Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Terra Ferma - Turtle Crossing (2016 Update)

Platipus: 1997

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

And finally this CD. Turtle Crossing is the last time I’ll be doing a full 20xx Update post for some time now, in no small part because my current alphabetical backlog is ridonkulus-yuuge, looking at a ten week trip through it all. How did that happen? I didn’t even take on anyone’s collection! Well, unless you count raiding used shops. More than that though, I’m almost through the CDs from this blog’s initial, aborted run. I posted eighty-nine reviews during that time, and with this one, have done forty-two 20xx Updates. About twenty-one of those original posts will never see an update, as I no longer have the releases associated with them – not surprising since a good chunk of ‘em were singles promptly deleted from my harddrive soon after (gotta’ save on that 2.3GB of space!). That leaves a grand total of just twelve more 20xx Updates after this, a ‘milestone’ that I’ll probably reach… oh, next year, maybe. Ha-ha, hah …I’m never finishing this project, am I.

Okay, enough statsing; we’re here to hear music, not crunch numbers. And playing Turtle Crossing again, yeah, she still holds up, though there was little doubt she wouldn’t. Whatever ‘dated’ aspects you might level against Terra Ferma’s debut album would have been the same nitpicks I highlighted in my original review for TranceCritic, so if you need to read them, click the linky above. No, trust me, there are some actual critiques in all those words. You just have to dig for them, sifting through the dry prose like they’re the gritty gravel and stones of so much frozen, alpine wastes. Mind the yeti though; he’s cantankerous at times.

As there’s not much else to say regarding Turtle Crossing, here’s some interesting details about the man behind Terra Ferma that I’ve since unearthed. I mentioned how Claudio Giussani was also an initial member of Union Jack with Simon Berry, and while the two no longer collaborate, Giussani did provide a few remixes for some of Berry’s recent Art Of Trance material. For some reason though, he used a completely new alias of Kaukuta for the rubs. What, is Terra Ferma locked into some legal limbo? Maybe, since those Art Of Trance singles came out on Porcupine Records, the short-lived successor to the original Platipus print. More recently though, Berry re-relaunched his old label as Platipus Music, and has been in the process of making the label’s entire original catalog available again. Sadly, Turtle Crossing remains among the missing albums, but you can get a mail-order CDr, if you so desire a hardcopy.

Finally, a tidbit of pre-Platipus information regarding Mr. Giussani that totally blew my mind upon learning it. Before he discovered acid and trance, ol’ Claudio had his hand in the early UK hardcore scene. Par for the course with lots of producers, but his partner behind the console was none other than jungle legend Aphrodite, working under the name Urban Shakedown. I honestly can’t even with that info drop!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Various - Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 3) (Original TC Review)

Turbo: 2002

(2016 Update:
And so concluded one of my first attempts at a series retrospective. Not that I'd planned for it. Come to think of it, why
did I even carry on reviewing these? The first one was a Random Review, true, but I cannot for the life of me recall the reason for taking on the second volume a year later. Slow month, maybe? For sure that's why I went into Vol. 3 half a year later, plus it just made sense to wrap that up since it was one of the few compilations series that I did have a complete set of. I've since gathered a few more.

While I know Turbo only puts out CDs for their top-billed albums (if even that), it's a shame they don't still do these
Studio Sessions. It was a wonderful way of bringing to light the unheralded underground gems that fall through the cracks, all the while breaking new artists and sounds. The label still maintains a finger on the pulse of hot house and techno, so why not keep something like this series on the market, maybe even as a digital option? Eh, they do have one, called Turbo #Beatport Decade? Alrighty then; hard copies, NAOW!)

IN BRIEF: Electroclash at its finest.

For the few years Tiga’s little-label-that-could grew in prominence, it had played things safe with the underground crowd - house, techno, eclectic DJ mixes: all tried and tested fields with hipsters. Then, seemingly overnight, Turbo’s focus changed, fully embracing the sounds of electroclash coming out of Europe right at the cusp of that scene’s breakout. The shift hinted at Turbo growing assured enough to be a leader rather than a follower. What they would need then, was big singles tied to their name.

It wouldn’t be enough for them to merely import DJ Hell’s label either. If Turbo was to cement itself as a label to be reckoned with, they would have to bring fresh material of their own rather than ride on International Deejay Gigolo’s coattails. Tiga’s cover of Corey Hart’s Sunglasses At Night was a start, but with a scene ripe with innovation and potential, surely there would be more. With their third Studio Sessions compilation, Turbo found the perfect outlet to introduce the next wave of nu-new wave artists.

Looking at this release’s tracklist today, there seems to be a fair number of obvious electroclash hits. However, these were quite new in late 2002; only the most underground of collectors knew who acts like Black Strobe, LCD Soundsystem, and Chromeo were. Of course, within a year of Sessions 3 being released, tracks like Me & Madonna, The Biggest Fan, and Needy Girl were featured on more nouveau electro compilations than anyone can remember now. Does this make them any less endearing today? Not at all. These hits were good then and they still hold up today. And with that scene having gone by the wayside, you don’t have the annoying ‘currently overplayed’ factor impeding on your enjoyment of them.

Still, because they were such popular songs, you can find them on any similarly themed compilation. Your decision on whether you should pick-up Sessions 3 in the here and now will be decided on how the supporting cast handles itself. Let’s take a look-see then.

Although a few tracks retain some of Turbo’s older eclecticism, (most notably the first two cuts), this is mainly an electroclash compilation - but that’s a rather ambiguous term, then and now. More specifically, Sessions 3 features a smorgasbord of styles that got tagged with the catch-all buzzword: disco punk, synth-pop, art-dance. In general, if it contained elements of electro and playful narcissism, you were electroclash whether you liked it or not. Tracks like Mt. Sims’ Escape Hatch, Plastique de Reve’s Rodeo Mechanique, and Sean Kosa’s Spaceship hold such quirkiness, but aren’t endearing examples. Better off is the pure electro from Lowfish’s Dark Matter, and an indie-rockish Fujiya & Miyagi track.

A major standout though (and surprising choice these days) is pre-Time Magazine interviewees Scissor Sisters, who’s irresistible faux-workout romp Electrobix conjures up the silliest moments of 80s workout videos. Who would have ever guessed this act would blow up the way they did a year later? Perhaps Tiga did, which makes the inclusion of their debut single on Sessions 3 look genius by hipster standards. And speaking of Tiga (again), his remix of Crossover’s Phostographt also fits the ‘so campy, it’s great’ bill nicely, as it displays the graceful yet devilishly playful streak in his productions.

Meanwhile, with Turbo’s fortunes looking good, Tiga started up a couple sub-labels, both of which have material featured on a disc each. Their criteria was focused on specific styles rather than the broader strokes Turbo’s singles often released.

The shortest lived of these sub-labels was Fabergé. In fact, almost all of its total output can be found here, as only two singles were ever made: Chromeo’s She’s So Gangsta (of which the Playgroup instrumental is included) and Shawn Ward’s Street Smart EP (with two groovy tech-house cuts offered). Peter Benisch’s Song For A Heart (as Bifrost) never saw a release beyond this compilation, which is a shame as the track is hauntingly lovely, and shouldn’t be left buried in obscurity.

White Leather held out a little longer but it too eventually went by the wayside. The tracks offered in this sub-label’s name are more interesting, as they mostly fall under that pure electro umbrella of sound, with 808 drum machine programming, under-produced synths, and heavy vocoder usage (DMX Krew and Sean Kosa exempt in this case). The instrumental cuts from D’Arcangelo and Jordan Dare are fun, but Neonwerk and Peter Benisch (as FPU this time) steal the show with their moody soundscapes and mesmerizing vocoder work. Strangely enough, neither of their tracks would see a proper White Leather release, although Seven Of Nine did appear on the full-length FPU Turbo release while Neonwerk had their own label Star Whores anyway (heh... gotta’ love that euro-trashiness).

While Sessions 3 doesn’t contain the stylistic variety of the previous releases, it is probably the best of all three. It’s rare for a two-disc compilation to remain as tightly focused as this one does, but there is an amazing amount of variety to be had despite sticking to a very similar sound throughout. Of course, if that whole electroclash sound never appealed to you, you probably won’t get much out of this release. If you do enjoy the kitschy side of electronic music though, then seek out this little gem of a compilation. There’s enough balance between big hits and classy unknowns to draw in both the casual and the ardent music collector.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved.

Various - Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 2) (Original TC Review)

Turbo: 2001

(2016 Update:
A reasonable length? Using descriptive events rather than dry detail to cover music within? Actual readable content rather than rambly word salads? I didn't think 2006 Sykonee had it in him, yet here he was, finally getting his act together in providing material of much higher quality than what came before. Erm, and was still ahead, if I'm honest. And yeah, the opening couple paragraphs are woefully redundant now, but that second half, is that ever a fun read.

Definitely felt a strong surge of inspiration with this one, so many good tunes from unexpected names throughout this CD. Shame that its such an obscure release, even by Turbo standards, as the label's DJ mixes continued outshining the scant compilations. With unheralded, overlooked tracks from Adam Beyer, Joel Mull, Shawn Ward, and Jori Hulkkonen on here, its like the ultimate mixtape from Tiga. Not to mention the lone contribution from THE VANDAL! Man, we needed more electroclashy covers of U2, did we ever.)

IN BRIEF: The times, they were changin' (at Turbo).

Turbo’s track record had been practically flawless when this came out, building up a solid reputation for ace DJ mixes of mostly house music (with a little techno and, *gasp*, even a d’n’b one!). There was a sense of change abundant in the little-Canadian-label-that-could though, as Tiga was apparently smitten by a new wave of EDM. Although this change could mostly be felt in the tone of Turbo’s musical manifesto, it also became apparent ambitions were growing as well. No longer content in providing great DJ mixes, the label was showing greater emphasis on pushing original productions.

Not that Turbo didn’t promote such material here and there, but as a fledgling label aiming for recognition based on DJ talent, such releases hardly registered. Despite the quality of the track selection in their first Studio Sessions, it didn’t quite have the diversity needed to break from the pack. It was a safe compilation, going with what worked to earn hip points with the press, mainly soulful house and Detroit techno with touches of funk and minimal to spice it up.

Vol. 2 of this series sees Turbo a little bit wiser, a little more self-assured ...and a whole lot more eclectic. While some of the same styles of music return in this follow-up, there’s plenty of new faces mixing in: dub, trip-hop, acid, micro-house, breaks, swing jazz, ambient, and some (at the time) new-fangled thing called ‘electroclash’. Quite a bold move, that last one, as this new sound was still relegated to ‘super hipster underground’ status at this point. There was no bandwagon to jump on yet, and who knew if the Turbo faithful would buy into it?

Actually, that’s a silly question. A label like Turbo doesn’t build up a winning reputation by taking chances their fanbase won’t buy into. Their fans often gave them the freedom to surprise them with something different, and very rarely would Turbo let that trust fail. In fact, Studio Session 2 comes across as something more than a simple collection of tunes: rather, this sounds like a love-letter to the Turbo faithful. Tiga and co. take their followers on an exquisite night out on the city, allowing the listener to tag along in their zany adventures to find the perfect beat.

With a smile and a twinkle in the eye, the compilation kicks off with Good Life, a fun little romp of jazzy rhythms and effect washes. As we head out into the night, we’re taken on a pre-amble cruise through deep house vibes and dubby delights care of Brommage Dub, Shawn Ward, and Snaporaz. It’s like snacking on fine sushi in a post-modern lounge while sipping on a fancy drink with a few too many curls in the straw (for irony’s sake, of course). You can practically smell the hipster cologne in the air.

But this is merely the warm-up, the initial stretch. Slightly uneasy tones are heard from elsewhere (courtesy of The Whisper by Hijack), hinting at possible sinister shenanigan to be found away from these cosmopolitan surroundings. Fearlessly, we enter the underground where the wicked techno of Jori Hulkkonen’s Wispers greats us with infectiously grooving rhythms and out-of-tune synth strings. OH! AND ACID!! LOVE THE BRIEF SQUIGGLY BITS OF ACID!!!

Jori’s electro romp is about as fun as this underground techno adventure gets though, as these next couple of tracks are serious business. Joel Mull does give us some murky funky flair over shuffling rhythms but Adam Beyer takes no prisoners in his downtempo track Those Funny Moments: thick beats sludge along as unsettling string swells and paranoid droid noises wrap you up in a suffocating mechanical menace. You can practically feel the grime on those cold, concrete warehouse walls.

The underground’s all fine and dandy for a while, but it’s time to head back out and cruise the streets once more, this time with a sense of playfulness as we reflect on the night. The ADNY track is interesting, but not particularly enduring. However, attempting to resist the White Linen remix of Crockett’s Theme is, um, futile. Between fey plucky synths and a bubbly bassline over tinny electro-breaks, this remix is filled to the rim with witty charm.

However, the night runs long, and it’s time to head back home and unwind. Throw on some easy downtempo vibes (Swayzak’s State of Grace); work on that quirky sounding cover of a U2 song that could be the beginnings of a hot new genre called electroclash (New Year’s Day, as done by Tiga and Jori going by The Vandal); finally be swept up in ambient bliss as you lie down to bed with a content smile of a night well spent (Peter Benisch’s Love Theme).

Okay, so maybe you won’t get all that out of Studio Sessions Vol. 2 as I did. For all I know, you may treat this compilation completely on the straight and narrow, as nothing more than a solid collection of rare releases from a Canadian label that got lucky with some choice singles and a breakout star. As that, you really can’t go wrong with this release. It’s got diversity, it’s got class, it’s got head noddin’ bits, catchy bits, and moving bits - all the things you’d expect from Turbo, really. Check it out and see where this music will take you.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Various - Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 1) (2016 Update)

Turbo: 1999

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

And now this CD. Series too, though I thankfully don’t have to write a full 2016 Update for all three volumes of Turbo Studio Sessions. It’s gonna’ be difficult enough doing just this one, as almost all the information you could possibly want or need to know was dealt with in the original review. And I’ve gone on and on and on (with the halcyon!) recounting how the Turbo of old had very little to do with the Turbo you knew or would come to know – label’s done some evolution during its near two-decade life. Heck, even a redone rundown might come off redundant, as it feels like I’ve talked about Thomas Krome’s The Real Jazz and Isolée’s Beau Mot Plage a few times now. Though credit where it’s due, Turbo Studio Sessions, Vol. 1 is about the only place you’ll find these particular remixes from Erot and DJ Q, respectably. It’s all about those exclusive cuts, yo’.

Not too exclusive, mind you, though Turbo certainly gathered tracks well off the beaten path. The dubby, minimal groover Bad Hair Day Theorem vs. Swayzak came from a M_nus record early in that print’s lifespan. While Steve Bug would go on to a steady, prosperous career in minimal tech-house, his partner Acid Maria for the track Down With Us was one of the last things she ever produced. Funny enough, the label it first came out on, Steve Bug’s Raw Elements print, also folded shortly after releasing that record. Lehner & Biebl, who’s slinky electro cut Bobby R. showed hints of Turbo’s burgeoning taste for electroclash (not even a thing yet!), also disappeared shortly after this.

And as for poor Nytolbooth, this and a previous Turbo sampler CD are his lone entries within Lord Discogs. Or hers? Robot, mayhaps, what with that ambient electro thing going on with Orange. What’s funny is, within this CD’s inlay, a little blurb mentions Nytolbooth was due to drop a Turbo album the following year, but clearly that never happened. The closest any album within the label’s catalog that sounded like this particular track is Peter Benisch’s work, and I’m one-hundred and four percent certain this is not Peter Benisch (my brain’s margin of error is around seven percent). With no name and no further mention with Lord Discogs’ archives of ‘Nytolbooth’, the alias’ identity remains one of Turbo’s longest mysteries. Maybe I should ask Tiga, if I happen across his path in the future. Yes, I’d totally waste an Ask One Question chance on something so inconsequential!

Other names on this compilation carried on for tidy careers in the ensuing decade, but the works of Hans Nieswand, Universal Tongues, and Turner essentially disappear after that. DKMA, also known as Callisto and Krimp, but as Dana Kelley to the boys at a Boston pub where everyone knows your name, sadly died in 2013. No rhyme, no reason, just unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 49. No words now, just peace…

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Various - Tunnel Trance Force Vol. 30 (2016 Update)

Tunnel Records: 2004

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

So these CDs. Or singular CD, if I’m honest, having lost Disc 1 some time ago. Right, I ‘technically’ never had Tunnel Trance Force 30 in the first place, as this was a ‘special request’ review from TranceCritic’s ‘man in charge’, the chap who early-on always got us poor ‘writers’ promoting contemporary hard ‘trance’. Fool, only old-school hard trance is worthy of my ears, but sure, I did the deed; with increasing levels of ludicrous hyperbole should you brave all them words and stuff. Since I resided on the West Coast though, and he on the East Coast, the only means of music request procurement entailed digital transfers via internet tube connection. Yeah yeah, big surprise TC’s ‘promos’ weren’t always ‘legal’, but when you’re scraping from the ‘bottom’, some ‘corners’ had to be ‘cut’. I’m in a very ‘apostrophatic’ mood this afternoon.

Anyway, I burned the two mixes to CDr, listened to them a couple times, got that review out, then figured I’d never play them again, collecting dust on a spindle of forgotten burns. Then along comes a better computer into my life, with actual storage capacity. And I thinks to myself all those forgotten burns on a dusty spindle, I may as well shove ‘em on this newer-fangled technology, despite odds of a replay being a shade above zero. Is there a cure for OCD yet?

Strangely, my CD1 burn of Tunnel Trance Force 30 disappeared on me, and I have no idea of how that happened. It’s not like I ever brought these out for a casual play …at least, not to any sober recollection of mine. Shame, because I might have even enjoyed disc one a bit, what with a few of the better hard trance names included on there (Cosmic Gate, DuMonde, Kindervater, Marc Et Claude). Wait a minute… *re-reads original TranceCritic review* Nope, I was wrong – I’d definitely still dislike it.

That still leaves us with CD2 though, titled 30.2 Mix. Cannot deny there’s some initial fun having all these hard trance and pseudo-hardstyle bosh tracks assaulting my ears, but yeah, the gimmick wears old fast, and I’ve checked out after that lone decent cut in Power To The People. Breakbeats, man, is there no genre they can’t make better?

When I first discovered Tunnel Trance Force had hit its thirtieth volume, I couldn’t help but marvel at its durability. 2005 Sykonee, you hadn’t seen anything yet, the series lasting all the way to a seventy-first edition before it folded in 2014. Holy cow, I had no clue hard trance of this sort was even being made for that long with any consistency! Yeah, it actually wasn’t, Tunnel Trance Force succumbing to the ‘big room’ anthem house schlock so many trance companies tried adapting into their repertoire to stay relevant. Seems such bandwagon hopping was met with incredible ‘resistance’ though, dedicated followers none too pleased, effectively ending Tunnel Trance Force with indignant shame. I LOL’d.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Tragically Hip - Trouble At The Henhouse

MCA Records: 1996

We always assumed they’d be around, consistently making affable alternative rock for the bars and the hockey stadiums and the mega-Canadian events. They’re like that reliable Mom-N-Pop deli shop in your neighborhood that could make a perfect pea and bacon soup, or sports store that still sold that one brand of curling broom. You never needed them in your life, but somehow felt enriched by having The Tragically Hip there, something to return to whenever the Want presented itself. And upon hearing of lead singer Gordon Downie’s terminal brain cancer, and how The Hip’s current tour would be their last with him, every Canadian suddenly found themselves in want of returning to the band’s music. Even those who’d only had passing interest (*cough*) tuned in for their final performance together in Kingston, Ontario. While it’s entirely possible The Hip could carry on as a band without Downie, it’s difficult imagining so, the man such an integral part of what made The Hip who they were. Without those poetic tales of common clay under unusual circumstances, they’d never have wooed such a large swath of Canadians finding some connection within their songs.

See, this is what I’m writing about. Who really cares about this singular, twenty year old album of The Tragically Hip when this band that so many of my countrymen adore may have just played their last ever concert! It overshadows everything else in the here-and-now, unlike way back in Spring 2014 (!) when I wrote my first couple reviews of them. I’ll give it the ol’ college try though.

Trouble At The Henhouse was the follow-up to their most critically acclaimed record, Day For Night. The band was probably at the peak of their popularity by the mid-‘90s, and this album quickly capitalized on that, scoring them one of their only Number One hits in this country with lead single Ahead By A Century. Yeah, funny thing about The Hip is, while their LPs typically did gang-busters on the Canadian charts, the singles seldom ever cracked Top 10. Anyway, it’s easy to hear why Ahead By A Century would finally do the damage, a pleasant folksy ditty with a heavier bridge near the end, and instantly catchy lyrics like “And that’s when the hornet stung me; And I had a feverish dream.” The song that always catches my ears though, is Butts Wigglin, though probably entirely due to its use in the Kids In The Hall movie, Brain Candy. (and, um, that title)

Quite a few songs off this album made the rounds on Canadian radio (Gift Shop, Springtime In Vienna, Flamenco), while others get heavier (Coconut Cream, Let’s Stay Engaged) or bluesy (Sherpa, Put It Off). Trouble At The Henhouse doesn’t really offer much new from The Hip though, and the band would start a very long slide into MOR rock territory after this. Enough memorable tunes lurk here that it’s still in discussion as Essential Hip, but probably the least as such from their ‘90s heyday.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 (2016 Update)

Epic: 1993

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

This CD, too. Truly, one of the earliest examples of artist hubris in dance music culture. Either that, or this was the true musical style of Jam & Spoon, and Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 was the commercial sell-out to earn those sweet chart-topping dolla’ bills so they had artistic freedom from there on out. Considering the sort of music Misters Ellmer and Löffel continued making after this, however, I’m kinda’ going with the former. More pop pieces on future albums Kaleidoscope and Tripomatic Fairytales 3003. Happy hardcore as Tokyo Ghetto Pussy. And let’s not forget Jam’s various commercial projects prior and concurrent with his work alongside Markus. Nay, these chaps definitely had their ears trained for the pop end of the dance music spectrum, making Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 all the more an anomaly within their mutual discographies.

That they always had these ideas floating in their heads but never the commercial clout to see them blossom until this album is the most likely scenario. Another possibility is they were specifically commissioned to make a record of experimental ambient and dub, an utterly daft theory until you realize they initially had a record deal with seminal Belgium techno print R & S Records. Obviously they had greater success with German print Dance Pool, but the first Jam & Spoon EPs - Tales From A Danceographic Ocean and The Complete Stella - were with R & S. Fast forward to Album Time, and that deal is still in effect, Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 released by R & S within Belgium while Dance Pool dealt with the rest of Europe; Epic handled N. American distribution. You may recall R & S also had a spiffy new sub-label called Apollo, dealing with that new-fangled ‘ambient techno’ genre one Aphex Twin practically invented. Lo and behold, here’s Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 coming out on said sub-label within Belgium. The theory fits! Meanwhile, Dance Pool handled the rest of Europe’s copies, and N. America never got one, because who on this continent would ever be interested in druggy ambient from a pair of German euro-dance and trance producers (me, me!).

Given the more leftfield pieces on 2001 and the way out of field pieces on 2002, one question does keep nagging my mind: who was the overriding muse between these two? I’ve no doubt Jam & Spoon had a fair bit of creative synergy between the two of them, but a lot of the psychedelia involved here strikes me as a singular source of inspiration. While I can see both collaborating on the lengthy tracks like N.A.S.A. Nocturnal Audio Sensory Awakening and I Saw The Future, a totally experimental piece like LSD Nikon or meditative ambience of Salinas Afternoon had to have been the work of one or the other. But who, I wonder, and where they’d even get their ideas from in the first place. Can’t deny I’d love to meet Mr. El Mar just to ask that. Also, what the deal is with that omelet track.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 (2016 Update)

Dance Pool/Epic: 1993/1994

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

And this CD. One of the earliest attempts at bridging the trance-pop gap. Also a bizarre blend of hypnotic German techno and sun-kissed beatnik Balearic vibes. Not to mention among the first trance albums I purchased for myself, though Dance 2 Trance’s Moon Spirits beat it to my primeval collection by at least a year. Still, I thought I was buying a euro-dance CD with the DJ Dag project, whereas I’d just started my trance indoctrination with Tripomatic Fairytales 2001, willing to take a risk on an LP full of unfamiliar tunes - Follow Me and their Age Of Love remix was about all I knew from them. And hoo, was it an ear-opener, going in weird, unexpected places that even folks already familiar with big singles Right In The Night and Stella were wondering just what the duo were smokin’ in their studio.

Clearly I was too young to know much about the European club scene Jam & Spoon were a part of, and there’s scant reports of initial impression from punters purchasing Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 hot off the shelves. I can guess they were expecting more of the recognizable hits, so how did folks react to the electro-tribal thump of Heart Of Africa as an opener? It took me by surprise only because I wasn’t well versed in much of anything these guys had done yet. Was this track a crazy double-take for those familiar with even their early, charmingly titled techno B-side My First Fantastic F.F.?

Interludes. Skits. How many dance albums did this way back when? Some brief instrumental pieces or drum loops, sure, but spoken word peices like Muffled Drums and Who Opened The Door To Nowhere were a rarity, especially for a supposed trance (or pop) record. Nor did Misters Mar and Spoon skimp on throwing whatever struck their muses into the pot. Ultra long builders like Odyssey To Anyoona and Path Of Harmony, standard (for the time) trance numbers in Nuerotrance Adventure and Paradise Garage, or indulging some ethnic sounds with Zen Flash Zen Bones and Earth Spirit.

Hey, I mentioned way back when that there were many different version of Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 - let’s delve into those! The original-original version had an additional interlude called Operation Spaceship Earth, mostly of orbiting sounds and giggling children. Yeah, I can hear why this was jettisoned for Find Me in the re-issues. A couple years after though, they jettisoned Zen Flash Zen Bones to add another new single with Plavka, euro-cheeseball Ibizan tune Angel (Ladadi O-Heyo). This was not such a good move, and was removed for the 2010 re-issue, along with Find Me. Operation Spaceship Earth was reinstated though, and brought along a bunch of vintage bonus remixes and the epic Follow Me. Huh, you could have gotten that track on a 1993 limited edition version vinyl release, along with The Tribe and all the Tripomatic tracks arranged in a different order. Bet that one fetches a handsome fee on the open market.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Various - A Trip In Trance 4: Mixed By Rank 1 (2016 Update)

Hi-Bias Records: 2005

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

So this CD. What, you thought we were done with trance? Hah, not in the slightest, a fair percentage still left in the tail end of the ‘T’s. Come to think of it, there’s a heavy amount of Updates coming up too. Man, what was it with those early TranceCritic days that had me reviewing so many ‘T’ albums? What indeed...

I’m surprised how much A Trip In Trance 4 has held up. I only ever bought the damn thing as a lark, a promo sticker promising “the true sound of Trance” providing an easy angle to get my rant on. And while I naturally knew Rank 1 and recognized a few names by scene osmosis, a good portion of the track list was still unknown to me; my expectations were brutal-low. I wasn’t expecting something on par with that dreadful Trance V.oice 2 compilation, but I couldn’t comprehend something much better, what with Hi-Bias Records behind the CD. Who even is this label anyway?

Only one of the longest running house music prints in Canada, 2005 Sykonee you git. True, they mostly stuck to the vinyl industry, and very few of their records ever went on to be hits featured on the premier compilations of the ‘90s, but I do recall seeing a few releases of theirs back when: Club Hi-Bias – Climax, Rhythm Formula… um… Well, whatever the case, fortunes favored Hi-Bias in the ‘00s, the print expanding their franchise into several A Trip Into… compilations, including six volumes of A Trip In Trance, each with a sexay lady on the front in progressively near state of nudity. Seriously, the final one is a backshot of the model in her panties, but ooh, still classy B+W stylee!

It was a fun diversion again hearing charming cheese like Alt + F4, Ernesto vs. Bastian’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and Benjamin Bates’ Whole (plus that kick-ass True Fiction from Jan Gustafsson!), but I got more of a kick in digging into the various names on here and where their careers went. For instance, you’ve got way early efforts from Sander van Doorn, John O’Callaghan, and Leon Bolier, some still operating under aliases. Doorn did use quite a few different guises around this time, ‘Sandler’ only good for two records. Damn though, does Theme Song ever remind you how he was projected as one of trance’s future stars. Well, they got the ‘future star’ part right. Bolier almost had just as big a breakout, though Pulsar as Precursor isn’t as good as Theme Song.

On the flipside, its weird seeing several other acts on here amount to little after this. Releases from Jan Gustafsson, Rachael Starr, Hemstock & Jennings, and Jesselyn dry up shortly after. Others took some time finding their footing, such as Airbase, or re-emerged as solo artists. For instance, Joonas Hahmo (of Alt+F4), and that Rank 1 member that technically didn’t mix this CD. I hear he’s been making good bank ghost-writing Armin tunes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Akshan - The Tree Of Life

Altar Records: 2012

When exactly did Altar Records get their break? Was there positive buzz right from inception? They certainly had enough talent on hand to give them a solid foundation, though much of it was on loan from established prints, names that had already made a mark elsewhere. Truth is when I browse through the label’s early catalog, I don’t see many standout releases beyond the key acts that went on to become staples (AstroPilot, E-Mantra, DJ Zen ‘natch). I didn’t come around to Altar until way late, and most folks I knew didn’t either. Something had to be that trigger though, a catalyst in gaining more eyes beyond early adopters. Seems this debut from Akshan is often pointed towards as one such contender, an album catching the ears of many who’d never even heard of Altar before. Looking at other releases from the label about that time (Solar Walk 2, When Mars Meets Venus, Silence, Fruits Of Imagination re-up), yeah, I suspect mid-2012 gave a good bump for the boys from Quebec.

Akshan more commonly goes by the name of Vincent Grenier, but Lord Discogs doesn’t give much more information than that. Nor does it reveal any prior work to this one, The Tree Of Life not only his debut record on Altar, but debut period. He apparently spent some time honing his craft in the years prior though, a practice that paid off when he finally struck a deal with Altar. For if this LP truly is his first offerings made available to the public, The Tree Of Life is a darn slick first impression. I’d expect nothing less of someone stating Ultimae as an influence.

