A Sides and Makoto: Aquarian Dreams
Eastern Elements

In which two long-time drum'n'bass producers pool their respective resources for a fifteen-track opus. Born in 1970, Jason Cambridge (aka A Sides) has put out over eighty-five albums on his Eastside Records imprint and issued more than 500 of his own tracks; in terms of sheer magnitude, Makoto Shimizu's discography doesn't rival Cambridge's, but is impressive nonetheless, with the Tokyo-born producer having issued albums, singles, and EPs on a number of highly respected labels since 1998. They initiated the joint project a number of years ago; in fact, after recording four of the album's tracks in 2012 (“Uplifter,” “Articulate,” “Simplicity,” “Searchin'”), the two decided to tackle a full-album collaboration. Following that initial creative outpouring, they convened in London and Tokyo until the album's completion in early 2015. For the record, the label on which it's released, Eastern Elements, originated out of a merging of A Sides' Eastside Recordings with Makoto's Human Elements.

Certainly some of the material's success is tied to the vocal contributions of Robert Manos, Riya, Tali,and Spikey Tee as it's their presence that gives the tracks on which they appear so much personality. Manos's soulful delivery adds greatly to the uplifting “Jupiter,” a polished production that bodes well for the release, and the light-speed backing A Sides and Makoto provide for the singer to emote over is as crisp and dynamic as one would expect from such seasoned producers. Life-affirming too is the thunderous “Where Do We Go,” which features a vocal turn by Riya that's so ravishing it makes up for banal lyrics (“Life's what you make it / So don't regret what you haven't done”), and “Back in Your Arms,” which enhances Tali's soaring voice with a luscious, synths-heavy backdrop.

Par for the genre course, the tracks are consistently uptempo, and there are belters as well as others of a more soothing and dreamy nature. Still, at eighty-three minutes the album is long, and some judicious pruning would have made Aquarian Dreams more effective. A few tracks are overly repetitive (it takes no more than a minute or two of “Street Level Funk” for the guitar riff to start nagging), and the album wouldn't suffer greatly from their exclusion. The instrumental cuts that work best (“Night Flight,” “Uplifter,” and “Resistance,” for example) are those that see the duo offsetting repetition by working breakdowns, wind-ups, drop-outs, and change-ups of various kinds into the oft-storming material. Caveats aside, the production values are inarguably high from start to finish, and the album's irrepressibly positive vibe (see “Envision”) also bolsters its appeal.

July-August 2015