Playlist for stowaways – Flight Risk

There’s a new Playlist for stowaways out there! The monthly (OK, bi-monthly) mixtape is online again with an hour of excellent music. In my opinion, anyway.

This month’s is called Flight Risk, and is all about flying, travelling, and generally the sort of thing I like to listen to when I’m on the move. Take a listen here.

The tracks go as follows:

  1. Alpinestars – Jump Jet
  2. Ladytron – International Dateline
  3. Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 8)
  4. Lemon Jelly – Ramblin’ Man
  5. Oi Va Voi – Travelling the Face of the Globe
  6. I Monster – Heaven
  7. Mylo – Sunworshipper
  8. Yello feat. Heidi Happy – Kiss in Blue
  9. Moby – Flying Over the Dateline
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Two divided by zero
  11. The Beloved – A Dream within a Dream
  12. 808 State – Pacific 707
  13. Utah Saints – Trance Atlantic Flight
  14. Goldfrapp – Pilots (On a Star)
  15. Aphex Twin – Ageispolis

Edit: this time I remembered to include the link… http://www.mixcloud.com/musicforstowaways/flight-risk

Client – Client

A decade ago this week saw the release of the first of two excellent albums (followed by two other albums) by the brilliant Client. The duo formed when Technique fell apart mid-tour, with the vocalist replaced by Sarah Blackwood formerly of Dubstar, and they found an excellent style for themselves, in military outfits and labelled Client A and Client B, and with brilliantly leading artwork. Signed by Andrew Fletcher to the Toast Hawaii label, an offshoot of Mute, they flirted with success for several years before deciding, as it turned out incorrectly, that they could do just as well without a record label.

The first Client album Client opens with the title track Client, which was also the first single Client. A popular trend among groups around this time was to ensure that you had a song that set out the band’s manifesto, and this is pretty much as close as you can get. It’s dirty, at times unpleasant to listen to, full of weird stylised lyrics, and totally brilliant.

Better from a melodic point of view is Rock and Roll Machine, the second proper single, which is also one of the strongest tracks on the album. Client B‘s vocal style on this album is slightly unusual and forceful, almost aggressive, rather than traditionally melodic, but when combined with the dark synth sounds it works extremely well.

First proper single Price of Love follows, and is totally brilliant, driven by an octave bass line, and sounding like some kind of forgotten eighties masterpiece remixed by a spotty genius to bring it into the modern age. Listening to it now I’m almost disappointed that this is ten years old already. Again, the lyrics are strangely styled (“What’s the price of love got to do with love?”) but work really well when delivered by Client B alongside the deep and dark electronics.

Next up is Happy, with its brilliant lyric “I’m happy / She’s happy / So why the flip are you not happy?” (I may have censored that slightly.) As with the opening track Client, it’s a bold statement, which works extremely well.

Something of a surprise, and another of the best tracks on the album, is Diary of an 18 Year Old Boy. Having been an 18 year old boy, I suppose I identify a bit with some of the lyrics, but it also contains a wonderful retro synth pad line which gives it a truly excellent sound. Civilian follows, a little largely instrumental piece which is rather less special, mainly consisting of noisy synth noises, but it is at least helping to hammer home the concept of the album.

The first track of the second half is Here and Now, which was also their third proper single, and is probably the best track on the album. Like Price of Love, it’s one of the closest things to a traditional pop song, which is probably why it’s so great, but somehow the pads, vocals and slightly discordant piano come together to create something truly fantastic. The single versions are admittedly better, with slightly more accentuated synth lines, but this is still quite brilliant.

The rest of the second half of the album is generally less special, starting with the one really low point on the album, the rather pointless Sugar Candy Kisses, which neither says anything particular nor adds anything special to the package. But at least it drives onward fairly pleasantly, and for an album to only have one track that weak is impressive to say the least.

Pills lifts things somewhat, although it’s not as strong as some of the tracks on the first half, and Leipzig is, despite a fantastic bass part, nothing to write home about (so I won’t). Then the last proper track is Love All Night, which struggles a little lyrically, but is otherwise back to the standard of the first bunch. Then, after a bit of silence, Side B actually closes with what I think of as Civilian (Part 2), a secret bonus reprise which we’ll keep between ourselves.

I can only think that what happened in their latter years was that they diluted their “product” (to use their terminology) by releasing less exciting material, because this album is pretty much perfect in every way. Even when it’s not so good, the music is at least making a valid point, and the same is true of their second album City. The artwork is brilliant, the whole concept is perfect. What they did wrong was to keep releasing stuff. I’d suggest we just pretend that they only ever made two albums, and leave it at that.

