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: 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: Kris Menace, Idiosyncrasies

After enjoying Work it Baby, the 10th anniversary set from Kris Menace’s record label, I thought I’d give this collection of his own works a try.  Idiosyncrasies is a three disc set.  Discs 1 and 2 are individual tracks by Menace either alone or in collaboration.  Disc 3 is a collection of Menace’s remixes.  The original tracks are by LCD Soundsystem (“North American Scum”), Air (“Mer Du Japon”), Felix Da Housecat (“Something 4 Porno”), and Underworld (“Ring Road”) among others.  Most of the remixes are straightfoward House remixes without vocals designed for club play.

Actually, “straightforward House” music is a pretty good characterization of Idiosyncrasies .  One of the features that attracted me to Work it Baby was that it showed more variety than I expected.  Maybe I was expecting too much variety  on Idiosyncrasies based on that prior experience.  Most of these tracks appear to be designed for club play.  Menace is an accomplished producer and the music on Idiosyncrasies is professionally executed.  There’s just not enough variety and three discs tends to be too much of a good thing.  I would recommend Work It Baby over Idiosyncrasies as an introduction to Menace’s music.

With three cds, Idiosyncrasies is a very generous collection of music and if you like straight ahead House with a smattering of disco-influenced tracks, it might be right down your alley.  Idiosyncrasies may also be of interest to DJs looking for material for their club mixes.

“Enamoured” by Kris Menace and Fred Falke

07/05/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , | Leave a 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, Work It Baby 10th Anniversary

Work It Baby is a French record label operated by DJ/producer Kris Menace.  Work It Baby 10th Anniversary is a standard label compilation spread over two discs that celebrates ten years of  survival in a difficult business.

Work It Baby (the label) is variously characterized as a purveyor of electro house, nu disco, funky, and club house music.  If you’ve paid any attention at all to electronic dance music you know that it has a bewildering array of micro-genres with names that seem to vary with who is using them and are of virtually no importance to anybody other than the partisan fanbois who are ready to go to war at any perceived application of their favorite label to a track they don’t approve.  What ever you want to call it, Work It Baby puts out music that has its sights set squarely on the dancefloor.

In addition to operating the label, Menace is an active participant in the music it releases; 11 of the 35 tracks on the compilation list him as songwriter, co-songwriter, remixer or editor.  His work is very varied ranging from the piano-driven disco thumper “Enamored” which he co-wrote with Fred Falke that opens the collection, through his own “Maybelline”, a drum and percussion workout that kicks ass, to his remix of Patrick Alavi’s “Power”.  Although presenting a wide range of electronic music, or even of electronic dance music, is not Work It Baby’s aim, there is a more variety here than you might expect.  Thirty-five tracks and you never get the feeling that you’re hearing multiple variants of the same three or four basic ideas.

One thing the engineers at Work It Baby do very well is the bass drop.  There are several points in these tracks, Xinobi’s disco anthem “Day Off” is a good example, where the lead in and the eventual drop will have your booty out of your chair and your hands up in the air before you know what happened.  I’d like to give you an example to hear but it ain’t gonna happen with MP3.

Overall, Work It Baby 10th Anniversary is a solid collection of dance music from a label who clearly knows what they’re doing.  If you like this kind of music, give it a listen.

Romantic disco – Lifelike’s Running Out from Work It Baby 10th Anniversary

05/22/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Mark E, Works 2005 – 2009

Mark E is a DJ/producer out of Birmingham, England who works in the house and disco areas and specializes in re-edits.  His work tends to feature the slow accretion and buildup of layers of musical detail until either a crescendo is reached or the song he is working with bursts forth.  Works 2005 – 2009 is just what the name implies, a selection of tracks he has made over a five year period.

Mark E has an uncanny grasp of groove.  At his best he delves deep into the heart of the rhythm and then slowly unfolds it from the inside in a way that can be captivating if you respond to this aspect of music.  As the groove unfolds subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) additions of layers and shifts of emphasis within the mix build tension and hold your interest.  This isn’t easy to do.  Many dance tracks die in a monotonous rut as aimless synth layers come and go over a hammering and largely invariant rhythm track.  With a clear focus on the groove Mark E largely avoids this problem.

