Saturday, December 26, 2009

Loop Guru - Amrita (...All These And The Japanese Soup Warriors) (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $3.40

North South: Cat. # GURU 200CD
Released 1995

Track List:
1. Sheikh (3:58)
2. Yayli (7:29)
3. Diwana (5:38)
4. Soulus (4:48)
5. Papasus (6:04)
6. Often Again (5:07)
7. Sun (5:01)
8. Epic Song (4:47)
9. Gianyar (7:45)
10. Fumi (13:32)
11. Plane Shift (6:10)

(2010 Update:
Track-by-track is still a chore to read, but at least the preamble to these reviews was getting better. I was a bit surprised by the resurgence of ethnic sampling in hip techno circles in recent years, though very little of what they did was as vibrant as what we have here. Mind, they are very different scenes.)

IN BRIEF: World samplings from the gurus of loops.

Truth be told, I wasn't a one-genre whore from the get-go. While I may say a great deal of the early 90s euro wave initially sparking my enthusiasm for EDM, there was yet another style I was enjoying along side it, though I didn't make as big of a deal about it -which is kind of strange, really, considering this style is probably one of the most commercially successful worldwide. I guess as a young, rebellious teenager, I almost felt guilty for enjoying the same music my mother did.

Dabbled with as far back as Peter Gabriel, and perhaps even The Beatles, it wasn't until the emergence of such acts like Enigma and Deep Forest that the genre loosely termed 'world beat' gained mainstream notice. The idea of throwing ethnic influences over techno rhythms sparked an amazing wave of producers attempting to cross cultural boundaries with music, a most novel idea considering our enjoyment of rhythms and melodies is one of the few things all of humanity seems to have in common.

However, because of the cultural diversity on this planet, fusing disparate music styles can be trickier than it seems. What may make sense in one part of the world will not necessarily meld fluently with another region. It isn't enough to just take a chanting pygmy sample and stick it with a sitar sample -there needs to be some cohesion between the two. Often the best producers in this field (Delerium, Banco de Gaia, etc.) will take such samples and create rhythms and melodies around them. The bad producers (too many goa trance artists to name) just lump samples on top of each other and hope for the best.

Of course, ask almost any world beat producer what kind of music they make, and they'll immediately claim they produce anything but world beat. I suppose they have a just reason for it. The term world beat (or even worse, world music) is even more ambiguously useless than 'electronica'. What exactly makes a song fall under that category? Certain sounds may be ethnic to one region but not to another. Maybe it's referring to music that isn't region specific, but there are several forms of music like that that don't fall under the umbrella of world beat. Ah, well. Humanity has never been all that good at giving names to music.

Anyhow, as I was saying, world beat held just as much interest to me as nearly any other style of EDM and, over the years, I'd come across some incredible acts in the process. One group that eluded me, though, was Loop Guru.

As a huge fan of Banco de Gaia, I'd often heard of Loop Guru mentioned in conversations of similar artists, sometimes even seeing them appearing together on compilations. I'd been curious, of course, but never really gave it much thought to seek out any of their albums until just recently. Having heard a few offerings of their work on compilations, a part of me feared they'd turn out to be nothing more than a Banco de Gaia-lite. However, after time and time again hearing the praises of the group, I decided to give in and check them out.

Starting out this particular album called Amrita is Sheikh. First thing I notice is this is very sample heavy music, looping over and over and over throughout this song. Mostly utilizing Indian sitars, woodwinds, and chants, not much really happens on this song as things more or less loop for four minutes without much variation. And, unfortunately, the samples used don't mesh all that well either. It doesn't inspire much but the rhythm is fairly energetic, if unwaveringly loop-refic, so I get the impression Loop Guru made this track merely as an opener to the album. At least, I hope this is the case. I'd hate to have to sit through an album of stuff like this. If I wanted that, I'd purchase some bad goa trance.

Yayli brings things more into focus, opening with chants and wails as rhythms gradually build for some two minutes. Once we get settled into alternating looping samples that feed off the tribal energy established, we are treated to quite an infectious track. While most of the guitar and woodwind samples are established early on, there is a great deal of mixing them up throughout so they never get redundantly repetitive as it did in the opener. Strangely, though, once the song ends, a little interlude plays out which sounds like something you might have heard on an old Super Nintendo RPG. At least, it does to me -damned youthful nostalgia.

