Christian Smith – Stranger Than Paradise album review

Artist : Christian Smith
Title : Stranger Than Paradise
Label : Tronic
Release : 3rd November 2014
Genre : Techno

The fact that Tronic, celebrating 20th anniversary this year is one of the Top 5 selling techno labels in the world is a mark of a man who stands for nothing less than pure quality. Christian Smith stands out as one of the world’s leading exponents of inventive, diverse techno and “Stranger Than Paradise” continues his enthralling, ever-evolving musical journey with aplomb. Both as a DJ and producer, he is always innovative and bold, a leader not a follower. Alongside the jaw-dropping excellence of the solo tracks, this new album also features dynamic, inventive collaborations with Wehbba (Christian’s great friend and regular collaborator), the New York based house music legend Cevin Fisher, long-time studio collaborator John Selway, and Christian’s childhood friend and hip-hop artist Arcturus Ra. The “Stranger Than Paradise” album project will be unveiled first as four singles released at weekly intervals through the month of October, with the full album release following in the first week of November on 12” vinyl and digital formats. An album remix pack will be released in December.

Starting the Album is Traction, an honest to goodness Detroit techno beast of a track. Synth lines bristle alongside skippy percussion and begging 3 note hooks and sets the scene well for what is fast becoming one of my favourite artist albums this year. The Urge is probably the best thing I’ve heard Cevin Fisher do in a while. Again its based around a nagging stab hook matched with clattering snares but with the delightful addition of a sinister spoken vocal. One of those tracks dropped as the floor starts to fill to really lift the room. Silencer is a bass heavy growling house track whose baseline transforms into the lead hook at the breaks. Its a work of production genius for a fledgling producer like me and is one of those tracks that leaves you scratching your head on how he did it. For the dance floor its a great mid set groover with acid nuances and oodles of funk.

Who Are You is a sonic journey track. Starting fairly minimally, its gradually develops over time into a rocking funky techno peace timer. Expect the likes of Marco Bailey and Carl Cox to be all over this as well as some of the more techno orientated progressive DJs like myself. Breaking the mould a little is the delicately broken beat Motor. The bass line is reminiscent of Youngsters – Smile (Sasha Involver mix) as is the basic kick & snare pattern. Despite that, its a nice addition to what is essentially a collection of dance floor cuts. Christians’ second collaboration track is a deep techno work out. The trademark skippy percussion is joined this time with a snappy woodblock to give drive and movement, the nagging repeated synth is pretty low in the mix compared to his solo productions, and acts as a layer of motion more than a definable lead, as a result the track very easily makes 3 minutes before a break or change of pace is needed. This is crafted by two masters of groove after all, and when the break finally does kick back in Im pealing myself off the ceiling! This is a huge track.

Expansion dials things back a little. Deep and hypnotic, this is early morning territory and classic Christian Smith. The baseline playfully nestles with the stab line in a question and answer fashion and as the tracks runs and layers are added the tension builds satisfactorily to the break at three and a half minutes. Another well executed track destined for dance floor greatness. Childhood friend and hip hop artist Arcturus Ra joins Christian on Step into Your Center, and if Im honest it isn’t what I expected at all. First off its a techno track, I was expecting something a little more downtempo. For those that remember Leftfield or Foremost Poets – Moonraker, this is very much up your street and a highlight for me. Surrender sees Smith team up with his studio pal of old, the equally talented John Selway for an acid house masterclass of a tune. If ever there was a tune to benchmark what ‘End of Night’ tunes should sound like, this is it. Huge. The CD closes in much the same way it began. Matrix is textbook techno of the highest order and like many of the cuts from this album will find their way into the sets of a multitude of DJs sets over the coming few months.

A triumph from start to finish and a fitting way to celebrate 20 years of ground breaking, future proof music making. Bravo.

01// Traction
02// The Urge (featuring Cevin Fisher)
03// Silencer
04// Who You Are
05// Motor
06// Mutate (with Wehbba)
07// Expansion
08// Step Into Your Center (featuring Arcturus Ra)
09// Surrender (with John Selway)
10// Matrix

Bonus Tracks:
Who You Are (Hypno Dub)
The Urge (Instrumental)
Surrender (Acid House Mix)