Recoil – Unsound Methods

Two decades ago this week saw the release of the third studio release from Alan Wilder‘s Recoil project, Unsound Methods. Whereas 1992’s Bloodline and its predecessors 1+2 (1986) and Hydrology (1987) had been primarily side-steps for Wilder, allowing him to explore different directions than he could with Depeche Mode, by 1997 he was now a solo artist in his own right, and this album came just months after his former bandmates’ comeback with Ultra.

It opens with Incubus, on which Francis Ford Coppola gets a writing credit thanks to a sample from Apocalypse Now. Vocals come from Nitzer Ebb‘s singer Douglas McCarthy, giving it a grimy quality which the preceding album had only hinted at.

Lead single Drifting is next, probably the most commercial of any of the tracks on here. It’s a bluesy, beatsy piece, with a brilliant vocal from Siobhan Lynch, and it serves as good preparation for the next track, the filthy, angry Luscious Apparatus. Narrated by the late poet and writer Maggie Estep, it’s a fascinatingly angst-ridden story of love and hate that fits the mood of this album perfectly.

Stalker is next, another collaboration with Douglas McCarthy, which is every bit as dirty as the title might lead you to expect. It was later released as a double a-side single with Missing Piece. Then comes the bleakly midwestern Red River Cargo, a huge piece of experimental semi-electronic blues rock which might actually be one of the best tracks on here.

Next is Control Freak, returning to earlier collaborator Estep for a slightly less successful but entirely enjoyable exploration, before we get the other half of that second single, Missing Piece. As with the first single, Siobhan Lynch appears to deliver the vocals on possibly the most laid back track on the whole album. It’s not particularly slow, but notably less angry than anything we’ve heard before now, and that’s pretty welcome by now.

By this point in the album you should pretty much have an idea of how it works, and be in the right mood to enjoy it, but it’s winding down already – Last Breath may not be the last track, but it is the penultimate. The tempo seems to be dropping too – this track still has the blues flavour (or perhaps flavor?) that previous tracks have brought us, but it’s also fairly relaxed now.

Finally we get Shunt, another dark and this time particularly rail-themed track that closes the album over the course of seven minutes or so. It’s an entirely appropriate ending to this curiously middle American album.

Unsound Methods is understated, challenging, experimental, and ultimately an excellent departure for Alan Wilder. Like many, I’d have been happier if he’d stayed to help shape Depeche Mode over the years that followed, but I’m also glad that we have Recoil to keep us challenged.

You can still find Unsound Methods at all major retailers.

Preview – Fever Ray

A surprise release last week was the comeback from Fever Ray, six years after her debut eponymous album. The album Plunge is out now, and of course it’s brilliant (and a little bit obscene, so maybe turn it down if you’re in public). Here’s To the Moon and Back:

Chart for stowaways – 23 September 2017

This is the latest album chart:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Release
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
  4. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  5. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  6. Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
  7. Erasure – World Be Gone
  8. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
  9. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  10. Sparks – Hippopotamus

Q Awards 2017

The 2017 Q Awards in association with Absolute Radio (for that was the ceremony’s now drearily over-commercial name) took place at the Roundhouse in London on 18th October, hosted by Christian O’Connell. Let’s take a quick look at who won, and probably also a quick chuckle at the ridiculously long commercialised award names while we’re at it.

Of course, on the plus side, the sponsorship of individual awards does help you tell all the almost-identically-named ones apart…

Q Best Breakthrough Act, presented by Red Stripe

Nominees:

  • The Big Moon
  • Formation
  • Girl Ray
  • HMLTD
  • The Moonlandingz
  • Pumarosa
  • Rag ‘n’ Bone Man
  • Sampha
  • Shame
  • Stefflon Don

Winner: Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

Q Best Live Act, presented by Cavern Club

Nominees:

  • Liam Gallagher
  • The Killers
  • Lorde
  • Radiohead
  • Stormzy

Winner: Liam Gallagher

Q Maverick, presented by Roundhouse

Winner: Viv Albertine

Q Innovation In Sound

Winner: Wiley

Q Best Video, presented by Pretty Green

Nominees:

  • Eagles of Death Metal – Nos Amis (Our Friends)
  • Iggy Pop & Josh Homme – American Valhalla
  • The Rolling Stones – Havana Moon
  • Sleaford Mods – Bunch of Kunst
  • The The – The Inertia Variations

Winner: Sleaford Mods

Q Best Track, presented by Flare Audio

Nominees:

  • Liam Gallagher – Wall of Glass
  • Kasabian – You’re in Love with a Psycho
  • Kendrick Lamar – Humble
  • Lorde – Green Light
  • Ed Sheeran – Shape of You

Winner: Kasabian

Q Best Album, presented by The Box Plus Network

Nominees:

  • Gorillaz – Humanz
  • Kendrick Lamar – DAMN
  • Sleaford Mods – English Tapes
  • Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
  • The xx – I See You

Winner: Gorillaz

Q Best Solo Artist presented by Help Musicians UK

Nominees:

  • Liam Gallagher
  • Lana del Rey
  • Ed Sheeran
  • St. Vincent
  • Stormzy

Winner: Stormzy

Q Best Act In The World Today, presented Buster & Punch

Nominees:

  • The 1975
  • Adele
  • Depeche Mode
  • Queens of the Stone Age
  • Ed Sheeran

Winner: Ed Sheeran

Q Icon, presented by BMW

Winner: Liam Gallagher

Q Gibson Les Paul Award

Winner: Kelley Deal

Q Inspiration, presented by Three

Winner: Manic Street Preachers

You can read our coverage of previous years, starting with the 2016 awards here.

The Human League – The Golden Hour of the Future

OK, ready, let’s do it. Celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of its release this week and also approximately the fortieth anniversary of its recording is the compilation of early recordings by The Human LeagueThe Golden Hour of the Future.

It opens with the brilliant single-that-never-was, Dance Like a Star, which sounds exactly as it should – The Human League Mk 1, as they are popularly called, the early lineup, featuring Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh alongside vocalist Phil Oakey, always seemed to be making eccentric pop which was a little rough around the edges. This is exactly that – and it might not quite be release quality, but you can still hear the sheer brilliance that’s still to come.

This compilation was curated by über-fan Richard X when he was pretty much at the height of his fame, and pulls together twenty tracks altogether, a mixture of early material by The Human League, their predecessor group The Future, and one solo track from Phil Oakey.

The second track is from The Future, entitled Looking for the Black Haired Girls, and is a fun experimental semi-instrumental track, and that is then followed by the pleasantly melodic and beatsy 4JG from The Human League. It ends, slightly unpredictably, with a child singing Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Most of the earlier tracks are from The Future though, often very experimental, slightly noisy pieces, hinting perhaps at vocalist Adi Newton‘s later industrial work with Clock DVABlack Clocks is pleasant, but definitely more odd than anything, while Cairo takes a lot of inspiration from the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and sounds every bit as fantastic.

As The Human League showed us long ago on those first two albums, they had always been fascinated with advertising, and so Dominion Advertisement should come as little surprise. It serves as a brief interlude before Dada Dada Duchamp Vortex, a very pleasant drifting piece which along for nearly six minutes before passing over to Daz.

You might find yourself drifting with the music, as Future Religion mixes into Disco Disaster. There’s more than enough variety here to satisfy a full career compilation, but there’s also a huge amount of material. Even among that, a few tracks really stand out – Interface is brilliant, as is Phil Oakey‘s solo work The Circus of Dr. Lao, and then there’s a fun instrumental cover of Reach Out (I’ll Be There) in case things need livening up.

There are some more experimental moments with New Pink FloydOnce Upon a Time in the WestOverkill Disaster Crash, and Year of the Jet Packs, a series which are all good, but only the last one really shines. Pulse Lovers is great too, and then we’re pretty much at the end already, with the short King of Kings, and then, after a lot of odd groaning and screaming, the extremely long Last Man on Earth.

Of course, the thing with Last Man on Earth is that it does, to some extent, help explain what on earth Phil Oakey was going on about on Circus of DeathThe Human League‘s first b-side, released just a year or so after most of these demos would have been recorded. This is definitely history in the making.

What’s surprising is just how good this is as an album. I’ve always loved The Human League Mk 1, but their sound on their albums is always a little raw and uncontrolled, and I suppose I expected their early demos to be even more manic. But they’re not particularly, and I’m very glad this compilation appeared to help add more context to those early years.

The CD has fallen out of print again, but you can still find The Golden Hour of the Future through your favourite digital retailers.

Retro chart for stowaways – 21 October 2006

Here are the top albums from eleven years ago this week:

  1. Delerium – Nuages du Monde
  2. Front Line Assembly – Artificial Soldier
  3. Kings Have Long Arms – I Rock – Eye Pop
  4. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  5. Hot Chip – The Warning
  6. Electronic – Get the Message – The Best Of
  7. Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
  8. Massive Attack – Collected
  9. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  10. Conjure One – Extraordinary Ways

Depeche Mode Nominated for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

As we’ve seen previously, I don’t generally take a lot of interest in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, mainly because I’m not completely clear what it is or indeed why it exists (and actually I’m not completely convinced that “inducted” is a word). The last time I covered the ceremony was in 2012, when Kraftwerk sadly failed to get, uh, “inducted”.

This year, Depeche Mode have been nominated. I care so little that I’ll probably forget to check back and see whether they made it or not. If you care, you can see all the nominees and take part in the fan vote here.

Dave Gahan – Hourglass

His 2003 solo debut Paper Monsters had been an uncertain affair, as Dave Gahan for the first time wrote his own tracks. Two decades of huge stadium rock showmanship at the helm of Depeche Mode meant he had a good understanding of how to write the music he wanted to make, but he maybe hadn’t quite got the hang of how to pull it off yet.

The follow-up Hourglass is very different indeed. Right from the first notes of Saw Something, you seem to hear a confidence that didn’t seem to have been there last time around. It’s fantastic – there’s a cello! There’s guitar work from John Frusciante!

Lead single Kingdom is next, every bit as good as any of the Depeche Mode singles of the last couple of decades – but not quite as successful. Whereas all three singles from the first album had reached respectable positions, this one stalled at number 44, and during a period when his contemporaries were still doing reasonably well. There’s nothing at all wrong with the song – it just didn’t quite do its job at promoting the album.

The third track is the dark and grimy Deeper and Deeper, released as a non-chart-qualifying double a-side with Saw Something early in 2004, which narrowly failed to reach the UK Top 100. It might be somewhat lacking the charm of some of Depeche Mode‘s noisier moments, but it’s still a catchy piece of electro-grime.

The rock track 21 Days that follows is great – it’s another grimy piece, but with a rhythmic and vocal quality that works extremely well. Gahan still isn’t really trying to do anything new here, but it’s a great example of what he does best.

There’s plenty of that in show here, anyway – for Miracles, we get a bit of “faith” and some “devotion” for a sweet, slow rock track with a particularly good vocal performance. But that’s the key really – if you’ve listened to Songs of Faith and Devotion, you’ll have already heard most of the ideas on here – add on Playing the Angel, and it should all sound very familiar indeed.

In spite of being pretty much exactly the right length to fit on one LP, it was inexplicably released as a double album, so I don’t even get to refer to Use You as the start of Side B (it opens Side C instead). It’s another grimy rock piece, with some nice effects work and a catchy chorus.

Insoluble is one of the weaker tracks on here, but that isn’t really saying a lot. Endless is better, with its dirty swing beat, but it’s A Little Lie that’s the last real moment of genius on here. It’s another slower piece, with lots of huge drums and another huge vocal performance, and it somehow comes together brilliantly. And then finally, the album ends with the pleasant but largely forgettable Down, the one where Gahan tries to channel Creep but doesn’t entirely pull it off.

So Hourglass may, in retrospect, be just a touch unambitious – but it is a good showcase of Dave Gahan‘s vocal talents and relatively new-found songwriting skills. It may not be essential for everyone, but if you like Depeche Mode, it’s definitely well worth owning.

You can still find Hourglass at all major retailers.