WorldClass, 2002

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Kazakhstani vocalist Irina Mikhailova's Russian Twilight [Well Tempered, 5184, 1997, recorded on Skywalker's scoring stage] was one of those rare gems where stellar recording quality met stunningly different female vocals in a minimalist ethnic setting. Bay Area formation Lumin is her new artistic abode, jointly occupied by acid Jazz cat Michael Emenau on drum programming and Stellamara co-founder/producer Jeffrey Stott on various Middle-Eastern percussion instruments, oud, bass and hammered dulcimer. Following 1998's debut release Datura is last year's Lumin, an ambient/techno album whose haunting Bulgarian Choir-style vocals, often overdubbed for eerie harmonies, put a unique while authentic spin on the genre.

Vocally in the Azam Ali/Lisa Gerrard/Rasa stream of neo-tribalism, Lumin then veers into a shadowy world of dark ambient moods faintly suggestive of Steve Roach's ground-breaking work with its subterranean bass beats and synthscapes penetrating primitive ancestral layers of our collective psyche. Parallel, "spiritually" sympathetic wayfarers are Cheb i Sabbah's sacred India-centric trilogy and Sufi Trance's Thunder of The Swords.

Because its vocals are used in instrumental rather than spotlight solo focus, Hadra squarely falls into the ambient camp. The emphasis is on erecting amorphously shifty, suggestively hypnotic soundscapes that create a fragrance or gestalt rather than spell out the thing itself. It's modern mood music of the twilight zone, a time traditionally considered to briefly open a crack between different dimensions that allowed shamans, visionaries and astral travelers to visit magical, Castaneda-type realms.

The psychic passage opened by Hadra leads not into sunny paradisiacal vistas but atmospherically charged places, making the listener feel like a homeless spirit drifting across desolate alien wastelands under the pale lights of dark suns. Hadra truly is a kind of psychotropic aural substance. Imbibing it via the ears will send you on a journey deep into inner dream space.