15. Young American Primitive – ‘Young American Primitive’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Young American Primitive - 'Young American Primitive'

Young American Primitive * Young American Primitive * 1993 * Zoe Magik

While Europe’s mainstream embraced acid house full-heartedly, America’s innovators had to survive underground. Besides the origin cities of Detroit, Chicago and New York, West Coast cities emerged in the mid-’90s as incubators of a newer sound, tapping into Los Angeles’ urban funk and San Francisco’s psychedelic legacies. Along with artists like DubtribeFreaky Chakra and Skylab 2000, Young American Primitive helped lead a second wave of rave music.

Greg Scanavino, the man behind Young American Primitive, eventually signed with Geffen Records, where his music career stalled. But his first album remains a lost treasure. What’s still remarkable about it is its distinct blend of Alfred Hitchcock and Outer Limits TV voice samples, heady melancholia and tranced-out tribalism.

Young American Primitive also had a real talent for crafting gravity-defying grooves. ‘Trance-Formation’ and ‘Young American Primitive’ both soar to tribal breaks and weightless bass lines. The more earthbound ‘Ritual’ and ‘Sunrise’ still revel in the sky, beautifully building as with arms greeting the dawn, rhythms percolating ever upwards.

Outer space and science fiction are key obsessions on Young American Primitive. ‘Over and Out’ is a classic drift of arpeggiating lines that seem to ooze out of black holes. At the track’s climax, Scanavino samples Dennis Hopper’s famous ‘If’ monologue from Apocalypse Now to wonderful effect. The ambient ‘Daydream’ conjures Blade Runner and was once a John Digweed favorite. It’s an L.S.D. lullaby.

But the album’s biggest triumph arrives with ‘These Waves,’ a dazzling burst of expanding sonic light and pretty string theories. Its xylophone rhythm lifts its otherworldly beauty as a will-o’-the-wisp melody hooks you into its many splendors. “These waves are all around us. A thousand falling sparks all over me.” It sounds exactly like what it says.

Sadly, Scanavino’s next album never escaped the Geffen vaults. And Young American Primitive was never reissued due to legal tangles over the album’s many TV and movie samples. Young American Primitive’s fate was a lesson for all would-be electronica stars: The freedom at the heart of electronic dance culture would be consistently challenged in the years to come.

But that optimistic, tripped-out spirit still lives on in every note and beat of Young American Primitive. Even the corny rave vamps of ‘Monolith’ signify a more innocent time. No chemicals needed. Just an open mind.

1. Intro
2. Trance-Formation
3. Flux
4. Young American Primitive
5. Ritual
6. Sunrise
7. Daydream
8. Over and Out
9. These Waves
10. Monolith Part One
11. Monolith Part Two

17. Underworld – ‘Second Toughest in the Infants’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Underworld - 'Second Toughest in the Infants'

Underworld * Second Toughest in the Infants * 1996 * Junior Boys’ Own

After the underground smash of their first album, Underworld hit the studio hard, churning out gobs of innovative music. First they followed up with a host of E.P.’s that wildly remixed earlier singles into some of the most forward-looking techno on the globe. Dark & Long and Dirty Epic/Cowgirl revealed a band riding a relentless high, epic tracks like ‘Thing in a Book’ and ‘Dark Train’ trailblazing a new musical vernacular far out into the imagination.

A more unsettled blueprint emerged with their interim single, Born Slippy. The title track deconstructed a click-clack breakbeat to devastating effect, its searing synth lines climbing the psychic stratosphere with counterpuntal abandon. But it was the less muscular b-side ‘Born Slippy.Nuxx’ that would bring them their greatest fame. Used as the final uplifting soundtrack to the movie hit Trainspotting, ‘Nuxx’ was actually a piss-take of sorts, its rough rhythms a warehouse swelter of chains and metal riffs, contrasting with its catchy, pretty opening chords.

Second Toughest in the Infants capped off this feverish activity with a coolly controlled, slow-burn album of broad artistic ambitions. One might call it a matured sound. But it can more accurately be described as Underworld comfortably settling into their role as techno supergroup and genre grownups.

The offbeat album title derived from studio maestro Rick Smith’s nephew, who was six years old at the time, commenting on his progress in school. The “second toughest” sentiment nicely paralleled Underworld’s own path. Cruising in, their second longplayer engages right off with the flanged breakbeats of ‘Juanita : Kiteless : To Dream of Love,’ weaving and winding into a croaking groove, spinning out to mesmerizing piano and rapidly firing waterfall high-hats. ‘Banstyle / Sappy’s Curry’ ricochets to soft drum ‘n’ bass rhythms in a jacuzzi of warm, hushed melodies, frontman Karl Hyde singing “Here come the Marines. As if that hurts.”

The two bruisers on offer chart two routes into dance floor energy. Like ‘Born Slippy,’ ‘Rowla’ and ‘Pearl’s Girl’ got their names from a book of greyhound racing dogs. Like their namesakes, each one picks up its pace slowly, muscles, bones and sinews of percussion building to an unstoppable rhythm. ‘Rowla’ growls with rough synth riffs, scratching with blades of static. Hyde gets busy on the hulking ‘Pearl’s Girl,’ slinging his abstract Englishman raps over pulverizing beats and surging walls of sound.

Balancing out the sound and fury, ‘Confusion the Waitress,’ ‘Air Towel’ and ‘Stagger’ explore mellow techno shot through smokey diners, coffee cups and flying saucers. Weird and sleek at once, they round out Underworld’s convincing bid for blues of the future. In case anyone missed the tab, ‘Blueski’ hits it home with a sweet tangle of steel guitar strings ringing from Hyde’s fingers.

Second Toughest in the Infants sealed Underworld’s reputation as the artist’s artist as well as reliable fan-pleaser. It encapsulated their functional and experimental approach to music: If it moves, it grooves; if it kinks, it thinks. It also offered a cockpit view inside their wanderer ethos, their fragmented poetry, their hope and loathing.

The following Pearl’s Girl E.P. would bookend this heroic phase of Underworld’s career. Dreamy tracks like ‘Oich Oich’ and ‘Mosaic’ put them on the quiet edge while ‘Cherry Pie’ was an aching beauty of cosmic proportions, one of techno’s all-time best.

Second Toughest in the Infants, and its brethren, showcased electronica’s greatest band at the height of its powers. It was a heady time. Looking back now, it’s still timeless, still an infinite infant.

1. Juanita : Kiteless : To Dream of Love
2. Banstyle / Sappy’s Curry
3. Confusion the Waitress
4. Rowla
5. Pearl’s Girl
6. Air Towel
7. Blueski
8. Stagger

19. LFO – ‘Advance’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

LFO - 'Advance'

LFO * Advance * Warp Records * 1996

A refined sequel to their massively influential first album, Mark Bell and Gez Varley’s last work together, while less groundbreaking than the previous Frequencies, is a timeless tour de force. From the first robotic phrases of ‘Advance,’ the title opener to LFO‘s second album, an electronic bravura is on the march. Lobbing fireballs across the wire, its flawless productions overwhelm the mind, hewing closely to the underground attitude of ’90s rave culture and mapping a tough, uncompromising tableau of sonic warfare.

The track ‘Loch Ness’ still remains one of the most evocative space symphonies techno has ever wrought, a clash of sparkling sine-waves and thundering drums, it sends the listener floating off through a magnetic storm in some distant galaxy. The tossing and turning of ambient beauty ‘Goodnight Vienna’ calls to mind the stark lines and geometry of Wendy Carlos, who composed the score to the movie Tron, without ever aping her style. Pugnacious ‘Tied Up’ shocks the nerves with dreamy shapes of electricity, rolling over molten pits of steel while boxing your lights out with low frequency jabs.

When did this stubborn battle between the hard and soft begin? Bell and Varley were once rival breakdancers in the mid-’80s, before teaming up on England’s immortal bleep techno anthem, ‘LFO.’ “Bleep” referred to the use of synthesizer sine-waves, from high frequency notes to low frequency oscillations (the inspiration for the LFO name). Virtually launching Warp Records and rattling warehouses across the Western world, ‘LFO’ and the subsequent Frequencies of 1991 reshaped the electronic landscape, paving the way for the likes of Orbital and Aphex Twin.

