Tuesday, May 31, 2016

EDM Weekly World News, January 2014

Back issues! Look, with the recent derth in Original TranceCritic Reviews and Ace Tracks all backtrack'd and caught up, I need something else to fill the Lazy Writing Day quotient. Might as well be these older editions of EDM Weekly World News, especially since their original home remains in cryostatis. In this issue, we celebrate Four Tet's astounding, unprecedented, immaculate haul of that year's Grammys. I bet he do it again!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dronny Darko - Neuroplasticity

Cryo Chamber: 2016

Dronny Darko’s the sort of alias I really want to make snickering remarks over, but damn if the man behind it doesn’t deny me that chance. His works are just so interesting, at least on a conceptual level. Obviously his pairing with protoU on Earth Songs was pure catnip to my cosmic triggers, and it seems his points of inspiration show no bounds. His first album on Cryo Chamber, Outer Tehom, dealt with the occult side of dark ambient’s oeuvre, and he’s explored various other themes on netlabel releases for Petroglyph Music and DNA Production. A misconceived origin here, a polar night on Titan there, to say nothing of spending one-thousand years in cryosleep. Dark ambient sorts sure love their cryosleep. Are many of them insomniacs, the scientifically induced slumber their only hope of a restful respite from the harrowing conscious state defined by neurosis? Or maybe it’s just a real cool sounding collection of syllables.

Still, a wandering muse doesn’t always lead to the most promising of pastures, especially for one seemingly intent on challenging himself as Dronny Darko does. His second LP for Cryo Chamber, Neuroplasticity, foregoes almost all of dark ambient’s conventional spaces in favor of something you might find on Mille Plateaux or Raster-Noton: experimental, minimalist abstraction, muted atmosphere, and empty drone. Right, some of this label’s producers indulges in that last one too, but Mr. Darko takes his material closer to the realms of musique concrete than anything remotely typical for Cryo Chamber. The opening track, Mirror Neurons, has echoing woodblocks plonking about as though we’re watching an avante-garde film detailing the finer processes of bio-chemical reactions, soon followed by flittering electrical pulses flashing across colorless spaces. In fact, that’s exactly what this is, if the little promo video for this track at the Bandcamp site is anything to go by. Oh yeah, have I mentioned each Cryo Chamber release has a nifty promo video? Worth checking out, if you need some context for this music.

No, wait, ‘music’ is not what this is in the slightest. While drone ambient is often atonal regardless, ol’ Dronny doesn’t give us any wisp of a note in these five tracks. Plazma Lake is fifteen minutes of being submerged in thick viscous substance, occasional crackles of brain pulses and a muted heartthrob your only markers of sound. Electrical Membrane spends six minutes shooting garbled frequencies at your senses before fading out in mechanical drone. Circuits sounds like you’re gestating in a test-tube, being nurtured and cared for by scientists twisting and abusing the laws of nature. Ion Voltage frees you from whatever cybernetic madness has thus far assaulted your senses, with a hard cut ending the album abrupt and complete.

Neuroplasticity isn’t just abstract experimentation for its own sake – the album does have a journey of sorts going for it. Damn though, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard on Cryo Chamber yet. Cheers for taking a chance in exploring the desolate mindscape of a Borg drone.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

System 7 / Mirror System - N + X

A-Wave: 2015

Its remarkable System 7 remained as relevant as they did throughout the ‘00s. They were of an old-guard, see, a product of the hippie idealism that nurtured a nascent rave culture, and the new millennium had little use for that, growing mature and engaging with ‘post’-clubbing notions. The DJs were still making bank, but only with the most minimalist music offered, drug-fueled enthusiasm be damned. Right, things weren’t that dire, but as minimal-tech was about the only genre earning prestige points anymore, producers were forced to adapt or be ghettoized to the undying outlier scenes. Gotta’ give massive props to Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy then, for finding a niche within tech-haus’ stodgy domain, playlisted by the sorts who’d just the same snicker at their psy trance offerings.

Adapting to one scene can consequently leave your former one cold. Such was the case with long time System 7 followers, none too pleased with the duo catering to the Dubfire crowds. They needn’t have worried so, for it seems System 7 have gradually weaned off minimalism, their latest offerings getting back to their techno-trance strengths with space-age guitar action to spare. Such is the case with their latest album, X-Port, though that’s not what I’m reviewing here. Nay, in my search for the freshest music from Hillage and Giraudy, I instead stumbled upon a mini-album, N + X, which includes a few tracks from Mirror System. Ah, whoops?

Nah, it’s cool; get to talk about that side project I guess. At some point in the ‘00s, Hillage and Giraudy felt their System 7 material was no longer compatible with their chill-out muse, so they created Mirror System to explore it. After launching with a debut album of Mirrorsystem in 2005, the project sat fallow for a full decade. Another flurry of downtempo inspiration must have struck though, Mirror System resurrected for a second album titled N-Port, just in time to co-release it with X-Port. Thus this teaser of N + X, and a Venn Diagram of the two projects as the cover art. So, wait, is this like the ‘Fire + Water’ concept of the Point 3 duo release? Why not release it that way? Pretty sure there are two more elements available that could make it work as a two-decade sequel.

Yeah, a teaser is the easiest sum-up of N + X, two tracks each from the System 7 and Mirror System albums available. Included is Chic Psychedelic, both X-Port Version and N-Port Version, though the X-Port Version surprisingly features less beats than the N-Port Version. 5 Beat as System 7 has a spacey techno-thump going for it, while Blue Ocean as Mirror System is a total ambient dub outing. N + X also features an exclusive track from each alias. On The Seventh Night from their lo-o-o-ong ago album 777 gets a beefy 2010 goa remix, and Thundernight harkens back to Hillage’s earliest ambient works. Proceed with shredding of thy follicles, all ye’ System 7 completionists.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Orb - Moonbuilding 2703 AD

Kompakt: 2015

Seems with every new album from The Orb, the narrative claims it’s the group’s long awaited return to form. No, more so than the last one, we insist! Does anyone even know what the ‘proper Orb form’ is anymore? After twenty-five years in the business of music making, they’ve gone down so many different paths, avenues, cul-de-sacs, stairways to heaven, and time-warping singularities that the only predictive aspect of The Orb is their next album most definitely won’t be like their last. Whether you actually dig their latest session is practically listener dependent now. Some keep hankering for sounds akin to their early ‘90s ambient output, others crave the wild experimentation of the Kris Weston years, while a few get down to the reggae dub vibes Youth sometimes brings. Not sure how many would rep Cydonia above all else, but you know there’s a couple contrarians out there.

That folks would find Moonbuilding 2703 AD one of The Orb’s better offerings in recent years isn’t surprising though, the album remarkably consistent and groovy for its modest fifty-minute run time. With only four tracks on hand, each sees Alex Paterson and Thomas Felhmann giving themselves plenty of room to explore… um, their sound? Can’t really say that, if I’m honest, Moonbuilding one of the least ‘Orb go on big trip of sound explorations’ LPs around. Whatever you hear in the opening few minutes of a given track is generally the same tone and mood maintained for their durations (often a shade under fifteen minutes each). On the plus side, we don’t have any ‘wacky-randomness for its own sake’ tangents that left many a former Orb fan cold, but that does leave these tracks rather safe and conventional as they work themselves out. It ultimately all comes off like a jam session with shuffly dub techno and house as the backbone, the likes you might find on typical Kompakt releases rather one with Dr. Paterson lurking in the studio. Wouldn’t surprise me if Moonbuilding was primarily a Fehlmann work, ol’ Alex kept on a tight leash from worming in his requisite goofy audio clips.

The four tracks, then. God’s Mirrorball goes heavy with the dub techno tones. Moon Scapes-2703BC has a steady groovin’ thump going on. Lunar Caves is the most ambient of the four, though also finds time for some soft dub techno pulse in the back-half of its nine-minute run time. Moon Scapes-2703AD has some fun in trip-hop’s domain before getting on a light funky shuffle. Each track is a rather loopy affair, but with consistently shifting elements about so nothing comes off too repetitive or monotonous. It also isn’t the most adventurous Orb album you’ll hear, nor does it have much in the way of memorable earworms or clever sampling. Moonbuilding essentially plays as it means to go on, and it’s perfectly fine in that regard. How some folks are calling this the best Orb album since U.F. Orb is beyond me though. Orblivion was so much more fun!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Massive Attack - Mezzanine

Virgin: 1998

The only Massive Attack album you probably have, despite many critics pointing to their other albums as the ones you’re supposed to have. Not sure what the consensus between Blue Lines and Protection is, though I’m almost certain the group’s (duo’s?) post-millennium material is generally held in lesser regard than Mezzanine. This one smacks right in the middle of the transition, but due to the super aggressive marketing the mighty Virgin machine did for the album, critics can’t help themselves in being contrarian, pointing to an earlier effort as the definitive Massive Attack experience. Back when they were still a tightly-knit band that included burgeoning vocalist wunderkind Tricky as part of their roster. Back when they were laying the groundwork for an entire genre, and not simply cashing in when trip-hop was at its peak of prominence.

