Chart for stowaways – 26 April 2014

Here are the top singles this week:

  1. William Orbit – Water from a Vine Leaf
  2. The Grid – Heartbeat
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Flourescent
  4. Mike Oldfield – Sentinel
  5. Moby feat. Wayne Coyne – The Perfect Life

And the top albums:

  1. Moby – Innocents
  2. B.E.F. – Music of Quality & Distinction Vol. 3 – Dark
  3. De La Soul – Stakes is High
  4. De La Soul – AOI: Bionix
  5. Depeche Mode – Black Celebration

Beginner’s guide to OMD

From humble beginnings in a telephone box near Liverpool, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or OMD, quickly rose to become one of the most important acts in the world of electronic pop music. A brief period of intense creativity followed, culminating with the Kraftwerk-inspired Dazzle Ships (1983), followed by an extended downtime.

Key moments

Most of their eponymous debut album (1980), then Enola Gay, the enormous hit single, the 1991 comeback Sailing on the Seven Seas, and actually not a huge amount else (but that shouldn’t diminish the importance of those key moments!)

Where to start

Start with their 2008 compilation Messages – Greatest Hits, which contains most of the songs you’ll remember from your childhood. It misses their newer material, but has pretty much everything you could ever want from the early years.

What to buy

Start with their exceptional debut Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to hear how it all began, and then try their most consistent album Architecture and Morality (1981). Next, roll forward to 1996’s regularly overlooked Universal, after which you should be ready to make up your own mind.

Don’t bother with

Anything released between 1984 and 1989, as beginners won’t find much worth listening to there. The comeback albums History of Modern (2010) and English Electric (2013) are variable, and should probably be saved until you’ve heard everything else.

Hidden treasure

In an era of largely awful albums, So in Love from Crush (1985) is great, as is the 1991 b-side Sugar Tax, which confusingly doesn’t appear on the album of the same name. From the newer releases, The Future, The Past, and Forever After from History of Modern is probably the best.

For stowaways

Depeche Mode – Composition of Sound Demos

Depeche Mode, or Composition of Sound as they were called back in 1980, must have been an interesting bunch. They had a little twenty minute package of plinky plonky synth-based tracks to share with us, and they were really rather good.

First up is The Price of Love, with synth sounds borrowed from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I’m not clear who’s singing here – it sounds as though it might be Vince Clarke. Either way, why did this never get released? In a way it sounds more like Yazoo than Depeche Mode, but that’s no bad thing.

Let’s Get Together reveals that they were listening to The Human League too, and I think has a very unconfident (but still pretty good) vocal from Dave Gahan. Again, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Yazoo album.

Early live favourite Television Set comes next, featuring a vocal line lifted straight from Gary Numan, and clearly taking heavy influence from The Normal‘s T.V.O.D. Again, this is strong enough that you have to wonder slightly why record companies weren’t falling over one another to sign them. I suppose in 1980, they were still a little ahead of their time.

Reason Man is less strong, although you can still see some promise, and also the odd hint of New Life, while Dance of Modern Time is perhaps a good idea lacking somewhat in execution. The electro-swing of Tomorrow’s Dance does come as a bit of a surprise, and might have even lifted debut album Speak and Spell when it starts to get a little dull in places. Another great track.

The last in the collection is I Like It, which I can only assume was an attempt at bubblegum pop, and it actually almost works. It’s good to hear them experimenting with different ideas, and although this one may not be their finest hour, it’s still kind of fun.

There’s a separate set of demos floating around called Vince Clarke Demos, including an alternative version of Television Set, alongside two unreleased and seemingly untitled tracks. While it might have been tempting to write about those as a separate post, the entire collection comes to less than three minutes, so it probably isn’t really worth it. The vocal unreleased track doesn’t really work, although it has some nice elements here and there, while the final instrumental wouldn’t have sounded out of place at the end of an early Human League album.

As always, it’s a fascinating experience listening to any demos, particularly the ones that an enormous act were using to try and get signed. But it must have been an easy decision for Daniel Miller back in 1981 when he offered them a deal with Mute Records – the Composition of Sound Demos are totally brilliant. And for the record, Composition of Sound is a really good name for a band.

Orbital – Blue Album

Orbital are not, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, an act that I know well. They’re also not an act who have been covered on this blog before, so let’s try and redress the balance with 2004’s Blue Album.

The opening track isn’t entirely what I’d expect of Orbital though. It has its pleasant moments, but a large chunk of it is experimental noise, which isn’t entirely nice to listen to. Transient is not, I have to say, the best opening track I’ve ever come across on an album. Until the end, that is, by which time it appears to have morphed into a lovely harpsichord style piece.

Pants is brilliant though, a lovely dark synth-driven instrumental, every bit as fun as the title might suggest. The morphing counter-melody line is particularly fantastic. Then Tunnel Vision is much harsher and darker, the kind of thing that you could imagine would be incredible live. Lost has a shimmering quality which might not make for such a special live moment, but is still extremely enjoyable.

Over the preceding decade and a half, the Hartnoll brothers had journeyed from the humble beginnings of Chime (1989) to the very pinnacle of their genre with the likes of Satan Live (1996) and their theme to The Saint (1997). By 2004, they were already regarded as legends within their genre. This album was the last before their split later in 2004.

