Some will have heard this pretty spectacular acid freeform track when it appeared on Nirotiy’s SoundCloud recently. Following up one of the best ever remixes of an Alek track isn’t easy, but Ray of Oblivion makes a fine job of it, keeping the Alek influence but sounding much more experimental than Iron Squid.

What you might not have noticed was its release on the huge compilation of harder Chinese sounds The Silent Xosmos -United and Unbound –. While the compilation itself is far too all over the place to get a TYFTH gold star, Irish Kappa’s Fabulous Action and Valtrax’s Recall are two quality freeform tracks on the melodic side. Have a browse through the rest of the album for everything from hardstyle to makina – if you have a Shimo-level range of listening/mixing tastes then this could be the album for you.

It’s no secret that getting the psychedelic/goa influence back into freeform is one of my goals these days, but interestingly this lovely album is coming at things from the opposite direction. Clearly from a psy/goa background (or at least with more experience in that area), Yogga* shows a good ear for when and how to introduce NRG/freeform sounds to all seven of the tracks here.

It’s probably the kick and bass that most betray the lack of freeform experience (and the occasional happy hardcore-esque combined kick and clap definitely takes some getting used to), but get past that and you’re in for an excellent listen. If anything, the opening track (Seratonin) is the least freeform of them all, sounding more like a pacy, acoustic goa set-ender. Still a lovely track, mind, nicely setting up the atmosphere for the rest of the album.

Oxytocin is one I can definitely imagine fitting into a freeform set, with some excellent goa acid and filtered synths leading into a quality breakdown. Unfortunately it is on the shorter side – the album is seemingly put together to be listened to in its entirety, which means DJs might have trouble with a couple of the tracks (the excellent Dopamin, especially). Saying that, they’re in a pretty consistent key and it wouldn’t be difficult to mix a few of them back to back – the beautiful Endorphine and Melatonin are two of the most emotional, psychedelic tracks and would be an especially nice combo, I suspect.

What a unique, enjoyable album this is, then. Fitting some of these into a set could be perfect way to introduce some new atmospheres – I’ll be having a practice with them very soon.

It’s highly likely that I missed an announcement about this at the time (especially now that I’ve escaped the clutches of most social media), but either way this is a first TYFTH mention of Carbon Based’s ridiculously good Kraateri EP. Apparently it sneaked out in the middle of last year, making it one of the best releases of 2023.

The first track is what you’d expect, a remastered version of the original that still stands up to anything in that bpm range of twisty-melodic NRG. It’s with Reincarnation that things really get interesting though, as this is a superb new version that takes the atmosphere to another level. Crucially it still sounds nice and gritty in the NRG filtering, but the goa influence that was always there in founding FINRG releases has more depth and clarity than you’d typically have heard in the early years.

This is one of FINRG’s strongest releases for quite a while, and deserves all the support if you’re like me and missed it the first time around. All the digital stores have their problems but I’m linking beatport here – it’s likely available elsewhere too.

If you’re missing NRG after all the freeform releases lately, take a look at this superb EP by B.R.K, released on Eryk Orpheus’ Intelli-trance label earlier this month.

It goes without saying that B.R.K’s composition has been top drawer from the very early days, and the production levels have steadily improved with each album release. Here though some mastering wizardry from Eryk Orpheus has definitely taken things up a step, with the whole release sounding like the cleanest of Lab4 productions.

It’s more NRG than hard trance, as you’d expect, but on the uplifting side when the melodies kick in. My favourite though is Rome Will Burn Down with its guitar-led breakdown (played by the man himself, I expect), bringing some deeper atmospheres to the usual B.R.K. formula.

Listening through the whole release makes you release how long it’s been since we’ve had something similar – make sure to show some support for this one.

We’ve already talked plenty about Blood from the Sky, Alek’s superb new dark freeform track, but surprisingly it isn’t releasing on FINRG after all. Instead it’s available for free on Alek’s own SoundCloud, which as a track of the year contender makes this a massive treat. If you haven’t already, support Alek instead by picking up 5396 miles and/or Ten Thousand Homeworlds from his bandcamp. Maybe even with a little extra added to cover Blood from the Sky?

We already know that the Chinese scene has the best up-and-coming DJs in freeform, but this utterly great track from Nirotiy shows that they could have the production side covered soon, too. It takes a brave soul to remix one of Alek’s tracks, especially when done by ear with no midi files to lean on – Nirotiy has done a superb job of recreating Iron Squid’s psychedelic melodies, as well as referencing the original track with some wonderful, growling synths. Even the new approach to the structure hits the spot, while the breakdown feels fresh in this new setting. A textbook example on how to update an anthem, in other words, making it the first contender for track of the year.

I was supposed to put this post online a couple of weeks ago, but Alek was adding so much new material to his SoundCloud that I couldn’t keep up. Things have calmed down again now, so here’s a roundup of some of the wonderful stuff he’s been working on recently.

Toisto is a lovely update to a tracker(?)/demoscene track, even if I’m not familiar with the original and had no luck with a search. The Boulder Dash theme, on the other hand, is an absolute classic and has been a favourite of mine for over 30 years. Here Alek’s gone for a trance remix, perhaps wisely as the theme is so good that you can quite happily loop it for 4 or 5 minutes without getting bored. Might we hear these tracks in another back to back set with Byproduct in the not-too-distant future?

Before we get on to the harder side it was a Paocala track from earlier this year that gave me hope for if/when Alek made a freeform comeback. 5396 Miles (at the top of this post) is a beautiful, downtempo soundtrack-esque piece that finds Alek right back in that emotional, otherwordly place where he’s always made his best music. Dare I say, I think it’s the best he’s written for years, and channelling that (back) into freeform would raise the bar, just as he did 20 years ago.

The first of the harder tracks is a collab with Decion, and an excellent hard trance/dance track that nicely combines the two styles. It’s only 150bpm, mind, and very much in the Decion style of ‘very hard trance’ rather than NRG, making it tough to get into a weightier Hard NRG set. Find the right tracks to surround it though, and this could be the uplifting centrepiece with an atmosphere that not many will match.

Origami Hearts is at freeform speed for sure, and even flirts with some of the depth of 5396 Miles with its spectacular opening. That gives way for some oldskool ravey sounds and a lead that almost has me imagining it’s an Alek-Substanced collab. It’s a fantastic, unusual track – though I’ll admit I was really hoping for some FINRG filtering to join the hoovers for a while in the middle section.

I won’t link the next one here, but it could be the most exciting (upcoming) freeform release from Alek in a long time. Blood from the Sky is a dark freeform track of the sort that I wasn’t sure we’d ever see again – aggressive, atmospheric, and progressive. The opening half of the track is spectacular and even Re-form-esque at times with the voice samples and jittery snare rolls, but it’s post-drop where the leads get darker and more complex, and the track really takes off. The use of some samples from the FINRG Hard era is a nice nod to the history that flows through this tune, but there are plenty of modern production touches that make it an evolution in the best way. Absolutely superb work from Alek – if you’re looking for a preview then apparently there’s one on Facebook, but I’d recommend joining the FINRG discord if you haven’t already, where he added a full-length version last month.

As if that wasn’t enough, a remastered version of Voices of Babylon also appeared on Alek’s SoundCloud a week or so ago. Earlier this year Guld and I were sitting in an izakaya listening to the original together, trying to decide whether it’s the best Alek’s ever done – personally it’s still in my top 3 freeform tracks, and very possibly at number 1. This remaster cleans up the track, giving it a brighter feel that definitely benefits some of the leads. The grittiness of the original master is something I really love though, and I still prefer the older kick. In my case I’ll be keeping both versions to hand, as depending on the atmosphere of the set and the surrounding tracks they’ll both have their place. Scandalously it hasn’t been shared by the main FINRG account yet (thinking of going rogue and doing it myself) and so it might not have reached the audience it should have. Spread the word then, as one of the all-time greats has had an update, and there must be some who weren’t in the scene the first time around.

I’d say not to get too excited about this (it is a 7 year old album, after all), but In Praise of Shadows finally being available on a platform where you don’t need PayPal could be a big deal for some. Especially so for the Japan crew, which is who this is really aimed at. Since setting up the Booth shop I’ve opened it to non-Japanese orders too, so give it a look if the PayPal thing was what held you back in the past.

I was listening through the soundcloud previews again while I did all the intial Booth admin and (as biased as I am) it really is one of the all-time best compilations, isn’t it? Anyway, check out the Booth shop if you couldn’t support the release the first time around.

Belated notice if you missed it that Ri-nergy’s FutureProof EP released during summer. Alert Horsers will have heard both tracks in Ri-nergy’s excellent promo set, making this by far the best freeform release of the year so far.

All the tips of the hat to FutureProof – recent bursts of activity from FINRG aside, for me it’s quietly become one of best places to look for consistently quality NRG and freeform. There’ll be more mixing from me in November, so I’m planning to give both of these some play in sets and/or streams asap.

It’s not every day (or even every year, come to think of it) that we see a full album release that’s of TYFTH interest, so a recommendation from Sherkel to check out CBR and Shihen’s First Impact was very welcome. Don’t go in expecting freeform only, though – the topic list on the archive page lists everything but, as it’s very much on the Hardcore Syndrome/Hardcore Tano*C side of hardcore. That means we get everything from early 2000s happy J-Core to speedcore, along with some wonderful, Betwixt-influenced tracks. If that sounds up your alley, you’re not going to find a better album this year than the 12 tracks collected here.

Shihen’s Lost Planet is the first of the early tracks that could find its way into a freeform set (particularly one on the uplifting side) and I’m a big fan of the acid work and lead sounds. BeyondX is a much lighter hardcore track that somehow sounds to me like it might have a melancholy freeform track hiding inside, but it’s probably the second half of the release where we find more to perk up the ears of the typical Horser. Cloudburst is a brilliant high bpm track, heavy on the Betwixt influences despite (or because of?) being all over the place in terms of genre, while Disaster Foretold is as freeform as the album gets. Sounding at times like pre-freeform Betwixt mashed up with his later style, it’s a very impressive (and very fast) track. Shihen’s Aegaeon is my favourite track on the album – a lovely, weighty 5 minutes of NRG-ish freeform with some especially excellent work on the intro and break.

Overall it’s a superbly produced, high quality album, with more than enough freeform-adjacent sounds to come highly recommended. You can check out all the tracks via the slightly temperamental player on the release page, and download the album itself in full.