Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Opium - Pain(t)

Databloem: 2009

Yet another artist I feel should have gotten a fairer shake, if the realm of ambient music wasn't such an overstuffed scene where even a modicum of success is too swiftly buried beneath the bloat. Like, no way I'd have stumbled upon this chap if he wasn't on a label I've taken to diving a little deeper into, and even then that's almost by chance, the Databloem catalogue rather extensive in names I'm already familiar with. Who has time for Cymphonic or 45 KO when I can scope out more compositions from artists like Mathias Grassow and Lingua Lustra? Nay, with too much ambient music to possibly consume in one's lifetime, it's best to fall back on the safe and familiar, never exposing one's imagination to the wonders of the unknown. Oof, ouch, that actually hurt my brain, trying to think like that. It's just not possible for yours truly!

What I'm trying to get at is it almost seems a fluke I chose this album on my most recent Databloem splurge. A name like Opium should have glazed over my eyes like so many generic pseudonyms of electronic music past. “Ooh how clever,” the snarky snake in my cerebellum would say, “a 'druggy' handle for druggy music. That's like a trance DJ calling himself DJ Ecstasy, or a dubstep DJ calling himself DJ Ket-Bumps. I bet there's, like, a hundred Opiums in Discogs' database.” Man, that snarky snake in my cerebellum can be a real dick sometimes. (for the record, Matteo Zini lays claim to Opium (6))

Pluck up Pain(t) I did though, and now having listened to it, I'm left wondering how I never came across him before. Mr. Zini has crafted a sound that would fit quite nicely as track three or four on a Fahrenheit Project CD from Ultimae Records, a quieter piece of downtime between the heavy hitters of that label. There's a light psy-chill undertone to everything, but on more of a droney tip, rhythms burbling under warm layers of dubby pad work. It's like the meeting ground between Ultimae and Silent Season in how he can draw you into a widescreen vista of sonic splendour, yet remain firmly grounded. It's music I want to watch stars too, flickering through a canopy of pines.

Turns out Opium got his start on Silentes, the offshoot from the former Amplexus. He eventually fell in with the Databloem group through their sister Practising Nature (home to lots of Amplexus/Silentes alum) before releasing a couple albums on the parent label. Then, not much of anything else since. What's most damning though, is just how lacking his compilation game was. Who knows why at this point, but there's scant examples of his work being showcased elsewhere. And that's a bloody shame, because as mentioned, he'd have fit snugly with the above-mentioned prints, even with a contributing track or two. Plus, I'd have happened upon him much sooner than random chance a decade on, and that's what's most important!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pleq - Our Words Are Frozen

dataObscura: 2010

This was my doorway into the world of dataObscura, in case you're wondering. Oh, you're not? Well, I'm gonna' feed you the wonder whether you like it or not, for that self-imposed word count won't burn itself through discussion of the actual music within (such as it is, but more on that in a bit). As you may recall (it's been many months), I did a review on Pleq's collaboration with Segue for Databloem, The Seed. Segue was my intro to Pleq, but in doing the obligatory Discoggian research, I took in a nice gaze of Pleq's extended catalogue, this album in particular catching my eye. Like, there's just something about frozen vistas that my mind is impeccably drawn to. Arctic, alpine, ice balls in deep space... just send me to the places where time and motion remains in near-perpetual stasis. And naturally, where one album resides, surely th'ar be more near-abouts, leading me to the dataObscura options out there. Ooh, so many more examples of snowy cover art. Sci-fi stuff too! Must... consume... more...

Now that I'm dealing with Pleq specifically, here's what you need to know. Goes by Bartosz Dziadosz when dealing with the driver's depot. Classically trained, but prefers staying in the lane of glitchy dronescapes. Released quite the bundle of solo and collaborative albums at the turn of the decade, though seems to have slowed some as of late. Has also released on Dronarivm, Chemical Tapes, Murmur Records, Progressive Form, Ginjoha, Pocket Fields, Felt, and The Long Story Recording Company. Ooh, that could be a cool label, if they got Ian McKellen or Morgan Freeman to do the recordings. Not so much Ben Stein or Gilbert Godfrey. That's assuming they even do actual long stories, and not just have it as a clever label name. One thing's for sure though, even the above narrators couldn't make this aimless rambling listenable.

Man, I wish I had more to say about Our Words Are Frozen. I so wanted to have a lot more to say, but Pleq isn't giving me much to work with here. And yes, that kinda' is The Point, sounds so minimalist it practically forces you to clear all the clutter in your brain if you're to have any hope of focusing on the sparse drones and static fluff. Glitchy echoes and sporadic skittery percussion have you feeling like you're lost inside frozen desolation, while minute tones suggest melancholic moods, but are never beholden to them either. In some ways, I'm reminded of Andrew Heath's compositions, but he always has destinations in mind with his works, slow and languid though they are (all the better to take in the scenery). Pleq would rather have you remain fixated on specific moments and thoughts, letting them slowly erode from your consciousness, morphing through repetition as it melts into abstract memory. Challenging soundscapes, is what I'm say Our Words Are Frozen is, though highly recommended played at high volume. Let those drones envelope your being, yo'!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

SantAAgostino - Operazione Paura

Greytone: 2010

Time to get our murk back on, dark ambient once again seeping into my life, forever reminding of the ever-beckoning end that awaits our fates. Or something. Actually, I say this is dark ambient, and you'd certainly think it's dark ambient just by the cover art, but this could be something else too. Like, maybe nosebleed gabber? They certainly enjoy their gothic Reichland imagery. Oh, you already looked at the genre tags, confirming this is dark ambient. Clever girl.

This is another album I'm assuming I got in association with B°TONG, in that both appear on the short lived (and even shorter catalogue) label Greytone. And if there's anything I can't help doing these days, it's raiding newly-discovered labels of their meagre Bandcamp merchandise. What am I, some digital colonial minor-power? Probably, though fortunately, the online world is bountiful with musical resources to plunder. Just look at the obscene amounts of materials some Discoggian super-powers have acquired over the years. It's like thousands of British Empires staking claims on Jupiter.

I can't find much information regarding SantAAgostino though. Lots of poetic descriptions of what SantAAgostino does, mind you, but little of who they are, where they come from, and all that good stuff, not even a made-up mythology. I only know it's a 'band', because the Bandcamp info implies as such. It wasn't a long-lasting one though, this only their second album of three efforts, disappearing soon after into the mists of dark ambient's netherrealms beyond the ephemeral abyss. Or something. Look, I'm just style-biting the purple prose included in that Bandcamp blurb. It's infectious, yo'.

Despite having about a quarter of Italian heritage in my blood, my use of the language remains pathetically poor. Still, even I know Operazione Paura is an operatic opus, mostly dealing with death, decay, rot, and all the occultism surrounding such things. Just gander at some of these titles: Zombi: La Città Verrà Distrutta All'Alba; Necrofilia Su Barbara Steele: L'Orribile Segreto; Terrore Nello Spazio Infinit: Culti Morbosi. Scary stuff indeed.

The music's suitably coarse and abrasive too. We're treading into the harsh domain of power electronics, my friends, where melody and timbre gives way to atonal attacks and industrial grind. The opening titular piece is as effective in setting a confrontational mood as I've ever heard. Follow-up Zombi adds crunchy hardcore beats to the foreboding sounds and noise, while Necrofilia Su Barbara Steele is relentless in its aural assault.

Just when I thought this album couldn't get more unbearable though, things suddenly take a turn for the moodier and minimal. Virus and Terrore Nellow Spazio Ininito sound like they could be score work for a cyberpunk thrillers, while L'Occhio Nel Triangolo works the ol' industrial drone. I suppose the retreat from the noise works in L'Abominevole Dott's favour though, in that it sells its discordant grand organ vibes more effectively. Quite all over the place, this album is, which is cool, if you can get past that initial assault on your headspace.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Various - Nu Cool 3

Hed Kandi: 1999

A Very Important compilation, this, for without Nu Cool 3, there would be no Hed Kandi. Okay, label founder Mark Doyle almost certainly had the brand percolating in his head for a while. This one though, this one kicked it all off as its own entity, paving the way for future staples of the compilation racks like Disco Kandi, Back To Love, Serve Chilled, and many, many, many more. Then the brand would grow too big for its own good, branching out from its lounge origins into gaudy mega-clubs and decadent pools parties, forced into Ministry Of Sound servitude to handle all the bloat. Eventually the easy-cool vibes it peddled would pave way to desperate trend chasing, just to keep pace with a rapidly changing clubbing environment, a once respected franchise mutating into a parody of its former glory. Gosh, thanks, Nu Cool 3, for all that.

