Saturday, March 25, 2017

Oöphoi - Upuaut

Due Acque/Umbra: 1999/2004

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 Tragically Hip - Up To Here

MCA Records: 1989

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

UOVI - UOVI

Offshoot Records: 2015

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

Scann-Tec - Unyt

Ultimae Records: 2016

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

Various - Unwind - A Journey Into Global Grooves (2017 Update)

Com.Pact Records: 2005

(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

Burial - Untrue

Hyperdub: 2007

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

Atrium Carceri - The Untold

Cryo Chamber: 2013

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.

Solar Fields - Until We Meet The Sky

Ultimae Records: 2011

Though Random Friday is technically the last album Solar Fields released on Ultimae (odds n’ sods Origin # 02 notwithstanding), Until We Meet The Sky feels like the final one we got to hear Mr. Birgersson strut his stuff as only he can. Holy cow, that was over half a decade ago now, and as the label that Aes Dana built continues is steady journey into the realms of minimalist dub and downtempo glitch, I’ve grown ever more inconsolable that we may never hear such lush, unabashedly uplifting sonics as Solar Fields so often provided. C’mon, Magnus, when can we hear some new music? We all jonesing for a Solar Fields fix, yo’.

When this album first came out in 2011, I found it a reasonable, pleasant LP with enough enjoyable Solar Fields attributes, but not as strong overall as some of his previous efforts. The talking point surrounding Until We Meet was it was ol’ Magnus branching out from the psy side of things and into ‘shoegaze’ territory, the sort of chill-out that Ulrich Schnauss had long made his domain. There’d been hints of this style in Solar Fields’ palette, a gradual transition from Ultimae’s preferred psy-chill excursions as the years moved along. Six albums deep and with the label moving on in general, it seems only appropriate to finally indulge in a sound well outside one’s comfort zone.

The biggest difference in Until We Meet The Sky from previous Solar Fields albums is its recurring themes - specifically a simple piano melody that pops up every so often throughout. For one thing, we’ve seldom heard any piano from Magnus, much less as a leitmotif. He even indulges himself further in Sombrero, first playing it out as though in a grand cathedral, then distorting it to the point the track starts sounding rather like a Boards Of Canada offering.

Another noticeable tweaking of the Solar Fields LP form is the arrangement of tunes, giving us a more traditional ‘journey’ than his other works. Almost the entire first half of this album is beatless, exploring soothing meditative ambient, minimalist field recordings, and the like, with only the barest of beats coming and going. I won’t deny this can come off a tad tedious and meandering, especially compared to Solar Fields records that paced its uptempo and downtime moments more spaciously. Yet when he does unleash those vintage, massive, uplifting tunes towards the end for a couple grand finales (Night Traffic City, the titular cut), it all feels like one long build to a well-deserved climax.

Still, Until We Meet The Sky does take a while before getting a move on, which can turn away those who aren’t so patient. And unfortunately, the crescendo isn’t so effective out of context. Solar Fields practically demands you to take this album in as a whole, and for some that may not be enough. Given the dearth of such music on Ultimae of late though, what the hey, I’ll take it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes

Warp Records: 2012

Probably not the best album to get one’s ears wet with Flying Lotus, this. Even in his modest outings, the dude takes a rather challenging approach to his beat work and song craft, finding confounding ways of manipulating conventional funk, hip-hop, soul, and the jazz that fuses them together (say what?). It’s definitely a style that will get you noticed by all the talking-head rags out there, forever eager in discovering and hyping a unique approach to familiar music, and FlyLo fast became a critical darling in the mid-‘00s. By second LP, he was signed to Warp Records, and as the praise steadily increased, so did Mr. Ellison’s desire to challenge himself. Thus we arrive at his fourth album, Until The Quiet Comes, a point when he has nothing left to prove to anyone but his own musical ambition. Oh yeah, we’re getting into Serious Artist territory with this one.

Of course, the notion of Flying Lotus getting a pile of Real Musicians in the studio with him first germinated with his previous album, Cosmogramma. That was more a feeling-out process though, taking the abstract-hop and broken funk that defined his earlier work and seeing if it could work in a traditional band setting (well, as traditional as jazz-fusion gets). Those results must have satisfied FlyLo, as he takes things even further here, trying out more genre-fusion, with more musicians in the studio, and more tracks filling out the album! Okay, only one more track, but still, MOAR!

