Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Review: Intex Systems - Research & Development

Intex Systems Research and Development
Oh, I love this album so much. So much. And ASC is now giving it away for free! Strange, as you can still buy it on Beatport, but I'm not looking this gift horse in the mouth. Intex Systems was ASC's experimental side-project before ASC became an experimental musician in general. Back in 2006 he was releasing slightly quirky but generally straightforward and somewhat dull atmospheric drum 'n bass. Now he's doing this kind of thing far more regularly, but for my money Research & Development is still the single best thing he's done. Although I do like to play the entire Sci Fi Files series back-to-back and pretend it's one album, which is pretty much just as good as this.

Anyway... Research & Development is a densely constructed melange of everything James Clements was musically interested in that isn't drum 'n bass - which means a genre-blurring blend of ambient, IDM, techno, a little bit more drum 'n bass (natch) and tracks that genetically tele-splice all of these things into compositions that can be described no more specifically than "electronic music". Like most of his material, the album is very much sci-fi themed, with lots of samples from Bladerunner and Alien and other, more obscure places. The mood is quite austere and clinical, dark in places but also incredibly beautiful in others, the rigidly programmed beats and hard-edged circuit board synths making the delicately emotive moments stand out in even greater contrast. Basically, it's absolutely awesome.

I suppose to a lot of people, this kind of record sounds like stereotypical electronic music - extremely cold and inhuman and lacking in any kind of feeling. These aren't love songs. They don't "speak to you about your life". If you like, say... folk music, this album probably sounds like a future in computer hell. For me, this is exactly the kind of techno-futurist aesthetic I love. When I encounter this response to the music I like (on the rare occasions I bother to talk about my tastes to someone who does like folk music), I'm reminded of a quote from a William Gibson interview:

"When I hear critics say that my books are "hard and glossy," I almost want to give up writing... what I'm talking about is what being hard and glossy does to you."

It's pretty much the same distinction here. ASC's music is probably better defined as "sonic science fiction" because he explictly acknowledges the relationship between his music and concepts of science, technology and futurism, and his work can prompt you to think about concepts that we have otherwise taken for granted in a digitised world. Put it this way: this album actually speaks to you more about your life than any acoustic folk MP3 you downloaded off the Internet, uploaded to your iPhone and then chatted about to thousands of people simultaneously on your Facebook wall. For me, this is without doubt one of the best electronic albums of the '00s.

Genre: Sonic science fiction.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Review: Alex Smoke - Incommunicado

Alex Smoke Incommunicado
I've had Incommunicado for a couple of years now and have played it a few times, but I still can't remember very much about it beyond it sounding vaguely tasteful, a little glitchy and techno-like, and having strings in it. Having listened to it again, my impression hasn't changed overmuch, except that I can now remember there are some weird Matthew Dear-esque vocals in there as well in places. Is it Matthew Dear, or Mathew Jonson? Whichever, I mean the one who pitches his voices weirdly on his tracks so he sounds like some malfunctioning robotic sex pest.

Anyway, this is quite a critically well-regarded album but for me it's almost the definition of a "noodly" electronic record - lots of pretty, mood and well-designed sounds but little that is soul-stirring or that sticks with you. The strings are nice, but I have a suspicion that any electronic record with strings on inevitably gets hailed as being "deep" or "sophisticated", because strings are faux-classy "proper music" trappings that idiot Mixmag writers aren't used to hearing in a Sven Vath set. Maybe I'm just a silly trance kid in remission who can't feel any emotion unless there's a big blaring hook, and maybe the melodic work on this album is just too subtle for me, but I can't help but feel this record is pure surface-level signifier. I'd like to say the intro was good, but honestly I still can't remember what it sounds like. This is, frankly, just a boring album.

Genre: Background-music-for-the-next-Top-Gear-episode techno/ambient.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 5/10

Review: Mind Over MIDI - Project 3

Mind Over MIDI Project 3
I happened across this album by chance, because I was interested in using one of the tracks - Shadow - in a DJ mix. I'd never heard of Mind Over Midi before now, and although they've released several albums they seem like yet another techno group who haven't made their way onto the blogosphere circuit, despite the music here being just as good as much of the techno material the hipsters endlessly re-review. Project 3 is, by all accounts, their third album, from 2001. I haven't listened to anything else in their discography yet, so I've no idea how it fits into their artistic development or whatever.

I started off just listening to Shadow on Spotify, but the music that followed was so lush I decided to hear the whole thing. Shadow is really very good indeed, a piece of deep and mellow techno with a whispy female vocal, and it's quite rare to hear whispy female vocals in this genre. For a brief spell this felt like the best album of all time, with some really gorgeous pieces of melodic techno and some lovely ambient bits as well. Sadly, there are quite a few tracks that are dominated by unusually-delivered lyrical vocal performances, which weren't to my tastes. Granted it's very rare to hear this kind of thing on a techno record, so these tracks are "innovative" and "boundary-pushing", but they served only to wrench me out of the lovely ambient-dub-textural-techno headspace I'd drifted into.

Like a lot of the stuff in the post-Basic Channel/Pole techno realm, this album would be perfect to load up on the MP3 player on a foggy or snowy winter's morning, but it's not one for soundtracking your Sunday afternoon barbecue in July, and I'm more inclined to chop out the highlights for DJing shenanigans than return to this one as a long player any time soon.

Genre: DeepChord-doing-field-recordings-at-the-local-acoustic-open-mic-night techno.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10.

What Music Does This Blog Cover?

This blog covers all the music I listen to. Electronic/dance music, in other words. This is because I'm narrow-minded and lack the intelligence to understand lyrics. Or because even with this self-imposed generic limitation there's still far more music out there than I'll ever be able to listen to.

Obviously "electronic music" is an incredibly vast umbrella of sound, and there are certain things I like more than others. And because I'm going to trash at least some of the music you like, it's important straight away we establish what my musical biases are, so you can safely dismiss my contrary opinion without worrying too much about the implications. So here are some facts about my tastes:

1. I like futuristic-sounding music, not retro-sounding music. If an act has a name like "Future Engineers" or"Blue Planet Corporation" I'm likely to be all over that shit.

2. I prefer music that is atmospheric, spacey and "deep", not music that is poppy, bouncy, filthy or dirty.

3. Wordless chanting, whale song and ethnic flutes are all Good Things.

4. I like trance.

Now you've established that my tastes are terrible and we have nothing in common, read on.

The Purpose Of This Blog

What is this blog? Why is it here? What does it do? On one level, I cannot answer these questions. They throw me into an existential quandry, a fundamental contemplation of whether the word "Why" exists at all.

On another, more prosaic level, I started this blog for three main reasons:

1. Like most of the people who read music blogs, I listen to a lot of music. Too much, it sometimes seems. Albums go by in a blur, dozens of them added and deleted from Spotify every week. I need some way of remembering all this music, even if it is only initial impressions for future reference. I've found writing down impressions is the best way of doing that. So this blog, at its most simple, is just a log of the music I've listened to.

2. I often happen across great albums and think "Wow, this is a really great album. Why didn't I hear of this before now?" Like many people, I will search for reviews or opinions on music I've already heard. And increasingly I've found that nobody has been writing about these great records. So I thought I'd do it myself. It's getting to the point now where there's such an oppressive ambient pressure of music-music-music at all times that many people just won't check out an album if it doesn't come with some kind of recommendation, because there just isn't time to give everything a chance.

3. Most real music journalists are, frankly, shit. Too diplomatic, too burned out, too forcefully eclectic. Pretending to be objective and impartial and professional when you're an unpaid web hack is no way to be. I'm fed up of reading reviews of middling ambient techno records that feel obliged to use phrases like "Unfamiliarly alien and unsettlingly absorbing". I'm also fed up of blatantly disingenuous promo copy and of reading people who clearly don't dance and who don't DJ writing about "Detroit and Chicago". Most of these problems are unavoidable side-effects of being a music journalist. That's why I'm not.

A couple of notes: No, I'm not posting Youtube embeds or download links. Many of the people who come here will be looking for written opinions on things they've already heard, and I've got no interest in crashing your browser or giving away someone else's art for free.

There isn't much of a standard format to my posts, they're just ramblings. However, I will try and end every one with the genre of the record in question and a stupid arbitrary score. This is partly so I can quickly remember the background of a record and roughly how much I liked it, and partly because I know we all love genres and absurd numerical estimations of artistic expressions.

You may be wondering why, if I'm not a music journalist, I still label my blather as "reviews". The simple answer to this is SEO. I want people to read my blather, and sadly nobody types "Echospace Coldest Season unobjective unprofessional impression" into Google. They type "Echospace Coldest Season review".