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Zodiac Free Arts Club - Floating World

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Artist: Zodiac Free Arts Club

Album: Floating World

Label: Permanent Vacation

Review date: Apr. 19, 2011

The Zodiac Free Arts Lab was an influential West Berlin venue founded in 1967, filled with crazy sound equipment available to anyone who had an experimental itch to scratch. The notion was resurrected recently by the dance music producer Argy; after opening a private space in Berlin at which to jam with colleagues, he produced Floating World in homage to his psychedelic underground inspirations. As an homage, it certainly rings true to the originators, but it raises the question of when inspiration becomes duplication.

Apparently recorded on vintage equipment, these tracks focus primarily on synth textures, with lots of burbling arpeggios and clean spaced-out tones. To Argy’s credit, it’s a rare occurrence when the music strays too far into "planetarium music"; only a few patches here and there flow too smoothly and gently. Instead, when Tangerine Dream is invoked (which is frequently), it’s in the form of synth washes and echoing tones that bring to mind the Bladerunner soundtrack. The atmosphere is kept relatively uneasy.

Critiquing this album is impossible without name-checking a series of bands -- which is to a great extent the point, so I don’t feel too poorly about doing it. We have the Kluster and Klaus Schulze elements; the occasional bits of Neu! guitars and, in "Sonntags In Altona," the so-called motorik rhythm; even echoing guitar leads in "N.A.O.E." that are more Floydian than anything else. Oddly, Popol Vuh is the only group to be specifically named, in the closing "Ein Lied Für Popol Vuh," a brief, weird piece of heavily layered vocals. Perhaps the album’s first track, "Celephais," with its pulsing synth arpeggios and backward-delayed Neu!-ish guitars, is the strongest piece here, combining Kraftwerkian electronics with a more organic feeling of movement and human intervention.

Floating World is a pleasant album, with an atmosphere and texture that convey an accurate sense of its inspirational, or perhaps aspirational, vintage. For the most part, any of these tracks could have been recorded in Berlin 40-odd years ago, and they would make for good altered-state headphone listening. Is the album distinctive enough to earn a place, rather than sending a listener back to Phaedra, Neu!, Autobahn and the like? Not really, but it’s hard to say. For those listeners whose originals have worn-out grooves, perhaps a simulacrum will be welcome.

By Mason Jones

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