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Well, the previous set of reviews ended with one of the Glasgow Underground sets, and there are a couple more entries in the series, so that’s a good place to resume.

Glasgow Underground, Vol. 3, offers two albums, a mixed and an unmixed set. The unmixed version starts out with Romanthony’s soul shouter, Bring U Up, which attempts a performance vibe reminiscent of shows seen at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, but without a live audience to fill in the response duties of this call-and-response format, it really falls pretty flat. With Find a Way, Phatt Pussy Cat comes slippin’ in on a better-received version of old style house, this one anchored by the vocal element; the worst that can be said of this track is that there’s just nothing fresh about it … but that wouldn’t keep you from dancing. Then, the duo Mateo & Matos step up with Stomp Your Feet, a KC & the Sunshine Band clone that really puts a smile on my face. This is a high-energy dance joint that works hard to get you up and grooving … they connect. Next up is Cassio’s Baby Love – while I like the Muzique Tropique remix much better, I have to concede that this (the original?) is blessed with fine instrumentation, and stands proudly on it’s own merits. The narrative part of the vocal is more important in this version, though, and that’s the element I like the least, so I’ll take the remix version. I found the next track, Future Dub by Powder Productions to be really sweet downtempo house; even without a striking vocal element, it entices – perhaps the nice jazzy guitar work is the key. Daniel Ibbotson follows up with Celebrate, a bit of sweet house with a "music matters" message and some nice piano filigree to give it character. This might make an effective mix opener, setting the tone for a music love-in. In the same vein of somewhat self-conscious scene-setting comes Love Rec vs. Karman Ellis with an epic-length acid jazz joint entitled The Scene Revisited – lyrically, this one is all about us, the audience for these performances, and our relationship to the musical dynamic. I can easily see someone beginning or ending a set with this track. This volume of Glasgow Underground finishes off with a really catchy item by Neon Heights entitled 16 Again which almost strays out of the EDM compound altogether. This has a lilting tune, smooth and slow, with a great vocal element and irresistible chorus (unless you’re still 16, that is.) [As usual, I added a track to fill up disc space – from the group Chamber I took Funky Paradise which is a moderately interesting DnB-inflected number with a slightly "boing boing" quality to it that prevents it from being taken altogether seriously.]

The second, mixed set from Glasgow Underground Vol. 3 doesn’t really arouse my interest until it’s nearly half over … Chile Sauce from Powder Productions is the first track to have any real personality, and not content with that achievement, there’s a bust-out vocal component that may well provoke some shivers in the more susceptible. Danger Zone by LHK Productions maintains the energy but not the sense of the unique, likewise true of How Could I be Loved by Jersey Street. But the Mateo and Matos track Release the Rhythm really swings hard, and keeps my attention to the finish (ummm, which is chopped off on the audio cd, because it runs into the next track … something you could fix up in MixMeister if you used it in a mix.) Now we’re back to the vocal baaaadness, with DJ Sneak’s Messenger Mix of Got a Message by Mateo and Matos -- highly on fire up to and beyond the beats breakout about 2 minutes into the track. Very urgent stuff. Powder Productions returns with another hot number candidate, Cuban Fire. But I think not….one looks longingly toward the reprise of Got a Message which closes out the mix. One is not disappointed. This one works hard, and it’s a naturally hot track. [Stowaways on this voyage include: Robovore by Omnivore, not nearly as memorable as the name. There’s a "Long Version" of Spectrum is Green’s The Key. If you like the original, you’ll like more, ja? But the Spetrum’s other entry, Samui Funk is actually something you’d want to hear again.]

 

