Saturday, December 26, 2009

L.S.G. - Volume 2 (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $0.89

Superstition Records: Cat. # 2069 CDM
Released 1996

Track List:
1. Can U Hear Me? (3:54)
2. Hear My Voice (3:40)
3. Novastorm (7:48)
4. Get Out (5:48)
5. Lectrolyte (8:20)
6. Microfish (2:46)
7. Netherworld (11:00)
8. Freakme (6:36)
9. Firefly (12:17)
10. Centurion (11:01)

(2010 Update:
Nothing much to update here. The grammar's still a little clunky but a huge improvement over my early reviews nonetheless. Hey, I'd had over half a year to get the hang of it by now!)

IN BRIEF: Starring Netherworld! Co-starring a bunch of really good songs you've probably overlooked.

This is the one. From this album on, the face of trance music would never be the same and the man behind it, Oliver Lieb, for so long hidden in obscurity behind various guises, would be propelled into the club spotlight whether he wanted it or not. And the song that would accomplish this was dubbed Netherworld.

I'm sure it may be difficult for some of the newer fans of trance to realize this but, before Netherworld became the anthem it did, the structure of trance wasn't quite as set in stone as it is today. The concept of dropping all rhythm to allow the main melody to be presented after some lead-in, while done at times, was hardly indicative of where trance stood during those years. For the most part the genre was quite content to remain the more hypnotic, melodic, or acidy offshoot of techno.

A funny thing started to happen around this time, though. A number of prolific DJs who had been making a name for themselves playing various forms of house music for so long (though mostly progressive) started to catch ear of some of these other-worldly songs and began to incorporate them into their sets. Thanks to heavy hitters such as Netherworld, very soon these forms of trance (dubbed progressive trance, probably because the songs fit best in prog house sets; why bother creating a whole new adjective when a previous redundant one will do) would dominate clubland, making gods of guys who play records. Of course, things took a turn for the worse in small part when attention-seeking DJs overplayed it in hopes of deity-like worship, but in large part from hundreds of imitators flooding the market with cheap knock-offs, perhaps striking upon the winning formula that spearheaded the initial wave once out of every five hundred attempts (they're still trying, too).

Okay, maybe that's unfair. The fact remains, though, there hasn't been many songs that have managed to emulate the stormer that Netherworld is, and for good reason. There simply are very few producers out there that are as talented as Oliver Lieb when it comes to trance. The recent re-release with new remixes of the track guarantees its legacy will continue for the new generation of trance lovers.

So what does one of the defining prog trance anthems sound like? Structurally about the same as nearly any prog trance: a couple minutes of lead-in, followed by a breakdown featuring the main melody on its own before percussion is brought back with renewed intensity; some embellishing of either rhythm or secondary melodies for a bit, then right back into the main course before finishing out. Yeah, sounds familiar, doesn't it?

What makes Netherworld stand out from the pack, though, is Lieb's unique synth patches. Most of the percussion is abrasive and mechanical, something that wouldn't sound too out of place in an industrial track. If it weren't for the main melody, this song would have probably remained on the fringes of trance music. And what a melody it is. Hitting all the right emotional notes to sweep you off your feet, a stuttering synth with plenty of trailing echo contrasts wonderfully with the hard-hitting rhythm. Throw in sweet supplementary bits like ethereal voices (the same ones sampled by The Orb in their song Blue Room, although I have no idea what the original source is), secondary melodies that would have been strong songs in themselves, and electro bridges, and you have yourself a track that hasn't diminished nearly a decade since its creation.

I've yet to come across a fan of trance that doesn't enjoy Netherworld to some extent. Whether you like the rhythmic or melodic aspects of the genre (or better yet, both), you'll find something to sink your teeth into here.

But wait, my good friends! Don't hit that back button just yet. While Netherworld may be regarded as the main attraction on Volume 2, there is still a whole album's worth of material to enjoy. However, if you are expecting more Netherworlds or even just a continuation of the L.S.G. debut Rendezvous In Outer Space, you will be in for a bit of a shock.

This may just be a rumor but some believe Lieb was a bit pressed to release this album due to the initial buzz over the main single. While I cannot confirm this, I certainly can believe it, as the facts pointing towards a slightly rushed release seem evident. A weak album title notwithstanding, for one thing Volume 2 comes just a mere year after the first L.S.G. album. You might have thought Lieb would want to focus on a different project for a while. Well, perhaps he had been, because for two things, a number of these tracks bear a striking semblance to Lieb's more experimental alias, Spicelab, than the simpler L.S.G. works. Indeed, the credits state this album was "mixed and mastered by O. Lieb & Spicelab." Who does he think he's kidding? One may be led to think this album was padded out by Spicelab material sitting in the reserves.

Still, I can't think of a better source for padding.

Mind, the opening two tracks Can U Hear Me? and Hear My Voice (really, they could be called Hear Me: Parts 1 And 2, as they have much in common) don't contain many Spicelab sounds, but then they really are nothing more than intro tracks to the album: the former being more ambient and grand sounding, the latter setting up the pace with shuffling rhythms and echoing synth stabs, amongst other tidbits of effects. No, it's with Novastorm where L.S.G. meets Spicelab.

Right off the bat, you can tell Novastorm is unabashedly old school trance. The rhythm is simple so as not to distract you from all the hypnotic loops in effect. Layers of strings stabs, spacey pads, and eerie effects that have been heard in many a Spicelab track come and go throughout this song, none of which attempts to make itself more pronounced than the rest. Without any major melodies at work here, this track is trance music that one can easily get lost in. As the loops are gradually stripped away towards the end, a little electronic arpeggio emerges alongside the pads, fading away.

Don't let this calming ending lull you into a false sense of security, though. Futuristic soundscapes start to drone ominously at the beginning of Get Out, growing in intensity as bits of percussion are gradually added. Finally, some two minutes in, fierce breakbeats suddenly pummel you as added, bassy effects energize you. This promises to be something special but, sadly, the payoff doesn't quite live up to the lead-in. Sure, there are some wonderfully menacing moments to be had in the second half of Get Out, but this track seems to almost serve as more of a lead-in to the next track, Lectrolyte, than an individual song of itself.

As for Lectrolyte, this is another wonderfully simple, loopy little trancer, and the most melodic number yet on Volume 2 as it features those splendid stuttering synth chords Lieb's a master of. However, the middle portion of this track is mostly used up with embellishing sound effects and, because the rhythm is unwaveringly repetitive throughout, casual trance fans may overlook the nice parts of this track if they are impatient.

The bubbly bass of Lectrolyte repeats itself on its own for a minute towards the end of its run as the ambient track Microfish starts out, an interesting little excursion of synthetic sounds slowly mimicking the songs of orca (at least, that's what it sounds like to me). However, it's more of an intermission of a track before we get back into the heavier hitters, and the heaviest hitter of the lot on Volume 2, Netherworld, follows.

As I've already gone on about this song, let me just mention it in the context of this album. Considering how loopy, hypnotic, and relatively unmelodic this album's been thus far, Netherworld really leaps out at you. In fact, it's a stark contrast compared to what's come before. Lieb was quite correct in placing the more ambient Microfish before it, as I don't think Netherworld would have been able to fit within the context of this album otherwise. Likewise, following it up with the rhythm-heavy Freakme is just as clever, as Netherworld is a tough act to follow as well.

With the main melody of Netherworld trailing off for a minute or so, the grumbling bass of Freakme that emerges from it can be quite startling, but it fits perfectly. We are entering more Spicelab-y territory, though, so don't expect anything that sounds immediate. You're going to have to do some serious paying attention to hear anything beyond random, bubbly sounds and bottom heavy rhythms.

The rest of this album carries on with the Spicelab influences, sucking you into a deep, deep trance with the floaty Firefly and the even more experimentally rhythmic Centurion. To try and describe these songs would be a challenge in itself, one I doubt I know enough adjectives to utilize. I will say, however, those looking for big melodies to cap off Volume 2 will be severely disappointed. Aside from some very catchy mechanical percussion sounds in Centurion, everything on this final stretch is built around subtlety and hypnotic soundscapes; trance in its purest form.

Now, I'd be lying if I said this was a perfect album. Despite the strong collection of individual tracks on hand, that sense of album flow that is common in nearly every other L.S.G. full length is missing. Rather, it feels as though Volume 2 goes from section to section, with hardly any relation to previous ones. In one sense, this isn't too bad of an idea as it can help take the listener on different journeys through the course of the CD instead of dwelling on the same theme throughout. In fact, it plays quite wonderfully for those keener on individual tracks.

However, if you are looking for individual tracks, that’s what singles are for. When I - and I'm certain many others - go into an L.S.G. album, there is a tendency to expect the whole to encompass a specific theme -why else would you bother to have all the tracks mixed together? Volume 2 just doesn't have that, and it is a bit of a letdown when songs at the end of the album bare no semblance to songs at the beginning without a logical bridge between them.

I still highly recommend this album, of course, if anything because the individual tracks are quite enjoyable for fans of nearly any kind of trance. Just be prepared for a bit of a disjointed listen if you play this release through.

Score: 8/10


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

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