Friday, October 31, 2014
The only Jean-Michel Jarre album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a Jean-Michel Jarre fan. Chances are though, if you do listen to Oxygene, it’s because you’re a fan and have more of his music already. Or you sought his most famous work from a sense of obligation in learning electronic music's roots, were blown away, and hunted for more (with varying degrees of enjoyment and frustration). Bottom line is, though Oxygene is supposed to be the only Jarre album in your music collection, odds are it won’t be. Ol’ Jean-Michel’s the type of musician you just can’t dabble-sample once, especially if this is your starting point.
More than just being one of Jarre’s best albums though, Oxygene was incredibly successful in the European charts, almost single-handily bringing synth music out of the realms of quirky modern classicists and krautrock weirdoes, and into the mainstream. Sure it had plenty of swooshy keyboards, sweeping pads, singing strings, musical Moogs, and Minipop rhythm machines doing the business, but there were some gosh-darned ear-wormy pieces in there too. Oxygene, Part IV is practically a pop song, following a traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus arrangement, yet wrapped in an egg-headed craftsmanship. Elsewhere, Part VI finds a groovy hook complementing the shuffly Latin rhythm (think the ‘marimba’ pattern on a Casio keyboard). Its appeal lies in finding that perfect sweet spot between high-minded concept art and pop sensibilities – a Hot Butter and Tangerine Dream spawn wasn’t something asked for, but Jarre gave us a tasty one anyway. (mmm… buttered tangerines…)
And the influence! By God, how influential did Oxygene turn out, many synth-poppers, euro-trancers, New Agers, and ambient wibblers pointing to this album (much of Jarre’s work, really) as an inspiration. One can hear genres like space synth getting their start in pieces like Part II’s charming free-floating strings and pew-pew lasers sounds; or trance finding kinship with the repetitive rhythms of Part V. Also, is it just me, or does Part V sound like the score for a SNES game? Hell, might as well throw in early chiptune musicians with those getting something out of Jarre’s material. Lord knows the east Asian market adored the guy’s work just as much as their local synth titans like Tomita and Kitaro.
That all said, I have a bone of contention with this New Master Recording re-release. Not with the actual music itself, as everything comes in with splendid clarity and stunning space between Jarre’s layers of synths and sounds. Nay, I must ask what’s with that 3D performance, “Live In Your Living Room”? I can’t imagine anyone having a large enough screen that could fool the watcher into believing Jarre’s sparse stage set-up was actually in their abode. For that matter, hasn’t the appeal of live Jarre always been the ridiculously bombastic concerts? Nope, not buying this ‘analog performance’, despite the cool set-up of these guys working the old gear live. Stick with the standard multi-channel audio and scrap the visuals on this one, friends.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Rising from the dead all zombie-like, it's Ultimae's Oxycanta series. No, wait, that's not right. “Zombie-like” suggests an ambling, horrific monstrosity whilst being a pathetic parody of its former self. Such adjectives could never be associated with an Ultimae compilation, at least not until Volume/Season 9. What other spooky, Halloween creature would suffice for such a comparison though? Vampires? Frankensteiners? Black Lagoon goons? Damn these attempts at seasonal reviews. At least the last Oxycanta had a seasonal theme I could wax poetic over. Coincidentally, I'm reviewing Oxycanta III a little over a year after it came out, just like I originally did with Winter Blooms six years past. Wouldn't it be something if the same thing happened should we ever be graced with Oxycanta IV: The Voyage Home?
Seriously though, Oxycanta III is a welcome surprise, and a nifty snapshot of how Ultimae’s evolved over the years. Mahiane, whom pieces together these compilations, maintains the unifying theme behind Oxycanta is of heart-healing music, an idea derived by the flora pictured on their covers. That’s an incredibly broad idea though, an association that can fit many forms of melody and harmony. Thus it makes sense that, as Ultimae went through a gray, melancholic mood through much of 2013, that Oxycanta III would follow form, a departure from the glitchier psy-chill on Winter Blooms.
And who should kick off this compilation than the name that practically kicked off Ultimae’s tonal shift: Miktek, with the track Drone Flower. Oh yeah, this is one droney piece of music, in that distinctive moody Miktek way – gotta’ love the gentle, distant piano work that accompanies the sombre pads though. The first third of Oxycanta III: No Need For A Sub-Title goes more the downtempo dub-techno route, some tracks from familiar Ultimae names (Aes Dana, Lars Leonhard), and others contributing for the first time (Fingers In The Noise, Muridae, Mer-A). Yeah, the label really got on that dub techno in recent years, which helped add another element to Ultimae’s growing bag of candies (I’ll get in these Halloween metaphors yet!).
The second half features the (then) returning I Awake and Circular, both offering tracks that you’d expect of them if you’re at all familiar with their prior work (I Awake likes short compositions that flits through genres from track to track; Circular likes lengthier tracks that flit through genres within a single track). It’s nice to see another Scann-Tec piece, and quite surprising finding 36, one of drone ambient music’s current best talents, making a rare compilation appearance. Overall, the second half of Oxycanta III is warmer and more musically diverse, as though Mahiane intended for a little sonic light to breach the relative downcast mood of the first half.
That general monochromatic mood, however, makes Oxycanta III less appealing than Winter Blooms. It’s still all lovely music in its own way, just not as evocative as its forbearer. Mind, it was a ridiculously high peak to top.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Full tracklist here.
fabric 35: Ewan Pearson
FabricLive.34: Krafty Kuts
fabric 21: DJ Heather
fabric 20: John Digweed
FabricLive 08: Plump DJs
fabric 08: Radioactive Man
Toto - Dune (Original Soundtrack)
Stylophonic - Beatbox Show
Grooverider - Mysteries Of Funk
Hip-Hop Percentage: 2%
Neil Young Percentage: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track : Fusiphorm - I Am… You (because you’ll wonder how this track ever earned ‘ACE TRACK’ status; compared to the rest of Marco Carola’s mix, it totally was)
Technically, most Fabric mixes aren’t available on Spotify, but since a large quantity of the songs used are, I’ve included them in this Playlist. Going forward, I’ll only list an album as “missing” if more than half the songs I’ve selected as an ‘ACE TRACK’ from an album/mix/etc. can’t currently be found on Spotify. That said, small surprise the older Fabric mixes would feature tough-to-find material.
And yes, May 2014 was utterly dominated by my second round of Fabric On A Budget, rendering this playlist rather samey throughout – hope ya’ll like deep and tech-house, with a few electro and New Wave curiosities thrown in for good measure! The few strays off this path come care of dark ambient (Sabled Sun), soundtrack ambient (Dune), and Grooverider tech-step roughness. Interestingly, despite Stylophonic’s Beatbox Show being unavailable on Spotify, he’s apparently since released a couple more albums that are there, but aren’t listed on Lord Discog. Then his sophomore LP wasn’t the end after all! I took a quick-listen through his most recent, Jam The House, and it’s deep house. Huh, well, if you’re gonna’ jump on a bandwagon, that’s a better one to do so than trashy electro as found on Beatbox Show.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I go on about how awesome Ultimae is and how they're one of my favorite labels and that everyone should immediately check out their roster and I'll shut up now. In truth though, it took me over a year after stumbling upon Asura's Life² before fully committing to digging into their catalog further. When I finally did, it was with this CD, again an impulse purchase based on the cover. The music within completely and utterly convinced me that Ultimae was a label I needed to keep tabs on, which led to further purchases from Solar Fields' Movements and the Fahrenheit Project series. You probably know how the rest of this story plays out by now.
Oxycanta seemed destined to have a short existence, scuttled like so many of Ultimae's compilation series as this decade turned. Lo', it returned last year. I guess Mahiane found inspiration again with the crop of new talent contributing to the label. It's... well, I'll save those thoughts for when I review it.)
IN BRIEF: ‘Tis the season.
As tempting as it is to start a winter-themed compilation of music with some sort of poetic metaphor tying into the frigid months of the year, my internal Corny-Countermeasure Procedure continuously denies me the opportunity – damn you, Corny-Countermeasure Procedure! Besides, for all the tranquil, pretty vistas a snow-covered landscape portrays, the reality of winter tends to be far more brutal. Ice storms, biting winds below fifty-degrees Centigrade, mucky gritty slush as snow melts, hideous displays of driving… there’s a reason so many birds flee to more hospitable regions of the world and several animals would just rather sleep through it all.
