Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Various - Rewind: Mark Farina

DMC: 2001

Also known as United DJs Of America 9: Frisco Disco. For some odd reason, DMC started up this Rewind series as a means of reissuing DJ mix CDs from their vaults. Not an entirely daft idea, given the long line of mixes the label had released over the years, but most of their choices were barely two or three years old. Nor was Rewind restricted to the United DJs Of America series, also dipping into Mixmag Live! back catalogue. I can only guess this had something to do with their new partnership with Razor & Tie, who specialized in reissues, though primarily of old timey jams and jingles. Gotta' corner all the markets though.

But most of ya'll don't care about these mundane label details. Nay, you're here because you're of the old school, and recognize this CD as one of the all-time greats of late-'90s deep house. You're here to read me give Frisco Disco the high praise you know it deserves. You're here because Mark Farina's mix is the sort of weapon unleashed upon all the new kids who figure the modern era of deep house is all that, when folks from the before times (the long long ago) know much of it's the bunk, so here's some proper t'ings to get edumacated on. And oh so right you are.

Honestly, the whole set can be summed up with Peter Funk's Dreams Of You, one of the most utterly lush slices of deep house records crafted (Those strings! That xylophone! And guitar! And organ! The rhythm! That looping vocal!). Nearly everyone I knew snagged up a copy of Frisco Disco for that one track alone, though the rest of Farina's selections aren’t shabby either.

Already making a name for himself on the West Coast of America, he gained more exposure abroad with the Mushroom Jazz series for the fledgling OM Records. House remained his preferred style at the clubs though, and Frisco Disco is an amalgamation of his funky, jazzy Chicago roots coupled with sunny, soulful San Fran’ style, even with half his records coming from UK producers (‘tis a global vibe, yo’). Farina’s live mix does sound a bit rough in parts (a little too much fiddling with the bass knob for my liking), he throws in a few clever tricks along the way. The opening groove has a few samples from upcoming tracks thrown in as teasers for what’s to come, and he pulls a few extended layered mixes along the way. He saves his best for the last though, playing two versions of Naked Music NYC’s It’s Love one after the other, each so similar that it comes off as though it keeps going on forever. And damn do you never want it to stop either. End Frisco Disco must though, and Farina settles for a bumpin’ slowdown of Sixteen Souls’ Late Night Jam with added sounds of birds singing in the morning sun. Whoa, the dawn’s already here? Damn, this party went by fast.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Beatles - Revolver

Capitol Records: 1966/2009

The only Beatles album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not much of a Beatles fan. Revolver’s the Liverpool band’s ‘middle’ album, catching the foursome in transition from preppy, mop-topped lads to daring studio songsmiths. If you preferred their early rock work with sweet vocal harmonies and catchy pop choruses, Revolver has that. If you preferred their later psychedelic sounds and genre fusions, Revolver has that. And if you preferred hearing The Beatles as a unified band at the peak of their creative powers, that’s Revolver to a tee. Seriously, what isn’t there to like about this album?

Okay, maybe the stylistic jumps could be a bit much, especially back in the day when no one had a clue just how out there The Beatles would soon get (oh hi, White Album). The A-side of Revolver must have one of the wildest runs of pseudo-rock music ever crafted to that point ( and yes, I’m reviewing the ‘proper’ UK version). It all starts innocently enough, railing against The Man in Taxman for a chipper jaunt, but then McCartney turns out such a sad tune about lonely people (Eleanor Rigby) with a backing string section. Wait, wasn’t this band making happy love songs like Please Please Me and Love Me Do but a mere three years prior? Man, fame really did turn them cynical in short order, didn’t it? Oh wait, here’s bouncy I’m Only Sleeping after that, so they haven’t gotten all so serious yet, though the weird’s creeping in with a guitar recording played in reverse.

And the A-side lunacy doesn’t end yet with Revolver. Love You To is our first introduction to Harrison’s fascination with Indian instruments, which is all kinds of awesome or terrible, depending on what era of Beatlesmania you fall under (awesome!). Following that are Here, There And Everywhere and She Said She Said, which aren’t that weird compared to all else that’s performed, but lodged right in the middle of that is Yellow Submarine. Most know it as that song their parents played for them as a kid in hopes of being turned into Beatles fans at an early age. I cannot deny its sing-songy nature, fun nonsensical lyrics and cartoony sound effects is catnip to children ears. Plus, how brilliant is it that Ringo gets to sing Yellow Submarine, making the song relatable as an everyman pub chanty since you don’t need impeccable vocal harmonies to sing along.

Side number two obviously can’t compare to the first half of Revolver, though there are charming bits about (plus a total downer in For No One for the miserable sorts). On the other hand, Tomorrow Never Knows is at the end, the most big-beaty, sampledelic meaty, off-the-wall kick-assery Beatles tune ever – it’s ‘90s Brit rock thirty years early, though I’m sure all those bands freely admit Tomorrow Never Knows being an influence. It was the most perfect capper to an already dynamic album. No way The Beatles could top it. No way. (they did)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Hacker - Reves Mecaniques

[PIAS] Recordings: 2004

Michel Amato already had a tidy techno career going for him before pairing up with Caroline Herve. He even released a debut LP way back in 1999 under his Hacker guise, Mélodies En Sous-Sol, though the buzz surrounding his early singles with Miss Kittin overshadowed it. Heck, bring up anything Hacker related, and it’s nigh impossible wondering what his partnerette in sexy detached synth-pop crimes is doing. Off being her own superstar and hanging out with her own famous friends probably, but she and Monsieur Amato have continued pairing up every so often. Oh man, I still gotta’ hear Second Album proper-like too.

As The Hacker was one of electroclash’s foremost tastemakers, another solo outing from him hitting the shelves was guaranteed. Unfortunately for him though, by the time Reves Mecaniques came out, that scene had already collapsed, journalists and electro-indie types looking for the next big nothing they could latch onto. Just as well, then, that ol’ Michel stuck to the sound that earned him critical praise in the first place: uncompromising electro and brutal, minimalist techno.

Yeah, if anyone was expecting a euro synth-poppy retread of First Album, they were in for a shock. The Hacker’s style’s long been finding ways of taking chintzy ‘80s sounds and giving them an aggressive, gritty edge. It’s as though the gear he uses was found in a Berlin back alley, abandoned and near ruin from rain and neglect. Not for Amato though, as he takes that shit home and fixes it from disrepair into something capable of music making. Why, you might even say he… “hacked” his way into it! Eh? Eh? Man, was that ever a ‘hacky’ pun.

Of course, the first question everyone asked upon clicking this review is “Does Miss Kittin show up?” Yep, on track number three, Masterplan, and it sounds as vintage Kitt’n’Hack as you’d expect, like a pair of actors slipping into familiar roles. Not to be outdone though, Amato brings in Perspects (Ian Clarke) and Mount Sims (another Matthew) for a pair of tunes in Flesh & Bone and Traces. I dunno’ so much about Clarke’s offering, in that he sounds too electroclashy, (no, I can’t explain that – you just know it when you hear it), but Sims’ croon works wonderfully with Hacker’s bleak electro.

The rest of Reves Mecaniques finds Amato going about his usual techno business. Sometimes he leans more electro (It’s The Mind, Sequenced Life, where he totally apes Kraftwerk, because yes he would shut up), and other times he goes more downtempo (Electronic Snowflakes, Sleeping Machines). He’s at his best, though, unleashing aggressive, feral synths (Village Of The Damned, Radiation), and especially so with an acid techno workout on The Brutalist. Nothing fancy about these cuts, folks, aiming straight for your rave jugular.

All said, this album is something of a precursor to the ‘maximal’ strain of techno many French producers adopted in the late ‘00s. If you’ve a hankering for that sound, then The Hacker’s sophomore effort’s for you.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Faithless - Reverence

Cheeky/Arista: 1996/1997

Given all that we’ve come to adore about Faithless, the wild genre hopping on their debut album doesn’t seem so daft anymore. Why of course they’d go from handbag house to gospel folk to trip-hop bop – it’s what they do! On the other hand, electronic music’s seen nearly two decades of deconstruction since, rendering Reverence more of a novel dip into uncharted dance waters than anything astoundingly shocking or ground-breaking. Come to think of it, it’s not like the album was that far removed from the liberal dance-fusion going on in the UK earlier in the ‘90s either. Tell me what Faithless had that groups like Stereo MC’s, 808 State, or Primal Scream didn’t have. Oh, right, those super epic house anthems. Okay, two things. Oh, right, a brilliant producer in Rollo. Okay, three- y’know what, forget it.

