Peel Sessions – The Beloved, 8 January 1985

Since The Beloved clearly had their heyday in the early to mid-1990s, it’s really rather fascinating to me that they appeared on the John Peel show halfway through the preceding decade – and not just once, but twice. It really illustrates just how broad minded and open Peel actually was.

The first session opens with debut single A Hundred Words, really sounding rather good after presumably only a year or two of practice. To my untrained ears, it sounds a lot like the later single and album versions, but that’s definitely no bad thing.

Never-released track Idyll follows, a frantically fast piece. Perhaps surprisingly, given the direction their careers would take a few years later, most of The Beloved‘s output from the mid-1980s has a dark, indie, slightly dirty sound, I think from a combination of the bass and rhythm guitars, and this is no exception. It’s good, but entirely unlike Sweet Harmony. It’s nice to hear the lyric “the journey through” here, which for fact fans was in fact The Beloved‘s original name, when they formed back in 1983.

In fact, apart from the first track, nothing here appeared on their debut album Where it Is (1987) – which is something of a shame for A Beautiful Waste of Time, with its enormous drum fills.

The Flame is something of a surprise – it appeared in one of their original demo sessions, and eventually became their first single for a major label, with a new set of lyrics and a new title – Loving Feeling. Even here, though, with a growling synth bass line, you can hear there’s something a little bit different about it.

We’ll cover the second session in a future article. This session is available as a download from The Beloved‘s semi-official website here.

The Future Sound of London – Environment Five

Listeners of The Future Sound of London have, for the most part, spent the last couple of decades wondering exactly where they have been hiding. One of the more prolific acts of the 1990s seemed to have almost entirely disappeared from the turn of the millennium onwards.

Except they never really disappeared – with several albums under their belts using the Amorphous Androgynous pseudonym, a whole series of From the Archives and Environments albums, and a load of other stuff, things never really went entirely quiet. But Environment Five, unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2014, is unusual, in that it was their first truly new material for a very long time.

With Point of Departure, it feels as though they have slipped very comfortably back into the habit of making music. This would have fitted fairly comfortably on Dead Cities (1997) – but that’s not to say it’s in any way boring or dated. The Future Sound of London are, a quarter of a century after their first releases, every bit as contemporary as they ever were (although that may not be saying a huge amount).

Soft ambient pieces, such as the piano-based Source of Uncertainty, have always cropped up from time to time, and always add beautiful atmosphere. There are elements of Lifeforms towards the end, as the watery closing of the song blends into the more dramatic Image of the Past.

FSOL, as the fans call them, are very much an albums act, and their releases are beautifully crafted works of art, shifting gently from darker, uptempo, almost dancey electronic pieces, to ambient moments such as Beings of Light. There’s rarely a sudden contrast, but the more energetic, effects-laden In Solitude We Are Least Alone does stand out somewhat from its predecessor.

So it continues: Viewed from Below the Surface is a lovely piano piece; Multiples gently passes a minute or so; and Dying While Being Held features a delightful, almost harpsichord-like melody. Machines of the Subconscious is a dark, bass line-driven piece with chirping electro noises in the background.

Sometimes, it’s really best to close your eyes, and enjoy the environment that The Future Sound of London have created for us. Separating Dark and Lonely Waters from Somatosensory or The Dust Settles is a difficult task, but that’s not to say that you don’t enjoy them when you hear them.

Finally, before you know it, you’re onto the final track, the soft piano-and-rattlesnake duet of Moments of Isolation, and Environment Five is over already. It’s not a long album, and actually it probably won’t appear on too many “best of all time” lists either, but if you’re in need of another dose from the people who brought us Papua New Guinea and My Kingdom – and, let’s face it, you’re reading this, so you very probably are – this is an unexpected and rather wonderful return to form.

You can find Environment Five at the official FSOL website, and you’ll still get a nice bonus EP with it if you buy it directly from them.

Chart for stowaways – 21 May 2016

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  4. New Order – Music Complete
  5. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  6. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. Little Boots – Working Girl
  9. Brian Eno – The Ship
  10. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source

Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 20 August 1979

There are definitely times for standing by what you say, and other times when you just have to eat your words. I’ve been critical in the past of OMD and their habit of overplaying their legendary status, but when they recorded their first John Peel session in summer 1979, they really were doing something very different.

