Air – Pocket Symphony

Of all of Air‘s albums, 2007’s Pocket Symphony is definitely one of my favourites. The hits might have been eluding them by this stage, but the album was well received, and for me it remains Air‘s last great studio album (2009’s follow-up Love 2 has little to love, Le Voyage dans la Lune is a good extension of a soundtrack, and Music for Museum is a little too avant garde for my tastes).

It opens, as all good Air albums do, with something soft and gentle – in the case of Pocket Symphony, it’s the adorable Space Maker. There’s already a certain spaciousness to the piece, with a bit of melancholy as well – gone is the simplicity of the first album, and the daftness of the second – this is the sound of a group who are entirely comfortable in their skins and with their sound.

Lead single Once Upon a Time is the second track, with a lovely rippling piano arpeggio. In an earlier age, this would have been a huge hit single, but in 2007 it only got a French release and only had one b-side.

Of all people, Jarvis Cocker turns up to deliver the vocal on One Hell of a Party, and does an exceptional job. The melancholic side of Air – not really explored too deeply on earlier releases – is really rather beautiful, and Cocker’s lyrics and vocal performance are both sad and sweet.

But there’s also plenty of Air‘s traditional sound here – Napalm Love is a sweet love song, and Mayfair Song is a charming instrumental. Left Bank is another sweet, lonely acoustic piece, and their ode to pop superstars Photograph is very pleasant too.

The second and final single – and the only one in the UK, although you could have been forgiven for failing to notice its release – was Mer du Japon, a very simple one-line song which apparently was written to honour the Pacific Ocean. It’s a little too simple in some ways, but it’s a pleasant piece nonetheless.

The instrumental Lost Message follows, and then Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy fame turns up to sing the adorable Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping. It might not have been destined to be a hit single, but it’s a great song even so, and a very worthwhile collaboration.

By this point the album is pretty much over – the vocal Redhead Girl and instrumental Night Sight close the album in gentle fashion, and it’s finished already. This may not be Air‘s most famous works, but it’s definitely one of their most consistent and finest hours.

You can still find Pocket Symphony at all major retailers. There are a few bonus tracks, either on the digital versions or using “OpenDisc” technology (no I don’t know either) on the CD.

Week of oldies 3

Time now for our third week of oldies, in which several classic albums happen to celebrate an important anniversary at once. This week sees us celebrating anniversaries from a French duo, a proud one-hit wonder, and what should have been an electronic supergroup. But who could they be?

Chart for stowaways – 4 February 2017

Here’s the new singles chart:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  2. C Duncan – Wanted to Want It Too
  3. Delerium with Phildel – Ritual
  4. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution?
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Say It to Me
  6. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  7. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 19)
  9. The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming
  10. Röyksopp – I Had This Thing

BRIT Awards 2017

This is one of those all-too-common posts where you probably know more about the subject than I do, but I still feel as though we should pay some lip service to the fortieth anniversary BRIT Awards!

This year’s ceremony was the 37th altogether, and celebrated many late geniuses, with statuette designed by Zaha Hadid, a tribute to George Michael, and several wins for David Bowie. It took place at The O2 in London on 22nd February, and was hosted by Dermot O’Leary and Emma Willis, who stepped in for Michael Bublé at the last minute.

Performances at the show came from Little MixBruno MarsEmeli SandéThe 1975Chris MartinKaty Perry and Skip MarleyThe Chainsmokers and Coldplay, Ed Sheeran feat. Stormzy, and Robbie Williams.

British Artist Video

Presented by Simon Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger. The nominees:

  • Adele – Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
  • James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go
  • Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie – Rockabye
  • Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend
  • Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna – This Is What You Came For
  • Jonas Blue feat. Dakota – Fast Car
  • Little Mix feat. Sean Paul – Hair
  • One Direction – History
  • Tinie Tempah feat. Zara Larsson – Girls Like
  • Zayn – Pillowtalk

British Breakthrough Act

Presented by Nick Grimshaw and Rita Ora. The nominees:

  • Anne-Marie
  • Blossoms
  • Rag ‘n’ Bone Man
  • Skepta
  • Stormzy

The winner: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

Critics’ Choice Award

Presented by Emeli Sandé. The nominees:

  • Anne-Marie
  • Dua Lipa
  • Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

The winner: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, which surely must be cheating?

