Chart for stowaways – 21 November 2015

Here’s the latest singles chart:

  1. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  2. MG – Europa Hymn
  3. Little Boots – Working Girl
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  5. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  6. New Order – Restless
  7. Soulsavers – Take Me Back Home
  8. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  9. VCMG – EP3: Aftermaths
  10. MG – Pinking

DARKSIDE – Psychic

For a decade or so, the lack of new material from Jean-Michel Jarre cast a very dark shadow over the world of electronic music which seemed impossible to fill. But there were those who attempted to stand in for him, one of whom was the suspiciously similarly named Nicholas Jaar, a Chilean musician whose DARKSIDE project first appeared with their Psychic album in 2013.

To talk only about Jarre’s influence would be unfair – it’s strong, but there are many other factors at play here as well. Lead track Golden Arrow burbles along gently for over eleven minutes, bringing in ambient “found” sounds and synthetic energy from time to time. Once the rhythm finally arrives, five minutes in, you should have a clear idea of what this album’s going to be about. The delay-laden synth sounds that follow as the rhythm progresses into more of a march only serve to back up your first impressions.

The short piece Sitra, which follows, is unexciting, but leads us gradually through to Heart, which for the first time brings us a vocal, with lyrics, although they’re largely unintelligible. There’s something rather sweet about the rhythmic nature of this track, taking you back to the early 1970s somehow. Apart from the processing, the DARKSIDE project is clearly firmly rooted in the past.

Paper Trails for the first time brings us a comprehensible vocal, which, coupled with a particularly funky rhythm, makes for a great song. This is not the sort of thing that’s ever going to get a lot of radio play, but it’s fantastic nonetheless.

If this album has a low point, it’s with the next piece, The Only Shrine I’ve Seen, which while it has nothing especially wrong with it, it feels a bit pointless too somehow. But this is a fairly concise album, and before long Freak, Go Home is upon us, lifting the standards again. This is probably the best track on here, with its enormous melodic swells. It sounds a bit like the soundtrack to an advert for some kind of mood-enhancing coffee.

The gentler chimes and squawks of Greek Light follow, carrying us through to the final track, the glorious Metatron. As with much of this album, it wouldn’t necessarily be instantly accessible, but there’s something entirely pleasant about it. The melodic piano and unsettling choral pads come together rather beautifully. It’s not long before it fades away, and the album is over already.

Psychic is an excellent one-off release for DARKSIDE, and even if they never release anything else under this name, we should be grateful for this.

You can find Psychic at all major online retailers.

Delerium – Poem

This album puts me in a slightly awkward position – wherever possible, I like to review the “official” version, but for reasons best known to themselves, Delerium completely reshuffled their 2000 album Poem for its UK release the following year, and ended up with a totally different track listing. It’s difficult to know which the “right” version is, but since the UK version is what I have, we’ll go with that.

Hot on the heels of the massive hit single Silence from the previous album KarmaDelerium already had their next album Poem ready, and obviously decided to go ahead with releasing that instead of messing around with its predecessor. Since Delerium single versions rarely bear any particular resemblance to the album versions, there’s a lot of logic in this, but it’s a slight shame that Karma missed out on all the fun.

But first up here is the second track on the US version, Innocente (Falling in Love), which features Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer on vocals. Apart from Silence, this was the main single for this album, and rightfully so – it’s a great song.

Dance and electronic stalwart vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw turns up next, for the lovely Nature’s Kingdom, a semi-acoustic piece with a typically exceptional vocal performance. Delerium fans tend to be ultra-loyal to their earlier ambient and industrial material, but with songs as good as this it’s difficult to see why.

Only a couple of albums into this phase of their career, they had however already carved themselves a very particular niche, which Daylight breaks rather nicely. It was already over a decade since their first album, with sometimes several albums a year, but they had never actually worked with a male vocalist before. Some might not see this as a problem, but I think it’s a shame, and despite apparently looking very scaryMatthew Sweet delivers a fantastic vocal performance on a great song here. The recent compilation Rarities & B-Sides revealed that this was intended as a single, and it’s a great shame that never happened.

In the end, the only other single was Underwater, with Rani Kamal on vocals. It’s a great song, but for their 2004 Best Of compilation Delerium opted for Above & Beyond‘s remix version which headed up the single, and rightfully so – it’s a lot better. It wouldn’t have fitted on the album in the slightest, though – the focus here is on chilled out, ethereal, mystic music.

The first half of this collection concludes with Fallen Icons, another exquisite song. If I had to pick a favourite Delerium album, though, despite how good the songs on here are, it probably wouldn’t be this one. On Chimera (2003), the mix of songs and vocalists is generally better if you’re looking for a “pop” way into their sound, whereas Karma (1997) is undoubtedly the pinnacle of their chanty sound.

This has plenty to offer, though, as Aria, a collaboration with Mediæval Bæbes aptly proves. As with a lot of the songs on here, I’ve no idea what they’re actually singing about, but I’m not sure that matters enormously in this instance – it’s still a great song.

The same is true of Myth, which after a couple of minutes of introduction eventually builds into an exceptional piece of music. Jennifer Stevens‘s vocals are exquisite, particularly in the crescendo of the chorus. It’s really hard to fault something like this.

The feeling on here is very much one of a compilation, as the potential hit singles come thing and fast, such as Inner Sanctum, which was just a bonus track originally, although it fits perfectly on here – it’s actually difficult to imagine Poem without this song. Unless you think the question “why is eternity forever?” is perhaps a slightly silly one, that is. Then the deliciously named A Poem for Byzantium follows, one of the catchier tracks on here, another semi-acoustic piece with an excellent vocal performance.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the new sound of Delerium is pretty much set by this point, but if so Amongst the Ruins will come as a bit of a surprise, taking you very much back to the older sound of the group and reminding you that they still have that side too. Commerical success may have taken them in a very different direction, but they’re still the same people.

So Poem is a slightly schizophrenic album at times, and it’s far from perfect, but it does have a lot to offer in the way of catchy, chilled out, electronic pop songs. As is so often the case, approach it with an open mind, and it has plenty to offer.

You can still find the European version of Poem on regular release in places such as this one. Tread a little carefully if this is what you’re looking for, as the US release is available too in some formats.

Vinyl Moments – Apollo 440

Apollo 440‘s Liquid Cool may be a slightly unusual concept for a piece of music (some versions use the subtitle “Theme for Cryogenic Suspension”), but there’s something rather uplifting about the epic track, with its enormous choral backing and reverberating guitar solos.

I chose to start this Vinyl Moment with Side B of the 1993 Rumble EP, which also sounds particularly fantastic on vinyl. Disappointingly though, this version of Liquid Cool only clocks in at ten and a half minutes, rather than the album’s twelve, so I flipped the disc over for the non-album Hydraglide, a tribal piece which plods on sedately for six minutes or so.

If vinyl has become something for the hipster generation, then listening to a 1990s dance band from before they were famous is probably a slightly unusual way to express oneself. Fortunately, even a relatively dull track like Hydraglide sounds amazing. Why did we ever switch to CDs in the first place?

From the beautiful 12″ picture disc of Astral America, I chose the first track, Spirit of America. Watching a foot-sized round American flag spinning round on your record player is particularly satisfying, and actually the sound quality isn’t nearly as bad as I remember it being (like many picture discs, I’m fairly sure this one does suffer a bit in places, but apparently not on Side A).

If I were choosing my vinyl collection right now, Apollo 440‘s second album Electro Glide in Blue probably would be one of my choices, but as it turns out I just have the three singles – the original Rumble EP, the promo for Astral America, and a regular release of Krupa from the second album. So, as the needle makes its way towards the centre of the flag, the next track has to be Krupa, and with a large selection of unmemorable remixes to pick from, I decided to go for the original version.

That was the intention, anyway – it didn’t sound much like the original, so I flipped it over to the other side, thinking I’d picked the wrong side, and found myself listening to the edited Alcatraz within the Joint vs. @440 version that kicks off Side B, remixed by Alcatraz. This version takes the bouncy original, and makes it a bit more dance-orientated, and actually turns out rather well after all, although the fade at the end is a bit unexpected.

But there’s one release left over, in fact from last week’s Vinyl Moment which was dedicated to Jean-Michel Jarre. In 1998, he collaborated with Apollo 440 on a new version of his 1986 single Fourth Rendez-Vous. Now titled Rendez-Vous 98, it became an enormous, contemporary dance version, and actually did a lot better on the charts than the original.

Sadly, Rendez-Vous 98 didn’t see an official 12″ release in the UK, but somehow I seem to have ended up with the single-sided promo version, which just features Apollo 440‘s main remix as featured on the Odyssey Through O2 remix album. It’s a shame that none of the bonus tracks made it onto here, but it’s an exceptional piece of dance music nonetheless, and a great way to conclude this Vinyl Moment.

By the late 1990s, vinyl was close to hitting its nadir, but for dance music it was still the format of choice, and as far as I can see from these four singles, it served Apollo 440 well. In the next Vinyl Moment, we’ll cross into another decade, and take a spin through an assortment of Röyksopp singles.

Preview – Visage

Here are a couple of sentences that I never thought I’d write. Following the sad and untimely death of Steve Strange earlier this year, Visage have now released their final album Demons to Diamonds. Here’s Clubscene:

Chart for stowaways – 14 November 2015

Here are the top 10 albums this week:

  1. New Order – Music Complete
  2. Jean Michel-Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  3. Little Boots – Working Girl
  4. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  5. MG – MG EP
  6. Erasure – Always – The Very Best of
  7. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  8. Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
  9. Faithless – Faithless 2.0
  10. MG – MG

The Shamen – Axis Mutatis

An album that seems to have been around my whole life long celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week, The Shamen‘s most complete effort Axis Mutatis (1995).

After their initial acid and industrial explorations, The Shamen‘s commercial explosion came with 1991 (-ish)’s Pro-Gen, which you might know as Move Any Mountain. The Boss Drum album which followed in 1992 yielded pretty much every hit single anybody had that year, but has little else to offer, and so it’s very much left to Axis Mutatis to be an album in its own right.

Axis Mutatis opens with its most commercial track, the weirdly astral Destination Eschaton. Proving that drugs do little for your comprehensibility, this is the single that instructs listeners to “imminentise your Eschaton”, but for all its lyrical weirdness it’s a great pop song.

Single Transamazonia follows. The Shamen were at the top of their game here, as both Axis Mutatis and its companion piece Arbor Bona Arbor Mala emit an analogue warmth and depth which they hadn’t tapped previously and never would again.

The Aguirre-inspired Conquistador follows, with the early Latin American explorers getting a heavy dose of criticism for their love of gold, and then MK2A (“Mauna Kea to Andromeda”) follows. A couple of years ago I watched the New Year’s sunrise from Mauna Kea, which is definitely a deeply spiritual experience. If I were to try to put it into words, it would probably sound something like this.

In a rare case of a miss for The Beatmasters, omnipresent in the 1990s, both when they created their own hits and when they turned everyone else’s songs into huge hit singles as well, their single version of MK2A, which appears on the 1998 compilation The Shamen Collection isn’t anywhere near as good. Given that they were responsible for this and two other tracks on this album, that’s a curious fact, but sadly it’s true.

On the face of it, Neptune is one of the less exciting pieces on the album, an instrumental based around weird poppy and bubbly sounds. It is nice, though, and offers a gentle interlude after the heavily pop-driven dance that’s all around it.

Apart from any narcotic influences it may or may not have, Axis Mutatis seems to be influenced by a number of factors, but the conflicts between the old and new worlds during the Age of Discovery seem to play a big part, and Prince of Popocatapetl returns to that theme. With relatively few lyrics, but lots of deep jungle and acid noises, it’s an intriguing musical exploration.

Next comes the poppier, bubblier, and entirely more daft third single Heal (The Separation), produced by Steve Osborne. As with Destination Eschaton, you would be hard pushed to describe what it’s actually about, but it’s a great, uplifting dance track, and a worthy single.

A lovely deep instrumental follows, Persephone’s Quest, full of deep chimes and bobbly bass parts. It’s a reminder, were it needed, that The Shamen are a lot more than just the people who brought us Ebeneezer Goode and then had to spend a lot of time trying to justify it to the tabloid buying public – they are also capable of beautiful electronic music.

The mid-1990s were the period when cramming as much onto your album as possible was all the rage, and you do have to wonder slightly whether Moment actually adds anything much to Axis Mutatis, but it’s not doing any particular harm where it is, at the deep and dark instrumental end of the album.

The bonus disc Arbor Mala Arbor Mala is a magnificent 70-minute exploration of deep electronic trance music, which I’d hoped to find time to review here in its own right, but it will have to wait for now. As a precursor, the tail end of Axis Mutatis brings you a four-part piece called Axis Mundi, which mixes into one of The Shamen‘s own takes on Destination Eschaton (possibly proving that without The Beatmasters at the helm it’s not nearly such a good song), followed by the eleven minute Agua Azul. If you came here expecting more hit singles, you’re going to be disappointed, but for fans of electronic music, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Bringing up the rear, and strangely lonely right at the end, is S2 Translation, a musical conversion of the amino acids in the S2 protein. Or something. As ideas go, it’s nearly as daft as trying to play the music notated by birds sitting on a telephone wire, but it’s very listenable too. The result is a strangely hypnotic piece, which closes the album entirely appropriately.

Sadly that was pretty much it for The Shamen – 1996’s instrumental follow-up Hempton Manor is great too, but was never going to be much of a commercial success, however much they wanted to blame the record company for its failure, and 1998’s final UV is an other-worldly exploration with little to offer the charts.

You can find Axis Mutatis at your regular music retailers, most likely second hand. Try to make sure you’re getting the double CD including Arbor Bona Arbor Mala.