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23Fish "Unforgiven Machine" (MusicZeit, 2010)

For this album Spanish synthesist Javi Canovas teamed up with guitar player David Paredes with a result that blends Javi's typical style and some unique experimental touches. "Nightwatchers" begins exactly with one of those experimental sections. Heavy analogue effects are all we hear for a while. It's not exactly the kind of stuff we have used to hear from Canovas, it's more along the lines of noise / DIY electronic culture, pretty heavy and raw. Frippoid guitar lines are heard, flowing amidst the strange soundscape. A more bluesy tone is then introduced, utilizing mostly the Arabic scale. A sequence slowly materializes, bringing a sense of purpose to the proceedings. From this point on, the music takes on a more familiar Javi Canovas, stance, with driving sequencers (and I'm talking about multiple pulsations here), sporadic pads and various other slight melodic embellishments. This is an excellent track that ends with a haunting soundscape. "Underground Voice" is introduced with some spooky effects that sound like... well, underground voices. More electronic effects follow, with the whole sounding like some outtake from a Dark Ambient session of sorts. Nice stuff for those lonely evenings... if you are not afraid of gloomy things, that is. The guitar really adds a new dimension to the soundscape. Dramatic strings and pads appear towards the 10-minute mark, with subtle, electric piano flashes. This is some moody stuff that is all but interrupted by the rolling melodic sequence. More sequences are added and, man, what a track it becomes! Driving, purposeful, melodic, sensual, cosmic... a real winner! The interesting part is that the track has a lead line that sounds like mellotron strings but at the same time reminds on processed guitar or even Hammond organ. "Architeuthis" brings in the noisy textures once again. Waves of static disrupt a shadowy background at uneven points, creating a really disturbing, Giger-esque landscape of sound. Metallic clangs populate the sonic void, with strange effects and voices processed beyond recognition. Has Javi been listening to a lot of Frohmader mixed with Lustmord, or perhaps Atrax Morgue and "Forbidden Planet" soundtrack lately? Theremin-like wails cry like banshees over moorland, before splashes of melodic sequencing can be heard. A full-fledged sequence finally develops, sucking you in a whirlpool of melancholic, minor-key pulsations. I am amazed at how well actually the cold, shadowy and bleak world of biomechanoids and necronomicons melds with the cosmic and somewhat scientifically romantic grandeur of the Berlin School. Not many people have tried to mix the two in one track but Javi does it here and succeeds, big time! A completely different fish (no pun intended) is the closing track, "The Twenty Six Gills Man". Right from the beginning we are treated to a jazzy, melancholic and aquatic soundscape, where electric piano clusters and subtle guitar dominate. Towards the 6-minute mark, a sequence becomes a dominant element. The track is rather loose and sparse in comparison with the preceding compositions but you do need something to chill out to after the intense stuff that went on up to this point. On the other hand, the sequences on this track are some of the best I've heard from Javi. Also of note are great contributions from David Paredes on distorted, echoing guitar. Surprisingly, the track ends with distant samples of Russian speech (a news report about the recent accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro power station). With "Unforgiven Machine" Javi Canovas really tries new things & experiments a lot and I like that. I'd go as far as to say this is his most interesting and artistically accomplished project to date. Good, good, good.

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The Amnis Initiative "Distant Dreams" (Lime Mixed Media, 2010)

"Starshine" starts with deep abstract electronic soundscape before a Vangelis-like piano / strings melody takes over. Oboe is mixed in for a relaxing melodic journey. "The Vision" combines a "Chariots of Fire" type one-note sequence with relaxing guitar arrangements and melodic strings / oboe. Distant bells complete the picture of this gently rhythmic piece. The track concludes with melodic piano rolls. "Maiden Voyage" starts with a rich symphonic soundscape, again bringing to mind the glorious moments of Vangelis. Drum rolls come in and it all becomes rather bombastic, without losing the melodic edge. "In the Land of the Rainbow" is way too sweet for my taste, with bird sounds, flute melodies and an atmosphere approximating the new age genre. However, there are some nice sawy synth leads as well so if you like your music melodic and don't mind some new age-isms, this track might be a pleasure to listen to. "Native Passage" continues in the new age mould, with tribal rhythms and melodic flutes. To me it was one of the least interesting tracks of the entire album. "Midnight Sanctuary" is a nice short melodic interlude that brings works like "Conquest of Paradise" to mind. "Lament For the Living" relies on a marching rhythm, on top of which Dennis layers nice melodies and background choirs. Again, it's quite in line with 1990's Vangelis, using similar instrumentation. Not very electronic in sound, it's nice, accessible instrumental music. "Sail the Cosmic Ocean" begins with a gentle synth drone and rich symphonic strings. More melodic elements are added, for instance, the flute lead sound. Overall, it's one of the most impressive pieces on this album. It's solemn, majestic and with a richness of sound rarely found in today's music. Surprisingly, "Long Distance" introduces an electronic rhythm that serves as the basis for the already familiar symphonic strings and melodic passages. Another nice track. "Living Landscape" is initially an electric piano based track - very introspective and full of emotion but soon dark orchestral melodies take over. The electric piano does make a return though - this time in a straight melodic mode. "Isle of the Wandering Spirits" steps it up a notch in the mysterious mood department. It consists of wonderful electric piano flourishes and a reflective, even a tad dark, background. Is this the best track on the album? It could be. At least it was the one I certainly had great pleasure listening to. "Distant Memories" is a great and emotional solo piano piece. "Elevation Island" concludes the album on an optimistic note, with a relatively heavy, relaxed rhythm and flowing string / ethnic melodies. The name Dennis Lodewijks (the man behind The Amnis Inititative) was unknown to me up to this point but he seems to be the creator of "Elsewhere" website dedicated to Vangelis. It is no wonder, then, that this album here is a real treat for fans of the Greek master. It's nice to see someone doing the Vangelis thing but one thing I really missed was some of the more experimental / progressive influences that were present and played an important part in Vangelis' early music, because, frankly speaking, the 1990's period is not my favourite at all. However, if you like albums like "1492 - Conquest of Paradise", "Voices" or "Oceanic" this music will give you an hour of pure listening pleasure.

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Andreas Akwara "Reinheit" (private release, 2010)

The first part begins in a similar fashion to Jarre's "Equinoxe", with sparse chords gaining in momentum and intensity, joined by various atmospheric pads. A short, but moody piece of music. "Satz II" brings in warm analogue textures in the form of classic EMS-like twitters and pads. A subtle pulse is heard but overall the track is more or less a serene drift through celestial textures and flowing, effects-laden pads. Again, comparisons to Jarre are obvious. However, there's that special "Andreas Akwara" stamp on most of the sounds and the way they are arranged into a nice Space Music piece. The third part represents a formless mass of soothing and relaxing textures. The mood is fairly positive and comforting, nothing grating, disturbing or even remotely aggressive about it. Surprisingly enough, Satz IV pumps up those sequences for a nice electronic ride through space. It's still firmly rooted in the Space Music tradition but sounds like you're trapped in one of the more active regions of space. A logical progression from the previous part is Satz V, laden with bass sequences that do remind slightly on "Oxygene", while the rest consists mostly of strange effects and that sawy, CS-80-like Vangelis touch (a very subtle one). Satz VI returns to the world of flowing textures and typical Andreas Akwara atmospheres and melodies. However, the tone is not so bright this time, opting for a darker, more mysterious sound. Also, it is one of the most experimental and overtly synthetic-sounding pieces I've heard from Andreas. Mellotron choir injections are a noticeable feature of this track. The seventh part delves into the shadowy world of subtle bass pulses, echoing effects and melancholic pads. Sonically, this is typical Andreas Akwara, as we know him from his previous releases. During the next part, the bass sequences become more prominent, the basic elements staying the same. These bass sequences also continue well into part 9, being the spine of this track which is laden with ubiquitous pads, effects and nice fat timbres. Sawy synthesizers herald the coming of the last part. This track gradually builds momentum as we are riding on the crescent of sonic waves full of synthetic pulsations and spacey atmospheres. It's possibly the most hypnotic piece of this album. "Reinheit" is recognizably Andreas Akwara in style and introduces some new elements, resulting in one of his most distinctive sounding works to date. Recommended to all fans of Space Music.

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Bruce Atchison "Lagomorph" (private release, 1998)

Canadian-born Bruce Atchison has been keeping a low profile throughout the years, working out of his private studio in Edmonton and releasing his music on cassette and CDR's since the 1980's. However, despite the relative obscurity (those who are into Canadian EM scene have certainly came across his name more than once), he is definitely one of the most original and sincere artists of the scene, besides being a writer. So, what he usually does on his albums is setting up a dense net of various wacky, spacey, cheesy or deep synthesizer sounds to create a certain mood and then play a whimsical melody or two on an equally charming and plastic-sounding (in a positive sense) keyboard. This is also true about the "Lagomorph" two-part series, the first of which I am going to review below. I will not name the tracks individually in this review, because all of them are local variations (in different languages) of the word "rabbit". And the first track is surprisingly dark. Dark, cosmic and ambient, although fittingly static. There is a certain Jarre-like quality to the synth textures and it all sounds like a wicked cousin of "Oxygene Part 1" really. Curious stuff. The second track relies on a static motorik rhythm and very neat, flashy synthesizer textures. If La Dusseldorf would be sent to Mars, that's what they'd sound like. The track speeds up unexpectedly, keeping up the solid rhythmic base. It's an interesting blend of Dusseldorf / Berlinesque / Spacerocking stuff that's hard to pin down. Things fatten up considerably with track three. The synths have a wall-of-sound quality to them this time, while a sequencer rhythm plays underneath, all crowned by dramatic melodic injections. The track is a bit rough around the edges, but that's probably part of its charm. Track four consists of ambient synth pads and subtle melodic bits before track five takes us back into cosmos, consisting of a dense net of dark synthesizer textures and a dramatic melody. The track is pronouncedly synthetic and sounds like it was recorded in the 1970's or early 1980's. I know it wasn't but it has that vibe to it. On the other hand, track six is more symphonic, with something of a Vangelis feel even, or something like TD's "Tangram". Rougher and less refined than the two artists, it still finds its place in the world of symphonic EM, with it's lush synthesizer textures and smoothly phased pads. On the other hand, part seven has something of a menacing tone to it, with growling synth drones, chaotic arpeggios and a melody straight out of Carpenter's horror flick. The next part is a computer bleep fest. It's much more typical of Bruce's usual style. I've come to enjoy this occasional cheesiness in his work, as it reminds me on the glory days of classic Cluster who had the same minimal vibe, with toy-box melodies and hardly a key change throughout the course of the track. Part nine is probably the most abstract of the lot. I wouldn't even call this Ambient, more like experimental EM with noisy undertones. Track ten, on the other hand, has that infectious sequencer pulse going on, with the rest consisting of (again) noisy textures and other low-fi mishmash. Experimental in the good sense, it takes EM to new realms where few mainstream acts would venture. The eleventh track continues the experimental theme, with bells and didgeridoo-like overtones. Interesting stuff that goes nowhere. "Lagomorph" is a highly diverse and yet characteristic collection of Bruce Atchison tunes, and comes as highly recommended for those who seek something out of the mainstream EM cannon. Try one of Bruce's albums and you may be surprised with curious textures and melodies he's come up with.

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Ian Boddy & Parallel Worlds "Exit Strategy" (DiN, 2011)

For this album two experienced EM musicians joined forces - British synthesizer legend Ian Boddy and Greek ambient electronica master Bakis Sirros aka Parallel Worlds. Given that both musicians hardly ever go the easy route, the result is something quite spectacular. "Portal" fills your ears with industrial hums, dark effects and a distorted white noise rhythm. This is intriguing, inventive stuff. Experimental rhythms adorn these sparse soundscapes in a breezy, easy-going manner that's all but interrupted by heavier, industrial clanging rhythms. It feels like being trapped in a hostile radioactive base, with engines humming, hammers pounding, green slime flowing and other hazardous conditions surrounding you. "Impresario" offers a brighter, more delicate concoction of sounds, with even a slight symphonic element. Dramatic strings dominate the picture, with tight rhythms providing a nice backbone. I am surprised at how well the individual styles of the two musicians meld together, creating a soundscape that is both foreboding and industrial but strangely attractive at the same time. At once melodic and abstract, this piece has all the qualities of a successful EM track. "Soliloquy" greets with an ambient intro, with subtle effects and floating, melancholic pads. However, soon relaxed rhythms enter, supporting a warm blanket of emotional melodic structures. Amazingly sublime and beautiful stuff! What's interesting is that it manages to remain experimental while being extremely listenable. The guys have done top-notch job with this one! Dark soundscape ends this great piece of music. "Entwined" is more psychedelic, featuring only abstract sounds and effects. Amazing how the guys' music went from absolutely and infinitely warm on "Soliloquy" to dead cold on "Entwined". It feels like you're freezing - a feeling which is reinforced by the use of icy, metallic buzzy tones. The title track enters the realms of chaotic rhythms and melodies, with broken arpeggios and that ever so slight Vangelis touch in the use of CS80-like lead sounds (in supporting roles). This track sounds a bit more like a solo Parallel Worlds track where his IDM influences shine through. Again, it's all very listenable and yet daring and imaginative - a nice balance of melodicism and experimentalism. The track ends with a section of background sounds and effects coupled with distant melodies as if you're sitting in a cave, listening closely, trying to figure out what's happening in the outerworld. I am amazed at how evocative this music is. "Hidden" offers a more spacious approach, with abstract electronics reminding on the second side of Ash Ra Tempel's "Join Inn" album (I am talking about "Jenseits" of course). You can almost feel this music on a physical level - it's so lively and vibrant. "Return" takes us back to rhythmic territory with electronic pulsations supported by gorgeous synthesized melodies and effects. It's rich, symphonic and just plain epic. Words cannot describe how many elements this track has to it. Shifting rhythms, restrained effects and that solemn, echoing melodic whirl. An excellent finish to this outstanding album that is a noble work by two experienced musicians - artistically strong and immaculately programmed. No matter what style of EM is your favourite - this album will give you an hour of pure listening pleasure!

Related links: Boddy, Ian, Parallel Worlds.

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Ron Boots & Synth.nl "Refuge en Verre" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

This is the first collaborative project of two Dutch electronic artists Ron Boots and Michel van Osenbruggen aka Synth.nl. Both musicians have unique rhythmic / melodic styles, so their influences meld together well to create a work of classic melodic Dutch EM (the "Eindhoven School"). These tracks were performed while both musicians stayed in Belgian Ardennes with their families, so the music has a bit of a pastoral quality to it, without resorting to complete new age relaxation vibe. The title track slowly builds with bass pulsations, floating pads and a wonderful melodic synth solo. It's relaxed, warm and comforting. I like the synth work on this track - everything is in place - the tasty pulsations, the high-flying solos and the warm pads. Some restrained piano notes lend their airy charm to the soundscape. "La Roche-en-Ardenne" kicks in with melancholic pads and a relaxed rocking rhythm. Then a wonderful synth melody appears - rich, symphonic and emotional. Nice stuff that will leave all fans of melodic EM speechless. "Orage d'ete" has an ambient intro loaded with the sounds of nature (do I hear a distant thunder?) and moody pads. Some synth melodies appear as well as some nice flute and sax. This is quite pastoral and reflective. Later in the track a few tribal-like percussion instruments appear but the track remains essentially an ambient effort. "Coucher du Soleil" opens with moody male choirs and some tasty synth effects. A sequence appears and then a rhythm and a rippling synth solo. This track is a bit sad and melancholic. "Contemple du Ciel" begins with mysterious pads and radio voice samples. A wonderful bass sequence then appears and an electronic tr-808-like rhythm drives this relaxed track forward. I like the way melodies are combined with rhythms on this track. "Rosee du Matin" is very Vangelis-like, with its fat CS-80 style leads and an overall symphonic approach. Really nice and maybe the best track on the entire album. "Combat des Coqs" begins with sounds of roosters but soon a rippling sequence appears. It is supported by a stomping rhythm and a guitar lead. Rocking drums appear and drive the track along. I am not sure if the guitar is real. It sounds like those trademark licks played by Frank Dorittke (at least it is in a similar style) but no guitar player is credited in the liner notes. Anyway, this piece is the most rocking and wild of the lot. "Soleil Levant" arrives with tasty pads and a well-programmed sequence. A slow rhythm then starts, the whole reminding me a bit on Gert Emmens circa "Obscure Movements in Twilight Shades". However, once the solos arrive, you know you're listening to Ron Boots. The sound is very characteristic. Michel adds fine melodic touches as well. A great finish to this pleasant melodic EM album. Recommended.

Related links: Boots, Ron, Synth.nl.

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Michael Brückner "Ombra" (private release, 2010)

Prolific ambient / EM artist Michael Brueckner has been under the radar for many EM fans during many years. Yet, since the early 1990's he has released some 95+ albums full of music in various styles, many of them available for download. I think it's high time to take a peek into Michael's vast oeuvre. "Threshold" opens the disc with a deep, hazy soundscape, where subtle noisy drones and high-pitched electronic textures create a luminous web of sound that manages to be bright and yet provide a sense of mystery, hidden menace and a touch of darkness. Good sound design! The fittingly titled "Ombra", however, brings in the chill factor. This is more typical Dark Ambient that sounds like some strange voices & echoes coming from a deep well that leads to the netherworld. "Holsonning" is much more cosmic, with that frozen, mystery-laden vibe. Not really dark, this is music for reflective winter nights and watching the aurora borealis. "Winter" continues with the frosty vibe and is fairly appropriate, as the temperature outside approaches the -12 mark as I write this. Nice, minimal, melodic ambience with a reflective rhodes piano-like sequence and frosty background synths is how I would describe this in a few words. "Excursion", though, strikes a neutral note, focusing on all kinds of drones and concrete textures, instead of setting the mood by means of reflective melodies or emotional cues. The transition to the next track ("The Distance Part One") is almost unnoticeable, as the sound becomes more subdued and, yes, distant. Somehow, Michael managed to compose a cinematic and evocative piece of music without using any real melodies or rhythmic structures - something that requires a great talent. "Turmoil" does not disturb at all, although it does feature some noisy textures that are supposed to elevate the degree of intensity a notch or two. Here, Michael even uses some really harsh textures (nothing of the Japanoise type of stuff, though), but he processes it all with heavy reverb, so the end result will not even hurt ears of a newborn. "Garden"... So, what to say about this track? Its melodic chord progressions are more than welcome after the abstract part that preceded it, or am I getting old? Anyway, there's that slight modern ambience / shoegaze feeling to it, with even a nice, modern broken rhythm. If you like Shoegaze / IDM, you will enjoy this. Me, I'll just point out that it sounds pretty damn good and relaxing to me, although I'll admit it works only as background music. The baby's voice at the end I found rather irritating and out of place. "Distance Part Two" continues where Part 1 left and doesn't leave any long lasting impression as a standalone piece of music. "A Quick Call" is basically a short, 1+ minute noisy interlude with nothing remarkable to speak about. "Pastoral" re-vitalizes things by means of abstract electronic textures (what did ya expect, an acoustic guitar pluck, huh? ;-) and only slightest melodic touches. "Jeopardy" reminds us of the existence of the dark side. It's rather atmospheric but the formula had been tried before already. "Seperation" (should be "Separation"?) is another short interlude with a rather metallic / phased organ sound. "Beneath A Shadow" is a mysterious ambient chiller. Those sparse, minimal notes and sudden textures really manage to create an atmosphere. There's also a nice floating synth lead that adds that subtle "classic EM" touch. "Tree And Path" closes the album on a pastoral note, with drone being the basic element and the other sounds used as ornamentation. Overall, "Ombra" is a nice album for fans of Ambient. Yet, at almost 80 minutes in length, I did feel that it started to somehow overstay its welcome in the second half that is filled with less original, less captivating tracks. Perhaps shortening the album's length to, let's say, 50 minutes would do no harm.

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Cadenced Haven "Peregrination" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Cadenced Haven is a project of Bangladesh-based female artist Laila Quaraishi. She presents here a melodic type of music with a relaxing vibe. The album was released on Dutch EM label Groove Unlimited and Gert Emmens, one of the mainstays of the label, lends a hand on a few tracks with his trademark sequences and mellotron choirs / pads. Case in point is the first track "Devoted Loss" where exotic singing is combined with relaxed rhythms and said mellotron chords. This is nice, moody stuff, somewhere between the cosmic and the relaxing. Soon a steady rhythm emerges as Gert's trademark sequences support the rhythmic flow of the piece and the rich symphonic synthesizers. A nice blend of Laila's and Gert's individual styles. Radio voice samples get "Confronting Conscience" underway. It provides a nice spacey backdrop for dramatic strings and pads. A relaxed rhythm starts and the track turns more or less into a loungy, downtempo type of thing. However, there's a feeling of menace or just unease lurking beneath the waves of silky pads. The next track is called "Atmosphere of Amalgamation". It is yet another collaboration with Gert Emmens and you can hear it right from the beginning, as sweeping bass sequences in typical Emmens style gradually come to the fore, taking the central stage. And what a nice EM track it is - it's brimming with energy and emotional power. Dramatic and yet strangely comforting it just gets under your skin with its classic EM vibe and warm analogue textures. "Reversion To the Unborn" takes us to exotic lands, with its tribal, tabla-like rhythm and bird sounds that soon give may for a dramatic soundscape and a downtempo rhythm. It's all rather relaxing but rich in symphonic synthesizers and flutes. "Path To Phenomenon", on the other hand, is laden with electronic arpeggios, pads and an ethereal voice. It's something of a Space Music feel to it, even reminding on Andreas Akwara's works. There's some nice piano playing towards the end. "Virtual Reality" is brimming with shiny textures and has a slow, relaxing rhythm, and mucho electronic flutes. "Catalysis" starts in a relatively aggressive mode, with a few noisy textures (nothing too grating) and an upbeat rhythm that chugs along nicely as we are treated to an array of floating synthesizer sounds and atmospheres. "The Silent Visit" begins with the sounds of a storm and what sounds like sudden car break, then beating heart and car door flung open and then shut. If the description sounds like musique concrete to you, it is not too far from the truth. However, once the sound of crashing waves is heard, we are treated to a strange electronic soundscape. An Enigma style rhythm starts but the music itself sounds nothing like Cretu, it's more like Space Music combined with those typical downtempo rhythms. Not entirely my type of thing, but nice to listen to as background music all the same. "Conclusion" is a collaborative piece known from Gert Emmens' "The Nearest Faraway Place Vol. 3" album. I love it. It's a dramatic amalgamation of sound and emotion, one of the best things I've heard in Electronic Music of late. "Peregrination" is a sensual and emotive debut from a promising act of current EM scene.

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Create "We Live By the Machines" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

"Portal" is the first long opus of this new outing by Steve Humphries aka Create. Mournful pads greet the listener as dramatic effects and subtle melodic bits are added. Little by little a cold pulse develops, wrapped in a blanket of mellotron strings. The concept of the album apparently deals with the dangers connected with the industrialization and cybernization of the society and the music reflects that idea by being probably the coldest, most detached and mechanical music I've heard from Steve. More sequences are added and a nice floating solo is heard. This is some darn good classic Berlin School stuff. Epic is the word for it. Most sounds fade out before the 15 minutes mark, leaving only menacing tron choirs and a rumbling bass sequence. New sequences are added but the track retains its utterly dark and menacing atmosphere. In other words, this composition is certainly for those who like their sequencer electronica on the mean, bleak and stark side. The title track surprises with a relatively heavy electronic rhythm and a deep bass groove. Other than that it includes the same basic elements heard on the previous track - mellotron overdose (flutes this time) and mysterious / dramatic pads. It also is more stiff, with more compact melodies and is overall pretty contemporary sounding - a logical progression of Create's Berlin School sound into the new millennium. "Fanfare of Dreams" possesses a more metallic tone, at least to my ears. Strictly electronic, the music evolves from a brief atmospheric intro into a sequenced section that starts in a sparse manner, gradually building up the pulsations. Warm, brass-like lead sounds (the "fanfare") are a nice addition, pretty unusual for SH. "Somewhere In the Distance" is an atmospheric piece. Yes, an atmospheric piece from Create. What it features is some annoying (in a good sense) siren-like sound, a whooshing texture that sounds like processed ocean waves and a slow electronic bass pulse. It's certainly original and is the best piece on this album. It's really imbued with a sense of menace and imminent danger (the revolt of the machines?) "Running Out of Time" in a way continues this theme, with mysterious windy effects and a mournful lead synth. Then the ticking of the clock makes things even more eerie. Ghostly female choirs add to the atmosphere. And not a sequence in sight!  "Search And Rescue" begins with a really nice atmospheric intro. A galloping sequence appears, supported by even more pulsations, skillfully panned along the stereo field. Even more sequences are added and we enter the familiar Create territory, with multiple pulsations, mellotron strings and an occasional screaming lead synth. "We Live By the Machines" is a solid, if somewhat uneven album. The longer tracks sounded a bit generic and meandering, basically rehashing the sound of Create's previous efforts. However, the more concise and tight shorter numbers more that made up for it, providing a unique, mysterious or menacing atmosphere. Especially enjoyable are "Somewhere In the Distance" and "Running Out of Time". Also of note is the beautiful artwork by Jez Creek.