MasterCard British Album of the Year

Presented by Noel Gallagher. The nominees:

  • Davie Bowie – Blackstar
  • Kano – Made in the Manor
  • Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
  • The 1975 – i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
  • Skepta – Konnichiwa

The winner: David Bowie

British Female Solo Artist

Presented by David Tennant. The nominees:

  • Anohni
  • Ellie Goulding
  • Lianne La Havas
  • Nao
  • Emeli Sandé

The winner: Emeli Sandé

British Male Solo Artist

Presented by Zane Lowe. The nominees:

  • David Bowie
  • Craig David
  • Kano
  • Michael Kiwanuka
  • Skepta

The winner: David Bowie

British Group

Presented by Maisie Williams and Romesh Ranganathan. The nominees:

  • Bastille
  • Biffy Clyro
  • Little Mix
  • The 1975
  • Radiohead

The winner: The 1975

British Single

Presented by Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby. The nominees:

  • James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go
  • Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own
  • Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie – Rockabye
  • Coldplay – Hymn For The Weekend
  • Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna – This Is What You Came For
  • Jonas Blue feat. Dakota – Fast Car
  • Little Mix – Shout Out To My Ex
  • Tinie Tempah feat. Zara Larsson – Girls Like
  • Alan Walker – Faded
  • Zayn – Pillowtalk

Winner: Little Mix

International Female Solo Artist

Presented by Alice Levine, Clara Amfo, and Laura Jackson. The nominees:

  • Beyoncé
  • Christine and the Queens
  • Rihanna
  • Sia
  • Solange

The winner: Beyoncé

International Male Solo Artist

Also, presented by Alice Levine, Clara Amfo, and Laura Jackson. The nominees:

  • Bon Iver
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Drake
  • Bruno Mars
  • The Weeknd

The winner: Drake

International Group

Since they were still around, this was also presented by Alice Levine, Clara Amfo, and Laura Jackson. The nominees:

  • Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
  • Drake & Future
  • Kings of Leon
  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • Twenty One Pilots

The winner: A Tribe Called Quest

BRITs Global Success

Presented by Naomi Campbell and Jonathan Ross

The winner: Adele

BRITs Icon Award

Because this is getting like the Q Awards with its multitude of identically-named awards. Presented by Take That.

Winner: Robbie Williams. Which I can’t help but feel reflects his success at the BRITs more than it does his performance generally, but well done to him anyway!

The Orb – Orblivion

The Orb are always a little bit odd – it probably goes without saying – and “odd” is definitely a good term to describe their fifth album Orblivion, released in 1997. Six years on from their debut, this album actually gave them their first US hit album, and also, with Toxygene, their biggest UK hit. As it celebrates its twentieth birthday, now seems a good time to give it another listen.

It opens with the pleasant Delta Mk II, which ripples along with arpeggios for a very soft and gentle seven minutes, before it mixes almost imperceptibly into the lovely Ubiquity. Whereas preceding releases Pomme Fritz (1994) and Orbus Terrarum (1995) had been downright silly and distinctly earthbound (respectively), Orblivion saw a return to the obscure science fiction-based aural adventure of earlier releases, and this is very audible on the first couple of tracks.

The tracks move so swiftly and smoothly from one to the next that you’re a good way through the album before you know it. Second single Asylum passes by with a friendly nod, and then the bouncier Bedouin arrives, full of dub reverb and otherworldly vocal samples. Molten Love brings a tribal rhythm and some overwhelming chimes, along with some gentle pads, and of course the normal array of entirely bizarre vocal samples.

After the short piece Pi comes the longer S.A.L.T., with some Mancunian Satanic readings, apparently borrowed from a Mike Leigh film called Naked. Out of context, as all good samples on The Orb‘s works are, it makes relatively little sense, but makes for an entertaining listen nonetheless. After a brief sea shanty, it mixes into The Orb‘s biggest hit single to date.

Toxygene, it is said, started life as a remix of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s comeback single Oxygène (Part 8), which was rejected because it didn’t actually contain any of the original. This is easy to believe when you hear the mixes that did make it – they’re generally huge dance versions that remain fairly faithful to the piece, and great though The Orb are, that really isn’t why you employ them to remix your single.

But whatever the backstory, Toxygene is great, and is entirely deserving of its place as the centrepiece of this album. It’s also the only commercial-sounding thing on here, so you can’t help but feel it was probably a good thing all round that things ended up the way they did. For pretty much the only time in their career, The Orb deliver a huge synth-driven hit single, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Then it’s back to the slightly loopy samples with the short Log of Deadwood, and then the longer Secrets, and then Passing of Time opens with another crazy sample, I’m guessing from a film (it sounds like a housing advert from the 1950s, until the nice man tells us “the rocket is waiting”). The resulting track is laden with grimy synths, but as with much of this album, is lacking a little in melody.

72 is just a short sample, with a hidden track a few minutes later, and then Orblivion draws to an end. For me, it’s not as good as subsequent album Cydonia, but it does have Toxygene, which is a pretty good reason to track it down – as a minimum everything else on here is a bonus, and you might even find something you like in amongst the rest.

You can still find the two-disc special edition of Orblivion at major retailers.

Preview – Dreadzone

There’s a new album just appeared from Dreadzone, after I don’t know how many years in the wilderness (I just checked – their last chart hit was exactly twenty years ago). It sounds pretty good though – it’s called Dread Times, and here’s a preview: