Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ace Ventura - Rebirth (Original TC Review)

Iboga Records: 2007

(2015 Update:
First, shame on you, 2008 Sykonee, for falling lock-step with every other reviewer in making that movie reference. Not that many even did review it outside the dedicated psy brigade, but you could have shown some ingenuity there, some iconoclastic behavior. Regarding Mr. Oshrat's debut album, it turned out to be his only full-length, follow-ups little more than a number of collaborative digital singles and a 2CD remix package of
Rebirth (!). Wait, there was that much extra music made from this drab LP? I need me a couple more exclamation marks (!!).

This review's surprisingly prescient regarding the way Iboga's brand of prog psy turned out, growing ever more minimalist, dull, and stale in the following years. I'm not sure whether this was a mandated change of direction by Perfect Stranger, or Ace Ventura's minor success within the scene generated lackluster copycats, but it sure didn't do the scene any favors long term. That said, the tracks off the back end of this album (
The Light, M.A.R.S., and Exposed) do hold up, which is more than can be said for much of Iboga's output later on.)


IN BRIEF: In the prog rut.

Progressive psy had a pretty clever premise going for it when the sound first caught on a few years back. Take the atmospheric and structural aesthetics of prog house, do away with the genre’s tendency to agonizingly build a track subtly, and instead spice the process up with psy trance’s quirky attributes. It could have taken the prog world by storm, but instead the elder statesmen (re: Digweed and co.) decided to explore what the Germans were up to while the new cats (re: Schulz and co.) figured the wiser course of action would be to pop prog up. Maybe it’s been for the best. Given the massive web of sub-genres within dance music, not every new twist should be propelled into the spotlight. In fact, some do quite well remaining obscured in the underground, discovered by those who wish to dig beneath the surface. Away from mainstream influences, it can sometimes be like finding musical gold (although to be fair, there’s often hefty quantities of iron pyrite lurking about too). On the other hand, outside influences do help to spur on innovation within a scene. Without it, the music can become rather insular and stagnant, and if Ace Ventura’s debut full-length is anything to go by, this may be occurring within the realms of prog psy.

Oh, who is Ace Ventura? Not to be confused with the Jim Carey movie (and I won’t bring it up again, so worry not about lame quotes from the Pet Detective), the man behind this project is Yoni Oshrat, whom some may remember as a member of Psysex earlier in the decade. Growing tired of the full-on sound, he left the group and, under the tutelage of Yuli Fersthat (aka: Perfect Stranger, and one of the driving forces behind Iboga Records), began exploring what the realm of prog psy had to offer. After some promising early singles, Yoni finally tucked away in the studio and has emerged with Rebirth, and album that, well, comes off small in scope.

The trouble here, my friends, is most of these tracks don’t reach far. As with many prog producers, Yoni seems more concerned with minute sonic details rather than musical craft. He cooks up a decent groove in the early goings and builds his tracks with a good simmer, but anytime things are ready to boil, he turns the heat off. If this doesn’t make sense, let’s go with a literal explanation.

I could pick out nearly any of these tracks, but for the sake of argument, Presence gets the nod, as it’s the worst offender. It starts out much the same as the rest, with a solid punchy beat and enveloping, throbbing bassline to complement it. With layering percussion and various pulsing effects, tension is adequately built for a couple minutes, until it caps off at... A reset. Yes, folks, Yoni found the best way to utilize all that time was to act as though it never really mattered, and start Presence’s tension from ground zero again. This time though, we are treated to some sparse melody and synth washes, which is quite nice. It seems this might lead to something rather interesting, but alas, it is not to be. In fact, it isn’t to be anything, as Presence unceremoniously ends with a whimper, as though Yoni couldn’t be bothered to make something of the base ingredients he used (er... what IS it with all these cooking analogies today anyway?).

Sao Paulo, Exposed, and Serenity are guilty of this too, although do contain better sounds at their disposal. Elsewhere, M.A.R.S. doesn’t know what kind of song it wants to be, giving us three different ideas (pumping rhythms; moody riffs; tweaky acid) that have little to do with each other (and this one ends even more abruptly than Presence).

These gripes said, Rebirth is hardly the write-off I’m probably making it out to be. If anything, each of these would make for fine set pieces in a DJ mix. Plus, even though the mood throughout is rather singular, the brooding, spacey tone it does maintain is handled well; tracks like Psychic Experience and Stimulator are quite good in this context, although they being collaborations, perhaps the extra input all the more helped Yoni’s efforts.

Actually, I’m positive of it, as his pairing up with Lish for the song The Light brings us Rebirth’s clear highlight. Raising it far and above the rest is a higher dependency on melody to carry the song, something that’s usually only subtly hinted at on the album’s other tracks. As lovely as it is though, what launches The Light even above typical prog psy pastures is the altering of the rhythms in the second half, such that they skip and gallop along rather than drive ahead like so much else. Overall, it’s a wonderful effort.

However, one great track cannot rescue an album being the middling affair it is. Yoni’s prog trappings are simply too rote for the most part, and while undoubtedly great in a dancefloor context, it makes for a barely passable listening experience at home. It’s prog psy going through the motions, and in a sub-genre of music as young as this one, that’s inexcusable.

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

2 Unlimited - Real Things

Quality Music: 1994

If I'm not mistaken, this review of 2 Unlimited's third album marks a minor milestone on this blog: the first completion of an artist's discography. Okay, there are certain conditions for this achievement, like said act in question must have more than two album's released, and I have to actually own them all within my collection. Despite buying quite a few CDs over the years (four digits, creepin’ closer!), there aren’t many artists I’ve gathered full discographies of. Sometimes it’s due to an obscenely huge output (oh hi, Neil Young), other times it’s from scarcity of hard copies (boo limited runs), or perhaps an act enters a period of meh-to-suck in later years, making purchases pointless (sorry, ‘electronica’ darlings). Oh, and I refuse to acknowledge the existence of Wilde and de Coster's reboot attempt with two different singers – 2 Unlimited will forever be the original foursome, accept no alternatives!

Not only does Real Things complete my coverage of the former euro-dance juggernaut, it was also the final album they released, third in as many years. When you consider today’s dance-pop icons barely manage one LP in the same amount of time, I find that impressive. Fine, the rules of the game have considerably changed since two decades hence, artists capable of sustaining careers on singles alone. If we’re playing that game though, 2 Unlimited were utterly dominate in that area too, Real Things alone spawning off three top-Tens, plus a surprising fourth single in the ballad Nothing Like The Rain. That one’s not as good as the ballads off No Limits! and oh my God I’m championing euro dance ballads over others. Does my 2 Unlimited bias have no shame?

Probably not, though as always, a full-length outing from this group has its ups and downs. Compared to the prior two albums, Real Things is incredibly slick and polished, all hints of Belgian rave roots completely varnished away. Instead, they’ve adopted the sounds of Germany and Italy, though did so in their own way. Even at the height of euro-dance’s glut, you couldn’t mistake a 2 Unlimited cut for any other, Ray and Anita among the most distinctive rap-and-singer combos that scene ever produced. No wonder everyone tried copying their formula, and smaller wonder still they felt compelled to call out all the style-biters on lead single The Real Thing. Then again, who are they to do so when the track is centred on a Bach riff. Oh Turbo B ain’t gonna’ like that, nosiree.

The rest of the album flits between songs about love (Burning With Desire, Sensuality, Face To Face), dancing (Hypnotised, Escape In Music, Tuning Into Something Wild), but never about the love of dancing, oddly. There’s also an ode to a then-emergent cyberspace (Info Superhighway), and a couple ‘stand tall and proud’ type of tunes in Here I Go, Do What I Like, and What’s Mine Is Mine. Unsurprisingly, they’re the best tunes on Real Things. It’s as though being original is a good thing!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sounds From The Ground - Ready, Steady, Slow

Upstream Records: 2012

It’s been a year since I last discussed Sounds From The Ground. It doesn’t feel that long ago when I splurged on the near-entirety of their discography, dragging all ya’ll along in my musical crash course of an overlooked duo. That’s what makes all this so much fun, eh? Me finding new artists and labels, somehow having the funds to buy all their records, consuming the music and digesting the feels it generates, regurgitate them into words zapped into your retinas. Um wait, the process doesn’t sound appealing when described like that, does it? Damn this English language and all its appealing metaphorical abuses.