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Gert Emmens "The Nearest Faraway Place Vol. 3" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

The third and final installment of the "Nearest Faraway Place" trilogy from Gert Emmens begins with melancholic and mysterious pads. Soon the soundscape is replaced by an unexpectedly optimistic sequence. A romantic lead line then emerges. This is melodic and cosmic at the same time and is very typical of Gert Emmens in style. The sequencing on this track is excellent; the solos tasty and reflective. I should also mention the great programming of synthesizers. Gert has really mastered his instruments over the years. As I've mentioned already, Part 15 is typical of Gert Emmens so if you love his style, there's no doubt you will enjoy it. There's also that extra symphonic touch throughout. The rack even ends with Vangelis-like electric piano notes on top an "L'Apocalypse des Animaux"-like soundscape. So good... Spacey slide guitar sounds herald the coming of Part 16. Unique music, cold and yet somehow warm and comforting, very evocative of the beautiful cover art. An "Oxygene"-like arpeggio appears out of nowhere, surprising you with its sheer power and beauty. Transforming into a nice bouncy melodic sequence, it accepts yet another pulsation which is then joined by a pad and that spacey guitar by Jan Dieterich again. Overall the sound is more along the lines of volume 1 of "The Nearest Faraway Place" trilogy. You know, sort of a loungy, rainy, reflective type of thing. The final part of the piece relies on a slow moving electronic rhythm and an oboe-like lead melody. A solemn symphonic theme introduces Part 17. Amazing, but it feels like you're flying when listening to this. You can almost see all those mountains and snowy peaks below. A rapid sequence enters the stage, sounding like classic Tangerine Dream on steroids. Soon a rhythm appears and a typical Gert Emmens lead. This is dynamic, rhythmic and melodic EM that you've come to expect from this artist. However, this rack is perhaps like a slightly pumped up version thereof, partly because of the hyperactive sequence and partly because of the dynamic flow of the piece - the melodies are faster and everything changes quicker than usual. The reflective, theremin-like lead at the end is something unexpected, though. Street noises and recorded voices introduce Part 18, along with the sound of a tolling bell. A slow, echoing sequence appears along with reflective pads. And I am telling you here and now, guys, that this is some top-notch Gert Emmens music in a slow, spacey style. Nice and flowing, it just gets under your skin. After a while a dynamic sequence enters and the more recognizable Gert Emmens style shines through. However, the track has none of the usual melancholy, relying on major chords and melodies - a very optimistic experience and a nice change of pace. And, yes, I did enjoy the Floydian guitar of Jan. A touch of melancholy does manifest itself throughout the final stretch of this track, though. What I really liked was the beginning of the next track. There's that spacey prog vibe that I find hugely enjoyable with imaginative sounds throughout. Ideal stuff to just sit back and enjoy with your headphones on. A marching sequence is then introduced together with eerie phased pads. Several key changes follow before we embark on a typical Gert Emmens journey with soft rhythms and a flying minimoog solo. Part 20 starts with a mysterious soundscape that I wish had lasted longer, because it's really evocative, really atmospheric and immersive. Nice sequences appear together with a mournful lead. A propulsive rhythm starts for what seems like one of the most active Gert Emmens tracks I've heard of late. It has one of the nicest synth solos as well - jazzy and flowing. Part 21 is a short vocoder interlude, a big surprise and absolutely not something I expected to hear. However, as a fan of vocoder voices (when done properly) I found this piece hugely enjoyable. "Conclusion" is the final piece of the whole trilogy, done in collaboration with Cadenced Haven. It's a reflective, romantic, symphonic piece of grandiose impact. A nice finishing touch, it represents an emotional climax that's hard to resist. I was deeply touched by it. Thanks, Gert and Laila for this nice piece of music. If you enjoyed previous volumes of "The Nearest Faraway Place", you just have to have the third volume in your collection. And of course it's a must for Gert Emmens fans and fans of melodic / sequencer EM in general.

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Gert Emmens "Metamorphosis" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

For this album Dutch synthesizer artist Gert Emmens decided to stick to trusty old analogue instruments from the 1970's and 1980's, using CV / gate technology and analogue sequencers to control the machines instead of MIDI. Every piece of equipment used on "Metamorphosis" is analogue and is of at least 20 years vintage. Thematically, we've got Gert exploring various stages of human existence and the effects that the events in our lives have upon our psyche and spirit. "Stratagem of Morality" kicks off with subtle effects before a nice warm pad is introduced. I am reminded a bit of Gert's piece "The Morning After" from the "Analogy" series of samplers (also done on just analogue instruments). A warm lead melody is heard. Gert's style is easily recognizable and yet here, it is infused even more with those nostalgic 70's cosmic sensibilities, especially when the heavy synth drone followed by synth string slabs come in, bringing in the best of the "Encore"-era Tangerine Dream to mind. Quite dark it is, too, especially for Gert, whose style had softened a bit in the last several years. A welcome change, I must add. I adore this edgier, rockier side of Gert's music. Nice, fat (and I really mean fat) sequencers start in a relaxed pace, propelling the piece forward, infusing it with a cosmic grandeur and a sense of purpose. Once the rhythm starts, we are taken to a more familiar territory, with reflective flute leads and warm, flowing pads. The track ends with the same kind of effects that were heard at the beginning. Wonderful reflective pads get "Collision" underway. It is not long, before a rhythm starts and a typical melodic section by Gert follows, although the whole sounds more sparse and somehow more to-the-point. The sequences are virtually absent at this stage but do appear after a while. A wonderful progression of solos and melodic bits follows - relaxed, stately and majestic. Some of the solos have that typical jazzy flair that Gert seems to love so much. A brighter section comes next, with sequences sounding more optimistic and a flying jazzy solo. "Empathy" gets loaded with warm pads at the beginning but then a sequence takes over. A very Tangerine Dream-like section follows with super-fine sequencing and typical Gert Emmens soloing. This track is more focused, incessant and driving that what has come before. It's one of the instances where the relatively short length of the piece is actually a big plus. During 7 minutes Gert gives us a nice flight through cosmic realms and inner worlds. "Emotive Disparity" is a 2-minute curio created on a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. This track is atmospheric and features nice sound design by Gert. I wish that he would work more within this style in the future. "Pace of Voyage" starts with a distorted sequence that gradually restores its melodic qualities before being joined by a warm pad. A distant solo is a welcome change, just as the laserfire rhythm that appears after a few seconds. Nice fusion-y touches give the track a special flair. A section filled with synth pads gives way for a melodic sequence that just ebbs and flows. Smooth melodies complete the picture. Oh, and that female voice lead melody is just fantastic. White noise effects (like the sound of crashing waves) herald the coming of "Opaque Divergence". They are immediately joined by smooth warm pads and a soothing melody that just gets under your skin. This is a more romantic Gert Emmens, some might say new agey, but still recognizably him. The symphonic qualities of this piece make it stand out from the rest of his output. However, a marching sequence eventually forms from under the blanket of smooth pads. A direct rhythm launches the piece into space. Like a rocket, it flies past planets and stars, on top of fat pulsations and majestic melodies. Rich, rich sounds are used on this track; they penetrate your ears with ease, touching your inner senses. A lengthy stretch of wave sounds finish off this majestic, nostalgic EM work. This album, released on Groove label, is complimented by a nice booklet and an extensive gear list. Needless to say, the analogue instruments sound incredible and like nothing on Earth. They just can't be matched in what they are doing best and Gert proves once again that he can handle these instruments with ease, as a truly professional musician with a solid experience in the field. From an artistic point of view, this album has got some darker, edgier moments that I found hugely appealing. A must for fans of Gert Emmens, analogue electronics or EM in general.

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Gert Emmens "An Artist's Stroke" (Groove Unlimited, 2012)

The music on the latest album by Gert Emmens is inspired by the life and work of Yuri Pugachov (www.pugachov.ru) - a late Russian painter that happens to be my father. Of course I am biased when writing this review, as this project means really a lot to me. I would like to thank Gert for this wonderful endeavor and I must say the results have surpassed my expectations. I will try to only describe the music itself here, without referring too much to the subject matter so as to not become too subjective when judging this album's merits. "Cossack Temperament" describes the period of my father's childhood and adolescence, as well as certain character traits. After a very brief atmospheric intro, a wonderful melodic sequence starts, accompanied by mournful mellotron strings. A typical theremin-like lead line is heard in what sounds like a classic Emmens track. There's a hymn-like quality to the music, which is full of life, joy and at the same time is somewhat melancholic. A brief atmospheric section is a welcomed change. After that, an even more effective sequencer section appears, that combines the floating quality of Gert's pads and atmospheres with assertiveness of the multiple pulsations. It's tense and easy-going, anguished and relaxed, melancholic and bright. The track closes with yet another section dominated by fat cascading sequences and Gert's trademark (very earthly, not cosmic) minimoog soloing. I loved this track. "The Long Walk (Towards the Black Sea)" reflects a period of traveling for my dad, when he literally walked by feet the whole eastern coast of the Black Sea, from Batumi (now in Georgia) to southern Crimea, painting landscapes mainly. A marching rhythm serves as the basis for this track's first part, helped by a one-note bass sequence and lots of classic analog sounds (including some trademark mellotron patches). There's also a nice melodic sensibility in this track that sets it apart from many other current EM works. It has that nature-inspired romanticism you don't encounter often nowadays. An excellent atmospheric section follows. I must say that Gert's ambient parts have never sounded as full and deep as on this album. He has really refined his sound-sculpting and atmosphere-creating abilities to perfection. Then a majestic galloping sequence / pad combination that just takes your breath away! It grips you with its beauty and doesn't let go. I was not born when my father did his "little journey" but listening to this track I can vividly imagine how exciting it might have been for him, how many beautiful places he saw and painted, how many people met and how many miles he walked. A shadowy world of clanging ambient textures and mellotron choir wraps up this wonderful track as the journey finally reaches its end. "Paintings - The Themes" is the longest track at just under 17 minutes. It's straight into business this time, with great melodic sequencing ("Gert style") and mournful pads. Fat, symphonic synthesizer textures ala Vangelis make an appearance, giving an epic quality to the track. From beneath the blanket of impeccably constructed sequencer pulsations a harmonica lead line appears, reinforcing the Vangelis analogy. The sequences are lilting, passionate, assertive, lively. And there are really lots of them here. A four-note melodic theme welcomes the coming of a brief atmospheric section after which an assertive bass sequence appears. This section, with its excellent, rolling sequences and symphonic string chords is easily one of the EM highlights from 2012. Overall, the track is the crowning jewel of the album, although all tracks were great so far. It finally climaxes into a melange of dramatic pads and symphonic textures before fading out. "Paintings - The Spirituality Behind It" strikes a darker note with it's thick fog of atmospheric textures and a steady bass drum pulse, before complex melodic sequencing takes us to familiar territory but with a different twist on Gert's typical sequencer music. On this track, the trademark harmonica lead makes a triumphant return in a much more subdued and melancholic setting. The track ends with dramatic pads and synthesized atmospheres enveloping you. "The Leningrad Years" starts with a great atmospheric intro by Cadenced Heaven. Reflecting my father's most productive and best-known period, the music has a fittingly busy and uplifting vibe to it. Then an analog goodness of a sequence by Ruud Heij appears, well in the style of Emmens / Heij collaborations. After a rhythm starts, in comes what I can only describe as Gert's best ever soloing. The excellent use of modulation wheel gives the lead line a kind of depth, subtlety, grandeur and emotion that are just indescribable. A nice use of oboe reminds us on great Russian classical traditions. And the roll calling between the oboe and synth was an excellent idea. On the other hand, Gert's most unusual and experimental ideas found their way on the following track, "Darkness Unfolds". After an atmospheric intro, a strange bubbling sequence appears and a metallic rhythm drives forward the track that is chock-full of melancholic pads and reflective symphonic solos. It's still Emmens style but seen through a dark window that leads to the otherworld. After a brief section of dark sounds, a whirlpool of uplifting sequence picks us up and takes us to an unknown territory filled with sweet chord progressions and soft analog rhythms. This is probably the best section of the album. The track ends with a chilly atmospheric part with what sounds like a telephone ringing and distant choirs. "Yuri Pugachov - In Memoriam" is a short tribute that is uplifting and gentle. With tears in my eyes and a strange, pleasant sensation inside, I finish this review. I have seen this album criticized slightly for not bringing anything new to Gert Emmens sound but I have to disagree. First of all, there are lots of new interesting sounds on "An Artist's Stroke". Secondly, it's quite different in mood to his previous efforts - more personal, emotional and atmospheric. Even the chord progression (one of Gert's trademarks) is often quite different from what we're used to hear. There are no weak or strong tracks on this album, because "An Artist's Stroke" is a complete journey. I've said it many times, but I am afraid I'll have to repeat it here: this is Gert Emmens' best album, with or without bias. I wonder if my father can hear this music, from wherever he is now... I think, yes.

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Eric G "Visions" (Elmuced Records, 2011)

The pieces on this new album by Swedish synthesizer wizard Eric G were composed and recorded over a period of more than 25 years. They were then culled from the archives, re-recorded and re-mixed for this private album release. Four massive tracks make up "Visions". "Moonmusic 2" starts with Jarre's trademark wind effects and then a... ahem... Jarre's trademark Eminent organ sound is introduced. A rapid sequence enters, changing as the track progresses. This has a decidedly "Oxygene / Equinoxe" air to it. Synth soloing on this track is clear and polished. Nice. More key changes follow before a drum machine rhythm is introduced. I must say that Eric has done a really good job with those synth textures - the sound is fat, warm, hypnotic and enveloping. Towards the track's equator, the sound becomes more subdued and melancholic, retaining the cosmic edge. By this point, we are in full-on Schulze mode (circa "Mirage / "Body Love"), the only thing reminding on Jarre is the barely heard background "Eminent" organ sound. A nice cosmic trip. "Mind Windings" is straight into business with aggressive bass synth / drum machine combination, on top of which Eric lays down typical analogue solos. String chops ala early 80's Tangerine Dream add flavour to the proceedings. Overall, there's a slight minimal synth slant to this track thanks to a limited number of elements, where each sound is given the room to breathe and bloom. In other words, Eric successfully combines the 1970's with the 1980's or the Golden and the Silver age of EM. There are also nice melodic touches towards the end. "Hallucinogenic" has a brief intro with effects before a deep, phased organ drone is introduced. Nice stuff that brings to mind the classic "Blackdance". This is the darkest part of the album so far. A gorgeous, crystal-clear analogue solo pierces the darkness for the most achingly beautiful moment of the entire disc. "Hallucinogenic" is the best track, hands down. I always loved those atmospheric / melancholic classic EM excursions, from "Moogetique" to "Blanche", from "Desert Dream" to "Albedo 0.39" and this track delivers. It has all the spaciness and melancholy you would expect from the best of the genre. "Discovery and Loss of Crystal Vision" is the longest and final cut on the album. The title should already give a clue about its sound and, indeed, it starts with melodic moog soloing and organ strings, changing keys as ghostly effects fly by. Watch out for the deep bass notes of the Moog Taurus pedals. Mellotron choirs are all that is needed to complete your "Body Love / Mirage" picture. A different kind of sequence enters that reminds me more on the stuff you hear in sci-fi TV shows. A melodic theme is introduced a bit in the style of 80's soundtracks. A more convenient melodic sequence is then introduced, as Eric lays down guitar licks on top - very TD "Encore" but with a steady drum rhythm underneath. A nice change! The drum rhythm then gets more prominent while the soloing alternates between synth and guitar. "Visions" is another successful installment in Eric's music career. What this album lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for in production and careful programming of sounds. A pity it's just a CD-R. This music certainly deserves a proper CD release.

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Gliese 614 "Serenity" (private release, 2010)

This EP-length disc consists of two long nameless tracks, all done on the Arturia ARP2600V software synthesizer. It starts with a vinyl-like cracking before deep drones take over. It all rather hypnotic and very cosmic. I just sit back and relax, listening to the somewhat darkish and serene drones. Subtle key changes follow as well as barely heard sound embellishment. Little by little these small elements take form and you start to realize that you hear someone's pen scribbling on paper. A very creepy and highly visual effect, I must add. The drones take on a mournful tone, going deeper and deeper into the darkest corners of your mind. Towards the 15-minute mark a more metallic tone manifests itself, as the music becomes more dissonant, without losing its hypnotic qualities. It is also much darker by this point. New effects are then added - sort of a twittering sound, with tolling bell in the background. The second track has windy synths and a mournful pad at its core. From these basic elements, the track evolves, gradually gaining volume and intensity. Soon everything subsides, leaving us with a tolling bell and an analogue soundscape. This time a medieval atmosphere permeates the sound. Organ-like chords appear out of nowhere, reinforcing the medieval analogy mentioned earlier. I would describe it as dark, church-like music, the one you hear in a deserted cathedral on a stormy night, however cheesy that might sound. A more synthesized tone is then introduced, going down the scale a few octaves for a nice, deep droning sound. I must say that I was impressed with the author's ability to sculpt rich, atmospheric soundscapes. It really is highly visual and hypnotic music that all fans of Space Music and Ambient should check out.

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Human Metronome "The Child Set Free" (private release, 2010)

This album by Dutch ambient project Human Metronome aka Eelke van Hoof is a factory-pressed CD (not a CDR), containing six tracks in all. "Gi" begins with concrete textures of dripping water and natural soundscapes (something that sounds like very distant bird calls). It's an extremely relaxing experience. When subtle and slow percussion is added, the organic nature of the music comes to the fore. It's not very electronic, in fact you could call this "organic ambient", but it's very convincing, not to mention the excellent quality of mixing and recording. Subtle flute playing gradually comes to the fore, somehow stressing the meditative nature of the music. Fans of the deeper Steve Roach in his organic mode will find this to their liking. Reflective guitar surprisingly appears towards the end of the track which sounds pretty eerie on top of the droning, humming soundscape. The second track "Makoto" begins with a subtle soundscape full of concrete textures, all soaked in distant reverb. Bamboo flute makes an appearance once again, as various acoustic / ethnic percussion sounds fill the space. And... that's it. It may sound simple but in fact the music is very meditative and primeval. You somehow don't want it to become flooded with sounds. It's good as it is: sparse, echoing and hypnotic. The third track called "Yu" takes us to darker realms. It's still fairly meditative, the percussion is still there and the flute still casts its spell, but the drones and significantly more menacing. "Jin", on the other hand, is based on an insistent percussive rhythm, making it a relatively active track. The other elements are basically the same, though - rain sounds, other unidentifiable concrete textures, bells, subtle clangs, drones... Sound of Tibetan bells (or something that sounds similar to them) introduces "Meiyo". It's the most organic and meditative (also the most minimal) piece on the album. It basically consists of just the already mentioned bells, concrete textures (a waterflow of sorts) and... that's it! Towards the ends of the track, however, a bit of variety is provided by some percussion rolls. The last track "Konshi" brings back the drones. It's a sonic mantra that just envelops you. Of course, there are no melody and no beats; it's just a pure flow of sound. "The Child Set Free" is an album that will be enjoyed by those who like organic music and Ritual Ambient. It's great to just sit back and relax to.

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Gustavo Jobim "Trapped In A Day Job" (download album, 2011)

Brazilian artist Gustavo Jobim is certainly one of the most interesting and promising acts on the current EM scene. A while ago I reviewed his CD album "Round Mi" that featured a nice mix of Berlin School influences and Minimalism; as well as a few of his download-only releases. All of his works were quite different but he managed to maintain a high quality of his output, whatever the chosen style of music. This particular album was recorded at work. This means that all tracks were recorded using office PC running a basic synthesizer / sequencer software (TS-404). "Lets Fly" gets straight into sequencing. It's minimal and yet hypnotic and captivating. Actually, you only hear sequences here, about 4 or five of them. Some of the sequences serve as rhythm, some provide the melody and some act as bass... you get the picture. Simple, but effective. The music is not static, as Gustavo changes notes on the fly, alters filter and resonance parameters, resulting in a lively concoction of electronic pulsations. It is interesting to trace the intricate road this piece takes, guided only by the author's imagination and the instrument's limitations. "Moebius Tape" strikes a quirkier note, initially sounding like some cartoonish frog choir. The tempo is slightly slower but it's basically the same thing - sequencing and just sequencing. This track is really heavy on the bass. I am thinking about the tracks' title now. Although it does refer to mathematics, I am indeed reminded a bit on the music of Dieter Moebius. At least this track has the same type of quirkiness to it and the textures are a bit similar too. I found it interesting how the piece seemingly decays towards the end, the sequences becoming more distorted, dirty and hallucinating. "Cat In the Blender" has perhaps the catchiest groove of them all. I can't help but nod to the rhythm while listening to this. It has nice resonance-laden melodic higher-register sequences as well. A pity that this track is so short (4+ minutes only). We then get "Nightlife In Mars" that is more upbeat, with a galloping bass sequences and other pulsations possessing that strange, dirty experimental quality that make them sound pretty cold and alien. Sounds like Goa Trance played by the Max Rebo Band on a bad day. "Arcade Times", naturally, brings in the cheese. If you like old computer games or are a fan of Chiptune, this is more or less the stuff you're after. However, apart from the bleepy sequences, you get pretty noisy resonating textures here that make the whole thing sound rather intense. It is the shortest track of the album. "Mind Bender" weaves another net of electronic pulsations. This time, however, Gustavo goes for the total overkill, both in terms of the quantity of sequences and the overall intensity. "Icecream Waves" is the only slow track here. In fact, it could be called "sequencer ambient" if you can imagine such a thing. This is probably the kind of stuff Cluster would have made back in 1976 in Forst, had they had access to sophisticated sequencer software. "Inside the Machine" adopts a more asserting groove with some really strange background sequences, some of them even reminding on the cheesy sounds that Tomita used in the 1970's. However, the format is grand - this massive track leaves an impression of a Klaus Schulze gone completely sequencer-mad in his studio. There are not enough albums out there relying solely on the sequences. And Gustavo Jobim's "Trapped In A Day Job" is an important statement and the proof that such artistic limitations can be ultimately rewarding when filtered through a creative mind of a musician. Recommended.

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Gustavo Jobim "In Search of Berlin" (download album, 2011)

On this album Gustavo Jobim explores his early influences, or rather, early German EM textures, but does it in his own, unique way. "Echoes of Berlin" is loaded with varied sequences that create a rich web of sound. It's has a great, updated Berlin School sound. Finally, a magnificent mellotron-laden section follows, bringing to mind the darkest moments of "Phaedra". Piano notes are combined with 'tron strings for an even more dramatic sound.
"Underground Train" starts in a very Schulzian manner, with complex sequencer patters and multiple arpeggios. It's very similar to "En-Trance", complete with gentle electric piano / glockenspiel notes and other digital plinkety-plonk. However, there's also that thick, slightly phased organ chord that harkens back to earlier times. And, before I forget, I just love the key changes on this track - very sudden and yet somehow organic, reminding a bit on "Bayreuth Return" even. Overall, it's a smooth, warm and highly enjoyable EM track.
"Midnight Mists" delivers the goods from the very start, as you hear shadowy mellotron chords and reflective piano notes. It turns out to be a captivating atmospheric track that pleasantly brings to mind of "Epsilon in Malaysian Pale". Minus the piano, of course, which was not used by Froese then. Because I adore this EM classic, I found "Midnight Mists" hugely enjoyable too, and a nice twist on that sound.
"Ascension" more or less repeats the formula of the first track, as you are taken away by a storm of pulsating sequences. The analog lead line is a new element, and sounds a bit similar to the textures that Klaus Schulze used to come up with circa "Cyborg" / "Picture Music" - you know, that thin, reedy type of sound. Gustavo's work on the sequences is very interesting on this track, including that moment when the rhythms break up, only to come back with new force a couple of seconds later.
With "The Inner Outer Space" we dispense with the sequences, as this is pure dark drift, seemingly inspired by the earliest Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze works. One can hear echoes of "Alpha Centauri", "Zeit" and "Irrlicht" here. However, it's all fairly unique and reminds a lot on the mixture of the embryonic Berlin School from 1970 - 1973 and the current noise / Dark Ambient scene.
"Hallucinations" starts with a heavily modulated, ahem... hallucinating synth drone. After a while, a sequence develops out of this drone, but the track retains its quirky character. The sequences then subside and make room for the comeback of modulated synth drone. This is heavy stuff, guys, and not at all your average TD clone. Some quick, sequenced piano runs also remind on Gustavo's earlier works.
Finally, "Berlin Endless" is unleashed on the wave of heavy-duty sequencing, rapid notes stinging the ears like electronic bees. The patterns then change completely, as Gustavo goes mad with cutoff and resonance controls on his synthesizers. After a quiet section where it seems that the track has faded out, the sequences resume as lively as ever, bringing the album to a sudden close.
"In Search of Berlin" is an interesting and original take on this well-trodden musical path that is Berlin School. It differs from the bulk of the genre's releases in that the solos are almost absent (bar one track), the sequences are generally fairly frenetic and overall the music is pretty experimental and sometimes quite far from the genre's conventions... which makes it all the more interesting of course. And those atmospheric mellotron moments are simply stuff to die for. Another winner from Gustavo Jobim! Best track: Midnight Mists.

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Gustavo Jobim & Ian Land "Perspectives" (download album, 2012)

"Perspectives" is a collaborative project between electronic musician Gustavo Jobim and British photographer Ian Land who currently resides in Berlin. It's a multimedia concept where each track corresponds (more or less) or is based on a certain photography by Ian Land. All of the pictures are black and white. Musically, Gustavo has chosen a different approach this time - relying solely of electric piano (using acoustic piano timbres) with virtually no electronics. The first track, "Am Schlachtensee", is a study in repetition. It recalls classic American minimalist works of people like Philip Glass. The title track follows and it's a much more haunting affair. Hugh notes hang in the air like ghosts waiting to get saved from their endless wandering. However, as the track progresses, some impressionistic hues start to become noticeable. Not very Debussy-like (too chaotic for that), but still with that special, early 20th century mood. The track gets heavier as it progresses, with bass notes replacing the higher ones completely. "Exemplary Service" is, on the other hand, pretty emotional and has a nice melodic sensibility. It reminded me a bit on Roedelius' style during his Forst period of working in the Cluster duo, as well as his subsequent creative years (1980 - 1991). Excellent track, this one. "Asche zu Asche" steps it up a notch in drama. Although monochrome, these notes really manage to get the message through. An epitaph of shattered dreams and a hymn to decay, this is probably the darkest piece of the album. "Arc de Triomphe" has faster piano runs and an overall brighter atmosphere, using major keys along with the minor ones. Overall, it's really one of the most complex tracks of the album, with multiple changes of themes and moods. Again, the general direction is rather impressionistic. "Ghosts" returns to minimalist moods, with a very soundtrack-like quality to it. It could serve as a soundtrack to a mystery / drama / horror movie. Nice! "Debris" is in a "sequenced piano" style that was explored on some of Gustavo's previous albums. All the fast piano runs really set up a darkish and disturbing mood, turning into monolithic walls of sound, crashing waves and ripples. The interesting part is that at times the music on this track doesn't sound like piano at all. It is probably the most explorative piece here. "Rejected" closes the album on a minimal Brian Eno / Harold Budd note, with that special touch of Roedelius. Beautiful! I really think of this album as one of Gustavo's main creative achievements. It is always a challenge to record a successful piano album, but he really managed to do something that differs from his usual output and yet possesses an irresistible quality and undeniable artistic value. It really helps to watch the photographs while listening to this music, as the ideas behind the tracks get clearer. Great album by Gustavo!

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Gustavo Jobim "Nocturnes" (private release, 2012)

I am a fan of Gustavo Jobim's piano work, so this beautifully packaged, privately released disc (CD-R) was for me a welcome addition to his catalog. "Nocturnes" is a sequel to "Perspectives" and follows the same formula. Armed with just a digital piano and lots of ideas, Gustavo weaves melodic, melancholic and minimal nets of sound. "The Eternal Night" starts the disc in a dramatic manner. In fact, this piece could be a perfect accompaniment for a drama or a detective movie sequence. Excellent track! "Reflection", on the other hand, winds things down a bit. Much more of a chamber piece, this slow tinkering could serve well as a background for those lonely hours where you sit in a room, reflecting on your past life, not having much to do. So, the title is, once again, spot on. When "Moonlit Street" starts, we are greeted with some marching piano notes that harken back to the mood of the first track on the album. However, it's all much more serene and impressionistic this time, with none of the dramaticism so abundant in "The Eternal Night". "Stormy Night", on the other hand, has much more oomph, with sparkling notes virtually flying in all directions, while heavier, more asserting piano slabs provide accents here and there. In fact, I am reminded on some abstract and impressionistic piano works that people like Anthony Davis and other avant-jazz pianists are known for. However, the piece also has its reflective moments. "Wellsprings" has much more of an asserting quality to it, being probably one of the brightest pieces on this shadow-imbued, nocturnal disc. The use of major harmonies reasserts this feeling. "Games" is another relatively bright and jovial piece, which probably could not have been the other way round, with a title like that. It is also quite upbeat, with faster piano runs on top of what seems like a solid base of lower-register piano notes. "Snowflakes" is extremely airy, just like the title suggests. This time, higher, bell-like notes predominate, as Gustavo paints one sonic whirlpool after another with his trusty digital piano. "The Deep Night" takes us back to nocturnal realms. Certainly one of the heaviest and most dramatic pieces on the album, it harkens back to the opening track, but, if anything, is even darker and more intense. The closing track, the 7-minute "Voyage" finishes the album on a more reflective note, as piano chords are interspersed with short periods of silence. This is minimalism in its more traditional sense. "Nocturnes" is an excellent listening for those reflective moments. Turn the lights out, sit back, relax and just let yourself be taken away by the music.

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Gustavo Jobim "Connection - Tribute to Conrad Schnitzler" (download album, 2013)

This album represents Gustavo Jobim's tribute to one of the most influential electronic musicians of the late 20th century - the German master Conrad Schnitzler (aka Con). The two had plans to make an album together. However, it was not to become reality, as Con sadly passed away in August of 2011. The first track captures the spirit of Con's work perfectly - a steady pulse serves as the basis for anguished and tortured electronics. There's nothing easy-listening about it (as is the case with the bulk of Conrad's work as well) but it is very effective. A nice beginning! The whimsical second part tones down the things a bit, bringing in goofy beepiness and cheesy playfulness which are in stark contrast to the dark industrial dread of the opener. The third part is a Messiaen-like organ wall-of-sound, on top of which Gustavo plays a darkish synthesizer motif. The fourth part brings in cosmic grandeur, with fat string synth and disjointed, distorted sequences, sounding like a working engine of a space shuttle. Part 5 is a nice interlude that is all melancholic and a bit overdriven synth pads. Part 6 returns to mechanical, steam-train sequencing and experimental textures. Very much in the spirit of classic Con. The seventh part, however, is loaded with heavy mellotron and harsh industrial noises and could best be described as a soundtrack to apocalypse. The heaviness pretty much continues into the next track. However, this time things seem to have gotten completely out of control. A hurricane of distorted synth melodies and white noises, this track is nothing for the faint-hearted. The next part offers a release of tension, with its sustained drone and airy phased synth improvisation. Part 10 is loaded to the brim with broken sequences and spacey synth pads. Mutant Berlin School? Check! The sleepy part 11 is the most amazing piece on the album. It's simple, ambient and minimal, and yet these lulling tones manage to conjure up a feeling of solitude, calmness, serenity and bright melancholy. Great, great stuff! And then, the anthemic part 12 closes this album on a cheerful note, with its superfat synth and an almost Jarre-like feeling on grandeur. I think that Gustavo Jobim has managed to capture the explorative, daring spirit of Schnitzler's work perfectly. May Con rest in peace and thank you Gustavo for this nice little tribute.

Related links: Gustavo Jobim, Conrad Schnitzler.

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Gustavo Jobim "Manifesto" (download album, 2013)

Gustavo Jobim's "Manifesto" has been several years in the making. In fact, he has been working on it on and off since 2001 - the period during which his first official album was released. Consequently, it can be considered his magnum opus. "The Disquieting Muses" kicks in with heavy mellotron choirs. The atmosphere here is solemn and dramatic and it's a really nice intro that will please all fan of 'tron sounds and 1970's German EM (i.e. Froese). "Biomekanik" changes the pace abruptly, with its frenetic sequencer rhythm and dramatic orchestral melodic figures. This is some sort of a wicked Berlin School sound that's 50% Tangerine Dream and 50% Art Zoyd. "The Spell" is next. When I heard the murky, dreamy, Giger-esque, insomnia-infused soundscape that Gustavo built, I was bought completely. Those who enjoy the darker side of the EM spectrum should hear this as soon as possible. "Origin of the Obsessions" returns to the dark Berlin School formula. If Edgar Froese recorded his "Aqua" in a deep underground cave, this is perhaps what it would sound like. "We Atomic Children" is a relatively short but intense post-apocalyptic soundscape that has a vocoder intro reminding on Kraftwerk circa "Radio-Activity" and then develops into something quite unique and symphonic. "The Mystery of San Gottardo" is a piano interlude in an already familiar Gustavo Jobim style. "At the Bottom of the Shaft" concludes the imaginary "Side one" of this album. Once again we are treated to a dark electronic journey filled with resonant synth textures, stomping sounds (like someone walking in the distance) and other samples. classical influences creep in as the track progresses, in the form of dreamy oboe playing. "Hallucination By the Seashore" heralds the coming of the second part of the album. The track is based on fast-paced sequence / arpeggio sound and soft background orchestral textures. It is slightly (only slightly) in the vein of 1990's Klaus Schulze (right at the end of his sampling phase he had this "classical / opera" phase, circa 1993-1995). "Living In the Light of the Immortal Worlds" takes the epic KS formula again (I am somehow reminded on "FM Delight") but infuses it with a special "Gustavo Jobim" feeling. This is excellent music, guys, especially if you can't get enough of those dreamy Schulzian synth chords. "The Eleventh Hour" is a short track that sounds like a soundtrack to a horror flick - it's all spooky organ textures and reflective melodies. "Apparition of the Ghost of Erik Satie" is, as expected, dominated by piano. Repeating chords and melodies swirl around you, creating an impressionistic whirlpool of sound. "The Flock of Birds" continues with the piano formula, although this time it is much more similar to what was heard on Gustavo's previous piano albums, which means lots of repetition in a minimal context, relying on faster piano runs. "Iconoclast's Despair" repeats the formula, adding experimental electronic sounds. On the other hand, the closing "Eternal Sorrow" was a real surprise and represents a facet of Gustavo's music that was not demonstrated on previous releases. Basically, we are dealing with ambient music here, but it's Ambient as seen by musicians of the Black Metal scene (remember Burzum?). If depressive synth chords and atmospheric noises are your thing, give it a shot. "Manifesto" is for me the definitive Gustavo Jobim. If you only want to have one album by him in your collection (why would you?), this would be it. The album demonstrates all the styles that Gustavo worked in over the years and does it pretty well. The selections are well thought-out and there's nary a weak moment during more than 70 minutes of its length. A winner.

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Gustavo Jobim "Inverno" (download album, 2014)

With "Inverno", Brazilian composer Gustavo Jobim opens a new chapter of his creative work. The style here is quite different from what he did before, as this is a completely ambient album.

"Frozen Lake" gets things going with tremolo drone that reminded me a bit on some early 1980's experiments by Klaus Schulze when he used the GDS digital instrument quite extensively. It's all rather hypnotic and uneasy, never relaxing. Some stranger sounds appear over the course of the track, giving it an avant / musique concrete edge.

"Zone of Silence" introduces a somber note - it's noisier, but follows more or less the classic Dark Ambient formula, bar a few more intense moments. These freezing, numbing sheets of drones and noises are a perfect soundtrack to slow movement of glaciers.

"Ice Age Coming" is a weird amalgamation of processed orchestral slabs and a continuous electronic drone. The intensity level is up again, and the music is as disturbing as ever. This is strange stuff that is hard to pin down. Sort of a chamber / symphonic / avant / electroacoustic hybrid maybe? Sounds like Art Zoyd playing in permafrost.

And speaking of permafrost, that's the title of the next track which is one intense trip. Deep, distorted, metallic notes are heard on top of the wind effects that remind on "Mirage" by KS.

"Winter Song" initially introduces a brighter note, something of a neo-classical electronic winter symphony done ambient-style. It is also grander in scale, passing the 20-minute mark. With its distant, processed mellotron strings, strange echoes, cosmic effects, this really brings to mind "Mirage" again, namely the first side ("Velvet Voyage"). However, whereas Schulze's masterpiece was expansive, airy and melancholic, "Winter Song" is imbued with a nocturnal air and claustrophobic dread. And, nary a sequence in sight! Just the monolithic, whirling and dizzy soundscape. But, wait a minute, what a surprise. What I certainly didn't expect was an electric guitar solo. And what a solo it is! You'd think it wouldn't work, but it does. Yes folks, melodic proggy guitar soloing (nothing too fast) that combines perfectly with the soundscape. I wonder if a hypothetical duo of David Gilmour and Klaus Schulze recorded in 1977 would sound like that. I just wish the solo would go on for a bit longer. The final part of the track features some clanging noises, bringing in that industrial touch. There are also sounds like bells and deep gong hits going on. Epic is the only word I can use in relation to "Winter Song". Is it the best thing Gustavo has done up to this point? Possibly. What I am sure about is that it is quite different and very deep.

"Wanderer" sounds more like "ambient" stuff done by Black Metal musicians. You know, sort of a "neo-classical" or "fantasy" ambience played on quite simple keyboard. However, this is coupled with some nice effects, giving interesting results.

"Mountain" is a bit similar in execution but larger in scope. The formula is the same, though - long, drawn-out pads, slow melodies on the keyboard, and the echoing, "evil" effects. Perfect dungeon music if know what I'm talking about. A doomy sequence can barely be heard just as the track draws to a close.

"Last Shelter" is more along the lines of classic Ambient in that it has none of the darkness. All you can hear is a lullaby-like melody and gentle cracking of a fire in a warm cavern as the sun sets and the day comes to an end.

"Summit" ends this album with the sound of thunder and a mysterious analog soundscape. And is it just me, or is there something of an "Apocalypse des Animaux" sound? I mean, those slow, reflective notes really remind me on "La Mer Recommencee" for some reason.

 "Inverno" is one monster of an album. It is a concept work of sorts or at least has a clear unifying theme, it's quite different and works well for active as well as passive listening. It has a lot of influences and pleasantly calls to mind many different artists along its course without sounding exactly like any of them: Klaus Schulze, Art Zoyd, a bit of Tangerine Dream's "Zeit" perhaps, a bit Vangelis ("Apocalypse des Animaux"), a bit Mortiis / Burzum's "dungeon music"... Result: I liked it very much! Best track: the absolutely magnificent and evocative "Winter Song".

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Löis Lancaster "20busK" (download album, 2004)

Löis Lancaster is a Brazilian experimental artist who is influenced by minimalism, dadaism, broken music, avant-garde, RIO, lo-fi, alternative rock and many other interesting trends and styles of music. "Intraducão" is filled with voice samples and chaotic drum / synth sounds. Curious stuff. "Benvindo a Po" is an excellent slab of experimental electronics. Broken rhythms, an overload of samples and the overall bizarre feeling are only augmented by the strange lyrics, delivered by a female vocalist in an idiosyncratic manner. I am not sure that there is a name for this style of music, but I think the term "digital mayhem" gets pretty close in describing what's happening here. Having said that, the results are very listenable and entertaining. "Goiânia a Francesa" starts as a piano piece with a great melodic sensibility. The author then lays down a breezy rhythm with soft arrangements of classic keyboard instruments and synthesizers. Sounds like 60's electronic pop ("moog pop") updated for the new millennium. Some of the samples found on this track are pretty odd. The vocals are in the form of spoken word this time. This track is pure fun! "Indigno Blues" (how's that for a title?) ironically starts with dirty guitar riffs and a distorted voice, before entering the territory of demented cabaret theatrics, with a male voice (sounds like Löis himself but I may be mistaken) singing the lyrics (in Portuguese, naturally, with some English interjections) in a comedic and ironic way, while guitar wails in the background. See, the album's getting really interesting. "Parede" is the "synth-pop" song of this album, relying on synthesizer arrangements (including some twisted solos) and female vocal singing with less strangeness and using a more direct and melodic style. The author then breaks down the vocal phrases, trying to compose new melodies or rhythms with them. It's a wicked type of synth-pop, guys. Next track - "Pâncreas". This time Löis opts for a dirtier and grungier, guitar-based sound. Lemme tell you, this is great fun. The lyrics are funny, sung by both male and female voices, but what I like most is how the author imitates and seemingly ridicules punk, alternative rock, grunge and what have you. Of course you must speak Portuguese to understand lyrics but the music is fun and can be enjoyed in its own right. "Filmaço" has much more of a jazz influence but by now it has already become clear that Löis Lancaster is not the man to do any style the "normal" way. The chaotic nature of the rhythms and arrangements make one think of some RIO bands. "Teatro Liquido - Astrid" begins with heavy metal riffs but soon transforms into a cartoonish guitar / electronic hybrid. As if it was not enough, the author injects burping jazz trumpet sounds as well - it's a nice improvised mayhem of a track! I adore the way the track switches from the comedic to full-blown and virtuoso improvisation and back. "Lanterna Verde..." is much more electronic but the style can't be defined easily. It has elements of techno, drum 'n bass, even funk and instrumental hip-hop. Great broken rhythm on this one. "Coisa com Coisa" has echoes of old bossa nova and vocal jazz, although it's still weird and twisted. "Verticaminho" surprises with a heavy slap bass sequence and complex drum arrangements. It's an intense track with digitally processed vocals and even a bit of vocoder. "Retrato do Artista..." is a short track with chromatic percussion arrangements interrupted by intense metal drum outbursts and weird vocals. Then we have "Etica e Politica da Amizade". This track pretty much has everything, but Löis' (I think it's him) comedic vocal delivery is probably the highlight of this theatrical piece. However, if you don't speak Portuguese you may have a hard time with this track, because it's really vocal-oriented. "Teto Preto" is an experimental mayhem of completely broken rhythms, pitch-bended synths and a potpourri of samples. "Sol de Inverno" has shades of shoegaze and post-rock, not so much in sound but in mood. Lulling guitars, a steady rhythm and a pretty female vocal delivery are the main ingredients, with a slight touch of wackiness and an underlying feeling of Magma-esque stiff and repetitive militaristic recitation. Overall, it's the "ambient" piece of the album. "Ficha Tecnica" contains disc credits spoken by two people on top of background music. An interesting idea, this one. The disc also contains some bonus tracks that, stylistically, more or less correspond to the tracks on the album. The first of the bonus tracks is particularly memorable, with great drum, synth and organ arrangements. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, try this album. It has a bit of everything and is highly entertaining, with great ideas and musicianship. It helps if you understand Portuguese (I do) but can be enjoyed as a bold instrumental statement as well. You do get that feeling of listening to a Brazilian version of more deranged and wicked Frank Zappa more than once during the course of the album. Gostei!

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Memory Geist "Benthos" (DiN Download, 2011)

The newest collaboration between experimental electronic musicians Bakis Sirros and Steve Law starts with "Metaphore" - a dense soundscape filled with ghostly textures. Bass notes and drones are augmented by other strange textures, some of them utterly unsettling. There's a heavy bass throb and after a while a rhythmic groove forms out of the ether. With flashes of melody and a strange structured progression, this track somehow reminded me on Bakis' latest collaborative effort with Ian Boddy. "Mysticeti" is straight into business with strange rhythms and a much brighter breed of synth sounds. There's an uplifting, optimistic air to this tune, with all sorts of cracking, bubbling sounds surrounding a creeky rhythm. Interesting stuff. "Ocean Memory" has airy pads all over. It sounds as if you're floating above earth or indeed weightlessly and effrortlessly gliding beyond the surface of turquoise sea. A lot of bubbling sounds and thick, liquid atmospheres let the intensity grow until we find ourselves amidst a swarm of buzzing drones, gleaming, whispering bells, subtle twittering and other synthetic what-not. "Photophore" is a harder affair, with a technoid beat worthy of a Prodigy album. Although the sounds on this track are well-programmed and interesting, I found it to be much less appealing. "Carcharhinus" is alive with experimental textures and rich, noisy drones. This ambient soundscape is active and throbbing instead of just passively dwelling in the background. Little by little, a rhythmic pulse develops but never really blossoms into a full-fledged rhythm. Instead, the track returns to a wall-of-noise beatless soundscape that envelops and fascinates you. A very nice track, this one. "Bathosphere" is grand Ambient in the classic sense. I am reminded of everything, from "Zeit", to Roach / Rich and even Edward Artemiev's ambient experiments from the 1970's. The use of analogue textures reinforces that feeling. Drifting, dramatic chords, drones, distorted chorus, wave upon wave of fat timbres that pierce your brain... Good stuff and a great finish to this successful collection of experimental Ambient / EM. "Benthos" is available as a digital download from DiN label or as a limited edition CDR from Hic Sunt Leones.

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MorPheuSz "Days of Delirium & Nocturnal Nightmares" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

MorPheuSz is a new project of Ron Boots together with Eric van der Heijden, Frank Dorittke and Harold van der Heijden on drums. We start off with "Between the Barriers of Reality" and what we hear immediately is some warm, phased string synth and twittering effects. Sounds like a classic to me. Dramatic key changes follow and a deep bass pulse starts. This is pure Berlin School that reminds on Klaus Schulze's "Timewind" even. The key changes and the flowing quality of the music made me think of that classic work immediately. More sequences are added and after a while we hear a nice and lush symphonic synth solo. Extremely pleasant stuff to listen to. Soon Frank Dorittke steps in with his fine guitar soloing and Harold provides a nice steady beat with his drums. More synth solos follow and before you know it, the 10 minutes are over. This track is a perfect trip into the land of dreamy synth textures and pulsations, floating guitar, and competent drumming. "Daylight In A Nocturnal ScareScape" has a fittingly atmospheric beginning, but soon a simple tinkling sequence starts, supported by lower-end pulsations. Some key changes follow and then a symphonic synth solo. You can easily tell this track continues what was started on "between the Barriers of Reality". Again, all the ingredients of a good EM track are there: quality sequences, fine programming and emotional solos. However, after 6 minutes a certain orchestral bombast seeps in, personified by heavy string stabs and over-the-top choirs. There's a certain soundtrack quality to it all. However, it was fairly strange and I can't decide yet if it goes well with the otherwise typical EM sound of this track. The guitar solo by Dorittke on this track is excellent. "Prophecies of A Pagan" begins like a formulaic Dark Ambient track - weird murmuring voices, windy effects, "spooky" string sounds... Distorted guitar sounds add a certain grungy touch to the proceedings. Don't even know how to describe the sound of this track. Tangerine Dream meet Richard Pinhas on a bad day, perhaps? Having said that, I found this track highly enjoyable, especially the second part thereof. It's not what you would expect and hey... you gotta love hard rock EM! Nice synth solos are there, too, alternating with wailing guitar from Frank. "Sandman's Journey Through Sanity" brings forth those Pink Floyd influences by means of spacey strummed guitar from Frank. A wonderful, unusual sequence from Ron (or maybe that's Eric's?) adorns this track. Also worthy of mention are the melodic solos that seem to go extremely well with the pulsating soundscape. And before I forget, Harold plays excellent complex drum patterns as well. The final section is dominated by a wailing guitar solo from Frank. "Drowse At Dawn" is a relatively minimal and serene piece that relies on gentle pulsations and warm pads. Melodies played by a very electric piano sounding synthesizer are a unique touch. Finally, "Fearful Awakening" continues from previous track without any interruption. And you could say that this is the rock piece of the album - it's gets pretty intense in the guitar department while the keyboards resort to sequencing combined with intense hammond-like stabs. A nice instrumental rock / EM hybrid. "Days of Delirium..." is an interesting effort that will be especially enjoyed by those who like a bit of guitar pyrotechnics in their EM.

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Mythos "Gallery Concerts" (MellowJet Records, 2009)

Recorded live directly from the mixing board, "Gallery Concerts" is a recent offering from Berlin musician Stephan Kaske aka Mythos. "Analogdigitalpolyphomono" is a showcase for Stephan's unique approach to synthesizer-based composition. Various moody sequences envelop the listener in a warm and inviting blanket of sound that's totally synthetic in nature and yet sounds very human and comforting. Excellent music, guys! Once again Stephan proves himself to be a master of subtle sequencing and captivating melodic constructions. Also of note is the always excellent sound quality. The music is just crystal clear. There's some nice use of Korg vocoder on this track. "Filtergatemania" pumps up those sequences for a rollercoaster ride on top of bubbling pulsations and subtle, yet insistent rhythms. There's a symphonic richness to this piece with an almost orchestra-like grandeur backed by shifting and mutating electronic pulsations. This music breathes life and proves EM to be a vibrant and captivating genre. "Improviflutecho" couples warm analog string stabs with rich pulsations and heavier, broken rhythms. Finally, a wonderful mourning flute is heard, bringing in those Middle Eastern sensibilities. The flute section is then over for a reprise of the initial analog strings melodic theme, giving the piece a sense of continuity and completeness. "Mysticauroraborealis" is the atmospheric piece of the album. However, it's still firmly rooted in sequences and other pulsing structures. It's just that the pace is slower this time, leaving the individual sounds more space to develop and fully shine. However, the rhythm on this piece is even harder than on the preceding ones - a classic techno-ish bass throb. Vocoder makes another appearance here, this time opting for a more melodic approach (true singing as opposed to just uttering some words). Electronic bagpipes appear on this track, blending in nicely with other textures. The tempo decreases after the 12-minute mark, bringing this monolithic and somewhat dark piece to a halt. "Sequenctrumpetextasy" once again showcases Stephan's skills at sequencing. Other sounds are worth mentioning too, be it the thick synthetic drone, the wonderful electronic rhythms or the crying trumpet. Hypnotic and asserting, this piece got my head nodding and my foot tapping in no time. And it even ends with my favourite, trademark slow-down! Love the sequencers? Go get this one! Enjoy well-programmed synthesizers and skillful rhythms? Go get this one! Favour a more melodious approach to EM? Go get this one again, as "Gallery Concerts" got it all and then some. Another winner from Stephan Kaske.

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Mythos "Superkraut Live" (Sireena Records, 2011, recorded in 1976)

What we have here is an archived live recording of the classic Mythos line-up recorded at Stagge's Hotel in 1976. The sound is not ideal, but listenable for a live recording of its age. At that time Mythos was very much a krautrock band, instead of a solo electronic project by Stephan Kaske that it became after 1979. That doesn't mean we don't get any electronics on this release. Case in point is the first track - "Dreamlab Part 1" - a grooving krautrock jam with twittering analogue synth goodness throughout (sounds like EMS Synthi A to me). You can tell the guys had a good time by listening to this long, almost completely improvised jam. Imagine a mixture of early Amon Duul (guitar) and Gong (synthesizers). Then there's that dreamy part towards the end, with a nice flute. Some background audience noises are the only distraction. The track ends with another upbeat section. "Dedicated To Werner von Braun" continues where the previous track left off, with a more complex rhythm and more in-yer-face guitars - it's a full-fledged krautrock sound here with a less neurotic, less frenetic and more relaxed attitude. "There's No God" steps it up a notch in the heaviness department. You can tell the guys are still jamming for their enjoyment but there's that touch of menace in the heavy riffs. I would have probably done without the singing, though. The second half of the track is livelier and the good use of electronics elevates the track above average level. Nice guitar soloing is worthy of mention, too. "Eternity" is in the same vein, this time with a very prominent flute. The sound is melodic, pastoral and flowing, with a bass guitar louder than I would have preferred. The most pleasant element is probably the guitar soloing. Not much in terms of electronics this time, though. "Stagge Inferno" is a rapid, hard-rocking kraut stoner. I enjoyed it. "Backstage Fumble" is a solid slice of pure kraut improvisation with successful flute playing. The guitar part that comes after 2-minute mark is probably my favourite moment of the whole album. The track ends with an intense psych guitar workout followed by a relaxed rhythmic section that is a reprise of the initial part. "Message Part 2" is very short (the rest seems to have been edited out), but very beautiful. This relaxed and pastoral rock number contrasts with the frenetic improv's that dominate this release. "There's No God (Final)" occupies the already familiar territory of improvisational rock with strong bass playing, plodding and / or complex drum rhythms, flute passages and occasional guitar solos. Oh, yes, and that obligatory (but hardly essential) drum solo is included here as well. Overall, "Superkraut Live" is a nice album for fans of the band and collectors of krautrock. However, the release has some flaws. The first one is the sound which more or less corresponds to a good bootleg. Ok, you can't expect much from a 35 year old live recording so I suppose the label did everything they could to bring in the best possible sound derived from the tapes they had (could be an audience tape). Then, that variety thing. Although frenetic improvisational krautrock is nice in small doses, here we are treated to more or less the same moods throughout the 50 minutes. Ok, so that's what the performance was like, you say? Fine. But then, why on earth did they edit out the most beautiful, most captivating part, ("Message Part 2") and yet they kept the totally (IMO) unnecessary drum solo? One explanation could be that the master tape was damaged beyond repair on "Message". Also, I think I may need to stress it one more time: this is not an EM album. It's a live document of the late classic era of krautrock. In fact, on many songs the electronics are almost non-existent. Having said that, "Superkraut Live" remains an important document in the history of German rock, with acceptable sound quality and very neat packaging.

