Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Steve Brand - Upwelling: Emergence

Databloem: 2018

Steve Brand seemed familiar to me, but Discoggian evidence shows that couldn't possibly be the case. Though he's released some forty album's worth of music in the past fifteen years, a high percentage of it has been through his own, independent labels (Relaxed Machinery, Pioneer Light Music). And despite a discography as big as his, he hasn't done much for the compilation market either. Yet I still associate his name with ambient artists of old, which makes sense given his style of ambient is in the ancient, traditional form of the genre. I must have noticed his works on labels like Hypnos and AtmosWorks, where old-schoolers like Vidna Obmana, Robert Rich, and Vir Unis have released material. Oh, Ishq too, whom Steve Brand collaborated with on the double-LP Spiritual Science / The Voice From Home. Huh, sometimes the connections are as simple as that.

Though that pairing happened a decade ago, it helped give him a small in with ...txt, where Brand got to release one of his Near Series CDs on. And as seems to be the case now, when a producer releases something on a Lee Norris print, they get invited over to the Databloem family as well. Or sometimes it's the other way around. Lots of cross-pollination between the two camps, is what I'm saying, more than I ever thought possible. Throw in Aes Dana providing another mixdown for a Databloem joint, and I'm beginning to wonder if I should be on the look-out for some massive, multi-franchise crossover event within the world of ambient and chill music. That isn't a tribute to Pete Namlook.

Upwelling: Emergence is a sequel of sorts, the first Upwelling coming out way back in 2011 as an odd 'n' sods collection of material. So too it goes with this one, various unused items and inspirational flights of fancy of the past decade rounded up into a compilation. A strange method of making a debut on a new label, though not unprecedented. Heck, I think I've reviewed such an item before (Aythar's Dream Of Stars). It's a safe way to test the waters with a broader audience, seeing if one's stylee meshes with their tastes before dropping an LP of new, original content on their ears. As if the ambient collective is some stuffy scene of opinionated gate-keepers.

As I'm not about to dive deeply into Brand's discography right now (so many albums...), all I can tell you regarding this particular release is what I mentioned above. Steve's 'brand' (*slap*) of ambient mostly entails lengthy, overlaying synth drones and gentle field recordings, abstract art music as crafted right from the '80s. It's all very serene and pleasant and calming and-

G'ah! What's with those flutes in The Krater Of Earth? So shrill and piercing following half a CD's worth of soothing tones and timbre. The track settles into a standard pad-drone piece, but geez, hearing those sure was a slap in the face. Knocked me out of my peaceful doze, it did.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Single Gun Theory - Flow, River Of My Soul

Nettwerk: 1994

(a Patreon Request from Omskbird)

There was a small window in the development of my musical tastes where this album would have been brilliant to me. It was right around the point when the sounds of Enya, Enigma and Deep Forest were failing me, but I hadn't yet caught onto whatever 'underground' ethno-pop beats options existed. When I was exploring compilations like Pure Moods and Escapes for new artists to check out. When I came into contact with another Nettwerk album released the same year as this that I thought among the most amazing things I ever heard, Delerium's Semantic Spaces. It was a small window of time, is what I'm saying.

Interestingly, Delerium was also my introduction to Single Gun Theory. Or rather, to Jacqui Hunt of Single Gun Theory, as featured in the lead single to the album Karma, Euphoria (Firefly). And yes, again, that was the lead single, not Silence featuring another Nettwerk artist on vocals (you know who). I didn't know much about Single Gun Theory, only what the Karma-hype blurbs told me, of them being Australian, a staple on Nettwerk since the label's earliest days, and having some musical ties to the Dead Can Dance wave of '80s ethereal synth-pop. I'll take the PR's word for it.

In any event, I'm not surprised the Delerium boys wanted to work with Jacqui Hunt, because boy does she ever carry the musical load in this group. Granted, part of that is thanks to the layers of ethereal effects on her voice. Whenever she's singing about fractured relationships or global issues or metaphysical existence though, you stand up and take notice, more than willing to be swept away in the thick layers of treated vocals. Which is good, as the backing music is only passable at best.

Pete and Kath do everything they can to make these tunes sound rich and dynamic, but the production chops just aren't there. It's clear their global travels heavily inspired them, with all manner of ethnic chants and exotic instruments finding their way into their tunes. And I do give props for them bringing in actual musicians for the showcases of tabla, tambura, cello, and such.

Unfortunately, they don't do much to distinguish their sampling as integral parts of the songs they craft, many of them presented with a big, flashing sign shouting “I'm a sample!” between moments of Jacqui's singing. Geez, it's even noticeable in their rhythms, not even trying to hide how obvious some of their breaks sampling is. It's fine using well-worn beats and all, but do something interesting with them to make them your own, otherwise I'm gonna' think of better examples of their use elsewhere. I could give them a pass on their previous albums, but by 1994, such production was coming off rather dated fast.

Ironically, the best example of the sort of music Single Gun Theory was trying to make here comes care of Delerium's Euphoria (Firefly). Remarkable what a couple years and better producers can accomplish, eh?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Howie B. - Turn The Dark Off

Polydor: 1997

When 'electronica' was the new hotness, I recall seeing Howie B.'s name everywhere, but as I look back on his compilation game, I fail to remember why. Yeah, I got a small jump on him when he appeared on the Waveform Records compilation Frosty (ten minutes of Birth!), and he was repped on the MuchMusic 'electronica' show CD tie-in RU Receiving, but that was the extent of my exposure.

He was featured on a number of trip-hop and big-beat collections at the height of those genres' commercial success, and carried on into the new Millennium to a respectable degree, including contributing to the FabricLive and AnotherLateNight series. I dunno' though, it still feels like I'm missing something, like Mr. Bernstein was at a higher level than even that, almost on par with the likes of The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack. Give me a second, I need to check the Wiki... *one search result later* OOOoohhh... He helped produced U2's Pop album. Yeah, that'll get your name in the mainstream rock rags, no doubt.

Coming up through the studio ranks, Howie B. was primed to make a prominent mark upon UK clubland by the mid-'90s, finally getting his debut with Music For Babies. That... was a tad too specialized a sound to make much impact, so the follow-up Turn The Dark Off is generally considered his proper debut, with all his major singles. Switch is here! Fizzy In My Mouth is here! Take Your Partner By The Hand is here! Uh... Who's Got The Bacon? is here? Wait, Angels Go Bald, Too was a single as well? I guess it has that spy-caper vibe going for it, and Howie did help with that Tom Cruise staring Mission: Impossible score a little. Can't say it's the Howie B. stylee I was expecting going into this though, so brisk and breakbeaty for a dude more known for the down 'n' dirty side of trip-hop funk.

Turn The Dark Off features a solid assortment of those sounds, essentially where big-beat and trip-hop meet in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I can't help but feel it's a little too solid, too polished for a record seemingly inspired by the gritty underground beats that were churned out by Mo'Wax. I suppose that can't be helped, Mr. Bernstein's experience on the production side of the things smoothing out whatever free-flowing roughness emerges from one's inspiration. It's far from BT-itis, but certainly around Junkie XL's level of studio sleekness.

Whenever he has a chance to solo out some sounds over his hunky-chunky rhythms, the music's all the better for it. The gentle keyboards and weird wobbly wail in Limbo. The raunchy-raw squealing synths in Butt Meat. The spoken-word tale of noir clublife as narrated by Robbie Robertson in Take Your Partner By The Hand. Not to mention the building guitar licks and hip-hop rhythms that aren't too dissimilar to The RZA's beatcraft. Album could have used more tracks like that one.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Morphology - Traveller

FireScope: 2018

My main nitpick/complaint/petty gripe regarding FireScope has long been their lack of LPs. So many EPs, which is fine and all for the vinyl market, but us CD buyers often crave maor musiks than the standard four-to-five tracks singles provide. Thus imagine my giddiness over seeing an actual ten-track item released on the print! Aw yeah, this Traveller album from Morphology will finally give me the LP experience I've long craved from FireScope. Can't wait for that sucker to arrive in the mail, and slip the CD into my main player where- wait, this has two CDs in it? As in, presented as a double-EP? What in the even...?

No no, let's take this as an opportunity. Yes, I will engage with this 'double-CD' album as though it were a vinyl option, where I must get up from my comfortable sitting/laying position to change the disc/record at the designated point. In this manner, I may help bring closer the divide that has long alienated the vinyl and CD buying populaces. 'Tis not a nobler endeavour I embark upon in this task, my friends?

But first, who are Morphology, and what do they bring to the FireScope family? A duo of Finnish electro lovers, Misters Turunen and Diekmann have been making tunes since the start of this decade (or the end of the last decade; whichever you prefer). They released a couple albums on Syntax Motorcity in that time, plus assorted singles on assorted labels generally skewing to the purist Detroit vision of electro and techno, but with beatcraft a little more complex than your traditional, functional robot rhythms. Not the most obvious link to B12's brand of techno, but enough to hop on over I guess.

CD1 features six tracks, including one ambient doodle. Opener Distant Signal (Distant System!? No...) definitely has that spaced-out electro thing going for it, while Second Light and Farthest Regions are quite airy and charming for electro, for the most part fitting the FireScope vibe. Hidden Variable and Detached go more for the proper electro menace Morphology's earlier works steered under.

That's the end of CD1. Time to get up and change discs. Eh, while I'm up, I may as well check on those taters I have in the oven. Ooh, done! And they smell so delish' right now. Mm, think I'll take a moment to scarf a few, check up on some internet... *one half-hour later* ... Oh, dammit, CD2! Almost forgot about it! *mightily struggles to stand on a sated stomach full of toasty potato*

Man, having that unexpected break sure makes coming into the second half of Traveller in interesting experience. Almost feels like I'm taking in a totally different album, and not just because the electro here is even purer than heard on CD1. Yeah, Bipolar Nebula retains some chipper feels, but that makes sense given the track name. Overall, a neat little listening experiment.

Oh, and Traveller is a boss album of spacey electro too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

B12 - Transient Life

De:tuned: 2017

I've talked about B12. I've bought a number of releases from remaining member of B12, Steve Rutter. I've even become enamoured by B12's current label, FireScope. Yet I never seemed to get myself an actual proper B12 release. Clearly a ridiculous oversight on my part, so there's no time like the present(ish) than to finally get me some B12 music. Where do I start though? The seminal contribution to Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence series, Electro-Soma? One of the numerous EPs Rutter's released through FireScope? Nah, guy, how's about a little item put out on De:tuned instead? Wait, De:tuned? Was'is this?

Kind of a proto-FireScope, De:tuned started out as a retro IDM label luring in names from the genre's ancient history for an EP release or two. Though not prolific by any stretch, they did a remarkable job in meeting their manifesto, the well known and the rather obscure all showing up. From B12, Thomas Heckmann, John Beltran, and David Morley to The Kosmik Kommando, Robert Leiner, and Terrace. More recently the label's gone the compilation route, inviting many classic ambient techno aliases in the process, some of which I thought were long since mothballed. Like, holy cow, look at these vintage name-drops! Sun Electric, Jedi Knights, Spacetime Continuum, Higher Intelligence Agency! Damn, De:tuned, you sure know how to lure some veterans in. CDs soon?

B12, now just Steve Rutter, had been releasing a a smattering of singles since dusting the project off again in 2015 (more on that at a later date). I'm guessing he was still uncertain whether he should start his own label yet or not, but this here Transient Life EP was the last of his label wanderings before launching FireScope. If he did it with De:tuned to drum up interest in his new print, I have to assume it did the trick, his label on quiet the run as of late.

As with all those FireScope singles, Transient Life features four tracks in the make of that unmistakable bleepy ambient techno vein. This stuff's not quite so mellow and floaty as Mr. Rutter's later works though. Opener Soar And Glide has a real ominous vibe going for it despite the playful bleeps and bloops – like you're exploring some ancient alien architecture. Brownian Motion bins the bleeps altogether, settling for mood and tone enveloping its skitter-skatter IDM beatcraft. Forced Restart is the requisite 'chill' cut, going more electro than techno in doing so, while Symbiotic Form is creepy-weird for much of its runtime, an overbearing, ghostly synth-pad sending the EP out on not the most reassuring of moods. Like, imagine being abandoned on said ancient alien realm, so much mystery surrounding you, and you can't help sensing something lurking withing those relics of civilizations passed.

As cool, nifty, nostalgia-triggering as all this sounds, there's something about Transient Life that holds me back from liking at much as Rutter's more recent works. A tad too unsettling, perhaps? Pft, and I consider myself a dark ambient connoisseur.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Ylid - Transcend!

Unknown Tone Records: 2014

I kept getting this album and Le Moors' Tendrils mixed up, and not just because they're side-by-side in my current queue, nor because they're both items from Unknown Tone Records. It's the cover art, see, with that muted beige-yellow border, and a blue-something in the middle. Having absolutely no prior knowledge of who either act were, they naturally meshed into my mind as a singular entity, for so long leading me to believe Ylid was Le Moors, and Transcend! was Tendrils. In fact, the only way any of this stood out to me as something distinct from the other is when my new Sony Walkman MP3 player would oddly default first to the Ylid album whenever I plugged it into whatever car I was renting for this past summer's road trips. And boy howdy did it ever leave an impression with that Chant track being the kick off. Ain't nothing like hearing heavily synthy 'aahh's just as you're about to hit the open road, believe you me. Who knew Ylid was a fan of Skin To Skin?

Anyhow, it seems we're back to the outright obscure material again, very little information available regarding Ylid via my usual Discoggian means. One Robert Lyon, he released some half-dozen mini-albums and EPs throughout the mid-'00s, then disappeared for a spell before reappearing out of the blue with this album for Unknown Tone. The only connection I can find between these two periods of Robert's music-making career is Tim Martin, whom he worked with as the short-lived project Somme. Tim Martin's career has been more fruitful, especially as Maps & Diagrams, which led him to Unknown Tone along the way (among other labels I've name-dropped in the past). That good will likely helped give Somme some in with Unknown Tone, after which Robert got to dust off his Ylid project for the label as well. So it does all tie together, guy, but boy, are these ever tenuous strings used.

That's a huge chunk of word count burned getting through particulars, which always means I don't have much to say regarding the actual music within Transcend! It's quite clear Ylid comes from the indie side of things, the Kid A influences dripping throughout the album. Sparse electric and acoustic guitar plucking, fizzy-poppy glitchy treatments, overlaying ambient drone tones, abstract twee electronics, all presented in a sketch-book sort of manner. It's clear Mr. Lyon has lots of little ideas for minimalist compositions, but isn't sure how to present them as a cohesive whole, so here they all are as emerged straight from his brain matter.

For sure there are a few that grab my attention. Thames has a peppy, dreamy pulse going for it, while tracks like Volume Of Air, Overhead and Death Thoughts do the thick, layered reverb ambience nicely. Can't say much else does it for me though, but hey, if you prefer your experimental music from a post-rock angle, this may come off better.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Le Moors - Tendrils

Unknown Tone Records: 2016

Finally, an obscure ambient act I'm coming across for the first time where I'm not drawing an utter blank. Not to say I'm an expert on Le Moors. Really, hardly anyone could be, the duo having released just this one album, plus a single-track EP a few years prior. One of the players involved though, I've crossed paths with him before, if only barely. One Wil Bolton contributed to the Lee Norris conglomerate project The Angling Loser, and has thus also worked specifically with Lee as Orphic Signals and The Ashes Of Piemonte. He's also released a solo album on ...txt. Dronarivm too, not to mention most recently on Databloem, because everyone is releasing music on Databloem these days. Seriously, what is it with that label as of late?

Really, Bolton's been quite the busy-body over the past decade, with nearly twenty albums to his name, and several more collaborative works along the way. Less so is the other half of Le Moors, Jeff Stonehouse, though not by a great deal. His primary project was Listening Mirror with Kate Tustain – even releasing an album on Dronarivm during its time – but seems to have settled into more of a producer-collaborative role now, making use of sound manipulations and the like. Oh, and Lord Discogs ties him to '90s psy-trance act Spiralhead, but I've a hard time believing that's the same dude. You're telling me Jeff made a few goa records way back, disappeared for over a decade, then re-emerged making ambient-drone? Ah, well, I suppose there's been odder musical tracks. Tijs Verwest started out with gabber, after all.

The concept behind Tendrils is straight-forward enough: calming, soothing ambient layers with reverb tones stretched out to the infinite recesses of your listening space. Ooh, what I wouldn't give to hear some of this in a big open field, but my Sennheiser HD650s suffice in a pinch. Most of these sounds are initiated by guitars strings lazily plucking an improvised ditty, with the aforementioned sound manipulations contorting them into something quite relaxing and tranquil. If I may get my old-school name-drops on, it most reminds me of Vangelis' sublime composition of pre-ambient dronescaping, Creation Du Monde. I can imagine a piece like Precarious Brilliance or The Play Of Angels working just as well with imagery of cosmic splendour with Carl Sagan narrating overtop.

