µ-ziq Royal Astronomy

When it comes to song-writing, there isn't much to say about Mike Paradinas’ project µ-ziq that hasn't been said before. The balance of erratic drum programming and child-sweet melodies on Royal Astronomy is still just as pristine as it has been on any of his releases under this alias. However, this time around, the presence of the Icelandic String Octet — best known for their work with Björk — gives Paradinas' formula a fresh, progressive dimension. (Paradinas opened for Björk on her Homogenic tour last summer.) The coupling of strings with Paradinas' eccentric electronics make up all of the best tracks on the album. "Scaling" and "Gruber's Mandolin" sound like futuristic adaptations of 19th century ballets, while "Scrape" impresses like a piece of chamber music being conducted in outer space. The collaboration expands with the sonorous, feminine tones of Kazimi on "Goodbye, Goodbye" and "The Fear," bringing Paradinas' sound closer to the synth-pop of OMD or Erasure (but with greater integrity) than anything by Luke Vibert, the Aphex Twin or any of the electronica homeboys he's often lumped with. The beauty of all of this ultimately lies in the fact that this new µ-ziq is also less enslaved by programming and much more dynamically human. The progression is noticeable in the electro-grind of "The Motorbike Track" and "Autumn Acid" as well as the tight, but light, bounce of "Slice." Without a doubt, Royal Astronomy is indicative of how great electronic music could sound if more of these studio geeks got together with open-minded live musicians. (Astralwerks)