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 ------ Kaya Project - Elixir
STYLE   Luscious global fusion with confident bass lines and a chillout aesthetic. Smooth strings, acoustic guitar and infectious beats are overlaid with global instrumentation - ethnic violin, breathy flutes, finger cymbals, shakers and water droplets. Seb Taylor and Natasha Chamberlain form the nucleus of Kaya Project - Seb playing guitars, other instruments, programming and producing - Natasha bringing vocal and keyboard skills to the mix. Beats are generally mid-down tempo, deftly blending hand drumming with western grooves into a sparkling brew that will have you moving even if you can only manage the finger tips.
MOOD   Warm and dynamic yet remaining mostly restful and beguiling - Elixir is a colourful collage of world sounds with emphasis on the East and Middle East. Primarily a celebration of rhythm built around intricate percussion patterns - this album is danceable, listenable or could simply be the beautiful backdrop to an exotic event. A little dub with warm bass adds substance to the bottom end, slide guitar and harmonica conjure up the ethno-blues and plenty of thick, heady Arab flutes stir up a romantic atmosphere of scented smoke and drifting sands.
ARTWORK   Elixir luxuriates within a vivid cover of heavy blues and turquoises painted by Suzanne Brady - a graphic figure diving beneath a strongly textured, fluid surface. A three-panel foldout contains images of the performers laid out around striking dunes and an orange sky. Track listings can be found on the rear jewel case and within along with detailed credits and generous thanks.
OVERALL    Along with Seb Taylor and Natasha Chamberlain various collaborators perform on different tracks - Omar Faruk Tekbilek (ney, zourna and darbouka), Ali Taylor (blues harp), Johnny Kalsi (tabla), Hayat Mohammed (bansuri), Deepak Pandit (violins), Clive Bell (shakuhachi) and Dapu-G (kamiachi). Vocalists include once more the distinctive tones of Irina Mikhailova who shared the writing of 'Salaam' remixed here by Seb and Natasha. The U.K. based Kaya Project release this album on Interchill Records as the follow-up to the acclaimed 'Walking Through'.

A worthy successor to last year's debut - Walking Through, Elixir will appeal to anyone who enjoyed that album or the related Angel Tears material. Tribal grooves and bright arrangements that will likely be enjoyed by chillout fans and club goers alike.





 ------ Enigmatic Obsession - Secrets of Seduction

Enigma's early sound revisited, explored and updated. Here are many familiar themes from MCMXC A.D. and The Cross Of Changes - tracks interfading, monks chanting, spoken voices philosophising, luxuriant beats, expressive atmospheres, muted pianos and lush effects. Of course, new aspects abound - fresh melodies, different instruments such as the Chinese Er-Hu on 'The Delta of the Red River' and some previously undeveloped classical connections. Notably absent are the male vocals that seemed to be a point of contention among some Enigma fans. The banner of allegiance is unfurled from the start with a brief ambient introduction leading into one of those glorious, distinctive beats - here the drum tracks seem at the same time both original and recognisable ... new variants on old structures and new structures with that conspicuous enigmatic feel. Not surprisingly since Jens gad provided the guitar sound for Enigma, the guitar is given some extra space here, a few tracks being carried along by emotive guitar leads drenched in special effects.


Gorgeously serene and mystical, full of atmosphere and timeless grace. The mainly female voices maintain the charm and spell throughout - whispering, singing, speaking, breathing, with classical elements, soft oohs and aahs - perfectly attuned to the mood and vision established by the music. Slightly melancholy in places - wistful and emotional, occasionally powerful, always with a subtle, richly layered dreaminess.

ARTWORK   An attractive digipack with a high gloss finish - a classically painted damsel draped in generous folds of orange and white lounges on the front cover meeting the viewer's gaze. Rich browns, fawns and ochre tones give the package a mock antiquity - enhanced by further paintings of cherubs, recumbent ladies and billowing robes. Trompe l'oeil effects create the illusion of burnt edges, curls and tears. The tracklisting can be found both on the rear and within, along with credits and website details.

Who better than Jens Gad to create such an album, having been a member of Enigma from the early days, he not only played on many Enigma albums, but shared writing, engineering and production duties. Indeed some of the pieces here were originally written for various Enigma albums and would sound perfectly at home had they been placed there. Collaborators on Secrets Of Seduction include Luisa Fernandez and Helene Horlyck on vocal duties and German producer Torsten Stenzel as writer for two tracks. Today whilst Michael Cretu is somewhat obliged to forge his project ahead into territories new, Jens is free to wander at will through the original signature sounds and bring the best of the past into the immediate present once more. There have been comments to the effect that this album is more 'enigmatic' than Voyager turned out to be - Michael purposely applying his techniques to a more 'pop' oriented sound - see for yourself. Released in the same year as the stunning Achillea - The Nine Worlds, Jens Gad has been busy - and there's more yet to come ... if he maintains this standard we've plenty to look forward to.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Enigma fans will hardly need telling that this album should suit them down to the ground - especially those who felt there was more mileage in the music of MCMXC A.D. and The Cross Of Changes. If you liked Achillea, this album will surely build your appreciation further.




 ------ Human Blue - Diskovery Channel

Downbeat atmospheres and digital flights of fancy. Human Blue makes abundant use of repeating motifs and vaporous synths to create slowly evolving structures that gradually build to the point of being driven along by languid programmed beats. Drawn out introductions feature ambient explorations where waves of sound are allowed drift and float. The clear, rich, interwoven layers of electronica swell little by little into hypnotic revolutions, thickening as new voices enter, effects interject or additional melodic phrases appear. Diskovery Channel avoids a lot of dramatic chordal developments, instead following the trance tradition of embellishing simple chord sequences that repeat and shift with each repetition. Vocoder speech and some wordless utterances provide occasional organic elements in a primarily synthetic series of soundworlds.

MOOD   Dreamy and trance-inducing, cyclic patterns slowly morphing with spellbinding clarity. This CD has a very contemporary sound, showcasing a lush range of bright electronica with sparkling production. The mesmeric tone is primarily maintained through balmy beats, restful and soothing - but the tempo picks up in places to a pumping dance-floor regularity. Most tracks are quite long allowing for unhurried progressions, where Human Blue's understated melodies and rolling arpeggiators can unfurl with leisurely grace.
ARTWORK   Warm sands flood every panel of this package. On the front two fantasy tin cans are linked together with an electrified strand - on the reverse of the booklet one can is faced toward the viewer like a primitive speaker transmitting the musical energy that sparkles through the cord. On the rear jewel case the tracklisting is interwoven with another snaking can phone line - this time set against an orange sky-mirage, an image that is more fully expanded within. At the heart of the booklet is a dream world of sandy spires floating amid infinite dunes set against a swimming yellow sunset.
OVERALL    Previously a part of Swedish Psy-Trance project Logarhythm Dag Wallin's solo material is described by his label as "deepblue downbeat spheres". Human Blue has built up a reputation through appearances on a number of compilation CDs in recent years. This complete debut is released on Chillcode Records and maintains a restful, synthetic indolence throughout.

Diskovery Channel aims at a similar audience to Chillcode's other releases - ambience with beats, dance floor aesthetics applied to relaxation music.





 ------ Various - Mountain High 2
A collection of meditative chillout with plenty of dreamy psychedelia and global sounds. Opening with the wafting flutes, hand drums and subtle electronic of Cell - this CD maintains a tranquil pace throughout. Downtempo grooves and liquid synths are the order of the day, ethnic voices and sharp effects sitting among warm pianos and pulsing basslines. Arpeggios are not dominant, more melodic elements carrying many of the tracks with layers that thicken, overlap and drop away little by little. There are a number of pieces with guitar lines interwoven with the synth work and, naturally, the odd voice wave painted in here and there.
MOOD   Introspective chill with exotic overtones - ethnic samples hinting at places far away. Most tracks are of a light relaxing nature, but there are moments of shadow - Kick Bong notably introducing a darker tone, moody and earthier than the rest. Ethereal and atmospheric in places, Solar Fields, for example creates a deeply ambient sound painting where rippling arps and echoing piano float above a serene. Aes Dana leads into what is probably the most steady piece of trance on the album with scratches and washes alongside some trademark sounds that will be familiar to fans of Memory Shell.
ARTWORK   As with Mountain High 1, this is an attractive digipack with sharp graphics. Smolikas Mountain snuggles under mists of distance and translucent graphic bands whilst the green seahorse design from volume one stretches across the spine. Track titles are on the rear cover and in expanded form within. More scenic photography adorns the inner faces of the package - blue grey in contrast to the lime green of the title text and seahorse details.
OVERALL    A worthy follow-up to its predecessor, Mountain High 2 is once more compiled by Alex Candy of Candyflip Records. Drawn together over a period of a year and a half, artists from France, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand, Greece and Sweden present a united vision of blissful tranquillity. Unlike the original collection, three artists here take up seven of the eleven tracks - Max Maxwell, Kick Bong and Lideres Band. New Greek act I.X.O.P (percussionist Themis Xafis' project) represent the new blood whilst Aes Dana, Cell and Solar Fields add to the familiar names drawn together.

If you enjoyed Mountain High 1 - this album will surely be a welcome addition to your collection. If you enjoy downbeat electronica with worldly colour give this one a listen.





 ------ Tetsu Inoue - Yolo
STYLE   Clean electonica presented with abstract serenity. Deep chimes, electronic blips and digital dissections work among synthetic waves and swells - sounding almost random at time, then close to melodic - not quite either. Esoteric, beatless passages twinkle with clear tones, thrumming as dense banks of sound pass by - I'm reminded of dust motes and bright particles suspended in shafts of light, carried in concert by air currents yet independent, irregular. Promotional notes point out that Tetsu Inoue makes use of "random synthesised sounds and field recordings" which are fragmented and "sieved through in microscopic detail" - the resultant music feels strangely engineered whilst appearing natural and intuitive.
MOOD   Graceful, glitchy, modern and clean - scientific precision suggests a spacey sound that might complement a computer construct of the universe as much as the real thing. Tranquil and drifting, yet Yolo stops short of restful - constant shifting intricacies and disconcerting moments keep the listener attentive uncertain.
ARTWORK   As with the music - the cover artwork presents an image that might well be an unstructured collection of dots - do these make patterns? They seem to form curves and constellations as the mind seeks to locate order in the layout. Simple blue points on a white background are reversed into while points against blue within - held up to the light, this arrangement is even more indeterminate. Sleeve notes are minimal - a track list with times and other brief details - clinical and concise.
OVERALL    Released on DiN Records as DiN 22 - this is actually Tetsu Inoue's ninth solo release. A nice phrase from the DiN press release says - "The music of Yolo is a series of events connecting with each other though not necessarily connected; a patchwork that constantly mutates and renews itself." This prolific musician has been involved with over forty albums and has collaborated with Bill Laswell, Atom Heart, Peter Namlook and Jonah Sharp.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Ambient fans that enjoy an experimental approach. Yolo will suit lovers of beatless abstraction looking for something very contemporary.




 ------ Jon Hopkins - Opalescent
STYLE   Trip hop beats, gentle instrumental atmospheres and graceful melodies. Jon Hopkins interweaves dreamy synth washes, elegantly simple keyboard and guitar lines over atmospheric, downtempo grooves. Guitars strum or create rhythms and lead lines, subtle electronics form cloudscapes meandering sleepily and an air of brooding mystery is periodically built up through some well-chosen effects and reversed patterns. The melody lines on Opalescent are often quite low key, sometimes more a part of the overall structure than an overlay - beautifully threaded through colourful pads and luminescent electronics. Muted beats are often employed to establish sensitive interludes where fragile patterns twinkle and glowing harmonies delicately unfurl.
MOOD   This a comfortable album, easy on the ear and restful - but not by any means just an 'easy-listening' background CD. Quite blissful at times, edging toward darkness on occasion - floating mood pieces blossom and soar, interspersed with passages of cool introspection. Warm downtempo beats slink in with lullaby languor like the sunshine at evening. A generally uplifting, feel-good mood runs throughout.
ARTWORK   There was no artwork with the promotional package that I received and so I won't comment on this aspect of the package.
OVERALL    UK based Hopkins first recorded this album in the closing months of 1999, released then in 2001, it is currently enjoying a re-release having been featured as a soundtrack to some prime-time television. Apparently Hopkins was something of a child prodigy, studying piano and composition at the Royal College of Music when he was just 12. Certainly, Opalescent shows a musical flair - consistently attractive from start to finish. Evocative titles 'Lost In Thought', 'Cold Out There', 'Apparition' and 'Grace' suggest the range of moods that this album explores -
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Opalescent will appeal to lovers of aural beauty, seekers of tranquillity, fans of melodic ambience with a beat. Reminiscent of Amethystium or the instrumental aspects of Mandalay - Jon Hopkins nonetheless works his own distinct part of the genre.