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BANCO DE GAIA: Last Train to Lhasa (double CD on Mammoth Records in USA).

With this release, Banco de Gala (aka Toby Marks) has evolved a distinctive techno style and a bag of tricks sense of composition that ranks among the slickest and the best. Constant rhythm rave techno with thick Moroccan strains reel out in the tastiest manner. Tasty and highly danceable, often percussion heavy with vocal samples and keyboard tapestries that bounce and bop... producing a remarkably uplifting cheeriness. Add to all this multi-instrumentality and frequent samples and you have an incredibly lush ethnic trance that brings the mountain right to your skyscraper.

Maximum recommendation.

There is also a "Last Train to Lhasa" CD EP (on Planet Dog Records in UK) which is quite excellent too.

BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO: Da Qui Messere Si Domina La Valle (double CD on Virgin Records in Italy).

This item is a treat for fans of old Italian progressive rock, being a deluxe packaged reissue of Banco's first two Lps from the early Seventies ("B.M.S." and "Darwin"). It comes in a great plasti-form box that's in the shape the band used to always feature on their album covers (a sort of flattened fish).

But that isn't the real kicker--it's themusic! Banco's first two Lps were killers to begin with--music of epic proportions with Di Giacomo's intense vocals and Nocenzi's frenzied synthesizers and Maltese's snarling guitar--but it appears that Banco reformed in 1990 and re-recorded these two LPs, employing the slickness of modern technology. The result is staggeringly impressive.

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BIOSPHERE: Insomnia (No Peace for the Wicked) (Movie Soundtrack).

BIOSPHERE: Substrata

(both CDs on Origo Sound in Norway) (Substrata has also been released in USA on Thirsty Ear).

Both of these CDs excel in the ambient electronic music class with dreamy tones, relaxed melodics and gently gurgling. The 59 minute "Substrata" CD features some sampled voice snippets, while the 50 minute "Insomnia" CD has a pleasant presence of nonverbal female vocals. There's a particular arctic feel to the music, tempering the already organic quality present in the mix.

Both are quite enjoyable listening choices if your goal is intriguing relaxation.

BIOSPHERE: Patashnik (on R&S Records in the UK).

This is a second outing for Belgium's Geir Jenssen. Lush with deep trances and floating electronics, it is a superb dose of classy ambient rave music.

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BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC: "Dancing on A'A" (CD on Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907 USA).

This is strong progressive rock with a quirky jazz flair...or is it artrock with a dash of progressive edging? Either way, the music is powerful and zany, with hyperactive percussion, whimsical sax, searing upper stratosphere guitar, and piano riffs bubbling through the cracks in the synthesizer tone clouds. Toss in a bit of clarinet and xylophone here and there--very sparkling doses.

Really entertaining stuff.

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RAOUL BJORKENHEIM AND KRAKATAU: Ritual (CD on Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907-8427 USA).

This is very strong jazz, thick with constant roll drums and a variety of horns, flutes and bones. But the real focal point is the blinding shrill guitar pyrotechnics--intricate and growling with creative feedback and distortion. Imagine Ornette Coleman with a strong John Torn injection charged in a rock direction...like an ECM album with a shade more fury.

Blasting out of Finland, this great album from 1988 finally sees release in the USA--with two bonus tracks.

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TIM BLAKE: Magick (CD on Voiceprint Records Records in USA).

Ex-Gong synthesist Blake returns from a long sonic reclusion with this release, basically picking up his astral electronics where he left off with "New Jerusalam" in 1978. There's also a video tape, "Live Magick" (available from Voiceprint) of a USA tour.

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BLEAKHOUSE: Psychic Sleep (CD on Black Pulse Records, PO Box 2574, Conway, AR 72033 USA). ($8.00 post-paid).

If you're looking for music that explodes with power and shuddering shadows, check out this indie dark rock band from Arizona.

Crashing E-perc, grinding guitar, sultry bass, clever use of taped effects and richly charged vocals. The lyrics are dark and bleak, with excellent placement of tortured screams. Uptempo tunes slither from spooky to overt, peaking with attack mode. The production is especially tasty, crisp and full of subtle ricocheting echoes and hidden noises.

Imagine a goth Clock DVA with a touch of the old 4AD sound and just enough of a hint of Nine Inch Nails to notice.

Extremely recommended.

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BLUE: Mexican Church (CD on Emissions Audio Output, 30 Dean Street, London W1V 5AN, UK).

Overall: a wide variety of percussives maintaining quirky beats throughout electronic effects that fade and softly beep and shudder. Echoing tones and keyboard samples cavort to lazy rhythms with a tinge of heavenly high altitudes.

What Blue does with these sounds defies classification though. The music has too much structure and melody to be experimental. The pace is too low key for it to be techno, while that same pace is too active for it to be trance. It's rarely harsh, so it isn't industrial, but it's not passive either, so it isn't ambient. And definitely too weird to be pop. (To be honest, most stores are going to file this in the techno or electronic section, for its connection to the Sabres of Paradise.)

What Blue does is create a lush and dreamy sound full of synthetics, prominently haunted with just the right touch of tempo. The pieces are clever and direct. Quite tasty.

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IAN BODDY: Continuum (double CD on Something Else Records in UK).

This release features 144 minutes of Boddy's live material from the Newcastle International Festival of Comic Art in 1996. The music is instrumental electronica in the vein of Steve Roach or old Tangerine Dream. It is strongly melodic even during the atonal passages. Intensely flowing moods building to crescendos and growling screeches.

Really highly recommended.

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DAVID BORDEN/MOTHER MALLARD: The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, Parts 5-8 (CD on Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Springs, MD 20907).

Borden's cyclic music is intensely appealing, carrying it far beyond any similarities to Philip Glass' style. The clean keyboards fairly glisten with natural tones in chords that cycle with mad abandon. Scatter dramatic horns throughout the melodies while the softly gripping strains of a female voice wordlessly adds a pleasant classical edge to the keyboard playground. The true sparkle in this mix is the tasty electronic guitar by Borden's son Gabriel, prolifically belted out in a style that can only be compared to Mike Oldfield at his best.

The music generally has a very insistent quality, seeming to be in an urgent hurry to impart its wisdom and get on to the next rhythm. There are some sedate pieces though, with choppy keyboards creating the mood of a liesurely Sunday drive in the country.

A particularly cheerful and moving release.

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DAVID BORDEN: Places, Times & People (CD on Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907 USA).

Powerful showing for Borden with dramatic compositions that exude computers and electronics, counterpointed by cello and violin. Rhythmic cycles are the most common form that the music takes, but there are a few pieces that adopt quite a satisfying intensity.

Very recommended.

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THE BRAIN: Access and Amplify (CD on Hypnotic Records in USA, 13428 Maxella Ave, Suite 251, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292 USA).

Tommy Grenas and Paul Fox (from Pressurhed and Anubian Lights) deliver up 75 minutes of extremely tasty trance electronics with a vital injection of tempo and frenzy. Cycling loops, punctuated by flashy refrains of electronic surprises. Some moments are rich with guitars and carry a strong Ash Ra Tempel flair, while other pieces are immersed in dense pulsing tones not unlike early Tangerine Dream. Very recommended.

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DAVE BROCK: Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams (CD on Emergency Broadcasting System Records in UK, CD on Griffin Records in USA)

While here we have a solo release from head Hawkwinder Brock. This is a head of a different flavor: more playfully abstract, this album is a kitbag of surprises, as opposed to the lightning storm assault of the Psychedelic Warriors albums. They are pleasant surprises (like the electro-acoustic version of "Spacer) and carry the full Hawkwind signature sound--guitar, electronics, percussion, bass and vocals.

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MICHAEL BROOK/U.SRINIVAS: Dream (CD on Real World/Caroline Records in USA).

Take instrumental world music and make it really odd and drifty with lazy percussion and atmospheric violin, various ethnic effects, and inject twisted guitar. So, there's a beat...it floats but has bite delivered up in four long pieces for the intelligencia: "Dance"' "Think", "Run", and "Dream", each superbly capturing the mood and motion. Never before has Brook achieved such brilliant Frippertronic crescendos amid his own repertoire of sounds.

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BRUME & NOMUZIC: Transports (CD on Cheese International in UK, available for $16.50 post.paid from Audiofile Tapes, 209-25 18 Avenue., Bayside, NY 11360, USA).

Moody electronics with frequently grating crescendos and outbursts. Various twisted vocal effects meander through the pieces, as if confused by the synthetic auralscape. Hidden percussion often breaks out to pound erratically, giving the electronic swamp the added strength necessary to suck you into the savage sonic mire. These seemingly atonal pieces hide subtle melodies, tunes that torture sound into intense passages reeking of furrowed brows and ozoned air.

Very reminiscent of the music of Conrad Schnitzler.

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LINDSAY BUCKLAND: Eclipse of the Common Sense (CD on Flesh & Spirit Studios, PO Box 1010, Carlton, Victoria 3053 Australia).

This is an album of dulcimer music which most reviewers would label new age music. Now, don't be afraid. Appearances are reliably deceptive these days.

Buckland plays electric and MIDI dulcimer and a custom designed dulciter. Add a wave drum. These are the deceptive instruments.

There's nothing deceptive about the music though. It is quite overt. You get 48 minutes of inventively powerful ambient music. There lurks a subtle Mike Oldfield influence in Buckland's driving compositions. The music truly soars, from traditional dulcimer sounds to wildly cavorting weirdness.

Buckland is an Australian independent in the truest sense of the genre. He does street performances and releases his music on his own label, making his CDs potentially difficult to find in the USA. But a true audiophile perceives no national borders, fully aware of the rich benefits of living in a global village.

This CD is extremely recommended.

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BYPASS UNIT: Green Dreams (CD on Hypnotic Records, 13428 Maxella Ave, Suite 251, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292 USA).

This music (of which you get 66 minutes) abounds with lively E-perc and energetic keybaords and electronic bloops and pulses--all spinning madly to melodies that are high surge techno displaying a strong Euro flair.

Of definite interest to those looking for more music in the vein of Eat Static and Hardfloor.

BYPASS UNIT: On a Trance-Mission (CD on Hypnotic Records, 13428 Maxella Ave, Suite 251, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292 USA).

Don't let the title fool you, this 78 minute CD is more techno frenzy than ambient trance. You can still become mesmerized by the dynamic surge, for the music is structured towards that very effect. But the sounds of choice here are urgent electronics that cavort with lush E-perc sprinkled with infectious keyboard melodies.

Bypass Unit are quite adept at weaving uplifting dance tunes using a constantly flashing roll of electro sequences. The trance is rarely given a chance to become redundant as the band take unexpected turns with the rhythms.

The cover features an exotic moving lenticular picture by erotic artist Michael Manning.

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