Sunday, December 27, 2009

Various - Planet Rave Vol. 1 (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $0.45

Triloka Records: Cat. # TR-8062-2
Released 2000

Track List:
1. Tulku - Meena Devi (Goddess Mix) (5:06)
2. Tulku - Journey Of The Warrior (The Funky Shaman’s Mix) (4:03)
3. Emer Kenny - Golden Brown (Tribal Edit Mix) (3:48)
4. Dissidenten - A Love Supreme (Club Mix) (5:03)
5. Tulku - Meena Devi (Funky Trigger Mix) (4:52)
6. Jai Uttal And The Pagan Love Orchestra - Malkouns (A Night On The Ganges) (Remix by Talvin Singh) (6:29)
7. Material - Ineffect (7:27)
8. Tulku - Meena Devi (Ambient Mix) (3:32)
9. Tulku - Live Force (Tripambient Mix) (7:27)
10. Jai Uttal And The Pagan Love Orchestra - Guru Bramha (Remix by Sunkist) (5:14)
11. Badar Ali Khan - Kalander (Trance Remix) (4:44)

(2010 Update:
Aside from the track-by-track stuff, this review also suffers from a rant that rambles too much at the end. In a nutshell, I was irritated by the herky-jerky way these songs were arranged. Meh, I was also kind of half-assing this one, since it was a Random Review I wasn't all that keen on doing, being the second sub-par one in a row.)

IN BRIEF: Cool concept; crummy presentation.

Anytime you see a pink elephant, chances are good you are incredibly drunk. However, when said pink elephant is on the cover of a compilation, chances are even better you have a collection of music that will have some Indian influences. The big question tends to be exactly how these influences will be used.

One of two possibilities exists in the EDM world. First, and most common, is the compilation is filled with psychedelic goa trance; knob twirlers and acid munchers re-creating their hallucinogenic journeys with Hindu gurus guiding you through a sonic assault; music that challenges your perceptions of thought while dancing on a West India beach under tropical starlights. It's good times to be had by all and the south Asia influences often make for very interesting cover art. However, that is not what this compilation is about.

Ah, so this is the other possibility, then. Western producers who sample ethnic songs and sounds to give them a contemporary feel. Acts like Enigma, Deep Forest, Banco de Gaia, Loop Guru, and so on. Surely this is what Planet Rave is about, specifically focused on the Indian influences, hence the four armed pink elephant. Nope, wrong again.

Well, if it's not those two, which could it be?

I may be preaching to the TranceCritic choir here, but I'm often stunned by how many in most EDM circles are quite ignorant of the third type of electronic music where a pink pachyderm wouldn't be out of place on a compilation cover. You see, standard dance music isn't just a Western thing. Cultures all over the world have managed to get their hands on drum machines, acid boxes, and sound sequencers. As a result, disparate cultures have managed to inject house, techno, hip-hop, and other assorted styles with their influences straight from the source rather than sampled from abroad.

Really, this isn't anything new, and anyone who's paid close attention to EDM trends was bound to notice bhangra beats slowly but surely creeping into Western musical acceptance, especially at the turn of the century. Sadly, its momentum was somewhat stymied due the 9/11 incident, causing American shores to be wary of any outside influence. At least the recovery seems to be on, though.

So, what we have here on Planet Rave is a collection of so-called bhangra beats from tiny label Triloka, all given a clubby shine to simultaneously showcase ethnic music and Western party vibes. Sounds cool enough; let's get it on.

And Tulku aims to get it on in a hurry. Often referred to as a 'world music supergroup' in the liner notes, comprised of Jim Wilson and Triloka head honcho Mitchell Markus (ah, self promotion is grand, ain'it?), Tulku's track Meena Devi barges right in from the gate with deep, acidy basslines and subtle stuttering synths. The fact there is no real lead-in here makes for a bit of a disconcerting opener, especially with the ominous tones on hand. Still, this opening bit is relatively mild compared to the chaos that quickly erupts in the Goddess Mix from Steve Snow, as scatter-shot breakbeats mix with steady, bouncy beats. There's plenty going on throughout, too: female chants, Indian woodwinds, and choking sitars all work together to create a sinister, is somewhat disjointed, bit of tribal music.

Ian Rich provides a minimal breaks-and-house funk remix on Tulku's Journey Of The Warrior, bringing the flow down a little with a quick crossfade transition that is quite jarring. Sure, this isn't a DJ mix, but if you're going to link the tracks together like this, you probably don't want to make the switch so abrupt. As for this song, it's a decent enough little transitional piece of funk. Nothing major happens, but you can groove to it easily enough.

With a tiger yelp and another incredibly abrupt crossover, we are slammed into Junior Vasquez' remix of Emer Kenny's Golden Brown. A cover of the The Stranglers' song, Ms. Kenny's traditional Celtic style (the, er, whitest of world music, I guess) is given a rather pumping, trancey overhaul by the former Madonna remixer. Her vocals are quite ethereal and Vasquez keeps the tempo building nicely from a pleasant ambient start by adding ever-increasing layers of rhythms. This energetic build seems to be escalating to a rousing climax but this is an edit of the track so it abruptly ends just as it begins. Fair enough if there's something to carry that wonderful momentum over, but there isn't. In fact, there's nothing at all. Ouch, a false build this overt is something that could turn off any casual listener. It's like listening to an incomplete MP3.

Okay, it doesn't exactly crossover into complete silence, but the pulsing bit of intro in Dissidenten's A Love Supreme certainly is quiet enough to pass off as silence. Enough moaning about odd, questionable transitions, though, otherwise I'll be doing it on every single track. Let's get back to the music for now.

A Love Supreme finally gives us a taste of those groovy Indian vibes, which is ironic considering Dissidenten is actually a German group. You certainly wouldn't know it from just this song, though, as the use of Indian lyrics is superbly flawless. To the rhythms of old freestyle, the hooks in A Love Supreme are pretty much carried by the singers, almost all of which has no Western influence (a few repetitions of the title through a slight vocoder notwithstanding). It's some seriously groovy stuff, to be certain.

Steve Snow gives us a different take on Meena Devi on the follow-up, throwing in hip hop breaks and turntablist trickery for a decidedly funky outing. Only some of the Indian instruments and chants are kept in to create the same moody atmosphere, most of which get stuttered up throughout as to not detract from the funk. The track also segues nicely into Talvin Singh's tabla heavy mix of Jai Uttal's Malkouns, which naturally suites Jai's vocal prowess perfectly. You can almost picture a row of Indian drummers jamming away while the ethnic singer croons along. I know typical bloopity-bloop-bloop-bloopity rhythms are often playfully mocked in the West, but Singh's funky breakbeats are incredibly infectious. Sitars and dubby electronics fill in the bridges for good measure.

Briefly moving us back in to club grooves is Ineffect by Material, a collective of rotating musicians that's held mostly together by bassist Bill Laswell. Of prominence in this track is international singer Fahiem Dandan, crooning along to bottom heavy rhythms (and, boy, does that bass kick some serious gluteus) while a myriad of ethnic string instruments bridge Dandan's performance together. The release notes seem to also make a big deal over some spoken dialogue done by William S. Burroughs, but there isn't really much he has to say until near the end. No, this is Dandan's song to carry and he does an admirable job of it, even if Ineffect does go on for perhaps a minute longer than it needed to (but then, that tends to be a Laswell trademark anyways).

And, with yet another abrupt crossover fade mix, we are thrust into yet another mix of Meena Devi from Steve Snow. Man, way to whore your own material Mr. Markus. This Ambient Mix is relatively uneventful, stripping the Goddess Mix down to just a bubbly acid workout, ominous pads, and the vocal chant. Fans of tweaking acid will most likely love it, everyone else mostly likely not.

After that acidy interlude, we are treated to one more Tulku track called Life Force, given a groove heavy ambient dub overhaul by DJ Cheb I Sabbah. Conjuring up images of Middle Eastern vistas as sampled conversations from those lands mingle with lonely woodwinds and chants, this is a wonderfully visceral piece of music. Thick bass rolls along to filtered, molasses-soaked beats, giving Life Force a wide-open sparseness fitting for exotic sojourns.

Jai Uttal returns with another vocal outing in Guru Bramha, but this mellow groover is kind of forgettable coming off the heels of Life Force and followed up by the wonderful Kalander by Badar Ali Khan. Steeped in the ancient style of song called Qawwali, this Trance Remix (though there isn't anything here 99.97% of folks would consider trance) provides a bobbling beat and pleasant string backdrops to complement Badar's vibrant chants. There is an intoxicating vitality to this song that inspires you to stand up and join in the chant, making it a perfect capper on any musical session, no matter the style that's been played.

So, given the generally nice things I've had to say about most of these tracks, I'm sure you’re wondering why the low-ish score? Well, let me get my rant on here:

The underlying problem with this compilation is the track arrangement. I can see Triloka wishing to expose as much diversity as possible, as there is a wide berth of world music that is criminally overlooked. Unfortunately, they seem to be trying to cram far too much in too short a space (this disc only runs an hour, kind of low for a compilation). And, aside from a few instances, the songs are so different from one another in the way they are arranged, it creates a very disjointed listening experience even without the bad crossover fades.

Ah, yes, the crossover fades. I tried to keep that gripe of mine until the very end but my displeasure of it managed to squeak in throughout anyways. Let me say this as bluntly as I can, since I can't think of any amount of tact to sugar-coat it: when you have very different styles of music in a compilation, a quick crossover fade mix just. Doesn't. Work. I can understand the studio doing this so there is no dead air time but when you have a house beat followed up with a very different hip hop beat, you almost need that two second pause between the tracks so it doesn't sound so jarring, abruptly taking you out of that nice little conscious zone music often takes you. Having this throughout a compilation doesn't let these songs shine they way they could.

The songs themselves aren't to be blamed here (although three different versions of Meena Devi is pushing it a little) but when there are better-arranged compilations of this sort of music, you'd be better off seeking those out instead. I'd only recommend Planet Rave Vol. 1 if you can't find these particular tracks anywhere else.

Score: 4/10

Tulku - Life Force (Tripambient Mix)
Badar Ali Khan - Kalander (Trance Remix)

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

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