6. Aphex Twin – ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92′

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

Aphex Twin - 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92'

Aphex Twin * Selected Ambient Works 85-92 * 1993 * R&S Records

Aphex Twin, aka Richard D. James, is the court jester of electronica. But he wasn’t always the king of cyber clowns. His career started first with the romantic trills and earnest dreams of his debut full-length, Selected Ambient Works 85-92. In it, he presented soft twilit songs seemingly composed with the grace of a divine hand. Clearly on the face of it, here was an artist with melody deep in his bones. Even more inspiring was the sense of joy and freedom James betrayed in allying his sweet lines to oceanic beats and lulling bass patterns.

Compositions like ‘Xtal’ and ‘Tha’ pulsed to lub-dub rhythms, their gentle notes floating like virtual moths in a perfect dream-zone between trance and polyphony. ‘Ptolemy’ bumped to a call and response between synth lines that sounded like they were deep in a playful conversation under swaying palm trees. ‘Heliosphan’ and ‘Pulsewidth’ dropped the listener into whirlpools of bliss. And ‘We Are the Music Makers’ took a Willy Wonka voice sample and scrubbed it over sub-bass grooves, shimmering keys dancing over the rumble like a fleet of fireflies.

The famed avant-garde composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, once heard some of Aphex Twin’s early music and commented to The Wire magazine that James should stop fiddling with post-African rhythms and exercise his gifts within changing time signatures. He found the percussive ‘repetitiveness’ beneath him. James responded, “I thought he should listen to a couple of tracks of mine: ‘Didgeridoo,’ then he’d stop making abstract, random patterns you can’t dance to.”

It was a typical retort of Aphex Twin humor: ‘Digeridoo’ is Aphex Twin’s most devastating dance floor track, a 160-bpm blaze of warped genius. Stockhausen would have vomited on hearing it. But James was making a point about form and function. Ironically though, in some ways he seemed to embrace Stockhausen’s Euro-centric bias in subsequent works. Most of James’ later career has been marked by a severe adherence to hiccup breakbeats and fractured temporal flows.

Despite Stockhausen’s dismissals and still only in his twenties at the time, Selected made James an instant superstar. No doubt it helped him gain the respect of disparate artists like Philip GlassBrian Eno and Thom Yorke. A Japanese poet was so touched by his music that she had her Aphex Twin collection buried with her when she died. Aphex Twin arrangements have also been played by orchestras, from the London Sinfonietta to the New York ensemble Fireworks, who covered ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ — his first classic piece, co-written with Global Communication‘s Tom Middleton.

Even with all his antics and artistic excesses, one still suspects the Aphex Twin could write tranquil beauties in his sleep. Like leaves shaken from a branch, like his wicked jokes. He has given us glimpses with ‘Next Heap With,’ ‘Alberto Balsalm’ and ‘XMD 5a,’ but never in the span of a whole act like Selected. Maybe someday he’ll grace us again with another post-African love letter. Until then, his jester’s tears will always shine brightest here, in his first hypnotic jest.

1. Xtal
2. Tha
3. Pulsewidth
4. Ageispolis
5. i
6. Green Calx
7. Heliosphan
8. We Are the Music Makers
9. Schottkey 7th Path
10. Ptolemy
11. Hedphelym
12. Delphium
13. Actium

7. Boards of Canada – ‘Music Has the Right to Children’

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

Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children

Boards of Canada * Music Has the Right to Children * 1998 * Warp Records

Boards of Canada are not from Canada. They’re from Scotland. That was the first curious thing about the chill music of brothers Michael and Marcus Sandison. Far more mysterious though was their heartbreaking sound, an ingenious blend of crunchy, warped beats, moody flecks of funk, and warm analog synths carving sublime snowdrifts of memory and thought.

Adding to the mystique, the Sandisons were reclusive pastoralists. Unlike their electronic brethren, such as Autechre — whose label Skam Records gave them their first real break — they were not urban technologists. They lived in the Scottish countryside in the Pentland Hills, home of their Hexagon Sun studio.

Their music evoked the wildlife documentary films of their youth. The kind once projected in classrooms or broadcast on public TV: Visions of Yellowstone, the Rockies, owls and grizzly bears, tundras and streams. In fact, Boards of Canada derived their name from the National Film Board of Canada, whose nature films and music scores of the ’70s were a major inspiration. But while their music channeled the outdoors, it also evoked the once mystic power of analog technologies, from the radio to the cathode-ray TV set, from the turntable to the tape recorder — the scratchy sound of vinyl records, the electronic music themes of broadcast networks, and old family Polaroids.

Pushing against the digital tide of the ’90s, Boards of Canada crafted the ultimate monument to that analog childhood with the groundbreaking album, Music Has the Right to Children. While it paid homage to old synthesizers, it placed their imaginings within a tangible landscape, a vaguely northern, Arctic frontier. Their name and artwork played to this notion while the music itself sounded like bright little campfires in an audio wilderness.

Short cinematic interludes like ‘Triangles & Rhombuses,’ ‘Kaini Industries’ and ‘Bocuma’ were flashes of perfection, aurora melodies billowing on a dream horizon. Child laughter buoyed chill-out anthem ‘Aquarius’ while ‘Telephasic Workshop’ brooded in a cloud of lightening. ‘Pete Standing Alone’ and ‘An Eagle In Your Mind’ captured the majestic solitude of nature’s hinterlands. And closer ‘Happy Cycling’ spun into sweet delirium like a slow tornado of birds.

But it was ‘ROYGBIV’ that crystallized their aesthetic best. It was a kaleidoscope of wonder, its rainbow melody rising up over a playground of broken beats and shimmering keys, a nostalgic crush of whimsy and melancholy that deepened and sustained its strains of fleeting innocence.

Other than Daft Punk, there may be no other electronica group that has influenced rockers more. Like those savvy Frenchmen, the Sandisons have openly drawn on the mainstream culture of the ’70s and ’80s. It has been these recognizable sign-posts that have brought outsiders into the electronica fold. And yet there is something incredibly quiet and eerie about Boards of Canada’s music. It has none of the cheer of alloyed pop.

But is it just a beautiful soundtrack for a camping trip of the soul? Or is there a grander gesture at play? If there is a larger message behind the album, its title and artwork suggest it’s a pluralistic one: Everyone has a stake in music.

In this sense, listening to Music Has the Right to Children is like inspecting your own childhood film strip against sunlight, or resurrecting old home movies with a refurbished projector. In each case, light is the only thing missing to transform the past into a new kind of now.

When watching Boards of Canada’s private psychedelic reel, that light is you. It’s your life that makes the picture. That’s your right. That’s your music.

1. Wildlife Analysis
2. An Eagle In Your Mind
3. The Color of the Fire
4. Telephasic Workshop
5. Triangles & Rhombuses
6. Sixtyten
7. Turquoise Hexagon Sun
8. Kaini Industries
9. Bocuma
11. Rue the Whirl
12. Aquarius
13. Olson
14. Pete Standing Alone
15. Smokes Quantity
16. Open the Light
17. One Very Important Thought
18. Happy Cycling

8. The Black Dog – ‘The Temple of Transparent Balls’

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

Black Dog - Temple of Transparent Balls

The Black Dog * Temple of Transparent Balls * 1993 * GPR

The Black Dog was one of the first ‘intelligent dance music’ outfits to carry the Warp Records banner. Celebrated in the press and adored by Bjork, The Black Dog was a three-man effort: Ken Downie, an ex-Naval radio operator, and b-boys Andy Turner and Ed Handley, who later formed Plaid on their own. The three released several groundbreaking EPs in the early ’90s (later collected on 2007′s Book of Dogma).

In 1993, the trio released their two best albums, Bytes on Warp, and Temple of Transparent Balls on GPR. The second effort took more chances and is more coherent, recorded during an extended stay in Belgium. It’s filled with tinker toy melodies and drunken electronics, at times astray in a sad metropolis or jumping for joy in a sonic junkyard of the future.

The Black Dog was an odd complex of worldviews, fusing ‘bleep’ techno with dub and hip hop sensibilities. Temple compressed those influences into a sonic gemstone. “From the opening digital skank of ‘Cost I’ to the closing circuit board tears on ‘The Crete That Crete Made,’” critic Peter McIntyre wrote, it “took every single strand of modern music, mixed it all up and produced something that sounded like nothing else on the planet.”

Tracks like ’4, 7, 8′ and ‘Sharp Shooting on Saturn’ swayed like marionettes to delirious melodies. ‘Jupiter’ revved like a possessed motor, a bumper car ride through an eye-popping bubble city. ‘Mango’ followed a similar line, this time freaking to Latin rhythms and ragtime keys — a frenetic jam session in a video game jungle. Serious numbers like ‘Cost II’ and ‘In the Light of the Grey’ glided through darker environs, at once quirky and moody, while ‘The Crete That Crete Made’ was a lullaby for robots.

The Black Dog was always mercurial in its experiments, an upside down world of zero gravity fantasies. Later productions would prove consistently powerful in their delicateness. But nothing they did before or after, together or apart, quite matched the feverish games in the Temple of Transparent Balls. Step inside, and find yourself break-dancing in an astronaut’s dream.

1. Cost I
2. Cost II
3. 4, 7, 8
4. The Actor and Audience
5. Jupiter
6. Kings of Sparta
7. Sharp Shooting on Saturn
8. Mango
9. Cycle
10. In the Light of Grey
11. The Crete That Crete Made

9. Daft Punk – ‘Homework’

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

Daft Punk - 'Homework'

Daft Punk * Homework * 1996 * Soma / Virgin

Parisian-born duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo have been friends since meeting in school in 1987. Fans of The Beach BoysT. Rex and FM radio hits of the ’70s and ’80s, they packed a wealth of tacky influences into some of the most devastating music of the last 20 years. And it began with Homework, a distinctive mash-up of electro beats, hard techno and disco house that tapped into our collective unconscious of old school funk.

“We wanted to make something for people to listen to in their bedrooms,” Daft Punk once said of their first album. “Maybe if they have homework to do. Or want to relax.” This is a tidy definition of Homework, but it’s also a classic bit of French irony — the art of meaning the opposite while sincerely meaning the literal at the same time.

Homework was simultaneously tough and sweet, ranging from hypnotic dance workouts to washing machine grooves. ‘Daftendirekt,’ ‘WDPK 83.7 FM’ and ‘Revolution 909′ kicked things off magnificently, from rumbling, churning, beastly funk, to the sweet refrain of “musique,” to a banging house club being crashed by party-pooping cops.

Breakout single ‘Da Funk’ whipped through snarling riffs while the global hit ‘Around the World’ circled to a happy melody walking with sprightly feet. Quieter moments like ‘Fresh’ with its cooing electric guitar betrayed not only a hint of melancholy but a versatility of style and mood. And far from being arrogant, ‘Teachers’ gave shout-outs to influences as disparate as George ClintonBrian WilsonJeff MillsGreen VelvetDJ Hell and Dr. Dre.

But it was techno monsters like the screeching ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’ that made Homework an uncompromising fist in the air. Closer ‘Alive’ was an anarchic anthem for the ages, music that would scare kiddies and alarm parents of any generation. It’s a slamming trip to the Beyond, shuddering with a primal force that blows down the walls of perceived reality, burning at the core of a deeper dimension.

In classic Daft Punk fashion, the duo took their name from a Melody Maker review of their first single, a cover of The Beach Boys’ ‘Darlin,’’ which dismissed their music as “daft punk.” Turning the criticism on its head, the pair headed back to the drawing board with a perfectly self-effacing name. Ever wary of the spotlight, they wore animal masks and robot suits to outsmart pop fascism.

There’s a pattern here. Daft Punk have been consistently underestimated by critics and fans alike. In 2001, XLR8R magazine ran a long screed against Daft Punk’s Discovery album, bemoaning its corrupting pop influences. They couldn’t see past that same sincere French irony, the album’s embrace of over-the-top guitar solos and bubble-gum hooks. Upon careful listen, it was yet another supreme manifesto that went on to influence artists across the globe.

Now more than ten years after their first album, Bangalter and De Homem Christo find themselves at the vanguard of electronica. They’re also the biggest French music export since Edith Piaf and Claude Debussy. And in just one decade, they’ve influenced everyone from LCD Soundsystem and Justice to Madonna and Kanye West.

That’s the genius at the heart of Daft Punk. What at first seems like homework is tomorrow’s old school — avant garde funk masquerading as infectious party music for the masses.

1. Daftendirekt
2. WDPK 83.7 FM
3. Revolution 909
4. Da Funk
5. Phoenix
6. Fresh
7. Around the World
8. Rollin’ & Scratchin’
9. Teachers
10. High Fidelity
11. Rock’n Roll
12. Oh Yeah
13. Burnin’
14. Indo Silver Club
15. Alive
16. Funk Ad

10. Ismistik – ‘Remain’

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

Ismistik - Remain

Ismistik * Remain * 1994 * DJAX

The quiet masterpiece of Norway’s Bjorn Torske and Mette Brundtland, Ismistik’s Remain is a bittersweet, dreamy record. It sounds like it was literally handcrafted, gentle care put into every electronic note and beat. So that decades later, its delicate beauty still glows with a numinous light that renews mind and spirit.

As music critic Tim Barr once declared, Remain was the sound of a group “surfing romantic moods, experimentalism and pure electronic genius.”

At the heart of that sound was a longing from the outer limits of humanity. Ismistik hailed from the small harbor city of Tromso, which sits in the northern reaches of Norway, inside the Arctic circle and in the middle of the aurora borealis zone. It’s a magical but harsh setting. In summertime, the days are long and beautiful with a deep blue ocean glittering under snowcapped mountains. Flowers and animals creak into colorful activity after long slumbers. From May to July, the midnight sun never sets.

But in winter, Tromso is shrouded in cold darkness as the polar night extends from October to March. With the stars bright, this “Detroit of the north” turns into a frontier settlement at Earth’s edge, its boats sputtering off in the distance like spaceships. The mystic show of the northern lights limns the sky with curtains of green, red and purple, electrons dancing in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Remain refracted all of these natural phenomena. It perfectly captured the native yearnings of Tromso’s electronic scene — which included Royksopp‘s Torbjorn Brundtland, Biosphere‘s Geir Jenssen and Mental Overdrive‘s Per Martinsen — as well as the global idealism of the time. The delicate ‘Absence’ falls like a ghost of an avalanche in slow motion. ‘Orange Peel’ and ‘Woodvibe’ chirp with melodies fine as sunshine creeping through a morning mountain cloud. And the understated ‘Bulb’ is hands down one of the most beautiful electronica compositions ever written, surfing on heartache and determined optimism.

Released in a golden year for electronica, 1994, Remain‘s remote milieu in the Arctic climes of northern Scandinavia muted its international impact. Subsequent releases by Torske under his own name took on a sunnier flavor, the northern lights of his hometown increasingly faint in his grooving chords. Which makes the singular brilliance of his debut album with Brundtland all the more wistful.

Made at a time when electronic music was reaching every remote outpost of humanity, Remain‘s simultaneous appeal and obscurity remains a poetic testament to the power of Ismistik’s romantic wonder. It’s the little album that could. And it still gives those who know it, big, awesome chills.

1. Absence
2. Woodvibe
3. Orange Peel
4. Running Water
5. Cassis
6. Daybreak
7. Bulb
8. Tortoise Thoughts
9. Phidou
10. Flowcharts Remade
11. Cycling

11. Speedy J – ‘G Spot’

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

Speedy J - G Spot

Speedy J * G Spot * 1995 * Warp

Jochem Paap’s sleek G Spot hums with a motor built to last through the next millennium. Composed during several months of recovery from life-threatening glandular fever, it’s a deeply thoughtful album pumping with industrial-strength muscle. And while Speedy J‘s Public Energy No. 1 got more recognition because of its glitchy innovations, in retrospect G Spot is his most stirring work. ‘Ping Pong,’ ‘The Oil Zone’ and ‘G Spot’ are the finest entrancers techno has ever had to offer.

Paap grew up in the busy port city of Rotterdam, Holland. As a precocious hip hop DJ with legendary skills, he earned the name Speedy J early on in his career. In the ’90s he discovered techno and never looked back, signing onto Richie Hawtin’s Plus 8 label and England’s Warp Records. His first album, Ginger, displayed a knack for spacious grooves screwed tightly to dramatic switches in compressed tone and design.

“I work from graphic ideas,” Paap told MONDO Magazine in 1997, sounding like a Dutch painting master. “I don’t work from music. I don’t get melodies or tunes in my head. If I hear a sound, I don’t remember it from the way it sounds, but by the way it looks.”

G Spot took those instincts to the next level while remaining firmly on the dance floor. Trance classic ‘Ping Pong’ slings to an inventive interplay between wide-as-sky bass and what sounds like a plastic ball bouncing back and forth through an air tube. ‘The Oil Zone’ slinks with craning industrial beats and rising gaseous synths that call to mind the image of a self-replicating robot factory on Mars. And the titanic ‘G Spot’ blazes like a G-force dogfight high in the sky, its electric storm of sparkling explosions rippling through the atmosphere.

G Spot‘s sexual connotations fit the album in one very important sense. It’s a sci-fi trip that consistently widens the eyes and sends shivers up and down the spine. But just as much as it taps into the senses, it works out the brain. It’s a devastating mix, and all the more powerful because years later, it still gleams as the state-of-the-art.

1. The Fun Equations
2. Ping Pong
3. Fill 25
4. Lanzarote
5. Extruma
6. The Oil Zone
7. Treatments
8. Fill 17
9. G Spot
10. Grogno

12. Leftfield – ‘Leftism’

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

Leftfield - 'Leftism'

Leftfield * Leftism * 1995 * Sony/Columbia/Hard Hands

Leftfield‘s Leftism is THE rave album of the ’90s, voted by many as the best dance album of all time. In crude terms, it’s about speakers — loud and clear. That’s not a cliche for its own sake. Neil Barnes and Paul Daley’s debut longplayer is an enduring manifesto about the unique power of electronic music pumped through big, high-performance audio systems: Electronica is best played loud and best at sounding clear.

“Hit in the chest and the gut,” Daley once told Mixmag of their bass ethos. “When me and Neil were at warehouse parties all the systems were like that, so we took that as a marker. We come from a world where bass was the most powerful thing and everything followed on from it.”

At Leftfield’s very first live show in Amsterdam, the Dutch police almost arrested their soundman for pumping the volume to near illegal levels. At the Brixton Academy theatre in London, their sound system caused dust and plaster to fall from the ceiling, effectively banning them from the venue. Wearing that infamy proudly, Leftism‘s cover art framed a speaker in shark’s jaws. Photos inside the sleeve show Daley and Barnes sitting before a giant stack of bass bins and tweeters, audiophiles bringing major firepower to the 20th Century powwow.

But Leftfield weren’t just bass savants. They perceived lower tones as the equal player in music’s overall dynamism. “If there’s too much bass, the groove becomes too wide and the needle pops out,” Barnes once explained in a tutorial about bass and vinyl records. “You have a trade-off of either compressing something and making it really loud or having the sound you want. But if you turn it up, your bass gets louder and washier and the grooves basically start to collide. Technically there’s no way round it.”

Barnes, an old mate of the Sex Pistol’s John Lydon and an ex-teacher, first teamed up with Daley, a friend who drummed for the Brand New Heavies, on a remix of ‘Not Forgotten.’ Barnes originally penned the progressive house anthem alone, its evocative call-and-response melodies reminiscent of crying geese in the morning and its “What’s wrong with these people?” voice sample taken from the movie Mississippi Burning. But the duo’s ‘Hard Hands’ remix of the single redrew the template of UK dance music overnight, it’s rumbling bass and reggae breakbeats echoing down through the underground.

By the time Leftism was hitting DJ decks, Barnes and Daley were at the vanguard of UK’s mid-’90s techno surge. The classic album track ‘Song of Life’ is Leftism in miniature. It hacks through the electronic night-scape, languishing to dubbed-out beats and haunting vocals before launching through a quickening pulse of dance floor ecstasy. ‘Inspection (Check One)’ still reigns as the hardest, baddest reggae electronica track of all time, ploughing the cranium at 33 RPMs or slamming the hills at a switched-up 44 RPMs on the turntables.

One of the first techno supergroups to successfully marry guest vocalists with electronica, Leftfield’s Leftism features Earl Sixteen on the uplifting ‘Release the Pressure’ and Curve’s Toni Halliday on ‘Original’ — with a remix single featuring another 33/44 RPM breakbeat scorcher with ‘Original Jam.’ Neil Cole as “Djum Djum” wigs out with African jibberish and twanging berimbau riffs on the driving ‘Afro-Left’ — another remix single featuring the mighty ‘Afro-Ride,’ ‘Afro-Sol’ and ‘Afro-Central.’

Leftfield’s most successful track ‘Open Up,’ featuring the “Burn, Hollywood, burn!” wailings of Lydon, would reach #13  on the charts, helping push the album to #3 in England. “It was gutsy, spunky and energetic; everything that punk had been and which the rock press largely accused dance music of lacking,” wrote critic Peter Buckley. “It was the biggest two-fingered salute dance music had yet administered.”

