Sunday, June 27, 2010

Indefinite Break

I've another writing project I want to focus my spare time on, so I'm taking some time out of blabbering about music for a while, a few months at least. Ah, it's not like there's been a whole heck of a lot to talk about this year anyway. Been pretty lean for hot new releases thus far. I mean, there hasn't even been a front-running, WMC-pegged "Ibiza Anthem" yet! When was the last time that happened!?

Eh? You say I'm doing this just as I was due for a "2010 Update" of ASOT 2006? Yeah, how about that...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vuvuzela House

Because the accordion was so played out with Heater...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Armin van Buuren featuring Nadia Ali - Who Is Watching (Remixes) (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $1.98

Hit ‘N’ Hot Music: Cat. # H’N’H CDS 372
Released March 2006

Track List:
1. Who Is Watching (Mischa Daniëls Radio Edit) (3:46)
2. Who Is Watching (Mischa Daniëls Club Mix) (7:28)
3. Who Is Watching (DJ Remy & Roland Klinkenberg Remix) (7:54)
4. Who Is Watching (Oliver Moldan Remix) (7:48)
5. Who Is Watching (Tone Depth Remix) (11:18)

(2010 Update:
What else is there to say? Aside from the Tone Depth remix, no one really remembers this one. Erm, sorry I'm being brief here. Rough week...)

IN BRIEF: By the book remixing.

Y’know, as I sit down here at my lappy, set to type up my review, it occurs to me this is only the second release from this prominent trance personality to grace our archives (the first being A State Of Trance: 2004). Considering the two other DJs in the top three of DJ Mag’s annual poll get a fair deal of coverage, this might seem a bit odd, especially since AvB’s output this past year has been quite steady with a couple DJ compilations and an artist album.

Of course, who ever remembers consistent bronze medalists? Heh.

So, here is the most recent remix package of yet another track from Armin’s album Shivers, this one being the Nadia Ali featuring Who Is Watching. The original could kindly be described as... unassuming. On an album which did not have glowing praise showered upon it by many, this track was one of the apparent glaring problems some seemed to have with it. Consisting of nothing more than guitar-strums, pads, light percussion, and Nadia’s vocals, Who Is Watching came across as lightweight adult contemporary compilation fodder. It was a far cry from the sort of music Armin’s fans had come to expect from him.

But whether his fans enjoyed it or not seems to be irrelevant. Who Is Watching is the one that’s been given the remix treatment, so let’s see how the remixers treat it.

First up is Mischa Daniëls, a relative new house producer out of the lands that are Dutch. He doesn’t do much altering, making use of the original elements while adding some housey beats, bobbly bass, and an added riff playing off the main melody during the peaks. It isn’t terribly innovative, but would probably fit snuggly in a typical Hed Kandi compilation (or radiowaves, as the Radio Edit indicates).

DJ Remy and Roland Klinkenberg (though uncredited here for some reason), both stalwarts in the Dutch scene, provide a mellow progressive re-rub. To be honest, this is unexciting stuff. Sound effects and washes drone along for half the track, Nadia’s vocals every so often cropping up with plenty of trailing echo effects. Midway through, you get a harmonic bass drop to add some excitement at the peak of a minor build. It’s effective in the sense that everything’s been so monotonous leading up to it, any change of tone is welcome. Overall though, their remix would be best suited as an early warm-up track in a DJ set, and probably not much more.

German Oliver Moldan, fresh off releasing Second Session on the Armada sub-label Stoney Boy, does the house thing as well for his remix. It’s more groovy than Daniëls’ take, relying on additional guitars, a lightly distorted ‘rockin’ bassline (first one to call it electro gets a whuppin’), and builds to promote energy. While certainly playing to all the elements house music’s been filled with lately, it isn’t all that amazing either, merely making use of current, trendy sounds to complement Armin’s original work. In two words, perfectly adequate.

Finally, we have a whopping eleven minute remix from Tony Papadopoulos, under his Tone Depth alias here but more commonly known as The Greek. The first half of this track is pure Tony: warm pad work, pulsing synths, tranquil guitars, and mellow rhythms, all combining to conjure up Mediterranean vistas at dusk. It’s practically a separate song in itself, but then he seems to remember this is actually a remix, so, around the six minute mark, he breaks the song down, brings in the original’s elements under reverb effects, and essentially does what DJ Remy and Klinkenberg did with their remix, only some of the pulsing synths and basic percussion retained (and two minutes worth of lead-out). Yeah, the second half doesn’t live up to the first half’s atmosphere because Tony’s strengths are stilted by having to let Nadia’s vocals carry the remainder of the track. As such, it sounds like he’s just going through the prog motions.

In fact, that could be said for all of these remixes. I don’t know if the remixers just felt uninspired by Armin’s original, or if they were merely requested to make their re-rubs suitable for potential club scenes without losing much in the process. Whatever the case, all of these remixes of Who Is Watching are perfectly decent for supplying DJs with danceable versions but nothing more. Only the Tone Depth Remix sees any kind of innovation, and only for the sections when Armin’s track isn’t really a part of it. Why am I not surprised?

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

Sunday, June 6, 2010

5 Song Weekly Mini-Review #10

Woo’ee! Number ten of these things, eh? I’d feel like celebrating somehow, ‘cept this bloody flu I caught has gotten me all stuffed up in the head (or numbed up with the meds). I think I may be able to come up with something next week tho’. Also, since my finances are stable once again, it’s about time I start getting some new music to review. Expect to see a few fresh releases in the coming weeks (er, that weren’t free label compilations). Meanwhile, let’s see what random songs from my current collection will spring up this week.

1. Groove Armada - At The River
From the album Vertigo.

Their first single, for the record. It took a bit of a roundabout route to be re-released with their sophomore album above, riding the coattails of the big-beat phenomenon. It’s very laid back and sampledelic, a perfect summertime record, hinting at the potential everyone saw in the duo before the backlash of endlessly hearing I See You Baby soured everyone’s attitude towards them. At least, that’s what happened over on this side of the pond. I think they’re still big stars in the UK, and lord knows the tune continues to get recycled on “Best Chill-Out Ever” compilations from Ministry Of Sound.

2. The Orb - More Gills Less Fishcakes
From the album Pomme Fritz.

This was around the time Dr. Patterson was getting more experimental than many were willing to indulge. More of an EP of the title track, More Gills is one of the noodly sonic masturbation cuts, where dub tricks, tape splicing, and sample pieces cut in and out. Some semblance of a proper tune emerges in the middle, but it’s a garbled mess for the most part. I can’t think of enough weed to make this a worthwhile listen.

3. Subreachers - Memories Of Better Times
From the compilation Echodub Loves, Vol. 2.

I just reviewed this last week! Do I really have to talk about it again so soon? Um, well, the piano tones are still pleasant enough.

4. Astral Projection - Liquid Sun
From a personal compilation.

I think Astral Projection were one of the first groups to realize giving away free MP3s was very beneficial to one’s career. Way back in the days, you could download a whole bunch of their tunes at no cost, and without having to go through dodgy back channels like Napster or Audio Galaxy. Or, wait… did I get their tunes off Audio Galaxy after all? Man, that was so long ago, I can’t remember. I think it was I found this. I’m pretty sure a lot of other folks did too, hence their dedicated fanbase all these years later. This? Ah, typical mid-90s soaring goa trance. Mint, if you’re into that stuff. I like it.

5. Banco de Gaia - Shanti (Red With White Spots Edit)
From the album Maya.

Wow, must be a psychedelic week, huh? This isn’t as good as the Black Mountain Mix, but still pretty cool if you like noodly, dubby, experimental stuff. The core elements are lovely as ever. You can definitely hear The Orb influences though, but then The Orb had influenced tons of ambient house and dub producers in the early 90s. Which I guess makes that group’s dive into experimental wank like the track above around the same time all the more understandable.

That was a tidy little Mini-Review, I must say. Nothing too out of the ordinary, thematically consistent… I could probably even make a mini-mix out of those tracks were I so inclined. Hm, it has been a while since I did a mixtape, now that I think about it…

Written by Sykonee, 2010. © All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Perfect Stranger - Learning = Change (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $8.91

Iboga Records: Cat. # IBOGACD38
Released February 28, 2006

Track List:
1. Starter (8:28)
2. Dr. Feelgood (8:31)
3. Morning Blues (8:03)
4. Those Days (9:08)
5. Hyperdrive (8:21)
6. Truth (8:39)
7. Nobody’s Perfect (Remix) (9:00)
8. Desert Session (10:39)
9. Bonus: Schatsi - Radio Schatsi (Perfect Stranger Remix) (6:50)

(2010 Update:
Ugh. Probably one of the driest reviews I ever wrote, and that's saying something, considering the material I was writing a year before. I can't even read this today. Fortunately, the album itself has held up quite well. In fact, I think Iboga was never quite as good as they were at this point in their life, but mind you I haven't checked anything out from them in over a year now. Maybe it's about time I rectify that?)

IN BRIEF: Definitely not “that hippie shit.”

Having been impressed by Flowjob’s album, it raised my curiosity as to what else the growing progressive scene in the psy camps had to offer. After all, the underground buzz surrounding it had to be there for a reason; however, it seems there’s still very little exposure outside its core niche. Either these labels just don’t have the necessary promotional power to expose their material to major outlets, or the majors still regard it as “that hippie shit.”

Undaunted, I decided to explore it the expensive way: buying a smattering of material for myself to check out. Of this splurge, I naturally picked up another release from the label responsible for Flowjob’s release, Iboga Records; much of this buzz seems to be centred around their output anyways. As for why I chose this particular release by Perfect Stranger, it was merely a random choice; more fun that way (heh).

The man behind Perfect Stranger, Yuli Fershtat, has been in the psy scene for a while now, mostly producing full-on styled stuff as BLT. I can’t say I’ve heard any of that material but perhaps that’s a good thing. This way, I’m getting the good ol’ fresh perspective on Yuli’s new project without drawing from previous work for comparison.

