Alka: Principles of Suffocation
Electronic Eel

Axiotronic: Current
Electronic Eel

Phreakon: The Complete Collection 2002-2006
Electronic Eel

Philadelphia native Michael Spinka is the man behind the neophyte Electronic Eel imprint and two of its roster names, Phreakon and Axiotronic. In this roundup, Spinka complements two of his own quality releases with a new one from compadre Bryan Michael under the Alka guise.

That Phreakon's outing is titled The Complete Collection 2002-2006 suggests that Spinka has retired the project which, if true, would be a shame. The style isn't new—a dusted fusion of hip-hop, acid-jazz, and soul, all delivered with lounge-flavoured boom-bap swing—but Spinka executes it with skill and panache. Acoustic bass lines, cymbal-laden breaks, piano (acoustic and Rhodes), electric guitar, and vibes rub shoulders with an occasional spacey synth flourish in eleven cuts tailor-made for the early morning hours, whether they arrive at the end of a raucous evening or the bleary-eyed morning after. Tracks are sometimes hard-hitting (the driving snap of “My Brain Needs More RAM”), sometimes laid-back (“Camac St. Marauders”), and sometimes jazzy (“Low Key”), but all solidly inhabit that inviting head-nod space familiar to instrumental hip-hop heads.

Spinka's also responsible for the fully-electrified sophomore Axiotronic full-length Current. Phreakon and Axiotronic share a strong melodic attack but are instrumentally worlds apart. The latter's sound is wholly synthetic electro-pop of the kind loved by Solvent fans, though Axiotronic's is slightly more uniformly jubilant in mood. Throughout the collection, sparkling analog synthesizer melodies engage in rapturous counterpoint with vibes, handclaps, and drum machines. Most of the album (mini-album really, given its thirty-five-minute length) is uptempo, an exception being “Retro-Rockets” which intermittently cools its jets but generally joins the other songs in exuding irrepressible high-spiritedness. Anyone looking for gloomy, dystopic atmospheres should definitely look elsewhere as all eight of Current's gleaming tracks pulsate with enough positive energy to power a small city.

Arovane appears to have left the scene, which means a vacancy has opened up for another practitioner of pristine electronic ambient to step in—a void that, based on Principles of Suffocation, Alka may be capable of filling. Like Arovane, Alka creates meticulously assembled, multi-layered tracks that are lush, strongly melodic, and equally melancholic and uplifting. “Digging a Hole,” for instance, weds stately keyboard luminescence with tight, clickety beat patterning in a manner not far different from Arovane. Drenched in atmosphere, chiming starburst melodies shimmer over subtly clanking beats in Alka's dozen songs. Dreamy pieces like “Decompose” and “I Fell Down a Long Well” manage to be blissful but not overwrought, while “A Modest Collection of Lint” and “Abandon” offer a more aggressive and darker spin on the Alka style. Departing slightly farther from the template, closer “Un-vaccina” boasts a funky hip-hop feel that possibly hints at future directions Alka might be wise to consider pursuing.

January 2008