Less Trip-Hop, More Acoustic

There have been major pitfalls in a band's career when they change directions after their debut, disembarking the very thing they were known for something entirely different. The Sneaker Pimps' sophomore album Splinter ditched the trippy-exotic tinged female vocals of Kelli Dayton (performs under Kelli Ali now) and move forward with their founding members Chris Corner and Liam Howe, where Corner took the voice of the band. Splinter doesn't entirely shift into unknown territory for a once-tagged trip-hop band, as Archive's sensational debut Londinium changed their sound completely on their 2nd effort, while it may have been a step down for that band - The Sneaker Pimps show promise.

If there's one thing that can be concentrated for any trip-hop band is generally the more successful groups tread within a dark atmosphere, imploring a foothold within the listener with their sound. Howe and Corner's use from Becoming X to Splinter isn't entirely earth-shattering in terms of their movement from their '96 release. Their debut showed the gloomy side of things in songs like "Low Place Like Home" or "Tesko Suicide", but Splinter alters its sound at the forefront. Acoustic instrumentation is key on Splinter, but the electronic needle is still very much in the vein of the music. A clear touchstone for the band's previous work starts predictably and enjoyably on "Superbug", but does it not feel out of place? A tad I'd say, but its electronic reliance is toned down as Corner charges on the track.

You know how you realize that an album may be too long for its own good? Well Splinter has points in its listing to prove my point. "Flowering and Silence" may have a well-developed beat, but clearly the lack of bass is hurting, if not boring me too death as Corner tries to hold out the song on piano keys and tiresome drum cycles. I'm bit overly harsh, but once Splinter sinks its teeth into you with "Half Life" and "Low Five", which use violins, piano, and an ever-increasing dark, yet energetic mood that is pushed through with Corner, it eventually becomes such a low point thinking you're hearing it as a repeat in the middle of the album. While other songs seem to teeter on its electronic influences and the band's new direction with an acoustic guitar in "Splinter" it may seem a bit overdone on this 14-track ride.

Corner's vocal work is exceptional considering this would be his first endeavor in the forefront, something he hasn't put down since taking the helm here. And while I come back to my point of the tiresome formula that may be crawling its way back into the middle of the album, it sticks with the band here and there. "Cute Sushi Lunches" is unfortunately brought down by its previous track. Its constant pauses between musical flow and Corner's brooding voice isn't as good as one would expect. Splinter shows its weakness in that its vocals aren't average or mediocre in any way, but with a mostly solid to excellent instrumentation from acoustics to synthesizers, Corner becomes the problem, it may just feel monotonous for some and unfortunately for most by the end of Splinter you may feel yourself a bit worn-out.

Grade: B-


The Stalker and His Desire

What do you get when you have two juggernaut artists, who not only pump out excellent albums within a year of each other consistently, and are on top of their respected "niche" in ambient decide to work together? The answer is a qualitatively dark album with absence of light with Stalker, an eerily grief-stricken journey within the desires of one man.

The album influence is based off the film with the same name, which was directed by legendary Andrei Tarkovsky. Much like Tarvosky's work, Stalker shifts from illusions of the mind, inner-most desires, and paranoia - something that makes this concept very attractive for ambient listeners.

The menacing noise that spews from downright annoyance to general harmony in "Elemental Trigger" is creepy. Slow, dimmed whispers in your ear move in swirls while the progression of the music pushes the tone ever so slightly, mixing various distractions and illusionary ambience in its way. This is where Rich and Lustmord begin the journey into "The Zone", a forbidden area described in Tarkovsky film where a man can bring his inner-most desires to life if they should reach a magical spot called "The Room". The stretch from reality to idealism is what should be brought to the forefront when discussing this piece of music.

What is clear with this collaboration is their clear reliance on each other's strengths. Lustmord's uncanny magic as a dark ambient conjurer is easily placed within the framework of Stalker, but you realize delving into the album that Rich's rather light, harmonic, free-form influences as a ambient artist have melded with Lustmord's dark menacing and all-time vexing sound that only elevate this album's quality. Stalker may seems like an all-together fine dark ambient album, but its ties with the film give a clear visual perception to what they're trying to accomplish, something that helps immensely as you try to picture where this "anxious man's" perceptions of reality, spiraling paranoia, and lust for what he wants is placed with each track. And it clearly isn't hard to guess.

"Synergistic Perceptions" uses its low tone and scaling background to provide something of a reminder to the listener of ongoing conflicts when many observations are discovered one can handle in any moment. "Synergistic" is simple terms is the whole is greater than the sum of all the individual parts. Could these men have seen something so inconspicuous that he doesn't necessarily understand what it means? Maybe I'm just rambling over bull***, but it seems that more and more listens Stalker receives the more questions I keep asking myself.

A lucid interlacing of these two ambient musicians comes in clear focus on "Delusional Fields", the first half is dominated by the passive meandering darkness and is shifted towards Rich's musical strengths. Essentially it progresses without any hindrance, which is what Stalker is great at - the development of a clear, functional, ever-growing sound, yet aptly moving at a perfect pace.

It could just be all a delusion after all, what makes something real? Is it our own pre-conceived reality that does or can it be shattered by one string of incidents? I'm not sure the mind can truly understand something that complex (for these purposes let's say it does), which would probably would lead to insanity or massive disillusionment. Is your hunger for something so desirable or so far away push you off the edge as it seems to do when the stalker and his companions try to reach "The Room" while journeying through the deserted, desolate Zone? Clearly it does, it did to Tarkovsky and it sure as hell does for Rich and Lustmord.

Grade: A


Haynes' Statement: Screw America

Mr. Lif's beginnings as a hip-hop artist has flourished since he first entered through the back rooms of El-P at the age of 20. Extremely provocative with his political lyricism, Jeffrey Haynes is known for his poignant lyrics that capture the mind and soul of his beliefs and the political landscape of the time he currently resides in. While I Heard It Today may look to be a turning point or a new road for Haynes because of his departure from El-P's Definitive Jux onto Bloodbot Tactical, it still remains to have his style intact from previous albums I Phantom and Mo' Mega.

"I'm dedicated to capturing the pulse of this tumultuous era we're living through". This statement by Mr. Lif may be the most important of his career. Every album he has ever made, including I Heard It Today is highly politically driven, while his statement may be quite extreme for us, it doesn't feel unjust. We're in social and religious wars between two 'nations'. The latter may not seem different to anyone that knows their history, but the social constructs that are intertwining with the Iraqi War are astonishing. Much like the Native Americans, African slaves, and the Japanese to name a few, it seems America is persecuting another nation due to their social or political beliefs. It's nothing new, but for it to happen now, in this time as Haynes said is "tumultuous". This obviously gives I Heard It Today more focus when you realize what exactly he preaches.

Immediately he makes his statement, "so I see, now that we got a friendlier face we should just trust the government." The production is on point throughout the opening track and it doesn't let up once. From the rhythmic buzz that captures "Welcome To The World" to the echoing, light cymbal bash in "What About Us?" What is more revealing though is the use of bass throughout the album. "Breath w/ Bahamadia" is has soothing dialect, heaped with depressed thoughts, but it still is so damn calm and laid-back. The majority of the album is littered with cymbal rushes that are infectious and help elevate the song to the next level, detracting from Mr. Lif's flow that sometimes feels confined to the average listener. That would seem to encapsulate Haynes' style as his manic lyrical expressions and non-stop drive in every song. Usually, if not always ever track shows tons of constant quick-timing pace with Haynes' throwing lyrics out as quick as possible. It feels mashed and a bit claustrophobic, thus if you can't stand the pace you won't stand the music itself.

The constant attacks on social and political structures do not tire, but some of the hired hands do. "Gun Fight feat. Metro" is too clobbered with police sirens, hyper pace by both Haynes and Metro. It is noticeable here and there on I Heard It Today where some tracks don't work one bit and thus pull it out of its persona, even if its keeping the concept intact.