Mr. Grenier also states Juno Reactor as an act taken cues from. I can hear that, Akshan leaning rather tribal compared to Altar’s usual fare, though not in any overt manner. Tracks like Jungle Fever and Back To The Origin mostly stick to the widescreen prog-psy stylee Altar consistently dishes out, but throws in more sounds and rhythms that recall some of Ben Watkins’ heavier moments. Elsewhere, Adagio For The Braves has a breakdown that features the famous Chief Joseph “I will fight no more forever” speech, though not to as great effect as Peyote’s use of it if I’m honest. Still, that melody after… damn…

As for the rest of The Tree Of Life, it’s an Altar Records album. Um, I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Most tracks follow a similar template of moody, ambient build, establish a slow n’ steady prog pulse, grow in intensity with subtle swirly, trancey sounds, finally peaking out with a lengthy, cinematic piece at the end. Angels Never Cry has spritely melodies, Symphonic Tendencies indulges the acid along with orchestral swells, Eternity uses stuttering voice pads, and final track Waiting For You features an extended symphonic denouement. There honestly isn’t much variation between tracks but if you fancy your prog-psy and chill with a melancholic flavor, you’ll definitely enjoy The Tree Of Life.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

FPU - Traxxdata

Turbo: 2003

I liked Soundtrack Saga, but didn’t become as big a fan of Peter Benisch’s work until hearing this album. It blew my mind that someone who could craft such lush, expansive downtempo and ambient music, then completely flip the script and offer up something so charmingly retro, quirky, and kitsch. That’s not to say artists are incapable of exploring radically differing styles of music, but it’s typically not done, most content with remaining inside the lane they’re most proficient at. And even if they do reach beyond their comfort zones, it’s even rarer they contribute something unique to whatever genre they’re exploring. That’s why it’s not only remarkable that Benisch went and made an ode to the electro and synth music of the ‘80s, but excelled at it at a time when everyone was doing the same!

No, wait, that’s not entirely accurate. The early ‘00s had everyone jumping on the electroclash bandwagon, which took ‘80s ideas but twisted them upon itself. It was the only way to remain cool while also being blatantly retro, see. Traxxdata isn’t electroclash though. Even the track that kicked the FPU project off, Crockett’s Theme, is as respectful an ode to the original Jan Hammer piece as anyone’s crafted. True, Tiga took that track and turned the kitsch to eleven for Ocean Drive, but that track isn’t on here. About the only other tune off Traxxdata that reaches similar ‘relive decadent Miami’ vibes is second single Racer Car, what with camp lyrics of “Cruising fast, in your racer car, in the night; You look so fine, you look so good, in the night.” I also feel this is one of the weaker cuts, though still having a solid, techno pulse going for it.

The rest of the album flirts between proper-grim electro (Calabi Yau Space, In The Future With Machines, FPU Theme) and peppy synthwave numbers. Wait, what? Synthwave? Isn’t that a relatively new development? Yeah, mostly, though I’m sure you could point to the odd outlier making deliberate throwback soundtrack music at any point in the past two decades - like Traxxdata! Benisch made no secret of where he was drawing influence from, and just as every synthwave producer ever namedrops Jan Hammer, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and John Carpenter, so it also goes with FPU.

And hot damn, are there ever some tasty ‘80s earworms in here! You Don’t Pay My Bills is a delicious slice of robo synth-pop, having me hum lyrics I only half decipher. At the other end of Traxxdata, you’ll find Waiting For Snow, as close to an ‘electro-trance’ tune as I’ll ever allow being designated as such (shove off, Punk). Other tracks find Benisch indulging himself a little more, like a creepy ode to Seven Of Nine (that vocoder!), chipper jaunts across dimensions (Time Safari), and casual strolls through retro-future cities (Eastside Protection). The lone out-of-place track on Traxxdata is closer Endgame, and only because it sounds like a leftover from Soundtrack Saga instead. Worth! It!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Various - Traveler '03

Six Degrees Records: 2003

The only hope a label like Six Degrees Records could have at success is predicated upon a compilation series like their Travel CDs. Take a casual survey of their roster, and most likely you’ll draw a blank on seventy percent of them. I only familiarized myself with Six Degrees because Banco de Gaia found a new home there after his Planet Dog/Mammoth deal ended (prints going out of business will do that). And while I’ve since found a few interesting acts alongside him (dZihan & Kamien, DJ Cheb I Sabbah …The Orb!?), most draw a big ol’ blank from me. It’s my way-Western bias, see, forever limiting the sort of global exposure I could have at the tips of my earlobes. Names like Batidos, Niyaz, Issa Bagayogo, Cibelle, Ojos de Brujo, Bossacucanova, and Willy Porter are well outside my sphere of influence, and while Six Degrees’ manifesto is all about dropping some worldly musical knowledge on folks such as I, it’s all a bit much to take in for any but the most daring of global trekkers.

Hence the Travel series, a (mostly) annual compilation rounding up Six Degrees artists familiar and obscure as a showcase for the curious. Even a passing familiarity with the label should have folks weaned on the likes of Karsh Kale, MIDIval PunditZ, and Bob Holroyd, but who among thee know of Bobi Céspedes, Lumin, or Qwii Music Arts' Trust Khoi San Music? No, don’t lie, you’ve never heard that last one before, because this is the only place within Lord Discogs’ tome of knowledge it appears. Who even is Qwii Music Arts' Trust Khoi San Music? Fortunately, the inlay provides handy write-ups of the artists within. For this particular track of Xlao Tshao, we are told “These “Bushmen” of the Kalahari Desert and their music have evolved from 25,000 years of indigenous culture. They believe their music has the potential to heal their community through rhythm.” Well, that wasn’t much help at all. I could tell this was charming African-folk music just from hearing it, thank you very much.

That’s about the best way to take in Traveler ‘03 in, simply playing the CD back and hearing all the various cultures represented. And don’t worry about being too over-cultured, as Six Degrees’ main goal has always been about bridging these wide cultural gaps with easily-digested global grooves. Lots of downtempo dub, shufflin’ Afro-jazz, and even some braindancey breaks action care of Lumin’s Izgrala. MIDIval PunditZ’ Dark Escape has a brisk techno pulse going, while Ben Neill’s Bugfunk and Karsh Kale’s GK² isn’t a touch out of classic breaks, but with an ethnic twist.

And if all that isn’t enough of a bridge, there’s a bonus second CD with Traveler ‘03 of straight-up club remixes. Right, some of these are Latin clubs or jazz clubs, but house clubs too. Heck even Berghain jocks would rinse out that ultra-deep David Alvarado rub of Sylk 130’s Romeo’s Fate. How’d that get on here?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ed Rush & Optical - Travel The Galaxy (Original TC Review)

Virus Recordings: 2009

(2016 Update:
Deary me, but was this review ever a comedy of punctuation errors. Love that semi-colon any harder, 2009 Sykonee. This was a latter-era TranceCritic write-up too, so I should have known better than that. Maybe collegiate essay writing had gotten the better of me? Whatever the case, I've corrected a bunch of those eyesores, though not all - can't let me off on every past transgression. One that most
definitely needed amending was calling Ed Rush & Optical 'darkside'. Fool, they're tech-step, slowly morphing into darkstep. Trust me, if TC had a Junglist Oversight Committee, I'd have been fired on the spot for that one. (why would a trance website have such a committee...?)

This was Eddy and Optical's last record for quite some time, the duo finally returning to the LP market just this past year with No Cure. Naturally they kept busy in the interim, but fans were starved for a while, which gave
Travel The Galaxy ever increasing kudos for what it accomplished. It probably didn't hurt that darkstep saw something of a resurgence when 'drumstep' entered the scene, a hybrid of dubstep that freely took cues from darkstep's aggressive, attacking basslines. The two sub-genres mesh quite well together, many up-and-comer jocks playing ample amounts of both in their sets. I approve.)

IN BRIEF: Not much new, but so what?

In some ways, the backlash against ‘darkstep’ was the best thing for that sub-genre of drum’n’bass. Everyone was in agreement that the sound had grown overbearingly worn-out shortly after the turn of the century, which allowed the liquid funk camps to easily take over. Though the old guard that championed evil basslines and such never relented, all the imitators and band-wagoners were eventually cleared out, and ‘darkstep’ is now firmly back in the hands of the pioneers. Sadly, nearly all but the most dedicated has forgotten about them in the process.

There’s just been far too much time and new directions in the scene since seminal singles like Alien Girl sent partiers quivering into corners with fear. Neurofunk, rockin’ Pendulum… all that stuff Ed Rush & Optical spearheaded and nurtured with guys like Technical Itch and Dieselboy seems quite old hat today, a relic of a by-gone era when their scene was quite willing to suffocate on its self-created abyss. Folks needed an escape and by golly, the Hospital crew, Soul:r, and, er, Pendulum were willing to offer some respite from the horrors Virus Recordings and their associates were generating. But it’s not like the sound ever lost its destructive force on a dance floor. You can still find tracks being rinsed out by jungle DJs the world over, but as accentuated points within a set rather than being a running theme. Apathy over the techier side of take-no-prisoners d’n’b is still apparent though, so it’s a bloody shame the new album from the sub-genre’s standard bearers - Ed Rush & Optical - will go relatively unnoticed. Travel The Galaxy is probably one of the most satisfying full-lengths of darkstep and neurofunk in some time; and not just as a strong collection of singles, but as a complete play-through as well, which is remarkable because they barely stray off their chosen path.

From the moment you press ‘Play’ and for a long while, this album has a feeling of business as usual. Oh, business is definitely good but long-standing detractors of Eddie and Op’s sound aren’t going to find anything of interest here. For the faithful though, there’s plenty of choice to gorge on. You got your rollicking sci-fi beasts like City 17 and Temper; there’s your swinging sub-sub-bass funk groove in Magical Thinking and Chubrub; Snaggletooth, the obligatory cut that seems purely designed to torture your bass bins. Some knowing winks to the old guard with their vintage sounds, like a vocal sample in Snaggletooth saying “darkside”, followed by the classic vwwompp-vwwompp Reece bassline (yes, it may be a cliché, but these two wrote the book on that cliché, so it’s allowed - forward written by Grooverider). And then a couple solid cuts that could very well be b-sides (Padded Cells and Move It). So all well and good; the album’s certainly worthy of a 7 up to this point. However, Eddie and Op don’t seem content with such a score, so they start breaking form a little in the latter half of the album.

