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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: November 2018

3WA 2018 #46: BT – Movement In Still Life

And now for an artist who serves as a good metaphor about fishes and the size of the ponds they inhabit.

What is it?

Movement In Still Life is the late 1999 album release by the electronica artist who goes by his initials, BT. For the purposes of this entry I should clarify I’m talking about the US version, which is radically different from the UK version both in song selection and in having the tracks clearly distinct from one another instead of cross-faded together.

How does it sound?

She says, the sampler mix is coming:

Why this pick?

Let’s be clear: I resisted this pick. I wanted one of the later records but by the time I was looking at the balance between decades in this year’s version of the project I realized I needed the 1990s option.

It’s not a bad record, by any means, but it’s the first “big hit” record and I tried to shy away from those for the most part.

Ah well. As introductions to BT’s work go, it’s certainly accessible and acceptable. I like a lot of this record, and if you’re unfamiliar with BT then Movement is a great jumping-on point.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Madskillz” and “Never Gonna Come Back Down” and “Smartbomb” are high energy pick-me-up go-get-it tracks, worthy of any given uptempo mood-improvement playlist you want to make.

“Dreaming” and “Running Down The Way Up” are marvelous examples of a type of electronica piece I’ve written about a couple of times during this project, the “dude with synthesizers hires a woman to sing some words on top of his tune.” This is literally 1990s euro-techno in its purest form.

And then there’s “Satellite,” which is just absolutely beautiful.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Shame” doesn’t quite gel; there’s the germ of a good idea in it, but the existing result isn’t worth it.

The album closes with “Love on Haight Street,” which is a bit more of a rap-focused piece than I tend to like. Your mileage may vary. (Also: The lyrics mention “Don Trump” at one point. Sigh.)

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

My original plan was to tackle the pair of These Hopeful Machines and These Humble Machines, which I think is an interesting exercise in contrasting the artsy and the commercial sides of BT’s output. I still don’t know which I’d end up actually recommending to the casual listener; I’m not sure that the “normalized” Humble works better than the artsy original Hopeful, and it’s been a few years now since their releases.

Some other time, perhaps.

I mention the contrasting aspects of BT’s releases sort of as a warning: If what you want is peppy dance music, you have to choose carefully from among the available BT records. If what you want is atmospheric experimental electronica, you have to choose carefully from among the available BT records. Someone who finishes Movement In Still Life and finds themselves in love with the upbeat energy of it, then runs out to pick up, say, This Binary Universe, is probably going to be confused and frustrated.

The Machines releases seem to try to either bridge that gap or deliberately muddy the waters, I’m not sure which.

Any final thoughts?

When I talk to a normal person who isn’t the type to wind up in random corners of the Internet scouring for odd musical acts to get into, and I mention BT, I get a blank look. When I talk to someone who’s heavily into electronica, and I mention BT, I get a sigh with a possible addition of eye-rolling.

If you’re into this stuff, well, BT is everywhere (or was, anyway). If you’re not, he’s a nobody. Fame is relative, yeah?

Part of BT’s relative fame comes from his use of what he calls a “stutter edit.” One could argue that Movement In Still Life is an album-length advertisement for the technique, and for the digital audio software plugin of the same name.

3WA 2018 #45: mind.in.a.box – Crossroads

And now for an artist who I found through a video game demo, lost track of, then found again by accident not realizing until a while later that the new project was run by the guy who did that video game music years ago.

There isn’t too much; I’ll sum up. But first:

What is it?

Crossroads is the 2007 release, the middle part of a series of concept albums, by the oddly-named mind.in.a.box which is the brainchild of Stefan Poiss.

How does it sound?

We don’t lose a sampler mix, we are always right behind:

Why this pick?

Because it includes “Stalkers.”

Every now and then, someone on Twitter or other social media outlet will link to a video or suggest a song. One particular semi-stranger, who had linked some good selections (they helped point me at VNV Nation) previously, pointed me at “Stalkers.” I listened. And I listened again. And then I listened again. And then I bought the record it’s on.

So, here we are. Years later, “Stalkers” is still my favorite mind.in.a.box track, by far.

Anyway.

The funny part of writing about this record is that it’s not only a concept album, it’s part of a series of five connected concept albums, joined lyrically in one grand tale. What am I, a man who has a difficult time parsing lyrical meaning, doing listening to this thing at all?

Well, it sounds good. I know I’m not getting everything out of this project that I could be, but what I’m getting is enough. I like it! What more do I need?

Which songs are the highlights?

Three of the first four tracks are quite strong: “Introspection,” the seven-minutes-plus of “Amnesia,” and “Identity.” My favorite thing here is, of course, “Stalkers.” At nearly eight minutes long, “What Used To Be” manages not to wear out its welcome. And to close out the record there’s “Run For Your Life.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Into The Night” starts moderately strong but wanders aimlessly for the middle part of its seven minute runtime.

While the vocal effects (Stefan sings all the parts, including the female characters, with a lot of distortion effects processing) are more or less effective overall, on “Fear” they’re more distracting than complementary.

“The Place” is trying for a style and an effect and it misses both, unfortunately.

There are a couple of short spoken tracks, “Lucid Dreams” 1 and 2, which I only mention because they contribute to the song count and are probably story beats of some kind but otherwise are skippable.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I have three of the other four “story” albums, and given the general arc of improvement over the course of the project I nearly went with Memories, the final installment. There’s a lot of good stuff on that record. Problem is, I would feel weird if I recommended starting at the end then working your way back up the storyline. It’s bad enough I’m suggesting that a new listener start in the middle. But… I don’t like as much of Lost Alone or Dreamweb as I do Crossroads. So there you have it.

Any final thoughts?

Let’s talk about the Parsec demo, shall we?

In the late 1990s, fancy 3D computer graphics weren’t yet all that fancy. But some folks decided that what the world needed was a space-fighter shoot-em-up game, and decided to build one themselves. (You can see the current state of it at the OpenParsec site. You can also see a snapshot of convincingly-1990s web design while you’re there.)

Oh, and the guys working on Parsec were also dabbling in music, and posted MP3 files of the bits of soundtrack they’d been working on. I downloaded and played the demo (yes, back in the 1990s, it took a while) and also the music, which I liked more than the game (such as it was).

The game never went anywhere, but as a launchpad for Stefan Poiss and mind.in.a.box and such? Hey, whatever works!

3WA 2018 #44: Rush – Presto

Sometimes, what an established band really needs is a change of scenery to shake up the creative flow a bit.

What is it?

Presto is the 1989 studio album release from Rush. It’s their first under the Atlantic label and with a different producer from their previous couple of records.

How does it sound?

Girls and boys together, play the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

Rush is another of those bands of whom I’m never going to be the biggest fan. My enjoyment of their stuff is definitely far more casual than it is devoted. Like Garbage’s Bleed Like Me last week, Presto is the first (and only) Rush album to fully click with me. Most of the albums before and since have all had a song or two (maybe three) that I like, but as a whole the albums have left me somewhat cold. This record, though, I enjoy all the way through.

Go figure.

Which songs are the highlights?

You get no points for guessing that I like a lot of the uptempo songs like “Show Don’t Tell,” “Red Tide,” “Superconductor,” and “Scars.” I enjoy the title track’s mellower vibe just as much, though. Same for “Hand Over Fist” and especially the closer, “Available Light.”

You do earn bonus points if you get the joke behind the title of “Anagram (For Mongo)” without Googling for it.

Which songs don’t work so well?

I don’t actively dislike anything on this record.

Having said that, “The Pass” and “War Paint” are… merely okay, I suppose.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I considered going with one of the post-millennium releases like Vapor Trails or Clockwork Angels, but other than a couple of big tunes I’d have struggled to find anything to say about either one of those. So instead, I could probably have made a good case for Roll The Bones, the follow-up to Presto which features a couple of my all-time favorite Rush tunes (the title track and “Ghost of a Chance”).

Any final thoughts?

The mix for Presto is brighter, almost shimmery in its use of the higher sound frequencies, compared to earlier records. This is appropriate given that the lyrical content seems mostly positive and upbeat. Insofar as I can parse it, anyway. Is this why I like Presto the best?

If you’re a Rush fan who, for some reason, hasn’t tried out Geddy Lee’s solo record My Favorite Headache, I can at least recommend giving it a listen. (It was a freebie from the radio days. Would I have paid full price for it? Maybe, maybe not.)

… Hey, can you believe we’re getting close to done with this year’s project? Wow. Time flies when you’re playing oodles of music.

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