Monday, October 31, 2016

Cosmic Replicant - Landscapes Motion

Pureuphoria Records: 2015

Cosmic Replicant was a wonderful surprise when I took a chance on his Mission Infinity album, offering up psy-chill tunes with a way-retro ambient-bleep aesthetic unlike anything else I’d heard from Altar Records. I’d have splurged on the entirety of the chap’s discography shortly after if the rest of his material wasn’t restricted to the digital realms. Yes, it’s been over a decade since buying MP3s became big business, but I’m no closer to buying into the practice. If anything, with the advent of streaming services like Spotify, I’ve grown less interested in parting with personal finances for specific downloads. It may be a pittance, but at least something is being paid back to the source with streaming, and that music is available nearly anywhere within the omnipresent nebulous Cloud That Be. I download a paid digital album to my computer, however, and she’s stuck there – heck, I can’t even play them on my main stereo, unlike those sexy CDs proudly displayed within shelves and towers.

However, turns out that Mr. Pavel Shirshin has a couple EPs available at the always awesome free download site Ektoplazm.com. Well shit, son, that’s a price I’ve no problem paying for. What are these, older demos before signing with Altar Records? No, wait, they’re in fact released around the same time, Landscapes Motion in particular coming out just this past year on Pureuphoria Records. Seems Mr. Shirshin made his 2012 debut with the print, a tiny netlabel that doesn’t appear to have much going for it beyond the positive attitude that come with the psy scene. Sometimes that’s all you need, but yeah, I can see why the Cosmic Replicant brand has more releases on Altar. Well, that’s mighty decent of Pavel, coming back to them for a mini-album. Still, I wonder if it was done because this EP doesn’t quite fit the Altar vibe.

Not that I couldn’t see DJ Zen’s print taking a small chance outside its comfort zone, but Landscapes Motion ventures into realms seldom tread by the psy scene: dub techno. For sure there are a few successful crossovers, most prominent in recent times the Son Kite/Minilogue expedition. And Mr. Shirshin’s sound has had elements of dub and techno anyway, though never in such an explicit manner as on this EP. The titular opener suggests we’re in for a groovy, minimalist affair, lacking the psychedelic baggage commonly associated with this scene. Second track Modern Renaissance strips all psy pretense away, hitting you with a steady techno beat filled with pulsing synths and flowing dub treatments. Third cut Flash In The Mist gets back to the downtempo beat action, but is no less clinical in its dub designs, while final tracks Evening Reflections and Layers Of Perception get back to the deep techno rhythms.

Tickle me stunned by Landscapes Motion, this EP nothing like what I was expecting. It likely won’t amaze Deepchord disciples, but Cosmic Replicant certainly holds his own with that scene’s heavyweights. Now, more physical releases, please!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Laurent Garnier - La Home Box

F Communications: 2015

It’s been a long time since Laurent Garnier’s released a new album, and we’re technically still waiting on that too. La Home Box is more a gathering of various singles he produced throughout 2014, with a few additional unreleased items rounding things out to LP length. This has given it a ‘compilation’ label from most, but listen, son, that shit wouldn’t fly back in the day. Hell, when Monsieur Garnier first made his mark in the world of techno music, a dance album was just a bunch of prior singles lumped in with a few unreleased items. That makes La Home Box a retro album! Ain’t nothing old-school about the deluxe box set version though. Four slabs of wax, each a different color, with extra tracks not included with the CD (ten minute long Drifting In Midwaters, ten minute long Confused, additional remixes of a few tunes), all bundled within a pizza box. Hot damn, that’s going to bat for the Black Crack collectors out there. Makes getting the lone piddling CD kinda’ lame, but what need have I for all that vinyl? Besides, I get two versions of The Rise & Fall Of The Donkey Dog, so “haha!” on you, vinyl enthusiasts. Wait, the CD’s also included in that quantum singularity box set? Well, fu

Whether you’re thrilled or disappointed that La Home Box isn’t a new album-proper from Mr. Garnier will likely depend on what you expect out of his music. Say what you want about his adventures into genres unexplored, but you cannot deny he has big French balls indulging his musical kleptomania, turning away those who just want more techno weapons in their arsenal. They like Man With The Red Face, but going full jazz? Not so much.

Such folks should then be pleased with La Home Box, as it’s a no-nonsense affair of various dancefloor tools, artistic indulgences be damned. I mean, what else could it be, given this is a ‘compilation’ of scattered singles, where leftfield genre dalliances just aren’t done (save the occasional B2-side). Instead we stick to the thumping heads-down techno (Psyche-Delia, I’m Going Home, M.I.L.F.), the Afro-beat techno (Boom (Chakalok) (Traumer African Remix)), the “techno with some house elements but not quite tech-house” techno (Enchanté, Bang (The Underground Doesn’t Stop)), and the “this is not techno, it’s deep house, you goof” techno (And The Party Goes On). Interestingly, though hardly surprising, the CD exclusive cuts find Mr. Garnier bucking the techno in favor of something different. The Rise & Fall Of The Donkey Dog has something of an electro-rock build going for it, while the Husbands Remix does the French chill-pop thing you’d expect of AIR and the like. Oh, and Revenge Of The Lol Cat sounds like Garnier having a pisstake with epic G-funk boogie. LOL indeed.

So overall a satisfying collection of tunes from ol’ Laurent – his craftsmanship around an escalating techno groove remains as sharp as ever. Wouldn’t mind a real album for his next outing though.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Various - Journeys By DJ: Coldcut - 70 Minutes Of Madness

Music Unites/Journeys By DJ™ LLC: 1995/2002

It’s rare that a DJ mix series is hijacked by a contributor to such a degree, they become solely associated with it. For sure you have game changers, as James Holden and Joris Voorn did with the Balance series. Or some jocks become synonymous with a series due to endless entries into its canon (the forever Nick Warren & Deep Dish show that Global Underground became). Journeys By DJ already had six volumes under its belt by the time Coldcut came along with their seventy minutes of madness, including entries from John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, DJ Rap, and Danny Rampling. Heck, even Judge Jules beat More and Black to the “30+ Tracks Set” when he put out his mix for the series. Yet these days everyone always assumes Journeys By DJ was a Coldcut one-off, future entries by Gilles Peterson and Jay Chappell even less remarked upon. So impactful was this mix, that it alone received the re-issue treatment in 2002. Oh come on, Billy Nasty’s set wasn’t bad, was it?

Still, you can’t knock the result, 70 Minutes Of Madness easily earning its Classic Status as a DJ mix CD for the ages. They didn’t just rinse out a pile of similar tunes, but studio-mashed tons of disparate sounds, styles, and genres into a megamix of their super-deep crates. Junior Reed hangin’ with Newcleus! Harold Budd pallin’ about with Photek! Plastikman getting funky with Jedi Knights! Air Liquide trippin’ balls with Bob Holroyd! The Dr. Who theme just being all awesome-sauce no matter who’s around it (Red Snapper, The Sabres Of Paradise, and Jimmy Cauty, if you must know). Not to mention a shit-ton of breaks, beats, pieces, scratching, cross-cutting, and acapella action littered throughout. Coldcut were already regarded as masters of the one-n-two, but typically translated their skill into producing DJ tools and sample-heavy songs. This was the first time they got into the studio for a commercial mix CD showcasing their DJ trade – well, second, if you count Tone Tales From Tomorrow a year prior – knocking it out of the park so hard, they practically abandoned this particular market forever after. A shame, as I’d love to hear what another 70 Minutes Of Madness might entail with over two decades worth of gathered new weapons within their coffers.

