Chart for stowaways – 5 July 2014

Here are this week’s top 10 albums:

  1. William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5
  2. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
  3. William Orbit – Orbit Symphonic
  4. DARKSIDE – Psychic
  5. Jean Michel Jarre – Sessions 2000
  6. Apparat – The Devil’s Walk
  7. Erlend Øye – Unrest
  8. Honeyroot – The Sun Will Come
  9. I Monster / People Soup – I Monster Presents People Soup
  10. Deep Forest – Deep Forest
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Beginner’s guide to Zero 7

Chillout multi-instrumentalists or quirky urban jazz musicians, Zero 7 have spent a good fifteen years or so drifting between the great and the dull. Fortunately, when they’re good, they’re extraordinarily good.

Key moments

You will no doubt remember Destiny (2001), and possibly even some of their other hits, but if you’ve not come across them elsewhere then you’ll know them for their brilliant debut Simple Things.

Where to start

Most of the key hits can be found on their 2010 best of compilation Record, which optionally comes with a bonus disc (more below).

What to buy

Next step is to jump right back to 2001 for Simple Things – this is about as good as they get. After that you could dip in for just odd moments. The Garden (2006) has some good moments, and Yeah Ghost (2009) is probably the better of the other two.

Don’t bother with

Any of the singles, as a rule. When it Falls (2004) is the least interesting of their albums, although it does have a few highlights. Don’t bother with the bonus disc of Record, which just is largely just a collection of pointless remixes.

Hidden treasure

Despite the rules of thumb above, Warm Sound is one of their best songs, and is only available on When it Falls, and a couple of the remixes hidden on the second disc of Record are actually pretty good, particularly the versions of Futures and Ghost Symbol.

For stowaways

Various Artists – 24 Hour Party People

It’s time for the last of our movie soundtrack reviews for the time being, and this time for a film that I have actually seen, and as I recall enjoyed very much, the history of Factory Records, 24 Hour Party People.

Given the nature of the subject matter, you can obviously expect a lot of Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays, but it begins back in 1977 with defining the Sex Pistols track Anarchy in the UK. Listening now, nearly forty years on, it’s surprising quite how tame it sounds – is this really the same record that got so many people worked up?

The first of three Happy Mondays tracks is next, with 24 Hour Party People, remixed by Jon Carter. Despite not knowing them particularly well as a band, I think it’s fair to say that this probably isn’t their finest hour – it’s era defining, and a great choice for title track, but it’s also a little bit overwrought at times.

Joy Division were really the act that defined Factory Records, and so it is only right that there would be four of their tracks on here – well, five, arguably. The first is the brilliant Transmission, representing the early sound of the record company.

It’s then time for a bit of a sidestep for some other music from the era, with The Buzzcocks‘ brilliant Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have), and then The Clash‘s Janie Jones, which is good, but less exciting. Either way, your transition to the late 1970s should be pretty solid by this stage.

The next track is exclusive, as Moby joins New Order for a live performance of the Joy Division track New Dawn Fades. Moby has long been a fan of this particular track, having recorded a cover version for the b-side of Feeling So Real back in 1996, and he gives it all he can on this version. But I’m not sure he really gives Ian Curtis‘s lyrics the performance they deserve. I wonder if anybody could.

Another slice of actual Joy Division follows, with Atmosphere, taking us into the 1980s, before time starts really jumping around to The Duruitti Column‘s brilliantly ethereal 1989 track Otis. Then comes A Guy Called Gerald‘s once iconic acid house piece Voodoo Ray, which has to now be one of the most dated tracks on this entire album.

New Order always had their ups and downs, and I’ve never been entirely convinced by Temptation. The lyrics are among Bernard Sumner‘s weakest, the vocal isn’t particularly well delivered, and the instrumentation is a little uninspired. What it does do is represent its era perfectly – few tracks would represent the Factory Records of 1987 in the way this one does.

Next up is a great moment from Happy Mondays, with Loose Fit from 1990, again very much reflecting its age, but somehow sounding really good for it. And the era-defining sound of Pacific State by 808 State follows. It feels as though this is a soundtrack for an era of music more than a film – a particular type of music, admittedly.

We’re then briefly transported back to 1983 for the superlative Blue Monday by New Order, without a doubt their finest hour, before house music arrives with a vengeance in the form of Marshall Jefferson‘s Move Your Body.

The tail end of this soundtrack is probably either unnecessary or euphoric, depending on how you feel about the Factory Records roster of artists, as it basically just retreads the ground we’ve been treading for the last hour or so. Not having had any Joy Division for a while, it’s about time we heard the brilliant She’s Lost Control, and then more Happy Mondays with the fantastic Hallelujah, which surely never sounded this good?

There’s then an exclusive new track from New Order, Here to Stay, which was subsequently also a single. It’s good – it’s got all the iconic pieces of New Order, particularly in this longer version where it does sound like one of their 1980s 12″ versions. But somehow it isn’t entirely satisfying. Not in the way that the last track, the essential Love Will Tear Us Apart is, anyway. Quite why Joy Division never included it on either of their albums was always a bit of a mystery to me – it’s such an amazing song, and so well delivered.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that 24 Hour Party People is the best of the movie soundtracks which we’ve reviewed recently – it has some weaker moments, but they are few and far between, and every track is clearly there with good reason. If you’re in the market for an album to introduce you to the world of music, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

You can find 24 Hour Party People – Music from the Motion Picture at all major retailers, such as this one.

Portishead – Dummy

Two decades ago this week saw the release of Portishead‘s debut album Dummy. Always slightly enigmatic and mysterious, the group appeared largely out of nowhere, and subsequently disappeared into relative obscurity afterwards, only surfacing about once a decade with a new album, which although excellent and significant chart hits, seem to get almost entirely forgotten by the world at large.

Dummy wouldn’t really conquer the charts until the following year, and yet it must be one of the strongest debut albums I’ve ever come across. The first track is the Theremin-styled Mysterons, full of cold and wintry misery. Within the first minute, the haunting vocals and slightly dub-inspired backing draws you in and refuses to let you go.

The second track is the brilliant second single Glory Box (that’s the one about “nobody loves me / not like you do,” in case you’re having trouble working out why the name Portishead should be familiar to you). The vocal is even more haunting this time, and the instrumentation absolutely spot on. If you can avoid being drawn in by this stage, you have no heart.

There is, relatively speaking, some filler on here too – neither Strangers nor It Could Be Sweet really grab me in the same way as their predecessors. So it’s up to Wandering Star to recapture the mood. Driven by a slightly dirty bass sound and a bit of daft record scratching, it could very easily be awful, but somehow all the ingredients come together, and it ends up totally brilliant instead.

Then comes first single Numb, with its Hammond Organ backing and yet another quite exceptional vocal performance. I’d probably have dispensed with the record scratching by this stage, but the rest of the backing gives it a moody air of mystery.

Roads and Pedestal are less endearing, although they certainly do nothing to detract from the mood. The curiously named Biscuit may be a little unintelligible at times, but as a prelude to the final track it definitely has its place, and it’s full of all the moody vocals and noises that graced previous tracks.

Picking a favourite between Sour Times and Glory Box would be tricky, but it’s definitely Glory Box which is the more expressive of the two. There isn’t a lot to it – a high string sound, a huge bass, some slightly trippy drums, and yet another exceptional vocal. But somehow all the magic is there, particularly in the vocal performance. This must be one of the best closing tracks in the history of music, and although it didn’t quite manage the top ten, it was still a significant hit in its own right. At the end, it fades unusually over the first verse again, making it sound as though it might just carry on forever.

However you look at it, Dummy is an exceptional debut, and is also pretty much defining of its era too. Three years later the slightly anonymous follow-up Portishead would sell well (about half as well as the first album) and Third, which followed more than a decade later was also successful, but neither would be anywhere near as memorable as the exceptional Dummy.

You can find Dummy at all major retailers as a download or CD. Try here.

September 2014 for stowaways

There are just a few days left before we hit September, so it’s probably about time I warned you that things are going to change a little bit as we hit the start of Autumn…

  • The second week of oldies! We listen back to Lightning Seeds, Yazoo, and more to see how they have stood the test of time
  • The random jukebox brings us tracks from Alphabeat, Saint Etienne, and others
  • It’s time for the autumn mini-awards season, so we’ll start our countdown to the 2014 Q Awards and Mercury Awards
  • We’ll kick off a completely new round of Beginner’s guides, right back at the letter A again, but who will it be this time?
  • Plus all the usual previews, charts, live highlights, and much more!

Röyksopp – Running to the Sea

After a break of a couple of years, Röyksopp seemed to reappear from nowhere at the end of 2012, initially with just a live performance of a new track Running to the Sea, coupled with a cover version of Ice Machine. A year later, after having been an enormous hit in the meantime back home in Norway, it reappeared as a full single, with added remixes and extra stuff.

The lead track is inconceivably brilliant. Susanne Sundfør‘s vocal just seems to drift perfectly over a truly exquisite backing, which over the first couple of minutes builds with every bar to become something incredibly powerful and evocative. The lyrics perhaps aren’t the best ever, but there are some very memorable lines, and the melody more than makes up for it. Towards the end, a repeated snare sound turns up to punctuate the layers of sound, before it all falls apart at the end. If Röyksopp were good before, they might have just achieved legendary status.

The new b-side is Something in My Heart, featuring the quite incredible vocal performance of Jamie McDermott from The Irrepressibles. Perhaps unsurprisingly after the lead track, it’s another fine moment. It’s perhaps less joyous and more introspective than the lead track, but the chorus is extremely strong. More than good enough to be a single in its own right, this bodes extremely well for the next Röyksopp album.

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I find it rare for a package of remixes to have many highlights these days. Often the remixers manage to completely miss the point of the original, or just go off on some self-indulgent flight of fantasy for ten minutes or so. Somehow though, on Running to the Sea, every track is brilliant.

The first remix, a 12-minute deep house odyssey from Pachanga Boys draws out every thread of the original and adds lots of extra bobbly electronic bits. The piano part doesn’t even turn up until seven minutes in, and the vocal never actually appears, but somehow all the feeling and energy of the original is retained.

Villa‘s remix is not hugely different from the original, in many ways – it adds a rhythmic house beat and a bit of extra background frippery, and the backing is perhaps a little more subdued, but otherwise it serves as a very good alternative version. The LNTG remix takes things in a slightly different direction, losing most of the instrumentation from the original, but is no less enjoyable, with its enormous analogue synth pads and deep electronic backing.

The Man Without Country remix is less outstanding – apart from a handful of elements from the original, the backing is mainly just a bit of drumming and reverb this time. DJ HMC‘s version is similar to Villa‘s in many ways, but brings in some nice new pad elements to turn the track into something slightly different. It burbles long with some very pleasant noises and the occasional “like breaking diamonds,” for a few minutes, and then reaches its natural conclusion.

Magnus & Timon‘s version is perhaps the weakest of the lot. It keeps plenty of elements from the original, but doesn’t seem to add anything particular to replace what it lost. The main crescendo is just a slightly noisy electronic mess. The final mix is probably the best of the lot – Seven Lions turns up to turn the original into something that sits somewhere between euphoric trance and dubstep. It’s an eclectic mix, and it’s also entirely brilliant.

Röyksopp‘s return to the world of music is a very welcome one, and it’s great to hear them turn up with such an exceptional set of remixes. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a new album soon.

You can find the original version of Running to the Sea at all major download stores, such as here, and the remixes are here.