Saturday 31 October 2020

For The Archives

We return to a familiar format this week: tunes I've discovered along the way that I'm posting to remind myself to pick up some point soon (probably when the next Bandcamp Friday happens!). I initially thought that this post would be a bit thin on the ground, but it turns out that I forgot to wishlist a few things on Bandcamp so now it's looking a lot healthier. Let's get into it.

Richard Hamilton - Archive I (1981)

First up is something that I would have sworn was in my collection somewhere, but like so many other songs and LPs over time it never did. At the time it was the peak of me being into this kind of sound - between Bibio and the other Warp crew I had a real hankering for this kind of off kilter hip-hop. The album this is from, Lucky Shiner was Gold Panda's debut - and what a debut it was. You couldn't escape this song around then if the YouTube algorithm had even the slightest idea that you liked electronic music. I distinctly remember eventually biting the bullet and saying "oh, go on then" and giving it a listen and really liking it. So how does it hold up 10 years on? Well, I still like it that's for sure, but that itch I had back then for this sound isn't as prominent as it was. I don't mean that to be too negative though, as I said it's still a really neat track - part of me is really into that frantic sample triggering style. And now would be a good time to pick it up, as it's being re-issued for the 10th anniversary with a bunch of bonus tracks as well. Better late than never, eh?

For all my love of Modeselektor I am very much unfamiliar with a great deal of their output. I have vague memories of Art & Cash, the former track of the EP being some predictably pretentious synth unpleasantness. That doesn't excuse me never checking out the remixes though (though in my defence, there are lots and lots of them!). Enter the SBTRKT remix of Art & Cash, I've been thinking a lot about SBTRKT recently - (I was thinking of doing a Retro Review post on his debut mainly, an album that still sounds real fresh to my ears but I digress) and I realised I'd never heard this remix, so I gave it a spin. While certainly different to the sound of his debut, you can still find some distinctly SBTRKT hallmarks, Sampha on the vocals for one. It's an incredible remix, turning the rolling electro of the original Cash into a much more lighthearted 2-step Garage style. I am totally loving the 8-bit style warbles throughout this one, reminding me very much of Flying Lotus' Kill Your Co-Workers from around the same time in that aspect.

And finally, a tale as old as time. Yet another holdover that I discovered way back on Grooveshark(!) and have been meaning to check out ever since. Grooveshark's recommends sent me in the direction of a bunch of artists I might not have found otherwise, tucked away on Planet Mu (μ-Ziq's label, naturally) is an album by Skyler McGlothlin under their Nautilis alias - the rhythmically pleasing to say Are You An Axolotl.

I'm not familiar with Skyler's other work, but I can tell you I fall in love all over again whenever this track comes up - it appeals to that side of me that I always struggle to pin down a good way to describe, from those times where I would stay up far too late making weird animations and watching [adult swim] bumps (and jamming to their exceptional music choices for them). And that's actually a really apt comparison for this track, Why It Got To Be So Damn Tough would fit right in as a piece of bump music, (I haven't checked but it wouldn't surprise me if it already had been used as such) the combination of the simple guitar loop backed with beats and occasionally cut up and turntable-ised is practically the distilled formula for what they'd choose for the music. Reminding me a little of Benn Jordan's work as The Flashbulb, but with a more trip/hip-hop style, I think it's an absolutely stellar choice as an album closer.

I'm surprised how well this post flows together, normally when I make a post like this is can be a bit all over the place but these three play out togteher quite nicely. Posts may still be a bit thin on the ground going forward as IRL things continue to pick up, but I plan to restore some more old posts in the meantime as well. Blogger's had a facelift which makes should make parsing the code of those older posts much easier than before, in a pinch I may re-publish some as new posts as I did in the early days of lockdown so apologies in advance for any re-runs!

And as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Sunday 25 October 2020

The Great British Bonanza

Not going to lie, I didn't really have a plan this week, and I didn't want to leave you all with *nothing* for another week, so I decided to kinda cop-out a bit with some archiving I've been meaning to do anyway. Here is an old mixtape thing (and an idea I shamelessly stole from Bibio from 2013!); a whirlwind tour of the isles I call home - touching a whole host of genres along the way. It's not *strictly* electronic but only barely, before it goes all in on the Drum & Bass, ending in that gorgeous explosion that is Surface To Air. I believe I originally wanted this to be a more in-depth tour of genres of the UK (hence the big D&B part), touching on Garage, Trip-Hop and old school Rave and Hardcore. But that might be a bit beyond both my skill level and things in my collection! Perhaps another time. Full track list here:

Broadcast - I Found The F
Grape Digging Sharon Fruits - Man-Made Reservoir
Commix - Burn Out (Fade Away)
Goldie - Timeless (Inner City Life)
Omni Trio - Sanctuary
The Chemical Brothers - Surface To Air

A little light I know, but I'll try and be back next week with something a little more substantial - if you've never heard this mix I did (it was originally for the podcast), I hope you enjoy! And as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Sunday 18 October 2020

A Love Letter To Euphoria

It's about that time again where I get a bit self indulgent. This time, we're talking all things trance. I've never been too shy about my adoration of that particular blend of trance from the late 90's to early 2000's, but as you've seen with other genres I pretty much embrace it these days. And like those other genres I am fully aware that a) it's not for everyone and b) it can get pretty silly at times. But regardless, I'm going to try put into words what I love so much about it, so hear me out and hear some tunes won't you?

I sat and did some thinking about why I like trance so much in prep for this post. On a purely abstract level - I'm a sucker for a good breakdown, and Trance - especially the Euphoric variety - is explicitly based around massive breakdowns that all lead to that one big payoff. Enter one of the big names for this post: Lange. I've always liked some of his productions but recently they have been really hitting the spot. Take Follow Me for example, sure the vocal is pretty cliché a good 20 some years on but I'll be lying if I say that the build-ups don't get me a little excited each time. As far as trance tracks go, this one is pretty balanced - there are some where I feel like the return to the break is too sudden (intentionally so, so you get hyped for the next release) but Follow Me avoids that quite nicely, the structure makes the ebbs and flows feel really natural.

There's something very evocative about the language used in Trance as well, both amidst the corny nonsense and sometimes within it. I mean, take that poster at the top of this post for a of-the-era example. For a genre that is often written off and generic dancefloor productions, you can't deny that there is passion behind it. Agnelli & Nelson are also among the top artist I'd use as an example, this time we're avoiding the vocal cliché entirely with an instrumental number (though there are alternate mixes of this track with them if you're so inclined!). It would have actually probably been a better track to open the post with as I think it's fairly accessible - and even if I hadn't banished the term 'guilty pleasure' this tune would be far from it. It's a sentiment I say time and again when dealing with slightly older tracks but this one is a delicious trip back in time, though not as dated as some of its contemporaries.

And I suppose that 'of-the-era' feeling is something else that colours my love of trance. To get a bit philosophical and nostalgic for a minute - even though I was too young to actively participate in the scene of the time, I distinctly remember admiring the whole uniting aspect of Trance, the idea of folk coming together and just cutting completely loose really appealed to me. To the young idealist in me it was fantastic - this was the future! Amazing electronic music and groups of people united under its umbrella, we could achieve anything!

In hindsight most definitely a naïve and over-romanticised view, but I was young. Still, jaded though I am, that's not to say that the underlying concepts of togetherness (no doubt assisted by various substances) don't still stir something within me. Peak example of that being Lange's remix of Lost Witness' Happiness Happening, it comes closest to evoking that feeling I had back then even all these years later - "Everything will be perfect, tonight and forever", a sentiment that while trite in the world of trance, will occasionally really resonate with me. 3 minutes of build up to one of the greatest payoffs of any trance track in my collection, I could live in a fragment of that breakdown and drop combination for ever and ever.

And finally rounding out with something a little less 'Arena' euphoric in it's execution. I've gained a real fondness for the original mix of Y-Traxx's Mystery Land, it's often overshadowed by it's (admittedly a stonking tune in it's own right) twin sister, the Sickboy Courtyard Remix which is more in that Arena style I mentioned above. The original mix by contrast is very different from the trance tracks I've posted so far, and the deliciously MIDI piano stabs and arpeggios throughout are more akin to the retro House and Garage me and Adam used to talk about. But in spite of that it has potentially my favourite of the examples I've put up so far of that euphoric vibe - the intro build up is nothing short of divine (if a bit dated), the little cut up vocal thing before the actual drop is incredibly powerful.

That's the skinny on the kinda comfort tunes I've been playing with at the minute, as I said before IRL things are picking back up (so posts might be a little lacking compared to before) but nothing chases the stress away like pretending it's 1999 and I'm about to peak. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, and I don't know how butchered these tunes will be by the 30-second Spotify previews but if you like what you've heard seek out the full ones, as you've seen here there is a surprising amount of it available on streaming services, and in my experience the recommendations you get once you start are much more useful than with other genres!

And - as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Saturday 10 October 2020

Smokers Delight @ 25

You know, I haven't mentioned that one of my all time favourite albums - Nightmares On Wax's Smokers Delight was turning 25 this year. It's a bit of a sore spot actually, I was supposed to go see the album played front to back in my and NOW's mutual hometown, complete with a full orchestra. Naturally, like so many other things this year that didn't happen, but NOW has always been pretty active, and in lieu of that has released both a companion film to the album and an EP of the bonus tracks included on the 25th anniversary edition of Smokers Delight.

The film itself is an interesting watch, according to the press release I have it's inspired by one of George Evelyn’s (the NOW man himself) dreams. The summary is included in there too: the film follows Tiger, a friendly neighbourhood stoner happily stuck in a comfortable wake-and-bake routine. After he discovers that he may have unknowingly stepped through the doors of perception, he is forced to detective his way back to reality.

It's a fun little companion piece, pretty surreal but with plenty of humorous moments sprinkled throughout - the stoned conversations and philosophical ponderings 100% on point. If I had any complaints it's that I would have liked a track-by-track covering of the full album like Daft Punk's Interstella 5555 or Goldie's Sine Tempus but that's me just being an idealist, the songs that are used are put to great effect, even the random interlude from the album 'Time (To Listen)', fittingly with ticking clock. It was a nice injection of happiness in an otherwise tumultuous week, I couldn't help but grin when one of my favourites 'Pipes Honour kicked in, followed by some of the more comedic exchanges of dialogue. If you find 12 mins, give it a watch.

And just so I'm not leaving you with just that, I'm going to talk about my favourite and first of the bonus tracks from the companion EP and 25th anniversary edition. Aquaself is a gorgeous little slice of Smokers-esque sound. I have no idea if it's a forgotten B-Side or other scrapped demo, while it definitely has that Smokers Delight vibe, there's an overarching funkier feel that wouldn't be too out of place on NOW's later albums. The track itself is gorgeously clean, there's not a foot put wrong which makes the 6 minute runtime feel like half that. NOW's sample selections (assuming they are samples!) are as choice as ever, and the essence of this track is almost a distillation of the sound I love. if you've never heard NOW before and you like the track below, you're in for a real treat; all the albums from Smokers Delight forward are all in this vein, and at the very least in my opinion - Smokers Delight and the album following it, Carboot Soul are a must have for any downtempo fan.


Tuesday 6 October 2020

My Vision Is Augmented

It's been a while since I sat down and nerded out a bit about a soundtrack, so let's change that. Video Games were a very important avenue for a young me, being one of the few ways I could get exposure to electronic music both licensed artists and original works. Deus Ex was one of many influences on me at that time (and one of many that I would later credit with my love of Cyberpunk), and it's soundtrack is nigh perfect. Cue my surprise when I stumbled across this: Conspiravision: Deus Ex Remixed, headed by original OST composers Alexander Brandon and Michiel van den Bos. Let's have a look-see.

I must admit I had some doubts based on the cover art that it might be a complete synthwave fest. Not that I don't like the genre but I feel like it's a very tired 'cyberpunk' genre at the minute thanks in part to a certain other upcoming game. And I wish folk would explore a little bit more: industrial techno, electroclash, deep house, trance and more can be equally if not more befitting of the genre. But I digress, those doubts were put to rest a bit by the fact it was the original composers doing the mixing.

I dove right in with one of my all time favourites, the UNATCO theme. And Michiel's new treatment of it did not disappoint: the high-tech vibes of the original freed from the limitations of the tracker soundtrack of the game and extended out to a massive 10 minutes, though it certainly doesn't feel like it. The whole album is very sedate to start with, the first 4 tracks are all kind of in this vein which I am happy to see, Deus Ex's OST had plenty of pure ambience in it and it's nice to see that legacy preserved: here, it's a good 5+ minutes before elements of drums are introduced. I can see the slick production of this one turning some people off, and I can certainly see that as someone who's loved the artefacts of the technical limitations on the original, but I adore this rendition, albeit with me being admittedly slightly biased as it's one of my favourite OSTs of all time.