One of the better discoveries I made on emusic.com was Jhelisa. In my search for a "sounds-like" point of comparison, I came up with a cross between Tracy Chapman and Cassandra Wilson, but really, that might just highlight my own lack of familiarity with all the hip hop and soul diva stylings out there today. Of the numerous selection available by Jhelisa on emusic.com, a great number are remixes of tracks off her album Language Electric (reviewed later on in the proceedings.) Here, we’ll take a look at two sets, the Galatica Rush remixes and the Hold My Peace remixes, which I gathered together on one CD. Galactica Dub opens up the session with a dubby rush that concludes with some wild horn contributions. This is supa nice and chunky. Following that comes Secret Dub which is a slo-mo joint inhabited by lullaby vocals. Jhelisa has, among her lyrical themes, some that touch on child abuse and the lyrics in Secret Dub seem geared toward comforting such a child. Sweet Dub picks the pace back up a bit, but lyrically we are in the same territory, tho with a very dubby vocal presentation. All in all, not bad. But it really get hot with There’s Nothing Dub, a far more complex track and an excellent attention holder. The next set of remixes (of the song Hold My Peace) lifts off with a Cool Breeze effort. The touch CB lends to Jhelisa’s tracks is assured and the faultless instrumentation adds welcome dimensions to her vocals. The Cool Breeze Radio Edit of Hold My Peace which follows begins on pretty much the same level, but the vocals are mixed more up front. There’s also an acapella version, Hold My Vocal, and another which features just the rhythm track, Hold My Beat. You could have some "roll your own" fun with these two tracks and a sound editing program. The Delta Peace Treaty Special remix is a very funky rhythm-conscious take on the song, with vinyl clicks and pops adding to the ambience, and a big big bottom end to anchor the strings and flute that decorate the upper register. Very nice. Last of these is the Delta Peace Dubwise mix, returns to the wild sax embellishment that appeared near the end of the previous mix, using it for an opening statement. Along with the insistent rhythm line, this sets the tone for an ultra-funk outing on this remix. The vocals are cut up in a way which kicks the whole joint up into a jazzy space. Excellent rendition. Appended to these tracks from Jhelisa are three items from the notable effort by DJ Swingsett and J. Warrin with Lisa Shaw entitled Sights Unseen. (For some unknown reason – perhaps contractual problems) only six of the album’s 10 tracks are available on emusic.com, and they are not all available from the same download page. This group of three includes: Indo, which is a moody DnB track with rigorous and crisp beats, tightly focused -- one of those tracks that just picks you up and moves you right along with authority. Next, featuring the multi-tracked voice of Lisa Shaw, is I Think My Heart is Telling. An awesome handling of a romantic track, despair mixing with desire in the necessary proportions to create an essential track. With Do Dat (Like a Version) we return to the faintly militaristic DnB instrumental work of Swingsett and Warrin, another compelling example of their approach to this genre, with some synth topping to give it dimension. Very strong.

 

I put three more of the DJ Swingsett and J. Warrin tracks from Sights Unseen on a disc with some of the remixes of the Cool Breeze track Can’t Deal With This. I first heard the Cool Breeze item on a mixed CD from Quango Records and thought it was excellent. As a reward, I now have access to another half-dozen versions, and all of them offer value. This group opens with the Radio Edit, a straight-up approach to the track which emphasizes the lyrics over a simple instrumental backing. The Bonus Beat Instrumental version which follows dishes up mostly just the basics of the backing, inviting you to play mixer too. With the Extended mix, we start to see the possibilities of a somewhat more lush instrumentation, extending the sonic values in subtle ways. The fourth in the series finds Alex Reese at the controls, and presents the first truly new "sound" for this composition – in this case, a DnB overlay spices things up. Then hold on for the Kid Loops Vocal Remix – this one emphasizes the freaky sounds that can be pulled out of this track, and then flows into a lush and lovely rendition. Then, just to explore the possibilities completely, we wind things up with the Kid Loops Parts of Speech mix … in this case, both DnB inflections and cut ups on the vocals combine to give this one a most particular identity. This was pretty much a "kid in a candy store" discovery for me, and a learning experience having so many mixes gathered together to compare. As for those DJ Swingsett items, the set starts off with Knuckle -- it’s breaky and very rigorous as usual. A nice little stuttering horn riff decorates the rhythm track along with some sampled NASA outerspace stuff (or something like that, anyhow.) Taoist Funk is more sparse, less interesting, both of musical ideas and of instrumentation. Finally, there’s Traversin’ which is unusually unfocused for Swingsett … almost jazzy, but not committed to it.

