Jupiter 88 EP
  • Shape of the Mouth
  • A story about a girl that came from Texas
  • For the sake of flying
  • Dissolve
  • Was it you?
  • Time to be
  • A string quartet with DJ Vitamin

This is the debut EP from the Boston-based duo, Jupiter 88. and the only album featuring the original pairing of Darla Villani and Michael MacDonald. Before we released this album, We’d been corresponding with them for quite some time. Their music was always good, but we never expected it to be as amazing as this CD is. This was a joint release with their label, Subsonic Records.

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Improvijazzation Nation
Unit Circle Rekkids owner Kevin sent this in, with a proclamation that this was a truly NEW venture (sonically) for th' label! Man, he was NOT kidding! Spoken/sung word in a duo from Boston formed by Darla Villani & Michael McDonald. This is a joint release with a new label out of Boston called SubSonic. A marriage made in (sonic) improvisor's heaven, the music on here is strange because it uses common forms (including – but not limited to – opera, trip-hop, electronic loops & more standard rhythmic formats) to explore new ways of expressing musical feelings. Darla's pieces (she does most of the vocal work) are haunting without being terribly specific (almost like some of the X-Files episodes). This is one of those thangs that will draw you back again & again! You know, just TRYIN' to get a CLUE as to that "hidden" meaning in th' forms (including – but not limited to – opera, trip-hop, electronic loops & more standard rhythmic formats) to explore new ways of expressing musical feelings. Darla's pieces (she does most of the vocal work) are haunting without being terribly specific (almost like some of the X-Files episodes). This is one of those thangs that will draw you back again & again! You know, just TRYIN' to get a CLUE as to that "hidden" meaning in th' lyrical/musical combinations. Th' sort of music that's destined to DEFINE new pathways in music… & lawd knows, we NEED more of that kind of creativity in these days of drivel-rap & tired rawk! "For The Sake of Flying" is my favorite piece, a beautiful composition that is both orchestral & ballad-like! If you want music that's FRESH & TASTEFUL – get THIS! Comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED… & also gets the PICK of this issue for "most creative music"!
Axis Music And Media Dispatch - Volume 11, Issue #1

The context of this album is created by poetry that embraces the emotion. The singers' style of symbolism expresses her interesting way of creativity. The length of this album on an average maybe short, but to the point. Examples of creativity portrayed through her words may include, like on track 1: Shape of the mouth: his face was to the mirror relating to his story of a stranger he knew. She seems to follow her poetry through stories she experienced. I believe she really wants us to feel her song. The instrumental expression also brings out the character of each song. The dreary sax intro. begins her first tale and leads into a climax of enchantment. This first tracks' end is fascinating for the ascending choir vocals that unleash with a break into bass beats (using the archaic 808), thus creating a mysterious magic spell.

A story about a girl that came from Texas (track 2)-speaking of magic spells, this one is out right trancy. Her phrases, "am I right or am I wrong" (repeated) as the chorus, expresses she's either confused or that she's trying to justify herself? She is angry during this track and has a twisted way of exposing it. The end of this track is very graceful and all instrumentally aspired.

For the sake of flying (track 3), Kate Kayaian plays her cello to set the story of sadness. John Harrison accompanies her playing with the anticipating violin. She is telling a story about three of a kind, all that had taken the same flight. The Dissolve track is more of a track to be called friendly with it's rhythmic harmony and is uplifting from the rest of the album.

The music involved in this track ("Was it you?") presents a cut off swing looped sample. It creates her message and she is able to repeat it sweetly. "A Time to be," track 6, is inching into optimism and has a happy motive, and an intense chorus. It is very interesting the way they have combined their styles together to create this questionable mood. A string quartet with DJ Vitamin only brings on more curiosity. I believe the last track is the most intellectually aspired with their conversing vocal samples and repeated phrases passing a flipped out message? This one has a bit of mixing with reversed intervals and hidden messages. On a whole, if you're the curious type or looking for a bit of different, this album will fill your mind.

- Rachelle
Digital Artifact - Issue #9
It is delightful to see that the music scene in Boston is not dead. Jupiter 88 are one of the reasons why there is still a glint of vitality in a stagnant rock market. Developed around angelic vocals and magnetic rhythms, Jupiter 88 utilizes string sections as the primary basis of track formation, providing a new and innovative approach to subtle experimental music. Though not entirely experimental, Jupiter 88 ventures in catchy trip hop fused melodies with 'For the Sake of Flying' and 'Dissolve'. Reminiscent of vocals of Tori Amos, Darla Villani achieves a commendable level of hope through her lyrics that have failed Amos time and time again. - Fuzz
Atlanta Press - September 18-24
And now for something completely different. That is, the latest Unit Circle Rekkids release is out. The diverse elements of Jupiter 88's self-titled disc (opera, classical, story telling, hip-hop beats, etc.) are pulled together by the pleasant voice of vocalist, lyricist Darla Villani. It's no surprise that she is also involved with dance, as you can imagine choreography to a lot of this. Perfect for the pop enthusiast who is looking to branch out but is afraid of running into something like the Boredoms. A co-release with Subsonic Records.
Chart Magazine
On paper, this EP looks like a potential disaster, or at least a project to be consigned to the "quirky" bin. Happily though, the Boston duo of Darla Villani and Michael MacDonald combine strings, a sax, cheap programmed drums, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and turntable hi-jinx to a bizarrely catchy effect. Their theatrical music recalls composed Philip Glass, 4AD collective This Mortal Coil and Tricky's other project, Nearly God. Even though the band seems to share an affinity for Jupiter (diameter 88,730 miles), Villani's Suzanne Vega-meets-Holly Cole-at-a-surrealist-happening vocals bring the music down to Earth. Top everything off with a subtly ironic sense of humour, and you get one of the year's most interesting and rewarding releases. - MD
Instant Magazine - Issue #19
When seeing the name "Jupiter 88" you may think, "Here comes another power-pop band with a trendy, futuristic name." Not so in this case. J 88 cannot be labeled... they're not pop, not trendy, and not boring. Jupiter 88 is thought provoking, unique, and most importantly, a sound of the near future. This self titled first effort is a huge wave, which could easily crash down hard on the beach of radio friendly assembly line rock and hopefully wash it all away. Putting the CD in and pushing play begins "Shape of the mouth", a perfect blend of dialog and musical minimalism. The string/saxophone arrangements cry out a story that holds your attention like a classic novel. Monica Garcia's soprano vocal is a haunting outro cascading the song into a space of infinite distance. "A Story..." captures the traditional "stream of conciousness" vocal style that the Butthole Surfers and Flash in the Pan have done so well in the past. Darla Villani successfully takes this to a new level making it intense, memorable and addictive. "For the sake of flying" contains masterful string arrangements which remind me of the Beatles. "Dissolve", a bouncy groove, could easily be a radio hit. (Why don't I hear this in daily, local rotation?) Hooky and fulfilling, this could be a dance club favorite. Using a sample of a door opening and squeeking, "Was it you" contains some of the most original, percussive ideas I have heard in a long time. Ideas like these made artists like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Robert Fripp legendary. MacDonald and Villani display this masterfully. the next piece is very visual for me. "Time to be" paints the picture of a clumsy man on a peaceful path leading to a very uncomfortable place where he is briefly stopped. With the conclusion of the tune, a skipping loop developes the picture into a walk in the sun. Ending the CD perfectly, "A string arrangement with DJ Vitamin" haunts you with a brilliant string arrangement laced with darkly humorous samples. The mixture elevates the tune to a frightening color as they leave you with "He hallucinates" as the closing sampled statement. Hopefully this CD is the first of many from Boston's Jupiter 88. When musicians break new ground and remain committed in their quest for originality, you hear exactly what is on this CD... reality, originality, poetry, creativity and above all... music. - Byron Turcotte
Northeast Performer - October 1998

Jupiter 88 hails from the ambient/mood family of music. Steering clear of the common guitar/bass/drums set-up, they combine more classical and experimental elements. Looped beats, samples, strings, sax, piano and a sweet, strong feminine voice provide personality and emotion. The mixtures of these elements, pulled together from various musical influences, create an interesting blend of jazz, classical and pop.

There is a certain gothic brooding with many of these tunes but they avoid the oppressive melancholy that often accompanies such darker landscapes. They also avoid the pitfall of heaping on layers and layers of samples. In fact, Jupiter 88 has more of a minimalist aspect, keeping the beat simple, almost fragile, and sometimes cutting it out altogether to break the repetition. Michael MacDonald plays the piano, percussion and guitar, as well as arranging the loops, samples and other electronica. Lead vocalist Darla Villani's full, strong vocals roll like a soft breath over the warmth of the violins and the cello.

MacDonald and Villani have offered up something relatively different from the common thread. Despite this deviation from the norm there is still the occasional guitar riff, hidden but evident, adding to this audio grab bag. Good production, recording and engineering are crucial to this kind of music and are definitely a strong point to this album. Heads up to Castle Von Buhler, you may find these folks at your drawbridge very soon.

- Rev. Keith W. Harris
Nothing Left - Issue #8
This sure ain't hardcore. Jupiter 88 is actually two people from the Boston area who create a pretty eclectic mix of strings, electronics, percussion, tape loops, guitars, and female vocals. The lyrics have an abstract, story-like feel to them. A woman named Darla sings, and her vocals have a very strong smooth sound. At times I am reminded of a less down beat, less bass-driven Tricky. There is also a very pronounced Philip Glass influence here. With the vocals I could also draw a bit of a Tori Amos comparison. It's nice to hear something different, so overall!, I'd say I like this. I could study to Jupiter 88. I'd probably get better grades too. - NK
Throttle Magazine - Holiday 1998
This debut disc from the Boston duo Jupiter 88 combines electronic and acoustic music to varied success. The arrangements are either flooded with Philip Glass repititions or Portishead's vaguely sterile soul. Cellos, pianos, loops and samples bounce off of each other fairly successfully, but the one standout track for me is the sole tune allotted to the male vocalist, "Time to Be." All other offerings are fronted by the ickily clean vocals of Darla Villani, who could benefit from some reverb to tame her Cher-ish warbling, especially on a cut like "Was it You?" (one which uses the word "angel" far too often). Though I like the musical arrangements, which feature all nature of instruments and even a soprano solo on the opening track, Villani's affected vocals are a turn-off for me. - J.D.
Neo Gothic Magazine - Issue #11
Ambient-trip-hop per questi americani Jupiter 88 autori di atmosfere soffuse, delicate, straniate da godersi nel buio della propria stanza. Qualche accenno jazz rende alcune tracce un pò più movimentate e sperimentali, accattivando maggiormente l'ascolto del CD. Meritevole di attenzione anche la bella voce della vocalist Darla Villani. - Bulbo
Outburn Magazine - Issue #8
Jupiter 88 create experimental pop that voyages through beautiful sonic landscapes highlighted by bits of classical, jazz and charming female vocals. Their eclectic music stirs the spirit in an uplifting and refreshing way. Back in Outburn #5 we reviewd this band's 4 song demo. Fortunately, Unit Circle took notice of Jupiter 88's outstanding and inventive songwriting, and decided to properly release the songs from that demo along with three new ones on this CD. Comprised of the songwriting duo of Darla Villani and Michael MacDonald, Jupiter 88's wide range of influences include Philip Glass, John Cage, Portishead, DJ Shadow, trip-hop/illbient beats, and jazz. Darla is an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and vocalist, while Michael's talent lies in writing music for film and dance. In addition to the piano, tape loops, samples, and electronics used to form the structure of their songs, Jupiter 88's music utilizes a wide range of contributors which include a cellist, violinist, saxophonist, a backing soprano vocalist, and even a string quartet. These more traditional instruments combined with modern electronics and compositions form something new and extraordinary that stands out from the routing fare. Jupiter 88 is about investigating a different set of sonic ideas, which in the end creates a special and wonderfully unique release that comes highly recommended. - Octavia
Supafly - Issue #3
I once heard a Beck album described as like a child's collage. Fundamentally brilliant, but too cluttered to be really enjoyable. If that is true, then Jupiter 88 are like the collage work of a Guided By Voices album cover. Surreal and evocative. All the pieces flow together while not totally convincing you that they are merely the parts of their sum. Meanwhile, you are grabbed by an undeniable sense of just how cosmic and vast the entire episode is. Jupiter 88 may not always be the catchiest band on Earth, but they're aiming for the cosmos anyhow. - Miles Curtiss
Piero Scaruffi
Duo di Boston composto dalla compositrice d'avanguardia Darla Villani e dal compositore di colonne sonore Michael McDonald, i Jupiter 88 debuttarono nel dicembre 1994. Jupiter 88 (Unit Circle, 1998) e` orchestrato per pianoforte, violino, nastri, campionamenti, rhythm-box, elettronica e canto. Le composizioni assomigliano piu` a moderni lied da camera che a canzoni rock. For The Sake Of Flying e` accompagnata soltanto da un quartetto d'archi. Sassofono, violoncello e pianoforte costruiscono l'atmosfera di mistero di Shape Of The Mouth, che un coro di monache eleva a gotico. A Story About A Girl, con le sue variazioni su un tema da fiera, prova che Villani sta a Michael Nyman come Laurie Anderson sta a Philip Glass. L'esperimento e` suggestivo, ma questo mini-album e` soltanto un preambolo.
Dead Angel - Issue #34
Yet another case of the band name leading to false expectations -- between the vaguely space-related name Jupiter 88 and the b/w pegasus artwork, i figured this would be something along the lines of gothic space rock (in other words, the Firmament disc reviewed earlier is what i expected to hear when i popped this in the CD player). But no, it's much more quixotic than that. This duo (Michael MacDonald and Darla Villani) draw from trip-hop and illbient, Cage and Class, early tape manipulators, classical music, jazz, and more contemporary influences like Portishead and DJ Shadow to create a pretty complicated (and damned hard to classify) stew of juxtaposed sounds and images. Classical cellos and baroque jazz noodlings rest alongside tape-collage conversations, loops, tripped-out beats, and occasionally Darla's singing (somewhere between Nico and Billie Holiday). My favorite tracks (not necessarily the "best" or "artiest") are the ones like "Shape of the mouth," and "A story about a girl that came from Texas," which incorporate hip-hop beats and strong piano work with the other, airier elements. Strict goth purists would probably be more enthusiastic about the relatively "normal" sound of "for the sake of flying" (Kate Kayaian, the cellist who plays on this and the previously mentioned tracks, is a fine instrumentalist), but the most fully-realized track on the disc may be "Dissolve," which incorporates all of these disparate elements into one seamless whole with a quirky, unpredictable song structure. Dark keyboards are suddenly leavened by more of those trippy beats and Darla's vox, then sequencer loops begin to fill out the sonic picture, while bursts of noise separate the mini-movements... sort of like classical ebm (now there's a genre waiting to be pillaged) or something, only with considerably more inventive songwriting than most ebm acts ever manage to achieve. The Cage influence alluded to in the bio thingy makes an obvious appearance in "A string quartet with DJ Vitamin," whose almost random lyrical structure (a lecture of sorts interspersed with seemingly unrelated tape snippets) sound really odd (but oddly sensible) against a string quartet background. (There are two other songs on the ep, both one mostly piano and odd looped sounds, the other a jazzy waltz type of thing that's less obsessed with the experimental elements; these songs are okay, but not quite as riveting as the beat-focused ones.) I'm impressed mainly by how well they manage to make all these wildly different elements hang together. I'm curious as to how they intend to build on this EP -- i'd recommend more stuff in the beat-happy direction, but that's just me, mon. Cool stuff.
Mod Magazine - Issue #5
Taking cues from Portishead, Tricky and DJ Spooky, this dubby, ambient-hop duo from Boston take the leading edge on incorporating classical themes into vocal humping electronica. In addition to the requisite sampler usage, Darla and Michael borrow others'skills on viola, violin and cello to present their neo-gothic package to an unsuspecting listener. The constancy of Darla's storytelling vocals is abstractly punctuated (at times rather acutely) by thumping percussion and keys, or otherwise left hanging in a roomful of quiet hung by suspenseful strings. Murmurs mutate into trip-hop bloodlust only to be calmed by melodic vocal melodies akin to Hooverphonic's ecstatic intonations. Dares were meant to be taken afterall. - Keith York
Crohinga Well - Issue 15

[from a review of several Unit Circle releases]

Unit Circle Rekkids is a new name to me and I regret not discovering this alternative label any sooner, because the four releases I got so far are challenging and excellent. Jupiter 88 is a duo from Massachusetts: Michael MacDonald and Darla Villani. Michael's main passion is electronic music and he played keys in a few local bands, and wrote music for modern ballet and film. Darla, who sings all lead vocals, served a few years as singer and dancer in the jumpcut orchestra, a multimedia ensemble. With the help of a few friends, they recorded a mini-album (7tr, 26') that betrays a whole gamut of influences ranging from classical music through avant-garde and electronics to progressive rock and folk. The music of Jupiter 88 is beyond classification or standard labelling since most of the afformentioned styles coexist in most songs, and create some very original artistic moments. Interesting band with a very personal sound. I hope they make more.