Review: Pop Ambient 2018

Pop Ambient 2018

As Pop Ambient 2018 hits the shops, a small, nagging question can’t help but arise: Do we really need another installment of the Kompakt label’s annual collection of soothing mood pieces? After nearly 20 editions, hasn’t the series said everything there is to say about its meditative brand of tunes? It would be hard to argue that this latest edition, once again compiled by Kompakt co-leader Wolfgang Voigt, brings anything truly new to the series, or that it provides any major twist — which is another way to say that the compilation, as always, is brimming with atmospheric, hugely evocative music.

There’s a hushed intimacy to much of Pop Ambient 2018 — each shudder and swoon can induce a wealth of feelings — but that intimacy is often molded into something approaching grandeur. On both “Prism” and “Nine Chains to The Moon,” both from Yui Onodera, slowly unfolding orchestral melodies elicit imagery of a grand vista, just coming into view as the mist lifts. Chuck Johnson’s “Brahmi” delivers a similar effect via its spectral shimmers and gliding steel-pedal accents, while on Würden & Pfeiffer’s aptly named “Panorama,” fluttering washes of sound and a wistful horn conjure up a sunrise over a spring meadow.

Related: The Orb’s Dr. Alex Paterson shares favorite Pop Ambient tracks

Occasionally, an ever-so-slight hint of rhythmic propulsion comes along to sharpen the soft-focus feel of these songs, as on Kaito’s “Travelled Between Souls,” where sweeping pads are punctuated by gentle percussive flourishes. “Disinclined to Vacate,” from electronic-music polymath Kenneth James Gibson, plays like a dreamland lullaby, its gently spiraling synth line rising through the clouds before reaching its bittersweet, all-too-brief coda. The Orb provides the album’s most propulsive track (granted, that’s not saying much in this company) via “Sky Falling,” with desert-moon drumming underpinning a stream of scraping textures, gracefully chiming keys, and what sounds like a particularly languid sax.

The term glacial is often employed to describe the kind of music that Pop Ambient focuses on, but that’s only half right. It’s an apt description of the pacing of these tracks — it’s the kind of music that derives its allure through placid ebb and flow, rather than angular shifts. But temperature-wise, it’s anything but icy — there’s a resonating warmth to these tunes that’s almost reflexively appealing. We may not need another installment of Pop Ambient — but as always, it comes as a welcome respite, as a soothing sanctuary from life’s turmoil.

Review: Lindstrøm – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is

Lindstrom It's Alright Between Us As It Is

A blast of shimmering sounds opens from the title track of It’s Alright Between Us begins the first album in five years from Hans-Peter Lindstrøm. Before you know it, the minimal disco crackle of “Spire” blasts us into orbit with rhythms that keep on building, setting the tone for the whole album.

Lindstrøm has built a reputation as an artist who creates beautiful electronic music that will set your soul alight. There is even more of a blissful quality to the music on It’s Alright Between Us As It Is, especially on songs like “Tensions,” the sweeping euphoria of “Drift” and the mid-album interlude “Versatile Dreams.”

There are a number of vocal-led tracks that make the album sound even more blissful. The vocalists that he’s chosen are definitely inspired: Swedish chanteuse Frida Sundemo graces “But Isn’t It” with her glacial and beautiful vocals; “Shinin” features American singer Grace Hall (who has worked with Lindstrøm in the past and should do so more often) for a song that would captivate any dance floor with its infectious energy; and Norwegian Jenny Hval lends her unique vocals to “Bungl (Like A Ghost)” for a track that is full of intrigue as well as charm.

The glittering funk of “Under Trees” closes the album on a high note, breaking through and reaching a crescendo. It sounds amazing and couldn’t have ended the album better.

The main strength of It’s Alright Between Us As It Is is not only the blissful and life-affirming nature of the music but just how rounded an album it is. As the cold nights draw in, put this album on and it will warm your body, mind and soul in no time at all.

Review: Re.You – Work It Now

Re.You - Work It Now

Re.You, the proprietor of Younion, consistently decimates dance floors by way of his dark, brooding tech-house productions for labels like mobilee and Moon Harbour. “Work It Now” finds the Berlin resident reconnecting with Cacao Records after lending his remix touch to K.E.E.N.E.’s Bocaracá EP issued in the spring.

The Work It Now EP shows us more sides of Re.You’s musical personality. For starters, the title track is unadulterated deep-house manna. It’s set atop a smoldering bedrock of soulful vocal loops, heady filters and a groove that won’t quit.

Jeudi boss Doctor Dru transforms “Work It Now” for the big room, edging up the tempo and building up suspense and drama. Tiefschwarz’s iteration goes in the opposite direction, with Berlin-based brothers Ali and Basti Schwarz reimagining the track as a stripped-down tech-house dalliance.

The EP is rounded out by “Mlu,” a hypnotic loop of tribal chants and beats. It’s a wickedly good mixing tool from an artist who’s at the top of his game.

Review: Layton Giordani feat. Danny Tenaglia – Live Again

Layton Giordani feat Danny Tenaglia Live Again Drumcode

Rising Big Apple DJ/producer Layton Giordani continues to grow his international reputation. Notoriety came relatively soon after he presented “Careless Suggestions” on Phobiq Records in 2014. Since then he’s released ripping tech-house tracks on Intec and debuted earlier this year on Drumcode by way of the seismic bomb known as “Where It Begins.”

Giordani, who cut his teeth working the decks at Manhattan Meatpacking Mecca Cielo and shuttered spots like Pacha and Sullivan Room (RIP), couldn’t possibly return to Drumcode in a bigger way than with NYC hard n’ soul legend Danny Tenaglia at his side on “Live Inside.” A major influence on Giordani’s sound, the track is quintessential Tenaglia at the core — deep, dark and deliciously dirty — with Giordani’s trademark groove anchoring the production.

The EP is rounded out by two worthy cuts: Firstly, there’s “Take It Back” is a dramatic rollercoaster ride of banging beats, ethereal female vocal snippets and undulating bass. Secondly, “Secrets of Vibration” is a cracking percussive track. Its only flaw is the inclusion of a clichéd self-help vocal sample. (Producers, I’m calling for a moratorium on this type of dance floor chum — who’s with me?)

What’s next for Layton Giordani? Place your bets on world domination.

Review: MANIK – Undergroundknowledge

MANIK_Undergroundknowledge

The narrative of MANIK’s sophomore album for Josh Wink’s Ovum Recordings tells the story of his coming of age in NYC. It’s a throwback to an era when house music was percolating in the underground below the mainstream’s radar.

MANIK, who is now based in L.A., forges ’90s-tinged deep-house tracks with authority: “Lefrak City” (the name of an apartment complex in Elmhurst located near where he grew up) shines with sweeping pads, clacking percussion and a soulful female vocal sample; “People Of Rhythm” is aligned with the famed Wild Pitch sound; and “Restart” is emblematic of the era’s techier house productions. Close your eyes and you can hear these tracks sauntering into Tony Humphries’ late-night ’90s KISS-FM Mastermix Dance Party.

MANIK peels away layers and goes deeper, revealing furtive acidic romps (“Devils Dance,” “Restart”) that channel the essence of The Todd Terry Project. Greg Paulus of No Regular Play makes a wonderful cameo on the meditative “5 Pointz,” where he contributes his trumpet mastery.

“APT 3D1” is the only throwaway track; it’s a pastiche of samples culled from movies and sports he watched as a kid growing up in Kew Gardens. You had to be there to appreciate its context.

“PS99” is an interlude featuring shout-outs from Eli Goldstein from Soul Clap, Doc Martin and Option4 and a fake message from “the mayor’s office of New York” reminding him to “Stay original. Stay true to the game. And do not worry about anything anyone else says. Take your first, stick your middle finder up in the air and wave it like you just don’t care.” It doesn’t can’t get more New York than that!

A personal reflection of his roots, Undergroundknowledge eschews nostalgia and sentimentality in favor of celebrating a childhood spent in the greatest melting pot in the world. As any New Yorker will tell you, nothing is stronger than writing about what you know.

Review: Souljazz Orchestra – Under Burning Skies

Souljazz_Orchestra_Under_Burning_Skies_Strut

Montreal’s Souljazz Orchestra return with Under Burning Skies, their first full-length since 2015’s Resistance. Like that album and all of its predecessors, it’s a free-flowing, grooving and uplifting opus. Soul, funk, jazz, Afrobeat, Latin and roots are the fondation of the band’s sound. It all comes together to create a magnificent uplifting sound that Souljazz Orchestra are renowned for.

Under Burning Skies features an array of hypnotically rhythmic tracks such as “Lufunki,” “Holla Holla” and “Sorrow Fly Away.” Album opener “Dog Eat Dog” has a bit of a slower groove and a more laid-back pace. That doesn’t detract from the vibes and just demonstrates Souljazz Orchestra’s musical diversity.

The grooves on the album are tight and the band keep it funky throughout. I would defy anyone not to nod their head, tap their feet or just dance along when they listen to this album. Just listen to “Adawe Boogie” and the album’s closing finale “Aduna Jarul Naawo” for proof.

The musicianship and playing is also top-notch. The way all the instruments morph together to create such a vital sound is undeniably impressive. With as many members of the band that there are, this is suitably impressive.

This is music that is of such a sunny disposition that when you put it on in the upcoming autumn and winter months, it’ll feel like summer anyway with its upbeat rhythms and sunshine grooves. You can rely on Under Burning Skies to create a warm atmosphere no matter the weather. So put it on, turn it up and bring the sunshine into your home.