You can find Client on iTunes here, or at all the other normal places.

Chart for stowaways – 3 August 2013

This week’s album chart:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Electric
  2. Little Boots – Nocturnes
  3. Moist – Temporary Arrangements
  4. Various Artists – Electronic, Vol. 1
  5. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  6. Moby – Destroyed
  7. Front Line Assembly – Echogenetic
  8. Various Artists – Some Bizzare Album
  9. Little Boots – Hands
  10. Gotan Project / Various Artists – Inspiración Espiración

And a fourth week at the top of the singles for Vocal by Pet Shop Boys.

Introducing mindXpander

Kicking off our second batch of unsigned acts is mindXpander, who I first came across an extremely long time ago… They are Patrik Rydberg and David Lijia, who met in a boys’ choir almost 25 years ago. Here’s a picture of their current album Triumphant Return, released last year:

mindXpander-TriumphantReturn_300px

For my part, I originally came across them about fifteen years ago, back in the days of the original mp3.com, and I thought they might be well placed to kick off this series of unsigned acts. They’re a pair of computer and music nerds who love sound design and modular synthesisers, and also seem to be very good friends too. The three tracks they selected are all from Triumphant Return. First is Hoshi No Koe:

My first thought was Vince Clarke when I heard the squelching backing and rhythm on here, but it quickly builds into a sort of Euro-Pet Shop Boys. As far as I can make out, the title translates as Voices of a Star, and seems to be taken from a Japanese anime film.

Northern Lights is the second track they picked, and it’s tagged with things like “laserdance”, “koto” and “Italo disco”. I’m not sure I can really add anything to that, apart from that it’s excellent and the title is very apt.

Finally we have Ad Astra, a trance-flavoured track with a few echoes of the tracks that used to be on mp3.com. It’s been a few years since I was last in the kind of club that plays this sort of thing, but I can see it going down a storm!

As always, I sent a few daft questions to them so that we could understand them a little better, and as is often the case, they answered them extremely well. Normally I edit these, but these are just too good – here are their responses in full…

What’s your source of inspiration?

David: A lot of different things. Can be everything from an artist, a certain sound or a demo of an instrument. I like to dive through presets on my favourite synths. I later change everything to patches we’ve programmed ourselves to get that certain mindXpander sound.

Patrik: Can be a lot of different things. I tend to be influenced by the music I’m listening to. I mostly listen to music in other genres than the ones I’m active in, and even though it’s hopefully not very obvious (I think so at least. Don’t think most listeners will hear metal influences in mindXpander tracks for instance…), I can often listen to music I’ve been involved in making, and hear what other music I was listening too at that time. Also, sounds and messing around with synth, my modular, and studio tech. It’s like a form of meditation to me, or a drug if you will, so even if I’m not inspired to make proper music, I often just play around in the studio, testing out sounds, techniques and ideas, and sometimes those sounds spark inspiration and evolves into proper songs.

At what point during a typical day would I listen to your music?

David: I’m listening to Triumphant Return while commuting to the office and back. It’s a great way to shield yourself from all the noisy commuters on the underground. But I guess it can be enjoyed during a nice car drive along the country side as well. Or with your friends. But preferably when we perform live – which has happened three times since 1998. Yeah, we’re swamped.

Patrik: Well, I don’t think our music is intended for any specific time of day. I’d say anytime you need a bit of added energy in your life. That said, the music is mostly created (and pretty much without exception finished) late at night, so to get that most authentic first listen feel, I’d say 3.30 am.

How did you pick the name you record under?

David: Patrik made it up back in the days and I simply just loved it. I had a couple of other suggestions which we tossed around but he nailed it with this one. He’s in fact really good at making up artist, album and track names.

Patrik: Ah yes! The next album will be named It came from the giant space toad’s left nostril, or possibly the right. Has a nice catchy upliftedness to it.

David: See? We have a winner. Let’s put some donk on it!

What ringtone do you have on your phone?

David: That was actually a happy accident when I was patching my Eurorack modular. I think it sounds like a futuristic phone. My phone’s on silent mode 99% of the time so I never get to hear it though.

Patrik: A small arpeggiated sequence I once created on a DSI Evolver, complemented by distorted drums.

What’s your definition of a bombastic groove style?

David: Cinematic drums are my first feeling. Like the drums in any of the Juno Reactor tracks written for the Matrix movies.