G-Force Jesus throws in ominous choirs with the galloping beats and basslines, which of itself would be pretty damned cool, but Eddie and Op take things one step further with a breakdown which could have been a solid slice of tech house on its own. At first, The Kindred seems like ‘just another tech thriller’ akin to Temper, yet there’s far more energy to this cut than heard elsewhere. Same with Titanium, which shares status with Snaggletooth as a ‘bassline experimentation’ cut, but my God is the bassline here ever something to behold - like an Imperial Star Destroyer reactor come to life! And finally, in one of the ballsiest moves I’ve heard from the neurofunk camps, Eddie and Op take a stab at liquid funk in Space Monkey, of all things. The epic builds, the wailing divas, and the exhilarating momentum - all Hospital staples, yet here imbued with the kind of sci-fi attributes you’d expect from Virus.

Even with this strong finish, Travel The Galaxy still seems like a 7 on paper, as we’re mostly stuck in the realms of darkstep and it can be rather excessive to endure for a full album’s worth, especially so with the uncompromising final cut Schrander's Dice. Yet, when you actually listen to this album, you can’t help but get caught up in the themes and energy Eddie and Op present to you. In fact, that’s always been the draw of jungle of this sort, and despite it not being as popular as before, these twelve cuts prove darkstep still has all the power and heart it once did. That’s worth the extra little nudge up a mark.

Fans will love this album, haters will likely ignore it. For the rest of the potential audience - those who’ve, say, grown tired of Pendulum’s shtick - there’s plenty for you to cut your teeth on here. Travel The Galaxy may be walking familiar territory, but it’s nonetheless a solid starting point for the curious.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2009. © All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Alter Ego - Transphormed

Klang Elektronik: 2005

That Roman Flügel and Jörn Elling Wuttke would take a stab at chart action was surprising enough, though understandable given everyone’s fondness for thrashy electro during the mid-‘00s. The fact they used their Alter Ego alias as a means to accomplish this however, baffled a whole pile of long-time followers. For in the decade before Rocker became a club smash, the name Alter Ego carried a pedigree of ambient techno and IDM class, their self-titled debut and follow-up Decoding The Hacker Myth some of the highlights of Sven Väth’s seminal Harthouse print (to say nothing of other popular projects like Acid Jesus and Sensorama). Not that those seeking more Rockers cared about such prestige, Alter Ego emerging fresh as the new acid sun with the album Transphormer for all they knew. It had been some time since Decoding The Hacker Myth, I’ll grant.

But that’s not the album I’m reviewing today. Oh, I had intended to get Transphormer, my Alter Ego appreciation of old none the sullied by the duo’s foray into electro-trash. The fact I saw the duo’s rebranding record for a fiver on the Amazons didn’t hurt either, figuring there were at least a few decent cuts worth the asking price. Somehow though, I instead ended up with the double-disc remix album that spun off from Transphormer’s success. At first I was all, “wait, there was a remix album from this?” And then I was all like, “well, it’s not what I ordered, but its two CDs for the price of a quarter of one, so I guess it’s fine.” But then I was feelin’ like, “Aw, dang, this is 2005 remixes, which means a bunch of dull tech-house and minimal wankery, don’t it. I don’t want to listen to this.” And in all the years since I got Transphormed, I never did.

Turns out my hunch was correct, but before the remixes of Transphormer, there’s CD1 of Transphormed, a collection of remixes that Alter Ego done did themselves. Whatever reservations I still had about their new sound are promptly vanquished here, wonderful rubs on tracks from a wide array of acts. Fashion Rules! from Chicks On Speed sounds like something LCD Soundsystem would have made, Alter Ego get deep into the electro-funk on Solvent’s Think Like Us, Octave One’s Blackwater treads near the realm of bumpin’ micro-house, and Riton’s Angerman is marching Vitalic bosh in the hands of Flügel and Wuttke. Throw in appearances from Human League, Primal Scream, and 2Raumwohnung, and you’ve a surprisingly fun CD of Alter Ego remixes. Not that I doubted it.

CD2 though, yeesh. Ultra-minimal micro-house from Isolée and Robag Wruhme. Dull tech-house from Rework and LoSoul. Noisy nonsense from Riton and Ewan Pearson. And twelve-plus minutes of minimal-plucky gibberish from Ricardo Villalobs (because of course he’d need that much time to go nowhere). At least Solvent turns in a fun electro tune with his rub, and Eric Prydz drops his impeccable anthem touch to Rocker. Bow down to your Swedish God.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Various - Transmissions From The Planet Dog

Mammoth Records: 1995

Planet Dog was doing well for itself within their motherland. Legendary festivals, highly touted roster of genre-bending musicians, nods of approval from famed DJs like Sasha and John Peel. Finding a Stateside distributor was inevitable, but going with Mammoth Records was an odd choice. The print out of Carrboro, North Carolina was primarily a rock outlet, dealing with alternative, industrial, and indie. Some of their more successful acts included Machines Of Loving Grace, Seven Mary Three, Squirrel Nut Zipper, Kill Creek, Vanilla Trainwreck, and The Bats. I’m sure they are all perfectly wonderful bands in perfectly wonderful scenes, but yeah, drawing a big ol’ blank on most of these. But then, I’m sure most Americans were drawing big ol’ blanks on names like Eat Static and Banco de Gaia, so to help their Planet Dog chums from across the Atlantic, Mammoth released this double-disc primer featuring the label’s biggest acts (re: those who’d released a full LP).

As such, CD1 of Transmissions From The Planet Dog is hopelessly redundant where my own collection is concerned. Essentially the Eat Static/Banco showcase, it borrows three tracks from Abduction, two from Implant, three from Maya, plus a remix of Qurna that was used in most live versions of the song anyway. They didn’t pluck the best Maya tracks either, and though I don’t have Eat Static’s Implant, the two tracks they have here didn’t inspire me to rush out for that record. But hey, if you need a cheat-sheet of both early careers, this CD does a decent job.

For my money though, the highlight is CD2, where Timeshard and Children Of The Bong get to strut their stuff. Granted, the same problem remains, in that if you already have the albums from which these tracks came from, it’s another wholly redundant collection of tunes. Hell, half of Timeshard’s debut album is on here! On the other hand, Children Of The Bong’s contributions are pretty rare for the three tracks you get, one coming from an early tape-only release, and another found on an obscure, non-Feed Your Head Planet Dog compilation.

Even so, considering both Timeshard and Children Of The Bong didn’t last much longer beyond the compilation, their back-catalog grew rather difficult to procure, making Transmissions From The Planet Dog one of the few places you could find their music anymore. And believe me, these guys are worth checking out if you fancy yourself the psychedelic side of electronic music. This is psy dub before the genre really had much demarcation or boundaries for itself, fearless in whatever sounds, instruments, and influences were thrown into the pie. Electro rhythms in acid-drenched Ionospheric State? Go for it! Epic sojourns of mystic lands across the shores of Space Goa? Crystal Oscillations got yo’ back! Ultra spliff haze as dubbed out in Symbol I? Groovy, man. Woozy acid-dub while jamming with Ravi and Jimi? Only with Oracle. Considering how polished psy dub turned after the millennium, it’s refreshing hearing some so deliciously crusty.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Juno Reactor - Transmissions

NovaMute/Metropolis: 1993/2008

An album often hailed as birthing goa trance, though ask ardent techno collectors and you wouldn’t know it. Wait, techno? Yeah, guy, Juno Reactor first appearing on techno print NovaMute. In fact, the Juno debut single, Laughing Gas, was released smack between the first two Plastikman records, Krakpot and Spastik! The early promo material even had Juno’s sound billed as ‘progressive techno’, a term immediately and rightfully tossed to the dustbin of Stupid Genre Names. ‘Progressive’ already had a claim to house, thank you, and we don’t need it attaching itself to more genres. Huh, trance? What is this? Don’t you mean ‘space techno’ from Berlin?

Truth is Transmissions does lean heavily into the domain of acid techno of the early ‘90s, but with enough floating synths, trippy acid, and hypnotic builds such that it does what trance done did in that era too. For sure it’s a unique blend of the stuff, music that owes some inspiration from tribal rhythms and cosmic harmonies being exported from the shores of Goa. You can’t blame the psy scene for taking the Juno Reactor style and flooding the market with an uncountable pile of knock-offs and retreads. Okay, you could, but seeing how some hardcore techno heads have continued to claim Transmission as one of their own, don’t you think it’s about time to let it go? There’s no shame in owning a proto goa trance album in your collection, o’ ye’ Disciples Of NovaMute. Hell, even Juno Reactor themselves fully embraced the demarcation after this, signing with clear-cut goa label Blue Room Released for their follow-up albums Beyond The Infinite and Bible Of Dreams. Or wait, were they left homeless by NovaMute for leaning too trance in the first place? Clarify the controversy!

As a debut, Transmissions is a darn solid album, though quite simplistic by Juno Reactor standards. The boys behind the project at the time – Ben Watkins, Stephane Holweck, and Mike Maguire – were no slouches in the music scene, having worked the London circuit in various bands for much of the ‘80s. Holweck in particular was a long-time partner of Watkins, including as part of the proto-Juno group Electrotete, plus finding time to make music as another early goa act in Total Eclipse. They knew their way around gear, is what I say, with enough background in other music to throw their distinctive spin on acid techno.

High Energy Protons features that gnarly acid bassline that’s been a Juno staple since literally forever (because it’s here, on the debut!). We also get a few vintage sci-fi samples, plus one of their more ‘rockin’ tunes in Man 2 Ray, which led them to becoming such favorites in industrial circles. Also, a requisite ambient closer with Landing, which sounds like the sort of meditative noodly stuff you’d find in Megadog chill tents. And folks still try planting the techno flag on this album? For the standard acid techno, sure, but with mystical stuff like this included, I don’t think so.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Marcel Dettmann - Translation EP

Ostgut Ton: 2011

Marcel Dettman, kinda’-sorta’ Important Person in the world of techno, has put out a fair share of EPs in his decade long career. I mentioned in my previous trip into his music that most agree he’s better suited to that format, his style of German-functionalist club music not one intended for sitting back at home with tea and crumpets. And I wonder if that’s what’s kept luring me back to hear his stuff, hoping to get that sense of mental transference whilst lost in his thudding rhythms, imagining myself in the throes of a legendary Berghain set I’ll never get to experience myself. Or maybe I will, if that pilgrimage to Berlin ever manifests itself. But why would I want to go all the way to Germany just to stand in line for a while, potentially being turned away when my Canadianism blatantly signals me as a tourist? They don’t like them kind ‘round Berghain, so’s I’ve head. And with so much culture to take in those lands, my time would be better served checking out other famed locales. Does Tresor still have cool techno nights? Maybe I’d luck out with a throwback Omen party! Mmm, vintage German trance…

So nay, my only hopes for the Methodical Dettmann Experience (also the name of my experiential lo-fi indie-skweee jam band) is to live vicariously through the singles he supplies. Or maybe those DJ mix CDs he puts out on market that I’ve yet to actually pick up. Why haven’t I done that yet? Reviews of them have been mostly positive, even among the staunchest critics who never got bit by the Berghain bug. Maybe I should… No, no! I’ve got enough backlog already, the last thing I need to do is add more to it. Control, control, I must learn control!

