Wednesday, November 29, 2017

LL Cool J - Mr. Smith

Def Jam Recordings: 1995

Can't be a proper hip-hop head without a little LL Cool J in my collection. Just a shame it's taken me this long to get some. No, wait, that's not true - I did have a Cool J album before, his G.O.A.T. album when I first got into hip-hop. I liked it enough to nab me a copy, but when it came time for the Great CD Pawning Of 2002 (unemployed ass gotta' pay for ramen noodles somehow), it didn't survive the purge. No great loss by most accounts, and while LL's remained an active name in the world of rap, I haven't been compelled to keep tabs on his music. That doesn't excuse me from skipping on his early classics though, so maybe this will finally get my ass hunting for those albums you're supposed to have, even if you're not a LL Cool J fan.

Actually, I think I've already accomplished this with Mr. Smith ...kind of. While not a critical darling on the same level as Bigger And Deffer or Mama Said Knock You Out, it was a successful commercial turnaround for LL after a weak jump on the gangsta fad of the early '90s. Propped up by Platinum-selling singles that catered to the lucrative R&B crowd, even folks who'd never bothered with his '80s output were buying this album up.

That's damn impressive considering how most rappers from the previous decade were constantly being upstaged by fresher talents. For sure those only after the grittiest, grimiest street tales wouldn't have much use for Mr. Smith, but there's a much wider audience than that in the Urban scene, and Cool J tapped into it perfectly. Hell, I remember Doin' It being quite the hit even in my backwoods region of Canada, if only because as snarky teenagers, we'd do mocking sarcastic renditions of the chorus. Joke's on us though, LL soon appearing on Demographic-Approved soundtracks like Beavis And Butthead Do America and Space Jam.

So the R&B tunes were the big hits (including Boyz II Men collab' Hey Lover, and Loungin with the Puff Daddy-produced duo Total). How's the rest of Mr. Smith, then? Good enough, I suppose – no embarrassing attempts at being thug at least. LL gets in several braggadocios cuts showing off his lyrical skills for 'real hip-hop heads', including Make It Hot, I Shot Ya, No Airplay, Mr. Smith, Get Da Drop On 'Em. He also gets in a couple wordplay cuts, one toying with movie titles (Hollis To Hollywood), another giving props to rap acts over the years (Hip Hop). This one's oddly placed in the album though, second track status when it feels like it should be plugged near the end as a tribute.

Production wise, most tunes are handled by a then-new talent called TrackMasters, who's smooth, Eastcoast style would lead them to producing such prominent names like Nas, Foxy Brown, Noreaga, Method Man, and Will Smith. Eh, I'll take Rashad Smith's dubby style myself. He later got Busta Rhymes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Vortex - Moloch

Cyclic Law: 2016

It's difficult wading through these bleak, murky dark ambient shores, many upon many labels having sprung up this past decade offering grim, morbid, desolate sound-spaces for our troubled times. Like, I doubt the '50s had as much depressive music to offer (lots of weird 'art' noises though). Still, I've name-dropped Cyclic Law a few times, the Montreal/Berlin label having shared some talent with Cryo Chamber, most notably Kammarheit (Cities Last Broadcast) and Apócrýphos. Where's the fun in digging into another label for familiar musicians though? Nay, let's unearth some new cats! There, that album with the neat cityscape cover art. Ooh, a lovely photo booklet is included. Gotta' love those juxtaposed pictures of Manhattan decadence and decay.

Vortex (26) is the side-project of Marcus Stiglegger, who first made his mark in musicdom with :Golgatha:. Lord Discogs lists the group as “German apocalyptic and ritual folkband”, an apt descriptor for a lot of dark ambient. They had some minor success, even releasing a couple albums on Cold Meat Industry, but have been quiet most of this decade. Seems Vortex has taken Mr. Stiglegger's attention now, Moloch his fifth album under the project.

The concept of this album is simple enough: Marcus strolled through the Burroughs, and found himself inspired by what he saw, especially the neighbourhoods everyone so vividly remembers from '70s sleaze masterpieces. He had a sense that the City itself was a deity demanding soul-crushing sacrifice to exist within its realm, perverting your humanity just to make ends meet in an unforgiving clime'. Having lived in a City for a while now, I know the feeling - Vancouver's a cruel mistress sometimes, who'll chew you up and spit you out into the harbour if you don't know what you're doing.

As a dark ambient album, Moloch hits most of the standard points for a concept such as this. Rounding up about a half-dozen keyboardists, electric guitarists, and his own additional treatments (percussion, voices, ...flute?), Mr. Stiglegger coerces an industrial score for wandering a twisted vista. Opener City Of Steel sets the tone with abrasive drones before emerging with a gritty, orchestral dirge filled with distortion, as though marching through dead, urban squalor. Towers Of Glass breathes menacing drones while gentle synth tones offer a tranquil respite from the horrors surrounding you, but even these are eventually subsumed by the ever-present murk.

Most tracks play out in similar fashion – drones painting inhospitable pictures of urban existence, but Skyline stands in stark contrast to everything else. Even if the opening piano is unsettling, it's still more melodic than most of Moloch's been. It soon fades though, an omnipresent drone lulling you into a strange comfort of being, before a vicious guitar squall erupts, like a feral beast from the shadows - yet even that eventually takes on a comforting familiarity. Not those harsh, clanking noises at the end though, bursting forth out of nowhere, knocking even the beast back to its shadows. There's always a bigger tower in the City.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Autumn Of Communion - Metal

...txt: 2017

I know, I know. More music from these guys? Aren't there any other modern ambient techno dudes out there I should be checking out? What is this anyway, their fiftieth album in 2017? Actually, and surprisingly, just their first as Autumn Of Communion, though obviously Misters Norris and Chillage have kept themselves busy elsewhere. It's simply a case of me diving deep into some discographies all at once, playing catch-up over the course of a year. Creates an illusion of over-exposure, especially in this unorthodox order of reviewing the music I buy. Just be thankful much of their music's released in scarce quantities. Imagine if I actually could snatch it all up in one shot.

As with every Autumn Of Communion album lately, Lee and Mick went into their latest session with a goal in mind. And if you know what that goal specifically is, please tell me, because I sure haven't seen any PR stating what it is. Like, I know there's always the respectful nods to ambient techno of the '90s, all the while subtly pushing the sound down contemporary roads, but what was the inspiration for Metal? Music for its own sake? Eh, sounds good enough for me.

Actually, if there's anything that marks a difference in these tunes compared to prior albums (that I've thus far heard), it's a heavier emphasis on rhythms - real, propulsive electro beats, a couple of which one could even shuffle to. Not that this is an outright techno album by any means, lengthy stretches of each track noodling about in synth pads or bleepy electronics just as much as any typical AoC LP. With tunes averaging ten to thirteen minutes in length, however, that's plenty of room for blissy lead-ins, head-bobbin' peaks, and calming outros. It also gives each track sturdier trajectory, less about that free-form Fax+ music making than most AoC records so often go.

