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the magical sounds of banco de gaia preview
(by gavin stok)
december 14 1998

note: this preview is based on the November 1998 unmastered copy of Banco de Gaia's forthcoming album, due in early-mid 1999. The album has had new mixing done on three tracks and had the track order changed since then! Further tracks may be removed, added, altered, or totally redone prior to its final release.

reactions to banco de gaia's most recent album, big men cry, vary majorly. some herald the album, a slower and more organic album than his previous efforts, as the sign of a maturing artist changing directions. others have troubles accepting the new sounds and rhythms presented to them, instead wishing for more of what the previous albums offer.

for his latest adventure toby marks, the man behind banco de gaia, has clearly returned to his roots. he presents a sound more reminiscent of the tracks in his first commercially released album, maya, and to a lesser extent in last train to lhasa. back are fast paced beats, chants mixed with electronic instruments, and unpredictable changes in sound and tempo. less common are the warmer and more organic instruments used, such as the saxophone and long melodic chords. 'festival' is the word I think of when listening to this album - from the crowd cheering to the fast beats and upbeat chants.

the album impresses me. its current expected release date of late spring in europe and the united states is suitable due to its upbeat nature. marks, once again, has intricately blended electronic sounds with traditional chants, and mixed them in such a way to get enjoyment out of both. this album should be a popular one, perhaps penetrating further into clubs after the, perhaps surprising, use of drunk as a monk from big men cry in some clubs.

it's always difficult to break down banco de gaia tracks because they're so damn complex, but here's my best attack at it. the album goes for 65:32, and all times mentioned are rounded to the 5 second mark:

no rain 7:50

    things being with audience applause overdubbed with people laughing evilly. this fades out to introduce the underlying rhythm. it's a medium paced groove interspersed with what is best described as a distorted bell. extra instruments get included in time - a brief vocal used as an instrument, some very quiet chants. about 1:35 some chords come in, together with a quick, very electronic sounding loop of progressive notes that fades in.

    at 2:30 the track changes slightly with the brief vocal disappearing, and with an underlying rhythm underneath the bell sample. the progressive note loop remains prominent. some extra electronic sounding instrumentation is added.

    at 3:10 the main sample is played - an upbeat female vocal followed by a choir that seems to respond to what is being said. this chant goes back and forth between the vocalist and the choir. at 3:30 another prominent sample is introduced. once again very electronic, it is best described as a very aurally altered guitar. the samples come back in with this sample. at 4:10 the sample and guitar stop. some small organ samples are used, and the guitar re-introduced about 4:30. More electronic sounding overdubs appear at 4:50, plus another guitar like sample at 5:10. 5:25 introduces a nice flute sample giving the track more of an organic feel. some percussion can be heard lightly in the background. at 5:45 it's back to just the groove and rhythm, changed slightly from earlier. a nice and fairly quick tube-like sounding sample is used at 6:00 and 6:20.

    at 6:25 it's back to the second guitar-like sample that repeats a few times. the progressive note loop kicks back in at about 6:45, and the chant at 7:00. the flute returns at 7:25 but blends more in the background due to the number of samples used at this point.

    7:40 and it's just the chants and some quiet percussion. nothing else. the tube sample ends the track and blends into the next.

    overall a very positive track to start the album, with some nice instruments and a good chant. some of the samples/instruments are very electronic sounding in nature, perhaps too electronic. the progressive note loop can irritate a bit if you focus on it, and the first guitar-like sample isn't the most 90s sound. but these are small irritations on an overall great track.

i love baby cheesy 6:36

    the track starts with a repetitive 2-second sample. Hard to describe, it is electronic sounding. at 0:15 a vocal sample is introduced with some echo effects. this continues with audience noise that starts to fade in at 0:40. also at this time comes in a droning sample. at 0:45 you hear someone ask "how you feeling?" to which the response is "it's fabulous. i've never experienced anything like this in my life. it's great, it's great...". the last 2 words are repeated many times, while a beat is introduced. it's nothing you wouldn't expect in a rock song. bits of the last conversation are chopped and changed.

    1:30 and the main rhythm is introduced. fairly bassy, it is a roughly 2-3 second loop. 1:45 sees a female vocal, hard to decipher, that gets used in different places throughout the track. at 2:05 the main chant comes in. sung by a guy, it is hard to decipher its origins (middle eastern?). it is a main chant, followed by a shorter response. it repeats a few times. the chant is a strange one, and can be a bit irritating. at 2:40 the chant stops and a fantastic flute sample comes in on top of the main rhythm. some other middle eastern instruments also get used from 2:55. all this stops at 3:15 where the chanting begins again once. then there's some electronic samples used to great stereo effect and back to the flutes. the flute section gets repeated.

