Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sine Silex - Schachmatt

Werkstatt Recordings: 2016

Anna Michailidou must be the hardest working madame in underground coldwave synth-pop right now. Right, that's an incredibly micro-niche avenue to take residence in, but since diving into Werkstatt Records' catalogue, I've continuously seen her name crop up. Already a member of Resistance Of Independent Music and Paradox Obscur, she's also taken up a solo career as Kriistal Ann, and has added her gothic croon to many other synthwave acts out there, a feature on GosT's Non Paradisi perhaps her greatest exposure yet.

Another is a three-piece act called Factice Factory. These chaps from France and the Alps mostly stick to a strict diet of minimalist coldwave, so Ms. Ann's voice was a natural fit with their aesthetic. Guess Anna liked working with lead singer François Ducarn enough such that they formed their own minimalist synth-pop duo called Sine Silex, a change of pace from the heavier, EBM-leaning sound she typically makes with Toxic Razor.

For some stupid reason, the first duo I drew comparisons with was Miss Kittin & The Hacker. While both make use of a stripped-down synth-pop sound heavily influenced from the early '80s, that's where the similarities end. For one, Mr. Ducarn sings, and Mr. Hacker never uttered a word. Also, while you could say both groups' lyrics carry a certain detachment to them, MK&tH did so in a deadpan, cynical way. I get no such irony from Sine Silex, François and Kriistal performing their music as straight-faced as this can get. I mean, such minimalist music works best when the performers are stripped of emotion as well, but those electroclash sorts always kept a wink and a wry smile while doing so. This are serious cold-synth pop-wave, yo'.

Actually, I'm not sure just how serious Sine Silex are being half the time, on account François and Kriistal don't sing in English all the time, sometimes going French, and perhaps other Euro languages I'm too dumb to detect. For that matter, Ms. Ann's accent is so thick that I don't always understand her anglophone lyrics either. Not that I'm complaining, her gothic voice such a unique attribute among so many synth-poppers, that their content isn't as much a selling point as their delivery. Besides, it's kinda' funny hearing her on bouncier tunes like Operative and Modeliste (a requisite nod to Kraftwerk's The Model) when so much of her work oozes the black phantasmic.

Most of the tunes on Schachmatt play to her strengths though, even if her vocals have more a supporting role to François' lead. There's the slower, melodramatic songs (Antidote, L'Embrun), the brisk EBM-leaning cuts (Ether, Six To Twenty Seconds, Nénuphar), plus tracks that indulge the desolate goth-pop that's right up Kriistal's cobble-stone pathway (Les Nimbes, Rifle, L'Amnésie). It's also all very simple music, only a few synthesizers and sequencers running at a given time. You'd have to be a dedicated fan of this sound to enjoy it, but I find it strangely alluring, like walking a digitized path through an abyssal plain.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Various - Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café Vol. 5

Wagram Music: 2004

Though I'm hardly a nu-jazz connoisseur, I like it enough that I don't mind springing for a compilation or two if I stumble upon them on the cheap. And Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café is classy enough that you know you're in safe hands even as a complete rube. This is now the third CD from the series I've bought, and oddly enough, I've only picked up odd-numbered volumes thus far. What is this, some sort of subconscious reverse Star Trek movie selection? Actually, that would be darn hilarious if the even-numbered volumes of Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café were somehow significantly worse than the odd-numbered ones. I don't even know how that'd be possible, since nu-jazz tends to maintain a steady modicum of talent and skill to perform it. Maybe supreme jazz experts could tell the difference of quality between each performed piece, but for most of us plebs, it's all the same, laid-back, cool chillin' vibe. Still, I'm tempted to make my next purchase in this series be Saint-Germain-Des-Prés Café 7, just to keep this accidental pattern going. OCD... compels...

So while some familiar nu-jazz sounds and artist staples re-appear for this fifth go-around (De-Phazz! DJ Cam! Dzihan & Kamien! Norah Jones! Gotan Project! Meitz?), something new has also been added. Or rather, something old, but new for the series: real jazz. As in, traditional instruments, classic 'cool' performances (or whatever that late '50s – early '60s development was), and nary a synthesizer in sight. Not just a one or two-off either, but chunks of this CD devoted to it. Street Of Dreams with Stacey Kent & Jan Lundgren Trio is exactly the sort of jazz you probably instinctively think of when the term is thrown about. Brisa Roché does a tidy little vocal-bop number featuring a trumpet solo. Chet Baker adds his sad trumpet to Gotan Project's soft Parisian soul 'Round About Midnight.

And some of these tunes, I swear tricked me into thinking they were performed au naturale, so smooth these producers are in their trade. Like, David Borsu's Late Nite Swing sounds like a regular ol' soul-jazz jam with the drummer and the trumpeter and the keyboarder and the singer and all; but no, it's a Belgium DJ fusing a bunch of elements together, though I think the vocal snippets of numbers should have clued me in sooner. Koop adds Astor Piazzolla's bandeoneon (aka: comedy-sized accordion) for a tidy tango ditty in Veulvo Al Sur. Then there's Nicola Conte's Bossa Ahead Remix of Eli Goulart E Bando Do Mato's Meu Samba (so many consonants), sounding not a touch out of place from whatever Latin jazz musics you fancy. Makes me wonder if the 'remix' tag is even necessary. Rearrangement, mayhaps?

Of course, there's the obligatory tunes with a heavier emphasis on jazzy drum programming (Slow Train Soul's Inna City Woman), or dubby funk (Refactoy's Yo Solo Queiro, Patchworks' Deep Ocean). Through it all though, you'll definitely come away with a craving for a mocha and croissant. Preferably by a seaside vista.

WestBam - The Roof Is On Fire

TRS Records: 1991

Every nation has that one DJ that breaks 'rave culture' to the masses, promoting popular parties, club nights, and artists to such a degree they become legends within their respective countries. Britain had Paul Oakenfold. America had Frankie Bones. Even Canada had Chris Shepperd. In Germany, though, one Maximilian Lenz was undoubtedly The Man who became synonymous with 'techno'. Already a disc jockey of some note in Berlin, he performed at the first Love Parade (and most others after), organized the massive Mayday rave which drew over an unprecedented five-thousand souls, and continued to be a prominent personality throughout the ensuing decades. Oh, and some consider him a shameless, commercial sell-out milking that initial goodwill for all it's worth, a template emulated by future media whores like Tiesto and David Guetta. A divisive figure then, this WestBam chap.

One thing he isn't known for, however, is producing major hits. Some popular tunes, sure (especially Love Parade anthems), and Finland loved his stuff for a brief time. At no point has WestBam ever cracked the lucrative American market though, despite knowing enough famous folks on this side of the Atlantic that he should have. Hell, his last album, released in 2013, had features from Iggy Pop, Kanye West and Lil Wayne! If that don't get you attention here, I don't know what will.

Really, his career often shows love for American dance music, his earliest works mostly electro and house jams he'd use as tools for DJ sets. He released quite a few singles in the late '80s, consolidating them into an album called The Cabinet. This was repurposed a couple years later into The Roof Is On Fire for American distribution, and *whoof*, did it not age well even in that short amount of time.

Electronic music can sound dated but still be interesting in the songcraft holds up, but WestBam was far from honing whatever production talent he had at that point. This sounds like he's still in DJ-mode, tracks made of existing drum breaks and overused sample kits to be spliced and looped on the fly, some turntable scratching thrown in for good measure, but no care given to making them memorable tunes. This may work fine when you're DJing and all, but in an album format, this is some drab, dry, dull stuff. Seriously, did he not have any other samples than monkey “whooping”?

The Roof Is On Fire isn't a complete write-off, the house tunes faring better than the rest. Hold Me Back is a surprisingly solid slice of hip-house action, the titular cut is fun enough with 'speak'n'spell' vocals and crowd noises, and WestBam's nods towards New Beat's domain (The Wall, Cold Stomper) are welcome enough diversions in this album. The rest, however, is total pants, annoying novelty tracks that could barely hold muster even when new, much less now. You might enjoy it if you've a fondness for chintzy '80s sample-musik, but for most folks, WestBam's production career starts after this.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Akshan - The Rise Of Atlantis

Altar Records: 2013

Might The Rise Of Atlantis have been one of Altar Records' most anticipated albums? For sure DJ Zen's print has a number of core acts that folks eagerly await new entries in their discographies, but most of them were established producers before joining ranks. Akshan, on the other hand, came practically from nowhere and smashed it with his debut The Tree Of Life, a record easily on par with the best Altar had to offer. You're damn skippy folks would be anxious to see what he'd come up with next!

