Sunday, January 20, 2019

Various - Ambient Dub, Volume 2: Earthjuice

Beyond: 1993

I wish I had this CD, make my Ambient Dub collection closer to proper completion. Okay, I technically do, as I wouldn't be reviewing it otherwise, but it's a burned copy. And no, I didn't nab it off a peer-to-peer service – I surprisingly couldn't find it, at least back in the AudioGalaxy days. I wouldn't even know what tracks to look for anyway, so few details available to me beyond its mere existence.

Then lo', a saviour did descend from the heavens, a Lord That Knows All emerging from the darkness, curating all manner of knowledge regarding any and all electronic music releases (especially after I helped contribute to its vast tome of discographical information). And hey, would you look at that, there's that Ambient Dub, Volume 2: Earthjuice CD I always wondered about. I wonder if anyone might be willing to sell it. What's this, fine sir, you're willing to trade it to me for a burned copy of L.S.G.'s Best Of? Sweet deal, yeah I'll do that trade! Oh, you mean for a burned copy of Earthjuice as well. Eh, sure, why not. It's not like an actual Marketplace with official vendors selling items will ever crop up on Discogs.

And you know, I'm not sure I really need this compilation for completion anyway. There's G.O.L.'s Soma Holiday, A Positive Life's The Calling, The Underwater World Of Jah Cousteau from The Groove Corporation (or remixed from Original Rockers' Push Push), plus an original, inferior version of Banco de Gaia's Shanti (so limp sounding compared to the Black Mountain Mix). That's half this CD I already have elsewhere, so how important is it to get the rest of these tune? Very important, I says!

For instance, there's an exclusive HIA track on here, the charmingly retro-pulp acid ambient techno of W.H.Y. (...why not?). APL has an exclusive too, in Universal Message, a rather standard upbeat slice of bleepy techno and isn't as interesting as most of his other stuff, but hey, it's there! And why not, Original Rockers also gets in on that exclusivity action, with their Afro dub-thump of DeMat DubRim. And this Deeply Sirius Mix of Banco de Gaia's Lai Lah, I think that's exclusive, though save an extended dancier section (is this a live mix?), isn't much different from the album version. That ethereal G.O.L. cover of No Bounds though, that ain't exclusive, also appearing on their own album.

Yeah, Earthjuice shares similarities with The Big Chill, not only in featured acts but also showcasing a pair of tracks from each (HIA's second is Speedlearn, also rather retro-pulpy compared to its album counterpart). The only odd-man out in this is newcomer Insanity Sect, who closes the CD with their lone Psychik Warriors Ov Gaia leaning, minimalist techno dub cut Subliminal Air. As this track's over sixteen-minutes long though, I say that counts as two.

Eh, what happened to 21st Century Aura and Mimoid from the first compilation? Never heard from again. It's a... misssss-tory!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Divination - Ambient Dub, Volume II: Dead Slow

Subharmonic: 1993

A second volume of ambient dub under the Divination guise? Heck, there might even exist a Volume III, but not with this alias. Divination did extend beyond this album though, a couple LPs and a double-LP marking the project's total story. And that's just what Laswell did with this one! When you consider his stuff as Sacred System, Praxis, Axiom Records, both projects with Pete Namlook (not to mention his tag-in with Pete and Klause Schulz), and a zillion more items I'd run out of self-imposed word count before detailing them all (just... so many...), is it any wonder covering this man's work is a neigh impossible task? I mean, just look at Divination! I doubt most folks (if any) reading this blog even knew it existed before I name-dropped it in that Alien Ambient Galaxy compilation, and here I'm tellin' you not only it existed, but includes six CDs worth of music; yet it's barely a side-side project in Laswell's career. Dude's got Merzbow levels of productivity, and probably about as much musical consistency.

If there's any consistency in Divination, it's that there's never the same bundle of musicians joining Laswell for a jam with each album. The first had Nicky Skopelitis, Liu Sola, Buckethead (!), and Robert Musso in the studio with the Laswellian one. This outing, however, has Mick Harris, Jeff Bova, and fellow bassist Jah Wobble. He'd pair up with these guys on several more projects outside this one too, and is that ever a list and a half, I tell you wh'ut.

