Thursday, April 29, 2010

Miami Dub Machine - Be Free With Your Love (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $1.78

UMK: Cat. # 0694 PUMM
Released September 19, 2005

Track List:
A1. Be Free With Your Love (Deepgroove’s Big Love Mix) (7:07)
A2. Be Free With Your Love (Cube Guys Miami Mix) (6:00)
B1. Be Free With Your Love (Deepgroove’s Big Dirty Dub) (8:14)

(2010 Update:
Yeah, I
totally missed the pun on this one. It's not like Mylo's mash-up with Miami Sound Machine hadn't been around either. *shrug* A momentary lapse in brain power. The tune's still pretty good, and even got a subsequent remix by Fonzerilli that was mildly popular. The Deepgroove dub's still my favorite though.)

IN BRIEF: Not dub, but still fun.

It’s safe to say any music fan has certain weaknesses for specific styles. You become so attached to a genre that if a release has its name on it, you instantly want to check it out. I’ve known folks who’re fans of, say, house, and will snatch up anything with the word ‘house’ in the title, irregardless of the content.

I’m no different. For a while, trance was the pet genre I adored but as more and more releases were filled with music I felt was less and less trance, I gave it up. Filling in its place was a form of music I’d grown quite fond of by that point: dub. Of course, such an ambiguous name can mean many things, anywhere from layered bass-heavy reggae to mere instrumental mixes. It can be a frustrating endeavor sifting through it all; for every Dub Trees (cool psychedelic ambience) I come across, there’s an Asian Dub Foundation (poor-man’s Rage Against The Machine) that finds its way into my racks. You’d think I’d learn to be more discriminating over time but, admittedly, half the fun in collecting music is the trial-and-error process; that sense of anticipation whether you’ve stumbled upon something incredible and new. So, I will continue to eagerly check out anything with the word ‘dub’ in it, logic be damned (it’s good to be human!).

Which finally, in the third paragraph of this review, leads me to this release by Miami Dub Machine. Having already provided you with my reasoning for wanting to check this out, perhaps I should tell you straight-up whether it met with my expectations of what I want out of a release with the word ‘dub’ somewhere in it. The short answer is no. For the long answer, keep reading.

Miami Dub Machine is an alternate name for Italian trio Cube Guys, relative newcomers to the scene who’ve done a few remixes- er, covers of 80s songs. This one is the same, as Be Free With Your Love was originally done by synth-poppers Spandau Ballet.

In this case, they lift the catchy chorus and guitars of the original wholesale and surround it with their own beats and effects. The elements of their own device are actually quite nifty. A hollow bassline (I refuse to call it ‘electro’) bobbles around as glitchy electronic noises grate and grind throughout. Sounds like an IDM noise-fest when I type it but, amazingly, it actually sounds quite funky, as the sounds on display weave and work with the musical template and morph through various effects to remain fresh throughout. Additionally, the original’s verse is now treated as a bit of somber spoken-dialogue, which adds immensely to the more synthetic nature of the Cube Guys’ treatment.

The additional remix here is done by Deepgroove, a DJing duo whom seem to be garnering some praise lately thanks to their live shows. By removing the spoken-dialogue bit and amping up the bassline so it’s a fiercer bleepy bit of funky freshness, their remix is dancefloor dynamite! They also add some sweeping pads during minor breakdowns, creating an ethereal vibe to the proceedings as the original chorus sings along. Deepgroove’s take on Be Free With Your Love is definitely a keeper to groove a clubbing crowd. And, if you feel the Spandau Ballet bits are inhibiting what their remix is fully capable of, they provide a ‘dub’ version, which is basically the same thing but without the sampled chorus and driven by chunkier rhythms.

So, while Miami Dub Machine may not have been what I was expecting, I still enjoyed Be Free With Your Love for entirely different reasons. It’s not going to score super-high marks, just due to the fact this is still more of a cover than an original piece of work, but both the Cube Guys and Deepgroove manage to throw their own dynamic wrinkle into this release. Definitely worth a look-see.

Score: 7/10

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

Sunday, April 25, 2010

5-Song Weekly Mini-Review #4

Oops. I'm off by a day. Well, I wanted to spend a bit of time writing an actual regular review this week, so that's my excuse for not making my arbitrary deadline. That said, let's see what this week's collection of random songs gives us.

1. King Kooba - Static Society
From the compilation Northern Faction 3.

These guys have been around, like, forever. Well, at least fifteen years anyway. Mostly on the Kruder & Dorfmeister tip, their funky soul approach to breakbeats had them appearing on all sorts of nu-jazz and atmospheric d’n’b comps before finding a home with OM records. This particular track is about as laid back as you’re likely to find in this genre, but remains very funky, soulful, ect., ect. If you like a few chill synthy washes with your street shuffle groove, check it out.

2. Mouse On Mars - Future Dub
From the soundtrack Deepwater Black: Inclonation Vol. 1.

This track again? Man, have I been hearing it a bunch lately, first when I did a Random Review of that soundtrack, and then when I used it for a mixtape. Hey, it’s a cool tune and all - it did get Ace Track honors - just a bit overplayed on my ears at the moment. If you still haven’t checked it out, Future Dub is also quite laid back, casually taking in dubby, bubbly psychedelia over a shuffling downbeat.

3. LDC - Die Schwarze Zone (Razormaid Mix)
From the compilation Radikal Techno.

What the…? Is this mini-review going to only consist of tracks I’ve covered before? Well, at least in this case it wasn’t also another Ace Track winner. Still, this is pretty good. That grumbling bassline never gets old, and fans of classic German trance will love all the ominous touches throughout. Alright, so I still haven’t a clue what the lyrics are on about, but there’s an extended instrumental of this called Wir Schicken Dich Ins All, which is pretty freakin’ cool if you ask me.

4. Reverse Pulse - Flexible
From a personal compilation.

Meaning, a track I downloaded back in the AudioGalaxy days and burned to CD. Hey, at least this means it’s not from another CD I’ve reviewed. There honestly isn’t much to say about this track though. Back in the mid-90s, Cleopatra started churning out A Tribute To… albums, rounding up several in-house trance producers to do covers of famous electronic acts: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and so on. This is from the Depeche Mode tribute, but Reverse Pulse don’t do much with Felixible, simply opting for a standard mid-90s German trance rub and distorting the lyrics some. As for why I even downloaded this, it’s an amusing story, but I’ve run out of space.

5. Flowjob - Change Everything
From the album Zentertainment.

Back again with the material I’ve already covered, it seems. *shrug* I honestly can’t explain it. For a Flowjob tune, this is alright. As usual, their backing synths are future-friendly and Tokyo-cool, the tone is chipper, and the rhythms are ridiculously groovy. They’ve done better, of course, but as a gateway track, it works perfectly fine.

So no hip-hop like I predicted either. I'm just going to stop making predictions on randoms altogether. Well, maybe I'll predict another Neil Young song will crop up next week. The pattern thus far seems to be every odd week.

Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Various - Balance 016: Agoria

Best Price: $19.99

EQ Recordings: Cat.# EQGCD029
Released March 2010

Track List:
Disc 1: Aller Retour
01. Gregg Kowalsky - Ashes From Evermore
02. Alva Noto - Monophaser 2 / DJ Koze - Lords of Panama
03. Mark Pritchard - ?
04. Manvoy de Saint Sadrill - Soeheniona
05. ToscaM - Joe Si Ha
06. Emiliana Torrini - Gun
07. Agoria - Parasite 2
08. Arandel - inD#5
09. Messina - Columpnam
10. 19.454. - When I Think Of
11. Pom Pom - 10
12. Agoria - Altre Voci
13. Glimpse - Train in Austria Part 2
14. The Field - Over the Ice (Live mix)
15. Olibusta - La Pazz
16. Cubenx - Mis Dias Y Tus Noches
17. Felix Laband - Whisitling in Tongues (Todd Terje remix)
18. Jozif - Back 2 My Roots (Jozif's 5 o'clock Fabric Shadow edit)
19. Bibio - Jealous of Roses
20. LCD Soundystem - 45:33 (Trus'me remix)
21. Boozoo Bajou featuring Rumer - Same Sun (Prins Thomas Diskomiks) / Oxia - Less Time
22. Hatikvah - Synchronicty (Block Barley & Engin Ozturk Holmby Hills Remix)
23. Rio en Medio - The Last Child's Tear
24. Tipper - Just as the Sun Went Down
25. Gregg Kowalsky - Ashes from Evermore / Alva Noto - Monophaser

Disc 2: Rising Sine
01. Sylvain Chauveau - Hurlements En Faveur De Serge T.
02. Aphrodite's Child - Loud Loud Loud
03. Taron Trekka - Shirol / Suedmilch - We Were
04. The Same - Szarpiesz Minerwa
05. Ogris Debris - G-Thong (You and Me remix)
06. Francesco Tristano - Knee for Thought
07. Different Gear - One Thing More (Dub mix)
08. Michael Forzza - Abstractor 2.0
09. Chris Carrier and Jef K - Morning
10. DVS1 - Running
11. Drama Society & Vladislav Delay - Almodrama
12. Agoria - Libellules
13. Avril - French Kiss
14. Gadi Mizrahi - I Know
15. Jonny Greenwood - Tehellet
16. Avril - French Kiss
17. Mark Broom - Twenty Nine (Broom 09 mix)
18. Einmusik - Atlantis
19. Perc & Passarella Death Squad - Temperature's Rising
20. Aufgang - Sonar (Spitzer remix)
21. Shit Robot - Simple Things (Work it Out) (Serge Santiago remix)
22. Efdemin - Acid bells (Martyn remix)
23. 3 Chairs - No Drum Machine part 2
24. Kid A - Lonely
25. Sylvain Chauveau - Hurlements En Faveur De Serge T.

IN BRIEF: The series continues to mash things up.

I’m not certain when it started (Fortier’s 3-disc offering is my pick, although I’m sure many others would say Holden’s was the jump-point), but the Balance series has become synonymous with DJing Artistic Indulgence. For a while, that mostly entailed thematic sets rather than standard dubplate rinsing, the sort of sets undoubtedly inspired by Sasha and Digweed’s offerings from the 90s. Then Joris Voorn decided to take things one step further, using tracks as bits of samples to create a larger whole. It was an ambitious project and earned the man a ton of critical praise for the effort, even if the actual musical product was only - *gasp* - good. Now, subsequent Balance sets have followed his example, bringing crap-loads of disparate tunes into tracklists, growing ever more eclectic and quirky as we go. To be fair, this has more to do with the types of DJs now being featured. Whether it’s been EQ Recordings trying to recapture Voorn’s buzz or it was their intention to take the series down this road, I’m not sure. Whatever the case, we should expect to see more ‘kitchen-sink’ sets in the future.

Anyhow, getting to the task at hand: Agoria. Born Sébastien Devaud, the guy deejayed and released various singles throughout the 00s before getting a major break with At The Controls, a DJ mix series that grew in prominence at the same time as Balance did (again, thanks to James Holden), but folded shortly after Agoria’s offering. Uh oh… might this be an evil omen? Ah, heh, not likely, since it was due to the end of Resist that saw At The Controls’ demise. Still, early buzz on this release did have some red flags flaring up. After all, just how many of these ultra-eclectic sets can we sit through before someone overreaches?

These are two very odd CDs. Monsieur Devaud seems to have no qualm about mismatching genres and free-wheeling mixes. Unlike Voorn’s clinically perfect stitching, there are many rough transitions, quirky key mashings, and flow derailments, providing a very loose tone to the music. I actually rather prefer this approach, as the feeling of an intimate human touch becomes more prevalent, faults and all. And honestly, the faults seem to melt away once you give these CDs a couple listens. It’s quite like a mixtape, where such roughness makes sense once you realize the context of the song selection.

That said, the first CD really is a bit of a mess. Oh, it starts out fine, taking in some laidback vibes for a nice, chill start; however, if the vocal mash-up of Soeheniona with Tosca’s Joe Si Ha is off-putting for you, you may as well skip the rest, as there are rougher ones down the road. Before that though, we get a nice build-up of ominous minimal-tech, peaking out with an inspired mix of his own operatic Altre Voci, Glimpse’s Train To Austria, and The Field’s Over The Ice. And man, you gotta’ love the fact he uses a live recording of the latter, giving the peak just that extra bit of energy as you hear the crowd cheering.

Unfortunately, all forward momentum dies here, as Agoria opts to ease us back down to chill territory to end the CD out. All well and good, and he capably manages this for a few tracks. Things get wonky though, as he begins pitching tunes down so it sounds like we’re trudging through molasses. It sucks all energy out of the set, and we’re forced to amble through a collection of classy funk and soul songs that fail to mesh into an enjoyable flow.

The funny thing is the peak of this ‘home’ disc is more exciting than the peak of the ‘clubby’ CD2. After getting my trainspotter senses tingling with opener Loud Loud Loud by Aphrodite’s Child (the first verse was used in one of my favorite hip-hop tunes, and I never knew where it was from …until now!), Agoria takes us on yet another ominous minimal-tech build. Though it lags in a few places - because minimal-tech always lags when played for too long - there are enough creepy effects and melodic moments to keep your attention. During the big peak, however, it gets messy. The backbone is Avril’s take on the classic French Kiss, which is quite good, but thrown in there is the breathy vocal of I Know, which unfortunately comes saddled with a mismatched bassline; and then we have a breakdown detour for an eerie cello solo (Tehellet). Agoria tries to hold this breakdown for far too long, expecting us to sit through it as it somehow works in his mind while the audience can only uncomfortably cheer him on, hoping he’ll sort things out eventually. Instead, what was intended to be a riveting climax comes off forced and wincingly tedious.

After that, it’s back to the dark minimal-tech beats and trancey, blissed vibes. Sweet, and easily wipes away those cringe-inducing feelings from the peak of the CD. There’s perhaps a few obvious tunes here (Acid Bells, Twenty Nine), but also cool obscurities (Sonar) to keep things fresh. The fact the end of this CD plays out like a traditional DJ set probably also helps keep things on an even keel after the rocky middle-section.

Though there are problems to be had with Balance 16, I still give this a strong recommendation. Forced moments notwithstanding, I just prefer the rougher sound on display here, not to mention the wide range of music on hand. Agoria may not have matched any of the series’ highlights, but it’s still a set that’ll hold your attention.

Score: 7/10

Rather pointless highlighting tracks in sets like these.

Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stephanie B - Sweetest Taboo (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $12.99

Sound Division: Cat. # SD0152
Released April 2006

Track List:
A1: Sweetest Taboo (StoneBridge Future Retro Mix) (8:04)
B1: Sweetest Taboo ( Neil Nuff Club Vocal Mix)
B2: Sweetest Taboo (Robbie Rivera’s Juicylectro Mix)

(2010 Update:
So this apparently was just a one-off, as 'Stephanie B' was never heard from again, and this track never had much impact past the year it was released (although it did appear on a 5 Years Of Armada compilation, oddly enough). This review is perhaps a bit more significant for your's truly, as it inspired a rather spirited discussion over what is/isn't electro with some of the readers of TC. All because I refused to call Rivera's shit mix 'electro'. I think I technically won that arguement, mainly because the accuser apparently had never heard proper electro in the first place. It wasn't enough to claim victory over the long war, sadly.)

IN BRIEF: Sweet as Sade.

Sweetest Taboo was originally performed by 80s R&B/jazz outfit Sade, whom often made dreamy ballads that grew very popular with adult contemporary crowds. Fast forward twenty years later, and the chill-out single has been tapped to be covered by a new gal on the block, Stephanie B, for all your current clubbing needs. While this particular copy of Sweetest Taboo was released on Italian label Sound Division, the original is from Swedish producer Sten Hallström’s -aka StoneBridge- own Stoney Boy Music, a sub-label of Armada Music (founded by some guy named Armin van Buuren -perhaps you’ve heard of him?). With practically no info around as to who Stephanie B is even on the almighty Google, my best guess is she’s a vocal piece for Sten to make this radio-friendly, glossy house cover.

I’ll get this out of the way right off the bat, as I’m sure it’s the foremost question already in our readers’ heads. Stephanie B does a competent job in filling in Sade Adu’s soulful prowess. Although not straying in any significant way to give it her own unique spin, neither does Steph attempt to outdo the original, which is probably a smart idea considering Sade was a very smooth singer. Where Sweetest Taboo will ultimately fail or succeed then, is in how good the new house versions are treated.

Sten’s own Future Retro Mix is aptly titled. The production on it is quite shiny, with plenty of little dubby effects sprinkled about. It’s the main synth hook that distinguishes this mix though. Nice and smooth, they glitter while complementing Steph’s singing. However, the actual melody they play has a tendency to conjure up the more decadent disco days or yore, giving the mix a more retro feel than the sounds on display would normally indicate. Fortunately, it doesn’t get too bogged down in nostalgic feelings, allowing the mix to still remain firmly in the present. It’s a very nice bit of house music for the more soulful, classy minded.

Neil Nuff’s club mix is a much different beast. Opting for the funk rather than the soul, he lays the beats on thicker and adds a juicy bit of acidy bass. Along the way, he adds some distorted guitar licks for some punch, but wisely keeps them as merely an additional layer of bassy sound rather than a main feature. However, Steph’s lyrics aren’t given much to do here as Nuff seems more interested in the music doing the work. It’s decent enough dancefloor fodder, though probably works better in a warm-up environment than peak-time hours.

Finally, there’s the Juicylectro Mix from Robbie Rivera, an individual who’s been around the house scene for over a decade now. It comes with great disappoint that his mix of Sweetest Taboo is a lackluster affair into tech-house territory. He moves all of Steph’s vocals to the beginning (after your complementary intro beats, natch), having them play in a minor breakdown with a single synth note and filtered beats playing in the background. Once he brings the rhythm back, the beats just bob along with no passion. Complicating matters is the additional hooks he makes use of: they are anything but ‘hooky’, and suck the life out of the mix. There’s no funk, no soul, no nothing. Just useless bleeps droning along to boring rhythm. By the time things finally get interesting again, the song’s basically over as we’re already on our complementary outro beats. Such a waste of a mix.

Still, the other two are fine enough for the house-heads; Sten’s own mix may be strong enough to give Stephanie B some shelf-life for the near future. Sade’s Sweetest Taboo may not have needed a house cover but it’s done nicely enough here to satisfy the current generation of clubbers.

Score: 6/10

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 Song Weekly Mini-Review #3

So I know I’ve intended for this to be a weekly thing, but it seems I keep getting pushed back a day, turning these into ‘8-day’ Mini-reviews. I’ve got to right this ship somehow, so, with luck, the next Mini-Review will be in only five days from now. Er, provided I don’t get too distracted by NHL and NBA playoffs in the meantime. That said, let’s see what this week’s group of Randoms brings us!

1. Neil Young - On The Way Home (Live At The Riverboat 1969)
From the box set Archives, Vol. 1.

Oh yes, Young again. Hey, I’ve got a lot of his music, so odds are he’ll be cropping up a fair bit in these. As for this particular tune, it’s quite typical of the singer-songwriter folksy stuff he was doing after the split-up of Buffalo Springfield - in fact, this was one of the last songs written for the group. Being that it's early in his solo career, Young got to perform a number of small, intimate venues while on tour. That vibe certainly comes through in this recording. I’m sure he’d love to go back to that sort of show at some point but it ain’t gonna happen these days.

2. LFO - LFO (Leeds Warehouse Mix)
From the compilation Tracks From The Best Dance Albums Of All Time.

Yeah, the name of the compilation’s kind of corny, but you couldn’t fault the track list (given away for free with one of Muzik Magazine’s issues). This really is a classic in many ways: bleep techno pioneer, bass-bin demolisher, Warp Records flag planter, Speak’n’Spell trendsetter …and on it goes. If you haven’t heard this yet, get on it, damn you. This is MF’n techno history, man!

3. Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea
From the album In Utero.

I personally never got into the grunge movement - too busy getting into ‘techno’ at the time, y’see - but several peers were, so I was hearing tons of Nirvana and Pearl Jam whether I wanted to or not. Fortunately, Nirvana was good enough that I’d enjoy most of their songs whenever they came within earshot, and quite liked this album for its general rawness of feeling. Pennyroyal Tea is about the sort of grunge tune you’d expect to hear around the time: quiet part, loud part, etc. You can’t go wrong with some Cobain scraggly singin’ though.

4. Jonas Steur featuring Jennifer Rene - Fall To Pieces
From the DJ Mix Intuition Sessions Volume 1: South Africa by Menno de Jong.

Vocal trance, with Jennifer Rene. And as usual, she seems to breathily mumble the words about losing love or some other damn thing. Yet, this is actually quite a pleasant tune. Steur keeps things melodically simple and to the point, and Rene does sound nice complimenting the gentle touches in the track, like pianos and subtle synthy washes. This was actually a minor hit, appearing on a few high-profile mixes, and has held up quite well when compared to the bilge that gets passed off as vocal trance lately.

5. The Beatles - Michelle
From the album Rubber Soul.

W’ah…? Another rock song? Well, not really, but the third from a name folks associate with rock music. Hey, I swear I do have more EDM than rock in my music collection, but I can’t predict how these Randoms go. Anyhow, the song at hand. Um, what else can I say about it that hasn’t been said before? It’s the freakin’ Beatles, man! If you don’t know this song, it’s probably because it’s one of their lesser known ballads, mostly known for a few French lyrics. That’s all I have to say about it.

So, three songs from three icons of rock music, one classic techno cut, and a vocal trance tune. Heh, it reminds me of one of those “which of these things doesn’t belong” skits from Sesame Street. Not that Steur turned in a poor effort or something - it’s a very nice track, for vocal trance. I can’t help but wonder if my Randomizer had a bit of a rock bias this week though. Wouldn’t surprise me if next week I end up with a hip-hop bias, further confounding readers who come here looking for electronic music. But that’s what makes this fun, eh?

Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Vector Lovers - Vector Lovers (Original TC Review)

Soma Quality Recordings: Cat. # SOMA CD037
Released 2004

Track List:
1. Girl + Robot (5:13)
2. Tokyo Glitterati (4:18)
3. Telecom Meltdown (4:32)
4. Electrobotik Disco (4:51)
5. Funk & Droid (5:10)
6. Electrosuite (7:46)
7. Yamonte Sundown (6:16)
8. Futures In Plastic (5:02)
9. Kissed You by The Fountain (2:34)
10. Lake Nocturne (3:31)
11. Metrolux Forever (4:39)
12. Solitare (4:17)

(2010 Update:
It was with this album that I firmly planted my "what is and isn't electro" flag, going on a many year, mostly futile, crusade to save the sanctity of the good name electro. Begrudgingly, I've since accepted electro has now come to encompass drunk-stomp fart abrasiveness, but if you want to hear some electro with class, check out these tunes. I still do.)

IN BRIEF: Robotic romance.

Vector Lovers is Martin Wheeler, a self-professed lover of things robotic and anime. You may remember his music on such compilations as Balance 007 - Chris Fortier or Soma Compilation 2005, and, um, very little else it would seem. Give it some time though, because Wheeler’s debut is potentially a slow burner (yes, he’s released another album since this one, but let’s just focus on the debut for now).

I suppose the thing that may have initially held Vector Lovers back is the fact it is electro. This normally wouldn’t be a problem but when anything with a dated, fuzzy, or analogue synth is branded electro these days, it’s not surprising someone would off-handedly mutter, “Oh, it’s just another ‘electro’ release.”

In this case though, Vector Lovers is 100% true-blue electro. This is robot music as Kraftwerk, um, crafted. Music for robots to disco dance to. Music for machines to tour neo-Tokyo to. Music for cute anime girls in mecha-suits to make love to. Well, maybe not quite that far, although given some of the cartoons that come out of Japan it wouldn’t surprise me.

Still, Wheeler fully intended manga-esque images to crop up while listening to Vector Lovers, as is evidenced by the anime artwork he drew himself for this album. Let’s see how it turns out here.

Girl + Robot is aptly titled, as it sounds like a robot serenading a girl. No, seriously! With underlying electro beats and backing synths, a robotic noise seemingly sings. Midway through, a lovely little melody on bells emerges, creating a touching atmosphere as the robot continues to sing. If Kraftwerk had ever collaborated with Kitaro, they’d probably produce something that sounds like this.

Keeping with the theme of ‘machines in love’ is Tokyo Glitterati. A delicate melody over sparse electro rhythms sets the tone of this track, allowing wintery pads to conjure up melancholy emotions as they play. The elements are fairly simple, and Glitterati is quite short for the themes it sets, but this is still a wonderfully touching song, once more proving you don’t need to over-produce electronic music to evoke emotions.

If the opening two tracks are where the robots met and fell in love, then this next segment is where they go out on the town. Telecom Meltdown brings the pace up a bit, settling into laid-back techno. Quite the minimal track, the simple subdued synth stabs and jazzy electro organs makes me feel as though I’m casually cruising through a Tokyo district filled with flashing neon lights, passing humans and androids bustling about on the sidewalks.

Elektrobotik Disco sounds much like how the title reads. The funk-fuel is injected but we’re still cruising along to zap stabs, synth sweeps, and robo-talk. I can’t understand what the robotic voices are saying, and I suspect that’s kind of the point. As techno always intended, Wheeler is creating music for droids, or at least the futuristic possibility of it. Luckily, us puny flesh creatures get to enjoy it in the here and now.

The vibes get more hectic as we move onto Funk & Droid. Perhaps the title is self-explanatory, but let me provide a little detail. It starts out as you might expect with house rhythms and squelchy hooks sounding like some sort of chunky R2-Unit. Some two minutes in though, this track will leap out at you with added beat rolls and subdued sweeping synths. From there, the squelchy hooks really let loose, bringing Funk & Droid to wicked heights. Can the funk get any better?

Hell yeah it can. Electrosuite takes elements we’ve heard from the last couple tracks, cranks the funk further, and throws in a robotic voice saying “Electrobotik disco beat; Always keep the electro sweet” in time to the rhythm. Wheeler even mixes the words up to keep things fresh. And those squelchy synths! My God are they ever funky! This is electro house done fucking proper, my friends. It’s utterly irresistible; you’ll be moving your body no matter how unfunky you be. Electrosuite is what Daft Punk’s latest would have sounded like if they’d given a damn. You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten there’s more to Vector Lovers than just super funky electro house.

In case you did forget, Wheeler brings us back to some of the themes established at the start with Yamonte Sundown. Similar in its yin/yang approach as Girl + Robot, it starts out with moody, dark sounds and simple breakbeats as robotic voices utter unintelligible things again (Electrosuite’s the only track on this album you’ll be able to understand the robo-talk). Halfway through, a nice bleepy melody joins the foreboding song, eventually taking over the track entirely as the former elements withdraw. Yamonte Sundown isn’t nearly as dynamic as some of the tracks that came before, but is still an engaging listen nonetheless.

As if to prove he isn’t just a two-trick pony (hey, that’s still more than most producers), Futures In Plastic has Wheeler flexing the electro muscle to the limit. This track is more in vein of the newer forms of electro acts like Drexciya and Jedi Knights are known for, and it fortunately remains distinctive enough to remain a part of the Vector Lovers theme. The beats sound pretty erratic, yet groovey enough to not get lost. Along with bubbly synths and spacey pads, Futures is quite fun to listen to as it never settles into standard loops.

Kissed You By The Fountain is a bit of charming electro with an innocent cuteness in the melody. It certainly plays to the whole anime feel more than the robotic feel, although there are enough quirky machine noises in the background to remind us they are still about. It’s not long though, so let’s move onto the next track.

With Lake Nocturne, Wheeler stumbles. Hey, it was a good run while it lasted but it’s rare to come across an album of all killer, even from producers that show some incredible talent in their chosen field. I can hear what he was shooting for with this track, a sort of melancholy, introspective piece with a synthetic flute-ish instrument carrying the bulk of the melody. Unfortunately, his use of rhythmic sounds are annoyingly garish, and there’s just not enough substance in the background elements to save this. At least it’s a shorter track, so we can quickly get back into something more engaging.

We’re on the chilled-out outro segment of this album now, as we move into the ambient techno domain that made Boards Of Canada such darlings of the musical elite. Metrolux Forever has some nice melodies to go along with the synthetic sounds but Solitare outshines it with the simple Ballerina-Box-like melody over sparse metronome clicks and warm backing pads. A very lovely little tune, Solitare is a perfect closer to this eclectic album.

As I understand it, Wheeler initially had Vector Lovers available only as a CDr through a custom website before Soma picked this up for wider distribution. I’m glad they did. For a label known more for its gritty tech house and techno, this is a bit of a quirky release to add to their catalogue. Still, Soma has been known to take chances in the past (who do you think released the first Daft Punk single?) and it pays off here.

This album is definitely worth checking out for everyone who enjoys electro, as the music is pulled off with stunning finesse for a debut album. Wheeler does funky electro house without a hitch but it's the wonderfully touching melodies in tracks such as Tokyo Glitterati and Solitare that manage to elevate this above many electro acts - proper and poseur - with his own unique style. Whereas most electro tends to be like Ghost In The Shell, Vector Lovers is more like Armitage: robots may one day live side by side with humans, but it will be as affectionate comrades rather than with the technology overwhelming our souls. In Wheeler’s mind, the future is an inviting place.

Score: 8/10

Tokyo Glitterati
Futures In Plastic

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

Monday, April 12, 2010

DJ 3000 - Galactic Caravan

Best Price: $23.99

Motech: Cat. # UGCDMT 004
Released March 2010

Track List:
1. Flamuri I Popullit (4:45)
2. Meridian (5:45)
3. Heritage featuring Esteban Adame (5:55)
4. Coat Of Arms (4:55)
5. Darjeeling Sun (5:03)
6. Yrwehear (5:54)
7. Emotional Sequence (5:34)
8. Meloudic Landscapes (6:10)
9. Seven Tribes Of Hoti (4:23)
10. Penny For Your Thoughts (4:11)
11. Midnight Express featuring Esteban Adame (5:02)
12. Her Smile (5:02)
13. Memory Almost Full (5:26)
14. Day Dreaming (2:43)

IN BRIEF: Makes me get my strut on.

House music. Just good ol’ fashioned house music. A smooth groove, a catchy hook, and turning a stiff nose away from gimmicks of the day. No drunk-dumb stomp, white noise wash, fart-squirt bass, skank-ass screech, navel-lint glitch, or anything else like that. Just good ol’ fashioned house music.

Alright, so perhaps that’s embellishing things a bit. Truthfully Frank Juncaj is lumped into the tech-house branch of things, but he’s something of a traditionalist in this field. His sound has that timeless quality to it the best tech-house does, of always being on the fringe of futuristic funk without getting bogged down in the scenery. It’s the backing soundtrack to many a late-night drive through neo-Tokyo in search of a 24-hour noodle shop after a hearty round of the clubs. He shares a sonic palette with the likes of Timewriter, Tripwire, and other similarly named tech-house producers starting with “T” (are there any others?).

And he’s good at what he does, even if he doesn’t get the same kind of recognition other Detroit natives do. Going by the name DJ 3000, he’s released numerous records on his own Motech label (a sub-label of Submerge, which is mostly famous for a couple Drexciya albums), and made a tidy career out of producing classy, (proper) electro-tinged tech-house over the past decade. Now with his third full-length album, the cool-groove vibes carry on as usual, with nary a misstep along the way.

Of course, an album of good tech-house can be dull if it’s only tech-house, thus Juncaj has spiced his album up with a few, er, spices of the Middle East. It’s about the closest to a currently-trendy jump he’s made, taking ‘ethno’ influences for a few tracks, most notably opener Flamuri I Popullit and follow-up Meridian; the former gives us an instantly catchy hook, while the latter mostly features chants complementing hypnotic rhythms. For an album titled Galactic Caravan, they make sense thematically, and it’s odd that Juncaj pretty much drops it for the rest of the album (track titles notwithstanding). By the time we do get another track of this sort - yet another catchy hook courtesy of Midnight Express - I’ve practically forgotten there was an attempt at a theme in the first place.

Such is the strength of the rest of the tech-house tunes though. Wisely, Juncaj also spaces his album out with a few diversions of the Detroit sound along the way: a bit of techno-stomp in Darjeeling Sun; the obligatory, classy mid-album downtempo cut with Yrwehear, a touch of deep groove with Her Smile, swagger funk in Penny For Your Thoughts, and even what appears to be a live recording for closer Day Dreaming. Yep, Galactic Caravan is an all-round solid album.

So why just a ‘mere’ 7/10 then? Oh, you know: nothing really fresh here, it’s still mostly just tech-house, etc. Obviously, fans of this genre are going to love the album, and even casual connoisseurs will enjoy it (*cough*). Yet dance music’s discography is filled with options for this genre, and though Juncaj brings undeniable quality, so do several others. Galactic Caravan is a fine pick-up if you are in need of a little more groove in your life, just not an immediately necessary one.

Score: 7/10

Emotional Sequence
Midnight Express

Written by Sykonee, 2010, for Electronic Music Critic. © All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

5-Song Weekly Mini-Review #2

Here we go with Weekly Mini-Review number two. Yet another curious clutch of tunes, though oddly enough three of these I'd 'discovered' within a very short period of time of each other. Can you guess which three?

1. Quadrophonia - Quardrophonia (Remix)
From the album Cozmic Jam.

The original is something of a classic rave track, though incredibly dated these days. I was obsessed with the tune, having first heard it on a NBA Inside Stuff Jam Session video. I could never find the album though, and it remained one of those elusive ‘must haves’ for me. About fifteen years after hearing it, I find the album in a used shop, and now I see copies of the bloody CD everywhere. So it goes. Oh, and this remix isn’t anything special compared to the original - where’s the bass, man?

2. The Human League - These Are The Days
From the album Octopus.

Did you know The Human League carried on all the way through to the new millennium? I sure didn’t, until I noticed Octopus sitting in a bargain bin. Imagine my surprise to find it was released in the middle of the 90s, at a time when practically no one cared about synth-pop anymore. It’s rather bizarre that this ditty sounds more current in the here and now (I could easily see Tiga borrowing that catchy chorus), yet seemed totally dated in ’95. Did you also know Man With No Name did a remix for this too? Oh come on, there’s no way you’d have known that without Ogging.

3. Aphex Twin - Next Heap With
From the album …I Care Because You Do.

An example of the ‘new classical’ sub-genre of electronic music that all the IDM wonks started doing in the mid-90s. Orchestral swells, string plucks, and so on, mostly based on samples and such (I think?). You could count on at least one such track on any given IDM album. It’s quite nice to hear, as James always seems able to come up with a lush bit of melody whenever he calmed the fuck down.

4. 2 Unlimited - Twilight Zone (Rave Version Edit)
From the album Get Ready!.

What the…? Another old school rave anthem? Well, unlike Quadrophonia, everyone knows this one, whether you wanted to or not. It’s been played over and over and over since it was first released, and will undoubtedly continue to be played (most likely at a sports event). It’s a bonafide classic that way, like Sandstorm and Thunderstruck. This is the vocal-less version, so if you felt the raps and chorus were corny, you have no excuse for not diggin’ this cut. Well, unless you just hate old school rave regardless.

5. Yes - Make It Easy
From the album 90125.

Technically, this isn’t Yes. Former members Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, and Alan White hooked up with guitarist Trevor Rabin to form a group called Cinema, from which this song was recorded in their early sessions. Eventually they managed to rope Jon Anderson in to do vocals on later tunes, at which point they said, “Fuck it, let’s just be Yes again.” (paraphrased ) When Rhino Records was re-issuing all of Yes’ back catalog, they tagged this on 90125 as a bonus track. As for this song, it’s pretty darn cool, if you like yourself some good ol’ early 80s new wave rock. Rabin does some pretty fancy guitar work too.

Okay, so guessing two of 'em would probably be easy enough. Bet you can't guess the third tho'! Well, alright, probably you can. It's really obvious since it was the early 90s that I heard 'em anyway.

Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Various - In Trance We Trust 11: Mixed by Phynn (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $17.98

In Trance We Trust: Cat. # ITWT 011 CD
Released March 2006

Track List:
1. Supresa - Back In The Days (Intro Mix) (6:45)
2. Vincent de Moor - Mystique Colors (3:42)
3. Airbase - For The Fallen (5:13)
4. A Boy Called Joni - Green Astronauts (4:25)
5. Kay Stone - Alone (5:41)
6. Estuera - Flow (6:02)
7. Phynn - Close Encounter (6:14)
8. Ozone - Q (2:37)
9. Wippenberg - Earth (4:10)
10. First State - First State (5:54)
11. Thomas Bronzwaer - Shadow World (5:16)
12. Galen Behr & Robert Burns - Till We Meet Again (Galen Behr Remix) (4:55)
13. Mode Hookers - Breathe (Sander van Doorn Remix) (3:56)
14. Mark Norman - Brasilia (5:33)
15. Astralis - Solar Flare (5:50)
16. Purple Haze - Rush (3:30)

(2010 Update:
I think I overrated this. Aside from
Shadow World and For The Fallen, I couldn't remember how any of these went. Yes, even the two other tracks I gave "ACE TRACK" status to. Part of it too was I never really felt compelled to listen to this mix again. It's such a dull set, with nothing given an opportunity to stand out. This was about the time in trance's history when every other damned track was trying to be an epic, OMG anthem, flooding the market with expertly produced, forgettable dross. Seriously, take a look at that track list and tell me how many you can instantly recall - yeah, no classics here, my friends (well, maybe Shadow World). I listened to this twice to refresh my memory, and I still don't recall most of it. Man, no wonder I derailed the review to play Street Fighter - it's the only thing that made this review memorable in the long run.

As for Phynn, he seems to still be stuck in third-tier trance jock purgatory. So much for that "promising potential.")

IN BRIEF: Promising potential.

In Trance We Trust has been around for quite a while but I can’t say I’ve payed the sub-label of Black Hole Recordings (founded by some guy named Tijs Verwest -perhaps you’ve heard of him?) much heed, much less their regular In Trance We Trust mix series. Starting out at a time when damned near every trance DJ mix was sounding identical to the next, I saw nothing about the compilations that would distinguish itself from the pack. Even the lovely scenery cover art seemed cliché by that point. Still, I have to give the label some respect for managing to stick around for this long. Even as trance continues its gradual demise from its glory years, In Trance We Trust keeps on chugging along. With their tapping of new-comer Phynn (real name Finne Jager, but typing his alias is easier) to take on the eleventh edition of this series, it would seem the label’s hoping an injection of fresh blood will give the ailing trance scene a much needed boost.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Phynn’s career for about a year now. Unlike nearly all of the current generation of trance producers, he seemed to actually grasp the concept of the need for energetic rhythms as well as catchy hooks to make your song a cut above the rest. Unfortunately, aside from a couple singles, Phynn’s been relatively quiet for this amount of time. When I heard he was tapped to mix this release, I was definitely intrigued. Let’s see if he’s got the chops to kick trance out of its funk.

Phynn doesn’t waste much time in getting this show on the road. Despite the blissy nature of Sepresa’s Back In The Days, the rhythm is fairly energetic for a track that makes ample use of seaside samples. However, the main melody introduced in your standard breakdown isn’t all that memorable so Back In The Days serves better as a mood setter for this mix, as any good intro track should.

With Vincent de Moor’s Mystique Colors, Phynn gets down to business. There are all your usual trance components but Moor’s track has a better-than-average hook, decent backing sounds, and, most importantly, a groovy bassline that’ll warm you up nicely for follow-up For The Fallen by Airbase.

Eh? What’s this? Breakbeats? In a trance mix? Done competently!? Hell yeah! The accompanying bassline in For the Fallen sounds great, and the rhythms don’t come off as just a novelty. It’s a shame Jesper has to get all self-indulgent in a minute-long breakdown to do some piano wankery, but all is forgiven once the rhythm comes back, so infectious it is.

However, Phynn doesn’t stick with the breakbeat vibe, heading right back into standard four-to-the-floor rhythms in Green Astronauts. More of a pure traditional trancer, a moody, pulsing synth morphs through various effects while the rhythm keeps things steadily grooving. An additional plinky arpeggio emerges from the background in the latter half of this track, but allows the main synth to keep the spotlight.

Having eased us into a trancey state with Green Astronauts, Phynn whips out some epic anthemage. Kay Stone’s Alone has everything an epic anthem should have: smart rhythms, lush soundscapes, catchy hooks, and a perfect blend of effects at all the right points. Shame tracks like these are a dime a dozen these days. Sure, had this been released seven or eight years ago, Alone would be deemed a classic, but this has been done numerous times since, and Kay Stone’s offering here has nothing unique enough about it to stand out from the pack.

Diving back into loopy territory is Flow by Esteura. The central hook repeats throughout the track, remaining a bit subtle for the most part as other stuff plays around it. Good God, but does that second breakdown ever drag though. And what’s with that brief bit of guitar? It plays for only a couple bars, and we never hear from it again. Utterly pointless. The build back to the action is ace though, with additional sounds harmonizing with the still-looping central hook. At the very peak of the build, there’s a half-second pause of dead silence, which has a nifty way of sounding like all the air has been sucked out of the track, only to rush forth again with everything at once. It’s quite effective in retaining that lost momentum from that overlong breakdown.

Phynn’s own Close Encounter is next, and it has all the hallmarks of yet another epic anthem: the riff’s punchy, the percussions’ energetic, the appropriate synths have been loaded, and the breakdowns and builds, um, breakdown and build. Yet, like Alone, Close Encounter is half a decade too late to make any kind of real impact. There’s just so many anthems like this out there; they’re twelve for ten cents. Also, having three tracks in a row featuring breakdowns and builds is wearing thin, especially since there’s not a whole heck of a lot to distinguish them from the ‘über-choon’ category. This next track had better be something different, otherwise this mix will start to look suspect.

Er, this isn’t what I had in mind. Q by Ozone (Airbase again) certainly has a different feel to it compared to previous tracks, in that it has an utterly happy-go-lucky hook that could make even Ferry Corsten wince. Well, okay, it is stupidly, silly fun but yet another breakdown kills the momentum with a few seconds of total silence. Admittedly, Phynn’s choice of tracks does manage to retain any lost momentum with good rhythms but if this next track has another breakdown, I’m going to get very irritated.

Oh, what’s this!? Another bloody breakdown! Argh! That’s it! Phynn, you have got to-

Wait a sec! Hey, that hook is actually pretty sweet. In fact, it totally kicks ass! Man, Wippenberg’s Earth has just grabbed all those mean and nasty things I was about to write and tossed them out a five-story window with an explosive fuel tanker waiting for their landing at the end. The synth is simple and aggressive, having no need to get overwrought with fancy effects and trickery to sound polished. It’s kind of how those old ravey rave tunes went, only brought into the 21st Century. Ace material, this is.

I’d kinda hoped Phynn might follow-up Earth’s vibes with similar tracks but it’s not to be, as we’re right back into epic anthem territory. First State is yet another wonderfully produced song but, as our resident Brit might say, tracks like this are ‘ten-a-penny’ in trancedom these days. And, on a mix where we’ve heard it twice already, First State isn’t standing out as well as it should.

In fact, judging by how this mix has gone thus far, I can pretty much guess how the rest of the songs will go: big epic anthems, good rhythms, and some sort of unique twist to them that’ll differentiate it from a previous track. As First State ends, there’s exactly another half hour left on this CD, of which I don’t feel like meticulously detailing since I’ll just be repeating myself. Instead, I’m going to play some Street Fighter Alpha 3 while this runs through, and if anything of note happens, I’ll let you know. My fighter of choice: Fei Long. Waa chaaaaaaaaaaa!

Two minutes, twenty-three seconds later - I know you’ve heard supersaws before, but the synths in Thomas Bronzwaer’s Shadow World are a notch above them. Decent hook, too.

Two minutes, seventeen seconds later - Yep, definitely bigger and bolder. These aren’t supersaws. They’re SUPREMESAWS.

Three minutes, forty-seven seconds later - Woah! That anthem in Till We Meet Again just blasted out of nowhere! Heh, it coincided nicely as I busted out a Super Combo Finish on mid-Boss Balrog.

Fifty-three seconds later - This is pretty epic, but in a good way! Even makes for a suitable soundtrack to Fei Long’s quest.

Three minutes, twenty-three seconds later - An unfunky farty bassline? It could only be a Caucasian producer, and probably Swedish no less.

One minute, four seconds later - DAMN YOU, DAN!!! I can’t BELIEVE he ended my unbeaten streak!

Two minutes, twenty-eight seconds later - Hmm. Mark Norman’s Brasilia is some seriously sinister sounding stuff. Makes for decent Final Boss music.

Two minutes, fifty-five seconds later - Ha! Eat it, Bison! Super Combo Finish up your mudder fuggin’ arse!

Three minutes later - I’m still here. Just enjoying the end credits.

Well, that was fun. And I still have some of the CD left playing too. However, because Astralis’ Solar Flare isn’t all that interesting, and Rush by Purple Haze was already detailed here (personally, I find it fine, if a bit unfocused), I’ll get to the wrap-up portion of this review.

For the most part, Phynn’s track selection and arrangement is decent enough, if perhaps dipping a little heavily into Black Hole’s catalogue; seven tracks between it and its sub-labels, but then I suppose Phynn’s got to please his overseers. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the main troubles with this mix. I get the impression Phynn’s restrained by not being allowed to flex his muse beyond his parent label more. It comes as little surprise to me the more intriguing tracks -songs where Phynn’s personality as a DJ crops up- are from other labels. If he were given more freedom, this might have shined brighter for a first official DJ mix.

As such though, he works with what he can within the Black Hole confines. The mix itself kind of peaks out halfway through before you realize there isn’t going to be much more diversity, and despite Phynn’s best efforts to keep the vibes climbing, the similarities between the songs wear thin. Get this is you’re after some energetic anthemic trance, but don’t expect anything more than what we’ve heard many times before.

Score: 6/10

Vincent de Moor - Mystique Colors
Airbase - For The Fallen
Wippenberg - Earth

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Various - Unwind: A Journey Into Global Grooves (Original TC Review)

Com.Pact Records: Cat. #CPCD-IL025
Released 2005

Track List:
1. Solarians - Spring Thing (4:53)
2. Tribalistic Society - Åarhus On A Sunday Afternoon (4:46)
3. T.K.Y - Long Before This Day (7:50)
4. U&K - Sähkövalo (5:26)
5. Lish - Blue (4:44)
6. Sunfire - Electronic (7:14)
7. Visual Paradox - GaYo (2005 Remake) (5:50)
8. T.K.Y. vs. Max Maxwell - Twilight (5:18)
9. Wilson Stout - Helpless (Dini Dub Mix) (5:05)
10. Sesto Sento - Slow Move (4:47)
11. Psionyx - Deimos Vista (7:53)
12. The Misted Muppet - Defender Of The Past (2:17)

(2010 Update:
The middle of this review if kind of forgettable, much like the middle of this CD, to be honest. There was actually a second Unwind compilation, featuring most of the same artists, though none of the better ones on here.

One of the fun things with these generic psy releases is I often got to try something different with my writing, in this case doing a 'Good, Bad, Ugly (Verdict)' summary at the end. Come to think of it, that could have been a practical reviewing method for everything. Well, if you were after capsule ones anyway.)

IN BRIEF: Pretty standard stuff.

Com.Pact Records is yet another in what seems to be a never-ending supply of psy trance labels coming out of Israel. Every time I poke my head into the psy scene again, there’s yet another label churning out a slew of mostly full-on trance. I honestly have no idea how some of the more dedicated psy fans can keep up with it all, much less want to. I’d be amazed if there’s enough diversity between the releases to warrant such dedication. Yet, the scene must be there, as the albums and compilations of Israeli psy just keep on trucking out.

