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 ------Various Artists - Ambient Planet Vol. 2
MUSIC   Bright collection of slightly dub edged, chillout and global fusion instrumentals. Ambient Planet Volume 2 gathers some cutting edge downtempo tracks that have a slightly meditative quality, vibrant electronic programming and some strong emotive beats. Global elements such as multi-lingual voice samples, ethnic strings and loops are liberally employed, often with some digital enhancements or effects added. The twang of Asian and African wires over an electronic foundation compliments Pedra Branca's use of effected Indian drum talk on 'Metamúsica', Zen Baboon's hyper tranquil 'Cabeça Alta' sees a melodic trance approach taken down to an easy tempo, synthetic washes and sequences lazy and restful. There are, however, some slightly darker pieces with more insistent beats such as the loping contributions by Waterjuice and Digital Mystery Tour where shady motifs and moody psychedelia combine with some wah wah guitar gymnastics and hypnotic cycles. There are points of tribal intensity and some open ambient spaces, there are low key interludes that swell up climactically and there are some good solid grooves that could be danced to if that's your desire.
ARTWORK   A tropical sunset against silhouetted palms forms the thematic content of Ambient Planet 2. Symmetrically spread across two panels of the main booklet - this key image is here sandwiched between generous vertical borders of white. On the reverse of the jewel case the same shot sits above a complete tracklist and behind the CD a clever manipulation sees the scene twisted and recurring into fractal infinity. Inside an enlarged negative image acts as backdrop to an extended tracklist, project description and a presentation of contact and credit details.
OVERALL    Promotional material explains that this album is "the attempt to recreate in 75 minutes's concept as ambient promoters. Musicians and music with different backgrounds, a small recollection of some of the sounds made actually under the sign of ambient atmospheres". Released on Flow Records and mixed by Elektra at, the album is mastered by Huby Sea and Vincent Villuis at Ultimae. Tracks interfade one into another forming one smooth whole concluding with a remix of Insum by Solar Fields; Magnus delivering in this case a version somewhat less ambient than the original, full of synthetic colour with a breathy voice and some deft hand-drumming. This album will suit downtempo lovers looking for something with plenty of rhythm and a rich electronic tapestry spangled with world sounds and the occasional fragmented spoken voice floating on the air.




 ------Jens Gad - Le Spa Sonique
MUSIC   Chilled instrumentals that feature deep enigmatic beats, emotive guitar lines and assorted synthetic melodies. Le Spa Sonique presents a series of moody downtempo arrangements built around velvet chords and smooth synth washes enhanced by various shimmering effects and highly polished digital production. Jens Gad's music has a strong percussive side, utilising the kind of seductive beats perfected by Jens and Michael Cretu. There are slight tribal hints at times to the rhythms, but always serene, lush and deep. Chimes, pianos, strings and voice effects broaden the sound palette and the vocal contributions of Luisa Fernandez and Helene Horlyck respectively add sensual whispers and operatic soaring on El Momento and Cape Blanc. Jens plays guitar on a number of tracks deftly using the instrument to create mood and atmosphere with subtle themes and licks rather than as a display of manual dexterity - muted settings and harmonics often set deep into the overall mix.
ARTWORK   A girl's face bisected by the edge of the front panel stares at the viewer from behind a striking pink orchid - pastel pink clouds against a white sky over her shoulder. The effect is one of cultivated tranquility, the atmosphere of a spa created for bathing in sound. The orchid reappears on most panels - on the rear like a garland encircling the track titles and a brief description of the musical content. Tracks have their times listed alongside each one - ranging from a one and a half minute introduction to the longest at just over six minutes. Within, the insert opens into three sections - on one side another girl, flower and atmosphere image, soft and pale - on the other a different presentation within each panel. The first contains a portrait of the artist at his keyboard and brief credits, the second highlights a cross section of the Sequoia Records catalogue, the third an explanation of the Sequoia Groove project "Redefining the musical territory of Downtempo/Chill-out/Lounge/Global Electronica.

Le Spa Sonique follows on the heels of two other Jens Gad projects - Achillea - The Nine Worlds recorded with Helene Horlyck and The Secret of Seduction released under the name Enigmatic Obsession, exploring ideas expanding some of the themes opened up by Enigma. Fans of these two albums will surely enjoy Le Spa Sonique as Jens' trademark sound is clearly evident once more. If anything, this current album is somewhat more subtle than its predecessors - more a collection of mood music. Watch out for another Achillea CD in the near future.






 ------Sounds From The Ground - High Rising
MUSIC   Downtempo urban instrumentals with hints of dub and nocturnal lounge influences. Sounds From The Ground build cool, shadowy arrangements around seriously chilled beats and clear blunt basses. The instrumentation comes largely from a lounge sound palette with vibes and chimes, silken synths and subtle electronica all laid down very smoothly. Most melodic lines are carefully understated, often brief phrases, sometimes repeated in shifting cycles, working more as creators of mood than as sing-along themes. There is a vocal track entitled Beautiful Feeling featuring the subdued singing of guest artist Taz, Gaudi also guests on Palmprint where dub rhythms and offbeat guitar chops combine with echoing effects and some reverb drenched snare hits. Although often quite strongly effected, many drum tracks on the album stick to a form that sounds playable by a live drummer
ARTWORK   Cool greys, icy blues and a lot of black - photo-images of cityscapes cover the sleek digipack throughout. Sanitised skyscrapers under steel skies looming out of brooding shadows. The package opens out into three folds, somewhat brighter within, although sticking with the concrete and glass theme ... here a huge cloud enshrouded earth dwarfs the foreground architecture. An expanded tracklist is here on the leftmost panel - on the right are relevant thanks, credits and website details along with cover shots of the bands previous releases.
OVERALL    Nick Woolfson and Elliot Morgan Jones have been recording since around 1994 and playing the occasional live set. The duo describe their sound as "warm, deep and funky electronic music". High Rising is the fifth album under the name Sounds From The Ground, released once more on Waveform Records. Set off by the title and complementary images on the packaging, High Rising establishes a contemporary city atmosphere, bright like the glint of dawn over the rooftops or at times more like the pooled light of night spots and bar life. This CD is not about the grit of the dirty streets, the squalor of urban life, here we're floating above everything, reflected in window grids, lazy and serene.




 ------State Of Grace III

Graceful orchestral arrangements with electronic enhancements and ethereal/choral female vocals. Sumptuous strings and choirs skilfully employed are given a contemporary delivery combined with Paul Schwartz's subtle synthetic sounds - this rich instrumental blend gleams and glistens against bright beats and crystalline production. Crowning most pieces are the voices of Lisbeth Scott, Rebecca Luker and The New Amsterdam Singers. Tracks vary in nature - beatless in places, classical structures, folk influences in evidence at times - upbeat, soaring and blissful; downtempo gentle, romantic drama; piano or acoustic guitar against velvet vocals. However, everything comes within the overall sphere of cultured, emotive harmony forming a coherent vision. Perhaps State Of Grace is most beautiful when exploring cinematic moodiness such as that of 'Listen' where twilight strains and a muted beat make Lisbeth Scott's voice appear all the more angelic and beautiful in delightful contrast.

ARTWORK   As with previous State Of Grace CDs layered opulence, huge wings, twirling scrollwork and classical elegance pervades the packaging. A cherubic girl bathed in gold fronts the digipack, leaf outlines and overlaid textures deepening the overall visual impact. The distinctive State Of Grace logo shares centre stage maintaining the connection with the first two albums in the series. A timed tracklist appears on the rear and is expanded on the first panel within the gatefold. When fully expanded the golden inner triptych of spread pinions, a bird in flight, russet foliage and spiral vines supports various thanks, orchestral and additional credits and the CD itself on the extreme right.
OVERALL    Following State Of Grace and State Of Grace II, this latest release builds on the original departure from Paul Schwartz's successful Aria series. Whereas Aria explores a theatrical world of familiar operatic and classical compositions State Of Grace inhabits a more spiritual territory often built around Latin texts and original compositions. This third album is intended to be "overtly visceral and gripping, as opposed to the more contemplative nature of the first two SOGs". Packaged in shades of gold, State Of Grace III has a golden quality to sound as well as vision, lustrous, eloquent and luxuriant.




 ------Priscilla Hernandez - Ancient Shadow
STYLE   Timeless ethereal songs with lush strings, downtempo percussion and passionate piano arrangements. Ancient Shadows opens with a piece of pure atmosphere - heavenly voice, smooth cinematic strokes and the calls of crows - this brief cut sets the tone for the rest of the album with an interplay of fairy tale light and haunted darkness running throughout. There are electrobeats and synthetic colours, plaintive piano chords and emotive orchestral strains forming a lush foundation for Pricilla's captivating vocals. Songs here are delicate and angelic, full of feeling and strong imagery - exploring themes and stories from dreams both benign and disquieting and developing ideas grown out of the mists of ancient folk lore and intimate imagination. Pricilla Hernandez also plays a number of the instruments on the album including keyboards, recorder, flute and whistle. The tracks here range from simple structures of voice and strings or piano through to some rather sweeping compositions, always with the sound revolving around a central vocal uniting everything storybook melancholy.

Overall a mood of romantic wistfulness touched with gothic shadow pervades this release. Edging toward folk music at times but mostly maintaining a contemporary edge and a movie score ambience. The cover imagery paints a gloomy world of pooled light and heavy silhouette and the music works within this same tonal range - brooding flights of fancy, crepuscular skies spied through knotted and ivy laced foliage, a female voice on the breeze hanging before unfathomable cloudbanks.

ARTWORK   The artwork for this album is very generous with a three panel digipack opening out to reveal not one but two glossy booklets within. Everything is an ashen, purple tinted grey - a photographic portrait of the artist on the front cover with outstretched arm and the shadows of crows transparent against the dense air. On the reverse is one of Priscilla's illustrations - a pale skinned, fair haired figure in flowing robes of black, white and grey - an impression the singer that appears with numerous variations across the package. Opening up the sleeve reveals the dual nature of the project - gloom and twilight to the left, dappled woods and shafts of sunlight to the right. The twin booklets contain credits, lyrics, explanations of all songs and the project overall along with thanks all set against an array of powerful illustrations and photographs. The back page of one booklet includes a special code that unlocks some exclusive internet content that can be reached through a URL for the fan club.

Ancient Shadows is a fully independent release that has allowed Pricilla Hernandez to present a lavish package that is brimming with music and artwork. As both songwriter and illustrator, she has brought her varied skills together to deliver a fantasy world of combined photomontage and painting, musical programming and performance. Promotional material explains that this is "a compilation of themes I’ve written on over the years. Some of them have been rescued from my childhood long before I ever dared to sing them. Some hidden in folders full of dust, others that have always been muttered shyly till I gave them a new shape". Collaborators on the project include guitarist Gaston Iungman, who plays on the track Nightmare with Héctor Corcin bringing his skills as co-mixer working on mastering, production and also developing some electronic pads and live percussion (including a frying pan) and electronic drums.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   This album will appeal to lovers of melancholy songs and fantasy ballads - the album leans a little toward new age aesthetics with plenty of gothic shade.




 ------Enigma - A Posteriori
STYLE   Enigmatic space alchemy as only Michael Cretu can produce. The Enigma signature sound remains yet now it has evolved and shifted - gone are the abundant monks chants from early releases, ethnic samples and voices too are absent, no overt classical adaptations or borrowings - the Engima approach is here stripped down, polished and refined. A Posteriori follows the trajectory tentatively established on Voyageur but avoids all of the pitfalls, working as a coherent and solid album. The electronics and synthesiser work hold centre stage more than before with the hooks coming primarily in the form of unusual sculpted sound and emotive melodic development. There are themes that sound hauntingly familiar, references backward, recycled, renewed and refreshed. The beats are again deep and seductive, mostly downtempo with lulling rhythm and just enough bite.
MOOD   The spacey mood established on A Posteriori avoids the clichés of the genre, managing to capture a mystical remoteness, a sense of wandering the infinite whilst still attached to a clear thread anchored somewhere in Engima's musical heritage. Initially the album might appear to be almost lacking something with most of the chants, world sounds and evocative samples missing ... yet as the intent of A Posteriori becomes clear, the beauty and familiarity of the electronica seems to blossom into fullness, a new focus, a freshness born out of simplicity. Although looking to the future, this is an album with a timelessness about it, there are hints of nostalgia, contemporary structures, peculiar strains from who-knows-where ... Enigma is doing here what Enigma does best, simply being Enigma.
ARTWORK   This has to be one of Enigma's most beautifully illustrated releases to date. The digipack version especially is a delight to explore. Dirk Rudolf's imagery brings a classy mystique that perfectly parallels Michael Cretu's sonic vision - inky darkness lit up with montaged elements that are textured in antique sepia, luminous pink graphics sparingly interwoven - a female figure, nautical instruments, organic-mechanic tendrils and growths, winged insects, arcane text, shadowy planetary orbs - all combine with elegant balance. The overall effect is stunning, reminiscent of a museum exhibit, a scientific presentation, a fashion shoot, a coded chart, a poster for your wall - very attractive. The digipack opens into three panels flooded with visuals - the only text, apart from the title, is found curled into the imagery, track names presented as part of the mathematical equipment itself. Inside - no text again until you hold the sleeve at the right angle, then the glossy surface of embossed letters on a matt background catch the eye. A six panel fold-out is concealed in one of the sleeve sections - again lush imagery from end to end, the two leftmost panels of the inner surface containing the lyrics, a dedication, credits and contact information. The jewelcase edition holds a similar six section fold-out but with a variation on the outer side so that the choice montages from the digipack are all included. The jewelcase is attractive no doubt, but if you want the ultimate Enigma experience get the digipack whist you can.
OVERALL    This is Enigma's sixth album to date and shows that Michael Cretu is still creating visionary sounds in field that has come to have many imitators. The title means 'after the fact' suggesting a looking back or a retrospective. For this album collaborators are minimal, only Louisa Stanley is credited with some narration on 'Dancing With Mephisto' and 'Goodbye Milky Way' - Michael Cretu writing, performing and producing the album largely alone. There is something of a chillout influence noticeable on some of the tracks, the pared down sound drawing attention to the synthetic tones and sequences - however, I understand that Michael played most of the pieces in real time. Singing is less in evidence than on some previous albums, with vocals frequently strongly treated with effects and buried deep into the overall mix - for me this works well, the Enigma magic maintains its charm more fully this way. The familiar horn sounds of previous introductions are again in evidence on 'Eppur Si Muove' (and yet it moves) indicating that we are still inhabiting Enigma territory despite the new direction, the semi-whispered female speech, the hints of droplets in the beats and just one Latin male voice - A Posteriori touches base. Fans might be interested to know that a few additional remixes are available from iTunes.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Enigma fans will need no bidding from me to buy this album - they will already have it. But I feel that the greater emphasis on synthetic instrumental sounds might see more tracks filtering onto the dancefloor perhaps.