Thursday, May 24, 2018

Canibus - 2000 B.C. (Before Can-I-Bus)

Universal Music: 2000

For a very brief window, I was listening to every new hip-hop album that entered my little hinterlandian music shop. I didn't actually buy every new item, oh no; this one though, 2000 B.C. (Before Can-I-Bus). I didn't know who Canibus was, but he was dropping bars with an intensity that properly drew me into the artform: battle-rap. Dudes like Del and Deck, firing off fiery metaphors and similes with such complexity and ferocity, few could stand toe-to-toe in the arena. And now here's a guy who's entire deal is doing such a thing, a full album's worth of such bars (and some other nonsense).

Jamaican born, commanding the microphone must have been in Mr. Germaine Williams' blood from the start, making a name for himself throughout the underground freestyle circuit in New York City. It got him noticed by some Very Important Persons in the hip-hop community, including LL Cool J and Wyclef Jean, the latter even producing Canibus' debut album. That... didn't turn out as his fans expected, Wyclef trying to mould Canibus into a commercial star. The album sold well enough, mind you, but heads wanted the real battling 'Bus. Thus for his follow-up 2000 B.C., Canibus throws down as hard as everyone hoped he would.

The album opens with a heavy boom-bap beat while various former bars are stitched together, eventually erupting with a triumphant fanfare as Canibus declares it's The C-Quel. And if that doesn't get you fired up, then the titular cut damn sure well, all apocalyptic choirs as dude doesn't hold back on proclaiming his lyrical greatness (while throwing a couple barbs at Wyclef in the process). The rest of the album pretty much plays out like that, Canibus coming in with a solid Eastcoast beat, going off on how great he is in a myriad of creative ways. Sometimes he brings in other famed lyricists like Rakim, Killah Priest, Rass Kass, and Kurupt, other times he goes off for an unprecedented one-hundred bars (100 Bars). Gander at one of my favourite verses from Doomsday News, for obvious reasons: “If I had half as many bars in gold as I had in lyrics when I flowed; I'd be the richest man on the globe; Niggas wanna know is Canibus gold? That's a stupid-ass question motherfucker, is Canada cold? 'Bout a thousand degrees lower than liquid nitro is.”

I can't say it's all gold, though. Life Liquid has Canibus spitting over-the-top ultra-violence and homophobia to show how 'street hard' he is (Watch Who U Beef Wit's a far better grimdark street cut – message!). A few beef jabs are fine, but Canibus does overplay it with Die Slow and Phuk U. Odd having Pharoahe Monch featuring solo on a pure freestyle in Horsemen. And no matter how creative he does get, hearing Canibus constantly telling you how awesome he is does wear thin by album's end. Beyond those quibbles though, 2000 B.C.'s a dope record for folks who dig rap's true lyrical potential.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

808 State - 88:98 (2018 Update)

Universal Records: 1998

(Click here to bang your head against an impenetrable wall of text)

I've severely lagged in my 808 State gathering. Hell, it's almost shameful it took me until just last year to snag me a copy of at least one proper LP from the Manchester group, any LP. ex:el is a decent jumping on point, I suppose, but I'm certain most acid heads declare their first couple of records - Newbuild and Ninety - the only true 808 State albums you're supposed to have, even if you're not an 808 State fan. “But wait!”, say some, “Don't you dare dismiss their post-ex:el material either, Gorgeous and Don Solaris just as worthy of discussion as any of the band's seminal '80s work.”

Yeah, those too, though considering I've seen Gorgeous in the used-shops on occasion, I do have some suspicions of that one's overall quality. Strikes me as the sort of record that I would have stumbled upon back in my exploratory years, picked up to hear why 808 State were held in such high regard, and came away entertained but unimpressed. But hey, until I actually hear Gorgeous in full, I can't make that claim.

