Archive for July, 2011


Jammin’ Inc – Mit Anlauf

Visit Jammin’ Inc. at their Homepage

In your ongoing quest to find a good modern reggae-ska-punk-rap-fusion musical act to enjoy, you and so many like you might foolishly waltz right past the Federal Republic of Germany, and in do yourself a grave disservice. You see, it turns out Germany has just what you’ve sought all this time.

Before proceeding further, if the energy and passion of my little monologue here seems to fail to reflect or empathize with the verve of Jammin’ Inc.’s music, then this could only be because I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to express myself when it comes to ska love. Its just never been a genre I’ve dabbled too heavily in. And I don’t filter my creative commons music. I simply download albums and let them play as background music. If one is so audacious as to intrude on my evening’s activities, then I’ll open one slow, lazy eye in its direction and, in a very low tone, double dare it to explain itself.

And Mit Anlauf didn’t just explain, it took control. These words don’t merely fail to capture the spirit or pacing of the album, but also my wild abandon the first five times I listened to it closely, upending bottles of whiskey into my mouth, screaming lyrics at passers-by from my window, hollering and throwing things in joy until my downstairs neighbors were calling, screaming, “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

The first track of a first release, Da Roots is an autobiographical piece, structuring lyrically and musically an explanation of who you’re listening to and why. This segues into We Fear No Evil, where some of the R&B influences creep in to create an almost Supreme Beings of Leisure trip-hop vocal track layered on top of a strong Latin beat. This combination creates a deliciously hot and chill contrast. Each track moves in this direction, taking sounds traditional caddy-corner to one another and seamlessly combining them into a marvelously coherent and already fairly popular album.
Indeed, Jammin’ Inc. is a compelling argument for what is possible with free music licensing. With over 30,000 live audience members since the release of Mit Anlauf, the artists prove that quality music can be distributed for free, relying on their fan base and talent to generate a worthwhile response, especially if they are willing to devote time and energy to high profile live performances. I am reminded in a sense of The Red Elvises, who I am fairly convinced have made far more from live performances than they ever did from record sales.

The band is made up of something like fourteen people, at least as of their last Myspace update. Nine instrumental musicians back up five singers representing five different vocal styles. To me, the sound of the album seems to draw its clearest influences from 2 tone ska, but these other genres play heavily into creating a sound that sports one of the rare instances of fusion art that I’d actually applaud. People looking for traditional reggae or ska to pad out their collection might find room to complain, what with the strange mixture of regimented beats and punk abandon, but anyone looking for some progressive ska to sharpen the edges of their libraries could, I think, do no better, even were they to wade miserably through the jungles of commercial sound. And all you genre monkeys out there who just love good music, here you go. You’re done. Go enjoy!

 

 Visit Fauna at their Homepage

There is a sound out there, a musical form which I crave. The nature of this compositional style is one of ominous tranquility, a pleasantly ambient music that nevertheless promotes a dark undertonetone, not unhappy or evil, but carrying a subtle subtext of danger and energy, like a thunderstorm. The element is part noir, part cyberpunk, enjoying a healthy combination of major and minor chords and a sweet and sour mix of calm yet stressed emotional cues. The Supreme Beings of Leisure have this sound, although in a lounge/trip hop kind of way. Portishead came so close, but never quite pinpointed the noise. There was a group, The Infinite Posse, one of my very favorites (although I seem to be about the only person on earth who ever listened to them,) that was this sound, through and through.

Then one fine day, I put on a Los Angeles City station, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at all. There it was! This lilting, coercive lushness, that sultry female vocalist. The band was called Fauna, and I was especially delighted to discover subsequently that one of their albums, Have U Ever Talked To Angels, was freely licensed under Creative Commons! It was two firsts, discovering a good Creative Commons artist through more maintstream avenues, and discovering one with a mix of releases both commercial and free (note, this second first has now become commonplace, but it was still novel at the time.)

The Fauna Project is staged from Kolomna, Russia. Its history is one of fickle collaboration and exploration, stretching out over a period of time closing slowly on two decades and what appears to have been a half dozen prior incarnations, but the music on their latest album reflects people who have had time to toy around with electronic sound for a few years.  The music reflects the experience. Though they claim to draw from many sources, the most recently listed influence of Future Sound of London seems to have had, to my ears, the most profound effect upon this album.

