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Music CD Premiers Symptomes by Air
Air - Premiers Symptomes
Artist
Air
Title
Premiers Symptomes
Label: Astralwerks
Genre: Electronica
Origin: France

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Air - Premiers Symptomes
Air's European-label five-song EP, Premiers Symptomes, may have been a collection of early singles, but when it first came out in 1997 it felt all of a piece. Deploying an array of vintage mid-century instruments (Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Clavinet), as well as a tuba, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel created a cloistered, lulling sound world that was entirely their own (although, think The Percy Faith Orchestra Covers Brian Eno's Music for Airports and you get the basic idea). By contrast, the recent rerelease of Premiers, with two bonus tracks, sounds like exactly what it is: a collection of early singles. It's not that newcomers "Californie" and "Brakes On" are unworthy, just that their overt funk shatters the tranquil atmosphere this French duo so painstakingly establish elsewhere. Most electronica fans are usually more than happy to bump 'n' grind, but when they're in the mood to play Premiers Symptomes, all they want--all they need--is the Air that they breathe.
 

Music CD Moon Safari by Air
Air - Moon Safari
Artist
Air
Title
Moon Safari
Label: Astralwerks
Genre: Electronica
Origin: France

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Air - Moon Safari
French duo Air's debut album is a superlatively happy collection of experimental disco-mood sound nestled between ambient soundscape and breathy pop. It's jazzy and melodic, and mostly laid-back, but not excessively so. There are a few shake-it, shake-it numbers, too, like the absurdly daft hit "Sexy Boy." It's snap your fingers and hang out (while reading) music or dance around sexy-slow with your mate music. It's also the perfect music to do your ironing or some other chore to; it's hypnotizing wallpaper music. It slips in and out of your consciousness, forcing you to move around with a relaxed smile before you even realize it. Oh, and contrary to sampler fashion, Nicolas Godin and Jean Benoit Dunckel played the instruments themselves. Bravo.
 

Music CD Breathing Under Water by Anoushka Shankar
Anoushka Shankar - Breathing Under Water
Artist
Anoushka Shankar
Title
Breathing Under Water
Label: Manhattan Records
Genre: Electronica
Origin: USA

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Anoushka Shankar - Breathing Under Water
Like her father before her, Anoushka Shankar is a musical eclectic experimenting with forms far beyond those of Indian classical music. Going even further than on her previous disc, Rise, Shankar, along with co-producer Karsh Kale, explores the meeting of electronica and India. "Burn" starts out as a romantic Bollywood theme before turning into a sultry soul tune with electronica beats, squiggly analog synths, and an impassioned vocal by Noah Lembersky. Shankar's sitar stutter glitches over a tabla-draped electronica rhythm on "Slither," courtesy of the Midival Punditz' Gaurav Raina. Guest singers appear on several tracks, including the ubiquitous Sting, who contributes his overly earnest voice to a power ballad called "Sea Dreamer." Shankar's sitar occasionally becomes a sidelight on her own album, leaping out for rock guitar-like breaks. She doesn't so much duet with Sting as accompany him. Her song for half-sister Norah Jones, on the other hand, integrates the singer's voice into a textural track of snaky sitar, as Jones mixes ethereal chorales and impassioned pleas. Much of Breathing Under Water recalls Bombay Dub Orchestra and their mixture of Bollywood strings, Indian musicians, and electronic grooves and textures. Both Kale and Shankar have writing credits on all but one composition, with their computer-concocted tracks often bridged by rhapsodic strings arranged by Bollywood composer Salim Merchant. His co-composition, "Little Glass Folk," brings an uncharacteristic Western classicism to the album, while the Anoushka and Ravi Shankar-composed work, "Oceanic," is the only piece aspiring to Indian classicism. Breathing Under Water is an ambitious album, although it has elements of pastiche, designed to expose Anoushka Shankar to a wider audience.

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Music CD Behind the Sun by Chicane
Chicane  - Behind the Sun
Artist
Chicane
Title
Behind the Sun
Label: Sony
Genre: Electronica
Origin: UK

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Chicane  - Behind the Sun
For some, outfits like producer Nick Bracegirdle's Chicane are not easy to swallow. Isolating the more jubilant properties of trance, the beat is a light bounce, levitating above club-dance brainlessness, sounding like a house music hybrid meant for sparkling sunshine instead of dark and sweaty warehouses. They exist in an idealized, pseudo-enlightened fairy tale filled with bright colors and youthful beauty. But that's not the problem. What rankles purists and picky fans is the audacity with which these "techno" artists go after the unconverted common folk, dragging electronic music out of its druggy, "in-crowd" pretensions. Bracegirdle and contemporaries like Olive, Sneaker Pimps, and BT (the last, most noticeably on his Movement in Still Life) are waging a turf war on the boundaries between techno and pop music, each using different tactics and borrowing from different sources. Chicane throws out an especially cutting salvo in the battle here, and it's a doozy. None other than Bryan Adams lends his raspy tenor to the subtle grooves and euphoric dreaminess of "Don't Give Up." It's one thing for Liam Gallagher to lend his pipes to a Chemical Brothers track, or for BT to tap Tori Amos for the ubiquitous club hit "Blue Skies," but Bryan Adams? Is this heresy? Or an ingenious use of vocal color that yields an incredibly hummable dance anthem? Maybe it's best not to analyze What It All Means. Just sit back and enjoy the summery grooves, trusting these ongoing musical inspirations to become whatever they need to be
 

Music CD Selwa  by Choying Drolma
Choying Drolma  - Selwa
Artist
Choying Drolma
Title
Selwa
Label: Six Degrees
Genre: Electronica
Origin: Tibet

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Choying Drolma  - Selwa
It's been seven years since Minnesota-born guitarist Steve Tibbetts and Chöying Drolma, a sweet-faced, crop-haired Tibetan nun, released their first collaboration, Chö. On this sophomore effort, the two have created another series of placid sonic journeys, wherein Drolma's nasal yet pristine alto-to-mezzo soars amid a restrained blend of guitar, electronica, drones, and overdubbed voices, augmented by Marc Anderson's hand-drums and occasional hints of whispery chimes touched by nothing human. Chöying Drolma is a proponent of Vajrayana Buddhism, in which obstacles to enlightenment are proactively cut free via intense forms of meditation that can take place in graveyards and other provocative locations. No passive convent recluse, she has founded a school for nuns and continues to reach out to the world via the beauty her voice, while remaining aloof from its frenzy. The album leaves a strangely energetic peacefulness in its wake; a profound relaxation that also encourages action toward betterment.
 

Music CD The Pink Opaque by Cocteau Twins
Cocteau Twins - The Pink Opaque
Artist
Cocteau Twins
Title
The Pink Opaque
Label: 4ad Records UK
Genre: Electronica
Origin: UK

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Cocteau Twins - The Pink Opaque
An early compilation of material culled from three albums and three EPs released between 1983 - 1985, showcases the early, musical brilliance of two young kids from Scotland (Robin Guthrie, Elizabeth Fraser) and a lad from England (Simon Raymonde). Collectively known as Cocteau Twins, the Twins became more well-known in the late eighties, early nineties, but their musical genius was laid during this time. This compilation showcases that brilliance. Whereas the Twins began to experiment with sequencers and more elaborate production in the mid-to-late eighties, the power of these songs is in the raw, emotional energy and sparse production. This was the period the Cocteau Twins laid the foundation for a sound that later became imitated and enormously influencial among musical artists. Standout tracks include, "From the Flagstones" (originally recorded for the "Sunburst and Snowblind" EP) which has a simple guitar, piano foundation, yet is such an elegant and romantic piece, "Aikea-Guinea (remixed from the the same titled EP from 1985 with slightly louder guitars) showcases how the Twins were able to evoke incredible feeling and emotion, and "Hitherto" which showcases the early guitar brilliance of Robin Guthrie.
 

Music CD Discovery by Daft Punk
Daft Punk - Discovery
Artist
Daft Punk
Title
Discovery
Label: Virgin US
Genre: Electronica
Origin: France

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Daft Punk - Discovery
The French twosome behind Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, get away with an awful lot. They go around impersonating aliens and robots in their interviews, they put records out only once every three years, and they make music that evokes a million other artists--while not really sounding like any of them. The keyboard noodlings of Jean-Michel Jarre are in there somewhere, along with the otherworldly imagery and giant hooks of '70s rock icons like Boston or even Electric Light Orchestra. There are dashes of 1999-era Prince and oodles of new wave and disco cheese, from Harold Faltermeyer and Gary Numan to the Bee Gees, all set off with efficient house beats. So how have they managed to position themselves as electronic music's next great crossover artists? On Discovery, the follow-up to the 1998 worldwide smash Homework, the answer is obvious: they have no shame, and they know how to make us dance. Starting off with the irresistibly hummable "One More Time," the record blows through a head-spinning array of styles and samples, creating a pop-culture stew of funky loops and dance-floor anthems. "Aerodynamic" eschews breakbeats for an Yngwie Malmsteen-ish guitar interlude that somehow ends up meshing in a crazy blend of stomping bass lines and hyped-up harmonics. "Digital Love" starts off silly and gets sillier, but the monosyllabic lyrics lull the senses just right, allowing the song's summery groove to grab hold with authority. "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" is a resounding standout amidst the retro/Vocoder deluge that transpired after Cher's Believe turned the kitchy disco device into a worldwide pop music trend, spinning a clever groove around an ever-escalating string of computerized seduction. Everywhere on the record, gigantic beats are dropped with pinpoint precision, giving songs a momentum that transforms repetitive melodies into sudden revelations. The record's only misstep, the aptly named "Short Circuit" utilizes a keyboard riff that is nails-on-a-chalkboard awful, but it can't keep this from being one of the best records of 2001.
 

Music CD A Night At The Playboy Mansion by Dimitri From Paris
Dimitri From Paris  - A Night At The Playboy Mansion
Artist
Dimitri From Paris
Title
A Night At The Playboy Mansion
Label: Atral Werks
Genre: Electronica
Origin: France

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Dimitri From Paris  - A Night At The Playboy Mansion
Bouncy and airy, this soulful epic from Dimitri from Paris usurps the bubbly core of disco and imbues it with a propulsive, addictive energy. A talented DJ as well as a sharp-eared and fearless translator of faux-sophisticate, Martin Denny-style exotica-jazz, Dimitri has a natural affinity to latch onto the kitsch, which has always given an appealing breeziness to his mixes. This disc ups the ante, both on that level and also in terms of plain old danceability. Most impressive of all, this disc manages to avoid sounding like a predictable rehash or, worse, yet another nod to mindless retro culture. Bringing the funk in unabashed fashion on such tracks as the Originals' "Down to Love Town" or falling through the gauzy melodies of La Pregunta's "Shangri-La," Dimitri displays an affinity for the genre that is both focused and informed. While he gives the songs proper breathing room, his sampling technique produces an intensely modern spin when necessary. Mixing up Stetasonic's "Talking All That Jazz," Dimitri twiddles and dips the EQ with ruthless energy, giving the song a breakbeat-like, sample-laden momentum. As any DJ ripped straight from Studio 54 would know, Dimitri's ancient vinyl carries a time-tested vibe that even the most modern of present-day ravers can and should recognize as a kindred spirit.
 

Music CD Eighteenth Street Lounge Soundtracks by Eighteenth Street Lounge
Eighteenth Street Lounge - Eighteenth Street Lounge Soundtracks
Artist
Eighteenth Street Lounge
Title
Eighteenth Street Lounge Soundtracks
Label: Eighteenth Street
Genre: Electronica
Origin: USA

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Eighteenth Street Lounge - Eighteenth Street Lounge Soundtracks
Falling loosely under the rubric of the '90s lounge/exotica craze--specifically the revival of interest in bossa nova, samba, and Brazilian-inflected jazz-funk styles--this CD culls a consistently interesting set of tracks from a widespread network of musicians and record labels. Although some of the artists actually hail from Brazil, others are spreading the good word from France, Italy, and even Norway. Portugal's Nortesul Records starts the collection with a delicately beautiful song from singer Teresa, and the perfect balance of solid groove and chanteuse vocals hits a peak with the Tom y Joyce track "Vai Minha Tristeza", one of several tracks from performers associated with France's Yellow Productions. Italy's Nicola Conte's "Bossa per Due" combines organ, guitar, and wordless singing with a little sitar and synthesizer, swooping into a breezy four minutes. Also from Italy, representing the Irma Records stable, the Cordara Orchestra presents the CD's title track, a gently melancholy instrumental that has early '70s sit-com written all over it--you can just see Jack Klugman or Mary Tyler Moore having a pensive walk in the park after some minor and not irreversible emotional defeat. Overall, the mix of rhythmic complexity, emotional cool, and a slightly kitschy sensibility will satisfy aficionados and may pleasantly surprise newcomers
 

Music CD Walking Wounded by Everything But the Girl
Everything But the Girl - Walking Wounded
Artist
Everything But the Girl
Title
Walking Wounded
Label: Atlantic/Wea
Genre: Electronica
Origin: UK

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Everything But the Girl - Walking Wounded
Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn of Everything but the Girl have done their share of style-hopping, from jazz pop to Britpop to orchestral pop to contemporary R&B to jazzy R&B. Their seventh album, 1996's Walking Wounded, finds the duo landing, good as new, onto the dance floor with a batch of songs based around techno-derived beats. The shift toward electronics may seem extreme for a group that courted adult audiences, but given the huge success of their 1994 beat-driven remix single "Missing" and their fruitful collaborations on Massive Attack's breakthrough trip-hop record Protection, the rewards of embracing club sounds had already been well proven. Everything but the Girl's music has always focused on Thorn's lush, soulful voice--a tribute to its versatility, it weathered well through all the group's stylistic incarnations. Walking Wounded, however, introduces a second focal point in the insanely attractive, intricately sculpted beats of the jungle offshoot drum & bass. On cuts like "Before Today," "Single," and the title track, the interaction of a beat's minutely detailed rhythms and a voice that rides smoothly over the top makes for an elegant symbiosis. And even with the help of progressive dance specialists like Howie B. and Spring Heel Jack, Everything but the Girl retains a maturity that shouldn't alienate old fans.
 

 

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