Introducing Rance Garrison

A bit of a change of genre for this week’s unsigned act. Rance Garrison has been writing and recording songs for “almost as long as he has been able to talk.” His debut album Black Crow came out last year, and he’s currently working on his second. Here’s a picture of Black Crow:

Cover Photo Edit 2

Rance “hails,” rather dramatically, from the Appalachian foothills of southwest Virginia. As usual, I asked him to pick just three tracks as a little demo to share. First up is It Still Moves:

“The night is silent like a tomb,” he tells us. I think it’s the haunting piano sound that makes this track rather beautiful. Bonus points for the rather flamboyant ending – I think this is probably my favourite of the three.

Next up is The Last Question:

I’d struggle slightly to categorise this one – it seems darker and altogether more apocalyptic than the previous track, and yet there’s also something decidedly chirpy about it.

Finally from this set, we have Seven Trumpets:

This is the most gentle of the trio, driven mainly by a piano and softer sounds. Things all go a bit discordant towards the end, reminding me – perhaps unintentionally – of Scottish bagpipe music! See what you think…

Rance points out, incidentally, that these tracks are best heard in the context of the album Black Crow, which you can find on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, CDBaby, and also on Bandcamp with bonus tracks and a booklet.

What’s your source of inspiration?

These particular songs (and the album as a whole, really) were written in the wake of several deaths that occurred in my family from 2008 to 2009. It was a sort of dark stretch, but death wasn’t ever far from my mind, and by extension, you could say that my personal spiritual beliefs about God and my understanding of faith and the meaning of life were never far from my mind, either, though I prefer not to think of these songs as an endorsement of any particular religion or of myself as an explicitly “religious artist.” In any case, the themes I was dealing with in my songwriting were at that time, and continue to be, pretty heavy stuff, I suppose.

As far as musical inspiration, I’m inspired by a bit of everything. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits have been big influences on my lyrics. Musically, I’ve been influenced by Pink Floyd, Waits, Dylan, Neil Young, The Twilight Singers, Bon Iver, and a host of other bands from the 1960s up to modern times. I’ve recently gotten pretty into Phosphorescent, but discovered that band after these tracks were written and recorded.

A lot of Radiohead‘s work also really resonates with me, especially from the Kid A and Amnesiac era of 1999 to around 2001. Basically, if it’s memorable and unique, and not afraid to go out on a limb and be a little experimental, I’m gonna dig it.

How long does it normally take to record a track?

I work out of a home studio since I live in a rural area that’s not exactly known as a center of musical creativity and since, at this point anyway, I couldn’t afford professional studio time even if that weren’t the case. On average, I would say that I can record a single track over a period of two to three days, sometimes less than that, and sometimes taking as long as a week or even a month to put the finishing touches on. If I recall correctly, It Still Moves was the last song I recorded for Black Crow, and it was done over a weekend. The Last Question was the first song that was finished, I think, and was recorded here and there over the course of about two weeks. Seven Trumpets was recorded over the course of about a week, I think.

It’s hard to say exactly how much time went into each track just because I’m also a full-time college student and have to do a sort of catch-as-catch-can style. All of the songs were recorded in the late night/early morning hours between work, school, spending time with my fiance, and other responsibilities.

If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?

On a deeply personal level, I would love to go back and stop the car crash that claimed the life of my little cousin, Stephanie, in 2008. I’m an only child, and she was the closest thing I ever had to a sister, rest her soul. Her death, and the deaths of her father and my great-grandmother that occurred later in 2009 that turned my life upside down (I was living in Nashville at the time and moved back home to rural southwest Virginia to care for family) inspired all of this music, but I’d trade that to have her in my life again.

Also I wish I would have taken greater advantage of the music scene in Nashville while I was there, but again, if that stuff hadn’t happened, these songs wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be where I am now, about to finish my bachelor’s degree at the ripe old age of twenty-seven and engaged to a wonderful woman who is my best friend. I met her when I came back home, and I wouldn’t change that, either. Life is funny. The things you wish you could change lead you to where you are, and even if you are happy with the way things are, every man and woman has their regrets. Such is the way of life, I suppose.

Visit Rance Garrison‘s Bandcamp page for more information and to hear more.

VCMG – Ssss

Vince Clarke and Martin L. Gore, said the rumour mill, are working together on an electronica album. Too good to be true? Probably… But, surprisingly, it turned out to be true. Only ever having worked together directly once before, on a Depeche Mode album called Speak and Spell in 1981, the two former bandmates got together again thirty years later to release Ssss as VCMG.

The first track is Lowly, which opens with painful and discordant feedback, building into a bouncy electro track. There’s a lot of clear Vince Clarke influence on some of the backing. Zaat is the second track, rather stronger, but with less immediately discernable Clarke or Gore influence on the sound. For me, Zaat is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with rhythmic electronic sounds and beats driving it on for nearly seven minutes.

Spock is up next, the first single (or for some reason “EP” in VCMG terminology), and the one which introduced us to this album initially. It’s also the first of several tracks with names beginning with S, which I suspect gave the album its bizarre name and perhaps also its rather nice snake-pit sleeve. Having myself painted a very nice picture of snakes at the age of five, I particularly appreciated the artwork on this release and its companion EPs.

The wonderfully titled Windup Robot is up next, and it’s also another of the best tracks on the album. After a seemingly uninspired kick-based intro, it opens out over the course of several minutes into a reverberating synth-driven powerhouse, which in the end falls apart very quickly. It’s followed by Bendy Bass, with its deep, never-ending, um, bendy bass line.

Single Blip is up next, the second single, and by far my favourite track on the album. Pleasant though they are, these are in many cases slightly challenging listens, but this, probably the most easily accessible track, is the exception. From its initially glitchy introduction, it builds steadily into a rhythm-driven but also very melodic piece with layered pads and string sounds.

Skip This Track is another great title, although not the most useful advice, with its slightly bizarre robot voices, and it’s followed by third single Aftermaths. On initial listens I’d written this off as one of the weaker tracks on the album, but after listening to the various mixes on the single I came to like it rather more.

The penultimate track is Recycle, which doesn’t quite live up to its name, by sounding much more glitchy and laid back than most of the album, it’s actually pretty unique on this release. Of course, as you’ll have gathered by now, it’s tempting to try and dissect every track, and work out which parts have more Vince Clarke influence, and which were more in the hands of Martin L. Gore. You can hear a lot of the bouncy arpeggiated sounds that typify Clarke’s work, and I wonder in many cases whether Gore was more responsible for some of the deep and dark electro sounds. Either way, I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

Finally, another of my favourites turns up, as Flux closes the album. Again, it’s one of the more accessible tracks, which is probably why I prefer it, but it also closes the album in excellent form.

Apart from Vince Clarke‘s solo Deeptronica album which we’ve discussed here previously, I’ve never owned an album quite like Ssss before. However, I’m glad I do – it’s a whole genre that I know very little about, but there’s clearly a lot of great stuff hidden in there. Like this.

The album Ssss can be purchased from all the usual outlets, including Amazon and iTunes.

September 2013 for stowaways

I know it’s technically still August, but this post comes a couple of days early especially for you. And also especially because of what’s coming up next week:

  • The week of oldies! A whole week of selected reviews from out of the olden days
  • Normal oldies from Pet Shop BoysThe Human League, and others
  • It’s awards season again! We count down to both the Q Awards 2013 and the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2013
  • Previews of exciting new albums from GoldfrappMoby and more
  • Playlists! Live artists! Videos! Charts! And more…

Stay tuned!

Depeche Mode – Construction Time Again

It’s surprising really, but this is going to be a pretty tough review to write. I don’t honestly know what I’m going to say about this album. But astonishingly, thirty years ago this week saw the release of Depeche Mode‘s third album Construction Time Again.

It only spawned two singles, and the second Love, in Itself is the album’s opener. It’s also one of the strongest tracks on the whole album, kicking proceedings off with a brilliant industrial swell and growing into a great song.

Industrial is, of course, the order of the day. After Vince Clarke departed during the promotion of debut album Speak and SpellMartin L. Gore had rallied the troops, and when you consider how mediocre some of the lyric writing on the first album had been, he had done a quite incredible job of writing all of the following album A Broken Frame.

Interim single Get the Balance Right had hinted that they might be moving in a darker direction next, and now backed up by previously occasional member Alan Wilder, they travelled to Berlin, and in so doing discovered sampling and the new digital synthesisers which were just appearing on the scene.

More Than a Party is a brilliant and surprising track. The lyric, which might not have been out of place on either of the previous albums, is rendered altogether more bitter by the darker backing sounds. Singer Dave Gahan is vocally so much stronger and more confident than he ever had previously. Depeche Mode were definitely free of their plinky plonk shackles, never to return again.

Pipeline is perhaps the most important track on the whole album. Epitomised by “found sounds” and samples of people banging pipes with hammers, not only does it sound completely different, but it also comes across as completely organic, with its brilliantly socialist lyric.

Lead single Everything Counts is up next. It has a really unusual lyric, at times almost channelling early Heaven 17 more than anything that Depeche Mode have ever done before or since. But on Construction Time Again, it’s a perfect fit – what could be better than to follow a dark track about industry with a pop track about the service sector?

Continuing the theme of not-really-having-a-theme, the next track is Wilder-penned Two Minute Warning, a visceral commentary on environmental issues. It’s almost entirely out of place, and yet fits in perfectly. Not only had Depeche Mode mastered the concept album by this stage; they had also figured out how to make a release a varied and interesting listen.

A bit of wailing synth wind carries us through to Shame, audibly a really interesting track, with lots of sampled banging and bashing and discordant sounds. Lyrically, though, it’s more difficult to get excited unfortunately: this isn’t one of the strongest songs on the album.

Next though is the second Alan Wilder track, The Landscape is Changing. As with much of this album, it bursts in with considerable energy, although in this case it’s a very dark song, another piece about environmental issues – “I don’t care if you’re going nowhere / Just take good care of the world”. It’s great to hear this kind of sentiment on what is, after all, a relatively early and very public forum. I wonder what people made of it at the time? On an album packaged with a picture of a foundry worker about to strike the Matterhorn, it seems a perfect fit.

It’s almost back to the plinky plonk with the next track Told You So. This would have fitted perfectly on Speak and Spell. Except the production brings it to life perfectly, and the critical lyrics also fit pretty well with the rest of the album. It may not quite be up to the standard of everything else, but it is pretty catchy.

It is with subdued banging that the last proper track And Then… commences. Again, tempered by the hints at darkness which Gore seemed to have discovered, and surrounded by deep industrial sounds, it’s a fascinating and compelling combination. I’m not sure what the lyric is actually about, but you can see definite hints of Gore’s later works in here – he touches on faith, sin, and a lot of what would become his favourite topics.

The actual last track is a miniature reprise of Everything Counts, and then the album reaches its end. It’s a transitional work, quite unlike its predecessor A Broken Frame and yet definitely leading towards the releases which would follow. But it doesn’t suffer for that – each track is a brilliant combination of dark lyrics, fairly chirpy melodies still, and fascinating explorations in sound.

Track down the full remastered edition and you’ll also get a package of contemporaneous bonus tracks and alternative versions, including Everything Counts‘s brilliant b-side Work Hard.

The essential version of this album is at Amazon here, and is worth spending extra money on if you find it hard to track down. There’s another Depeche Mode anniversary next week too.

Preview – Visage

This is the last of our belated previews for now – it came out about a month ago. After a fairly short and questionable career, Visage disappeared from the public eye for a very long time, but are now back with a new single called Dreamer I Know from an album called Hearts and Knives.

More surprisingly, it’s actually quite good. OK, it owes a lot to Duran Duran, but even so…

Chart for stowaways – 10 August 2013

The top 5 singles this week:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Vocal
  2. Moist – Far Beyond the Endless
  3. Little Boots – All for You
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct
  5. Crystal Castles – Affection

And the albums:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Electric
  2. Little Boots – Nocturnes
  3. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  4. Moist – Temporary Arrangements / Temporary Remixes
  5. Front Line Assembly – Echogenetic