JIM OTTAWAY – Timeless E-Motion Album
The nth album from the synth musician from the other side of the world, and it’s a 12-tracker with a difference, in that he plays a seriously varied set of tracks that are like a world of synth music in one album – you get tracks that are what many would call “Berlin School” with sequencers a-plenty, a few tracks that drift in the way the classic American cosmic music masters ply their wares, tracks that are built as much around tunes as rhythms in a kind of watered down John Michael Jar style, but the whole thing connected by melody – the guy is never very far from melody throughout most of the album. The percussive rhythms tend to be of the early simplicity of the electronic drum variety, so that they sound more crisp than solid, but the sequencer work is strong if not exactly up to TD standards. The textures used are generally rather fine and there’s a kind of magic in the compositions which, to be fair, while sounding fairly tame a lot of the time, nevertheless weave some quite beautiful spells in a musical wonderland that’s more romance than burning passion. What is arguably its greatest strength, although some might say its weakness, is that it stays true to its style, is quite clearly the work of one man and his synths and never stands still while at the same time not ever breaking any new ground. It’s not going to blow you away, but, a bit like your favourite pet, it will curl up on your lap and deliver a warm fuzzy glow to your life when you need that kind of attention.
DJAM KARET – Sonic Celluloid Album
It’s a rare event on a Djam Karet album when the first thing you hear are waves of synths akin to a slo-motion entry to an old UK track, but that’s what happens here – and not only that, but it then goes into tinkling sequencer like rhythms, choral mellotron styled passages and lush textures of cosmic bliss. Then the drums kick in and this synthy delight starts to travel, booming bass bellowing from below, while what sounds like a mix of acoustic guitar and fuzz bass, take the reins, and this whole magical sea of texture, melody, rhythm and beauty, unfolds majestically – with hardly an electric guitar riff or lead in sight – welcome, my friends, to the new Djam Karet album.
The next track is “Forced Perspective” and now the guitars kick in, but still the rhythm is mid-paced and positively relaxed, while the acoustic guitar and synth oceans still wash upon the shore, however, the bass still boings away, the drums clatter away gently and even the guitars are restrained, while the emphasis on melodic muscle continues apace and the whole track is both grand and fragile at the same time, almost like a sort of “ambient fusion”. The opening to “Long Shot” returns us to the synths, only now it veers into a kind of outer space territory with broken voice samples, cyclical synth rhythms going around and around, haunting synth overlays and threatening to become a blast from tangerine Dream’s past, as synths, mellotrons and more, pile high and soar to the sky. The spell is broken thanks to a burst of percussion as organ joins the fray and you’re seriously now back in the seventies, complete with a Mahavishnu-esque burst of flash guitar and solid rhythm section work.
“No Narration Needed” opens with a trumpet call to prayer as this siren of sound calls you to your place, a mist of synths textures, guiding your way. Through the mist, an electric guitar is discerned, slowly trying to find its way through the haze of cosmic synths and swooping electronics, choral passages and rich layers, but never quite managing to find its way out. The bass, however, does manage and appears from below, albeit briefly, before the flute-like mellotron joins forces to create a quite magical duet of textures that works a treat. Acoustic guitar gives icing on the cake and another slice of tasty, sumptuous delicacy unfolds.
The next three tracks follow similar and excellent synths/keys-dominated paths, and even though an electric guitar adds some wondrous fire to the 8th track, “Flashback”, it’s fighting for space with mellotron, organ and waves of rhythmic bliss from the percussion. The final two tracks continue to be synths-modulated oceans of splendour, the bass still at the heart of things on the last track and the whole piece rolling forward in a sunny stream of melody and gorgeousness.
So, I’m not sure if the electric guitarists in the band were taking some time off, but as a highly emotional and truly wondrous example of synths, mellotron and bass music with occasional guitar and percussion to add texture and bite, this is essential listening from synth and prog fans from Tangerine Dream to Greenslade.
CHURCH OF HED – Brandenburg Heights Album
The instrumental, former Quarkspace, musician, with a brand new album that is undoubtedly the finest album he’s produced to date, all instrumental, mainly electronic and one which will find a place in the hearts and minds of music fans from Tangerine Dream to Sensations Fix, and all points in between.
The album is a single 40+ minute instrumental split across two parts and immediately sets the scene with shifting layers of space synths of extraordinary depth and variety as space synths swoop and soar over a river of electronic undercurrents, only for this Lard Free-esque rhythm that swans up and down like a sine-wave, but one built on solid, mid-paced sequencer like notes, and over which a complete ocean of fathomless depths from more synth textures, layers and surging echoed melodic passages, and even that only feels like half the picture, all sail away to a far-distant destination. This then leaves the rhythm, now even stronger and built on synths and synth-percussives, to strengthen, louder and louder, as a new set of leads is added, this time a kind of lilting piano melody set to a rhythm that sounds like someone’s beating heavily on the top of a trash can – and almost echoes of modern day Faust – as this soaring synth melody flies out on top of the massively deep textural display that is going on above, beyond and all around you, engulfing your space with sound as it all travels forward in strong, strident and unstoppable fashion. But it’s the fact that nothing stays the same, that everything moves and nothing is ever in one place, allied to the image of a mile wide glacier of shifting synths and rhythms, which not only captures but positively demands your attention, leaving you utterly transfixed to an album of electronic music that sounds like few others around, yet also sounds like three decades of the stuff all rolled into one amazing whole, and at its heart, is completely accessible while at the same time being so complex that it’s the sort of thing you’ll love right away, yet want to play time after time, just to discover the hidden depths that you missed on the previous plays – and this is only the first part at just over twenty minutes in length – as it moves and changes shape, veering from swirling whirlpools of electronics, to spacey, cosmic worlds of synth magic……
The just under twenty minute second part, simply continues where the first one left off, initially showcasing piano as notes hang in the air above a phased river of swirling synths, delicately featured percussive beats and yet again, more Tim Blake-esque space synth swoops. The decelerated, yet no less deep and meaningful, pace almost gives you a blissful feeling were it not so dark, although there’s melody at its heart, which gives it the, by now familiar, feeling of endless space in its musical vastness, quietly cosmic yet seething with heat. It drops textures one by one until you’re left with the cycle of phased electronics going round and round, only then a new melody line entwines itself around you, again quite restrained compared with the first part, and with an almost Cosmic Jokers feel to it. But this doesn’t last long, either, and, from the depths, up comes a sequencer rhythm set against distant clattering percussion that cycles round and round in glorious fashion, joined by a huge sea of almost orchestral synth layers that rise up and add strong piano chords to take over the central high ground from the sequencers, as the whole thing continues to rise. Around half-way, it all drops back to a cosmic whisper as the stars come out and deliciously cosmic space synth layers in the vein of vintage early Tangerine Dream, come out to play. Just past 13 minutes and this sudden spark of fast-paced sequencers sounding like Steve Roach in a massive hurry, erupt like meteor showers, add stuttering synth rhythms, distant space synths and the whole thing starts to build, layer, subtract, add and drive, now akin to the colossal delights you witnessed on part 1, as a totally new spectrum of endless electronic avenues, moves inexorably forward, transfixing you in the process, hypnotising you, undoubtedly. Later joined by a lead and high-flying lone synth melody line, this whole cauldron of sound, bubbles away at boiling point before cooling down to a less ferocious and repeated sea of sequencer-like rhythms to fade the track to stillness.
As a complete 40+ minute piece, it’s not a lie to say that this is faultless, almost a masterpiece, and certainly the finest piece of music I’ve heard to date from Church Of Hed, and decidedly an album that anyone into strong and varied, dynamic and consistent, quality and repeat playable electronic music, should really consider owning and enjoying, long, loud and often
ARTHUR LOVES PLASTIC – Yada Yang Album
Featuring Lisa Moscatiello on vocals, this is an out and out electronic……err…… beat driven album. Now, I’m not going to call it a “dance” album, coz it’s way more than that term implies. Not only that, I’m not going to label it house or trance or techno or anything like that – mainly because you can’t and mainly because this album stands high above fundamental categorisation such as that.
The reason for all this, lies in the way ALP (aka Bev Stanton) approaches the subject, which is, to say the least, unique – just when you think you’d heard it all on the beat-driven electronic music front, something comes along to turn it all on its head, and this is the album to do it.
For a start, the average length of track is about three and a half minutes, with the longest at just over 4. The astonishing things are (a) the way she puts so much into such a short space of time; (b)the fact that noting is wasted and every second is there for a reason; (c) the sheer immediacy of it all – not only do you love what you hear, but nothing outstays its welcome – you hear, are fired up, and move on; and (d) despite it being individual tracks and ideas, it “feels” like one corking great beast of a mix – and all that is still only part of the equation.
Take the just short of 3 minute “Leaves” for example – in a rhythm that’s the distilled essence of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” allied to a cyclical trance burst, you get the alternately soaring then breathy, husky vocals from Moscatiello and assorted layers of electronics that come and go on top of the ferocious rhythm, to create this amazing track which says what it has to say, stops and immediately launches headlong into the 4+ minutes of “Got Away” as Moscatiello’s wondrously sultry vocal accompanies a stuttering percussive rhythm, the doppler effect synth line you loved in Seal’s “Crazy”, dark, dense electronic bell-like tones, eerie yet warm and more synth bell-like tones, the clipped vocalising from Ms M that flows with the rhythms, gets treated, echoed and more as the track canters along with nothing standing still and the attention to detail absolutely disarming, as the perfect match of beat, melody, richness, haunting vocals and cloud-like synth rivers, all combine to create a thing of great beauty.
Before all this, three great tracks opened the album. First you have the hard percussive beat-driven “Today Is Not The Day” as a stuttering synth line ebbs and flows over Moscatiello’s low down verses and a song that actually possesses one of the shortest yet finest vocal hooks to appear on a dance-styled track in many a long while, the whole thing gradually assembles ever more electronic layers, all shining and shuddering brilliantly through your head, heart and feet. “Unique” features an initially phased percussive beat as the synth river glides ominously up and down the mix, as Moscatiello’s dark yet soft vocal sails through the track with enraptured beauty and a hint of menace, while the percussive beat lets rip and the assorted synth doodlings, swoops, walls of sonic splendour and the occasional melody line, all seamlessly combine to produce a track that really does live up to its title. Then up comes “GPS” that continues the beat, albeit slightly higher register and accompanied by a partner electronic rhythm that resonates its bass-like tones right alongside. A freight train rhythm drives the track forward to stupendous degree as the synths rise and fall above it, more clipped and lighter electro-percussive rhythms somewhere in the middle of the mix, adding to the whole effect, and a track that proves utterly irresistible to movement.
Moving on to the second half of the album, and the current of connection is allied to continuous variation and re-invention as assorted types of percussive beats and accompanying synth tones, textures, layers and melodies, are a positve joy to hear on every track that comes along, with Moscatiello really taking off on “Nothing That I Do Is Right”, here the rhythms being of the chunkier variety while the melodies are much more spread out and apparent as the strangeness occurs far below the main body of the track. “Freedom Feels” has that “banging wardrobe” rhythm that you heard in Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance”, one that quickly gets aided and abetted by more faster paced percussive beats that are as heavy as a lead pipe, as this time, Ms M’s vocals croon and soar effortlessly over the sweeping sands of synths and the ever encroaching forest fire of rhythmic density, all serving to create one jaw-dropping track that, once again, you are almost required to leap about on hearing the thing, yet as a listenable slice of music, it’s totally hypnotic and completely engaging.This whole feel continues on “Persona Non Grata” only here the vocals are way more upfront and Lisa lets go as, all around, the beats and layers drive and drift, fly and dive, to keep you mesmerized from start to finish as, arguably, the finest actual song on the album, really takes to the skies, not a hook in sight, but you just try to take your attention from it – can’t be done!!
“Bring It On” decelerates the pace as a more “fimic” approach is introduced and you initially feel like you’re about to listen to some kind of soundtrack to a film of hark and deep proportions. Lisa’s lightness of touch yet transfixing, husky, strong vocal, enters to provide the song as the synths slide and glide over the slowly clipped percussive beat, a much starker approach, with the vocal centre stage, a distant acoustic guitar adding barely heard extra texture, as deep bass synth resonates at one end, and repeated high range synth does its stuff at the other, the track slowly developing and adding to itself as it rides off into the distance. Finally, the album ends with “Smile” as the vocals are pushed into the background initially before rising to the surface of a rock solid percussive beat that’s doubled and accelerated, before that drops down to a quieter thud, fort he synths to emerge and provide the warmth of summer sun to the proceedings. Galloping hard toward the finale, the assembled layers of synths, beats and vocals stride towards a decelerated electronic end point.
Oveall, it really is that unique type of album, that’s totally driven by the rhythms, yet features vocals that are just to die for, and all manner of electronics used sparingly, efficiently and exceedingly cleverly, to produce that rarest of breeds – a dance album you can listen to and enjoy, at home, on the train or anywhere, time after time after time.
CARL WEINGARTEN – An Endless Premonition
Have you ever heard anything by this guitarist before? No? Shame on you – where have you been this last 30+ years? Arguably one of the very finest guitarists in his field – “what field”, I hear you cry – well…..that’s not an easy question to answer……for this guy’s had more fields in the last 35 years than a herd of Jersey cows. But if you had to use one word to sum up the stunning albums that this guy’s produced over the decades, it would be “quality” – every album he’s ever put out has been something you’d treasure – and this latest is no exception.
Consisting of just five tracks between 6 and just over 15 minutes in length, what you have here is an album of what used to be called instrumental cosmic music – but before you reach for the anti-yawn switch, let me tell you that this is more than a cut above anything you could imagine in that genre.
For a start, there are no synths or keyboards of any description on this album – it’s all guitars and what he calls “atomic delays” – yet the textures, layers, drifts, expanses, sonic ranges and overall soundscapes, are simply magnificent from start to finish.
Recorded in single takes using the guitar, pedal board and a somewhat complex system similar to looping, Weingarten creates blissful, ethereal, spacey, spacious and infinite musical layers that somehow not only engage you the moment you start to listen, but actually draw you in to the soundworlds to such a degree, that once you start the experience, there’s simply no way you’re going to stop until he does – about 54 minutes later. If you want comparisons in terms of feel and gorgeousness, a universe from Tangerine Dream’s “Zeit”, through Iasos and Steve Roach, to the most serene, free of any edge and sonically sublime Robert Fripp, are just a few reference points that may signpost you to what to expect here, although on many points along the way on the 10 and a half minute “Landreth Lights”, I was in a world that took me back to parts of TD’s “Alpha Centauri” in terms of the purity of the almost nostalgic analog feel that the music has created, so much so that this could easily have been some lost “Kosmische Musik” outtake were it not sounding so incredibly well played and produced. The 15+ minute title track adds a hint of melody to the proceedings with, this time, chords and notes, floating up into the ether, that truly sound like guitars on some vast cosmic journey, almost like a vastly decelerated and spacey Mike Oldfield, all the time the wondrous river of sonic delight, meandering slowly but surely underneath the slowly spiralling top layers, where shadowy drifts, deep bass (from Michael Manring, whose guesting on two tracks) and those sublime guitar notes when they appear, all combine to produce a piece of music that is the epitome of darkly blissful and utterly beautiful, so much so that 15 minutes doesn’t feel like half enough in terms of your enjoyment of what you’re hearing. The near 14 minute “The Far Away” pretty well continues where the last one left off, still maintaining the impressive flow of the album as a whole, only this time drifting like a lit-up musical fogbank, occupying every area of space with textural delight consiting of musical layers that just make you feel alive, the old “at one with the universe” job, but in a “feet firmly on the ground” way, as you are inexorably caught up in the web of weaving density, intensity and multi-layered splendours, one which constantly and consistently unfolds, in keeping with the whole album by never standing still for one second, the secret that made early TD the legends they became before they fell apart later on. The album ends with the 6+ minutes of “Blue Rendwzvous”, every bit as exquisite as the opening track, and seeing things out exactly as you’d expect from an album as classy as this.
Overall, if you like the most beautiful cosmic space music on the planet, of which you’ll never tire of hearing, this is the one you simply have to buy, of that there is no arguing.