Essential albums: Steve Good aka Puff Dragon

The psychedelic downtempo classic Sazanami (2005) is a must-hear for the blinding first three tracks alone, all of them different but united by a powerful, epic undertow.

artist:
Steve Good aka Puff Dragon

country of origin:
Wales/Japan

style(s):
Downtempo, psyambient, ambient trance, exotic dub, drone, environmental, new age

decades active:
90's - 20's

essential releases as Puff Dragon:

  • Sazanami (2006, Dakini Records)

as Steve Good:

  • Between (2018, Bandcamp)
  • Everything's Inside Everything Else (2019, Bandcamp)

Reviewed by Mike G

Steve Good is a Welsh native living in Tokyo and is primary known in ambient circles under his Puff Dragon alias for the psychedelic downtempo classic Sazanami (2005), an album on which oriental elements are so clever and integrated you could well miss them, if not for the obviously Zen-like theme of the  cover art.

Sazanami is the first and best of only two Puff Dragon albums released by Goods before he retired the name in 2018. It was preceded by few well-received progressive psy-trance albums, and the production prowess he honed on those projects serves him superbly on his downtempo debut.

The album is a must-hear for the blinding first three tracks alone, all of them different but united by a powerful, epic undertow. Starting with the euphoric title track we get flying, spinning melodies riding a solid breakbeat and evolving with an almost minimalist sense of repetition. Next comes "Qi Gong" which, were it stripped of everything but its beat, would be basic Jamaican dub...except it's not. Based around a phrase plucked from a Japanese kantong it develops into a surging, exotic dub monster - a wailing vocal, a choir, and growling bass chords beneath that sound like early Jean Michel-Jarre. Play it very, very loud. Thirdly comes a piece of 4/4 prog trance in slow motion. "Chinese Radio" has a thunderous rock drum groove - not unlike Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" - and a repeating one-note arpeggio played off against snippets of a Chinese folk melody played on hammer dulcimer. And a spoken mantra you can't get out of your head: "...perception... reality... perception... reality". It's actually a slightly inferior mix of a stunning track that appeared on the Ultimae Records compilation Fahrenheit Project part 4 a few years earlier, but its power and brilliant simplicity remains.

Following Sazanami there was a long along break from album releasing before he reappeared with his final Puff Dragon album Reflections (2018) which captured bits and pieces - several of them very good - from the previous 15 years.

More significantly, his return signalled a new phase: releasing more subdued and often beatless albums under his own name Steve Good. It's a style at which he's proven a dab hand. Between (2018) states his intentions beautifully; occasional structured, shimmering, pulsing pieces that echo the quietest moments of Puff Dragon, sitting next to deeper drone-based tracks. It's nature ambient with a gently euphoric new age vibe. Ishq is one obvious reference point  - in fact, Ishq's Matt Hillier is a big fan - yet the music has the depth and distinctiveness to stand well out in a crowded subgenre. His second sole release Everything's Inside Everything Else (2019) is equally fine, especially in its layering of droning organs and celestial synths.

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