The Radiophonic Workshop: Burials In Several Earths

Burials In Several EarthsThe Radiophonic Workshop is back, minus the BBC. If the band’s retinue of veteran analog electronic music pioneers can keep turning out original material like this, it might result in a new generation of fans wondering why they were slumming it for the BBC for so long. The Radiophonic Workshop is made up of former members of the storied BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental electronic music & effects department of the BBC founded in the late 1950s to provide unique music and sounds for the steadily growing output of the BBC’s radio and television channels. The work, in those days before samplers and digital synthesizers, was grueling; membership in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was always fairly limited because you had to love what you were doing, working with oscillators a beat and tone generators and analog reverb and tape loops. The Workshop remains, perhaps unjustly, best known for the original Doctor Who theme music dating back to 1963, but its body of work spread so much further than that…until the BBC closed the Workshop’s doors in the 1990s.

But its members, it turns out, weren’t averse to workshopping their unique sound without Auntie Beeb paying the bills. Having spent over a decade as a touring group recreating their sound the old-fashioned way for audiences who already knew their work and audiences only just discovering them, the Radiophonic Workshop has now gifted us with a new album with the unmistakable sound that gained them a following in the 1960s and ’70s. Is it abstract? At times, yes – about 13 minutes into the lead track, you’d swear they were trying to make a musical instrument out of the sound of the Liberator’s teleport from Blake’s 7. Everything from white noise to whalesong crops up. But what’s amazing is how tuneful it is at times. Echoing piano is a constant presence, along with actual guitar work (Paddy Kingsland, whose Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide scores in the early ’80s were ear-wormingly hummable, take a bow). There are a few places where a groove emerges from the soundscape and the Radiophonic Workshop proceeds to rock out.

Not a bad feat considering that some of these gentlemen are past what many touring musicians would consider retirement age.

4 out of 4The real fascination of Burials In Several Earths is that it’s electronic music created in a way that has almost been lost to time and the march of technology. That description doesn’t really do it justice though – that sounds more like the description of a tech demo. The Radiophonic Workshop is making actual music this way, delighting audiences on stage, and bolting new chapters onto a legacy of ridiculously hummable short tunes from a bygone age. At times ethereal, at times exciting, the one thing Burials isn’t is boring.

Order this CD

  1. Burials In Several Earths (18:58)
  2. Things Buried In Water (22:01)
  3. Some Hope Of Land (25:15)
  4. Not Come To Light (3:58)
  5. The Stranger’s House (11:23)

Released by: Room 13
Release date: May 19, 2016
Total running time: 1:21:35

Robot Vengeance – Cruising The Space Time Continuum

Cruising The Space Time ContinuumThe second album from electronica act Robot Vengeance, Cruising The Space Time Continuum is a dandy collection of instrumentals, centering around two common themes: a strong beat and a “space” theme. In some respects, Cruising is fairly retro, in places using samples that I could swear the Art of Noise once used. Standouts include “Dancing Weightless”, with an ever-shifting beat pattern and retro synths, “Fast Enough To Slow Time” and “Faster Robot” (both with great bass lines that appear and disappear), and “Star Clad” with its spacey vocal samples.

3 out of 4Cruising is an album that needs to be listened to at least once on headphones and then on speakers. The bass and beats aren’t done full justice by headphone listening – they’re a decent subwoofer workout – but the intricate synth loops demand at least one “up close” listen.

It’ll be interesting to see what further Robot Vengeance may await us in the future; it’s a promising enough collection that I’m up for more.

Order this CD

  1. Accelerating Universe (2:20)
  2. Dark Energy (3:02)
  3. Dancing Weightless (3:14)
  4. Fast Enough To Slow Time (2:45)
  5. Absolute Zero (3:29)
  6. Antimatter (2:49)
  7. Faster Robot (2:49)
  8. Infinite Solutions (2:32)
  9. Oort Cloud (2:59)
  10. Paradigm Shift (3:45)
  11. Star Clad (3:21)

Released by: Robot Vengeance
Release date: 2014
Total running time: 33:05

Royksopp – Senior

Royksopp - SeniorThis album has been hotly anticipated since, well, the last album Royksopp released. As is generally known now, Senior was recorded in tandem with 2009’s Junior, and the intention was to release them at opposite ends of that year, with the more upbeat, youthful Junior arriving – appropriately – in the spring, and the more somber Senior landing during the winter months. It was always known that Senior would be less cheerful and virtually all-instrumental. That might be enough to put some prospective listeners off, but this is Royksopp: the same outfit that’s brought us epic instrumentals such as “Royksopp’s Night Out”, “Epie” and “Royksopp Forever”.

Senior is indeed a much moodier album than Junior, but this doesn’t mean that rhythm has been left at the door; the second track is an instrumental version of Junior‘s “Tricky Tricky”. But it’s the tracks that don’t resemble Junior which are the real standouts. The heart of Senior lies in the one-two punch of “The Alcoholic” and “Senior Living”, both laid-back pieces with a hypnotic groove. “Senior Living”‘s languid guitar work and choral textures add to the spacious feel and instantly make it one of the all-time great Royksopp instrumentals, while “The Alcoholic” has a mesmerizingly unpredictable combination of a keyboard loop and guitar. Neither is particularly flashy from an instrumental standpoint, but they also never quite fade into background music.

If you think you’re detecting a pattern of mentions of an instrument on doesn’t normally associate with Royksopp, you’re not imagining it: the 4 out of 4real surprise of Senior is how often some very nice guitar work pops up, with “The Forsaken Cowboy” and “The Fear” both featuring six-string supplements to Royksopp’s usual sound. It’s an unusual enough addition to Royksopp’s arsenal that I’m already wondering how it might work its way into the duo’s next album. Senior is good enough that it’s already got me hungry for that next entry.

Order this CD

  1. …And The Forest Began To Sing (1:52)
  2. Tricky Two (7:53)
  3. The Alcoholic (5:12)
  4. Senior Living (5:11)
  5. The Drug (6:00)
  6. Forsaken Cowboy (5:30)
  7. The Fear (7:03)
  8. Coming Home (5:07)
  9. A Long, Long Way (4:02)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 47:50

Rubber Universe – Parliament Of Fooles

Rubber Universe - Parliament Of FoolesA few years ago, I raved at great length about L.E.O., a loose collective of (largely) indie label power-pop veterans joining forces to pay a “stylistic” tribute to Electric Light Orchestra without covering any of the band’s existing songs. I’ve always held ELO and Alan Parsons Project in a similarly high esteem – both of them routinely turning out engrossing, lush music with stellar production – so it’s good to find Rubber Universe, a band which offers up a similar “stylistic tribute” to Parsons.

Where it was easy to figure out the object of L.E.O.’s musical affections, Rubber Universe is almost like a tribute – or, better yet, a whole new entry – to prog rock in general. The band states up front that their chief inspiration was Parsons, but in a couple of places (namely on the tracks “Paint My World” and “Nine Minutes ‘Till Midnight”) they also remind one forcefully of the Moody Blues at the height of their early ’70s experimentation (i.e. when their every release was mind-blowing and not just in service of a paint-by-numbers tour), and occasionally – especially in those songs with a healthy dose of female vocals – Clannad comes to mind.

Not that Rubber Universe is slavishly imitating anyone. The admission to having sprung from a tribute/cover band may be a way to automatically grab the attention of a certain fanbase, but Parliament Of Fooles is a fresh new entry in the prog rock pantheon on its own; the whole “former cover band” line in the publicity material may end up being counterproductive. The project (no pun intended) may have started as a cover band that wanted to do something original, but while Parsons fans will appreciate it, it’s nothing that screams “Hey, they’re trying to sound like the Alan Parsons Project.”

Though in a few places, they kinda do, with a little help from their friends: Project guitar god Ian Bairnson contributes to one track, while Godfrey Townsend, Parsons’ current touring guitarist, plays on another. The real coup, however – if those two weren’t enough to lend it the seal of Parsons Project authenticity – is a spoken-word intro for “Let Me Rule Your Heart” by the Project’s most famous vocalist and co-founder, the late Eric Woolfson.

If there’s one trap that Parliament Of Fooles falls victim to, it’s a tendency for most of the songs to hover in the same mid-tempo territory. The good news is that, when a song that breaks that mold comes along (i.e. “Romance Of The Illusion”), it instantly stands out, but much of the album sticks around the same tempo; any second effort from Rubber Universe would do well to vary things a bit more.

But for a freshman outing by a new band, especially one that has one hell of a musical and production pedigree to live up to, built into its mission statement, Rubber Universe is an outfit that bears close 3 out of 4watching – and repeat listening. Though fans of the Alan Parsons Project, they’ve proven that they’re more than ready to carve their own path, and with Parsons’ own output having dropped to less-than-prodigious levels in the past 20 years, I’d welcome a new entity making music with the same expansive feel.

