Monday, August 29, 2016

Various - Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 2) (Original TC Review)

Turbo: 2001

(2016 Update:
A reasonable length? Using descriptive events rather than dry detail to cover music within? Actual readable content rather than rambly word salads? I didn't think 2006 Sykonee had it in him, yet here he was, finally getting his act together in providing material of much higher quality than what came before. Erm, and was still ahead, if I'm honest. And yeah, the opening couple paragraphs are woefully redundant now, but that second half, is that ever a fun read.

Definitely felt a strong surge of inspiration with this one, so many good tunes from unexpected names throughout this CD. Shame that its such an obscure release, even by Turbo standards, as the label's DJ mixes continued outshining the scant compilations. With unheralded, overlooked tracks from Adam Beyer, Joel Mull, Shawn Ward, and Jori Hulkkonen on here, its like the ultimate mixtape from Tiga. Not to mention the lone contribution from THE VANDAL! Man, we needed more electroclashy covers of U2, did we ever.)



IN BRIEF: The times, they were changin' (at Turbo).

Turbo’s track record had been practically flawless when this came out, building up a solid reputation for ace DJ mixes of mostly house music (with a little techno and, *gasp*, even a d’n’b one!). There was a sense of change abundant in the little-Canadian-label-that-could though, as Tiga was apparently smitten by a new wave of EDM. Although this change could mostly be felt in the tone of Turbo’s musical manifesto, it also became apparent ambitions were growing as well. No longer content in providing great DJ mixes, the label was showing greater emphasis on pushing original productions.

Not that Turbo didn’t promote such material here and there, but as a fledgling label aiming for recognition based on DJ talent, such releases hardly registered. Despite the quality of the track selection in their first Studio Sessions, it didn’t quite have the diversity needed to break from the pack. It was a safe compilation, going with what worked to earn hip points with the press, mainly soulful house and Detroit techno with touches of funk and minimal to spice it up.

Vol. 2 of this series sees Turbo a little bit wiser, a little more self-assured ...and a whole lot more eclectic. While some of the same styles of music return in this follow-up, there’s plenty of new faces mixing in: dub, trip-hop, acid, micro-house, breaks, swing jazz, ambient, and some (at the time) new-fangled thing called ‘electroclash’. Quite a bold move, that last one, as this new sound was still relegated to ‘super hipster underground’ status at this point. There was no bandwagon to jump on yet, and who knew if the Turbo faithful would buy into it?

Actually, that’s a silly question. A label like Turbo doesn’t build up a winning reputation by taking chances their fanbase won’t buy into. Their fans often gave them the freedom to surprise them with something different, and very rarely would Turbo let that trust fail. In fact, Studio Session 2 comes across as something more than a simple collection of tunes: rather, this sounds like a love-letter to the Turbo faithful. Tiga and co. take their followers on an exquisite night out on the city, allowing the listener to tag along in their zany adventures to find the perfect beat.

With a smile and a twinkle in the eye, the compilation kicks off with Good Life, a fun little romp of jazzy rhythms and effect washes. As we head out into the night, we’re taken on a pre-amble cruise through deep house vibes and dubby delights care of Brommage Dub, Shawn Ward, and Snaporaz. It’s like snacking on fine sushi in a post-modern lounge while sipping on a fancy drink with a few too many curls in the straw (for irony’s sake, of course). You can practically smell the hipster cologne in the air.

But this is merely the warm-up, the initial stretch. Slightly uneasy tones are heard from elsewhere (courtesy of The Whisper by Hijack), hinting at possible sinister shenanigan to be found away from these cosmopolitan surroundings. Fearlessly, we enter the underground where the wicked techno of Jori Hulkkonen’s Wispers greats us with infectiously grooving rhythms and out-of-tune synth strings. OH! AND ACID!! LOVE THE BRIEF SQUIGGLY BITS OF ACID!!!

Jori’s electro romp is about as fun as this underground techno adventure gets though, as these next couple of tracks are serious business. Joel Mull does give us some murky funky flair over shuffling rhythms but Adam Beyer takes no prisoners in his downtempo track Those Funny Moments: thick beats sludge along as unsettling string swells and paranoid droid noises wrap you up in a suffocating mechanical menace. You can practically feel the grime on those cold, concrete warehouse walls.

