Monday, January 18, 2010

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $2.08

Sony Music Entertainment: Cat. # EK 64230
Released 1993

Track List:
1. Heart Of Africa (6:49)
2. Odyssey To Anyoona (9:59)
3. Two Spys In The House Of Love (0:32)
4. Stella (6:19)
5. Neurotrance Adventure (5:42)
6. Zen Flash Zen Bones (6:10)
7. Who Opened The Door To Nowhere (2:44)
8. Right In The Night (Fall In Love With Music) (6:04)
9. Muffled Drums (0:40)
10. Path Of Harmony (7:02)
11. Paradise Garage (6:30)
12. Earth Spirit (6:28)
13. Stella's Cry (7:25)
14. Find Me (Odyssey To Anyoona) (Radio Mix) (4:00)

(2010 Update:
I guess for a review attempting to describe what this album sounds like to a newer generation of trance fans, this came out alright; albeit too wordy like so many other reviews I was writing at the time. However, I regret not really delving more into the significance of this release more, in that it truly was a daring attempt on Jam & Spoon's part to make a crossover trance album. Also, I neglected to mention all the various, um, variations of
2001 that were issued, as new hit singles kept cropping up and replacing less-favored tracks. Ah well, Discogs can clear much of that up for you if you're curious enough.)

IN BRIEF: Looking back in trance time.

I hadn't planned on doing this review anytime soon. There's always a certain fear in going back to a release you hold fond memories of but know will not stand up against genuine scrutiny as much as you'd hope. Equally difficult is when it is an album, for whatever reason, you hold a sentimental place in your heart -you would love to give it a glowing review but any trace of sentimental fanboyism will ruin your credibility faster than a lip syncing pop star. Yeah, it's not fun doing these kinds of reviews.

However, with the recent and all-too-soon death of Markus Löffel, a.k.a. Mark Spoon, I can't help but feel compelled to tackle this now. I never knew the man (obviously) so writing some sort of obituary is out of place -that's for friends and family. Also, I never really followed much of his career. Most of the music I'll remember him by came out in the early half of the 90's, a time when I was hardly clued into what was going on overseas. Still, the work he did with Jam el Mar laid the ground for much of what was to come in this whole trance thing. As with many others, it was the Jam & Spoon sound that swayed me to the underground.

This isn't going to be a typical review. To judge Tripomatic Fairytales against the history of trance is unfair, as this release is very much a product of its time. Likewise, it would be quite tasteless of me to try and spin some sort of perspective on this release with Mark's death. Instead, I'm writing this to give those who may not have heard much of the Jam & Spoon catalogue beyond the major hits an insight into some of the other works they produced.

Tripomatic 2001 has always been known to be a somewhat difficult album for casual fans to get into. The big hits - Right In The Night, Find Me - seemed strangely out of place on an album filled with oddball experimental songs like Zen Flash Zen Bones and Earth Spirit. Such was Jam & Spoon’s allure in those days, though. They were never afraid to test how far they could push their songs and, even if the results weren't always memorable, they were at least interesting.

Opener Heart Of Africa is a prime example. You get a bizarre assortment of tribal grooves, quirky sound effects, gentle synth pads, and bits of goobled dialogue all mixed into a synthetic soup. Interesting combination, to be sure, but the end result isn’t as coherent as folks seeking their poppier songs might expect. Not to say this track is a random mess of sounds -there's still flow to the way all the elements play out; however, the feeling of playing loose and fast with traditional song structure is quite apparent. Heart Of Africa is as good as a gauge to test the waters on 2001, as the style of this track tends to be the norm.

Odyssey To Anyoona -ah, now this is what I always enjoyed about old trance. Loops and loops being layered and layered on top of one another, building and building to crescendo and crescendo -er, one crescendo. The remarkable thing about Odyssey is just how long Jam & Spoon dwell on the rhythm at the beginning, yet manage to keep things from sounding too repetitive. Give credit to that wonderful bass kick. It creates a cavernous resonance and the louder the sound system, the more full it gets. This ain't a track meant for your tinny iPod earbuds or mini-player (although the melodic bits work just as fine). Invest in that two-grand sub-whoofer and feel how this track was meant to be felt.
One little skit which may be an inside joke later, and we're gently slid into the somber opening pads of Jam & Spoon's first big single, Stella. This track has been remixed a number of times to keep it current sounding, but I still feel the original remains the most effective. Like Odyssey, it's another track that works with layered loops. Unlike Odyssey though, Stella doesn't dwell on lengthy, rhythmic lead-ins, getting into the thick of things rather quickly. In addition, the loops don't all remain static, allowing for pitch bends and subtle effects to keep them interesting. Yes, it's more of a slow burner than your typical remakes, and I'm sure many of the new cats will wonder what the big deal with Stella is, especially with guitar strums as fake sounding as those or no massive build or melody. But that's just how the music sounded back then.

Stella ends with the elements of the track getting stripped away and then gradually slows down to a crawl. In contrast, follow-up Neurotrance Adventure does the exact opposite. Starting with a simple little three-note hook, the track slowly begins speeding up for some thirty seconds until, surprise, it's gone on to form the bassline! Heh, clever for sure, but does the rest of Neurotrance measure up? Hard to say, really. It's a pretty sparse track for a good chunk of the beginning, doing the same layered loops thing as the last couple tracks, but without anything quite as catchy. Really, there is no major hook, as the track relies on layering sweeping synths playing a benign ditty for its melody. There's also a moment midway through where you have one of those synth noises getting a pitch bend, most famously done in the duo's remix of Age Of Love, but heard in many other works Jam el Mar's had his hand in. Yeah, Neurotrance is a nice little song, but not quite as memorable as the obvious tracks here.

And now, you might want to hold onto your hats for some very oddball sounds. Zen Flash Zen Bones spends a huge amount of time having fun with quirky rhythm effects and not much else. The bass definitely growls along, but what's with some of those... hi-hats? The added claps make for a decent little bit of tribal foolery, and you cannot deny the effectiveness of those glowing stuttering synths playing a little Eastern tune towards the end, but couldn't this track have been a bit more coherent in what it was trying to accomplish?

Who Opened The Door To Nowhere is another skit, this time in the form of bubbly acid, sweeping ambient synths, and robotized voices. Very cool sounding stuff, and makes for a nice interlude.

Right In The Night. Boy, what can be said about this track? Probably most recognized for letting Jam el Mar put those classically trained guitar skills to work, it is also quite famous for giving the burgeoning trance scene its first bona-fide club hit; really by drawing upon the styling of euro dance that was so incredibly popular back then. With lyrics sung by Plavka and some extra trancey elements recycled from the B-Side of this single, Follow Me, it crossed the barrier between the underground and the mainstream so effectively that both camps declared it a classic. Good work to all four of them on this track.

Huh? Four? There's Jam, there's Mark, and there's Plavka, so who's the fourth? Heh, you didn't think the commercial accessibility of Right In The Night was their doing alone, did you? No, the man really responsible for making this song so chart friendly was Nosie Katzmaan and, as the man who's had his hand in scores of euro hits, his touch can definitely be felt on this song. Not to take anything away from Jam & Spoon, mind, but if you've ever wondered why this song sounds so much different than the rest of the material on 2001, that is your answer right there. Anyhow, moving on (right past Muffled Drums, since there's nothing of interest there).

Getting back to Jam & Spoon's more quirky side again is Path Of Harmony. A very strange sounding bassline, bizarre percussion sounds, and rhythmic experimenting make up the beginning of this track, but fear not, my friends, this isn't another Zen Flash. Once we get past all that, we're thrust into a serious groover with catchy synth stabs and throbbing voice pads; call it the housey cousin of Stella. And, lo and behold, we get an actual breakdown in this track, where, *gasp*, the main hook, a happy little synthetic thing, is introduced with gentle pads, letting things build back up to a peak where those groovey rhythms are thrust back in. A certain Dutchman was probably paying attention.

Returning to the layered loop template is Paradise Garage, a tribute track to the club of the same name. A pure trancer in the traditional sense, there's no real hook to be had in this track -just arpeggio synths and effects getting their pitches tweaked out. Love the format or hate it, you can't deny its effectiveness in sucking you into trance, especially as subdued pads get a little extra playing time towards the end. Man, but did they ever like to make things sound distant sometimes.

And, once again, were getting some rhythmic experiments, this time in the form of Earth Spirit. It's a little more coherent than Zen Flash, and there's yet another great, growling bassline to be had here, but a great number of the added sound effects tend to grate just a bit much. If Jam & Spoon's indulging hadn't won you over in the earlier tracks, I doubt this one will sway you either, but the tribal energy to be had in Earth Spirit is quite infectious, and it's a nice experiment to give the bassline over to a bubbly bit of acid later on. Ending on some ominous stuttering voice pads, this might make you feel more in tuned with your animal instincts than any other track on here.

Alternatively, Stella's Cry will most likely get you in touch with your more humane feelings (aw, garsh). A pleasant little number that, despite actually having a brisk rhythm to it, is carried by benign sweeping synths, string stabs, and piano ditties. It definitely catches that morning after feel as the night's festivities come to an end and would have been a perfect capper on 2001...

...Had Find Me not been seemingly tagged on here. Well, that's because this track was thrown on the American release when it became the big hit it did (thanks to, once again, Nosie Katzmaan finding the euro hit capabilities of Odyssey To Anyoona). Not that it's a bad thing, really. The song is fine and dandy for what it is, being the birth of vocal trance (probably) and all but, with in sounding so out of place coming right at the very end of 2001, it doesn't quite leave the same feeling upon finishing this release as Stella's Cry would have. At least Right In The Night was bookended by interludes so it wouldn't interfere with Jam & Spoon's more quirky tracks.

And there you have it, my friends. There is any number of ways to conclude what sort of album Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 is: genre classic; underground burner; failed crossover attempt; hopelessly outdated -it tends to boil down to your level of cynicism, I suppose. Of course, I'd recommend this album for anyone who wishes to have a piece of trance history in their collection but it should be forewarned you will be getting a release with a lot of variety. Yes, I know this is supposed to be a good thing but I've known many folks who were disappointed in 2001 because it wasn't filled with copies of Right In The Night or Stella (for the record, I never even heard those tracks when I first picked this up -it was Follow Me that tuned me into the Jam & Spoon sound). Keep your mind open to what these two were trying out here, however, and you're sure to enjoy their little fairytale several years on.

Score: 7/10

Right In The Night
Path Of Harmony

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for © All rights reserved.

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