As the mid-'90s rolled on, Rollo and Sister Bliss were already a prominent tandem within UK clubland, but the duo felt they were capable of more than kicking out singles for amyl house heads. They also suspected the audiences that fist-pumped to their tunes on the weekend might enjoy a slower, relaxed vibe when chilling at home. And they be right, trip-hop gaining all sorts of critical and commercial traction at the time. No surprise that YOLO-Rollo and Madame Bliss would throw their hats into that lucrative pile, but they lucked out in landing a chill, conscious-leaning MC with an incredible amount of spiritual charisma. Wait, how is that lucky? Maxi Jazz' style of lyrical manifestation should have fallen flat on its face in an era of gangsta' boasting, yet punters quite enjoyed his laid-back words of wisdom and anecdotes.

Then there’s the other half of Faithless’ vocals, Jamie Catto. Most know him these days as Who’sThatNow?, but way back in the group’s formation, he was just as vital a component to the Faithless sound as your Maxis and Didos. He provided a husky, soulful croon that complemented Rollo and Bliss’ dalliances into R&B and gospel, making songs like Don’t Leave and Angelina all the more powerful for it. Wow, considering I was kinda’ blasé about his songs when I first played Reverence, I never thought I’d miss his presence in later Faithless albums. Guess it helps to grow an appreciation for music outside the easy ear-candy of plucky stadium house bangers like Salva Mea and Insomnia.

Was that the plan all along, woo in the clubbed-up caners with a pair of undeniable anthems, then drop serious music education on them when they buy the album? Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Bentovim never claimed as such, merely making the tunes that captured their interest (in less than a month, no less!) and letting the chips fall where they may. The duo sound just as surprised by Reverence’s two-fold success in interviews, though they must have suspected they had something unique going for them. The only fault with this LP I can make is Faithless had yet to realize their full potential.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ACE TRACKS: October 2013

That’s it, then. I’m done with In Trance We Trust. I don’t care if they keep releasing mix CDs, it’s over for me, finished. 020 surprised me in how much I enjoyed the results, so why risk ruining that positive afterglow of a series that did right in the end. They corrected their missteps, found the groove they always hinted was possible, and now it’s time to close that chapter, move onto other things. Eh? Anjunabeats? No…. no! Never! Here, how about some ACE TRACKS that I reviewed way back in October of 2013? There be In Search Of Sunrises here.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Jean Michel Jarre - Jarremix
Various - Influence 1.1: A Hardtrance Experience
Sounds From The Ground - High Rising
Sounds From The Ground - Brightwhitelight

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 16%
Percentage Of Rock: 4%
Most “WTF?” Track: Brian Sanhaji - Cortosis (why did I like this track again?)

Still no Waveform Records on Spotify, thus still a significant chunk of missing music by Sounds From The Ground. ‘Tis odd that Influence 1.1 isn’t available though, as many Hypnotic Records compilations are floating throughout the streaming service. Maybe Cleopatra wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality? Oh, and no ‘Italo Classics’ either, obviously – besides, I could never do those tunes justice as Zyron did for his mixes.

This month was quite a diverse one, which usually results in a fun, eclectic playlist, but I dunno. Between all the Waveform dub, In Search Of Sunrise trance, eastcoast hip-hop, and funky-house house, things never quite clicked the way I hoped it would. Maybe I’m just being needlessly self-critical this time out. I do find it funny how, in the time since going through that particular stretch of albums starting with “I”, I’ve added twenty-two more releases within that block. Mind, two-thirds of that are In Trance We Trust mixes, but still.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Various - In Trance We Trust 020: Mike Saint-Jules & Sneijder (CDs 2 & 3)

In Trance We Trust: 2014

So Menno de Jong's mix for this 3CD mega-event Twentieth edition volume of In Trance We Trust turned out better than I expected. I suspect two reasons for that. First, Menno's unabashed enjoyment of the vintage euro-trance stylee came through in his mix, infecting me with his enthusiasm in the process – too often sets like these come off perfunctory hits rinse-outs, but not so much this one. Second, as this is an anniversary release, of course one of these discs would go the throwback route, saving the other two for contemporary takes on trance. I may as well enjoy the CD that shares some attributes of my early rave days, even if I did my darndest to avoid it back then. After all, whatever Mike Saint-Jules and Sneijder have in store will obviously be inferior.

Oh, hi Sagat, what brings you to this review? Wait, what are you-

Sagat: Tiger Genocide!


*several hours later* Oh man, did I ever get some sense knocked into me. A real slap-shocker, just like listening to these remaining two CDs.

I’ll be damned, but both discs mostly pick up right where Mr. De Jong left off. Mind, Saint-Jules’ set does plod for much of its first half, the sort of thunking anthem prog that made some previous In Trance We Trust volumes such a chore to get through. Things get especially dire midway with a pair of tunes that sound like they’re hitching onto recent Dutch house nonsense (of course Richard Durand would be one of the producers). It was all that I feared from these sets.

Then, in an instant, MSJ’s done with it, starts unloading his own brand of hard trance bangers, and holy geez, these are just as much fun as Menno’s offerings. Why are these fun? Logic says I’m supposed to hate these, but damn if I don’t get the feels for these anthems. They’re just so unapologetic, earnest, and don’t give a fuck what those other scenesters think. It doesn’t hurt ol’ Mike keeps his mixes quick, never letting tunes dawdle for longer than they need to – even the breakdowns have something keeping the momentum, serving as lulls rather than full-stop dithering tedium. It’s euro-trance that utilizes its clichés with efficiency, and is all the better for it.

Meanwhile, this Sneijder fella’, hot damn, he’s just relentless with the energy. Even with breakdowns and supersaws and the whole lot, I’m completely on board his set from start to finish. It’s the beats, mang, relentlessly vicious rhythms that make all the requisite euro-trance downtime bearable (I imagine even with a gun to their head, euro-trance DJs would sooner take the bullet in their brain than play a track without a breakdown).

I still wouldn’t recommend In Trance We Trust 020 to anyone uninterested in this scene, but then it’s not trying to win such folk over anyway. These guys are done with appealing to tourists, perfectly content catering to those who never stopped trusting in trance. D’aaww, so sappy. PLUR hugs!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Various - In Trance We Trust 020: Menno de Jong (CD1)

In Trance We Trust: 2014

The folks at Black Hole Recordings had to realize the In Trance We Trust brand was in desperate need of a shake-up. The genre its namesake was based upon had dwindled in clubber interest and market share. Much of the old guard moved onto more lucrative ventures. New singles continuously failed at enticing a new generation into its scene. All that remained were staunch die-hards, those who truly did trust in trance regardless of popularity. It isn’t as massive a group as those found at massive festivals, but at least they were a dedicated bunch, who'd stick with you through the good times and the bad, provided you didn't deviate from what they felt was a purity of their preferred music. What was the label to do then? Try riding the trendy bandwagons in the hopes of remaining relevant, or start catering specifically to a guaranteed, though smaller, following? Speaking of Menno de Jong's career...!

Okay, ol’ Menno hasn’t taken quite the same path, mostly resisting throwing his lot in with noisy electro anthems and dubstep permutations like many of his brethren did. For a chap who seemed primed for a larger career though, he floundered a bit at the turn of this decade, soon after closing up his Intuition Recordings print. Aw, I actually kinda’ liked that label, his Intuition Sessions mix one of the few CDs that got me tentatively giving trance another chance. While it’s no surprise he’d end up at one of the mega-labels, it’s interesting that he’s releasing singles and now offering a set on In Trance We Trust. Their DJ mixes have mostly gone to up-and-comers and relative unknowns for over a decade now, and surely Mr. de Jong has enough scene clout that he need not slum it with sub-labels.

Then again, hitting the big Two-Oh is something to celebrate for any series, so why not have a prominent name at the helm. And as ol’ Menno’s been one of the genre’s resolute ‘old-school’ supporters, it makes good sense having him provide a throwback euro-trance set. There are breakdowns, girly vocals, and oh God is there supersaws. None of these have any chance of being a hit in this day of EDM, and despite production chops at the bleeding edge of modernity, are all recycling the same standard formulae from euro-trance of old.

Yet, I’m strangely fine with this, even enjoying myself most of the time. The energy is relentless, especially in the latter half when tunes absolutely tear (yeah, that’s John Askew for ya’). Menno even provides a rare vocal tune I unashamedly like (Creatures Of The Night), proving the ol’ Law Of Averages I guess. No matter how overwrought, cliché, or sappy this set goes, MdJ kept pulling me back in, anxious to hear what sort of anthem he’d drop next. It’s like he’s paying homage to that scene’s roots (the fun and the wack), and screw whatever recent developments have gone down. Those are sentiments I can respect.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Various - In Trance We Trust 011: Phynn (Ishkur's Review)

In Trance We Trust: 2006

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)

(note: one of my ironclad rules is I will not review anything I do not have in my personal collection of music, even if I've already technically paid for it - Ishkur doesn't have such scruples though, so he pinched in to do a review of this for me. Enjoy!)


Eurotrance is like a rollercoaster. The first time, you enjoy it. You enjoy it a lot. You enjoy it so much, you go again. And again. But after a hundred times, not so much. For nearly 20 years eurotrance has inundated us with the same ride, the same coaster, the same up and down nonsense in music stores, supermarkets, elevators, hotel lobbies and every La Senza, Bebe and Hot Topic in every mall. Some people never tire of riding the same coaster. Those people have the musical sensibility of a squirrel and the insecurity of a crack whore, to the extent that they’ve created their own annual popularity contest to tell themselves how good they are at their own music. You call them every cracker-ass white dutchbag at Sensation White. We simply call them trancecrackers.

Continuing the compost crap collection of common cookie cutter cardboard cutout copycat cracker-ass compact disc compilation compositions for low countries cunts is In Trance We Trust 011, played by Phynn. I won’t say mixed because trance DJs don’t mix, they play pre-recorded music. You might recognize Phynn as the Dutch trance DJ everyone loved. No, the other one. No, the other one. No, the other one.

The In Trance We Trust series started in 1999 as a showcase of the titular sublabel of Testicle’s Black Hole Reamings, promising to bring a harder edge to Dutch eurodisney cheese, which is like promising to make your food spicier by adding mayonnaise. They’re up to 020 now, each one an annual sampler platter of the label’s milquetoast offerings, indistinguishable in form and content. And yes, that is how they number them. That means we have 977 more to go. Listening to them in succession would feel longer and more agonizing than Stephen King’s ‘The Jaunt’. [you don’t know the half of it –Syk]

This mix is thoroughly unremarkable in every conceivable way. You’ve been on this rollercoaster before. There is nothing new or special here. 79 minutes of disposable, formulaic, feather-lite fluff, only 53m of which is actual trance (the other 26m are breakdowns – long, boring, annoying, non-dancing wristwatch-checking go-to-the-bar-and-get-a-drink breakdowns). For this reason I give it an objective score of 67%. It is a C-average mark. Just like Phynn’s career.

Tracks of note:

Kay Stone – Alone has one breakdown and it’s only 8 bars. That makes it a moderately decent trance song.

Mode Hookers – Breathe is a piss-poor attempt by Sander van Doorn to make farting bassline house that all the kids were into at the time.

Phynn’s own track Close Encounters runs the gamut of the stop-start nonsense that makes eurotrance so insufferable. It’s easily the worst track and also the longest. Gee Phynn, promo whore much?

Airbase – For the Fallen, a breaktrance number in the Freeland tradition, proves my theory that trancecrackers will listen to other genres but only if trance producers make them.

Phynn’s mixing: You know they have bots that can do this now, right?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Various - In Trance We Trust 009: DJ Mark Norman

In Trance We Trust: 2004

The boys that built Black Hole Recordings and all their various offshoots were growing up, starting their first tentative steps as successful stars outside the safe embrace of familiar family. Erm, only one was successful, but then Mr. Verwest’s always been a driven individual, capable of taking root anywhere he so chose. Not so much the others though, but as the likes of Fijneman and Helsloot had drifted from the In Trance We Trust print, it was time for a new generation to take up the mantle (though after veteran Ton T.B. gets his kick at the can, ‘natch). Fresh blood, rising stars, innovative outlo- AHAHAHA! Oh, that last one’s rich. All the latest crop of producers did was recycle the old tricks and put a fresh coat of paint on it, but hey, it’s not like kids discovering trance for the first time knew any better.

Whatever. I have to talk about Mark Norman, one of these supposed new stars of the future. He – or rather still they (Mark de Jong left the duo a few years back) had already released a few singles on the short-lived label Silver Premium, finding a new home with Magik Muzik when that one folded, and have remained within the Black Hole Recordings family to this day. Norman Lenden only releases sporadic singles now, but for a short while in the mid-‘00s, the Mark Norman brand was a hot product emerging in euro-trance’s re-shuffling of movers and shakers, a force for the harder side of the scene that wouldn't follow turncoat trends like hardstyle or electro house. And then he did when festival paydays became the norm. So it goes.

In Trance We Trust 009’s another mix that surprised me, and not just because I got the proper CD this time. I’m already familiar with Mark Norman’s style of music from his (their) productions, and given the annoyingly repetitive era of eurotrance this was released, was expecting something similar to Helsloot’s last mix or even Phynn’s set for ITWT011 - some good tunes, but mostly tedium and another fuckton of breakdowns.

And while that’s kinda’ holds true for ITWT009, there’s far more consistent energy in Mark Norman’s chosen weapons of rinse-out. This set goes for the hard anthemage from the opening, and doesn’t let the pedal off until the laser leaves the aluminum. Okay, I can vibe to this, absolutely. Even the breakdowns seldom kill the set’s momentum, and the only outright cheese moment is the obligatory Tiësto promotion, Love Comes Again. Gotta’ pay respects to the label’s Godfather.

Today’s guest review spot was supposed to be Sakura, but she’s late as usual. Mm, who else hasn’t had reviewed one of these yet? Hey, Birdie, what do you think of Mark Norman’s In Trance We Trust mix?

Birdie: Prefer some UK garage ‘n’ grime m’self, mate.






Wait, didn’t you die before either of- *oof!*


Sakura: Sorry, sorry I’m late! I thought I saw Ryu on the way, and…

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Various - In Trance We Trust 007: DJ Misja Helsloot

In Trance We Trust: 2002

Misja Helsloot has the distinction of kicking off this line of DJ mixes, way back- Hold a second…

*best-worst Londo Mollari impression* MISTA Helsloot! MEESTA Hell Sloot! MEESTA HELL SLUTTY-SLUTE!

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Where was I? Ah, yes. Mr. Helsloot, the second jock to get a second shot at mixing In Trance We Trust. After spending much of his early DJ career in third tier status, this should have at least propelled him up a notch within Dutch trance’s sphere of influence. Not that it was a good mix (oh Hell no!), but the In Trance We Trust brand still had that shiny Tiësto allure glow, and any chap associated with the brand should have benefited from the rub. Why, it’s the perfect time to spend the next few years producing singles and running a label (Gesture Music, plus sub-label First Second Records). Neither took off in any significant way though, either failing to generate much traction in an increasingly bloated scene, or ol’ Misja grew bored of the business model. Eventually he re-refocused his efforts on productions and DJing again, thus completing the typical path for most trance hopefuls in the ‘00s.

I’ve been spoiled a couple times with this series, especially with Cor Fijneman’s last mix (who’d have guessed!). I cannot deny I had some expectation- nay, hope that In Trance We Trust 007 would surprise as these earlier editions often have. After all, I know just how shit these CDs would turn in later editions, and older stuff’s just naturally better, amirite? No, ima-not-rite on this one, as most of the latter-era In Trance We Trust mixes at least have one thing this volume doesn’t: actual set flow.

True, the tunes were often balls and jumped on way too many bandwagons, but there was some care to how they were stitched together. Mr. Helsloot shows no such craft, simply aligning a bunch of unrelated epic, melodic bangers one after the other and calling it a day. Even when a few good tunes stand out, they’re isolated instances, whatever momentum they generate quickly undone by a follow-up with a gratuitous full-stop breakdown. Oh God, are there ever fucking breakdowns on this CD. And what’s with Ton TB’s Future Voices aping a pile of old-school Oliver Lieb tricks? It’s like he mashed up Netherworld with ancient Spicelab. Now I want to play ITWT06 instead – the real deal’s there.

Guest reviewer for this CD is none other than the aspiring woman’s pro-wrestling superstar, Rainbow Mika! She keeps insisting on some promo time, and might as well give it here.

R. Mika: Wait, I’m on now? Alright, trance music! Um, this is like J-Pop, right? Oh oh, no, that’s not it. Oh dear, I don’t know anything about this. Just, just give me a chance to listen to it some more. Does Zangief listen to trance music? No? Ah, well, I’ve some autographs to sign anyway. Exhibition matches at Sardine Beach every Saturday!



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Various - In Trance We Trust 006: DJ Cor Fijneman

In Trance We Trust: 2001

Last round, I lamented ending up with Cor Fijneman’s first mix for In Trance We Trust, as his immediate follow-up looked more interesting of the two. Well fret not, 2013 Sykonee (oh God, I’m doing this…), because your future self will enjoy In Trance We Trust 006 after all. Oh, and while I’m conversing with Near-Past Me, you ought to get on that Silent Season label’s CDs before it’s too late. Trust me.

ITWT005 caught me off guard by high the average BPM was, so thoroughly subjected to trance’s gradual slowing throughout the ‘00s as I was. However, the Blackhole sublabel was initially designed as an outlet for the harder, clubbier side of the genre, so I shouldn’t have been. Yet, diving into ITWT006, fully expecting a brisk tempo from the outset, I’m still struck dumb by how fast these tunes are. They’re not the hard-hard form of trance either (freeform?), mostly hanging around melodic side of things the Dutch jocks adored.

And what’s this? Tunes with energy and drive. Synths flying in from space. Hooks that aren’t sap. Bangin’ 4am tech-trance business. Freakin’ old school acid trance! I know the release date on this claims 2001, but ol’ Cor’s mix sure feels like a ‘90s one. It’s not like he’s included a pile of older producers and tracks in here either. Yeah, Mr. Lieb get’s repped, and Airwave had a solid discography behind him by that point. Many more on here were just breaking out though, and would go on to have lengthy, respectable careers. Marco V’s here! Orkidea’s here (providing a mint remix to Tiësto’s Flight 643)! Darren Tate’s here (as Citizen Caned)! Of course Mr. Fijneman’s here too, bringing in a Geert Huinink assist for a surprisingly solid tech-trance outing in 10 PM. Unfortunately, Geert Huinink is also in at his Geertiest on the track Escalator from Headstrong. Too… much… Dutch…

While most of these trance tunes tickle me right, ol’ Cor’s mixing still isn’t much to get fussed about. That said, his set construction’s mostly sound, melodic stuff dealt with early, and then segueing into pounding tech-trance for a strong finish. Oh, except for one utterly daft moment near the end with cheese-mongers Dance Nation’s Sunshine (with Mr. Fijneman on the rub of course), hopelessly misplaced in- ah, forget it. The CD’s been good, and you’ve earned this silly moment, Cor. Nu-italo lives!

Anyone new to trance will figure In Trance We Trust 006 as rather old-fashioned these days. We better get a Street Fighter who’s about as old-fashioned as they come, T. Hawk. This guy’s so old-fashioned, it’s like he’s an old-timey stereotype!

T. Hawk: Hn. I’ll ignore that. The music does little for me. Some okay rhythm, not much else. That’s all I have to say about this.






Nothing at all? How about some of these titles, like Spirit In The Sky?

T. Hawk: …






Mysteries Of Life?

T. Hawk: …






The Journey? Nothing?

T. Hawk: …






Implacable.

T. Hawk: Yes.






Monday, March 16, 2015

In Trance We Trust: Super Champion Review Project Turbo - Round 2 Fight!

C-c-c-comber Breaker! Wait, wrong game. Initiate Super Fire Blow! No, that's not it. Test my might? Oh HELL no! New challengers appear! Yeah, that's the stuff.

Whatever famous fighting game phrase you prefer, I am indeed breaking up my regular queue for a brief return to the world of In Trance We Trust. Revisiting the series' music for my December 2013 ACE TRACKS Playlist got me curious whether the label was still kicking around or had quietly folded into the glowstick illuminated night. Not only has it held on, but even knocked out another mix, reaching the mighty Volume Twenty in a 3CD extravaganza! Damn, I knew I shouldn't have let Dan Hibiki deliver the final blow to the series. Guess it’s time for me to step into the fighting arena for another round (plus a few assists from various Street Fighter Alpha 3 participants, ‘natch).



Of course, I can’t return to a DJ mix series without adding some stipulations for which volumes I’ll buy. Last round, I picked up every edition that was cheaper than In Trance We Trust 011, my official introduction to these CDs. Turned out every single mix after DJ Phynn’s set fell into that condition, so I’m left with very few still out there regardless. Since I was getting In Trance We Trust 020 no matter what (because glutton for punishment, right?), I figured rounding up whatever mixes were cheaper than that one as the best option for a purchasing stipulation. So now I have every volume of In Trance We Trust aside from the first four (expensive rare now). That includes In Trance We Trust 011, but the CD still hasn’t arrived, now two weeks overdue - I don’t know if it ever will. I’d rather not waste anymore time waiting, but I’ll see if I can come up with something in its space instead.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Elektra: 1995

This is the first Wu-Tang album I actively recall playing, though I probably heard a couple other Clan tracks before without realizing it. Not that I even knew Ol' Dirty Bastard had anything to do with the Staten Island supergroup at the time – nay, t'was that bizarre cover that drew me in. Hell, the name alone had me grabbing the CD for an in-store demo, curious what a self-professed dirty bastard would sound like. Skipping past a far too long intro, I was hit with the instantly catchy piano hook of Shimmy Shimmy Ya and boisterous rap of Ason Unique demanding he be given the mic’ so he could take it away. Yeah, I hadn’t a clue what that meant, and it still seems like a clumsy line, but damn does he ever make you want to repeat it. Aside from a few hilariously juvenile sex raps though, I don’t recall much else from that first playthrough. Guess I was distracted by a nearby, shiny new Club Cutz 6 CD or something.

Much has been made of the utterly daft notion that Dirt McGirt had enough lyrical skill to have Second Wu-Tang Solo Album honoraries bestowed upon him, much less an actual solo career. Folks loved his sing-songy style of off-kilter flow, sure, and he had a crap-tonne amount of charismas (it’s how he keeps his rhymes smellin’ so funk-aayy). No one, however, labelled him a remarkable wordsmith. Hell, how often did he even pen lyrics? So much of Return To The 36 Chambers sounds like he has a cliff’s notes version of material to hang off a menacing RZA beat, then freestyles the rest. Ol’ Dirty spouts off so much seemingly random jargon and rapping styles over the course of nearly any track, it’s honestly quite a thrill hearing which tangent he goes on next. Like, here’s some lyrics from Hippa To Da Hoppa:

“Niggaz better loosen they ass, felt the glass / A forty ounce bottle, yo yo yo yo money yo pass! / Woooh-woooh-woooh! I sweat it live / MC gonna live God? No, the nigga die / The max-imum of MC's are populating / The min-imum of those MC's are dominating / Now all and together now, to what what who? / Rhymes come stinky like a girl's poo-poo.”

They don’t read like much, but coupled with his unpredictable flow and RZA’s unpredictable production, this simple tune is oddly mesmerizing. And the whole album’s like this! Even when fellow Wu-Tang members pop in for a few bars, they all fall lock-step into Mr. Russell Jones’ off-kilter world in the slummiest Shaolin back alleyways.

I don’t think there’s another hip-hop album out there quite like Return To The 36 Chambers. It’s the ODB unleashed in all of his unhinged charm, the RZA getting his gear grimy as fuck, released in the prime of the Wu-Tang Clan’s musical output. You may not care for the Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s content, but you sure don’t wanna’ look away either.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Victor Calderone - Resonate

Statrax: 2003

Victor Calderone’s Resonate was not something I counted on reviewing, and I mean ever. Maybe there was a microscopic chance I’d stumble upon it in a used shop and, with few other options, pick it up because it was a music CD with the adjectives ‘electronic’ and ‘dance’ associated with it. Even then though, I’d be finicky, lest I grab Generic House Mix Number Ten-Thousand Ten – why settle for the obvious when a used shop can offer the bizarre and obscure? All those Hed Kandi and Ultra House collections can carry on collecting dust in the racks as far as I’m concerned, and if a few gems slip through as a result, so be it.

All this is just a long way of saying ol’ Victor’s output isn’t high on my list of Must Hears, nor would I go out of my way to indulge his records – just not enough minutes in the month to hear everything. Someone figured I’d vibe on his style though, and included this mix CD for free in an Amazon purchase. Gee, wasn’t that nice of him. Guess it’s time to suit up for a little Calderone action. Yay Discogs research!

T’was not long before The Lord That Knows All revealed where I’d seen ol’ Victor’s name before. See, this that dude who helped push New York City house music out of Strictly Rhythm’s garagey dominance into danker territory. Specifically, tribal tech-house of the sort Danny Tenaglia became synonymous with, and many prog DJs adopted into their sets after the turn of the century too. Hell, during my initial playthrough, I guessed Resonate was a 2002 release, so prevalent with the year that sound was (just a bit off). This I can definitely vibe on - if house music ain’t workin’ the disco funk, then it damn well better hit that Afro thump.

And sure enough, plenty of tribal action goes down in Resonate, with African chants, drum circles, and gnarly rhythmic groove dominating throughout. Towards the end, Calderone goes prog-prog, including King Unique’s remix of Underworld’s Two Months Off as a finisher, because of course you close a prog set with Underworld. On the way there, we hear two versions of De Loren & Color’s Alessa, an acapella mash-up of J Majik’s Love Is Not A Game upon Babilonia’s Impress Me (though since it’s Kathy Brown on the vocals, shouldn’t she get the credit?), and three of Mr. Calderone’s own productions. Oh, and can’t forget remixes from Superchumbo, Masters At Work, and D. Ramirez, because there’s always space for a few more namedrops in reviews!

If any of this sounds appealing to you, then by all means scope up Resonate wherever you happen upon it. Calderone treats his mix as though you’re arriving at a dark, sweaty club already in full swing, grabbing you by your dancing shoes early and not letting go until 6am dawn; New York house at its finest. No, I’m not saying that just because I got this free.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

ACE TRACKS: November 2013

Woo hoo, I’m but a few days away from an honest-to-God real vacation, my first in nearly a decade! Like, absolutely no commitments I’m obligated towards in my time off work. No classes still to attend, no relatives to visit out of town, no festivals to volunteer for – just pure freedom from any and all responsibilities. And I’ll probably grow mind-numbingly bored within 36 hours. Or spend all that time making Spotify Playlists. Until then, here’s ACE TRACKS: November 2013.



Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Felix da Housecat - Kittenz And Thee Glitz
The KLF - Justified & Ancient

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 18%
Percentage Of Rock: 6%
Most “WTF?” Track: either track from Squarepusher (you just don’t expect it from Jenkinson)

Man, these truncated months are so much easier to put together. I should get super bummed out and stressed by Real World things more often, so I don’t end up reviewing so much unwieldy music. I barely even listened to most of these tracks before slotting them, so easily they slid into their positions within the Playlist by sight alone. Why yes that Cheb I Sabbah world music tune would work great in contrast with Juno Reactor’s Navras. Obviously Tosca and Delerium were meant to go together. Clearly that Public Enemy binge I enjoyed is best served in two mini-segments. And the whole thing runs a nice, easy-breezy three hours. Only the final few tunes are cumbersome, but who ever listens to these things to the very end, amirite?

Surprising that Felix’ classic album isn’t on Spotify. Not surprising all those burned CDs I started reviewing aren’t though, but most of the tracks used on those were found, so it’s all good. Eh, Kid A? Ah heh, sorry, I never did find out which songs off that album CokeMachineGlow and Tiny Mix Tapes approved as being ace.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Instra:mental - Resolution 653

Nonplus Records: 2011

As the '00s drew to a close, duo Alex Green and Damon Kirkham were gaining themselves a solid rep in the drum 'n' bass scene as Instra:mental. It certainly didn't hurt they found collaborative work with tech-step veterans like Jonny L and Source Direct, nor finding a home with trendy upstart labels like Nonplus Records. Then they found another future-looking kindred spirit in D-Bridge, set up their own Autonomic label, and pretty much created a whole new sub-genre within 'deebee's already convoluted mess of micro-genres. Despite being short lived cul-de-sac of a style, that's still a mighty impressive accomplishment in a scene filled with many one-off dead end attempts at new directions. Has there ever been an official name for the Autonomic sound? Eh, whatever, I'm still calling it microfunk because... reasons (hint: look in one of those Twitter links to the right).

With all that musical momentum behind them, a proper full-length album was inevitable from Instra:mental. What sort of music would they venture into? More of that tasty microfunk business as heard on their FabricLive 50 mix? A return to the jungle they built their early career on? Maybe some further venturing into post-dubstep’s experimental realm? Nah, none of that, guy. For their debut LP, Instra:mental set out to do nothing less than a pure Detroit techno homage, d’n’b fanbase be damned.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, as their Nonplus singles skewed that way as it was (heck, the whole label does). Still, they kept one foot in the UK’s bass scene, familiar ground for those who’d wandered in from jungle’s realm. Resolution 653 has almost none of that, dragging the listener into 313’s domain of electro, techno, and its various permutations. That includes a little of that post-dubstep sound (Thomp, Rift Zone), which often took audio cues from Detroit’s lineage. Mostly though, we’re dealing with broken-beat futurism (Sun Rec, Arc, Love Arp), Hawtin-plonk minimalism (8, Talkin’ Mono), renegade warehouse techno (Aggro Acid, Delta Zone (Advance), Memory Implant), neo-Tokyo ambience (Waterfalls, Plok), and technobass (User). Holy shit, there’s actual old-school technobass on this album! Haha, Dynamix II represent! Yeah yeah, that genre was technically a Miami thing, but whatever – t’was southern bass heads doing Detroit, is all. And now London chaps too.

However, there’s a problem with Resolution 653. Well, two if you were expecting proper jungle t’ings from Instra:mental, but I sure didn’t. Hell, I wasn’t even aware of them when I first checked this out, only that they had this really neat looking cover art, and it was being billed as a collection of throwback electro. That said, folks well-versed in electro’s history likely won’t find much that’d have them abandoning their Anthony Rother records anytime soon. Instra:mental do the genre justice, and bring a couple tricks from their d’n’b pedigree, but for the most part they remain so fixated on Detroit’s heritage, it’s blinkered them from exploring any new avenues. And that’s disappointing for a duo that blazed their own paths leading up to Resolution 653.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Inspectah Deck - The Resident Patient

Urban Icon Records: 2006

As an MC, Inspectah Deck is nigh impossible to fault, easily top tier in any Wu-Tang conversation. No, this isn't a debate. Every fan of Wu-Tang Clan has their favourite member, but whenever the Rebel INS starts spitting some fire, you darn well pay attention to his words. Why, then, has he struggled in the solo album market? Lack of an identifiable persona would be my guess. Excellent lyricism only gets you so far in an image conscious rap game, and when you’re surrounded by a bevy of outlandish characters in Wu-Tang, it's difficult sticking out. Hell, even when Method Man did his famous rundown on each Clan member's trait, he struggled describing what Inspectah Deck's name meant (“He's like that dude that'll sit back and watch you play yourself and all that right? And see you sit there and know you lyin; and he'll take you to court after that.” ...th'duq?).

Still, with his first two albums, Rebel INS showed some promise in coming up with a persona unique to him within the Clan: the crafty street hustler who remains embedded in the projects even as he gains affluence. After all, that inner city knowledge ain’t gettin’ dropped by itself, and Mr. Hunter’s greatest verses are often about ghetto illumination. Or just taking rival MCs to task – seriously, why can’t Deck and Del collab’ just once?

Okay, I’m rambling. The Resident Patient, Inspectah’s third solo outing. Or was it? Yes, it was, but it’s long been rumoured this was intended as a mixtape offering, not a proper LP effort. I can definitely believe that, as this is one dodgy release. For one thing, Mr. Hunter’s raps just aren’t as interesting compared to his other albums. He sounds good, but the content’s just not there. A lot of brags we’ve heard before, a few rudimentary come-ons, and an occasional street drama that runs far too short, lacking the sort of vivid imagery or intensity heard on many other records.

The production quality’s all over the map too, a plethora of way underground hip-hop beatsmiths lending their hands in what sounds like several disparate recording sessions. Mondee’s the main one (five tracks), who I’ve never heard before but Lord Discogs tells me has enjoyed a modestly successful career. He does fit the style Deck prefers spitting rhymes over, heavy street funk and cinematic soul, perfect for all your blaxploitation needs. Yet why do I much prefer the one-off gritty Chinatown slum bump of hopelessly obscure Concrete Beats? Or the vintage Wu stylee of RZA protégé Cilvaringz? Or even Deck’s own funky head-bop production? (Let’s not get into the others. Yes, even Psycho Les – was never a fan of Beatnuts)

I guess the most damning thing I can say about The Resident Patient is it’s an album with no real flow, an almost criminal accusation for an MC with impeccable flow. A few moments do shine through, but unless you’re a hardcore Inspectah Deck fan, I wouldn’t bother with this.

Monday, March 9, 2015

L.S.G. - Rendezvous In Outer Space (2015 Update)

Superstition: 1995

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

I do-over for the L.S.G. debut album? Eh, I don't think that's necessary. Technically, that review I wrote for TranceCritic a decade ago (!!) was my second go at Rendezvous In Outer Space, the first a blurb on Lord Discogs. Yeah, I was carrying a torch for the CD back in the day, hoping to get all the young trance fans hype to some proper, authentic, genuine, indisputable, legitimate, um, authoritative, uh... twenty-four carat...? Are you messing with me, Online Thesaurus?

Point being, I felt like a man on a mission in ye’ olde year of 2004, a strident, determined soul set upon the harsh environment of internet web forums filled with ‘noobs’. They were gonna’ learn some history, gosh darned it, understand that trance did not, in fact, begin with Tiësto’s In Search Of Sunrise or Armin’s A State Of Trance. Oliver Lieb is the don of this scene, sons and daughters, the Godfather, the King Kahuna, the Khan, the Czar, the Duke and Duchess, the potentate, the oligarch, the overlord, the, um, rex, uh... the ‘crowned head’? Dammit, Online Thesaurus, you suck sometimes, you really do.

Obviously, I was a fool in turning the L.S.G. discography into weapons for a trance jihad, even subtly hijacking a young, hopeful trance website for my own nefarious plans. I shouldn’t be forcing my interests and opinions down the ears, eyes, and throats of fresh fans of a genre because I feel their current heroes are pale imitations of the real deal. See, there I go again - believing my taste superior than theirs because I have better albums in my possession (you know it’s true!). I cannot deny it though: Rendezvous In Outer Space should be mandatory listening for anyone who fancies themselves a fan of the genre. Lieb helped lay down so much of the groundwork future producers would emulate, why deny the roots of a form of music one purports to love? I mean, any metal fan worth his rock-salt dutifully digests the works of Black Sabbath – L.S.G. deserves the same respect, yo’.

Okay, enough of that torch. For one thing, there’s nothing else to prove with this argument. Those who’ve stuck with trance in the ten years since eventually came around to ol’ Oliver’s music regardless. It’s kinda’ hard not to look to the past when the present kept turning to such crap, right? More than that though, I no longer see music as tools for crusades, quite content in enjoying it for my own reasons and sharing my thoughts with those who are willing to hear or read. Oh yeah, I’m totally turning into that old guy sitting on the park bench with Sennheiser headphones feeding the raving raccoons. What makes Rendezvous In Outer Space so peerless, they ask, and I tell them, I tell them I says, “Hear how Lieb uses percussion for maximum effect with minimal fuss? By g’ar, that’s some mighty fine trance beat craftsmanship there, the likes you don’t see any more, b’gosh.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Various - Renaissance: The Masters Series Part 12 - James Zabiela (Original TC Review)

Renaissance: 2009

(2015 Update:
Oh yeah, I called it for sure. CD1 still sounds great, timeless, and class; CD2 is aging so poorly it hurts. Dear God, I didn't give that 'Reconstruction' of
Energy Flash enough shit. What the Hell are Huggy & Newton even doing with the acid? It sounds like a sick duck quacking. And shame on you, James, for including such a crap cover in your mix. Stick to the original, mate, always. MAOR field recordings too!

Ol' Zabs returned to
The Masters Series for its 15th edition, which I haven't heard. However, seeing as how he has Boys Noize follow Peter Benisch in that mix, tickle me intrigued. He's since drifted away from the commercial DJ mix market, offering up several free MP3 mixes online instead, including a running series called Paradigm Shift. While I don't doubt it's provided him a greater sense of creative freedom, it'd be nice to see him return to the mix CD scene too. Come on, Balance, grease him palms a little...)


IN BRIEF: Almost there.

So much for being ‘the next Sasha.’

Actually, that’s unfair. I doubt James Zabiela ever wanted such an association. Be that as it may though, it was a handle he earned very early in his career when he toured with the iconic British DJ, even teaching the old chap a few new tricks along the way. Then, when Zabiela paired off with Nic Fanciulli a few years back, promoters and paid journalists figured they had a new Sasha & Digweed in the making, and eagerly pushed them as such. Unfortunately, although their One + One release got reasonable reviews and the subsequent tours were generally successful, they were never able to build upon that momentum, and they’ve been in relative stasis since as hip upstarts took the limelight. Might all that early promise in Zab’s career be disappearing into unfulfilled hype?

That’s a stupid question (but oh such a tempting segue, eh?) –James’ skill as a DJ is just as competent as ever. What’s still up in the air, however, is whether he’ll ever release a mix CD that will attain the ‘classic’ status Papa Sasha has repeatedly done. On the twelfth edition of Renaissance’s Masters Series, Zabiela has come about as close to doing so as he ever has.

Being the ambitious technical geek that he is, James wasn’t satisfied in providing ‘just another mix’, and, as seems to be quite the trend of late, got his conceptual on. The gimmick is this: Zabiela took a mini-recorder around with him for a while and recorded various sounds and speeches to make use of; then, after much studio tinkering, crafted a true musical journey of a mix.

The CD starts on a mellow tip, which will be the general theme maintained for much of its running time. Yeah, as per the Down title, this is mostly a downtempo set. Fear not, though, as it neither rambles nor dawdles – in fact, despite obvious transitions and changes of tempo, Zabiela has crafted an incredibly engaging and evolving mix. Sets of chill music are at their best when it feels like you’re being taken on a sight-seeing tour of various moods, atmospheres and soundscapes, all the while always making progress on the trip. Not only has James accomplished this here, but by making use of his samples, he’s given his chosen songs stronger context in the sort of story he aims to tell. For instance, how about a bit of melancholy dialogue regarding losing our humanity as a bridge between the somber minimalist Pattern 4 from Cyan341 and the warm, fuzzy nostalgic tones of Boards Of Canada’s Amo Bishop Roden? There are plenty of lovely little bits like this scattered throughout the mix.

Towards the end, Zabs starts cranking the BPMs up a notch – several notches, actually. Esky’s Number Station establishes a fitting sci-fi setting before IDM-breaks mainstays Plaid are given a chance to take off, reminding us just how sublimely exhilarating these guys have been throughout their career. And while the ‘two-step prog-house’ of Quivver obviously can’t compare to Marry, John Graham’s offering still makes for a worthy contemporary set closer, with Departing Gates’s blissful piano tones providing a fitting coda to the CD.

Overall, I’d rate Zabiela’s set just as good as anything you’d have expected from the prog DJ legends of the 90s – yes, even Sasha’s sets from Northern Exposure. Don’t miss out on this excellent CD from The Masters Series!

Eh? You say there’s two CDs to talk about here? No there isn’t.

Okay, there is, but can’t we just ignore it? It’s not worth getting into. No, really, it’s not. *sigh*

CD2 is called Up, but Down is more up than this disc. The BPMs may be geared for the dancefloor, but there’s very little ‘up’ about these beats. For the most part, this is an ‘I are serious techno DJ’ set, with rhythms that plod along, atmosphere that remains in k-hole murk, and generally very little fun. Despite the sounds and effects never being outright awful, it’s just agonizingly dull to endure - especially so is Zabiela’s own Darkness.2, which is little more than an extended effects wank-a-thon. The set has an alright start with Paul Woolford’s Surrender, but forget about anything being built upon it. Komytea’s Professional Killers nearly rescues us from the middling affair - it at least has some decent groove - but is quickly undone when the track doesn’t really lead anywhere, and James falls back on boring techno-stomp right after. Of course, the pointless cover–sorry, ‘reconstruction’ of Energy Flash will get your attention, in that it’s such a recognizable anthem, but it isn’t until the tail end of Perseverance that things finally pick up. Love You All makes a valiant effort to bring some proper fun back into the mix, but Luomo and Apparat’s track is far too little too late. Even Zabiela doesn’t seem too fussed with this set, as he only adds his walkabout samples at the bookends, not bothering to create the same kind of concept that worked excellently on CD1.

Up just can’t compare to Down in any way. It lacks the first set’s finesse, creativity, spunk, emotion… Hell, anything. And as a standalone, forget it. With tech-plod sets of this sort all over the place, there’s nothing about it to recommend. I hope CD2 isn’t meant to be a representation of what Zabiela plays at the clubs – I’d be spending a very long time at the bar were I hearing this out live.

Masters Series 12 is totally schizophrenic. One half is brilliant, the other not; one half makes a strong argument that Zabiela deserves all the hype, the other makes a strong argument that good prog DJs are dull techno DJs; one half will get repeated plays, the other will collect dust. Mind you, this isn’t a 5/10 release by any stretch, but a mediocre CD2 makes paying a two-disc price for a great CD1 mighty painful.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2009. © All rights reserved

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Groove Armada - The Remixes

Jive Electro: 1999/2000

I'm sure taking my sweet time in tackling a proper Groove Armada album, aren't I? First it was that DJ mix provided by Muzik Magazine as a freebie CD, and now it's a remix collection. Bro, do I not even like Groove Armada, bro? I ask myself that often, always coming to the same answer of a bewildered “I don't know.” I think I like Groove Armada, pretty sure they've never led me astray in the odd times I've dabbled their discography. Hell, I have The Remixes, the sort of release only hardcore fans ever bother with. I don't remember why I got this – I assume because I liked what I heard, enough that it survived the Great CD Pawning Of 2002. And yet, I lack so many of their LPs, only grabbing Vertigo because it was the only Groove Armada album you're supposed to have, even if you're not a Groove Armada fan. Something just don't add up in this equation. Ah well, musing for whenever I reach the 'V's.

Vertigo itself was hugely successful, gaining even more commercial clout when Fatboy Slim offered up a big-beaty remix of the hit single I See You Baby (shaking that ass, shaking that ass). That remix isn’t on here though. Cue Dark Helmet .gif if you bought The Remixes thinking it was. Surprisingly, in its original UK format, there weren’t any rubs of that tune, while the American version gets a standard tribal house go from Futureshock slotted at the very end as an afterthought. What does The Remixes think it is, some sort of original LP experience? Absolutely it does, guy.

Truth is, despite earning all the pounds and shillings, Vertigo only spawned two singles (At The River was released a couple years prior), so it’s not like they had a huge abundance of options for a full-length remix package. Rather, Groove Armada outsourced rubs for seven of the original album’s tunes, plus added an alternative remix of B-side Rap. The first few cuts are fine for what they are, Akasha (jazzy d’n’b), DJ Icey (breaks, d’uh), and DJ Dan (thump house) bringing their distinct styles to Pre 63, If Everybody Looked The Same and Chicago, respectively. It’s also quite the genre hopping out the gate, lending The Remixes to the sort of collection you’d expect out of such a title – a pile of tracks useful for DJs or hardcore fans, but not worth a casual home listen.

However, rather subtly, the CD becomes something more. A little deep house from Attaboy, some groovy jazz-soul care of Time “Love” Lee, a spice of funky downtempo breaks business provided by Kinobe, and a trip-hop outing from Natural Born Grooves (using an alias of Elephant, for some reason). You’re likely seeing a pattern here, and it’s a good one, a vibey flow on a compilation where there shouldn’t be, one you don’t mind returning to sometime down the line. And that, my friends, is why The Remixes is still with me.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Yes - Relayer

Atlantic: 1974/1995

Holy cow, another rock album? That's, what, four in the last week alone? Who'd have thought the letter 'R' would hold so much of the stuff. This time out, we return to the realms of prog rock, that most pretentious of all rock 'n' roll forms. It's been a while since I last dealt with a Yes LP, and hoo-wee, is it ever a doozy. The band had just come off the Topographic Oceans tour, though more of a slog should you hear Rick Wakeman describe it. The album in support has long been considered the exact moment prog rock had transcended cleverness into self-parody, which isn't entirely accurate – after all, the '80s still loomed. But yes, a double-LP with four songs running twenty-plus minutes each was overboard, especially when tied to such a nebulous theme as- You know what, forget it. Explaining it would eat up two reviews alone.

With Relayer however, Yes decided another musical challenge was required, this time tackling nothing less than Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, while adding jazz-fusion into their prog-rocky mix. Wait, where are you going? No, this is awesome, I swear it is! The main song on here, The Gates Of Delirium, is broader in its war theme than a chronicle of Napoleon’s campaign against the Tsars – it could be any ol’ battle, heck even a Tolkien conflict! Roger Dean’s cover art suggests more of a fantasy setting than any place on Earth, and I get something of a Wizards vibe from the piece too. And if Led Zepplin can make music about hobbits with cred’ intact, why not Yes? Oh yeah, that Topographics thing. They’ll never live that one down.

The Gates Of Delirium though, aw man, is this ever a beast of a tune. It starts out all jaunty and chipper, soldiers calm and ready to head off for battle, the music soon changing into a strident march. Some eight minutes in, everything grows urgent, the pace picking up, and all sorts of crazy jams, sounds, crashes, rhythms, guitar squalls and utter chaos ensues, a glorious psychedelic freak-out that explodes into triumphant bombast, Steve Howe’s Telecasters soaring high and proud after a hard fought victory. Following that, the song goes calm, quiet, and soothing, a steel pedal guitar gliding about like a KLF ambient moment (wait...). I guess this is the peace that follows war, though the way Jon Anderson sings, it sounds more like beaten warriors have ascended heaven. Interpretations obviously vary.

The other two tracks are Sound Chaser, a total rock-jazz-psych-prog jam-out with a kick-ass guitar solo (seriously, Howe was on fire on this album – guess he was anxious to try out his new toys). Plus, a charming ditty in To Be Over, a pleasant enough outing (more steel pedal!), but comes off overindulgent for my liking – yes, on an album that features a bloody war re-enactment. Still, The Gates Of Delirium is one of the essentials of prime-era Yes, easily worth the price of admission.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Police - Reggatta de Blanc

A&M Records: 1979

With Reggatta de Blanc, The Police went from catchy punk oddities to catchy ‘cod reggae’ oddities, and scored the big number one on the UK charts in doing so. Man, why do so many ‘reggae by white rock groups’ always hit the charts like that? I can see it happening the late ‘70s, when reggae was growing in popularity, but that trend continues to this day. Why don’t folks vibe on the authentic stuff more? It’s not like understanding the lyrics is crucial or anything – I sure can’t understand what them Jamaicans are going on about most of the time. At least The Police had the sense approaching the genre with both respect and tongue planted firmly in cheek, fully admitting in the title of the album that, yes, you’re in for some ‘white reggae’ (and a little post-punk).

This is The Police album no one’s embarrassed having in their collection. Like, Outlandos might be a bit too punky, Zenyatta a bit too simple, Ghost a bit too weird, and Synchronicity a bit too ‘80s, but Reggatta? Everyone loves that one, even if they only remember a few songs off of it. Message In A Bottle is the big one though, scoring the band their first number one single in the UK, plus Top 10 in several others (not in America though – guess they’d yet to catch onto reggae-rock). It’s hard denying the song craft involved in this one, an instantly memorable guitar hook complemented by some of Copeland’s best drumming and one of Sting’s all-time greatest pieces of lyricism. You can take the tale literally, of an unlucky chap lost at sea, or metaphorically, a sad soul alone in the world, each equally vivid in its narration. I’m not just blowing smoke up The Police’s asses either, each member often claiming Message In A Bottle one of their finest moments as a band.

That tight musicianship is prevalent throughout Reggatta de Blanc, even with a rather slap-dash approach to writing. Story goes they didn’t have much idea of an album going in, running with whatever material they could come up with on the fly. Fortunately, they hang off so many winning hooks and lyrics throughout, their musical indulgences are allowed. Give us all that weightless reverb in Walking On The Moon! Mr. Summers, you go right ahead with those rhythmic reverb diddly-dos on your guitar in The Bed’s Too Big Without You! Mr. Copeland, all those wonderful drum fills in Deathwish, don’t you stop! And boys, with the titular cut, what a build!

Mind you, this isn’t a perfect album by any means. The punk holdovers like It’s Alright For You and No Time This Time aren’t as good as the Outlandos material, and Copeland’s novelty tunes (hilariously cynical On Any Other Day, bass-fuzz Contact, and piano ditty Does Everyone Stare) are strictly fans-only. With such a timeless cut like Message In A Bottle on hand though, it’s hard not becoming a fan of The Police thereafter.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Solar Fields - Reflective Frequencies

Ultimae Records: 2001/2008

You’d think Solar Fields’ debut album would get talked up often, but it’s hardly ever mentioned. For most, Magnus Birgersson’s project starts whenever they were first exposed to one of his later albums. The psy scene caught on to him with Blue Moon Station, the trance scene joined in with EarthShine, and most chill-out aficionados hitched their wagons with Movements. I’m sure late-comers were aware older Solar Fields LPs existed, but only the hardcore would invest in them, in part due to scarcity of limited issue runs. Then again, if you’re really curious, there’s always the digital realm, but that’s denying experiencing a Solar Fields album proper-like, hard copy in hand on a full sound system. You know I’m right!

*Ahem*. In all seriousness, I think Reflective Frequencies goes neglected because of how un-Solar Fieldsy it generally sounds. While Mr. Birgersson often hops genres with every full-length outing, he always retains a distinct emotional core within his music that’s uniquely his own, a warmth that can melt the coldest of hearts. Such attributes are seriously lacking on his debut though, where sound experiments and stark ambient techno rule the day. In all honesty, Reflective Frequencies sounds very much like a Future Sound Of London album, and I’ve no doubt you could fool a casual listener of that should one be so tempted to.

