Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Flexstyle - Eye of the Storm (2011) Review

Flexstyle is American multi-genre dance producer Michael Birch from Glendale, Arizona, and another discovery I made by way of OCReMix and Protagonist Records. Flexstyle and Hollidayrain's collaboration "Weeping Clouds", a gently building but hypnotic progressive house tune, was freely released on that site toward the end of its run showing that sometimes you do get something really good for nothing. Eye of the Storm, Birch's fourth album, is also a free release on BandCamp and goes even further to towards proving that point. This isn't just an EP either, it's a full 13-track album not including remixes, and spans several genres and enough moods to showcase a pretty impressive range of creativity. These include full tempo trance, drum and bass, downtempo and the stalwart sound of a lot of American dance albums, breakbeat - and thankfully Birch can handle them all.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Zircon - Identity Sequence (2012) Review

American indie dance producer and OCReMixer extraordinaire Zircon released his tenth LP Identity Sequence on the 12th of December following a wildly successful KickStarter campaign to get it professionally mastered and manufactured. That campaign ended up receiving more than seven times the target funding, which I take as a sign that I'm not alone in how much confidence I have in Andrew Aversa's creativity and engineering skill, and that his unsigned status has little to no impact on his ability to connect with the audience he has grown over the years. Another major factor in the success of the campaign must surely be the video accompanying the project, which did far more than hint at a level of depth that would exceed his earlier Antigravity - it practically sung out of the brief samples we were given. Has that faith in Aversa been vindicated by the album itself?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Zircon - Antigravity (2007) Review

Zircon is the production alias of Andrew Aversa, a musician from the United States who has a decent and growing body of work in video game soundtracks, including the Special Edition of Monkey Island 2 and Soul Calibur V. Aversa cut his teeth on remixes on OCReMix, where his tracks are some of my favourites out of the entire community, "Dirt Devil", being one of his coolest. Antigravity is his third original artist album, self-released through the indie music distributor CDBaby in 2007. This LP focuses predominantly on the progressive and Big Beat styles of the breakbeat genre, oeuvres to which Zircon's sound and creativity seem ideally suited.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Gig Review: Kosheen at the O2 Academy Islington, 17/10/2012

Only two weeks after the release of Independence, Kosheen kicked off their 2012 European Tour with the sole UK date, at the O2 Academy Islington in central London. So just a day after trekking into the Big Smoke to see John Dies at the End I hopped back up to see one of my favourite bands for the first time since 2004.

My feelings of anticipation prior to this gig were tinted with a little trepidation, as with Independence. Would the band that impressed me so much live after the release of Kokopelli still have the same stage presence and anthemic sounds two albums and a lot of years later?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Film Review: John Dies at the End (2012)

Last week, the BFI London Film Festival brought 327 films to London and broke new records for attendance. One of those films, which was screened twice in the same week, was John Dies at the End, an adaptation of the cult Internet-born comedy horror novel by David Wong. The architect of this film is Director Don Coscarelli, known for similar cult classics in the genre Bubba Ho-Tep and the Phantasm series, who took on the project after reading the second release of the novel prior to its major-publisher signing way back in 2007. As a long-time reader of the novel in its online and three separate printed incarnations and a definite fan of the book, this was another long-awaited release, and I attended both screenings. I can't be anywhere near as analytical about films as I can about music, but now I'm one of a relatively small number of lucky viewers to have seen it, I have to discuss this one. I'm not going to discuss the plot much, but I'll mention some things that might spoil elements of the book if you've not experienced it yet. If you have read the book, then this is spoiler-free for you as far as plot is concerned.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Kosheen - Independence (2012) Review

Well, after five years, mysterious legal issues and multiple postponements, Kosheen's fourth album finally got a release on the 30th of September. While some snippets of tracks had been on Youtube, other tracks given away on SoundCloud and some singles have been released for real which I covered last month, I now have the finished product in my hands. The band's previous works were all albums that take some thought to explain, and Independence is definitely a continuation of this trend. Kosheen have created an album with a sound that sticks out as unusual and grimy in 2012 but which doesn't lack care and attention. The strengths the band has demonstrated in the past are almost all present, without them dominating the production so much that it's more of the same.

If Resist, Kokopelli and Damage were to form a triangle of connected but different styles, I'd say Independence would sit in the middle of it. Finally after over a decade, Kosheen have returned to the dance music they last explored on Resist. The progression of Decoder and Substance's work together into techno territory has resulted in several tech-edged songs here, and also a sole reappearance of drum and bass on "Mannequin". The electro and synthpop elements which came in with previous album Damage remain very strong on most of this album despite slightly fewer melodic elements, but the similarity to Kokopelli is evoked by the dark and grimy sound of a considerable fraction of this album.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Andain - You Once Told Me (2012) Review

Andain is the pairing of producer Josh Gabriel (of Gabriel and Dresden) and singer Mavie Marcos, and they have a history with the trance genre dating back to 2002. Oddly enough I somehow managed to miss most of that and only discovered them last week. Their debut album serendipitously came out on the day I first found out about them, after four years of buildup. Considering my fondness for full vocal trance I immediately checked out You Once Told Me, but it's actually not a trance album, going a bit deeper into indie electronica than the stuff I usually listen to but with vocal-centred songwriting very much at the core. This turned out to not be a detriment to the album - far from it.

Monday, 24 September 2012

OceanLab - Sirens of the Sea (2008) Review

The dearth of proper bands complete with vocalists is something I consider to be a real issue for electronic dance music as an artform. While there are many excellent singer-songwriters who have created some amazing songs as a collaboration with other musicians and producers including some of my favourites, the over-reliance of these producers on collaborators can be a significant drawback for the coherence and integrity of album output. Therefore bands like OceanLab are always a pleasure to encounter, delivering top-notch artistry, professional production and a great voice in one package. Sirens of the Sea is the group's first, and only, album.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Kosheen - Kokopelli (2003) Review

Kosheen's second album, released in 2003 to much anticipation after the success of Resist, is the album that surprised fans, annoyed detractors and mystified commentators with the unexpected style jump from the Bristolian drum and bass and trip hop of the first album to a new rock inspired electronic album. This album is the missing link in my Kosheen review articles and thus demands a review.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Kosheen - Get a New One, Mannequin and Spies (2012) Singles Reviews

Well finally the day approaches for the release of Kosheen's fourth album, after a wait of over five years from the release of Damage. I have heard a fair number of preview tracks by this point from Soundcloud and elsewhere, but more importantly two full singles have been released and at least one or two more should be expected. To prepare for the album release I'm going to give my thoughts on the two released singles and their remixes, and also discuss the unreleased "Spies" which we got a preview of back in February.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

My thoughts on the new episode of Doctor Who

My thoughts on "Asylum of the Daleks" are a few lines down in the background colour. Don't highlight it if you don't want it spoiled.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Markus Schulz on his forum about the importance of radioplay

I saw this is r/trance today and thought it was definitely worth posting.

Schulz released his new album yesterday, a massive 23-track* album about half instrumental and half full songs. The reaction of his forum fans was enthusiastic about a few songs but critical or apathetic about the bulk of them and there were many complaints about the radio-friendliness and the saminess of the sound and how little he stands out from the crowd at the moment. After 11 pages he responded to this with a fairly long post explaining the importance of radio airplay and chasing the mass market. It's a long post so I'll sum it up here.

To summarise his point, he's saying he does try to keep it real with some tracks but he has no option but to make commercial tracks or he won't get played on the radio and therefore he won't get booked to play clubs either and his career will dry up.

He also points out that it's not just about radio play - the more commercial Avicii style sound is genuinely better received in the vast majority of cases in his experience than a more traditional trance sound, and therefore he has little problem choosing a vast number of satisfied fans over the grumbles of a few die hards. He says the reason the album is so long is to provide some variety and placate both groups of fans.

I can see his point, it makes perfect sense to me. Doesn't mean I have to like it though. What does everyone else think?

*Not another one!This post is reposted from the forums

Friday, 31 August 2012

Nineteen songs on one album (and why this is bad)

It used to be fairly standard for a dance or electronic album to fill up a CD to maximum - 74 minute runtimes were far from rare and sometimes you'd get them squeezing up to 80 minutes. Often these albums usually had long songs on them, 5mins+ for the majority of the tracks and some really long ones, so usually you'd only get somewhere between 8 and 11 tracks. I feel that this is about the number an album should peak at. I like long songs and short ones but regardless of length, I think this is about the right number for: 1) an artist to write in one go to get a decent consistency 2) the listener to get a good progression over the course of an album 3) the listener not to run out of steam and get bored.

I'm listening to Paul van Dyk's newest album now - it's sort of middling quality - but it has nineteen songs on it! This is even worse than Nero's album from last year. Even though most of the tracks are "radio length" - not necessarily good for a trance and house album - this still leaves my attention diluted over too many tracks. I've noticed this happening more and more often now that digital releases allow virtually no limit on album running time, and I just don't have the patience for this. Obviously double/triple albums always existed but at least that format implicitly allowed you to conceptually separate each side/disc/tape and give the listener a chance to take a break. I might be unusual on this forum in that I enjoy albums a lot, I don't know, but for me I take album quality as the main factor in deciding how much I like artists, not singles, and I like albums which go somewhere and have a consistent feel to them. So many of my most enjoyable listening experiences have come from a consistent and well-made album, usually more than hearing just a good single. These long ones are starting to sound like collections of songs, not works as a whole, and you have to do better than that to keep my attention for nearly two hours.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Dance music podcasts I recommend

These podcasts are the ones I keep coming back to, for various reasons.

Global Trance Grooves (John "00" Fleming) 2 hours, Trance and Progressive - This monthly radio show and podcast manages to combine a deep mix of progressive house and deep trance, a "turbo mix" of uplifting and psytrance, and finally a mix from a guest DJ which fills the entire second hour. John's standards are incredibly high, I'm yet to hear any turkeys on any episode, and the guest DJs he chooses to provide the hour-long closer of the show provide pretty good stuff too - I really enjoyed Orkidea's mix a few months back. This one is a must-listen for Trance heads.

The John B Podcast (John B) 1-3 hours, Drum and Bass - John B's irregular podcast features recordings of his live sets and special studio mixes made in his home studio in Maidenhead. John B's electro and trance tinged DnB sets would have made him highly unusual a few years ago, but now he fits right in with the bulk of the scene. The sets feature a lot of highly accessible DnB, some tracks quite commercial but others pretty hardcore, and he will play tracks from right across the drum and bass spectrum. This is a great place to start to get into drum and bass, especially as a trance or house aficionado. John B usually drops some electro house and techno into these as well. Highly recommended.

The Gareth Emery Podcast (Gareth Emery) 1 hour, House, Trance and multi-genre - Gareth Emery doesn't like to be pinned down into one specific genre, and while this show is predominantly focused on  big-room house at the start and uplifting trance at the end, this doesn't stop him from playing DnB, dubstep, techno or indeed anything that takes his fancy that week. His mixes are usually chock full of big tunes and this podcast is a good way of finding out what's moving feet on the massive dancefloors he plays at. For the same reason, this can also be a downside, as the tracks can get samey quickly in some episodes, especially the big room trance/electro style he often starts with. I like this one for the gym.

Solaris International (Solarstone) 1 hour, Trance and Progressive - This is another solid and reasonably varied trance mix from a producer I've liked for a long time. His standards are pretty high too, so he will play commercial stuff but it won't get on your nerves. The podcast also includes non-trance tracks as well if he likes them. This should be on your list if you're a trance fan.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Kosheen - Resist (2001) Review

So here we are, the daddy of my DnB collection. I bought this in 2001, close to the end of the year, so just over a decade ago. I had first heard of Kosheen over a year earlier when my stereo woke me up in the morning to Suicide (Slip ‘n’ Slide) and seeing as it was my hi-fi, not just a clock radio, that was quite a wake-up. It was right at the beginning of the song as well, not halfway through. I’d never heard DnB before at all, and my exposure to strong female voices was minimal. This certainly got me out of bed! Suicide, while having lyrics that might be described as trippy, or if you were feeling uncharitable, meaningless, is a track which totally kicks ass, putting it simply. The drums are hard and frantic, the bass is very restrained but intense, the minimal fuzzy lead and pads fit in just right, and Sian’s voice yells out powerfully. Somehow I failed to get my hands on more than one other track (Hide U) before the Resist album’s re-release in 2001 following the success of the house remixes of Hide U. By then Kosheen had toured in support of Faithless (I so wish I could have seen one of those gigs) and I was buying CDs like they were going out of fashion, so I picked Resist up.