Sunday, February 28, 2016

Various - Summer

Altar Records: 2015

Feel that in the air? The warmth, the brisk breezes? Why, you could almost claim it summer now! What's that, everywhere east of Vancouver? You're still all cold and bitter and wretched and miserable? Sucks to be you then. Why, y'all could never listen to this CD from Altar Records so ludicrously out of season and appreciate it with appropriate weather beaming through the windows. True, we had to put up with some three-hundred million gallons of rain before getting to this balmy June-ish clime’ we're enjoying deep into February, but now that we do have it, our smugness knows no bounds or remorse. Still, DJ Zen better hurry up with the Winter edition of this compilation series, lest the window of season appropriate street dates pass by. Quebec may deal with snow all the way into July [citation needed], but officially winter’s done on March 21, less than a month away from the time I’m typing this. No pressure, yo’.

Summer is probably the most predictable of these Season CDs thus far, in that DJ Zen couldn’t help but gear his selection of tunes for the outdoor party vibe. The entire psy scene is practically predicated on flailing under warm, starry skies, on tropical beach fronts or in cool forests at night. You sure wouldn’t throw a psy party on an alpine glacier, is what I’m saying (though that’d be a pretty dope setting for a Biosphere concert). And while I’d applaud the Altar Records head if he took a musical gamble for this volume, there’s no thematic point in eschewing a sure thing like this. Summer is the psy-tranciest season of the year, so DJ Zen may as well give us the psy-tranciest CD out on Altar Records he can muster.

And the first few tracks promise as such. Groovy psy-chill is always a fine way to open a compilation of this sort, and Sudaya provides a scorcher of a track in Over The Edge, synths and pads soaring in from deep cosmic realms. It’s a bit on the hammy side, but so earnest in delivery it wins you over regardless. By cut three, we’re already in prog-psy’s uptempo realm, Elea’s Yãtrã getting its world beat vibes on with plenty o’ sitar action. A couple solid psy tunes after that from E-Mantra and Merlin, and then Summer plummets right off a cliff.

No, but really, I thought plodding numbers like Alwoods’ Blue Horizon had long been left to the monotonous era of minimalist dark psy fifteen years ago. And why is it over eleven minutes long? Hardly anything happens during that length, it doesn’t build to anything substantial, and we could have had two cool tracks instead for that amount of runtime. Even Iboga Records never got this monotonous. Much.

One bad track isn’t a deal-breaker for Summer, with AstroPilot, Abiogenesis, and Asura rounding out a decent enough finish. Given the strong start of this CD though, such a dud does leave an unfortunate aftertaste.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Various - Strange-Eyed Constellations

Disco Gecko: 2015

A little late to the compilation game, aren’t we, Mr. Marks? True, it’s only in recent years ol’ Toby’s started using his Disco Gecko print as something more than an outlet for all his Banco de Gaia back-catalog, but this market has grown incredibly niche since he got his break on similar CDs way back when. You could find fashionable ‘ambient collections’ with distinct themes on nearly every store shelf in ’92, but while there’s no drought for new material these days, you don’t see much consolidation of the music beyond label manifestos. Tobes mentions in this CD’s liner notes a long-gestating intent at doing something similar to the old Ambient Dub series though, so better late than never?

Still, Strange-Eyed Constellations doesn’t have much concept behind it other than being a gathering of musicians and music that Mr. Marks fancies. This ranges from long-time compatriots like Andy Guthrie and James Eller, more recent associates like AstroPilot, Dr. Trippy, Temple Hedz, and Andrew Heath, plus inclusions from completely new-to-Discogs names like Project Transmissions and Oombata Key. Now that’s how you diversify a compilation: lure ‘em in with the familiar, exposing the overlooked in the process. Toby’s done his research here.

As we’re dealing with the man behind Banco de Gaia, Strange-Eyed Constellations obviously features a lot of ethnic-fusion sort of music. Hah, no, Marks has evolved some since those Last Train To Lhasa days, going far more ambient and musically abstract than cribbing a few worldly chants and slapping a dance beat underneath. AstroPilot’s opener Dum Spíro, Spéro does the space ambient thing, with the next clutch of tracks going rather ethereal. A song titled Sirens Of Lorelei, yeah, I’d be rather disappointed if I wasn’t getting the Wiccan vibe on, and that carries through Radium88’s The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Incandescent.

The middle of the compilation (stop thinking Starry-Eyed Sunrise, dammit), gets more to the ethnical influences, though are mostly subdued offerings of world music, much less ‘beat’ despite the nods to dubbier production about. Makes sense, given Marks’ longtime aversion to the term ‘world beat’ in the first place, and he doesn’t hesitate in throwing in a couple curveballs along the way (James Eller’s It’s Beautiful Mike, It Really Is is a dead-ringer for classic Pink Floyd). Dimensions from Temple Hedz is closer to the contemporary Banco mold, though given the two tracks Marks offers himself, what even is the Banco sound anymore? To The Nth Degree sounds like an amalgamation of Andrew Heath, AstroPilot, and Floyd, while Falling Tides under his own name sees ol’ Toby going full Heath for himself. Not to be outdone, Andrew closes the compilation out with a bit of planetarium piano doodling in Epiphany. Much lovely, ‘tis.