Possibly the most outrageous thing about this set is how it bucks conventional set construction. The opening salvo including The Truper (Photek), Wagon Christ, and Funki Porcini (with Dillinja on the rub) features some of the most frenetic ragga jungle you’d ever hear in 1995, all within the first ten minutes! You’d think the set could only go down in energy from there, but tons of acid, funk, and breakin’ action maintain an even keel for the most part. Even with sporadic downtime throughout this set, Coldcut never lose the plot, coming back with a new avenue of music to explore. Throw in a final forty seconds of the needle riding out the last record grooves? Yeah, vinyl bliss.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sash! - It's My Life (Special Edition)

Scandinavian Records: 1997

I got this for a dime. That alone is worth the price of admission for Ecuador, one of my all-time guilty pleasure anthems. And surely there’s something else across two CDs of Sash! music that will make my commitment of 0.10 Canadian dollars practical. Surely a better investment than getting the single, which features all the same remixes found in this special edition of It’s My Life. Two extra tracks of decent euro dance fluff, and I’ll have gotten plenty return on my 1.40 peso expense.

Eh, who exactly is Sash!, you ask? Oh come on, you know who these guys are. Even if you somehow missed the late ‘90s club boom, you’ve heard their tracks, or similar knockoffs of their sound. Really, Sash! was something of a knockoff themselves, aping the pluck-heavy riffs Rollo perfected with Faithless for their own use, as did many producers at the time. It was Sash!, however, that had the most commercial success with them, in large part thanks to aggressive marketing and licensing of their big hits off here (Ecuador, Encore Une Fois, Stay, and all those Future Breeze remixes), such to the point they’re the default association with plucking synth club anthems. And while the group has carried on in the commercial world to this day, nothing has replicated the undeniable impact Sash! generated prior to the turn of the millennium. Soccer highlight reels would never be the same.

But it all started somewhere, and that somewhere is their debut album It’s My Life, of which I spent six pence upon (and dropping!). A few versions with different track arrangements are floating about, but mine doesn’t waste your time, dropping the three main anthems in your lap right out the gate. The titular opener features the sounds you’d expect of Sash! (synth plucks, mild acid, standard euro club beat, looping vocal), but subdued compared to their heavy hitters. Encore Une Fois did much better, especially the trancy Future Breeze rub, but I’ve long been ambivalent to this hit – 2 Lips’ Je T’Aime did the same thing better anyway. Following that is Ecuador, and good luck getting that killer piano earworm and Sabine Ohmes’ glorious shouting out of your head for the rest of the day! (“Eh-QUAY-DORa!”)

As for the rest, you get a few club track retreads (MightyBreak, Cheating Twister, Sweat), a euro pop cut that I don’t remember but had a ton of remixes (Stay), and The Final Pizzi, another big epic pluck-anthem I thought was made by someone else. Hell, maybe it is, but I’m too stupid to recall who (they all kinda’ sound the same anyway). There’s also Hoopstar, a collaboration with d’n’b act Nonex, and sounding completely daft on an album like this as a result. Haha, now that’s worth the 0.51 Chinese yen spent.

Not that bonus remix CD though. A couple agreeable trance and house rubs of Stay aside, this one’s complete rubbish. It’s got Armand Van Helden doing speed garage, for God’s sake! Ugh…

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Perturbator - I Am The Night

Blood Music: 2012/2015

The second album from Perturbator, and the dawning realization he could take his hot synthwave action out of the slummy homage backstreets, and into the brazen neon-glow of concept LPs. It wasn’t long either, I Am The Night coming out the same year as his debut full-length Terror 404. Throw in an additional three EPs, and you’re looking at one highly fruitful 2012 for Mr. Kent, further remarkable considering a lot of this was self-released. Strong buzz generated more than enough demand for something physical though, and Blood Music keeps coming through in latex-covered spades (um, ew?). This album saw two vinyl represses in 2015, plus another one this year, not to mention the various limited edition cassette versions. Oh, and a digipak CD as well. Yay! Kinda’ makes this either woefully neglected, or ridiculously scarce. Hey, remember when tapes held that status? Fun times.

While the idea of Perturbator as a night driving avenger first appeared in the Night Driving Avenger single, it fully crystallizes here with I Am The Night. There’s a world inside Mr. Kent’s mind, one he must release from his imagination and sent free-wheeling into your earholes and brain matter. Where the future is near, the streets are crime, and the rulers are wicked. Fortunately for the uninitiated, this album does offer a few pieces of dialog helping set the stage for Perturbator’s retro future-shock vision, including an opening piece called The New Black that sounds like it was cribbed from Robocop. It’s in fact Network, a 1976 movie that rather accurately predicted the cable news of this dire year of 2016. Say, just how far into the future did Perturbator intend these synthwave chronicles to be?

I Am The Night isn’t quite as focused on a specific narrative as future Perturbator records are, but it more than makes up for it in variety of tuneage. This is easily the most melodic of all his albums I’ve thus far reviewed, with shimmering synths aplenty throughout. Eclipse has a scorcher of a soaring riff, the titular cut sounds like it aped the ‘twinkle prog’ synths for a track wonderfully contrasted with a thumping low end, and Deviance with Arcade High is all kinds of retro chipper. Then there’s the pure synth-pop songs - ballads like Naked Tongues and Desire featuring vocalists, or beatless instrumental pieces like interlude Nexus Six and closer The Price Of Failure benefiting an actual movie for these to score. Throw in your mint pulse-pounding Perturbator cuts like Retrogenesis, Technoir, and Raining Steel, and you’ve got solid album covering all your synthwave needs.

If that’s still not enough, a few bonus tracks at the end round things out, including a collaboration with Dynatron in Volcanic Machinery - it’s surprisingly not as moody as you’d expect of these two working together. Meanwhile, Lilith’s rhythm almost sounds like futurepop (ooh, think of that pairing!), while slow-jam Girl In A Black Dress features a digital saxophone. Surprisingly comes off better than most saxophone recordings from the ‘80s.

Cities Last Broadcast - The Humming Tapes

Cryo Chamber: 2016

And finally I get to that oldest of dark ambient schools, the post-industrial class. Actually, calling it ‘post’ isn’t entirely accurate, this stuff developing almost concurrently with the warped sound experiments of early industrial. Once dark ambient started finding different ways of exploring the macabre side of drone though, its shared approach to the craft with traditional ambient dragged it out of the industrial scene into its own thing. Now you’ve got so many different styles of dark ambient, you’d almost need a Music Guide detailing it all; or not, this particular scene not as anal retentive about sub-genre purity as so many other electronic music scenes. For sure one could, if anything to help unsuspecting explorers differentiate from ‘space soul-crush’ from ‘urban decay doomcore’ from ‘Hell Dimension sadstep’ from ‘rainbow-sparkle drone’ (it’s an ironic micro-genre). But it’s not necessary, dark ambient connoisseurs content within their own interests, though perhaps with a shared smirk towards those who fear treading within.

Cities Last Broadcast, or Pär Boström to the Swedish Illuminati Division, has floated about the dark ambient scene for a while now. He’s probably better off known as Kammarheit, a project trending towards the reflective, melancholy side of dark ambient, and didn’t offer much exploration of unique recording methods. As an alias like Cities Last Broadcast though, you’re practically mandated to indulge industrial’s aesthetic of metropolitan decay. Crackling tape recordings, rusted grind of neglected machinery, billowing wind through burnt husks of buildings, warped records of a fallen culture - all that good stuff. For sure I’ve dealt with the post-apocalypse setting before, but most of those feature times significantly past the fall of Man, and often still using contemporary studio gear for recording. The Humming Tapes places us about as close to the initial action I’ve come across yet, feeling more like a Final Days Of A Victorian War than dealing with the after affects.

Well, the setting makes sense, given the crackling, droning analog tone that permeates this album. The actual content, however, focuses on the practice of séance, where a group of people sit together to communicate with spirits, a rather popular activity during the Victorian Era. Even Houdini getting in on that action, and grainy photographs of the sessions helped perpetuate the myth, but most séance mediums were considered frauds or hoaxes. Whether real or fake, The Humming Tapes presents itself as a recording from one such intense session, and I can’t help but wonder if ol’ Pär partook in a séance just for some authentic field recordings. Well no wonder that Glossolalia track sets my neck hairs on end!