Lyrically though Mr. Lif has always been known to be more political-centric and it this is one of his best efforts in recent memory. Ramblings of petroleum, economy, state and federal government with their trifecta of trust, policy, brutality. It seems most of the black community, not only African-Americans have donned Obama as a future savior, but Mr. Lif is clearly stating he has done nothing, and we shouldn't embrace it. Much like Mos Def who has made a somewhat major comeback in the scene of hip-hop, Mr. Lif too seems to be refreshing as he was on I Phantom.

Grade: B


Depths of Human Psyche

Mathias Grassow has been going at it for quite some time. His interest and love with the synthesizer has lead him to the music that was coined by the legendary artist Brian Eno. Grassow's form of ambient isn't exclusive, in fact it's used been used heavily in electronic ambience as well, that is his use of overtones that drawn out dark, never-ending cycle of drones that asphyxiate the ears as if they were breathing themselves.

Some may peg the my statement in the summary I made for Grassow's latest work as a bit over the top. Truthfully it really isn't. Grassow has said on many occasions that his work as an ambient or an experimental artist is too delve within the human psyche. More specifically he believes the drawn out drones, overtones, and one key sequences are essentially what the mind wants to hear, a deep connection if you will. I can't say I disagree; to be honest ambient music itself is relaxing if not that, it surely grasps the mind within its construct. As ambiguous, overly complex, or even extremely simple as those constructs may be within the music it still shows us that the ambient genre has a strong connection within us. The similarities within nature and its ambience are not seen by accident within ambient music itself. Both are fairly repetitious if not clear what is being heard in its structure. Take for instance a jungle - each animal, plant, every living thing and its surrounding natural atmosphere have their own unique voices. And when you create conflict with those things such as gusty winds and trees they create an entirely different sequence of noises. Ambient music could be said to do the same, taking small sequences of noises and instrumentation and purposely conflicting them with one another.

Grassow's work doesn't quite take that same path as my underdeveloped comparison goes, but he does take huge amounts of it within his music. There is no doubting that Grassow's work relies heavily on the synthesizer and the keys of a keyboard, evoking such troublesome and dark moods only felt within truly traumatic events. And as "Samsara" may go strong with the same sequence of drone throughout its 20 minute span the generally lightly tapped piano keys and slight sounds of banging noises within its background are the most eerie, if not a bit haunting. That is something Mathias Grassow has tried to develop for quite some time - a muddled and highly induced tense moments within its not-so dynamic progression.

I seem to be caught in a hypocritical cycle within this review, every paragraph seems to lead to a point, but not entirely of what you were expecting. As I said, Grassow's work (the majority) involves shady and dim atmosphere that is covered with huge amounts of drone. While Calibration may seem to be take that same path on "Samsara", yet it is trumped by its next track "Emoticon, Pt. I". The drones aren't asphyxiating or tension driven, but serene and pleasant. Garnering feelings of natural chirping birds and a soundscape that only lasts a few short minutes. The short breaks within the manipulative and dark drones of the long tracks are sufficiently balanced with a more calming, tranquil, and less driven by the buzz of the music then it's background. Calibration moves away from its tone set in the first 20 minutes to an entirely different mood within the next 20. His signature synthesizer is ever buzzing in the forefront, but not as driving as it was before. The general regression from the state of "Samsara" is fantastic, albeit surprising. "From Where I Come" may drift into the shadow abyss with its last minutes of life it still does capture the entire song in those moments. The cycle of heavier moods with lighter moods is ever present within "Emoticon, Pt. II", a continuance with the last hints of "From Where I Come". This cycle intertwines within itself causing conflicting ideologies of man-made sounds to the clear noises of nature, from the dark moments verse the light moments, Grassow is building a road that is split in the middle and it generally works. If "Samsara" is set to make the atmosphere of the album then the 5th track "Shunyata" puts the cycle back to square one. A never-ending circle of movements, whether they be glorious and calming to menacing and overly drenched in overtones, Calibration seeks the extremes to the middle ground. "Shunyata's" cycle may less drawn out then the beginning of the album, but it surely shows what Grassow is trying to accomplish. The constant and spaced chirps in the background, the drone that swamps the track, and the acoustic strums, and the slowly, gradual climb of hand drumming that bring reluctance within your ears.

Grade: B-
Download: V0 (VBR)


Unknown Rarities

Its only when an artist dies out (figuratively speaking) or disbands that you truly realize their greatness. By no means is the collaboration of Ian Pullman and Clay Emerson completely groundbreaking in any form, but it was exactly what any ambient fan enjoyed. Elegantly pacing and one upping itself, the superior Wind and Water brought spacious, yet extremely rhythmic subtle nuances within its core. While their debut predictably named Loess was essentially a long standing war between the cold dreariness of ambient and its desolate electronic abrasiveness that accompanies it still brought something to the table noticeably healthier than their predecessors. To put it bluntly it had potential. That may seem like a cop out to many, but the self-titled 12-track debut had extremely long replay ability. It felt refreshing, yet it wasn't anything new in many ways.

While their sophomore release Wind and Water still brought the abrasiveness of its electronic happening, yet it was free of all tension that was holding its position in place. While the comparisons of such bands as Boards of Canada aren't necessarily warranted they do bring something to mind - they dabble in melody greatly. The biggest difference being Loess' approach to such is extremely transparent, spacious, paced, and non-sample oriented, much more to the liking of Tim Hecker fans. They don't evoke emotion as Boards of Canada do yet show so much of what is expected with that comparison. An indie-electronic artist of sorts, Loess aren't truly known outside of raving ambient or say even IDM fans. Being totally uncertain of the situation and their collaboration, it is safer to say they're on hiatus then to say they've actually disbanded, besides they're a collaboration after all.

Burrows remains to be the varied summary of their entire collaboration. Spanning nearly a decade (2000-2008), this compilation released in May of this year brings mostly rarities never to grace a proper album by the duo from Philly. You expect a cross between their various album works, one that is cold and harsh and another that adds other textures of rarities like a sparse violin or pure distorted loveliness of the varied accordion and piano intros as shown on Wind and Water's "Sonde". Their progression from their debut to their sophomore album was the most logical step in keeping the music relatively fresh, yet it still felt genuinely Loess-like. Only by adding and incorporating sounds quickly and evolving them seemingly within those tracks were they sufficiently able to do that on Wind and Water. Burrows takes us on a journey of Loess' 8 years of collaborating together.

Roughly sequencing the various strings of their years together Burrows starts out with a simple, pleasing rhythmic beat that pulsates entitled "Lull". Wind and Water may have progressed their sound, but not by much. Their slight sequences that dance around in "Lull" feel as if it was a mixture of both their old sound and 'not quite so new' progression in Wind and Water. Ambient shrieks propel up and down as the same constant rhythmic drum and distorted mixture of waves and unresponsive voice sampling swirl back and forth. Essentially if you dislike the intro track it's safe to say you'll dislike Loess. Their first sound was encompassed by this same structure, only slightly varying it with new and surprising distorted instrumentation along the way. The constant repetition of the seemingly serene beat within "Lull" is all, but almost lost within the pauses that haunt within "Schoen" - practically bringing the same formula yet twisting it with haunting aspects and a pause central introduction.

There isn't much to say about Burrows other then it melds completely seamlessly within Loess' past 2 albums into one. Of course this isn't realized until halfway through "Bud", progressing slowly to its apex, yet feeling completely strained by the background. I know it sounds horrible, but what makes it so glorious is the constant mind-numbing happiness that bursts within your brain, consistently pattering through the beat as you feel it should go only to stick with its same repetitive and gratifying conclusion. The rarities feel as if they were meant for another album and that is just great considering this is only a compilation, a major treat for any fan. What Loess eventually contribute with this is album is bridging their small discography in one album. Burrows feels fresh for all the right reasons. Mixing basic, constructive, and dependable rhythmic beats, while eventually splicing them with shattered tones, distorted noises and instruments, and hardly ever bringing undistinguishable samples. Loess' gift to both the electronic community, more specifically to the ambient and idm groups and their fans is frankly much appreciated.