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Nattefrost "Live In Germany" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

This disc captures Nattefrost's two live performances in Germany from 2008 and 2009, respectively. Nattefrost is of course Danish synthesizer artist Bjorn Jeppesen who's been crafting his own brand of ambient and sequencer-driven Electronic Music since the 1990's. "Valhal Part 1 & 2" gets the disc underway. It was performed in 2008 at the Ambient Experience in Rex Theater, Wuppertal. The track is brimming with warm electronic pads and a deep bass sequence running underneath. Nice effects compliment this piece of music. The sound of waves heralds the coming of the second part, which consists of a prominent uplifting sequence and an electronic rhythm to boost. Nice melodic flourishes complete the picture - simple but effective. "Searching For A Distant Planet" introduces a more sombre mood, with contemporary sounds and an IDM-like flair. A nice gentle melodic line changes this track from a somber excursion it seemed to be at the beginning into an easy-going and serene rhythmic floater. "Kopenhaachen" is a track from "Transformation" album. It was co-composed by Phil Molto aka Robert Schroeder, who also appears here as supporting musician. The track is very much in line with Robert's current output, which means floating and melodic music with a slightest Downtempo influence. However, it's still recognizably Nattefrost in mood. "Perfectly Connected" - another track from "Transformation" - follows, again a duo performance with Robert Schroeder. This time, however, it's frenetic and sequencer-driven, with background guitar soloing. It's a nice change of pace. This track closes the Wuppertal portion of the disc as the rest is from a concert at the Electronic Circus in Movie (Bielefeld) in 2009. After a brief intro laden with effects, we delve into "Decadence" - a 5-minute sequencer stunner. Crisp pulsations are combined with repeating melodic motifs. The track is culled from "Transformation" release. "The Swan" follows and it's a Saint-Saens cover. To hear a classical piece done Nattefrost style was an interesting experience as he's certainly no Wendy Carlos for God's sake! Not that Saint-Saens' music is something I would think of when hearing Nattefrost music but there you go. An odd but funny diversion. "The Pleasure of Tranquility" is a landmark Nattefrost piece - moody and cosmic with a dramatic underscore. One can only wonder at the sheer beauty of those gentle but minimal melodies and the masterfully programmed synthesizers. It's possibly the most recognizable Nattefrost track of them all and also certainly one of the best ones. "Descending From the Stars" is a piece from "Absorbed In Dreams And Yearning" album. It features a slow, steady rhythm supported by multiple sequenced pulsations. This particular track has a Jarre feeling (most probably because of the pad progressions). "Draconian" uses fat pulsations and nice synth textures to great effect. The track is typical Nattefrost in his "urban" mode. It evokes industrial landscapes, bridges, traffic, skyscrapers, subway and similar imagery, although I must admit it is highly subjective. "Winterland" pumps up those bpm's for a rollercoaster of a ride on top of optimistic pulsations and bright melodies. On the other hand, "Nightfall" is a darker, more experimental piece with harder rhythms and not so prominent melodies. Another version of "Kopenhaachen" follows, this time without Robert Schroeder but with nice vocoder instead. This version is also much more laid-back than the usual fare - Scandinavian-style EM of the highest order. "A New Direction" closes the disc in the most impressive way possible. The track was first heard on "Transformation" and it's certainly one of the best tracks on that album and also on this live disc here. It makes use of some tasty sequences and a great, super-effective three note melody. Nice mellotron choirs as well. If you like Bjorn's special brand of melodic, sequencer-based music, this live CD is a must.

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Nattefrost "Dying Sun / Scarlet Moon" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

"De Natura" gets this album underway with heavy effects and a rumbling bass line. A great melodic theme follows with traces of Kraftwerk's "The Robots" in the way the sequences and rhythms are built. Some key changes follow with various pulsating electronic sounds coming and going. Excellent, varied EM! "Draconian" follows in a similar manner - urban synths (house-like), pulsing rhythms, twittering effects... all this accounts for a typical, trademark Nattefrost sound. A gentle, 4/4 rhythm gives the track a sense of purpose and brings in that extra dynamic element. This track is fairly somber and is loaded with fat sequences. "Music for the Man" is moodier, darker and with a wicked beat that sounds like Kraftwerk gone Insustrial. The use of vocoder reinforces that feeling. "Die Kinder der Erde", co-composed by Matzumi, is a rather intense track, with galloping sequences and fat synth pads. It's dramatic and engaging, following traditions set by German masters of the 1970's. There's even a fair bit of spacey mellotron choir towards the end. "The Swan" is a funny, and somewhat unexpected remake of Saint-Saens' well-known piece. I am not sure if Bjorn had been listening to a lot of early 1970's "moog pop" lately or there was some other obscure reason to do this kind of thing. Anyway, it's fairly enjoyable, if somewhat trite. I should also mention that it is not exactly in line with the rest of the material of this CD. "Seduced by Grief" is a comparatively minimal track with a dominating rhythm and a few mysterious background pads / melodic hooks. There's not much in terms of sequencing, most of the pulsations being rather simple and minimal, with the lower end being the most pronounced. "Ghosts from the North" combines spooky electronic textures with a narrating voice in German. However, the track then turns into a heavy sequencing hybrid, spiced up with a techno beat. Not exactly my type of thing, I think it will appeal more to the Trance crowd. "The Dark Spell" has an ambient intro. Out of this sonic melange rises a menacing sequence, coupled with bleepy arpeggios. I didn't find the melodic content on this track particularly successful, though. It is nice but not exactly up to Bjorn's usual standards. But I'll give it to him that he created a different track, exploring new territory. "Close Encounter" is made by a duo of Bjorn and Michel van Osenbruggen aka Synth.nl. This track has a more playful character and excellent melodic synth soloing (courtesy of Michel I would guess). It is amazing how well the styles of the two artists merge into an excellent pulsating, melodic EM hybrid. It is certainly one of the best tracks on this album. "My Wake Up", composed by Heidi Mortenson, sounds like a musical joke. It's basically a bunch of funny melodies ala early 1970's "moog pop" and some atmospheric textures used for contrast. This is what EM would sound like in a parallel universe where cartoon-loving Daleks have conquered the Earth. This album is a box full of surprises. Some of the tracks are extremely good, some not so interesting in my opinion, but overall it's an enjoyable listening. Well done!

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Parallel Worlds & Dave Bessell "Morphogenic" (DiN, 2012)

Well, well... a brand-new album by Bakis Sirros aka Parallel Worlds and Dave Bessell. And Dave Bessell is of course none other than a member of legendary electronic group Node. Together, they have sculpted a complex world full of synth flashes, effect-laden shadows and warm waves of pads by utilizing an arsenal of classic but timeless analogue machines and some software. If the names Oberheim, Serge, Buchla, Macbeth say something for you, then you're seem to know a thing or two about synthesizers and consequently, you're in for a real treat here. This is already clear from the first notes of the opener - the 9-minute "Oblivion". Dark synths and gritty, distorted guitar sounds invite you to take a walk through a bleak, haunted landscape. Complex rhythms are the order of the day, as Bakis and Dave serve a tasty plate of soft, glitchy pulsations that serve as the basis for a warm but mysterious bed of pads. An atmospheric section follows that gives way for a dramatic conclusion where the rhythms return but the melodic content is the real focus this time. "Above the Snow" if anything, is even more dramatic and hymnal. The melodic content of this track is great, not to mention the excellent programming of sounds. "Disorder" begins with quite a chaotic and glitchy soundscape before settling into a sort of a groove with a fat bass synth that doesn't last long anyway. A new, piano-based rhythmic section follows, with all diverse elements of this track actually coming together to form a strangely cohesive and compelling whole. On the other hand, "Inwards" has a strange type of sequence running which is decorated by all kinds of sounds and effects. Deep stuff. "Denormal" begins with a droning soundscape and a feeling of creeping menace. This would make a perfect soundtrack to a horror movie. Indeed, a shadow of John Carpenter floats around as the terrific bass synth sequence takes over. The track is imbued with a sense of mystery and dread and there's an excellent distorted guitar sound that just adds a touch of industrial grittiness. "Corruption" has a very glitchy intro. However, in the already familiar mode, the track develops with rhythms, sounds and subdued melodies. Once again there's that gritty industrial guitar sound and the general atmosphere of menace and dread. "Heterodyne", surprisingly, has a Dark Ambient style intro, complete with low synths, resonating bells and background choirs. I found it to be the best moment of the disc so far. However, soon a rhythm starts and some melodies are added, all composed in a masterful and tasty manner. Ed Buller from Node plays Modular Moog on this track but it's hard to tell what sounds were actually played by him. However, this is a great track and possibly the highlight of the entire album. And... wow! I was afraid that the album would become too one-dimensional in mood, but no. The closing track, the 6-minute "Submerge" is surprisingly uplifting. It's still imbued with a sense of drama and nostalgia, but nothing that sounds like an endless walk through dark corridors anymore. An absolute winner! "Morphogenic" is, without a doubt, a quality release that sounds more like a Parallel Worlds album than a Node one. If you love nice analogue sounds and great EM compositions with a darker twist, be sure to check out "Morphogenic". Best tracks: "Heterodyne" and "Submerge".

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Picture Palace Music "Midsummer" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Thorsten Quaeschning, keyboardist of Tangerine Dream, presents his own musical vision with his Picture Palace Music project. "Chill Crystal Zone" gets straight into business, with upbeat sequencing an a few female voice injections. A great melody drives this track forward and a rhythm that got by head nodding in no time. Some guitars appear as well throughout the track, and it makes the sound extremely rich. This track takes only the best elements of later-day Tangerine Dream and takes them to a completely another level. It's driving, crisp and effective music. "Midsummer's Eve" is much meaner, with a growling bass line and a lot of bluesy guitar on top of mysterious pad chords and fat drums. The tempo is slower this time but still this is no sleeping pill, it's actually quite driving. It just has that touch of mystery and darkness to it. On the other hand, "Midsummer's Morning" is a perfect ambient floater. I am telling you guys, this track is so well played and mixed, it's amazing. Emotional and warm, endlessly caressing, these silky piano and synth textures will melt even the hardest of hearts. "Midsummer's Day" pumps up those drums and bass. A nice vocoder adds a unique touch to this upbeat and optimistic tune. A real spirit-lifter, this one. "Seduction Crossing" kicks in with a brief dark soundscape part, but after a while a bubbling sequence enters, joined by even more pulsations. A great melody is heard, mysterious and dramatic. Nice wailing guitar adds more punch to the proceedings. "Right of Ascension" is next. Loungy bass and drums, nice rhythm guitar injections, great melodies... and we already have a formula for a perfect "driving" music. Nice use of female voice on this one, reminding a bit on "Yellowstone Park" from "Le Parc". "Drowning Someone's Sorrow Into the Ocean pt. 1" starts with the sounds of a dripping water. Doesn't sound like ocean to me at all, but maybe that was not the intention. After that, dark, dissonant sounds appear, developing into a rich soundscape. So far things have been pretty experimental, but soon a funny pulsation manifests itself. The piece does not evolve from here, though, until a clapping rhythm appears and it really begins to show signs of progression. This track is slow building stuff, much more in line with classic Berlin School than with usual Picture Palace Music style. There is hardly any transition into the second part of "Drowning..." which just continues the mad sequencer feast that started earlier. We have great sound design here and a nice rhythmic flow; it really got my head tapping to the pulse. Choral chants are heard towards the end of this part and well into part 3. These chants I wasn't prepared for and therefore found somewhat unusual and maybe even out of place. However, upon closer listening it seemed rather natural and organic. The album finishes off with "Midsummer's Night" - a danceable feet mover with vocoder and nice melodies. Not exactly what I would call EM but seems logical as a soundtrack to the end of a midsummer's day. After all, music is not all gloom and doom and entertainment is also an important part of it. I enjoyed this track a lot. Happy holidays everyone! You have a perfect soundtrack for spending your time with your loved ones at the sea, or in any other place you wish. This music will lift you up!

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Post Scriptvm "Grey Eminence" (Tesco Organisation, 2010)

This album by US post-industrial / Dark Ambient outfit Post Scriptvm begins with the sound of the bells. Later a drone is added and haunting sampled Russian speech makes an appearance. It's a spooky start to "Bell Glass Dome" - the first of eight tracks that make up this album. The drones gain in intensity, creating a chilly and alienating atmosphere. The bells never let go, casting their spell above the uneasy blanket of drones and samples. A good and very effective start. "Abortion of Memory" is loaded with samples and concrete textures. All of them are more or less of the obscure / dark character. There are also splashes of guitar, buzzing drones, cicadas and god knows what else. In a truly post-industrial manner, the authors sculpt this slice of picture music for all to enjoy. "Tarantula Pattern" is loaded with buzzing tones and drones. It's like you're stuck inside a working engine room. Nevertheless, despite its intensity and a somewhat grating nature, it's still surprisingly listenable. "Nausea Vortex" consists of metallic tones that straddle the line between the dissonant and the reflective. Chilling sounds of radio static appear now and then to stress the cold and dehumanized nature of the soundscapes. The track gains in intensity as it progresses, as various concrete textures (most of them pretty noisy and grating) are added. "Upon Decadent Scum" is even more intense. That's where we actually approach the territory of harsh noise. It does work perfectly in this context, as with previous track you somehow felt something bad was coming your way. A good noise work it is, too, very artistic, not just in-yer-face kill-all wall of sound. Apart from the noisy textures, the authors use heavily processed voice and some sharp drum rolls - a depiction of total chaos and ultimate decay. Needless to say, it's nothing for the faint-hearted. I enjoyed it. "Rauschnarkoz" brings back the drones and obscure clangs. Utterly dark and depressing, this track is filled with bone-chilling samples and no-way-out atmospheres. A feeling of utter claustrophobia captures the listener as he is guided along the deserted corridors of human mind. The second part of the track is filled with heavy distorted drones that take on an almost cosmic character. Noisy concrete textures finish off this disturbing piece. "Home Spectator" relies on television samples and deep bass throbs. A dark, disturbing and bitter depiction of dehumanized modern society, it can be seen as the highest point of this album. Just don't expect a happy end, as there is none. "White Shamans" brings back the haunting bells and heavy synth drones. This is a track of cosmic proportions and the closest this album gets to traditional Ambient or Space Music. Yet, with a feeling of menace permeating the track you can hardly relax or feel safe. This edgy composition of astral nature even uses a processed speech by a supposed shaman. "Grey Eminence" is a strong work in all respects that will be enjoyed by those into Dark Ambient, noise and even power electronics.

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Various Artists "E-Day 2009" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

Each year, Groove Unlimited label from the Netherlands organizes two Electronic Music festivals, one held in spring (E-Day) and the other in autumn (E-Live). For each event they prepare a unique, limited edition CD with unreleased tracks of performing artists. This is one of such releases, filled to the brim with fine electronics by leading European artists. The first track is "Posevalue" by John Dyson. If you know this artist, you should know what to expect. As a master of delicate, melodic electronics, John sculpts a nice flowing and romantic piece here. There is a dreamy quality to the music that oozes fluety synth leads and delicate live drum rhythms played by Mark Dale. If you can imagine an extension of Tangerine Dream's mid-1980's melodic style using a more romantic formula, you wouldn't be far from the true image of this offering by John. Gert Emmens continues with "Mascarade" - a track written in 2005 for his "When Darkness Falls Upon the Earth" album but discarded at the time. This is more or less your typical Gert Emmens and yet somewhat basic-sounding. I suppose that was the initial approach. It has slow sequences, familiar effects and floating pads and a scorching jazzy solo you've come to expect from Gert. There's also that special harmonica-like Elka sound that he often used at the time. The second part of the track is more exotic. Surprisingly, it relies on a stomping tribal rhythm and a lot of pads. The sequences are barely present and the mood is melancholic and reflective. "Polarstern" by F.D. Project introduces a darker atmosphere, with low bass pulse rhythm and mournful, atmospheric synthesizers. The track then progresses into a rhythmic piece with fine synth solos. Sequences are present as well. But of course I expected a nice wailing guitar solo from Frank and he does deliver, a pity it's too short though. "Signals" by John Dyson has a lovely spacey introduction before a more typical sound, rich in pads, is established. The track plays almost like a classical piece - it's a suite of many movements and moods. Human Metronome continues with "Cosmic Hweeldi". This is where we step into the ambient realms. A tribal rhythm likens this piece to some "desert ambience" / shamanic works by American master Steve Roach. It's pretty organic stuff with a meditative character. If you like Ambient of the darker variety - this is a great example of this style. Stephan Whitlan kicks in with "Out of the Box". Dramatic strings gradually give way for a slowly building pulse amidst a sea of great twittering effects. Finally, the guy starts churning out one of his tricky solos and you know that this guy can sure play. On the other hand, the sound design is pretty neat, too. Overall, it's one of the most expressive tracks of this collection. Classic Berlin School sequencing coupled with great sound design and virtuoso soloing just can't do no wrong. John Dyson then gives us another track of his. "Outpost" is an uplifting, cheerful composition that just flows effortlessly on waves of synth pads and electronic bell arpeggios. An equally floating and serene guitar contributes a few lazy licks to this relaxed piece of music. A wonderful symphonic section follows that's brimming with bright synthesizers, silky pads and a few stomping bass notes. A drum rhythm brings this piece to a close. "Divine Bliss" by 33 Tetragammon is a fitting closer. 7 minutes of pure sonic nectar, this piece is meditative and lulling, hypnotic and mysterious. These notes just hang in the air - weightless, effortless, delicate and comforting.

Related links: Dyson, John, Emmens, Gert, F.D. Project, Human Metronome, Whitlan, Stephen, 33 Tetragammon

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Various Artists "E-Day 2010" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Here is another fine sampler with unique music from artists who performed at the E-Day festival (this one's from 2010). David Wright and friends get going with "Gaia" - an alternative version of a track that is going to appear on "A Different Colour" album from Code Indigo (yet to be released at the moment of writing). What can be said about this track? It's melodic and has nice guitar. It's good, relaxing stuff that will suit those who want a nice background during a long drive down the highway. Not sounding very electronic, like most of CI stuff, it's a solid slice of New Instrumental atmospheres that will sure have a wide appeal. Erik Seifert continues with "Cern" - a 12-minute EM tour-de-force. A dark and abstract intro sends us straight into space. A moody sequencer section follows that just reinforces the fact that Erik is one of the best neo-prog / Berlin School synthesists around. Exquisite electronic rhythms interact with each other, forming a spacey and dreamy melange of synthetic sounds. If Electronic Music of the cosmic variety is your thing, then do check out Erik's music. E.R.G. is an unknown name to me. Seems to be a guitar / electronics duo from the Netherlands. Their "Asturiana" is a short melodic track where acoustic guitar and theremin are most prominent. Nice change of pace. "Day of E" by Free System Projekt is a massive, 24+ minute epic. It starts with subtle effects over a bed of warm organ pads. A dark and mysterious melody is heard before a warm analog synth pad is introduced, supported by mellotron flutes. Amazingly, it's 10+ minutes into the track and it still remains ambient and rhythmless. Only towards the 12-minute mark an excellent sequence by Ruud Heij starts creeping in, supported by Marcel's tron choir licks. More tron textures are added for a classic, unaltered 1975 - 1978 Tangerine Dream sound. A flying moog solo is all it takes to complete the cosmic picture portrayed by this composition. Code Indigo give us "Eden To Chaos" - a remixed version of a track from their 2004 album. This piece has great melodies played on synthesizers, piano and guitar, all set to a relaxed electronic rhythm. This album demonstrates once again the high standards of music played at E-Live and E-Day festivals each year. So, if you can, do visit this year's E-Day, on the 16th of April in Oirschot, Netherlands, in De Enck.

Related links: Wright, David, Seifert, Erik, Free System Projekt, Code Indigo.

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Various Artists "Joint Efforts - The Album" (EMProductions, 2010)

This wonderful 2-CD set originates from a thread at the EM forum (www.emportal.info) where some member musicians decided to make a project together. It took a few years to complete but the result of this cooperation is this document full of great Electronic Music of varied styles. We kick off with Peter Tedstone's "Time Drift". Wonderful, fat, aggressive sounds are unleashed upon an unsuspecting listener before a nice groovy rhythm is introduced, supported by melodic sequences. This track has all the ingredients an EM fan could want - great melodic hooks, excellent sounds and a nice rhythmic base. An instant winner! Von Haulshoven continues with a Baroque-like spacey piece called "Airplay". This excellent track takes its cues from both classical music and the classic cosmic EM of the 1970's. The sounds are tasty and the flow and dramatic grandeur of this piece are just fantastic. In other words, "Airplay" gives us seven minutes of pure electronic heaven! "Approaching Draconis" by Corporation is one hell of an EM track, too. It starts with an absolutely stunning electronic soundscape that reminded me on Andrew Sega's soundtrack to "Freelancer" game. This is really top-notch stuff and just the type of EM I like most - cosmic, unearthly, hypnotic, dreamy... Kudos to Adam Britton, the man behind Corporation. How he does it I don't know but I do know that it is just pure magic. The rhythmic second part, laden with arpeggios and a stiff rhythm, is almost quite as enjoyable. A masterwork of EM, this one. The way the sounds are arranged, not to mention how masterfully they are programmed is worthy of praise. Now to Alpha Wave Movement's "Pulse". Thankfully, it is yet another stunner. Drifting sounds weave in and out as a mournful lead is heard. A pulse (surprise, surprise!) begins, as the track becomes more melancholic, relying of flowing pads as much as on the rhythm itself. There's also room enough for a wonderful, emotional synth solo. Arroniz leads us through "Time Portal". The track relies on a steady rhythm, some sampled acoustic instruments and a lot of pads. This great composition is more or less in line with Schulze's material from roughly 1986 - 1990. A great trip - abstract and yet urgent and purposeful. Improvisation plays a very important role here. Arroniz has already proved himself as one of the premier EM artists from Mexico and this track shows why. Francois-Pol Cornec is a name familiar from the "Analogy" series of samplers. Here, he paints a vision of the land "Beyond the Portal". The intro is typical picture music, with nice electronic effects and an improvised melody. After a while a pulse starts and drives the rest of the track along. There's a sense of mystery and danger permeating this melodic EM piece. It's also high on symphonic elements, very Vangelis-like at times. Mac of BIOnighT provides a little experiment in the form of a 4-minute rhythmic piece, called, you guessed it, "Experiment 4". And, yes, it is yet another corker! The track combines Tangerine Dream's 1980's style with some dramatic string quartet / mellotron melodies. Needless to say, the combination works perfectly. Thank you, Mac, for this wonderful, emotional piece of music. "Flashback" by Polaris is next. An atmospheric intro gives way for simple sequences that, combined with a subtle bass drum rhythm, result in an infectious EM brew that got my head nodding and my foot tapping in no time. The way the track builds up with small melodic phrases is worthy of applause. This is certainly a track made by someone who knows his craft well. "Electrophoretic Black" is a track by Voynich that begins with a deep soundscape laden with pads and twittering effects. A bass pulse starts, gaining in momentum, supported by mellotron flutes and choirs. This is a great modern Berlin School track that's stylistically in line with Create's recent works, if you know what I'm talking about. If you like sequences, rhythms, good melodic hooks and that ever-so-subtle 1980's TD soundtrack touch - this will be right up you valley. As a fan of said ingredients I found this piece highly enjoyable. Megatone opens up "Portal To Hyperspace" with a majestic, symphonic piece that beats all non-electronic soundtracks to sci-fi epics to dust. It's grand, solemn, symphonic, electronic, cosmic, optimistic and everything in between. If we don't destroy each other, our future in space will be bright, and when they open up the first portal to hyperspace, they should really have this as their soundtrack. This great piece of music finishes off the first disc in a truly outstanding fashion. Disc two could be named "The Ambient Disc" but there is a fair bit of rhythmic pieces too, although as a whole it's a bit more atmospheric. "Portcullis Draconis" by Russell Storey is a spacey opener, with strange echoing intro and an experimental main part, populated by all sorts of electronic effects and modulations. There's also a background sequence running through the soundscape. A very nice piece, relaxing and yet unusual and explorative. "Incubus" by Seren Ffordd is not as scary or dark as the title might suggest. In fact this rhythmic and atmospheric piece invokes a sense of cosmic grandeur and mystery. This piece is rich in tone colors and shades of sound and makes up for a fine evening listening. A good pair of headphones is recommended. Eric G tells us a story of "3100 Events In A Desert Mine" by means of a haunting analogue soundscape. This is excellent music filled with warm and reflective pads, spacey effects and mournful leads. I could listen to it forever. Hints of classic Schulze (from "Mirage" to "Audentity") in both the sounds and the mood are abound. The second part has even a marching one-note bass pulse ala Tangerine Dream's "Desert Dream". French artist Frederic Wűrtz aka AEM with his "Distant Observation of Solar Activity Part 2" is next. The track starts as a spacey floater but then bursts through with a great analogue sequence, resembling a distant relative of "Rubycon Part 1". So you think you've heard it all in the Berlin School genre? Go listen to this track and you'd be convinced that there's an artist to discover. The sequences subside and then return with much more oomph after a brief atmospheric part. This time we are propelled forward on top of these glorious synthetic waves at quite a pace. Wow! Na-Koja-Abad's "Forgotten Encirclement" is a piece that would be enjoyed by fans of the tribal Steve Roach. Here we have strange textures, samples and subtle percussive sounds. The atmosphere is that of mystery and divine, esoteric ancient rituals. There's not a lot of music done in this style today so I greeted this track with open arms. "Black Sun" by Modulator ESP begins with a metallic soundscape before a sequence is introduced. Other ingredients include pads, more melodic sequences and fine effects. This track is very typical of the rhythmic side of Jez Creek's music that dominated his albums before he turned to more ambient forms of expression. If you enjoy rhythmic, berlin-esque forms of EM, "Black Sun" is a track for you. Chromengel (Stuart Judd) gives us "Marcoo", a track that starts with an atmospheric soundscape that gradually builds momentum and resolves with an intense melodic composition of symphonic grandeur. I am reminded on Tangerine Dream's "White Eagle" and as I love this work, I enjoyed "Marcoo" a lot. It has everything I want from a melodic, non-sequenced Electronic Music track. Another comparison would be some of Edgar Froese's solo stuff, e.g. "Stuntman". The Glimmer Room has a short number called "Know Happy Ever After" in line for us. This track is melodic as well, going for the optimistic, major key tonality - a nice contrast to the mostly stark and dramatic music from other artists. I should also mention the excellent programming of sounds by Andy. He sure knows what here's doing here, and everything is in the right place. The next piece, the Phrozenlight's piece, lasts for 7 minutes and 30 seconds and it is fittingly titled "7min30". You'd expect something ambient and floating from Bert but it is in fact one of his sequencer pieces. Not that it lacks something in atmosphere, though. As we know, Bert is a master of sound sculpting and here the main focus are the endless and hypnotic synth scapes, while the sequence takes a back seat, sometimes disappearing almost completely in the sea of strange, mysterious textures. Finnish guys from Nemesis wrap up this unbelievably good collection of music with their "Empire of Lights". I love this piece that is full of cosmic grandeur and serenity. I feel like I am watching some supernatural light show in space as I listen to this. It's amazing what feelings and visions can be conjured sometimes by a seemingly simple piece of music. It's magic. Progressive electronic music (also known as "EM") is one of the most criminally underrated and ignored genres of music of our time. But I am sure it is the most interesting and one of the most diverse genres that has ever graced this little Earth. This album is not only a good starting point, it also features a whole range of styles, and it shows us what it is that's so good about EM. This important task could only be completed by a set of very talented artists and it is definitely the case with "Joint Efforts - The Album". Let me conclude this review with one of my favourite phrases: "Long live EM!"

