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- Variance (Volumes 1 & 2) by Jega
9/10 Ant Staff review, 16 July 2009
As much as my brain has become frazzled over the years and memories fade away, it's not difficult to recall the joy of first dropping the needle onto Jega's 'Spectrum' LP some 11 years or so ago. An album widely heralded as an underground classic, the artist has remained one of the most highly regarded producers during the golden era of "IDM" despite a reclusive manner and incredibly sparse release schedule. My copy of that particular record is quite battered in way that show's it's has some good use which is what should happen with such a wicked album... I imagine lots of copies have simply been filed away on the shelves of collectors. Being the inspiration for the birth of Planet Mu, Jega's sound was the foundation of the label and along with Paradinas, Aphex , Autechre and Squarepusher, formed the blueprint for a whole generation of producers.... So much time has passed and eventually Jega has his third album out after Planet Mu have been promising it will materialize for eon's. So the wait is finally over and 'Variance' even has the original catalogue number that was reserved for it (ZIQ024) which shows how long ago the release was first planned, especially when you consider the label is at ZIQ240-ish about now...
The word is that an un-finished version was leaked onto the internet which prompted Dylan Nathan to go back to the drawing board and dramatically re-work the tracks. You know, this guy could have been churning out fodder from his hard-drive and still remained successful but the fact that this is not the case illustrates his strive for perfection and immense attention to detail. So the expectations are high and I think you could probably draw a parallel with the circumstances that surrounded The Stone Roses Second Coming LP (Okay I realize it's not his second album, but the third). The thing is in a situation like this, where the pressure is really on for an artist to deliver a masterpiece that supersedes the previous record you're inevitably going to be under whelmed. BUT if you drop that mind set and just get on board, then this really is an electronic ride you need to get on. Planet Mu have issued a proper 18 track double album i.e 2CD's and 2 vinyl LP's (not merely an album split over 2 x12"s). As as testament to the importance of this release, for the vinyl copies the label have pushed the boat out with a lavish and rather smart looking gatefold sleeve with an image of Dylan Nathan's striking digital sculpture's entitled "The Girl Who Fell To Earth". What strikes me about this record is that it's possible that things have gone full circle and while Mr. Nathan has been re-imagining the tracks he's had to up his game and possibly has even been inspired by some of the artists whom he may have influenced, as well as embracing new technologies along the way. Things kick off in a kinda Boards Of Canada/ hip-hop mode with a high dose of funk, hip hop vocals and swirling flute type melodies.... Then we're into Garage bassline wobbles and female vox samples, all with that tricky sequencing. Having said that it's not too heavily cut-up at this stage with room for the sounds to breathe. By the time we hit the track 'The Girl Who Fell To Earth'' we're in emotive and moving synth territory that simply has Jega written all over it along with some Burial-esque female vocal snippets. Certainly a soulful little number. A similar mood continues on side B with 'Sakurai' and its wonderful bassline and sneaky scratches and reverses, again the melodies here are reminiscent of BOC. 'Eva' is like Aphex and Vangelis skipping through the park together on a summer sunday afternoon with their ice cream cones melting. Then before you know it you're lost in 'Dreams' which is possibly the highlight of the first volume.This is where a simple breakbeat underpins some angelic processed vocals and really gorgeous, infectious melodies . An emotional and spiritually uplifting tune. The wonder continues right into the runout groove of 'Zenith' on side B with its playful and uplifting tones... I take a short break ready for round 2... DING DING!!!
Immediately the overall atmosphere becomes heavier, more futuristic and intense setting the scene for what is to follow. Trademark Jega thumping beats, hip-hop samples and alien frequencies all tightly edited with full fat production values. The tension builds, in its wake leaving a huge sense of anticipation as the vibe becomes darker and tempos increase slightly, for a moment or so until we're into 'Chromadynamic' which is some super eerie otherworldly sonic environment. Then after a brief tease it hits !!! BANG!!! We're into fuckin class 'Unity Gain' ( of which my copy is begging for mercy due to caning at parties back in the day) style pummeling but it doesn't get too mental tempo-wise, with the man keeping the sound design and cinematic elements in there, restraining the suggestion of mental ism and cleverly holding back from savage Mu style breakcore territory. Tumbling beats and mashed up snares and bleeps follow, with some confusing twisting sequences that still somehow mange to hold down the skeleton of a groove. The tracks here have a real dynamic element hinting at places they may go but never really reach that point. This really teases your ears and makes for a very exiting listening experience. Having said that 'Kyoto' does briefly head into twisted chopped up jungle-ish machinations, all with a warped and screwed around with computer feel, although It's more of a listening cut than a floor wrecker. 'Hydrodynamic' takes no prisoners though with full on hyperactive mind expanding crunchy head wreckage. You are ultimately rewarded at the end with 'Reprise' which just slams it with pure sonic mayhem that really takes in a lot of the elements of all of the material on here and creates a total bomb that leaves you wondering if you'll have to wait another 10 years for new material. In the meantime you should take comfort in the fact that you can pass those hours/ days/ years with some of the beauties on 'Variance' It's worth mentioning that the running order of the tracks throughout has been carefully selected to give each volume a real cohesive flow and each is a fine album in itself... It's great to have the Jega-meister back in action! PHEW!!!!
10/10 Clifton Cameron Customer review,
Variance is a brilliant body of work. Jega is an amazing artist and it has been this way since the beginning. The wonderful thing is that he stays honest with his craft without reservation or condition.Clifton Cameron
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