15 Levels of Neotropic

Artist: Neotropic

Title: 15 Levels of Magnification EP

Released: 1996

Label: Ntone

Format: CD, 12”

Genre: ambient, drum’n’bass, downtempo

Neotropic (Riz Masien) was one of those artists that I’ve loved for years but never actually bought or owned anything from.  I have no idea why that is, honestly.  I have the same problem with a lot of artists I like…  Either it’s because I never have cash and when I do and surf the record shops or the online shops, I tend to find something big and shiny and forget what I came there for, or, I just completely forget that I don’t own anything from them.

Anyway, Neotropic is one of those amazing artists whose work is just brilliant and you can’t really talk about the genre without talking about her.  Heck, FSOL are big fans of hers as well.  Yet, oddly enough, I actually became acquainted with her other project, Small Fish With Spine first (and I do plan on getting a review of “Ultimate Sushi” on here sometime… eventually…) and this EP here, “15 Levels of Magnification” is the first Neotropic recording I bought.  And I just literally got it in the mail on Wednesday before Christmas.  I have a lot of catching up to do with her discography…

This EP hails from the album with the same name.  Here, we get b-sides, deeper cuts and some remixes.  And the first track is a remix of the title track by Arcon 2, better known as Leon Mar (Oil).  This is a blistering drum’n’bass track with superb and daunting depth.  The vocal sample gets hacked, slashed and manipulated and the beats rain from the sky, creating a deluge of sound.  This is a fun piece, though slightly redundant.

Neotropic remixes her own piece next, retitling it “15 Levels of Dante’s Inferno.”  We’re treated to another drum’n’bass track with lovely environmental samples, instrumentation and some resurfacing of the original vocal bits.  This track is dark, but not terribly so.  I can’t find much to say negatively about this one, but I can’t find too much to describe about it, either.  It’s a track to be heard, at least.

Thrack three gets a reworking from Riz’s other project, The Phat Girls.  The beat is straight from the early 90s dance era but the rest of the music is entirely otherworldly.  I can’t really see anyone really dancing to this track, though it would work for a darker videogame score.  I’m really enjoying this one.

Small Fish With Spine (another of Riz’s guises) gets a crack at the track.  The beat is slower and the vocal samples are a bit more processed.  The feeling is of urban decay or a strange dream with a few breakbeats.  This is a hard track to describe, for sure.  It’s noisy and far more adventurous than the first two remixes but it seems afraid to break away from the beats to try and perhaps toy with some atmospherics.  Not that that’s a bad thing—For me, I find this to sound a bit like FSOL mixed with DJ Spooky—it’s breakbeat and ambient with a noisy twist.

Track five, “Laundraphonic Pt. 4,” open with a haunting vocal sample before a pulsing acid blip and a hissy beat vault us into a darker, dreamier world.  Here, we get a sound unique enough to hold its own without relying too much on the beats for structure.  It develops very slowly, however, and it had chances to explore deeper sound scapes, but stops before it gets too far.

“The Older You Get, the Smaller You Become” opens with an odd vocal sample and the darkest electronic landscape samples to appear on this EP thus far.  At first, it creates its own void in space and it ebbs and flows like the radio transmissions from some beacon beyond the reaches of our galaxy.  Eventually, we do get a distorted beat, though it is not nearly as complex or as central to the song as the previous tracks have been.  This is something I could see FSOL using on one of their Electronic Brainstorms, if they haven’t already.  This is an adventurous piece and reminds me a lot of DJ Spooky and Riz’s “Ultimate Sushi.”  It’s very far out and I am instantly in love with this piece.

“Creepy Big Face” is the most ambient piece to speak of.  It combines atmospheric soundscapes, sax samples, a lively yet casual beat and though somewhat redundant, it does well to hold its own.  I would have to say that this is my favorite piece on the EP.

We round out the EP with the LP version of the title track.  Though quite ambient and experimental at its opening, a textured drum’n’bass beat kicks up a storm of horn samples and distorted vocal and odd guitar feedback shrieks.  As much of a fan I am of remixes, the original version of this track does so much better.  I can see why this was bold enough to warrant a single/EP, but it is constructed and layered just so much more precisely and fearlessly than the majority of its remixes, I have to favor it over all of them, and I don’t normally find myself doing that.  That’s not to say that the remixes are bad, but it seems to bulk of the effort went into this track.

Should you buy this?  I would say if you’ve not really purchased any of Neotopic’s other material, this would be a fine place to start.  Though, having been a fan of her work for many years, this EP isn’t the best representation of her stuff.  It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps it needed a bit more variety and adventurousness to it.  That’s really my only complaint.  So yes, get it.  Fans of ambient and drum’n’bass will not be disappointed.



About Nick H.

I'm a geek for music whether it be on vinyl, CD, 78 or whatever. My goal is to sniff out the greated music on Earth, specializing in the obscure. I make music myself as well, mostly ambient and sound collage (1 album out and a few remixes so far). I work full time as a professional mascot (it pays the pills) but will soon retire, i hope.
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