Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: SOS, Club

Ministry of Sound began as a dance club in London that was modeled on New York’s legendary Paradise Garage.  The club opened in 1991.. Ministry of Sound and has since grown to be a multimedia entertainment brand with a record label, radio network, clothing brand etc.  The record label has put out numerous DJ mix series over the years with their Club series being the latest.  CDs in the series are projected to include two discs; one containing a mix the DJ would do on a Saturday night in the club and the second featuring the DJ’s own compositions and remixes.  The collection by SOS is the first in the series.

SOS, which stands for SexOnSubstance, are Omid “16B” Nourizadeh, Demi Hajigeorgiou, and Desyn Masiello.  They were a good choice to kick off the Club series.  Disc 1 does just what’s it’s supposed to do – lay down a dance floor mix that’s tight, right and peak night.  SOS ease you in for maybe two minutes and then hit the 4/4 and start to ramp up the intensity.  Ramp it up , hold, ramp it up, hold  . . . hold, hit it!  Rinse and repeat.  These guys know what they’re doing and they do it well.  Disc one is a straightforward house club mix seasoned with nu-disco and funk and it rocks.  If this one doesn’t get your ass in the air go back to Mom and Dad and ask for a reboot ’cause something ain’t right.

Although the idea for disc 2 was to present a collection of the DJ’s compositions and remixes that’s not really what we get.  SOS are only credited with 2 of the tracks on the second disc.  Five of the remaining 11 tracks were written or co-written by Omar 16B and the rest are by other people.  Some of these are tracks that were released on Omid’s label SoulOnWax.  What connection the others have with SOS is unclear.

As expected of a set that compiles original compositions and remixes, disc 2 doesn’t have the linear drive and power of the club mix on disc one.  If you listen to disc two right after disc one it’s easy to go “meh”.  But that would be a mistake.  Taken on its own terms – in other words, don’t listen to it immediately following disc one – it has its own strengths.

As with disc 1, the music on disc 2 is fairly straightforward house music.  As with a good deal of straightforward house music, there’s a tendency to let 2 bar patterns go on for too long with only minor, if any, variation but this isn’t as big a problem for SOS as it is for some other music producers.  Omid B’s “Sequential 002: Same as You” does a nice job of combining a heavy 4/4 house backbeat with a jazz sax solo.  While still clearly in the House mode, the final three tracks introduce more variation than the others in terms of rhythmic patterns and sonic palattes.  These are the three tracks that don’t have any apparent connection with SOS and they sound like they were mixed by the trio but didn’t fit on the first disc.

Based on Club, SOS’s strengths lie more in the DJ than the music production realm but there are more than a few good tracks on disc 2.  Which is gravy, really, because disc 1 is good enough to justify giving the set a try.

To get a feel for a mix you have to listen to the mix, not individual tracks, but here’s Silver City’s “Pendulo (Pete Herbert edit)” to give you an idea of the kind of music on disc 1

From disc 2, the SOS edit of Latenta Project’s “Beach Combers”

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07/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: M.A.N.D.Y., Fabric 38

M.A.N.D.Y.’s  Fabric 38 is an intriguing mix.  It has quite a different sound from M.A.N.D.Y.’s Mix Collection for Renaissance and on first listen it didn’t really grab my attention.  There was something about it though.  It faded in and out of our listening cycle over many weeks until I decided I had to either shelve it or review it.  During a day or two of focused listening the strengths of Fabric 38 began to reveal themselves.

M.A.N.D.Y.’s Fabric 38 isn’t a straightforward House mix although it adheres pretty consistently to the typical House 4/4 equal-emphasis kick-driven format.  Throughout the mix M.A.N.D.Y. layer multiple polyrhythms over the kick which give the entire set more of a varied feel than a run-of-the-mill House mix.  As the set goes on M.A.N.D.Y. get more and more into synth lines and timbres that are atypical and the mix gets increasingly mysterious, deep and dark.  Strange sounds briefly appear and then disappear.  Ominous pads lurk in the background.  You’re on your way down the rabbit hole.

Fabric 38 may take some time and patience but it’s worth it.  As your familiarity increases, previously hidden nooks and crannies reveal themselves.  M.A.N.D.Y. have put together a mix that continues to entertain well after the newness has worn off.

“War Paint (Claude Vonstroke remix) poxyMUSIC Ft. Gina Mitchell

07/17/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: James Zabiela, Renaissance The Masters Series

Recently I reviewed James Zabiela’s Renaissance The Masters Series – Life.  That CD was a follow-up to the album being reviewed here, Renaissance The Masters Series.  Like the the other albums in Renaissance’s Masters Series, Renaissance The Masters Series is a two disc collection.

In the earlier review I pointed out the inane voice overs that were inserted in the mix that were supposed to be profound observations about life but came across as cringe-worthy and juvenile.  I wondered why someone in the CD production chain hadn’t brought some common sense to the project and pointed out that the voice-over bits were embarrassing.  As it turns out, maybe somebody did because the extraneous material Zabiela has dumped into the mix is even worse here on the earlier album than it was on the later.

