Rob Dougan – Misc. Sessions

From 2016 through 2019, Rob Dougan – an artist who had been absent since making a splash in the early 2000s when instrumental versions of some his music were included in key scenes of The Matrix Reloaded – resurfaced in the crowdfunded music arena to see if there was support for him to make new music. With Dougan, whose signature style is to add his rough-and-ready, almost-spoken-word vocals to a string section and either a live drummer or a drum machine, this was going to take a bit of investment from his fans. (As someone who enjoyed Dougan’s previous solo effort, Furious Angels, I was one of those pitched in.) The result was a series of EPs, released as the songs were recorded two, three, or four at a time.

The Misc. Sessions was my runaway favorite of this series of EPs. It’s the one that bears the most resemblance to Furious Angels in its lyrics and music, and it forms a kind of short, bittersweet song cycle unto itself, chronicling either the end of a relationship or perhaps the simultaneous end of several relationships. “She’s Leaving” is pretty self-explanatory, a kind of musical travelogue of what’s left of a home once shared by two, name-checking the things that she deemed unimportant enough to leave behind as reminders.

But the next two songs, “Undone By London” and “Open Sore”, are the real heart of the song cycle, dealing with the aftermath of what was described in the previous song. These two songs flow together nearly seamlessly – one begins in the same key and the same chord with which the other ends – and Dougan’s vocal delivery in “Undone” borders on unhinged the further he gets into the song. “Open Sore” is a bit more calm and accepting of what’s happened, but still darkly bittersweet. “Miscellaneous” is a bit more light-hearted, catching up with where she winds up next, and then we revisit the unhinged anguish of “Undone By London”…by playing it backward as a kind of twisted coda.

If Dougan’s voice doesn’t do it for you – which I get, his tuneful-but-about-as-smooth-as-sandpaper delivery is an acquired taste – the entire song is then repeated in two forms: instrumental (everything except Dougan’s voice and any backing vocals) and “orchestra only” (eliminating not just vocals, but drums, piano and other more conventional “band” instruments). These repeated tracks boost the EP to LP length, while also offering those interested a chance to study Dougan’s orchestral writing and arranging more closely. (It’s here that you really get a feel for how seamlessly “Undone By London” segues into “Open Sore”.)

4 out of 4It’s a lovely package, though for me the appeal is…I really like the songs. They hit me at a time when I myself was recovering from being undone (though not in London), from walking into a home that was suddenly empty of other people, and this little abbreviated song cycle helped me work through some of that. There may have even been a few cathartic, bloodletting singalongs – you’d have to ask my cats.

Order this CD

  1. She’s Leaving (4:19)
  2. Undone By London (4:27)
  3. Open Sore (4:58)
  4. Miscellaneous (3:53)
  5. Undone By London (Reprise) (4:01)
  6. She’s Leaving (Instrumental) (4:03)
  7. Undone By London (Instrumental) (4:25)
  8. Open Sore (Instrumental) (4:59)
  9. Miscellaneous (Instrumental) (3:56)
  10. Undone by London (Orchestral only) (4:02)
  11. Open Sore (Orchestral only) (4:40)
  12. Miscellaneous (Orchestral only) (3:51)

Released by: Rob Dougan
Release date: October 23, 2016
Total running time: 51:34

Rob Dougan – The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions

The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time SessionsIf you’re a fan of the music from The Matrix trilogy, you’re probably a fan of Rob Dougan without realizing it: the first movie’s music for the woman in the red dress, The Matrix Reloaded‘s scenery-destroying all-out melee in a museum-like space – basically, where you heard almost James-Bond-cool strings overlaid with a trip-hop techno beat, that was Rob Dougan, an Australian DJ whose work had gained a cult following nearly a decade before The Matrix hit theaters.

But Dougan has always had more artsy ambitions: sampled strings aren’t good enough for him. That’s the theory behind this EP, which continues his neo-classical (no Matrix pun intended) fusion experiments. The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions see Dougan’s compositions played by a real orchestra: “Frescobaldi’s Toccata” is stately, “Vale (Ave Atque Vale)” and “A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico” are sedate, while the more driving “The Return” is presented both with and without a drum overlay. There are no lead vocals on any of the songs; this is a strictly instrumental (and occasionally choral) experience.

4 out of 4This is the first we’ve heard of Dougan since his knockout 2004 solo album Furious Angels, and hopefully it isn’t the last – indeed, he’s working on a full album even as his fans listen to The 22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time Sessions and ponder how much he’s been missed. This is classy, retro-cinematic cool at its finest.

Order this CD

    Frescobaldi’s Toccata (Orchestral Session) (4:38)
    Vale (Ave Atque Vale) (Orchestral Session) (4:46)
    The Return (Orchestral Session) (5:02)
    A Drawing-Down of Blinds-Valedico (Orchestral Session) (6:24)
    The Return (Orchestral Session) (Alternative Mix) (5:00)

Released by:
Release date: May 9, 2015
Total running time: 25:50

Tron Legacy: Reconfigured

Tron Legacy: ReconfiguredWith Daft Punk’s pedigree, at least a remix or two of the electronica duo’s music from Tron Legacy was inevitable. But trying to get remixes of that soundtrack to sustain over an entire album? That’s a trickier proposition.

I’m going to admit up front that I have a bias when it comes to remixing: either add something new and interesting or surprising to the original piece, or weave the original into something new and interesting that’s just as compelling… or stay home. It’s not enough for my ears for someone to just slap a beat on top of something. (As you can imagine, this means I can swing from loving it to hating it during the track change on any given remix collection.)

And it’s even pretty easy to figure out which tracks from the original soundtrack will be reworked: “Derezzed”, “End Of Line Club” and the already-heavily-percussive end credits were always going to be early favorites, simply because they’ve already got a beat. But it’s the remixers who go off that predictably beaten path who got my attention on this album.

Paul Oakenfold is no stranger to film scoring himself (Swordfish) and he’s certainly no stranger to electronica, and he turns the already mesmerizing track “CLU” into a mesmerizing track with a hypnotic beat and synths that aren’t constantly competing with what’s already present in the original track. I also applaud both remixes of the not-so-obvious “Son Of Flynn” – both Moby and Ki:Theory manage to bolt some interesting complementary sounds onto it. Kaskade’s reworked “Rinzler” is nice too, speeding up the pace considerably and adding layers that don’t feel out of place.

On the flipside, there are tracks that fall flat for me. “The Fall” is a challenging piece to tackle, since it has a rising tone that, in the movie, built the tension during a scene in a plummeting elevator. That almost-jet-engine-like sound would pose a challenge for any remixer, but the choices made for the M83 vs. Big Black Delta remix of “The Fall” are truly bizarre, taking an already-noisy track and going even further off the deep end.

And as obvious as “Derezzed” seems for the remix treatment, the Glitch Mob remix falls strangely flat; a later reworking by Avicii is better, but it goes off in a completely different direction until the song’s melody is completely transformed into something else.

2 out of 4Maybe a better, and more challenging, approach would’ve been to take the same tack as the track-for-track various artists tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours several years ago: recreate, track for track and in order, the entire original soundtrack in remix form, rather than winding up with two versions of “Derezzed”, two versions of “Son Of Flynn”, and so on. It’s just possible that such an approach wouldn’t have attracted the prodigious remixing talent that’s on display here, though. Tron Legacy: Reconfigured (or “R3C0NF1GUR3D” as the cover would have it) is half diamonds and half rough, and a bit disjointed – listen to it in little chunks, not all in one sitting.

Order this CD

  1. Derezzed (The Glitch Mob Remix) (4:22)
  2. Fall (M83 vs. Big Black Delta Remix) (3:54)
  3. The Grid (The Crystal Method Remix) (4:27)
  4. Adagio For Tron (Teddybears Remix) (5:34)
  5. The Son Of Flynn (Ki:Theory Remix) (4:51)
  6. C.L.U. (Paul Oakenfold Remix) (4:35)
  7. The Son Of Flynn (Moby Remix) (6:32)
  8. End Of Line (Boys Noize Remix) (5:40)
  9. Rinzler (Kaskade Remix) (6:52)
  10. ENCOM Part 2 (Com Truise Remix) (4:52)
  11. End Of Line (Photek Remix) (5:18)
  12. Arena (The Japanese Popstars Remix) (6:07)
  13. Derezzed (Avicii Remix) (5:03)
  14. Solar Sailer (Pretty Lights Remix) (4:32)
  15. Tron Legacy End Titles (Sander Kleinenberg Remix) (5:04)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 77:43

Tron Legacy (North American edition)

Tron LegacyOne of the things announced fairly early on about Tron Legacy was that its music would be composed by Daft Punk. Now, I like “Robot Rock” as much as the next guy, but was this French techno/DJ duo up to composing the score for an entire film from a franchise whose fan base was very much attached to the synth-orchestral sound of the original movie?

As it turns out, Daft Punk was more than up to the challenge, and more than a few moviegoers are likely to snap up the soundtrack while quietly asking themselves “Who did the music to the original Tron? Carlos somebody?” Just as Wendy Carlos‘ expansive, at times almost abstract electronic music was a perfect fit for the original Tron, Daft Punk nails the sound that accompanies the new movie. It’s a giddy mix of synth and orchestral textures, with only a couple of tracks that hint at Daft Punk’s more typical sound. It’s a much more foreboding sound than Carlos’ music, which did a great job of establishing Tron‘s computer world as a wondrous, almost magical setting. The new movie’s setting is darker and more dangerous, and Daft Punk’s music is a perfect fit for that.

But you don’t just hear Daft Punk on the soundtrack – there’s also an orchestra of over 100 players here, and the CD credits make a note of an orchestration assist by veteran Hollywood composer Bruce Broughton – normally a name you see headlining his own soundtracks. There are also “special thanks” for advice on the art of film scoring listing names like Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer (again, not exactly B-list names). Daft Punk chased after this assignment, admitting along the way to being fans of classic Tron, and they obviously also sought some help from some of the most prolific film composers in the business.

The result is a soundtrack with plenty of motifs for specific characters and situations, and an album that, while it isn’t necessarily in the chronological order of scenes in the movie, makes for a very satisfying listen. Helping things considerably is that the movie’s rookie director (at least as far as directing for the big screen goes) trusted his rookie composers enough to dial the film’s atmospheric sound mix back and let the music carry key moments. One of the best musical moments in the score – a piece that’s been getting rapt attention as far back as the movie’s trailers – is “The Game Has Changed”, but its quiet, moody intro lands on an unusually quiet moment at the beginning of the showy (and otherwise noisy) light cycle competition. It’s a surprising combination of scene and music, and it’s incredibly effective.

The closest Daft Punk gets to sounding like Wendy Carlos may be the mostly-electronic “Son Of Flynn”, which somewhat surprisingly accompanies scenes that take place in the “real” world rather than the electronic realm. Other highlights include “Nocturne” (a much more sedate take on the same basic melody as “Son Of Flynn”), the techno anthem “Derezzed”, “Rinzler” and another moment where the music dominates the movie’s sound mix, “Adagio For Tron”. Those pieces that are mostly orchestral are surprisingly good – not a bad film scoring debut for a couple of guys whose primary output is electronic dance music.

There is one big bone to pick, but it isn’t with Daft Punk. Listeners in the UK and Europe got a two-disc version of the Tron Legacy soundtrack with several extra tracks, and even more extra tracks were spread out among online music stores ranging from iTunes and to Wal-Mart and Nokia (!). The scavenger hunt approach might have been neat for the “Flynn Lives” alternate reality game that helped to build buzz leading up to the movie’s release, but don’t make it such a chore for us to get a complete soundtrack for the movie. The additional tracks will be covered in another review.

As a single-CD experience, however, the Tron Legacy soundtrack delivers most of the movie’s key scenes in musical form. I really don’t know if this score hails the beginning of a whole new career for Daft Punk, or just a brilliant way to get a new audience interested in their back catalogue and future works, but I would bet money on one thing: 4 out of 4Tron Legacy‘s soundtrack will become a frequent flyer in movie trailers for the next decade. Its dark ambience and rhythmic sense make for some pretty catchy music, either with or away from the movie for which the music was originally constructed. And that, naturally, makes it a pretty good soundtrack listen too.

Order this CD

  1. Overture (2:28)
  2. The Grid (1:36)
  3. The Son of Flynn (1:35)
  4. Recognizer (2:37)
  5. Armory (2:03)
  6. Arena (1:33)
  7. Rinzler (2:17)
  8. The Game Has Changed (3:25)
  9. Outlands (2:42)
  10. Adagio for TRON (4:11)
  11. Nocturne (1:41)
  12. End of Line (2:36)
  13. Derezzed (1:44)
  14. Fall (1:22)
  15. Solar Sailer (2:42)
  16. Rectifier (2:14)
  17. Disc Wars (4:11)
  18. C.L.U. (4:39)
  19. Arrival (2:00)
  20. Flynn Lives (3:22)
  21. TRON Legacy (End Titles) (3:17)
  22. Finale (4:22)

Released by: Disney Music
Release date: 2010
Total running time:

Devo – Something For Everybody

Devo is back, sounding remarkably like they did back in the day (give or take a few advances in technology that showed up in recording studios in the intervening years), and this is one of the most welcome reunions I can think of in recent years. Because the secret to Devo wasn’t just their eccentric synth-heavy sound – it was that they applied that sound to some of the catchiest songs to come out of the ’70s and ’80s.

Something For Everyone brings the original lineup back together, and most of the material here, while brand new, sits comfortably alongside their classic output. One song toward the end of the album, “No Place Like Home”, is about the only song that shows any signs that anyone had even the slightest inclination to modernize the signature Devo sound. Everything else is instant classic Devo.

Highlights include “Mind Games” (which explores another vintage ’80s sound with some quasi-chiptune elements), “Sumthing” (which tackles some clearly modern topics with its lyrics), and a new Devo anthem, “Later Is Now”. These songs – well, just about all of the songs on Something For Everyone – are as catchy as Devo’s ’80s favorites, without being slavish imitations of the material that the group has already done. It’s just about what they used to call “an album full of singles”. If there’s a low point, it’s the goofy spy spoof tune “Cameo”… and even then, it’s not that bad, just not up to the standard of the rest of the material.

If you’ve ever listened to a band get back together and then wondered “What happened to the sound I loved?”, Something For 4 out of 4
is proof that not every reunion is doomed to play out like that. Fortunately for Devo fans of old (or anyone who likes a catchy tune, for that matter), the New Traditionalists are back on the case. Given that it sometimes seems like the band’s old mantra of “devolution” seems to have come to pass in many parts of society, one wonders how we ever got by without them.

Order this CD

  1. Fresh (2:59)
  2. What We Do (3:17)
  3. Please Baby Please (2:41)
  4. Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man) (3:26)
  5. Mind Games (2:30)
  6. Human Rocket (3:22)
  7. Sumthin’ (2:46)
  8. Step Up (3:00)
  9. Cameo (2:49)
  10. Later Is Now (3:52)
  11. No Place Like Home (3:18)
  12. March On (3:50)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 37:50

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Digital Retro Revolution – Save The Humanoids

Digital Retro Revolution - Save The HumanoidsBringing back the remixing mastery of Tony Fox NYC, Digital Retro Revolution picks up where Fox’s I Am Humanoid left off – slammin’ beats, video game samples galore, and frequently-hilarious out-of-left-field samples from other sources punctuating the proceedings.

Save The Humanoids goes further afield than the arcade for its source sounds, however, and hits a whole new level of musicality. “Final Fantasy Laguna Battle Remix” is a great example – it’s a simple enough tune from a classic game, but with added layers of rhythms and other elements, it only enhances the original. Similar treatments built around the simple tunes from games such as Galaga, Crazy Climber and Tron are just as effective. Also included are remixed versions of Buckner & Garcia’s 1982 singles “Pac-Man Fever” and “Do The Donkey Kong”. Man, the fun that could’ve been had with “Froggy’s Lament”…

“Adagio For Humanoids” takes things in the opposite direction, taking non-musical sounds and trying to make rating: 4 out of 4them musical, building Barber’s “Adagio For Strings” out of game samples. And once again, there’s a dandy hidden track straight out of the brassy, Sound of Philadelphia 70s to close things out.

