"royal astronomy" (Album, 1999)
If there's one thing you have to admire about Mike Paradinas (aka µ-ziq) it's his willingness to openly express his ideas, pretty much unchecked by any sense of conformity. This results in some of his work (under various alises) sounding like that of a genius, whilst at other times the ramblings of a mad man. As much as this schizophrenic personality is what defines Mike Paradinas, it can sometimes make for frustrating listening.
When I first heard µ-ziq live my overriding memory is that half the set was inspirational and the other amateurish drivel. For those willing to take the leap of faith required when listening to Paradinas the gems are well worth sifting through the detritous for. royal astronomy makes great use of a small string section - something that was a highlight of the µ-ziq tour during 2000. Opening with the strings, scaling lets them run free in a moody piece whose bell chimes, plucked violin strings and kettle drums conjure up images of epic clipper ships gracing the oceans. This is quickly followed by the hwicci song that introduces Paradinas' trademark nutty cut-up technique and off-beat percussion rolls alongside the string section.
Although snippets of voices crop up all over the album, there are two tracks that feature vocals by Japanese female artist Kazumi; an impressive singer whose style combines the technical dexterity of Bjork with the meaningless but nevertheless attractive meanderings of Liz Fraser. Kazumi first appears on the fear (which was spun off royal astronomy as a successful single). Tamborines, strings and a looping synth melody form the repetative backing to which Kazumi's ethereal vocal treatments add a dynamic extra layer. Both vocal and musical elements quickly find their place and simply repeat the idea. At only just over four minutes, Paradinas has wisely chosen not to try an stretch the simplistic but very effective concept beyond its means.
goodbye, goodbye, appropriately enough, ends the album and is the second track to feature the Japanese vocalist. The nebulous analogue bass that dominates the track is perfectly complimented by Kazumi's beautiful floating tones that overlay a melody pulling the piece through an underwater current. gruber's mandolin has a tension and sense of forboding that would suit a European art house thriller; whilst carpet muncher's title displays Paradinas' sense of humour, its breakbeat percussion working well with the retro Moogisms of the French kitsch synth lines. the motorbike track features a sample from Royalty by Gang Starr and represents the less convincing side of the Englishman's imagination. world of leather passes not far from Air's neighbourhood; scrape is a one-and-a-half minute piece for strings and synths; and 56 begins with an almost John Barry-like hook.
Perhaps the major undermining factor is a slight lack of progression within certain tracks. Counteracting this tendency, however, are the brief running times. With fourteen tracks clocking up less than one hour, the average track length is less than four minutes. Simple, sometimes very efficient, perhaps Mike Paradinas' legacy would be greater if he could control his prolific enthusiasm. Though, if he did it's possible he couldn't function at all. Those interested in exploring the outer limits will be happy to go mining in royal astronomy in search for something a bit different. They may not be dazzled by what they find but the journey is certainly an eventful one. 6/10