Thursday, October 29, 2009

Analord 01--11
Village Voice, August 30th 2005

By Simon Reynolds

Since the debacle that was 2001’s over-programmed Drukqs, there’s been zero transmissions from Planet Aphex. So when Richard D. James reemerged at the start of the year with the launch of an extended series of EPs, the response from his still sizeable cult mingled joy, skepticism, and a heap of curiosity. Could James--once techno’s greatest melodist-- possibly have anything more to give?

The analog-only concept underpinning Analord seemed like a tacit admission that, like so many of his peers, during the late Nineties James had gotten lost in the mire of options offered by state-of-art technology. Riddled with detail and addled by effects, Drukqs’ delirium tremens of twitchy-glitchy beats and fruitless FruityLoops-ery suggested it was time for a drastic rethink. In the Dogme-like spirit of Holger Czukay’s maxim “restriction is the mother of invention,” on Analord James shuns digital signal processing, plug-ins and “virtual studio technology” programs in favor of synths, sequencers, and house music’s favorite tools, the Roland 909 drum machine and the Roland 303 bassline generator (source of the wibbly-bibbly acid-sound). The series stages a strategic retreat to the sort of set-up James used at the very start of his career some fifteen years ago.

Consistent with the analog concept, these EPs are vinyl-only releases, high quality pressings from whose deep grooves emanate sounds as thick and glossy as the platters themselves. Vinyl fiends always bang on about “warmth”, but that’s not exactly what you hear on Analord, given that the music is electronic and therefore innately glacial. But even before you appraise the tracks as compositions, your ears are struck by the rich presence of the sound. Vinyl-fetishism is also a crucial aspect of the EPs visual appeal: transparent sleeves invite your eyes to feast on the inky blackness.

Analord 11 is where the series has paused (for breath, or permanently, it’s not clear), which makes now a good moment to survey the length and breadth of what by any standard constitutes a formidable amount of sound (three 74 minute CD-R’s worth) to have issued in just six months. Alongside reverting to the restricted means available to him as a youth, it seems like James has also tried to recover the creative mindset. Circa ‘95, jungle threw the entire “electronic listening music” community off-balance, making producers focus their creativity on rhythmic complexity rather than haunting melody (the genre’s true forte). Analord reverses that priority. The beats, while deftly programmed, assume a largely subservient role; mood and melodiousness return to the fore. These tracks invoke a time when the concept of “machine soul” was fresh and inspirational: the era of classic releases by Derrick May, Fingers Inc, LFO, Carl Craig, The Black Dog, et al, long before chopped-up breakbeats impinged on the “purity” of electronic music.

The crucial question, though, is whether any Analord tracks approach the heights of James’ own classic phase (1991’s “Analogue Bubblebath” to 1995’s “Alberto Balsalm”, approximately). The answer: not quite, but close enough. If the weaker material recalls the output of James’ early Nineties second-division pseudonyms, the better pieces--the lustrous chitter of “Boxingday” (A3), the cyborg-toad jabber of “Analoggins” (A6), the writhy glisten of “”Backdoor. Netshadow” (A9)--display his unique flair for clustered dissonances, ghostly harmonic wisps, and eerie in-between emotions. (Consumer Guidance: your best buys are 2, 3, 10, and 11). The pieces that linger in your memory possess a somber, sorrowful quality: the pensive, frowning chords of “Pissed Up In Sel” (A2), the weepy-eyed melody-foam of
“Pwsteal.ldpinch.D” (A8), the dank mazes of glum that take up side two of Analord 11.

Instrumentally, the most Valued Player here isn’t the near-omnipresent 303 but whatever reverb unit James uses to drape his sounds in his signature shroud of muzzy melancholy. You start to wonder: could it be that The Aphex Twin is, like, depressed? Has he been dumped (one mournful ditty is titled “Where’s Your Girlfriend?”)? Or is this simply the blues of the innovator who ran out of future, and who’s gone back in the hope of finding a better way forward?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

jungle 12 inch reviews/ "Stone Free" column
Melody Maker, late 1994

by Simon Reynolds

METALHEADS--"Inner City Life"/"Timeless" (fffr/London)
Released as a taster 12 inch, "Inner City Life" could become jungle's "Back To Life" or "Unfinished Sympathy", thanks to the crossover appeal of Diane Charlemagne's gorgeous jazzy vocals and Goldie's angelic/demonic strings. But it's "Timeless", the 22 minute epic from which "Inner" is excerpted, that will really blow your mind, with its cobra-coiling swarm of breakbeats and maze-like/mirage-like production. A concept track about "inner city pressure", "Timeless" passes through different 'movements' (the most breathtaking being "Jah"'--cyber-juju, King Sunny Ade meets Derrick May). But "Timeless" really works as a whole, taking you on a hair-raising terror-ride through the city's heart of darkness. Not just a great 'dance record' but one of this decade's most astonishing pieces of popular art.

DA INTALEX---"What Ya Gonna Do" (Flex)
"What Ya Gonna Do" takes ambient jungle's paradoxes--savage sentimentality, punishing poignancy--to the extreme. It starts as a haze of synth-ripples and rapturous moans, then SUPERNOVAS with devastating bass-blasts and a skin-scalding soul-diva ultimatum: "whatcha gonna do?!". Da Intalex (a.k.a. L. Double) is a rising star.

DILLINJA---"Deep Love (Remix)" (Logic Productions), "Stomper's Delight/Southside" (Logic Productions)
With its softly glowing electric piano and flickers of lachrymose wah-wah guitar, 'Deep Love' exudes an exquisitely serene melancholy. Blue and beguiling, this is orchestral jungle at its finest. "Stompers" and "Southside" offer more Dillinja magic, unfurling cyber-jazz electronics over cranked-to-the-max clockwork drum & bass.

D'CRUZE--"Lonely/Chronic Breaks" (Suburban Base)
A brilliantly tentative intro--stabs of plangent strings, lump-in-throat lamentations--then "Lonely" rolls out an irresistible sashay of intricate snares and hi-hats. "Chronic Breaks" is gorgeously desolate, with eerie vocal samples like The Clangers yodelling the Appalachian blues.

E-Z ROLLERS--"Remixes" (Moving Shadow)
Droppin' Science's revamp of the sublime "Rolled Into One" is cool, but you can't really improve on perfection. So it's Foul Play's dramatic reconstruction of "Believe" that's killer, cutting between minimal (ultra-crisp drum tattoo and chiming bass) and maximal (rhapsodic wafts of strings 'n' synths) to superb effect.

RONI SIZE & KRUST/JMJ & RICHIE---"2 on 1, Issue 7" (Moving Shadow)
JMJ & Richie's "Deep Bass 9" is a pleasant enough confection of vocoderized ragga, blissed diva and two-step shuffle. But it's Size & Krust's "Witchcraft"--a dreamswirl of s(h)immering percussion, spangly wah-wah and hall-of-mirrors vocals-- that really substantiates the experimental intentions of the '2 On 1' series.

DJ PESHAY--"Psychosis/Represent" (Metalheads)
Both tracks have elegant arrangements featuring piano-tinkles and wah-wah tingles, but jungle's new smooth-side/soft-core direction worries me--this is a tad too tasteful for my taste. Enough soul-diva ululations already!
jungle 12 inch reviews/ "Stone Free" column
Melody Maker, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

A GUY CALLED GERALD--- "Darker Than I Should/Gloc" (Juice Box),"Nazinji-Zaka/Hot Foot" (Juice Box)

Mr 'Voodoo Ray' is now at the forefront of 'intelligent hardcore'---hence these two 12 inches of densely textured ambient jungle. "Darker" and "Nazinji" offer ethno-pagan cyber-jazz that picks up where 808 State's 'State Ritual' left off; "Gloc" is so sensuously disorientating it could be from My Bloody Valentine's forthcoming jungle-influenced LP.

F.B.D. PROJECT---"Classified Listening" (Bangra Tunes)
F.B.D is intelligent hardcore whizzkid Neil Trix; "Classified' is a lush and limpid rainforest of polyrhythms, tremulous with detail.

DJ TANGO/HYPER ON EXPERIENCE---"Two On One, Issue 4" (Moving Shadow)
Tango's "Think Twice" is a dancefloor desolator, all demonic bass-surges and hideously clammy samples. Isolationist jungle? Sounds like a good idea to me.

BOOGIE TIMES TRIBE---"My Soul" (Suburban Base)
Go straight for the Roni Size & Krust remix, which laces the dark drum-&-bass groove with mysterious sound-vapours, heady strings and wafts of psychedelic eeriness.

NOODLES & WONDER---"Drum Soup" EP (Kickin')
Serene wind-chimes and gamelan-tinkling bells float over a turbo-charged battery of beats. Magical, despite a strange interlude of swingbeat mid-track.

RENEGADE featuring RAY KEITH---"Terrorist" (Moving Shadow)
Shlocky sentimental piano fades into a warrior-charge of radioactive bass and crisp drums. Then another B-line and another tier of drums.... Propulsive and compulsive.

DJ CRYSTL---"Meditation (Remix)/Warpdrive (Remix)" (Dee Jay)
Crystl's revamp of the monstrously foreboding "Warpdrive" plays up the poison-gas synth-drones but tampers with the avalanche effect of the breakbeat. The untouchable original can still be found on Breakdown's 'Drum & Bass' compilation.

THE K.G.B.--- "I Feel The Magic" (Juice Box)
More lush and languid enchantment from 'Executive Producer' A Guy Called Gerald's Juice Box label. Jazz-funk for the 21st Century.

LICK BACK ORGANISATION---"Ruff'n'Rugged/Manic Musik" (Suburban Base)
"Manic" starts with a sample of Grace Slick's "morning maniac music" drivel from Woodstock, then oscillates between jagged drum-&-bass and aromatic atmospherics.

SPLASH---"Hypnotizing" (Splash)

Ruff-rider breaks, gusts of ethereal girl-vox---a solid slice of ambient ardkore
jungle 12 inch reviews/ "Stone Free" column
Melody Maker, 1994

by Simon Reynolds

RUFIGE CRU--"Fury", from 'Two On One, Issue One' (Moving Shadow)

Metalheads' Goldie does it again, this time in his Rufige Cru incarnation,
as part of Moving Shadow's new 'Two on One' series of experimental EPs. You
could call it 'ambient hardcore', you could call it 'cyber-jazz'--either way,
"Fury"'s demonic timewarped bass, soul-diva-in-agony samples, orchestral synths
and jazzy tangents all add up to one hell of a phuture shocker.

DJ NUT NUT & PURE SCIENCE--"The Rumble" (Production House)

Eno-esque drones, melted moans, stabbing B-line worthy of Wobble-era
PiL--ambient 'ardkore at its best. B-side "Virtual Reality" is a creepy
catacomb of sub-bass murk.

VARIOUS ARTISTS--"Subplates Vol 3" (Suburban Base)

Latest in Sub Base's 'showcase' series, two 10 inches of darkest
drum-&-bass. Best is Mikey James & Q Bass' "The Prophecy", with its spookadelic
backwards bass and beats.

OMNI TRIO--"Renegade Snares (Foul Play Remix)" (Moving Shadow)

Foul Play turbo-charge new thunder'n'joy into Omni's anthem, with its
ricocheting breakbeats, soul-blasting diva uproar and poignant piano motif.

ENGINEERS WITHOUT FEARS--"Spiritual Aura" (DeeJay Recordings)

Uplifting 'appy 'ardkore, ambient-tinged with rapturously rippling synths
and quiet storm murmurs.


Almighty stomper with an elephantine bass-blast of a riff.

FULL MOON SCIENTIST--"Old Man River's Crying" (Hard Hands)

Dubbed-up, elegaic, and with a long, gorgeous coda of pure ambience, this
is the missing link between A.R. Kane's "I" and Underworld's "River Of Bass".

JUMPING JACK FROST--"Underworld E.P." (Formation)

Desolate girl-vox, ghostly garage-y keyboard riff, fevered breakbeats--a
fine slice of jungle noir.

DEEP BLUE--"The Helicopter Tune (Remixes)" (Moving Shadow)

Two 10 inches of revamps of this drum-&-bass monster with the sizzling
Latin percussion.
jungle 12 inch reviews / "Stone Free" column
Melody Maker, February 1995

by Simon Reynolds

BLAME & JUSTICE--"Chapter II Remixes" (Moving Shadow)
"Nightvision"--remixed here by D'Cruze--is a drum & bass groove so eerily elasticated and dub-reverbed that it's hard to imagine what kind of physical response could do it justice. Art-core rhythm-magick designed for pythons or contortionists, music to turn your body inside out.

HIDDEN AGENDA -- "Is It Love?" (Black/White Records)
Starts as dub-wize weirdness over the most stealthy, stalking bassline, then
abruptly sashays into '70s soul grooviness, all halcyon harmonies, frothing Moogs
and honeyed guitar-twinkles. Jungle meets G-funk--could this be the sound of '95?

RHYTHM FOR REASONS -- "A Statement of Rhythms EP" (Formation)
'The Love Statement' takes the euphoric synth-blip intro to Jonny L's happy hardcore
classic "Alright" and folds it like origami over fucked-up breakbeats. "The
Smoker's Rhythm', a frenzied drum-kit work-out, is one for the Risla massive.

T. POWER --"Horny Mutant Jazz" (SOUR)
Chilled-out jazz-jungle pivoting around a stately, sonorous horn motif. Calms
your metabolic rate as effectively as an intravenous squirt of liquid nitrogen.

TOM & JERRY-- EP (Reinforced)
Four tracks of inventive drum-rolls and multiple basslines that plunge deep into
red-zone distortion. Highlights: the swingbeat-flavoured "'Til The Morning" and
the percussion-labyrinth of "Follow Da Massive".

NICKY BLACKMARKET-- "Wild Geese" (Blackmarket)
Kinda like Ultramarine gone jungalistic, this turns honking waterfowl into
bebop horns, and rippling fusion-era piano into the melancholy ambience of a lake
shore at dusk.

HIGHER SENSE--"Cold Fresh Air (Remix)/People of the Universe" (Moving Shadow)
Ignore the overrated A-side in favour of "People", with its intricate beats,
eccentric bass and lambent jazz-chords.

SKANNA--"Greatest Thing (Remix)/All You Wanted" (Skanna)
Deeply dubby, with a yearning roots reggae vocal, rubbery bass and glassy percussion.

BROWN & DANGERMAN-- "Dreams of Another World" (Stronghold)
Superfast breaks surge through a whooshing wind-tunnel of aciiiiied frequency-modulations.