Thus we get tracks like opener Actinium (89, Ac, useful for radiation therapy) having pleasant space pads and twitchy bleeps, eventually giving way to dubby broken beats for a while as spritely melodies play in the background, followed by some minimalist synth play. Meanwhile, Tungsten (74, W, one tough bastard) is more chill, getting in on that spaced-out vibe while laid-back electro rhythms cruise along. Neptunium (93, Np, helps us make Plutonium) is all ominous and mysterious, with bleepy rhythms that have me recalling HIA if Bobby Bird had been less playful. Longest track Molybdenum (42, Mo, we'd die without it) gets bouncier in its beats, then switches to something more strident in the second half – feels like I'm watching a documentary of a microcosm doing amazing things. 'Shorty' track Manganese (25, Mn, steel and aluminum alloys, yo') is a charming, dubby outing of ambient electro, while closer Radium (88, Ra, cool glowy shit!) gets back on that strident beat, and includes the closest thing to a big, hooky 'anthem' I've ever heard from Lee and Mick. Planning on some festival sets, eh?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Decimal - Lost In A Dark Place

Soma Quality Recordings: 2010

Dammit, I don't have enough 2010-2011 Music. It's not my fault I didn't get back into Music until 2012, it's Music's fault - not enough wicked-cool shit just dropping into my lap. Guess I gotta' dig for it, but who do I trust? What tastemakers could always be counted upon? Say, how about that Soma Quality Recordings outfit? They've had consistent quality for many years now – it's right in their name! More than that, they've curated plenty of dope acts over the years (Slam, The Black Dog, Daft Punk, DeepChord, Vector Lovers, Funk D'Void, Silicone Soul). Let's see what they have available in those years? An album from a guy called Decimal? Sure, I'll bite. The samples sound good enough – no apparent minimal bloopy-blorp and hissing wank detected.

Yes, this is the only reason I got David Spacek's debut album. I didn't know anything about him prior to purchase, but I apparently have one track by him, on M.A.N.D.Y.'s sterile contribution to the fabric series. His first Decimal singles came out in that period, releasing mostly through Berlin techno print Enemy Records. Somewhere along the way, he hooked up with Soma Quality, and was given the green light for an LP. And then his discography completely dries up, no follow-up album, no subsequent singles, not even a different project under a new alias (so sayeth Lord Discogs). Only a lone track on his Soundcloud has appeared since Lost In A Dark Place, uploaded but this past year. Geez, did something go totally pear-shaped over label deals? Got a better paying job elsewhere? Suddenly became a family man? Whatever the reason, 'tis a shame, as there's some pretty good tunes on here.

For sure he can't help but supply some tech-house and techno fodder for the clubs. Opener Temple March has most of the 'minimal era' trademarks, though is less obnoxious in their use than most singles went. Why, there's even a few funky broken-beat bridges littered about! Forgotten Requiem ups the tempo some with a far groovier rhythm, and even builds a looping hook throughout, accentuated with backing strings at the peaks. Holy cow, Decimal's doing progressive house! Or at least making tunes that Serious Prog DJs Who Play Serious Tech-House can make use of. It's certainly a sound Scuba would have noticed.

Other tracks make use of looping hooks, though more of a nod towards Detroit's style of melody (Soulchamber, Vastis Black Mask). Simulation is pure Detroit in it's own right, all future-funk and percolating synths without falling back on obvious rhythms. A couple more tracky tech-house tracks eat up some mid-album space (Tightly Wound, Ghost), but dig those downtempo dalliances in A Physical Sense Of Time (dubby electro) and The Lesson Of Hope, nearly eleven minutes of twee ambient techno. Dang!

With such diversity, how'd Lost In A Dark Place go so overlooked? Was Decimal's association with mid-'00s minimal that hard to shake off? Not 'forward thinking' enough for discerning techno heads? B'ah, their loss.

Cell - Live At Kumharas (Ibiza - June 2006)

Ultimae Records: 2007

This is what I'm talking about, a perfect confluence of factors slowly chipping away at my decade-old “Buy MP3 Iz Bad” manifesto. I've been jonesing for more music from Cell since the collaborative effort Connect.Ohm with Hybrid Leisureland. That was way back in 2012, half a decade now past, and Alexandre Scheffer's been most quiet since. So I must turn to his older material to get a fix, but where does that leave me? An out-of-print, over-expensive debut album of Phonic Peace, and a trio of live recordings, only one of which made it to CD. Ultimae Records though, they released Live At Kumharas as a digital-only option in 2007, when such exclusive formats were still relatively uncommon. As such, I never thought to check it out, but what's this? Ultimae's having a Bandcamp discount? Gee, I already have all the CDs available. Maybe just this once, I can indulge a digital-only release. It's not like this will become a common occurrence. (Narrator: “It became a common occurrence.”)

Really though, Live At Kumharas is basically a sophomore album released under the Cell banner. Every tune in this seven-track selection remains exclusive to these sessions, none appearing prior on Phonic Peace, nor later on Hanging Masses. Some did appear on other live albums released in this period, but as this one carries the Ultimae seal of approval, I'll count Live At Kumharas as the official representation of these particular tunes. Now, jack this music straight into my ear-veins!

Ahh, that's the Cell stuff I've been craving. The psy-chill vibe that's as class as any Solar Fields production, but with a smart sense of restraint, never shooting for the Big Obvious Feels. The Gate has some tasteful tribal drumming to go along with its subtle synths and arps. Above The Clouds gets funkier with the beatcraft and gnarly acid touches while providing uplifting melodies in the background. Misty Morning works in Balearic field recordings as it slowly builds from blissy ambience to laid-back prog-psy grooves – at over thirteen minutes, it definitely has time to stretch things out. Elsewhere, Under The Sun reminds me of an upbeat version of Cell's sublime Blue Embers.

The best shit, however, is in the final stretch of tunes. Right, a 'live set' is supposed to work like that, though this isn't really presented as a pure live set, fades and blends between tracks rather than maintaining a continuous flow. Where was I?

T-Ion (Part II) does a more traditional prog-psy thing, though in the dubby Ultimae way that made them such darlings of the psy-chill scene in the mid-'00s. Hawaii Transit goes even better, including one of those earwormy rhythmic dub throbs you ache to hear return right on cue. Closer Shiny Girl breaks ranks in throwing down with the world beat crowds (we'll find those pyramids yet!), but is a fun capper on this album. If this all sounds rather energetic for a Cell album, well, what did you expect from a live setting?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Liquid Zen - Liquid Zen

Waveform Records: 1999

I wonder if I'd have been so appreciative of Waveform Records' genre explorations had I kept following the label at the turn of the Millennium. Mind, part of the problem was my lack of access to their catalogue, stuck in the hinterlands of Canada, too young to 'Order With Credit Card' off the internet. I didn't even know if they were still releasing albums, and even if I did, would I have been as interested anymore? The names that drew me into Waveform were no longer around, and as a dude with limited funds, couldn't take willy-nilly chances on any ol' CD. Yeah, Waveform had exposed me to some of my all-time favourite musicians right out the gate, but no way they could have kept such a streak going, right?

Perhaps it was fortunate that when I finally did dip back into the label's output, it was with the sublime Omnimotion debut, because if it had been Liquid Zen instead, hoo boy, might I have wondered where Waveform was going. For sure it looks intriguing enough, a stark black cover with a blue neon ring the only source of light. The CD within is darn cool too, a deep blue that probably glows brilliantly in blacklight (I assume, I don't have one) – kinda' reminds me of the colour scheme used by that Wave Forum compilation. Makes one wonder if the Waveform was aware of it...

Then the first track Ultraviolet plays, and it's a nearly ten-minute long trip through downbeat ambience, with wide-screen dub, trippy flourishes, and ancient synths, coming off like a composition intended for an '80s space documentary. Cool, and certainly within Waveform's scope, but then second track Claiming Salvation hits, and it has jazzy overtones, opiod-dub, and lyrics like “Crystal kerosene, drips from your dainty fingertips.” Ah, we're doing trip-hop, then? Nope, third track Painter's Stroke Begins featuring cavernous, cold reverb, slinky synth-pop melodies, and muted spoken dialog like “Crucify beads and petals fall, the leaves broken through autumn's call.” Did I miss something, when did Liquid Zen turn into a 4AD outing?

And the genre jumping doesn't relent. Harold Atom is practically a psychedelic rock jaunt, but with acid replacing guitar jamming. Distant Fading Light actually brings in some fuzzed-out guitar tones. Kateri reaches deep into the well of Tangerine Dream synth noodling. Blown Away sounds like it could be a chill tune in a coldwave album, complete with bitter wind effects. Something is something alright, simple electro rhythms complemented with restrained Gothic melodies. A couple tracks do fit the Waveform mould, like the ambient dub of Starless and closer Forever Infinity, though even here with Liquid Zen's unique aesthetic. It's like if '90s Beck had somehow been roped into the psy-dub scene.

