Junkie XL – "Today"

Posted: October 18th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Breakbeat, House, Techno | No Comments »

Junkie XL

In a recent visit to LA’s Amoeba music store I picked up Junkie XL’s May 2006 release Today. Listening to it on the way home I was unmoved in the same way that I was with his Radio JXL: A Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin. Despite some winners and rocking energy, Tom Holkenborg’s pop fusions just seem too formulaic, too obvious, too much. Granted, the man who remixed Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” into a worldwide hit has made a fortune this way and clearly he’s a stellar producer in the technical sense. But what’s disappointing is that he’s also gifted artistically, which is mostly evident with his MP3-only “radio transmissions.” Still, there are two great tracks here worth special mention, “Mushroom” and “Such A Tease.” These instrumentals successfully channel Holkenborg’s obsession with the baroque moodiness of Disintegration-era Cure — all strumming, underwater guitars and deep, damp bass.

It makes sense that as more techno artists engage pop formulas that they’ve returned to artists like The Cure and New Order for inspiration. But the current fascination with Disintegration‘s gothic beauty, as also heard in Jonas Bering’s “Melanie,” for example, creates a deeper sense that we’re entering a musical period not dissimilar from the late 1980s. This has to do with generational cycles and global events perhaps. Sofia Coppola’s upcoming Marie Antoinette film, which features The Cure’s “Plainsong” will only strengthen this sense of deja-vu. Out of anger and the death of innocence, comes sadness and today’s obsession with the past. Next, I would hope, is a genuine lust for life.

Music Samples:
Mushroom
Such A Tease
Jonas Bering’s Melanie


Various Artists: Kompakt – "Total 7"

Posted: October 18th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, House, Techno | No Comments »

Total 7

Esteemed German label Kompakt releases its seventh album in the Total series. It’s a double-disc affair of alternately brooding and uplifting techno. “Grey Skies to Blue” by Kontrast begins the compilation with an exquisite tune, dropping into an introspective groove, accentuated with billowing sheets of energy and microscopic percussion. It’s clearly one of the deepest tracks on the market and a solid addition to the Kompakt catalog. Disc one follows with other glitchy gems, including Justus Kohncke’s “Arquipelago,” its echoing drums splashing under patiently building glaciers of sound, and The Rice Twins’ “For Penny and Alexis,” which slows down Orbital’s classic “Lush” to a rainy daydream.

But the real standout is Scsi-9′s magical “When She Said Goodbye,” harkening back in its own way to the halcyon days of early Orbital, its giddy rhythms giving way to gorgeous vocal send-ups — a lover’s bittersweet calls to the sky answered by an angel’s sensual seductions. It’s enough sunshine to burn away all the cobwebs in a cynical day or age.

Yet the sublime must also be taken with the mundane. On Total 7‘s second disc, that means enduring a Teutonic nightclub with pop leanings and lots of boozers. Not that the results can’t be fun. Robotic, almost militant rhythms romp under the stiff but playful melodies of Jurgen Paape’s “Take That” and Reinhard Voigt’s narcotic “Tranceformation.” More subdued experiments such as Thomas Fehlmann’s murky “Saft” and The Field’s slushing “Over the Ice” keep the journey from veering into complete silliness. In fact, as Oxia’s “Domino” proves, Kompakt’s Total 7 keeps up the label’s tradition of demented, majestic pop, stumbling into moments of astonishing beauty.

Audio Samples:
Kontrast’s Grey Skies to Blue
Scsci-9′s When She Said Goodbye
Oxia’s Domino


A Guy Called Gerald – "Proto Acid: The Berlin Sessions"

Posted: October 10th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, House, Techno | No Comments »

Gerald Proto Acid

Proto Acid: The Berlin Sessions is A Guy Called Gerald’s sixth album and one of his best. An early techno innovator, the black Englishman Gerald Simpson has left few electronic genres untouched. He was critical to the development of drum ‘n’ bass, spending most of the ’90s sculpting breakbeat loops that trip the mind. In the last few years he has returned to the more straight-ahead grooves of techno and house music, testing his tunes in Berlin basements and clubs.

The purely instrumental nature of Proto Acid departs from the majority of Simpson’s work, which has brilliantly flirted with vocals. This latest effort also dispenses with polite listening altogether. Starter “Marching Powder” wigs out to tribal drums and modulating synths. “Nasty” bristles like a thousand incandescent insects. Tracks like “Voltar,” “Transition” and “Monday” pump and grind while Simpson drops parachute bombs into the cranium that explode into flashing images. His ingredients are mixed and timed with a masterful sense of dramatic tension and the magic aura of dreams.

Simpson is also no slave to the machine: Melody rules like a queen beside Rhythm’s throne. “Downstroke” spirals with a delirious xylophonic pattern, putting sex on the mind and harkening back to his classic work with 808 State. At once beautiful and far out, “Plaything” reminds us of the man’s pure genius — a heaving bass line rolls under disembodied moans as acidic lines of electricity burst overhead. “Merlot Brougham” bangs the walls with energy, cymbals crashing and rattling across the air while “X Ray” seethes, its haunting carrion of the night calling overhead as swishing scissors echo into the distance. And closer “Sweet You” seals the deal — aquatic, piercing synths wrap around a galloping horse of high-hats, as a piano shatters deep down to the soul.

A Guy Called Gerald is a mysterious character in the history of electronic music. Born in England to Jamaican immigrants, his consciousness as an artist unfolded in a cold, white country. As an early member of Manchester’s 808 State, he was greatly responsible for the classic “Pacific State.” Soon enough he set off on his own, releasing the greatest Acid House anthem of all time, “Voodoo Ray,” as A Guy Called Gerald.*

Exploited by major labels and depressed by the music’s hedonistic turn, Simpson soon found himself pioneering jungle. His classic album Black Secret Technology is still the most compelling of the drum ‘n’ bass genre. During this period he devised his hypnotic drum programming, what he once described as a polyrhythmic interplay between “daddy drum,” “mommy drum” and “baby drum.” Using analogue sequencers, the phrases would slightly slip and sway in time, creating a mind-bending journey through music. Hearing him DJ at LA’s Viper Room in the late 1990s, I found myself deep inside an elastic matrix of crunching beats, Simpson’s multi-dimensional grooves melting away any sense of linear time, his snaking bass lines and spectral female vocals completing my seance with the unknown.

In the intervening years, Simpson began to explore the more soulful side of this musical evolution. While some of the experiments were beautiful, such as his “Beaches and Deserts” from the Humanity album, much of the raw excitement was gone. “In the beginning Jack had a groove that was fucked so many times during the ’90s that some of us had to leave and go and hide in the jungle until it was safe to come out again,” he writes in Proto Acid‘s liner notes.

And so Simpson returns to the techno and house rhythms of his youth. “Proto Acid is a weave of interlaced analogue sounds driven by digital sequencers,” he writes of his still intriguing approach to things. The results are as brilliant and original as ever.

LINKS:
A Guy Called Gerald’s Web site
Label: Laboratory Instinct

*
For those unfamiliar with “Voodoo Ray” but perhaps on the indie film diet, you may know it as the soundtrack to a key moment in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, when the main character walks through the Hacienda dance floor and talks about the glorious arrival of Acid House — England’s ecstasy-fueled fusion of Chicago house music and Detroit techno in the late 1980s.


Weekly Playlist: Our Funky Electrons

Posted: October 7th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Breakbeat, Techno | No Comments »

With its roots in early ’80s electronic hip hop, “electro” took the European blueprints of Kraftwerk and injected Black America’s broken sense of time. Like floating lily-pads, its funky beats created a fantasy escape from ghetto despair. Over the ’90s the sound submerged again, taking on a more inward, angry energy. Always akin to the dance ethic of techno, electro was revived through the aquatic jams of Drexciya, the soulful grooves of Juan Atkins (Model 500, Infiniti), and the trippy experiments of European artists like The Advent, Air Liquide, Dopplereffekt and D’Arcangelo. What they pioneered together was an austere frontier of provocative thought.

This combination of stark drums and staccato riffs created a particular kind of outlaw psychedelia, one that shapes time through the perception of presence and space. This is the special, little-understood power of techno music. While the form provides equally fascinating uses of melody, its rhythmic psychedelia is what truly separates it from most other forms of music.

At its most extreme, its minimal, hard, sometimes metallic structures paint a cold, inhuman world that challenges the listener’s humanity. In the company of robots is how many techno producers and dancers have then envisioned this sound. But I’d say this is a false conception of what is truly happening. Instead, as with so many spheres of human activity, the dynamic, quickened pace of information through computers has simply allowed an almost liquid outflow of the human spirit. And inside the open spaces of funky electro techno, angling through its wicked stabs, we find its most renegade, pure expression. You can either be enslaved by it, or freed.

  1. Temple of Dos De Agua : Drexciya : Neptune’s Lair
  2. You Don’t Know : Drexciya : The Quest
  3. Maroon : The Suburban Knight : Interstellar Fugitives
  4. Bang Bang : Drexciya : The Quest
  5. The Flow : Model 500 : Deep Space
  6. Wave Jumper : Drexciya : The Quest
  7. Bubble Metropolis : Drexciya: The Quest
  8. Program Da Futur : The Advent : Brassik 12″ single
  9. Intensified Magnetron : Drexciya : The Quest
  10. Living in the Future : Freaky Chakra : The Blacklight Fantasy
  11. Robot Wars : Air Liquide : Robot Wars E.P.
  12. Postcard from the Future : Infiniti : Skynet
  13. Stasis : The Advent : New Beginnings
  14. Solina (The Ascension) : The Jedi Knights : New School Science
  15. Sinclair : D’Arcangelo : Shipwreck
  16. Fate In Us : D’Arcangelo : Shipwreck
  17. Interstellar Crime Report : Drexciya : Interstellar Fugitives