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 ------Achillea - Amadas Esrellas

In keeping with his 'enigmatic' roots Jens Gad opens this latest album with a brief ambient introduction and a half whispered female voice - this time, however, the voice remains - becoming the central element in most of the tracks. Spanish singer Luisa Fernandez speaks in low, reverberating, seductive tones, sings with breathy romantic Spanish charm and indeed soars with impressive power and emotion when required. Achillea's rich, comfortable beats blending programmed sounds, hand drumming and unique effects underpin smooth synthetic pads and washes and Jen's distinctive guitar wizardry. The odd shakuhachi and flute sample as well as Chinese er-hu snatches and some familiar pitch shifted chants retain connection with the musical heritage that Achillea proudly develops. Alas del Aguila includes some delightful ethnic wind instrument samples, cleverly juxtaposed against powerful choral voices showcasing the more grandiose side of Achillea - sweeping and dramatic.

ARTWORK   A semi-classical image of a female figure entangled in billowing folds of dark drapery fronts the package - appearing again inside and on the reverse in detail or close-up. Everything has a russet/terracotta hue that lends that suggestion of age or artefact status to the imagery. The back cover reminds us that Achillea is aimed at lovers of Enigma music - although following a separate path, this is an album that retains the unique beauty of the genre. The sleeve unfolds into three sections with information not only about Luisa and Jens' collaboration here, but also on Sequoia Records own vision - a page being given over to a section of the label's other releases.

Achillea II or Amadas Estrellas is another strong release from Jens Gad - following on the heels of Le Spa Sonique, Enigmatic Obsession and, of course, Achillea I - The Nine Worlds. Here the approach is one of consistency with previous albums - new ground is not broken in terms of compositional methods, however the new songs are beautifully crafted and surely welcomed by anyone that loves this special style of music. This time the chilled electronics are somewhat less ambient and more beat driven than The Nine Worlds, gone are the semi classical vocalisations of Helene Horlyck - instead we have the rich, dulcet Latin love poems of Luisa Fernandez.





 ------Ashtech - Walkin' Target
STYLE   Serious urban dub electronica. Although nowhere near the genre of the same name, Walkin' Target is primarily an album of drum and bass - heavy, blunt basses, as deep as it gets, loll along leading, dominating this series of shady arrangements, these work in tight partnership with a live drum approach that benefits from some deft, inventive programming. Melody lines are not prominent on Walkin' Target appearing as underplayed, short phrases or strongly effected motifs - more up front are a powerful array of cutting edge, digital effects that consistently enliven the upper tonal range, at times enveloping the whole fabric of the music, processing the lot, breaking it down, twisting the sound completely before dropping everything back into renewed clarity. Most of the identifying sounds of the dub reggae genre are employed - punctuating stabs of guitar or keyboard, those distinctive rhythmic devices and echoing hits, the strongly accented MC vocals proclaiming ghetto injustices and, of course, that gut pounding fat bass.
MOOD   This is a tightly structured album of inner city grit and twilight grey - that said there is plenty of heart and feeling here, an inner warmth permeating the tough exterior - some pieces bounce along in an almost amiable rolling meter and there are plenty of strong dance tracks that defy inaction. Walkin' Target also has a sincerity about it - Ashtech hasn't just adopted this style as an appealing flavour - the roots of this album appear firmly dug into a real commitment to both style and content.
ARTWORK   A tasty package coming in digipack format - everything is in appropriate shades of inner city grey. The front cover presents a darkened multi-storey car park, deserted, pooled with artificial light, busy graffiti crawling over the walls. The reverse homes in on a concrete floor - track titles overlaid in white. Opening out into three panels the inside is black - panel one holding, in white font, credits and contact details - panel two a low key chiaroscuro portrait of the artist emerging dramatically from shadow - panel three simply holds the CD on black plastic. The remaining flipside panel holds a generous paragraph of thanks, a dedication and website details.
OVERALL    Following on the heels of Interchill's Subsignals Volume 1 - this CD delivers a credibility and authenticity that isn't always present in electronic, downtempo dub. Ashtech himself began his musical career as a dj and bass player - these origins clearly shaping the foundations of his solo debut here. Ashtech acknowledges a debt to prime collaborator Gaudi who shared writing, playing, arranging and production duties. In addition Leftfield's Cheshire Cat brings some impassioned roots reggae vocal performances to the four non-instrumental tracks. Promotional material explains that Walkin' Target is "an intersection of original dub styles and urban electronica ... with an emphasis on live sound manipulations and high-end engineering". A strong album - if dub is your thing and you'd like something to hit you hard and low, this is an album well worth exploring.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Walkin' Target will likely cross boundaries in my opinion - Ashtech's sinewy downtempo likely appealing to chillout lovers, dub reggae fans and anyone up for a dance - this music has such driving rhythms that it pretty much dances for you!




