Still and Always
Remix albums are a tough proposition. Their very nature is hit and miss, either because of the wildly varying quality of tracks (note: putting a house beat behind something and making the vocals sound like they’re underwater does not a good remix make) or at least because with a lot of different styles on the same album, one individual listener is less likely to enjoy the whole thing. Or, if the same track is remixed multiple times in similar ways, it gets boring. Or tracks might sound too similar to the originals and then why listen at all. You could easily argue that the place for remixes is on singles and teaser downloads, where they can be fun, interesting curios without having to support the weight of a full album.
Nevertheless, Ruhe threw caution to the wind recently and offered up the stems from his mini-album, Easing, in a free-for-all remix competition. Only one of nine tracks has any clue in the title to let you know which of Ruhe’s originals it might be based on and each artist seems to use the source material like you might use a sample, or a plug-in preset – as a tool for composing, rather than as an end result.
The deep, long, unintrusive drones of Easing are appropriately malleable for this kind of project. Most of the remix artists liven them up, adapting the base sound with a little of their own flavour, and then adding some new elements. Hummingbear’s “We’re Still Here” takes a drone that may or may not have come from “In Spite of it All” and turns it into a three-tone melodic ambience. Various other sounds interject briefly, culminating in a sweet, breathy female voice flickering indistinctly across the piece. To call it active would be a reach too far, but relative to the doldrums of Easing, it is. “Endless Branches” by The Humble Bee goes even further, bringing in a beat, albeit a minimal one.
Not all of the remixers take this route, however. Daniel Menche’s take on “Cadeau” (titled “Cadeux”) pares down one of the busier tracks from Easing. Menche stretches out the oscillations of the original and replaces the veil of static with a metallic, spacey sheen. In a neat twist, the track roughly follows the opposite trajectory to its source, gradually crescendoing and becoming rougher and rougher, reintroducing the static about halfway through and curdling into a wash of noise. It might be a little too long, but for a quarter of an hour Menche takes Ruhe’s music and really makes it his own.
That’s a pretty accurate summary of what makes Again, Still and Always a good album: each of the nine artists individualises their source enough for it to be theirs, and for it to be enjoyable on its own terms, but retains enough Ruhe for the music to be just about recognisable as a remix. It’s particularly effective when listened to immediately before or after Easing itself – the little ‘aha!’ moments when you realise where a sound came from are fun. Monolyth & Cobalt’s entry is another good example, making their mark with a jittery remix, as if it is just about to break into flurries of motion.
The lingering influence of Easing also helps unify the album. Each cut is undoubtedly different, but they all have some commonality. Renset’s “If it Pollinates” takes the immaculate coarseness of a Ruhe drone and focusses on the aggressive, gives it a bit more bite. Weltraumbruder takes the other side, polishing and drifting vaguely towards the shimmer of minimal techno. Both share a disarming simplicity and a signpost to their roots. As such, Again, Still and Always essentially gets to have its cake and eat it – each piece is an interesting, individual remix but the album as a whole doesn’t fall apart as a result.