Saturday, January 30, 2016

Banco de Gaia - Last Train To Lhasa (20th Anniversary Edition)

Disco Gecko: 2015

I swear I never intended to get this when it was announced. I mean, for as much of a Banco fanboy that I am, I do have some limits in how much I deem necessary in my music collection. The 20th Anniversary edition of Maya, that had some cool things included: alternate versions, live versions, rare extended versions, etc. However, for the same celebration of Toby Marks' most popular album, Last Train To Lhasa, I can't say the extra features were enticing selling points. An even longer version of Kincajou (Duck! Asteroid)? Pretty sure the original was pretty long enough – how many more spaced-out looping sequences can one stretch the concept out for? Ah, additional rhythmic sections at the end, turning a remarkable run of old-school ambient prog into something closer to the danced-up version heard on the Live At Glastonbury CD. Nifty, but not terribly necessary either. Then again, is thirty-five minutes-plus of Kincajou (Duck! Asteroid) necessary to begin with? Yes, yes it is.

Those extra remixes then, that featured on the first-run limited edition of Last Train To Lhasa, the 3CD version. Surely I’ve been waiting ages to hear what those sounded like. Yeah, a funny thing happened around the turn of the century. Thanks to a remarkable tube system known as the interwebs (you may be using it), finding rare musiks became exponentially easy. You bet the moment I discovered the magic of AudioGalaxy, China (Follow The Red Brick Road), Amber (Insect Intelligence), and 887 (Darkside Return) were among my first search inquiries. Aside from the surprisingly funky Amber rub though, I’ve never gotten too fussed over these versions. China’s essentially the same but with more dub effects, and 887 tries the Duck! Asteroid restructure, meandering far too much of its runtime in the process.

I suppose to give every track a new, lengthy remix, White Paint (Where’s The Runway Dub) and Last Train To Lhasa (Very Extended Ambient Mix) are added to CD3. The latter is essentially the same track as the original with a stripped-out rhythm, but with an interesting twist in the middle: the sampled chant is isolated and looped for a few measures, sounding as though emenating from loud speakers in an abandoned stone temple. Definitely lends the track some heavy poignancy hearing it in this context. Meanwhile, Marks goes full-on funky Orb with White Paint, a track I’d never thought I’d enjoy hearing played out at nineteen-plus minutes. Lots of dope sample cutting and dubby beatcraft.

Still, all this wasn’t enough to convince to splurge on this release. Then, the guest remixers were announced, and OH MY GOD, BANCO DE GAIA KNOWS ASTROPILOT??? My... how... when... whauu...! This is a pairing I’d never have even considered, yet here’s ol’ Dmitry, remixing the titular track in his typical prog psy stylee. Also a double-take moment: Alucidnation, doing a Balearic rub of White Paint. Wow, that track got all the glory in this reissue. That Andrew Heath mix of China’s quite good too.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dao Da Noize - Kalam

Psychonavigation Records: 2012

Thirty albums in a half-decade? Hell, that's just what Lord Discogs lists as official LPs. Another twenty ‘Miscellaneous’ items fill out Dao Da Noize's discography thus far, mostly tapes and extremely-limited CDr offerings. Oddly, Kalam is included in this category, though I've no idea why. Pyschonavigation Records isn't some ultra-obscure print operating out of a Winnebago in the New Mexico desert. It's a semi-obscure label with a Dublin office drawing in ambient techno producers and IDM-leaning artists like a '90s throwback singularity. Yeah, Kalam is also a limited-run CD, but so are ninety-percent of niche genre releases now.

Clearly then, the man behind Dao Da Noize, Artem Pismenetskii, is something of a Merzbow or Muslimegauze sort, an endless source of noisy experimental music. Glancing through what Lord Discogs has on his releases (you just know there’s more thus far not entered), he has an interest in sounds from across Asia. Early work from the ye’ olde year of 2011 featured quite a few Japanese inspired productions, with a slow sojourn towards the West as time’s passed. Say, maybe he’s retracing the ancient Silk Road like Kitaro! He's released on tons of different labels too: Dark Meadow Recordings, Palemoon Productions, 4iB Records, Trap Door Tapes, Vomit Bucket Productions, Shit Noise Records, Fuck The Industry, Maniacal Hatred, Autistic Campaign, Sincope, Stront, Smell The Stench, Genetic Trance... I swear Dao Da Noize releases one thing on some backwater print, then moves on to another. Who knows how Psychonavigation Records fits into this. Maybe label head Keith Downey is a fan.

By the by, that Muslimgauze namedrop is an intentional, if awkward segue into Kalam, Mr. Pismenetskii stating it a deliberate tribute to the late Bryn Jones (he of an insane amount of output within a fifteen year timespan). Though Muslimgauze wasn’t Muslim, he did focus his muse on the sounds of Arabia (especially Palestine), overdubbing samples and recordings of the region into all manner of crusty beats, layered drone, noisy effects, and Middle Eastern tributes.

As such, Dao Da Noize gets right into it with Kalam I, tablas clunking away, distant chants in the background, and an ear-piercing attack of white noise distortion and bass dub bombs overwhelming your senses. Guess that’s what it’s like living in a war torn region. Kalam II, at twenty minutes in length, reuses many of the same elements as the first, though takes its time in developing, mostly going for dubbed-out trippiness for a while before bringing the tablas back in. The finish is more urgent in pacing, but subdued in tone. A shorter Kalam III throws in more industrial noise and children laughter, then Kalam IV grows dark and moody, very little percussion used. It’s also twenty-five minutes long, so if you like your eerie ethnic dub, you’ll dig this one.

I was surprised I liked Kalam as much as I did. Hell, when I first threw it on, I had no idea what to expect. Such fun adventures of discovery, these label splurges are.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gel-Sol - K8ema

Psychonavigation Records: 2010

I've already used up all my Gel-Sol background preamble and tasty tidbits of trivia in the review of IZ. What else is there to talk about regarding Mr. Reichel? This is the reason I'm going through my music collection in 'Album' alphabetical order, to keep each review relatively fresh and unique without falling into repetitive grinds. Typically I have enough time and space between artist albums that I'll have dug up some new details about their career, or find a fresh angle to approach a review from. And had I had both IZ and K8ema when they were new, I wouldn’t have this problem now, an entire letter buffering me between the two albums. Right, that letter is ‘J’, the puniest letters in my collection not named ‘Q’, but at least it’d be something. Man, why couldn’t I have stumbled upon Gel-Sol way back when. I had every opportunity to do so. But nay, tech-plodstep was more pressing to review in ye’ olde age of 2008.

Fortunately, the liner notes of K8ema have provided some details I wasn't privy to going into IZ. Yeah, yeah, maybe I should have read those before writing that review, but I'm trying to maintain the illusion of writing these shortly after I play 'em.

Anyhow, both of these albums were apparently written for Mr. Reichel’s nieces, IZ for an Izabella, and this here K8ema for one Katelyn Mae. D’aww. The first, I can hear, as IZ definitely had a lot of sentimentality flowing through its various ambient pieces. K8ema, on the other hand, is stated as a natural evolution of IZ, which means more interesting compositions, though not as much pleasantness little girls might like. In fact, this album is something of a mish-mash of various jam sessions Gel-Sol engaged with other Seattle producers, often using MIDI generators in crafting long, non-looping sequences of bleeps, zoops, diddlidoos, and other unpronounceable electronic sounds. Some tracks get very near musique concrete levels of non-musicality, but they always find a core of a theme to centre around. It’s a style of songcraft that isn’t too dissimilar to the abstract pieces Tangerine Dream were performing when they first started fiddling with synthesizers (and took me a stupid amount of time to realize that).