The underground’s all fine and dandy for a while, but it’s time to head back out and cruise the streets once more, this time with a sense of playfulness as we reflect on the night. The ADNY track is interesting, but not particularly enduring. However, attempting to resist the White Linen remix of Crockett’s Theme is, um, futile. Between fey plucky synths and a bubbly bassline over tinny electro-breaks, this remix is filled to the rim with witty charm.

However, the night runs long, and it’s time to head back home and unwind. Throw on some easy downtempo vibes (Swayzak’s State of Grace); work on that quirky sounding cover of a U2 song that could be the beginnings of a hot new genre called electroclash (New Year’s Day, as done by Tiga and Jori going by The Vandal); finally be swept up in ambient bliss as you lie down to bed with a content smile of a night well spent (Peter Benisch’s Love Theme).

Okay, so maybe you won’t get all that out of Studio Sessions Vol. 2 as I did. For all I know, you may treat this compilation completely on the straight and narrow, as nothing more than a solid collection of rare releases from a Canadian label that got lucky with some choice singles and a breakout star. As that, you really can’t go wrong with this release. It’s got diversity, it’s got class, it’s got head noddin’ bits, catchy bits, and moving bits - all the things you’d expect from Turbo, really. Check it out and see where this music will take you.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2006. © All rights reserved

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Various - Turbo Studio Sessions (Vol. 1) (2016 Update)

Turbo: 1999

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

And now this CD. Series too, though I thankfully don’t have to write a full 2016 Update for all three volumes of Turbo Studio Sessions. It’s gonna’ be difficult enough doing just this one, as almost all the information you could possibly want or need to know was dealt with in the original review. And I’ve gone on and on and on (with the halcyon!) recounting how the Turbo of old had very little to do with the Turbo you knew or would come to know – label’s done some evolution during its near two-decade life. Heck, even a redone rundown might come off redundant, as it feels like I’ve talked about Thomas Krome’s The Real Jazz and Isolée’s Beau Mot Plage a few times now. Though credit where it’s due, Turbo Studio Sessions, Vol. 1 is about the only place you’ll find these particular remixes from Erot and DJ Q, respectably. It’s all about those exclusive cuts, yo’.

Not too exclusive, mind you, though Turbo certainly gathered tracks well off the beaten path. The dubby, minimal groover Bad Hair Day Theorem vs. Swayzak came from a M_nus record early in that print’s lifespan. While Steve Bug would go on to a steady, prosperous career in minimal tech-house, his partner Acid Maria for the track Down With Us was one of the last things she ever produced. Funny enough, the label it first came out on, Steve Bug’s Raw Elements print, also folded shortly after releasing that record. Lehner & Biebl, who’s slinky electro cut Bobby R. showed hints of Turbo’s burgeoning taste for electroclash (not even a thing yet!), also disappeared shortly after this.

And as for poor Nytolbooth, this and a previous Turbo sampler CD are his lone entries within Lord Discogs. Or hers? Robot, mayhaps, what with that ambient electro thing going on with Orange. What’s funny is, within this CD’s inlay, a little blurb mentions Nytolbooth was due to drop a Turbo album the following year, but clearly that never happened. The closest any album within the label’s catalog that sounded like this particular track is Peter Benisch’s work, and I’m one-hundred and four percent certain this is not Peter Benisch (my brain’s margin of error is around seven percent). With no name and no further mention with Lord Discogs’ archives of ‘Nytolbooth’, the alias’ identity remains one of Turbo’s longest mysteries. Maybe I should ask Tiga, if I happen across his path in the future. Yes, I’d totally waste an Ask One Question chance on something so inconsequential!

Other names on this compilation carried on for tidy careers in the ensuing decade, but the works of Hans Nieswand, Universal Tongues, and Turner essentially disappear after that. DKMA, also known as Callisto and Krimp, but as Dana Kelley to the boys at a Boston pub where everyone knows your name, sadly died in 2013. No rhyme, no reason, just unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 49. No words now, just peace…

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Various - Tunnel Trance Force Vol. 30 (2016 Update)

Tunnel Records: 2004

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)


So these CDs. Or singular CD, if I’m honest, having lost Disc 1 some time ago. Right, I ‘technically’ never had Tunnel Trance Force 30 in the first place, as this was a ‘special request’ review from TranceCritic’s ‘man in charge’, the chap who early-on always got us poor ‘writers’ promoting contemporary hard ‘trance’. Fool, only old-school hard trance is worthy of my ears, but sure, I did the deed; with increasing levels of ludicrous hyperbole should you brave all them words and stuff. Since I resided on the West Coast though, and he on the East Coast, the only means of music request procurement entailed digital transfers via internet tube connection. Yeah yeah, big surprise TC’s ‘promos’ weren’t always ‘legal’, but when you’re scraping from the ‘bottom’, some ‘corners’ had to be ‘cut’. I’m in a very ‘apostrophatic’ mood this afternoon.

Anyway, I burned the two mixes to CDr, listened to them a couple times, got that review out, then figured I’d never play them again, collecting dust on a spindle of forgotten burns. Then along comes a better computer into my life, with actual storage capacity. And I thinks to myself all those forgotten burns on a dusty spindle, I may as well shove ‘em on this newer-fangled technology, despite odds of a replay being a shade above zero. Is there a cure for OCD yet?

Strangely, my CD1 burn of Tunnel Trance Force 30 disappeared on me, and I have no idea of how that happened. It’s not like I ever brought these out for a casual play …at least, not to any sober recollection of mine. Shame, because I might have even enjoyed disc one a bit, what with a few of the better hard trance names included on there (Cosmic Gate, DuMonde, Kindervater, Marc Et Claude). Wait a minute… *re-reads original TranceCritic review* Nope, I was wrong – I’d definitely still dislike it.

That still leaves us with CD2 though, titled 30.2 Mix. Cannot deny there’s some initial fun having all these hard trance and pseudo-hardstyle bosh tracks assaulting my ears, but yeah, the gimmick wears old fast, and I’ve checked out after that lone decent cut in Power To The People. Breakbeats, man, is there no genre they can’t make better?

When I first discovered Tunnel Trance Force had hit its thirtieth volume, I couldn’t help but marvel at its durability. 2005 Sykonee, you hadn’t seen anything yet, the series lasting all the way to a seventy-first edition before it folded in 2014. Holy cow, I had no clue hard trance of this sort was even being made for that long with any consistency! Yeah, it actually wasn’t, Tunnel Trance Force succumbing to the ‘big room’ anthem house schlock so many trance companies tried adapting into their repertoire to stay relevant. Seems such bandwagon hopping was met with incredible ‘resistance’ though, dedicated followers none too pleased, effectively ending Tunnel Trance Force with indignant shame. I LOL’d.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Tragically Hip - Trouble At The Henhouse

MCA Records: 1996

We always assumed they’d be around, consistently making affable alternative rock for the bars and the hockey stadiums and the mega-Canadian events. They’re like that reliable Mom-N-Pop deli shop in your neighborhood that could make a perfect pea and bacon soup, or sports store that still sold that one brand of curling broom. You never needed them in your life, but somehow felt enriched by having The Tragically Hip there, something to return to whenever the Want presented itself. And upon hearing of lead singer Gordon Downie’s terminal brain cancer, and how The Hip’s current tour would be their last with him, every Canadian suddenly found themselves in want of returning to the band’s music. Even those who’d only had passing interest (*cough*) tuned in for their final performance together in Kingston, Ontario. While it’s entirely possible The Hip could carry on as a band without Downie, it’s difficult imagining so, the man such an integral part of what made The Hip who they were. Without those poetic tales of common clay under unusual circumstances, they’d never have wooed such a large swath of Canadians finding some connection within their songs.

See, this is what I’m writing about. Who really cares about this singular, twenty year old album of The Tragically Hip when this band that so many of my countrymen adore may have just played their last ever concert! It overshadows everything else in the here-and-now, unlike way back in Spring 2014 (!) when I wrote my first couple reviews of them. I’ll give it the ol’ college try though.

Trouble At The Henhouse was the follow-up to their most critically acclaimed record, Day For Night. The band was probably at the peak of their popularity by the mid-‘90s, and this album quickly capitalized on that, scoring them one of their only Number One hits in this country with lead single Ahead By A Century. Yeah, funny thing about The Hip is, while their LPs typically did gang-busters on the Canadian charts, the singles seldom ever cracked Top 10. Anyway, it’s easy to hear why Ahead By A Century would finally do the damage, a pleasant folksy ditty with a heavier bridge near the end, and instantly catchy lyrics like “And that’s when the hornet stung me; And I had a feverish dream.” The song that always catches my ears though, is Butts Wigglin, though probably entirely due to its use in the Kids In The Hall movie, Brain Candy. (and, um, that title)

Quite a few songs off this album made the rounds on Canadian radio (Gift Shop, Springtime In Vienna, Flamenco), while others get heavier (Coconut Cream, Let’s Stay Engaged) or bluesy (Sherpa, Put It Off). Trouble At The Henhouse doesn’t really offer much new from The Hip though, and the band would start a very long slide into MOR rock territory after this. Enough memorable tunes lurk here that it’s still in discussion as Essential Hip, but probably the least as such from their ‘90s heyday.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 (2016 Update)

Epic: 1993

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

This CD, too. Truly, one of the earliest examples of artist hubris in dance music culture. Either that, or this was the true musical style of Jam & Spoon, and Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 was the commercial sell-out to earn those sweet chart-topping dolla’ bills so they had artistic freedom from there on out. Considering the sort of music Misters Ellmer and Löffel continued making after this, however, I’m kinda’ going with the former. More pop pieces on future albums Kaleidoscope and Tripomatic Fairytales 3003. Happy hardcore as Tokyo Ghetto Pussy. And let’s not forget Jam’s various commercial projects prior and concurrent with his work alongside Markus. Nay, these chaps definitely had their ears trained for the pop end of the dance music spectrum, making Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 all the more an anomaly within their mutual discographies.

That they always had these ideas floating in their heads but never the commercial clout to see them blossom until this album is the most likely scenario. Another possibility is they were specifically commissioned to make a record of experimental ambient and dub, an utterly daft theory until you realize they initially had a record deal with seminal Belgium techno print R & S Records. Obviously they had greater success with German print Dance Pool, but the first Jam & Spoon EPs - Tales From A Danceographic Ocean and The Complete Stella - were with R & S. Fast forward to Album Time, and that deal is still in effect, Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 released by R & S within Belgium while Dance Pool dealt with the rest of Europe; Epic handled N. American distribution. You may recall R & S also had a spiffy new sub-label called Apollo, dealing with that new-fangled ‘ambient techno’ genre one Aphex Twin practically invented. Lo and behold, here’s Tripomatic Fairytales 2002 coming out on said sub-label within Belgium. The theory fits! Meanwhile, Dance Pool handled the rest of Europe’s copies, and N. America never got one, because who on this continent would ever be interested in druggy ambient from a pair of German euro-dance and trance producers (me, me!).

Given the more leftfield pieces on 2001 and the way out of field pieces on 2002, one question does keep nagging my mind: who was the overriding muse between these two? I’ve no doubt Jam & Spoon had a fair bit of creative synergy between the two of them, but a lot of the psychedelia involved here strikes me as a singular source of inspiration. While I can see both collaborating on the lengthy tracks like N.A.S.A. Nocturnal Audio Sensory Awakening and I Saw The Future, a totally experimental piece like LSD Nikon or meditative ambience of Salinas Afternoon had to have been the work of one or the other. But who, I wonder, and where they’d even get their ideas from in the first place. Can’t deny I’d love to meet Mr. El Mar just to ask that. Also, what the deal is with that omelet track.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jam & Spoon - Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 (2016 Update)

Dance Pool/Epic: 1993/1994

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

And this CD. One of the earliest attempts at bridging the trance-pop gap. Also a bizarre blend of hypnotic German techno and sun-kissed beatnik Balearic vibes. Not to mention among the first trance albums I purchased for myself, though Dance 2 Trance’s Moon Spirits beat it to my primeval collection by at least a year. Still, I thought I was buying a euro-dance CD with the DJ Dag project, whereas I’d just started my trance indoctrination with Tripomatic Fairytales 2001, willing to take a risk on an LP full of unfamiliar tunes - Follow Me and their Age Of Love remix was about all I knew from them. And hoo, was it an ear-opener, going in weird, unexpected places that even folks already familiar with big singles Right In The Night and Stella were wondering just what the duo were smokin’ in their studio.

Clearly I was too young to know much about the European club scene Jam & Spoon were a part of, and there’s scant reports of initial impression from punters purchasing Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 hot off the shelves. I can guess they were expecting more of the recognizable hits, so how did folks react to the electro-tribal thump of Heart Of Africa as an opener? It took me by surprise only because I wasn’t well versed in much of anything these guys had done yet. Was this track a crazy double-take for those familiar with even their early, charmingly titled techno B-side My First Fantastic F.F.?

Interludes. Skits. How many dance albums did this way back when? Some brief instrumental pieces or drum loops, sure, but spoken word peices like Muffled Drums and Who Opened The Door To Nowhere were a rarity, especially for a supposed trance (or pop) record. Nor did Misters Mar and Spoon skimp on throwing whatever struck their muses into the pot. Ultra long builders like Odyssey To Anyoona and Path Of Harmony, standard (for the time) trance numbers in Nuerotrance Adventure and Paradise Garage, or indulging some ethnic sounds with Zen Flash Zen Bones and Earth Spirit.

Hey, I mentioned way back when that there were many different version of Tripomatic Fairytales 2001 - let’s delve into those! The original-original version had an additional interlude called Operation Spaceship Earth, mostly of orbiting sounds and giggling children. Yeah, I can hear why this was jettisoned for Find Me in the re-issues. A couple years after though, they jettisoned Zen Flash Zen Bones to add another new single with Plavka, euro-cheeseball Ibizan tune Angel (Ladadi O-Heyo). This was not such a good move, and was removed for the 2010 re-issue, along with Find Me. Operation Spaceship Earth was reinstated though, and brought along a bunch of vintage bonus remixes and the epic Follow Me. Huh, you could have gotten that track on a 1993 limited edition version vinyl release, along with The Tribe and all the Tripomatic tracks arranged in a different order. Bet that one fetches a handsome fee on the open market.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Various - A Trip In Trance 4: Mixed By Rank 1 (2016 Update)

Hi-Bias Records: 2005

(Click here to read my original TranceCritic review.)

So this CD. What, you thought we were done with trance? Hah, not in the slightest, a fair percentage still left in the tail end of the ‘T’s. Come to think of it, there’s a heavy amount of Updates coming up too. Man, what was it with those early TranceCritic days that had me reviewing so many ‘T’ albums? What indeed...

I’m surprised how much A Trip In Trance 4 has held up. I only ever bought the damn thing as a lark, a promo sticker promising “the true sound of Trance” providing an easy angle to get my rant on. And while I naturally knew Rank 1 and recognized a few names by scene osmosis, a good portion of the track list was still unknown to me; my expectations were brutal-low. I wasn’t expecting something on par with that dreadful Trance V.oice 2 compilation, but I couldn’t comprehend something much better, what with Hi-Bias Records behind the CD. Who even is this label anyway?

Only one of the longest running house music prints in Canada, 2005 Sykonee you git. True, they mostly stuck to the vinyl industry, and very few of their records ever went on to be hits featured on the premier compilations of the ‘90s, but I do recall seeing a few releases of theirs back when: Club Hi-Bias – Climax, Rhythm Formula… um… Well, whatever the case, fortunes favored Hi-Bias in the ‘00s, the print expanding their franchise into several A Trip Into… compilations, including six volumes of A Trip In Trance, each with a sexay lady on the front in progressively near state of nudity. Seriously, the final one is a backshot of the model in her panties, but ooh, still classy B+W stylee!

It was a fun diversion again hearing charming cheese like Alt + F4, Ernesto vs. Bastian’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and Benjamin Bates’ Whole (plus that kick-ass True Fiction from Jan Gustafsson!), but I got more of a kick in digging into the various names on here and where their careers went. For instance, you’ve got way early efforts from Sander van Doorn, John O’Callaghan, and Leon Bolier, some still operating under aliases. Doorn did use quite a few different guises around this time, ‘Sandler’ only good for two records. Damn though, does Theme Song ever remind you how he was projected as one of trance’s future stars. Well, they got the ‘future star’ part right. Bolier almost had just as big a breakout, though Pulsar as Precursor isn’t as good as Theme Song.

On the flipside, its weird seeing several other acts on here amount to little after this. Releases from Jan Gustafsson, Rachael Starr, Hemstock & Jennings, and Jesselyn dry up shortly after. Others took some time finding their footing, such as Airbase, or re-emerged as solo artists. For instance, Joonas Hahmo (of Alt+F4), and that Rank 1 member that technically didn’t mix this CD. I hear he’s been making good bank ghost-writing Armin tunes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Akshan - The Tree Of Life

Altar Records: 2012

When exactly did Altar Records get their break? Was there positive buzz right from inception? They certainly had enough talent on hand to give them a solid foundation, though much of it was on loan from established prints, names that had already made a mark elsewhere. Truth is when I browse through the label’s early catalog, I don’t see many standout releases beyond the key acts that went on to become staples (AstroPilot, E-Mantra, DJ Zen ‘natch). I didn’t come around to Altar until way late, and most folks I knew didn’t either. Something had to be that trigger though, a catalyst in gaining more eyes beyond early adopters. Seems this debut from Akshan is often pointed towards as one such contender, an album catching the ears of many who’d never even heard of Altar before. Looking at other releases from the label about that time (Solar Walk 2, When Mars Meets Venus, Silence, Fruits Of Imagination re-up), yeah, I suspect mid-2012 gave a good bump for the boys from Quebec.

Akshan more commonly goes by the name of Vincent Grenier, but Lord Discogs doesn’t give much more information than that. Nor does it reveal any prior work to this one, The Tree Of Life not only his debut record on Altar, but debut period. He apparently spent some time honing his craft in the years prior though, a practice that paid off when he finally struck a deal with Altar. For if this LP truly is his first offerings made available to the public, The Tree Of Life is a darn slick first impression. I’d expect nothing less of someone stating Ultimae as an influence.

Mr. Grenier also states Juno Reactor as an act taken cues from. I can hear that, Akshan leaning rather tribal compared to Altar’s usual fare, though not in any overt manner. Tracks like Jungle Fever and Back To The Origin mostly stick to the widescreen prog-psy stylee Altar consistently dishes out, but throws in more sounds and rhythms that recall some of Ben Watkins’ heavier moments. Elsewhere, Adagio For The Braves has a breakdown that features the famous Chief Joseph “I will fight no more forever” speech, though not to as great effect as Peyote’s use of it if I’m honest. Still, that melody after… damn…

As for the rest of The Tree Of Life, it’s an Altar Records album. Um, I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Most tracks follow a similar template of moody, ambient build, establish a slow n’ steady prog pulse, grow in intensity with subtle swirly, trancey sounds, finally peaking out with a lengthy, cinematic piece at the end. Angels Never Cry has spritely melodies, Symphonic Tendencies indulges the acid along with orchestral swells, Eternity uses stuttering voice pads, and final track Waiting For You features an extended symphonic denouement. There honestly isn’t much variation between tracks but if you fancy your prog-psy and chill with a melancholic flavor, you’ll definitely enjoy The Tree Of Life.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

FPU - Traxxdata

Turbo: 2003

I liked Soundtrack Saga, but didn’t become as big a fan of Peter Benisch’s work until hearing this album. It blew my mind that someone who could craft such lush, expansive downtempo and ambient music, then completely flip the script and offer up something so charmingly retro, quirky, and kitsch. That’s not to say artists are incapable of exploring radically differing styles of music, but it’s typically not done, most content with remaining inside the lane they’re most proficient at. And even if they do reach beyond their comfort zones, it’s even rarer they contribute something unique to whatever genre they’re exploring. That’s why it’s not only remarkable that Benisch went and made an ode to the electro and synth music of the ‘80s, but excelled at it at a time when everyone was doing the same!

No, wait, that’s not entirely accurate. The early ‘00s had everyone jumping on the electroclash bandwagon, which took ‘80s ideas but twisted them upon itself. It was the only way to remain cool while also being blatantly retro, see. Traxxdata isn’t electroclash though. Even the track that kicked the FPU project off, Crockett’s Theme, is as respectful an ode to the original Jan Hammer piece as anyone’s crafted. True, Tiga took that track and turned the kitsch to eleven for Ocean Drive, but that track isn’t on here. About the only other tune off Traxxdata that reaches similar ‘relive decadent Miami’ vibes is second single Racer Car, what with camp lyrics of “Cruising fast, in your racer car, in the night; You look so fine, you look so good, in the night.” I also feel this is one of the weaker cuts, though still having a solid, techno pulse going for it.

The rest of the album flirts between proper-grim electro (Calabi Yau Space, In The Future With Machines, FPU Theme) and peppy synthwave numbers. Wait, what? Synthwave? Isn’t that a relatively new development? Yeah, mostly, though I’m sure you could point to the odd outlier making deliberate throwback soundtrack music at any point in the past two decades - like Traxxdata! Benisch made no secret of where he was drawing influence from, and just as every synthwave producer ever namedrops Jan Hammer, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and John Carpenter, so it also goes with FPU.

And hot damn, are there ever some tasty ‘80s earworms in here! You Don’t Pay My Bills is a delicious slice of robo synth-pop, having me hum lyrics I only half decipher. At the other end of Traxxdata, you’ll find Waiting For Snow, as close to an ‘electro-trance’ tune as I’ll ever allow being designated as such (shove off, Punk). Other tracks find Benisch indulging himself a little more, like a creepy ode to Seven Of Nine (that vocoder!), chipper jaunts across dimensions (Time Safari), and casual strolls through retro-future cities (Eastside Protection). The lone out-of-place track on Traxxdata is closer Endgame, and only because it sounds like a leftover from Soundtrack Saga instead. Worth! It!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Various - Traveler '03

Six Degrees Records: 2003

The only hope a label like Six Degrees Records could have at success is predicated upon a compilation series like their Travel CDs. Take a casual survey of their roster, and most likely you’ll draw a blank on seventy percent of them. I only familiarized myself with Six Degrees because Banco de Gaia found a new home there after his Planet Dog/Mammoth deal ended (prints going out of business will do that). And while I’ve since found a few interesting acts alongside him (dZihan & Kamien, DJ Cheb I Sabbah …The Orb!?), most draw a big ol’ blank from me. It’s my way-Western bias, see, forever limiting the sort of global exposure I could have at the tips of my earlobes. Names like Batidos, Niyaz, Issa Bagayogo, Cibelle, Ojos de Brujo, Bossacucanova, and Willy Porter are well outside my sphere of influence, and while Six Degrees’ manifesto is all about dropping some worldly musical knowledge on folks such as I, it’s all a bit much to take in for any but the most daring of global trekkers.

Hence the Travel series, a (mostly) annual compilation rounding up Six Degrees artists familiar and obscure as a showcase for the curious. Even a passing familiarity with the label should have folks weaned on the likes of Karsh Kale, MIDIval PunditZ, and Bob Holroyd, but who among thee know of Bobi Céspedes, Lumin, or Qwii Music Arts' Trust Khoi San Music? No, don’t lie, you’ve never heard that last one before, because this is the only place within Lord Discogs’ tome of knowledge it appears. Who even is Qwii Music Arts' Trust Khoi San Music? Fortunately, the inlay provides handy write-ups of the artists within. For this particular track of Xlao Tshao, we are told “These “Bushmen” of the Kalahari Desert and their music have evolved from 25,000 years of indigenous culture. They believe their music has the potential to heal their community through rhythm.” Well, that wasn’t much help at all. I could tell this was charming African-folk music just from hearing it, thank you very much.

That’s about the best way to take in Traveler ‘03 in, simply playing the CD back and hearing all the various cultures represented. And don’t worry about being too over-cultured, as Six Degrees’ main goal has always been about bridging these wide cultural gaps with easily-digested global grooves. Lots of downtempo dub, shufflin’ Afro-jazz, and even some braindancey breaks action care of Lumin’s Izgrala. MIDIval PunditZ’ Dark Escape has a brisk techno pulse going, while Ben Neill’s Bugfunk and Karsh Kale’s GK² isn’t a touch out of classic breaks, but with an ethnic twist.

And if all that isn’t enough of a bridge, there’s a bonus second CD with Traveler ‘03 of straight-up club remixes. Right, some of these are Latin clubs or jazz clubs, but house clubs too. Heck even Berghain jocks would rinse out that ultra-deep David Alvarado rub of Sylk 130’s Romeo’s Fate. How’d that get on here?

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