But the punk attitude also masked a softer, more sensitive side of Leftfield. The ambient groove of ‘Melt’ calls to mind the saxophonic romanticism of Vangelis while dipping the listener in an ocean brimming high as the clouds. And closer ’21st Century Poem,’ featuring the rhyming lyricism of poet Lemn Sissay, wears its rave heart on its sleeves, a call to conscience for every would-be global idealist awakened on the ’90s dance floor.

In some ways, Leftfield was a victim of Leftism‘s success. It would take them years to produce their second and last album, the underrated and tougher Rhythm and Stealth. Daley once complained to Lotus magazine that he couldn’t escape the first album, as it was played in cafes and retail stores throughout Europe.

The perfectionism that drove Leftfield and led to the demise of their output, left an indelible mark on global youth culture. Still rated as one of the top albums of all time by publications like Q Magazine, Leftism is a towering mountain in the electronica landscape. Not all of it has aged well. And many music fans have never ventured near it.

But its fealty to the cult of bass remains a clear signal to anyone who has wavered or missed loud speakers channeling hidden dimensions in sound.

For that reason alone, Leftfield is never forgotten. And neither is their world.

1. Release the Pressure
2. Afro-Left
3. Melt
4. Song of Life
5. Original
6. Black Flute
7. Space Shanty
8. Inspection (Check One)
9. Storm 3000
10. Open Up
11. 21st Century Poem

13. The KLF – ‘Chill Out’

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

KLF - 'Chill Out'

The KLF * Chill Out * 1990 * KLF Communications / Wax Trax!

The KLF (or Kopyright Liberation Front) were the ultimate rebel act. Post-punk pranksters, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond gleefully tweaked all corporate expectations of their insanely popular sound. They took the anarchic punk ethic far beyond its rock origins, embracing dance rhythms and prog rock, ripping off samples in broad daylight and often getting away with it.

Their exploits are legendary. Performing at England’s Helter Skelter rave in outdoor Oxfordshire in 1989, they demanded their pay upfront and then showered the crowd with one-pound notes, each scribbled with ‘Children we love you.’ Voted the Best British Group by BPI‘s annual BRIT Awards in 1992, they fired blanks at the audience of a London awards ceremony and delivered a sheep carcass and eight gallons of blood to the hotel lobby of the after-party. And in 1994, they reportedly made the largest cash withdrawal in UK history, nailing 1,000,000 pounds to a board. They then burned their ‘Nailed to the Wall‘ art piece and its massive cash sum on the island of Jura, in the presence of a journalist and cameraman.

But their controversial pranks were earned. The KLF are best known for their ‘Stadium House Trilogy,’ three ridiculously fun dance anthems that smashed the pop charts in 1990 and 1991: ‘What Time Is Love?, ’3 A.M. Eternal’ and ‘Last Train to Trancentral.’ But the album these singles are featured on, The White Room, is not their masterpiece.

Before their breakout success, Cauty and Drummond recorded the classic Chill Out, THE ambient manifesto of the ’90s. It was the blueprint for all chill out albums that followed, especially The Orb‘s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, which Cauty would help kick-start.

Based on travelogue recordings from a road trip along North America’s Gulf Coast — including birds, trains and radio news of a deadly drag race — Chill Out channeled everything from Elvis Presley and country music to Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. Recorded live, it eases the listener into a swamp of fussy and serene sounds, all adhering to a hidden logic frequented by flashes of intense revelation.

Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ and 808 State‘s ‘Pacific State’ mingle on ‘The Lights of Baton Rouge Pass By’ while the steel guitar strums of ‘Madrugada Eterna’ map a lonesome inner bliss amid freight trains. And ‘Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard’ builds to the joyful symphonic refrains of their later hit ‘Last Train to Trancentral,’ sounding like acid house casked in the Deep South.

But what makes Chill Out such a timeless album is Cauty and Drummond’s flawless instincts for mayhem and peace. They mellow you out and wake you up at the same time. And their wicked sense of humor and wide-eyed experimentation buoy a world-weary melancholy that suffuses the whole affair.

In 1992, The KLF voluntarily bowed out of the pop limelight. Despite subsequent projects and one-offs, they mostly stayed silent on the music front. But their subversive acts continued. In 1996, for example, Cauty faced a lawsuit from a farmer who claimed Cauty’s outdoor sound experiments were so loud they traumatized his cows. Cauty was apparently testing a custom-built “audio weapon system.”

Which goes to show once again, while Chill Out aims to soothe, the chaps behind it were anything but chill in the head. Feverish and earnest, The KLF never compromised. And they never failed to astound.

1. Brownsville Turnaround on the Tex-Mex Border
2. Pulling Out of Ricardo and the Dusk Is Falling Fast
3. Six Hours to Louisiana, Black Coffee Going Cold
4. Dream Time in Lake Jackson
5. Madrugada Eterna
6. Justified and Ancient Seems a Long Time Ago
7. Elvis on the Radio, Steel Guitar in My Soul
8. 3AM Somewhere Out of Beaumont
9. Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard
10. Trancentral Lost in My Mind
11. The Lights of Baton Rouge Pass By
12. A Melody from a Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back
13. Rock Radio Into the Nineties and Beyond
14. Alone Again with the Dawn Coming Up

14. The Chemical Brothers – ‘Exit Planet Dust’

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

The Chemical Brothers - 'Exit Planet Dust'

The Chemical Brothers * Exit Planet Dust * 1995 * Astralwerks

Exit Planet Dust was the beginning of an unlikely journey. The Chemical Brothers‘ earliest fans originally mistook the English duo, who looked more like they were from Milwaukee than hip London, for the Los Angeles-based producers The Dust Brothers. Ed Simmons and Tom Rowlands had originally used “The Dust Brothers” moniker as a tribute to their LA-based heroes, who had produced the seminal Beastie Boys album, Paul’s Boutique. They switched their name when the real deal threatened to sue.

But Simmons and Rowlands had a much bigger mark to make. Their early singles exploded on dance floors across the globe. ‘Song to the Siren’ was their first breakthrough, a pound cake of Run DMC-inspired beats and heady acid tweaks. But it was ‘Chemical Beats’ that really tore the roof off. It was a reach-for-the sky blast of scratching acid squiggles, pinpoint cow bells and stadium crowd dynamics, tossing everyone over the moon. What was evident from the start was their knack for concocting rocking beats with technological precision. The meticulous placement of a softer bass pulse as a backbeat on ‘Chemical Beats’ is a prime example — the resulting call-and-response between the main bass drop and the subtler note creates a deeper sense of space and intimacy. It’s a dimensional nudge that tucks you right into the pocket of the groove.

Tapping into this raw energy, Exit Planet Dust put everyone in the driver’s seat. Its starter ‘Leave Home’ zooms, slides and howls, hooking listeners with its motor funk. ‘In Dust We Trust’ continues the rock guitar grinds, chunky beats adding meat to the psychedelic romp. ‘Song to the Siren’ and ‘Chemical Beats’ make devastating cameos while ‘Three Little Birdies Down Beats’ wields an ax of acid glory. But the Chemicals also had a sweet side. The instrumental ‘Chico’s Groove’ and ‘One Too Many Mornings’ use haunting chords and uplifting rhythms to cast spells of catharsis. The defiant ‘Life Is Sweet’ features vocals by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, the first of many rock collaborations that would include the likes of Noel GallagherWayne Coyne and Richard Ashcroft. And ‘Alive Alone’ reveals a softer songwriting bent, featuring vocalist Beth Orton, who would appear again on subsequent albums.

The British music press derisively labeled the Chemical’s breakbeat techno as ‘Big Beat,’ easily the stupidest name possible for their groundbreaking sound. But in America, few ravers cared about the politics of the London music scene, and immediately heard kindred spirits in the Chemicals. A Pacific wave was already moving in California, where producers like UberzoneBassbin Twins and The Crystal Method were filling in the blanks.

Given the Chemicals’ impressive career, that enthusiasm was right on the money. There would be plenty of fireworks down the road. But Dust was that first rush of hitting the accelerator, a turbo-charged beginning to a long and strange trip of sonic alchemy.

1. Leave Home
2. In Dust We Trust
3. Song to the Siren
4. Three Little Birdies Down Beats
5. Fuck Up Beats
6. Chemical Beats
7. Chico’s Groove
8. One Two Many Mornings
9. Life Is Sweet
10. Playground to a Wedgeless Firm
11. Alive Alone

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