And boy howdy-dowdy, they didn't have to wait long, his sophomore effort emerging but a year later. Man, at a work clip that fast, Akshan must have over a half-dozen releases by now. Er, not quite, a lone 'unreleased versions' EP coming the same year as The Rise of Atlantis, and nothing else since. There is a previously unheard track on some 2016 compilation from Hadra Records (AstroPilot and Kaya Project also appear), so maybe Vincent Grenier's been laying quiet working on new material in all this time. I dunno' though, you'd think someone who came out so strongly would have parlayed his initial momentum into more material than that, even if but a yearly trickle of tunes on Altar compilations. Was there some falling out? Akshan figuring he said all that he needed to in two albums? Got a better paying job at a lumber mill? The Rise Of Atlantis flopping?

I can't imagine that last one being the case at all. While not as dynamic as The Tree of Life, this is still one solid LP of... y'know, I can't in good conscious call this prog-psy. Yeah, this is out on a prog-psy label, there are sonic markers that remain popular in prog-psy camps, and I'm sure Very Important prog-psy DJs played tunes off here. There isn't much befitting the 'psy' demarcation on here though. Most of the cliches associated with the scene are absent, perhaps a few tonal touches and not much else. I'm more comfortable calling The Rise Of Atlantis a straight-up progressive trance album, with elements of prog-psy. Not to mention soundtracks for fantasy video games and features. Seriously, the opening titular cut should have an epic credits crawl as a camera zooms in on some amazing, CGI-enhanced vista. Reminds me of how Asura opened Life².

All nine tunes are solid offerings of progressive trance, but The Rise Of Atlantis does suffer from one notable flaw: it's all kinda' samey throughout. Akshan doesn't mess with formula, building his tracks with strong rhythms and trancey leads, each tune featuring a good, unique melodic hook at their peaks. Aside from final cut Calling The Ancients though, which hearkens to vintage Juno Reactor, all these tracks maintain a steady, prog-psy pulse, which does deflate the album's flow when each piece ends. Would work much better as a continuous mix, and there is such an option through Altar's Bandcamp. Just a shame the CD didn't have it too.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Various - Reflections Of The Southern Moon

Werkstatt Recordings: 2016

For these holidays, I've returned to the wintery Canadian hinterlands from whence I was once lived. Have family thereabouts, see, but regular work obligations generally don't afford me enough time to take such an expedition into the British Columbian mountains for Xmas shenanigans. Not this year though, time and circumstance affording me enough of a window to make the trek into the snow-cast Okanagan domain for a little family cheer. And though it's been a decade since my last winter sojourn to these high terrains, being back reminds me why I escaped my former exile – it's friggin' cold out here! The first winter I spent in this region many years ago was also my first experience with frostbite, and now, when I stepped outside for a morning stroll, regretting that I forgot my long john's, the whiskers on my face instantly frosting over, it all comes rushing back. I know my West Coast pampered lifestyle has pussified my adaptability to such radical changes in climate, but geez'it, Canadian hinterlands, you needn't remind me of that so viciously!

Thus, what better setting I've set upon myself to review a collection of dark/cold/gothic wave music from Werkstatt Recordings. Titled Reflections Of The Southern Moon, it's a sampler of artists the Greek label has on their roster, some with them since their earliest days. In fact, the duo Resistance Of Independent Music accounted for the bulk of Werkstatt's initial output. They would expand from those gothy sounds into more synth-pop/EBM territory as Paradox Obscur, while also doing solo work as Kriistal Ann and Toxic Razor (who'd also release material as Beatbox Machinery).

Between them, they account for six of the fourteen tracks on this compilation, but seeing as how their material's been integral to Werkstatt's early success, it's seems appropriate they get the lion's share. And hey, provides me with a nice bluffer's guide, as I know very little about the underground side of contemporary darkwave musicians. Oh, you know there's a huge, robust scene of this stuff burbling and churning in the dark recesses of clubland.

So Resistance Of Independent Music do the coldwave thing, Paradox Obscur do the slinky EBM thing, and Kriistal Ann does her operatic synth-pop thing, but what of the rest in this collection? Obsidian Radioactive opts to show two faces of his muse (both under gasmasks), The Fall Of Mankind a simple synth-string instrumental, Gasmasks And Titanium Scaffolds a bruising industrial outing. Dawnrazor, meanwhile, sounds like the sort of coldwave written in hopes of getting noticed by sempei vampires. I mean, even beyond the melodramatic vocals, you also get titles like Rulers Of This World and The Uncountable Callings Of Gothic Crowns. Geometry Combat's more fun, getting in on that EBM action, but still just as overwrought as darkwave can get. Finally, Metal Disco reminds us it's alright to move your electric body to this music if the tunes are funky enough. Well, as funky as music whiter than the pale moonlight can get.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Renaissance Man - The Renaissance Man Project

Turbo: 2011

I feel like I should know more about this duo than I actually do. For sure they were Resident Advisor Approved, this album earning a Best Of 2011 blessing, plus a podcast DJ mix feature – though honestly, everyone in the world of house, techno, tech-house, future garage, and pants gets one of those. When this album popped up in my search for more 2011 material though, I was surprised it came from Turbo. While I'm not as religious a follower of Tiga's Label That Could anymore, I'd like to think I still keep a finger to the pulse of what Mr.Sontag's promoting. Heck, Renaissance Man even appeared on that Brodinski Fabriclive mix (that one with the dude of sardine fingers), a total Turbo love-fest in spirit, if not in actual track selection.

On the other hand, it's not like Renaissance Man has done much else of significant note since coming out with The Renaissance Man Project. Comprised of Ville Haimala and Martti Kaliala, they first emerged with the sort of minimal/tech/fidget house that was all the hipster rage in the late-'00s, but truly broke out as something unique when they started approaching the craft with the ol' 'kitchen sink production' style. Meaning, no sample was off limits for their usage, the less conventional, the better. Even if it makes a track almost unlistenable, it don't matter so long there's some semblance of a tech-haus groove for the rooftop shufflers to sway against. This, of course, is the sort of sound that's utter catnip to discerning music journalist sorts, always on the look-out the most unorthodox music around to claim they were the first to rep it, should it take off in any culturally meaningful way. It made Herbert's Bodily Functions a critical darling, as has many such dalliances by tech-house producers (I recall even Vector Lovers got in on that action once).

I honestly thought The Renaissance Man Project was gonna' be a rather tedious example of this stuff. The first few tracks are all interesting in the myriad samples thrown in, with What Do You Do When You Do What You Do having a decent bump going for it, while Stalker Humanoid features a nifty little hook towards the end. Nonsensus gets grating in its ping-ponging with no direction though, while Damon Nabru has fun with firework samples, and that's about it.

Then Vancouver hits with a bunch of psychedelic ethnic sounds and tribal thump, and suddenly I feel like I'm in the middle of a latter-day Future Sound Of London album! Wow, this tune's wonderful, more like this please!

Sadly, Renaissance Man hits such a high but once again, at the end with anthemic S.O.S.. In between there's more minimalist, bloopy tech-house and goofball sample indulgences, all expertly produced but stuck in '00s-era plod mode. And how can I not mention the CD-bonus twenty-nine minute [Untitled] track featuring twenty-two minutes of silence. Makes me wonder if these guys gave a care for the album format at all.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Phonothek - Red Moon

Cryo Chamber: 2017

If you asked me in early 2016 whether I'd buy Phonothek's second album sight-unheard, I'd have wondered who you were even talking about, the duo not making their debut on Cryo Chamber until mid-2016. I get the inquiry though, how first impressions can go a long way in determining future purchases. Simon Heath's dark ambient label has provided me with a lot of first impressions, more as a means to sate my own morbid curiosity of what sort of music lies behind any particular piece of cover art. Some discoveries have led me digging further into artists' discographies, but most are one-and-done deals for yours truly. That's not a bad thing, time devoted to music exploration limited as is – after casting a wide trawling net, you pick the ones you want to keep, and return the others to the cold, dark sea.

I was totally expecting Phonothek to be one such cast-off. Yeah, the cover art for Lost In Fog has a cool looking tower and all, which was enough for me to scope them out – might it be some sort of Mordor-drone? Beyond that, however, I didn't expect much, the album itself not especially hot on the tongues of dark ambient specialists compared to other frequently name-dropped artists. I sure as heck would never have guessed I'd buy a follow-up album the moment it was announced. There's just something about that trumpet playing though, so alluring, so hypnotizing... so seductive, like an enchantress' mesmerizing dance against a grey, windswept backdrop. Or an apocalyptic Hellscape of a world torn asunder by venturing too far across the Roche limit, in this particular case.

If Lost In Fog dealt with a near-future of barren wastes and emptied societies, Red Moon takes us even further, whatever remnants of civilizations reduced to a feral state even as their world literally collapses around them. Cool concept, bro, though I don't think Phonothek quite reach that level of 'cinematic drone' in this offering. When I think of the end of all that there is, I expect to hear that distinct crushing drone Cryo Chamber is so often replete with across their releases: distant rumbles of earthquakes, or collapsing mountainsides, even cascading thunder storms time-stretched into unearthly roars. Red Moon comes off rather small in scope, less about painting grand canvases and more about relaying the mood and tone of those existing in such a clime'. And boy do those trumpet solos ever portray a bleak, despairing atmosphere indeed.

Again, Phonothek's approach to dark ambient is more in line with modern classical and freeform jazz, utilizing various instruments in unconventional ways to create abstract music. This can range from simple piano, trumpet, woodwinds, or strings, to filtered percussion, orchestral swells, ghostly whispers, or whatever samples are causing that burbling, churning sound throughout. And once again, I find this all strangely hypnotic and entrancing, as though Phonothek are snake charmers, and I'm beholden to their swaying suites of desolate dirges. What, me worry of impending doom?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wednesday Campenella - Rashōmon

Tsubaba Records: 2013

If you've paid any attention to the comments section this past season, this just might be the singularly most-anticipated review of an artist I've ever done. True, it's just one individual, but I'm sure the rest of y'all were at least a little curious what the fuss was about. And I cannot deny I was somewhat intrigued by the prospects of diving into something I'd never have stumbled upon in my own music wanderings.

Almost everything I've ever consumed from Japan has had some domestic influence and distribution first. Ken Ishii's brand of techno still has ties to Detroit heritage. Hybrid Leisureland's brand of ambient isn't much removed from the works of Brain Eno and Harold Budd. Koichi Sugiyama's orchestral arrangements are practically homages to European classical and American bop. Even J-Pop, the forever soundtrack to every anime credits sequence ever, takes its cues from whatever the West was doing first. It's exceedingly rare that I'll hear music direct and unfiltered from The Land Of The Rising Sun.

This though, there's no mistaking its place of origin. Artist name completely in kanji, the title a reference to a famed samurai (or at least the Akira Kurosawa film of the same name), And just look at this cover, the lead singer dressed in a kimono while chillin' at a tea house. I bet it's some sort of traditional folksy stuff, then, or maybe lounge jazz, in a very Japanese style. Ooh, opera, even! Time to throw some green tea on the stove, order in some take-out sushi, and get culture-fied!

And... it's EDM. Huh. Well, I can honestly say I wasn't expecting that.

I should get into some actual background before going any further. The group involved is 水曜日のカンパネラ, or Suiyōbi no Campanella, or Wednesday Campanella. Comprised of vocalist KOM_I, and producers Kenmochi Hidefumi and Dir.F, the group have gained some note in their homeland for encompassing a myriad of genres with broad appeal, such that they've recently found footholds with Western audiences too. After a few early EPs, Rashōmon gave them their first taste of chart success, though barely so.

As said, the music itself is basically what you'd expect of most EDM this past decade. Tracks like Monopoly, Motoko, Marie Antoinette, and Fujiko do the anthem house thing with big, shiny synths and plucky hooks. Some tracks get in on that light, brisk broken-beat action (Hoshi Ittetsu, Alibaba God Emperor), others paring it down to a chill, lounge pace (Char, Takehisa Yumeji). And while the EDM influences dominate, there are traces of Japanese tonal harmonies and instruments scattered about. As for KOM_I, she sounds nice throughout, hitting enthusiastic vocal highs where appropriate while injecting playful raps here and there. Apparently the lyrics mostly deal with people of historical import, but I wouldn't know, English the only language I've learned with any fluency. Like Latin house though, that doesn't prevent me from enjoying it on a purely dumb level either.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Various - Quinq

Spiritech: 2017

Just how insane is the alphabetical backlog I'm currently trudging through? This is my second 'Q' album in a row. You might recall that I only added a second 'Q' album to my entire collection just last year. This backlog has effectively doubled the quantity of something that previously took up ~0.13% of all the music I have. I've quite often gone on about “The Odds!” and whatnot, but this... this beats all, y'know? I didn't think there were enough 'Q' albums in my very specific niche of musical interests to make this happen – no must-have classics that I can think of at least. Plenty of producers, though.

Quinq was intended as the five year anniversary for Lingua Lustra's tiny yet robust digital label Spiritech. Not only a celebration of staying afloat in an overcrowded ambient market, but a statement of intent to keep the fire burning for as long as possible! Quinq is also apparently Spiritech's final official release, the label discontinuing operations almost right after it came out. Aw, now where will Lingua Lustra flood the market in perpetuity? Everywhere else, that's where! Seriously though, it's a shame they pulled the plug when they did, having just ventured into the demanding domain of physical production. Ah well, at least there's still their Bandcamp page, and its nearly eighty offerings. Not a bad five year run, that.

As per label anniversary rules, Quinq rounds up artists past and present as a showcase of the print's various talents, featuring fresh tunes unused in prior releases. At least, I assume they're unreleased, almost none of these tracks appearing in Lord Discogs' archives. Then again, nearly half of Spiritech's full discography remains unsubmitted to The Lord That Knows All – heck, I've uploaded these past few reviewed items myself. You'd think someone at Spiritech HQ would have been on the ball about that, but I guess Mr. Lustra had better things to do, like making his eighty-zillionth ambient piece.

You think I'm exaggerating, but four of the nine tracks on Quinq come care of ol' Albert Borkent. I guess it's appropriate, seeing as how he made up approximately 77% of Spiritech's output. Interestingly, they're all lumped at the end of the compilation, as though he's letting the other artists have some shine before taking us out with his usual, skillful ambient. Yeah, his music remains kinda' noodly and leans heavily on classic approaches to the genre, but is never boring, with enough field recording touches and dubby treatments keeping you engaged.

Still, I've heard more than plenty from him, thus it's the other artists that pique my interest. Olexa's Lyrical Love has shades of psy-dub, State Azure 's Mono has a chill trance vibe going for it, Ascendant's Sursamen treads into ambient techno's waters, while Data Rebel and Snufmumriko do their own droning ambient takes. Definitely want to check these guys out further. Might even break my 'Buying MP3s Iz Bad' rule to do so.

SiJ & Item Caligo - Queer Reminiscence

Reverse Alignment: 2017

Having taken in more of SiJ's music since my first dabbling last year, I'm surprised he's ended up with a couple albums on Cryo Chamber. For sure his style of dark ambient and sonic experiments works within the label's overall manifesto (cinematic drone, and all that), but his sense of sombre melancholy feels more benign than this genre typically goes. He's less about the bleak outlook and crippling depression, and more about quiet contemplation, reflective of inner struggles rather than chaotic turmoil. Or perhaps it's music capturing the moments following the strife, of accepting complacency, the calm of clarity that comes when all hope is finally lost. Not a cheering thought.

Still, that leaves Mr. Sikach in good company with his latest pairing, Item Caligo. More of a modern classical composer, with distant pianos and crackly strings his most striking features, he's released numerous albums with such reflective titles like The Night Of Escapism, Self-Deception As Rescue, and Go Away, I Want To Sleep. Even more intriguing is a one-time collaboration with a chap named 'i want to be dead' called Lifelong Suicidal Thoughts. According to Lord Discogs, that individual also goes by, Waqs, Serializer, Amen Weed, amphetamine hysteria, Freak Bwoy, 'born to be buried in the grave', I Cry When I Think Of Past, 'my family members were awful so i killed them in a particularly brutal form', and DJ Sailor Moon, among numerous others. I'm not joking.

Sorry for the side-track. Let's get to Queer Reminiscence, an album with song titles like So Terrible To Contemplate, Her Soul Involuntarily Yearned For Rest, It Was Good To Destroy Once Again, Life Loves Your Pain, and a final, fourteen-minute minimalist drone closer called Oblivion Is The Reward Of The Former. Yeah, it's one of those kinds of albums. All aboard the mope-mobile!

Heh, no, not really. Queer Reminiscence does have its brooding tones, but as mentioned, SiJ's craft with this music is often the sort of melancholy that feels strangely warm and comforting, like the embrace of an old, familiar blanket, even as you stare out a frigid window pane into a grey winter landscape. Add in Item Caligo's modern classical touches, and you have yourself an album perfectly suited for those with acute cases of SADS (*cough*). The titular track features forlorn pad work gently ebbing with layers of timbre, Her Soul Involuntarily Yearned For Rest is a soothing piece of traditional ambient, while If Our Hope Not Fades lets Item Caligo indulge the ol' ivories some - I'm assuming, since it's his thing.

Really, Queer Reminiscence mostly sounds like an Item Caligo album, with SiJ providing sonic treatments and field recordings. There's little of the dark ambient that typically keeps him in those folds, the music here more of a modern classical outing with drone tendencies. Good mood music, all said.

(PS: Vincent Villuis gets a 'samples credit' here, which can only mean, eventually, Ultimae's gonna' go dark ambient too!)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Various - Pure Trance: Solarstone + Orkidea

High Note Records: 2012

Not to be confused with the late '80s Pure Trance series from The KLF, nor the '90s Pure Trance series from Avex Trax, nor the '00s Pure Trance series from Water Music Dance. No, this is the '10s Pure Trance series from Solarstone, hailed as the one true Pure Trance series above all else. Not that I blame the trance brigade for such a proclamation, the trance here definitely of a purer stock than an EMI 100% Pure Trance release a year prior, what with such non-trance entities like Swedish House Mafia, Arty, and Afrojack included.

But yes, at a time when the standard bearers of trance were driving their scene into unwanted territories like Dutch house and brostep, Solarstone's 'back to basics' concept was a relief for the faithful, though not unprecedented, every long-lived scene having some type of 'pure' revitalization within it. Eurotrance goes through its own retro waves every so often, though I was surprised Rich Mowatt ended up the current champion.

Still, all that critical praise for Pure Trance: Solarstone's Kick-Off has kept me intrigued all these years. Like, I knew it wouldn't be a 'proper' return to the sort of trance I prefer, but was it really the bastion of hope I'd heard it to be? Eh, not really. Sure, compared to what passed itself off as trance in the year 2012, Pure Trance must have sounded like a godsend. Melodic leads! Consistent energy! Builds that deliver, and don't fuck around with grating noise and anti-climaxes! A problem still persists though, one I've touched upon regarding the post-Armada/Anjunabeats era of trance: homogeny.

Many of these tracks sound so alike as to render Solarstone's mix one long, energetic, uplifting excursion, but little personality between tunes. Looking at the tracklist, I'm not surprised it comes off like this, names like Rex Mundi, Mark Pledger, Guiseppe Ottaviani, Kyau & Albert, Ronski Speed, and Solarstone himself all having similar styles to one another. There are some nice tracks in here, and most of the naff stuff (vocals, momentum killing breakdowns) is kept to a minimum, but man, is it any wonder that the updated mix of Seven Cities leaps out at you as a finale? Now there's a song with personality!

All that said, most folks claim it's Orkidea's mix on CD2 that's the real highlight of Pure Trance, the whole series included. Lofty hype, but I can buy into it, as this mix has something CD1 doesn't: tracks with personality! Every tune sounds distinct from one another, with room to musically breath among its brethren, thanks in large part to class names like Way Out West, Vibrasphere, Michael Cassette, and Orkidea himself making up this set. Dammit though, why does every track gotta' have an overlong breakdown? Such momentum killers, but if that's the trade-off for having a trance mix where each tune actually stands out from each other, I'll accept it. Makes it the closest thing to an actual 'throwback' eurotrance set we'll hear these days.

Various - Pure Energy Volume 5

SPG Music LTD.: 1998

The Pure Energy series was one of the more successful runs of dance pop compilations in Canada, lasting a solid decade before folding after the ninth volume. Considering the Toronto label that promoted them, SPG Music, flooded the market with numerous such CDs, it's remarkable it stood out from the crowd at all. However, unlike long-forgotten series like Euromix, Warehouse Grooves, or Dance To The Underground, Pure Energy had one, key factor working for it: name recognition. For this series had all the big names of euro house and dance pop on its tracklists (plus a bunch of no-name locals), making them the must-have CDs in your shops should the other CDs that had all the big names of euro house and dance pop not be available. I rib, but I won't front either, my (sister's) copy of Pure Energy 2 an early favourite of yours truly. Mr. Vain, More And More, The Rhythm Of The Night, Shoop, Give It Up, Can We Get Enough?, Love Sees No Colour (Version 2)... hot damn, what a tracklist!

Fast forward a few years, and the scene has radically changed, new names and new sounds replacing the tropes of old. Except Culture Beat, they're on this volume again. And Shaggy too, who's got a feature credit on Maxi Priest's That Girl (ooh, yeah, That Girl, now you recall, That damn Girl). Yeah, for some reason, Pure Energy 5 isn't hot up to speed in its selections, some songs nearly three years old by the point this came out. That ain't no way to catch the iron while it's hot, boys, but whatever, it's the actual hits folks want that's important, so what's this CD got?

Spice Girls, Blackstreet featuring Pay-Day Dre, Aqua, Jocelyn Enriquez, “Not-Will-Smith” Space Factor. If I need to tell you which tunes, you sure don't remember 1997 well, do you. Oh, fine. Wannabe, No Diggity, Roses Are Red, A Little Bit Of Ecstasy, Men In Black. Ah, now the ol' memory membranes are firing, I bet.

Listening to Pure Energy 5 is pretty much a nostalgia trip to that year, so many songs generating, “Oh yeah, that one!” reactions when I played it back. Ultra Naté's Free, First Base's Love Is Paradise, Carrilio's Samba de Janeiro (such fiesta!), Amber's This Is Your Night, Tania Evans' Prisoner Of Love (La-Da-Di), Herbie's Right Type Of Mood... even Alexia's Uh La La La!, regrettably. It's honestly astounding how many songs here I'd completely forgotten about, but do recall them being major hits back when. Like, that Maxi Priest jam gave Shaggy his greatest mainstream exposure to that point (1996, for the record), but nowadays, all the radio stations ever play is Angel or It Wasn't Me, That Girl reduced to “Nineties Artifact” status. Poor Maxi Priest.

One last point of amusement before the wrap. The flip of the CD has a giant “DJ Approved” stamp, which is hilarious since this is a continuous mix compilation, rendering them effectively useless for actual DJing purposes.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Rapoon - Psi-Transient

Aquarellist: 2013

I first stumbled upon Rapoon way back in my initial ambient explorations, and have consistently seen his name crop up ever since. However, an impossibly high work-rate has left Robin Storey with an incredibly daunting discography, Lord Discogs listing over seventy albums to his name. Hell, there's over twenty listed since Psi-Transient dropped four years ago! And that's not to mention his pioneering work with seminal dark ambient act Zoviet France before he went solo. So a regular busy-body all said, one I probably wasn't ready to take a plunge with back when, but definitely ready for here-now. Only trouble is wear do I start? With a discography this extensive, I'll have to do some serious research, verify expert opinions, study scene influ- oh, never mind, I'll just buy this particular one I see on sale at Reverse Alignment's online shop.

Along with his Zoviet background, one of the things that made Rapoon stand out in the nu-Nineties ambient scene was his inclusion of ethnic and tribal sounds. This could be anything from drums, woodwinds, or chants, but always manipulated in such a way as to fit his looping, droning sound experiments. I honestly don't know how much of this has carried over to his recent output, as there's no possible way I'm taking in all of his music in such a short amount of time. I'd need a full day to just get through what's offered on Spotify alone, and there's not a person alive with that sort of attention span anymore. What I can tell you is if you're expecting some of that ethnic styling in Psi-Transient, you'll be left wanting.

Fortunately, I have such little knowledge of Rapoon's overall output, I come in with no preconceived biases. On the other hand, I've no clue where Psi-Transient exists within his oeuvre. Maybe nowhere specific, Mr. Storey striking me as the sort that follows wherever his muse takes him. If that means shovelling out music created for its own sake, then so be it.

For instance, opening track Shake Root prominently features distorted, thunking rhythms, and had me thinking I'd be in for some noisy, industrial-leaning sonic assaults; definitely not something I was expecting in the slightest. Then follow-up track Sentire goes mellow with gentle synth tones and looping, dubby drums pitter-pattering in the background. Ah, feeding off that old-school ambient techno vibe, then. Nah, scratch the 'techno' part of that, the next couple tracks strictly synth pad noodling. Then we're treated to some modern classical dalliances, More Halls And Afternoons Of Sun a gentle piano piece, In Voice We See mostly orchestral strings played in reverse.

From there, much of Psi-Transient flits between ambient drone and experimental modern classical pieces (ooh, trumpets in Smoke Glass Weed, like elephants trippin' on acid!). It's all very strangely captivating music, in a wall-papery sort of way. A fairly pleasant album, all said, though maybe not the best introduction to Rapoon's music. Which of his seventy albums are, though?