And that's about all there is to say about Tendrils. It's only seven tracks long, most averaging around the six-to-seven minute mark, which is a tad on the short side where this sort of music is concerned. Then again, at least they don't unnecessarily dawdle on their effects either. There isn't much variety in sounds though, maybe Cutlasses And Carbines going more sparse and minimal with its elongated guitar tones compared to the rest of the album. Then there's the final titular track, with its nine minutes of isolated piano and atonal drone. A surprisingly ominous closing, given how benign the rest of Tendrils was.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Crystal Moon - Temple

Kinetix/...txt: 1997/2018

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by a release like this on ...txt. I mean, Ishq has released tons of material on the label, and that dude's flirted with the realms of New Age for as long as he's been making music. Still, for a print that's more known for the trendier, critically-approved ambient techno side of things, I remain mildly flumoxed by releases like this. That didn't keep me from nabbing a copy sight-unheard though, because dang, is that ever a lovely spot of cover art.

Thus, imagine my surprise when I finally checked out the details behind Crystal Moon, revealing it to be the tenth-dozen side-project of one Jake Stephenson. You might remember me name-dropping him with regards to such acts like Shamanoic Tribes On Acid, Mekhala, Alien Mutation, Dr. Psychedelic, Psychoheads, The Pots Heads, Super Skunk, Ganja Beats, and White Star. All those names appeared on just two compilations! So, not only has one of psy-trance's busiest bodies of the '90s revealed yet another alias I was unaware of (really, who could keep up?), but is now also featured with a reissue on ...txt? Oh yeah, Temple originally came out way back in 1997, which was consolidation into a 4CD collection called The Dawn Of A New Age released by Jumpin' & Pumpin' (yeah, FSOL's old homestead). That one isn't all Jake Stephenson, though it wouldn't have surprised me if it was. And how Lee Norris not only came into contact with this particular release, but saw fit to give it a spiffy CD reissue, it, well, as I said, gives the ol' noggin' a case of the mild flumoxing.

Actually, the connection was made incredibly clear when I noticed Matt Hillier was also part of Crystal Moon. You probably know him by his most productive alias of Ishq, but this was before he adopted the moniker. Yes, like Jake, Matt spent a chunk of the late '90s churning out psy-trance under multiple aliases, even getting a spot on one of those middling Psychedelic Flashbacks 4CD compilations from Rumour Records. Early trials, folks.

Temple is about as you'd expect from a pair of psy-trance chaps making ambient-leaning New Age music. It's just trippy enough such that it doesn't come off as schmaltzy as New Age so often can, but doesn't go so deep into the psychedelic hole that it would chase away all the hippie grandmothers looking for a little extra backing music to their meditation sessions.

Oh, does it ever flirt close to crossing that threshold though – there's more than enough samples of running water, twinkling bells, chirping birds, woodwinds, and all the like. Anytime it feels like we're about to go there though, the production gets a little twisted, a little dubbier, more abstract in the true sense of ambient. It's a delicate balance, but Jake and Matt walk that tightrope ever so skillfully. 'Tis not an easy one to traverse with intent, my friends.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Various - A Taste Of Kandi Summer 2007

Hed Kandi: 2007

It's generally agreed upon Hed Kandi's decline occurred when Ministry Of Sound bought the brand in 2006. That doesn't mean it happened all at once, I'm sure a few decent selections coming out before that decade came to a close. Ah, this looks promising enough, a tidy, single-disc sampler mix highlighting peppy, summery house jams, and but a scant couple years after the Ministry buy-in. Surely this will prove it wasn't all rubbish immediately after.

And you know you're in good hands when a set opens up with Miguel Migs. He's one of those producers where you know what you're gonna' get, so if you've already gotten his stuff, there's no rush to get more so long as you're sated on what you got. That don't mean he's a welcome addition to any collection of house music though. Migs sets the tone for a large chunk of the opening: soulful disco house that brings to mind glitzy clubs serving glitzy people drinking glitzy drinks. Nothing revolutionary, but it doesn't need to be, music knowing exactly what its purpose is. No one's getting a Hed Kandi mix for intuitive underground sounds; sometimes you just need a quick fix of vanilla sundae with rainbow sprinkles.

A run of big disco anthems ups the tempo some, featuring tunes from the likes of Frank Ti-Aya, Justin Michael, Asbo, with guest vocalists ranging from Katherine Ellis, Jocelyn Brown, and Yardi Don, plus remixes from Soul Avengerz, Born To Funk, Deep Groovers, and House Brothers. Uh, sorry, but I'm drawing blanks on these names. Punters and DJs well entrenched in the Hed Kandi brand are probably familiar with them, but many of these appear like factory productions, churning out fodder for the DJ pools to be rinsed out for a season, then tossed off in favour for another round a few months later. So it always goes in clubland, I guess. The tunes are all fine for the time they're playing, but they don't really stand out from the disco house glut either.

Then Eddie Thoneick throws down a remix towards the final stretch, and you can always tell it's an Eddie Thoneick remix because few did big, punchy electro-house anthems like that chap did in the mid-'00s. Following that is a... cover? Of Big Fun? The artist credit goes to D.O.N.S., with a remix done by Beaver & Jones, but aside from giving the classic Detroit anthem some (then) current production punch, isn't much different from the original. Oh well, at least Steve Mac's rub on Bryon Stingily's Get Up (Everybody) is a fun disco anthem to end things on.

But then the mix has to keep going and let The Creeps from Freaks literally fart all over everything. Ugh, that was already a lame-ass flatulent tune jock-riding the Satisfaction craze when it was new, and it sounds utterly shite among so much upbeat disco action. Forget the last track's tribal-drum action, The Creeps ruined everything with its odoriferous stank rubbing on the CD.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

ACE TRACKS: August 2019

Yeah, that happened. Got a lot more attention than expected too. Sure, we knew many were anticipating it in select circles of the interweb, and might even get a few shares on third string 'EDM' news outlets. Heck, even DJMag sharing it didn't phase me, though I couldn't help but feel a little amused in their praise, despite the drubbing we've given them over the years (probably because even they know they deserve it for how their popularity poll's perverted a once pure scene). Nay, the only share (thus far) that's given me pause was Billboard's.

Wait, the Billboard, as in the conglomerate that tracks music sales? How did they come across the Guide? Hell, for that matter, how were they even aware of the original, must less feel this was a newsworthy event for them to share? For sure, this was a major undertaking that took years to complete, and we're mighty proud of the resulting effort, but surely it isn't such a big deal that we're getting blurbs in a media outlet who's sole role is continuous hype of mainstream success. Wonders never cease. Nor do ACE TRACK playlists, so here's August 2019!

Full track list here.

Josh Christie - Stuck On A Space Trip
Anduin - Stolen Years
The Gentle People - Soundtracks For Living
Ken Ishii - Sleeping Madness
Kwook - Skywave
Speedy J - Ginger

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 11%
Percentage Of Rock: 11%
Most “WTF?” Track: Anything from The Gentle People, when you realize it was released on Rephlex.

Never a good thing for these playlists when nearly half the albums aren't on Spotify. Some I can understand, being so utterly obscure and all, but Speedy J? Ken Ishii? The Gentle People?? How are those records from them not on there? Weirdly, the remix album of Soundtracks For Living is, but probably because there's a lot of Very Important IDM and techno artists doing remixes there, so are likely of higher interest for those wandering in. And I shouldn't worry much about what currently is or isn't on Spotify, as plenty do eventually find their way there. Why, I just discovered Felix Da Houscat's back catalogue is now available. Sweet, I can finally see if all those post Devin Dazzle albums were as bad as the critics made them out to be! (oh, and Tool too, I guess)

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Josh Christie - Stuck On A Space Trip

self release: 2018

So this Josh Christie chap approaches me on Twitter, as the platform is want to allow, and asks me if I'd be interested in reviewing one of his albums. Sure, thinks I, I'm always down for taking in extra tuneage for my queue. Send it my way and, oh, it's only available Bandcamp. Well, I'm not so anal on digital-only releases anymore, though this does put me in a slight pickle. Not so much a 'hey, can you review a copy of my album that I send you?' request, as 'hey, can you review my album after you buy it on Bandcamp?' Seems highly irregular for this sort of thing, but eh, I've paid money for lesser works. Besides, if I cannot keep my word, then what word I offer is any good? No, if I say I'm gonna' do something, whether it's reviewing someone's music or seeing a guide to completion, then by g'ar, I'll do it, no matter how long it takes, no matter the cost.

