Juno Reactor has long been one of the mainstays of trance music. From its first album Transmissions, with its dance-like feel, to Beyond the Infinite, still a classic in almost any techno collection and finally to Bible of Dreams, the haunting 1997 album, the group has set a very high bar. Juno Reactor’s newest CD, Shango, more than meets this standard.
Like its other albums, Shango follows the trance genre closely, with large bass beats, light airy synth lines and tight, multi-layered compositions. But this album has a much different feel than any of its others. The beats are still there and make themselves quite well known, but it does not sound or feel like a traditional techno album, making the album absolutely amazing. Intros to songs are not punctuated by the strange, spacey voices or soft melody lines apparent in the group’s first three albums, but feature a more international feel. Classical Spanish guitar begins the album and Middle Eastern wailing fills the CD’s climax.
Shango is a more subdued album compared to the group’s earlier works, but it still contains that inner spark that keeps you listening. It is rare to find a techno album that can hold your attention without making you want to dance. But this is nothing like the chilled-out ambient feel of Autechre or the almost ridiculous works of Richard D. James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin). No, this is definitely Juno Reactor.
The album begins with a very Spanish-sounding feel. It leads in with some amazing classical Spanish guitar. The sound is authentic guitar playing and skillful synthesizer work – a great mixture of live music and electronics. What is perhaps the best part of this album is that the synthesizers and drum-machines become complements to the live music and singing. The mixing is amazing, allowing very pronounced and often rough synth lines to mingle with, but not over-shadow, the live guitars, drums and voices.
The rest of the album builds to an amazing climax. Track five, Masters of the Universe, is undoubtedly the best track on the CD. The synth lines come right out of classic trance and make you want to jump, but the beats are so slow and melodic that any activity distracting the you from just listening seems blasphemous. Consistent with the rest of the album, a great equilibrium is reached between the kinetic feel of the synthesizers and the general calm of the composition. This track comes the closest to the classic Juno Reactor, i.e. Guardian Angel, but is completely new in sound and texture.
After the climax, the album takes on an almost-ambient feel. There are beats, oh yes, there are beats, but they are tame compared to the rest of the songs, and especially the group’s earlier works. The last track, Song for Ancestors, closes the album with an amazing mix of elements used throughout the experience. Yet none of the elements control the song as they work together in an amazing composition.
One of the hallmarks of a truly great band is the ability to innovate, yet retain an original feel. Juno Reactor succeeds admirably in this album. But be warned, this is not your typical raver’s trance. If you want massive bass and frenzied compositions, try the new Tsunami album. But if you want to see electronic music at its best, fused with the great sounds and feels of live music, then you must have this one.