I only covered about two-thirds of Jones and Woolfson’s output in that earlier outing though, the rest waiting patiently in the bottom end of the alphabet before getting reviews on this blog. The gap’s hopefully given any curious readers of the duo’s music a chance to hear some of their tunes for themselves, gauging whether Sounds From The Ground are worth more of their precious listening hours or not. I bring this all up because, if ever there was a ‘fans-only’ album in the act’s extensive catalog, Ready, Steady, Slow is that CD.

Jones and Woolfson have long dabbled in various forms of downtempo and chill, but typically as one-offs on their full-lengths, ambient dub remaining their breaded butter. Fifteen years into a career had to have them anxious to try something different, and after resuscitating their seldom used Upstream Records in the late ‘00s, could finally indulge themselves a little. For their first ‘experimental’ album, we are given a pure ambient LP. As someone who’s enjoyed many a beatless moment from prior Sounds O’ Ground full-lengths, this was an intriguing effort, and Ready, Steady, Slow doesn’t disappoint, offering a nice variety of examples from the genre .

There’s droning synth pieces like First Light and Departures, calming meditative compositions like Watershell, Mice Skating, and The Long Curve, rapturous layered builds like The Turning Wheel and Mapping Points In Time, and pure cosmic bliss like Chrome Horizon. Oh, and a bit of room for field recording doodles (Interchange) and …folksy acoustic prog-rock (Long Lane)? What is this, the ‘70s? I guess so; or at least Jones and Woolfson have no qualms in letting the influence of early ambient maestros drive their music making here. Must I namedrop all the obvious names again? You know them all by now – Hell, I’ve reviewed a number of them already. Besides, it sells Ready, Steady, Slow short if I do so, because the honest truth is “Sounds From The Ground All Ambient Album” is a tough sell regardless. Matters aren’t helped in referring to Very Important Older Musics.

Ready, Steady, Slow is a lovely little ambient album, but as is often the case with lovely little ambient albums, not essential listening. Nor is it anywhere near an entry point into Sounds From The Ground, hardly representative of their music. As I said, a ‘fans only’ option.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - re-ac-tor

Reprise Records: 1981/2003

Just how sloppy and loose can a band go before it turns unacceptable? For that authentic scrappy, bar-blues rock played out of downtown dive garage feeling (or something), folks often gives a little on the technical side. Where Mr. Young and his band-of-brothers Crazy Horse are concerned, listeners wouldn’t have it any other way, their freewheeling approach to music making part and partial of their charm. It’s given them the leeway to go into albums with barely any prep and only the most tenuous of themes: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is about capturing fresh band synergy at its source of inspiration; Ragged Glory is about re-capturing that same spark long after it should have expired; Psychedelic Pill is about re-re-capturing that spark even as grandpas.

Those are just the albums I’ve thus far reviewed though (wow, what a weird thematic coincidence), and the group’s done other material with a different focus. In the case of re-ac-tor, Neil had to fulfill his album obligation to Reprise Records before getting a sweet deal from Geffen, and slapped out a sloppy collection of Crazy Horse jams to do so. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate, but given the utter lack of finesse in many of these songs, it makes for a juicy bit of suppositional gossip taking that stance.

The truth is a little more nuanced, Neil’s personal life growing incredibly stressful and in need of some changes. That he’d miss some creative fire or not have time for proper rehearsals with Crazy Horse is understandable in that context, but one must ask why force an album if he’s not quite feeling it? Songs like Get Back On It, Motor City, and Rapid Transit are some of the goofiest, simplest examples of southern rock I’ve ever heard, while T-Bone is nothing more a drunken three-chord jam that lasts nine minutes! Still, if you’re a fan of Young and Horse, it’s an awesome drunken three-chord jam session, but you’d hardly want to show it off to others as the group at their best.

And hey, Young always finds ways of crafting catchy, compelling music even on his off years. Southern Pacific is a charming ode to the once-mighty rail industry, with a suitably chugging rhythm and, dare I say, picturesque lyrics (plus was packaged as a bizarre triangular gatefold 7” single). Shots is also vivid, though with such ugly and messy manner with blown chords, out-of-sync rhythm, and nasty distortion, the sloppy production of re-ac-tor actually makes sense in this case. Finally, Opera Star and Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze are fun little bar rock tunes, probably also performed while intoxicated.

That’s about the strongest endorsement for this album I can give: best enjoyed drunk. Neil And His Wacky Horses have stronger LPs in their discography, some dynamic, others somber - this one’s about as half-assed as you’ll ever hear the group, but perhaps one of the funnest too. Screw you, SpellCheck, I cans sloopy grammar alls I wants to for re-ac-tor.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Various - Rave-Trance 2001

Electronic Dance Essentials: 2001

On the surface, Rave-Trance 2001 is the chintziest pieces of bargain-bin detritus you'll ever come across. I certainly thought so, and prepared for a good guffaw upon flipping it over to see what names made up the track list. I wasn't disappointed, such hilarious credits including DJ Ibiza, DJ Airbourne, DJ Pebbles, DJ Glamer, and Bypass Unit. Wait, Bypass Unit? Those guys were awesome, a dope blend of German trance and early goa. What are they doing on this? For that matter, might the other tracks be just as good?

Not really, most of the tunes sounding quite dated by post-millennial standards. The mixing's barely adequate, occasional vocals corny as all Hell, and CD1 features an awful, flat mono mastering, utterly shameful for the modern era. Still, it's mid-'90s German trance, with plenty of spacey acid, driving rhythms, and delicious minor-key melodies throughout, thus giving me the wayback feels no matter how dodgy the packaging. It was something of a revelation even finding such a CD in 2001, figuring all the sounds that drew me into trance had been kicked to the curb in favour grotesque Dutch excess. But music aside, Rave-Trance 2001 is rather fascinating in its own right.

For instance, Electronic Dance Essentials is a sub-label of Big Eye Records, whom in turn is a sub-label of Cleopatra. Suddenly the cheap presentation made a lot more sense, but this story gets even better. While submitting Rave-Trance 2001 to the mighty Lord Discogs (because of course I'd be the only contributor with a copy), I discovered an identical tracklist on an obscure 1999 ZYX Music double-disc set called The World Of Dream & Trance. So not only did a sub-sub label of Cleopatra release a cheap-looking collection of trance with music far better than expected, but did so by 'copy & pasting' another unremarkable release from a label that has – as far as I know – absolutely no association with Cleopatra, for no reason other than 'just because'.

But wait, this story gets even better! The World Of Dream & Trance may not have much going for it, but regarding its origins... hoo boy! The World Of... is a long-running series of double-disc collections from ZYX Music featuring such eclectic gatherings as rock, soul, reggae, house, salsa, techno, italo, rap, schlager, Russische folklore, surf music, krautrock, Indian pop, jodeln, truckers, and telefonansagen. What. The. F!? There's even a release for phone sex conversations. Who buys this stuff?

All this delightful associative info, but possibly the most interesting comes from an anecdote. While moving from one Canadian hinterland to another, I stopped over at a town where a couple friends lived for a rave happening that night. At the pre-party house, I rummaged through the host’s CDs as I’m wont to do, and saw a familiar blue sleeve with tacky clip-art and unrelated Time Magazine quote on the back. “Oh, wow,” I say to owner, “You have this too?” “Yeah,” she replied, “It’s a great CD, isn’t it!” It sure is.

Friday, February 20, 2015

ACE TRACKS: December 2013

Sure’s been a while since I last did one of my backtrack playlists. Heh, so much for my ‘one every week’ semi-promise, but I was kinda’ stuck on how to proceed with this one. That, plus new musics have been rather distracting as of late. I’m not even sure how many folks are interested in ACE TRACKS from 2013, but then it’s not like I often keep contemporary with my music coverage anyway. Thus, here’s the best music I reviewed in December of nigh fourteen months past.



Full Track List Here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Vector Lovers - Late Shift / Babette
Various - Red Jerry: Late Night Drive Mix
Various - In Trance We Trust 008 - Ton T.B.
Various - In Trance We Trust 012: Johan Gielen

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 9%
Most “WTF?” Track: Robert Mitchum - From A Logical Point Of View (that Fatboy, sure knows how to find ‘em)

Yep, this was the month where I spent going through a ton of In Trance We Trust mixes. I didn’t want this playlist overrun by trance though, as it’d gum up the flow of other tracks. So, I’ve lumped them all at the end, and in sequential order at that – if you just have to hear all those epic, euphoric, anthems, skip past the super-long ambient version of Banco de Gaia’s Kincajou for your fix.

This leaves a relatively short first-half of the usual genre hopping, running at a tidy three hours with change. Considering the lack of options that month provided, it plays comfortably smooth. Plus, anything with Model 500, Trentemoller, and Moby in it can’t hurt, right?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Various - Rave Power (Fake Flashback Review)

ZYX Music: 1997

(note: all that needed saying about Rave Power was easily wrapped up in a single review; however, three CDs is a lot of music to get through, creating something of a gap in posts here before the next one. Fortunately, I've modified my time portal, such that I can send this compilation back in the past to my teenage self. Let's see how he/I would have reacted to Rave Power had I/he bought it way back in those early raver days instead of fifteen years later. Temporal paradoxes, you ask? Um, don't worry, just pay attention to the cute chincilla over there while I explain it all away with the maths *ducks away*)

Teenage Sykonee: Oh man, you guys, you'll never believe what I scored on my trip to Vancouver. I mean, I knew I'd get something deece – there's always deece music at A&B Sound and Sam The Record Man – but I had no idea I could get trance CDs in three packs! I mean, I saw a few box sets at the new Virgin Megastore like This Is... Techno and This Is... Jungle and This Is... Acid Jazz - what even is acid jazz anyway? I think I kinda' know what it is, it's like trip-hop, right?

Those compilations probably aren't that good though. I mean, there's some cool tunes, but I've heard all the good tracks on them, and I'm all about discovering new music and new artists. Mostly trance though, especially if it's from Hypnotic Records ('electronic purity', w'ut!). So it's nice that Rave Power has one track that I can rest assured I'm hangin' with familiar sounds, Sunbeam's High Adventure. And I thought that B.B.E. looked familiar, but I couldn't remember who it was that made that cool trance song I heard on some recent euro-dance CD. There's a whole bunch of tracks on here like that too, tunes I know I've heard at some of the raves at the Elk's Hall or curling rink or a Terrace party. Hell, I'm sure a few in my Rupert Raver posse have them too on mixtapes somewhere, but whatever, we can still play them out, if we can borrow my Dad's gear again and rent out a hall somewhere. Or have a house party with a strobe light, that'd be awesome. Monolize and DJ Brainwave tag-team, ya'!

Man, I still can’t believe I found this in Vancouver of all places. The back cover says it was made in Germany – are all their compilations this sweet? Okay, it’s not all awesome, those Daft Punk covers totally geigh-kay, but three discs is better than anything I’ve ever seen around here. Only that Platipus double-discer could compare, and that doesn’t have as wicked-cool a cover as this one (aliens rule, you know it). Doubt I’ll ever find such a compilation again, so I’m gonna’ treasure this for years and years and years. Rave Power is the greatest collection of trance ever!

(four years later, he/I sold it for ramen noodles)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Various - Rave Power

ZYX Music: 1997

Signs Of Adulthood #1523: splurging on an old 3CD collection for exactly one track out of thirty-nine. It’s a frivolous use of one's money, not like when you're younger and are forced to carefully consider what you'll use up limited funds on (er, in the pre-MP3 era of long, long ago at least). What's that? “Responsibility?” Oh hohoho, that's a laugh – adults blow large sums of cash on the most pointless of things, just because they have the means to. Of course, matters aren't helped by seductive online outlets like Amazon and eBay, where rockin' deals for old, gimmicky things lure you in, tempting your youthful nostalgia centres like so much Beanie Baby fluff.

Fortunately, I didn't have to break the bank in acquiring the one tune off here that eluded me for years, Gary D.'s Timewarp, among the best hard German trance cuts ever released. It features all the vintage sounds that made the genre so much fun: multi-tap voice pads leads, minor-key piano hooks, driving acid basslines, and relentless rhythmic energy to spare. Even the compilers knew this was their money track, giving Gary D. top billing on the small list of artists advertised on the cover (seriously, that cover!). Bizarrely though, Timewarp is dumped all the way on CD3, sharing disc space with such forgotten names like Charlie Lownoise & Mental Theo, Dan Dizko, and Afrowax. Oh dear, this one of those ultra-dodgy compilations, isn't it. Yeah, sure is.

The origins of Rave Power are mostly lost at this late date. As this came from German mega-label ZYX Music, my best guess is the compilation was a stab at style-biting Sub Terranean’s highly successful Rave Mission series. It must have been a failure though, as no subsequent editions were made. Matters weren’t helped that, at three CDs in length, this is one erratic collection of tunes.

For sure most of the sounds representing German rave are here: hard acid, hard trance, happy hardcore, and some techno too. I honestly don’t know much about the candy-raver stuff, and it’s weird seeing such music sharing track lists with bona-fide classics of the era. Gander at these tracks: Commander Tom’s Are Am Eye, B.B.E.’s Seven Days & One Week, DJ Quicksilver’s Free, Chicane’s Sunstroke and that Three ‘N One Remix of Cafe Del Mar, appearing here just before it blew up huge in UK clubland. Their sequence throughout makes no sense though, often shoved between hardcore and forgettable house music, including two atrocious covers of Daft Punk’s biggest hits.

Rave Power likely had a very specific audience in mind, the sort of doe-eyed young raver taking their first steps into the wild underground. There was plenty to discover, and these 3CDs served as a handy introduction, even if there’s no structure to this mess. Clearly Rave Power now only holds interest for those with nostalgic ties to the era (or retro-fashionable candy kids). Makes me wonder how I’d have reacted if I’d discovered this new. I wonder... wonder... wonder...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Solar Fields - Random Friday

Ultimae Records: 2012

Probably one of the most anticipated albums on Ultimae, this. Of course, followers of the label eagerly await each release, but Solar Fields' Random Friday had a little extra going for it. After Mr. Birgersson wooed many a forlorn progressive trance fan into Ultimae’s fold via his 2007 album EarthShine, they wondered whether he'd ever offer more in such an uptempo style. It didn’t seem likely though, the Solar Fields discography almost exclusively on the down beat save occasional one-offs on compilations and LPs. And yet, having explored so many different movements, altered states, origins, and meeted skies (?) in the half-decade following EarthShine, ol’ Magnus had to feel some itch in trying his hand at progressive trance again. Yes, another definitive statement for his career would do, that the first’s success wasn’t a one-off fluke, all the while granting the wishes of those hard-earned trance fans drifting from Ultimae after a string of all-too droney ambient CDs. Or he’d been sitting on some live material for a while that had no place in his other albums.

Whatever the impetus for Random Friday was, its announcement had fans salivating for the results. I mean, the concept sells itself: all the epic, widescreen lush sounds of Ultimae, impossibly uplifting emotional Solar Fields song craft, and now at a pace benefit of peak-time rinse out action. 'crackers still following the tired sounds of Armada and Enhanced could remain in their redundant corners of the trance scene at large; here was Solar Fields – almost exclusively not a trance guy, mind you! - bringing the goods like few others. Nope, no bog-standard prog-psy business on Random Friday, nosiree. This is the highest of the highs, the, um, best of what's left. The, uh, bomb-diggity? Damn it, why can't I get as excited for this album as others? It's all AstroPilot's fault, isn't it.

This is a good collection of tunes, no doubt, but that annoying Expectation Hydra once again rears its distracting heads – no matter how many times I cut them off, they keep slithering back, convincing me of what I wanted this album to sound like instead. Tracks like Cobalt 2.5, Daydreaming, and In Motion have great, groovy, atmospheric builds throughout, but they don’t lead to much of anything in doing so – it’s frustrating in the same way Progression was, a group you’ve probably already forgotten about again. Those are the openers though, the lead-in tracks (for half the LP!) before we get ourselves some proper melodic business for the back-end. This is also where Solar Fields indulges himself beyond usual prog-trance rhythms. Two tracks, Swoosh and Perception, are great, though I suspect it’s my Underworld radar convincing me so (gotta’ love that proggy cool groove). The other two, Landing Party and Lift Off, opt for tribal rhythm action (ooh, quadruples), which I’ve seldom liked, but d’em melodies doe’!

Although I’m not terribly enthused about Random Friday, that shouldn’t deter you if you’re looking for a little extra progressive trance in your diet.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Deadmau5 - Random Album Title (Original TC Review)

Ultra Records: 2008

(2015 Update:
Ol' Joel's had himself a career since I wrote this, hasn't he? Mega-selling concerts, tabloid relationships, Grammy nominations, high rankings in popularity polls, superstar collaborations, and more dosh than a dead dinosaur (?). You know what hasn't changed though? (wait for it...) That. Darn. Clap! Ahahah! Hahaha! Hehhaahaha- Oh, he recently released some ambient music too. Well, that's pie on my ass.

Seriously though, every time I popped into his discography for a quick listen, I couldn't help but chuckle at how little Deadmau5' standard house-template ever changed. As easy it is to deride him for a lack of song-craft ability though, I suspect he's fully aware there's little point in showing some growth, the audience he's cultivated more interested in dazzling light shows and caustic social media diatribes than any actual music. It's taking Fatboy Slim's tongue-in-cheek "why try harder?" manifesto to its logical conclusion. Great for short term profitibility, sure, but small surprise Deadmau5', erm, 'true'-fans keep pointing to this album as his best. The hint of potential resonates here.)



IN BRIEF: A clap every second beat, guaranteed.

I admit it: I like his gimmick. Yes, you read that right –I like deadmau5’ costume gimmick. There’s just something about seeing a guy on stage with a giant mouse head that screams “rave!” How could it not be a trip to watch that live? Ever since DJs became the official ‘face’ of EDM, such odd examples of costumed performance sadly fell by the wayside, abandoning its counter-culture ideology in favor of mainstream acceptance. So, good on Joel Zimmerman for keeping that aspect of the live show going. To those who believe performing with a giant mouse head is silly, I say this –‘tis no less silly than Altern 8 performing with faux-bio-wear and masks, or Liam Howlett having a couple dancers prance around the stage, or Aphex Twin having a couple giant teddy bears prance around the stage, or Rabbit In The Moon doing… um, whatever it is they do on stage. Live PA needs more of this, not less.

He wouldn’t have gotten so widely popular with just a clever gimmick, though; no, deadmau5’ rapid success has a large part to do with the most valuable currency of the modern era: internet controversy. He is one of the very few producers who will actually argue against those who consistently slander his short career, getting involved with heated flame wars on prominent social media. Mind, despite the rarity, this isn’t something new, as Frankie Bones has done much the same for years now. Unfortunately, Joel lacks Bones’ scene savvy and Brooklyn wit, and the Toronto native’s tactless approach to public relations has left him much hated but frequently talked about. In this regard, deadmau5 is merely EDM's version of Soulja Boy.

Oh, and apparently he’s made a few popular tunes too, such that he’s become Beatport’s poster-boy. In the process, the music website handed out a bunch of awards to him, even if that’s like Ikea giving out awards for the furniture they sell. It’s been good for promotions, though, and the time came for Mr. Zimmerman to deliver a major label debut (well, relatively speaking; Ministry Of Sound/Ultra is major in terms of dance music).

And what’s on this randomly titled album? Claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And claps. And… for fuck’s sakes, Joel, STOP WITH THE FUCKING CLAPS! On nearly every second beat, there’s a fucking clap (or snare/snap variation). Every fucking time. No variation at all. It quickly lodges inside your head and never lets up; even when it's somewhat tucked under the synths as a subtle snap, you can't escape it. And by being coupled with such plodding prog rhythms, deadmau5 proves himself to be amongst the whitest dance producers you’ll ever encounter. By three tracks in, it’s become comical; four tracks in, bad comedy; for the rest of the album, infuriatingly distracting.

So what, you counter, second-beat snares are common in music; it can be found in all kinds of genres. And you are right, as it provides rhythmic jump to any beat; however, its function is typically used as a supplement to the rhythm, whereas deadmau5 makes it his main feature. It’s as though he first copy and pastes the clap for several bars, then constructs the rest of his track around it; his claps are so prominent because they run the whole show.

Its omnipresence isn’t helped by the fact Joel’s such a fine technical producer. If he gets anything right, it’s his sense of audio dynamics – everything is wonderfully spaced and full-sounding without falling into over-compression traps plaguing many modern productions. Unfortunately, it also highlights the compounding problems with this album, in that despite having such crystal clear production, his music lacks creativity and soul; it all blends together into one long trudge through generic tech-prog, with the only thing ever sticking to mind being that damned clap.

Even after a dozen listens through, there are only bits and pieces of other stuff I can recall: some tech sections that blandly drone; a couple bouncy basslines; ominous atmospherics here and there; a dull breathy female vocal somewhere in the middle (crossover attempt!); a robotic voice early-on saying “sometimes things get complicated,” surely an ironic foreshadow regarding his beats; repeated uses of the delayed synth 8th notes that he made so popular; some melancholic noodly piano bits; noisy effects-laden builds; blessedly, none of his hideous ‘electro’ r-r-rr-rrrRIPP fart stuff. Arguru in particular stands out, as it features the least amount of clap in its beats (the track’s drop after the build is pretty ace too). Ask me to actually hum back any kind hook or melody from this album, though, and all I’ll be able to offer you are steady plodding hand-claps.

Did Joel realized just how ridiculous hearing the same clap all the way through his album sounds? Did he even bother to give it a good listen over? Sure, he’s gone on record as saying he didn’t put much effort into it, merely slapping on his big hits and padding it out with some new stuff for a DJ mix, but by doing so he shoots himself in the foot (probably once every second beat). deadmau5 has long been criticized for being samey-sounding and lacking in any kind of musical intuitiveness, an accusation that honestly doesn’t have much merit when you hear his tracks in isolation or as a part of a DJ set; any of these tracks are fine individually. Lined up all together as they are here, though, and how can you not agree with the naysayers? That clap… it’s like Chinese water torture, but instead of a constant drip… drip… drip… eating away at your head, you have a constant clap… clap… clap… eating away at your brain. It annoys. It grates. It torments. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps. It claps…

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Solarstone - Rain Stars Eternal (Original TC Review)

Solaris Recordings: 2008

(2015 Update:
I recall being harsher in my words towards this album, but aside from a few snarky digs here and there, clearly that wasn't the case. I know I didn't outright hate the album, and my opinions of euro-trance music had mellowed some, but surely not to such a degree that I'd give the sap on
Rain Stars Eternal a pass without flying off the ragin' deep end. Whatever, at least we can all agree Breakaway remains as pants as ever.

What's more fascinating about the Solarstone saga is how his DJ career's gained far more critical plaudits compared to his album output. He's released a couple more LPs since this one, but about all folks go on about these days are the
Electronic Architecture and Pure Trance series. They're hailed as shining examples of trance as it should be, though I wouldn't know since I haven't indulged in any of them - what many figure as 'real' trance often contradicts my own notion on the matter, especially where traditional fans of Solarstone's material are concerned. Still, all that high praise can't be for naught, and it probably wouldn't hurt to check out one or two of those. I mean, what else am I gonna' spend my 'obligatory trance-cracker DJ mix CD' money on, more In Trance We Trust discs? Haha, ha.)


IN BRIEF: A decade in the making?

Lately, when there’s talk of melodic trance producers who had hits during the big late-90s boom, a degree of frustration and disappointment comes up when reflecting on their current output. The list of fallen-off names that long-time fans of the genre are disgruntled with is a long one, and needn’t be brought up here. It has gotten to the point, though, where you can’t even bring them up online without a flame-war erupting.

Yet, there are a few respected individuals that escaped such harsh fates, retaining their credibility even as the genre itself crumbled around them. As should be quite obvious to you since you clicked a link to this review, Solarstone is amongst this group. It seems no matter the particular taste in trance music, general consensus has deemed tracks like Seven Cities and Solarcoaster as class. With such promising early singles, folks eagerly waited for an album. And waited... and waited...

Now over ten years since breaking out with The Calling, and minus long-time producing partner Andy Bury, Rich Mowatt has come correct with a proper long-player (the previous two-disc Anthology was essentially a greatest hits package of various projects). It’s been a long time coming, but thanks to the odd single over the years and continued fond memories for his prior hits, fans of Solarstone have kept a vested interest in the name. And yet strangely enough, there haven’t been high expectations for Rain Stars Eternal either. It’s as though folks know the days of Seven Cities and Solarcoaster are behind him, so they’ve given Mowatt the good grace of delivering an album which makes sense in the here-and-now rather than clinging to the past.

With such freedom at his disposal, it may come as a bit of a disappointment that Mowatt has opted for the pop route, though shouldn’t be too surprising since the Solarstone moniker always leaned more to the melodically accessible side of trance music. What this means, however, is Rain Stars Eternal is filled with oodles of vocals, an attribute that more often than not sends up red flags when it comes to trance producers. Are these flags warranted this time out? The answer, my friends, is yes and no. Since this answer isn’t the least bit helpful, allow me to elaborate, starting with the ‘yes’.

If anything, Mowatt has crafted an album that paints a world where all that is vile and abhorrent in life has been whisked away. Instead, loving emotions and sentiments that caress the soul are ever present. At times, you almost feel like you’ve stumbled upon some kind of fantasy-land where unicorns and fairies frolic in fields of flowers. Yet, it doesn’t come across as sickly sweet as you might think, as Mowatt keeps things at a level of class, never the least bit embarrassing.

Case in point: Lunar Rings. When I first heard this one, the oh-so precious sugary vocals by guest-singer Essence had me instinctively irate and aggressive. It wasn’t from actually hating the song, though, but from my body reflexively surging me with testosterone, probably to make sure my testicles were still there after hearing something so syrupy and effeminate. After going back to listen with a properly objective perspective, I found Lunar Rings a rather decent slice of euro-trance goof-ball pop; there’s no point in criticizing a song that succeeds in its aim, even though it’s not something I’d likely willingly ever listen to again.

Tracks like the ode to an unborn child (Part Of Me) and about relationships (Late Summer Fields and Slave) are also well produced with vocals that are quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the other two vocal tracks - Filoselle Skies and Breakaway - are rough stumbles. While the former starts nicely enough, Julie Scott’s singing soon clashes with the pleasant musical backings Mowatt provides; it’s rather shocking how off it sounds when compared to their other collaboration in Slave. Meanwhile, Breakaway is totally misguided, Mowatt trying his hand at ‘emo-dance’ with an over-emoting American-based male vocalist and production that’s about as watered-down as pop-rock dance music gets; considering Rain Stars Eternal is mostly filled with airy ethereal melodies, Breakaway’s contemporary backdrop is completely out of place. Heck, why even get such a sappy singer for it anyway? As evidenced in Late Summer Fields, Mowatt is more than capable of carrying credible vocal duties himself.

There are also a few standard instrumental trance tunes scattered about, but aside from the titular track, these aren’t much to get excited about. Although they are nice enough, Spectrum and 4Ever are going through the motions, as though Mowatt wasn’t as concerned with them. Fortunately, he easily makes up for such basic tracks with a very lovely bit of music on the closer The Last Defeat. While it may dip somewhat into New Agey soundscapes, it’s of the sort that is still quite soothing and relaxing, and ends Rain Stars Eternal on a strong note.

A positive final impression, however, isn’t enough to save this album from a middling score, albeit a high middling score. The trouble is, despite a strong opening sequence of songs, the decided lack of anything innovative or unique firmly keeps Rain Stars Eternal in the realms of ‘merely pleasant pop music’. Mowatt is a better producer and song-writer than many of the folks over at Armada or Anjunabeats, of that there is no doubt, yet he still hasn’t progressed much from his output earlier in the decade. If the Solarstone of old still holds fond memories for you, this proper debut will probably satisfy to some degree. Unfortunately, unlike those classic singles, there isn’t enough on here to leave the same kind of lasting impression.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Ragged Glory

Reprise Records: 1990

This album took me from “Yeah, Neil Young's got some nice music, I guess.” to “Neil is God!” That might not be as impressive as it seems, despite Ragged Glory being the second record I picked up from Mr. Shakey (and first with the Crazy Horses). Had I nabbed one of his early efforts like Rust Never Sleeps or After The Goldrush before this, it’s probable I'd fall sway to his musical allure just the same. I can't even remember why I took the plunge on this one in particular, since all I really knew of his output was the Harvest Moon folksy material (Rockin' In The Free World notwithstanding). I'd heard good things about Ragged Glory, sure, but nothing that suggested it was a life-changing album or the like. Took that plunge I did though, after which I was compelled to consume all that Mr. Young had released. Fortunately for my bank account, the country hoe-down Old Ways was my follow-up, quickly instilling some caution in any further explorations of Neil's discography.

For all intents, there isn't anything about Ragged Glory that should have had the impact on me that it did. It’s a great rock album, no doubt, but it’s not reinventing the wheel or leading the charge of a new, unique scene. The music is catchy and unchallenging, with guitar riffs going down easy and sweet vocal harmonies that’ll lodge themselves in your brain without ever overstaying their welcome. The lyrics have little nuggets of aging wisdom about them (or, in the case of Farmer John, are just sloppy good fun), though seem written as mere service to the music performed. At most, Ragged Glory serves as a definitive statement for aging rockers that one not need fade away like so much bad ‘80s hair. Unlike many of his fellow ‘60s and ‘70s alum, he found kinship with the new generation of alt-rock and grunge bands emerging from the underground, and was fearless in joining their ranks. If his prior album Freedom was a rebirth of sorts, then Ragged Glory finds Neil full of fire and flying high above his contemporaries.

I can’t say any of you will have the same notions about this album should you hear it, especially as you’re reading this on an electronic music blog (mang, crunchy guitar solos are totally electronic!). I guess in my case, Ragged Glory represented the sort of rock that I always imagined rock music should sound like, but seldom heard performed. Believe me, with all the garage bands I’ve been exposed to over the years, none had such a rugged edge while retaining bar-blues affability and dismissing arrogant posturing. Young’s solos here are wild and messy, yet I hang on each chord, eagerly anticipating which unpredictable direction he’ll go in next, always reassured he’ll find his way back to Crazy Horse’s steadying rhythm. I imagine, had I heard Ragged Glory before ‘techno’ seduced me, I’d have picked up that damn guitar like my old man always hoped I would.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity

Astralwerks: 1975/2009

No, Kraftwerk, don't do it! No one's ready for a concept album from your group. Lengthy songs, sure that's fine, but sound experiments and quirky odes to Ohms is going too far. It'll be years before your promising, influential career will rebound from Radio-Activity. True, it'll all work out in the future-tense, when everyone goes back to these disregarded efforts with reverent eyes and ears. Can you afford that gap though? No, not yet, so just go make another Autobahn, over and over and over. Curses, why doesn't this time-travel portal let me interact with the past? More radioactive power, that’s what I need. Once accomplished, maybe I then could use this time-travel portal to go back a few minutes in the past and convince myself starting this review in such a goofy manner is a bad idea, yes?

The German quartet though, they had a vision, one where the future was now (then), and leading us into this undiscovered country were some of mankind’s greatest scientific discoveries of the last hundred years: the invisible realms of electromagnetic radio waves, and the radioactive energy emanating from everything that surrounds us. This wasn’t just Kraftwerk’s attitude either, as many Germans looked to the years ahead with fascination and optimism (the recent past was something of a sore spot) – it’s no coincidence many early electronic musicians hailed from Deutschland. That the Dusseldorf band would temporarily abandon the autobahn to explore things like transistors and Geiger counters makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, where Radio-Activity is concerned, a couple problems arise.

One, those darn experimental bits. As pieces of a concept album exploring the different aspects of radio transmissions and radiation, they’re fine, but man does it ever derail whatever musical momentum Radio-Activity has going for it. Okay, Geiger Counter is a cool opener, and The Voice Of Energy has that wicked-awesome Kraftwerk robot voice utilized for the first time. News though? Sorry, muffled German broadcasting items of the day isn’t compelling, especially following Intermission pings. And Radio Stars could have been a neat little bit of space-meditation if all those bleeps weren’t so grating.

Still, all this talk of radio activity, concepts of electromagnetic radiation, and evil-sounding robot voices, and it’s small surprise a few folks were sore at Kraftwerk’s seemingly thumbs-up for the nuclear age, potential nasty side-effects and all. Even the bouncy, chirpy tunes the group’s known for are rather absent, much of Radio-Activity cold and sterile as musique concrete of old. When our intrepid Germans do get melodic, it’s almost always melancholic (Radioland, Ohm Sweet Ohm) or ominous (Radioactivity, Uranium). Things aren’t out-and-out bleak on this album, but it sure isn’t as campy-fun as Autobahn or pop-tasty as their later work. At least Airwaves and Antenna bring a little peppy novelty for our listening consideration.

If you fear not these factors, then Radio-Activity is worth checking out. Though it’s the least essential of Kraftwerk’s Fabulous Five albums, it’s still interesting hearing the group discover their way through new ideas and gear.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Asura - Radio Universe

Ultimae Records: 2014

Though Radio Universe came out in the back-half of 2014, its Ultimae catalogue number suggests it should have come out at least a year earlier. Did Asura initially not feel satisfied with his latest LP and withheld it? Some legal hiccup with sample clearances? Waiting for the label to work out its dub techno 'grey' phase? Hoping to catch some backwash interest in space music once Interstellar hit theatres? The people wish to know these things! And by people, I probably mean only me, but I are people too, dang'it.

