Saturday, August 19, 2017

Various - Welcome To The Technodrome Vol. 4

ZYX Music: 1995

I can't be sure, because sifting through ZYX Music's immense discography is like staring at a European phone book, but I think Welcome To The Technodrome is the first compilation series the label attached the nascent 'techno' tag to its archives. Yes, even beating out their main series, Techno Trax, by a couple years. Considering only four volumes were released though, it pleads the question why this one never caught on like others. Ah, my lovelies, that's because this is a tie-in with a short-lived sub-label of ZYX, dubbed Techno Drome International.

Their brief history is a little more interesting, springing up to champion the hot sounds of 'industrial techno' coming out of Dorcheim, Germany. This included acts like Robotiko Rejekto, Recall IV, and Pluuto. It petered out by '92 though, only two Welcome To The Technodrome volumes making it to store shelves in that time. Yet for some reason, ZYX continued the series, capitalizing on any brand recognition to flood the market with CDs. By '93's Vol. 3, you had names like Ramirez, Bronski Beat, Microbots, and 2 Unlimited taking up disc space. Which finally brings us to Welcome To The Technodrome Vol. 4, the last of them, released in '95 when the brand's original 'industrial techno' ethos was a forgotten footnote.

*Phew* All that word count getting the history out of the way. Good thing this double-discer has little worth talking about otherwise. I picked this up at the same time as Techno Trax Vol. 12, both sitting together on a used-shop rack, and there's small surprise why, nearly identical in style and tone as they are. There's a few repeats – Liquid Bass' In Full Effect, Alien Factory's This Is Not A Daydream, Paranoia X' Party Program - but it sure feels like more. Way to milk those licenses, ZYX.

Mo-Do kicks the compilation off, if you needed a reminder of just how ubiquitous Eins, Zwei, Polizei was in mid-'90s Europa. Following that, you get some hard acid (Ben, Ben And No Ben's Rotes Harr), a German trance tune that sounds like it's aping the melody from some synth-pop ditty, muddy standard trance in Submerge's Oblivion, and some straight-bosh 'ardcore from DJ Metz's Hey, We Want Some. Elsewhere, things get silly with Josh's Der Säbeltanz, a tune that might find you hilariously balancing a bunch of plates on poles while riding a unicycle. When it isn't going full happy hardcore, CD2 offers more German trance of varying quality, a couple worth a listen, but most well left in the past.

Which makes me wonder: why do I judge these jams so critically now? Had I somehow stumbled upon Welcome To The Technodrome Vol. 4 when it was new, and my exposure to such music was so fresh and so clean, might I have better things to say of it today? I cannot deny Teenage Sykonee would have been all over this back when, but Lord help him if he didn't outgrow silly nonsense like Moneypenny's Que Sera, Sera too.

Friday, August 18, 2017

RetroSynther - Welcome To Technocity

Werkstatt Recordings: 2016

Synthwave isn't hard to find, but getting my grubby hands on CD copies of the stuff remains a tricky affair. Obviously digital is this scene's preferred method of distribution, but it seems even tapes outnumber the aluminum disc options wherever I look. Thank the Moroder God that Blood Music goes to bat for its synthwave superstars, yet I can't rely on a single label sating my sweet tooth for retro synthy cheese-pop. Looks like fortunes have favoured my searching efforts though, recently stumbling upon this Werkstatt Recordings print in my Bandcamp wanderings. CD options! Oh, glorious CD options! Only trouble is they take a darn long time to deliver, and I want to write a review of one of them now, while Alphabetical Stipulation permits me. Darn it, I thought that time away at Shambhala would have delivered the goods. Ah, screw it, I'll just review this anyway. Better than having another 'Lingua Lustra - Spaces' situation on my hands. It's not like I Instagram me holding each album anyway.

So here we go with RetroSynther, a project from Hungarian Sándor Máté. He's a couple other projects under his keytar, including Electro Potato, Tony (187), and part of a duo with vocalist Klajkó Lajos as Energy Voice. If any of these names ring a bell for you, then damn, daughter, you've got some serious italo-synth game, because I'm drawing a total blank myself. Mind, if Lord Discogs is to be trusted, Mr. Máté is relatively new to the music scene, only a handful of scattered items released throughout all his various projects. Welcome To Technocity is practically his debut solo album as RetroSynther or anything else. Despite my complete lack of knowledge though, I had to check this album out because, dude, that cover! Makes me want to watch some pulp sci-fi, or play Galaga.

However, Welcome To Technocity isn't a synthwave album. Really, it's about as vintage a space-synth LP as this music gets – the totally retro synths (it's in the name, people!), the vocoders, the peppy hi-NRG rhythms, triumphant italo riffs conquering the cosmos, and all that good stuff. Some of the basslines remind me of where '80s eurodisco ended up once its transition to eurodance of the '90s was complete, but if you've heard space-synth at any point in the past two decades, you aren't going to hear much different with RetroSynther's take on it. This is a genre that prides itself on remaining as aesthetically pure as possible, which is perfectly fine if that's your aim. I sure didn't come into here expecting anything less, this style of music fun for the occasional dip every few months.

In the backhalf of the album, Mr. Máté adds a melancholic downbeat tune in New Hope, plus a short closer that gets close to the realms of synthwave (Awakening). It's not enough for me to recommend Welcome To Technocity to anyone other than those already converted to retro space-synth jams though, whose audience remains ultra-niche.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Space Dimension Controller - Welcome To Mikrosector-50

R & S Records: 2013

While this album technically isn't Jack Hamill's debut as Space Dimension Controller, it sure feels so. His actual debut LP was a digital-only item released four years prior on Acroplane Recordings, Unidentified Flying Oscillator. I don't recall much buzz surrounding it though, most folks instead intrigued by a debut single released that same year, The Love Quadrant. R & S Records especially liked the cut of that record's space-funk jib, so ol' Jack hooked them up with a few lengthy EPs, earning him critical plaudits with Very Important music journals in the process. Naturally an album was expected following that buzz, but Welcome To Mikrosector-50 wasn't like anything folks anticipated. For Mr. Hamill sought nothing less than to take the Space Dimension Controller concept into the realm of a fully-fleshed narrative, concrete plot and all. Oh my, who even does that in techno anymore?

The year is 2357 A.D., helpfully parlayed by the opening chill track 2357 A.D. Jack Hamill moonlights throughout this story as Mr. 8040, introduced in the following track of Mr. 8040's Introduction, a proper throwback electro-funk jam complete with hippity-hop rapping. Then there's a brief ad-skit shilling for the marvellous Mikrosector-50 habitat, followed by the free-wheeling space-funk jam (you're gonna' read 'funk jam' a lot in this review) of To Mikrosector-50, with a little more info dropped by Mr. 8040 regarding who is and what he do. Following that, there's another brief skit, where our hero consults a computer regarding the whereabouts of his lover/wife/beneficial-friend. It's about here that you realize you're not dealing with a regular ol' clutch of tracks, but an unfolding story with music acting more as a soundtrack to Mr. 8040's journey to find the love he lost.

His trip takes him through various sections of the Mikrosector. A chill guitar-funk jam of Your Love Feels Like It's Fading. A rather synthwavey tune of Lonely Flight To Erodu-10. A failed club pick-up in the house-funk jam of Can't Have My Love (with heavenly vocals from 'Kat Kirk'). A seedy excursion into an underground acid-techno [funk] jam of Rising (Detroit called, it wants its retro-future back). A shameless hooker score in Quadraskank Interlude (about as down and funky low as you'd expect). And even a narrative excuse to return to the first SDC tune in Love Quadrant.

Yet it's all for naught, his search proving fruitless. Having exhausted any hopes of finding peace in this future, Mr. 8040 leaves to the bouncy Detroit techno of Back Through Time With A Mission Of Groove. It's a tidy wrap-up to the album's tale, save a cheeky stinger hinting that perhaps there may be more in store for the Space Dimension Controller in all our futures.

If you're the sort who wants new tunes with nothing attached, the various skits throughout Welcome To Mikrosector-50 will likely frustrate. Me though, I'm all about that album narrative score. If anything, I'd love to see this translated into movie format. Or at least a graphic novel a la Perturbator.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Genesis - We Can't Dance

Atlantic: 1991

The first Genesis album I ever got, since I didn't know any better. It didn't help this came out when I was at that very impressionable age of Twelve, with big hits of the day having much more influence on my interests than whatever the 'underground' was kicking. The first mixtape I made had stuff like Roxette, Michael Jackson's latest off Dangerous, and The Northern Pikes (it's a Canadian thing) – really, just whatever caught my eyes from MuchMusic, and happened to be in my old man's collection of CDs. Technically, the goof-ball blues of I Can't Dance falls into this category, as the tongue-in-cheek video (that walk!) had plenty of rotation on the music channel, and Daddy-O' had the album too. I'm not sure why he did though, as he lacked anything else from the band, new or old. I suspect I Can't Dance was such a hit, he needed it for all those mobile DJ gigs at weddings and office parties.