I can guarantee had I heard this new, I'd be questioning Waveform's future. In the here and now, however, I appreciate the label's willingness to give such an unknown quantity a chance. It's good having your comfort zones shaken every so often.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dido - Life For Rent

Arista: 2003

Dido already had a decent run of solo success by the year 2000. Even in an overstuffed '90s market of lady singer-songwriters, she managed a couple minor hits, not to mention an association with her big brother's super-mega popular club band Faithless didn't hurt her prospects either. Then her career went meteoric when Eminem sampled the charming ditty Thank You for an all-time classic cut in Stan. Not only did it break Dido to an entirely untapped young American demographic, but their moms too, who couldn't stand that potty-mouthed rapper but constantly inquired their sons about that one track with the catchy chorus. No joke, I had middle-aged women coming in my music shop buying The Marshall Mathers LP just for that Dido chorus alone. Fortunately for them, we soon 'found' a whole album of Dido music for them to enjoy, without all those gay-bashing, pop-celebrity slamming, girlfriend-murdering antics.

So No Angel went on to be a platinum-selling album in many countries, which naturally left expectations for her follow-up album sky-high. She smashed it, Life For Rent hitting the number one spot in several countries, lead single White Flag her best selling song by a mile (well, technically Stan is, but y'know). Honestly though, I think Ms. Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong lucked out a little, filling in the lady singer-songwriter gap that had emerged after many Lilith Fair alum had significantly retreated from the spotlight by 2003. There was still a market for light, folksy brunch-pop, just not as large as before. Might as well indulge in that UK lass who did the Thank You song – that White Flag is catchy enough, so the rest of Life For Rent should be just as good.

While I've enjoyed her contributions to Faithless tunes and whatever other projects her bro' Rollo's up to, I've only taken a passive interest in Dido's solo music. Maybe it's just how overplayed her hit singles ended up (dear Lord, was White Flag ever abused through the mid-'00s!), but I never felt the need to dig further into her album material. That said, I cannot deny some curiosity in how Rollo's production would translate into the folk-pop arena. The chap's always had a flair for the dramatic, but was equally capable of dialing things back for proper chill moments too. And there's plenty of examples of his touch in Life For Rent.

Yes, Dido's lyrics and guest guitarists generally take centre-stage (including Rick Nowels, Adam Zimmon, and Dave Randall). Scope out those dubby Balearic touches in Stoned though! Or the gentle, sweeping pads in See You When You're 40. Or the cavernous sonic depth in the mini-breakdown in Do You Have A Little Time. Or the trip-hop flourishes in Who Makes You Feel. Sand In My Shoes even has a minor, clubby build, though that's likely Sister Bliss' additional production at play. I know these aren't the things I'm supposed to focus on in a Dido album, but old habits, y'know?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Namlook • Montanà - Labyrinth 5

Fax +49-69/540464: 2012

The 2-Channel Stereo mix? Yeah, it's pretty dope, especially when I have my trusty Sennheiser cans on. Sounds are nicely spaced apart, well layered, pan from side-to-side as warranted, fade in the distance when called upon. I dunno though, I feel like I'm missing out on a critical component in how this is supposed to sound in DTS 5.1 Surround, as Namlook and Montanà envisioned their compositions while jamming away in Pete's studio. Or maybe the standard stereo is the proper take of Labyrinth, and the 5.1 is just a nifty (expensive) bonus for those with cutting-edge audio gear available. The technology is still rather niche, after all, only hardcore audiophiles having much interest or means of experiencing it, especially when most music is still released as 2-Channel stereo. Maybe if earplug and laptop speaker technology advances to such a degree that 5.1 is universally achievable, then we'll see more 5.1 masterings. Until then, music production should do as 3D does for home movies: it's there to utilize, and maybe the flick makes some cool use of it, but it shouldn't be a requirement for a 'full experience'.

So here we are, already at the end of the Labyrinth series, cut entirely too short by Pete Kuhlmann's passing. Who knows whether he and Lorenzo would have continued doing these at the same rate, but I've no doubt they'd still be making these to this date if they'd had the chance. Mr. Montanà's proven to be a prolific producer himself, and whenever Namlook found a New Best Music Buddy, he'd ride that creative synergy forever and a day. Unless ol' Pete got himself a different New Best Music Buddy, we could have been up to Labyrinth 10 now.

As it stands though, Labyrinth 5 is the last, and a solid final entrant it is. For one thing, no weird, off-putting acid bassline noise! (yeah, still can't get over it) The opening Path XXXII works a spacey, chill electro vibe, with all the familiar elements from Misters Namlook and Montanà in play for over fourteen minutes. This actually makes it the second longest track of the whole series, the first being the nineteen-plus minute long Path I opening the first album – most Paths average six to ten minutes, showing remarkable restraint given Namlook's history of long, noodly compositions, no matter who he's paired up with.

Path XXXIII lets Lorenzo's beatcraft stretch a little, with complementing Moog synths and charming bell tones. Path XXXIV gets darker and dubbier, using droning pads and burbling acid to great effect. A chipper Berlin-School styled cut marks Path XXXV, while Path XXXVI brings things closer to contemporary vibes, save some extended guitar diddling from Namlook. As the final Path, XXXVII doesn't have much going for it, a simple, chill tune more in Lorenzo's style than Pete's. A fine wrap-up for this particular album, but kinda' limp as a conclusion to the series. Not that Namlook and Montanà planned it as such.

Namlook • Montanà - Labyrinth 4

Fax +49-69/540464: 2011

Yeah, I caved on these. How could I not? I've said plenty that finding first run Fax+ albums in circulation is extraordinarily rare, so when I heard Lorenzo had actual hard copies of his Labyrinth sessions available through Bandcamp, you bet I scoped what was left. What I hadn't counted on was these being double-disc albums, presented in traditional stereo and DTS 5.1 audio. I knew Pete Namlook had taken a fancy to this supreme audiophile technology on some of his works, but didn't realize it was every album he worked on from as far back as 2006's Air V + Jeux Dangereux. He'd even started re-issuing ancient Fax+ catalogue in this format, as seasonal compilations called The Ambient Gardener. Guess that's one way to make extra bank on old material, but man, does it pinch paying for a format you have no means of hearing properly.

Anyhow, Labyrinth from Namlook and Montanà. Lorenzo had debuted on Fax +49-69/450464 with Black Ivy in 2009, and must have made quite an impression with Mr. Kuhlmann. Not only did the two immediately start collaborating, and not only did the resulting sessions generate five albums in a two year time span, but it also put Pete's endless sessions with Move D on the back-burner. Talk about your combo-breakers! I'm not sure why Namlook took such an instant interest in Montanà; just liked the cut of his beatcraft? Perhaps, Lorenzo's minimalist, unfussy ambient techno glitch unlike much of what Fax+ had been promoting the previous decade. Not that Mr. Montanà's take was entirely unique itself, but it must have been enough of a fresh sound for Namlook's ears to get his inspiration fired up again.

I have to say though, if you're just jumping into the Labyrinth series with volume 4 as I have, it may be off putting. Opening track Path XXVI starts with a weird, rubbery acid bassline and sparse, empty rhythms that sounds more like Plastikman than either of the players involved here. It's nearly two minutes before we hear melody in support, including choir pads and those vintage spaced-out synths that's been a Namlook staple since forever. The whole piece plays out in typical Fax+ meandering style, though comparatively 'short' at only twelve mintues in length. The sounds are nice, but man, I can't get over that out-of-place bassline. Path XXVII starts off with one too, but at least its accompanying sounds fit the odd tone better – rhythms chug at a dubby, chill techno pace, and oooh, Pete's breakin' out the guitar jams for this one.

The remaining Paths mostly keep to a similar feel, all rather spacious, dubby, and minimalist without ever going into dub techno's dry sterility. Path XXVIII gets a bit funkier, Path XXX more chill-out, and Path XXXI works in dubbed-out synth stabs that echo across the channels (bet this sounds great in 5.1!), but overall Labyrinth 4 is far too sparse in music to recommend beyond fans of this sound or Namlook completists.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Atrium Carceri - Kapnobatai

Cold Meat Industry/Cryo Chamber: 2005/2017

So Simon Heath reissued a bunch of his early Atrium Carceri albums on CD, which is nice, as those initial Cold Meat Industry runs are well out of print at this point. It kinda' feels like the project's come full circle now with Cryo Chamber, the label first set up, among other things, to offer digital downloads of those albums. Then it grew to include new projects, other artists, creative challenges, and a little extra swag on the side too. I suppose it was inevitable that Simon would rescue his original works for another run of CDs, waiting for a time such that their Cold Meat rights expired following that label's closure. As such, only his first three have been physically resurrected on Cryo Chamber, Cellblock, Seishinbyouin, and Kapnobatai. I've a feeling Reliquiae's gonna' take a little longer.

Heath's Atrium albums on Cold Meat were heralded because they blended older, industrial dark ambient aesthetics while suggesting a larger canvas than creepy weird music for its own sake. Such is the case with Kapnobatai, an album I picked up because I just gotta' find out what's the deal with that bizarre cover art. What is that, a mask? A demon head? An alien skull? The title itself offers no real clue, as it refers to cloud-dwelling, meditating shamans of Scythian descent, typically by way of burning cannabis flowers. The liner notes relay the inner monologue of an embittered individual as he surveys a land he and his ilk once ruled, only to have been overthrown by lesser sorts, now mocking him as they pass by. Pretty sure that was the whole point of crucifixions. Still no closer to discover what the deal with that cover image is though.

The opening tracks of Enclosed World/Liberation and Behind The Curtain Of Life definitely does bring me back to the early days of Delerium, with choir pads, unsettling synth sounds, and disembodied dialog samples. (yes, Delerium is about my only firm frame of reference when it comes to old school dark ambient) Impaled Butterfly takes things a step further, offering up copious amounts of anime dialog. I keep thinking it's from Cowboy Bepop, just because there's a brief harmonica tone among the sci-fi sound effects, marching rhythms and distorted pads. It probably isn't though, just because I'm fairly certain Kapnobatai isn't supposed to be a sci-fi album. Definitely plenty of industrial body-horror goings-on in later tracks though (Synaptic Transmission, Monolith Of Dreams, Stained Pipes, Thermographic Components, The Corrupter).

While there's elements of the 'cinematic drone' Heath would implement with greater frequency in later albums, Kapnobatai is still mostly playing by Cold Meat Industry's O.G. industrial rules. Which is fine if you prefer your dark ambient claustrophobic, dehumanizing, and horrific. Cryo Chamber showed me there was another way, one that could get introspective and strangely calming in the face of a bleak world (also, grand narratives!). Yeah, the label was hardly the first to do this, but it at least opened the door for yours truly.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lee Anthony Norris - Italian Works

...txt: 2014

First you find the free downloads from ever-awesome portals like Ektoplazm or Bandcamp, and you think it's fine, because you're not going back on your word about paying for MP3s. Then they start offering older, out-of-print items up for free download, for being so supportive of their efforts, and you go along with it because you're still not paying for MP3s. Then come the discounts on digital-only items, and you figure since those won't ever see a hard-copy release, what's the harm in indulging in those too? And before you know it, you've succumb to the seductive dance of digital consumerism. Not all at once, and not instantly to be sure, but here I am, a decade removed from an 'epic rant' on TranceCritic about never buying MP3s (never!), eagerly buying in. So it goes.

Anyhow, when Lee Norris set up his ...txt print, he spent much of that time also working on various musics with various musicians, flooding the ambient market with a ton of new albums in the process. I've even reviewed some of those (Autumn Of Communion, Moss Garden, Nacht Plank, that shorty Porya Hatami collaboration). Right, much of what I have covered mostly came care of Carpe Sonum Records, if only because their CD runs aren't quite as limited as ...txt's usually are. There's still a chunk of albums in this period that I haven't picked up, so when Mr. Norris provided a good-will free download of his 2014 2CD compilation Italian Works - essentially a summation of his work during this period – how could I refuse? It didn't matter I already had some of this stuff elsewhere, it's an out-of-print ambient double-LP, for free download! Can't... resist...

Along with the above mentioned projects, also within Italian Works are Ashtoreth's Gate (Norris and Craig Murphy), The Ashes Of Piemonte (Norris and Wil Bolton), Solipsism & Nacht Plank (Lee and Craig again), and The Angling Loser (Lee, Wil, Porya, Martin Hirsch, Shintaro Aoki, and Sir Cliff). Fifteen tracks comprise both CDs (or full download), ranging from three-and-a-half minutes to a couple twenty-plus minute compositions. It's also all arranged into a mix of sorts, though as we're dealing with ambient here, it's more like faded blends between tracks rather than any layering.

And if you're familiar with Norris' style of ambient in recent years, much of Italian Works shouldn't come of surprise. There's the stuff with field recordings coupled with gentle melodic meandering - The Angling Loser's Dawn, Ashes Of Piemonte's Ordained By Winter's Fire, Solipsism & Nacht Plank's Lush, Polite, Heroin... almost every track really. Other pieces get more droning and abstract (Ashtoreth's Gate's When We Return) or go wide-screen with layered pad work (Moss Garden's Daily Catachresis), but about the only real differences between everything is what unique aesthetics Norris' collaborator brings to the plate. It all makes for a tidy bluffer's guide to his recent output, but lacks the diversity to elevate it beyond more than a pleasant, diverting compilation.

Way Out West - Intensify

Nettwerk: 2001

Far as I'm concerned, Way Out West has always been that duo who supplied solid tunes to a solid progressive set, or could class up a cheesy trance set. But because their album output has been so sporadic (five in two decades!), the solo careers of Nick Warren and Jody Wisternoff has generated more talk than the Way Out West legacy. For sure they had a brilliant run at the start, among the top rated acts in the nascent progressive house (trance/breaks) scene. Even then, however, it was clear they didn't need each other for sustainable careers. Mr. Warren was an established DJ on the UK circuit, while Mr. Wisternoff had a respectable discography under his belt before teaming up with Nick. Still, when they hit the studio back in the '90s, it was clear they had great synergy in crafting creative, deadly dancefloor weapons.

Success does create pressure in at least considering cross-over potential though, a tempting possibility for Way Out West following the turn of the Millennium. Like, if Hybrid could throw in a few vocals to critical plaudits, why not them as well? Surely folks would buy a collaboration with Kirsty Hawkshaw here, and a voice from Tricia Lee Kalshall there. And just in case their older followers weren't keen, you can win them over by sampling a bona-fide '90s classic in Coldcut's Autumn Leaves for the lead single in The Fall. That'll get those nostalgia triggers firing!

Shocking pilfering aside, The Fall is fine for what it is, a thumping prog-house anthem with a familiar hook to sing along to. Mindcircus was rather played out back in the day, but retains some charm all these years later, and Stealth works as a mid-album trip-hop breather. Really though, we're here for those propulsive prog-house/breaks (trance) cuts the Way Out West brand was built on, and the lads behind the moniker don't disappoint in the slightest. Activity's got a killer, clanking beat with a tasteful ethnic wail, Call Me works in a pounding prog groove, Hypnotise gets more floaty and break-beaty (paging Dr. Hybrid, yo'), and Sharkhunt... damn, is this ever some tasty-as-fuck sci-fi funk! It's a travesty this cut didn't get the EP treatment.

Okay, UB Devoid is a solid choice for “Big Banger Single From New Album”. It's almost doing a psy-trance thing for its first half, indulging in brief melodic passages, samples, and weird sounds for their own sake. The second-half goes down more traditional prog-house paths, but are mint in their own right. Can you believe this track's not even five-minutes long? Who crams that much music into a five-minute dance tune?

Finishing up, Secret hints at the burgeoning James Holden influences (grumbly low-end, twinkly highs), while the two-parter titular cut sums up most of the album's highlights. Unless you just can't stand prog-trance (breaks/house) of this era, there's nothing to fault with Intensify. It may not be as ground-breaking as their '90s output, but remains a great collection of tunes to this day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

36 - Hypersona

3six Recordings: 2009

With so many ambient artists on the market, it takes remarkable skill and ridiculous luck at cracking through the glut. I mean, after forty years of official existence (and some prior years of being called something else), how many unique angles are left in this genre? Even some of my present favourites typically tread territory covered by artists from the past, which isn't a bad thing by any stretch. Music genres become genres because of the familiar tropes that define them, relying on each musician's personal touch with established tools to distinguish themselves. Yet that may not be enough to get noticed, not without some serious sleuthing by dedicated diggers trawling for new material for their podcasts and blog hype. No, I'm not of that sort, usually content in letting others do the discovering for me. It's almost accidental if I happen across something none of my usual sources haven't yet.

I'd like to say Dennis Huddleston's 36 project (remember, that's “three-six”) is one such example, but that's not quite the case. While hunting for examples of contemporary ambient regarding Guide 3.0 matters, I was checking some 'Best Of' lists from Discogs users, and 36's debut album Hypersona was coming up a fair bit. He was still fairly new then, only a couple years removed from self-releasing this record, but the buzz was palpable. After plucking a sample, I made a mental note to check his stuff further, and didn't get around to that again until this past year. Um, oops?

Well, better late than never (and before physical copies are sold out!), but yes, Hypersona definitely is the sort of album that deservedly cracked that thick ambient soup, floating to the top in the guise as a tasty bit of garnish in the bowl. See, Mr. Huddleston had a trick up his sleeve that helped him stand out from the pack, making sure you heard what his music had to say, and would want to hear more from him from then on out. Within the first five minutes of this album, which includes three tracks of Signal, 2249, and Inside, you're met with a rush of nostalgic, melancholy melodies and dreamy synth-pad layers that reach deep into your chest, rip your heart out, and forces sweet tears of blissful innocence into that gaping hole where your soul lies.

Okay, I'm laying the uber-hyperbole thick there, but conventional ambient album construction dictates these sort of tunes are reserved for closing numbers, melodic denouements after being led on an emotional journey. Yet here's 36 saying, “Nuts to that, I'm gonna' hit you in the heart-strings early and hard.”

And don't think Hypersona's front-loaded, equally evocative tunes cropping up throughout the album, just with different variations. The Box adds ethereal voices, Nephyr does the white-washed dub-drone thing, Juliet gets abstract with crackly radio chatter, and Forever is insanely grand, opulent, and lush. That, my friends, is how you get a debut ambient album noticed in this scene.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - Hymns & Songs, Volume II

Verus Records: 2001

Hey-yo, Past Peoples, 2073 Sykonee back already again. I know, I know, this is growing ridiculous, how many times I've done this already. I warned myself this was a nigh futile endeavour, reviewing cheap options for Oak Ridge Boys albums. A group with as much history as this one, which saw remarkable commercial success after transitioning from gospel to country, will have its extensive catalogue pilfered for credit-ins based on name recognition alone. Never mind their Nauty-Eighties material had nothing to do with their Nauty-Sixties material (even the familiar members hadn't yet become their iconic selves), if there's unsuspecting fans eager for more Oak Ridge Boys music, the dozens of olden recordings are there to fill the gaps, with any number of cheap-o labels licensing out a dozen songs in bare-bones presentation. Even in my time, with the vast webclouds we have, I still don't think every Oak Ridge Boys release has been accounted for. What hope does my past self have?

This one though, this Hymns & Songs collection, this is different. There's actual care taken with these vintage recordings, remastered and even enhanced beyond the capabilities of the original hardware. Not some slap-dasherdly clutch at Americana dollars, but a resurrection of The Oak Ridge Boys' heritage. Capturing the feeling of being within a real rural church in a bygone era, sitting front and centre in the pews, a lead singer to the left of you, the harmonizing trio to the right, and piano or organ or guitar players just in the background. Every voice distinct and separate, not the usual mono-mush so many of these compilations settle for. Heckles, even the vinyl crackle is captured, because I assume the original records were the only sound source this company had to work with. And believe in me, they dug up some ancient recordings.

Ten songs are on Hymns & Songs Volume II, the bulk of which originally come from a 1962 record called He Whispers Sweet Peace To Me on Skylite. A few more were plucked from the 1958 record The Solid Gospel Sound Of The Oak Ridge Quartet. Yessiree, we're dealing with the Boys before they'd even rebranded themselves as Boys - tenor “Little” Willie Wynn was the new kid on this block! And let me tell you, it took some serious sleuthing through your archaic interactive datanet to figure this out. It's astounding just how many gaps in knowledge your version of Wikis and Oggs still have. Imagine having a Britannica without Rasta-Pasta or Dragon nests!

As I've done told yous all before, our enjoyment of The Oak Ridge Boys/Quartet mostly stems from decoding their Atomic codes wrapped in religious harmonies. Yes, they're singing about Literal Jesus, but what is Jesus to any of us but a representation of our noblest deeds in the face of our cruellest actions? When stacked against so many Oak Ridge Boys bone pickers, whoever took such care recreating these recordings is a Jesus to any audiophile, whatever the content within contains.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Various - Home

Spiritech: 2014/2017

Though Spiritech was primarily an outlet for Lingua Lustra and BlueBliss material, they did bring in a couple outside artists too. Data Rebel, Rainbow Vector, Textural Being, Dark Passenger, Snufmuumriko, 0ther... Okay, so we aren't exactly dealing with a roster of well-known producers. Heck, I sometimes feel Albert Borkent only got noticed in the world of ambient through sheer force of will, or at least flooding the digital market with dozens of Lingua Lustra EPs. That's the cynical take though, and I'd rather take the positive take, where the dude is just a workaholic, and understands any hope of getting your name out there in the world of ambient requires releasing music at a ridiculous clip, lest you are lost in the sea of other workaholics. That, or luck out with a record or two on Very Important prints of the scene (which he done did with Databloem).

Getting outside contributions for Spritech didn't hurt though, smatterings of EPs and compilations finding their way into the label's discography throughout its short run. This here Home was one of the few such compilations to get an actual physical release, just this past year in fact. Why this one in particular, I don't know. Far as I can tell, a digital version was originally released back in 2014, and several more were released through Spiritech's Bandcamp since, many of which free (or Name Your Price deals). The liner notes mention Home being dedicated to Mr. Borkent's mother, so perhaps this one has more personal connection for Lingua Lustra, thus more deserving of a spiffier roll-out compared to all the other compilations.

Seven tracks comprise Home, two of which are from Lingua Lustra, natch. The opener Time Window clocks the longest too, a shade under fifteen minutes, mostly minimalist space ambience with echoing tones being sent deep into cosmic realms. Moorland comes off a little more grounded, New Agey spritely synths pitter-pattering in the background, followed upon by lush pads for a moving bit of music; throughout it all, whispery effects guide you along like ghosts.

So Mr. Borkent's material is good stuff, of which wasn't in doubt. How about the rest, then? What does the likes of Shambala Networks, Tonauac, and Reality Sandwich offer? Ultra-minimalist drone, melancholy pad ambient with strings, and blippy ambient techno, respectively. The latter two also have very little to their names within Lord Discogs' archives, at least beyond anything Spiritech related. Then again, the label's catalogue's looking mighty thin compared to their Bandcamp; needs an updating, methinks.

Two other tracks come care of a Markus Guentner and John Daly, both some of the emptiest drone I've ever heard, though Mr. Guentner does add an extra layer of dub warmth. He's also garnered quite the cult following, which isn't too surprising as he's Kompakt alumni. This John Daly though, is it the same Irishman who's been doing house and techno for a decade now? Because his D1 is nothing of the sort. A strange contributor for Spiritech if so.

The Oak Ridge Boys - A Higher Power

Nashville: 1965/1970

Hey-yo, Past Peoples, it's you know who, from a future far from now, where things are weird and wild compared to your primitive eyes. Why, even I, in the year 2073, have a hard time realizing how much things have changed. Apple pie costing seven bones and a femur. Self-driving vehicles tailgating self-driving vehicles in fits of road rage. Cherry blossoms fluttering across my holo-eyes in the long winter days. Sure ain't nothing like that in your times... my vintage times... the days of yore... so much a bore...

Anywhen, A Higher Power sums up the ever-lasting foreverness that is The Oak Ridge Boys quite nicely, methinks. The title, I mean, though those vocal harmonies stretch across the ages just as well. Now obviously when these songs were recorded back in the Nauty-Sixties, that 'higher power' the boys were referring to was in parlance to the Christian God, but the Atomic Brotherhood decoded their words, understanding it's just as much referring to the mighty energies stored in atoms. It cannot be under or overstated how much influence those early shows at secret nuclear research facilities had on the original gospel quartet, men of God being exposed to therein untold secrets of God's power, stored in the very make-up of our beings. Science and religion, joining forces to create a vocal group who's legacy lasted longer than your Beat Boys or Beachles. And I was a fan of those groups too, way back in my youth!

Why else do you think this particular album was renamed A Higher Power? It's original 1965 title was The Sensational Oak Ridge Boys From Nashville Tennessee. How boring, how uninformative - except for the facts that these 'boys' are from Nashville Tennessee, and that they're sensational. Parent label Starday Records reissued it with this new title, maybe as a means to market old material, but the Atomic Brotherhood knows better.

Mangles, this is reaching about as far back into The Oak Ridge Boys' history with any globally familiar members, William Gordon the spry turkey-chicken of the group (Duane Allen wouldn't join for another year). These recordings always feel more homely and, well, churchy, with Willie Wynn's tenor almost reaching choir-boy levels of pitch (I remember first thinking it was a 'church lady' singing – oh, silly naive young me). On the other hand, there's a fair bit of tasty slide-guitar action on here. Whether sombre standards like There's A Light Guiding Me, Land Of Beulah, and Angel Band, or chipper offerings like Shine Down On Me, I Am A Pilgrim, and There's A Higher Power, the ol' glissando twang is in full effect. I wonder who was playing it in these sessions. Like, The Oak Ridge Boys were more than just vocalists, they had those famous Nashville musicians handy too.

And wait, are those doo-wop tunes with I Am A Pilgrim and Just A Clear Walk With Thee? Well, Elvis was a thing, I do recall. He had himself gospel backers even while stealing rockabilly.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Various - Disco Heaven 02.02

Hed Kandi: 2002

I mentioned that 2002 is generally agreed upon as the year that Hed Kandi's quality peaked out. The following couple years weren't too bad, though a definite dip in consistency was settling in. This here Disco Heaven compilation is indicative of the problem. “Wait,” you probably think, “the label fashioned itself after appealing, uplifting house music, and disco's got that in spades. Hed Kandi would be out of their mind not to create a compilation series celebrating it!” And you're right, they did create a series, almost from the outset. It was called Disco Kandi. This, on the other hand, is Disco Heaven. That's right, Hed Kandi was finding so much success in the compilation market that they doubled their disco house options. By the next year, they'd set up a third series called Twisted Disco, and more recently a Nu Disco series. Plus don't forget the one-off Destroy The Disco. I'm surprised they haven't done a Disco Classics yet.

Point is, Hed Kandi's covered a lot of disco house in its day, probably spreading the choice selections out too thin in the process. They might have handled it okay in the early going, as label head Mark Doyle remained passionate of his pet project, but no one could maintain so many compilations with any regular consistency, especially if the franchise kept growing and growing with new series every few years. Small wonder it got sold off to Ministry Of Sound.

And for what reason did Hed Kandi see fit to create Disco Heaven in the first place (beyond muscling in more Hed Kandi covers in record stores)? Mark Doyle's liner notes state “we just thought it would be better to have a new title instead of hitting Disco Kandi 37 sometime next year!” Alright then.

Near as I can figure it, Disco Heaven offers up one disc of your standard uplifting, soulful garage house music – the stuff you'd find on Disco Kandi - and a second CD with clubbier tunes that feed off that loopier French filter funk. Like, I have no idea whether the Disco Kandi dabbled that way too, but I don't recognize any tracks of that sort in those CDs. Meanwhile, Disco Heaven has Junior Jack's Thrill Me; aka: that tune that apes the bassline from Daft Punk's Burnin'. I honestly thought it was some remix of Burnin' when I heard it here, only because I'd totally forgot about Junior Jack's version.

Anything else? Names I recognized from a glance included Kings Of Tomorrow, Full Intention, DJ Antoine, Kenny Dope, StoneBridge, Francois K, Jamiroquai and Shawn Christopher. Names you might recognize include Indigo, The Lab Rats, Shakedown, Kim English, and DaYeene. Really, name-dropping feels pointless with this collection. Disco Heaven is rather all one-note (and one-BPM) throughout, and does get weary hearing Yet Another House Beat unmixed over and over and over. It's still fun in spurts, but a little more variety would have broken up the monotony too.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Various - Beach House 04.02

Hed Kandi: 2002

I reviewed a couple Hed Kandi's Winter Chill compilations while it was still technically summer, so it's only appropriate that I tackle one of their summery collections as winter is settling in. Yeah, we're still in the autumn months, but the fact the West Coast got a white dusting already – the West Coast! - tells me winter is getting a head-start on its yearly shenanigans. I must combat it, then, with fun-in-the-sun Balearic beach music. Funk music for frolicking in the briny waves, soul music for sashaying through the blistering hot sand, and house music for hiding in the shade lest our pasty-asses get burnt by unforgiving UV rays. Man, beaches are kinda' terrible, when you think about it.

But hey, never was there a marketable concept that Hed Kandi couldn't exploit, and Beach House was quickly established as the upbeat companion to their summery Serve Chilled compilations. It's proven to be one of the brand's most successful series, enduring to this day, even dipping into the 3CD option in recent years. Man, considering the label's drop in quality control post Ministry Of Sound buyout, not to mention what's thought of as mainstream 'classy' house these days, I couldn't handle three discs of such waffle. Maybe others couldn't either, hence a return to the two-disc format in 2017.

Beach House 04.02 is the fourth in the series though, released back in Hed Kandi's peak years. Can't argue that based on the track list, some real classics mixed in with the less familiar tunes. I mean, we get Ashley Beedle's Mahavishnu Remix of Bent's Always, one of the best European deep house singles that emerged from the year 2001! There's also X-Press 2's Lazy, Beth Orton's Central Reservation (with a rub from Spiritual Life and Ibadan), Nick Holder's Sumer Daze, and Kaskade's It's You, It's Me (when Kaskade made good music). And that's just the closing stretch of CD1!

Actually, that's about it for recognizable artists, at least where I'm sitting from. Miguel Migs shows up for the dancier CD2, and I spy an Axwell remix on that disc too, but it's mostly blanks for the likes of Rawsoul Orchestra, Jetlag, Jon Cutler, Octave One... two-thirds of Beach House 04.02 really. Not that they're bunk artists or anything, just that there's so much house music out there, keeping tabs on everyone's a difficult proposition. I feel if I'd dug into these Hed Kandi compilations more often, I'd start seeing several repeated contributors, but alas, my exposure remains but a sampling, as only indulged when I spy an eye-catching discount price.