Order this CD

  1. Negative Spaces (4:23)
  2. Dream Catcher (6:53)
  3. Romance Of The Illusion (2:16)
  4. Madness In Slumberland (4:18)
  5. Garden Of Earthly Delights (3:54)
  6. Let Me Rule Your Heart featuring Eric Woolfson (5:36)
  7. Paint My World (3:35)
  8. We Insist (Place De Greve Mix) (5:05)
  9. Goodbye My Love (2:02)
  10. Trying To Go On (4:40)
  11. Nine Minutes ‘Till Midnight featuring Godfrey Townsend (4:04)
  12. Parliament Of Fooles featuring Ian Bairnson (5:47)

Released by: Rubber Universe
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 52:33

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Royksopp – Junior

Royksopp - JuniorIf there’s one group active currently that I wish would release stuff more often, it’s this Norwegian duo. Their dance music, which manages to be bouncy and chilled-out at the same time, is layered, well-arranged, and just fine for listening to even if you’re not dancing…and it seems like they take forever between projects. Then again, they have yet to turn out a clunker of an album, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. Junior, their third studio album, carried with it the promise of combining the best elements of Melody A.M. and The Understanding – two very different projects. I didn’t have any major issues with either of those two prior albums, so surely this wouldn’t be a bad combination.

Junior‘s best tunes – and, by no small coincidence, its first two singles – are right up front. “Happy Up Here” is a peppy, laid-back dance number, and an awfully catchy one at that. But it’s followed by what has to be the catchiest damn song I’ve heard in all of 2009 to date, and one of the best things Royksopp’s ever done: “The Girl And The Robot”, an ’80s-styled piece of electronica featuring vocals by Robyn (still a familiar fixture in the European music scene despite seeming like a one-hit wonder ten years ago on the U.S. charts). The song is not only infectiously catchy, but perfectly arranged and produced – seriously, I can just listen to it over and over again, it’s that good.

The rest of the album is no slouch, though – “Vision One” and especially “You Don’t Have A Clue” are highlights, and “Miss It So Much” is catchy enough musically but hindered a bit by repetitive lyrics. Royksopp’s instrumental honor is upheld by the chilled-out but still interestingly-put-together “Royksopp Forever”. If there’s one track worth skipping, it’s “Tricky Tricky” – maybe this is a point at which I’m just too old for the material, but neither the lyrics nor the music appeal to me. The lyrics especially seem trite and silly; I realize that the lyrics aren’t really the driving force on a dance track, but if 4 out of 4they had to have album filler, surely they could’ve done better than this.

That, however, is only a single song; the rest of Junior is strong enough that it’s still a more than worthwhile listening experience. Interstingly, Royksopp is planning to release another album, Senior, late this year – if it’s anything like Junior, we’re in for a treat.

Order this CD

  1. Happy Up Here (2:43)
  2. The Girl And The Robot (4:28)
  3. Vision One (4:59)
  4. This Must Be It (4:41)
  5. Royksopp Forever (4:59)
  6. Miss It So Much (5:01)
  7. Tricky Tricky (5:59)
  8. You Don’t Have A Clue (4:33)
  9. Silver Cruiser (4:36)
  10. True To Life (5:50)
  11. It’s What I Want (3:06)

Released by: Astralwerks
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 50:55

Royksopp – Back To Mine

On the surface, it sounds like a neat idea – you ask a celebrity DJ or remixer to assemble a bunch of their formative favorites, those singles that got them interested in the business, and put their own spin on them, literally. That’s the idea behind the Back To Mine series, which has thus far cranked out a couple dozen of these compilations. They’re basically mixtapes on CD, assembled by the likes of Danny Tenaglia, Orbital, an so on. When a Back To Mine CD was announced, with a playlist personally picked out by those Norwegian masters of the downtempo genre, Royksopp, I thought I’d give it a try.

On the one hand, it’s interesting to hear the tunes that make Royksopp tick. With a playlist that goes from Talking Heads to Mike Oldfield Art Of Noise to Funkadelic, and stuff in between that I either haven’t heard in decades or have never heard of at all, there seems to be the promise of quite a fun ride. The other promise, though – that Royksopp will be giving you that guided tour and putting their own spin on things – is only partly fulfilled. I was eager to hear Art Of Noise a la Royksopp, simply because the collision of two of my favorite acts is a nearly irresistible proposition. Imagine my disappoint when Art Of Noise a la Royksopp turns out to be a short, exceedingly simple edit, sped up so it’s in the right key to dovetail with the tracks before and after it.

Some of these songs really do get the Royksopp treatment, such as Sphinx, which is transformed in much the same way that an obscure cover of Bacharach’s “Blue On Blue” was transformed into “So Easy” on Melody A.M.. I was amused to see a track by Emmanuel Splice slipped into the running order, that act being Royksopp itself under a pseudonym, effectively meaning that the track in question is Royksopp remixing Royksopp. But for the most part, it really does come across as a mixtape, with both the favorable and unfavorable things associated with that. You get to hear a lot of music and, like the weather, if you don’t like it, wait two minutes and it’ll change. But when the name “Royksopp” is what’s drawing people to this CD, 2 out of 4and there isn’t that much Royksopp in evidence, it smacks of a cheaply licensed throwaway compilation.

The selection of material is fine, but the scarcity of actual Royksopp remixing on what’s touted as an album of tunes remixed by Royksopp counts off some major, major points. Do yourself a favor, pass on this one, and wait for the group’s next original studio effort instead.

Order this CD

  1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) performed by Talking Heads (3:34)
  2. Sphinx performed by Harry Thumann (2:33)
  3. One More Round performed by Kasso (2:35)
  4. Ma Quale Idea performed by Pino D’Angino (3:54)
  5. Above And Beyond performed by Edgar Winter (1:38)
  6. Off Side performed by Ray Mang & Nathan D’Troit (1:37)
  7. Take A Chance performed by Mr. Flagio (4:22)
  8. Platinum (Part 3: Charleston) performed by Mike Oldfield (1:20)
  9. Meatball performed by Emmanuel Splice (2:53)
  10. That’s Hot performed by Jesse G (4:25)
  11. Legs performed by Art Of Noise (2:52)
  12. 3:00am (12″ version) performed by I-Level (1:49)
  13. Dirty Talk performed by Klein & MBO (3:08)
  14. It Ain’t Easy performed by Supermax (4:03)
  15. Could Be Heaven Like This performed by Idris Muhammad (8:26)
  16. Night People (New York Club Mix) performed by Guy Dalton (4:07)
  17. Get Closer (Vocal) performed by Valerie Dore (4:55)
  18. Can’t Be Serious performed by Ginny (5:12)
  19. I’m Never Gonna Tell It performed by Funkadelic (3:24)
  20. It’s Been A Long Time performed by The New Birth (5:40)

Released by: DMC Records
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 72:27

Ror-Shak – Deep

Ror-Shak - DeepThe brainchild of two UK-to-US transplants with near-legendary backgrounds in production and A&R on both indie and major labels alike, Ror-Shak is an indie club music project with so much going on under the surface that, even if you’re not normally drawn to dance music, it’s definitely worth a listen. The whole thing has quite a cinematic feel to it – there’s depth to both the songs and the production, and it just sounds “widescreen” – as much as anything possibly could.

It definitely doesn’t hurt that Ror-Shak was able to call on some high-profile talent to come along for the ride. Julee Cruise, Lisa Shaw, Wendy Starland and others contribute vocals and, in many cases, to the music and lyrics themselves. Perhaps the most striking song of the whole set is “Fate Or Faith” featuring Julee Cruise; one doesn’t normally expect to hear an internal philosophical/theological dialogue set to music on any given day of the week, never mind set to a hypnotic beat. And the lyrics aside, it’s just great music. Not that any of the other songs are slouches – “Golden Cage”, “A Forest”, “Rescue Me” and “I Don’t Want (A Remake)” are standouts as well. There are a few instrumentals as too, with the moody “Heist” being an especially promising example.

3 out of 4Hopefully Ror-Shak can break out of the indie label orbit (not that there’s anything wrong with that – most of my “new artist” music purchases these days are on indie labels) and into the mainstream with this one, because it’s really, seriously good stuff. This is definitely an act to listen for down the road – to say nothing of giving them a listen here and now.

One minor note: the 11th track, “Window Pain” featuring Julee Cruise, is listed on the packaging but is nowhere to be found on the actual CD, not even as a hidden bonus track attached to the end of one of the other tracks on the album. I’m not sure if this misprint is on every copy in circulation or not.

Order this CD

  1. Lisa’s Song featuring Lisa Shaw (5:24)
  2. Fate Or Faith featuring Julee Cruise (6:55)
  3. A Forest featuring Chantal Claret (6:17)
  4. Golden Cage featuring Julee Cruise (6:11)
  5. Rescue Me featuring Wendy Starland (5:14)
  6. Interlude #1 (2:24)
  7. Be There (7:17)
  8. Love & Pride featuring Wendy Starland (5:26)
  9. Heist (3:20)
  10. I Don’t Want (A Remake) featuring Julee Cruise (4:38)
  11. Trust featuring Mark Holmes (2:48)

Released by: Koch Records
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 55:57