Strange-Eyed Constellations has a few fluffy, forgettable moments, with some tracks blending indistinguishably between others, but it’s definitely all in the Disco Gecko mold. If you figured Marks’ label was nothing but Banco de Gaia retreads, this compilation provides a proper ear opener.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Seán Quinn - Skylines

Psychonavigation Records: 2002

You know you always get the clean, uncut sparkling varnished honesty from me, right? Sure you do, that’s why you’re always coming back here. I think. That whole ‘consistent new reviews’ also may have something to do with it. I’d imagine my thoughts on music have garnered some small repute at this stage too. Maybe it’s just to indulge in this ‘gimmick’ o’ mine, to see what item alphabetically pops up next in my mad quest to listen to everything I have. Gotta’ admit that’s why I keep hoping Sarah O’Holla returns to her similar endeavor at My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection, genuine curiosity over whether some obscure 1982 post no-wave punk 7” might crop up next, or one of the big guns I love reading other people’s opinions on (so long to go before Neil Young …so very long). Wait, I’ve gone way off topic here. Darn feverish state of mind - will this flu ever let up?

Here’s the truthiful proclamation I was trying to get at: initial impressions of a lot o’ these Psychonavigation Records records kinda’ bled altogether into one fuzzy-photo of cover art. I get that it’s a visual aesthetic the label cultivated for itself (because Boards), but when one binge-buys a back-catalog as I did, it makes distinguishing between CDs difficult, especially when dealing with almost entirely new names. There’s little chance at taking each in on their own merits, digesting their nuances before moving onto the next in the pile in some slim hopes a crash session can give you some lasting impressions. I couldn’t tell the Seán Quinns from the Ciaran Byrnes, the Skylines from the Picnics With Pylons, the Boards Of Canada sounding tunes from the other Boards Of Canada sounding tunes. Getting down to write a review of each these CDs definitely helped me in distinguishing between them, if nothing else for discovering more info behind the artists involved.

For instance, Seán Quinn was yet another big ol’ blank when I first got this CD, and remained as such despite listening to it a couple times, the music getting lost among all the other Psychonavigation material I drowned myself in. Turns out though, he’s done little solo LPing anyway, this and a recent Audiobiography his only albums. On the other hand, Lord Discogs tells me he’s part of the electro-pop duo Tiny Magnetic Pets (who’d also released on Psychonavigation), which I feel I should know from somewhere, but could be getting mixed up with a similar sounding band (ergh, it’s buggin’ me!).

Another reason Skylines had trouble sinking in is it’s all over the place. There are skitzy beats, abstract ambient, twee pop, mellow Boards nods (of course), and not much linking it together. Imbrium is the sort of grand space ambient I’d expect out of Ultimae, while Yellow Magnetic wants to have its orchestral breakcore and eat DJ Food too. Wait, what? Okay, the fever’s setting in again. Better wrap this up now.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Various - Simulus

Psychonavigation Records: 2002

We’re going way back in Psychonavigation’s history with this one, folks. Back to the time before they earned much rep’ outside their native Dublin. Before the change when they focused primarily on artist albums. The years when their chief output was the compilation. An era where vinyl was still on their market! The age after the oceans drank Atlantis and before the rise of the sons of Aryas; the days of high adventure! No, wait, that's too far. Pretty sure this label's of a more recent era than when Conan The Barbarian was lopping heads aplenty. The beginning of Americanaland’s end, yeah, that'll do.

Having taken in all these Psychonavigation albums now, I feel I’ve gotten a decent bead on who’s their main acts, who’s their outside contributors, and so on. I look at the track list for Simulus though, and I’m drawing a blank on nearly everyone here. Move D shows up, taking some time away from his hundred-zillionth session with Pete Namlook to provide a jazzy, smoky, blues-hop number in Downtime. A few other names on Simulus have a decent amount of Discogian presence. The Rip-Off Artist released some eight LPs in a very short amount of time in the early ‘00s, with the man behind the name, Matt Haines, working with about a half-dozen other aliases before and since too. A couple others, like The Last Sound and EU, have continued releasing material to this day, though on various different labels than Psychonavigation. Names like Matthew Devereux and Manta even got albums out on this print shortly after. Mostly though, we’re dealing with artists that had a few items out around the time this compilation was released, and promptly disappeared shortly after from all Lord Discogs’ records. Except for Undermine, I have no idea what their story is, the Discogian link directing me to an American hardcore punk band from the early ‘90s. Psychonavigation’s done a few dalliances in its genre explorations, but I’m pretty darn sure Keith Downey’s never been tempted to go that route.

Instead, Simulus is another CD that supports my association of Psychonavigation with Shadow Records, in that this is one seriously trip-hoppin’ collection of tunes. For sure we get a few glitch IDM cuts too, such as Mantra’s click-n-bass Endent, The Rip-Off Artist’s bleep-hop Thief Of Hearts, and The Last Sound’s neurofunky Life Flashes, though that’s served as a specific segment showcasing such sounds. In fact, Simulus is separated into four such distinct parts, each with a brief intermission called Got That? marking the transition. Makes more sense for the vinyl version I guess, but it’s cool to hear some concept being applied to a compilation regardless.

Mostly though, the tunes on Simulus do that turn of the century trip-hop thing a lot of labels were doing in Ninja Tune’s wake, with spicy splashes of other genres for good measure - breaks in The Turner Experience from Dan Warren, ambient techno in Winter from EU. An interesting CD, all said.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tiga - Sexor

[PIAS] Recordings: 2006

Confessional 10, sub-admittance 32: I had serious doubts over this album. Me, the guy who’d been flying the Tiga flag since I first took the Turbo plunge, who preached the Sontag gospel when every opportunity presented itself. For you see, I was won over by his charms and talents as a tastemaker, plus his impeccable cover artistry. Nearly everything he’d put out in his singing career was his take on other people’s songs, and he was darn good at it too. Still, would folks really be enthralled by a full LP of covers? Not terribly likely, but nor had Tiga at any point prior established himself as someone capable of writing original tunes either. With these factors bearing on my mind, I skipped out on Sexor, letting Tiga’s chips fall where they may as he set out on conquering Canadian content airwaves. Of course things turned out perfectly hunky-dory for the man from Montreal, so why did it take me nearly a got’dang decade to finally get this album into my collection? I… really have no answers for that. File this one with Dig Your Own Hole and “Anything Orbital” under the ‘Sykonee’s Unforgivable Omissions’ header.

Okay, one reason I wasn’t so quick to jump into the big bed of Sexor was due to how omnipresent it was within my social circle. I didn’t need to get it for myself when everyone else was jamming to Pleasure From The Bass. It seemed like the (Far From) Home video was on constant rotation at every house gathering I went to (that walk!). And damn straight folks couldn’t get enough of Burning Down The House, since everything Talking Heads was super cool again. Getting his David Byrne on aside, Tiga choice of covers sure came from unexpected places. There’s an acid house rub of Public Enemy’s Louder Than A Bomb, and a slinky electro-ballad of Nine Inch Nails’ way-early single Down In It. Not the first time Tiga’d done covers of hip-hop or industrial, but considering he made his name in the synth-pop market, it’s a bold move nonetheless. So’s all the acid house and techno on this album, come to think of it.

For sure he gets some synth-pop in with another Jori Hulkkonen team-up winner (High School), but much of the co-production on Sexor is divided between Jesper Dahlbäck (aka: the Good Dahlbäck) and Soulwax, whom were at the height of their star power. The first half is mostly dominated by Jesper’s groovin’ acid funk and downtempo cuts (plus an industrial freak-out in Who’s That?), while Soulwax bring the noisy electro anthems to the their works. All through it all, Tiga carries the tunes with all the swagger and suave finesse of a singer who’s fully confident in his stride. The lyrics are generally simplistic, but they carry such sincerity and charisma you can’t help but bobble your head along (or… that walk!). Throw in a few introspective moments, and you’ve a pop record that holds strong ten years on.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lorenzo Montanà - Serpe

Fax +49-69/450464/Psychonavigation Records: 2011/2015

Somewhere during all those Labyrinth session with Pete Namlook, Lorenzo Montanà found the time to release a second solo effort on Fax +49-69/450464 called Serpe. With but a two year turnaround from his previous debut of Black Ivy, not to mention the six full-lengths released in the past three years, I'm getting the feeling ol' Lorenzo's one of those 'studio sluts'. You know the sort, spending endless days and nights huddled behind consoles and computers, synths and hardware, plus a few assorted 'real' instruments like guitars or glockenspiels. But hey, sometimes you just feel that creative pulse, propelling you from project to project in perpetuity. Though let’s not get ahead of ourselves; Mr. Montanà’s not any sort of Merzbow type. He, y’know, actually makes albums with a consistent theme to them, and all.

Yeah, I mentioned a problem with his first one was that it was missing that key ‘album’ flow, that it came off as little more than a collection of nicely produced, unconnected tracks. That point still stands (it’s only been a month since I made it), but that time spent jamming away in labyrinths with The Namlookian One must have helped refine Lorenzo’s craft, as Serpe is a marked improvement over Black Ivy. For one thing, there’s an actual theme to this album, each track title the name of a different sort of snake from the world abroad. I suppose Black Ivy had a loose plant theme going for it too, but much like the music on that LP, it wasn’t consistent.

Consistency, yes, that’s what Serpe’s got going for it. Every track maintains a running tone throughout, of moody, mysterious ambient techno with splashes of clicky glitch. While by no means an unique assortment of sounds at his disposal, Mr. Montanà comes off most comfortable working within this template, giving him the more freedom to write music fitting this concept than concern himself with technical aspects. I mean, the titualar opener sounds like an actual opener, an atmospheric little number with a stirring synth refrain and soft percussion nestled under washed-out white noise field effects, treated guitar plucking riffing off it for a brief portion before giving way to distant explosions. I’m not sure what this has to do with snakes, exactly, but tickle me intrigued for what comes next.

From there Serpe does the easy-cool build as most solid albums do. The next few tracks stick to the downtempo side of things, a groovy little number in Elaps Harlequin followed by a spritely chill piece in Dugite, while Mamushi features another lovely subdued melody within its stark dub ambient realm. As per course, the second half of Serpe ups the tempo some, Agkistrodon getting almost downright trance at points, though ol’ Lorenzo sure doesn’t hold back his fondness for the skittery side of IDM rhythms in Elaphe and Habu. Final two tracks Acrochordidae and Demansia go wide-screen in their production, and I’m left wondering how Mr. Montanà hasn’t ended up on Ultimae yet.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

ACE TRACKS: October 2012

Hey hey! Another milestone reached! Or achievement accomplished. Or task completed. Or obsession sated. Whatever the case, this marks the end of all these backtrack ACE TRACKS playlists. I mean, wow, October 2012. Such a long time ago now, isn’t it. I still feel like I only recently started doing this, yet here we are, nearing the end of Obama’s second term as President of Everything Forever – when I was writing these reviews, there was still some actual debate over Romney’s chances!

I had no idea whether this endeavor would sustain itself either, a lot of those October writings rather shaky to my eyes. Nor did I have any clue if I’d get any sort of significant audience for my musings, especially when I was so freely drifting away from what most would consider an electronic music blog right out the gate. I was mostly making up my format as I went along, and didn’t really find my groove until late in the month. I honestly feel the Asian Dub Foundation review marked my proper starting point, if nothing else because it’s always easier to rip into music than just discuss it. Or more fun to write and read, anyway.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat The Devil’s Tattoo
Octagen - Collected Works Vol. 2
Globular - Colours of The Brainform
Frankie Bones - Computer Controlled 2: Live In California

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 11%
Percentage Of Rock: 6%
Most “WTF?” Track: Nine Inch Nails - Closer To God (not that it’s shocking by any stretch, but it’s definitely abrasive compared to the rest)

Remember when it seemed like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony was a rap obsession of mine? Eh, probably not, since I’ve no idea how many readers here were even around for those early days of this blog. How about when I’d go from reputable electro to cheesy euro dance to prog rock and with a dash of house thrown in? Geez, was that first month ever all over the place. Still, with how settled a lot of my music purchases have turned these last few months, I kinda’ miss that spontaneity, that unpredictability of just what I might review next (trance? Ambient? Pants?). Maybe it’s time for another used shop haul…

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sense - Selected Moments, Vol. 1

Psychonavigation Records: 2013

Have I reached ‘peak ambient’ yet? Like, taken in so much of the stuff now that I’m micromanaging every tiny variation of it into compartmentalized sub-sub genres? Where Layered Drone is a totally different thing from Singular Drone, and the length between held piano notes drastically separates pieces into wholly uncompromiseable BPM brackets. For sure I can tell what constitutes Space Ambient, but should it be further splintered into Cosmic Ambient, Interstellar Ambient, Black Cold Ambient, Gravitational Waves Ambient, and even Quantum Ambient (that’s some proper ‘lowercase’ shit right there, mang!). For sure I can differentiate between inner headspace forms like Meditation Ambient (mostly synths and bell tones) and New Age Ambient (stupid, silly flutes or angel choirs), and now I feel there’s more unique branches I’m dubbing Melancholic Ambient, and Morning-After Ambient, not to mention Dawn Ambient (don’t confuse it with Solar Ambient, which is a Space Ambient thing). But wait, there’s also the Dark Ambient scene too, with so many variations and permutations, you could write a Tale Of The Old Ones anthology detailing it all (Gothic! Winter! Feral! Space! …yes, that again).

The reason for spending nearly two-hundred got’dang words describing all the ambient you can handle is because I know – just know! – you’re feeling a curious emptiness with the title of this album I’m supposed to be reviewing. You want to say it, your brain is tricking you into reading it, but reality does not deceive: this CD is called Selected Moments, Vol. 1, not Selected [Ambient] Works/Moments, Vol. 2 as your eyes so desperately wants to make it. Oh, it’s most definitely an ambient album, nary a beat found within the eight tracks comprising this LP. There’s nothing really connecting these compositions beyond their general stylistic songcraft either, so for all intents this is just a volume of selected ambient works. I suspect, however, that Adam Raisbeck had the good sense to not go with such an obvious cribbing of that other very famous selection of ambient works, practical though such a title would be.

Mr. Raisbeck is something of a folk hero to the new school of dedicated ambient followers, his debut album A View From A Vulnerable Place regarded as one of the scene’s definitive classics of the modern era. Floating from label to label as many producers in this realm do, he’s found a recent home with Psychonavigation Records, making his first impression on the Dublin print with this album. It’s a lovely little collection of ambient tunes, a bit rather in the classic Eno mold, though with more musicality going on than those early works. Some calmly float along lengthy soft synths (Heading Take 1, View From The Peephole, Less Than Perfect), others make use of simple charming melodies (36 4s (Mix 14), 3songs), and Praise (Full) melts my heart to utter pud’gin. Selected Moments, Vol. 1 presents itself as typical as most ambient collections go, but dang in this Sense chap doesn’t make you yearn for more.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Krill.Minima - Sekundenschlaf

Psychonavigation Records: 2013

See, folks, Psychonavigation Records isn’t just a big ol’ ‘90s love-in. This here Krill.Minima, he’s doing the abstract dub techno thing for this here album Sekundenschlaf, a genre that’s gained more prominence in this here millennium compared to that older time of two decades past. True, all these echoing chords, clicky percussion, and static textures is the sound that Mille Pleateux built its foundations on as the Clinton (One) Years ended, but it was the following Bush (Two) Years that it became all trendy, cool, and oft emulated. So, y’know, an ‘00s sound, not a ‘90s sound. What do you mean this is a stretch? I’m trying not to play into the cliché, I really am!

The music on here may be the sort more commonly found on Echospace, but the man behind the alias, Martin Juhls, typically makes tunes that fit the Psychonavigation mold. Releasing EPs and LPs since 2003, there’s more ambient pad work complementing all the clicky dub production, nods to older IDM and ambient techno that Keith Downey can’t seem to get enough of. More so is the Marsen Jules ‘alias’, where a lot of modern classical compositions meet layered drone work, and is apparently the more popular of the two. Well, about as popular as this sort of music goes, but Mr. Juhls seems to have spent far more time with this latter alias than with Krill.Minima. In fact, it’d been in relative hiatus for half a decade before being resurrected for Psychonavigation. Though according to Lord Discogs, a similar gap exists for Marsen Jules output too. Huh, whatever happened during that time at the turn of our current decade? I wonder… wonder… wonder…

*cue scene of black and white cartoon farm animals dancing in 1931 short*

Erm, sorry, my head’s been all sorts of distracted lately.

So Sekundenschlaf is a dub techno album, though really more of a ‘dub techno’ downtempo album. Only a couple tracks have a real techno pulse to them (Monddiode, Kronen Dab), while others favor the path of broken-beat groove (Von Angesicht zu Angesicht, Montreal > Dortmund, Serpentine). That is when the Krill’d One bothers with recognizable rhythms at all, some tracks muting beats down to clicks’n’cuts abstraction (Bienenkorb, Unter Druck), or foregoing them completely. Mamor (Dedub) goes as far deep into dub production as one can get while retaining some semblance of song structure, Kalypso makes use of melancholic tones echoing into the infinite, Nachtigal has that vintage Berlin-School modulation going for it, and ten-minute long closer Timbre is all wall-of-sound layered drone as you might find in Wolfang Voigt’s Gas works. Through all of this, plenty of white noise and static fills the sonic seams. So much white noise and static. Makes for a rather sterile listen at times, but Mr. Juhls knows his way around dub enough that there’s never a lack of warmth either.

If you’re curious to what a different label might offer in the realm of dub techno, give Sekundenschalf a try.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mick Chillage - Saudade

Carpe Sonum Records: 2014

Finally, ambient music on a label that's not Psychonavigation Records, care of a producer who got his start ...on Psychonavigation Records. *sigh* There's no escaping it, is there. I know Carpe Sonum fancies themselves the spiritual successor to Fax +49-69/450464, but it seems Keith Downey’s Label That Will is fast becoming the ambient-leaning print that everyone’s contributed to at some point in their career. Whether getting their start or chipping in for a track or remix, Psychonavigation’s built up quite the pedigree now. Hell, I only ‘discovered’ them because an old-schooler released his latest album there (Oliver Lieb, yo’). How long before I see Banco de Gaia or AstroPilot crop up on the Dublin label?

Hey, sorry for that totally unrelated tangent. We’re here to discuss a Carpe Sonum Records release, not the myriad ways other labels make their rep’. Of course, this print makes no secret of its love regarding Namlook’s old works, and as Mick Chillage was one of Fax+’s final artists (including the pairing with Moss Garden member Lee Norris as Autumn Of Communion), it’s only natural they’d come knocking with requests for an album. Or he made the offer himself. Or maybe a combination of both. Like, he certainly didn’t have to release on Carpe Sonum, Mr. Chillage (Mr. Gainford to the Ireland Office of Data) having albums out on a number of prints (...txt, Databloem, Anodize, self-release). Still, if that mega Namlook tribute box-set deal taught us anything, it’s there’s a lot of residual love for the Fax+ legacy, and having something proper on the label continuing it is only appropriate.

Ol’ Mick has dabbled in various forms of ambient and chill-out music (clearly), but Saudade is about as full-on ambient as you’ll likely ever hear from the chap. The first three tracks (Over Ingia, North Scape, Yakone) go the minimalist, droning route, with two of these compositions quite lengthy in the process. As the titles suggest, these are also rather cold, barren pieces, very much evoking the sort of vistas you’d expect from frozen wastes. Yeah, whether it’s cover art or song titles, Chillage doesn’t skimp on the ‘chill’ metaphors in his music. There’s a little amount of spritely synth in Over Ingia, like the glittering gleam off ice-covered landforms, but we don’t get much else beyond pure tone-setting drone.

At nearly seventeen-minutes in length, Solitude makes for an obvious centrepiece track on Saudade. Such a runtime offers Chillage time to go through icy bleak drone through faded, melancholic melody and back to lonesome drone again. That’s followed upon by big, bright synths in Altesch, bolder astral ambient with Ophir Aurora, and sequenced minimalism to close with Fall, ending the album on a very Berlin-School tip.

Despite being inundated with an over-abundance of ambient these past few weeks, it’s hard not to recommend Saudade as another essential addition to any fans of the genre. What’s remarkable is this is but the ‘tip of the iceberg’ (*groan*) of Chillage’s repertoire of cool (*slap*).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Imploded View - Picnics With Pylons

Psychonavigation Records: 2012

Another day, another ultra-obscure Irish producer with an album on Psychonavigation Records. How obscure this time? Lord Discogs has nadda’ on Imploded View. No real name for the alias, no brief words regarding what the project’s about, not even a bloomin’ photo for the man. There are links to his Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp though, but you’ll find even less helpful background on the chap, one of the blurbs proudly proclaiming “Reluctantly/Happily testing the bounds of obscurity.” Hell, the only reason I have any notion that Imploded View is a dude is the inlay of this digipak has a picture of someone in silhouette that appears to be male. Not that it confirms anything, as any sex can rock the ‘short hair, oval head, high collar’ look. However, when someone refers to Imploded View as ‘Jerome’ on the Twoism.org forums, I’m gonna’ go with my hunch that it’s a He we’re dealing with. Only the finest journalistic sleuthing on this blog, yo’!

If the purposeful enigmatic persona, faded photographic cover art, and Twoism.org association weren’t clues enough, Imploded View is also another Psychonavigation Records artist that’s feeling the Boards of Canada vibe. Fortunately, it’s not quite as blatant as Ciaran Byrne’s Nine Lives Causeway was, the music here sounding distinct enough that you wouldn’t mistake it for a long-lost tape from the Scottish duo. For instance, the track Boring Robot has a way-laidback groove coupled with childlike charm and snippets of unintelligible voices – sounds like BoC’s Roygbiv, don’t it? Mr. View, however, adds a thick layer of morning-glow pad, as strained a metaphor as any I can come up with, but oddly apt. It’s like, Roygbiv is the track you hear before you head out on the night, and Boring Robot is the hazy recollection of that track come dawn.

