Thursday, September 29, 2016

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

Ambient World/MIG: 2002/2016

I wasn’t considering detailing the bonus discs of these Dark Side Of The Moog box sets. True, I’ve a commitment to reviewing Every.Single. CD. of my music collection, but I’ve fudged things here and there. Most double-disc entries receive a lone write-up from yours truly, and even 3CD sets are sometimes reduced to a singular offering of my self-imposed word count (sorry, Trade: Past-Present-Future; not-sorry, This Is… Techno). What harm is there in quickly glossing over redundant features, of which I’m almost certain these bonus discs are. What does Vol. 1 of this bundle include anyhow?

The Evolution Of The Dark Side Of The Moog, eh. Huh, it’s got completely different cover art from all the stock ones used for the other CDs. It also apparently contains tracks from each of the first eight editions of the series (or ‘excerpts’ in the case of Wish You Were There and A Saucerful Of Ambience, since those two weren’t indexed as typical albums). I guess this would serve as a handy hour-long summation of Namlook’s work with Schulze, picking out the highlights, or at least the best musical representation of the project. Why stop at Dark Side Of The Moog VIII though, when the series made it all the way to XI? There’s more than meets the eye with this CD, and I must find out. I must!

*clickity-clickty clack; searching Lord Discogs ain’t wack*

Well I’ll be darned. The Evolution Of The Dark Side Of The Moog was indeed a separate release, put out on Fax +49-69/450464 reissue sublabel Ambient World. And as it came out in 2002, there was only eight volumes of Dark Side Of The Moog available anyway. This… also means that I now must review this CD as its own entity, but out of alphabetical order since it’s contained within this first box set. My OCD is sending conflicting demands.

Charmingly, it opens with a bit of dialog from Robert Moog himself, offering an introduction to The Dark Side Of The Moog, plus his email address or some reason. This was used in the fifth album of the series, and has now thusly ruined the surprise for the next review. Thanks, MIG!

Only a three minute synthy piece from Wish You Were There makes the cut for this Dark Side Of The Moog mega-showcase, but A Saucerful Of Secrets gets a whopping fifteen minutes plucked from its lengthy runtime. Fortunately, it’s the best fifteen minutes of that session, starting with energetic techno before heading into another synth solo from Schulze. Part III and Part IV of Phantom Heart Brother shows up, and if you can’t remember which those were, um… it’s the electro piece, and the synth heavy techno piece. Three Pipers At The Gates Of Dawn features Part VII and VIII, a short drone portion followed by another techno work with Laswell Bass (Ace Track, remember?). And as for the remaining tracks, I’ll tackle them when I come to them properly. Y’know, spoilers and all.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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

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

Mr. Kuhlmann worked with dozens of musicians in his time, but only a few did he continuously pair up with. Naturally Klaus Schulze is one such individual, otherwise we wouldn’t be diving into a twelve volume series called The Dark Side Of The Moog right now. Move D. (David Moufang) was another one, though the bulk of their collaborations took place in the new millennium. Then there’s Bill Laswell, who’s worked with so many musicians (just, so many…), a couple sessions with The Namlookian One was a no-brainer. I’ve already talked about their Psychonavigation work, and between that and their Outland side-project, they racked up eleven albums total, most produced before the year 2000. Seems natural then, that Mr. Laswell would get himself in on those Dark Side Of The Moog sessions while hanging out at Namlook’s studio. Why absolutely these modern Berlin-School works could use some heavy dub bass action. It’s, like, old-school meets new-school, with a dash of middle-school thrown in! Yeah, I know, Laswell’s more known for his ‘90s work than ‘80s material (including the project Material), but that darn tagline got stuck in my head, and damned if I don’t get it out!

Having ol’ Bill onboard makes for a radically different album in the Dark Side Of The Moog canon, with less adherence to Schulze’s approach to music craft. In fact, this album is remarkably uptempo considering the players involved – even Namlook’s take on trance was slowly on the wane by ’96. For sure Three Pipers At The Gates of Dawn (Part I) has the hallmarks of a typical Dark Side Of The Moog outing, with minimalist sounds and effects floating about. Yet there’s also a sense of urgency too, building synth strings and intermittent sci-fi noises escalating the piece’s tension.

By the time the brisk pace of Part II drops, it all feels worth the wait, a right hum-dinger of a… trance track? No, it’s not really that. For starters, it’s nearly twenty-two minutes long, and most trance just don’t do that (unless you’re Oliver Lieb). Secondly, while it has the mini-arp bassline and high-bpm, the actual kick is quite soft, leading to a rather tame rhythm section in service of the synth and dub action going on throughout. And it seems each contributor to this piece has their own moment to shine, whether it’s Namlook doing his sci-fi effects thing, Schulze doing his synth solo thing (a charming, whistling number), or Laswell adding extra *oomph* to the bottom end without ever overshadowing the others.

Part II really is the main talking point on here, but here’s a few additional notes. Most of the remaining tracks (nine in total) are brief, droney, experimental pieces, few breaching three minutes in length. Part V does a little techno for its short running time, and hey, Laswell’s bass! Part VIII explores the idea more, over eight minutes worth. It’s cool, but nothing we haven’t heard from the players involved before. Man, that Part II tho’… hoo!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1995/2016

Wait a minute! How are we even getting these Dark Side Of The Moog reissues in the first place? The status of Pete Namlook’s label remains in limbo, so many ancient artifacts from the Fax +49-69/450464 archives long out of print. Even Ambient World, a sublabel specifically set-up for reissues of popular Fax+ releases, couldn’t keep their stock in for long, and they reissued Mr. Kuhlmann’s collaborations with Klaus Schulze twice! You might even still find some floating around, though not at any decent price. And as both prints closed shop after Namlook’s untimely death, everything from the Fax+ archives seems sealed away until the estate sorts things out with their respective owners. It’s not like all those original contributors to Fax+ can come knocking for their music back, can they?

Apparently so, though it’s not surprising that someone who’s been in the business as long as Schulze would have equal share in the Dark Side Of The Moog albums. And it just so happens ol’ Klaus has a reissue deal with MIG (Made In Germany Music), a relatively new print that deals almost exclusively with reissues. After perusing their wares, it seems the name’s a misnomer, with plenty American, UK, and other European groups getting attention from MIG, though I’m hard pressed to recognize much of them. Ian Hunter, Weather Report, Stray Cats… but yeah, there’s definitely a skewing towards German krautrock here, what with bands like Novalis, Epitaph, and of course Mr. Schulze himself making up the bulk. And if MIG is in the process of making all of Klaus’ music available again in the modern era, it’s only proper that the Dark Side Of The Moog sessions should receive the same treatment.

The Dark Side Of The Moog III marked a change in how Namlook and Schulze approached the project: each segment is are now indexed normally! Yep, no more five-minute Parts, where differing pieces bleed into each other and the like. Naturally that defeats the notion of playing these as a single composition of music, but even here the duo are showing signs of growing bored of that angle. Whereas Wish You Were There and A Saucerful Of Ambience generally flowed from beginning to end, each Part of Phantom Heart Brother is clearly different from what came before. Part 1 lasts over eighteen minutes, mostly consisting of corny ‘spo-O-o-O-ky’ modulating synth sounds, and entirely skippable. Part 2 keeps those sounds going for a lengthy fade-out, but vintage Berlin-School synths coupled with spacey guitar drastically changes the album’s tone. Following that, Part 3 abandons ‘70s sounds altogether, going for minimalist abstract electro as a ten-minute lead into the requisite trance cut in Part 4, and not a half-bad offering at that. Finally, Part 5 goes pure ambient, though in that distinct spacey Fax+ style Namlook made his own, before a little kraut guitar action is added to the mix. This is undoubtedly what everyone figured a Schulze-Namlook pairing would produce. We’re finding a groove now, friends.

Monday, September 26, 2016

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

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1995/2016

Make no mistake: Klaus Schulze and Pete Namlook roamed drastically different orbits in the early ‘90s, in no small part from being of two different generations of synth music. One was studious, old-school, and strictly for the art houses, consumed by egg-heads of electronic music. The other had his finger on the pulse of clubland, offering up energetic dance beats alongside his calmer, spacier moments enjoyed by knackered punters. Most attempts at melding the disparate scenes were met with indifference at best, failure at worst. And while I’ve no doubt Namlook took some inspiration from Schulze’s work, plenty other Berlin-School pioneers were still active should he have gained the courage to contact any of them. But why would any of them bother with some ‘rave’ guy in the first place?