The middle track is You Lot, sampling Christopher Eccleston‘s speech from the brilliant TV show Second Coming for the first vocal performance on the album. By the tail end of the track, the sample has travelled through a number of different bizarre vocal effects, and while the backing still seems to owe a lot to the late 1980s, it’s still pretty compelling.

Bath Time has a wonderfully childish, almost cheesy quality, with its plinky plonk lead lines and eccentric pads, and then Acid Pants sees the legendary Sparks turn up in almost self-parody mode with a typically charismatic vocal performance and a huge amount of 303 acid sounds. It feels as though they’re channelling their own National Crime Awareness Week at times.

The penultimate track is a pleasant chime-laden track enigmatically entitled Easy Serv, and then for the final track One Perfect Sunrise, Lisa Gerrard turns up to deliver a brilliantly ethereal vocal. With another driving electronic backing, it’s a fantastic closing track to the album. So all in all, while Blue Album may not quite be up to the standard set by The Altogether (2001), but it’s got plenty to say for itself, and makes for a very enjoyable album.

You can still find Blue Album through all major retailers, such as Amazon.

Retro chart for stowaways – 19 June 2004

Exactly a decade ago, here were the top 10 albums on the Chart for stowaways:

  1. Faithless – No Roots
  2. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  3. Air – Talkie Walkie
  4. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  5. Dubstar – Stars – The Best of
  6. Dido – Life for Rent
  7. Erlend Øye / Various Artists – DJ Kicks
  8. Zero 7 – When it Falls
  9. Röyksopp – Melody AM
  10. Faithless – Outrospective

Bent and Delerium were floating around just outside the top 10, while Faithless also held onto the number one spot on the singles with Mass Destruction, and a slew of other classics held up the singles chart, including Kraftwerk‘s Aérodynamik and Goldfrapp‘s Strict Machine.

Various Artists – Late Night Tales: Röyksopp

As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of compilation albums, particularly not mixed ones, which is silly really, because I do like a good mix tape. But for Röyksopp I’m happy to make an exception – their Late Night Tales collection is bound to be pretty special. Besides, the download version also gives you a full set of unmixed recordings, which is really rather nice of them.

It opens with the first of two exclusive tracks of their own, Daddy’s Groove, which is a beautifully sweet track. It doesn’t have a huge amount in common with anything they have done before, with its computerised vocal and very laid back feel, but it is very gentle indeed. So gentle, in fact, that I’m not entirely sure I would have opened with it, but never mind.

Next up is another sweet and mellow piece, Rare Bird‘s Passing Through. As with many of the acts on this release, this wasn’t something I knew previously, which is perhaps embarrassing, given that it dates back to 1975. I suppose I don’t know my prog rock as well as I should.

Little River Band‘s Light of Day was equally new to me, and is nearly as old, dating from 1978, and is also very good indeed. It has a certain timeless quality, and really does fit on here very well – Röyksopp seemingly have extremely good taste!

Or perhaps not – I’m really not convinced by Tuxedomoon‘s version of In a Manner of Speaking, with its awful vocal delivery and almost total loss of the haunting quality that the song can hold. For me, this is definitely the low point of the album.

Vangelis turns up to pick things up with his Blade Runner Blues, but it isn’t until the next track that things really hot up, as Röyksopp themselves turn up with their latest collaborator Susanne Sundfør to cover Depeche Mode‘s Ice Machine in very stylish fahsion. If nothing else, it’s worth owning this compilation for a copy of this one track.

From this point onwards, things enter decidedly chilled mode, with Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s bizarrely sweet and evocative Odi et Amo, followed by F.R. David‘s Music, another track I hadn’t heard before, but one which is really quite exceptional. It actually sounds even older than it turns out to be (released in 1982), but that’s OK.

Prelude‘s bizarre folk sound (with a very heady level of reverb) works rather nicely on After the Goldrush, and then Richard Schneider Jr. turns up for Hello Beach Girls, which is enjoyable, despite being totally bizarre in every conceivable way.

Next comes Mr. Acker Bilk‘s 1961 number 2 (or 1, depending which chart you’re looking at) hit Stranger on the Shore, apparently the best selling instrumental single of all time. Then it’s forward a couple of decades to the 1980s for Thomas Dolby‘s strangely evocative Budapest by Blimp. Clearly Röyksopp‘s taste is not only good, but also eclectic, and also a little bit odd.

Byrne & Barnes‘s Love You Out of Your Mind is a pleasant – if very easy – song, but is probably the last of the highlights for me. Later tracks by John Martyn, XTC, and others are nice enough, but the night has clearly got very late indeed. The album closes with a section of a story read by Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch, which is ultimately fun, but probably means rather more if you’ve heard the previous chapter.

But overall, Röyksopp‘s Late Night Tales is an extremely enjoyable compilation – both as an introduction to music that you might not have heard before (although admittedly probably should have), and also just as a chillout album. It delivers a wide variety of sounds, mixed together largely seamlessly, and definitely deserves to be extremely well regarded.

You can find the download version of Röyksopp‘s Late Night Tales at all major music retailers, such as Amazon, where you can also enjoy some funny reviews by morons.