Adam Young – Voyager 1

Voyager 1Throughout 2016, Owl City’s Adam Young embarked on a project to compose, record, and release a film-score-style album every month of the year, based on ideas and events that had inspired him. That’s quite an audacious plan, given that an actual film score could easily take a month just to write and arrange, let alone a finished product in the can. Young’s musical background lent itself to a rock/pop idiom for some of these album releases, but he didn’t limit himself to that sound. Other topics included Joe Kittinger’s dive from the edge of space (long before Felix Baumgartner did it), the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the sinking of the Titanic, Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, and more. Oh, and each album was released for free download.

The opening volley is titled “1977”, but it doesn’t sound that much like 1977 at all – it’s very much modern, and seems to be establishing an electronic, almost chiptune-esque theme for Voyager 1, as well a theme that is then picked up in turn by guitar and synths. “Earth” begins more sedately with a synth-orchestral pad of wonderment, occasionally overlaying that with an almost Art of Noise-style beat and samples of the Golden Record’s “hello from the children of planet Earth” phrase. “Asteroid Belt” is a gentle drift through the solar system’s undeveloped real estate, while “Jupiter” returns to a steady beat and an electric violin statement of Voyager’s theme. “Europa” maintains a staccato rhythm and is slightly more ethereal, leading into a slightly mysterious opening for “Saturn”, which quickly establishes its own beat and a somewhat mellowed-out version of Voyager’s theme. “Titan” is heavy on piano, and still has a beat underlying everything.

Following this is “Neptune”, an oddity in that it wasn’t visited by Voyager 1, but rather Voyager 2. It’s given a strange, fuzz-pedaled musical treatment, befitting a strange icy planet. “Pale Blue Dot” returns to the electronic sounds of “1977”, still with a steady beat, a sound which continues – in a more echoplexed, “distant” way – in the final track, “Interstellar Space”. This track also picks up the Voyager theme established at the beginning of the album, and again is slathered with a heavy beat at times.

2 out of 4It’s an ambitious thing trying to provide musical accompaniment for such a far-reaching historical event as the Voyager missions. It’d be ambitious for any composer to do, even Hollywood veterans. If there’s a failing with Young’s Voyager 1 album, it’s his tendency to fall back on a programmed beat so often. There’s something a little less than majestic about trip-hop beats over ethereal synth passages. At times I like that sort of thing; here, it’s done too much, and becomes the underpinning of everything rather than a sparingly used flavor. It’s nice enough music, but doesn’t really connect me to the subject matter.

Order this CD

  1. 1977 (4:46)
  2. Earth (4:40)
  3. Asteroid Belt (2:49)
  4. Jupiter (3:58)
  5. Europa (4:18)
  6. Saturn (4:55)
  7. Titan (4:04)
  8. Neptune (2:16)
  9. Pale Blue Dot (3:39)
  10. Interstellar Space (4:20)

Released by: ayoungscores.com
Release date: October 1, 2016
Total running time:

Yoko Kanno – Be Human

Yoko Kanno - Be HumanIs there anything that songstress Yoko Kanno can’t do? Starting out as a video game composer in her 20+ year career, she quickly moved on to other avenues such as anime series and films. Her ability to combine styles and influences such as jazz, classical, electronic, and rock music give her a unique and delightful sound.

Be Human, which serves as the 4th (!!!) soundtrack album for the anime series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, contains more of Kanno’s signature sound. This album, however, focuses on the robots of the series, called Tachikomas, and carries this underlying theme throughout the whole album. For example, the leadoff song, the titular “Be Human”, is a dreamy pop song complete with mechanical whirring and beeping. “Trip City” shows off Kanno’s rocker side, with lyrics from longtime Kanno collaborator Tim Jensen. “Cream” combines a drum-and-bass rhythm with violin strings, while Japanese hip hop lyrics are sung over that. “What Can I Say?” instantly brings to mind the slow, moving songs from the old musicals of yore. But those are the good parts.