The same I-think-I’m-deep-but-I’m-only-just-too-young-to-know-the-difference voice-overs are again present but this time they are accompanied by “field recordings” (lol) that Zabiela made during the course of his day.  These field recordings turn out to be things like random street noises, garbled airport announcements, and the sound of rain falling.  If you think the background noise of unintelligible PA announcements is of little interest when you’re the one in the airport, just think how fascinating they must be when it’s someone else who happened to be in an airport.  The justification for adding this garbage to the mix is that disc one is supposed to capture the course of Zabiela’s day while disc two represents the mix he plays in the club that night.  Capture the course of Zabiela’s day as he walks down the street and goes to the airport?  Who cares?  This is a level of self-absorption and self-regard that is almost embarrassing to observe.  Zabiela really needs to get over himself.

As with the CD reviewed earlier, the music and the mix on Renaissance The Masters Series is good if you can put up with the extraneous junk.  Disc 1 is laid back and disc 2 is more uptempo as befits the idea that 2 is supposed to represent a club mix.  Again as with the previously reviewed CD, Zabiela tends toward a combination of breakbeat and tech house in his mix.  He sequences and segues well and has a pronounced ability to work with rhythms that are more complex and sophisticated than the pounding 4/4 that characterizes a lot of house music.  On the basis of his own “Darkness.2”, Zabiela also shows promise as a music producer.

One again, Zabiela has produced a pair of very good mixes that are marred by an overweening sense of self-importance.  Disc 2 is better in this regard than disc 1.  If you can get past the vanity, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

“Darkness.2 from Renaissance The Masters Series

06/19/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Martyn, fabric 50

Fabric is a club that opened in London in 1999.  In 2001 they began a series of monthly CD mix releases featuring well-known DJs that alternate between the fabric and Fabriclive headings.  At the time Martyn’s studio mix was released there had been 49 discs in each of the two series and the feeling had arisen in some corners that the Fabric releases had gone stale.  They needed to shake it up.

They did.  Martyn is a Dutch DJ who currently lives and works out of the Washington DC area (Yikes! he lives somewhere near me!)  who is know for being both the high quality and innovative originality of his mixes.  He gave Fabric just what they needed; fabric 50 is a knockout.

One of the more appealing aspects of fabric 50 is that Martyn isn’t afraid to mix different types of music into his set.  He smoothly mixes dubstep, techno, umpteen kinds of house and a number of other micro-niches with names that only have meaning for the truly obsessed into a thoroughly entertaining set.  The variety of music on display makes fabric 50 a terrific CD for listeners who may know little or nothing about dance music to sample a fairly wide selection of many of the types of club music that are currently in the air.  Find what you like, follow it up, and open up a whole new world of goodness.

That bit about “smoothly” points to another great strength of fabric 50.  Martyn really know how to put music together.  Tracks flow into each other seamlessly most of the time.  Styles, rhythms, timbres, instrumentation consistently vary and flow so the mix never falls into the monotonous rut that can easily bedevil dance music.

The illustration on the CD packaging shows a dancer being held in the palm of a big hand.  Nice image for this set; you’re in good hands with Martyn.  If Fabric can reinvigorate their two series with sets of this quality the coming months are going to be very good ones indeed for those listeners who enjoy electronic dance music.

04/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 1 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: 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

Review: Various Artists, Back to Mine, Krafty Kuts

What do club DJs listen to when they get back home after the gig?  Providing an answer to that question is the idea behind the long running Back to Mine series of mix CDs.  Krafty Kuts (Martin Reaves) is an up and coming UK DJ and his Back to Mine is the 28th volume in the series. 

The set combines 18 segments of hip hop, funk, acid jazz, and various types of dance music into a mix that Krafty Kuts says was intended to “stand the test of time”.  As you would expect from a club DJ, the transitions between songs are often well done with the move from Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You” to the Incredible Bongo Band’s cover of “In-A-Gadda-D-Vida” being especially nice.  The set opens with “Pork Pie Stride” by obscure acid jazz group the Sharpshooters which is a terrific find.  If the mix had continued in the vein of fine and generally forgotten tracks like this it would have been a stone cold winner.  Unfortunately too many of the tunes in the mix such as Paul Hardcastle’s “Rain Forest”, Tyrone Brunson’s “The Smurf” and Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” are so familiar and so over used that they lend the entire set a feeling of been-there, done-that, tired-of-it.

Mix tapes tend to be more fun to put together than to listen to afterwards and often appeal more to the person who made them than to the listener.  The notes Krafty Kuts provides for this set indicate he put time and effort into the mix and the result has been a collection that holds both meaning and importance for him.  For the listener, on the other hand, it comes across as just another mix tape. 

06/27/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment