Tuesday, April 25, 2017
I didn’t think I’d ever get this album. Hear it at some point, sure, all of Carbon Based Lifeforms’ music available on streaming services now. Unlike their first two though, which Ultimae would re-issue in anticipation of a new CBL album coming out, Interloper only had its initial run. I’m not sure why they didn’t re-issue it with the release of CBL’s space ambient opus Twentythree - both Hydroponic Garden and World Of Sleepers were, with spiffy new cover art and everything. Maybe it was still relatively new, so hadn’t yet gone out of print like Ultimae’s older CDs? It wasn’t long before Interloper did sell out though, now commanding exorbitant prices on the open market. And since it seems unlikely Ultimae will re-issue any of their old catalog on CD again, yeah, I had resigned myself to having Interloper missing from my collection.
Then I caught wind that CBL were re-issuing their first three albums on CD anyway, plus vinyl options too. Holy shit! For sure it wasn’t Ultimae doing it, and I doubt they could afford it on their own Leftfield Records print (that’s digital anyway). Nay, they turned to a nearby Scandinavian outlet that specializes in all manner of record distribution: Blood Music. Wait, the death metal outfit that’s given synthwave poster-boy Perturbator a home? I… I mean… that is… how in…? WORLDS COLLIDING!!
So now I got myself a CD copy of Interloper (care of Blood Music. Blood Music!), and I have to say this was not the album I was expecting. Given the original foggy cover art and CBL’s ongoing drift into more minimalist songcraft, I figured this album would be the logical step between World Of Sleepers and Twentythree. Not in the slightest. If anything, Interloper just might be the most ‘pop’ album in Ultimae’s history.
The duo has had its fair share of sublime melodies - MOS 6591 from their debut undoubtedly their peak – but it isn’t their defining trait. This album, though, has ear-wormy melodies to spare. The titular opener hits you with an immediate winner; Supersede sounds like elements of Epicentre (aka: the other memorable melodic track from their debut) were repurposed for a prog-psy groover; Frog has an overwrought twee melody that could be an ambient track on a Solarstone album; M seems to have movie credits in mind; and Polyrytmi, after a lengthy, subtle build, erupts at the end in such a way that would have even Solar Fields saying, “uh, maybe tone it back a bit.”
Examples of the downtempo acid-chill CBL are known for do exist between these big moments, some with a few new wrinkles added. Right Where It Ends, with its treated vocals and unconventional rhythm, wouldn’t sound out of place on L.S.G.’s Into Deep; Init and misleadingly titled 20 Minutes adds glitchy beats; but by and large obvious melodies dominate Interloper, with a few vocals thrown in for good measure. A handy introduction to CBL for associates not so inclined to the underground side of chill-out music, this.
Monday, April 24, 2017
I feel like I’ve seen Michael Cottone’s project somewhere before, but my memory fails me. It could simply be a case of mistakenly misplacing The Green Kingdom for any other number of ambient aliases or titles over the years, this combination of words evoking similar imagery for any open field or deep forest. Or perhaps it’s an association with the more shoegazey side of mellow indie rock. For sure the sound you find on Harbor contains some of those markers, what with mellow, gentle acoustic guitars riding along calm, floaty pad work, but this is still firmly in the ambient-Proper camps.
Scoping out what Lord Discogs has to say, I’m left blank as well. Mr. Cottone’s been releasing music as The Green Kingdom for over a decade now, but he’s as much a label journeyman as you’ll ever find - almost every release of his came out on a different, obscure print (Heldernacht, SEM Lable, Own Records, The Land Of, Nomadic Kids Republic (!), Tench). If anything, he seems to have finally settled down with Dronarivm, this and his previous album Expanses both coming out on the Russian ambient-drone home. He also provided a podcast mix for the blog A Strangely Isolated Place, thus rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, Carbon Based Lifeforms, ASC, Bvdub, Martin Nonstatic, and a slew of other names I don’t recognize (so… many… ambient…).
Still, even this wasn’t enough to spike my memory, so I went to Last.fm to see if there was any additional info The Lord That Knows All may have missed. And holy cow, what is up with this Expanses 2 track? It’s gotten tons of plays, the rest of his music only modest scrobbles. Is it the same with Spotify streams? You bet, the track garnering over three-hundred fifty thousand plays – the next closest, from the same album, barely squeaks over the twenty-thousand mark. Dear Lord, why has that one track gotten so much atten- oh, it was in the Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack. Yep, that’ll do it for ya’. Can’t say that’s why The Green Kingdom looks familiar to me, but interesting finding this out nonetheless.
So, Harbor. The concept is simple enough, Mr. Cottone looking to guide the listener along the soothing waves of seaside shores. Surprisingly, there’s little use of wave samples, Green Kingdom instead letting the rolling drone mimic the feeling of chilling on a beach. Some tracks offer a chipper, mellow vibe with guitars leading, almost like an overdubbed version of Kruangbin (Harbor, Jade Star). Other tracks skew closer to dub techno, though with plenty of warm pads keeping the cold sterility away (Haze Layers, Morrowloops). Mostly though, we get calm, dubby pad drones with heavily treated orchestral and acoustic instruments. It all rather sounds like… wait, the opening part of Evergreen Sunset… that really sounds like… Vangelis? Creation Du Monde? Yeah, it totally does! Oh man, forget the next Miami Hotline game, get The Green Kingdom to score the next iteration of Cosmos.
Now doesn’t this look all ultra egg-headed in concept and design. Guide Lockstars? Astro Myrmex?? S.E.T.I.??? Right, that last one’s been a staple of electronic music for ages, musicians inspired by deep space frequencies traversing the endless void in meager hopes of finding kindred intelligence. Or something better, far superior to our primitive means, that’d be pretty dope too, but we’ll take whatever the cosmos sends our way. Beggers can’t be choosers.
Honestly, I picked this up because, hey, new S.E.T.I. – gotta’ check that out, yo’! Never mind I initially wasn’t sure which S.E.T.I. I was dealing with. Like, it seemed odd that the dark, abstract ambient project of Andrew Lagowski would end up on …txt, especially since his last few releases came out on industrial-leaning print Power & Steel. That other Seti project then, that consisted of Savvas Ysatis and Taylor Deupree, they’re more up the alley of Lee Norris’ label. Then again, they haven’t been heard from since the ‘90s, so odds of this being the same group were remote. Could it be a whole new S.E.T.I.? Lord Discogs surprisingly lists few acts with such aliases, so a young cheeky producer could take it on too.
But nay, turns out it was Mr. Lagowski all along, finding a home with …txt as he takes his project into the realms of narrative concept. The Guide Lockstars of Astro Myrmex is the second of what appears to be an ongoing tale of sorts, started with The Data Logs Of Astro Myrmex, released the year prior. Little information is given on what ‘Astro Myrmex’ is, beyond something that’s travelling the cosmos. A ship captain? Interstellar cruiser? Robotic probe? Evolved light being? Something definitely advanced compared to our current technology, what with Data Logs’ liner notes mentioning ol’ Astro exploring wormholes. Lockstars offers a morsel of additional information, explaining that Myrmex’s journey was initiated by the Nibiru Cataclysm. Ah, that event, as predicted by the cover art of Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet.
The music within, such as it is, does offer the sort of space ambient you’d expect of such a hard sci-fi story. Opener Instrument Calibration spends a chunk of its early portion with distant transistor pings and other sounds you’d figure robots communicating with radio antennae would emit, accompanied by low thrums that all dark space ambient must include. This isn’t a dark piece though, spacey pads joining the effects, nicely selling a cosmic grandeur vibe.
Guide Lockstars generally alternates in tone throughout, with S.E.T.I. exploring different forms of sci-fi sounds and abstract music. Mirach, LoS Jitter Summary, Adhil, and especially Black Engines are quite dark and droning, giving me pause whether I’d accidentally thrown on a Cryo Chamber CD instead. The longer tracks of Gravity Stupor and Almach are more bleepy and benign, though still feeling isolated between the stars. Still, it’s nice hearing a hard sci-fi, space ambient album that includes both ends of the vibe spectrum. (not as famous as the electromagnetic spectrum)
Saturday, April 22, 2017
This label’s full of surprises as of late. Not only have a couple unexpected acts returned with new albums (Scann-Tec and James Murray), not only did a new live album get released on CD (necessity of said live album still up for debate), not only did some melody return to one of their releases (Eyes To the Height), but now a follow-up to Greenosophy too? Who’d have predicted that?
No, seriously, I wonder, because the original compilation came out a half-decade ago; and honestly passed with little fanfare. Mind, it didn’t do the Mizoo project many favors having its release scheduled between two Solar Fields albums. Not to mention Fahrenheit Project wrapping up the year before, plus the additional compilation of Ambrosia coming out within the same twelve-month period. Oh, and a follow-up to Oxycanta the year after probably whisked away whatever ‘Another Ultimae Compilation’ buzz Greenosophy had going for it. Timing just wasn’t the best for that particular CD, is what I’m saying, and with Ultimae moving on from festival-friendly, mellow psy into the domain of dub techno for their chill offerings, would there be a need for another Greenosophy at this point? Sure, Mizoo could adapt to the label’s current aesthetic as Nova did with Passages, but that’d just be redundant at this point.
A glance at the track list didn’t dissuade me from that assumption either. Scann-Tec’s here, Cell is here, MikTek’s here, and Aes Dana crops up twice. All musicians I like for sure, but also clearly infatuated with dub techno’s aesthetic as of late. Mizoo opens Greenosophy: Chapter II with prog-psy veteran Ovnimoon though, his track Algun Dia more a moody, mysterious ambient piece with a gentle bleep melody lazily drifting along the droning pads. A nice opener, but then we go deep into experimental dub with Claudio Prc’s Domo, the sort of ultra-minimalist track that would have been an experimental piece during Plastikman’s Consumed phase. We’re in for a bit of a trudge in this one, aren’t we?
Not in the slightest! Scann-Tec’s Parsec was one of the better tracks off his Unyt album, and we get a tasty edit of that here. Following that is Security from Cell, doing a… prog-psy thing? Whoa, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Cell up his beats this much. It’s still relatively chill and all, but definitely at a foot-moving pace. And the two Aes Dana tracks that follow (including a collab’ with Mizoo) maintain the pace, though still keeping things on that minimalist vibe he’s been infatuated with as of late. And in case you didn’t get enough melody from Murray before, here’s I Awake and Hybrid Leisureland giving us a straight-up psy-dub outing in Metaworld. Haven’t’ heard something like that from Ultimae for an age.
For the tail-end, Mystic Crock brings acidy downbeat, Ascendant provides a bleepy prog-psy track (trance!), and MikTek does his usual widescreen trip-hoppy thing. All this leaves me thinking, “Please don’t let the next Greenosophy be another half-decade in the making.”
Friday, April 21, 2017
Faster than The Flash pulling a Lickity-Split, Czarface returned with a whole new album, on a whole new label, with a whole new promotional campaign targeting the comics industry. I doubt Deck, Eso’, and 7L had such a business partnership in mind when they created the throwback project, but one couldn’t ignore how much influence they were drawing from nerd culture. Likewise, geeks couldn’t help but get hype to an underground rap act celebrating their cherished institutions, and it wasn’t long before bootleg Czarface material hit the comic-cons. Well shit, son, if there’s a market for t-shirts, action figures, printed comics, and skateboards (!), y’all may as well get in on that gravy too. A Fistful Of Peril feels like it was released quickly not because Esoteric and Rebel INS were filled with tons of creativity they just had to get out, but to capitalize on all the positive buzz Czarface was generating with the nerds of America. Man, they really are influenced by the comics industry!
But this one isn’t as good as Every Hero Needs A Villain, if for no other reason than it’s a skint offering compared to the previous album. Inspectah Deck and Esoteric are dropping battle and brag rhymes with the same level of skill, though the punch-lines don’t hit quite as hard. Sometimes Deck is recycling stuff from old Wu joints like a comics penciler re-tracing famous poses - Revenge On Lizard City in particular apes Method Man’s Bring The Pain for a couple bars. That said, this bit of movie metaphor from Eso’ in the same track made me do the ol’ “DAAYY-YYUMM!” double-take:
“Stop your motion like Jason and the Argonauts
Ray Harry how I'm housing in the parking lot
Rap whiter, track writer, rap writer around your neck
I fuck up Superman like Zack Snyder on the set"
Music wise, A Fistful Of Peril also takes a step back, sparser in production, moodier in tone, and more reliant on straight-forward loops compared to the dynamic shifts displayed in Villain. A few tunes do come correct with the freestylin’ beats though (Dare Iz A Darkseid, Steranko, an extended turntable session in Sabers). And while my enjoyment of a rap record doesn’t hinge on the quality of guest verses, it cannot be denied there’s a major drop-off in that category too. Psycho Les, Blacastan, Conway, Mayhem Lauren, and Rast RFC handle themselves fine, but c’mon, they ain’t no GZA, MF Doom, Ghostface, Action Bronson, Method Man, Large Professor… you get the idea.
There’s still enough solid, straight-forward hip-hop in A Fistful Of Peril to enjoy, but I can’t see the Czarface project lasting long if it keeps falling back to boom-bap brags filled with geek culture references. Why not take things to the next level, go full nerdcore by adopting the Czarface persona completely, and telling a full-length narrative of his exploits in the process? Tell me that wouldn’t be dope as all hell. This project is practically preordained for it!
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Mister Murray made his debut with Ultimae Records when the French label was in the midst of its Second Generation push. This included acts like Cell, Hol Baumann, Hybrid Leisureland, and I Awake, most of whom I snatched albums from once I finally decided I should splurge on Ultimae’s entire back-catalog while they were still in print. Um, Murray’s LP, Where Edges Meet, wasn’t among them, so don’t go expecting that review once I get to the ‘W’s in my endless musical quest.
Lord Discogs says he didn’t do much after that for a few years, though eventually got into the label game with his own print, Slowcraft Records, started up in 2012. He floated among a couple other labels, and provided some podcast mixes for the webzine Headphone Commute, all the while dropping an occasional track for an occasional Ultimae compilation. He didn’t seem terribly high of profile with Aes Dana’s print though, so it was a small surprise that he’d return to it with another full-length album eight years after his first one.
And friends, thank Chillzarn, The God Of Chill, he did, because ol’ James has brought with him something that’s been seriously lacking throughout many Ultimae releases of late: actual melody! As in, chord progressions that lodges in your head, tones that tease out more emotion than isolated introspection, and much less emphasis on losing your headspace within the spacious dub-chill mixdown Ultimae’s been enamored with. For sure it’s still there, with pad work that paints a widescreen canvas like the foggy backdrop of an open field; however, things aren’t so obscured and impenetrable as the label’s recent releases go, details and foreground scenery present and clear. (the cover art really is apt for the music within)
I should make clear we’re not talking Solar Fields level of melodic power here, but it’s definitely more than we’ve heard since… geez, Circular’s Moon Pool? For the most part, Mr. Murray applies a gentle touch to his music, spritely tones found in tracks like The Black And The Grey, Holloways, Eyes To The Height and Ghostwalking. Others, like What Can Be Done, Passing Places, and Laterisers, go more towards the dronier aspects of ambient dub, muffling his melodies as though wrapping them in a soft blanket. Particles, which features two parts in this album, makes use of heavily treated piano, creating a lovely refrain complemented by breathy vocal pads and delicate rhythms (seriously, I feel as though these ‘beats’ could break if I breathe on them). Part 2 of Particles is about as close to a Solar Fields styled ambient tune as we’ve heard on Ultimae in some time, and closer Copestone offers a little vintage ambient-bleep vibe. Not quite HIA On Ultimae, but nice nonetheless.
Even if you’ve been wishy-washy about this label’s dalliances into dub-techno these past few years, Eyes To The Height is well worth scoping out. Murray brings some genuine feels back to Ultimae’s ranks, a trend that hopefully takes hold in future releases.
Less than two years after Czarface caught the attention of discerning underground heads, Inspectah Deck along with 7L & Esoteric returned to their comic-book inspired, anti-hero/posi-villain creation. And this time, “it’s personal.” No, wait, that doesn’t make sense. Maybe, “…and this time, they Czar harder!” Nope, that’s even less sense. Maybe “Not a hoax, not a dream – this album, Czar’s enemies DIE!” Look, most of my comics reading consists of Transformers. I dabbled in some Marvel stuff in my youth, and keep tabs on the industry for curiosity’s sake, but aping classic taglines? You’re better off consulting Linkara.
The chaps behind Czarface though, they know the scene their taking influence from, filling their rhymes with all sorts of nods to nerd culture. You don’t need intimate knowledge of comics, wrestling, and sports (!) to enjoy these two MCs and one DJ doing their thing, but it certainly helps. The eight-minute long opus on this album, Escape From Czarkham Asylum, is loaded with them – heck, even the title alone is a nod. Deck spends a whole verse comparing the impact of his bars to that of rampaging kaiju, and Esoteric gets in similar lines too (“I’m 90 Yao Mings tall, I’m 50 Fat Joes wide”; “My footprint is bigger than Fenway Park”).
And holy cow, but the production on this track is nuts! So many change-ups throughout, running through funky licks, straight-up boom-bap, and a tight electro thing with Airplane warning pings (makes sense with all the flight metaphors in that verse). True, an eight-minute long rap track needs some diversity to keep it interesting all the way through, but this whole album’s filled with dope, diverse beats. If the debut was about this trio throwing some jams out for the fun of it, Every Hero Needs A Villain finds them taking things more seriously, showing not just the verbal synergy between Deck and Eso’ but the production talents of 7L too.
For sure the boom-bap dominates, as it plays best to the Rebel’s and Eso’s strengths as rappers. In fact, the two have remarkably similar flows, their regional accents about the only identifiable difference (bar construction too). Funky jams find more room here compared to Czarface, including tracks like Lumberjack Match, ladies come-on cut Nightcrawler with a guest spot from Method Man, and the punch-line heavy Junkyard Dogs with JuJu (oh my God, these lyrics! Dr. Octagon reference!). Elsewhere, the production gets experimental, When Gods Go Mad offering something more cinematic (GZA verse!), while Ka-Bang! goes grimy and minimalist, which suits guest rapper MF Doom’s style just fine. Ooh, now there’s a crossover issue made in heaven-hell: Czarface vs. MF Doom. Maybe Deltron Zero can make a cameo!
I don’t ask for much in my hip-hop. Some verbal dexterity, killer beats, and metaphors that don’t fly over my head like Greatest American Hero is plenty. Twice now, Czarface has delivered as a pair of ace spades. Will their third album serve up the triple? (note: never let me ghost-write lyrics)
Monday, April 17, 2017
Despite being a solid follow-up to Jarre’s synth-wizardry debut Oxygene, Equinoxe remains overshadowed by its elder sibling. Like, why hasn’t Jarre’s sophomore earned itself a spiffy New Master Recording? Or a conceptual return three volumes deep? Not to mention the oodles of EP re-releases, usually coinciding with a greatest hits package. And while a couple tracks from Equinoxe often make the cut on such compilations, Oxygene dominates the selection process.
Part of this has to do with the fact Equinoxe pretty much is a continuation of ideas and sounds already explored in Oxygene - and as we all know, it’s primarily the First of something that gets all the attention. As Jean-Michel’s career carried on through the decades, it was marked by several other significant moments that took up space in your standard Cliff’s Notes recaps: the mega-concerts, the switch to digital from analog, the switch back to analog from digital, the on-again off-again relationship with club culture, etc. With so many talking points to touch upon, its unsurprising discussion of ‘the album that came after Oxygene’ isn’t the highest priority.
But important it is. Not Very Important, mind you, but important enough in that Jarre had to prove Oxygene wasn’t some fluke of creative serendipity. Given the nearly unprecedented global success of his debut in the world of synth music (no, we will not include Deserted Palace in this discussion, ever), fan and foe were eager to hear what he’d come out with next. Could he replicate that magical blend of modern classical artfulness while keeping an ear tuned with pop sensibilities? Might he go more abstract as a creative challenge? Or totally sell out with some disco pop, as was the happenin’ thing to do at the time? A little of each, turns out.
For sure Jarre has another long-player concept in mind for Equinoxe, this time out the dawn-to-dusk journey of Mankind. Right, that’s one Hell of a vague descriptor, though listening through this album, I can hear what Jean-Michel was shooting for. The first two tracks (Part 1 and Part 2) call upon his classical music knowledge, the first more a grand opening, the second a somber, mysterious reflective piece. Things get peppier in Part 3, building up to the centerpiece of the album in Part 4. It’s got a strident rhythm, sweeping synth strings, a hooky refrain, key changes, and lots of plinky sounds, burbling proto-acid…the usual assortment of Jarre treatments. Is it better than Oxygene? Does it matter? I think it’s cool, isn’t that enough?
Part 5 and Part 6 are even brisker than Part 4, though clearly treading into synth-pop’s territory. Part 7’s where it’s at though, tying everything together in a tidy, tasty sonic bow. Would have made for a perfect end to Equinoxe, but Jarre decides a little indulgence is in order, Part 8 running through some French pop silliness, then going full modern classical again for an outro. Ah, why not; I’ll allow it. ‘Tis fun.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
So Environment Six had its moments, but didn’t gel terribly well as an LP experience. And dammit, is it so unfair of me to want that? The Future Sound Of London made their mark in the ‘90s as one of the few electronic music producers who could successfully release fully-formed albums. We know it’s within Cobain and Dougans’ ability to do so, and though the Environments series has flitted with loose themes thus far, I can’t see an abandonment of it in favor of total freeform music making doing them many favors. With the simultaneous release of 6.5, also featuring a whopping twenty-three tracks, I worried we were in for another lengthy dive into the duo’s erratic muses.
Instead, we’re greeted with one of the biggest opening salvos FSOL have ever committed to record. Axis Of Rotation serves as a brief effects-heavy intro, a suggested orchestral melody emerging. It then melds into a thudding tribal rhythm in Solid Earth, where the same melody plays out in a haunting, subdued fashion. Wait, I should call that melody a leitmotif, because FSOL bring it back way down in track fifteen, The Day The Poles Shifted, and as a grand opus at that. Holy cow, does Environment 6.5 have an honest-to-God concept behind it?
I’d say so. For one, the tracks all flow much better together compared to Six, moments of calm and tranquility explored for stretches before easing along to tunes more brisk and experimental. If a number of these tracks started out as unrelated sonic sketches, FSOL tweaked and twisted them to fit whatever theme holds everything together. Even that, so often vague and obtuse in prior Environments, comes off more concrete than before. For sure explorations of ruined civilizations is well-tread territory where these guys are concerned, but with 6.5, I feel as though I’m directly involved in this musical trek rather than being an outside observer of events. This undoubtedly sounds awfully wanky, but the journey takes you through dark, underground passages, past dwellings both ancient yet futuristic, finally emerging into a new dawn as the surface finally recovers from its cataclysm (by force of nature than anything manmade, it seems).
Individual tracks, then. How do they all come off? Oh, the usual sort of FSOL eclecticism. Anacro Rhythm: far East psychedelia. Opal Light: noir ambient dub. Dark Seed: chipper braindance acid. I Dream In Viral Blue: widescreen jazz-fusion. Ain’t Gonna Lie: far flung ambient techno. Emmissions Of Light: dubby ambient glitch. Strange Allure: pure ambience with bubbling weirdness. There’s more, of course, but gotta’ save some surprises for y’all.
Why this wasn’t the Environment Six Prime album, I haven’t a clue. It’s so much better, Actual Six coming off like the b-side companion an album titled 6.5 should sound like. In fact, I’d rank this one on par with their ‘90s material, if for nothing else than that Axis Of Rotation leitmotif remains stuck in my head. Can’t say the same of most other Environment pieces.
Friday, April 14, 2017
It should have marked a triumphant return to electronic music media. Instead, Environment Five, The Future Sound of London’s first full album of original material since the ‘90s, was met with another indifferent shrug. For sure a few of the UK’s more prestigious rags scoped it out, in the process allowing some nostalgic look-backs to groundbreaking rave era Dougans and Corbain material. Having exhausted that angle, however, and FSOL failing to deliver the Instant Modern Classic such folks assumed was in the works, most music journals moved on, Environment Five joining Boards Of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest in the Over-Hyped Return bin (when can we add Random Access Memory to the pile?).
Thus it is with as little fanfare as possible that we return to this series a couple years later. Seriously, I saw no PR leading up to Environment Six, the only hype apparently a Facebook posting. I only found out about it by chance, checking their website for details regarding another side-project, Blackhill Transmitter. Then lo’, there it was, not one, but two new Environment albums. Well geez, better snatch those up post-haste. Surely folks will be buzzing about these soon enough (nope).
At twenty-three tracks, Environment Six looks daunting, but less than half of these break the three-minute mark, only one passing six minutes. Not that this is anything new, FSOL long known for their sonic doodles and half-formed musical ideas, such pieces serving as interludes, transitionals, or experimental indulgences that could never form Proper Tunes. And we generally allow it as they often serve a greater thematic whole within the context of their albums. Even these Environments, as loosely defined as they are, still adhere to some conceptual structure. This one though, I dunno – there’s more random meandering than ever here.
It starts out fine enough, the first few tracks reasonable lengths and exploring the usual future sounds Cobain and Dougans so often do - Polarize does the epic post-apocalypse thing, Mountain Path a meditative ambient thing, Thought Pattern a minimalist ambient techno thing. Elsewhere, Lichaen takes the tried-and-tested psychedelia path, Sol 7 goes all dubby glitch, Symphony For Halia provides a haunting, static-dub vibe straight out of Ultimae’s textbook, Plausibility opts for pure orchestral psychedelia, Yut Moik comes off like a long-lost track from Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series, and Leak Stereo 70 does a brisk, micro future-funk jam.
A nifty assortment of FSOL tunes, all said, though little thematically linking them together. Matters aren’t helped that tons of disjointed sonic doodles are littered amongst as individual tracks, seldom letting anything stick in your brain before quickly moving onto the next wayward muse FSOL follows. An ultra-short synth-arp tease in Seq/-9 is especially egregious. The final couple tracks - Meanders and Solace - are decent closers, but fail to sum Environment Six in any meaningful way. I don’t have much problem with ‘music for its own sake’, but it’s nice having some cohesive reason to sit down and take a full album in.
For a while, I figured the reason Larry Fast’s Synergy project never got the same buzz as his ‘70s synth contemporaries was due to his being American. All the biggest names in this high-concept, technical-wizardry scene hailed from Europe, where pushing the boundaries of Art was accepted, encouraged, and applauded by the music press. Meanwhile, in America, folks were still clinging to that good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll music, whether it be AM radio soft jams, funk fusions, or that punky stuff brewing in the East coast. While I can’t claim everyone in the U.S. of A. was anti-synthesizer, it certainly wasn’t as popular an instrument compared to elsewhere in the world, to say nothing of those who made extravagant compositions consisting of this cutting-edge hardware. So of course poor Larry Fast would be ignored in his home country, no matter how pioneering his works might have been.
Then I realized the truth of the matter is a lot simpler. It’s not that Fast was overlooked despite being among the earliest American adopters of pure synth music, it’s just that he wasn’t the first. Nay, that distinction goes to none other than Wendy Carlos, beating Fast to the game by several years. You can give ol’ Larry plenty of plaudits for taking up the mantle of American modern classical musicians when there still weren’t many around, but the country only cares about who got there before everyone else. No exceptions.
Speaking of firsts, here’s the debut Synergy album, Electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra, about as egg-headed a title as you could get in the ‘70s. Fortunately, it’s something of a piss-take on the growing fad of prog-rock bands going full opera with their endeavors, especially those who ironically claimed being above all that (hi, Queen!).
The record consists of three pieces that break the ten-minute mark, and two shorter ones hover about six minutes. The opener, Legacy was even featured in the Cosmos soundtrack, and for the longest time, I never made the connection it was the same Synergy that would go on to do Cords and The Jupiter Menace. Even longer, I didn’t realize that particular composition featured on his debut either, not until I actually bought this and threw the CD on. Felt mighty sheepish being thrown for a loop hearing those cascading synths right off, you bet’cha. There’s just not much in the way of Synergy documentaries.
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is a spiffy cover of the Richard Rodgers ballet, part of a Broadway musical. Makes sense that, while Tomita was doing classical covers, Fast would tackle something a little more American. Final track Warriors goes full modern classical in its composition, perhaps a tad twee in doing so, but sounds great if you dig your closing credit sequences in SNES-era jRPGs. The shorter pieces sound more like Fast showing off his technical skill on these cumbersome keyboards, which was just the thing to do at the time. Ask Rick Wakeman about it.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
I name-dropped this label a few months back, partly as a quip in yet another list of obscure ambient prints so many producers float to and from on. The only thing that honestly caught my eye regarding Inner Ocean Records is the fact it’s a Canadian outfit, not that anyone reading that particular review would know it (or maybe so, if they’re Porya Hatami completists). For whatever reason, I checked Inner Ocean a little deeper, and intrigued by their wares, snatched up every single CD their Bandcamp had on offer. All two of them. Quite a few cassettes though. Eh, I’ll pass on that format, thank you.
What’s even quirkier about that ‘splurge’, is of the two CDs I got, this particular release from Valiska, barely constitutes a traditional CD release. A Day As A Blade Of Grass is a single track, lasting all of twenty-four minutes, plunking it in the realm of EPs. It’s also the sort of release I’d expect to stumble across in the CD3 format ‘90s ambient labels would indulge in, before digital means rendered them moot. I’m surprised mini-discs haven’t also formed their own comeback as a hip collectable – they’re certainly no less impractical than tapes in our modern age. Maybe if Blood Music starts distributing them, we’ll see a resurgent market of CD3s.
Valiska is Krzysztof Sujata, and hails from Calgary (Inner Ocean’s base of operations), despite what you might assume based on his name (Polish India?). Although given the nature of the music within this album-EP-composition, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did originate from some Eastern Europe bloc homestead, that region flush with experimental ambient shoegaze-drone sorts; you sure don’t think of Canadian prairie country when it comes to this sound. He’s released about a dozen items this past decade (so sayeth The Discogs), some through his own means, others on various obscure experimental net labels that skew towards the indie rock side of things. He also happens to do digital mastering, so if you need a spit-shine to your drone-gaze glitch-twang demo tape while checking out the Calgary Stampede, give him a shout.
Though I currently lack the needed citation, I’ll assume A Day As A Blade Of Grass aims to literally capture what it’s like to live one’s life as a blade of grass – lawn, pasture, open field, Icelandic roof-top… any type of poaceae. Dawn breaks with tranquil, ambient pianos, solar photons providing our grass with vital energy to aid in photosynthesis. Soon though, abrasive, caustic distortion and guitar feedback emerge, disrupting the once calm mood. The animals and machines have come, trampling your space with hoof, claw, boot, and tire. Grazers chomp and chew at your surroundings, seldom leaving you a moment’s peace. Other sounds – reverse tape loops, detuned strings, grinding and clattering, feed a harrowing third act, respite only granted as the day finally recedes into night, our singular blade still alive for another day. Man, who knew grass had it so tough?
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
It’s improper of me starting an inexplicable dark ambient collection without gathering up releases from some of the agreed-upon legends of the scene. That’d be like getting into trance without checking out Oliver Lieb, or house music without copping Frankie Knuckles. Not to mention digging techno while ignoring the Belleville Three, or taking in jungle without a single Goldie single – my lone copy of Inner City Life on a Canadian compilation saves me such indignity.
So Lustmord was an obligatory purchase sooner rather than later, and to be honest, I’ve had my eye on the chap’s material for a while. His earliest material was in the vein of experimental stuff industrial artists were doing in the ‘80s, but along the way he adopted the lengthy drones of ambient composers, plus a fascination for the haunting emptiness of ancient caverns and the cosmos itself. He probably wasn’t the first to do it, but his 1994 album The Place Where The Black Stars Hang is widely regarded as the definitive example of space dark ambient, an LP frequently namedropped by all those who came after. You bet it’s on my list of “One Day, Eventually” albums I must own!
For now though, I’ll take in something more current, and it just so happens Lustmord returned to the realm of universal drone this past year, with Dark Matter. The concept is familiar enough with anyone that’s followed this style of dark ambient: take the natural, electromagnetic sounds of the cosmos – from the smallest molecules and charged particles, to the largest solar flares and quasars - and do as you will with them. Sampling these sounds is practically part of space ambient’s gene code now, especially ever since the Jet Propulsion Laboratory released their Symphonies Of The Planets series, recordings of planetary electromagnetic signals captured by the passing Voyager probes. These recordings are such a staple now, they’re almost cliché. Perhaps that’s why it took Lustmord this long to fully explore its potential - he felt it a classic case of “it’s been done.”
Or he was waiting to have complete, unfettered access to all the N.A.S.A. audio archives rather than those few commercially released ones. A man with his standing would definitely get that eventually, thus Lustmord finally gives us a full taste of cosmic drone, complete and utter in its various sources. And… I can’t really explain much more beyond this, can I? Folks familiar with electromagnetic sound experiments will be enthralled in the journey Lustmord takes with them, while the rest won’t have much inclining of what’s going on.
Of the three tracks here (each breaching twenty minutes apiece, though the first nabs a hefty seven extra for itself), only Subspace offers anything resembling music, and that’s soon subsumed by the cosmic drone too. There’s an ever-present deep thrum of drone, as though the universe is breathing, and sounds proper-huge when you crank your stereo. Your neighbors will wonder if there’s a black-hole core in the building.
Monday, April 10, 2017
Much as I’ve enjoyed Inspectah Deck’s rhymes in the past, it didn’t look like the album market would ever yield an all-time classic. Some dope moments scattered throughout, but nothing that compare to most of his Wu-Tang brethren. And it appears even Mr. Hunter had come to this conclusion too, 2010’s Manifesto his last proper album, and seemingly his final one as a solo artist. He may drop a mixtape here and there, but for the most part he seemed content moving on, supplying guest verses for Wu affiliates while working the touring circuit. It’s where the real money lies anyway, and there’s plenty back-catalog between his material and Wu-Tang hits that he could ride the rest of his career out that way.
Then I started hearing buzz about Czarface, sprung up practically overnight. Could it be true, a Rebel INS project that finally captured all the fiery MCing I loved from his early Wu verses, wrapped up in some nebulous nerdcore concept? No way it could be that dope, and true enough it wasn’t quite that, but definitely enough going on here that talk of “the old-school fire is back” and “career renaissance” have steadily built Czarface up as one of the hottest, throwback underground groups around. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention this is a partnership between Deck, Esoteric, and 7L? How remiss of me.
Truth be told, I don’t have much to say regarding the DJ and One MC combo of 7L & Esoteric, because I don’t know much about them at all. The names have floated on the periphery of my attention since their breakout at the turn of the century, always in association with underground hip-hop acts that commanded a little more mainstream attention (now isn’t that an oxymoronic sentence!). I didn’t dig further though, as I always got 7L confused with either the riot grrl punk band L7, or the R&B singer LV (aka: the sweaty guy from Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise). How I got a DJ mixed up as either, I haven’t a clue, though never actually taking in a 7L & Esoteric production certainly didn’t help matters. And I didn’t hear great buzz about them in all these years because the duo hails from Boston. Unless you’re a serious head, underground hip-hop hype from the Massachusetts capital won’t break through on my side of the continent. And I’m a Basic Casual at best.
Anyhow, Deck had collaborated with the duo before, and when they approached him with their idea of a vintage boom-bap rap album that’d play to both Rebel’s and Esoteric’s lyrical style, Mr. Hunter joined forces to form Czarface. Throw in guest spots from Ghostface, Action Bronson (plus others I don’t recognize), and a few productions from DJ Premier too, and you’ve got an instant underground hit. One that must have got the creative juices fired up something fierce, as two more LPs were released in short order. Which I got as well. Oh yes, Czarface will return soon, my friends.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Winter is done. It’s over. Finished. Us pampered folks on the West Coast of Canada no longer must deal with the snow and the sleet and the ice and shmulsh and the canceled buses and trains. Nothing but spring weather from here on out. Wet, yes. Cold at times, definitely. The air suffocating with seeds, spores, and pollen? Sure, but it beats dealing with delayed flights due to white-out conditions. This is why I live at sea level, after all, and not in the mountain regions of my land, where winter doesn’t end until June. Or the Northern regions of my province, though I’m pretty certain their winter ends a little earlier.
