Chart for stowaways – 10 March 2018

Here’s this week’s top ten:

  1. Sparks – Hippopotamus
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  3. Moby – Everything Was Beautiful & Nothing Hurt
  4. Tracey Thorn – Record
  5. David Bowie – Legacy
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Introspective
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Actually
  8. Pet Shop Boys – Please
  9. Fever Ray – Plunge
  10. David Bowie – Low

Stowaway Heroes – John Peel

This week’s stowaway hero really is somebody who needs no introduction. John Peel remains a household name, not just in the UK, although people further afield may not quite be sure why he’s so special. A highly influential BBC Radio 1 DJ for five decades, I’ve always thought it was fair to say that he was single-handedly the inspiration for the radio station BBC 6 Music as well.

His blissful semi-professionalism was a wonderful part of his show, as he regularly played records at the wrong speed, and often made them sound much better in the process. It’s tempting to wonder if that might be why he championed the Cuban Boys (see here if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

An early champion of Joy Division, they appeared twice on his show and were played many more times. Here he is with the sad announcement of Ian Curtis‘s death in May 1980:

Pretty much any act worth their salt appeared on his show at some point, and you could pick any of them to showcase just how good the show was. Here’s my choice, The Human League, performing Being Boiled in 1978:

Sadly, Peel left us much too soon, dying in 2004, aged 65 – and while that would have made him nearly 80 at the time of writing, the world was a much richer place with his show in it. We all have different reasons to like Peel, but there’s really no way that he can’t be one of our stowaway heroes.

The Grid – Doppelgänger

In 1994, The Grid were at their creative peak – Texas CowboysSwamp Thing, and Rollercoaster were riding high on the charts, and the album Evolver was one of the biggest dance albums of the year. After their singles compilation Music for Dancing the following year, they then promptly disappeared for thirteen years. Their reappearance in 2008 with Doppelgänger was, bluntly, a bit of a disappointment after all the wait. But now it’s ten years old – is it as bad as it seemed at the time?

It opens with 8 Miles from Memphis, an eccentric acid house piece that probably couldn’t get you onto the dance floor if you weren’t already there, but also wouldn’t drive you off it.

A lot of your feeling about this album will be contingent on how you feel about US-style house music, the understated, beatsy type of dance music that uses repetition and sampling to lull you into some kind of dance frenzy. Vibration is typical of this – it’s a pleasant house track, but alongside the likes of Rollercoaster or Diablo, you have to wonder quite where it’s going.

Some tracks are better than others – the subaquatic sound of Pleasure Control works well, whereas the one single, Put Your Hands Together, while occasionally reminiscent of 1990s-era The Grid, turns out to be a bit dull. But whatever the shortcomings of some of the individual tracks, the album as a whole is pretty good actually – Slinker turns up with its fun warping, and Pure Statik appears with more of a dreamy post-disco feel.

A standout track at the halfway point is Mighty Heroik, which sees the legendary Robert Fripp turn up to add his usual wailing, dreamy frippery. For the first time on this album, there are echoes of the past – it reminds me slightly of Floatation from the first album Electric Head – as well as outstanding new sounds. This is what The Grid should be.

The laid back period of this album also brings us Saturday, another pleasant, sweet, largely instrumental piece. Closer is oddly familiar – it sounds like something you might have come across somewhere else, a decade or so earlier. Then Three Floors Above You takes us back to the house tracks we had started with, but with much more of a late night feel.

That is very much the feeling with the latter half of Doppelgänger – after the energetic house of the first half, we’re now into much softer, gentler pieces – Feed Your Mind is pleasantly sweet, and Fools Rush in is actually my favourite track on here, a soft vocal piece that glides along pleasantly for four minutes or so.

Finally, we get the closing track, Be Here with You, and here we actually get a load of “doo wop wop” vocals and harmonising. This isn’t exactly what you might expect of The Grid either, but it’s definitely pleasant.

So Doppelgänger held a lot of surprises, some better than others, and it’s probably fair to say that it wasn’t quite up to the standard of their earlier albums. But it does have something, and it does deserve a listen.