As for his Perfect Stranger material, it would seem Yuli has done his homework on what constitutes the progressive sound. The tracks on Learning = Change are not to be confused with the twinkly stuff produced by Andy Moor or Markus Schulz. Nor is it all that similar to the older prog house and trance that was popular in the mid-90s. Rather, the closest comparison would be the brooding style John Digweed was playing out at the turn of the century, with some psy styling sprinkled in here and there. If you aren’t familiar with Digweed’s darker sound, it had the distinction of being very minimal, very groove-centric, and highly un-melodic. So, if you need your hooks readily apparent in your music, you may want to pass on this release.

The remaining question then, is from which angle should I approach Learning = Change: psy going prog, or prog going psy? The aptly titled opener, Starter, is as clear as any indication on what Yuli is aiming for. The track is as proggy as prog gets, with rhythmic layers, dubby effects, synthy washes, and other assorted sounds gradually building upon one another. A definite hook emerges around the four minute mark -a pulsing synth melody- but don’t expect it to carry Starter for the duration; it’s more of a tantalizing tease before heading back into the groove again to take us out. Still, Starter is a decent track to, um, start the album on.

Dr. Feelgood takes us into deeper pastures. Don’t expect this track to lead you by the hand. Most of the dubby sounds and groovy rhythms tend to remain unassuming as things play out, letting the listener discover the musical nuances themself. Of course, that’s the optimist’s stance. A pessimist would probably write Dr. Feelgood off as boring, droning wank. Being the cheery guy I am, I’ll go with the former. It’s still your call though.

Retaining this atmosphere is Morning Blues, but this track brings in grittier sound effects, dubby synth pulses, and female samples. The subtle melodies are also easier to pick out thanks to the sparseness of everything at work, but again they won’t leap out at you, nor build to a big climax.

Having gotten the mellow groovers out of the way, Yuli gets the prog party started with Those Days. The rhythms are more punctual, the bassline more driving, and the sounds a bit fiercer. This track also makes ample use of simple, looping hooks layering on top of each other, effectively drawing you into a rhythmic trance. To counter the menacing sounds used, a little twinkly hook peaks its head every so often. It all sounds good, right? Well, there’s just one problem: the rhythms aren’t as gripping as Those Days’ elements seem to indicate they should be. Consequently, the listener may lose interest when the hooks aren’t in action (which happens all too frequently in the second half).

Hyperdrive fixes this problem. By establishing the main hook -a looping, brooding synthesized little number- right from the get-go, the focus tends to shift towards Yuli’s use of rhythms. Always layered and evolving throughout the track, it also helps they are catchier, sucking you into their tribal dance. With all the cards laid out early, Hyperdrive doesn’t create a sense of anxious anticipation for a big payoff, thus allowing you to just enjoy the trip.

The same can be said for Truth. A plinky arpeggio is established early on; although not settling for simple loops this time out, Yuli manages to embellish it with various effects and complementary hooks while the rhythms work and build around it. The silky smooth production on this track adds a touch of class found in many a typical Renaissance release. Er... not that Perfect Stranger hasn’t been classy thus far, but the psy trappings have been lurking in most of these tracks, which can frighten your average prog head. Anyhow, moving on.

Yuli seems to have realized he’s at his strongest when letting the rhythms dictate the direction of his songs, so for his final two tracks, he does just that. Nobody’s Perfect makes wonderful use of building percussion and groovin’ basslines. Stuttery sounds and effects only add to the tribal energy to be had. The song is structured around a ‘double-build’, where all the elements will peak out halfway through, recede for a bit, and build back up to finish out. Very infectious.

Similarly, Desert Session lays the tribal feel on thicker, allowing the rhythms to worm and wind their way through a dizzying dance of percussion and bass. A collaboration with Wouter Thomassen (aka Zen Mechanics), you get an added element during these rhythmic builds which is irresistible: acid. Specifically, it is of the chunky, hollow sort, but is there to serve the rhythms as needed. And serve them well they do indeed.

There’s also a bonus track here, a remix Yuli did for Yoni Oshrat, otherwise known as Schatsi. It certainly has a different feel to it than the rest of this album, in that Radio Schatsi is, dare I say it, old school trance. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say it kind of reminds me of some DJ Dag material: stuttery synths, simple reverb on the percussion, ‘Speak ‘N’ Spell’ samples, etc. While not the most riveting example of this sound, it is still quality, and a worthy ‘add-on’ to max out the CD’s space.

The main attraction on this album is still Yuli’s own material though, and he has crafted a lovely little prog album here. With each track easily segueing into the next, the rhythmic flow of Learning = Change is on a constant climb, with Desert Session the definite peak of it. However, an apparent lack of accessible hooks does make this album a bit difficult to dive into without dedicated attention payed to it. Perhaps frustratingly, some of the synthy pulses that peak their head every so often hint at the potential for some killer hooks had Yuli decided to go that route.

Still, if this nitpick isn’t much of a concern to you, then Learning = Change will serve prog heads just fine. The underground continues to thrive.

Score: 7/10

Morning Blues
Desert Session

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

Things I've Talked About

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