Friday, June 12, 2009

Aphex Twin - Didgeridoo EP (1992)

Aphex Twin. Is there any more revered figure among both EDM fans and indie hipsters in all of dance music? He's invented genres (well, he's the only one in Drill ' N Bass, but still), sold millions of albums, and garnered rave reviews from basically everyone. But was his first steps into a more techno based sound in the early 90's any good?

First up, Didgeridoo is a great song, and is possibly the most unique piece of EDM I've ever heard. It draws heavily from the native music of the Aboriginal people of Australia, and adds a dash of modernism in the form of acid breaks and weird synth bird chirps to create a strange track that manages to be both dancable and ambient at the same time. How Aphex Twin got acid to imitate a didgeridoo is unreal, and it works to create a mystically menacing sonic soundscape that entrances.

Analogue Bubblebath is the complete opposite of Didgeridoo. It's far simpler, a mix of relaxing breaks and floating synths, evoking the scene of a sunny nautical journey, with horns sounding in the distance. Flaphead starts the inorganic techno that Twin would become famous for later on, throwing around some harsh beats and abrasive acid, but still somehow manages to stay interesting over seven minutes. Isoprophlex is basically the same thing, but worse.

Really, Aphex Twin tries really hard to make evil music, doesn't he? I think of lot of his later stuff comes off as second rate industrial beats. It's not awful, but please, get back to your early 90's stuff, Selected Ambient Works, Didgeridoo, Analogue Bubblebath, Polygon Window.

Now that my short rant is over, the Didgeridoo EP is still a good pickup, especially for the first two songs.

Here's a link to Didgeridoo:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

William Orbit - Strange Cargo (1987)

I seem to give glowing reviews of everything I cover here, so I thought I'd reach into my CD collection and pull out something I can't say I'm a huge fan of. William Orbit is his name, and the first in the Strange Cargo series is the unfortunate CD.

Strange Cargo is just so... dated. Sure, it was made in 1987, but that is not an excuse, when Ambient 1 sounds like it could be made today. The album does get off to a bright start, with Via Caliente's catchy spanish guitaring, but it's followed by the abomination of Fire and Mercy, with it's hideously awful drumming, keyboarding and electric guitaring. The start of Silent Signals regains some credibility and reveals Orbit is able to make passable ambient, but it too disintegrates into cliches. The rest of the songs just parade the same ideas out, except Out of the Ice, which amusingly steals the bassline from Blondie's Rapture, before doing absolutely nothing with it.

Strange Cargo is not a good album, in any way shape or form. The second in the series is barely any better either. Mr Orbit seems to be alright at making ambient, and good at producing, he should probably stick with those.

Here's a link to Via Caliente:

Tor Lundvall - Ice (1999)

Out of all of the different EDM genres, the one I think I've been listening to the most in the last few months is ambient. I enjoyed ambient before then, but recently I've developed a deeper understanding and passion for the genre as a whole. It really is one of the more immersive and profound genres of music, once you can appreciate the lack of readily accessable melodies and the free-flowing nature.

Tor Lundvall is apparently a painter that that only recently has entered the world of making music, and will hopefully continue to do so. Ice is a majestic album, an album full of interesting ideas. At a pinch, you could say this is loosely a dark ambient album, but it is so much more. It's a diverse array of styles, ranging from the Eno-esque opener Another Evening, to a tribal Roach-esque Nghtbow, to the almost Coldwave synth/vocals of Alone. All of the songs are bound by the concept of winter (hard to tell I know, judging by the title), and best of all, Ice manages to straddle the line of being dark without disintegrating into sounding like a horror movie soundtrack, much like the excellent Biosphere has been able to do. It's also an approapriate "starter" album for new ambient listeners, due to the short song lengths (19 in 60 minutes) and abundance of variance.

If you couldn't tell, I really think you should give Ice a listen. Unfortunately, the blog where I got it from (the fantastic MUTANT SOUNDS) no longer supplies a link to the album due to a request from Lundvall himself, strange considering Ice is long out of print and unavailable elsewhere. So unless someone asks me to upload a song on youtube or the like, you basically have little chance at all of getting Ice, barring a lucky find in a second-hand CD shop, which is a shame for such a quality release.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Superpumas - Muscles (2006)

House albums are notoriously patchy, and this is something not even the kings of house such as Daft Punk are immune to (sorry, but half of Homework is awful). But out of nowhere, Swedish duo Superpumas have released a consistent effort in Muscles.

Much of Muscles is a great blend of the retro aspects of synth pop and disco with the newer styles of funky house and electro into a neat danceable package. Towards the end, they get a little more experiemental with some breaks, organ and guitar, but it's nothing to ruin the flow of the rest of the album.

There are a few standout tracks. The title track Muscles is an alluring remix of Gradmaster Flash's The Message, repackaged into an electro house stormer, while Fading is a smooth deep house track with provocative vocals by Maria Kask

Muscles manages to straddle the line between complete cheese and being too serious very well, and I reccomend this album wholeheartedly, and await their next release.