    4:00 and there's a bridge before some more of the flute, this time without the other middle eastern instruments. it repeats, with the background rhythm seeming to get a bit more percussive. 4:40 and the middle eastern instruments get re-introduced. the female sample appears again at 5:10 followed by the main chant. this continually repeats, with a faint male vocal overdubbing it all as time goes on. at 6:15 it all cuts out to just be some electronic sample and the original "how you feeling?" conversation. the track ends with the "it's great" sample repeating and fading. this blends into the next track.

    overall another upbeat track showing a general festival orientated flavour to the album. the chant is the only thing that doesn't quite go down well with me. it's too quick, and seems a bit contrived.

harvey and the old ones 8:25

    the track starts with a slightly middle eastern feel - some bells, percussion, a very quick repeating electronic instrument, and some warm chords that appear to be coming from a stringed instrument/sample. the percussion starts becoming more prevalent at 1:00. at 1:10 another warm electronic sample is overdubbed. perhaps a wind instrument, it is organic in sound, and changes back and forth slowly from two chords. 2:10 and some more percussion is introduced, building up the pace slightly. a male chant starts at 2:45. it sounds african in nature, and is quickly spoken. it blends in perfectly with the existing sounds. another vocal starts at 3:20 which is higher in tone and lasts about 2 seconds, repeating. this is also overdubbed on what's there. 3:40 and some warmer electronic chords on top of everything that's there. the track is really starting to build, yet all these instruments are blending perfectly.

    at 4:05 some instruments are stripped off, with the second chant brought to the forefront, using stereo to great effect. 4:30 sees some of the percussion come back, and then 4:35 sees everything stop and a new beat start that is medium to fast paced. 5:05 and some electronic chords are overdubbed. the second chant is also heard faintly, gradually getting louder. they repeat many times, and the pace seems to gradually get faster. 6:05 and the same repeated beats and chants are happening, but marks overdubs some other electronic bits and pieces, almost reminiscent of what happens in madonna's ray of light track towards the end, but more subtly. he has, in effect, just done a second big build up in the song.

    6:30 and it's just some warm electronics and the original chord progression. also introduced are some birds in the background. the bells come back at 7:00, and the second chant returns quietly at 7:15. the second chant becomes louder, as the bells and electronic chords gently fade. we learn that the second chant says "can't you see them?" as it is the only thing played by the end of the track.

    overall the track starts brilliantly. toby has a true ability to build up a track. this is probably the most organic and warm sound track. it could be remixed in so many ways. it would be lovely to see marks do what he did on kincajou and do a very ambient, spacey version of it. a nice slow beat (reminiscent of enigma's morphin thru time) starting at 4:35 would be a lovely remix. otherwise having the beat kick in a bit heavier (reminiscent of the album version of kincajou) might be a good idea.

sinhala 9:16

    this track starts with very slow percussion and what sounds like electronic zapping as a sample. at 0:25 a soft and distant beat begins, with a faint, heavily echoed, vocal sample. 0:45 and a beat not too indifferent from enigma's return to innocence begins, together with some male vocals so echoed and distorted that you can't make out what's being said. some slow electronic chords are also present.

    1:35 and a reggae like rhythm is overdubbed on what's there. the track is slow and relaxed, yet flowing. it has a groove of its own. some little electronic bits and pieces get placed on top of everything. at 2:20 a new sample is overdubbed as well. high in tone, it's hard to say what it is. the sample is played, there is a silence, and it is played again. 2:45 and a male chant begins on top of some more very electronic sounding instrumentation. 3:10 and this main chant is played on top of the main reggae-rhythm. it has been played with quite a bit - lots of echoes, and various distortions as it plays. it continues until 3:55 where the instrumentation returns. 4:20 and a flute-like sample gets introduced quietly into the background, and sometimes more prominently in the foreground. the sample and rhythm combination starts again at 4:45. it continues for a while, and the flute and other instrumentation replaces the chant once more.