Grade: B+


Canada's Talent

I'd be lying if I said I can name some specific major influences on Kevin Brereton, there seems to be a huge gap in between the genres he splices with his rhythmic reggae, acoustic induced rock, and electronic influence that are pasted under his socially hip-hop aesthetics. While the pronunciation of k-os is "chaos" it's true meaning is 'Knowledge of Self'. Much like those two terms he does endow his music in both of those philosophies. His chaotic see-sawing of musical expansiveness knows no bounds whatsoever, but his socially adept and poignant lyrical stature aren't exactly forgettable at all. Understandably his style hasn't changed from his debut years ago, while Joyful Rebellion remains to be his best work to date Yes! still shows what makes him so interesting. Canadians sure haven't forgotten about his multi-cultural musical gears, but the rest of the world are reminded with Yes! why exactly he should be noticed.

You hear many people make statements in every genre about an artist's new record as being a "breath of fresh air"; k-os has been living that statement since he started creating his own musical highway of elusiveness. Though his 4th album's cover indicates exactly what he's been doing to the very genre he's apparently incorporated with, it still feels a bit unfair that he hasn't quite reached a high on popularity within the States or anywhere else (excluding Canada). The cover could be the clearest signal of his sound. In one hand he carries a paint roller, that could be interpreted as a changing of the guard, changing the style or the rules of the room (in this case a genre). In the other hand he carries a synthesizer and on the wall a black acoustic guitar sits, all of these landmarks on Yes!'s cover shows his variety and signal what k-os is all about.

The man's mission certainly is to be able to stretch the perception of the genre itself and expand more entrances to join him in his own revolt of hip-hop. He still remains to be the lone noticeable soldier on the battlefield, but it obviously does not bother him one bit. He still carries his country's pride on his sleeve whether discussing their problems or triumphs, either way k-os brings balance within his melting pot of musicianship. K-os' style is noticeably ingrained within his schizophrenic hip-hop lyricism, drum breaks that sometimes border on breakcore categories (rarely), exotic instruments, acoustic guitar movements, and gimmicky albeit effective violin movements are all exhibited in Yes!. "Astronaut", shows k-os' prowess in any department he delves into, melding all of those factors into one song. Most of his work relates to his social beliefs on his home country and on Yes!, like I said he takes a liking to the city of Toronto.

Brereton's latest album still travels from one end of the spectrum to another, with the only constant being k-os' vocals. Fortunately he's still tolerable after all these years and though some would be quick to say k-os is an alternative hip-hop style it still feels like that would be a cop out. His embrace of different genres, loves, and culture within the Canadian border and within his family ties has been his strongest selling point from day one and unfortunately for him some that can't stomach that will never accept him for what he is. At this point there isn't anything astonishingly new for those people to hear if they've already decided on their status with k-os.

Every one of k-os' albums has a certain charm to them and although Joyful Rebellion remains to be his best work to date he has yet to slip up substantially. Still showing the charm and type of creativeness that brought him to the attention - Yes!'s "Uptown Girl" is straight off of a Shocking Blues' song "Love Buzz", made popular by grunge group Nirvana and although it would seem uninventive it is entirely different than its predecessors. Only taking the bass for the majority of the ride, k-os' ambitions and entanglements of various instruments from violins, distorted guitars, and piano meld the song into his own; with each passing minute a progression within the song takes another drastic difference, enough to keep you interested. Yes! may not be k-os' best, but it still shows he loves what he does, even if he still hasn't quite accomplished what he may be trying to do it's still fun, after all that's what it's all about.

Grade: B-


Can You Attempt To Try?

Jeniferever's formation nearly 15 years ago has showed little progression up to this point. Their name as and hilarious as it seems is derived from the same song made by the Smashing Pumpkins in 1989. Clearly influenced by the group, the lead singer Kristofer Jönson's vocals are obviously a similar style as of Corgan's, but unlike Corgan it isn't exactly warranted in key situations. A string of EPs from 2001-2004 showed the potential the band possessed with their post-rock climaxes and indie lyricism, light melodic instrumentals, and soft-spoken lyrics. Clearly Choose A Bright Morning was an overdue debut, created 10 years after their formation. A solid debut by the quartet, but it was clearly held back by the lack of progression in their instrumentals and non-chalant vocals. 2 years after they released an underwhelming EP called Nangijala, clearly showing they haven't jumped any hurdles up to this point. Not exactly anticipated, the 2009 release Spring Tides still shows the passive vocal upbringings by Jönson and the traditional, albeit underwhelming ambient and post-rock driven climaxes that are so ingrained in their band. Much like the approach Sigur Ros take on post-rock and The Appleseed Cast's style of indie rock, Jeniferever would seem to be a crossroads to those bands. Regrettably it doesn't seem to be worthwhile up this point in their career.

If Jeniferever show something correct in their style it's by far their melodic instrumentals that coat piece of music they've made. While Jeniferever don't exactly hypnotize or captivate any one by any means with their style "Ox-Eye" does it correctly. Progressing slowly in the background remains the guitars and ambient feedback, while Jönson calmly expresses his longing for a better present with his long-time friend. Much like their Nangijala EP the appearance of piano is brought back, if so rarely in St. Gallen, For half of the 6 minute affair, Jönson is thankfully absent, but his non-impressionable lyrical content and still, utterly, non-energetic vocals mares the track. Thus, it comes again, the not-so-interesting vocal talents of Jeniferever. Honestly, the only fans I can see could be mildly interested in this band's vocal talents would be amainstream pop-punk fan with an infatuation with boring vocal talent, but we all know that won't happen when those very fans probably have no idea what the hell post-rock even is.

Noticeably it would be Jönson himself bogs down the group, he doesn't lead or stay in the forefront throughout the entire album as a "front man" should. After all, his only job is keyboards and vocals, yet he shows no promise since their formation. Like Choose A Bright Morning, Jeniferever still struggle to find a common thread between post-rock melodies, indie rock, and very passionate, yet unimpressionable vocalist. They still are hit-n-miss with their post-rock atmosphere, usually the latter is the culprit. I might of had an epiphany while listening to Spring Tides. Not exactly revolutionary by any means, most if not all of the best post-rock groups are energetic in some form or another. Drumming becoming the key in most instances, while Godspeed, You Black Emperor! choose to slowly and effortlessly climax their music at the right time, Jeniferever really don't do that to warrant any attention. There are a few instances where they work in "Ox-Eye", "Nangijala" and "The Hourglass", but it gets to the point where I find myself truly uninterested with the whole process with Jönson wallowing in his own self-restraint. Expectations were truly low after hearing Nangijala EP, but this has yet to truly capture my attention in any shape or form. I find myself asking why do I keep my interest in this band, is it because of their style is rarely seen in post-rock or because post-rock seems to be declining at a abysmal rate. Jeniferever can't seem to perfect either of the two and unlike my previous, even if they're were low aspirations for them, I find myself ignoring the very prospect of another release by them.

Grade: D+


Expanding Into Mediocrity

From Fathoms is the follow-up to a relatively successful debut called Loyal Eyes Betrayed The Mind. While it may not have had the sprawling, overabundant, and sometimes over flamboyant style as a traditional post-rock groups go, their style is quite rare in the genre and is still thought after as a post-rock band first then second. Loyal Eyes Betrayed The Mind was for the most part, purely guitar driven. Their style could be compared to another relatively odd post-rock group called Grails or even Russian Circles. Yet, with their small existence they carved up a solid record with some interesting results. Showing their musical roots with "Early Morning Ambulance", the unmistakable post-rock influence in "In The Company of Others", while flexing electronic backgrounds in "Miles of White". 3 years after showing some promise, the group have released From Fathoms this year.