The rest of the album, quite frankly, feels like it consists of filler. Although the music itself is very good (and it’s hard not to like an album that jumps from the techno of “Patch Me” to the whimsical “Tachikoma No Iede (Runaway Tachikoma)”, which includes a flute solo), it often feels incomplete; like fragments or snippets of actual songs instead of a full soundtrack. And that’s what Be Human ultimately is, a collection of B-sides punctuated by an actual song or two.

2 out of 4Be Human, then, should be recommended to fans of the show or fans of Yoko Kanno (who, in all honesty, are probably to be the one and the same). Otherwise, people who are just starting to listen to Yoko Kanno’s works should probably get a Seatbelts album to find out why Kanno’s music is much lauded in the anime world.

Order this CD

  1. Be Human (4:05)
  2. Trip City (3:55)
  3. Patch Me (1:33)
  4. Tachikoma No Iede (Runaway Tachikoma)
  5. (1:55)

  6. Osanpo Tachikoma (Tachikoma Out For A Walk)
  7. (2:03)

  8. Bang Bang Banquet (2:00)
  9. Fax Me (1:26)
  10. Rocky Wa Doko? (Where’s Rocky?)
  11. (4:25)

  12. Spotter (5:56)
  13. Let’s Oil (0:45)
  14. Cream (3:54)
  15. Spider Bites (0:44)
  16. Good By My Master (2:09)
  17. Piece By Ten (2:50)
  18. What Can I Say? (1:11)
  19. Hi! (0:05)
  20. I’m Not Straight (1:23)
  21. AI Sentai Tachikomans (AI Combat Team Tachikomans)
  22. (1:05)

  23. Pro Bowler Tachikoma (Professional Bowler Tachikoma)
  24. (0:38)

  25. Don’t Sponge Me (0:36)
  26. Po’d Pod (1:02)
  27. Ciao! (0:07)

Released by: Bandai Entertainment
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 43:47

Yum Yum Children – Used To Would’ve

Yum Yum Children - Used To Would've Usually when you think of the genres “psychedelic” and “Christian”, it’s not in the same sentence. However, that’s exactly what the band Yum Yum Children was trying to accomplish. Recorded in 1996, this album sounds like a slab of lost 70’s rock just recently getting unearthed for the first time.

The album starts off with the light rocker “Leave It Alone”, which brings to mind the earlier bubblegum records of yore, albeit with more guitars and electric organs. From there, however, things get stranger. “End Of My Needs” lumbers along with a single guitar lead, a hi-hat, and lead singer R. Leon Goodenough’s vocals quietly hanging above the music. Halfway through, the song picks up, adding more guitars and percussion while changing the tempo, and then comes around full circle to start the second verse. “Refrigerator” is similar in execution, but resembles a slow jam. The amplifier buzz in the background again brings to mind a lo-fi 70’s vibe.

“Burnin’ Thing” starts out as a soft piano…err, organ ballad, but quickly turns into a mess of noise, complete with screeching guitars and vocals. But even so, the oddest track by far is the closing number “Life Without Jesus”, in which the female vocalist of the band, Jennifer Goodenough, recites a spoken word poem while guitars and a Farfisa organ swirl around. The band slowly picks up the tempo and the volume until it sounds like the band is ready to lose it while wordless vocalizing is heard in the background. The track ends with a bang, and the organs fade away.

4 out of 4It’s a shame that the Yum Yum Children were so mired in obscurity. This and their previous two albums (Dufisized and Tastythanks) were released with little or no fanfare from their record label, and they soon faded away afterwards. The good news is that if you happen to stumble upon this disc, it can usually be had for cheap. But for a group that was able to meld two different trains of thought to create something original (especially within the hard-nosed Christian community), they deserved much better.

Order this CD

  1. Leave It Alone (3:05)
  2. Irrigate (3:07)
  3. The Too Big Dying Part (3:11)
  4. End Of My Needs (5:12)
  5. Refrigerator (4:23)
  6. Naked (3:23)
  7. Kind And Loving Man (2:11)
  8. Daze Of Un-Understanding (3:22)
  9. Burnin’ Thing (3:09)
  10. Be Like You (2:05)
  11. Life Without Jesus (4:14)

Released by: Five Minute Walk
Release date: 1996
Total running time: 37:44