Point being, for yours truly, winter is no more, so it’s about time I take in another album of bitter cold dark ambient from Ugasanie. Hey, what can I say? The Arctic reaches continuously fascinate me, the inhospitable, impassable alpine tundra captivating me. Lands where only the heartiest of species have a hope of surviving. I mean, just look at that mountain range on the cover art. Just look at it! What hope have thee, of traversing such imposing, insurmountable icons of icy escarpments? No seed may take root, no hoof may climb, no wing may navigate, but for certain peril and doom assured. To lay eyes on such natural wonders of our world – awesome in size and terrible in domain – to even have hope of hiking across their frigid, treacherous paths… is such a thing I’ll never achieve. Remember, pampered Vancouverite. That doesn’t stop me from getting my Consciousness Displacement on though, imagining such vistas as I take in the blasting-cold sounds of this particular style of dark ambient.
In Border Of Worlds’ case though, such sounds are window dressing to Ugasanie’s main focus, taking a trip into a shaman’s trip. It’s a concept Mr. Угасание has explored before, the deep dive into primal forces of the human mind and spirit, as endured by those in some of the most remote, isolated places of our globe. Call Of The North dealt with a sort of ‘Arctic madness’ such regions may cause on those susceptible to auroa borealis’ dancing charms. This undertaking is a proper trek into the inner psyche though, taken by shamans of tribes that dwell in the northeastern portions of Russia. Oh, and mushrooms are involved too.
Even for droning dark ambient, Border Of Worlds is thick with the drone. Most tones and field recordings sound impossibly distant, whether from the isolation of northern winter huts, or feelings of being withdrawn within as the shamanic trip takes hold. There’s sounds of tribal drumming (Obfuscation), howling winds/wolves (White Death), haggard breathing (Initiation), and staggered hiking (In Cold Arctic Winds), almost all of which are buried by the unrelenting drone. Some tracks do offer glimmers of tense, melancholic tonal harmony, almost as a tease out of whatever intense mediation is taking place here. For the most part though, Uganasie offers little respite in this journey.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Continuing my search for more hard-copy synthwave that isn’t another Perturbator release, we now find ourselves in the lands of Gost. Not a major leap, I’ll grant, Mr. Lollar clearly appearing on the same label as Mr. Kent – you just can’t knock that spiffy Blood Music artwork! Heck, the Pertubatortating One even provides a bonus remix to the titular cut on this album, and Behemoth frequently crops up in those ‘Recommendations’ algorithm lists any time I click a Perturbator CD. This isn’t so much cruising the streets in search of a different burger shack, but rather moseying to a subsidiary of the same chain. If Blood Music remains the best provider of synthwave CDs though, I see no reason in drifting from this zone anytime soon. Your move, Other Synthwave Labels.
Funny thing is Gost didn’t start out as a strict synthwave guy, at least not to the extent most associate the scene with. His debut album, Skull, had more in common with the sort of music the Ed Banger posse was putting out the previous decade (do they still? I honestly haven’t kept tabs on that French crew). There were still touches of sparkly retro synths complementing the grinding, distorted acid squawking though, plus a clear fondness for ‘80s horror movies and scores. Guess that’s enough for Gost getting lumped into the synthwave camps instead. Hey, anything to shake up the scene’s predilection towards pure Hammer and Carpenter clones.
(side note: Hammer & Carpenter would make an awesome name for a synthwave duo!)
Behemoth is Mr. Lollar’s second full-length, and debut with Blood Music. As he’s still somewhat unproven compared to the label’s synthwave poster boy, Gost only got six vinyl variants, none of which contain the bonus remixes the CD does, so ha-ha! No, really, having two versions of Reign In Hell is fuckin’ sweet. The original tune hits you with one of the gnarliest basslines I’ve ever heard out of the electro-trash camps, all rubbery, acidy synth goodness with a solid house beat to match. The silly thing doesn’t even last two minutes though, abruptly crashing into a chipper, if standard synthwave cut in Tongue. Thank God (Gost?) that Reign In Hell gets the proper remix treatment from Dance With The Dead, supplying that killer bassline in droves, complementing with wicked synth pads and hooks, squealing guitar solos, and one of those ‘I Kans Kaos Pad’ things the glitch hop guys often wank over to. Eh, two out of three ain’t bad.
Most of Behemoth sticks to the synthwave style Perturbator’s practically made his own – the high-octane darksynth, some retro homages, the sludgy metal detours, etc. - though Gost cranks his crunchy bass end into overdrive whenever he can. And unlike Mr. Kent, he doesn’t really craft a narrative, simply relying on the ‘Glory To Baalberith’ theme to hang his tunes off throughout. Though admittedly, the titular cut serves as one badass finale, what with apocalyptic choirs chanted “Be-He-Moth” like he’s a silver-haired super-soldier attaining Deity status.
Monday, April 3, 2017
As important it is finding reliable artists and labels that sustain your music cravings, even more important is the trusted shop that exposes you to something new and different. Well, maybe not radically different – gotta’ stick to that comfort zone, after all – but at least material you’d have overlooked had the staff’s recommendations not steered you in that direction. One of the surprising options I’ve come across is Ultimae’s shop at their website. Of course they shill their own material, but offer up quite a few other items from other sources too. Now isn’t that mighty classy of ‘em, letting competing labels hawk their wares on their webspace (for a small financial reparation, I’m sure). Once a year I peruse the Ultimae Shop, and have come across some mighty fine selections indeed, including Distant System, and the compilation Absence Of Gravity, my first exposure to AstroPilot.
It is under such circumstances I’ve now come into audio contact of Chihei Hatakeyama, yet another in the bottomless bay of drone ambient musicians. Seems he’s had a tidy solo career the past decade, a few dozen albums to his name. Naturally, that’s more than I’ll ever get to listen to, but if I’m gonna’ do a review of this latest(ish) album of his, Above The Desert, I’d better get some discographic knowledge-son crash coursing through my earholes. Let’s see what Superion Spotify has on offer.
Ooh, quite a few of his albums, turns out. Guess I’ll just fire up his most popular ones for a sampling and- wait, what’s this? His top track, Ferrum, has over five-and-a-half million plays!? Holy cow, that’s astounding! I had no idea he was this popular! How’d I ever miss-
No, wait, most of his top tracks linger in the five-digit range. Very respectable numbers for an ambient drone artist, true, but it looks like this Ferrum is an anomaly, only a couple six-digit hit tracks even coming close. Why did this one track do such damage? Was it featured on an HBO Original soundtrack? Namedropped by Wolfgang Voigt? Did Buzzfeed include it in a 14 Drone Masterpieces You Must Hear RIGHT NOW! feature? So many questions…
As for Above The Desert, I can definitively say this is indeed another Chihei Hatakeyama LP of pleasant drone ambient. Timbres blend into an amorphous tonal soup, where it doesn’t seem like much happens if you play it in the background, though layers do emerge with a little focus. There’s always something distinct humming underneath the main pads – soft clattering in Before The Sabbath, creaky field recordings in Wind In Mind, gentle guitar strums in A Placid Mountain Lake. Most tracks run an average of seven minutes, with a whopping nineteen-minute piece to close out. The Tower Of Babel’s a curious track too, always feeling like it’s wrapping up soon. Yet it just keeps on going. And going. And going. Never ending, forever traversing whatever path ol’ Chihei leads it along. It’s like a dancehall rapper of noodly pad work.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
After completing his third Sabled Sun album, 2147, Simon Heath put out the idea of taking the project into its past - prior to the current protagonist’s cryo awakening, and to the point of when it all went wrong. While I’m sure some would love a little insight into the Sabled Sun backstory, I can’t say I was one of them. The project’s strength lies not in How Things Came To Be, but rather How Might Things Move On. Whatever caused this cataclysm can be revealed through the course of our protagonist’s journey, for seeing how he copes with this hostile environment is a far more compelling narrative, especially where dark ambient is concerned, what with the genre’s frequent themes of isolationism and all.
Regardless, it appeared Mr. Heath was content in letting the current focus of the Sabled Sun tale take a respite of some sort, ending 2147 with a sufficient amount of hope as allowable given the circumstances. After the first two years/albums presented us with despair and ruin, the third showed signs of recovery, a world not completely dead, though undoubtedly untamed and feral, civilization in total remission if any remained. Though but a glimmer, it was enough optimism to look forward to the future. Thus, it seemed our protagonist had enough of his sickly wanderings, and went back into his cryo sleep, perhaps reviving in a world better recovered from when he first woke. Sadly for him, one year later is hardly enough time.
Again, though the specifics are left vague enough for your own interpretation, 2148 does mark a departure from previous Sabled Sun albums, in that our protagonist is dealing with a different situation. Instead of wandering desolation and ruin in search of answers and survival, something more specific is taking place. Upon re-awakening, the tone is more claustrophobic than before, an environment much different than the one 2147 left off. There’s less sense of open world discovery, instead poking about a specific location, as though trapped in a facility that, while not fully functional, is still active enough that it raises questions of who left the power on. Is it automated? Might there be other survivors? How did he even end up here? And what, pray tell, is Project Locus Arcadia? It certainly must be important, given it’s the second longest track on 2148, and possibly the most ‘musical’ among all the typical sci-fi field recordings and dark ambient drone expected of a Sabled Sun CD. If anything, Project Locus Arcadia sounds like an homage to John Carpenter, though done in Cryo Chamber’s brand of post-apocalyptic tone.
But more than that… dude! Locus Arcadia again! I’ve joked about this label having continuity between their releases, but does this actually confirm they’re going this route? Does this mean we’ll have to start collecting Cryo Chamber albums like comic books to keep speed with their ongoing narrative? Has any label attempted such a thing!? This is, of course, all suppositional, but still… Dude…!
Saturday, April 1, 2017
I shouldn’t feel like Banco de Gaia’s last album, Apollo, is still a recent release. It’s been three years since it came out, and Toby Marks has provided us with numerous items in that time. Singles, remix albums, 20th Anniversary re-issues, expansion of his Disco Gecko print to include music from outside artists. For all intents the Banco & Co. brand has been busier than its ‘90s heyday, which should leave Apollo already a distant memory, this newer, fresher album of The 9th Of Nine Hearts tingling and tugging at my earholes in anticipation. That super-long gap between albums prior to Apollo must have jaded me some, figuring ol’ Toby had turned into one of those “eh, whenever” musicians that was content riding out his past works into the sunset of his career. Sure am glad this album proved me totally wrong on that front!
If Apollo was Mr. Marks finding his ‘90s mojo once more, then The 9th Of Nine Hearts finds him fully expanding upon it with all the song-writing skill attained since then. More consistent throughout, more nuanced in themes explored, more confident in reviving old ideas in service of a new era, this is the album casual fans had been hoping from Banco since… well, whatever they figure was his last, official ‘Best LP’. Pretty sure it isn’t anything from his wayward ‘00s era.
This one though, it’s got spiffy worldly beat-jams (Le Foucauld, No Hablo Italiano), rising proggish rock-jams (Burn The Witch), and throwback ambient dub with guest Pink Floyd saxophonist jams (The Princess And The Sky Goat - and yes, that’s Dick Parry horn tootin’ again). Then there’s ultra-throwback dance cut 91, where Marks teams up with vocalist Sophie Barker (of The Egg’s Walking Away fame) for a retro-rave tune that’s proper old-school acid house in tone, but nice and crisp for contemporary ears.
Amongst all these tunes are plenty of downtempo and ambient tracks that show off Banco’s matured songcraft over the years. Opener Nine Hearts has a widescreen, dream-pop tone with swelling synths and piano doodling. Bookmarking the album is another piano piece in This Heart, incredibly soft, gentle, melancholic, but strangely optimistic too. Not sure why it reminds me of Neil Young’s piano folk – maybe it’s my only real frame of reference to piano music of this sort?
Elsewhere, Warp And Weft gets all ethereal and trippy with Banco’s ambient dub, Midnight Sun goes full-on ethereal, and the middle portion of the album is highlighted by two contrasting pieces. Seriously, Is-Is Loves Anhk-An-Atum and So We Dream Of Futures Lost work so well together, I thought they were the same track on several early playthroughs. This actually happened with a few tracks on this album, 9th Of Nine Hearts one of the best flowing Banco albums in ages. In fact, if I’m to level any significant criticism against it, it’s almost too smooth for the amount of musical diversity on here. I can live with that.
But nay, the reason my writing reviews has taken a downturn as of late is due to other distractions, including writing material for another project. And though it still involves music, it’s still an entirely different approach to what I do here, with separate demands on what free time I allot it, and riding that particular wave of inspiration to the detriment of others. Look, this is a thing Writers go through! Our brains are totally fragile, delicate Faberge things that can only handle specific topics at a time. Why do you think many find their most comfortable (or profitable) groove and ride that out until boredom? Thus, a little bit with this blog here, and a little bit with the other project th’ar. Makes sense until the other thing’s finished, right? Eh, what project am I talking about? Uh, I already mentioned it a couple months back, remember? In the meanwhile, here’s the Ace Tracks for this past month of March!
Full track list here.
UOVI - UOVI
Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 17%
Most “WTF?” Track: Not a thing.
Is that my shortest ‘Missing Albums’ list ever? Holy cow, I think it just might be (too lazy to double-check over fifty months’ worth of playlists). Dammit, UOVI, I nearly had a perfect playlist here! Maybe I’ll get there… again, if I have already (seriously, guys. Five. Zero.). Despite its short length, the music on this Playlist is nicely diverse, nothing overwhelming something else in any regard.
Now time to tackle the alphabetical backlog that’s built-up, which thankfully isn’t nearly as long and cumbersome as some of my other recent ones. Hey, when you’re planning to move to a new pad in the near future, you want to save money for that instead of buying new music during lean months. Plus, y'know, make sure you don’t have any outstanding orders that might arrive late in the mail.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
And we’re back with another round of second-gen’ Italian ambient composers. Those who carried on Eno and Roach’s seminal work of the ‘80s, but were ignored by hip, young ravers of the’90s in favor of cooler cats like Namlook and Inoue. Not that they could help it, many releasing material on ultra obscure, limited CDr labels like Arya, Aurora, Amplexus, Due Acque, Hic Sunt Leones, and Klausewiese.com. Come to think of it, Fax+ also did the limited run thing with their releases. So why did Namlook’s print get all that hype, and these guys didn’t? It’s the famous collaborations with famous techno people, isn’t it? Good ol’ Pete, he had all the cool connections, whereas Mathias Grassow and Gianfranco Grilli and Tau Ceti didn’t. Remember this lesson, o’ ye’ young ambient musicians: even in this scene, who you know matters.
Fortunately for Oöphoi, he was a rather big fish in the small pond that is the Italian ambient scene. Born Gianluigi Gasparetti, he released his first of some eighty albums in 1996, his third LP The Spirals Of Time quickly hailed as an instant classic within the genre, formed a super-group of sorts called Nebula, and set up his own print in Umbra, helping many fresh-faced producers get their starts. Sadly, he passed away in 2013, yet another talent taken away too soon. Say, ambient world, where is the eight-CD box set tribute for Oöphoi?
Upuaut is his sixth album, released but a few years after his debut, and his second one-track LP. I’m not sure how many in total he has, though I know that 2003 Meditation CD came close, with a fifty-eight minute long track, followed by a brief five-minute one after. Hey, may as well use up all the aluminum if you can.
Much of Oöphoi’s releases have your typically vague, sensory ambient themes attached to them: rustling leaves, dreaming shells, hymns for silent skies, or being of a liminal state. Upuaut is something more concrete, in this case almost literally, as it’s a reference to The Upuaut Project. In the early ‘90s, a German archeologist named Rudolf Gantenbrink set about sending miniature mobile robots up through air shafts of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the more curious parts of the massive structure as these narrow passages didn’t actually ventilate the pyramid. Some theorize they have astronomical significance, others more mystical, but whatever their purpose, it led to Oöphoi feeling inspired by The Upuaut Project’s modern methods of exploration and discovery.
Thus, Upuaunt recreates this journey. It’s all mostly droning ambient (of course), but the early portions feel more open and free, gradually growing dense and claustrophobic as you delve deeper into this domain of the deceased. More harmonic tones and subtle chanting emerge some forty minutes in, finally easing out in a calm, meditative bliss with light rhythms. A spiritual ending to the journey? Well, I guess that’s more interesting than the limestone blocks they discovered at the actual end of the shafts.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
The world of Canadian rock was primed for a band like The Tragically Hip taking over its airwaves and hockey arenas. When they released their debut album in 1989, there wasn’t much in the way of competition. True, Bryan Adams was an international superstar, but aside from him, who were the Hip’s opposition? The age of Loverboy and Platinum Blonde was well on its way out by the end of the decade, and while Glass Tiger carried that ‘80s vibe a little longer, it definitely wasn’t a sound the alternative and college stations were anxiously pushing. Tom Cochrane & Red Rider had a few huge hits, but in typical Canadian Content fashion, was brutally overplayed (and still is). Rush was still around, though were by that point regarded as Legacy Musicians, not a group generating that New Hotness buzz. And of those up and comers that might compete with the Hip? Blue Rodeo quickly established themselves as band that might stick around, but what of the others? The Northern Pikes? Frozen Ghost? Haywire? The Jitters?? Pfft, like a band with a silly name like 54-40 would amount to anything.
Funny enough, all those groups were nominated for the Most Promising Group award at the Juno Awards (essentially the ‘rookie of the year’ trophy at Canada’s music gala), between 1987-1989. Bear in mind that The Tragically Hip was active since 1983, and released a seven-track self-titled EP in 1987 – the Junos should have been aware of them for all those shows. They did win that award, but in the year 1990, an astoundingly long time after-the-fact. For a band that would go on to be one of the most revered rock groups in Canadian history, one can’t help but chuckle at how overlooked they went in their early years. Maybe Canadians would have paid them more attention if Americans had?
Up To Here is about as strong an opening statement from an up-and-coming Canadian alternative rock band as you’ll likely ever hear. Right, the sample size is super-small, but considering some of the songs on here were live staples throughout the group’s history, they were clearly onto something long-lasting. How can one not be instantly sucked into small-town folksy charm with the opener Blow At High Dough, with the lyrics “They shot a movie once, in my home town; Everybody was in it, from miles around.”? The most famous tune off here, bluesy New Orleans Is Sinking, was often used as a testing point for new material, an extended mid-song jam session premiering future songs or letting lead-singer Gord Downie get his poetic muse on. Everything else ranges from acoustic ditties about escaped convicts (38 Years Old), to hard rockers about vengeful spouses (She Didn’t Know). You know, everyday people issues.
Like the band’s gestating popularity, Up To Here was a slow burner, garnering little chart action until the Hip properly blew up a few years later. It’s only their second album to gain Diamond status, and well deserved the wait.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
I’ve taken on plenty of experimental stuff, from grinding drone works to fussy krautrock noodling to studies in clinical musique concrete wonk. Music produced from inanimate objects that shouldn’t produce any sound at all though? Some of the more extreme dronists out there love amplifying quiet spaces, and absolutely I’ve seen those videos of record players taking on slices of tree rings transposed onto vinyl. Some of my favorite non-music ‘music’ comes from electromagnetic recordings of the planets, ghostly hissing and whispers from the farthest reaches of our solar system, but you don’t have to skim the rings of Saturn to hear such stuff. As so many higher spirituality musicians love proclaiming, the world is sound, everywhere you look, every which way you turn your ears, from the highest mountaintop (if a tad sonically thin), to the crushing depths of our deepest ocean trenches (that bass!).
The man behind UOVI, a chap who simply goes by Peachy, claims he’s dabbled in this sort of ‘music everywhere, anyway’ methodology for as long as he remembers. And though his website, Wandering Eldar, is scant in background bio, at least there’s some handy info dumps on his various projects. The one that’s gotten most attention as of late is the collaboration with Kat B. called The Stone Tapes, a concept that came about by chance, being gifted a cardboard box containing old electromagnetic tapes from his studio neighbor, an elderly gent by the name of George Albert Wilberforce. I have no idea who that is; nor does even The Indomitable Google bring up any details beyond his association with The Stone Tapes. Whatever the intent, these tapes contained recordings of various historical British locales, all used with modified equipment such that there was no other field recording of their particular nature. Inspired to make some use of this gift, Peachy converted them for their own use, resulting in an… odd collection of conceptual music, to say the least.
Well hey, how about that UOVI thing then? What’s that one all about? To quote: “If the machine is fed with sigils of an occult nature, alchemy is performed.” In a nutshell, Peachy is taking inspiration from a Soviet engineer called Evgeny Murzin, who’s ‘gimmick’ was turning symbols into sound by using glass plates, black putty, and a primitive synthesizer. It was a crude technique, but what can you expect from the mid 20th Century?
So UOVI aims to carry on this approach, this debut album a first stab at the process. Seems he was more concerned with conventional music-making though, mostly sticking with ancient ambient and ‘90s downtempo IDM in the foreground while the experimental stuff lurks on the fringes. Some pieces go a little Berlin-School (1974, A Separate Reality) or full-on kraut (Witches, Haunted Circuits), plus one track even treads near the realms of aggrotech (While In Berlin). For the most part though, if you don’t mind a little more vintage ambient techno in your diet, UOVI’s some good stuff.
Monday, March 20, 2017
My brain is playing tricks on me again, convincing me of things that are true despite clear evidence to the contrary. I get the sense I’ve seen the name Scann-Tec around for some time now, and that part is somewhat accurate, some of the chap’s earliest material appearing on the 2006 Ultimae compilation Fahrenheit Project Part Six. And while I can’t claim he remained a fixture within the Lyon-based label’s activities, his name has cropped up enough times that I’ve come to think of him as at least hovering around the Ultimae bench, though around the eighth or ninth man position. Or maybe a young prospect in the minor leagues that was drafted many years before, but hasn’t had a call-up yet beyond a few exhibitions games (compilations). Dammit, I haven’t watched much sports this winter – these analogies shouldn’t be so prominent in my brain-pan!
If I can’t resist it, then let’s take it all the way: Unyt is Scann-Tec finally getting the opportunity on the starting line-up, his first full-length album on Ultimae. He’s had a technical album out prior, a live recording in the label’s Live Nuit Hypnotique digital series that featured mostly second-tier acts. He also made his actual debut seven years ago, Facial Memories on Celestial Dragon Records, which was well received by the psy-chill camps. In the meanwhile, the man behind this moniker, Vladislav Isaev, has consistently worked with a group called Sundial Aeon, who’ve released seven albums this past decade, mostly on Impact Studio Records. So though he’s only just now properly getting a spotlight on Ultimae, Scann-Tec has definitely spent plenty of time honing his craft.
Thus it shouldn’t be too surprising that Unyt is a solid album all around. For one thing, it has more melody going for it than I’ve heard from an Ultimae release in some time. Oh, so wonderful to hear those twinkling synths in opener Snova I Snova, and that lovely melancholic violin in Quantum Evo, and the subtle piano in Klinostat, and, um, the pads in the ambient closer Turgenev, though the bit of Russian dialog kinda’ drowns it out. Okay, so there isn’t that much melody in this album, but it’s more than you seem to typically get out of Ultimae these days.
For the most part though, Unyt sticks to minimalist downtempo and dub techno, and I cannot deny this is some of the most utterly spacious dub techno I’ve heard in… ever? For sure this style is all about exploring the emptiness between sounds, yet I’ve seldom heard stuff as aurally deep as what Scann-Tec provides here. Laying back, listening to this album on the ol’ Sennheisers, and it feels like I’m wandering huge, open landscapes, each sonic layer urging you to explore deeper, like a pull-in shot with a classic Disney multiplane camera. If this is in fact Ultimae-head Aes Dana taking his mastering techniques to a whole new level, then Hell son, the label’s future is brighter than ever.
Friday, March 17, 2017
(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)
When I first reviewed this compilation eleven years ago for TranceCritic, I gave it an overwhelming ‘meh’. Four years later, when I provided a quickie update, my thoughts hadn’t changed much. After that additional listen, I figured Unwind would forever after sit lost in a tower of CDs, unremarked, unloved, save a passing fancy to hear that nifty Psionyx track again. Well, that’s not what happened at all. First, I’ve ditched the wavy towers in favor of some bitchin’ wall-mounted shelves, since they’re more space efficient in an increasingly cluttered apartment (must… move… soon…), and makes what I got easier to organize. Right, that’s totally unrelated to anything here, but I gotta’ get my ramblematic on as I always do in these 20xx Updates, so may as well do that now.
No, the strange development involving Unwind is I’ve… kinda’ grown more fond of it in recent years? It’s somehow managed to curate a form of ‘scrappy underdog’ vibe for yours truly, where my fondness for the chill musics keep me coming back to give it another chance every so often. Yet sure as the rising sun, the moment I play that opening track of Spring Thing from Solarians, a sharp shiver spikes across my spine, my shoulders cringing upward in the vicinity of my earlobes, and I want nothing more than to turn the disc off, sending it back into the shadows of my stacks o’ CDs.
Turns out I should have followed the advice from my original review: simply skip that track and never think of it again, giving these other tunes a chance out of that gosh-darned Full Album Context I always demand. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s super easy to do when you’ve got everything ripped to a harddrive and stumble upon an occasional tune through the magic of the Shuffle feature. Wow, how did I miss that U&K’s Sähkövalo or Visual Paradox’ GaYo is so darn trip-hoppy? Or that the tunes from Sunfire and Wilson Stout wouldn’t have sounded out of place on that ultra-Balearic collection Ambient Ibiza from the ‘90s? I still can’t say these are anywhere near the best examples of such genres, but considering they’re appearing on a CD from an Israeli psy-trance print that seldom broke mold from the popular full-on strain, I have to hand it to Unwind for offering such a wide range of diverse chill-out. It’s a bold move when, given the typical Com.Pact Records audience, Shpongle clones would have been the safe bet.
A pair of the more interesting tracks, the dubby Blue from Lish and breaks action from Sesto Sento’s Slow Move offer some interesting tidbits of career info since Unwind came out. Sesto Sento’s gone on to be one of the more successful full-on psy acts, still producing music to this day, while Lish managed a minor, collaborative hit when they paired up with Ace Ventura for The Light. Poor Psionyx though, disappeared shortly after. G’ah, would have loved an album from him.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
The only dubstep album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a fan of dubstep. Especially if you’re not a fan of dubstep, as this was the one that was supposed to convince you the genre wasn’t all bad. And that’s funny, because Burial’s Untrue isn’t even considered a dubstep record anymore. Even at the time of release, it was something of a nebulous demarcation, but because the genre hadn’t branched into splinter sub-genres in any significant way yet, it was hailed as the first Proper Dubstep Album Classic. I think folks stopped calling it that around 2009, when it became clear that dubstep’s growing popularity wasn’t going the way of these moody, atmospheric, intricate productions, but rather whatever obnoxious wub-wub nonsense Benga and Rusko were churning out. Quick, call it something else! Well, it’s still got some ties to UK Garage, but it’s like, futuristic sounding compared to original UK Garage. Hmm, what to call it indeed…
So Untrue is technically no longer a classic dubstep album, but it’s still considered a classic album within the lexicon of electronic music history. The impact it had in the year 2007 still resonates to this day, many up-and-coming ‘urban bass’ producers inspired, imitating, and cloning what Burial did with his sophomore album. The digitally distorted R&B vocals from memories long past, the thick beatcraft echoing off warehouse walls, the atmosphere drenched in rainfall and vinyl crackles, the introspective dusty ambient interludes, the grace in unpolished electronics, all things no one can go without mentioning in any review of Untrue, nor most Burial releases at this point.
Hell, I’m almost certain I’ve typed words similar to that in a previous Burial review, which makes me wonder if, much like Boards Of Canada, Mr. Bevan became trapped by his unique aesthetics’ success. Folks adored the raver nostalgia vibes his tunes generated, eager to hear more, even if from second-run acts filling those aching gaps. Some actually improved upon the template Burial set out here, though given that Untrue is nearly a decade old now (!!), there’s been plenty of time and opportunity to explore themes of post-party isolation in hazy 4am city streets. Besides, it’s not like Burial’s been in any hurry to produce a third LP.
Oh, he’s kept a steady rate of singles over the years, but to make a follow-up to one of the most critically hailed electronic albums in the wake of the new millennium? Hot damn, what pressure that must be! Wait, The Bug also had a huge, critically-hailed ‘dubstep’ album of his own in 2008, and he put out another album, eventually. Why the wait, Mr. Bevan? Surely whatever personal anxiety one must feel after such a release has waned by now, free to evolve as an artist without being crushed by expectation so close to the cultural supernova event that was Untrue (yay, hyperbole!). We’ve already heard some hints of this in recent singles - seems the time is about right to take on the album format again.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Yeah, not even the comparatively small block of albums that the letter ‘U’ occupies within my collection is free of a Cryo Chamber release. For sure absolute runt sections like ‘J’, ‘Q’, ‘V’, and ‘X-Y-Z’ lack them, but give the label time – I’m sure there’s some Old One deity that has one of those letters in its name, waiting in the queue for A Cryo Chamber Collaboration. Or I could simply pick up the first Cryo Chamber CD, Atrium Carceri’s Void, help speed that the process up. The… O.C.D… compels me…!
After spending much of his new print’s early existence providing digital releases of old and new material, it wasn’t long before Simon Heath took his original dark ambient project into new territory. No longer content in exploring cellblocks and seishinbyouins, he pondered what lay beyond the ruined city-scapes, whether there was more mythos to unearth. The Untold essentially re-launched Atrium Carceri with this in mind, to give his long standing followers the untold story of this broken world. And hey, if you’re just joining us because you wandered in as a Sabled Sun fan (*cough*), it’s a handy jumping on point without getting bogged down in a bunch of back story or loose continuity. Who knew dark ambient projects could be so alike to comic books?
Even with a glance at the track list, The Untold’s narrative is clear as day (heh, genre oxymoron). The Expedition, Unlocking The Seal, The Way Down, Catacombs Of The Forgotten… pretty obvious we’re on an archeological expedition here, though given the occult nature of Atrium Carceri’s themes, we might want someone with a little guts in our lead. Who knows what ancient treasures both grand and gross lurk in this forgotten realm?
The music, such as it is, alternates between sample-heavy works painting a cinematic canvas guiding you deep into this journey, and droning dirges reflecting the despondent, suffocating mood as you make your way through. A few moments offer a respite, such as crackling, ancient piano pieces at the tail end of A Flickering Hope and throughout Comfort Of The Night Mother, but the surrounding noises and droning ambience within these tracks make it clear the darkness is forever lurking at the edges of whatever feeble light you’re huddled around. Some garbled, menacing dialog forces its way into The Traitor as mournful pads and crunching, stomping static makes it sound as though someone’s being led to execution. Great Old One features distant, echoing horns as rain pelts away at your surroundings, as though you’re coming into view of a crumbling cathedral where whatever civilization once existed here found solace. And if you thought there was any positive denouement to The Untold, a twelve-minute long deep drone awaits you at the end with Ego Death.
I rather prefer the follow-up to this album, Metropolis, in that there’s a grander sense of journey in the Atrium Carceri mythos there. This one’s still a solid entry in Simon’s world building though.
Things I've Talked About
...txt 10 Records 16 Bit Lolita's 1965 1966 1967 1969 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2 Play Records 2 Unlimited 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 20xx Update 2562 302 Acid 4AD 6 x 6 Records 75 Ark 7L & Esoteric 808 State A Perfect Circle A Positive Life A-Wave A&M Records A&R Records Abasi Above and Beyond abstract Ace Tracks Playlists Ace Ventura acid acid house acid jazz acid techno acoustic Adam Freeland Adham Shaikh ADNY Adrian Younge adult contemporary Aegri Somnia Aes Dana Afrika Bambaataa Afro-house Afterhours Agoria Ajana Records AK1200 Akshan album Aldrin Alex Theory Alio Die Alphabet Zoo Alphaxone Altar Records Alter Ego alternative rock Alucidnation Ambelion ambient ambient dub ambient techno Ambient World Ambientium Ametsub Amon Tobin Amplexus Anabolic Frolic Andrea Parker Andrew Heath Androcell anecdotes Aniplex Anjunabeats Another Fine Day Antendex anthem house Anthony Rother Anti-Social Network Aphasia Records Aphex Twin Apócrýphos Apollo Apple Records April Records Aqua Aquascape Aquila Arcade arena rock Arista Armada Armin van Buuren Arpatle Arts & Crafts ASC Ashtech Asian Dub Foundation Astral Waves Astralwerks AstroPilot Asura Asylum Records ATCO Records Atlantic Atlantis atmospheric jungle Atomic Hooligan Atrium Carceri Attic Audion AuroraX Autistici Aveparthe Avicii Axiom Axtone Records B.G. The Prince Of Rap Babygrande Balance Balanced Records Balearic ballad Banco de Gaia Bandulu battle-rap Beastie Boys Beat Buzz Records Beats & Pieces Beck Bedouin Soundclash Beechwood Music Benny Benassi Berlin-School Beto Narme bhangra big beat Big Boi Big L Big Life Bill Hamel Bill Laswell BineMusic BioMetal Biosphere BKS Black Hole Recordings black rebel motorcycle club Black Swan Sounds Blanco Y Negro Blasterjaxx Blend Blood Music Blow Up Blue Öyster Cult blues Bluescreen BMG Boards Of Canada Bob Dylan Bob Marley Bobina Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Boney M Bong Load Records Booka Shade Botchit & Scarper Boxed Boys Noize Boysnoize Records braindance Brandt Brauer Frick breakcore breaks Brian Eno Brian Wilson Brick Records Brodinski broken beat Brooklyn Music Ltd Bryan Adams BT Buffalo Springfield Bulk Recordings Burial Burned CDs Bush Busta Rhymes Calibre calypso Capitol Records Capsula Captured Digital Carbon Based Lifeforms Carl B Carl Craig Carol C Caroline Records Carpe Sonum Records CD-Maximum Celestial Dragon Records Cell Celtic Cheb i Sabbah Cheeky Records Chihei Hatakeyama chill-out chiptune Chris Duckenfield Chris Fortier Chris Korda Chris Sheppard Christopher Lawrence Chromeo Chronos Chrysalis Ciaran Byrne cinematic soundscapes Circular Cirrus Cities Last Broadcast CJ Stone Claptone classic house classic rock classical Claude Young Clear Label Records Cleopatra Cloud 9 Club Cutz Cocoon Recordings Coldcut Coldplay Colette collagist Columbia Com.Pact Records comedy Compilation Comrie Smith Connect.Ohm conscious Control Music Cor Fijneman Cosmic Gate Cosmic Replicant Cosmos Studios Council Of Nine Counter Records country country rock Covert Operations Recordings Crazy Horse Cream Creamfields Crockett's Theme Crosby Stills And Nash Crosstown Rebels crunk Cryo Chamber Cube Guys Culture Beat cut'n'paste Cyan Music Cyber Productions CyberOctave Czarface D-Bridge D-Fuse Dacru Records Daddy G Daft Punk Damian Lazarus Damon Albarn Dan The Automator Dance 2 Trance Dance Pool dancehall Daniel Heatcliff Daniel Wanrooy Dao Da Noize dark ambient dark psy darkside darkstep darkwave David Bickley David Morley DDR Deadmau5 Death Row Records Deejay Goldfinger Deep Dish Deep Forest deep house Deeply Rooted House Deepwater Black Def Jam Recordings Del Tha Funkee Homosapien Delerium Deltron 3030 Depeche Mode Der Dritte Raum Derek Carr Detroit DFA DGC diametric. 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