Mixtape.
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Collection 2: Moving is, as the title suggests, the second compilation from the Dutch label Databloem. This label has been making a terrific name for itself, releasing high-quality electronica albums from a number of new and exciting artists. Moving is billed as “a collection of ambient explorations and grooves”–and it’s a very satisfying collection; seemingly a denizen of an alternate universe where techno artists chose to discard their club roots in favor of the ambient sound. Don’t expect banging tracks of stunning beatwork–this is a fine selection of laid-back, downtempo head-bobbers. Bring on the bullets:

– We begin with Mantacoup whose recent Equinox was released on Databloem’s DataObscura CDR sublabel. That particular disc was a bit thin-sounding to these ears, with a distinctly glitchy element that did not quite gel over album length. “Sap” suffers from a similar deficiency, being rather short on dynamic range–the track chooses instead to plink along without ever really going anywhere. The eventual glitchy drum programming does little more than propel the basic track elements along. Though “Sap” is pleasant enough, I feel that there just isn’t enough “meat” to the sound to make it anything more than a slightly over-long diversion.

– Next is Carbon Boy’s “Nano,” a track that marries dubby bass with treated piano notes. The notes sound like huge raindrops over a cityscape, all urban sounds made clean and pure with a tantalizing blend of post-techno and ambient. It’s a seamless mixture, with seemingly disparate elements converging perfectly and providing a great example of “ambient groove.”

– The Circular Ruins (whose Realm of Possibility is a favorite of mine, and whose Conjunction was reviewed in these “pages”) contributes “Empathy Test” which is less busy than most TCR work. This cut resembles Pete Namlook’s work a bit more readily than previous TCR tracks, but is not the lesser because of it. Kerby’s use of vocal samples is most impressive, giving the impression that something extremely important is being said–but the actual words are never revealed, as if one is inhabiting a dream. Once again, Kerby’s synthwork is top notch, highly layered, and symphonic. Fine work.

– Spielerei (Databloem owner Dennis Knopper) pleases the krautrock fan in me by providing “Displaying Movements” which sounds like nothing less than an updated Ashra circa New Age of Earth. The slick sequences, synth washes, and dreamy atmosphere recall the very best of G├Âttsching’s mid-seventies material, but with a modern approach. This track’s a winner, and for me one of the highlights of the compilation.

– Ambient Review favorite Saul Stokes is next, weighing in with “Sopra.” This could be an outtake from Fields, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a lesser track. Sopra is an alien jazz chanteuse whose voice is somehow familiar, though completely exotic. She’s oddly beautiful for an offworlder, and what a voice! Who knows what she’s singing about, in that strange alien language of hers? Likely a song of loss, a song of leaving worlds far more beautiful than ours behind. What’s she doing in this dive, anyway? Terrific, memorable, and entirely flawless work by Stokes.

– Todd Fletcher contributes a track under his Psychetropic guise (see my review of Heat) called “China Radio Sunshine.” Once again Fletcher’s strength in creating cool-sounding-synths is evident–slick, propulsive, entrancing. Fletcher’s one of the under-appreciated artists in new ambient/electronic music, and this track is a cracker–soundscapes and grooves all at once.

– ENV(itre)’s “Qulina” is weighed down by its influences to some degree, sounding like much on the Skam or Rephlex labels. While that’s not at all a bad thing, the track never rises above “IDM by numbers,” resembling closely tracks by Jega and other similar artists. Not the worst pattern to follow, but a constraining pattern nonetheless.

– Makunouchi Bento is no raw fish, but a Romanian(!) duo whose “Mipoetri” (my poetry?) is permeated by a stunning jazz drummer’s strut. Superb electronic atmospheres are combined with trip-hop beats, with tasteful use of cymbals. When organ-like synth kicks in, you have an urban (by way of Europe, of course) form of “cafe music.” Pretty poetry that would not be out of place on a Pop Ambient compilation.

– Next, Subradial brings us to a rainy day on the “Misty Hills.” I’d swear Subradial sampled a ping-pong game for his percussive loop, and it sounds great. Once the ambient synthlines begin droning in the background, you know you are in good hands. This is a perfect example of layered electronic music where a number of different things are happening at the same time, yet gel perfectly together in a slick sonic orchestra. My mind reeled as I tried to take in all the elements–it’s almost easier to let the track simply wash over. Great stuff.

– Vir Unis is showing an increased attention to the glitch in his newer work, as “Bead Game” proves. The synth ambience he was originally acclaimed for is still present, but it’s taken something of a backseat to more symphonic, bleepy atmospheres. This particular track seems indebted to both the recent Mercury and Plastic and his classic ambient CD The Drift Inside. This is not the strongest track I’ve heard from Vir Unis, but it does signify an interesting direction for future work. I get the impression that this is work on the way to a stylistic “somewhere else,” but it hasn’t quite gotten to where it’s going yet.

– Finally, Cyscape’s Elumina makes the term “techno-tribal” seem appropriate. When the e-percussion kicks in and gradually mixes with some excellent synth atmosphere, there is the feeling that we have stumbled into some strange ritual where machine beings have adopted shamans rather than repair technicians. Bizarre. The atmospheres remind me of Tetsu Inoue’s work with Pete Namlook (particularly on 62 Eulengasse), making a very satisfying, though somehow anti-climactic, finish to the collection.

For me, the strong tracks far, far outweigh the weak on Moving. Downtempo ambient tracks are a nice counterbalance to the constant drift and drone of traditional ambient music. Those seeking a more active range of ambient music (often mixed with IDM) will be more than pleased with the impressive breadth of material here. While I wasn’t completely floored by any of the tracks, the collection as a whole is quite satisfying and listenable. This is a “genre” of music that seems to be gaining more prominence within the traditional ambient community, and I think the addition of outside styles has been completely healthy to the form. Databloem is proving to be a label to watch.