There’s future-shock trip-hop (6.7, Blue Light…, …Red Vortex, Inherit Velocity, Zero Rotation), cybernetic sound collages (Echoing Spectrum, Self Transforming Experience (First Movement), Overlapping Particles, Nea 3, Breathing Neutron Empire), and trippy ambient techno as heard echoing through dead cities (Floating Channels, Zone 12, Outlined Surfaces). Tell me those descriptors don't sound like a long lost mid-’90s FSOL album. And dammit, I know I shouldn’t make that comparison, but it’s hard shaking off. If you add a little extra psychedelia and a conceptual narrative to Reflective Frequencies, you’d have the album most folks expected Cobain and Dougans to deliver about the same year rather than The Isness.

Which still isn’t the best selling point for a Solar Fields debut album, is it? Ah well, for an ‘ambient techno by way of FSOL’ LP, Reflective Frequencies is plenty good, and contain little touches throughout that hint at the music Mr. Birgersson would craft in the future. Zero Rotation has a small amount of prog groove bubbling underneath, while Self Transforming Experience (Second Movement) and Outlined Surfaces are more in line with sort of psy-chill Ultimae was interested in promoting going forward. It wouldn’t surprise me if ol’ Magnus felt compelled to fall lock-step with the blissy vibes of the psy scene rather than continue exploring harsh electronics.

The liner notes mention Reflective Frequencies was recorded in 1999, and does it ever sound like a ‘90s album, many sections fitting for a cyberpunk thriller or PC game. It’s an odd outlier in the Solar Fields and Ultimae canon, an example of both producer and label still discovering their latent talents in a cybernetic realm. How Gibsony of them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bandulu - Redemption

Music Man Records: 2002

Bandulu appeared to have gone quietly into the '90s night, their brand of tribal dub techno growing less relevant as bangin' Swedish sounds and German minimalism became the norm in the new millennium. No one would have thought less of them had Cornerstone and smatterings of vinyl singles been the final impression on their lasting legacy. They'd made an undeniable mark on techno and though their LP career didn't last a decade, it's more than can be said for most producers of that scene.

Then, out of the Bandulu blue, along comes a Redemption, a fresh album for the 2000s after nearly a half-decade of relative silence. Not only was it proper full-length release, but in fact came in two variations, depending on which format you preferred. It’s not unheard of bonus tracks appearing on CD copies or vinyl exclusives rewarding the black crack addicts, but to have a mere two cuts shared between them is nigh unheard of. Why give both versions the same album name if they lack much similarity between either? Would we have even more different track lists had Redemption come out at a different era? I could see that happening with a digital format (all the space!), but I kinda’ get a chuckle out of the concept of a ‘tape-only’ version too. It’d fit the group’s ‘techno for the graffiti-filled North London streets’ manifesto.

One of the tracks on both record and CD is Jahquarius, and oh my God, when I heard this as the opener, I feared the worst. That is, I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Redemption - whether Bandulu’s techno had evolved with the times at all, or they’d stick to their rugged guns – but offering up a rather standard reggae dub outing was not what I had in mind. It’s serviceable, I’ll grant it that, and likely would have done serious compilation duty for any ol’ Dub Selector type collection. Say, why didn’t it do so anyway? Was Music Man Records too far off the beaten dub path for the downtempo market to come a knockin’ for singles? They weren’t all Green Velvet and La La Land, you know.

Fortunately for me, Jahquarius and similar tune Detention are the only cuts off Redemption like that. The rest gets back to Bandulu’s toasty slices of unrelenting tribal techno. Their street grit never sounded better, tracks like Redemption (Dub), Smooth Step, and 44100 vintage mid-‘90s bangin’ Bandulu with all the dubby effects their followers appreciate. They also make room for a few Detroit leaning tunes (Vital Sense, Rank, Wetlook), plus a couple downtempo jams too (Bill’s Gate, Mooger, Chapter 6 kinda’). Man, it feels weird saying this is one of Bandulu’s most diverse albums, even though they didn’t stray too far from their traditional sound.

That said, Redemption isn’t a starting point should you still need to take a Bandulu plunge. Rather, it’s a tasty dessert to a satisfying meal of a career. Mmm, foodstuffs…

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bryan Adams - Reckless

A&M Records: 1984

Yeah, yeah, go on. Rib, mock, jest, and jeer all you want, I can take it. I'm puffin' my chest out at you though, getting all “Come at me, bro!” in your faces with this. Throw your best shots. Bryan Adams sucks, you say? More like rocks, says I! You claim he writes obvious rock-schlock and has a crap singing voice? I claim he writes perfectly enjoyable rock anthems, with a hoarse bellow befitting arenas. He's a has-been, way past his prime? Well, Reckless is his prime! Heaven is a wretched piece of sap, not only spawning countless rock-ballads from bands who should know better, but inspiring hideous euro-dance cover bilge decades later? Yeah, okay, you got me there.

And what the heck, I'll join ya'll; or rather, my pre-teen self will. See, Bryan Adams is the first musician I recall hating, specifically for that one ubiquitous song of 1991, (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. I couldn't escape the bloody thing. Pop radio, rock radio, MuchMusic, weddings, awkward school dances, Kevin Costner movies - no matter where I went, the ballad was there, and I loathed it. Of course, matters weren't helped that I was living in Vancouver at the time, every local media outlet thus promoting the ever loving shit out of their home-grown star export. Time passes though, and as I learned more of Mr. Adams' back-catalogue, I realized that the chap was responsible for some of my favourite rock hits of the '80s too, many of which came from this here album.

He and song-writing partner Jim Vallance had already developed a respectable reputation within the industry with Adams’ third album Cuts Like A Knife. Reckless finds the duo in full stride, spoiling the listener with the ear-wormiest rock to ever grace radio land. Run To You, Summer Of ‘69, Somebody, Kids Wanna Rock, the Tina Turner featuring It’s Only Love, and, *sigh*, Heaven, are all on here. Hell, they make up the whole middle portion of Reckless. That’s six classic staples of ‘80s rock, all in a row, mang! What a ridiculous run of music there, the likes of which few musicians ever accomplish in their career, much less in the span of a single LP. Rounding things out are agreeable rockers like One Night Love Affair, She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancin’, a honky-tonk offering with Long Gone, and an arena loud, uptempo finale in Ain’t Gonna Cry, ending full-stop and leaving the listener hungry for more. International stardom certified from there on out.

I can’t deny Reckless is super-slick and studio polished – it doesn’t ‘rawk’. Compared to many other rock efforts of the era though, it at least has more fire and heart than most. Obviously punk and metal heads weren’t going to give Adams much love (erm, aside surprisingly placing forty-ninth in a 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums 1989 article from UK metal magazine Kerrang!), but for everyone else, this is a fun LP, and Adams’ best overall effort.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

ACE TRACKS: February 2015

Oh man, did I just wake up from the most epic of naps after work. You go down, thinking “One hour should suffice.” Then you wake up three or four hours later, and realize your evening is shot, so you shuffle over and sleep a little longer. Then it’s midnight, and you realize you have to work at six in the morning, so you shuffle over and sleep a little longer. Then you wake up at two in the morning, and you realize you can sleep a little longer, so you shuffle over and sleep a little longer. Then your alarm goes off, and you realize you’ve slept for EVER, and you shuffle over and OH WAIT, I GOTTA’ GET THIS PLAYLIST UPLOADED THIS MORNING! Here we go then, ACE TRACKS of February 2015.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Radikal Techno
Various - Radikal Techno: Too Radikal

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 12%
Most “WTF?” Track: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - T-Bone (how is this song still going!?)

I should mention that, technically Rave-Trance 2001 isn’t on Spotify, but one of the CDs it was ripped from, This Is Dream Trance Anthems Vol. 2, is available. So if you want to know how that one sounds like, yay for you! But yeah, no surprise those old Quality compilations aren’t about, and of course I’d go and give ACE TRACK status to hard-to-find remixes.

Multi-disc compilations and general distractions didn’t leave me as much time for music listening and reviewing this past February, giving us a shorter Playlist than usual. There’s some Ultimae (and Altar!), there’s some trance, there’s some downtempo-dub, and there’s a couple outlier oddities. A few new musics, a few old musics, and a lot of in between. Nothing too off the beaten path where my general tastes are concerned, then.
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