Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Various Artists, Ministry of Sound The Annual 2010

Like many other label/club/brands Ministry of Sound puts out a yearly compilation of dance music.  Unlike other dance music conglomerates they put out different versions of the Annual in different countries.  I’ve seen UK, US, Australian and German versions. I’m guessing they are attempting to pitch each collection at what they perceive to be the differing tastes of  dance music fans in each country.  With that thought in mind I picked up the German version because I thought Germany’s preeminence in the world of electronic dance music ought to result in a compilation aimed at a knowledgeable and discerning audience.  In other words, I expected the German Annual to be the most interesting of the three.  It is also three CDs while the others I saw are two.

The discs are mixed but little real thought or effort has gone into sequencing.  It’s basically just one beat-matched song after another without a break between tracks.  If you know someone who thinks big-name DJ mix CDs are just some guy playing a bunch of songs, play your favorite DJ mix CD for them and then any of the three discs in the German Annual.  The contribution of a good DJ should be obvious pretty quickly.

If this is Ministry of Sound’s idea of the kind of music their most sophisticated audience is tuned in to, I think I’d best avoid the compilations from other countries.  The German version of the Annual is basically three discs of bangin’ club music with a fairly strong emphasis on vocal content.  Much of it is cliche-ridden and fairly unimaginative.  One the one hand, with three discs there’s a lot of music here.  On the other hand, it gets old fast and you’ve still got the rest of disc 1 plus all of discs 2 and 3 to go.

08/17/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review: A-Trak, Infinity+1

The next time somebody says “Young people nowadays are just a bunch of self-entitled do-nothings that think they don’t have to work at anything while everything should be given to them” point them toward A-Trak.  Born in 1982, the kid won an international DJ competition at 15.  He’s the only person to have won 5 DJ World Championships.  While still a teenager he developed a notation system for scratching.  At age 22 he joined Kanye West as West’s live performance DJ.  He has done production work for Lupe Fiasco among others.  In the spring of this year he released two DJ mix CDs, both different and both good.

One of those mixes, Fabriclive 45, was so hot it took over my computer while I was trying to write a review.  Infinity+1 isn’t as hot as Fabriclive 45 but it’s still good.  Both mixes illustrate  A-Trak’s familiarity with the worlds of hip-hop and club-oriented dance music.  Of the two, Infinity+1 is the more hip-hop influenced while Fabriclive 45 is more of a straight-up club mix.  The generally more sedate tempos of hip-hop may be the reason why Infinity+1 comes across as the less driving of the two mixes. Infinity+1 is also the more consistent mix as it lacks the buzz-kill track that brings Fabriclive 45 to its knees part way through the set.

The only point of connection between the two mixes is A-Traks inclusion of his own “Say Whoa” on both sets.  ZZ opens with A-Trak’s version while Infinity+1 includes a remix by DJ Spinna.  It takes a good degree of confidence to take the chance that somebody might show you up with a remix of one of your own tracks.  Especially somebody who can bring it like DJ Spinna.  No worries.  Both versions work on their own terms.

The closely timed releases of Infinity+1 and Fabriclive 45 highlight how well A-Trak operates with both hip-hop and house music.  Very few DJs could have pulled this off as well as A-Trak has.  The two sets also illustrate how adept he is at drawing smooth connections between the two types of music.  A-Trak also shows a remarkable subtlety of touch in bridging to dance music from a predominantly hip-hop base on Infinity+1 while doing precisely the opposite on Fabriclive 45.

Both Fabriclive 45 and Infinity+1 are more than worth a listen.  If you tend more toward dance music, start with Fabriclive 45; more toward hip-hop, start with Infinity+1.  In either case each mix can open the ears of listeners who enjoy one kind of music to the pleasures of a different kind of music and that is a noteworthy achievement in and of itself.