Patrik: A Booooombastic grove is, like, in cinematic music when you have gigantic drums drenched in huuuuuge amounts of reverb, so you have these BomBomBoorrrooomBoBOOOOOOOOM <rattle, shake, sub-bass ending>. An Ooompastic grove on the other hand relies on a combination of brass instruments, predominantly tubas, creating the classic and much loved OmpahBompahOmpahBompahOmpahBompahPomPomPomPom. Bombastic? I don’t know…

David: Yeah, like the track Selecta by Infected Mushroom. Oompah oompah! We should have more of that in our mindXpander tracks!

You can find out more about mindXpander via their official website here.

Various Artists – (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered

Ah, Achtung Baby. An incredibly important album, or so we’re told. So important that a little under two years ago Q Magazine put together a compilation of covers entitled (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered.

The original by U2 isn’t actually an album that I know, and if I’m honest I actually only tracked down this album so I could hear the Depeche Mode track. But in a way, having tracked it down, I feel I should be fair and review it in full, and so here we go. To make this a little more challenging, I’m not going to look up anything about the original album or the artists, so we’ll see where this takes us. Let’s hope I don’t say anything too stupid or rude, and there aren’t too many real U2 fans passing.

The first track is Zoo Station, covered in an industrial rock style by Nine Inch Nails. Since this genre is pretty much what U2 do, it would be interesting to know how different it is. It’s pretty pleasant, but it does drag on a bit at six and a half minutes, including a minute or two of droning feedback in the middle. I guess Zoo Station is a reference to the Zoologischer Garten railway station in the central shopping area of West Berlin.

Second is actually a remix rather than a cover – Jacques Lu Cont takes on one of the huge hits from this album Even Better Than the Real Thing, and rather wonderfully turns it into a modern rock/dance crossover track. I think it’s probably fair to say that this is the best track on this album, melding together the original elements (such as the drumming) with the more contemporary sounds.

Acoustic / folk singer Damien Rice‘s take on One is very good, full of emotion and feeling, although it does rather lack the energy of the original. Patti Smith‘s Unti the End of the World is just about listenable. I wonder what her fans thought of this? Or maybe she’s always as bad as this; I really don’t know.

Then another track where I know the original, albeit not especially well. Garbage have taken Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, and they have turned it into a typical Garbage track. Which is all good and fine – all the ingredients are there for an excellent song. Unfortunately somewhere it slightly misses its mark – the softer verses are pleasant, but the rocky chorus doesn’t quite work somehow.

Which is symptomatic of the whole album really for me – there are lots of great artists, performing great pieces of music, and not doing a particularly great job of it. Depeche Mode suffered a lot of criticism from their fans for So Cruel, but when you listen you realise that, unfortunately, this is entirely right. From the fun growly overloaded synths at the start through to the clicking and bleeping half way through, and with Dave Gahan‘s typically powerful vocal, all the ingredients are there. The end result isn’t bad, but it just isn’t particularly memorable, in any way. As with much of this album.

The original Achtung Baby obviously took a lot of influences from Germany, but don’t take that to mean the pronunciation guide on this album is correct – Ahk-toong Bay-bi would give you an entirely erroneous impression of the name (actually I believe the album title is correctly stylised as (Ǎhk-to͝ong Bāy-Bi) Covered, which I suspect is closer, but I didn’t want to use that everywhere in this post as it would probably quickly start to become illegible to anyone without access to those symbols). I wonder therefore if that’s an in-joke that I’m missing.

Gavin Friday turns up next to do a really adventurous take of The Fly, full of wobbly electronic noises and creaking sounds, and successfully sounding absolutely nothing like the original but also very good at the same time. It’s another strong track, probably second only to Even Better Than the Real Thing on this collection.

Snow Patrol‘s version of the brilliant Mysterious Ways starts off pretty unpromisingly, but builds into a good track towards the end, and then just as it’s getting started it’s over already. Of course, what made the original special was the combination of all its parts, but in particular the guitar effects, of which there is no sign this time around.

Then The Fray take on Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World for one of the less notable tracks on the whole compilation, followed by The Killers doing a pleasant but largely forgettable version of Ultra Violet (Light My Way) and just in case you thought the mediocrity was become a little monotonous, Glasvegas turn up with a largely hideous take of Acrobat.

The final track sees Jack White take on Love is Blindness, again leaving something pleasant but fairly unremarkable behind him. Things get a bit more exciting as he wanders towards the crescendo at the end, but then most of the tracks on this album had something going for them.

The general theme of (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered, then, is “pleasant but forgettable.” As a tribute to a great album, is this really doing its job? I’ll let you decide. At least it’s all for charity.

