Transient: Over The River And Through The Woods

Mark Sabbatini By

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It's one of the top 10 online albums of 2004, according to a co-founder of perhaps the Internet's largest source of free music. In the rapidly exploding world of public domain recordings, that seems as close to a Grammy as one gets.

And like music scribes almost always finding fault with the real hardware, there's some dispute here.

Transient's Over The River And Through The Woods earns its top-10 honor from Simon Carless, co-founder of Netlabels Archive, part of the massive Internet Archive , probably the largest and most impressive collection of public domain media in existence.

"Each song is a unique experience, but the release remains coherent as a whole," the Netlabels site notes. "Most likely this is through the use of scattered vocals on songs like 'look' and 'my last goodbye' - a welcome addition that seems to provide the motif for the rest of the record. A theme that sits well with the dirty breaks, jazz, ambiance and even theatric moments that also appear throughout."

The 13 songs total 72MB in size, available as a single file or by the song. Album notes and a CD cover are also posted.

Over The River may not be worthy of a virtual Grammy - although this reviewer isn't ready at this point to submit a nomination. But it's a rare quality offering in the oversaturated collection of instrumental trance/electronica. Most rely more on "cool" synthesizer sounds and techno beats than ability, churning out stuff anyone with a $29 remix program can do on a computer in minutes.

Transient, on the other hand, does a solid job of blending minimal lyricism with a diverse range of rhythms, showing a genuine talent for composition and sonic construction. But while Miles-like minimalism can be a first-rate artistic accomplishment - Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's Suspended Night is one of this year's finest examples - most recordings including this one don't have enough innovation to be more than merely good.

The opening "Electronic Data" is a good representation of the whole, featuring what sounds like a gentle analogue synth guitar to a variety of relatively low-key backbeats, with an occasional bit of vocal chorus. Somehow the image of a genetic splice involving Windham Hill and Weather Report comes to mind.

A highlight is the modernistic funk of "Railroad Flying Machine," where Transient's lead is a series of darting passages on a breathy old-school synth. The various sound clashes work better here than most and there's a nice shift between tension and relaxation even when the beat doesn't follow. "Hoagie Hound" opens with a humorous mix of counterrhythms and sounds, but loses its potential midway to a more straight-ahead pace.

A few lesser tracks, such as the overly repetitive and discordant "So Fine," luckily tend to be short and feel more like interludes than the best compositions.

The recording quality is first-rate, something that can't be taken for granted on public domain albums. Transient also never feels the common need to get attention by breaking the rules of good taste, and his leads offer a consistent easy-to-follow road map through his soundscapes. The problem is oversimplicity: the journey feels more like a Buick cruising across Nebraska on cruise control rather than a BMW on the autobahn.

Track listing: Electronic Data (5:40); Basks (5:17); So Fine (2:28); Railroad Flying Machine (3:55); No Friends, No Enemies (2:19); Hoagie Hound (3:45); Look (3:06); Everything Dub (4:18); Macrame (2:41); Forest Zone (5:08); My Last Goodbye (4:14); Muse (2:59); ADK Thunderstorm (3:48)

Personnel: Transient, all instruments


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