For now, all I have to go on is the fact only three of that album's tracks made the cut on this retrospective, whereas ex:el earned a whopping five out of thirteen potential slots. Not to mention none of the songs got a spiffy '98 update like Pacific and Cubik did. No, wait, this is bad logic on my part! Newbuild got jack-shite representation with 88:98, which follows that it's a completely rubbish outing. Well, we must concede it's the least commercially viable for a compilation such as this, but that's probably why so many True Heads adore that acid excursion compared to what came after. Only way you'd hear Flow Coma on the radio is via pirate options.

I cannot deny having 88:98 makes getting the band's post ex:el material a rather low priority. Yeah, you can argue this compilation also makes having ex:el redundant (or the other way around), but c'mon, tracks like Lift and In Yer Face are worth having as many times as possible! If this is meant to be a gathering of their best material though, then I've already heard all the highlights from Gorgeous and Don Solaris, everything else on those albums 'just for the fans' options. Then again, if I went by that logic, then I'd have assumed I wouldn't need anymore tunes off of ex:el, as there's no possible way the five on 88:98 are the peak. Then I heard ex:el, and realized they could have thrown even more on here than what's offered.

There, that should be enough circular rambling to sate anyone. As should be painfully apparent by now, I really have nothing else to add or update with 88:98. It's still a handy intro to 808 State, but far from a complete story. Besides, there's plenty of streaming options for that now anyway. Wow, the 'retrospective CD' market truly is dead, inn'it?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ladytron - 604

Emperor Norton: 2001/2004

Phase 1 Ladytron had such a college-kid cool about them. You could easily imagine them hanging out at the A/V rec room in their matching Atari sports jackets, fiddling with archaic analog synths for fun. Or catch them chilling at a bubble-tea cafe between classes talking up Kraftwerk and Human League, lamenting such music lost artifacts of a bygone era. Following a late-night jaunt at an off-grid nightclub offering overplayed '80s hits, they'd hang out at an after-hours noodle house, sharing overheard stories of love-sick peers. Then they'd get it in their heads that all these interests could translate into some throwback synth-pop of their own. No pretense of super-stardom or something as daft as spearheading an ironic retro-revival. They had neither the interest, nor the marketing to accomplish as such. Just music-making on a shoestring budget, using used gear long abandoned by the industry at large, performing songs of a simple, intimate nature. Something like that, anyway.

While Ladytron was quick to grow and evolve from these humble roots, I find myself returning to their debut album more than the others, for no other reason than it captures the band in a moment they couldn't replicate if they tried. They gained more gear, stronger song-writing ability, and overall better production in subsequent records, thus there's an undeniable charm in hearing early fussing about with comparatively clunky keyboards and bulky synths, wrestling with an off-key hook while a melancholy organ melody quavers overtop and Helen Marnie sing-whispers about doomed relationships... I dunno', there's just something strangely relatable here.

It's like the difficulty and unpredictability of their gear mirrors the difficulty and unpredictability of navigating relationships within their songs. Wondering whether the drunken mess you're going out with is worth your while, or whether the big-city life you wanted is as you'd imagined while living in a small town. These aren't world-shattering matters, but when you're young and aimless, having the chance to spend another breakfast with someone, anyone, can feel like the most important event ever. Musing over a boy taking the same girl you took to a movie never sounded so poignant, except perhaps as warbled by acoustic folkies.

That the topics in these songs are as simple as their paired synth-pop melodies, some thought Ladytron's act was initially a gimmick (hence them getting lumped in with gimmick electroclash groups). After two decades of studio advances, why would anyone make pop music with such difficult music contraptions, some of which barely created sounds that could be considered musical? It definitely got them noticed out of the pack though, a group crafting surprisingly catchy tunes while sounding as rough and unpolished as any garage rock band of the day. At a time when pop music was as slick and corporate as it would ever be, hearing something just as ear-friendly but far more authentic and real was almost a God-send for Serious Music Aficionados. Why yes The White Stripes were also very popular around this time, why do you ask?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Asura - 360