Don't bother looking for this Josh Christie within Lord Discogs' massive tome of data. A search there instead brings up acts like Christie Front Drive ('90s indie rock) and Josh Groban (modern day crooner). Naturally, the album I decided upon reviewing, Stuck On A Space Trip, is also a total blank, though when I typed up “Josh Christie Stuck On A”, the lone result I got was ...Insane Clown Posse's third album Riddle Box? Uh, well, they both have a stark black background with a green icon on the front. I suppose I could just ask the Tampa chap other details, but judging from the music on this album, it's pretty clear where his inspirations lay.

Space is definitely the place, but so are the British raves of the early '90s, with loving homages to the primitive dance beats and cheeky sci-fi sampling ever so prevalent of the era. In fact, Stuck On A Space Trip almost feels too lovingly replicant of that music, and I'm not just talking about opening things up with the sounds of a train taking off. From more obvious nods to The Orb (Dawn Of Emptiness, Sunny Vibrations), The KLF (The Autocratic Machine), and Shut Up And Dance (Chemical Weapons), to a general vibe not too dissimilar to Orbital and Earthbeat (aka: FSOL's early works) permeate much of the album. And I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

Yeah, I like me some vintage UK acid house sounds, but where does homage end and blatant lift begin? These sound so much of that time, you could probably convince clueless folks they were unearthed artifacts. It's like, if bleep-acid-ambient-techno-rave could become a synthwave-styled genre – music not only inspired by an era, but highly romanticized into something it never actually was - then this is probably what it would sound like. Why doesn't that happened more often, I wonder? UK acid raves too narrow a cultural niche compared to the omnipresence of The '80s?

Friday, August 30, 2019

Anduin - Stolen Years

SMTG Limited: 2012

When I saw this in an online shop, I knew I had to get it sight-unheard. That cardboard border, the artful picture, the unrecognizable musician with post-rock ties... it must be a new Slaapwel Records release! Never mind the label's only released one (1) new item in the two years I first discovered them.

But nay, 'tis not an unearthed Slaapwel Records album. That there's a whopping eight tracks is proof alone, much less the fact they all average around four to six minutes in length. It is an interesting item I've stumbled upon though, and once again I have nothing but my over-eager, hunter-gatherer purchasing instinct to thank for it. Seldom have I been led astray by such impulsive actions, and it was nice of Anduin to keep the faith alive a little longer.

Not to be confused with the Matthew Dear project Audion – because I know your brain has been doing that from the moment you saw the header – Anduin is the brainchild of Jonathan Lee, a chap who's floated about various rock bands these past couple decades. Some were punk, some were post, and some were whatever eclectic ideas were flowing freely in a given jam session. This naturally led Mr. Lee to explore the instrumental, abstract side of his muse, giving rise to Anduin, a project that lasted about half a decade, seemingly mothballed since 2015. Stolen Years was the last full-length record released under the guise.

With absolutely no idea of what to expect going in, I wasn't even sure I'd ended up with a 'music' record as Behind The Voyeur's Wall Of Glass started. So quiet, so subdued, and are those sounds of children playing coming from the track, or the park across from my apartment? Also, someone get WD-40 on that squeaky door stat, why don't ya'? A moody synth tone burbles in and out, a kick that sounds like someone bouncing a basketball emerges, and a lonely saxophone jam adds a creaky blues vibe. It's all rather bleak, but in a melancholic sort of way, like reflecting on one's decrepit life from the confines of a weathered, abandoned flat.

Much of Stolen Years plays out like that: prominent looping field recordings placing you within a vivid setting (so much dirt and grit), sinewy synth pads crafting lonesome moods and tones, and collaborator Jimmy Graphery providing saxophone or flute solos adding human soul to the proceedings. Only final track Irene breaks the mould, shooting for an opulent wall-of-sound ambient outing for closure.

What I find so interesting about Stolen Years is despite the rather simple elements in play, it's extremely difficult pinpointing exactly what kind of music this is. The closest comparison I can come up with is the dark ambient jazz of Phonothek, but not so oppressive and bleak as that duo goes. Stolen Years feels much too intimate to be dark ambient, yet not so lost up its rectum to be jazz. A curious, addictive one, this.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Steven Rutter & John Shima - Step Into The Light

FireScope: 2018

Jason McCreadie has already been responsible for some of the pulpier pieces of cover art in FireScope's catalogue, but he done taken the cake here, my friends. Anime fairy girls, in my retro ambient bleep techno? Why I never, could ever, make clever, said Trevor, in this endeavour, forever.

Sorry, I think my mind went and a'sploded again. It simply cannot comprehend what it is seeing here. Like, what even is going on? Some sort of alien invasion? A battle between heaven and hell? A weird interpretation of what happens when our blood trades carbon dioxide for oxygen within our lungs? I mean, those big red pods could be red blood cells, which would make, the fairies, what? Hormonal chemicals? Bodily defences? What's even crazier is this art is in fact double-sided, carrying over to the flip of the package. Naturally, the anime fairy girl there has white hair and wings, because gotta' have those contrasts.

Step Into The Light marked another step in FireScope's expanding, erm, scope, in that it was the first collaborative outing among its roster of producers. Because even if the classic B12 line-up is no more, that doesn't mean Mr. Rutter couldn't team up with all these cats clearly inspired by the music he and Golding were making so many years past. Thus it's only appropriate that the first of these pairings would include John Shima, the first outside the B12 wheel-house to make his mark on the label. Broken Spell opens things up with that distinct crisp electro rhythm and mellow melody many a FireScope EP features, eventually giving shine to a light plucky lead that reminds me of ancient Alter Ego. Skywards does the deeper business, mostly letting the rhythms do the work with subdued backing synth pads lending an ominous tone to the track. A New Day is more of a straight-forward ambient techno tune with vintage bleep action, while Disjointed Route slows things down to a groovier pace with a bell-tone bassline that has my Biosphere sensors triggered. How all this relates to anime fairy girls tripping the light fantastic has me though.

Sorry, I know I shouldn't keep coming back to it, but this cover art fascinates me. It's just not something you'd ever see in techno, no matter which vein you follow in that scene. The cartooniest it ever got was with its nods to pulp sci-fi, and that was quickly jettisoned when it was declared techno, in all its forms, must remain Serious Business. Heck, even Ken Ishii only flirted with anime once, and had it been anyone other than Koji Morimoto doing the art, probably wouldn't have happened. Meanwhile, the 'loligirl' look was soon adopted by happy hardcore and other infantile music scenes, removing the style completely and utterly from techno's domain forever after.

Not that I wouldn't mind seeing more of this art in techno, that scene's iconography too often staid and monochrome. It needs more primary colours and light, but I guess it's just not good for business.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Daniel Pemberton - Space Dive

fsoldigital.com: 2012

I should have expected this, but for some reason, upon seeing the cover art, an alternate version of Space Dive lodged itself into my brain, leading me to believe that was what I was gonna' hear. One of pure conceptual space-age ambient noodling, like AstroPilot's Solar Walk series, filled with actual radio chatter samples between Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull ground control. That it came out on The Future Sound Of London's digital label, the last place I'd expect to find a National Geographic documentary soundtrack, is my only excuse for coming to such a premature conclusion. How did this end up on fsoldigital anyhow?

Easy answer, that. Daniel Pemberton often works with Brian Dougans and Garry Cobain, especially contributing to their Environments series. I'm not sure how far back their collaborations officially goes – at least The Isness - but it's possible Daniel was hanging around the FSOL boys since even the Dead Cities period. Thus, it makes sense they'd let him use their label for releases slightly outside traditional chains. Oh, and Pemberton made his (teenaged!) debut on Fax +49-69/450464, which means that, yes, he too was included in the inimitable, ineluctable Die Welt Ist Klang Pete Namlook tribute box-set. Just throwing that out there.

But yes, Daniel's career arc this century has primarily been in the realm of score work, starting out doing TV spots and documentaries before getting the nod for major movies. What movies, you ask? Oh, just a little critical darling called Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, to name one. Also, um, King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword. Still, a resume that includes Steve Jobs and Ocean's 8 ain't too shabby. Dude knows his way around providing audio stimuli for visual entertainment, is what I'm saying.