Turns out ol’ Klaus did, detecting kinship with Mr. Kuhlmann after hearing his work on the second Air album. How the aged German came into contact with the younger German’s work was almost incidental, a brief meeting from a mutual associate, and somehow from that Schulze took in enough of a sampling of Namlook’s work to request an exchange of ideas, if not a full-on collaboration. Remarkable, considering Klaus was notorious for keeping his synth work a pure expression of his own muse with little outside input. It led to many stunning works, true, but also a fair bit of unfiltered waffle too. Hey, sounds like the bulk of Namlook’s discography as well! Clearly, a match made in stars of heaven.

The Dark Side Of The Moog II picks up where the first left off, expanding on the single-track concept with Schulze’s sounds leading for much of the proceedings. As before, the album is indexed with five minute parts, expanded by two additional tracks as we have ten extra minutes in this piece (A Saucerful Of Ambience). Again, these aren’t demarcations for any particular transition within this sixty-minute long composition, which is just as well because this is one tedious, meandering sixty-minute long composition.

The first twenty minutes is all sound-effects and field recordings, dominated by twitchy mechanical crickets, and intermittently pierced by distant gongs. It paints an outwordly vista, some landscape at the edge of an alien forest, but man does it ever go on and on. Around Part V, sci-fi pings, bleeps, and paarps provide an interlude of sorts, and then it’s back to sound effects for a bit longer (yay running waters). Finally, some half-hour in, we get actual melody, a rather typical offering of Berlin-School synth noodling, but such a welcome respite after so much abstract dithering. Namlook’s ear for trance takes a turn around Part IX, but it doesn’t last long, and we’re back to grand synth solos and field recordings for the final sixteen minutes.

Apparently both Schulze and Namlook didn’t want these efforts to sound too ‘70s, but A Saucerful Of Ambience is about as old-school as these Dark Side Of The Moogs go. They’re still getting a handle on this, methinks.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

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

Fax +49-69/450464/MIG: 1994/2016

Gathering up the many, many, many volumes of Pete Namlook and Klaus Schulze’s epic collaboration series The Dark Side Of The Moog was never much of a priority. For sure if I saw one on the cheap, I’d snatch that sucker up, but odds of that happening with any release from Fax +49-69/450464 or its reissue sub-label Ambient World are absurdly low. On the other hand, a spiffy box set that does all that grueling work for me? Well shit, son, sign me up for that! And it’s what MIG done did, releasing all eleven volumes of The Dark Side Of The Moog in three bundles, plus a few bonuses for good measure. Though I remained blasé about the concept of Old Berlin-School teaming up with New Berlin-School, I’d be a fool to not spring for at least a couple of these boxes. Naturally, that now means I must review Every. Single. CD. Time for a serious knowledge drop in the project, then, but self-imposed word count runs short, so let’s get into The Dark Side Of The Moog, volume one. Eh? Of course the first wasn’t given a proper numerical demarcation. Like ol’ Pete and Klaus had any idea this would become such a long lasting thing.

If anything, Mr. Kuhlmann seems a little star-struck in his contributions for their initial session. He freely admitted as such, encouraging Mr. Schulze to do what he do best – coerce musical exotica out of crusty analog gear – and he’d work around that. This wasn’t so much about bringing one of the O.G.s of synth music into the hip ‘90s, but exploring what ‘70s music could do given two decades of technological advancements. This does lend to a rather freeform approach to songcraft, but that’s always been the Berlin School methodology regardless. If anything, it had lost its way as many synth wizards looked at making bank during the ‘80s once their sounds caught on with mainstream crowds. Those that didn’t adapt their craft to pop production or movie scores were left in relative obscurity, only later rediscovered by meticulous archivists of synthesizer chronology. Dear God, is this ever turning into a fancy-schmancy history lesson. Back to music.

The Dark Side Of The Moog (Da’ Kickoff) contains ten tracks, each titled Wish You Were There - yeah, the Pink Floyd puns can’t stop, won’t stop. And calling these individual pieces tracks is a misnomer, everything equally split five minutes apiece, save a whopping six minute finale. There are definite segments throughout, as Klaus moves through spacey kraut, sci-fi effects, and grand displays of modern classical synths, but none of the indexes mark any particular transition. About the mid-point, an electro beat emerges, leaves for some more experimental wibbling, and finally we’re treated to a little classic trance business. Not much, mind, but Namlook’s presence is definitely felt in this final stretch, whereas most of the preceding portions he sat back letting Schulze strut his stuff. They’d get better at blending their sounds.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Jlin - Dark Energy

Planet Mu: 2015

Dark Energy is the album every music journalist was anxiously waiting for, where they could finally show the world just how much they knew about the way-underground Chicago scene known as juke and footwork. For sure they had ample releases to draw from, but most of those were singles, compilations or mixes, items that just can’t fit in year-end Best Of articles, where the LP continues to dominate. No, they needed a proper album on the market to showcase all their knowledge of that particular scene, and Jlin’s debut was as good as any item for the task. I’ve barely come across a single review of Dark Energy that doesn’t start with a tedious, one-thousand word essay going on about footwork’s rise from Windy City obscurity to festival mainstage triumph, filled with tons of fancy, sophomore grammar and word salads describing the music. Dudes, it’s just fuckin’ dance music, with a sound palette no more intricate than ghetto-tech (sans the ass-n-titties) – stop over-analyzing this, especially something as primal and basic as juke.

Right, this style of music does have its complexity, in that its pure function is challenging groups of dancers in displaying their fancy footwork. And it seems music journos latched onto Dark Energy so syrupy because Jlin took the genre a bit further than that. A track like opener Black Ballet shows melodic touches with piano pieces, orchestral stabs, and chopped choir vocal complementing the rattling hi-hats, crisp snares, and thick bass – y’know, sophisticated stuff. Elsewhere, Unknown Tongues comes off like a screwy bhangra cut, Guantanamo has something of a message within its vocal samples (if you squint hard enough), while Ra almost contains a hook with its chippy manipulation of that particular word.

In fact, there’s a lot of chippy production on this album, which in of itself is part of footwork’s appeal as a dancefloor tool; challenging jukes and breakers with spastic bursts of snares, claps, and bass energy, making use of unconventional time-signatures, and such. Infrared, with its sharp synths and Mortal Kombat samples, has b-boy showdowns square in its sights. Black Diamond hits with that conga fury, and Abnormal Restriction literally takes the ‘screw’ idea of ‘chop-n-screw’ with abrasive mechanical whirring.

That all said, Jlin’s debut does get tiresome after a while. Eleven tracks that generally consists of *chik-chiki-chk clap, boom-boom-boom CLAP*, with little variation in drum kit sounds, begins showing the limitations of this genre. And while Dark Energy does show more dynamism than other rhythm-heavy ghetto tracks of scenes past, this is hardly the ‘music of the F-U-T-U-R-E’ many highfalutin critics purport it as. Yeah, Kanye will undoubtedly soon sample it, though more to prove he still knows the pulse of Chicago streets, yo’ – dude would sample gabber if he felt it’d improve his production rep. Still, if you’ve been on the fence about footwork, Dark Energy’s a decent entry point into the scene– like, anything Planet Mu has no problem promoting can’t be all bad, can it?

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Groove Corporation - Co-Operation

6 X 6 Records: 1994/1995

Another one of the great “what ifs?” of emergent UK house music, Electribe 101 was primed for crossover triumph. Talented musicians in the studio, a bourgeoning starlet in Billy Ray Martin on vocals, and Tom Watkins as their management (he of Pet Shop Boys’ success) – what could go wrong? After a strong debut album in Electribal Memories, things fell apart, including a Depeche Mode support tour that had fans booing them off stage. So it goes in this business though, and the players went their separate ways, Billy Ray Martin finding fame as a solo artist, and the remnants of Electribe 101 rebranding themselves as the reggae roots loving group Groove Corporation. And because the future G.Corp had a fondness of the dubbier side of that music, they fell in with the trendy ambient dub scene of the early ‘90s – having their studio in that movement’s home of Birmingham didn’t hurt either.

A couple early efforts on Beyond’s seminal Ambient Dub series gave Groove Corporation some underground buzz. They soon signed to the newly formed 6 x 6 Records (they of Sasha & Digweed’s Renaissance fame), their Passion E.P. giving them even greater buzz with the progressive house contingent. Things looked mighty good for the boys of G.Corp when Co-Operation finally dropped in 1994. It’s got the reggae soul, dubby-hop, and just enough crossover appeal for a record out in 1991. Ah, whoops, sorry, guys, but have you heard what Leftfield and Massive Attack were up to around this time? Kinda’ puts your sound a bit out of touch, no matter how classy it all comes off.

