Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Prodigy - The Dirtchamber Sessions Volume One

XL Recordings: 1999

DJ mixes were proving rather bankable at the end of the '90s, some shifting equal numbers of units as LPs from established artists. Well shit, son, a few of those established artists were DJs before they made it big with their original productions. Wouldn't hurt to put out a mix or two while between albums, keep the brand out there, maybe drop a little music knowledge on unsuspecting crossover fans in the process. Actually, I don't think that worked. While working at a music shop when such mixes came out, every time a curious costumer only familiar with the radio hits would sample one, they couldn't figure out why there were so many songs all mashed together - they didn't even sound like the radio hits in the first place. (every. time.)

For those more boned up on rave culture, DJ culture, and trainspotting culture though, such mixes were fun items to indulge in. A chance to revisit history, hear the origins of famous samples, discover the influences of a current crop of stars, and be reminded that big acts like The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy had more in their arsenal than a knack for a catchy hook and a beefy beat.

The Dirtchamber Sessions was Liam Howlett's stab at a commercial DJ mix, and is as much a study in everything that created his unique brand of brash, bold dance music. Having come up through the sample-heavy era of DJing, laying out a dozen tunes in a computer-perfect sequence just wouldn't do for him either. There are forty-nine tracks listed in the credits, some barely twenty second snippets, all ranging from classic rave, vintage rap, bratty punk, and Madchester rock. Plus a Barry White tune lodged between Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, because why not?

There's also Bomb The Bass, Jane's Addiction, Frankie Bones, Sex Pistols, Meat Beat Manifesto, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Ultramagnetic MCs (gotta' get in those Kool Keith verses), Digital Underground, Primal Scream, Renegade Soundwave, LL Cool J, T La Rock, KRS One, and loads more I'm not familiar with. Plus don't forget newer cats like Fatboy Slim, Propellerheads, and London Funk Allstars. The one that threw me for a loop though, was The KLF's What Time Is Love? - at that point I only knew them for their anthem house hits off The White Room. Of course the anti-establishment manifesto of Cauty and Drummond would be something Howlett would relate to, but all I thought was, “wow, never thought I'd hear such a commercial tune in a mix like this.”

As the above attests to, the tracklist is hectic and eclectic, with tons of mash-ups and quick mixes keeping the pace going. The Dirtchamber Sessions is also surprisingly short, not even forty-three minutes long. No sense blowing one's load in a Volume 1 I guess, but we never got a Volume 2. Might be interesting to hear a 'post-Millennium' follow-up, though I can't imagine it containing as dope of tracks as found here.

Canned Resistor - Cyberdrive BTA-MX85

Werkstatt Recordings: 2016

You'd think having a hardcopy release backed by an established label would generate background info I can dig through, but I'm getting a total blank on this Canned Resistor chap, not even a name. Cyberdrive BTA-MX85 is his lone entry within Lord Discogs' archives, the Bandcamp page offers nothing in PR blurbs, and comes up empty. There is a Facebook page that looks to have been set up in promotion for this album, but no biographical content. Well, except a relatively recent disgruntled post regarding dissatisfaction with his association with Werkstatt Recordings, and their lack of promotion behind Cyberdrive BTA-MX85.

Hey, not everyone can be Blood Music, rolling out the multi-vinyl options and whatnot. I imagine it's tough getting noticed in this synthwave scene though, entry level easy but craftsmanship and skill drowning in the swamp of amateur releases. Looks like even getting label backing sometimes isn't enough. Heck, I only discovered Cyberdrive BTA-MX85 because I was browsing through Werkstatt's Bandcamp, clicking on whatever cover art caught my eye. The fact Canned Resistor had enough of an ear-hooking sound for a purchase actually leaves me a bit gutted that his label problems won't see a follow-up anytime soon (if at all).

So this is a synthwave album, and really, it doesn't do much different from what I look for in such items. It's got the pulse-pounding 'outrun' tunes for your openers (Los Angeles 20XX, Neon Justice), a couple charming synth-pop ditties after that (Paradise, Dreamworld), the odd-ball tune that stands in stark contrast to its surroundings (Virtual Reality), another hype tune for a climax (Neon Vengeance), and the slower, downtempo cut as a closer (A New Dawn). But wait, don't forget that extra bonus hidden stinger uptempo cut at the end of A New Dawn! Almost feels like a teaser to a sequel that we may not get anymore. Oh yeah, Cyberdrive BTA-MX85 has a slight narrative going on – the usual post-cyberpunk thing – though isn't all that overt about it. Just something fun to hang the music off if that's your jam.

I can't say Canned Resistor's approach to synthwave will knock your Adidas off either, a little rougher and unpolished compared to the top-dogs of this scene. His melodies are catchy though, enough such that folks passing my listening sphere can't help but take notice (earned a couple “what's this?” inquiries at work). Virtual Reality has a seriously awesome vocal hook that EBM sorts could enjoy, and that's so weird, considering the previous Dreamworld is such a bouncy, light, heart-warming tune. Such diversity in songcraft shows Canned Resistor has a major leg up on most synthwave acts.

Really, the only significant fault I can levy on Cyberdrive BTA-MX85 is it's only seven tracks long (eight if you include the secret song). It comes off as a delicious appetizer, leaving me craving a full-course meal. That's more a regret than a criticism though, especially if this is all we're gonna' get from Canned Resistor.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Orb - COW / Chill Out, World!

Kompakt: 2016

Can we retire the talking point that every new album from The Orb is their best since [last best '90s album]? Like, obviously it is so, the group on a pretty good run of music making this past decade. We get that it looked as though they were done following [last worst '00s album], that they had nothing left to say or innovation to contribute. Seems though, that with every new LP they come out with, it's the same ol' praises of 'return to form'. How can they keep returning to form when they've been doing it for so long now?

This has been going on since, what, Metallic Spheres with David Gilmour? I'd say even The Dream was pretty good, thanks in large part to Youth's contributions, but I can understand why others wouldn't enjoy it as much as more recent efforts like Moonbuilding and The Orbserver In The Stars. What I'm getting at is we should be talking about The Orb's music as it relates to this current era, and not so much back-tracking to the early stuff. The classics will always be there, but they've enough modern material to judge it within their current phase/renaissance alone, so let's go forward with that, alright? Alright. That all said, COW / Chill Out, World! is probably The Orb's best collection of ambient dub since [last best '90s album].

Sorry, couldn't resist. It can't be helped though, what with the album title almost a direct callback to the O.G. chill out album, Chill Out from The KLF. There's even a cheeky nod to The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, with the final track titled The 10 Sultans Of Rudyard (Moo-Moo Mix). One could even argue this is a long, long, long awaited follow-up to Chill Out, in that COW indulges in that LP-length musical journey of samples, sounds, feelings and vibes. It's less about songs and dancefloor tools, and more about the blissful trip through pastoral scenery and fuzzy imagery.

Actually, what this album really sounds like is another record where Martin Glover is the driving force behind its musical direction. There's ample amounts of trippy dub production throughout, enveloping walls of reverb drone wrapping you in a warm blanket of sound, with no scratchy sample of ancient jazz, twangy guitar, or jungle fauna too divergent a path to take. Not that piano playing in Wireless MK2 and 9 Elms Over River Eno though, that's straight from the fingers of Roger Eno. I don't know what I find more astonishing: the fact that an Eno is playing with The Orb, or that it's taken this long for it to happen. Brian and Roger have appeared on plenty of compilations with The Orb, but is this really the first time either one has collaborated with Alex Paterson? The mind boggles.

COW / Chill Out, World! should definitively put to rest that The Orb are still as good as they've ever been. New narratives now, music journals!

Biosphere - Cirque

Touch/Biophon Records: 2000/2016

I never thought I'd own a copy of this album. Hear it as some point, sure, as most things old and adored eventually find their way onto streaming services. I might have even bought a digital version - that pile of hay growing on my back can only stack so high. But lo', I stumbled upon an online shop that had actual physical copies of Cirque available, after which I remembered that Microgravity had seen a recent CD re-issue. It didn't occur to me that Geir Jenssen would do the same for his out-of-print material from Touch, but thank lawdy he did, Cirque finally within my grubby hands. Now, about those Namlook and HIA collaborations...

I get ahead of myself. Cirque came out in the year 2000, the fourth official body of work Mr. Jenssen solely released under the Biosphere banner. Not if you include his score for the movie Insomnia, that is. No, not the Christopher Nolan flick with Pacino and Robin Williams; the original Norwegian version from which it was inspired from. Yeah, I can dig the Biosphere stylee fitting with a murder thriller set in the endless day of northern summer. Prior to that, he'd released a little instant-classic by the name of Substrata, to say nothing of his seminal ambient techno work earlier. Tough acts to follow, but considering Cirque is held in the same lofty alpine palaces as its predecessors, there must be something to it.

As with Substrata, the gradual move from pulp sci-fi towards earthly tones is evident in Cirque. You still get that icy, isolationist vibe though, like out in the remote reaches of wintery European realms, though Alaskan can do in a pinch (Cirque has a dedication note to Christopher McCandless, a backpacker that tried to traverse the Alaskan frontier – it didn't go well). Thus we get titles like Nook & Cranny, Miniature Rock Dwellers, Black Lamb & Grey Falcon, Algae & Fungi, and Too Fragile To Walk On. Because if you're inspecting the fauna Biosphere's homestead, you're likely not to find much else more more riveting than lichen.

And like Substratra, that sense of remoteness is accentuated by the minimalist approach Geir applies his craft here. For sure the music sounds full and immersive, but so often impossibly distant too. Nook & Cranny lazily lopes along with a dubbed-out rhythm as gentle strums echo towards the horizon. Le Grand Dôme gets a little groovier and bassy in its beats, but is no less obscured by its dub treatments. Iberia Eterea works in some jazz shuffle with its cold, precise melodies. Even the brisk d'n'b rhythms of Algae & Fungi are strangely obscured by their distant tone, despite their reverb enveloping you as though you're hearing it inside an ice cavern.

Throw in some tasty 'traditional' Biosphere tunes as a bonus with the 2CD re-issue, and you've another mesmerizing piece of work in Geir's discography. Makes holding out for a physical copy that much sweeter for your truly.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - Celebrate Christmas

Gaither Music Group: 2016

Greetings, Past-Peoples, 2073 Sykonee once again here. Ah, Christmas, I remember it well. The lights, the snow, the merriment, the togetherness. All that, now gone, gone, gone. Lost in a horrible post-apocalyptic Hellscape.

Haha, no, I'm kidding. Of course Christmas still exists in my time. The yearly celebration has endured in some form for hundreds of years, whether as paganistic rituals in honour of the winter solstice, religious rituals in honour of Jesus Christ's birth, or capitalist rituals in honour of defeating Communism. You don't wipe out that much Northern tradition just like that, no matter how much some over-reaching powers may try.

The Atomic Brotherhood understands this, and accepts that we'll find ways to celebrate Christmas in our own, unique ways. Sure, the longer winters have made the pagan history of the holiday redundant, we don't have much need of Christ worship here (that's more a Murican thing anyway), and the wanton need to consume things and stuff in service of a financial war doesn't apply to our way of life. Much of what we need is supplied by the Atomic Brotherhood, and since we don't need a whole lot, Christmas is all about togetherness, bringing everyone underneath a merry dwelling to celebrate that which we most cherish among each other, all under the glowing light of a nuclear powered pine tree. Yes, we still have pine trees. They're sturdy plants, y'know.

Which makes these Christmas albums from The Oak Ridge Boys a weird item to cover for yours truly. Heck, you probably think its weird that we'd all enjoy the country-gospel group at all, but their charming harmonies appeal to more of us than you'd believe. Not to mention relating to their ever-lasting durability as a group. Some theorize The Oak Ridge Boys have lasted so long thanks to the same radioactive alteration that gave us our extended lives. I can believe it.

But regarding their Christmas material – and there's a lot of it - we're ambivalent about it. We understand this stuff likely had more importance to their original fans back in your times, but we listen to it with historical perspective, as a reflection of a culture now lost. All these celebratory odes to the birth of Christ (Away In A Manger, Joy To The World, Come To The Manger, O Come, All Ye Faithful, Rest In You Tonight) had their place, I'm sure. However, when you play them in front of the Red Belters, a strange, maniacal frenzy seems to overtake them. Puts Cascadians at unease, you see, so it's only selective broadcasts, thank you.

So it's to the secular songs that we turn to more often. I'll Be Home For Christmas, Blue Christmas, Santa Claus Is Real, There's Nothing Between Us (But Love Anymore)... even Jingle Bells, I guess. Yeah, that ridiculous song's survived this long, somehow. The Oak Ridge Boys do all these classics justice in their indomitable, harmonious way. Still no Boney M, though.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Olan Mill - Cavade Morlem

Dronarivm: 2015

Olan Mill makes ambient music with a modern classical mindset. Or modern classical music with an ambient approach. Or drone music with a whole 'lotta strings. Or calm music that has nothing to do with Viking breakcore. I somehow feel that such a description still isn't specific enough, but there's only so many ways one can describe ambient music. It doesn't even have nifty unique 'narratives' I can wax poetic over like its darker cousin. Nay, this is ambient music in its purist form, in that it's relatively formless, abstract art best served as background texture, though accompanying a lovely video of natural settings or garden fauna doesn't hurt either.

As always then, it's up to the info surrounding Olan Mill to fill out my self-imposed word count quota. This is in fact a project headed up by Alex Smalley, who's been releasing music under this guise since way back in 2010 (holy cow, it's been seven years!). He also has another project with one Simon Bainton as Pausal, and while that one's also been releasing music since 2010, it isn't with as much frequency. Still, between the two, Mr. Smalley has accumulated around eighteen albums under his belt, across such labels as Serein, Preservation, hibernate, Barge Recordings, Students Of Decay, plus a DJ mix for Headphone Commute. Oh, a couple items on Dronarivm too.

Of what I can gather from sporadic samples, Olan Mill trends towards the more modern classically minded vein of Mr. Smalley's muse, whereas his Pausal material goes more ambient. Not that your typical layman will notice much difference between either project, but with my highly attuned music critic ears, I can indeed tell there's distinct instrumentation in Olan Mill, whereas Pausal tends to layer the timbre thick in pad and string drone.

Which makes Cavade Morlem a conundrum within ol' Alex' discography, in that it comes off more of a Pausal album than an Olan Mill one, at least with the limited examples of each project I've taken in. The music here started out as pieces performed live in concerts involving violins, guitars, plus samples of organs and voices, which fits the Olan Mill mould. Smalley then reworked those into comparatively serene compositions, where the inevitable Brian Eno namedrop is unavoidable. Heck, Byruck wouldn't sound out of place as a companion to An Ending (Ascent). Also, Gurriva reminds me of the outro portion of First Twilight from Deep Forest. Talk about your obscure callbacks.

While the actual arrangements don't differ much from track to track - flowing stretches of layered synths, strings, and sounds - they do offer differing textures dependant on which leads. Chort features prominent ethereal vocals, Novnal has angelic pads, Feina features shimmering strings, Lighul has an ominous tone, and Live At The Millenium Barn has a surprisingly heavy bottom end on its synths, like the power of a hefty church organ. It's all a rather vintage, classical take on ambient music, which only makes sense given the musician involved.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Vector Lovers - Capsule For One

Soma Quality Recordings: 2005

If I had spotted it in an A&B Sound, or an HMV, or even a (*snicker*) Best Buy, absolutely I'd have bought Capsule For One no matter the cost. Okay, reasonably so – such a CD selling for over thirty Canadian bones is too steep no matter how much I adore an artist. Seeing it at the 'regular price' of twenty-five on Amazon always put this on the back-burner though, longer, longer, longer, until it became a rarity on the standard market, price jacked to stupid amounts of money. Why it never occurred to scope out Soma Recordings own webshop, I can't explain. I just assumed they'd do business through Amazon like so many others, but nope, independent and remarkably affordable. I swear this isn't meant as a plug for Soma, just an overlong ramble-excuse on why I skipped out on Vector Lovers' sophomore album for so long. A very lame excuse, I cannot deny.

Now that I have taken in Capsule For One, enjoyed its various toy-box electro melodies, bobbled my head to its various tech-house grooves, skitter-skatterd my brain to its sporadic IDM beatcraft, and double-taked to actual sung lyrics in Melodies & Memory (not even by a robot! Maybe a kawii cyborg tho'), one question remains: would I have liked this when it was new?

Don't get me wrong – if nothing else, Capsule For One would have been a grower, an album that I'd come to appreciate even if it didn't blow my mind right out the gate. I can't understate the degree to which Vector Lovers' did though. An album that featured music and ideas I'd never heard before. Themes that appealed to both my casual enjoyment of sci-fi anime and lonely, lovelorn walks through big cities. Electro and house blended in ways I always imagined they should be, not as they currently were (dammit, 2005).

Capsule For One touches on these too, but not with the same poignancy as its predecessor, Martin Wheeler making room for braindance electro instead. Overall, it's a more aggressive album, getting on that hectic Detroit pace than the easy cruise of neo-Tokyo. When those minty spritely melodies crop up, it doesn't deter the propulsive momentum of tracks like Arrival, Metropolis, Substrata, Microton (that bassline!), Nostalgia 4 The Future, Boulevard and To The Stars. Even the chill moments seem uneasy with their surroundings, less nostalgic for times past and more apprehensive for the future we venture into.

Vector Lovers can still craft a tune that pulls the ol' heartstrings though, City Lights, Empty Building, Falling Rain, Melodies & Memory and Neon Sky Rain carrying similar tones and sounds as found on his debut. They come off a little lost among the tougher electro and techno, however, like characters intended for a different series. They're fine in providing chill downtime, necessary refuges in an ambivalent cityscape. I'm just missing that amazing album narrative from Vector Lovers, is all. Spoiled for choice as always.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Autumn Of Communion - Broken Apart By Echoes

...txt: 2016/2017

The Broken Apart series marked a change of direction for the boys behind Autumn Of Communion (Lee Norris and Mick Chillage, if you're just joining us). After a fruitful run of self-titled albums, the duo consolidated them into a memory stick box-set (mini-box!) as a summation of that period of work. Not that they were done working together, new material still being released at a steady pace after. Can't say I've heard much of it yet, but ooh, what I wouldn't give to nab a CD copy of Polydeuces. Say, 15% above regular retail?

Still, even if the creative embers between the two remained nice and toasty, there had to be an itch to try something unique. What else was there though? They'd both released music on CD and digital, had taken the move into box-sets, and everyone goes the vinyl or tape route as a collectible option (as if ...txt CDs weren't 'collectible' enough). Maybe try their hand at an ultra-deluxe DVD 5.1 recording, or go stupidly obscure with 8-tracks? Instead, they opted for the neglected CD3, otherwise known as the mini-disc. I'm surprised there's even still a market for them, but the computer I built this year still has the familiar indent in its disc tray, so I guess there is.

Thus it came to pass that the next major Autumn Of Communion project would focus on utilizing this format. Two sets would be produced, consisting of five individual tracks running the full twenty-two minute length of five mini-discs, contained within a box-set apiece. Naturally, I totally missed the boat on Broken Apart By Sunlight and Broken Apart By Moonlight, but hey, Lee & Mick had a few leftover tracks that ended up on one of ...txt's Nagual mega-compilation memory sticks. That wouldn't do for AoC completists though, an even extremely limited amount of Nagual sticks produced. So, the two tracks were released separately as Broken Apart By Echoes, first as a digital download, then on CD with an additional track. *whew* I think that finally brings us up to speed on this project. How many words left do I offer myself for the actual music then? Oh dear...

Broken Apart By Echoes Pt. 1 does the grand, wall-of-sound synth ambient drone thing, gently fading off in the back third into something a tad less opulent sounding. There's also a twitchy, oscillating transistor tone running throughout most of the track. Pt. 2 is a calmer, soothing piece of ambience compared to the former track, a little astro-chatter sprinkled in here and there among the gentle tones and blissy melodies. Pressure your planetarium DJ to play this one at some point. Pt. 3 brings the dubby ambient techno beats for half its runtime, then moving onto more conventional space ambient stylee for a lengthy lead-out. Think I like this one best, just because there's more going on in it than the other two. All are solid offerings though, as can be expected from Autumn Of Communion at this point.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cyril Secq & Orla Wren - Branches

Dronarivm: 2016

Can't say I've ever taken in an album of classical guitar music. Have I even dabbled? The closest I can think of is Michael Brook, but his Cobalt Blue was more an ambient thing, his guitar work another layer of timbre (especially that sweet 'Infinite Guitar' layer!). I must have a couple stray examples of the stuff lurking in this pile of music o' mine, yet the fact I can't instantly recall any doesn't bode well for its prospects. Like, is Jam & Spoon's Hispanos In Space really the best I can think of?

And yeah, all those prog-rock dudes for sure lay out some complicated, classically inspired segments in their works. They're still doing it within the confines of prog-rock though, with fellow band members contributing to the overall songcraft. No, I'm talking solo, acoustic, non-folksy, improvisational technical works. With such greats as... um, okay, I don't know anyone in this field. Even bringing up Wiki-Lists draws a complete blank on yours truly. Julian Bream? Xuefei Yang? Craig Ogden? John Williams? (no, not that John Williams) Yeah, I know shit all here. But hey, even doing this cursory research into the subject has jacked a solid info-dump into my brainpan, so there's that.

Which finally brings us to Branches from Cyril Secq and Orla Wren. The former formed the experimental French folk group Astrïd, while the latter often pairs up with acoustic string musicians to make clicky fuzzy abstract ambient folk-pop. I'm assuming the two were at least aware of each others work, as somewhere along the way, Orla roped Cyril into providing guitar work for his 2013 album Book Of The Folded Forest. Mind, several musicians contributed to that one, as is often the case with many Orla Wren albums, but the creative synergy must have held stronger between the two, going into a collaborative project together. Cyril will provide the strings, and Orla will provide the treatments.

No, really, that's about all there is to Branches. Mr. Secq's finger plucking is spacious and unfussy, the very definition of music as like a meandering stream of conscious flow. Or exploring the branching paths on the limb of a tree, as it were. Of the eight tracks, Troisième Branche uses violin strokes rather than acoustic strumming, while Sixième Branche and Huitième Branche mixes the two together. Regarding the types of guitar Cyril uses, 'fraid I can't help you there. As said, I'm woefully under-educated in the intricacies of classical acoustic music. It does all sound quite pleasant though.

As for Orla Wren, it seems as though he's taken a step back in this partnership, his minimalist sounds consisting of static burbles, clicking pops, sprinkling tonks, airy feedback, weird echoes, and the sort of random electronic noises you'd expect of musique concrete. You know, pretentious art! Heh, no, I'm ribbing - Branches doesn't come off nearly as stuffy. It is extremely avante garde though, clearly intended for intellectual sorts more interested in studying minutiae than a little easy-listening enjoyment.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ajna & Dronny Darko - Black Monolith

Reverse Alignment: 2017

I never intended to get into dark ambient. It was, at best, the type of genre that I happened across if an established act I enjoyed dabbled in it (Delerium, Juno Reactor, Bill Laswell). Still, I found it interesting, some cursory research into prominent albums intriguing me for sampling, but never would I have considered immersing myself into the scene. Then along came a happenstance crossing with Simon Heath, discovery of Cryo Chamber, and you all know the rest of the story. After two years of strictly following this one label though, I've grown itchy to hear if there's more out there I can vibe on. Is there ever a lot out there to sift through though, a scary intimidating domain one can easily get lost in, giving up in despair from the futility of it all. I need some guiding hands, artists within the Cryo Chamber fold who contribute elsewhere. Ah, Dronny Darko, he'll do.

I've gone over Mr. Darko's history well enough, so let's touch upon his partner for this particular project, Ajna. A bit of a busy-body the past half-decade, he's released nearly twenty digital EPs, a few albums, and has material on labels such a Petroglyph Music, Kalpamantra, and... Treetrunk Records? Heh, unusual name. Do they by chance specialize in 'roots' music? Haha, haha, ha- oh, it's experimental ambient (described as fractal/generative... g'uh?), phonography, and field recordings. Okay then. I can expect Mr. Ajna to be one of sorts of dark ambient composers then, with lots of spacious, empty drone, with subtleties drawing you deep within your sub-conscious. Sounds like a right proper pairing with Dronny Darko then.

Indeed so, the two collaborating a couple time prior to the release of Black Monolith. In fact, CD1 of this double-discer consolidates a couple of their singles released on Petroglyph Music, the three track EP Facing The Void, and the single track EP 1000 Years Of Cryosleep. At over forty-three minutes of empty desolation, broken up by intermittent discordant sounds and forlorn tones, the latter definitely feels like you're locked away in forced, perpetual slumber.

I'm not sure whether this was all intended as a prelude, but as those singles created a mini-narrative to hang off (essentially falling into a black hole, surviving the trip through cryosleep), it's nifty that Ajna and Darko followed it up, with Reverse Alignment presenting it as a two-CD feature. As expected, disc two of Black Monolith is what we find on the other side of this one-thousand year trip to the unknown. Seven tracks, each a perfect eight minutes in length (oh, Oleg), offer mysterious drone, claustrophobic sci-fi sound effects, and that general sense of unease one gets when exploring realms unfamiliar and unknowable.

Yeah, it's all rather 2001: Beyond The Infinite - what can you expect of an album titled Black Monolith? That sequence remains ripe ground for creative sorts, and while Ajna and Darko are treading concepts well explored, their complementary styles provide another worthwhile entry in this field.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bicep - Bicep

Ninja Tune: 2017

I wasn't hip to Bicep's brand of vintage deep house from the beginning. Like many folks, my ear caught wind of them with the 2012 single Vision Of Love. If you were down with their tough, bumpin' sound from even their Throne Of Blood days though, give yourself a gold hipster star, because following Vision Of Love, it seemed everyone was hyping these Belfast lads up. And for good cause, Bicep making house that sounded retro, but felt as firm as modern production could take it, like the fully-flexed form of Lou Ferrigno's upper arm. Music that appeals to both the olds and the new heads!

That came out a half-decade ago though, and while Misters Ferguson and McBriar kept a steady clip of singles in that time, the anticipation for a proper LP ran hot. Could they translate their sturdy dancefloor tools into a home-listening experience? Might they have other musical tricks up their sleeve yet unexplored? Could they surprise us at all?

Well, they sure surprised me when it was announced their debut album was coming out on Ninja Tune. The famed label has been branching out of their traditional downtempo scene for a while now, but I never expected them to take on a house act this purist. When was the last time they even released a record sounding like Bicep? Have they ever?

And if that didn't throw me for a loop, then hearing the actual music on Bicep's self-titled album sure did. Apparently the duo had been leaning away from sweaty Jersey clubs towards a more Balearic feel since their Just EP in 2015. I hadn't actually kept close tabs on their recent output though, so hearing such shimmering, echoing synths in opener Orca, coupled with ethnic woodwinds out of progressive house's early '90s playbook, and you'll forgive me for my double-take in this development. Hell, triple-take, considering this is coming out on Ninja Tune!

And the progressive house vibes keep getting sprinkled throughout this album. Spring and Rain both build solid, chugging rhythms, while dropping floating vocals and gated synths leads that'll have you reaching for lasers. Aura sounds more contemporary with its prog-house vibe, but maintains the charm of the retro stuff. Oh my, isn't calling progressive house 'retro' something of an oxymoron?

Elsewhere, the Balearic feels are coupled with shuffly 2-step garage rhythms (Glue, Opal, Vale... holy cow, does the vocal remind me of Snap!'s Rame), while Bicep show they fear no downtempo moments either (Ayaya, Ayr). They even work in a couple leftfield pieces, Drift an ambient work with arps providing a lead. In all, a good variety of tunes nicely spaced out makes Bicep a solid LP playback. Mind, if hearing such light, breezy synths as heard from Ibiza's glory years is a turn-off, I wouldn't blame you for bypassing Bicep. For me, I love hearing their tough, taut beatcraft paired with gurning melodies, because of course I would. Have you seen how much trance I have?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Si Matthews - Aurora

...txt: 2017

After years floating in the periphery, Si Matthews' mythical Tales Of Ten Worlds finally came to light in 2015. Alright, 'mythical' is laying it on a little thick, but it was a good album for fans of '90s ambient techno, the sort of release folks from back when would constantly name-drop as 'must have'. As it'd been gestating in cryostasis before seeing daylight, however, Mr. Matthews had plenty of time to tweak it to perfection upon release. What would he do for a follow-up though? One doesn't drop a debut album that makes it onto 'Best Ambient Of 2015' lists without some expectations in the sophomore effort. Maybe not so much in this particular scene, where commercial aspirations are comical, but a little preconceived hype never hurt no one.

Okay, it does, in that it ofttimes leaves one wanting in first impressions. Two years after Tales Of Ten Worlds, we finally got Aurora on ...txt. Given the work rate of some of Si's peers, that's quite the gap between albums, with nary a contributed compilation track elsewhere in between. Yeah, not everyone can be like Lee Norris or Mick Chillage with their fifty albums per year (roughly), but I suppose not everyone can dedicate their whole life to constantly releasing music either. It don't pay the bills so good as years past.

Still, with all that time between albums, Mr. Matthews no doubt had plenty in his reserves, tweaking and pruning material for a magnum opus on par with- wait, Aurora is only five tracks long? They're long tracks, the shortest around ten and a half minutes, the longest over eighteen minutes, but that still feels rather slight given the time between LPs. I was expecting more, and I can't imagine me being the only one.

What we do get is five distinct pieces of spacey, dreamy ambient techno that gradually evolve as they play out, never losing the plot along the way. Opener A New Star In The Night Sky is the soft, chill sort that has me thinking of stargazing on a Balearic beachfront. A Portal works a simmering, bleepy vibe as it cruises along comet tails. Aurora itself does the ambient/New Age thing that has me thinking classic Iasos. Celestial Orientation has Apollo-era ambient techno in mind, with dubby, bleepy rhythms from the book of vintage Biosphere, though never going so cold. Twin Pines brings things back to modern sensibilities in its use of soft pads and velvety timbre, wrapping you in a comfy, snuggly blanket of sonic bliss.

As for the airs of petty self-entitlement in this review, I'm just laying my personal bias right in front. It took me a bit to get into Aurora, for a whole litany of stupid reasons not the fault of Si Matthews. Now that I've actually given it the time it deserves, I do enjoy it, but man, was it ever hard letting go of those initial biases. Don't let them control you too!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - At Their Best

United Artist Records/EMI-Manhattan Records: 1968

Greetings, Past-Peoples, it is I again, 2073 Sykonee, brought back to your time by Sykonee Prime to review music by The Oak Ridge Boys. I know, I know, this doesn't make a lick of sense. I must be nearly a hundred years old - aged and decrepit, like a rusty tin of sardines. Not really, no. Hearty genetic stock notwithstanding, a benefit of the radiation fallout was unexpectedly extending lifespans in several lucky souls. I may be in my Nineties, but I don't look or feel a day over Sixty-Seven.

'Tis true, the Atomic Brotherhood provides mighty fine benefits for those within their influence, not least of which exposing us to music I'd overlooked in my youth. Yes, it's nice that Nuclear Ramjet and Atomic Babies finally got their due, but I never knew about obscure acts like Oppenheimer Analysis, or tech-house labels like Heisenberg. Our musical consumption may be limited to that which honours the Atomic Age, but it's a wide range nonetheless.

Few dominate our tastes like The Oak Ridge Boys though, because few have as massive a discography. The original incarnation of the group, as The Oak Ridge Quartet, started out in the Nauty-Foreties, their first singles pressed by Capitol Records in 1946. Over time, the line-up changed, as did the name of the group from 'Quartet' to 'Boys' early in the Nauty-Sixties (t'was hip to be 'Boys'). Though they sangs the gospel, it was to the tastes of Red Belt America, eventually going country-full once their latter-era line-up was concreted. When they recorded this particular album though, the group was in transition, Willie Wynn and Herman Harper the vets, Duane Allen and William Gordon the fresh chickens of the coup. And boy was Mr. Gordon ever fresh as this point, prim and proper with nary a whisker of beard found on his chin. Hard to imagine him in any other form.

In the grand ol' Opry scheme of things, At Their Best isn't the most remarkable of releases under the Oak Ridge Boys banner – they have tons and tons of gospel recordings highlighting their harmony talents. What makes this one unique from the others is that it came out on United Artists Records, more known for releasing soundtracks of the time (Jim Bond movies, It's A Mad, Mad, Maddy, Mad-Mad World, The Greatest Story Done Told). It was a one-off deal for The Boys, more comfortable releasing records with strict gospel outlet Heart Warming. I guess someone must have liked their full-range vocals to give them a little larger exposure.

Not much to remark upon the music on my end. It's gospel, mangles! Lots of songs about loving Jesus, loving the Lord, loving your home with Jesus and the Lord within. All charming and quaint where I come from, but The Boys of Oak Ridge sound quite pleasant singing these hymns with organs, pianos, soft drums, and electric guitar in support. I'll believe it that it's them at their best, for the time.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Aythar - Astronautica

Carpe Sonum Records: 2016

Aythar is Tamás Károly Tamás, who- wait, his name without the middle is “Tamás Tamás”! Holy cow, that stupid joke in the Super Mario Brothers movie actually has validity! You know, where the Mario Brothers are in the cop office giving a testimony, and so not Italian Bob Hoskins says his name is “Mario Mario”, while John Leguizamo is Luigi Mario. Because they're the MARIO Brothers, get it, so Mario's full name must be Mario Mario! Cripes, was that movie balls. At least the theatre line-up was almost non-existent, a novel experience after Jurrasic Park was busting all the blocks at the time. Good God is this ever a horribly long, dumb tangent. I promise I'll never do this again ...until I do do this again. (hee, hee, 'doo-doo')

Where was I? Ah, right, Aythar. The alias itself first properly emerged around 2010, but Mr. Tamás has made music for much longer than that. Go to his Bandcamp, you'll find “rudimentary and amateur” productions from as far back as the early '90s. When he finally went more public with his works, it was still by independent means, self-releasing five albums in the span of a half-decade. Still, his ear for Berlin-School ambient and space techno was too good to keep under wraps forever, thus now finding himself on two of the most prominent labels promoting the stuff in Carpe Sonum Records and ...txt. This here Astronautica is his debut album with the former print, and his first physical release period. Well, if you discount old tape stuff never meant for commercial release, but if Aythar somehow becomes as adored as Boards Of Canada, you bet those items will fetch stupid amounts of money!

As the tasty retro cover art implies, Astronautica has its sights squarely on space music, the opening titular cut featuring Apollo 11 radio chatter. Yeah, we've heard these recordings many, many, many times in electronic music, but I never tire of 'em, always drawing me out into the cosmos with those intrepid cosmonauts. What I've also heard before are those opening synth pads, almost a direct lift from the old Pete Namlook track of Pulsar as Pulsation. Because if you're gonna' impress the Fax+ community, it's always best to crib from an obscure track, amirite?

Actually, it's a very tasteful crib, Mr. Tamás making it clear it's intended as an homage. I'll buy that. Aythar even provides a dancefloor version as the original Pulsation EP did, though clearly his Deep-Tech Remix is much sturdier than the hard trance of Transpulsation.

And the rest? Mystical Clouds does the beatless ambient-techno thing. Alien Worlds Part 1 goes widescreen ambient that could make AstroPilot gush, while Part 2 goes more blippy-bloopy as a Detroit techno guy would. Reactor and Space In My Heart stretch further back to the Berlin-School era, while Moon Landing returns to dubbier, Fax+ era ambient with more astro-chatter. All in all, definitely scope out Astronautica if your old-school itch needs a strong, satisfying scratch.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Architects Of Existence - Architects Of Existence

Carpe Sonum Records: 2017

Mick Chillage manages a heck of a work rate lately, with an impressive clip of albums released. True, a lot of it is the sort of noodly ambient that's rightly criticized as minimalist musical wanking, but me, I'm perfectly fine with a little ol' mental masturbation, so long as the tone and timbre used sparks something in my cerebellum. And Mr. Chillage's style done does that indeed, but even he must fall back on collaborative help, pairing up with Lee Norris on many occasions as Autumn Of Communion. One is okay, but if Mick has aspirations of becoming a dominate force in the world of ambient (probably not, but let's play the thought experiment), he needs to up his collaboration game. Like, how many pair-ups has Mr. Norris undertaken the past decade?

So Chillage again done did got himself another musician to work with, though from a rather obscure source. His partner in crime for this Architects of Existence project (geez, is that ever a Fax+y name) is Eric “The” Taylor, who hails from Rochester, New York, and has barely any presence within Lord Discogs' archives. He did contribute to the incomparable Die Welt Ist Klang box-set (track 82, on CD8, if you're curious), and is part of a group called The Fragile Fate, who made their debut on the Carpe Sonum sub-label, Carpe Sonum Novum, favouring music that doesn't fit the typical Carpe Sonum ambient mould (downtempo dub, experimental techno). The Fragile Fate lean more krautrock, with Mr. “The” Taylor supplying the guitar work. Ooh, might Architects Of Existence be of a similar vibe then, with spaced out string fuzz complementing weird Moog manipulations? No, no it is not.

Architects of Existence consists of four tracks, the shortest a 'mere' eleven minutes of length, the longest nearly reaching the thirty minute mark. To be honest, the first time I put the CD on, I thought the whole thing was one long track, each Part merely an index demarcation. But no, there are differences with each track, though you likely won't notice them if you aren't paying much attention.

Part 1 features the type of ambient I expect of Mick Chillage, long calm soothing pad work that puts your mind floating in space or suspended in ice caverns, passages of subtle burbling synths coming and going. Part 2 is a minimalist drone piece, very little happening aside from atonal pads and subtle field recordings sounding like you're inside some computer lab. Part 3 gets more old-school, pulsing synths dripping in reverb prominently featured in the first half, with a lengthy lead-out of spaced-out effects and soft space pads. Part 4 is more drone, wind chimes joining midway through, followed by distant field recordings, and a very long atonal lead-out. It's all su-u-u-u-per subtle craftsmanship, and very much not for everyone. Hell, it even tests my patience for minimalist ambient music. It does leave me curious where Mick and Eric might take this project though, if they do any more.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Grey Area - And Then The Clouds

Waveform Records: 2005

I've claimed Waveform Records had a brilliant run in the early portions of the '00s, the first half-decade seeing several releases from fresh faces releasing great debut albums. Right, there were a couple 'meh' offerings too, and a few who never amounted to much else of note afterwards, but the fact the label was giving so many unknown names their chances was remarkable indeed. It makes everything from that period worth at least a check-out, and I've been woefully neglectful of doing so. On the other hand, can you blame me for skipping out on this one for so long now? Compared to the usual unique cover art on many of Waveform's releases, this one is so very plain and drab indeed. Looks more like something you'd expect from the sterile dub techno camps, though given the name of the artist is Grey Area, and a title of And Then The Clouds, what else could you do with it?

I should also mention Grey Area wasn't exactly a new act, nor is this album a debut. Rather, it's a collection of previous works, with a couple new/unreleased tunes added to fill things out. Grey Area itself first emerged in 1997 with an eponymous LP on Psy-Harmonics, the Australian psy trance label you might remember me name-dropping on one of those United State Of Ambience CDs from Moonshine Music. The man behind the pseudonym is Alex Salter, who's done TV music for an even longer period of time.

As Grey Area, he put out three albums, the last one in 2002. I guess after Waveform scoped out some 'down under' acts like Pitch Black, they also came across this Grey Area fella', and found his style of dubby downtempo jived with their own. He wasn't making any new music under the alias though, so here's a 'best of' CD instead. Included are five tracks from his third LP Penumbra, two from his second album Absolute, one from his first album, and two fresh cuts titled Sadness Dub and Avon Dub.

Funny enough, Sadness Dub as an opener basically is a dub techno tune, almost confirming my assumption of what sort of music was on here. But nay, Grey Area sticks to a steady, dubby downtempo vibe. It's rather similar to the style Sounds From The Ground employ, though a little more psychedelic and crusty than their jams. He even gets his nu-jazz beat on with Modular Drift, while Pure & Simple wouldn't sound out of place in a smokey cafe. Elsewhere, Mr. Salter does the ambient dub thing (Avon Dub, Penumbra), or dabbles with sound experiments (Iona, Amphibia, that slooshing water in Ersatz Filament... ergh, makes me have bathroom thoughts).

I can't say And Then The Clouds is one of Waveform's classics, but as a companion album from a time when we saw Sub Conscious, Ape To Angel, Luminal, Prima Materia, Blood Is Shining and Omnimotion, it definitely holds its own in such company.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - American Dreams

MCA Records: 1989

Greetings, Past-Peoples, I am 2073 Sykonee. Yes, the same writer/reviewer/critic/knob that usually takes up space on this antiquated blooger, but from “The F-U-U-UTUR-R-RE”, as some so quaintly put it. Sykonee Prime made use of his time-dimension machine to take a jaunt forward for once, and despite some really wacky paradoxes even Doc Rick Brown, The Schwifty-Bitch would have trouble explaining, approached I to learn of what developments had gone down in electronic music. I was willing to tell himself this, but he was quickly fascinated by the ponderous amount of social-net music from The Oak Ridge Boys instead. Why them, I asked myself, to which I told me, “They're one of the few officially sanctioned acts by the Atomic Brotherhood.” Young-Blood Me was of course confused – what did I expect from skipping over so much history?

Without getting too over-written, The Oak Ridge Boys are allowed due to their association with the nuclear research base near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, starting out in the Nauty-Forties as a country and gospel group that performed there. For seeing is believing that only music with relevance to our atomic overlords and saviours is deemed worthy of our advanced cochleas.

Sykonee Prime found that fascinating and asked me to return from my time to review some music from The Oak Ridge Boys. “Whatever I can find,” I did say, “for a specifically cheaply amount of course.” Oh, such a naive idea – I had no clue just how extensive a discography The Oak Ridge Boys – in all their iterations – does have. But sure, I can play with myself.

And so it is with my logical but impractical alphabetical approach to reviewing music, up first is American Dreams. This was the last LP The Oak Ridge Boys released in the Nauty-Eighties, a decade that was as commercially successful as they'd ever be (back when such things mattered). Not all was right with the group though, as their iconic 'mountain man' baritone singer William Golden was off on a solo career, replaced by bass player Steve Sanders instead. He has a definite baritone singing voice, but just look at him in that group photo. Doesn't he stand out at odds with that mullet? What was wrong with people of the Nauty-Eighties?

By this point, the boys from near Oak Ridge were settled into a comfortable country sound, the odd gospel harmony thrown in. There's peppy tunes like Cajun Girl and Don't Give Up, humorous sap like If I Was To Start Crying (spoiler: they do at the end), covers of Rod Stewart songs (In My Own Crazy Way), ditties penned by Joey Scarbury (famous for the theme song of the documentary The Greatest American Hero), creeper fantasies in Bed Of Roses, and the mandated Americana odes like An American Family, Turning For Home, and The American Dream. I forget, did every American home have a painting of Jesus In The Garden hanging on the wall? Me memory ain't what it used to be, you know.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dynatron - Aeternus

Aphashia Records/Blood Music: 2015/2016

When I started branching out from synthwave's shores and away from my Perturbator comfort zone, one of the acts that caught my attention early was Dynatron. It didn't hurt that the Jeppe Hasseriis project sprung from the same digital print as James Kent – Aphasia Records – but that whole 'no CDs in discography' factor put him on the back-burner for yours truly. Still, thought I, should he ever get himself in on that physical format deal, I'd absolutely scope his stuff out proper-like.

And so he done did, scoring himself a re-issue deal of his first two albums on Blood Music. Huh, is the Finnish label gonna' be scouring up all these wayward Aphasia alum then? Might we soon see Protector 101, Starforce, or Judge Bitch on Blood Music too?

As for where Dynatron falls on the synthwave spectrum, ol' Jeppe has his sights set squarely on the stars, EPs and albums celebrating all manner of pulpy sci-fi stylings. Many producers fancy themselves 'outrun' racers tearing up the tarmac, but Mr. Hasseriis is all about that Throttle Up, splitting the spaces between planetary places! Because who needs sissy earthly nitros when you can have literal rocket fuel as your means of propulsion! The cosmos is a dope domain, is what I'm saying. I'll never run out of alliterative abuses, yo'! Never!

Aeturnus is the second album from Dynatron, and has a little more of a narrative going for it than his first of Escape Velocity. For those of you that are Latin impaired, the title roughly means 'eternal' or 'endless', which is a handy, fancy way of describing outer space. And Jeppe doesn't mince words in selling the setting in his track titles (The Outer Rims Of Traversed Space, Towards The Island Universe, Out There). Other times he goes more terrestrial (Travelling The Wastelands), or roaming realms other than our own (Not Of This World, Escape). Basically, we're on a ride where no one's gone before, and it's kinda' scary out there. Can we even make it back home?

All that said, this is just assumed on my part, as the music itself doesn't specifically imply anything from the song titles, beyond the tone and vibe they impart. Some do serve their titles quite well: Hyperion Sunrise is as big and synthy as an opening track should be, Aeturnus Theme is as grand as you'd expect of a synthwave theme song, closing cut A Beacon From Home offers the sort of hopeful denouement credits score as any hectic space adventure should warrant. Tracks are thrilling when needed (holy cow, does Escape kick my ass!), others rightfully mysterious (a lot of tracks with big titles that will eat self-imposed word count).

I really have no gripes with Aeternus as a spacey synthwave album. Yet it feels like it's missing just that extra bit of narrative focus that's made so many of Perturbator's albums winners. Just have to wait and see if Dynatron reaches it with his next album.

Lorenzo Masotto - Aeolian Processes

Dronarivm: 2017

I've bought a few releases from Dronarivm now, but it wasn't with intent to scope the Moscow label out. It just happened that way, me spotting a few eye-catching items, and taking a blind leap of faith that they'd turn out interesting. That they have, so I figured a little stop-over at Dronarivm's Bandcamp couldn't hurt either, see what their full discography looks like. And lo', wouldn't you know it, they had one of those nifty 'bulk CD' deals available too. I sure as shit can't resist one of those, and I may as well spring for the big ol' 10x bundle while I'm at it. Only... there isn't even that many available in one fell swoop, Dronarivm's limited-runs having thus created a stock issue. Ah well, the five-piece it is then, starting with Aeolian Processes from Lornezo Masotto.

Mr. Masotto hails from Italy (shock!), and is more of a classical musician than the drone ambient sort I've often found on Dronarivm. Not that this is some anomaly with the label, as they do offer outlets for modern classical composers. As this blog's a testament towards though, it's not a style of music I typically indulge in, but as the more minimalist strains of the genre can tread into ambient's territory, I'll cross paths with it on occasion. That all being said, I cannot deny it was the cover art that drew me into Aeolian Processes, a windswept tree shorn naked by atmospheric forces a striking image among Dronarivm's usual fare. You'd almost expect it a dark ambient release. All that's missing is an abandoned boat laying at the base of the tree's trunk.

Lorenzo primarily specializes in piano compositions, of which makes up the bulk of the music here as well. Again, I'm no expert on this aspect of modern classical, though I do know this is a wide open field of expertise, several pianists across the globe plying their trade to captivated audiences. Martha Argerich! Vladimir Horowitz! Evgeny Kissin! Sergei Rachmanioff! Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli! Maurizio Pollini! Yuja Wang! Krystian Zimerman! Mikhail Pletnev! Vladimir Ashkenzy! These are all great piano players, because tells me they are. I'm not sure how Lorenzo Masotto stacks against them, but I bet they don't add subtle electronic drones and burbling synths to their compositions.

His electronic treatments provide each track with their own flavor beyond being another lovely piece of melancholy piano music. Space Flowers, When The City Sleeps, and the titular cut have little bloopy arps playing in the background. My Great-Grandmother Lived In The Mountains makes use of pulsing synths playing in reverse. Geyser features blobby burbles bubbling out. Desert and Repeater indulge a little pad drone in support. Drone even features something approaching percussion.

I can't say Aeolian Processes is the most exceptional album of piano music I've ever heard, because I'm hardly well-versed in the genre to give such a definitive statement. For those rather grey days, however, I do find it most pleasant indeed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

JāFU - Add To Cart

Waveform Records: 2012

For so very long two acts have dominated Waveform Records: Sounds From The Ground and ZerO One. Their material maintains a consistent level of quality, sure, but likely isn't for everyone, even those who vibe on ambient techno and dubby downtempo. And while some labels get by with a couple core acts, they tend to remain ultra-niche. I don't want Waveform to be ultra-niche – I want more folks to hear their early wonderful releases, their amazing five-year run after the turn of the century. They need new blood to bring in new ears though, so if scoping out a dubstep album will get the ball rolling again, so be it. Besides, my Waveform Records CD collection can't be completed if I skip out on non-redundant items.

And hey, maybe this will turn out as one of those mythical 'good' dubstep albums that I've heard much rumour about. The PR blurb already proclaims this falling on the chill side of the genre, and I've liked a little bit of what I've heard in that spectrum, mostly care of Liquid Stranger's offerings on Interchill Records. James Fuller, the Canadian lad behind the Jafu moniker (or JāFU, if you want to get fancy with it), even appeared on the Saltspring Island label, as well as Dubstep For Deep Heads, and his own conglomerate print Chord Marauders. Waveform was where he got his start though, with this debut album Add To Cart. Man, just how many careers has Waveform launched anyway? Or at least provided that initial push out the door.

Add To Cart opens with a few tunes doing the sort of chill dubstep I don't mind one bit: music that's actually deep and dubby, with a simple, solid downtempo bounce that never loses the plot. Yeah, Jafu still does that over-compressed half-step snare, while tracks like Escalation and Encountering Intruders feature those mid-range wobbles one can't help but associate with the worst aspects of dubstep these days. Mr. Fuller at least rides his rhythms with some finesse and flow though, making them sound none too shabby. All too often producers throw in a bunch of randomized wub-wubs that serve no musical purpose other than wanking off the effects plugins.

Like when he does it in tracks like Subways, Fish Headz, Terminal, and Surgery. Or just go overboard in showboating some 'dope' sound they came up with, as in Yeasaw. Geez, does this ever sound corny. But I get it, I really do! For a generation of kids, this is their distorted guitar solo, or their acid knob tweakage, or their gated supersaw pad, or their flanged hardstyle kick – it's their jam, man! Fair enough, but why can't it stay on rhythm, like in One Lined Face? That shit gets my shoulders boppin', it does.

For as many tracks I like on Add To Cart, at least another third I'd sooner 'add to bin'. At eighteen cuts though, that's still a decent ratio to come away from. On a dubstep album, anyway.

ACE TRACKS: September 2017

Five years now, and I still haven't finished going through my entire music collection. Well, technically six, since I started the listening process a year before I decided writing about the experience could turn into a blog. But the end is on the horizon for sure, the last of the large letters in 'W' now finished. Just a casual little jaunt to the finish line for the remaining three letters. Except there's that alphabetical backlog accumulated over the summer, a much heftier amount of material there. Like, nearly two months worth. I think I can get it all finished before the end of the year, but man, is it ever gonna' be tight.

Then what after that, I wonder? Do I go back to those missing albums from the start of my alphabetical arrangement? I'm starting to feel obligated to, just so it doesn't look like I'm deliberately avoiding items. Like all those ambient dub compilations, various entries in the Balance series, plus a few bona-fide classics that this blog would feel incomplete without me reviewing them (Big Men Cry, 6 Feet Deep, 604, Alter Ego, Blue Moon Station, Blade, CB4). *sigh* I'll never end this, will I? On that cheering note, here's the ACE TRACKS for September 2017.

Full track list here.

Sounds From The Ground - Widerworld

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 20%
Percentage Of Rock: 13%
Most “WTF?” Track: The live Hybrid bits, if you 'd forgotten just how dope these guys used to be.

It may feel like there's a lot of Wu-Tang Clan on here, but really it's only two album's worth – an album and half even. What can you expect from the back-end of the letter 'W' anyway? The Wu dominate that realm, no matter what type of music you listen to. A decent variety of classic rock, modern psy-chill, mid-era downtempo, and Golden Era 'electronica' rounds out the rest, with the entirety of Hybrid's Live Angle set lumped at the end. Seriously, if you haven't heard it yet, you've no excuse now! Well, unless you just don't have Spotify, which kneels the question why you're even bothering with these Ace Tracks updates in the first place.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

EDM Weekly World News: December 2011

Are we all tired of DJ popularity polls yet? All the hullabaloo that marked each annual competition for biggest, bestest marketing whore seems to have simmered down in recent years, some losing all sense of credibility when non-DJs started winning, while others have fallen into repetitive ruts. Some years ago though, controversy still kept these things the talk of techno-town, and who can forget the year when we suddenly found ourselves with TWO (2) number one DJs? Even more shocking was that neither of them played trance! The poor, pathetic Trance Family was irate, flabbergasted, flummoxed, and not very polite either, raining on that year's champions like a wet fart. No, wait that was the actual celebration and its weak-ass spizzler fireworks. Sad.

Of course, if you didn't care for the results of those particular #1 DJ Polls, there was always the TranceAddict #1 DJ Poll, the TranceFix #1 DJ Poll, the Mixmag #1 DJ Poll, the YourEDM #1 DJ Poll, the DI #1 DJ Poll, the Beatport #1 DJ Poll, the mmnlssg #1 DJ Poll, the Pitchfork #1 DJ Poll, the CokeMachineGlow #1 DJ Poll, the TinyMixTapes #1 DJ Poll, the FACT #1 DJ Poll, the Vice #1 DJ Poll, the XXL #1 DJ Poll, the Rolling Stone #1 DJ Poll (I think Chemical Brothers won it that year... and every year), the Guardian #1 DJ Poll, the Billboard #1 DJ Poll, the BBC #1 DJ Poll, the NBC #1 DJ Poll, the CNN #1 DJ Poll, the CSPAN #1 DJ Poll, the FoxNews #1 DJ Poll (their result made Glenn Beck cry), the MTV #1 DJ Poll, the MuchMusic #1 DJ Poll, the Channel Awesome #1 DJ Poll, the Escapist #1 DJ Poll, the ScrewAttack #1 DJ Poll, the MetaCritic #1 DJ Poll, the IGN #1 DJ Poll, the EGM #1 DJ Poll, or Ishkur's Worst DJs poll.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Various - Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture

Babygrande Music: 2005

When I was in the throes of my hip-hop honeymoon, two groups ruled supreme as all that was great within the genre. You know who these two groups are, because I've constantly name-dropped them for as long as this blog's been active again (five years, oh good God...). And as any 'young rap fan' can attest to, when you start following groups, you start thinking up potential pair-offs between them, like comic super-team cross-overs. How dope, thought Year 2000 Sykonee, would it be for Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Inspectah Deck to trade lyrical atomic bombs! Casual and ODB riding a warped rhythm with their rugged, warbling flows! Souls Of Mischief sharing street tales with Ghostface and Raekwon! A-Plus and True Mathematics blending samples! Never mind the Wu and Hiero ran in such drastically different hip-hop spheres that these pairings could never to happen - I could at least dream of them.

And then it did happen! ...kind of. While not a full-on collaboration, the fact I'm holding a CD that includes Del, Casual, GZA, RZA, and U-God in the tracklist feels like a minor miracle in of itself. I guess having MF Doom, Ras Kass, Aesop Rock, Prodigal Sunn, R.A. The Rugged Man, J-Live, plus others is a nice bonus, if you're down for such acts too.

Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture is the brainchild of Dreddy Kruger, who appeared on a couple Wu affiliated tracks, but settled into an A&R role for the franchise, producing compilations and the like. When he launched his own print in Think Differently, he wished to bring more underground acts to the light, and figured mixing 'backpacker' rap acts with Wu-Tang stars was a good way of doing so. Providing the bulk of beats for all these MCs to spit their bars over is Bronze Nazareth, who's had a decent career in his own right following this record. He certainly gets the Wu aesthetic as laid out by The Abbot, funk and soul samples looping over gritty or smooth rhythms, as per each cut's lyrical context. Oh, and RZA handled his own 'blaxpoitation' beat for his team-up with MF Doom in Biochemical Equation, though the infamous masked MC lacks much spark in his verse. Kinda' happens when the 'collaboration' doesn't require everyone to be present in a studio.

That's unfortunately the vibe I get from Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture - a lot of disparate acts doing their minimum best for the project before they moved on to their own interests. There isn't anything wack on this CD, but nor does it elevate much higher than whatever excited ideas were probably germinating in your mind from the core concept.

Still, Dreddy Kruger believed in it enough to get enough recognizable names involved, his enthusiasm coming through in the paragraphs of liner notes. The highest praise I can give this is Wu-Tang Meets The Indie Culture is it's the best 'third tier' Wu project I've ever heard, though my sample-size is minuscule.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever

Loud Records: 1997

The Wu-Tang Clan's sophomore album couldn't help but be a double-LP. I mean, it was already The Thing to do for most rappers of note in the mid-'90s (Tupac, Biggie, Bone Thugs, Master P), but at least it made sense for this dynamic group. Their debut Enter The Wu-Tang was as perfect an album as any dropped in hip-hop's history, and the half-dozen solo records from various members after proved there was no lack of dope material in their ranks. After so much unprecedented success as a rap conglomerate, they absolutely deserved more room to breathe, letting all these MCs have more opportunities to shine on the mic, and celebrate The RZA's five year plan coming to fruition. Concerns about filler and bloat? Oh come on, how could the Wu Empire falter in their moment of triumph, especially after such a glorious lead single in Triumph?

And CD1 doesn't disappoint, almost a strong album experience in of itself. Yeah, the overlong Wu-Revolution opener reeks of pretentious hubris, that the Wu nation is willing to sit through a nearly seven-minute long sermon from Papa Wu. On the other hand, it does set a tone that the Clan is aware of social issues impacting black communities, and that they aren't gonna' just be another bunch of rappers glamorizing gangsta' lifestyles. Cool, but now that you've cleared your conscience, RZA, how about bringing the motha'fuckin' ruckus again? He done does that, Reunited showing off his newfound twitchy-soul production chops, follow-up For Heaven's Sake bringing the ghetto-grime to the fore, As High As Wu-Tang Get a fun bit of bouncy funk, Maria a boozy-woozy fest, and It's Yourz a good ol' stompin' crowd anthem.

And the rest of the Clan bring killer material to CD1 too, some of their all-time greatest lines ever dropped here (GZA: “Too many songs with weak rhymes is mad long; Make it brief, son - half short, twice strong.”). MCs that didn't much get spotlight in 36 Chambers have equal opportunities among the established stars, and a decent range of topics are covered among the ten tracks (lyrical showcases, street tales, conscious slabs, slum love, etc.). The only thing missing from CD1 is a definitive, stone-cold classic cut, but then they had to save something for CD2.

Disc number two starts off strong as well, Triumph the kick-off, followed by Impossible containing what RZA considers “one of the illest verses of all time”, Ghostface Killah vividly narrating the last moments spent with a dying friend on the street. Unfortunately, this is where that anticipated bloat starts to settle in, a run of average, oddball tracks leading to a slog of hip-hop between the islands of right dope shit (harrowing Little Ghetto Boys, ODB's wonderfully unhinged Dog Sh*t, the orchestral punch of Heaterz). Cheekily, the closing ghetto-soul of Second Coming is strictly handled by vocalist Tekitha, with nary a Clan member in sight.

CD2 is essentially a glorified B-side, but as mentioned, Wu-Tang Forever is easily worth the admission price for CD1.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Snap! - World Power

Arista: 1990

They hadn't planned on it. Sure, they were having some fun dabbling in productions and all, but Michael Münzing already had a tidy career running clubs out of Frankfurt, all the while doing a little DJing on the side. And while he had some synth-pop success with Papa Sven and Luca Anzilotti as OFF, most of Münzing's productions were in service for the clubs he played at, even using sampling gear in his shows.

Still, any European DJ worth their salt at the turn of the decade couldn't help but notice the sounds coming out of clubs from Italy and Belgium (not to mention how sample-happy everything had gotten), American styled hip-hop and house music the new hotness. Never mind that such genres had never charted in Germany. Misters Münzing and Anzilotti figured they'd adopt an American-sounding alias, make a record or two for their own clubs and leave it at that. Only trouble is the resulting record became an international smash, a tune rinsed out at clubs, on radio, at sporting events, during high-school dances... and still does to this day. To imagine a world without The Power is to imagine a darkest timeline indeed.

There's more to the story surrounding that single of course (oh is there ever more!), but I've an album to get through here. Point is Münzing and Anzilotti had to follow that sudden anthem up with an LP, the duo and their newly minted 'Snap!' moniker going from strength to strength in the singles department. Ooops Up turned into another winner (though not quite as big in The US), and Cult Of Snap! showed they weren't afraid of injecting a little Afro-funk into their jams. And while “Benito Benites” and “John 'Virgo' Garrett III” had undoubtedly tapped into a nascent european-fusion of hip-house few others could replicate, it was rapper Turbo B who gave them their unmistakable charisma, Darren Butler's deep, aggressive American inflection often coming off like a Chuck D clone. Yeah yeah, he'd never be as politically charged as the Public Enemy frontman, but between his tone and Snap!'s wilful incorporation of Afrocentric music (in Germany!), it was enough to get Mr. Butler inducted into Afrika Bambaataa's Zulu Nation. Yes, really.

We all know the big hits off here, not to mention the charming house hit Mary Had A Little Boy (oh God, the high-school memories with this one!). The rest of World Power amounts to a little better than filler, and is probably quite wonderful if you dig those early '90s hip-house jams. Most of the tracks are just excuses for to Turbo B drop a bunch of brag raps (Believe The Hype, Witness The Strength), with Blasé Blasé the most charming with its strict Funky-Drummer throwback vibe and off-ball asides from a faux Flavor Flav (plus, that bassline!). The mid-album ballad I'm Gonna Get You probably sounds all kinds of corny on the surface, but I've no doubt 'friend-zoned' dudes everywhere play this as their anthem.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Carbon Based Lifeforms - World Of Sleepers

Ultimae: 2006/2011

I love Carbon Based Lifeforms. Adore their ambient grace, their manipulations with little TB-303 knobs, their sense of open spaces both outer and inner. And yet, even after a half-decade of nabbing a copy of World Of Sleepers (thanks, re-issues!), it's never quite clicked for me the same way all their other records have. Heck, despite hearing Interloper for the first time just this year, it stuck with me stronger than most music off here. Right, that album was almost blatantly immediate and obvious in its songcraft, but Twentythree was pure synth-pad drone, and even that's taken more residence in my brain-pan than World Of Sleepers. Believe you me, it's getting ever more crowded up there, though I get the sense a little memory degradation has set in. Like, I can only recall about three out of fifteen tracks from 1993's D.J. Club Mix Vol. 2 from Polytel, one of which being a lame cover of Mr. Vain by 'Club Beat'. Oh dear, I'm doing that old man thing of ridiculously long anecdotal tangents, aren't I.

Naturally, this isn't a problem when I'm playing CBL's sophomore album. After the slow, gradual build of opener Abiogenesis, where soft ambient pads, ethereal tones, bleepy electronics, and digital voices guide your synapses to 'wake up', you're damn skippy my body's ready for the thumping beats and burbling acid after. If there was any doubt that Misters Segerstad and Hedberg weren't worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Ultimae's other key acts of the time (Solar Fields, Aes Dana, Asura), that opener should have quelled them.

And World Of Sleepers doesn't let down from there, follow-up Vortex a haunting piece of ambient techno once again playing to CBL's strengths (dubby pads, acid!), and Photosynthesis working another wonderful builder containing a melody that's on par with the classic MOS 6581. Three tracks, three winners! But after that, World Of Sleepers starts losing me.

The music remains all fine in of itself, it just feels as though CBL are retreading similar ideas already explored in the openers. More burbling acid, more lovely synths, more dubby percussion, more filtered 'science' lyrics, all of which kinda' blends together as World Of Sleepers plays through. Yet when I hear the crunchy acid work from Proton/Electron, the soft chill-out of Gryning, the gentle piano tones of the titular cut, or the geek-hop rhythms of Erratic Patterns out of context, I always do a double-take of “whoa, why haven't I heard this CBL track before?” I have, every time I've thrown World Of Sleepers on for a playthrough and unconsciously let it slip into the background of my attention span. Why does my brain keep doing that!?

The final track of Betula Pendula does draw me back in though, a gorgeous ten-minute piece of space ambient. Always gives me the uber-feels after, which keeps World Of Sleepers high on my 'Great Ultimae Albums' list. Why yes this 'list' is ridiculously big, why do you ask?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

King Midas Sound - Without You

Hyperdub: 2011

How odd is it that this Kevin Martin project immediately got a remix album, but none of his Bug material has. Even the critically lauded London Zoo only got a few token EP rubs, and that was undoubtedly his most successful album ever. King Midas Sound, on the other hand, passed by with less buzz, quite a few folks not even aware it was another project from The Bug. Still, I sense it gained something of a 'musician's musician' following, where the savviest of UK Bass ears couldn't help but zero in on King Midas Sound's developments. I doubt Martin, Roger Robinson, and Kiki Hitomi planned it as such, but when I see a crap-ton of obscure, esoteric artists 'reworking' tunes for Without You, it makes me wonder exactly who's the target audience here. Like, were so many acts anxious to lend their aesthetic to the King Midas sound that Hyperdub had no choice but to release a remix album like this?

Actually, Without You is something of a mish-mash of older stuff and new material. If you missed out on the King Midas Sound debut record Cool Out, fret not for you get the wonk-jazz of Flying Lotus' rub on Lost (eh, I'll pass) and Dabrye's weirdo synth-pop stab at One Ting as a hidden track (noice!). Both remixes on the Goodbye Girl single also show up, Without You kicking off with Kuedo's ker-lumpity bass-clump of G.G., plus Mala's tribal dubstep of Earth A Kill Ya. It ain't bad, but compare it to the bizarre place art-poppers Gang Gang Dance take the original moody number - I'm left speechless! The original was a fairly minimalist, menacing piece of spoken word dub music, whereas Gang Gang turn it into something you might expect from an Orb and Youth collaboration: all chipper, flighty, and filled with silly sounds. And yet Roger's words remain just as poignant in this setting as the other. How'd Gang Gang do d'at?

All the new songs are given 'revoice' credits, including the titular cut with a D-Bridge rub that's almost ambient dub. Kiki gets to showcase a little Japanese knowledge with Tears, Cooly G brings some R&B sultriness to the fray in Spin Me Around, and Joel Ford does his own croon in Say Somethin'. Not to let all these urban voices dominate, Green Gartside of the indie band Scritti Politti shows up in Come And Behold. It's... an odd contrast to the rest of Without You's thick haze of grimy dub ol' Kevin drenches his productions in.

In case that's not enough, other remixes go for weird abstraction (Robert Aiki; Ras G & Afrikan Space Program; ooh Deep Chord!), or familiar Hyperdub future garage (hey Kode 9; yo' Hype Williams). In all, Without You is a warped trip through the disparate muses of various musicians, the only thing holding it together being Kevin Martin's faith in letting all those invited stretch wherever they want. Well no wonder so many wanted in on this 'remix' album!

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