“But wait!” you say, “How can Nu Cool 3 be the start when it's clearly the third in a series? What happened to 1 and 2?” Uh, haven't I touched upon this before? Well, an ultra-brief recap: Hed Kandi got its start on the jazz 'n' soul print Jazz FM Records, where the first two Nu Cool compilations appeared. They soon after got the backing to launch Hed Kandi proper, with this particular item. And, uh, that's it. We sorted, then? Good, let's get going.

It's quite the timewarp going this far back into the Hed Kandi canon. Their earliest releases were always known for skewing towards the soulful side of dance music, but some of the tunes on this two-discer sounds like it could have come direct from The Garage of the early '80s. I had to sleuth through Lord Discogs checking all these acts and remixes were (then) current. Lots of Masters At Work productions, plus plenty o' contributions from soul-jazz house mainstays like King Britt, Kevin Yost, Rae & Christian, Sylk 130, and Francois K. The Latin side of things gets repped by Cesária Évora's Sangue De Beirona and an Ashley Beedle run on Airto's City Sushi Man. Moloko's Sing It Back is also here, because you just gotta' have at least one big anthem in a collection like this.

Overall though, Nu Cool 3 serves up as fine a dish of house, garage, disco, funk, and soul as you could expect from that scene in the late '90s, providing well-worn tunes while shedding some shine on a few lesser known cuts. A fine way to kick of a-

What the...? Why on earth is Ooh La La from The Wiseguys on here? Sure, tacked on the end of CD2, but holy cow, talk about a tonal whiplash! That tune's always been regarded as big beat, hardly what I'd deem as the 'new cool'. A couple examples of acid jazz action follow, which is a bit more on brand, but still rather rough an' tough compared to all the smooth action that came before. Weird end to this compilation.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Gorillaz - The Now Now (Kayfabe Review)

Parlaphone: 2018

It took long enough, but Stuart Pot finally got to make his own Gorillaz album. Yeah, he sneaked one out under Murdoc's broken-ass nose while they were on the Plastic Beach tour, but that was basically a solo album, with no input from any other members at all, much less a proper studio behind it. Makes me wonder though, how can The Now Now also be considered a Gorillaz album without involvement from the man who founded the band (albeit mostly through kidnappings)? Sure, three of its members are here, but without the demented brain-child of the band acting as its rudder, it's just a clutch of chummy talented musicians working together, feeding off the nostalgia of the brand to their own benefit.

It reminds me of when Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe joined forces for an album. Everyone within prog-rock circles felt this was as close to a classic Yes reunion as folks would get (until the actual reunion called Union), but lacking Chris Squire, it wasn't really Yes, not without the bassist who formed the band present. Maybe Murdoc's relinquished some of the Gorillaz licensing rights to the other members, letting them do as they wished so long as it benefited the brand in the long run. Would fit with his recent attempts at rehabilitation. Heck, he wasn't even that sour over his cousin Ace Copular replacing him on the subsequent tour.

Anyhow, The Now Now. As mentioned, this is essentially another 2D album, but with the full, proper backing of the band. It was also mostly written on the road while Gorillaz toured Humanz, so the song writing remains comparatively slight when stacked against previous records, almost no guest features on hand. And that's fine, something like this probably needed after the celebrity-stacked bloat that was Humanz. I don't even think Stuart could make an opulent record if he tried, his simplistic songcraft reflective of his simplistic worldview. That's not a bad thing either, music sometimes best served as a laid-back sweet indulgence, especially in the summertime.

The tunes definitely sound more confident compared to the ones from The Fall, which isn't surprise considering Murdoc's overbearing abusiveness was safely tucked away in a jail cell. If you don't feel a silly grin forming on your mug after the jubilant opener Humility, I dunno' how you can be alive, my friend. Tracks like Sorcererz and Magic City keep the peppy synth-pop vibes going, while tunes like Tranz and Lake Zurich offer some classy club-ready fodder. Heck, even moodier Hollywood doesn't lose a step in dancefloor fun, what with its Jamie Principle guest-croon (Snoop's there too, doing Snoop th'angs). A couple introspective pieces like Fire Flies and Idaho keep things somewhat grounded, but overall The Now Now is a fun little offering from 2D.

One of these days though, I'd love to hear a Gorillaz album where all the band members are operating as a fully-functional unified band. The stuff of dreams, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Orb - No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds

Cooking Vinyl: 2018

Yay, it's a Youth orientated Orb album! Those are always my ...favourite? Wait, am I certain of that? If I had to make a definitive ranking of Orb albums, I'd put records like U.F.Orb, Orbus Terrum, and Orblivion above The Dream. Yet Martin Glover has been involved in some of my all-time ace Orb tunes like Little Fluffy Clouds and Perpetual Dawn (among other, less known works). He's, like, the steady dub rudder of the group, always dragging The Orb back from too much weird experimentation, or monotonous techno expeditions, or over-hyped superstar pairings. I get why some folks think less of the Youth productions, what with them not being as 'serious' as other releases, but when have The Orb ever been regarded as a Very Serious outfit? The cheeky stoner vibe has always been part of the group's charm, and I've long enjoyed them more when they indulge themselves while providing an ear-wormy hook.

Still, even I must have my limits in how far this three decade old (!!) outfit tries appealling to an ever expanding collection of punters. I wouldn't blame old-heads in the slightest in writing off No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds based on the first couple minutes, opening track The End Of the End getting in on wub-wubs and trap hits (also: that hook sure reminds me of Dido's bit from Eminem's Stan). Never mind the fact the track settles into a more traditional dub reggae ditty by the end, it don't take much to turn folks away if they'd rather be hearing something else. And gosh, all those air-horns in Wolfbane? Who do The Orb think the are, Gen-Z YouTubers?

Okay, I think that's cleared out the naysayers for this album. Here's what you get if you're willing to hear all these sounds The Orb deems no longer out of bounds. The first half feels the Youth influences the most, plenty o' peppy reggae dub vibes and soulful world beat. Past Wolfbane though, things take a turn for the deep and downtempo. It kinda' comes off like a continuation of Chill Out, World, and no sounds are certainly out of bounds (Harmonica! Trumpet! Orchestras! Roger Eno piano! Jah Wobble bass! Thomas Fehlmann 'techno'!). It's also rather meandering though, and a stark contrast to the punctual pop overtones in the first half of the album.

Really, it all feels like appetizers before the fifteen-minute closer, Soul Planet. Plenty of calm ambient lead-in, settling into a jaunty soul-house groove with Andy Caine on the croon, and a dubby, trippy, minimalist outro session of all those non-bound sounds. Can I call Ultraworld-era Orb retro now? Because this sounds retro Orb, another shocker considering how blatant a trend-wagon jump the start of this album had. As mentioned though, that's always been the best part of Youth's collaborations with The Orb. He'll hit you with music unabashedly ready for the radio, but still takes you to those blissy downtimes that's kept a dedicated following of this conglomerate for so long.

Monday, July 1, 2019

ACE TRACKS: June 2019

So apparently all the original Final Fantasy soundtracks have made their way to Spotify. That's... really f'n awesome! Along with Dragon Quest, that franchise has been responsible for some of my all-time favourite video game scores, to such a degree I went out of my way to actually import Final Fantasy VII direct from Japan. Back in the '90s. From the internet. When I was still a teenager. Okay, technically it was my dad that put his credit card into the wild west of the old web, and was he ever questioning my birthday request back when, believe you me. Hell, I think it had to be ordered from a Japanese retailer, Amazon still barely a thing beyond a massive book store. These were the efforts one[s folks] had to do to get their jRPG vgm fixes. To say nothing of nabbing myself a copy of the holy grail of Final Fantasy scores, Final Fantasy VI. Oh, there was an ad for it in the SNES package (along with Secret Of Mana), three CDs of peak 16-bit musical perfection, but no way I'd get to snag me a copy of that along the way (much less pay an over-inflated collector's market import price).

But now they're all available on Spotify for me to enjoy to my heart's content. Not to mention update my Ultimate Master List with the appropriate tracks, no longer needing to rely on 'Local Files' for the task. Though it's funny that of all the scores I've checked out, it's the thirty-second loops of Final Fantasy I I've probably indulged the most now. Meanwhile, here's the ACE TRACKS for June 2019:

Full track list here.

Various - Hed Kandi The Mix: Summer 2004
Anatolya - Mirror Messages
SiJ - The Lost World
B°TONG - The Long Journey
Curve - Cuckoo
Sghor - Le Grand Mystère
Specta Ciera & The Circular Ruins - Mnemosyne

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 0%
Percentage Of Rock: 0%
Most “WTF?” Track: Nothing at all. Unless the concept of 'contemporary trance' throws you for a loop.

Compared to the cluster-foo that was last month's playlist, this one is remarkably consistent throughout. Probably helps everything comes in nice little chunks, a little house or techno/trance followed by some downtime, then moving back to the uptempo stuff. Probably also helps that the huge amount of ambient I did cover last month just wasn't available in Spotify. Makes for a shorter playlist (under three hours), but eh, as GZA once said: “Half short, twice strong.”

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Cosmic Replicant - The Nature Of Life

Altar Records: 2013

This is about where I feel Cosmic Replicant truly came into his own as an artist, which is funny considering it, too, lacks much of style that initially drew me to Pavel's project. Who knew when I started digging deeper into his discography there'd be so much more to discover? He almost reminds me of another Altar Records alum, AstroPilot, in how diverse his various albums have been. Of course, in this early portion of his career, Mr. Shirshin is still playing by the usual psy-chill rules, but even here there are hints of the paths he'd later take.

For instance, the bleepy ambience that had me swooning over Mission Infinity pops up in the track Technological Era. Yeah, it's an appropriate title, definitely of a colder, harsher nature compared to the rest of an album quite fixated on the wonders of organic life. Where else am I gonna' get my acid fix though? Still, those expecting the sophomore effort from Cosmic Replicant to be more of the same as Future Memories had to be caught off guard by that sonic detour. Perhaps, but probably not so much as with Microscopic Structure, which dabbles in that trendy dub techno genre the lads at Ultimae Records were all on about. Hey, a one-off cut's not such a bad thing on an album clearly stretching beyond the norms of one's current scene, but a full record of it wouldn't fit well with the Altar manifesto. Just as well, then, he hooked up with Pureuphoria Records to scratch that particular itch on Landscapes Motion. Uh, nothing here suggests the pure prog-psy outing of his self-released Soul Of The Universe album though. Guess Altar wasn't having any of that from Cosmic Replicant one way or the other.

And now I feel bad because I feel like I've already run out of things to say about The Nature Of Life. What else can I say? As mentioned, it's Future Memories, but better. It has the bookened ambient pieces, the opener Somewhere Beyond more on a dub-drone tip, the closer Rebirth Of Nature opting for the Solar Fields happy feel-good bliss-times vibes. In between those you have the usual assortment of psy-chill (Living Particles, Molecular Compound) chill psy (Song Of The Forests, Morning Horizon), and whatever Sunnarium is. It almost sounds like it wants to be IDM, but just can't quite shake free of the psy shackles. Gosh, makes me wonder whether Pavel started exploring that domain in his more recent releases. Guess I'll find out soon enough!

Oh yeah, as with Distant System, I went and purchased the near-entirety of the Cosmic Replicant digital discography as found on Bandcamp. He's remained quite active since his last album on Altar Records, four items released since 2015. I suppose I could listen to them now and confirm any new developments in his songcraft, but I prefer savouring the anticipation. There aren't many artists left that make it worth my while to wait a little longer, y'know.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Harold Budd, Daniel Lentz, Ruben Garcia - Music For 3 Pianos

All Saints: 1992/2018

Whoa, I wrapped up that last batch of 'L' albums with a Harold Budd release, and now I'm wrapping up the 'M's with another of his. Does this mean the start of a trend, where each batch of letters will feature an item from that Budd Box bundle? Ah, no. Just a total coincidence. Besides, even if Budd's lone 'N' album was in this collection (too recent a release to qualify for the Budd Box), Nighthawks wouldn't even be at the end of the upcoming batch, three more CDs coming after that particular position in my alphabetical queue. Eh? Which albums might those be? Oh, something old, something new, something now now.

With a tidy amount of word count now burnt, I can reasonably do a tidy little review of this tidy little album from Harold Budd, Music For 3 Pianos. Well, not sure I can call this an LP-album, barely over twenty minutes in length. What's remarkable is this isn't the shortest 'album' in this box set, the earlier The Serpent (In Quicksilver) not even reaching that 'lofty' length.

While ol' Harold had no problem playing the piano on his own, he wasn't averse to adding fellow musicians into the mix. The obvious pairing was with Brian Eno, which immensely helped his profile among the niche market he already existed in. Along the way he paired with the Cocteau Twins in The Moon And The Melodies, but it wasn't until Music For 3 Pianos that Mr. Budd would truly unleash the collaborative floodgates forever after. Joining him on this venture was Daniel Lentz and Ruben Garcia. Lentz was a composer of some note through the '70s and '80s, though save his album Missa Umbrarum, quite opulent compared to the minimalist lane Budd usually traversed in. Garcia seems to have been a relative unknown compared to the others, this album his first Discoggian entry. He released a few more items after this, mostly obscure self-released ambient affairs, though did pair up with Budd on a few more albums before his passing half a decade ago. We got the instruments set up, the players involved introduced. Time to hear us some three pianist action, yo'! (stop sniggering, you)

And it's... surprisingly bare. Like, I should have expected it from a Harold Budd joint, but for some reason, I figured three players would involve more dynamic interplay, maybe on a jazz tip. Instead, it seems like more a 'call-and-response' thing going on, one player offering sparse tones while another adds their interaction, all the while allowing enough space between that you couldn't interpret this as anything other than Harold Budd doing Harold Budd th'angs. And I'm admittedly no expert on the intricacies of piano interplay, but isn't there supposed to be a third member here? I honestly can't tell.

Music For 3 Pianos is certainly pleasant in its presentation, but I can't deny being a little let down by what I was expecting, even for a Harold Budd album.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Specta Ciera + The Circular Ruins - Mnemosyne

dataObscura: 2016

Welp, the happy-funtime house music was a nice detour, but we must return to the regularly scheduled ambient dronescapes I clearly over-indulged in last year. Like, I thought I spread things out a bit from the Databloems and the dataObscuras, what with a Motech dive and sporadic other items along the way (Stacey Pullen! Pet Shop Boys! Sixtoo?). Not enough, turns out, with many more of these sorts of albums to come before I reach the end of the current backlog. Ah well, at least there isn't a huge pile of Cryo Chamber in here too, as in backlogs of before. Nay, that's for the next round of backlog reviews! Mwa ha-ha-ha!

At least this time, I'm not going in so blind. I've already touched upon The Circular Ruins; aka: Nunc Stans; aka: Anthony Kerby; aka: the dude that runs this dataObscura house. Specta Ciera is new though ...or is he? Apparently I have covered him as well, though under his real name of Devin Underwood. If that doesn't quite ring a bell, might I 'send' you to 'the past' Carpe Sonum Records in my archives? Eh? Eh...? Wow, tough crowd. I'm really dealing with the data-obscure with these artists, aren't I?

Anyhow, Specta Ciera has generally been Mr. Underwood's primary alias, and after releasing around half-dozen albums on his own, started feeling the collaborative itch with guys like Benjamin Dauer and The Circular Ruins. Seems an Arbee has become Devin's latest music beau, including releases on dataObscura and Carpe Sonum Records together. Damn, if they manage something out on one of Lee Norris' labels, they'll be, like, a pleasant ambient drone power couple! This scene could use more juicy gossip like that (and none of the 'label manager meltdowns' ...okay, maybe a little of that too, for the LOLs).

Mnemosyne opens with Preparations For Sleep. Ah, dang'it. Whenever I sit back to take in an album such as this, I often have great difficulty staying awake for the duration. That's not a bad thing, really, calm music easing you into a state of mental soothing doing its job at all. Letting me know that I likely won't have much of a chance against Mnemosyne though, that's just trolling me now.