Things never get to ‘cod reggae’ levels on this album, but tracks like Showtime, How Did It Come To This, Rain, Twist & Change, and You feel strictly aimed for a little chart action. Can’t believe the UK was too fussed for these sounds anymore, especially from a group initially gaining its critical plaudits well away from the mainstream. Some of their proggy house tunes do make the cut (Roots Controller, Hypnotherapy, Passion), while others get right proper with the reggae dub action (Pray, This Is How I Stay, Ghetto Prayer), so Co-Operation does have a nice blend of both for favored parties of either or.

Still, maybe Groove Corporation suspected they were leaving their ambient dub followers in the dust with an album with such pop leanings, hence a limited edition version including a second CD of such music. This is where G.Corp’s in their element, tunes originating or remixed into dub instrumentals before repurposed with vocals on the Album Prime. Folks liked this bonus disc so much that Groove Corporation re-released it as an independent album with a couple additional tracks a few years after the fact, called Co-Operation Dub. Seems most of the group’s early compilation duty comes from this CD (A Voyage On The Marie-Celeste, Return Of The Skunk Unlimited Orchestra, Ghettoprayer (Deep Blue Dub)). Hm, maybe that’s why I have a bias towards it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Aphex Twin - Cheetah EP

Warp Records: 2016

I’m flabbergasted. Stooptafried. Diskumbunkulatorated. Have had my world twisted inside the outside. Made very wery flummoxed in the bummox. Caught just a bit of guard. Cheetah has thrown me for a loop in how unconventional an Aphex Twin record can be. Where are the drill-n-bass beats? Micro-glitch edits? Synths and pads painting outwardly imagery within the furthest reaches of your lucid dreams? Not even something hidden, like that infamous visage of your grinning mug only visible within a spectrogram? There’s some fun acid in Cirklon, but nothing that’ll challenge the norms of what’s expected from a TB-303 workout. And I wouldn’t count the short sonic doodles of Cheeta1b ms800 and Cheeta2 ms800 as anything worth getting fussed about, unless that’s where Mr. Dee James is hiding one of his trademark pranks.

Or maybe there isn’t any sort of catch to this EP. Perhaps, after years of challenging what we expect from electronic music, Aphex Twin has finally decided it’s time to release some ‘normal’ dance tunes, with easy rhythms and pleasant tones. No more IDM, no more ambient; no more experiments, just plain and simple techno. Sorry, I wanted that to rhyme, but ‘trance’ is the only thing that works there, and the one thing we can all agree on is Aphex Twin has never, ever been trance. Except for perhaps Polynominal-C, if you squint your ears in the right direction.

Of course Cheetah isn’t normal in a traditional house or techno sense, but it’s definitely the most conventional sounding tunes in Aphex Twin’s repertoire in some time. The Analord series Ritichie Jameson released as ‘AFX’ is a close cousin, and we could even dig super deep into the way-back era of Polygon Window for another comparison. I’m honestly so very tempted in tossing the ‘deep’ tag onto CheetahT2 (Ld Spectrum) and CheetahT7b, in that these are some seriously slow, lazy downbeat vibes. I’ve heard they can be played at either 33 or 45 should you snag yourself the vinyl, but as I have no such medium within my possession, I’ll assume these slow versions are the correct versions as Jichard W. Rames envisioned. Besides, that acid bassline in CheetahT7b is just too damn groovy at 33 to not be intentional!

As mentioned, the Cirklon tracks get deeper into the acid funk. Cirklon1 offers more mint TB-303 bassline business, while Cirklon3 (Колхозная Mix) goes more electro. For all us CD collectors, we get bonus cut 2X202-ST5, another charming piece of drum machine foolery. There’s nothing extra special about it beyond clap fills, simply content in letting the mild acid bobble about a techno break. It’s about as b-side as any track can get, but don’t tell the vinyl enthusiasts that – they’re already miffed about losing out on this for their Aphex Twin Completist Collection. Look, you already got some of the best Analord material on the Black Crack, so you can let us have this. I wouldn’t recommend Cheetah for anyone but such Aphex completists though.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Claptone - Charmer

Different: 2015

DJs and producers hiding behind masked gimmicks are far from a unique thing in dance music. And I’ve gone on record as being a fan of the concept, even when I’m not a fan of the music they make and perform (hi, deadmau5!). It adds a saucy bit of spice to club culture, where the mantra of most scenes is to lose yourself in a sea of like-minded yet equally anonymous individuals. Having some bloke with a cool t-shirt and nice haircut bobbing behind the DJ’s deck as all lights flash upon him sullies that. If you must make your playing of other people’s music the focus of the night, why not add to the atmosphere with your own mask or costume? Such is the manifesto Claptone preaches, always donning a golden-beaked harlequin facade, a rather unsettling sight given such masks’ reputation as adorned by plague doctors.

Fortunately for Claptone, he’s more than just his gimmick, one of the surprising new stars in an overstuffed house scene. Would he have gotten to this point without the mask? Eh, probably, though you cannot deny it gave him a substantial boost. Groovy, soulful gems like No Eyes, Puppet Theatre, and Dear Life were gonna’ get repped by all the very important deep house jocks regardless, but as performed by a DJ committed to his act? Now that’s just mint, m’boy! And despite the rising fame, Claptone’s done an admirable job maintaining his obscurity. Still, I’m certain the Google return for “who is Claptone” is accurate, if only because the beard matches. The Berlin hometown is also a solid clue in this Police Squad level of sleuthing.

Anyhow, Charmer, the debut album from Claptone. The first thing that struck me while listening to it is how much it feels indebted to Hercules & Love Affair. Yeah, ‘member when vintage deep house last had a big resurgence, some eight years past? It didn’t linger (for reasons), but if it had, the music on this record is likely the sound that would have carried on in its stead. Taking garage and soul of days long past and giving it a modern sheen, all the while throwing in an assortment of indie crooners famed and obscure - sounds familiar, don't it. Singers included here are Jay-Jay Johanson, Nathan Nicholson, Young Galaxy, Peter Bjorn, Jaw, and Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (one of the most insufferable indie rock band names ever). And while the deep end of house generally rules Charmer, Claptone finds room for a few bumpin’ acid cuts too (The Music Got me, Party Girl, Your Body), plus a little Latin vibe in Ghost.

Charmer is definitely an album that lives up to its name, always class and never overselling itself. Even the one major complaint one can levy against it – that all the rhythms essentially boil down to a stock thunk-clap-thunk-clap template – are overcome by Claptone’s sense of songcraft. Easily one of the best deep house records of the past year, this.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Uganasie - Call Of The North

Cryo Chamber: 2014

And thus we return to the frigid sounds of Ugasanie, or Угасание in his native Belarus. This CD came out the year before Eye Of Tunguska, and for a brief time held the distinction as one of Cryo Chamber’s first sell-outs. At least, I’m assuming that was the case – I haven’t always kept tabs on the label’s Bandcamp. When I first took a proper perusal of their catalog though, this and Signals IV-V-VI were the only items with the dreaded red “Sold Out” tag attached. And that was a shame for yours truly, anxious to take a deeper plunge into Ugasanie's dark ambient world that included music of spiritual kinship with Biosphere’s work. I mean, just look at that cover art! So cold and inhospitable, yet captivating and mysterious, a realm untouched by the hand of Man, daring the spirit into challenging one’s mettle against the harshest of this planet’s clime’s. Still, I wouldn’t want to trek across the alpine glaciers reaching deep into my British Columbian backyard in the dead of winter – I just like imagining doing so.

In any event, Cryo Chamber restocked their wares, and upon seeing Call Of The North back in, I quickly snatched that one up. Funny enough, another Ugasanie album, White Silence, has since been fully plundered from the label’s stores, but I got that one way back, so it’s all good. During that uncertain in between however, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was about this album that had folks swarming in for a closer listen. Was it really just that hypnotizing cover art, or was there something more, something deeper, a masterclass of dark ambient and drone craftsmanship that stood Call Of The North above all its Cryo Chamber brethren?

Well, it’s got a nifty little concept behind it. Unlike the explicit narrative of Eye Of Tunguska, this album deals with a unique topic, that of a condition known as piblokto, or ‘Arctic Hysteria’. Essentially, there are reported cases of people going mad during the long winter night, overcome by remoteness and, if you believe in shamanism, the power of aurora. As this is strictly an Arctic phenomenon, most reported cases attributed to isolated Inuit communities and early European explorers, it’s not widely researched, with some experts doubting its status as a mental condition at all. Still, worth exploring through ambient drone, where one’s psyche is already overcome by sound.

Call Of The North traces the path of succumbing to piblokto. The first few tracks set the mood (Without The Sun, Aurora), segueing into the album’s centre as the condition takes hold. This includes an actual recording of a yukutish man taken over with Arctic hysteria (erm, in the track Arctic Hysteria), in the form of singing as dogs bark and a fire crackles – so very Biosphere. Finally, the album ends in Freezing and Cold Wasteland, wherein I picture our sufferer followed that calling of the north too far into the icy plains of the poles. Darn tricksy aurora.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Black Dog Productions - Bytes

Warp Records: 1993/2007

Most folks turn to this as the first Black Dog album, though that’s not exactly accurate. It features contributions from all of the group’s members at the time (Ken Downie, Ed Handley, and Andy Turner) operating under various guises from solo projects instead. Seems Warp Records, anxious in their continual expansion of the Artificial Intelligence series, wanted in on some of that buzz-worthy Black Dog action, but the group were already signed with General Production Recordings for an album deal. However, an exploitable loophole was discovered: take a smattering of EPs, lump them under the banner of “Black Dog Productions”, and have The Designer’s Republic design a track list that obscured these particulars. Sweet, now Warp Records can claim having a new album from The Black Dog in their catalog, sitting snug beside that Aphex-not-Aphex “Polygon Window” album. Man, did B12 give the early Warp this much fuss too?

Bytes contains tracks from nearly every alias the three chaps were using in 1993 (only one-off Twelve Days Of Night is absent). This includes Close Up Over, Xeper, Atypic, I.A.O., Discordian Popes, Balil, and Plaid. That last one you most definitely know, and funnily enough had a debut album out a couple years prior to this, Mbuki Mvuki, released on the label Black Dog Productions. Yep, the Black Dog boys briefly had their own label, which must be where all these various aliases originated from. Nah, that makes things far too simple for this story.

Ed Handley’s Balil had floated from a few seminal prints in its own right, among them R & S Records, Rising High Records, and Planet E; meanwhile, Andew Turner’s Atypic first appeared on Applied Rhythmic Technology (ART). The rest of these tracks and aliases seem custom made for this particular release, which further begs the question how this all came about. Like, was it really necessary for Downie to take on three different pseudonyms for this project? I’ll grant Discordian Popes stands out from Xeper and I.A.O., in that it’s a pure techno track, whereas the other two are more ambient techno, but there’s not that much difference between the three.

With no clear concept behind Bytes beyond showcasing the individual talents of The Black Dog’s members, it’s definitely a scattershot of a listening experience. The first few tracks lean more to the Detroit side of techno, though the seeds of IDM’s complex drum programming are clearly germinating within these efforts. When melodic elements are added in follow-up tracks, the notion of electronic music being as much suitable for ‘intelligent’ endeavors as dance floor utility is as evident as anything within the Artificial Intelligence series. Unfortunately, this is still one very ‘tracky’ album, much of Bytes’ middle jerkily moving from standard techno production to cautious experimental indulgence. Can’t fault that finish though, two blissy Balil cuts with funky Detroit action in the middle. Overall, this album's more consistent than the proper Black Dog debut, Temple Of Transparent Balls, though less adventurous overall.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Neil Young - Blue Note Café

Reprise Records: 2015

While the idea of Neil Young becoming a Chicago bluesman named Shakey Deal, supported by a nine-piece band called The Blue Notes, has some intrigue behind it, I wasn’t itching to hear the results. If anything, the controversy surrounding the project’s lead single, This Note’s For You, was far more fascinating, for the video was initially banned from MTV. Whoa, what hardcore content could have been within that made the supposed edgy music station so worrisome? Potentially pissing off corporate sponsors was all, but considering the video featured a Michael Jackson stand-in catching fire, you can bet the estate that helped build the station’s rep would get a might bit ticked. And yet, This Note’s For You won MTV’s Best Video Award that same year. Irony!

A good ol’ Young controversy is always worth checking out the associated material, but an album of modern blues rock wasn’t the most appealing. For one, studio recordings of the stuff seldom did the genre favors, especially with ‘80s production standards. Plus, this felt a bit of a bandwagon jump, this sort of music gaining traction with lots of rockers of the era. Well fool me on that one, the truth a simpler story. Yeah, big musicians like Eric Clapton and U2 were searching for the ‘roots’ of their music in America, and everyone celebrated Stevie Ray Vaughn’s return to grace, but beyond that? Nay, big band blues revival no more significant in the late ‘80s than before the sound’s resurgence at the start of that decade (re: The Powder Blues). Young’s dalliance with a backing brass band was just that, a spurt of inspiration he was quick to capture, then just as quickly move on once the tour was done. It's why beyond the titular single and maybe Ten Men Workin’, no one remembers much from the resultant album. Most of the tunes were hastily slapped together, basic songs that his band could riff over to their heart’s content – typical Neil Young, then.

Still, it was enough for many ace nights on the tour. A live album was even initially planned, but since the album proper didn’t sell that well, it was shelved, Young moving onto better things (like Rockin’ In the Free World). That didn’t stop a plethora of bootlegs from hitting the market though, especially for the die-hard collector as the tour yielded a bevy of new, unreleased material. Some of it occasionally sprinkled out over the years, including the epic Ordinary People two decades after the fact, but most figured these recordings were forever lost. Praise be unto thee, Archives Project!

Two CDs of various gigs stitched together is overkill, but damn if there isn’t tons of great music within. So many unearthed gems (Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me, Bad News Comes To Town, Doghouse), epic takes on classics (Tonight’s The Night, Crime In The City, Ordinary People), and all the bluesy guitar solos you can handle. A lot of trumpet and saxophone too, if that’s your jam.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Massive Attack - Blue Lines

Virgin: 1991/2012

So Blue Lines, the album that kicked off Tricky’s career. Yeah, sorry for the lame intro, but all the good ones were used in the past two decades. The “Few Records Deserve The ‘Seminal’ Tag, But This One Truly Does” angle; the “Once In A Blue Moon, A New Genre Is Born” take; the “Would Bristol Be Such A Prominent ‘90s Music Hub Without Blue Lines?” thinkpiece; a “If You Listen To Five Man Army Carefully, You Can Hear Subliminal Banksy Messages!” waffle. But man, that Tricky guy, where would he be without Massive Attack? Like, I’m sure he’d have gotten an album or two under his belt regardless, but his work with this group certainly gave him a boost.

Okay, enough malarkey on my part. Let’s talk about this most important record in trip-hop history, despite it barely having any trip-hop in it at all. There’s definitely early aspects of the genre lurking throughout – tracks like Five Man Army, Daydreaming, and One Love feature that slow, hazy mood the genre built its reputation on. This is more a product of Massive Attack incorporating several urban influences into their sound though, which included reggae dub popularized by many a Jamaican expat residing in London. And while Bristol’s music scene was generally their own thing, the dudes behind Massive Attack were more than familiar with what was what in the elsewheres of their country. All that time as part of The Wild Bunch sound system crew provided plenty exposure to various musical movements, leading to the varied genre blending heard throughout Blue Lines. Not just the spliff-heavy hip-hop, but R&B, reggae, funk, and soul find their way inside this tidy nine-tracker of a record, often within the same song. It’s easy to hear why music journalists were creaming their pants over this album, thrilled at hearing so many classy forms of music expertly fused into a groovy whole.

And yet I wonder, was this really that big a deal back in the early ‘90s? Seems every second British album from across the spectrum was doing something radically different in genre fusion. I’ll grant adding dub production to hip-hop beats was unique compared to what America was doing, but this wasn’t exclusive to trip-hop in the slightest: ambient, house, techno, R&B (rock?), all got in on that action too. More often than not, Massive Attack stick to conventional music, sparingly pushing the boundaries into uncharted territory. Be Thankful For What You’ve Got is the sort of UK soul peddled for a few years then. Unfinished Sympathy, the breakout single of the album, has New Jack Swing going for it, though obviously drenched in gospel charm.

Still, if those are about the only nitpicks I can fault Blue Lines for, then this album’s reputation is more than deserved. Considering many ‘dance’ albums from this era are way dated, this one easily stands the test of time, its multitude of influences making it a timeless piece of music.

EDM Weekly World News, September 2016

Things have happened in the world of EDM Weekly World News, and we're here to give you that news from around the world you so crave and desire and need. How will we handle such unprecedented changes in the world of EDM? Can we rebuild from the devastation? Might our rights be trampled upon by those would take them away?? And why hasn't anyone figured out what the shit with Blasterjaxx yet??? All this, and more*, in our latest edition of EDM Weekly World News!!