DJ Spinna’s remix of A-Trak’s “Say Whoa”, compare with A-Trak’s own version from Fabriclive 45

A-Trak’s remix of MSTRCRFT (Feat. N.O.R.E.)’s “Bounce”

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08/08/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Francois K, Choice – A Collection of Classics

For its Choice series, the Azuli label asked well-known DJs to put together a two disc set of tracks that are their personal favorites.  François K is a great choice for a series like this because he had one of the longest and most influential careers in music of any of the legendary DJs from the New York underground dance scene of the 1970’s and ’80s that gave birth to disco, was the foundation on which house was built, and provided the original models for the European mega-dance clubs of today.

His long career in the music industry notwithstanding, François K has chosen a collection of tracks drawn almost exclusively from the 1970s and ’80s.  There’s disco such as Shalimar’s “Right in the Socket” and Donald Byrd’s classic “Love Has Come Around”, soul crooners like Teddy Pendergast (“Only You”) and Colonel Abrams (“I’m Not Gonna Let You (Get the Best of Me)”), tribal rhythms from No Smoke (“Koro Koro”) and more.  Larry Levan fans will be interested in David Joseph’s “You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)” which was mixed by Levan along with his remix of Gwen Guthrie’s “(They Long To Be) Close to You”.  The Joseph track is also available on Journey Into Paradise, The Larry Levan Story but François K’s Choice is the only place I’ve seen Levan’s remix of the Guthrie track.

One track on François K’s Choice deserves special mention.  “Baby Wants to Ride” was written and produced by Frankie Knuckles and Knuckles “with” James Principle are listed as the artists.  As many will know, Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan acquired the basis of their DJ skills when they were both boy toys living in New York’s notorious Continental Baths.  Influenced by what Levan was doing at the Paradise Garage, Knuckles moved to Chicago and became the resident DJ and motivating force behind The Warehouse which is often cited as the source for the term “house music”.  “Baby Wants to Ride” is 8+ minutes of Frankie Knuckles pretending to get laid.  It is so excruciatingly bad that you wonder if François K holds a long-standing grudge against his fellow New York DJ and is using this opportunity for payback.  The track is beyond dreadful.

In comparison with the Choice collection by Danny Howells, François K’s Choice comes off as a missed opportunity.  Howells mixed his set which gives each of his discs a sense of coherence.  François K doesn’t provide a mix but simply gives us a collection of tracks.  In addition, the booklet that comes with the Howells set includes a brief entry on each track by Howells that tells you a bit about why the track is important to him.  The François K booklet has an essay summarizing his career with nothing from François K himself about why he choose these tracks.  The result is that François K’s Choice feels like someone else’s mix tape.  Meaningful to François K perhaps, but just a random collection of tunes for everyone else.

Larry Levan’s remix of Gwen Guthrie’s “(They Long To Be) Close to You”

07/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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”

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

Review: Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts, Breaking the Fourth Wall

Time and again I’ve expressed dismay because producers of electronic dance music rely on the same sound palettes or, even worse, repeat the same 1, 4 or 8 bar pattern so many times that the listener becomes stupefied by monotony.  Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts doesn’t have this problem. Breaking the Fourth Wall is rich with different timbres and compelling grooves.  It’s one of the most exciting and interesting single-artist CDs I’ve heard in the dance music category in months.

Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts is a musician out of Montreal named . . . wait for it . . . Guillaume Coutu Dumont (Ringo should have thought of this).  He started out as an anthropology student, began playing percussion at age 17, got involved in a funk band, dropped anthropology and was accepted into a music program in percussion, and then shifted into electroacoustic composition.  Finding the academic environment too narrow and limited, he split and began making his own music.   Breaking the Fourth Wall is his second album.

If I had to give a single characterization of the type of music Dumont produces on Breaking the Fourth Wall I’d say something like tribal but that doesn’t really do it.  He uses a variety of percussion instruments, synths and even vocal lines to build layered grooves that are often very strong in rolling, propulsive rhythms.  He also makes exceptionally good use of jazz-influenced horns.  Before firing up Tuned In To Music I spent many years deeply involved in listening to and learning about jazz.  My first Parametric Monkey track, “Horns of the Moon”, is built around the interplay between an alto and tenor sax because of this background and I’ve often wondered why dance music producers don’t make more use of jazz instrumentation.   Breaking the Fourth Wall is an excellent example of just how well jazz-influenced horns can work in dance music context.

