Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

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

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

Review: Pantha Du Prince, Black Noise

Pantha Du Prince is German electronic music producer Hendrick Weber.  Black Noise is his third album and it’s gorgeous.

Pantha Du Prince’s music is usually categorized as minimal techno.  I don’t know if this is a good categorization or not.  To me, he sounds more interested in melody than the music producers and DJs who are usually given the minimal techno label and his music often doesn’t sound too minimal to me.  While Pantha Du Prince makes good use of space, there is a lot going on in his tracks.  It may be quiet, but there’s a lot there.

Weber often uses chime and bell-like timbres or percussion instruments like marimbas and xylophones to carry melody or provide texture which gives his music an ethereal, mysterious quality.  He also favors quiet, slightly discordant drones as textural devices.  Rhythm can be carried by a complex of changing instruments throughout a track.  This is music that is as much or more about listening as it is about dancing.

Black Noise is a quiet album and won’t satisfy during those moments when you want high energy music.  However. it’s also the kind of album that reveals more of interest the more time you spend giving it your attention.  It took me awhile to get into Black Noise but once I gave it several listens it began to reveal its secrets and Pantha Du Prince had me hooked.

Opening track, “Lay in Shimmer”

06/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Ripperton, Niwa

Ripperton is a Swiss DJ and producer who chose his music moniker based on his love of Minnie Ripperton. Niwa (which means “garden” in Japanese) is his his first solo album although he has released numerous singles in the house, minimal and techno genres both as a solo act and as part of Lazy Fat People.

Niwa is a very laid back album.  The tracks that have a house groove, and many do not, tend to be the kind of mellow, calm house you play when you want to come down and gently hit the flow.  This is more about appreciating how the quiet sounds providing rhythm and accent work together than it is about shaking your ass.  Several of the tracks are little more than a simple melodic riff laid over a pad or a sound effect like falling rain.  As befits an artist with a strong background in techno, rhythm often predominates.

There may not be a lot of energy on Niwa but there is talent.  Ripperton has a good ear for timbre and an better ear for rhythm.  His tracks are carefully constructed so that attentive listening is rewarded with a sense of appreciation for a quiet sound carefully and precisely placed for effect.

Niwa isn’t likely to be anyone’s idea of a party album but for quiet background music that is much richer than the bland pablum that is often marketed as ambient mood music and which will reward your time when you give it your musical attention, it might be just the thing.

“A Simple Thing”, one of the more uptempo tracks on Niwa (the track begins with 11 seconds of silence)

06/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Ricardo Villalobos, Alcachofa

In a recent review of Michael Mayer’s Immer (which Resident Advisor named as the best mix CD of the decade) I wrote that I think that trying to construct a numerically ordered list of the “Best” CDs in a genre as diverse as electronic music or even electronic dance music is a pointless exercise.  That didn’t stop me from looking into Ricardo Villalobos’ Alcachofa which Resident Advisor named as the best individual CD released from 2000 through 2009.  Is it the best CD of the decade?  Who nows?  Is it a good CD that is worth listening to?  Absolutely.

Villalobos is a Chilean-born, German-raised DJ and producer who is most closely associated with different kinds of minimalist electronic dance music like microhouse and minimal techno.  Alcachofa (which is Spanish for “artichoke”) falls squarely within these musical styles with quiet, underplayed instruments and sounds, an emphasis on complex overlapping rhythms, and the use of timbres that are clearly electronically produced.  Villalobos also uses distorted and effected vocal bits as both tiny melodic segments and rhythmic elements.

From its opening track, “Easy Lee”, Alcachofa sounds like nothing else.  Villalobos is like the wise man who speaks quietly.  You have to pay attention in order to hear all that’s going on and when you do you are rewarded with something worth listening to that you’re glad you heard.  The tracks on Alcachofa are extended meditations ranging from roughly 7.5 to 10 mins. While the emphasis is on rhythm, it’s not the mind-numbing, quantized and overwhelming 4/4 used in some forms of dance music.  Rather it’s the kind of rhythm that can draw you in and take you off to some place you may not have expected to go.  Many of the tracks on Alcachofa are mysterious and eerie with odd and unexpected sounds which appear at carefully and precisely chosen rhythmic moments and are never heard again.  It’s the kind of album you can listen to fifty times and still hear new things you didn’t notice before.

The more I listen to Alcachofa, the more I enjoy it.  Does that make it the best CD of the decade?  Hardly.  However, it does make it a CD gets a lot of play in our house and probably will continue to do so for a long time to come.

“Easy Lee” from Alcachofa

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

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