Diwana does the same trick as heard in Yayli but the samples used are even better! The chant is quite nice, the rhythm more funky, and a haunting flute plays off of Indian pipes wonderfully. There are a bunch of other samples floating about providing texture and gives this track much needed depth that wasn't quite as prevalent as in the first two. Of note, I might add, is aside from some of the rhythms, I've yet to hear much in the way of actual electronic sounds in these tracks. It seems Loop Guru are more interested in using the samples they've come across to do the music for them rather than augmenting them with other hardware. It's ballsy, I have to admit, but Sheikh notwithstanding, it's worked so far. Hopefully it doesn't catch up to them later, though.

We get treated to a bit more of a Western feel rather than the Far East in Soulus, as the samples used here consist mostly of Gregorian chants and orchestral bits. Not too much else gets thrown in, though, as this is a fairly simple, loopy track like Sheikh. Fortunately, the elements in use are more cohesive and Soulus doesn't run out of steam before it's over.

Loop Guru slows things down now with Papasus, a wonderful little grooving number of dubbed out rhythms and simple, subdued melodies (including a sampled voice of Sussan Seihim). I'll admit I have a real weakness for music of this sort (most commonly referred to as ambient dub) but a number of others will find this a bit too noodly for their tastes.

Often Again is a rather mellow excursion of shuffling rhythms, chants of both folksy and Gregorian in nature, and lo-fi flutes that wouldn't sound all that out of place in a Boards Of Canada release. Beyond that, this is still a mostly loopy affair, although the flutes do sound more natural thanks to the longer length of those loops. Also, has anyone noticed those tweeting birds hiding throughout this album so far? I thought it was coming from outside at first but then I remembered that birds don't tweet in the middle of the night.

Loop Guru has managed to lull me into a blissful sense of serenity with these last two tracks but Sun opens up with something a little more paranoid sounding. Then, quite suddenly, brisk, crisp percussion leaps out at you, startling you into alertness again. Good thing too, as Sun is a fun track you wouldn't want to sleep through. Plenty of samples get thrown about here, mostly of an energetic nature to rile you up for a good ol' hippie dance. If I was in a flower field listening to this, or even just an outdoor festival, I could definitely see myself leaving a hacky-sack, drum, or bong circle to get my shake on to this track.
And this next one as well! Epic Song really doesn't have much to offer melodically with all the folksy singing and flutes, but I quite like the rhythm to this one. Much more tribal and less loopy than what else has been on offer with Amrita.

Of course, by this point I'm getting a little cocky about figuring out Loop Guru's tricks, namely making use of a wide assortment of ethnic samples arranged into interesting, even enjoyable songs. And Gianyar starts out just as expected with some peppy rhythms and lo-fi flutes samples. Less than a minute, though, I'm thrown for a 'loop' (hohoho!) when an orchestral sample starts to play, but in reverse! Playing tape loops backwards can be musically disastrous in many instances but it works here. Even better, though, is an additional melancholy eastern flute melody that follows it, and a rousing orchestral sample at peaks. This is some great stuff to listen to, even if the rhythm section barely changes at all from beginning to end.

Fumi is more noodly ambient dub but, unlike Papasus, this one goes for more jazz influences than anything else. At over thirteen minutes long, it does meander at great length between bass guitar, low Eastern woodwinds, and Gregorian chants (always good in a pinch) while sparse percussion bobbles along. It is nice to listen to for a while but, really, it does go on for an almost tedious amount of time if you pay too much attention to it. Best to just zone out while it is playing. Smoke a bowl if that's your game, too.

And, finishing off, we have Plane Shift, a mellow outro of a track that makes use of those always reliable Gregorian chants while Arabian flutes and percussion loop along at a steady pace. Yeah, it doesn't really go anywhere but it's pleasant enough to listen to in any event.

And really, that kind of sums up the whole experience of listening to Amrita; aside from a couple of tracks that create some much needed depth, most of what's on here is more about what Loop Guru can do with their samples rather than creating songs around them. Yet, for all the lack of diversity in each of these tracks, there is an undeniable enjoyment to listening to their music as many of the samples do stick to your mind. This being an earlier example of their work, I'd have to hear some of their more recent work to see if they refined this template more to make their more energetic tracks not quite as, well, loopy.

Incidentally, if you are wondering if they give sample credits here, I believe they do but write them out in such cryptic ways ('astoral music', 'mythical mellowflutes', 'the sound of one hand clapping', 'heavy metal guitar with so many effects that it doesn’t sound heavy, metallic or guitar-like or anything else from our realm of understanding the nature of multidimensional matter transfer', 'a very big fish'), you'd have a hell of a time figuring them all out. Probably how they like it, too.

Score: 7/10


Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for© All rights reserved.

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