Ambient Bliss: Ben Neill’s “Green Machine”

Artist: Ben Neill

Title: Green Machine

Released: 1995

Label: Astralwerks

Format: CD

Genre: future jazz, ambient

Keeping up with the Ambient Bliss series as the spring weather warms our bones, we move on to a classic release that tends to slip under the radar of most ambient fans.  That might be in part due to the fact that Ben Neill mixes a lot of jazz elements into his work (especially the earlier releases) and at times, the label “future jazz” can be intimidating.  But have no fear.  This album is an essential one.

This album dates back to Astralwerk’s early days, about two years after the label’s first release.  At this point, the label began to move into a more dance oriented direction, moving beyond ambient and diving into other markets. Thus in addition to FSOL, Spacetime Continuum and some other long forgotten ambient records, we were seeing new, thumping releases from the likes of the Chemical Brothers, Freaky Chakra and µ-ziq.  Still, in hindsight, Neill’s “Green Maachine” is a classic record, and falls alongside other gems in the long forgotten Astralwerks back catalog that shouldn’t get overlooked.

We open with “Ether,” a track that at first feels a lot like something off of the Fax Label, complete with smooth synth, organic beats and soothing strings and base.  Things are off to a strong start, in a mellow sort of way.  It certainly stands well alongside other ambient champions of the time.  And with a swooshing hiss, we move easily into the second track, “Night Vision.”  Neill’s mutantrumpant is a lot more noticeable here, giving this track an earthly feel without losing its cosmic edge.  It’s organic yet doesn’t shy away from the rich synth and gentle, pulsating beats.

And without blinking, we’ve entered “Sistrum,” which happens to be the album’s big single.  This is a little more beat oriented piece, but still dwells deeply in the ambient realm.  Neill’s horn skills give this a very chilled jazz groove, making this irresistible.  It’s a good example of all that is good in the world of Neill.  Without blinking, we move into the next track; another piece that easily rivals something off of the Fax label.  The mutantrumpant is almost unrecognizable as we deftly dart into track five, taking on a very alien quality.  If this is future jazz, it’s literally light years ahead.

The remaining tracks pack in the traditional ambient staples of the time period, and yet again, I am wondering why this didn’t get a reprint on Fax (like Spacetime Continuum’s “Sea Biscuit”) .  Seriously, at times I swear Neill must have collaborated with Namlook, the synth is very similar.  That’s not to say I think the style’s been copied, but rather heavily influenced… maybe that’s an understatement.   It truly makes me wonder why this record didn’t get the attention it deserved when so many similar sounding records did.

To sum it up, this isn’t a record you should be afraid of if you were having doubts before.  I know sometimes genre labels can be intimidating or confusing, but trust me, this album is superb.  Whether you prefer ambient with beats or as ambient as possible, this will please anyone’s palate.  Fans of future jazz and ambient alike should find this release essential.  Luckily, at the moment, prices for this in used condition are very cheap online.  Grab your copy now while you can.

4.8 out of 5.

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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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