ANY-hootaney, I didn't get We Can't Dance for that particular song, but for a different one that struck quite a nerve when I first heard it: No Son Of Mine. As far as I can recall, hearing Phil Collins belt out that chorus was the first time I'd been mentally shook by lyrics, a cold chill running down the back of my neck as my pre-teen mind processed the implication such words coming from a father could have. What might a young man, boy, or teen do that was so abhorrent as to cause his father to reject him so emphatically? For that matter, could my father ever find some action of mine utterly contemptible as to turn his back on me? Might I even be capable of such action? It's a query that's stuck with me ever since I heard No Son Of Mine so many moons ago, long after such musings should have passed me by.

I know it's poor form spending a huge chunk of a review on an anecdote (or admission, or... whatever that above paragraph is), but let's be frank here: does anyone remember anything else off this album? There's twelve songs on We Can't Dance, but beyond No Son Of Mine (a kick-ass tune even if you don't have emotional scars from it), I Can't Dance, and maybe the peppy Jesus He Knows Me, nothing else had much impact on the airwaves. Oh, the album sold gang-busters, as most Genesis albums did back then, but I highly doubt most folks could hum songs like Tell Me Why or Since I Lost You or Hold On My Heart. The music's all slick, well-crafted, and nicely performed, everyone involved clearly experts in their trade. Yet aside from a couple extended jams in Dreaming While You Sleep and Driving The Last Spike, it all passes by with little vigour. As chided for its pure pop leanings as Invisible Touch gets, at least it had impressive compositions like The Brazilian in there too.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Etnoscope - Way Over Deadline

Ektoplazm: 2010

Back when I figured my post-TranceCritic hiatus wouldn't be so lengthy, I snatched this album from the ever-awesome coffers of Ektoplazm, anticipating it a good album to review upon returning. I'm... a little behind in getting to that, aren't I? You could say I've been... tardy in my timeliness. Why, this review should have been written... much longer before. What I'm getting at is the words you're reading are... really, really late.

I recall Way Over Deadline having some hype in the lead-up, a return of prog-psy's earliest heroes in Etnoscope. Their 2003 album Drums From The Dawn Of Time was hailed as among the early classics of that scene, fusing tribal drum workouts into a groovy time for all the forest ravers getting their flail on. Yet despite the initial positive buzz, Etnoscope receded from the spotlight, doing the occasional live gig and not much else. And it's not like the group's members were busy with other projects, Misters Englebert, Collin, and Alanne having little else to their Discogian credits. But with prog-psy having settled into a 'deep, minimal, plodding triplets' phase by 2010 (thanks, Iboga!), that these guys were coming forth with new material was welcome news indeed.

Still, as I scoured the web for reactions to Way Over Deadline, it seems as though the album came and went with barely a blip. Even review threads at the old guards of psy-trance discourse – psynews.org and Isratrance – had little activity beyond an obligatorily 4,000 word review, followed by a half-dozen 'this is great!' reactions. Kinda' makes me feel all the more negligent in my own failure contributing to the initial hype, as this is the sort of prog-psy that was so very desperately needed at the turn of the decade. Rhythms that are propulsive, live drumming that's funky, basslines that are gnarly-as-fuck, and melodic flourishes that capture the best of morning trance giddiness.

Specifics? Oh, how about the opening cut Odin's Kraft, featuring all the drum work you can handle, coupled with one Hell of an ear-wormy chant. Or Kaijko, which goes more subdued with its drumming and samples, but, mang', that rubbery acid! Sunset gets all operatic on our asses, while Might & Magic rips out one of the most infectious basslines you'll ever hear from the prog-psy camps (really, it's creeping up to full-on territory). Elsewhere, Jävla Sladdar adds a little guitar shredding to the fray, and Freedom opts for a bouncy, world-beat jig, plus a standard dubby closing cut in Floating Feeling. Really, the only two duds are Guitar Session and Medieval, for having a hand at the tropes that made prog-psy more a chore to get through back then (plodding minimalism, triplets, etc.).

Etnoscope music is rare enough as it is, so considering Way Over Deadline is still available at Ektoplazm, there's no excuse for prog-psy fans to ignore this. And who knows, now that's it's been another seven years since their last album, maybe we'll get another LP from them soon. One can hope.

ACE TRACKS: July 2017

Hey look, another month where I broke the 'twenty reviews' mark. That sure don't happen as often anymore, does it. I'm surprised I hit that mark at all, though perhaps I was eager to get at a few of the items in the queue, CDs with plenty o' talking points swirling at the floodgates of my... whatever it is that sends words from my brain to the fingers typing it all out. Is it an ether that does it? Like, some mystical fifth element that makes my words manifest in such a way that they penetrate your eyeholes, imprinting themselves in your memory membranes. No, really, think about that for a moment – it's practically magic that we can do that, man! At least, until we evolve antennae, where bio-chemical communications will render this clumsy electronic method moot.

Actually, another reason for getting more writing done is I've had less distractions this past month, the most significant of which is brushing off the ol' Hot Shots Golf 3 game again. Man, is that ever a time-warp of pop culture interests, what with playable characters such as the Aussie animal ranger, the Chinese martial artist, the mobsters, the John Daly clone, and all those Matrix clones. 2002 was weird. No music from that year in this playlist of ACE TRACKS, though.



MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - Waveform Transmissions (Volume One)
Various - Wave Forum
Various - The Wandering II Compilation
Refracted - Through The Spirit Realm
Various - Techno Explosion
Jiri.Ceiver - Head.Phon

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 13%
Percentage Of Rock: 5%
Most “WTF?” Track: You cannot deny hearing Mo-Do will turn your head unlike any other tune here.

Moar! reviews means bigger playlists, and Moar! diversity! Well, not a whole lot – ain't no '70s stuff on here. Still, added a couple more '80s albums to the archives, which is always nice because I seriously lack material released that decade. It's those 'greatest hits' packages, see;always gumming up the accuracy of Year Tags.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Various - Waveform Transmissions (Volume One)

Waveform Records: 2007

Considering how successful their initial run of compilations was, it's surprising Waveform Records hasn't returned to that well more often. Even when it appeared they'd struck upon another winner in the Voodoo Roux series, it was kitbashed after but two volumes. A couple one-shots later, and it looked the label was ready to launch a whole new series dubbed (heh) Waveform Transmissions. Hey, that word is in their long-standing tagline of “Another Important Transmission From Waveform”, existing as long as their charming Web 1.0 homepage. Maybe it would tie into their Starstreams radio show too, a yearly retrospective of their never-ending search for “exotic electronica”. We never got much of a chance to find out though, this series lasting only three volumes before it too went by the wayside after 2010. Although, if trends hold true, we could see a fourth volume sometime soon, like we did a Four A.D. seven years after Three A.D. dropped! Yeah, well, maybe not.

As I be telling truths, y'all, I must level that I was initially rather disappointed in this CD, for two totally stupid reasons. One, I was not impressed with the packaging, coming off cartoony and goofy compared to Waveform's usual fare. But judge not what lays within, young scribe, by which adorns yonder face. OK, fine, but problem two arose upon glancing at the tracklist: I already have these tracks, a whole... um, two out of ten. Trouble was Pitch Black[nz] and Phutureprimitive were so thoroughly imprinted on my music membranes that hearing Lost In Translation and Darkness again felt redundant. And it didn't help that the remaining tunes, though decent examples of dubby psychedelic chill, didn't reach the same levels of dopeness as those two cuts.

But hey, as I've said, a good compilation lures you in with a couple recognizable names, all the while exposing new, unfamiliar acts in the process. Waveform Transmissions Volume One definitely does that, although I can't say I'm in hurry to check out further material from Dymons, Flooting Grooves, or Potlatch. Heck, I couldn't even scope out extra music from Warp Factor, on account Lord Discogs lists this as their lone contribution to music ever. As mentioned, it's all perfectly acceptable takes only worldly psy-beat dub-hop, but little that stands out from the pack either.