(*not responsible for lost pages beyond the front cover)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Keosz - Be Left To Oneself

Cryo Chamber: 2016

While cruising through the annals of Lord Discogs, I took a classic double-take upon doing my cursory research into one Keosz. A very plain, simple bio is provided, claiming him a “Drum & Bass producer and DJ from Trencin, Slovakia.” Wait, what? I’m holding in my hands a Cryo Chamber CD, with Keosz’ name on it. Be Left To Oneself, his debut with the label (and first LP, if The Lord That Knows All is to be trusted) is totally a dark ambient release. Maybe not so bleak and twisted as Cryo Chamber typically goes, but definitely music that fits the print’s manifesto. After scoping out some of Keosz’ early singles, yeah, there’s a murky edge to his sound; he’s less of a traditional junglist and closer to the realms of sparse, minimalist microfunk. And as ASC’s proven, it’s not such a large leap from that into ambient proper. Still, it’s a weird transition seeing an EP on Future Funk Music within the same discography containing an album on Cryo Chamber.

The guy in question is Erik Osvald, and if there’s a common link between all his material, it’s that of stark urban settings. Cities in decay, its folk left wandering abandoned neighborhoods and industrial districts, living an almost feral existence - though not quite in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. So, he’s seen Detroit then. Eh, they say the Motor City is on the recovery as of late? Hm, may have to soon come up with new shorthand for failing districts. How long before that Brexit thing ruins London, y’wager?

Right off the opening titular track, Keosz presents himself as something different from Cryo Chamber’s standard dark ambient and abstract drone - there’s actual melody! True, it’s cinematic and melancholic, another aspect of this label’s repertoire that I’ve occasionally come across, but it’s less the norm compared to the print’s regular roster of producers. Most releases I’ve heard play out as self-contained narratives or works of conceptual art, and I don’t get that sense from Be Left To Oneself. This is music in need of a short film or video game to support it; score pieces that are perfect in setting the mood for something specifically visual rather than leading your imagination to do the visualizing for you. Keosz does offer some guidance in his track titles - Forlorn, Traitor, Insecure, Clearance, Before The End - but these are all quite ambiguous for an album released on a label that’s ace at painting vivid scenery. Maybe amorphous feelings are all there is to it, the title taken as literal interpretation.

At nine tracks in length, and only one breaking the six minute mark (not even reaching seven at that), Be Left To Oneself plays out rather briefly too. Still, there are plenty of lovely, orchestral passages scattered about, especially in the latter half with chants and rain morphing into static. Keosz definitely sells the mood of a lost soul wandering a city gone to waste. How Burial of him.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Cryo Chamber Collaboration - Azathoth

Cryo Chamber: 2015

A compilation where a label’s roster contributes new tunes in support of a theme? It’s been done. A lot. Almost a prerequisite for psy trance prints, and no doubt among synthwave’s lasting legacies. For sure dark ambient does this plenty too, including on Cryo Chamber a few times. At some point though, label head Simon Heath postulated the quandary: “Can we do more?” Why yes you can, t’was the answer, presenting a collaborative concept where folks on the roster all contributed to a single, long track rather than several separate ones. My, how very prog rock of y’all!

Seriously though, this was an audacious idea, bringing in about a dozen Cryo Chamber artists and associates for a single composition. How do you even get everyone in the same studio for that? You technically don’t, hence where the internet comes into play, linking everyone’s own studios. So this is a lengthy jam session then, with everyone playing their own drone for over an hour? No, that’d be horrible, and rather pointless, twelve dark ambient producers reduced to a cacophony of black noise.

Best I can figure, the Cryo Chamber Collaboration concept is like shared online stories, where individual authors contribute a few paragraphs or chapters, with the narrative picked up and carried on by another until the piece is finished. Now that… that is a damn cool idea, and one I don’t recall being attempted in music! Oh, I’m sure it has been done, probably with IDM wonks or jazz maestros, but this is the first time I’ve come across it. And I would have picked up the first Cryo Chamber Collaboration too, if it hadn’t been based on possibly the most cliché dark ambient critter out there, Cthulhu. That’s like making a trance tune based on a sunrise, or a house track about Jack.

Still, the project was successful enough to warrant a sequel, which gives us a double-LP effort based on the granddaddy of Lovecraftian horrors, the famed all-consuming, chaos-dimension spanning, tentacle space-monster, Azathoth. Hey, that’s cool – He’s kinda’ like one of my favorite characters from Marvel VS Capcom, Shuma-Gorath.

Azathoth brings in over twenty producers to the table. Some I’ve talked about (Alphaxone, Dronny Darko, Sabled Sun, Ugasanie), some I will talk about (Halgrath, Apocryphos, Cryobiosis, Randal Collier-Ford), and some are totally new to my ears (Therradaemon, Neizvestija). I can’t say I’m familiar enough with each artist to identify when one’s contribution ends and another begins, though you definitely notice changes in sounds, tone, and craft as each piece unfolds. CD1 essentially deals with arrival in Azathoth’s realm, mostly desolate space and foreboding menace. CD2 has more activity going for it, and thus far more unsettling passages as it plays out. Not recommended for napping music.

If you’re looking to get acquainted with Cryo Chamber’s brand of dark ambient, Azathoth isn’t the best starting point. Better to take in a few of the roster’s solo releases, then discover how all these disparate musicians meld their twisted minds into one.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bill Laswell - Axiom Ambient: Lost In Translation

Axiom: 1994

A curious double-LP, this one, though not for any of the music within. As this is a Bill Laswell ambient dub album from his peak ambient dub music making years, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s filled with swirly sounds, jazzy grooves, ethnic samplings, and that bass tone. Nay, what’s rather confounding about Axiom Ambient: Lost In Translation is exactly what sort of release this is. There’s so many collaborations on here, such that I wonder whether ‘Axiom Ambient’ could be construed as a project name rather than an album title – it wouldn’t be the first time Mr. Laswell took on an unique moniker for yet another venture with his huge evergrowing population of associates that rules from the center of the bassworld.

Oh yeah, The Orb is on this album. It doesn’t clarify which member of The Orb is here though, and as this is a ’94 release, it could very well be a member that most definitely is no longer a member, and will never again be a member, so help him Gaia. On the other hand, it could have been Dr. Paterson dropping by Laswell’s house for a toke-n-smoke, fiddling with some effects overtop Aum while enjoying the buzz, then giving his blessing to use The Orb brand for marketing purposes. Who’s in charge of that stuff at head Orb office anyway?

Plenty more folks Laswell knows through the rock, jazz, funk, and world-fusion scenes drop by too. Many you probably know: George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Pharoah Sanders, Buckethead, and Tetsu Inoue. Lesser number you may know: Jah Wobble, Terre Thaemlitz, Eddie Hazel, and Sonny Sharrock. And if you’re familiar with Ginger Baker, Nicky Skopelitis, and Liu Sola, well damn, Mr. John Peel, how are things in the Afterlife? Some material is remixed from other Axiom releases (including Material), but mostly we’re dealing with all original music here.

There’s a lot about Axiom Ambient that can come off terribly pretentious at first glance. Each CD features four extra-long tracks, separated into movements themselves. That Orb collaboration, Aum, has four segments alone, titled Soul Searcher, Praying Mantra (Second Attention), Tarab Scan, and Ritual In Transfigured Time. If you think that’s a bit much, the liner notes have two pages going on about the mystical healing nature of world fusion ambient within a heightened global consciousness. Hey, fine if you vibe on psychik chakras and that, but most of it comes off as ostentatious waffle to my eyes, and rather dated to ‘90s alt-life optimism.

Fortunately, it’s what’s going into my ears that matters, and Axiom Ambient is a surprisingly immersive experience once it gets going. Laswell displays plenty skill and finesse, melding the various contributions from tons of talented musicians into a trippy, relaxing journey. Orchestral swells, mystic chants, guitar jams, techno thumps, calming drones, Far East winds, and best of all, none of it feels like superfluous meandering. Go figure that the longest Laswell album I’ve covered is his most engaging from front to back.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Various - Artificial Afterlife Compilation

Aphasia Records: 2015

Perturbator’s dope and all, but is there more to synthwave than this maestro of retro-pulp sci-fi scores? Plenty more, absolutely – in fact, almost too much, the burgeoning scene flooded with more imitators and knock-offs than even the ‘80s offered. It’s such an easy entry level now, what with little need for investing in full-scale synthesizer studios. And with digital means granting easy distribution, even you can craft and share a soundtrack to that Miami Sonic Squad neon-grindcore art film long gestating within your noggin’! Yeah, sorry, but I learned my lesson very early with OCRemix what ‘fan enthusiasm-minus-creative ingenuity’ often leads to. I’ll continue trusting the time-honored gatekeepers of music with this genre, the hard-copy manufacturers.

Still, I’m clearly selling synthwave short if I don’t dig at least a little beyond the top-tier talent. Like, the label that gave Perturbator his break, Aphasia Records. Maybe they’ve gathered an equally awesome roster of producers, a couple of which have also found success in the physical format. No such luck with that last one, Aphasia strictly a digital print – there’s a reason why James Kent ended up on Blood Music for a run of collector’s vinyl, tapes and CDs. And I’ll never get over my aversion of paying real money for music in an un-physical form so… Oh, wait, what’s this? A free compilation album? Well shit, son, I’ve no problem paying that as an Aphasia sampler. Let’s scope out some Artificial Afterlife then.

The compilation opens with Jovian Giants from Dynatron, a Danish producer who’s had some success with Aphasia. It’s not hard to hear why, this track very much in the Perturbator mold of slow, methodical synthwave that has you imagining all the epic sci-fi city-scapes of your classic anime dreams. VHS Glitch – who’s also responsible for many a piece of synthwave cover art – plus Neon Rebel also provide music in this vein (darksynth, I think? Yeah, this genre already has about a half-dozen splinters). Cannot deny this is my favorite style, most of the artists making it with a clear vision in mind. It’s less homage and more evolution, which is what future-leaning music should always strive for.

Then there’s the stuff that’s totally aping the ‘80s, right down to all the chintzy attributes we snigger at three decades on. Sebastian Gampl’s A Wave Goodbye sounds like an infomercial backer, September 87’s Man Eater features a saxophone solo, and we get at least two guitar solos from Photosynthesi’s Sometimes and Phaserland’s Lightspeed Defender, all presented in that tinny, hokey ‘80s palette that was rightfully jettisoned once the decade ended. Other tunes go for the chipper synth-pop feel (Starforce’s Infinity, ForeignBlade’s Under Suspension, Sellorkt/LA Dreams’ Keep The Score), which are cute enough as peppy diversions.

If anything, Artificial Afterlife confirmed my suspicions regarding synthwave. It’s a genre that shows flashes of brilliance, but is a glimmer too often lost in the overbearing neon glow so many producers are fixated on. I’ll stick with Perturbator, thanks; maybe Dynatron too. They remember the hearty grit.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Flowers For Bodysnatchers - Aokigahara

Cryo Chamber: 2015

Dark ambient isn’t all atonal synth work and creepy sound effects - some of it uses honest-to-Cthulhu real instruments too! Folks feeling the modern classical mojo can find comfortable nesting grounds here, provided they don’t mind exploring abhorrent aspects of the human condition. Considering Silent Hill’s massive fanbase though, I’m certain classically trained pianists, cellists and glockenspielists with a taste for the sinister side of their craft exists in droves.

Duncan Ritchie is one such chap, emerging from Cryo Chamber’s ceaseless roster expansion as Flowers For Bodysnatchers with this debut album of Aokigahara. He apparently got his start making dark ambient of the industrial sort, as part of a group called The Rosenshoul. Lord Discogs draws a total blank on such a group, but even The Lord That Knows All can’t keep track of every short-lived industrial project (capital effort though!). I guess the harsh electronic edge that form of dark ambient goes wasn’t to ol’ Duncan’s taste, as Flowers For Bodysnatchers makes ample use of pianos, woodwinds, cellos, chants, and even taiko drums for this particular album. For sure he still utilizes eerie field recordings, moody pads, and discordant effects that can set the hairs on the back of your neck on edge, but never to the detriment of his classical approach to this sort of music. And besides, it’s not about the tools used in dark ambient that matters, but whatever story or theme the artist achieves with them.

For those who don’t know (erm, I had to look it up), Aokigahara refers to a particular forest near the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Already a rather creepy gathering of densely packed, moss-covered trees, it’s gained a reputation as “the suicide forest”, where many a depressed individual goes to ponder their existence, feeling empty and alone in an indifferent world; a place to end it all, whatever ‘it’ might have been. Despite this, Aokigahara has become something of a tourist attraction for those seeking out macabre locations on our globe, with plenty of stories, folklore, and music inspired by its reputation.

Ritchie explores the process of succumbing to Aokigahara’s black embrace with this album, tracing the melancholic isolation that would lead one to the journey deep within such a foreboding region. The opening pieces Prisoner Of Night And Fog, And There Is Darkness, and Field Of Ink has a gentle timbre of pianos echoing off the emptiness within these tracks. Kuroi Jukai and There Will Be Lies makes use of Japanese traditional instrumentation as tension mounts within this narrative. Things seem to fall apart for our protagonist in Night Heroin, the longest track at nearly twelve minutes, which includes piercing drone and extended periods of sickly, viscous sounds of black bubbling. From there pieces alternate between modern classical compositions, creepy field recordings, and industrial drone – things aren’t looking too bright in this journey. Still, given the comparatively tender tones of The Games Foxes Play, some release must have been had. No, wait, the tone’s changed. Oh dear…

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nacht Plank - Alien

Carpe Sonum Records: 2016

I’ve dabbled a bit into the music of the man behind the moniker of Nacht Plank, one Lee Norris. He’s one half of my introduction to Carpe Sonum proper, Moss Garden’s In The Silence Of The Subsconscious, plus he’s paired up with a couple other names I’m familiar with (Mick Chillage as Autumn Of Communion, Ishq as Ishqmatics). Yet that’s barely scratching the surface of this man’s total output. As Nacht Plank alone, Alien is something like his fifteenth LP, not to mention a half-dozen assorted collaborative albums along the way. Then there’s another dozen or so albums as Metamatics, a bushel-full of material as Norken, and a couple items under his own name as well. The man is remarkably prolific, is what I’m sayin’, and to just casually walk into an album like this one is extremely difficult. Dammit Jim-Bones, I need more musical foundation to work with if I’m to tackle Alien proper-like. How can I know whether all this abstract, minimalist ambient experimentation is the long-term Nacht Plank stylee, or just some flight of exploratory fancy on Mr. Norris’ part?

Actually, judging from his prior work, I’m pretty sure the analog experimentation is the Nacht Plank modus operani. The name alone has me thinking along the lines of Mille Plateaux or Raster-Noton material, and a quick dabbling of his earlier efforts under the moniker reveals plenty of ‘challenging’ sounds. Heck, Alien at times comes off rather nice and soothing compared to the audio assault I heard off my samplings of Broad Tape Band, though remaining firmly in the realm of abstract weirdness as such a title warrants.

What this album mostly reminds me of is the electronic sound experiments of krautrock, which isn’t too surprising considering Mr. Norris makes use of actual gear (“no computers used” the inlay proudly proclaims). Opener Arrive has me thinking of Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream with its outworld atmosphere, while follow-up Clone uses intermittent sci-fi effects as a lazy, soft synth worms and oozes about a sparse setting. Some tracks are rather short, like the gentle tones of Comune and noodly muted pads of Peace. Others reach for significant lengths in the double-digit mark, Re Kreation being the longest of the bunch at over thirteen minutes of droning tones and distant field recordings, plus a touch of Moog diddling towards the end. Closer Vision clocks in at just under twelve minutes, and has the only thing resembling a rhythm on here, what with its bobbing pulses laid underneath droning, minimalist pads. This is explored further into electro territory with a Bandcamp bonus remix (Vision (Quick Thinking)), another lengthy number at over fourteen minutes. It’s interesting, but definitely much too chipper compared to the moody tone the rest of Alien cultivates. I accept its download bonus status.

This is hardly an easy album to get into, but I doubt Nacht Plank is the sort of project with doe-eyed dance music fans in mind. If you dig ‘70s weirdness though, give Alien a try.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Boards Of Canada - Twoism

Music70/Warp Records: 1995/2002

I have difficulty thinking of Twoism as part of the official Boards Of Canada long-player lexicon, for no better reason than it initially wasn’t. After the rousing success of Music Has The Right To Children, it wasn't long befor legions of new fans with melted youthful hearts were digging for anything else from the Scottish duo. Savvy heads already knew of their initial EP on Skam, Hi Scores, but word soon spread of a treasure trove of older, ultra-rare material lurking in the shadows of obscurest realms. Some of these are so rare, their very existence is continuously called into question - considering a lack of bootlegs or credible internet uploads, not an unfounded notion. The web always finds a way of unearthing music, always.

For a brief time, Twoism was among these mythical artifacts. Story goes the early Boards recordings were limited to tapes circulated among family and friends, but Twoism received a slightly larger distribution via vinyl. Mind, this was still self-released on their Music70 print, with a mere one-hundred copies pressed, but at least there were confirmed physical records out there, exchanging collector’s hands for pounds of quid (that the saying, right? Help me out, Brits!). Well, these Boards Of Canada were having none of that – why should the trader’s market profit from something they themselves could make bank off? Thus, Twoism saw a proper re-issue on Warp Records, sending those who took out mortgages to own the original wax weeping into the English moors. Or not, those initial pressings undoubtedly still commanding ridiculous sums from the discerning collector. Still, how nice us plebs get to enjoy this music too.

