Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Ewan Pearson, We Are Proud of Our Choices

In a recent review of Hernan Cattaneo’s mix for the Renaissance Masters series I noted that the mix has the characteristic that  any 10 minute segment tends to sound more or less like any other 10 minute segment.  Ewan Pearson’s We Are Proud of Our Choices is a good example of a mix that completely avoids this problem and is much more interesting as a result.

Pearson does a nice job of sequencing in his mix and the tracks he chooses differ sufficiently in instrumentation, tonal quality and rhythmic structure that it never feels like you’re stuck in a rut.  In addition, the individual tracks in the mix usually develop quickly enough to have their own sense of forward propulsion.  Combine this with the momentum that comes from Pearson’s sequencing and you end up with a mix that almost always feels like it’s going somewhere.

Going somewhere is only good if it’s somewhere you want to go.  We Are Proud of Our Choices relies on rolling midtempo grooves that carry the listener along effortlessly.  Tempos are generally in the 120 bpm to 126 bpm range with a solid backbeat combined with periodic accents on the one which gives the music a rolling or loping feel that is very easy to fall into and ride.  Pearson does a nice job of mixing in rhythmic variation so that there’s almost no opportunity for boredom to set in and attention to wander.

We’ve been listening to a lot of dance mix CDs lately and We Are Proud of Our Choices is one we come back to time and again.  Expertly sequenced with compelling momentum and groove it avoids the samey-samey problem of many dance mixes and is easy to recommend.

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03/31/2010 Posted by | music, music reviews | , , , | 4 Comments

Review: Pelican, What We All Come to Need

Heavy.  I mean really, really heavy. Heavy guitars, heavy bass, heavy drums.  Heavy.  You get the idea.

Pelican is a four man (guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Lebec, bass player Larry Herweg and drummer Bryan Herweg) out of Chicago.  On What We All Come to Need they are joined by a number of guest musicians for a mostly instrumental rock set with an extreme emphasis on immense heavy timbres.  This is some variant of metal music although I have no idea what kind as I listen to very little of this kind of thing.

For all the thunder this band produces the music on What We All Come to Need is surprisingly melodic.  There are times when guitar chords come crashing down and it seems like this is what it must feel like when Godzilla steps on your house (in a good way) but threaded in the mix is a melodic guitar riff that draws the listener into the song.  It’s not all about bombastic demonstrations of technique with these guys and the touches of melody, simple as they often are, serve to enhance by contrast the tumult that surrounds them.  Pelican makes music that is both bludgeoning and enjoyable to listen to for the non-metalhead.

All of the sturm und drang results in music with most of it’s content in the lower frequency range.  I would imagine this kind of stuff is a bitch to mix if you hope to keep all of the instruments from disappearing into a murky sludge.  What We All Come to Need is fairly well mixed with a good amount of discernible separation among the instruments.  The soundstage is somewhat narrow however and more individuality could be given to each of the instruments if they were given more room.

The songs on What We All Come to Need share similar arrangements, timbres, rhythms and chord progressions so that for someone with my limited exposure to this kind of music they all begin to sound the same relatively quickly.  However, until you lose interest What We All Come to Need is a highly entertaining album.

03/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Hernan Cattaneo, Renaissance The Masters Series Part 13

Renaissance is one of the premier record labels devoted to dance mix collections and their two-disc Masters Series lies at or near the top of their catalog.  This is Hernan Cattaneo’s third mix in the Masters Series.  Depending on how much you like his mix style, this can be taken as evidence that Renaissance recognizes talent when they see it or that they’re stuck in a rut.

For my tastes this Cattaneo mix has both strengths and weaknesses.  The music holds to a solid midtempo groove virtually throughout which I find very pleasing.  It is very smoothly mixed with each track flowing effortlessly into the next giving each of the two discs a highly unified feel.  It is also very well recorded and comes across with great clarity in a well defined three dimensional space on a sound system capable of producing the music encoded on the CDs.

