Reviewed by Todd Burns (stylus magazine)
Transport yourself back to 1995. IDM was still in its infancy and innovation in electronic music was happening around every corner. Aphex Twin, Autechre, and µ-ziq were the holy triumvirate at that time to me, as I began my descent into the obscure releases that my favorite retail stores didn’t seem to carry reliably. My questions about “bands” that I had read about in European magazines were met with blank stares or “We don’t have that, would you be interested in the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album?” type questions. Despite my sheltered suburban existence I recognized the simplified melodic constructions that Aphex and Autechre were using. I came to the same conclusion as most already had. “You can’t dance to this music, but...it’s made with the same instruments as dance music is. What the hell is going on here!”
At this point I had become entranced also with Big Beat as the next big thing in America. I secretly hoped against it, showing my independent roots and was genuinely happy when the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy didn’t get as popular as they were projected to. Soon after this, I realized that they were not very good anyway. I began to explore more deeply the offshoots of Aphex Twin and Autechre, hoping that some sort of innovation was possible within what they were doing. I somehow found my way onto the IDM List at this time and began to avidly read the posts of similar music lovers around the world trying to learn about new artists that I should check out.
Around this same time Tim Tetlow was in Bermuda making the same type of music that Aphex Twin had perfected on Selected Ambient Works Volume I. The same interlocking melodies with the simplified drumbeats that serve as a backdrop are present in these recordings. Crisp sound effects chime in every once in a while to break the monotony. It is a well-oiled machine, this type of music. One that chugs along with few surprises and it leaves me with a slight smile on my face. The smile is only slight, however, because as with most releases these days the music is fine, but not outstanding. It may be that the avant garde is dead or that I’m listening to the wrong type of music, but the music that has been released in the past year has been lackluster. This release, which was done over the years of 1995-1997 can not be faulted, but it begs the question of why it was released in the first place.
Case in point, the track “Alpha Emotion.” The track starts slowly with an electro beat that eventually gives way to a long drawn out synth bass line of three notes. As the synth bass line invades your consciousness, right on the fourth introduction of the line the melody comes in. On the second go round of the melody the counterpoint to the original melody comes in. The track features short sound effects in between all of this going on and the track continues on to its inevitable conclusion four minutes after its start. A simple pop song that seems oddly reminiscent of the acid that Aphex pumped out during this same time period. The only time that Tetlow truly taps into any sort of emotion is when he strips down to the barest elements and takes away the beats. His melodies are, admittedly, finely crafted and affecting. In the songs “Me” and “Trapped Surfaces” are definite highlights but do not last long enough to drown out the overbearing electro and faux hip hop beats on other tracks. It seems like Tetlow should take a cue from the man who wrote the lyric that graces his album, Bob Dylan, and attempt to strip down the music to its elements and build less and rely on emotion to feed the music. For this reason I would recommend the listener seek out the Cyrenic single rather than Beauty Walks A Razor’s Edge.
The idea of bringing music to the people that should be heard wears thin as an option mainly because we’ve heard this before. This release might have been better placed as selected tracks on a compilation of early IDM. Each track does not vary much from the standard formula set forth above and while it stands nicely as a consistent whole, this also leads me to boredom after the fifth time it is presented. The tracks were a collection, not a album; and it shows. Overall, this album is a quality release, but a few years too late and with innovation lacking.
- Eskmo - Let Them Sing
- Ikonika - Smuck
- Geiom & Shortstuff - No Hand Signals
- Starkey - OK Luv
- Raffertie - 7th Dimension
- Ceephax Acid Crew - United Acid Emirates
- Kuedo - Dream Sequence E.P.
- Starkey - Ephemeral Exhibits
- Neil Landstrumm - Lord For £39
- Distance - Repercussions
- Last Step - 1961
- Mrs Jynx - The Standoffish Cat
- Venetian Snares - My Downfall (Original Soundtrack)
- Meat Beat Manifesto - Autoimmune
- iTAL tEK - Cyclical
- Mary Anne Hobbs - Evangeline
- Venetian Snares - Miss Balaton
- Various Production & Virus Syndicate - Apollo/Neva Argue
- Sunken Foal - Fermented Condiments
- Sunken Foal - Fallen Arches
- Venetian Snares - Detrimentalist
- The Gasman - Superlife
- Eero Johannes - Eero Johannes
- Virus Syndicate - Sick Pay