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 ------Liquid Stranger - The Invisible Conquest
STYLE   Bass driven atmospheric chillout. Liquid Stranger creates mostly instrumental montages with strong rhythmic content - lumbering beats propel much of the music, the drum tracks taking a live sound approach although clearly with plenty of digital enhancements to keep the grooves lively and interesting; and some gutsy dub coloured bass lines that have no intention of sitting in the background. In keeping with its reggae roots The Invisible Conquest features a variety of the genre's trademark sounds - although most have a new twist, effected, distorted, reframed - brass phrases, gritty vocal snatches, echoing stabs and percussive flourishes. There are plenty of ambient corners and freeform introductions where special effects and unusual sonic juxtapositions create some evocative moodscapes. The overall effect is one of a heavy, prowling sound with psychedelic veils and tribal hints.

The Invisible Conquest is something of a melting pot, having the low end guts of a dub bass album and the chilled atmospheres of psychedelic downtempo. The lively percussion is suggestive of tribal rhythms at times, yet there is an urban aesthetic too. Not quite dwelling fully in the crepuscular cityscapes of some of its genre mates, this CD wanders from concrete grey shadows to lush exotic colour and even drifts skyward into the air during some of the lighter interludes.

ARTWORK   Presented in a three panel digipack The Invisible Conquest is fronted by a rainbow coloured snake emerging from a silhouetted tangle of black foliage. Green leaf edges bring a little more colour to this primarily black and white composition that stretches across to the back cover and reappears in partial form on the remaining outer panel. Tracks are listed on the back along with website details. Inside the remaining information is laid out upon a backdrop of coloured planks with a subtle overlay that echoes the front cover. Here are credits and a generous list of thanks.
OVERALL    Liquid Stranger is primarily Swedish Martin Staaf who has also released sounds under the titles Rhoca and Slugger as well as making up half of the progressive Necton. As Liquid Stranger he has previously appeared on a number of Interchill compilations where the emphasis is on beaty downtempo with a tendency to blur the boundaries and break the rules.

If you've enjoyed Interchill's recent bass explorations in the form of Ashtech or Subsignals - then this might well fuel the thirst for more shadowy urban electronic dub - although Liquid Stranger is inclined to explore the sun of far away vistas as well as the darkness of the streets.





 ------Kuba - Through A Lense
STYLE   Smooth chillout instrumentals. Kuba bring exotic flavours, warm synths and easy beats together to create an optimistic downbeat sound with a subtle tropical edge. International voices and choirs float in selected snippets across a sound canvas of peaceful electronic waves, guitars and various organic samples. Breathy Indian flutes, sinewy ethnic strings and various global percussives join environmental sounds and a sprinkling of bright effects that combine to maintain a blissful sense of gentle heat. Delicate pianos leads intertwine warbling synthesiser arpeggios - the odd spoken voice sample wafts through the air as the music caresses the ear, lulls the mind into reverie. The tone is one of sunny tranquillity suggestive of warm beaches and an orange evening glow.
ARTWORK   I have only a part of the artwork with this promo version of the release - a lush sleeve insert montage thick with orange, russet and copper hues. Angel wings and an angel statue catch the eye among a tangled blossoming of curlicues and floral shapes. Inside text is kept to a minimum - a track list with times alongside and simple credits.
OVERALL    This is Kuba's second album - follow up to the 2006 release Inside Out. This time round Laurence Harvey's project appears through the German ambient downtempo label Chillcode. The sound is somewhat more refined now with a stronger centre and higher degree of polish, through A Lense being a consistently positive listening experience from start to finish. This CD fits perfectly among the label's high quality back catalogue alongside acts such as Entheogenic, Human Blue and Matenda. If you're after something truly soothing and warming in the chillout field this could be just what the doctor ordered.