On the album, they open with Bunker Soldiers, one of the better songs on their exceptional 1980 eponymous debut, and to my ears there isn’t a huge amount different here, except for a slightly more raw sound and an unexpected ending. It does make you wonder just how this might have sounded on late night Radio 1 back in the 1970s though.

The lovely Julia’s Song follows, again sounding pretty polished. You have to wonder slightly how they picked the songs for Peel Sessions – did they intentionally hold back on Electricity because they knew how revolutionary it might be? Or maybe it’s so difficult to play that they couldn’t face it? Or maybe it simply wasn’t finished yet…

A surprisingly chilled version of Messages comes next, sounding just a touch slower than normal, but every bit as wonderful. This is 1980s synth pop, being played in the wrong decade, and by a radio DJ who was of course known for discovering every type of music, but perhaps not so well known for his taste in pop. Very strange.

Finally, the delightful early single Red Frame/White Light, sounding every bit as daft as you would expect, but with considerably less production. The single appeared in early 1980, about six months after the radio session, and as with all the other tracks from this session sounded a lot more polished by the time it was released properly.

We’ll cover the other four sessions in future article.s You can read more about OMD‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD Peel Sessions 1979-83, available here.

Faithless – Outrospective

Faithless never really did anything wrong. Maybe it’s just me that’s forgotten about them, or maybe history is somehow clouding my judgement, but to my surprise I find myself approaching this review with a bit of trepidation.

Fifteen years ago this week, the dance superstars released their third album Outrospective. After the slightly confused debut Reverence (1996) and the traditionally difficult second album Sunday 8pm (1998), this was definitely their best yet, so what reason could I possibly have for this trepidation?

It opens with Donny X, a pleasant instrumental electronic piece which ends with Maxi Jazz giving a few introductory words before the lovely Not Enuff Love begins. It’s a bit trippy, which seems somewhat unnecessary for such a sweet song, but maybe that’s just me.

If you were paying attention in the early summer of 2001, We Come 1 would have caught your attention, and so it is on the album, although for once it possibly suffers a little by appearing in its full eight minute glory. It’s great – those backwards kicks are enormous – but it feels as though it all happened a very long time ago now.

But I still feel as though I’m forcing myself to be critical, especially as the lovely Zoë Johnston turns up to deliver the vocal on the adorable Crazy English Summer, a song which has subconsciously haunted me for years since I left the UK. It feels as though it’s designed to remind me personally of the rained off barbecues and long walks in the countryside of the 1990s.

Muhammad Ali is the one track on here that I’ve never entirely understood – ultimately I think Maxi Jazz‘s relationship with the boxing legend is different to mine, and the disco backing doesn’t quite work for me.

Machines R Us is next (technically, that’s a backwards R, but I can’t actually be bothered finding the keystroke for that right now), continuing the disco theme slightly. It’s an instrumental, which is pleasant, and carries us through to Dido‘s inevitable appearance with the sublime single One Step Too Far. This in turn drifts gently into the introduction of one of the best dance tracks on here, the brilliant Tarantula, definitely one of the best songs about spiders in recent times if nothing else.

You do have to wonder what on earth Maxi Jazz is on about sometimes though – Giving Myself Away is nice, but has somewhat inscrutable lyrics. The instrumental Code is really sweet too, and carries us through to two more appearances by Zoë Johnston, firstly on the anthemic and understated Evergreen. This is so good that it had me wondering if Johnston had ever released a solo album. As it happens, she has, so I may be checking that out soon. Anyway…

I had my doubts, I confess, but by the end of Outrospective I’m finding I still love it every bit as much as I did fifteen years ago. Some parts have dated, definitely. But the elements that made it great are still very much there. This is definitely Faithless‘s finest hour.

If you can still find a copy of the double CD version of Outrospective/Reperspective, that’s the one to go for.

Chart for stowaways – 14 May 2016

Here are the top singles this week:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (II)
  4. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Rone – The Heart of Noise
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Sad Robot World
  8. Electribe 101 – Talking with Myself
  9. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Running to the Sea
  10. Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show