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 ------Carbon Based Lifeforms - [Hydroponic Garden]
STYLE   Intricate, liquid clear downtempo rhythmic electronica. CBL make good use of clean pulsing basses, sequenced synths and undulating electronic tones & pads. There are a wealth of semi-submerged sonic ephemera, hypnotic effects and voices creating an interplay with the melodic structures - always well placed, carefully crafted and seemingly essential to the aural environment being established. The sound is very contemporary, the beats processed, programmed - no real drum kits sounds here. Frequently Hydroponic Garden gives the impression that there might just be another layer of sound somewhere on the edge of hearing below the obvious.

Almost dark - or rather, dimly lit shade with pools and clouds of blue/green coloured light. Hydroponic Garden evokes deserted, nocturnal urban visions - like watching the city at night from high up, behind glass. The atmosphere is eerily hi-tech, synthetic organic - glassy, aquatic chimes, swells, washes and contours; languid chilled beats; distant voices that don't address the listener but sound instead like random transmissions or moments of overheard whispering conversation.

ARTWORK   Hydroponic Garden comes as a luxuriant digipack suffused with cool blues and black, set between the two horizontal black panels common to many Ultimae Records releases. The artwork is as aesthetically pleasing as the music - I found myself wanting to like this album. The cover image, like the title, merges artifice with nature, a bio-digital photomontage. Inside the colour scheme is tastefully continued and the photography includes a suitably indistinct image of the artists. The text provides musical credits, a number of contacts for artists, label and other connected personnel along with numerous thank-yous.

Pure electronic instrumental bliss. Melodies on the CD tend to loop and repeat, being moody rather than 'catchy' - layers of sound fade in, overlay one another, evolve and slip away. The duo have established a sound that feels expensive - exquisitely crafted sounds, with myriad effects everywhere - pans, tone shifts, reverberations, constant intriguing incidentals - yet technique is never intrusive or overly self conscious. The percussive elements, when present, suggest drifting in slow motion over a world moving at double time. The laid back beats and strong melodic structures seem to dissipate somewhat as the album moves on - later tracks are increasingly ambient, with more drones and drifting structures as though night has taken deeper control. Tracks 1 to 8 fade one into another - there are interim silences after this, although the flow of track to track is still smooth.


Those looking for chilled sounds with some gravity, night music, ambience with a clear pulse. This is downtempo music for the cyber generation - ultramodern, hallucinatory sounds that make you feel cool just by listening. If you enjoy experimental downtempo synthesiser music that is still comfortably listenable, if you want something to drive to after dark, if you want something tranquil yet challenging - this could be the album for you.






 ------Thom Brennan - Shimmer



Five radiant tracks of soaring, shimmering ambience. Apart from the final track, there are no beats throughout the whole album. We have synth drones, sweeps of e-guitar and tinkling, sparkling chimes and bell trees all used to pull out and adorn long sustained drifts of sound. The album opens with the surprisingly brief 'Radiant Ice' at only 3.00" - however, the same densely layered chord structure is revisited on the final track 'Tundra', this time with the unexpected inclusion of some pitch manipulated taiko drums. The track Shimmer I sees the generally glassy liquid surface of Thom's soundscapes more greatly agitated than normal - the ambience being full of rippling tonal spangles, reverberations, gleams and twinkling textures.


Thom's music of this period very effectively endeavours to evoke landscapes through sound. Hence the mood set is tranquil, dramatic, expansive. There is powerful use of heavily layered synthesised atmospheres and deep organic texture planes. The tonal range is wide and varied making use of the whole sonic spectrum from low groaning bass pad sounds to the shining sibilant sheen of the top end. The track titles channel the mood pointed at by the cover imagery - Radiant Ice | Cavelight | Shimmer I | Shimmer II | Tundra - so the sounds suggest light on water, ice crystals, breezes and rock formations.

ARTWORK   The main feature of the artwork on the version I have is the beautiful landscape imagery of Darrell Cox. A single scene is captured at different distances - a glowing grey/orange sunset sky lit with yellows, reflected in still water disturbed by the faintest of ripples and a solitary water bird. Black silhouetted trees and reflections of trees are in turn reflected in the solid black of the graphic panels. The text is functional, creating the minimum interference, sending the eye repeatedly back to the evocative photography.
OVERALL    Five glorious studio improvisations that make up 'soundwork impressions' of pastoral panoramas. A CD to loop and leave on continual playback - bringing an intuitive warm serenity (despite the icy nature of some of the titles). I found that the drums on track 5 affected my feelings toward the whole CD - Thoms sonic scenery is never static, but once the drums roll in, the whole vista begins to move, evoking the cycles of nature, the very pulse of the earth. Even after the drums have faded once more, my consciousness of movement is heightened when listening to the other tracks.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   If you like Thom Brennan's music - this is not going to disappoint. Pure floating, ambient music with intriguing depth and colour. The taiko drums on the final track might appeal to some of the world-fusion fans out there - although the underlying structure is still ambient and drifting rather than melodic. Music to lie back and float upon, to paint or create to, to form a calm reflective atmosphere.