 ------Blind Divine - Desire To Destroy

Hauntingly beautiful female vocals and trip hop instrumentation. Delicious electro-organic textures scratch and shimmer in the background whilst a delicately dark montage of pianos, chimes, guitars and synths support Paula Catherine Valencia's vocals. Desire To Destroy has a powerful balance of interesting noises and effected recordings against layered melodic patterns. The drum tracks are inventive restless, dreamy downtempo affairs that frequently shift from the full tonal range to crunchy muted manipulations - languid, shadowy. Paula's vocals are laid down in elegant restraint - for the most part low key, sensual, vulnerable - the perfect counterpoint to the music. At times, however, this interesting singer shrugs off the fetters and allows her voice to soar, bringing a fragile angelic quality to the mix. There spoken passages, multilayered sections, ethereal vocalising, up-close intimacy almost whispered. There's a classy range of intensity spread across the album too - at times thickening into a prowling gloom, then dissipating into thin airiness, warm washes or gentle bliss. Beatless piano and vocal arrangements, touched by attractive strings and textures leave the listener almost floating.

MOOD    Blind Divine's music has come to inhabit that appealingly dusky attic world of the imagination where heavy skies, collected ephemera and romantic painted landscapes are given the timeless treatment - everything has fresh antique texture and sepia/grey hues, very modern yet bathed in nostalgia. Possessed of that same gothic aesthetic that presents broken dolls, dramatic architecture and old films in a fresh context - Desire To Destroy manages to bend assorted sounds and words to its own purpose and vision.
ARTWORK   The band has a dark image that combines diverse motifs and graphic swirls with photographic content. An aged monochrome portrait fills an oval vignette on the front cover laid upon an antique texture that imitates worn edges and cracked spines. This is digipack that opens into three sections - inside one section contains lyrics and credits in black lettering on red background - the next section is given over entirely to one of Daniel Martin Diaz' artworks - the third carries the disc itself..
OVERALL    Blind Divine have matured wonderfully since their previous 2005 release Devouring The Beautiful - their crepuscular trip hop now possessed of a classy grace that lifts this album way above the crowd. The musical elements have a cinematic quality that has led to their tracks being used in a number of film and TV projects. The guitars are still present from earlier material, but now much reduced - here they form just another colour in Daniel's rich sound palette.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM    This is an album to listen to if you enjoy tasteful electronica and female vocals - if you're in doubt, try the samples on the band's website. I think fans of Delerium's more moody pieces, Shelly Harland and Falling You will love this music.




 ------Various - Bioluminescence
STYLE   Chilled digital dub. The latest compilation from Native State is a flowing collection of lucid downtempo tracks that have a common dub thread running through them, however, this is a subtle connection with many of the tracks leaning close to glitchy ambient or sparse psychedelic chill. The album is quite minimal in places with airy pads, passages of sonic turbulence or echoing tonal touches set against crisp beats that rise and fall in intensity, often dropping away into insubstantial flickerings. This is a rhythmic album, yet one where the beats and sequences are light, fragmenting, restrained - dreamy and ambient rather than tribal or mechanical. Along with Ultimae and Aleph-Zero, Native State are exploring the serene realms of electro-organic soundscapes at their most buoyant, soporific and floatational.
ARTWORK   Bioluminescence comes in a gorgeously presented jewelcase - fronted by a glowing jellyfish and ocean elements montage. Hues of purple, indigo, violet and blue blend photoimagery with lush graphics into a rich submarine fanstasy that recurs throughout the package. On the reverse is a tastefully presented tracklist that is expanded somewhat inside where credits and websites accompany each entry. The innermost section is a contrasting magenta/violet colour, once again adorned with undersea assemblages. Generous thanks can be found here and contact details (thanks for the mention there guys).
OVERALL    Bioluminescence is Naasko's latest compilation for Native State Records, delivering a coherent selection of like-minded musicians both new and established in the genre. Bluetech, Adham Shaikh and Shen are among the regulars along with krill.minima who have their own release Nautica out this December. The album maintains the label's high standard of graceful electronic mood music - some of these tracks are excellent soundtracks to the imagination, suggestive of curious lifeforms and peculiar environments. The label describes the collection as "conjuring light from the depths - an outstanding collection of hypnotic digi-dub grooves". Go for this one if you like chillout dub music stripped down to its sleepiest.




