Monday, 26 March 2012

Review: Petar Dundov - Ideas From The Pond

Petar Dundov Ideas From The Pond
It's official - I'm now so trendy I'm reviewing albums that aren't even released yet. Petar Dundov's terribly titled album Ideas From The Pond (I sure hope that sounds more poetic in Croatian) is available to stream at the moment on Resident Advisor. No, I won't link to Resident Advisor. They're like my arch-enemies. Go search yourself, it's not hard. Or just buy the album, if you're reading this review in one of the infinite number of points of time that aren't the week I wrote it. It's good enough to buy blind, trust me. Go on. Trust me. No? Okay, I'll explain a bit more, while you begin illegally torrenting it.

Petar Dundov is a Croation melodic techno artist who has apparently been a major figure in the Croatian dance music scene since the country came into existence in 1994. The verdict on this album is basically "trance for people who don't like trance", which is generally a good description. I think most people in the dance scene actually like the idea of trance, as in the idealised conception of melodic, ultra-repetitive electronic space music. There have been plenty of pseudo-trance recreations in the past decade or so, most notably the whole "neo trance" thing, and now the increased tendency for arp-y melodic Detroit techno stuff coming out of labels like Tresor. The dance music community, even the bearded, scarfed, immacuately-tasteful part of it, wants trance back. They still play Sasha's Xpander occasionally and sigh deeply. They want to be tranced. What puts them off is the polluted, desecrated corpse of a genre that is the real trance scene, 90% horrific Euro-cheddar excess and emotionally stunted, E-blunted druggies and teenagers. It turns out the Dundov actually used to produce trance back in the early '90s when it was actually trance-inducing, and he knows how to use the sharp end of an arpeggio or two. Clearly he is a man to take the hipsters to outer space.

Ideas From The Pond is a techno record, not a trance one, but like a lot of melodic techno it's clearly been influenced by trance. Dundov's music is generally extremely melodic and spaced out, but on this album he takes it to another level. All of these tracks go on for fucking years, and the incremental development of musical ideas is as hypnotic as it gets. This is perhaps the ultimate example of everything potentially limiting about dance music production - fixed tempo, constant beat, loop-dominated composition, extreme repetition - being stretched and pushed into something genuinely and compellingly deep and interesting.

This isn't the album for you if you like your music to be rapid and ever-changing and poppy. Then again, this probably isn't the blog for you, full stop. I can understand that some people might see this as strictly background music, or a particularly complex strain of ambient. I certainly couldn't imagine myself dancing to it, or playing it at a house party. But then, I never get to put my music on at parties. People don't want to hear weird trippy electronic shit at house parties, for some baffling reason. But if, like me, you like music where you can put it on loud on the headphones and just lay back and space the fuck out, then you should get on this album. It might just go down as one of the finest albums of 2012. I still think the title is shit, though.

Genre: Melodic techno.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

Review: Yum Yum - The Remixes

Yum Yum The Remixes
It's been remarkably warm and sunny this past weekend, and even though none of the trees have leaves yet I'm in a distinctly summery mood. And when I'm in a summery mood, there's only style of music worth hearing - early '90s progressive house! There was something about the early '90s dance scene - perhaps the copious amounts of drugs involved - that encouraged everyone to go nuts on themes of tribalism, spirituality, nature and the great outdoors, and this translated to loads of tracks with widescreen summery vibes and samples of whale song/chanting/ethnic flutes. I, quite frankly, love all that shit, despite not being in any other way a hippy. Okay, I listen to a lot of psy-trance. And I like to go for long walks outdoors. But I'm not a fucking hippy, okay?

Now, having said all of this, Yum Yum are a terrible example because they don't really have any ethnic samples or hippy vibes at all, at least not on this compilation of their remixes made between 1995-1997 (such a smooth journalistic technique, I know). I'd like to think their name refers to some tribe of Amazonian natives or something, but all Google can tell me is that Yum Yum is the name for a variety of cheap-ass foodstuffs or South-East Asian brothel-slang for a blowjob, neither of which are very friends-of-the-earth. I guess hippies go on backpack tours and might find themselves in a Thai brothel...