Having the right crew in for a jam makes a heck of a difference between these two Ambient Dub albums. Volume 1 had dudes with more of an industrial and acid rock background, chaps who prefer doing noisy assaults than ambient spliff music, and didn't really mesh with the whole 'ambient dub' idea. The peoples on Volume II, however, have no problem exploring the deeper end of bass 'n dub, which makes Dead Slow an overall stronger showing of what Laswell's take on 'ambient dub' is all about. Also, the mixdown is better balanced, no shocking leaps in voluminous muddy bass drowning things out. Or weird vocal chants, for that matter.

As with Volume 1, Volume II flits between shorter, minimalist droning pieces, and lengthier jams with thumping rhythms, burbling dubby electronics, and that bass tone intermingling for fifteen minutes apiece. In the great annals of Laswell's dub discography, I'd still rate this a touch below his Sacred System stuff, but it's still enjoyable for the style of music it's setting out to be. Except maybe that lengthy sonic dub experiment as the final track, but that's easily skippable.

By the by, the album's curious sub-title comes from a traffic sign photographer Ira Harvey Cohen spotted in India. The inlay includes it, with an Indian man wearing nothing but a turban, some beads, and a loose loin cloth smoking underneath (cute). Figures Laswell would interpret it as a musical concept too.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Various - Ambient Dub, Volume 1: The Big Chill

Beyond: 1992

Finally, after many years and hundreds (thousands?) of name-drops, I've come to the grand-daddy of all chill-out compilations, Beyond's Ambient Dub, Volume 1: The Big Chill. Before this, you had The Orb, Enigma, The KLF's Chill Out, and precious little else receiving much exposure, compilations of the stuff just not dreamt of. Heck, even those artists were relegated to 'top chart hits' CDs rather than anything aimed at mentally gassed punters. And while the industry was likely primed to cash-in on this lucrative sub-scene of post-partying, Beyond got there before most, thus credited with making 'ambient dub' a thing.

What made The Big Chill so brilliant at the time was how its fully aware of what was generating buzz for home-listening options in electronic music, offering its own take on each of them. The lightly jazz-n-hop vibe acts like Massive Attack and Nightmares On Wax were doing? Here's the Original Rockers, then, serving up a slice of Sexy Selector, but way deeper in the Jamaican dub. Or maybe the playful house-dub of The Orb is more to your liking. Then 21st Century Aura will hook you up with Disorientation, including a cheeky preacher sample running throughout (“witchcraft!”).

Eh, you prefer world beat? Here's a promising up-and-comer name Banco De Gaia then, sending you on a dusty caravan through the Desert Wind. Ah, it was actually that erotic Enigma stylee you were after. I'm sure G.O.L.'s Angelica In Delirium has you covered with church bells, chants, and Antonia Reiner's seductive poetry. No, no, it's that future leaning sound you crave, more in line with bleep and ambient techno as found on the first Artificial Intelligence. Fair enough, and Alphanex's Planet Hoskins serves that up in spades (or is that hearts?).

I think that touches on all the prominent movements in downtempo and chill-out music of the time. Oh, I guess there was Real Ambient too, and wouldn't you know it, Mimoid even inches in that territory, with the two-parter track Tree Of The Sun, Tree Of The Moon. The first half has a crunchy bouncy beat, that “you make me feel so good” sample, and dripping water (my dad quipped it was Chinese Water Torture when it played out on its own), but the second-half is essentially beatless, save a little acid bassline. There's also sweeping synths, whale calls, and dubbed-out sci-fi sounds, making it sound as though you're soaring through the cosmos. Quite a brilliant bit of dub production really, a spell better than Mimoid's other offering of Strawberry, which features an insistently annoying, distracting loop of “okay, let's do it” throughout its runtime. That's the only dud track on here though.