Continuing with another of my favourites, this time the NYC Streets theme. The original was incredibly atmospheric for Deus Ex's vision of a decrepit New York, and the remix here most definitely carries that torch also. Though it has a more... filmic edge to it, probably again due to the freeing from tech limitations and the good 20+ years of Brandon's experience in the meantime. Saying that, parts of it do give me pangs of nostalgia for 90's electronic - specifically the kind of chillout trance I've been digging into as of late, so I am very much into it. It's also not as completely desolate-sounding as the original theme either, there's certainly a more hopeful sound lingering in the background and it even briefly goes full synthwave complete with synth noodling around 3 minutes in.

Interesting one next, as Michiel remixes a track that was neither his nor Alexander's in the original, the BGM for the Paris nightclub. And the result is quite different from everything else so far, Fittingly for the club BGM, this strays from the more soundtrack-y elements so far, firmly planting itself in Drum & Bass territory. I really like the breakdowns here, they are also giving me real 90's trance vibes as mentioned previously, and as you should all know I have a colossal weakness for euphoria inspired breaks. It's a little short compared to the other tracks here but it certainly does a lot with it's limited runtime.

And to nerd out a bit for my final choice; Deus Ex had a (fairly simple by modern standards) dynamic music system - if you entered combat the track would seamlessly(ish) transition into a more uptempo version of the current theme, which means if you stealthed your way through the whole game there would have been tracks you never heard which I thought was neat. This is also why a lot of the soundtrack is fairly ambient, so this transition can happen. Anyway, it's good to see that Brandon and Bos haven't neglected those theme variations here, there are a couple sprinkled throughout the album but my favourite is yet again the UNATCO one. It strikes a nice balance between the all-out dancefloor vibes of the Paris club track and the soundtrack, Bos did a fantastic job of updating some of the more retro-sounding elements of the original while still keeping it identifiable - the whole thing sounds a lot more smoothed out, the MIDI-like stabs of the original swapped out with lush pads instead. It takes a little while to get going, but I love every bit of it once it does.

The whole album is pretty solid if you're at all familiar with the soundtrack, but I think my selections especially stand just as well on their own. I've skipped over a couple in this quick overview but be sure to check them out if you like what you've heard here, I'm very impressed with Brandon's remix and update of The Synapse, a fan favourite of the original OST that sounds very dated now. And as well, I'm more than happy to support Brandon after enjoying so much of his soundtrack work over the years, I realised off the heels of this that he has a bunch of solo album too. So as with many of my others posts I'm making a mental note to check them out in future too. As always - Stay safe and Enjoy the music.


Sunday 4 October 2020

October Relics

Hi there, as predicted things have been a bit all over the place. I'm going to try and sit down now and prepare some things for the coming week however, starting with yet another round of 'things I found on my drive when cleaning up that I thought were neat'. This time it's another 'Radio Claude' style mixtape - the idea of which I shamelessly stole from Miss Kittin (minus me doing slightly sultry spoken word over the top of parts of the mix). I say it every time one of these comes up but they are an interesting look at my 'listening to' of certain periods. This one's about a year old I think, and clearly I was on a bit of an 'IDM' kick (though when am I *not* on one?), there's a lot of familiars here: Squarepusher, Aphex Twin and other folks from Warp.

Again, the mix isn't perfect, I just put them together in a couple of afternoons. This one in particular I think I salvaged part of from a program crash (which is why the transition into the Global Goon track is a bit... sudden.) But at any rate, the content is good if you can forgive a bit of rough handling of them. Full tracklist after the player:

Aphex Twin - Yellow Calx
Modeselektor - Don't Panic
Autechre - Nine
Plaid - Ralome
Global Goon - Long Whiney
Squarepusher - Goodnight Jade

I'm in the process of writing another post straight after this one that I'll try schedule throgh the week, I have a couple of quiet patches so it should be easy to slot in somewhere if I don't finish it in one go. And finally, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.