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last train to lhasa review
(by david landgren)
september 5 1995

i had high hopes for this album. judge the idealogically sound manifesto inside the cover for yourself. and i quote:

"in 1950 china invaded tibet, a country the size of western europe. the tibetans have calculated that 1.2 million died as a result of the chinese take-over. in 1959 the dalai lama was forced to flee his home and now travels the world gathering support for his people. the biggest threat to tibet today is the hundreds of thousands of chinese moving in and squeezing the tibetans out. in 1994 the chinese government announced that it intends to build a railway across tibet to ease the way for even more settlers. the tibetans believe in a non-violent struggle for freedom; they deserve all the help they can get. contact tibet support for details of how you can help. email: tibetsupport@gn.apc.org, post: 9 islington green, london, n1 2xh, united kingdom."

and then i wondered if the album (held on 2 cd's) wasn't going to be a flagrant example of one more westerner armed with a dat, ready to pilfer neat tunes from other cultures. sanitize it and stitch it together with a groovy disco beat and watch the royalties flow in, deep forest being one of the worst offenders in this regard.

well, that's not what toby marks and andy guthrie are about. there's precious little 'true tibetan sound' here. to paraphrase the liner notes on fellow travellers' fsol isdn, "people who are looking for a political message are missing the point". if anything, the samples on eagle, pinched from the apollo missions, remind me more of the orb's adventures beyond the ultraworld. the techno pulse running through maya, their previous album, is still present, and underscores the all of the tracks on the first cd, however, it's not as intrusive, and the second cd it bows out to a more ambient sound. amber, a slowish piece, is probably the track with the most pronounced Mayan heritage, so to speak.

the title track opens up the first cd. a rollicking dance track built up on top of a puffing steam locomotive, and samples of a man and a woman singing in a haunting duo. Is it tibetan? as a melody, it's effective: it lodged in my head and i found myself humming the tune for a long time afterwards.

following that, kuos is slightly disappointing; the track comes close to crossing the dreaded ethnic-samples-on-a-disco-beat line. it's not that bad, but when the rest of the material is so good, it jars a bit. interestly enough, the "gnomes" remix that opens up the second cd is much better, due to the different percussion track employed. best bet, if you have multi-cd playing capacity, is to drop the original, and program the remix in its place.

china (clouds not mountains) is a dreamy piece, starting with a long rambling speech sample, and chiming semi-harp/semi-sitar patches, carried along with a percussion track. bubbling along nicely.

kincajou is another track that while the original is interesting, the remix on cd 2 is far better. underneath the original is the hint of an slower theme, almost entirely eclisped by a fast dance beat. on the "duck! asteroid" remix on the second cd, this dance layer is stripped off, leaving a slow-paced, mesmerizing synth-loop, overlaid with long aural and vocal washes. at over half an hour's duration, it's literally a different song. for comparison, one might look at morris (irresistible force) mixmaster's global chillage or solar quest's orgship.

the only real dud on the album is white paint, which is a bit too dull. slow, choral and attempting to be grandiose, it's more boring than anything else. its one grace is that it provides a counterpoint the most excellent tracks on either side.

the second cd ends with the subdued eagle (small steppa mix). as in eagle to tranquility, and the apollo missions. sampling mission control dialogues is fast becoming an ambient cliche, however, the use here is subtle enough to slip past without annoyance. the end of the first cd culminates in the breath-taking 887 (structure), a quiet piece that builds into a pulsing electronic loop, upon which different aural pulses and patches blossom and fade. despite the upbeat rhythm, it is a profoundly melancholic track which seemingly loses color and turns to black and white. recommended for amplifiers that go up to 11, this is the track that multi-cd'ers will want to program to close the album.


reproduced without permission. to be used for private and research use only. original article is here.

copyright 1995-2002 gavin stok. all rights reserved