Many critics still peg this breakout period in LFO’s career as their finest hour. Certainly it was their most impactful. But a close re-examination of Advance, which took Bell and Varley five years to craft, reveals that the old rivals scaled a pinnacle that was many leaps ahead of their time. As with Leftfield, LFO were perfectionists who cut deep paths into undiscovered regions of the musical universe. Their second albums were simply beyond the initial grasp of most critics and fans.

Take four invincible tracks from Advance: ‘Them,’ ‘Ultra Schall,’ ‘Shove Piggy Shove’ and ‘Psychodelik.’ The first prowls to tapping drum sticks flanged-out into oblivion while a sweep of chimes and slow-mo splashes slide the mind into its space-time groove. ‘Ultra Schall’ is much less linear. Its various elements slowly coalesce around a mournful melody, panting percussion and a call-and-response between terse bass murmurs and bright scrawls of light. It’s supreme electronica and one of the most overlooked techno gems of the ’90s. The pretty ‘Shove Piggy Shove,’ with its skyward counterpoint and little guitar flicks, is an easier pleaser that belies a restrained, almost jazz approach to bass and percussion. And ‘Psychodelik’ is one of the most infectious techno rides of all time, a rainbow synth-line weaving up and over and around the head, its slow howls and scintillating melodies crashing in a cosmic delirium of the senses.

The album bids adieu with two competing sides of the LFO psyche. ‘Forever’ drifts to a fever of shimmering keys and angelic clangs while ‘Kombat Drinking’ marches to a martial beat, its warping drums and assured cadences saluting the masses as its gentle waves of harmony wave goodbye to another innocent era of utopian dreaming.

Nearly a decade later, Bell would return alone as LFO with the respectable Sheath. A few killer tracks recalled the earlier glory. But nothing matched Bell and Varley’s last stand together. Advance is, well, advanced, even more than a decade after its release. In fact, it’s still not clear anyone has quite caught up.

1. Advance
2. Shut Down
3. Loch Ness
4. Goodnight Vienna
5. Tied Up
6. Them
7. Ultra Schall
8. Shove Piggy Shove
9. Psychodelik
10. Jason Vorhees
11. Forever
12. Kombat Drinking

20. Eat Static – ‘Implant’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Eat Static - 'Implant'

Eat Static * Implant * Planet Dog * 1995

“You could feel it, coming, coming down from the sky…”

For a generation raised on Star Wars and Star Trek, the techno trance outfit Eat Static were a godsend. Taking their name from the movie The Wrath of Khan — “Let them eat static!” – Joie Hinton and Merv Pepler, former bandmates of the psychedelic rock group Ozric Tentacles, jumped ship to join the growing ranks of the outdoor techno circuit of ’90s England. Out in the midnight fields, the two found a wide frontier of sonic possibilities. Hinton brought his keyboard skills to bear, inventing a whole new vocabulary of UFO bleeps, alien burps and wormhole whoops. In one sense, he was the Ben Burtt of trance music. Pepler on the other hand was a mad percussionist, who matched Hinton’s wild shapes perfectly with big bass patterns and warp-speed rhythms.

Soon the two hippie boys from Somerset were blasting rave kids to the heavens. Hitched to Planet Dog, a label of like-minded acts including Banco De Gaia and Timeshard, the duo quickly found themselves headlining some of the biggest rave nights in England, especially Michael Dog’s Club Dog and “Megadog” events.

Their third and best album, Implant, was a triumph of the strange and still remains one of the landmark electronica releases of the ’90s. Built around a clever catch of sci-fi B-movie and TV samples (“I’m picking up abnormal interference.” and “The space-time continuum may be permanently damaged.”), Eat Static conceived Implant as a visitation from extraterrestrials that sweep us off on an intergalactic space hop. Openers ‘Survivors’ and ‘Abnormal Interference’ freak to pulverizing bass and booming beats, weird chants and inventive funk bordering on a kind of alien speech.

But Eat Static’s play on sonic imagery is less about little green men and more about the great unknown. The eponymous ‘Implant’ sounds something like an alien abduction, but from behind the pilot console of a badass flying saucer. It zips to a relentless groove while a cascade of grooving synths whip out of thin air. A twisting TB-303 fries the atmosphere as a euphoric gas hovers in over the mystery, until silence is greeted by the supersonic pow of our quantum traveller. “There’s something different about Larrrrry.”

Eat Static has to be taken with a grain of salt. Their goofy UFO schtick is as humorous as it is aspirational. And it’s that slap of laughter that readies the mind for their bigger gestures of musical ambition. Hard, fast, zany, and yes, beautiful. ‘Area 51 (Nucleonic Mix)’ is a gentle jaunt into nocturnal bliss. Its dreamlike sonics flicker like some beckoning Pulsar until the intercom growl of our martian pilot lets loose subsonic bass and trails of melodic wonder. But that’s not all. Building with its throaty welling, ‘Area 51′ peaks with an explosion of low frequency oscillations, like a rope sending waves out into the infinite horizon. “How’s it going out there?” “There’s something out here!”

‘Cydonia’ kicks it up a parsec. “Martian computer control. Martian computer control.” The Earth shrinks away in the distance as warping synths snarl like cosmic harmonicas and tribal drums wind up the flight deck. Planets and stars fly by as Eat Static throttle things into hyperdrive, a calm sweeping over the bridge as if we’ve entered a new dimension, time slowing down as light-speed lands us in the ultimate relativity high.

Floating down from a spaceship hangar with ‘Uforic Undulance,’ Implant plants its flag on a magical moon, a Pandora before there was a Pandora. The cries and squawks of zero-gravity animals. The breeze through purple branches of a fractal jungle. The climbing undulations of liquid lightening. Then one of the most wicked grooves this side of Pluto kick-starts the moon buggy, drums skitter-scattering overhead as crystalline melodies rain down from pink morphing clouds. The plaintive flute of an alien Orpheus calls from afar as bright little riffs, sounding like the buzzy buttons of some cockpit keyboard, answer in funky technological reply. It’s pure genius.

1. Survivors
2. Abnormal Interference
3. Implant
4. Dzhopa Dream
5. Panspermia
6. Area 51 (Nucleonic Mix)
7. Cydonia
8. Uforic Undulance

21. Ken Ishii – ‘Innerelements’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Ken Ishii - 'Innerelements'

23. Amorphous Androgynous – ‘Tales of Ephidrina’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Amorphous Androgynous - 'Tales of Ephidrina'a

Amorphous Androgynous * Tales of Ephidrina * 1993 * Astralwerks

One year before Future Sound of London released their ambient masterpiece Lifeforms, they released Tales of Ephidrina to little fanfare as Amorphous Androgynous. Living up to this psychedelic pen name, Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans spun organic, spellbinding techno laced with dark hallucinations.

The wily ‘Swab’ kicked to a funky Herbie Hancock lick. Beautiful ‘Ephidrena’ weaved through columns of bass, its banking melody flying up and down like a bird of prey. ‘Fat Cat’ channeled Peter Gabriel’s Passion onto a windswept Mars. And ‘Pod Room’ showed just how devastating the TB-303 could be in an atmospheric setting.

One foot still on the dancefloor, the heads at Electronic Brain Violence moved and grooved. Over ten years later, their late night phantasm still sounds more than amazing.

1. Liquid Insects
2. Swab
3. Mountain Goat
4. In Mind
5. Ephidrena
6. Auto Pimp
7. Fat Cat
8. Pod Room

24. The Advent – ‘New Beginnings’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

The Advent - 'New Beginnings'

25. Children of the Bong – ‘Sirius Sounds’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Breakbeat, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Children of the Bong - 'Sirius Sounds'

27. Radioactive Lamb – ‘The Memoirs of Reverend Cowhead & Sheriff Lamb Boy’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Radioactive Lamb - 'The Memoirs of Reverend Cowhead & Sheriff Lamb Boy'

30. Spooky – ‘Gargantuan’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, House, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Spooky - 'Gargantuan'