Whether you believe in commune with the afterlife or not, The Humming Tapes definitely sells you on the atmosphere of a séance. It’s got the anxious waiting in the dark (The Sitting), the creepy contact (Glossolalia), a strangely forlorn discourse with the dead (Centennial), and that soul-emptying sense that you got more than you bargained for in toying with spirits (Electricity, Kathédra). A charming Halloween album, then.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

High Contrast - High Society

Hospital Records: 2004

We’re hitting peak liquid funk with this one, folks. Hospital Records and its whole damn crew were flying high in the year 2004, their fast soul music cutting a hyper-uplifting path of critical and commercial success few others in the d’n’b scene could match. Then along came some Aussie group a year later, completely changing the scene once more, and earned a fuckton more critical and commercial success than the Hospital posse could ever have achieved – heck, anyone doing d’n’b at the time. That didn’t deter London Elektricity and his roster of liquid funkers from carrying on as they did before, in fact enjoying just as much commercial success as when they were the new hotness. They just didn’t have as many critics gushing over their sound anymore, many lamenting the label’s refusal in evolving with the times. Um, have these critics ever paid attention to jungle at large? Once a genre is established, it stays that way forever after. It’s why the scene’s filled with so many persistent micro-niche interests.

But let’s return to that peak, Hospital Records high and mighty after a string of highly touted records. One of those was London Elektricity’s Billion Dollar Gravy, which I covered way, way, way back in the day. The other was High Society, High Contrast’s highly anticipated sophomore effort. Man oh man, is this paragraph heavy on the ‘high’s. High can’t help it, this album filling my happy centers high with PLUR goo, that I high and high, hi-diddly-high dii-o. (hi!)

Yeah, we’re firmly entrenched in ‘don’t fix an unbroken thing’ territory with High Society. Lincoln Barrett’s debut was a mildly moodier affair; still honoring the ‘street’ vibe soul music came from and had been capably executed by jazzstep sorts prior. By this point though, the adoring public had spoken, demanding more divas, MORE tear-out, MOAR liquid funk! And who was High Contrast to deny these fans what they craved? Someone who didn’t want to get pigeonholed perhaps, but if that was ever the case, he sure hides that hope here. If you’re at all familiar with any of Hospital Records’ output, you’re gonna’ know what to expect on this album, Mr. Barrett keeping the d’n’b jams peppy with uplift to spare. It can get a tad corny at times, and folks who figure jungle are serious-step business will obviously scoff at such pleasantries, but you cannot deny High Contrast’s consistency as a producer throughout this album.

He does show some further development in his style though, making use of more vocalists rather than strictly relying on samples as with his earlier material. Dynamite MC is here! Spoonface is here! No Lay is here! Um, Tomahawk (4) is here. Right, aside from the first one, I’m not familiar with any of these names, but they provide nice flavor to the album regardless, especially No Lay’s grime spitting on Angels And Fly. And hey, is that a touch of the ‘trancestep’ I hear in The Persistence of Memory. Cheeky, cheeky…

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Northumbria - Helluland

Cryo Chamber: 2015

I’ve covered so many forms of dark ambient from Cryo Chamber, I should take stock on whether I’m missing any. There’s space drone, for sure, and abstract drone near alongside it. Can’t forget the post-apocalyptic trip, nor the various excursions into realms of the occult. Moody synths, bleak widescreen dub, creepy field recordings, eerie musique concrete abstraction, cinematic sound design – that’s about all there is to dark ambient’s palette, right?

Not at all, as we’re still missing out on a pair of the scene’s classic components: old school industrial decay and sludgy doom metal drone. I touched on the latter one some two years ago now (!!), wherein metal’s morbid tendencies transplanted quite nicely into dark ambient’s domain, heavy guitar tones stretched out with reverb and feedback into a near-impenetrable fog of sound. And while some of the artists I’ve covered on Cryo Chamber have come from such backgrounds, none have made it their primary style, instead using synths and field recordings for their constructed soundscapes. Not this Northumbria duo though, fully embracing guitars for one of the least electronic sounding albums of dark ambient I’ve yet come across on this label. It only took me twenty-three CDs to get there.

Northumbria is comprised of Dorian Williamson and Jim Field, both of whom have floated around goth and sludge metal scenes for a while now. Jim Field even saw a little success with Sue Hotton as Rhea’s Obsession, their brand of darkwave finding them a home on industrial print Metropolis Records. Sometime in the recent past, the two met, discovering they had that all-elusive creative synergy so many musicians are in perpetual search of (other Holy Grails: the perfect beat, major label deals that won’t fuck you over). Their doom metal drone powers combined, Misters Field and Williamson started releasing music on a number of scattered dark ambient and post-metal prints. This included albums on labels like Consouling Sounds, thisquietarmy Records, and Altar Of Waste, plus compilation contributions to Futuresequence, Dipsomaniac Records, and Kalpamantra. Hm, seems a lot of Cryo Chamber guys have also released music on Kalpamantra. Are we looking at a sister print situation here, like Beyond and Waveform? Coo’ if so.

All these words spent on the background, and little left to detail Northumbria’s debut on Cryo Chamber, Helluland. Ah, well, that’s because there isn’t much to say. Guitar drone is generally vague and nondescript, all about the mood it conveys. And the mood be very melancholic indeed (Still Waters, Door Made Of Light, Song For Freyja, Catch A Falling Knife I); other times more sinister and foreboding (Sacred Ground, Maelstorm, Catch A Falling Knife II). Beyond these implied titles and moods though, I feel like these pieces could support nondescript art house films of chilly moors or foggy waterfronts. Or watching spiders weave their webs in the glow of dim street lights while waiting at a RAV line stop. Okay, that one’s super-specific, but damn if it didn’t suit the little scene I watched unfold.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Various - Hed Kandi: Deeper

Hed Kandi: 2001

With deep house getting commercial love again, I felt an itch. Not a deep itch, mind you; one nestled just under the epidermis. Still, a casual finger flick of a scratch would not suffice, a small amount of digging required. I tried and tested brand, catering to pop ‘n soul sensibilities without getting ultra-submerged in scene purity. Tunes suited for lazy-relaxin’ home times, lounge club wining and dining, nightmarish clothing boutique shopping, or soundtracking a promotional gentrified enclave vid’. A light vibe, a stylish vibe, a name you always know what to expect with just a glance of the track list. Unfortunately, there were no Naked Music or Om Records CDs in the used shop that day. Ah well, guess I’ll give this Deeper from Hed Kandi a shot. About time I got something from that label anyway.

For those who’ve never ventured into a CD shop before, Hed Kandi carved out a distinct identity on the compilation racks, with super stylish cover art unlike anything else on the UK market. When the label first appeared at the turn of the century, said market was primed for a label like this one, capturing the interest of a maturing clubbing audience just coming off the first throes of superclub ecstasy bedlam. They were moving on from hard house and trance, thus sexy house tunes coupled with sexy artwork were an easy sell for the casual consumer. Flood the market with multiple series of various takes on your musical manifesto (Nu Cool, Disco Kandi, Beach House, Winter Chill, Twisted Disco), and you’ve cornered the compilation corner in every music chain store for years to come. Heck, I probably would have picked one of these up back in the day too, if it weren’t for those outrageous import prices (forty bones for two discs of decent house? Pass).

Deeper was Hed Kandi’s stab at getting deeper with their house offerings, which probably seems redundant on the surface but then the label wasn’t one to let any potential angle go untapped. CD1 sticks to deep house, with names like The Rurals, Miguel Migs, Lisa Shaw, Kevin Yost, A:xus, and New Phunk Theory getting repped. There’s more, but I honestly know nothing about Silent Poets, Aquanote, or Laid, though they do hold their own with the recognizable artists here. Predictably, the vocals are soulful, the rhythms groovy, and the piano/organ/saxophone solos tasteful. It’s exactly the sort of deep house I was expecting from this set, perfectly worth the used shop price I paid for it.

