Reviews

These are my own ill-informed opinions only and are presented as such. Agree or disagree at will. Feel free to email me your own thoughts. coreygoldberg@earthlink.net
   

"Definition of rock journalism: People who can't write, doing interviews with people who can't  think, in order to prepare articles for people who can't read." - Frank Zappa

Phil Western has just released his third solo album, taking the form of a 2 CD set entitled World’s End. His last release, 2001’s hidden-classic Dark Features, showed the longtime (and recently ex) member of Download expanding his horizons to include a variety of different styles. World's End foremost strikes as baring a more integrated, less kitchen sink approach. Yet there is still great diversity to be found. World's End is a kaleidoscopic sequence of various moods and atmospheres that takes a largely laid back approach. Don't be misled - a minimalist album this is not. Layers of dissociated voices, acoustic instruments, and synths formulate a dense and ever changing mesh of sound. There is quite a lot going on in these tracks. Eastern flavors hover above the pulsing electronic drive of No More You. These are the types of tracks with hidden corners you can get lost in. Fear not, the album soon moves into moments of the hyper-kinetic rhythmically heavy tracks that characterized albums like Download’s Effector. The break-beat rhythms of The Gangs and Tuesday Jack Died revive the dying corpses of techno and drum and bass while Darkstar has shades of an industrial-dance hit. Land Based is an instant classic, with a frenetic yet subtly evolving electronic beat underpinning a vast environment of sound that integrates some of the progressive leanings of Phil’s previous album. White People and The Truth offer a dub flavor. Tracks like Simpleton utilize a pure, melodic guitar in combination with the electronic settings to great effect. The climactic title track is a powerful blast of space-rock. These songs are cinematic and emotive. They may have electronic roots but they feel like natural creatures that live and breathe.

All of those songs populate the first disc. The second presents a suite of sorts in 29 parts, divided into sections entitled Asleep and Awake. On this disc, Phil travels headlong into soundscape territory. Each track comprises a chapter in an epic journey in sound. If you’re a fan of long, multi-part songs then this entire disc was created for you. Stylistically the music has moments that remind of Aphex Twin’s ambient work, the not-so-ambient Manorexia project of Jim Thirlwell, the final 3 tracks of Doubting Thomas’s The Infidel, or the flagship records of early ambient, all with the spacious sensibility of one of the Legendary Pink Dots' Premonition tracks. Yet this disc avoids the cliched layers of reverbed pads and strings that plague most 'atmospheric' music. Many of these tracks prominently feature delicate guitar and offer a wide variety of sonic pictures. This is music to be played late at night, when no one else is awake and you feel like taking a trip through space.

On this album Phil Western has integrated the at times disparate styles and influences of Dark Features into a cohesive whole and in the process has created a new, unique sound. World's End offers 2 CDs for a total of 130+ minutes of spectacular music, available from The Record Company at www.colourspeaks.com.

-Corey Goldberg


cEvin Key: The Dragon Experience
Metropolis Records

cEvin Key's new album is also one of his oldest. No, it's not a reissue. 'The Dragon Experience' is a completely new album of previously unheard material recorded in '84 and '85. The old tapes were compiled and revived by longtime collaborator Ken 'Hiwatt' Marshall. These tracks date from the early, formative days of Skinny Puppy and offer us a deeper look at the musical era of which we have previously seen glimpses on Back and Forth series 2 and 3. Ken has done a great deal of work to make the old tapes work as an album of 2003, so much so that he gets double billing and dual writing credit. As a result, this album is much more sonically in tune with the times than some of the previous releases of early 4-track material. Those with an affectionate nostalgia for such primitive equipment might be wary of revisionist history, but that fear will dissipate as soon as they hear how amazingly fresh these tracks sound.

This is one of those vault releases that will leave you wondering how tracks of such quality could have gone unreleased. A number of forgotten classics await. Here are a few highlights:

'Metamorphosis (Theme from the Trial)' is a gorgeously flowing yet tension filled soundscape, presaging later excursions such as 'the Center Bullet'. Unlike many of his contemporaries, whose moments of reflective 'ambience' are merely a few layered tracks of pads, cEvin's atmospheric tracks have a melodic content the provides them with a sense of direction and pathos. With its swirling melodies, shuddering samples, and insistently prodding synths, 'Metamorphosis' exemplifies this quality. I think it is one of cEvin Key's best tracks period.

'Running (Back and Forth)' is a stunning track that seems to encapsulate the early verve of SP. Large chunks of the mix turn on and off providing brief bursts of vocals and shuddering drum machines, creating an insistent and almost threatening rhythm. Could this song contain the origin of the title of Puppy's legendary first homemade cassette...?

'Dr. Seymour' utilizes violent, percussive bursts of music, evoking the heavy drum production of early Skinny Puppy and Key's later gate-based techniques, all while retaining an infectious, ambling groove. 'Yo Yo Scrape' fans will enjoy this one.

'Incandescent Glow' sounds very much like a Puppy track that never happened. The synths of this bastard cousin of 'Dead Lines' and 'Last Call' may have shone too brightly for it to ever utilize Ogre, but thankfully now we get to hear it in all its glory.

'Ambient Fruit chapter 2' continues in the vein of the previous section (heard on BF6), offering a look into the early Puppy technique of using a delayed synth as a compositional tool that was refined on tracks like 'Film', 'Love', and 'Center Bullet'.

Another element that has always set cEvin's music apart from the crowd is that he almost always includes natural, acoustical sounds in his mixes in addition to the purely 'line-in' tracks. Be it a voice from an aged horror film, live percussion or just found sounds, these elements give his recordings an organic, live sensibility that is largely absent from much electronic music. Dragon Experience continues this trend. 'The Chamber' is something of an electronically accompanied sound collage, including something that sounds like shifting broken glass a la Download's 'Sidewinder'.

All of the trademark elements of early Puppy are here. At the core of a number of songs is a warm analogue- synth bass line. The unmistakable sound of cEvin's FX-processed 808 is present. Atmospheric dialogue samples permeate almost every track. Yet many of the tracks have a more overtly techno sound than we have previously heard from these early days. The instruments are somewhat cleaner and less heavily treated than most early Puppy. It's a subtle difference but it directly ties this album to the past few releases, such as 'Effector', 'III Steps Forward', or 'Ghost of Each Room'.

If there was any doubt, this album makes it clear that the techno-related elements of some of cEvin's recent work have always been a part of his music. This is music that pushes the edges of sonic creativity while simultaneously retaining an irresistible groove, the core formula for Skinny Puppy all along. Bridging past and present, 'The Dragon Experience' is not only an incredible archival album for those dedicated fans of Skinny Puppy but a work that will delight fans of his recent Download and solo albums as well.

-Corey Goldberg, 6/28/03


Hilt: The Worst of the Flu

Well, I've been enjoying the new Hilt: The Worst of the Flu disc for past few days and I figured I'd give everyone a preview of what to expect. This is the last CD in the From the Vault subscription and it finishes the series on a superb high note. The core musicians present on this album are cEvin Key, the singular Al Nelson, and Dwayne Goettel. Also making appearances are a pre-Pink Dots Ryan Moore, Dutch Harrison, Chris Sheppard and Betsy Martin. The album features material from the Flu, the project which evolved into Hilt but which was previously only heard on some obscure cassette releases, through unreleased tracks from both of the Hilt LPs and to top it all off, three tracks recorded by cEvin and Al in 1996 for a proposed new Hilt LP that unfortunately will never be.

The Worst... is an eclectic mix of all of the various styles that Hilt delved into. The are bursts of punk fury like Staminate that lay somewhere at the convergence of John Zorn's Painkiller, Throbbing Gristle, and your favorite local hardcore band. There's cEvin's trademark assimilation of reggae and dub sounds on tracks like Roll One Up. Their half-mocking take on late 80s/early 90s alterna-rock previously heard on tracks like Superhoney shows through here on songs like Lyin on the Floor and Empty Day. Patsy and the brief Interlude offer a rare snippet of cEvin's lyrical electric guitar in what might've been what Center Bullet or Film would've sounded like had Skinny Puppy been a rock band. The 1986 Flu electro -madness classic Ichabod Crane features cEvin's vocals and lyrics written in 1976. Hilt always showed the band’s humorous side and this album continues that trend with tracks like Beefcake, which is sort of akin to Skinny Puppy riding along on a trip to the circus by a child who is afraid of clowns, and their take on piano balladeering, My Shit Behooves Me. Yet the honesty and poignancy of the 1996 demo No Lessons Learned, "dedicated to all friends lost", cannot be denied. The smoky barroom-bred Dig Me Colder, also a 96 demo, could easily be one of the best tracks ever to come out of this project.

Basically, this album has something for everyone and yet somehow feels like a coherent whole in the process. The Worst of... is anything but. It gives us a look at the heretofore unseen mass of private material that Hilt's LPs have only hinted at. If one is heading your way, be excited.

- Corey Goldberg 3/24/03


cEvin Key: The Ghost of Each Room
Metropolis Records
Total Time: 51:07

cEvin Key's previous solo outing, "Music For Cats", was an eclectic collection of orphaned pieces of music spanning a number of years. The tracks were those initially deemed too weird to fit within the context of other projects. The disarming result, though rewarding to dedicated listeners, was not easily accessible for some. "The Ghost of Each Room", however, is a different animal. Instead of the 'mix-tape' feel of "Cats…", the tracks on "Ghost…" form a stylistic and conceptual whole. The record is far from repetitive, however. Aided by the wide range of collaborators, each song offers a new flavor. Yet each is merely one course of a large and satisfying meal. With a prevailingly dark atmosphere, the album is aptly titled. This record is not dark in a grim and gloomy sense, but evokes a more playful spooky character. The ghosts which populate these rooms are not so malevolent as they are mischievous. The result is a tone somewhere between Skinny Puppy's "Remission" and Doubting Thomas's "The Infidel".

"Bobs Shadow" sets this tone with Frankie Pett's theremin work, instantly recalling the soundtracks of classic horror films. Couple that with an absolutely classic cEvin bass-line and you have an exemplary track brimming with feeling. This is not electronic music for electronic music's sake.

"TAtayama" (a track originally released as a remix by cEvin for a Sonic video game) is another highlight that shows what cEvin can do when manipulating horns. This song makes me wish cEvin would work with them to a greater extent on a future project.

"Horopter" is a rhythmic tour de force with a warm bass-line anchoring a paranoid drum track that continues to collapse into effects and then re-coalesce. Eventually, cEvin's spacious acoustic drumming replaces the electronic track. This cleverly opens up a new angle of the track simply through the drums.

"15th Shade" features the vocal talents of cEvin's Tear Garden collaborator, Edward Ka-Spel. Edward's vocals are in the creepy, half-whispered vein of "Empathy with the Devil". The real highlight of "15th Shade" is hearing cEvin playing guitar and acoustic drums in this format, vaguely reminiscent of what the Tear Garden album might have sounded like had it remained a duo project. Of course, one cannot overlook the groovy-beyond-belief bass of Bill Van Roy.

"Sklang" comes from further to the left, with a downpour of delay FX coating the beginning of the track. As it progresses, however, a crunchy, nervous rhythm appears. Distant sounds and atmospheric synths summon forth the spectral imagery of the album title.

The most oft-discussed and highly anticipated track is doubtlessly "Frozen Sky", which reunites Ogre and cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy in the studio for the first time since the ill-fated "The Process" album. The track also features Ken Marshall, who worked on a number of Skinny Puppy recordings. It may be pointless to review this song, as almost anyone who would be reading this has probably already listened to it a thousand times, but I feel it worthwhile to discuss anyway. Some have expressed disappointment in "Frozen Sky" in that it is not innovative enough, that it doesn't progress beyond ground that Skinny Puppy have already covered. While there is certainly some Skinny Puppy flavor here, I feel that "Frozen Sky" ups the ante a bit. Ogre has come a long way vocally since the original recordings of Skinny Puppy (as the Doomsday CD attests) and it shows. The music seems to have evolved as well, in particular the guitar is integrated more successfully than on most Skinny Puppy. While Dwayne is of course not present on this song, his influence can heard throughout the track. The result is a quality track which, while it may not be a huge leap for them, shows them re-lighting those old pathways and testing the waters of working together again. I think "Frozen Sky" is not only hugely successful in that respect, but bodes very well for any future collaborations. It proves that the combination of cEvin, Ogre, and Ken Marshall can succeed in producing music that is still miles ahead of the rest.

"Aphasia" is without a doubt my favorite track on the album. Somewhat reminiscent of Doubting Thomas, it is a carefully constructed and well developed tapestry of analogish sounds that recall some of the earliest electronic bands. Constructed of hinting gestures more than full melody, it has a breathtaking emotional power and depth. The subtle application of strings is enough to bring you to tears.. A stunning example of the high potential of electronic music, I think "Aphasia" is hands-down one of the best tracks cEvin has ever done.

"Klora" is laid back reggae influenced groove betraying the Jamaican origin of the dialogue samples. cEvin is heard on acoustic drums here, making this track a real treat.

"cccc4" is another superb track. Melodically strong, yet brimming with insane percussion, this song illustrates cEvin's potential when working with structural formats beyond the cliched looped phrase repeated ad nauseum.

"A Certain Stuuckey" features Ka-Spel as well as most of the other Legendary Pink Dots in an album-ending extended experimental jam. Colored with ethnic/world percussion, it sounds like one of the improv tracks from "Sheila Liked the Rodeo" crossed paths with "Effector".

Coherent yet varied, eclectic yet unified, this CD is a must for all listeners of Skinny Puppy, Download, Tear Garden, et al. Even the casual SP fan who hasn't yet gotten to the various satellite projects will want to pick this one up immediately. "Frozen Sky" is a Skinny Puppy track in all but name and will thrill anyone who yearns to hear cEvin and Ogre collaborate again. "The Ghost of Each Room" is a fine album that is not to be missed.

Corey Goldberg 11/22/01


Phil Western / Tim Hill: Dark Features

Total Time: 61:35

Phil Western (a.k.a. Philth) has proven himself to be an integral part of virtually all SubConscious Communications releases since the label's inception. Phil was a good friend and partner of Dwayne Goettel and together they shared the debut SubConscious 12". Soon after, Phil became a founding member of Download and has appeared on all of the band's subsequent releases. He has also participated in other SubCon projects including platEAU and cEvin Key's "Music For Cats" and has released one solo album, "The Escapist". He has also worked on projects, both solo and with other collaborators, under such names as Off and Gone, Floatpoint, and just plain Philth. This new record, "Dark Features", is a collaborative effort with Tim Hill, who co-produced "The Escapist" and has also appeared on some SubCon releases including platEAU's "Space Cake". Tim was also responsible for the films which provided the visual aspect of Download's now-legendary 1996 tour.

Much of Phil's previous work can be (rightly or not) tagged with that elusive yet loaded label known as 'techno'. His contributions to the SubCon compilations illustrated a taste for a programming-driven techno style not unlike Dwayne's solo work. On "Dark Features", however, Phil surprises with a vastly wide palette of styles, weaving progressive rock, ambient, dub, acoustic singer-songwriter, ethnic/world, and 'experimental' sound collage styles into a diverse, yet unified, tapestry.

Personally, I am not a big fan of 'techno' music in general. I think that the style has led to a proliferation of music which is largely homogenous and unimaginative and which owes more to the gear itself than the people who play it. Of course, the work of Dwayne and Phil is usually an exception, but overall the genre is just not my cup of tea. "Dark Features", however, challenges and surpasses those cliched limitations to create something above and beyond the techno norm. In this respect, it is a progressive record in the truest sense of the word. This is not a techno album. With authentic drum kits, guitars, and basses forming the foundation, much of the record has a thoroughly rock atmosphere that couldn't be considered techno in even the broadest sense. Furthermore, the techno-styled material on the album is of a far superior grade than you're likely to hear on your typical electronic compilation. The tracks on "Dark Features" are actual songs, not merely glorified loops extended to fill six minutes of mindless dancing.

This is one of those records that, just when you think it can't get any better, the next track comes on and, gosh darnit, it does. It journeys into a number of unexpected areas and there are simply too many great moments for a mere summary, so I've decided to give my impressions of the whole thing (if you're wary of spoilers skip to the end).

"Colourspeaks" opens the record with one of the more techno-styled tracks. This track is a gorgeous, densely programmed yet bright work that is uniquely uplifting. It's impossible to listen to "Colourspeaks" and feel depressed. This song is an example of true electronic artistry; not something that anyone who has a shareware copy of Rebirth can squat out with a mouse click.

"Fight No More" immediately changes the pace with a dub-like bass line joined by rock guitar chords and an amalgam of electronic and acoustic drums. Phil's vocals complement the groove nicely and various processed sounds float in and out of the mix.

"He Never Showed Up" integrates some rather funny samples into the track. The music carefully punctuates the dialogue (a la Doubting Thomas) giving the song a defined structure and form.

The spoken lyrics of "Dirty" chronicle the experience of an obsessive-compulsive over the song's rock-style riff (which actually has a chord change, something your average techno artist wouldn't know if it bit him in his ultra-hip arse). Capping it off is a lush synthscape.

"The Imploded Man" features a deliciously groovy bass-line and both electronic and acoustic percussion. With some of its almost cartoonish sounds, the track evokes the sense of humor of some Download and aDuck material.

One of my personal favorite tracks is "Chaos / What Are We Gonna Do?", a sound collage not unlike early Skinny Puppy tracks like "Unovis on a Stick" and "Meat Flavor" or some of Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell's instrumental work. Various chunks and loops of dialogue, music, and sound effects play off of each other cinematically, building to a noisy, yet textured, climax.

"Seeing But Not Seen" offers a more improvised-sounding techno track that would've felt quite at home on Download's "Effector".

The excellent "Bring That Home, Buffalo" is based upon the unlikely instrumental choice of the banjo, surrounded by dramatic, art-rockish guitars and poignant synths. Sampled singing (again recalling Doubting Thomas) adds another emotional dimension to the track.

"Embryo" begins with lush, eastern-flavored ambience that shifts to a slow, ominous rock vamp cushioning some wonderful guitar work by guest Ben Sherazi. The track closes by bringing us to an even higher plane of atmospheric synths. This song is one of the album's highlights.

"Be the Fool" holds the biggest surprises; the folk-rock troubadour styled track is based entirely on acoustic guitar and Phil's subdued vocal delivery. Yep, Phil sings! In fact, vocal textures permeate the entire record, lending even the more electronic tracks an organically based sound. This feature is one of the album's strengths and it's no surprise that "Be the Fool" is a superb track.

"Duke" begins with march-like percussion that gloriously opens upon a glowing melody. It paints in sound the image of dark clouds parting after a storm, letting the sun warm the moist ground below.

Continuing the bright vibe, "DMT" offers an addictive, uppity alterna-rock groove. It's another infectiously positive track that, in a mutant universe, would be one of those summer hit songs.

Finally, "The Machine Elves" closes the album with a nervous, processed soundscape set amidst dissonance.

This eclectic record is for anyone disappointed with the narrow-mindedness of most new music. Anyone who enjoyed the sonic wizardry of Download's "Effector" or the tongue-in-cheek genre straddling of ohGr's "Welt" should check this album out immediately. With its fusion of progressive-rock and electronic music, it will also likely appeal to fans of The Tear Garden/Legendary Pink Dots, Radiohead, and Twilight Circus. Whether you're an established Download fan or have never heard anything of Phil's before, "Dark Features" has a great deal to offer, proving that Phil and Tim are capable of a coherent, satisfying, and original work. They have created a subtle and varied album that is not to be missed.
---Corey 8/01



The Legendary Pink Dots with Friends & Relations: Kollabaris
Total Time: 47:35

        The Legendary Pink Dots have always released exclusive, small edition tapes (and now CD-Rs) independent from their ‘real’ albums. These recordings were usually only available directly through the Dots themselves, allowing them to build a voluminous catalog and keep it continually ‘in-print’ despite record label whims. The only problem was that the band’s location made these releases difficult and/or costly for many fans (particularly those not in Europe) to obtain. Enter Beta-Lactam Ring Records. This small label now makes these previously elusive recordings easily and readily available to fans across the globe while still giving the band their due. Newly released through BLRR is the unlimited edition CD-R collection entitled "Kollabaris". This disc is a compilation of the Pink Dot’s various collaborations with other artists and features a great deal of exclusive material. In addition to the totally new music, a few of the tracks are from previous, but hard to come by, releases and some are new mixes of tracks from the various artists compilations of Subconscious Communications.
        If you’re a Skinny Puppy fan who has never heard of the Pink Dots before, you might be wondering why you are reading this. Simply put, this disc features a great deal of material from the Tear Garden, which is a collaborative project of members of Skinny Puppy and the Legendary Pink Dots. Many Skinny Puppy completists will likely get this disc just for the Tear Garden tracks, but there is a lot of great music to be heard here.
        The collection begins with a track by Jochen Schoberth’s Artwork, which features Pink Dots Edward Ka-Spel, Ryan Moore, and Niels Van Hoorn. "Bring the Rain" is a plaintive, serene ballad guided by Jochen’s acoustic guitar. His style is somewhat different from that which we are used to hearing from the Dots. His short solo, in particular, makes for a unique combination with Niels’ flute, which begins in the background but takes an increasingly greater role as the track progresses. Niels weaves his line in and out of the guitar chords. "Bring the Rain" has more of an obvious pop song structure than most of the Dots’ material. Though not his usual arena, Edward has no problem matching the almost catchy chorus with his unassumingly honest vocal delivery. Stylistically, this track reminds me most of their album "From Here We’ll Watch the World Go By" (if any). This track was previously released but very difficult to find and its inclusion here is welcome. "Bring the Rain" is a definite highlight that I’d love to see LPD perform live.
        "A Small Swan Song" is a different animal. Credited to Edward Ka-Spel with Karolina Rozycka, this track is a layered, ambient soundscape. Though seemingly based on the human voice, a mass of effects warps the voice into a new texture that is quite unsettling and downright creepy. The result is something reminiscent of some of the Dots "Premonition" tracks or the short instrumental pieces that often bridge the gaps between songs. "…Swan Song" is quite interesting, especially following the acoustic guitar dominated "Bring the Day", but at 2 minutes it is all too short.
        The Tear Garden’s "Bump (version 2)" (a shortened title of "Things That Go Bump in the Night") previously appeared on cEvin Key and co.’s "Wild Planet" compilation. This version is a different mix, however. The main difference (aside from being a slightly shorter edit) is that Edward’s vocal track is coated in what sounds like slabs of chorus and reverb effects. This seems a little gratuitous and, in my opinion, does not aid the song. The intimate feel of the original’s vocal is disturbed by a virtual chorus of Edwards. "Bump" remains an incredible song and those new to it are in for a treat, but unfortunately I think the "Wild Planet" mix is superior.
        The Tear Garden’s "Georgie (version 2)" (a shortened title of "George the Parasite") is, similarly, a new mix of a track which previously appeared on one of the Subconscious Compilation albums, "Paradigm Shift". Unlike the previous track, however, the new effects applied here work well. Some of the whooshing, white noise-ish sounds and synths have greater prominence and lend a nerve-racking quality to the section featuring Edward’s refrain. Some previously inaudible vocals, with a few new lyrics, are brought out as well. Still, the changes are relatively small; don’t expect any revelations if you’ve heard the original mix. In the case that you have not, however, you will be regaled with yet another great Tear Garden song.
        Have you ever wondered what it might be like to hear the original, raw performances that gave birth to your favorite album? Well, guess what? With "Extract From The Empathy Session", I got my wish. It’s an almost fifteen minute jam from the sessions for the Tear Garden album "Last Man To Fly". Similar outtakes appeared on the "Sheila Liked the Rodeo" EP (in fact, a few minutes of this cut were used in "Do It Yourself From A- Z Part 1"), but I think this track differs a bit in that it is pure and unadulterated improvisation, with little to no edits or postproduction. As the title suggests, it is the source for part of the track "Empathy With the Devil" (specifically the slow end portion). The whole band shines here as they weave an ever-changing tapestry through their delicate interplay. We hear cEvin’s unmistakable early 90s drum sound, Ryan Moore’s incomparable bass groove, and Martijn de Kleer’s singular guitar tone amongst layers of keys and ambient sounds. "Extract…" is a piece of the intricate musical dialogue that spawned the songs on LMTF. This glimpse at their process is like a peak behind the curtains that uncovers new gems and offers new perspectives, much like the release of alternates and outtakes on jazz box set reissues. Perhaps someday the world will be a just enough place to allow the release of a "Complete Last Man to Fly Sessions" box. Until such a time, this track is a revelation and dream come true for the ardent fan. To put it in perspective, if this were to have gone unreleased and been leaked out as a bootleg item, it would the crown jewel of any collection. Having such a track originate from one of the creative high points of the musicians involved is no small sum either.
        After 20 years in existence the band has performed only one cover song, that being this next track from the "Homage to Neu!" tribute. "Super", by the Legendary Pink Dots, is without a doubt a surprise. They’ve never done anything quite in this style before, and, as always with LPD, the style has never been done quite like they do it. The only comparisons I can make to their catalog are "Spike" and "Inside" and even those similarities are tenuous at best. But if this was an experiment for the Dots, it was successful. Heavy, rock-style drums and distorted guitar dominate the noisy texture punctuated by the occasional vocal howl. While it may not be indicative of most of LPD’s output, Skinny Puppy fans in particular will definitely find this very aggressive track intriguing. Hardcore fans will also appreciate having this track available outside of the various artists compilation it originates from.
        The Dots accompany Lydia Tomkiw’s spoken word on "Pretty Something". The very dark, ambient music they provide defines the tone of her reading and, indeed, stands as a legitimate piece of music unto itself. The music slowly rises like waves to peaks of tension and then falls again, only to repeat the process. This track, from Lydia’s album "Incorporated", was previously very difficult to find and is a great example of their more atmospheric work.
        From the project entitled Mimir, the Dots’ collaboration with HNAS, "Catchy Tune" is anything but catchy. Containing no melodic elements, the track is an atmospheric soundscape. Dense and lush, this is another fine example of their ambient style. Mimir is notoriously difficult to track down, making the inclusion of this track simultaneously overdue and teasing.
        The Tear Garden’s "Message 3" triumphantly breaks through the ambience of the previous track. A great song, but it (apparently) doesn’t differ from the version previously available on "Paradigm Shift". Thematically, this track continues the concept of the Dots’ "Message From Our Sponsor", making it of particular interest to LPD fans. Though it is nothing new, Dot or Tear Garden fans who haven’t heard this track yet are certain to enjoy it here.
        The collection concludes with a previously unreleased track by the Dots, "The Bomb Bomb Loopa Tribe Go To Swansea (and Eat It)". Though short, this instrumental represents some of the Dots’ approach to improvisation. This bit of synthetic madness atop a tribal rhythm may have been without a place for release until now, but it finds a welcome home here. The track provides a fitting conclusion to the disc.
        If "Kollabaris" had only included "Extract from the Empathy Session" I would still consider it an essential release. However, all of these tracks are a worthwhile addition to the Dots’ catalog. The alternate Tear Garden tracks are a nice inclusion for the sake of comprehensiveness but owners of "Paradigm Shift" and "Wild Planet" should not expect anything radically or drastically different. LPD fans who have for years been searching for the releases that some of these tracks have previously appeared on can now rejoice. They are now easily and readily available here, along with completely new goodies. As a collection of oddities and difficult to find material, this disc is a resounding success. Skinny Puppy/Tear Garden fans otherwise uninitiated to the Dots may find this release a welcome stepping stone. The aforementioned "Extract…" is a must-hear for any Tear Garden listener (particularly fans of the "Sheila" EP) and the non-SP related material is all top-notch. The ambient and atmospheric material should be heard by any fan of SP’s "Draining Faces". Such readers should take note, however, that while "Kollabaris" may succeed as a rarity compilation for fans, it merely hints at the Dots’ true ability when faced with the format of the full-length album.

Kollabaris can be ordered from Beta-Lactum Ring Records at www.blrrecords.com
If you decide to order a copy based upon this review, please let them know that Corey/Litany sent you so
we can see just how much of an impact we have.



 



ohGr: Welt
Out on Spitfire Records March 21, 2001
 

            The long awaited collaboration between Ogre and Mark Walk is finally being released under the name of ohGr. The album, Welt, is full of surprises that are sure to shock fans of Ogre and Skinny Puppy. Some will delight in these astonishing turns. Others will surely be turned off.  I guarantee, however, that Welt will defy all preconceptions.
            The listener may enter into Welt with the assumption that it will remain in the vein of recent industrial-rock cliches. Ogre and Walk have something different in mind, however, offering up a brilliantly clever set of well-developed songs that will surprise all listeners. They not only revive the dying corpse of industrial-rock by injecting it with a heart, soul, and groove, but also create an entirely new and superior style in the process. Welt is likely to offend the sensibilities of those seeking industrial purity by mixing industrial-rock idioms with other less obvious musical influences. Ranging from Glam to funk to early electronic pop, the elements that they combine to create Welt are both eclectic and unexpected. Constant surprise sinisterly pervades every song, as each track offers up a new brew of familiar yet somewhat distant ingredients. The amalgamation of disparate elements is at the heart of the album, but each track is unique, well defined, and contributes to the album as a whole. The wide range of influences gives Welt a mature and adult sound beyond the aggro-angst obsessions that have constrained the rest of the genre. The song writing on this album is, quite frankly, ingenious. Welt’s true success lays in the fact that, somehow, Ogre and Walk have found a way to make these contrasting stylistic elements work together in these songs.  The collision of genre does not lead to a fractured sound. Rather, through inventive composition, the various styles coalesce into a new, stable fusion of elements. In this respect, Welt is reminiscent of the work of other great musical integrators (and some of my favorite artists) such as David Bowie, Miles Davis, and Frank Zappa.
            It would have been easy for Ogre to fall into self-parody with this record. However, those who have referred to him as a one trick pony will eat their words when they hear Welt. After over 15 years of vocals, it would seem unlikely that Ogre could develop new styles, but he has and here he uses them to great effect.  He has matured and evolved a great deal since we’ve last heard him. Welt is loaded with authentic on-key singing, with real melody and real harmonies. With these new tools at his disposal, Ogre’s voice, along with the clever compositions, becomes the star of the album. His evil sound on "Devil" is without a doubt the most chilling that he has ever been. The mocking satire of both the vocal and music of "Cracker" is an entirely new element to his work. Many, again, will find the track too humorous to for their fix of ‘serious industrial artistry’, but others will revel in the sneer behind his words.  "Lusid" illustrates Ogre’s unique and imaginative phrasing as his words worm themselves around the cracks in the almost Puppy-like jumping rhythm. Ogre has dabbled in a cut-up style vocal before, but he has perfected it with "Pore".  The rapid-fire lyrics are disorienting, but edited in such a way as to be intelligible and offer insight upon further listening. His emotionally evocative singing on "Solow" wraps itself through the chord changes as the gorgeous melody is punctuated with subtle vibrato and, again, extraordinary phrasing. The pained refrain of "Minus" is simultaneously anthemic and anguished. Throughout the album he uses his new abilities as a ‘real’ singer to great purpose.  However, longtime Ogre fans need not fear that he has abandoned his older style. He has merely evolved to the next level. Welt retains all of the power and texture of his Skinny Puppy work. The use of effects is carefully balanced, never allowing them to dominate the vocal. Ogre’s lyrics are also excellent on this album. As opposed to his previous improvised direct emissions onto tape, Welt demonstrates a more careful sculpture and craft.  The interplay between the words and music is stronger here, as well. Quite obviously I am a huge fan of Ogre’s work with Skinny Puppy, yet I speak with no hesitation when I say that Welt is some of Ogre’s best work.
            Mark Walk is unfortunately destined for the inevitable comparison to Ogre’s musical foils from Skinny Puppy. In the area of production, ohGr may be the weaker of the two organizations.  While the composition of the songs is varied and imaginative the production is somewhat homogenous. Many tracks utilize a very loud, overdriven mix which unfortunately doesn’t always offer Ogre’s voice the subtle and lush backing it needs. The programming and sound design is not groundbreaking and relies too much on a preexisting sound palette. However, the mix is sprinkled with odd, quirky sounding synths. Too ‘cheesy’ sounding for most current bands, they recall an earlier era of electronic music and add to the album’s mature and eclectic sound.
            This new record is quite plainly one of the best new albums I’ve heard in years. My enthusiasm cannot be overstated. It comes with my highest recommendation, not only to fans of Ogre’s work in Skinny Puppy but to all who seek smart music. The unusual combinations and pop elements will no doubt outrage those seeking by-the-numbers industrial/EBM. However, rather than producing something that appeals to or entertains our expectations, Ogre and Walk challenge them instead, which in my opinion is something all good music must do. Welt is anything but predictable and surpasses all predictions. I simply cannot wait to hear this material live, not to mention whatever Ogre does next. But for now, I eagerly await the release date, when this record will shock, amaze, and delight listeners new and old alike.

Corey coreygoldberg@earthlink.net
 

Special thanks to Carol Kaye and Kayos Productions



 



Download: Effector

           Effector is an important record for Download. Their last release, 1997’s III, was met with a mixed reception by fans. After the triumph of the dense and aggressive albums Furnace and the Eyes of Stanley Pain, which were mostly recorded with Dwayne and Mark Spybey as members of the band, the more laid-back, Detroit style follow-up, recorded primarily by cEvin and Philth, left some disappointed. While I personally enjoyed the album, I will admit that I, too, was somewhat skeptical about the future of Download. Three years later, cEvin and Philth unveiled Effector, an album which is neither a return to the earlier period of Download nor a direct continuation of the III sound.
            With Effector, it is clear that Download has begun to explore a new path. "Carrier Tone" features a gorgeous melody and cushiony atmospheric harmonies. Dense rhythms coalesce and disintegrate as they underpin its rather song-like structure and, by the end, the melody has etched itself into our brain. "Muscaria" is somewhat freer structurally, but retains interest through constant reinvention of itself and the inventive use of guitar as a harmonic anchor. "Vagator" is a spooky yet groovy track reminiscent of "Nocruisin" from Spacecake. I am hesitant to use the term aggressive to describe its heavy, pounding rhythm lest I tease those unfortunate few who are seeking their ‘music to be pissed off to’ fix, but this is one of the funkiest tracks cEvin has ever released. The music here seems undeniably organic and composed rather than a mere bunch of machines running their presets.  The structure also seems well developed as motifs disappear and are then recapitulated. "Ego Dissolve" utilizes cEvin’s reggae influence to great effect and has a really interesting sampled percussion segment.  An almost ambient portion contrasts nicely with the persistent drums. "The Guide" takes us on a chase with a fast paced synth line similar to "Sheila Liked the Rodeo".  This is a very cinematic track that, with its constant fast pace yet quickly shifting sections, is quite reminiscent of some of Dwayne’s solo work.  "Chrysanthemum" slows things down with an addictive synth groove.  "Ayahuasca" is a flight through the clouds upon a soaring spiritual melody aided by cascades of glowing electronics. "Two Worlds Collide" uses some vocal samples to spice up the mix and shows off more of an abrasive sound than the rest of the album. The rhythmic production is reminiscent of cEvin’s earlier work.  Closing the album beautifully, "Affirmed" begins rather march-like but sweeps us away with majestic harmonies and a haunting electronic melody.
            There are a few negative points that keep Effector from being on the level of their best works, such as The Eyes of Stanley Pain and Furnace. The album lacks direction and continuity.  The delicate balance between cohesion and variety achieved by EOSP is not quite reached. While every single track is interesting, not all of them are unique enough. Though not a complete knockout, Effector is a wonderful and surprising album that shows the return of many elements, like structure and melody, which have in the past made cEvin and co.’s previous work miles ahead of the rest of electronic music.  In doing so it adds a number of classics to the Download canon. The record also proves that, despite the tragic loss of Dwayne and the departure of Mark Spybey, cEvin and Philth are a major creative force on their own. Effector is a thoroughly sculpted and composed work that will doubtlessly reward this listener for years to come.
 
 

Special thanks to Armand Sebris



 



The Tear Garden: Crystal Mass

               The Tear Garden’s ‘Last Man to Fly’ quite simply changed my life. It was that single album that set me on a course of music. I hold it, as well as their other work, in the highest regard. Obviously, then, I had been eagerly anticipating the new release from the band that began as a Legendary Pink Dots and Skinny Puppy collaborative effort ever since it was announced that they planned to reconvene for a new record. However, this also meant that I would be quite difficult to impress. When ranked against absolute classics, would the new work stand on its own or would it remain a pale shadow of their previous triumphs? The Tear Garden have thus far carved themselves a unique niche in music with their emotionally expressive and intimate records. This sound would be too easy to repeat and it seemed possible that the Tear Garden could find themselves in a rut with no new ground to cover. With ‘Crystal Mass’, they have not only eradicated those fears, but also contributed yet another classic record to my collection.
                    The album makes a bold stylistic statement from the very first note. "Lament" begins purely electronically; a departure from the previous record’s primarily acoustic sound. Though not entirely a surprise (early reports indicated a move back to electronics before the album was even recorded), this is a definite departure and, to some, a welcome return to the sounds of the first EP and album. The track quickly settles into an arpeggiated synth line reminiscent of "Ophelia" and the propelling bass line lends it an upbeat vibe not unlike "In Search of My Rose". Rounding out the mix are some gorgeous and laid-back guitar work from Martijn de Kleer and some atmospheric synths. With this track, Edward’s voice appears to have hit a new high point. The care he gives to intonation and phrasing is unparalleled and his voice is controlled and understated. A beautiful chord progression, reminiscent of ‘Last Man to Fly’, gives "Lament" a foundation and cements the connection to the band’s earlier work. However, the difference of approach to production and mixing which lies between Dave Ogilvie on the earlier records and cEvin on these last two (with Frank Verschuuren on ‘Crystal Mass’) is plain just from this single track.  ‘Crystal Mass’ and ‘…Angel…’ have a much more ‘up front’ and ‘down to basics’ mix than the earlier records.  Before the song’s close "Lament" surprises us with a triumphant bubbling figuration of the main synth line, ending the song on an emotionally positive note.
                 "The Double Spades Effect" invokes a rhythm somewhere between folk-rock and tribal drumming. Edward is again subdued as his voice floats amidst background atmospherics, loops, and tapes, recalling ‘Tired Eyes Slowly Burning’ distinctly. Martijn’s violin work is an asset to the band and his guitar experience shows as he exploits the timbre of his instrument. The band really grooves here with the bass, live percussion, and violin driving the track. Overall, this song falls well into the Tear Garden’s proven approach of ‘modern day troubadours’, but does so using new elements
                The positive vibe of the first two tracks is broken by "Desert Island Disc", which begins with an ominous and mysterious atmosphere. I can best describe the mood as driving alone down a deserted highway at night. Ka-Spel addresses the listener with images of forgotten faces from the past. An acoustic guitar plays a riff similar to that of ‘Ascension Day’ but in a melancholy context, harmonized by simultaneous electric guitar. Martijn’s electric guitar on this track is particularly lyric and expressive. The liquidy percussion is detailed and intricately produced. The more lively chorus interrupts the midnight drive like the comfort of a familiar song on the car stereo, but that hopeful quality gives way as Edward’s ironic lyrics darkly indict the listener "this is your life…and it’s over." The spooky track teases us with salvation, but returns us to its dark origins. However, this is but a mere harbinger of what is yet to come.
             "Hopeful" returns the album to more familiar territory. With live acoustic drums and a progressively folky sound, this song that could easily fit on ‘To Be An Angel…" Lyrically and musically the song has a palatable sense of dismissive warning, as if Edward is informing us of an oncoming doom, but half-heartedly as he knows we will not head it. "Hopeful" has infectious progression making for a successful track within the context of the album but it is the confrontational lyrics which make it a valuable contribution to the band’s canon.
             "Castaway*" follows with a tribal rhythm in the style of "Tasteless", augmented by non-western percussion instruments. The bass line illustrates cEvin and Ryan’s mutual interest in dub and reggae more than any other track. Swimming in the mix is a synth sounding a bit like ‘Music for Cats’. Edward’s filtered vocals are disarming and disturbing so shortly after the positive mood of much of the previous material.  As wonderful as this track is overall, the jewel in its crown is Martijn’s guitar solo, which can only be described as searing. The percussion pulls at the solo’s rhythm and again a lot of attention is paid to the rhythm production. "Castaway" retains the disturbing mood of the previous tracks.
             "Her Majesty’s Trusted Food Taster*" brings us out of the somber mood of the past few tracks with an uplifting groove carried by live drums and percussion carefully treated with a variety of effects. The electric guitar introduces the chords and when the synths respond in kind we take off. If "Desert Island Disc" was driving alone at night, "…Food Taster" is the grandeur of a bird in flight beneath the warmth of the sun. The glow of this track is carried as the guitar gently wraps itself around the chords.  This track is simply magnificent, however its placement between some other very dark songs robs it of its potential effect.
             "Feathered Friends" begins with a noisy and hostile rhythm that builds itself out of Dwayne’s "Burnout" and what sounds like a gating effect. A gorgeous fracture of melody responds and suddenly we are thrust into a grinding rhythmic loop that establishes a very dark tone. The bass, guitar, and drums pick this up as they develop a threatening and nerve wracking groove.  When Edward’s staccato almost rap-like voice enters, we know this will be unlike any other Tear Garden track we’ve ever heard.  Edward’s vocal is angry and grimy, building to his dismissive refrain "it’s for the birds".  Never before has he sounded so menacing. Martijn’s electric guitar cuts into the mix, frothing with evil portents. Niels guests with his perverted and processed flute. This twist into a threateningly dark, almost violent, tone is simply one of the most shocking surprise turns I’ve ever heard an album (or project) take. In my mind it was completely unpredicted, however, looking back at the previous tracks on the album, it seems that this mood was always looming in the distance, waiting to explode here. Thus far I had felt that ‘Crystal Mass’ was quite a good Tear Garden album with enough new elements sprinkled in to be more than a mere rerun of past works.  When I heard "Feathered Friends", I realized that ‘Crystal Mass’ reached a whole new level for the band.
             "To Mourn the Death of Colour" brings the bile of "Feathered Friends" to its inevitable somber conclusion. Edward’s voice is that of someone depleted from a long journey, a journey not unlike that of the listener of this disc. Edward seems to give in, saying "switch it off now, let me sleep". Along with the slow, dramatic backing this illustrates the depths of depression. The emotional pair of this and the previous track is, I believe, one of the highlights of the Tear Garden’s overwhelmingly amazing oeuvre. The track winds down and begins to decay into an instrumental collage very reminiscent of "Last Post".
                The ending of "…Colour" would seemingly be the perfect moment to end the album, but perhaps it is best not to end the record on such an emotionally low note. "Six of One" could easily have begun as a Download track, with its midtempo heavily electronic groove. The track is somewhat akin to "Empathy with the Devil", owing mostly to Edward’s edgy vocal attitude. The danceable rhythm and layers of synths are reminiscent of the first side of ‘Tired Eyes Slowly Burning’ but the funky guitar work by Martijn and bass groove by Ryan give it a much freer feel. This is a great track which adds a biting tone to the album, but perhaps belongs elsewhere on the album. However, the main body of the track is followed by a warm, ambient segment that ends the album perfectly.
            All of the band members are in top form for ‘Crystal Mass’, with highlights belonging to all. Edward’s always enrapturing voice is at a new level (as also evidenced by his recent solo album, ‘Red Letters’). Martijn’s return to an electric guitar style in the vein of ‘Last Man to Fly’ allows him to shine, as does his violin. The detailed drum and percussion production is indicative of cEvin’s best work. The only major disappointment is the unfortunately minor involvement of Niels Van Hoornblower, who was responsible for so many wonderful moments on ‘To Be an Angel…’ The sequencing of the tracks seems a bit less than optimum, hampering some of the delicate transfers of emotion. While it would have been easy for the Tear Garden to record another album in the style of their past works the reemphasis of electronics and the surprise transition to a dark mood of ‘Crystal Mass’ sees them exploring a new path in their continuing musical journey. This album is simply a must for all Pink Dots, Skinny Puppy, and Tear Garden fans. Those who were more intrigued by the collaboration’s earlier electronic work than their last album will most likely be pleasantly surprised.  Fans of cEvin’s work in Download may enjoy the ‘technoy’ approach to some of the more electronic tracks. I believe this album is a must-have not only for LPD and Skinny Puppy fans of all tastes, but for all smart music fans.