Hah, no, Mezzanine isn’t a cash-in, though Massive Attack definitely got mad paid here. Angel and Teardrop are among the most heavily licensed tracks in their discography, only losing out to Unfinished Sympathy for top honors; and that one had a seven year start on these two. On the other hand, additional singles Risingson and Inertia Creeps weren’t anywhere near as successful, the latter failing to chart even in the UK. Considering how trendy trip-hop was in the late ‘90s, with Teardrop hitting Top 10 in Massive Attack’s homeland that same year, it’s surprising such popularity didn’t translate into further success for their singles. D’at album sales number, tho’! Were Teardrop and Angel enough to propel Mezzanine into the stratosphere of platinum accolades? Yeah, but all those critical awards the album earned after needed strong songs to prop it up, and we have those in spades too.

Right, I quipped Mezzanine not being as critically hailed as their earlier records, but Massive Attack didn’t earn those ‘one of the greatest bands of all time’ plaudits in a vacuum. When tasked against their contemporaries, the original Bristol posse was nigh untouchable, always uttered with just that extra bit of reverence when compared to the likes of Portisehead and Morcheeba. The fact Massive Attack could come in at trip-hop’s apogee and release such a smooth flowing, densely dark album like Mezzanine is nothing less than brilliance. In lieu of the multitude of copycats, Robert del Naja (Mr. 3D) desired taking the group closer to the realms of post-rock - out of the domain of dubby-thick hip-hop that defined the genre they’d built. The move paid off, broadening the band’s appeal into the world of indie music and movie scores. It also gave them room to further explore their sound, fusing gritty guitar tones and cinematic flourishes with their vintage big beats, dense reverb, and somber urban soul, generally keeping each track fresh and unique throughout for a required playthrough.

Not everyone was on board with this development, original member Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles leaving Massive Attack after this. The enduring popularity and lasting legacy of Mezzanine suggests ol’ 3D was onto something special though. Dream on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Atrium Carceri - Metropolis

Cryo Chamber: 2015

Of course I’d give Atrium Carceri a go in my Cryo Chamber splurge. This label may not even exist without Simon Heath’s early success with the project. In short order he carved a deep incision within the dark ambient scene, injecting it with many albums under the guise. Ew, sorry for the metaphor, but when one looks at that early material on Cold Meat Industry - with albums like Cellblock or Seishinbyouin (translation: mental hospital), and Eldritch horror cover art as found on Kapnabatai - Lord knows it gives you all the fidgety creeps right out of Silent Hill. Though I’ve much fondness for Mr. Heath’s Sabled Sun material, I’d need a sturdy frame of mind to take on those Atrium Carceri LPs. Or, y’know, bulk buy them and see what happens.

His early albums were considered instant classics, no small feat considering the pedigree Cold Meat Industry carries for connoisseurs of dark ambient. Most of those focused on singular spaces though, derelict buildings and decayed populaces, creating a loose mythology in the process. When he resurrected Atrium Carceri for Cyro Chamber, Simon saw more potential in the project, expanding the early lore to encompass an entire civilization. What could have caused such rot among these people? Who were those in power that allowed it to happen? Where did all these strange obelisks come from? Were there any survivors able or willing to unearth these secrets, to perhaps rebuild? Yeah, the ‘exploration of dying/extinct societies’ is pretty consistent with Mr. Heath’s dark ambient work. Heck, he even scored a game called… The Old City: Leviathan. Play to your strengths, yo’.

Metropolis sets out to unearth some of the Atrium Carceri secrets, a mini-quest of discovery from The Gargantuan Tower, Across The Seas Of The Dead to a Decrepit City, through an Industrial District into the Heart Of The Metropolis, where you’ll encounter The Cowled Seers, and perhaps unlock The Machine that governs everything. Though capable standalones, each of the eleven tracks plays best like a chapter in this album’s narrative. While specifics are seldom detailed about what transpires, Heath coaxes your imagination wonderfully with his cinematic songcraft.

The Dark Mother provides a gloomy dirge with a thudding rhythm, music for your trek in this inhospitable world. Across The Sea Of The Dead captures an endlessly bleak expanse, charred clouds suffocating the few flashes of distant lightening. Black Needle drones with atonal pads and distorted bells, as though revealing piercing, deformed towers against a blackened sky. Sacred Slab crushes you with drone while offering a tantalizing, tangible mystery within. 200 Days has a bit of narration offered, a storied recap as told by a messenger long since deceased. Industrial drone grinds and clatters about the metropolis, even as those cowled seers dutifully task themselves with maintaining whatever it is this ancient machine does. We may have uncovered the Metropolis secrets, but there sure isn’t much we can do about it. Well, maybe in a sequel, there’ll be hope.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Incubus - Make Yourself

Epic: 1999

I first thought Incubus was a ‘rocktronica’ sort of act, perhaps a bit on that Republica tip. Cover notwithstanding, it’s the name, derived from folklore of male spirits and demons seducing their way into sleeping women; essentially the dude-bro version of the succubus. While such tales are scientifically attributed to sleep paralysis, it still makes for nifty gothic iconography, and I only assumed the band Incubus was something along those lines as well. Maybe a little industrial like Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails, but skewing closer to the ‘electronica’ side of things, what with a guest spot on the Spawn soundtrack. Didn’t once think they might have been the ‘rock’ pairing rather than the ‘electronica’ contribution, though the fact it was DJ Greyboy on the tag should have clued me in.

Still, Make Yourself sat there in shops, and though filed under ‘rock’ or ‘alternative’ or ‘metal’, I threw it on just to be sure. And yeah, it was definitely rock, though offering far more fusion than I could have anticipated. There was some Red Hot Chili Peppers funk stylee in there, but heavier than the fellow Cali band. I detected plenty of ‘90s alt-metal angst, but nothing that made me embarrassed to hear. There’s a little hip-hop turntablism thrown about, though always in service of each song’s whole rather than delivered as a trendy gimmick. Okay, except for Battlestar Scralatchtica, an exclusive scratching showcase for Incubus DJ Chris Killmore and guests Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark. Now that’s some dope action no matter the context! The rest of Make Yourself was pretty good too, though nothing I’d buy for myself at the time (or ever).

Incubus had been around for much of the ‘90s, but didn’t break through until this third album of theirs. Even then Make Yourself was a slow burn, generally reaching no higher than the middle of the charts (where they charted at all). The band’s ability to flit through genres definitely gave them an edge though, singles and licensed songs spreading their sound to various forms of media for maximum market penetration. Pardon Me had considerable radio play, especially so an acoustic version found on the single. Stellar was even more successful, doing the post-grunge thing of quiet-loud passages that still had some life in it yet. Then Drive came along, going for the super laidback Cali-funk vibes of all your favorite chill-out Chili Peppers jams. This finally scored them a number one alt-rock hit (and Top 10 overall), and gave them even more success in follow-up albums.

Oh yeah, for as intensely ‘90s as Make Yourself comes across, Incubus sustained a solid career throughout the ‘00s, which boggles my mind considering how fickle the rock landscape was during that decade. Though their subsequent records never shifted as many units as Make Yourself, they always charted high upon release. Guess with so many of their peers falling by the wayside, at least this band gave fans of ‘90s rock something to cling to.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour

Capitol Records/Parlaphone: 1967/1987

The only Beatles album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a Beatles fan. Um… oh geez, how to justify this one? True, it’s got some of the Liverpool Four’s all-time classics in Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need Is Love, and I Am The Walrus, but that’s never been an essential selling point for all their other albums. If you just wanted the classics, you get the greatest hits packages, or the anthology box sets, or the anniversary collections, or the-

What I mean to say is, buying a Beatles album just for the chart topping singles isn’t necessary when gathered options already exist. One buys Beatles LPs for the full experience, a playback from start to finish as the lads intended. They’d proved an album need not be big tunes with cover filler, where Rubber Soul, Revolver, and especially Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band kept improving upon the LP format. In fact, the Beatles had perfected the idea of a concept album so brilliantly with Sgt. Pepper’s that odds were they could only have gone down from there. Maybe it was best, then, to offer the inevitable slip with the soundtrack of Magical Mystery Tour, a film project that was practically doomed from the start.

