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