Various Artists: @ Home: @ Sunrise / @ Home: @ Sunset
With enough chill-out compilations out there to fill a giant-sized bargain bin, it's going to take a really good album to impress me. As it stands, many on the market right now fall into two camps. Either they're too heavy on the whole "ambient" concept, rendering the entire mix a soporific exercise in synth and string combinations, or they're misguided to the point where a collection of otherwise nice songs jangles together into a big, hairy mess. The new @ Home series from Moonshine Music is a good start for the label, known more for their party-ready output than easy-on-the-ears fare. Though nowhere near perfect, @ Sunrise and @ Sunset succeed in creating a mood without falling headfirst into somnolent misery or over-wrought eclecticism.
Presumably, the idea behind a so-called "Sunrise" compilation is to recreate the serenity and magnificence of the dawn of a new day. @ Sunrise puts forth a noble effort, featuring some excellent songs from lesser-known artists as well as downbeat interpretations of club classics. Goldfrapp's quirky voice makes an appearance here with "Paperbag", a darkly sentimental, haunting tune which barely rises above a whisper. DJ Food also contribute an unusual track, lending their signature off-kilter instrumentation to an unusual orchestral arrangement. "The Crow" begins unassumingly before slowly morphing into a strange pastiche of sinister double bass, lilting clarinet, pitched strings, and scattered drumming.
Unfortunately, this is one comp that can't seem to make up its mind. Starting lethargically with the Chicane-aping "Greece 2000" by 3 Drives and moving into an out-of-date and somewhat boring Jam & Spoon ragga-based remix of Moby's old rave classic, "Go", the mix proceeds to delve briefly into leftfield. This is all well and good, but the songs shift abruptly and spoil any developing sense of atmosphere and mood. After this diversion of sorts, @ Sunrise returns to the dramatic synth washes and lush strings typical of most chill-out discs. Electric Skychurch's "Deus" boasts a voice straight from the Vienna Boys Choir, lending a weirdly religious slant to the song. And as much as I hate to bash Andy Weatherall, the offering under his Sabres of Paradise guise, "Smoke", stinks of cheesy '80s romantic comedy soundtrack fare.
Somewhat controversially, the folks at Moonshine (specifically Steve Levy and Christian Dwiggins, the label's head honchos who compiled and digitally mixed both @ Home discs) decided to include a couple of trance classics from, oh, the days when trance was actually really good. For those who have not had the privilege of experiencing BBE's "7 Days and One Week" and Energy 52's classic, "Café Del Mar", when they came out in all their emotional, uplifting, trance-tastic glory, the damped-down remixes on the album will be a treat. We're talking liberal use of rustling wind chimes, serene synth lines, and rolling bass lines. But for those who remember the energy and uncontrollable euphoria of the originals, listening to these remixes is nothing short of frustrating. Where's the incessant beat, the nervous tension of a double-time snare roll, and most importantly, the release? Nowhere to be found, of course, as this is an album to relax to, after all.
@ Sunset comes a bit closer to satisfying picky listeners, likely due to the common perception in clubbing circles of a sunset as preamble to a night full of partying. Thus, this mix has a broader spectrum of more upbeat songs, though they again seem to fall in a strange and discontinuous order. Alex Gopher's classic house tune, "The Child", shoulders up to a bizarre number by Wally Brill. Considering the song "A Loop in Time" is remixed here by Banco de Gaia, it comes as no real surprise that the end result is a cheesy world-music rendition complete with serious overtones and a bombastic opera sample. Weird transitions aside, there are some stellar tracks here. Excellent German outfit De-Phazz, featuring Pat Appleton, submit "The Mambo Craze", a wonderfully kitschy tune with a properly futuristic twist, and Goldfrapp makes another appearance with "Utopia".
There are a few eyebrow-raising numbers here, but the overall effect is a touch more inspiring than @ Sunrise. With stronger tracks overall, @ Sunset does justice to a properly blazing end to the day. Though neither groundbreaking nor absolute rubbish, the @ Home series does a good job of mixing up tracks from such admirable labels as Hooj Tunes, Mole Listening Pearls, and F Communications. A notable first step for Moonshine, @ Home will do a fine job of introducing those previously familiar only with harder sounds to the wide world of chilled tunes.