*It seems quite possible that in addition to the mastering error of tracks 4 and 5, the song titles for "Castaway" and "Her Majesty’s Trusted Food Taster" were reversed in the track listing. For the sake of clarity, I have used the titles as they appear on the artwork here.

Corey Goldberg 11/10/00




SubConscious Compilation: Wild Planet

 Normally track-by-track reviews are not my review style. However, since this is essentially a Various Artists compilation, I will focus on each track individually in addition to the disc as a whole.
 

Download – Toooly Hooof (remix)

 This is a reworking of the track from ‘III’ by cEvin himself.  Utilizing many of the same elements he has created a vastly different final product.  The original stood out on the album as one of the few fast tracks, consisting primarily of various effects-laden sounds interjected atop a funky, yet at times insanely complex, rhythmic groove.  Here, the groove itself has been partially dismantled.  The beat never quite materializes into something accessible.  What sounds like a gate opening on radio static acts as the bass and conflicts with the pulse of the rhythm track in a method similar to ‘Meteorite’.* This gives the track an overall nerve wracking atmosphere.  In addition to the rhythm there is a persistent dissonant and droning synth presence, again adding tension. cEvin’s trademark  Jamaican radio samples reappear, along with  slabs of other sampled sounds. Chunks of melodic motifs show up abruptly but just as quickly disappear and never reoccur.  This all adds up to a disorienting soundscape (not unlike much of ‘Music for Cats’) which is a relatively dark track compared to the lighthearted funkiness of the original. While far from sparse, the remix has a colder, harder sound than the ‘warm soup’ of the ‘III’ version. It’s quite impressive to see the same elements arranged in a different manner to such drastically different results. A very successful remix.  It’s also worthwhile to note that this is the first remix not done by an outside party in a very long time (the Sidewinder and Dutch Flowers remixes being closer to re-edits/extended versions than actual remixes).

*Actually, upon further listen I don't believe this is the case. In fact, I think the bass is just so heavy that it distorted my headphones.

A Duck – Quackerz (revision)

(This is a different version of ‘Phenethylamine Backwash’, a pretty rare compilation track.  The original is one of the only Puppy related tracks which I haven’t heard, so I can’t comment on how different it is.)

This track is pure magic. It is worth the purchase of the CD alone. I was absolutely floored upon hearing it; reminded again, after so long, of Dwayne’s brilliance.  It builds upon the ideas of ‘Power’, and in fact utilizes a few of the same sounds, but takes it to a different level. After setting us up for an intense break-beat track Dwayne shocks us with a gorgeous melody the likes of which only he could write. This was recorded in 93 but still sounds breathtakingly fresh and way ahead of any techno being produced even 7 years later.  While I am, as always, biased by my love of Dwayne’s music, this track is an absolute must-hear.  I cannot give this a higher recommendation.

PlatEAU – Three years

A lush ambient soundscape lulls us out of Dwayne’s track.  Before long we are seduced into a slow, laid back drum and bass groove which, through some thoughtful mixing, always seems just a little off in the distance. The use of the drum and bass tracks situated in a large ambient field reminds me  of Dead Voices On Air’s ‘How Hollow Heart’ album.  As with most platEAU, the true rewards come in the subtleties revealed through focused listening.  The ambience occasionally treats us to a melodic flourish, but only briefly. This track was handled delicately, and it shows. IMHO one of the best platEAU tracks ever.

Doubting Thomas – Steps

Original used as music for the La La La Humansteps dance troupe, the sounds are unmistakably that of Doubting Thomas/early 90s Puppy.  The track works by extending our anticipation of the resolution of the rhythm into an accessible beat as long as possible.  The delay of our satisfaction is accompanied by a trademark jack-in-the-box-like synth melody.  The intensity of the drums is maximized by this delay, somewhat like in the ‘Toooly Hooof’ remix or on the ‘Music for Cats’ album.  Quite interesting all around, with more than a passing resemblance to ‘The Moodswing’ both stylistically and conceptually.  The only complaint is that this track would have worked better in the context of a an album than a compilation, but if not for a compilation it would likely never have been released. Tantalizing to wonder what other gems from these sessions/this era might lay hidden in the vault.

Skinny Puppy - Rodent (remix)

The most obviously accessible track on the album, this remix (another version of that featured on Remix Dys Temper) updates ‘Rodent’ into a fully rounded 90s electro-industrial style song in the vein of FLA, KMFDM et al.  Enjoyable and interesting if you can tolerate that style.  While I do appreciate it, I think the sound of it is in general too obvious and too cliché (but then again, that’s why I don’t like much of this ‘genre’).  In addition, I think that ‘Rodent’s power was in the rawness of the original mix. Re-sculpting it into something that could easily be on any industrial single compilation demolishes this IMHO.  On the other hand, there are some very interesting things done on this track (particularly with the new instrumentation which has been added), and I think it is a vast improvement on the RDT version.  Removing the incessant and simplistic drum beat would go a long way in improving my opinion of this track.  It is certainly worth a listen, but stylistically out of place on the compilation and a bit too typical-sounding for my tastes.

The Tear Garden – Things That Go Bump In the Night

Just like the two Tear Garden tracks on the first SubCon compilation, this was originally recorded during the sessions for ‘To Be An Angel Blind, The Crippled Soul Divide’.  However, this song features a lot more post production, pointing the way to the supposedly more electronic sound of the upcoming ‘Crystal Mass’. As always with this collective, ‘Things…’ is an excellent track all around, but cEvin’s effects wizardry gives this song an entirely different feel than we are accustomed to hearing from them.  In particular, Martijn’s guitar sounds unlike it ever has before. The cheesy drum machine sound of such songs as ‘Psycho 9’ returns, but this time around its treated in a very caustic and unsettling mix. My best description is that this is what a William Burroughs novel sounds like. With the number of great outtakes from these sessions now at 3, I am forced to wish that a companion EP of cutting room floor bits was produced, as ‘Sheila Liked the Rodeo’ was for ‘Last Man to Fly’. Some would probably have rather heard a preview of ‘Crystal Mass’ on this disc than another ‘To Be An Angel…’ outtake, but that may very well have meant leaving this wonderful track in the vault.  Suffice it to say that The Tear Garden never disappoints.

Twilight Circus – Ultra Binghi (brain melter mix)

The solo project of Pink Dot Ryan Moore gives us this next track which continues the mood of ‘Things…’.  On a surface level, this track is a slow groove on drums, bass, and percussion with effects- processed sounds layered over it.  However, to reduce it to a cursory description like that does not do it justice.  The timing and texture of the interjected noises and samples is perfect, the percussion is both propelling and, due to filtering, interesting unto itself, and the bass is just plain smooth.  The attention to timbre on this track shines, but so does Ryan’s groove on the drum kit.  What at first seem like sloppy fills turn out to be really interesting diversions. This is a great cut, fits in seamlessly with the laid back feel of the other material, and will doubtlessly make Twilight Circus fans out of a number of Puppy listeners.

Philth – Sanity Shovel

The sound of Philth’s solo track is a departure from his more aggressive entry on ‘Paradigm Shift’.  Similar in mood and texture to platEAU, ‘Sanity Shovel’ returns us to a purely electronic landscape.  Starting off fairly reserved it slowly builds to something more intense, breaking past the restrictions of traditional techno forms.  Gorgeous atmospheric synths arrive and soothe while the jerky drum and bass tracks persist.  While perhaps not the best example of Philth’s solo work, it is definitely a worthwhile inclusion on this disc.

Floatpoint – Foundflap

This collaboration between Philth and Dan Handrabur makes its first appearance in the SubCon universe on this compilation, and in doing so brings a new mood.  More menacing than the previous material, ‘Foundflap’ features heavily reverbed, pounding drums layered with squealing electronically processed noises. Spooky and animalistic sounding, yet always calm, this offers a nice change from the lighthearted groove established by the previous tracks.  Impressive.

cEvin Key – I Still Ate Her

A rare track previously released on a bonus CD that came with a magazine (accredited to Download at that point) it is nice to see this included here so that all fans can hear it.  Based in part on some samples from ‘Download’ off ‘Last Rights’, this track is a definite thematic link between latter day Skinny Puppy, Download, and ‘Music For Cats’.  The relentless use of high-pitched electronic feedback-type noises is similar in basic style with ‘Foundflap’, but with a drastically different mood.   A welcome inclusion.

Lustmord – Infinite Domain (version)

The first track by an artist previously unassociated with SubCon, Lustmord’s entry is stirringly impressive and is likely to make him quite a few new fans.  Based in a dark ambient environment a tribal rhythm slowly takes shape and builds as various processed sounds coalesce to fill out the mix. The fantastic use of space is creepy and intense.  Possibly one of the best tracks on the disc.

Off and Gone – Decaying Orbit

A major switch in tone is handled well by this track, another collaboration between Philth and Dan Handrabur. An eerily radio-sample-like loop forms the basis of what grows into a fast techno track in the style of Dwayne’s ‘Power’ or Philth’s ‘Touched’. Very well done and interesting, its pace adds a necessary element to the compilation.  The only thing which makes this a notch below Dwayne’s work is its reliance on constant loops rather than something with more structural variation.

The Legendary Pink Dots – Fate’s Faithful Punchline (version)

In lieu of another Tear Garden track we are welcomed to an alternate version of a track from the Pink Dot’s own most recent album.  A mellow mood featuring some really spectacular moments by Niels Van Hoornblower.  This mix is subtly different from the original version throughout, most notably featuring some great new horn work in the intro.  As always, their work is serene and it is nice to see their work outside of Tear Garden included here.  Hopefully this will inspire more Skinny Puppy fans to check out the LPD, that is if the Tear Garden has not yet converted them.  The only downside is that this track is not a completely new piece.

Dead Voices On Air meets Dropstar – Dijn

Our mellow mood turns darker with this final, disturbing piece.  Reminiscent of some of DVOA’s ‘Mourning Songs’ or LPD’s more ambient side, ’Dijn’ is a soundscape of carefully controlled synths and processed spoken word.  More dense and expansive sounding than some of DVOA’s other work, yet simultaneously more controlled and reserved. Along with the Lustmord track this makes sure that dark ambient is as well represented on ‘Wild Planet’ as is break-beat or trance.

One of the common criticisms of the recent output from Subconscious has been that it has been too relaxed, mellow, lighthearted, and lacking in aggressiveness or intensity. While I do not agree with the previous assertion, this release thwarts that criticism by being simultaneously intense, dark, and conflicted and laid back and groovy.  In addition it gives a much more diverse range of musical styles, techniques, and moods than ‘Paradigm Shift’. Featuring a wide range of progressive, interesting, and engaging material this disc is highly recommended for any electronic music fan.  For those fans of Skinny Puppy who have not yet checked out the post-Puppy material of cEvin Key or are wary of a ‘cliched techno sound’, this is great introduction and is likely to surprise. Overall I think it is the best SubCon release since ‘The Eyes of  Stanley Pain’ or the previous compilation, hampered, if only slightly, by the fact that a few of the tracks are not completely new.

-Corey 5/20/00

Special thanks to Armand at Nettwerk



 



End of Days Score

         As you probably already know, the Jon Debney score for the film End of Days features contributions by cEvin Key. Varese Sarabande have released this score on CD, augmented with a few additional tracks by cEvin.  The score itself consists largely of dissonant, tense pieces.  There is little repeated melodic content, save for a reoccurring short motif sung by a boy soprano.  This is a fairly interesting move for a film score, its presence is merely atmospheric rather than to provide an affective context to the film. More often than not its there to build tension and does this fairly well, utilizing tuvan throat singing and washes of percussion.  The major fault is the presence of the choir and the aforementioned  boy soprano.  The use of church style chants in order to create a sense of ‘mysterious and holy awe’ is, in my opinion, trite and something we have heard way too often.
         Given these general criticisms of Debney’s score, the tracks featuring cEvin are by far the most interesting.  Sprinkled throughout the score are pieces which feature cEvin’s unmistakable production techniques and electronic tweaking.  Based upon a few of Debney’s ideas, cEvin adds bits of static and short backwards masked samples.  These small touches end up being more chilling than any of the ‘hellish choir’ present elsewhere in the score.
        After the main program of the score we are treated to two bonus tracks. The first is an alternate main title by cEvin.  It begins similar to Debney’s original, but with the aforementioned effects by cEvin which elevate it to a higher plane.  The similarity to Skinny Puppy tracks such as Draining Faces and The Mourn is uncanny. With the sudden horror of an electronically manipulated scream we are plunged into an unprecedented tribal rhythm track. Again, cEvin’s mastery of mixing and effects creates something creepier than any of the rest of the score. The second bonus track is a ‘dance mix’, the title of which should be taken very loosely.  Again we are treated to cEvin in full splendor.  The attention to detail given to the mix, particularly to the rhythm track, is something unique to his work.  The dance mix is only two minutes long but quite densely packed with stray bits of audio spewage. His genius as a producer really shines on these last two tracks, which are perhaps the most Skinny Puppy-esque pieces he has done since the end of the band. They have a dark tone much like the instrumental
CFM tracks or Fritter (Stella’s home). There are also a number of similarities to the Charlie’s Family score present. These tracks alone are worth the purchase of the disc.
        This is an absolute MUST for the avid Puppy fan. Casual fans may find the moments of cEvin to be too few and too short, but I still highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates their dark instrumental material.  This release has excited this particular fan more than anything since Paradigm Shift.  Now all we need is for someone to give cEvin the chance to man the score alone.

-Corey

Special thanks to Brian Giorgi at Varese Sarabande


All text © Corey Goldberg
This page last updated on Thursday, May 27, 2004
by Corey Goldberg