Here's a link to Fading:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)

What can I say about Kraftwerk that hasn't already been said a millions times? They changed the way electronic music was viewed by the masses, and went on to influence everyone from synthpop (obviously), to hip hop ("Planet Rock"), to rock (Bowie and Iggy Pop are big fans), as well as mapping the way for trance, techno, house, ambient and basically EDM in general. But lots of 'early' influential albums are now either considered old hat, or just not that great to begin with.

Autobahn is not like that. At least not all of it is. Groundbreaking for several reasons, as one of the first charting albums with an overwhelming electronic base, as a futuristic concept album, and with the highly unique drumming used, Autobahn was a completely fresh sound. Whilst still retaining a sense of their Komische background (the Motorik beat towards the end of the song Autobahn is a treat), Kraftwerk, with their new Moogs and vocoders, pressed into the future with a bang.

And with the revving of a car, we are welcomed into Kraftwerk's concept of the future. Giant highways as far as the eye can see, surrounded by green hills and plateaus, it would be an ordinary lazy Sunday morning drive in our time. But it's.. more efficent. Something is controlling everything. While it is a pleasant experience, it feels somewhat artifical. And it isn't long before monotamy settles in. It's the start of Kraftwerk's fascination with the concept of technology, and how it will change the human experience.

What I neglected to mention is that Autobahn is a brilliant song, regardless of concept. The synth lines are melodically pleasing, the drumming intruiging, and quite honestly, any 22 minute song that can have me as rivetted as this one can for it's whole timespan is a work of genius.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album just doesn't hold up. Kometenmelodie 1 is just wank, a sort of dark ambient soundscape that is uninteresting bar a nice piano riff near the middle. Kometenmelodie 2 fares better as a more upbeat affair of the title track, before descending into dark ambient again with Mitternacht. The second half of Morgenspanziergang has a nice piano/double flute combo, but is nothing to write home about.

The title track makes this an essential purchase in my book, regardless of the quality of the other songs. Autobahn will rightly go down as a defining moment in the development of EDM, maybe THE defining moment. While Kraftwerk would go on to produce more consistently powerful music in later albums, Autobahn works as a sketch; of later dance music, and well as a society that may already be here today.

Here's a link to the heavily condensed sing version of Autobahn:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Biosphere - Microgravity (1992)

Biosphere is very well known in the EDM community for his later works Substrata and Shenzou, but I feel his debut album, Microgravity, is very close to the two more recent works in terms of style and presence.

The one thing that stands out about Microgravity is the mood it takes on, one of a sinistral beauty. Much like later albums, Biosphere creator Geir Jenssen weaves a natural sensibility with a slightly foreboding element, a stark intensity probably developed through his upbringing within the Artic Circle in Norway. The end product is a fusion of choral synths, sci-fi twirps and housey beats and basslines that engages, as well as unsettles.

In a way, Microgravity is a precursor to Board of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children. You can sense the nostalgia and contemplation, an air of lonely memories. The peak of these feelings emerge on the song Baby Interphase, which is one of the most innocuously evil sounding songs I have ever heard, a journey through a snowy forest at dusk, astray and consciousness of your situation, and like a being a lost child, everything around you is malevolent.

The rest of the songs aren't intended to stand out as individuals, but rather continue a tone. The Fairy Tale introduces a heavy beat, Cygnus-A provides a touch of pseudo-yodeling, and Biosphere provides a sedate end to the album.

It's rather sad that quite a lot of Biosphere's catalog, and specifically Microgravity, is hard to get a hold of and is usually quite expensive, but if you do happen upon a copy of Microgravity, you will be in for an aural treat.

Here's a link to Baby Interphase:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Enigma - MCMXC a.D. (1990)

Enigma's MCMXC a.D. was a huge hit worldwide, and along with Enya brought New Age into the mainstream. Is it worthy of the title King (or Queen) of New Age?

First, some of the negatives out of the way. It sounds dated. Very dated. Especially when you consider the amount of similar-sounding drivel it inspired. The drums are a major part of this, being very 80's-ish and artificial sounding, which is a shame. They also re-use the same drum loops a lot, which I'll get to later.

On the positive side, MCMXC a.D. is incredibly easy to listen to. It may sound silly, but I'm really sick of EDM artists, and especially ambient/downtempo/new age artists, thinking they need to use every single second of a CD. At a scant 40 minutes, MCMXC a.D. suits me.

And of course, all the songs are good. After the hilariously cheesy The Voice of Enigma, where we are told a bunch of meditation nonsense (I do know how to relax, thank you), the big single of the album emerges; Sadeness. Sadeness is nothing short of brilliant, a mix of eroticism and religion, with intertwining parts of mesmerising flute, Gregorian chants, evocative French vocals and even a hint of panting.

The rest of MCMXC a.D. is more of the same, just done a little differently. Callas Went Away has its piano and operatic wailing, Mea Culpa it's interesting guitar solo, and Knocking on the Forbidden Door it's wild animal cries.

Back to the Rivers of Belief is the other somewhat intriuging song, but it has exactly the same drums as the earlier Sadeness. Michael Cretu, head guy behind Enigma, provides vocals for the later part, and they surprisingly fit in well, but there is a heavy sense that this Belief is just a poorer version of Sadeness.

