Thursday, June 30, 2016

Various - Trade: Past Present Future

Beechwood Music: 2000

More than just another UK superclub, Trade’s legacy will forever be as important as Warehouse, Paradise Garage, and other early gay clubs championing that house sound. While there was no shortage of such venues at the turn of the ‘90s, they were still subject to standard clubbing curfews, leaving patrons with little more to do than wander streets and parks as they kept the party vibes going the morning after. Thanks to some wheelin’ and dealin’ by founder Laurence Malice, however, an afterhours slot at Turnmills was secured, one of the first ever in the UK. With an ad campaign specifically offering a safer alternative for post-clubbing all-night benders, Trade quickly flourished, becoming one of the UK’s dance music institutions, and launching the careers of many notable DJs (Tony de Vit, Tall Paul, Fergie).

And like any successful clubnight with a brand reaching global status, Trade got in on that DJ mix CD market too. Its first series of double-discers came out in the mid-‘90s on EMI offshoot Feverpitch, successfully promoting a hard house stylee the club was growing famous for. When the label folded after a mere two years, Trade eventually found a new home on Beechwood Music, kicking off with Past Present Future, two CDs supplying all the sounds you might hear at an all-nighter in Turnmills.

By this point in Trade’s lifespan, the clubnight had grown large enough for a second room playing funkier house music, from which production duo The Sharp Boys were instrumental in running. CD1 mostly focuses on their sound, and they definitely run the gamut. Groovy garage opens things up, loopy disco escalates the tempo (yep, Loleatta Holloway still going strong), and you can’t have such a set without a soul-sista’ monolog (Antoine Clamaran’s Get Up). The Boys take a turn for the tribal (X-Press 2), offer some bouncy house (DJ Antoine’s Do It has a donk on it), hit you with a little tech-house action (Smoking Schoolboy’s Tell Me (Detention Mix)), finally unleashing an unabashed anthem in Bryon Stingily’s Stand Up Right. Oh, and they finish off with an Armin & Tiësto collab’ of Eternity. Because clearly a club catering to hard house heads crave that Dutch cheese, absolutely.

With so much genre hopping, CD1’s an erratic set at best, and hardly indicative of the pummeling sound Trade’s all-nighters were built around. Step up to CD2 then, where ‘future’ representative Gonzalo Santiago hits you with a full mix of NRG! The beats come hard, some tracks have hoovers, others have acid, and build-ups are blessedly brief. I don’t have much else to say about it, my knowledge of NRG severely lacking. It’s fun for the time I play it, but I don’t want to play it much after. Not even that Baby Doc rub of Praga Khan’s Injected With A Poison.

A bonus third CD is a ten-minute snapshot of Tony de Vit rinsing out on New Year’s Eve, 1996. A touching tribute to one of Trade’s true legends, taken away far too soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Various - Tracks From The Best Dance Albums Of All Time

Muzik Magazine: 2002

Best tracks of all time? Pft, everyone does those, Mixmag in fact doing the deed just a few months prior to this issue of Muzik Magazine. Figuring out what the best long-players of dance culture, however, was apparently something no one did before, so claimed the editor’s blurb within. Given how inundated with such lists we now are, I find that hard to believe, but then it’s not like electronic music had as long a history as rock did. By the year 2002, EDM journalism was barely a decade old, most rags giving their dutiful Best Of The Year lists and leaving it at that. Still, those darn winter months, they’re slow for news, so here’s a trusty cliché article to get through February.

The list is actually interesting, even if the choices are rather predictable. Each producer or act is offered a lone entry, their definitive release as it were; except The KLF, both albums Chill Out and White Room making the cut, because they’re The K-L-f’n-F, y’heard. Obvious albums like Leftism, Sheet One, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, and Dummy rub shoulders with artifacts like Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, and Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing. Then-current hits like Felix Da Housecat’s Kittens & Thee Glitz and Roots Manuva’s Run Come Save Me share space with old classics like Depeche Mode’s Violator and Soul II Soul’s Club Classics Volume One. Hip hop gets its due with Missy Elliot, Eminem, and Public Enemy representing. And while I generally agree with Muzik’s selections, no doubt others will find contention with the chosen LPs of the scene’s biggest names. Reverence over Sunday 8pm? Blue Lines over Mezzanine? Exit Planet Dust over Dig Your Own Hole? Play over Everything Is Wrong? Accelerator over Lifeforms? Ima over ESCM? Selected Ambient Works 85-92 over Selected Ambient Works Volume 2? Ray Of Light over anything else in Madonna’s discography?

I could go on and on about this list, but self-imposed word count dictates I must talk about the free CD Muzik included with this issue. Yeah, it’s a good collection of tunes, a decent enough representation of the list without having to break the bank with licensing fees. As DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. scored the top honors, it’s only appropriate his track What Does Your Soul Look Like kicks things off. From there we get some bleep techno courtesy of LFO, some collage shenanigans courtesy of Negativland, and some trip-hop action from Tricky. Pet Shop Boys’ Can You Forgive Her? is given a deep house rub by MK (or, as the kids call this style now, ‘future house’), Timber from Coldcut & Hexstatic provide the requisite Ninja Tune showing, while Rae & Christian’s Swansong (For A Nation) sends us out.

Also, holy cow, UK bias much with this disc? Out of the eleven tracks, seven hails from the UK, three reside in the USA, and a lone Icelandic lady round out the rest. I bet she could beat them all at soccer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

High Contrast - Tough Guys Don't Dance (Original TC Review)

Hospital Records: 2007

(2016 Update)
'Tough guys' may not dance, but only when we're dishin' out some tough, critical love, eh? I mean, wow, I could be a hard ass on trance in the TranceCritic days, but I sure wasn't giving High Contrast much slack here. I think the problem was, listening to this album a few times over as I typically did before reviewing something back then, a number of these tracks quickly grew too repetitive for my liking. Having some years and musical distance from this album though,
Tough Guys Don't Dance is actually a good rollickin' time, great for a dunk into super-fun liquid funk before getting out of an overcrowded pool. Alright, I was also parroting some of the d'n'b narrative I'd read at the time regarding Hospital Records, but that label's endured remarkably well in the ensuing decade, remaining steadfast in its uplifting manifesto even as different trends come and go.

As for High Contrast, this was his last album, a shame. What, that record a few years ago, with the dubstep and the pointless, weak-sauce collaboration with Tiësto and Underworld? Whatever is this Bizarro Earth you speak of? Does Donald Trump rule your realm?)



IN BRIEF: The soul is in danger of becoming stagnant.

Credit must be given where it is due. Drum ‘n’ bass was in serious danger of growing far too self-serious after the turn of the century, even for itself. Then along comes some young upstart named Lincoln Barrett and, along with the Hospital Records crew, reminded the world the genre can be filled with plenty of uplifting optimistic vibes too. Soaring strings, singing soul sistas, and Robert Owens invaded the realm of jungle militants, and for a while it seemed as though liquid funk would be the future of ‘dee’bee’.

That was half a decade ago [ed: even longer now!]. Obviously the big Hospital take-over didn’t quite occur, but still they carved out their niche and have stayed the course with their sound... and stayed... and stayed... and now that just isn’t enough.

Yes, folks, it’s true. Rumors and buzzes from the underground abound that liquid funk has become played out; is past its prime; in need of a rest; if not, at least some re-invention. The same ol’ formula can only carry a scene for so long before predictable production becomes too common, and this sub-genre of jungle is decidedly drawing nearer to such a period. With two highly regarded albums already under his belt, can Mr. Barrett prove there’s still plenty of life in the girl on his third High Contrast full-length?

Forever And A Day makes a strong argument for the case. With rhythms that gets the heart racing and orchestral swells that set the spirit soaring, this is liquid funk at peak proficiency. In many other forms of music, a lyric like “and the birds are singing pretty little songs” would get snickered out of the scene, but in the hands of High Contrast, he makes it exhilarating. Top notch stuff, my friends.

Nothing else comes close to that track on Tough Guys Don’t Dance, but Barrett shouldn’t be expected to hit a grand-slam every time. However, although each tune he crafts is easily above average, very few of them are a home-run either. It’s fine for a few tracks into the album, but by the time Eternal Optimist and Chances roll along, the template has become far too predictable and lacks the panache that made Forever And A Day such a winner.

The trouble lies in the fact a lot of Lincoln’s tricks are over-familiar now, and he doesn’t do much on this album to shake the formula up. You’d think a producer of his caliber wouldn’t dare be caught going through the motions, yet it honestly does sound like he is with his liquid funk offerings. The r’n’b divas, the soulful crooners (mostly J’Nay in this case), the smooth rolling basslines, the 2-step breakbeats, and the orchestral samples: almost all of it sounds like it could have been produced at any point in his career, and without the care to treat them as something more than just another tune to rinse out by the Hospital Records roster. Fine and dandy for brief one-offs at a club night, sure, but unfortunately rather stale in an album context, especially one’s third.

There are moments where he does deter from the template, and unsurprisingly these tracks are amongst the album’s highlights. Opener If We Ever may have most of liquid funk’s requisite trappings, but instead relies on some old school jungle rhythms which are good fun. Elsewhere, Nobody Gets Out Alive adds a twist to things by making use of a bassline that pounds rather than rolls and some old blues sample that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on Moby’s Play. The two atmospheric cuts - Tread Softly and The Ghost Of Jungle Past - although quite stuck in the 90s, are lush. As for his fiercer offerings like Sleepless, Metamorphosis, and Pink Flamingos, they’re hit or miss, and ultimately serving as little better than breaks in the liquid funk monotony.

Hn. Reading this back, and it seems like I’m just bitching about liquid funk, when truthfully I do enjoy the stuff. It is, after all, quite uplifting music. However, its mostly singular execution on Mr. Barrett’s third doesn’t offer as much depth as you’d expect given how nifty the surface often presents itself. Still, Tough Guys Don’t Dance is hardly a write-off. The highlights are stellar, the atmospheric detours are pleasant, and tracks like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Everything’s Different are class, if somewhat formulaic.

I’ve heard High Contrast criticized as being drum ‘n’ bass for newbies, which is rather unfair (jump-up still holds the crown for that distinction) but I can see where such critics are coming from. Lincoln’s stuff is very accessible for the uninitiated junglist and would prefer keeping a party active rather than challenge the listener. However, by sticking to such simple tried and tested tactics, his appeal won’t last should you explore the realm of jungle further, as producers with far greater tricks abound. If you have a passing fancy for liquid funk, Tough Guys Don’t Dance will serve you find, but seasoned vets of the scene may be disappointed.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Michael Mayer - Touch

Kompakt: 2004

One of the co-founders of Kompakt? You bet Michael Mayer is a Very Important Person in the world in techno! Maybe not quite as important as fellow Kompakt’re Wolfgang Voigt, who’s the Most Important German Techno Person of all history, should you ask certain sorts out there in internet music journalism land. Still, as the label wingman, Mr. Mayer’s earned himself plenty of positive buzz as well. Though he’s by no means as prolific a producer as Wolfgang was, as the century turned he had a tidy career as a microhouse DJ, even getting in on that early fabric mix CD action. Even with his own label, however, Michael’s output was intermediate at best, reportedly a fussy producer never satisfied with his results long enough to commit to disc.

Someone must have lit that bug up his bum regarding making music though, a debut album in the form of Touch finally hitting shelves in the late of 2004. And not a moment too soon, the gospel of Kompakt finally drifting out of its Cologne, Germany base into a wider world of success and scorns (more the former). This was about when The Orb joined Kompakt after all, and nothing gets a music scene buzzing like a veteran joining an upstart label. Probably didn’t hurt a lot of cool techno people had moved to Berlin by this point too. Thus, with all eyes on German labels and whatever hot records they were kicking out, The Mayer’d One was in prime position to reap the critical plaudits from electronic music reviewers abroad. Except Resident Advisor; they instead covered Armin van Buuren’s latest Universal Religion that month.

As an album, Touch is an unfussy collection of tracks. It opens with a rather trancey titular cut, the sort of tune that helped start that nebulous neo-trance micro-genre of the next few years. It even has a breakdown and build with swelling pads, piano chords, and off-beat acid bass. It's such a throwback of early German trance that I’m astounded more folks didn’t write-off the minimal tech-house darling right then and there. Still, it’s not like Kompakt was ever shy about getting in touch with their unabashed melodic side.

The rest of the album plays more to the style you’d expect of mid-‘00s German tech-haus. Privat provides a slow, simmering groove with funky guitar licks and pads in support. Heiden goes heavier with its techno-thump, while Neue Luthersche Frakfur gets in on that trendy electro-house acid-fart action for a bit before indulging some escalating-sound action. Mid-track Slowfood runs for ten-plus minutes, and is clearly Mr. Mayer’s big artiste moment on the album, with meandering funk rhythms, bleepy ambient techno interludes, and cinematic crescendos. Bit much for my taste – give me the simplistic noir groove of Lovefood any day!

A couple functional tech-haus tracks close Touch out, but by no means come off dated. Even a decade on, Mayer’s debut holds up just fine. Something to be said for keeping things simple, eh?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Eurythmics - Touch

RCA: 1983/2005

Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) took Eurythmics from the brink of commercial failure to the heights of chart success, literally overnight. Though a little flustered by their sudden fortune, Annie Lennox and David Stewart didn’t rest on their laurels, almost immediately hitting the studio again for the quick follow-up Touch. It’s all that new gear Stewart purchased that spurred them on, cutting-edge toys that offered more creative freedom than ever before. Oh, the wonders of the 24-track machine! That voyetra gizmo wasn’t too shabby either. You bet your bottomed-out dollar the duo felt those creative juices flowing with so many options now available to them.

The resulting album was far more diverse than its predecessor, bolder in its genre explorations while offering hit singles on par with their breakout. Sweet Dreams will forever be considered the definitive Eurythmics song, but the two big cuts off Touch earned them just as much radio play as that one. Who’s That Girl? became a synth-pop anthem for every woman scorned by a promiscuous lover, and earned itself some attention for its gender-bending art. Yep, that’s Lennox on the single’s cover, decked out in fashionable collared shirt and tie, sporting an Elvis wig and a five-o’clock shadow, even kissing her lounge-singer persona at the end of the video. I never realized that until recently, so crafty the costume is! More conventional is the video for Here Comes The Rain Again (truly a West Coast anthem), where Lennox and Stewart wander the cliffs around The Old Man Of Hoy (seaside erosion porn!). The tune, however, shows off that new-fangled 24-track machine by bringing in orchestral support to Eurythmics’ icy-cool, melancholic synth pop. And yes, that’s the London Philharmonic providing the strings, with Michael Kamen conducting no less. Apparently the studio didn’t have enough room to house the orchestra properly, some members playing in hallways. Methinks Stewart’s gonna’ want himself a bigger studio after.

While Sweet Dreams: The Album was mostly forced to stick with a stripped-down, synth heavy style, the increased options for Touch gave Eurythmics more opportunity to try out other genres. This includes Caribbean influenced jams like third single Right By Your Side, dubbier new wave (Regrets; No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts)), peppier rock-leaning numbers (Cool Blue, The First Cut) and experimental indulgences like floaty Aqua and Paint A Rumor. This track, also final track on the album, goes well over seven minutes, and runs the gamut of synth pop, funk, electro, Arabian, and all manner of manipulation on Lennox’s voice.

As out there as Paint A Rumor is in the Eurythmics discography, it’s nothing compared to the oddities of the b-sides included with the reissue. You Take Some Lentils And You Take Some Rice is all sorts of avante-garde European synth pop, Plus Something Else is a funky instrumental, and ABC (Freeform) sounds like an early Kraftwerk outtake. Other bonuses include a cover of Bowie’s Fame, and… an acoustic version of Who’s That Girl?. Aaugh, real instruments!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Various - Toronto Mix Sessions: Kenny Glasgow

Turbo: 2001

Of course Toronto has a CD in Turbo’s Mix Sessions series. Tiga couldn’t keep showing all those Nordic cities love without giving The Centre Of The (hockey) Universe its representation. The Toronto dance scene is a long, storied one, with a rich history in house, techno, trance, jungle, hardcore, and, um, reggae? Okay, I honestly know very little about their rave story. I watched a lot of Electric Circus in the ‘90s, have heard tall tales of a club called Guvernment, and I’m pretty certain Chris Sheppard made his fame in the region. As far as I know it developed as most metropolitan dance cultures did, generating DJs and producers in equal measure of crossover fame and underground cred’. Even the venerated Global Underground series gave Toronto its spotlight on the twenty-fifth volume (mixed by Deep Dish, of course). And yet, Vancouver, she get no attention, ever. Might Mix Sessions have eventually migrated to the West Coast, had Turbo stayed in the mix CD business long enough? If even Sheffield got a mix, damn right we should have gotten one too!

Another thing I’m uncertain of is how Kenny Glasgow got the nod as Toronto’s chosen jock. Most other Mix Sessions editions went with DJs within Tiga’s networking circle, so I’ll assume Mr. Glasgow was also down with the Turbo crew, giving the scene veteran some of his greatest exposure ever. Wow, so weird typing that out, considering he’d become internationally famous nearly a decade later as one-half of Art Department. Also remarkable is the fact this CD is Kenny’s lone DJ mix credit within Lord Discog’s archives. Not even something on a regional print? You’d think someone who’s been rinsing out records since the early ‘90s would have more on the market. He technically got to do a fabric mix as Art Department last year, but by the time that came out, he’d left the pairing to focus on his solo work again.

As this is a Turbo CD released in the year 2001, you bet Toronto Mix Sessions hits the electro hard. Anthony Rother is here! Felix Da Housecat is here! Miss Kittin, absolutely here! The Hacker shows up thrice! Even Kraftwerk gets in, in an incredibly roundabout way: Señor Coconut covers Showroom Dummies, and Markus Nikolai provides a rub. Tech-house has its early moments care of Märtini Brös’ Babyhaze, but Kenny doesn’t waste much time in unleashing techno from The Advent, Si Begg, and John Selway. While flitting between funky tech-house and moody electro, Mr. Glasgow saves his prime weapons for the end, with a Laurent Garnier rub of Silver Screen Shower Scene, and an unashamed laser-kissed anthem in Kissogram’s If I Had Known This Before. The requisite outro of 4am bangin’ techno from The Vectif’s The Spice and Night On Earth’s Simple Short Cut completes a well-rounded set that should have propelled Mr. Glasgow out of Toronto obscurity. But alas, the Turbo bump didn’t do much for him. That Crosstown Rebels print later on, tho’...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Neil Young - Tonight's The Night

Reprise Records: 1975

This is Neil Young dead centre in the ditch; or the middle album of his acclaimed Ditch Trilogy. Though released as the third album of the three, it was recorded between the live Time Fades Away and comedown blues of On The Beach. It also features one of his most ragged collections of tunes ever, perhaps only topped by the impossibly fun-n-sloppy Re-Ac-Ter down the road. This was seen as a revelation for many a critic, a resounding triumph of back-to-basics grubby rock by one of the scene’s veterans, delivered at a time when many rockers had grown fat and content on their earlier commercial successes. Not this Young fellah’ though! He saw that fame, lived that dream, got all that paper, bought that ranch, and got super-depressed over it, beating Roger Waters’ infamous crisis of faith by a few years.

Naturally, none of this was planned on Young’s part. Rather, compounding issues like testy tours, fears of creative stagnation, and dying friends all led to Tonight’s The Night. As the story goes, the double-whammy drug deaths of Crazy Horse leader Danny Whitten and roadie pal Bruce Berry got Neil off the road and seeking some good ol’ camaraderie from his closest musical friends. No, not Crosby, Stills and Nash, the ‘supergroup’ still in a state of mutual ‘frenemy’ flux. Rather, he hooked back up with the remaining Crazy Horse members, plus wonderkid guitarist Nils Lofgren, Harvest’s ace pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, and producer pal Jack Nitzsche for a session at brother-of-Bruce's ramshackle studio. An all-star line-up of Young’s ‘raw’ repertoire, then!

They basically all got drunk, got stoned, played billiards, and played music late into the night, their recording time an extended wake for their departed comrades. Music quite literally about Bruce Berry the man (Tonight’s The Night), about the pitfalls of the druggie lifestyle (Speakin’ Out, Tired Eyes, Lookout Joe), some lighter moments (Roll Another Number), but generally everything just going to shit (World On A String, Albuquerque, Mellow My Mind). Tunes mostly stick to stoner blues, though with a little rock and country thrown in for good measure.

It’s also very unpolished material, about as ‘live’ sounding as a studio session can get, and hardly of quality label heads figured someone with Young’s fame could conceivably want out on the market. Following the equally unprofessional and commercial letdown that was Time Fades Away, you bet Reprise Records was leery about releasing this album as was. Another contentious tour playing the album in its entirety, well before any singles or records were pressed, only made frustrated fans more irate with Young’s increasingly agitating antics. Tonight’s The Night was thus shelved, perhaps indefinitely, yet another ‘lost classic’ in the annals of rock history.

Then, a couple years later, while going through some demos of new material, Young played the Tonight’s The Night sessions as a point of comparison. He instantly thought, “Hey, this is some raw, real stuff. Let’s go with this instead.” And he done did.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Coldcut - Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too

Ntone: 1996

This is one damn weird CD. For sure you can glean that just from the cover art, a bizarre bit of ‘90s CGI that looks like something out of a SNES fever dream. But did you know this is a Coldcut DJ mix? Seeing as how More and Black don’t often dip their fingers into the realms of mix CDs, you’d think Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too would get more attention. Heck, this came out just a year after 70 Minutes Of Madness, a set many hail as one of the finest mixes committed to disc of the ‘90s. Their mighty successful album Let Us Play! was also just around the calendar corner. For all intents this little CD was on the market at peak Coldcut prominence, so shouldn’t it be talked up just as much? Yeah, maybe if it’d been marketed through Ninja Tune, that might have been the case. Rather, Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too was a showcase of sub-label Ntone, in fact the second of a short-lived promotional series. Because the “Too” is supposed to be “Two”, get it? Hell, if you think the title’s strained alliteration is something else, you should read the inlay blurb.

Naturally, I knew none of this going in. Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too was one of my earliest ‘underground’ purchases, joined with the knowledge drop of Techno Nights – Ambient Dawn and taste-changing One A.D. Thus I had no clue who Coldcut was, much less any of the other names on the tracklist. My only requisite for a buy was cool-strange cover art (check!), and a ton of unknowns I could discover. Names like Neoptropic, Hex, Transcend, Spacetime Continuum, and Alien Community certainly fit the bill, all with abstract future-sounding song titles like 50cc, 2003, Dubmunculus, and Alien Community. Why, this must be one of those Very Important Albums in my musical journey then! Maybe, if it wasn’t such an odd collection of tunes.

Ntone was essentially Ninja Tune’s outlet for leftfield music: druggy trip-hop, dubby techno, and dreamy stoner ambient, which Tone Tales From Tomorrow Too delivers in full force. It was all a bit much to take in for Teenage Sykonee, a larger leap into the underground than he was ready for. It didn’t help matters that the entire mix is a single index, so if I wanted to hear more of that wicked-awesome sci-fi electro of Alien Community or Spacetime Continuum’s Pressure, I had to play out most of the CD to get there. Heck, for the longest time I thought these were the same track, though the stylistic similarities make sense given Jonah Sharp is behind both aliases (Alien Community was a pairing with Pete Namlook).

Why would Coldcut do such a thing? Their mix isn’t filled with lengthy layered blends, most tracks transitioned as per normal for a chill set. It’s because of that CD-ROM app, isn’t it; the clunky turntable mixer with samples from various tracks? Aww, I thought the extra media was gonna’ be trippy CGI videos.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Warp Records: 2013

Probably the most Boards Of Canada sounding album that Boards Of Canada have released. “But wait,” you cry after flipping your TV dinner tray and knocking over a lamp with that flowery canopy and tassels hanging like a droopy hippie, “how can that be? Music Has The Right To Children is their best album for all eternity!” Hey, I ain’t taking that away, though I’m certain a number of folks figure The Campfire Headphase a better album than Musical Children. Hell, there’s probably a few odd sorts that rank Geogaddi’s ultra-cryptic nonsense concept as Most Essential Boards. Almost nowhere does Tomorrow’s Harvest enter this discussion, though its relative newness hasn’t afforded it much gestation time compared to most BoC.

Thing about the Big Three of Boards Of Canada’s discography is they each had their own, distinct sound. For sure there’s the BoC sonic markers you’ll hear in every one of their records (trip-hop beats, analog synth tones, ‘70s fuzz), but one can still instantly tell which album’s playing: Musical Children has the nostalgic playful innocence, Geogaddi the harsh experimentation, and Campfire Headphase the acoustic shoegaze pieces. Tomorrow’s Harvest has no such signifiers of instant identification; in fact, one could claim its lack of a recognizable theme is this album’s primary theme, but that’s rather stupid. Misters Sandison and Eoin most definitely had a theme in mind for this album, one that still paid homage to the ‘70s sounds they grew up listening to. For having relived the children’s documentaries and trips out to the countryside, Boards Of Canada felt time to grow up and explore the desolate futures so many sci-fi films of the era dealt with. Cold War babies didn’t have much hope for our present times, did they?

The start of Tomorrow’s Harvest certainly sells this premise, opener Gemini and third track White Cyclosa the sort of music a Berlin School composer might write for such a film. Lodged between them, Reach For The Dead brings in the Boards’ style of crackly beatcraft and warm synth timbre while adding wide-screen grandeur to their palette, a more cinematic approach to their vintage style. And that’s essentially the bulk of music you’ll find on Tomorrow’s Harvest, tunes less concerned with hauntology than presenting a narrative fitting its theme. There are a few scattered ambient doodles (Uritual, Telepath, Transmisiones Ferox, Collapse), and a couple ‘childhood recollection’ pieces poke their heads out (Nothing Is Real, Cold Earth). For the most part though, Tomorrow’s Harvest sounds like Boards Of Canada stripped down to their raw essence, their music as stark as the barren futurescape that encapsulates their would-be film.

Many who spent years dissecting their other albums were flustered with Tomorrow’s Harvest, unsure what to make of such a modest concept LP. The long gap between albums didn’t help matters, fans filled with much hype and thrill for BoC’s return. Yet it’s almost forgotten now, seldom talked up as folks keep referring back to older records. Guess some remain fixed in the past.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Strung Out In Heaven

TVT Records: 1998

I’ve hit saturation point of how much alternative music I can handle. What a petty complaint. It’s not like I’m digging into the truly obscure recesses of the indie realms, most names cropping up well-known, respected talent with deserved critical and commercial success. Plus I’ve spent these past two months keeping a toe or two in electronic genres I’m familiar with, all the while exploring the darker regions of a specific sub-genre. Yet here I am, face to ear with another indie rock band I know nothing about, hearing tunes that are all fine and dandy Worhals, but my mind sub-consciously keeps turning it to mush. It’s as though the previous fifty releases I’ve reviewed are a smorgasbord of music, filled with entrees I’m familiar with but several I’ve never actually sampled. And darn it, I’ve paid for the All You Can Eat option, so I’m gonna’ sample everything in this spread. But man, am I ever feeling stuffed finally getting to those last few dishes.

Anyhow, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. This is a band headlined by one Anton Newcombe, the sort of eccentric musician I’m sure many music scribes have described as ‘authentic’ or ‘audacious’, fearing few paths with his sonic adventures. Starting out as a ‘shoegaze’ group, the San Fran band shows no shame in their love of psychedelic rock, and curse their luck getting their start in the ‘90s. No, wait, that's when starry-eyed gazes back to the decade of Dylan, Beatles, Byrds, and Stones kicked in, to say nothing of movie soundtracks revitalizing ‘70s music for a younger generation. This was the perfect time for The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s brand of rock to flourish!

TVT Records certainly thought so, signing the band to a fat, multi-album contract after their underground cred starting bubbling over. The result is Strung Out In Heaven, an album that sounds like an HD remaster of ‘60s folk rock. Apparently band member Matt Hollywood wrote more of the songs in this outing, what with Anton getting too deep in that heroin lifestyle. Silly Anton, you save that drug for the ‘70s throwbacks – ‘60s was all on that acid trip, yo’.

Listening to this album, I feel like it was intended as a soundtrack for an epic Americana indie film, another celluloid attempt at On The Road where the only bad choice the protagonist makes is going home. Seems TVT Records felt the same way, the packaging straight out of some ‘60s pulp cinema, the band members listed on the cover like stars of the film. There’s plenty of dreamy melodies, groovy Hammond organs, folksy strumming, and stoned singing, a total love-letter to times past as envisioned by musicians far removed from the era. Too much of an ode, turns out, Strung Out In Heaven failing to sell anywhere near TVT’s expectations. Realizing the band was a bit too ‘out there’ for the major independent print, Brain Jonestown Massacre mutually split from TVT, and they went back to making weirdo music again.

Monday, June 20, 2016

PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

Island Records: 2000

The only PJ Harvey album you probably have, if you decided it was about time to take a listen-in on the indie-darling lady rocker. She even admits Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is her stab at a pop-leaning record, though obviously said with tongue firmly in cheek. It generated the most sales abroad of any album in her career, yet is her lowest charted LP in her native UK. Yes, not even the sweet selling point of a couple Thom Yorke collaborations was enough to convince the indie British this wasn’t a blatant sell-out. Wait, the mellow To Bring You My Love didn’t do the trick? The ‘electronica’ Is This Desire? wasn’t proof Ms. Harvey had no problem jumping on trends? So fickle, these UK music lovers. She couldn’t scream that raw, angst rock of her early work forever, y’know. People grow up, mature, experiment, try different things, explore their latent abilities, aim for the light after spending time in the ditch, and all that.

Full disclosure: I’m among the rear tier of folks who should talk up PJ Harvey’s career. Of course I know about the singer-songwriter out of Yeovil (such a cool name, that!), her influence as a trailblazer for aggressive women of ‘90s rock. I’m sure a few of her tunes or guest appearances have crossed my ears over the years, and anyone that namedrops Neil F’n Young as an inspiration is a-ok in my books. Even glancing over her discography, it’s clear she follows a similar ‘give no fucks’ approach in following her muse wherever it may lead. And fortunately, her catalog doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as other eclectic sorts if one is so tempted to dive full-in. I just doubt I’ll be doing so anytime soon, if at all. Maybe if this ‘electronic music’ thing ever wears itself completely out on my ears. ‘Riot grrl’ rock might be a fun dalliance when I’m sixty-four.

As mentioned, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea is ol’ Polly’s bestselling album, and has also earned her plenty of accolades as well. Playing it through, it’s easy to hear why, the music smooth and polished, many tunes sounding custom made for most rock radio stations. Yet there’s always something just a little more interesting going on beyond your stock FM filler. Catchy choruses contain clever lyrics, Harvey showing range in her singing voice as each song necessitates (angrier here, playful there, moody elsewhere). There’s quite a range of rock as well, some coming off as standards (Good Fortune, Big Exit, This Is Love), others showing a little sound experimentation (the neat dub overlays of The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore), or going all-out ‘80s (Kamikaze). Other tunes show her acoustic side, and final track We Float has a dreamy indie pop thing going for it. Sounds like a Radiohead tune, if I’m honest, and is thus surprising it's not one of those Thom Yorke collaborations. Fine by me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bedouin Soundclash - Sounding A Mosaic

SideOneDummy Records: 2004

Yet another CD of which I knew nothing going in to. With a name of Bedouin Soundclash though, plus song titles like Gyasi Went Home, Music My Rock, Rude Boy Don’t Cry, and Immigrant Workforce, odds were ninety-seven percent I was dealing with reggae music of some form. And with the opening, jaunty refrains of When The Night Feels My Song confirming my assumption, I sat back to vibe on an album of sunny jimmy-jams. Yet as Sounding A Mosaic played out, something felt just a tad off. With a sparse arrangement consisting of little more than bass, guitar, and drums, it was clear Bedouin Soundclash wasn’t a traditional full-ensemble reggae band. More so, there was an undeniable ‘coddiness’ about these tunes. The music, the cadence, and the groove of vintage reggae were all there; but, y’know, kinda’ white at the same time.

Turns out Bedouin Soundclash hails from Kingston… Ontario. At this stage of the band’s career, it consisted of drummer Pat Pengelly, bassist Eon Sinclair, and singer-guitarist Jay Malinowski. Yeah, Malinowski’s about as white a name you can get, so my assumption wasn’t off-base. By no means does this detract from what this band does – plenty of great reggae music’s been made by folks that have little-to-no ancestry from the Isle Of Jamaican. There’s The Police, and… uh… all those dub reggae guys I go on about. And… um… Pst, former college kids who wore dreadlocks, help me out here.

I joke and kid, of course, Bedouin Soundclash having a decent amount of success to their name. Starting out in the ancient times of the year 2001 (look, its ancient now, deal with it), they self released their debut Root Fire to little fanfare. A couple years later they came out with this album, Sounding A Mosaic, which did substantially better, thanks to the strength of lead single When The Night Feels My Song. The tune landed them a Top 5 hit on the Canadian charts, and inexplicably a spot on the UK charts – then again, them British do love ‘em some ‘cod’. This momentum was enough to generate Platinum-level sales for the album in Canada, and while their follow-up album Street Gospels didn’t sell quite a well, it still peaked at number two on our music charts, and good enough for a Top 5 spot on the US Reggae charts. And having now learned of all their success, I feel kind of dumb for never hearing of Bedouin Soundclash before. Did I just not care about reggae a decade ago?

Not particularly, no, especially of this sort. There’s plenty tunes on here that are perfectly fine pieces of three-man reggae, though obviously nothing of the caliber I got from The Police. It’s the sort of music that’s fun to check out at a summer festival, preferably at a 2pm slot when you’re feeling nicely toasted. Aside from a couple remixes at the end though, Sounding A Mosaic is about as conventional as this music gets.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sabled Sun - Signals IV-V-VI

Cryo Chamber: 2015

Now wait just a darn minute! Didn’t I miss my chance on this triple-disc collection, that when I stopped over at the label’s Bandcamp, the site claimed they were sold out? Indeed they had, and I rested easy in accepting that star-cruiser having sailed, missing on owning another chapter in the Sabled Sun saga. It’s not like I couldn’t hear any of these hour-long drone pieces through a streaming service. And besides, the Signals pieces aren’t even part of the main narrative Simon Heath’s crafted with the project; rather like side-stories, or appendices, or bonus features, or- no, wait, all this cinematic dark ambient isn’t literal cinema on DVD.

In a move I hadn’t counted on, Cryo Chamber replenish their stock, including another round of Signals IV-V-VI. This shouldn’t come as that big a deal, but considering so many online prints have very limited runs of their physical releases, you’d forgive me for thinking this label would be the same. It actually stuns me that dub techno labels are so comparatively skint, what with how much critical love they receive from all the Very Important electronic music rags. I always figured dark ambient a super-niche scene, but I suppose there’s some crossover from the underground metal ranks, and that’s anything but small, believe you me.

From the outset its clear Mr. Heath was aiming for a different take in this second trilogy of Signals. The first three were quite distinct from one another, but the stark, dead-in-space artwork helped maintain a linking connection within the concept. This next bundle offers something sunnier; in fact about a billion times so. Are we dealing with the same planet, because that’s an astounding number of stars featured in the cover art compared to the previous set of Signals. Looks like we’re hovering somewhere near a globular cluster rather than some outflung back-spur of the galaxy. I wonder if this is a region those signals from the first three were directed. Was that even the impression I was meant to get from those hour-long compositions? Drone can be so very vague at times. Right, most times.

On the surface, there isn’t much difference between Signals IV, V, and VI. All three feature similar atonal space drone dominating nearly every audible wavelength you can imagine, but in a way that’s not crushing on your senses. Signals IV has a fuzzy run of static throughout, eventually joined by intermittent chirping frequencies piercing the empty void. Signals V has more of a journey going for it, the droning tones occasionally receding as though the cosmos is inhaling before carrying on its never-ending symphony of non-sound. It even changes in timbre during its course, and if you listen carefully enough, one can hear the distinct whine of radio transmissions desperately trying to be heard. Signals VI is just unrelenting suffocating drone for its full hour, barely a change in- wait, what was that signal at the tail end? No, wait, come back! Oh dear, we’ve lost it…

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Live - Secret Samadhi

Radioactive: 1997

Oh my God, I’m actually starting to like Live. Now I feel bad for every lame, clichéd punch-line I’ve ever delivered in their direction. You know how they typically go: “that band that everyone loved but can’t remember any reason why”; or “you know you’re from the ‘90s if you have Throwing Copper among your CDs”; or “oh yeah, Live, they had that big hit December, right? Or was that Push?” (sorry, Canadian joke). Maybe it’s because I never realized they shared so many similarities to national treasures The Tragically Hip, though it’s not like I delved deeply into their discography either. And even when I took on Throwing Copper, it essentially confirmed what I always felt Live was: a solid enough alternative rock band, fully deserving of their success but not one I thought capable of exceeding that commercial peak.

And Secret Samadhi oblitera- no, not quite; forced a reassessment of my initial assumptions, yes let’s go with that. I figured Live’s third album would carry on from Throwing Copper, the band daring not to mess with the sure thing they’d generated for themselves. I’m sure tons of folks figured that too, the record hitting top of the Billboard before being unceremoniously knocked out a week after by the Howard Stern movie soundtrack. Perhaps it couldn’t be helped, their breakout record one of the slowest burners the world of rock had ever seen. Whatever enthusiasm folks had for Live in those glorious mid-‘90s times would have waned as other new hotness emerged. But hey, Secret Samadhi did knock No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom from its long perch atop Canadian charts, so good on that.

Generally speaking, Secret Samadhi is more of the same Live stylee, but evolving just enough for a stronger outing than before. Yes, I feel this record is better than Throwing Copper, delving into ‘post-grunge’ form without getting too slick about it, nicely selling a ‘bar band with a budget’ vibe. Sure, there’s an orchestra backing a couple tracks, and they have plenty studio polish at their disposal, but nothing is overdone or varnished into blandness as so much mega-selling rock of the ‘90s goes. Despite their continued stadium success abroad, I could totally see Live playing live at the local dive bar. No, that’s a good thing! Though I don’t actively seek it out, I’m still a sucker for bluesy, alternative rock, where tales of common folk struggles are told with not a hint of preaching or sanctimonious condemnation. Even with Kowlaczyk interjecting headier concepts of spiritualism and mysticism this time out, Live still remain grounded in how they present themselves. For a chap that will likely never lose his small town sensibility (I keep trying!), this remains most appealing.

While I’m almost certain this ends my forays into Live’s discography, I must admit coming away from both Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi more appreciative of the band than I ever thought possible. And will someone help out their Wiki pages? Dear God, it’s disgraceful.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Jonny L - Sawtooth

XL Recordings: 1997

Some days, you just need that drum’n’bass hit. Seeing the multitude of memes declaring this biological fact as gospel, I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, though my cravings don’t run as deep as some junglists go. However, it’s enough that every so often I must pick up some proper rudeness for my brain’s rhythm centers, a prospect that’s not as easy as it once t’was. For sure it’s simple enough finding any ol’ DJ set or label rinseout online, but I gotta’ sate that collector’s itch too, and finding good d’n’b albums is always a tricky proposition, especially when one wanders back to the ‘90s for their fix. Some are too damn obvious (Goldie, Roni Size) or too damn expensive (Logical Progression), but with a little digging, something unexpected can surface.

Not that Jonny L is an unknown entity, but I never pegged him an album guy. Like most d’n’b producers, he made his living on the singles market, signing early to XL Recordings way back when he was still making rave hardcore. As with many, he moved into jungle’s domain, navigating the scene’s numerous splintering roads with remarkable ease. There’s an atmospheric style out there now? Here’s a pair of future classics in Tychonic Cycle and I Let U then. And that emergent tech-step vibe one Grooverider was champion-sounding? Jonny L became one of the genre’s leaders, tracks like Piper, S4, and Wish U Had Something among the earliest anthems spit out. His style was something of a bridge between the darkcore ruffness of the older days, and the precision production of Photek’s work, leading to tracks that hit in hard bursts as different drum patterns rotated in and out. Also, heavy sci-fi influences, dragging the junglists out of the grimy London warehouses and into, um, grimy warehouses on Mars. Can you step to these Martian moves?

I knew all this prior to hearing Jonny L’s debut LP, Sawtooth, as I heard most of these songs elsewhere. In fact, I have at least half the tracks here on other CDs (including Treading) hence why I figured Mr. Lisners more an EP guy. I never considered his first album had been raided for so many tunes! Does this make Sawtooth an unheralded classic the likes we should prop up every chance given?

Ah, not quite. For a ‘90s d’n’b album, it’s solid enough, though if you don’t fancy the tech-step stylee, there isn’t much else to vibe on here. For sure the two atmospheric cuts are mint, and ol’ Jonny throws a single swerve in mid-track Detroit, a tune that clearly wants to be an old-school electro homage, but comes out sounding like technobass instead. Wait, that’s awesome! Other tracks like Moving Thru Air, Two Of Us and Obedience stick to the tech-step sound, good tracks in of themselves though a little redundant when taking in Sawtooth as a whole. Yeah, about as cliché a d’n’b album nitpick as it gets, that one.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Coldplay - A Rush Of Blood To The Head

Parlaphone: 2002

I suppose if you’re gonna’ have any Coldplay album, it may as well be this one. It’s stronger than their debut, wherein the band members’ quick success had provided plenty confidence in their song-writing. It’s also still early in their career, before all the pretentious waffle that came associated with the band emerged, their sound fresh in the minds of everyone coming within earshot of Clocks and In My Place. It’s definitely the best-selling of Coldplay’s albums, earning over twenty-million sales globally, despite not even hitting the number one spot in America. Thanks to its ultra-success, nearly every album since A Rush Of Blood To The Head debuted on top of charts the world over, the streak finally ending with last year’s A Head Full Of Dreams.

And just what gave Coldplay’s sophomore effort such undeniable fame, fortune, plaudits, and popularity? Eh, I’m not the guy to psycho-analyze this. Given its never-ending placement in “Best Ever Rock Albums” lists, not to mention the massive market penetration, more than enough folks have provided in-depth insight into what made this album ‘work’. I’ve only given the band passive interest over the years, their ubiquitous presence upon radios abroad sating whatever Coldplay need I ever had. Nearly did pick up that X&Y album though, what with promo hype promising inspiration from electronic music past; impossibly, eye-catching cover art didn’t hurt either, luring me in as fuzzy Lepidoptera to flame.

Talk about A Rush Of Blood To The Head I must though, and my stunning conclusion of this album is… yeah, it’s a nice listen. Not shattering any narratives here, my friends. Coldplay have that sweet middle ground of pop sensibilities while presenting themselves with enough earnest songcraft that you can’t fault them on any basic musical level. The melodies fill a room as pleasant background fluff, have enough substance to lure you in for a closer listen, and never wander too far off the path of familiarity. It’s the sound everyone figured Radiohead would have made if that band had only explored their inner U2 capabilities rather than go full-on Pink Floyd. In other words, exactly the music most magazines are quick to heap praise upon, radios are quick to flood the airwaves with, and folks were eager to own in their still-practical CD collections. Fair play to Coldplay in filling that apparent gaping void, though it cannot be denied hearing In My Place every week for the past decade is too damn much for any sane person.

I don’t know what else to say about A Rush Of Blood To The Head - today’s events are kinda’ distracting. I’ve read speculation attributing the album’s success to the aftershock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a calming musical journey that also provided a sense of motivated urgency in how people should proceed. While playing this on a day like today, reading of innocent people falling to yet another senseless, preventable tragedy, that theory was definitely put into practice for yours truly. Rest well.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Feist - The Reminder

Arts & Crafts: 2007

I want to claim I heard of Feist before she got popular, but I’m not certain how accurate that is. Right, there’s almost no way I heard her before this album came out, though she wasn’t ultra-obscure by any means. Folks clued in with the Canadian indie rock scene would have likely had some contact with her contributions to Broken Social Scene, and her 2004 album Let It Die somehow did better overseas compared to her homeland, successful enough to warrant a remix album. None of which came within radar of my musical interests in the mid-‘00s, mind, but along came a noisy boyzie making a debut of his own that included a bonus remix of Feist’s latest single of My Moon My Man. Aww, yeah, I know you got that gnarly robot chorus in your head now. Go on, sing it: “My moon my man, my moon my man, my moon my man, my moon my man, yyeahyyeahyyeahyeahh!”

I didn’t hear that version until Boys Noize’s album came out later in 2007 though, and Feist’s The Reminder hit the streets earlier that year. Given this was the record that gave her all the plaudits, award nominations, sales, and newfound fans, that must mean I had to have come to the Feist train late. Yet her fame didn’t really take off until the follow-up single, 1234, came out, and paired with an iPod Nano commercial at that. Hoo boy, talk of a marketing coup, propelling her into the spotlight in one fell swoop. That ‘Colbert Bump’ the following year didn’t hurt either. But… when did the commercial come out? I don’t even remember it, though I tend to block out almost anything Apple ad related anyway. Too much manufactured hip for me, thanks. Besides, it’s I Feel It All that I swear had all the licensing offered, the tune ubiquitous everywhere I went the next couple years.

Anyhow, The Reminder introduced many folks to Feist’s singer-songwriting stylee, giving us a smorgasbord of her various muses. There’s wispy acoustic-folkie material (So Sorry, The Park, Intuition), peppy big-band pop (My Moon My Man, 1234, Sealion), jangly indie rock (I Feel It All, Past In Present) and a bunch of other stuff I’m having difficulty easily stuffing into tidy pigeon-holes. The Limit To Your Love sounds like jazz-blues, Brandy Alexander coffee-shop R&B, and Honey Honey… shoegaze ethereal baroque? Cool, is what it is. Let’s go with that.

All the dynamic genre hopping would amount to mud if Feist didn’t have such a unique voice though. Many scribes of the indie world have given better (and tediously exhaustive) descriptors of how she can sound at once pronounced and strong, yet frail and broken. Her popularity was also helped along by a Canadian media that, like its rappers, must always have exactly One (1) homegrown female singer-songwriter to rave about - Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, etc. – and the opening was there for Feist to take the reins. Or it was just one big coincidence.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

SiJ & Textere Oris - Reflections Under The Sky

Cryo Chamber: 2016

Many of these Cryo Chamber CDs I’m reviewing were procured thanks to the label’s spiffy bulk deals, but not this one. With Reflections Under The Sky, I snatched that up the moment it was announced, getting my hardcopy right off the factory line. Was it because I was a die-hard fan of one SiJ or Textere Oris? Had I been so completely won over by Cryo Chamber’s dark oeuvre that I simply had to shell out for every new release? Ah, not quite the case.

Way back when I started the splurge, a couple of items that interested me were already sold out: Ugasanie’s Call Of The North, and Sabled Sun’s Signals IV-V-VI. With everything under Simon Heath’s sci-fi saga deemed ‘must hear’ for yours truly, I was gutted that I’d be left without a hardcopy of the continuing Signals series. It also got me thinking that, as with most labels now, their CDs were still a limited run offer, and that I shouldn’t dwell on anything Cryo Chamber puts out if it looks promising. And besides, even if it doesn’t turn out all that I’d hoped for, they’d at least become quick collector’s items like so many Ultimae or Silent Season CDs, right? Well, maybe not.

So my impetus in getting Reflections Under The Sky had a smidge of Collector Investment impurity to it. Once I actually played the CD though, I realized I could never part with it, this album such a swirl of dubby sounds and reflective sentiments, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t something from Silent Season instead. Still, Cryo Chamber’s generated their share of moody melancholic material before, with SiJ and Textere Oris sparing no expense in presenting a unique brand of picturesque societal decay. There’s plenty of droning ambient, but it’s not always as bleak as the dark proponents go. Its equal parts calm and soothing, as though we’re being gently laid to rest for an eternal slumber. And through it all are ample minimalist field recordings that Andrew Heath would swoon over: falling rain, chirping birds, insects, creaking buildings, wind chimes, and… a tea kettle reaching boiling?

Apparently this is the sort of music SiJ (Vladislav Sikach to the Ukrainian Musician’s Guild) dabbles in, making use of any and all instruments at his disposal. This includes guitars, drums, toy pianos, and even homemade machines, much of which was used to explore noisier abstractions and experiments. He’s definitely had plenty opportunity, some forty LPs released across several netlabels this past half decade. Lord Discogs has less info on Textere Oris, one Ilya Fursov of Moscow, but he provides additional field recordings, synths, and the final mixdown. Aw, Simon Heath left out in the cold on this one.

Yeah, that’s what it feels like listening to Reflections Under The Sky: wrapped up in a parka while surveying an old European winter village, just barely hanging on as a testament to civilizations past. It’s at once lovely and immersive, yet a chilling reminder that nothing lasts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sarah McLachlan - Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff

Nettwerk: 1996

I very nearly bought this when it was new. Rabbit In The Moon is on here, providing two remixes for Ms. McLachlan, including a rub on Possession (aka: that “I’ll take your breath away” song). The fact Rarities, B-Sides, & Other Stuff also has an Extended Remix of the only other song by Sarah I knew of (Into The Fire), and the temptation was there, believe you me. Taking a quick listen changed my mind though - I had no idea she was so acoustic. Right, I’ve already mentioned my early McLachlan knowledge was super-lacking, and man, was I ever gonna’ get some knowledge dropped on me hard the following year, when Surfacing became a Canadian Touchstone of Music Excellence Pertaining To Cultural Significance (or however CBC calls it now). Still, Rabbit In The F’n Moon… You’ve no idea how difficult it was finding their stuff in CD format back in the day. Hell, even now it’s hard, at least for a reasonable penny out of your purse.

While an ‘odds-n-sods’ collection of McLachlan material is hardly out of the ordinary, the fact this came out before she hit international stardom does come as a surprise. No doubt Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was a successful album, and even Solace and Touch had been slow burners, but nothing from those suggested her fanbase had grown significant enough for a stopgap like Rarities, B-Sides, & Other Stuff. She didn’t even have enough material for a ‘Best Of’ package at this stage of her career, and wouldn’t do the deed for that until the 2004 Retrospective. Interest indeed was there though, this compilation actually hitting the Top Ten of Canada’s Billboard charts, and even Triple-Platinum in my country. Wow, I’m not alone in my hunt for obscure Rabbit In The Moon remixes then!

Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff definitely lives up to its name, a hodge-podge of miscellaneous material throughout Ms. McLachlan’s first decade of music-making. This includes a number of covers: XTC’s Dear God, Canadian folkie Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and other Canadian folkie Gordon Lightfoot’s Song For A Winter’s Night. These all sound about as you’d expect from Sarah on the acoustic, mellow side, though given the power behind her pipes, I suspect she recorded them during the recent interim between albums, maybe as a means of helping her recharge her muse. Another cover’s here, a live recording of o-o-old-timey lament Gloomy Sunday, with the modernist Billy Holiday lyrics used.

So what’s this ‘other stuff’, then? A soundtrack-only track in I Will Remember You, which was a major selling point for this CD. RITM do a LunaSol Remix on Fear, which the boys behind Delerium were definitely paying attention to. A Violin Mix of Shelter. An early release of Surfacing track Full Of Grace. And, in case you forgot label Nettwerk’s origins leaned synth-pop and industrial, McLachlan lends a voice on 1988’s As the End Draws Near from long-forgotten duo Manufacture. Look, Sarah was young, she needed the work.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

System 7 - Point 3 - Fire Album

Butterfly Records/A-Wave: 1994: 2003

See, Point 3 makes good sense as the title of System 7’s third LP; threes, and all that. Except Point 3 wasn’t their third LP, but rather a split concept LP into two albums, Fire and Water. Point 3 – Fire Album is their official third, what with most tracks on Point 3 – Water Album credited as remixes. What, the option of ‘bonus ambient reinterpretation’ disc wasn’t available? That didn’t stop Astralwerks from doing the deed for Stateside distribution. Also, as the band still had to use the moniker 777, the double-LP was titled System 7.3 Fire + Water, clearing up the Point 3 pun if you didn’t get it originally. Yet, because this was only the second album released in the Americas, the ‘.3’ pun is- No, I must stop reiterating these convoluted release points! My mind cannot take the chaos!

*ahem*

Their debut album got them chummy with club culture, and 777 found Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy growing into their distinctive techno-trance space-rock hybrid. Point 3, however, is where their reputation as a collaborative supergroup truly cemented. Not that System 7 didn’t have all-star pairings either, but the sense was they were simply hooking up with folks that The Orb palled about with. Fair enough, as it was Alex Paterson that Hillage first connected with. And those associates persist into Point 3 as well, with Youth (Martin Glover) returning for a pair of songs: goa trance on Gliding On Duo-Tone Curves (with Total Eclipse and Juno Reactor in keyboard support, OMG!), and a meditative tribal-dub excursion into trippy world music on Dr. Livingston I Presume. The latter sounds more like a Youth production, something he might have done with Greg Hunter for Dub Trees. Right, Mr. Hunter was lending an engineering hand with the last couple System 7 albums too. Forever production pals!

But we expect that of System 7 anyway. No, it’s the pairings with techno legends that always gets the talk of Techno Town with this group, and for good reason. The Derrick May collaborations Altitude and Fractal Liaison were the most interesting cuts off their debut, and Mr. May brings his Detroit sensibility back for a couple more future-funk tunes in Mysterious Traveller and Overview. Seems like System 7’s dragging him to their trance-trippin’ realm though, both tracks quite out there in the cosmos. Fear not, all ye’ techno stalwarts, for a Frenchman in Laurent Garnier has shown up, opening Point 3 with Sirènes, sounding more like Garnier with Hillage guitar in support. There’s also Batukau, which you might remember in a remixed form on Garnier’s Early Works collection.

Additional names here are The Drum Club (Lol Hammond and Charlie May) on Jupiter!, providing Hillage's guitar the sort of thumping techno track Spiral Tribe alum would do. All this, plus System 7’s own pounding Coltrane (Fire Mix) and tranced-out Alpha Wave (Gliss Mix) makes for a remarkably varied album, with something both techno and trance heads can enjoy.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dronny Darko - Outer Tehom

Cryo Chamber: 2014

Have I mentioned Dronny Darko’s name yet? Tsk, three albums deep, and that’s just unacceptable. Right, Earth Songs was a collaborative project with protoU (real name Sasha Cats), and seeing as how I spent the bulk of that one getting all giddy over the CD’s concept, you’ll forgive my omission. Then I came to Neuroplasticity, and spent a good deal of time delving into Dronny’s details; and yet, no proper name drop. This self-imposed word count though, it forces content cuts, information incised from each review. And that’s good, long-winded, tedious, go nowhere tangents of useless use seldom clogging each post. Even if the sacrifice must be an artist’s real name, it must be so, lest I unwarily ramble into the never-ending chasm that is the Pointless Pitchforkian Anecdote.

Oleg Puzan debuted on Cryo Chamber with this album, and got his first hard copy CD out of the deal to boot. No more languishing in obscurity on saturated dark ambient netlabels, yo’! Heh, no, the Ukrainian resident was making a name for himself, one that stood out if for no other reason than he went by such an obvious pun in the drone scene. He's also rather obvious in tackling the concept of ‘old world horror’ here, where the occult and the profane meet up for a good ol’ outing in the murky pitch of abhorrent black realms. Not the most original topic where dark ambient is concerned, but these Cryo Chamber guys, I gotta’ hand it to them, always unearthing some of the most obscure references to suckle their creative juices from.

For those who are not practicing scholars of Judaism (or theology in general), Tehom is a deep, abyssal realm, kinda’ like Hell, but an empty void rather than a fire and brimstone domain. There’s also an ocean there apparently, for this is where it’s said the Great Flood that drowned the lands of Noah’s age originated from. God sent the waters of the Red Sea into Tehom as well, when Moses had to scurry all those Hebrew refugees out of Pharao’s clutches. And ultimately, you can either go there to drown in your sins, or be granted safe passage through during the End Of Days, depending on who you ask. It’s all quite vague, with barely a mention in any tome, but cool that ol’ Oleg used it as a source.

Also cool is how each track is thirteen minutes long, even if the significance is lost on me. Opener Black Arts and closer Arcane Shrine are rather similar in the desolate drone they offer, though Black Arts does start with some gnarly throat singing. Mortal Skin goes as you’d expect of occult dark ambient, including many creepy chants. Compared to the other three tracks though, Snake Hole is surprisingly soothing, if still eerie in a ‘staring into the abyss’ manner. I must wonder too, whether Outer Tehom is set in a contemporary age, as I hear distant transmissions emanating from distant radios throughout. Strange, that.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Various - Now And Then: Music From The Motion Picture

Columbia: 1995

If it wasn’t clear that much of this current backlog was formally owned by a person of the double-X persuasion, this should all but confirm it. Now And Then was a movie fully intended for a female audience, an attempt at Stand By Me for all the mothers and daughters of America. Well, maybe not specifically intended as such by writer I. Marlene King, but it sure was marketed that way. Big mistake that, the movie critically panned for being a rehashed ‘feminist Stand By Me’. Ooh, couldn’t get away with such a derisive critique these days, even if there’s some truth in the matter.

But why shouldn’t there be such a movie? With so few generational, female-led vehicles out there, star Demi Moore felt strongly enough in the project to help fund it herself. If my own mother and sister are anything to go by, it certainly succeeded, Now And Then on constant rotation once the VHS came out. Who cares if the plot was paper thin, the storyline syrupy-sweet, and big-name actresses in Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Melanie Griffith, and Rita Wilson barely appear - Now And Then was about the memories of times past, growing up in the early ‘70s. A total nostalgia trip for mothers, while bonding with their daughters as they related to the younger cast. And if I’m honest, I didn’t mind putting up with the movie either, what with Thora Birch and Christina Ricci as part of the cast. Don’t deny it, all my ‘90s bros, you did too.

Naturally, the only sort of music that could accompany such a film is the bubblegum pop and chart topping R&B of the era. Rolling Stone magazine and all its spiritual successors may have constantly gone on about the revolution of rock, continuously peddling the narrative of which bands were the Very Important Bands we should honor, respect, and study. All well and good, but it was stuff like The Archies’ Sugar, Sugar that the majority of people were playing on the radio at this time. The scene of the girls riding their bikes singing Tony Orlando’s Knock Three Times? My mum swears her childhood was exactly like that! The Monkees were perfectly willing fill-ins of moptop pop once The Beatles buried themselves in the studio. And hoo, let’s not forget Motown’s complete dominance of this era either: The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Freda Payne – all mega-selling names most folks would enjoy over that ‘stoner’ rock the weird boys would listen to. Not that there’s a little room for rock in this soundtrack, Free’s All Right Now and Badfinger’s No Matter What finding their way in as well. It’s pretty safe-sounding stuff though, total AM radio material college students wouldn’t have any use for.

But then, the music for Now And Then wasn’t curated with me in mind. It’s a snapshot of what girls of the early ‘70s were playing, and we can’t fault it for that. Ricci growing into Rosie, however…

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Cranberries - No Need To Argue

Island Records: 1994

The Cranberries were one of the most popular bands that gave the world a grunge anthem, which is hilarious because they are not a grunge band. Alternative rock, perhaps, but the Irish group only ever made one song that could be considered grunge. But hoo, what a song that was, Zombie among the biggest singles of the ‘90s, setting The Cranberries up for plenty of future success. This, despite tons of CD buyers coming away from No Need To Argue with confused first impressions.

Not that they were total unknowns leading up to this album. Linger from their debut did reasonably well, especially in thanks to copious amounts of MTV play, and also finding a nice home on alternative stations. It’s a peppy bit of soft rock, perfect for your romantic comedy needs, more indicative of The Cranberries’ style of music, and generated enough buzz for their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, for a top spot on the Billboard of Ireland and the UK. Island Records, the victors of a label bidding war as representation for the band, had to be pleased. It was good enough for a modest fanbase in their homeland and even a little abroad, one that would stick with the group throughout the ‘90s. Not a bad claim to fame, nosiree.

But then along lurched a Zombie, scoring the band a Number One hit across the globe. It’s no surprise this single became the sensation it was, executing the grunge ‘quiet-heavy-quiet-heavy’ template to perfection. Coupled with a rousing chorus singer Dolores O’Riordan completely owns, and you’ve an anthem for the pissed-off generation that’s continuously played at every “Hey, remember the ‘90s?” party. It helped that it honestly sounded unlike anything else at the time, with that haggard accented voice from Dolores, to say nothing of an actual lady providing pipes in such a male dominated scene. The whole ‘anti-war’ message didn’t hurt its prospects either, though I wonder how many of my peers even knew Zombie was about that, instead content scream-singing “In your head, in your head, they’re fi-i-ighting. In your hee-aaadd! In your hee-aaadd ! Zo-o-mbie! Zo-o-ombie! Zomibe! Ey-Eh”, etc. Lord knows I didn’t clue in until the fiftieth time I heard it.

And that, despite scoring big on the charts with ultra-Platinum sales, No Need To Argue has found many a home in the used shops across the land (erm, with CD hoarders too). The Cranberries already had their followers, and this album’s blend of peppy alternative rock, charming Irish folk ballads, and Ms. O’Riordan’s intoxicating voice (such a wonderful singer!) delivers to those fans in spades. However, for the multitude of others that were introduced to the band via Zombie, and expecting more of that… well, some became fans of their traditional sound regardless. Many others though, didn’t quite vibe with what the Limerick group was selling, leaving them with No Need To Argue as a neglected gift from their Auntie. Probably.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ACE TRACKS: May 2016

CD collection’s gotten too big for mere towers, especially since they’re nigh impossible to find anymore. I thus had two options: buy a bulky shelving unit, or make one myself. Seeing as how I have all this unused wall space, why not go with the mounted option? Less cumbersome, easier to move (whenever I do), and provides plenty of flexibility in adding MAOR MUZIKS to the piles. Worked out pretty darn nice, I must says.



Incidentally, this isn't the full collection – I kept one revolving tower as a ‘showpiece item’ for labels and favorite artists, plus a couple others for miscellaneous use (all those PSX games!). Lord help me though, if my entire apartment turns into nothing but CD shelving. Makes things like Spotify seem so much more practical now. Speaking of, here’s ACE TRACKS of May 2016.


Full track list here.

MISSING ALBUMS:
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - E.1999 Eternal
Mind Over MIDI - Deep Map

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 8%
Percentage Of Rock: 30%
Most “WTF?” Track: Ted Nugent - Stranglehold (holy cow, this gun nutjob made such groovy space rock!?)

No surprise that rock music has a dominate showing two months in a row now, yet somehow just a smidge less compared to April’s assortment of tunes. I also got much deeper into dark ambient’s cold waters, though not everything I listened to made the cut here – some of it just doesn’t work in a curated playlist format. And if that sounds too bleak to enjoy, take heart in a bunch of peppy Madonna music. Funny enough, the alphabetical arrangement caused her songs to get frequently lumped in bunches throughout this seven hour long playlist. You can go for a stretch of, say, Pantera, Lorenzo Montana, Orb, and Dronny Darko, then BAM, bunch of Madge all at once. I’m sure she approves.
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