Saturday, January 31, 2015

Various - Dub Selector

Quango Records: 2001

Okay, regarding the 'out of alphabetical order' conundrum surrounding these Quango compilations, I wasn't entirely truthful in the last review. See, I first realized something awry in my music collection's sorting when I passed by all those dub-titled albums two years ago without this one coming through. After a quick search enquiry, I found Dub Selector and its sequel sitting way down in the 'Q's along with a bunch of other Quango compilations. Not really in a hurry to talk up even more dub music so soon, I let them set fallow until such time I should deal with them again. And that time... is now! Ahem...

Anyhow, the selection of dub on Dub Selector skews less reggae roots and more UK downtempo and chill. This, from an American label based in Los Angeles. I keep thinking there’s some meaning behind that, but damn if I know what it is. The artists that make up Dub Selector range far and wide too. Cottonbelly mostly hails from New York City, whereas G-Corp are strictly English. Then you have Germans Boozoo Bajou sharing CD space with French acts like St Germain, Grant Phabao, and I:Cube; elsewhere, there’s Kieser.Velten and The Lost Skrolls Of Hamaric, whom hail from Austria I think. Ah yes, the ol’ Kruder & Dorfmeister connection. Wait, are there any Jamaican acts on Dub Selector? I spy a Luciano (no, not the tech-doff house DJ), but his Police And Thieves is given the remix treatment by G-Corp. At the other end of Dub Selector, there’s Sizzla’s Rain Showers, but he’s remixed by UK duo Bronx Dogs.

Not that I should be terribly surprised by any of this. ‘Jamaican Dub By Way Of White Europeans’ had existed for many years by the time Dub Selector came out, and will continue to existfor many years to come. Not that any of these acts are the bunk either, like so much ‘cod reggae’ goes - each handle the cavernous reverb and groovy, spliffed-out vibes with as much class as you’d expect of producers well-versed in the style. Heck, some of those East Europeans even add a new wrinkle, Kieser.Velten’s Dubolition and How To Find Royal Jelly from the Skrolls guys more on a jazzy-tech tip than pure roots influenced. It wouldn’t surprise me if the likes of Swayzak play-listed something similar – it’s the sort of sound you’d sooner find in gentrified hang-outs than filling dancehall spots.

Like these other Quango compilations, Dub Selector makes for a handy introduction to the world of downtempo dub, though only one slice of it. I honestly have no idea why Bruno Guez, the mastermind behind Quango, opted for such a Euro-centric exposé. Maybe it was simply a means of reeling in potential listeners with something safe and familiar, fresh-faced followers of chilled-out electronic music not quite ready for the pure roots of reggae-influenced dub. Well played if so, but it leaves the connoisseur wanting for options more bold in their selections.

ACE TRACKS:
Luciano - Police And Thieves (G-Corp Remix)
Grand Phabao - Anoub Head Yudu
The Lost Skrolls Of Hamaric - How To Find Royal Jelly

Friday, January 30, 2015

Various - Cosmic Funk

Quango Records: 2001

And I’m done the ‘Q’s. Yep, in a music collection that’s inching ever closer to four digits worth of EPs, LPs, and miscellaneous peas, I have but one album that starts with this letter. It honestly blows my mind I’ve more options in the letter ‘X’ – hooray for the X-Mix series, I guess. Even my media player tried bumping the ‘Q’ count up in sending a bunch of Quango Records compilations this way, an error I could have corrected months ago but held off on. I wasn’t in a hurry to tackle these, you see, quite content in listening to Cosmic Funk and Dub Selector for later. After all, I alphabetically backtrack enough as it is, and this way I’ve a semi-reasonable excuse in giving ‘Q’ a little extra attention, even if Cosmic Funk has nary a ‘Q’ in sight beyond the label that released it.

Anyhow, when Quango relaunched in the year 2000, they kicked things off by releasing a series of affordable compilations with simple titles and big fonts. As per the label’s manifesto, these CDs focused on far-flung styles of music, serving as handy introductions to the world of electronic beats abroad. Cosmic Funk was the first, but other selections included Mystic Groove, Afrotech, Lush Life Electronica, and Nordic Exposure (wait a minute…). With a solid mix of well-known acts and obscure outliers, Quango provided the ultimate bluffer’s guide in building a more ‘cultured’ collection of electronic music.

One problem with this particular release though: faulty advertising! Oh, there’s funk to be found in these eight tracks, but none of it is particularly ‘cosmic’. There are Latin vibes, Afro grooves, and a touch of the Balearic in there too, but not once did I find myself transplanted to the cosmic fantastic. No groovin’ to Moon tunes, no sailing along Saturn rings, no gettin’ down to Ganymede geysers, no cruisin’ on interstella’ comets, and no gallivanting the galactic core. Nope, we’re stuck on boring ol’ Earth. Oh well, at least this wasn’t as disappointing as getting that ambient dub compilation titled Ambient Dub that had not a trace of ambient on it (seriously).

What we do get with Cosmic Funk are some seriously funky jams drawing influence from disparate corners of the world. Hell, The Funky Lowlives show no fear in fusing them together, their two offerings of Notabossa and Latezz bringing chunky beats, Latin swing, and jazzy guitar licks to the table. The biggest names on here are Miguel Migs and Jay-J, collaborating as Migs & Jelly for a similar styled track (Enter The Soul) as The Funky Lowlives provided, while East Village Headz round out that side of the spectrum in Rude Vibez. The other half of goes more the Afro-funk route, with names like Neon Phusion, Kaidi Tatham, and New Sectors Movements being repped. Yeah, sorry, I know little about these cats.

Since Quango’s folded, you likely won’t find Cosmic Funk anywhere but as a used option. For a fiver though, ‘tis mighty fine.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jurassic 5 - Quality Control

Interscope Records: 2000

Underground hip-hop, 'backpack' rap... whatever you called it in the late '90s, everyone agreed it was about as non-commercial as the music could get. The MCs involved cared not for bragging about how gangsta' they were or how much bling they made; rather, they were in it for the purist followers of the Four Pillars, outmatching their rapping brethren in verbal wordplay and flaunting their radio unfriendly status on the mixtape circuit. And though a few acts occasionally poked out of obscurity, most casual consumers of hip-hop figured the 'backpack' scene little more than MCs way out of touch with the trends, all too stuck in Golden Age goofiness. Then along came a Jurassic 5.

Right, the J5 crew weren’t the first successful hip-hop act in giving the underground, conscious side of things a needed boost – The Roots had plenty of critical and commercial buzz too. However, The Roots have long been considered a unique entity, what with all those ‘real instruments’ and shit. J5 were strictly old-school, four MCs (Chali 2na, Zaakir, Akil, and Marc 7) and two DJs (Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark) showing off their skills on the courtyards, skate parks, and graffiti spots. Simmering as darlings of Los Angeles backpackers only gets you so far though, and in a move that strangely never derided them as sell-outs, J5 signed a deal with Interscope Records. To that point, the only hip-hop that label ever bothered with was material only associated and approved by Dr. Dre. Okay, Black Eyed Peas too, but almost everyone’s forgotten that act’s old-school cred’, including the Peas themselves. Point being, few could have predicted an underground hip-hop darling would sign to a label who's recent successes included the likes of No Doubt and Limp Bizkit.

The trick worked though, their debut on Interscope (and sophomore LP), Quality Control, gaining J5 greater exposure and the attention of rap fans looking for something of more intellectual substance than bling, bitches, and hyper-violence. These four MCs all play wonderfully off each other, allowing each equal opportunity to shine on verses while perfectly harmonizing on the choruses. Meanwhile, Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark each take turns behind the decks and producer’s console, providing ample amounts of throwback funk for their crew to feed off. Most of the tunes have J5 showing off their lyrical skills, whether as freestyle, ‘keepin’ it real’ brags, or metaphor (gotta’ love a good ol’ basketball rap with The Game). Elsewhere on this album, they tread typical conscious topics like the fallacy of seeking fame (World Of Entertainment (Woe Is Me)) or finding ways of overcoming inner city difficulties with dignity intact (Contribution). For my money though, the turntable showcases are where it’s at, especially Nu-Mark’s Swing Set, where he raids a ton of old-timey jitterbug rug-cutters and mashes them up with funk drum breaks. Top notch material!

Quality Control’s gone down as one of the essentials of throwback Golden Age hip-hop albums. Get it to start your collection if you haven’t already.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Amon Tobin - Piranha Breaks

Ninja Tune: 1997

It’s time for another game of Wild Suppositional Theories! For this episode, your host asks the simple question, “What is Piranha Breaks, exactly?” It’s sure not a lead single for Amon Tobin’s second album, Permutation, as three of the four tracks on here are exclusive to this EP. It kind of has the feel of a stopgap, a hold-over between Bricolage and Permutation, but those typically contain material only hardcore fans would have interest in (live takes, alternate mixes, etc.) – the music on here is anything but half-assed. Are these just left-overs from the Bricolage sessions, then? It wouldn’t surprise me if he made so much awesome music that he simply couldn’t fit on his first LP due to accursed limited space on physical mediums. Yeah, let’s run with that theory.