While not everything on Breaking the Fourth Wall works for me, the album is filled with original and interesting tracks.  Album opener “Mindtrap” combines a Miles Davis style muted trumpet with a powerful driving rhythm.  “32 Tonnes de Pigeons” is moving  along nicely on what sounds like a Farfisa organ based groove when Dumont drops in a ghostly trumpet that is very reminiscent of Nina Rota’s instantly recognizable theme from The Godfather.  He then works in a smokey late-night sax and it all hangs together beautifully.  “Walking the Pattern” and “Decennie” are built around samples of either a preacher addressing a congregation or an organizer motivating an audience.  “Radio Novela” features vocalist Dynamike over a groove that’s so deep and funky I simply cannot stop playing it.

When you delve into the software that is available to electronic music producers you immediately realize that the possibilities for manipulating rhythm, timbre, instrumentation, groove, melody, and just about anything else you can think of are virtually limitless.  You also realize that the producers of electronic dance music have barely scratched the surface of what the tools they use will allow them to do.  Guillaume Coutu Dumont ain’t like that.  He’s thinking outside the box and the result is that Breaking the Fourth Wall is a solidly grooving album that doesn’t sound like yet another genre-driven dance music CD.  Check it out.  Recommended.

“Radio Novela” featuring Dynamike

“32 Tonnes de Pigeons”

07/20/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Danny Howells, 24:7

Another day, another DJ mix series from one of the prominent club/record label conglomerates in the international dance music scene.  This one didn’t do so well.  The conglomerate is Global Underground.  The idea was to mix a “Day” disc and a “Night” disc of contrasting types of music that would then be released as a two disc series.  Danny Howells inaugurated the series in the summer of 2003.  The second entry in the 24:7 series was mixed by Lee Burridge and released two months later.  That was it.

The idea of a day-in-the-life mix seems to have great appeal in the dance music world as there are any number of mixes that are supposed to take you through the DJ or the average club-goers day.  James Zabiela, for example, seems particularly fond of this idea.  I’m guessing that this stems from the idea that a mix should “take you on a journey”.  The problem with this idea is that the journey that will seem most familiar to the average club goer who is the marketing target of these mixes – a journey through their typical day – isn’t really much of a journey at all.  It’s more like an endless loop of basically mindless fun followed by recovery, fun, recovery . . .  This can be a great way to spend your time until you realize that the world is a much richer place than that, with a whole lot more to offer.  As a result, the listener who likes this music but who has a life outside the club scene is likely to hear these day-in-the-life mixes as just another collection of dance music.  Maybe that’s why Global Underground’s 24:7 series only has two entries.

In the topsy-turvey world of the person whose life revolves around dance clubs, night corresponds to high-intensity, often drug fueled wonderfulness and day is devoted to coming down, torpor, and gearing up for the next night’s go-round.  Accordingly, Howell’s 24:7 “Night” disc is more uptempo than the “Day” disc.  Although, surprisingly, the difference really isn’t that great.  Howells is a first-rate DJ in terms of his ability to put together either a mix CD or a set in the club.  Both of these abilities are based on his wide and deep familiarity with dance music and his skill in sequencing tracks.   While 24:7 may not show Howells’ at his best, it will certainly appeal to his fans or to anyone else who enjoys a good collection of House music.

Honeyroot’s “Starshine” from the “Day” disc

Sam Paganini’s “Into Africa” from the “Night” disc

07/12/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Scissor Sisters, Night Work

lol These guys are hilarious.  After they released their self-titled first album, New York’s Scissor Sisters became a huge hit in Canada, Europe, and Australia.  Scissor Sisters was the best selling album in the UK in 2004.  Didn’t happen in the US. Their second album, Ta-Dah, which opened with the just-about-perfect “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” continued their success abroad.   Once again it didn’t happen in the US.

The band’s failure to break through in the American market is widely seen to be the result of the fact that their name, music and stage show are openly, flamboyantly and unapologetically gay.  The idea is that the general sexual conservatism, homophobia and sexual paranoia of the American music-buying market prevents them from breaking through.  Now here they are with their third album, Night Work.  They are using an outside producer for the first time.  They have a new label that is dedicated to putting in the hard promotional work that they think it will take to make the band a success in the US.  So what do the Sisters do?  Take a look at the album art.  Homophobes are gonna have their panties in a twist over this one.  Wouldn’t be surprised if Wal-Mart either bans the CD or demands an alternate cover.  The music, if anything, is even less compromising about the band’s sexual interests.   lol  These guys are hilarious.

The core members of the band are Jake Shears and Ana Matronic (vocals), Del Marquis (Guitar), and Babydaddy (bass, guitar, keyboards and programming).  Paddy Boom who was the drummer on their first two albums has been replaced by Randy “Real” Schrager who is listed on Night Work as an “additional player”.  Their music is usually characterized as club music with strong disco, glam rock and pop influences.

The Scissor Sisters go out of their way to . . .uhh . . . thrust their sexual orientation in your face.  If you cut through the sex, you find that they are a really terrific band.  Their songs are very well written, very well engineered and produced, and often brilliantly performed.  In some respects the Scissor Sisters are what Madonna has always wanted to be –  performers of edgy, cutting edge club music.  The difference is that Madonna has always been a wannabe, hijacking somebody else’s scene and hiring this month’s hot producer when it comes time to “recreate” herself again, while the Scissor Sisters are the real thing.   This is a rock solid band whose music is as hard and tight as their asses.

Will another good album from the Scissor Sisters be enough to overcome homophobia in America?  Probably not.  Too bad, that, because people who won’t listen to Night Work because the album art offends them or they can’t handle a song about anal sex are missing some fine music.  If you’re one of those people, consider that the planet has a lot of people on it and a lot of them enjoy sexual practices that are different from the ones you enjoy.  Hell, if your partner is a different gender than you, he or she probably has different sexual tastes than you do.  Get over it.  Your first step can be treating yourself to Night Work.

“Night Work”

“Sex and Violence”

07/10/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Kompakt Total 10

Kompakt’s Total 10 reinforced an idea I’ve had for a long time – pay attention to your intuitions.  They’re not always right but they’re always worth considering.  Total 10 is the tenth in an ongoing series of yearly compilations from Kompakt Records.  I picked it up after thoroughly enjoying Ewan Pearson’s We Are Proud of Our Choices, a mix put out on the Kompakt label.  I read somewhere that Pearson was trying to create the quintessential Kompact mix with We Are Proud of Our Choices so I thought Total 10 would be a great CD.  It came into rotation and I thought wtf? this isn’t at all what I expected.  It sucks!

I was all set to write a review focused on what a big disappointment the CD was but this intuition I had kept nagging at me to give it another listen.  I did – with the same result.  Didn’t like it.  Give it another listen.  Do it again.  Again.  I was on the verge of writing the review but the sense I was missing something wouldn’t leave.  This was unusual so I set Total 10 aside and came back to it several weeks later and listened to it with fresh ears.  Click!  Free of preconceptions Total 10 came clear.

Kompakt formed in 1998 and came to be one of the dominant record labels in the exceptionally vibrant German electronic music scene in the 2000s.  They are known for hitting the sweet spot that combines micro house and minimal techno with pop music (often in the form of vocals) and ambient.  Their music tends to have a solid dance-oriented groove driving a soundscape that is quieter than peak hour dancefloor House music.  One of their releases, Immer by label co-founder and co-owner Michael Mayer, was named by Resident Advisor as the top mix CD of the decade 2000-2009.  Total 10 fits this image.  It’s a two disc collection of varied electronic dance music that shades toward quiet and is deep in groove and high quality production values.  I sounds very good on good playback gear.

I ended up putting a lot of time into Total 10 and it was worth it.  The CD took me on a voyage of discovery that opened up new musical vistas for me.  Hard to argue with that.  There are still some aspects of Total 10 that I don’t much care for, I can comfortably say I don’t enjoy some of the more loungey vocals for example, but on the whole I’ve come to enjoy this collection quite a lot which is a complete reversal of my initial reaction.  And the good news is that this is number 10.  There are 9 more to explore.

Justus Köhncke’s “Give It To Me Easy”

Gui Boratto’s “No Turning Back” Wighnomy’s Lakkalize Rekksmi

07/09/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Phenomenal Handclap Band, The Phenomenal Handclap Band

The Phenomenal Handclap Band is all over the place which isn’t so suprising given that the Phenomenal Handclap Band is all over the place as well.  The band lists its members as Daniel Collás, Sean Marquand, Patrick Wood, Luke O’Malley, Nick Movshon, Bing Ji Ling, Joan Tick, and Laura Martin.  According to the track credits, Ji Ling, Tick and Martin don’t appear on any of the songs on the album.  Kimi Recor contributes vocals to 4 of the CD’s 12 tracks and isn’t listed as a member of the band.  The track credits list a bewildering array of musicians that appear once and are never heard again.

Things become clearer when you focus on two names.  The Phenomenal Handclap Band are basically music producers Collás and Marquand and whoever they happened to get together to contribute to their tracks.  Collás and Marquand wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks save one (more on this one later) and play keyboards throughout the album.  The band’s website insists they really are a band and maybe an actual band came together in the making of this album but we’ll have to wait for their next release to hear what they sound like.

What The Phenomenal Handclap Band sounds like is somebody’s mix tape who likes 70s funk, R&B, and disco with a healthy dose of psychedelic rock.  Like LCD Soundsystem’s recent This Is Happening, many of the tracks on The Phenomenal Handclap Band sound like The Phenomenal Handclap Band doing their version of some other group.  “All of the Above”  is their version of a Traffic tune; “15 to 20” is like Go Team! with Lady Tiga doing the playground chants instead of a bunch of kids.  And so on.  Also like the LCD Soundsystem CD you can’t help but think that the original bands did it a lot better.

The one track that Collás and Marquand did not have a hand in writing is “I Been Born Again” which was written by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman.  Some listeners may recognize Kaylan and Volman as the duo who formed The Turtles of “Happy Together” fame in 1965.  They joined Frank Zappa in 1970 where they began calling themselves The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, which was later shortened to Flo and Eddie, names they have used ever since.  Kaylan and Volman are the vocalists who appear on the terrific Zappa live album Just Another Band From L.A, Chunga’s Revenge and others from the same time period.

I found The Phenomenal Handclap Band to be one of those albums that sounded pretty good on first listen but got old quickly.  Too many of the tracks are pale imitations of other people’s work.  Maybe with a stable lineup and a refocus on developing their own sound The Phenomenal Handclap Band may generate more interest the next time around.

“All of the Above” from The Phenomenal Handclap Band

07/06/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A-Track, Fabriclive.45

Okay, so I downloaded A-Trak’s Fabriclive.45 mix in WAV format.  Twenty-five tracks mashed up by A-Trak, looked like it could be pretty good.  Launched it in my music player and before I knew what was happening there was a party going on in my computer.  I tried to write this review while the mix was playing but the fucking letters kept jumping around the screen and making new words.  “We hear the bass and we say woah”, “BASS! (woah, that was Bootsy), “DO IT!”, “You know it’s gonna be alright – be alright.”  “Get down – unh”.  WTF??!!???  This is impossible.

Figured, fuck it, I’ll play a game.  Write the review later.  Had some of that recent DLC for Mass Effect 2 I hadn’t tried.  Check that out.  Loaded the game and there’s Shepard rolling with that blue-skinned alien chick.  This can’t be happening.  Well, Bioware’s cool right?  Maybe they got something goin’ with Fabric so you get this cool Easter Egg if you run the game and the mix at the same time.  Yeah, that’s gotta be it.