Ah, you noticed ‘space music’ in that sequence of supposition. ‘Tis true, Mr. Farewell has dabbled in the classic side of synth composition before, some of his best work the out-worldly pieces in his albums. It was only a matter of time before the sounds explored on tunes like Galaxies and Halley Road would feature in a full-length concept. For that matter, I’m surprised Asura’s taken this long for an attempt, but then he does have a rather sluggish output compared to his roster mates at Ultimae (and Altar!). Half-a-dozen albums in twice as many years is downright glacial against Aes Dana, Solar Fields, AstroPilot, namedrop, namedrop, and namedrop.

As for the type of space music we’re dealing with on Radio Universe, it’s primarily of the droning ambient sort. A beat doesn’t emerge until well after the album’s midway point, though second track Interlude Sky does have building synth arpeggios as a peak feature – you have no idea how much I was hoping for a fierce prog-psy beat towards the end of that one. Meanwhile, ten-minute long opener Overture has a little more cinematic, orchestral flourish, twelve-minute long Oblivion Gravity goes darker, eight-minute long Ascension In Blue feels rapturous and bliss, and one-minute long Gaea (Transit) sounds like those converted electromagnetic radio emissions of planets NASA likes giving out (and space drone composers love sampling). For that matter, I’ve noticed a bit of omnipresent hiss throughout all these tracks. Charles! Charlie! Charl-mang! Have you added the CMB to your music too? Nice.

As for the back half where the tempo picks up a bit, much of it comes off like standard Asura chill-out with HD production chops. Farscape 7 has a world-beat trip-hop thing going for it, Lonely Star’s got charming, melancholic piano but is undone by way-overdone side-chained bottom ends, Illuminations grooves along nicely enough, and Everlasting heads for the stars in blissed-out rapture. Frankly, the earlier drone compositions were more interesting, coming off bolder in their arrangements and sound design, though I’m not sure folks would be keen on a pure ambient drone LP on Ultimae.

Radio Universe is an intriguing listen, especially with good playback headphones or stereo. As a concept album, however, it falls a bit short, losing its way in the back half compared to the absorbing first. Probably will be a disappointment if you go in expecting another Life² (sorry, no psy here), but all said, it’s another solid offering of music from Asura.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gilles Peterson - Broken Folk Funk Latin Soul

Muzik Magazine: 2003

The title's a pisstake. It must be. True, the music within this CD does fit the mould of what a 'broken folk funk Latin soul' collection would sound like, but using five descriptors as a genre is plain ol' silly. Not that Gilles Peterson couldn't get away with it though. As the guy who coined the term ‘acid jazz’ when he threw events called Acid Jazz promoting material on his label Acid Jazz, why not go for the ultimate in redundancy, especially as everyone was making up ridiculous genre names for magazine CDs? Muzik had released a 'hooligan house' disc just prior, while rival Mixmag featured 'disco d'nb' with their freebie the same month this came out. Damn it, The UK, stop trying to invent new genre names all the time. It's too confusing for us North American bumpkins.

Wait, is this the first time I’ve talked about Mr. Peterson at this blog? Crap, gotta’ turn this review proper serious now. Not only was he influential in making acid jazz a thing in Britain, but he exposed many a young ‘90s English post-clubber onto various cultured music scenes from the world abroad. Mostly they were jazz fusions from the realms of New York, Latin America, and Afro Nation, but he helped bring some degree of class to the UK’s early garage movement too. No matter how far off the beaten path his records were culled from, ol’ Gilles always kept one foot in London’s urban jungle too.

Still, if you’ve a passion for bringing such music to a willing audience, heading an influential label and DJing out at events is limiting. Nay, to reach the maximum potential earholes, one must go to the airwaves, radio that is. And, at the turn of the millennium, that’s what Mr. Peterson done did, getting him a show called Worldwide on the omnipresent Radio 1 of BBC fame, which he’s maintained to this day. It was about the time this Muzik CD came out that Gilles had firmly cemented itself as a broadcaster on peer with the likes of Tong and Peel, even earning himself an award for Top Radio Show from the magazine that year. Why yes Broken Folk Funk Latin Soul is totally designed to promote that fact, why do you ask?

More compilation than DJ mix, this disc holds a nice assortment of the movers and shakers of the UK’s jazzy urban-soul that consistently bubbled in London’s underground. Mr. Scruff is here! Harmonic 33 is here! The Cinematic Orchestra is here! Roots Manuva is here (because he was everywhere in the early ‘00s)! Talib Kweli’s here! Nirvana’s here! …er, I mean, their song Come as You Are is here, by way of a soul cover care of Dani Siciliano. There’s also conscious rap from Lone Catalysts, jazzdance from Micatone, soul-shuffle jazz from Kuusumun Profeetta, and a cool groove thing by some duo called Underworld. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? You haven’t? Oh, you’re here for that Osunlade joint. Fair play.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Various - Radikal Techno - Too Radikal (Original TC Review)

Quality Music: 1993

(2015 Update:
I still can't believe this CD turned up as a Random Review less than a year after I wrote about the first
Radikal Techno. Makes me wonder, had I stuck to doing occasional reviews by random selection, would the third, fourth, or even multi-CD box set have come up. Not sure how that'd be possible, as I only have two Radikal Technos, but those Digital Disc Imps, they're a tricky bunch. Always moving your music out of place, somehow shuffling CDs out of sight even as you diligently scan spine by spine looking for that one album you just gotta' pull out to show off to house guests. Ahem, what I mean is, I wouldn't put it past those Imps to add something too. For reals, where'd this dusty garage rock demo suddenly come from?

You know what else surprised me? Discovering Radikal Records is still in operation, now a full-on festival house and brostep outlet. Wait, that's not surprising at all, the label's choice in music output always skewing towards the commercially friendly side of the dancefloor - of course they'd jump on the latest hot bandwagon. Still, maybe they should have rebranded their name as well. Calling yourself 'radikal' is just too damn '90s, man.)


IN BRIEF: Not as good as the first.

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Yes, I know I have a fair deal of old dance CDs in my music collection, but it can’t make up more than 5% of everything I own. Yet, these Random Reviews have seen an inordinate amount of them crop up. Club Europa, The Movement, Scooter’s Age Of Love, Maxx’ No More, Snap!’s Welcome To Tomorrow, the first Radikal Techno… What’s next, Euro Dance Pool, Club Cutz, or Ice MC’s album? (2015 note: it came true! …kinda’) Why can’t I ever pull one of my many Moonshine Records discs? A classic trance compilation? Hell, even a Turbo Recordings choice again – I haven’t picked one since the very first Random. I suppose the good news here is that I have to eventually run out of these.

I’ll be honest with you. The trouble is, unlike the first Radikal Techno, there isn’t much to say about Too Radikal. The first one had enough quirky things about it that the compilation actually makes for an interesting Random: remixes that are rather rare, well-known producers cutting their teeth with early works, plus a scrappy attitude that went part-and-parcel with the ’92 rave scene. The sequel, however, lacks any of this. If anything, Too Radikal shows how, within a year, the commercial dance business had cleaned itself up from its grubby rave days and present itself with a far more slick sheen that would go on to define euro dance of the mid-‘90s. Even the cover, despite the somewhat goa attributes, comes across squeaky clean in comparison.

Fourteen tracks are to be had here, but nearly all of them could also easily be had on several other compilations, making this far from unique or necessary. The music, for the most part though, isn’t bad. Mostly, you have ‘underground’ versions of big euro-hits, which is just another way of saying trancey mixes. A few cuts have held up remarkably well: Te Quiero’s almost-psy leanings is still an infectious tune; with moody acid burbling about, Joey Beltram’s Old School Dub Mix of Open Your Mind is quite good, if somewhat simplistic; and the Abfarht team struck gold once again with Wanna Feel The Music as Public Art. Meanwhile, euro dance fluff from A.B. Free (who’d go on to bigger things as DJ Company), Apotheosis (completely abandoning their original rave sound), Afrika Bambaata (yes, that Bambaata, now hanging out with Italian producers for some reason), Dance 2 Trance, Love 4 Sale, and Ramirez are all agreeable, though dated. For instance, the backing pads in Do You Feel So Right are pure trance bliss, but the rest of the track is quite muffled; Go Deeper’s production is so hilariously flat, you’d think it was an ‘80s tune; and what the hell is with those chicken noises in El Gallinero?

On the other hand, little holds up in the offerings from R.T.Z., 2 Unlimited, Deadly Sins, and Mars Plastic, coming off like knock-offs of better productions of the time. In The Name Of Love has some decent beats, but that looping hook will quickly irritate; We Are Going On Down is silly with those rollercoaster samples and ‘whooaAAAAooohhh’ chants; not the best version of No Limit here; Find The Way is generic garage house from that time. Oh, and then there’s the hopelessly corny It’s A Feeling, which rips off the marching rhythms of The Good Men’s Give It Up, and throws in sappy happy hardcore sentiments. I cringed with this one even back in the day.

Y’ah, see how fast I wrapped this one up? There’s just not much else to talk about here. I suppose you could be wondering why I’d even still have a compilation like Too Radikal if it’s this generic. Well, I have to admit there are quite a few personally nostalgic reasons. If the first Radikal Techno was my second CD, this was something like my fifth, so obviously I’d end up replaying it often. I certainly do have amusing memories of Te Quiero (oh my god, that woman’s having an orgasm!) and We Are Going On Down (are they saying ‘funky town’ or ‘fucking town’?); and although there really isn’t much on here that’d be true-blue trance, there was enough trancey attributes here to undoubtedly make an influence on my early music tastes (even if I wouldn’t take the full proper plunge for another couple years down the road).

I dunno. If you see this around and don’t have any of these tracks… ah, you might still be better off just downloading the good ones. Like I said, this isn’t a bad compilation, just really unnecessary to have. Do what you like if you see it lying in a used shop.

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

Friday, February 6, 2015

Various - Radikal Techno (Original TC Review)

Quality Music: 1992

(2015 Update:
"Objective straight-faced criticism"? What does that even mean? And, oh-ho-ho, shame on you, 2008 Sykonee, for even suggesting every review you wrote was truly objective. I'd tried toeing the 'hard but fair' line most of the time, but there were plenty instances of throwing any supposed objectivity out the window in favor of a long-winded rant or gush. Ah well, at least I get to wear all my biases in plain view for this blog, and not rely on lengthy opening paragraphs explaining away such changes in writing tone.

There's two things I neglected mentioning regarding the
Radikal Techno series that I may as well bring up now. 1. The name comes from the record label that released most of these tunes, Radikal Records, a New Jersey print that specialized in commercial dance singles from Europe - Quality Music handled their Canadian distribution, hence why I've so many of their CDs. 2. Radikal Techno actually lasted for a good decade, reaching a sixth edition featuring the likes of ATB, Cosmic Gate, and Brooklyn Bounce. Of course, by that time, Quality Music had long-since folded, so it was a case of Radikal Records using the name of a compilation series promoting their material created by another label. And I've gone cross-eyed.)

IN BRIEF: They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

I tried. Really, I did. As much as I’d love to dive into this Random Review with all the objective straight-faced criticism I approach any other release, the history I personally have with this compilation makes it incredibly difficult. You see, my friends, this simple little release titled Radikal Techno is the second CD I ever owned. It’s survived accidents, theft during parties, drunken vandalism during parties, transportation from a number of different homes, and desperate pawn-shop plundering during periods of destitution, yet has remained in remarkable condition during it all.

“So what?” you say. “It’s just an old CD with a bunch of early 90s techno on it; not like it’s some rare original 7" Cybotron record.” True, but as anyone who has had a habit of coddling their music for years can attest to, such nurturing inhibits objective perspectives of the actual material on display.

Fact is, I still enjoy Radikal Techno. Yes, some of the production is hopelessly dated (there are frequent uses of the oh-so cutting edge Stereo-Pan Effect). Yes, some of the crappier trends in techno of the early ‘90s are present. And yes, I completely agree my continued enjoyment of this CD could simply be attributed to fuzzy warm nostalgia. Yet nor could I pass this off to an associate of mine to get their objective opinions of it because pretty much everyone I know quite enjoys the old school. And shouldn’t that be enough to convince you, the reader, that Radikal Techno has more going for it than starry-eyed trips down memory lane? Just look at some of these cuts!

For sure, there are overly familiar names here: 2 Unlimited, Age Of Love, Human Resource, Joey Beltram... and that’s just what anyone with basic background of electronic music should recognize. However, with the exception of Age Of Love, where Jam & Spoon’s remix would go on to see endless compilation duty in the years to come (I don’t think anyone in ‘92 could have predicted that), Radikal Techno offers some true rarities from them. The Two Little Boys remix of Twilight Zone plays around with those famous hooks, providing a funkier spin for the underground to appreciate. Rush To The Rhythm, a track featuring super-fast breaks, raps, and cut’n’paste production, is one of Beltram’s more obscure releases. And Glitch’s long-forgotten remix of Dominator is stellar, bringing blistering techno beats to this hoover anthem, spiking it with intensity benefitting of thrash metal throughout.

Elsewhere on this tracklist are a bunch of tunes that were quite popular ‘back in the day’ and, although mostly forgotten now, hold up remarkably well. Everyone knows Apotheosis’ O Fortuna, but the follow-up Obumbratta was just as good. Here we have their Dynamic Techno Remix featuring proto-gabber beats and production quality that is leaps and bounds above nearly everything else on Radikal Techno - it really does sound like the apocalypse is nigh as the Gates Of Hell are opened. WestBam’s Mayday Anthem, a track written for the Mayday party, is a fun piece of riff-tastic techno, while Razormaid adds sinister grumbling basslines to Die Schwarze Zone from LDC, an EBM-inspired project from euro-house legend Torsten Fenslau. And speaking of old house legends and rumbling basslines, StoneBridge shows up to remix the oldie house-gem Take Me Higher from Hysteria. Quite possibly amongst the oddest tracks is Ave Maria from the anonymous Noys, whom sampled the climax of Strauss’ Blue Danube, looped it, added some beats, and then dive off into a nifty piece of techno in its own right (that bassline... damn, but are there ever some kick-ass basslines on this compilation!); it screams one-off novelty, yet somehow works in spite of itself.

Unfortunately, Radikal Techno also finds one of the more abysmal novelty trends to be found in early ‘90s rave, the cringe-worthy ‘toytown’ phase. Here, we have Raving On Sesame Street, which is so hopelessly lame, this was about the only place you could find the track (according to Discogs, anyway). Thankfully, it’s placed at the end of the CD, and can simply be forgotten it even exists.

The remaining tracks mostly amount to rip-offs (Dance Your Ass Off is practically James Brown Is Dead) or style-biting (big-riff techno in the case of Stylophonia, hoover-house in the case of Life At Wunderbar, and anthemic hip-house with The Nervous Zone). None of them are essential but they do help round out the compilation with filler that won’t have you reaching for the skip button.

As an interesting aside, Canadian DJ Chris Sheppard helped compile this release; however, this is in his pre-fame days when he was just starting to expose all that crazy rave music from Europe to Canadians. As such, he only has a token “Compiled by” credit near the copyright alongside Quality’s frequent dance compiler Markus Klinke. As evidenced by his track selection here, Sheppard definitely had an ear for the underground, and this release confirms it was a shame Shep’ was lost to the mainstream soon after.

Anyhow, Radikal Techno is the kind of compilation that you just might find sitting in a used shop (probably Canadian). Considering the quality and scarcity of a number of these tracks and remixes, it makes this CD quite the bargain for anyone who fancies the old school. Don’t miss out.

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

AstroPilot - Iriy

Altar Records: 2014

Mythologies and ancient mysticisms of the world, you ask? Oh, are they ever plentiful and famous: Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Abrahamic, and plenty more have served as inspiration for the arts and culture, especially when re-contextualized with contemporary fashions. The Slavic States, however, don’t get as much love with modern audiences, content in letting the ‘gypsy lifestyle’ be their one defining historical trait. Not even Deep Forest, at the height of their commercial clout, swayed the public to the sounds of Eastern European traditionalism. Fortunately for AstroPilot, he caters to an audience a little more open to such ideas, despite many remaining stuck in their love of many things derived from the shores of Goa; he’s already explored that though (you’re kinda’ obligated to if you dabble in psy chill/dub/prog/trance/zydeco). Still, Mr. Redko’s muse remains ever restless, and for his eighth LP in as many years (!), he released Iriy, an album drawing plenty of influence from Eastern European folklore.