I enjoyed MCMXC a.D. enough that when I saw it cheap, I got it, but I wouldn't pay a lot. It's still by far the best New Age album I've heard, but really, there isn't a lot of competition, at least in my opinion.

Here's a link to Sadeness:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Salt Tank - ST 3 (1994)

Even though I'm a huge fan of Ibiza trance, it has to be one of the least diverse trance genres ever. I mean, it's a given, as it has to evoke feelings and memories of oceans, beaches and sea wildlife, or else it just isn't Ibiza trance. But still, more then half of Salt Tank's ST 3 is basically a remix of one song.

That song is a cracker though. Pacific Diva is one of the all time great trance songs. It transports you to the middle of the ocean, floating on the surface, hearing the distant cries of whales and other creatures, the beautiful and resonate strings, before morphing into a classic trance track for the last few minutes.

Sargasso Sea is the first remix of Pacific Diva, but enough has changed to make it a separate entity. We are now under the sea, I can feel the water pressure as I casually drift along, and can hear the seagulls talk, as well as my lulled heartbeat.

We finally see some diversity on Charged Up, where hard drums and drops of acid overcome a soft synth background. Clone is also a bit more upbeat, with some psy influences. Waimea Wilderness is a remix of Sargasso Sea, so in essence, a remix of a remix. It's passable, but honestly, I've already heard it before, and done much better.

Charged in Zion Canyon thankfully breaks to tedium with a mix of eccentric world beat and a groovy bassline. The album finishes with yet another remix of Pacific Diva, which is more like a shortening, called Eugina. You might as well relisten to Pacific Diva.

All up, Pacific Diva, Sargasso Sea, and Charged in Zion Canyon are all great songs, but the rest of the material on ST 3 is either a barely changed remix of a song already on the album, or not particularly good. And while Sargasso and Zion are good, I would recommend just trying to chase up Pacific Diva or Eugina elsewhere.

Here's the link to a shortened version of Eugina:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adam Freeland - The Hate EP (2007)

I do seem to recall making a statement earlier, speaking of my distain for noisy and abrasive techno. Well, that is exactly what Adam Freeland's The Hate EP is; harsh, metallic, and grating to the extreme. But it pulls it off so very well, in an impressive EP for the now well known Freeland.

The self-title Hate is an absolutely brilliant track, with its pumping beat and captivating rhythms that will lodge themselves in your head for days. Where's Our God Now reminds me of a more acidic version of Daft Punk's Robot Rock, with it's heavily distorted guitar riff and bass drums. Glowsticks adds a hint of glitch to the formula, before the EP thankfully ends before outstaying its welcome.

What makes The Hate EP appealing to someone like myself is the mixture of the catchy aspects of house and the jarry and scratchy elements of techno. Much like Akufen's My Way, it shouldn't work at all, but it does. Freeland manages to create melodies where there are none, and fills the holes with pounding drums to make something great.

Here's a link to the song Hate:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

808 State - Quadrastate EP (1989)

808 State are an interesting band. Acid house became a well known genre in the UK in the late 80's basically due to the constant playing of the song Pacific State on a popular radio station. Which is strange, because the version of Pacific State on their seminal Quadrastate EP doesn't actually any acid. Weird.

But what can you say about Pacific State that hasn't been said before. Its brilliance, its meshing of techno, rave, acid (the more well known version) and even proto-trance is unique. As is the fact that there is a saxophone riff that runs throughout, along with a natural ambienty undertone. This particular version of the song is much more drums and breaks heavy, with tinkling sound effects floating around as well. It is different to its more well known "remix", but is interesting enough to pull off what is sacrilege (having no acid).

The rest of the EP is a mixed bag. 106 is a short and intriguing song, which can only be termed as "jangly". State Ritual continues on where 106 left off, but with a softer sound and other chirps and twerps thrown in, as well as a good bass riff.

Disco State starts off the B-side well, with it's insanely catchy bassline, complimented with background synths and a small bit of acid. Fire Cracker finally gives us a big blob of acid (what, five songs into a six song EP?), as well as the subcontinental cries of an Asian persuasion. To close, State to State seems happy to re-remix 106 into another slower song, with more Asian cries.

As you can tell, there is actually little variation between the different songs on the Quadrastate EP, and this is a let down. Sure, Pacific State is a classic, but there are only really 3 1/2 ideas present here. Also, the EP is as dated as hell. There are lots of 80's cliches flying around, from the sometimes tinny drums and basses, to the plonky keyboards, to the very fact that I easily picture any one of these songs appearing in a late 80's/ early 90's video game.

And of course, there's the fact that this is apparently acid house, so where is the acid? Fire Cracker is fine, but there's barely any acid in any other song, but I guess that's the marketer's fault.

Don't let the negativity above fool you, the Quadrastate EP is still an extremely fun EP, but I would recommend picking up 808 State's later work, Utd. Pacific State, as it contains the better parts of this EP (Pacific State, Disco State), as well as a lot more variance, and a cleaner sound.

Here's a link to the Quadrastate EP version of Pacific State: