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Six Degrees, 1995
An overlooked classic from the currently-unfashionable genre that is early 90's ambient dance. Although given the number of different electronic styles Toby Marks ventures into, this stewpot of a double album is only just categorisable in this way. Peppered with samples of local musical colour, it's apparently inspired by the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Such ethnic influences might suggest New Age, but unlike Enigma and co., it's firmly on the dancy side and avoids cheesiness with fat beats, shimmering energy and good humour.
The highlight is the title track, all warm synth glitter, Tibetan voices and chuff-chuff rhythms. It's a lost trance classic in itself, almost up there with the likes of The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" and Future Sound of London's "Papua New Guinea". "Kuos" is all hard percussive density and a posse of rappin' monks, as if to persuade us that Banco is firmly a dance act. But contrastingly, after opening with a bit of tongue-in-cheek Eastern philosophising over pretty harps, "China" continues with a slow panoramic landscape decorated with local instruments. Much like Vangelis - another synth master with a taste for the Oriental. An obvious comparison for the breezy dub reggae of "Amber" is The Orb's "Perpetual Dawn", but it's more, erm, Tibetan than its better-known cousin.
When you thought you'd heard the last new electronic idiom, "Kincajou" starts with a bit of dirty techno. Thankfully he seems to decide this was a bad idea, and settles for some good old ambient trance, bubbles and floaty vocals. The symphonic "White Paint" is like the less interesting side of Jarre or Vangelis, but "887 (Structure)" ends the first disc with a piece of more concentrated beatless ambient prettiness, along the lines of Tangerine Dream.
The extra disc of remixes piles on the minutes. The most remarkable of these is "Kincajou (Duck! Asteroid)", over half an hour of relentless trance based on the original sequencer loop, infuratingly only bringing in the track's main floaty theme a few minutes before the end. It does well against the benchmark of The Orb's "Blue Room" though.
It's the kind of long, detailed album that takes a while to establish itself. But suitably to its theme of exotic travel, it's a an accomplished and absorbing journey through diverse climes of electronica.
December 17, 2005