Being one of the more illogical animals of this world, however, humans prefer making the best of the cold climate while we can. Ice skating, skiing, festive light shows (it really does glow prettily off the snow), and, of course, music. At no other time of the year will you find more popular music directly tied to a season, such that we have to endure it over and over and over and over…
Sorry, I’m getting side-tracked. Oxycanta, then. The second of a somewhat infrequent compilation series put together by Ultimae co-founder Sandrine Gryson (aka: Mahiane), the obvious-to-everyone-now theme here is that of winter. Of course, this being Ultimae, the music dwells on the delicate and naturalistic aspects of the season, preferring to conjure images of quiet frosted forests and frozen-over streams, untouched and unspoiled by human influence. And it is stunningly beautiful to listen to.
Seriously, opener Strawberry Planetarium is ambient at its hauntingly best - layered pads and delicate timbre work together to create a sublime trip through tonal harmony. Along the way, spritely clicks and glitches add to the atmosphere; it’s like being trapped in lake ice as it slowly thaws. Of course, there really isn’t much of a song here, but then ambient seldom follows structure, merely going about its business as it sooths to the ears.
Much of Winter Blooms features passages and pieces of this nature. It isn’t until third track Flaktsystem from Amos that we have something resembling a proper song (though everything leading up to it is still engaging nonetheless). Even then, Flaktsystem is more of an excursion through tones and timbres, only this time with lovely piano melodies guiding us along laid-back rhythms. Aes Dana’s Nexus, nearly half-way through the CD, provides the first fully-formed piece of music, which is a quite a long while to wait. I’m sure this begs the question, then, of whether half a disc of lovely tonal textures and meditative passages is too much noodly music for the casual listener.
To this, I give a definite no. The beauty of Oxycanta is that it works in various ways. If you play diligent attention to the music, you’re rewarded with deeply considered harmonies, sucking you into a calming meditation of delicate tones and steadying rhythms, none of which ever dip into saccharine New Age mumbo-jumbo. If you just throw this on as background fodder, however, it’s equally effective as atmospheric ambient, setting a blissful mood that will tingle at the soul while you’re engaged in other activities.
Oh wait, you’re still wondering if that winter theme is ever-present - to a degree, yes. As mentioned, the first half touches upon the tranquil nature of the season; meanwhile, the second half delves into the less comforting aspects of winter: the cold textures of downbeat techno. Mind, Waters from Sgnl_fltr is something more akin to old-school trance, and quite brisk for a compilation of this sort. Beyond there, however, things get rather experimental, with clicks and glitches meandering around cold soundscapes; still, lurking underneath it all is some warmth, as though buried and patiently waiting for the season to change. And closer Nautilus from James Murray is definitely the perfect track to bring in some warmth, dipping into ambient dub’s bubbly waters with Far East influences.
As great as the music on Oxycanta is, though, it’s Mahiane’s arrangement of the tracks that gives this compilation that extra bit of shine. While not exactly a DJ mix, there are still nice blends between the each piece of music, and is sequenced in such a way that it rather plays like one long song. In the burgeoning age of digital downloads, it’s growing increasingly rare to find compilations of this sort, much less expertly arranged to form a cohesive flow. It’s reassuring to know this isn’t a completely lost art.
Eh? Oh, I guess you’ve noticed that, technically, Winter Blooms isn’t exactly current. Granted, as of this writing, it was released a year ago, but that’s beside the point. Like the season it draws influence from, there is a timeless quality to Oxycanta; while it may make better sense to listen to during the frigid months of the year, it works for any setting. Heart-healing properties indeed.
Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved.
You couldn’t escape this CD. There it sat on every single store shelf, because it was an affordable retail disc with a hot name in Josh Wink on the tracklist. There it sat in the collections of fellow electronic music aficionados, because it was a cheap compilation that had Josh Wink’s hot new single, Are You There… included. There it rested in every pawn shop, because when folks inevitably do their music purges, this was always one of the first to go. I’ve a feeling, should I be forced into selling CDs for ramen noodles again, I’ll harbor no regret over sending Ovum Sampler back to the used music bargain bins that I plucked it from. (er, if anyone will even accept CDs anymore)
Ovum Recordings itself has had a storied history over the years, one of the American leaders in all things deep house, tech-house, and vibey goodness from the City Of Brotherly Love. After the ridiculous success of Higher State Of Consciousness, Winky boy undoubtedly wanted more control over his own productions, hence setting up a label he and like-minded Philadelphia producers could build their careers on. King Britt also had a hand in the early development of Ovum, often releasing music as Sylk 130 because... it was an actual alias? Oh yeah, King Britt's name really is King Britt. He was destined to produce jazzy deep house, wasn't he?
So Ovum got rolling with Wink and Britt providing the early bulk of singles; a few others like Size 9 and Scuba (no, not that Scuba) rounded out the rest. A sampler disc should logically offer a smattering of all the artists one might find on the label, but for some reason, we only get three tracks from Sylk 130, two tracks from Wink, and two from Jamie Myerson, a young musical prospect that had recently signed to Ovum.
The Sylk 130 cuts are about as you’d expect from King Britt, though do a good job showing his eclectic range – it doesn’t hurt two of them are remixes. The Reason is a pure jazz-funk work, with a soulful croon from Vicki Miles and a rub by John Wicks; meanwhile, Tek 9 of 4 Hero offers a hip-hop vibe for Getting’ Into It, and the final Sylk 130 tune, Incident On The Couch, is all hazy nu-jazz, perfect for all your spliffed-out needs. As for Wink’s contributions, yes, Are You There… is here, but it’s the Size 9 Groove Mix. Well, that’s disappointing, this version far too loopy even by Wink standards. New Groove’s far more interesting, a minimalist slice of acid techno with spacey synths in support. Float on, my son. Finally, Jamie Myerson gives us some jazzy d’n’b in Everything Is Gonna Be Alright and… Balearic electro-chill in Unity Gain?
Wow, Ovum Sampler’s actually quite diverse, maybe too diverse for a label showcase. Guess that’s why folks don’t give this CD much care anymore, preferring these artists in the context of their own albums.
Monday, October 27, 2014
In the end, music reviewers and critics just want to write stories, this desire manifesting in many ways. Sometimes it’s by chronicling the narratives that developed within scenes, other times coming up with (and even dictating) narratives that are currently emerging. On a smaller scale, we enjoy deciphering potential stories that may lurk within pieces of music, giving praise to artists who compose albums that contain clearly defined arcs that we can translate into flowery purple prose. The double-LP format in particular is like catnip to the storyteller-in-reviewer's-fedora, an almost guarantee the musician(s) who released it had a grand opus in mind that simply could not be contained in typical single-serving music formats.
Sometimes though, collections of tracks are just collections of tracks, no real rhyme or reason to their being there beyond the necessary evil of the music industry (‘tis the only way the consumers can consume your product). Gads, what a boring story that is. I mean, look at this release from Calibre. Hell, look at nearly any release from Calibre. Mr. Dominick Martin doesn’t skimp on his output, almost exclusively going the double-LP route for much of his early career. Even when he finally cut back to single-CDs in recent years, he still released material at such a clip he could have maintained the double-disc format. Yet, for all this music, damned if there’s much to talk about.
Yeah, yeah, I’m only going by Overflow on this assumption – maybe the Shelflifes or Musique Concrete are more comprehensive as a listening experience. These two CDs though, I’m struggling to say much about them, beyond the basic particulars you expect from any run-of-the-mill review. Ah, let’s get that out of the way at least.
Overflow is a 2CD collection of smooth, jazzy drum ‘n’ bass from Calibre, a prolific and highly respected name within that scene. Eighteen tracks make up this bulk. Some are more on an atmospheric tip (Savannah Heat, Big Bang, TV On), some bang with the tech-step business (Lo Note, Suddenly, Beat Goes On), some find their liquid funkiness (Honeypot, Overeaction, So Blue), and some aren’t even d’n’b in the slightest (Reach You Everywhere, Slums, Gage). A good third of these tracks feature vocals, sung in an unobtrusive, urban-jazz stylee. Every tune is class, finely produced and enjoyable. You can also play everything in Overflow in any order you like, their sequence having no bearing in how the album flows from beginning to end (recommended if you’ve gotten the MP3 version). Sometimes when I’ve had my whole music library on Shuffle and a Calibre tune crops up, I’ll mistake it for a Mist:i:cal tune, which isn’t surprising since Martin’s a part of that group. The perfect track summing up Overflow’s overall vibe is Alone In A Crowd. It sounds like much of what I’ve described above.
Man, see what I’m talking about? This album is perfectly fine on the listening front, but dear Lord does it ever sap my inspiration to write about it.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Speaking as a relative casual fan of the extended Hieroglyphics crew, Over Time was a welcome, nay needed reminder of why the Oakland hip-hop group deserved their underground praises. The honest truth is for all their accomplishments leading up to and through the turn of the millennium, their respective stars had sadly dimmed as the '00s carried on. Part of the problem can be attributed to changing trends within hip-hop as a whole, but a dearth of fresh, fiery material sparking interest in Del, Souls, and co. didn't help either. Yes, they were becoming victim of the ol' “falling off” narrative, a death knell within hip-hop if ever there was one.
Whether by accident or design, Over Time came out at almost as perfect a moment as any. It'd been half-a-decade since Full Circle had dropped and generally forgotten, and solo Hiero projects were growing few and far between, almost devoid of hype. A greatest hits collection would likely help keep their name out there, but this is a crew that knew its audience, underground heads who'd already have the best of their material – such a release would be hopelessly redundant. What of the rarities though? Only the most hardcore of the hardcore would have gathered all the available Hieroglyphics music, much of which had gone discontinued or become stupidly expensive on the collector's market. Why not offer the b-sides, remixes, and that as a treat to the casuals of their following, who joined the Oakland party late (*cough*)?
A sweet deal for fans then, but here’s where Over Time excels: it encapsulates the Hieroglyphics manifesto in such a complete way, I’ll argue this is required listening even if your knowledge of the crew only goes so far as Clint Eastwood. For one thing, some of their best songs are here, and though they’re in remixed form, tracks like You Never Know, Phoney Phranchise, and Soundscience remain great examples of the lyrical diversity the Hiero crew are known for. And speaking of remixes, Dan The Automator’s rub of Del’s ode to good hygiene If You Must (no, really!) is a hoot, including a child’s jingle about how you shouldn’t worry about getting sucked down a bathtub drain.
Since Del was the busiest body during the ten year period this collection gathers material from, nearly half the tunes are his. He’s often tagged up with fellow Hiero mates though, like Tajai in the thumping Masterminds, or A-Plus in the chill Battle Of The Shadow. One of the more interesting of his cuts is Cyberpunks, a harrowing ‘nerdcore’ cut that predates his Deltron 3030 work that appeared on a relatively forgotten compilation from Strength Magazine (never heard of the rag); Pep Love’s battle-rap outing Prose Officially also appeared on that CD.
In a nutshell, Over Time has the one thing RapReviews.com writer Steve ‘Flash’ Juan claimed Full Circle lacked: dopeness. While I won’t call this disc a definitive collection of the Hieroglyphics crew, it’s a strong summation of their unique strengths.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Way back in ye' golden age of 1992, the Psychick Warriors ov Gaia sound-system was developing into a fresh live techno act, infusing tribal and trance elements at a time when such ideas were strange and rare (strictly Detroit or rave, yo;', some 'intelligent' too). Their first single appeared in 1990, as Exit 23. Soon enough, this lengthy-titled LP emerged, gaining respectable plaudits from those who'd stumbled upon it. Unfortunately, being tied to industrial-leaning label KK Records limited their exposure within techno circles, adding to their mystique.
Of course, seeing phrases like “sacred grooves” and “new edge folk classics” likely has a few of you hesitant, figuring these Psychick Warriors lean deep into the sappier elements of world beat or, *gasp*, New Age even. I'll grant there is a meditative element to their work, but it's rather as TUU approached the craft, drawing out your primitive psyche, forcing withdrawal of the human ego. There is only sound, there is only rhythm. We've returned to the source of our being, as the Ancients intended. Or something.
I should point out there are a few different versions of Biospheres And Sacred Grooves. Being of the lands where the North Americans dwell, my copy comes from alt-rock/punk/metal label Restless Records, which is different from the other North American release of PWoG’s debut, on Canadian label Cargo Records (also alt-rock/punk/metal) – yes, I betrayed my brethren with this used-disc purchase. While each version merges most of the tracks into two twenty-plus minute compositions (single Obsidian stands alone), the Restless CD added Exit 23 as well. How nice of them.
Considering the cult-like following PWoG gained, you'd think Biospheres And Sacred Grooves was an all-time classic LP. Eh, not really. There’s quite a bit of downtime, ambient noodling, and experimental minimalism, much of which comes from the CD-only compositions of Anathema Ov Jean Jacques Derrillard and New Edge Mantra, book-ends of the second ‘long track’ that includes The Challenge (Part 2) and The Key (Version). Are we confused yet? Because I’ve gone cross-eyed just trying to figure out how everything’s sequenced on this CD.
Forget the track list – here’s what you need to know. The Challenge (Part One) is the sort of sound everyone identifies PWoG with: tribal-techno, with dub effects, acid groove, and dark ambience, played in a minimalistic way that’d make Hawtin weak in the knees. Obsidian is more melodic and funkier, The Key (Version) gets its reggae-house vibe on, The Tides (They Turn) goes on the downtempo trip (yay bongos), and Exit 23 is… just weird and meandering, save a killer, creaking bassline worming its way about desolate, primordial sounds. The rest of Biospheres And Sacred Grooves is extraneous fluff.
Honestly, I wouldn’t even call this album a Very Important One, as PWoG’s sound was incredibly niche, and remains so to this day. That does make it a unique offering in the annals of techno though, reason enough to spring for a copy if you enjoy diversity in your collection.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Contention time: Outrospective isn’t a good album. There’s good music, sure, some of Faithless’ best compositions. There's also ample amounts of weak sauce; a sense of the group going through the motions (was Rollo saving his best new stuff for Dusted?). Not that it’s surprising if they had run out of ideas three albums in, having seemingly explored every facet of their inspirations on Reverence and Sunday 8pm. What need was there to rehash the same formula if the song-writing just wasn’t there though? They’d proved capable of free-wheeling genres, earning chart success and underground cred’ in the process – why not mix things up, go in an unexpected route? (erm, which they did with No Roots, but that’s another discussion)
First off, the club anthems on Outrospective are some of Faithless’ worst work ever. We Come 1 has its fans, but it sounds like a parody of the Rollo/Sister Bliss club banger stylee. The breakdown kills all momentum the track had going for it, the hook is one of the lamest farty noises I’ve ever heard for an ‘anthem’, and the build keeps teasing and halting and pulling back and for the love of God just get to the point already. It’s like El’ Rollie and Miss Bliss had finally hit their creative wall, stuck figuring out how to top God Is A DJ and failing miserably in the process. Compared to the club anthems they kicked out on the regular – even the unheralded b-sides remixes - We Come 1 is just sad. Tarantula’s at least better, not wasting as much time dithering about. Neither serves much purpose in the context of this album though; both come off like pandering, obligatory Faithless anthems because it’s what’s expected of the group. Small wonder such tunes were jettisoned in No Roots.
Still, Faithless albums held their own thanks to the downtempo, introspective moments, with either Maxi Jazz philosophizing about his youth and contemporary issues, or something more folksy with a guest vocalist. We get that with Outrospective too, but aside from the Mohammad Ali tribute, um, Mohammad Ali, little stands out the way prior songs did. Nothing delightfully daft as Baseball Cap and Dirty Old Man, nor anything gripping and tense like Bring My Family Back and Killer’s Lullaby (Giving Myself Away comes close as a tale of a destructive relationship). Elsewhere, Dido sings the chorus on One Step Too Far, which was a huge selling point for Outrospective given the massive star she’d attained by 2001, to the point her presence overshadows everything else about the track despite offering very little in the way of lyrics. That said, Zoë Johnston’s debut with the group is a nice addition, providing a more ethereal, British countryside element to her songs (Crazy English Summer, Evergreen).
Despite my general disappointment in Outrospective, the final run of tracks in Code, Evergreen, and Liontamer (now there’s a great build!) do make the album worth an occasional throw-on. Just not as often as other Faithless LPs.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
So when Spotify sends me an email of their suggestions (geez, already, guys?), I’m ready to automatically send it to the Trash. “But wait,” says the little spider in my head, “why not turn this into an opportunity?” “How do you mean, little spider coiled around my cerebellum?” “Reviewing the music from your personal collection’s fine and all, but why not spice things up a little? Listen to the recommendations Spotify sends you, maybe discover some new acts while giving a chance to those you’ve casually dismissed in the past.”
The Spotify Spider makes a point. I really ought to mix my content up some, lest I burn myself out on standard reviews all too quickly again. Plus, I’m curious to see whether Spotify’s suggestions might improve, narrow in on my tastes as I sample their catalog more and more.
Here’s how this’ll work. Spotify sends me ten suggestions with each email (I don’t know how frequent these will be yet). I will sample the first two songs of that artist/band/act I see on Spotify and give a quick summation of what I hear, plus a ‘rating’ based on how close Spotify got it to my interest. Sounds good? Alright, no sense wasting time, let’s get onto the first round!
Cake - 1. The Distance / 2. Short Skirt/Long Jacket
Okay, this is unexpected. I think I’ve heard of Cake, a rock/funk/hop/etc. fusion band that’s been around since the early ‘90s. The second tune sounds like something that would have come about in the late ‘90s ska era (those trumpets…), which isn’t surprising as it came out in 2001. The Distance sound more punk-grungey, again unsurprising as it’s a mid-‘90s song. I’ve a feeling their discography’s far more eclectic than this though. It’s funky enough to pique my interest. Will check some later.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 3/5
Jungle - 1. Time / 2. The Heat
Hey, I like me some jungle! Amazing Spotify would recommend a whole genre though. Oh, wait, the band’s name is Jungle. And they’re… another fusion band, though the electro/synth-pop/glam-funk vein. Jungle’s very new too, both these tracks coming from their self-titled debut album released this year; also signed to XL Recordings, which is why Spotify suggested them to me? Both tracks are rather similar, The Heat a tad slower and groovier. They’ve definitely got a nice sound, but come off a bit too fluff and hipster-bait. Not that it’s a bad thing, as Hercules & Love Affair proved.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 3/5
Katy Perry - 1. This Is How We Do / 2. Dark Horse
Oh dear. This is going to mess up future suggestions, isn’t it. What else is there to say about Katy Perry? She’s hot, she got an annoying high pitch, and is somehow a pop music juggernaut, currently towering over every other female in the business. She seems like a nice enough lady, even if she’s constantly presenting herself as a total ditz. I don’t need to hear anything more from her on Spotify because every pop radio station won’t stop playing her songs. Ugh. Dark Horse, her weak jump on bass music, you’ve almost certainly been forced to hear at some point this year. Not sure why This Is How We Do was the first song though, as it’s a fairly generic dance tune, even by Perry standards.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 0/5, at least on Spotify; there’s no escaping her radio presence.
Hybrid Minds - 1. Meant To Be / 2. Lost
Ah, here’s the jungle. Liquid funk to be exact, but these two tunes blend the blissy vibes of atmospheric jungle too. Hybrid Minds are another newish act, though the members have been players in the D’n’B scene for a while. Even with the standard, brisk 2-step in action, these are some lovely chill-out soul tunes. I can honestly say I haven’t heard much like it before, and I’m apparently not the only one, a quick scan of their PR praising them for an innovative direction in the liquid funk scene. Lord knows it could use it. Mmm, that Mountains album looks tantalizing…
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 4/5
Radiohead - 1. Creep / 2. No Surprises
Wait, I thought Radiohead wasn’t on Spotify! Ah, it’s just Thom Yorke that pulled his own material. Everything Radiohead released with the EMI group is here. Go figure. Also, I can’t say I’m eager to hear much more Radiohead. Creep I’ve heard plenty of times, especially at karaoke nights. I’m sated, thank you. OK Computer’s an album I’ve kinda-sorta thought about getting some day, but I’m in no rush. I totally forgot about No Surprises, those charming bells reminding me of Brian Wilson down in the mopes. I like that era of Radiohead better than their early work anyway. *gasp*
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 3/5
Angels & Airwaves - 1. Paralyzed / 2. The Adventure
Apparently a rock supergroup, comprised of members of bands that I’ve kinda liked (NIN, The Offspring), not at all liked (Blink-182), or never heard before (*shrug*). Paralyzed is their most recent single, sounding like a heavier arena rock anthem, but is over before it ever gets warmed up. Damn radio versions. The Adventure, on the other hand, instantly reminds me of jangly ‘80s U2, but with shouty vocals rather than Bono’s operatic bellow. I can see this being a favorite of folks growing too ‘mature’ for outright angst rock, but totally not for me, thanks.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 1/5
Mayday Parade - 1. Stay / 2. Terrible Things
Another ‘punk-opera’ band? Why is Spotify recommending this to me? It says because its “popular in [my] area”, which may be true, but I haven’t a clue about that. This is a scene I don’t follow at all. A few of my old high-school friends living nearby might like it though. Actually, these two songs remind me more of emo’s more twee moments, especially so with Terrible Things, a simple piano ballad that erupts into an overblown arena-rock cry for emotion. Perfect for a teen drama. Pass.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 1/5
Grateful Dead - 1. Friend Of The Devil / 2. Casey Jones
The Grateful Dead are a very important hippie jam band in the world of hippie jam bands. I remember seeing a cool video of theirs where the band members became skeleton puppets, but they’re not a group I’ve cared to dig into much. Not from a lack of interest, oh no! There’s just so damn much of it out there, and most claim their live material’s better than studio recordings anyway. I had no idea they had a blues-rock number named after a Ninja Turtles character (hur hur!). A Dead Dive could happen some day, if I’m in the mood for ‘70s folk rock again.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 3/5
Snow Patrol - 1. Chasing Cars / 2. You Could Be Happy
Yay, another ‘inspired by Radiohead’ shoegazey rock band. I know I’ve seen Snow Patrol name-dropped before, almost certainly on indie sites eager for the next Radiohead to emerge. I feel like I’ve heard both these songs before too, though maybe the ‘gentle twee beginning into widescreen wall-of-rock’ song writing became so prevalent in the mid-‘00s, it all mushed together from my perspective. They probably have different songs, but I’m already bored by these Radiohead clones. Moving on.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 2/5
The Strokes - 1. Reptilia / 2. Someday
Alright, real rock! Or revivalist garage rock - something with teeth at least. I still remember when The Strokes were being counted upon to save rock music from its current doldrums like it was a decade ago. Most had written them off when they went on a half-decade hiatus, but they’re back, making their same brand of unapologetically simplistic rock ‘n’ roll. I assume anyway, since these two songs are from their breakout years. Now I’m curious whether they have evolved as a band or not. Not dying to hear, mind you, but one of these days, perhaps.
Odds I’ll Listen Again: 3/5
And the final tally for this round of Spotify Suggests is 23/50. Oh dear, that’s not good at all. Then again, it is early in this experiment. We’ll see how things improve whenever I get another email.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Punk music’s emergence and growth has long been attributed to a youthful counter-reaction to rock’s growing pomposity within prog and jazz-fusion. Looking at some of the biggest bands of the era – The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Black Flag, namedrop, namedrop, namedrop – the image that scene cultivated certainly supports the theory. Then you get a trio like The Police, also influenced by punk music, but fronted by musicians that had almost nothing to do with it. Okay, they did have a scrappy start, with financial and critical support so miniscule, you’d think they were a go-nowhere garage band. Plus, it was no secret Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers came from the very same prog and jazz-fusion scenes the punk movement so vehemently railed against, seemingly bandwagon jumpers as the music hit its first crossover peak. All in all, The Police had everything working against them, except one key, critical attribute: insanely awesome talent.
They may not have been punk in the strictest sense, but they understood what made that music work. Even better, they could fuse it with other genres like reggae and, yes, jazz, such that it gave their songs remarkable depth for a three-piece act. Seriously, focus on how unique each member sounds – Sting's bass leads, Copeland's dynamic drumming, Summers' playful guitar work – and marvel how well they play off each other.
Of course, that skill initially worked against The Police, many dismissing the debut album Outlandos D'Amour as too slick and polished for a supposed punk band (even with a shoe-string budget and erratic studio time). Even more curiously, their lead singles of Roxanne and Can't Stand Losing You were banned from radio play, dealing with such taboo subjects like prostitution and suicide as they were. On the other hand, if you're ever to gain traction in a counter-culture music scene, being banned from prominent broadcasters was the best way of going about it, and sure enough The Police found their fame growing exponentially soon after. As if a capper on the point, Outlandos D'Amour is now regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. So fickle, the music press.
A few killer singles does not a great album make, however, and you don't need me to tell you how these tunes sound – just turn on your classic rock radio station to hear them once or thrice a day. Instead, gander at some of these less-heralded tunes! Peanuts, a peppy-punk outing that hilariously has Sting shouting “Peanuts! Peanuts!” at the end. Be My Girl and Sally, one a mere pop-punk chorus interrupted by a goofy poem-and-piano bit about a blow-up doll. Masoka Tanga, a... ska jam? Oh, now you're just messing with us, Police man!
Outlandos D'Armour's a fun album, all said. The Police were as tight a band as any of the time, and were still all about having fun with their music, a few years off from getting all socially conscious and shit.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Even for the cheesier side of hard German trance, Sunbeam were a class of cheese all on their own. That’s not a knock on them though, at least from my perspective, for theirs was a fun cheese, fully in the know and unabashed with their earnestness. Along with Komakino, they helped set the standard for old-school hard trance, especially on singles Outside World and High Adventure. And even though Sunbeam’s early work was way under-produced, it’s a credit to their craft that they found strong hooks and memorable samples such that their tunes remained in discussion while so many better tunes by stronger acts fell by the wayside.
Okay, Sunbeam also features an attribute I’ll totally school-girl squee over: voice pad leads, especially with a multi-tap delay as they do in High Adventure. Obviously if you don’t care for them, we’re done here. No, wait, come back! Let me sell you on them some. I promise this won’t be boring.
See, there’s a timeless charm to them, like how modern space synth can sound exactly the same as its ‘80s lineage and remain all the better for it. It’s retro-futurism now, crafted with space and sci-fi in mind but coming off dated in our modern times - tell me you don’t feel like hopping into a Flash Gordon ship on High Adventure (even if the sample comes from Conan The Barbarian). Unless as a deliberate throwback, no one makes trance like this anymore, which is fine as there was little more that could be done with the formula. It's now an artifact of a bygone era, ripe for hipster reinvention (dear God, I hope not...).
Wait, there’s an actual review an actual album I’m supposed to do? Not sure what else I can say about Out Of Reality. Hypnotic had the rights to most of Sunbeam's early Suck Me Plasma singles and knocked this collection out around the time the duo gained exposure with an updated, (then) modern take on hard trance. Even for a 1997 CD, the tunes were sounding old, weak when stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the anthems of the day. That wouldn't be so bad if Hypnotic marketed Out Of Reality as a retrospective (or consolidated the tracks for a 'classics' collection of sorts), but I see no indication of that; rather, it was a quick way of capitalizing on Sunbeam's growing popularity.
Naturally, Outside World and High Adventure are here, including marginally different remixes each, plus a third remix of Outside World that sounds like a mash-up of the two. That's five tracks dedicated to two songs on a ten track CD. Yeah, overkill those anthems! The rest are rudimentary early trance tunes, though La Musique (C'est Notre Drogue), one of the B-sides to Outside World, tickles my fancy proper-like. Oddly, Are We Out Of Reality?, from which this album takes its title from, wasn't even originally released as a Sunbeam single, but a short-lived alias of Iron Wobble. Not that it's much different from the rest.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Link to full tracklist on Spotify.
Bandulu - Guidance
Bandulu - Cornerstone
Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia - The Key
2 Unlimited - No Limits
Hip-Hop Percentage: 6%
Neil Young Percentage: 25%
Most “WTF?” Track: Buffalo Springfield - I Am A Child (you'll know why when you hear it)
Bloody shame about Bandulu not being available – would love a little more attention thrown in their direction, even if it’s only on Spotify. But yes, June was dominated by that Neil Young: Archives collection, which made putting this playlist something of a challenge. That’s just way too much of a single artist to take in a single sitting, and I say this as an absolute fan of the guy! Wound up with half-a-dozen of his songs just lumped together at the end.
Complicating things further were the equal amounts of psy dub, ‘70s synth music, and poppy dance and trance. These styles of music do not mesh well at all, much less while shoehorning ‘60s folk and rock in the there. Hell, the tribal-dub-techno of Bandulu and PWoG actually help bridge them together. I kept things flowing as best I could with what I had to work with, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some feel compelled to hit that skip button.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Solar Fields put out a lot of music at a ridiculous rate in the ‘00s, averaging one full-length CD every two years (to say nothing of remix albums, collaborations, and compilation exclusives). What’s almost frightening about that work ethic is how there was nary a drop in quality in each release, as though Mr. Birgersson could offer stunning, thematic LPs on a whim. Of course, that’s never the case, great albums almost always the result of meticulous pruning and editing, such that what does make the final product is the absolute best that artist is capable of at that particular moment of inspiration. What’s left over often ends up as b-sides for singles, saved for better-served albums down the road, or simply forgotten until such time extended or re-issue editions of albums come about. It would seem Solar Fields has chosen the latter option for his back back-catalog, most recently coming to light in a series of Origin CDs. Since Origin # 01 is already out of print (damn), we’re jumping right into Origin # 02. Yay?
Yeah, such a release is a hard sell to casual consumers of music – after all, wouldn’t all of Solar Fields’ best material already be available elsewhere? What point is there getting an odds-n-sods ‘leftovers’ collection if you hadn’t already gotten albums like Blue Moon Station or Movements? Everything on Origin # 02 comes from that era of music making (2003-2009, for the record), and if this material never made it on those LPs, or even Origin # 01, then this CD must truly be scrapping the barrel for leftovers. How mediocre can this sound, then?
Not one damn bit, foo’. This is Solar F’n Fields we’re dealing with here – I don’t think ol’ Magnus could make a weak production if he tried! The first half Origin # 02 features all the lovely sonic textures, blissy-chill vibes, and widescreen ambience you’d expect coming into a Solar Fields album. Hell, even if you don’t expect it – because it’s your first Solar Fields experience, I guess – they’re still stunning tracks. About the only quibble here is the lack of album narrative, but wanting that on a collection like this is utterly pointless, yes?
Okay, quality music as expected from Solar Fields – is there anything actually unique on offer with Origin # 02, something that we haven’t heard before? I dunno about that, as I haven’t heard the entirety of Mr. Birgersson’s discography. What threw me for a loop, though, were the final three tracks: The Missing, Falling Shadows, and Asteroid (Time Machine Lullaby). Those crackly pads, childlike melodies on old keyboards (especially on Asteroid), sense of ‘70s synth nostalgia… Holy cow, this sounds like Boards Of Canada! True, in a Solar Fieldsy sort of way, but it totally does share like the enigmatic Scottish duo’s aesthetic. Whether Magnus wanted to take a stab at their sound or it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know, but that alone makes Origin # 02 worth the price of admission.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Dossier was one of the giants of the German industrial scene, harbouring such long-lasting acts like Psychic TV, Chrome, and Controlled Bleeding. It was also Delerium's early home, back when Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber were better known by their EBM project Front Line Assembly. They must have gotten quite chummy with the reps of Dossier, because they were also commissioned for a brief run of compilations titled Organism. Judging by the names that cropped up on these discs (that I recognize), it was intended as a showcase of fellow Vancouver acts, put together for Leeb and Fulber’s own short-lived Esoteric Music, and distributed by Dossier. So obviously Delerium’s got a few tracks on these compilations. There’s also Keith Arem of Contagion (who did some score work for assorted PC games), and DV8R, who I feel like I recognize from somewhere, despite small Discogs presence. Oh, and Adham Shaikh’s prominently featured too, because when you think of industrial and dark ambient, you think ethnically-tinged meditation music. Wait, what?
Surprisingly, the Shaikh tracks fit with Organism 02’s general industrial aesthetic, probably because he made them specifically for this compilation (so sayeth The Discogs). Equilibrium is totally dark ambient, creepy pads and synths dripping with claustrophobic fear of shadows and alien abduction. Relativity has more of a primitive tribal-trance thing going for it, which would sound cool as a Pychick Warriors Ov Gaia remix, but rather odd for a Shaikh tune, especially considering Journey To The Sun came out around the same time as this compilation. Maybe these were older, unused tunes?
Delerium also got in on the exclusivity action, their track Infra Stellar only appearing on Organism 02. Until it showed up again on the Cleopatra’s Leeb collection Cryogenic Studios a few years later. And then on Nettwerk’s second Delerium collection Archives Vol. 2. Okay, so Organism 02 isn’t so tantalizing for Delerium completists anymore; maybe Shaikh completists though. The track itself? Eh, this was during the duo’s transitional phase, figuring things out in the sample-heavy world beat field while retaining their dark ambient goth sound. They’ve done better.
The other acts, then. Are they worth the inevitable fiver burning your loins should you happen across Organism 02 in a used shop? Virtual unknown Nigel provides a lovely bit of ambient techno in Anemone, while DV8R and Sect go the borderline-psy acid trance route. The Pilgrims Of The Mind’s Paramedilia sounds like it was inspired by early dub-house, though played far straighter than The Orb ever would. All of these are fine tunes for the price you’re likely to find them at, though your collection won’t suffer if you decide to skip on them either.
The Organism series lasted a couple years after this one, ending at 04, and about the time Delerium started their proper crossover push. Guess they couldn’t multi-task as before. It’s a nice snapshot of industrial’s early association with ambient and trance though, a relationship that often goes overlooked these days.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
The trippy, goofy, psychedelic edge The Orb cultivated helped them develop a distinctive sound unlike any of their growing legion of contemporaries. You just knew they were indulging in the narcotics for their inspiration though, and one couldn't help but wonder if it'd get the better of them after awhile. Orbus Terrarum gave us the answer, an album full of weird experimentation for seemingly no better reason than its own sake. Most were ready to give up on The Orb after this one, wondering if their creativity had worn itself out. Oddly enough, Orbus Terrarum has gained more love in the ensuing years, folks now praising the bold attempts at such leftfield production, even if the actual results were sometimes tedious as a listening experience. Goes to show what a string of truly mediocre releases can do for one's back catalogue.
It starts out innocently enough with Valley and Plateau, two tracks that’d previously appeared on Live 93. Right off you can hear the group (re: whoever you believe to have done most of the production while others sat in and smoked blunts) is pushing their ideas of dub as far as they can. So many layers of sounds and effects are found in Valley - jangly rhythms, grumbly basslines, dreamy pads, samples of nature – that it creates an almost endless sense of space, one you can easily get lost in with good headphones. Plateau, meanwhile, is an utterly blissful piece of ambience, with shimmering cascade of warm strings and synths – an added groovy reggae-dub rhythm midway helps maintain a sense of progression in the track, that we’re not pointlessly meandering about in a flights of psychedelic fancy.
With its charming opening of classical piano, Oxbow Lakes looks primed for another memorable piece of music. Letting it morph into endless layers of jangly dub effects is all well and good, but it doesn’t go anywhere, save an ethereal return to the main melody as the track winds down. Even less focused is Montagne d’Or, at first seemingly a new take on Spanish Castles In Space with (then) current production chops. Then it starts building up tempo, eventually erupting into cavernous beats. It sure sounds cool, but what was the point, other than the guys in the studio wanting to try it out?
That sense of ‘music in service of experimentation’ carries through White River Junction and Occidental, nearly twenty-five minutes worth of sounds, effects, samples, and incoherence. Aside from brief bits (a bobbly bass sound here, a quirky dialog snippet there), hardly anything sticks in my head. Despite playing far too coy with a children’s tale about mischievous slugs eating juicy green lettuces, final track Slug Dub at least knocks off all the studio wankery for a simpler, though overlong, ambient dub outing.
Orbus Terrarum’s a love/hate album at this point. You’re either down for The Orb’s experimental excess, or not. When on point, it’s wonderful music – when not, it’s a waste your time (oh hi, Occidental).
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The only Orb album you're supposed to have, even if you're not much of an Orb fan. So the 'best of' collection U.F. Off doesn't count? And a double album is what you have to spring for a credible electronic music collection - such difficulties for those 'electronica bluffer' hipsters out there. The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld cannot be overlooked though, oodles of sub-genres and scenes springing from the fruitful minds of Alex Paterson's musical conglomerate. It was inevitable that someone would bring ambient together with dub and house – the sampledelic nature of early ‘90s rave demanded it to happen – but The Orb got there first, therefore this album’s given all the plaudits for its influential wake.
And before you point to some other unheralded act that technically beat them to it, I’m talking about making the sound a chartable success, and thus trendy and marketable. Tunes like Little Fluffy Clouds and Perpetual Dawn, sure, those were perfectly executed pieces of ear-wormy dance music, but what of that Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld track? How did an eighteen-plus minute, sample heavy, ambient noodle-thon squeak into the charts? Such different times, those early rave days.
Probably the most remarkable thing about The Orb’s Fun-Times Over There In Superland is that it was released in its double-album form at all. LPs from ‘rave bands’ that weren’t singles collections remained a rarity, yet Island Music had enough faith in- it was the drugs, wasn’t it. Whatever the case, we got an overstuffed 2-CD collection of spacey ambient and groovy rhythms. Just, sshh, don’t let the kids know a lot of it is repurposed New Age mediation music, now with a Roland 909 drum machine. It’s funnier this way!
I’ll level with ya’: for all the claims of musical revolution and dynamic song craft, there are long stretches of floaty dithering and rudimentary beats too. Granted, Paterson and his new pals (Weston, Fehlmann, Glover, Hillage and assorted others) were all figuring things out as they went along, and it’s remarkable some tracks come off as coherent as they do – fifteen minutes of meandering bass guitar, plinky pianos, and country-side field recordings in Spanish Castles In Space shouldn’t work like it does. At times though, it sounds like they’re trying to one-up Jimmy Cauty’s improvisational work from that huge pulsating brain track, and never quite reach that mark. Man, the lost ‘proper’ Cauty/Paterson album remains a tantalizing ‘what-if’.
Okay, I’m probably being more of negative-nancy pants on Adventures In UltramanWorld than needed. I do enjoy this album, but like any ‘ground-zero’ LPs, it does come off dated compared to where the genre would grow, including The Orb’s follow-up U.F. Orb. It’s worth having to hear the roots of ‘hippie ambient meets counter-culture rave’ music, and there’s plenty of lovely moments throughout. Just remember to take it all in with a sense of humour, as the whole concept was apparently a pisstake of progressive rock over-indulgence anyway.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Following the daring experimentation that marked The Orb’s prior few releases, Orblivion was thought of as a corny sell-out of an album when it first came out. Can't fault some folks for giving it that rep, Toxygene shamelessly whored out to every 'electronica' compilation it could find a footing on. The rest of it, I don't know. Yeah, the bold sonic indulgences from before were noticeably lacking (as was Kris Weston, because... reasons), but how could anyone think this LP a sell-out? Happy and even goofy at points, sure, but every Orb album had those moments, and they're thankfully far more tastefully handled here than on tracks like Slug Dub or More Gills Less Fishcakes. Additionally, have you people from 1997 heard the music that was to come from the Orb camps? Trust me, chaps, you've got it good with Orblivion. Enjoy this album’s Orbiousness for all its worth – you won’t get many chances after!
Also, what kind of commercial album paints as curious a world as this one? We’ve entered a warped place with Orblivion, where everything appears like 1950s suburban Pleasantville on the surface, but as seen through Koji Morimoto’s eyes of cyberpunk dystopia if you dig behind the facade. Immediately, we’re dumped into Delta MkII, a bizarre parade of jovial, twisted delights, giant stuffed animals in bright Disneyland colours wearing Mardi Gras costumes happily stomping by. Follow-up Ubiquity’s no less chipper with its trippy psychedelic sounds and bouncy rhythms, while Asylum goes groovy, shuffling breakbeats coupled with spritely floating melodies.
Orblivion’s scenery only gets quirkier from here. Bedouin feels like you’re perusing a white-washed museum of charming indigenous cultures, while outside with S.A.L.T., you find a wacky, cartoon man ranting about signs of the apocalypse and mankind’s ultimate evolution. For he (David Thewlis’ character Johnny from the ’93 movie Naked) sees all the signs, and recognizes the charade of modern-day creature comforts for what they are, barcodes for the markings of The Beast. Seriously, this tune’s build as Thewlis’ tirade continues is brilliant. Never before or since have had I heard such a poignant use of the phrase “Chernobyl. Fact!”
Then there’s Toxygene. It’s a stupid, obvious ‘intended-for–the-charts’ tune that tries to pass itself off as a throwback rave anthem with a bit of Orb giddiness. It’s also great! Just try resisting a little arm-wave action should you hear this out at some point. The rest of Orblivion carries on its cheerful-society-via-pharmaceuticals theme, though Passing Of Time hints at something more sinister lurking beneath (ya’ think?).
While Orblivion does retain many of The Orb’s eccentricities, the production comes off far more taught and focused compared to earlier efforts, likely the influence of Andy Hughes taking on more production duties. It does lend the album to poppier tendencies, but I feel that helps add to its overall atmosphere, creating a feeling of unease while immersed within an impossibly optimistic utopia. Head for the highway, back to the outlands while you can!
Sunday, October 12, 2014
While there's no doubting Carl Craig's status as a Very Important Person in the world techno, his has increased with age. Yeah, he was Very Important during the '90s, what with being second generation Detroit, Landcruising and some other stuff that was important enough to namedrop him in conversation. Yet as the new millennium took form and the number of yesteryear names to drop was gradually pruned, Mr. Craig continuously elevated above his peers. I honestly haven't a clue why this was so, but then I'm slightly biased to the late '90s, where his output was on a downswing as techno generally floundered about looking for new directions and relevancy. Guess all those hip kids getting into tech-house and minimal found some reason to prop him up to legendary status.
Am I blowing smoke with this theory? Perhaps a little, but take a look at this CD, Onsumotahasheeat - I’ll bet a Paperclip People white label that this is the first any of you have seen it (you people lurking my Discogs profile don’t count). You’d think his second official DJ mix would garner more attention, but then it is Shadow Records, a label not exactly high on the minds of the average techno head. On the other hand, few make mention of his way early contribution to the DJ-Kicks series either, and he never had a significant mix out again until 2005’s Fabric 25, when name-dropping techno’s old guard was incredibly fashionable again. From there, Carl Craig kept gaining Very Important Person status point, earning him mixes on all the significant labels and podcasts. Where was the love back in the day, mang?
Oh, wait, maybe the reason Onsumotahasheeat’s gone neglected is due to its content, essentially a Shadow Records showcase. Jimpster is here! Recloose is here! Goo’s here! Droid’s here! L.B.’s here. Um, Marasma’s here. Er... Shinju Gumi’s here? R. Craig? Sneakster? Ultralights? Where’d you dig up these guys, Carl? Yeah, the Shadow archives have some relative unknowns about, but Mr. Craig claims he was fascinated by their library such that he wanted his mix spotlighting the label’s musically bold ways. Fair enough, as the tunes are at least fascinating.
There’s Latin jazz-funk (Jimpster’s Wild Light, John Arnold’s Universal Mind, Ultralights’ Supernova), wicked Scarface turntable action by Goo in The O.G., and big beat business in Shinju Gumi’s Hide And Seek. Then there’s the weird stuff: Droid’s Spacey Poly Bell gives us taste of Detroit d’n’b (!), leftfield electro covers by L.B. (James Brown’s Superbad and Prince’s The Future, if you’re curious), drone-ambient trip-hop (!!) with Sneakster’s Twisted, and fuzzed-out jazz-rock-hop in Marasma’s I Have Got Garlic Hanging On My Front Door. Okay, that last one’s mostly weird for the title.
As you’ve undoubtedly guessed, Onsumotahasheeat’s all over the place in terms of genre. About the only thing holding it together is Craig’s esoteric ear for electronic music. Mixing’s mostly non-existent, but unnecessary for this CD. A fun little throw-on for those days in blunted haze.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
I got this as a joke. All right, also because I kinda’ like Workin’ For A Livin’. What harm was there in getting a Huey Lewis & The News CD, though? It was just sitting there in that bargain bin, little more than a buck or two of investment. It didn’t have any of the ‘notorious’ songs on it either, mostly a collection of the band’s early material – the good stuff, in theory. Yeah, this would be fun for a laugh if folks are over for some drinks. I mean, it’s not like I was going to share the fact I had a Huey Lewis CD in my collection to the world at any point, was there? Haha, ha…!
If you want an extensive history of Huey Lewis & The News and a nuanced description of their musical facets, go read All Music Guide or American Psycho. Know only that what started as a San Francisco answer to Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (*chortle*) turned into a corporate beast embodying all that was weak and abhorrent about mainstream ‘80s rock music. Plus, they were a talented bunch of successful musicians that got a bad rap as cooler, alternative music took to the college airwaves. The story depends on how fond of memories you have of the group, if any at all (I’m looking at you, people who’ve never seen Back To The Future). Some of their music could be incredibly insipid, true, but they had some fun jams in their discography too.
That said, The Only One is a curious CD. The content seems straight-forward enough, a concise gathering of the band’s first two albums, the self-titled debut and Picture This. Oddly, it’s a Dutch label that’s responsible for it, Disky, and it came out in 1997. Bear in mind that’s nearly a decade since Huey Lewis & The News had any significant hit, three other ‘best of’ collections on the market, and well into an era deeming anything they did uncool (the Dutch sure know their cheese, though). You might think The Only One serves as a greatest hits package for the European market then, but that can't be true with only two album's worth of songs, all from their pre-fame period. The biggest hit here is the “Mutt” Lange produced Do You Believe In Love, Workin' For A Livin' the closest second. Tattoo could have been too, if it wasn’t already a B-side to Believe In Love. Hey, there’s a reason to get this CD: rare B-sides! Or not.
The only theory I have for The Only One's existence is somehow, someway, Disky got the distribution rights to Huey Lewis' first two albums, and knocked this quicky-discy out to capitalize on whatever selling potential Mr. Lewis and his News had in the Netherlands - in 1997, mind you. And this CD somehow found its way into a supermarket bargain bin in Western Canada. Now my head hurts, the logic of that theory twisting my brain in upon itself.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Also of note: the Playlists will include the tracks that aren’t on Spotify (yet, if ever), at least in a viewable fashion at the website itself. I’ve been able to do this by syncing Spotify with the harddrive where I store my CD rips and digital albums, which plays the tracks fine from the app running on my computer, but not so much elsewhere. I’ll make a list of what’s missing in each Playlist post, but hopefully some will make their way onto the service in the future. If not, well, you can always stop by my pad (!!) if you must hear these Playlists in full. BYOB, tho’.
That sorted, let’s get into ACE TRACKS: August 2014! Oh wait, I was off that month. Nothing to post then.
Haha, okay, for realsies, here’s ACE TRACKS: July 2014!
Link to full tracklist at Spotify.
Open Canvas - Nomadic Impression
Sasha & John Digweed - Northern Exposure, Westcoast Edition, & Expeditions
Fun Factory - Nonstop! The Album
Masta Killa - No Said Date
Amount Of Hip-Hop: 15%
Amount Of Neil Young: 0%
Obligatory “WTF?” Track: Squarepusher - Paradise Garage
Between the Northern Exposure series, Tiësto’s Nyana, plus a pair of Nokturnel Mix CDs from Topaz and assorted others, July was dominated by progressive house and trance. I’ve used the original un-mixed tracks wherever I could, and also threw in a couple culled from the mixes themselves if they could stand on their own (I’ll be doing this with all DJ mix releases going forward). Unfortunately, little from the early Northern Exposures were found. For that matter, I’m surprised Ministry Of Sound releases are absent. Maybe only UK Spotify has them? (wait, are there regional differences?).
Thursday, October 9, 2014
It was that ellipses, wasn’t it. Giving your solo debut an open ended title like Only Built For Cuban Linx… suggested there’d be a continuation, that Lex Diamond and his gang of hustlers would return to tell more of their saga. And Raekwon did, kind of. Immobilarity offered a glimpse into the ‘crime and fame’ world from the top’s perspective, but gone was the unique narrative from Cuban Linx. Meanwhile, The Lex Diamond Story tried a pseudo-prequel, but only half the time, and could only be considered a disappointment given Rae’ track record of fully thematic LPs.
So everyone kept asking for a Cuban Linx, Pt. 2, the sequel kinda’-sorta’ hinted at but never explicitly promised. Such demanding fans, but Raekwon showed benevolence after a time, finally announcing a follow-up to his seminal debut. Of course, questions were raised whether he could recapture the magic of the original, especially in a rap game that had undergone massive changes from the days of Eastcoast criminology rhymes and lore. I mean, weren’t all these supposed ‘gangstas’ now made-men, living large off their success?
Absolutely, and Only Built For Cuban Linx… Pt. II fully recognizes this fact in the opening skit – it literally carries on from the first album’s finish! Papa Wu ended the final track North Star (Jewels) by giving Rae’ an inspirational monologue, to keep his eyes on his goals and dreams over soulful orchestral strings. Pt. II opens with Return Of The North Star, the very tail-end of the monologue still playing; then a new orchestra picks up and Papa Wu has returned, amazed and joyous at seeing Rae’ as he is now, for he knew, he believed in what the Chef could achieve. That’s an awesome way to start this sequel, and one that’s impeccably followed upon as Pt. II plays out.
For one thing, Raekwon didn’t skimp on bringing in A-list producers for this album, something that hampered Immobilarity and Lex Diamond Story. RZA’s naturally in for a couple mint tunes, including the impossibly soulful New Wu. J Dilla, one of hip-hop’s biggest studio stars of the ‘00s, contributes three, tracks like Wu-banger House Of Flying Daggers and ODB tribute Ason Jones, sounding like he’d always been a part of the Clan fam’. Old schooler Erick Sermon gets a cut in. Even Dr. Dre was somehow roped in for a pair, which are, um, actually rather dull compared to everyone else. I mean, how does a horrorcore guy like Necro totally out-funk the G-funk don’? Necro’s Gihad has a ridiculous catchy chant, and features one of the best examples of ‘Sonning’ on Ghostface’s part. I can verb ‘to son someone’, right?
Guest rappers Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, plus the usual Wu suspects were all in for giving Raekwon the sequel Only Built For Cuban Linx deserved, practically guaranteeing Pt. II a success. Final track Kiss The Ring is an unabashed celebration of Raekwon’s status within hip-hop’s canon, and damn if you don’t feel like bowing after it’s done.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Finally, after diddling about with less-heralded Raekwon albums on this blog, it’s the big one: Only Built For Cuban Linx. You can't understate how massive the Chef's solo debut was when it dropped, overshadowing Mr. Woods' career forever after. Hell, how many times have I name-dropped Cuban Linx here? A few times, I wager. As always with these classic hip-hop LPs, there's little more I can say that hasn't been exhaustively covered by other, deeply immersed chroniclers of rap musics. I'm just a passive fan of the stuff, and Hip-Hop Sykonee ain't coming back to this reality.
What elevated this album into its top tier status was how it added an unexpected dynamic to the then young Wu-Tang Clan saga. Enter The 36 Chambers established a whole crew of talented MCs, but as Method Man and Ol' Dirty Bastard were easily distinguished from the rest, its little surprise they'd do solo joints immediately after. Who'd be next though? GZA seemed likely for another LP, and that Inspectah Deck guy was spitting some fire. Maybe he would- wait, Raekwon? Really? Yeah, he was good too, but not so charismatic as the others. He came off like a little attack dog on the Wu-Tang album and guest spots, barking a bunch as the big dogs swaggered about. Good as a side-man, sure, but a full solo's worth? Well, okay, let's see what you have.
Now this... this is interesting. Instead of another straight-forward run of battle rhymes, pornographic come-ons, and gritty street tales, we're offered a complex narrative, centred on a Mafioso theme. Though not the first time a hip-hop performer was influenced by mob films and lore, seldom had anyone done it so thoroughly as Rae' here. As was expected, the extended Wu family was brought in for guest verses, including ample appearances of Ghostface Killah, who’d already established himself as Rae’s right to his left (y’know, “form like Voltron”?). To sell his crime drama though, the Chef had his crew take on all new aliases that fit his vision. RZA became Bobby Steels, Inspectah Deck became Rollie Fingers, Method Man was now Johnny Blaze, and even a guest appearing Nas took on the alias Nas Escobar. With everyone all in on Cuban Linx’s concept, an instant classic was all but guaranteed here. The Wu-Tang Clan proved beyond a shadow of a doubt they could mix their personas up as needed to fit the music they wished to create.
Of course, the two key ingredients are Raekwon and RZA. No longer the ‘barking’ MC on prior albums, he was suddenly calm, cool, and collected as a rapper, spewing insane amounts of new lyrical vernacular and slang that left the hip-hop world scrambling to decipher and catch up. Meanwhile, Bobby Steels raided his blaxploitation influences, completing Cuban Linx’s ‘rising above the streets’ narrative (with a little Scarface thrown in for good measure). There honestly isn’t another album in the Wu-Tang canon that sounds like it. Reason enough to get this, yes?
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Enough of supernatural coverage. We spent a whole summer digging for the juicy gossip and slanderous dirty you all crave in your click bait!
Question: if Lebron's DJ skills include the violin, would his cooking skills include grape stomping?
Question: if Lebron's DJ skills include the violin, would his cooking skills include grape stomping?
Talk about redundant opening paragraphs. Yeah, it was important establishing what sort of borders we'd set for ourselves at TranceCritic, but as is abundantly clear at this blog, I care not a lick about staying within the lines. I suppose it makes calling this place 'Electronic Music Critic' disingenuous on my part, but it was the title I picked long ago, a logical evolution from the old website. Besides, despite my occasional dalliances into rock or other, I've kept things mostly on an electronic tip (yes, I'm including hip-hop in that now too).
Some additional information here that I neglected before. One Thousand Years was in fact TUU's first album, self-released on their own label before joining up with Beyond/Waveform. I always thought this came out shortly after All Our Ancestors. Lord Discogs led me astray! It makes sense though, the music here more minimalistic compared to their other material. Still really neat stuff though, if you're into atmospheric ambient as conceived by cultures from the before times, the long, long ago.)
IN BRIEF: The Ancients beckon.
For an electronic music review website, we here at TranceCritic sure tend to overreach the boundaries you’d expect of the genre. Not so much the producers who’ll take traditional instruments and fuse them with techno beats - that’s common. And not even old rock songs given the ol’ dance make-over. No, I’m talking about acts that are known for other music but may dabble in synths on a whim.
While it’s fine and dandy that we don’t restrict ourselves to a narrow field of music, it does cause a slight problem: how far can we push it before what we’re reviewing no longer fits typical electronic productions? If an experimental new wave album from Neil Young is allowed, then should all new wave and synthpop acts be given the same attention? And what about hip-hop? The Godfather has been invited, so shouldn’t the rest of that branch be allowed, especially since that music is technically more electronic than Primal Scream’s?
This is a big can of worms we flirt with on occasion but always within reason. We don’t just cover electronic music, but also the culture that comes with the package. The clubs, the outdoor parties, the chill rooms, the gear heads, the trainspotters, the DJs, the warehouses, and even the stadiums. As splintered as many EDM scenes became over the years, they still all more or less encompass the same ideals, which distinguishes it from other music scenes. Some intermixing does occur but this is primarily the reason genres are often separated the way they are in music stores.
This reads like a big disclaimer, doesn’t it. That’s because this album you’ve clicked to read a review on fits into the ‘not-quite-pure-electronic-music’ category. Might as well explain myself for once again straying from the beaten path, eh?
So, who exactly is TUU? This is a group comprised of Martin Franklin, Richard Clare and Mykl O’Dempsey, with other assorted guest contributors. During the ‘90s they made a few ambient albums together before disbanding to pursue other interests. Their sound was rather unique when compared to typical ambient offerings of the era, in that it often conjured up images of ancient exotic tribal clans gathered in a meditative circle, which probably wasn’t too far off in the audience they’d play for. The reason for their effectiveness lies in the instruments they use. Martin played the percussion, usually gentle beats on clay pots, small gongs, and other simple forms. Meanwhile, Richard’s use of soft woodwinds gave their songs warm melodies. And providing the atmosphere would be Mykl, using an assortment of synths.
As you can see, two-thirds of TUU doesn’t rely on anything electronic to produce their music, and Mykl’s use of synths are dressing for the tracks. In some instances, his contribution does lead, but Richard and Martin are usually the main focus. It begs the question then just how much of an electronic album One Thousand Years is, and if it should even be covered. Oh, foolish you be should you think such things. Yes, TUU do sound more organic than electronic, but this is still ambient music in the truest sense. Although easily playable in any environment, and even somewhat co-opted by New Age folks, ambient has largely remained within the domain of the electronic faithful.
I suppose you are wondering if I’ll ever get around to the particulars of One Thousand Years. That, I’m afraid, is tricky. This is ambient, after all, and detailing tracks is rather futile in that the music doesn’t follow any conventional form. TUU enjoy feeling their way through their songs, often times dwelling on the long vibration of a gong beat or a drawn out flute note while an eerie or calming synth smoothly slides in the background. Generally, a song’s elements will come into focus early on, with the trio improvising with each other for the course; a tribal rhythm or chant may crop up to add a little variety but not often.
As for their tone, TUU tend to remain melancholy, even at times mournful. I mentioned earlier at how their music can make one think of ancient tribes, but the trio also displays a touch of lament over our loss of the simple innocence that came with those cultures. A few tracks contain some cheerier moments - the spritely flutes in Pan America or the glowing synths in High Places, for instance - but the general feel is sorrowful and reflective. Like most ambient, the music on One Thousand Years works perfectly fine playing in the background. But should you sit down, ignore all that is around you, and just listen to what’s coming from your speakers, TUU’s work takes on a meditative quality where you’ll find yourself becoming lost within your own thoughts.
Although One Thousand Years is technically over a decade old (Waveform re-issued the album for American distribution - apparently the original European version is quite rare at this point) it hardly shows its age. Of course, this is partly for the fact TUU’s sound already has an ancient feel to it, but the production quality is top-notch as well, with each member’s contribution sounding clear and concise with plenty of room to breathe. While I wouldn’t consider this an essential purchase for fans of this sort of music, if you like your ambient quiet, contemplative, and tribal, then One Thousand Years is worth your attention.
Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved
Things I've Talked About
10 Records 16 Bit Lolita's 1965 1966 1967 1969 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2 Play Records 2 Unlimited 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 20xx Update 2562 302 Acid 4AD 6 x 6 Records 75 Ark 808 State A Perfect Circle A Positive Life A-Wave A&M Records A&R Records Abasi Above and Beyond abstract Ace Tracks Playlists Ace Ventura acid acid house acid jazz acid techno acoustic Adam Freeland Adham Shaikh ADNY Adrian Younge adult contemporary Aegri Somnia Aes Dana Afrika Bambaataa Afro-house Afterhours Agoria Ajana Records AK1200 Akshan album Aldrin Alex Theory Alio Die Alphabet Zoo Alphaxone Altar Records Alter Ego alternative rock Alucidnation Ambelion ambient ambient dub ambient techno Ambient World Ambientium Ametsub Amon Tobin Amplexus Anabolic Frolic Andrea Parker Andrew Heath Androcell anecdotes Aniplex Anjunabeats Another Fine Day Antendex anthem house Anthony Rother Anti-Social Network Aphasia Records Aphex Twin Apócrýphos Apollo Apple Records April Records Aqua Aquascape Aquila Arcade arena rock Arista Armada Armin van Buuren Arpatle Arts & Crafts ASC Ashtech Asian Dub Foundation Astral Waves Astralwerks AstroPilot Asura Asylum Records ATCO Records Atlantic Atlantis atmospheric jungle Atomic Hooligan Atrium Carceri Attic Audion AuroraX Autistici Aveparthe Avicii Axiom Axtone Records B.G. 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