Music Reviews

VV.AA.: The Chronicles (Volume 1)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 21 2016
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.

Conduct: Borderlands

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 20 2016
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.

Vloyd: Stamp EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 20 2016
Artist: Vloyd
Title: Stamp EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Credo
Distributor: Bandcamp
"Stamp" is a throbbing, relentless low-frequency workout with such a deep reverberation throughout that it sounds more like your neighbours are listening to it, rather than you. The "come on let's go" sample is straight out of the classic Josh Wink songbook.

As the name suggests "Zen" is milder, but everything's relative; it's still a dark and brooding six-minute drum cycle, except that the percussion issues at least a passing acknowledgement to the higher frequencies. The other ingredients, such as the deep breathing and the resistance to change, closely follow the title track's formula.

The Alex Bau remix of "Stamp" notches up the urgency and re-orders things in a slightly more progressive way, but stays so close in spirit to the original that the remix and original are interchangeable.

Alex Dolby's take on "Stamp" ramps up the tempo a lot, adding claps, filters and electrotech flavours and ditching the vocal. The long breakdown works a treat but it can feel a bit frantic if you've already been lured into the walking pace of the previous three tracks. At the end it drops sharply off a cliff as if the money ran out, giving an abrupt end to an otherwise very consistent package.

This is a solid and single-minded clutch of stomping tracks on Credo.

Ardan Bel: Ganshi EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 20 2016
Artist: Ardan Bel
Title: Ganshi EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Redlight Music
Distributor: Dig Dis
This is a confident, assured and also quite relaxed package of leisurely tech-house instrumentals. Everything ticks along with an impressive amount of polish and grooves that could definitely be described as being on the smooth side. The basslines are long and straight, like a long cross-contintental drive. Wave your arms and let it wash over you, these are solid mid-set numbers that keep your feet moving without ever troubling you with any real highs or lows.

Things get more melodic and synth-heavy as it progresses, with title track "Ganshi" arguably a stronger and more memorable track than the opener "Aquilegia".

Ironically, since the EP is named after track 2 and it's track 1 that was given a remix as track 4, it's track 3 that's probably the stand-out of the bunch. "Mankib", with its mellow looping chords, is the poppiest number of the package and the one that seems to be most beginning out for a vocal. As the chords start getting higher and more anxious four minutes in, there's a sense of building tension which is otherwise absent from the laidback demeanour heard through the rest of the EP. Six minutes is your lot though- it drops off a cliff at the end, as if there were some law about making tech-house that reached the seven minute mark. The Liquid Mirror's remix of "Aquilegia" stays in the same ballpark, switching things around a little but staying fairly faithful to the overall mood.

VV.AA.: Amuse Bouche Vol 2

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 08 2016
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Amuse Bouche Vol 2
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Night Noise
Distributor: EPM
Despite being a mini-compilation, there's a strong consistency through it, and if I'd been sent it and told it was a single artist mini-album, I'd have believed it. It's house music in its structure and its form, all fairly mellow in its pace, but with strong retro-wave vibes to the production throughout. You can hear why these guys are all friends.

After Monolife's ambient mix of "Coastal" serves as a confident if slightly unusual over-long album introduction, Plastic Fantastic's "Dark Side Of The Moon" is a measured, systematic vibe that is pleasant and smooth, but has a strong whiff of 'corporate technology promo' about it. I'm more likely to hear it in a documentary about the early days of the internet than I am to hear it in a club, partly because of the slightly thin bottom-end.

Pino's "Nutmeg" has a funkier groove but runs out of ideas towards the end, while William Earl's "Tomorrow Theory" launches off into spacey arpeggios and melancholic echoes that leave me wishing I could hear a little more of the drum programming, but which is otherwise very neat- apart, again, from the "is that it?" ending.

Bedford Falls Players' "Chuggers In Crime" has its feet more firmly on the ground, with very Hardfloor, TB-303-like acid loops gradually tilting and shifting at a firm walking pace, this is music to walk up mountains to, and my favourite of the bunch. Structurally it also feels like the track where the journey was planned most thoroughly in advance.

Humantronic and Leonard de Leonard's "Minimal Palace" closes the album with an urgency and attitude that's slightly out of keeping with the other tracks, making me wonder whether the whole compilation is back to front and they should've lead with this track and put the ambient one at the end. Everyone's definition of minimal is different, but to me "Minimal Palace" is actually quite busy. The layers are very interesting but this track definitely had the opportunity to spin off in different directions, especially after the breakdown, and didn't take them.

Overall this is a solid collection of slightly sci-fi techno moods. As a genuine amuse bouche warming you up to listen to heavier techno it's might work quite neatly, but as a traditional sampler compilation driving people to check out more tracks by these artists and this label, unfortunately I don't think there was quite enough inspiration and imagination threaded through these tracks.

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