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Artist: Phonothek
Title: Lost in Fog
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber
Rated: *****
Phonothek is a duo from Georgia whose vision of Dark Ambient is characterized by a sense of melody embodied by the use of real instruments as the trumpet, the most prominent used, shifting the focus of the track towards songs rather than soundscape. It's another example of how this attitude seems to be a vision of this label as other releases by Cryo Chamber shows this musical elements.
The initial drone of "Old Swings" covers a soundscape of small noises and evolve in a slow melody played by a trumpet. The intricate layers of sound at the core of "Last Train" reveals a sense of narrative that "She was in a Dream" confirms as the return of the trumpet marks the unity of musical development.
"Something Happened" oscillates between ambient and field recordings while "Heavy Thoughts" return to the form already displayed at the beginning of this release. The long notes of "Dancing with the Ghost" creates an atmosphere of tension which is almost resolved by "Clown is Dead" as its final part is vaguely reminiscent of some industrial influences with his martial drumming. "Lost in Fog" closes the circle of this release with the return of the trumpet and the sound of the bells which closes this release with a bunch of question.
Apart from the consideration that this release is based on a fistful of ideas which are reworked an almost all track, with vague sense of boredom toward the end of the listening, there's a sense of atmosphere and writing which generates the wish of another listening. Only for fans of the genre.
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Artist: free_quenz
Title: Garten
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Klanggold (@)
Rated: *****
If you just focus on the supposed result on body and mind of music, you could label this older entry in Andreas Ubersetz'z imprint Klanggold, the last one I listened of a package sent by Andreas himself, could be quickly labeled as relaxing. A careful listener will notice how many interesting details this collaborative project by label owner and Gregor Quade barely camouflaged behind their seemingly placid sonic streams: most of the tracks seems to have been roughly live-recorded by external mics instead of typical recorders, as if they virtually tried to render the experience of improvisational sessions genuinely without regarding of possible sonic deburring as well as sneezes, coughs, cracking objects, sonic overpressures, outdoor pouring rain and other (supposedly unexpected) interferences. They gave preference to the imperfection of immediacy and unpredictability to the icy perfection of artificially clean recording techniques, and such a choice turned the smooth piano tones and the peaceful frequencies by Gregor, that got gently modified by Andreas, who also cared field recordings, strangely enchanting. Join them in their sonic garden!
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Artist: Jeff Mills
Title: Free Fall Galaxy
Format: CD + Download
Label: Axis Records
Distributor: N.E.W.S.
Jeff Mills needs no introduction- IT'S JEFF MILLS. His legendary status is such that he could release the sound of him eating his breakfast and brushing his teeth and it would still sell in numbers that most of the other artists reviewed on this site would be envious of. The danger of course is that once you reach such a level, there's no obligation to put any effort in, and a half-baked artist album can be knocked out on a whim.

Luckily though, nothing like that has happened here. Mr Mills- or perhaps I should just call him 'sir'- has clearly put together "Free Fall Galaxy" as a labour of love, a deeply sincere artistic project on the head-bending sci-fi theme of a chaotic galaxy operating outside of the usual physical laws. It's a fictional concept that Mills has completely made up, as far as I can tell, but both the music and the accompanying promo tackle the subject with not only a straight face, but a downright stern face.

So here are thirteen tracks which sound like they have been moulded out of radio telescope data of this distant galaxy, fed into Mills' synths and arpeggiators and translated into frequencies we can hear. Much of it is deeply experimental, some of it is borderline drone, and while there are loops and patterns in it in tracks like the rather bleepy "Aurora", more often than not it bears more of a resemblance to a modern-day reimagining of the Radiophonic Workshop than to techno as we know it (captain).

Several of the tracks recall Tangerine Dream, none more so than the 17-minute epic "Entering (The Free Fall Galaxy)", with some others being more reminiscent of Jean Michel-Jarre in their production, except with a sometimes stoic determination to avoid melody.

"Inner Synthesis" has a pressing synth bassline building throughout, threatening to invite its big buddy the kick drum, but the kick drum never appears, the sense of urgency drifts and we wander back into the ethereal. The kick does finally make cameo appearances in "Solar Crossroads", "Tri-angularism" and the three-minute workout "Rabid Star Clusters". These are among the shortest tracks on the album, rare and strangely unexplained foray into club sounds- and the sounds people may more commonly associate with Jeff Mills. It's as though we stop off at a stellar disco on our way through deep space. The structure of the album makes these numbers stand out like a sore thumb, and anyone planning a truly mesmeric relaxing experience with the album will need to set up a playlist with those tracks excluded.

The production quality is exemplary throughout, this is expert stuff with all the polish of a project that's been a long time in the making. Hit this release at the wrong angle and you might find it self-indulgent and pretentious, but if you're in the right mood, a classic spaced out, chilled out, zen mentality with a yearning for digital sci-fi, this is an epic journey. The only real mystery around it is with the slightly schizophrenic ordering, that bounces us chaotically between ambience and rhythm.
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: The Chronicles (Volume 1)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Modular Expansion Records
Distributor: DBH
The Modular Expansion label may have been named after analogue modular synths, but there's a tight, digital feel throughout this compilation. The label clearly has a consistent and targeted musical vision, as there's a homogeneity of sound here that's rare in a various artists compilation.

"Telesto" is a modest unassuming start, a rhythm primer and a mood setter, and it's only halfway through the Scan Mode remix of "Vier Haufen" that a sense of loop progression and chord starts to take hold. "0011010"'s breakdown ups the suspense level and sounds like the kind of techno anxiety attack you can dance to. Label founder George Aspergis' tracks tend to be on the deeper side, with the Lee Holman remix of "Minthe" a conglomeration of a robots-only disco and a distant space battle.

Absent's "Cycle II" has a sense of immediacy to it that snaps you out of your trance and reminds you where your heartbeat is. Module One's "Relay" picks up this baton with some compelling synth stabs and the Invite remix of "Friction Of A Mind" raises the threat level to a code yellow. After a selection of stomping and more aggressive tunes, the routine returns with George Aspergis's "Quelle" rolling like a high-speed train.

Stardice's "Variables By Sound" brings things to a low-key conclusion, with dub-style delays and washes that are strongly attention-worthy.

It's a well-sequenced collection of unmixed tracks, crying out for a DJ to do the simple job of beatmatching it all together into a single hour-long journey into deep, deep, deep space.
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Artist: Conduct (@)
Title: Borderlands
Format: CD
Label: Blu Mar Ten Music (@)
Rated: *****
Even if Robin Andrews and Chris Edwards, the men behind the curtains of Conduct, don't actually wink at dance floors by catchy sonorities, you will easily realize why many well-known big names of drum'n'bass scene - including Noisia, London Elektricity, Reso or Doc Scott, to name a few of them) - keep on supporting their outputs after an attentive listening to their recent release on the appreciated imprint Blu Mar Ten. Their music tries to intertwine more or less fast-rolling patterns, which sometimes get closer to 170 bpm, and masterfully crafted harmonies or soundtrack-like melodies. "Borderlands" could be considered their very first album, but their skills in handling two symbiotic and seemingly contrasting entities in their sound could be more spontaneously feature more trained sound makers as you can easily guess since the opening tune "Meraki" - the title is maybe a reference to the well-known company founded by two former MIT PhD students -, where touching orchestral cinematic samples peacefully share the same nest with more aggressive percussive patterns. Their passion for soundtracks spurts on the following track "Archaic", where echoes of Western movies got evoked by an excellent guitar sound and drum patterns that seem to evoke the battle of two gunfighters while their bullets melts as a consequence of the red-hot temperature of a forgotten desert place, the place where this imaginary scene could occur, and this kind of reverie and sonic interferences occur here and there in many moments of the album, such the brilliant "Bat Country" - a track inspired by a scenic place in between Los Angeles and Las Vegas -. The grandiose appearance of a piano in "Piano Tunes", spiced by robotic hiccups and catchy mid-tempo, and the likewise emotional breaching of African scents over the hyper-real melancholic breezes of "Turmoil" precede the title-track "Borderlands", one of the highest moment of the whole album that is going to meet the tastes of the lovers of the most "scientific" side of drum'n'bass (Photek, Teebee). Tunes like "Faux", "Grand Panjadrum" or the bizarre hybrid between Vivaldi-like aria, alien vocals over smashing hits of kalimba and wooshing synths in "Beta's Error" as well as "Silkworm" - maybe the more predictable moment of the whole album - could resemble the very first steps of The Upbeats or Faun. Last but not least - even doubly important - the final track "Divergence", where the overlapping between natural and artificial sonorities, severe seriousness and light-heartedness, yin and yang, light and shade complete such a bipolar consecration.
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