Related links: Tedstone, Peter, Hulshof, Eppie, Corporation, Alpha Wave Movement, Arroniz, Mac, Polaris, Megatone, Storey, Russell, Seren Ffordd, Eri G, Na-Koja-Abad, Modulator ESP, Judd, Stuart, The Glimmer Room, Phrozenlight, Nemesis

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2014. All reviews are 2010 - 2014 Artemi Pugachov.

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23Fish "Unforgiven Machine" (MusicZeit, 2010)

For this album Spanish synthesist Javi Canovas teamed up with guitar player David Paredes with a result that blends Javi's typical style and some unique experimental touches. "Nightwatchers" begins exactly with one of those experimental sections. Heavy analogue effects are all we hear for a while. It's not exactly the kind of stuff we have used to hear from Canovas, it's more along the lines of noise / DIY electronic culture, pretty heavy and raw. Frippoid guitar lines are heard, flowing amidst the strange soundscape. A more bluesy tone is then introduced, utilizing mostly the Arabic scale. A sequence slowly materializes, bringing a sense of purpose to the proceedings. From this point on, the music takes on a more familiar Javi Canovas, stance, with driving sequencers (and I'm talking about multiple pulsations here), sporadic pads and various other slight melodic embellishments. This is an excellent track that ends with a haunting soundscape. "Underground Voice" is introduced with some spooky effects that sound like... well, underground voices. More electronic effects follow, with the whole sounding like some outtake from a Dark Ambient session of sorts. Nice stuff for those lonely evenings... if you are not afraid of gloomy things, that is. The guitar really adds a new dimension to the soundscape. Dramatic strings and pads appear towards the 10-minute mark, with subtle, electric piano flashes. This is some moody stuff that is all but interrupted by the rolling melodic sequence. More sequences are added and, man, what a track it becomes! Driving, purposeful, melodic, sensual, cosmic... a real winner! The interesting part is that the track has a lead line that sounds like mellotron strings but at the same time reminds on processed guitar or even Hammond organ. "Architeuthis" brings in the noisy textures once again. Waves of static disrupt a shadowy background at uneven points, creating a really disturbing, Giger-esque landscape of sound. Metallic clangs populate the sonic void, with strange effects and voices processed beyond recognition. Has Javi been listening to a lot of Frohmader mixed with Lustmord, or perhaps Atrax Morgue and "Forbidden Planet" soundtrack lately? Theremin-like wails cry like banshees over moorland, before splashes of melodic sequencing can be heard. A full-fledged sequence finally develops, sucking you in a whirlpool of melancholic, minor-key pulsations. I am amazed at how well actually the cold, shadowy and bleak world of biomechanoids and necronomicons melds with the cosmic and somewhat scientifically romantic grandeur of the Berlin School. Not many people have tried to mix the two in one track but Javi does it here and succeeds, big time! A completely different fish (no pun intended) is the closing track, "The Twenty Six Gills Man". Right from the beginning we are treated to a jazzy, melancholic and aquatic soundscape, where electric piano clusters and subtle guitar dominate. Towards the 6-minute mark, a sequence becomes a dominant element. The track is rather loose and sparse in comparison with the preceding compositions but you do need something to chill out to after the intense stuff that went on up to this point. On the other hand, the sequences on this track are some of the best I've heard from Javi. Also of note are great contributions from David Paredes on distorted, echoing guitar. Surprisingly, the track ends with distant samples of Russian speech (a news report about the recent accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro power station). With "Unforgiven Machine" Javi Canovas really tries new things & experiments a lot and I like that. I'd go as far as to say this is his most interesting and artistically accomplished project to date. Good, good, good.

Go to 23Fish entry

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The Amnis Initiative "Distant Dreams" (Lime Mixed Media, 2010)

"Starshine" starts with deep abstract electronic soundscape before a Vangelis-like piano / strings melody takes over. Oboe is mixed in for a relaxing melodic journey. "The Vision" combines a "Chariots of Fire" type one-note sequence with relaxing guitar arrangements and melodic strings / oboe. Distant bells complete the picture of this gently rhythmic piece. The track concludes with melodic piano rolls. "Maiden Voyage" starts with a rich symphonic soundscape, again bringing to mind the glorious moments of Vangelis. Drum rolls come in and it all becomes rather bombastic, without losing the melodic edge. "In the Land of the Rainbow" is way too sweet for my taste, with bird sounds, flute melodies and an atmosphere approximating the new age genre. However, there are some nice sawy synth leads as well so if you like your music melodic and don't mind some new age-isms, this track might be a pleasure to listen to. "Native Passage" continues in the new age mould, with tribal rhythms and melodic flutes. To me it was one of the least interesting tracks of the entire album. "Midnight Sanctuary" is a nice short melodic interlude that brings works like "Conquest of Paradise" to mind. "Lament For the Living" relies on a marching rhythm, on top of which Dennis layers nice melodies and background choirs. Again, it's quite in line with 1990's Vangelis, using similar instrumentation. Not very electronic in sound, it's nice, accessible instrumental music. "Sail the Cosmic Ocean" begins with a gentle synth drone and rich symphonic strings. More melodic elements are added, for instance, the flute lead sound. Overall, it's one of the most impressive pieces on this album. It's solemn, majestic and with a richness of sound rarely found in today's music. Surprisingly, "Long Distance" introduces an electronic rhythm that serves as the basis for the already familiar symphonic strings and melodic passages. Another nice track. "Living Landscape" is initially an electric piano based track - very introspective and full of emotion but soon dark orchestral melodies take over. The electric piano does make a return though - this time in a straight melodic mode. "Isle of the Wandering Spirits" steps it up a notch in the mysterious mood department. It consists of wonderful electric piano flourishes and a reflective, even a tad dark, background. Is this the best track on the album? It could be. At least it was the one I certainly had great pleasure listening to. "Distant Memories" is a great and emotional solo piano piece. "Elevation Island" concludes the album on an optimistic note, with a relatively heavy, relaxed rhythm and flowing string / ethnic melodies. The name Dennis Lodewijks (the man behind The Amnis Inititative) was unknown to me up to this point but he seems to be the creator of "Elsewhere" website dedicated to Vangelis. It is no wonder, then, that this album here is a real treat for fans of the Greek master. It's nice to see someone doing the Vangelis thing but one thing I really missed was some of the more experimental / progressive influences that were present and played an important part in Vangelis' early music, because, frankly speaking, the 1990's period is not my favourite at all. However, if you like albums like "1492 - Conquest of Paradise", "Voices" or "Oceanic" this music will give you an hour of pure listening pleasure.

Go to The Amnis Initiative entry

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Andreas Akwara "Reinheit" (private release, 2010)

The first part begins in a similar fashion to Jarre's "Equinoxe", with sparse chords gaining in momentum and intensity, joined by various atmospheric pads. A short, but moody piece of music. "Satz II" brings in warm analogue textures in the form of classic EMS-like twitters and pads. A subtle pulse is heard but overall the track is more or less a serene drift through celestial textures and flowing, effects-laden pads. Again, comparisons to Jarre are obvious. However, there's that special "Andreas Akwara" stamp on most of the sounds and the way they are arranged into a nice Space Music piece. The third part represents a formless mass of soothing and relaxing textures. The mood is fairly positive and comforting, nothing grating, disturbing or even remotely aggressive about it. Surprisingly enough, Satz IV pumps up those sequences for a nice electronic ride through space. It's still firmly rooted in the Space Music tradition but sounds like you're trapped in one of the more active regions of space. A logical progression from the previous part is Satz V, laden with bass sequences that do remind slightly on "Oxygene", while the rest consists mostly of strange effects and that sawy, CS-80-like Vangelis touch (a very subtle one). Satz VI returns to the world of flowing textures and typical Andreas Akwara atmospheres and melodies. However, the tone is not so bright this time, opting for a darker, more mysterious sound. Also, it is one of the most experimental and overtly synthetic-sounding pieces I've heard from Andreas. Mellotron choir injections are a noticeable feature of this track. The seventh part delves into the shadowy world of subtle bass pulses, echoing effects and melancholic pads. Sonically, this is typical Andreas Akwara, as we know him from his previous releases. During the next part, the bass sequences become more prominent, the basic elements staying the same. These bass sequences also continue well into part 9, being the spine of this track which is laden with ubiquitous pads, effects and nice fat timbres. Sawy synthesizers herald the coming of the last part. This track gradually builds momentum as we are riding on the crescent of sonic waves full of synthetic pulsations and spacey atmospheres. It's possibly the most hypnotic piece of this album. "Reinheit" is recognizably Andreas Akwara in style and introduces some new elements, resulting in one of his most distinctive sounding works to date. Recommended to all fans of Space Music.

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Bruce Atchison "Lagomorph" (private release, 1998)

Canadian-born Bruce Atchison has been keeping a low profile throughout the years, working out of his private studio in Edmonton and releasing his music on cassette and CDR's since the 1980's. However, despite the relative obscurity (those who are into Canadian EM scene have certainly came across his name more than once), he is definitely one of the most original and sincere artists of the scene, besides being a writer. So, what he usually does on his albums is setting up a dense net of various wacky, spacey, cheesy or deep synthesizer sounds to create a certain mood and then play a whimsical melody or two on an equally charming and plastic-sounding (in a positive sense) keyboard. This is also true about the "Lagomorph" two-part series, the first of which I am going to review below. I will not name the tracks individually in this review, because all of them are local variations (in different languages) of the word "rabbit". And the first track is surprisingly dark. Dark, cosmic and ambient, although fittingly static. There is a certain Jarre-like quality to the synth textures and it all sounds like a wicked cousin of "Oxygene Part 1" really. Curious stuff. The second track relies on a static motorik rhythm and very neat, flashy synthesizer textures. If La Dusseldorf would be sent to Mars, that's what they'd sound like. The track speeds up unexpectedly, keeping up the solid rhythmic base. It's an interesting blend of Dusseldorf / Berlinesque / Spacerocking stuff that's hard to pin down. Things fatten up considerably with track three. The synths have a wall-of-sound quality to them this time, while a sequencer rhythm plays underneath, all crowned by dramatic melodic injections. The track is a bit rough around the edges, but that's probably part of its charm. Track four consists of ambient synth pads and subtle melodic bits before track five takes us back into cosmos, consisting of a dense net of dark synthesizer textures and a dramatic melody. The track is pronouncedly synthetic and sounds like it was recorded in the 1970's or early 1980's. I know it wasn't but it has that vibe to it. On the other hand, track six is more symphonic, with something of a Vangelis feel even, or something like TD's "Tangram". Rougher and less refined than the two artists, it still finds its place in the world of symphonic EM, with it's lush synthesizer textures and smoothly phased pads. On the other hand, part seven has something of a menacing tone to it, with growling synth drones, chaotic arpeggios and a melody straight out of Carpenter's horror flick. The next part is a computer bleep fest. It's much more typical of Bruce's usual style. I've come to enjoy this occasional cheesiness in his work, as it reminds me on the glory days of classic Cluster who had the same minimal vibe, with toy-box melodies and hardly a key change throughout the course of the track. Part nine is probably the most abstract of the lot. I wouldn't even call this Ambient, more like experimental EM with noisy undertones. Track ten, on the other hand, has that infectious sequencer pulse going on, with the rest consisting of (again) noisy textures and other low-fi mishmash. Experimental in the good sense, it takes EM to new realms where few mainstream acts would venture. The eleventh track continues the experimental theme, with bells and didgeridoo-like overtones. Interesting stuff that goes nowhere. "Lagomorph" is a highly diverse and yet characteristic collection of Bruce Atchison tunes, and comes as highly recommended for those who seek something out of the mainstream EM cannon. Try one of Bruce's albums and you may be surprised with curious textures and melodies he's come up with.

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Ian Boddy & Parallel Worlds "Exit Strategy" (DiN, 2011)

For this album two experienced EM musicians joined forces - British synthesizer legend Ian Boddy and Greek ambient electronica master Bakis Sirros aka Parallel Worlds. Given that both musicians hardly ever go the easy route, the result is something quite spectacular. "Portal" fills your ears with industrial hums, dark effects and a distorted white noise rhythm. This is intriguing, inventive stuff. Experimental rhythms adorn these sparse soundscapes in a breezy, easy-going manner that's all but interrupted by heavier, industrial clanging rhythms. It feels like being trapped in a hostile radioactive base, with engines humming, hammers pounding, green slime flowing and other hazardous conditions surrounding you. "Impresario" offers a brighter, more delicate concoction of sounds, with even a slight symphonic element. Dramatic strings dominate the picture, with tight rhythms providing a nice backbone. I am surprised at how well the individual styles of the two musicians meld together, creating a soundscape that is both foreboding and industrial but strangely attractive at the same time. At once melodic and abstract, this piece has all the qualities of a successful EM track. "Soliloquy" greets with an ambient intro, with subtle effects and floating, melancholic pads. However, soon relaxed rhythms enter, supporting a warm blanket of emotional melodic structures. Amazingly sublime and beautiful stuff! What's interesting is that it manages to remain experimental while being extremely listenable. The guys have done top-notch job with this one! Dark soundscape ends this great piece of music. "Entwined" is more psychedelic, featuring only abstract sounds and effects. Amazing how the guys' music went from absolutely and infinitely warm on "Soliloquy" to dead cold on "Entwined". It feels like you're freezing - a feeling which is reinforced by the use of icy, metallic buzzy tones. The title track enters the realms of chaotic rhythms and melodies, with broken arpeggios and that ever so slight Vangelis touch in the use of CS80-like lead sounds (in supporting roles). This track sounds a bit more like a solo Parallel Worlds track where his IDM influences shine through. Again, it's all very listenable and yet daring and imaginative - a nice balance of melodicism and experimentalism. The track ends with a section of background sounds and effects coupled with distant melodies as if you're sitting in a cave, listening closely, trying to figure out what's happening in the outerworld. I am amazed at how evocative this music is. "Hidden" offers a more spacious approach, with abstract electronics reminding on the second side of Ash Ra Tempel's "Join Inn" album (I am talking about "Jenseits" of course). You can almost feel this music on a physical level - it's so lively and vibrant. "Return" takes us back to rhythmic territory with electronic pulsations supported by gorgeous synthesized melodies and effects. It's rich, symphonic and just plain epic. Words cannot describe how many elements this track has to it. Shifting rhythms, restrained effects and that solemn, echoing melodic whirl. An excellent finish to this outstanding album that is a noble work by two experienced musicians - artistically strong and immaculately programmed. No matter what style of EM is your favourite - this album will give you an hour of pure listening pleasure!

Related links: Boddy, Ian, Parallel Worlds.

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Ron Boots & Synth.nl "Refuge en Verre" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

This is the first collaborative project of two Dutch electronic artists Ron Boots and Michel van Osenbruggen aka Synth.nl. Both musicians have unique rhythmic / melodic styles, so their influences meld together well to create a work of classic melodic Dutch EM (the "Eindhoven School"). These tracks were performed while both musicians stayed in Belgian Ardennes with their families, so the music has a bit of a pastoral quality to it, without resorting to complete new age relaxation vibe. The title track slowly builds with bass pulsations, floating pads and a wonderful melodic synth solo. It's relaxed, warm and comforting. I like the synth work on this track - everything is in place - the tasty pulsations, the high-flying solos and the warm pads. Some restrained piano notes lend their airy charm to the soundscape. "La Roche-en-Ardenne" kicks in with melancholic pads and a relaxed rocking rhythm. Then a wonderful synth melody appears - rich, symphonic and emotional. Nice stuff that will leave all fans of melodic EM speechless. "Orage d'ete" has an ambient intro loaded with the sounds of nature (do I hear a distant thunder?) and moody pads. Some synth melodies appear as well as some nice flute and sax. This is quite pastoral and reflective. Later in the track a few tribal-like percussion instruments appear but the track remains essentially an ambient effort. "Coucher du Soleil" opens with moody male choirs and some tasty synth effects. A sequence appears and then a rhythm and a rippling synth solo. This track is a bit sad and melancholic. "Contemple du Ciel" begins with mysterious pads and radio voice samples. A wonderful bass sequence then appears and an electronic tr-808-like rhythm drives this relaxed track forward. I like the way melodies are combined with rhythms on this track. "Rosee du Matin" is very Vangelis-like, with its fat CS-80 style leads and an overall symphonic approach. Really nice and maybe the best track on the entire album. "Combat des Coqs" begins with sounds of roosters but soon a rippling sequence appears. It is supported by a stomping rhythm and a guitar lead. Rocking drums appear and drive the track along. I am not sure if the guitar is real. It sounds like those trademark licks played by Frank Dorittke (at least it is in a similar style) but no guitar player is credited in the liner notes. Anyway, this piece is the most rocking and wild of the lot. "Soleil Levant" arrives with tasty pads and a well-programmed sequence. A slow rhythm then starts, the whole reminding me a bit on Gert Emmens circa "Obscure Movements in Twilight Shades". However, once the solos arrive, you know you're listening to Ron Boots. The sound is very characteristic. Michel adds fine melodic touches as well. A great finish to this pleasant melodic EM album. Recommended.

Related links: Boots, Ron, Synth.nl.

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Michael Brückner "Ombra" (private release, 2010)

Prolific ambient / EM artist Michael Brueckner has been under the radar for many EM fans during many years. Yet, since the early 1990's he has released some 95+ albums full of music in various styles, many of them available for download. I think it's high time to take a peek into Michael's vast oeuvre. "Threshold" opens the disc with a deep, hazy soundscape, where subtle noisy drones and high-pitched electronic textures create a luminous web of sound that manages to be bright and yet provide a sense of mystery, hidden menace and a touch of darkness. Good sound design! The fittingly titled "Ombra", however, brings in the chill factor. This is more typical Dark Ambient that sounds like some strange voices & echoes coming from a deep well that leads to the netherworld. "Holsonning" is much more cosmic, with that frozen, mystery-laden vibe. Not really dark, this is music for reflective winter nights and watching the aurora borealis. "Winter" continues with the frosty vibe and is fairly appropriate, as the temperature outside approaches the -12 mark as I write this. Nice, minimal, melodic ambience with a reflective rhodes piano-like sequence and frosty background synths is how I would describe this in a few words. "Excursion", though, strikes a neutral note, focusing on all kinds of drones and concrete textures, instead of setting the mood by means of reflective melodies or emotional cues. The transition to the next track ("The Distance Part One") is almost unnoticeable, as the sound becomes more subdued and, yes, distant. Somehow, Michael managed to compose a cinematic and evocative piece of music without using any real melodies or rhythmic structures - something that requires a great talent. "Turmoil" does not disturb at all, although it does feature some noisy textures that are supposed to elevate the degree of intensity a notch or two. Here, Michael even uses some really harsh textures (nothing of the Japanoise type of stuff, though), but he processes it all with heavy reverb, so the end result will not even hurt ears of a newborn. "Garden"... So, what to say about this track? Its melodic chord progressions are more than welcome after the abstract part that preceded it, or am I getting old? Anyway, there's that slight modern ambience / shoegaze feeling to it, with even a nice, modern broken rhythm. If you like Shoegaze / IDM, you will enjoy this. Me, I'll just point out that it sounds pretty damn good and relaxing to me, although I'll admit it works only as background music. The baby's voice at the end I found rather irritating and out of place. "Distance Part Two" continues where Part 1 left and doesn't leave any long lasting impression as a standalone piece of music. "A Quick Call" is basically a short, 1+ minute noisy interlude with nothing remarkable to speak about. "Pastoral" re-vitalizes things by means of abstract electronic textures (what did ya expect, an acoustic guitar pluck, huh? ;-) and only slightest melodic touches. "Jeopardy" reminds us of the existence of the dark side. It's rather atmospheric but the formula had been tried before already. "Seperation" (should be "Separation"?) is another short interlude with a rather metallic / phased organ sound. "Beneath A Shadow" is a mysterious ambient chiller. Those sparse, minimal notes and sudden textures really manage to create an atmosphere. There's also a nice floating synth lead that adds that subtle "classic EM" touch. "Tree And Path" closes the album on a pastoral note, with drone being the basic element and the other sounds used as ornamentation. Overall, "Ombra" is a nice album for fans of Ambient. Yet, at almost 80 minutes in length, I did feel that it started to somehow overstay its welcome in the second half that is filled with less original, less captivating tracks. Perhaps shortening the album's length to, let's say, 50 minutes would do no harm.

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Cadenced Haven "Peregrination" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Cadenced Haven is a project of Bangladesh-based female artist Laila Quaraishi. She presents here a melodic type of music with a relaxing vibe. The album was released on Dutch EM label Groove Unlimited and Gert Emmens, one of the mainstays of the label, lends a hand on a few tracks with his trademark sequences and mellotron choirs / pads. Case in point is the first track "Devoted Loss" where exotic singing is combined with relaxed rhythms and said mellotron chords. This is nice, moody stuff, somewhere between the cosmic and the relaxing. Soon a steady rhythm emerges as Gert's trademark sequences support the rhythmic flow of the piece and the rich symphonic synthesizers. A nice blend of Laila's and Gert's individual styles. Radio voice samples get "Confronting Conscience" underway. It provides a nice spacey backdrop for dramatic strings and pads. A relaxed rhythm starts and the track turns more or less into a loungy, downtempo type of thing. However, there's a feeling of menace or just unease lurking beneath the waves of silky pads. The next track is called "Atmosphere of Amalgamation". It is yet another collaboration with Gert Emmens and you can hear it right from the beginning, as sweeping bass sequences in typical Emmens style gradually come to the fore, taking the central stage. And what a nice EM track it is - it's brimming with energy and emotional power. Dramatic and yet strangely comforting it just gets under your skin with its classic EM vibe and warm analogue textures. "Reversion To the Unborn" takes us to exotic lands, with its tribal, tabla-like rhythm and bird sounds that soon give may for a dramatic soundscape and a downtempo rhythm. It's all rather relaxing but rich in symphonic synthesizers and flutes. "Path To Phenomenon", on the other hand, is laden with electronic arpeggios, pads and an ethereal voice. It's something of a Space Music feel to it, even reminding on Andreas Akwara's works. There's some nice piano playing towards the end. "Virtual Reality" is brimming with shiny textures and has a slow, relaxing rhythm, and mucho electronic flutes. "Catalysis" starts in a relatively aggressive mode, with a few noisy textures (nothing too grating) and an upbeat rhythm that chugs along nicely as we are treated to an array of floating synthesizer sounds and atmospheres. "The Silent Visit" begins with the sounds of a storm and what sounds like sudden car break, then beating heart and car door flung open and then shut. If the description sounds like musique concrete to you, it is not too far from the truth. However, once the sound of crashing waves is heard, we are treated to a strange electronic soundscape. An Enigma style rhythm starts but the music itself sounds nothing like Cretu, it's more like Space Music combined with those typical downtempo rhythms. Not entirely my type of thing, but nice to listen to as background music all the same. "Conclusion" is a collaborative piece known from Gert Emmens' "The Nearest Faraway Place Vol. 3" album. I love it. It's a dramatic amalgamation of sound and emotion, one of the best things I've heard in Electronic Music of late. "Peregrination" is a sensual and emotive debut from a promising act of current EM scene.

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Create "We Live By the Machines" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

"Portal" is the first long opus of this new outing by Steve Humphries aka Create. Mournful pads greet the listener as dramatic effects and subtle melodic bits are added. Little by little a cold pulse develops, wrapped in a blanket of mellotron strings. The concept of the album apparently deals with the dangers connected with the industrialization and cybernization of the society and the music reflects that idea by being probably the coldest, most detached and mechanical music I've heard from Steve. More sequences are added and a nice floating solo is heard. This is some darn good classic Berlin School stuff. Epic is the word for it. Most sounds fade out before the 15 minutes mark, leaving only menacing tron choirs and a rumbling bass sequence. New sequences are added but the track retains its utterly dark and menacing atmosphere. In other words, this composition is certainly for those who like their sequencer electronica on the mean, bleak and stark side. The title track surprises with a relatively heavy electronic rhythm and a deep bass groove. Other than that it includes the same basic elements heard on the previous track - mellotron overdose (flutes this time) and mysterious / dramatic pads. It also is more stiff, with more compact melodies and is overall pretty contemporary sounding - a logical progression of Create's Berlin School sound into the new millennium. "Fanfare of Dreams" possesses a more metallic tone, at least to my ears. Strictly electronic, the music evolves from a brief atmospheric intro into a sequenced section that starts in a sparse manner, gradually building up the pulsations. Warm, brass-like lead sounds (the "fanfare") are a nice addition, pretty unusual for SH. "Somewhere In the Distance" is an atmospheric piece. Yes, an atmospheric piece from Create. What it features is some annoying (in a good sense) siren-like sound, a whooshing texture that sounds like processed ocean waves and a slow electronic bass pulse. It's certainly original and is the best piece on this album. It's really imbued with a sense of menace and imminent danger (the revolt of the machines?) "Running Out of Time" in a way continues this theme, with mysterious windy effects and a mournful lead synth. Then the ticking of the clock makes things even more eerie. Ghostly female choirs add to the atmosphere. And not a sequence in sight!  "Search And Rescue" begins with a really nice atmospheric intro. A galloping sequence appears, supported by even more pulsations, skillfully panned along the stereo field. Even more sequences are added and we enter the familiar Create territory, with multiple pulsations, mellotron strings and an occasional screaming lead synth. "We Live By the Machines" is a solid, if somewhat uneven album. The longer tracks sounded a bit generic and meandering, basically rehashing the sound of Create's previous efforts. However, the more concise and tight shorter numbers more that made up for it, providing a unique, mysterious or menacing atmosphere. Especially enjoyable are "Somewhere In the Distance" and "Running Out of Time". Also of note is the beautiful artwork by Jez Creek.

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Gert Emmens "The Nearest Faraway Place Vol. 3" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

The third and final installment of the "Nearest Faraway Place" trilogy from Gert Emmens begins with melancholic and mysterious pads. Soon the soundscape is replaced by an unexpectedly optimistic sequence. A romantic lead line then emerges. This is melodic and cosmic at the same time and is very typical of Gert Emmens in style. The sequencing on this track is excellent; the solos tasty and reflective. I should also mention the great programming of synthesizers. Gert has really mastered his instruments over the years. As I've mentioned already, Part 15 is typical of Gert Emmens so if you love his style, there's no doubt you will enjoy it. There's also that extra symphonic touch throughout. The rack even ends with Vangelis-like electric piano notes on top an "L'Apocalypse des Animaux"-like soundscape. So good... Spacey slide guitar sounds herald the coming of Part 16. Unique music, cold and yet somehow warm and comforting, very evocative of the beautiful cover art. An "Oxygene"-like arpeggio appears out of nowhere, surprising you with its sheer power and beauty. Transforming into a nice bouncy melodic sequence, it accepts yet another pulsation which is then joined by a pad and that spacey guitar by Jan Dieterich again. Overall the sound is more along the lines of volume 1 of "The Nearest Faraway Place" trilogy. You know, sort of a loungy, rainy, reflective type of thing. The final part of the piece relies on a slow moving electronic rhythm and an oboe-like lead melody. A solemn symphonic theme introduces Part 17. Amazing, but it feels like you're flying when listening to this. You can almost see all those mountains and snowy peaks below. A rapid sequence enters the stage, sounding like classic Tangerine Dream on steroids. Soon a rhythm appears and a typical Gert Emmens lead. This is dynamic, rhythmic and melodic EM that you've come to expect from this artist. However, this rack is perhaps like a slightly pumped up version thereof, partly because of the hyperactive sequence and partly because of the dynamic flow of the piece - the melodies are faster and everything changes quicker than usual. The reflective, theremin-like lead at the end is something unexpected, though. Street noises and recorded voices introduce Part 18, along with the sound of a tolling bell. A slow, echoing sequence appears along with reflective pads. And I am telling you here and now, guys, that this is some top-notch Gert Emmens music in a slow, spacey style. Nice and flowing, it just gets under your skin. After a while a dynamic sequence enters and the more recognizable Gert Emmens style shines through. However, the track has none of the usual melancholy, relying on major chords and melodies - a very optimistic experience and a nice change of pace. And, yes, I did enjoy the Floydian guitar of Jan. A touch of melancholy does manifest itself throughout the final stretch of this track, though. What I really liked was the beginning of the next track. There's that spacey prog vibe that I find hugely enjoyable with imaginative sounds throughout. Ideal stuff to just sit back and enjoy with your headphones on. A marching sequence is then introduced together with eerie phased pads. Several key changes follow before we embark on a typical Gert Emmens journey with soft rhythms and a flying minimoog solo. Part 20 starts with a mysterious soundscape that I wish had lasted longer, because it's really evocative, really atmospheric and immersive. Nice sequences appear together with a mournful lead. A propulsive rhythm starts for what seems like one of the most active Gert Emmens tracks I've heard of late. It has one of the nicest synth solos as well - jazzy and flowing. Part 21 is a short vocoder interlude, a big surprise and absolutely not something I expected to hear. However, as a fan of vocoder voices (when done properly) I found this piece hugely enjoyable. "Conclusion" is the final piece of the whole trilogy, done in collaboration with Cadenced Haven. It's a reflective, romantic, symphonic piece of grandiose impact. A nice finishing touch, it represents an emotional climax that's hard to resist. I was deeply touched by it. Thanks, Gert and Laila for this nice piece of music. If you enjoyed previous volumes of "The Nearest Faraway Place", you just have to have the third volume in your collection. And of course it's a must for Gert Emmens fans and fans of melodic / sequencer EM in general.

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Gert Emmens "Metamorphosis" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

For this album Dutch synthesizer artist Gert Emmens decided to stick to trusty old analogue instruments from the 1970's and 1980's, using CV / gate technology and analogue sequencers to control the machines instead of MIDI. Every piece of equipment used on "Metamorphosis" is analogue and is of at least 20 years vintage. Thematically, we've got Gert exploring various stages of human existence and the effects that the events in our lives have upon our psyche and spirit. "Stratagem of Morality" kicks off with subtle effects before a nice warm pad is introduced. I am reminded a bit of Gert's piece "The Morning After" from the "Analogy" series of samplers (also done on just analogue instruments). A warm lead melody is heard. Gert's style is easily recognizable and yet here, it is infused even more with those nostalgic 70's cosmic sensibilities, especially when the heavy synth drone followed by synth string slabs come in, bringing in the best of the "Encore"-era Tangerine Dream to mind. Quite dark it is, too, especially for Gert, whose style had softened a bit in the last several years. A welcome change, I must add. I adore this edgier, rockier side of Gert's music. Nice, fat (and I really mean fat) sequencers start in a relaxed pace, propelling the piece forward, infusing it with a cosmic grandeur and a sense of purpose. Once the rhythm starts, we are taken to a more familiar territory, with reflective flute leads and warm, flowing pads. The track ends with the same kind of effects that were heard at the beginning. Wonderful reflective pads get "Collision" underway. It is not long, before a rhythm starts and a typical melodic section by Gert follows, although the whole sounds more sparse and somehow more to-the-point. The sequences are virtually absent at this stage but do appear after a while. A wonderful progression of solos and melodic bits follows - relaxed, stately and majestic. Some of the solos have that typical jazzy flair that Gert seems to love so much. A brighter section comes next, with sequences sounding more optimistic and a flying jazzy solo. "Empathy" gets loaded with warm pads at the beginning but then a sequence takes over. A very Tangerine Dream-like section follows with super-fine sequencing and typical Gert Emmens soloing. This track is more focused, incessant and driving that what has come before. It's one of the instances where the relatively short length of the piece is actually a big plus. During 7 minutes Gert gives us a nice flight through cosmic realms and inner worlds. "Emotive Disparity" is a 2-minute curio created on a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. This track is atmospheric and features nice sound design by Gert. I wish that he would work more within this style in the future. "Pace of Voyage" starts with a distorted sequence that gradually restores its melodic qualities before being joined by a warm pad. A distant solo is a welcome change, just as the laserfire rhythm that appears after a few seconds. Nice fusion-y touches give the track a special flair. A section filled with synth pads gives way for a melodic sequence that just ebbs and flows. Smooth melodies complete the picture. Oh, and that female voice lead melody is just fantastic. White noise effects (like the sound of crashing waves) herald the coming of "Opaque Divergence". They are immediately joined by smooth warm pads and a soothing melody that just gets under your skin. This is a more romantic Gert Emmens, some might say new agey, but still recognizably him. The symphonic qualities of this piece make it stand out from the rest of his output. However, a marching sequence eventually forms from under the blanket of smooth pads. A direct rhythm launches the piece into space. Like a rocket, it flies past planets and stars, on top of fat pulsations and majestic melodies. Rich, rich sounds are used on this track; they penetrate your ears with ease, touching your inner senses. A lengthy stretch of wave sounds finish off this majestic, nostalgic EM work. This album, released on Groove label, is complimented by a nice booklet and an extensive gear list. Needless to say, the analogue instruments sound incredible and like nothing on Earth. They just can't be matched in what they are doing best and Gert proves once again that he can handle these instruments with ease, as a truly professional musician with a solid experience in the field. From an artistic point of view, this album has got some darker, edgier moments that I found hugely appealing. A must for fans of Gert Emmens, analogue electronics or EM in general.

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Gert Emmens "An Artist's Stroke" (Groove Unlimited, 2012)

The music on the latest album by Gert Emmens is inspired by the life and work of Yuri Pugachov (www.pugachov.ru) - a late Russian painter that happens to be my father. Of course I am biased when writing this review, as this project means really a lot to me. I would like to thank Gert for this wonderful endeavor and I must say the results have surpassed my expectations. I will try to only describe the music itself here, without referring too much to the subject matter so as to not become too subjective when judging this album's merits. "Cossack Temperament" describes the period of my father's childhood and adolescence, as well as certain character traits. After a very brief atmospheric intro, a wonderful melodic sequence starts, accompanied by mournful mellotron strings. A typical theremin-like lead line is heard in what sounds like a classic Emmens track. There's a hymn-like quality to the music, which is full of life, joy and at the same time is somewhat melancholic. A brief atmospheric section is a welcomed change. After that, an even more effective sequencer section appears, that combines the floating quality of Gert's pads and atmospheres with assertiveness of the multiple pulsations. It's tense and easy-going, anguished and relaxed, melancholic and bright. The track closes with yet another section dominated by fat cascading sequences and Gert's trademark (very earthly, not cosmic) minimoog soloing. I loved this track. "The Long Walk (Towards the Black Sea)" reflects a period of traveling for my dad, when he literally walked by feet the whole eastern coast of the Black Sea, from Batumi (now in Georgia) to southern Crimea, painting landscapes mainly. A marching rhythm serves as the basis for this track's first part, helped by a one-note bass sequence and lots of classic analog sounds (including some trademark mellotron patches). There's also a nice melodic sensibility in this track that sets it apart from many other current EM works. It has that nature-inspired romanticism you don't encounter often nowadays. An excellent atmospheric section follows. I must say that Gert's ambient parts have never sounded as full and deep as on this album. He has really refined his sound-sculpting and atmosphere-creating abilities to perfection. Then a majestic galloping sequence / pad combination that just takes your breath away! It grips you with its beauty and doesn't let go. I was not born when my father did his "little journey" but listening to this track I can vividly imagine how exciting it might have been for him, how many beautiful places he saw and painted, how many people met and how many miles he walked. A shadowy world of clanging ambient textures and mellotron choir wraps up this wonderful track as the journey finally reaches its end. "Paintings - The Themes" is the longest track at just under 17 minutes. It's straight into business this time, with great melodic sequencing ("Gert style") and mournful pads. Fat, symphonic synthesizer textures ala Vangelis make an appearance, giving an epic quality to the track. From beneath the blanket of impeccably constructed sequencer pulsations a harmonica lead line appears, reinforcing the Vangelis analogy. The sequences are lilting, passionate, assertive, lively. And there are really lots of them here. A four-note melodic theme welcomes the coming of a brief atmospheric section after which an assertive bass sequence appears. This section, with its excellent, rolling sequences and symphonic string chords is easily one of the EM highlights from 2012. Overall, the track is the crowning jewel of the album, although all tracks were great so far. It finally climaxes into a melange of dramatic pads and symphonic textures before fading out. "Paintings - The Spirituality Behind It" strikes a darker note with it's thick fog of atmospheric textures and a steady bass drum pulse, before complex melodic sequencing takes us to familiar territory but with a different twist on Gert's typical sequencer music. On this track, the trademark harmonica lead makes a triumphant return in a much more subdued and melancholic setting. The track ends with dramatic pads and synthesized atmospheres enveloping you. "The Leningrad Years" starts with a great atmospheric intro by Cadenced Heaven. Reflecting my father's most productive and best-known period, the music has a fittingly busy and uplifting vibe to it. Then an analog goodness of a sequence by Ruud Heij appears, well in the style of Emmens / Heij collaborations. After a rhythm starts, in comes what I can only describe as Gert's best ever soloing. The excellent use of modulation wheel gives the lead line a kind of depth, subtlety, grandeur and emotion that are just indescribable. A nice use of oboe reminds us on great Russian classical traditions. And the roll calling between the oboe and synth was an excellent idea. On the other hand, Gert's most unusual and experimental ideas found their way on the following track, "Darkness Unfolds". After an atmospheric intro, a strange bubbling sequence appears and a metallic rhythm drives forward the track that is chock-full of melancholic pads and reflective symphonic solos. It's still Emmens style but seen through a dark window that leads to the otherworld. After a brief section of dark sounds, a whirlpool of uplifting sequence picks us up and takes us to an unknown territory filled with sweet chord progressions and soft analog rhythms. This is probably the best section of the album. The track ends with a chilly atmospheric part with what sounds like a telephone ringing and distant choirs. "Yuri Pugachov - In Memoriam" is a short tribute that is uplifting and gentle. With tears in my eyes and a strange, pleasant sensation inside, I finish this review. I have seen this album criticized slightly for not bringing anything new to Gert Emmens sound but I have to disagree. First of all, there are lots of new interesting sounds on "An Artist's Stroke". Secondly, it's quite different in mood to his previous efforts - more personal, emotional and atmospheric. Even the chord progression (one of Gert's trademarks) is often quite different from what we're used to hear. There are no weak or strong tracks on this album, because "An Artist's Stroke" is a complete journey. I've said it many times, but I am afraid I'll have to repeat it here: this is Gert Emmens' best album, with or without bias. I wonder if my father can hear this music, from wherever he is now... I think, yes.

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Eric G "Visions" (Elmuced Records, 2011)

The pieces on this new album by Swedish synthesizer wizard Eric G were composed and recorded over a period of more than 25 years. They were then culled from the archives, re-recorded and re-mixed for this private album release. Four massive tracks make up "Visions". "Moonmusic 2" starts with Jarre's trademark wind effects and then a... ahem... Jarre's trademark Eminent organ sound is introduced. A rapid sequence enters, changing as the track progresses. This has a decidedly "Oxygene / Equinoxe" air to it. Synth soloing on this track is clear and polished. Nice. More key changes follow before a drum machine rhythm is introduced. I must say that Eric has done a really good job with those synth textures - the sound is fat, warm, hypnotic and enveloping. Towards the track's equator, the sound becomes more subdued and melancholic, retaining the cosmic edge. By this point, we are in full-on Schulze mode (circa "Mirage / "Body Love"), the only thing reminding on Jarre is the barely heard background "Eminent" organ sound. A nice cosmic trip. "Mind Windings" is straight into business with aggressive bass synth / drum machine combination, on top of which Eric lays down typical analogue solos. String chops ala early 80's Tangerine Dream add flavour to the proceedings. Overall, there's a slight minimal synth slant to this track thanks to a limited number of elements, where each sound is given the room to breathe and bloom. In other words, Eric successfully combines the 1970's with the 1980's or the Golden and the Silver age of EM. There are also nice melodic touches towards the end. "Hallucinogenic" has a brief intro with effects before a deep, phased organ drone is introduced. Nice stuff that brings to mind the classic "Blackdance". This is the darkest part of the album so far. A gorgeous, crystal-clear analogue solo pierces the darkness for the most achingly beautiful moment of the entire disc. "Hallucinogenic" is the best track, hands down. I always loved those atmospheric / melancholic classic EM excursions, from "Moogetique" to "Blanche", from "Desert Dream" to "Albedo 0.39" and this track delivers. It has all the spaciness and melancholy you would expect from the best of the genre. "Discovery and Loss of Crystal Vision" is the longest and final cut on the album. The title should already give a clue about its sound and, indeed, it starts with melodic moog soloing and organ strings, changing keys as ghostly effects fly by. Watch out for the deep bass notes of the Moog Taurus pedals. Mellotron choirs are all that is needed to complete your "Body Love / Mirage" picture. A different kind of sequence enters that reminds me more on the stuff you hear in sci-fi TV shows. A melodic theme is introduced a bit in the style of 80's soundtracks. A more convenient melodic sequence is then introduced, as Eric lays down guitar licks on top - very TD "Encore" but with a steady drum rhythm underneath. A nice change! The drum rhythm then gets more prominent while the soloing alternates between synth and guitar. "Visions" is another successful installment in Eric's music career. What this album lacks in originality, it certainly makes up for in production and careful programming of sounds. A pity it's just a CD-R. This music certainly deserves a proper CD release.

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Gliese 614 "Serenity" (private release, 2010)

This EP-length disc consists of two long nameless tracks, all done on the Arturia ARP2600V software synthesizer. It starts with a vinyl-like cracking before deep drones take over. It all rather hypnotic and very cosmic. I just sit back and relax, listening to the somewhat darkish and serene drones. Subtle key changes follow as well as barely heard sound embellishment. Little by little these small elements take form and you start to realize that you hear someone's pen scribbling on paper. A very creepy and highly visual effect, I must add. The drones take on a mournful tone, going deeper and deeper into the darkest corners of your mind. Towards the 15-minute mark a more metallic tone manifests itself, as the music becomes more dissonant, without losing its hypnotic qualities. It is also much darker by this point. New effects are then added - sort of a twittering sound, with tolling bell in the background. The second track has windy synths and a mournful pad at its core. From these basic elements, the track evolves, gradually gaining volume and intensity. Soon everything subsides, leaving us with a tolling bell and an analogue soundscape. This time a medieval atmosphere permeates the sound. Organ-like chords appear out of nowhere, reinforcing the medieval analogy mentioned earlier. I would describe it as dark, church-like music, the one you hear in a deserted cathedral on a stormy night, however cheesy that might sound. A more synthesized tone is then introduced, going down the scale a few octaves for a nice, deep droning sound. I must say that I was impressed with the author's ability to sculpt rich, atmospheric soundscapes. It really is highly visual and hypnotic music that all fans of Space Music and Ambient should check out.

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Human Metronome "The Child Set Free" (private release, 2010)

This album by Dutch ambient project Human Metronome aka Eelke van Hoof is a factory-pressed CD (not a CDR), containing six tracks in all. "Gi" begins with concrete textures of dripping water and natural soundscapes (something that sounds like very distant bird calls). It's an extremely relaxing experience. When subtle and slow percussion is added, the organic nature of the music comes to the fore. It's not very electronic, in fact you could call this "organic ambient", but it's very convincing, not to mention the excellent quality of mixing and recording. Subtle flute playing gradually comes to the fore, somehow stressing the meditative nature of the music. Fans of the deeper Steve Roach in his organic mode will find this to their liking. Reflective guitar surprisingly appears towards the end of the track which sounds pretty eerie on top of the droning, humming soundscape. The second track "Makoto" begins with a subtle soundscape full of concrete textures, all soaked in distant reverb. Bamboo flute makes an appearance once again, as various acoustic / ethnic percussion sounds fill the space. And... that's it. It may sound simple but in fact the music is very meditative and primeval. You somehow don't want it to become flooded with sounds. It's good as it is: sparse, echoing and hypnotic. The third track called "Yu" takes us to darker realms. It's still fairly meditative, the percussion is still there and the flute still casts its spell, but the drones and significantly more menacing. "Jin", on the other hand, is based on an insistent percussive rhythm, making it a relatively active track. The other elements are basically the same, though - rain sounds, other unidentifiable concrete textures, bells, subtle clangs, drones... Sound of Tibetan bells (or something that sounds similar to them) introduces "Meiyo". It's the most organic and meditative (also the most minimal) piece on the album. It basically consists of just the already mentioned bells, concrete textures (a waterflow of sorts) and... that's it! Towards the ends of the track, however, a bit of variety is provided by some percussion rolls. The last track "Konshi" brings back the drones. It's a sonic mantra that just envelops you. Of course, there are no melody and no beats; it's just a pure flow of sound. "The Child Set Free" is an album that will be enjoyed by those who like organic music and Ritual Ambient. It's great to just sit back and relax to.

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Gustavo Jobim "Trapped In A Day Job" (download album, 2011)

Brazilian artist Gustavo Jobim is certainly one of the most interesting and promising acts on the current EM scene. A while ago I reviewed his CD album "Round Mi" that featured a nice mix of Berlin School influences and minimalism; as well as a few of his download-only releases. All of his works were quite different but he managed to maintain a high quality of his output, whatever the chosen style of music. This particular album was recorded at work. This means that all tracks were recorded using office PC running a basic synthesizer / sequencer software (TS-404). "Lets Fly" gets straight into sequencing. It's minimal and yet hypnotic and captivating. Actually, you only hear sequences here, about 4 or five of them. Some of the sequences serve as rhythm, some provide the melody and some act as bass... you get the picture. Simple, but effective. The music is not static, as Gustavo changes notes on the fly, alters filter and resonance parameters, resulting in a lively concoction of electronic pulsations. It is interesting to trace the intricate road this piece takes, guided only by the author's imagination and the instrument's limitations. "Moebius Tape" strikes a quirkier note, initially sounding like some cartoonish frog choir. The tempo is slightly slower but it's basically the same thing - sequencing and just sequencing. This track is really heavy on the bass. I am thinking about the tracks' title now. Although it does refer to mathematics, I am indeed reminded a bit on the music of Dieter Moebius. At least this track has the same type of quirkiness to it and the textures are a bit similar too. I found it interesting how the piece seemingly decays towards the end, the sequences becoming more distorted, dirty and hallucinating. "Cat In the Blender" has perhaps the catchiest groove of them all. I can't help but nod to the rhythm while listening to this. It has nice resonance-laden melodic higher-register sequences as well. A pity that this track is so short (4+ minutes only). We then get "Nightlife In Mars" that is more upbeat, with a galloping bass sequences and other pulsations possessing that strange, dirty experimental quality that make them sound pretty cold and alien. Sounds like Goa-trance played by the Max Rebo Band on a bad day. "Arcade Times", naturally, brings in the cheese. If you like old computer games or are a fan of chiptune, this is more or less the stuff you're after. However, apart from the bleepy sequences, you get pretty noisy resonating textures here that make the whole thing sound rather intense. It is the shortest track of the album. "Mind Bender" weaves another net of electronic pulsations. This time, however, Gustavo goes for the total overkill, both in terms of the quantity of sequences and the overall intensity. "Icecream Waves" is the only slow track here. In fact, it could be called "sequencer ambient" if you can imagine such a thing. This is probably the kind of stuff Cluster would have made back in 1976 in Forst, had they had access to sophisticated sequencer software. "Inside the Machine" adopts a more asserting groove with some really strange background sequences, some of them even reminding on the cheesy sounds that Tomita used in the 1970's. However, the format is grand - this massive track leaves an impression of a Klaus Schulze gone completely sequencer-mad in his studio. There are not enough albums out there relying solely on the sequences. And Gustavo Jobim's "Trapped In A Day Job" is an important statement and the proof that such artistic limitations can be ultimately rewarding when filtered through a creative mind of a musician. Recommended.

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Gustavo Jobim "In Search of Berlin" (download album, 2011)

On this album Gustavo Jobim explores his early influences, or rather, early German EM textures, but does it in his own, unique way. "Echoes of Berlin" is loaded with varied sequences that create a rich web of sound. It's has a great, updated Berlin School sound. Finally, a magnificent mellotron-laden section follows, bringing to mind the darkest moments of "Phaedra". Piano notes are combined with 'tron strings for an even more dramatic sound.
"Underground Train" starts in a very Schulzian manner, with complex sequencer patters and multiple arpeggios. It's very similar to "En-Trance", complete with gentle electric piano / glockenspiel notes and other digital plinkety-plonk. However, there's also that thick, slightly phased organ chord that harkens back to earlier times. And, before I forget, I just love the key changes on this track - very sudden and yet somehow organic, reminding a bit on "Bayreuth Return" even. Overall, it's a smooth, warm and highly enjoyable EM track.
"Midnight Mists" delivers the goods from the very start, as you hear shadowy mellotron chords and reflective piano notes. It turns out to be a captivating atmospheric track that pleasantly brings to mind of "Epsilon in Malaysian Pale". Minus the piano, of course, which was not used by Froese then. Because I adore this EM classic, I found "Midnight Mists" hugely enjoyable too, and a nice twist on that sound.
"Ascension" more or less repeats the formula of the first track, as you are taken away by a storm of pulsating sequences. The analog lead line is a new element, and sounds a bit similar to the textures that Klaus Schulze used to come up with circa "Cyborg" / "Picture Music" - you know, that thin, reedy type of sound. Gustavo's work on the sequences is very interesting on this track, including that moment when the rhythms break up, only to come back with new force a couple of seconds later.
With "The Inner Outer Space" we dispense with the sequences, as this is pure dark drift, seemingly inspired by the earliest Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze works. One can hear echoes of "Alpha Centauri", "Zeit" and "Irrlicht" here. However, it's all fairly unique and reminds a lot on the mixture of the embryonic Berlin School from 1970 - 1973 and the current noise / Dark Ambient scene.
"Hallucinations" starts with a heavily modulated, ahem... hallucinating synth drone. After a while, a sequence develops out of this drone, but the track retains its quirky character. The sequences then subside and make room for the comeback of modulated synth drone. This is heavy stuff, guys, and not at all your average TD clone. Some quick, sequenced piano runs also remind on Gustavo's earlier works.
Finally, "Berlin Endless" is unleashed on the wave of heavy-duty sequencing, rapid notes stinging the ears like electronic bees. The patterns then change completely, as Gustavo goes mad with cutoff and resonance controls on his synthesizers. After a quiet section where it seems that the track has faded out, the sequences resume as lively as ever, bringing the album to a sudden close.
"In Search of Berlin" is an interesting and original take on this well-trodden musical path that is Berlin School. It differs from the bulk of the genre's releases in that the solos are almost absent (bar one track), the sequences are generally fairly frenetic and overall the music is pretty experimental and sometimes quite far from the genre's conventions... which makes it all the more interesting of course. And those atmospheric mellotron moments are simply stuff to die for. Another winner from Gustavo Jobim! Best track: Midnight Mists.

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Gustavo Jobim & Ian Land "Perspectives" (download album, 2012)

"Perspectives" is a collaborative project between electronic musician Gustavo Jobim and British photographer Ian Land who currently resides in Berlin. It's a multimedia concept where each track corresponds (more or less) or is based on a certain photography by Ian Land. All of the pictures are black and white. Musically, Gustavo has chosen a different approach this time - relying solely of electric piano (using acoustic piano timbres) with virtually no electronics. The first track, "Am Schlachtensee", is a study in repetition. It recalls classic American minimalist works of people like Philip Glass. The title track follows and it's a much more haunting affair. Hugh notes hang in the air like ghosts waiting to get saved from their endless wandering. However, as the track progresses, some impressionistic hues start to become noticeable. Not very Debussy-like (too chaotic for that), but still with that special, early 20th century mood. The track gets heavier as it progresses, with bass notes replacing the higher ones completely. "Exemplary Service" is, on the other hand, pretty emotional and has a nice melodic sensibility. It reminded me a bit on Roedelius' style during his Forst period of working in the Cluster duo, as well as his subsequent creative years (1980 - 1991). Excellent track, this one. "Asche zu Asche" steps it up a notch in drama. Although monochrome, these notes really manage to get the message through. An epitaph of shattered dreams and a hymn to decay, this is probably the darkest piece of the album. "Arc de Triomphe" has faster piano runs and an overall brighter atmosphere, using major keys along with the minor ones. Overall, it's really one of the most complex tracks of the album, with multiple changes of themes and moods. Again, the general direction is rather impressionistic. "Ghosts" returns to minimalist moods, with a very soundtrack-like quality to it. It could serve as a soundtrack to a mystery / drama / horror movie. Nice! "Debris" is in a "sequenced piano" style that was explored on some of Gustavo's previous albums. All the fast piano runs really set up a darkish and disturbing mood, turning into monolithic walls of sound, crashing waves and ripples. The interesting part is that at times the music on this track doesn't sound like piano at all. It is probably the most explorative piece here. "Rejected" closes the album on a minimal Brian Eno / Harold Budd note, with that special touch of Roedelius. Beautiful! I really think of this album as one of Gustavo's main creative achievements. It is always a challenge to record a successful piano album, but he really managed to do something that differs from his usual output and yet possesses an irresistible quality and undeniable artistic value. It really helps to watch the photographs while listening to this music, as the ideas behind the tracks get clearer. Great album by Gustavo!

