Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

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: James Holden, DJ-Kicks

James Holden insists that his recent entry in the DJ-Kicks series is dance music.  That it may be, but it doesn’t sound like a typical DJ mix designed for club play.  In fact, it doesn’t sound very much like anything else in the common genres of dance music.  Holden appears to be thinking well outside the club on his DJ-Kicks.  He’s on the path of realizing some of the immense potential of rhythmically-oriented electronic music but I wouldn’t be surprised if hard-core dance fans don’t care for the album.

Holden’s DJ-Kicks is propulsively rhythmic although he’s working with a pulse more than with a beat.  The rhythms are straightforward but it’s not the simple 4/4 that drives most House music.  He also makes frequent use of atonality, discord and occasional noise elements in his mix.  However, Holden does this in an exquisitely musical way.  This is not at all easy to do and Holden pulls it off both consistently and well.

Of all the DJ mixes I’ve reviewed here in the past several months (along with the ones we’ve listened to at home that haven’t gotten reviewed) I can’t think of one that holds together as a single coherent body of music as well as Holden’s DJ-Kicks.  Its rolling rhythms give it a beating heart, its steady underlying pulse gives it breath, and its atonality and discord give it emotion felt but not fully understood.  It’s like some great beast whose life you share for a time.

Needless to say, I like this album very much.  However, my enjoyment may be affected by the other kinds of music I listen to.  I’ve spent a lot of time listening to, learning about, and developing an enjoyment of adventuresome forms of jazz – the kind of music that caused Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch to piss themselves in outrage and panic back in the day.  Some of this music can be highly atonal, discordant and arrhythmic.  Taken in that context, the discord and atonality of Holden’s DJ-Kicks sound tame.  Listeners who are less familiar with this type of music may find it less enjoyable.

Holden’s DJ-Kicks is not a typical club-oriented dance mix and if that’s what you’re looking for, this isn’t the album you want.  If you’re looking for something different in the world of rhythmic electronic music, DJ-Kicks might be just the thing.  Holden’s deeply musical use of atonality and discord greatly enrich his mix as well as providing a excellent means of entry into a different musical world for listeners who are looking to expand their horizons.

A segment from James Holden’s DJ-Kicks.  The fade at the end does not appear in the original.

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08/05/2010 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: Juan Maclean, DJ-Kicks

DJ-Kicks is a series of mixes by DJs, music producers and musicians that, at least at the beginning, were designed to be listened to at home.  Juan Maclean’s mix is the 32nd in the series which kicked off in 1995.

Maclean’s DJ-Kicks is a pretty straightforward uptempo party mix of house music that has occasional disco influences.  The set has generally received very positive reviews but it’s just not doing it for me.  The mix starts promisingly with Still Going’s ‘Spaghetti Circus” which does a good job of ramping up the dance intensity.   However, Maclean seems to have been enamored of tracks that feature short vocal phrases that are repeated monotonously throughout the track when he put this mix together.  He uses this techique on track after track and the mix sinks under the weight.

I get the idea that vocal snippets are being used as rhythmic elements and rhythmic elements tend to repeat.  But endlessly repeating rhythm patterns are the bane of this kind of music and shoving the repetition in the listener’s face by putting it in the vocal (which will automatically attract more attention than, say, a repeating kick) just makes the tedium all the more apparent.  When used judiciously, a vocal rhythm part can be very effective.  When it’s used on track after track it’s an invitation to find something else to listen to.  As an example, on Sonny Foderra’s “Everybody Get on the Decks” the phrase captured in the title, or a minor variant of it, is repeated 126 times over 4 mins and 44 secs.  Add to this the 40 times the phrase is repeated at the end of the previous track as Maclean mixes the transition between the two tracks and you end up with a circumstance where it’s hard not to yank the CD out of the player.  Of the 12 tracks that precede “Everybody Get on the Decks”, 10 feature endlessly repeated vocals as rhythm elements.  It’s too much.  Get another idea.

Maclean’s DJ-Kicks is the kind of CD I might drop in the box during a party when you want to keep the crowd moving but are  reasonably sure no one is paying any attention to the music.  If anyone was listening, even halfheartedly, I’d give them something more interesting to listen to.

“Spaghetti Circus” by Still Going

07/21/2010 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: 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: 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: M.A.N.D.Y., Renaissance, The Mix Collection

M.A.N.D.Y. are Berlin-based DJs and producers Patrick Bodmer and Phillipp Jung who are known for their superb mixing skills.  One story has it that an estimated half a million dancers were so deep into M.A.N.D.Y.’s groove at the 2008 Love Parade that they refused to come in out of the pouring rain.  Okay, drugs were probably involved, but still . . .

The kind of mixing skills that could keep a half mill dancers, stoned or straight, going in a downpour are on ample display in M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance The Mix Collection.  They excel at virtually every aspect of creating a mix.  Tracks flow seamlessly both in terms of the choice of which track comes next and the segue between cuts.  M.A.N.D.Y.’s additions are integrated so smoothly into the sequenced track it’s difficult to separate the two sources of music.  They mix styles, rhythms and vocals/instrumentals so that the flow never seems to become repetitious or boring.

Although both discs are on the mellow side, disc one is more downtempo and disc two is uptempo.  Both discs are very easy to listen to and are likely to appeal to both newcomers to electronic dance music and experienced listeners.  These guys are very good.

We listen to and enjoy a lot of DJ mix CDs and have built up a large collection of this type of music.  Typically a mix comes into the house, stays in our rotation for as long as we enjoy it and then gets racked and forgotten.  A very few are returned to a time or two.  And then there are the select mixes that we come back to again and again.  M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance The Mix Collection is one of those.

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: 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: James Zabiela, Renaissance The Masters Series – Life

The Masters Series is yet another series of DJ mixes from the UK club/record label Renaissance.  James Zabiela is a UK DJ who first came to prominence in 2000 when he won a contest for home grown DJs run by Muzik Magazine.  Life is his second mix in the Renaissance Masters Series; a review of his previous mix can be found here.

Zabiela first attracted attention as a DJ who was both skilled with turntables and oriented toward the breakbeat sub-genre of electronic dance music.  Breakbeat tends to shift away from the heavy emphasis on an unvarying 4/4 rhythm that characterizes much House music and focuses on more complex rhythms and counterpoint, syncopation and polyrhythms.  Zabiela’s interest in breakbeat can be heard to great effect on Renaissance The Masters Series – Life.

There’s good news and bad news about this mix.  The bad news is that the music is occasionally interrupted  by some guy making portentous pronouncements about life and the meaning of it all – or something.  Whatever.  It’s shallow and pompous to the point of making you cringe every time he opens his mouth.  If you’re in a state of glucose deprivation from a night of serious dancing, are several hours into a thoughtlessly mixed drug cocktail, and are old enough to think you have attained some insight into the world and young enough to not know that you really haven’t, these pronouncements might sound insightful. if not they’re just embarrassingly juvenile.  It’s hard to believe somebody somewhere along the line didn’t say “Uhh, wait a minute, let’s rethink these voice overs” during the production of this mix.  They’re there, they’re inane, they’re brief; you just have to live with it.

The good news is that the music is terrific.  Zabiela starts very mellow and slowly builds in complexity.  However, he almost always chooses interesting music so that even the most laid back parts of these mixes – and they can be very laid back – are always enjoyable and intriguing.  Zabiela both sequences music and transitions between tracks very well which gives these mixes a feeling of coherence.  This sense of unity is bolstered by his heavy reliance on techno-oriented house music which ties the mix together on a timbral level without leading to everything sounding the same.

If you can deal with the voice-overs and would like a mix that tends more toward the laid back than toward a hands-in-the-air club raver, Zabiela’s Renaissance The Masters Series – Life is highly enjoyable.

06/16/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Danny Howells, Renaissance The Mix Collection

Renaissance, the high-profile dance club in the UK, pretty much instigated the the DJ mix as a viable CD product when Renaissance, the record label, released the first Renaissance The Mix Collection mixed by Sasha and John Digweed in 1994.  (Yikes! Can anyone say “Slaves to branding”?)  They’ve kept the series up over the years and this is renowned DJ Danny Howells’ two-disc contribution released in 2008.

Although I reviewed Howells Miami mix for Global Underground earlier, his Renaissance The Mix Collection was the one I tuned in to first.  Howells is usually characterized as one of the select group of top-tier, world-class, globe hopping, super club DJs and listening to his mixes it’s easy to hear why.  He has a deft touch at sequencing tracks that work well together, he is a master at building and releasing momentum throughout the set, and he adapts his added material to the track rather than crush the track under his “signature” sound.  All of this taken together produces a mix that carries you along from start to finish and doesn’t get tedious along the way.

Disc one opens with Cushty’s “La La Li” which is a mellow melodic number with crashing surf in the background.  This description will instantly make a lot of people think “Ugh.  Another cheesy, vapid Ibiza mix.”  Not to worry, Howell’s isn’t going there.  He takes the track out with some sweet hand drum percussion that is then used as an instrumental foundation for giving coherence to the first several tracks on the disc.  From there Howells takes off using percussion interludes that develop from the preceding track and segue to the next to tie the entire mix together.

The first disk ends with three tracks that were either produced or reworked by Howells specifically for Renaissance The Mix Collection.  The second disc picks up right where the first left off with Howells’ “Laid Out” and finishes with Howell’s edit of Apparat’s “Fractales”.  In all, 7 of the 28 tracks in the mix were produced or reworked by Howells for Renaissance The Mix Collection.

I enjoy Howell’s mixes quite a bit and Renaissance The Mix Collection is the kind of set I can listen to happily at any time.  If deep groove, melodic dance music, and expert sequencing and mixing sound like your thing, check Howells’ Renaissance The Mix Collection out.

Sven Weisemann’s “Kiss of Abana” from Renaissance The Mix Collection

06/15/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Various Artists, Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!!

Eskimo Recordings is the label that released Prins Thomas two-disc mix Cosmo Galactic Prism.  So, when I saw they had also released a set called Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!! I thought it would be more of the kind of space disco that Prins Thomas is known for.  Maybe with more of a rock influence – which would have been alright with me – but contemporary space disco all the same.  Uhh . . . no.

In the early 80’s one of the hottest club scenes in Italy was happening at the Cosmic Club on Lake Garda.  The DJ who made the club famous was Daniele Baldelli who was renowned for the wide variety of music he played, for the way he mixed tracks from wildly disparate genres together, and for his tendency to monkey around with time, often playing tracks at markedly slower tempos than originally recorded.  On Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!! Baldelli joins up with another DJ, Marco Dionigi to present a dance mix of composed of carefully sequenced tracks with a decided rock influence.

The tracks that I recognize on Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!! originated in Baldelli’s heyday in the late ’70s and ’80s.  For example he gives us his reworkings of The Thompson Twins’ “Beach Culture”, The Dream Syndicate’s “50 in a 25 Zone”, Ray Parker Junior’s “The Other Woman” and Martha and the Muffins’ “Danseparc”.  Not surprising given Baldelli’s notable skills and the period from which the music is taken, the tracks on Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!! are exceptionally well mixed.  The drum programming that gives the set its dance rhythm is very well synced to each track and the tracks are well sequenced with each flowing from the one before smoothly and elegantly.  For me, one of the treats in the set was hearing Spider’s original version of “Better Be Good To Me” released in 1981 which Tina Turner would cover in 1984 with such great success.

If Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!! had been released in 1989 it would probably have been a monster.  Released out-of-time in 2008 I expect that it will have somewhat limited appeal.  Which is a shame, really, because Baldelli is a master and it shows.  If you like dance music and have fond memories of music from the ’80s Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!! is one you might want to check out.

Spider – Better Be Good To Me from Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!!

06/10/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Michael Mayer, Immer

Resident Advisor, a website devoted to dance, club and electronic music, named Michael Mayer’s Immer as the best mix CD of the decade from 2000 through 2009.  Given the variety of music that Resident Advisor covers, putting together a numerically ordered list of the “Best” of a decade seems like a senseless exercise.  A mix designed to be played during peak hours on the main dance floor of a club will be substantially different from a mix designed to be played at sunrise out on the patio which, in turn, will be substantially different from a mix designed to showcase a particular type of music listened to at home.  A dubstep mix will be different from a space disco mix which will be different from a techno mix which will be different  . . .  The whole enterprise seems pointless.  (Resident Advisor did the same thing for best CD and best single of the decade).

Nevertheless, Immer was named as the best mix of the decade which I’ll take to mean the people at Resident Advisor tend to favor the minimal techno featured on Immer and that they think Immer is a particularly good example of this type of music.  Minimal techno tends toward quiet, stripped down arrangements that focus more on rhythm than melody or harmony.   Vocals are typically not stressed and timbres are used that have clearly been electronically produced.  I think that Resident Advisor has it right that Immer is a particularly good example of this style of music.

Unfortunately, Immer gets off to a particularly poor start with second track “Gamma Limit” by Audision which is so minimal and so repetitious that I was once asked to check the CD player to see if it was stuck in a loop while “Gamma Limit” was playing (I’m not making this up).  Fortunately, the mix improves from there.

Mayer has said that he prefers the type of mix where songs are fairly cleanly sequenced without a lot of additional material provided by the mixer and Immer reflects this approach to mixing.  Mayer does a nice job of sequencing without intrusion and both the variety of tracks and the variety within each track are well beyond what “Gamma Limit” leads you to expect.

Immer is a highly regarded example of minimal techno and once I got past “Gamma Limit” I found it an enjoyable listen.

Rocket No. 3 by A Rocket in Dub from Immer

06/03/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | 2 Comments