The first thing that you notice with Space Trix Vol 1—at least if you're an old-school physical-format fan, or just like to have really cool stuff laying around the house—is its distinctive presentation. Shell out for the limited-edition box set, and you get more than just a fancy package (though you get that, too): The delivery system is a USB stick, ensconced in the belly-pack of the cutest little photopolymer-resin cosmonaut, designed by Swedish digital artist Andreas Olsson, that you've seen all year. That's not to mention a nifty little booklet and a sticker. Which is all well and good—but what if, like most of us, you're the downloading type? (Or what if the box sets are out of stock, as they were at press time?) What about the music itself?
First of all, it sounds great. The tracks, from Matthew Dear, Ghostly International's Heathered Pearls, Mike Slott and Claude Speed, among others, were edited and remixed by the somewhat mysterious sound artist CJ Mirra, who…well, we'll let him explain. "It's a compilation of tracks (some new and some reworked) mixed binaurally in true 3D sound, especially for listening on headphones. All the artists sent me the stems and I played them back through various amps and speakers (for Matthew Dear's track I did this in a forest) and recorded it with binaural mics in my ears. When you listen back to that recording it is like you are hearing exactly what I heard with the sound coming from above and below, in front and behind."
The aural quality is indeed fantastically immersive, at least if your phones are up to the task. But, of course, none of the above matters a whit if the songs are crap. Happily, they are not—instead, the mostly beat-free Space Trix Vol 1 is awash in gorgeous ambiance, much of it managing the neat trick of merging minimalism with rich lushness. The set kicks off in elegiac fashion with somber, swelling tones of "Keep Me Here" from Slott, one of the most subtle and thoughtful members of the LuckyMe camp. It's a fitting opener: The descending waves of sounds are simple and welcoming, building anticipation for what's to come. Neon Jung's "Looking Sideways Through Time" posits itself as shaded pageantry, an army of synthetic horns heralding a somber, stately affair; Kirk Spencer adds a bit of new-age sheen to the set via "Upsides," but rather than coming off as cloying, the song's hyper-melodicsm and grand gestures signify a sort of melancholy optimism. Mirra's own "Fusa," with its cavernous organs, has the feel of a beatific hymn, while Heathered Pearls "The Worship Bell" shimmers and shivers with uplift and, perhaps, a touch of menace. Dear's "Around A Fountain," meanwhile, is probably the most propulsive of the bunch, with clattering, train-track rhythm providing the base for transcendent coos and Dear's own obscured, chanted vocals. The album closer, an excerpt of binaural-sound artist Dallas Simpson's "Websters Raft" is the most demonstration-disc-esque cut of all the album's tracks—it could be (and, actually, may be) a field recording of someone floating on a woodland lake while fiddling with bits and pieces of whatever's on hand. It's a great showcase for what 3D recording is capable of—and while it's far from the most musical track on Space Trix Vol 1, it's certainly preceded by plenty of breathtaking moments.