Virgin Ambient 1994. AMBT4
This is another installment of Virgin’s groundbreaking Ambient series. This one was so influential that it spawned a whole new genre, or at least gave it a name. Like the previous albums I’ve posted from this series, it was compiled by Kevin Martin and, as far as I can tell, features all exclusive tracks. Isolationism is ambient music, but with a dark, threatening edge, and this album contains all the most important musicians in that area. Like most of the albums in this series, it’s carefully compiled to function as a coherent whole, while the quality of individual tracks is high. These aren’t discarded tit bits left from other projects, even from the big names; Aphex Twin’s contribution is as good as anything he’s done.
Virgin Ambient 1995. AMBT 8
I seem to be having a weekend dominated by Kevin Martin, but I suppose there are worse things. This is Martin as musician (alongside Justin Broadrick of Napalm Death and Godflesh fame) rather than curator; here we have his second album under the moniker Techno Animal, another release in the Virgin Ambient series.
At the time, this was a ground breaking album, so much so that it stands up pretty well 18 years down the line. It’s dark, sinister and slow with a distinctly industrial feel; it reminds me very much of Burial’s material over the last couple of years (I’ll be posting some Burial vinyl here at some point), which is perhaps not surprising as Martin currently records as King Midas Sound for the same label: Hyperdub. It also has elements of hip-hop, and is even sometimes psychedelic. This all sounds like a horrible mish-mash, but it works together superbly and is for me one of the best electronic albums of the 1990s. Just don’t listen to it alone, late at night.
More music? Well I’ve never heard Kevin Martin put a foot wrong so anything you find would be worth getting. In terms of what I have that’s still available, Waiting For You by King Midas Sound is fantastic.
Virgin Ambient 1996. AMBT14
The second and final volume in the Macro Dub Infection series, again compiled by Kevin Martin.
For the general idea behind this compilation, have a look at Volume 1.
This is slightly less successful than volume 1, but still has enough great material to make it essential listening, that is, if you’re into this kind of thing. For me the most bizarre track is the last, which brings together “Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Ice (yet another Kevin Martin alias) to make an incredible futuristic dub version of a Will Oldham classic. Other stand-outs are the ever reliable Mouse on Mars, Rhys Chatham and, unsurpsingly, Martin’s own Techno Animal.
Virgin Ambient 1995. AMBT 7
This is another installment of Virgin’s excellent Ambient series from the 1990s. Like Jazz Satellites, this was compiled by Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, Techno Animal amongst others. Martin is always worth listening to; always innovative, always interesting.
There’s not much on this album you’d call dub in a traditional sense. What it’s about is artists using dub ideas in other genres, in other words, the legacy of dub rather than dub itself. A project like this is of course spoilt for choice given the overwhelming influence dub has had in experimental music, so the success of this compilation lies in Martin’s skill as a curator. It spans electronica, hip-hop, jungle and even jazz, but what it all has in common is a spacey feel, thundering bass lines, and elements of the tracks, especially vocals swinging in and out of the mix.
Standouts are Tortoise, Bedouin Ascent, Coil and Spring Heel Jack, but what makes this a great compilation is how it hangs together.
It’s a double CD ripped as though it was a very long single because it plays better that way.
Virgin Ambient 1996. AMBT12
I’ve loved compilations since the dim and distant days when I would spend hours making compilation cassettes for friends, probably aimed more at showing them how great my taste in music was than anything else – maybe that’s also why I do this blog. Anyway, it was never enough to put great music on a compilation. You had to think about a theme and how each track related to the next one so that it hung together as a coherent whole. This album is part of a short but truly excellent series put out by Virgin in the 1990s, some of which are the best compilations I’ve ever heard, and of that series, this is one of the best.
To me the album explores what electric era Miles Davies led to, both in terms of what most jazz fans would recognise as jazz, but also from other genres which show an obvious debt to Miles, and music which predated his electrification. You don’t need to look at the tracklisting to guess that there are people like Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock and Alice Coltrane featured, but less obviously, and perhaps more interesting to folk likely to stumble on this blog are bands like Ui (quite like Tortoise) and post-punk/industrial artists like 23 Skidoo, Slab and The Pop Group. Finally, there are cutting edge (in 1996) artists like Bedouin Ascent and Divine Styler. As you’d expect there’s less familar material too – best of them for me the Tony Williams Lifetime and Roland Kirk – both jumping off points for more musical explorations.
All of this means that this is one of the best structured compilations I’ve ever heard, and probably my most played too. It’s not always an easy listen, but it rewards the effort. It’s a double, but as usual I’ve ripped it as one very long disc because it’s a better listen without the break in the middle. I’ll post more of the Virgin Ambient albums in the future.