CD 2 was what initially caught my eye though – well, after the striking cover art. The deep vibes go a little tribal and proggy here, including a Deep Dish rub of Dusted’s Always Remember To Respect And Honour Your Mother (aka: lovely Rollo side project). Masters At Work show up too, as does Kings Of Tomorrow, Steve Lawler, PQM, and, um, Rui Da Silva (no guesses on which track of his). Not as consistent as CD1, but definitely more fun.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Omni Trio - The Haunted Science

Moving Shadow: 1996

The only Omni Trio album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not an Omni Trio fan. Mind you, my sources for this proclamation is entirely predicated upon which singles have the longest legacy within Rob Haigh’s career. For sure every junglist worth their hoodie knows of Renegade Snares, the single that broke Omni Trio out of the darkcore scene. Who knew jungle could sound so calm and pleasant with charming piano hooks? More than enough to help kick-off the ‘atmospheric’ side of jungle. Which lead to ‘intelligent’ records, and refined tastes melding with ‘jazz’, while losing the frenetic rave roots in favor of a stripped-back ‘tech’ approach to the craft. All this, and drum ‘n bass too.

Though The Haunted Science technically isn’t Omni Trio’s first LP, it may as well be his proper debut album, prior The Deepest Cut more a collection of earlier singles and remixes. This one also features a number of tracks that would become workhorses in the compilation and DJ mix field, their only rival the aforementioned Renegade Snares (because obviously). Part of this probably was due to timing, The Haunted Science coming out in ’96, a very good year for d’n’b’s commercial and critical ventures. While Omni Trio didn’t get quite the same degree of praise and plaudits as your Goldies or Roni Sizes or Photeks or LTJ Bukems, he was always in the discussion of Very Important Drum ‘n Bass Guys, his records necessary weapons in any self-respecting DJ’s crate. Even the ardent ‘ardcore sorts would make room for an Omni Trio cut.

As for the big singles off The Haunted Science, we get three essential tunes: Trippin’ On Broken Beats, Who Are You, Nu Birth Of Cool, and Haunted Kind. Wait, that’s four? Sorry, personal perspective throwing things a little askew, that last one always slipping me by, probably because it’s more a trip-hop thing than d’n’b. Lord Discogs tells me Haunted Kind did significant compilation duty though, and who am I to dispute The Lord That Knows All?

The first three, however, were such major tracks in the Omni Trio canon, that we get two versions of each on this album! The jazzy Trippin’ On Broken Beats is easily the most famous of these singles, even appearing on Paul Oakenfold’s Live In Oslo mix when the trance jock was working a little jungle class into his sets. Who Are You is pure groovy bliss, but Aquasky takes it down de-e-eep tech-step roads with sub-bass to die for. Nu Birth Of Cool carries on the Renegade Snares tradition of funky licks, piano kicks, and peppy vocal samples, while the Rogue Unit Mix takes it into rougher jungle pastures.

The rest of The Haunted Science plays to Omni Trio’s established strengths: spacious elegant beatcraft, impossibly cool jazz vibes, and an atmosphere of endless ecstasy. Maybe not as genre-defining as other works of the time - you know what you’re getting with this album - but damn does it ever deliver.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fear Factory - Genexus

Nuclear Blast Entertainment: 2015

I didn’t think I’d return to Fear Factory. Demanufacture is a bona-fide industrial metal classic that throws enough cyborg bones to my techno sensibilities that I can return to it plenty times over, and maybe I’ll pick up Obsolete should I find it on the cheap, but I had little need to dig further into the band’s material. Besides, general consensus is they’ve essentially fixated on their singular style that made them famous, all the while having personnel issues as members leave, return, and all the typical turmoil that comes with metal egos clashing. Not good developments if you want to stay relevant. They sorted their shit out though, eventually reconvening with most of the original band intact, and appear on the resurgence again. Not because they’ve adapted with changing trends to fit with modern times, oh no. They’re sticking to their phased plasma rifles, but sounding more confident in who they are and what their music entails.

Thus, taking a browse in what Fear Factory had been up to in recent years, I discovered a new album called Genexus, and that it was being hailed as their best since Demanufacture - some even claimed it better than that seminal record! It definitely has the same sonic markers: machine rhythms firing like gatling guns, vocalist Buron C. Bell doing his vintage growling verse/clean singing chorus thing, all marinated with electronic treatments from Rhys Fulber. The topics remain fixated on future shock industrialization, mechanical societies stripping away our humanity, resisting the inevitable cyborg apocalypse, and all that good stuff. I mean, if you’ve heard Zero Signal - and any metal fan or Mortal Kombat disciple should have by now – you’ve heard a good chunk of Genexus.

This is everything we’d want in a Fear Factory album anyway. The band carved out a unique niche, and despite a few metal groups co-opting it in the two decades since, nothing comes close to sounding like these guys when they’re firing on all cylinders. And while I haven’t taken in much of their material since Demanufacture, I’m told this is one of their most melodic records ever. It definitely sells the more melodramatic aspect of their style, tracks like Autonomous Combat System, Protomech, Anodized, Battle For Utopia, and especially Regenerate laying the supporting synths on thick. Hey, you won’t see me complaining about this – far as I’m concerned, Fulber’s contributions remain one the best parts of a Fear Factory tune, giving them their distinct character above so much death metal out there.

Though Genexus is nearly balls-to-sprockets thrash all the way through, they do mix things a little in terms of tempo, tracks like Soul Hacker and Church Of Execution going for more groove metal action instead. Meanwhile, final track Expiration Date offers an epic ‘ballad’, which I can honestly say I never expected from this band. I’ve heard creepy, industrial ambient sections from them, but a full track of Bell forgoing his usual growl? Wonders never cease! Genexus definitely deserves the praise it’s gotten.

Monday, October 17, 2016

enCAPSULAte - Fetal Position

Waveform Records: 2013

If I’m gonna’ splurge on new stuff from Favorite Labels, I might as well do the same for one of my first Favorite Labels. Only trouble is Waveform Records barely releases much of anything anymore, instead focusing on their Starseeds radio show. And even when they do put a record out, it’s almost always something from Sounds From The Ground or ZerO One - whom I do like but it’s nice hearing from other artists as well. Whatever happened to those heady, early ‘00s days, when Waveform was releasing material from all manner of names (Bluetech! Omnimotion! Phutureprimitive! Pitch Black [nz]! Skin To Skin!). I realize the record label business is a harsh mistress, and all things considered it’s remarkable Waveform’s endured for over two decades when ‘market domination’ or whatever was never on their minds. They could benefit from a couple more fresh signees though; maybe someone making dub beats lurking on one of their new Hawaiian island neighbours?

Relatively speaking though, enCAPSULAte is a new signee, first appearing with the label in 2009. He still went by the name Capsula then, dropping the album Sense Of A Drop. Prior to that, he debuted with Ajana Records, the psy-chill and dub offshoot of Trishula Records. And holy cow, I can’t believe I’ve now gone Six Degrees Of with the dark psy print on this CD. I had no idea of this connection, simply picking up Fetal Position because it was one of the newer albums from Waveform (also, I like blue). Naturally the man behind the alias - Yosef Shamay – would find a new home after Trishula ceased operation, but on Waveform? The odds, mang!

Ah yes, psy dub, a genre this label’s often flirted with but never seriously committed itself towards. I can’t say it’s why I pick up Waveform CDs to begin with, though the few I took a chance on by whim turned out ace. I was leery about enCAPSULAte after first track Imaginary Gods though, very much in the Shpongle/Ott mold, and sounding incredibly digital and plastic as so much post-millennial psy does. And I freely admit that’s entirely my fault, what with having just indulged the lush sound quality of Ultimae, Silent Season, Cryo Chamber... who could live up to a run of widescreen sonics like that?

Once I got over my aesthetic bias however, Fetal Position warmed itself through sheer creativity. Some tracks like Loosey Goosey and Dark Blanket Of Night go too psy-dub hammy for my taste, but others like Guardians Of Sanity and Overall Pattern tickle my trippy groovy sensibilities just right. Mr. Shamay shows little fear in bucking conventions either, Alice In Spiral Land making use of honest-to-Shiva Amen Breaks, The Hoax a shufflin’ acid jazz outing (with heavy emphasis on the acid), and Krishna Krazy more of a breakbeat thing with a wonderfully daft sample that’d have Dr. Alex Paterson keeling over in glee. Plus finishing off on a pleasant piece of mysterious Indian ambient? I’ll take it!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Aes Dana Featuring MikTek - Far & Off

Ultimae Records: 2016

It’s been a while since the Ultimae ranks were active in any significant way. Between 2014-15, there were but three albums and three compilations. Wedged among them though, were also about a half-dozen EPs, three of which being Aes Dana collaborations with MikTek. If you don’t recall, he’s that new-hotness Greek producer that signed with Ultimae, released an album, and has appeared on nearly every compilation from them since. With such a roll-out for Mr. Aikaterinis, you’d think another album was promptly in the works following Elsewhere, but it’s been over three years since. And Far & Off isn’t a new MikTek album either; rather we’re dealing with a compilation of those three singles, from which Aes Dana gets the main credit, and MikTek has a featuring credit. What, couldn’t they have come up with a collaborative alias, like H.U.V.A. Network with Solar Fields? Say, whatever happened to that project anyhow? And Solar Fields in general, for that matter? It’s been so long since we’ve heard from Magnus, so very, very long…

So, those three records – literally, Aes Dana’s work with MikTek also Ultimae’s first foray into vinyl production - titled Cut., Alkaline, and The Unexpected Hours. These were released one per year, the final one coming out just this year with Far & Off shortly after. Talk about your long game, though given the glacial rate these were made, I wonder if Mr. Villuis had his mind focused on other business (those remasters!). Or maybe tales of backlogged vinyl pressing plants are as dire as I’ve heard. Hey, man, I know having such wonderfully mastered music available on the Black Crack format is super sexy and all, but it’s not that important. Besides, FLAC and DVD remains the superior audio source. Not that I should talk, mind you, remaining perfectly content with CDs ‘til the day I die.

Alright, enough dodging, pivoting, and tangenting. Let’s get to the music on Far & Off. Short review: there’s barely any music on Far & Off. Aes Dana and MikTek have crafted such minimalist dub techno and ambient drone here, I honestly feel like I’m listening to rice crackers. They’re absolutely delicious rice crackers, heady sub-bass tones, whispy piano chords, and even a little dalliance into glitchy-click microfunk rhythms, but still leaving me feeling rather empty after consuming them. Which Vincent claims is the intent, so aces on the execution, I guess.

I get the sense Aes Dana specifically made these tracks with the highest-end playback available, as I easily get lost in the vast, spacious sound design these tracks provide when playing them on my Senns. On anything else however, there’s barely anything there. Even cranking my main stereo (which, given thin-walled apartment living, is only adequate) didn’t provide much sonic depth, to say nothing of my laughable computer speakers. Hearing a few of these at a time, as proper singles, is probably enough; not for a full LP’s worth of run time when so little sticks to the mind after.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Shaded Explorer - Empatia

Silent Season: 2016

Shaded Explorer is Emanuele Pertoldi, a typically obscure person in the world of techno. Not that it’s his fault, mind you, as he’s released music only a few years now. He’s two LPs deep with Silent Season under the alias, with appearances on about a half-dozen compilations from such labels like Deep Electronics, Haar Records, and Ovunqve. Before adopting the Shaded Explorer moniker though, Mr. Pertoldi did put out a number of singles under his own name, across an equally eclectic list of labels (M_Grey, Subself Records, Evasion Room, I Cieli Di Orione). There’s more to Emanuele’s story (other scattered aliases), but this is about as much as Lord Discogs provided, and who are we to judge what information is divulged by The Lord That Knows All? Obsessive compulsive sorts who crave ALL the info’, that’s who!

Shaded Explorer may be obscure by regular techno standards, but as we’re dealing with Silent Season, the music on hand obviously skews towards the ambient and dub end of that spectrum. So I guess that wouldn’t make Mr. Pertoldi that obscure, as dub techno followers are a ravenous people, one that will consume almost anything that’s released within their scene. Me? Um, I just like supporting regional labels, that’s right. Speaking of, I really ought to get gathering more Nordic Trax tracks.

Anyhow, Empatia is the second album from Shaded Explorer on Silent Season, and as per the label’s manifesto, it features all the reflective moods one can hope for out of their dub techno. The first couple tracks (Resilience, Mental Decoupling, and Distant Connections later in the album) are pure ambient though, looping layers of meditative tones fed through a warm, dubby glow as best served while wandering the brisk dawn of coastal rainforests. Oof, that reads dangerously close to New Age bollocks, but the music most definitely is not. It’s, like, the cool meditation ambient music, that you’d find on all those cool compilations from the early ‘90s, when ambient and dub was first sexing things up in chill out rooms.

Actually, Empatia reminds me a lot of such two-decade old CDs, the music rather reminiscent of material coming out of Apollo and Beyond. For sure it’s significantly polished compared to the crusty ambient techno of days long past, but the songcraft is similar. Corresponded Serenity features a soft techno beat fed through dub effects as a pleasant pad hums in the background, When I Decided To Live goes more playful with spritely melodies, and Inner Treasures’ vintage shuffly rhythms and burbling acid is classic ambient techno to t’. Emanuele makes room for contemporary dub techno sounds too, Tomrum building upon a bouncy beat, L’Aura Marina more traditional Basic Channel dub, and Senza Fine allowing some experimental sound design in on the party. Overall, Empatia hits every Win checkbox I look for in this music, almost a too perfectly in fact, with little in surprises. Which is about the worst ‘criticism’ I can level at this album, but here we are.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Anthony Rother - Elixir Of Life

Fax +49-69/450464: 2003

I’ve talked Anthony Rother up a great deal, and for good reason. The man almost single-handedly gave retro electro a good kick in the arsch, among the leaders in the genre’s turn of the century revival. And yet, this is the first album I’ve actually picked up from the chap, but it’s not my fault. His seminal ‘90s work is just so darn expensive, cherished collector’s items that few are willing to part without handsome financial reparation. Yes, even his ventures into synth pop and electroclash, though honestly I can’t say that stuff interests me as much as the stark robot workout music he crafted prior.

And truthfully, I wasn’t searching for Rother albums when I spotted this for a cheeky twenty – I was hunting about for Fax +49-69/450464 musics. That I found Elixir Of Life for such a reasonable price only sweetened the deal, because if there’s any name that seems totally at odds with the famed Pete Namlook print, it’s this German electro maestro. I’ll grant ol’ Anth’ has a muse that stretches beyond the limited palette of robot jams, but releasing music on a label known for old school ambient, nu-skool ambient, ambient techno, and ambient-noodlesoup? A most intriguing development indeed, one that yielded five albums worth on Fax+ before the label was forced into premature closure. Makes me wonder if Mr. Rother will end up on Carpe Sonum sometime in the near future.

If you’re heading into Elixir Of Life anticipating more electro or *gasp* electro pop, forget it. The title or artwork should give the hint: this is music with the ‘70s in sight, coming off like a long lost piece of classic experimental krautrock than anything intended with modern sensibilities. One track, Elixir Of Life (Part 8), does offer some robot beatcraft, but aside from that, the only sense of rhythm comes from simmering subdued sequencers the likes commonly heard in Berlin-School works (Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 7). There isn’t much melody on this album either, though some nice minimal pad work does show up towards the end, especially in Part 9. Other pieces go straight drone, letting an all-pervasive analog hiss dominate for the duration before moving onto another piece. Oh yeah, that hiss doesn’t let up throughout the album, actually growing more prominent as Elixir Of Life plays out. I guess it helps tie everything together into a continuous theme, though I’m at a loss as to what theme Rother had in mind here, beyond doing a take on crusty electronic experimentation. His musique concrete dalliance gets absurd with Part 5, where a kick gets warped, sped-up, bent, slowed, and stretched to all manner of weird abstraction.

Considering the Plastikman also appeared on Fax+, I can’t say Mr. Rother’s offering here is unprecedented, though fancying the deep end of this style of music is a must. Elixir Of Life will come off as one big disappointing whiff of droning nothing otherwise. Strictly a fans only album, this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Floating Points - Elaenia

Luaka Bop: 2015

Another ‘Best Of 2015’ album? Sure, keep ‘em coming. Can’t have my finger on the pulse of what’s what if I ignore things that are now ‘n how. Sure, it’s comforting retreating to familiar names and sounds (‘member ambient techno? ‘member Aphex Twin? ‘member Fax +49-69/450464? Yeah, Fax Plus-Numbers… so great), but it’s always wise hearing the new hotness on the streets. Besides, with so much constantly recycled these days, all which is new is so very old, yet sometimes refined into something better. Not often, mind, but since we’re dealing with a chap who got his break with Ninja Tune, I’ll take a wager we’re dealing with the real deal regarding Floating Points.

The man behind this project is Sam Shepherd, whom I constantly think is the name of the Mass Effect protagonist. Fool, if I’m gonna’ mistake a ‘shepherd’, make it at least a real one, like actor Sam Shepard, of Black Hawk Down, The Right Stuff, and Swordfish fame. Or maybe Sam Sheppard, the infamous neurosurgeon who’s murder trial became the basis for The Fugitive. In what must be a coincidence of the highest magnitude, Floating Points Sam Shepherd has also spent time attaining a degree in neuroscience, though clearly that’s where his connection with that other Sam Sheppard ends. As Floating Points, he’s spent the past half-decade releasing music with a fondness of nu-jazz in his sights, hence the Ninja Tune love. He’s also released on Planet Mu and Border Community, though his own print of Eglo Records remains his primary outlet - all the while doing DJ tours, radio shows, and live performances with a full band as Floating Points Ensamble. So, y’know, if the brain science career doesn’t pan out for him, he’s definitely got that music thing to fall back on.

Elaenia is his debut album, and it’s an odd record for sure. I don’t know if I’d give it a “Best Of 2015” accolade (like I give anything that), but it definitely leaves a lasting impression, a rather remarkable feat for an LP that’s rather short. Second track Silhouettes (I, II & III), an extended jazz jam with the full band, runs nearly eleven minutes long, and that’s almost one-quarter the whole record! Another significant chunk of Elaenia comprises of minimalist ambient techno, much of which reminds me of music that came from Pete Namlook’s ‘90s output. Then again, it could be all those Dark Side Of The Moog sessions still fresh on my mind making the connection, but one cannot deny the Berlin-School influences on tracks like the titular track and Thin Air. Heck, the middle portion of this album kinda’ plays out as a singular sequence, each track flowing into the next so effortlessly.

But nay, the biggest talking point regarding Elaenia remains how it ends. Perotation Six gets the band back together, and builds to a rousing, cacophonous climax in





And you’re left wanting in silence, endlessly waiting for a denouement that never comes. Tricksy, these brain science guys are.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Alphaxone - Echoes From Outer Silence

Cryo Chamber: 2016

And now we return to Alphaxone, with his fourth album in half as many years. Man, when some chaps find that stroke of inspiration, they don’t hold back, though obviously we’re not dealing with Merzbow levels of ‘creativity’. Mr. Saleh generally comes in with a clear concept in mind with each album, even if the music within goes incredibly abstract, allowing more creative expression on his part. Thus one can keep knocking ‘em out if you’re not limited by conventional songcraft restrictions. Yes, even dark ambient has its notable markers and canonical concepts – like, I doubt we’ll ever hear an album based on My Little Pony in this scene that wasn’t a deliberate macabre parody.

On Echoes From Outer Silence, Alphaxone turns his muse further towards the unending black speckled with stars, a natural progression considering the trajectory of his album on Cryo Chamber. First it was living in a gray land – bleak perhaps, but still rooted in terra firma of a sort. Altered Dimensions explored sounds and moods of a possible outworld, or mayhaps a world within, parallel to our own; dimensional travel’s confusing that way. Following that, Absence Of Motion found us suspended within the ether between solid ground and space, so it follows that gravity’s relinquished its domain over us just a little more. Damn, am I ever feeling loquacious today.

Actually, the concept behind this album is less about traveling to the cosmic realm, instead hearing the faint murmurs from above. The droning thrum of the cosmos itself, whispers of ancient galactic civilizations, and all that good stuff. Hey, wait… might some of those implied ‘echoes’ from outer silence be actually ‘signals’? Like, obviously Sabled Sun is a post-apocalyptic tale of Earth, and I’m assuming Alphaxone loosely bases his work on the presumption of an earthly starting point, but how cool would it be if Echoes Of Outer Silence was in some way linked to a greater overall narrative within Cryo Chamber’s roster of artists? It’d take the label’s collaborative ideas to a whole extra level, where instead of a pile of ‘em build upon one album’s worth of ideas, they keep adding to a growing arc through a series of albums! Holy cow, that’d be one of the boldest things I’ve ever seen in electronic music, though probably not terribly commercially viable.

Echoes From Outer Silence is the most melodic album I’ve heard from Alphaxone yet, though that’s honestly not saying much considering it’s mostly his drone work for Cryo Chamber I’ve consumed. Still, after a two minute opener of field recordings, second track Resistance offers synth tones ebbing in and out as the cosmic hum dominates the ambience. Elsewhere, Departure presents a melancholic mood within its droning dub tones, and Altered Xone has a mysterious dirge echo off ancient halls. The rest of this album plays as you’d expect of dark space drone, where the sounds are sci-fi, the reverb distant, and the timbre infinite. Nothing like feeling lost in eternal emptiness, amirite?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

God Body Disconnect - Dredge Portals

Cryo Chamber: 2016

How? How does Cryo Chamber keep finding these guys? Like, has the dark ambient scene always been this flush with talent, but seldom given much exposure because, y’know, it’s dark ambient? The genre certainly doesn’t have much rep’ outside morbid sorts, nor is it the most inviting environment for the curious passerby. I certainly had little interest in digging beyond the most basic cliff’s notes sampling, and likely would have remained that way had Ultimae not sent me that Krusseldorf album by accident. Which led me to discovering other Simon Heath works. Which led me to Sabled Sun. Which led me to Cryo Chamber. Which keeps leading me to all these neat, creative artists exploring intriguing facets of the human psyche through cinematic music. Do other electronic scenes have this going for them? Like, how about Simpsonwave, eh? Yeah, no.

God Body Disconnect is one Bruce Moallem, Dredge Portals his debut under the alias. His only prior claim to fame was as part of the death metal band Dripping, which has something of a cult following in that scene, their scant CDs commanding a surprising amount of money on the open market. Not that he actively sought fame, and didn’t do much beyond those early days, mostly providing music support for friends and local bands. He kept doing his own stuff too, but little of it was intended for folks beyond his close associates to hear. Then, after hearing what Cryo Chamber was offering, he sent some demos to the label, if anything for feedback on the sounds he was cultivating. They went one further, immediately signing him. And here we are today, some guy now reviewing it after only getting into dark ambient barely a year prior. The Fates make bizarre connections sometimes.

So Dredge Portals. The concept is more concrete than most dark ambient albums go, of a narrator trapped in a coma, explicitly detailing the thoughts, worries, and fears of being in such a state within the opener Rise Of The Dormant Host. From there, Dredge Portals takes you on the sort of suggestive journey this scene – and especially these Cryo Chamber guys – so often excels at. Second track The Reflection Tower is calm, soothing ambient, with sounds of children laughing having me conjuring the narrator remembering an innocent youth, now lost as all his sins come back to haunt him. Descend With Demons is as dark and droning as you’d expect from the title, and Heart Of The Mirror’s Abyss combines the two disparate moods into a remarkable piece of widescreen drone and dub.

Dredge Portals does grow a tad repetitive in tone with its final run of tracks, but by then I’m well consumed by God Body Disconnect’s version of Jacob’s Ladder to care of such quibbles. And hey, Dreaming Of Glaciers does offer a rather gentle mood to end the tale. Save a disquieting bit of final dialog, seemingly rewinding the narrator’s time alive – forever trapped in looping reflection.

Tosca - Dehli9

Studio !K7: 2003

It shouldn’t have taken this long to finally nab myself a Tosca album. For sure I’ve gathered a few tracks over the years, mostly found on compilations showcasing dubby, downtempo tunes with a light jazz inflection. Theirs is a sound that finds a cool middle-ground between ambient dub of Sounds From The Ground, and ethnic-infused lounge-hop of Thievery Corporation. As you’d expect when one-half of the immortal downtempo duo Kruder & Dorfmeister is involved, though it surprises me Richard’s work with Rupert Huber doesn’t get near as much fame as his work with Peter. He’s worked with both for about the same amount of time, Tosca forming in the mid-‘90s. And while the K&D sessions gave Dorfmeister plenty of plaudits, it’s his work alongside Mr. Huber that continues to this day, at least ten albums deep into a two-decade long partnership, not to mention oodles of ‘dub version’ albums. For all intents, this should be the Dorfmeister project that everyone gushes over, but man, that The K&D Sessions™, eh?

Dehli9 is Tosca’s third LP, which I grabbed because it was the first return in an Amazon search. Yeah, can’t claim doing much research into the duo’s ‘Essential Albums’ list, going in with arms out, ears open, and expectations unsullied by other people’s opinions. Which I guess makes me a tad contradictory, if you’re reading this for my opinion before indulging Dehli9 yourself. Really, I just assume it’s searches for confirmation bias that lures folks into reading reviews anymore, though maybe a little exploration outside comfort zones factors into it too – also, quips aplenty!

I actually knew at least one track off here, the jazzy reggae tune Gute Laune, appearing on the Studio !K7 celebratory showcase compilation !K7150. Heck, that song alone helped clue me into getting off my duffer and check out this other Dorfmeister project, despite how long it took me getting around to it. Much of Dehli9 plays to this sound, which tends to be the Tosca style regardless. Tracks like Me & Yoko Ono and Every Day & Every Night go more for a dubby trip-hop vibe, whereas jazzy deep house feature on tunes like Rolf Royce, Spert, La Vendeuse Des Chaussures Des Femmes Part 1, and lead single Wonderful. And we can’t forget some Latin-fusion for good measure (Oscar, Dave Dudley), plus whatever form of jazz-hop is going on in Mango Di Bango, because why not.

Dehli9 is a fine downtempo album, classy as it needs to be, though admittedly keeping an even keel where this music is concerned – you can find this sound on oodles of compilations throughout the ‘00s. Tosca sweetens the deal then, with a second CD of piano pieces, apparently all based on a book Huber wrote called 12 Easy To Play Piano Pieces. These are all very much in the minimalist modern classical mold, though with just enough ambient treatment they’re distinct from much piano music out there. Unless you’re well versed in the works of Harold Budd, anyway.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Klaus Schulze & Pete Namlook - The Dark Side Of The Moog VIII

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1999/2016

This series wasn’t the only instance of Misters Schulze and Kuhlmann collaborating, Namlook also lending a hand on Klaus’ 1996 album Are You Sequenced. Essentially Schulze’s stab at updating his sound, the album was met with plaudits from his long-standing followers, and indifferent snickers from actual techno dorks. So it goes, but for the purpose of showcasing everything he and Pete worked together on, we get a few tracks from that record included as a bonus CD of the second box set in this reissue extravaganza. SQ 1 runs seventeen minutes, doing the trancey space-synth stuff we’ve heard elsewhere on Dark Side Of The Moog, Namlook provides a pulsing Chill Mix for Voices In The Dark, while SQ 4 goes full classic trance – why only the Short Cut though? In any event, this is a perfectly fine bonus disc, and thankfully wasn’t another reissue of a prior album, because I’ve been at these Dark Side Of The Moogs long enough, eh?

And so it’s come to this: my final entry into the epic Klaus-Pete saga. Unless I spring for the third box set, but nay, I’m not in any hurry for that. Or maybe so, if Dark Side Of The Moog VIII is an indicator of things to come. Stretching that “this series are ‘90s TV seasons!” analogy further, Season 8 of most shows often feature a radical twist or ratings stunt to shake up the status quo, and this album comes through once again. For you see, my friends, th’ar be d’n’b in here!

But first, a twenty-five minute opener of psy dub, world beat, and cosmic music. Wait, are we certain Bill Laswell’s no longer around? Other parts of Careful With The AKS, Peter feature short sound-effect doodles (Part II), straight-up psy dub freak-outs (Part IV), throwback modern classical (Part III, Part V, Part VIII), and one Hell of a techno stomper in fifteen-minute long Part VI. Throw in some wailing synth solos (or is that a guitar?) that would have Steve Hillage weak in the knees, and call me flabbergasted we’re still dealing with a two-man party of Schulze and Namlook. And that’s before they start dropping drillin’ Amen Breaks in Part VII! Seriously, jungle is the last thing I’d ever expect these guys taking on – hardcore is a less daft notion, given their proximity to German hard dance – yet here we are, eight album deep in the series, actual freewheelin’ d’n’b on the CD, and sounding not a touch out of place. This, from a Fax+ release? Astounding! Or a ‘shark jumping’ moment if you’re brutal cynical, but I like Part VIII too much to care about scene purity.

And that about wraps up our week-plus long journey to the Dark Side Of The Moog. From here, the two would collaborate less frequently, reconvening every few years for another studio session, plus a couple live shows too. After Namlook’s untimely death though, that was all she wrote for the longest running series in Fax+’ legacy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Klaus Schulze & Pete Namlook featuring Bill Laswell - The Dark Side Of The Moog VII

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1998/2016

This series resembles a ‘90s TV show more than I initially gave it credit for. The first few albums/seasons were the feeling-out process, launching with the premise, figuring out what makes the concept work, and hoping you find enough of an audience before getting canceled. Okay, I doubt Namlook would have pulled the plug on The Dark Side Of The Moog if sales were poor, the chance at collaborating with Klaus Schulze a passion project more than anything. Plus, given Fax +49-69/450464’s strict limitation of pressed copies, how could you determine popularity through sales anyway? By how fast they sell out? What they go for on the second-hand market? Incessant pleas from fans for more copies, just this one time, oh please!?

Back to the TV analogy. While The Dark Side Of The Moog had tweaked and refined some aspects of its concept for the first few seasons/albums, it wasn’t until its fourth that things coalesced into something truly distinct in of itself. The Schulze/Namlook tandem was finally working as a mutual work, with both participants accentuating each other’s strengths while helping hide their weaknesses. The loose, freeform approach to each album prior settled into a concrete core if not in vision, then at least in structure. And who can forget that brilliant bit of stunt-casting with legendary bassist Bill Laswell, adding a fresh dynamic to the established interplay between the two main stars.

As with most successful TV shows, we’re in the Golden Years of the series now, but almost uniformly it’s around Season 7 where we find the first flecks of froth in the inevitable backwash of creative success. The Dark Side Of The Moog VII has these hallmarks too. For sure it maintains what’s worked before with the same degree of polish and finesse, but a few cracks of staleness unfortunately crop up too. For one, at an even fifty minutes long, this is the shortest album in this series, period. Laswell’s input is almost completely moot by this point too. He still contributes to two of the six tracks, but beyond some dubby effects lurking in the mix of Part I and space drone in Part III, I don’t hear much of his distinct sonic ticks. I know these tracks are Pink Floyd puns, but Obscured By Klaus seems entirely apt in this outing.

Part I and II mix into one another, moving from Berlin-School ambient to electro. The album then radically changes tone with Part III, nineteen minutes of spacey ambient that moves into another round of spacey electro in Part IV. I’d like this more if one of the synth solos wasn’t among the lamest I’ve ever heard (even from trance camps!). The final two parts, at nearly twelve minutes total, mostly shows off Schulze’s modern classical chops, again fine but nothing we haven’t heard before - which I can say for this album in general too. It’s little surprise only one piece was tapped from here for that Evolution retrospective of the series.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Klaus Schulze & Pete Namlook featuring Bill Laswell - The Dark Side Of The Moog VI

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1997/2016

The Dark Side Of The Moog has seen many ideas for its cover art, details of which I’ve included in the hover text in the image for each review (you… did know you could hover text all this time, right?). Let’s delve into this one a little further though. No, it’s not because I need to burn self-imposed word count after six albums of Schulze-n-Namlook sessions. This is important!

So, this is the CD cover art that comes within MIG’s reissue box sets. They’re all essentially identical, but for the fact Earth inches further down the image with each album. For instance, it started beside Klaus’ name with the first CD, is at about the mid-point here in the middle-albums, and will lay near the bottom by the final CD. A cute enough premise, but it wrecks all sorts of logic if you understand orbital mechanics.

Look at the illuminated sides of the moon and Earth – north to south, right? Thus, from this particular perspective, the solar orbital ecliptic is a horizontal line in the middle of the picture. As Luna’s circling dance with us also remains on the plane of the ecliptic, that would mean Earth should, in fact, be moving right to left in each subsequent CD, not north to south. How did the art design screw this up so bad? Like, they got the orbital mechanics correct with the box set’s main art, so they can’t be ignorant of such a fundamental property of space physics. Did they imagine Earth to have undergone a cataclysmic change of its axial rotation, flipping it by ninety degrees like Uranus? That would allow for a ‘north-south’ motion of Earth from the moon’s perspective with its side illuminated as such, but then where’s the debris field of such an event? Where’s the debris field?

Sorry, but if RedLetterMedia has taught me anything, it’s that there’s humor in nitpicking micro-minutia. Fun times!

Anyhow, Dark Side Of The Moog VI brings us The Final DAT, giving me pause whether Schulze and Namlook were thinking this might finally end their frequent collaborations. Nah, I doubt it, the two still finding new ways of tinkering with their formula even at this late stage. Well, ‘late’ being relative, the project only three years removed from its initial conception. Plenty o’ fire left to burn, especially with these two incessant music makers involved (Laswell too).

The Final DAT has a mish-mash of individual tracks, very long compositions, and pieces extending through different Parts. Part V is the lengthiest at over twenty-four minutes, and is all kinds of space-synthy awesome while at it. Part II and III goes from grand cosmic beat (like, world beat, only… cosmic) into brisk space-synth of its own – oh, and neither III or V feature standard kicks either. Crafty. Part IV with Laswell does have soft, minimalist techno going on, but adds a de-e-e-ep sub-bass line to the trip. Wait, is this proto-microfunk? No, wait, there’s electric guitar jamming too. Never mind.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Klaus Schulze & Pete Namlook featuring Bill Laswell - The Dark Side Of The Moog V

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1996/2016

One box set down, one to go. Sorry, fans of Dark Side Of The Moog IX-XI, but I ain’t springing for the third volume of this reissue series just yet. Getting the first two was pricey enough, and if television rules apply to music, then anything past Season 8 is guaranteed Zombie Years. Concept worn dry, sprinkled with gimmicks in futile hopes of spicing up the stagnation, not to mention a Sweeps Baiting surprise wedding for one of the more popular ‘ships on the series. Mind, I’m almost certain Bill Laswell never hooked up with Schulze or Namlook in such a manner, not even in some weird subset of synth fanfiction. (please don’t tell me Rule 34 has produced such a thing…)

Actually, Laswell’s contributions to Dark Side Of The Moog were on the wane by this point, offering his input on just two tracks for session number V (aka: Psychedelic Brunch). We’re also further from the ‘single song’ concept the project started out with, this album the trackiest of the lot yet. Whereas prior CDs had a sense of continuous themes explored throughout, segueing into each part as it played out, this one has distinct tracks from one another, no ideas carried over or re-explored elsewhere in the album. Perhaps the closest we get is Part III and Part VIII, though almost entirely due to them using similar, stuttery downbeat rhythms between them. At first I thought these were the two cuts Laswell had a hand in, as he is the most rhythmically minded of the three, but nay, only Part III is where he crops up, plus droning dark ambient piece Part VII, sounding rather similar to his work as Divination at that. Also, but damn, Parts III and VIII has a lot in common with the sort of psy-chill I’ve heard coming from the Ultimae and Altar ranks over the years – talk about your ‘ahead of its time’ narratives, but then that’s long been the talking point regarding Berlin School synth work anyway.

If there is any sort of unifying theme to Psychedelic Brunch, it’s in letting the individual aspects of the players involved strut their stuff. Schulze’s use of traditional synths in a classical sense (re: Berlin-School) prominently feature in Part II, IV and VI. Meanwhile, Part V, the centerpiece of this album at over sixteen minutes of length, plays to Namlook’s meditative approach to ‘90s ambient music, the sort of stuff likely heard in chill-rooms rather than art-houses. And heck, even the inventor of the Moog, Robert Moog, shows up, in an introductory bit of dialog. He also shills his email for some reason, though considering this was 1996, maybe they thought doing so added to the futurism of the project? Wait, wasn’t ‘retro-futurism’ the whole point in the first place, bridging the generation gap while taking the ‘70s and ‘90s into an undiscovered country? Where can Dark Side Of The Moog even go now? Man, all this projected crisis of faith over an email.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

ACE TRACKS: September 2016

While putting together this playlist, I was struck dumb with a peculiar feeling of time displacement. Like, I know it’s only been a month since I wrapped up the ‘T’s with Twoism and Twentythree, but it feels like such a lifetime ago. I seldom get that sense when doing monthly musical recaps, the albums from the first days of a month almost as fresh on my mind as those from the last. It doesn’t seem like I’ve made a ton of progress through my massive alphabetical backlog either, only halfway through this Dark Side Of The Moog trek. Yet I take a tally, and I’ve gone through nineteen albums already. Man, I’m gonna’ be at this backlog until the end of the year, aren’t I? Poor ‘U’s, waiting forever for their time to shine (shut-up, ‘V’s, no one cares about you; ‘W’ be cool tho’).

I’m trying to figure out what’s caused this discrepancy within my chronometer, how it feels as though extra time was added to this month of September. That whole ‘changing of the seasons’ thing may have something to do with it, weather going from balmy summer to crisp autumn creating a sense of temporal extension. Didn’t have that prior years though. There was a week-long ‘stay-cation’ in the middle of the month for yours truly, with more free time to do non-routine things that might have fabricated a feeling of accomplishing more than I actually did. Can’t really say consuming the near-entirty of the Post Atomic Horror Podcast backlog in my downtime is actually an accomplishment though (still, much entertainment was had!). It’s that darn American election, isn’t it, dragging on and on and on, taking the world along with it. Such a clickbaity, time-sink of an election, folks. Here, have some ACE TRACKS from the past month to ignore it for a while.


Full Track List here.


MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Artificial Afterlife Compilation
Bill Laswell - Axiom Ambient: Lost In Translation
Neil Young - Blue Note Café

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 2%
Percentage Of Rock: 2% (would be more if those Neil Young songs weren’t mostly blues – it’s different!)
Most “WTF?” Track: Anything from Jlin, depending on how prepared you are for this forward-thinking music of the FUUUTTUURREE!

Wee, reverse alphabetical order! Been a while since I did one of those. Music’s a fairly standard mix of the sort you’ve likely come to expect being covered from this blog now. Lots of ambient, dark ambient, dub, techno, and chill, with splashes of house, trance, synth-pop, hip-hop, rock, and whatever it is you want to call Jlin’s work. It’s a solid assortment of tunes, though spoilers, next month’s will feature some surprising doozies.
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