 

While we’re on the subject of drum’n’bass inflections, let me move on to the two Omni Trio albums available from emusic.com: The Haunted Science and The Deepest Cut, Volume 1. The former I already had purchased but I noticed that there were different tracks available on the emusic version, so I downloaded it. I’ll say from the outset that I am a megabig Omni Trio fan and The Haunted Science is one of my favorites. The emusic.com version opens with Astral Phase. Right away, you recognize you are in classic atmospheric drum’n’bass territory: soaring vocals and compelling melodies driven by a authoritative DnB engine. From there, we move on to the Rogue Unit Mix of Nu Birth of Cool. Sparse, jazzy, lightly touched with a vocal riff that expands to the chorus about 2/3 of the way through the track, and then drops out briefly to return the focus to a straight-up DnB section, this is another example of what’s fine about DnB in general and this artist in particular. Rhythm Methods starts slower and brings less complexity to the ears, at least in comparison with its album-mates. It sports a jazzy horn riff midway through but has a harder time holding my interest. Then comes a truly beautiful example of the atmospheric art: Haunted Kind. Anchored in a minor key, washed with strings, ominous yet enticing – haunting in the best sense of the word, this is a real head-turner. With the Carlito Mix of Trippin’ on Broken Beats, it might seem at first as though we’ve left the emo washes behind, but the track soon brings in the vocal and horn embellishments that characterize the beauty side of DnB. Although this doesn’t have the hooks that distinguish Haunted Kind, it is super smooth and well-suited to add to a downtempo mix. Who Are You appears first as an Aqua Sky Mix, anchored by its essential DnB nature on the bottom end and soaring synth washes on the top. Again, there’s a haunting quality to the aural ornamentation that gives this track its character, and establishes it as a fine rendition of this Omni Trio standard. With The Elemental, the drum machine hammers out a line that begs to be built on, and while it doesn’t seem as tho’ the structure will be worth the effort, that’s really just in comparison with the hit tracks on this set – this is an intermission of sorts. Serpent Navigators re-enters the ominous terrain that’s already familiar to us, with a vocal call inviting us deeper in. The beats eventually kick up the action to another level and synth washes establish the atmospherics. Excellent track. The album closes out with three alternate mixes, starting with the Alternative Take of Trippin’ On Broken Beats. This has a (for me) unfortunately squelchy riff running through the lead-in, and the take doesn’t really offer an improvement over the previous version … not bad, just not up to the established high standard. Next up are two Original 12" Mixes of both Nu Birth of Cool and Who Are You. The former track is the "non-sparse" version, pretty muscular for an Omni Trio joint, with more focus on the vocals than in the remix. The set closes out with Who Are You and a return to classic atmospheric DnB presentation.

 

Let’s continue on with the second Omni Trio offering from the emusic.com catalog, one titled The Deepest Cut, Vol. 1 – this is a repackage of the commercial release entitled Music for the Next Millennium. It start off with a archetypal OT track, Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Mix) – this may be the first OT I ever heard … wait, let me check the History of our World, Part 1, part of my introduction to the world of DnB – yep, there it is, tho’ not necessarily this mix. At any rate, this is prime Omni Trio, beats and vocals most sublime. Next up is Living for the Future (FBD Project VIP Mix) which is a much more muscular and insistent collection of beats, tricked out with some vocal effects. Rollin’ Heights (More Strings Attached) which follows concentrates its energy in the upper registers, with vocals and strings predominating in the opening bars; when the beats kick in, it’s a bit less focused than is typical for the finer OT tracks. Mainline (95 Lick) revolves around a pretty trick vocal riff in the opening bars and some pared-down instrumentation further along; an average track. Likewise, Thru the Vibe has a guiding vocal riff (and impeccable sentiment) to build on, alternating between the ethereal and the more powerful manifestations of the DnB sound. The next selection, Together, would sound fine on its own, but in listening to the whole album at once, there is a formulaic quality recognizable by this time in the music – there’s not enough about this one that’s distinctive. It’s good to move on to another mix of Renegade Snares: Rob’s Reconstruction Mix. This one takes the changes nicely, the emphasis moving somewhat off the vocal and onto the beats for most of the track. Shadowplay offers less than the best of Omni Trio – not bringing much melody to the game, relying on raw beats to create interest. Again, relief in turning to a pure classic, Alien Creed (ahhh, maybe this is the first OT I ever heard….) Certainly, there is far more drama and development in this track than offered by the more average tracks, and it remains a favorite even tho’ it’s not terribly sophisticated. Strange sounds come with Feel Good (In Demand Mix) which sounds like no other OT track from this period … way more frantic than the usual. Back to Living for the Future (Original Mix) which compares favorably to the remix – this is more deliberate, less muscular, depending on thematic development to hold your interest. The album finishes off with the piece de resistance, Soul Promenade (Nookie Remix) which is an utterly irresistible track and an all-time OT high.

 

OK, so now let’s go on to something complete different … how does a hiphop joint strike you? I didn’t download lots in this category – it’s not my specialty and unless something comes specifically recommended by friends who know it better, I search in other genres. But my tribe over at www.thedownbeat.org has featured King Kooba’s Nufoundfunk in rotation for a while, so when I saw it on emusic.com, I snapped it up. Nufoundfunk is also the title of the lead-off track, and it’s got a friendly, loping beat to accompany the modicum of scratchin. The next track, Lexy’s Drop, is one of a couple of way short tracks (clocking in at 1:07) and could be longer in my opinion, just because it sets up an intriguing sound … but, oh well. Real true hiphop goes full-length on Dark Angel with sparse backing and rhyming that draws you into the story. Next up: The Antidote which ventures at length into a unique sort of atmospheric hiphop territory … vocals in the background, broken beats romping up front and ominous shadings overall. This is pretty involving even tho there’s not much development in the track. King Kooba breaks out onto the samba tip with Feel the Colour which they paint with a steady beat, ladies doing the vocal duties and little triangle touches adding sparkle in the upper register – it’s really quite smooth. Yet another side of the group is revealed by Space Jam (Parts 1 & 2) which mines a jazzy downtempo vein. Again, there’s lack of impressive development in the track, but what they do lay down is plenty inviting and Part 2 adds a little muscle to a track that seemed likely to drift off without making a real statement. King of the Flow goes yet another direction, with dancehall-style MC’ing, not my cuppa. And true to it’s name, Interlude Epilogue is another shorty (and, again, lays out a sound that would have been good to hear at length.) The downtempo vibe continues to flow into the next track, Cosway Street, smooth on the back end and vocal touches to stir your interest. Sans Filtre is what I would call another semi-atmospheric number, with some lightly hiphop vocal touches. Ah, then there’s Fooling Myself, which I’ve encountered elsewhere on the web (I think credit goes to audiogalaxy.com) in several remix configurations – this is a pretty sweet tune and well-worth the remixer’s attention. In this version, it has a sleepy, sweet quality that blooms into the chorus: it’s a keeper. Microphozone Cheque takes us back to familiar hiphop territory: the personal ad for skillz – it’s cool. The album closes out with Find a Way, ballad styling but with some atmospherics and without an actual lyric … it gains in beats as it goes along, but doesn’t really establish any outstanding identity as a tune. But I like it.

 

I want to mention just briefly the LTJ Experience and their offering Moon Beat. I may have to give this one another try sometime later, but when I listened the first time I found myself only interested in the title track, and another bit called Superwig – this is just so audacious that it’s hard not to like it. A raw semi-rap stance and the magnetic lyrics, heavily effected, are just too much fun. Another seeming keeper is that title track, Moon Beat, real funky and deliberate at the outset with all the earmarks of a downtempo standard, reminiscent of Weather Storm by Massive Attack. Keep in mind, though, that LTJ Experience also delivered what I consider (so far) to be the absolute worst track of the entire download experience: Sombre Guitar. No joke. The rest of the album was pretty uneventful, not rising much above the most basic funk-pretender stuff. OK, I should give it another try, but not now.

 

Likewise, just a few words about the Glenn Underground CD, Lounge Excursions. I knew the album opener, Society Rules, from another compilation, and liked it, and looked for more to like. At first listen tho’, only Burning the Midnight Oil and G&S Motion (also included elsewhere) seemed to really wake me up. Midnight Oil starts out runnin on a loping beat, fairly laid-back, working slowly into revealing its identifying characteristics – a sparse piano line, in the downtempo tradition. Likewise, G&S Motion and Funki-Ghetto each proved to be convincing without being obnoxious, with the later relying on some jazzy guitar and sax stylings, and G&S Motion, pitched to the house enthusiasts, providing lots of upper register excitement, not just four on the floor. But the rest of the album left me surprisingly unmoved – I found it somewhat generic house/funk/downtempo with no particular hooks. Fly With Me vocals suggest a bit of Earth, Wind & Fire; City People has some nice guitar riffing amidst the four-on-the-floor thumping house beat, and so on. Again, this doubtless deserves another listen, but as far as first takes go, it’s just those three tunes. OK, I take that back – the last track, Translucent Blues, isn’t half bad with its funk guitar and deliberate pace.

 

Another album that had limited appeal was Last One Home by Organic Audio. Lots of it just struck me as being uncomfortably frantic. An exception was the track This Could Really Happen which had a Leftfield-style rock steady beat and a captivating vocal conceit … and, it’s decently short. I’ll also cut a little slack for Into Something with its solid rhythmic core since, although I can’t say it develops into much, I still listen all the way through. Same with Autosave Us, the flutes are a nice touch. If it’s drums you want, check out the title track, Last One Home – it’s downright regimental. But skip Floretta’s Horns unless you like it out there on the frenetic tip. With Nurega, we trip to the South American cities and jungles, and after a messy start, things get propulsively rhythmic and despite some boing-boinging here and there, you can’t look away. The set wraps up with Always the Sun. This is their chance to leave you happy… and they do. A couple of minutes into the song, it opens up completely with a rolling good vibe bongo-ing around you. FWIW, I used the remaining space on this disc for a Bill Laswell joint, Lost Road Orchestral Site that is way out on the dub experimental tip of ambient. This one is prepared to lift you up and carry you to a far place.

 

Speaking of ambient, emusic.com offers a number of albums from the Waveform catalog. Several years ago, I picked up Synaesthesia by A Positive Life, one of Waveform’s artists I heard on the old spinner.com. Well, there’s plenty more where that came from, and this particular Waveform compilation, entitled Frosty, covers the chilled-groove variety of ambient, opening with Starfire by Om, a drifty, spatial number that gets the groove off to a dreamy start. [The order I’ve set up here is not the original album order, and I left off tracks I’d already acquired elsewhere, such as Howie B’s Birth, Take Me to a Distant Bass by The Thirteenth Sign and several others. I also snuck in a couple of stowaways, as usual, so the second track on my version of Frosty is a number by Dune entitled Force of Angels, a sort of ambient DnB outing with touches of raga … then a P’Taah track, There’s a Light Inside Your Mind, which actually appears on one of the Ubiquity compilations (and on the commercial release De-Compressed, a set of remixes of the Compressed Light release), but fits in nicely here with it’s jazzy, spatial breaks.] Well but then back to the Frosty compilation, this time listening to Beach Flea who step up with their F For Fake – a rambling downtempo track with narrative elements that rewards the patient listener with a number of permutations. The Eff Word checks in with TBC (Crustation Slow Mix) another downtempo joint, this one more on the funky side with a lovely vocal component. There’s another vocal that’s easy to love on the next track, Falling by Mr. Electric Triangle. Another drawback the lack of liner notes, of course, is that the vocalist is not identified in any way on a downloaded track. She makes me think of Gina Rene, but I really have no idea whose pipes I’m hearing. Nonetheless, it’s a captivating tune. Up next, Hunch delivers an instrumental in the trip-funk vein titled Plant Life. This is slow drag style, and it drags you right along with it into the next track, Fuzz by The Egg. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any funkier, The Egg lays it on you. A very basic bass figure makes a backdrop for the sparse horn work … this is primitive stuff, and for that reason, probably, quite effective. Back to civilization with the Jaziac Sunflowers and their Eyes of Love: chilled, acid jazz under a sultry vocal line sets the mood. What more could you want? (Speaking of acid jazz, I tacked on an Aubergine3 track entitled Don Pisco (Hot and Heavy Mix) – you won’t find this D.C. artist on emusic.com, but check out the Washington Post’s online audio files, or try mp3.com – worth a listen.) A Man Called Adam checks in with So You Say (Live), starting out with a slinky bassline and organ riff that promises funky riches to come … the vocal line delivers more of the slinky style and everybody goes home happy. But wait: We’re closing out this album with Devotion from Pentatonik, and here for the first time we really get close to what I think of a chilled ambient. None of the sophistication of some of the jazzier downtempo stuff, but nice snakey rhythms and spacey touches bring on the proper mood.