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Gustavo Jobim "Nocturnes" (private release, 2012)

I am a fan of Gustavo Jobim's piano work, so this beautifully packaged, privately released disc (CD-R) was for me a welcome addition to his catalog. "Nocturnes" is a sequel to "Perspectives" and follows the same formula. Armed with just a digital piano and lots of ideas, Gustavo weaves melodic, melancholic and minimal nets of sound. "The Eternal Night" starts the disc in a dramatic manner. In fact, this piece could be a perfect accompaniment for a drama or a detective movie sequence. Excellent track! "Reflection", on the other hand, winds things down a bit. Much more of a chamber piece, this slow tinkering could serve well as a background for those lonely hours where you sit in a room, reflecting on your past life, not having much to do. So, the title is, once again, spot on. When "Moonlit Street" starts, we are greeted with some marching piano notes that harken back to the mood of the first track on the album. However, it's all much more serene and impressionistic this time, with none of the dramaticism so abundant in "The Eternal Night". "Stormy Night", on the other hand, has much more oomph, with sparkling notes virtually flying in all directions, while heavier, more asserting piano slabs provide accents here and there. In fact, I am reminded on some abstract and impressionistic piano works that people like Anthony Davis and other avant-jazz pianists are known for. However, the piece also has its reflective moments. "Wellsprings" has much more of an asserting quality to it, being probably one of the brightest pieces on this shadow-imbued, nocturnal disc. The use of major harmonies reasserts this feeling. "Games" is another relatively bright and jovial piece, which probably could not have been the other way round, with a title like that. It is also quite upbeat, with faster piano runs on top of what seems like a solid base of lower-register piano notes. "Snowflakes" is extremely airy, just like the title suggests. This time, higher, bell-like notes predominate, as Gustavo paints one sonic whirlpool after another with his trusty digital piano. "The Deep Night" takes us back to nocturnal realms. Certainly one of the heaviest and most dramatic pieces on the album, it harkens back to the opening track, but, if anything, is even darker and more intense. The closing track, the 7-minute "Voyage" finishes the album on a more reflective note, as piano chords are interspersed with short periods of silence. This is minimalism in its more traditional sense. "Nocturnes" is an excellent listening for those reflective moments. Turn the lights out, sit back, relax and just let yourself be taken away by the music.

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Gustavo Jobim "Connection - Tribute to Conrad Schnitzler" (download album, 2013)

This album represents Gustavo Jobim's tribute to one of the most influential electronic musicians of the late 20th century - the German master Conrad Schnitzler (aka Con). The two had plans to make an album together. However, it was not to become reality, as Con sadly passed away in August of 2011. The first track captures the spirit of Con's work perfectly - a steady pulse serves as the basis for anguished and tortured electronics. There's nothing easy-listening about it (as is the case with the bulk of Conrad's work as well) but it is very effective. A nice beginning! The whimsical second part tones down the things a bit, bringing in goofy beepiness and cheesy playfulness which are in stark contrast to the dark industrial dread of the opener. The third part is a Messiaen-like organ wall-of-sound, on top of which Gustavo plays a darkish synthesizer motif. The fourth part brings in cosmic grandeur, with fat string synth and disjointed, distorted sequences, sounding like a working engine of a space shuttle. Part 5 is a nice interlude that is all melancholic and a bit overdriven synth pads. Part 6 returns to mechanical, steam-train sequencing and experimental textures. Very much in the spirit of classic Con. The seventh part, however, is loaded with heavy mellotron and harsh industrial noises and could best be described as a soundtrack to apocalypse. The heaviness pretty much continues into the next track. However, this time things seem to have gotten completely out of control. A hurricane of distorted synth melodies and white noises, this track is nothing for the faint-hearted. The next part offers a release of tension, with its sustained drone and airy phased synth improvisation. Part 10 is loaded to the brim with broken sequences and spacey synth pads. Mutant Berlin School? Check! The sleepy part 11 is the most amazing piece on the album. It's simple, ambient and minimal, and yet these lulling tones manage to conjure up a feeling of solitude, calmness, serenity and bright melancholy. Great, great stuff! And then, the anthemic part 12 closes this album on a cheerful note, with its superfat synth and an almost Jarre-like feeling on grandeur. I think that Gustavo Jobim has managed to capture the explorative, daring spirit of Schnitzler's work perfectly. May Con rest in peace and thank you Gustavo for this nice little tribute.

Related links: Gustavo Jobim, Conrad Schnitzler.

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Gustavo Jobim "Manifesto" (download album, 2013)

Gustavo Jobim's "Manifesto" has been several years in the making. In fact, he has been working on it on and off since 2001 - the period during which his first official album was released. Consequently, it can be considered his magnum opus. "The Disquieting Muses" kicks in with heavy mellotron choirs. The atmosphere here is solemn and dramatic and it's a really nice intro that will please all fan of 'tron sounds and 1970's German EM (i.e. Froese). "Biomekanik" changes the pace abruptly, with its frenetic sequencer rhythm and dramatic orchestral melodic figures. This is some sort of a wicked Berlin School sound that's 50% Tangerine Dream and 50% Art Zoyd. "The Spell" is next. When I heard the murky, dreamy, Giger-esque, insomnia-infused soundscape that Gustavo built, I was bought completely. Those who enjoy the darker side of the EM spectrum should hear this as soon as possible. "Origin of the Obsessions" returns to the dark Berlin School formula. If Edgar Froese recorded his "Aqua" in a deep underground cave, this is perhaps what it would sound like. "We Atomic Children" is a relatively short but intense post-apocalyptic soundscape that has a vocoder intro reminding on Kraftwerk circa "Radio-Activity" and then develops into something quite unique and symphonic. "The Mystery of San Gottardo" is a piano interlude in an already familiar Gustavo Jobim style. "At the Bottom of the Shaft" concludes the imaginary "Side one" of this album. Once again we are treated to a dark electronic journey filled with resonant synth textures, stomping sounds (like someone walking in the distance) and other samples. classical influences creep in as the track progresses, in the form of dreamy oboe playing. "Hallucination By the Seashore" heralds the coming of the second part of the album. The track is based on fast-paced sequence / arpeggio sound and soft background orchestral textures. It is slightly (only slightly) in the vein of 1990's Klaus Schulze (right at the end of his sampling phase he had this "classical / opera" phase, circa 1993-1995). "Living In the Light of the Immortal Worlds" takes the epic KS formula again (I am somehow reminded on "FM Delight") but infuses it with a special "Gustavo Jobim" feeling. This is excellent music, guys, especially if you can't get enough of those dreamy Schulzian synth chords. "The Eleventh Hour" is a short track that sounds like a soundtrack to a horror flick - it's all spooky organ textures and reflective melodies. "Apparition of the Ghost of Erik Satie" is, as expected, dominated by piano. Repeating chords and melodies swirl around you, creating an impressionistic whirlpool of sound. "The Flock of Birds" continues with the piano formula, although this time it is much more similar to what was heard on Gustavo's previous piano albums, which means lots of repetition in a minimal context, relying on faster piano runs. "Iconoclast's Despair" repeats the formula, adding experimental electronic sounds. On the other hand, the closing "Eternal Sorrow" was a real surprise and represents a facet of Gustavo's music that was not demonstrated on previous releases. Basically, we are dealing with ambient music here, but it's Ambient as seen by musicians of the black metal scene (remember Burzum?). If depressive synth chords and atmospheric noises are your thing, give it a shot. "Manifesto" is for me the definitive Gustavo Jobim. If you only want to have one album by him in your collection (why would you?), this would be it. The album demonstrates all the styles that Gustavo worked in over the years and does it pretty well. The selections are well thought-out and there's nary a weak moment during more than 70 minutes of its length. A winner.

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Gustavo Jobim "Inverno" (download album, 2014)

With "Inverno", Brazilian composer Gustavo Jobim opens a new chapter of his creative work. The style here is quite different from what he did before, as this is a completely ambient album.

"Frozen Lake" gets things going with tremolo drone that reminded me a bit on some early 1980's experiments by Klaus Schulze when he used the GDS digital instrument quite extensively. It's all rather hypnotic and uneasy, never relaxing. Some stranger sounds appear over the course of the track, giving it an avant / musique concrete edge.

"Zone of Silence" introduces a somber note - it's noisier, but follows more or less the classic Dark Ambient formula, bar a few more intense moments. These freezing, numbing sheets of drones and noises are a perfect soundtrack to slow movement of glaciers.

"Ice Age Coming" is a weird amalgamation of processed orchestral slabs and a continuous electronic drone. The intensity level is up again, and the music is as disturbing as ever. This is strange stuff that is hard to pin down. Sort of a chamber / symphonic / avant / electroacoustic hybrid maybe? Sounds like Art Zoyd playing in permafrost.

And speaking of permafrost, that's the title of the next track which is one intense trip. Deep, distorted, metallic notes are heard on top of the wind effects that remind on "Mirage" by KS.

"Winter Song" initially introduces a brighter note, something of a neo-classical electronic winter symphony done ambient-style. It is also grander in scale, passing the 20-minute mark. With its distant, processed mellotron strings, strange echoes, cosmic effects, this really brings to mind "Mirage" again, namely the first side ("Velvet Voyage"). However, whereas Schulze's masterpiece was expansive, airy and melancholic, "Winter Song" is imbued with a nocturnal air and claustrophobic dread. And, nary a sequence in sight! Just the monolithic, whirling and dizzy soundscape. But, wait a minute, what a surprise. What I certainly didn't expect was an electric guitar solo. And what a solo it is! You'd think it wouldn't work, but it does. Yes folks, melodic proggy guitar soloing (nothing too fast) that combines perfectly with the soundscape. I wonder if a hypothetical duo of David Gilmour and Klaus Schulze recorded in 1977 would sound like that. I just wish the solo would go on for a bit longer. The final part of the track features some clanging noises, bringing in that industrial touch. There are also sounds like bells and deep gong hits going on. Epic is the only word I can use in relation to "Winter Song". Is it the best thing Gustavo has done up to this point? Possibly. What I am sure about is that it is quite different and very deep.

"Wanderer" sounds more like "ambient" stuff done by black metal musicians. You know, sort of a "neo-classical" or "fantasy" ambience played on quite simple keyboard. However, this is coupled with some nice effects, giving interesting results.

"Mountain" is a bit similar in execution but larger in scope. The formula is the same, though - long, drawn-out pads, slow melodies on the keyboard, and the echoing, "evil" effects. Perfect dungeon music if know what I'm talking about. A doomy sequence can barely be heard just as the track draws to a close.

"Last Shelter" is more along the lines of classic Ambient in that it has none of the darkness. All you can hear is a lullaby-like melody and gentle cracking of a fire in a warm cavern as the sun sets and the day comes to an end.

"Summit" ends this album with the sound of thunder and a mysterious analog soundscape. And is it just me, or is there something of an "Apocalypse des Animaux" sound? I mean, those slow, reflective notes really remind me on "La Mer Recommencee" for some reason.

 "Inverno" is one monster of an album. It is a concept work of sorts or at least has a clear unifying theme, it's quite different and works well for active as well as passive listening. It has a lot of influences and pleasantly calls to mind many different artists along its course without sounding exactly like any of them: Klaus Schulze, Art Zoyd, a bit of Tangerine Dream's "Zeit" perhaps, a bit Vangelis ("Apocalypse des Animaux"), a bit Mortiis / Burzum's "dungeon music"... Result: I liked it very much! Best track: the absolutely magnificent and evocative "Winter Song".

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Löis Lancaster "20busK" (download album, 2004)

Löis Lancaster is a Brazilian experimental artist who is influenced by minimalism, dadaism, broken music, avant-garde, RIO, lo-fi, alternative rock and many other interesting trends and styles of music. "Intraducão" is filled with voice samples and chaotic drum / synth sounds. Curious stuff. "Benvindo a Po" is an excellent slab of experimental electronics. Broken rhythms, an overload of samples and the overall bizarre feeling are only augmented by the strange lyrics, delivered by a female vocalist in an idiosyncratic manner. I am not sure that there is a name for this style of music, but I think the term "digital mayhem" gets pretty close in describing what's happening here. Having said that, the results are very listenable and entertaining. "Goiânia a Francesa" starts as a piano piece with a great melodic sensibility. The author then lays down a breezy rhythm with soft arrangements of classic keyboard instruments and synthesizers. Sounds like 60's electronic pop ("moog pop") updated for the new millennium. Some of the samples found on this track are pretty odd. The vocals are in the form of spoken word this time. This track is pure fun! "Indigno Blues" (how's that for a title?) ironically starts with dirty guitar riffs and a distorted voice, before entering the territory of demented cabaret theatrics, with a male voice (sounds like Löis himself but I may be mistaken) singing the lyrics (in Portuguese, naturally, with some English interjections) in a comedic and ironic way, while guitar wails in the background. See, the album's getting really interesting. "Parede" is the "synth-pop" song of this album, relying on synthesizer arrangements (including some twisted solos) and female vocal singing with less strangeness and using a more direct and melodic style. The author then breaks down the vocal phrases, trying to compose new melodies or rhythms with them. It's a wicked type of synth-pop, guys. Next track - "Pâncreas". This time Löis opts for a dirtier and grungier, guitar-based sound. Lemme tell you, this is great fun. The lyrics are funny, sung by both male and female voices, but what I like most is how the author imitates and seemingly ridicules punk, alternative rock, grunge and what have you. Of course you must speak Portuguese to understand lyrics but the music is fun and can be enjoyed in its own right. "Filmaço" has much more of a jazz influence but by now it has already become clear that Löis Lancaster is not the man to do any style the "normal" way. The chaotic nature of the rhythms and arrangements make one think of some RIO bands. "Teatro Liquido - Astrid" begins with heavy metal riffs but soon transforms into a cartoonish guitar / electronic hybrid. As if it was not enough, the author injects burping jazz trumpet sounds as well - it's a nice improvised mayhem of a track! I adore the way the track switches from the comedic to full-blown and virtuoso improvisation and back. "Lanterna Verde..." is much more electronic but the style can't be defined easily. It has elements of techno, drum 'n bass, even funk and instrumental hip-hop. Great broken rhythm on this one. "Coisa com Coisa" has echoes of old bossa nova and vocal jazz, although it's still weird and twisted. "Verticaminho" surprises with a heavy slap bass sequence and complex drum arrangements. It's an intense track with digitally processed vocals and even a bit of vocoder. "Retrato do Artista..." is a short track with chromatic percussion arrangements interrupted by intense metal drum outbursts and weird vocals. Then we have "Etica e Politica da Amizade". This track pretty much has everything, but Löis' (I think it's him) comedic vocal delivery is probably the highlight of this theatrical piece. However, if you don't speak Portuguese you may have a hard time with this track, because it's really vocal-oriented. "Teto Preto" is an experimental mayhem of completely broken rhythms, pitch-bended synths and a potpourri of samples. "Sol de Inverno" has shades of shoegaze and post-rock, not so much in sound but in mood. Lulling guitars, a steady rhythm and a pretty female vocal delivery are the main ingredients, with a slight touch of wackiness and an underlying feeling of Magma-esque stiff and repetitive militaristic recitation. Overall, it's the "ambient" piece of the album. "Ficha Tecnica" contains disc credits spoken by two people on top of background music. An interesting idea, this one. The disc also contains some bonus tracks that, stylistically, more or less correspond to the tracks on the album. The first of the bonus tracks is particularly memorable, with great drum, synth and organ arrangements. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, try this album. It has a bit of everything and is highly entertaining, with great ideas and musicianship. It helps if you understand Portuguese (I do) but can be enjoyed as a bold instrumental statement as well. You do get that feeling of listening to a Brazilian version of more deranged and wicked Frank Zappa more than once during the course of the album. Gostei!

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Memory Geist "Benthos" (DiN Download, 2011)

The newest collaboration between experimental electronic musicians Bakis Sirros and Steve Law starts with "Metaphore" - a dense soundscape filled with ghostly textures. Bass notes and drones are augmented by other strange textures, some of them utterly unsettling. There's a heavy bass throb and after a while a rhythmic groove forms out of the ether. With flashes of melody and a strange structured progression, this track somehow reminded me on Bakis' latest collaborative effort with Ian Boddy. "Mysticeti" is straight into business with strange rhythms and a much brighter breed of synth sounds. There's an uplifting, optimistic air to this tune, with all sorts of cracking, bubbling sounds surrounding a creeky rhythm. Interesting stuff. "Ocean Memory" has airy pads all over. It sounds as if you're floating above earth or indeed weightlessly and effrortlessly gliding beyond the surface of turquoise sea. A lot of bubbling sounds and thick, liquid atmospheres let the intensity grow until we find ourselves amidst a swarm of buzzing drones, gleaming, whispering bells, subtle twittering and other synthetic what-not. "Photophore" is a harder affair, with a technoid beat worthy of a Prodigy album. Although the sounds on this track are well-programmed and interesting, I found it to be much less appealing. "Carcharhinus" is alive with experimental textures and rich, noisy drones. This ambient soundscape is active and throbbing instead of just passively dwelling in the background. Little by little, a rhythmic pulse develops but never really blossoms into a full-fledged rhythm. Instead, the track returns to a wall-of-noise beatless soundscape that envelops and fascinates you. A very nice track, this one. "Bathosphere" is grand Ambient in the classic sense. I am reminded of everything, from "Zeit", to Roach / Rich and even Edward Artemiev's ambient experiments from the 1970's. The use of analogue textures reinforces that feeling. Drifting, dramatic chords, drones, distorted chorus, wave upon wave of fat timbres that pierce your brain... Good stuff and a great finish to this successful collection of experimental Ambient / EM. "Benthos" is available as a digital download from DiN label or as a limited edition CDR from Hic Sunt Leones.

Go to Memory Geist entry.

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MorPheuSz "Days of Delirium & Nocturnal Nightmares" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

MorPheuSz is a new project of Ron Boots together with Eric van der Heijden, Frank Dorittke and Harold van der Heijden on drums. We start off with "Between the Barriers of Reality" and what we hear immediately is some warm, phased string synth and twittering effects. Sounds like a classic to me. Dramatic key changes follow and a deep bass pulse starts. This is pure Berlin School that reminds on Klaus Schulze's "Timewind" even. The key changes and the flowing quality of the music made me think of that classic work immediately. More sequences are added and after a while we hear a nice and lush symphonic synth solo. Extremely pleasant stuff to listen to. Soon Frank Dorittke steps in with his fine guitar soloing and Harold provides a nice steady beat with his drums. More synth solos follow and before you know it, the 10 minutes are over. This track is a perfect trip into the land of dreamy synth textures and pulsations, floating guitar, and competent drumming. "Daylight In A Nocturnal ScareScape" has a fittingly atmospheric beginning, but soon a simple tinkling sequence starts, supported by lower-end pulsations. Some key changes follow and then a symphonic synth solo. You can easily tell this track continues what was started on "between the Barriers of Reality". Again, all the ingredients of a good EM track are there: quality sequences, fine programming and emotional solos. However, after 6 minutes a certain orchestral bombast seeps in, personified by heavy string stabs and over-the-top choirs. There's a certain soundtrack quality to it all. However, it was fairly strange and I can't decide yet if it goes well with the otherwise typical EM sound of this track. The guitar solo by Dorittke on this track is excellent. "Prophecies of A Pagan" begins like a formulaic Dark Ambient track - weird murmuring voices, windy effects, "spooky" string sounds... Distorted guitar sounds add a certain grungy touch to the proceedings. Don't even know how to describe the sound of this track. Tangerine Dream meet Richard Pinhas on a bad day, perhaps? Having said that, I found this track highly enjoyable, especially the second part thereof. It's not what you would expect and hey... you gotta love hard rock EM! Nice synth solos are there, too, alternating with wailing guitar from Frank. "Sandman's Journey Through Sanity" brings forth those Pink Floyd influences by means of spacey strummed guitar from Frank. A wonderful, unusual sequence from Ron (or maybe that's Eric's?) adorns this track. Also worthy of mention are the melodic solos that seem to go extremely well with the pulsating soundscape. And before I forget, Harold plays excellent complex drum patterns as well. The final section is dominated by a wailing guitar solo from Frank. "Drowse At Dawn" is a relatively minimal and serene piece that relies on gentle pulsations and warm pads. Melodies played by a very electric piano sounding synthesizer are a unique touch. Finally, "Fearful Awakening" continues from previous track without any interruption. And you could say that this is the rock piece of the album - it's gets pretty intense in the guitar department while the keyboards resort to sequencing combined with intense hammond-like stabs. A nice instrumental rock / EM hybrid. "Days of Delirium..." is an interesting effort that will be especially enjoyed by those who like a bit of guitar pyrotechnics in their EM.

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Mythos "Gallery Concerts" (MellowJet Records, 2009)

Recorded live directly from the mixing board, "Gallery Concerts" is a recent offering from Berlin musician Stephan Kaske aka Mythos. "Analogdigitalpolyphomono" is a showcase for Stephan's unique approach to synthesizer-based composition. Various moody sequences envelop the listener in a warm and inviting blanket of sound that's totally synthetic in nature and yet sounds very human and comforting. Excellent music, guys! Once again Stephan proves himself to be a master of subtle sequencing and captivating melodic constructions. Also of note is the always excellent sound quality. The music is just crystal clear. There's some nice use of Korg vocoder on this track. "Filtergatemania" pumps up those sequences for a rollercoaster ride on top of bubbling pulsations and subtle, yet insistent rhythms. There's a symphonic richness to this piece with an almost orchestra-like grandeur backed by shifting and mutating electronic pulsations. This music breathes life and proves EM to be a vibrant and captivating genre. "Improviflutecho" couples warm analog string stabs with rich pulsations and heavier, broken rhythms. Finally, a wonderful mourning flute is heard, bringing in those Middle Eastern sensibilities. The flute section is then over for a reprise of the initial analog strings melodic theme, giving the piece a sense of continuity and completeness. "Mysticauroraborealis" is the atmospheric piece of the album. However, it's still firmly rooted in sequences and other pulsing structures. It's just that the pace is slower this time, leaving the individual sounds more space to develop and fully shine. However, the rhythm on this piece is even harder than on the preceding ones - a classic techno-ish bass throb. Vocoder makes another appearance here, this time opting for a more melodic approach (true singing as opposed to just uttering some words). Electronic bagpipes appear on this track, blending in nicely with other textures. The tempo decreases after the 12-minute mark, bringing this monolithic and somewhat dark piece to a halt. "Sequenctrumpetextasy" once again showcases Stephan's skills at sequencing. Other sounds are worth mentioning too, be it the thick synthetic drone, the wonderful electronic rhythms or the crying trumpet. Hypnotic and asserting, this piece got my head nodding and my foot tapping in no time. And it even ends with my favourite, trademark slow-down! Love the sequencers? Go get this one! Enjoy well-programmed synthesizers and skillful rhythms? Go get this one! Favour a more melodious approach to EM? Go get this one again, as "Gallery Concerts" got it all and then some. Another winner from Stephan Kaske.

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Mythos "Superkraut Live" (Sireena Records, 2011, recorded in 1976)

What we have here is an archived live recording of the classic Mythos line-up recorded at Stagge's Hotel in 1976. The sound is not ideal, but listenable for a live recording of its age. At that time Mythos was very much a krautrock band, instead of a solo electronic project by Stephan Kaske that it became after 1979. That doesn't mean we don't get any electronics on this release. Case in point is the first track - "Dreamlab Part 1" - a grooving krautrock jam with twittering analogue synth goodness throughout (sounds like EMS Synthi A to me). You can tell the guys had a good time by listening to this long, almost completely improvised jam. Imagine a mixture of early Amon Duul (guitar) and Gong (synthesizers). Then there's that dreamy part towards the end, with a nice flute. Some background audience noises are the only distraction. The track ends with another upbeat section. "Dedicated To Werner von Braun" continues where the previous track left off, with a more complex rhythm and more in-yer-face guitars - it's a full-fledged krautrock sound here with a less neurotic, less frenetic and more relaxed attitude. "There's No God" steps it up a notch in the heaviness department. You can tell the guys are still jamming for their enjoyment but there's that touch of menace in the heavy riffs. I would have probably done without the singing, though. The second half of the track is livelier and the good use of electronics elevates the track above average level. Nice guitar soloing is worthy of mention, too. "Eternity" is in the same vein, this time with a very prominent flute. The sound is melodic, pastoral and flowing, with a bass guitar louder than I would have preferred. The most pleasant element is probably the guitar soloing. Not much in terms of electronics this time, though. "Stagge Inferno" is a rapid, hard-rocking kraut stoner. I enjoyed it. "Backstage Fumble" is a solid slice of pure kraut improvisation with successful flute playing. The guitar part that comes after 2-minute mark is probably my favourite moment of the whole album. The track ends with an intense psych guitar workout followed by a relaxed rhythmic section that is a reprise of the initial part. "Message Part 2" is very short (the rest seems to have been edited out), but very beautiful. This relaxed and pastoral rock number contrasts with the frenetic improv's that dominate this release. "There's No God (Final)" occupies the already familiar territory of improvisational rock with strong bass playing, plodding and / or complex drum rhythms, flute passages and occasional guitar solos. Oh, yes, and that obligatory (but hardly essential) drum solo is included here as well. Overall, "Superkraut Live" is a nice album for fans of the band and collectors of krautrock. However, the release has some flaws. The first one is the sound which more or less corresponds to a good bootleg. Ok, you can't expect much from a 35 year old live recording so I suppose the label did everything they could to bring in the best possible sound derived from the tapes they had (could be an audience tape). Then, that variety thing. Although frenetic improvisational krautrock is nice in small doses, here we are treated to more or less the same moods throughout the 50 minutes. Ok, so that's what the performance was like, you say? Fine. But then, why on earth did they edit out the most beautiful, most captivating part, ("Message Part 2") and yet they kept the totally (IMO) unnecessary drum solo? One explanation could be that the master tape was damaged beyond repair on "Message". Also, I think I may need to stress it one more time: this is not an EM album. It's a live document of the late classic era of krautrock. In fact, on many songs the electronics are almost non-existent. Having said that, "Superkraut Live" remains an important document in the history of German rock, with acceptable sound quality and very neat packaging.

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Nattefrost "Live In Germany" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

This disc captures Nattefrost's two live performances in Germany from 2008 and 2009, respectively. Nattefrost is of course Danish synthesizer artist Bjorn Jeppesen who's been crafting his own brand of ambient and sequencer-driven Electronic Music since the 1990's. "Valhal Part 1 & 2" gets the disc underway. It was performed in 2008 at the Ambient Experience in Rex Theater, Wuppertal. The track is brimming with warm electronic pads and a deep bass sequence running underneath. Nice effects compliment this piece of music. The sound of waves heralds the coming of the second part, which consists of a prominent uplifting sequence and an electronic rhythm to boost. Nice melodic flourishes complete the picture - simple but effective. "Searching For A Distant Planet" introduces a more sombre mood, with contemporary sounds and an IDM-like flair. A nice gentle melodic line changes this track from a somber excursion it seemed to be at the beginning into an easy-going and serene rhythmic floater. "Kopenhaachen" is a track from "Transformation" album. It was co-composed by Phil Molto aka Robert Schroeder, who also appears here as supporting musician. The track is very much in line with Robert's current output, which means floating and melodic music with a slightest downtempo influence. However, it's still recognizably Nattefrost in mood. "Perfectly Connected" - another track from "Transformation" - follows, again a duo performance with Robert Schroeder. This time, however, it's frenetic and sequencer-driven, with background guitar soloing. It's a nice change of pace. This track closes the Wuppertal portion of the disc as the rest is from a concert at the Electronic Circus in Movie (Bielefeld) in 2009. After a brief intro laden with effects, we delve into "Decadence" - a 5-minute sequencer stunner. Crisp pulsations are combined with repeating melodic motifs. The track is culled from "Transformation" release. "The Swan" follows and it's a Saint-Saens cover. To hear a classical piece done Nattefrost style was an interesting experience as he's certainly no Wendy Carlos for God's sake! Not that Saint-Saens' music is something I would think of when hearing Nattefrost music but there you go. An odd but funny diversion. "The Pleasure of Tranquility" is a landmark Nattefrost piece - moody and cosmic with a dramatic underscore. One can only wonder at the sheer beauty of those gentle but minimal melodies and the masterfully programmed synthesizers. It's possibly the most recognizable Nattefrost track of them all and also certainly one of the best ones. "Descending From the Stars" is a piece from "Absorbed In Dreams And Yearning" album. It features a slow, steady rhythm supported by multiple sequenced pulsations. This particular track has a Jarre feeling (most probably because of the pad progressions). "Draconian" uses fat pulsations and nice synth textures to great effect. The track is typical Nattefrost in his "urban" mode. It evokes industrial landscapes, bridges, traffic, skyscrapers, subway and similar imagery, although I must admit it is highly subjective. "Winterland" pumps up those bpm's for a rollercoaster of a ride on top of optimistic pulsations and bright melodies. On the other hand, "Nightfall" is a darker, more experimental piece with harder rhythms and not so prominent melodies. Another version of "Kopenhaachen" follows, this time without Robert Schroeder but with nice vocoder instead. This version is also much more laid-back than the usual fare - Scandinavian-style EM of the highest order. "A New Direction" closes the disc in the most impressive way possible. The track was first heard on "Transformation" and it's certainly one of the best tracks on that album and also on this live disc here. It makes use of some tasty sequences and a great, super-effective three note melody. Nice mellotron choirs as well. If you like Bjorn's special brand of melodic, sequencer-based music, this live CD is a must.

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Nattefrost "Dying Sun / Scarlet Moon" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

"De Natura" gets this album underway with heavy effects and a rumbling bass line. A great melodic theme follows with traces of Kraftwerk's "The Robots" in the way the sequences and rhythms are built. Some key changes follow with various pulsating electronic sounds coming and going. Excellent, varied EM! "Draconian" follows in a similar manner - urban synths (house-like), pulsing rhythms, twittering effects... all this accounts for a typical, trademark Nattefrost sound. A gentle, 4/4 rhythm gives the track a sense of purpose and brings in that extra dynamic element. This track is fairly somber and is loaded with fat sequences. "Music for the Man" is moodier, darker and with a wicked beat that sounds like Kraftwerk gone Insustrial. The use of vocoder reinforces that feeling. "Die Kinder der Erde", co-composed by Matzumi, is a rather intense track, with galloping sequences and fat synth pads. It's dramatic and engaging, following traditions set by German masters of the 1970's. There's even a fair bit of spacey mellotron choir towards the end. "The Swan" is a funny, and somewhat unexpected remake of Saint-Saens' well-known piece. I am not sure if Bjorn had been listening to a lot of early 1970's "moog pop" lately or there was some other obscure reason to do this kind of thing. Anyway, it's fairly enjoyable, if somewhat trite. I should also mention that it is not exactly in line with the rest of the material of this CD. "Seduced by Grief" is a comparatively minimal track with a dominating rhythm and a few mysterious background pads / melodic hooks. There's not much in terms of sequencing, most of the pulsations being rather simple and minimal, with the lower end being the most pronounced. "Ghosts from the North" combines spooky electronic textures with a narrating voice in German. However, the track then turns into a heavy sequencing hybrid, spiced up with a techno beat. Not exactly my type of thing, I think it will appeal more to the trance crowd. "The Dark Spell" has an ambient intro. Out of this sonic melange rises a menacing sequence, coupled with bleepy arpeggios. I didn't find the melodic content on this track particularly successful, though. It is nice but not exactly up to Bjorn's usual standards. But I'll give it to him that he created a different track, exploring new territory. "Close Encounter" is made by a duo of Bjorn and Michel van Osenbruggen aka Synth.nl. This track has a more playful character and excellent melodic synth soloing (courtesy of Michel I would guess). It is amazing how well the styles of the two artists merge into an excellent pulsating, melodic EM hybrid. It is certainly one of the best tracks on this album. "My Wake Up", composed by Heidi Mortenson, sounds like a musical joke. It's basically a bunch of funny melodies ala early 1970's "moog pop" and some atmospheric textures used for contrast. This is what EM would sound like in a parallel universe where cartoon-loving Daleks have conquered the Earth. This album is a box full of surprises. Some of the tracks are extremely good, some not so interesting in my opinion, but overall it's an enjoyable listening. Well done!

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Parallel Worlds & Dave Bessell "Morphogenic" (DiN, 2012)

Well, well... a brand-new album by Bakis Sirros aka Parallel Worlds and Dave Bessell. And Dave Bessell is of course none other than a member of legendary electronic group Node. Together, they have sculpted a complex world full of synth flashes, effect-laden shadows and warm waves of pads by utilizing an arsenal of classic but timeless analogue machines and some software. If the names Oberheim, Serge, Buchla, Macbeth say something for you, then you're seem to know a thing or two about synthesizers and consequently, you're in for a real treat here. This is already clear from the first notes of the opener - the 9-minute "Oblivion". Dark synths and gritty, distorted guitar sounds invite you to take a walk through a bleak, haunted landscape. Complex rhythms are the order of the day, as Bakis and Dave serve a tasty plate of soft, glitchy pulsations that serve as the basis for a warm but mysterious bed of pads. An atmospheric section follows that gives way for a dramatic conclusion where the rhythms return but the melodic content is the real focus this time. "Above the Snow" if anything, is even more dramatic and hymnal. The melodic content of this track is great, not to mention the excellent programming of sounds. "Disorder" begins with quite a chaotic and glitchy soundscape before settling into a sort of a groove with a fat bass synth that doesn't last long anyway. A new, piano-based rhythmic section follows, with all diverse elements of this track actually coming together to form a strangely cohesive and compelling whole. On the other hand, "Inwards" has a strange type of sequence running which is decorated by all kinds of sounds and effects. Deep stuff. "Denormal" begins with a droning soundscape and a feeling of creeping menace. This would make a perfect soundtrack to a horror movie. Indeed, a shadow of John Carpenter floats around as the terrific bass synth sequence takes over. The track is imbued with a sense of mystery and dread and there's an excellent distorted guitar sound that just adds a touch of industrial grittiness. "Corruption" has a very glitchy intro. However, in the already familiar mode, the track develops with rhythms, sounds and subdued melodies. Once again there's that gritty industrial guitar sound and the general atmosphere of menace and dread. "Heterodyne", surprisingly, has a Dark Ambient style intro, complete with low synths, resonating bells and background choirs. I found it to be the best moment of the disc so far. However, soon a rhythm starts and some melodies are added, all composed in a masterful and tasty manner. Ed Buller from Node plays Modular Moog on this track but it's hard to tell what sounds were actually played by him. However, this is a great track and possibly the highlight of the entire album. And... wow! I was afraid that the album would become too one-dimensional in mood, but no. The closing track, the 6-minute "Submerge" is surprisingly uplifting. It's still imbued with a sense of drama and nostalgia, but nothing that sounds like an endless walk through dark corridors anymore. An absolute winner! "Morphogenic" is, without a doubt, a quality release that sounds more like a Parallel Worlds album than a Node one. If you love nice analogue sounds and great EM compositions with a darker twist, be sure to check out "Morphogenic". Best tracks: "Heterodyne" and "Submerge".

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Picture Palace Music "Midsummer" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Thorsten Quaeschning, keyboardist of Tangerine Dream, presents his own musical vision with his Picture Palace Music project. "Chill Crystal Zone" gets straight into business, with upbeat sequencing an a few female voice injections. A great melody drives this track forward and a rhythm that got by head nodding in no time. Some guitars appear as well throughout the track, and it makes the sound extremely rich. This track takes only the best elements of later-day Tangerine Dream and takes them to a completely another level. It's driving, crisp and effective music. "Midsummer's Eve" is much meaner, with a growling bass line and a lot of bluesy guitar on top of mysterious pad chords and fat drums. The tempo is slower this time but still this is no sleeping pill, it's actually quite driving. It just has that touch of mystery and darkness to it. On the other hand, "Midsummer's Morning" is a perfect ambient floater. I am telling you guys, this track is so well played and mixed, it's amazing. Emotional and warm, endlessly caressing, these silky piano and synth textures will melt even the hardest of hearts. "Midsummer's Day" pumps up those drums and bass. A nice vocoder adds a unique touch to this upbeat and optimistic tune. A real spirit-lifter, this one. "Seduction Crossing" kicks in with a brief dark soundscape part, but after a while a bubbling sequence enters, joined by even more pulsations. A great melody is heard, mysterious and dramatic. Nice wailing guitar adds more punch to the proceedings. "Right of Ascension" is next. Loungy bass and drums, nice rhythm guitar injections, great melodies... and we already have a formula for a perfect "driving" music. Nice use of female voice on this one, reminding a bit on "Yellowstone Park" from "Le Parc". "Drowning Someone's Sorrow Into the Ocean pt. 1" starts with the sounds of a dripping water. Doesn't sound like ocean to me at all, but maybe that was not the intention. After that, dark, dissonant sounds appear, developing into a rich soundscape. So far things have been pretty experimental, but soon a funny pulsation manifests itself. The piece does not evolve from here, though, until a clapping rhythm appears and it really begins to show signs of progression. This track is slow building stuff, much more in line with classic Berlin School than with usual Picture Palace Music style. There is hardly any transition into the second part of "Drowning..." which just continues the mad sequencer feast that started earlier. We have great sound design here and a nice rhythmic flow; it really got my head tapping to the pulse. Choral chants are heard towards the end of this part and well into part 3. These chants I wasn't prepared for and therefore found somewhat unusual and maybe even out of place. However, upon closer listening it seemed rather natural and organic. The album finishes off with "Midsummer's Night" - a danceable feet mover with vocoder and nice melodies. Not exactly what I would call EM but seems logical as a soundtrack to the end of a midsummer's day. After all, music is not all gloom and doom and entertainment is also an important part of it. I enjoyed this track a lot. Happy holidays everyone! You have a perfect soundtrack for spending your time with your loved ones at the sea, or in any other place you wish. This music will lift you up!

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Post Scriptvm "Grey Eminence" (Tesco Organisation, 2010)

This album by US post-industrial / Dark Ambient outfit Post Scriptvm begins with the sound of the bells. Later a drone is added and haunting sampled Russian speech makes an appearance. It's a spooky start to "Bell Glass Dome" - the first of eight tracks that make up this album. The drones gain in intensity, creating a chilly and alienating atmosphere. The bells never let go, casting their spell above the uneasy blanket of drones and samples. A good and very effective start. "Abortion of Memory" is loaded with samples and concrete textures. All of them are more or less of the obscure / dark character. There are also splashes of guitar, buzzing drones, cicadas and god knows what else. In a truly post-industrial manner, the authors sculpt this slice of picture music for all to enjoy. "Tarantula Pattern" is loaded with buzzing tones and drones. It's like you're stuck inside a working engine room. Nevertheless, despite its intensity and a somewhat grating nature, it's still surprisingly listenable. "Nausea Vortex" consists of metallic tones that straddle the line between the dissonant and the reflective. Chilling sounds of radio static appear now and then to stress the cold and dehumanized nature of the soundscapes. The track gains in intensity as it progresses, as various concrete textures (most of them pretty noisy and grating) are added. "Upon Decadent Scum" is even more intense. That's where we actually approach the territory of harsh noise. It does work perfectly in this context, as with previous track you somehow felt something bad was coming your way. A good noise work it is, too, very artistic, not just in-yer-face kill-all wall of sound. Apart from the noisy textures, the authors use heavily processed voice and some sharp drum rolls - a depiction of total chaos and ultimate decay. Needless to say, it's nothing for the faint-hearted. I enjoyed it. "Rauschnarkoz" brings back the drones and obscure clangs. Utterly dark and depressing, this track is filled with bone-chilling samples and no-way-out atmospheres. A feeling of utter claustrophobia captures the listener as he is guided along the deserted corridors of human mind. The second part of the track is filled with heavy distorted drones that take on an almost cosmic character. Noisy concrete textures finish off this disturbing piece. "Home Spectator" relies on television samples and deep bass throbs. A dark, disturbing and bitter depiction of dehumanized modern society, it can be seen as the highest point of this album. Just don't expect a happy end, as there is none. "White Shamans" brings back the haunting bells and heavy synth drones. This is a track of cosmic proportions and the closest this album gets to traditional Ambient or Space Music. Yet, with a feeling of menace permeating the track you can hardly relax or feel safe. This edgy composition of astral nature even uses a processed speech by a supposed shaman. "Grey Eminence" is a strong work in all respects that will be enjoyed by those into Dark Ambient, noise and even power electronics.

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Various Artists "E-Day 2009" (Groove Unlimited, 2009)

Each year, Groove Unlimited label from the Netherlands organizes two Electronic Music festivals, one held in spring (E-Day) and the other in autumn (E-Live). For each event they prepare a unique, limited edition CD with unreleased tracks of performing artists. This is one of such releases, filled to the brim with fine electronics by leading European artists. The first track is "Posevalue" by John Dyson. If you know this artist, you should know what to expect. As a master of delicate, melodic electronics, John sculpts a nice flowing and romantic piece here. There is a dreamy quality to the music that oozes fluety synth leads and delicate live drum rhythms played by Mark Dale. If you can imagine an extension of Tangerine Dream's mid-1980's melodic style using a more romantic formula, you wouldn't be far from the true image of this offering by John. Gert Emmens continues with "Mascarade" - a track written in 2005 for his "When Darkness Falls Upon the Earth" album but discarded at the time. This is more or less your typical Gert Emmens and yet somewhat basic-sounding. I suppose that was the initial approach. It has slow sequences, familiar effects and floating pads and a scorching jazzy solo you've come to expect from Gert. There's also that special harmonica-like Elka sound that he often used at the time. The second part of the track is more exotic. Surprisingly, it relies on a stomping tribal rhythm and a lot of pads. The sequences are barely present and the mood is melancholic and reflective. "Polarstern" by F.D. Project introduces a darker atmosphere, with low bass pulse rhythm and mournful, atmospheric synthesizers. The track then progresses into a rhythmic piece with fine synth solos. Sequences are present as well. But of course I expected a nice wailing guitar solo from Frank and he does deliver, a pity it's too short though. "Signals" by John Dyson has a lovely spacey introduction before a more typical sound, rich in pads, is established. The track plays almost like a classical piece - it's a suite of many movements and moods. Human Metronome continues with "Cosmic Hweeldi". This is where we step into the ambient realms. A tribal rhythm likens this piece to some "desert ambience" / shamanic works by American master Steve Roach. It's pretty organic stuff with a meditative character. If you like Ambient of the darker variety - this is a great example of this style. Stephan Whitlan kicks in with "Out of the Box". Dramatic strings gradually give way for a slowly building pulse amidst a sea of great twittering effects. Finally, the guy starts churning out one of his tricky solos and you know that this guy can sure play. On the other hand, the sound design is pretty neat, too. Overall, it's one of the most expressive tracks of this collection. Classic Berlin School sequencing coupled with great sound design and virtuoso soloing just can't do no wrong. John Dyson then gives us another track of his. "Outpost" is an uplifting, cheerful composition that just flows effortlessly on waves of synth pads and electronic bell arpeggios. An equally floating and serene guitar contributes a few lazy licks to this relaxed piece of music. A wonderful symphonic section follows that's brimming with bright synthesizers, silky pads and a few stomping bass notes. A drum rhythm brings this piece to a close. "Divine Bliss" by 33 Tetragammon is a fitting closer. 7 minutes of pure sonic nectar, this piece is meditative and lulling, hypnotic and mysterious. These notes just hang in the air - weightless, effortless, delicate and comforting.

Related links: Dyson, John, Emmens, Gert, F.D. Project, Human Metronome, Whitlan, Stephen, 33 Tetragammon

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Various Artists "E-Day 2010" (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Here is another fine sampler with unique music from artists who performed at the E-Day festival (this one's from 2010). David Wright and friends get going with "Gaia" - an alternative version of a track that is going to appear on "A Different Colour" album from Code Indigo (yet to be released at the moment of writing). What can be said about this track? It's melodic and has nice guitar. It's good, relaxing stuff that will suit those who want a nice background during a long drive down the highway. Not sounding very electronic, like most of CI stuff, it's a solid slice of new instrumental atmospheres that will sure have a wide appeal. Erik Seifert continues with "Cern" - a 12-minute EM tour-de-force. A dark and abstract intro sends us straight into space. A moody sequencer section follows that just reinforces the fact that Erik is one of the best neo-prog / Berlin School synthesists around. Exquisite electronic rhythms interact with each other, forming a spacey and dreamy melange of synthetic sounds. If Electronic Music of the cosmic variety is your thing, then do check out Erik's music. E.R.G. is an unknown name to me. Seems to be a guitar / electronics duo from the Netherlands. Their "Asturiana" is a short melodic track where acoustic guitar and theremin are most prominent. Nice change of pace. "Day of E" by Free System Projekt is a massive, 24+ minute epic. It starts with subtle effects over a bed of warm organ pads. A dark and mysterious melody is heard before a warm analog synth pad is introduced, supported by mellotron flutes. Amazingly, it's 10+ minutes into the track and it still remains ambient and rhythmless. Only towards the 12-minute mark an excellent sequence by Ruud Heij starts creeping in, supported by Marcel's tron choir licks. More tron textures are added for a classic, unaltered 1975 - 1978 Tangerine Dream sound. A flying moog solo is all it takes to complete the cosmic picture portrayed by this composition. Code Indigo give us "Eden To Chaos" - a remixed version of a track from their 2004 album. This piece has great melodies played on synthesizers, piano and guitar, all set to a relaxed electronic rhythm. This album demonstrates once again the high standards of music played at E-Live and E-Day festivals each year. So, if you can, do visit this year's E-Day, on the 16th of April in Oirschot, Netherlands, in De Enck.

Related links: Wright, David, Seifert, Erik, Free System Projekt, Code Indigo.

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Various Artists "Joint Efforts - The Album" (EMProductions, 2010)

This wonderful 2-CD set originates from a thread at the EM forum (www.emportal.info) where some member musicians decided to make a project together. It took a few years to complete but the result of this cooperation is this document full of great Electronic Music of varied styles. We kick off with Peter Tedstone's "Time Drift". Wonderful, fat, aggressive sounds are unleashed upon an unsuspecting listener before a nice groovy rhythm is introduced, supported by melodic sequences. This track has all the ingredients an EM fan could want - great melodic hooks, excellent sounds and a nice rhythmic base. An instant winner! Von Haulshoven continues with a Baroque-like spacey piece called "Airplay". This excellent track takes its cues from both classical music and the classic cosmic EM of the 1970's. The sounds are tasty and the flow and dramatic grandeur of this piece are just fantastic. In other words, "Airplay" gives us seven minutes of pure electronic heaven! "Approaching Draconis" by Corporation is one hell of an EM track, too. It starts with an absolutely stunning electronic soundscape that reminded me on Andrew Sega's soundtrack to "Freelancer" game. This is really top-notch stuff and just the type of EM I like most - cosmic, unearthly, hypnotic, dreamy... Kudos to Adam Britton, the man behind Corporation. How he does it I don't know but I do know that it is just pure magic. The rhythmic second part, laden with arpeggios and a stiff rhythm, is almost quite as enjoyable. A masterwork of EM, this one. The way the sounds are arranged, not to mention how masterfully they are programmed is worthy of praise. Now to Alpha Wave Movement's "Pulse". Thankfully, it is yet another stunner. Drifting sounds weave in and out as a mournful lead is heard. A pulse (surprise, surprise!) begins, as the track becomes more melancholic, relying of flowing pads as much as on the rhythm itself. There's also room enough for a wonderful, emotional synth solo. Arroniz leads us through "Time Portal". The track relies on a steady rhythm, some sampled acoustic instruments and a lot of pads. This great composition is more or less in line with Schulze's material from roughly 1986 - 1990. A great trip - abstract and yet urgent and purposeful. Improvisation plays a very important role here. Arroniz has already proved himself as one of the premier EM artists from Mexico and this track shows why. Francois-Pol Cornec is a name familiar from the "Analogy" series of samplers. Here, he paints a vision of the land "Beyond the Portal". The intro is typical picture music, with nice electronic effects and an improvised melody. After a while a pulse starts and drives the rest of the track along. There's a sense of mystery and danger permeating this melodic EM piece. It's also high on symphonic elements, very Vangelis-like at times. Mac of BIOnighT provides a little experiment in the form of a 4-minute rhythmic piece, called, you guessed it, "Experiment 4". And, yes, it is yet another corker! The track combines Tangerine Dream's 1980's style with some dramatic string quartet / mellotron melodies. Needless to say, the combination works perfectly. Thank you, Mac, for this wonderful, emotional piece of music. "Flashback" by Polaris is next. An atmospheric intro gives way for simple sequences that, combined with a subtle bass drum rhythm, result in an infectious EM brew that got my head nodding and my foot tapping in no time. The way the track builds up with small melodic phrases is worthy of applause. This is certainly a track made by someone who knows his craft well. "Electrophoretic Black" is a track by Voynich that begins with a deep soundscape laden with pads and twittering effects. A bass pulse starts, gaining in momentum, supported by mellotron flutes and choirs. This is a great modern Berlin School track that's stylistically in line with Create's recent works, if you know what I'm talking about. If you like sequences, rhythms, good melodic hooks and that ever-so-subtle 1980's TD soundtrack touch - this will be right up you valley. As a fan of said ingredients I found this piece highly enjoyable. Megatone opens up "Portal To Hyperspace" with a majestic, symphonic piece that beats all non-electronic soundtracks to sci-fi epics to dust. It's grand, solemn, symphonic, electronic, cosmic, optimistic and everything in between. If we don't destroy each other, our future in space will be bright, and when they open up the first portal to hyperspace, they should really have this as their soundtrack. This great piece of music finishes off the first disc in a truly outstanding fashion. Disc two could be named "The Ambient Disc" but there is a fair bit of rhythmic pieces too, although as a whole it's a bit more atmospheric. "Portcullis Draconis" by Russell Storey is a spacey opener, with strange echoing intro and an experimental main part, populated by all sorts of electronic effects and modulations. There's also a background sequence running through the soundscape. A very nice piece, relaxing and yet unusual and explorative. "Incubus" by Seren Ffordd is not as scary or dark as the title might suggest. In fact this rhythmic and atmospheric piece invokes a sense of cosmic grandeur and mystery. This piece is rich in tone colors and shades of sound and makes up for a fine evening listening. A good pair of headphones is recommended. Eric G tells us a story of "3100 Events In A Desert Mine" by means of a haunting analogue soundscape. This is excellent music filled with warm and reflective pads, spacey effects and mournful leads. I could listen to it forever. Hints of classic Schulze (from "Mirage" to "Audentity") in both the sounds and the mood are abound. The second part has even a marching one-note bass pulse ala Tangerine Dream's "Desert Dream". French artist Frederic Wűrtz aka AEM with his "Distant Observation of Solar Activity Part 2" is next. The track starts as a spacey floater but then bursts through with a great analogue sequence, resembling a distant relative of "Rubycon Part 1". So you think you've heard it all in the Berlin School genre? Go listen to this track and you'd be convinced that there's an artist to discover. The sequences subside and then return with much more oomph after a brief atmospheric part. This time we are propelled forward on top of these glorious synthetic waves at quite a pace. Wow! Na-Koja-Abad's "Forgotten Encirclement" is a piece that would be enjoyed by fans of the tribal Steve Roach. Here we have strange textures, samples and subtle percussive sounds. The atmosphere is that of mystery and divine, esoteric ancient rituals. There's not a lot of music done in this style today so I greeted this track with open arms. "Black Sun" by Modulator ESP begins with a metallic soundscape before a sequence is introduced. Other ingredients include pads, more melodic sequences and fine effects. This track is very typical of the rhythmic side of Jez Creek's music that dominated his albums before he turned to more ambient forms of expression. If you enjoy rhythmic, berlin-esque forms of EM, "Black Sun" is a track for you. Chromengel (Stuart Judd) gives us "Marcoo", a track that starts with an atmospheric soundscape that gradually builds momentum and resolves with an intense melodic composition of symphonic grandeur. I am reminded on Tangerine Dream's "White Eagle" and as I love this work, I enjoyed "Marcoo" a lot. It has everything I want from a melodic, non-sequenced Electronic Music track. Another comparison would be some of Edgar Froese's solo stuff, e.g. "Stuntman". The Glimmer Room has a short number called "Know Happy Ever After" in line for us. This track is melodic as well, going for the optimistic, major key tonality - a nice contrast to the mostly stark and dramatic music from other artists. I should also mention the excellent programming of sounds by Andy. He sure knows what here's doing here, and everything is in the right place. The next piece, the Phrozenlight's piece, lasts for 7 minutes and 30 seconds and it is fittingly titled "7min30". You'd expect something ambient and floating from Bert but it is in fact one of his sequencer pieces. Not that it lacks something in atmosphere, though. As we know, Bert is a master of sound sculpting and here the main focus are the endless and hypnotic synth scapes, while the sequence takes a back seat, sometimes disappearing almost completely in the sea of strange, mysterious textures. Finnish guys from Nemesis wrap up this unbelievably good collection of music with their "Empire of Lights". I love this piece that is full of cosmic grandeur and serenity. I feel like I am watching some supernatural light show in space as I listen to this. It's amazing what feelings and visions can be conjured sometimes by a seemingly simple piece of music. It's magic. Progressive electronic music (also known as "EM") is one of the most criminally underrated and ignored genres of m