June 25, 2009

Tread – Tread 3 (2002, Norm)

Hiroshi Watanabe is best know for his series of releases on Kompakt as Kaito, which turned a lot of heads in '01-'02 with a fresh interpretation of trance techno that reviewers ended up calling “neo-trance”. Most people are not aware that Watanabe had been active in Japan since the mid-'90s producing 12”s and music for video games, including the Beat Mania series. At the same time as the Kaito material was being released worldwide, Watanabe was also collaborating with Takehiko Kitahara, a fashion designer and graphic artist with whom he runs the Norm label, and releasing albums under the name Tread only in Japan, and later, the UK via Third Ear. Whereas Kaito explored multi-layered, high-energy synthesizer riffs and pounding trance beats, Tread is more along the down-tempo, “chill out” side of house music. The tracks have a slow-burning groove, with gentle, undistorted instrumentation, and minimalist, unprocessed drum machine patterns that sound influenced by Theo Parrish, although simpler and less experimental/jumpy. Although centered around 4/4 house beats, most of the tracks are 100bpm and under, making them less appropriate for the dance floor and better suited for lounging and head-nodding. The tone alternates between chill, blissed out and a bit melancholy, with a funky edge throughout. Tread produced five albums between '01 and '05, each consisting of around 8 long tracks, with similar striped covers with a different color scheme for each release, each representing a season of the year (“Tread 3” being Summer). I guess the 5th album wasn't originally planned in the series, and does not appear to feature the same cover style. I personally found “Tread 3” to be my favorite and the most catchy, but all of the Tread material is worth hearing and explores similar territory, plus I have to admit I haven't heard the most recent “Tread 5”. I also have really enjoyed Kaito's 12”s and “Special Life” album on Kompakt, but when I am not feeling so high-energy, Tread makes excellent low-key house music.