Given the near-cultish fanbase Boards Of Canada developed, it’s no surprise this was a highly sought record. Fortunately, such digging efforts were rewarded with an album that captures the Boards spirit as capably as any of their other LPs. For sure it’s more simplistic compared to what came after, most of their beats the barest of hip-hop rhythms. Meanwhile, the melodies stick to basic, lengthy loops of layered synth and timbre, with very little songcraft exhibited beyond what’s established early in a track. Still, those synth tones… every bit as warm, fuzzy, charming, nostalgic, day-glowy, and other descriptors you’ve read countless times in a BoC review. I could probably eat up my entire self-imposed word-count rattling them all off.

A couple things differentiates Twoism from their later work though, most notably the tracks Iced Cooly and Basefree. Both harkens to IDM’s earlier years, the former a bouncy electro jaunt, the latter an abrasive drill-beat number that sounds unlike anything in the Boards’ official canon. Still finding their way, clearly the lads from Hexagon Sun are. Also, the sound quality of their productions is rougher here, but that’s expected of an early album.

That’s all I have to say about Twoism. It was an album deemed ‘must-have’ back when it was rare as unicorn shit, and thanks to the Warp reissue, everyone can have it. Yay!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Various - Two A.D. (Volume Two Ambient Dub)

Waveform Records: 1995

There was a time, long ago, when I’d be ecstatic having this CD. It was a simpler period of my life, when everything from the underground was new and mysterious, musical artifacts waiting to be unearthed and enjoyed with virgin ears. That was a brief time though, my initial enthusiasm over discovering Two A.D.’s existence waning as it seemed forever out of grasp. Never mind I could have mail-ordered the darn thing at any time - limited funds as a teenager compelled purchasing decisions towards practical items. Besides, after checking out the tracklist via online means, I realized I had a number of these tracks already.

Two efforts from A Positive Life - Pleidean Communication and Aquasonic - were featured on his Synaesthetic album, plus Tortoise from Higher Intelligence Agency came from Freefloater. On top of that, Biosphere’s Baby Interphase and Coldcut’s Autumn Leaves are featured on Two A.D., which I also already had on other compilations. Never mind they were totally different versions – far as I was concerned, that was half of Two A.D.’s tracklist already in my hands. The desire to get Waveform Records’ second ambient dub collection faded further.

When I spotted this in a used shop, I picked it up out of a sense of obligated completion. By this point, I’d also added Groove Corporation’s A Voyage On The Marie Celeste and The Irresistible Force’s famed rub of Autumn Leaves to my coffers, with Sound From The Ground’s Triangle soon to join ranks as well. That essentially renders Two A.D. almost entirely redundant among my CDs, save three tracks. Let me tell you about those three now!

Two A.D. opens with a debuting single from The Starseeds, Behind The Sun. The project would have some minor success in the realms of trip-hop, but this Deep Ambient Mix is pure cosmic, mystical bliss. Way later in the CD, Human Mesh Dance show up with Sunken Garden, a way-minimalist, ambient dub groover of a track. Following that is Late Night from Insanity Sect, a brothers duo so obscure that this is one of their few appearances within Lord Discogs’ archives. Even their album on Beyond, Manisola, had a limited run of one-thousand copies. This particular track is very minimalist too, almost drone-dub with soft, lethargic rhythms. The Starseeds cut is quite nice, but the other two are rather standard far as ambient dub goes, decent little filler pieces for a compilation of this sort.

If I’m giving a blasé impression of Two A.D., that’s no fault of the CD itself; hearing most of these songs in a different order just isn’t so exciting for yours truly. As a compilation of ambient dub though, this is quite good. Obviously some stone-cold classics are on here in Autumn Leaves, Baby Interphase, and Triangle, and it’s all arranged for a nifty listening experience: blissy openers, bleepy acid middle, groovy ease-out. It’s another solid primer of the genre from Waveform, exactly what the label set out to accomplish with these.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Ferry Corsten - Twice In A Blue Moon (Original TC Review)

Flashover Recordings: 2008

(2016 Update:
Welp, so much for cautious optimism from the Ferry Fan Camps. Not only did he fully completely jump on the arena house bandwagon, but he did so in such a wacky way with Markus Schulz, you wonder if he was having a mid-life crisis regarding his DJ career. I get the reason for that whole New World Punx thing - what better way to capitalize on the ballooning festival market than as a 'supergroup'
a la Swedish House Mafia - but man, did the PR for the 'project' ever look ridiculous for a couple of the scene's elder statesmen. Yeah, totally we can hang with the kids at these mega-events - they like cartoon ninjas, right?

That Corsten would abandon trance isn't a surprise though, as everyone with scene clout had to if they wanted to keep their profile high in a changing market. Nor am I surprised that ol' Ferry is inching his way back to trance now that the gravy train has started showing signs of deflating, most notably testing the waters last year with a new Gouryella single. Or maybe this was his plan all along, lure the kids in with modern cheese, then unleash his vintage cheese upon them, the cheese that you do so well. Who knows, though it leaves this album in a weird no-man's land between Corsten's different eras of music making. Does anyone even remember anything off
Twice In A Blue Moon?)


IN BRIEF: Back on form, but…

When Ferry Corsten’s newest album - Twice In A Blue Moon - opened with a dull deadmau5 thunk-clap-thunk-clap beat, I instantly feared the worst. Although the famed Dutch producer had been accused of running dry on fresh ideas in recent years (even by our own resident Ferry apologist J’, no less!), you still believed he would never jump on a bandwagon. Yet, here he was, offering up a just-better-than-average mau5 tune with Shelter Me. The plodding rhythm, the bare-bones melodic execution, the bland effects: Zimmerman staples, all. Could it be that Corsten had succumbed to the pressure of following trends, that his days as innovator truly were long gone?

It’s funny. Despite opinions on Corsten’s music being contentiously split between fan and foe, folks seldom disagree on the merit of his ingenuity – after all, he made his name by being a leader in his chosen field. So when he appears to have become a follower, one can’t help but feel saddened by such a notion. You continuously root for the innovators to keep innovating, as they are the ones that push the arts into interesting new directions – even if you don’t personally enjoy it, such artistic evolution still creates a positive reaction in that it spurs discussion. In short, many may not have liked what Corsten did to trance, but damned if they didn’t like talking about it. If he’s become a mere trend-jumper though, then what’s the point in discussion?

All of these musings played out in my head for about the length of time Shelter Me played out in my player; which, despite a half-decent melody somewhere in there, should tell you how interesting the track is. The over-prominent thunk-claps continue into Black Velvet; fortunately, unlike typical deadmau5, Corsten writes a pleasant song featuring a rather inspired vocal outing from Australian singer Julia Messenger (given his years in the profession, you can count on Corsten being a stronger song-writer than the guy wearing a mouse mask). From there, I realized that my initial worries were for naught, as Corsten gets ‘contemporary’ only one other time, with the double-effort in Life - Doorn production (re: boring beats with non-climaxes; very anti-Corsten, really) coupled with whiney male singer.

The rest of this album finds Ferry going more to his popular roots. Aside from one last 80s gasp with the italo-inspired We Belong (which uses elements from the old hit Happy Town by Fun Fun), Twice In A Blue Moon features a good deal of simple euro-trance with energetic beats, the kind of sound many fell in love with when they were discovering the Dutchman at the turn of the century. Whether it’s because he’s grown nostalgic for his glory years or simply decided to provide what his fanbase prefers from him is open to debate. Bottom line is if you’ve been pining for the Corsten of old, you’re going to get a good amount of enjoyment out of this album.

For those who haven’t, however, you may end up approaching Twice In a Blue Moon more cautiously. In going back to the late 90s, there isn’t much here that is groundbreaking either. Corsten’s style has long been of simple punctuality, and the tracks on this CD don’t break rank from that; the melodies are mostly straight-forward and cheery, though hardly standout. Tracks like lead single Radio Crash and Brain Box feature prominent big hooks which will easily lodge in your head, although Brain Box will undoubtedly draw Zombie Nation comparisons (and what’s with that silly big horn blast? I swear I thought it was a semi-truck outside when I first heard it blare out). Meanwhile, he follows a more traditional melodically epic path with Gabriella’s Sky, Shanti, and the titular track, with each of these featuring a different twist on the formula: serviceable break-beats on the first, far-East vocal sampling for the second, and melancholy baroque with the last. These three tracks are easily the best on the album. Oh, and the final ‘outro’ track sounds like one of those piano interludes you might hear on an Enya album – again, whether that’s good or bad will depend on your preference for such musical doodling.

Unfortunately, much like his previous efforts, Corsten’s vocal offerings remain typically generic. Aside from the aforementioned Black Velvet, none of the singers provide anything memorable. Well, Maria Nayler kind of does, in that it has that cool vocoder effect on her voice, but her lyrics are rendered moot by it – she might as well be singing, “I’m blue, da ba dee!” Betsie Larkin, an obscure singer-songwriter from New York City, makes her major debut here with the other lead single, Made Of Love, yet another by-the-book vocal euro-trance cut. For those who can’t get enough of playing sing-a-long while jumping in one spot with their hand in the air, I’m sure this track is heaven – me, I take it as my cue to fuck off to the bar (especially so with the oh-so cliché supersaw breakdown, though thankfully kept brief here).

There isn’t much to fault with Twice In A Blue Moon, but neither is there much to highly recommend either. Aside from a few instances, it comes off like a rose-hued nostalgic trip to Corsten’s memorable years - which, of course, isn’t such a bad thing. However, Ferry’s music has always been generally limited in scope (big, epic, anthems! …umm…), and such limitations remain as apparent as ever.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Carbon Based Lifeforms - Twentythree

Ultimae Records: 2011

Considering how often I big-up Carbon Based Lifeforms as one of Ultimae Records’ key acts, I sure don’t talk about their actual albums much. In fact, this is only the second full-length from the duo I’ve gotten to, the first being their debut Hydroponic Garden a whopping three years ago now! Still, it’s not like they have a vast discography compared to other famed Ultimae alum’, Twentythree just their fourth album in a decade – Solar Fields released about twice that amount in the same period of time. After this, all that’s left in CBL’s catalog is Interloper and World Of Sleepers, one of which I don’t have (no points for guessing which one). Oh, and companion piece to this album, VLA, though as that’s a digital-only release, odds are that’s gonna’ remain absent from this blog for the foreseeable future. Then again, I hadn’t counted on still being at this back when I did Hydroponic Garden either. The future: as mysterious as the infinite black above.

Just as we remain lonely in the cosmos, Twentythree stands isolated among its Ultimae peers, the label’s lone drone ambient full-length. For sure there’s examples of such works scattered throughout Ultimae’s catalog – Asura’s last LP for them, Radio Universe, was about half drone alone. Hybrid Leisureland, Cell, and CBL member Daniel Ringström (as Sync24) can get downright minimalistic in their songcraft. To go an entire CD runtime with barely a beat or hint of a rhythm though, it just hadn’t been done on Ultimae before or since. Guess that’s at least one necessary ambient sub-genre off the bucket list.

Naturally, recommending yet another drone ambient album is a tough task for yours truly, but CBL bring their subtle skill with acid to this peace-out party. Opener Arecibo does the standard layered pad work you’d expect of blissful, expansive space music, but with a touch of the TB-303 bubbling in the background, the track retains enough of a distinct sound such that it’s not lost in the slush of yearly drone. Indeed, the subtle acid remains a common attribute throughout Twentythree, even if only as faint as a radio signal from deep space. Follow-up pieces have other minute features, should you be in the mood for a studious playback. System is eerie and dark, with distant, spritely dub effects. Melancholic Somewhere In Russia makes use of field recordings, prog-rock guitar tones find their way into Terpene, Inertia harkens to a primeval time, and VLA (edit) gets proper dark in a way that Cryo Chamber would approve.

Through it all, Twentythree truly sucks you in, such that when the heavy use of earthly field recordings and dubbed-out wind chimes of Kensington Gardens hits, it feels as though you’ve returned to this planet we call home after a long, lonely sojourn of the stars. What more fitting note to end on then, than the ghostly, melodic space ambience of Held Together By Gravity, astro-chatter echoing from a distant place we’ll never see with our own eyes.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To Die

Soul Temple Records: 2013

Mr. Coles could keep making Ghostface origin-story albums until the end of his life, never running out of fresh angles on the subject. And really, what else is there left to rap about as the G.F. Killah? Most of his early material centred on standard hip-hop topics: street tales, mafiaso aspirations, commanding the microphone with skill above his peers, bragging about his success in sales, within the sheets, and all that good stuff. However, no matter how impeccable Ghostface presents the material, it does grow repetitive after a while when the subject’s been so thoroughly covered for over two-decades now. So, instead of rapping about all that real shit, let’s get conceptual and rap about blaxploitation vigilante stories or Italian mobster horror stories, all linked by how the Ghostface Killah came into being. Sounds like fun!

This story goes as thus. Tony Starks (Mr. Coles’ mafiaso alias) raised through the mob ranks from hired hitman to self-made man. This naturally pissed off all the DeLuca old guard, and Ghost’ doesn’t mince words in how his skin color added extra fuel to the ensuing turf wars. How dare a black man gain so much power, but there’s little they can do about it, Tony’s influence growing ever stronger in the lands of gangster clichés. Everyone has their weakness though, and sure enough, Starks is lured into a trap by a femme fatale, taken out like so many Scarfaces. In typical high-mobster fashion though, it’s not enough to execute him on the spot, his enemies concocting a ridiculous post-death humiliation. His remains are melted down into vinyl, pressed into twelve records owned by those who perpetrated the crime. Damn, I bet those slabs of wax go for just as much as that one-copy Wu-Tang Clan album.

Well, buyer beware, for there’s a twist to this story benefiting an episode of Tales From The Crypt. Turns out Starks’ spirit endured, haunting the records such that should you play one of them, he’ll emerged as the Ghostface Killah looking to exact a revenge most gruesome indeed. The second half of Twelve Reasons To Die details all the myriad ways his enemies meet their ends, and no one is spared. From the heads of the DeLuca family that ordered his hit, to the women and children they spawned, Ghostface shows no mercy or remorse in his wrath. Guess Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuttin’ to fuck with even after they die.

Twelve Reasons To Die was seen as something of a career resurgence for Mr. Coles, his last critically hailed album being Fishscale seven years prior. It didn’t hurt that he’d paired up with the emerging, highly touted funk and soul producer Adrian Younge, who approached the project as though scoring a classic Italian horror film from the ‘60s; if said film was shot in the Bronx, anyway. It proved such a success that the two paired up again for a sequel this past year. Ooh, Rae’s a supporting character on that one? Tickle me piqued!

ACE TRACKS: August 2016

I miss nRelate so much. Why did it have to shutter its servers? Engageya was an alright substitute though, despite only ever crawling my blog a year’s past for related content. Unfortunately, I think that service has been compromised by scammers, as a strange link to A Trip In Trance 4 started cropping up in its recommendations. Bear in mind I had not yet gotten to that CD, the link referring to the original review from way back. I did click the link, and when Chrome gave me the trusty “This Website Will Fuck Your Shit Up!” warning, I backed out, and promptly removed the app. I tried contacting Engageya regarding the situation, but never got a reply. Hence, back to LinkWithin, a serviceable option, but hopelessly limited. Plus, why does it suddenly stop at January 2013 for suggestions, then pick up again December 2014? It’s got lots of weird gaps like that, but eh, better than nothing. Maybe one day a proper nRelate replacement will emerge. Maybe…

Speaking of milestones, I just passed the 1,000th release reviewed for this blog! Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 3) earned the honor, and I can’t think of a better pair of CDs to have done the deed with. Erm, even if it was just an uploaded older review of electroclash. If we’re to get proper-technical about this though, Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 3) wasn’t the 1,000th release reviewed on this blog at all, as there’s still all those original uploads from EMC’s initial launch. I seldom count those in any interesting stats, but if I did in this case, then Michael Mayer’s Touch would have been the real 1,000th. Oops, kinda’ missed that one. Okay, enough blather, here’s ACE TRACKS for the month of August 2016!


Full track list here.


MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 3)
Various - Tunnel Trance Force Vol. 30
FPU - Traxxdata
Various - Transmissions From The Planet Dog
Various - Trancespotting II

Percentage Of Hip-Hop - 0%
Percentage Of Rock - 8%
Most “WTF?” Track - Any of Neil Young’s vocoder stuff. The sheer audacity of it all!

Easily the biggest August Playlist I’ve ever put together, though that’s not saying much. Most Augusts I take a two-week festival vacation, and one year I didn’t write anything at all. Despite still dealing with a bunch of TRANCE music, there’s at least some extra diversity compared to July’s playlist. A splash of rock, a sprinkle of jungle, a peppering of synth-pop, and a smash of psy. Oh, and The Hip. As coincidental as their inclusion is, I’m glad they get in here as well. It seems appropriate.
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