Thee Koukouvaya: Ancient Race of Techno-Voyagers (Fiercely Independent Records, 2016)
Thee Koukouvaya is the ambient, experimental, electronica project of John O’Hara and Brian Wenckebach (formerly Elika). Ancient Race of Tecnho-Voyagers is a departure from their previous two releases, This is the Mythology of Modern Death and Witches’ Jelly. The previous two releases, which came out in 2015, fell on the more ambient side of the spectrum, lightly mixing in elements that one finds on Techo-Voyagers. The current disc plays on a sort of sci-fi motif, with thumping bass and spacey synths. O’Hara and Wenckebach have broadened their palate here and I mean this to be a good thing. They weave together ambient, techno, and experimental elements with a finesse and mastery. Each track is an experimental composition but they each sit within the overall feel and theme of the album.
The introduction to the album, “We Walked Out of Mexico Loaded” gives the impression that Thee Koukouvaya have stepped off into heavy avant-garde techno territory. It hums along with fuzzy, bass beats, laser sounds, squeaks and pops, and a heavy dose of fuzz. This isn’t your mother’s dance music. It is futuristic and definitely plays into the theme suggested by the title of the album. The listener is ushered in to the world of the Techno-Voyagers right from the start. “Suspicion Breeds Confidence” continues with an ominous tone. There is an eerie ambient undertone with electronic beats and voice samples that play amid spaces in the track. It really sets the mood for what follows. It has a melancholy tone with a touch of organic electro-orchestration. Perhaps the Ancient Race is being sonically depicted as peering through the ages to our present and laments.
“The Modern Beige” begins with a marching beat and electronic warbles and sounds dotting the sonic landscape. Old school game sounds, reminiscent of Pac-Man, blip about in the mix over the top of harsh beats. This track ends the beginning, ominous entrance into the album. “Planetary Archive”, however, is light and fresh. It is avant-garde techno with a splash of eighties dance music. This is most certainly a bright moment in the progression of the album and gets one’s head bobbing. “Limbic Crisis for Sparkle Foam” combines the melancholy and bright elements of what came before. This central piece on the disc is indeed pivotal. The techno-space journey is bought to a genre melding mold with techno, organic feeling beats, melancholy, and brightness all rolled into one. It’s a compositional wonder and demonstrates O’Hara and Wenckebach at the height of their abilities.
“Nauplia” begins as a moment of pause. It is a full throated ambient track reminiscent of Witches’ Jelly but O’Hara and Wenckebach do not abandon the theme of the album. This feels like a reflection of the vacuum of space, where the brilliance of planets and the stars are at their most potent. The track is the longest on the disc and leaves the listener with a sense of awe and beauty. “Pluto Heart” returns to the harsher clicks and tones found in various places on the album. Perhaps the listener has been invited to venture out to the edge of the solar system and now is asked to contemplate the very center of its furthest body. “Margaritas by the Pool” brings the listener back down to Earth with a dance party feel floating on beats and drones that evoke what the title indeed indicates. Ulrich Schnauss lends his talent to this piece, playing the vocoder. It evokes late night dance moments in Greece or Italy and is a wonderful foil to the melancholy moments on the disc. “Aged into Conformity” is the finale on the disc and has a low humming beat with sparkling synths dancing on top as they move through the speakers. There is a beautiful play between sparse techno sensibilities and an ambient, glossy release.
Thee Koukouvaya’s Ancient Race of Techno-Voyagers is a brilliant techno-ambient, avant-garde, experimental piece of art. O’Hara and Wenckebach move effortlessly between moments of dread and melancholy to moments of celebration and tranquility. There is indeed a sense of sci-fi disaster here but not without the nod toward the hope that life might bring between the potential alien invasions and existential dread that comes with realizing one’s smallness in the universe. Highly Recommended.
Get Ancient Race of Techno-Voyagers on vinyl while it’s available here.
Listen to some Thee Koukouvaya tracks here.
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