Chart for stowaways – 2 May 2015

These are the top 10 albums for the first week in May:

  1. MG – MG
  2. Étienne de Crécy – Super Discount 3
  3. Erlend Øye – Legao
  4. Shit Robot – We Got a Love
  5. Groove Armada – Black Light
  6. Sparks – Terminal Jive
  7. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  8. Sparks – Angst in My Pants
  9. Various Artists – Gri Balkon – I Had a Dream
  10. William Orbit – Strange Cargo III

Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Stand well back and make yourself comfortable! Here are the results of the European jury for 2015. After two very exciting semi-finals, which weeded out some of the dross (but suspiciously also allowed rather a lot to slip through), last Saturday saw the 2015 final, live from Vienna.

This year’s contest appears to have been somewhat pedestrian, apart from the exciting inclusion of Australia, who thanks to the time difference got to see the contest first thing on Sunday morning, but ended up taking part with extreme panache, gathering 12 points from their unexpected friends in Germany and Austra, and ending up in a very respectable fifth place.

In return, the Aussie vote sent 12 points to Sweden, 10 to Russia, 8 to Italy, and the rest to Latvia, Belgium, Serbia, Norway, Estonia, Israel, and Georgia. Yes, having clearly fundamentally misunderstood the basic principle of bloc voting, they gave no points to their language-mates in the UK (Ireland and Malta both dropped out in the second semi-final).

The UK performed predictably badly, receiving a point from each of Finland and Ireland, and three from San Marino, putting them way down at 24th place out of 27. Performing even worse, however, were France (4 points), Austria (null points) and Germany (also null points). In fact, of the “Big 5” countries who automatically qualify by giving extra money to the organisers (UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy) only Italy performed well, ending up in third place. And you have to feel a little bit sorry for incumbents Austria, for ending up with a big fat zero this time around.

Other near-winners came from Belgium, in fourth place, and Russia in second, but with a lead of over sixty points, Sweden were the decisive winners. Måns Zelmerlöw may have an unpronounceable name, but Heroes clearly grabbed the audience’s imagination, and so next year’s contest will be returning to Scandinavia after only one year away.

For more coverage, head to the official Eurovision website, where you can enjoy highlights, or you could just do what I’ll be doing and sit quietly until next year!

Five underrated artists

Another fine list from my archives, originally posted on my old website on 21st November 2003. In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, I was living in Germany at the time.

Herewith five artists who are big in Germany, and ought to be big in the UK, but nobody has ever heard of them…

  • One-T + Cool-T – I’ve no idea where they’re from, but they have a really catchy hip hop track with a fantastic video out at the moment called The Magic Key, which is big all over Europe. Except in the UK, of course. It just spent its 18th week on the German chart.
  • Samajona – A Berlin-based girl band, who appear to be big all over eastern Europe. Their current single Miss You ought to be enough to give Girls Aloud a run for their money, only it’s in German, which isn’t really a terribly commercial idea.
  • Sylver – A Dutch dance duo, who are now on their second album. They had a minor hit in the UK with Turn the Tide a couple of years ago. A lot of their stuff isn’t that great, but Livin’ My Life and the current single Shallow Water are particularly noteworthy.
  • Within Temptation – I’ve no idea what most of their material is like, but I just heard a very good industrial rock track called Mother Earth. They seem to sound a bit like Evanescence, except the vocalist uses opera influences, which is interesting. No idea where they’re from.
  • Wolfsheim – A German electronic group, who seem to have built up a big cult audience in Germany through the 1990s. I’d never heard of them before, but they’ve done a couple of really good singles this year, including Kein Zurück and Find You’re Here.

I could also mention Bernd das Brot, but that’s probably not a terribly good idea. Oh, and the German Popstars: The Rivals band, the unfortunately named Preluders are quite good, too. Or rather, like Girls Aloud, they’ve got a good production team behind them.

Olive – Trickle

The first thing that might come as a surprise here is that Olive actually recorded a second album. True, they shed a member after the enormous success of Extra Virgin (1996), or specifically the mega-hit You’re Not Alone, which peaked at number 1 the following year. But in 2000, they did return, with the much more pop-sounding Trickle. It was never released in the UK, and it wasn’t exactly successful, but surprisingly it is actually rather good.

The first track is one of the more subdued, the sweet Love Affair. Full of enormous pads and what might in another world be slide guitars, it’s also punctuated by some very lively drumming, coming together as a great mix.

The title track Trickle follows. If you’d only ever dipped into Olive, you might be forgiven for not having realised what an exceptionally good singer Ruth-Ann Boyle actually is. It’s songs like this one – which might have given another vocalist an excuse for a fairly mundane recording – on which she really comes to the fore.

Then comes the one and only single, which is something of a sad fact, although it was pumped full of largely dull remixes. The cover of I’m Not in Love is great though – Boyle’s vocal gives it a haunting quality which wasn’t entirely there in the original, while the slightly trippy pop backing endows it with energy too.

Songs like Smile might on any other album be rather dull, but on this one, it comes together beautifully, again allowing Boyle’s vocals to bring it to life explosively. All You Ever Needed, which follows, has less charm, but still has plenty to enjoy. Ultimately, it’s the slower pieces that grab you the most, as the lovely Indulge Me demonstrates, with its wavering Hammond organ and gentle beats, but ultimately songs like this were never going to be enormous hits.

This is perhaps where Trickle comes unstuck – it’s beautiful, and it is commercial, but it doesn’t quite fit with what the music industry wants us to be listening to – it’s that odd niche genre of relaxed pop music which radio DJs all insist is boring.

But it really isn’t boring, as the wonderful Speak to Me reminds you, and Liberty must be one of the best songs on here, despite the fact that practically nobody has ever heard it. It’s enough to make you very cross indeed.

The faux-orchestral introduction to Push is one of the odder moments now, fifteen years after this album originally saw the light of the day. If you picked up on the lack of Tim Kellett‘s legs on the front cover, you might be reading yourself for something more disturbing, but this is really as close as it comes, and only then because the synth string sounds have suffered the ravages of time somewhat. It’s still a great song.

No such fears for Thank You, with its enormous bass part, or the lovely Creature of Comfort, and then we’re nearly at the end already. The closing track Beyond the Fray, the closest to actual drum and bass that this album really gets, is brilliant, a perfect way to end an hour of music. If you don’t count the quieter and less exciting hidden track Take My Hand, that is.

So Trickle turns out to be a great second album, and a sadly overlooked gem. And sadder still, it would be the last we would see of Olive, save for a few side projects from each of the members. That’s definitely our loss.

Import and download copies of Trickle are still widely available and well worth owning.

Music for the Masses 22 – 17 October 2004

LSR FM, Leeds University’s student radio station, used to apply for an FM licence for a month once or twice a year, and this used to be extremely popular, as large numbers of wannabe DJs would apply to do shows. So it was that the returning Music for the Masses ended up in a graveyard slot, last thing at night on a Saturday night (or first thing on a Sunday, if you prefer to look at it that way, which nobody did, as they were all students). This had the nice effect that sometimes another presenter would forget to turn up, and your show could comfortably overrun by twenty minutes or so.

Show 22: Sun 17 Oct 2004, from 4:00am-6:20am

Broadcast on LSR FM, on FM and online. Artist of the week: Jean Michel Jarre.

  • Lemon Jelly – Space Walk
  • William Orbit (with Beth Orton) – Water from a Vine Leaf
  • Gotan Project – Época
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Équinoxe (Part III)
  • Ladytron – Light and Magic
  • Elektric Music – TV
  • Duran Duran – Come Undone
  • Andy Pickford – Oblivion
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Tout est Bleu
  • Massive Attack – Protection
  • Saint Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Kings of Convenience – Know-How
  • Bomb the Bass – Darkheart
  • Dirty Vegas – Walk Into the Sun
  • The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Aero
  • Robert Miles – Maresias
  • Komputer – The World of Tomorrow
  • Client – Radio (Extended)
  • Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart
  • Baxendale – Your Body Needs My Sugar
  • Paul van Dyk – Time of Our Lives
  • Moby – Porcelain
  • Manu Chao – Bongo Bong

This show was recorded, and for the most part still exists. It will be posted as a Playlist for stowaways soon.

Preview – Leftfield

If, like me, you have been waiting over a decade for the new Leftfield album (you have), prepare to not be disappointed. Alternative Light Source finally arrives on our shelves in a couple of weeks, and this is the first taster, the fantastic Universal Everything:

Retro chart for stowaways – 21 May 2005

Here are the top albums from exactly a decade ago:

  1. Morcheeba – The Antidote
  2. Moby – Hotel
  3. Basement Jaxx – The Singles
  4. Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll
  5. New Order – Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
  6. Client – City
  7. The Chemical Brothers – Push the Button
  8. a-ha – Singles 1984-2004
  9. Everything But The Girl – Adapt or Die – Ten Years of Remixes
  10. Kylie Minogue – Ultimate Kylie

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 – Semi-Finals

The Guardian has chosen to read a lot into this year’s entries for Eurovision, although it feels as though they’re making a story out of nothing in many ways. The event, which has been happening this week in Austria, has been every bit as entertaining and confusing as ever – that is, either extremely or not very, depending on your outlook.

This year also sees the first time that, due to a slight misspelling, Australia is taking part, because it’s the sixtieth anniversary of the contest. Hopefully, this might mean the UK finally has a friend other than Malta when the voting comes around. Or maybe not. SBS’s veteran presenter Lee Lin Chin will commentate on the Australian broadcast, which isn’t too far from the standard of Terry Wogan. Who doesn’t do it any more anyway. Australia deserve to win on that basis.

The first semi-final saw the loss of Moldova, the Netherlands, Finland, Macedonia, Belarus, and Denmark. That’s a big disappointment for Denmark, who have only failed to qualify a handful of times in the contest’s history. Russia has never failed to reach the finals, and despite still being a little low on friends across Europe, they sailed through comfortably. The Serbian entry Beauty Never Lies, performed by Bojana Stamenov was written by the person who wrote Conchita Wurst‘s winning entry last year, and is through to the final and looking very promising.

In the second semi-final on Thursday, the dropouts included the Irish entry (someone called Molly), San Marino, Malta, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Iceland, and Switzerland. Spared the axe were a whole load of others including Israel, who despite earlier successes haven’t actually qualified since 2010, and Azerbaijan, who as you may remember (I didn’t) won in 2011, and have never appeared lower than halfway down the voting.

Which might ask seem a pretty lousy summary to you, but that seems entirely fair to me. Like it or not, the final is tonight! Tune in, if you can. And if you care.

Play Protection

Another post from my archives. Originally published on my old website, 24th March 2004.

It’s getting rediculous [sic] these days – practically every other CD you pick up now has so-called copy protection on it. It’s fairly well documented now, but here are some reasons why I always try to avoid them wherever possible…

  1. They don’t play properly. Apparently they play on 90% of CD players. I have several different players. Of these, only my DVD player can play them properly, and even then not all of the time. My Kenwood CD player can’t cope with them at all (it simply registers ‘no disc’); my CD recorder for some reason always skips the first track; and, most bizarrely of all, my portable CD player requires to be hit a couple of times before it starts playing.
  2. I can copy them without problems. Although my normal CD player can’t play them, all I have to do is put them in my DVD player, and I can copy them digitally. The only thing it doesn’t do is put in track markers, but it’s easy enough to put them in yourself. I should stress that the fact that I know this does not mean I have copied any of these discs. Honest.
  3. They aren’t proper CDs. I’m not really keen on enhanced CDs anyway, but these don’t even include any extra material…

Anyway, suffice to say, I’m not keen on the things, and the sooner they stop releasing them, the better.