Ultimae Records: 2010

For the longest time, 360 was a reminder of just how down and out my mental state was in 2010. I should have been hyped over Asura's follow-up to Life², ecstatic that the dude that introduced me to Ultimae Records had returned. Plus, the label itself sent me a digital pre-release to review, practically a dream come true, right? Only, my time writing reviews for TranceCritic seemed at an end. I still accepted that digital copy, but felt like a cad doing so, uncertain whether I'd commit fingers to keyboard for them. It didn't help I was still in “MP3 iz bad” mode, with quality playback options limited, so my initial reactions were gonna' be tainted regardless. And then, after playing 360, I came away from it so disappointed, I almost gave up on new music completely. A total over-reaction, true, but man, after suffering through the 'sidechaining era' of trance, hearing Asura indulging it on Atlantis Child felt like a betrayal of Ultima 9 / Mass Effect 3 proportions.

Obviously, I've come around to 360 many years later. Really, there were songs on here that I liked right off the bat regardless (oh man, is Halley Road ever lush!), but that soured first impression curdled any replay desire for a while. It's honestly taken me this long, actually sitting down and analyzing this album for the purpose of a review, that the veil finally was lifted. Yeah, Atlantis Child is still kinda' wonky, in that it sounds more like Charles Farewell tinkering around with new effects rather than making a solid track. The rest though... oh my!

Right, it's no Life², in that 360 doesn't hit quite the same highs as that album does. There's still some honest-to-God quality tunes here though. All of his psy-chill productions (Regenesis, Erase, Longing For Silence, Le Dernier Voyage) hit the same spaced-out, sweet spots as his earlier material, with a few new, glitchy tricks thrown in for good measure. Altered State works a most tasty prog-psy groove, one of the best Asura's ever produced. The aforementioned Halley Road takes the best parts of Galaxies, and cranks the uplifting feels even higher, while Virgin Delight does all it can to melt your heart into PLUR goo (was Solar Fields offering tips?). Elsewhere, El Hai and Getsemani show off Mr. Farewell's orchestral chops, though I'll still take Golgotha over these.

Atlantis Child aside, the only real criticism I can level on 360 is that, as an album, it doesn't flow quite so well. For example, the sombre Getsemani would make for a lovely, reflective closer, but is instead placed two tracks from the finish. I suppose it works as a transitional into the more positive lead-out of Le Dernier Voyage and Virgin Delight, but man, does it leave me emotionally defeated too, not ready to take more music after. Hey, maybe that's what contributed to my 2010 funk! No, it was the other things that were at fault.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Various - 100% Energy

Quality Records: 1994

Another of my earliest CDs, and a very educational one at that. No, go ahead and laugh – it really is quite adorable what I learned from 100% Energy. It's something I would have learned rather quickly anyway, but there's always that first one, opening your eyes, ears, and brain to all that electronic dance music has to offer and is capable of. I am, of course, talking about The Remix.

Yeah, I'd come across remixes before. My exposure was so limited at that point, however, I just assumed rubs on tunes like Age Of Love, Obumbrata, and Dominator were the original versions, not variations. Even the few remixes of 2 Unlimited hits I'd heard didn't sound that different compared to the radio cuts, at least enough for me to think much of it (still, that 2 Little Boys go with Twilight Zone sure hit harder). When I picked up 100% Energy (was given as a Christmas gift? I can't remember...), I was already familiar with a chunk of tunes in the track list: Urban Cookie Collective's The Key, The Secret, BKS' I'm In Love With You, Bad Boys Blue's Go Go (Love Overload). There are several others too, but I hadn't counted on hearing versions of them completely different from what I'd heard elsewhere.

My main point of comparison was Radikal Techno – Too Radikal, where four tracks from that CD also ended up here. Both Mars Plastic's Find The Way and R.T.Z. Belgium's In The Name Of Love are shorter, which I didn't mind since both tunes are rather monotonous anyway. That Deadly Sins cut though, We Are Going On Down, why does it have an added bell melody? The main riff's different too, more aggressive sounding, and where did the roller-coaster samples go? If that threw me for a loop, then hearing the original version of TRF Rave Factory's Open Your Mind... well, opened my mind. Joey Beltram's remix on Radikal Techno was minimalist and almost trancey, whereas here it's about as ravey happy hardcore as you could get in 1993. Complete opposite ends of the dance spectrum, and I was so clueless it could be done at all! Oh, and the limp Let The Beat Control Your Body from 2 Unlimited is featured here in its more festive X-Out In Rio Remix form, another “wtf?” moment for yours truly.

Okay, enough anecdotal blathering. 100% Energy is about as typical a eurodance compilation from Quality Records as you'll ever find. Other names on here include Diva Connection, Apotheosis, Dance 2 Trance, Q-Tex, Cardenia, and Intermission. DJ Dero's mardi gras nod Batucada comes prior to the 2 Unlimited rub, and General Base's Poison hits all my eurodance endorphin triggers. The CD is also 'mixed', in that everything's got hard cross-fade slams, some tracks hilariously clashing with what came before. Since I don't have many of these tunes and mixes elsewhere, I've kept 100% Energy all these years, but it's honestly barely worth a used-shop pick-up a quarter century on.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Global Communication - 76:14

Dedicated: 1994/1997

The only 'ambient house' album you're supposed to have, if you never really messed with the genre in the first place. Yeah, the Proper Critics of the music world have kind things to say about Adventures Beyond Ultraworld, Chill Out, Lifeforms, both SAWs, and a few others. For some reason though, Global Communication's lone LP always ends up in the 'best of' lists and 'Most Important Ambient Records' recaps from outlets that seldom give raver music much credit. Is The Orb just too stoner-goofy? Boards Of Canada too childish? Pete Namlook too dorky?

There's no denying 76:14 is a class album from Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard. Already finding some techno success as Reload, the duo took a stab at the trendy (lucrative?) chill-out market with this new alias, showing just as much skill fusing ambient and associated genres of old (Berlin-School, New Age ...yes, really) with the beatcraft and dubby components quite common with their peers.

For sure there's charming pure ambient numbers like 4:02 and 12:18, harkening to the days of early Eno and Hearts Of Space. Not content navel-gazing with the pioneers, 9:25 and 7:39 adds some funk-hop rhythm to the pleasant synths and harmonies on display, while 9:37 goes all spaced-out with distant, minimalist dubby pulses – some serious Fax+ vibes on that one. Elsewhere, 8:07 and 5:23 may as well be the same track, building on a simple, pulsing arp with complementing synths and melodies straight from the book of space-synth Tangerine Dream. And who can go a 76:14 review without mentioning 14:31, a composition time and again hailed as among the highlights of early '90s chill-out music (that metronome!). Overall, the result is an album that doesn't stray too far from what ambient music of the era offered, but uniquely engaging enough to stand out from an over-stuffed scene.

Good music aside though, I'm still left wondering what it is about 76:14 that always places so high in lists compared to everything else released in the early '90s. Make no mistake, there were a lot of LPs put out at the time, many with synths and sounds similar to what's on offer here. Tom and Mark at least show stronger songcraft compared to others, no composition coming off as meandering, noodly music for its own sake. That's a remarkable ability considering some of these songs' lengths (hint: it's the titles).

I dunno. The more I listen to 76:14, the more I suspect it became a favourite of Serious Music Critics because it didn't have the same level of hype as the Orbs and Aphex Twins. Nor did Global Communication have such marketing muscle behind it like Virgin or Warp Records, Dedicated more known for their alt-rock releases. And without a major label licensing their tracks out, the music didn't flood the compilation market either. 76:14 was thus an album that you got to discover on your own, and were richly rewarded for your exploration. Small surprise many got so attached to it.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Paul van Dyk - 45 RPM

MFS/Mute: 1994/1998

I cannot deny being amused at seeing this album in the used shop. The thought process of its former owner vividly played out in my head: “Gosh gee, I sure do like myself Paul van Dyk, what with that lovely song For An Angel on all these trance-tastic mixes! But, the song wasn't on Out There And Back. Which one had For An Angel? Oh, it's this one, 45 RPM. Hey, it's even got two versions of it! I didn't even know you could do that with trance.” *plays the album* “Uh, what is this? This doesn't sound like trance. It's all so... plain, and simple, especially that first version of For An Angel. There isn't even any vocals or plucks on here. How can I 'OMG I DIE' to stuff without big, anthem singalong breakdowns? Ah, this is an old album, before Paul Oakenfold invented trance. Guess I'll sell it. It's not what I wanted.”

Myself, of course, was all up in getting my hands on some old school Paul van Dyk! Okay, not really, my interest in his musical output middling at best. However, finding any early '90s trance album in the used shops is rare 'round these here parts, so snagged that CD up I did so. Why has my grammar gone so wonky all of a sudden? Trancecrackeritis?

Beyond being Paul van Dyk's first album and initial home of For An Angel though, 45 RPM isn't a terribly remarkable trance LP, even for the year 1994. MFS had already released a number of memorable singles cementing the Mark Reeder print as one of trance's earliest tastemakers, with acts like Cosmic Baby and Effective Force leading the way. Known for having an ear attuned to catchy melodies through the DJ circuit, Paul's style caught the attention of the MFS team, bringing him on to lend his talents to various productions and remixes. When it came time to tag his name to his own work, however, instead of the type of trance MFS was known for, van Dyk opted for something a little more club-friendly and commercial in Pump This Party as a lead single. It didn't survive the '98 re-issue, for good reason. Stepping stones and all that, but it's hilarious to hear that as the intended hit single, rather than initially looked-over For An Angel. Different eras.

As for the rest of 45 RPM, yeah, it's an early trance album from Paul van Dyk. It's all competently produced and arranged, most hooks simple and subtle, though folks with cracked copies of Fruity Loops were knocking this stuff out by the turn of the century. A Magical Moment has a slower, groovier vibe going for it, while Ejaculoutro ends the album-proper on an ambient note, but little else leaps out from the norm. The '95 additions from the Emergency! EP replacing the Pump This Party tracks add more flavour to Paul's formula, which only highlight his earlier works as him still in a developmental stage.

Laurent Garnier - 30

F Communications: 1997

Though 30 is Laurent Garnier's second full-length album, I always think of it as his first. Or at least, the start of his musical kleptomania taking hold. His first album, Shot In The Dark, was a strict techno exercise, more a gathering of tunes rinsed out at his Wake Up club night. Upon entering his third decade of travelling around Sol, however, the famed Frenchman was itching to stretch his muse beyond dancefloor tools. A few smatterings of tracks across aliases nudged him into areas like house and trance, but there be broken-beats out there too, by g'ar.

You know you're in for a Serious Artistic Album when your opener is two minutes of minimalist, moody ambient. Deep Sea Diving certainly imparts a sense of dwelling among the Drexciyan fish-folk, though as it doesn't relate much to the rest of the album, comes off superfluous as an opener. Might have made for a decent mid-record intermission though.

From there, we get a few varieties of techno. Sweet Mellow D and Mid Summer Night get in on that freeform Detroit action, teasing out a steady rhythm for almost excruciating lengths, though when that kick hits, it doesn't stick for long. At the other end of the spectrum, we get Crispy Bacon and Flashback, straight-forward techno bangers, with the latter indulging a fair bit of acid too. Unsurprisingly, these were the main singles off 30, since this was the sound most folks familiar with Garnier would be after.

One track preceded those, an almost novelty limited edition records called The Hoe. It samples the line “She ain't nuthin' but a hoe”, looping and cutting it up into a ghetto techno cut that, save some simple strings in the back-half, sounds nothing like Laurent's typical output. Surely the Frenchman has more class than this in his music, though DJ Hell got enough of a kick out of it to provide a remix. And not just as a one-off, 'ghetto-tech' cuts also appearing in the form of electro in Kallit! and I Funk Up. Yep, ol' Laurent was getting himself in on that electro-revival just as it was set to blow up, though I doubt anyone noticed it here. Too enamoured by Crispy Bacon.

