Monday, 19 October 2015

Review: Electronica 1 – The Time Machine

I've cited Jean-Michel Jarre countless times as a major influence on my own music, so its only right to dedicate a post to my first impressions of Electronica 1 – The Time Machine, his first album of new material since 2007.

The Time Machine is the first part of a double album collaboration project, Electronica, with the second volume due for release in April.

On the one hand, it's easy to wonder why, after eight years Jarre has decided to return with a collaboration project, rather than a new album all of his own creation. But when you consider his long career – which took off in 1976 with the pioneering electronic opus Oxygène – the one thing he hasn't really done in that time, is teamed up with other artists he admires, and that's exactly what we have here.

Whether you paint or make music, this is usually a solo venture. Yet, put a likeminded person in there with you, and you soon find new ideas emerge and you bounce off each other's creativity, with fruitful results.

Jarre hasn't simply teamed up with artists currently in vogue, or your stereotypical cult figures of electronic music, but those who are important to him; artists whose music has influenced his own, or those currently on his own musical radar. This makes for a truly fascinating country-spanning album. The album is almost a travelogue in its own right, as Jarre physically travelled around the world to meet up with each and every artist in the project, to discuss face to face and actually work together – a refreshing move, when by today's standards, a musical 'collaboration' typically evolves around a lot of emailing of files, and not actually meeting up with the other artist.

When you look at the list of names on the album – which includes Vince Clarke, M83, Air, Little Boots, Laurie Anderson, Moby, Pete Townsend, Massive Attack and Tangerine Dream, to name just a few – it would be easy to assume this album might sound like a mixed bag or a compilation, but how wrong you would be to take such a viewpoint! Despite the wide variety and styles of artists on the album, there is a consistency in approach and in sound. Each track is after all, built around an original demo by Jarre, so his musical stamp runs coherently throughout. You'll hear sounds from across Jarre's back catalogue, including a welcome return of his iconic laser harp.

After only having had the album for a few days, it's still too early to pick out firm favourites, but instant standout tracks include the title track (with Boys Noize), Automatic pt1 & 2 (with Vince Clarke), Suns Have Gone (with Moby), A Question of Blood (with horror maestro John Carpenter), The Train and the River (with Lang Lang), Glory (with M83) and Zero Gravity with Tangerine Dream.

Zero Gravity is perhaps the most poignant track on the album, being recorded just a short time before Edgar Froese sadly passed away – and Jarre has respectfully dedicated the project to Froese.

The combination of Jean-Michel Jarre and French electro-duo Air will no doubt please fans of both artists, as not only is it a perfect match, but a huge technological achievement, in a recording that spans the history of electronic music technology; starting out with a sampled drum loop assembled on a continuous analogue tape loop (sellotaped together!), going through a range of different analogue and digital synthesisers and culminating with a melody played on an iPad!

There is an enormous amount of work and talent on this album, and this is evident right from the first listen – it's a truly epic experience, musically and sonically. Even with so many contributing artists, it still holds together as a Jean-Michel Jarre album, and arguably his best release in a long time. Certainly well worth the wait.

But this is just the first half of the Electronica journey. With names such as Gary Numan and Hans Zimmer on board for Electronica 2, next Spring simply won't come quick enough!

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