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Friday, July 29, 2011

BOYS NOIZE - BOYSNOIZE PRESENTS SUPER ACID

Boysnoize Records (2011, Jan.)
BNR 054

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Averaged Rating: 7.0/ B
Rating: 8.5/ A (side A + D); 7.0/ B (side B); 5.5/ C (side C) 
                           
Category: Acid House / Techno 
Format: Vinyl (2 x 150g at 33 1/3 rpm)

Mastered by FST at Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin.
Pressed at:
Design: Paul "Helvetica Is More Acid Than Futura" Snowden



German DJ/producer Alexander Ridha aka Boys Noize recently put out a new DJ compilation. Available on limited vinyl and CD, what makes this compilation particularly interesting is the original concept behind it: regroup some of the current top DJ artists on BNR in order to put a fresh twist on a familiar face - a smiley happy face that is.


The yellow smiley face, once an icon of the mid 1960's and early 1970's resurfaced in 1988-89 during the second Summer of Love.


Once again Love was not the only thing in the air, Acid also was; but this time around, Rock gave way to House. Psychedelia and the prevalent use of Ecstasy - brought to you by the makers of MDMA and the letters LSD - heigthened as well as hardened the sound. In effect, this new - rave - generation along with Bomb the Bass's "Beat Dis", reappropriated Harvey Ball's creation to symbolize the burning Acid House movement; the latter being a subset of Chicago House with infusions from Detroit Techno, both contributing to the early Rave scene.



And instead of a Fender Strat plugged into a Marshall stack ladened with fuzzbox & wah-wah pedal; the Roland 'family' with it's modulating-distorting squelch sounds, would be the weapon of choice. Introduced in the early 1980's, the TB-303 Bass Line synthesizer/sequencer partnered with the TB-808 & 909 drum machines helped ease the transition from pure 'spin DJ's to the new emerging 'artist DJ-producers'.



These portable programmable analog machines, at one point considered primitive vis-√†-vis their digital counterparts, are now more than ever sought after for their warm organic sound. Not surprisingly digital 'clones' and software emulators of these devices nowadays abound. Be it vinyl LPs, low power SETs, Pass JFET 'Triode Transistors', rim drive turntables, large-format analog cameras or the next big thing in mobile communications - the Paperphone; I find it always ironic how everything once deemed pass√©, eventually gets resurrected in some 'modern' form. I would not be surprised to see CRT televisions making a comeback one day, once people realize what they have lost trading the old bulky box for feather-weight flat screens.


Super Acid Reflux...

The black & yellow cover pays tribute to "smiley" as if seen through an 'anti-matter' universe lens. Although the twelve songs are spread (evenly) on four sides, the jacket is not gatefold. Each 150 gram lemon-colored German pressed vinyl LP is housed in an elegant black paper sleeve, with one label representing the 'mean smiley' printed white on black, the other it's opposite in black on white. All sides were perfectly flat, the surfaces were noise, tick and pop free. The cutting level is moderate to slightly loud, quite adequate for this type of music. At roughly 15 to 16 min./side, the groove and 'dead wax' spacing is well chosen for the 33 1/3 rpm cutting speed and musical content.

Boys Noize opens with "1010".  The four on the floor kick drum starts out thin, gets harder, eventually turning fat while pounding with great intensity. The repetitive machinelike rhythm borrows from influential industrial pillars Front Line Assembly and 242. The outro mimics the intro before slowing to a stop. The sound is a bit compressed but very far from current pop/rock levels. The treble has bite but is a bit hard and lacks some air. Still, things are off to a great start.

"Army Of Mowers" by Jan Driver is a real gem. A bit lower in level, it is the warmest sounding track of the album. Fatter bass plus sweeter treble greets us from the start, nicely contrasting a crisp upper midrange. The high frequency detail cuts through the warmth. Off beat cymbal is well defined. Panned sequencer squelching recalls Giorgio's "Utopia-Me Giorgio" from 1977's From Here to Eternity [Casablanca]. Superb sound and music makes this, one of the best tracks of the set.

"Bleep" by Housemeister & Dave Tarrida presents a harder sound; sixteen beat hi-hat, 'nasty' modulated; percussive whip striking 2 & 4; hand claps on all fours increasing artistic distortion, bringing a party atmosphere . Stupendous 'tightly packed' kick, adds excitement. Feels a bit like Arpeggio's "Love and Desire" from 1978's Let the Music Play [Polydor] and Divine's 1982 single "Native Love" (Step by Step) but harder. Ends with flanged kick almost disappearing before stopping abruptly. This in my opinion, is the best and most impressive track of the album for music and sound.


Joakim & Krikor's "Azid" leads Side B. Handclaps on 2 & 4 display a strong presence; tempo's a bit slower and less intense. Cooler sound, very repetitive and slightly less musically captivating.

As the song title suggests, Siriusmo's "I Like My Voice" is a cut up of voices in the Jazzanova mold. Here we have a complete change of style. Definitely louder and more compressed, the biting synth takes on an agressive allure. A bit of listener fatigue creeping in but musically engaging.

Back to better sound with "The Beast" by Strip Steve. Strong kick; shuffling handclaps; mids a might strong; highs a bit dirty; lacks top end; beat stops dry. Thus this side is quite good but below Side A.


Erol Alkan & Boys Noize's "Death Suite" (Erol Alkan Edit) opens Side C with a metronomic percussive stick sound. A fat kick comes in; back cue with voice; machine gun snare; cymbal stroke counting time. The beat disappears, later coming back in; typical of Techno Rave. Nice outro with 'waves' and kick drum losing more and more highs by way of filtering. Solid track!

"11% Acid" by French DJ/producer Feadz is the big letdown of this compilation. From the start the highly compressed loud track, presents an annoying cut up of 'stupid sounding' voices reminding me of George Kranz's 1983 single "Din Daa Daa" [Personal] - one of my all time worse songs. Awfully repetitive and syncopated with cheap sounding percussion, but much inferior in sound this time around. The end could not have come sooner.

Shadow Dancer's "Silver" is not much better. Again too compressed, very loud, cheap veiled high frequencies and dirty, sandy treble. Verdict: after this side's first track, better move on to Side D.


Thankfully things get back on track with "Extreme Compote" by H.D.B.N. Fat kick; nasty, buzzy synth run; 16 beat hi-hat plus a 'false stop-start' rhythm captivates the listener on this more 'housy' flavoured piece. Back on par with Side A for music and sonics.

Djedjotronic's "Uranus" has a smoother ambience vibe. Syncopated kick; 16 beat synth hi-hat plus a "ha" voice sample a la Black Box's 1990 single "Everybody, Everybody" [Groove Groove Melody]. Interesting chord changes; nice warm sound and goes down deep in the lows, makes this another winner.

Lastly, Dutch DJ Benny Rodrigues turns up the pace with "LSD". Handclaps on all counts followed by an upper mid one note crescendo; the latter accumulating ever more distortion and harmonics plus mounting reverb. As is so often the case, the crash cymbals sound dirty. The beat stops; left behind, the remaining sound gains distortion; the beat resumes; syncopated percs and crash cymbals complete the picture. Fairly good musically and soundwise, though unnecessarily a bit compressed. Second best trio after Side A.

Summing up,

Boys Noize's Super Acid DJ compilation is highly recommended for anybody interested in Acid House Techno as well as open minded audiophiles who want to spin some quality 'slam material' for a change. So get out those old Technics DD's and big JBL woofers and have yourself a rave of a time. Just remember: 'five and six inchers' need not apply!
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UNKLE - WHERE DID THE NIGHT FALL + ANOTHER NIGHT OUT

Surrender All (2010)
SURR017CDX 

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire
 
Rating: 6.0 / B+

Category: Alternative/Electronica-Rock
Format: CD (red book 16/44.1k)

Produced by Chris Goss (tracks: 1-1, 1-8, 1-12, 1-13), UNKLE, Aidan Lavelle (tracks: 1-2, 1-8), James Griffith
Written by James Griffith, James Lavelle, Joel Cadbury (tracks: 1-6 to 1-9, 1-12), Pablo Clements
Recorded at Surrender Sounds Studio, Drum Drops Studio, West Heath Studios, Fish Factory Studio, Rachel's House, Rob's Home Studio, Digital Ghetto, Space 23, Dog House Studio, Night Worm Studio, Conway Studios.
Engineered by Aidan Lavelle, Pablo Clements, James Griffith and Sebastian Lewsley (on most tracks)
Engineer (Drums)Mike Pelanconi
Mixed and tweaked by Steve Dub at Musikbox
Mastered by Mike Marsh at The Exchange
Art Direction: James Lavelle, Warren Du Preez & Nick Thornton Jones
Design and Lettering by Ben Drury
Photography by Warren Du Preez & Nick Thornton Jones


Unkle are not that well known in North America yet this British band counts already five studio albums to their arsenal. Released exactly a year ago, Where Did the Night Fall is worth searching for before the 5000 copy limited edition 'deluxe CD box' disappears from the shelves and the pre-owned market price skyrockets. Luckily for those who can't find it, nor willing to bid on eBay or such, there is an alternative; this spring the men and women from Unkle decided to re-release the album under an altered - extended title plus a few new twists to appeal to their fan base.


The original release packaging is impressive: a 32 page board book celebrating the female form + 36 page perfect bound booklet + CD gatefold sleeve with two inner sleeves to hold the discs + outer rigid slipcase. + shrinkwrap. + silver foil sticker; all this in a lacquered silver and black finish. The second disc contains instrumental versions of the first disc. Aesthetically, it is one of the nicest CD package I've had the pleasure of evaluating.



I have not bought the re-release, but judging by the description and photos on the web, the front cover artwork (though in the same vein) is changed and gold has replaced silver as the main tone. Also, the first CD remains identical in song and sequence but the second CD offers older material from two of their previous EP's, plus a number of exclusive and rare tracks. All in all, the quality and completeness seem on par with the original. There is also a 500 copy limited edition '3 picture-disc vinyl box set' available, but at $160.00 not everybody will be willing to dish out that kind of doe.



"Nowhere" opens the album with a crescendo of trebly distortion ending abruptly and leaving us gasping for air.

Almost immediately "Follow Me Down" (featuring Sleepy Sun) gets things rolling with drummers Graham Fox and Brian Tice, introducing the first rhythmic beat of the album. Singer Rachel Williams Fannan lends her powerful voice while James Griffith assumes bass and guitar duties on this slightly Indo influence alternative piece, until the brass section of The Heritage Orchestra bring things to a close with almost James Bond Fanfare.




Sleepy Sun's Rachel Williams Fannan

From the get go things bode well for musical enjoyment. On the other hand, the sound level is too loud due to the hard compression / limiting that is omnipresent throughout the album. There are lots of rumbling low frequencies but the lack of detail in the top end renders the bass ill defined and resonating like a badly tuned subwoofer. That said, the tonal balance leans towards the downward and is not as harsh as most of current pop/rock.

"Natural Selection" (featuring The Black Angels) boasts some heavily distorted lows and kick; all this in an artistic direction. Alex Maas takes to the mike and the satisfaction continues at least music wise. The sound is more compressed and limited on this track, features highs that are densely distorted producing a 'crunchy buzzy' treble. I had to lower the volume because 'listener fatigue' was setting in with my ears feeling full.



The Black Angels


"Joy Factory" (featuring Autolux) brings some mild relief to our 'sensory receptors'. Again the pattern of vocals alternating between the sexes continues; the latter reminiscent of Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" [Merge]. On this track, singer Carla Azar takes the lead and doubles the backing with added reverb. Hi-hat sequenced in 'reverse mode' alternate between left and right channels, bringing cerebral interest to the mix. Artistic distortion augments towards the coda to the point of thickening an already saturated rhythm.


Autolux featuring Carla Azar on drums and vocals

"The Answer" (featuring Big in Japan) has a kind of Beach Boys acapella intro. The beat startles with lots of weight in the sub low region, the song structure resembling more Arcade Fire but with tons of heavy lows and distortion. Exaggerated compression making it way too loud; there is no dynamic range whatsoever.

"On a Wire" (featuring Lisa Lindley Jones), once more brings a bit of eardrum relief. The pace quickens as vocalist Jones and guitarist Joel Cadbury take charge. It is cleaner sounding; compression is lessened but still strong especially during the chorus. Musically, so far so good.


Half way through the album and "Falling Stars" (featuring Gavin Clark) is in my opinion, the best cut for music and sound - the latter far from great but still good and above average. The guitar comes in first followed by singer Gavin Clark, both recalling the mid-1980's alternative style such as The Smiths with Arcade Fire mixed in. Looking towards the end, the beat takes a break giving way to superb ethereal panned vocals drenched in reverb. This is followed by a sliding 'disco' hi-hat reenergizing the rhythm. Lacking lows, the sound is more mid but also breaths better.

The short duration "Heavy Drug" is even more Beach Boyish in ambience than "The Answer" remaining mostly acapella if not for the slow synth crescendo sounding as if plucked from a 1970's space electronic piece. Brief but efficient.

"Caged Bird" (featuring Katrina Ford of Celebration) is a second very strong composition; perhaps the high point of the album. Introduced by the synth, a 32 bar of kick dm with Ford on vocals follows and establishes the rhythm and melody of this oriental flavored alternative song with faint hints of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Sliding electrodisco hi-hat is veiled over a running bass. Again 'artistic' distortion is present 'til the beat stops upon which simply the voice and strumming guitar bring a refreshing contrast and release to the previous sound density and musical tension. Panned vocals subtly differ between channels. Sound is only fair.

Celebration's Katrina Ford


After a longer inter song pause, a synth intro a la 'Blade Runner style' appears. Change of rhythm pattern plus sweeping violins alter the mood, as "Ablivion" sung by James Lavelle, confirms once more the elevated musical sensibilities of this British 'collective'. Ends with a flanging synth. Unfortunately the sound is greyish, lacks top end and too compressed with distorted cymbals.

"The Runaway" (featuring Lisa Lindley Jones) sparks another change of ambience, this time more sparse than dense. Liberal use of frequency filtering/contouring shifts tone from mostly mid and veiled, before top end details emerge; nothing new but adds a nice twist to the overall envelope. Resembles Radiohead in texture and musical style.


For contrast in "Ever Rest" (featuring Joel Cadbury of South), the top end is heightened but everything is too compressed especially during the chorus. For a brief instant we can feel The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" from Revolver [EMI Parlophone] as an influence. Later in the track, low 'bass pedals' appear.

"The Healing" (featuring Gavin Clark) is punished by exaggerated compression. Lots of treble detail on tambourine. Strings, violins, would blend well in a James Bond/John Barry soundtrack. Ascending high frequencies permeate the coda. Musically the only track a bit less worthy and sonically, the second worse of the album.

We close with "Another Night Out" (featuring Mark Lanegan) and another ambience. The pace is slow with a melody and singing style recalling Bowie's "Heroes" from "Heroes" [RCA]. Strumming acoustic guitar, extremely exaggerated compression / limiting making ears feel full. Too bad because the song itself imparts a powerful mood but I had to lower the volume, thus defying the producers original purpose. This is another strong compo aggravated by an abysmal sound; the worse of the album I'm afraid.



In conclusion,

Be it Where Did the Night Fall or Where Did the Night Fall - Another Night Out, Unkle have produced a musically superb alternative album that no doubt will stand the test of time.

Combining elements of electro-pop, indie rock, neo-psychedelic, eurodisco 'flirtings' and even classical chamber music; plus mixing such diverse instruments as drums, percussion, bass, guitar, organ, keyboards, synths, Moog, Fender Rhodes, brass and strings ensembles as well as a myriad of male and female guest singers and still making it stick together is a triumph in itself. With that in mind, one could make the case that Arcade Fire have been following such a recipe since their first album came out in 2004. To a certain degree, yes but make no mistake, Unkle is no Arcade Fire rip-off; in fact they have been at it — in different incarnations — since 1998, with the caveat that electronics played a bigger part on their earlier albums.

What is quite comparable though is the overuse of dynamic range compression due to a present generation of musicians, producers, engineers and even A&R reps hooked on a never-ending quest to sound 'louder than...'; this sadly leading to a future generation of premature deafness and 'distorted view' of "good sound.
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