Like the sort of control I exhibited back in 2011, when my buying habits were rather skint due to lack of interest in the new and (then) now. That Dettmann fella’ though, he had some interesting music, and while I didn’t find his debut album much to get fussed about, he showcased a sound worth keeping tabs on should he move beyond the rote-loop techno-tool style of music making. It works wonders as set pieces, no doubt, and it’s always those Dettmann moments in techno mixes that kept me checking further, to hear what else he might come up with if given room to stretch.

I’ll find no answers with Translation EP though, another tidy collection of tidy loop-techno head thumpers that run between a tidy five and six minutes with little variation between. The first track, Barrier, hinted at something more, with moody, bass-heavy techno-drone and astro-chatter. Ooh, actual concept! Nope, Translation One and bleepy Translation Two going about as toolly as techno goes, though One does have some nice flange on its percussion. Last track Planning has a herky-jerky thing happening, mostly plonky and annoying for its duration. Not the techno I wished for, lad.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

John Digweed - Transitions, Volume 2 (Original TC Review)

Thrive Records: 2007

(2016 Update:
Holy cow, 2007 Sykonee, can you talk about the actual music on this CD at all? This review just peaks over the thousand-word mark, and I probably spend maybe one-hundred fifty going over the tracks. Granted, I needed some time devoted to re-introducing Diggers to the modern audience, where his career had gone since his peak years, what developments had led to his current sound, and all that. Probably not
as many words spent here, but some, sure. But then I totally derail the review for some overlong tangent regarding genre demarcations and the like, and I'm reading it in the here and now thinking, "who fucking cares!?" There's a kernel of an interesting discussion lodged in that mess, but as with so many of my early writing efforts, is hopelessly lost in unfettered, ramble-bramble thought salads. Also, who'd have believed dubstep would be the first electronic genre claiming the "post" affix?

And as for our pal John, he kept
Transitions going into the next year, realized the trends were a'changing once again, and moved onto heavier, groove orientated tech-house, with a few nods to melodic prog for good measure. He's found about as comfortable a niche in his market as any DJ could hope for at this late stage of his career, and shows little sign of shaking the gravy boat anytime soon. Aw, it'd have been funny hearing him try on some 'future garage' for size.)

IN BRIEF: Proggin’ along.

Ol’ Diggers certainly seems to be on a roll lately. These past couple years have seen his output rival even that of his time at the top of the DJ domain. Is it a renewed vitality after some downtime away from the glaring spotlight of superstardom? Might it be a rediscovered love affair for music after indulging in his roots with his Choice collection? Could it really have something to do with the hair?

Whatever the case, John Digweed’s career is proving to be quite durable. Of course, anyone who’s followed his DJing since the Renaissance era shouldn’t have doubted his ability to find a comfortable niche within current trends, but there were many who did: the prog house that made him a star had grown stale as this decade took form, and new sounds and ideas were engulfing clubland, many of which sounded radically different from the Bedrock template we all knew and loved. But with the cool confidence of a man who’s seen many such changes, Digweed rode the shaky initial waves of musical transition and held on for the ride until things settled back into clear forms, leaving those who couldn’t adapt in the backwash of the surf. (I’ll stop with the metaphors now)

For those still not clued in, Transitions is John’s radio show, and would also appear to be the namesake of his commercial DJ mixes now as well. This is the first time we’ve had a direct sequel to a prior DJ mix with Digweed the only man behind the decks, and word is this will be an on-going series. Perhaps it’s about time for such a series from him, as it helps keep his discography tidier than having all these seemingly randomly titled releases scattered about. In fact, it’s quite remarkable he never did establish one in all this time, but then it did take him a while to free himself from being joined at the hip with his buddy Sasha like a DJing conjoined twin (er... and the similes too), much less finally produce a track under his own name.

The first Transitions was met with lukewarm responses, as it seemed to try covering too much modern ground without much of a coherent theme. Additionally, while few wouldn’t figure it for a Digweed mix, it had the feeling of John attempting to fit in with what was trendy rather than carve out his own sound. Does 2 fix these problems? Considerably so.

This mix has the feeling of a traditional prog house set: you have your mellow intro tracks, followed by tension builders, a couple of scenic detours, and a climb to the climax to cap the disc off. Aside for one instance (the drunk-on-experimental effects Boul de Nerf by David K - Digweed’s duffed attempt at interjecting some glitch-wit, methinks), each track in John’s arrangement offers something intriguing enough to keep your attention maintained for the long haul as curiosity holds your interest. Well, um, that is if the initial ‘minimal’ overtones don’t send you fleeing fir-

Y’know, I’m getting really sick of having to use apostrophes around a buzzword to describe an unfortunate term for a stylistic trend. I suppose I could just break and accept it like so many others, but that would be doing proper minimal an injustice. Look, folks, because a pile of producers have reduced overproduction so harmonic frequencies are given a chance to breathe again doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a new sub-genre. It just means they’ve gone back to basics. Unless, of course, you’re all willing to call nearly everything produced before 1995 minimal. Yeah, thought not.

So, if the tracks on Transitions 2 aren’t ‘minimal’ (and first one to suggest electro gets a bitch slappin’), what are they? Easy answer: prog house with some splashings of tech house in the middle. Yes, that’s right. Structurally, the tracks on offer here aren’t all that different from the sort you’d have heard Digweed play back in the 90s; the reason why this mix works like a prog house set is because Digweed has managed to find prog house that has shifted from the old into the new.

While folks may be calling much of the sonic tricks here minimal, what we actually have been hearing lately is an infusion of IDM experimentation; many of the IDM artists from the 90s loved to tinker and toy around with oddball sounds, quirky effects and bizarre timbre. Aside for rare instances though, hardly any of it registered beyond only the most ardent fans, usually of the nerdish sort. However, it has been given a chic make-over this decade, and is now quite fashionable to produce. Oh, and with new sound patches and plug-ins. Can’t forget the new sound patches and plug-ins. These factors have contributed towards a new prog house sound that is quite different from the sort John used to play out, yet still with enough familiar attributes to make it unmistakingly the Digweed we all know.

The big question, then, is what this new form of prog should be tagged, to entice those who think John is still all about Heaven Scent. Obviously, minimal and electro are out, as those styles have nothing to do with what we have here. And IDM-prog is just stupid. This is rather more like nu-prog. ...or, to be really chic these days, neo-prog. Hmm, but if we wish to pursue this question courageously, even neo’s already passé - it’s soooo 2006. How about then... post-prog! I don’t think any sub-genre of EDM has a ‘post’ yet.

Actually, all of those are ridiculously redundant. Prog itself more or less meant ‘new house’ all those years back. And to be honest, that’s all it has ever meant: a form of house music that continues to morph and change with the times, to always remain the leader in new sounds that house music can provide -interestingly, by usually borrowing from other genres (trance, for instance at one time, and now IDM it seems). And with Transitions 2, Digweed finds himself once more the leader in prog house, digging up some of the most current sounding cuts available for us to enjoy. All you prog heads out there shall not be disappointed.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Various - Transformers: The Movie (20th Anniversary Edition)

Scotti Bros. Records/Legacy: 1986/2007

Transformers: The Movie just had its thirtieth anniversary, and I’m now reviewing the twentieth anniversary of its soundtrack. No, I didn’t plan it this way, not in the slightest. Sometimes things just work out though, like how this gong-show of a cynical marketing vehicle to sell toys turned into a generational touchstone that’s endured longer than it probably had any intention of. Persist in geekdom this movie has though, its soundtrack as identifiable a piece of Gen-X history as anything from John Williams or Danny Elfman. Okay, that’s one wild claim, but no one can deny hearing Stan Bush’s The Touch instantly brings thoughts of Optimus Prime heroically dueling it out against the evil forces of the Decepticons – maybe more so than that instantly recognizable Transformer’s theme.

Crushing nostalgia notwithstanding, I’ve never cared much for The Touch, as hammy an arena rock anthem as anything the ‘80s spit out. That said, Transformers: The Movie has some of the most gloriously hammy arena rock anthems the ‘80s ever spit out, and almost all of it ridiculously obscure beyond this soundtrack. The other Stan Bush song, Dare, features one kick-ass synth solo from Vince DiCola, Lion’s rendition of the Transformer’s theme is hair metal at its bombastic best, and who can forget Spectre General’s rockin’ contributions of Nothin’s Gonna Stand In Our Way and Hunger. If you’re not familiar with this Canadian band, that’s because they initially went by Kick-Axe, with a forced-upon name change so they could appear on a kid’s soundtrack. Right, because glam metal was such kids music in the ‘80s. Weird Al Yankovic’s Dare To Be Stupid, sure. Stan Bush’s The Touch, absolutely. N.R.G.’s Instruments Of Destruction? Ain’t no way my dad would let me listen to something like that out of context. Hell, I don’t even recall what I was listening to at that age. Nothing really, because I had Saturday Morning Cartoon themes perpetually on the brain.

No, wait, I did have some tenuous fondness for synth music, and that eerie opening of Unicron’s theme instantly hooked me for a wild ride the movie had in store for a theatre of hyper-active kids (all of whom went instantly silent once the film started, I vividly recall). Vince DiCola’s pretty much maintained – and fully embraced – a career as the man behind the synth-heavy, rockin’ score of Transformers: The Movie. What, is he embarrassed by his prior claim to fame of Far From Over, the Frank Stallone headed theme song of the absurd Saturday Night Fever sequel, Stayin’ Alive? Director and brother Sylvester must have loved it, because he invited DiCola on for another score in that most ‘80s of '80s movies, Rocky IV.