What is an Iriy, you ask? To save you the Wiki trip, it’s essentially a sort of ‘paradise’, like Eden or Shambhala, though based on Russian mythology. Tracks within this album include titles like Svarog’s Morning (Slavic god of celestial fire), Makosh (Slavic goddess of life cycles and fertility), Gamayun (a prophetic bird connected to Iriy), and Back To Midgard-Earth. Okay, that last one’s technically Norse, but seeing as how the Slavic States are situated in the middle of civilized Euro-Asia, one could call the region ‘Middle Earth’ too, if you’re willing to stretch your folklore to the extreme. Wait, I’m supposed to review music here, not conduct mythology lectures.

Honestly, all this comes off as window-dressing where AstroPilot goes in this album. Iriy is essentially another collection of ultra-lush prog-psy and wide-screen chill-out from the Siberian native, no real musical theme tying it together other than that. If there are sonic nods to Slavic traditionalism within, it’s very minimal (or I’m just too Canadianized to recognize it). The places and names in these titles could just as easily be a wholly created fantastical realm, but I cannot deny it was a cool trick on AstroPilot’s part in opening my eyes to an overlooked segment of humanity’s bountiful culture. Also, it doesn’t hurt having such a unique context for these tunes - The Last Night Of Svarog’s groovy trance pulse and layered synth drones carries more emotional heft if you picture the dying embers of a celestial fire deity along with it.

Iriy’s a no-brainer of a pick-up if you’ve got an itch for more prog-psy in your diet. AstroPilot’s been in a remarkable zone of quality for years now, this album further cementing an already praise-worthy career. Damn, am I in hyperbolic mode now because of this? Fine, here’s a criticism: most of these tunes stick to a very similar, lengthy prog-psy structure (ambient intro, gradual build, etc.), lending to a rather repetitive trip throughout. With scenery this gorgeous though, who gives a hoot of a svirel?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Androcell - Imbue

Altar Records: 2014

I’ve said it before, but it’s been a long time since I last said it. When was it, the last Androcell review? Whatever, here’s what I’m repeating: I’ve been spoiled by great music. No, I don’t go into every LP demanding nothing less than a 12.2/10, but it has created certain expectations upon certain artists. They are by no means obligated to meet the whims of a single West Coast Canadian – musicians do as they mean to do – but when I hear the highs some have achieved, it's all too common coming away from new material underwhelmed if they don't reach those peaks again. All this, of course, is just wishy-washy reasoning for why Tyler Smith's latest LP doesn't do it for me the way I hoped it could, even though there's nothing fundamentally poor about it.

No, this isn't yet another case of me bemoaning the lack of a follow-up in his Distant System moniker. He'll get around to that whenever he wants to, and if Mr. Smith is feeling the psy-dub flow more than the space-dub, that's his call. Though, I have to wonder, is he hesitating on Distant System due to conceived pressure? Lord knows I’ve hyped Spiral Empire to the high moons of Jupiter, but I’m just a single West Coast Canadian. Then again, I know a number of folks who hope for a follow-up. It may not receive the ridiculous anticipation of, say, The Bug’s Angels & Demons, but for those in the know, we’re jonsing something fierce here, mang.

Sorry, there I go again. Okay, focus. Androcell, new album, Imbue. This comes care of Altar Records, the psy-chill label out of Quebec that’s gaining itself a reputation as an outlet on par with Ultimae Records. I don’t know if they’re quite there yet, but having AstroPilot as one of your featured artists sure doesn’t hurt. Asura’s popped up on there too, and now Altar’s added Androcell to their ranks – gotta’ have that Shpongle inspired psy-dub stylee in there somewhere, right?

And Imbue is a perfectly fine psy-dub album. The rhythms are wordly and funky, the psychedelia is tasteful and never over-indulgent and everything flows as though you’re hearing these tunes jammed live. Though ol’ Tyler doesn’t offer any sounds psy-dub veterans won’t have heard before, his sense of song craft and musical progression remains top-notch, always throwing in little twists and turns holding your attention throughout the album’s run-through. A solid effort, all said.

Wait, if that’s true, then why the apologetic opening paragraph? Unfortunately, I’m not getting the same sense of imagery or journey as his prior work. The Distant System stuff is obvious, and even the last Androcell album had me feeling like I was out traversing ancient, mystical roads and that. Nothing comparable goes down with Imbue, unless one considers a jolly ol’ flailing time at an outdoor psychedelic party good enough. Fair enough if so, and I hope I shake this spoiled attitude towards Mr. Smith’s music too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Various - Dub Selector 2

Quango Records: 2002

Quango's '90s compilations had several sequels to their names, but when the label relaunched at the turn of the millennium, only Dub Selector managed second and third entries. There are two strong possibilities for this. One, it garnered enough sales to warrant sequels, though it seems odd that only this one did (no love for Afrotech or Cosmic Funk in this world?). Two, Quango head Bruno Guez knew he couldn't hope to give the wide world of dub music its full due in a single CD serving. Heck, remember that Bug fella's attempt with Virgin? He resorted to two discs worth for the first volume of Macro Dub Infection, and even that only scratched the surface. So, for all intents, Mr. Guez intended for another showcase of dub music, but of a different style compared to what was featured on the first volume. It would explain the omission of Jamaican roots artists in favour of European producers – they were being saved for this compilation.

If you guessed the second option, you're slightly wrong, though you wouldn't know it without a glance at the track list. Dub Selector 2 is still very Euro-centric in who's behind the consoles, including a few of the same acts showing up. Boozoo Bajou returns, G-Corp returns (this time as their old name, Groove Corporation), Grant Phabao returns, and Noiseshaper returns with their one track Quango just couldn't stop promoting. High-profile acts new to the series here include Thievery Corporation (what's with all these dub corporations?), Nick Holder, and that Dorfmeister guy so many downtempo producers were influenced by. Rounding things out are names like Stereotyp, Scientist, and The Butch Cassidy Sound System, again all European. So it goes with Dub Selector I guess.

Any-however, we get plenty of proper reggae flavour up in this dancehall too, even if it comes in remixed form most of the time. Big Youth, Paul St. Hilaire (aka: Tikiman), and Cutty Ranks make the cut, and unlike the remixed acts of the previous volume, these are presented as authentic Jamaican jams as you'll find. Put another way, I have hardly a clue what ‘d’em rude b’wans’ are going on about, but damn if it isn't wicked-cool hearing their toasting to bouncy roots rhythms and shoulder-shufflin' basslines.

Whether you'll stumble upon any of these Dub Selectors, I haven't a clue, but should these two reviews intrigued you enough to pick up just one (??), I suggest nabbing volume 2 for yourself. The first edition comes off all too safe for a downtempo dub collection, which is fine if you're only just dipping your toes into those warm waters. Isn't it better to challenge that palette of yours every so often though? This CD should do that, honouring the roots of roots music far more than the previous disc. Eh? Dub Selector 3? I don't have that one, though at a glance, holy cow, are there ever a lot of large bands on it. Maybe that one goes proper-proper reggae dub, then?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

ACE TRACKS: January 2015

What a bizarre month. There’s been a few in the past where one or two styles of music dominated a playlist, but never in the way this one turned out. Hope you like a lot of hip-hop. Wait, you do? Well, cool, but I hope you enjoy a bunch of psy-trance mixed in with that. Wait, you do? Who are you, some kind of weirdo? Oh, wait, that’s just my reflection in the monitor. Looks like a bit of yolk dripping off my nose at that. Well, here’s the ACE TRACKS of January 2015 in any event:



Full Track List Here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
John ‘00’ Fleming - Psy-Trance Euphoria 2
Various - Psychedelic Goa Trance
Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia - Psychick Rhythms Vol. 1
Various - Psychotrance 2001: D:Fuse
Various - Cosmic Funk
Various - Dub Selector
Amon Tobin - Piranha Breaks

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 25%
Percentage Of Rock : 10%
Most “WTF?” Track: The Statler Brothers - Flowers On The Wall (for its glorious ‘movie moment’, though it’s certainly an odd one here too)

You know who makes for surprisingly good bed fellows? Early Burial and early Nine Inch Nails! Or maybe in a playlist fighting for space in the crowds of Wu-Tang Clan and French psychedelia, they found common ground, comfort in their outsider status. But yeah, with a few extra inclusions of lengthy Neil Young rock and borderline EBM, this is a weird assortment of tunes. Whatever happened to the regular ol’ house and techno, eh? This playlist should be a hoot if you’re daring to wander outside those comfort zones.
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