Gustaf Hildebrand - Primordial Resonance

Cyclic Law: 2005

Dark ambient set in the impossible emptiness of deep space? Love it! Droning emptiness painting a portrait of lost civilizations of times long past? Fascinating! Derelict husks of aquatic transportation? That's... oddly specific, isn't it? Yes, and I've come across a few instances of such cover art, all of which I'm strangely drawn to. I don't know what it is – maybe growing up in coastal climes? - but seeing abandoned boats rotting on dry land is some of the most captivating, harrowing imagery I've seen associated with this genre of music. How did these vessels get there? Was there once a large body of water that dried out due to over-usage or climate change, like Lake Chad and the Aral Sea? What of the folk that once lived on those shores and rode in these vessels, where have they gone? Was there a once prosperous people that thrived off these waters, only to be brought to ruin through their own nearsightedness? All these boats, once integral parts of a functioning society, little more than skeletal, moldy shells, soon reclaimed by the land surrounding them. Throw in a backdrop of two moons, well, you got my attention indeed, Mr. Hildebrand!

Gustaf made his debut on Cyclic Law with Starscape, the sort of dark space ambient I probably would have picked up from the guy if the boats of Primordial Resonance hadn't caught my attention first. Also, I don't know if there's a CD option left, as there wasn't with this particular album either, only discovered after purchase. Eh, it's been over a decade, so no fault on Cyclic Law's part there, but at least update your Bandcamp pages with such details, eh?

Primordial Resonance takes things down to more earthly realms (because boats!), dealing with ye' tragic tales of townships torn asunder from our mortal coils. Think that's a pretentious wording of phrase? One of the tracks on this album is called Ruins Of A Failed Utopia. It features Gregorian chants, among other things like desolate emptiness and abandoned, sickly, grinding machinery continuing to chug and churn long after their utility, usefulness, or reason for existence has any meaning or bearing. Makes me want to leap into this piece and spit some WD-40 into the poor contraptions.

So yeah, Primordial Resonance is the sort of dark ambient that's all about decay and desolation, though each track offers a little variety between them so it's not one long, constant depressing drone. Omega Continuum has distant wails as though the area's deceased still carry through the wind. Post Oblivion Fields adds wind chimes to foreboding menace, eventually retreating into empty caverns. The Hollow Structures... dear God, is this where the Cenobites hang out? And what's with the crying baby at the end? Wanderer Of Strange Spheres is more subdued in its drone, almost giving the listener a chance to reflect on the scenery they've just witnessed. Me, I'll be shivering in one of those derelict boats, thank you.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Bluetech - Prima Materia

Waveform Records: 2003

Psy-dub producer. Regular on the regional festival circuit. Constant pop-up in Recommendation algorithms. Debut album on Waveform Records (kinda'), plus appearances on Interchill Records, Yellow Sunshine Explosion, and Platipus (among many others). For all intents, I should have jumped on a Bluetech album at some point these past fifteen years, but have only done the deed now. Even my old standby excuses of 'over-exposure' or 'genre apathy' don't apply, ol' Evan existing in that sweet lane of familiar-yet-underground producers I prefer cruising among. I can only plead a similar case as with Adham Shaikh, Bluetech a chap I've always intended to scope out proper-like, yet constantly putting off to the back, for a time when I've exhausted all other whims of artist, genres, and label explorations. In other words, I've run out of reasons not to pick up Prima Materia, in that it's the lone remaining album in Waveform's second Golden Period (2000-2005) that I've yet to nab (the Slowdeck LP's out-of-print, sadly).

Once again, the little ambient dub label that could broke another future star of the psychedelic downbeat scene in Bluetech, though that's technically not accurate. True, they gave him his first album deal, after which he'd release LPs through Aleph Zero Records, Somnia, and Interchill, but even this wasn't Evan's first release. That honour goes to Lead Into Gold, out four years prior on the old MP3.com. I doubt it got much attention, though Bluetech was quickly building himself a solid rep' at festivals for a unique, digitally-enhanced take on psy-dub. Less about endless loops of overdubbed samples, and more about technological manipulations as enjoyed by the IDM wonks of scenes not uttered among the aged crusties. A bold new step of psychedelic music-making, for a bold new generation of cyber-hippies, or something.

I won't front: every time I've thrown on Prima Materia, I'm initially put off by the extremely digital nature of Bluetech's sound, coming off quite plastic and thin compared to most psy-dub I hear (and having just listened to a double-LP with the Ultimae Mixdown™, oh dear...). I'll grant it was still new back in the early '00s, such production needing time to mature, but if you're an audiophile that demands old-school analogue richness, you may want to skip this.

As for myself, once my ears acclimatize to Bluetech's aesthetic, Prima Materia ain't too shabby at all. It usually takes three tracks for me to get there, but considering that particular cut is a remix (sorry, 'retriangulation') of the classic Triangle of Sounds From The Ground fame, can you blame a psy-dub brother for being wooed with recognition? As for the rest, all the familiar psy-dub attributes are here (groovy rhythms, ethnic vibes, quirky samples), and Evan's digital manipulations remain tasteful, never getting over-indulgent to the point of nonsense. There's even some sounds that remind me of Phutureprimitive's Sub Conscious, making me wonder if he and Bluetech were sharing plugins at the time. Nah, just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Various - Polarity (Mixed By Focal)

Ultimae Records: 2017

It was inevitable. Sure, Ultimae's been heading this direction for some time now, several releases sneaking it in with the usual downtempo offerings. Regardless of that fact though, it was bound to happen, as it happens to all long-lasting labels. No matter where you start – psy-trance, hardstyle, d'n'b, bossa nova, noise-glitch-wankstep – all paths eventually lead you to the two longest, dominating scenes of electronic music: house and techno. And now, the journey is complete, Arnaud Galoppe (Focal) given the green light from Aes Dana to provide his label with an honest-to-God, true-to-the-blue, right proper techno DJ mix, scene jumping into an untapped demographic unlike anywhere they've ventured before. Oh, and an ambient mix too, to placate the faithful, I guess.

Also new for Ultimae is the fact Polarity is their first foray into the double-disc DJ mix. Many of their past compilations had light blending between tracks, but nothing like the traditional mixing that goes on the Techno Side CD. Since much of the psy-chill they promoted had disparate rhythms and tempos anyway, doing a regular mix wouldn't be feasible. Here though, Mr. Galoppe gets to show the very important world of techno that Ultimae, too, can hang out with the Echospaces and Ostgut Tons of the globe. If they're paying attention at least.

Okay, that's not fair. The Ambient Side does bring the sort of sounds that- no, actually, even this doesn't have much to do with the Ultimae you know. Despite this label inching closer to the dub techno singularity, there's remained slight hints of psy-chill even in recent releases, but Focal says nuts to that. The only Ultimae name that shows up is Aes Dana (of course), every other artist appearing for the first time on this label. Not even current 'regulars' like Martin Nonstatic get a look in. Some of the Echospace chaps do though.

If anything, Ambient Side reminds me of a Silent Season collection rather than anything Ultimae's ever done. It's got copious amounts of flowing, droning, dubby layers of pads and field recordings, sprinkled with moody, melancholy melodies, but not too much as to get in the way of all those cavernous effects. Some tracks provide rhythms too – Valanx's Dance Of Death gets nu-jazzy, Mod21's Hunting The Black Eagle tribal, Resoe's Pressure Elements Detroity – but for the most part we're dealing with beatless music, rhythmic momentum generally supplied by dubby throbs reverberating into the distance. With that wonderfully full and rich Ultimae Mixdown™ in play, it reaches far indeed.

Which leads us to the Techno Side, where Focal takes us down a dub techno journey of, well, dub techno. Some of it gets minimalist (Area's Wanting, Beat Pharmacy's Tone), other times funky (Deadbeat's Entonación Chilena), elsewhere indulgent in effects (Beyond Air from CV313; aka: DeepChord), but there isn't much in the way of surprises either. Focal's set is generally as linear and flat as you'd expect of this genre, but boy does it sound nice on a good sound-system.

Scott Grooves - Pieces Of A Dream

Soma Quality Recordings: 1998

A deep house record is the last sort of sound I'd expect of an album with this sort of cover art, but Scott Grooves is from Detroit, so maybe Soma Quality figured sci-fi was justified. Still, what even is going on with this collage? Blue Earth, red pyramids, array of radio telescopes with a parade of elephants, flying ladybugs and butterflies. Pieces of a dream indeed, fragment of familiarity strewn about a nonsensical adventure in the land of Nod. But, oh man, once you realize you get into that lucid state of being, then the real fun begins. Here I come, Giza Pyramids Of Mars!

Patrick Scott got his start in the early '90s with Detroit-based Soiree Records International, releasing a smattering of EPs as Key Statements and DJ Scott. He soon adopted the name Scott Grooves, and signed with Soma Quality for a debut album, which did gang-busters for him. It seems, however, all that extra attention didn't suit his Detroit upbringing, and he went almost entirely independent after, self-releasing through his own, various prints (From The Studio Of Scott Grooves, Natural Midi). He remains active to this day, one of Detroit house's lasting fixtures along with Kenny Dixon Jr. and Mike Huckaby, though perhaps not as recognized as his Motor City peers. For a moment though, Mr. Grooves most definitely was, thanks to Pieces Of A Dream, and more specifically a singular track off the album. Let's talk about it now!

So Mothership Reconnection, a reworking of Parliament Funkadelic's tune of similar name. Clinton's here! Bootsy's here! Barrett's here! Worrell's here! Daft Punk is here! Okay, on the remix, but considering the French duo seldom did rubs of other people's music, you bet Soma Quality made it a huge selling point on the single. Their remix isn't on this album, of course, but don't let that dissuade you from checking out the original, over nine minutes of tight, funky action.

Getting to rework the P-Funk crew wasn't the least of Scott Groove's 'collaborations' either, rounding up several jazz musicians throughout. Opener Expansions features famed vibraphone player Roy Ayers plying his trade for a few extended solos, plus one Charles Green gets in a Rhodes solo at the end. Saxophonist Keith Kaminski struts his stuff in The Sax Speaks, and I'm thankful it's a solo that doesn't send needles through my ears (read The Verve Story reviews for more information). Bumpin On The Underground brings in Perry Hues for some smooth guitar action, and The Scat Groove has Gwen Fox doing that vintage “a-hey a'ya a'ya zim'da a'dem-dem a'daya” of jazzy lore.

Throughout it all, Scott Grooves lays down, well, solid house grooves, never letting his production overshadow his guest musicians. He's got a few, regular jams to himself for that (Pieces Of a Dream, New Day, Feels So Good), deep house with a touch of that futurist vibe Detroit is so well known for. Folks may come for the P-funk, but guaranteed they'll leave sated by the D-funk.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Out Of The Box - Out Of The Box

Werkstatt Recordings: 2013

So Werkstatt Recordings was unexpectedly generous in the swag they included with an order of mine. While not Ultimae levels of extras (no incense sticks), receiving various stickers from several releases is a nice touch – satisfies a collector's itch I didn't even know I had. The Greece label also threw in a couple bonus CDrs inside a single slipcase, one of which lacking cover art. In fact, all it has is “Out Of The Box Promo” scrawled in felt pen. “Cool,” thinks I, “Werkstatt's sending me sneak peaks of upcoming releases. How nice of them.” Nope, that's not it at all.

Turns out this already had an official release, four years ago. I mean, obviously so, if there's artwork available. It's the same seven tracks as found on Bandcamp, and there was even a proper limited run of CDs done too - probably, like, twelve copies though, as Werkstatt's really skint with physical mediums. Since Out Of The Box is clearly well past its 'promo' window, why did I receive this? Did Werkstatt have it lying about the office, and threw it in just because? Did they feel I'd get a kick out of the music within, but would never have stumbled upon it on my own? Are they planning a re-release with limited tape copies? All very good questions that honestly don't need an answer. 'Tis all just rather odd, y'know.

And who is this Out Of The Box that Werkstatt felt compelled to include with an overseas order? One Liam White, turns out, though Lord Discogs states this his only release under the moniker. He's released a half-dozen more items as Sick Robot, both with Werkstatt and self-released, most of which falls under the EBM, electro, and retro-trance side of things. Far as I can tell, Out Of The Box was his shot at breaking free of those constraints. Why, you could say Liam's forcing his way through an enclosed space into an open beyond.

First track Common Ground doesn't stretch too far from his comfort zone, though it's definitely a rougher shade of techno compared to his usual fare. Fire In The Sky says nuts to all that, and goes full neurofunk, making this the second Werkstatt release I've covered in a row that's tread into drum 'n bass' domain (the... odds!). That's followed upon by Lost And Found, a slow tech-house groover that erupts with flashy synths midway. And seemingly going out of his way to prove he's a genre-jack of all trades, fourth cut Matter Of Time gets in on that retro-trance action I mentioned earlier (doesn't sound quite “Eighties” enough to be space-synth).

The final run of tunes sticks to electro and tech-house vibes, but it's clear Out Of The Box is intended as a big ol' showcase of Mr. White's eclectic muse. A bit too eclectic, if I'm honest, the genre-jumping rather scattershot in make a lasting impression. As something different from the Werkstatt norm, however, 'tis not bad at all.

Neon Droid - Ordinary Neon

Werkstatt Recordings: 2015

This is such an '80s name, I'm surprised no one else had already snagged it up when that decade started its fashionable resurgence over fifteen years ago (!!). 'Neon' goes without saying, such flashy, functionalist lighting almost synonymous with an era of hyper-consumerism. As for 'droid', I remember the cartoon Droids from the '80s. In fact, I had an issue of the Marvel Star comic, where they did an obligatory crossover with Ewoks (Artoo saved everyone from a falling boulder with his legs, so don't tell me the Prequels made him over-powered with gimmicks). Of course, robots have existed as a concept for much longer, but it wasn't until Star Wars that they earned the additional handle of droids, carrying through the decade that followed. And one made of neon (somehow), well, the only way to make this more '80s sounding is in the font. Neon Droid didn't disappoint.

Since no one was using the nomme de plume, one Zoltan Gabor took it as his own a few years back. He also had a prior alias of Blasta, self-releasing a digital LP called Invasion Of The Cyborg Ninjas, featuring a cover that's about as '80s clip-art cheeze-mo' as you'd expect of such a title. Seems ol' Zoltan's refined his approach some for his Neon Droid output, though a couple tunes were reused from that effort into his debut album here.

If all this has you thinking Ordinary Neon is little more than a generic synthwave release, please, you should know I'm pickier than that. This is a genre flooded with bland homages, retro rehashes, and soggy songcraft, requiring more than obvious nods for me to bite. And the opening titular track at least does that, a slower, funkier jam with vocoder action that's the sort of tune everyone keeps hoping Daft Punk will make (let it go, it ain't happening). It's enough to get my attention at least, while follow-up Aurora works a groovy space-synth vibe with a strong synth-n-piano melody. The guitar action in Countach comes off too try-hard for my taste though.

Some decent synthwave tunes follow in Moon and Proveland (ooh, acid!), then Dominion introduces something I haven't heard much from this genre: the d'n'b 2-step break! I'm... actually surprised this rhythm is so rare – you'd think 'outrun' dudes would be all up in that hi-octane pace.

If that didn't throw me for a loop though, then Legacy Of Skye sure as Hell did, an honest-to-God prog-house track in synthwave's clothing. It's got the chuggy rhythm with building minor melodies, mid-song breakdown introducing an uplifting hook, then goes on an extended melodic tangent before bringing everything back for a proper finish. It's also nearly ten-minutes long, which is the correct length for a good prog-house tune of any era. Right, it's not a genre-defining example of prog-house, but to have a well-crafted slice of the stuff on an album like this, who'd have guessed? Makes the final run of standard synthwave cuts all the more fun.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Psychomanteum - Oneironaut

Cyclic Law: 2011

When browsing about for music, it's always the album art that sells me on it. Who's the artist or what's the genre generally comes in a close second, but now that I've started digging through dark ambient's coffers, those points are almost irrelevant. Yeah, there are many thematic variations throughout this scene, but the associated art won't go out of its way to trick you – if there's a post-apocalyptic city-scape or weird demonic creatures on the cover, you're gonna' hear stuff that paints such pictures in your headspace within. As I've got a major weakness for the Cosmic Fantastical, it's always the space themed albums that get my attention first, and you bet I couldn't resist one of fancy colourful nebula dancing in the forever black, serving as a hairpiece for a disembodied, statuesque head. I had no idea who Psychomanteum was, exactly what an 'oneironaut' is, or specifically what sort of dark ambient I'd be dealing with. There's something spacey going on though, so that's good enough for me.

Turns out I'd dealt with this duo after all, even name-dropped them a year ago now. A short-lived two-piece outfit, Psychomanteum was helmed by Robert Kozletski and Jakob Detelić, the former of which you might recall has a newer solo project called Apócrýphos. If you don't recall, eh, don't feel bad – I totally forgot about it myself. It's hard keeping track of all these dark ambient dudes and their main projects, side-projects, collaborative projects, and alternate dimension projects. If I end up with a copy of Shock Frontier's Mancuerda Confessions from Malignant Records, and somehow still forget it's another release from ol' Robert, I deserve a right smack upside the head.

As for Psychomanteum (that name's a lot harder to type than you'd think!), they made their debut with this Oneironaut, provided a few additional tracks to various compilations on Cyclic Law and Kalpamantra, then disbanded a mere year after, Mr. Kozletsky drawn to other interests, leaving poor Jacob behind (he has no other Discoggian credits). Seems a lot of dark ambient disciples lament this dissolution, many enthralled by the scant offerings they provided with their lone LP.

I can buy into that, Oneirnaut the sort of mellow, droning meditative style that suits the album's theme (dream walking and all that). Tracks flit between melancholy reflection and empty nothingness, at times calm and soothing, other times leaving you feeling naked and bare against yourself. Along with the subtle synth pads and moody drone, flutes, ritualistic chants, sparse rhythmic percussion, and dubby, unearthly echoes add to the overall canvas. A lot of stuff I've heard before, true, but Psychomanteum show wonderful skill in crafting their sonic journeys, more musical than most drone artists go without being overtly obvious about it.

It's dark ambient that's not about challenging you with macabre perversions or existential nihilism, but serving as a guide for your own lucid explorations. Indeed a shame this is all we got from them.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - Old Time Gospel Favorites

Curb Records: 1996

What, another one of these? This can't be good for the time-stream, me constantly plucked out of the year 2073 to review Oak Ridge Boys music in the year 2017. As I understands it, time flows like a river, ever moving with steady, forward momentum, events playing out more or less as the river's course intends. Disrupting that flow by time-travelling doesn't, by and largely, have much effect in The Big Picture. Me coming back here to write occasional blogger entries is no more eventful than tossing a pebble into an eddy. Even if my future-words had any significant impact upon your time, it's no more problematic than heaving a boulder into the stream. Enough to deviate the flow in a localized area, but the river carries on just the same. You'd have to initiate a truly calamitous situation to change the main course, like a flood or earthquake.

Still, toss enough pebbles in a short amount of time in a very specific spot, and little things can start seeming askew from the norm. The major events that lead to my time are still on track, but some of your sports stats are off. The Winnipeg Jets an NHL leader? The NBA's Eastern Conference having a better record than the West? For as long as I remember, that's not supposed happened! Ah well, so long as the Presidential Dog-Fucking Scandal still goes down...

Now, back to The Oak Ridge Boys, with their illionth gospel compilation. I mentioned the last one I reviewed was my first instance of repeat songs. Old Time Gospel Favorites is the second, and crushes Old Country Church in that statistic, including opening with the same song! Also here is When I Lay My Burdens Down, Farther Along, I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, and Lead Me To Calvary. That's half a tracklist I've already gone over, and the remaining songs aren't much different from their other country-leaning gospel ditties from the Nauty-Sixties. My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me does have a charming swing to it.

I'll grant some fairness to Curb Records, in that this came out in 1996, so beat those other labels to the market with their recycled songs. That's beside the point though, because my past self assured me I wouldn't be dealing with redundant repeats. Why'd I even get this?

It's the cover art, isn't it. Striking autumn colours, pastoral setting of a time long since lost. It draws you in, doesn't it, into a more innocent time, an existence where the worries of the world have no impart on the going-ons of the day-to-day concerns. Rise at dawn, tend to the farm, send the missus to the grocer for the dinner, ease back on the porch with a sated tummy full of stuffins. Congregate at the Sunday church to catch up with the neighbours, content in the knowledge there wasn't much of a care beyond those rolling hills of leafy trees. Truly, the bliss of ignorance.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - Old Country Church

Gusto Records: 2010

How's it hoppin', Past-Peoples? 2073 Sykonee back again. It's been a while, hasn't it? Not long enough, you say? Ah, what would I know about passages of time. Days, weeks, months... it makes no difference when you keep getting plucked from the future to review music of the distant past. I've no problem coming back to these chaotic times – life is all staid with the Atomic Brotherhood running things, dont'cha know. They keep the lights on, the condos warm, the beasts out, and the net neutral, but glory be, what a plethora of varied musicks you still get to enjoy! I forgot rock could still roll. Eh, the rest of Earth beyond? Pretty sure I've mentioned Red Belters before, and there's other enclaves the Atomic Brotherhood has built beyond Cascadia, for those who believe and all. We don't fuss ourselves with such details, and besides, isn't giving too much future information bad? Why, even letting y'all know that The Oak Ridge Boys remain one of the greatest acts to grace our membranes might be too much.

Well, it finally happened: we've come across repeat songs. I warned my past self it would sooner than he hoped. The Oak Ridge Boys and Quartet may have had dozens of gospel recordings throughout the Nauty-Fifties and Nauty-Sixties, but there are still tried and trusted favourites even in this specific niche of Americana Past. When I Lay My Burdens Down saw tons of compilation duty, including the last one I went over, Hymns & Songs II. The Love Of God also shows up again, and offers a brilliant compare-and-contrast. It's the same recording, for surely, but that Verus Records label took extra care remastering it, cleaning it of vinyl debris, enhancing stereo spacing, and giving the Boys a full range of audio dynamics. Gusto Records, on the other hand, just ripped it from the original record before splunging it onto this compact disc. There's little range, and is littered with vinyl crackles; not the retro warm kind either.

So it goes, Gusto Records purchased the rights to several Nashville labels in the Nauty-Seventies, which included many of The Oak Ridge Boys' prior records. This gave them a wide range of albums to pluck songs from here, even going so far as to include a whopping thirteen as opposed to the standard ten almost every other gospel compilation settled for. On the other hand, the sound quality between songs flies from decent to scratchy. Never unlistenable, but jumping from a 1958 recording to a 1966 one is super distracting when little's been done to clean them up. To say nothing of being spoiled by Verus now.

And then there's one extra song, lodged two-thirds in, that doesn't make a spittle of sense in Old Country Church. It's called Amen (Instrumental by Nashville Guitars), and sounds like a bad karaoke ditty, with cheap synth tones of guitar, strings, banjo, harmonica... How did this end up on a CD with Nauty-Sixties gospel music? Something's not right...

Various - Nu Balance

City Of Angels: 1998

This is the sort of CD that was destined for North American pawn shops. Everything about it triggers apathy, an item lost among the glut of an over-saturated, late '90s compilation market. It's got The Designer's Republic eye-catching aesthetic, but none of the skill. There's a big ol' NU plastered across its face, a desperate attempt at convincing you this CD, this one right here, contains only the most cutting-edge jams available. It's even got a snowboarder on the cover, despite having nothing to do with snowboarders, snowboarding, or boarding snowboarding hordes – but that's the cool new nu counter-culture, as is this music featuring drums and bass, so slap that dude on. And, should you flip the case just to see what sort of tracks it might have, there's The Crystal Method's Keep Hope Alive, luring you in with familiarity. Never mind it's the AK1200 rub of the tune, Nu Balance might be worth further investigation if the surrounding tunes are of comparable quality.

That all said, I didn't find this CD in a pawn shop; at least, nothing local. I did spot it while surfing Amazon though, when browsing about for Balance DJ mixes. With such a cheap asking price, I figured it might be worth a couple talking points, and maybe even unearth a couple overlooked gems from a bygone era in the process.

Ah, no. City Of Angels, the label behind this CD, looked to capitalize on the West Coast's growing interest in jungle, highlighting domestic talent whom I'm sure were much cheaper to license out. A nice sentiment, giving overlooked U.S. names some shine, but considering the dearth of recognizable American d'n'b producers from that time, unfortunately not a profitable one.

A chunk of music in this ten-tracker comes care of Jungle Sky, a very important label out of New York City. Helmed by DJ Soul Slinger, it nurtured what little d'n'b scene there was on this side of the Atlantic, letting it simmer and grow while British-based Metalheadz, Moving Shadow, and Prototype dominated the discourse. Soul Slinger himself offers two cuts, more on the leftfield side of jungle production. 5 AM Rinse from 1.8.7. is even odder, in that its lo-fi quality sounds like it was ripped direct from a live pirate broadcast, including ever-present MC. Elsewhere, DJ Ani's Eastern Influence really, really, really wants to be Photek's Ni Ten Ich Ryu - charming for the effort.