How much you get out of Save The Humanoids will depend a lot on how much you enjoy hearing these samples, but for those who remember these games by heart, this is your soundtrack.

Order this CD

  1. It’s Wacked Man (Ms. Pac-Man Remix) (3:02)
  2. BLIP-NOT-TICK (3:12)
  3. Adagio For Humanoids (5:01)
  4. CentiMillipede (1:38)
  5. Save The Humanoids (2:35)
  6. Go For It! Crazy Climber Remix (1:45)
  7. Triple Punch Bop (2:15)
  8. Humanoids & Asteroids (The Buck Out Edit) (3:39)
  9. GaLaGaLaXiaN (1:32)
  10. Carnival 2005 (2:18)
  11. Zelda Vs. The Humanoids (4:05)
  12. Humanoid Master (Underground Edit) (2:01)
  13. Stop, Judge (Karate Champ Remix) (2:30)
  14. Tetris On The Runway (2:47)
  15. The Lair Of Tron (2:04)
  16. Pac-Man Fever Remix (4:56)
  17. Do The Donkey Kong Remix (3:35)
  18. Robotron: 2005 (3:00)
  19. Star Humanoid (2:56)
  20. Final Fantasy Laguna Battle Remix (4:48)
  21. Hey Porcupine! (Sonic Remix) (1:55)
  22. Ghouls, Ghosts & Goblins (2:01)
  23. Knock Him Out! (Hardcore Humanoid Edit) (1:37)
  24. Humanoids Reprise (3:04)
  25. ? Hidden Track (3:35)

Released by: Digital Press Records
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 72:01

Depeche Mode – Playing The Angel

Depeche Mode - Playing The AngelOne doesn’t listen to music by Depeche Mode to get happy.

That said, there’s something about Playing The Angel that almost makes me break out in a grin. Depeche Mode is back and in fine form on this album marking the band’s 25th anniversary. Unusually, there’s a mix of songs written by Martin Gore (who’s been the dominant songwriter for much of the band’s career) and lead singer David Gahan, but Gahan’s tunes aren’t filler material begrudgingly added to boost the songwriter’s ego. At least one of them, “Suffer Well”, is as good as many of the songs that most longtime fans now consider to be classics. To be fair, though, Gore turns out some of his best songs since Violator here, with the rollicking “John The Revelator”, “Precious” and the slow-boiling “Sinner In Me” standing out from the crowd. (It’s worth nothing, however, that “Macro” is quite possibly the weakest song Martin Gore has ever unleashed on a Depeche Mode album, combining an uninspired melody with jaw-droppingly trite lyrics – I wouldn’t make such a stink about one song normally, but it’s just so shocking since I’m used to his work being both more musical and more eloquent than this.)

rating: 3 out of 4The whole thing thunders along with a combination of modern rhythms and very analog synthesizers, and more assured vocals from David Gahan than I’ve heard in ages. The decision to lean so heavily on analog synths prevents a lot of the sound from being obviously dated, though there are enough modern elements that no one will be mistaking this album for Some Great Reward anytime soon. The distorted, crunchy guitar work is front and center on several songs – in fact, “Sinner In Me” doesn’t really properly kick in until the guitar appears. All in all, it adds up to a very satisfying listen and a fitting celebration of a quarter-century on the musical map for Depeche Mode.

Order this CD

  1. A Pain That I’m Used To (3:57)
  2. John The Revelator (3:41)
  3. Suffer Well (3:49)
  4. The Sinner In Me (4:55)
  5. Precious (4:10)
  6. Macro (4:02)
  7. I Want It All (6:09)
  8. Nothing’s Impossible (4:21)
  9. Introspectre (1:42)
  10. Damaged People (3:27)
  11. Lilian (4:44)
  12. The Darkest Star (6:38)

Released by: Mute
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 51:35