A few notable names do though. Capsula, who'd get an album deal with Waveform, does the rubbery psy-dub thing that makes him a comfy comparable to Phutureprimitive's Darkness on here, Xerxes' Inhale gets more on that meditation mojo with breathy downbeat in support. The highly prolific Master Margherita gives us a throwback ambient dub outing in O Sole Mio/Sunset, a nice nod to Waveform's roots (heh). And International Observer goes full-on reggae dub on The International, which in of itself isn't remarkable, except that it's a side-project of Tom Bailey. You might know him as a member of new wavers Thompson Twins. Wow, going from that to reggae dub in the span of twenty-five years. Wonders never cease.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Various - Wave Forum

Wave Recordings: 1996

Pretty clear why I got this. Still, obviously I knew this couldn't be a CD from Waveform Records – if anything the big 'Virgin Import' sticker was enough of a clue. Yet while word association's a powerful thing, even that pales compared to packaging, the CD coming in one of the the strangest jewel cases I've ever seen. A shade of... navy blue? Duke blue? Ultramarine? Zaffre? One of those, according to Wiki's 'shades of blue' chart. Add to that an inner casing coloured a hot neon yellow, and there's no way you're missing that packaging popping out at you on the shelves.

Apparently Wave Recordings went to bat for their vinyl releases too, each record painted in marble-blue. Top that off with half-page magazine ads in Very Important UK dance magazines, and you've one aggressive marketing campaign, one that must have miserably failed, as very few Discogian folk have any Wave Recordings' releases in their collections; Wave Forum has less than a half-dozen owners, yours truly included. Top that all off with a mere four items listed in their catalogue, and I wonder if all that fancy marketing somehow bankrupted the label, folding almost as soon as they launched.

The truly tragic thing about all this is the music Wave Recordings peddled, skint though it was, wasn't half bad. Make no mistake, throwing one's fortunes into a bloated trip-hop scene was practically doomed from the start, especially when leading with such no name acts like Cherry Orchard and Wintermute (they're from Bristol too!). Damn though, if Cherry Orchard's No More Nightmares doesn't get to me, what with Deborah Kimberley's 'broken-waif' vocals of feeling lost in her “slumberland” over a steady languid rhythm with slowly escalating acid. Wait, 303 tweakage in a trip-hop song? Sure, I'll go with that, and Wintermute's Black Box gets in on that action too, though it's clear they're aping Tricky in their heroin-paranoia poetry.

It's not all complete unknowns on Wave Forum, though we're definitely in ultra-obscure territory here. Kapta had a micro-hit italo-house single in Shine On, given a trip-hop rub on here. Rama 1, an alias of Caroline Abbey, also had a house non-hit on Cleveland City Records (based in Wolverhampton, West Midlands) called C'est La Vie, given a world-beat reworking here. Cannot deny those sweeping strings and emphatic gospel chorus at the end do rouse the cheese-ball joy out of my cockles, as only Rollo often does. There's a little loose trance on here too, Gravity Wheel another of the very few acts to get the marble-vinyl treatment with Wave Recordings. Tears In The Rain and Mistral are chipper, acidy little numbers, the latter even appearing on one of Rumour Records' Goa Trance collections after the duo signed to Distance. Not long for Wave Recordings, they were.

Wave Forum won't convince you this label was some unjustly ignored print, but it is worth a listen should you stumble upon it. Considering the open-market price for this CD, it can't be that rare.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Various - Water

Altar Records: 2009

Hey, remember Altar Records' Elements series? I reviewed nearly every single one of them (including the 'hidden' sixth element) only, what, two or three years ago now? Eh, I could simply check my archives to verify? Oh, man, that was over five-hundred reviews ago – who has time to sift through that much backlog! Though I'm almost certain, should I skim them over, I'd find a hi-lar-ious claim that y'all wouldn't have to wait too long for Water's review, maybe even a ridiculously optimistic prediction of later that year.

Another thing I should probably do is go back to the other Elements CDs (Air, Earth, Fire & Ether) for a quick refresher in this series' development, but why bother? I have to admit, when I first got the collection, Water didn't stick with me on my initial run of each volume. Not because it lacked dope tunes or anything, but because I knew the other four (plus one!) would require my immediate focus for review, thus letting this one slip by the wayside. Now, with it finally up to the mic' with its chance to shine, Water gets all the solo glory it deserves, none of its elemental siblings crowding it out of the spotlight. At least, I'm assuming that's how I've approached this, because I honestly don't recall Water being this good when I got it way back when. Did I even listen to it before?

Like, the first track is Marianna Falls from Asura, with Charles Farewell executing at his Asuraian best. The languid pace, the spacious sounds, the sense of uplifting cinematic grace... holy cow, how did this song not make the cut on his 360 album the year after? And speaking of Ultimae alum', Aes Dana is here too with Cyan, doing that steady-paced prog-psy thing he often does so well. Androcell also shows up for a rather Balearic bit of psy-dub in Seahorse Dreams, which makes sense given the marine theme of this compilation. Man With No Name's oldie Sugar Rush is also given a lush reworking from a Kanc Cover, more known as Opsy around the time this came out.

But hey, enough about the outside talent, what of the Altar roster, how do they stack up? Pretty good for the most part. Chronos does a widescreen psy-chill thing in Planetarium, AstroPilot ups the pace to prog-psy's chugging domain in Voda, DJ Zen offers up a lengthy goa-breaks-psy-world-chill-trance remix on Zymosis' God Is Mine (it's so long, he kinda' throws everything into the pot), and RA brings Water to a close with a pleasant enough psy-chill cut in Creation Of Tefnet.

If there's any complaint to be had with Water, it's that the elemental theme is only loosely followed upon throughout. Perhaps this collection of tunes have a more 'flowing' feel about them compared to the other Elements, but that's about it. Really, Water is just another solid CD of music from Altar's formative years, which ain't no bad thing at all.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mo-Do - Was Ist Das?

ZYX Music: 1995

It's remarkable that I should know of Mo-Do at all. Not in any post-eurodance, “haha, irony” sense, but when the act was fresh and new, their single Eins, Zwei, Polizei invading European clubs and compilations to such a degree, it breached Canadian shores too. Certainly many eurodance acts made it here, but they always had one thing going for them making it possible: their music was in English. Much like italo disco before it, the native language of the British Isles was somehow decided upon as the de facto tongue of dance club commercial success in Europe, helping it find a foothold across the Atlantic too. Songs sung in Spanish or Swedish or Swissish likely found success in their homelands, but no way they were gonna' make any bank in Canada, nosiree.

Then along comes an Italian pairing of Fabio Frittelli and Claudio Zennaro, the latter of which eking out a tidy career making house and trance as Einstein Doctor DJ. That Fabio fella' though, he had a good look to him, his Austrian heritage lending itself as a natural front-man for modelling or movies or music. He'd even dipped his toes in a couple rock bands, but found dance music more his calling. Hooking up with one Sergio Portaluri led to a couple singles as F&F, though these didn't attract much attention, pretty much standard English-singing eurodance of the day. Sergio co-produced some music with Claudio though, and when Mr. Zennaro was introduced to Mr. Frittelli, they felt enough musical chemistry to try again, only with a different angle: go full Germanic on clubland. Claudio was already making trance with a German bent, and Fabio felt Teutonic speech suited his voice better than English (or, heaven forbid, ragga!).

The result was Eins, Zwei, Polizei, a tune that celebrated the succinct punch of the German language, wrapped up in an earwormy minor-key melody straight out of the German trance book. Despite the absolute glut of eurodance in 1994, it was enough of a unique angle that it propelled Mo-Do to the top of the charts across Europe. Other German producers had hits, but none so wonderfully captured the Teutonic charms of their dance music. And all it took was a couple Italians to get there. Hey, an Italy and Germany allaiance found a way to conquer Europe after all!

The following album, Was Ist Das?, is about as you'd expect from eurodance of the time. A couple follow-up singles recycle the same formula that made the first such a success (Gema Tanzen, Super Gut), Hallo, Mo-Do does that Stadium House thing Scooter would make bank off, and Liebes Tango offers up a tune with a little English in it. There's also the requisite ballad (Fur Dich, My Love), plus a couple attempts at 'artsy' music (Hamlet, Das Konzert). They're fine in spicing the album up, but yeah, you're here for those tasty minor-key melodies and catchy German phrases, even if you're mangling them into 'engrish' as you sing along. Mmm, 'salty cakes'...

Ice Cube - War & Peace Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc)

Priority Records: 1998

I feel the second volume of Ice Cube's War & Peace duo-album concept was better received than the first, as everyone finally accepted where Mr. Jackson was in his life. Sure, it'd be dope as all Hell if he came out with some fiery social commentary about The State Of The 'Hood, but after so much financial success, was he really the man for the task anymore? By the turn of the century, a lot of elder statesmen of rap were getting well paid, and couldn't realistically keep talking about 'ghetto shit' as a lived experience. Offer insight and commentary, sure, and perhaps provide helpful guidance to the young bucks coming up (but don't y'all think you can dethrone the G.O.A.T.s without a fight, no sir). If you wanted the serious conscious stuff though, there were other acts providing it, and Cube was more interested in maintaining a brand for himself than dropping heavy with the lyrical political.

Thus when he let it be known that The Peace Disc was going to be of a much lighter fare than anything he'd done in the past, folks were at least ready for it. Willing, that's another matter, many old Cube fans all but disowning the product sight-unheard, especially after the dismal reactions to The War Disc. On the other hand, It Was Good Day remained one of Cube's longest, endearing tunes, and he'd shown a somewhat friendlier side in his Friday movies. If anything, the aggro-gangsta posturing of The War Disc came off more disingenuous compared to club-ready singles like We Be Clubbin' and You Can Do It. Considering I heard the latter in even back-water 'clubs' of B.C. hinterland haunts, I'd say he succeeded in providing something fun.

And the bump-n-grind don't stop there, tracks like Can You Bounce? featuring a gnarly bassline, Gotta Be Insanity featuring the vintage P-funk, Waitin' Ta Hate featuring the vintage trunk-thump, and You Ain't Gotta Lie featuring Chris Rock dropping a bunch of hilarious brags. Elsewhere, Cube reunites with Dr. Dre and MC Ren for a little N.W.A. gangsta reflection, while hinting at a possible reunion (which they did do, but with Snoop Dogg filling in for the deceased Eazy-E). He also drops some knowledge on shady label businesses (Record Company Pimpin'), and offers an uplifting outlook for the youth with Krayzie Bone in Until We Rich. Plus a bunch of the usual gangsta crowing and hater grips scattered throughout, but who cares about those.

Frankly, beyond just being completely honest in its intents, what makes The Peace Disc better than The War Disc is the production. Vol. 1 somehow felt cheap and plastic as a lot of late '90s hip-hop does, but in Vol. 2, the beats bounce harder, the hooks land sharper, and the funk flows freer. Even the guest spots are of higher calibre (because who really gave a shit about Mr. Short Khop?). As a trifle hour of escapism then, War & Peace Vol. 2 succeeds, but that's all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ice Cube - War & Peace Vol. 1 (The War Disc)

Priority Records: 1998

The first Ice Cube record many white metal fans bought, because they sure as Hell didn't know any better. Check it though, that scowling rapper guy, he's on the Family Values Tour, performing with nu-metal bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Orgy, and weird, angry Germans. They might have even recalled him from other stuff, like movies (Friday, Anaconda, that one about black youths in South Central), and something called Westside Connection where he sampled a Nine Inch Nails song. After pairing up with Korn though, folks well outside Ice-C's traditional scene were finally taking notice of his music output. And a good thing too, because by this point, many in hip-hop circles were writing Cube off as having lost the socially-conscious spitfire of his early work in lieu of lucrative movies and rock tours. War & Peace Vol. 1 all but cemented such notions.

Westside Connection did keep some embers glowing, proving Cube could still throw down lyrical beatdowns with the best of them. However, Common released a crushing dis' in The Bitch In Yoo, plus The Nation Of Islam forced various hip-hop groups to a peace summit so no more senseless deaths would arise from their beefs. It clearly sawed Cube's teeth off, changing focus to take on 'made-man' rap as the Don Mega. He's the king of his West Coast Mountain, yo', running these clubs and gangsta concerns, and like Hell he's gonna' relinquish that throne without a fight. Fine and all, such topics inspiring many rappers to be the best at their game. Trouble is, fewer hip-hop heads were buying it, seeing less of the 'hood narrator Ice Cube, and more O'Shea Jackson, business man and Hollywood actor. 'Don Mega' was just another mogul character, one that was quite played out by '98 in the hip-hop world (see: Puff Daddy, Master P, etc.), and definitely not one fans of older Cube cared to turn to for some social commentary. But hey, it's fun headbanging to crunchy guitars in Fuck Dying, amirite?

Another problem stems from production. There's the aforementioned rock-fusion, including Limos, Demos & Bimbos riffing on The Police's Behind My Camel I think (because sampling 'Sting' was cool). Much of The War Disc consists of Southern rap producers though, including N.O. Joe, E-A-Ski (notable for his work on early No Limit Records – Master P even cameos), and Bud'da, plus Cube on a few cuts himself. It's all got high-grade studio polish, but aside from a couple riffs and basslines, sounds like generic gangsta funk to my ears.

That all said, Cube does remain charismatic throughout, even when rapping about cliche topics. And when he does unleash some captivating narratives, such as the reflective Ghetto Vet, or nuttiness of Once Upon A Time In The Projects 2, it shows he could still tangle with hip-hop's best. Just a shame he so often settled for mediocrity here – good enough for all those metal kids checking him out for the first time, though.

U2 - War

Island Records: 1983

War, hah! What's it good for? Giving a budding Irish band the proper break-out they needed, is what. They'd already made oscillations in new wave circles with their debut Boy and follow-up October, but it was their third album that we hear the germination of what most consider the definitive U2 stylee. Arena rock anthems, political issues... um, wait, something's missing here. Oh yeah, that Eno touch. Right, the true definitive, universally adored sound of U2 didn't manifest itself until subsequent albums, but there's a contingent of O.G. U2 fan-Zs that claim Brian and Daniel Lanois ruined what had been a promising raw alternative rock band. That, if you want to experience Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Mullen (the cute one!) at their honest, roughest best... you should probably go with Boy.

But hey, War was still a Steve Lillywhite produced album, so not quite as arty as Eno would go; besides, they'd already tried that with October. War instead finds the band returning to a purer rock approach – it was only appropriate for such a heavy, politically-driven topic, getting their music into the knit and grit of conflict and the aftermath's ugliness. Plus, just in case you figured they might be going for something more abstract or glorified in selling the notion of war, they used a similarly posed photo of Peter Rowen on the cover, except now replacing the innocent boy of Boy with a stern, aged glower, suggesting the human cost of senseless struggle.

The band doesn't pull its punches either, opening the album with the strident, military march of Sunday Bloody Sunday, a song about the Bogside Massacre, where over a dozen civilian Irish protesters were killed by British soldiers, many more injured. Add in a wailing violin and Bono's harrowing cries of “I can't close my eyes; And make it go away”, and you've a song that definitely sticks in your memory.

It's the lead single though, New Year's Day, that really gave U2 their distinct panache for arena rock. That instantly memorable piano line, the propulsive bass, the jangly guitar work, and Bono's wailing – you can't think of U2 without thinking of this song, even if you don't realize it's from the War album. I sure didn't, the echo, reverb, and polished production having me think it latter-'80s U2 for the longest time.

A criticism often levied upon War is that the remaining eight songs don't reach the same highs as Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year's Day, especially dragging in the back-half. Can't deny that, though they're by no means weak songs either. Two Hearts Beat As One and Like A Song... are strong rockers, Drowning Man features more soul-tugging violin work, The Refugee sounds like something The Police might have wrote, and Surrender climbs close to the same lofty peaks of New Year's Day. It all makes for a strong rock album, but if you come to U2 for their artistic dalliances, perhaps a little one-note overall.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Various - The Wandering II Compilation (Part 2)

Silent Season: 2015

A sorting glitch after downloading from Bandcamp? Silent Season intentionally making digital and physical versions different from one another? A higher power sating my strange alphabetical obsessions? Whatever the case, the track sequencing between the MP3 and CD copies of The Wandering II is vastly different. Whereas the latter stylistically spreads the music out across three discs, the former arranges everything per artist, going from A.P through ASC to Ethernet, Kanthor, Michal Wolski, Segue, all the way to Yuka. And while I'm all for such organization in spicing up a playlist as staged randomness, it doesn't work so well in this case.

The chaps at Silent Season spent a full year in collecting, curating, and crafting this triple-compilation, such that each track had its proper placement on CDs. Playing it out by Artist totally messes that up, and while Silent Season promotes a generally narrow aesthetic range of dub ambient and techno, my digital version still made for some strange transitions. That ten-minute long dark drone of Sonitus Eco's Frost works as a second track on an ambient-heavy CD, but playing out at the forth-to-last position with a few rhythmic tracks following was jarring to say the least.

Whatever, it's just a quirk, one I'm certain Silent Season didn't intend. Nay, the 'proper' way of hearing The Wandering II is per the CDs themselves. I mean, the opening half of CD1 prominently features ambient, and doesn't really return to that style anywhere else. You get a couple different flavors of it too, from the aforementioned drone, to some blissy pad work (Legiac's Jefre Tropod) or ominious field recordings (Birds Of Prey's The Surface, Kanthor's Hegemony). By track six, we finally start hearing intermittent rhythms, some more of a microfunk thing (A.P's Interdimensional 2.0, Aesthes' Amphibians), others doing the soft, minimalist dub techno throb (Inanitas' Tuesday Evening, Ethernet's Reminiscence). Overall a typical warm-up disc for Silent Seasons' preferences.

CD2 is where I get the most bang for my buck though – there be trance here! Right right, it's not trance as you or him or her or they or Them or It might call it. Archist's Photosensitive has a tribal rhythm with soft pads ebbing and flowing throughout. Hidden Element's Edge Off and Michal Wolski's Lunyata provide a nicely thumping dub techno pulse to distant synth melodies. Hydrangea's Ananké works a slow-n-steady techno beat as widescreen pads fill a wide range of timbre. Alfredo Mazzilli's Continuando a Sognare and Tdel's Deep Field sound like they could have been chill cuts on an old Eye Q collection. See, trance!

If all that sounds too uplifting and melodic for you, CD3 goes about as de-e-e-eep into dub techno's domain as you'll ever likely hear. There's occasional touches of pad work (As If's Nærvær, Warmth's Altitude), but yeah, this is a rather clinical disc compared to the other two. Still, Mr. Zu's Retaw takes us out with some vintage ambient techno-dub, which is only appropriate for a massive collection such as The Wandering II.

Various - The Wandering II Compilation (Part 1)

Silent Season: 2015

It's a rare event when Silent Season releases a compilation, their first coming three years after the label launched. Following that initial Wandering CD, they put out a white-label collection called Full Circle, then sat fallow on the format for five years. Not really sure why that is, as they seem to have enough contacts in dub ambient and techno circles to warrant a few favours phoned in for contributions. And while it's lovely and all having spiffy albums and pleasing EPs available, the compilation has long been the preferred format in promoting one's manifesto, a sampler of artists and genres a label wishes to support by luring in the curious passerby. Then again, Silent Season is the sort of print that's long been able to sell itself almost entirely by word-of-mouth, the quality of their releases readily reaching the ears of dedicated disciples of dubbed-out music. Making compilations for the pure purpose of promotion would be a redundant venture, and likely a time consuming effort for a label that prides itself on its minimalist aesthetic.

Nay, better to save the format for celebratory events, which is what Silent Season done did in finally releasing a second volume of The Wandering in 2015. The occasion of note with this item is it marking the label's twentieth release, a feat that... doesn't quite add up when I look over their discography with The Lord That Knows All. Mind, Lord Discogs' cataloguing isn't an exact science, some albums appearing twice under different formats, so I guess I'll have to take it under faith that Silent Season is being on the level in claiming The Wandering II marks their double-ten triumph. I mean, that Dubpression Remix digital release from Rasmus Hedlund was just half a release anyway, right?

And just in case you felt this label's been far too skint in offering compilation options over the years, Silent Season didn't hold back on this one, going with a gargantuan 3CD extravaganza, inviting familiar artists from their past for a dub techno party. ASC is here! Segue is here! Inanitas is here! Mon0 is here! Tdel is here! Yuka is here! Um... is that it? No Vitalis Popoff? Or Shaded Explorer? Mind Over MIDI? Martin Nonstatic? Edanticonf? Refracted? Faru? Purl? Bueller?

Well hey, as I said before, a good compilation should expose you to new and unknown names, and The Wandering II definitely does that for yours truly. While there's a few artists here that I think I've come across in the past (Brando Lupi, Archivist, As If, Slownoise), most of these I'm dealing with for the first time. And since I've clearly almost used up my self-imposed word count now, I'll spend a second part detailing the musical particulars of this release – oh yes, it ain't just twenty-eight tracks of droning dub techno. I'll finish this one off by mentioning the track sequencing of The Wandering II is... odd, artists arranged in alphabetical order. Who even does such a thing? *cough*

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ashtech - Walkin' Target (Original TC Review)

Interchill Records: 2007

(2017 Update:
Ten years ago, almost to the day, this item dropped, and aside from Meditronica in 2009, nothing since - not even a contributing credit under his real name of Andrea Nicoletti. I know Lord Discogs doesn't have *all* the information out there, but surely it'd have something like added bass licks or keyboard jams to a project elsewhere. Yet checking out Ashtech's website now leads to a laser cutting company. It all strikes me as odd, considering the aggressive PR campaign Ashtech had when he was making his still active. I mean, for such a scant discography currently to his name, dude's got quite the Wiki written up. Anyone know what's up with that?

Walkin' Target has gradually grown better to my ears over the years (decade!). True, it's still not doing much different with reggae-dub and dancehall that you can't hear elsewhere, but it does it so well, I don't give a care. Maybe it's that I haven't heard many other albums of this sort in all that time, due to my lackadaisical efforts exploring this genre deeper beyond its shores. Then again, every time I throw this album on, folks within earshot always get their bop on when hearing Essential Credential, so that must mean ol' Ash' and Gaudi were onto something "natural universal" here.)


IN BRIEF: Ready on d’em roots, aigh’t?

The British must feel an eternal bond to Jamaica since the colonial period; it has to be the reason several UK youth are constantly inspired by the Caribbean island’s music. Roots, reggae, dub, and everything in between is as much a fixture with England’s potheads as grime is with the slums of London. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that many Jamaican immigrants bring their musical philosophies with them; one love between two island nations... or such.

Despite being Italian of origin before settling in London, Mr. Andrea Nicoletti – Ashtech - has felt this influence no less; chalk it up to his bass playing background - when you feel ‘d’em riddims’, the bass-heavy production of dub beckons. Long a collaborator, this is the first time he’s taken center-stage on a full-length, and he doesn’t hold back on exploring what roots music has to offer. >bR?
...such to the point he almost falls into the trap of merely copying it rather than providing his own spin. If you’ve casual knowledge of this music, you’ll find there isn’t much stylistically unique on Walkin’ Target. Ashtech honors the foundation pioneers like King Tubby laid out all those decades ago, so if this has never held much appeal for you, then it’s doubtful his album will change your mind.

Also, as this is very groove-orientated music, the direction of a given track is typically found in the sub-bass frequencies. As a result, those without the speakers to bring out the full dynamics of the lower end of the sonic realm (I’m looking at you, iPod generation) will be missing out. That extra layer of sound can vastly change your perspective of a given song here: where a run-of-the-mill roots tune will sound ordinary on ol’ laptop speakers, suddenly there’s something rather special going on once powerful sub-whoofers show just how intuitive that bassline really is.

Hmm, two nitpicks right out of the gate. Am I going to say anything nice at all about Walkin’ Target then? Absolutely, but I know you people can be fickle when it comes to dub, so best I clearly establish the generalizations before I get to the particulars, eh?

So... the particulars.

This is as fine a collection of dub as you’ll find these days. Already mentioned are the basslines, which grumble and growl in many cuts, but let us not forget about all the effects that come with the package. Cavernous reverb, endless streams of decay, stuttery echoes: all accounted for and present, with none sounding superfluous or overdone (an all too common side-effect from too much reefer indulgence with other acts). And while Walkin’ Target is mostly Ashtech’s show, the presence of long-time dub producer Gaudi in the studio with him definitely aids in getting the most out of all the production tricks the genre’s been known for. Even if the roots of the music are over-familiar, there are plenty of unique twists and turns provided to keep the attentive entertained.

And Ashtech does dabble in many variations too. There’s bouncy dub (Beat Da Drum, Gringo , Mahayana), darker ambient excursions (Buzz Dub, R.E.M.), grimier cuts borrowing from London’s dubstep scene (While The Music Plays, DNA), and traditional reggae styles (Sun Shines On You, Essential Credential). Even hip-hop and techno get an influential nod (Individuality and Plain Speaking, respectively).

As good as many as these are though, it’s when Cheshire Cat lends his talents to a track that things are taken up a notch on this album. You may recognize him as the guy releasing pressure or chanting about poor men on Leftfield tunes. While most of his toasting here is in support of Ashtech’s tracks, they add that extra bit of quirky roots vitality which is utterly infectious.

Except for the title track itself, where the Cat completely steals the show. Mind, that’s kind of the point, as he tells a harrowing story of inner-city strife: the death of a young man trying to make it big, dying for his troubles, and the anguish felt by his mother as a result. Ashtech wisely produces a backing track to complement the tale, and is the clear highlight of Walkin’ Target.

I suppose there’s little more to say here, as this release really does speak for itself. Revolutionary? Not really. Niche specific? Yeah, pretty much. Good nonetheless? Damn skippy, hippie! If Ashtech displays this much skill in honoring the past, one can only wonder what his future will hold.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

King Midas Sound - Waiting For You...

Hyperdub: 2009

Stupid of me sleeping on this when it first came out. I was fiending for more material from Kevin Martin after London Zoo, ready to hear any and all music The Bug had to offer. But not enough to follow developments in his other projects apparently, King Midas Sound making their debut in a flash before receding from the limelight again. Part of that was due to timing, Waiting For You... coming out at the tail-end of 2009, when I was burnt out keeping an ear to the pulse of electronic music for review purposes.

It's also a case of the group almost deliberately eschewing much media marketing, doing a few requisite interviews and tours, but not much else. Even Mr. Martin seemed hesitant in letting folks know that The Bug had a second project called King Midas Sound, one gestating in the background almost as long as his work for London Zoo had been in progress. Waiting For You... went so overlooked, there's no review for it at Resident Advisor, though one for lead-up single Dub Heavy Hearts And Ghosts, plus follow-up remix LP Without You. Still, that makes me more hip than RA now, right?

We did all finally catch up to this conglomerate of Kevin Martin, singer/crooner/spoken-worder Roger Robinson, and singer/artist Kiki Hitomi. It was a slow burn, which makes sense as Waiting For You... has a feeling of needing lengthy time and many play-throughs to simmer into your soul. Those coming into it expecting more of Mr. Martin's crushing bass assaults won't find that here, though the bottom-end is dutifully represented throughout. Plenty of that trip-hoppin' dub action too, utilized in such a manner that it creates a wall of white noise where Mr. Robinson's vocals ride along, like surfing waves of mile-high sound. Other times he's completely enveloped by the layers of timbre, his voice just another instrument to- wait, I've already typed such a description before, haven't I, when I reviewed the Fennesz collaboration Edition 1. Darn it, it's such a good description though.

What's interesting is that Roger wasn't really known for a soulful croon prior to his team-up with Kevin, his prior performance experience mostly poetry over a rhythm. And there are a few tracks that go that route on this album too, such as the punchy, minimalist (and super-preachy) Earth A Killya, and the interlude Sumtime. Elsewhere he edges closer to a dancehall cadence (I Man), but by and large he carries a song with his soft croon. And he'd never done anything like it before! He figured he'd carry on doing the spoken-word stuff, but when Kevin persisted in hearing him sing a little, he realized that was what would make King Midas Sound stand out as something unique in the UK's urban scene. Throw in a few spacey additions from Kiki (Outer Space really does live up to its name), plus a couple dubbed-out instrumentals for good measure, and voila, Waiting For You..., a neo-soul album like few others.

Wu-Tang Clan - The W

Loud Records: 2000

The first proper Wu-Tang Clan album I bought for myself, and not a bad one at that, but I can already hear the “tut-tut”ing from long time disciples. Why not get Enter 36 Chambers first, as you're supposed to do even if you're not a fan or the Wu-Tang Clan? Well, as the first Wu record I ever bought was The RZA Hits, it felt redundant springing for another record that had nearly half the same tracks on it (I was stupid for thinking that). Second, The W came out the following year I fell sway to the charms of hip-hop, so it was only logical I scoped that shit out post-haste, my honeymoon glow still preventing any sense of critical consideration.

The W has gone on to be one of the Clan's most difficult albums to talk about, in that it seems everyone has utterly conflicting feelings about it. They love that it's pared down to an easily digestible hour-long effort, yet surely the group had more to offer than just this? It's nifty hearing guest spots from other prominent rappers, but aren't they taking the limelight away from all the talent already within the group itself? All Clan members sound matured, sharp and on point, with even some of the weaker members finally coming into their own as lyricists, but have lost that spitting Hell-fire of their debut in the process. How great it is to hear the Wu over RZA beats for a full album (save a lone Mathematics cut), but only around half the tracks are actually memorable. Let's detail couple now!

Chamber Music: urgent strings with crackly samples. Careful (Click, Click): herky-jerky, sample-snapping, creepy woodwinds; definitely feels like you're in a claustrophobic gun-toting, warzone. Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off): bouncy, loopy, with a great key-change mid-track, ruined by a lame U-God brag verse. Gravel Pit: even bouncier, a track totally aimed for the club, but at least RZA freely admits its intents, so it's a lot of fun (looks like they had fun playing cavemen in the video too). Then there are weaker cuts, like the endlessly looping soul sample from Hollow Bones, and the plodding *thump-thump clap-clap* of One Blood Under W with Junior Reed. Ah well, the famed dancehall toaster gets a better track to close the album out on with the mournful Jah World. Speaking of guests, Snoop Dogg inexplicably appears with ODB in Conditioner with a bog-standard 'pimpz & hoes' verse. Okay, that's not accurate, the Dirt Dawg recording through a jail phone booth, hence the low-grade quality. I guess RZA realized there wasn't enough material there for a track, but Year 2000 Snoop's the last person up to the task of pinch-hitting for the Wu.

Okay, enough gripes. I do enjoy more than dislike stuff on The W, even if it comes off like much of the Clan's best material was now behind them. Then again, some of Method Man's lyrics in hidden track Clap have forever stuck with me. I don't know why.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

EDM Weekly World News, July 2017

Tired of 'fake news' from the lame-stream EDM media? Dejected they never dig deep into the darkest, dank dungeons of Detroit's dons for 'unpresidented' discoveries? Time to return to that always reliable source of unreliable gossip, the EDM Weekly World News, released semi-seasonal as always!


Sadly, we couldn't find out who the new vocalist for The Timelords is going to be before going to print. Rumor has it being Linda Ronstadt.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Refracted - Through The Spirit Realm

Silent Season: 2015

Eh? What's this? I'm still hearing the theme to It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia playing? But... I already made my excuses in the review of Lingua Lustra's Source, a perfectly valid reason for 'springing' on a digital version of a release despite my steadfast mandate that I'll always go hard copy over digital: I initially got it for as a free download, then picked up the CD in a bulk deal from the label. See, perfectly legit. I've remained honest and true in my proclamation of never buying digital if a physical option remains. *Always Sunny In Philadelphia plays, now with title “Sykonee Buys A Digital Version Of A Vinyl Release”*

Oh, fine, 'tis true I caved on this one, but Silent Season is so good at twisting my rubber arm, don't you know. They actually sent out a Bandcamp discount through email, so I figured where's the harm in indulging one of their releases that came out in a physical medium I know I'll never buy. I mean, there's always the ultra-slim chance I might find one of their earlier CDs at a 'reasonable' price on the open market (haha, ha), but vinyl? Oh, Hell no! I don't dare start on the Black Crack addiction. Then again, I caved on my 'never digital' stance in this particular instance – who's to say I won't some day break to vinyl's ever-seductive gleam, its promises of audio fidelity grand and pure... NO! Must... resist...

Refracted is Alex Moya, a relative newcomer to the world of techno. He made his vinyl debut with Silent Season, on the 2013 EP Along A Ghostly Trail, following on that a couple years later with a debut album in Through The Spirit Realm. For some reason, it didn't click for me this was an LP (or 2x12”), figuring I'd simply be getting a single as most records from Silent Season go. It's rather pricey of the fiercely independent print to press wax of this sort, is what I'm saying. But yeah, five tracks hovering around the seven minute mark, an experimental shorty about three-and-a-half, and a ten-plus minute closer - I'd say this constitutes a proper LP.

As we're dealing with Silent Season, you bet the style of techno Mr. Moya brings us is deep, dubby, and filled with field recordings. It's also remarkably tribal, tracks like We Arrive, The Ritual Begins, and the titular cut getting my Psychik Warriors Ov Gaia triggers going. Right, it's not exactly like the PWoG we all know and love – none of that renegade grit in this mixdown – but the techno-kraft is close enough for me to dig it. The two tracks that bookend Through The Spirit Realm are more on that ambient trip though, which is fine if you like your subtle lush pads flush with sounds of the jungle and approaching thunderstorms. Still feels weird trading such rainforest fauna from that which Silent Season's more known for. Unless you wander the Amazon exhibit in the Vancouver Aquarium anyway.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Earth Nation - Terra Incognita

Eye Q Records: 1995

No one disputes Sven Väth was the Head of Eye Q and Harthouse, the face and brains, if you will. Several producers were easily the Muscle, acts that helped build the label into one of the seminal powerhouses of techno and trance coming out of Germany (Oliver Lieb, Hardfloor, Alter Ego, Resistance D, Vernon, Energy 52). One man, however, was unquestionably the Soul, always lurking in the studio away from fame and glory. Who's influence not only helped refine Sven's approach to dance music, but left an undeniable, lasting imprint on how we remember those Eye Q and Harthouse records to this day: Ralf Hildenbeutel. Not only was he behind some of their most successful singles (L'Esperanza, Superstring, My Name Is Barbarella, Desire, Firedance), but his songcraft gave many tracks a charming, retro-futuristic stylee we so often associate with early trance. He never got as much due as he deserved, but its difficult thinking of Eye Q or Harthouse without thinking of Ralf.

He had many projects with both labels, but one seems to have slipped from general discourse compared to his other works: Earth Nation. I suppose part of it has to do with the rather generic name, not exactly the sexiest option when surrounded by stuff like Progressive Attack, Odyssee Of Noise, Icon, Summerbreeze, and Cygnus X. His partnership with guitarist Marcus Deml yielded a few albums though, this here Terra Incognita their second effort. It's also regarded as one of classic trance's last great LPs before the tsunami of Oakenfold changed everything.

Even here, it's clear Ralf and Marcus knew the trends were shifting, Terra Incognita almost devoid of the blistering Frankfurt pace of old. The fastest track on here, The Ikarus Syndrome, features a rhythm that's right out of the Underworld Banger playbook, all the while opening with a lengthy, sweeping, operatic build that could give Cream punters goosebumps. Later in the album, Green Sky Is Red has a nicely brisk pace of its own, though has more in common with goa trance of the mid-'90s than anything Germanic. Elsewhere, tracks Elucidate and The Artificial Dream get more of a proggy groove going, the former with a warm-up set vibe, the latter sounding not out of place in a peak-hour Sasha & Diggers set of the time. Really, the only 'pure' trance cut on Terra Incognita is the opener Way In, a loopy hypnotic number that has as much to do with Frankfurt techno as anything else.

Throw in a few ambient interludes, a requisite 'experimental' track in Transfiguration (breakbeats in goa!), a couple wind-down downtempo tracks towards the end, and you've a remarkably solid trance album for the year 1995, hardly dated at all. Why does this go so overlooked, then? It came out towards the end of Eye Q's run? The 'Earth Nation' handle just too easily bypassed? Not appearing on enough Very Important DJ mixes? Who knows anymore, but if you crave vintage trance, there's no reason for you to ignore this.

Various - Techno Explosion (The Other Stuff)

Jumpin' & Pumpin': 1997

Fifty techno 'giants' has to be among the most ridiculous claims I've seen in the copy of a compilation. What does that even mean? Giant hits? Stakker Humanoid certainly charted, but beyond the FSOL stuff, I don't recognize a single thing. No, check that, there is one song that did significant chart action long ago, Eleanor Rigby. It's practically the same tune too, with the string section and everything, only this time, 'Lonely People' (Chris & Tim Laws) add some generic rave beats and piano fills. Fortunately, that's the extent of trendwhoring 'updates', but nowhere near the end of bandwagon jumping 'techno' cuts.

Though this was released in '97, Techno Explosion doesn't reach much beyond '93, almost entirely sticking to the old school rave era. One track dips a toe slightly beyond that, '95's Burnin' Love from Dutch happy hardcore act Critical Mass, and sounding ridiculously out of place among all the hoover anthems and sampled Amen breaks. What, did Jumpin' & Pumpin' not have enough material culled from EarthBeat, Elicit, and Debut, needing to call in a favour from ID&T to hit that fifty mark?

So there's a lot of rave riffs, proto-jungle, piano anthems and the like throughout Techno Explosion, which probably sounds like heaven if you can't get enough of that era of music. Trust me though, you'll grow tired of it all after four discs worth of non-hits. A huge chunk consist of stitched-together loops of well-worn styles and tropes, few raising above the standard stock of the time. Whenever I heard a cut that sounded a little more polished and intuitive, that there was an musician behind the console and not some hasty hack job, turned out it was a track Dougans and Cobain had a hand in. Man, these guys really were far too good for this shit, weren't they?

Right, it's not all forgotten unknowns rounding out three-fourths of Techno Explosion. The Urban Shakedown posse (Aphrodite, Claudio Giussani) join up with Andy Chatterley for the one-off Prodigy knock-off Feel That Feelin' as T-Boom! Steve Mac, who had a proper 'giant' hit in Nomad's Devotion, appears with a multitude of aliases and collaborations (Clockhouse Hours, Coma Kid, Suzy Shoes, Smak, Bubbles). Jamie Odell, who'd go onto some minor fame in jazzy, downtempo d'n'b as Jimpster, earns his early jungle strips as Flag. Darren Pearce would have a successful run with the Reactivate series (they of the cartoon sea-critter covers), but can't escape bog-standard rave 'ardcore here. There's a DJ Freshtrax with a few scattered contributions, though you might know him as Jon The Dentist these days.

There's not much else to mention. Techno Explosion is little more than a label expunging its back-catalogue in hopes of generating a couple extra bones, with as cheap a presentation as possible (not even an inlay booklet provided). It's like getting a torrent that promises hundreds of classic rave tracks, then discovering most of it is just the same nonsense slightly rearranged over and over and over.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Various - Techno Explosion (The FSOL Stuff)

Jumpin' & Pumpin': 1997

This is a compilation consisting of four CDs, with fifty tracks spread out across them. I bought this for exactly one track, Q by Mental Cube. It's a surprisingly difficult tune to procure on a physical medium these day. In fact, the original version that appears on here was its last official release, disc or digital. It didn't even get represented on FSOL's recent, early-alias retrospective By Any Other Name. Is Jumpin' & Pumpin' stingy with their rights to their pre-Virgin tunes or something?

Ah, I'll take what I can get. Not that Q is some ultra-rare track, having done the rounds on a few compilations back when it was new. Finding decent prices for CDs like EarthBeat, Breaks, Bass & Bleeps, and Techno Dance Party II is strangely difficult though, so upon spotting Techno Explosion for about half-price, for sure I'll bite. I mean, it's got Q on it, possible one of the greatest bleep-E' tunes ever crafted! Never fails giving me the knackered feels, floating on a good gurn when those strings and singing bleeps get to work.

But an even niftier selling point was the inclusion of so much more old FSOL material. Yage is here! Indo Tribe is here! Humanoid is here! Hell, even some of their most obscure alter egos are here. I guess a whole bunch of other tunes from the Jumpin' & Pumpin' library is a nice bonus, but like Hell I'm gonna' spend four reviews detailing all of it. So, despite the FSOL stuff getting spread out across all four discs, I'll just consolidate that material in this review, and save the rest for a second review. Trust me, it'll only take one to get through.

So what does Techno Explosion offer for pre-Lifeforms tunes? You get a couple tracks that appeared on Accelerator in Pulse State and Innate (aka: 1 In 8). There's also a track called Hard Head, a funky sample-breaks thing that Lord Discogs claims had never been released before appearing on here. Better get on it, completists.

Aside from Q, we also get the Mental Cube dreamy house cut So This Is Love. Hearing Stakker Humanoid again is always fun, a little more bleep action comes care of Indo Tribe's In The Mind Of A Child and I've Become What You Were, and the cuts from Art Science Technology (A.S.T. and Esus Flow) sound like the duo were trying their hand at the rock-influenced Madchester sound. Yage goes experimental tribal (Fuzzy Logic) and ravey house (Livin' For The Love). And, oh dear, are FSOL attempting an 'ardcore track with Space Virus as Smart Systems? Stay in your lane, lads.

While a few from this era undoubtedly retain classic status, they are all quite dated too, nowhere near the amazing production quality of even Accelerator material. Still, compared to what else Jumpin' & Pumpin' was churning out at the time, it's clear the duo was light years beyond their contemporaries even within this limited range of old school techno.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lingua Lustra - Spaces

Spiritech: 2016

I could have reviewed this a couple months ago, when going through the previous alphabetical backlog. Spaces initially found itself in my library as a download earlier this year, perhaps as a short-term free giveaway from Lingua Lustra's Bandcamp. He has quite a few of those available, though mostly all singles and EPs, not full-length albums. Spaces falls into the latter camp, but there's no way I paid money just for a download. I've forever refused buying digital if a physical option is available. *Always Sunny In Philadelphia theme starts playing*...

No, wait, there's a logical reason for having a CD of this! See, Spaces comes care of Spiritech, a short-lived label helmed by Alireza Zaifnejad (BlueBliss) and Albert Borkent; aka: Lingua Lustra. Mostly dealing with digital, Spiritech started dabbling in CD options this past year, including a 4CD deal of their four latest albums. Spaces was among those, and I thought to myself, “Well, I already have the digital version, I may as well include it in my standard backlog in anticipation of getting the CD.” And while I did listen to this in that batch, I didn't want to 'cheat' reviewing it without first having the physical copy on hand (why do I make things needlessly convoluted!?). For some reason though, the CD order took a long time arriving, over two-months – wasn't Spiritech situation in Saskatchewan? I know we make our 'hicksville' jokes about the province here on the West Coast, but seriously? I can only assume these CDs came from Mr. Borkent's own stash in Europe, what with the label folding and all (more on that later).