The 20th Anniversary edition of Transformers: The Movie expands the original track list to include more DiCola pieces, plus a final medley with the main theme, various other pieces, and a returning Stan Bush on the vocals. Yep, Mr. “The Touch” himself, now bellowing “more than meets the eye”. You know you want it!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Kraftwerk - Trans Europe Express

Kling Klang/Astralwerks: 1977/2009

A not half-bad proto-electro record that changed damn near everything, this. No, wait, let me try that again: the most important album Kraftwerk ever put out, even if no one cared at the time. Some truthiness to that one, but let’s really lay the hyperbole on!

Trans Europe Express is one of the twenty most influential albums, one of the thirty best albums of the year between 1970-98, among the one-hundred masterpieces, a top twenty-five electronic album, lodged somewhere with the essential two-hundred rock records, one of the one-hundred coolest albums in the world Right Now! in the year 2005, and in the midst of the two-hundred sixty-one greatest albums since punk and disco. Boy, and that’s just a sliver of the accolade Deity Wiki tells me Kraftwerk’s sixth studio album has earned over time. Not bad for a bunch of German dorks who’s biggest prior claim to fame was a chipper pop ditty about das autobahn.

In terms of songkraft and as an overall album concept, I find The Man-Machine a stronger effort from the lads of Düsseldorf. And some might argue that Computer World had an even greater influence on the world of electronic music, what with every ‘80s electro record ever raiding it for samples. Fair points, but what sets Trans Europe Express apart is how it so definitively marks Kraftwerk’s transition from krautrock oddities to form-n-functionalist heroes. The ears finally attuned to methodical, mechanical rhythms. The headspace shifting from abstract concepts like radioactivity in favor of quirky constructs like showroom dummies. Broadening their future world scope beyond Germany’s borders, venturing into the wide world of an endless Europe. And hey, there’s plenty of things to see on this trip – cafes, parks, hotels, palaces – unlike the utterly lonesome sojourn across a similarly-sized continental region Boards Of Canada offered.

Trans Europe Express is essentially two mini-albums, side-A devoted to Kraftwerk’s newfound song writing, with side-B the part everyone remembers. The actual Trans Europe Express is only six-and-a-half minutes long, but as it carries on into the klang-klang of Metal On Metal, and the epic build of Abzug, everyone always assumed it was one long track anyway. And after such a strangely sinister train ride, it’s comforting to know the scenery of your destination (Franz Schubert, a thematic return to opener Europe Endless) is lovely, pleasant, and pastoral, as all good European tourist destinations are.

After the Soulsonic Force sampled it and a pile more copied/emulated that, Trans Europe Express and co. essentially overshadowed the rest of the album. A shame, because side-A of this record has some of Kraftwerk’s most enduring tunes too. Showroom Dummies set the stage for their love affair of plastic men going about doing whatever it is mannequins and robots get up to when the lights go out. Meanwhile, The Hall Of Mirrors is one bizarre bit of minimalist electronic baroque, a study in insecure self-reflection that glam rockers of the day often indulged in. Yeah, that’s the Bowie Bump in effect.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Boards Of Canada - Trans Canada Highway (Original TC Review)

Warp Records: 2006

(2016 Update:
Another first-time review of a major act, another review with redundant information now that I've long since reviewed many more albums from said act. At least I didn't get too heavy into it with this EP, providing an obligatory (if flakey) backstory, with a thrown in theory to boot. It's a good theory, my thoughts on the Boards' popularity, but one that had already been floating around, namely that of 'hauntology'. A rather obscure term, Simon Reynolds really explored it in describing the aesthetic of acts like Boards Of Canada (among others like Burial and label Ghost Box). Not that I had any realization of that in here, a decade ago, but yeah, totally reiterating concepts with far more studies into them by people who get paid for such things.

Left Side Drive just might be my favorite Boards tune, though you wouldn't know from this review. Seems every time I hear it again, it draws me ever deeper into that warm bass and distant dub, losing my headspace in reflections of traversing British Columbian wilderness. It's like Silent Season distilled into five minutes of sonic bliss, and so worth repeated plays of this pleasant little EP. Hey, remember when we thought this might be the last thing Boards would ever release? Fun times!)

IN BRIEF: Traveling in Canada.

I’ve seen few fanbases grow as quickly, as widespread, and as fanatical as for the enigmatic group Boards Of Canada. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere when Warp released their album Music Has The Right To Children, they gave an ailing intelligent techno scene (or IDM, if you will) a much needed boost in the late 90s when many producers had either tried and failed at commercial success (‘electronica’) or plummeted into incomprehensible experimentation. BoC provided the antidote: interesting sonic experiments, but without abandoning digestible rhythms and melodies.

It was more than that though. BoC’s music contains an undeniable nostalgic tinge to it. Many have tried to explain how they do it but none have managed to come up with a concrete theory; which, along with a scarce back catalogue, has added to their mystique.

I won’t claim to have that answer either, but I will offer my own theory: Boards Of Canada create the music of memories. Not yours, or mine, or anyone’s in particular, but of memories itself; or rather, how we hear music in our own memories. Despite our best efforts, when music plays back in our minds it is never quite accurate, and clings at the edge of our consciousness, fading over time. BoC’s lo-fi production seems to replicate this remarkably well, and when warm, pleasing synth tones are used, childhood memories are instinctively thought of. With such universal appeal, its little wonder even indie rockers melt at hearing a Boards Of Canada melody.

Of course, BoC shouldn’t be restrained by single musical ideas, but this is where their main appeal lies. After delving into organic instrumentation on last year’s The Campfire Headphase, many of their fans were very happy to hear a return to the sound of Children on this release, Trans Canada Highway. But despite being less a single for Dayvan Cowboy (of which two versions bookend this) and more of a mini-album, there’s still very little new material that’ll satisfy their rabid fans.

For casual fans though, two tracks should interest them: Left Side Drive and Skyliner. Unlike Dayvan, which willfully makes use of orchestral arrangements and acoustic guitars along with various electronic trickery, these two are quite vintage in their production. Left Side Drive lets lazy, dubby rhythms stroll along while warm, hazy pads float in the background. And Skyliner makes a more immediate presence with quicker scattering rhythms and leading synths. While perhaps simple in their presentation, especially compared to Dayvan, both should satisfy if you crave BoC’s older style. The other two are merely ambient interludes, which are common in many of their albums. Pleasant enough, but hardly essential.

As for the remix of Dayvan, Odd Nosdam does the drone ambient thing, seemingly playing up the ‘memory’ aspect of BoC’s music with one of their own tracks. Between stretches of white noise interludes, bits of Dayvan crop up, then fades away before returning to droning sounds. An interesting listen but, like the other ambient parts of Trans Canada Highway, that is all.

Ultimately, this EP is a sparse, lonely listen, which makes sense given the title. As anyone that has driven the Trans Canada Highway can attest to, or any highway in lightly populated areas of Canada for that matter, it can be a lonesome experience (great scenery though). Having grown up in parts of the country where significant towns are often up to three hours apart, I’d travel long stretches of winding, single-lane roads snaking across mountain-sides and through forests, the only company being those in your car and the intermittent vehicle passing by. Trans Canada Highway, when listened to as a whole, uncannily replicates such a trip... or maybe that’s just that memory thing again. Still, for a Scottish duo, they are quite good at capturing aspects of Canadiana along with incredibly nostalgic music.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Neil Young - Trans (Original TC Review)

Geffen Records: 1982/1997

(2016 Update:
Eighteen-hundred words. That is the count. That is the amount of verbal splooge I spattered out almost a decade ago in my first attempt at writing a Neil Young review. Could it have been helped though? It was during that year's summer wherein I 'got' ol' Shakey's music, diving deep into his discography, unable to sate this craving for more of Young's work... more... MOAR! There was honestly no good reason for me to use a trance music review website as a glorified outlet in proclaiming how much awesome I heard in his music, but I had to tell 'em, Johnny; I had to tell the world. When would I ever get another chance? What, a personal blog where I review everything I own? Hah, 2006 Sykonee laughs at such a silly notion.

So of course a ton of information in this review is hilariously redundant to any consistent reader of mine, and the fanboy gushing does get tedious the deeper you go into this behemoth. Was funny reading my little pseudo-script again though, as lately I find my sentiments drifting closer to Aging Hippie as opposed to self-insert Hip Teenage Son. Time really does slip away the older you get and- oh my God! I just realized I'm currently the same age as Neil Young was when he made this album! I gotta' get me in on some of that Artistic Experimentation vibe, pronto. Maybe a review written completely in binary? Ah, no.)

IN BRIEF: A true oddity.

You can’t keep a good rocker down. No matter how many times it’s appeared Neil Young would sabotage his career, alienate his fans, or simply fade away, he comes roaring back into the spotlight, as relevant as ever, his protest album Living With War released with great controversy earlier this year. With such charming songs titled Let’s Impeach The President, you bet it raised a stir.

Whereas almost all of Young’s musical peers sustain their careers with Baby Boomer nostalgia, Neil has managed to once again draw the attention of us younger folk, regarding him as ‘one of us’ rather than an honored elder; an impressive feat for a sixty year old. And not only by appealing to current Fight The Man mentalities, but also by realizing the potential of the internet as a communication tool, something this technologically savvy generation is quite adept at. In this way, he’s snared numerous new fans who’d normally dismiss him as some old musician, and many have discovered a vast discography containing more diversity than any member of the Woodstock generation. From grungy rockers to folksy crooners and dabblings of much, much more, there’s quite a bit to check out. However, few of Young’s albums are more unique and confused more fans than his electronic one.

Just imagine the following scene in 1982:

Aging Hippie: Well, most of my old favorite bands suck these days, but good ol’ Neil’s managed to remain consistent. I’m sure this new album of his won’t disappoint.

*Throws Trans on the record player*

Aging Hippie: Hmm, this first song’s kind of weak. Never been much of a fan of this new country rock, but still kind of catchy. Maybe the next one will be better.

*Computer Age starts*

Aging Hippie: What the...? What’s with those synths? They’re so bloody loud. And that drum beat’s so repetitive. Ah, well, at least Neil’s got some good guitars and... HEY!! What the fuck’s with his VOICE!!?? What the hell did he do to it??? Is this some kind of JOKE!? ...the hell? This next song’s got it too!! What’s going on here? Hey, son, get in here!

Hip Teenage Son: Yeah, Dad?

Aging Hippie: I’ve heard you listening to stuff like this before. You have any idea what Neil’s doing here?

Hip Teenage Son: THIS is Neil Young!? Haha! You’re joking, right? It sounds like Kraftwerk. This can’t be Young.

Aging Hippie: It’s Neil alright. Do you have any idea what’s going on?

Hip Teenage Son: It sounds like he’s doing New Wave, although really heavy on the vocoders. This stuff’s popular in Europe right now.

Aging Hippie: New Wave? Hell, why’d he go and make an album like this?

Hip Teenage Son: Well, he’s said he’s a fan of Devo, so-

Aging Hippie: God, this sounds like shit. Who’d want to listen to this crap? Hell, rockabilly would be better than this, even twangy country. Why does all music suck now?

Hip Teenage Son: Hey, this stuff’s really cool, y’know. It’s the sound of the future. It’ll probably be super-popular in the 21st Century, with massive concerts and festivals being thrown to play electronic music. People will take wicked drugs that put your 60s stuff to shame, and we’ll use computers to talk to one another and revolutionize the way music is made. You’ll be able to store your huge record collection in the palm of your hand! It’s going to be great!

Aging Hippie: ..........

Aging Hippie: Son, have you been into my acid again?

It’s ironic one of Young’s most despised albums by his old fans has gone on to become something of an intriguing curiosity with his new ones, because let’s face it: even if we all don’t like it, we still get this computer music; our parents mostly don’t.

Unfortunately, because the album flopped in 1982, Trans was deleted from American circulation. You can only find it in Europe now, and not always cheaply due to the growing mysticism surrounding it. Were the songs really as bad as our parents thought? Did Young do Kraftwerk justice? Does it hold up today? With a growing number of electronic music fans curious about Young’s foray into synths and vocoders, now’s as good a time as any to shed some light on the subject.

It helps to understand Young’s mind frame at the time, as he’s always been one to put every ounce of impulsive emotion into his music. As with many rockers of his generation, the 80s were a scary place to be: synthesizers, drum machines, and tech-savvy producers were making regular old bands passé, especially since the general public didn’t mind this tinny new wave of music. But whereas his peers cowered in their safe, traditional corners, Young, ever fearless in his endeavors, tackled synth music head on, gleefully embracing everything it had to offer.

So, yes, Trans is more concept than novelty, and boy does he throw himself into the role of Robo-Rocker. The aforementioned Computer Age bridges the gap between humanity and the digital, with great synths and super-catchy guitar riffs. And through vocoder effects, you can hear Neil’s apprehension of a synthetic future. Interestingly, only with the lyrics “And you need me; Like ugly needs a mirror” does his voice briefly return to normal. He’s accepted this future, and from here on the robots rule most of the album.

A couple of harder rockers follow. We R In Control plays on Orwellian fears, with a great combination of gritty guitar work and aggressive vocoder effects. Less effective is Computer Cowboy, as it isn’t nearly as catchy as the rest, and sounds far too muddy. It is funny though, in that Neil absolutely butchers cliché Spaghetti Western themes with the robotic surroundings; those clippity-clop sound effects are a hoot.

Offering a bit of yin between these two yangs is Transformer Man, a song about Neil’s son who was born with cerebral palsy. As pretty a piece of robo-pop as anything Kraftwerk made, this song also was part of Young’s inspiration to make an electronic album, as he could only communicate with his son through such technology. It’s a very touching song; even if Young’s synthesized voice is at times difficult to understand, the emotion that cuts through the effects is remarkable.

Sample And Hold is Trans’ ‘dance’ single. While no Blue Monday (really, how many songs are?), it’s still a mesmerizing piece of work. For one thing, at eight minutes in length with a relentless steady rhythm, Sample And Hold has a hypnotic quality that sucks you into a choking industrial setting. From sludgy guitars to dispassionate synths to mechanical percussion, this is a cold, unfeeling song, which given the subject matter makes sense. Delivered with frank yet aggressive vocoder tones, the track is about the impersonal service of finding love in an uncaring future (specifically, at an android dating service, if you interpret the lyrics literally). All this and Neil still managed to make an ultra-catchy hook. You’re guaranteed to be humming “I need a unit to sample and hold; New design; New design” long after this plays. Sadly, it bombed in the dance clubs and was quickly forgotten, but I suppose clubbers weren’t quite ready for it; even Gary Numan, who’s work this track bares the most semblance to, struggled in America. Had Sample And Hold been released a year after New Order’s seminal record rather than a year before, things might have been different.

The track can be exhausting on your psyche though, so it’s rather nice to hear a simpler song follow Sample And Hold. Kind of an electro remix of his old tune Mr. Soul, Young seems to be having a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at those who would criticize Trans. Not only is he ‘butchering’ an old favorite but the lyrics fit the idea as well. Neil’s voice remains normal for this track, with vocoders harmonizing at various points.

That’s the electronic tracks out of the way. Do you want me to review the ‘normal’ songs, then? Do you even care? I guess I should touch on them, but fact is they weren’t really a part of Trans’ concept; story goes they were tracks for another album, but tagged on here to fill it out. It’d make sense to include some regular rockers or ballads to offer a thematic contrast to the robo-rock, but aside from Like An Inca, these tracks are just simple songs about love, and have nothing to do with the theme of Trans. Even Like An Inca, despite being a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology impeding on Mother Nature, is a far-fetched tie-in. Amusingly though, the incredibly weak 80s production on Hold On To Your Love actually works within Trans’ atmosphere, which is probably why it ended up lodged in the middle of all the other tracks.

The big question now is how much I should recommend this album. Despite all the synthy surroundings, Trans still is very much a rock album in spirit. Few people could see past the computer effects just because they were such a novelty in the early 80s. In the here and now though, such sounds are common, and we can enjoy it based on its musical merit rather than the dressing it comes in. Some electronic purists may despise it for the rock overtones, claiming Neil had no business dabbling in sounds he wasn’t known for, but they be fools. Bottom line is Neil created some incredibly catchy pieces of music that holds up in an age they make more sense in. But, and this is important, Trans isn’t by any means a great album, much less a classic. Even with some strong singles, there are weak moments as well, and if you come in only looking for the electronic tracks, the regular ones will be of little interest (even though a couple of them are alright). If you are only curious about it, I’d recommend downloading some of the better tracks to get a feeling for what you’ll expect to hear. Only pick this up at its regular price if your samplings intrigue you further.

Young’s electronic phase was merely a passing experiment, as he never went in this direction again. But, as with so many of his albums, he certainly created a stir with Trans, even if it caused unintended reactions from his fans. At sixty years of age now, it’s safe to say we’ll never see a Trans 2.0, although now that he has a growing fanbase that would actually understand the idea behind such an album, a sequel to this definitely strikes me as a fascinating possibility. And when it comes to Neil Young, you never know how he’ll surprise you next.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved.

Things I've Talked About

...txt 10 Records 16 Bit Lolita's 1963 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2 Play Records 2 Unlimited 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 20xx Update 2562 3 Loop Music 302 Acid 36 3FORCE 3six Recordings 4AD 6 x 6 Records 75 Ark 7L & Esoteric 808 State A Perfect Circle A Positive Life A-Wave a.r.t.less A&M Records A&R Records Abandoned Communities Abasi Above and Beyond abstract Ace Trace Ace Tracks Playlists Ace Ventura acid acid house acid jazz acid techno acoustic Acroplane Recordings Adam Freeland Adham Shaikh ADNY Adrian Younge adult contemporary Advanced UFO Phantom Aegri Somnia Aes Dana Afrika Bambaataa Afro-house Afterhours Agoria Aidan Casserly Aira Mitsuki Ajana Records Ajna AK1200 Akshan album Aldrin Alex Smoke Alex Theory Alice In Chains Alien Community Alien Project Alio Die All Saints Alphabet Zoo Alphaxone Altar Records Alter Ego alternative rock Alucidnation Ambelion Ambidextrous ambient ambient dub ambient techno Ambient World Ambientium Ametsub Amon Tobin Amplexus Anabolic Frolic Anatolya Andrea Parker Andrew Heath Androcell Anduin Andy C anecdotes Aniplex Anjunabeats Annibale Records Anodize Another Fine Day Antendex anthem house Anthony Paul Kerby Anthony Rother Anti-Social Network Aphasia Records Aphex Twin Apócrýphos Apollo Apple Records April Records Aqua Aquarellist Aquascape Aquasky Aquila Arcade Architects Of Existence arena rock Arista Armada Armin van Buuren Arpatle Arts & Crafts ASC Ashtech Asia Asian Dub Foundation Astral Projection Astral Waves Astralwerks AstroPilot Asura Asylum Records ATCO Records Atlantic Atlantis atmospheric jungle Atomic Hooligan Atrium Carceri Attic Attoya Audion AuroraX Autechre Autistici Autumn Of Communion Avantgarde Aveparthe Avicii Axiom Axs Axtone Records Aythar B.G. The Prince Of Rap B°TONG B12 Babygrande Balance Balanced Records Balearic ballad Banco de Gaia Bandulu Battle Axe Records battle-rap Bauri Beastie Boys Beat Buzz Records Beatbox Machinery Beats & Pieces bebop Beck Bedouin Soundclash Bedrock Records Beechwood Music Benny Benassi Bent Benz Street US Berlin-School Beto Narme Beyond bhangra Bicep big beat Big Boi Big L Big Life Bill Hamel Bill Laswell BIlly Idol BineMusic BioMetal Biophon Records Biosphere Bipolar Music BKS Black Hole Recordings black rebel motorcycle club Black Swan Sounds Blanco Y Negro Blasterjaxx Blend Blood Music Blow Up Blue Amazon Blue Öyster Cult blues Bluescreen Bluetech BMG Boards Of Canada Bob Dylan Bob Marley Bobina Bogdan Raczynzki Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Boney M Bong Load Records Bonzai Boogie Down Productions Booka Shade Botchit & Scarper Bows Boxed Boys Noize Boysnoize Records BPitch Control braindance Brandt Brauer Frick Brasil & The Gallowbrothers Band breakbeats breakcore breaks Brian Eno Brian Wilson Brick Records Britpop Brodinski broken beat Brooklyn Music Ltd Bryan Adams BT Bubble Buffalo Springfield Bulk Recordings Burial Burned CDs Bursak Records Bush Busta Rhymes C.I.A. 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