The collection’s weaknesses are related to some of its strengths.  Cattaneo’s refined, smooth mixing style combined with his tendency to latch onto a very steady groove tend to produce  a mix that shows little in the way of variance over the length of a CD.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the tunes he’s chosen for this mix have highly similar timbres and they tend to introduce change slowly while they focus on rhythm at the expense of melody or harmony.  The result is a mix that sounds pretty much the same no matter where you are in the set.  Any 10 minutes sounds very good but every 10 minutes sounds more or less like every other 10 minutes.  Each of the two discs increases in intensity over its length but its a slow and steady business.  I tend to put it on when I want some deep background music that has a solid groove when I’m doing and thinking about something else.  If I want the music to be more upfront in whatever I’m doing I go elsewhere.

03/27/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Fred Deakin, Nu Balearica

Don’t let the title fool you.  Listeners who have some familiarity with electronic dance music may associate “Balearic” with the mind-numbingly tedious dregs of the worst variants of chillout music that filled  “Ibizia” mix CDs in the late ’90s and early ’00s.  Those collections stank; this one doesn’t.  In a way it’s a shame Deakin chose a title with unwelcome ties to past types of music promotion that may turn some listeners off because one of the main points he wants to make with this mix is that there’s something new and interesting going on.

Fred Deakin is one half of the duo that made up Lemon Jelly, the inventive electronic music group that announced they were taking a break in 2008.  Nu Balearica is a two-disc mix of electronic music that is sometimes referred to as nu disco, space disco or cosmic disco.  In the notes that accompany the set Deakin relates how he had a hard time coming up with an adequate description of the music in Nu Balearica until he ran into Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) who responded to Deakin’s description of his mix project with “it’s the return of melody” which Deakin thinks pretty much nailed it.

The tracks on Nu Balearica are certainly more melodic and have a markedly lower bpm than what you’d find in the hardcore banger style of dance music but this is music that is fundamentally about groove.  Perhaps the most well known producers of this type of music are the Norwegians Prins Thomas, Lindstrom and Todd Terje, all of whom are represented on Nu Balearica.  If you are unfamiliar with these guys, Nu Balearica is an excellent way to get a taste of all of them.  For my money Prins Thomas’ mix of Hatchback’s “White Diamond” alone is worth the price of the collection.  But Nu Balearica has much more than music from the three Norwegians.  It is a very good collection for discovering a broad range of talented producers and remixers of a groovalicious style of electronic dance music.

A word must be said about the packaging of the collection.  Deakin is well known for the inventive and often beautiful packaging he wraps around his releases.  The Lemon Jelly CDs are gorgeous.  However when artful design interferes with basic function, somebody needs to say “Wait a minute.  This ain’t working.”  Nu Balearicais very artfully packaged with two booklets, cardboard sleeves for each disc and a cardboard case to hold it all together.  Colorful graphic designs abound.  However the case doesn’t give you any indication of what’s inside so the record company printed up a thin paper band that slides around the case and that tells you what the package contains.  That’s a picture of the band on the right.  The problem is that the only concise and easy to use track list for the collection is printed on the band which is easily lost or torn.  Deakin provides track lists with notes in the booklets but who wants to screw around with pages of Deakin’s ramblings to find out the name of the track that’s currently playing?  Not me, but if you lose or tear the little paper band you’re shit out of luck.  So, what we have is a great mix in a lame but pretty package.

03/24/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Jimi Hendrix, Valleys of Neptune

There has been no end to the posthumous releases of Jimi Hendrix material since he died in 1970.  Some of it has been good; some of it has been nothing more than a blatant attempt to cash on on Hendrix’ s great fame and extraordinary talent with the release of crappy recordings of studio noodling.  Valleys of Neptune is something different.  The album is built around the last recordings Hendrix made with the original members of The Jimi Hendrix Experience Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums).  Much of the album was recorded in 1969 after the release of Electric Ladyland.  Hendrix was flying high and it looked like there was no end to what he could achieve.