Perhaps Com.Pact sensed there was too much of the same ol’, and decided to expand a little into other styles. The result is what we have here: Unwind, a collection of chilled-out global grooves featuring a bunch of names only the Israeli psy scene would have a passing familiarity with.

I’ve been wary of these sorts of compilations for a while now, as the Great Chill-Out Campaign of the new millennium saw a huge glut of ‘adequate’ downtempo releases when Moby’s Play suddenly made it commercially viable. The trouble, my friends, is the very nature of music like this. It isn’t designed to excite or inspire or infuriate, but merely provide a backing soundtrack to everyday situations. Perfectly fine when such situations call for it of course, but very drab when, as a paying listener, you’d rather have the music engage your consciousness rather than evaporate within it.

Still, I’ve heard some decent downtempo stuff from the psy camps in the past, and perhaps an underground label like Com.Pact won’t fall into the same ‘chilled-out muzak’ trap so many commercial labels do. Let’s find out, shall we?
Um, unfortunately, opener Spring Thing from Solarians doesn’t bode too well. You ever see those racks of easy listening music in New Age shops that read like Rainforest Rhythms or Sounds Of Sweet Savannah Showers? Yeah, they tend to look low-budget and hokey, and trust me they usually are. Spring Thing is the kind of track you’d probably hear on one of those: wispy synths, ‘organic’ sounds, and ‘inspirational’ melodies that are anything but. And what’s with that bass? It just grumbles along without harmonizing or leading. This track’s hardly the kind of first impression you want to make. It’s like someone attempting to make a grand entrance into your home, but trips and falls flat on their face.

And instead of quickly gathering himself to save some face, he follows up the trip with a mere shrug and wanders off to settle in. Or, to be rid of this clumsy metaphor, Unwind has a peculiar choice to follow-up Spring Thing with Tribalistic Society’s Åarhus On A Sunday Afternoon. This is a very loose track, borrowing mellow themes from across cultures to form a nice collage of disparate ideas, but little else. You’d think it’d be a better idea to try to grab your attention with something a little more focused, but it is not to be.

Long Before This Day by T.K.Y. carries on the loose musical ideas, seemingly unsure of what kind of track it wants to be. It starts a bit goofy but turns quite somber once some pads are added. Most of the sparse melodies that weave around aren’t terribly interesting, as the sounds used are a bit flat. Midway through, Long Before changes direction again with a weak bassline, some reggae organs, and an Arabic chant. I don’t know about anyone else, but these elements just don’t gel for me. It sounds like it’s trying to be dubby but the sounds don’t carry enough resonance to make it effective. I often find myself tuning this track out.

U&K’s Sähkövalo finally gives us something interesting. More on a trip-hop tip, funky loops and groovy rhythms set up the start. Eventually, moody subdued chords gradually emerge from the background, gently growing stronger as additional synth washes accentuate them. While nothing revolutionary, it is still an engaging bit of music.

Blue by Lish continues the trip-hop trend, though opts for something a little more upbeat. Although murky dubby sounds weave about in the background, the rhythm’s got more kick to it than Sähkövalo, and the added synth hook towards the end is quite effective along with squelchy sound effects that don’t annoy. Perhaps Unwind will be salvageable after all.

Hah, you know that last line is a set-up, so I won’t beat around the bush. Sunfire’s Electronic starts out fine enough with nice sweeping pads and gentle rhythms, creating a pleasant Ibizan atmosphere. It all goes south though, when for reasons that utterly escape me, Mr. Kosyvev introduces a harsh, tuneless synth noise. It’s abrasive, it’s ugly, and it’s completely unnecessary, knocking me out of my calm tranquility like a slap to the face.

What follows for a bit, while interesting in spots, falls into the ‘lounge’ trap of being content to remain unobtrusive. GaYo has a nifty bouncy bassline, but the assortment of xylophones, echoey synths, pianos and so on never bother to carry any kind of melody. Twilight benefits from a murky Arabic atmosphere but also doesn’t settle into any kind of gripping theme. And the Dini Dub of Wilson Stout’s Helpless, while a pleasant bit of Mediterranean chill, is just as hookless as the previous two. Of course, none of these tracks are bad by any means, but they are quite typical of lounge vibes, and probably won’t stand out much if you listen to a great deal of this sort of music.

Unwind seems about ready to move onto something new, though, and opts for the gradual transition. Slow Move by Sesto Sento is an intriguing slice of ambient breaks, making use of some spacey pads and acid squelches to complement the rhythms and hooks. The percussion is also quite good, never settling for simple loops.

With Slow Move easing us from the organic lounges to the synthetic sounds, we move into sci-fi territory... or psy-fi, as the case may be. If Com.Pact’s usual audience has been put off by all the laid-back, jazzy, dubby music thus far, Deimos Vista by Psionyx should be more their style. With spacey synths, stuttering soundscapes, and narrative melodies, this is also the most structured song to be hand on Unwind. The usual ‘psybient’ theme of benevolent alien ideologies should appeal to spaceheads as well.

We close with Defenders Of the Past by The Misted Muppet. Not a very long track, this serves as a decent enough ambient outro following in the theme of Deimos Vista. Eerie synth pads and piano melodies make up the bulk and, even for their short duration, they sound wonderful. This guy continues to impress me; maybe I should seek out that album of his all the psyheads were gushing over.

Now, for The Good: As far as chill albums go, there’s a decent amount of variety to be had. Additionally, the music flows nicely together despite the disparate downtempo styles. Credit should also be given to Com.Pact for daring to expand a little beyond their usual borders.

The Bad: There really isn’t much here that we haven’t heard from countless other chill compilations. Aside from some points where the quality of a track leaps or plummets, Unwind would have a hard time distinguishing itself from your usual chill fodder. Plus, this compilation has a pretty weak start, and first impressions go a long way in setting the mood for any CD.

And The Ugly... er, Verdict: If you see this in your shops and have very little chill music in your collection, you could do worse. However, like so many chill-out compilations these days, Unwind remains far too content to be ‘background’ music. I know the argument goes that’s the whole point of music like this, but with so many compilations of loungey music available, does it then matter which one you put your money down for? No, even chill music should be able to engage you when you’re actually listening to it.

An average score should suffice for Unwind. It would have been lower on account of the weak opening, but it finished strong; even-steven all the way.

Score: 5/10

Psionyx - Deimos Vista

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

Saturday, April 3, 2010

5-Song Weekly Mini-Review #1

Here's how this works. I'll select five tracks at random (or rather my Window Media Player will, heh) and write a paragraph about it. What's included in the paragraph will depend on what the track is, what album it's from, who it's by, and so on. If possible, I'll also include a link to either an or source so you can hear what the tune sounds like for yourself. Alright then, let's get this show on the road!

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Winterlong
From the album Live At The Fillmore East.

Woo! Kickin’ the new feature off with Neil F’n Young! Winterlong has an odd history, as it never appeared on any official album until the three-record compilation Decade. Folks still knew of it though, as it’d been performed live since, well, at least this 1970s gig at the Fillmore East, and it gained a bit more popularity during the grunge era when the Pixies covered it. This version is kind of rough around the edges, as though Young and his Horse band were still working out the kinks. In fact, it’s a bit surprising to hear Young’s vocals so low in the mix; former Horse guitarist Danny Whitten really dominates. It’s a nice enough tune, so long as you like yourself some laid-back Southern rock. Of course, the group’s done better.

2. Nebula - Sky
From the album Gate To Infinity.

I figured a few obscurities would make their way into these lists - after all, that’s part of the allure of doing it randomly in the first place. On the second track though!? Anyhow, this is one of the earliest productions from Elvio Trampus, and quite removed from the hard trance he produces of late. Rather, we get a dubby, bouncy bit of blissed downtempo techno …or something. I’m hesitant to give it the IDM tag, even if it does sound similar to earlier forms of that sound. One of the better cuts from the album anyway.

3. Robert Armani - Circus Bells (Hardfloor Mix)
From the compilation Muzik Classics: Techno.

Holy cow! It’s an actual good compilation from Beechwood Music. In fact, for a collection of early techno, it’s excellent! Probably didn't hurt that the ace magazine Muzik was the sponsor for it, but I'll get into that some other time. As for Circus Bells, it’s about as you’d expect given the names involved above. Armani provides the basic stomp, Hardfloor adds extra acid tweakage, and the results are strictly awesome all the way.

4. Hieroglyphics - Love Flowin
From the album Full Circle.

One of the best underground hip-hop groups around, to be frank. Folks probably know more about member Del Tha Funkee Homosapien but the whole crew is filled with talented, diverse MCs, including here Opio, Pep Love, Casual, and A-Plus. And producers! Opio was behind the board for this one, dropping orchestral samples with some great thumpin’ beats into the track. Great stuff if you have a hankering for ‘backpack-hop’.

5. T. Power featuring Amaziree - Runnin’
From the DJ Mix The Stanton Sessions by Stanton Warriors.

Pretty typical example of UK 2-step garage from the turn of the century, here with extra nu-skool breaks wobble-bass! Amaziree’s soulful croon is fine enough. Erm, and there’s not much else to say with this cut. Hey, there’s gonna be a lot of ‘average’ songs down the road, so don’t go expecting brilliant write-ups every time.

And I suppose this is where I'm supposed to give a concluding paragraph? Um, I'm not sure what to say. It's not like there's a unifying theme to these tunes or anything. Or, is there...


Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

William Orbit - Hello Waveforms (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $6.98

Sanctuary Records Group: Cat. # 06076-84772-2
Released February 2006

Track List:
1. Sea Green (6:23)
2. Humming Chorus (3:36)
3. Surfin (4:52)
4. You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (4:59)
5. Spiral (4:57)
6. Who Owns The Octopus (5:01)
7. Bubble Universe (4:04)
8. Fragamosia (6:32)
9. Firebrand (6:16)
10. They Live In The Sky (4:57)
11. Colours From Nowhere (5:59)

(2010 Update:
So that follow-up album never materialized until 2009. Yikes, does that ever date this review, huh? Ah, this one's kind of sloppy anyway, an early case of me struggling to find ways of talking track-by-track with songs that really didn't have much to talk about, yet steadfast in believing all album reviews should be a minimum 1000 words long. I'll admit there's some really hilarious grammar gaffs here. As for the album, it's still a very, erm, pleasant listen.)

IN BRIEF: How many different ways can you type ‘pleasant’?

You have to hand it to older Orbit fans. Through his Madonna collaborations, his classical musings, and general seclusion since, they have patiently waited for a new full length of original material under his own name. It’s been quite some time since the last Strange Cargo was released, and the landscape of electronic music has seen some radical changes (or remained stagnent in some circles, but that’s another debate). With Hello Waveforms, fans finally have their new material. The burning question then, is whether this release lives up to the longing expectations.

Well, I’m not the guy to answer that. Aside from the obvious hits, I never gave much notice to Orbit’s older work. Probably like many, Ray Of Light and Pieces In A Modern Style was where I really exposed myself to his production. There’s nothing wrong with that either, as my perspective of this release isn’t weighed down by past accomplishments. As such, Hello Waveforms has the ‘blessing’ of being judged by the music it contains. Lucky guy, that Orbit.

First off, let me mention the booklet that comes with this album. This is, without a doubt, one of the glossiest booklets I’ve ever seen. Super slick and shiny, it just feels wrong to even muss it up with my breath, much less hold it in my greasy, grimy fingers. It’s the kind of booklet that makes it worth actually buying the release, just to show it off. Oh, I guess the additional artwork of the ‘Waveform Girls’, as Orbit calls them on his website (which includes some nifty videos of this artwork in motion) is nice to look at as well. Anyhow, let’s get into some actual music, shall we?

As we dive into Sea Green, it is immediately apparent Orbit still hasn’t changed his studio sounds much. Some’ll probably complain about him not moving with the times, but I don’t find it to be a big deal. Even if some of the synths he uses are a bit dated, they are still unmistakingly his alone. No one has managed to emulate Orbit’s sound and it makes his work all that more unique, effectively shielding him from sounding too dated.

Sea Green itself is quite warm and inviting. Several little benign melodies weave about on synths, pianos, and acoustic guitars, forming a calming bit of music that doesn’t really settle into any definite structure. Unlike a great deal of songs that wander about, Sea Green doesn’t fall apart at the seams as the melodies that come and go are quite catchy. There’s some muted rhythm as well, but it merely serves the melodies in crafting something of a chipper atmosphere.

With Humming Chorus, we see Orbit still not quite having gotten the classical bug out, as this song is from the Madame Butterfly opera. Strictly bleepy synths, strings, and other oddball sounds, the pleasant atmosphere to be had in this track is quite calming. I can’t help but feel I’m lounging about in some tranquil Victorian-era fairground as it plays.

An ethereal slide guitar emerges from the start of Surfin, melting into a tranquil bit of early evening tropical bliss. Like Sea Green, this track is quite content to meander about, allowing simple pleasant melodies to weave in and out. Similarily, You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers follows this same form. Despite bubbly bass and acoustic noodlings providing an eerier setting, Saucers is still quite calming to listen to. Even a rather psychedelic outro to the track doesn’t distort the calming music.

After this run of peaceful ambience, we move into the lead single, Spiral. With guest vocals by UK urban girl act Sugababes, this song wouldn’t sound out of place in a typical young woman’s clothing store. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Spiral ruins the flow of Waveforms - it’s actually quite the needed divergence after four tracks doing relatively the same thing. However, Spiral isn’t really a standout example of your typical modern R&B sound, and feels odd being on an album like this.

Who Own The Octopus marks the midway point of Waveforms, and also marks the best bit of music yet - molasses electro rhythms, synthy guitar musings, and nice sweeping synths create quite the engaging bit of chill. Towards the end though, we are treated to a stirring climax of fuzzed-out guitars and synthy harpsicord. Even if Octopus is overall mellow, it is by far the most riveting track.

From here, Waveforms begins a gentle slide to take us out. Bubble Universe is an interesting sonic experiment with distorted vocals and pixie-ish charm. While an intriguing listen, there really isn’t much to latch onto here between the various sounds weaving about.

Fragamosia features a violin, viola, and cello played in parallel with dubby electronics. It starts out promising, as the musical ideas featured in the beginning show promise [g’uh -2010 Syk]. However, much like most of the music we’ve heard thus far, Orbit instead seems content to allow things to merely noodle about. The only trouble with Fragamosia’s case is the melodies aren’t as engaging as those in the first half of Waveforms, and the song doesn’t stand out as a result.

Firebrand seems to share the same troubles as Fragamosia. Despite the use of an assortment of woodwinds and brass instruments, this track is far too much noodle without enough substance in the weaving melodies. This makes it a pleasant bit of background music but not much else.

We get some vocals with The Live In The Sky, but aside from plenty of oohs and aahs in the beginning, they aren’t as prominent as the ones in Spiral. Instead, this track, like so much else on the latter half of Waveforms, is a pleasant bit of music but hardly engaging.

Closing out the album is Colours From Nowhere, an eerie excursion into ambience that seems to borrow some Orbit-ish melodic ideas that have been sprinkled throughout Waveforms. All of this is linked together with pretty cool sounding synth pads. It’s about the mellowest track on this album, which is saying a lot considering just how mellow this whole CD has been.

And that’s probably the only real fault to be had on Waveforms. Aside from Octopus and perhaps Spiral, there isn’t really much that’ll leap out at you as it plays. Mind, the music is all very charming, and is perfectly suited for background ambience. The astute listener will also find a number of the brief melodies that come and go quite nice.

However, the overall atmosphere of Waveforms kind of leaves one wanting a little more than what we are given. Orbit does have plans to release another album later this year, so perhaps this one is merely the appetizer before the main course. Still, if you are in the market for some mellow music, this album will suit you fine.

Score: 6/10

Who Owns The Octopus

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

Things I've Talked About

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