VA: The Definitive Japanese Scene Vol. 1
Mule Musiq

VA: Enjoy the Silence
Mule Electronic

In what one might reasonably regard as Mule Electronic's take on Kompakt's Pop Ambient concept, Enjoy The Silence unites a number Japanese and non-Japanese artists for seventy-eight minutes of, well, ambient music. Many names will be familiar to electronic music devotees—Strategy, Thomas Fehlmann, Jan Jelinek, DJ Koze, and Minilogue among them—so experienced listeners will have a head start guessing what the material sounds like. Suffice it to say, the collection's a solid enough ambient collection, as would be expected given the personnel involved. Some of the artists, true to form, contribute tracks that have their fingerprints all over them, such as Lawrence's “Sunrise,” with its elegant vibes and string counterpoint, Jelinek's murky “Stripped To Real Mode,” and Fehlmann's “Scheiben,” a dub-inflected drone setting of windswept piano and string fragments. “Lords of Panama Rendered” is likewise a prototypical DJ Koze collage, this one slightly woozy and seasick in its handling of percussive thrum and plinking piano chords, while Strategy's “After Momeraths” presents a seductive, three-minute stream of sparkling music box and carousel sounds.

Terre Thaemlitz proves to be his usual provocative self, even when performing under the DJ Sprinkles name. In this case, “Music Is Controllable Desire You Can Own” brings a rather political bent to the proceedings by overlaying a pretty piano-based setting with samples of a ranting man and a sober male speaker pontificating on themes of power and social class (as it turns out, slightly-modified text from The Communist Manifesto). The collection is bookended by Japanese artists: at the start, Koss (aka deep house artist Kuniyuki) whose “Endless Flight” features gentle piano cascades that can't help but recall Eno's Music For Airports; and at the other end, the relaxing trip-hop of Hiroshi Watanabe's “A Source of Light” and Takuwan's lovely, low-level outro “Ambience.”

Naturally, the other Mule compilation, The Definitive Japanese Scene Vol.1, exclusively limits itself to native artists though nothing would suggest as much if one listened to it “blindfolded.” Eleven tracks showcase Japanese electronic-music artists in a stylistically-broad compilation that celebrates the label's fifth year in operation. Though the all-instrumental release encompasses everything from hip-hop and electro to cosmic disco, tech-house, and jazz-fusion, it's sometimes weakened by some tracks' tendency to devolve into jams (track lengths of seven-plus minutes will do that) and hence become background music, if of a high-quality sort (e.g., Dedication's “Pito Deep,” whose downtempo disco-funk oozes ‘70s flavour in its prominent use of clavinet and Moog synthesizer, and Kentaro Iwaki's “Kinuta,” a nice enough example of bubbly house music but overlong at nine minutes).

Righteous (a collaboration between Tadashi Yabe and DJ Quietstorm) opens the collection on a high with the collection's best track, “Midnight Muse,” a fabulously dusty fusion of smoky jazz, funky hip-hop, and acoustic jazz. A tenor sax—feathery in that inimitable Lester Young tradition—slinks its way across a piano-led trio's breezy backing in this blissful sampling of “midnight” music. Dusty too is “But No Enough” from underground instrumental hip-hop DJ Olive Oil which sprinkles Rhodes playing over a head-nodding downtempo base. Force Of Nature's infectiously grooving space-disco cut “I-Ight” is also strong, and Balearic producer Kaoru Inoue contributes a gloriously blossoming flower of gently swinging electro in “Esc.” The album takes a heavier detour when Kuniyuki Yoshihiro Tsukahara pays homage to Remain In Light-era Talking Heads in the wailing, guitar-dueling “Wild and Survive,” while Kza and Soft take on slinky acid-electro-funk and Latin-flavoured jazz-fusion in their respective tracks, “Open Up (Slow Version)” and “Fullmoon in Triangle.” Though The Definitive Japanese Scene Vol.1 limps to a close with Haruki Matsuo's underwhelming “Spy Vs Spy,” there's a good amount of quality music on hand to justify a recommendation.

April 2009