City Of Angels alum Front BC (more commonly known as The Rip-Off Artist) does some regular ol' d'n'b jams with The Front and Ojai (touching on the LTJ vibe in the latter). Westside Chemical do more of a chill tekno-jungle thing with Potstar, and Nu Balance rounds out with unremarkable ragga and neurofunk from acts that aren't even worth mentioning since they've no other Discoggian presence. As it goes for this CD in general: some interest for the scene faithful, but it's clear America was still playing catch-up to the U.K.'s top dons.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

GosT - Non Paradisi

Blood Music: 2016

Looks like GosT's found a synthwave lane he can rightfully claim as his own: the Christian Hellscape. Yeah, he's already been parading about with anti-Christ iconography (or is just a hardcore fan of Saint Peter), but with his latest album of Non Paradisi, he's taken things even further. The title's already a fancy Latin way of saying Hell (or 'non Paradise', I guess), with plenty of track titles indulging such imagery further. Lake Of Fire, Maleficarum, Unum Infernum, to say nothing of an inlay containing paintings of lava rivers, falling angels, pentagrams, and extended words going over Lucifer's manifesto. And that's just the standard digipak - makes me wish I'd gotten me one of those ultra-deluxe versions with the twenty-eight page booklet. It's almost insane the lengths Blood Music goes to in providing collector's items, and you just know they were totally down for going to bat with GosT's Satanist stuff. Ties with their death metal material quite nicely.

So like the label's other James (Perturbator), James Loller's has himself a strong gimmick and identifiable visual aesthetic. Still hasn't fully committed himself to album narratives though, but that's fine – not every synthwave producer is obligated to do as such. A lot of them do it because they're inspired by soundtracks of the '80s, music telling stories as much as lodging earwormy themes into your noggin'. By track titles alone, you can discern an apocalyptic tale of fallen angels followed by unholy revolt and retribution from Non Paradisi, but the music isn't terribly explicit in detailing such events. Still, no blatant 'club choons' either, so evolution?

Opener Commencement kicks things off about as you'd expect GosT to, with abrasive, crunchy synths, screaming leads, operatic flourishes, and rockin' rhythms. Nascency eases up a little on the brickwall aural assault, making use of those choir pads that get my vintage German trance triggers flaring. Aggrandizement eases off the throttle for a sludgy, gothy dark-pop outing featuring lyrics from *snicker* Bitchcraft. Seems to be playing the standard synthwave album sequence to a tee.

In that regard, Non Paradisi doesn't offer much in surprises, but GosT throws in enough unique ideas every track to keep you engaged. Lake Of Fire unleashes synth leads that sound absolutely terrified of its Hellscape surroundings. Supreme with returning Hayley Stewart makes use of charming bell-tones that has me thinking classic 'bleep' techno; boy, there's a lot of early rave sounds here. Elsewhere, 4th gets in some slap-bass action, while Arise brings in Werkstatt Records alum Kriistal Ann for some proper goth melodrama.

The final run of songs pretty much brings everything prior to a head, ramping up the intensity from track to track, for a gritty, calamitous climax. I honestly feel it peaks too early though, Unum Infernum almost tricking you into thinking we've come to a bouncy, cheery denouement before unleashing another operatic Hellbeast on your ears. Doesn't leave final cut I Am Abaddon with much room to go after.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lorenzo Montanà - Nihil

...txt: 2015

Now this is just ridiculous. Twice this has happened now? In the same backlog, no less?? Right, I won't deny I slightly gamed the results in this occurrence. I only realized I had a pair of albums titled Genesis after noticing them both slotted together, a funny coincidence things turned out as such and nothing more. When I decided it was time to start a KMFDM collection, however, my cursory research in where to dive led me to Nihil as an option, a title that struck me as curiously familiar. Oh yeah, that's because I'd recently sprung for a Lorenzo Montanà album called Nihil. What are the odds of that going down? If this blog focused on death metal and bleak drone, pretty good odds I'd say. Mr. Montanà don't play that way though, ambient techno with a modern sensibility his primary lane. For sure you could abstract some darker themes out of his various works on Fax+ and Psychonavigation Records, but that he'd go full “Latin nothing” never seemed an option where Lorenzo was concerned. That's dark ambient's domain, yo'.

Just as well, then, that Nihil is about as close to the realms of dark ambient as I've ever heard Lorenzo go. We're not talking Cryo Chamber levels, of course, but there is much emptiness in the music crafted here, about as pure an ambient album I've heard from Mr. Montanà, though he apparently went this route a year prior on Carpe Sonom Records too. Nihil comes care of ...txt though, released shortly before Lorenzo completed his time trilogy of albums with Psychonavigation Records, making him among an elite few producers to have music on four of the most prominent Namlook-inspired labels of recent history. Only one missing is Databloem.

As a debut piece for ...txt, Nihil is a rather unassuming collection of compositions: five tracks long, some breaching fifteen minutes, others barely scraping by in nine. Having primarily digested Lorenzo's IDM-leaning sounds, I have to say I was taken aback by the near-complete lack of rhythms throughout the album. Opener AfA has its first four minutes doing the space-drone thing, before long joined by a lonesome woodwind, with subtle synth leads finally giving the piece some momentum. Sprinkles of soft percussion is heard in the distance, but that's as far as rhythms go here. Elsewhere, tracks like Lake Of Vagli and Goqui opt for pure ambient drone, the former rather foreboding and menacing, the latter more tranquil and relaxing – a little Berlin-School melody in the latter-half of Goqui don't hurt either.

Then there's Arabesque Mist, with meandering, slightly askew ambience that has me thinking SAW II Aphex Twin, but with additional acoustic guitar strumming. And Geometric Quantum, finally offering a little rhythmic backbone for its burbling, dubby synth leads to cruise over. It then switches pace midway, going Berlin-School for the remainder. Or '90s Fax+, whichever you feel is the more Proper-Vintage take on this sort of sequenced, modulating, bleepy space-chill music.

Friday, December 1, 2017

KMFDM - Nihil

Wax Trax! Records/Metropolis: 1995/2007

About time I started up a KMFDM collection. They were only the first industrial band that caught my attention because Mortal Kombat obviously, but also all those eye-popping CDs with brutalist comic-art covers didn't hurt either. Truthfully, I was intimidated by the artwork, not quite ready for their aggressive, thrashy take on discotech rawk. That Juke Joint Jezebel jam though, always got my jimmies jostlin', and you can imagine my fanboyism upon discovering they used footage from the Patlabor movie for the music vid. I figured I'd get to their output eventually, but industrial remains rather fringe where my tastes are concerned, something I hope to rectify over time. Have to start somewhere though, and while Nine Inch Nails, Fear Factory, and Front Line Assembly have provided a taste, it's about time I give Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid their due.

And as Nihil is the album that has Juke Joint Jezebel on it, it's only natural that I'd pick this one up first. No, wait, that's not it. I got Nihil because, as their most commercially successful album, it's clearly The Only KMFDM Album You're Supposed To Have, Even If You're Not A KMFDM Fan. Haha, no, it's a good reason, but that's not it either. I got this first because of a totally unrelated situation that will be made clear incredibly soon.

Thing that's always struck me as crazy with this band is how American they sound. Maybe their earlier work was more Teutonic (I haven't heard any of it), but much of the stuff I've come across always had this 'buttrock' vibe to it, like they were fully committed to American gutter riffs, gospel glory, and cyberpunk sleaze. This may have been in part to their moving to the States, the industrial scene a different beast here compared to Europe. Opening track Ultra (also made popular by anime) is a propulsive beast, with shouty lyrics and abrasive guitars that'll get all the longhairs whipping their heads about. Flesh, Trust, and Search & Destroy go even thrashier, the sort of tunes that makes me hype to just attack something, like a punching bag or my dishes.

KMFDM haven't forgotten their EBM roots though, tracks like Beast, Revolution, and Brute getting down to thumping, jack-boot rhythms as cyberpunk samples and electronics play out – probably could have made handy soundtrack fodder if Juke Joint Jezebel hadn't hogged all the glory. They even find time to slow things down to a grinding chug with Terror (that hook!), and... is that a ballad with Disobedience? Well, about as mellow as they'll allow, vicious sonic attacks still bridging the mellow parts.

Given their history, it's remarkable KMFDM hit upon such a success eight albums deep, though they'd been building plenty of good-will for most of the '90s too. Maybe it was the added input of former band member Raymond Watts to the mix, or maybe just feeling inspired by the West Coast scenery they relocated to, but whatever the case, Nihil remains peak KMFDM.

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