All joking aside, the Specta Ruins (Circular Ciera?) pairing does make for an interesting contrast. Granted, I haven't listened to a tonne from these two, but enough to get a general idea of their styles, Kerby often exploring the minimalist spaces among field recordings and subtle drones, Underwood a little more musical in his layering of synth tones and pad timbre. There are some downright dreamy passages throughout Mnemosyne, where one can lose themselves in the distant melodies emanating from underneath burbling electronics and fuzzy drone. It takes a bit to really grab you, mind, but by album's end, I'm feelin' as chilled out as- oh geez! Why does final track Quandary have such a comparatively ominous tone to it? Harsh my mellow, man.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Various - Hed Kandi The Mix: Summer 2004

Hed Kandi: 2004

As I continue my curiosity-sating plunge into Hed Kandi's prime years (cheap used CDs help), one issue I've had with them is their unmixed nature. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having full tracks for my own music collection, but when you're dealing with double-disc compilations of very similar music throughout, it grows monotonous hearing all those obligatory DJ-friendly intros and outros over and over and over. And honestly, this is only an issue on collections like Disco Heaven or Beach House, where the selections are about as homogeneous as this genre can get. It all works well enough in mix sets, but the stop-start nature of unmixed tracks calls for variety, capitalizing on the freedom of breathing space between tunes. The more I listened to Hed Kandi compilations, the more I wondered why they didn't offer them in the form of DJ mixes.

Well lo', they did! ...after a time. There were occasional single-disc 'samplers' released, but by 2003, the demand was high enough that Hed Kandi officially dove into the overstuffed multi-CD DJ mix market. Only they kept things in-house, curator Mark Doyle doing the business, no major spotlight on some superstar mercenary jock stealing the shine from the real heroes of a DJ mix: the artists that make the tunes!

The Mix: Summer 2004 was one of the label's earliest forays into the DJ mix medium, and let me tell you, all those nitpicks about Hed Kandi I highlighted above, instantly solved here! Sure, there's no technical wizardry out of these sets, but who'd ever buy something from this label expecting that? You're first and foremost buying from Hed Kandi because the catchy cover art lured you in. Then, maybe distant second, the music selection intrigued you further. So long as there aren't any horrid transitions or tonal clashes, you're gonna' have a good time.

The two main mixes of this 3CD set remains consistent with Hed Kandi's breaded butter, CD1 featuring the garage and disco house, and CD2 getting in on those clubby anthems and *shudder* trendy 'electro' schlock. Yeah, Ferry Corsten's Rock Your Body Rock is here, and sounding way out of place even in track list consisting of Junior Jack's Stupidisco, Armand Van Helden's “I cans Daft Punk too!” Hear My Name, and Cicada's “Stadium Remix” of Deepest Blue's Is It A Sin. Can you tell I prefer CD1?

Of course, CD3 gives me the most endorphin tingles, an almost obligatory 'classics' collection of tunes. Well, 'back in the day' compared to the year 2004 – the upfront tunes of this release are now older than some of the classics were then! And while some may roll their eyes at seeing tracks like Ce Ce Peniston's Finally, Robin S.' Show Me Love, and Aftershock's Slave To The Vibe trotted out again, I bet you haven't heard them arranged in this order! Oh, you have. Well, I just have a soft spot for oldies from Morales, Humphries, and Knuckles, so there.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Utada Hikaru - Ultra Blue

Eastworld: 2006

(a Patreon Request from Philoi)

Now that I've gotten the boggles out of my mind regarding the juggernaut of a commercial success that is Utada Hikaru's music career, I can do a deeper dive into one of her albums. Eh, I left out her attempts at breaking through in America? For sure there was an attempt, almost immediately after the release of Deep Blue in fact. How could her brand not want to replicate that fame on this side of the Pacific? Surely folks in the U.S. of A. would look past her ethnic origins and appreciate the music- BWAHAAHAHA!!! Oh man, I couldn't even finish it! They certainly did all they could trying though, what with Island Def Jam getting Timbaland at the producer's console. I suppose Exodus debuting at 160 on the Billboard was okay for a mostly unknown foreign talent but yeah, small wonder she returned to Japan after this. For a 'foreign produced' record though, album did gangbusters in her native land. Obviously it did.

Ultra Blue is the Japanese album Hikaru released in the wake of her American expenditure, and boy are the English influences ever still present, a track list almost entirely in that language. In fact, of the twelve songs, only three use kanji. Another three do that funny Japanese thing where they capitalize the whole title (BLUE, COLORS, WINGS), as though they're so hype for the song, they just gotta' shout it at the top of their lungs. But yeah, the rest are all conventional English titles: Be My Last, One Night Magic, Keep Tryin', This Is Love, Making Love. Oh, and this CD is 'thicc', yo', one of the fattest jewel cases I've ever held. Nothing but the most luxurious booklet paper for Utada Hikaru!

There's also more English in the songs themselves, though mostly in the choruses, Hikaru often flipping between languages even mid-line. I remain dumb-founded that folks, of any ethnicity, can pull that off (work with some carrying conversations fluently flipping from English to Punjabi). Judging by the titles though, most of the lyrics deal with the usual love topics R&B and pop settle on, and as my Japanese remains pathetically weak, I've no clue how deep or profound Hikaru's words are. She's certainly emotive enough to carry a tune though.

And yet, Ultra Blue was apparently one of her weakest selling albums, with a slightly more electronic tinge to the music not quite vibing with her massive audience. Which is weird to me because this all sounds like the same super-slick polished pop cribbing contemporary influences I've heard from mainstream markets for decades. A little Latin in One Night Magic, a little trip-hop in 海路, a little... UK urban in COLORS? Okay, maybe not as indebted to American R&B as her earlier output, but not so blatantly Japanese as I expect of most j-pop either. Was it simply not enough of either? Well, if there's anything I wouldn't call Ultra Blue, it's vanilla. Now rose, there's a flavour that's apt.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Anatolya - Mirror Messages

Unknown Tone Records: 2016

Oh, why couldn't have this been my first Unknown Tone Records album to review? Then I could have killed off the obligatory word salad of background info here instead of Twincities' CD. At least there, I had some additional artist information to dig deeper on if I so chose. This Anatolya though, he's a giant ol' Discoggian blank, Mirror Messages his lone entry, save a single track contributed to the Unknown Tone compilation Vol. IV. At least the liner notes tells me the artist behind Anatolya is Brian Phillips, and hails from the Florida region. Not much else beyond that though. The Bandcamp page does send me to a link of his other artistic endeavours, including paintings, video, and sculpturing. It all looks bleak and macabre and very dark ambient, which makes me wonder how he wound up on Unknown Tone in the first place? Are there other morose music makers on the label I'm not aware of? That album titled Stay Out Long Enough And The Night Becomes Your Home from Lost Trail seems rather dark and gothic.

Anatolya though, I've almost nothing to work with, beyond the music itself. And I'll be honest, when I heard the opening harsh drone of Before You Were Born, I thought I was in for one of those experiences. Where the playing of a full LP is more an endurance test of sensory overload than letting oneself be lost in the vibe the artist has crafted. It's certainly effective in setting a discordant tone, the sort of sound you'd expect from the opening credits of a mind-breaking art-house film. Did I really want to hear such a thing on this nice summer day though? Heck, even in the bleakest of winter?

Fortunately, things turn to the moodier side of dark drone after, with creepy sounds and disembodied voices floating about a murky timbre. And gosh, The Nomad Flute actually feels a tad welcoming, in a warbly melancholy sort of way. Elsewhere, John Fire Lame Deer shows Mr. Phillips has a lighter side to his muse, even if its chipper piano melody remains buried in sludgy synth. Punctum finds him getting his experimental side on (such stretched oscillations), while In The Window and Lotophagi do the crackly minimalist ambient thing that jives with much of what I've heard from Unknown Tone's catalogue – there had to be a connection somewhere! It was almost enough to lull me into a sense of calm that I almost forgot just how confrontational the opening track was, but closer Eukurai reminds me that Mirror Messages had its fingers in the dark ambient side of things for most of its runtime.

So an interesting little album from Anatolya... Anatolya... Why does that name seem so familiar? Let me check something. *click-clack clickity-clack-clack ...BASS!* Oh, Anatolia, as in the Anatolia Peninsula. Y'know, watching a bunch of King & Generals videos will get certain locations stuck in your head something fierce. Lot of history in that region, believe you me.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Twincities - Memoirs: To Dust

Unknown Tone Records: 2015

Is this really the first Unknown Tone Records album I'm reviewing? I feel like I've touched upon them at some point before. Maybe a name-drop from an associated producer? I guess I technically covered the Lee Norris and Porya Hatami collaboration Every Day Feels Like A New Drug, though that was via a digital version offered by Mr. Norris, not the original CD as released by Unknown Tone. I can only assume that's how I came across this label the first place, after which I must have visited their Bandcamp, spotted a CD bundle deal, ordered a bunch of stuff, and ended up with a pile of albums I barely have any recollection of getting. Having reviewed most of my old collection, methinks this blog has turned into nothing more than a glorified record of how I'm getting all my new stuff. It's grown increasingly difficult keeping track of it all, what with too many options now available to indulge my weakest impulse. Why can't I be internet addicted to something more traditional, like gambling or porn?