And I can only assume his work for Space Dive is exemplary of a one hour documentary covering Felix's freefall from the outer reaches of our atmosphere because, um, I haven't seen it. I tried to find it, but it's not on Amazon Prime (.ca), not on YouTube, and I don't really care enough about it to drop paywall money to see it (sorry, Nat Geo). I'm sure it's like most modern documentaries anyway: a lot of dawdling and faux-tension building leading up to the main event, presented after seven commercial breaks. I remember the live stream just fine, thanks.

Musically, Space Dive sounds like most modern documentary scores as well, with the subdued orchestras and pounding percussion sections (he's Going Supersonic, yo'!), light synth touches, and such as. Little of it leaps out as distinct pieces of music, which is exactly what you should want in a soundtrack like this. I can say, despite having no visual accompaniment, a few pieces do a good job of making me feel connected to the emotions Felix must have been going through (Freefall, To The Edge Of Space, The Jump). I still can't recommend Space Dive for anyone other than Daniel Pemberton completists though. Surely there's a few out there.

The Gentle People - Soundtracks For Living

Rephlex: 1997

Acts like AIR, Groove Armada, and Röyksopp were highly instrumental in turning the chill-out scene into a radio-friendly commercial juggernaut, but did they really start it all? Okay, yes, but one group was making ultra-retro psychedelic lounge-pop just a smidge before those names broke out. The fact they came out on Rephlex, however, had everyone scratching their heads whether it was all a put-on. Like, really? The label that Aphex Twin started would release something like the Journey single? Hell, not just release it, but give it a remix too! Mr. D. James' rub on Journey must be among his most bizarre creations, in that it's just so... normal.

Answering the question of “What would happen if The Human League and The B-52s took LSD, Quaaludes, and time-travelled to the '60s?”, The Gentle People were an odd quartet even without the Rephlex bump. Whether or not their glassy-eyed gaze into retro psychedelia was a put on, they seemed so sincere that you couldn't help but fall sway to their pulpy charms. You wanted to indulge in their fondue parties while lounging about bubble chairs and shag drapery.

Theirs was musical escapism from a music scene already rather removed from modern norms. The only place left to go was where the establishment had already been, re-purposing it for their own use. Retro trends in a nutshell, really. Still, it boggles the mind that Rephlex would be the first to get hep to such a potential market, even if they never followed it up with musical acts of similar ilk. All others got signed to big Virgin money, probably.

So I've already mentioned Journey as it appeared in Ambient Ibiza, both the most obvious and least obvious sort of compilation The Gentle People to appear on (future Braindance collections from Rephlex too). The rest of Soundtracks For Living generally follows that dubby, trippy, lounge-pop vibe with various degrees of psychedelia. Some tracks use big orchestral swells to oversell the sentiments (World Of Love, Emotion Heater, Relaxation Central). Others get more intimate with mushy lyrics and jazzy solos (Laurie's Theme, Le Tunnel De L'Amour, Tiki Mix).

Then there are the tunes that almost remind you that Soundtracks For Living indeed does have raver roots, however tenuous they appear on the surface. Dream warps a hazy slice of dubby ambience through the lens of a '60s Euro-art flic. Travel Bug is so bassy and spacey and groovy you'd expect Kruder & Dorfmeister to show up on the swirly-coloured couches for a jam. Meanwhile, many of the final tracks aren't too sonically dissimilar to The Orb's antics, or if The KLF had been inspired by British mod fashions rather than American outbacks and Elvis.

Soundtracks For Living can appear shallow and hollow at first ear-glance, no doubt. Heck, I thought it would be going in. The more I listened though, the more I found sucked into a surprisingly deep, warm bowl of delicious fondue cheese. Laced with sunshine acid. The Journey video ain't no joke.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Ken Ishii - Sleeping Madness

R & S Records: 1999

Not the actual follow-up to Ken Ishii's breakout album Jelly Tones, but generally thought of as the spiritual successor. The between LP Metal Blue America is just a tad too rare and a tad too 'American' for most folks to bother with. What's rather sad is, for the longest time, I wasn't really aware of Sleeping Madness either. For sure I knew of Ishii, but by the time I started noticing his albums in local stores, we were already at Future In Light (aka: that one with the 3D model outline as cover art). Better distribution deals likely helped in that regard, as finding R & S Records releases in Canada was none too easy or cheap in the '90s, no matter how critically exceptional they were (I'm looking at you, SAW 86-92).

Of course, our modern times has left most of these nuisances nicely in the past, and catching up on Ken's work has been one of my long-gestating tasks, if not an exceptionally pressing one. Sleeping Madness is as good as any record to carry on with, showcasing his distinct take on Detroit techno by way of Neo-Tokyo, while also highlighting some of the broader developments the genre had started incorporating by the late '90s. Yes, I'm talking about that almost entirely forgotten trend techno couldn't help but indulge in: jazz.

Oh yeah, there's that jazz, man. Where Is The Dusk features busy drums, organ licks, and layered strings creating a bizarre discordant melody that fits snugly with the seemingly chaotic rhythms. If that wasn't jazzy enough, here's a collaboration with DJ Spooky (that subliminal kid), bringing his trippy hip-hop style to Enso Online - yeah, man, dig d'at cello bassline action, yo'! Missing Melody's title is apt, mostly a spazzy, swingin' rhythm workout that can't have at least been partially inspired by Squarepusher's antics; Game Over too, with Co-Fusion bringing a little more rocky feel to the party.

And golly gee, had Ken Ishii been feeling a bit of that tech-house bug that was creeping in the scene too? 24bit Optimist has a nice, bumpin' rhythm going for it that's not too hard and not too fast, though does morph into that classic Ishii techno stylee with the neon-kissed melodies reverberating off tall Shinjuku towers. Plus, I'd expect nothing less than a little tribal tech-house groove from a collab' with Talvin Singh in Water Dripping Down On The Middle Of The Forehead, no matter how many Japanese electro sounds Ken throws in there.

The rest of Sleeping Madness mostly features all the vintage Ishii techno you want and crave. Man, I don't know how to describe the sounds in Misprogrammed Day, but that beat thumps, and that sinewy hook coils itself around my cochlea like a... never mind. Really, this album offers enough familiar sounds while working in unique, creative indulgences for a little spicy variety. Yes, even a trip-hop secret song, because it's the late '90s, and everyone wants a spoonful of that Massive Attack gravy.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Kwook - Skywave

Blue Oasis: 2008

dataObscura began as a sister label to Databloem before branching off onto its own. Naturally, a label with such origins must produce offspring in a similar fashion, which resulted in Blue Oasis, a sister label to dataObscura. Sadly, this strange form of mitosis resulted in something of a stillborn, Blue Oasis managing but four releases before succumbing to inactivity. The first two were Anthony Kerby projects, because of course they were. A compilation called Perceived Distances also came out, but not before a third and final album under the print emerged, this here Skywave from Kwook. Still, one can find these items as dataObscura releases, rendering the original life of Blue Oasis but a mote of memory within Lord Discogs' archives.

Anyhow, Kwook. One Simon Bennett to the Perth partitioners (is that a thing?), he released his first album Unidentified Feathered Object with the early dataObscura, added a digital EP Immiscible to his catalogue, then finished off with Skywave before moving on to joining the Japanese band Wiggle (so sayeth Lord Discogs). Is... that really the same guy? There is a 'Simon' listed in the band's 'Members' blurb, but... really? Really?? There's a few more items on his Bandcamp though, so it must be so.

As is clear from the loving photo of a radio dish, Skywave is all about the love of those wonderful frequencies broadcast on the longer wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, especially those as utilized by humans. As expected, there's ample use of radio static fuzz throughout this album, but it doesn't dominate, mostly relegated to sonic textures and padding for whatever musical ideas Kwook's muse takes him. A very charming, playful place, turns out, many of these tracks sounding like they could have appeared as backing scores to some old-timey PBS documentary about radio waves. And I do mean old, clear influences from the '70s synth wizards on display (you know the namedrops).

Some pieces have a sense of awe about them (Stationary Waves, Aurora, Deep Space Receiver), some dance about like a chipper waltz (Heterodyne, Calling All Stations 2), while others cozy close to the domain of ambient techno (Sunspots, Signal To Noise, the latter entirely too short).