Naturally, I'm going on and on (beyond the halcyon) about pointless info because I'm left with Yet Another Ambient Album With Little To Detail. Spaces contains only three tracks, each nearly doubling the length of the previous one. Opener Ruin runs about seven minutes, follow-up Eden hovers around twelve and a half, while final cut Source stretches out to the twenty-six mark. That's actually an interesting concept worth exploring, if you're into technical aspects of music compositions – studies in time signatures, hidden messages in song durations, and the like. It's all a little wanky to my sensibilities, but props to those who dedicate their skills to it. It's like a painter who uses difficult techniques creating a portrait that anyone with rudimentary ability could accomplish. Or maybe not, I dunno' - my knowledge of painting is pathetic. Oh, and I kinda' doubt the whole 'escalating track duration' thing was intentional on Lingua Lustra's part, since these pieces aren't perfectly trimmed to accommodate the concept. Just a curious coincidence.

And the music itself? Ruin is ultra-minimalist with electromagnetic drone, soft pulses, and emergent field recordings. Eden does the bright, layered synth pad drone thing. Source is practically devoid of sound, subtle bleepy electronics, impossibly distant pads, and gentle washes of white noise static leaving plenty of open spaces for a wandering mind. Fits the album theme, that's for sure.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pet Shop Boys - Please

Parlaphone: 1986/2009

So I've started a Pet Shop Boys collection. Okay, I technically already did years ago, when I picked up Disco 2 from a used shop, but I don't consider that part of their album canon, and neither should you. Aside from that, which ones do I start with? I'm sure every discerning PSB fan tells you that their first five albums are all most haves, even if you're not a fan of the Pet Shop Boys. Fair enough, though my alphabetical stipulation will create a screwy chronology of their work if I buy them all at once. Nay, I'll get them incrementally, spacing things out, going on this journey of discovery as everyone else did when they were among the UK's hottest synth-pop acts ever. Yeah, much more fun this way.

Thus here we are with Please, an album so-titled because Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe thought it funny customers would be forced into a little politeness when asking for the record. They'd made a bunch of track a couple years prior to this, working with famed Hi-NRG producer Bobby O, and while they yielded some club success (Mr. Orlando was unstoppable in the '80s), they didn't reach much attention beyond that. Undaunted, Neil and Chris parted ways with Bobby, found another producer in Stephen Hague, re-recorded those initial efforts, and in short order made lots of money. Holy cow, what a turnaround!

Please was an undeniable, inescapable hit if all that chart action is anything to go by (as high as number three in Canada, and just as successful in their native UK), but it was the lead single of West End Girls that propelled it to such highs. Beyond being an irresistible slice of '80s synth-pop, it vividly paints a portrait of life on the seedier side of inner city existence, an alluring invite to walk on the wrong side of town where the upper-crust fear to tread. In fact, much of Please plays out like that, Neil's lyrics often portraying folks from disparate classes intermingling with each other as they figure out how to exist in the hyper-consumerist '80s. Much has been written of the 'irony' in such songs, celebrations of 'capitalism' by those who totally suck at it, but even if taken at sincere, face-value, they're remarkably effective at appealing to all working classes. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to act out the narrator in Opportunities (Gotta' Get That Chedda')?

What I want to know is, how has Please not been adapted into a creenplay or musical? Intended or not, the narrative is right there, a failing suburbanite looking to escape what he perceives as a falsely-cheery wasteland (Surburbia) into something a little more thrilling (Two Divided By Zero, West End Girls, Tonight Is Forever, Violence) and unpredictable (Opportunities, Why Don't We Live Together?). The music is already exuberant enough for Broadway, and Pet Shop Boys have shown plenty of savvy in stage theatrics. Seems like a sure-win to me.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Mick Chillage - Paths

Databloem: 2016

I spent a huge chunk of my last Mick Chillage review endlessly going on about music formats, nearly rendering (M)odes a hilarious/frustrating non-review. Not this time though. I'm giving Paths all the musical critical hyper-practical attention it deserves. But first, some background on Databloem!

I've name-dropped the label in the past, on account artists I've covered before have released material through them. Finally digging through their catalogue proper-like, I didn't realize how wide a net Databloem casts. They've put out albums from students of '80s old-school ambient (Oöphoi! Tau Ceti! Steve Stoll! Mathias Grassow!) to students of '90s school ambient (Chillage! Norris as Nacht Plank! Segue! Lingua Lustra!), and a whole lot more I don't recognize in the slightest (I think sgnl_fltr appeared on an Ultimae compilation one time). They aren't a large label by any stretch – fifteen years in business, with a half-dozen releases per – but as they came upon that anniversary, Databloem felt a swagger-itch in need of scratching. Their solution was rounding up some artists who'd released prior music on their print, and have them craft whole new albums in celebration. Only, a regular LP just wouldn't do, oh no. To celebrate fifteen years, Databloem shot for nothing less than the double-LP experience for each artist. I... can't say I've ever seen that happen before, so points for unique marketing.

Of course, dealing with ambient producers here, knocking out a couple fifty-plus minute compositions to fill that running length ain't no th'ang. And while Mick Chillage doesn't typically go to those runtimes in his works, he does indulge himself to that degree in the fifty minute long Three Years. Beyond being something of a nod to the '80s school of ambient though, I'm struggling to justify such a length. The opening section has flowing pad synths, and under normal circumstances, tidily wraps up around the thirteen minute mark, a suitable length for this sort of track. But a single, low drone carries on, and we're eventually introduced to spacier, minimalist doodling with piano touches – rather '90s style. That carries on for another twelve or so minutes, then things go brighter with drawn-out strings (I'm hesitant to drop the 'modern classical' tag on it). There's a return to prior elements for the lengthy finish, but man does Three Years ever take its time getting there. And if you feel I've spent too much word-count detailing a single track out of twelve, it's kinda' hard ignoring such a behemoth of a composition.

Three Years essentially eats up the bulk of CD2, with a couple 'shorter' ambient pieces that tread close to the realms of New Age ambient rounding it out (Hearts Of Space, yo'). If you have a craving for Chillage beats though, CD1 should get your fix in, some even getting downright peppy and funky with it (Canis Majoris). It isn't anything we haven't heard from Mick before, but chap's got a solid groove going such that he doesn't need convoluted wheels at this point.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Memex - Memory Index

Carpe Sonum Records: 2016

This is, what, the tenth collaborative project Lee Norris has partaken? Dude's a machine as of late, sucking all nearby producers into his studio. Or Skype sessions. Or whatever musicians use to share ideas and tracks over the interwebs these days. I kinda' hope they still do in-studio sessions though, the synergy between two creative people interlocking their mental and physical beings into a twisting ballet of- and there it is. I almost went five years on this blog without succumbing to a pseudo slash-fic joke.

Anyhow, we all know Mr. Norris' story, so let's focus a bit on the other half of this Memex partnership, one Darren McClure. He's been making music for a little over a decade now, and if his Discogian info is accurate, has seldom released material on a label twice, Impulive Habitat getting the honor. Of his thirteen officially listed albums (including many other collaborations), he has music with The Land Of, Symbolic Interaction, Unknown Tone Records, Dragon's Eye Recordings, Nova Fund Recordings, [Not On Label], and Inner Ocean Records. You may remember that last one as the Calgary print I snatched up a couple CDs from, among them a Porya Hatami LP. He likely hooked up with Mr. McClure through that association (both residing in Japan probably helped), as the two put out a collaborative album called In-Between Spaces on Lee's label ...txt. Ah-HAH, and thus we get our link to Norris! From which the two worked together... under a unique alias? And released the result on Carpe Sonum Records?? Huh, maybe Darren wanted to keep that 'one release for one label' thing going.

As for the music Mr. McClure makes, it's mostly of the soft drone and field recordings sort, at least of the clutch of samples I listened to. He doesn't have much on Spotify, making a splurge there difficult – plenty on Bandcamp though, but Bandcamp binging isn't terribly convenient. Still, having taken in enough for a reasonable overview of his sound, I have to say I'm surprised by how little I hear of it in this Memex project.

For sure it crops up here and there among the seven tracks that make up Memory Index. Swing Strings has flowing water sounds and mechanical drones, Just Wake Up utilizes ghostly passages like being lost in a robot park, In Advance has twittering birds and crunchy static, and Steps In The Way bubbles with shoegazey fuzz. Short ambient piece Disengage is about the only track where it feels like McClure's style dominates though. Mostly, this album is led by Norris' ambient techno beatcraft and bleepy melodica, ofttimes coming off rather retro in a HIA sort of way.

Which is fine where I'm concerned – can never get enough of that vintage 'bleep ambient' action. I just figured I'd hear more of Mr. McClure's aesthetic in this effort. Or is he also down with the acid-chill sound, but with little opportunity to explore it before? Freedom to indulge rhythms at last!

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