Names returning for this session include Flying Lotus mainstays bassist Thundercat, harpist Rebekah Raff, stringster Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, vocalist Laura Darlington, and Brit-warbler Thom Yorke. Coming in for the Quiet Comes party are keyboardist Austin Peralta, other-keyboardist Brandon Coleman, drummer Jean Coy, and soul-Goddess Eryakah Badu. Geez, how does one top that in a follow-up - a hot contemporary rapper, or an actual jazz legend on the keyboards? (yep, and FlyLo done did it in You’re Dead!).

And as for the music on Until The Quiet Comes …look, we all know this is the sort of stuff musicians make just to annoy folks who like dancing about architecture [citation needed]. I can tell you that Tiny Tortures has a minimalist, blippy thing going on, or that The Nightcaller stomps out the spaced-out P-funk vibes, or that Phantasm oozes and creeps about in dreamy psychedelic-pop, but how helpful are such descriptors in a record such as this? Tracks come and go at such an erratic, rapid pace; few have much chance of sinking in before you’re trying to peel the musical layers of the next tune. Some pieces thematically meld together so well, you won’t even notice a clutch of tracks have played past, whereas others shift tones so suddenly it’ll give your cochlea whiplash.

I do come back to Until The Quiet Comes every so often, just to hear if I can pick out any additional nuance that slipped by before. Should casual music listening be such like homework, though?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Laurent Garnier - Unreasonable Behavior

F Communications: 2000

The only Laurent Garnier album you’re supposed to have, even if you’re not a Laurent Garnier fan. For this is the one that has that one track everyone knows him by, the hit everyone expects to hear rinsed out, the anthem jocks repeatedly return to so many years after the fact. Still, it kinda’ sucks that Acid Eiffel is relegated to a bonus live disc, and rather shortened at that, but hey, all that tasty, escalating, trance-inducing 303 action, finally available in a proper LP release, and not some wacky compilation of early works. Eh, what do you mean that’s not the one track everyone knows him by? Well, they should, by god, g’ar, and gum.

Right, fine, it’s The Man With The Red Face, the techno track that reintroduced the saxophone solo to a new generation of punters. That may not seem terribly impressive at first glance, but keep in mind the instrument hadn’t seen much action in the dance industry for some time, perhaps Red Snapper’s 1995 Hot Flush it’s last big moment in the spotlight. And while you’d still find it cropping up in jazzy, downtempo circles, its utility as a showpiece in clubland was simply done and dusted, the few instances almost unanimously forgettable. Not only did Mr. Garnier resurrected it, but did so in such a memorable way that it’s been remixed and ‘covered’ many times since. Yeah, I can’t deny it’s a catchy, fun tune when dropped at peak-time – still prefer that 303 workout from Acid Eiffel though.

One classic anthem does not a great album make, though. Nay, what sets Unreasonable Behavior apart from all the other Laurent LPs is its consistency from front-to-back. This is a straight-up techno album, exploring all facets of the genre as it was by the turn of the century, with few of the stylistic indulgences Mr. Garnier allowed himself as the years went on. You get jazzy electro care of City Sphere and Cycles d’Oppositions, futuristic chill cuts like Forgotten Cuts, Communications From The Lab and Downfall, head-down 4am bangin’ shit like The Sound Of The Big Babou and Dangerous Drive, plus your requisite nods to Detroit in tunes like Greed and the supremely deep tune Last Tribute From The 20th Century. Damn, that one wouldn’t sound out of place on a Turbo compilation of the same year.

Of course, much of this is par for the course when it comes to Garnier. Having spent nearly a decade honing his craft though, Unreasonable Behavior goes down as polished and smooth as any collection of techno can. There’s none of the clunky execution some of his earliest material suffered from, nor any of the wayward experimentalism that’d come later. It’s finding ol’ Laurent at the sweet middle-ground of his career, plying all the professional tricks of his trade while maintaining intuitive techno songcraft. Heck, if any track does comes off rote, it’s The Man With The Red Face, just because it is such an obvious anthem.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

EDM World Weekly News, March 2017

In this crazy, alternative-facts driven world we now find ourselves in, sometimes it's good to remind ourselves that the best news is the juicy, salacious, tabloid news. We know where this rag stands on "the issues", after all.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Neil Young - Unplugged

Reprise Records: 1993

Oh hey, Neil. Sure don’t talk about you as often these days, do I? I’ve gone through nearly every album I own of yours now, is why, a smattering of stragglers all that’s left in my collection. Maybe I’ll beef it up some more down the line, but honestly, twenty-five albums from a single artist is quite a bit for any fan of a musician. I’m not sure how hardcore followers of Frank Zappa or Merzbow survive without going insane.

And strangely, what I’m reviewing today is only partially a Neil Young album. This particular live performance was produced in conjunction with MTV Unplugged, the Grammy winning series that featured famous musicians playing acoustic concerts, often emphasizing those with careers defined by loud rock or synthy pop (and a little rap on the side). The series first started in 1989, with acts like Aerosmith, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Stevie Ray Vaughan, R.E.M., The Cure, and, um, Ratt, all scoring gigs. Things rapidly changed for MTV Unplugged though, when Eric Clapton scored a huge commercial and critical hit with his 1992 effort, the series suddenly propelled into the spotlight as an outlet for all manner of musicians looking for a little extra prestige in their resumes. The series’ reputation only solidified when Nirvana did their acoustic performance twenty-two months later. Between those two critical peaks in MTV Unplugged’s legacy, ol’ Shakey did an unplugged set of his own.

Already a darling with the MTV sect, the Godfather Of Grunge was an obvious choice for this concert concept. What joy could we have hearing stripped-down renditions of such classic rockers like Cinnamon Girl, Cowgirl In The Sand, and Like A Hurricane. Or even newer classics like Rockin’ In The Free World, This Note’s For You, and Harvest Moon. Wait, that one’s already rather acoustic to begin with. In fact, three tracks from that ultra-mellow album appear on Unplugged, plus a number of older folksy material too. There’s Pocahontas, The Needle And The Damage Done, Long May You Run, Helpless, and Look Out For My Love. Basically half of this live acoustic album features songs that were already acoustic in the first place. Eh, well, it’s nonetheless amusing that he’d play them for the MTV generation.

Still, the ‘unplugged’ renditions of the other tunes are worth the listen in. For instance, Transformer Man is on here! Yeah, didn’t think ol’ Shakey would ever dust off that synth-pop tune, much less for an acoustic version. The guitar epic Like A Hurricane does appear here, but performed solo on a pump organ, of all things (think mini pipe organ) – though really, it’s about the only ‘acoustic’ instrument that could capture the same grandeur as the original. A couple other way-oldies in rocker Mr. Soul and the originally over-dubbed The Old Laughing Lady also feature, plus an unreleased song in Stringman from the original Chrome Dreams sessions. Guess that about covers it for your typically esoteric Neil Young concert track list. Only thing missing would be something from Old Ways.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Psykosonik - Unlearn

TVT Records: 1995

Imagine, if you will, The Prodigy following Experience not with Music For The Jilted Generation, but rather something akin to Underworld’s Second Toughest In The Infants. Or perhaps The Chemical Brothers’ Exit Planet Dust followed with a record sounding like Paul van Dyk’s Seven Ways. Maybe Moby’s ravey self-titled debut with an ambient album. No, wait, that one did happen.

Point is, the change in style between Psykosonik’s first record and their sophomore effort Unlearn is drastic, such that you’d never suspect you’re listening to the same ‘techno jihadists’ that emerged at the tail end of the old-school rave era. Not that one can blame them for moving on; Belgian beats were plenty dated even when these lads were doing it. Through sheer force of pluck and charm did Psykosonik succeed, fusing their techno with EBM snarl and future-shock topics (Silicon Jesus, Shock On The Wire, etc.), elements they could carry forward if they were bold enough. For whatever reason though, the group said nuts to that, and turned their ears towards the realms of progressive house and ethnic-fusion downtempo, of all things. Funnily enough, when Unlearn dropped, even those genres were showing signs of creaky strain in their original incarnations. Yet once again, Psykosonik overcome such stylistic limitations for a second LP that could have been an early ‘electronica’ hit had TVT Records put more marketing muscle behind it. On the other hand, Unlearn is such a departure from what the label was promoting (mostly NIN), I’m not surprised they let it slip by.

The starkest difference between Psykosonik and Unlearn is how much the group has improved in their songcraft while finding influence from a multitude of sources. The titular cut comes off like a long-lost New Order tune, Ride works a thick trip-hop beat while indulging in darkwave tones and harmonica solos (!), Dreaming Real could work as a latter-era big-beat contribution to an action movie (of course), and I can’t see Sasha or Diggers having much problem working Alone or Object Disorient into one of their mid-‘90s sets. And for a group that just a few short years prior were getting all rowdy in the acid business, there’s some remarkably chill tunes littered throughout this album. Eye Of The Mind brings ethnic chants and acid together into tasty darkwave treat, Chromagnum sounds like Deep Forest with teeth, plus a few scattered ambient interludes link everything together into a continuous, long-player whole. And did I mention all the singing? How is it that I like all this singing? Well, lots of progressive house acts were doing it, so it’s fine if Psykosonik gets their warble on too.

Unlearn could have been one of those Very Important Albums of the ‘90s, but being stuck on a label more known for industrial didn’t do the group many favors. Even worse, TVT rejected their third album, jading Psykosonik so hard they disbanded, prematurely ending one of the more intriguing acts that decade ever produced. Such a pity.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Seven Davis, Jr. - Universes

Ninja Tune: 2015

The man comes from Texas, currently makes his home in California, released his first single on a print from Atlanta, and is apparently rather popular in Europe. And yet, when I hear Seven Davis Jr., I can’t help but think Detroit. Part of that is undoubtedly the fact his debut single, One, was something of a hit in the Motor City. No surprise there, the tune featuring a bumpin’ groove while oozing all sorts of soul throughout. The other tracks from there, Breaker and All Kinds, follow suite, getting tougher in their tech-house groove without ever losing their funk. It’s the sort of sound that’d have Moodymann boppin’ his head, and few things scream ‘Detroit soul-house’ like Kenny Dixon Jr. Secondly, Mr. Davis has his eyes on future-funk, showing little fear in letting some sci-fi soul into his works – even his adopted pseudonym comes off a tad geeky (numbers are, like, math an’ shit, yo’).

Having such a hit with his first at-bat attempt may seem like a wonderkid at work, but Seven Davis Jr. had been toiling away in the underground for a while before releasing One. With a background in gospel, he could have had a record deal much earlier, but instead decided biding his time was the smarter move, honing his craft ghostwriting for other musicians, making sure he was at the peak of his potential when he finally went solo. The success of One and follow-up P.A.R.T.Y. proved his planning fruitful, and in quick order, Seven Davis Jr. had plenty of momentum building to a full-length album. Always eagerly reaching into the trendy urban underground, Ninja Tune backed his ventures into the domain of debut LPs, Universes the result. Gotta’ keep that futurism theme goin’.

He doesn’t waste time in letting you know you’re in for a woozy ride either, opener Imagination a brief, simmering slice of druggy soul. A short skit of a starship computer awakening Seven from cryosleep for a gig (my interpretation), and we’re off on the shimmering ride of bright synths, peppy rhythms, and chipper techno of Freedom – Detroit future-funland funk lives! In fact, Universes is an incredibly ‘happy’ album throughout, tracks like Good Vibes, Sunday Morning, Be A Man, and No Worries rather light in mood compared to his early singles. Heck, Everybody Too Cool is practically taking the piss out of the ‘techno-funk are serious musics’ scene, all the while gleefully indulging in his Prince influences. And I swear that beat is sampled from the opening drums from Mississippi Queen!

Mr. Davis Jr. does offer us a few glimpses of his thoughtful side, getting deeper into the neo-soul with Fighters and Welcome Back. And if you were craving more of the tough, deep house tunes, Sunday Morning does come correct there. A bonus CD also includes more instrumental pieces exploring the fringes of future-funk, Dimensions almost coming off like a long-lost Amon Tobin cut with its liberal use of the Amen Break. Ah, that’s why Ninja Tune tapped him!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Khruangbin - The Universe Smiles Upon You

Night Time Stories: 2015

Damn, it happened again. I was woodhinked. Blambozzled. Tricksied out of my onesie. Led astray by a lass named Mary-Lee into the waiting clutches of Donald Van Baron Wolfenstein. I mean, is it really so hard in this day and age, for the electronic music section of a record shop to have exclusively electronic music? It used to be I’d find the ‘oontz-oontz’ occasionally floating about the Rap shelves (because Hip-House) or Rock section (because Industrial), but never a traditional band rubbing shoulders with my FSOL and 808 State. This isn’t even one of those indie ‘dream pop’ deals again, where some synths are utilized by such musicians.

Nay, Khruangbin (the name’s Thai, though the band’s Texan) is a pure three-piece, taking influences from obscure southeast Asian rock bands of fifty years hence. The only reason I can assume this ended up in the ‘Dance’ section is because The Universe Smiles Upon You comes care of Night Time Stories, a sub-label of LateNightTales, whom have had a long relationship with the chill side of electronic music, often tapping such musicians for their compilation series of the same name. Still, it’s not like Warp Records’ rock releases or Ninja Tune’s jazz outfits haven’t found homes in the wrong sections of record shops either, solely due to said label’s standing reputation within music scenes at large. Plus, how many LateNightTales CDs are filled with anything but electronic music anyway? No, really, I’m asking because the only one I’ve heard through is the Fatboy Slim one!

Anyhow, Khruangbin peddle in a light, breezy form of folksy rock that’s almost entirely instrumental. Only two tracks on this debut of theirs features lyrics of any kind - White Gloves and Balls And Pins - and often very simple ones at that. Deeply challenging words aren’t in Khruangbin’s plans, content in letting the listener drift away in their dreamy tunes drenched in echo and reverb. Mostly they go for a mild funk (Mr. White, Dern Kala, People Everywhere, and August Twelve with the wiki-wiki guitar licks), with a couple dalliances into soul, blues (Zionsville), and whatever it is Little Joe & Mary is doing with that slide guitar business (country? surf??).

I should mention these style tags are quite nebulous where Khruangbin’s sound is concerned. The honest truth is their music doesn’t tidily fit into any of those categories, the band an assemblage of AM soft rock from the ‘70s, with a touch of modern shoegaze thrown in for good measure. My old man made a comparison to Boz Scaggs when I pressed him for some insight into this sort of music, which forced me to take in more Boz Scaggs than the one song everyone knows from him to confirm. Yeah, I’d say the comparison’s apt.

All said, The Universe Smiles Upon You truly is a pleasant little album to throw on (even my Nan liked it), and despite my ranting above, a nice divergence from my usual fare.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

ACE TRACKS: February 2017

So that was a fun little break. Sure needed some downtime from all that writing. A time for reflection, a time for rest. A time to sow, and a time to harvest. A time to stand, and a time to kill time… wait, aren’t these titles to Star Trek novels? Anyhow, it wasn’t all slouching and slothin’ it up, keeping rather busy doing other things that will undoubtedly outshine whatever I accomplish with this blog. Who knows what it will lead to in the future – great things, amazing things, silly things… many things, for sure? That doesn’t mean I’m abandoning this particular project, nosiree, but I don’t feel quite as much pressing need to plow through so many CDs per month, my free time just as valuable in other pet projects. These next few months will be interesting, to say the least. Anyhow, here’s the ACE TRACKS that came about from a February that, somehow, saw two snowfalls in the city of Vancouver. We haven’t had that in over half a decade!


Full track list here.


MISSING ALBUMS:
Various - United State Of Ambience
Various - United State Of Ambience II
Various - United State Of Ambience III
Various - United DJs Of America Volume 17: Scott Hardkiss
Various - UK Space Techno, Vol. I
Various - UK Space Techno, Vol. II
Lingua Lustra - Uhadi

Percentage of Hip-Hop: 7%
Percentage Of Rock: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Skylab - Next (no, really, is it pitched-down thunder, or moving stone?)

Yeah, no surprise all those twenty-year old compilations wouldn’t be on Spotify. A few tracks are floating about, but it seems a lot of them are forever lost if you rely on streaming services for your vintage, obscure techno and chill-out cuts. Funny how so many new cats on the scene won’t get to hear this stuff, unless by random chance from a YouTube upload or torrent haul. By the same token though, will they ever get to hear all the new stuff when so much of it is continuously released and lost in the endless bay of beige bilge? At least old compilations tidily consolidated the stuff in manageable chunks, y’know.

By the by, I’ve slowly been replacing those old Amazon audio links with either Spotify or Bandcamp ones instead. As there’s so many in the backlog though (just… so many), this isn’t a dedicated side-project, simply something I do if I ever click on an older review for whatever reason.
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