 ------Monoceros - Tales For Silent Nights
STYLE   Soft ambient pads, glitchy beats and light, clean electronica. Tales for Silent Nights is an excellent series of atmospheric compositions very well produced. Smooth, soft focus backdrops fluctuate in loops, repeating patterns and shifting, filmy, gossamer abstraction. These are overlaid with fractured beats built up of clicks, ticks, blips, static and crackle with strong kicks - although quite busy, these complex beats are wrapped up in a downtempo laziness that is welcome and soothing. Melodies range from dreamy and blissful such as on the appropriately titled 'Warm', through elegant beauty to mechanical sharpness and edgy shadow. The sound palette includes a number of guitar based sounds such as the harmonic plucks that set the pace for 'Background Birds' and a variety of echoing stabs and almost sci-fi zaps, squishes and sonic flares. The occasional harshness of the synthetic leads often resolves beguilingly into an overall restfulness once all of the musical elements are all in place and complementing one another.
MOOD   There is a dignified warmth about this album like the glow of soft artificial light against evening gloom. There is, however, also the chill of the shadow behind the light - many of the atmospheres presenting a slightly uneasy darkness lurking beyond the more harmonious elements. At times the crisp electronic percussives and bleeps develop a jagged edge, sparking like live electricity, static crackling in the air.
ARTWORK   Tales For Silent Nights comes in a tasteful digipack fronted by one of the artist's own photographs - a night shot of a deserted road, the verge illuminated by the headlights of an unseen vehicle, pylons disappearing into a distant vanishing point ... but then the hazy red glow of a misty aurora is seen hanging across the bright disc of the moon. This cover image runs over onto about a quarter of the back panel - the rest is flat black for the title list. Inside the package opens onto more night black - CD on the left, text on the right ... brief recording details, thanks and contact information.

Monoceros is Spanish based musician Joan Malé who also owns and runs the label Imaginary Nonexistent Records (INR) as a vehicle for his creations. Tales For Silent Nights is the second album under the Monoceros title but the prolific Joan also produces music under the aliases Salad, .Exe and Lumière, each project focussing on a different specific style. This is a strong album of cutting edge digital electronica in my opinion that has some delightful highlights and an overall tastefulness that makes me want to like each track. If you are familiar with the sounds of such labels as Expanding Records or Static Caravan you'll have an idea of the sound Monoceros works with - night time shades, artificial luminance, organic-mechanic crispness and ambient warmth.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Monoceros produces pure electronica for fans of lazy glitch filled ambient beat music. This is well crafted, intelligent music in the same overall field as Sabi, Sleepy Town Manufacture and Sutemos material.




 ------Tajmahal - Star Circus
STYLE   Highly atmospheric downtempo trance excursions. Star Circus consists of eight lengthy tracks that benefit from an enjoyably loose structure ranging from almost ambient emptiness to thumping regularity. The opener strays through various phases of deeply chilled, moodiness - a female voice muses in a detached tone, flute phrases breathe organic life and synthetic textures shift and flux whilst beats roll in and out unpredictably. This free approach to arrangement, avoiding any verse/chorus/verse system is a joy to experience, allowing Tajmahal and collaborators to tell musical stories with powerful narratives. There are passages of arpeggiated notes and driving basses (more so as the album progresses), world elements such as international vocal samples, tabla grooves and flute wavs, and vocalisations ranging from unearthly wails to controlled intellectualising. The electronica is a good balance of programmed regularity and performed individuality - very distinctive and varied.
ARTWORK   The CD comes in a suitably dark digipack - an engraved disc of dark gold dominating the front cover. On the rear is another circular design - this time in outline - as a backdrop for the track titles and bpm counts for each piece. The package opens out into two sections - CD on the right and information opposite. A beautifully captured daisy image with purple shadow and overlaid ring patterns holds the centre of the left section - a passionate piece of verse above and extensive thanks below.

Tajmahal (aka Stephane Gallay) presents his first solo album on Taj's own Electrik Dream Records and features arrangements from the artist and a series of like minded acts. Chilled C'Quence, Master Margherita, Morphonix, Phytosophie, Flooting Grooves and Mungusid all contribute their individual talents to different tracks in collaboration with Tajmahal resulting in a coherent CD that has plenty of character and variety. Promotional material explains "Tajmahal’s style of composition shows his music as a bridge between trance and downtempo rhythms. His key is to follow the path of his feelings in the music he composes". This free approach to composition allows tracks to unfurl into ambient, atmosphere and amorphous space before looming into mesmerising rhythm, taking unexpected twists and turns along the way. Production is by Electrik Dream Records with mastering by Taj & Huby Sea @ Ultimae.





 ------Bruno Sanfilippo - Piano Textures

A suite of eight haunting piano ambiences laden with lush sustain. Piano Textures is built around the rich, uncluttered sound of a solo Steinway lady grand piano supported by a variety of strings, synths and the unique strains of the duduk. Minimal melody lines unfold in unhurried patterns - delicate, resonant - sometimes brief phrases repeating with variation of intensity, structure, emphasis or perhaps with the supporting sounds subtly altered. Sometimes the sonic air is thick with reverberation, the piano accompanied by its own ripples, low notes almost rumbling, eerie effects keening in the distance. The processed notes seem to become increasingly tuneful as the album progresses - yet never overly so - always restrained. Sleeve notes explain that the compositions are arranged in chronological order.