Heard that the Rise of the Godslayer expansion had turned Age of Conan from a disaster into an MMO worth playing so I thought I’d check that out.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Conan?  Waving his hands in the air and shakin’ his ass like a fuck toy?  “I see you baby . . .”  Dude dances like an elephant and you don’t even want to think about him trying to do that LeBron robot thing.

Then some fool in the mix starts goin’ on about his dick.  Daniel Woodis doing “I’m the Ish”.  The mix drops dead like a corpse fell out of an airplane and landed in the middle of the dancefloor.  Splat.    Conan looks embarrassed and tears a Pictish warrior apart with his bare hands.  By Crom!   “I’m the Ish” killed the mix.  wtf was A-Trak thinking?

But wait.  The computer don’t like it either and the words stopped jumping around the screen.  I can get the review written.  Yeah, okay, I’ll describe what just happened and then list the good tracks.  Okay, the mix starts out with . . . oh, shit.  Here it comes again.  Alexis Latrobe’s “Aurora”.  There go the words on the screen.  “Get Down”.

I open up the panel on my computer and my motherboard is a motherfucker.  All those little gizmos jumping around waving their little wires.  “Do it!”

Fuck this review shit.  You want a party?  Check it out.

Opening segment from Fabriclive.45 which begins with A-Trak’s version of his own “Say Whoa”.  Compare with DJ Spinna’s remix on A-Trak’s mix CD Infinity+1


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06/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review, Danny Howells, Choice

The idea driving Azuli’s Choice series is interesting – ask a well-known DJ to compile and mix a collection of the tracks that are their own personal all-time favorites.  Danny Howell’s Choice includes two discs of music and a DVD (which I haven’t watched).  The set also has a booklet with an essay about Howells and a brief commentary on each track by Howells.

Howells arranged each of the two music discs as a continuous mix.  Disc 1 tends toward tracks that he used often in the early stages of his career and because of this, it hangs together pretty well as a dance mix.  Disc 2 is where things start to get a little squirrelly.  Howells includes tracks that have personal meaning for him outside the club interspersed with the more typical club-oriented tunes.  At one point we get one of those spoken/sung, poem/song, loungey/sound effect things from Japan (“Ghosts”) followed by 3.5 mins of the drum break from the live version of Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida” followed by Howell’s remix of The Temptations “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”.  This sounds like it ought to be a mess but Howells is so good at putting together a mix that he makes it work.  The transition from Iron Butterfly to The Temptation is especially sweet.  The set ends with a Carly Simon track.

As interesting as the idea behind Choice is, collections like this usually end up sounding like someone else’s mix tape – a collection of tracks that mean a lot to the person who put them together but just sound like a random collection of songs to everyone else.  While the nature of the project means Choice will speak more clearly to Howells than you or I, Howells great skill as a sequencer and mixer largely avoids the somebody-else’s-mix-tape problem.  As a result, we get a collection of tracks that’s mostly enjoyable, always interesting and unlike any other mix you’re likely to hear.

06/26/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review, Matias Aguayo, Ay Ay Ay

Ay Ay Ay is something you don’t come across all that often in dance music – an album that doesn’t sound like anything else.  Matias Aguayo is a DJ and music producer from Buenos Aires and he has built a unique and intriguing set of tracks for Ay Ay Ay.

As the music on Ay Ay Ay doesn’t fit neatly into the typical categories of dance music, it’s difficult to describe.  First, it’s definitely dance music.  Danceable rhythms predominate.  Often the rhythm is twisted toward the more complex and interesting grooves of latin music.  Aguayo also relies heavily on his vocals as both a rhythm and a weirdly melodic instrument.  “Weird” is actually a good descriptor for certain aspects of Ay Ay Ay as Aguayo is constantly inserting odd sounds, timbres and rhythmic flourishes.  The result of all this is music that is both unpredictable and wholly groove saturated.

When you listen to something like Ay Ay Ay it’s hard to avoid the realization that, even with its seemingly endless catalog of minutely differentiated sub-genres, dance music is only scratching the surface of what can be done with today’s production tools.  Software for making electronic music is so powerful, flexible and easily available that dance music – indeed any kind of electronically produced music – is only limited by the imagination of the producers.  The more people follow Aguayo’s lead and step outside the accepted boundaries, the richer dance music is likely to become.  If you like dance music and have open ears, Ay Ay Ay is worth checking out.

Menta Latte from Ay Ay Ay

06/25/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Groove Armada, Black Light

Groove Armada  are Andy Cato and Tom Findlay a pair of dance producers out of London.  Their 1999 album Vertigo featured one of their best known songs in the Fatboy Slim mix of “I See You Baby”.  In a sense, they’ve been trying to get back to those lofty heights since.  They didn’t make it with Black Light.

The CD opens with some guy screaming at you about something or other.  I suppose it’s supposed to be attention getting but it’s just annoying.  The guy with his panties in a twist is Nick Littlemore and the track is “Warsaw”.  Littlemore appears on four of Black Light‘s  eleven tracks  and they’re uniformly terrible thanks to his “vocal” contributions.  What he does is kind of shout, scream or talk with a great deal of overwrought quasi-hysterical emotion.  I’m guessing his style is intended to convey deep feeling, what it in fact conveys is that he can’t sing.

Groove Armada are known for working for a variety of vocalists and Littlemore is joined on Black Light by Bryan Ferry, Will Young, Jessica Larrabee and Saint Saviour.  Interspersed with the songs where Littlemore handles the vocals, their tracks come as a relief.  Ferry’s “Shameless” is one of his standard wobbly vocal mid-tempo numbers.  “Paper Romance” with Saint Savoir on vocals is especially good and if you’re going to download one track from Black Light, this is one to consider.

With one good track, several awful ones, and the remainder not much more than serviceable dance music made by skilled producers Black Light doesn’t have much to recommend it.

“Paper Romance featuring Saint Savoir on vox

06/24/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Review: Various Artists, Bang Gang 12 Inches Presents a Radicool Compilation

Ok, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  Bang Gang 12 Inches Presents a Radicool Compilation is a two-disc label compilation from Bang Gang 12 Inches a small record label out of Sydney.  Some of it is really good, some of it is really not, and a good amount of it is highly derivative (like “let’s make a track that sounds exactly like” derivative) of bands like Justice and Daft Punk.  It doesn’t hurt that I really like Justice and Daft Punk but the key thing is that BG12″ sounds like it’s an outfit run by guys who just love music.  Everyone in the business end of the music business from the sleaziest company exec on up and down says “Oh we just love the music” but BG12″‘s Radicool Compilation sounds like it’s real.

A Radicool Compilation is all over the place.  Disc 1 is a collection of unmixed tracks and disc 2 is a mix by label bosses Doom and Hoodrat.  They lean toward the kind of driving dance rock that Daft Punk and Justice do so well but they recognize quality and publish tracks over a much wider range of music than that.  Disc 1 opener “Hello Cat” by Shazam sounds like ’70s slow funk updated for the oughties.    Golden Bug’s terrific “Assasin” is what happens when hip hop and dance rock have a love child.  Damn Arms “Destination Pt. 1” is an old-skool disco cut. zZz’s “Lion” features a chiming, ringing keyboard that sounds like  a titanium piano until the band says “Hey, let’s do Justice now” midway through the track.  And so it goes.  Collections like this are a prime reason why it’ll be a bad thing if the whole music world goes to downloading individual tracks.  You need the 75 mins or so of a CD to allow the range of music BG12″ is into to have its effect.

The variety of music presented on A Radicool Compilation is wide enough that everybody is likely to find something they don’t like.  Some of it really isn’t very good and some of it is too derivative of other bands for it’s own good.  But the hits far outweigh the misses and if you like Justice or Daft Punk you will enjoy a lot of what A Radicool Compilation has to offer.  If nothing else, labels like Bang Gang 12 Inches that are still doing it because “it’s all about the music, man”, deserve some love.

“Assasin” by Golden Bug

and WhiteNoise’s “Harlequin”

06/23/2010 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