Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ice Cube - The Predator

Priority Records: 1992/2003

Ice Cube warned them, made two albums in two years declaring that the shit was gonna' hit the fan if people didn't pay attention to all the problems affecting inner-city America. Then Rodney King happened, followed by riots, and a promise that proper dialogue and change for the better would finally go down for black communities. Yet, here we are, over twenty years later, and the same ol' strife continues to erupt. Why didn't you warn us again, Cube? Oh, right, too busy making movies and that. Guess it's fallen to the younger generation of rappers to fight the good fight in the name of racial justice.

Just kidding. O'Shea Jackson doesn't need to keep carrying a gangsta' militant torch because he said all that needed to be said back in the day – the fact some of his points on AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Death Certificate and The Predator still resonate today is a testament to how difficult it's been for America to overcome its racial and social divides. That said, I wager even Cube felt he was running out of topics to rap about that weren’t retreads for this album. It didn’t mean he ran out of issues to rail against, as despite the racial pressure cooker having finally burst, he’s still taking to task corrupt cops and the unjust profiling many blacks and Latinos suffered from. A number of his other heated subjects, however, like homophobia and beefs with other rappers, is left to the back burner. Seems there were more important matters to address than whether a dude’s looking at you queer.

Another thing that’s different in The Predator compared to Cube’s first two albums is more focus on his mack game and even a little light-hearted optimism for a change. Yep, this is the one where ol’ O’Shea waxes pleasantries on It Was A Good Day, as much a sunny LA slice of life as it is a commentary that having nothing go wrong is such a rarity in the gangsta’ routine (fabricated or not). It also gave him his highest charting single outside his traditional US rap market, and quite a surprising one considering the sort of music Cube was known for – not that mainstream American radio would be comfortable promoting hyper-violent dancehall songs like Wicked.

Speaking of, should you get a feeling of Cypress Hill on some of these tracks, that’s because DJ Muggs contributed a few beats (Now I Gotta Wet ‘Cha, We Had To Tear This Motherfucka Up, Check Yo Self). His brand of bouncy funk gives The Predator a bit more variety over DJ Pooh and Sir Jinx’ rugged boom-bap and g-funk, though I cannot deny I’m still missing The Bomb Squad sample-heavy style (who doesn’t though?).

Ice Cube’s third album does run a bit long, the aforementioned limited topics covered growing repetitive by the end. Ignoring that though, The Predator is still prime-era Cube, and absolutely worth your ears’ attention. His words were never more potent, yet remain just as pertinent.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Steve Porter - Porterhouse

Fade Records: 2006

I’m hard pressed to think of another career that’s taken as strange a trajectory as Steve Porter’s. He got his break releasing tunes on Chris Fortier’s Fade Records, joining the ranks of a progressive house/trance/pants scene as it started down the ‘dark prog’ path. These days, he’s known as that guy who makes memetastic sports mash-ups, winning web awards and features on SportsCenter. Hell, he even got the nod of approval from Canadian blow-hard Don Cherry, no small feat considering the short list of things he’ll give any props to. Now, make that connection in your head: from John Digweed to Don Cherry. It just don’t add up!

Confounding this story further is the long in-between those career points, as it shows almost no common link between the two incredibly disparate achievements. Instead, we find Steve Porter supporting funky house music, as daft as any scene to find refuge in the middle of the ‘00s. He had to do something, of course, as the dark prog that defined his early years had fallen out of fashion, most of his peers left adrift to latch onto whatever hot new trend they could adapt to. Most went for the minimal and tech-house brass ring, including some of his Fade label mates; others tried out that electro fad for a time. Upbeat disco and funk though? There were isolated strongholds for the sound, especially in clubs around New York City and Miami, but where was the critical prestige in those fun and gaudy scenes, the buzzword worthiness, the forced narrative of their influence within The Scene at large?

This move on Porter’s part could have been career suicide, and he may have faded off into irrelevancy if he hadn’t found fame with his mash-up videos. On the other hand, chasing trends probably didn’t appeal to him if it meant playing dry-as-desert dirt tech-house or electro-fart nonsense - dance music doesn’t have to be so damn serious nor ‘stoopid’. If losing critical hype is the price paid for pursuing what appeals most to you, then all the more power to ya’, Mr. Porter.

Making his new musical manifesto clear was his first dive into the DJ mix market, Porterhouse. It contains twenty-six tracks, which is impossible to mix on a single CD if you’re still playing prog, but perfectly awesome if you’re playing funky house. And breaks! Holy cow, breaks are mixed in here. Not in the traditional ‘spotlight segment’ either, but throughout as though they have every right existing beside all the four-to-the-floor business. Plenty of instances of prog-house’s chugging rhythms and big melodic moments crop up too, though never to the detriment of keeping the vibe on the up and tempo consistent and relentless. Porter also makes up about half the tunes (including under guises like Chop Shop and Agent 001), so there aren’t many detours away from his sound. Porterhouse doesn’t come off as anything more significant than a mindless diversion then, but I can’t deny it being a fun ride.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Orb - Pomme Fritz

Island Red Label: 1994

Perhaps the best era to step into The Orb's world as a doe-eyed ambient newbie was around 1995 (yeah, that year again). Though the group's discography was but a third of its current size, the scant choices for an album plunge were bona-fide classics, as decreed by the Ambient Emporium Consortium Collective. Simply walk into a shop and pick any ol' Orb CD you found sitting on the shelves, confident that the plaudits graced upon them were sure and true. That's the theory anyway, and undoubtedly worked fine for those living in the UK or major metropolitan districts with A&B Sounds and Tower Records aplenty. For a west coast Canadian teenager with paltry sums of money, however, paying big bucks for double-disc albums was simply unthinkable (to say nothing of the curious scarcity of U.F. Orb and Orbus Terrarum in those days). But what's this? Why, a little album at half the price of a regular LP. What a perfect entry point, thought I. Surely I will learn all that I need to know about The Orb from Pomme Fritz! Wait, what are you doing with that rug I currently stand upon?

Look, it isn’t much surprise that whatever druggy tomfoolery was going down in The Orb studios would manifest itself with patience sapping experimentation. I guess folks should be thankful it was mostly relegated to this stopgap, and honestly only two tracks at that, titled More Gills Less Fishcakes and We’re Pastie To Be Grill You. There’s irreverent sampling, bizarre tape manipulations, occasional ear-wormy bits that go absolutely nowhere, splashy über-dubbed rhythms, and a few instances of lovely spaced-out synth work.

Fortunately, they took that one good element and made it a prominent feature in Bang ‘Er ‘n Chips, working it into a minimalist excursion into ambient dub. It also features some of the group’s vintage clever style of sampling: a woman talks about wishing upon stars at night (with billions and billions to choose from!), recalling the Little Fluffy Clouds monologue, while an old Saturday Night Live skit about the relaxing nature of electroshock therapy keeps the mood firmly in cheek. Following that, Alles Ist Schoen goes for the ‘dreamy time’ music road, cascading synths galore. Ah, now he gets it, Teenage Sykonee does.

I guess I should mention that the main track off Pomme Fritz, Meat ‘N Veg, has all the above features arranged into the closest thing to an actual song. Yeah, this ‘little album’ is ‘little’ more than variations on it – not really remixes, but Paterson and co. dicking around in the studio with all those elements (apparently the recent re-issue has even more sessions; yay?). Well, except for the final ditty, His Immortal Logness, a ridiculous piece of short music that would feature wonderfully in a parody of stuffy 1700s European chamber gatherings. I like this more than I should, and as a D-side, it’s totally harmless fluff. Frankly, Pomme Fritz comes off like a D-side, one that charted on sheer Orb prestige alone.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Aes Dana - Pollen

Ultimae Records: 2012

Man, another Aes Dana album? How many have I already reviewed? Wait, only two up to now? It sure feels like more than that, though perhaps it's due to frequent appearances on Ultimae's other releases (collaborations, compilation tracks). Such is the benefit of running your own label I guess, though in Mr. Villuis' case, I suspect it’s more a case of enjoying working with the roster than any sort of ego. He's like the new Pete Namlook! Even physical copies of his label's older releases have grown exceptionally rare, demanding high prices on the trader's market. Well, okay, maybe not.

Pollen is Aes Dana's most recent album, coming out when he and Magnus Birgensson (Solar Fields) were aiming for a little uptempo action in their musical output. Then they discovered Miktek, and everyone turned dour and grey. Either that, or these past few years are an attempt at capturing a traditional raver narrative – the exhilarating, high-paced night of prog-psy dancing, followed by a lengthy comedown into dub techno and ambient's sketchy Sunday embrace. If so, what a daring, brilliant, and genius thing to do, turning one's label into an ongoing musical story, the sort of thing any journalist, critic, or blogger would eagerly look forward to writing about! Of course, the odds of this being so are negative five-percent, so I'll drop the absurdity (for now...).

Here's the point where I struggle describing how Aes Dana's sound doesn't stand out the same way the other Ultimae producers do. That, despite enjoying the downtempo glitch of opener Jetlag Corporation and slowbeat dub techno of Borderline, little ever quite sticks in my head where- Wait a minute! Is that a Roland 909 I hear in Conditioned? Holy cow, it is – you just can’t hide those distinct kicks and claps, even with the Ultimae Mixdown™ in full effect. To my recollection, the label’s never used that drum machine, and nor would they either, the house and techno that serves it best simply not part of their manifesto. And I’m not kidding when I said this is Aes Dana at his briskest, follow-up tracks Tree.Some and A Carmine Day some of the highest BPM tunes I’ve heard on any of his albums.

The back-half of Pollen finds Mr. Villuis going to his trusty standard of chill-out music by way of gothic and industrial influence, though even here something new’s been added. Well, new for the time this came out, as all the dub techno stylization became a running theme for the label since. For an initial foray into the sound, however, he accommodates himself quite well, especially so the final, lengthy cut, Low Tide Explorations - calming drone ambience with splashes of soothing field recordings and occasional rhythmic jolts.

For once, I’m happy to report an Aes Dana album has made a memorable impression on me. The fresh ideas from ol’ Vincent here has given us one of his best albums in years. Oh Roland 909, is there no magic you can’t do?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Paul van Dyk - The Politics Of Dancing (2014 Update)

Nettwerk: 2001

(Click here to read my original goddamn novel)

If any of my old reviews needed a proper overhaul, it’s this 2CD DJ mix from the esteemed Mr. Paul van Dyk. I can easily do this within my new self-imposed word count, so let’s get this going. I’ll stick to the facts.

Notwithstanding the hardships I’ve faced in the wake of listening to The Politics Of Dancing again, suffering long, trying reflective self-doubt, wandering listlessly under the cold drizzle of December nights, moist shivers consistently running down my neck like a post-production kick drum. After buying a better winter coat but without the time to properly enjoy its snug warmth, and forcing myself into pondering my past grammatical transgressions, all to restore whatever reputation I’ve earned. This included reading the original 4,000 words I wrote - in its entirety mind you, not just snippets and chunks like most - all to clarify where I went so horribly wrong a decade ago. Let’s just set all that aside, and focus on this release.

It’s been a smart move on Paul’s part keeping his Politics Of Dancing an infrequent event. As a first foray into commercial mixes, the first was a total success, standing out as distinct, unique, and above class from all of van Dyk’s peers, especially at a time when the trance mix CD market was way oversaturated. Even beyond his studio edits giving so many of his chosen tracks a steady, driving rhythm throughout, his selection of tunes can only be seen as brilliantly bold today. Second Sun’s Empire, iiO’s Rapture, Guardians Of The Earth’s Starchildren, 4 Strings’ Into The Night, Blank & Jones’ Secrets & Lies… dear God, what cheesy songs these are, but damn if I don’t get a kick out of hearing them in this mix. It helps that Mr. van Dyk surrounds them with some of the best trance tunes of the day (Viframa’s Cristalle, Mirco de Govia’s Epic Monolith, Subsky’s Four Days), showing faith in these pop leanings having just as much right to co-exist with ‘proper’ underground ‘tings. After all, if you’ve a soft spot for the saccharine, why not wear it on your sleeve?

Where Politics Of Dancing excelled as a trance mix though – and van Dyk forgot for its 2005 sequel - is in the studio editing. Some complained it ruined a few tracks, but I argue it allowed him to construct a craftier set overall. Trance mixes all too often line up their tracks, beatmatch at the appropriate points, and let the songs play out as they are. van Dyk said nuts to that, often using only small portions as lead-ins to the bigger set pieces, and Politics Of Dancing is at its best when he does this – seriously, the boring parts occur when he’s playing out anthem after anthem like any other jock. It’s why TPOD2 comparatively underwhelms, nothing as fun as mash-ups or quick transitions found on those discs. Hope ol’ Paul remembers this facet for number three, but I sadly doubt he will.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Setrise & Kay Wilder - Poetry Clash (2014 Update)

SPX Digital: 2010

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)

Oh come on! I know I said in my last 20xx Update that I should treat these posts as an opportunity to improve upon my past writing. That, now with a concise format and dedicated self-restriction, one can read better reviews that don't endlessly ramble on. What I hadn't counted on was dealing with this one as an early attempt. Well, okay, I did know, in that my short queue doesn't change that much, but you aren't all seriously expecting me to write Poetry Clash over? I barely got over four-hundred words on the original, and ain't no way I can manage it again, even with wasting a good hundred with my current griping. The original was written when I was already finding success with brevity anyway, so there's no point in me redoing it. Besides, does anyone care about the exploits of Setrise and Kay Wilder four years on? Yeah, I thought not.

That all ranted, I was curious to see what SPX Digital had been up to. They got their ball rolling towards the tail-end of TranceCritic's run, which had me feeling a little guilty over the promos they kept sending without any response. Not that the website had much impact in the trance scene overall, but for any start-up web label, some exposure is always better than no exposure, even if that exposure sometimes came at the end of a snarky quip. SPX though, I liked a couple of their early singles enough that, should I have found myself in need of looking at their Discogian database again, a small tingle of anticipation would tickle up my neck. Did they last longer than a year? Sign any singles from prominent acts? Premiered any up and comers that are stars today? Branch out into bigger and better things like albums, DJ mixes, and *gasp* CDs?

Nay to all that. Well, unless you consider names like Bryn Whiting and Mysterious Movement unheralded producers of trance. It also appears that SPX’s output sputtered out by the end of 2013, but to make sure it wasn’t a case of folks failing to keep Lord Discogs’ records current, I checked out the SPX Digital website. It no longer exists. Ah well, thirty singles isn’t so bad for a trance label, even a digital one.

As for Setrise and Kay Wilder, neither produced much else of note, though Setrise did last a couple years longer. The Steve Birch Remix of Poetry Clash also got picked up by Christopher Lawrence for one of his DJ mix compilations (Rush Hour), which isn’t too surprising as ol’ C.L. had been a supporter of the ‘real underground trance’ movement Johns Askew and Fleming promoted. Listening back on this single, it remains the best of the lot, as close to the tough, energetic tech-trance as you were likely to hear in those days and beyond. Wait, maybe I’m thinking of the Rob van den Beuken Remix. Gads, this EP’s flittered away from me brainpan. Such is so.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Todd Terje - It's Album Time

Olsen: 2014

I feel like a right idiot for not diving into Todd Terje sooner. Certainly I'd seen his name around, often paired up with Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm, fanciful phrases like 'nu-disco' and 'cosmic house' floating between them to describe their sound. What I failed to realize is these were just trendy buzzwords to describe something that was already rather old but often forgotten: space synth. However, unlike contemporary purists who simply ape the works of old, these guys approached the genre with a jazzy house vibe, not to mention a few influences from the French disco-pop scene of the same yesteryears. Or maybe it's a Scandinavian thing, finding those impeccable ear-wormy bits of musical gold in some of the hokiest music around.

Mr. Terje though, there's another reason I hesitated in seeing what his discography held beyond a few arpy dance tunes: the long delay in tackling the LP format. His first single, Eurodans, came out a full decade past, and he’s stayed within the EP realm for much of that time since (a DJ mix titled Remaster Of The Universe aside - show your ‘80s love a little more, Todd?). There was some good stuff in those records, but as I’ve stuck with CD as my preferred format, it’s primarily limited me to album buying. O’ forlorn t’was my dilemma, denying myself the sexy fun times of Mr. Terje’s output. But lo’, a Christmas miracle t’was afoot, for the Todd-One heard my wails of plight, and saw fit to satisfy my selfish needs for music consumed in hour length chunkettes. Thus, with a bit of a euro-sigh, he committed to the necessity of all aspiring musicians, album time.

Don’t be taken in by that facade. Even if It’s Album Time presents itself with the flair of a lackadaisical lounge lizard forced to diddle away at a piano for sixty year old European tourists, the music within is anything but. Well, okay, it sort of sounds like that too, but good! Obviously I find favour in the out-and-out space synthy cuts like Delorean Dynamite, Swing Star, Oh Joy, and Inspector Norse (dressed in house’s groove). Elsewhere though, Mr. Terje unleashes the cinematic sap in Leisure Suit Preben, down-low disco funk with Preben Goes To Acapulco, sunny italo-house in Strandbar, and general chintzy Latin oddities with Alfonso Muskedunder and Svensk Sås - Señor Coconut, much? Ol’ Todd also offers a lounge ballad with Bryan Ferry in Johnny And Mary, originally a peppy synth-pop tune by Robert Palmer. Hey, if you play the part on the cover, you gotta’ deliver within.

It’s Album Time finally commits the best facet of any album: flowing like an actual album! Even with a few older tunes sprinkled in, this LP is far from an odd-n-sods collection of singles. Todd Terje promised us a proper album experience in the title, and by gum he’s given it to us. Worth your ears’ attention if you’ve the slightest glow for synthy space disco in a modern setting.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Boards Of Canada - In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country

Warp Records: 2000

Between the critical nostalgia-soaked darling Music Has The Right To Children and the patchy schizophrenic outing Geogaddi, Boards Of Canada released this unassuming EP titled In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country. Okay, using the word ‘unassuming’ with regards to anything Misters Eoin and Sandison did at that point in their career isn’t quite right – they couldn’t sneeze without legions of fans proclaiming it a new masterpiece. It doesn’t get mentioned as often as their LP efforts though, mostly due to the fact the Boards aren’t typically thought of as an EP act. There’s been a few singles from the albums, but short-form players containing exclusive material comes in small supply from the Scottish duo. A shame really, as I’ve found some of their best material is found in these concise collections of music.

For instance, Amo Bishop Roden is Boards at their best: dusty, warped synth pads playing a charming, warm melody, riding along simple downtempo rhythms. Okay, it’s also sort of Boards at their most predictable, but more often than not Amo Bishop Roden is the type of sound most identify with them and look forward to. Kid For Today offers the other side of vintage BoC, what with lazy, hazy trip-hop beats, mellow organ tones, and field recording ambience. Truthfully, they sound like leftovers from the Musical Children sessions, but didn’t quite fit the overall tone of that album. Praise to the B-sides industry!

Or the “We Got A New Sound We’d Like To Try Out, So Here’s A Sample Track With A Couple Older Left-Overs” industry, if you’re the cynical sort. Yeah, for as nice and classic Boards as the opening two tunes are, the titular cut is something else entirely, and given it’s the name of the EP, odds are high this is what BoC wanted our attention focused on. If anything, it hints at where they’d go next with Geogaddi, exploring an uneasy vibe with lyrics fed through a vocoder and disconcerting laughter of children. A promising look, though I’m not sure if many even suspected that was the track’s intent. Hell, maybe it wasn’t at all, but the Boards must have liked the results enough to indulge further for their following LP. Lastly, final track Zoetrope forgoes any suggestiveness of their ‘70s synth inspirations, a spritely bit of ambience that would find a comfortable home on the records of that era’s classicist-leaning composers.

And that’s about it for In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country. Considering its chronological placement within Boards Of Canada’s discography, it’s not surprising this EP goes overlooked most of the time, completely overtaken by the overbearing shadows Music Has The Right To Children and Geogaddi cast in that era. I honestly only gave it a purchase because Lord Discogs keeps recommending it, no matter what sort of downtempo IDM I may be browsing about for at the time. That and Autechre’s Amber. Shit, now I have to start an Autechre collection, don’t I?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lars Leonhard - 1549

BineMusic: 2011

The title of Lars Leonhard's debut album comes from the flight number of a US Airways plane that was forced into an emergency landing in the Hudson River, on account of striking a flock of Canadian geese shortly after take-off (my nation’s second most annoying weapon!). What an odd thing to center an entire LP around. A track dedicated to the event, sure – French electro-pop chap College, for instance, has done the deed. Maybe even a lengthy composition in a prog-rocky fashion could have been attempted, but any more than that seems like excess. Odder still is there's very little on here that implicitly sounds like the incident is a source of inspiration. A couple tracks have Airline Announcement samples, and all the titles tell the story, though in such a vague manner, they wouldn't look out of place in different track lists either (eg. Altitude Error, Long Range Cruise).

Nay, 1549 comes across as a standard dub techno album with elements of downtempo glitch and upbeat psy chill. It's the sort of sound that's caught Ultimae's attention in recent years, which led to ol' Lars featuring on the label's compilations – and why I decided to check into his discography further, 'natch. Mr. Leonhard got his start on BineMusic though, a German label that's released sporadic ambient and experimental material over the last decade. Move D and Scanner are recognizable names I can drop that have found homes there, but I know little else about the label. And by me, I mean what Lord Discogs tells me.

Okay, enough back-history – how's 1549 itself? Yeah, it's a good album, with a strong narrative in spite of not actually exploring a supposed storyline much. That said, some tracks do sound like they were written as though intended for scores, especially so Fly By Wire, which builds with a cinematic flourish benefiting a Nolan flick. It does sell the notion Lars was inspired by a significant event, though the music could work as a score to any scenario where there's rising tension, climax, and all that good literary stuff.

Besides, these tracks work well as standalone pieces of music too. You have gray-screened ambient dub (Decision Height, Long Range Cruise), minimalist ambient-techno glitch (Clear Air Turbulence, Electromagnetic Pulse), groovy house vibes on the tech-dub tip (Altitude Error, Glideslope, Total Pressure), and psy-dub leaning cuts with a brisk pace (True Heading, 564 Miles Per Hour) – have I said ‘dub’ enough yet? It’s all classy, smartly produced, and earwormy enough that you look forward to another play-through, but don’t mind letting it linger for a few weeks either.

Yeah, that’s about my main quibble with 1549: its absolute perfunctory nature as a dub techno album. I wasn’t surprised by much, beyond discovering an intended narrative that didn’t quite translate into actual music; nor am I inclined to dig into Mr. Leonhard’s discography further anytime soon. Still, for a first LP, it’s about as solid an effort in this genre as you’re likely to find.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sykonee Surveys Spotify's Senseless Suggestions, Round 4

Spotify’s still sending me suggestions based on my Faithless dalliance, but now The Prodigy too. Hilariously, it’s mostly the same releases as my last round, which only confirms my suspicion that Spotify is sending these recommendations based on U.K. chart dominance. Dammit, Britain, there’s more to music than just your corner of the globe! For the purpose of completion though, here’s the few additional albums listed that aren’t Basement Jaxx and Armand van Helden again:

The Micronauts - Damaging Consent & A Remixes Retrospective
Underworld - Dark & Long
Zombie Nation - Absorber

Again, some good music there, but not in line with the point of my surveys of Spotify’s services. Fortunately, it seems Spotify’s also clued in that I’m not following their BIG UK CHART MUSICS suggestions either, and have mostly tapered them off. So let’s see what sort of general recommendations I’ve been sent this time around. Remember, scores are relative to how obvious a suggestion the album is, with 5/5 being something I’d never have thought existed and 1/5 being what every music rag shoves down my earholes.

James Holden - One For You
Wait, you’re recommending a single to start things off? Well, okay then, I don’t mind hearing some old-school Holden for a start. One For You is McProg long before McProg was even considered a thing (re: Schulz adopted the style for his use/abuse). It’s got a grumbly bassline, spritely bleepy hooks, and floaty vocals …all the tropes that defined the genre in the mid-‘00s, but here in 2001. Damn, was Holden ever ahead of the progressive game, eh? Brancaccio & Aisher provides a tougher ‘dark prog’ remix, for all your John Digweed needs.

Recommendation Rating: 3/5

Chris Zippel - Genuine Horizon Remixes
I follow the link, and Spotify says the album’s not found. How is the first track, Blade (Namito Remix), playing then? I know the player will sometimes stream directly from one’s own library, but I sure don’t have this track. I’m not even familiar with Chris Zippel, though Lord Discogs tells me he’s been around for a while. The music on here does shows some promise in further exploration though, mostly dubby dark prog from a year that would have called this dark tech-house or something stupid (yeah, because my description is equally naff!).

Recommendation Rating: 4/5

System 7 - Classics
Ah dear, another case of being forced to give a low score not based on quality of music, but obviousness of suggestion. System 7 is quite ubiquitous in the world of ethno-fusion, which any algorithm having seen copious amounts of Banco de Gaia should realize I’d have interest of. Matters aren’t helped by going with a ‘classics’ collection, though to be fair, this is a gathering of remixes from Hillage and Giraudy’s ‘90s heyday. Bonus points for that.

Recommendation Rating: 2/5

Khan featuring Julee Cruise - Say Goodbye Remixes
If the name Julee Cruise seems familiar to you, it’s because she’s most famous for providing vocals to Falling; aka: the Twin Peaks theme song. She’s also sung on a couple Hybrid tracks, which is about the only reason I can think of Spotify recommending this to me. Or maybe it just figures I’d be down for the Losoul “She’s Homeless” Mix’s down and deep house vibe, because Lord knows the original is one odd tune. Evil electro bossa-nova, maybe? Whatever it is, I know my life’s one step closer to completion having heard it!

Recommendation Rating: 4/5

Slacker - Start A New Life
Oh hey, I remember Slacker. He had quite a few awesome progressive trance tunes back in the day. Didn’t know he was still producing music. Hm, this is from only a few years ago too. Better check the o’ Lord what else he’s released since- oh. Dear. Geez, that puts the title of this album into an unfortunate dark slant. The music itself is also something of a surprise, with liberal amounts of funk and jazz fusion among hip-hop beats, smooth breakbeats, and indie rock psychedelia. Reminds me of what The Future Sound Of London have been up to in recent years.

Recommendation Rating: 4/5

Hardfloor - The Art Of Acid
I’m pretty certain I’ve played some acid techno at some point in all my Spotify sessions, so that I’d get a suggestion of Hardfloor’s latest album is no surprise at all. I’m honestly more surprised that Hardfloor had another LP out this year, since I didn’t hear much buzz for it (what else is new?). As for this album, it’s Hardfloor doing what they’ve always done: acid techno, sometime funky, sometimes spacey, sometimes peaktime, always tweaking. Don’t ever change, boys.

Recommendation Rating: 2/5

Wally Callerio feat. Delmos Wade - The Love Story EP
Strictly West Coast jazzy deep house, this. Except the second track, I’m In - that one’s got more of an electro funk thing going for it. This is a genre you can cast the tiniest net and trawl up something gold, but it’s always nice when you get something you’ve never heard of before. The only link I can think of Spotify suggesting Wally Callerio is this single’s from Guesthouse Music, who has released music from DJ Sneak and Gene Farris. Not that I recall Spotifying them recently, but maybe I have. Whatever. Good tunes, good find, now stop nitpicking, me.

Recommendation Rating: 4/5

Underground Resisance - Electronic Warfare 2.0 – The Other Side Of Bling
Another album missing from the main Spotify library. Come to think of it, even finding UR on the streaming service seems counter to the aggressive Detroit techno outfit’s manifesto. I guess the gritty underground’s gotta’ get paid somehow, even if it’s in fractions of pennies. While the music is as you’d expect from no-holds barred ghetto funk techno, I’m at a loss as to why this particular release came recommended over all the other UR singles out there. Maybe it really is the only one available on Spotify? I’m too lazy to confirm it right now.

Recommendation Rating: 5/5

überLAB - überwunder
Ah, here we go. Something I’ve heard absolutely nothing about, by an artist even Lord Discogs has scant information about, in a style of music that doesn’t get much attention because of its mish-mashy nature. Is it ambient techno? Glitch? J-Pop? Ah, just call it IDM, works for everyone else. It’s fun, charming, whimsical, super-nice, and all that good stuff. Rare too, I suppose, but only because of those darned limited CD runs. So it goes.

Recommendation Rating: 5/5

Kraftwerk - Aerodynamik
Oh, these guys. Yeah, if you’re listening to electronic music, gotta’ get in the most influential German act to come out of, erm, Germany. This was the lead single to Tour De France, their first new music in twenty-five years, and a pretty big deal at the time. The two remixes here go for the tougher electro techno touch and a prog-tech rub(!?), because why not. It’s a solid enough tune for Kraftwerk, but hardly as definitive as their early stuff. What is, though?

Recommendation Rating: 3/5

Lamb - Butterfly Effect
After helping define trip-hop in the ‘90s, Lamb went silent for a while, following their muses elsewhere. Then the allure of reunion festival tours was too tempting to resist, thus Andrew Barlow and Louise Rhodes joined forces again. This was one of the lead singles from their comeback album 5. The track itself is Lamb being as Lamb as they usually are, but the remixes are clearly on the pulse of the new London urban scene (future garage, dubstep …indie rock?). Frankly, I’ve had difficulty getting my vibe on to Lamb’s brand of music, and this is no different.

Recommendation Rating: 3/5

Whew, there’s more, but I think eleven suggestions are enough for now. Out of all these musics, we come to a finally tally of 39/55, the best score yet! Even with such a small sample size to work with, I’d say Spotify’s getting better at its recommendations. I may have to change the process (not to mention the title) yet again when I do another round, keep challenging whatever AI is driving this improving algorithm, but for now I’d say whatever it’s doing is working.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Moby - Play

V2: 1999

Play is a very important album released by a very important artist at a very important time in electronic music’s history. It set the very important precedent that one need not rely on very important radio play for promotion, but could succeed by licensing the music out to very important movies and very important commercials for maximum exposure. Then you could smugly sit back watching those same very important radio stations crawl back to you now that your very important hit singles have wormed their way into the popular discourse. Take that, Very Important Radio that’s no longer so very important!

Sorry, had to get that bit of silliness out of my system. I know it goes without saying that Moby’s Play stunned everyone with how commercially successful it became, but it holds especially true for many ravers who’d been following him since the beginning of his career (or at least after hearing Go). Though he'd always been a little erratic with his muse, most figured he'd all but left electronic music following Animal Rights, seduced by the vigor of protest punk rock in lieu of his growing social conscience. Maybe he'd make another techno album down the road under his Voodoo Child alias, or something ambient leaning should he get the reigns to a film score, but not much else that could interest his old audience.

And it went when Play first dropped, many unsure what to make of all the ragtime and blues samples littered about. While his past indulgences with gospel were charming enough, tracks like Honey, Find My Baby, Run On, and Natural Blues gave us a Moby gleefully exploring American roots music not seen since... well, ever, at least where electronic music was concerned. These weren't simple historical raids for catchy or quirky loops; rather, he honored their legacy, providing little more than serviceable contemporary dance rhythms and his distinct piano, strings and pad flourishes. Everyone agreed it was different, yet uniquely Moby; a defining moment in electronic music's history though? Hardly. Just another indication the Moby brand, once a darling of American rave, had fallen further off from scene relevance. I mean, listen to those squeaky-clean 'rocktronica' cuts Bodyrock and South Side - no way those will catch on with the underground.

Silly underground, there's more to music than you. But okay, if you’re really forlorn for the Moby of old, there are a few tunes that play to his melancholy strengths, including the dreamy Porcelain and surprisingly uptempo Machete. Most of the vintage Mobes is found in the back end of Play though, with haunting ambience (Inside, My Weakness) rubbing shoulders with downtempo takes on his newfound blues infatuation (Everloving, The Sky Is Broken).

Though I doubt anyone reading this blog hasn’t come within earshot of at least a few tracks off Play, it is worth your while to hear the album in full if you haven’t yet. Its simple charm makes for a surprisingly difficult LP to turn off.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Märtini Brös. - Pläy.

Turbo Recordings: 2002

I thought I had Märtini Brös. all figured out. Responsible for a quirky novelty synth-pop hit at the height of electroclash’s popularity, signed to an LP deal on Tiga’s Turbo Recordings print based on the strength of that single (especially so the Black Strobe Remix), then off to the realms of Nowheresville once tastes and music trends abruptly shifted during the ongoing ‘00s. With absolute certainty in my assumption, I popped over to Lord Discogs to confirm my notions, only to have serious knowledge smacked in my smug face. This album Pläy. barely scratches the surface of what the German duo of Clemens Kahlcke and Michael Pagliosa have been up to in their career, with releases before and well after that breakout. Damn, the Lord does provide all, sometimes even more than you bargained for!

Turns out Märtini Brös.' primary home is Poker Flat Recordings (Steve Bug’s label, though more commonly known as ‘They Whom Released Trentemøller’s The Last Resort'), and had been putting out records with them since its inception. Not that it's a huge surprise, many of their early singles sitting comfortable with the deeper side of tech-house, the sort fussy Germans often adore (yes, even fifteen years whence). You couldn't escape glam-pop's re-emergence though, and Märtini Brös. got themselves in on that action whether you liked their older productions or not. Look, what else could they do to lift their career out of obscurity and into the fab' lights - make trance records?

While I won't deny it was presumptuous in thinking Märtini Brös. were a one-and-done album story, there was some logic behind my reasoning other than never coming across another significant hit of theirs post Biggest Fan. For a debut LP, Pläy. feels as though Kahlcke and Pagliosa were unsure whether this was their only shot, cramming in various styles of music without much consideration for album flow - it's like they wanted to show off all their inspirations while they had the chance. Thus, you have the requisite minimalist synth-pop electro-glam in tracks like Electric Monk, Dance Like It Is O.K., and Flash, but alongside those are starry-eyed psychedelic UK folktronica (!?) with Ultrastar, Happiness, and Flowers Of July. Mashed among those are quirky micro tech-house numbers like Boy/Girl, L.O.V.E. (A Really Strong Emotion), and Hot, and little in between linking these styles into a cohesive LP narrative (the cinematic French-pop chill-out track Audiopark 2002 notwithstanding). Märtini Brös. are by no means slouches in any of these genres, but they'd be better served as explorations of those sounds within full-lengths to themselves, not mish-mashed together as they are on Pläy.

This lends itself to a frustrating listen, few tracks standing out beyond whatever merit they contain. The Biggest Fan is already a catchy, camp number – imagine how great it’d sound with strong context surrounding it! Oh wait, I already know that answer. It’s on Tiga’s DJ-Kicks mix. Yeah all these tunes are better served like that than on Pläy., methinks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Various - Platipus Records: The Ultimate Dream Collection

Popular Records: 1995

I honestly haven’t a clue how this 2CD collection came to be. On paper, it’s simple enough: the first two volumes of Platipus Records’ annual label showcase in a single, tidy collection – an ‘ultimate dream collection’, if you will! – now made available in North America without obscene import fees. Simon Berry’s growing print needed a foothold over here as it was, and surely one of the homegrown, underground electronic music labels would provide an outlet: Moonshine, Hypnotic, Instinct, maybe even Astralwerks. Wait, you’re going with Popular Records? The upstart Euro-Dance label that’s promoting the likes of J.K, 2 Brothers On The 4th Floor, and N-Trance? Berry, you boss, how did you pull a deal like that off? Your brand of acid trance might have critical buzz in your U.K. homeland, but here in Americas, no way was there any commercial potential for-

Oh, Robert Miles’ Children (Dream Version) is on here. Well, that explains that. Popular just wanted that one track, and you let them have it in exchange for taking on the first two volumes of Platipus Records as well. That’s my theory, but if so, bravo, Mr. Berry, for it sure conned a few people I knew into buying this double-discer for only one song.

Contrarian that I must be though, I bought Platipus Records: The Ultimate Dream Collection for the other twenty tracks. Okay, roughly eighteen others – I can do without the goofy What? from Catalyst and way under-produced Sea Of Tranquility from Art Of Trance. An affordable 2CD set of trance though, how could any budding 'cracker resist such a deal? I'll put up with Children if it means I get to discover new artists like Art Of Trance, Union Jack, Poltergeist, and Clanger! Wait, why do they all sound so similar, what with distinct burbling acid basslines, rough rhythms, and vocal ethnic samples?

Yeah, I realize Platipus was young, had yet to gather an extended roster they could promote, but holy cow, Mr. Berry, whore out your own music much? Whether as original artist, collaborator or remixer, ol' Simon has credits in all but four tracks: the aforementioned Children and What?, plus Quietman's Plastic Gourd, and Technosommy's Elektron Bender. Of course, this is great news if you can't get enough of his vintage acid trance, with plenty of classics making up the track list: Two Full Moons & A Trout, Red Herring, Cambodia, The Colours, Seadog, Orange, and Cactus. And hey, there's even two versions of Octopus (original and Man With No Name Remix) and Vicious Circles (Spirit Level Mix and Union Jack Mix). This last one's a bit funny hearing twice, since, beyond a bassier climax, there isn't much difference between the two mixes. Then again, they were initially on two separate releases so most folks wouldn't have noticed it.

They'd definitely notice how much of a sore-thumb Children is on this collection though - off to BMG with ya', Mr. Miles. There's acid trance to soak in here instead!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jefferson Airplane - Platinum & Gold Collection

BMG Heritage: 2003

It may be the biggest fucking cliché having Jefferson Airplane in a music collection, but what was an aging counter-culture chap to do? I was already in my mid-Twenties, man, feeling my grimy raver’s roots slipping away as the allure of proper clubbing beckoned in the big city. But I was still hip, yo’, still down with the folksy, psychedelic sounds that pot smokers and such couldn’t get enough of. I’ll prove it! There, that CD sitting in the bargain bin of this supermarket we’re currently rummaging through. It’s got a couple bona-fide classics of the San Fran’ ‘60s scene – heck, some of these members were utterly adamant that they built that city – built it – built that city – built – built that city on – built it – ‘n’ ro-o-o-l-l-l-l! Head trip, yeah.

Seriously though, the Jefferson Airplane story is a crucial one in understanding how influential their brand of folksy psychedelic rock became, endearing itself to a generation, and several others after who admire the hippie lifestyle (*cringe*). It's only fitting that the band came to an end as the '70s took hold, creative differences leading to a split – one became Jefferson Starship, because '70s sci-fi and shit; the other became Hot Tuna, because '70s progressive, drugs and shit. And then there was just Starship in '80s, which was a huge commercial success and represented all that went wrong for '60s rockers in that decade. Let us never speak of it again.

Obviously with such timeless classics like White Rabbit, Somebody To Love, and... um... mmm… (*checks track list*) ah, Watch Her Ride, the Thomas Aviator Band's seen tons of official and unofficial greatest hits collections over the years. This is one of them. As I recall, the Platinum & Gold Collection series was BMG's excuse to trot out their catalog every so often, just in case you didn't already have these songs on CD or in this order yet (buy the albums? Pft, what are you, a vinyl enthusiast?). There really isn't much else to say about this particular compilation that a rock historian hasn't tirelessly detailed elsewhere.

The main take-away I got from Platinum & Gold Collection is how succinctly it summarizes the San Fran' music scene. The first couple tracks are incredibly folksy, which makes sense since Jefferson Airplane was only a small group of folk musicians when they debuted. Then the psychedelia rode in on a rainbow wave, and they got all trippy good – half this disc features songs from Surrealistic Pillow, from which their most memorable hits came about (adding Grace Slick to the line-up didn't hurt). Then everyone went crazy against war and all that bad stuff, protest rock the new hotness. Figures the final track on here, Volunteers is of the band chanting that there's a revolution going on (Woodstock anthem!). Appropriate for the Jefferson Airplane story ending there, then, before glum reality settled in for the starry-eyed hippie generation. Or a fitting conclusion to this CD. Take your pick.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Jaydee - Plastic Dreams

Epic: 1992/1993

Even in a scene filled with endlessly recycled one-hit wonders, Jaydee’s Plastic Dreams stands elite. Lord Discogs provides over one-hundred variations of the single, and nearly two-decade’s worth of updated remixes. Jaydee himself couldn’t help but make a Year 2000 remake, though I suppose he had to do something with it since he got around to releasing a Jaydee LP that year too. And while he's released other singles since Plastic Dreams, they've been infrequent and hardly remarked upon. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if most folks didn't know this single has an honest-to-God second original production on the B-side to go with the main attraction. Now hum Single Minded People for my amusement. Go on, it can't be hard – the track's right there beside three versions of Plastic Dreams. How can you not remember it?

Jaydee - or Mr. Albers to you, sir – probably never intended to have a career-defining hit like this single. A hunch, perhaps, an intuition that this tune had potential in capturing the underground's ear, but by and large he was simply another respectfully successful club DJ that found a comfortable role in early '90s dance music's changing tides. Still, though it was possible in those days to sustain a career behind the decks, Mr. Albers had a bit more ambition than that. So he set up a label, First Impression, and began producing various house and trance records under a few aliases. Plastic Dreams as Jaydee was one such early effort, and it caught the ear of several larger labels, including R & S Records and even the mighty Sony (by way of Epic). Soon the single was finding compilation duty on every CD they could worm it onto, from the most obscure underground trance mix to the biggest commercial discs in every major music chain (fun fact: Teenage Sykonee first come into contact with Plastic Dreams on a CD that included Culture Beat's Mr. Vain, Deep Forest's Sweet Lullaby, and Sunscreem's Pressure Us - oh, Sony).

Since everyone’s heard the original, let’s get into the remixes on this particular single. Wait, you haven’t heard it? You’ve no idea about the groovy, shuffly rhythm, pulsing blast of didgeridoo (I think that’s what it is), or jazzy Hammond organ licks? Sucks to be you, then. I ain’t gonna’ hand-guide you through all these classics. Required listening, it is, so get on it.

Anyhow, remixes. There’s a Trance Mix on here, because even though Plastic Dreams is considered a house classic, Jaydee felt it better served in trance mixes and compilations. Okay, probably not, but if you wanted to hear the track with a few bright synth splashes, without the organ, and monotonously looped for seven minutes, this is the mix for you. Or how about Jaydee’s Groove Mix, which does away with the great beats of the original and sticks in a rote house rhythm instead? But hey, at least the organ’s retained!

Yeah, neither remix is of much interest. Stick to the original, always.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

ACE TRACKS: February 2014

2014 itself went by reasonably swiftly, as the years are wont to do as you grow older. Looking back at what I’d reviewed in February though, I didn’t realize it went by that fast, marking the start of my sojourn through albums starting with ‘M’. I’m only mid-way through ‘P’ now, though to be fair, I’ve had a few lengthy detours along the way too. Still, it doesn’t seem so far back that I was reviewing Miktek and Cell for the first time.



Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Mechanophobia
Various - Masters Of The 1 & 2: History’s Greatest DJs
Various - Macro Dub Infection, Volume 1
Markus Schulz - Coldharbour Sessions 2004
Krusseldorf - Bohemian Groove
Speedy J - Loudboxer
Jean Michel Jarre - Chronologie
Enigma - MCMXC, A.D.

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 12%
Percentage of Neil Young: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Procs - Big Fat Snoring Lamas (because of course it would be)

Another fairly mellow playlist, this. Guess that’s what happens when one splurges on Ultimae back catalog, but ample amounts of dubby world-beat finds its way in here too. It was weird fitting Eminem into a collection of songs that includes Enigma and Jarre, but that’s also what makes listening to these so much fun, that sense of unexpected and unpredictable contrasts. Also, what's up with Cretu's first album being unavailable on Spotify? It's not like it's rare or anything - heck, that hopelessly forgotten Massive Passive psy trance compilation is there, but not MCMXC, A.D.? Senseless I says.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Proper Review)

Parlaphone: 2010

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, you brilliant bastards. First you create a charming ‘anti-pop’ pop cartoon band, then you give them ongoing history and continuity. Following that, you withhold working on said project for only those times you’re bothered to engage with it, turning each Gorillaz release into an event. I quipped in the kayfabe review the cartoon character’s antics were eclipsing their music, but reality isn’t that far off either. The release of Plastic Beach saw a ridiculous amount of multi-media promotion, fully embracing all the broadcasting power of our Web 2.0 society, including any extraneous detritus that comes with it (no, I don’t want the super-deluxe internet-enhanced version of this album, thank you, CD sticker).

Albarn's inspiration for this Gorillaz session came from an unusual place compared to previous albums. Instead of making a musical statement against the corporate machine, the rubbish buried in the sand near his beach house gave him pause with the current state of our planet. What a perfect time to ascend the soapbox then, especially under the guise of a beloved collection of world-class misfits. Hewlett, for his part, wasn't so convinced, feeling particularly finished with the whole Gorillaz concept. Still, with the opportunity to further morph his cartoon creations to reflect a growing sense of global crisis, he rose to the challenge. Murdoc turned further demonic; 2D became traumatized by the events, his distinct black eye sockets now pale white; Russell grew ginormous, a side-effect of swimming all the way to Plastic Beach while consuming all the nasty pollution in the waters between; Noodle was incognito, but don't worry, here's a cyborg replacement. Wee, such fun things we do to these fictional characters!

The result is one of the most conceptually cohesive LPs under the Gorillaz banner, with bittersweet funk and soul melded with tinny Casio electro-hop and quirky Brit-pop throughout. While some could argue such stylistic markers as a bit of a bandwagon jump on Albarn’s part (Owl City was omnipresent), it fits the tone Albarn was shooting for, a mishy-mash of plastic sounds, as though cobbled together from all manner of musical debris gathered at Point Nemo. Plenty of rappers once again join in for guest spots, including Snoop Dogg, Kano & Bashy, Mos Def, plus a returning De La Soul. Unfortunately, none of their verses match the highs found on older Gorillaz hits (you know the ones). Yet, I suspect that was intentional too, Plastic Beach not as interested in aiming for peak chart impact as before, even with a few earwormy bits like Stylo’s breezy electro-funk and On Melancholy Hill’s dreamy lullaby sweetness thrown in.

The caveat with Plastic Beach is it lacks the guiding hand of an establish hip-hop producer (Dangermouse, Dan The Automator), Albarn handling most of those duties himself this time out. He’s definitely learned a lot, showing skill in the style his taken on here. If you enjoyed older Gorillaz for the gritty hip-hop and fearless funk-fusion, however, it’s sorely lacking here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (Kayfabe Review)

Parlaphone: 2010

The remarkable thing about Plastic Beach was that it got made at all. Murdoc Niccals must have burned so many bridges (not to mention countless buildings and studios) throughout his career, it’s any wonder he can find willing participants and collaborators for his music projects. Hell, rumors abound that 2D initially wasn't a willing participant, though Murdoc denies any allegations of kidnapping on his part. Mind, as with anything Mr. Niccals claims, take it with a twenty pound lump of salt, but one cannot deny 2D sounded about as fine in singing form throughout Plastic Beach as he ever has. Maybe he just needs Murdoc's, um, 'encouragement', every so often. Might explain the inspiration for that that secret solo album he recorded while the band was touring this one.

Or perhaps ol’ Murdoc had finally saw the excesses of his life consuming him, and he promised to turn over a new leaf if all his music friends came with him to Point Nemo in making this album. Either that, or he was in need of an army to defend him from those Boogiemen after him. Let this be a lesson to all you budding musicians out there: don’t make deals with the devil for your fame, or you’ll suffer from incessant collectors, and no amount of awesome bass shredding skills is worth that.

Okay, off my perch there. Point is, Murdoc must have gotten incredibly reflective of his life to have written an album like this one. Plastic Beach was never going to be Demon Days, for no better fact than Noodle couldn’t contribute to this album (and sorry, Mr. Niccals, the cyborg could never replace her). A shame, since a few upbeat tunes like Dirty Harry and Dare might have elevated Plastic Beach to unprecedented heights of awesome. Ah well, she had other issues to deal with at the time. Now that the band’s all back together though (where ever they’re currently hiding), maybe they’ll finally find a new studio, and we can hear a proper full-on Gorillaz collaborative project!

Plastic Beach though, man is it ever a mellow album. It boggles my mind that Murdoc wrote the entirety of it – seriously, are there ghostwriters here? That guy from Blur, for instance, who headlined the second unit Gorillaz tour group, he looks suspicious. Or maybe Murdoc is just a bigger softy than he ever lets on, a gumdrop sugar candy wrapped in icky green skin complexion. Guess that would explain why all these rappers and musicians came when he called upon them, though it would have been nice if he’d waited for Russel to show up too. Right, Murdoc felt the Casio drums fit the Plastic Beach theme, but I’m missing that tasty, bassy hip-hop funk from way back in the day. Changing tides, I guess.

Plastic Beach is fine for what it is, though unfortunately the events surrounding the band tended to overshadow the music within. So it goes with Gorillaz these days, doesn’t it?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tomita - The Planets

RCA Red Seal: 1976/1991

Ol' Isao proved he could create clever synthesizer interpretations of the classics with Firebird, outclassing even the pioneering work Wendy Carlos did with Hooked On Bach. There was a sense, however, he was selling his potential short in keeping his chosen works 'grounded'. Whereas most modern classicists were content in doing straight-forward covers, Tomita's style suggested room for experimentation and free-flowing expressionism - his works need not be intended for art houses or chambers, but capable of sending the listener into the wider cosmos above. Just borrow a few stylistic markers from those Berlin guys, and Tomita could craft music as futurist as anything conceived from sci-fi's golden years.

Okay, I’ve no idea whether it was Tomita’s intent in turning his focus primarily towards space music, but this album sure supports the theory. Gustav Holst’s The Planets is considered one of orchestral music’s defining suites, with various portions, passages, and pieces adapted into several genres since (progressive rock adores it). The concept was simple enough: each planet has its own musical theme derived from its astrological attribute, a fair idea since science was still sketchy on several of our solar system’s neighbours. Thus Mars: The Bringer Of War is fierce and aggressive, while Venus: The Bringer Of Peace is tranquil and lovely – which is practically opposite of what those planets are like in reality. Mercury: The Winged Messenger’s spritely, sunny bounce makes good sense for the innermost body though, and having Neptune: The Mystic quietly fade out to ghostly, lonesome choirs evokes the wondrous mysteries that lurked beyond the largely unknown blue ice giant. The Planets may have been astrological in inspiration, but Holst couldn’t resist adding a little astronomy in there too. Tomita, on the other hand, fully embraces it wherever he can. After a whole lot of music box tinkering and robot Moog squawking, The Planets literally lifts off on rockets.

Talking about these pieces in specific detail won’t do much good on my part, especially if you’re familiar with the original orchestral arrangements (if you aren’t, get on that, mang!). The attributes Tomita brings probably won’t surprise folks already weaned on his other works either, much less modern classical in general. What gives The Planets such standout quality though, is how ol’ Isao flits between grand space opera and pulpy sci-fi quirk throughout, keeping you guessing exactly where he’s taking things next. It’d be far simpler to rely on basic substitutes, but Tomita’s fearless in having singing Moogs, simulated radio chatter, and far-out flanged pads sharing the spotlight with symphonic synth strings, organs, and harps. It’s remarkable just how much millage Tomita got out of his hardware here, apparently all performed on his own. Holst’s estate sure weren’t impressed though, forcing The Planets’ initial vinyl run off shelves in short order – same ol’ difficulties for these modern classicists, eh?

This is a great album, essential listening for anyone with a hankering for raw, exploratory ‘70s synth works. I would say that with a ‘Saturn’ track, wouldn’t I?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Various - Planet Rave, Vol. 1 (2014 Update)

Triloka Records: 2000

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)


This CD really could use a do-over review. The one I originally wrote reeked of early amateur ‘skill’, rambling on with inconsequential tangents and wilfully injecting personal opinions where they weren't warranted (to say nothing about taking forever in getting to an actual point). Come to think of it, there are a number of reviews like that from the early TranceCritic years. With most of these full-length Updates, I usually shoot the shit about my old writing process, maybe throw in an anecdote or three, and fill in any noteworthy developments with the artist or label involved. I haven't considered writing a 'better' review as an option, because what else can I say that wasn't exhaustively covered in an old one? Yet that's beside the point, isn't it – why not offer something actually readable instead of eye-numbingly detailed? Lord knows there are a few such releases coming up that deserve a good, updated review.

Which bring me back to Planet Rave, Vol. 1: does it deserve such a do-over? That isn’t a slam against Triloka Records, but I know what’s up. I can feel the apathy oozing from your eye-sockets, the drab cover-art sapping your will to read much further than this. Even back when it sat in the early TranceCritic archives with little competition for attention, it languished in obscurity. Of course, a generic title like this one won’t entice curious explorers of overlooked music either.

Ironic, isn’t it. Triloka’s entire manifesto was built around bringing overlooked music from around the world to the ears of adventurous American audiences. Some of it was re-distribution of early world beat, such as the Bill Laswell sample-heavy project Material or euro-dancey Indian-pop German group Dissidenten (yes, that was somehow a legitimate thing). Or you might find a few oddities in the Triloka discography, such as Junior Vasquez providing a remix of harpist Emer Kenny’s Golden Brown - say, did Joanna Newsom ever get a Junior Vasquez remix? I bet not!

Even those names are comparatively known compared to the sorts that made up Triloka’s rotation. Ismaël Lô, Ashkaru, Little Wolf Band, Wasis Diop, Walela, Ziroq, Freddie Redd (!): this is some deep digging from many corners of the world, my friends. Two of the heavily featured groups on Planet Rave, Vol. 1 (note: there never was a Vol. 2) are Tulku and Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra, hardly house-hold names but the closest thing to in-house stars the label managed. I maintain throwing in five Tulka tracks – including three remixes of Meena Devi - is overkill on a CD intended as a label showcase, but I cannot deny the group had crossover success. Well, if you consider being featured in the Brendan Fraser/Elizabeth Hurley comedy Bedazzled a crossover success – probably got more exposure from frequent Buddha Bar appearances.

And I’ve about run out of self-imposed word count. No proper do-over review for Planet Rave, Vol. 1, then, wonky track sequencing and all. So it goes for the Triloka legacy, sadly.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Various - Planet Dance

Tommy Boy Silver Label: 2000

Planet Dance is another entry in the ongoing history of “Good Music, Bad Covers”. To begin with, the title is utterly generic, and though hyperbolic sub-titles are almost mandatory, even a rote rookie wouldn’t be fooled into thinking Planet Dance is selling what it claims. I’ll give some credit for choosing a minimalist design in artwork, but I’m not sure what that thing is supposed to be. An all-white ‘P’ overlapping a block-spectrum of a ‘D’? And the logo in the bottom corner, is that really Tommy Boy’s, the label famously known as an early leader in hip-hop and urban soul? When did they get on the dance music money train?

Truth be told, they’ve flirted in and out of dance culture for just as long, including a few hip-house tracks when it had short-lived chart strength. After Daft Punk re-invigorated house music and the clubs that supported it in the back-half of the ‘90s, it wasn’t such a bad idea to throw one’s hat into the lucrative pile. Tommy Boy already had plenty of ties and connections to New York City clubs, and a little extra market penetration outside their core demographic wouldn’t hurt. Big gay diva house it is, then.

Thus Tommy Boy established a sub-label specifically catering to the needs of house heads, Tommy Boy Silver. Planet Dance is a summation of tracks that had been released through the label’s first couple years of existence, and remarkably ace throughout for a bandwagon jump. While I wouldn’t call all these ‘club hits’ like the CD claims, there are quite a few memorable anthems on here, and plenty of noteworthy names of the time, including Cevin Fisher leading the charge. Never a bad thing hearing Burning Up or The Freaks Come Out again; a few Junior Vasquez remixes also goes down easy. Squeezed into this mix are a few surprises too.

For instance, Demi Moore is on here! Yes, that Moore, sampled from a world-beat track where she read poetry, now set to a big house cut with orchestral swells and builds (A Gift Of Love’s Do You Love Me, for the record). Or how about a pre-Get Physical M.A.N.D.Y. showing up as Oakland Stroke for a funky outing in Planet Whip, inspired by the way-oldie Let It Whip from Dazz Band? Yeah, didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Nor a pile of hard house either, I wager. Not content in cornering the disco house scene, Tommy Boy Silver got in on the ravier side of things, including Mario Più’s hit Communication (aka: that phone song), and the one-off DJ Irene project P.I.M.P. Project (Kick Your Legs Higher is proto-‘donk’!). Bridging the gap between hard house and progressive house (kinda’) is Hypertrophy, with four tracks of theirs in this mix – geez, they only released five singles. It’s probably a bit much for those who never cared for ‘bells-n-plucks’ riffs, but when surrounded with strong funky vibes, they make for nice sweetener. Definitely a surprising keeper, Planet Dance is.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

William Ørbit - Pieces In A Modern Style

WEA Records: 2000

It’s this album’s fault. Those crummy trance remixes of classical music wouldn’t exist had William Orbit not set the standard for synth covers of the form. Well, okay, it wasn’t specifically his fault, since it was a Ferry Corsten remix of his interpretation of Adagio For Strings that got Tiësto’s megalomania rolling and weak-sauce Classical Trancelation bilge encroaching upon the market. None of it would have happened if Orbit hadn’t allowed the Corsten remix in the first place, thus preventing further ‘inspirations’ from lesser producers. Except for whoever was inspired by Cygnus-X’s The Orange Theme instead, I guess - that one got remixed and covered a bunch too. But no one would have made dance music with classical music without Orbit’s initial guiding hand. Save all those old school rave acts that flat-out sampled orchestral musical passages. Orbit though, he made it all popular and shit, that’s what happened. Not that Isao Tomita hadn’t beaten him to the punch twenty years earlier. Umm…

Help me out here, guys. Why was this album so bad again? It isn’t? Well, that’s news, considering the reputation Pieces In A Modern Style earned in the wake of everything that followed. I suppose a smidge of blame can be pointed here for Orbit’s Adagio For Strings immersing itself into clubland’s consciousness - before that, it was primarily only known to non-classical buffs for that scene in Platoon. Yet, using Romantic and baroque scales in trance music was inevitable, those sweeping musical swells tailor-made for hands-in-the-air euphoria. Okay, Orbit, you’re off the hook on this one.

Here's the crux of Pieces In A Modern Style: for a classical music covers collection, it's adequately quaint. Like many instances of Orbit's pop productions, this music goes down easy, like a cool cup of water with a hint of honey, but still far and away from the sort of electronic music he was known for. Small surprise he’d go with an alias of The Electric Chamber to initially release it then, hedging his bets that the audience who enjoyed the Strange Cargo series wouldn’t be too warm to this material; or he hoped he’d sneak the album through the licensing lawyers unnoticed. That didn’t work out for him though, and Pieces In A Modern Style was promptly withdrawn from stores, mostly unremarked and forgotten.

Flash forward a few years, and Orbit’s hit the big time by giving Madonna some of her biggest hits in years! Shit, son, with that kind of clout back on his side, why not re-release the passion project from before? After excising the troubling tracks, he added in a few more new works from Beethoven, Cage, Vivaldi, and Handel, and the rest is history, bringing another side of Orbit’s to the limelight. Pieces like Ogive, Opus 123, and Xerxes are all quite lovely and dreamy, though hardly challenging in their interpretations. Ol’ William has his distinctive style, and utilized it in pieces from the ancient school. A handy beginner’s CD into modern classical, this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Leon Bolier - Pictures (Original TC Review)

2 Play Records: 2008

(2014 Update:
Before I say anything about
Pictures, can I point out how much improved my writing is here compared to that Phoenix Rising review? I mean, wow, just wow! Only a year-and-a-half had passed between, and though a few minor gaffs still crop up, it's nothing compared to the clunkiness of that older one. Guess going back to college paid off after all!

Okay, Bolier's debut. The horribly dated attempts at 'minimal trance' aside (*cringe*), this has held up quite well. Ol' Leon hit upon a strong formula for his trance productions, of which I detail below, and could have sustained him with a then emergent 'underground' side of the genre - the John Askew style, if you will. But Bolier had bigger aspirations than that, and has instead been seduced by the more profitable side of electro house and festival anthems. His name's unfortunately fallen back to third-tier status, just enough to sustain a DJ career but increasingly lost in a market flooded with bandwagon-jumping former trance producers - to say nothing of all the young jocks emerging and taking all the glory. Shame, as he could have been a king in the '140bpm trance' scene if he stuck things out with this style. Maybe he'll have another hit on the level of
Ocean Drive Boulevard with festival bosh, but if it hasn't happened already, I'm doubting it will.)


IN BRIEF: Energetic yet evenhanded? Sounds good to me.

Was 2008 Bolier’s year? Don’t be daft - if anyone owned this year, it was some guy wearing a mouse head. However, by all estimates, Leon had himself a professionally successful year. He released his first commercial DJ mix (Trance Mission, even if he had to share the spotlight with femme-trance player extraordinaire Mike Shiver), was responsible for one of the most memorable anthems of 2008 in Ocean Drive Boulevard, and finally released a full length album. After several years being something of a third-tier name in the realms of trance, things certainly do appear to be on the up-and-up for the Dutchman.

This wouldn’t matter, though, if his debut Pictures was a bunch of forgettable fluff. Fortunately for Bolier, the man has displayed adeptness in a part of trance that many producers struggle with: rhythms. Not that the genre lacks beats that bring the boom, but quite often they are merely serviceable thump-thump-thumps with your choice of offbeat or rolling bassline; after all, trance prefers focusing on the melodic aspect of music (or just mess with your head if you’re into psy). And although Bolier displays some fine melodic sense, it’s his crafty tech-beats that make his tunes stand out from the bloated trance-pack.

Which is good news for him because Leon’s trance isn’t terribly innovative, doing much of the same thing we’ve been hearing for the past decade and blah blah blah etc. Yeah, we’ve been hearing this complaint for a while, even said it ourselves on plenty of occasions. Although it’s a sound critique when producers are replicating the past to a fault (re: adding nothing new to the table), if someone maintains a degree of class in their work, it at least makes for an agreeable listen; for the most part, Pictures does.

Really, Bolier’s trance is hard to fault on its own merits, doing everything you’d expect of the genre just fine. There is, of course, Ocean Drive Boulevard, about as expertly executed an anthem as you can hope out of the genre; even if all the trance jocks overplayed the tune this year, it still makes for a riveting climax to Pictures’ album proper (disc one, for the record). Meanwhile, cuts Dnipro and Meditate are more straight-forward excursions, simply laying out driving beats and loopy melodies that are nicely hypnotic. YE, on the other hand, aims straight for the melodic jugular; frankly, I’ve never been much of a fan of this type of doodily-do trance, but it’s still enjoyable while it plays. Plus, let’s not forget opener Offshore, a tune that taps into the best of what Tiësto was capable of: melancholy baroque atmosphere (did Geert Huinink ghost-write this?), stadium-sized beats, infectious hook at the climax – it easily outclasses Mr. Verwest’s recent offerings; Bolier out-Tiëstos Tiësto! And, as surprised as I am to say this, I kind of rather like I Finally Found’s euro-danciness – sure, the main hook practically rips off Jam & Spoon’s Right In The Night and the vocals are typically trite, but it doesn’t oversell its earnest emotions, which is about all one can hope for with music of this nature.

Unfortunately, disc one has a chunk of dull filler between many of the better tunes. Darling Harbour, XD, and Beyrouth contain some half-decent elements, but Bolier seems intent on making these his ‘deep’ cuts. As a result, we have music that is kept turned down really, really low so it merely simmers; every so often, a bright bit of synth work will build into a crescendo, but Bolier scales things right back to a simmer following such peaks, turning the tracks into insubstantial teases. I’ll grant they’re not as pointless as Sander van Doorn’s similar offerings (from which Bolier seems to be taking his cues with these tracks), but they ultimately serve no better purpose on this album than to space the trance cuts out.

Still, having too much of the same thing over and over isn’t such a hot idea either, as evidenced by disc two. Here you have most of Bolier’s collaborations and b-sides collected together and, note for note, I’d wager this the stronger of the CDs. For one thing, you don’t have any of the dull ‘deep’ tracks; about the closest would be Lost Luggage with Jonas Steur, which is more funky tech-house than anything (and a whole lot of awesome, I’ll add). The lone vocal track on this disc - Exhibit - is a rollicking goodtime euro-dance tune, with Ms. Georgiou belting her heart out like she’s singing house in the early 90s, and making it far more fun than I Finally Found. And the rest of the tracks - from melodic musers to tech-bangers - are all classy cuts; never were the breakdowns and builds heavy-handed, and the sounds on display were always energetic and pleasing. The unfortunate trouble, however, is the fact all these tracks are so similarly arranged (lead, break, drop, outro) that it can grow monotonous after a while. Although the music is strong enough to keep you engaged, some variety in style would have done wonders for this discs’ overall appeal, and a couple token nods outside the formula just isn’t enough.

Still, as far as debut trance albums go, Pictures is certainly one of the better ones you’ll come across. Yes, there are a number of rough patches and questionable choices included in this double-discer (what even was the point of Longing For? It sounds like a tagged-on afterthought), but as a whole Bolier has come away from this maintaining his path on the up-and-up. With so many of trance’s standard-bearers churning out directionless misfires and corny tosh, it’s reassuring to hear the young bloods stepping up to keep some respectability in the genre.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved.

ACE TRACKS: November 2014

What happens when I buy up back catalog of a few artists, and then follow those reviews with music that’s stylistically similar to them? A playlist with a lot of ambient, ambient techno, synth-chill, and the like, is what. ACE TRACKS: November 2014 gonna’ be great if you like that music, but not much cop if you’re hoping for all house business (try May 2014 instead?).


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Kenji Kawai - 2002 Patlabor 2: The Movie “Sound Renewal”
Various - Phoenix Rising
ZerO One - ozOne
Carl Craig - Landcruising

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 5%
Percentage of Neil Young: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Any of the Beach Boys songs? (they’re quite out of place in this playlist)

I mean, you’d think the Beastie Boys would horribly clash with all the ambient, ambient techno, and pre-ambient synth floating throughout, but not as much as the Beach Boys. Even the fluffy trance and (missing) dark psy works in context of their surroundings. Too many years of separation for those Beach Boys I guess, though the transition from God Only Knows into Boards Of Canada’s Peacock Tail worked surprisingly well.

This playlist also has a few stretches of techno and trance for your higher BPM needs, but you’re looking at a whole lot of tempos on the down for the most part. It’s almost a chill-out set! Or maybe a welcome, very lengthy morning-after one. Admit it, we’ve all been there.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Various ‎– π - Music For The Motion Picture

Sire Records Company: 1998

As promised in the last review, here is your Pi. What do you mean this isn't what I meant? Look, it’s not my fault you misheard what I typed, but what did you expect? I can't manifest baked pastry goods from the intercloud and have them promptly delivered to your computer desks and palms of your tablets. And even if I could because you're one of the lucky few who have a 3D printer, I guarantee it’ll taste awful, even with whipped topping. So how about a delicious assortment of late '90s 'electronica' that soundtracked a movie about puzzling mysteries related to the number pi? (get lost, Geogaddi - you're last month's joke)

Okay, I haven’t actually seen the flick, though it’s on my ever-growing ‘check out someday’ list. I cannot deny some curiosity in how a paranoid thriller could work in Banco de Gaia’s Drippy in there, one of Toby Marks’ more chipper tunes at the time. I highly doubt it was assembled through studio and label dealings, this being an indie film and all. Maybe former Pop Will It Itself member Clint Mansell, who handled the music duties (and kicked off a successful run as a film composer in the process) is just a Banco fan too?

Even within the context of Pi, the CD, Drippy is an odd one out. The only other light-hearted track on here is Aphex Twin’s Bucephalus Bouncing Ball, and that goes all scatter-skitchy after awhile, just like protagonist Maximillian Cohen’s head, if I’m reading the IDMB synopsis right. I guess Spacetime Continuum’s A Low Frequency Inversion Field is upbeat too, if you count psychedelic space ambient as positive energy flow.

Mostly though, Pi features smatterings of electronic genres on a darker tip. There’s the Ed Rush & Optical Remix of Roni Size’s Watching Windows, combining two of drum-n-bass’ then-trendiest sub-genres under the sun (tech-jazzstep!). Trip-hop’s taken care of in Massive Attack’s Angel (of course). Downbeat EBM sludge gets a nod from Psilonaut’s Third From The Sun, though I suspect this genre’s only here due to TVT Record’s massive influence on soundtracks at the time. And hey, do you remember ‘technorganic’ tribal? You will after hearing GusGus’ Anthem. Naturally, big-beat must be featured, and that’s handled by from Clint Mansell himself We Got The Gun; his other track, 2πr, goes jungle). Finally (or initially, since it’s the first proper track on here), there’s… whatever the awesome P.E.T.R.O.L. from Orbital is. I’m calling it evil techno-electrocore, because why not.

Like the movie itself, Pi earned something of a cult following way back when, an edgy alternative to all the mainstream mega-selling soundtracks with obvious names and tunes. True, Roni Size, Orbital, and Massive Attack weren’t exactly under the radar when it came to ‘electronica’ collections, but their selections here were definitely off the beaten path (wow, Orbital had more licensed songs than The Saint and Halcyon & On & On?). Easily worth the fiver it’ll be selling for in a used shop.

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