You can find (Ahk-toong Bay-bi) Covered on iTunes and all the normal download locations. The physical format is probably available second hand too, but of course that’s not for charity…

Live – August 2013

Five of the best gigs coming up in the next month or two:

Erasure

Just a couple of concerts over the summer, in Atlanta Georgia (America), a festival in Mexico, and part of the big B.E.F. concert in Sheffield in October.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Fuck Buttons

Excellent noodlers and definitely worth seeing live. After the Green Man festival this week, you can catch them from September in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Leeds, Norwich, Brighton, London, Paris, and Hamburg.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Gary Numan

He’s a pop star! With a pilot’s licence! And he’s back on the road in the USA and Canada from the end of August, and then the UK and Ireland from November.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Front Line Assembly

Touring Germany, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, and the UK this month, and well worth seeing live if you haven’t caught them before.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Peter Hook

Still unwilling to bury the hatchet with the rest of New Order, Hook is resolutely touring, with festivals over the summer, and then the UK, USA, and Canada in September, then back to the UK and Ireland through to the end of November.

Full list of dates at Songkick, split between him solo, and him with The Light.

 

BT – Emotional Technology

Brian Transeau, or as he more pronounceably prefers to be known, BT, seems to have been around forever. From relatively humble beginnings in the mid-1990s trance world, he quickly worked his way up to becoming one of the best known names in American dance music.

The album we’re listening to this week is exactly ten years old, and it wasn’t long after that that I came across it in a little record shop somewhere halfway across the world, and was rather taken by the sound.

Emotional Technology opens with a little one-minute piece called The Meeting of a Hundred Yang, made up mainly of backwards vocal and instrument samples, and then before you know it this jumps into the first proper track Knowledge of Self. It’s got some great harsh industrial bass and backing noises, but apart from that it’s mainly a person saying, “If you want some, come and get some.”

Superfabulous comes next, something of an improvement, although actress Rose McGowan‘s vocal, although pleasant enough, isn’t anything particularly special unfortunately. What makes this album great is its production.

This really comes to the fore with the next track Simply Being Loved (Somnambulist), which apparently appears in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most vocal edits in a single song. You don’t really need to know that, because it’s a great song too, but it is a pretty good fact, and it makes for a really unusual song, peppered as it is with weird broken vocal sounds.

The longer and more traditional BT sound returns with The Force of Gravity, actually a slightly disappointing and overlong piece until the chorus finally turns up halfway through. “Do you cry your eyes to sleep?” asks vocalist JC Chasez. Well no actually, I don’t, because I don’t actually know what that means.

Dark Heart Dawning is an unassuming track to follow, with slide guitar and a gloomy vocal, but it’s actually another great song; one of the highlights of the album actually. I highlighted the production earlier, but when all the elements come together, with a strong piece of songwriting and intriguing production too, that’s when this album is truly special.

Subsequent tracks The Great Escape and PARIS are rather less remarkable, although still entirely pleasant, but Circles gets things going again. Ostensibly a catchy little pop/rock song, it has a great chorus, although the clarification of “Our love is cyclical: it moves in circles,” does seem slightly unnecessary.

Significantly, and perhaps unusually, this is also an album which increases in quality towards the end. The later weaker tracks Last Moment of Clarity and Communicate are better than those at the top of the album, although the general trend of making songs drag on for rather longer than they ought to does continue.

The penultimate track is Animals, another piece in the style of a rock ballad, which, perhaps surprisingly, is a style which suits BT well. Lyrically it’s not great (I think it’s mainly something about “pretty animals”), but it’s still a strong track, and another of my favourites on the album.

For the last track though, he pulls all his tricks out of the box – another dance-rock ballad, with intriguing production, and also a great lyric, The Only Constant is Change is probably the best track on the album, and is a wonderful way to close it out.

There are two different sleeves for this album – the American version (on iTunes below) features a weirdly smug photo of BT sitting on a bench, but if like me you find that slightly offputting, go for the international version instead. Emotional Technology may be a little hit-and-miss at times, but nevertheless it really is a fascinating album, and when it hits the right note, it really is very good.

You can find Emotional Technology and the rest of BT‘s back catalogue in all the usual places, including at iTunes here.

Preview – Bomb the Bass

August this year is, as every year, somewhat slack in terms of new releases, so this is a good opportunity to roll back a month or two and remind ourselves of some of the new releases we missed – a kind of “retrospective preview,” if you will.

One of which was the new Bomb the Bass album In the Sun, which yields this rather sweet track Wandering Star with a lovely video to boot. Out now.