It's rare to find a mix CD that can really deliver an experience to the listener - most of the time what you get is a collection of tracks that, at best, are artfully sewn together but lack any intellectual or emotional cohesion. The result is something you can put on for background at your party, with an occasional track that might catch your attention, but rarely will you feel compelled to just sit there and listen. Volume 3 of the Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi series by Alex Smoke, however, is that rare collection that is capable of leading the listener along through seventy plus minutes of diverse sound that, at its conclusion, makes you feel that you have really have gone somewhere.
Deep house fans will hear much that is familiar in the tracks Smoke has selected for his mix, from the deep heartbeat bass and langourous organ chords in Model 500's "M69 Starlight" to the oscillating background waves of "Minor Explosions" from Stewart Walker Vs. Theorem. The whole vibe of this mix is very deep, and very house, though the minimal aesthetic governs everything; the tracks are complex and poly-rhythmic, but each track element has its own distinctive position and value. There's lots of space in these tracks, and it's this space that makes for such a compelling listening experience because it provides an opportunity for the listener to insert their own own mind and follow along. This can be in the form of intellectual amazement at the polyrhythms and interactions among the track elements, or emotional enjoyment of the vistas that begin to appear in the mind's eye. About halfway through, when Smoke brings in "Detroit: One Circle" by The Vision, the tempo picks up and the high-hats and hand claps evoke old-school acid house before taking us over into more abstract territory with "Xenia" by Thomas Brinkmann, easily the kookiest and most-good natured track on this compilation (with the hysterical "25 Bitches (Gaiser Remix)" by Troy Pierce a good second). Clara Intellecto brings in an electro bass line with "Peace of Mind," but this just provides feel-good downtempo setup for the most techno section of the mix, starting with "Juan and Alex" by Musica Charlista, moving through the glistening keyboard stabs and hip-hop inflected bassline of "Faktum" by Epy, and concluding with Smoke's own track "Pingu." "Pingu" sounds like it could have been put out on a minimal psytrance label like Traktor, with a slow build that then unwinds into a loping bassline punctuated by chopped and distorted vocal sounds. Smoke leads us out of this dark territory with "Squat" by Quixote and his own "Always and Forever," giving us a triumphant build into "Fokuz" by 2000 and One, another track that evokes the old days of rave with its acid lines, steady bass pulse, and chatter of high-hats.
The mixing of all this is flawless, with long mixes, the use of quick snippets (as in the beginning, where we move through three tracks in under six minutes), and the ability to borrow elements from one track to use in another. I suspect that this mix was assembled using Ableton or Traktor, but the mechanics of it all inconsequential in consideration of the art that is produced.
Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Volume 3 from Alex Smoke gets the two rolling boys' thumb's up. No matter where your head is at, it will be someplace different by the time you finish listening to this mix, and chances are, it will be a happier, more satisfied place than where you started from.