 

Let’s look at the remaining Waveform compilation while we’re in the neighborhood. This one’s entitled Three A.D. and begins with a seriously electro-ambient item from Real Life that they call Shark Infested. The suitably ominous, swelling intro takes you into fairly a standard style rhythm-and-synth workout and, because this track clocks in at over nine minutes, there’s an attempt at modulation of the mood. Whether you think it works probably depends as much on your mood as the tracks swells and swoops. Next up is Higher Intelligence Agency’s Skank, another nine-minute-plus cut. This one’s more playful than ominous, once again a conventional array of mid-tempo rhythms and bleeps, but pleasant nonetheless. Sounds from the Ground delivers Drawn to the Woman, which features a ghosty narrative track mixed under the musical layer, looking for a bit of mystery, I suppose. I think they’ve done better stuff than this particular track. A Positive Life returns with Lighten Up, an intense rhythmic electronica workout that I’ve included in mixes past and still like, despite the fact that I’ve outgrown my squelchy phase. The track has a lot of drama, particularly in the vocal samples. Seeming very quiet by comparison, In 7 by Another Fine Day eases into the space left by Lighten Up. But with nearly ten minutes of running time, this one builds gradually to make its point. There’s a tabla-like beat to carry it along, and the track has a slightly Asian sensibility: not too forward, not too flashy. But then, there’s not much evolution, either…. Another lowkey joint appears in the form of Sign from Coldcut – other than sampling a bit of the "As we float…" vocal line from All Allah by Black Jazz Chronicles, the track is mostly concerned with a recitation of astrological signs over a way slow beat. You might like it…. Space Time Continuum offers Oracle which is firmly in the spacey-ambient tradition – nice enough example of this type that picks up energy (read: beats) as it develops. Another epic track follows, Insanity Sect’s Solar Prophet. Like the others that clocked in at over nine minutes, this one uses the time to slowly build its mood, but by employing some strong, defining beats from the outset and permitting a bit of complexity later on, it’s more likely to hold your interest to the end. The last track, Regina From the Future by The Starseeds is as spacey a bit of business as the name of the group would indicate. Interstellar cold permeates this ambient cloud. It’s definitely for a darkened room.

 

The last entry in this group of reviews is the album No Strings Attached from Outcast. This group is serving up sounds from all over the spectrum, sometimes within a single track. Take the opener, Chi Funk, another epic, clocking in at nearly 11 minutes. It’s got a very strong jazz-funk element, delivered early on by way of the horn work and a funkin’ beat to move things along … then, whoa, downshift into some rather more downtempo stylings accented with flute … then whoa again, and we’re heading off into more experimental noises, led by the horns, fed by the beat. And back to the funk sound. Hey, if you’re up for the trip, these guys at least keep it interesting for ya. Backroll on the other hand, sets a breakbeat course and sticks to it, very muscular and intense. Piece of Mind trades the intensity for a steady backbeat and somewhat amorphous guitar and organ work … it’s pleasant but not compelling. Unlike, say, The Motive, which works narrative elements into a forceful beat that really captures the attention …this one’s not for the faint-hearted. Likewise the following track, Highway 23, built on narrative samples that suggest blaxploitation films and their soundtracks. This one’ll hook ya, for sure. Take Heed just happens to sample a vocal bit I find tiresome, so even though it’s got a really energetic backing, I’m on to the next track … Criminals also has vocal samples that don’t do it for me, again over some undeniably hot beats. O well. In Monkey Forest, the vocal samples sound like they were lifted from a porn film, and the track sports a beat to match the mood they set. This one rocks, really. They follow up with the aptly-named Slow Train – guess they think you’ll need a break by now. Well, it’s a fairly standard downtempo number with a bit of piano work for interest, but it’s satisfying. They close out with an uptempo joint that samples the phrase "All that scratchin’s makin you itch" and just work out on that for a while. Good if you’re in a high-energy mood.

 

And that’s it for this installment of reviews of all those goodies in the emusic.com catalog.  Remember, we're making mixes here ... check out the possibilities on the emusic mixes page.  

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