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  LTJ Bukem
by Sterling McGarvey

LTJ BukemLTJ Bukem really doesn't need an introduction. Anyone who can truly call him/herself a Drum n' Bass head has to have sweated off a couple of hundred calories on a dancefloor jamming to the magic of the Progression Sessions. Good Looking Records has a niche market. You know a DnB record off the label when you hear it. Lush, dreamy soundscapes over dubby, rolling basslines and midtempo drum kicks permeate any of their singles. At roughly the same time annually, the masses get graced with a new mix CD of his sounds. Call it a compilation of the tour you just recently saw, call it whatever you want.

Anytime a new Progression Sessions CD drops, it's a time to rejoice. This year's edition is no exception. I would go so far as to rank this under the fourth edition (the unbeatable album) as my favorite of the series. The 2000 edition (Progression Sessions 5) while dope, had a bad case of too many cooks spoiling the broth with Conrad and DRS tag teaming over Bukem's mixes, which highlighted the talents of the label's various specialists.

This year, the Good Looking Crew flips the script. The usual smooth track selection and distinctive flip of the crossfader are still there, but this year, they show love to the American crowd by creating the album from a live set at the Roxy in Boston. Whereas past releases were loaded with cuts featuring the producing skills of Blame, PFM, Rantoul, Big Bud, and Seba, this album focuses on the gorgeous tracks of 2000's big signee, Gavin Cheung, better known as Nookie, as well as Makoto. The album is loaded with those songs you danced your ass off to at some point during his tour. Finally, there's a name you, the non-DJ, can attach to those songs that made you move your feet.

The album kicks off gracefully, as all of his mixes do, with a gliding intro courtesy of Nookie's "Continental Drift." The bass kicks in and Conrad works his magic on the mic. When the man's bad on disc, he's still pretty good. He's en fuego on this album. The fiery energy of "Continental Drift" moves into Makoto's trademark piano keys in "Inside Your Love," as Conrad serenades the crowd with his crooning. And anyone would have to know Makoto's "Take My Soul Baby" from it's catchy keywork and bassline. The only way anyone who's seen the tour live in the past year hadn't heard this track must have been through a case of unfortunate bathroom breaks during the set. It's definitely a peak hour track, which is odd that it's placed so early in the album. Nevertheless, it's a chance for everyone to finally ID the name of this sonic gem.

MC Conrad Future Engineers' "Echo Location" kicks up the heat a bit with its synth stabs. It's definitely one that will have your feet tapping. It flawlessly melts into Rantoul's "Defalt." "Defalt" is ten minutes of deep rolling basslines, a rewind, and Amen breaks. Mmm mmm good. Makoto & Akira kick it down a little bit, but not much with "Mind Vision," which boasts possibly the sickest breakdown on the album. If this doesn't melt your mind, nothing will. It's floaty perfection. MC Conrad's production was debuted on the last album with "Logical," now he gets his first of two highlighted remixed tracks with Makoto's remix of "Future's Call." It's what you'd expect out of any of Makoto's Drum n' Bass tracks on any Bukem selection: lots of piano keys and a good, warm vibe. One day, I'm praying that Good Looking will release a record of nothing but extended breakdowns of the Progression Sessions tracks with no Drum n' Bass. Seriously, that would end up being one of the sicker Downtempo/Ambient albums on the market.

"Future's Call" morphs effortlessly into Nookie's "Natural Experience," and as Conrad says, "the return of the 'Good Time Vibe.'" It is at this point that the album begins to make its home stretch as the final three tracks highlight Nookie's productions. The next track, Conrad's "Energetic Poetry (Nookie Remix)" is an amalgamation of funky wah-wah licks, a deep bassline, and jazzy effervescence. Oh, yeah. It's a head nodder and a foot-mover. Just don't let anyone catch you dancing in your underwear to it. Finally, the album winds down (or does it?) with "Solstice." The crowd is at a full roar in the background by now. Conrad's got them feeding out of his hand. And then...Bukem hits the power button and the party's over.

Ultimately, Bukem and Conrad accomplish their goal. They have captured the vibe of one of their live sets on a disc. I just wonder if the instrumental track retains any of the crowd response. Solid track selection and Conrad's always consistent flowing keep this album rolling along beautifully. The new Progression Sessions is like a set you'd download off a file-sharing program, only you get track breakups and liner notes. Dare I say it, it's got the power of quite a few of Bukem's sets that are floating around the web, and everyone has an affinity for the bootlegs, whether they want to admit it or not. It even holds a candle to the famous "2-Step Drum n' Bass Mix" out there. But this one's for real. And it's worth your hard earned cash.



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