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 ------ Steve Roach - The Dreamtime Box

This is the 2005 re-mastered edition of Steve's incredible 1988 classic album Dreamtime Return. A hugely ambitious and moving collection of ambient tracks both beatless and rhythmic. There are pieces with electronic beats, hand drumming, rainsticks, electronic woodwind, didgeridu and Aboriginal vocals. Kevin Braheny brings an incredibly beautiful sound to 'The Other Side' with his soaring, elegant, violin-like Steiner EWI and Robert Rich provides the sounds of gourd drums and dumbek. The album explores both gutsy tribal influences and expansive musical landscapes where sweeping cloudbank synths create the most tranquil of aural environments.

Akin to smooth, shifting light - delicate concentrations and wavelengths of sound drift beatless and percussion free - as if gazing into a sky of music. As graceful as the most gentle interludes of an orchestral symphony. Byron Metcalf's rhythmic contributions are in the form of a low beat, snuggled way under the surface - easy, comfortable like the pulsing of one's own blood.
Beatless long-form zoneworlds. Odd organic ripples and trickles, somewhat insectile and spluttering lead into sheets of synthetic tone sweeping slowly across the soundscape, deeper drones looming below. Wave-like tonalities rise and fall like the calmest of water bodies, breezy movements wafting over the surface. In places dense spacey effects suggest an incumbent event, expectant, emergent. The final piece sees a warm layer burble into place like the arrival of spring - subtle nuances breathing into life. The previous elements are still there forming a unique space allowing the central weighty drones to sheet through the sound, softening and intensifying in repeated cycles.
MOOD   Panoramic, positive and dramatic. A supremely peaceful album that interweaves elements and suggestions of Aboriginal culture with sensitive synthesiser work in a way that highlights all that is good about a shared planet. There are passage here of transcendent ambient floatation - others where a somewhat brooding tone is complemented by uneasy sonic air currents.
Bright and optimistic. The music here is attractive and consonant, harmonious, blissfully serene. Silky sonic mists are enhanced by the subtlest of peripherals - at times so slight as to leave the listener wondering if the sounds are actually present or merely suggested by the ingenuity of the mix.
One of unfolding wonder - the sound establishing its own intimate terrain and then absorbing the listener as if by osmosis, drawing the ear in, filling every available space. The sounds here are strongly environmental, suggestive, even anticipatory. Gestation establishes an enormity of lurching vacuum drones, an expanse in which something uncertain is coming into consciousness.
ARTWORK   As a set these three albums come packed in a hand painted earth toned box of sturdy card. This assemblage is an appealing object to hold - Aboriginal art-inspired patterns dotted across the front. Regarding the individual CDs - Dreamtime Return carries an updated version of the original artwork but includes also a number of never-before seen photos from Steve's Australian adventure captured during the making of this recording. New Life Dreaming features a couple of photographic panoramas where the eye is drawn to open air and cloud formations that harmonise with the sound on the disc. Possible Planet is a complete visual contrast - close-up, sparkling, fresh and alive. Plant tendrils and pods glisten with water droplets and reflected light. All three albums contain explanatory notes and credits along with relevant contact details.

Since its release back in 1988 the two-CD classic Dreamtime Return has become one of the important, widely known and highly respected ambient albums to date. Today it still sounds amazingly fresh and invigorating. The music is the result of Steve's travels in the Australian outback, along with studies of the Aboriginal Dreamtime, and his desert walkabouts in California. The accompanying CDs New Life Dreaming and Possible Planet are both available separately as Timeroom Editions - but come highly recommended as a part of this package due to their conceptual connections with Dreamtime.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Anyone wanting to own a piece of ambient history - anyone appreciative of Steve Roach's colossal stature in the genre - anyone wanting an introduction to ambient music at its best.




 ------ Ben Fleury-Steiner - Drifts

Warm ambient electronica - a suite of 11 tracks built around inter-connected themes. The album opens with a bright synthesiser sequence of brief notes that echo and develop in complexity establishing a rhythmic introduction - indeed this largely a rhythmic album, sandpapery programmed beats in frequent interplay with sequential musical patterns. Beatless ambient regions, soft, swaying gently are interspersed between more mechanical arrangements. Tensile sounding very machine-like with a buzzing percussive lattice overlaid with delicate tonal clouds.

MOOD   Inviting and colourful - Drifts runs through a range of emotional territories, but most pieces are gentle and graceful. As always the cover imagery affects the mental imagery of the sounds - magenta, pink, gold - I see these easily in my mind's eye swirling restfully to the music. As the more mechanical aspects of Drifts come to the fore, the mood hardens slightly, crystallising - yet these beats and cycles are mainly fragile affairs, tinkling against the beautiful meandering harmonies.
ARTWORK   Just like the music amorphous swirls and whorls of colour are laid out against regular grid and box shapes reminiscent of a city skyline or electronic circuitry. The inner booklet is a one-sided print in full colour. The tracklist is on the rear, the inner cover containing a quote comparing the mind to a glass of water from Zen Master Seung Sahn. As usual, relevant credits and thanks are also found within.

Ben Fleury- Steiner runs the label Gears of Sand, home to a number of interesting electronic/electro-acoustic artists. This CD sees Ben producing all the sounds, with mastering duties carried out by none other than Robert Rich (so you can expect striking clarity and definition). Fleury-Steiner manages to work within a genre that seems to turn out new material as regularly as breathing, yet Drifts has an individual sound, a personality of its own - whilst ideal as aural ambiance it certainly doesn't sink blandly into the background, the structures are too engaging to ignore, too attractive to dismiss.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Ambient fans who enjoy plenty of shifting detail. Drifts is not minimalist, with various subtle beats, pulses and regularities - if you want something unique, give this one a try.




 ------ Various - Mellow Grounds
STYLE   With warm tones, strong jazz influences and a good dose of funk Mellowgrounds, as its name implies, is a laidback electronic compilation of dub-fused electro-lounge and other undefined chill-out styles. Global beats weave together guitar, keys, vocals, and horns with the occasional trip through more psy-styled downtempo/dub spaces. Steady grooves blend nicely with the more atmospheric tracks on this album creating a refined and richly varied selection of sounds from artists around the world.
MOOD   The mood is generally upbeat but sometimes cruises through deeper places only to emerge refreshed and revived with new inspiration. Though sufficiently chilled-out there is enough happening instrumentally and musically to keep the dreamy head-space lucid and interesting. Offering windows into far-off lands bathed in late afternoon sunlight, the meandering progression of tracks invites you further into a sultry tropical backdrop of some fantasy island with Skizzo Franick, Ricardo Montalbon and a good bottle of wine.
ARTWORK   Varying shades of soft, jade green striations make up an organic, crystalline patterning which comprise the front and back cover, inside and out. Tracklist and credits are featured on the inside panel of the booklet with a tracklist and times on the back tray cover.
OVERALL    Compiled by Mista Fabla, Mellowgrounds is courtesy of Mightyfatrecords in Israel. As its first release these 10 tracks bring a freshness both to the typical psy-chill and overcooked Cafe Del Mar sub-genres. Reflecting a refined aesthetic for the more acoustically-influenced electronic music this is an excellent debut album which gives a little something extra to everyone who's had their ear to the ground for the latest in downtempo goodness.

Mellowgrounds will appeal to fans of the early 90's Freezone compilations, Transient Records' Mashed Mellow Grooves Series, as well as to anyone who appreciates the hybrid sounds and nu-lounge vibes of contemporary global electronica.

Review by naasko -,





 ------ Pete Namlook & Gaudi - Re:sonate


Melodic, meandering synths, thick bass, live downtempo drums and percussion - Re:sonate brings together the smooth analogue mastery of Pete Namlook and the dubby, exploratory 'home grown' sounds of Gaudi. The result is one with an ambient aesthetic veering off on a truly unique tangent. Repetition of the dominant patterns on Re:sonate creates a hypnotic familiarity, different layers dropping in and out, echoing congas, various peripheral effects enlivening the surface. ‘I’m scanning the city for the seventh spirit,’ says a dreamy American female voice on track one - a contrast to the spoken aspect of central piece NAFK - a pitch-shifted German spoken sample, controlled, unsettling against the darker music of this piece. Here a low, shifting synthetic drone sets the direction with percussive disturbances that almost approach a rhythm coming in and out of focus. Coming and going - the absence of the voice highlights the interplay of tones and impacts - when present, the throaty words almost acting like a beat. The final track opens with reversed effects, a strong drumbeat and a lazy bass - there's a pleasant, melodic piano line, which combined with the rolling tempo gives this track an easy-going feel.

MOOD   Nodding, restful, expansive. Straddling the genres of ambient floatation and dub driven groove the interest value of these tracks lies less in the basic tunes than in the juxtaposition and comparison of the diverse elements. Although the structural patterns appear fairly constant - everything here is in constant flux, filters, tonal alterations, sweeps, surface effects - deceptively simple. The mood alters from track to track - NAFK dark and brooding, The Sun Won't Set friendly, appealing, danceable even.
ARTWORK   Black background on the front cover - three part image in white of back-to-back lions and a skull-like face. Above and around the central image red, yellow and green graphic elements form a bright halo. The rear of the jewel case is reproduced is essence on the rear of the inner booklet - black circle on blue with an image of the earth and some nice circular lettering. Within, we have superimposed red, yellow and green waves as graphic accompaniment to a gear list and thanks.

Neither needing any introduction - both Pete Namlook and Gaudi are respected musicians within their own fields. Together they present three lengthy compositions, the shortest lasting almost sixteen minutes - the longest just over twenty-three. Here Namlook is credited with employing Oberheim FourVoice, Waldorf WAVE, Moog Minimoog, piano, electronic percussion and Ableton LIVE; Gaudi - Korg MS 20, Theremin and percussion; Dor Kelman - acoustic drums and tabla. Promotional material describes the result as a "dubby melding of analogue synths, rippling percussion and immaculate production spanning nearly an hour in 3 tracks!" The album is released via Namlook's own FAX label - 23 January 2006.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   This is an album for fusion fans, bringing together two big names from two different genres with a result that sounds like both - yet like nothing either has produced to date. As ambient music and downtempo become ever more intertwined I suspect CDs like Re:sonate are set to appeal to a growing audience.




 ------ Svartsinn - Traces Of Nothingness

STYLE   Beatless, desolate dark ambient soundscapes. Traces of Nothingness opens with the words "It lives ... in the dark ... something in the dark" - an appropriate introduction to this collection of brooding thunderclouds. Whale-like groans and distorted, distant impacts populate this world of shadow and bubbling ooze - there is at times the sound of a colossal drum pounding a broken beat, there are huge air movements and amorphous disturbances. On a number of tracks tonal material bleeds in briefly toward the end - drones, strings, humming textures - strikingly beautiful against the vast bleakness of the background atmospheres.
MOOD   Heavy, tenebrous and moody - Svartsinn unapologetically aims at a disquieting sound. This cinematic composition is not so much malevolent, but uneasy, creating a sense of enclosed enormity. Sounds approaching voices, deep and garbled add to a strong organic air - these could be human, could be mechanical - obscure, uncertain and drowning.
ARTWORK   Traces of Nothingness comes in a tasteful digipack - monochrome - flooded with black. Cyclic Law know their packaging - each CD feels like a unique piece. Imagery consists of a series of night-time photographs bedraggled with briars - text is a soft grey on the jet backdrop. A quote from Sartre inhabits one gatefold panel - within are composition details, thanks and contact info.

The Norwegian term Svartsinn apparently means 'black mind' or 'black soul and is the working title of musician Jan Roger Pettersen. Svartsinn's third album (and conclusion to a trilogy) comes after a two-year gap and is again released on Cyclic Law. There are eight relatively short pieces with a re-mix of Emptiness is Form by Northhaunt concluding the CD. Promotional material explains that this album "is simply the reaction, result and the path ahead in this ongoing, seemingly endless darkness. A slightly more melodic, sad and obscure side of Svartsinn that still keeps the cold and dark atmosphere that defines his sound." Like many of Cyclic Law's releases Svartsinn will appeal to a specific audience - try the samples on the website if you're unsure.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   If you enjoy other Cyclic Law artists - Svartsinn maintains the focus ... dense, shady nightscapes crawling with atmosphere. More melodic than some of the other albums of the genre - but any melody here is carefully underplayed.




 ------ Harland - Sinking Shade

STYLE   Quirky electronica, trip-hop beats and lovely female vocals. Sinking Shade presents another incredible collection of Shelley Harland's pop-peculiarities - plenty of crackles and glitchy peripherals suffusing inventive programmed rhythms and synthetic dreamscapes within which this angelic voice weaves its magical spell. For me this is a near-perfect balance of grit and sweetness - soaring choruses lifting the heart without ever sounding clichéd or sugary, darker verses prowling and slinking intimately full of feeling and individuality. Shelley Harland uses her voice imaginatively, singing in a variety of voices and styles - strong, clear, small, vulnerable - always elegant - multi-layered, providing her own backing vocals, harmonies and vocal textures. There are orchestral waves and strings, glockenspiels, pianos, guitars, sax and all manner of interesting effects woven into the mix - a very distinctive sound, not meant for mainstream mediocrity.
MOOD   Sinking Shade has a plaintive theme with a very personal thread running from start to finish. The lyrics are full of emotion - songs of loss, longing and regret - these accompanied by the poignant musical create a strong impact on the listener. Perhaps weightier, more intense overall than Salt Box Lane - Sinking Shade sounds quite forlorn and cold at times ... however, in the context of Harland's powerful musical story-telling this is no bad thing at all. There are pieces of warmth and brightness, the tempo picking up and fluttering along - but songs here are quite capable of running from one mood to another with startling effectiveness - a very compelling balance of bitter-sweet.
ARTWORK   Artwork is simple - a white background with a posterised image of the singer fronts the cover. Relevant credits and tracklisting can be found on the rear.
OVERALL    Although this is the third solo CD to come from Harland - it was not the third to be written. Sinking Shade was produced after Shelley's debut Phoelar but before Salt Box Lane - these songs held back, not seeing the light of day until now. As with Salt Box Lane Shelley created this whole album alone - lyrics, voice, programming, the lot, with credits only for 'additional production' on a couple of tracks. The CD can be ordered from the website: Harlandmusic - if you enjoyed Salt Box Lane's emotional bite and musical honesty, you'll love this album. Don't think Sinking Shade has been released to fill a lull - apart from singing live with Delerium and providing vocals for a long list of top artists, a new project is on the way - watch out for Human II Human.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Harland fans will not be disappointed - but this album will likely also appeal to fans of bands like Delerium, Balligomingo, Mandalay. A must for female fronted trip-hop lovers - if you like beautiful, dark songs with electronic beats and synthetic structures - don't hesitate with this one.