Milk and Honey
This Vienna trio has a name that makes me think of sitting along a clean tiled bar, smelling lavender and periwinkle poppy to feel better. Aromatherapy is a viable treatment for what ails us. I’m not sure aroma bars exist, but they do put mild aromas in the oxygen at oxygen bars.
They may be slightly upbeat, but Aromabar’s album Milk and Honey would blend in rather well at an aroma bar. They’re equal parts laid back modern dance groove in the form of drum and bass and two step/U.K. garage, with a soulful downtempo beat.
Karin Steger’s vocals grace almost every song with crystal clear emotional delivery. At times her vocals and the dancier beats sound like Madonna, but less poppy. Aromabar does possess a pop aesthetic, though in the best way. Compositions have intros, hooks, verses and choruses.
The production is solid and clear. Live guitar, keyboard, piano and bass instrumentation mix with lush string samples and other digitally created elements. It’s some clean, soulful stuff, definitely richer and more musical than a lot of electronic music. However, if you can’t handle pop, sentimental songs about love or a borderline R&B vibe, you may not want to hang at Aromabar.
Milk and Honey’s 16 songs weigh in at over an hour. There are moments of repetition and some corny songs that could be skipped, but all in all it’s a smooth, sensual, enjoyable spin. Aaron Miles
There’s this company in L.A. called 5.1 Entertainment. They produce 5.1 DVD audio sound. This winter they decided they should release the “first electronic music album to utilize 5.1 DVD surround sound.” Awaken is an underground artist-filled compilation on one of their label’s imprints, Electomatix, that has some hits and misses. Fortunately they found the right people who could produce the right talent and this may help push some technology.
The idea is that DVD discs can hold much more data than a good old-fashioned compact disc. Albums can be recorded and played back via six independent audio channels, allowing for more complex and “surrounding” arrangements. When played on a home stereo, you can tell there is some serious stereo happening, but without six or more speakers you unfortunately can’t get the full effect. With the accompanying DVD on the big screen, the surround sound cranked and a good buzz, this would be quite an album to experience.
As it is, it’s pretty solid. Divine Styler with Styles of Beyond drops some future hip-hop. Apl brings a catchy trip-hop tune that rolls into double time drum and bass. OMID lays down a rolling dub groove under a distorted vocal loop about artistic vision (perhaps a nod to 5.1 DVD audio). Josh One offers an ambient melodic bass line driven down tempo cut with soulful female vocals and plenty of cool sounds and samples to fill those six channels. One of my favorite Ubiquity label artists, Nobody, provides a trip-hop song called “Slumbering Seahorse Serenade” that sounds like just that. I thought track 10 was Digable Planets, but it was just a smooth hip-hop cut from King Britt with Rob Life on vocals.
Awaken contains a few typical techno/borderline industrial cuts that I could do without. On the whole it’s a good mix of energy, sonics, instrumentals and vocals. It still seems like an ad for “the latest technology,” but whatever. If I wasn’t poor I might have a DVD 5.1 surround system to bump this on. A.M.
Scary World Theory
Nice, minimal electro-pop from this German outfit. Scary World Theory is what you should buy your sweetie for Valentine’s Day. It is a sexy record full of the warm analogue sound we love so much. Bubbly, danceable and contemplative, its soundscapes are just right for whatever you might be doing. A little fuzz here, a wave pattern there, maybe some clicks and even a solid dance beat, it all works for Lali Puna. And there’s something to be said for a female Portuguese-born German national singing en Anglais. Did I say sexy already? Gavin Adair
Original Instrument is a group that consists of the kids who run the Kracfive label, originally from Hollis, N.H., but now based in Pittsburgh. This is an amazing disc, built upon nothing but the recorded voice. Track eight, “Happy We Do” is reminiscent of minimalist Steve Reich’s early exploration with tape loops. This also reminds me of German experimental supergroup Stock, Hausen and Walkman in the way sounds dance around, come out of nowhere and are built upon one another to make a composition. Of course, Original Instrument is not improvised – it is well thought out, brilliantly executed and is a winner from start to finish. G.A.