Blossom: Blue Balloons / The Longest Journey
Rain Dog: Two Words
These late-2013 and early 2014 releases by Rain Dog and Blossom find the Berlin-based imprint Project Mooncircle in fine form and its quality level high. Situated in the north of England, Samuel Evans (aka Rain Dog) would appear to be one of an ever-growing number of bedroom beatmakers specializing in a particularly moody brand of bass music, an umbrella-like term for a style with ties to garage, dub, and ambient-electronic soundscaping. Very much a computer-generated collection, the fifty-six-minute Two Words presents twelve moodscapes Evans artfully assembled by combining synth work, samples (singers like Tom Waits and Ella Fitzgerald, plus movie snippets), and beats. That he originally studied as an artist makes sense given the degree to which the tracks present themselves as sound tapestries of intricate detail. On a representative track such as “Once,” voices and synths swim within Evans's dense mix, resulting in a hallucinatory effect that draws the listener in. But as evocative as a given arrangement might be, it's the beat design that stands out most, given the fastidious care with which Evans assembles the component parts into an overall design.
Upfront about his use of sampled material, Evans introduces the album opener “Felicity” with a few bars of decades-old strings before moving onto the song in its proper form. And with a sensual vocal by Bigson along for the ride, a song it most certainly is, even if the focus is ultimately concentrated as much upon the entrancing downtempo backdrop Evans fashions for her voice. The funky swing of “Broken” likewise receives a pronounced boost from the inclusion of vocal phrases, many of them appearing in ecstatic counterpoint and tinged with a Beyonce-like soulfulness. Though in many ways Evans is a quintessential bedroom producer, he's not averse to collaborating with others, and in that regard features Bigson, Tomika, Sam Rogers, and Robert Koch on separate tracks. The Koch cut, “Nexus,” stands out for the snap of its funky groove and dubby bass pulse, while the earthily soulful “Watch Over” is elevated by Rogers' participation. But those featuring Evans alone—consider the dreamy swoon of “Like a Lame Man Stepping” and “Whistle and I'll Come To You” two such examples—are no less compelling.
What makes Lukasz Czajewski's Blossom release especially interesting is that Project Mooncircle has added the Polish producer's debut album Blue Balloons (originally issued on the Export Label at the end of 2011) to his sophomore effort The Longest Journey, which makes for a fascinating comparison study in observing how his style has evolved from the earlier collection to the latest one; it also means that the package is jam-packed with eighteen cuts and eighty-three minutes of quality music. In simplest terms, Blue Balloons might be characterized as atmospheric instrumental boom-bap, with Czajewski using acoustic elements (acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussion, saxophone) to generate a refreshingly naturalistic vibe that's rather kindred in spirit to Ryan Stephenson's Glen Porter project (his Falling Down, incidentally, also was issued on Project Mooncircle in 2009). Emblematic of the album's flavour, “Eternaldream” merges the ghostly whisper of a saxophone with acoustic bass playing and a hefty beat pattern. In fact, the drums hit hard in pretty much every one of the nine tracks and, bolstering the music's organic quality, come across like acoustic drums as opposed to programmed beats—a not unwelcome development.
Czajewski conceived The Longest Journey as something of a concept album that's intended to not only capture a one-year cycle in his own life, with all the thoughts and questions that go along with it, but to invite the listener to apply the same kind of reflection to his/her own experience. Concept aside, the music comes across as subtler and more refined than that on the debut, with Czajewski dialing down the intensity of the beat attack (de-naturalizing it to some degree too) without compromising Blossom's boom-bap persona in the process. A pronounced soulful character infuses the opening cut “See the Light,” in large part due to the vocal textures, while that side of Blossom's sound also is pursued during “Dusk” when British-born wordsmith Jehst adds brooding flow (“The longer the days get, the stronger the coffee get / The weaker my will…”) to Czajewski's backing. The title track and “Signs of A New Day” see the Blossom sound undergoing expansion through the addition of synthesizers, and three of the nine cuts (one of them an instrumental version of “Dusk” included as a digital bonus) are enhanced by the sax playing of Aleksander Papierz. In places, clear similarities between the styles of Rain Dog and Blossom emerge, specifically in their design of beat patterns. In fact, it wouldn't be pushing the point too far in suggesting that “Lost Grounds” and “We Go” could as easily pass for Two Words tracks as ones on The Longest Journey.