Twincities is Fletcher McDermott, an individual that doesn't have much Discoggian presence beyond his work for this project. I assume he's done work elsewhere, just because he seems like the sort of chap who'd have plied his trade with a variety of indie or abstract musicians around the Long Island region. Or this project is just something he does in his spare time, his day job some mundane thing that's prevented him from expanding further into the domain of 'fifty releases in one decade' ambient producers. Wouldn't surprise me, given the state of living conditions in the New York City region. Music don't pay the bills like it used to there. In fact, did it ever? Maybe in the grimy '70s.

Mr. McDermott describes his music as 'noisy ambiance', though there's nothing terribly racket-inducing about his stuff. Nay, he makes very calm, minimalist droning material, with static and glitch treatments giving his sparse arrangements a lived-in feeling. It's not too dissimilar to Porya Hatami, come to think of it, which makes sense they'd both appear on the same label. And sparked my interest enough to spring for a few albums off them in the process. It's all coming back to me, guys!

Also, as the album's title implies, a hazy sense of faded memories permeates the mood, whether of wandering urban locals or sitting at home with some long forgotten classical music tugging at the back of your mind. He does have a few musicians contribute for those moments (Ysanne Spevack on cello, Tanya Lam on viola), but they serve the mood of the pieces rather than take lead in any way. Well, maybe at the end of A Stuck Bird, their soothing tones coming after the most abrasive stretch of static-drone Memoirs: To Dust subjects you to. Also, damn but does that steel-pedal guitar drone in A Flown Bird ever stretch to the furthest reaches of the horizon. Fly on, my son.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Harold Budd - Luxa

All Saints: 1996/2018

So I got myself a box of Budd. I was stunned to discover such a thing existed, and kinda' relieved too. There's just so much Budd to sample out there now, different flavours for different moods, such that one can get lost figuring out where to begin. And yeah, I've sampled a little Budd in the past, toked on the obvious flavours as cultivated by Brian Eno. There's so much more in Budd's bowl than The Pearl and Ambient 2 (The Plateaux Of Mirror) though. Sure, I'll find myself in familiar territory of calm, soothing haze of pleasant piano tones no matter which album I dab on, but surely there's a bluffer's guide of his various musical crops. Indeed there is, the Budd Box, with six albums from his first fifteen years of releases. Yeah, that's but a third of Budd's total output in that time-frame, but as I said, I'm after a bluffer's guide, not a compendium.

By alphabetical decree, the first album I'm reviewing in the Budd Box is Luxa, which also happens to be the last album in the Budd Box. Or rather, the most recent, released in the near-times of 1996. Considering this box-set was initially released in 2013, it seems funny that the Budd Box only went that far into his discography. No interest in any of his post-Millennium material? Though considering there isn't a detailed Wiki entry for Luxa, it's fair to say even his more well-known works retain but a niche audience to this day.

I do wish there was a Wiki for Luxa though, in that this is an odd-ball album, and I'd love to have more background info on it. Harold himself calls it a “decorative thing”, in that it's him exploring different facets of his various musical backgrounds, in that artsy sort of way you'd expect of a student of the minimalist avant-garde.

Thus we get four segments in Luxa, the first of which is titled Butterflies With Tits - I think that's the title of the cover-art too. The longest segment, it features pieces titled after various artists in various fields (Agnes Martin, Serge Polakoff, Paul McCarthy, Anish Kapoor... you may have heard of some of them), and touches on the various keyboard tones Mr. Budd had since incorporated into his repertoire. It ain't just 'soft pedal' pianos, yo'! There's moody pads, flowing synths, and even some light jazzy percussion too.

Following that is the ultra-short Inexact Shadows segment, three short piano pieces that you'd probably think was one, single, two-fifteen minute composition. Smoke Trees, on the other hand, gets into the pure ambient side of Budd's muse, long drawn-out pieces noodling about in a calm, abstract manner, a little light percussion joining the pads and organ tones every so often. The final segment, Laughing Innuendos, features a weird contrast between its two pieces, Marion Brown doing the modern classical piano thing, and Steven Brown doing a ...piercing organ thing? Gosh, that tone almost sounds 16-bit. Oddly familiar, that.

Monday, June 17, 2019

SiJ - The Lost World

Reverse Alignment: 2015

See? See!? I knew there was SiJ in this endless backlog bundle (I've been at since March and I'm only in the 'L's, OMG!). It wasn't some flight of fanciful delusion that I somehow skipped out on the specific artist I raided Reverse Alignment for. Okay, no one doubted my proclamation of innocence in that Ajna review, because few would even care. I cared though, if for no other reason than to confirm my own fraying memories. I had to have scoured for SiJ, because I recall doing so. It couldn't be a figment of my imagination, could it? Like, one of those realistically mundane dreams you're so certain happened it becomes a permanent memory? The cruellest of such dreams I've had are the ones I've unearthed a trove of unreleased Calvin & Hobbes comics. Yes, it's been a recurrent one.

Thing about SiJ is one can be a tad flummoxed over where to start on his discography. Dude's nearly up to fifty releases this past decade, and while I'm sure a good deal of it is just drone experiments, there's bound to be plenty more that's not. Like, did you know he did a cover of Terra? As in, the theme music for Final Fantasy VI Terra? I sure didn't until I did a little poking around his Bandcamp page, and lo', there it was, his interpretation of one of the most lush compositions ever cranked out of the old SNES. Who'd have ever thought a guy appearing on Cryo Chamber would have a Nobuo Uematsu cover in his catalogue. Actually, come to think of it, that 'World Of Ruin' music would work quite nicely in a dark ambient context too.

Speaking of worlds, here is The Lost World. And yes, this is a specific tribute to the Conan Doyle novel, wherein a plateau within the Amazon jungle holds prehistoric creatures. Not to be confused with The Land That Time Forgot, the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel released almost concurrently about an Antarctica realm that holds prehistoric creatures. It was a popular sci-fi idea in the early 20th Century, usually featuring someone getting eaten by a Pleisiosaur, running from cavemen, and a volcano erupting. Heck, even Mickey Mouse had an adventure like that, which was weird considering the cavemen were actual pre-humans in a world of anthropomorphic animals. I've gotten way off track.

What caught me most off guard about SiJ's The Lost World is his inclusion of actual tribal rhythms in the titular cut, Night Near The Shores Of Gladys Lake, and A Fright Sight I Shall Never Forget. It's the most rhythm I've ever heard out of a SiJ album, and makes for welcome thematic variety with the other atmospheric drone pieces he crafts here (always with that distinct fuzzy melancholy). Then it all ends on a total whiplash of an under-produced tropical ditty called At The Falls. Well, under-produced compared to the deep atmospherics of what came before - almost comes off 16-bit in contrast. Say...

Saturday, June 15, 2019

B°TONG - The Long Journey

Reverse Alignment: 2017

This is probably the first album I should have gotten from Chris Sigdell. I'd certainly wouldn't have burnt through as much word count on figuring out how to pronounce this project's name. In fact, the EMC jury's still out on that, though until I've confirmation on something specific, I've settled on “b'TONG”. Doesn't mean I won't keep alternating cases though! I giggle it could be either B°TONG or b°tong, for all intents based on the phases of the moon.

While I touched on the particulars of Mr. Sigdell's career, and the various labels he's taken B°TONG to, I didn't dive too deep into his discography. It's certainly an intriguing assortment of titles among his twenty-something releases: Microsleep, Hostile Environments, The Soul Eater, The Great Desintegrator, Prostration Before Infinity, Ascending In The Light Of an Alien Sun, I See Dead People Walking Around Like Regular People. What interests me the most about all these albums is his impeccable ability to sell you on the setting, whatever that theme may be. Yeah, I know, that should be par for the course where dark ambient is concerned, above all else atmospheric mood music as it soundtracks the macabre and perverse. You'd be surprised how often artists only pay lip-service to their concepts though, thinking pure abstraction is enough to coax imagery out of your imagination. And who knows, maybe the extended b°tong catalogue falls into this pattern as well – I've really only taken in a couple of his albums, hardly enough to gauge a full body of work. Still, if what I have heard is anything to go by, then I definitely gotta' hear what the deal is with that elf and 'haarp'.