 ------Steve Roach - Holding The Space:Fever Dreams II



Rhythmic ambient atmospheres with strong tribal influences continue the theme opened in Fever Dreams Part I (read our review of that CD here). The beats are full of space and depth - strikingly fresh and modern but at the same time heavy with ancient pattern and percussion. The music is again without obvious melody - synths and effected guitars swelling and gliding among the beguiling repetition of the rhythms. The style is most striking altered from Fever Dreams I by the introduction of a timeless wailing female voice provided by Jennifer Grais. The interplay between agave didgeridoo and human voice on track 3 'Opening the Space' invites a whole new set of mental imagery - a new depth and colour summoning unconscious personal and archetypal interconnections and emotions.

MOOD   Holotropic "moving in the direction of wholeness" - which in sound terms means a bringing together of ambiguous sounds from different cultures, times, awarenesses and inspirations that encourages the listener (performer alike) to 'breathe deep, listen deep and deeper yet again'. Less oppressive in tone than Part I, the mood runs from pulsing, gasping breath-like tempos in Energy Well where the room seems to spin around you to the deeply tranquil, rolling rhythms of Holding the Space. Good use is made of hypnotic repetition throughout the album but the human element and sense of performance is strong.
ARTWORK   A similar approach to Part I - collaged imagery of microcosms, ancient motifs, textures and galaxies consciously vague, photo-impressionistic. As with the music there is a greater depth here, more pages, more information and the burning feeling has subsided somewhat. Sleeve notes include Steve's explanation of the effect that 'consciousness pioneer' Stan Grof's work has had on the project and a full double page excerpt from the book Psychology of the Future that leads us deeper into understanding the nature of the Fever Dreams we are experiencing. The imagery now seems perfect - visions that could well be something experienced in a state of 'Holotropic Consciousness".
OVERALL    Here we have seven tracks featuring again Byron Metcalf on frame drum, shakers and clay pots with the addition of Mark Seelig on flute and Jennifer Grais' soaring vocals. Steve's own credits include six foot agave didgeridoo, hybrid grooves spirit air, guitar atmospheres and synth soundworlds. Deeply introspective music - with a clear vision, yet with enough open space to invite your own panoramas. If Part III of the trilogy continues this build up, we are in for a real treat.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   If you enjoyed Fever Dreams I - I personally think this CD is even better. If you enjoy ambient music with a clear beat, tribal undertones and a deeply intellectual underpinning - this is for you. Not a CD for creating a serene atmosphere - but for exploring your own philosophies, mythologies, experiences and emotions. More gentle than Part I - but with greater space ..... go for this CD if you want to begin delving into ambient music but aren't yet ready for something too unstructured.





 ------Govinda - Worlds Within



Govinda's press release describes Worlds Within as 'a deep dub groove based transglobal journey into the mysterious downtempo moods of Govinda' - not a bad choice of words. This CD is primarily beat-driven instrumental building an ambient chillout mood interwoven with Shane O'Maden's ethnically influenced violin work and a variety of ethnic voice samples. The beats mostly have a 'real' drum kit sound rather than clearly the programmed approach favoured by others in the same genre.

MOOD   Trippy mid-eastern flavoured, downtempo electronica with enough open space to invite personal mental excursions. Most of the tracks are easy beats and laid back electronic atmospheres dipping into global pools but maintaining an over-riding western approach. Cover notes explain that the music was created 'from complete emotional extremes', yet the end result is comfortably unified and generally blissful. No dark tracks interrupt the gently floating lightness within - no extreme tempos deviate very far from the inviting trip-hop pace.
ARTWORK   A sharp digipack where a simple cosmic bloom forms the main image with a misted tessellated background fading in and out. There are tantalisingly tiny lines of mysterious text that are too indistinct to read even when magnified. The emphasis is on the ambiguously ethnic as is developed in the music itself. Inside the cover everything is a glowing pastel cyan/grey - the world within - we have Govinda's explanation of the inspiration for the music and some simple credits for each track.
OVERALL    Govinda is quoted as saying 'I fell in love with the violin when I was eight years old and started playing classical music. I became interested in gypsy music and other music that represents my ancestry, which got me into the World music scene - specifically Middle Eastern, Indian, Celtic and Flamenco music. I began to blend this music with a more danceable, kind of trippy, funky psychedelic sound.....hip hop-trip hop beats with a wonderful world/middle eastern flavor'. That's pretty much what we have here - a consciously artificial juxtaposition of influences that works surprisingly well.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Fans of exotic electronica, lovers of trip-hop tinted world fusion. Govinda's sound leans on the dubby, beat-driven end of the spectrum, the world sounds are generally vocal as opposed to instrumental and most voices sing reverb-drenched snippets rather than full vocal performances. Twelve tracks to lay back and loosen up to - or to get up and dance lazily to .... you choose.





 ------vidnaObmana - Tremor



Strongly percussive dark ambient. This album comprises 11 pieces that fade effortlessly into each other with ominously smooth production. Contemporary electronica and ethnic acoustics conjure up moments of tribal, ritualistic rhythm interspersed with tenebrous passages of slightly unhinged roiling ambience. This is serious music with a great sense of bold exploration. vidnaObmana fans will notice some sound washes hark back somewhat to the early experiments with noise, here increasingly carefully crafted and more subtly utilised. The cover notes list: fujaras, overtone flutes, dreampipe, recycling and abstract mutations, voices, electric guitar and EBow among vidnaObmana's sonic arsenal.

The mood is what you'd expect from a collection inspired by Dante's Inferno without falling into the obvious treatment. The line quoted on the rear cover says: "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost." - Canto I from Dante's Inferno. So this album is a darksound, timelessly primitive, weaving dissonance and harmony producing a feeling of anticipation and disorientation. Melodies twist and writhe atop an other-worldly sound canvas that builds and falls like the wind or ticks like an enormously complex tribal dance.

ARTWORK   Dark and monochrome - photographs of (petrified?) wood combine with sharp graphics and a hazy portrait photograph (of the artist I assume) to form a package that feels serious from first glance. The shady artwork and clear text work in harmony to make up a powerful single visual entity. We have the quote from Inferno, a track list with track times, recording details, a contact email address (always a nice touch) - but also plenty of pure graphic space where the imagery luxuriantly spreads itself across whole pannels. The CD itself is black.

Tremor is the first CD in a trilogy leading on to later releases 'Spore' and 'Legacy', using for each chapter a specific quote from Dante's Inferno. Yet although Inferno has been influential upon this trilogy vidnaObmana describes this as a musical journey where "for every person, the journey is uniquely personal". This is certainly true since this music will take you to different places dependent upon your mindset and experience. Be prepared for a serious listening experience with little in the way of light or brightness - but this isn't necessarily a frightening album any more than darkness itself is necessarily uncomfortable.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Dark ambient fans, lovers of instrumental music that pushes back boundaries, ethnic/industrial wanderers. vidnaObmana lovers will likely enjoy this new chapter bringing together sounds from different eras of the artist's history in a very different manner from Anthology. There are beats, beatless passages, heavy layers of 'recycled and abstract mutations', ethnic elements and a rich textured darkness running like a captivating thread throughout everything.





 ------Steve Roach - Mantram



The Steve Roach web site states that this CD has "a reverence for the slowing of time which allows the natural reflective process to emerge". There is a slow heartbeat-like acoustic frame drum (played by Byron Metcalf) gently pumping among overtone voices, didgeridoo, bansuri flute, and tamboura drones. The ambient mix created here has the organic texture of a natural musical performance. Mark Seelig's bansuri weaves in and out of the mix lending subtle melody lines and Stefin Gordon fingers a droning tamboura beneath. The eight tracks are numbered rather than named and flow from one to another without the interruption of three or four second silences.
MOOD   A swaying, undulating sound conjuring up the Indian sub-continent that disguises the underlying synths, guitars and electronic elements presenting them as a natural part of a timeless ceremonial music. Peaceful, contemplative, hypnotic - the unhurried, rolling grooves and drones languorously revolve in soporific spirals and then fade away in turn to be replaced by the next rising movement.
ARTWORK   Opulent kaleidoscopic, mandala-like discs of purple and cyan tones are adorned with middle-eastern scripts and motifs. Centrally there is the suggestion of something galactic - a star burst, a nebula - reminding us that this is not a repetition of something past. The lettering is an elegant script style beautifully complementing the imagery. The overall impression is one of past meets future - just as the music is an evolution or extrapolation of the traditional so too the imagery evokes time in both directions.
OVERALL    Eight ethnically stained rhythmic canvases that clearly belong in one uniform gallery. Steve Roach has produced material with a 'tribal' tenor before now - but this CD more strongly than ever feels grounded in a particular unspecified middle-eastern location. There are melodies of a kind since the bansuri flute is primarily a melody instrument - however, the melodies produced here are heavily draped in ambience and dissolve easily into the drones and sustained tones smoothly heaving beneath. This is perhaps one of Steve's more easy to listen to albums - feeling accessible even on a first hearing.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Ethno-ambient travellers, those looking for a sustained exotic mood, anyone wanting ambient music with a global beat to it and an introspective tranquillity. Karunesh too recently produced a CD built around Asian sounds in Call of the Mystic - but, whereas, his music develops gentle new age melodies, Mantram is more sober, unstructured, mesmerising, pensive.