For a less ‘fanboyish’ idea, Piranha Breaks is a short exploration of Tobin’s frenetic, jazzy jungle sound. If anything, this EP is a nice summation of the music he’s most identified with in his early career, the surrounding albums broader in their stylistic fusions. Take the classy vibe of Roni Size’s jazzstep, the intense rhythms of ragga and IDM breakcore, and add a little inner city menace as only a member of the Ninja Tune squad can create. Voila, Piranha Breaks in a nutshell. Well, okay, third track Sub Tropic’s a bit more trip-hoppy in pace, but that bassline’s all d’n’b feral nastiness.

And… um, that’s about all I have to say about this EP. It’s only four tracks long, each great but not all that stylistically different from each other. Like, what do you expect of me to do, list exactly how each sounds? The titular cut has a saxophone, Fast Eddie some trumpets, Sub Tropic more trumpets and slap cello, and Hot Pursuit focuses more on its rhythm section. As for those rhythms, yeah they’re cool and intricate and absolute catnip for breaks trainspotters and time-signature students. If you want detailed analysis of their attributes though, maybe try an old issue of XLR8R. About as in-depth I can go with this is ‘brain challenged, sounds cool, me like’. Isn’t that enough? Wait, I just lied about not having anything more to say about Piranha Breaks at the start of this paragraph, didn’t I. Hooray for rambly bullshit, eh.

Okay, this review kinda’ sucks. Amon deserves better, but unfortunately this is yet another case of my real life interfering with my writing life. I won’t bring up the issues here - just know that some situations are incredibly distracting at this time. Hopefully things will resolve itself in short order and this blog won’t suffer for it. Can’t let it overwhelm me, remember the Dr. Alban song It’s My Life and not allow others to suck me into their melodrama. Yeah, already this is getting too personal, and not in the musical anecdotal way I’ll indulge in. Ignore this last paragraph. Piranha Breaks, check it out if you crave a little extra Tobin spice in your diet.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Burial - Burial

Hyperdub: 2006

About time I get some Burial up in this here bloggin' bitch. I've made reference to him in a dozen other reviews, so it's only proper that I take the once-enigmatic post-dubsteppy future-garageist darling under the critical scalpel at some point. If only he'd have a higher workrate, chucking out EPs, LPs, and CDs at enough of a clip that I'd have covered at least one release by now. Wait... no, never mind, it wouldn't matter anyway. Lord Discogs tells me almost all his musics are titled in the bottom end of the alphabet – that are available on compacted discual format anyway. Man, when Burial goes low, it be low indeed.

Appropriately enough, I'm beginning this Burial business with his self-titled debut album. Come, let me take you to a bizarre time in electronic music history, when dubstep had barely squirted out of the London City underground. Hyperdub, the ultra-cool, savvy UK bass music label known for critically hailed acts like Kode9, Zomby, and DJ Rashad, had just launched. Many pegged it an upstart in the early dubstep scene, as few looked capable of toppling the mighty Tempa in those days. But they hadn't counted on a secret weapon in the likes of Burial emerging from those grimy South London Burroughs.

Thing about early dubstep is it was still entirely indebted to grime rap for its inspiration, especially so the ‘dub’ instrumentals. Grime, however, had emerged from UK garage, a rugged, aggressive counter to that scene’s glitzy urban attributes. D’em London rude-boys, they want no girly vocals and emotions in their gritty beats. Then Burial said, “Nah, guy, we can bring the garage soul to the warehouse. Watch.” And that’s what he done did, taking in garage samples and overdubbing them so they came out as ethereal whispers of UK clubbing’s past, contorted into something abstract and haunting. And geez, does it ever tug at your nostalgia memory centres. Small surprise everyone was quick in making the Boards Of Canada comparison, and it can’t be a coincidence that the Scotland duo took a long hiatus almost immediately after Burial emerged (yes it can).

But that’s the Burial as we’ve come to know, which broke out of UK obscurity with his sophomore album, Untrue. For this album, we only hear that half the time, and no surprise these are among the best tracks within. Distant Lights, Southern Comfort, U Hurt Me, Gutted, and Pirates all play to a sense desolate inner-city soul, even as the rhythmic shuffle echoes crisp and clear off abandoned buildings recently used for squat parties. There’s gentle rain-soaked ambience too (Night Bus, Forgive), but the rest of Burial is still tied to dubstep’s pure-grime roots, music much too sparse and rhythmically clunky for those uninterested in anything UK bass related.

Ultimately, Burial’s debut sounds like he’s exploring where his music can potentially go rather than being bothered in creating a cohesive LP. Considering how many copy-cats its spawned though, he definitely hit upon something special here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wu-Tang Clan - A Better Tomorrow

Asylum Records: 2014

I can't get Miracles out of my head! Is it because that chorus is totally brilliant, or totally daft, or brilliantly daft? It's certainly unlike anything the Wu-Tang Clan has ever done before, sounding both suitable for a corny old-timey musical and a corny EDM festival anthem. The Shaolin crew's appeal is for the rugged and raw feel of their beats and rhymes, yet here's an entry into their discography that's about as squeaky-clean as a Rodgers & Hammerstein production. Are the Wu members offering verses on Miracles even into it? They don't sound embarrassed or out of place – even Raekwon seems earnest about the song's intention (namely, can the world's troubles only be solved with miraculous intervention?). It boggles my brain, confounds my cranium, puzzles my pons.

That’s only one track though. The rest of A Better Tomorrow is, dare I say, not as bad as everyone’s making it out to be? I’m already split on Miracles, which has been every other critic’s big ‘NOPE!’ moment on this album. A few other weak moments aside though, I’m digging much of the Wu’s latest LP, especially such a hot opener like Ruckus In B Minor (ODB lives!) I’m fine there’ll never be another Enter The 36 Chambers or Forever - just provide solid, skill music, and I’m satisfied. And more often than not, I’m gettin’ my vibe on to A Better Tomorrow.

Ol’ RZA, he’s finally figured out how to get some mileage out of all those stockpiled instruments in his studio. After all, isn’t it better to create your own funk and soul loops with actual musicians rather than raid the past? If you have the capability, I say go for it, and RZA’s learned quite a bit from the true masters of the craft (no, not True Master). What I find fascinating about these beats is they’re still arranged in that distinct twitchy style RZA’s known for, but with real instruments complementing hip-hop beats, chop-sockey dialog, and scratched-up samples. Not every track hits the mark (ugh, Hold The Heater’s synths struggle to gain any traction), but for all the complaints I’ve read about RZA losing his way, I just don’t hear it. I want to hear this evolution in Wu-Tang Clan! Wait, does that make me a Wu-Tang apologist, willing to overlook every weird third-tier tangent and mediocre sub-sub affiliate project, all because it comes with that classic emblem? Oh God. U-God, even!

The real trouble with A Better Tomorrow is how inconsequential all these MCs come off. Though there aren’t any wack rhymes, no one really stands out either. It’s like RZA considered each Clan member just another instrument in his arsenal, which makes a bit of sense at this late stage. His fam’s found their own way after twenty years, and aren’t so reliant on him for exposure. It does make this album more of a RZA LP than a full-on Wu joint, which is your leave it or lump it decider in a nutshell.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ghostface Killah - 36 Seasons

Salvation Music: 2014

Finally, after sifting through a bunch of Ghostface Killah's back catalog, I can discuss a new album from the prolific Wu-Tang Clan member. Law of averages dictated my alphabetical stipulation and Tony Starks' ceaseless work rate would coincide with each other eventually. What even is his average, on LP per year now? He could have easily faded with his '00s fame, ready to slow down and rest easy on the rap game - no one would think lesser of him. Yet here he is again, slamming back a Shaolin Powerthirst, spitting out four-hundred fresh verses, each filled with the same fire that's driven him since the earliest days of Wu-Tang's formation. What is he, the Neil Young of hip-hop?

For that matter, what else can he rap about? He’s done the street tales, the sexy come-ons, the conscious rhymes, the battles brags, and the made-man narratives... what’s left? Horrorcore? Nerdcore? Yes! I mean, Mr. Coles already takes on aspects of slasher flicks (the ‘ghostface’ persona) and geek culture (Ironman, obviously), so why not embrace them to their logical extreme? Spin some narratives that aren’t as tied to gritty block dramas and rap jargon either, instead take on fantastical elements as witnessed in the pulpiest of ‘70s exploitation films. It’s never held The RZA back.

I don’t think Ghostface is quite willing to go so far off the macabre end as RZA did with Gravediggaz, but on 36 Seasons, he shows no problem having his own Bobby Digital moment. This is a pure blaxploitation action-thriller, a familiar story told for anyone well versed in the cinematic sub-genre. Come, sit by the fire as I weave the tale. A man comes back from time away, usually while in prison, but sometimes to serve duty overseas, or other ‘mysterious’ reasons. His neighbourhood’s changed though: streets have grown rougher, corrupt cops patrol the roads, and worse of all, his woman’s found another man in her life. Not that he blames her, as nine years is a long time to be gone, but there’s something fishy about this cat. More urgent though, is cleaning up the illicit drug game, and as the cops are on the take, the man takes it upon himself to do the deed. A chemical explosion in one such raid leaves him physically incapacitated though, forcing him to see a ‘mad scientist’ for treatment, thus forced to wear a mask in the form of a ghost. Wait, isn’t this Dr. Doom’s origin story?

Actually, the whole ‘becoming Ghostface’ part only takes up a brief portion of the album’s narrative. Also, I’m kinda’ disappointed the ‘Final Showdown’ of the story only lasts one two-minute track’s worth - it felt like 36 Seasons was building up to something bigger. There’s little else worth complaining about though. Ghostface remains as taught a storyteller as ever, the beats ooze ‘70s funk and soul, and AZ makes for an excellent rap foil throughout. 36 Seasons isn’t an essential album, but it’s enjoyable and skill for a vigilante narrative.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sykonee Survey's Spotify's (Not So) Senseless Suggestions: Round 5

Welp, time to retire this feature. It was fun while it lasted, but a few factors have contributed to it no longer having much use going forward.

1. Spotify’s senseless suggestions just aren’t senseless anymore. While that’s all well and good in discovering new music that interests me, it defeats the point of having a feature with ‘Senseless Suggestions’ right in the title. I could modify it some more so it serves as a spotlight on cool new discoveries through the streaming service, but in its current incarnation, I feel it's best lay it to rest. Besides...

2. I won't have many new rounds for the next few months. As mentioned, I intended to only update these surveys at mid' or end points of my alphabetical batches. The letters coming up contain some of the biggest bundles of albums out of my entire music collection. This would lead to infrequent updates, not to mention a huge backlog of suggestions from Spotify. That is, if I'd still got emails from them, which leads me to factor number...

3. Spotify's stopped sending me suggestions, senseless or otherwise. I'm not sure why this is. Was it only a short-term service, a means of enticing me to use Spotify after registering? Are the playlists I've been compiling confounding its algorithms to the point it simply 'noped' me? True, the website itself has a suggestion feature available, but man, those email lists were so handy.

Anyhow, let's get into the final batch of musics Spotify decided was ideal for my listening pleasure.

Zombie Nation - Absorber
Since this is the last Survey, I’m breaking a rule and checking out albums suggested based on previous artists played. In this particular case, Spotify figures I’ll enjoy Zombie Nation’s sophomore album because I listened to The Prodigy. I don’t hear the correlation. Super mega ultra popular hit Kernkraft 400 notwithstanding, the Florian Senfter alias has leaned more techno and EBM with his output, and this LP’s no exception - it’s New Order fed through the industrial grinder. Liam Howlett did try getting himself some of that trashy electro action too, but he never sounded like this. Nay, I’m only getting this suggestion because they both had big anthems on the UK charts, and even then at totally different times in clubbing culture’s history. Silly suggestion, but at least it wasn’t the obvious one.

Recommendation Rating: 2/5

Basement Jaxx - Summer Daze EP
Yeah, Spotify’s been on my ass about checking this single out for almost as long as it’s been sending me suggestions. Erm, when it finally clued into my fondness for electronic music at least. First it tied it to Faithless, and here it’s based on The Prodigy. I get it, Spotify, Basement Jaxx are huge on the UK charts. But I’m Canadian, dammit, and my interest in them has been passive at best. That said, why on Earth do you keep recommending this early single? To show me Felix, Nathan, and Simon are more than big dumb club anthems? Yes, I know they have a feel for the Latin sound side of house music, it’s right there on their albums alongside the stupid-fun shit too. And here you’re suggesting it because I played Their Law and Poison? The mind boggles.

Recommendation Rating: 3 shots of Malibu rum.

Hybrid - Forumla Of Fear
This was the lead single to the album Disappear Here. I already covered Can You Hear Me, the second single from that LP. Geez, just recommend me that album-proper already, why don’t ya’? There are fourteen versions available of this song, half of which are redundant – the Überzone mix alone comes in Vocal, Dub, and Radio Edit versions. Grafiti does a dull minimal-tech plod rub (and a dub version!), Steam Punk does a standard electro-trash mix, Longrange goes funkier with the electro in his go, and Glenn Morrison does a weak breaks version. Oh, and Hybrid remixes too, includes an Instrumental Mix, and an Acapella. Now I’m burnt the fuck out on this track, which was only a decent ‘rocktronica’ tune in the first place.

Recommendation Rating: Still sticking with Wider Angle: Live Disc.

Dan McKie vs Orbital - Halycyon (Again)
Just what the world needed, a classic Orbital anthem, now with plodding electro farts! I don’t know much about Mr. McKie, who runs 1980 Recordings, but this ‘remix’ of his isn’t inspiring me to check out anything further from him. Steve Haines remix is better, feeding off the good side of throwback electro house (funk!), while Licious K’s remix goes bump-tech micro-plonk. Guess this single has every trendy house genre of 2008 covered then.

Recommendation Rating: 2 Ons out of 4.

Funk D’Void - Volume Freak
Mr. Sandberg’s third and seemingly final album under the Funk D’Void name. Damn, I’m stunned to discover this. He was one of the rising stars of house music’s new and daring innovations at the turn of the century, finding ways of melding techno and funk into a sound wholly his own. He did continue releasing singles, but it seems his focus has gone towards building a sustainable DJ career. Guess it’s working out for him since he got his hands into the reputable Balance series. This album’s fine, though not terribly surprising as house music goes.

Recommendation Rating: pi tilde omega

Gudrun Gut - Members Of The Ocean Club
There had to be something totally unexpected in this batch of suggestions. There’s always that one, quirky outlier that makes not a lick of sense in contrast to the artists, yet is totally wicked coolio neato! Gudrun Gut’s been around since the early ‘80s, getting her start in influential industrial and new wave bands like Malaria! and Einstürzende Neubauten. In the ‘90s, she started making music on her own as well, though often as duets with various other artists. This album’s quite a mish-mash of ‘90s genres too: trip-hop, EBM, trance, dark ambient, and a second CD features remixes from Paul van Dyk, Klaus Schulze, Ian Pooley, Ellen Allien, and Thomas Fehlmann. It’s a German love-in! Probably best enjoyed in a Berlin S&M dungeon.

Recommendation Rating: Sixty-six spankings out of sixty-nine.

The Grid - Floatation
I already have this song in my library. Negative fifty points for you, Spotify. Oh, wait, this is the 2010 re-re-issue-mix. There’s a Prins Thomas Mix, which doesn’t sound all that dissimilar to the original, beyond a weaker rhythm. Round Table Knights goes full-on Balearic house mode with their rub, and Slof Man does… oh dear. Brostep? Really!? That is so utterly, horribly wrong for a track like this. God damn trendwhoring bastards.

Recommendation Rating: Off the deep end wearing concrete sandals.

And the final tally for Round Five is some arbitrary numerical affixation for my particular listening whims. I really don’t know in this case. How about Moe? Yeah, I’ll rate this Moe. Not a terribly adventurous wade into the Spotify waters this time out, but that’s all on the streaming service’s digital head. It’s abandoned me, no longer leading my hand and foot, leaving to my own whims wherever I may venture. Perhaps I’ll tell you about my Spotify expeditions some time in the future, but for now, I bid adieu to this Senseless Surveys.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Union Jack - Pylon Pigs (Original TC Review)

Platipus: 2009

(2015 Update:
Ugh, I hate it when a review starts with reference to other TranceCritic reviews not written by me. How can readers unfamiliar with that defunct website know what in the blue blazes I'm talking about in the here and now? Sure, I kinda' got my own 'Simon Berry Backstory' out of the way with the
Platipus Records Dream Collection, but maybe folks are curious to read what ol' Jack had to say about that Art Of Trance collection too. Perhaps I ought to pester him to upload his old material. Or at least get back in the reviewer's chair at some point, heh.

Good news for
Pylon Pigs is the singles still hold up remarkably well. Berry and Not-Claudio tapped into something timeless with Papillon and Funnelweb, though it undoubtedly helps absolutely no one else tried emulating their acid trance in the modern era. Unfortunately, that also means this album never gained enough buzz to stage a massive comeback, neither for Berry or his Platipus/Porcupine print. I'm hoping he's got it in him to release a couple new tunes at some point in the future, but it looks like this album's about the end for his LP efforts.)


IN BRIEF: Fitting in.

Hooray for me, J’[ack Moss] handle most of the lengthy back-info regarding Simon Berry with his recent review of Art Of Trance’s Retrospective. Of course, that’s not the whole story, as there’s also the business of Berry’s other big project from the Platipus glory years. That’s right, none other than Clanger. No, wait… Poltergeist, that’s it! Vicious Circles?

Yes, yes, it’s Union Jack. The project was a collaboration with Claudio Giussani, and though short-lived the two of them undoubtedly produced some of the most famous Platipus records together; Two Full Moons, Red Herring, Lollipop Man, plus several remixes of roster mates. After a well-received album (There Will Be No Armageddon), both went their separate ways pursuing solo careers, and everyone figured the name Union Jack would forever be put to rest.

Lo, such has not been the case. Simon Berry has been feeling the production itch again, and after spending most of this decade out on the fringes of the trance scene’s collective consciousness, has re-emerged with the Union Jack banner, sporting all-new material for our ears to feast on. Only… this isn’t the same Union Jack of old, as Giussani is nowhere to be seen. Instead, former Clanger collaborator Paul Brogden takes his place. And since a reunion of Clanger wouldn’t garner nearly the same amount of buzz as a reunion of Union Jack would… But hey, Claudio had no problem in letting them carry on the name in his absence, so it’s all good.

Only thing, part of what made Union Jack so memorable back in the day was Claudio’s influence. If you compare his and Berry’s solo efforts (as Terra Ferma and Art of Trance, respectively), Claudio tended to be the overall better songwriter, if not the better hit-maker (though admittedly, Berry’s biggest hit was by way of a remix from Ferry Corsten). That may have been in part because he wasn’t nearly as prolific as Berry, so the quality-control ratio was more concise, but there it is. Bottom line is in taking out one-half of a strong tandem and replacing it with another who hasn’t had anywhere near the same sort of success (sorry, Paul), we unfortunately don’t end up with a Union Jack that can't match up to the previous version.

Not to say there aren’t some great cuts to be had on Pylon Pigs - there are. If you haven’t heard lead single Papillion by now, chances are you haven’t been anywhere near prominent trance forums. Of course, this isn’t trance as it’s come to be known, but rather something of a throw-back to the years of acid-yore. Given extra weight by modern production, the acid baseline burbles with power as thick no-nonsense kicks pound away. Then you have spacey, floaty pad work, bright bursts of synthy arpeggios, and rhythmical spoken syllables, staples of many a Union Jack track. It’s as vintage a sound as you’re likely to find but doesn’t sound dated in the slightest. In fact, it has become something of a statement for folks favoring old school trance, a perfect example that the genre can be just as relevant today as it was over a decade ago so long as DJs give it ample exposure. Similar cut Funnelweb (of which aptly bookends the album with Papillon) and deeper cut Longhorn will undoubtedly add ammo for such arguments. Elsewhere, the ‘90s comparisons continue with a cool-groove tune in Vowel that’s reminiscent of Underworld, while Triclops comes across like a long-lost Hooj Tunes single.

All well and good for nostalgia’s sake, and certainly there’s nothing wrong in resurrecting sounds that are thusly proved to be timeless; however, aside from Papillon and Funnelweb, you don’t really get the sense we’re hearing anything creatively fresh either. Most of the melodies are predictable and safe, with execution suggesting Berry and Brogden weren’t all that fussed in pushing the genre anywhere new. They do get a little indulgent in their experimental side with downtempo cuts like Submerge, Mainline, and Lifeblood, but these feel more like tide-over tracks between the clubbier cuts than anything else.

On top of all that, there’s Blink, a track I’m at a loss to figure out why it even exists. Aside from a few bits of those vintage rhythmic syllables, it’s about as generic an ‘mau5 clone’ as you’ll ever come across; there’s nothing about it that makes you say, “Now that’s a Union Jack track.” If you’ve gone out of your way to prove classic acid-trance can work in a contemporary climate, why also go out of your way to include a track that is not only creatively weaker than anything else on the album, but adds nothing to the over-saturated “8th-note trance” glut in the process? Such it goes, though.

Overall, despite the positive things offered by Pylon Pigs, this isn’t the triumphant return of acid trance some have proclaimed it to be. Rather, it’s quite a safe album, as though Berry and Brogden were more concerned about testing the waters with their sound instead of making the kind of definitive statement many hoped. It’s not the most flowing listening experience either - having the blissy ambient Submerge as the second track and lodged between two club bangers just doesn’t make a lick of sense.

I still recommend this as a pick-up - Papillon, Funnelweb, and Triclops easily make it worth the entry fee, and though the rest won’t light the world on fire, they will still entertain for the most part. However, despite what the hype circles have been purporting the last few months, Pylon Pigs is far from a modern classic.

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

Electro Sun - Pure Blue (2015 Update)

Trancelucent Productions: 2005

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)

Before digging into updates regarding Electro Sun, I need to get this off my chest...

Dear God, has it ever taken forever getting through these last two letters! Right, officially the count's four months, and at least one week was eaten up by a technicality of Western languages. I look at the hard numbers though, and it doesn’t seem like I should only now be wrapping up the ‘P’s, yet here we are, eighty-four albums successfully navigated through and reviewed (sans the alphabetical back-track releases). You know what’s scary though? Eighty-four is still nowhere near the amount of albums I have starting with ‘S’ – that letter may eat up four months of this project alone. I guess I should be thankful that ‘P’ took some of the hit with all those ‘psy-whatever’ CDs. Ooh, can’t pass up a genre segueway like that now!

Yeah, I know, Electro Sun’s debut LP Pure Blue is only psy trance in the most liberal sense of the word. I even pointed that out in my original TranceCritic review, and I was just getting my feet wet with the nascent Israeli full-on movement. With plenty of time checking out more full-on since, I think his tunes fall under the micro-sub genre of Morning Trance, though only 7am will suffice for the track Sundance. Which one was that again? You know, the track with wibbly rhythm, the wubbly melodies, and the bouncy hook that sounds like acid filtered through a tin can. No, the other one that sounds like that. No, the- ah geez, not this snarky shit again.

Make no mistake, that “bland Stretch of Vanilla” doesn’t hold up in the slightest. Mr. Elkayam’s production comes off as plastic and cheap as any generic Israeli trance as you can stereotype, and sounds woefully dated a decade on. And yet, those few good tracks I liked before (I’ve Got The Power, In My Dream ...Super Nova, maybe) are simply irresistible to the cheddar centres sparking the lumps of grey matter inside my skull. There’s something just so cheerfully earnest about these tunes, I can’t hate on them no matter how much critical logic dictates I should. Damn these feels I have for silly, slap-happy psy.

As for ol’ Nadav, he’s kept a steady career since this album, releasing two more full-lengths, the latest of which coming out in 2011. Even more recently he’s gotten his fingers into the digital EP business, though Lord Discogs only lists two such offerings at this point. Whether he’s released more music than that, I haven’t a clue, nor do I care. Pure Blue was average at best, and while Electro Sun may have grown as a producer, he toed the divide between shameless fun and eye-rolling rubbish too closely for my liking. It wouldn’t take much for him to dive fully and completely into either side, but judging by the awful cover of his third album, Higher Than Ever, I can safely guess which way he went.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fluke - Puppy

One Little Indian: 2003

Progressive house, big beat, trip-hop, UK rocktronica - whatever had delicious critical buzz in Britain, Fluke were at the forefront of it. Hell, they dictated where the trends would go as much as any Chemical Brother or Underworldler. In the end though, they just couldn't shake their '90s-ness, but it's not their fault they got stuck with the 'electronica' tag like everyone else. T'was simply a price paid for signing with the mighty Virgin – bigger exposure meant being marketed how they wanted you presented. Sweet deal for the time though it was, folks in the new millennium were quick in turning their backs on any musical group that reminded them of cyber-thriller action movie soundtracks. Matters probably weren’t helped either by having a new single associated with one of the more ludicrous scenes in Matrix: Reloaded. Zion’s a great track – really, it is! – but man was that ever dumb in the movie. Not that Juno Reactor cut though, that one’s totally dope. Hail Ben Watkins, the only producer to escape action movie soundtracks with dignity intact!

Speaking of Puppy (finally), it really is a shame this never caught on, most likely for all the stupid reasons I rambled on about above. The great production and craftsmanship from Fluke can’t hide the fact it still sounds like a ‘Nineties’ electronic music album. While some of that is simply down to the group’s style, there aren’t any trendy, (then) new genre bandwagon jumps either. Fluke was known for progressive house, but the stuff on here is of the groovy, chugging sort (Electric Blue, My Spine, Another Kind Of Blues, Hang Tough, Switch/Twitch) that defined early Sasha and Digweed sets, not dubby ‘dark prog’ or poppy crossover fluff. Breaks are here too, though are reminiscent of big beat (Snapshot) or proggy ethnic-fusion (Nebulus), fashionable stuff years prior but not as buzz worthy as nu-skool was in 2003. And what’s this? Nary an electro house/clash/anthem cut found? No wonder so few gave Puppy a damn!

I wonder though, has this caught any retrospective love? Has Puppy lately earned the respect it deserves now that we’re far enough removed from the days it was mostly ignored? Fluke has their die-hard followers, sure, and those I know who’ve heard it do sing its praises, but my sampling size is small. Hell, even when Fluke were at their commercial peak, the most my peers could immediately namedrop was Atom Bomb (because obviously). At the least I’d assume those weaned on ‘90s progressive house have come around to it, as it has everything they could hope for in a ’00 album, a natural evolution of that sound without succumbing to flash-in-the-pan genre bandwagon jumps. Well, okay, maybe the gospel-leaning closer Blue Sky has shades of Faithless, but even that sounds more at home in the UK acid house era than anything post-2000.

Damn, that’s another ‘90s reference. Wait, isn’t that decade in the midst of a retro-return? Best excuse to get Puppy if you haven’t, then!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Various - Pulp Fiction

MCA Records: 1994

Shame I didn't get to this CD a little sooner – say, last yearish. I could’ve generated cheap traffic by piggy-backing off clickbait articles like “Hey, It’s The 20th Anniversary Of That Movie You Can’t Stop Quoting!” But alas, we're already two weeks deep into 2015, long past the expiry date of people nostalgically revisiting Pulp Fiction's 1994 release. Who cares that it came out mid-November of that year, thus making us but two months late for twentieth-anniversary prestige. Hell, as I recall, Tarantino's opus to the mush of storytelling didn't catch popular buzz until well into '95, finding more fanfare on the home video market where all us impressionable underage Gen-X types could finally watch it. And hoo, what a movie to behold, making not a lick of sense but strangely captivating as Hollywood stars waxed bullshit over obscene circumstances.

Plus the music! Wow, where did ol' Quentin find all that awesome music? His personal record collection apparently, turning many of his flicks into as much a mixtape as they are ‘70s genre-sploitations. Of course, with over two decades to study his methods, having rare, odd, and perfect tunes’ become the expectant norm, and unfortunately nothing’s made quite the impact that the surf rock of Misirlou did. Still, Tarantino made a style of music that had been absolutely dead for three decades hip again. That’s quite an achievement, and though it didn’t resurrect into a reinvigorated scene, it did create a new generation of crate divers digging a little further into obscure musical cul-de-sacs. Erm, not me though – I still had ‘techno’.

So the surf rock is primarily what Pulp Fiction’s music is remembered for, and for good reason. Beyond the killer opener, at least a third of the music on this soundtrack is in that style. Another significant chunk is taken up by dark, bluesy country, though not always specifically from that scene. Heavy rockers Urge Overkill do a cover of Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Soon Be A Woman, and then-newcomer Maria McKee goes full-on whisky folk, but every track has that ‘outlaw’ feeling that Tarantino loves writing into protagonists. Not so much always the ‘bad guys’, as he’s featured his fair share of vigilantes too. More like desperados, and can you think of any sub-sub American culture that was filled with those sorts than the outlaws of the country? Sure, the surfer nation! Nothing caught that vintage American West desperado spirit like freeloaders taking on the mighty waves of the Pacific Ocean, risking life and limb to prove Man was undefeatable in the face of his Mother Nature’s fury. Well, the music suggested as such.

Look, I’m just waxing bullshit here for the sake of my own ego (like a Tarantino movie!). Even if you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction (!), you’ve probably seen a parody or two, and know its music and culled bits of dialog from those. You don’t need me telling you to check this out, because you already have, even if only by cultural osmosis.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Psykosonik - Psykosonik

Wax Trax! Records: 1993

Dammit, modern electronic music is so confusing. Everyone’s mixing and mashing genres into incomprehensible collages, and don’t get me started on the gratuitous mislabeling going on at retail outlets. Why can’t things be like it was back in the day, where divisions were clear and music tidily organized into distinct, identifiable traits? All you had to do was drop into the shop, and see your preferences in the designated ‘Techno’ section, or ‘House’ bin, or ‘Industrial’ shelf wedged between the ‘Metal’ racks and ‘Dance’ corner. Sure, there’d be a few odd mix-ups – like finding ICE MC and B.G. The Prince Of Rap in the ‘Hip-Hop’ bunker – but by and large, if I bought a techno album, I knew it was a techno album.

Like this Psykosonik album, titled Psykosonik. Hear those punchy hoover riffs and rave rhythms? That’s totally old school techno – specifically of the Belgian variant, but techno just the same. Except… what’s it doing on TVT Records? After the smash success of Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, the label started gobbling up all sorts of industrial acts: KMFDM, Sister Machine Gun, Coil, Ministry, Front 242, Cyberaktif, to name a few. True, some came part of their Wax Trax! Records purchase, but TVT had successfully rebranded itself as an industrial force, and a goofy rave outfit just wouldn’t fit with them.

Just as well, then, that Psykosonik is industrial as well. There’s snarling singing and crunchy guitar licks to go with the rave riffs, with topics of cyberpunk (Welcome To My Mind, Silicon Jesus), anti-fascism (Teknojihad, Down On The Ground, I Am God), and fetishism (Shock On The Wire, Acid Hammer) covered throughout. This was almost solely the domain of industrial – or its clubbier off-shoot, EBM – in the early ‘90s, ravey techno far more interested in simply ‘avin’ it for all-nighters. The act of political righteousness was in the participation of the party alone, with no need for clumsy things like lyrics getting in the way.

But wait, there’s more! The hooks on some of these tracks, hot damn are they ever catchy - like, The Shamen or The Prodigy catchy! Unfortunately, Psykosonik came out in 1993, which was a bit late in finding a foot in the UK charts as a rave, industrial Belgian Beat something-or-other act. Had this come out just a couple years earlier though, I could see tracks like Welcome To My Mind or Teknojihad making a dent there.

So what exactly is this album then? It’s like a manbearpig of early ‘90s ‘techno’: half Belgian rave, half EBM industrial, and half chart-hitting dance (even if the songs never did much damage in that area). And no, this doesn’t mean it’s a third of each - Psykosonik honestly sounds like three halves, where you only hear two of each, depending on the perspective you approach it with. You know what it’s one-hundred percent of though? Awesome! *crickets chirp* *uncomfortable cough*

Seriously though, if you like early ‘90s rave, Psykonsonik’s self-titled debut’s good fun. Teknojihad!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Various - Psychotrance 2002: DJ Brian

Moonshine Music: 2001

Hold a sec'…! Didn’t the Psychotrance series feature a different DJ with each iteration? What was D:Fuse doing getting two in a row then? Did Moonshine have plans for him turning it into his own annual thing? No, that couldn’t have been so – normally DJs had their own series on the label. Like that DJ Brian fella’, he had Hardesertrance to himself, so I’m sure if D:Fuse was to be the designated ‘progressive trance guy’ at Moonshine, they’d have done the same for him. Probably just a coincidence of circumstance then; either that, or even D:Fuse wasn’t pleased with Psychotrance 2000, and wanted a do-over for Psychotrance 2001. Isn’t suppositional speculation fun?

Speaking of that DJ Brian fella’, he got to do Psychotrance 2002, as bizarre a choice for the series as any of the non-trance DJs from the ‘90s were. Wasn’t he known to the Moonshine audience as the 'psy trance guy'? Ignore the fact his mixes for the label only had a tangential relationship with that scene - when folks play any sort of trance in the desert, they automatically assume psy. I mean, what other trance makes sense in hot climes or under starry, dry nights? If Psychotrance was to be relaunched as Moonshine's answer to Global Underground, Cream, and (*snicker*) Topaz’s Nokturnal Mix Sessions, going the psy route at a time when the genre was deep in remission wasn't going to do the series any favors. Especially if rinsed out by a jock who, let's be honest, never got much fame beyond the Moontribe posse (respect!).

That DJ Brian fella' though, he knew how to treat Pscyhotrance proper-like, by taking it back to its roots and offering up a set that is almost entirely techno. Yep, in a turn of events that shouldn't have surprised anyone who'd picked up Hardesertrance 3 (*cough*), Mr. Golub brings us a CD full of bangin', tribal business. Some tracks have elements of goa, such as squelchy acid in Spacefrog and Timelord’s rub of Resistance D.’s Feel High, or floaty ethnic chants in Ritual from Seed (that DJ Brian fella’) vs Teapot (a DJ Treavor fella’). Other tracks get deeper into tech-trance’s realm, at least the older school of the sound that Oliver Lieb was producing under multiple aliases (including Red Star as Ivan in this mix). And by the end of his set, ol’ Brian even goes proper-proper old school trance, even if the tracks are (were) current offerings. Always cool hearing Nuclear Ramjet’s Deep Blue again.

So Psychotrance 2002 has plenty of spacey trance vibes and pummeling techno action, and despite the tag for its entry at Lord Discogs, is definitely not a psy trance collection. Wouldn’t be the first time such an erroneous mistake’s been made there. You’d think a Contribtors’ list of eight people would have caught that. Hey, there’s my name there! I don’t recall doing anything for this CD. I wonder what I add- Oh. Oh dear…! *dies from embarrassment*

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Various - Psychotrance 2001: D:Fuse

Moonshine Music: 2000

The Psychotrance series was Moonshine’s preeminent trance DJ mix series - except when it wasn’t, which was most of the time. Okay, back up… Psychotrance was Moonshine’s only trance DJ mix series – except when it wasn’t, which was for most of its ‘90s run. Let me try again… Psychotrance was Moonshine’s first trance DJ mix series, indeed one of the label’s earliest releases. Oddly, they had The Shamen MC, Mr. C, handle the decks for their first edition, soon followed up by Darren Emerson, Slam, Eric Powell and Daz Saund. Wait, who are the last two? Also, despite the name, the series had more emphasis on techno, acid, and even house. Five volumes is a tidy run for a DJ mix series, but it never took off in any significant way. After Daz Saund’s 1997 edition, it seemed destined for Moonshine back catalogue obscurity when the label started shifting focus to hip, fresh genres like breaks, d’n’b, and funky house.

But wait, cried the clubbing masses, we're nearing the turn of the century, and trance is now super popular! Maybe not quite as commercially viable in America as in Europe, but the likes of Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk, Sasha, and Diggers are as close to house-hold names as any DJ could get in those years. Moonshine had to capitalize on the growing interest, and what better way to do so than by dusting off the derelict Psychotrance series? They even found an up-and-coming jock from the American South rinsing out progressive trance in a style similar to the big European names, one Dustin Fusilier, more commonly known as D:Fuse (aka: the cowboy hatted one). Slap the always cool “2000” tag on the title, and you've relaunched a sure-fire success! Shame Psychotrance 2000 kinda' sucked balls.

Actually, I can't recall if it was that bad, but I do recall my first impression of it being an overwhelming roll of the eyes for yet another anthem-bilge bandwagon hop. Looking at that track list now, I'm drawing mostly blanks on the tunes D:Fuse used, so maybe my memory's skewed for some stupid reason. Oh, right, I remember now, it's because I have the much superior follow-up, Psycotrance 2001, in my possession. This one had nearly everything I looked for in my trance at the time (and still do!): proggy, spacey, groovey, Oliver Lieby, Fade Recordsy. D:Fuse hit the perfect sweet spot between progressive trance of before, and dark prog of the near future. There’s a nice mix of classy familiar tunes (L.S.G.’s I’m Not Existing (O. Lieb Main Mix), Schiller’s Ruhe (Humate Mix), Steve Porter’s Mindless), overlooked gems (Memnon’s Search And Rescue, Carrisa Mondavi’s Solid Ground (Fade Vocal Mix)), and neglected rubs of well-rinsed tunes (Wookie Slut’s mix of Traveller & In Motion’s Believe).

I won’t deny seasoned prog disciples will find little unique about D:Fuse’s mix, but it’s a solid collection of tunes for a single disc set. Definitely worth a pick-up should you find it resting in the used shops.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Psychonavigation - Psychonavigation 5

Fax +49-69/450464: 2002

Pete Namlook and Bill Laswell were practically made for each other. Not so much for their musical styles, but in their ridiculous work rate and endless collaborative projects with other musicians far and wide. That they'd end up releasing ambient-leaning albums together was inevitable, and it figures they'd settle on two aliases for the task, Psychonavigation and Outland. Nine LPs came out from their work together, plus undoubtedly many more guest spots Laswell contributed to other Namlook works (I know of at least two albums from the Klause Schulze collaboration Dark Side Of The Moog). A lot of music then, yet little of which gets referenced or talked up when discussing either career. The general sounds most associate with Laswell (bass heavy dub, ethnic fusion, dark ambient) doesn't often jive with the sounds Namlook's known for (ambient techno, space music, jazzy chill-out), so the thought of the two collaborating for even one session, let alone over a dozen, is often passed by.

Okay, enough rambly pre-amble. Whatever one thinks of Psychonavigation or Outland, there’s a hard-written fact you just don’t overlook regarding Namlook: if you find first-run copies of Fax +49-69/450464 material, you snatch that shit up post-haste! Them suckers are rare as all hell, and while Ambient World was kind enough to re-issue many of them a decade ago, they too have grown increasingly expensive and rare. Plus, there’s nothing quite like having an original Fax-Plus CD in hand, vintage artwork and all. And wouldn’t you know it, I found this CD sitting idly in a major chain way out Canada west here. Dudes... dudettes... that’s just ridiculous! True, it’s the last of the Psychonavigation series, released at a time when most wouldn’t give it much care anyway (neither Laswell nor Namlook were generating much buzz in the early ‘00s), but still... “Limitation: 2000”, and I gots me one!

Oh, the music within? It’s... not what I was expecting, quite different from what the two were making in the mid-‘90s. True, it’d be foolish to not expect some developments and evolution in their work, but thumping techno? Opener The Catalyst has a thick, tribal stomp going for it alongside burbly alien noises, and though not as driving as most techno of the time, it wouldn’t sound too out of place in a warehouse setting. At the other end of this album is Life Eternal, which is more typical of the Psychonavigation stylee with dark ambience, super-dubbed sounds, and minimalist groove. Nice opening synth melody too, for as long as it lasts anyway.

The main featuring, however, is Cryosleep, a whopping thirty-two minutes with change, though broken up into four parts. Good, because the opening part, Preparation, has an overbearing synth drone running for its ten minute duration, and is not worth enduring for the subtle dub-tribal rhythm build underneath. The remainder of Cryosleep has more alien tribal-techno dub-thump going on, plus some cool samples from Vin Diesel. Man, it’s been a long time since I last watched Pitch Black...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia - Psychick Rhythms Vol. 1

Restless Records: 1993/1994

Ask any disciple of the Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia what the group's lasting legacy is, and you'll often get an answer of 'tribal techno'. Not just any ol' tribalism either, but the most seductive, entrancing rhythms you'll come across, produced at a time when techno felt safer in warehouses or clubs rather than outdoor gatherings. And though the collective could go a little house, ambient, or dub on occasion, it was never in sacrifice of their fascination with all things rhythmic and primal. So you'd think an EP centred entirely on the very thing PWOG are known for would be an easy sell, and you'd be right. How can you not be intrigued by Psychick Rhythms Vol. 1 on its very premise alone? Well, provided you're intrigued by the group to start with.

And if you are intrigued but have yet to take a hit, heed my advice: don’t start with this EP! I mean, I’ve already reviewed the one you should check out first, Ov Biospheres And Sacred Grooves. True, that’s an LP, but even if we stick to EPs, there’s Obsidian, Kraak, Exit 23, or Maenad for your consideration before Psychick Rhythms Vol. 1 (note: there never was a Vol. 2, at least according to Lord Discogs). Hell, even PWOG know this isn’t a starter’s set, writing the following disclaimer as part of the package: “Warning! This object has nothing to do with art or artificial intelligence. This double package (12” version) was designed for mixing, for breaks, for possession, for collectors. Dedicated to the patient and possessed.” Right, so they’re typically obtuse about it, but their point is clear – only the DJs or die-hards need apply.

Psychick Rhythms Vol. 1 is a six track EP, and boy is it ever tracky, even for techno. It sounds like they used no more than a half-dozen percussion samples, with everything fed through a touch of distortion. This gives each cut a cool gritty aesthetic, as though it was meant only to be heard in the dusty outdoors – in other words, not exactly created with home listening in mind. Furthering this notion is the absolute lack of melody whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. What, that woodblock plonk is the hook? Dude, it’s a single tone, like any hi-hat or snare in these tracks. It’s percussion like everything else. Except the simple bit of acid in Pull, that’s not percussion. I guess there’s a little choppy bit of vocal sample in Psoudoun too. Ooh, and that bassline in Ensnared has more groove to it than all the tribal drum business we’re dealing with. There’s also a weird ambient sound in Push, like someone running a rod over blocks rather than striking them. Still not a melody though.

Psychick Rythms Vol. 1 is repetitive as all Hell – one track isn’t much different from another - but as with so much about these Warriors Ov Gaia, there’s an undeniable hypnotic charm to it. Use them as tools, use them in harmony. Use them in peace.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

Reprise Records: 2012

As I’ve repeated endlessly, Neil Young, restless muse that he is, never fears exploring musical genres. Whether it be blues, synth-pop, hillbilly ho-down, guitar drone, gospel, or something totally made-up for a single song that one time (probably), his discography is littered with curious cul-de-sacs jutting off from his rock and folk thoroughfares. However, Young’s most utterly bizarre detour has to be this double-album of psy trance. Not that he wouldn’t want to try his hand at something electronic again, but aside from the shared hippie lineage, this is so outside Young’s traditional sound that- What do you mean Psychedelic Pill isn’t psy trance? This is Psy Trance Week, isn’t it? What’s this album doing here then? Curse ye’, alphabetical stipulation – you gummed up another theme week!

So what we don't have here is Neil Young and his Crazy Horse band doing psy trance; rather, it's the dynamic foursome going back to their grungy rock roots and indulging themselves for obscene lengths of time. One track hits the nine minute mark, two more breach sixteen, and the opener Driftin' Back lasts a whopping twenty-seven minutes, officially become the longest song Young's ever recorded. And it's fucking awesome! Psychedelic Pill is the NYCH album fans had been hoping on for years, at least since their last good run in the mid-'90s. We always knew the group had it in them to absolutely tear through some new guitar epics, their occasional live shows more than enough proof. Who cares if the lyrics are some of the simplest, mundane things Young’s ever sung - that didn’t stop the ridiculous T-Bone from way back being good stupid fun. Besides, this is all about the wonderful, crunchy distortion and impeccable synergy between these musicians. They may not be as ‘locked in’ as their older classics, but Ramada Inn, She’s Always Dancing, and Walk Like A Giant are as fun of musical rides as you can expect from Young & Horse.

And of course you don’t really care that much. Okay, maybe you do, if you’ve read this far, but more so than most Neil Young albums I’ve reviewed, Psychedelic Pill’s a hard sell. Walk Like A Giant and She’s Always Dancing have lovely harmonizing vocals, and Ramada Inn features as catchy a bar rock hook as you’ll ever hear, yet are surrounded by so much jamming, it’ll try the patience of all but the most ardent rock fans out there. And unfortunately, the few shorter tunes littered about this double-LP aren’t much to get fussed over (the titular cut’s got some cool flanging effects going for it though), especially when overshadowed by the behemoth songs. Also, are we really all that interested in Young reminiscing about the days of old again? No, can’t say that we are.

Damn it though, I can’t get enough of Young and Crazy Horse’s epic, sloppy rock. Only get Psychedelic Pill after you’ve been bitten by the Rusty bug. Once you have, come on in for the chemical-enhanced treat!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Various - Psychedelic Goa Trance

Omnisonus: 1996

Debates raged throughout the ‘90s over what differentiated goa trance from psychedelic trance. Was it identifiable melodies that defined goa? Out-and-out twisted acid noises that marked psy? I suppose so, though I suspect the terms that were finally settled upon came about for convenience’s sake. Something had to eventually be made sense of it all, and with new sub-genres like full-on and prog-psy emerging at the turn of the millennium, it was easier to go back to the older tunes and start categorizing them by their unique attributes. I mean, what were we supposed to do at the time, rely on label marketers? They only made things worse!

Take, for instance, this CD that I just so totally by chance am reviewing right now, Psychedelic Goa Trance, brought to us by yet another French label, Omnisonus. This print was broader in its electronic music promotion, releasing everything from Basic Techno to Hypno Techno, plus the future sound of Paris (whatever that was) and hardcore music that'd give you a fever, apparently. I jest, of course, but mark my words there were plenty of doe-eyed ravers believing these were actual genre names. And here we have psychedelic goa trance. Not just simple ol' goa, nor cutting edge psy, but a mesh of the two, offered to us when terms and classifications were an increasing clusterfuck. And here was I, only just venturing into the world of trance, picking this CD up because it looked weird and had a whole bunch of names on the back I was unfamiliar with. Ah, those exciting days when every compilation was a mystery.

Yeah, this was my first introduction to goa, or psy (whichever). I can’t say it immediately won me over, so radically different from the hard German stuff I enjoyed, it was. I probably couldn’t have lucked on a better primer though, as it has a solid assortment of names and tunes to its credit. There’s the lengthy psychedelic stuff with Etnica’s Party Droid and Witchcraft’s Whale, trippy fun cuts care of Total Eclipse’s Free Lemonade and Kox Box’ Fuel On, high octane acid trance like Indoor’s Dubull Click and Karmic Energies’ Bonobo, serious shit like Prana’s The Earth and Karmic Energies’ Born To Be Wild, awesome noisy acid bedlam like Trans-Lucid’s Flying Reindeer and Karmic Energies’ Equal & Surpass, and total tribal nonsense like Karmatic 767’s Kalashakra. So overall a nice mix of recognizable and obscure tracks, though obviously overkill in jamming in all three tracks off Karmic Energies’ Equal & Surpass EP. Mighty suspicious, that.

Omnisonus would release a second volume of Psychedelic Goa Trance the following year, which included recognizable names like The Delta, Technossomy, Man Made Man, and Tristan – also, two more Karmic Energies cuts (geez, Charles Rapeneau only ever released two singles under the alias). It doesn’t look as remarkable as the first compilation though, and even this one likely won’t impress seasoned goa veterans. Whatever, I still get a kick out it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

ACE TRACKS: January 2014

Whoa, wait a minute here! How can there already by an ACE TRACKS playlist for January when we’re barely a week into the month? The answer, to the surprise of no one, is that this is the January playlist from last year. Ah, I remember that time so fondly, spending nearly two days straight of finally giving this blog actual sound clips and links via Amazon. Boy, if only I had a different audio service available to me at the time that would have made that process so much easier. If only…



Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Doc Scott - Lost In Drum N’ Bass
The Orb - Live 93
DJ Aaron Carter - Lit Up

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 26%
Percentage of Rock: 4%
Most “WTF?” Track: Archie Bleyer - Hernando’s Hideaway (get your tango on, mate)

This was quite an eclectic month, as far as musical genres are concerned. Beyond the highly recognizable electronic names like Leftfield, Ladytron, Infected Mushroom, and FSOL, there’s obscure acid techno, reggae, world music, and grimey UK bass. Also, live albums, so expect to hear more cheering crowds than a KLF record. Surprisingly, the end result isn’t as convoluted or forced as other 'kitchen sink' playlists I’ve done. I won’t deny a couple clunky transitions, though (sorry, Rae’).

The total runtime is about 10 hours here, but that’s because I gave three whole albums Ace Track status that month: Asura’s Life², Bob Marely’s Legend, and GZA’s Liquid Swords. Instead of clumsily worming these LPs’ individual tracks throughout, I’ve lumped each one at the very end of the playlist. It makes better sense having albums that are great straight through represented as such anyway.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

DJ Orphée - Psychedelic Goa Core 3

Javelin Ltd.: 1997

What's up with all these mid-'90s French psy trance labels? Did France have big enough of a goa scene that it could support dozens of compilations every month? Britain was big, sure, and Israel came to dominate in the new millennium, but I'm hard pressed to recall much press for the trippy side of acid trance as cultivated by Francophone folk. I'd never heard of this Javelin Ltd. print before, yet a quick peruse of its Lord Discogs data reveals nearly one-hundred CDs of various trance musics, much of which on the psychedelic trip, all released in a brief window within ‘95 through '97. Some of it was domestic distributions for larger albums like Juno Reactor’s Beyond The Infinite, Total Eclipse’s Delta Aquarids, and Etnica’s Alien Protein, but for the most part they flooded the market with compilations. And that's just one label out of at least a half-dozen I'm somewhat familiar with, yet nary a soul brings them up anymore. Damn disco and house producers stole all the spotlights, that's what happened I wager.

Psychedelic Goa Core was one of many compilations series Javelin put out, headed by one DJ Orphée, as much a mystery to Lord Discogs as most goa DJs of the ‘90s are. Going by this third volume, the emphasis was on the harder, deeper side of the genre, reflecting a gradual shift from goa’s earlier melodic side to the minimalist ‘psy-tekk’ style that most producers adopted at the turn of the century. Hell, a few names on this track list were almost solely responsible for it: Nervasystem, Tristan and Process, though the latter two with individual tracks rather than their collaborations. Lesser known names on Psychedelic Goa Core 3 that go this route include Noosphere, Doda, Germinating Seeds Of Doda (yes, it’s the same duo, but with additional convoluted nonsense in their name) and Growling Mad Synchro. Hey, I know this one, they were on that Goa Spirit 3 CD I reviewed from way back. Wait, how come I’ve two instances of only have the third volume of two long-forgotten ‘90s psy trance compilations? They both even have yellow as their colour themes. Damn, it can’t be a random coincidence, there must be a connection! Send your theories to sykonee@crackpotpsytranceconnections.goa.

Okay, bitchin’ time. Psychedelic Goa Core 3 is in fact a DJ mix, a format for ‘90s psy trance I’ve seldom heard good examples of, and this is no exception. I’ll grant the music was never the most mix friendly form out there, but that’s all the more reason sticking with traditional track showcase collections was superior. Tunes like Man Made Man’s Drama and Electric Universe’s Technologic are busy enough, we don’t need forced attempts at beat-matching incompatible drum kicks gumming things up further.

As a mix though, Psychedelic Goa Core 3 is fine enough, mostly sticking to the hard, minimalist stuff for the first half before unleashing a few high-energy space acid squawkers for the end. I’ll never tire of that trippy Indian scale!

Monday, January 5, 2015

John '00' Fleming - Psy-Trance Euphoria 2 (Original TC Review)

Ministry Of Sound: 2009

(2015 Update:
Not as good as I remember, and that's before I get into the music itself. There's a lot of 'short-hand' writing in this review, understandable since I wrote this late into TranceCritic's run and most of the website's readers were regulars by that point. It doesn't make for a comprehensive read as is though, even after doing a few edits so it's not quite so clunky. Some of the information regarding John Fleming's previous output isn't terribly accurate either, as his
Euphoria mixes did much better than I gave them credit for. Maybe I should have actually listened to the damn things before saying anything about them, eh?

As for Fleming, he's kinda' moved on from this style of trance, unsurprising since there's more options for high-energy club music now than psy. Honestly, I didn't get into this as much as I did when I first listened to it, though I suspect it's all due to context. The regular ol' trance we were reviewing was mostly balls, and
Psy-Trance Euphoria 2 was like a breath of fresh air, presented to us from a guy with much of the same sentiments regarding that scene. With much better alternatives of late however, three CDs of the stuff just grows tedious. I still have soft spots for a few tracks on here, but the enthusiasm I had half a decade hence has definitely dwindled.)


IN BRIEF: Are you psy-curious?

…And finally, we get to Fleming. Yes, we know it’s been a long time coming. If anyone deserves recognition here at TranceCritic, it’s good ol’ ‘00’.

His career has seen several hurdles (the most prominent being surviving a battle with lung cancer), but ever so gradually he’s kept on a continuous climb. After DJing in relative obscurity throughout most of the 90s, Fleming got his break at the turn of the century when he was tapped to help put together various Euphoria and Godskitchen compilations. Unfortunately, these releases didn’t do much to stand out from the glut, as many of them recycled the same prog trance hits available everywhere else. Despite this, he still managed to develop a larger audience and fanbase.

Then, in a move that probably seemed like career suicide at the time, Fleming abandoned the mainstream aspects of trance music and started pushing psy instead. Or perhaps it wasn’t such a silly notion to do so after all. He’d gone on record numerous times regarding his growing dissatisfaction the direction trance music was going, feeling it was abandoning the communal free-for-all party ethos the early goa scenes enjoyed in favor of superstar pop concerts dedicated to a guy who played other people’s records. Seeing as how Fleming’s brush with death put him on a path that lead him to always follow his passion, a jump to the psy scene does make sense, even if it lessened his exposure.

Still, with good intentions brought more underground respect and Fleming’s brand of accessible psy garnered a steadily growing fanbase of equally disillusioned trance fans. As the Tiestin van Schulzenyonds of the world continued to disappoint with trite pop efforts, those looking for trance music that’s entrancing found a hero in Fleming. The Worthing native hasn’t disappointed yet.

Which brings us to Psy Trance Euphoria, one of the most unlikely mainstream compilations you’d have ever guessed being made. Seriously, when was the last time psy had this kind of exposure? There was Christopher Lawrence’s Live In Moscow a couple years back, but that was more about cashing in on Lawrence’s popularity than exposing the music he played. It grows increasingly sketchy the further back you go; DJ Brian’s Hardesertrance series had some respectable promotion in the States at the turn of the century, and you might have found the odd track in a Global Underground release; however, we’d have to go as far into the past as Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Fluoro to find any real mainstream acceptance of the genre. Even looking at this release, you can’t help but figure Ministry Of Sound is banking on Euphoria brand recognition rather than daring to dive into a fringe scene like psy. Ahh, it doesn’t matter – the music’s too awesome to worry over insidious corporate agendas.

Yes, the music here is awesome. Very awesome. You’ve got all the heavy hitters: Vibrasphere, Astral Projection, Ticon, Astrix, Wizzy Noise, Human Blue… Wait, there’s more. Ovnimoon, Ace Ventura, Perfect Stranger, 00.db (Fleming and Digital Blonde), U-Recken, Chakra, Sub6, Zen Mechanics, Infected Mushroom, Push… (Push…?) If few of these names are familiar to you, then get ready for a crash-course in why many of them have been earning plenty of underground plaudits. Heck, the first CD alone would almost be worth the price of admission, were the whole release not saddled with a (reasonable) 3-disc price tag.

Progressive Psy provides exactly what it advertises, although with more emphasis on the ‘progressive’ than the ‘psy’. Really, it’s picking things up where prog trance left off near the turn of the century – ample amounts of good groove, brilliant touches of melody, and plenty of sonic space so the tracks never drown in over-production. The only dip in quality comes from Chernikov’s Kerudu, which unfortunately sounds underpowered and out of place coming off a string of excellence from Perfect Stranger, Ticon, and Vibrasphere. Once prog psy veteran Human Blue comes along though, the set rebounds and finishes out with class.

The other two discs [one titled Deep ‘N Serious, the other The Fun Stuff!! (Full On)] are quite similar, though one’s more gusto than the other -the titles alone should be a clue which. The momentum of both is mostly go-go-go, with some tracks offering welcome brief lulls during the course of their playing time. Whenever it feels like the energy starts laggging, Fleming drops a track that cranks it right back up; gander at the transition from The Return to Insomnia’s 24/7 for a prime example –‘!!’ indeed. I’ll grant the lack of stylistic variation will be a turn-off for some (all psy, all the time!), but unlike other sets which lay out samey track after samey track, it works here thanks to the busy nature of the music. There’s always something new going on, and fortunately there’s enough differences between each producer that it seldom sounds like you’re hearing the same thing over and over, a common complaint where psy albums are concerned.

Though minor, the only quibble with discs two and three is the manner which they are wrapped up – considering how energetic the music’s been, it’s disappointing they finish rather limply. Actually, it isn’t so much that Deep ‘N Serious ends poorly, you’d just expect a track titled Strange World (Astral Projection Remix) wouldn’t be so ho-hum. And yes, I realize Infected Mushroom are huge stars, but Becoming Insane seems to only highlight just how awful their metal leanings sound. Why even tag such a corny track at the end, as a silly joke to end CD3? Hmm… if Fleming did intend it as a piss-take, then it worked brilliantly!

I’m sure there are a number of psy trance veterans who feel I’m being far too positive with this release. After all, there’s little innovation to be had and the producers in his track list are rather safe – he hasn’t dug terribly deep into the scene to unearth some truly unique and twisted offerings from the genre. Well, that’s because Psy Trance Euphoria 2 isn’t exactly for the vets, now is it. This is a Ministry Of Sound compilation and, in case those TV advertisements weren’t a dead giveaway, it has a broader audience in mind.

Yet, this isn’t simply a cash-grab to milk the psy-curious either (!!). Fleming also made this just as much a showcase of what the genre has to offer, and compiled three strong convincing sets of psy to reassure the disgruntled trance fan that, yes, there is more out there than what Black-Armada-Beats provides, and it kicks a whole lot more ass in the process. I’d call that success any day.

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

Sunday, January 4, 2015

GZA/Genius - Pro Tools

Babygrande: 2008

It’s January, which means its GZA/Genius month again! What do you mean I just made that up? Didn’t you notice I reviewed two albums from Mr. Grice last January? And here we are again, one year later, with another GZA LP lined up. Why, should I carry on reviewing my music library from the alphabetical beginning again (for completist sake, obviously), I’ll be reviewing Beneath The Surface come next January too! Don’t laugh, odds are very good it’ll be close to that time. Wait, does that mean I’ll be done my main run this year? Holy cow, I just might! Haha, the insanity will finally end, haha, ha!

Anyhow, let me quickly consult my Wu-Tang Timeline for a refresher of where Pro Tools lands within the group’s lengthy lore. Uh huh, right, this album came out after 8 Diagrams, as divisive a Clan joint as any, but hinting at a possible resurgence. Ooh, this was also around the time Mr. Grice was getting a little buzz again for inflammatory things said about Soulja Boy and 50 Cent. He put an end to the Crank That kid controversy as nothing more than playful back-and-forth with a hot tempered crowd, but flat out disses the G-Unit dude with Paper Plate on this album. Of course, considering The Genius’ rep’ as a premier lyricist remains unchallenged while the other two are thought of as over-hyped rappers of the ‘00s, the whole issue is moot.

Still, that gossipy nonsense did give Pro Tools a small bump of interest for hip-hop heads outside the core Wu followers. Most were fine with the notion the Clan's best days were all but behind them (except Ghostface), but after so many years of southern crunk and auto-tune infiltrating the rap scene at large, any sort of underground vibe where lyrical mastery took center-stage would be hailed as a solid LP. GZA thus provided exactly what old-school sorts wanted, and Pro Tools was proclaimed among the best solo Wu-Tang LPs of the '00s. Not that it had much competition in that category, mind you.

Honestly, this is a difficult album to recommend for a casual consumer, as there's little on Pro Tools I'd call essential listening. Most of the beats are simple and serviceable, mostly sticking to traditional Wu-Tang banger “samurai 'n' soul” stylee (you know what I'm talking about). RZA and Masta Killa show up in the opener Pencils, and that's about it for the main Clan roster guest verses (assorted third-tier MCs crop up throughout, but none make much of a mark with their time). The only sort of theme to this album is a loose thread regarding motor sports, of all things. For the most part though, it's GZA running through topics he's covered extensively in the past, in about as skillfully class as a veteran MC could do in the late '00s. If all this sounds A-plus to you, then you’ll definitely dig Pro Tools. It’s throwback Wu at its finest.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ghostface - The Pretty Toney Album

Def Jam Recordings: 2004

This is the exact moment when Ghostface Killah surpassed any need of Wu-Tang association as a hip-hop talent. Following The Pretty Toney Album, it was clear Mr. Coles was on a totally different level as a solo MC compared to his Clan fam’, and could carry on a successful career without them should he so choose - yep, Wu-Tang breakup rumours were rampant at this time. Fueling that gossipy narrative was the fact nary a Clan member nor their second and third tier MCs have guest verses on this album, a first for any of the group's solo LPs (RZA and True Master did contribute a couple productions though). It led to ridiculous amounts of speculation over whether there was beef between Ghost and Wu-Tang, which he immediately quashes with an opening mock interview skit, but it'd be a few years before it finally simmered away.

There was another factor to all the talk, however; with The Pretty Toney Album, Ghostface was the only Clan member to have a standout solo album up to that point in the new millennium (though Masta Killa's debut wasn't too far ahead). Granted, hindsight's shown that LPs from GZA, Inspectah Deck, and so on weren't awful, but it seemed no one else was maintaining the creative fire that propelled Wu-Tang through the '90s like he was. Def Jam must have believed as much, signing him once his deal with Epic passed, all but cementing his status among the upper hip-hop echelon. Good thing Mr. Coles gave them solid albums and confirming their support was justified, unlike some other Wu members (sorry, Meth').

As The Pretty Toney Album was his debut on Def Jam, the album comes off like a showcase for Ghostface’s various styles of MCing. Okay, he tends to have only one style, a near-breathless stream of conscious attack filled with hyperbole and slang, but his preferred topics range from street tales, near pornographic come-ons, or persona acting. Most of his albums find him sticking to one, but not here. We get various crime sagas with Biscuits, Run (along with Jadakiss), and It’s Over, while relationship shit goes down in Save Me Dear, Tooken Back, and Push (with Missy Elliot at the summit of her powers). A few other topics are scattered about, like Ghost simply spitting fire over lesser MCs (Ghostface, Beat The Clock), plus his obligatory softy song in Love. I can’t say all of these are Tony Starks at his absolute best, but it’s a great primer if you were just getting into his music (a decade late, somehow).

And the beats? Man, you better love them old funk and soul jams, because Ghostface loves them so much, he barely alters his samples at all. At least a third of these tracks is just him rapping over the original songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, a few tweaks and edits the only noticeable difference, though I honestly don’t know for sure. My knowledge of the soul classics is the bunk.

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