 ------Nathan Youngblood - Asunder
STYLE   Asunder is, for the most part, a cold, moody set of tone zones. The pieces are strongly environmental - with immense, steady drones painting vast windswept horizons - sustained and turning so gradually that the impression is often one of sound almost drained of musical tone. Like the monumental movement of huge bodies of vapour or the imperceptible progress of glacial ice, Asunder ebbs and flows in aching mass. The temperature warms a little on Flume - here the drones lighten notably as if bathed in pale sunlight, the weight drops away and the listener begins to float. Flume is introduced by the tranquil movement of water as if the cold were melting away - this softer tone holds into the final piece Underland, a cloud of velvety haze that is ruffled infrequently by static, low rumblings and delicate synthetic strains. At points during the CD peripheral elements dot the expanse - environmental recordings and instrumental suggestions from such sources as synths, guitars, bowls, electronics and small objects. These can be heard as distant shiftings or reverberating sonic turbulence, small presences or peculiar fluctuations deep within the mix.
ARTWORK   This album comes in a jewel case with artwork created by the artist himself and layout design from Projekt's Sam Rosenthal. The front cover image is that of an abstracted landscape - broken bands of earthy hues that appear almost like a cross section cut into the soil - the sky above is featureless - white. This image is picked up and echoed throughout the package. On the rear is a timed tracklist. Inside is a two panel insert that opens out to deliver a simple gear list, credits, thanks and website info.

Asunder is the debut release by Nathan Youngblood with input from ambient master Steve Roach providing drone and wave contributions on two tracks as well as being credited with production and with mastering. The CD is released via Steve's website and selected excerpts can be heard on Nathan's Myspace page. The label's promotional material describes the release as "carved from dense harmonically rich acoustic and electronic material, this set of tone zones move at glacial speed, hovering very close to the Earth's surface for the duration". The six tracks range from just over six minutes up to almost twenty on the relentless isolation of Shearwave.



 ------Zer0 0ne - oz0ne

Clean, spacey electronic instrumentals. oz0ne is a bright collection of downtempo synthetics that combine layered melodic lines and phrases with programmed beats and a variety of effects and supporting sounds. Guitar chords, disembodied voices - spoken words or strongly effected songs, manipulated samples. The album conveys a sense of liquid simplicity - with uncluttered arrangements, each sound clear and rhythms unhurried. There are jazzy touches, notably track five Flashback, where a lolling bassline and wah wah chords underpin some distinctly un-spacey keyboard improvisations. Beats are lively and varied across this disc - with no attempt to imitate a live sound - peculiar blips and hits woven among more usual percussives - at times fragmenting or muted - constantly shifting.

MOOD    oz0ne maintains the polished techno downtempo tone set up on previous zer0 0ne albums - pure electronic warmth. There is a strongly computerised mood - programmed structures, electrified effects, digitised voices. The suggestion is one of space age exploration, molecular meandering, cyber travel - at times almost isolationist, the listener left alone with the glow of blinking LEDs and the flicker of screens. The strongly rhythmic content harks back to Berlin synth music - but the style is quite different, less European.
ARTWORK   Coming in a sharp digipack, oz0ne is fronted by a blend of techno-organic imagery and binary digits. The figures 0 and 1 run in a broad band across the left hand side of the cover, overlaying a hexagonal grid that works as a window revealing a cluster of three glowing spheres. On the reverse is a timed tracklist laid out on a similar honeycomb design. Opening out into three section we find an inner display that has a repetition of the tracklist on the left; the disc itself central; thanks, credits and label details on the right.
OVERALL   Zer0 0ne delivers a set of eleven digital wonders that show a clear progression of sound from his three previous releases. Having departed briefly for the release of pSy-fI via Spiralight, Kevin Dooley is back with Waveform once more making this his third album with Forest's US based centre of 'exotic electronica' . The approach is familiar - gentle ambient groove with a computerised, spacey aesthetic - previous fans will not be disappointed with this maturing evolution.

This vibrant album will suit fans of rhythmic synth music - if you enjoy digital electronica with strident melodies and liquid clarity this might well appeal to you. Why not try the samples on the web site.