With the exception of “Mr. Bad Luck” which was recorded in 1967  all of the tracks on Valleys of Neptune were recorded in 1969.  Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell play together on nine of the album’s twelve cuts.  Redding and Mitchell rerecorded their bass and drum parts in 1987 on 3 of the tracks, “Mr. Bad Luck”, “Lover Man”, and “Crying Blue Rain”.  Billy Cox, Hendrix’s old friend who replaced Redding when the tension between Hendrix and Redding reached the breaking point plays on three tracks, a hot rendition of “Stone Free”, “Bleeding Heart” and the title track.

Hendrix on a bad day is better than most other guitarists at their peak so it will come as no surprise that his playing throughout Valleys of Neptune is terrific.  The blues based numbers “Hear My Train A Comin'”, “Lover Man” and “Red House” are outstanding.  Redding and Mitchel’s overdubs laid down almost 20 years after the original recordings are nicely mixed with Hendrix vocals and guitar so that they don’t appear out of place or intrusive.  There’s not a bad cut on the CD and it is very nicely produced.

Ever since I had the great good fortune to see Jimi Hendrix and the original Experience live in what were almost perfect circumstances I’ve been at least quietly disappointed by his released recordings and Valleys of Neptune is no exception.  This is a foolish reaction as neither a studio nor a live recording could possibly capture what is was like to be in the room with Hendrix when he was in full flight.  If you are a Hendrix fan Valleys of Neptune is a must-buy and you probably already have it.  If you have any interest in Hendrix’s music and you don’t have Valleys of Neptune, check it out.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

03/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Danny Howells, Miami: Global Underground #27

Global Underground is a UK record label that specializes in dance music.  Their signature series of CD releases involves taking a DJ who is well known on the international club scene to a particular city and presenting 2 CDs worth of music performed in a local club.  The 27th disc in the series features Danny Howells at Miami’s Space club.  The first disc contains a mix Howell’s played shortly after sunrise on the club’s terrace on a Sunday morning.  Disc two is a mix he played in the main room of Space several hours earlier.

Howells is a first rate mix master with a finely developed ability for sequencing tracks and both building and sustaining momentum.  Many well-known DJs impose their approach on the music they play by infusing their mixes with percussion or synth overlays and transitions between tracks that embody the “sound” they have used to brand themselves in the international club scene.  While this may thrill club goers who are constantly reminded that they are in the club with the famous whoever-it-is-this-month, it tends to reduce a mix to a tedious sameness when heard on CD.  Howells doesn’t have this problem.  He adapts his contributions to the music playing right now which gives his mixes a real sense of direction and development.

While the Global Underground mixes are usually classified as some variant of House, Howells has a broad and eclectic taste in music which adds to the feel that his mixes are developing and going somewhere.  He is especially good at building momentum leading to an exhilarating climax which he then ramps down and builds back up again.  You’re doing something around the house with this music playing and you find yourself dancing before you even realize you were listening to the music.

Disk 1 starts slowly.  There are interesting things going on in the opening tracks in the mix but if you’re not paying attention they can be overlooked in the fairly steady 4 by 4 beat laid out over the top.  But Howell’s knows what he’s doing and he’s setting you up.  The first four tracks are a slow buildup which culminates in Ame’s “Shiro” before he drops the funk bass bomb on you with the Salt City Orchestra Nightclub mix of Sneaker Pimp’s “Post Modern Sleaze”.  From that point on the mix just flies.  Disk 2 is more intense and driven as would be expected from a mix played during peak hours on the club’s main dance floor.  Both mixes are excellent although I marginally prefer disk 1 as being a bit more nuanced.

If you enjoy dance music and are looking for an eclectic mix that avoids the samey-samey sound of too many DJ mixes, Howell’s Miami: Global Underground #27 is a good bet.

If you like this mix you might also enjoy Howells’ Renaissance The Mix Collection.

03/22/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment