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Songs from the Silk Road
Artist: Banco de Gaia   
Label: Disco Gecko
Time: 10 Tracks / 80 minutes
When Banco de Gaia (aka Toby Marks) celebrated twenty years of making music in 2009, a third of the celebratory release comprised full-length covers of Pink Floyd’s "Echoes," King Crimson’s "Starless" and "Spirit of the Age" by Hawkwind. He had also enjoyed flirting with experimental jazz and classical music.

Given that he is now producing electronica, regular visitors may spot the appeal of the disc to this reviewer – especially given that he is mixing house with world music. This new retrospective seems to be missing the house, at least of the upbeat four-on-the-floor variety, but it does feature bass synth and plenty of layered electronica.

Most pleasing is that he has avoided the temptation to show the width of what he can do, and as a result, this focused collection hangs together well, all chilled, fizzy and sparkling as a freshly-iced, fruity soda drink.

Marks started out playing trumpet and guitar, and his switch to keyboards seems more like hard work than natural flair. You don’t have to listen for long to realise that what he does is often arpeggiated and technically simple, but the far more important thing is that it works exceedingly well, despite the simplicity. Even the live track from Glastonbury (“Last Train to Lhasa”), although its initial samples give way to a somewhat muscular loop, ends up nearly as layered and swirling as a studio work.

Its samples lead naturally into the ambient dub of “Sheesha,” which joins the glitter-ball electronica of “Big Men Cry” and the percussive wash of “Touching the Void” in making a collection of vaguely exotic rhythmic atmospheres.This is what dreams sound like: snatches of distant foreign voices, hypnotic beats and effervescent, dancing synth tones.

I could say that it sounds like Moby (at his most instrumentally populist) meets Karl Jenkins meets Air meets Röyksopp, with trippy dashes of Klaus Schulze; or that it should appeal to those who share Marks’s love of both loopy keyboard extravaganzas and prog’s extended instrumentals. But the bottom line is this: if you enjoyed those albums, popular in the ‘80s, that sampled chanting monks over light beats and synthscapes, you should love Songs from the Silk Road.

Derek Walker


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