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Music Reviews

Charlotte Church

Charlotte Church

Prelude: The Best of Charlotte Church

Columbia

(I will say this only because Ink 19 is the most liberal magazine that I write for, and I’m pretty sure no-one reading this review will be a huge Charlotte Church fan:) the back cover of Prelude‘s booklet made me violently ill. I wanted to vomit my fucking guts up. Is that too harsh? Well, maybe, but seriously, the photo is just the most hideously sugar-coated thing I’ve seen in a long time. Church looks like a 1930s Broadway child-actor gone horribly wrong. And the rest of the packaging’s not much better. It’s so bad, in fact, that it’s almost worth buying the CD just for the gasp-factor. (Almost.)

So. Charlotte Church is a great, umm, “church” singer. There’s nothing particularly distinctive or passionate about her voice, or her interpretations of these songs (maybe the hideous photos are supposed to add spice), but really, were you expecting any more? She’s a human-interest singer; she’ll be filling the stockings of grandparents for years to come. That’s what she does, and she does it admirably: she sings well, she looks pretty, and she has a great team of publicists. Success for everyone, except those with weak stomachs.

Charlotte Church: http://www.charlottechurch.com

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Music Reviews

BT

BT

10 Years in the Life

ffrr / Warner / Reprise

A man more deserving of a ten-year retrospective than BT doesn’t exist. The fact that he’s had two released in the past year (the other being the patchy Rare And Remixed) is a point not lost on me, but the shortcomings of what’s been dubbed R+R (its track selection, principally) have more than been made up for with 10 Years. The set strikes a perfect balance between hits and personal favorites, original work and remixes, and solo productions and collaborations, bound together in gorgeous packaging with a booklet that almost brought a tear to my eye. Needless to say, the BT fan in me is excited.

Craig DeGraff (project coordinator) has woven this release together with meticulous care and a genuine sense of love and respect for the music he’s collating. In the liner notes, he says of Brian’s third full-length, Movement in Still Life, “from the opening track, I knew that they way I heard music would be forever changed.” It’s good to know that 10 Years was nurtured and sculpted by someone who actually got it. The set is housed in a digipak and slipcase, with the booklet safely tucked inside. BT has contributed liner notes, with a retrospective biographical monologue of sorts and anecdotes on each track in the collection.

The first disc (a collection BT’s major singles, with other assorted album cuts and B-sides) opens with a track recorded in the seventies, at the height of disco fever. Or at least, it seems like it, until you realize just how expertly and sophisticatedly pieced together “The Moment of Truth” — BT’s first ever single, from 1993 — really is (and, of course, that BT was a mere toddler back when flares were all the rage). It’s unlike anything that he’s done since: epic, uplifting disco house complete with gospel tinges and wonderfully sincere lyrics (“I’m here to testify/That we can all get by/we all need a little love“). It’s about the most fun, tongue-in-cheek way the record could start: it’s proof that BT really has tried everything, and a total mind-fuck into the bargain.

From there we move through the deep, progressive house overtones that Brian pioneered in the early nineties with Deep Dish. There are three cuts from his debut release, IMA, including his seminal collaboration with Tori Amos, “Blue Skies” — a hint at the incredible artistic expansion that was to follow. Follow him through his next two albums, ESCM and Movement in Still Life, and be exposed to everything from pounding prog house to drum n’ bass, with some poppy dance and post-breaks-era madness thrown in for good measure. With his singles placed side-by-side like this, BT’s extraordinary creative diversity really becomes apparent. Even without his world music experiments, orchestral film scores and singer-songwriter work included, disc one shows us how utterly unafraid of exploration BT has been.

The main letdown of this package is the second CD — a continuous mix, mainly made up of BT’s remixes of other artists, with a few rarities thrown in for good measure. It’s not that the tracks here aren’t worth it — it’s just that the way they’ve been mixed together is really quite sub par. At best, the segues flow relatively well; at worst, they clash with what feels like a total lack of consideration for the art of DJing. Why BT didn’t undertake mixing duties himself is beyond me.

This set is worth owning for the first disc alone (and, considering the utter let-down that the second disc is, it’s lucky that CD one is so good). I’m not going to deify BT any more (that I worship the ground he walks on is really neither here nor there) — the fact that he’s shaped electronic music so dramatically, and has produced a body of work in the past decade that puts almost every comparable artist to shame, is reason enough to get your hands on 10 Years in the Life. Even if you know every song on here, you’ll be surprised at how they sit side-by-side. And if you’re only familiar with some of this material, you’re in for a treat, and a bit of a headspin into the bargain.