There's also a trip-hop outing in For Max, a little reggae techno-dub in Theme From Larry's Dub, a dash of deep house in Feel The Fire, an ethereal outro with chanting, drumming, and synths cribbed from Go To Sleep, plus assorted gimmick interludes, including what I assume is Laurent's child giggling in *?*.

As you can tell, 30 is an album that's all over the place, good tracks scattered among genre dalliances that have been done better elsewhere, including within Laurent's future discography. The tonal clash between some tunes is jarring, to say the least, and I'm not sure how The Hoe could have fit in with anything else here. Folks'll find 30 is best served as a bridge between two different eras of Garnier's production career.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mist:i:cal - The Eleventh Hour (Original TC Review)

Soul:r: 2007

(2018 Update:
It's astonishing this remains the only album this group put out. They had nearly a decade to work on another, though with the passing of Marcus Intalex this past year, such a thing's a moot point now. Save a single digital EP in the year 2008, the project went quiet after the release of this album. Calibre carried on with his solo output, now a dozen albums strong, and Marcus put out a lone LP in 2011 called
21, but his passion remained with the DJ circuit, all the while maintaining his Soul:r print. Meanwhile, ST Files kept a steady stream of singles, but never quite hit the same heights of success as the other two players involved with Mist:i:cal.

Nothing else to add to this review. There's a little fudging of the genre demarcations - liquid funk was broad enough in those days that the flying high soul found here could fit the term - but
The Eleventh Hour remains a timeless outing of d'n'b for all you savvy heads out there.)

IN BRIEF: Doing it their own way.

On the opening title track of The Eleventh Hour, guest vocalist DRS is calling out all the corporate shenanigans of his scene. To the backing beats of what could be a long-lost Photek track, the MC seems a might bit peeved that drum’n’bass has lost its way, succumbing to the glitz and glamour of commercialization, sacrificing the heart and soul of the scene’s urban hipness of yore. Methinks he could be seeing the past with shades of a rosen-hue.

Yes, Pendulum turned the jungle scene on its head with one hell of a commercial breakthrough, but d’n’b had plenty of success well before then too. Goldie. Roni Size. EZ Rollers. Er... Kosheen. Hmm, apparently d’n’b’s credibility can ebb and flow with whichever name hits it big after all. However, I find it silly of DRS to be calling out currently successful acts of the dee’bee scene - if not specifically by name, then at least by association - when the very sound he’s spitting over was mainstream a decade ago. Then again, that material certainly was far more artistically credible than many current offerings from the majors these days.

And this is pretty much the sound you’ll come to hear on Mistical’s album. Comprised of Calibre, Markus Intalex, and ST. Files, the trio of producers have cooked up a collection of d’n’b cuts which mostly ignores current trends; there’s nary an ultra-aggro bassline heard, and style-biting from the Hospital Records crew is non-existent. Instead, they indulge in the styles which dragged the genre out of the underground during the mid-90s. This might have your Hooked On Nostalgia alarm beeping, but fear not, my friends, for Mistical aren’t rehashing the past, rather embracing what made those classic tunes work brilliantly when they were new.

So we have smooth dubby cuts like Mistical Soulution, City Life, and Amen Electric; atmospheric floaters like Time To Fly and Memory Jog; jazzstep offerings courtesy of Natasha; and urban stylings such as Stay Away and City Life (er, no points for predicting this reviewer's Ace Tracks, heh). Linking it all together is a warm gentle soulfulness that, frankly, tends to be lacking in much d’n’b these days. Yes, even the spirited liquid funk camps are guilty of this too, as they can get a bit caught up in bringing the bang to the party, lest they be left in the dust of their aggressive compatriots. Whether it’s Mistical’s aim to fill in this missing gap, or they merely prefer this sound over what’s hot and trendy, the trio definitely have managed to stand out from the pack because of their stylistic choice.

Further along The Eleventh Hour, we come across a track that may have all the junglists running for the hills ...or wondering if the right CD is still in their player. Dominick Martin (Calibre) has been known to dabble in other genres, but to have a purely dubbed-out house tune on a d’n’b album is a surprising and welcome idea. For a cut that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Swayzak DJ mix, Secret Love fits nicely in adding a bit of variety here.