So the music's all fine, but if I must make a quibble, it's that this Beach House compilation only feels properly 'beachy' some of the time. Like, these could just as easily be played in lounges or a terrace, though during daylight does remain optimal. Whatever, I'd prefer a solid selection of tunes that sometimes fits a theme, than a mediocre selection of tunes that struggles to fit a theme.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Oak Ridge Boys - Greatest Hits

MCA Records: 1980

Hey-ho, Past-Peoples, 2073 Sykonee in your brain again, with a less pretentious greetings - Sykonee Prime tells me it's off-putting for some, making me sound like a smug Future Man. Not sure how that works, as I'm still the same guy from the here and now, just with extra decades worth of outlook and experience. And the things I've seen, you wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the Shoulder Of Orion. C-Beams glittering in the dark at Tannhauser Gate. No, wait, those aren't my memories, they belong to someone else. Can't recall who at the moment, but I'm sure it'll come back to me.

No, many of my recent memories consist of golf. Yeah, yeah, make your 'old man' jokes, but there's a very logical reason for it: golf is one of the few 'sports' still allowed by the Atomic Brotherhood. The courses doubly serve as nature sanctuaries, see, so a lot of effort has been put into creating them. The wilds between civilization just aren't worth hiking through, what with rabid animals, feral forests, and crazed Muricans lurking about. Things didn't help when most of this continent's National Parks were sold off to foreign investors to pay off crippling debts (not that it saved the nations from splintering anyway). Within our sanctuary cities, however, we can maintain and control these 'parks', and get a good bit of exercise in the process whacking little balls over fields of beige and green. And those little flags will always give us hope striving towards a better future.

Okay, enough sports talk. I'm here to review Oak Ridge Boys albums, though in this case, it's another compilation, this time an honest-to-God Greatest Hits option. In this particular release's case, however, it's a rather amusing offering. For one, despite being a gospel group for decades at this point, it was a right rarity their music was rounded up for compilation duty (that'd significantly change in the ensuing years). Once The Oak Ridge Boys started making country music for a wider audience outside their core gospel demographic, their singles started charting too, often hitting the Top 5 mark in the process. They were four albums deep in this new direction when the Nauty-Eighties hit, so a Greatest Hits package seemed ideal to catch folks up. No one could have predicted their actual biggest hits would quickly follow though, this Greatest Hits collection now hilariously incomplete if you're in need of a quick introduction to the group.

For those who grew with The Oak Ridge Boys through their pure gospel era, the switch to songs about Trying To Love Two Women and Leaving Louisiana In Broad Daylight had to be a jarring transition. There's still nods to loving relationships (You're The One, Dream On), but also the tumultuous times too (Cryin' Again, Y'all Come Back Saloon). And nary a word of Jesus anywhere, though plenty of string sections, in that vintage Nauty-Seventies country stylo. Reminds me of Kenny Rodgers concerts off the shoulder of Orion.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Aythar - The God Particle

...txt: 2017

It feels like all my recent Aythar coverage has been leading to this, The God Particle. Yeah, it's Mr. Tamás' most recent effort, but it's his first proper album on ...txt as well. Considering the rarefied air Lee Norris' print currently occupies within ambient techno circles (painfully limited CD runs help), that's no small feat. Not to mention the compilation Dream Of Stars from a year ago served as something of a primer to the Aythar stylee, should you have missed the Carpe Sonum Records debut or his prior self-released material. So while The God Particle is technically his seventh full-length, I can't help but think of it as the first in a new stage for his career: from outright obscurity to ambient techno mini-fame ...which remains pretty darn obscure nonetheless.

Right, I may just be building an idea of “Aythar's Next Chapter” in my head. For sure many artists develop their sound over time, but it's left me with an expectation that The God Particle should sound significantly different and evolved from earlier works. Let's hear what Mr. Tamás has up his sleeve in the right here, right now. Or from last year, The God Particle apparently digitally self-released in 2016 before given this spiffy CD remastering. Well, doesn't that just shoot my narrative in the kneecaps.

Fortunately, Aythar does add some new wrinkles to his sound with this album, so I'm sated on that front. Opener The Sirens Of Titan is all kinds of dreamy, spacey ambience, with sweeping distant pads, burbling arps and spritely synths floating about the sonic ether. The titular follow-up gets in on that ambient techno front, starting out with a minimalist pitter-patter rhythm before escalating, echoing arps join the fray. As the track develops, it threads the line between mint Berlin-School modulations and light IDM manipulations without ever committing to either side. Meanwhile, Return To The Moon gets its dubby psy-chill vibe on, coming off like a long-lost track that didn't quite make it on one of Ultimae Records' Fahrenheit Project compilations.

If it's not clear yet, there be variety on The God Particle, Aythar seemingly trying out various flavours of ambient chill music both new and old. Healing Nature reaches way back to the olden days of Hearts Of Space (without getting too deep in the New Age sap), while Arctic Night's near eleven-minute runtime flits through some good ol' Fax+ ambient techno, and kinda' reminds me of Asura's Galaxies in the process. Molecular Flow almost comes off like something Orbital might have made if they ever contributed to Apollo Records, Pulsar like a latter-era cut from Ultimae (dub-glitch, yo'), and Mission To The Stars... I'd make the Sonic Voyagers call-back, but that might be too obscure even for ambient techno dudes.

Front to back though, The God Particle is solid material, mixing old space ambient with psy-chill and IDM aesthetics. Perhaps not the most original sound on the market, but Aythar does it right by my biased standards.

Various - Global Underground Nubreed: Steve Lawler

Boxed: 2000

The Nubreed series from Global Underground was set up as a sort of farm league for the main series. It's tough cracking that starting line-up, see, featuring such legendary talents as Sasha, John Digweed, Nick Warren, Dave Seaman, and Danny Tenaglia, and British clubland had plenty of hot, young prospects in the pipeline waiting for that call-up from the big leagues to rub shoulders with the f'n All-Stars. The series didn't last much past 2002, though sees occasional dusting off to promote another wave of generational talents, most recently this past month with a tenth volume featuring Oliver Schories. Wow, I don't know these kids at all.

Of the original Nubreeders, only Danny Howells made it to the big league roster, but Steve Lawler got himself a mini-series called Lights Out. Does that mean he was drafted into his own league? Man, this sports metaphor's stressed, but I can't help it – 'tis the season!

Heck, Lawler's own career fits the metaphor: starting out in real underground settings (street ballin', y'all), struggling in the literal 'beer leagues' (re: playing out at bars), then hitting a personal rock-bottom before lucky fate handed him a Cream residency. The year 2000 proved his big breakout, not only landing this Nubreed mix, but two more DJ mixes (Home on INCredible, Dark Drums on Tide), plus a gig for Essential Mix. Just goes to show you don't have to play for the LA Lakers or NY Yankees to have yourself a successful sportsrun. I'm reaching.

By this point in his career, Lawler had built a rep' as the UK's Danny Tenaglia, that dude who'll take you on a long, deep, dark journey through tribal house and dubby prog. This mix comes out when this sound was deemed official “new hotness” status, both Digweed and Tenaglia's recent offerings on Global Underground paving the way for a few years of relentless, unwavering sweaty thump of a groove. And hoo boy, is Steve ever on that sound, making this my third release in a row with a tribal theme going on. (The... odds...!)