The music has a definite downtempo, triphop feel behind it, but remains seductive throughout. The melodies are classically electronic, repetitive but in an enjoyable, relaxing way, great for lounging or mixing. It suffers a bit of an indie feel, and by indie I mean like indie films, not the indie/alternative movement in music. A lot of the beats are severely constrained, turning otherwise organic atmosphere into almost a marching tune, but again I can’t help but feel that some of this music might have been designed specifically to be mixed, which would forgive, even promote this decision (Sasha wants some Fauna LPs.) Regardless of this element, the instrumentation and actual composition are both smooth as silk, and deserve appreciation.

For me, though, Fauna’s highlight has to be their vocals. In the past couple of months of pursuing free music, I have come to appreciate vocalists like never before. The number of times otherwise acceptable music has been suddenly and horribly turned on its head by the appearance of cruel, unrelenting vocals was starting to get downright depressing, frankly. It is a trend that Fauna has reversed with gusto. The lead female vocalist especially is a delight to encounter, and rather like Portishead,  Supreme Beings of Leisure and Infinite Posse, her talent takes what is already enjoyable music and really pushes it over the edge to exceptional.

Alas, ferreting out who is who on their bio page, which could use a copy editor like I could use a backup liver, proved too big a job for me, but if you want to take a swing at it, then by all means. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some relaxing downtempo sound, or something new and fun to mix or remix with, then definitely check out Have U Ever Talked To Angels.

Visit The Tunguska Electronic Music Society at their homepage

103 years ago today, June 30th, 1908 at about 7:14 in the am, in the Russian province of  Krasnoyarsk Krai, a tremendous explosion occurred. The blast, which scientists estimate would have registered at about 5.0 on the rictor scale obliterated everything around it. Trees in an area over 800 square miles in size were flattened, The shock wave broke windows hundreds of miles away.

In 2007 a collective of electronic artists gathered together to create music reflecting on and intended to draw attention to the Tunguska Phenomenon on the centenary of its occurrence, releasing the Society’s first release, Tunguska Chillout Grooves Vol. 1. From those roots the collective has grown considerably, and now sports over 100 members and 24 complete albums.

The modern Society describes themselves in their own words as, “a free creative group of free persons who compose free music for free people.” Their focus is the act of artistic creation for creation’s sake, and have an open invitation for new members to join, provided they share these ideals. The focus is, per the name, electronic music, although the society emphasises an interest in alternative exploration. Their albums are thematic, but the sheer number of various contributing artists can still lend something of a grab bag feel to many of them. Overall the quality of their music is very good, but the differences in method and attitudes regarding post-production sometimes stand out.

Tunguska Chillout Grooves Vol. 7 is the latest in the original series of work, a pleasant collection of chillout and ambient. Some of it wanders dangerously into the realm of “space” music, but it does so well, and politely, and given their original mission statement, this is perhaps not altogether unreasonable. A loose silk weave of sound, the music is less directly inspiring than almost subconsciously uplifting. It’s finest qualities almost seem to happen offstage, relaxing you from the background of your attentions. The music, even the stuff with a beat over 120 bpm comes off extremely downtempo. It generates a wind down feel, encouraging listenerrs to sit back, put their feet up, pour a glass of wine and just let go for awhile.

The general musical theme and genre hold, but as an album with over 20 different contributing artists, the collective concept cannot be overshadowed. Listening to the album is a lot like reading a magazine, or a collection of short stories. The common genre and genuine interest of the participants is obvious, but each story still sets its own pace and meter, and so too do the songs on the album. The effect is not jarring; the collaboration succeeds at the abstract level, and the participants work with a common vision, but listening closely you’ll notice the changes from one song to the next; true uniformity of purpose is never entirely achieved.

While I selected a particular album to review, one that I felt respresent an exceptional period in their work, one of the real selling points of the Tunguska Electronic Music Society is the sheer amount of work they generate. Albums literally flood out of them, and they never lack for enthusiasm or quality. If you find music on Chillout Grooves Vol. 7 then it’s time you began the reluctant perpetration for mass download. With six more Chillout sets to go before you even touch their Jungle or Drum and Base collections, the TEMS is one of the rare instances where sheer quantity becomes a selling point.

The TEMS, more than just making good and prolific music, is also another grand example of a concept whose core is in the Creative Commons message. Like other artists I’ve reviewed, there’s more to the TEMS than just a group of artists who decided to make some music. The collective, the concept, the scope of their work, all wouldn’t be possible in the form they’ve appeared without Creative Commons and the appreciation of free and fair use. Without it, over 100 fewer artists and 24 fewer albums of compelling electronica probably would never have a chance to grace your ears, for free or otherwise. The TEMS doesn’t merely represent more good music you can happen to download for free, it represents art that can only flourish in environments like those fostered by Creative Commons licensing.