Mistical continue their experiments for most of the final stanza. Add Break is an effects interlude; Eject finds the duo trying their hand at some neurofunk (and succeeding!); and the aforementioned Memory Jog will undoubtedly tickle at the old school dee’bee head in us all (and possibly fans of The Orb too). It’s quite an eclectic collection of sounds to close the album off, sounding very little like what came before.

Looking to close out The Eleventh Hour with that extra touch of class, Mistical bring in house legend Robert Owens to lend his vocal talents on Believe. The trio provide a sparse d’n’b cut to back the liquid funk favorite up, as Owens can easily carry the track on his own. And while he doesn’t sing about much we haven’t heard from him before (keep you chin up; don’t lose sight of your dreams, etc.), he does so in as fine a form as ever.

All in all, friends, we have a good little album here. Considering how dissimilar it is to much of what passes for cutting edge jungle, Mistical should definitely find themselves in a comfortable niche. A bigger question, though, is whether they have the chops to really stand out from the crowd, and perhaps even shake the dee’bee scene up a bit. Had you asked me that back in February when The Eleventh Hour was released, I’d probably have said “not much”. However, something recently occurred that has forced me to reconsider.

Marcus Intalex was tapped for Fabric’s thirty-fifth edition of their Live series. In the process, he came up with a drum’n’bass DJ mix that is currently being hailed as one of the best the genre has seen in years. Drawing upon many of the sounds Mistical utilize, it turned many heads around who’d grown jaded with their scene, claiming the sound is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnating atmosphere.

As I am not as immersed in the dee’bee scene to know if this is truly the case or not, I can still see the writing on the wall of what such claims foretell. Gaining exposure on a Fabric mix is big enough, but to have many bestowing high praise upon it in the process can only bring good things for the prospects of Mistical. Fortunately for them, they have an album in the bank that can back up any hype that comes with such exposure.

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Banco de Gaia - 10 Years (Remixed) (Original TC Review)

Disco Gecko: 2003

(2018 Update:
No, I don't have the actual
10 Years compilation from Mr. Marks. I did, at first. I mean, all those classic Banco tunes, plus assorted rarities like the Jack Dangers rub of How Much Reality Can You Take and the Insect Intelligence version of Amber, gathered onto two discs and all. Of course I got myself that! Then I loaned it out to a friend. Never got it back, though to be fair, I didn't push him to return it either. It's not like it was difficult to 'get' the rare offerings again anyway (most of these can be found on the Rewritten Histories collections now), so I was fine letting 10 Years slide from my coffers. I may be a major Banco fan, but I'm not a completist ...he says while reposting a review for a 'completist only' compilation.

This review is pretty rambly for one of my latter-years TC efforts, probably 33% longer than it needs to be. It's like, whenever I got the chance to talk up Banco at TranceCritic, I didn't hold back one iota. The other reviews I wrote for the website -
Maya and Farewell Ferengistan - were absolute behemoths in word count. Thank God for self-imposed word count, though I'm oh-so tempted to break that rule whenever I get around to Big Men Cry.)

IN BRIEF: Ten years of tour mates.

For good and ill, the remix album has become an undeniable part of dance music’s legacy. It’s reached a point where they are not only expected, but even counted upon in some circles. I’ve seen several bemoan a lacklustre album-proper only to follow such sentiments thinking “hopefully the remixes will make this better.” Trance alone has several albums packaged with an additional remix disc, not to mention the endless follow-up remix discs for the bigger releases. Despite some of the positives that come with the endeavor - the odd time a remix actually does an original better, or rounding up rare and obscure remixes into a single package - far too often these CDs are cynical, quick money-grabs, milking an artist’s music for every potential penny. Ultimately though, remix albums for electronic music share the same status live albums from rock bands do: potentially interesting, sometimes brilliant, but usually skippable.

This is what makes a remix CD for Banco de Gaia even more peculiar. Toby Marks has consistently shied away from cheap commercial gains, so you really can’t take 10 Years: Remixed as such. On the other hand, it’s not like there's been a plethora of remixes of Banco tunes over the years, most of which are done by Marks himself. Despite some notable names being given the re-rub task (Oliver Lieb, Speedy J, Jack Dangers), the trend has been Banco de Gaia does the best remixes of Banco de Gaia. However, those were already included on the 10 Years proper album.

Which brings us back to 10 Years: Remixed - specifically, what exactly is this release all about? I suppose doing a remix album is justifiable when it’s in conjunction with a retrospective album, but Marks knew full well there weren’t enough in his back catalog for a proper CD. If such is the case, then how about brand new remixes of a bunch of classic Banco tunes? Sounds good to me, only there’s a catch: instead of hiring out big names or scene mainstays, Marks got in touch with a bunch of his musical associates from over the years and gave them carte blanche to go wild. And if you’ve followed his musical career, you’d know the man from the World Bank has had some wildly eclectic associates, though with more of a leaning towards the global-fusion dance beat (obviously).

I guess what I’m trying to say here is only hard-line fans of Banco de Gaia are going to get much out of this release ; par for the course when it comes to remix albums anyway. If you’ve read this far, then you’re obviously a fan (or incredibly curious), so let me tell you what to expect from 10 Years: Remixed.

First, the familiar. Even here at TC, names such as Eat Static, Loop Guru, and HIA (The Higher Intelligence Agency) have crossed paths (er, mainly because of a certain reviewer’s affinity for a certain producer who’s been tied to them), and as such the groups bring their trademark sounds to the tracks they got to remix. HIA turns the obscure proto psy-dub gem Soufie into a clicky ambient-techno piece, Loop Guru ramp up the ethno-dub styling of Sakarya, and Eat Static gives Lai Lah the psy-trance business, but also throws in a bunch of other samples Marks has used in other tracks (I Love Baby Cheesy, Kuos, etc.).

Meanwhile, other psychedelic and dancehall dub mainstays like Temple Of Sound, Zion Train, Dreadzone, Asian Dub Foundation, Future Loop Foundation, and Transglobal Underground lend their hand, with various results. Some are quite the reworkings, such as Temple Of Sound turning Drunk As A Monk from a kind of prog-rock stomp into a brisk neurofunk excursion; or Dreadzone giving the incredibly somber vocal version of Glove Puppet some rhythmic spring (Jennifer Folker still sounds gloriously tragic though). On the other hand, not much is gained or lost in Future Loop Foundation adding dreamy Balearic tones to Celestine, while Zion Train seems at a loss as to what to do with Shanti, providing a brief and rather generic techno -dub tune in the process (honestly, though, would anyone be able to top Marks’ brilliant Black Mountain Mix?); and what exactly is going on in Obsidian? Transglobal Underground’s stomp-dub go at Amber is ace though.

Now, the obscure and unknowns. Well, 100th Monkey isn’t exactly obscure - it's long-time Banco collaborator Andy Guthrie - but certainly not a name you’ll immediately connect with. Since he’s been familiar with Marks’ work over the years, it’s unsurprising he gives Sunspot a great remix - and it’s also a mash-up with Qurna! Elsewhere on the CD, old school industrial group Perfume Tree - here known as Veloce - does a respectable deep-trance rub of Heliopolis, which rates around the Shanti remix in terms of usefulness. It’s the hopelessly obscure Carbomb that brings us the most ‘leftfield’ cut, turning Drippy into a kind of thrash-metal thing - has to be heard to be believed, even more so that it actually works!

*whew* That’s quite the eye-full for the hardcore Banco fan, I must admit, but given the eclecticism and seemingly random order of all these remixes, it could not be glossed over. Well, it could, but that’s not what we here at TC are about. Where am I going with this? Oh, right… 10 Years: Remixed. There’s a few quality remixes here - see below for which - but this CD’s mostly a ‘completists only’ deal. Although it’s interesting to hear different versions, it’s primarily going to be Banco fans that will appreciate them.

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

Things I've Talked About

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