What struck me most about The Long Journey is how it flew in the face of what I was expecting. You look at the cover, read the liner notes, and it all seems straight-forward enough. Giant black hole at the centre of our galaxy, spitting out intense energy at regular intervals, except for that one time when a really big burst was expunged from the galactic core. So, some deep space drone, with intermittent chaotic radio static, right? Except, a cacophony of noise hits you right out the gate of opener AX J1745.6-2900 (Sgr. A*)! Geez'it, I'm used to more lead-in than that. Even more confounding is all the racket is by way of earthly field recordings, like stepping out into a busy street. The track does lull you into a serene sense of drone for the remaining dozen minutes though, almost making you forget it smacked you across the face so harshly out the gate. And then he does it again with second track 2004 MN4 (impact risk- 1-300)!

The two remaining tracks are shorter and more conventional of this sort of dark drone, though even Hybris-MM threw me for a loop by again opening within the confines of our planetary realm. Rainfall and forlorn piano playing, eventually giving way to weirdo krautrock electronics. Rather old-school, that.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Distant System - Lost Sequence / Pupillary Response

self release: 2009/2010

Everyone's got that hotly anticipated item that seems perpetually postponed. The world of fantasy literature has George R.R. Martin's latest entry in his Game Of Thrones saga. The world of music has Dr. Dre's Detox. The world of music guides has Ishkur's Guide To Electronic Music V3.0. The world of video games has [checks notes]... Star Citizen now. Huh, does that mean folks have finally given up hope on Half-Life 3? Guess it can't be anticipated if it was never officially started in the first place.

Anyhow, while the above undoubtedly have had tonnes of folks hanging on every drip-fed update for years now, the bane of my anticipation remains hopeless obscure. Indeed, if stats are anything to go by, it's not even a blip on the spaced-out psy-chill scene, as micro-niche of a scene as they get. Small wonder that Tyler Smith has kept a second Distant System LP in cryostasis for so long if the interest simply isn't there compared to his Androcell project. Dammit though, Spiral Empire remains one of the most captivating examples of this extremely specific sound tickling my limbic system that I've being craving another hit ever since. Others can have their additional songs of fire and ice, I wants my Spiral Empire 2: Revenge Of The Spiral!

While there's been small murmurs and rumblings Mr. Smith may finally dust the project off (again), I figured the best way to keep tabs on developments was to spring for the full Distant System discography on Bandcamp. Yes, I even re-bought Spiral Empire, the only time I'll likely re-buy a CD I already have in a digital format. Meanwhile, that allowed me to finally nab the two compilation-only tracks I'd missed out on way back when, Lost Sequence and Pupillary Response.

Speaking of Lost Sequence, holy cow, what's up with its scrobbling data? The track's outpaced everything else in the Distant System discography by a factor of five, and even has a whole two bars beside it on Spotify. Was the compilation it appeared on, Vampire Sunrise, really that popular? Hm, with a name like that, I wouldn't be surprised. Still, I suspect a shared link on some influencer's blog helped it along.

Anyhow, the track feeds me exactly what I crave in my Distant System fix (directly into my veins!). The epic synth pads painting the cosmic grand, the steady chugging prog-psy rhythm that makes me feel like I'm cruising on an interstellar craft, the touches of sci-fi bleeps and glitch as though I'm receiving sparse transmissions from the depths of the galactic core, all that good stuff. Pupillary Response, initially released on the far-less known Vital Signs compilation (which Tyler himself pieced together) is a more chill affair, almost meeting in the space where Distant System ends and Androcell starts. Not a whole lot happens that I haven't heard in this project before, save a chord change midway that melts my head, heart, and spleen. Sometimes the simplest tricks are the best.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Curve - Cuckoo

Anxious Records/3 Loop Music: 1993/2017

(a Patreon Request from Omskbird)

Could Curve have been bigger than they were? Sure, anything's possible, even music careers for no-talent hacks like [redacted]. Should Curve have been bigger than they were though? Possibly. For sure they had their fame, carved out a respectable niche in the alt-rock scene of the early '90s. Trouble was, a lot of rock bands were carving out respectable niches in the alt-rock scene of the early '90s, a veritable golden era for the scene as much as it was for hip-hop or rave music. It took more than some regular ol' talent to stand out from the pack, and sometimes even having a unique look and sound might not be enough, that confounding 'luck o' the fates' having as much to do with one's success as any other factor. There's only so much attention to go around, and when the crowd is crowded indeed, some acts get lost in the shuffle, returned to with greater appreciation later down the road after the dust has settled and the wheat's been separated from the chafe. No more cliches, I promise.

In sounding like such an over-amplified soup of feedback-drenched goth rock, Doppleganger certainly had an identity of its own, but was a bit much to take in as a whole. In their sophomore effort, Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday show more variety in their songcraft, even opening up with an all-out noisy cock-rocker. It certainly got the attention of Trent Reznor, providing a rub on the single. From there, Cuckoo hits the same wall-of-sound highs their previous album did, but I do hear more space between the drums, guitar feedback, and Ms. Haliday's voice. In fact, a few tracks in the middle seem to reduce the backing instruments substantially compared to the rest of the album, almost as though the gain on the mixing console was suddenly taken down to a seven from an eleven. Unreadable Communication in particular almost sounds like it's shooting for trip-hop dubbiness, save a mid-song guitar freak-out. Was this intentional? I'd like to assume so, but it kinda' sounds like a mistake too.

Speaking of 'quiet', how about that Left Of Mother, Curve going acoustic! Okay, there's still plenty of layered pedal effects as the song carries on, but man, simple guitar strumming at the start is a handy reminder that this band can go mellow too. Overall though, I'm still astounded they were seldom tapped for movie soundtrack tie-ins. So many of these songs would play great over rolling credits of many a '90s action-thriller.

As for the bonus material in this expanded re-issue, it has the usual assortment of b-sides and rarities included. The remixes naturally grab my attention though, what with the aforementioned Reznor rub on Missing Link, and The Drum Club having a go with Half The Time. Plus, an outfit known as The Future Sound Of London do a rote acid-house thingy on the obscure song Rising. They probably won't amount to anything off of that.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Stokes - Local Crowd

Databloem: 2018

It's not so bad that I missed out on Saul Stokes, is it? If his Discoggian data's to be believed, he did the bulk of his music production at a time I couldn't have known of him. There might have been the odd chance I'd have run into his work on Portland based ambient label Hypnos Recordings, some of that print's releases drifting a few hundred kilometres north to the Canadian border. Sadly, I wasn't so in the ambient know as I would have liked to think I was at the turn of the century, still sticking with the few acts and names I was most comfortable and familiar with. It wouldn't be until the advent of a little record database website that I realized just how massive this scene actually was. And lord would it take even longer for my finances to reach such a level I could even indulge in this expanded universe in any meaningful way. (never mind the digital-only Kahvi Collective releases, because block-headed stubbornness)

It was around the peak of his productivity that he released an album on the fledgling Databloem, mostly a collection of live recordings with a few original tracks sprinkled in. Fast forward fifteen years later, and Mr. Stokes has returned to the veteran Databloem, which also happened to be his first new album in seven years, and ten since his last on an actual label. To say he's slowed down some in this past decade is an understatement, but this has always been a fickle scene. Some producers can crank out the jams forever without missing a mark, while others have their initial flash of inspiration, then let things slide down as other interests take hold. Seems familiar, somehow...

As for the music we can expect from Saul, he was a bit all over the place way back in the day, drifting from ambient experiments to soft, fuzzy downtempo techno. His Fields album, released the same year as his first Databloem record (Radiate), might have even fit with the early Ultimae Records catalogue, which maybe explains why Vincent Villuis has provided an Ultimae Mixdown™ for Local Crowd. No, wait, he's been doing that for most of Databloem's new releases now. So, hey, if you've been jonesing for more that label's lush sonic headspace, check out this label's recent offerings!

I must say though, Local Crowd is an odd album to be given the Ultimae Mixdown™, in that it's such a simple little collection of tunes. Best I can describe is 'electro dream pop', just without the harsher 'electro' element, and the overt shoegazey elements of dream pop toned down. I still get the same day-glo feels from this, just not so overbearing about it. I sadly don't have much to specifically say either, as the vibe and tunes are all generally the same throughout the album, making highlights difficult to point out. Local Crowd is a pure 'reflective feels' record, which I guess is enough.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Sghor - Le Grand Mystère

Snowy Tension Pole: 2009

I think I have a problem. A music buying problem. True, one can look at my living room, see all the wall-mounted shelves holding some fifteen-hundred CDs, and say with a roll of the eyes, “Well, d'uh!” That's not what I mean though. Like, compared to some collectors, my library is paltry, a fraction of one's true potential of blowing every single penny on product (sheds, my friends, sheds). Maybe if I was less discriminate in my purchases practices, I could reach that lofty achievement(?), but nay, I remain somewhat selective, generally knowing what kind of music I'm getting and where I'm getting it from. As this blog's a hefty testament, I have a pretty firm handle on the whens and wheres of every CD I've gathered.

