When is a mixtape not a mixtape? When it sounds like a mixtape, but is comprised of original sounds. This is the case with Space Castles, Love Songs, a groovy, beat-tastic full-length from Russia’s Alexander Efimov, also known as Nienvox. When listening, one may be trying to place the samples, only to realize that they are not samples, but contemporary recreations of what the samples would have sounded like had they been samples in the first place. It’s extremely difficult to make an organic album that doesn’t sound organic, but through the use of older instruments, Nienvox has been able to do just that. This creates a sense of disoriented excitement. One looks forward to hearing the next development, unsure of what form it might take but confident that each left turn will be fully justified.
It’s not all organic; “Space Love Kaleidoscope” contains a clear dialogue sample (“I dreamt I was sleeping”), as does “Colorful Objects” (featuring Phil Gerus, a track that has been around for a while, waiting to be included on the album). Drum loops abound, although drum loops remain in the public domain, unable to be copyrighted. (Imagine if someone were to copyright the 4/4 beat!) But Nienvox bleaches his synths and guitars to match the timbre of the larger work, a simple trick that pays great dividends. It’s never clear whether one is hearing a thick transmission from the past or a brand-new composition, and therein lies the fun. The crackly vinyl sample of “The End” (found on the disc but not the download) roots the recording in time, although even this may be a sleight of hand.
Throughout the recording, Nienvox displays an affinity for the earnest and sometimes psychedelic sounds of 60s and 70s surf and spy films. (Note: that’s two different types of film!) “Jumping Star” comes across as a slower, instrumental version of “Groove Is In the Heart” (1990) – an homage to an homage. The artist is playful, yet respectable, celebrating the musicality of an overlooked sub-genre. When such sounds were first produced, they were often considered throwaways, but time has found them durable, and with luck and attention, Nienvox’s own new, old sounds will experience similar success. (Richard Allen)