Easily throughout the album you notice a key element within most of these songs: they're crafted well enough for you to enjoy, but once you begin to attach yourselves to a brief period of their pandering in their uproarious guitar lifts in their short post-rock extravaganzas you immediately succumb to disappointment with its short time span. While the electronic influences are in full-form and aren't skimmed over as they were in Loyal Eyes Betrayed The Mind it isn't enough to keep the listener interested entirely. Oddly enough vocals are in play, if vaguely you consider them a part of the song. Almost Isis-like in nature, but entirely toned down, From Fathoms plays around with low, muddled, and mostly unrecognizable lyrics, while the previous album strayed from all of this. There are a rare exceptions to this rule: a quick assault of post-rock sweetness is ferocious and beautiful in the short span of 4 minutes in "Weightless Frame" and completely switches up halfway through with acoustic strings, harmonized vocals that can only be determined to be something-like "Come" being hymned, even imploring to use the harmonica for some brief periods in its later half. That may be the best example to see how far they're trying to reach here, yet they still encompass some of those elements throughout the album in short spans, it just doesn't work as it should. The lone perfections within this album is by far "Resurface" and "Thawed Horizon", which successfully melds all of what was meant to be on this album, gradually pushing forward with high-paced eruption of post-rock and passionate vocals.

Those relatively new sounds components are what signals Gifts From Enola's newest album is really about. Their previously minimalistic influences are brought to the forefront along for the ride with their post-rock glory. This may sound all well and good, but there's one trying problem. Unfortunately it doesn't always work, from the electronic transitions, post-rock traditional appearances of strings, and yes the power cord sort as well. Much like Russian Circles' debut Enter impressed, their follow-up Station wasn't anything progressive and only mildly interesting. Gifts From Enola suffers the same fate, not with its non-progressive thought process, but their problems to establish a single unity within its structure from all its directionless deliberation. "Weightless Thought" sounds like a rendition of "Weightless Frame", only the opposite with an dreary and calm electronic transition. Understandably they're linked, but the song adds nothing to the process and is only time wasted. From Fathoms sees a band trying to reach too far, with too much in their hands. It's fantastic that they're trying to expand their sound with a different approaches, if not for a few inspired moments within most of these songs this would feel entirely mediocre and as a result From Fathoms can't help, but feel cluttered.

Grade: C


To The Depths of Our Past

E.S. Posthumus or as the men behind the name would like to say "Experimental Sounds/Electronic Sounds of all things past". Brothers Franz and Helmut Vonlichten, who as of recently revealed their identities as the true people behind E.S. Posthumus. Undoubtedly rumors had been spreading quite substantially as of who was behind the album Unearthed due to its immense popularity and role played in film and television. The men finally responded with their true identities behind the project. E.S. Posthumus is essentially the philosophy of Pythagoream which states that "music is the harmonies of opposites, the warring of the elements"; well put and straight from the pages of history Unearthed plays exactly as such.

E.S. Posthumus is the epitome of cinematic musical buildup. Dramatic in as many ways as exotic, the album is featured in countless films and TV programs around the world. Only 4 tracks are rarely used as of today and Unearthed could be a standalone soundtrack for most grandiose, high budget, historical films of eventful wars or prominent figures. While the album seems to take a bit of influence from big name composers like Hans Zimmer as seen in "Tikal" and "Harappa", it's understood that these two were never educated to become composers, only having the piano guidance from their mother and Franz's experience in the record studio are the only two things that are actually worthy of mentioning. Frankly, it's quite amazing these two have created such a wide and accessible album to musical score fanatics and studios alike.

Their new age style along with their neoclassical painting by Michelangelo indicates the album has a focused concept throughout. All though it would seem quite ridiculous to go into detailed history of each track as they all pertain to a past ancient city that was once destroyed (many of which that do not exist as of today). Much of the album introduces Middle-Eastern craft smothered in various movements brought by the violin. The foreign hymns that no doubt are Latin helping the album and its long traveling influences. Visually Unearthed
is exceptional as it momentarily grips you in the world that is being captured within the music. Quite odd considering this album isn't attached to a single median. It has yet to be used exclusively to any movie, considering its extensive range of sound that remains an peculiar occurrence. You hear countless references from film and television from songs like "Tikal", "Nara", "Ebla", "Cuzco", "Nineveh", "Lepcis Magna" and "Pompeii", all have distinct sounds that incorporate themselves within everyday television and film.

The scope of this album may seem a bit overconfident or even pretentious, but considering the connection that these track names have with the music itself and the musicians themselves it really doesn't turn out that way. Helmut Vonlichten after graduating from UCLA obtained a degree in Archaeology (soon after teaming up with his brother to create E.S. Posthumus), hence the names of the tracks in connection with one of the brother's past studies. No doubt he would have a keen insight and knowledge on the cultural and traditional musical instruments used within these cities. Unearthed, as it should be is extremely dramatic in its upbringing. Much of the album consists of constant drumming in the background, soaring violins, spacious flutes, tragic Latin vocals and intense buildups. Despite the multitude of cities and problems that could arise with Unearthed they never do. Each track is tightly knit within its own structure, using the inspiration given by these cities. "Tikal" sounds like a match to the death for Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott's Gladiator, while "Ebla", with its illustrious vocals and intriguing synth background makes an memorable track to say the least. Generally Unearthed takes a step forward with each successive attempt upon a new city, despite the obvious inclusion of each city's extensive musical background it works without hesitation or reluctance. The Vonlichten brothers essentially craft an album that please anyone mildly interested in the soundtrack genre, while legitimately breaking a bit of ground within their debut. While the draw of Unearthed is its scope and magnitude from the deserts of the Middle East, to the ancients of Rome, and the exciting history of the samurai in Japan, when it all really comes down to accessibility. And this accessibablty may garner thoughts of generic new age buildups and overly-intensive musicianship, but that's the whole point of this album. E.S. Posthumus' debut is instantly recognizable if you heard a few seconds of any track and once you get the chance to you'll realize why Unearthed is worth your time.

Grade: B+



It's been a great while since I've had the pleasure of listening to heavy industrial destroy my ears. While the most notable industrial band of its genre (Nine Inch Nails) may have an accessible appeal there are fantastic depths of any genre to explore and despite many people's lack of discipline, including mine on the genre it would feel unjust to just listen to Reznor. Cyanotic's debut Transhuman would leave an imprint large enough to garner praise and even selling out the entire stock by the end of August of 2006. To show their thanks they released Transhuman 2.0, which in many ways than one is superior album then its source. Almost entirely new, Transhuman 2.0 adds remixes, well-known industrial artists such as Front Line Assembly and new tracks. Despite being pigeonholed because of their sound, Cyanotic would be traditional enough to garner industrial fans, while adding new elements of glitch and drum and bass to adding more accessibility for other enthusiasts.

Transhuman 2.0 in many respects breeds tons of malice and liveliness throughout it's journey. The album's brooding and heart-pounding atmosphere is marked in various tracks with conceptual samples, hard hitting vocals, and more importantly the type of industrial feeling that most wish was embodied by more bands. "Resurgance" could be categorized as exactly the sentiment I wish most bands approach their work with. Although "Resurgance" may be driving and sometimes tiresome, it still leaves the listener impressed. As expected some of this material, if not all is not for the faint of heart as it continuously never backs down for a moments notice. The programming and synths done by a collective effort used throughout the album is fantastic; the scarce instrumental tracks "Frequency (Recycled)" and "Altered States of Consciousness" (small sample piece) remain to be the perfect precursor and closer for the original album. While the concept of Transhuman 2.0 remains (the better of the human condition with the use of science and technology), the aspects underneath the lyricism are truly important. Payne seems to embrace the concept of co-existing with improved status, without illness or disease, but the underlying idea seems cold and harsh. This type of dualism mentality Payne exhibits is essentially what makes this Transhuman 2.0 worthy in the first place.

The machine may be running exceptionally well in Transhuman 2.0 because of its dark frame of mind, but the cog is most definitely the concept of transhumanism. While the search for immortality has been a story for quite some time, the entire concept could be either be embraced or remarkably dreadful. Payne basically is torn between the two. While the thoughts of living as an immortal has its benefits: never becoming sick or bedridden, the entire fixation of immortality feels like a sad state of affairs to him. Transhuman 2.0 discusses (in a matter of speaking) the fears of a man who has nothing to panic about and nothing to be worrisome of. While this may seem to be fantastic think of it? Would you grow so callous and dead from your years of livelihood on the inside you would care for nothing or would you eventually become paranoid to the state of insanity as "(Paranoid) Disbelief" would suggest. And although one side of the coin may be terrible in every circumstance, the other is what philosophers and scientists such as Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin could believe be plausible. Although these renowned philosophers, scientists, and stories (most notably the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest works of literary merit) aren't exactly what they thought transhumanism would be, they all had one goal of immortality. Despite the overall theme of the album, Transhuman 2.0 discusses in tiny measures an integral part of many people's lives, religion. If you would remain to be an immortal does that not refute the countless questions of God's existence and even without the discovery of immortality in a form of a wondrous potion or even scientific rebuilding it still remains to a void evidence and God himself. Yes, very anti-religious rhetoric, but the question is raised because of the overall concept of this album, which is why its remarkably effective in so many ways.

Grade: B+


Where Is This Headed?

It's obviously not a coincidence that Chris Clark had changed his official musician name to a shortened Clark with the release of his EP Throttle Furniture. The change would immediately signal a transformation in his direction as his more moderate electronic cuts mixed with ambient backgrounds almost completely disappeared. With the release of his third album Body Riddle and his fourth Turning Dragon the man knew what he wanted - an unprovoked, hard-hitting electronic sequences with small snippets of his past albums. Ultimately Turning Dragon would call for the changing of the guard as it was nothing like Clark had ever released; clearly more straightforward in its approach, but not in its varying complexity. Interestingly enough it was easy to understand why the man who started as a more of an ambient/electronic artists a la Tim Hecker and Aphex Twin, to a idm/breakbeat junkie would be despised by some who are split on either side. If his debut Clarence Park said Clark would meander off in many directions then Totems Flare really is a replica of that album. Nothing new or relatively barbaric in approach it would seem that Clark has hit a pitfall in his young musical career.

Although the man who carries the original intention of Warp Records' heyday it soon becomes clear on Totem's Flare that he's either lost memory of his past dealings or just plain bored. This may feel like a complaint or a tirade to some, but in all honesty I think Clark's "trilogy" of hard-nosed breakbeats, short ambient sequences, techno-theme and relentless idm was thrown into a pot on pure happenstance. Clearly the more refined albeit still chaotic Body Riddle and Turning Dragon feel refreshing if not bearable compared to the third in the series of his new approach. Totems Flare feels like a regression of sorts, instead of expanding or sticking to a consistent sound, it sounds more like a huge mess. His previous albums, despite not sounding anything like his releases post-2006 carried the balance extremely well. Clarence Park's playful nature and distorted lulls were amazingly similar to Aphex Twin their connotations, easily pleasurable and increasingly likeable, but that was his debut made nearly 9 years ago. Unfortunately when you get a taste of this in Totems Flare it feels like betrayal or better yet downright wrong, you asking yourself what the hell is this doing here? The flow of Clark's last release is purely disruptive, was that his intent? I'm not exactly sure, but it sure doesn't help this album's cause.

It may sound easy to pummel Clark's latest effort, but the man has been quite progressive in his sound if not dynamic. His uproarious sequences that build to an explosion of energy that induces huge moments of dancing may be the reason why Totems Flare seems so misplaced. The sometimes odd, slow moving sequences have been non-existent in his last few efforts. I didn't think this would be possible, but it's as if the general feeling is I'm growing out of this direction. Despite its progressive nature, the sequences that develop within the music are extremely aggravating. The type of music on Totems Flare can only be described in a matter of words and short explanations: sequence switching (pertaining towards the extremely quick transitions from one sound to another completely disrupting any type of flow), misplaced (much of Totems Flare doesn't not flow as it should), disappointing (despite having some fantastic material hidden in the depths of a few songs such as the keyboard transition 3:37 in "Outside Plume" and the serene upbringing of "Growls Garden" most of Totems Flare rides through some huge speed bumps).

Generally the old adage goes if it isn't broke don't fix it and Clark seems to have taken that to heart. If not for a few subtle differences in sampling and even quick sequences that sometimes show absolutely no consistencies this could feel like a re-hash of Body Riddle and Turning Dragon, yet not nearly as smooth in transition or excellent. At the end of the day Totems Flare truly had some great potential, but the myriad number of problems hold it back.

Grade: C-

Download: V0(VBR)


Unrivaled Pace and Precison

Pardon my outlandish claims, but the drum and bass genre may seem a bit stagnant. The premiere artists around the genre seem to do little to expand their horizons and instead stick to one train of thought. Easily trumping my statement is the hidden gems that lay around, unnoticed and untouched. These diamonds in the rough garner a cult following until they're recognized for their brilliance. Calyx and Teebee are two drum and bass artists that have been friends for quite some time, 1998 to be exact. Their first release together Anatomy is a concoction of thumping drive, energetic bass, sci-fi esque feel, and nonstop dance bliss. Unequivocally produced for the dance floors this drum and bass endeavor will seemingly never stop for a gasp of air.

When you discuss most dance-inducing albums you usually discuss the flawless production. Anatomy would have that and then some. Not only are all the tracks exceptionally done, but the symphonic and cinematic feel is only rivaled by Rob Dougan's Furious Angels. Confidently Calyx and Teebee endure countless breakbeats, techno induced energy and brilliance, topped with cinematic aspirations. They gladly pull this off, something that would seem to be a behemoth of a task, but it doesn't stop for a rest, not once. Pertaining towards the cinematic feel, it would seem that Anatomy could replace the gratifying and perfectly crafted Fight Club Soundtrack by the Dust Brothers. Besides the unnerving drive and huge force this album brings it could be a substitute it easily. The schizophrenic demeanor may be lively (easily correlating with Fight Club), but there is much structure on these songs, all holding fans of drum and bass, techstep, and jungle in one corner.

Unlike most drum and bass albums that either lose you through the middle of the album or right away, Anatomy grips you immediately and straps you in for the ride. The repetitive wave and beat department may leave you a bit hesitant, but don't let that fool you. Calyx and Teebee are able to craft a superb album, even though much like the genre the structures build heavily on the previous sequence it doesn't leave the listener yearning for more or less. It's just so damn balanced, mixing samples, sleek instrumentation appearances, electronic splices with fantastic and body-moving drum and bass that would probably win over many that are dreading this type of music. Although it may seem at first that Anatomy is parading as a same-sounding album, it's far from it. Conjoining and melding ferocious breakbeats, mild-mannered samples, and odd introductions. "Enygma" sounds like an off-kilter drum and bass track introduction (the illustrious piano), but it stays in the background, ever so lightly - mixing in with the quick thumping drums and beautiful ambient sounds. The mix of approach on Anatomy adds to its undeniable charisma, each track evolving as they should, only with more relevance then the previous. Despite this statement it would seem from the beginning of "The Divide" all the way to the end of "Vortex" Anatomy was already relevant, assaulting without warning and with amazing pace.

Anatomy has all the pieces to become a hit among many around the world's dance floors. Much like Prodigy's Music For The Jilted Generation, Anatomy defines its genre in more ways than one. Much like those albums that did define the dance music of their generation or present time you need to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. Anatomy really can be consumed all in one-take despite its demanding listen of nonstop vigor, but unless you're a fan of dance-themed music, cinematic undertones, or any music related towards techno or drum and bass then you'd probably stay away from this. Anatomy packs a mean punch, contended by only Mike Tyson and even to non-drum and bass fans it is worthy of your attention.

Grade: A+

Download: V0(VBR)


Suspended In Air

Interestingly enough the man behind Biosphere (Geir Jenssen) takes his artist name literally. All of his albums take on an environmental edge towards that very notion. Much like the title suggests, Microgravity gives away the safety of gravity and the album thrusts you into the feeling of being physically suspended. Biosphere's debut really is a predominately consistent ambient album with small splices of minimalistic techno dance. I really cringe when I say "dance", since the few songs that are actually applicable to that term aren't sufficiently though-after that very word. It's not like you can pop this baby in and start moving, it's just that some of these songs are more upbeat then others, which isn't what you'd expect since most of Microgravity is quite leveled within its whole concept.

Emitting the sense of suspension is immediately felt once you get your feet wet with Microgravity. Each track contains some sort of whisper-like sampling mixed with low bass tones that are often glossed over with sparse keyboard arrangements. The type of seclusion that is brought into Microgravity can be attribute to the serene, sometimes air-like electronic waves that pulse ever so often within the album and the various static noises that pierce ever so softly within the core of Microgravity. The title track is an easily digestible piece and is extremely comforting for the listener. The low bass tone assorted with that air-like electronic arrangement give the listener enough room to settle in. Even the movement between each long sequence isn't palpable enough to raise your ear instincts allowing it to be a smooth ambient listen.

The movement for most of Microgravity is extremely slow and gradual, the best word would be steady. Although the production value may seem a bit dim, this may be for the benefit of the listener. If you consider the low volume gives the listener a sense of freedom then this definitely helps the overall concept. Despite most of the buildups being heard, they are exceptionally odd for being anti-climatic. They never progress or burst into a wave of liveliness that you would assume. Even the more energetic tracks are consistent enough not to raise the level of the entire album. "Fairytale" brings in a minimalistic techno beat that is more deeper then it seems, being completely masked by a space-like synth and astronomy-referencing samples to boot. Other tracks such as "Baby Satellite", "Baby Interphase" and "Chromosphere" keep the comfort level intact, while generally being more livelier, splashing the occasional static charge and small cycled bleeps. The overall mood is never broken within Microgravity, which is quite amazing. Much like most ambient music if you're not in the mood then you'll feel that this may be a bit repetitive. Luckily the music runs exceptionally quick, almost like a quick lecture with slight piques of interest here and there.

Grade: B
Download: V0(VBR)


Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then Listen With An Open Mind.

Autechre's debut Incunabula is seen in the eyes of many as a step forward in the electronic genre. Autechre's debut varies in style ranging from hollow to benevolent within the music. Initially the first album brought out by Sean Booth and Rob Brown would actually join a catalogue from Warp Records entitled Artificial Intelligence. Its purpose? To show the change and immense capabilities in electronic music from 1992-1994. Although they're known as the leaders of IDM, techno, and the electronic genre now, as unknowns Richard D. James, Autechre, The Orb, and Richie Hawtin are the few who contributed to this collection for their label Warp. There is no doubt that series has left an imprint on the minds of many for the generation only learning to love a relatively new genre. Obscure and unrelenting at times, IDM can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Incunabula is the testament of Autechre's and a genre's legacy, which is still going strong after 20 or so years.

It may be the reason from immense progress that so much of Incunabula feels linear in a way. Each direction of the music takes a turn for the better, even if it isn't something new to the ear nowadays, it can be seen across the genre in the present time of Autechre's vast influence. Although the style changes from classic electronic movements, ambient, and sometimes minimalistic techno Incunabula shows how important Autechre was for this movement. Incorporating all signs of experimentation within their debut there wasn't much to go from there. "Kalpol Introl" remains to be their most popular and noticeable song on Incunabula; the album's only single would later be featured on Darren Aronofosky's modern masterpiece Pi. The serene, whirling, and calm "Kalpol Introl" is what electronic music was about at the time. Pure experimentation, these tracks as other electronic artists in the early 90's are to thank for such an solid, exciting, and unusual approach. If anything Autechre's debut signals the foretelling of a progressive genre; the very same year Aphex Twin's minimalistic ambient techno affair Selected Ambient Works 85-92 would see great admiration from all. With each new artist, a new classic would be brought to the forefront.

The album plays a similar tune for lack of a better word. From "Kalpol Introl" the track "Bike" follows in its footsteps within the peaceful and humbling waves of electronic. The eeriness ensues within "Autriche", but the overall feeling is not lost within the music. As I said the tune of the album is similar in stature, just different in tone, much of "Autriche" as well as Incunabula takes a moderate and gradual climb within each track, by either peeling and whisking away at the layers or adding a few more. "Basscadet" is where the energy starts to pick up, its hand drum intro with glitchy atmosphere is relevant as addictive in every sense of the term. Gradually building upon the initial beats "Basscadet" sets of in a dark journey in the mind of any IDM enthusiast. With each murmuring of "I have no idea what's going on", a layer is slowly put together to create 5 minute session of excitement. Although one of the shorter songs on Incunabula it remains one of the strongest. "Eggshell" may scrap the minimalistic techno beats from the former track "Basscadet", but the subdued haunting atmosphere works even better. As the various twists and turns of ambient music skew towards waves of electronic benevolence a resounding and proper closer "444" takes Incunabula full circle. Summarizing the album from its beginnings towards it's smooth end.

Incunabula can be seen in the eyes of many as a journey for beginning of a relatively new and exciting genre of electronic music. Each track takes on a different approach within its tone and atmosphere, from serene and peaceful, dark and menacing, to eerie and haunting all is here to love.

Grade: A


Archive Finally Find Their Form Once Again

Evolving much like the trip-hop scene did in the 1990’s, Archive’s subsequent albums after their sensational debut Londinium both strayed and departed from the more classic sense of the genre word. With the exception of their sophomore effort Take My Head their style has been leaning towards a more alternative rock sound, much like another so-called trip-hop group UNKLE did with War Stories. Unfortunately, even with an improved form in their next 2 albums from their first alternative style effort You All Look The Same To Me it was pale in comparison to their debut and sophomore effort. Londinium had everything you wanted from a trip-hop band in the 90’s - the dark vibes, sleek atmospheres, soulful vocals from former member Roya Arab, and intricate rhymes of Rosko John. Although their sophomore effort was excellent in its own right, it still had an achingly high void in which its predecessor was great for. With each new release Archive strayed from the tag that genre of trip-hop was stamped on them and with every album I wanted more of that very thing. So its been nearly 15 years since their debut and thus 2009’s Controlling Crowds shows the general scope of the band, mixing both old and new, with great results.

I mention their transformation because it would be a crime to pigeonhole this band, just as you wouldn't pigenohole other dynamic groups. Archive's manifestation on Controlling Crowds isn't really toppled with more of their new approach. The general rock atmosphere is quite subdued when compared their previous albums. The electronic push throughout most of these tracks are noticed extremely quickly. Vocally the Archive's main ambitions layed within their hip-hop contributor Rosko John and female vocalist Roya Arab, but things inevitably change, as did this band's sound. Like recent albums Controlling Crowds rely on a male vocalist instead of the more traditional female vocalist, but more importantly the one thing that has really changed from Noise or even the heavily prog rock You All Look The Same To Me is the fact Archive have manage to meld both trip-hop and their best moments of progressive rock. Oddly enough this album feels more like a soundtrack then anything else. The single "Bullets" is catchy and takes the same approach vocally as seen in "Controlling Crowds". The entire album runs through easily, although there are a few songs that may run their course it doesn't really take away much from this album. For one Controlling Crowds would seem to be their most accessible work to date and secondly it feels generally the same. The impression from this album would seem trip-hop, but knowing their past history and listening more carefully Controlling Crowds is more.

