ironphoenix (ironphoenix) wrote,

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Lots of stuff! (There was a sale, and, well...) So, in chronological order by year of release:
  • Banco de Gaia--Maya (1994): Banco de Gaia's Igizeh was one of the first albums I found that wised me up to the fact that electronica had more happening than new age music and "Hearts of Space" (see the Wikipedia article to find out what that's all about). I've heard this referred to as goa, but I think it's at most proto-goa, with more emphasis on spiritual trance aspects of the music than on danceability. Synth loops are at the core of his technique, with gradual progressions and evolution taking place within each long track. The buildups are so slow that some people lost patience with it, but I find the dense layering keeps me from finding it trivial and repetitive: there's a lot going on, but it's subtle.
  • lamb--lamb (1996): Serious trip-hop. Even when it's being cheerful, it isn't really; Louise Rhodes' voice is just too emotional and melancholy for that. Musically, though, this is very nice; loops and d'n'b rhythms, quite a bit of texture (everything from ethereal strings and piano to jagged percussive samples), and moody vocals in a slightly breathy alto register; this is plugged-in emo. The best-known track is probably "Gorecki," which may also be the moodiest on the album.
  • Hooverphonic--"a new stereophonic sound spectacular" (1996): Spacey dream-pop! I bought 3 CDs of theirs at once (see below!), and I'm glad I did. Imagine chillout, but with pop's upbeat mood, and you're going in the right direction. Saint Etienne may be one of the best-known modern dream-pop acts, but this was going on in the 80's too: the Cocteau Twins are lumped into this genre, for example. Lots of synths and fancy audio effects, with vocals; different from synthpop, though, in that it's slower and more house-inspired. Great music for bringing my mood up, even at work. "Revolver" may be the best example of mixed styles I've heard in a while: CB radio samples (e.g. "Breaker one-niner, are there any smokies with ears on?"), ethereal chorused vocals, drums (occasionally piped through a phaser effect box), electric guitar riff loops, synth bass and pads.
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra--Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996): It's hard to find Christmas music that is neither vapid nor sappy; I think this disc does a good job of coming up the middle. Genre-wise, this could be called orchestral rock; if the wrong people had done it, it would have turned into "easy listening" or something worse, but this largely stays out of that swamp. There's a mix of arrangements of traditional pieces and original work on the disc; ask me about it in five or six months, and I'll tell you whether it was as good an idea as it seemed at the store.
  • alëem--sound season (1997): Funky house, with lots of dub influences in the bassline and use of samples. This French project is surprisingly little-known, even though the track "filtri organi" got quite a bit of play, and "why hawaii" is very catchy indeed. Could it be because most of their samples are in French, and they haven't gotten a lot of distribution in North America? Anyway, it's solid stuff, in my opinion.
  • (Various Artists)--A Journey into Ambient Groove 4 (1997): Acid jazz and chillout with that mellow, mellow funk. The Quango label's logo really is a pretty good clue of what to expect here. The best-known tracks on the disc are probably Fila Brazillia's "Simple Man" (which opens with the memorable quote, "I am a simple man; I don't like complications.") and Neotropic's eponymous track. Basement Jaxx seems to turn up everywhere; they finish off this album with "Stanley," an uncharacteristically abstract, atmospheric piece. Overall, this is music for a really deep sofa and a bottle of something old.
  • Olive--Extra Virgin (1997): Trip-hop in the best UK style, not much recognized on this side of the pond: the single "You're Not Alone" made number 1 in Britain, but didn't touch the Top 40 in the US. This album, their debut, has all the well-known bits, although I sadly didn't find the version with the bonus disc of remixes. The people behind it are best-known for their other work, with Tim Kellett coming in from Simply Red, Robin Taylor-Firth coming in from (and later going back to) Nightmares on Wax, and Ruth-Ann Boyle going on to do vocals with Enigma. Ten years later, this is still fresh, at least here in Canada.
  • Hooverphonic--Blue Wonder Power Milk (1998): This is the most downtempo of the three albums of theirs I bought. This isn't hard to guess from the cover art: a narrow, metallic blue-lit escalator descending into blackness, with a small red light at the bottom. There are more male vocals on this than on either of the others, generally in that fairly high, half-whispered voice typical of male-vocal trip-hop acts. Heck, they even use strings on this album, and if that doesn't say chillout, nothing does!
  • Jesse Cook--free fall (2000): I suppose that this might be classed as world beat, with a fairly strong Spanish flamenco guitar influence. (Cook, a Canadian, is often considered a nuevo flamenco guitarist.) This album is more traditional and straightforward than his later Nomad (2003), and feels more mellow overall. The guitar is clearly what it's all about here, where his later work sometimes adds so much around it that the origins are lost, although the variety can be welcome.
  • Hooverphonic--Hooverphonic presents Jackie Cane (2002): Ah, the concept album: this is a plugged-in, unstaged rock musical. The plot is handily outlined in the Wikipedia article, and is about as hokey as most musicals. The music, however, is very nice, and the idea of blending dream-pop with Broadway style works, so long as you like quirky stuff. Many of the songs stand alone just fine; the couple that don't quite make it are still acceptable in context. The mood ranges widely through the album; the strangest track (and the one that gets a nursery-rhyme loop stuck in your head, be warned!) is "Jackie's Delirium."
  • Hatiras--Arrival (2002): Okay, I almost couldn't be seen buying this, but it's actually pretty good. This is definitely dance music, maybe best exemplified by the Juno-winning track "Spaced Invader". Very electronic, with space video game-inspired lyrics and sound effects, and plenty of hip-hop boasting and "yo-yo-yo-yo!" going on; it's pretty shameless. Not music to take seriously, but I can so see this doing well on a DDR machine if it isn't already.
  • DJ Tiësto--In Search of Sunrise 3: Panama (2002): A mixed disc of medium-energy trance and progressive house, with lots of vocals. Some good remixes of fairly well-known tracks, such as the Gabriel & Dresden Elephant Memory Vocal remix of DJ Tiësto's own "In My Memory" (vocals by Nicola Hitchcock), DJ Tiësto's remix of Paul Oakenfold's "Southern Sun" (vocals by Carla Werner), and the Gabriel & Dresden mix of "Mindcircus" by Way Out West (vocals by Way Out West's Jody Wisternoff), the last of these probably being the most widely recognizable track on the disc. The overall energy level builds somewhat through the mix, as is characteristic of most trance mixes, starting in the ambient with NOA Assembly's "Into the Fire" and finishing with Jericho's "Personal Reflection", a fairly driving trance track which drops out part by part into a clear end for the disc. With a mix as with a speech, the middle can be largely improvised, but the beginning and end deserve special attention and planning; that was obviously done on this mix, and the result is very satisfying.
  • (Various Artists)--Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café III: the finest electro-jazz compilation (2003): Jazz, with that café house vibe. Most of it is pretty good, although one or two tracks are a bit repetitive a bit repetitive a bit repetitive. Lots of names you'll find on chillout compilations (e.g. Nuspirit Helsinki, Truby Trio, DJ Cam, and De-Phazz), but less well-known tracks from them. There's a nice little rendition of "Summertime" by Patchworks, whom I'd not encountered before; it's done on a Rhodes synth with jazz accompaniment. The last track is an amusing riff on Moloko's "Sing It Back": this is Can 7's 1930's Mix, which amounts to a ragtime version with some small jazz club ambient sounds, and it works.
  • BT--Emotional Technology (2003): If you're going to only ever listen to one trance artist, BT should be the one. His work is the exemplar of what trance can and should be: intricate. This is not a collection of loops; it's music with a direction and a structure, and has more in common with classical music than with most house music. Unlike most of the folks producing trance music, he's not a DJ, but a classically trained multi-instrumentalist; he also does his own vocals on some tracks, and manages to sing tolerably well. He credits Depeche Mode and New Order as influences, and it's not hard to hear why; he isn't, however, just an imitator by any means. If you're at my place and haven't heard this, it's worth requesting. Even if you "don't like electronic music," this may surprise you.
  • (Various Artists)--DJ Pogo presents the Best of Pulp Fusion (2003): Funk, with mild DJ trickery and scratching on disc 1. This is a 2-disc set, with disc 2 having original tracks and disc 1 consisting of a DJ mix using those tracks. The original tracks are mostly 1970's vintage late-period funk, jazz and soul. No illicit substances were involved in the selection of this recording--but they might be considered helpful by some in its appreciation. My progress towards really "getting" jazz continues, it seems.
  • Mocean Worker--Enter the MoWo! (2004): This disc came out four years after his previous one (Aural and Hearty), and has some of the playful, upbeat tracks of his earlier work, but it's not surprising that it incorporates more jazz elements: Adam Dorn, the man behind Mocean Worker, is the son of jazz and R'n'B producer Joel Dorn. There is also some downtempo material on the album, though, with the most haunting track being a revision of "Blackbird" featuring Nina Simon's vocals. She has an incredibly expressive voice, and this track is way, way down in the blues: read the lyrics, but only if your mental state is stable! A number of other tracks feature guest vocals; some of the others don't do as much for me, but the album as a whole has much to recommend it.
  • Wax Tailor--Tales of the Forgotten Melodies (2005): Slightly downtempo turntablism with some hip-hop. The many, many samples from movies and such come together to create pseudo-narratives; this will irritate some people and intrigue others. This is another disc which samples Nina Simone (this time singing "Feeling Good"); have I mentioned that I really love her singing? Like alëem, JC Le Saoût (the DJ behind the Wax Tailor name) is French, but his samples are pretty much all in English. Of course, he's not well-known here either, but this is more to be expected for a hard-core turntable stylist, I think.
It occurs to me that you might wonder how come most of my reviews are so positive, so I should mention how I find this stuff: I go to a used CD store where they know me pretty well, root through several sections for new and appealing stuff (principally, but not only, the electronica bin), and come up to the counter with a stack of discs, which they then kindly let me listen to. By "new," I mean discs that they've recently acquired, not necessarily recent releases, as you can likely tell from the release dates above! Of those, I buy about 1 in 4, depending on the day. This post reflects two unusually productive expeditions.

Thinking about it, it would probably be more interesting to read about the discs I don't buy, and my reasons for nixing them. Maybe I'll take notes next time, and see whether I can write anything about them too.
Tags: music
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