Banco's Soufie, HIA's Ketamine Entity (d'at bass!), and the proto trip-hop of 21st Century Aura's Something Started round out the rest, and a great rounding out it is. If you ever wanted to know why ambient dub became such a trendy thing in the early '90s, The Big Chill is all the evidence you need.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Divination - Ambient Dub Volume 1

Subharmonic: 1993

Holy cow, another ambient dub collection that isn't the seminal Ambient Dub series from Beyond? Just how many ambient dub collections are there? Uh, not that many more, I'm sure. Like, after learning AudioGalaxy was a thing, I scoured the app for “ambient dub” because of course I would, and aside from a ton of Bill Laswell music, didn't find much else. Most prominent of the bassist's offerings were his 'ambient dub translations' of Bob Marley tunes, but these Divination albums came first. Just shortly after Beyond's offerings, in fact, practically concurrently. Coincidence, mayhaps?

Eh, if I'm willing to offer a theory (and I am!), Beyond released their first volume of ambient dub, and Laswell heard it. As a jazz purist though, he was unimpressed by the musicianship involved, so the O.G. jazz-dub dude took it upon himself to show these newer cats how it's done, bringing in a bunch of his pals for some sessions on what he feels is Proper Ambient Dub, none of this pseudo downtempo raver comedown nonsense. Wow, who'd have that something as micro-niche as ambient dub could have a rivalry!

Well, that's a fun theory, though you'd have to ask Mr. Laswell himself whether it's accurate or not. Heck, given his relentless output, I wonder if he even remembers the original inspiration for these Divination albums. Maybe he just needed some fresh material to launch his new Subharmonic label, and since 'ambient dub' was a trending tag in the early '90s, figured it would help sell his stuff better. The truth is out there, somewhere in the ether between echoing bass tones!

Speaking of aliens, yes, this is the same Divination that appeared on that Alien Ambient Galaxy compilation, with two tracks from here appearing there (among the Elsewheres): Errata and Delta. As pieces of pure minimalist ambient dub, they're neat compositions, but more as interludes in this album, most tracks surprisingly upbeat for a record billing itself as 'ambient dub' (oh no, it's happening again!).

Opener Divination One has a chill groove going for it, with Laswell's bass tones guiding us along, and suits the concept of ambient dub nicely. Follow-up twelve-minute long Seven Heavens, however, has quite the thumping techno beat, interspersed with long, synthy ambient breakdowns, and why is the low-end of the mixdown so overcranked? I know Laswell's a bassist and all, but everything sounds so muddy here. Meanwhile, the back half of the album trends closer to the domain of world beat, with ethnic wailing (some samples, but original chants from Liu Sola too), tabla drumming, and burbling sonics. Ooh, and I think I heard some of Buckethead's guitar work in there too, though as with everything else, is mostly buried under muddy bass.

There's some interesting ideas here, but if this was meant to be an opening salvo on Laswell's part in doing Proper Ambient Dub, he was still a bit off from creating something refined and long-lasting. See his Sacred System releases for such a take.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Various - Ambient Dub: Futuristic Techno Dub & Electronic Roots

Millennium Records: 2000

I first saw this advertised among a pile of promo flyers we'd get in the little music shop I worked at, and I couldn't believe my eyes that it was real. An honest-to-Jah ambient dub compilation in the year 2000, half a decade past the micro-genre's peak of prominence? For sure a couple acts were keeping that fire burning (s'up, Sounds From The Ground), but as the Kruder & Dorfmeister style had overtaken the downtempo scene, the O.G. works from Beyond had been relegated to the annals of electronic music history; this is, what, the seventeenth time I've written this blurb?

Anyhow, without knowing anything about any of the names listed on the promo spiel, I ordered a copy for myself because what else was I supposed to do? I thought ambient dub was long gone, but here was a label promising a return of the stuff, even being so bold as to include the genre in blazing big font. Never mind the cover art looked a tad dodgy and this could all be some false advertising. If there was to be a proper revival of the sound that opened my ears to all manner of wonderful sonics, you had to support any and all attempts at it, amirite? No, I ain't right, but such was my logic at the time.