Interestingly enough the different transformations from pop, progressive rock, trip-hop, and even some elements of jazz throughout their career are held in check for the most part. Many Archive fans of Londinium were supremely disappointed with their eventual lineup without Rosko John and Roya Arab, thankfully one of them is back - Rosko John. The flashbacks of Londinium are in full effect while listening to superb tracks such as "Quiet Time", "Razed To The Ground" and "Bastardised Ink". Other genre borders are crossed with the extremely jazzy "Whore", the soulful "Collapse/Collide" and even the poppy, alternative, to progressive rock is scattered throughout the album. The one thing that doesn't really change is Pollard Berrier's vocal appearances are calm and stable. There aren't huge energy bursts as you would expect from a band that draws influence from tons of directions, which helps the album itself develop a lay back feel already. Rosko John and Maria Q bring the best parts of Londinium and Take My Head. What is extremely reassuring about Archive's latest work is the fact they don't go overboard with anything. Each of their previous albums are actually represented with great balance, making Controlling Crowds their best album in 10 years.

What is really charming is the non-existent trip-hop backgrounds of the last 10 years is in full effect here. The ear-tingling electronic atmosphere and beautiful melding of various instruments is in full form. Controlling Crowds has absolutely no problem transitioning from a piano driven song "Danger Visit" to a more traditional trip-hop "Quiet Time" a la Londinium, but of course there's a twist, Berrier also makes an appearance that works to perfection and I must say it just sounds grand. Controlling Crowds may not encapsulate what Archive have been doing with themselves the last decade, but it shows they still have it and are once again recognized for what they did best in the 90's.

Grade: B+



Nicolas Fromageau and Anthony Gonzalez decided they wanted to make electronic music. So these two Frenchmen partnered up to create what is known presently as M83. Although ‘electronic music’ is a quite broad term, M83 borrow elements from My Bloody Valentine, but really tone it down a notch. Their debut wildly titled M83 is neither ambitious or dreadful. The debut strictly adds electronic rhythms given by consistent synth textures and basic percussion repetitiveness (although the latter may seem terrible it isn’t at all).

As I said before, M83 borrow from previous artists to create their own sound. It is obvious that there are scattered moments of lush, yet simplistic guitar sections that enhance the variety of some songs, clearly being presented in “Night”. There is a hint of progression in some of these songs that is signaled by electronic sequences that are short and dissident within the music, accumulating energy while adding more dramatics.

The atmospheres are triumphant, despite not being overly complicated. The problems start to flesh out on M83 almost immediately. The non-existent vocals throughout the debut are replaced (if there ever were any intention) by faltering samples. Easily understated is the lack of confidence by these two for pursing vocals on some of these tracks. Trying to offset this problem by introducing a distorted, sometimes foreign monologue within the album, which to be fair is a lame excuse and only enhances the void that is ever-present within the album.

It may be the main detriment of the band to incorporate some of their shoegaze elements within most of these tracks that screams for something more. Although the shoegaze style is pulled back quite a bit and isn’t as conventional as one would begin to perceive. They still follow the general “formula” while sheathing their vocal work (samples in this case) with loud instrumentation. This type of problem shows the lack of confidence that the duo have. The atmospheres are gorgeous and anthem-like exuberance, but the direction is lacking substantially.

It seems to be the one major query on this album, why are the samples used so terribly? Each sample that is thrust in M83 are generally underwhelming, but there are some rare instances where they are accurately placed like in “Facing That”; where as previously the music grew stagnant during those samples, yet “Facing That” evolves from the emotion given within the track. The majority of M83 hangs on these samples, sometimes involving a choppy repetitiveness as seen in “She Stands Up”, which isn’t exactly pleasing and irritating to say the least. Thankfully though M83 decide to ramp up the sound and sheath some of these samples into obscurity.

The closer really typifies what M83 are headed towards after their first record. The lullaby-like entry expands into a vast and slow approach composition that lasts 18 minutes (really only 13). 18 minutes (13) of great, uplifting, and as expansive as any song will get on M83’s debut. They enter with the previous elements within their debut, but silently drifting into ambient material that is both pleasant and worthwhile.

The overall indication and feel of this album may make you feel betrayed. For one the atmospheres themselves scream some type of underpinning for vocal work, but are never given that true intention. Providing beautiful moods in every way, yet falling on their faces with the lack of direction and balance. M83’s debut sends a clear message, but in the wrong ways. The tracks that resonate aren’t exactly established correctly and the ones that are just tread a bit too long for everyone’s tastes. If there’s one thing we can take away from M83’s first album then it is that they have a knack for creating entrenched atmospheres that will hold a foundation for their future work as electronica artists.

Grade: C


Not Many of These Around

You always hear people say that "this is changed an entire genre". It is rarely understood to another generation of how influential or momentous that type of statement really is. Mezzanine was unleashed in 1998 and soon after established even further what the trip-hop originals were capable of - reinventing their sound, while sounding extremely fresh and precise. Unlike their previous albums, reggae icon Horace Andy is featured even more exclusively on here (had a few appearances on previous albums) and while there are still those immense soulful and hip-hop atmospheres swirling around they're aren't as relevant as they once were on previous endeavors. The latter especially as Del Naja and crew incorporate more electronic lushness and beautiful guitar incorporation at their disposal. From the illustrious outburst of guitars in "Angel Creeps" to the sorrow filled and heart-wrenching "Teardrop", it becomes increasingly evident Mezzanine has all the tellings of a classic. If there's truly one album that will truly hold on its own in the trip-hop genre then its most definitely Mezzanine.

Grade: A+
Download: V0(VBR)

Add A Pinch of Dub and Electronica Mr. Manuva

Reinventing yourself is a tough task. Not only are you bartering with your original appeal, but you’re trying to keep your fan base, whilst luring others. Roots Manuva’s inconsistent remix album Dub Come Save Me was patchy in many places, showing only glimpses of what he could do if done correctly. His lyrical and vocal talents are his greatest strengths, yet ‘Awfully Deep’ is more of a concentrated electronic and dub offering. Mixing elements of his past towards the present (think Brand New Second Hand plus the best parts of Dub Come Save Me) Roots Manuva brings his presence to the forefront again.

Although Manuva transitions well from his more vocal dominant performances towards a more of a focus with electronic and dub music atmospheres, it’s odd to see this effort feel so right. Not only are the backgrounds of these tracks extremely different from his previous album releases, but they feel entirely right for Manuva to use. Take “Colossal insight” for instance, its heavily electronic and dub thumps throughout the entire musical path is extremely effective, his vocal work is still on point, but the repetitive verses aren’t tiresome at all. With these types of atmospheres and changes we witness within this album from our more traditional Roots Manuva it’s easy to understand why we don’t focus on the lyric and vocal work, instead opting towards the beat. Roots Manuva decides to adopt more production heavy album instead of focusing on a more on his traditional showcase of his lyrical talents. These cause a few problems, nothing drastic, but we notice them right away. With more back choruses and less variation within his lyrics we do seem to want more from Manuva. “Too Cold” relies heavily on this scheme; the chorus carries most of the track with a few verses here and there by Manuva. Although this is tolerable it makes the track average.

One of the few weaknesses Roots Manuva hides extremely well his dependence of the pace on his music. Previously, Brand New Second Hand garnered a more substantial output from Roots Manuva if he didn’t try to pick up the pace with the track. “Dem Phonies” comes to mind from that album; much like that example ‘Awfully Deep’ contains those problems. Instead of sticking with his comfortable position of spiting verses with a slower paced style. His fast-paced verses feel a bit tight and unnerving; “A Haunting” and “Rebel Heart” contains the same problems of a his previous history, but even with a more developed and experienced Roots Manuva, he just can’t seem to break through. With this type of problem it’s easy to look off course with the album, but after that small speed bump Manuva brings out “Chin High”. A clear and concise classic by Roots Manuva, using his beautiful new electronic beats, extensive lyrical talent and timing the track is a fantastic highlight to an already excellent album. Roots Manuva’s chances to close out albums are enormously excellent. All of his albums have memorable endings to them. Brand New Second Hand brought “Motion 5000” and Run Come Save Me with “Dreamy Days”. ‘Awfully Deep’s’ “Toothbrush” offers the same great closing. The track that embodies what the album brings of new and old; lyrically Manuva is addictive as always, but the new dub, electronic and yes even drum n bass sounds become universally aware as Manuva ends it.

Grade: B
Download: V0(VBR)


Nonstop Storytellin'

Growing up as a Jewish Caucasian in America around hip-hop can’t be all that hard nowadays since that barrier was broken early on with once punk band Beastie Boys (initials B.B. homage to Bad Brains). There’s nothing like a great support structure to hold onto when entering the underground hip-hop scene and Ian Bavitz (Aesop Rock) was truly happy to sign to much cultivated Definitive Jux after the release of Float. Commonly in the world of hip-hop you won’t get noticed by major labels unless you have a huge fan base and/or you’re just a carbon copy of the entire mainstream definition. Luckily, some use their abstract lyrical talents or interesting approaches in any genre to stretch the boundaries (Buck 65 comes exclusively to mind nowadays). Fortunately for all of us Aesop Rock decided to use his influences into broad, abstract lyrical talents associated with interesting beats to boot. So much so, that he was immediately on many well-known labels radar after only releasing one proper album. His first two self-financed releases (the plight of many legitimate hip-hop artists) Music For Earthworms and Appleseed EP both were drenched in his hyperbole ridden stories and poor production due to the less then favorable income. So the question really comes to the forefront. Does Aesop Rock’s really show the progression and refined style that was obviously missing in his self-released albums?

The common thread that develops between underground hip-hop artists nowadays would definitely the type of lyrical focus or lack thereof in their songs. Aesop Rock like many contemporary hip-hop artists love adding metaphorical statements and stream of consciousness storytelling, much like Sage Francis, Aesop Rock too tends to be a bit overlong on the wordplay. Much of his work is open to interpretation despite being focused on actual personal events (most of the time) and thus can get on your nerves if you aren’t used to it. There are some amazing moments that flesh out on Float despite this obvious problem. You really can’t say “Basic Cable” is lacking in anything. The flow meshes perfectly with the appealing atmosphere as Bavitz discusses the problems associated with the doom generation glued to their TV tubes ‘til the AM. Other tracks, most notably the featured track with the fantastic Cannibal Ox called “Attention Span” is addictive as it is hilarious.

Basic Cable Lyrics
“Blue be the propaganda banners, well, sure I'll be a Marine
with a clean sword and blue uniform, it only takes a dollar and a dream.
And I abide, great idiot box power-supply, fuzz vapor,
blackout of New York. Hey honey, get the generator,
I'm in a doom, doom generation, pacin', ancient electric secret
never sleepin' to miss the AM oasis”

Easily the root of the problem with Float can be seen on “Fascination”, as it can be either astonishingly amazing or astonishingly boring for some listeners. The no-pause stance Bavitz decides to throw at you really can put you off if you can’t stand it. There is a threshold that some can take and Bavitz does cross at times on Float, which can become annoying to many. Although this can be seen here and there on Float it is usually kept under control; with “Oxygen” Bavitz brings his non-stop string stories within the beginning, but soon adheres to the beat(somewhat). Aesop Rock is properly one of those artists that you’ll either understand and admire or become frustrated both with his voice (a bit odd) and lyrical flow in general. His style has jumped leaps and bounds from his early self-released material and the better production is an extreme positive. It’s obvious why he was signed to Def Jux after Float, as his general direction of material and sound streamline well with the hip-hop artists already signed on the illustrious label.

Grade: B+
Download: V0 (VBR)

The Beautiful Process of Destruction

Like everything on this planet that has an organic composition things tend to break down. Basinski’s old tapes he had left in his home 20 years ago were just a reminder of how things fall apart (although not organic). His task to transfer the tapes towards a digital format was successful, but he eventually noticed the tapes were literally being disintegrated (in a matter of speaking). Hence, the collection of The Disintegration Loops I-IV was made. They still remain his most established work, not only in his discography, but in the ambient field as a whole. The concept of using natural sounds that over-time had been broken down like the human body, a run-down building, pretty much anything that can be brought down to its basic, simplest form was ingenious. The material on this album and Basinski’s tapes has a common thread with the rest of existence – time will eventually catch up to us.

William’s tapes were old forms of his previously recorded music in the 1980’s, inherently unrecognizable in their digital form now they do not exist in the present time due to tapes plainly falling apart while being transferred. As the tapes withered away they leave the message of 20 years. 20 years of dust, decay, darkness, and possibilities. What is truly astonishing about The Disintegration Loops II is the fact we are hearing the music unfold right before us. With The Disintegration Loops I-IV natural events take hold of what was. A few demo tapes turn into obscure and historic works of music for Basinski, even if they weren’t entirely crafted by his hand they seem amazing nonetheless.

You would think continuing the tradition of The Disintegration Loops I would follow, but not precisely as one would expect. Part II isn’t as drawn out as its predecessor. It’s already reached the comfort zone due to the outline of the previous Loops on I, but it is more sinister and elaborate then what we would expect. Sure, The Disintegration Loops I may have the callings of the dead life of old music, but it isn’t heard or quite dense as The Disintegration Loops II. The swirling repetition (hence ‘Loops’) isn’t as distracting throughout this 5 hour journey (not The Disintegrations Loops II by itself, but I mean the entire series) as one would initially expect.

The Disintegration Loops II is an immediate step up from its fantastic predecessor. For one as I said this album isn’t as drawn out as its predecessor allowing nature to take its course from those long forgotten themes and musical essence it once held so dear. “D|P 2.2” is exactly what I’m talking about – cold, developing, slowly grabbing your attention every minute it runs through its 33 minutes of Loops. Every so often you’ll hear something more wanton, but it doesn’t make it bad because it just adds to the depth of the song itself. The menacing obscurity that develops in “D|P 2.2” is quite noticeable as the ‘Loops’ gradually are swallowed whole. Eventually in this time you’ll hear the cries of the long forgotten music that held in place on II, but the cutting of the electronic atmosphere never disappears, always ever-present and always in your ear. It steadily declines and the loops seem to break farther apart to allow “D|P 3” to enter, which by anyone’s standards may be one of the greatest ambient tracks of all-time. Completely surprising and lush with life; I said The Disintegration Loops II was darker than its predecessor, I wasn’t necessarily lying since half of really is, but “D|P 3” has one of the greatest, triumphant introductions to be heard by man. Instead of the cold looping we are accustomed to, nature + Basinski turns us with a complete 180. It is the clear opposite, the hisses, faint distresses that are evident in this whole series are here, but the cutting in the previous track isn’t dreary or muddled with blackness and instead brims with life and energy. Uplifting and serene “D|P 3” is a triumphant way to end the last 40 minutes of The Disintegration Loops II.

I have yet to listen to the entire Disintegration Loops I-IV series, but I’m sure it’ll keep me pondering for quite some time what exactly am I listening to? Is it the destruction of previous material or just the rebirth of a dying inert space that once held this together? I have what another 60 years to figure that out, if I’m lucky that is. Time will only tell.

Grade: A+
Download: V0 (VBR)

Marko Polo's Exploration © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness