I think of bond more often than I'd like to believe. Not the secret agent, mind you - that would be Bond - but the female Anglo-Australian quartet wielding violins and cellos overtop absurd techno beats. Marketing themselves as the Girl Band of the classical world (Spice Girls were an advertising inspiration), bond is the epitome of a bad musical decision gone worse. And yet their tale, superfluous and unnecessary as it seems, is so fitting: know what you play. There's nothing wrong with the "fusion" of classical music with electronica, if done right (so far I've yet to hear it). While these four baby spices are trained in the modals and nodes of high European society (and, from my understanding of classical critiques of their works, not well at that), their comprehension of the digital world is excruciatingly painful. Think of sample beats showing you how to use programs like Live and Garage Band - the ones made to be bad, so you won't use them - and you have bond.
If this lesson applies to classically trained musicians navigating electronic terrain, the reverse has to be true. Producers and DJs do not have to be academically trained to make a good downtempo record with keys and strings. But we hope they have a sense of movement, that what they're creating fluctuates within the five to ten minutes allotted. Too often chill-out really means "Chill out, we're just learning how to use this thing." The artists find a decent to good rhythm, layer in various and opposing instruments, and concoct a little musical journey. Good for them.
Not always good for us, however. PKS (Per Kristian Slagsvold), compiler of Quality Relaxation, had - obvious by the record's name - a soft sojourn in mind. He started with good intentions, though not unlike those of a few thousand other small and large labels catering to what they hope is a broad segment of the music-buying population. He certainly has the background work done: as DJ, producer and writer, he does each of the ten artists justice by including pictures and mini-bios in the liner notes, and maintains a credible website in promoting the sounds from his Norway home. In his hopeful intro to the album releasing business, he's taken a strong, though not entirely sturdy, first step.
Ironically, the standout tracks here are not completely chill - there is a little lift in France-based Entheogenic's "Walk on Air" and Elysium Vs. Space Cat's digeridoo-led "Dub Connection." The Jamaican influence of the latter - a heavy inspiration to many down- to mid-tempo electronic cuts - is obvious in the drum delays, reverberated hi-hats and tricked-out low-end. The synth pads might not be classical, but they are choice on this nine-and-a-half minute track. Elysium's other song, "Fairy Tale," is the definitive highlight on this record, if we were to judge by the title: a beautifully orchestrated vocally astute cut with well-placed effects throughout.
With this sort of release, we can consider Chill Tribe Norway's version of Japan's Dakini (Ishq's "En Soph" pops up), the UK's Twisted and Israel's Aleph Zero (half of this label, Shulman, appears with a remix of "The Unexpected Visitor"). There aren't bad tracks here, so PKS has done a good job. There do exist, however, rather uninteresting songs lacking the aforementioned movement, relying on one rhythm to go from Point A to Point A in a monotonous circle. Perhaps a mixed-CD would have made for a more coherent record, tying in his choices. Or maybe you can take a few here, a couple from the other labels and make your own.