Thursday, October 8, 2015

Olien - Sounded Paratronic (Original TC Review)

Trishula Records: 2007

(2015 Update:
I think Olien ruined psy trance for me. I'll get into more details with these thoughts in my next review - how practical! - but the short version is my expectations for what the dark side of the genre could sound like never again matched what Oliver Bach produced here. I'll grant it was a rather small sample size I took in in the years following, so perhaps I've missed out on a few choice producers lurking the deep underground of the psy scene. Somehow though, I suspect not, the whole sub-genre of dark psy growing rather stale as the '00s went on, then taking a bizarre turn into extreme BPMs as 'high-tek' (or whatever). I'm sure it retains a following as most psy sub-genres do, but yeah, my mid-'00s flirtation was enough for my fix thus far.

Unless, of coarse, Olien makes a comeback! Like so many - too many! - producers, he seemed finished after
Sounded Paratronic. As per the traditional story, he's released an odd track on compilations every so often, but has remained relatively quiet these past few years. Such a shame, his brand of sounds and effects still unlike any other I've heard. Like, I'm speeding through some alien metropolitan landscape where cyberpunk anime and pulp splattercore high fantasy dominate the scenery, all while tripping on LSD or some such. How could you not want to hear more music like this!)


IN BRIEF: Quite twisted.

For most folks, there are two kinds of music they look to get: tunes with a catchy hook, or tunes with an infectious beat. They simply have little time for technicalities like musicianship, creativity, and so on. Sure, every so often a song with all these traits will sneak into the public ear, but it’s quite the rarity when it does. So it isn’t surprising when music with other ideas in mind is dismissed as nonsense by Average Jane and Joe. After all, how good can it be if it doesn’t make you hum or tap your foot? Actually, at times it can be quite good indeed.

While only the basics of rhythm and melody continue to appeal to the masses, there’s a wealth of music designed for more specific tastes. Psychedelic music often has the listener’s imagination in mind, using soundscapes to trigger quirky images in the brains of the audience. When producers began making use of synths and sequencers in this vein, even the sky was no longer the limit. Psy trance was born, and has enjoyed its status as fringe music in spite of the ridicule it gets as just a bunch of wibbly noise. Still, ‘a bunch of wibbly noise’ isn’t the fairest description. There are plenty of catchy hooks and nice melodies scattered about this scene. However, there are also many producers out there who like to dig deep into psychedelia, leaving all but the fearless behind. This is Olien’s aim.

Oliver Bach describes his music as ‘layered psy’, and I do find this apt. On the surface, playing his album Sounded Paratronic in the background while I attended to other tasks, very little of his work caught my ear. The odd sonic trick here, a quirky sound there, but I couldn’t describe much afterwards. But when I sat down with the good ol’ Sennheisers... Good God, but does this music ever reveal itself to you! Or rather, I discovered there’s far more of interest going on than first impressions will show.

Make no mistake: there still isn’t much in the way of a catchy hook. And the rhythms, although definitely using different patterns between tracks, are seriously lacking in the funk. What Olien does remarkably well though, is create incredibly warped soundscapes that suck you in and tickles your imagination with twisted imagery. It’s like some sort of synthesis of organic, cybernetic, and alien textures.

Probably the closest comparison that springs to mind would be Oliver Lieb’s The Black Album under his L.S.G. alias. In fact, it would seem Bach gives a small tribute to his fellow Oliver in the opening track Amanit, as a few samples of various Lieb tracks can be heard in it. But whereas The Black Album focused mostly on the darkest of tech-trance ideas, Sounded Paratronic holds back from descending quite that far into madness.

The most intriguing thing I found with this album is just how it keeps your attention. I’ll admit my thoughts can wander when sitting back to music, often due to predictability. But with production geared for twisted imagery rather than typical song structure, Olien keeps you guessing what’s coming next. Granted, a great number of psy does this and I’ve often found myself subconsciously tuning it out anyways because what is offered just isn’t interesting. Not in Olien’s case though. Every stuttered synth, every rubbery bassline, every floating pad, every disembodied vocal sample keeps me hooked; such creative stuff to listen to it is. Hardly ever did I hear any of psy trance’s more annoying clichés crop up, and if they ever did, they were given a clever spin.

And probably the most important factor in making Sounded Paratronic an engaging listen is how it’s never overcooked. Psy often has a problem in trying to be too clever, too psychedelic. Sure, there are a couple times where it sounds like Olien is overdoing it (probably most notably in Cybersphere) but for the most part Bach keeps things focused on the imagery his music creates rather than indulging for indulgent’s sake.

Ultimately though, if you absolutely need to have your music contain typical rhythms and melody, Sounded Paratronic won’t interest you in the slightest. You won’t be singing Granularis in the shower and Calmar won’t have you break-dancing anytime soon (although I’m sure a few cyber-hippies won’t mind flailing to these), but then that’s beside the point.

Sounded Paratronic has a very specific audience in mind, and Olien has produced a well-crafted album for said audience. If you’re after a psy trance album that’ll play delightful things with your head, give this a go.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved.


ACE TRACKS:
Cosmide
Calmar

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