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Various Artists - The First Circle (Neroli, 2020)

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

The Italian label celebrates its 50th release in some style, with a series of thought provoking and emotionally driven soundscapes that make up one of this year's best compilations.

Mood and atmosphere is a powerful tool in dance music, and for those who seek it out often conjure up the very best in the business. Its often about how the seemingly mythical can collide with the grounded, where dots begin to join up with moments that pass us by in an instance. To be within a world where elements, sounds and features flicker amongst a dense plain, is a particularly engaging thing indeed, and its to our constant amazement how musicians use the two factors mentioned in the opening line as a means in which to provide windows into the imagination. The manner in which tracks unravel in their narrative and melody, where a journey begins in the most subdued of places but become somewhat colossus near the apex, before receding into smoothing waters, and in many ways this is the level in which electronica, dub techno, ambient and similar sub genres look to inhibit. The music flows through the mind as much as the heart, culminating in the duality of fulfilment for both organs, our emotions tapped into but allowing for new trains and threads to be continually established. The fundimentals begin to shine through, in that we see the world during the duration of a song containing these elements through new eyes, or perhaps closed ones, as the grounded and the imagined or unknown fuse together into something near our grasp but leaving enough for open ended ness. How artists look to achieve this balance is always slightly different, due to the differentials in style and instrumentation, genre stylings and rhythms, but the outcomes always nearly remain somewhat similar - how does this song look to engage with us, where can we go from here, how do we feel within this sound, what is it in particular we might find comforting and familiar, and what features didn't we expect. These questions may not always cross your mind, but if enjoyment is found in these kind of atmospherical and tonal explorations, then one of them may have from time to time. Escapism begins to emerge as a predominant aspect within tracks such as the ones described above, with all the features beginning to culminate in an experience where we appreciate the technicals as much as how the song is willing to transport us via its overall mood and tone.

All this and more can be found within the stunning new compilation from the Italian imprint Neroli, who for many years have been pushing some of the most quality filled and intrinsically interesting electronic music going. From their debut back in 2001, up until the present day series of releases, the label, which was founded by Italian DJ and producer Enrico Crivellaro, has looked far and wide to incorporate extremely talented producers who lie within their musical vision and outlook, and this has led to a string of superb releases going out the door. The music found within goes across so many spectrums, initially focusing on the broken beat house combination that dominated the scene during the early 2000s, alongside incorporating elements of future jazz along the way, with all the releases from this period running along with this theme. Deep house was always in the mix, and this genre began to lead the way with similar style and substance moving into the latter parts of the decade, but its roots in jazzy moody styles would always grace future releases, with the identity of the label organically growing and expanding with such purpose and feeling. No matter who the label decided to assimilate into the family, you knew that each release from a new artist would bring a whole new level of emotive understanding and passion to the brand name, with the fine lines already toed between what had come before and what could be added by fresh releases. It all culminates into a body of work that is inherently linked to the label, with the music found within undeniably forward thinking and refreshing, a series of work outs for body as much as the heart, and its this formula that remains the gift that keeps on giving, throughout time and space. Mood and atmosphere play an integral role in each release, with melodic structures and drumming patterns working side by side to really draw you into the world the producers are trying to vividly capture and create, and it works so very perfectly every single time, with a new page added to the neverendingly interesting story that is the Neroli fable. In a discography with so much goodness to pick from, we have selected a few favourites, starting off with Just One's 'Love2Love' EP from 2002; the amazing 'The Explicit EP' by Titonton, from 2003; Broken beat house legend Domu's 'Discotech' record from 2004; Skymark's self titled effort from 2011; the always superb Trinidadian Deep with his 2012 release 'Sweetness You Bring'; the wickedly talented Dego & the 2000Black Family and their their 2013 release 'Find A Way'; Lars Bartkuhn's 2015 and 2017 EPs, 'Music For The Golden Age' and 'Elysium', both of which are absolutely stellar; the 2017 Volcov release 'On My Heart', where he operates under his alias Isoul8; the superb '2 Finger Hash Band' record from Our Own Organization, that came out in 2018; the legendary Patrice Scott and his 'Chasing Dreams' release, from 2019; the equally legendary Fred P and his 'Reaching For The Stars' record, that dropped in the same year; and finally, the brilliant 'Emotional Intelligence/It's Up To Me', that arrived courtesy of Chaos In The CBD and some of their talented pals. Here we touch on but a mere smidge of the greatness that can be discovered through the Neroli discography, with some timeless vibes and phenomenal sounds to be engaged with and beloved, so we highly recommend you take a bit of time to get to know it all. Its all very very fucking good.

So now, we arrive at the label's 50th release, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Neroli, and to mark the occasion Crivellaro decided to do something very special indeed. The label is named after Brian Eno's 'Neroli' record, so in honour of this, the label's birthday, and the 'oil derived by the flowers of the Seville orange', the compilation 'The First Circle' was announced, and features many familiar faces from the Neroli family, along with some new friends added into the mix for good measure. The music found within speaks volumes of the varying talents that the Neroli family consists of, with the artists involved crafting a series of outer realm worlds where the ethereal meets the interfaces, where tonal soundscapes flicker with colour and sensory appeal, where the manner of atmosphere and mood coincide with one other in brilliant and unravelling ways. An album never short on inspiration or genius, this compilation is truly something to marvel at, and considering the heavy hitting list of people represented here, you know in many ways how things are going to pan out. Like with all Neroli releases, there is a real sense of purpose moving forward, but plenty of surprises and twists and turns that keep you on your toes, both emotionally and spiritually. So, without further hesitation, lets dive into it.

Up first comes K15 and his track 'Disillusioned', and the stage is very much set from the get go. K15 is very much known for his soft pulsating key work, and here is no different, with the initial dripping chord line becoming intwined with the lead key line that drives right through the heart of proceedings. In regards to mood setting, it does enormous things to invite us into its world, a swirling array of colour and feeling, its exciting energy doing much also to tantalise the mind with what might come next. The drums that slide into view are equally textured, never needing to emerge from their hazy groove ridden structure, just doing all they need to in order to drive forward the excellence of the key work. He really seems to be having fun with this composition, where in the value of each chord is placed as high as the next, with all the lines that lead out of the previous having such thought and care given to them, the fluidity that exudes from each moment is so on point. What an opener. Up next comes Kirk Degiorgio with his track 'Leave Everything Behind', and we begin very much swimming within the track. A vast lake emerges from behind a mist, and its from this point in which the sounds that smoothly twist around our ears begin to transport us up and perhaps further than we could imagine before. The revolving bass keys take the crux of the rhythm, with light drumming patterns acting as breakers inbetween, with a airy guitar riff gently moving on top, and all manner of pads move in and out of view without a care in the world. The general features keep their overall feel moving forward, with the general switches and changes in tone occuring with all the magnificent chordal work that remains so spellbinding as the track continues its shift through the paces, and before long we are greeted with a truly hypnotic key line that could swirl on forever and ever. By this point in the track, Degiorgio has introduced numerous plains of existence into this track, the manner in which he weaves it all together is technically and tonally very impressive indeed, with the overall picture painted one of supremely beautiful soundscapes and experiences. A track you will keep coming back to for years to come. Up next comes Patrice Scott with his track 'Untitled', and we kick things off with the chordal arrangement that sets the vibe perfectly. This is quickly joined by a reverbing element that fills the spaces between the chords very well indeed, before adding in new layers to the melody that continue the track on its already compelling journey. Soft and gently undulating, the track has a certain tenderness to it that only comes about when a human injects his soul into the machines that craft dance music, the tools and human mind become one, with the two elements working side by side to craft a textural landscape that feeds into our very soul. The track slowly evolves over time, with a piano line that gracefully floats above the chordal expressionism that exists below, and before long the melodic greatness is joined by a perfectly composed beat. Fast paced to a certain extent, it begins to highlight more so the chords and keys that exist on top, their melodic development now in full swing, as the bass line chugs into view to allow a more complete picture to emerge. its a masterful progression, from the initial chords, through to maximising the melodic potential of those chords, before adding in the rhythmic element that underpins it all, truly something to behold. As the chords begin to fall away, we are left with the drums and piano leading the song out, our minds up in the clouds somewhere from these first three musical scenes of grace and beauty. Damn.

Next comes Aybee and his track 'River Of Evermore', and this one begins in new territories once more. The chimes of the sequences work alongside each other in a very delightful way indeed, with the rhythmic elements split between these melodic lines and the light percussive elements that move around at the sides, creating this beautiful dynamic that creates this feel of being within this cavernous room with a full orchestra, with a view out into a environment that responds back. After the rhythmic expanse has begun to set in, we are greeted with all manner of wonderfully considered key lines on top, that add further into the song's infectious charm, the world it inhibits seemingly more colourful than the last, its feel and mood becoming more tangible and real with each passing second. The synths that slide across the dynamics only add further to the dynamics of sound, the considerations that take place within this track are so impressive. What a track. Up next comes Ian O'Brien with his track 'Music Comes From Within', and the fullness hits us immediately on this one. The orchestral arrangement slow moves through the gears, with the piano leading the way on top of deep swelling violins, creating a real sense of rhythm that constantly keeps us moving between the densities of the sound. This is certainly the prevailing feel of the track, with the majesty and beauty that exudes something to behold, especially for a track that lasts just over two minutes its pretty fucking impressive to craft as big a world as O'Brien does, as he delves into how layering and arrangement of emotive elements can do so much, even if it only lasts for a second. Up next comes the dream team of Gerald Mitchell, Volcov and Pirahnahead, with their track 'Snow', and it contains all you would expect from this trio. The drums lead the way initially, their slow and chuggy nature crafting an ideal base for what is to follow, with the melodic section of the track kicking off with the deep set swelling Detroit Techno chords, that eat up all in their wake. Delicate to the touch, they take a breather for a split second, before sliding right back into view, and the guitar playing (presumably by Pirahnahead) takes centre stage, its fluidity matched by its grace and technicality, crafting a beautiful dynamic between the solid state chords and softly spoken drums. The guitar begins to build in intensity, moving from a more intricate jazz fusion style and gravitating into a full on rock solo, that is matched by the swelling of elements and features from underneath by the keys, which become more interlaid and textured as time marches on. The track then descends further into this world it looks to craft and mould, with our hearts and minds taken along fully for the ride, its spellbinding beauty transcending us to worlds unknown, its structured yet unstructured feel remaining as compelling at the end as it is at the start. Fucking superb.

Towards the business end now. Dego comes on next with his track '31 Losses 31 Wins', and the feels begin to flow immediately. The chords at the start stand true, with the singular holding its own, as all manner of cosmic sounds begin to flow through its initial burst of energy, with the fast paced chords then leading into the breakdown of sorts. Texturally things just keep happening in this track, with Dego finding the right balance between chordal arrangements and robotic elements, and in that balance he hits hard the power of Detroit techno, where emotion and technology meet in the most compelling of ways. Short and very, very sweet. Up next comes Fred P and his track 'Star Crossed', and this one begins with the light fade in of the drum machine to get us going. Before long we are joined by the sweetest and most full of chords, which moves right through the heart of proceedings as the predominant feature, as the drums begin to pick up steam and elements along the way. This structure goes through the motions a few times over, before a swell in melodic atmosphere signals the switch up in relation to chords, the fluidity between changes swift and so beautifully pulled off, in true Fred P fashion, a full spectrum of mood that washes over us and passes into the clouds. The music cuts out for a minute, before he brings it all back in, except with the chords now having a muted feel, and from a textural point of view it just adds so much to the track, a contrast born out of mastery and vision, as the track is carried into the new day and age. Brilliant. To finish up, we have Linkwood with his track 'Citrus', and we begin in perhaps the most enriching place yet on this record, and that's saying something. The percussion is full and textured, and after this goes on for a few bars we are joined by the deep set chord that fills the space behind the drums with ease and purpose, as delicate keys swim on top of this sea of sound. Little snares add much to the forward momentum, and before long the track moves up a gear and into a more expanded world, with all manner of little key and chord changes crafting a new sense of dynamism to proceedings. As the track begins to peak in this sense, the drums filter out, with the key lines beginning to emerge as the lead driver in the track, and it just continues its upward journey from there until the end of time. Its a suitably dreamy yet driven track on which to end this compilation on, and we couldn't think of anything better to leave as the final thought for it. A beautifully precise and emotively balanced tune, one that will have you in quiet raptures for many a moment of reflection to come.

If there was a blueprint for how to write effective and beautifully composed tone and atmosphere into a series of tracks, then this album is right up there at the top of how to do it. From the very off, we see each producer begin their journey in a way that remains loyal to their manner of crafting tracks but as an overall picture reads as a series of almost dreamscapes that are pieced together by a singular thread of sonic exploration and bold expressiveness that sweeps from every corner of this astounding record. From the textural highs to the cavernous depths, to the bold and ever expanding parameters of sound to the minute intricate details that intuitively move through each passing second, its a record that speaks volumes for those who contributed to it and also the vision of those who looked to conceive the album in the first place. Rarely will you find an album solely dedicated to how keys and sequences can make you feel, and in this compilation you have a series of soundscapes you can immerse yourself in time and time again. Just pick one door to escape through, and you will keep opening doors until the very last note. Buy this immediately. Compilation of the year beckons for this one, we think.

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