Most prog mixes of the time kept the deep shit on CD1, serving as the warm-up for the energetic, peak-time rinse-outs of CD2. Long wary of jocks relying on anthems, Lawler says nuts to that, going with the deep shit for pretty much the duration of both discs. There are a few recognizable tunes – Tenaglia's Elements, Cevin Fisher's Love You Some More, Green Velvet's Answering Machine (“I don't need. This. Shit!”), but that's not the point of this set. Lawler's goal is to drag you into the club, with him in full swing at his personal peak hour, home listening practicality be damned. It makes his Nubreed offering rather samey throughout, and still comes off like an extended warm-up set before a superstar jock takes over the decks. If you're down for a DJ that can ride such a vibe for that long, you'll probably like this. Prefer a little spicy variety myself.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Paleowolf - Genesis

Cryo Chamber: 2016

Holy cow, what are the odds of this happening? Yeah, I've come across a couple instances of it in this endless excursion through my music collection. Eurythmics and Michael Mayer both had LPs called Touch, Moby and Märtini Brös have albums called Play, and Labyrinth is shared by both Juno Reactor and the Namlook-Montanà collaborations (teaser!). It hasn't come up often though, which is interesting in of itself. Either my 1300+ sample size isn't large enough to draw conclusions, or musicians are more creative with their album titles than I thought. Still, that doesn't dissuade the astounding fact that, within the very small sample size of 'Sykonee's 2017 Summer Purchases', I ended up with two albums titled Genesis. There's even a tribal vibe between the two, but the similarities end there.

Paleowolf is another dark ambient prospect called up from the farm leagues for a Cryo Chamber tryout. Heh, not really – it's actually a side-project from one Scorpio V, who made a couple critically-hailed albums for Cryo Chamber as Metatron Omega. That one leans into the ritualistic side of the genre, and Paleowolf does as well, though with a significant primeval bent. We're well before any human civilization, folks, times about as tribal as we've ever been. Not even a series of ravaged ruins to explore in this primitive setting – mankind probably hasn't even figured out how to make a fur hut yet!

The Paleowolf project is four albums deep now (ooh, that Megafauna Rituals has nifty artwork!), first appearing on Echoes Of Koliba Productions with Primordial. Genesis is his second album, adding Cryo Chamber one more sub-micro genre of dark ambient to its ever-expanding canvas. Gotta' fill all the niches, amirite?

Actually, the trick worked, as I cannot deny being at least curious about this stuff. How it relates to other forms of dark ambient? What sort of sounds might creep in when the genre has a heavy reliance of twisting recognizable field recordings into perverse parodies? Whether Cryo Chamber's record of 'cinematic drone' would translate well in a primordial realm, placing me among hunter-gatherers as we prepare for fire rituals, mammoth slaying, and cave bear evading. Oh, of course the latter would be the case!

So you get lots of tribal drumming throughout Genesis, some placing you in the thick of things, others echoing off distant valley mountains obscured by Ice Age fog. Plenty of deep-throated, meditating chants too, with an additional war chant for Hunter II. Some compositions use primitive instruments, like horns in Archaic Eon, and a didgeridoo in Eastern Tribes. And yes, a couple electronic sounds crop up as well, mostly in the form of droning tones, treated effects to voice chants, and subtle melodic touches from synth-pads. Still, they don't distract from the overall feeling of hanging out with neolithic peoples, eating charred Megaloceros meat, and wondering whether death will come from a sabre-cat attack, a competing tribe from over the mountain, or that strange wall of ice inching closer every day.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Astral Waves - Genesis

Altar Records: 2017

Once again, I picked up the latest Astral Waves album without realizing it's DJ Zen's main production alias. I don't think I even checked who the artist was, just perusing through some of Altar Records' recent output, and picking up whatever caught my eye. “Ooh, that one with the dragon looks cool, and this one, it has a final boss of a jRPG, or maybe a Dr. Strange nemesis. Sure, I'll give it a shot. Eh, a new Asura as well? Ah, the cover's just a bunch of high air. Pass for now.” It's been a couple years since his last effort though, and while festival DJing, compilation compiling, studio mastering, and label management undoubtedly keeps Mr. Descoutieras a busy boy, he's gotta' scratch that music-making itch like any of his peers.

Still, I wonder if he really had the time to explore his muse. Genesis isn't so much a new album of new material, as it's an assortment of original productions, plus 'reworkings' of Altar tunes from other producers. No, not remixes, as the inlay doesn't tag the original artists beyond “W+P” credits. Far as I can tell, these are intended to be regarded as Astral Waves tracks, like a cover, or a 're-genesis', I guess. It's not SuryaDemaH's Ashura, but Astral Waves' Ashura II. It's not Alwoods' Rain Of Shooting Stars, but Astral Waves' Rain Of Shooting Stars II. It's not AstroPilot & Astral Waves' Inflation Eternelle, but Astral Waves' Inflation Eternelle II. Huh, why not call it Inflation Eternelle (Astral Waves Version). It's what was done with Dimitriy's take on the tune that appeared on the Fall compilation. I dunno', just seems a tad dodgy presenting these tunes as such, but I'm sure they all gave DJ Zen their blessing.

This is all just niggling-picking though. The music itself is surprisingly diverse and different from what I typically expect out of an Altar record. Gabriel intended this as something of a challenge, making sure each cut was significantly unique from each other so nothing comes off samey throughout (an issue of his last album, in fact). There's also a heavier emphasis on tribal vibes, sections of Genesis coming off like a '90s world beat album, though with modern production chops (can't escape that over-compressed, plastic rhythm).

So you get an extended version of an oldie DJ Zen psy-chill tune of I Believe, redubbed The Believer, now with added vocals from New Age chanter Patrick Bernard. Ashura II chugs along at a crisp pace while digitally chopping up its Indian influences. La Danse du Feu gets in on that Native pow-wow chanting and howling, and follow-up La Danse de L'Eau ups the tempo with drumming and live fluting from Aeolia Project. Then you have your prog-psy numbers (Optimistica II, Rain Of Shooting Stars II, Les Liens du Sang (Profondita Remix)), and a right progressive trance stomper in Inflation Eternelle II. Man, is it wrong that both versions of this AstroPilot collab' get an Ace Tracks nod? Does it matter?

ACE TRACKS: October 2017

Well hey, that was a productive month of reviews, wasn't it? Sure helps to set yourself a specific deadline to meet a goal, filling yourself with determination to see it to fruition no matter the cost. Only... no matter my fortitude in my hopes of reaching the end of the 'Z's by the end of the year, I don't think I'll make it after all. I mean, just look at this past month alone, twenty-six reviews, and just squeaking by the 'F's in that time. Dear Lord, 'A' had nine alone. Now imagine what a heavier letter like 'S' or 'T' are holding in this alphabetical queue!

One thing that struck me as curious is how front-loaded some labels ended up with this. Believe me when I say I've bought from a wide range of prints this past summer, some familiar, but others delving into for the first time. Under normal circumstances, you'd think material would be spread out more evenly, but I've essentially shot my load with Carpe Sonum Records and Dronarivm albums; meanwhile, nary a Cryo Chamber CD in this lot, to say nothing of a couple newer entries. Ah well, at least good ol' Waveform Records will pace out nicely in this run. For now, here's the ACE TRACKS for October 2017.

Jafu - Add To Cart
Grey Area - And Then The Clouds
The Oak Ridge Boys - At Their Best
Si Matthews - Aurora
Ajna & Dronny Darko - Black Monolith
Cyril Secq & Orla Wren - Branches
Autumn Of Communion - Broken Apart By Echoes
Aythar - Dream Of Stars
The Oak Ridge Boys - Favorite Songs

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 0% (no, Oak Ridge Boys country doesn't count; Chemical Brothers are more rock than them)
Most “WTF?” Track: Anything Oak Ridge Boys. (this is all leading to something, isn't it?)

Yikes, is that ever a lot of missing albums. I think nearly a third of the tunes on this playlist aren't actually on Spotify (yet), but if you happen to have them in your Local Files, they should play just fine. Man, what are the odds of someone having Autumn Of Communion, Jafu, and Oak Ridge Boys in their directory though? 2 in 7.6 billion? I'm certain I've a doppelganger somewhere out in this wide wide, mad mad world. Maybe we'll cross paths on Kerguelen Island.

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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