Then things get conceptually interesting, a three-part titular minimalist closer that explores some of the stranger sounds one might discover on some bandwidths. It rather reminds me of Gas 0095 in its singular fascination for the scientifically minute, with calming ambient melodies to match that focus. There's quite the glowing write-up in the liner notes about some of these things, among them recordings of “numbers stations”.

These strange transmissions have long been suspected to be cryptic codes for spy networks, some broadcasting instructions for agents no longer even in service. In fact, some may be automated hold-outs relaying numbers from cut-off bunkers without every catching up on modern times, like World War II Japanese soldiers stationed on lonesome islands. Yeah, probably not, but think of the alt-fiction, man!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Yamaoka & Purl - Simple Songs

Databloem: 2018

Far be it for me to get flustered over seeing certain artists flit between labels I figured would have little cross-pollination, but it's still weird to see a chap I discovered on Silent Season appear on Databloem. First it was Segue, and now Purl, both producers that helped cement in my mind the definitive dubby, trancey, techno-chill Silent Season stylee (ASC too). And while it's a sound that could fit with Databloem's rather liberal explorations on downtempo and ambient music, they still have generally different followers. You'll never see a glowing write-up of Databloem on Resident Advisor, nosiree.

Fortunately, such artists aren't so constrained by label loyalty that they don't mind dipping into other's pools on occasion. Ludvig Cimbrelius (Purl) has in fact done the deed many times over the course of his career, including such labels as... wait, didn't I already do the obligatory Label Namedrop when I reviewed Stillpoint? *checks* I didn't! Ah sweet! Ahem... Labels such as Sediment, Dewtone Recordings, Eternell, and Faint. Many of those releases included pairings with other producers such as Sinius, Deflektion, and Hivertribe. So teaming up with this Yamoaka isn't out of the ordinary for Purl. Still, I'll be flubber-flustered if he ends up pairing up with, say, a dark ambient producer, releasing an album on, say, a drone label. Wait a minute, my Bandcamp bell just rung, let me che- Son of a gun!!

Yamaoka is headed by Yoshinori Yamazaki (Kenichi Oka was once a member, so sayeth Lord Discogs). Yet another one of those tireless ambient producers churning out multiple rare albums on multiple obscure labels like October Man Recordings, Secret Station, Doppelganger, Carpe... Sonum... Records? Dear God, everything I know that is ambient is collapsing within itself!

Anyhow, Simple Songs. Two types of compositions make up this album. The first are the long, ambient dronescapes where minimalist looping passages and melodies are stretched out like ethereal embers across a picturesque skyline. Very lovely, very calming, very expected of another release out of Databloem. The other assortment contain more momentum to them, quicker in their loops such that they percolate into pseudo-rhythms. Add a kick drum underneath these, and you could easily have trance, or neo-trance, or whatever folks want to call this stuff. So of course Yam' n' Pur' do so (or close approximates of) in tracks like Spinning Grid, Simple Songs, and River Run. Ah, that's the Silent Season stuff I was looking for.

And I won't lie, though I've come across a fair bit of mint material from this Databloem splurge, Simple Songs has thus far taken the cake for me. Yeah, it's a small cheat in cribbing the same dreamy dubby vibes as has made Silent Season among my favourite prints as of late, combining two enjoyed styles into one awesome whole. This is what great electronic music does though: mix and merge into wonderfully fascinating new combinations. And a staid scene such as ambient could use more of such worlds colliding.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Ishkur's Guide To Electronic Music 3.0

I helped make a thing!
Ishkur's Guide To Electronic Music 3.0

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Speedy J - Ginger

Plus 8 Records: 1993

(a Patreon Request from Omskbird)

And with this, I've completed my collection of Warp Records' seminal Artificial Intelligence series. Except for the actual compilations titled Artificial Intelligence. Which includes the Speedy J track De-Orbit, not on this version of Ginger. Oh, and I'm also missing the albums from B12 and F.U.S.E., but those are kinda' outliers to the series anyway. Like, Electro-Soma was a compilation of prior EPs, while Dimension Intrusion is more regarded as a Plus 8 item than a Warp Records one.

So I guess I haven't completed my collection of Warp Records' seminal Artificial Intelligence series. Can we at least call it the best bluffer's guide without going whole hog? I already have the other albums released under the short-lived banner (Surfing On Sine Waves, Bytes, Incunabula), music released by artists who became Warp Records fixtures, making them the Most Important releases of the Artificial Intelligence series. The others are nice rounders, but aside from B12, not fully indicative of the proto-IDM sounds coming out of the U.K. at the time. Heck, one dude was from Canada, the other Dutch, both with their own labels to release their own music on.

It's the Canadian version of Ginger that I have in my hands, though the only real difference between it and the Warp Records one is a change in the final track, the Plus 8 Records exclusive Spikkels replacing the Artificial Intelligence exclusive De-Orbit. Aw, I actually like that tune, and I can't say Spikkels is up to snuff as a replacement, a rather standard downtempo electro outing from Mr. Paap that doesn't stand out much from what chill techno was doing at the time.

Honestly, that's my general impression of Ginger: a record that finds ol' Jochem still finding his way in the world of techno, yet to discover how Very Important his sound could be. There's tracks on here that show strong hints of his future unique takes on the genre, tunes like Basic Design, Flashback, and Pepper unafraid of throwing some mainland Europe euphoria into the staunch, serious techno the early IDM scene was known for. When he starts sounding like the other Artificial Intelligence cats, however, the further my interest drifts from Ginger. Sure, the titular cut, R2 D2, and Fill 14 are fine examples of bleepy U.K. techno trying to sound like Detroit techno, but it doesn't sound like Speedy J to me.

I think that's what held me back from really giving this album much of a chance when I heard it during Warp Records' first run of re-issues a decade ago. My expectations were so bloody high from albums like G Spot and Loudboxer that I couldn't help but be let down in hearing Jochem Paap in an earlier state of production ability. I know, I know, selfish excuses for not liking a record as much as I could, but aside from a select few tracks (see below for which!), I just don't see myself coming back to Ginger as often.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Galati - Silence [As A Din]

Databloem: 2018

I was already curious in checking out more items from Galati after Gletscher, though not in a real hurry to do so either – almost glacial, in my efforts (eh? eh...?). Plus, having the bulk of his music released by that label which has disappeared into the internet ether made digging back into ol' Roberto's discography a trickier endeavour than before. Fortunately, after a bit of downtime, he seems to have found a new home with the label that everyone seems to have found a new home with; or provide some additional content for. Seriously, what is it about Databloem that has everyone in the modern ambient techno/dub/chill scene wandering within their walls? Just because they have a proven, classy track record that's endured for well over a decade now doesn't mean one has to release with them. Sure must feel nice though, being part of a print that won't end up dicking you around.

Making his debut with Databloem is Galati's sixth album, Silence [As A Din], and even without the recollection of his earlier works, you just know I'd have picked this up regardless. I admit, I admit, certain types of cover art are pure catnip to my eyes, and placid ice flows in a blue-scale colour is about as catnippy as these things can get. Maybe add a derelict boat on one of those icebergs. A Saturn in the sky. Yeah, that's the stuff...

For those of us just joining in on the Galati train, Roberto's approach to the art of ambient drone typically involves post-rock elements such as guitar strums and amp feedback. The result on Gletscher was that of a rather epic wall-of-sound, and you'd think for an album titled Silence, he'd scale things back some. Yes, some, in that I can pick out individual elements with greater ease, but it's no less overbearing. The opener Pt. 1 doesn't waste time in bringing the coalescing sounds to the fore, though they do retreat some such that things like rhythm and melody have breathing room. At twenty minutes long, Pt. 1 moves through many passages itself, at times almost pausing to catch its breath before erupting in another wall-of-sound excursion. If I didn't know it was indexed as a singular piece, I'd have thought it was around four or five different tracks.

Pt. 3 goes even longer at twenty-five, and has something of a modern classical feel to it with prominent harp and vocal tones. Not that they weren't apparent in Pt. 1, I can just hear them better in this composition. There's honestly quite a bit going on in Pt. 3, more than I can detail in the remaining word count I have.

So let me wrap up by mentioning Pt. 2 and Pt. 4 are comparatively shorter pure drone pieces, almost inching towards dark ambient's ethereal domain, placing Silence [As A Din] among the moodiest albums I've heard from Databloem yet. Can't fault the label for dipping their fingers into a bit of everything.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Raekwon - Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang

Ice H2o Records: 2011

Sometime last year, I stumbled upon a YouTube video where Raekwon was tasked with ranking all of his albums. What a wonderful concept, thinks I! Sure, you could argue an artist will unequivocally praise everything they release, but if put to the grinder with some proper self-critical honesty, surely some interesting results may come about. Like, how would someone like Neil Young, with his extensive discography, rank his albums? Even he's admitted when some records don't turn out as well as hoped though, so what about a producer who only knows how to blow smoke up their own ass? You know, the Armins and Tiestos of the world.

Anyhow, Raekwon's self-summary didn't reveal that many surprises (even he thinks Immobilarity was a disappointment), but it did clue me into a bunch of his records I had totally forgotten. Yes, even with all the entries at Lord Discogs. Too many mixtapes among the official albums, see, making me wonder what is what and all that rot. His ranking video at least parred things some, with this particular Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang coming in high near the top of his picks (nothing was gonna' dethrone Only Built For Cuban Linx).

I do recall seeing some stuff about this album, but figured it just another in an endless stream of mixtapes the Chef was cooking up around the time. Rather, this was his attempt to bring the classic, gritty Wu-Tang street style back to the fore', as he believed RZA had led the group too far astray with his musical indulgences. Bold moves, but at some point even the disciples must challenge The Abbot, and with the blessings of RZA's many producing proteges (Alchemist, Mathematics, Bronze Nazareth) plus seasoned vets of hip-hop (Erick Sermon, Scram Jones, DJ Khalil, many others...), this looked to be a dope round of vintage Wu bangers indeed.

And the titular opener starts with those classic chop-sockey samples setting the theme, then urgent strings with thumping beats hit as Rae's flow is focused and commanding. Why does it sound like he's skipping a word or two like he's catching his breath though? It continues into Every Soldier In The Hood, and when Method Man's verse comes in with a third of the words snuffed out, a cold realization hits me: I've ended up with a busted-ass 'clean' version of this album! Bloody Hell, no wonder it was so cheap on Amazon.

Well, that's a bummer. How can I enjoy an album with so many missing lyrics? Why make such a version? Seriously, who's gonna' buy any edited version of a slummy hip-hop album, especially one with hardly a hope of crossover appeal? At least there's an uncensored Spotify option, but man, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang had no hope of making a solid first impression upon me because of this. Even more damning is, as a long time Wu-Tang fan, there's a lot to like here, but my CD copy will never get another spin. Denied a proper play-through on my proper sound-system, forever.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Dead Coast - Shambolic

Annibale Records: 2016

It honestly could have remained a singular compilation indulgence. A specific genre itch that was tied to a specific period of time, and needn't be explored any further. Maybe I'd have gotten myself a Dick Dale collection as well, but surf rock wasn't something in need of diving fully and completely into. Much less wade through the vast, murky shores of indie rock seeking any contemporary bands carrying the music's legacy into the modern era, because there always are a few who find inspiration in super-niche styles of a bygone time. It's just what indie rock do, mang!

Fortunately, and remarkably coincidentally, I stumbled upon a Bandcamp newsletter highlighting all the contemporary bands carrying the music's legacy into the modern era. Like, almost instantly after I'd picked up that Surf Beat compilation. The only explanation for this astounding timing is the sweet Sirens of surf rock heard my longing wail across the Pacific shores, sending me a serenading screed whence I needed it most. Yeah, that tracks.

Thus here I am (rocking you like a hurricane?), reviewing the debut album from Dead Coast, a band out of London that clearly has its ears turned to the early '60s of the California coast. And not only am I reviewing their debut album, but I'm going with the digital copy, because all the hard copy versions were already sold out, but I wasn't gonna' deny myself some fresh musical exploration based on outdated conditionals.

And no, this isn't an all-in surf outing, just as much a 'Merseybeat' and psychedelic rock showing too (Lord Discogs also lists Garage Rock, Blues Rock, Stoner Rock, and Space Rock among the genres Shambolic entails, but what does Discogs know?). The most surfy of the songs on here are probably Ask The Dust, Hills Made Of Sand, Good In Her Blues, and Because I Know You. Mmm, such lush, dreamy reverb, bringing to mind lazy hazy days swaying by sunny shores under palm trees, salty waves lapping at your feet and all that good summer stuff. Plus, can't knock that authentic lo-fi recording quality, as though ripped from the sixty year old, 7” records.

That's only four songs out of a tracklist of thirteen. If the surf-inspired tunes don't cut it for you, you can always vibe on the garage-beat outings like Jenny Loves The Sun, Why Are We Still Together, and Just Don't Give Yourself (ooh, getting a White Stripes feeling off that one). Then there are the weirdo tunes, like ESP that's got that blues thing going, but features a Theremin (or approximate) solo. Or Overcome, an instrumental psychedelic freak-out that pauses at points for some slow jam time in a Tiki lounge (oh hi, Khruangbin, fancy seeing you here); Bossa For Stanley would fit in that lounge too.

So overall, a good first outing in this strange yet familiar musical realm I'm treading out into. I mean, it ought to have been, what with this album coming recommended by Bandcamp and all.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Castroe - Serum

Werkstatt Recordings: 2015

Man, you just knew there was another Werkstatt release lurking about somewhere. You think you get them all, have sifted through every pile, every tower, every folder, but somehow, something slips through the cracks, waiting to pop up when the next round of regular backlog rears its head (somewho, somewhat!). Thing is I kinda' recall listening to this in that last massive run, but it's difficult keeping track of every four-song synthwave EP, especially when you're feeling a touch of the ol' genre burn-out.

I honestly have no idea how some DJs can listen to twenty times the amount of records in a single sitting of just tech-house or minimal techno and have even a fraction of it stick in their minds for future consideration. Like, I can take hefty quantities of some genres, but when you keep hearing the same tricks and tropes played out over and over and over, it doesn't take long for it all to turn to mush in my noggin'. And for as much as I do enjoy synthwave, its tricks and tropes become blatantly obvious in short order indeed. It's one of those fine chocolate genres out there, so succulent, sweet, and tasty when you first consume it, but best indulged for special occasions. Or maybe it's the Turtles/Creme Egg of electronic music, so easy to overdose on when you've been absent of it for a while.

I know I'm willing to take another hefty dive into the genre again (beyond Werkstatt) after hearing just this lone EP. That chugging bassline in opener Nightcrawler, with the flowing backing pads, sparkly synth fills, and chipper arp keeping things moving along... *chef's kiss*, everything I hope to hear in a synthwave tune. And since I haven't listened to much synthwave in this past month, it sounds nice and fresh again, like glistening iceberg lettuce at the supermarket. A good supermarket, not one of those cheap, nickel-and-dime places where the produce arrives wilted.

Coagulator provides the obligatory 'outrun' tune. Intimidate slows things down, and even throws in a charming reverb fade for a small breakdown. Finally, the tituluar closer almost sounds like it needs a vocalist singing about loves lost on the Ocean Drive, in spa-a-ace! Is it just me, or does anyone else get a Starman vibe on this? Seems like a surprisingly untapped Carpenter-'80s thing synthwave has yet to fully exploit. It doesn't have to all be Escape From New York, Miami Vice, and Big Trouble In Little China, y'know.

As is so often the case with this scene though, Castroe (Eduardo Castro to the Austin music clubs) doesn't have much else to his name. Lord Discogs lists another EP released this past year Less Than Zero on Lazerdiscs Records, plus a smattering of Bandcamp offerings before his Werkstatt outing. It's such a shame when I find a synthwaver with panache but lacking in plenty o' consumable goods. Given the ridiculously high turn-over rate of producers, they seem so few and far between.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

ACE TRACKS: July 2019

You know what I miss? Naps. Don't get me wrong, the way my current work schedule has turned out is rather nice overall, becoming part of the 9-5 demographic without any of the headaches it seems to create. Getting home at such a time, however, means if I lay down, it's certainly lights out until the middle of the night, from which I'll be up way too long in the pre-dawn hours. What am I gonna' do in that time, go for a swim at the local pool with the elderly? (hhmmm...) My old 6-2 workshift was perfect for catching an early evening snooze without worry about oversleeping.

Does this mean I'm destined for another burnout all too soon? Or should I sneak some naptime while I'm at work? Like, I probably could get away with it, me being my own boss with a serious downswing of activity towards the end of my shift. No one has to know I'm sleeping on company time, not even the ones who somehow stumble upon this blog. Mwahaha!! Ah, hm, here's some ACE TRACKS from July anyway.

Full track list here

DJ 3000 - Sälis
Dr. Atmo - Quiet Life
Cosmic Replicant - Processes
Subotika - Panonija
Opium - Pain(t)
Pleq - Our Words Are Frozen

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 14%
Most “WTF?” Track: The dark ambient stuff. Far too aggro for all the chill vibes on this playlist. Yes, even dubstep and Billy Idol are comparatively chill to SantAAgostino.

Not as ambient as it could have been, what with so many albums missing from this playlist, but it still sounds rather singular throughout. Or at least, having large chunks devoted so certain genres/artists rather than a mix of everything. Surprised by the weak Spotify game this time out. Maybe it's time to look into Deezer?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Harold Budd - The Serpent (In Quicksilver)

Cantil/All Saints: 1981/2018

Harold Budd had made his proper debut with the well-received The Pavilion Of Dreams, which Brian Eno produced. Following that, they teamed up for the second entry into Eno's seminal Ambient series, The Plateaux Of Mirror. Being such a prominent figure of ambient's early years surely yielded many opportunities for the Buddian one, if not for the fact that scene was barely existent yet. Sure, you had the synth noodlings of the Berlin-Schoolers, and the electronic experimenting of the soundtrackers, but Eno and Budd's brand of abstract art music remained a super-niche side of ambient's emergent sound, especially Harold's classical approach to playing the ol' ivories.

Basically, despite having his name associated with a trendy tastemaker, Budd was still left without any sort of record deal for his own musical explorations. He thus did what many a genre-niche artist is forced to do: create his own print to self-release his albums. Eh, why didn't Eno just help Budd along with on his label? If I was to hazard a guess, it was either because Eno was between labels himself (Obscure, where Pavilion Of Dreams had come out on, folded before the '80s), or Budd wanted to release something without Eno's ambient treatments prominently involved, letting his own muse speak for itself. Neither would surprise me.

Whatever the case, Cantil was the result of Budd going into label business for himself, with The Serpent (In Quicksilver) being its first release. Um, out of three, according to Lord Discogs. Guess becoming a record mogul just wasn't in Budd's blood, but at least he got his records out.

And if setting up your own print to release your own music in the early '80s doesn't sound like a punk enterprise to you, then the production of The Serpent (In Quicksilver) sure will. If there was anything Budd took from his time working with Eno, it was realizing he could accomplish more making use of a studio than just recording some piano pieces and calling it a day. Unfortunately, ol' Harold didn't have the greatest connections in California at that point in his career, so he wandered from studio to studio, recording bits and pieces wherever he could, whenever he could. The almost renegade approach to crafting this album helps explain why it's so short, a mere six tracks long, half of which hover around the two-minute mark. Heck, the longest is a shade over five minutes, which may as well be a radio jingle where either ambient or modern classical is concerned.

So the short running time may be a turnoff for some, but let's be honest: the moment you hear that sliding pedal guitar opening in Afar, there's really almost no where else to go but down; or up, to a higher state of peace. Like, I'm not saying The KLF nicked the idea of a pedal guitar making perfect sense in the context of ambient music, but I'd like to hear of an earlier example of it than The Serpent.

Monday, July 29, 2019

DJ 3000 - Sälis

Motech: 2013

I've talked plenty about Motech now (CD bundle purchases help), but it's been a long while since I've gotten back to the man who started it all, Franki Juncaj, in more ways than one. Mr. 3000 was my introduction to Motech, and though I never really followed up on Galactic Caravan until way later, it seems fate (or self-imposed alphabetical constraints) has denied me the chance to return to his musical output. At least until I've given some of his label mates a little shine first. This isn't the last of my Motech material though, another release lurking somewhere along the line. Damned if I can remember what it was.

Have I mentioned buying so many bulk deals in, erm, bulk binges is highly counter-intuitive to actually digesting so much substance in single sittings? It'd be like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and grabbing one sampling of everything, but putting it all into a blender and slurping it down as some bizarre smoothie concoction. Sure, you've now technically sampled everything, but it's all mushed together into one singular taste. Okay, maybe it's not like that, but damn, what an analogy, eh?

Anyhow, Sälis was the album DJ 3000 released a few years after following Galactic Caravan. Or was that Besa? Both were released the same year, and some promo around the time claimed Sälis was instead a compilation of various digital releases. Sifting through Lord Discogs' database, however, reveals most of these tracks are unique to Sälis alone, save three cuts off the Moroccan Mint Tea EP. Sälis did initially have a Japan-only release, so perhaps it was intended as a compilation for that market, but wound up being a regular ol' album after the fact? Who knows at this point, doubt it matters half a decade on.

What I do know for sure is Sälis was produced when Franki returned to Detroit after some time spent in Europe. Being back in the techno mecca rekindled his faltering muse, from which the album takes its namesake (solace, so to speak). That chiller mindset resulted in an LP that's not quite so dynamic and boisterous as Galactic Caravan, but has its fair amount of choice ethnically-tinged tech-house on offer too. Tracks like Fade Away and Gateway To Mumbai throw in the requisite tribal rhythms, chants, and desert harmonies, while tunes like Shota and Lutë are more subtle about it, letting the Detroit vibe override anything ethnic.

And though there are plenty of uptempo, peak-hour tech-house tunes on offer, DJ 3000 tends to go deeper throughout, treading into the domain of deep-tech, but good! Like, obviously it would be, no European monotony in this Detroit alum's veins. I'd almost fit this with the same style of deep house/tech as whatever Dirtybird often churns out, though less silly about it. Overall, perhaps not the best starting point for folks getting into DJ 3000 – I still rate Galactic Caravan above this - but a worthy album/compilation/whatever from the man behind Motech.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ink Midget - Re-Leave

Exitab: 2012

There's some downright obscure shit out there, my poor Windows Media Player helpless in its attempts at auto-identifying whatever music it's currently decoding and digitizing to my external hard drive. Not a big deal, thinks I while sipping on pinot noir (or a Monster Sunrise). Just slot the CD in its appropriate alphabetical place within my “to review” tower, and I'll deal with the details when I get to it.

Only, I was left stumped on this Ink Midget. I knew it had to be part of my regular queue, as I'd uploaded it to my portable player at some point, but I didn't see it among the surrounding CDs. Might it have been a digital-only item? No, those at least have cover art. Well, whatever, I'm sure once I listen to it, I'll solve its mysterious origin. Wait, this is a dubstep release? How did I end up with this? Did someone hand it to me after Shambhala? Wouldn't be the first time I was given a promo from that festival.

As always though, Lord Discogs finally shed some light on the matter, at the very least providing me art I could identify it with. And upon seeing that Re-Leave art, I went, “OOHH-ooohh... it's that CD. Huh, I thought it was an indie rock thing.” Admit it, just from a glance, you'd never guess this is dubstep, to say nothing of the four-page foldout with even more water-coloured art within. Plus, it's a big, bulky digipak, the sort of thing I've come to expect from... well, not dubstep, that's for sure. Explains why it wasn't in my usual “to review” tower though, not fitting in the slots and all.

*whew* Alright, all that out and sorted, how does this album from Ink Midget stack up. It's... fine, I guess? Adam Matej certainly tries infusing the genre with some ideas against the tropes of the time, but adding a pile of glitch stutter effects to one's half-time beats feels overkill. He's clearly listened to a bunch of Hyperdub material, and wants to make music like that, but overshot the mark on the production level. There's a dub-trap cut in Night Float that's fascinated by the pitch of the snare's reverb. There's the clear nods to Burial ambience in Flue and Clue (heh). There's some “we're getting ultra-wrecked, man!” grime rapping in Fisheye (though Pjoni's Slovak). There's a dope double-time builder in Půlvlk, with a secret ambient song after. Hey, that's a novel bit of retro!

I dunno, Re-Leave feels quite middle-of-the-road where this sound is concerned, though I'm hardly an expert in this particular genre, my experience still at a surface level. Maybe folks who digest every tiny ounce of dubstep, future-garage, and UK (Slovak?) bass could give a better comparison of Ink Midget against the scene's grand pantheon. On the other hand, I had to submit the CD version of this to Discogs, so maybe this is rightfully obscure too.

Things I've Talked About

...txt 10 Records 16 Bit Lolita's 1963 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 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 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&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 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 Audion AuroraX Autechre Autistici Autumn Of Communion Avantgarde Aveparthe Avicii Axiom Axs Axtone Records Aythar B.G. 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