A whimsical bus tour across the English countryside might have succeeded with an actual script on hand, but McCartney, inspired by super-hippie Ken Kesey’s similar bus tour across America, hoped to capture the spontaneity of such gleeful weirdness. Compounding the problems was how their wacky shenanigans were filmed in colour, but broadcast on BBC1, which primarily featured shows in black and white. Thus Magical Mystery Tour premiered as a muddy mess in British homes, on Boxing Day no less, when folks probably weren’t interested in drug-fueled Beatles zaniness. The film was such a flop that it never featured in American cinemas (too short), and was basically jettisoned from archives, none of the original negatives saved. It was the first sign that the mighty Beatlesmania machine could have some chinks in its sturdy armor.

The music though. No matter the faults of the film, surely the tunes provided would be of equal measure to their impeccable discography. Can’t deny that bombastic titular opener, a tune carrying on the Sgt. Pepper’s tradition of throwing any and all ideas into a single three-minute explosion of psychedelic rock. The Fool On The Hill goes more folk, Flying is a pure instrumental, Blue Jay Way goes suuuper-deep in the psychedelia (Flange! Reverse tape loops! Eastern bollocks!), Your Mother Should Know is a bouncy bit of ragtime, and I Am The Walrus is Lennon at his experimental nuttiest; but hey, what a catchy chorus!

All this, plus the included great singles that didn’t make it to Sgt. Pepper’s (aforementioned, plus Hello Goodbye, Penny Lane, and Baby You’re A Rich Man) makes Magical Mystery Tour a fascinating listen regardless. The songcraft remains, but boy were they pushing the limits of what a Beatles song could still be.

The Clash - London Calling

Epic: 1979/1999

The only Clash album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a fan of The Clash. Am I ever saying that a lot lately, eh? Sure is good thing I’m filling in all these essential blanks in my music collection, lest folks think mine’s not worthy for consideration. Pft, my four-digit numbers is plenty ‘nuff for wide-eye glances, especially following the common question of “Is it all ‘techno’?” Why no, it actually isn’t! Like, there’s some orchestral soundtracks floating about, plus a jazz boxe-set somewhere in there too. And ooh, look at that shelf dedicated to rock music. Ain’t much ‘techno’ about that stuff, amirite? But yes, I know there are tons of essential classics in the rock pantheon that I’m supposed to have, despite the genre far from my highest digging priority. Why should I need too though, when I have friends consistently offloading their old CDs these days?

As for London Calling, yeah, this is one of the big ones, a game changer in the world of punk rock. The Clash were already critical darlings of the UK scene, but they had quite a bit of competition too, the market quickly flooded with copycats and would-be rebellious ‘yoof’ starting up their own rickety band railing against the powers that be. Hell, even seasoned musicians were getting in on that action, punk soon showcasing a remarkable swath of skill. From the deliberately sloppy Sex Pistols to the crafty song writing of The Police, there was seemingly almost no limit to what you could with the genre. No wonder ‘post-punk’ quickly morphed from this influx of creativity.

The Clash fit comfortably smack in the middle of it all, capably kicking out punk’s lineage of throwback rockabilly and hard rock while pushing the boundaries of genre fusion with ska, reggae, and R&B. They had no problem performing stupid simple tunes like Brand New Cadillac, but were fearless in getting politically charged and topical, showing a sense of maturity in their music mostly devoid in the ramshackle reactionary tropes of most punk. And boy, talk of hubris, showing no fear in delivering the world’s first double-LP punk album. Because ain’t no way they’re leaving those Jamaican nods Rudie Can’t Fail and the Guns Of Brixton out.

Considering punk was a reaction against the double-LP concept prog rock adored, that The Clash went this route for their third album is deliciously cheeky. The fact there’s not a duff cut for the duration of London Calling is amazing, nary a track coming off as pointless or over-indulgent filler. Also consider but two singles were released from these nineteen songs, the titular tune and closer Train In Vain (the second most famous Clash song), the sort of situation that dooms most albums from replay value. Yet I dare you to skip anything from London Calling, just to get to that final track. Doubt you do it, not with so many choice tunes in between. Top ten all time rock albums? Yeah, I buy that.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Alphaxone - Living In The Grayland

Cryo Chamber: 2014

Wow, it’s been a shade over a month since I last dealt with Alphaxone. Remember way back then, when I first started this epic alphabetical backlog? Y’all probably didn’t think we’d be only at the ‘L’s now, did ya’? Heck, even if you knew there were more Alphaxone CDs to come (I’m fairly certain I alluded to it), I doubt folks figured I’d have gone through four additional Cryo Chamber releases along the way. Hey, when I label-splurge, it’s with gusto. Still, d’is backlog tho’. I thought I’d have made it a little further along, yet here we are, only halfway through. It’ll be nearly another month before I can resume my regular course.

ANYHOW, this here Living In The Grayland is the first album Mr. Saleh released with Cryo Chamber, erroneously tagged as ‘New Age’ in Windows Media Player. Maybe the algorithm somehow thought this was a Monolith Cycle album instead? I don’t know if I should be more amazed that the app even assigned a genre to this album, or the fact it somehow confused a dark ambient CD for something more relaxing and meditative. I know release information is often user submitted, but how anyone could mistake Living In The Grayland for something one might hear at a yoga session or message parlor boggles my mind. Maybe if the masseuse is a succubus. No, wait; wrong sort of dark ambient. This is Alphaxone we’re dealing with here, not Council Of Nine.

In case you don’t remember, Mr. Seleh’s brand of drone tends to go for abstraction rather than portraying bleak pictures. The evolution of his Cryo Chamber albums saw him gradually shift towards LPs with some semblance of progression and narrative as they played. We’re dealing with his first for the label though, thus Living In The Grayland has about as intangible a plot as a David Lynch movie at his Lynchiest. Whereas Altered Dimensions and Absence Of Motion felt like you had to take a journey to reach their outworld realms, we’ve already arrived in the Grayland with this album. What will you see, what will you feel? What warping of your being shall unfold as you wander aimlessly through vistas devoid of hue?

A fair bit of drone, naturally, with plenty of layered texture and timbre in these ten tracks. Some pieces definitely make you small and insignificant, like the enveloping Overwhelm or spacious Darkscore. Others may give you a sense of dread as you traverse these unfamiliar regions, like foreboding Cold Spring or creepy Into The Silence. Yet the mood and tone is never concrete in how you should feel, whether you want to explore further or flee elsewhere. Where would you go, though? You’ve no choice but to remain here, for all eternity and longer. Why else would final track Grayland offer the only form of ‘music’, a minimalist dirge penetrating murky drone as it fades to nothingness. Your last clutches of earthly sanity ever slowly ebbing away from your grasp.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous

Columbia: 1995

The story of Big L is one of so much promise, and so senselessly squandered by random acts of street violence. He may have been lost in a plethora of Eastcoast rappers carving out their fame in the ‘90s, but dropping what’s often cited as one of the underground hip-hop classics at a mere 20 years of age is nothing short of incredible. Think of all the heavy hitters of the era he was up against: Biggie, Wu-Tang, Nas, Mobb Deep, not to mention the emergent Jay-Z, DMX, Big Pun, and, um, Ma$e (plus probably a dozen more I’m neglecting an obligatory namedrop). It’s understandable that someone as lyrically raw as Lamont Coleman would fall through the cracks, another casualty of a major label bungling young careers. Whether he would have found a commercial breakthrough in the new millennium, or remain one of the underground’s champions remains one of the tantalizing “what ifs?” of hip-hop lore. Sadly it was not to be, Big L murdered in a drive-by before the age of 25.

I’d heard of the Brooklyn rapper when starting my dig through hip-hop, though mostly in passing reference. A shortened discography didn’t help matters, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous his only record released while still alive, while the posthumous The Big Picture (1974-1999) gathered material he’d been making for a second album. The latter offered us Ebonics, an incredibly clever track showcasing amazing lyricism that clued me in that I should be giving Big L some proper attention. Another factor was the live shout-out Gang Starr gave him as the very first track on their double-CD retrospective collection Full Clip: A Decade Of Gang Starr. The fact these legends would do such a thing on a release centered on their career suggested Big L was definitely an MC worthy of some stature. Finally, after a friend from out East came for a visit and kept insisting we play some Big L on a road trip, well, that just sealed the deal.

And playing through Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, yeah,I hear how this young MC put even Nas on notice. His topics are well-tread street rap, but nonetheless gripping as he spits his rhymes. Weaving tales of the ‘hood life, survival of the illest, gotta’ do what you gotta’ do to get through it all, all the while questioning why lesser MCs in the game are getting mad paid while talent such as his languishes in obscurity. Big L’s lyricism is spotless, vivid with his imagery, dynamic with his multi-syllabic rhymes (known as ‘compounding’ apparently; always learning something new!), riding beats with flow that’s fierce yet smooth. The music production is almost entirely that Eastcoast funk-n-jazz loop based stylee, mostly handled by his Diggin’ In The Crates Crew members Buckwild and Lord Finesse (you’ve heard their beats before, trust). It all reminds me of Del’s No Need For Alarm, hip-hop strictly for the underground heads, though with heavier Eastcoast grit and menace. Mint material, all this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lorenzo Montanà - Leema Hactus

Psychonavigation Records: 2014

Part two of Lorenzo Montanà’s trilogy on Psychonavigation Records, all released within a three years span of each other. As if that wasn’t enough, he put out another album on Carpe Sonum Records the same year this came out, to say nothing of two additional 2015 LPs alongside the final chapter of Trilogy, Vari Chromo. Does this guy just keep stockpiling music all the live long day? And have I already rhetorically asked this question in a previous review? Feels like I have, but I’m too lazy to hop in my time machine and ask January 2016 Sykonee if he’s written a similar query in Black Ivy or Serpe. In any case, we’re definitely getting a right-proper crash course in Mr. Montanà’s music these past few months.

If you’ve been following these Lorenzo reviews since the beginning, you might have noticed a pattern emerge in the quality of albums. Black Ivy was interesting, but unfocused, while Serpe was a splendid improvement. Eilatix, however, felt like a step back, so that must mean Leema Hactus springs back with the goods, right? Yeah, it does, but come on; you can’t seriously buy this line of logic? It’s too small a sample size to form any accurate model, and I’d be rightfully roasted by crusading statisticians on social media for peddling such pseudo analytics in the form of a music review. Whoops, getting sidetracked as always!

Leema Hactus is another great album from Mr. Montanà, taking the dynamic songcraft shown in Serpe and expanding upon it even further. There’s ample ambient techno, dubby pad work, clicky-glitch rhythms ranging from brisk tempos to subdued chillers, and gentle-sweet melodies throughout, some of which are among the best I’ve heard from Lorenzo. Greenlift will utterly melt your heart, I tell you what; like hearing a melancholy fairy lullaby as fireflies dance in twilight.

Most of Leema Hactus has an undercurrent of gardens, what with tracks titles like Conflict Garden, Emerald, Hynogreen, Greenlift, and Dew Flow. The cover art doesn’t hurt in selling that notion either, though I do wonder what the album’s title means. I searched about the Googles for it, and very little came up. ‘Leema’ is apparently a lady’s name, kind of like how Peru’s capital, Lima, is a name. ‘Hactus’ may be a name as well, but when Mr. Montanà’s album eats up the first twenty search returns, I’ve very little to go on. One day, maybe I’ll try that ‘journalist’ thing of asking the producers questions for my answers. Conjecture though, it’s much funner.

Anything else? There’s a dubstep track in here, the track Dew Flow. Well, one of those half-step breaks that the genre abused, to the point you can’t help but expect a horrible wub-wub accompanying it. Lorenzo don’t do that though, instead serving up gracious, delicate melodies as he’s wont to do in this album. Chillstep, you say? No it’s, um, ambient techno, with a fresh rhythm to your standard trip-hop steps. Yeah, that’ll do.

U2 - The Joshua Tree

Island Records: 1987

The only U2 album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a U2 fan. What, you thought it’d be Songs Of Innocence? I suppose that’d be technically true, if only for a brief time before seventy-seven percent of iTunes users demanded it scrubbed from their libraries. Hell, I wouldn’t put it past Bono or Tim Cook assuming it was a U2 album all their customers were ‘supposed to have’, because that’s what good U2 and Apple users accept. Well, just because everyone adored The Joshua Tree and the early ‘00s albums that tried replicating it doesn’t mean folks will lap up any ol’ forced giveaway. We need that illusion of choice, yo’.

Like how everyone under the Western sun ‘chose’ to anoint U2 as The Greatest Rock Band On Earth after this album. Right, it’s not like they had that much competition in the year 1987, folks getting weary of synth pop and sterile corporate rock. Bono, The Edge, A. Clay’, and Mr. Mullen were already darlings of the college rock scene, and could probably have rode a tidy career on their early rough sounds, the Brian Eno experimentation of The Unforgettable Fire be damned. But wait, that Bono fella’, he’s seen some shit these past few years, amazing wonder and splendor in the untamed lands of America, and such horrible, horrible ghettos in the lands of Africa and Central America. He felt inspired to mesh these extremes, offering music that could replicate the expansive mountains and deserts of Earth while bringing U2’s political leanings to larger issues than the plight of the Irish. This could have all turned into an embarrassing bout of pretentious music making the likes the ‘80s had never seen. The fact we’re still talking fondly of The Joshua Tree - that for all of U2’s insufferable antics in the ensuing decades, we still hold their fifth album in such high esteem – goes to show just how gracefully they knocked this out the park. Hey, Americana reference, how apt!

The album opens with Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and With Or Without You, a trio of songs everyone points towards as the definitive sound of the band. It’s among the strongest starts to any record, made more so by the lush production Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno affords. Bono wanted their music to sound as open and far reaching as the American deserts and plains, and by Jove and Joshua tree, the Lanois-Eno tandem know how to deliver. Couple that with impassioned, poetic lyrics delivered by Bono, and it never comes off preachy or sanctimonious. Issues were all the rage in the ‘80s, and these songs probably highlighted them better than anyone.

Oh yeah, there’s a whole bunch of album after this too! Lots of loving nods to American blues, with plenty of jangly guitar licks and thick bass picks. Would have been a great album in its own right, but man, those first three songs, eh?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Madonna - The Immaculate Collection

Sire Records: 1990

The only Madonna album you need, if you want a bluffer’s collection of Ms. Ciccone’s early discography. Not that her records didn’t sell well enough on their own, but for as much of a phenomenon she became throughout the ‘80s, her LP efforts were often spotty. Killer singles, no doubt, but a fair number of filler tracks too, mostly ballads, covers, and the like. Most folks just wanted to hear the peppy pop of Holiday, Material Girl, or Papa Don’t Preach, then move on with their lives before those awesome earworms started tickling the memory membranes again. Praise be, then, to the greatest hits packages, and what better way to put a capper on Madge’s dominance of ‘80s airwaves than one such collection. Naturally, such an effort could only be considered immaculate by her standards, but as Madonna’s entire m.o. is “if you got it, flaunt it”, what harm is there indulging her? Right, these past ten years of her career, good point.

The Immaculate Collection has everything you need for your Madonna: Phase One needs. The early “Jellybean” Benitez produced hits like Holiday and Crazy For You. The Nile Rodgers produced superhits such as Like A Virgin and Material Girl. The Patrick Leonard produced über-‘80s power pop pieces Love To Tell, La Isla Bonita, and Like A Prayer. The Stephen Bray produced club anthems like Into The Groove, Papa Don’t Preach, and Express Yourself. The Lenny Kravitz produced sultry… S&M… house coo of Justify My Love? Wait, what? Oh, and through much of this period is Shep Pettibone, often serving as an additional producer to give all these songs that extra punch of dancefloor sensibility. Guy was a God throughout the ‘80s.

Even if you were a Madonna fanatic and had bought all the albums, The Immaculate Collection was still a handy pick-up. Bringing all her best songs into one spot helped (don’t laugh, this was an extremely difficult thing for folks to do back in the day!), but it also gathered her wayward hits too, mostly found on soundtracks. Because good Lord, no one should have to buy I’m Breathless just for Vogue - so much better having it here, plus the additional new tracks Justify My Love and Rescue Me, leading us into her Erotica era.

That’s probably the most interesting takeaway from The Immaculate Collection, hearing her development as an artist. This is now all common knowledge of course, but going from the chipper post-disco chirps of her early material to the full-throated husky moans at the end is quite the evolution. It’s a remarkable showcase in proving just how adaptable a presence she’d already become, and fools they be had they thought she couldn’t pull it off throughout the ‘90s as well. Some of the ‘00s too, I guess.

In this day of streaming, The Immaculate Collection probably isn’t all that essential anymore, but at least it provides a handy ‘ultimate ‘80s Madonna’ playlist without you having to fuss for it yourself.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pantera - The Great Southern Trendkill

EastWest Records: 1996

Overlooked? Bypassed? Forgotten? Not words I’d assign to Pantera’s eighth fourth album, but it doesn’t surprise me that The Great Southern Trendkill is sometimes deemed as such. It’s coming off a streak of critically-hailed, genre-defining LPs, the sort of peak few metal bands ever achieve in such a short period of time, much less maintain for a lengthy career. And Pantera had been in the game for well over a decade at this point, noticeable cracks forming from the stresses of so much success. Singer/growler Phill Anselmo was growing erratic during their live shows, rising tensions with the other band members to such a degree they had to record in separate studios. Also, thrash metal in general was on a downslide by the mid-‘90s, much of the old guard unable to keep pace as younger upstarts like Korn were taking metal down different roads. Pantera had proved incredibly adaptable though, and The Great Southern Trendkill was as good a point to reaffirm their place in metal’s domain. I’d say they succeeded, impressions of the time be damned.

What works in this album’s favor is Pantera’s willingness to mix things up again, to go acoustic and mellow more often. That doesn’t stop them from getting all out aggro though, the opening titular cut as vicious an assault of thrash as any metal committed to disc - mid-track, they get back to the groove jam with a kick-ass Dimebag solo that’s oh-so delicious. There’s nary a weak cut following it either, tunes capably mixing between funky rhythmic rock (Drag The Waters), sludgy blues odes (10’s), and heavy thrash stompers (13 Steps To Nowhere). I’m also surprised that Anselmo did his recordings in a totally different studio than the rest of Pantera, because he sounds just as locked in as ever. No matter his issues outside music, guy could still deliver when called upon.

Things get quite interesting in the second half, where Pantera show some new tricks in the crafting of an album. Suicide Note is presented in two parts, the first an acoustic country-blues ballad which was sure to throw fans of Vulgar Display Of Power quite for a loop. As Part 1 ends on something of a cinematic note, Part 2 erupts with as much ferocity as Pantera has ever shown. Definitely among the best one-two punches in Pantera history.

Great Southern Trendkill mostly ends on a run of thrash, with a detour to the epic metal of Floods, something of a return in tone to Cemetery Gates. It has the acoustic passages, groove metal portions, and a lovely solo at the end that fades out into the heavy monster riffs of The Underground Of America. Floods is a good tune, but it seems Anselmo had to try his voice at the ‘grunge warble’, sounding off to my ears. Stick to the southern drawl, yo’.

Still, Great Southern Trendkill ends Pantera’s ‘90s run strong, an emphatic exclamation mark. Tragic so much of their story fell apart after.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Various - Garden State (Music From The Motion Picture)

Epic: 2004

I don’t know anything about this movie. I think I recall the title from somewhere, but no details about Garden State sparks the recollection synapses. Who the stars were, the director was, the plot, not even the year it was released. Just based on the tracklist, I assume it came out early 2000s, what with names like Coldplay, Zero 7, and Thievery Corporation included. The cover has me thinking it’s about a group of young adults doing something quirky in the hopes of giving their meaningless lives meaning. Or maybe they’re trying to take a stand against the man in a Surrey New Jersey park? Guessing the former though – seems to be a running theme with all these soundtracks lately.

I could pop over to Deity IMDB for a little knowledge-drop regarding Garden State, but where’s the fun in that? It’d only lead to another bog-standard soundtrack review: giving a plot synopsis, what I think of it, and hastily going over the actual music before self-imposed word count runs out. Nah, how about I instead give the CD a once-over, make an assumed guess of what Garden State’s about, then see if Deity IMDB proves how accurate I was. Yeah, let’s do that.

Coldplay’s Don’t Panic opens things up. I wouldn’t say this is Coldplay at their Coldplayiest, because that’s just a lazy, cliché way of describing a Coldplay song, no matter how apt. Two tracks from The Shins crop up early, who I do remember being rather big on the indie scene; wouldn’t surprise me if this movie helped. A whole lot of ultra-soft rock and Americana folk make their way in, including Nick Drake’s One Of These Things First, which I remember most for a commercial (I think?). Whoa, Colin Hay, the lead singer Men At Work, had a solo career too? I’ll be darned. Simon & Garfunkel are also here, absolutely, always a solid option for a ‘coming of age’ movie. All these sensitive acoustic musicians make Thievery Corporation’s Lebanese Blonde stand out like an ethnic-flavored thumb, and I’ve no idea how it fits within this movie’s context. Most of these songs have me picturing the cast laying about cuddling on couches, looking out rainy windows, strolling through saturated neighborhoods, and involving themselves in deep, philosophical questions about what it means to be a young adult in the new millennium. Works for Zero 7 and Frou Frou (re: Imogen Heap), but the Thievery Corps.?

Anyhow, let’s see what Garden State’s really about. *clickity-clickity-clack* Ah, hmm, it’s a Zach Braff vehicle (aka: that guy from Scrubs). Wow, passion project, more like. I wasn’t too far off in my plot assumptions either; also is a movie where the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope got its legs. No wonder the music felt chipper, yet also a tad mopey and insufferable. Natalie Portman’s in this, as is Ian Holm and… Method Man?? Wait, you got yourself a Wu-Tang member, and didn’t have any Wu joints in your score? Poor form, Zach.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ugasanie - Eye Of Tunguska

Cryo Chamber: 2015

Is there any landmass more inhospitable and devoid of humanity than the Siberian plateau? Right, Antarctica, but the polar continent has an allure, a challenge for the human spirit; a realm where you can see unique fauna and frozen wastes unlike anywhere else on the planet. What does Siberia have? Dense woods, peat bogs, brutal winters, and more bugs than all the grains of sand in the world, the region a nearly impenetrable fortress of human misery. A perfect place for sending your criminals and prisoners, but horrible for the tourist industry.

There’s one area, however, that’s captured the imagination of astronomers, speculators, theorists, and artists, known for an event that was as catastrophic as it was mysterious. All the early expeditions were able to find at ground zero were thousands upon thousands of blasted, dead trees, some still standing but charred to a cinder. With no signs of a crater, science guessed it was caused by an exploding chunk of space rock or ice, one that detonated before it even impacted upon the ground. But surely something that explosive would have left an impact mark, the world thought. Given that the Tunguska region was remote even by Siberian standards though, very few expeditions followed-up on the event.

As such, the Tunguska Event entered contemporary speculative fiction lore, a sci-fi trope probably only outrivaled by Roswell. Many an author, comic, TV show, and video game dealing with aliens references it, a tantalizing region to hang a conspiracy theory on. What better, isolated area for governments and E.T.s to convene than this, plotting world control and humanity misery? Right, Antarctica again.

Some musicians have also namedropped Tunguska, including Tomita, Alan Parsons, Cymbals Eat Guitars, and a few metal bands too. This here Ugasanie, whose brand of dark ambient typically focuses on the furthest regions of European hinterlands, would naturally have his say in Siberian folklore. Rather than rehashing the same ol’ event though, Eye Of Tunguska instead recounts a smaller, intimate occurrence, involving a group of hiking students eager to see the epicenter. Losing their way as you do in the middle of literal nowhere, they were never heard from again, their bodies eventually recovered at a nearby abandoned geological station, mutilated and covered with radiation burns. Wait, is this fiction, or did this really happen? If so, day-um…

The album’s essentially a dark ambient score to the story, each track another chapter (The Taiga, Lonely Winter Hut, The Phenomenon, Last Night, Attempt To Contact, The Bodies Under The Snow, and so on). Sounds mostly consist of eerie tones, desolate drone, and sparse field recordings, all with a sci-fi undercurrent of nervous curiosity and tense exploration. Even with a concrete plot as a backbone, Ugasanie leaves his tracks plenty open to interpretation in what’s unfolding, making Eye Of Tunguska the sort of CD that demands one’s full attention for the best results. If you’re willing to take this trip to Tunguska, anyway. Antarctica don’t look so bad now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Various - Empire Records: The Soundtrack

A&M Records: 1995

A ‘90s movie centered on the exploits of a record store seemingly run by teenagers? Pft, pass. Hackers was my regrettable tackle at Gen-X culture, though if Empire Records’ soundtrack had focused on techno instead of alternative rock, maybe I’d have paid it attention. Look, my dedication to electronic music was unshakable, ain’t no way Teenage Sykonee would sway to the sounds his younger sister indulged in. Ooh, wait, sis’, can I borrow that Beastie Boys Ill Communication CD inexplicably in your collection? I need Sabotage for a mixtape.

No, I didn’t get this soundtrack from her (she did have it though). This comes from another lady of comparable age, and it seems several grown gals have a thing for Empire Records. It’s gotta’ be because of Liv Tyler on the cover, wearing that impossibly cute, navel-exposing blue fuzz sweater and plaid mini-skirt, holding back with authori-tah a rag-tag group of peers, co-workers, besties and frienemies. The Ethan Hawke-hot sensitive friend, the promiscuous blonde, the Pauly Shore quirky guy, the nihilistic authentic Gen-X philosopher, the kinda’ gothic depressive. Mmm… Robin Tunney, with or without shaved head…

I get the sense folks remember Empire Records for what they think the movie represents (alas, their youth!), rather than what actually happens in the movie. Because not a whole lot happens in the movie, and most of what does happen is so filled with stock teenage-lite comedy situations and tropes, you could plunk these characters and plot into any setting and it’d tell the same story. A video store, a restaurant, a civic centre, an arcade, wherever it is teenagers go for employed hang-outs now. The angle of a record store is wholly wasted, no one giving insight into the retail music industry or tunes they’re playing and supposedly enjoying. Not that it’s the fault of the scriptwriter or actors, Empire Records striking me as the sort of movie studio-meddled to make it as appealing to the broad teenage demographic as possible. Heck, the soundtrack probably wasn’t even finalized before shooting began, so how could there be any dialog regarding these Gen-X jams of the day?

Even the collection of tunes is lackluster as a cultural touchstone. Some notable markers do make the cut, like The Cranberries, Gin Blossoms, Better Than Ezra, and Toad The Wet Sprocket. Edwyn Collins’ A Girl Like You was a memorable hit at the time (so Bowie!), while it’s hard to forget the movie-climax performance of cast member Coyote Shivers’ Sugarhigh. With a surefire teen hit on their hands (*cough*), A&M Records hoped Empire Records would expose some of their obscure acts (Drill, Lustre, Ape Hangers, Innocence Mission). Much of it sounds like stock alternative rock, punk, and folk of the mid-’90s to my ears, with many of these bands not doing anything beyond the era (so sayeth The Discogs). But hey, nostalgia for even the blandest of ‘90s paraphernalia can get you vinyl reissues these days. Do they have the Liv Tyler ensemble at Hot Topic too?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The White Stripes - Elephant

V2: 2003

The White Stripes are the greatest rock band of the last twenty years, if you were to ask any long-time follower of that scene. Like, I’m talking long-time, since at least the late ‘60s. In one fell swoop, Jack and Meg obliterated any and all developments, nuances, dalliances, diversion, explorations, and permutations of rock music, bringing the scene back to its simple, garage roots. More punk than punk, more blues than grunge; punting the pretentions of prog, nuking the new wave for some old wave. Um, making metal mobsolete? Help me out here, guys and gals.

Mr. & Ms. White weren’t the only musicians making garage rock, but they were the first to connect with that all-important “yoof” demographic, breaking out of obscurity with a flurry of memorable videos on MTV (and almost single-handily making Lego cool again). Soon after, all manner of garage rock bands entered the airwaves. With a quickly crowding scene, however, come increased demands and expectations on the perceived leaders, to prove they deserve their perch upon the podium of classic rock’s saviors. Whether by circumstance or design, Elephant was destined to be The White Stripes’ Statement Album. They were no longer the plucky upstarts out of Detroit, but a force the world of old rock was hanging their hopes on. Plus, y’know, no pressure from signing on a major label, one offering a vinyl roll-out when the format was practically toast. Nope, no pressure at all. Good thing Jack White’s obsessive enough of an artist to get the job done, then.

Yeah, they smashed it out of the park, Elephant earning all the plaudits, praise, and rock awards. And though it couldn’t sustain the garage rock mini-revolution for much longer (folks getting all up in that Coldplay shi’…), the album’s held up greatly, thanks in huge part to the raw, unvarnished quality the Stripes deliberately utilized. The liner notes proudly proclaims no computers were used in the production, with only vintage analogue gear for the recording process and self-imposed time-frame for studio sessions (ten days!). They wanted this sounding as authentic to the garage bands of the mid-‘60s as possible post-millennium, and damn if they didn’t succeed. Fortunately, they also gave the tracks plenty of heft, such that the raw, grainy distortion and thumping drum kits are rich and full, nothing over-compressed and flat; timeless, and all that. Take that, Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Seven Nation Army was the big hit off here, but I’ve been rather blasé about it all these years. Too monotonous throughout, y’see, though definitely kick-ass lyrics. Nah, I prefer these Stripes when they just rock the f’ out (Black Math; Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine; Hypnotize), or get right-proper blues heavy and sludgy (There’s No Home For You Here; Ball And Biscuit; I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself). And dammit, the acoustic jam with Holly Golightly at the end is just too adorable, in spite of the depressing topic. Country in a nutshell, eh?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lorenzo Montanà - Eilatix

Psychonavigation Records: 2013/2015

Mr. Montanà was pretty set with Fax +49-69/450464: a couple of albums, nearly a half-dozen collaborations with label head Pete Namlook. Guy could probably have rode his entire career with the seminal print had it not been for Mr. Kuhlmann’s unfortunate untimely death. With no other choice but to shutter their doors, Fax+’s closing left ol’ Lorenzo temporarily homeless. There were undoubtedly several options and opportunities for the Italian producer to find another label, but perhaps he sensed proper kinship with this plucky, off-the-radar print out of Dublin, Ireland. One that took direct inspiration from Namlook’s work in their chosen name, and even had a fondness for the Fax+ sounds of old, often leaning retro with their ambient techno. Besides, it’d be another year before the true Fax +49-69/450464 successors launched (Carpe Sonum Records). May as well make a bed with these Psychonavigation guys, see how things turn out.

None too shabby, now three albums deep for Keith Downey’s print. They must have been more popular than anticipated too, what with only being released as limited CDr and all. Like, I know Mr. Montanà came from Fax+, but that doesn’t mean you must honor Namlook’s strict limitation runs as well. Right, small label, CDs aren’t as popular, etc. Fortunately there was enough interest in Lorenzo’s earlier contributions to Psychonavigation that a reissue was inevitable. And wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Montanà had just released his third LP for the label, so why not bundle them all together for a spiffy 3CD pack titled Trilogy? Making things simple for all the new comers and late adopters, now don’t it? (*cough*)

Eilatix was the first of these albums, and just so happens to be first alphabetically too. Don’t you just love it when things coincidentally align as the planets and stars do on a cool summer eve? No, this simile is applicable, because the music within is very brisk and chill, minimal ambient acid and dub techno for nights out under a full moon, lounging in a lawn chair huddled within a dew-speckled blanket, the sparkle of distant suns glimmering in your eyes. Wow, did I get carried away with this descriptor. Eilatix isn’t that evocative.

The album was billed as a follow-up to Lorenzo’s work with Namlook, so I’m assuming its referencing the Labyrinth series, which I’ve never heard. However, without that frame of reference, I actually came into Eilatix figuring this a follow-up to Mr. Montanà’s solo work on Fax+, Serpe, and I cannot deny some feelings of disappointment. There was a significant leap in crafstmanship between his first two albums, while this feels like a regression of sorts, less about pushing his boundaries in favor of a simple, modest album, ears fixated on the era of early Apollo and HIA. It works in that regard, but man, just when things are warming up and getting good, Eilatix ends, Temporary Light a big tease to what could have been. Still, quite pleasant as background music. Play it during your stargazing ventures.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dronny Darko & protoU - Earth Songs

Cryo Chamber: 2015

I find dark ambient’s at its best when it provides a narrative, a musical sequence of mood, atmosphere and tone akin to an audio novel or documentary. Okay, so I think all music is best served as such, but this genre seems tailor-made for it. Catchy earworms? Shuffle-tastic beats? Sing-along lyrics? Get out of here with such foolish diversions, we’ve a tale to tell, and have no need of dance numbers and staged musical distractions. Not when there’s outworld realms to explore, frigid tundra to trek, sojourns of the psyche to survey, occult rituals to observe, and ruined societies to unearth. Or, in the case of this collaboration between Dronny Darko and protoU, telling nothing less than the entire history of the universe! Talk of ambition.

I’m not even kidding. Earth Songs contains seven tracks, each demarcated by an approximate date of setting within this narrative. The opener is Explosion (13.8 billion years ago), because if your scope is all of Earth’s existence, you may as well start at the beginning of everything. No planet, no congealed mass of space rocks and dust orbiting a hot, young star, not even a molecular cloud or stellar nursery drifting in a galaxy. We’re at a time when the very elements of the cosmos were still being crafted, the building blocks of all that we see and interact with finding its form. The music, such as it is, sounds rather like the droning ambience of a science show describing such a scene, or the weird landforms that Dave Bowman flew over after the trippy light show was done.

Since nothing much else happens in the development of Earth for a very, very long time, track two time-jumps some ten-billion years to Life Beneath The Surface (3.8 billion years ago). Not only do we now have a planet, but stirrings of cognizant chemical reactions too! In something of a departure from Cryo Chamber’s typical bleak drone, this track is rather calm and soothing, ambient in its more traditional sense. It paints a promising, humble beginning for these songs of Earth, of unlimited potential. What’s with those sounds of footsteps though? Is some future explorer actually present? Aliens? Also, I’m not sure how scientifically accurate Darko and ‘U are being, considering next track, Riparian Forest (300 million years ago), has samples of song birds. I’m almost certain such animals didn’t exist that far back.

Desolate, ash-strewn Extinction (66 million years ago) is self-explanatory, almost a requisite track in this sort of album. Shortly after (astronomically speaking), we have Primate (50 million years ago), a bit more melodic and hopeful in tone, though definitely with an ominous edge to it. Something must have happened along the way, for we have Singularity (2045 AD) next, followed upon by Leaving Earth (2135 AD), as bleak of sci-fi drone as you’ll likely hear that’s not on a Sabled Sun album. Wait…, 2135… 2145… Oh my God, Earth Songs just might be a Sabled Sun prequel! (probably not)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal

Ruthless Records: 1995/1998

The only Bone Thugs-N-Harmony album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony fan. Took me damn long enough to get it too! You’d think, after relaunching this blog with all that Bone Thugs love that E. 1999 Eternal was already been in my collection. Nope, though I did intend to pick it up shortly after getting that Creepin On A Come Up EP. Made sense considering how much I talked up the Cleveland crew’s debut LP and all. Not sure what happened though. I do recall getting side-tracked by hip-hop from Ice Cube and Public Enemy in the ensuing year, not to mention music funds being put towards a few “DJ Mix Series On A Budget” projects. Then there was another Waveform Records splurge, a Juno Reactor splurge, filling a few blanks from Wu-Tang Clan, an indulgence in Nine Inch Nails… wow, Lord Discogs sure is great at chronologically chronicling one’s buying habits!

Whatever the case, I finally done did get me some E. 1999 Eternal (because going back to playlist those early Ace Tracks reminded me as such), and I feel like such a tool for holding out this long for it. Right, I already know the hits off here practically beat for rap, so ingrained in mid-‘90s airplay they are. Tha Crossroads was the big one of course, and undoubtedly the sole reason many grabbed this album. Interestingly, the original version was quickly replaced by the more popular Dj U-Neek’s Mo Thug Remix that was featured on the classic Grammy nominated video. Their reflective, harmonious vibe is what many came to associate with the group, including yours truly when hearing tracks like 1st Of Tha Month and weed odes like Budsmokers Only and Buddah Lovaz. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of their heavier, thuggish ruggish mould, but it wasn’t the sound getting the radio (re: school dance) play or video rotation on MuchMusic. This album though, damn is it ever a heavy one.

The success of Tha Crossroads belies the fact Bone Thugs-N-Harmony cultivated an underground image of gritty, ultraviolent gangsta menace with a taste of the occult. Their world wasn’t just harrowing tales of the ghetto, but one also tempted further within the darkside of life, relying on spirits and demons for guidance in their lives. The contrast of rapid-fire double-time raps with harmonic soul is like hearing the angel and demon on your shoulders, though in the case of E. 1999 Eternal, the sinister tone of the music suggests all their sins are winning out. Down ’71 (The Getaway), Land Of The Heartless, Die Die Die, Eternal, and Mo’ Murda.. . all gripping street narratives with solid beats, chorus-chants, and ominous sounds, never sacrificing intensity for the chance at a little chart action. It was probably all a bit much for those expecting more Crossroads within, but that didn’t stop Bone Thugs from aspirations of rap dominance from here on out. For more ill than good, unfortunately.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Council Of Nine - Diagnosis

Cryo Chamber: 2015

So this Council Of Nine fellah, Mr. Maximillian Olivier, what’s his story? I spent a good chunk of the last review of his material going on about Greek stuff, and almost none detailing his backstory. While I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to get my mythology wank on, there’s a practical reason too: Council Of Nine is about as much a mystery as the governing body behind the contemporary Council Of Nine.

Unlike others of Cryo Chamber’s roster, Max’ got his start in-house, first contributing to the 2014 artist showcase Tomb Of Empires. Shortly after in 2015, he released Dakhma, and later the same year, provides us with Diagnosis. Lord Discogs lists no further entries, not even self-released material in the elsewheres of the Internet. Even his Facebook page seems more intent on reposting Cryo Chamber promotions than anything favoring himself. Makes sense if he’s got close ties with Simon Heath’s print, which I suspect he does given Mr. Olivier comes from the valley of the Redwoods near Cryo headquarters. Cannot deny though, because of this sparse info, I briefly thought this was Simon Heath under another pseudonym. But no, that wouldn’t make sense - I’m sure followers of Atrium Carceri are highly attuned to any and all developments with their dark ambient lord and savior, and would have made the connection swift-like. Council Of Nine is his own dark beast, doing his own dark things within the dark drone folds.

And making quite a departure with Diagnosis from Dakhma. Whereas the latter focused on a setting and the surrounding atmosphere, this album is all on that introspective gaze, insular and reflective as one is wont to be when alone with their thoughts. Track titles like Memories Are Fading, Sedation, Void Of Regret, and Riddled With Guilt certainly paint a bleak journey within the psyche, but then what would you expect from a dark ambient release? And honestly, Diagnosis is one of the more melodic albums I’ve heard from the Cryo Chamber camps, melancholic as needed without succumbing to pure depression and despair. There are even brief moments of uplifting tone in opener Rite Of Passage, maybe hinting at some hope in the journey of judging thyself we’re about to embark upon. Hah, not bloody likely.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Diagnosis offers no reprieve or remorse for the listener, but Council Of Nine lays the drone almost as thick as the crushing tones of Dakhma. Instead of feeling claustrophobic within a macabre ritual though, you’re surrounded by all the doubts and misgivings of your past, unable to escape the crippling regrets that have led you to that not-so comfy couch in the shrink’s office. At least, I figure that’s the intent of Diagnosis. After a promising start, the album kinda’ mushes into an unending bleak drone in the back half. Cool if that’s Council Of Nine’s intent, but I was hoping for a little more journey in this one. Mind Over MIDI spoiled me, is what.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mind Over MIDI - Deep Map

diametric.: 2015

I didn’t think much of it while browsing the Ultimae Store, simply another intriguing CD that gave me the Silent Season feels with that packaging. I’d never heard of Mind Over MIDI, and quite probably would have continued my sifting had the album’s title not tickled the fancy of that would-be cartographer residing somewhere near my heart and soul (a quarter-inch to the upper right of the spleen). So take the splurge-plunge I did, and boy, was I not expecting this. Okay, I had some inclination – Ultimae doesn’t rep just anyone, and the grayscale mass of water and land hinted at something ambient, dub, with a dash of static and drone. That the mind behind this MIDI has such a storied career though, I hadn’t a clue, not a single bloody one.

Helge Tømmervåg is how he typically deals with airport staff, and has been making music from his native Norway for two decades now. Starting out mostly on that post-Aphex acid techno tip, he soon took on dub techno with all the sonic space it provides, and might have found a comfy home in a chill, year 2000 dub-n-glitch set had such DJs ventured beyond mainland Europe for their records. As it was though, he carved out a respectable niche on Norwegian print Beatservice Records, home to such acts like Biosphere, Circular, and, um… Slowpho? Flunk? I don’t know much about this label, so far off in lands that may never see a winter sun as they are.

Mind Over MIDI eventually moved on from Beatservice though, finding a semi-home with Silent Season; of course he would! He’s also released material on diametric., a recent, fiercely independent print that adores things like ‘soulful techno’ and ‘experimental electronix’. Their roster includes names like Valanx, Sons of Melancholia, Submersion, and Be My Friend In Exile. Oh man, we sure these guys aren’t from Norway too?

As one can glean from these label wanderings of Mr. Tømmervåg, he gradually left the techno throb of his dub explorations behind, focusing more on the ambient sonics and space beatless music affords. Some of his records turn very abstract and minimalist, so it was with some glee his longtime followers heard he was returning to something with real melody in Deep Map. Maybe, I don’t know, there’s scant info on how many fans Mind Over MIDI has. The few stray comments I’ve crossed seem positive though.

And this album, oh yeah, this is definitely some introspective stuff. The first couple tracks mostly drone about with static, fuzzy dub, and distant pads; very melancholic mood music for our times. Then the middle portion of Deep Map erupts with bright synths, as though we’re in Hearts Of Space’s domain of New Age ambient (the non cheesy sort). The back half is something of a conflict between suffocating static dub and meditative melody, with ample field recordings littered throughout, and no clear resolution by CD’s end. Dare I give this the ‘journey album’ prestige? I does dare indeed!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Various - Dazed And Confused

Universal Music Group: 1993

Wayne’s World probably got it started, that whole “‘70s music is now cool in the ‘90s” thing, but this soundtrack solidified it. Punk? Grunge? Metal? Rap? Pft, who cares about that when you got all the hits you might have recalled in your infancy, your parents playing it at some point in your youth, but never gave much thought while growing up. Of course, anyone tuning into a classic rock station would have heard all these songs in a given evening, but the kids ain’t doin’ that, nosiree. They’ll only listen and appreciate the rock hits of the ‘70s if bundled in a package that appeals to them and their sensibilities. One that relates to the difficulties of high school, being young and directionless, believing these times as they are will last forever. Where getting drunk, stoned and laid on the weekend is the goal of any fun, memorable night out. So sayeth the Dazed And Confused crew.

Contrary to belief, I don’t want to be contrarian. I enjoy following the herd if it’s a herd worth following. This movie though, I just don’t get the big appeal. I understand Richard Linklater’s message just fine, such as it is, and latter-aged Boomers undoubtedly get a rush of nostalgia endorphins when watching this. Plus movie geeks adore the movie’s cast for the plethora of “before they were famous stars” littered throughout. At the same time though, I watch Dazed And Confused, and I feel like I’m watching a typical Friday night back in my high-school days. Granted, my hinterland residence didn’t afford much activity for youth beyond attempts at getting stoned, drunk, and laid. Drinking down by the oceanfront before the cops scattered you to the woods was fun for a time, but not after discovering these truly wild and bizarre parties called ‘raves’ happening in Europe. If movies are about escapism, why should I be invested in one that cuts too close to my reality? What do I know though, I think Groove is kinda’ cute.

So the music. Dazed And Confused features a bunch of big hits of the mid-‘70s, a fun but totally unadventurous collection of rock tunes. That’s not really a dig though, as this is almost certainly what the characters of the movie would play on their vinyl spinners and 8-track rewinders. Heh, makes me wonder what I might have been listening to if I lived as a teenager back then. Would I have discovered Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk? Might prog rock been my one true calling? Would my Neil Young fondness have gotten a quicker start?

Linklater says he chose 1976 as his movie’s setting specifically for the last days of when rock music truly rocked. Before the disco behemoth took over the airwaves. Before everything got bad. Yeah, whatever, that’s what people always say about the music they first got laid to. Given how popular this soundtrack was for my generation though, the legacy of Kiss, Rick Derringer and Nazareth carries on.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Council Of Nine - Dakhma

Cryo Chamber: 2015

Council Of Nine has existed since the days of Greek Mythology, Olympian Gods who sought to punish Mankind after Prometheus had the audacity to give us Fire. These deities – Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hephaestus, Aphrodite (the cute one!), Apollo, Athena, Hermes, and Demeter (the serious one) – created the first woman, Pandora, and sent her as a gift to Prometheus’s dopey brother, Epimetheus. The Council Of Nine also sent with her a Box, with instruction it was never to be opened. They figured dumb ol’ Epi’ would accidentally knock it off a table or something, thus the Council Of Nine could unleash all the ills of Mankind upon the world, and blame it on the Titans! Little did they know their own creation would open the Box instead, Pandora’s curiosity getting the better of her, throwing a wrench into their blame game. Women, am I right, Zeus?

'kay, I’ve no citation that this is the ‘Council Of Nine’ Maximillion Olivier chose as an alias. Heck, it could be based off the South Park parody of the Council Of Nine, which included such luminaries as Aslan The Lion, Luke Skywalker, Gandalf, Jesus (the cute one!), Wonder Woman, Glinda The Good Witch, Popeye, Zeus, and Morpheus (the serious one). Seeing as how this is a dark ambient release though, I’m leaning more towards the governing body of the Church Of Satan as a source of inspiration than a relatively obscure part of Greek lore. I had to share some of these Wiki discoveries.

Mr. Olivier makes the sort of dark ambient most associate with the genre: creepy, foreboding, bleak stuff drawing upon images of black rituals and the occult. Can’t say it’s a sound I particularly gravitate towards – when I indulge in dark ambient, it’s mostly of the cosmic, isolated sort that leaves one alone with their thoughts. Mind bending abstract stuff’s kinda’ cool too. If I’m gonna’ splurge on Cryo Chambers’ catalog though, I may as well take in all the genre’s forms. Who knows, maybe I’ll stumble upon something just as dope as Sabled Sun!

Can’t say Dakhma is that release, though it certainly executes the ‘dark ambient by way of eerie ritual’ mold in fine fashion. The title is reference to an open structure where Zoroastrianists bring dead bodies for the purpose of excarnation, essentially letting carrion birds pick away at corpses before being taken away for burial. Though macabre, this does have practical value to it. Look it up, it’s fascinating.

Dakhma holds six tracks giving us a portrait of the ritual. Some, like Tower Of Silence and The Ossuary, have distant melancholic tones setting the mood of the passing of the dead. Others like The Magi and Nasu, focus more of the sounds and activities that may occur during such an event. The two longest though, Sacrifice and Circle Of The Sun, are some of the deepest, crushing drone I’ve ever heard. It’s like my soul’s being suffocated and squeezed out of my body. Well done.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

ACE TRACKS: April 2016

How we handlin’ all these diversions, then? Not too painful I hope, getting some fresh perspectives and insights into artists and genres so seldom touched upon here. And hey, it helps with diversification, broadening the blog’s appeal beyond the familiar, perhaps even luring in a few new, unexpected eyes in the process. That’s a good thing, right? Judging by the numbers, reviewing other people’s former collections has paid off. Who knew folks would be more interested in Bob Dylan records than Yet Another Psy Dub CD? Still, this backtrack’s got some distance to go, only just wrapping up the ‘C’s. Those ‘Tr’s are far away yet, friends, so very very far away. Patience, my lovelies. Here, have some ACE TRACKS from this past month of April!



Full track list here.


MISSING ALBUMS:
Claude Young - Celestial Bodies
Various - Time Warp Compilation 07: Loco Dice
B.G. The Prince Of Rap - The Time Is Now

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 11%
Percentage of Rock: 32%
Most “WTF?” Track: Probably something from Alphaxone. Take your pick of mind-peeling creepiness digging its tendrils through your ear membranes.

This has to be the most diverse playlist I’ve put together yet. Well, not including The Ultimate Master List. Even doing a lazy alphabetical arrangement generated quite a few interesting contrasts throughout. Possibly the smallest percentage of electronic music too, in lieu of all that rock and folk material. And when I do get to the digital realms, it’s almost always ambient music. Even the techno guys (Claude Young) or ‘future garage’ guys (Synkro) go ambient here. Can’t say things are gonna’ be much different in the coming month either.
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