Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Various - Unwind: A Journey Into Global Grooves (Original TC Review)

Com.Pact Records: Cat. #CPCD-IL025
Released 2005

Track List:
1. Solarians - Spring Thing (4:53)
2. Tribalistic Society - Åarhus On A Sunday Afternoon (4:46)
3. T.K.Y - Long Before This Day (7:50)
4. U&K - Sähkövalo (5:26)
5. Lish - Blue (4:44)
6. Sunfire - Electronic (7:14)
7. Visual Paradox - GaYo (2005 Remake) (5:50)
8. T.K.Y. vs. Max Maxwell - Twilight (5:18)
9. Wilson Stout - Helpless (Dini Dub Mix) (5:05)
10. Sesto Sento - Slow Move (4:47)
11. Psionyx - Deimos Vista (7:53)
12. The Misted Muppet - Defender Of The Past (2:17)

(2010 Update:
The middle of this review if kind of forgettable, much like the middle of this CD, to be honest. There was actually a second Unwind compilation, featuring most of the same artists, though none of the better ones on here.

One of the fun things with these generic psy releases is I often got to try something different with my writing, in this case doing a 'Good, Bad, Ugly (Verdict)' summary at the end. Come to think of it, that could have been a practical reviewing method for everything. Well, if you were after capsule ones anyway.)

IN BRIEF: Pretty standard stuff.

Com.Pact Records is yet another in what seems to be a never-ending supply of psy trance labels coming out of Israel. Every time I poke my head into the psy scene again, there’s yet another label churning out a slew of mostly full-on trance. I honestly have no idea how some of the more dedicated psy fans can keep up with it all, much less want to. I’d be amazed if there’s enough diversity between the releases to warrant such dedication. Yet, the scene must be there, as the albums and compilations of Israeli psy just keep on trucking out.

Perhaps Com.Pact sensed there was too much of the same ol’, and decided to expand a little into other styles. The result is what we have here: Unwind, a collection of chilled-out global grooves featuring a bunch of names only the Israeli psy scene would have a passing familiarity with.

I’ve been wary of these sorts of compilations for a while now, as the Great Chill-Out Campaign of the new millennium saw a huge glut of ‘adequate’ downtempo releases when Moby’s Play suddenly made it commercially viable. The trouble, my friends, is the very nature of music like this. It isn’t designed to excite or inspire or infuriate, but merely provide a backing soundtrack to everyday situations. Perfectly fine when such situations call for it of course, but very drab when, as a paying listener, you’d rather have the music engage your consciousness rather than evaporate within it.

Still, I’ve heard some decent downtempo stuff from the psy camps in the past, and perhaps an underground label like Com.Pact won’t fall into the same ‘chilled-out muzak’ trap so many commercial labels do. Let’s find out, shall we?
Um, unfortunately, opener Spring Thing from Solarians doesn’t bode too well. You ever see those racks of easy listening music in New Age shops that read like Rainforest Rhythms or Sounds Of Sweet Savannah Showers? Yeah, they tend to look low-budget and hokey, and trust me they usually are. Spring Thing is the kind of track you’d probably hear on one of those: wispy synths, ‘organic’ sounds, and ‘inspirational’ melodies that are anything but. And what’s with that bass? It just grumbles along without harmonizing or leading. This track’s hardly the kind of first impression you want to make. It’s like someone attempting to make a grand entrance into your home, but trips and falls flat on their face.

And instead of quickly gathering himself to save some face, he follows up the trip with a mere shrug and wanders off to settle in. Or, to be rid of this clumsy metaphor, Unwind has a peculiar choice to follow-up Spring Thing with Tribalistic Society’s Åarhus On A Sunday Afternoon. This is a very loose track, borrowing mellow themes from across cultures to form a nice collage of disparate ideas, but little else. You’d think it’d be a better idea to try to grab your attention with something a little more focused, but it is not to be.

Long Before This Day by T.K.Y. carries on the loose musical ideas, seemingly unsure of what kind of track it wants to be. It starts a bit goofy but turns quite somber once some pads are added. Most of the sparse melodies that weave around aren’t terribly interesting, as the sounds used are a bit flat. Midway through, Long Before changes direction again with a weak bassline, some reggae organs, and an Arabic chant. I don’t know about anyone else, but these elements just don’t gel for me. It sounds like it’s trying to be dubby but the sounds don’t carry enough resonance to make it effective. I often find myself tuning this track out.

U&K’s Sähkövalo finally gives us something interesting. More on a trip-hop tip, funky loops and groovy rhythms set up the start. Eventually, moody subdued chords gradually emerge from the background, gently growing stronger as additional synth washes accentuate them. While nothing revolutionary, it is still an engaging bit of music.

Blue by Lish continues the trip-hop trend, though opts for something a little more upbeat. Although murky dubby sounds weave about in the background, the rhythm’s got more kick to it than Sähkövalo, and the added synth hook towards the end is quite effective along with squelchy sound effects that don’t annoy. Perhaps Unwind will be salvageable after all.

Hah, you know that last line is a set-up, so I won’t beat around the bush. Sunfire’s Electronic starts out fine enough with nice sweeping pads and gentle rhythms, creating a pleasant Ibizan atmosphere. It all goes south though, when for reasons that utterly escape me, Mr. Kosyvev introduces a harsh, tuneless synth noise. It’s abrasive, it’s ugly, and it’s completely unnecessary, knocking me out of my calm tranquility like a slap to the face.

What follows for a bit, while interesting in spots, falls into the ‘lounge’ trap of being content to remain unobtrusive. GaYo has a nifty bouncy bassline, but the assortment of xylophones, echoey synths, pianos and so on never bother to carry any kind of melody. Twilight benefits from a murky Arabic atmosphere but also doesn’t settle into any kind of gripping theme. And the Dini Dub of Wilson Stout’s Helpless, while a pleasant bit of Mediterranean chill, is just as hookless as the previous two. Of course, none of these tracks are bad by any means, but they are quite typical of lounge vibes, and probably won’t stand out much if you listen to a great deal of this sort of music.

Unwind seems about ready to move onto something new, though, and opts for the gradual transition. Slow Move by Sesto Sento is an intriguing slice of ambient breaks, making use of some spacey pads and acid squelches to complement the rhythms and hooks. The percussion is also quite good, never settling for simple loops.

With Slow Move easing us from the organic lounges to the synthetic sounds, we move into sci-fi territory... or psy-fi, as the case may be. If Com.Pact’s usual audience has been put off by all the laid-back, jazzy, dubby music thus far, Deimos Vista by Psionyx should be more their style. With spacey synths, stuttering soundscapes, and narrative melodies, this is also the most structured song to be hand on Unwind. The usual ‘psybient’ theme of benevolent alien ideologies should appeal to spaceheads as well.

We close with Defenders Of the Past by The Misted Muppet. Not a very long track, this serves as a decent enough ambient outro following in the theme of Deimos Vista. Eerie synth pads and piano melodies make up the bulk and, even for their short duration, they sound wonderful. This guy continues to impress me; maybe I should seek out that album of his all the psyheads were gushing over.

Now, for The Good: As far as chill albums go, there’s a decent amount of variety to be had. Additionally, the music flows nicely together despite the disparate downtempo styles. Credit should also be given to Com.Pact for daring to expand a little beyond their usual borders.

The Bad: There really isn’t much here that we haven’t heard from countless other chill compilations. Aside from some points where the quality of a track leaps or plummets, Unwind would have a hard time distinguishing itself from your usual chill fodder. Plus, this compilation has a pretty weak start, and first impressions go a long way in setting the mood for any CD.

And The Ugly... er, Verdict: If you see this in your shops and have very little chill music in your collection, you could do worse. However, like so many chill-out compilations these days, Unwind remains far too content to be ‘background’ music. I know the argument goes that’s the whole point of music like this, but with so many compilations of loungey music available, does it then matter which one you put your money down for? No, even chill music should be able to engage you when you’re actually listening to it.

An average score should suffice for Unwind. It would have been lower on account of the weak opening, but it finished strong; even-steven all the way.

Score: 5/10

Psionyx - Deimos Vista

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

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