This helps make K8ema a more engaging playthrough than the uniformly similar IZ. You still have the pleasant synth pad pieces like Abyssinia, The Mechanical Garden, and Lost, but also sci-fi weirdness in tracks like Glade and Gel S’hole. Other pieces feel that krautrock psychedelic muse a’callin’ (Halo Of Stars, Energy Pools), while others aim for blissful peace vibes (Spirit Guide, Panta Rhei). And, just to remind you that this is a dedication to a wee waif, there’s an untitled final lullaby that sounds like it’s played on a electronic toy harpsichord. Double d’aww.

Really, the whole album plays out like one long song of various electronic improvisations, constantly fooling you where a‘proper’ track ends and begins. Fans of tripped-out FSOL definitely apply within.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gel-Sol - IZ

Psychonavigation Records: 2008

Gel-Sol is the sort of act I feel I should have crossed paths with at some point in the past. For one, he’s based out of Seattle, so I’d have seen his name on posters that associates of mine plaster on their Facebook pages. He’s contributed to the Monster Planet events, where musicians create original soundtracks to z-grade horror films of days past, and I know I’ve seen those flyers before (can’t miss that gorilla-suited space-skeleton carrying a sci-fi pulp babe in his arms). He’s released albums on Vancouver-based label Upstairs Recordings, technically including this one too. Mr. Reichel even debuted his first LP on obscure ambient print em:t, which I’ve definitely dug a little into in the past. And surely, surely, having spent the past eighteen months familiarizing myself with Psychonavigation Records, I’d have noticed the name Gel-Sol at some point. But nay, only with the label’s mass CD sale did I even take a glance, from which I now know more about Andrew Reichel than I ever thought I would. Unless he performed at one of those Sequential Circus events here and I totally missed that too. Smack me upside the head if so.

IZ is Gel-Sol’s third album (so sayeth Lord Discogs), and it’s a pure ambient affair. Yes, another one. I’m sure going through a lot of these right now. Where’s the funk in my music gone, a bouncy groove, even a plodding step? Well, no, I don’t think I’ll ever forlorn for that, but it sure feels like I’ve gone forever without a solid beat seducing my synapses, despite two recent reviews telling me otherwise. Still, I may need to start raiding other genres for a while. How’s jungle been lately?

Not to sell IZ short, as this too is a finely crafted album of ambient, and does have unique characteristics compared to all the other albums I’ve recently covered. Gel-Sol has something of an old-school fetish with the music he makes, taking inspirations from ancient synth wizard noodling and krautrock weirdness. IZ is mostly in the former category, lengthy passages of bright pads floating along with field recordings of outdoor parks, rainfall, and other sounds you might hear on the commute in Seattle. Yeah, I’m definitely getting that West Coast vibe off IZ, and tracks with titles like Mourning Wok, Disko Bay, Secret Island, and Orca sure aren’t helping in distancing that association. This is the sort of album that could have appeared on Silent Season, had anyone known much of them in 2008. Makes me wonder why Mr. Reichel didn’t get in touch with them, though perhaps Psychonavigation Records provided him with a more appropriate outlet for the music he prefers making.

I’d detail more, but man, I’m so burnt out on all this ambient lately, I’m at a loss for fresh adjectives. See why I prefer keeping my palette varied? This obviously isn’t helpful to someone reading this in the future though, so here: good ambient, check out, move on.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Chronos - Helios

Altar Records: 2013

Not to let AstroPilot hog all the ‘ambient via inspiration of suns and stars’ glory on Altar Records, here’s Chronos tossing his offering into the concept as well. Maybe everyone on the label will have their opportunity at some point. Heck, after he’s finished with his ‘Seasons’ series, DJ Zen should start up one based on celestial bodies within our solar system, thus letting all the regulars have their crack at Sol ambient. Then they could move onto the planets, which Chronos would have no problem pitching in since his other Altar albums centered on Mars and Venus. Plus, he’d have to compile the ‘Saturn’ CD – it’d only be appropriate. Not sure who’d want to do ‘Uranus’ though (hey’o ...sorry).

Anyhow, after namedropping Nikita Klimenko’s project for a while now, I’m tackling an actual full-length album from the guy. Just a shame it had to be Helios, hardly the most representative LP under the Chronos banner. That’d be like starting discussion of AstroPilot with Solar Walk III. However, for all the material he’s contributed to Altar compilations, Mr. Klimenko hasn’t made the label his permanent home either, jumping around other prints like Ajana Records, Aventuél, and most recently Mystic Sound Records. He’s dabbled in many forms of the psy chill and trance market, and while he’s made an ambient track or four in his time, this is his first pure beatless outing for an LP.

Well, not quite ‘beatless’. The middle portion of Helios does feature rhythms of a sort, just not in the traditional psy chill manner. Rotating Light Circles has very brisk, subdued breakbeats, more akin to Berlin-School era sequencers than anything intended for the raver generation. Follow-up tracks Oracul and Osiris (a collaboration with Proton Kinoun) make use of this technique as well, providing Helios with a decent amount of vitality as it plays through. It’s like the sun is reaching its zenith across its path along our sky, showering us with all the vitalizing energy pouring out of its nuclear furnace thousands of kilometers away. Hrm, that sounds like a bit of waffle when I describe it like that.

It still makes sense though. Apparently Helios was crafted in one of those short spurts of inspiration musicians have on occasion, the PR blurb proclaiming a ten day span of writing. But honestly, a concept album around the sun isn’t that difficult to conceive. You start with your morning dawn tracks that are light, airy, and meditative (Out Of Chaos, Moon Through A Lense, Deimos), the aforementioned ‘energetic’ tracks marking the midday, and darker, minimalist, reflective pieces to close out into twilight (Dolphinium, Ancient Bells). Nikita does add various samples he’d gathered during his tours abroad (India, Egypt, Moscow), giving the tracks enough personality such that Helios doesn’t lose itself in the glut of ambient’s vast ocean.

So perhaps not the most original album in Chronos’ repertoire, but a lush one nonetheless. Mr. Klimenko, he’s got some skill with them spacey synths that are worth checking out.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Martin Nonstatic - Granite

Ultimae Records: 2015

Ultimae's dipped a lot of toes and waded plenty of shores with dub techno in recent years, but surprisingly this is their first full-length album of the stuff. What, couldn’t Lars Leonhard have provided more than a couple of singles? Is his LP output contractually bound to BineMusic? That hasn’t stopped Martin Nonstatic from popping up on various labels. Okay, he hasn’t had as lengthy of a career as ol’ Lars, but he too made his full-length break with BineMusic some fifteen months prior. Before that, he was releasing scattered digital singles on labels like Silent Season, Dewtone Recordings, Subspiele Records, Deeptakt, and Kunst Musik. Stop me if you aren’t getting a serious Deutschland vibe yet.

Granite is Martin Nonstatic’s debut for Ultimae though, and the label’s only showing for new artist albums in the year 2015. Like that Digiseeds compilation, it came way late too, marking these past twelve months among their leanest ever for new music. Man, where are the veterans lately? Only Aes Dana’s teamed up with MikTek for a pair of EPs, but then I suppose ol’ Vir’s been busy giving all his early stuff another studio spit shine for the FLAC audiences. What I find most remarkable about Nonstatic’s entry here is this is the first new artist LP on Ultimae since MikTek’s debut with the label nearly three years ago. Not that Ultimae has an air of exclusivity in who they invite into their roster, but it’s certainly a rare occurrence when it does happen.

As for Nonstatic (real last name: van Rossum), yeah he’s a downtempo dub techno guy. Lord Discogs suggests if you like DeepChord, you’ll like Martin. Can’t argue on that front, but as there are so many downtempo dub techno guys out there, why should you spring for another? Because Ultimae reps him, obviously.

I know the label’s skewing away from psy chill into these grey tones hasn’t been the most popular of choices from older followers – I’ve spoken of it myself, missing brighter melodies or pulsing trance rhythms of yore’. And while Granite does have the odd sprinkling of melody complementing a steady beat, this is still dub techno we’re dealing with, where everything remains subdued in service of exploring all that staticky space between the timbre of bass throbs, electric guitar strums, and distant pads. But if all my years of sipping the Ultimae herbal tincture have taught me anything, it’s that such music is best served when the Ultimae Mixdown™ is at work.

Still, I can’t deny a difficult time getting Granite to stick in my head. Heck, I’ve sometimes forgotten about the darn CD, especially with the avalanche of discs currently occupying my backlog. Nor is this an album that’ll convince you on dub techno either, though fans of the stuff will definitely appreciate all that lush space Ultimae creates in their headphones.

And that’s why I’m currently entranced by the sounds of this album as they swirl over my earholes.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Galati - Gletscher

Tranquillo Records: 2015

For some stupid reason, every time I try and say Gletscher, it's always done in an awful Schwarzenegger accent. How does that even make sense? Roberto Galati, the man behind this double-LP, is Italian, as unique a language as any European dialect. What does 'gletscher' even mean? *does the Googoling* Oh, it's the German word for 'glacier', commonly referring to ice flows near the Tyrol region of The Alps, where northern Italy and western Austrian meet. And Ah'nold is Austrian. So, despite Gletscher being produced by an Italian, saying this album's title in an awful Schwarzenegger accent does make sense after all. Well, no, it doesn't, but that's my English for you, always mocking other languages with our too-many wordses.

So Mr. Galati is something of a post-rock ambient guy. This means plenty of droning guitar tones and distortion with his layered synths. He also has quite the fascination with frozen landscapes, previous albums Floe Edge and Godhavn inspired by treks across Greenland wastes and the like. Even his last CD with Psychonavigation Records, Mother, has a cover collage of various frozen features (alpine peaks, tarn, ice-covered cave entrances... maybe). I guess naming this LP straight-up ‘glacier’ would have been too obvious then, but at least I’m getting some serious Geir Jenssen vibes from all this background research.

Gletscher is also one of those drone albums that’s almost impossible to detail. Galati goes for the wall-of-sound approach to the craft, stacking harmonic layers to such a degree they’re almost crushing your senses. Everything moves ve-e-r-ry slow too, though at least we have a sense of progression through these tracks, that we’re taking in a vista rather than sitting static for a length of time. I’m tempted to call this ‘epic drone’, because it sure feels like my very being is being confronted, forcing me into humbling reverence to the soundscapes Galati’s challenging me with. It’s at once exhilarating and exhausting, and definitely not the sort of ambient music suited for naps or a session at the massage parlour.

Aside from the two bookend pieces on both CDs, these tracks are surprisingly short for drone, none breaking the nine-minute mark. It makes the need for two discs seem a bit suspect since most of them probably could have fit on just one, but then I guess you’d have to jettison the nineteen-minute closer Shelkar Chorten. On the other hand, these relatively shorter pieces helps keep Gletscher engaging as it plays through, each track shifting in tone just enough so we’re not stuck in one mood for long. Hopar has a calming through-line, then Gharesa goes discordant. Something resembling a wide-screen melody pierces the drone in Siachen 1, while Kiattuut comes off more atonal. Hispar (everlasting night) is rather quiet and subdued, and Godwin-Austen features chattering harmonic strings with a lovely bit of sombre melody.

Gletscher isn’t an easy album to get into – really, only fans of drone should apply. Boy, did it ever make for some intense bus commutes though.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

AstroPilot - Fruits Of The Imagination 2

Altar Records: 2012

A ‘revisiting’ of an album half a decade after the fact isn’t so daft. Artists grow as they continue making music, evolving their craft as they adopt new styles and techniques into their repertoire. And if any record out of AstroPilot’s discography deserved another look, it’s Fruits Of The Imagination. For one thing, it was released on Avatar Records, and Mr. Redko had long since made a home for himself on Altar Records. With each passing year, that first album grows more difficult to find on the regular markets, and he very well can’t grab the rights back from Avatar for a reissue on Altar. Okay, maybe he can eventually, but in the meantime, how about that ‘revisit’ concept to tide things over? Most of the original’s elements can be used again, and this time given the once-over with learned skills and adopted genres.

For instance, there really wasn’t much prog-psy on Fruits Of The Imagination Prime. That album was sort of a blend of world beat and psy dub, with a few visits into breaks and psy along the way. Five years pass, and AstroPilot has shown himself very adept at breaks and psy (ambient too), and he’s beefed up everything to reflect that. Structurally, they’re still mostly the same tracks, but there’s more detail to his music now, beats more dynamic and timbre more expansive. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it dates his first album, but it does sound more basic and unrefined compared to Fruits Of The Imagination 2. For folks getting into AstroPilot’s music in the here and now, this is probably the better option for a purchase. And if you already have Fruits Of The Imagination The First, Mr. Redko entices a secondary purchase with a new, unreleased track called Asian Express, a floaty bit of ethnic flavored prog-house as heard from the way-before days of the ‘90s. Okay, so maybe that isn’t so tempting for a wholesale re-splurge. ‘Tis a nice bonus for us late adopters though.

Oh hey, I haven’t even detailed any of the actual tracks here, have I? Silly me, providing comparisons between two albums all the while assuming y’all have heard one or the other. Hell, this is all assuming it’s AstroPilot fans reading this to boot. Come to think of it, I’m taking a leap of faith on figuring folks even know or care much about the psy-chill scene to begin with, what with dropping genre tags and label names. Why, someone reading this could very well not even be into electronic music, only here hoping for another dalliance into hip-hop or rock music. Help, I’ve fallen into some sort of perspective pit!

Sorry for that. Truth is Fruits Of The Imagination, in either form, isn’t the most exciting AstroPilot album to talk about. He skillfully hits the standard tropes of psy-chill word-beat prog (etc.), with 2 being the obviously more polished version of the two. Some may prefer the older’s rougher edge though.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Andrew Heath - Flux

Disco Gecko: 2015

Never thought I'd become an Andrew Heath fan. I was curious enough to check out his first album on Disco Gecko, if only to find out why Toby Marks would have tapped the ambient composer as the first outside artist on his label. Yet while The Silent Cartographer was a pleasant little trip through minimalist piano diddling, it wasn't the sort of music I saw myself exploring any further. There's only so much ambient I can take in, and my flag leans more towards the padded synths and dubby atmospherics than indulging the nuances of tonal harmony. Besides, I’m already hearting a Heath, and that dark, brooding Simon chap might be the jealous sort.

Then a super-mega 20th Anniversary Last Train To Lhasa bundle came out. I’ll get to details about that release at the appropriate time, but one of the surprising highlights from the package was Andrew Heath’s remix of China. It took an already mellow slice of ambient dub and led it down his minimalist tonal harmony path. For a song set in a region where such music has been practiced in perfected for ages, it makes so much blissful sense that I get the super Zen feels from it. This, mind you, from a guy who’s only remix credit is this one track! What makes it such a standout, however, is again just how different Andrew Heath’s style is compared to the remixers surrounding him, music that brings to mind art displays or quiet times in a Japanese rock garden, not groovy nights outdoors surrounded by ravers and hippies.

That was enough to keep an eye out for anything else Heath might release, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s got a fresh LP barely a year after his last, Flux. The liner notes states this music was inspired by time spent gazing at lights in the northern latitudes of his homeland Cotswolds, England. That description alone already marks this album as something quite ‘British in the meadowlands’, though you’d have to ask a resident of the realm whether that’s apt.

Flux is music almost as an abstraction, ample uses of field recordings, harmonic bell tones, and soft ethereal pads making up the bulk. Mr. Heath does let his lingering piano notes guide things along, and occasional synthy woodwinds pop in and out, but they’re far from a driving force in these tracks. Really, there’s not much drive at all, each piece content to remain relatively static for their duration (around an average of eight to ten minutes in length). It barely even sounds like compositions end or begin, as though you’re lazily floating down a creek through pastoral villages and windmill hovels. A couple pure piano pieces do break up the mood (The Darkening, Fragment on the digital version), and Ghost Box has a discordant thing going for it, but for the most part, Flux is an ambient album best served for the stillest of activities. Find a patio and watch clouds for an hour, or something.

Monday, January 18, 2016

ASC - Fervent Dream

Silent Season: 2015

No one could have predicted ASC would have five ambient albums under his belt by now. One, two perhaps, as even his earliest drum ‘n’ bass productions often found Mr. Clements exploring the open spaces between his rhythms (including his second LP, Open Spaces). Comes our current decade and his jungle rhythms were stripped down to their basic, minimalist components. When he released The Light That Burns Twice As Bright on Silent Season, drum kits were jettisoned altogether. So, a most natural evolution for ASC as a producer, and having gotten that proper ambient album out of his system, surely he’d get back to future takes on drum ‘n’ bass. Oh, you have more than one, Mr. Clements? Just how many of these were you planning on? As many as Silent Season keeps releasing, huh. Fair enough, but aren’t you worried you’re gonna’ start getting pigeonholed as just another ambient drone guy? There’s so many of those, so very many.

Whatever. If he keeps putting out quality albums like this, Mr. Clements can make a dozen ASC ambient LPs. Might not make them as special in the long run, but ‘tis better for the connoisseur to have plenty of good releases than a scant few collectables. Because believe you me, Fervent Dream is the sort of CD that only dedicated fans of the genre will invest their time in. I personally feel Time Heals All is thus far the best ASC ambient album (much space!) and this one isn’t toppling that position. But I still likes me some droning ambient passages, and can listen to this stuff in its many variations, permutations, and transmigrations. I’m always intrigued by the paths composers take their synths and pads, hearing which ways they layer their timbre and utilize their harmonic progressions. It’s like being a Jazz Guy, except instead of hearing musicians playing all the notes, I enjoy looong stretches of a couple notes.

While ASC’s previous Silent Season albums were more about Mr. Clements exploring his ambient muse, Fervent Dream seems custom made for the label. The little PR blurb talks of dreaming in the thick of the woods. Coupled with a CD featuring droning calm with the sound of wind through leaves and rain pelting moss-covered roots, it’s about as West Coast an image as you’re likely to imagine.

Unsurprisingly, this is another spacious collection of ambient, though with enough encroaching drone to feel as though you’re being crowded by tall trees. There isn’t much in the way of melody, though tracks like Epsilon Dream, Sullen Lament, and Ritual Of Light do contain brighter pieces of evolving pads piercing the thick layers of synths, dub, and field recordings. The main feature though, is the twenty-minute long Promises To Keep at the end. It’s mostly another drone piece, with a few electronic note pulses ebbing in and out. Other elements like rainfall, static dub, and heavenly pads emerge before a requisite lengthy fade out. Kinda’ encapsulates the whole of Fervent Dream, really.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Various - Fall

Altar Records: 2015

We now return to Altar Records' current running compilation series, The Seasons! But wait, three of you cry, how can we be doing Fall already, when there's still a Summer CD out there? Did I not get that one too for continuity's sake? I did indeed, but even continuity must give way to arbitrary blogging rules. Both were acquired during that long-ass trip through the latter half of 'S' albums, which technically put Summer into the backlog queue. And now alphabetical stipulation states that Fall must come before Summer, despite making none of the thematic sense. Yeah, I could have just lumped Summer in with all those other 'S' CDs, but if I can't honor my own rules, what honor can I give in life? What price is my honor? (twenty bucks American, cold hard cash)

I can't say I was waiting with bated, chilly breath for this one though. Spring was cool, and Summer was fun (spoiler!). In the end though, it's still Altar Records we're dealing with, and if my sojourn through their Elements series proved anything, it's that headmaster DJ Zen maintains a consistent style with the artists he taps. Even glancing at the track list once again finds plenty of familiar names from the Altar roster: AstroPilot, Alwoods, E-Mantra, Astral Waves, Asura, Terra Nine, Tentura, Cabeiri, and so on. I approve of all this, of course, but picking up Altar compilations has quickly become a case of comforting familiarity, a high standard of prog psy and psy chill with very few surprises along the way. As it goes with most genre niche labels anyway.

And I'm repeating my Altar Records caveat again, aren’t I. And the only reason I could possibly be providing such redundant information at this point is pretext, a set-up for a... 'fall' of expectations! Eh? Eh? Come on, give it up, don't leave me hangin'. Alright...

So the surprise with Fall comes with how much raw acid there is on this CD. The first few tracks don’t hint at such a turn; Cabeiri, Alwoods, and E-Mantra (plus bonus Tentura on the digital version) doing as Altar typically does. Mindphoria (aka: Mindsphere; aka: Ali Akgun) then does the unexpected in starting his track (also called Fall) with some pleasant classical piano diddling. Huh. Then a funky acid bassline comes in with a New Beat groove and are we still listening to an Altar compilation? There’s some spacey zaps and synths, but the focus soon turns to chunky old-school goa acid, as does next track Stay In Meditation from Azriel. I’d expect such sounds from bonus track Farewell, Beloved Sunshine, since that’s Khetzal’s schtick, but even AstroPilot and Astral Waves gets in on that acid with their collaboration Inflation Eternelle. Meanwhile, third bonus The Heart Of The Matter from Terra Nine has me feeling the ancient System 7 mojo, and closer Rise Of The Earth Keepers from Innerself goes full New Age sap. Ack, a trip within Fall. Nonetheless, a surprising, solid compilation.

Friday, January 15, 2016

ACE TRACKS: November 2012

We’re nearly at the end of these back-tracking ACE TRACKS Playlists. It’s weird realizing that the music I was playing and reviews I was writing was done over three years ago now, enough time that I’m actually having faded recollection of the month. Like, as though it was a distant part of my past, not unlike my TranceCritic writing days. The music I was covering seems so innocent too, still going through my old collection of trusty favorites and stand-bys, having no clue of the splurging I’d undertake that’d bloat out my library to the four digit realm. About a dozen CDs have since been added within this block alone, and that’s just narrowly missing out that Pete Namlook tribute box set. Back then I had no idea labels like Silent Season, Altar, or Psychonavigation even existed! That November also marked the point I realized I could keep writing at a near-daily clip, though with a signficant chunk being some of my all-time favorite albums, it’s not surprising I was feeling the mojo then. It’s also a big ol’ ACE TRACKS Playlist, so let’s get to ‘er.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Pete Namlook - The Definitive Ambient Collection: Volume 2
Deep Forest - Deep Forest
Dillinja - Cybotron
Djen Ajakan Shean - Crows Heading For Point Break
Roc Raida - Crossfaderz: A Turntablist’s Throwdown!!
Quadrophonia - Cozmic Jam

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 12%
Percentage Of Rock: 19%
Most “WTF?” Track: Fear Factory - Pisschrist (that title, tho’!)

Full albums from Future Sound Of London, Pink Floyd, and Spicelab are a must. A bunch of Fear Factory, a pile of progressive trance, a little techno, psy, and world beat thrown in for good measure. Oh, and that last little bit of Bone Thugs working its way in too. Man, did I ever look like the Bone Thugs fanboy in those early months. Little did anyone know my hip-hop allegiance lay with the Wu-Tang Clan (plus whatever Del was up to). All in all, this is a fun, varied month’s worth of music, another reason why I likely sped through those CDs so fast. Couldn’t wait to hear the next one again!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

AuroraX - Evolutionary Voyage

Altar Records: 2015

Thank God, Vishnu, Clupxtergh, and sanity that Lord Discogs isn't the only source of data on some artists. If that were the case, I'd be hooped on the bare-bones entry for AuroraX, his lone entry being this new album on Altar Records. Maybe he has contributed tracks to a digital compilation or four, but unless such labels have dedicated chroniclers submitting releases to the Lord That Knows All, Discogs couldn't give much of a care. This is especially troubling for musicians who've been making their name with Soundcloud, a streaming format that goes unrecognized by Discogs as anything official. And for good reason too, as any ol' chap or chappette could upload something and claim it worthy of the Lord's attention. We need some barriers to His Domain, some standards and practices implemented. Hard copies, yes. Soft copies, maybe. Edible copies, definitely not.

AuroraX has been building his base through Soundcloud, but I don’t bother with that site anymore, so I’m out of the loop there. Lord Discogs provided a Facebook link through an ‘alias’, Desislav Georgiev, but it’s all in Eastern bloc typeface so not much help there either. Fortunately, the Bandcamp page for Evolutionary Voyage has proven somewhat helpful. AuroraX hails from Bulgaria, and his real name is (surprise) Desislav Georgiev. The rest of the blurb goes into some hilariously over-the-top descriptions for his music, capping off with “AuroraX brings a fresh perspective to the meaning of universal consciousness.” Ugh, that’s a bit much for my bullshit detector to take, but I must have bought what the PR was selling, because I’ve obviously bought the CD as well.

I honestly didn’t know what I was getting with Evolutionary Voyage. Some idea, sure; this is Altar Records we’re dealing with, and they’ve cultivated quite the catalogue of psy-leaning music. Whether this album was prog-psy or psy-chill or space ambient though, I hadn’t a clue. I kinda’ figured something like AstroPilot, and I was right. In fact, I was correct about any other guess I could have made too, because for plus and minus, this sounds very much like an Altar Records album.

AuroraX is a fine producer, of that there’s no doubt, and quite mesmerizing in his compositions with tracks evolving and morphing as they play out. Sometimes they do the slow prog thing (Anima’s Dream, Navigations, Inner), other tracks will gradually build into a brisk pace (Project Voyager, Spatial Contemplation, Stars And Rising Tides), and the remaining two opt for pure psy-chill space bliss (Tales Of The Particles, Lifetime Satellite). Yeah, only eight tracks on here, but there’s plenty going on in them to get your Altar staples fix. I just wish I could recommend this as something more than that.

My only criticism is I didn’t hear a clear style I’d identify as AuroraX’ own, Evolutionary Voyage coming off like an amalgamation of other artists on this label. Maybe he just needs some more development, but if not, it’s not so bad being the Altar Voltron.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

King Midas Sound, Fennesz - Edition 1

Ninja Tune: 2015

It took The Bug several years to release new music after his critical smash, London Zoo, but the man behind The Bug, Kevin Martin, did keep busy with other projects. Feeling the itch for something with a little more soul, he hooked up with downtempo jazz crooner Roger Robinson to form King Midas Sound. The resulting album, Waiting For You..., provided a fresh spin on urban soul, mixing The Bug’s grit with a traditionally smooth style of music. Throw in a few additional vocals from dubstep vocalist Kiki Hitomi, and you’ve got something akin to a Massive Attack record for the grime generation. Then the project went on hiatus, Mr. Martin’s time consumed by touring, not to mention the pressure of doing that eventual London Zoo follow-up.

Well, that’s all done and dusted now, so ol’ Kevin got to reconvene with Mr. Robinson for another kick at the King Midas can. Instead of simply retreading their first album though, they wanted to push their concept of dub ‘n’ soul as far as they could, to creatively challenge themselves as well as the expectations of their audiences. Thus, the Editions series, where the duo invites a like-minded producer into the studio for a session and sees what come may. Mr. Martin states he has four such albums planned, but kicking this off is guitar fuzz and experimental glitch producer Christian Fennesz. You might remember him such albums like Hotel Paral.lel, Music For An Isolation Tank, AUN – The Beginning And The End Of All Things, plus forty seven degrees 56' 37" minus sixteen degrees 51' 08", and Venice. Yeah, he’s the sort that would have been comfy on Mille Plateaux, if he wasn’t already releasing much of his music on the ‘arty’ label, Touch.

Right from the outset of Edition 1, the Fennesz influence is apparent. Throughout opener Mysteries, droning pulses melt into static dub while Robinson’s vocals float through the fuzz as calm strings glide throughout. Second cut On My Mind finds a beat and Kiki on the vocals, which brings it a little closer to the first Kind Midas Sound album, but there’s still ample ambient static fuzz making it distinct to Fennesz’ style. Third composition Waves goes for a bleak bit of beatless music, moody soul oozing from the edges before morphing into a lengthy stretch of pure wide-screen ambient. Loving Or Leaving is the closest we get to something for the grime heads (trap hi-hats!), and even that’s impossibly cavernous in its dub.

Really, droning ambient dominates much of Edition 1, some tracks like closer Our Love and thirteen-plus minute Above Water forgoing vocals altogether. Even the few remaining tracks that utilize Roger and Kiki treat their words as just another instrument of sonic layering. It makes that second Instrumental CD seem redundant at first glance, though the absence of vocals is apparent in the tracks that did still center on them. Who’d have thought they’re crucial components on an album of thick ambient and soulful dub.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonecologyst

DreamWorks Records: 1996

The Golden Age Of Hip-Hop was over, and one of the premier groups to usher in that era, Ultramagnetic MC’s, were heading their separate ways. Kool Keith, whom you most definitely know from The Prodigy’s Fat OF The Land, was the likeliest of the group to have a successful solo career, and he’s done that in spades, clubs, and diamond-encrusted hearts. He’s released album after album after album, running through numerous aliases in doing so, and has earned him the reputation of one of the hardest working MC’s of the last two decades. This, despite some serious issues of quality control, especially with a preponderance of crude sex raps that’d make even Luke of 2 Live Crew ask what the cheese. It all had to start somewhere though, and that was with his most critically hailed alias, Dr. Octagon.

While hip-hop’s flush with quirky personas, this one has to rank up there with the most bizarre. See, he’s not some clichéd ‘doctor of lyricism’ or the like; rather, Dr. Octagon is half mad scientist, half time traveling extra-terrestrial (he comes from the planet Jupiter), and half kink scene gynecologist. This provides Keith a setting where horrorcore, nerdcore, and porno raps all cross paths, with an emphasis on tongue-twisting vocabulary that’s equal parts humorous and perverse. When he says he’s gonna’ dissect rectums, treat your chimpanzee acne and moosebumps, and prescribe a treatment of Pepsi cola, Pepto Bismal, bugs, and pop rocks, you can’t be sure if he’s utterly insane, or has fun screwing about the operating room (between sessions of screwing patients in the operating room). Elsewhere, his assistant Uncle Gerbik is a half shark half alligator half man, and over two centuries old. Clearly Dr. Octagonecologyst is an album firmly planted in cheek, probably sewed there with satin threads and rubber needles.

So Kool Keith had something unique going for him here, but what gave Dr. Octagon a quick cult following was the production of Dan The Automator and turntable scratching of DJ Q-Bert (just coming off a string of DMC Championship victories with Mixmaster Mike). Yep, Dr. Octagonecologyst is basically a proto Deltron 3030. Hell, the first track is titled 3000, and sounds like it uses the bleeps from Pierre Henry’s Psyché Rock as a scratch sample among the super-spliffed vibes. Many of the beats are stripped back to a trip-hop haze with old timey French pop loops, serving the macabre tone with a dose of brevity throughout. Man, no wonder Mo Wax wanted in on this.

For all the critical adoration Dr. Octagon generated though, Kook Keith wasn’t the biggest fan of the project, practically ending it right after. He’s actually ‘killed’ the alias multiple times with another persona, Dr. Dooom, and efforts to revitalize him have failed to manifest much of note. Perhaps it’s as it should be, a one-off project that generated underground buzz, but retaining street cred by never overstaying its welcome. Dr. Octagon has operated on all the nether regions he ever will.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Derek Carr - The Digital Space Race

Psychonavigation Records: 2008

Derek Carr isn't super-obscure like some of these Psychonavigation folks are. He has some half-dozen records to his name in the early ‘00s, though mostly jumped from label to label in doing so. By the time he found a semi-permanent home with the Ireland print, he’d already released two albums on another Ireland print, Nice & Nasty Records. And his self-released debut single, Copperbeech EP, is apparently something of a rare collectible for ‘Irish techno by way of Detroit’ enthusiasts, because this is also apparently a scene. That actually has me wondering if Derek Carr is actually his real name. I mean, I can only assume it is so, but Lord Discogs doesn’t have any bio on the guy, and anyone also making Detroit techno with a name like that can’t be a coincidence. Okay, it can, but c’mon, really? Are folks with that combination of syllables just destined to make music of a similar sound? The Techno Gods are weird.

In case it hasn’t become obvious by now, Derek Carr makes minimal gabber; and by ‘minimal gabber’, I of course mean Detroit techno. Its more ‘space age’ than the genre typically goes, The Digital Space Race at times coming off like early Apollo material. Openers Horizons and Butterfly could have found an easy home on those seminal ambient techno compilations, while Letters and Grassy Plains fears no pianos being coupled with their soft electro breaks. Elsewhere, the future funk is present and correct with tracks like 678, Departed Emotion, and Home, while Mr. Carr indulges with a little spritely indulgences with Juvenile and Sis. Plus, can’t neglect the strict ambient cuts, the short Dilated Beyond Belief (hilarious title!) serving as an intermission of sorts, and Surrounded By Nature taking us out in good ol’ space drone fashion.

Um, that’s The Digital Space Race all summed up then, isn’t it. If you’ve ever heard retro Detroit techno, you’ve heard this album, and Mr. Carr isn’t in any sort of hurry to shake the foundations. The tunes are all nice and arranged well enough, but they don’t leap out in any significant way either. Not even the strictly old school production is much of a unique selling point. Novel perhaps, especially for a 2008 release, but this is Derek Carr’s preferred style of music making, and far from the only chap around doing it. Yet I’m hesitant to call The Digital Space Race something silly like ‘recycled’, ‘rote’, or ‘retro to a fault’, because it most definitely is not that either. It may sound sprung from suburban Detroit in the year 1994, but futurism will never age.

As for Carr, he’s put out a couple more albums on Psychonavigation since this one, but more interestingly recently released another single on Trident. This was the ‘print’ he set up to self-release his first single, which I guess he dusted off to put out another EP through Bandcamp. Now wouldn’t that be something, seeing a re-issue of the old Copperbeach EP too.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Various - Digiseeds: Compiled By Ambientium

Ultimae Records: 2015

It took nearly the entirety of 2015, but Ultimae finally released some new music. Okay, they had a single or two earlier in the year, even taking their first bold steps into the vinyl market, but it wasn't until the autumn months we saw anything for us foolish CD collectors. Not that I blame the label for a downturn, taking their time in digitally re-issuing older material for an ever increasing streaming market. Ah well, at least I still had Altar tiding me over.

Ultimae also appears to have spent this fallow year scoping their 'panoramic music' scene for new blood, inviting wandering ambient and chill talents into their fold. Ambientium, or Lubomir Cvrk to the Czech Republic Bureau Of Ambienting, hasn’t released much in his half-decade of music making, but has garnered a respectable cult following in that time. Mostly self-releasing his own material, he’s had a smattering of tracks appear on compilations from Kahvi Collective and Mindsrping Music in recent years, which was apparently enough for Ultimae to come knocking. That, and a few folks were making comparisons between the two as far back as Ambientium’s first album, Fractal Philosophy. Taking a quick listen to it, and oh... oh my! I’m getting some serious Distant System vibes off that album. Hard copy now, please!

Digiseeds, on the other hand, sounds nothing like Distant System (or Androcell, or any other Tyler Smith project). Rather, it’s a new concept compilation series from Ultimae, with Ambientium handling the helm in its first outing. Not sure if it’s Mr. Cvrk’s own series to do with as he pleases, or if it will feature a rotating guest of compilers; heck, I don’t even know if there will be a follow-up, as Ultimae’s had some difficulty in getting any new series going since Fahrenheit Project ended. Hoping for the latter though, especially if they turn out as good as this CD has.

Yeah, yeah, me saying an Ultimae release is good is like calling water wet. I can’t help it that they keep releasing mint material. Ambientium has gathered a remarkable collection of calming music here, where tones, textures, and timbre float through wide open sonic spaces. Its mood music for the mind and soul, best enjoyed on gray morning afters for a little uplifting of the spirit (probably). There’s familiar names in Lars Leonhard and Martin Nonstatic (trust me, he’ll be familiar soon enough) to utter unknowns like Mandrax and Synapsia (lone Lord Discogs entries!). There’s space ambient with One Arc Degree’s Seven Years Of Summer and Ambientium’s Heartbeat, to dubbier glitch with Ocoeur’s Outside and Cloower Wooma’s Human Disease. Mandrax’s Melting has a twee toybox piano melody that has me thinking it’d make for a nice life insurance commercial, and State Azure’s Vertigo has a little old-school sequencers going for it with the dubbed-out textures.

And thus another solid collection from Ultimae. Almost worth the whole year to hear some. Not so long until the next though, eh?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Eat Static - Dead Planet

Mesmobeat: 2015

I was wondering if Eat Static would ever release another album, then ol' Merv goes and gives us a double-album. No wonder he took so long then, and a good idea too. His last foray into the LP domain saw two CDs released as well, though on separate labels focusing on completely different styles. It was a neat idea to feature an exclusively downtempo album for Interchill, but it’d probably be a hard-sell twice. Folks come to Eat Static for the tear-out psy with the crazy cybernetic leads and pulpy sci-fi samples; the few mellow moments under the stoner sun are best served as respites.

Well nothing doing for Dead Planet, once again splitting the Eat Static stylee up between two discs, uptempo stuff on the titular CD, and a chill offering in the second tray titled Human Upgrade. Interestingly, this has been released on Mesmobeat, the label Eat Static set-up for themselves after Planet Dog died, and been in semi-limbo for the past half-decade. What, did no one else want to give this double-LP a chance?

Dead Planet kicks off with another System 7 pairing, tickling all those old-school goa trance triggers in my head. It pretty much goes for the twisted full-on stuff from there though (with one obligatory mint d’n’b leaning cut with Ringlefinch), tracks evolving in dark-psy fashion before unleashing a spacey bit for the climax. It’s all well-produced, but as with so much modern psy-trance, hasn’t evolved much in the past decade, and the same is true for Eat Static’s take on the sound, sci-fi quirks aside. And yet, it’s better than Merv’s dip into other music here. Dragon’s Breath is a frightfully dull tech-plodder, while In All Worlds with Robert Smith is a fine track on a cyberpunk soundtrack, but way out of place here. And Odious Odium sounds like it’s building up to a hideously obnoxious brostep drop (clap builds! glitch-bends!), then does an awesome one-eighty into spaced-out tear-out psy (that low-end!). That’s the Eat Static I love!

Human Upgrade meanwhile... holy cow, where did this album come from? As the chiller side of Eat Static, I was expecting some psy-dub rubs, or maybe a throwback cut that might have appeared on the old Planet Dog compilations. And the first few tracks do offer this, even getting Robbert Heynen of the former Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia in with Near Future Myth (dear Lord, such expansive sonics!). The back-end of CD2 then grows more ethnic, orchestrated, and wordly with the beats. There were hints of this sound on Back To Earth, but ol’ Merv’s taken things to another level here, sounding like latter-era Juno Reactor in some parts. I know I said hearing Eat Static without the quirkiness feels off, but if lush production like this is what we can also expect, I’m all for it.

Dead Planet as a whole is quite a bit to take in, but is well worth the investment for followers of the alien nation.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Arpatle - The Day After

Psychonavigation Records: 2012

Look, when I said my trawl of Psychonavigation Records' blowout sale would reveal some super obscure producers, I meant it. Wait, did I say that? I can't remember now. That big purchase was many months ago, with so much more having arrived in my towers since. My initial fears of an over-abundance of the Ireland label's material in my current backlog queue is moot, plenty more albums breaking up any potential monotony. Not that the albums I did get are redundant retreads of the same sounds, oh no! I'm amazed just how diverse Psychonavigation's proving to be, and that's including me totally ignoring all the shoegaze rock stuff. Maybe a little chillwave though.

Then, our obscure artist for the day is Patrick Bossink, or Arpatle to those buying his music. You might remember him from the Psychonavigation compilation Psychonavigation Sampler 2013, and the cassette Ik En Jij, Allebei from Yoshimi!. Oh come on, there’s no way you’ve heard that one. Maybe one of Arpatle’s other albums though, Continuum from 2009 on Family Garden Recordings, or the recently released Quapi on Offshoot Records. The Day After is the LP lodged between those two in his discography, and I’m really struggling with the background details of this guy, aren’t I? It’s the entire internet’s fault, hopelessly scarce in info surrounding him. Lord Discogs just has him down as an ambient producer from Holland. His website has even less info than that, merely a window to his releases on various online platforms. At least Mr. Bossink wrote a few more lines for his Last.fm biography, mentioning he’s been studying Music and Technologies at the Utrecht School Of Arts. Yeah, The Day After totally has the markings of an arts student.

If anything, Arpatle loves treating the studio as a mini symphony, utilizing unconventional tones, sounds, and instruments in crafting his music. Opener Solstitium has something of a Far East thing going for it, but uses an xylophone (or some mallet instrument, I’m no expert) for its lead, then goes into an extended dubbed-out excursion in the middle before returning to the twee melodies. Follow-up Crickets nabs some field recordings of nocturnal critters (I hear more frogs than crickets), then goes for a minimalist excursion through dubby tones and treatments. Third track goes drone with its effects, though has a chipper country mood about it, as though we’re riding along some Western setting on our horses. On acid.

To abstract, you know those interlude moments on Future Sound Of London albums, where they indulge themselves with sonic collages and experimental doodling? That’s what much of The Day After sounds like, though tighter in composition. Some tracks, like shoegazey Arctic Trip and the lush ambience of Wake Me Up, are quite the treat for the ears. Others, like ultra-minimalist Headache and spacious Satie’s Birthday (so much space!), instead come off as Arpatle having some art-house fun in his studio. It’s all quite pleasant, though lacking musical muscle to stay lodged in your head for long.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Perturbator - Dangerous Days

Blood Music: 2014

So synthwave's now a thing. Who knows if this neo-'80s scene has much longevity – it's not like electroclash lasted a significant amount of time – but as we are, there's a growing fascination with the decade that brought us neon-glazed urban dystopia. Mostly following in the footsteps of Jan Hammer, John Carpenter, and a whole lotta’ Sega racing games, it's sole purpose is in recreating the soundtracks of every D-grade sci-fi pulp movie and splatter-slasher flick from the '80s, many of which are lost to time and degraded VHS tapes. Initially a digital market, it’s gained enough traction that a few names have large enough followings that some labels are investing significant pressing factory time. Perturbator, or James Kent on his Delorean insurance papers, has been one of the scene’s biggest names, and became a de facto ambassador of the darker end of synthwave thanks to the popularity of his contributions to the Hotline Miami video game series.

So popular is Perturbator that he can release multiple collector’s represses of vinyl and cassette, and folks will keep snatching them up. Dangerous Days, his third full-length, has some nineteen variations released, and you just know there’s a die-hard or two who’s gathered every record, CD, and tape. Man, Blood Music sure knows how to cater to obsessives.

What’s set Perturbator apart from all the other bedroom synthwave wibblers is his know-how in the album domain. Each LP could serve as the soundtrack of a feature-length flick (likely financed by The Cannon Group, Inc.), but Mr. Kent doesn’t get so wrapped up in retro navel gazing as many synthwavers go. He instead uses the fantastical urban pulp of yore as a starting point to go in his own way, creating his own vision of helmeted vigilantes confronting the cyborg ruling class controlled by mega-corporations, and all that good rot. Hey, it’s right there in his Dangerous Days’ liner notes, a detailed screed setting the tone and theme of the music within. C’mon, I just know you wanna’ see the movie now.

Pft, no motion picture is required with this album. Just take your standard neo-‘80s tropes and paint the imagery yourself. Aw yeah, Perturbator’s Theme sees him cruising down the rain-soaked dark alleys. Future Club finds our vigilante scoping out the seedy underground looking for hot tips and cool tricks. Hard Wired brings us a touch of detached romance in a cold, cruel, chrome city. The robots are on the counter-attack in Humans Are Such Easy Prey. High octane chases sequences with nitro-turbo on Complete Domination. A quiet, reflective moment in Last Kiss, before the all-out assault with the titular twelve-minute climax to Dangerous Days. Right, something like all that.

Of course, almost all of synthwave fosters such iconography, practically to a fault. Perturbator does it better than most though, and having Blood Music as his graphic designer certainly helps set him above the pack. If you’re curious what this scene has to offer, Dangerous Days is as solid a starting point as any.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lorenzo Montanà - Black Ivy

Fax +49-69/450464/Psychonavigation Records: 2009/2015

For a chap who’s relatively flown under the radar, Lorenzo Montanà’s built up quite the remarkable discography for himself. He got his break releasing this particular album back in Fax +49-69/450464’s waning days, but more impressively released five LPs titled Labyrinth with Pete Namlook. Meanwhile, Mr. Montanà found the time to release a second full-length, Serpe, on the label before they were forced to shut doors following Mr. Kaulmann’s untimely death. This all happened within the span of three years! I know the Namlookian One could draw several sessions out of well-known musicians (Klaus Schulz, Move D, Bill Laswell, etc.) but it’s damn cool he continued doing it even with new cats on the scene too. He must have had quite the synergy going with ol’ Lorenzo to rattle off so much music with him in such a short amount of time.

When Fax+ folded, Mr. Montanà migrated over to Psychonavigation Records, where he continues releasing albums at an impressive clip. Somehow they rescued his two solo releases from legal limbo as a 2CD reissue, which is technically what I’m reviewing here now. But Black Ivy is a ‘B’ album, while Serpe is an ‘S’ album, so part two of this double release will have to wait a month (really).

So now that I’ve namedropped a couple labels and producers with clearly recognizable music styles (Psychonavigation is recognizable on this blog now, yes?), that saves me some word count in describing Mr. Montanà’s work here. Because this is some difficult stuff to detail, believe you me. Not that Black Ivy is over-produced with micro-edits and the like, his forays into clicky minimalism quite tasteful and easy to take in - it kinda’ rests in the Venn diagram where classic ambient techno ends and modern IDM starts. His rhythms run the range from jazzy skitters (Erasing You, Kirkuk Lake, Misteries Of Nature) to downtempo click-glitch (Insect Invasion, Haliaras) to steady techno pulse (Sap 2, Dionaea, Black Ivy). Everything’s coupled with lush melodic pieces, usually melancholic and nicely wide-screened for an optimal listening experience. Not that I’d expect less from someone who made multi-channel albums with Namlook.

Despite these nice things said about Black Ivy, you’ve undoubtedly detected a hint of apathy with my words above. Two points of contention then. First, though this is a 2009 release, for some reason I keep thinking it’s from much earlier, say 2001-ish. The mild glitch production does keep it firmly current, but the ideas have me thinking material from a decade earlier. Did Mr. Montanà have a ton of stored, unreleased material before debuting with this?

It’d explain my other quibble with Black Ivy, in that this album doesn’t feel like an album-LP, just a collection of finely crafted tracks. Certainly nothing wrong with that, and I’d be amazed if ol’ Lorenzo knocked it out of the park on his first go. It’s a debut that shows tons of future promise in his career, just in need of some refinement with the format.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Liquid Stranger - The Arcane Terrain

Interchill Records: 2011

In his near decade of music making, Liquid Stranger has shown no fear in tackling any and all forms of bass heavy dub beats. Sometimes this has led him to the realms of psy-dub or dancehall grime, but other times he's wilfully tackled teeth-grinding dubsteb too. And while I know full well to avoid his (probable) bro'd out endeavours on Rottun, that doesn't mean his material on other labels won't have instances to the stuff either. Even Interchill Records, they of so much world beat vibes, couldn't be completely resistant to it. Fact is if you’re releasing any form of bass music in British Columbia, you have to show your hand on what aspects of dubstep you can bring. The market is just too big, too involved, to completely ignore it. And if ever there was a year to sell-out to that scene completely, it’d be ye’ olde time of 2011, when dubstep was brought screeching into popular discourse by a stray Skr-r-r-r-r-rillex. Thus, this was Mr. Stääf’s big chance to show me how versatile he truly was, whether he could drop a dubstep album on my ears with all these potentially disastrous elements at play.

Oh, who am I kidding? This is all just coincidence. I picked The Arcane Terrain up because the cover intrigued me, as quirky covers so often do. Artist and label aside, I’m still not sure how this wasn’t a forest psy CD.

And while that ‘show me’ angle does have some truth, it’s all pretty much moot Yes, at times The Arcane Terrain sounds like it’s an album entirely geared for the festival circuit. That doesn’t mean it’s a dubstep love-in, Liquid Stranger more often than not getting his muse on with the dancehall side of dub than anything else. That still leaves him with some annoyingly barebones tracks though, like second track Bombaclaad Star, nothing going for it than a steady hand-waving bop and an occasional mid-range fill (MC Shells’ toasting is hopelessly dull); y’know, the scene of every cliché dubstep party ever. Other tracks like Steam and Timeless follow this template too, but if Liquid Stranger was just a one-trick pony in this vein, I’d never have started digging into his discography in the first place.

I could have done without the protest-grime cuts Rise and Babylon Beast, but cool on Mr. Stääf’s part in getting KRS-One and Killah Priest on these tracks. My jam though, is always the pure reggae roots of dub music, with The Molecule Man and Vigilante doing the deed just fine. We also get some dabbling into bhangra (Totem, Laguna), gitch-chill (Overlord), trip-hop (The Squid Strander), and whatever’s going on with Zero Gravity (Balearic chill-grime?). More than ever, it shows how diverse Liquid Stranger can go, even when he doesn’t have to.

The Arcane Terrain is probably still too dubsteppy for those who can’t stand the stuff, but if you have some tolerances for the mid-range wobbles, there’s plenty other dubbed-out tunes to satisfy your ears.

Friday, January 1, 2016

ACE TRACKS: December 2015

Holy cow! That’s the letter ‘S’ now done. Over. Finished. I first started on this chunk of my music collection all the way back in May! True, there was a couple weeks of downtime in that period, plus nearly three weeks worth of alphabetical backtrack at the midway point, but damn, I never would have predicted taking to the very end of 2015 to get through it all. And it felt I was brute-forcing my way just to do it too. Know what’s even more insane though? No, not the backtrack queue that’s developed since the last one, though fair warning we’re looking at a month-plus before getting through all that. ‘T’ is almost as big a beast as ‘S’, only about thirty albums less. So, though I doubt I’ll still be plowing through that letter come summer, get ready for another long letter haul in this New Year. Meanwhile, here’s the Ace Tracks that took us to the end of ‘S’ this past month of December.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Koichi Sugiyama - Symphonic Suite “Dragon Quest” Complete CD-Box
Koichi Sugiyama - Symphonic Suite “Dragon Quest VIII”
Kon Kan - Syntonic
A Positive Life - Synaesthetic
Various - DJ-Kicks: Claude Young

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 7%
Percentage Of Rock: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Nothing comes to mind. Yes, not even the Aphex Twin tracks.

Oh, hey, none of those symphonic suites are on Spotify, what a surprise. Maybe on the Japanese version of the streaming service they are? Not that many folks reading this blog will likely care, but hey, thanks for letting me get my gaming dork indulgence on for a week there. If you must hear this music (!!), I did make a continuous mix of several pieces from these assorted CDs. It’s out there, on the internet, somewhere. Exciting.

What you get with this playlist, however, is a lot of techno. Like, I’m actually shocked by how much techno there is. Aphex Twin obviously, but even names you’d never expect get in on that action too. I guess it’s only fitting that after a month of the smallest percentage of electronic music reviews, the subsequent playlist would have the heaviest amount of traditional stuff.
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...txt 10 Records 16 Bit Lolita's 1965 1966 1967 1969 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2 Play Records 2 Unlimited 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 20xx Update 2562 302 Acid 4AD 6 x 6 Records 75 Ark 7L & Esoteric 808 State A Perfect Circle A Positive Life A-Wave A&M Records A&R Records Abasi Above and Beyond abstract Ace Tracks Playlists Ace Ventura acid acid house acid jazz acid techno acoustic Adam Freeland Adham Shaikh ADNY Adrian Younge adult contemporary Aegri Somnia Aes Dana Afrika Bambaataa Afro-house Afterhours Agoria Ajana Records AK1200 Akshan album Aldrin Alex Theory Alio Die Alphabet Zoo Alphaxone Altar Records Alter Ego alternative rock Alucidnation Ambelion ambient ambient dub ambient techno Ambient World Ambientium Ametsub Amon Tobin Amplexus Anabolic Frolic Andrea Parker Andrew Heath Androcell anecdotes Aniplex Anjunabeats Another Fine Day Antendex anthem house Anthony Rother Anti-Social Network Aphasia Records Aphex Twin Apócrýphos Apollo Apple Records April Records Aqua Aquascape Aquila Arcade arena rock Arista Armada Armin van Buuren Arpatle Arts & Crafts ASC Ashtech Asian Dub Foundation Astral Waves Astralwerks AstroPilot Asura Asylum Records ATCO Records Atlantic Atlantis atmospheric jungle Atomic Hooligan Atrium Carceri Attic Audion AuroraX Autistici Aveparthe Avicii Axiom Axtone Records B.G. 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