Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tom Middleton - The Sound Of The Cosmos (Part 2: Music Review)

Hooj Choons: 2002

Rhythm, melody, and harmony: our most basic understanding of music. The beats stimulate the body, the notes stimulate the brain, and the chords stimulate the heart. Entire cultures have centered their arts around any one of these tenants, some even finding fascinating ways of combining them into works of creativity for the ages. Studies, essays, lectures and philosophies have spent countless words detailing and describing just what it is about these things that drive so much of humanity’s inexplicable appreciation of aesthetics. I, for one, shall not bore you with such ramblings, as I know we’re all listening to The Sound Of The Cosmos for a little bit of boogie action, and a nice afternoon chill sesh’ on the weekend. Plus quips. I know you love the quips.

As pretentious as a triple-disc set exploring aspects of rhythm, melody, and harmony may sound, Tom Middleton's approach is rather middle-of-the-road for such a concept. The tunes dug up don't stretch far beyond his comfort zone, much of it coming off like a mixtape rather than an industry changing ultra-set. I guess the fact this is a 3CD DJ mix was unique, made more so in that there's very little bandwagon jumping of trendy genres here. In fact, with all the deep house and downtempo jazzy vibes throughout, The Sound Of The Cosmos is incredibly noncommercial for its time, which likely helped sweeten the “Best Mix Of 2002” accolades every journalist was throwing Middleton's way. A high profile release lacking a pile of recognizable hits, where music comes first? Have all the ribbons, mate!

Still, a few high-profile tunes do make their way over the course of these three hours, none more so than Middleton's mash-up of Tiga & Zyntherius' Sunglasses At Night and New Order's Blue Monday. Quirky mash-ups of old and new hits were already buzzing in the underground, but this one crossed far enough into the public's awareness, it kicked off a brief period of everyone trying their hand at mash-ups; even Madonna! It's the sort of tune that works brilliantly as a climax, so it's hilariously cheeky on ol' Tom's part that he dumps it so early in CD1 (Rhythm), as though getting his one obvious anthem done and dusted so he can carry on with fresher tunes in his crate.

CD1 carries on with more rhythm-centric tunes, though if I’m honest, all this acid jazz and 2-step garage doesn’t do much for me. Maybe I’m just spoiled for the funkier electro earlier Middleton music offered, but any set that includes MJ Cole always gets a big ol’ “meh” from me. CD2, Melody, is all deep house all the time. Familiar names include John Beltran, Herbert, Ananda Project, Schmoov!, and Télépopmusik’s one big hit (also played out early in the set). It’s a good mix, but nothing I haven’t heard before.

Then there’s CD3, Harmony. It is one of the best morning-after downtempo and trip-hop mixes I’ve ever heard. ‘Nuff said.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tom Middleton - The Sound Of The Cosmos (Part 1: Historical Musings)

Hooj Choons: 2002

The Sound Of The Cosmos was a big deal when it dropped in ye' olde year of 2002, though I'm hard pressed in giving adequate reasons from a modern perspective. It's a class mix all around, no doubt, but were we really so enamoured by 3CD DJ mixes at the turn of the century? Not at all, the format actually rather rare as the 2CD route was the traditional method of letting a jock stretch their skills behind the decks (turntable or studio). Besides, with a market thoroughly saturated in DJ mix CDs and a consumer base not exactly flush with funds at the time, it was simply commercially viable sticking with a proven formula, folks more than willing to spring on double-disc sets. Anything more and you’re looking at box set compilations on the cheap(ish).

Let’s put it this way: even though a triple-disc set from Sasha, Digweed, Tenaglia or Cox would be a sure-fire money maker at the turn of the millennium, none of them did the deed, the buying public content with the 2CD format. Even after Mr. Middleton’s The Sound Of The Cosmos earned all the plaudits, praises and Best DJ Mix accolades, the market still stuck things out with single and double-disc rinse outs. A few triple-disc releases cropped up in Balance and Renaissance 3D, but it wasn’t until recent years that we’ve seen far more examples of the 3CD DJ mix, even if only as something intended for hardcore collectors. And yes, you may point out the irony what with the ol’ aluminum’s dwindling prospects as the public’s preferred playback method.

This leads us to our next quandary: why Tom Middleton? For sure he’s a respected name in the world of electronic music, his discography already filled with classics by the time this came out (Jedi Knights, Global Communication, Cosmos, Secret Ingredients), but not exactly well versed in the commercial DJ mix business. A couple outings for Mixmag aside, The Sound Of The Cosmos was his first proper release in the market, and Hooj Choons saw nothing less fitting than giving the Muzik Magazine Q&A columnist a three disc concept release as a debut. I guess they had no choice if he was to see his vision to fruition - centering mixes around the three main tenants of music wouldn’t do if relegated to portions of two CDs. Maybe Mr. Middleton was owed a few favours from Mr. Red Jerry.

More likely though, ol’ Tom had garnered so much positive karma within the industry that it was only appropriate that he get such a project green-lit by Hooj Choons. It also garnered him plenty of kudos from everyone who came within earshot of The Sound Of The Cosmos, an epic DJ mix that wilfully defied standards of the time, even setting off a few trends of its own. For details on that, however, check out Part 2 of this review. Hey, if In Trance We Trust 020 gets a two-parter, so does this.

Monday, September 28, 2015

LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver (Original TC Review)

DFA: 2007

(2015 Update:
Even though this review is nearly one-thousand words long, I feel it doesn't say much of anything anymore. Regarding how the music sounds, it isn't terribly informative, as I was desperately avoiding all the talking points and namedrops every other rag (printed and online) were throwing out; so, for all you completists, here's "Talking Heads" finally. My opening angle comes off silly now, given 'EDM' actually found its way back to the covers of rock magazines. Hell, Spin named Skrillex one of the Top 100 guitarists of all time, a feat that makes their Prodigy front-cover look positively quaint. Lastly, the writing's just clunky overall, my enthusiasm for the album sending me into ramblematic mode all too often.

But who cares about the content of this old review. Given the faddy hype that propelled LCD Soundsystem to the talk of tinsel town is well in the rear mirror, does
Sound Of Silver hold up at all? You bet, guy, though more for the themes James Murphy supplies than the music itself (does new wave punk ever date though?). Thoughts of an ever-changing music scene passing you by is a notion any fan can relate to, and coupling that with general trepidation of growing old makes for a bittersweet collection of songs, one that becomes more poignant the older you get. Ah well, at least we can still rabble-rouse with fellow North American scum.)


IN BRIEF: Stunning sophomore effort from the Soundsystem.

For as long as the indie rock media had to acknowledge ‘electronica’ as legitimate music, it’s been begrudgingly so. Granted, they by no means feel synths and sequencers are the bane of all music, and some of the more eclectic names have earned well-deserved praise. However, it’s been plainly obvious the electronic scene at large holds very little appeal to them. What, after all, is so exciting about watching a guy play records? Seeing a marginally talented rock band giving their all is far more electrifying than some guy jumping around behind a rack of gear as a couple of oddly-haired MCs shout nonsense (oh yes, you know Spin Magazine is still kicking themselves over their Prodigy cover story).

Which is why James Murphy has been a godsend for the indie rags. Here is an individual who embodies everything you’d expect in a Gen-X hipster, taking the very best qualities of disco dance and punk partying, and fusing them into his LCD Soundsystem project. His sound captures the spirit of rock better than any of the ‘electronica’ bands did, purely for the simple fact Murphy’s as much a part of New York City’s underground punk scene as he is the dance club circuit. Although he’s still more of an ambassador for EDM, he hardly feels constrained by that scene’s commandments.

For his sophomore effort, Murphy decided to blend styles even further rather than repeat LCD’s debut. If you’re looking for a tidy genre to lump Sound Of Silver in, you’ll leave a broken man. Disco punk is welcomed back to the party for sure, but funk, glam, house, acid, and even lounge are brought along for the ride this time. Nothing is too outlandish if Murphy feels it suits his muse.

Example? How about the first track Get Innocuous then? It starts out sounding like some sort of muffled techno, but as the song gets underway, loops of stuttery synths and pianos are added, with building crisp percussion injecting infectious vigor as it progresses. And then, once everything’s chugging along nicely, in comes Murphy, sounding like he’s tapping into some kind of Bowie inspiration. To top the track off, off-kilter orchestral arrangements swell as Nancy Whang - the female backing vocalist for LCD - speaks some dialogue to the rhythm. It’s definitely a strong opener, equally able to stand on its own but also builds the anticipation for what kind of eclecticism Sound Of Silver will bring next.

And Murphy does not disappoint. The snappy funk workout of Time To Get Away keeps this party going, followed with the lead single North American Scum, an unapologetic rabble-rouser much in the same vein of previous DFA disco punk offerings. Although it may hint at a dissatisfaction of having to deal with New York’s less-than-stellar party scene, Murphy seems to shrug it off and encourage his fellow continent-men to celebrate their scummyness nonetheless. After all, why should the Europeans have a monopoly on hedonism?

Most of the tracks from here show no compromises in eschewing conventional song forms. Some are mellower, some rowdier, and sometimes wildly disparate form beginning to end. If there is any kind of predictability to them, it’s they often start out simple and build to a riveting climax. Of course, this isn’t an uncommon method of song writing, and was even apparent in the previous album. However, the sound collages on this album are far more unique than the ones on LCD were. The addition of Tyler Pope (from !!!) into the writing mix along with Patrick Mahoney certainly can be felt from this.

What really sets this album apart from its predecessor though, is a sense of maturity in Murphy’s lyrics. They tend to be more reflective, even somber at times, often painting a picture of “A Day In The Life Of...” with his musings. This combination with the already strong instrumentation creates an enthralling listening experience as you can often hear his voice cracking under his attempts to reach the notes his emotion reaches for. Fortunately, Murphy wisely keeps his tongue in cheek, balancing things with his sense of playfulness so the songs don’t drown in melodrama.

As Sound Of Silver heads into the final stretch, Murphy provides a pair of tracks that will appeal more directly to his two main fanbases: Watch The Tapes for the punks; Sound Of Silver for the clubbers. And to cap the album off, he does a quaint serenade to his home city. With its unassuming start leading into a cacophony of aggression, New York, I Love You... is a fitting exclamation point on this spirited release.

Normally at the end of these Recommended Reviews, we will throw in some justifiable reason as to why, if you aren’t a fan of a particular genre, you should check out the album anyway. In Sound Of Silver’s case though, I don’t even have to do this. Sure, some of the anally retentive genre-whores may scoff at the idea of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘rocktronica’ nature having actual appeal to them, but I’m sure that would change the moment they throw this on. Murphy’s sound encompasses such a wide palette with irresistibly catchy music, fans of good-natured tunes will enjoy this regardless of their dedicated following.

If there can be one complaint, it’s that the album is a bit short. Oh, not in the sense that he needed to pad this out with filler or something. Rather, Sound Of Silver feels like a party that you wish could have kept going longer, had the cops not come in and busted it early... here in North America...

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

Various - Sound Of Acid Core 3

Cyber Production: 1997

For years I saw this – or some volume of it – advertised in another compilation of mine. It sat alongside titles like Illegal Techno and Acid Trancecore, all sporting similar cheesy CGI art featuring smiley faces turned scowling, menacing, or looking like hooligans in cartoon settings. And I was fascinated by these CDs, believe you me. They weren’t on local shelves, and the eye-catching stamp of 'Techno Import' gave it that extra Old World allure, that I was dealing with something from the Proper Underground of clublands I'd never have a chance of visiting. Plus, how could I not find appeal in such a daftly titled compilation like Acid Sound Of Core? What even is the acid sound of ‘core? Like, hardcore music with acid? Or psychedelic music that’s so ‘core, I could never know the score? What weird, mysterious sounds might I find on these discs? Eh, what do you mean I'm saying it wrong?

Actually, if I may be so bold as to start out of traditional reviewing sequence, ‘Acid Sound Of Core’ pretty much sums up CD2. The first few tracks are your standard bangin’ acid techno of the mid-‘90s, including a right squelcher from Acrid Abeyance’s Minimalistic with Commander Tom on the rub. Following that though, the acid retreats in favour of pure bosh by the likes of Scarecrow, DJ Edge, and Dyewitness. Okay, I don’t know much about any of these guys, only that this is straight up hard to the core music, and initially caught me off guard for some reason. I should have expected the gabber beats, hoover anthems, and old school spastic breaks to show up in a compilation with “core” in the title, but not stuff that was sounding a tad dated by 1997. It doesn’t even seem like the compilers were searching for the greatest, overlooked underground hardcore anthems, just whatever they could licence that had some acid tweakage available.

CD2 finishes with two tracks that are acid, but definitely not ‘core; in fact, they’re trance, Microwave Prince’s Cycle Evolution has a strong enough beat, barely fitting the ‘core theme, but not so with Emmanuel Top’s Stress. Compared to all the boshing boosh prior, it’s downright minimal, subdued, and absurdly long at nearly eleven minutes in length. I never thought I’d say this about having an E.Top track in a compilation, but I feel cheated here.

As for CD1, there’s not a whole lot of surprises. Hard acid techno pretty much has one mode, and though the 303 may alter its patterns, effects, and knob twiddling from track to track, the rhythms remain in forward drive and go. Some names of note here are Dave The Drummer, Lochi, Dr. Octopus, plus assorted well knowns under one-off pseudonyms. Caspar Pound’s hiding with Temple Of Acid, Liberator and DDR opt for A+E Dept, and Manu Le Malin gets an assist from... Draft Ponk? Lord Discogs, are these the same French guys you’re suggesting? Never would have expected them on a hard acid techno collection.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

ACE TRACKS: March 2013

Man, how did September fly by like this? Normally I get one of these backtrack Playlists out by mid-month, yet here’s end-month rearing its head, and I’m way behind on this. I blame Spotify. No, not because another one of their updates buggered things up again, but the fact it’s running decently now, and it’s given me an opportunity to obsess over minutia in my collection. That got me itchin’ to re-organize my CDs once more, which needed some work anyway. I prefer keeping things together by music type, but I’ve gathered so many releases from particular labels now (Ultimae, Waveform, Moonshine, Fabric …um, In Trance We Trust), that it’s only right to stack them as a family too. And what of different eras of a particular genre? House alone has gone through numerous stages of development, so shouldn’t they be organized as such too? Then there’s the matter of artists and comp- ah, forget it. No wonder so many go the Big Cardboard Box In A Storage Locker route. Meanwhile, here’s some music from The Cloud that I reviewed back in March 2013.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Samim - Flow
Zenith - Flowers Of Intelligence
Khooman - Is A Flexible Liquid
Carol C - First Impressions
Nobuo Uematsu - Final Fantasy VII: Original Soundtrack
The Dust Brothers - Fight Club
Various - Family Tree
Überzone - Faith In The Future

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 3%
Percentage Of Roc k: 5%
Most “WTF?” Track: The Fight Club tracks I guess, though that’s intentionally so on the Dust Brothers’ part.

Wait, I can’t put my CDs in storage. Just look at all those albums that Spotify doesn’t have! Good ones too, like Flowers Of Intelligence, Faith In The Future, Fight Club, and the OST of Final Fantasy VII! I guess Samim’s Flow was supposed to rest in that pedigree too, but as all records of his existence disappeared a year after having that summer hit, I don’t blame Spotify for not knowing of its existence. And if my digital backups suddenly go *poof* in a moment of external harddrive failure, how will I satisfy a whim in hearing Carol C’s delicious atmospheric jungle mix again? Back in the towers you all go!

As for the music that did make it, this was the month I reviewed all the Fahrenheit Projects from Ultimae, so expect a huge chunk of that. There’s also Vitalic’s Flashmob right at the very end, and scatterings of electroclash, metal, rap, and not much else. Yeah, sorry, the unavailability factor seriously nerfed the diversity of another playlist.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Coldcut - Sound Mirrors (2015 Update)

Ninja Tune: 2006

Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.

Here we are, nearly a decade since Coldcut dropped what thus far looks to be a final album. They still may make room for another – Sound Mirrors and their previous LP, Let Us Play!, had a similar gap – but I guess their muses haven't needed an indulging of the production console lately. Did they turn jaded their Big Issues Album didn't garner much impact? All the Important Messages and sloganeering amounted to one big 'meh' from club culture, to say nothing of disinterest from the rest of the music world. Not that they had much chance. Green Day couldn't do it. Dixie Chicks couldn't do it. Hell, if even Neil F'n Young couldn't get folks riled enough to impeach the President, Coldcut sure ain't gonna' turn the tide in the face of such overwhelming apathy. But ooh, look at the glowing pyramid those Daft Punk robots made. Oooh, such shiny, much jangly!

Maybe we should have listened though. Playing this ten year old collection of music and lyrics again, my God how did we ever survive the ‘00s? The world was in total collapse, decaying before our very ears as heard in A Whistle And A Prayer. Corporations were running amok, controlling our every whim (Man In A Garage), providing us absolutely soulless escapism in canned mainstream music (Just For The Kick). Government spies and spooks lurked everywhere (Boogie Man), obviously controlled by higher powers above, abroad, underneath, and ether-wheres (Everything Is Under Control). Even those who proclaim doing good in the world are shady fucks, milking and bilking the wretched for personal gains (Aid Dealer). Dear lord, no wonder poor ol' Mr. Nichols wanted to jump from a building – either all of society was doomed, or you had to flee to the outbacks and live your life as a dirty hippie, essentially isolated and in denial of global issues.

Obviously, that isn’t an accurate portrayal of the haughty Aughties. Hell, I'm sure many would argue that we're worse off now than in that cheery year of 2006, what with crippling recessions, rapid climate change, increased racial strife, and endless sectarian violence. Pity Mr. Nichols if he decided the things worrying him weren't enough to end his life. Are things truly so dire though? We got problems, no doubt, but an abundance of protest music there doth lack in our current climes. Maybe artists only get riled up when there's a Republican President.

Or perhaps with global shrinkage comes greater understanding of the world we live in. A better track off Sound Mirrors, the Robert Owens featuring Walk A Mile In My Shoes, is one of the few times the album provides an actual solution to solving issues instead of just ranting about all that’s wrong. While it may not be possible to literally live the lives of others, social media certainly gave us more access to understanding the people in such positions. And more knowledge will only help the march of progress for all. (weee! Soapboxing is fun!)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tau Ceti - Somnium

Umbra: 2004

Tau Ceti is a star that shares spectral characteristics with the sun, and is one of the closest to our solar system. Though slightly smaller in mass, the fact it's a single-star system has tantalized many a speculative fiction author into suggesting Earth-like worlds exist there. These worlds may serve as outposts for a human race on the cusp of galaxy exploration, or they may even have life of their own. Come to think of it, Spock's home world is located in the Tau Ceti system! What's cool is astronomers have recently detected planets about Tau Ceti, though as the system is apparently clogged with debris, it’s not the most hospitable locale as we know it. Where is though, in the cosmos? Where can we as a species venture that isn't out to deep freeze us, suck us into oblivion, or shred our DNA with impossibly small, radiated projectiles? I mean, if Tau Ceti is one of the better nearby options, what would hangin' out near Sirius be like? Seriously dangerous, I don't doubt!

All of this has nothing to do with Tau Ceti, the producer, one Enrico Cosimi to the Italian Information Bureau. Okay, maybe he was inspired by the T.C. system as depicted in sci-fi stories, but far as I can tell, it's simply an alias plucked for how cool sounding it is. I’m honestly surprised it hadn’t been taken by a one-off techno or trance producer (though Lord Discogs notes a hopelessly obscure ‘80s goth band). There is a light space theme with Mr. Cosimi’s music, other releases coming with names like Frozen Planet, Pulsar, and Borealis, but that’s about par for the course when it comes to drone ambient of this sort.

Yep, once again, we’re in the realm of super-long single track albums, this time taking in something from the Umbra print, an Italian ambient label set up by the late Oöphoi. In fact, Tau Ceti often collaborated with Oöphoi, while also participating in a ‘super-group’ of sorts called Nebula that included Klaus Wiese, Mauro Malgrande, and Lorenzo Pierobon. Any ambient follower should have heard a couple of these names, most emerging in the ‘90s following in the footsteps of Steven Roach and (namedrop, namedrop, etc.), carving out a significant slice of history’s droning ambient pie. Flooding the market with limited run CDrs will do that for a label.

Somnium was part of one such flooding on Tau Ceti’s part, when he released around a half-dozen LPs in 2004 (he’d go the ‘shorter’ single track EP route after). Don’t let the cover art fool you into thinking this is some angelic New Age meditation outing, Somnium quite dark in its droning ways. Essentially four parts, the first focuses on minimalist vibrations, then morphs into a quiet, slow drone oscillation. Some forty minutes deep, it abruptly changes into layered droning timbres, then proceeds with the obligatory long fade-out. Not much going on in all then, but at least there’s some sense of progression throughout.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

John O'Callaghan - Something To Live For (Original TC Review)

Discover: 2007

(2015 Update:
This was something of a flashpoint review for yours truly, where my bitter resentment of gratuitous Dutch trance and all its associated marketing and such started to wane, allowing my tentative steps back into covering the world of eurotrance. Good thing too, since that was kinda' the point of a website called TranceCritic anyway; plus, I don't know how much more dark, twisted psy trance our readers could take anyway. You can still see some of my cynicism come through, especially when I get to DJ Governor's remix of
Exactly, but I was definitely more forgiving of O'Callaghan's sappier moments on this album. What's funny is I've rather softened on the remix, while I don't much care for the original Exactly anymore.

That's generally the case with much of
Something To Live For though. A few moments do continue ticking the nostalgia endorphins, but the production comes off more amateur and sloppy now, especially with the all-pervasive Discover Kick. Man, a lot of trance guys were going hard with their kicks around that time. All said though, I still like this one far better than the tepid tunes off O'Callaghan's second LP, Never Fade Away. Assembler chews up Big Sky and spits it into the gutter drain, yo'.)


IN BRIEF: Quite nostalgic, I have to admit.

Trance seems to be migratory. A favored sound will spring up somewhere in Europe and that region’s style will dominate for a while. Eventually, a new region will repeat the process, usurping the previous one as the leading tastemaker, and so it goes. For a long time though, the Dutch dominated trance when they outshined (and out-market) the British, the former leaders. But as the Dutch empire begins to crumble around them, other regions have started to scramble for the coveted prize as trance’s tastemaker. At first it appeared the Germans were poised to retake their thrown after years of playing second fiddle to other nations, but their victory parade may need to be put on hold for a moment. For an unlikely upstart beckons from the northwest: the Irish! ...kind of.

Okay, really it’s just Discover Records, and half their roster is made up of Englishmen anyway. But their associates form the Isle Of Guinness Ale were responsible for a hefty chunk of the big trance singles of 2006, and you can be assured they’ll use that momentum to carry them through this year. The reason for their success is simple - or rather simplicity. They aren’t interested in grand theatrics or overwrought compositions. Discover’s trance is only out to supercharge the party with simple hooks, driving rhythms, and ‘no bullshit’ attitude. Oh, and that kick! It punches hard, and overpowers everything in its path. They’ve certainly gotten plenty of mileage out of it.

Leading the charge of Irish producers is John O’Callaghan, who through various aliases, collaborations, and remixes has built up a sizable back-catalogue these past few years. Time for a full-length album then, eh?

Opting to provide as much old and new material in this release as he can, John offers two discs: the pretentiously titled Concept CD, and a Club CD containing extended, alternate, and additional tracks, mainly for DJ usage. Since Concept is the main show though, let’s dig into that first.

Straight up, there is very little concept going on here. O’Cally has simply taken his tracks and made a makeshift DJ mix out of them. And he even doesn’t do much in that department either, only using quick cross-fades for his transitions. And in an act that will probably annoy his fans, the tracks aren’t given much breathing room, usually left in the dust in under five minutes. Yeah, basic ideas going on here. If you want a trance album with some actual concept behind it, try some L.S.G.

However, where Something To Live For succeeds is in track arrangement. Aside from the first few songs, the flow on this album is quite good. Sure, the transitions are often herky-jerky, but most of the tracks go well one after the other. Stretches of John’s techier bangers are every so often broken up with a welcome slice of epic trance, allowing their melodies to shine brilliantly. And for all you young DJs out there, this is a GOOD THING! Don’t let an epic moment be wasted by drowning it with redundancy in your mixes, kids. Space those peak tracks out.

Of course, plenty of O’Cally’s previous gems are included here: The Chamber, Vendetta, Elevator Dance-Off, and, naturally, Exactly. As for the new stuff, most of it seems made to complement this disc’s flow rather than stand out on its own; they don’t get much of a chance making an impression with these short running times. Fortunately, most of the better offerings can be found on the Club disc. How are they, you ask? Space & Time spaceily chugs and bangs, Sunday 1am tranceily drives and bangs, and Assembler grimily really fucking bangs. Er... yeah. They do bang a lot, these tracks. All of them, for that matter, and if you want more to your rhythms than pumping energy, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

This is John’s style though: simple bangin’ tech-trance. As mentioned, the kick pounds, and he’d be foolish to try and out-match it. Instead, he makes ample use of working around it with effective rhythms and supplies subtle trancey hooks or throbbing riffs to complement them; the few times any melody takes the lead is usually in a collaboration. And none of this is terribly innovative either. In fact, aside from the better production values (re: shit be louder, son!), a great deal of the material on Something To Live For sounds like it could have been produced in 1998, right down to the same synths. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of throwback album, right down to the cheesy cover.

But you know what? Even though I’ve often been critical of others for not moving with the times, it’s actually okay here. If you’re going to tap a former year of trance for your inspiration, you could do far worse than 1998. Trance in those days was doing just fine: hooks were catchy, rhythms had power, and breakdowns were far from the ridiculous lengths they would become. John seems to be fully aware of how important keeping some semblance of momentum in your tracks is during a lull. This is probably how trance would be sounding had that whole Dutch wave never occurred (incidentally, not that different from Paul van Dyk’s older style, so I guess the Germans are still poised to take over after all).

If you need proof of how much better this simpler form of trance is over the bloated forms that would come later, look no further than the big hit on here, Exactly. The original produced by O’Cally and Bryan Kearny is a classic epic tune, with a simple catchy melody introduced without dawdling on the way to get to it, and neither milking the moment with grotesque theatrics. And on the Club disc, we have DJ Governor’s remix, and it’s a bloated beast indeed. Like so much Dutch trance, there are tons of extraneous whooshes and washes all over the place, very little of which serves much purpose. Eventually the full-stop breakdown starts, and it lasts a long time before we’re back into the action - I lost count after the three minute mark. During the breakdown, Governor introduces an additional wanky guitar bit that is horrid. His remix is only salvaged once Exactly’s main hook is finally - finally - brought in during the build, and even then all the fluff dilutes its effectiveness. This is a pompous piece of trance bombast that anyone with a clue will see right through. *whew*

So, with all this in mind, should you get John O’Callaghan’s debut album? Simply put, he doesn’t overreach his bounds, and serves up his bangin’ trance as is; it’s a fun disc to throw on if you prefer the simpler techier side of trance. So long as you don’t think too much about The Big Picture and let the beats to do their job, Something To Live For will serve you fine.

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dieselboy - A Soldier's Story

Moonshine Music: 1999

Few DJs are as influential in America's jungle scene as Dieselboy. There were some respectable names, sure, but as most d'n'b trends were dictated by the hierarchy of the UK, any rinser in the lands of eagles were obligated to follow suit. For the most part, so did one Damien Higgins, but as tech-step of yore started its morph into darkstep of yaye, the Dieslely One somehow turned those aggressive sounds into his own, rising to the high ranks of all jungle jocks throughout the Western Hemisphere. Few could match his furious mixing skills and relentless track selection, often hoarding all the best, unreleased material from the genre's elite (Technical Itch, Decoder, Dom & Roland, etc.). Of course, it didn't hurt he was among the first to truly push darkstep as jungle's future, setting himself apart from his contemporary late adopters. Savvy move on his part, that particular style still finding plenty of fans fifteen years on.

Making his debut with America’s former preeminent electronic music label Moonshine Music is A Soldier’s Story ...kinda’. Though much of Dieselboy’s early career was marked by the mixtape circuit, he released a couple CDs as well, though most flew well under the radar. One was even released on Philly-based Sixeleven Records, a print almost entirely known for house music. Another came care of Sub Base Records, but as Moonshine handled their distribution, that could technically be considered Mr. Higgins’ first major exposure. But no, this one, right here, right then, was Dieselboy’s proper coming out party for the greater U.S. of A. (plus Canadaland), ready to stand toe-to-toe with other American favourites like AK1200 and DJ Dara. He, um, didn’t quite knock it out of the park.

Oh, A Soldier’s Story definitely is a manifesto on Dieselboy’s part, coming in early with the burgeoning neurofunk style before letting a few Tech’ Itch cuts drop serious damage on your ears. Jump up is dead. Jazzstep is dead. All the old jungle genres are dead; obey your darkstep overlords. Jonny L and Danny Breaks can join in the celebration feast though. Some of the scene’s newer blood also make appearances with DJ Friction, Markus Intalex (or ‘Mark Da Intallex’ as he’s credited here), and, um, Kosheen. Hey, it was Decoder’s pet, that group, and we at least get a proper fierce remix on Yes Man for that cut. It’s also about as ‘vocal’ as A Soldier’s Story gets – Dieselboy ain’t having none of that sing-along E-Z Rollers anthemy shite, mate.

So a solid set in the darkstep mold, but that’s pretty much all it is straight through, little variation or twists thrown our way. That’s fine if you just want a pummelling CD, but a strong, memorable mix knows when to drop tangents without losing flow. Some might suggest that’s just the way Dieselboy does things, but his follow-up mix for Moonshine, System_Upgrade, did provide those spicy variants, making for a much stronger CD in the process. Damn, wish I still had that one.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Photek - Solaris

Virgin: 2000

Photek’s Solaris is almost legendary in how it divided a jungle nation. It didn’t have to be so. Drum ‘n’ bass was in fine shape at the turn of the millennium, though could have used more of Mr. Parkes’ refined approach to the craft of intelligent tech-step drum programming. Despite a few doing their own spin on the Photek stylee, (word to the Source Direct crew, yo'), other producers weren’t replicating it en masse. Still, for as generally healthy the d'n'b scene was, it had lost much of the commercial and critical clout it once earned in the '90s, Mr. Parkes' absence perhaps partly responsible for those dwindling times. That junglists were expecting- nay, counting upon another Modus Operani to remind the general club 'n' rave populace of their chosen sound's supreme standing is understandable. No less so, then, the betrayal many felt when Photek said nuts to all that, going his own way down paths no true junglists ever dared ventured.

An ocean and sky blue cover notwithstanding, fans had to suspect something was up when lead single Terminus dropped. Also the opener on Solaris, it’s a seriously funky outing with banging and clanking drum work, sounding more like some of Orbital’s output than much of Photek’s prior work (seriously though, that bass drop in the middle!). Infinity was more in line with the sort of tech-step d’n’b heads enjoyed from Mr. Parkes though, so perhaps the full album would offer up more like it. Oh, such innocent thoughts those were.

Second track Junk carries on with the Terminus style, though creeping much closer to techno’s realm than Photek had wandered before. Then Glamourama hits and, oh my God, it’s a house beat! How dare he! How dare he! How dare he? Wait, why is my head bobbin’? Ergh, argh, must. Resist. Deep. Groove.

Haha, foolish junglist, Photek has you in his house clutches now, and to keep you there, here’s Mine To Give, as vintage a Chicago throwback as you could get in the year 2000, including a guest vocal from Robert Owens, a singer featured on many classic Trax Records tracks. As if throwing a bone to the ‘deebee’ faithful, Can’t Come Down gets back to the d’n’b side of things, though on a much chiller scale than anything heard in the Photek discography before. Was he daring LTJ Bukem to play one of his records? The second half of Solaris isn’t nearly as dynamic as the first, if anything flickering down with more claustrophobic house (Solaris) and trip-hop (Halogen, Lost Blue Heaven), but hoo, what an impression side one imparted.

Of course, given this would be the last Photek album for over a decade, the vitriol leveled on Solaris faded, folks wondering if he’d ever drop another LP again. Mr. Parkes would occasionally return to jungle in that time, and his genre explorations garnered him more respect abroad for taking such a chance with his music, succeeding even in the face of predictable backlash.

Friday, September 18, 2015

AstroPilot - Solar Walk III: Event Horizon

Altar Records: 2014

Why settle for one sequel when you can make a trilogy out of a concept? Hell, an entire franchise if one is so bold, though such projects are usually reserved for DJ mixes, not artist albums. Here we are though, now three albums deep into AstroPilot's Solar Walk endeavour, where the ambient side of Mr. Redko's muse gets to roam wild and free. And as I mentioned in the previous two Solar Walk reviews, if you prefer your trapstyle with wailing disco divas in a techno dungeon, then what the Hell are you doing looking at a psy-chill release?

Solar Walk 2 would be a difficult one to top, taking successful elements of the first and refining them into pure sonic excellence. It wouldn’t be a demerit in Dmitriy’s discography if he repeated that album – ample amounts of grand space ambient drone, with a couple outings in psy-chill’s more rhythmic styles for flavour. Heck, he might even taken the concept to a whole new level. Like, beyond the limit of our understanding in the realms of musical reality, where time and timbre have no meaning. Why, you might even call it crossing the sonic event horizon! Then again, if AstroPilot could achieve such a feat, I’m not sure how I’d be capable of listening to Solar Walk III in the first place. Should my feeble cochlea hope to comprehend of music of this calibre?

Obviously this album is nothing like that. A bit surprising though, is the fact Mr. Redko did change the format, going strictly ambient all the way through for his third constitutional across stellar photons. It’s also a different sort of ambient than to the previous Solar Walks, comparatively darker and subtle as though he’s finally succumb to what ‘proper’ space ambient should sound like. None of this massive, wall-of-synth opulence of the cosmos, but humbling respect of the impossibly vast emptiness that truly encompasses the universe.

Okay, we’re not dealing with Lustmord levels of bleakness here. AstroPilot still skilfully paints his sonic canvas with layered pads, harmonized synths, and even adds melodic moments that could serve as minor leitmotifs were this translated to the visual medium. Yet whereas Solar Walk and its sequel sold the notion of space as a place rapturous and inviting, Event Horizon firmly reminds us how limited humanity truly is in the grand scheme of things. There’s still wonders to behold, but damn if we’re gonna’ struggle to unravel them all. Titles like Millions Lights Years Away, Distant Worlds, Farscape, Whiff Of Eternity, and even Relict Emanation help sell this concept to a tee’.

As for what prompted Mr. Redko into such a drastic change in his Solar Walk project, he lists Event Horizon as something of a tribute to the ambient composers that inspired his own musical development. This includes classic names like Eno, Roach, and Boddy, to more recent ones like Biosphere, Alio Die, and ...Bad Sector? Oh man, add another producer I gotta’ dig onto The List.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

AstroPilot - Solar Walk 2

Altar Records: 2012

Much better than the first! Not that Solar Walk was bunk, but you hope a sequel improves upon a concept’s successful attributes. It’s always a crap shoot though, some efforts simply retreading the same music with slight variations to warrant the sequel tag. Other times there’s almost no common link between the two, the repeated use of a title nothing more than capitalizing on brand recognition. Given AstroPilot’s comparatively small market penetration, however, I highly doubt the latter is the case here. Nay, it’s all the more likely Solar Walk turned into a suitable outlet for his ambient and chill-out productions, and retaining a series title for those productions helps clue listeners that, yes indeed, that’s what you’re in for heading in. If you prefer AstroPilot on the uptempo take, you’d best not bother with any edition of Solar Walk.

No, wait, Solar Walk 2 does bring the beats too. Well, about as ‘beatrific’ as a dedicated chill-out album can go, but this is AstroPilot we’re talking about here, a chap who can make a brisk BPM cut sound as calm as any piece of meditative ambient drone. Hell, there’s one such track on here with Patterns Of Awareness (also the longest tune at nearly fifteen minutes in length). Another one is Betelgeuse, the second longest cut on Solar Walk 2 at twelve-point-five minutes, and employing a dynamic bit of escalating rhythm at that, the sort that could work as the climax on a standard tempo album of psy-chill and dub music. And here’s Mr. Redko dropping one on a CD supposedly dedicated to ambient space music. Even the first Solar Walk never got this intense with its lone prog-psy detour.

Ambient is what Solar Walk aims to showcase though, and ambient is what we get in droves. In terms of style, AstroPilot retains the maximal approach to the craft, layering pads and effects with such intensity, it sometimes feels like you’re being crushed by their immense, droning sonics. Yet nothing ever comes off overbearing or harsh, as though this foreboding cosmic plane envelopes and embraces your being rather than pulverizes your sanity with feelings of endless isolation. Whoa, I’m getting way deep here, aren’t I?

If this all sounds similar to the sort of ambient AstroPilot composed in Solar Walk, it is, but it’s also much more well produced too. There’s more separation and space between the multiple layers of sound, such that it’s easier to focus on distinct sounds and timbre should you so choose. There’s also more sense of progression within the tracks themselves, less emphasis on supplying heavy drone for indeterminate time. Instead, the sparse melodic ideas help paint a richer sonic canvas, allowing one’s imagination greater immersion for all your space travel needs. Finally, Solar Walk 2 isn’t continuously mixed, which greatly helps in taking in individual pieces as distinct forms from each other. It’s a small thing, but it’s easier to enjoy ambient when you’re not second-guessing if you’re dealing with a different composition.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

AstroPilot - Solar Walk

Altar Records: 2010

Solar Walk was what piqued my curiosity enough to start diving into AstroPilot's discography. Not because I'd heard tracks elsewhere, or it came highly recommended by psy-ambient experts abroad (are there such folk?). Nay, it came down to the same ol' reason that always afflicts my impulse buying habits: there's a cosmic theme afoot, and I'm never sated on that space music stylee. Hell, the alias Mr. Redko chose for his work intrigued me alone, though having tracks appear on Russian space-race tribute compilation Absence Of Gravity and the final Fahrenheit Project from Ultimae were definitely added incentives to dig further. Then when I searched the Amazons for some affordable options on AstroPilot material, I discovered not only did he have an album called Solar Walk (*squee!*), but a follow-up (*-eeeeeee!*), plus a companion LP called Star Walk (*-eeeeeequss!*). Well, there goes that week's allowance.

What distinguishes the Solar Walk series from AstroPilot’s other albums is the heavy focus on ambient and chill music. I’m not sure if ol’ Dmitriy always intended to seperate his dancefloor friendly material and meditation tent efforts, but it’s not such a bad idea in the long run, especially for a chap as prolific as he. Maybe it was just a coincidence he’d end up alternating between the two styles of album material. Less odd is the fun-fact Solar Walk was his kick-off with Altar Records. Hell, for that matter, this was Altar Records’ album kick-off in general, their first non-compilation release featuring outside talent (re: not DJ Zen at the helm). It certainly was style that fit with the fledgling psy-chill print out of Quebec, a deeply ambient outing with ample layers of pad work and... um, not much else, to be honest.

This isn’t to say we’re in for an hour-long excursion of minimalist drone, the tracks on here incredibly dense in timbre. In fact, for ambient, many of these compositions are rather loud and vast, as though AstroPilot intends his music to sound like nothing less than the grand scope of an endless infinity above. I guess ‘heavenly’ is another apt adjective for this music, but that strikes me as a tad sappy for what we do get, though the spiritual connotations are hard to dismiss. Get all in on that chakra healing, yo’!

Eight tracks make up Solar Walk, some rather short (opener Languor, darker Space Ghosts), others ridiculously long (nineteen minutes of Inside The Harmony). Honestly though, track lengths are almost meaningless where this album’s concerned, each composition continuously mixed into the next. Unless you’re completely focused on the nuances of AstroPilot’s pad work or shifts in tone, three tracks could go by without you realizing it. A couple do offer rhythms, including a gradual reveal of prog-psy groove in God’s Channel, but even with these deviations, Solar Walk mostly plays out like one long piece of layered ambient drone, often lacking distinct musical moments along the way. Still, it’s better than your standard laptop noodle wank.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Peter Gabriel - So

Geffen Records: 1986

The only Peter Gabriel album you're supposed to have, even if you're not a Peter Gabriel fan. Unless, that is, you were already a Peter Gabriel fan, enjoying his work with the O.G. Genesis line-up and his following art-rock solo work. Then So is probably seen as a wack, commercial sell-out of an album, courting easy money with huge hits like Sledgehammer and In Your Eyes. Hell, he even gave this record a proper title after his first four were eponymous. That reeks of corporate interference, and it t’was, his label insisting a title so they could market it easier. Man, did they ever, So a mandatory inclusion in any generic advertising shot of CD collections. It worked though, convincing me to 'splurge' on So after spotting it in a supermarket bargain bin. Anything from the '80s with that much public prominence must have some merit to it beyond the recognizable hits, right?

Sure, although this album feels so ‘80s, it almost hurts. Part of that is strictly the production standard of the time, what with the copious reverb and hall effects the decade adored, so if you can’t stand that sound, walk on by. Granted, Mr. Gabriel was partly responsible for it becoming popular in the first place, among the first employing that distinct flat, echoing drum kick everyone associates with Regean Era rock. It also doesn’t hurt having Daniel Lanois as a co-producer either, most famous for lending his talents to U2’s most endearing work. He, too, has an inescapable ‘80s aesthetic, but his widescreen style definitely suits the ambitious, ultra-dense song-writing of Gabriel, so it’s a good pairing in this case.

You know what else was big in the ‘80s? Issues, man. Globalization was rearing its head, and people in prominent positions were all on that raising awareness shtick, Gabriel no less so than any of his musical peers. Opener Red Rain drops plenty of issues afflicting the world, the title alone a not-so subtle metaphor for the blood spilled for unjust causes. Meanwhile, gentle ballad Don’t Give Up narrows the focus closer to Gabriel’s country dealing with Thatcherism. And despite the upbeat funk of the song suggesting otherwise, Big Time is a condemnation of ‘80s consumerism. An unaware Patrick Bateman would approve if he wasn’t already a fan of Collins-era Genesis.

Finally, with world issues the hot topic of social conscience ‘80s folk, it also brought in more awareness of ethnic music. Gabriel was already a fan of such fusions, but with some pop sensibilities, he helped bring worldy sounds to Western radios in Sledgehammer (Eastern woodwinds!), Red Rain (Africa!), and Mercy Street (Brazilian forró!).

That didn’t stop him from getting his art-rock on at the end of So though. We Do What We’re Told has a meditative, rhythmic drone going for it, while This Is The Picture gets beat-jammy with Nile Rodgers and... wait, that bass tone. Could it be...? *checks credits* Laswell. Again with the Laswell. What is he, the Kevin Bacon of bass?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Snap! - Snap! Attack: The Remixes

BMG: 1996

Look, you know the hits, but their omnipresence within radioland, videoland, and sports-arenaland may have soured folks who'd been swayed in by The Power and Rhythm Is A Dancer. Why should they bother with a remix of a dance tune they only tolerate as it is, then? They wouldn't, hence clubland the only place having much use for a remix CD, and even then it’s suspect. Maybe DJs were wholly on board the Snap! train early on, but all that success tainted the underground's perspective of them. Thus, jocks that could get mileage out of Snap! remixes likely weren't having them in their rotation - not even the pop DJs, who'd just play the originals anyway.

That leaves the hardcore Snap! fans that’d collect everything they put out (*cough*). Yet such a following had significantly dwindled by the time this came out, concurrently with a ‘Best Of’ CD (dying career alert!). Not to mention the messy departing of rapper Turbo B excised his vocals from all of these tracks, including in an updating of The Power, titled The Power 96. As this is post Welcome To Tomorrow Snap!, gone are any sort of rugged, hip-house rhythms and urban vibe, replaced with standard eurodance beats and trance pads. The tune needs a rap though, and as ragga still had some popularity, in comes Turbo B’s replacement, Einstein, a euro rapper who’d been around since the late ‘80s. He’s adequate for what the tune’s accomplishing, but Snap!’s production had definitely lost an edge. The following two remixes are also by Anzilotti and Münzing (Snap!’s producers), and also aren’t much to get fussed about: Cult Of Snap! tries getting a deeper, tribal feel going, limply so, while Welcome To Tomorrow is... Look, the tune was already hammy to begin with, and ain’t no way they’d make it any better.

Fortunately, Snap! Attack: The Remixes turns remarkably fantastic following that, featuring a list of remixers that have to be heard to be believed. Oliver Lieb is here! Rollo and Sister Bliss are here! Dance 2 Trance is here! David Morales is here! Torsten Fenslau is here! Stonebridge is here! Even Resistance F’n D. is here! How on Earth did Snap! ever court such an A-list roster of house and trance producers? I’ll grant a bunch of them are German, and Snap! seemed buddies with just about every well-regarded name in that scene (remember Off with Väth?), so maybe it’s not so surprising after all.

Nor are the quality of these remixes either. Each lend their distinct sounds to their respective tunes (Resistance D. do the acid, Rollo and Bliss do the arena anthem, Dance 2 Trance the squalling, pitch-bending sawwave synths, Morales the bumpin’ New York garage, Lieb the... Lieb, I guess), with only the proto-Faithless rub of Rhythm Is A Dancer coming off weak (that ‘kick’ ...ugh). This unexpected (undeserved?) all-star cast of remixers is about the only selling point for Snap! Attack, but hoo, what a selling point it is.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Kitaro - Silk Road II

Polydor: 1980

It's negligent discussing Kitaro's early career without bringing up The Silk Road. The seminal archaeological series was already a remarkable achievement for documentaries, among the first major ones produced in the Far East, and often highly regarded alongside Western greats like Attenborough's Life series and Sagan's Cosmos. It provided an intimate look at China's historical sights and locales, many of which had never been filmed or photographed during the nation’s reclusive years, much less exposed to the world. And as with so many of these sorts of shows, the soundtrack was vital to its success as a series. Just as you can't think of Cosmos without thinking of music from Vangelis, so it is with The Silk Road and Kitaro.

For anyone who’s watched the series, sounds of synthesized Far East harmonies is practically synonymous with the image of camel caravans traversing the desert against a setting sun. And a great many have, doing wonders for Kitaro’s exposure abroad. He was already making a name for himself with his original works and albums, but chances were unless you were hip to that whole synth music scene, his material would pass you by. Besides, how could he challenge Tomita for the crown of “Most Popular Japanese Synth Wizard” anyway? Music in a beloved documentary series certainly helps, not to mention an ear for melding the exotic with traditionalism making for easy appeal for folks of all walks in life.

If anything, having his music coupled with images of desert vistas, flowing rivers, mountain passes, ancient cultures, and a sense of mystery and discovery helped sell Kitaro’s style. It’s easy to take the these tunes out of that context and hear the New Age, sentimental sap creep in, which I’m sure some might if they simply played them plucked from the soundtrack. Certainly you can glean a few things on your own with titles like Takla Makan Desert (wide open landscapes) and Silver Moon (haunting beauty) without watching a single image of wind-swept sand dunes and the like. Seeing centuries old Buddhist statues though, so impeccably preserved in desert caves accompanied by Kitaro’s classic flutes, sparkling synths, and soothing pads, all playing captivating folk harmonies as the most evocative Far East music goes... Yeah, there’s something rather magic about it all, I must admit.

As The Silk Road’s initial run lasted twelve episodes, Kitaro crafted many compositions for the series, two full-length albums in all. Remarkably, very few tracks sound all that ‘soundtracky’, most capably standing on their own. In volume II’s case, Eternal Spring and Reincarnation have more rhythmic urgency about them, Magical Sand Dance and Tienshan go for larger crescendos, and Dawning works in synthesized chants, but all retain that sense of timelessness of the ancient world, traditionalism surviving even to the digital era. Both Silk Road albums are probably worth getting, though I’m talking up this one because it has one of my all-time favourite Kitaro pieces in Silver Moon on it. Used CD shop options were considered too.

Friday, September 11, 2015

EDM Weekly World News, September 2015

Where has our most trust-worthiest of trust-worthington gossip rags been in the past year? Why, getting exclusive inside coverage of the now gloriously (in)famous EDM movie We Are Your Friends. Our crack(ed-out) team worked tirelessly to get interviews, guest commentators from around the globe and beyond, plus coverage of the wrap party, after-wrap party, and the morning-after wrap party. Eh? You say our exposé seems a tad too positive for this movie? Oh come on, you know EDMWWN upholds only the most ethical of EDM gossip journalism you'll ever find in this day in age, and any other age for that matter. Now excuse me, I've a music festival to attend, ridin' in full-size SUV style all the way. Our dealer says Taylor Swift rode in it last, y'know.

Various - Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café III

Wagram Music: 2003

Shortly after I finished writing a review for the first Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café, I found the third in the series while browsing a used shop. That… can’t be a coincidence! Either the Music Gods guided me to this encounter, or the Collector Deities blessed me on that day - depends which faith you follow. Or you don’t believe is such things, and it really was just dumb circumstance that this occurred.

Hell, despite their dwindling numbers, I wager the same thing could happen if I went to almost any ol’ used CD shop. The Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café series strikes me as the sort of compilations that are almost always the first to go when folks cull their CDs. An initial purchase made because the cover seemed hip and cool, and turns out the music is hip and cool, but as you age, you grow less hip and cool, and the need to have hip and cool music playing to appear hip and cool grows less of a concern; so, you sell off your hip and cool CDs for some cool, hard cash. Or maybe you really do enjoy jazzy, lounge music with an ‘electro’ bent, but then you’d probably keep such CDs anyway.

If you don’t know what’s up with the Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café, a handy review exists less than four months back detailing such trivia. And truthfully, not much has changed in the series two years between the first and third. There’s still a wide variety of nu-jazz sounds, from the sort of café music you’d expect to hear, to fusions with nearby genre cousins like trip-hop and acid jazz, plus a little sprinkling of ‘as real as real jazz can get in urban locales’ sort of tunes. Of course all these saxophones, pianos, trumpets, standing basses, drums, and singin’ soul sistas come coupled with a fair share of trippy synth sounds, squelchy acid stabs, and occasional sequenced rhythm sections, but more often than not the line is blurred between the natural and synthetic, you can’t tell whether that snare fill is programmed, sampled, or played live in the studio. Okay, the big giveaway is most of the acts in this compilation are solo artists, but man do they ever often sound like a five piece jazz band once a tune gets going.

Probably one of Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café’s greatest strengths as a series was their ability to keep the artist rotation fresh for much of its existence. You’d seldom see a repeat name with each volume, all the while mixing well known acts with relative obscure ones. Only De-Phazz makes a return for SGdPC3, offering something on the cinematic side of jazz with Downtown Tazacorte. Other names here I’m familiar with are DJ Cam, Patchworks, Tek 9 (aka: 4 Hero), and Moloko, who ends the CD with a Sing it Back. No, not the version you’re thinking of, but a totally swingin’ piano version care of Can 7, sounding lifted straight from a ‘30s speak-easy. Well, murder, little tomato cat!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

DJ Moe Sticky - RnB State Of Mind 33

promo: 2015

Of course, another reason I had no problem parting with some American paper for two promotional CDs of DJ Moe Sticky is I knew I could get some mileage out of them. No, obviously not on the home front as those street hustlers promised ...well, maybe I could, if I was the sort of douche who'd invite club girls over with this pre-playing in the background. My game's so weak though, that I'd probably talk about how trap has its roots in Miami Bass music, or that RnB was better in the New Jack Swing era. Like, are we gonna' do it or not?

Not in this review, baby! I've got some things to say about the state of RnB, yo'. For instance, it's no secret that EDM and southern beats crept into the genre in recent years, but even after hearing two mixes worth of it, I'm still kinda' flabbergasted by the development. RnB, and by extension the urban scene in general, had almost nothing to do with dance music's environment, the two repelling each other like two negative electrons (g'ah, so dorky!). One had their thing, the other hand their thing, and though they shared some loose lineage in utilizing drum kits, studio synths, and the like, by no means would their scenes cross, RnB a world apart from where I stood. A few tunes would catch my ear, but so much of it sounded the same to me, even with occasional evolutions of the sound (we go reggaeton!). Which is fine – I needn’t follow every electronic genre under the sun, especially ones I don’t relate to.

That all said, I find all these trap influences none too obnoxious at all. Make no mistake, the RnB that DJ Moe Sticky’s promoting here has little to do with RnB of old, or even the soulful crooning stuff that most critics will praise. The Brooklyn native is strictly all about that strip club bounce and cruddy crew come-ons; much less ‘rhythm and blues’ and tons of ‘raunch and bass’.

The only thing keeping this in the realm of RnB is the reliance on singing rather than rap, and even that’s suspect in this case. Well over half these names (T-Pain, Fetty Wap, Lil’ Wayne, Tyga, Kid Ink, and a ton more you’ve probably never heard of) rely on digital manipulations of their voices to carry a tune, which undoubtedly pisses off purists to no end. Me though, I dig it - at least when they don’t sound like they’re singing through their nostrils. Most times it sounds natural (!) with all the booming bass, synth stabs, snare and hi-hat rolls, and trap-chants (which remind me of the “Hey! Hey!”s from Boney M’s Rasputin for some silly reason). There are enough familiar electronic sounds that I enjoy from genres of old that there’s no good reason for me to hate this, even to the point of enjoying it in drunken spurts.

Mr. Sticky’s annoying cut-off ‘mixing’, on the other hand...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

DJ Moe Sticky - RnB State Of Mind 32

promo: 2015

Well, if this doesn't look all kinds of sketchy, ghetto, amateur, and scrub. Folks, you don't know the half of it. That's the only piece of art I got with this, and it's on nothing more than a piece of scissor-cut paper, printed with an ink jet. The accompanying burned CD itself is completely blank, not even a single scribble of a felt marker telling you what's on the disc. And a proper jewel case or cardboard digi-sleeve to hold it in? Oh, that's cute. All you get is a small plastic slip, though mine does have my name scribbled on it by a felt marker. Personalization, yo'! Gads, even the mix CDs I made back in the day had more effort put into them than this.

Of course, this is the sort of thing one expects from demos handed out at parties by desperate DJs looking to make their mark. Sometimes you get a burned disc with more care and attention given to it, but since these are freebies anyway, you typically overlook whatever faults the packaging may have. Except this wasn't free. I paid ten dollars for this. And for a second one. Twenty bones on cheap-as-fuck demos. How could I have been so stupid and careless with my money, you ask? Oh, don't worry, there's a tale I must tell. The actual music critiquing of these RnB State Of Mind discs can wait for the next review.

I don't doubt for a second I looked like an easy mark wandering the Vegas Strip, but frugal spending and marketing cynicism kept my wallet deep in my pocket. Besides, what do I care for passes to casinos I'll never attend, or burlesque clubs I couldn’t properly tip at, or- wait, these two black dudes are selling some music? Tell me more!

Were they ever hustlin', telling me how the DJ – one Brooklyn native Moe Sticky – was set to blow up huge in the world of rap and RnB. Since they were also shilling for a strip club, they insisted these two discs would get any woman within hearing distance naked, horny, droppin’ drawers, etc. They talked a good game, and while there was zero chance of me playing this back at the Hard Rock Hotel while entertaining eager ho's (“sorry, Dad, you'll have to hang at the casino tonight”), I enjoyed the game they were playing enough to drop a Jackson into their palms. Look, I've paid far more dollars on old Namlook CDs, so it's not that big an investment where I'm standing from.

Naturally, with my wallet currently out, their wingman swooped in looking to hawk a DVD accompaniment to these promo CDs. Seeing as how it'd cost me an additional twenty, forget that noise. He was persistent though, selling how the whole combo was essential to get ladies wet or some-such. Then he reached towards my wallet to extract a twenty, at which point I Noped!, and strolled off, counting my bills just in case.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

ACE TRACKS: August 2015

So this is late, partly because of slack, but also because Spotify went and did another one of their app-crippling updates that made making Playlists a bitch for a while. Yes, even one as short as this one for August 2015, of what few releases I did get through last month. At least it was more than my previous August effort of two years past, a feat I was determined to beat, dang nab’it! The good news is that finally - finally - Spotify’s Local Files issues seem to have finally been fixed, and the app took in a good, heaving gulp of all the music I’ve gathered since that featured went kaputnik. And holy cow, I’ve now amassed over two months worth of music on CD, played non-stop, back-to-back. Now that’s what I’d call a road trip!



Full track list here.


MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Slumberland (Episode 2: Awake & Dreaming)
Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 2% (I wouldn’t really call most Beach Boys/Brian Wilson music rock, at least of what’s here)
Most “WTF?” Track: Brian Wilson - Ms. O’Leary’s Cow (I know the bovine was responsible for much destruction, but dear me…!)

This one came together remarkably well - or perhaps all too predictably since we’re dealing with a smaller sample size of music and genres than most months. Good times are aplenty if you vibe on the dubby downbeat and calm ambient, plus a couple pleasant techno and trance numbers thrown in for good measure. Not much else to say about this one, so onwards and upwards to another 1,000 hours of music in plastic form. Maybe I’ll hit that mark before the end of the year! Erm, not the way current finances are going, I wager. Damn vacation bills.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Adham Shaikh - Resonance - Selected Ambient Works

Sonicturtle Records/Black Swan Sounds: 2010/2013

Hearing Adham Shaikh branch out into music with more tempo and groove is all well and good, but it was his ambient productions that got me digging deeper. Still, though he'd mostly left that part of his career in the '90s, it didn't stop him from composing pieces in his spare time or for other projects. Prominent among these were sounds and scores for various, small-budget films and documentaries, mostly dealing with things like spiritualism, activism, and yogaism. And while they didn’t lead to anything officially released on the market, he kept those works on hand should their ever be an opportunity to make use of them. Turns out there was, in the number of recommendations from associates and friends that told ol’ Adham that he needed to make these available to all us common folk out here in the music wilds. Hey, if it worked for Aphex Twin, why not Adham Shaikh? Oh yes you better believe the Selected Ambient Works sub-title was gonna’ get remarked upon. Uh, that’s I got on that.

Anyhow, I can’t deny once again having preconceived notions of what Resonance would be going in. A return to Journey To The Sun, mayhaps, or a fresh take on ambient dub, as so many ethnic fusion types often do. Heck, even something deeply meditative again would be interesting, just to hear if Mr. Shaikh had picked up some new techniques in composing such music.

Instead, we’re dealing with pieces that are very much score orientated, some sounding not all that dissimilar to the piano and drone works of early Brian Eno (Ambient Dream, Warm Hope, Fibonacci Spriral Song, Opaquealyptic), though with a slight worldy twist. Others tread close to the New Age realm with their heavy mystical and spiritual vibe (Voices Of Hope, Om Shanti Shanti), not a surprising development given Mr. Shaikh’s deep involvement in the yoga scene. A few pieces go all in with traditional sounds like woodwinds and string instruments (Mountains Of The World, For The Heart of The World, Dew Daisy), and a few more run for lengthier times (Gayatri Mantra, Satori), suggesting not everything on Resonance was intended for visual accompaniment. Or maybe they were inspired by credits sequences.

That was my initial trouble with Resonance, where I couldn’t disassociate the music from its original intent of score compositions. It was still enjoyable on that level of course, but without seeing the films, I felt something was lacking. Mind you, it didn’t help I was playing these in the background, never quite focusing on the music. Until it came time for the standard ‘in MP3 player, on headphones, walk’ playthrough anyway, which I always do before writing a review (daily commutes help with this). With my attention properly focused then, my goodness did this music ever open up to my ears! Those stunning, captivating ambient textures that wooed me in Journey To The Sun, they were all here, lurking underneath, waiting to seduce an attentive mind. How’s he keep doing this?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Various - Renaissance: The Masters Series Part 13 - Hernán Cattáneo

Renaissance: 2009

About time I take in Hernán Cattáneo. I've only been recommended him for a decade now, and kinda-wanted to hear what the big fuss was for awhile. They say he's kept the prog fires alive, long after all his DJ kin wandered elsewheres in the music world, staying the deep, groovy path while others chased clicky-glitch dirt and side-chained traintracks. Only one problem for yours truly though: Mr. Cattáneo kept releasing his mixes on expensive foreign labels like Renaissance and... um... That's pretty much his only home, isn't it? He recently got his hands in Balance, and contributed something to Perfecto way back, but by and large ol' Hernán’s had most of his spotlight burning surrounded by angelic and philosophers artwork. Not sure if he's beat out Dave Seaman for “Most All-Time Renaissance Mixes” though.

It feels weird even having a few of these Masters Series in my collection now. Like, I had one, long-long ago, a Dave Seaman mix of course. I don't remember much of anything from that except the second track (Minimalistic's Struggle For Pleasure). This was back when Ultra Records had more clout in bringing over trendy UK mix series, but I lost it during a move. Now, whenever I make a rare browse of a used shop, there's inevitably a Renaissance CD sitting there, so why not pick them up upon sight, eh?

Thus, we get to Hernán Cattáneo’s fifth contribution to The Masters Series, the thirteenth in total. Uh oh, is there some bad luck to be had on here? This did come out at the tail-end of prog-house’s infatuation with minimal and electro, and no matter what folks claim, I’m sure even Mr. Cattáneo couldn’t keep that sound totally out of his musical arsenal – can’t go getting irrelevant, right? And yep, there’s Guy Gerber’s Stoppage Time sitting at the fifth track position, a minimal tech-house ‘anthem’ if there ever was one. What kind of music leads up to it, then?

Oh! Oh wow! This is some deep, dubby, groovy stuff, mang. Spacious sounds, echoes of melody, and... okay, the beats are still in late-‘00s limp mode, but with enough shuffly percussion going on, it’s not so bad as many other ‘prog’ mixes of the time went. Even the Guy Gerber tune is pretty dope, mostly focusing on a building envelope of dubbed-out sound filters, while the rest of CD1 carries on from the tone set in the early going. There aren’t many tracks I’d point out as highlights, but Hernán’s choice of tunes maintains a steady, vibey mood throughout. Good stuff.

CD2 starts even better, with more energy in the rhythms, more melodic sweet spots (oh my God, Damabiah’s Flower Planet is practically prog German trance!), and a finish that’s... kind of a letdown of a wind down. Man, I’d thought a final sequence featuring tons of Guy J and Henry Saiz would be stronger. It doesn’t ruin a great overall collection of tunes from Cattáneo though. I believe this hype.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

BT - R & R (Rare & Remixed)

Nettwerk: 2001

I'm far from a BT mark, but I cannot deny a double-disc collection of rare and remixed music from Mr. Transeau's back catalogue is a tasty offer. Some of his best music never made it to his albums proper, while other producers have given tracks brilliant rubs, outclassing the originals. Even better, this release came out shortly after Movement In Still Life, before all sorts of bullwark and unsense affected ol' Brian's music making ability. In plucking tunes from his earliest, obscure collaborations with Deep Dish and John Selway to the very (then) current cuts of his discography, R & R (Rare & Remixed) almost serves as an alternative greatest hits package. Oh, what the Hell, I declare this better than any kind of “Best Of BT” that could have surfaced covering the same ten years of his musical life, including 10 Years In The Life.

For one thing, CD2 has nearly every great nu-skool breaks tune Mr. Transeau ever had a hand in. Fibonacci Sequence is here! Hip-Hop Phenomenon is here! Smartbomb is here, and the kick-ass Plump DJs remix at that (best damn cut off WipEout: Fusion)! Um, that's about it, at least the ones I rate as his most essential breakbeat efforts – guess the Hybrid Remix of Godspeed is fine too, if you skew more the progressive trance way for your breaks fix. Point is, you won't find these on his albums proper, at least no official, non-special edition version in the Americas. And yet, here they all are on R & R, all lined up and decently mixed together. I told you this collection is mint!

Oh, you don't like BT Breaks. Fair enough, and as there's two discs worth of music here, there's heavier emphasis on his various takes on progressive house and trance anyway. Of course all the agreed-upon classics of his career make it on: Flaming June, Blue Skies, Dreaming, Anomaly, Remember, Sunblind. I personally don't rate all of these as highly as others, but damn if the versions on here don't kick some serious butt. Example: Tori Amos, bless her talented heart, has a tendency to grate after too much Blue Skies; that acid line in Mr. van Dyk's remix, tho'! And hey, it's a good version of Anomaly here, one that focuses more on acid than Jan Johnston's vocals. Hell, even Timo Maas treats Mr. Transeau's (questionable) singing in Never Gonna Come Back Down with some degree of class (re: shuffles them mostly out of the way early). Ooh, and we can't forget the Sasha collaborations either, Heart Of Imagination and the remix of Seal's It's Alive; no 2 Phat Cunts, unfortunately.

Probably the best surprise of R & R lies at the end of CD1 though, where two super-early, one-off BT collaborations lurk. Yes, I'm referring to those aforementioned Deep Dish and Selway singles, where you're treated to some bumpin' garage business. Never would you have expected to hear that on a BT CD, I wager.

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