Reviews 12-24-2000

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Early Man Steve Roach album cover

Early Man

by Steve Roach

Steve Roach's Website


This Steve Roach release has the most unusual packaging  I've ever seen on a CD. Instead of the usual brittle plastic box, the CD is sandwiched in between two quarter-inch-thick slabs of real slate rock. The plastic holder, with a printed paper insert, is stuck to the slate, and the two six-inch-square slabs are held together with four patches of incongruously futuristic Velcro. Try putting this one in your CD caddy! (An expanded version of this album will be released on Projekt next year, in a "conventional" CD case.)

Well, once you open this up and play it, what does it sound like? From the beginning, you know you are in Roach Country, with its cavernous reverberation, mysterious industrial and cave sounds, whispers and whistles, slowly building rhythms on Native drums, and of course the shimmering swells of the synthesizer, which no one in the electronic music business does better. These are all familiar Roach repertoire, but as with every new Roach album, you never know quite how he will combine them, and what you are going to get.

The title suggests anthropology, and the Flintstones-style packaging also points toward a "cave man" theme, but this is not a cliché evocation of hairy, fur-clad Cro-Magnons drumming and dancing round a fire. Rather, it is an exploration of the sounds of the Earth as these very ancient people might have heard them, perhaps before our modern consciousness separated us from nature. It is not just a "picture" of "early man," it invites the listener to BE "early man."

Roach's recent albums for the last few years, from On This Planet to Body Electric and the spectacular Light Fantastic, have featured a fierce intensity, often high volume, and superfast rhythms. But here in Early Man the rhythms are much slower, the mood is quieter, and the volume is low almost throughout the album. This time, Roach spins trancemusic, especially in the 25-minute title track 2, "Early Man."

A hypnotic, very even rhythm beckons the listener to sway to the beat. Slow guitar riffs (played by Steve), looped to repeat, and heavily filtered and reverbed, add a watery depth to the sound mix. It's actually restful; its mood is summery, warm, and nocturnal without being "dark."

The next tracks are more explicitly electronic, with long passages of atonal, mysterious environments. These pieces are examples of Roach's "abstract" style, which he has occasionally used in more "desert"-oriented  albums such as Desert Solitaires or Artifacts. This "abstract" style is one of his more esoteric modes, and here it is made somewhat more accessible by a steady (but again slow) percussion beat (some of it added by "Vir Unis"), as in track 4, "Walking Upright." Track 5, "Hunting and Gathering," features the only speed on the album, a twanging electronic sequence which soon sinks low onto the sound-horizon and eventually disappears into the dusk.

Towards the end of "Hunting and Gathering," and into the last track, #6, "Flow Stone," the real reason for the slate packaging becomes clear. Into the mist comes the bell-like sound of a grinding stone, one of Steve's many "found object percussion" items. When you pick up the slate slabs of the CD cover, and slowly draw them against each other in various ways, you have that very sound that Roach is generating - though of course without the cavernous reverb. This must be the only CD where the artist has given you one of his actual musical instruments in the packaging! It is another way that Early Man invites the participation of the listener.

Early Man is definitely not a "popular"- oriented album, crafted to cause excitement. Nor is it along the lines of his strictly ambient, long-format pieces like The Dream Circle or  Slow Heat.  It is challenging, thoughtful, designed to subtly alter the listener's consciousness through trance rhythms. And yet even though it is challenging, it is also surprisingly serene, a "music of the earth" encased in some of earth's very own stone.

Hannah M.G. Shapero 12/24/2000 


Isle of Avalon Rusty Crutcher album cover

Isle of Avalon

by Rusty Crutcher

Emerald Green Recordings Website


This release is my entry into the Sacred Sites Series by multi-instrumentalist Rusty Crutcher.   Liner notes written by Randy, let us know that the "Isle of Avalon", (IOA), is the result of a pilgrimage to Glastonbury, England where he paid many visits to the Glastonbury Abbey on the Tor of Avalon.  The foundations of nature sounds recordings were made there as well.

Isle of Avalon is inspired by more than just the place itself as homage is paid to the literary work "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley as well.  After several sessions with this disc the Stephen Lawhead series "Song of Albion" also comes to mind.

The Music of Randy Crutcher has given me pause and brought forth a descriptor I shall term Active Melodic Ambient music. The ambient portion is more the sum of the whole than the individual layers themselves.  Although by no means minimalist or droning in its nature  "IOA" places an ambient window into your listening space much the same as traditionally pure ambient recordings do.  But with melodic passages of penny whistles, flute, Celtic harp and Cello sharing the forefront as evocative and gracefully lilting melodies dance through the air.  In concert with the, sometimes subliminal and at other times wholly prominent, nature sounds weaving an active presence about the room and your imagination.  Readily eliciting active participation with each piece of music.

My personal favorite track of the entire disc is "Lady of the Lake" which embodies all of the aforementioned characteristics and weaves a marvelously intoxicating spell of its own within the aural senses.  I'm also a sucker for long form tracks and this particular one runs 11:57.  This is followed by a Chant structure, entitled "Ode to the Beloved", utilizing the Spectrasonics' Symphony of Voices and is eerily reminiscent of what I would perceive as an open window to a Druid's invocation within the confines of a Cairn and evokes the image of contact with the Otherworld.  "Isle of Glass" continues the mystical journey and weaves more of the legendary and magical ambience of  "Mists" which are always invoked by the minds own image of Avalon.

The three closing tracks act as a grounding return to the physical presence of terra firma after the middle journey through the Mists of Avalon's and the encounter with the Otherworld.  Once again more melodically active yet still possessing the ability to transport ones imagination to another place in a more organic soundscape.

In all a most excellent journey for the soul and a sonic treat as well.  This is an HDCD recording, engineered, mixed, and mastered by Larry Seyer whom many may know from his own "Elixirs For The Human Heart" release earlier this year.  The production and layering of tracks are all of very high caliber and place this disc in the upper crust of sonic pleasures.  The depth and ambience is enhanced by the superb soundstage placement and track layering and definitely enhances the listening experience of "IOA".  Recommended whole heartily for those fans of Fantasy Fiction and especially for those looking for that recording that is something special and yet different from the classic Ambient Vision.

BEAR   12.22.00   

Audiophiles Note: Although this recording will not dynamically tax your system it will allow you to discern the panoramic soundstage capabilities and the ability to portray air around acoustic wind instruments from your system.  There is also a marked perception of height achieved during the Cello and penny whistle passages.  The listening session were performed in the following systems:

(1) Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player, Electrocompaniet ECI-3 Integrated, Magneplanar MG1.6QR, &  Sunfire True Subwoofer loudspeakers.

(2) Linn Classik into Stax Electrostatic SRX MkIII & Sennheiser HD600 headphones.


Alchemy Robert Scott Thompson album cover


by Robert Scott Thompson

Aucourant Records

"Alchemy" is a sweeping tour de force of expansive minimalism from ambient master Robert Scott Thompson.  Continuing his pattern of providing the vehicle for self-discovery and introspection, Robert again approaches that role from the gentler side of the genre.  Indeed, there are echoes of the dark side.  They serve to remind listeners that it still exists as either a return or new destination.  The gentle soundscapes and lush codas provide the opportunity for focused meditation.  Robert's subtle piano and a choral vocal sample, offset by experimental textures, serve to both carry and ground deep listeners.  This psychoactive set is a very personal statement from a gifted artiste!  The healing power of this music is downright shamanic!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Close but Not Touching

by Ron Boots

Ron Boots Homepage

"Close but not Touching" is the pinnacle of Ron Boots' illustrious career (to date!).  His innovative use of Berlin school sequences and playful minimalism has come half circle.  His focus has shifted to the minimalism.  Ron still uses, at times features, his comfortable sequences.  He did not achieve his legendary status, however, by standing pat.  His position as Europe's leading electronician (my apologies to Dirk) was built upon his ability to take risks and win.  This album celebrates the old and the new.  Ron's atmospheres are dense and bright.  He fills them with his joy and his lust for life.  This is another essential groove from the good folks at Groove Unlimited!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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