Despite a general lack of hippy rainforest vibes, this compilation still contains a fair amount of summery vibes. Some of that might just be down to me associating '90s acid lines, pads and stutter-edited vocals with summer simply because I always play this kind of stuff in summer, but there's just enough of a semantic thread running through the track titles to me to cling perilously to my bullshit proposition. Sacred Cycles, Tribal, Majick, Thundergod, The Vision... there's unarguably some sort of possible theme of spirituality here. You can almost feel the warm glow of the healing crystals.

Okay, okay. To an outside observer, this might sound like a fairly average collection of somewhat dated mid-'90s progressive house, filled with stereotypical synths and arrangements. And that outside observer might well be correct. But this is pretty much my pet style. It's the style I have the most love for and the least critical distance from, being pretty much the soundtrack of every beautiful sunny day of the last six or seven years of my life. And I reckon that, even setting aside my terrible biases, the remix of Sacred Cycles and also of Keoki's Majick are still excellent examples of hypnotic, trancey-edged progressive house. Most of the other tracks would be good filler or build-up pieces if you were playing a retro-themed prog set, but frankly there's a very small number of DJs in the world who'd be inclined to do that.

I can't really recommend this album unless you're really into the sound Sasha and Digweed were smashing around 1995-1997, but if you ask me, you should be really into that style because it was brilliant. I, frankly, have a shelf full of this stuff. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to burn some incense.

Genre: Progressive house
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Friday, 23 March 2012

Review: 01-N - Raison D'Etre

01-N Raison D'Etre
I reviewed 01-N and his silly, un-Googleable name, not too long ago, so I'm not going to go through the introductory waffle again. Japanese, psy-trance, ridiculous, un-Googleable name, very good. You got it? Anyway, he's back with a new album, and bugger me if Raison D'Etre isn't his best effort yet. This kind of remarkable, consistent quality from a psy-trance artist is almost totally unprecedented. In fact, this guy might well be the best thing in trance today. It blows my mind that he only has about 300 listeners on Last.fm and nobody in the psy scene seems to be aware of him. Why could this possibly be? Oh yes, it's the ridiculous un-fucking-searchable artist name.

Raison D'Etre plays out much like the last album - eight tracks of slamming, good-fun psy-trance and one surprisingly good downtempo dubby-breaksy track to close on. Once again there's remarkably little in the way of typical psy clich├ęs and an unusual ear for rich, hook-laden melodic content. You might think that all this qualifies as "much of the same" and therefore diminishing returns, but this particular flavour of psychedelic tranciness is pretty much unheard of, and so 01-N can continue churning out samey-sounding albums for some time yet before I get bored of it. What makes this one better than the last one is quite simply the strength of the individual tunes. The ridiculously titled opener Magnetoencephalography (seriously man, do you want anyone to be able to search for your music?) is a banger, and the uplifting Euro-trance tinged Casimir Effect is so rave it makes me want to chew my bottom lip off even when I'm sat in my living room eating scones and taking quiet tea. Once again though, what impresses the most is the sheer consistency of the tracks - almost every single one is extremely strong and never short of ideas. I cannot stress enough just how rare this is in psy trance. It's really fucking rare, okay?

This is a short review simply because I've already reviewed this guy quite recently and this album isn't different enough to justify another full-blown review. I'd be having a massive headache right now if I were a real music journalist, grasping for some convoluted verbiage in a desperate bid to say the exact same shit twice but in a different way. Thank God I'm not, eh?

Genre: Psy-trance
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review: Vince Watson - Every Soul Needs A Guide

Vince Watson - Every Soul Needs A Guide
I was feeling a little blue this evening. I can't say exactly why, in case the secret police are reading this blog and are looking for the slightest excuse to kick my door down and silence my subversive transmissions. Let's just say I went to a psy-trance rave on Saturday, it's now Wednesday, and somewhere along the line all the happy juices in my head mysteriously vanished. Anyway, searching desperately for some way to restore a semblence of chemical balance to my brain, I resorted to gorging on an entire 125g bar of milk chocolate. By the end I felt a little sickly, somewhat excessive, like a sugar-crazed Tony Montana, but actually quite a lot happier than at the start. Little did I know at the time that I was engaging in a perfect, confectionary-based metaphor for listening to Vince Watson's new album.

Vince Watson may have the outer appearance of a bald Scotsman, but underneath that dour carapace beats the soulful heart of a black Detroit techno-jazzman. He is one of my favourite techno producers, mainly because he loves to use melody, and as a funkless whiteboy I can't get my head around techno that doesn't come with a tune. His best productions combine hard-edged Detroit sweaty-warehouse-strobes with an ear for euphoric, feel-good melodies, a combination that amounts to a more credible, Theo Parrish-friendly approximation of good trance music. Even when he's not going for the dancefloor jugular, his skills on the little black keys mean that his tunes are always eminently listenable.

Every Soul Needs A Guide is, to my knowledge, his fifth proper album and like a lot of his albums takes a more loungey and jazzy direction than the EP and singles. This is probably his most opulent work yet, resplendent in jazzy keys, double basses and cymbals. Almost every single second of the album is crammed full of feel-good melodic loveliness. After 80 minutes or so, it does start to become a little much. Occasionally there are stripped-down ambient interludes, that are probably the best tracks, simply because the modicum of restraint employed stops things from being overcooked. Without them, the album would be a pummelling, sense-numbing barrage of feel-good Detroit vibeyness.

This is where the chocolate analogy comes in. Chocolate is nice, it tastes good and almost everyone likes it, but consume too much in one go and you might come to regret your decision. Playing this album all the way through would cheer up the most miserable bastard, simply because it's easier to relent and go "Okay, okay, I'll fucking smile!" than maintain that stoney grimace of existential futility any longer. But unless you're feeling a particularly strong case of the mid-week blues, you probably don't want to be so violently uplifted. I personally wish Vince would have toned this one down a little bit. As good as it is, and as impressive and well-produced as all the music sounds, it just leaves me feeling a tiny bit queasy by the end.

Genre: Jazzy techno
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 11 March 2012

My Favourite Albums and EPs of 2011

At long last, a good two months after everyone else stopped caring about this kind of thing, I have finished my End Of 2011 list. A lot of people complained about a lack of truly great albums in 2011, with all the most hyped and discussed records falling into solid "good, not great" respectability. One thing I did notice is that 2011 seemed an especially strong year for EP releases, with many EPs this year feeling more essential than albums. What does seem certain is that the compilation, particularly the mixed compilation, is dying out. With the profusion of radio shows, podcasts and promo mixes, paying for a DJ mix that is limited to 80 minutes and licensed material now feels like a game for fools.

Anyway, here is the list. As usual, I discovered almost half of these albums on other people’s end of year lists. I hope you discover something new from reading mine.



Albums:

01. Sundial Aeon - Mimesis [Impact Studio]








How do you do something fresh with the trance genre? Slow it down to 110bpm. Yes, really. Sundial Aeon added teeth to their fluid psychill sound to create a slow-motion odyssey that unfolds majestically. Original, hypnotic and ultra-deep, this pushes all of my buttons like a frenzied data entry clerk wired on Poundshop energy drinks. God, I'm so poetic.

02. Kronos Quartet With Kimmo Pohjonen & Samuli Kosminen - Uniko [Ondine]









It might feel incongruous and strange to include a modern classical album on a list of electronic music when I clearly don't listen to much classical music, but it's no different to blogosphere wankers including the one dubstep album theyreviewed all year in their Top 100. Perhaps a thousand identical modern classical albums came out in 2011, but this is the only one I heard, and it's incredible.

03. Lm1 - Redshift [Offworld]









This is the incredibly satisfying and all-too-rare sound of one of your favourite producers releasing a debut album and it being exactly as brilliant and well-weighted as you imagined. Melodic, spacey and brilliant produced, this is drum 'n bass for people who never realised they liked drum 'n bass.

04. Cosmithex - Visions Of Sound [J00F V2]









Just an all round magnificent bastard of a trance album. Cosmithex's debut showcases a unique blend of old-school acid squiggles, psy-trance heaviness and proggy deepness. These tracks sound great on your headphones and absolutely massive on the dancefloor.

05. Actraiser - Art Of Balance [Cold Busted]








Actraiser's first artist album could have sounded like a thousand different things, but he chose to take a smooth, jazzy direction that was thankfully closer to LTJ Bukem than a Spinal Tap jazz odyssey. Mmmmm, nice.

06. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica [Mexican Summer]









Ohonetrix goes maximalist, the results are very pretty and weird indeed. Yes, this is one of the very few albums on this list that you'll actually have expected to be here.

07. ASC - The Light That Burns Twice As Bright [Silent Season]








An album that was originally blighted by recording errors from the record label, ASC's first ambient opus has thankfully now been reissued with the mistakes corrected, and we can appreciate its brilliantly rusty and grimey soundscapes in full.


08. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972 [Kranky]








I've got a joke for you. What doesn't sound like rave, and isn't from 1972? Tim Hecker's album Ravedeath, 1972. Ah-hahaha! But no, seriously, the album's great.

09. The Black Dog - Liber Dogma [Soma]








We've all heard the old phrase: you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can put it in the studio and it will deliver a brilliant old school techno album that puts the younger pups to shame. Haven't we?

10. Dominik Eulberg - Diorama [Traum Schallplatten]








This beautiful melodic offering from Dominik Eulberg is compelling evidence, should it be needed, that techno is both the most versatile genre of electronic dance music and capable of being every bit as touchy-feely as other styles.







11. Blue Daisy - The Sunday Gift [Black Acre]








Finally, a trip-hop album that lives up to the legacy of Massive Attack and doesn't sound like incredibly dreary music for middle class suburbanites to play when it starts raining. If this album came out in 1995 it would already be an all-time classic.

12. Swarms - Old Rave's End [Lo Dubs]








If you're one of those people who think dubstep mean music that sounds like a giant robot taking a particularly nasty dump, Old Rave's End is the album for you. Its delicately wrought melancholic soundscapes are light years removed from idiot-step like Skrillex, and show there is some life left in the genre yet.


13. Artifact303 - Back To Space [Suntrip]








If you asked me what style of music Artifact303 is best defined as, I wouldn't say "nu-school melodic goa trance", which would be the right answer, I'd say "balls to the wall psychedelic shit, motherfucker". This album is a force of nature, a riotous scrawl of flourescent melody and effervescent acid madness. You need it in your life.

14. DeepChord - Hash Bar Loops [Soma]








Okay, it wasn't as good as Rod Modell's work as part of Echospace (hence its relatively low placing on this list), but Hash Bar Loops is yet another absorbing and addictive slice of ultra-deep heavily textured dub techno ambience from the maestro.

15. Blue Motion - Stay Forever [Influenza]









I'm still surprised by just how ambient and off-beat this album is. Remaining on the outer fringes of drum 'n bass, Stay Forever is a moody and engrossing excursion into rhythmic mood music.

16. Onra - Chinoiseries Part 2 [All City]








Okay, it's basically a repeat of the first Chinoiseries, which is to say J Dilla's Donuts remade with samples sourced entirely from obscure Vietnamese vinyl, but stop me when this starts sounding like a bad idea. Worth hearing just to hear some Asian girl inadvertantly crooning "raw shit". You read that right.

17. Cybernetika - Colossus [Ektoplazm]








Not suitable for pregnant women, young children or anyone over the age of 60. Colossus is a savage album. This is dark and twisted psychedelic drum 'n bass that takes absolutely no prisoners. If you can listen to the whole thing and survive you will feel like a complete badass.

18. 01-N - Zero [Icarus Creations]








An all out, good-times blast of a psy trance record that manages not to have one remotely shit track on it from start to finish. Any psy trance album that manages that can come over to my house and fuck my sister, and my sister is a man.

19. Gagarin - Biophilia [GEO]








IDM with feelings. Biophilia is experimental and strange enough to satisfy even the most ardent IDM listener, but contains just enough widescreen melodic moments to appeal to listeners who are frankly bored of all this weirdness.

20. Carbon Based Lifeforms - Twentythree [Ultimae]








This is the best of a slightly underwhelming Class of 2011 from Ultimae. Carbon Based Lifeforms are in fine form here, and while Twentythree doesn't break any new boundaries it's still one of the best ambient albums of the year.






EPs:

As I mentioned earlier, this section probably contains an even more quality music than the albums list. Think of this as the more underground second room in the glitzy superclub that is my blog: the music is slightly lower profile and the decor isn't as fancy (lit: I can't be bothered to upload more images) but overall standard is better.



01. DJ Rum - Mountains [2nd Drop]
A frankly remarkable techno/dubstep/UK garage hybrid from the terribly named DJ Rum. An effortless hybrid of styles that sounds astonishingly fresh yet has the timeless air of an instant classic, this was possibly the most exciting musical release of 2011.

02. Laurel Halo - Hour Logic [Hippos In Tanks]
Genuinely existing outside of any known genre categories, yet still somehow echoing dance music history, Laurel Halo's EP was championed by The Wire magazine and strikes the right balance between experimentation and accessibility.

03. ASC & Bvdub - Symbol #2 [Auxiliary]
Two of the most prolific men in modern electronic music team up, and the results are four varied and equally brilliant pieces of ambient that explore different ideas with consistent excellence.

04. Burial - Street Halo [Hyperdub]
Burial turns his immortal sound to housier rhythms. Everyone goes apeshit in appreciation.

05. Nebula - Astral Soul [Subtle Audio]
A deliberately retro sounding throwback to the halcyon days of atmospheric jungle, this is all about languid pads, shuddering subs and chopped up breaks.

06. Actraiser - Odyssey To The West [Pangea]
Actraiser blurs the boundaries between techno, dubstep and even progressive house on yet another amazing release.

07. Vince Watson - Atom [Tresor]
Trance by any other name, Vince Watson's space age post-Detroit techno has enough sparkling melodies and rapturous crescendoes to get this reformed trance refugee rushing all over again.

08. Sam KDC - Symbol #3 [Auxiliary]
Another fantastic entry into the Symbol series, this time from Sam KDC.

09. Relaunch - Art Of Ambiance [Mistiquemusic]
The quality control continues to look lax over at Mistique, but when they get it right the label still offers the best atmospheric progressive house around.

10. Andy Stott - We Stay Together [Modern Love]
Andy Stott's subterranean techno experiment deserves inclusion for both its intensity of mood and ingenuity of approach.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Review: Blue Daisy - The Sunday Gift

Blue Daisy - The Sunday Gift
I'm not sure where I got the recommendation for this album from, but I'm glad I discovered it. Blue Daisy has been championed by no less than Mary Anne Hobbs, who has apparently declared him as "the future of British electronic music". A lofty claim indeed, and yet more praise comes from Mojo, who labelled The Sunday Gift as the "best electronic album of 2011". Bloody hell. Usually I'd be suspicious of any act that got this much hype, so perhaps it's lucky I heard The Sunday Gift before reading anything about it, because I gave it a fair listen and I absolutely loved it.

For some reason, this album has been touted as part of the dubstep movement in certain circles, and even though it takes influence from a wide variety of genres I can safely say it has nothing to do with dubstep. For the most part is alternates between beautiful ambient and smokey, atmospheric 21st Century trip-hop of the type Massive Attack should still be making if they hadn't lost the plot. Shadow Assassins in particular sounds like an instrumental successor to Safe From Harm. It finishes up with the brilliant Spinning Channel, which almost sounds like blissed out progressive house. This is basically what UNKLE probably sounds like to people who like UNKLE, instead of sounding like UNKLE sound to me, which is to say boring and derivative tripe. Blue Daisy also has a background in the instrumental hip-hop scene, which was always only one step away from trip-hop.

Trip-hop was a genre that spent at least a decade being perpetually trendy, and yet I never bought into the likes of Portishead and Morcheeba. For me, the only guys who really did trip-hop well were Massive Attack themselves. No - DJ Shadow does not make trip-hop. Fuck off. Have we really had to wait twenty years from Blue Lines for someone else to do it properly? Apparently so. Hardly the "future of British electronic music". More like "finally fixing the problems of the last two decades of British electronic music", if you ask me.

Anyway, this is a fantastic album. The production is deliberately very muddy and blurred out in a lot of places, and the ambient soundscapes are incredibly rich, all of which helps reinvigorate a lot of well-worn trip-hop ideas (plaintive female vocals, brooding basslines, the odd guest rapper). This is the kind of electronic record you can play to people who people who don't really like much electronic music and they'll probably get a big kick out of it. You know the kind of people - the kind who stopped going to nightclubs as soon as they finished university, and probably haven't changed the CDs in their car since they turned 21. People with respectable but unadventurous tastes, who like "proper music" that is classy without being particularly experimental.

All of which is not to disparage Blue Daisy - I really, really like this album. It's just pretty obvious that this has the kind of mainstream cross-over appeal that results in hype from Radio 1 DJs and mainstream music mags. It's not massively experimental or groundbreaking, but it's executed brilliantly, and it plays through very well as an album, with the strong atmospherics and sound design neatly uniting the various stylistic directions. Hopefully Blue Daisy will go on to cross over into the album charts, because this is exactly the kind of album that can achieve such a feat.

Genre: Trip-hop
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

Review: Cybernetika - Colossus

Cybernetika Colossus
German psy-trance producer Cybernetika caused a bit of a stir in the psy community back in 2009 when he brought out the remarkable Atropos album on web label Ektoplazm. Ektoplazm are dedicated to releasing all their music for free, which meant over 23,000 people downloaded Atropos - not a bad feat for an underground psy trance producer. What made Atropos so popular was an unlikely but brilliant fusion of twisted psy-trance and dark neurofunk to create probably the finest yet example of "psy-step": psychedelic drum 'n bass. After a brief return to (mostly) conventional psy material with 2010's The Scythe Of Orion, Cybernetika returned to the psy-step sound with Colossus, an album that's possibly even better than Atropos.

Like all of Cybernetika's albums, Colossus is themed around a lofty sci-fi concept narrative - this time around mankind's struggle to battle the collapse of the universe itself through the use of ancient alien technology. To be fair, little of that high space opera material is evident through the almost-entirely instrumental body of the album, but as with Atropos there's a distinctive sense of narrative - long tracks that unfold over many minutes. The crucial difference is that while Atropos was quite a paranoid album, infused with references to dope smoking and samples of the malevolent renegade AI SHODAN from the classic early '90s videogame System Shock, Colossus is a slightly airier and spacier outing. This is being relative, of course - we're still talking about an album themed around the collapse of physical reality. Opening track Gagarin is (predictably) a tribute to the first man in space, but its menacing growl is far from a utopian conception of the future possibilities of space travel. The album highlight is without doubt the magnificent Devoid Of Gravity, a 12 minute interstellar epic with an absolutely enormous intro and a euphoric first half that plunges into darkness and distorted alien chatter for the second half. The only problem is that such a powerful track arrives so early in the album that the remaining hour or so of music never quite ascends to such heights again, and this track might have been better off shoved later in the running order. That might not have fit Cybernetika's implied narrative superstructure, but it would have been for a better listening experience.

Now, this album is simply going to be too much for most people. Psy-trance is a heavy genre, neurofunk is an even heavier one and Cybernetika pulls no punches with his influence from either genre. This is an extremely dark and hard album from start to finish, it's absolutely relentless in its intensity. This is a deep space nightmare, and while I would usually mock my imaginary readers for not having the balls to stand up to sustained sonic assaults, this one is a tough listen. If you catch it in exactly the right mood, however (IE: when you're fucking furious) and there really is nothing quite like it. This is intense in the manner of a truly nasty horror film, and that intensity can be mind-blowing when channelled correctly. This is not an album for all occasions, but that shouldn't dilute its excellence. And Devoid Of Gravity is a strong contender for track of the year, an absolute masterpiece of twisted technological insanity.

Genre: Psychedelic neurofunk (Fuck yeah! What a genre name!)
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10

Review: Mungolian Jetset - Schlungs

Mungolian Jetset - Schlungs
Absolutely crazy, yet massively enjoyable Norwegian cosmic disco fare, this. Mungolian Jetset's third album is every bit as daft as the front cover would suggest, a gloriously and self-consciously silly kitsch outer space romp that is probably the only out-and-out great party album I've heard all year. Why is this? Where has all the fun party music gone? Whenever I want to put on something really rocking and good fun before a night out, it's almost always from the late '90s at best, and usually a lot older than that.

Anyway, this album is probably not going to appeal if you're insufferably serious about music, as almost everyone in the dance scene is in some way or another these days. Even most of the people in the cosmic disco scene seem to be daft hipsters who are too self-conscious and ironic to really have a good time to this kind of thing anyway: witness Pitchfork's ludicrous review for ample evidence of how to suck the fun out of an album where one of the choruses goes "Take a trip to outer space, where proggy disco is the superior race".

Most of the tracks here are big, sing-along disco anthems, a deliberately silly exaggeration of everything that was already big and silly and brilliantly enjoyable about 1970s disco. The highlight is quite clearly Moon Jocks N Prog Rocks, a sprawling ten minute opus that is one of those tracks where the creators were clearly having a fuck-ton of fun when they recorded it. It's one of those tracks that's so magnificent it threatens to overshadow the rest of the album, and true nothing else here is quite as good. But then, that's probably just as well, otherwise this album would be like gorging on chocolate cake for an hour. Some of the more instrumental and chilled material is quite good in its own right as layered and interesting listening music, but really this is a party album.

I don't want to talk about this one too much, but it kept a big grin on my face for just about the whole listening time, which is a rare feat for any album. I can understand if it's a little bit too silly for some people's tastes, but if you can just lighten the fuck up and play it loud with friends before a night out, I guarantee you'll fall under its charms.

Genre: Cosmic disco.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

Review: Lm1 - Redshift

Lm1 - Redshift
Lm1 is the owner of drum 'n bass label Offworld Recordings, who I've covered a couple of times already on this blog. I've said previously that Offworld is one of my favourite labels, and Lm1 is one of my very favourite producers of the moment. In fact, in terms of dancefloor producers, he's probably right up there at the top. Lm1's flavour of drum 'n bass is most simply described as "atmospheric drum 'n bass" (or, erroneously, as liquid) but this is a much newer sound than the classic atmospheric of mid-90s heroes like LTJ Bukem and Omni Trio. Where as the majority of classic atmospheric was powered by chopped up breaks and sub-bass pulse, over which ambient pads and loops swirled, Lm1's sound is more akin to the propulsive tech-step sound that came later, with rapid, reptitive basslines and trancey topline melodies. Lm1 didn't invent this sound - it owes as much to names like Electrosoul System, Modemellow and Future Engineers - but he's taken the sound to a new level with his own work.

So, if not atmospheric, what do we call this? I've heard the word "techmospheric" bandied around by certain online commentators, and as terrible and un-catchy as that moniker is, it actually describes the music fairly well: a meeting point of tech-step and atmospheric. Given that both of these sub-genres have been around since the mid-90s, it's slightly odd that the techmospheric movement is a fairly new one, only five years old at most, and still a very niche sound.

The reason for this lies mainly in the ongoing ideological warfare within the drum 'n bass scene. Around 1997, atmospheric and tech-step were the two biggest movements in drum 'n bass, but the two scenes endured a fierce rivalry: atmospheric fans frequently painted their style as "intelligent drum 'n bass" and looked down snobbily on tech-step as ruffneck music for the unwashed masses, while tech-step took a similarly dismissive attitude towards atmospheric, which was portrayed as lightweight wallpaper muzak that diluted the breakbeat fury of the true drum 'n bass sound into uninteresting coffee table fodder. This was class warfare as well as musical differences, representing the tribal divisions of the London music scene.

Both sides had their merit - too much chilled and melodic drum 'n bass assumed a conservative trad-music stance that advocated live instrumental virtuosity and old school song-writig as "proper" music, the result being a whole lot of noodly, pseudo-jazzy material evoked unpleasant comparisons with Kenny G. Meanwhile, tech-step grew into neurofunk and became ever louder, darker and more unpleasant until it alienated almost everyone except the most militant of angry young males. This polarisation of the scene into loud/aggressive and quiet/coffee table lead to drum 'n bass falling into a deep malaise in the early '00s, both directions becoming so clich├ęd and uninteresting that the original excitement of the jungle explosion completely fizzled out and the genre was abandoned to the purists and scenesters.

Of course, drum 'n bass has enjoyed a massive revival in the last half-decade, helped mainly by Pendulum's cross-over exploits and the fresh influx of ideas they brought with them. DJ Fresh recently had the UK's first ever #1 drum 'n bass hit, some 20 years after the first "jungle techno" mutations. Now, drum 'n bass has proliferated far beyond its original London petri dish, and producers who have no idea about the original '90s squabbles have been free to combine ideas that were once seen as antithetical.

The great thing about "techmospheric" is that it neatly avoids the excesses of both genres - it's neither unapproachably noisy nor insipidly respectable. Lm1 (remember him?) has also been open about his influence from the trance and progressive scene, which really shows. Many of his tracks sound like late '90s progressive trance records transposed onto drum 'n bass beats and sped up to 175bpm, and all produced with beautiful clarity and detail. His music is spacey, enveloping and deliciously melodic.

Redshift is Lm1's debut album and was actually released on my birthday. With a fresh and winning musical signature and a consistently excellent track record, Lm1 was never going to make a bad album. The question was merely whether he could apply his sound to a full-length album with the best results. And the answer is a resounding yes.

Red Shift is structured slightly unusually, as a triptych of distinctive sections. It begins with a few fairly standard atmospheric tracks, resplendent with spacey atmospherics but with fairly low-energy bottom ends. The title track makes for a neatly low-key opener, and Esuna is an early highlight, with a simply beautiful operatic female vocal. After this introductory section, Lm1 actually drops it down a notch, halving the rhythms and the tempo into minimal/Autonomic territory, even throwing in a spot of dubstep on Cold Blue. This mid-section of the album shows Lm1 is bang up to date with the trendiest sounds in the drum 'n bass scene, and his cinematic outer space trappings go perfectly with the languid pace of minimal drum 'n bass. The final third of the album cuts loose into classic up-tempo Lm1 material. Closing track Destiny in particular is a brilliant example of what I would, perhaps naffly, call a "tunnel track", in that its relentless forward momentum and tightly controlled sound space brings to mind hurtling through a tunnel in some high-speed starfighter. This kind of propulsive sound is rarely heard on a drum 'n bass track, more suited to the driving forward rhythms of a trance or techno record, and Lm1 is adept at it.

The slightly unusual structuring of the album actually works really well. Conventionally, you'd expect the most downtempo material to go first, with a linear build up to the pumping dancefloor fare. That would probably have worked fine, but it's a very common and safe approach for producers who want to transfer a typical dancefloor set onto an album. Dropping the energy midway through provides more contrast of energy levels, and consequently a more dynamic and interesting listening experience. It's a clever move, and exactly the kind of tactic I usually moan at producers for not thinking about. The minimal stuff is also very impressive, and a side of Lm1 we haven't heard before.

Altogether, this is near-enough a perfect debut album, one I'll still be listening to in years to come.

Genre: Drum 'n bass
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 10/10