing classics of electronic music yore. There was one for drum 'n bass, one for Ibiza anthems, and finally this one for techno. Shame they didn't keep going to include trance, though there was that one free-CD they gave out a few years after.

While I've given Muzik plenty of props in the past, they deserve extra-so for these discs. Aside from a few top tier DJs, techno as a whole was on something of a downswing in the late ‘90s, other genres and scenes the current hotness as far as the clubbing world was concerned. Trance, house, progressive, d’n’b, breaks (nu-skool or big beat), UK garage: these were all far more comparably popular in record stores. Techno was what you’d play late-late at night, and usually only the hard, bangin’ stuff. If some dewy-eyed young punter stumbled upon Muzik Classics: Techno and learned somthing, then the magazine had done its job in providing positive education for the kids (including Slam’s Positive Education on here).

As this is a retrospective on techno’s formative years, all the significant regions of the time are accounted for: Detroit, UK, Germany, Detroit, other US cities, Detroit, Belgium, Detroit, Detroit, Canada by way of Detroit, and Detroit; sorry, Japan, you were a little late to the techno game for this box set. The tracklist features nearly every classic you should have heard of at some point, including Strings Of Life, Red 2, Circus Bells, Flash, Energy Flash, Spastik Flash, Acpreience 1 Flash, plus a flash of electro from Cybotron’s Clear. More interesting are the lesser known cuts and aliases from prominent producers, such as 69’s Jam The Box (Carl Craig), F.U.S.E.’s Substance Abuse (Hawtin), Dark Comedy’s War Of The Worlds (Kenny Larkin), and Aphrohead’s In The Dark (Felix da Housecat, although it’s the Dave Clarke Mix in this case).

Muzik Classics: Techno also serves as a handy bluffer’s guide to the various sub-genres within that scene. Dub techno gets its nod from Phylyps’ Trak II and P.A.S.’ Booster, minimal is repped by DBX’ Losing Control (plus Hawtin, of course), the ravey stuff is handled by CJ Bolland’s Horsepower, acid gets an additional look from Laurent X’s Machines, and even sample-heavy ambient tribal-techno has its moment from Bandulu’s Guidance. Oh, and lots of Detroit techno too.

Is this the most comprehensive collection of classic techno you’ll ever find? Nah, guy, the whole of Lord Discogs is your bet for that. For something more physical and affordable, however, this double-discer’s definitely one of the better starting points on learning the roots of the genre.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Various - Musik Non Stop

Hypnotic: 1996

Criminey blimey, gov', is this one dodgy collection. You’d think a 3CD set of Music Research material as licensed out by Hypnotic would have me all squee, but even I must raise an eyebrow over how this one was put together. Between Hypnotic and Cleopatra before it, I’ve gathered a decent amount of music from Talla 2XLC’s pioneering label. Some compilations were great, some not as much, yet you could at least count on original material with each release those first few years. That well of German trance had to run dry eventually though (especially with Talla shutting doors), and repeat tracks became increasingly common on Hypnotic compilations. At the same time, there must have been plenty of leftovers, tunes that just couldn’t fit on Trance Europe, Trance On Earth, Trance 2001: A Trance Odyssey, or European Future Soundz (Excursion In Trance). What better way to clear out that Music Research backlog than a 3CD extravaganza!

Normally I’d break this review up into at least two separate ones, as my self-imposed word count often interferes with coverage of so much music. What’s the point, though? CD1 alone has six tracks I’ve either already talked about, or will down the line. The other two discs have more unreleased cuts through Hypnotic, but are easily summed up – it’s small wonder some of these never got a release until this collection.

But hey, three discs for the price of one was still a good deal back in the ‘90s, and at least you were getting something of a primer into Music Research’s catalogue, despite not being the cream of their crop. CD1 mostly handles the trance, including Komakino, Reel X, Cenobyte, Sunbeam, and a pile of Norman Feller, who steals the show with the one-off collaboration with pre-Timewriter Jean Cochois as Lesamis. Eternal Sleep’s a wonderful slice of riffy, floaty early trance, and it’s a shame these two didn’t collaborate more if they were making music like this. Ah well, that whole ‘tech-house’ thing they later spearheaded turned out alright too.

With a skip to CD3, we get treated to names like Aqualite, Audio Science, more Norman, Pascal F.E.O.S., and Beyond Reality’s Semi-Analogue. This is also the techno CD, or rather German trance guys doing Detroit techno. It’s not as interesting as it sounds, though Blitz! from Audio Science is a cool tune, because of course it is.

CD2’s where most of the fun’s found, hardcore beats and acid running rampant. There’s also copious cheese here too, some of the ridiculous cornball kind (Happy Ravers’ Hubert), others of the unabashedly gurning type (D-Lay’s Don’t Stop The Motion (E-Motion Mix)). Rolling pianos, cheeky phrases (“Hi, I hope you’re enjoying your trip.”), multi-tap delay pads, bells, and that’s just Urban Trance Plant. There’s even a chill Balearic cut opening the tracklist. CD2’s definitely worth the price of admission into Musik Non Stop if you’ve an ear for candy-coated acid rave of the mid-‘90s, and hey, there’s a few good tunes on the other discs too.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Prince - Musicology

Columbia: 2004

The music scene Prince had flourished within at his commercial peak was no longer recognizable, tons of young upstarts feeding the crowds with watered-down funk and drunk-dumb crowd pleasers. There was no soul in music anymore, no respect for the masters who’d laid the groundwork. Time to take the music back to its source, then - back to the old school that inspired him, with little to none of the modern trappings that plague contemporary music. And to kick off this initiative would be an advertising campaign unlike any other before, including an instantly catchy lead single paired with a perfectly charming video. Unfortunately, once the full album dropped, folks quickly realized all the media hype was just that, and were left with a disappointing product that could never have lived up to its build-up. Oh well, at least Daft Punk still earned a Grammy for the album. Wait a minute…

Yes, in an uncanny coincidence, the stories behind Prince’s Musicology and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memory are remarkably similar, although I suspect Daft Punk’s version will be talked about longer than Prince’s. When Mr. Nelson came out with Musicology, it was the first time in years the general music media showed interest in him again. Part of it likely was due to his induction into the Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Fame that same year; or maybe it was the fact his old label disputes throughout the '90s was finally subsiding, thus allowing Mr. Nelson to retain his famous performance name, and not some wonky symbol. It sure makes it easier for journalists to proclaim “Prince Is Back!”, even though he never really went away. Additionally, Musicology was a return to a major label for distribution, in this case Columbia. With everything pointing to a triumphant narrative, this album was destined to re-establish Prince as the preeminent tastemaker of all things funky and soulful, at a time when music critics so desperately wanted it so.

Yet within a year, Musicology was a distant memory, folks more intrigued by Prince’s growing free-distribution marketing instead. This, from an album that earned Mr. Nelson his first Grammys (two of them, even!) since the ‘80s. Not that those awards are worth much credibility anyway, but the point is for a collection of music that everyone pegged as an instant classic, folks instead instantly forgot about it.

Can’t say I blame them either. Hell, I bought into the hype, and aside from the titular cut, Illusion, Coma, Pimp, & Circumstance (kinda hip-hoppy), Cinnamon Girl (not a Neil Young cover), and The Marrying Kind (power chords!), I can never remember anything off here. There’s funk, there’s soul, there’s Prince, but where’s the ingenuity, the earworms, or the thrilling songcraft? In making an album that’s an ode to the music of his upbringing, he neglected to make it uniquely his. Anyone versed in classic R&B could write these tunes. With little on Musicology standing out from funk ‘n soul standards, the album quickly disappeared from public discourse.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Stardust - Music Sounds Better With You

Virgin Records: 1998

Friends, family, folks, and fairies: lend me your ears and eyes, for this is a tale of what could have been, but sadly wasn’t. Where the lights shone brilliantly for but a single slice of music-on-wax, then flittered away from a lack of confidence. Thomas Bangalter, he of the incredibly successful duo Daft Punk, riding high on the success of their debut album Homework; Alex Braxe, he of the not-as successful single Vertigo, but still a major component in an emerging French house scene.

The two paired up one chilly-warm Western European dusky-dawn, finding mutual love of vintage disco like Chic and Chaka Khan. “You know what would sound cool,” Bangalter said, “is if we took those disco rhythms and looped them a bunch.” “Like DJ Sneak is doing?” asks Braxe. “No, like Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez is doing,” Bangalter replied, his eyes glazing over at seductive filter knobs in the ramshackle, state-of-the-art studio they sat within. “Gee williker, Bangalter,” enthused Braxe-Boy, “that’s brilliant. Let’s make that track!” And so they did, unleashing Music Sounds Better With You as Stardust. The pseudonym was a nod to the Stardust casino from which they only had a passing familiarity with representing all that was wholesome and tacky of the ‘70s.

The single was a smash hit, almost outdoing Bangalter’s previous triumphs with Daft Punk. Moreso, it cemented the French house sound as endlessly loopy disco with a tight, funky ear for the filter. Such a simple idea, so often replicated, sometimes even bettered, but never as impactful as Music Sounds Better With You’s initial cataclysmic meteor drop. If this was their first track together, just imagine what their next efforts could be! No no, keep imagining them - it’s all you’re gonna’ get.

Bangalter and Braxe claimed they never made another tune under the guise because they lacked faith in themselves to better it. Well, that sucks, achieving your best on the first shot. You know what I think? I think Bangalter just wanted to hoard his filter-disco French house ideas to himself, hence having that “accident” with Homem-Christo that turned them into robots. Now freaks of nature, they could isolate themselves as Daft Punk exclusively, so tough beans to all of Bangalter’s former producing partners. Maybe if Braxe turned into a robot too, we’d get another Stardust single.

My copy of Music Sounds Better With You includes the original Bob Sinclar Remix, long since jettisoned when he and Bangalter had a falling out (woo, collector’s item now!). This was back when Sinclar was going from strength-to-strength with the rest of the French scene, and here he takes the track down smooth garage roads. Also here is the Chateau Flight Remix (more French folk), a choppier tech-filter rub-dub – handy for deeper sets. There was also DJ Sneak remixes, because of course there would be.

Eh? You say the tale I’ve told wasn’t entirely truthful? Well, what do you expect from a tale? If you want historical accuracy, go read the Wiki’.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Various - The Music Of Cosmos

Cosmos Studios: 1981/2000

How fortunate. I can talk about The Music Of Cosmos at a time when interest in Carl Sagan’s excellent series is part of the public discourse again, thanks to nu-Cosmos currently airing on TV. The Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosted series is pretty good so far, though tends to lack the gravitas the original held, too often bypassing the philosophical notions Sagan brought forth while explaining the wonders around us. The Alan Silvestri score sadly doesn’t help, missing those iconic musical cues that flourished throughout the original series. C’mon, mang, you did Back To The Future, you can do memorable themes. Only thing sticking so far is that bit of piano diddle in the opening credits, and only because it reminds me of the Contact score.

Right, right, this is an unfair comparison, but let’s be honest here: along with everything else, Cosmos stands peerless as a documentary because of its music. Not only did it include synth wizards of the era (Vangelis, Tomita, Synergy), but also works from classical composers (Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Pachelbel, Holst, Stravinsky), and even contemporary music like blues and prog-rock (Louis Armstrong, Roy Buchanan, Pink Floyd). No way could Silvestri compete with such a range of music, and one wonders why they didn’t try licensing music out like before. Surely nu-Cosmos has a bigger budget than the original. Did all the money go into those spiffy atom animations?

Whatever. Let’s focus on The Music Of Cosmos, proper original-like. The most famous pieces were the Vangelis compositions. In fact, you can’t hear the gentle piano of Heaven & Hell or synthy bell tones of Alpha without thinking Cosmos, the two completely intertwined in the public consciousness to this day. Folks probably figure Vangelis specifically wrote all these works for Cosmos, but were actually plucked from older albums. There are a couple exclusive synth works here though, both by an anonymous chap named Boydstun, whom even the mighty Lord Discogs knows nothing about. Hell, he never even made the cut on the original ’81 vinyl, though neither did several other works. Thank goodness for twenty year anniversary double-CD editions, eh?

One of the clever things about The Music Of Cosmos is how the tracks are arranged to tell a narrative of sorts, specifically of the cosmos as humanity’s come to understand it, and perhaps foresee our possible fates. Helping the tale along are sound effects bridging the music together. For instance, just before Vangelis’ Alpha starts, a massive explosion erupts from the desolate calm of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11. A supernova creating the heavier elements? I’d say so. Meanwhile on CD2, where technology’s run rampant, chainsaws mercilessly cut down old growth forest before the melancholy Prayer of St. Gegory emerges.

Not the most subtle of messages, that, but Sagan’s gift was presenting such messages as a means to inspire ourselves to become better than we are. The rich diversity of music presented in The Music Of Cosmos only proves humanity’s ability to do so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Soliquid - Music Is For Rich People

Captured Digital: 2007

Soliquid, or Dávid Biczók to the European Empire, seemed like a guy that could do no wrong in the trance-slash-progressive scene of the late ‘00s. Already a favorite with the traditional Anjunabeat ‘crackers, he even got playlisted by the likes of Digweed and Hybrid (!), highly respected names regardless of what folks thought of the current state of their careers. A strong assortment of singles, including his biggest hit in Music Is For Rich People, built anticipation for a debut album, which dropped in 2009 as Transportation. And then Soliquid dropped from the face of Lord Discog’s existence. No follow-up singles, a few remix credits reaching no further than 2010, and that’s all Mr. Biczók wrote. The business side of music must have soured him severely to abandon it so; or maybe he settled down with a family.

I recall being intrigued enough by a few of his tracks to hunt down the single for Music If For Rich People, and even intended to review it for TranceCritic. Upon finding it though, I discovered it was already a year old, which might as well be a hundred where singles in music journalism are concernted. Off to the dusty corners of a burned disc it thusly went. Shame I didn't review it, as perhaps the ol' TC bump could have inspired Mr. Biczók to keep producing to this day, our voice having enough sway to- ahahaha! Oh, that's funny.

Anyhow, the original version of Musical People Of Richness is one hell of a bangin’ track. I’m astounded such a hard piece of trance didn’t chase away all those progressive house jocks who picked up Soliquid’s other singles, but then Mr. Biczók did claim to have diversity as part of his manifesto. Even this cut’s got plenty going for it: fierce-as-fuck rhythms, electro dressings, twinkly breakdown, and a glitch-laden build. Good stuff.

The remixes got more attention though, especially so the Mat Zo Remix, one of that guy’s earliest works. It has all the hallmarks of latter-era McProg, and I remain stunned that I’m still digging those grumbly basslines and twinkly melodies; or maybe Mr. Zo’s reputation is well deserved and he crafted an excellent example of the sound. Meanwhile, Cerf & Mistika provide a rub that checks traditional prog-house boxes, though has the whiff of Armada blandness about it. At the other end is the Sunny Lax Remix, doing your bog-standard epic-uplifting-melodic Anjunabeats eurotrance that’s fun to hear on its own, but is just pants in most sets. Still, I’m sure the Anjuna kids would kill for a return to this sound from their favored label. Oh, and Biczók does an epic-uplifting-melodic remix of his own under his Bëlmondo guise, but who cares about that when there’s the kick-ass original?

If you missed this EP before and have a minor hankering for trance of 2007, Music Is For Rich People’s definitely worth a look back on. It hints at a promising lengthy career that sadly never materialized.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Boards Of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children

Warp Records: 1998/2004

What is it about Music Has The Right To Children that's allowed it to endure as a classic album within electronic music's long history? Is it the positive impact it had on the IDM market, rescuing that scene from ever-deepening navel gazing experimentation? Is it how it lured in a tonne of proto-hipster kids after Boards Of Canada were NME and Pitchfork Approved, one of the first electronic albums made so during the net-‘zine's early years? Might it be the perfect timing of this LP's release, capturing the attention of an ageing raving demographic that found itself wistfully longing for the innocence of their youth? Will this paragraph have at least one sentence that isn't in the form of a question?

The answer to all but the last of these is “yes”. In a broader sense, Music Has The Right To Children was one of the few electronic albums of the ‘90s that had wide appeal no matter your background, surprising many with its charming tone. Just take an impossibly geeky style of electronic music like ‘70s analog synth work, and pair it with an impossibly cool style of electronic music, in this case trip-hop. It’s such a simple idea, one wonders why no one thought of it before Boards Of Canada. Who could have guessed that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Ninja Tune getting sexed up was something folks longed for.

Much has been said about the nostalgic nature of Musically Right-Handed Children, many theories out there why this album touches folks the way it does. The playful bounce of Roygbiv and quirky sampling of Aquarius certainly plays a part in recalling those days of childlike whimsy, yet as we age, a warped sense of cynicism creeps in too. The off-kilter “love”s in The Color Of The Fire, disconcerting synth tones of Sixtyten, or rhythmically-chopped vocals of Telephasic Workshop suggest the world we grew up in wasn’t so perfect after all.

Still, it’s all theory, and for all we know, Boards Of Canada just enjoy toying with different emotions in their music. Ultimately, what wormed its way into the minds and hearts of countless fans were simple, catchy moments. The aforementioned Aquarius is a perfect example, no one able to mention BoC and the word “orange” without saying it in the goofy way that it does in that track. This album’s filled with such quirks, often tucked away in brief sonic doodles throughout. I’d wager the duo’s at their best when they focus less on song craft and simply indulge themselves, but the few fully-formed tracks they do provide remains some of their most enduring work.

Music Has The Right To Children has one drawback though: those trip-hop rhythms. They sounded great in the late ‘90s, but over a decade of glitch rhythms since, I’m not sure newer audiences would dig them quite so much. Then again, the synths Boards Of Canada use sound older than time itself, and that’s never stopped folks from enjoying this album.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nobuo Uematsu - Music From FFV And FFVI Video Games

Squaresoft: 1999

Not the dorkiest thing I have in my music collection, but this definitely has to be up there. I wouldn't even call this CD a part of my proper library; rather, it was a bonus disc in the PS1 release of Final Fantasy: Anthology. When I heard Squaresoft was bringing its past games to the Sony gaming system, I was elated. Final Fantasy III/VI had already brought incredible RPG moments during my all-too brief period of Super Nintendo enjoyment, and though I still had the original cart (even to this day, including packaging, booklets, and maps – make me an offer, collectors!), I'd long since given my SNES away. Having FFVI on a then-current system was a great chance to replay the game (I lacked a computer capable of playing emulators), plus us folks in the Americanas would finally get a proper port of Final Fantasy V. Sweet deal, right?

Eh, not as I'd hoped. Something I never considered – and maybe even Squaresoft overlooked – were the laggy loading times PS1 games suffered from. It didn't happen often, but anytime a pile of sprites ran across the screen (oh hi, Quasar Lore), the audio wouldn't load as fast. Meanwhile, FFV was disappointing, a seemingly rushed affair with overstuffed options and minuscule plot. I beat it once in one of the easiest final boss fights I’ve ever encountered in an RPG, defeating the giant space-tree with only one character spamming the Jump command and blocking everything with the Aegis equipment. I understand Squaresoft was more focused on producing FFVI at the time, and essentially rushed FFV out into the market, but that still-

What? Oh, sorry, got carried away there - this isn’t a gaming blog. Then again, giving a quick overview of the games within FF: Anthology helps explain this bonus CD’s oddities. Nobuo Uematsu’s work for FFVI was some of his best, the compositions he squeezed out of the Nintendo S-SMP nothing short of astounding, pushing the 16-bit soundcard to ridiculous levels of awesome (that echo and reverb!). The original score took up three CDs, so in making use of but a quarter of that material for FF: Anthology, careful consideration of track selection was... Nah, screw that. Here’s a bunch of wildly disparate music instead.

Only two character themes make it here: Terra and Mog. Out of a cast of fourteen, that’s it? Terra’s an obvious one, sure, but Mog? Mog!? Some of the other selections are definitely classic – the Phantom Forest music, Dark World, Wild West, Epitaph - but I doubt folks would take Johnny C Slam Spinach Shuffle Rag over Forever Rachel or anything Opera House related. I suspect the selected pieces are meant to show off Uematsu’s diversity rather than placate with fan favourites, but it still leaves this CD lacking in notable selling points.

As for the few FFV selections, they’re okay, though sound rather Nobuo Generic, if that’s any way to describe music. I’m sure Final Fantasy followers will know what I mean.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Prodigy - Music For The Jilted Generation

XL Recordings: 1994

Probably the most successful reboot of a musical act ever accomplished, at least within the world of electronic music. Several have tried re-invention or adopted alternate aliases to explore other genres, but The Prodigy's flip from chart-topping happy rave hardcore act to credible guardians of the underground party is nothing short of remarkable. Just a couple years prior, everyone associated them with fun goofball hits like Charly and Out Of Space. Then, seemingly overnight, they're confronting you with punk attitudes and music to match. The Prodigy never lost their hardcore, they snatched it back from those who'd turned it into a joke.

What’s amazing about Music For The Jilted Generation is, while clearly a ‘90s album, it somehow exists out of time too. You throw on Experience, and you instantly know it’s of the early ‘90s hardcore scene. Fat Of The Land is undeniably part of big beat’s major market push, and anything released post-Millennium sounds exactly like that. The music on this album, however, didn’t have a scene to itself, and never would because no one tried emulating Jilted Generation - with any success anyway.

I suppose you could mark some tunes like Their Law and Poison as proto-big-beat, but what of the other tracks? Liam Howlett’s still using high-energy breakbeats, but rather than coupling them with rolling pianos and chipmunk vocals, you get synths that snarl, guitars that thrash, and rhythms that’ll have you moshing just as much as flailing. Plus, Jilted Generation’s pacing is impeccable, great memorable tunes like Break & Enter and Voodoo People interspersed perfectly with uptempo filler techno. Believe me, I use the word ‘filler’ as a good thing here, Full Throttle, Speedway and The Heat (The Energy) the simplistic musical ebbs that propel No Good and Poison into the standouts they are within Jilted. It was bloody rare in ’94 for a ‘techno-rave’ album showing such consideration to tracklisting.

Then there’s the Narcotic Suite at the end, a thematic run of the ups and downs of drug indulgences. If, following the rest of Jilted Generation, there were still doubts that ol’ Liam was just a one-trick production pony, this trilogy firmly proved otherwise. The evening starts chill and relaxed with acid jazz vibes of 3 Kilos, then we’re flying high into blissy energy with Skylined. Oh dear, we took too much, feeling that Claustophobic Sting, twisted acid and sketchy paranoia setting in as “my mind is going”. Where the fuck is that sinister laughter coming from! When folks bemoan The Prodigy just aren’t as good as they used to be, the Narcotic Suite is always one such example why, Howlett never recreating something of this nature since.

The same can be said for Jilted Generation as a whole, the album a clear bridge from where The Prodigy started to the next stage of their act. It could have resulted in a messy, hodge-podge LP of uncertain genre tests. Instead, it’s some of the best work of their career.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Beto Narme - Multiple Choice

Sublime Porte Netlabel: 2010

I have no recollection of how a digi-EP from an Istanbul net label found its way into my possession. As it's a 2010 release, I suspect it was part of some MP3 promo-pool I briefly subscribed to, but I've nothing else from Sublime Porte, which makes having this stranger still. If an MP3 promo was good enough for me to keep that year, I usually kept an eye on the label too, hoping another EP might get released that could knock me out of my then writing stupor. Maybe Sublime Porte simply lost its promotional power, unable to penetrate an overcrowded digital market. After all, who'd ever be interested in dubstep from Turkey?

If Multiple Choice is anything to go by, they should be. Right, it's impossible gauging a whole scene of an entire country based on four tracks from one label, but we gotta start somewhere. Plus, Sublime Porte’s still in operation, even recently taken a tentative step into the realm of limited-run CDr. They must be doing something right with their dub ambient techno dronestep if they’re still around, even though Lord Discogs tells me they don’t have a consistent roster. Even this Beto Narme, or Tufan Demir to the Istanbul legislate, has but this one four-year old EP to his name, though a smattering of remixes too. His Discogian bio is almost certainly out-of-date then, suggesting this was an “ever-growing dubstep project”. Maybe he got a high-paying job as that sound engineer he was striving for.

What held my interest with Multiple Choice was how, for an EP promoted as dubstep, it sounded very little like dubstep. Rather, Mr. Demir shows he’s definitely a student of Detroit and dub techno’s never-ending influence. Aside from occasional drags of the low end, Cellophane Dub is straight-up funky dub techno, including a breakbeat that’d have Carl Craig nodding approvingly. Elsewhere, Outranked Spectacles and Figment Dots gets closer to the half-step beat we’re all familiar with, but we’re still firmly floating in dub techno’s spacious waters. And warm waters they be, not those frigid, sterile bays other Detroit-inspired dubsteppers so loved to frequent. Beto Narme can’t help himself though, getting sucked into the lands of ‘wub’ on last cut Simmer Down. It’s a fine tune when you hear the vintage reggae vibes, I could just do without the requisite Rusko modulations every dubstep producer threw in during those days.

I have an almost inescapable bias against most forms of dubstep, subconsciously preparing myself for a given track will letting me down by indulging in nonsensical, erratic drops. Aside from the aforementioned brief bit in Simmer Down, that moment never came on Multiple Choice, and I could enjoy all the polyrhythms without worry (dear God, I know different forms of dubstep). Yeah yeah, I know there’s tons of dubstep – sorry, post-dubstep (future garage?) like that out there. With so many netlabels pushing the stuff though, how does one even begin to filter it all out? Maybe start with this Turkish label?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Various - Moving Shadow 99.2

Moving Shadow: 1999

The best way to gauge a label’s swagger is by the number of sub-labels it’s running. Moving Shadow had a few when it started out in the early ‘90s, though most went by the wayside as the old-school hardcore scene faded. By the late ‘90s though, they’d found their mojo again, and set-up Audio Couture on the side. Best as I can tell, it handled their ‘proper’ underground stuff here – tech-dark-steppy-step, or something. It only lasted a couple years before Moving Shadow consolidated its resources again, but it was enough to re-double the label’s presence within the d’n’b scene at large. (side note: sub-labels are also telling of a label on the downward slope if focus is on an entirely different scene, as M.S. did with breaks ‘n’ house pusher Shadow Cryptic; that didn’t go as well)

Thus when Moving Shadow released 99.2, it featured ample material from Audio Couture as a means of additional promotion. I honestly can’t recall how far apart this and 99.1 were released from each other, but it couldn’t have been that much time considering they both feature the same CD-ROM material from Rockstar Games. Ooh! Grand Theft Auto 2! I have that game, though never got further than the second city. Such shit driving mechanics. There’s also Thrasher: Skate And Destroy on here, also known as “Not Tony Hawk”.

Timecode’s CD1 mix doesn’t waste time with acid jazz pleasantries or smooth jazzstep funkiness, picking things up right where 99.1 left off, literally so. 99.1 finished with AK1200 & Danny Break’s novelty ‘smutstep’ cut Deep Porn, and here’s that starlet going on about how “you’re so nasty” right at the start of 99.2. It’s only for five seconds though, and we don’t hear the track again until the very end of this mix. So, wait, is 99.2 a direct continuation of 99.1, or is this CD supposed to repeat itself into a continual loop? I’m confused.

The real first track is Dom & Roland’s remix of Renegade’s Terrorist. Yep, darkstep to kick off, and save a detour into jazzstep’s realm in the middle (gotta get in those E-Z Rollers tracks), this mix is balls to the junglist walls throughout. 99.1 wasn’t the greatest drum ‘n’ bass mix out there, but it at least had a solid arc to it. 99.2 doesn’t let up, which is fine for the floor but wearisome in this context.

Better is the bonus mix on CD2, featuring Omni Trio. It’s only twenty-one minutes long, so just a taste of Mr. Haigh’s smooth, atmospheric sound, but definitely more enjoyable than what goes down on CD1. Okay, fine, there’s a few good tunes in Timecode’s set too: Dom & Roland’s Can’t Punish Me and Aquasky’s Bodyshock come to mind. If I’m reaching for a full-on darkstep rinse-out though, I’ll sooner grab a Dieselboy mix than a Moving Shadow sampler. I suspect the label figured that out too, subsequent Moving Shadow sampler mixes offering stronger diversity than what 99.2 gives us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Various - Moving Shadow 99.1

Moving Shadow: 1999

The late ‘90s were easily Moving Shadow’s peak years. The home of E-Z Rollers, Omni Trio, Dom & Roland, Flytronix, and Technical Itch, the label provided a full range of credible drum ‘n’ bass tools any self-respecting junglist of the time needed having. And not to be outdone by the majors, good ol’ M.S. even got licensing deals for their roster, especially so for the growing video game market.

If by some chance you still didn’t know about Moving Shadow, sitting snuggly on your local music shop shelves were these bi-yearly sampler discs. For pocket change, you’d get DJ mixes handled by Moving Shadow honcho Timecode (Rob Playford), plus a bundle of CD-ROM material. Though the CD-ROM stuff went by the wayside once internet promotion became the norm, the Moving Shadow samplers kept rolling out for a good while longer even as the label’s influence waned in the following decade.

With 99.1, we’re definitely capturing them at their prime. The main disc presents a solid assortment of jungle genres for the time, plus a little acid jazz business from Flytronix and Omni Trio to kick things off. It’s never a bad thing to show musical diversity in a set, and such smooth vibes mix nicely if you follow it up with jazzstep business. The actually mixing’s not the best though, some transitions held too long, others rushed and clashing. Still, it’s forgivable since we’re dealing with a sampler mix of a single label. Boy, do I ever forgive DJs that self-impose restrictions on themselves, huh.

A brief moment of sci-fi sounds from Omni Trio bridges the early jazz tunes into a furious finish of darkstep roughness for the final half. Quite a bit’s been written how darkstep set the jungle scene off on an aggressive, uninviting road that took years to recover from, but how was anyone to know it during these early days of the sub-genre? Calyx’ Acid Blues, Teebee’s Instant Irradicfication, and Dom & Roland’s Killa Bullet all sounded fresh and exciting as the ‘90s came to a close, and their power hasn’t faltered since. Speaking of power, Technical Itch’s brilliant acid workout Reborn and tech-step beast LED show up here, though are mashed with their surrounding tunes so much, I’d just rather grab Diagnostics for another spin again. Huh, I guess the ‘sampler advertising’ works.

CD2 features a mini-mix of E-Z Rollers material, the biggest stars on Moving Shadow at the time. Eh… okay, maybe because Tough At The Top was ridiculously played out in my neck of the woods, but I could never get into these guys. They had some decent variety, but it seemed everyone just wanted to hear their take on jazzstep, which struck me as Roni Size music for the Aphrodite crowd. Whatever. I’m sure I’d dig their material if I dug into it beyond Weekend World.

As for 99.1, it’s worth a glance in whatever used shop you find it sitting in, but better mixes of this music lie elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Solar Fields - Movements (Original TC Review)

Ultimae Records: 2009

(2014 Update:
I went on a bit about ratings systems and the curves by which music gets graded upon, my attempt at justifying why I scored
Movements a 'mere' 8/10 for TranceCritic. Of course, my lack of ratings here renders such thoughts moot, and was honestly not worth the words spent typing it up anyway. While some readers may be curious why critics rate things the way they do, there's no ironclad rule behind it, most just going with gut feelings at the time they have to write their review up. If anything, it adds pointless content as a writer is distracted and even forced into validating why they settled on that particular score, and not something a smidge higher or lower. These days, I find it better just talking about the music at hand, how it came to be, and its lasting influences. The relative quality of a release should come through within the words themselves, no fallback on a hard rating required.

That said, I definitely under-rated
Movements. Truth is I was still treading the shores of Ultimae's catalog, and having already been blown away by their output, I subconsciously thought they'd always hit the amazing highs that initially lured me in. Turns out they're human after all, but hey, I've yet to encounter anything from them that's 'just okay' either. This one, though, definitely comes with high recommendation, even half-a-decade on.)


IN BRIEF: Caravan of emotions.

The trouble with being so consistently good at what you do is that the level of expectation only ever goes up. Musicians in particular are held to this impossible barometer, which is frankly ridiculous - creativity can ebb just as much any athlete’s skill, though if one’s passion remains strong, that at least comes through in music. Still, such lofty expectations placed by fans on musicians and their record labels can be detrimental in the long run.

This really wasn’t the fault of Ultimae Records. When a record label seems to only go from strength to strength for half a decade, it will eventually hit that plateau of expectation, after which anything that doesn’t meet them seems inferior to which came before. Make no mistake, 2008 was still a strong year for Ultimae, just… not as impressive as the years prior.

Perhaps it was merely a brief lull for them, as they seemed more intent on promoting fresher talent like Hol Baumann and James Murray that year. For 2009, however, all the label’s big guns have stepped up: Aes Dana, H.U.V.A. Network, and, of course, Solar Fields (Magnus Birgersson), with word on the chill streets now being Ultimae is back in full force. Does this Solar Fields album -Movements- confirm this?

Well, the album is good - there was almost no doubt it wouldn’t be. Yet, compared to prior releases on Ultimae, Movements doesn’t quite reach the same peak. In fact, aside from a few instances, we’re treading familiar paths. Solar Fields paths, Ultimae paths, heck even downtempo paths. This is not a bad thing, just an apparent thing, and drags the score slightly down. After all, music does not exist in a vacuum; it’s continuously graded on a quality curve, and Ultimae artists have been held to an incredibly high curve, of which Movements doesn’t always hit.

More than that, however, is the flow of this album is somewhat… off. Most good albums follow a build-peak-valley-build-climax formula, but Movements is more like climax-valley-climax-valley-climax; in other words, the highs are incredibly high, such that whatever transpires in the interim comes off less compelling. Opener Sol is wonderful - simply beautiful to hear and easily one of the best songs I’ve heard start an album this year - but follow-up Circles Of Motion sounds like an extended ambient interlude. It’s nice enough but a major downturn coming off of Sol, as there’s nothing in the song to match it soon after. Going into mellow territory is fine, just perhaps not in such an abrupt way.

When I say there are numerous climaxes to Movements, I’m not kidding around. On my initial plays, I thought the album was coming to an end no less than three times. Sky Trees, Das Bungalow, and The Road To Nothingness are all riveting songs, any of which being the sort of production most would save for their big finale; yet, here’s Birgersson giving us three of them. It was disconcerting to hear Sky Trees the first couple times, as it felt way too soon for the finish of an album. Das Bungalow, on the other hand, seemed more logically placed, though still early considering Birgersson uses the full 80 minutes of the CD. And even Road To Nothingness was strong enough to fool me into thinking it was the final track, when lo-and-behold, there was still another to follow. Granted, once you’ve listened to Movements a few times over, you’ll get used to having these peaks spread out, but be prepared to be thrown off-guard for a little while.

There are other assorted sonic goodies scattered about too. Breeze makes for a tranquil finale-proper, easing us out with gentle meditative tones. The Stones Are Not Too Busy, as the cutesy title suggests, is a lightweight romp the more cynical lot of you out there will probably figure a bit overly twee. If so, the moody ambient soundscapes provided by the likes of Dust or Patterns should be more up your alley. As for the rest, well, I’ll let you discover them for yourself. No sense in me spoiling everything, right?

After all, my job here is to let you know whether Movements comes recommended or not. Short answer is yes, definitely. However, the long answer is if you are expecting Solar Fields to have provided yet another all-time Ultimae classic, your results may vary. The label has released better, of that there is no doubt. I’m not even sure if Movements is the best starting point for the uninitiated since Birgersson’s project has plenty more to offer than chill-out bliss; not to mention this is but a sliver of what you can expect of Ultimae. Beyond that though, you’ll find this album a welcome companion to your chill archives.

Inspectah Deck - The Movement

Koch Records: 2003

As a point man in the Wu-Tang Clan, Inspectah Deck is without equal, many all-time classic cuts featuring him leading the lyrical charge. When doing guest verses, Rebel INS can often steal the show, and I wonder the only reason he doesn’t is because he’s just classy that way. As a solo artist, Mr. J.K. Hunter is, ah… not as good. Maybe it’s not so surprising, as this trend's been the solo-Wu narrative since seemingly forever; or at least Wu-Tang Forever. It’s also an unfair narrative, one blinded by the brilliance of the Clan’s first half-decade of work and near-impossible expectations put upon the ensuing years. Some still meet those lofty peaks (oh hi, Ghostface), while others, not so much (um, yo, Method Man).

Inspectah Deck always seems stuck in the middle that mountain, albums that never outright suck but lacking in the highlights that’s defined the best of his peers. I’ve only gathered up three of his four LPs, so I can’t say this holds true with Manifesto, but seeing how his first three disappointed when they first came out, I can’t say I’m in a hurry to get that one. Of those first three, they’re different beasts to tackle, so let’s get going on Rebel INS’ sophomore album, The Movement.

First, context. The year was 2003 and hip-hop had basically buried the beefs and gone about promoting itself as a culture only concerned with attaining bling status - the Jay-Z-slash-50 Cent fallout, if you will. While some rappers had no problem remaining street or conscious, nearly everyone was obligated at providing club bangers on their LPs. Okay, fine, the Wu’s had a few hits in this regard, and- well, no. I like beats that bang, for sure, but what Deck offers here comes off as lip service. Going on about Shorty Right There with Street Life, or Bumpin And Grindin… ugh, INS, you’re better than that. Much better.

Okay, the good shit. Proving he’s lyrically above and beyond his peers is always mint, and we get a few tunes of that type. Stories of hustling and taking hip-hop back to the proper streets? Yeah, there’s a bunch of that. Not much else, to be honest, but that’s fine, since these are topics Deck’s always been ace at. Unfortunately, while Deck doesn’t falter with his verses, some choruses are just pants. That Shit and Get Right are two of the worst (that’s not the aforementioned club junk), and unfortunately come early in the album, never a good way of holding an already suspicious listener base suspecting another disappointing Wu effort.

Get past that though, and you’ll find plenty of New York funk and soul loops to enjoy, and lyricism to match. If The Movement can be faulted for anything, it’s a few too many tracks and wonky pacing (Vendetta is a perfect closer, yet is nowhere near the end). This is an album that’s good enough from Deck, but it still wasn’t the awesome fans kept hoping for.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Movement - The Movement (Original TC Review)

Arista: 1992

(2014 Update:
When I wrote this, the notion of 'step' as a jokey descriptor was long thought dead, a relic of '90s drum 'n' bass genre splintering. Then dubstep started getting popular, and soon we saw 'step' for any damn variation of music adding a half-step beat. Chillstep, brostep, trancestep, psystep, popstep, drumstep, whalestep, and so on. I wonder if anyone is bold enough to try hipnostep.

This review was fun to write, though filled with a ton of awful grammar, some of which I've cleaned up for this posting. I think it captures the guiltless giddiness one can still experience when listening to old school rave music, no matter how absurd some of it came off.
Jump! remains good stupid fun in a way that's rare in today's stupid-fun music. You're damn straight I'm wearing Nostalgia Headphones for this!)


IN BRIEF: Aaaaaarrrrreeee yyoooooooouuuuuuu reeeeaaaaaaadddddyyyyy!!??

You gotta love the cheekiness of some groups. Hardly content at being lumped into the same category of rave hardcore tearing up parties across the Atlantic, Los Angeles based act The Movement came forth with their own style. Comprised of the blistering beats and hoover-rific hooks of Belgian raves, and adding hip-hop influences from rhythms to MCing, this brand new form of techno would burst forth from the southern California scene as they promoted their own brand of L.A. P.L.U.R. And this new revolutionary genre’s name? Hipno!

Yes, you read that right. Hipno. Never heard of it? If so, don’t feel bad; you’re not alone in the confusion.

Hipno. It’s the kind of name folks bullshitting stupid genre names would come up with: like braindance, or progressive dub, or boomcore, or bassline-house, or speed speedcore, or chicstep, or indie techno, or vocal trance, or ‘rocktronica’, or no-step ambientcore, or hip-hop tripstep fallcore, or progressive stepcore, or anything with ‘progressive’, ‘step’, or ‘core’, or... well, you get the idea.

Yet, The Movement were so proud of their clever new genre name, they went and had it trademarked on their label, Sunshine Entertainment Corp. Yes, you read that right too. Trademarked! How, exactly, do you trademark a genre name?

Ah, it doesn’t matter. What does is whether The Movement’s sound was worth trademarking a name for it. In a nutshell, this is hipno: one part 2 Unlimited knock-off; one part ragga MCing ; one part hip-hop beat interludes; mixed in the L.A. rave scene’s jovial attitude.

And you know what? It actually works!

Lead track Jump! makes no bones about what it aims to do. The intro rhythms warm you up, then break down to let Hazze (the MC) give you a countdown. “5... 4... 3... You know the rest!” Then, boom! You’re right into the thick of it with thumping beats, shout-a-long “jump everybody jump”s, and vintage old school rave synths. While the riffs may sound stuck in 1992, the rhythms for Jump! still carry incredible weight to them even today. Eventually, the song calms down, hip-hop beats boppin’ about before picking the pace up again, head ing out for a big finish. Man, but is this track ever a lot of-

Eh? What’s that? Oh, I have them on right now? Sorry about that.

*Removes Nostalgia Headphones*

Okay, Jump! is fun, but that enjoyment is based on pure novelty: listen to it once in a sitting, get a silly grin on your face, go with the flow, and move on. Problem is, The Movement don’t. While some acts can milk a simple formula for an album’s worth of material, The Movement clearly lack that level of aptitude, and you quickly realize they’re a one-trick pony.

Aside from the ragga-influenced Tell Tú Mama (another fun track, true, but rather by the book), every other original track (and there’s only three) follows the exact same pattern as Jump!. Same beats, same MCing, same synths, hell even some of the same riffs! The only thing that really changes much is the topic of the track: instead of jumping, Shake That — encourages you to shake your ass; Don’t O.D. gives a quaint warning against overdosing on drugs, which I’m sure made BMG happier about signing a rave act; B.I.N.G.O.... um, you remember the song with the dog, right? There’s bits of charm at some points (I’m still a sucker for the ‘aah’ pads in Don’t O.D., even without Nostalgia Headphones) but equally annoying things too. Let’s just say I wasn’t sad to see whistles fall out of popular favor in rave music.

So, what about all those mixes in the second half of the album? Do they tamper with the formula much? Not really, as all but one are done by The Movement anyway. The Funky Hipno Remix of Jump! relies the hip-hop beats rather pumping rave ones, and the Tribal Mix of B.I.N.G.O. settles for brisk, unremarkable rhythms. The other two may as well be extended mixes.

The one non-Movement remix comes of something of a surprise when you look at the production credits: Holographic Jump! is a remix by none other than Jam el Mar. And, while not the most brilliant remix Jam’s ever done, it’s certainly a nice change of sound on the release. Sure enough, he does the old school trance thing with Jump!, as loops layer over each other with spacey pads and simple rhythms. Sounding more like a Dance 2 Trance production than a Jam & Spoon one, the main riff he uses is quite raw, but then what hasn’t on here?

In the end, hipno died before it ever got off the ground, after which The Movement went onto other things, some with better success (Richard “Humpty” Vission has had a decent run as a house DJ since). Because this ‘revolutionary’ genre is hardly revolutionary at all, this album isn’t even worth picking up as a historical artifact of failed genres: it bears far too much similarity to regular old school rave music to be treated as anything but.

However, there is still some fun to be had with this. The lead single Jump! was probably one of the better hits of this kind of music, and although there isn’t much else to be had here, the unapologetic silliness of some of these tracks is good for a laugh if you’re just chilling out with friends. If you ever see this in a bargain bin or used shop, and can’t get enough of that old school sound, you could do worse.

(Special thanks to the folks at Discogs for some of those genre names)

Various - Motion 2: A Six Degrees Dance Collection

Six Degrees Records: 2002

This alphabetical stipulation is a burden sometimes. Its fine when I enter a CD series that has some prestige behind it - Global Underground, Fabric, Fahrenheit Project (!) - but what of the obscure ones? I can't imagine folks were waiting with bated breath as I went through four volumes of Elemental Chill last year, and Lord knows I was running on fumes by the end of but two mega-volumes of Goa Trance: Psychedelic Flashbacks. Now we have Motion where despite containing another round of classy tracks, is likely destined to languish in the back corners of this blog once disappearing from front page rotation.

Trouble is there's so little to talk about these CDs beyond the nuts and bolts review fodder. I'm not versed enough in Six Degrees that I can provide a grand perspective on Motion 2's standing with the rest of the label, much less proper world beat at large (dear Lord, those New Sounds Of Brazil CDs look scary). And while I hope whatever readership I gain is open-minded enough about this music to not dismiss it out of hand, I suspect this is entirely too niche for all but the truly musically adventurous out there. Perhaps Six Degrees realized this, hence one of their ongoing slogans being “Everything Is Closer Than You Think”, hoping an occasional curious listenership found unsuspecting kinship with arts and culture seemingly so wildly distant.

That said, Six Degrees Records probably overshot their estimation of how many folks out there were gonna' dig their stylee. Motion only lasted two volumes, the remix culture none too interested in dance floor weapons from a deep world beat label. Heck, I only picked this one up out of a sense of completion when I saw it sitting in a used shop. Oh, alright, I also wanted a proper copy of that Jack Dangers Mix of Banco de Gaia’s How Much Reality Can You Take?. Don’t look at me like that, this remix is some skilled big beat action!

The rest of Motion 2 features more mint examples of house and breaks, though isn’t as dynamic as the first one. Good example is another remix of Bob Holroyd’s Drumming Up A Storm, this time handled by Bob himself. His go treads blissy nu-jazz vibes, which is fine for this sort of thing, but compared to the exhilarating tribal workout of Romanthony’s remix, it’s just not as fun. Of familiar names recognizable by even the most layman of clubbers, Chicago house don Ron Trent indulges himself in some Latin shuffle in Batidos’ Tengo Sed, and Josh Wink does the minimal techno thing on Tweaker’s Linoleum (the good kind!).

There’s more, but I sadly suspect my words would fall on dead eyes. Names like Faze Action, Q-Burns Abstract Message, and 95 North do command respect within their respective scenes, but something tells me their fans aren’t about to scope out a Six Degrees Records compilation with names like Euphoria, Hawke, and Monica Ramos on it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Various - Motion: A Six Degrees Dance Collection

Six Degrees Records: 2001

I'd probably have never given Six Degrees Records much thought if Toby Marks hadn't joined them for State-side distribution. When I dug a bit further into Six Degrees' manifesto, however, I found the cut of their jib most intriguing. Electronic dance music fused with world beats and culturally-inclined jazz-folk; yet of a classier, underground sort, not that cheesy New Age stuff Deep Forest inspired. As it turned out, Six Degrees lured in plenty of significant names of this scene (Karsh Kale, State Of Bengal, Cheb I Sabbah, etc.), plus a number of breaks and house outliers who had similar interests (DJ Cam, King Britt, DJ Spooky).

To accommodate their growing roster and interests of dance music, Six Degrees started a few compilation series for promotion. Traveller was their main one with a focus on label exclusives, but as any good label knows, you need that remix series too. Enter Motion.

I better admit here that I’ve only gone ankle-deep into the Six Degrees waters. Maybe it was the shock of Cheb I Sabbah’s La Kahena’s pure traditionalism, as this is a label you don’t beat around the bush with. If you’re a house or breaks enthusiast, some acts are familiar enough in style that a few releases would sit nicely with well known names. Below that surface though, chances are you’ll continually be confounded by forms of world music you did not know exist, much less find the time to explore all their nuances. I’m sure there’s much rich diversity to discover with Six Degrees, but I simply haven’t dedicated any time towards doing so, content with Banco de Gaia’s content and whatever associated music he happens to drag along with.

Speaking of, here’s Motion, about as friendly an introduction to the label as any house head could hope for. A couple names should already be familiar to those well-versed in that scene, including Sylk 130 (a King Britt alias) and dZihan & Kamien. Some may remember the duo who were part of the early ‘00s resurgence of European flavoured deep house, yet weren’t of Nordic descent; instead, they lent an Eastern bit of flair to their sound, and thus were quite chummy with Kruder & Dorfmeister sorts. dZ&K also get the lone non-remixed tune on Motion, the exclusive B Movie which is all kinds of groovy shuffle and floaty bliss. Elesewhere, DJ Cam re-rubs his own DJ Cam Soundsystem into a disco dubby cut that DJ Sneak would nod approvingly for.

In the back end of Motion, things go more prog-house with The Light and PFN’s remix of Banco de Gaia’s Obsidian, while harpist Monica Ramos has her upbeat Ocean re-arranged for Balearic DJs, and Garry Hughes almost goes proper psy-dub with his take on Euphoria’s Delirium (no, not Delerium’s Euphoria - that’s something else).

Despite this CD’s age (geez, a decade-plus!), it remains a solid collection of Six Degrees sounds and an easy primer. Or a good collection of ethnically-tinged house music. Your choice.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Various - Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

TVT Records: 1997

The movie Mortal Kombat: Annihilation represented everything that sucked about being a teenager in the '90s: utter ruination of a popular franchise, clueless pandering with pointless character cameos, over-reliance of shit CGI, crap plotting, no campy charm, and generally just poo. It showcased how little corporate executives thought of the demographic, figuring we'd eat up any ol' slop. Okay, they were right on most occasions, but after the surprise quality of the first Mortal Kombat movie, we expected better. Man, fuck this movie.

Speaking of failures, let's talk about the soundtrack. Something feels totally off about Annihilation compared to the first, as though TVT Records were unwillingly sucked into the 'electronica' hype machine and forced to accommodate the rising bankable genre going forward. For a label known primarily for industrial rock, shoving in a pile of one-off breaks acts must have been frustrating for them. Or maybe not, and they truly were gung-ho about this turn.

Thing about the first soundtrack is it didn’t even come off like a soundtrack; rather, a mixtape from TVT staff, giving equal share and exposure to thrashy techno, industrial, and metal (plus a few original pieces from George S. Clinton). Annihilation, in contrast, is almost all ‘electronica’ of some form. KMFDM at least get a return spot, and I’m sure plenty were properly introduced to Rammstein by way of their classic Engel (for those who weren’t, Du Hast was just around the corner!). Elsewhere, industrial gets a spit more of attention with one-off act Urban Voodoo, and that’s it for the genre. Metal? Hah, don’t make me laugh. Megadeth’s Almost Honest is turned into a Spawn clone via Danny Saber, and that’s it – unless you count the thrashy guitars in Scooter’s Fire as metal, since that’s about as close as anything else gets to the genre on here. Yeah, I don’t think so.

It’s essentially generic ‘action-movie’ big beat making up the remaining two-thirds of Annihilation, surprisingly none produced by Junkie XL. Remember how Mortal Kombat had distinctive songs that perfectly fit with the scenes and characters? Forget that nonsense in Annihilation. Perfect example is the use of FSOL’s We Have Explosive, horribly shoe-horned in a lame fight between Lui Kang and Baraka, for barely thirty seconds! But hey, they got the rights to use it, so better shove it in somewhere. Think about it: Annihilation made the f’n FSOL sound pointless and inconsequential. Man, fuck this movie.

Just as a collection of tunes, then, does this CD hold up? Without the movie association or comparison with the first CD, only barely, and thanks largely in part to the inclusion of some choice material from those already mentioned (plus Psykosonik, Juno Reactor, Cirrus, and Lunatic Calm). Keep in mind though, the music’s so late ‘90s sounding, you can practically see the wire-fu action sequences as they play out. The good tunes can be found elsewhere, and the lesser cuts are forgotten by the end of a play-through. Annihilation’s pathetic legacy, as it were.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Various - Mortal Kombat

TVT Records: 1995

The movie Mortal Kombat represented everything awesome about being a teenager in the ‘90s. Based on the classic fighter that pissed off no end of mothers and sold a ton of Sega Genesis (“we got blood, yo!”), a film was inevitable despite a jaded gaming culture untrusting of such things. Yet against the odds, Mortal Kombat delivered about as good a movie as the demographic could have hoped (re: campy fun; didn’t outright suck). The original score was composed by long-time Warner studio hand George S. Clinton (who also went on to do the Austin Powersmovies), while several songs were licensed by TVT Records to give the movie that proper Gen-X feel. And hoo, what a soundtrack it is!

Mortal Kombat’s well regarded in how it exposed many to electronic music, despite techno making up barely one-third of the track list. TVT though, they had a few signed acts too, including many industrial groups. KMFDM’s biggest hit, Juke-Joint Jezebel, is featured in the opening couple cuts, leading right into ‘techno jihadists’ Psykosonik and Juno Reactor- whoops, I mean Traci Lords. If any metal-leaning teen felt ‘techno’ was “gay-ass shit”, Control’s a track that had them reconsidering, slamming beats and thrashing riffs galore. Additional industrial rock acts like Sister Machine Gun and Bile didn’t hurt in further cementing that connection. Also, this was the first soundtrack Orbital’s Halcyon + On + On was featured, beating Hackers by a month.

Then there’s the metal. Fear Factory’s Zero Signal was the standout of the bunch, mostly from acting as the backing score to Johnny Cage and Scorpion’s match (arguably the best scene of the whole movie). There’re old hands like G//Z/R (such grinding guitars!) and Napalm Death, and newer acts like Type O Negative and short-lived Mutha’s Day Out. A solid assortment of music for the metalheads, then, and an incredible eye-opener of the genre’s potential for the sorts who never gave it a chance before (*cough*).

And what discussion about the music of Mortal Kombat is complete without bringing up The Immortals? I’m certain Virgin only had a quick cash-in on mind when they approached Oliver Adams and Praga Khan for a techno album based on the game. It’s a testament to their skill, then, that what resulted not only became a surprise hit, but has endured as the definitive Mortal Kombat theme in all its incarnations. Techno Syndrome may be utilizing classic Belgian techno tropes to the nth degree, but it’s done so expertly, there’s not a Kombat soul alive that can resist its potent appeal. Heck, even the covers that emerged since, including the Utah Saints’ go at it on here, pales to the Immortals original.

Mortal Kombat wasn’t the first soundtrack at bringing metal, industrial, and techno together (Cool World has that honor, I believe), but definitely proved it could be commercially successful in doing so. Spawn, The Matrix, and many more ‘90s action movies followed its lead, an impressive legacy for something everyone was certain would fail.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Coldcut - More Beats + Pieces (2014 Update)

Ninja Tune: 1997

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review and DJ Mag rant.)


Oh, that ‘review’. I almost feel obligated making a 2014 Update about the status of the DJ Mag poll over anything Coldcut related. But no, that’s not what these updates are about. They’re re-examinations of releases years from when I first reviewed them: how they’ve held up, whether a trend they were a part of is still relevant, and adding new thoughts and ideas about the music given the benefit of gained knowledge and wisdom. Also, if the original review was shite, I can make amends with a better one! So no, I will not be going on another DJ Mag tirade in this update. That settled, let’s see what’s new about Coldcut’s More Beats + Pieces EP, what tidbits of info I’ve gleaned all these years later.

Um… well… Let’s see, there’s… Oh, did you know there was a live version of More Beats + Pieces that’s even better than the one on here? Wait, you do know that? Ah, right, Masters Of 1 & 2. Then how about that… thing about… the stuff regarding Coldcut where, uh, you know, did things. Alright, there’s nothing worth adding to a fifteen year old EP that I hadn’t already exhaustively covered. And no, I’m still not listing all the samples. It’d ruin your trainspotting fun.

DJ Mag, then? Fine, DJ Mag, although there’s little to add here either. Some names have changed, but my rant of 2005 holds about as true as it did then - come to think of it, Armin’s fans are still whining when he’s not number one, including this past year’s results. The biggest change that occurred with the poll was running it through Facebook, thus diluting the trance-cracker purity it’d maintained throughout the ‘00s. As a result, David Guetta won, knocking Armin out of top spot and producing one of the all-time hilarious, saddest celebrations of a DJ winning an award ever witnessed. DJ Mag almost always has footage of it removed from YouTube, but if you do stumble upon it, enjoy the mirth.

In general though, DJ Mag’s relevance continues to dwindle despite all their efforts suggesting otherwise. A singular popularity poll no longer carries the weight it once did when Twitter followers, YouTube watches, Soundcloud downloads, and Facebook Likes are a better gauge of what DJ or producer is currently bankable. Sasha hasn’t been on the poll for two years running, yet I highly doubt his stock as a DJ has dwindled in that time.

What’s adorable about all this is DJ Mag knows how bullshit the results are (jokingly exemplified here). Despite running a poll that paints them as curators of EDM’s cheesiest, corporate interests, the editors insist they maintain a culturally relevant rag about electronic music as whole. Perhaps, but are you willing to shell out a few bones monthly to find out? I sure don’t give a rat’s ass what their articles have to say. Why should I, what with such a goofy poll their ongoing legacy?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dance 2 Trance - Moon Spirits

Blow Up: 1992

The first trance album I ever owned, though I didn't buy it with that intent. Oh no, I was after a euro-dance album, and Dance 2 Trance was an act I recognized from a couple compilations. Throwing it on when I got home, the opening ambient-chant of Kayenta caught me off-guard – I wasn't expecting a Deep Forest clone! Then We Came In Peace played, and that's a cool melody, but why's this music so minimalistic and loopy? Wait, all these tracks are like this? That's weird, but not as weird as the lack of vocals. Ah well, I'm sure P.Ower Of A.Merican N.Atives will have Linda Rocco on- what the...! Nothing here either? Damn it, I must have gotten some bunk demo version of Moon Spirits. No wonder it was in a used shop. What a gyp.

It wasn’t long after when I clued in that Dance 2 Trance weren't euro-dance, but a number of years did pass before I understood their impact on electronic music at large. For these two guys, DJ Dag and Jam El Mar, invented trance. No, really, it was them. It’s right in their name, man!

Seriously though, their self-titled debut single was more of a New Beat thing, a popular mini-trend around mainland Europe of the early ‘90s. First released on Suck Me Plasma in early 1991, the B-side featured a curious little tune called We Came In Peace, stripping away New Beat’s aggressive EBM roots in favour of a hypnotic, space trip. Other Germans caught onto the sound, and soon labels were exclusively churning out the stuff. A genre and scene were born, enduring to this day despite many permutations since.

The clubbing success of that single and follow-ups like Where Is Dag? and Hello San Francisco got Dance 2 Trance onto a major label, Moon Spirits the inevitable LP that followed. I wonder if Dag and Jam were caught off guard by their success, because this is one raw album. We Came In Peace and P.o.A.N. are undeniable classics of the genre, but Sit Together, the Golden Gate Mix of Hello San Francisco, and even Where Is Dag? have the barest of musical ideas going for them, some synths and hooks outdated even by ’92 standards. Elsewhere, hazy downtempo cut Mr. Cannabis, prog-rocky Remember Exxon Valdez, and moody trance-grumbler Freaks have cool ideas running through them, yet too often sound muddy or half-baked. Compared to their following work like Take A Freefall (added to later editions of the album) much of this music lacks studio polish, as though rushed out to meet market demand.

Unfortunately, Moon Spirits isn’t an important album in trance’s history, totally skippable if you already have the singles off here. Dag and Mar would make better music following this, including as Dance 2 Trance. Check Moon Spirits out if you’re curious what an early-early crossover trance LP offered, but seeing as they were still trying to figure it out themselves, there’s a fair bit of miss with the hits.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Various - Montreal Mix Sessions Vol. 4 - Lafleche

Turbo: 2000

Montreal as a hub of innovative musical trends rivaled only by the hippest ‘burbs of New York City has been the indie narrative for years, but that wasn’t always the case. Despite being one step ahead of the rest of North America, general music journalism goes through periods of disinterest with the region, the ‘90s a particularly fallow period as I recall. Guess that’s what happens when all the sexy business is going down on the other side of the continent. Still, Montreal carried on doing its thing, continually inspired by the sounds of Europe, patiently waiting for the rest of North America to catch on.

It was about the time this CD came out that Turbo finally found its footing and spread its manifesto out from Montreal. Unfortunately for LaFleche Morin, a veteran DJ of that scene and one of the first chaps Tiga tapped for the Mix Sessions series, he released his second DJ set for the label just before things truly took off. While I'm sure his gig career remained as steady as it ever was, Lafleche's contribution to Turbo's been relegated to something of a footnote, a dutiful soldier who helped get things rolling but never got to bask in the lime-light that followed.

Even his mix, classy though it is, comes off over-familiar if you followed funky, disco house at the turn of the millennium. I know I’ve a few of these tracks on other CDs, though LaFleche does provide his own rubs for The Real Jazz and That Zipper Track. Plenty of recognizable names show up – Jamie Anderson, Trevor Rockcliffe, Sébastien Léger, DJ Sneak, Paranoid Jack, and Gene Farris the ones I’ve heard before. Unknowns to my eyes are DJ Maxhens, DJ Nekbath, Bert Dunk, John Kano, and Tomba Vira. These last two mark a small detour LeFleche indulges in late in the set, featuring Afro and Latin rhythms, capped off by a bit of tribal chant-stomp in Rockcliffe’s Love Music. Fast forward to the late ‘00s, and folks are praising the likes of Luciano for playing similar stuff, yet here’s LaFleche rinsing out the worldly rhythms nearly a decade earlier. I told you Montreal was ahead of the game!

That said, there’s little to recommend in Montreal Mix Sessions 4. It’s a fun set, sure, but unremarkable all things considered – Moonshine was hawking similar CDs around this time too, not to mention several other upstart labels emerging during those boom times for electronic music. If you were raw to house, your prior knowledge coming from Hed Kandi collections, then this was like opening a door to a whole new realm of funky rhythm hedonism. For the seasoned weekend warrior though, LaFleche’s offering would come off old-hat.

Perhaps Tiga realized this, as the final Montreal Mix Sessions, his own Mixed Emotions, saw a radical departure from house of this sort. Not to mention every Mix Sessions CD after featuring DJs from realms of non-Francophone origin. Change was definitely in the winds at Turbo.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Various - Montreal Mix Sessions Vol. 3: Dune (Double A & Twist)

Turbo: 1999

Without a doubt, this is among the strangest CDs in Turbo’s catalogue, if not the strangest. For a label that often prides itself on the quirky, that's quite an assumption to make, but keep in mind this DJ mix came out early in Turbo's life, when Tiga was still finding its identity. About all he had going for it was promotion of Montreal acts, and the occasional original production. As you were wont to do as a hip start-up, the Mix Sessions series focused on house and techno, almost unanimously with winning results. There's also a single, solitary drum 'n bass mix, because when you think of Tiga, Turbo, and even Montreal, jungle's always right up there with tech-house and electroclash. Or not.

I’m sure my fellow Canucks from the lands of French have just as vibrant a jungle scene as any major region of Canadaland, but you sure don’t hear much about it. Toronto’s got a huge following, Vancouver’s been respectable for many years, and even the Prairie Provinces earn props from semi-abroad. Quebec, though? Folksy music festivals and hipster dance-punk’s their thing, ain’it? Absolutely not, just ask Double A & Twist about it. Wait, are they still around? Damn you, Lord Discogs, and your occasional incompleteness!

Monsieurs Aaron Siegner and Oliver Sasse make up the duo, also going by the name Dune (no, not the happy hardcore act). Wait, is this the same Oliver Sasse of German trance Rodd-Y-Ler micro-fame? The Lord That Knows All suggests so, but I’m having my doubts, such wildly incompatible scenes they be. This Sasse, along with Siegner, were vital in developing what jungle scene Montreal had, produced a few tech-step singles for the legendary Reading label Basement Records, and even ran a short-lived label of their own. A decent run in the late ‘90s, then, though little that only the most ardent junglist will be familiar with. Or someone on the pulse of Montreal’s party scene.

So Tiga tapped Dune for the third volume of Montreal Mix Sessions, and the duo gives us a set of primarily tech-step sounds from acts like DJ Slip and Red One, names not exactly high on the minds of junglists even then, but decent enough offerings just the same. Midway through things go atmospheric and jazzsteppy, EZ Rollers’ Retro, PFM’s One And Only, and London Elektricity’s Song In The Key Of Knife sure to get any old-schooler’s nostalgia centres flaring. Dune returns us to the tech-step with a couple of their own tunes, then finishes out rough and nasty with Dom & Roland’s blinding darkstep cut Homicide. Oh, and a ‘classic call-back’ cut from Digital’s Spacefunk at the very end, because why not.

Montreal Mix Sessions 3’s decent enough for a d’n’b CD, though undoubtedly a victim of its surroundings. Turbo’s the last place junglists will look for music, and I can’t say Tiga’s typical following would find much use for Dune either. Best for local enthusiasts or Turbo completists, then.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Photek - Modus Operandi

Virgin Music Canada: 1997

Along with Goldie's Timeless and Roni Size/Reprazent's New Forms, Rupert Parkes' debut Photek LP Modus Operandi established itself among the first drum 'n bass albums you were supposed to have, even if you weren't a d'n'b fan. That was back in the mid-'90s though, when journalist interest in the scene was high, and LP options were low, Modus Operandi one of the few finding any sort of cross-over attention. It didn't hurt Photek's prospects that he signed to Virgin, at the height of 'electronica's promotion abroad. You couldn't miss this album on shelves because the mega-label paid good money for that space.

In hindsight, it's astounding someone saw mainstream marketability in Photek. His style, one of precision tech-step drum programming, spacious sound design, and bleak industrial imagery was so unique for the jungle scene, no one's come near replicating it – those drumfunk guys are heavily inspired by it though. There were far easier sub-sets of '90s d'n'b a casual listener could get into – jump-up, atmospheric, even ragga – so all the more amazing tunes like Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu and The Third Sequence got airtime on Amp or R U Receiving, much less Virgin’s blessing.

Also understandable, then, is why so many folks remain forlorn that Parkes hasn't seen much need to return to this style of music. I’m not sure there was anywhere left to go, though; even with an unparalleled sound, Modus Operandi soon runs thin on ideas. Opener The Hidden Camera gets things off on a chill, mysterious note, then we’re off to the sparse tech-step business for a long run of tracks, some of which are almost carbon copies of each other. Seriously, the difference between Smoke Rings and Trans 7 is marginal at best, but since they’re separated by half an album, you barely notice it on a play-through. Between the two tracks, there’s a lot of piercing synths, lean melodies, and cool drum work. Though not a slog, Minotaur, Aleph 1, groovier 124, and minimalist ‘sci-fi-step’ Axiom feels like you’re trapped in a dry, computer wasteland, a single glass of water always just on the horizon of sight. You keep pushing forward, the surrounding scenery at least fascinating as you traverse this desert of tech-step paranoia.

The titular cut offers a smooth slice of acid jazz, and KJZ shows Parkes getting his ambient-techno/braindance/IDM wonk on. The latter’s apparently a tribute to Kirk Degiorgio, an individual I haven’t the slightest clue about, though anyone who uses Beetlejuice as an alias is ace in my books. Then Modus Operandi ends on a limp note with The Fifth Column, the B-side to Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu, and nowhere near as interesting as that cut.

Which sums up this album, sadly. Most of Photek’s seminal work is left off here, and despite sounding unlike anything else, Parkes goes through the motions of this style just a bit too often throughout. If anything, it’s typical of most drum ‘n bass LPs of the time, only with a fuck-ton more promotion than his brethren ever received.

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