Works 2005 – 2009 starts out with two killer tracks.  First up is “Sun Shadow” which is his re-edit of Labelle’s 1972 cover of Cat Steven’s classic “Moon Shadow”.  I’m unfamiliar with the Labelle cover but “Sun Shadow” doesn’t sound like anything remotely similar to the Cat Stevens tune.  It’s a driving groove fest that leads to Patti Labelle going on with some weird rap about how you couldn’t do things you usually do if you lost parts of your body as she introduces the members of the band for brief solos.  It’s beyond strange but Mark E’s groove is so delicious it can’t be resisted and when the piano drops at about the 6:30 mark it’s heaven.

The second track, “You (full vocal mix)” is Mark E’s astonishing re-edit of Diana Ross’s 1978 “You Are the One”.  It opens with a closed high hat rhythm pattern coupled with a finger snap marking the back beat and builds to Ross’s vocal.  So what’s so astonishing about that?  Ross doesn’t show up until about the 5:47 mark.  Mark E creates a rhythm-based intro that lasts for nearly six minutes and holds your attention the entire time.  When she finally arrives Ross takes command and the last two minutes is essentially a vocal crescendo with Ross reaching for the skies.  Astonishing.

The rest of the CD isn’t as successful. While all of the remaining tracks hold moments of interest they don’t have the developing structure of the first two and often come across as exercises in building, developing, and sustaining groove.  Mark E is so good at this that even when the cuts on Works 2005 – 2009 don’t quite work as independent tracks they are a rich source of ideas for anyone interested in making their own groove-oriented music.

“You (full vocal mix)” from Mark E’s Works 2005 – 2009


04/11/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Danny Howells, Miami: Global Underground #27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Various Artists, Masterpiece Created by Francois K

Francois Kevorkian has the chops.  In spades.  As told in Love Saves the Day he moved from France to New York in 1975 at the age of 21 with the hope that he could further his career as a drummer.  With no money Masterpiecehe looked in the Village Voice for the most expensive apartment he could find whose owner was looking for a roommate.  He reasoned that anyone who could afford an expensive crib would be willing to give him a room in exchange for taking care of the place.  He ended up calling George Freeman who wouldn’t share the apartment but offered to give Kevorkian a gig as a drummer in a dance club Freeman owned called The Galaxy which was one of the hot underground dance clubs that gave birth to what became commercialized as disco.  Freeman’s idea was that Kevorkian would play live drums accompanying the tracks the club’s DJ was spinning.  The DJ was the now-legendary Walter Gibbons who was especially adept at drum, rhythm and tempo mixing.  He also hated the idea of having to work with a live drummer so he kept throwing sharp and unexpected rhythm changes at Kevorkian so the drummer would fuck up and get fired.  Kevorkian held his own and went on to a decades long career as a DJ, A&R man, remixer, producer, mixer, and recording studio  and record label owner.  In 2005 he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame as both a DJ and a remixer.

When the Ministry of Sound decided to institute a Masterpiece series of collections of dance music by important and influential DJs they turned to Kevorkian for the inaugural set.  The result is this three CD collection.  Each disc contains over 70 minutes of uninterrupted music that Kevorkian has dedicated to different cities.  Naples focuses on Electro, Manchester on Techno, and Tokyo on House. 

Maybe it’s his roots as a drummer or maybe it’s his long experience in the field but Kevorkian avoids the problems that turn so many DJ compilations into exercises in tedium.  First, he doesn’t fall into the trap of simply stringing a bunch of tempo-matched samples together and overlaying the whole thing with a numbing four-on-the-floor disco beat.  Kevorkian hews to a steady pulse but he plays with multiple rhythms and shifts the four up and down in the mix in ways that produce excitement rather than boredom.  He also avoids the problem common to DJ-produced music of letting a riff go on much too long.  This may work on the dancefloor but it quickly leads to disinterest when the music is playing on CD and the listener is doing something other than dancing.  Kevorkian is constantly mixing it up with electronic effects, polyrhythmic percussion, and shifting rhythm patterns.  As a result Masterpiece is one of the best DJ mixes I’ve yet come across.  That doesn’t mean that some of the music in the collection doesn’t fade into the background rather easily at times, it does, but more often than not Kevorkian will reclaim your attention and put some strut in your butt as you go about doing whatever it is you’re doing while the CD plays.

Kevorkian favors a more laid back style than dance music artists like Daft Punk or Justice but he has a deep understanding of rhythm, groove and pacing which makes Masterpiece a rich and rewarding set of music.  If Ministry of Sound continues on with the Masterpiece series, the next artists they tap are going to have a difficult time meeting the standards Kevorkian has laid down in his Masterpiece

06/20/2008 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 5 Comments