MOOD   Bruno Sanfilippo plays with an elegant simplicity that is a true delight to hear - restful arrangements that soothe, enchant and absorb the listener. Many of the tracks have a melancholy feel that is all the more doleful in such sparcity of expression. This introspective sadness becomes almost tangible at times, in some of the more melodic parts there is a beautiful aching sensation. There is also a brooding, ethereal quality often present - the atmosphere both powerfully intense and delicate at the same time.
ARTWORK   The front cover image initially hits the eye as a glowing abstraction in orange/red - on closer inspection swirls of hair, fabric and ambiguous colour present a variety of visual textures. On the rear, another red texture image is montaged with a faint window photograph - here is a simple track list with associated timings. Inside the sleeve opens to reveal a muted portrait of the artist positioned at ninety degrees to the text that could almost be missed on first glance. Here we find some explanatory notes, a dedication, credits and contact details.
OVERALL    Piano Textures is the latest in a growing list of powerful instrumental releases from Bruno Sanfilippo - Sons of the light [1991], The New Kingdom [1995], Solemnis [1998] Suite Patagonia [2000], Visualia [2003], Indalo with Max Corbacho [2004], ad Libitum [2004], Anthology 1991-2004 [2005], InTRO [2006], Piano Textures [May 2007]. This album presents the sounds of the piano "sampled by post musical instruments, with 10 recorded velocity layers with 10 separate sustain pedal down layers and release triggered samples". The results are truly amazing - lush, evocative compositions that fill the minds eye with associative imagery. The recordings were made at night and the tracks reflect this nocturnal influence throughout.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   Piano Textures will appeal to anyone that enjoys atmospheric ambience with just enough melody to touch the heart. If you enjoy processed piano minimalism don't miss this one.




 ------Parallel Worlds - Obsessive Surrealism

Moody electronica with strong structures and deep atmospheric backdrops. Obsessive Surrealism delivers eleven melodic synthesiser tracks where low key beats or driving electro-grooves propel shadowy compositions with periodic hints of exposed Berlin roots. Rhythmic sequencer patterns work in tandem with programmed percussion to give most pieces a clearly measured pace, that said, the grooves often break down into fluttering interludes or textural ambient explorations. Parallel Worlds makes abundant use of analogue hardware to create a sound that harks back to the electronica of previous decades whilst set within a twenty first century context. The melodic content is understated, sometimes carried by drifting chord progressions; sometimes dimly lit phrases shot through with percolating, flickering sequences.

MOOD   The range of synthetic sound here is broad, inventive and engrossing; the style also quite varied from track to track - yet the whole album is very coherent, establishing a well thought out sonic environment. There is a fairly consistent shadow hanging over most of this album - low light technology and mysterious spaciness combining into sinewy, ominous themes. The beats at their most strident produce an engine-like drive, a dramatic futuristic regularity, almost militaristic - but frequently these are allowed to break down or disperse into lighter rhythms or even into beatless expanse.
ARTWORK   An abstract image that looks something like a photograph taken from a TV screen fills three panels of this package - thin horizontal bands of blue, red and green form dark geometric shapes - on the front a narrow white vertical strip holds the titles and the DiN catalogue numeral 26. On the reverse a broader strip of white holds track titles and their timings as well as informing listeners that this is a limited edition of 1000 copies only. Inside the two leaf booklet opens out to reveal a bank of sound gear illuminated by small rows of lights, meters and glowing digits. Facing this large image, the remaining inner panel is again white with black text in a simple font - a repeated track list, credits and thanks along with a gear list of 'selected equipment'.
OVERALL   Parallel Worlds is primarily the project of Greek musician Bakis Sirros, although collaborators occasionally lend their talents to the name. Here Obsessive Surrealism is appropriately presented via Ian Boddy's DiN label - the experimental, slightly ambient approach to pure electronica fitting nicely into the label's catalogue. Promotional material explains that "Parallel Worlds use mostly Hardware machines. Mainly huge Analogue Modular systems and Analogue Step Sequencers of the past and present combined with digital FM and virtual analogue synths and sampling". This love of gear is evident in the soundscaping of the music - in addition to the emotive nature of the compositions themselves, there is a clear delight in sound sculpture and sonic layering - clearly a lot of time has gone into the production of this album. Bakis Sirros is also behind the new IDM/electronica project Interconnected with Ingo Zobel (of DRON, Signalform, Self Oscillate, Datasette) and the Ambient / experimental project called Memory Geist with Steve Law (of Zen Paradox, Starseed Transmission, Guild Of Fire, etc.).

Obsessive Surrealism will likely please DiN regulars as well as fans of evolving Berlin school electronica. Go for this one if you enjoy moody synthetics with clear beats and ambient cloudscapes.