That’s what listening to Picnics With Pylons is like, hearing tunes that vaguely remind you of Boards Of Canada, but through the murk of many years later. Which makes total sense considering the undeniable impact BoC’s had on producers fancying nostalgic downtempo analog jams. Not to be left out of the memory-fuzz stylee, a couple of these have that desolate, urban squalor Burial made his namesake too (Astral Airways, Snowflake Bentley). Others find their own, quirky path without any immediate signifiers, like the crisp beatcraft of Across the Snow, or the cinematic flourishes of trip-hoppin’ We Ivy. Or my limited experience in the field of ‘obvious Boards Of Canada musicks is obvious’ has left a gap in recognizing other notable names I should be droppin’.

Whether this makes Imploded View different enough for you to check out Picnics With Pylons out, that’s all up to you. Yeah, not the most winning endorsement there, and despite the unique things I’ve detailed, this LP’s ultimately still just another collection of modestly interesting downtempo music from Psychonavigation Records. ‘Jerome’ can craft some pleasant, quirky little numbers here, but as an album, this is but a bit of ephemeral fluff. Yes, fancy simile score!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Lars Leonhard - Passenger At Night

BineMusic: 2015

Lars Leonhard’s been a busy body since he debuted with 1549 in 2011. Multiple digital singles, self-released mini-albums, a collaborative project or three. He’s shopped around to Ultmae Records, Deepindub.org, and Diametral, but returned to BineMusic for a new LP that’s his first solo effort on a physical format in a while (2013’s second album Seasons paired him with vocalist Alvina Red). That honestly boggles my mind, nearly a half-decade of time having passed before he committed fresh music to compact disc again. Feels like I’ve seen his name crop up constantly since appearing on Ultimae with Stella Nova, and I was expecting more hard copy musicks in his discography than this. But nay, for all intents, Passengers At Night is the closest thing to a proper CD follow-up to 1549 that we’ve seen from the man in Düsseldorf. *sigh* No hope of Another World or Orange Dawn finding their way to the physical?

Lars’ first album had a clear, specific theme behind it, odd as a source of inspiration though it was. Seems with Passenger At Night, he’s broadened his scope beyond a singular flight incident, but it’s no less thematic. Track titles like Night Train To Berlin, So Close So Far, Sunset In Paris, Underground Railroad, Sternenklare Nacht (re: starry night) and Heimweh (re: homesickness) definitely conjures imagery of long, lonely trips through twilight Western Europe. This could simply be recounting the rigors of touring or tedium of commuting, but for some reason, I keep imagining World War 2, refugees on the run within a ruined continent; some real Schindler’s List type of vibe, yo’, especially with a track titled Lily’s Spieluhr (re: music box). It’d explain the red dots within mostly black cover art. Or it’s just BineMusic being mathematically abstract as usual.

Whatever the source of Mr. Leonhard’s inspiration for this album, the music itself goes the dub techno route ever further. 1549 had it too of course, but it was tempered with light prog-psy action, residing in that weird venn diagram zone of dubbed-out tech-groove that you’d never expect to hear rinsed out by deep tech-house DJs. Passenger At Night strips things back even further, letting reverb and echo fill a much wider range of sonic space. What few melodies he does bring are subtle, yet remarkably poignant in such a subdued environment as he crafts here. The distant, gentle pads he lays over each other in Vienna are lush in the way they build, and the touching tones in the titular cut, Lily’s Spieluhr and Long Way Home has me reminded of Vector Lovers at his affecting best. Other tracks like Sunset In Paris, Hang In The Balance, Underground Railroad, and Heimweh are content in exploring dub techno’s more functional aesthetics, but never to any mind-numbing sterility that you’re zoning out of the moment.

In fact, Passenger At Night is one of the few dub techno albums I’ve recently come across where I’m constantly lost in its nuances. Perfect late-night commute music, this is.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ciaran Byrne - Nine Lives Causeway

Psychonavigation Records: 2008

I recently wrote it’s not such a bad thing finding influence and inspiration from other prominent electronic music groups and artists, especially those from the ‘90s. Hell, it’s such an oft repeated refrain on this blog that it could almost be a secondary by-line. “Enjoying The Past, So Long As It Still Sounds Like The Future.” I’m sure Simon Reynolds has copiously espoused (whee, fancy words!) on this topic, getting lost in retro naval gazing to the detriment of what’s potentially current and new, and it’s a fair point. However, I contend electronic music, in theory, has such a diverse palette and near-limitless resource to draw from, that all it takes is a little creative ingenuity to find a unique spin on a tried-and-true sound. Acid house may have an incredibly base foundation, but no two producers will tweak those 303 knobs the same. It almost seems more difficult to actively copy another track sound for sound than to fiddle with the template in your own fashion. So imagine my surprise in hearing Nine Lives Causeway from Ciaran Byrne, an album mimicking Boards Of Canada so exactly, you’d think it was the Scottish duo hiding under a pseudonym.

Mr. Byrne certainly isn’t the first or last to take on the lo-fi leftfield nostalgic trip-hop BoC stylee. Dan Snaith’s early Manitoba work comes to mind as an obvious comparison, and I’ve no doubt plenty more ultra-obscure producers have dabbled in crackly analog gear for a post-clubbing generation. This album though… I mean, seriously, c’mon, mang! This sounds more Boards Of Canada than Boards Of Canada sounded on Geogaddi. I’ve little doubt I could play this to any casual fan under the assumption it was another unearthed Boards Of Canada artifact, and they’d wholly fall for it. But this isn’t Boards Of Canada.

This is Ciaran Byrne, or Ross Adey to the Dublin Detachment. He’s released a couple albums through Psychonavigation Records, and contributed to the One On Twoism compilations, a series by Twoism Records, featuring music from the Twoism Forum. Even without sampling them, I’ve a very strong notion of the sort of music on those CDs, Boards Of Canada love running deep in the online world. Not to mention ongoing, that series active to this day. Not so much Mr. Adey though, his Discogian info drying up after this album.

Everything about Nine Lives Causeway screams Boards Of Canada. Tracks like Moving Sungold, Catriona’s Liquid Hourglass, Circular Bruno, and Axiom tap the playful side of their sound, whereas Dustbeam and Ode To Able Sail go more reflective with low-slung beatcraft. Meanwhile, fuzzy ambient abstractions like They Won’t Find You Here, Pyrite Eventide, and Blue Gaze wrap the listener up like a childhood comforter blanket. Yep, that’s some Boards action right there.

Still, we’ve a fine little album here if you don’t mind having more Boards Of Canada music that’s not by Boards Of Canada. For a while, it seemed like this was all we’d ever get again.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Various - Montreal Mix Sessions Vol. 5 - Tiga: Mixed Emotions

Turbo Recordings: 2000

Finally, I get to talk about something that's not from one of my current label obsessions. Instead, I get to talk about something from one of my early label obsessions. Huh, can't say I'm not consistent, and at least it's got nothing to do with ambient. Bask in this detour though, folks, because the chilled-out vibes, beatless slog continues unabated following this one. What do you mean that doesn’t make sense, o’ reader of the future reading these out of chronological order?

Though I’ve mention in many Turbo Recordings reviews how it marked a transition point for Tiga’s label that could, this one, honestly and truthfully, is the one. For starters, that cover! Gone was the classy photo of urban splendour (or elephants) in favour of a glamour shot of Mr. Sontag himself. Within the inlay is Mr. pre-Sunglasses At Night relaxing in a bathtub full of caviar sporting a leather speedo. If all this wasn’t enough to convince you of a totally vamped-up celebrity in the making, the typeface is in a hot neon pink, revelling in ‘80s retro stylee mere months within it becoming that whole electroclash thing. Of course, Tiga himself hadn’t quite hit his own highs yet, the spotlight still focused on Felix Da Housecat, Miss Kitten, and International Deejay Gigolo. Hell, Mr. Sontag had yet to even find the confidence in his singing voice, his breakout single a year off from hitting the pavement.

More pointedly though, he’d yet to really change the sort of music he was pushing. For a quick recap, Montreal Mix Sessions was Turbo’s initial DJ mix series, which Tiga premiered with the label’s launch. He handled the decks of the first volume, then shopped mixes out to other house and techno Montreal talent like John Acquaviva, Laflèche Morin, and (oddly) d’n’b act Dune. It made sense he’d return for another edition some time down the line, and the fifth volume was as good as any to do so. CD1 doesn’t do much to shake the Turbo foundations either, bumpin’ tech-house and pummelling 4am techno making up the bulk of its runtime. Tiga’s dropping of tracks from the likes of Adam Beyer, Sameul L. Session, Umek, Lay & Bushwacka!, Mateo Murphy, DJ Hell, and Tombra Vira (pst, that’s Jark Prongo) should give you a solid idea of what to expect on this mix. About the only surprise in this techno set is that it’s not the sort of sound you’d associate with Tiga anymore.

Mr. Sontag must have been feeling itchy to move onto something in line with his gestating passions though, as he threw in a Bonus Electro Funk CD, and here you find that nascent, anything-retro goes electroclash vibe. I-F is here! Martini Bros. are here! Bergheim34 is here! Dynamic Bass System is here! Anthony Rother is here! DMX Krew is here! Tiga would make better mixes after this one, but you can hear the unfurling of a new set of wings with Mixed Emotions. Fly high, my son.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Maschine - Maschine

Psychonavigation Records: 2011

You know who this label's reminding me of? Shadow Records. Not so much for the music style, though both clearly have a thing for genres that defined the '90s. Right, that makes all the sense with Shadow since they started in the '90s, but they carried on into the new millennium with one foot still firmly planted in the prior decade too. What I mean though, is both Shadow and Psychonavigation Records seem to love scouring their nearby lands for obscure, unheralded talent that fits their musical manifesto. Shadow was clearly in love with sounds Ninja Tune nurtured (being their short-lived American distributor didn't hurt), and Psychonavigation comes off more fond of Warp, Apollo, and other assorted seminal IDM labels. Still, this is the only similarity between the two – ain't no way an album from one or the other might share some stylistic sound. Nope, no how. Except now, brown cow.

So here’s Maschine, who’s self-titled debut on Psychonavigation Records reminds me of something Shadow Records might have put out in one of their more adventurous efforts. There’s jazzy-hop beats. There’s snazzy d’n’b rhythms. There’s deep rumbling dubby bass. There’s an undeniable inner city cool running through this album... for about the first half anyway. The back-half goes more vintage braindance territory, thus here’s your obligatory namedrops for comparison (Autechre, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher). Almost kind of a shame, if I’m honest, as I was much preferring the Amon Tobin leaning cuts from earlier in the album. Still, best of both worlds from Maschine, his tracks unique enough to stand out from a plenty overstuffed IDM market while retaining that retro ‘90s charm. Oh, we’re not allowed to called ‘90s music retro yet? C’mon, it’s been two decades; the ‘80s can’t keep hogging the word forever.

As for the man behind Maschine, Lord Discogs draws a total blank, but the liner notes provide a few tidbits of info. Mostly a live PA act headed by Eoin Coughlan and Aza Hand, though primarily fronted by Eoin at the time of this release. The jazz influences aren’t accidental either, Mr. Coughlan having been brought up in an environment surrounded by the music - his mother's apparently big on the Irish jazz scene, which is fascinating to me that such a scene even exists. Overall, Maschine sounds like the sort of act that burbles in local obscurity for years (Vancouver’s got lots of them), and likely would have remained as such had Psychonavigation not given them a little extra promotional bump. Interestingly, they retain Prime honors for the ‘Maschine’ handle at Lord Discogs. Has there seriously never been another act to use the name before Eoin and Aza entered the database? I mean, you’d think someone in the German techno scene would have claimed it in all these years. Someone with a fuller discography than this Maschine’s. Well, if not, props to you, lads. Good album too, one worth a few additional playthroughs for those days remembering when Autechre used to write melodies.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Astral Waves - Magnetique

Altar Records: 2015

I always keep forgetting this, but Astral Waves is Gabriel Descoutieras, more commonly known as DJ Zen; aka: the head of Altar Records. This isn't some scene secret or privileged information. Heck, just last year, I made mention of it in the Fire compilation review. He doesn't turn to this alias often though, so it's easy to overlook his association with it. I believe he's only released two proper albums as Astral Waves anyway, including this one. The first, Mystique, came on Monsieur Descoutieras' original print, Sunline Records. After getting Altar Records up and running, he returned with Magique, a remix album of other Altar artists. Oddly, this wasn’t made clear on the backcover, tracks listed as though they were his tracks. Um, oops? There’s also a very recent collaborative album with one flutist Aeolia called Yoga Temple, which looks to be exactly like what it says on the title. Pass on my end, thanks.

So DJ Zen doesn’t get behind the producer’s chair much, content in being a facilitator for other artists while giving them a spiffy mixdown and super-spiritualized cover art. In terms of music and talent, I’ve often mentioned Altar comes off like a little sibling of Ultimae Records, but their overseers are definitely cut from a different cloth. Aes Dana is quite prolific on his label (by Ultimae standards anyway), while DJ Zen’s much more chill. I sense a reason for that though - and oof, do I feel a bit of a cad typing it. Aes Dana just has more unique ideas worth exploring as a producer than Astral Waves.

For sure, Mr. Descoutieras is a solid producer, crafting his psy leaning chill and prog as capably as anyone on his roster. He may not kick out as much music as AstroPilot, E-Mantra, C.J. Catalizer, (Altar namedrop, etc.), but he definitely knows what works for the genre. Opener Emergence with Suduaya (France) and Sukhush (Brooklyn) (!) does the dubby bliss-out vibe with extra flute action, Le Rêve Éveillé with Sufi’s Life and Merlin (really, Lord Discogs, the fortieth Merlin?) ups the tempo into prog-psy’s domain, and Les Liens Du Sang with Aureohm (singer from Costa Rica, I think) soars in that spaced-out hippie-flail way any solid outdoor party goes. Astral Waves goes solo for the next two cuts, the happy, spritely Déploie Tes Ailes (que?) and darker groover La Danse De Elfes (ooh, I know what that one is in English!). There’s another spaced-out prog-psy cut with a rub on Androcell’s Efflorescence, plus two collaborations with Alwoods in Suntrap and L'Oiseau De l'Aube, both going more goa (acid! nice).

And yet, through all of Magnetique, I can’t help but feel this is just DJ Zen ticking off the things that makes this music work, seldom exploring it any further. There’s good tuneage here, yet with so much collaborative work, nothing I can identify as a definitive Astral Waves stylee. Maybe that’s all we need from the Altar Records curator though.

Monday, February 1, 2016

ACE TRACKS: January 2016

*sniff, sniff* What’s this I smell in the air? Is that… free CDs? Why, some friends are moving soon, and are looking to offload a little excess packaging. Most definitely I’ll be willing to take some of them for you, give them a new, comforting home. How many do you have? Thirty, eh? Mostly alternative rock… some old and new folk stuff… a little soundtrack fodder… ooh, a few key albums that I really should have in my collection. Yeah, sure, I’ll take the lot. I’m already plenty encroached within my apartment, what’s another mini-pile of discs at this point? I feel like I’m forgetting something here though, something that’ll impact my routine in the near future. Wait a second… oh, oh no! Dear God, why do I keep doing this to myself!?

Anyhow, here’s the ACE TRACKS playlist for January 2016.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
AuroraX - Evolutionary Journey
Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagonecologyst
Various - Fall
ASC - Fervent Dream
Dao Da Noize - Kalam
Banco de Gaia - Last Train To Lhasa (20th Anniversary Edition)

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 5%
Percentage of Rock: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Anything Dr. Octagon. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl.

Way heavy on the ambient, atmospheric, and chill music, this one. And what does come with a beat is almost exclusively the domain of the psy scene. There’s a few sidetracks along the way – Perturbator, Dr. Octagon, Liquid Stranger kinda’ – but all these label splurges has left me a playlist of primarily similar-sounding tunes. Thank goodness for Psychonavigation Records’ freewheeling genre hopping, eh?

As such, this may just be the most cohesive sounding ‘alphabetical arrangement’ playlist I’ve done thus far. Or the most boring, if you crave dynamic mixtapes.
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