    6:15 has the chant used moreso in the background. the beat is stuffed around with a bit, and the rhythm is stopped at 6:40, leaving some of the percussive bits that are less obvious previously. 7:05 has just the beat playing about with some electronic warbles here and there. marks stuffs around with this for a while - a beat here, a cymbal there, then stops it all at 7:20. silence for a second. a little electronic sound here, and the rhythm is back at 7:30 with some cymbal sounds also heard in the background. 7:55 and a electronic sample sounding is introduced (a synthesized recorder perhaps). it continues on, with some bird sounds maybe also being added very quietly in the background. 8:40 and some of the main electronic instruments come back to play the main notes. the rhythm stops at 9:00 to just play these notes. it highlights how electronic those samples are.

    overall the track has a nice laid-back groove. the sample at 2:45 is a bit too electronic sounding for my liking, and the chant is pretty heavily altered. some may see the chant used for music's, while others may see it as being a bit disrespectful. i see it as being relevant to the feel of the track.

touching the void 12:08

    the track sounds quietly, with the sound of wind and some quick and quiet electronic bits and pieces bouncing around from speaker to speaker. it could also be taken as some distorted bird samples and other industrial sounds. 0:35 and the swirling sound heard at the start of first lullaby from sandra's fading shades album is heard. a quick 3-track, 1 second sample, repeated over and over, it starts soft and gets louder and louder as the other sounds fade slowly into the background. toby is clearly building things up again. about 1:20 another electronic sample on the right sample can be heard building up. the background noises are still around. 1:45 and some foreground music is becoming more prevalent, one from the right speaker, the other a bit deeper from the left. they are both becoming louder. some quiet warbled vocal samples appear in the background from 2:20. at 2:30 some building warm electronic chords begin, and the wind sounds return. the vocal samples become more prevalent. some new vocal samples start at 2:55, a bit clearer than the others. this build-up continues.

    3:20 and a short electronic sample is heard. by now most prevalent are the electronic chords, the 3-note loop, the wind, and the vocal samples. 3:45 and the main chant comes in - female in origin, they sound like vocal drones. fairly high in pitch they compliment the aural soundscape already present. 4:15 and some other short electronic samples are indicating that a beat may be forthcoming.

    the female chant and sounds continue until 4:50 where the beat kicks in. a pretty punchy beat, it lifts the tone of the track - a dance floor filler. 5:25 and a deeper rhythm is overdubbed, giving the track a bit more of a groove. by now the track has got its feet - the build up is complete. some other samples start at 5:55, some form of synthesized flute sample that fits in well and adds even more to an already well established track.

    6:30 and things get quiet. the flute sounds are stopped. some distorted male chants swirl from speaker to speaker, and the vocal samples return. percussion gradually gets louder, and some echoing guitar kicks in about 7:15 - a nice touch. the main sample returns at 7:30. 8:05 and the original flute sounds return. the vocal chants get fainter, but can still be heard in the background. at 8:35 a new female chant is introduced. sounding like its sped up, it is followed by an equally quick male chant. the female and male chant is repeated a few times with some electronic samples interspersed from time to time. at 9:25 the beat is stopped while the female chant repeats. the rhythm is slowly played at 9:30 and the beat kicks back in at 9:35 with the main chant. the original flute sample plays its familiar notes at 9:55 and repeats quite a few times.

    the quiet male droning sample can be heard quietly at 10:50 and gets progressively louder. everything starts fading out around 11:10, leaving the quick 3-note sample most prominent. the wind is heard again from 11:30 as everything fades out. some ambient noise finishes it all off.

    the longest track on the album, it is another brilliant build up from toby. the chant is superb, the beat & rhythm perfectly suited, and there's some great choices of instruments. great mixing also. a perfect single, but quite an edit at 12:08 !

144k? 8:55

    the track begins with the sound of rain and some other ambient noises. the sound of footsteps and light breathing can also be heard. at 0:35 a muffled male chant can be heard. the chant repeats a few times. 1:05 and some quiet piano can be heard. But the ambient noise is still prevalent. the male chant continues at different volumes. 2:00 and all instruments stop, to be replaced by a wind instrument playing a 2-3 second sample, and a piano-like sample. another wind instrument is layered on top around 2:20, and a flute-like sample quietly gets introduced around 2:30. also at this time is another wind-like instrument, or perhaps its a different note on the same instrument. 2:50 and some electronic sounds start getting overdubbed. 3:05 sees the introduction of some weeping strings on top of what is already playing. the piano sample is used from time to time. at 3:25 a main sample is used. electronic in origin, it is a 4-5 second sample followed by a small silence, and repeated.

    3:50 and a slow rhythm kicks in on top of the main sample. this is the main sound followed by the flute sounds. at 4:20 the beat and flute sounds stops. all that is heard is a male vocal sample, before the slow rhythm returns. the wind instruments return about 4:40, and the electronic sample around 4:55. this repeats for a while. 5:15 and a small build up can be heard in the background overdubbing the already playing sounds. at 5:40 everything kicks in - with an underlying rhythm exposed on top of the beat, and electronic sample. 6:00 sees the piano sample heard in the background.

    at 6:15 the electronic and wind samples stop, with the focus being on the beat (some drums and cymbals). things become a bit more percussive at 6:30, and the male vocal sample returns at 6:45, droned and echoed in typical marks style. the sample repeats on top of the beat until 7:15 where a deeper rhythm enters on top of some background electronic instrumentation. this repeats a few times. 7:45 has some Hammond-like organ sounds layered on top together with other small electronic samples.

    8:20 and most things are stopped. all that is left is a swirling electronic sound and some quiet electronic bits in the background. everything fades out into the next track, finishing with the piano sample.

    overall another good track from marks.

glove puppet 3:17

    this track starts after a total fade of the previous track (ie. not a continuation). it starts with some slow beats. 0:25 and there is the evil laugh first heard on the first track and some organ (hammond?). other electronic samples are included. 0:50 sees some long drawn chords on top of hard-to-decipher vocal samples. the feel is ghoulish - as if you've just entered a sacred site or haunted house. at 1:15 the organ and other sounds stop to just leave the underlying chords and a solo violin. at 1:40 the violins start harmonising and some other background samples can be heard. this continues until 2:30 where another louder electronic sample is overdubbed on everything else. everything starts fading at about 2:55. a final male vocal is heard during the final seconds.

    overall this track seems out of place for the album. it is a very different track for ,arks, and nicely done in how he uses the violin to great effect, but the vibe and placement of the track seems wrong. perhaps a good B-side to a single?

frog's dinner 9:05

    the track sounds with the high chirps you'd expect in grassland overdubbed with other electronic and male vocal samples - he's doing another ambient-like soundscape. at 0:30 a fast chant and percussion is faded in on top of bird sounds. these fade out again, to be replaced faintly by the sounds of what seems to be an old tv show at 0:50. the bird sounds are prevalent. 1:05 and the sound of rain can be heard. 1:15 sees the return of the fast chant and percussion, gradually becoming louder and including a female chorus.

    1:40 and a slow beat is introduced on top of the chants and percussion. it changes slightly at 1:55 giving it more of a dub feel. at 2:10 everything stops and only an echoing dub rhythm and some swirling electronic sounds can be heard. these soon fade. 2:35 sees the introduction of a main sample - an echoing piano. the swirling electronics continue. another electronic sample fades in at 2:55, with the echoing piano heard periodically every 15 seconds or so. this repeats for a while.

    at 3:25 some very distorted vocal sample seems to be playing softly in the background, but gradually becoming louder. 3:50 and only the beat and rhythm is played. the piano returns at 4:05, and a short male chant at 4:10, only lasting 5 seconds. a short break and the chant is played again much louder and longer. it seems middle eastern. the whole cycle repeats at 4:40, with the piano still occurring every 15 seconds or so. some sound effects echo things around. 5:10 and the cycle repeats again, but with a higher toned electronic instrument happening as well, and the piano being repeated at different tones every 2 seconds instead of 15. the vocal sample is also repeating more frequently.

    at 6:00 everything is stopped except for the main higher toned music and some quiet chords. some random electronic notes and effects are interspersed with it all. the birds return at 6:25, and the piano sample loops quickly. toby is doing another classic build-up. some distorted male vocals at 6:45, and the re-introduction of a beat at 6:50. 7:05 sees a group chant quietly start to be faded in, and the rhythm re-appears quietly also at 7:10. by now we have a good rhythm, beat, some various electronics blips & so on, and a quiet chant in the background. the track has a positive vibe to it.

    this continues for awhile, with the main male chant returning on top of it all at 8:10 and repeated a few times. at 8:30 everything is stopped except for the main chords and some higher tone electronics. in a distorted fashion some other ambient noises are introduced, before everything fades out at 9:00.

    this track is a good ending to the album, emphasising it's positive feel, and festival-focused nature. marks mixes a nice blend of chants and samples, and uses effects and stereo well.

  credits

very special thanks to banco de gaia for a preview copy of the album.

copyright 1998-2002 gavin stok. all rights reserved