BT: http://www.btmusic.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Juno Reactor

Juno Reactor

Hotaka

Metropolis

Often, listening to Juno Reactor songs is the equivalent of hearing an hour of the most intense, outrageous music you can imagine condensed into a ten-minute fireball that leaves you a little dizzy. The new single is pretty much as full-on as you can get as far as over-the-top banging trance is concerned (which, incidentally, isn’t meant to be an insult — this is genre-topping stuff). The 12-inch mix has some gorgeous intro vocals, segueing into ominous tendrils of synth before a crescendo of a bassline takes things off on a storming Juno-style tech-trance spectacular. The remixes offer up similarly high-octane fare. It’s all good fun, but definitely at the sinister, menacing end of the trancey spectrum.

Metropolis Records: http://www.metropolis-records.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Cass

Cass

with Ryan Papa

Lot 33, Canberra, Australia • December 31, 2002

I don’t think I’m ever really going to see the point behind western New Year’s revelry. For me, the holiday’s appeal is diminished by the fact that we’re celebrating a Roman calendar that’s out of sync with nature and needs adjusting every four years; my disillusion is compounded by the abundance of Abba and the hideously extroverted outfits. Take everything I hate about New Year’s, make it twice as lame, and you invariably have the state of Canberra when December 31st rolls around. What a wonderful backdrop against which to take in the mixing talents of Cass!

I was driven to Lot 33 by a taxi driver with a vaguely bizarre demeanor — he half-grumbled about nothing in particular and went off on a little spiel about the lack of distinction the females we were driving past possessed (I toyed with the idea of letting him know that I was gay, but decided against it, making non-committal monosyllabic noises instead). Arriving at the club a little after eleven, I soaked up the drizzle out on the pavement for a moment, then put on my best casual “I’m on the doorlist” voice and walked in. I stared. A lot of unfamiliar faces stared back at me. I felt like a stranger in the truest sense; this wasn’t a crowd I knew or felt even mildly at home with. A little daunted, I sat down on a squat cushion chair and tried to adjust my camera in order to take some decent photos. After a minute or so I felt the seat being kicked. I looked up to find a guy glaring at me, drinks in each hand and one foot extended to render more blows to the cushion. Evidently, speaking was too great an effort for him, but no matter — his expression and protruding limbs said “get the fuck out of the way” more eloquently than he ever could have. I moved.

Okay. This was not a good start. I felt like curling up in a ball and wallowing in my apparent lack of “cool”, or at the very least finding a chair that wasn’t going to be attacked. I can see why I must have stuck out a little, at that hour especially — I was the youngest guy in the whole place; I seemed to be basically the only raver who’d arrived; and, unlike a good chunk of those around me, I wasn’t dressed like I’d just been hanging at the mall with my other fourteen year old buddies (there’s nothing funnier than twentysomethings trying to be kids, I assure you). Still, feeling unwelcome in a club isn’t exactly conducive to a good evening.

I got some orange juice and found another seat, double and triple checking that I wasn’t encroaching on another man’s territory this time. From here I had a pretty good view of Ryan Papa, who, to his credit, was spinning an up-tempo but mercifully uncheesy set that seemed to rightfully impress those who were actually listening to him. My vantage point also allowed me to scrutinize the dance floor — or, as it was at the time, the ‘stand around and smoke’-floor, which doubled for the ‘wear tight white pants and simulate sex with your other female friends’-floor. Oh, the joys of being back at a high school disco. I decided to focus on the music and wait out the New Year, the clock moving a tad slower than I would have liked.

In true Canberra style, Lot 33 had two “Happy New Year!” outbursts, one pre-empting 2003 by a couple of minutes. With the second disruption out of the way, Cass got up to the decks. Demonstrating uncanny precision, ravers slowly began to come out of hiding; but I wasn’t really paying attention by that stage — I forgot where I was in ten minutes flat. Perhaps it was just an instinctive case of withdrawing into oneself to lessen the impact of an intimidating environment, but I doubt it. Cass, you see, is someone who can really mix. He weaved his tracks over five mesmerizing hours, building a picture both stunningly intricate and utterly simple. It was forward thinking, un-pigeonhole-able DJing at its best. And who cares if half the punters didn’t appreciate what they were hearing? Cass got through to some of us, proving that the art of spinning is one not dependent on the venue or even, when it comes down to it, the crowd. The communication here was one-on-one, and I have a feeling that even if he’d been playing to nobody, Cass still would have produced something beautiful. That fact that he managed to do it in Canberra just makes it all the more impressive.

Categories
Music Reviews

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand

Duets

Columbia

Barbra Streisand. Does she really need any introduction? Of course not. And because she’s someone who’s known more for being insulted on South Park and having a distinctive nose than she is for her music, I’m automatically sympathetic towards her. I resisted the urge to be cruel in this review because frankly, she’s been insulted before and I can’t really see any reason to add to the quagmire of anti-Barbra sentiment out there. No, I’m going to be good and focus on the positives in Duets. The concept here is to repackage classic Barbra tracks (duets, obviously) with a couple of new recordings and sell millions of copies. Sounds simple enough, and it is — there aren’t many surprises. It’s a shame: an edgy vocal outing with someone a little less safe than Barry Manilow would have been great. But no matter; we still get Neil Diamond, Bryan Adams, Celien Dion, Judy Garland… and of course, both Barrys (Gibb and Manilow). Who can do mundane better than that lineup can?

Okay, that’s harsh. I actually found most of this disc really quite pleasant; nothing I’d listen to of my own accord, but inoffensive and pleasingly arranged. Streisand can really sing — she’s endured because of more than the delight so many take in mocking her. Some tracks rise above ordinary — notably, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and the Burt Bacarach/Hal David-written “One Less Bell to Answer” — and there’s enough variety to keep things moving. She’s very good at what she does; a bit of a guilty pleasure, but if you can ignore the boring bits and forget the Barbra-stigma then this is a nice addition to the “classically corny” section of your CD rack.

Barbra Streisand: http://www.barbrastreisand.com

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Music Reviews

The Orb

The Orb

Back To Mine

DMC

The Back To Mine series is in danger of going the way of Global Underground — saturation. Let’s hope things don’t get as ridiculous as Ministry Of Sound, that most famous of electronic juggernauts; and they won’t, because frankly, no one can touch Ministry in terms of pure, unadulterated crap commercialism. Nevertheless, the more Back To Mines that get released in a short period of time, the more chance that bad ones will slip through; and then it will become evident that quality isn’t really that important any more, since people are still buying the CDs, and that’s when it gets ugly.

But I’m jumping the gun. This CD isn’t very good, but we’re not in Ministry Of Sound territory yet. The opening third comprises pretty average tracks from, amongst others, Aphex Twin and Juno Reactor, but they all sit in a barely distinguishable mess, which isn’t an excusable thing since they’re not blended together at all (The Orb think this counts as a mix CD because the last second of a song segues into the first second of the next?). There’s all the stuff you’d expect on a “chill” disc — the token “old-fashioned” hit; some chirpy, quirky party pieces; and let’s not even talk about why “Barbie Girl” got on here. It’s not so much the songs I object to, though; rather, it’s the lack of effort. They’re not mixed, and they’re not even intuitively sequenced. They just sit there like a badly done compilation, except that these tracks are annoyingly combined with the most rudimentary of cross-fading skills. How boring.

URL?

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Music Reviews

DJ Sammy

DJ Sammy

The Annual 2003 – America

Ministry Of Sound

Shock revelation: DJ Sammy couldn’t DJ to save his life. Okay, fine, it’s neither shocking nor revelatory, but still worth pointing out for anyone who might have thought that this compilation (yes, “compilation” — it doesn’t deserve to be called a mix CD) could be one to balance skilled DJing with a blend of anthems and more progressive cuts. On the contrary, it’s crappily mixed dance-pop, the first disc covering the housier side of things and the second tackling (you guessed it) trance. And no, tacking a Sasha track on the end of a bad set of tunes doesn’t save them from mediocrity.

It’s exactly what you’d expect from Ministry Of Sound — it’s almost unfair to review America as a dance CD, because it’s not. It’s part of a finely tuned pop machine that spews out dozens of compilations every month (Amazon lists 208 Ministry-brand CDs for sale, and that doesn’t cover all the regionally specific MOS releases). There are chart smashes aplenty here, rammed into each other with absolutely no mixing finesse. And that’s what a Minstry Of Sound CD invariably is — so I guess this disc succeeds in what it set out to do. The most depressing part? It’s bound to sell a million copies.

Ministry Of Sound: http://www.ministryofsound-us.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Brian McKnight

Brian McKnight

From There to Here

Motown

Indulgent photos ahoy! They’re all here — the soft-focus sepia portraits, the moody walking shots, the cuddly “hugging my guitar” pictures. And From there to Here‘s art is indicative of the release as a whole. It’s the usual Greatest Hits fare — the big singles and a couple of new tracks to entice those who already own all the regular albums. One of the exclusive cuts, “Let Me Love You,” features the classic lyric, “Maybe just maybe/I want something more from you/Than to get some ass.” Poetic indeed. Actually, I have a problem with Brian’s lyrics, and (as is demonstrated by this release) he’s had ten years to fail at getting it right. Quite simply, his words sound forced — a shame considering that his voice is imbued with such ease and grace.

The biographical essay on the inner sleeve has to be the most gushing of endorsements I’ve ever read for any singer — David Nathan (self-professed “British Ambassador of Soul”) tells you that “If you are in possession of this wonderful CD, you know that, without any question, Brian McKnight sings. With soul, sensitivity, and always from the heart. As you listen to this sumptuous retrospective of his first ten years, you are hearing the work of one of the most talented contemporary music men to have come along in the past decade.” Hard to argue with that one — and yes, this is a comprehensive overview of Mr. McKnight. Side by side, though, the formulas of his genre begin to grate and the lyrical awkwardness becomes apparent. Brian McKnight can most definitely sing, and he can write hits, too, but he’s best enjoyed in doses small enough to preserve one’s appreciation of his skill. Too much and it all begins to seem bland.

Brian McKnight: http://www.brian-mcknight.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Nice One

Nice One

The Nice+Smooth Ultramedia Sampler

Nice+Smooth

Nice+Smooth is a Canadian-based label that deals in music at the more dreamworthy end of the electronic spectrum — namely deep house and drum n’ bass. Showcased in sampler form, the label’s decision to release tracks from these two genres makes a lot of sense; the work on display here is unified in vibe and sits really well together (kinda rare when it comes to eclectic samplers). Nice One feels drenched in summer energy — the whole thing is very reminiscent of a deep sunset mix played by a laid-back DJ in a cafe somewhere. With just enough experimental glitchiness to give them edge and the converse balance of classic vocal stylings and synthery, N+S’s roster know their stuff. These are extremely well produced works, on par with anything I can think of throwing at them — side by side, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that nice+smooth have a lot of formidable talent assembled. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there’s not a dud among these tracks, and that Nice One is a killer compilation. Highly recommended.

Nice+Smooth Records: http://www.nicesmooth.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Terami Hirsch

Terami Hirsch

To The Bone

self-released

The second full-length offering from Terami Hirsch is the kind of CD that, if marketed well and picked up by the right radio stations, could be extremely popular. The fact that it’s being independently released makes it so much cooler, though. Hirsch could get a record contract with no problems whatsoever, but as it stands, she’s more like a hidden treasure — her audience has been built solely through word of mouth and the occasional live show, and her music is modestly produced and delivered.

And yet, despite her unabashedly lo-fi aesthetic, To The Bone is sonically kaleidoscopic; more so than her debut, All Girl Band, was. Firmly rooted in keyboard-vocal songcraft, Hirsch’s work here is augmented by all manner of synth textures and the production work of Kevin Benson, who turns out a crisp and uncluttered mix. The immediacy of the vocals probably has something to do with the Hirsch recording studio — a bathroom. Only on “Stained” does the subsequent voice processing dominate a little too much; the demo version (released on a 2001 sampler of the same title) feels more spontaneous. Minor quibbles aside, though, the aural palette employed here is wonderfully refreshing.

Listening to Hirsch is like meeting someone on the street, instinctively feeling safe in his or her presence and then falling into deep, honest conversation. There are no standoffish overtones here; no platform from which Terami is singing at you. Her lyrics are fierce, elegant and simple. On “The Breathing” she says, “I wanted to see the look on your face when I said/’I’m not afraid/The oceans can drown me/The moon can ground me/But I am not afraid.’” Unlike so many “singer-songwriters,” ego hasn’t soured the truth in these tracks — they’re unpretentious by default because they’re coming from an unpretentious source.

The evolution of To The Bone unfolded through written updates on Terami’s Web site. The lack of pretense inherent in her music carries over into her interactions with the wider world and those interested in her artistic output, and her Web site is an extension of the process, illuminated by the community section — personal contact with admirers of her music (I doubt she’d call them “fans”) and lively journal-glimpses into her life and the way music sometimes crosses through it. Indeed, it seems that Terami’s door is always open — to an extent. Despite what could be mistaken for forcibly happy online overtones, she seems to have a no-bullshit approach to those who follow her music, documented on To The Bone‘s “Boxes” (“So voyeuristic, aren’t you?” she asks), and it grounds her offerings, allowing her to keep her distance without sacrificing musical intimacy. It’s an admirable balance to achieve.

“Fire” is the record’s emotional centrepiece, a track on which the interaction between piano, voice, beats and instrumentation is played out to its most fulfilling climax. I tried my hardest to be the impartial reviewer, but I couldn’t stop crying when I heard it, which I suppose is a form of emotional impartiality (or at least, empathy) in itself. Acceptance and renewal, those utterly primal regenerative emotions, are laid out in five haunting minutes, and at first you have to blink and tell yourself, “Suspend your disbelief. Just take it for what it is.” Because yes, the music isn’t cryptic, it’s not obtuse — but it’s real, and pure. And that’s Terami’s greatest gift — to challenge you not to brush aside what she’s producing as “seen it all before” material, but to view it for what it is: the honest communication of things that are almost always veiled or filtered.

Terami Hirsch: http://www.terami.com