And now I'm holding within my grasp a CD that I've no idea where it came from. It's definitely dark ambient, but not from any of the dark ambient labels I generally buy from, and there's no general dark ambient shop I grab random albums from. Did this come included in that Databloem 'mystery box' I indulged in? That can't be right, this sound well outside the usual wheel-house that label/store operates within. The Ultimae shop, maybe? Like, this certainly looks like the sort of cover art I'd blind-buy from them, and they certainly branch out into genres that don't typically track with their primary output. Still, a dark ambient album from 2009?

Wherever I got Le Grand Mystère, here's what I (meaning Lord Discogs) know about it. The artist behind it is Sghor, who goes by Kryzsztof Mrozek in the black metal band Cold Empty Universe. He's released some half-dozen albums under this alias, first debuted with Depressive Black Ambient, with stray items released on his Bandcamp to this day. Le Grand Mystère in particular kicked off the short-lived label Snowy Tension Pole, which also featured releases from b°tong, about the only tie I can figure I have to this particular album. Lord Discogs does recommend Gustaf Hildebrand's Starscape and raison d'être's Enthralled By The Wind Of Lonelieness with it though, so that's something. I'll take whatever I can in figuring out how Le Grand Mystère popped up in my stacks o' CDs.

Anyhow, the album. There's ten tracks, all numerically titled KKK. They range from four to over ten minutes in length, and generally sound the same throughout. Sghor essentially uses discordant layered drones that ebb and flow like waves, building to a loud peak, then fading out before another emerges, each track consistent in maintaining this structure. Mostly I hear orchestral strings and operatic voices within the timbre, with the latter more prominent in tracks like KKK8 and KKK9. Or was that KKK6 and KKK2? Pretty sure there's a layered bell tone in KKK3. Honestly though, this is another album that just feels like one long track with relatively static scenery. This descent into Hell is still creepy, but who knew the Devil wasn't much for spicing up his domain's decor.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Various - Kulør 001

Kulør: 2018

I've argued 'real' trance never went away, just rebranded itself as something else and kept to small secluded corners of techno's domain. Lately, it seems those who wanted to make trance but couldn't admit to making trance because of the Dutch's handling of the tag have slowly re-emerged from the recesses of club culture, prominent critically-approved DJs rinsing out the odd throwback tune here and there. It's gotten to the point where a label can make honest-to-God vintage trance music and have music journalist sorts sing its praises for accomplishing all the things it peaked out on by the year 1995. Ah, the dependable Twenty-Year retro cycle never fails.

I know, I know. Why be cynical when I should be celebrating a release like Kulør 001? Surely I've been waiting for a release such as this since the turn of the century. I guess, kinda'? It's not like I've run out of old school trance music to unearth. Truth be told, aside from a few labels that could do no wrong, a great deal of it was rightly left in the '90s, a sound that had creatively done almost all that it might. Then again, dub techno perseveres to this day, and ain't much variation in that genre's sound over the decades. Ambient too, if we're being honest. Okay, so classic trance could have maintained something for itself if enough willing, inventive producers indulged in it. The clubbing climate just wasn't there for it though, and when eurotrance stole the name for itself, that was about all she wrote for the hypnotic spacey offshoot of EBM and techno.

But as mentioned, retro's undeniable pull can reach back to any ol' sound and make it fresh and hot again, which is what I'm sure this upstart new label out of Denmark is counting on. Hey, I liked the Danes' take on trance, always finding a sweet middle ground between German class and Dutch cheese. And that's what I get out of Kulør's launching compilation, Kulør 001. Ooh, triple-digits compilation numbering. Mighty ambitious aspirations there, just like In Trance In Trust. I wonder what that label's been up to...

Just in case you were wondering (worried?) this would be a complete retro love-in, the beats throughout this compilation are as tough as modern techno can get. Nay, it's all about those melodies, such light uplifting ditties that'll have you reminiscing early '90s Paul van Dyk. And gosh, there's some high BPMs here too, a proper reminder of when trance music was made to fuel your speedy E' benders, rather than hop in one spot under a ketamine daze. Mind, some of these wouldn't be much more than filler on an old Rave Mission collection, but they trigger the nostalgia endorphins just the same. If such tunes remain too cheesy for you though, there's some proper faceless techno bosh on Kulør 001 as well. Guess classic trance still needs a little more time before a full return is embraced.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Samora - Kaleidos

Databloem: 2018

Sometimes it's never the actual album I'm reviewing that sparks the most discussion. Indeed, what more can be said for the eleven-zillionth ambient record that is released annually? I'll buy such music more for my personal interest and enjoyment, but that doesn't provide me with much material to wax the bull with. It's almost a relief when I pop over to the artist's Discoggian data and discover a rich history I've overlooked, wherein I can burn ample word count touching on prior releases and the funny label names said producer has released on. (so many funny label names... just, so many...). I was not offered such a bounty of talking-point riches with Samora, but he did dredge up some unfortunate recollections.

Samora is Enrico Marani, a synth chap who's worked with various experimental, avant-garde outfits out of Italy, Le Forbici di Manitù being the most consistent of the bunch to this day. Being part of a band for over a decade didn't leave his own muse fallow, spending time dabbling in his own original compositions. He eventually made a debut album as Samora called The Unspeakable, a collection of minimalist ambient with recited poetry from cellist Christine Hanson, released on Psychonavigation Records. Yes, that Psychonavigation Records. Hey, at least it was in 2012, before all the shit hit the fan with that label. A follow-up album came out on Psycho-N's Italian sub-label Tranquillo Records (Lontano), and when those went tits-up, a third album The Gift came out on the rebranded label Where Ambient Lives – that one also seems to have gone into limbo, though unlike the others, its Bandcamp remains up. Might be mindful of buying anything from it though. Anyhow, it seems poor Enrico finally had enough of that label's sketchy practices, and took his Samora project to the steadier Databloem for his fourth album Kaleidos. Methinks t'was a wise decision.

If your eyes didn't glaze over much in that block o' words above, you may have noticed the genre namedrop you're in for with Samora. Right, even being on Databloem is a good hint, but even the small sampling of the label's output I've indulged has shown some nice, surprising variety. This is minimalist ambient as you likely imagine it though. Stretched-out droning pads, sprinkles of piano and bell tones, fits of burbling electronics and static fluff, self-titled compositions averaging in the double-digit minute lengths with little care of destination, only the journey. In the opening track alone, I felt I was shifting into differing tonal lanes every few minutes, though Keleidos 1 is possibly one of the 'busiest' among these six pieces.

I say “possibly”, because this honestly isn't an album that sticks with me. It's ambient as pure sonic wallpaper, which is fine since that's Mr. Marani's intent. Can't knock a body of music that succeeds in the artist's vision. Just wish I could give it a stronger recommendation for others beyond the genre's faithful. So it goes in this scene.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

ACE TRACKS: May 2019

This post is coming to you from the tiny mountainous town of Jasper, Alberta, nestled within the northern arm of the mighty Canadian Rockies. And is this tiny mountainous town ever a tourist trap, believe you me, but with splendorous scenery such as this, how could it not? Like, sure, no one gave Jasper much care half a century ago, when it was little more than a way point for train routes through the mountains, but when The Greatest Generation and their offspring were scoping Canada out for vacation and retirement options, they realized this untamed region was quite nice for hiking, skiing, camping, and seeing various wildlife in their natural habitats. Thus, tourist trap of a town was born.

Now, I've actually passed through Jasper a number of times when I was a wee lad, when my family would drive from one corner of Canadian hinterlands to visit other family in another corner of Canadian hinterlands (the flatter kind), but I barely have any recollection of it, almost always passed out from the super-long road trip by the time we came to Jasper (my folks were hardcore about making it across three provinces in a single 24-hour shot). Figured if I'm going to do a road trip for a vacation of my own, why not visit some places of my youth? I'm not sure why we feel so compelled to do that as we age. It's very strange. Maybe I should have brought some Raffi with me to listen to if I truly wanted to recapture that experience. Ain't none of that on this month's ACE TRACKS playlist though.

Full track list here.

Brasil & The Gallowbrothers Band - In The Rain, In The Noise
Waki - Hurry Up And Relax
Wanderwelle - Gathering Of The Ancient Spirits

Percentage Of Hip-Hop: 3%
Percentage Of Rock: 0 %
Most “WTF?” Track: Oh, obviously the one with DJ Shadow's name attached.

Why yes, I did listen to this while on the road! Well, for the portions of British Columbian highway that I could still get Spotify signal. Was surprised it held out as far into some regions as it did. Can't say this was a terrible good playlist for a road trip though, genres wildly jumping all over the place as they did. Good thing I brought a CD wallet with me too! Ah, the ol' standbys...

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Sixtoo - Jackals And Vipers In Envy Of Man

Ninja Tune: 2007

It must be difficult holding out on chasing trends. The music rags rave on about what's 'cutting edge' and 'fresh hotness', your peers can't help but dabble in new tricks and toys, and all the while a burgeoning audience emerges from corners long thought untappable. Sure, you have your loyal, dependable, old-school followers, but surely the temptation lurks to explore a little, just a little. A peak around the corner, a glance over the hill, a click of a link from a somewhat trusted source. It didn't look like Robert Squire was in any rush to do so though. Even as his brand of scratch-heavy trip-hop continuously lost ground to the incoming wave of grime and dubstep, his Sixtoo project kept the faith for much of the '00s. Yeah, he found a couple toys to tinker with (sample pad!), but it never compromised his style.

After eking out a career in Eastern Canada, Sixtoo got picked up by Ninja Tune, and it looked like things were flying breezy for Mr. Squire. After the release of this particular album though, his studio suffered a break-in, with everything involving his Sixtoo project pilfered. Not just the material for a new album, but all his years of back-ups, archives, samples, and the works. Everything! Sensing it a sign to move on in his music career, Rob shuttered the Sixtoo alias, switched cities to the West coast of Canada, and started making deep acid house as Prison Garde. Because they all turn to house eventually (sometimes techno too).

Before that though, he released Jackals And Vipers In Envy Of Man, which looks to be the final Sixtoo record. Unless he starts feeling nostalgic for his hip-hop roots, which could happen, maybe, possibly. Hard to start from scratch like he'd have to though. Makes better sense starting a whole different project, maybe with some 'support from Sixtoo', if you catch my drift. Why am I rambling like this? Damn Raptors victories, distracting my thoughts so easily.

Like many of his previous works (Boxcutter Emporium, Duration Project), Jackals And Vipers is essentially an extended music session exploring similar sounds and samples, giving each 'part' a live turntable vibe. Except this isn't all live turntables, but mixing and matching drum breaks and samples with some effects fun thrown in. Take those sessions, refine them in post-production, and voila, thirteen tracks of various non-rapping hip-hop business. Some parts last less than a minute, but most reaching the three-to-five minute range.

And there's not much else to say about Jackals And Vipers, if I'm honest. As mentioned, Sixtoo brings an unfussy, uncomplicated style to the music, riding rhythms as he feels them out, never gunking things up with superfluous effects and nonsense glitchiness. I wouldn't have minded some rappity-raps over a few of these, but they're fine without vocals too. It's a vintage Ninja Tune sound, which again was kinda' surprising to hear in the year 2007, what with The Bug's London Zoo just around the corner.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

DJ Shadow - The Outsider

Universal Records: 2006

(a Patreon Request)

Above all else, you could not mistake DJ Shadow's third album as being released at any point other than 2006. There's a line about Dick Cheney shooting a guy! That's, like, soooo 2006, man! I guess all the hyphy tracks kinda' date this album too. Yeah, the Bay Area sound massively caught on the following decade, which some may argue is in favour of The Outsider for being that ahead of the game, but let's be real here. No one was turning to DJ Shadow for hot new sounds of San-Fran hip-hop in the year 2006, nor any time before or after. They were turning to DJ Shadow for his unique, seminal take on sampling, turntablism, and trip-hop, somehow expecting he'd ride that Endtroducing..... style forever after. Mr. Davis knew what was what though, hangin' out with dudes like Turf Talk and E-40, and was more than willing to gamble on their sounds, needing something new and fresh lest he grow stale as an artist.

It could have worked. As mentioned, hyphy was blossoming in the world of hip-hop, riding the same wave of frenetic, synth-heavy, party rockin' rap that had turned crunk and grime into huge movements in their regions. It would have been a shock to the DJ Shadow faithful, no doubt, but at least they would understand the abrupt change of sound, and maybe even vibe on it based on the genre's own merits. Unfortunately, DJ Shadow didn't commit to it, instead book-ending The Outsider with a half-dozen hyphy tracks, creating a drastic tonal clash with all the far more musical efforts within the record's creamy centre.

Even without the hyphy, The Outsider could generously be considered overly eclectic. Let's assume you skipped all the way past the David Banner featuring Seein Thangs (whoa, David Banner feature; it's 2006 alright), instead kicking things off with Broken Levee Blues. Cool, some guitar jamming and little spoken-word dialog. Nice an' chill, yo', still capturing that vintage DJ Shadow smooth downtempo- HOLY SHIT! How did we smash right into thrashy speed-punk from that? I'm spazzin' out here! Gotta' love it, and it looks like we're getting into some freaky psychedelic jazz-funk action in Backstage Girl after. So it's gonna' be this kinda' album then.

Nope! A little score work in Triplicate / Something Happened That Day, and suddenly we're into the domain of indie rock, complete with a Brit warbler who's not Chris Martin, but sure sounds like him. And let's not forget the psychedelic folk from Christina Carter in What Have I Done, because Joanna Newsom was a thing in 2006, I guess? Is this even a DJ Shadow album anymore? What is this album? Oh yeah, that one with the hyphy in it. I'd forgotten it started that way, but here's a couple such closers as reminders.

No wonder Mr. Davis called this album The Outsider. It sounds like an artist trying to fit in various musical scenes with nothing in common other than having an interloper playing in their respective sandboxes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Luke Slater - Freek Funk

NovaMute: 1997

(a Patreon Request from Omskbird)

I feel compelled to go into a lengthy diatribe over how difficult it was to get this album. I mean, why this one? It's chump-cheap on the Discogs market, and Amazon isn't far behind. Somehow though, Luke Slater's Freek Funk was vexed, a Patreon Request from as far back as February, only now getting done due to shipping shenanigans. I wax enough over my music buying/hunting/savaging practices though, and who needs to read about disappearing shipments and borders confiscations.

So I've talked up Luke Slater plenty now, though almost exclusively his side-projects and side-projects that are more popular than his main-name albums. Still, Planetary Assault Systems remains his most fruitful alias, so it's no surprise he returned to it after a few shots at making a name for himself under his own name. The move from pummelling techno tools into more club-friendly territory was met with about as much resistance as you'd expect from the underground faithful, and the cross-over appeal simply wasn't having it in the year 2002. Back to the welcoming hands of faceless Berlin bosh, then, and everything was good again.

Before we got to that point, however, we have his first stab at a cross-over record; or a record that did away with the silly anonymous techno producer thing. Because if David Holmes and Laurent Garnier could make respectable techno records with their real names, then by g'ar so could Luke Slater. And I'm just being goofy in calling Freek Funk a cross-over album. Yeah, Luke Slater's no longer a faceless techno producer, and this stuff is certainly more accessible to the material he was releasing on Peacefrog Records or as The 7th Plain earlier in his career. Plus, in the year 1997, one couldn't help but fall sway to the trends of the time in his native Britain. So here's a big beat track in Bless Bless, and some trip-hop offerings in Zebediah and Walking The Line. Just, y'know, done in a techno-y sort of way.

And for you purists out there, Freek Funk provides plenty of the pounding bosh, Engine One, Filter 2 and Time Dancer doing the dutiful dancefloor demolishin'. Elsewhere Mr. Slater gets his futuristic Detroit-bleep on (Purely, Origin, titular cut), and even has a stab at the ol' electro with Are You There? Then there's Love, a track that sounds like nothing else on this album, but damn if it doesn't predict The Field's ultra-loopy melodic pseudo-trance vibes nearly a decade early. You'll definitely want to feel a good gurn on this one.

Lots of techno variety then, though that unfortunately impedes the album some, almost too much going on for it to stick in your mind. It's the same problem Garnier's 30 had, and though Luke does try bridging the more jarring stylistic transitions of Freek Funk with interstitial Scores, it still isn't enough for things to come together as a seamless whole. It's a messy album, but certainly worth a listen for the gems throughout.

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 Andy C anecdotes Aniplex Anjunabeats 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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