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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1383

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Govinda: Worlds Within
by George Graham

(Intentcity Records 80015 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/25/2004)

Music represents one of the most sharply-drawn distinctions between generations, and has for many years. In the early days of rock and roll, many of the older generation assailed it for being loud, especially with the presence of electric guitars, and for the much simpler musical structure than the previous generation of big-band influenced music. In the current day, though there are still plenty of electric guitars being used, the musical vernacular, influenced by the hip-hop scene has shifted toward a paradigm of sound samples, supplementing or replacing conventional instruments. For many of us, sample-based music represents the kind of dumbing down that our parents probably felt about the emergence and popularity of rock and roll.

For many, the idea of using bits of existing recordings, cutting and pasting them together, and running them with an automated, computer generated dance beat, seems the ultimate cop-out. Music should be played by musicians capable of making the music live in front of an audience, the feeling goes; just as, perhaps a previous generation thought that using amplifiers robbed music of its feeling.

Of course, with every new generation of music, there comes the good as well as the bad. And while I still think most sample-based dance-oriented music is dumb, frequently monotonous, and at times downright plagiaristic, there have been some interesting examples of artists taking the tools of the trade and transcending the mediocrity of the genre. This week, we have a good example. It's a recording by an artist who calls himself Govinda, and the CD is titled Worlds Within.

Govinda is the stage name for Shane O. Madden, a resident of Austin, Texas, whose first instrument was the classical violin, which he took up at age eight. Later, Madden found himself drawn to Gypsy music, and later to the sounds of the Middle East. He combines all of these on Worlds Within, his first full CD release. Madden draws extensively on sampled sounds, and in what has become a cliché in the field, many of the loops are taken from scratchy vinyl records. He also brings in some guest vocalists and uses their voices in sonic manipulations, rather than having them sing as such to the music. Madden favors more laid-back dance beats, some of which are rather retro in sound. The retro atmosphere is underscored by the vintage-sounding analogue synthesizers he uses.

The result is an engaging album that holds much more musical and sonic interest than the usual electronic trip-hop recording, but also does maintain a beat that will keep you moving. The name Govinda evokes India, and there are also influences from there, including tabla drums, or samples of tablas, as well as some of the vocal tonalities of the East. But perhaps Govinda's most notable trademark is his violin, which finds its way into most of the tracks, sometimes implying Eastern exotic mood, and at others, just providing an interesting sonic texture.

The CD makes for a nice continuum of sound. Though most of the tracks are separate, there are some that segue one into another, with the border between compositions blurred. The flow of the album is well-executed, with the mood and sonic colors shifting gradually.

Opening is a piece which typifies Worlds Within. Charming the Serpent contains the mix of the rather inflexible looped dance rhythm overlaid with the atmospheric sound of Madden's violin, the spacey synthesizers and the samples of vocal sounds. <<>>

That segues into City of Peace which continues the same rhythmic groove but gets a bit more exotic is its influences. However, by the end of the sequence, it does start to show a bit of the typical dance-beat monotony. <<>>

Heading into more exotic, Eastern territory is Feel You which is a fascinating mix of Indian influenced vocal sounds, the violin, a gaggle of samples, and even some turntable scratching sounds. <<>>

With a more retro groove is Love Glitch, with an old-fashioned funky beat and the sampled vocals of one Sandrine Ligabue. <<>>

A good deal more atmospheric is Las Golondrinas, with the Spanish language vocals of Juliana Sheffield, whose style can resemble that of Kate Bush. <<>>

The Eastern influence is strongly felt on one of the more esoteric-sounding pieces on the CD, a track called Something. Madden brings in the tabla drum sound and the mutated samples of vocalist Kayt Jourdenson. <<>>

For me one of the most interesting tracks is called Inner Membrane. It's a creative blend of the exotic and the danceable, with the oddly mutated, pitch-altered vocal samples of an unspecified singer. The piece's changing sonic atmospheres add much, and make it more than a simple dance tune. <<>>

The CD ends with its most ethereal piece, Do I Dream, in which the dance beats are absent. Chrysta Bell is the vocalist in this track which provides an introspective close to the recording, but seems to miss opportunities for more interesting sonic textures. <<>>

Electronic and hip-hop sample-based dance music still has a long way to go before being a significant art form, in the view of many like myself. But the field does have its creative lights, and Shane O. Madden, known as Govinda proves to be one of them. His new debut full CD Worlds Within is an enjoyable recording that serves both as danceable material and as a great audio backdrop for other activities. While there is a fair amount of sonic interest, the dance orientation of the recording does not lend itself quite so well to devoting one's full attention to it, as the nature of the genre lends itself to repetitive grooves. Nor is this music known for memorable melodies, if any melodic lines at all. But Madden or Govinda, with his distinctive combination of sounds, including his violin, makes this CD stand apart from the rest in the field.

For a sound quality grade, we'll give this close to an "A." The sonic manipulation is clever, though I find myself becoming annoyed with the sound of record scratches in the samples. Because this CD is so synthetic in its creation, the idea of clarity and realism almost does not apply, but the dynamic range is better than expected for this kind of music. The ebbing and flowing are conveyed well.

While I still think most sample-based dance music ranges from dumb to tedious, Govinda's Worlds Within shows that a good artist can elevate the art to a higher level, while still making for an appealing and danceable work.

(c) Copyright 2004 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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