So the CD comes in, and I immediately throw it on to hear what 'Year 200 ambient dub' is all about and the first song has some Jamaican roots loops and a mild techno beat and is kinda' dub but in no way ambient. Thus, my fear had been confirmed, Ambient Dub nothing more than a tacky marketing gimmick. How could any label get away with such a blatantly misleading compilation title, promising ambient dub and providing no ambient at all? Who is the label anyway? Oh, Millennium Records, they of the UK Space Techno series. That explains that.

So I was disappointed my new Ambient Dub CD didn't have ambient dub on it. Then I actually sat down and listened to the darn thing and I realized something: there's some gosh-darned dope dub techno on this compilation! That opening track, for instance, comes care of The Rootsman, and is a chipper slice of roots techno in its own right. The next track comes care of Saafi Brothers, who I didn't know at the time, but are highly regarded within the psy-dub scene. They include Gabriel Le Mar, who appears thrice more on this CD, once under his own name (with groovy April My Dear, almost treading into prog-psy's territory), again as Dub_Connected (crunchy dub techno dopeness), plus as part of Banned X, their That's Dub a surprisingly brisk outing of trippy dub techno.

The rest of Ambient Dub (sans ambient) pretty much flits between dub techno and roots techno, and despite a couple weird moments (Outernational's Cape East predicts brostep belches a decade early!), is a solid assortment of the stuff. Clearly though, Millennium Records couldn't have called it Techno Roots-N-Dub or something more accurate.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Various - Ambient Auras: Diverse Dimensions In Ambient Dub

Rumour Records: 1994

Those early compilations from Waveform Records/Beyond may have opened my ears to a style of music I'd never known before, but nothing solidified my adoration of it like this particular CD from Rumour Records. Makes me wonder how my tastes might have gone had my follow-up ambient dub/house/techno pick been the bunk, forever deterring me from a new, promising musical obsession. Heck, could such a compilation even exist? For sure some dodgy underground rubbish looking for a trendy cash-in floated around, but with some licensing muscle behind you, you'd be spoiled in an abundance of sonic riches. Ambient Auras is proof of that.

Rumour Records was mostly known for compilations that didn't feature a pile of well-known artists, often exposing underground acts who may not have been just one studio dude cranking out tunes under multiple aliases (oh hi, Jake Stephenson!). In that regard, Ambient Auras is almost an exception, though to be fair, few could have predicted the commercial heights some of these acts would go on to enjoy. Way back in ye' olde year of 1994, Alter Ego was thought of as a side-project of Acid Jesus, Levis Jeans hadn't contacted Biosphere, Taucher was a couple years away from Waters, and The Chemical Brothers had yet to make their legally-mandated change of name. Aphex Twin was still about where he's always been though.

Really, Ambient Auras provides everything that was so wonderful about the ambient dub/house/techno compilation market of back-when. Even beyond the 'before they were famous' interest, Rumour Records dug pretty deep in their sparse catalogues for their track list. The Pentatonik rub of HIA's Delta (forever re-titled as Alpha 1999); a dancier version of Biosphere's Baby Interphase; Aphex Twin's On; the pure ambient outing of Undersea Girl from Alter Ego. Holy cow, what a killer's row of obscure tunes from famed artists!

From there, the compilation indulges in some actual obscure artists, names like State Of Flux, Neuro Project, and Centuras hardly on the tips of anyone's tongues these days. Still, they each bring something unique to the table, Flux's The News a pleasant, groovy dubby house number, Neuro's Lovechile' getting deeper into the sample-heavy dub, and Centuras' Tokyo mixing those obligatory world beat nods into a thumping, marching ambient techno soup. As for the ten-minute-plus Dr. Atmo Mix of Taucher & Koma's Happiness, it's a tad sappy, sure, but they sure weren't gonna' put the Spicelab rub of the same tune on here.

One proper nod to roots dub music later (Release The Chains from Centry Meets The Music Family), Ambient Auras closes out with the psychedelic funk of The Dust-Chem Bros' If You Kling To Me I'll Klong To You, and epic space-dub of Bandulu's Run Run (such echo!). How can you fault the diversity in any of these tracks? If you want to know why ambient dub/house/techno was such a big deal in the early '90s, seek this compilation out. This one has everything that made that micro-scene a treat.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Bows - Blush

Too Pure: 1999

(a (late) Patreon Request from Omskbird)

At first ear-glance, you'd be forgiven in thinking this is just another trend-hopping cash-in by another would-be trip-hop-slash-jazzstep act. Well, more the former than the latter, but if Roni Size/Reprazent could have crossover success, surely anyone could repeat the trick (spoiler: no). I cannot deny letting that assumption initially sink in, the Massive Attack comparisons rapidly blossoming in my brain like a bounty of succulent peaches. Or coconuts. Or apples... Darn, what a boring list of fast-growing fruits for a simile. What would the opposite of that be, the slowest blooming fruit? *d'un Google'd* The melocanna baciffera, eh? Well, the simile wouldn't work, but the alliteration would!

Anyhow, Bows was the brainchild of Luke Sutherland, a multi-instrumentalist who plied his trade with the indie rock band Long Fin Killie. Never heard of them myself, but they released three albums throughout the '90s, so a modest run. When Mr. Sutherland started feeling the itch for something a little more proper urban, the band disbanded, though Colin Greig brought his bass to the Bows project. And while Luke was proficient with plenty of instruments (guitar, violin, saxaphone, his own voice), he added a few more musicians to the mix, including Robbie McKendrick on non-sampled drums, and singer Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen as vocalist. Yes, that's a Danish name, she also of the band Speaker Bite Me, and followed-upon with a solo career as Jomi Massage. Man, where would I be without The Lord That Knows All, eh? I couldn't imagine trying to research all that when Blush first came out.

Anyhow, the reason those Massive Attack comparisons couldn't be helped is because the UK soul drips from this album (and we all know who invented contemporary UK soul... (James Blake?)). Opener Big Wings features dense layers of swelling strings, oozy-woozy saxophone and horns, and Ms. Wille-Jørgensen's croon over a slow Amen Break, essentially bridging trip-hop and jungle. By '99, I'm sure it'd been done plenty times, but Bows' take on it is enjoyable enough.

And that's about the gist of how I'd sum Blush. It treads ground mostly covered in years prior, but Luke shows enough songcraft and personality with the sound to make this a solid companion piece to the trip-hop lexicon. Some intriguing tricks crop up, such as the ultra-quiet start of King Deluxe (such a whisper of a vocal), or the chill fake-out before going full jazzstep tear-out in Girls Lips Glitter. Plus, the swelling strings of Big Wings becomes a recurring theme throughout Blush, including an extra-long outro in Rockets that almost turns the music into a dense six-minute drone.

If this had come out during trip-hop's critical peak ('94-'95), I'm sure it'd be regarded in the same discussions as Portisehead and Tricky. Unfortunately, the genre was waning in critical favour at the turn of the Millennium, so it's no surprise this would have been brushed off as 'more of the same'. If you dig trip-hop's myriad contributions though, 'more of the same' ain't a bad thing at all.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Telefon Tel Aviv - Fahrenheit Fair Enough

Hefty Records: 2001

(a Patreon Request from Omskbird)

I've seen the name Telefon Tel Aviv around, though Lord Discogs tells me I've acquired but one track of theirs. Not even a track, actually, but a remix, appearing on the Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked collection from Verve Records; apparently I compared their rub to a Hybrid tune. Even beyond that though, theirs is a name that's floated in the periphery of preferred IDM producers, a slightly underground option for those who dug a little deeper into the scene. They never had the promotional clout of a Warp or Mille Plateaux behind them, however, initially appearing on 'anything goes!' Chicago print Hefty Records (jazz! funk! post-rock! whatever Solo Andata is!). Guess when you're Americans making IDM, it takes a lot more effort getting attention, most eyes eternally fixated on whatever the Brits, Scots, Germans, and Belgians are doing. Making unique, captivating music is usually a good start.

Yes, I know 'unique music' is basically the whole selling point of IDM, where you gotta' sound completely different from your contemporaries if you're to stand out from the crowd. There's still some aesthetic cross-pollination though, otherwise you'd never see continuous namedrops of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, and Boards Of Canada when making comparisons. And guess what, I'm gonna' do it again here, Telefon Tel Aviv's debut album taking the hyper-editing glitchiness of Autechre, pairing it with the shoegazey acoustic melodies of BoC's The Campfire Headphase. Well, that was an easy review, what's for supper? Mmm, bacon-filled brussel sprouts sounds delish'.

On the great IDM hierarchy, Telefon Tel Aviv rated somewhere around Plaid, a recognizable duo with music folks quite enjoyed without ever being too challenging on the technical front. Fahrenheit Fair Enough is definitely the sort of album you'd marvel at in a blind purchase (before anyone knew who they were), and fondly return to as the years pass on. The titular opener is as strong a showcase for what you're in for with the Telefon Tel-stylee. Gentle Rhodes tones give way to clicky-glitchy-itchy beatcraft that I'm sure captivates ADHD sorts, but never overstay their welcome for those who just prefer some nice melodies (*cough*). A little guitar doodling joins with simple techno grooves, taking us out on more a nu-jazz tip. And none of this sounds convoluted or overwrought in the slightest! That ain't no mean feat in genre fusion this ambitious. Like, who ever heard of 'restraint' among braindancers? You either go as far as you can go, or don't go at all.

Most of the songs play out as above, chill opening tones, followed by some glitchy effects (even on the modern classical outings like Life Is All About Taking Things In And Putting Things Out... gosh, what a shoegaze title), heading into jazzy techno finales. No, not Detroit – these guys hailed from New Orleans whereabouts. Fahrenheit Fair Enough also isn't a terribly long album, though the Ghostly International re-issue does add a second LP's worth of archival material. Not a bad deal there, nosiree.

Richard Durand - Always The Sun (Original TC Review)

Magik Muzik: 2009

(2019 Update:
Well. I certainly had a lot to say about this, huh. Never thought I'd ever listen to this again, but for some daft reason I kept the MP3 album, maybe for future reference. Then I embarked on my listening project, listened to this again, figuring it'd be the final time I'd subject myself to it. And now I've listened it again, for the sake of completism within this blog's archives. I've only myself to blame.

But enough about my sad-sack, what's ol' Durand been up to since? Quite a bit actually, that blatant 'I R Nu-Tiësto!" marketing taking the next logical step when he was handed the
In Search Of Sunrise DJ mix series after Mr. Verwest completely and fully abandoned trance for lucrative Vegas money. Naturally, the series saw diminishing returns with every volume, to such a point they started pairing him with other guest jocks (and BT). And now, he's no longer involved either, the latest edition featuring McProg's superstars of old in Marcus Schulz, Andy Moor, and Gabriel & Dresden. Durand also kept releasing albums, his latest coming out this past year, where he's apparently aged twenty since this one. Helps when you're not airbrushed into the Uncanny Valley.)


The name Richard Durand (Richard van Schooneveld’s current alias) made quite the impression when it first broke out in the trance scene, although it wasn’t for a good reason. Rather, he’d briefly stolen the title of Needless Remixer Of Classics from Sean Tyas, though folks quickly realized that, aside from Toca’s Miracle, he was mostly just doing old Tiësto singles (he has made dubious remixes for classics by The Prodigy and Underworld since, however). The initial hate subsided, but there was this lingering feeling that something was still askew regarding this Durand fella’. For instance, why him? Who was he, exactly? Where did he come from? And, considering how much Mr. Verwest seemed to be giving him the thumbs-up, why were so many of his remixes and follow-up singles garnering incredibly divisive opinions? (the usual from “mesmerizing” to “torturous”, though typically “pointless” being the consensus)

To be honest, Durand’s ascent is remarkable when you consider what he was doing when the Big T saw something in him. Before then, he was carving out a niche sharing compilations with the likes of Scooter, Lasgo, and Klubbheads as G-Spott, releasing a stream of dodgy euro-dance with gratuitous supersaws. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because very little of his material ever left the realms of Dutch, with tracks appearing on equally dodgy releases going by names like 100% Eurotrance Vol. 4, Get Uppa And Dance 3, and Damn! 9. Then again, even the biggest titans of dance music had very humbling beginnings (Doot Doot, anyone?), so we shouldn’t hold Richard’s past against him. Or should we?

Let’s turn our attention to the release at hand, Mr. van Schooneveld’s debut ‘Richard Durand’ album Always The Sun. A change of artist names to something closer to one’s real name is a sure sign that ol’ Richard wants to be regarded as a Serious Producer now, with a muse that stretches well beyond his G-Spott legacy; smart career idea, to say the least. To back that up, he’s introduced more tech-trance attributes to his tracks, giving his productions a much tougher edge. Unfortunately, he’s also carried a lot of his generic cheese-dance baggage with him, such that it permeates much of his debut album. This wouldn’t be a horrible thing if he went into this tongue-in-cheek the way other over-the-top hard-trance acts like DuMonde often did, but he doesn’t - after all, this is the new, Serious Producer Richard Durand, not that silly G-Spott guy who was seen playing a synthesizer to CGI popcans in the video for N-R-G. (trust me, YouTube that shit!). I mean, just look at the intensity of that face in the cover!

He hopelessly fails. At damned near everything.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, Sykonee, how can he really fail? I mean, so long as I can dance to it, right? Um… right?” That’s just it. I never thought I’d say this about standard 4/4 dance music, but Durand has actually managed to make tracks that are nigh on impossible to dance to. I’m not even talking about the usual overlong breakdown-build nonsense Dutch trance abuses - the song-writing itself lacks any sense of flow. When the rhythms, basslines, and synth-hooks are all in play, they sound horribly disjointed, creating this weird, herky-jerky momentum that saps the energy right out of your legs; it’s the sonic equivalent of walking on a railroad track. In fact, that’s exactly what it was like, as I couldn’t even get a decent walking groove going when I was listening to stuff like Papillon, Ancient Garden… hell, everything in the album's first half. I’m sure Durand’s defenders will point out that I’m not listening to his music in the proper context, that I should be hearing it blasting out of towers of speakers at clubs. Yet walking and dancing aren’t that dissimilar - both require a sense of rhythmic motion, and Durand’s music totally, utterly, fucking wrecks it when you try to move with. Then again, many of Durand’s fanbase considers dancing to be jumping in one spot with a fist in the air.

So yes, Durand has actually failed to make dance music that is danceable on a dance album. It gets worse though. For instance, are you still pining for more Anthem knock-offs? That track may be two years old now, but Durand seems intent at his piece of the melodramatic male-singer eurodance pie, and offers up two generic cuts: the titular track, and No Way Home. I actually didn’t mind vocalist Simon Binkenborn when I heard him on Leon Bolier’s album, but there he was featured on a track that was quite content to be light-weight eurodance fluff. On Durand’s album, however, it seems he’s been instructed to belt out his lyrics with all the overwrought raw emotion he can possibly muster - this is, after all, a Very Serious album. Predictably, the results are ridiculously over-the-top sap. Ah well, at least there weren’t any naff acoustic guitars this ti- wait, what’s this at the end of the album? A… melodramatic acoustic version of No Way Home? FFFFFUUUUUUU...

Although I could endlessly berate the first half of Always The Sun (like the hopelessly amateur sounding Divine, which desperately wants to be a profound opener; or the equally desperate Next Big Anthem Into Something), perhaps it’s about time I turn my attention to the second half. Here is where Durand’s corny super-trance takes full control, starting with a generic femme vocal trancer in City Never Sleeps and followed by Mouseville, an ultra supersaw epic trancer that sounds like a left-over System-F tune Corsten was embarrassed to release. The good news is Durand seems to have finally figured out how to get everything in his tracks working together, so you can actually dance to these. The bad news is he’s forgotten how to adequately mix his tracks together (did I mention this is a continuous mix album? Oops…). So, instead of fucked-up flow within his tunes, it’s now fucked-up flow between the tunes. Gah, can’t he do anything right?

As for the remainder tracks, they’re mostly serviceable tech-trance numbers, but much of their hinted potential awesome is too often squandered. The Trigger, for example, features the first instance on this album of a genuinely unique and nifty hook, a bleepy little thing that gets devilishly twisted as a buzzing sawwave spits and spurts in the background; it never takes off in any significant way, even when the two breakdown-builds suggest the track is ready to erupt. Instead, the standard beats are brought back in, and The Trigger gradually comes to an unremarkable end. As does the whole bloody album.

Call me flabbergasted. I cannot for the life of me figure out how this album saw a green-light at Tiësto’s label. Sure, we’ve handed out bad scores to them before, but it was for things like dull pop pandering or misguided experimentation. Durand’s album is none of this. It’s a euro-cornball hard-trance album trying to pass itself off as a Serious And Earnest collection of rough’n’ready tech-trance (watch the video for Always The Sun if you still don’t believe me), thus diluting the ‘stoopid-fun’ of the former while easily getting outclassed by the likes of Oliver Lieb, Marco V - hell, even Bolier - in the latter. Still, although Always The Sun has all the musical merit of a Special D. album, this probably won’t stop Durand’s career from continuing its rise - Tiësto’s mighty PR machine will see to that. The only thing that still eludes me is why Mr. Verwest would have given a cheesy Dutch hard-trance producer an opportunity like this in the first place. Perhaps Tiësto figures Durand’s success will give him the chance to resurrect Da Joker.

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alter Ego - Alter Ego

Harthouse/Harthouse America: 1994/1995

Even with their name right there as the album's title, I doubt most folks would believe you if you told them this was Alter Ego's debut. Oh, the old heads know, though they tend to skip straight to Decoding The Hacker Myth for their Must Have Alter Ego Records Of The '90s; Acid Jesus too, if they want some straight-up techno. Heck, even if folks are savvy enough to know Alter Ego started out on a more chill bent, I'm sure they'll name-drop the album they released before this one (The Primitive Painter as The Primitive Painter) as the more interesting of the two, if nothing else because of how unknown it is (gotta' show off that trainspotter savvy).

Thus in a discography that includes IDM, techno, tech-house, minimal tech-house, electro, faux-electro, and some acid too, Alter Ego stands alone, more a remnant of the ambient dub era of downtempo music than anything Misters Wuttke and Flügel would go on to do. For sure they put their own spin on the sound, but by and large most folks instead regard this album a chill-out option within the early Harthouse catalogue, a companion piece to whatever mellow moments Ralf Hildenbeuten, Oliver Lieb and B-Zet were providing the label. Aside from the laid-back acid vibes of single Soulfree, little from here gets brought up when discussing Alter Ego's body of work.

Well, poo on them, because I quite enjoy Alter Ego for all those reasons! Yeah, it owes a fair deal to ambient dub, but that gives their music much warmth over their more clinical excursions into music-making. If anything, I'd bill this stuff as 'lounge techno', the sort of music you could imagine being played out at a dimly-lit coffee shop while relaxing on a sofa, a warm mug of your favourite caffeinated beverage simmering nearby as you contently flip through some old novel, its spine withered from repeated usage. No, I'm not basing that off the one track titled Sentimental Books, why do you ask?

As mentioned, Soulfree was the lead single, a wonderfully downtempo outing of deep acid grooves. Atomic Playground plays up to its namesake, a playful little ditty of acid, jazz, and dub, while Chinese Eyes lazily bobbles along with dubby acid and lushly warm pads. For those who need their Alter Ego a tad more upbeat, the thirteen-minutes of Nude Restaurant works a nifty, rolling oscillating rhythm as acid and synths percolate throughout, while Tanks Ahead shows off the duo's funkier side of acid electro (small wonder The Black Dog tapped this one to remix). And as is required of most techno albums of the day, we get the obligatory ambient closer in Undersea Girl, about as warm a piece of ambience as I've ever heard from anyone of the era, wrapping you in thick blankets of synthy timbre while spacey acid bubbles to the ocean surface from Atlantian depths. Yes, I've had this album so long, it's practically painted canvases within my brain matter. How it do?

Things I've Talked About

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