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Alan Braxe and Friends – The Upper Cuts

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Vulture Records, 2005

Truth be told, I thought I had stumbled on an early eighties folk rock act that wanted to be edgy.  Whenever “and friends” accompanies a guy’s name I’m thinking those friends are the ones with fiddles, slide guitar, and perhaps backup vocals.  The brash font of the album title, as well as the vinyl wear effect behind it, just screamed Chicago or Billy Squier.  I’ve seen enough of those record covers at flea markets to be wary of them, but I thought that for just a quarter I had to know (HAD to know) what Braxe and his honky tonk buddies sounded like.

I am so glad I was completely wrong about Braxe, but I am also so glad that I stumbled on an excellent record as well.  Alan Braxe of France is apparently a dance music maker that releases vinyl singles very infrequently, so this record serves as a compilation of twelve of his efforts.  One of his apparent friends is Fred Falke, known for his own dance music, so with two of these types of artists this turns out to be one big hip shaking party with no signs of haystacks or cowboy hats.  Score!!

I could go into each track, but a big surprise for me was my recognition of “Music Sounds Better With You”.  I have heard it somewhere before, really liked it, then forgot about it.  It’s a modern disco song that repeats the chorus quite often in its nearly seven minute span.  Not that you’ll notice as you abandon all semblance of responsibility as you jerk left and right to the groove, sloshing your cocktail all over the place.  Or a coffee mug, as in my case.  It’s a light enough song so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed, but it’s also got a strong rhythm that should get a room full of people to get down.

I also loved the airiness of “In Love With You”, the warmth of “Love Lost”, and the straight on dance anthem of “Rubicon”.  Everything just sounds so easy and casual, so if you want to dance you can but you can also just soak it all in.  Despite the overall enjoyment, there are moments when some songs do sound a bit dated, even if one doesn’t mind so much.  “At Night” has a drum machine and a chugging synth effect that immediately brought “Miami Vice” to mind.  It’s a killer track, and I know Crockett and Tubbs would have approved its appearance during a chase scene.  “Vertigo” also clearly comes across as something from the nineties with its cymbal pop and, again, drum machine.  Sure, the song was actually made in 1997, but I’m thinking early nineties like Technotronic or La Bouche.  Hey, there’s still room for enjoyment of those kinds of tunes, right?

Listen to all sorts of great tracks from Alan Braxe on his MySpace and Soundcloud sites.  By the way, the groovin’ video for Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You” may have been when I first heard the 1998 track.  Those silver guys should have been stars.

Scoring this for only a quarter felt pretty good, but the ultimate satisfaction came from spinning it.  This is exactly the kind of music I’m veering towards these days since I feel a bit maxed out on punk and rock.  I admit, I like to get some dancing in when I am in the swivel chair and have my coffee mug at a safe distance.  Perhaps that’s why I’m more forgiving of Top 40 these days since it’s all dance music to me (compared to that awful tripe from the early to mid-2000’s).  If Alan Braxe was an American artist who could pump out the hits every other week he would no doubt be huge.

But I am glad he’s not, for he’s more into taking his time to get that song right than throwing everything against the wall and hope a hit sticks.  Braxe is still busy these days, putting out exactly one single and quite a few remixes since “The Upper Cuts” was released in 2005.  Since he’s mixing, producing and doing other sorts of music jobs, one might not see output from Braxe for months.  However, if one keeps up with certain websites there will always be a reason to keep those dancing shoes nearby.

Oh, and Golden Dollar for sure.  That’s two in one week, woah!

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Various Artists – Crydamoure Presents “Waves”

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Crydamoure Records, 2001

Featuring a picturesque cover of a location I would consider giving nearly anything to transport to right now, this compilation looked promising in a few ways.  The track list of the album made it apparent that this was going to be a dance CD of some sort.  With songs like “Intergalactik Disko”, “Boogie Shell” and … “Santa Claus”, well, it looked to be a rousing time.  There’s also a track called “T.I.T.T.S”.  If it was a song about The International Taste-testers of Taco Salads I couldn’t pass it up.  I love taco salad.

Cryadamoure are actually a duo from France who create house music to please the French masses.  Figuring that they might as well assist others who create similar music, they started the Crydamoure record label and put out this compilation of artists.  Since this is house music, many of the songs stick to one loop and repeat it with slight variations.  For many songs this style makes little impression, like on “Lovers” (sorry Raw-Man), “Intergalactik Disko”, and “Coral Twist”.  I could see these tunes being much more interesting if one was actually at a dance club and experiencing some other sensory influence (glug glug glug), but as is these aren’t anything spectacular.

“Hysteria” by Le Knight Club had some serious potential when it began with its hook, but it never brought it to the next level.  When a song gives a hint as to what is in store, one usually feels that it’s only a matter of time before more beats, drums, sound, etc get introduced to pour it on.  “Hysteria” never gets there, and the sad sound effects of artificial cheering from an audience makes it more apparent of its lack of success.

It takes nearly half of the compilation to pass on before the songs get more interesting.  Le Knight Club make up for their “Hysteria” let down by composing “Cherie D’Amoure”.  Even though it is considered a bonus track (inferior?), it is a strong tune for me due to its somber tone.  Not every dance track needs to be in your face and loud about it, which makes “Cherie D’Amoure” and its ability to quietly get the foot motivation going appealing.

It seems that once “Cherie” is finished, the compilation finally gets into gear.  “Wrath of Zeus” by the Eternals, “The Turkish Avenger” by Sedat, and even “Santa Claus” by Le Knight Club make up a couple of the dance songs that stood out to me.  Again, despite the repetitiveness the songs had a hook that could sound excellent if blasted into your ears while you’re surrounded by a swath of multi-colored lights and grinding people.  “Boogie Shell” reminds me of a traditional pulsing dance tune while the final track of “Holiday On Ice” has hints of Daft Punk in its inverted sound effects that seem to poke at the listener.

Listen to a few house tunes on the label’s MySpace page.

I was ready to write this compilation off for some of its earlier tracks, but the music that showed up in the second half convinced me that this isn’t so bad.  All songs have constant repetition, but there are certainly better tracks than others depending on how the hooks are constructed and varied over time.  Even though I don’t listen to much house music, I have to say that writing this review was easy given the motivational background music.  Picking up further house compilations, whether they are from Crydamoure or not, is likely a real gamble when it comes to discovering effectively enjoyable songs.  However, if one can find some affordable music to keep the body moving, no matter what the genre, then it is a success.

Nicolas Matar – Latitude 40 Degrees

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Journeys By DJ, 2001

I’ve mentioned it before, but despite all of the edgy tattoos and scars that I currently don’t have adorning my body (but in my mind, I do) I sometimes pose as a chic clubber (also in my mind).  I did used to go to a few clubs back in the day and shake it until 3 or 4 in the morning, which may seem laughable to the young tykes these days but hey, those were fond times remembered.  It has been some time since I’ve actually sat down and listened to some trance/house/electronica/whatever you call it, but I have been known to give such music a chance when presented because I have been pleasantly surprised in the past.  With its cool, simple design and songs like “Cafe Soul” and “Jazz Room”, I figured a compilation of songs mixed by Nicolas Matar might be decent enough.  Plus, if the disc ended up sounded great I could tell people that I first heard about the guy when I was clubbing in Ibiza by way of Goa.  I travel a lot (in my head) for dancing, by the way.

At nearly a decade old, this music still has the pulse to get a dormant listener up and active.  The first tune of Smurf & Perry’s “Lovin You” is a great start, though one could argue that it’s a pity that it’s too short even at just over five minutes.  However, that’s what DJs do; they can’t have you getting too comfortable with one song when there’s plenty of others to intertwine for a mix.  I don’t know whether it is Smurf or Perry, but the female vocalist sounds great on this one when she smoothly delivers the line “Lovin you/is all I do”.   “Starlite (Soul Vocal mix)” has a great background guitar intro before breaking into, indeed, another dance song with a female singer. She doesn’t have the same husky soul as the previous singer, but she does add even more pep to the already bouncing tune.

The aforementioned “Jazz Room” incorporates a rather erratic bass line before slipping in what sounds like cow bells and piano.  This track in particular sounds like it could be the background for a lounge scene that you might see on television somewhere.  The “Musica (Original mix)” is quite invigorating and amidst a long line of four-to-five minute similarly sounding tracks it stands out as something that could probably get a group of people dancing.

As the songs proceed, they all start to blend in together as one might expect from a mix by a DJ with a particular ear.  I will say that after awhile I do feel like I’m listening to a nineties dance mix, but I really can’t pinpoint why.  Perhaps the electric keyboard sounds remind me a little too much of something I might have heard from C & C Music Factory or Crystal Waters.  A few songs also give the impression that they could be used as backgrounds for a feisty Weather Channel presentation, which is probably not what Matar was aiming (and probably hates me) for.  Still, whatever hints of old sound that Matar develops is of little consequence because all of these songs, when played from beginning to end, provide a nice soundtrack to whatever gathering or work you have to accomplish.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find very much music to stream of Matar’s, but I did find his booking website that has a mix one can download:  DJ Nicolas Matar.

This release was part of a relatively large release of discs from Journeys By DJ records, so I really don’t know how this one compares to the rest of them.  It has a great vibe to it and it never got boring, so despite some sounds that might seem a little outdated, I thought it was a solid dance mix that would be quite good for any party or mood-setting occasion.  Sometimes indie pop or jazz just doesn’t cut it when it comes to inspiring an upbeat mood, so if you’re willing to experiment a little bit and take a chance on an established DJ, go pick up something by DJ Nicolas Matar.  I can’t say he’s better than everyone or anyone else, but at least it’s a starting point.  I, for one, think this was quite the bargain to pick up even if it only complements the rest of my guitar and drum music collection.

If you, like me, are seriously considering spending more money on house and electronica music and leaving the verse chorus verse stuff behind, you should be warned.  There’s so many DJs, mixes and compilations out there that want your attention in their claims of great party or mood music.  You really could choose any of them and probably get something that would be decent.  You could also spend too much money on something that looks great but sounds boring.  In my opinion, the best way to experience a DJ is at a live setting where you can let the music consume you while you’re dancing at a slick club.  This would at least give you a better feeling as to whether a DJ can truly inspire you to let loose.  Therefore, next time you’re in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or all of Europe, make sure you find yourself a great club or two and dress like you’re the center of attention.

LTJ X-Perience – Moon Beat

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Irma Records, 1999

A well-thumbed digipak sat amongst the refuse in a dollar bin that mostly contained awful R&B singles that, frankly, should have just been burned.  I pulled this one out and got a good look at that colorful cover and thought this had to be some kind of fun time to listen to.  The fact that it looked like it had been previously owned for a lengthy amount of time gave me hope that at least someone before me gave it quite a few spins before parting with it.  With songs like “Disco People” and “You Got the Beat”, I figured it had to be some kind of dance record that might have had a few moon-based sound references.  The fact that it also looked like the group was based out of Italy made me cough up the dough to give it a chance.

Indeed, these guys turned out to be the groove music makers that I thought they were going to be.  The duo of Luca LTJ Trevisi and Ohm Guru spin out compositions that tend to be repetitive with their clips but always have an element that builds upon itself, thus making each tune increasingly danceable.  The group also doesn’t want you to think anything is unfinished for nearly every song is around five minutes or more.  The only tune that isn’t of that length is the ‘short’ four minute introductory song of “Keep On Grooving” which sounds like it uses a Bee Gees clip over and over again.  “Sitar Madness” is just that as a motivated drum beat gets people moving amidst a sped-up sitar clip and some wails from a female vocalist.  “Disco People” turned out to be less like a disco song and more like a bossa lounge tune, which is nice and all but doesn’t stand out nearly as much.  It sounded more like something one could use for background music for one of those home improvement TV shows where they’re rearranging a room.

One of the better tracks is “Saturday Nite Groovin” which actually fits the sound of disco a lot better than its predecessor on the record.  The song gave me the feeling of edging between dancers at an upscale club somewhere in the city … not that I have been seen anywhere near an upscale club.  However, if I were of the slicked hair and the slightly ajar collared shirt, I could picture myself giving everyone the “oh, you want me too so just take a number” look as I coolly stood at the bar too awkward to move.  The track that turns out sounding the best on the record is a track that has no relation to any of the others, and that is the title track.  “Moon Beat” is a smooth cool down at the end of a record that tries hard to energize, so it is surprising that LTJ X-Perience included it without much of a warning anywhere else.  It sounds pretty good as it gets going and definitely has a strong chill out essence to it, but it is at this point where I found out that my disc skips.  Alas, that might have been one of the reasons why the previous owner let this one go.  Oh well.

You can check these guys out on MySpace!

Most mix artists tend to fade away as time moves on and styles rapidly takeover each other.  It is rare, at least in my experience, to see these kinds of artists last longer than three or four years before running out of creative juice.  I can’t say I’m an expert in making such a conclusion, but when I found out that LTJ X-Perience had been together for more than a decade I was quite surprised.  They are still putting out music for various dance and groove compilations, so if you happen to pick one up that is European-based you’re bound to bump into these guys eventually.  As for me, I suppose when the rock n roll gets tiring and I just don’t want anyone to be singing at me, I may get more into this kind of music regularly.  I’ll probably keep this album nearby in case a party comes along and I need to dress up as an unapproachable heartthrob.