You can find Doppelgänger at all major music retailers.

Preview – Moby

Honestly, I think Moby has been a bit too prolific for me in recent years, so I have to confess I haven’t been paying him much attention. This is nice though – from Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt, this is Mere Anarchy:

Chart for stowaways – 3 March 2018

Here are the top singles:

  1. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  2. The Beloved – Don’t You Worry
  3. Goldfrapp – Happiness
  4. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  6. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  7. Kylie Minogue – Dancing
  8. Pet Shop Boys – Say It to Me
  9. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  10. Erasure – Always

Stowaway Heroes – Trevor Horn

You probably know Trevor Horn‘s name, but you might not realise quite why. Let me give you a clue – after a few years as a session musician, he formed a group called Buggles. You’ll know them for this UK number one from 1979:

He then launched the career of Dollar, produced an ABC album, and then brought us this from Frankie Goes to Hollywood:

But for me, what makes him a stowaway hero is Left to My Own Devices, one of the most iconic songs from Pet Shop Boys:

So welcome to our mini-hall of fame, Trevor Horn! You are a stowaway hero.

Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles seem to have appeared pretty much out of nowhere a decade ago with their eponymous debut album. There were no hit singles, despite a few attempts and a minor UK indie hit, and yet this remains their best selling album in the UK. Despite the duo’s turmoil in recent years, let’s try to give the album a fair listen and see where it takes us.

It opens with Untrust Us, a gloriously discordant piece of electro which bobs along very pleasantly until suddenly turning into a heavy rock track for about a second at the end. Alice Practice is next, the bizarre shouty chiptune piece that actually had a hand in launching Crystal Castles‘ career in 2006 when it was leaked online and released as a 7″ single.

Crimewave is next, the first of their proper singles in 2007, released as a collaboration with Health. This is probably the most conventional of the early tracks on this album, which is not to say there’s anything wrong with it, just that it’s a little more accessible than some of its neighbours.

Of course, now, the story of early Crystal Castles is marred by their 2014 breakup and the shocking allegations of abuse that vocalist Alice Glass has made against instrumentalist Ethan Kath. It’s impossible to listen to this album now without being distracted by what might have been happening at the time, but it’s also difficult to know what to make of what’s been said and how to address it here. Ultimately, I suspect Glass would want her fans to still enjoy the music, but it must be fraught with conflict for her.

Magic Spells is the mellowest track so far, an instrumental electro piece with pleasant backing. Then XXZXCUZX Me, originally released as the b-side to Crimewave, is another gloriously noisy piece of chiptune. Then comes the third single Air War, a brilliantly chirpy electro track full of obscure vocal samples and 8-bit squawks. Courtship Dating and Good Time tread forward in a gentler fashion, seemingly with a few slight steps of awkwardness.

Next is another instrumental, 1991, a pleasant, short, and simple piece, and then fourth single Vanished is next, a simple track with a driving LFO bass line that sounds like something Ladytron might have produced. Knights is a pained piece which flips schizophrenically between pleasant synth lines and noisy electro. Love and Caring continues the noisy theme, as does Through the Hosiery, but Reckless is probably my favourite track on here – its rich, deep synth lines bounce along gloriously and it’s cleverly catchy.

At times, listening to this album is like being in a vicious, dark computer game, and Black Panther is one of the finest examples of this – it’s grimy, catchy, and almost dreamlike. Then this debut album closes with Tell Me What to Swallow, a short piece full of flanged acoustic guitar and whispering. It’s a sweet closing track to a turbulent album.

Crystal Castles, sometimes called (I) celebrates its tenth anniversary this week, at a difficult time in its history, with the former bandmates with a lot of unfinished business to resolve. But whatever was going on during this period, they leave behind at least three very good albums (I haven’t yet heard the fourth) and this was where it all began.

You can find Crystal Castles at all major retailers. As always, please use the form below or feel free to contact me privately if you wish to discuss this article.