Sunday, May 31, 2015

Eat Static - Science Of The Gods

Mammoth Records: 1997

I may have pre-hyped this album a bit much, what with so many namedrops in past Eat Static reviews. For all I know, Science Of The Gods was unanimously rejected by the psy-trance faithful, seen as a betrayal of all that the goa scene held true. The hippies and techno crusties were in no need of their chosen heroes getting in on that surging d’n’b action, and junglists were even more insular, waging their own war over classic Amen Break darkside productions versus the new tech-step hotness. There’s no way these two disparate scenes should have any business interacting. It’s poison. It’s toxic. It’s catastrophic. You don’t cross the scenes!

So of course Eat Static said nuts to all that and delivered some of the gnarliest d’n’b I’ve ever heard. In adding the tricks they developed performing goa and psy, these aliens don’t so much invade the junglist’s realm as take some artefacts for themselves for display on their own world. The main tune off here, Interceptor, features a pummelling tech-step rhythm with thick, chunky kicks and a grimy acid bassline, serving as a rudder for all manner of sci-fi sound effects, knob tweaks, drum fills, and general psychedelic craziness to hang off. If Eat Static made this track specifically as a tie-in with the RTS game Conquest Earth, it’s about the only saving grace in that forgotten crap game. Come, bask in its glorious ‘90s CGI alien invasion video. It’s like watching a demo episode of Babylon 5!

Two other tracks on Science Of The Gods work the d’n’b angle, Dissection going deeper with Amen Break business with their usual assortment of sci-fi sounds and noises. Following a brief interlude, they tentatively dip their toes in jazzstep’s calmer waters on Bodystealers before going full-in with experimental beatcraft of micro-bleeps and reverb effects. Can’t ever say these guys never ventured where no others dared, even if this portion grows overindulgent after a couple minutes.

For all the supposed talk of this album straying from Eat Static’s core audience, folks forget that’s only three tracks out of eight, the remaining attending to the needs of their loyal outdoor followers as expertly as ever. The opening titular cut is all kinds of trippy fun, giving us a dirty bit of twisted acid funk before seemingly falling off the rails. Nay, it’s just the duo playing, soon enough unleashing a beast of acid techno for the remainder. Elsewhere, Kryll floats about with a spacey, proggy vibe, Spawn will kick the shit out of you, and Contact leans way old-school goa, sounding like a leftover from the Abduction days. Finally, The Hanger is one seriously dubby, low-riding monster of a track – imagine Predator cruising the cosmos with blunts billowing against the stars, feelin’ chill after a successful hunt.

I’ve no more else to say about Science Of The Gods. It may look campy, but that’s always been Eat Static’s charm, fooling the suspicious with the weird before unleashing their face-melting weaponry upon your ears.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Alex Theory - Saturn Returns (2015 Update)

White Swan Records: 2009

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review ...for the first time!)

No matter how many times I gave Alex Theory’s Saturn Returns another spin, something felt a bit off about this album. Something lacking. Something flat. Something I dodged in my original review because I couldn't figure it out, so I rambled on at great length about my buying habits. Good Lord, was that unnecessary, and screws me in the here and now because that's the sort of stuff I'll burn up self-imposed word count on 20xx Updates for records folks don't give much hoot about. No, don't deny it, I know almost everyone that bothered clicking here has already checked out – it's not like what I wrote for Saturn Returns way back in 2009 got much attention anyway. Heck, I could probably re-do the whole review and no one would be the wiser, but all that effort for an Alex Theory album? Eehhh..........

I’m sure ol’ Al’s a fine enough chap, but he didn’t necessarily light the world on fire following this. Hell, I just discovered even Lord Discogs has never heard of this album. I had to submit the sucker just so The Lord That Knows All could know a little more. Not that it’s surprising some records and CDs slip through the cracks (to say nothing of the bundles of digital EPs released by the minute), but with four Theory albums already in the Discogian Archive (another elemental theme collection, yay), you’d think there’d be some others out there having picked Saturn Returns up. Over a half-decade has passed since this came out and no one bothered submitting it? I mean, I never did, because I just assumed it was already there. Come to think of it though, why didn’t I add it to my Discogs Collection in all that time? Seems like quite an oversight for someone so obsessed with his CDs that he’s reviewing them one by one.

Eh? Oh, right, that ‘something lacking’ I mentioned earlier. It didn’t hurt hearing Laswell’s Sacred System so recently prior to this one again to figure it out. I mentioned in the old review that Theory’s style does seem influenced from Laswell’s approach to dubby world beat reggae jazz splatooncore; heck, the echoing pianos of Strange Land sounds practically lifted from the same kind found in Book Of Entrance, though the effect is rather common in this genre. Nay, my point of contention is strictly in the rhythm department. Mr. Theory can craft some good beats, and does with a few of the latter tracks on here, but for some reason he utilizes kits that are incredibly flat. It’s difficult finding your groove when your primitive brain demands drums with more texture.

Once I accept this is simply the Theory Stylee, I’m fine with what I’m hearing (well, some of those ethnic chants could have been less cliché) and do find my groove, albeit after some acclimatizing to the music. Who knows how many others did though – certainly not The Lord That Knows All.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Sasha - The emFire Collection (Original TC Review)

Ultra Records: 2008

(2015 Update:
Ugh. This review's clunkier than I remember, and unfortunately suffers from an opening paragraph dependent upon reading prior material on TranceCritic. I don't even recall specific details regarding Sasha's short-lived label now. I think it was intended as a means of officially releasing
Coma after enough interest in it grew when it was a self-titled white label, but my memory's hazy on that. Whatever the case, it seems the emFire portion of Sasha's career has been reduced to a mere footnote, a blip of information in what he was doing during minimal deep-tech's era of clubbing dominance. It sure didn't do the music on here any favors.

Coma remains a blinder of a track, and I've developed some appreciation for Who Killed Sparky?, but Mongoose and Park It In The Shade are wholly forgettable. Compounding the problem is the utterly pointless CD1. Slam's remixes were fine for Slam remixes - you kinda' know what you're getting with their brand of techno - and The Field's second remix holds up by feeling so old school. Audion and Radio Slave though, dear God are their rubs balls out boring. And while there's nothing musically at fault with New Emissions, the lack of indexing for all the various pieces holds back whatever potential repeat plays it may have had. I was entirely too kind in my conclusions to this double-discer back in the day. Sasha productions are rare enough, and The emFire Collection feels like such a waste of studio time now.)


IN BRIEF: Better than a stopgap.

Right. No sense in getting into the background particulars of this release then. You should all know who this Sasha character is, and, fortunately for me, the history of emFire was already covered by J’ [2015 Edit: whoops, that review’s gone]. All I have to do now is tell you whether all those remixes are worth your attention and fill you in on the details of that forty-minute long track that’s undoubtedly caught your attention. Eh? You want more than that? *sigh*

Thing is, even though you’ll find this filed under ‘Sasha’, The emFire Collection isn’t a fully fleshed-out release from Mr. Coe and his production associates. It would seem, as with the vinyl editions of his four recent singles, Sasha wanted to do something a little extra special for the CD release of them. He didn’t have enough material to make a proper album, yet an EP release like Xpander wouldn’t do either. So, he called up some of the hottest names in contemporary club culture to provide remixes. Par for the course where dance music is concerned but somewhere along the way, the idea was planted the remixers should flex their muses as well with two versions on their chosen emFire single: one for the dancefloor, and the other something more for the home-front (re: experimental). The result is a full disc’s worth dedicated to this project, with Sasha’s originals now shuffled off onto a second disc.

So, we have neither a true artist album but more than just a remix package. This places The emFire Collection somewhere in leagues with The Qat Collection when one glances at Sasha’s discography. All that’s left to answer is whether this Collection is worth your hard earned coin to place in your collection. That entirely depends on what you’re looking to get out of these CDs.

If the remixes were the first to grab your attention, you may come away rather disappointed. Even though names like Matthew Dear (as Audion), Matthew Edwards (as Radio Slave), and Axel “not Matthew” Willner (as The Field) have earned plenty of critical praise this past year, their minimalist musical styles are quite in contrast to Sasha’s enveloping atmospheric productions. The experimental rubs have some intriguing sounds on offer - Edwards turns in an agreeable dub techno go at Who Killed Sparky? - but are hardly essential either; Dear in particular spends over a dozen minutes going nowhere with his minimal dub loops. On the other hand, Edwards goes overboard on his Panorama Garage Mix, with a techno rework that is appropriately sinister and atmospheric but lasts a good three-to-five minutes too long; meanwhile, Dear’s dance-rub of Park It In The Shade is a nifty little groovy-woozy thing. And as for Slam, well, they do Slam with their takes on Coma: fine for the ambient/tech-house offerings they are but nothing groundbreaking. Ultimately, though, very few elements of Sasha’s originals are utilized in these remixes, beyond effects and traces of atmosphere; if you’re hoping for creative takes on Sasha melodies, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Aside from Willner’s Disco Mix of Mongoose, that is. The original was lodged somewhere between Shade and Sparky in terms of how it sounds but in Willner’s hands, it comes across like some long-lost Underworld groove complemented with classic trance execution. Long time fans of Sasha’s sound will undoubtedly enjoy this one the most.

Still, such folks are going to be more interested in the second disc anyway. Even though tracks like Shade, Sparky, and Mongoose are sparser than the types of tracks most expect from Sasha, there’s still more vitality to them than anything to be heard on the remix disc. And Coma remains a lovely slice of melodically lush atmospherics, once again proving Misters Coe and May are a potent team in the studio whenever Sasha feels the ol’ muse tickling his noggin.

However, in a move that will probably irk those who held out on the vinyl and MP3 versions of these emFire singles for a copy on CD, the tracks are edited; honestly though, this does make better sense from a home-listening standpoint. And besides, if Sasha hadn’t pared them down a little, then he wouldn’t have been able to fit that little film score onto this disc. Yes, finally I’ve gotten around to that. For those not in the know New Emissions Of Light And Sound is a DVD featuring surfers. I haven’t seen it, nor can I say I’m particularly inclined to do so anytime soon; however, the music Sasha made for it is definitely worth your attention.

Not the first time Sasha’s done soundtrack work (he provided music for WipEout 3, remember? Oh, you don’t. Never mind then...), the music he’s made is somewhat simpler than his usual output. Still, a ‘simple Sasha’ tends to be far more intuitive than a good eighty percent of electronic musicians out there, and New Emissions is a lovely listen. There’s blissy ambient passages, moody funky moments, gentle synth washes, Coma, and brief stabs at experimentalism too. And although I can easily picture waves and beaches and surfers set against sunset backdrops as this plays, it could work just as fine for any number of scenic pieces. The only gripe about New Emissions - and it’s unfortunately a serious one - is that none of it is indexed. There are definite individual tracks on this, with names like Gothic Mood, Rooski, and Stars, but instead of being able to skip to the bits you’d like to hear at any given time, it’s all arranged into a continuous mix with obvious transitions.

And really, that kind of sums up emFire Collection as a whole. There’s a fair amount to enjoy here but it’s presented in such a way that leaves something to be desired. Honestly, given how disparate everything is on here, I’m not sure Sasha could have made this a fluid sounding release across two discs. I’d still call this a welcome addition to anyone’s music collection but compared to other releases with Sasha’s name on the cover, it probably won’t get as many plays.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sandoz - Chant To Jah

Touch/Soul Jazz Records: 1998/2002

Swell, not even a week deep into my collection of ‘S’ albums, and I’ve already hit two mislabels. Technically, Sandoz In Dub is a subtitle, specifically for a series of LPs Richard H. Kirk released in the latter years of this alias, but leave it to Media Player to get that backwards. Not even sure how the next album in my alphabetical order got so messed up, but let’s ignore the near future for now, going back to the past with another anecdote of my buying habits.

No, I’m kidding; though I should mention that Chant To Jah was the first Sandoz CD I bought. Somehow even finding one on store shelves feels like a fluke, except as with Digital Lifeforms: Redux, this was a re-issue, in this case by Soul Jazz Records – it’s kinda’ their thing. Why they went with this particular Sandoz album though, I haven’t a clue. Chant To Jah only had a few years behind it, and while undoubtedly hard to find, no more so than any other early Sandoz album. Maybe the relative ‘newness’ of the album made it an easier sell, or Kirk grew tired of Touch’s ‘scarcity is art’ marketing; or Soul Jazz head Stuart Baker adored Chant To Jah above all other Sandoz LPs. What strange machinations these record labels concoct in the odd hours of our times.

I was also initially put off by this album because I had no clue what I was in for. The only prior track I’d heard under the Sandoz banner was the ambient dub outing Beam, so I naturally thought this would be more of the same. Clearly not, as Chant To Jah goes full-in with its reggae roots and African vibes. On the surface, it sounded fine, but nothing terribly different than so much other musicians of similar ilk. Compounding my lackadaisical impression of this album was Digital Lifeforms itself when I finally got to hear that one. The sublime tribal techno and dub fusion going on in the Sandoz debut was unlike anything I’d heard before, and remains a remarkable unique entry in that ultra-micro niche avenue of electronic music. I constantly returned to Digital Lifeforms to pick out new little nuances to Mr. Kirk’s craft, whereas Chant To Jah would only get an occasional token playthrough.

Funny enough, it was those repeated plays of the former that finally led me to appreciating the latter. The combination of Jamaican and North African music already offers intriguing interplay of their distinct attributes, of which ol’ Rich does remarkably well for an industrial keyboardist. It’s the techniques learned from that wholly unrelated scene, however, that lends the music here a grit you won’t find much elsewhere. Snares clank, vocal chants distort, and dub reverb echoes off concrete halls. Yet despite the harsh textures, the soulful vibe of Afro-dub remains intact. That’s some serious musical skill pulled off, drawing you in to hear those same nuances that marked Digital Lifeforms. Took me damned long enough to get it, though.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Various - Sanctuary: A Shanti Mix From The Interchill Garden

Interchill Records: 2005

What is it with this CD? Nearly every time I've sat back to take it in, I conk out so utterly, the back half of the compilation remains nothing but a sub-conscious blur. Heck, sometimes it happens after just the first track, Adham Shaikh's Emergence, which doesn't happen when I play the same piece of ambient off his Journey To The Sun album. I honestly think my recent commute playthrough is about the only time I've managed a single run of Sanctuary without succumbing to the sleep demons lurking within the CD, at least in the half-decade of time Interchill's compilation has been in my possession. No, having it playing in the background doesn't count – I'm not actively paying attention to the dream-inducing harmonies in those instances. Was this intentional on Interchill's part, a subliminal collection of music with more to come in this Spectrum Series? Maybe they realized the all-too potent effects Ishq, Mystical Sun, and Suns Of Arqa had on one's psyche when arranged as they are here, as no further volumes of this series since Sanctuary came out. Darn you, denizens of Salt Spring Island, and your seductive sound manipulations!

The first few times I played this CD, I honestly thought the first three tracks were one long song – that’s how zoned out I usually got! For a more logical explanation, compiler Naasko chose pieces of music that meld so seamlessly together, they're like jigsaw puzzle pieces made of melted butter chicken sauce. As mentioned, Shaikh’s incredibly meditative Emergence opens things, and is followed by Suns Of Arqa’s Cradle, Pt. 3, which utilizes similar droning pads but reduced to background texture. Instead, a charming flute leads us through scenes of calm, psychedelic nature. Enough of the pleasantry though, as Mere Mortals comes in after with Etcetrera, dropping some serious Indian dub grooves as sitars drone about. Despite having little in common beyond a meditative Far East mood, this is one of the strongest openings to a world beat ambient dub CD I’ve ever come across. No way Sanctuary can top it.

Indeed. Perhaps that's what unfortunately hinders my memory of this compilation, dashed expectations. There’s some lovely moments throughout – Ishq’s Yu is about as calm and relaxed as this music can go before getting into New Age sap, and Alucidnation’s Skygazer is a dreamy piece of seaside chill trance – but nothing hits the high of the CD’s opening salvo. Some tracks don’t even fit the mood established at the beginning, Kaya Project’s Slide more suitable for a Cafe Del Mar collection, and Gaudi’s Tribalove way deep in the dark Amazon jungle. At least Shaikh closes things out on a mysterious tip with Call Of The Delta (under his Ekko) guise), even if it feels by way of an Aegean Sea temple. Wherever you find your sanctuary in this world, right?

Ultimately, Sanctuary is a label showcase for Interchill, older material mixing in with (then) recent offerings. It’s a good sampler, but not indicative of their whole story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nurse With Wound - Salt Marie Celeste

United Daires: 2003

No freakin’ way can I do the Nurse With Wound legacy justice in a single review. This guy, Steven Stapleton, has been a staple (sorry) of the industrial scene since there was an industrial scene. He’s right up there with your Throbbing Gristles and Hafler Trios, and anyone worth their wacked-out experimental sodium chloride has had some passing exposure to NWW over the years. He has some one-hundred releases out, multiple collaborations, always having some new twisted sonic perversion to toy with our sensibilities of what constitutes music as abstract function. Oh yeah, the art crowd adores Nurse With Wound, and I suspect he has some affinity for them too, if only to take the familiar and warp them into something cheeky on his cover art.

That's the background out of the way, so the natural thing to do is get talking about one of his Very Important Albums. Ah, heh, maybe ask a Nurse With Wound scrub about that, because I honestly haven't a clue where to begin with his discography. I'm only covering this particular release, Salt Marie Celeste, due to it being a single-song LP, and in my back-up harddrive for that Guide thing. Mr. Stapleton deserves more attention though, so maybe I'll indulge in something else from him at a later date. Perhaps Acts Of Senseless Beauty, or To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl, or the charming Drunk With The Old Man Of The Mountains.

As for Salt Marie Celeste, there's not a heck of a lot to detail. This is dark ambient drone at its droniest. While not quite Jliat levels of mind-numbery, there isn't much to the endless synths playing for over an hour either. Some fifteen or so minutes in, something that sounds like a bicycle zips by. After a few seconds, it zips back the other way. This goes on for another two-thirds of the track's runtime. Somewhere around the twenty-five minute mark, soggy wood starts creaking, at first a few groans, then eventually almost an entire sea-bound vessel's worth. If Nurse With Wound was aiming at capturing the atmosphere of a derelict ghost ship, he definitely succeeded. Unfortunately, because these sounds just repeat themselves, it comes off like the VGM loops of a point-and-click adventure, and you're hopelessly stuck at an insidious puzzle. You were intended to solve it quickly, hence the short loop, but you can't, forever trapped in a broken game, unable to leave the Captain's cabin, unable to just turn the computer off. Oh, wait, you solved it after all, so here's some more synth drone to take you out. Yay!

If this sounds tedious, take heart that Salt Maria Celeste is the eventful version of this track, the original Salt from a couple years prior not even having the sound effects added. Yep, this album is a re-release of sorts, and Stapleton would go on to re-re-release variations of Salt a couple times after this as well. Talk about cheeky recycling of one’s back catalog.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Various - Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café

Wagram Music: 2001

I didn't think much of it at the time, glancing at the back of the digipak in that used music shop some years past. A few names I recognized – Jazzanova, De-Phazz, and St Germain of course – but most were new to my eyes. And right they should have been, what with acid jazz, nu-jazz, and all their variations the sort of style I only indulged in on a whim from trusted labels (Ninja Tune, Studio !K7, Quango). Still, sometimes the best purchases are those you take the biggest chances are, and that itch for something ‘electro-jazz’ wasn’t going away. I mean, you really couldn’t go wrong with a DJ mix from St Germain, right? Absolutely not!

Except that’s not what Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café is in the slightest. Oh, it’s definitely a nu-jazz collection, but aside from contributing a track, the Ludovic Navarre project has nothing to do with this CD. Rather, the name comes from the Paris district where extensional free-thinkers would engage in discourse over brunch in neighbourhood cafés. Or stare off into streets, smoking cigarettes, aloof in their demeanour. I don’t know, my knowledge of Paris coffee culture is primarily derived from parody. Point is, this was intended as a soundtrack to such locales, a fine enough idea with nu-jazz having some decent buzz about it back at the turn of the century. It must have been more successful than imagined, as it turned into a yearly series, which is still going on today! Sixteen volumes of the main, including themed offshoots, plus multiple box sets to bring you up to speed should you join the Saint-Germain Café craze late in the game. And here I thought it was just some random, forgotten DJ mix.

What’s so interesting about this series is it couldn’t have remained more relevant than in the here and now. Nu-jazz had its following back in the day, but for the most part you’d only hear the stuff at coffee lounges (this compilation, d’uh), hovels deep in urban hipster locales, or afterparty lofts. All of a sudden though, this style of music has seen a resurgence on streaming stations and side stages of the festival circuit, often getting billed as ‘electro-swing’. *sigh* Once again something old is thought of as something new, because a younger generation doesn’t know any better. Or maybe there is some difference, though tracks like Rubin Steiner’s Lo-Fi Nu Jazz #13 and Bugge Wesseltoft’s G.U.B.N.U.F. on here sounds about what a sub-genre called ‘electro-swing’ should be all about. Whatever, swing music was due for another retro-retro-retro return anyway, Brian Setzer having faded from current memory (but never forget Doop!).

And the rest of Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café? Yeah, it’s jazzy alright. I personally prefer the tunes with some double-time bass action, but there’s plenty of different moods, vibes, and grooves throughout. I’d get into all the variations if I had much clue of jazz’s all too-many nuances. I prefer staying on the outskirts of this scene, thanks.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Petar Dundov - Sailing Off The Grid

Music Man Records: 2013

Petar Dundov should have waited more than a year. Yeah, it's good hitting that muse while the iron's hot, and folks were still glowing about Ideas From The Pond when Sailing Off The Grid came out around twelve months later. Unfortunately, the glow of the former overshadowed the latter, denying it the sort of anticipation that comes with long awaited follow-ups. Initial reactions to Mr. Dundov’s third LP in half-a-decade weren’t “holy cow, this man’s a machine right now!”, but more “oh, he’s got another one out already? Is he still doing that trance-hybrid stuff?” Yes, he is, and even that contributed to the relative apathy towards Sailing Off The Grid.

That’s not to say Mr. Dondov suddenly lost his skill at crafting pieces of hypnotic, synthy works. Nay, he’s in as fine of form as with Ideas From The Pond. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if these tunes were from those sessions, or at least feeding off the same well of inspiration – it’d explain the quick turnaround between albums. And right off with Enter The Vortex, we’re in familiar ground, a lengthy, beatless composition of layering, morphing synths that, while not building to anything in particular, serves as a solid start to Sailing Off The Grid. Very much in the old school of Berlin on that one, and keeping with the vintage vibe is Yesterday Is Tomorrow, all space synth tastiness for a modern era. If you’re coming to this album looking for any hints of Petar’s techno of old, forget it, the remaining three uptempo tunes (Moving, White Spring, and the titular cut) having more in common with trance than anything else. Okay, White Spring has a rhythm reminiscent of Belgian New Beat, but there’s common lineage there, more so than techno or house in any event.

The remaining tracks (Spheres, Cradle) feed more off Berlin-School compositions than anything contemporary. Meanwhile, at eleven minutes of runtime, synth layers in Sur La Mer Avec Men Ami meander a bit much, Mr. Dundov’s seemingly content wandering about the ambient waters he creates along the way while eventually building to something of a crest. It’s all quite pleasant but not as engaging as his other works.

Minor quibbles aside, Sailing Off The Grid is definitely a strong sequel to Ideas From The Pond, so it begs the question why this one hasn’t garnered the same buzz. As mentioned, the quick turnaround likely didn’t help, but here’s an additional theory to this quandary: folks figured Ideas a one-shot challenge on Mr. Dundov’s part. He set out to make a trance-but-not-trance record at a time when critics and casuals still associate the word ‘trance’ with awful club music, proving the genre can still have merit when approached correctly. Having proved it, however, what need was there to do another? Love of the music, obviously, which is reason enough for y’all to scope out Sailing Off The Grid for yourself. For many others though, one dip into these ponds was enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sacred System - Chapter One: Book Of Entrance (2015 Update)

Reachout International Records: 1996

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review)

Ah, nuts. There was some very crucial information that needed updating from my original TranceCritic review of this album. I've already wasted it in the review of Dub Chamber 3 though. I could have burned some word count with it, because regarding the music itself, there's not much else I can add to Book Of Entrance. Eh, what the heck, I'll just copy and paste it here. It's not like anyone remembers a Bill Laswell review from twenty-nine months ago. Woo, self-plagorization!

Dub Chamber 3 is one of his solo efforts though; or rather, him and whoever he invites over for a jam. Don’t bother looking for a Dub Chamber 1 or 2, as they don’t exist. This was, however, his third album released on Reachout International Records, the two prior being his Sacred System material. To confound discographers further, his fourth ROIR album was once again as Sacred System, but also titled Dub Chamber 4 (subtitled Book Of Exit, a nice call-back to the first album). And, that’s not even the end of his ROIR output, where he released a compilation of Sacred Dub System Chamber material, plus a collaboration project with Roots Tonic, not to mention- help! I’m being swallowed by Laswell’s discography! It’s so massive, it has a gravitational pull of its own!

*whew* Good thing I escaped it a second time!

But yes, I incorrectly titled this album way back when, in part because I figured Bill Laswell’s name was more important for referencing than the alias he used for Reachout. Also, everyone just calls Book Of Entrance a Laswell album because that’s what it is, but as Lord Discogs lists this as a Sacred System album, here it is correctly titled thus.

One other thing I feel needs clarifying from that old piece of writing is my claim that ‘bass-driven’ music isn’t terribly popular. Why, 2005 Sykonee must be an imbecile if he believes that. Just look at all the forms of bass music that dominates electronic music. Hell, even rhythmic reggae dub, from which Laswell is drawing influence from on Book Of Entrance, has a dedicated following of rastas and spliff heads. All true, but very seldom are those instances where bass leads through improvisation with everything else complementing. Even modern bass-heavy genres like trap and dubstep are about the effects those low frequencies have on your mind and body rather than guiding you through a musical journey. I doubt many festival goers would have time for the lengthy sessions Laswell indulges in. Hell, I sometimes don’t, and I actually like most of Bill’s material.

Finally, Book Of Entrance kicks off the huge block of music within my collection known as “Albums Beginning With ‘S’” – with a mislabel, of all things, heh. There are a few other mislabels, but even dismissing those, this could take me through the summer. And my reward for its completion? Taking on the equally massive section called “Albums Beginning With ‘T’”. The obsession must be satisfied!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ACE TRACKS: July 2013

*SIGH*…. So much for my hockey hopefuls. Why do I continue routing for teams that never quite make it? Maybe I just dislike the successful teams because they’re always beating the teams I like. In that case, go Tampa Bay Lightening, I guess. I’ve no quarrel with you, even supported them during their first Cup win (because LOL Calgary Flames), it’d be cool to see Steve Stamkos win a Cup early in his career, and all those goals Tyler Johnson’s scoring would be such a waste if he doesn’t win Conn Smythe. Doesn’t make me any more interesting in the NHL Playoffs though – heck, the NBA Playoffs are looking more intriguing about now. The remaining teams are all title starved, the last any of them having won a Ring two decades ago, another four decades ago (to say nothing of the zilch victories of Atlanta and Cleveland). Some long-suffering fanbase is gonna’ be celebrating and flipping cars long into the night this June! What? Oh, right, here’s ACE TRACKS: July 2013. Knew I was ignoring something.


Full Track List Here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Mind Distortion System - He Claims To Be Not Human

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 26%
Percentage Of Rock: 28% (though a chunk of it is technically Neil Young folksy stuff)
Most “WTF?” Track: Ice Cube - You Can’t Fade Me (seriously, those lyrics)

Another weird month, this one. It started with a couple Greatest Hits CDs, got seriously grimy with Ice Cube and Grooverider jungle, chilled for a bit with Swayzak, Kruder, and Dorfmeister, a little UK mainstream with Fatboy Slim and Gorillaz, banged it out with hard desert trance, Neil Young came in with an acoustic guitar, and ended with some mishmashed stuff at the end. Clearly the only way to treat such an erratic collection of tunes is another alphabetical playlist. Except for AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits, which are lumped at the end as full albums. A bizarre, unworkable contrast, you say? Heh, welcome to what it’s like listening to all this music as I have for the last couple years.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kraftwelt - Retroish

Hypnotic: 1998

I’d be first in line piping up the group that started as Audio Science never got their due, though I can’t say they’ve had an unsuccessful career either. To this day they’ve kept busy, mostly operating as a remix group called Patchworkz, providing rubs to some of dance-pops more notable names (Billy Ray Martin, Camille Jones, Ida Corr). Meanwhile, as Merv, they released a smattering of singles that fit quite snuggly within the early German dub techno domain that Basic Channel outright dominated, and continue using the alias for DJ mixes. Then there’s Kraftwelt, a project that almost certainly started out as nothing more than adding a few additional tracks to Cleopatra’s Tribute To Kraftwerk CD, but got a significant mileage with afterwards. Too much, in fact, as it’s clear by this second album of Kraftwelt material the ideas had worn thin.

The first one, Electric Dimension, was about as solid an ‘electro album by way of Kraftwerk in the ‘90s’ could have been, considering the genre was practically dead mid-decade. The electro revival was still a few years off, and even though a few outlier acts were found making the stuff, fewer gave it much heed. A deliberate throwback though? Sure, why not, there had to be a few folks feeling the early pangs of retro in their soul – an escape from big funky beats and bangin’ rave techno-trance. Bring back the original German robots, yo’.

And they did, but that’s for another review. Instead, I’m talking about the follow-up to Electric Dimension, Retroish. The album kicks off promisingly enough, the titular cut featuring plucky hooks, a bare-bones 808 break, and enveloping bassline as heard in an huge, empty robot factory. There’s even a little warbly solo that sounds like it was performed on an old, unkempt Moog, about as retro as anything could sound in 1998.

Following that, however, Kraftwelt settle into a schizophrenic game of not knowing whether they want to go proper techno or remain retro electro. It’s as though the group is lost in a transitional year between the two, sounding a bit of both but not committed enough to the other for things to work. It’s no surprise the best tunes - Metro, Centershade, Beautybox, The Eighth Approach, Au Revoir - remain firmly in the era Kraftwelt are drawing influence from, though even some of those are kinda’ chintzy. Okay, Beautybox gets away with it, only because it’s got such a silly, happy rhythm going for it.

Compared to Electric Dimension though, these sound like leftovers from those sessions, rounded out by some of the group’s techno tracks given the ‘Kraftwelt aesthetic’. Quite a few of these tunes - Slipstream, Back Seat, Rush - would have sounded brilliant in the year 1988, when Detroit was forging ahead from electro of old and creating its own, unique brand of electronic music. Unfortunately for Kraftwelt’s Retroish, the year is not ’88, but rather ’98, and sounding out of time in the here and now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Escape - The Futurescape

Ambient World: 1994/2011

Just when I thought I’d escaped all things Namlookian for a while, I get pulled right back in, ironically with a CD from his project Escape. Fortunately, we’re dealing with the proper thing in this review, an original album from ye' olden days of Mr. Kaulmann's career …sort of. The original-original self-titled Escape album was a two-disc affair, gathering tracks off the four Escape EPs onto one CD, and the other dedicated to an original composition titled The Futurescape. Fax +49-69/450464 being Fax +49-69/450464, only one-thousand copies of the CD were issued and was soon out of print, but hey, that’s why the sub-label Ambient World was established early on, offering reissues of high-demand FAX albums. Erm, I guess Escape wasn’t terribly high in demand, as this particular CD didn’t come out until 2011, way late in Ambient World’s lifespan (and also now defunct with all other FAX sub-labels).

Can't blame folks for the alias' obscurity though, as Escape is often overshadowed by Namlook and Dr. Atmo's other collaborative project, Silence. That one was where all the big ambient epics came about, whereas Escape often played the safe bet in attaching hard trance and acid to its name. There were a couple decent cuts from those efforts (Escape To Neptune's still a blinder of a trip), but as nearly every German with a TB-303 was making trance in those days, quickly got lost in the glut despite providing ambient versions on the B-sides. After that, ol' Peter and the Doctor continued focusing on Silence whenever they hooked up, Escape and its album relegated to a mere footnote in the FAX discography. Its remarkable Ambient World even got around to a reissue for the project then.

As for The Futurescape, this isn't a strict reissue of the original self-titled Escape double-discer – no way old hard trance makes a lick a sense on a label called Ambient World. Neither is it a re-packing of that second CD either, since there were enough tracks on the experimental downbeat warranting another listen. Thus we have a condensed version, keeping the two biggest 'hits' under the Escape banner (Trip To Mars and Trip From Mars), an extended excerpt of Atmospheric Processor (ambient version of Escape To Neptune), and most of The Futurescape intact (about four minutes of ultra-minimalist drone from the opening cut out, thank God).

The Mars tracks are mostly dark drones with little splashes of sound echoing about. The only difference between the two is To plays forward, and From plays backwards. Atmosphere Processor pulls the same trick too, though has more rhythm going for it. As for The Futurescape, it’s a lengthy, moody affair, befitting the sci-fi theme most Escape tracks had. Sometimes it drones about with eerie samples, other times a bit of acid rhythm emerges, and other parts feature a brisk, soft techno beat guiding things along. And repeats. A lot. Honestly, it’s not a classic by FAX standards, but worth a listen if you’re digging deeper into Namlook’s discography.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Nick Höppner - Folk

Ostgut Ton: 2015

Mark Knopfler is a very important person in the world of rock music. Having cemented his legacy with the Dire Straits (Money For Nothing, Sultans Of Swing, many more), he's forged ahead with a solid solo career too. Argh, I'm doing it again! Every time I see Nick Höppner’s name, my brain tricks me into registering it as ‘Mark Knopfler’. There's a few similarities between the two, but not so much I should be suffering from whatever this short-cut cognitive response is called (help me out, psychologists reading this by happenstance!). My only answer to this mystery is that ol' Nick is such a new name in music to my eyes that my brain can't help but think this letter arrangement is associated with one I’ve longer familiarity with. So, Mr. Höppner, if you're reading this, get making more music pronto, and expunge Mr. Knopfler from my grey matter. Or, you know, because you make some darn fine tunes too.

This may be my first exposure to his name, but Höppner’s been active in the Berlin-based DJ for some time now. Along with Lee Jones and Carsten Klemann, he saw some success in the last half of the ‘00s as My My, releasing deep house, tech-house, and minimal deep-tech house, because of course. Jones and Höppner have since settled into solo careers, with ol’ Nick finding a home at Ostgut Ton, mostly falling lock-step with their brand of bunker techno and house. It comes with some surprise then, that his debut album Folk has a remarkable amount of melody in it. Why, some of it could even be-

Okay, probably not, but with plenty of hypnotic groove, gated synths, and flowing pad work, you can’t blame a guy for getting a ‘tee-are’ vibe on this one. There’s been a fair bit of techno getting in touch with its lighter side this decade, undoubtedly thanks to the almighty power of retro when the genre was comfortable with fun future-funk as it was painting dystopias. With cover art as chintzy as Folk’s, you can tell Mr. Höppner didn’t want his first LP an are serious techno outing, though he does allow for some menace in the thumping Grind Show.

Instead, Paws shuffles with a subdued shimmering synth line, Mirror Image has a charming, gaudy lounge vibe, Airway Management cruises high altitudes with broken beats, and Rising Overheads has no shame in reaching for those lasers. Elsewhere Mr. Höppner goes to his breaded butter of tech-house on the deeper side (Relate, No Stealing, Come Closer), though even these often float on blissy, Balearic pads. The only cut on Folk that goes for the tough, warehouse business is Out Of, which adds some welcome spice to an otherwise mellow album.

Even if you’re not in the market for tech-house, I recommend giving Nick Höppner’s first LP a go. There’s much to enjoy within its tidy nine-track runtime, and is a far better electronic album than Mark Knopfler would make.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD8)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

And finally we've come to the end of Die Welt Ist Klang. Not as bad of a slog as I feared going in. Heck, I wouldn't mind returning to a few of these CDs in another week or two after letting them sit fallow from my memory. Can't say that for many other box sets I own, much less collections of music running near the one-hundred mark (I haven’t played anything from The Electro Compendium since January 2013, and I like electro!). It's just too much for this soul to take, and my mind boggles at the thought of super-hardcore fans subsisting of nothing but FAX material. There's a reason Pete Namlook's label dwindled in prominence as the years went on – many ears were more than sated even by the turn of the century.

Yet, despite so many artists contributing to Carpe Sonum's epic turbo-hyper tribute, I must list a few names I'm disappointed didn't show up. Call it a sense of completion even on something as comprehensive as this box set. Here we go... Mixmaster Morris. Klaus Schulze. Uwe Schmidt. Christian Thier. Pussylover. Aphex Twin. Brian Eno. Steve Roach. Alex Paterson. Kraftwerk. Jimmy Cauty. Banco de Gaia. Phil Wilde. Neil F’n Young. Anyone from Ultimae. Anyone from Nashville, Tennessee. A humpback whale. Okay, some of these are just wishful thinking, but imagine the possibilities, eh? I'm sure Mr. Kaulmann would have encouraged you to.

Enough of that. After seven CDs of ambient, ambient techno, chill-out breaks, and a little trance too, what sort of music will Carpe Sonum take us out with for the final disc? By going back to ambient it seems, though more of an old-school flavour than CD5 went. After all, CD4 had all the outlier genres, and as the back-half of Die Welt Ist Klang is intended to mirror the front-half, it’s only natural for CD8 to get a little Berlin-Schoolie on our ears. There’s even an air of modern classical with Mass Roman’s Everyone Has It Now and Ceder’s Moog model D aC final (live take #6). No jazz, though.

I must admit many of these tracks have me thinking of many older acts. Metasonica’s Eternal Return sounds like its getting its mojo from Enigma. Terra Ambient’s Unfertig ohne Sie feels more appropriate for a New Age shop (though a tasteful one). Boreal Taiga & 3Music’s Piap-Bai could be a handy contribution to that Twin Peaks relaunch. The Garwin Project’s Solar is so Pink Floyd, I totally see Dick Perry in the studio despite the lack of a saxophone solo.

And then there are the final two tracks. After eighty-nine pieces of music, these have to be your money shot, the lasting impression of a Pete Namlook tribute. The second-to-last goes to James Lewin, an unknown to Lord Discog’s mighty well of knowledge, providing a minimalist, haunting piece of drone. It’s followed by Stormloop’s Snowdrift, where twelve minutes of widescreen ambient pads and synth washes shimmer and cascade like you’re in... well, y’know.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD7)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

Seven discs in, and one thing’s remarkably never faltered throughout this whole box-set: music quality. I’d expect nothing less from the first half, where musicians with tons of experience and skill made up the bulk – even the weird, abstract ones were interesting on a conceptual level. I won’t deny having some hesitation before diving into this back-half though, what with so many unfamiliar names to my eyes. When further sleuthing of Die Welt Ist Klang revealed a number of these acts were contributing music for the first time (as Lord Discogs has decreed), I suspected some dip in craftsmanship had to arise. Yet here we are, CD seven of eight, and nary a drop. This consistently high quality of music wasn’t some fluke of chance with submissions though; rather, it was culled by way of voting, with the crème of the crop arriving at the top. Can’t find much fault with that process. Maybe a bit too ‘homage’ compared to the originality of the first four discs, but then that’s the point of these last four discs anyway, so no blame.

That all said, I must admit the ‘listening fatigue’ did start settling in by CD7. It isn’t as bad as I suffered with The Electro Compendium - after seventy tracks of nothing but sinister electro, I felt like a robot. Die Welt Ist Klang holds my sanity enough through some diversity of genres, though given this is a Pete Namlook tribute, even that only goes so far. Mr. Kaulmann was known for a certain sound throughout his career, and by g’ar these producers are gonna’ honor that legacy, even if it means grinding the same general tone for a few hours’ worth of music. If you’re only now joining my OCD coverage of this box set, do unlike I and only listen to these CDs in occasional spurts, not all at once. You’ll appreciate these tunes more. Now, onto CD7.

Oh man, there’s more fun stuff here! Once again, the tempo is given an additional nudge, opening with a chipper ambient breaks beast running thirteen minutes in length (almost progressive breaks, really). It’s followed with a similar, subdued tune from Si Matthews, then goes total old-school trance on Music Hypnotizes from Gianni Parrini & Twoplusone! Okay, the rhythm’s more prog, but that high-pitched synth hook is right out of German trance’s playbook of 1993. It’s cheesy, but man does it ever tickle that nostalgia lobe – no surprise these guys are from that era.

In fact, quite a few names on CD7 have a wealth of material listed at Lord Discogs (Johan Agebjörn, Interconnected, Autumus) along with relative newcomers (Sven Kössler, Suit & Tie Guy), all offering variations of electro, chilled-out IDM, and ambient techno. Special mention must be made to Michael Brückner though, who’s apparently self-released around one-hundred albums of ambient and Berlin-School synth works in the last two decades! Holy cow, talk about a kindred spirit to Namlook. Get this man his own deserved box-set.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD6)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

Ambient’s about the journey, but sometimes it’s nice knowing where we’re going too. I’m a busy guy, and though the local gardens are pleasant diversions, this hair ain’t gonna’ cut itself. Thus, we leave the meandering synth works of CD5, and unto CD6, where there’s all manner of barber shops. Gosh, that was a strained metaphor. I think my subconscious is telling me something. Ah yes, my coif doth needs a cut. Also, coming up with new ways of starting each of these reviews for Die Welt Ist Klang is getting ever more difficult. By the end of this one, I’ll have spent three-thousand words detailing this box set, with another two CDs to go. Unless there’s an individual even more obsessive than I spending the same amount of words on each individual track, you’re likely not finding a lengthier review of Pete Namlook’s tribute. At what point does this venture turn into ‘quantity-over-quality’ though? Maybe it already has, given the opening of this paragraph.

Anyhow, as was the case with the first half, the back half of Die Welt Ist Klang opts for a gradual increase in tempo. Unlike CD2, however, things get rather brisk in CD6, even entering trance’s domain by track six! And no, this isn’t like earlier in the box set, where trance was more hinted than executed. Steve Hanlon’s Freefloating has the burbling acid, arpgeggios, hypnotic pads, and simple rhythms that earned many an old-school track duty on trance compilations. Following that, VAAST’s Syzygy has many similar attributes, while including other touches like soft, dubby atmospherics and gentle piano flourishes. And following that, Mia Rischmann’s Travels strips things down to a subtle, trance pulse that wouldn’t sound out of place on an old Laurent Garnier EP; or even a Fax +49-69/450464 collection, come to think of it. Call these melodic techno or ‘deep house’ if you must, but this is the sound of trance I’ve long associated with Namlook’s label. When he wasn’t doing the earlier hard acid bangers at least.

I should also mention these three artists currently have nary a presence at Lord Discogs, and they’re not alone in their, um, lonliness. Jason Hissong (ambient techno) and Michael & Spider (ethno’ psychedelic ambient) have absolutely nothing beyond Die Welt Ist Klang. A couple others have an EP or two under their belt (and if Mark T. Warren’s widescreen ambient dub Spin Cycle is anything to go by, one of the big chill labels had better snag this guy up post-haste!), but some veteran names from as far back as the ‘90s show up too. Within Reason (meditative chill-out), I’ve already covered, though he went by Open Canvas for that album. There’s also a curious group called Drøn (clicky, dubby downtempo), and Ben Zonneveld, who some trance heads might remember as one-half of Orientalist (of Tron microfame) – his track Liberation Through Hearing sounds an awful lot like Silence’s Omid/Hope, though at only a quarter the length. Mmm, tasty bite-sized ambient doodling.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD5)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

With many musical collaborators, associates, and influences wrapped up in four CDs, where else could Carpe Sonum Records go with their Pete Namlook tribute box-set mega-ganza? Why, a showcase of all the artists Mr. Kaulmann's had influence upon, of course, with another four CDs worth doing the deed. It can't be denied he's had an impact on a lot of ambient noodling wibblers and ambient techno knob twiddlers, so when word spread of a tribute collection, several producers outside the old FAX alumni piped up they'd be interested in providing music to the project. The fact things bloated out to ninety-one tracks across eight CDs may seem excessive, but I wouldn't be surprised if what we have for Die Welt Ist Klang isn't even half of what Carpe Sonum could have included. Also, instead of doing something silly like 'covering' Namlook compositions, these are all originals. Ha, take that, Cleopatra Records!

I should mention from here on out, my familiarity with the remaining artists fast approaches nil. Even Lord Discogs won’t be terribly helpful, many names relatively new to His mighty knowledge. Hell, on CD5 alone, some has this set as their lone entry (mamonu, Ray Rod In Sun Age), while others have a mere additional track or EP appearing elsewhere. Of course, in this age of Bandcamp releases, Soundcloud exclusives, and music sharing with online communities, a producer can have a wealth of experience and compositional background before ever landing anything with a format Lord Discogs recognizes as official. The ambient and drone scene in particular is notorious for its limitless amount of laptop writers. How on earth Carpe Sonum came about deciding these eleven acts for CD5, I can’t imagine. No, I won’t toss about wild theories; this is a tribute to Pete Namlook, dang’it, so happy, respectful feelings, yo’.

Since we’re now taking in a different perspective with the Namlook influences, it’s only appropriate that Die Welt Ist Klang starts featuring the extreme outlier genres- hah, no, we’re back in ambient’s realm again. Mostly it’s soft, meditative stuff (Jacob Newman & Devin Underwood’s Day Stretch, Veil Of Alchemy’s Sea Of Transcendence, Guides’ Flood) and dubby drone (Illuminum’s Principles Of Life, Bubble’s Ashes, mamonu’s So Long And Thanks For All The Chill...). Some go for the expansive layers of synths (Tha Silent Partner’s Tongue) while others choose the subtle road instead (Bing Satellites’ Caterpillar Dance, Ecoutez’ Just In A ...). And finally, the honoured elder of this CD, Sense (Adam Raisbeck, who’s been releasing music since the long-ago year of 2001), teams up with Jesse Somfay in a thirteen-plus minute piece that dabbles in much of the above. No wonder they titled it 3 Songs (Forever).

If most of these names are hopelessly obscure to your eyes, I warned you we were leaving familiar ground (if they’re not, holy cow!). I honestly wouldn’t blame ya’ if you tuned out for the remaining three discs, but who knows, you may discover some cool new names worth following.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD4)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

Scratch what I said at the end of the previous review. Here's where we find our offering of old-school trance, at the start of CD4! Pino &Wildjamin's Some Filter For Namlook has gated synths, subtle acid tweakage, minor key melodies, and even bleepy sci-fi arpeggios. Yeah, they use an electro break for their rhythm, and the track was originally from 1995, but dammit, it's the closest thing I've heard to any sort of vintage German trance in the box set, so I'm counting it. Honestly though, this probably should have been on CD3, were it not for the forced compromise of limited space on such antiquated technology. Playing Die Welt Ist Klang as a digital playlist of music, Some Filter For Namlook follows quite smoothly from Glitch's Kick The Habit. Oh, and about that track, turns out it was a remastered 1994 cut, hence the classic vibes I got off it. It’s difficult back-checking every single track in the FAX catalogue, y’know.

Some Filter For Namlook is also something of an outlier for CD4. The artists that make up this disc are primarily the artsy abstract sorts that cared little for house, techno, or even ambient. As ol’ Pete’s muse grew ever more restless in years following his ‘90s breakout, he started branching out into psychedelic rock, jazzy futurism, cinematic orchestrations, and throwback musique concrete. Not so much his own output, mind you, but he did take on such musicians within the Fax +49-69/450464 fold. The only name I recognize out of this bunch is Move D, who’s Regentropfen (Reprise) is all sorts of druggy jazz sludge. And yes, Mr. Moufang gets two solo tracks on this collection. Twenty-plus albums with Namlook!

I can’t deny CD4 is an interesting disc, but only as far as you’re willing to indulge the most extreme of music expressionism. Some of it goes for the New Berlin school of krautrock experiments (Aerial Service Area’s Cloud 2, Nikolaus Heyduck’s Lago Largo, Ludwig Rehberg’s Pink Pearl), others for improvised tonal harmony with pianos, taiko drums, and woodblocks (okay, only Hane’s Dazwischen). There’s some really naff jazz on here too, Sprya’s Sodbrennen sounding like a preloaded keyboard demo – at least that one’s only three minutes long.

And then there’s the plain ol’ weirdness. Victor Sol plays metal resonance in Gong #1, and Oskar Sala spits white noise and reverberating blips and bleeps in Anwendung Elektronischer Musik Für Den Film Von Oskar Sala. Wait, didn’t he start this electronic music shit; and this the thanks I give? I don’t think he ever worked with Namlook or on FAX, but you cannot deny the influence he undoubtedly had on a young Kaulmann.

In comparison, the surrounding tracks aren’t quite so leftfield. Gate Zero does dubby, chill trip-hop with The Ache, Burhan Öçal’s Seyh'in Rüyasi sounds like it belongs on a Six Degrees Records compilation, and Bardo Thödol lays echoing prog guitar over gentle braindance beats. Man, after all this, where else can Die Welt Ist Klang take us?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD3)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

Of all the discs in this box set, CD3 has the highest ratio of artists I'm familiar with. That isn't an impressive stat, if I'm honest, as nearly everyone following this one is entirely new to my eyes. You'd think someone with a music collection nearing the four-digit mark should know a more than this. 'Tis not so, my knowledge but a mote of dust in the impossibly vast realm that is Pete Namlook's Influence. I'm not even sure whether these are all new names or scene veterans that have burbled in obscurity for all this time – guess I'll find out when I deal with their discs. Meanwhile, let's have a gander at the 'techno' CD of Die Welt Ist Klang.

First up is Thomas P. Heckmann. You might know him from such labels as Mille Plateaux, Wavescape, and the charming Acid Fuckers Unite. If you’re worth your techno salt at all though, you know him as Drax. For his offering to Namlook’s legacy, he gives us Ode To A Friend, sounding not a touch out of a 1974 krautrock album. Wait, what? Oh, right, talented producer makes music across tons of genres. That’s a running theme with a lot of these Namlook and Fax +49-69/450464 associates, isn’t it? Speaking of, second tune here is from Biosphere, though it’s one of his early demos sent to Mr. Kaulmann way back when, before they hooked up for Fires Of Ork. Holy cow, you guys, it’s Microgravity-era Biosphere! Robot voices! Bleepy techno! Rave-house groove! Long time fans have waited an age to hear something like this from Geir Jensenn again.

Following that, it’s Pascal F.E.O.S., most famous for being one-half of Resistance D., but having made plenty of music on his own too. His track is called Sax On Dub, and it’s... Balearic chill-out? Huh, are we getting any techno on this disc? Not if Oliver Lieb can help it, treating us to a tune that might have once been an Into Deep outtake. Man, the final run of tunes from CD2 was more techno than this. Where’s, like, Anthony Rother when you need him – he made music for Fax+, right? Right, so here’s Anthony Rother’s See Beyond, though more sinister EBM than robotic electro as you’d expect of the guy. It’s XJacks’ Acidbob that finally gives us a proper techno cut, all old-school acid weirdness with a little 808 cowbell for good measure.

A couple more names I recognize from recent digging is Gabriel Le Mar (a proggy breaks tune, plus an acid techno workout with Dr. Motte) and Mick Chillage (getting way-back FSOL vibes on this one). Both their tracks are the best on CD3, though a special mention must be made to Glitch’s Kick The Habit, a vintage hard trance track that’s got everything but a kick. Oh, you tease, we almost did get that which I thought not possible. Or maybe we still will later in the box set. Five more to go. Man, I’m earning this experience.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD2)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

No, of course ninety-one droning, calm ambient tracks would be ridiculous. Namlook made his namesake with the stuff, but he produced far more forms of electronic music than that. If you’re doing a tribute collection, you gotta’ show respect to his techno, jazz, orchestral, and even hard trance heritage. Okay, maybe not that last one, but wouldn’t that be something, hearing ancient German trance in a modern release? Come on, retroism, do your th’ang!

Wisely, Capre Sonum Records gave each disc of Die Welt Ist Klang its own genre showcase, gradually upping the tempo with each successive CD. All the beatless ambient now out of the way, CD2 provides us with some ambient techno chill and rhythms on the downbeat. Honestly, I’d have sprung for this collection almost entirely for this CD alone, what with two new tracks from Peter Benisch and The Higher Intelligence Agency on it! These aren’t previously unreleased pieces from their reserves either, each specifically made for this collection. Yeah, most of the music on all these discs is new material, but having already come across a couple cuts that were old, unused pieces from former collaborations with Namlook, I had to wonder whether that’d be the case with Benisch and Bird too. It’s not like they’re making anything new lately – and if they are, they sure aren’t making their efforts public. Oh hey, long tangent. As for their tunes, Benisch’s Farväl is utterly lush, while HIA’s Sky One works the bubbly, bleepy ambient dub groove with spacey synth drone, neither sounding like any time’s passed since their last albums. I love it!

I can’t say I know much about the remaining artists on CD2, but hot damn they make some lovely music. Autumn Of Communion (Lee Norris and Mick Chillage) offers eleven minutes of soothing keyboards, dubby synths and soft beats, Massimo Vivona provides a chipper piece of Balearic chill, Material Object shoots for the stars with another eleven minutes of pulsing pads and spacey drone, and even Namlook himself gets in, care of Lorenzo Montanà working with an unfinished piece they worked on. Then there’s Krystian Shek doing the widescreen chill-out thing I usually associate with Ultimae, Benjamin Wild & Daniel Esswein go for a low-key ambient techno groove, Fanger & Siebert get a little more electro sci-fi with their tune, and Future Research Technology (Simon Ellis, who gave Fax+ one of their earliest commercial successes as Houdini) goes for the alien electro-funk vibe. Kind of reminds me of Namlook and Johah Sharp’s Alien Communication project, though he already got his tribute in on CD1 as Spacetime Continuum. Oh, and Gaudi’s here too, doing his heavy ambient dub business, but I already know him and he’s still making music, so I don’t get quite all atwitter over his tune.

Yeah, that’s a major reason why I sprung for this box set. Seeing new music from old favorites is nice, but discovering a plethora of new artists in the process is pure cream.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Various - Die Welt Ist Klang: A Tribute To Pete Namlook (CD1)

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

Not to humble-brag too much, but oh yes, I gots me one of those proper box sets of Carpe Sonum Records’ epic tribute to Pete Namlook. Just barely too, with a mere three left of the project's second run when I took a look. Maybe the label will manufacture a third run if there's enough interest, but for now I'll bask in that smug glow of having such a wonderful package in my possession. Ahhh....

Hm, wait, what is this sinking feeling all of a sudden. Oh yeah, now that I have a physical copy of Die Welt Ist Klang, that means I have all eight CDs too. Which means I must now review each. Single. One. For the next week. Like, I'm kinda' obligated to, what with having done the same with Neil Young’s Archives last year. I hope y'all are strapped in for a Namlook Tribute extravaganza on this blog. Also, since I've eight of these things to get through, I'll detail most of the background information regarding this box set as we go along – no sense burning self-restricted world count all on the first CD.

With ninety-one tracks collected for this set, who could ever have the prestige to kick things off? Why, none other than one of the few men in the music industry that has a discography even larger than Namlook’s extensive catalogue: Bill Laswell. He teams up with keyboardist Bernie Worrell (member of tons of groups, most famously Funkadelic) for a track that’s rather typical of Laswell’s brand of ambient (bass tones, dubby atmosphere, jazzy improvisation). Hey, it’s not like we’re re-inventing the wheel with this tribute. The number two spot goes to David Moufang, also known as Move D. Why? He and Namlook released over twenty albums together in a fifteen year span. Holy cow, did they just put every jam session of theirs to CD? I’m guessing the answer to that is “most probably yes.” Oh, and his track is a piano ambient composition, with rainwater falling about on an open gazebo.

Another big name from the old school crops up with Dr. Atmo, who was instrumental in lending his hand to some of Namlook’s earliest ambient breakouts (can’t call them ‘hits’, can we), specifically the aliases Silence and Escape. Heck, it was his selections for the Stud!o K7 tape 3 Lux-3 that gave me a real crash course in Namlook’s work. His track here is also ambient.

Yeah, CD1 is pretty much all ambient straight through, nary a beat in earshot. Even the guys known for techno (Steve Stoll, F.U.S.E., Spacetime Continuum) stick to synthy drone and sequenced noodling. Mind, some of these are unreleased material sent to Namlook way back in the day too, not just former Fax+ alumni contributing fresh material. It’s all very calming, relaxing, and warm music here, though I hope it’s not the only genre explored across eight discs. As that Electro Compendium proved, too much of the same thing makes Sykonee coo-koo for Kaulmann cuts.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Scuba - Claustrophobia

Hotflush Recordings: 2015

Cry to the westward winds, o’ forlorn faithful of dubstep’s techno hybrids. Whatever hopes ye’ may have for one of your chosen few to return grows ever so slim with every new release. If Paul Rose, also known as The Scuba One, has committed so completely to techno, tech-house, and techy tech-ambient (?) as he has on this album, the odds of him going back to the broken beat bin are small indeed.

Fortunately for Mr. Rose, his transition’s been so perfectly gradual, an album like Claustrophobia still makes good sense within his discography. He may have left behind the genres that built his base, but he's retained a distinct, expansive aesthetic to his music; these tunes could work equally well in a slummy warehouse setting as a mainstage festival show. On the other hand, Scuba's lately suffered from 'Dubfire Syndrome', a rejection from some of techno's core followers, figuring him nothing more than a bandwagon jumper as his old scene's credibility waned. Frankly, that's a bunch of bull for a couple reasons. One, even if some of Scuba's recent tunes have peak-time rinse out squarely in sight, they're still stylistically less trendy than minimal ever was. Two, Mr. Rose makes far better music than Mr. Shirazinia did. You know it's true.

As the album’s title states, Claustrophobia is a darker outing compared to Personality, with charming track names like Why You Feel So Low, All I Think About Is Death, Black On Black, and Needle Phobia making up the bulk. Hell, even something seemingly benign like Family Entertainment is all sorts of fucked-up, two-plus minutes of static hiss (or shower water?) as wailing kids and stern adult voices echo off tile walls. Geez, I feel like I’m in a Silent Hill hospital. I guess poor ol’ Paul was having some difficulty coping with a bout of sickness that left him home-ridden for much of 2014. Or maybe he’d recently watched Jacob’s Ladder.

That’s about as unsettling as this album goes though. There’s still a menacing tone throughout, but Scuba finds room for melodic moments and tempo builders even in his sparsest tracks. And those rhythms, mang! He’s always had an ace ear for quality kicks, yet somehow he’s upped the ante here, unleashing beats so beefy it fucks up my colon. He doesn’t over-utilize them either, reserving them for his three main techno cuts in Why You Feel So Low (near the beginning), PCP (mid-track), and Black On Black (album climax), spacing them out with shorter, ambient techno constructs. Speaking of Black On Black, it’s got one of those big effects builds in it, but it actually has a payoff! My God, it’s glorious to have all that tension come with a proper release for once in contemporary techno. See, it’s not so hard to do.

I won’t deny the musical ideas Scuba presents on Claustrophobia aren’t terribly original, but he executes them with skill and finesse. Good for a casual throw-on - just mind your lighting.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Beatles - Abbey Road

Capitol Records: 1969/2009

The only Beatles album you're supposed to have, even if you're not much of a Beatles fan. Sure, they're no longer at the crest of their creative powers, but it's arguable they indulged in their ideas a bit too much (not to mention the drugs). Concept albums? Studio experiments? Bunch of nonsense. You're a rock band, lads, why you no rock anymore? Even the Liverpool Four knew they weren’t firing on all cylinders, lacking the creative synergy that propelled them above and beyond all other bands of their era. Individually, they were doing fine for themselves (even Ringo!), but imagine if they combined their forces to their fullest potential as in the old days. Oh, the wonders they could create, a tight-knit band once more, with genre exploration learned and now with the wisdom to use it effectively.

At least that was the hope on Paul McCartney’s part. He somewhat succeeded too, Abbey Road officially the final studio album The Beatles recorded together as a band, though that wasn't the original intent. The creative conflicts that had led to the various gulfs between each member had simply grown too wide by '69 for any lasting truce, so it's all the more remarkable this album is as cohesive has it turned out. In the ultimate of compromises, side one features songs that, though not related to each other, at least fed off their rock and blues influences; side two would shoot for an album-orientated concept that Paul still wanted, in this case as a medley of short pieces.

I'll level with ya': for the longest time, I had no idea which Beatles songs were even on Abbey Road. Hell, some of the tunes that are on this record I didn't know were Beatles songs. I always thought Oh! Darling and You Never Give Me Your Money were Rolling Stone songs, while I Want You (She's So Heavy) sounds far more like something the progressive rock camps were churning out at the time, including a lengthy runtime for any rock tune of the day (nearly eight minutes!). I'd heard it plenty of times on the classic rock station, but never clued in this aggressive song was from the same group that once did Help! and Norwegian Wood. Plus, that Moog. When did The Beatles ever use a got'dang Moog when there was maybe a half-dozen in existence at the time? Oh Harrison, and your never-ending search for weird instruments. The big ones, however, are Come Together, Something, and Here Comes The Sun. I guess Carry That Weight’s memorable too as a sing-along anthem, and folksy Octopus’s Garden is so corny that it wins you right over.

Of course, the lasting impression everyone has with Abbey Road is that cover. It just might be the most famous photo shoot The Beatles ever did, inspiring many to replicate it themselves. Oh yes, along with all the other things the Liverpool Four innovated, you can include creating the first Rock Meme to that list. Probably.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ACE TRACKS: April 2015

Oh hey, look at that, “R” is all wrapped up now. Yep, in a bizarre turn of events, the alphabetical back-half of the letter had barely a week’s worth of albums for review, unlike the near 1.5 months of the front half. I honestly have no idea how this came to be. Maybe if I had more CDs in my collection from rock bands, where they sing about rocking and rolling in titular singles, but nay, most things are rave with this techno boy. Anyhow, I felt it best to finish the letter off before posting the playlist for ACE TRACKS: April 2015.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
µ-Ziq - Royal Astronomy
Seraphim Rytm - Aeterna
Various - Rising High Trance Injection

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Most of the Aphex Twin stuff, but only if you’re not used to his zaniness.

Whoa, that’s my second straight Playlist with nary a rock or hip-hop cut found. The August 2013 one is understandable, what with such a short collection of albums to cull from – I had plenty more to draw from for April 2015. On the other hand, a sizeable chunk was devoted to Altar Records compilations, not to mention a plethora of other alphabetical backlog.

Speaking of alphabetical, I tried something different for this Playlist, arranging tracks in alphabetical order. With so much psy dub, psy chill, and dark ambient (hi, Sabled Sun!), I figured doing so would randomize the sequence a little, engaging the listener with the unexpected rather than steady familiarity and flow. Will AstroPilot align with Amon Tobin? Might Moss Garden meld with Model 500? Could Cosmic Replicant conflict with Chronos? Find out within, plus Faithless too!

Monday, May 4, 2015

RZA as Bobby Digital - In Stereo

Gee Street: 1998

Within the intro of RZA's debut solo album, he makes a snarky comment about other hip-hop producers still relying on breaks samples for their beats. It's the new era after all, on the cusp of a fresh millennium - digital dominance was nigh. So, instead of relying on more funk and soul loops that defined his early production, Mr. Diggs set out to create a digital orchestra with around a dozen synths at his disposal. Laudable goals, daring even, but here's another theory: he lost a ton of sample-based beats in that studio flood of his, thus forced to redo everything from scratch. Okay, 'forced' is harsh – 'inspired' into a change of direction sound better?

As for the concept of Bobby Digital: In Stereo, the notion RZA would have another pseudonym to play with isn't surprising. By this point he'd already been Prince Rakeem (aborted pre-Wu solo career), RZArector (Gravediggaz), and Bobby Steels (mafioso alias for Raekwon's Only Built For Cuban Linx...), so here’s Bobby Digital, something of a super-id identity reflective of his irresponsible days as a youth. Taking cues from blaxploitation flicks and superhero comics, Bobby is the ultimate male power fantasy, getting into all sorts of street shenanigans without any consequence for his actions. And oh yes, you bet he’s smooth with the ladies, casually fucking his queens while tossing them bitches to the curb.

If this all sounds just a bit on the sleazy, irredeemable side of things, that’s kind of the point. Even though, as Bobby Digital, it seems like RZA’s glamorizing this lifestyle, I get the sense he’s actually criticizing the narrow world view the alias operates from. He brags about being incredibly suave with women, yet his come-ons are blunt, immature, and pornographic. He boasts of his carefree ways in the slums, but surely there must be more in life than what he sees around the projects. Bobby Digital believes he has everything figured out, a king in his domain, when the truth of the matter is he knows shit. It paints him as a tragic figure that he cannot see the light. No surprise the relatively smooth My Lovin’ Is Digi is followed by the harrowing, wretched Domestic Violence (which also serves as the end of the album-concept proper, yikes!).

Truthfully, I’m far more interested in RZA’s beats than the lyrical content. Mr. Diggs’ rhymes have always been a little forced, worming complex vocabulary into phrases where they struggle to fit, and that’s no different here, even with an alias that isn’t so deep on the philosophical metaphors. That don’t matter though, as the music he’s created here is fascinating, abstract melancholic keyboards and weird discordant rhythms, all the while retaining his distinct grimy funk and soul. I could have done with a couple less of the Slow Grind intermissions though.

Bobby Digitial: In Stereo most definitely isn’t for casual fans of Wu-Tang Clan. If you’re down for RZA at his most unhinged though, give this album a shot.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps

Reprise Records: 1979/1990

The only Neil Young Comeback Album you're supposed to have, even if you're not a fan of Neil Young Comeback Albums. Yes, he's had enough of them to count as their own, distinct branch in the massive tree that is Rusty's discography. They're not so definitive as before, his career lately seeing more ebb and flow rather than peaks and valleys of decades pasts. For a brief while there in the '70s though, it looked as though Young would never recapture the creative spark that marked his early material.

Not that he was in a serious slump leading up to this album – certainly nothing that could rival the true dark times of the mid-‘80s. Unfortunately, following his critically lauded “Ditch Trilogy”, Young was in danger of succumbing to a terrible thing for any popular musician: irrelevancy. His album output had turned sketchy, failing to grab fresh audiences as new trends took hold of public discourse in the late ‘70s. Thus, like most rockers of the ‘60s, he was left with only two options. One: double-down on the music that earned him his dedicated following, and retain his loyal fans but risk creative stagnation. Two: attempt a bandwagon jump, keeping one’s name with the pace of cultural movements, but almost certainly make an ass of yourself in the process; a desperate bid at remaining relevant. Naturally, Neil F’n Young chose option number Three: cater to the faithful, and successfully tap into a new rock zeitgeist.

The inspiration came with a concept tour, one that would encompass two performances on stage. The first half would be primarily a solo outing of him playing acoustic folk material (with a duet thrown in here and there), then Crazy Horse would join him for some rock ‘n’ roll ruckus. He’d play some old standards, but mostly new material (from which this album’s track list was culled). The stage itself had giant-sized props of gear, handled by roadies dressed in Jawa costumes, and encourage audience interaction by donning faux 3D glasses, witnessing the band “decay before their very eyes”. It was the most theatrical set of concerts Young had ever put on, in some small part inspired by his wacky chums over at the Devo camp. In truth, they came up with the phrase “rust never sleeps” for a cleaner solution advertisement. Figures Young would take it as representing the dangers of artistic decay.

The folk numbers become some of Rustie’s enduring classics, a critical look back on his musical compatriots in Thrashers, and more stands for Native American tragedies in Pocahontas and Ride My Llama. Where he truly made a mark though, was Hey Hey, My My, a thunderous blast of distortion and noise that put his generation of rockers on notice: punk music was the real deal, a force that could not be ignored. Time to adapt, or unceremoniously fade as the old King Of Rock, Elvis Presley, had so recently. Some serious shots fired there, and pay attention the rock world did.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Beatles - Rubber Soul

Capitol Records: 1965/2009

The only Beatles album you're supposed to have, even if you're not much of a Beatles fan. Because let's be honest: who really likes all the studio experimenting they did after Rubber Soul? There were plenty of good songs, but so much of it fell victim to weirdness like tape manipulations, overdubbing, orchestras, and Indian tonal scales. Whatever happened to the good ol' rock 'n' roll that made the lads from Liverpool super-huge megastars? Yeah, it's here and there, but almost in lip-service rather than their defining musical style. No, best stay away from latter-era Beatles, where they even let Ringo write songs.

That isn't to say Rubber Soul doesn't have its share of new ideas either. If anything, this album marked a major step away from the happy do-lucky mop top rock that created all sorts of screaming girl havoc. They’d just completed a second North American tour, and in that time had taken in plenty of local flavours that were gaining popularity in the USA alongside their own music. This included the impeccable vocal harmonization of The Beach Boys and authentic Motown soul, but most importantly the folk rock styling of Bob Dylan and The Byrds.

In the case of Dylan, their lyrics took a big step for Beatlekind, distancing themselves from easy couplets and simple phrases screaming girls could sing along to when they weren’t screaming for Paul or John or that emo George. Now their songs contained mature content for an aging audience and lovely imagery. Okay, it’s almost all still dealing with love and relationships, but there’s plenty of wiggle-room for exploration in these topics too, areas their early teeny-bop tunes couldn’t deal with. Like such intimacy with Norwegian Wood, or a melancholic Christian parable in Girl, or times long past in In My Life, or the nasty post-breakup threats of Run For Your Life. Whoa, where’d that come from? Meanwhile, the dour Harrison had about enough of love songs by that point, and wrote Think For Yourself, something of a governmental screed. He also co-wrote the reflective Nowhere Man, though that was mostly John’s song, apparently inspired by a bought of writer’s block. Damn marijuana.

Speaking of Harrison and drugs, another thing he learned from David Crosby of The Byrds was a kooky string instrument called a sitar. He learned to play the darned thing and even incorporated it into Norwegian Wood, though in keeping to a Western scale, it don’t sound as ethnic as his later uses of it – a perfect bit of spice to the tune’s charming folksiness. A few more new additions to The Beatles’ repertoire was fuzz box for McCartney in Think For Yourself, French lyrics in Michelle, and a sped-up piano intended to mimic a harpsichord for In My Life.

The biggest contribution Rubber Soul provided the rock world, however, was the notion an album could have end-to-end great songs rather than consisting of filler servicing the singles. Yep, the entire pseudo-genre of Album Orientated Rock was birthed here!

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