Record Companies – Just Music

I first heard about Just Music thanks to Honeyroot, the short-lived but brilliant chillout spin-off from Heaven 17. Just Music turns out to have a small but impressive selection of ambient, leftfield, electronic, and off-beat artists to its name.

Apart from Honeyroot, their most famous acts include the now-legendary Jon Hopkins, Marconi Union, and Leo Abrahams. Hopkins, of course, has hit the higher reaches of the charts globally, although he seems to have also wandered onto bigger record labels in the process.

But small family record companies are really well worth celebrating. Just Music can be found here:
http://www.justmusic.co.uk/

Front Line Assembly – Implode

Celebrating its twentieth birthday this week is Front Line Assembly‘s eleventh (roughly) album Implode.

If there’s one thing you can guarantee with Front Line Assembly, it’s that they will always be dark and industrial. So it is with opening track Retribution – it merges dark, crunchy beats with harsh electronic sounds. There are plenty of pads in the mix – this isn’t, at least at this point, some kind of electronic form of heavy metal, but it is definitely dark.

Describing Front Line Assembly‘s sound to someone who hasn’t heard it is difficult, as there’s little like this on the charts or on the radio. You could try to come up with an explanation that merges some overproduced pop star with a flamboyant rocker in black make up, but the truth is that most people will have never really heard anything like this. What you can say, with some confidence, is that this is pretty good.

Where Retribution was a bit less tuneful and more experimental, Fatalist is closer to what Front Line Assembly sound like when they’re really good. There’s a punchy acid bassline with disorientating, discordant electronic sounds mixing in and out. Until the chorus, the vocal is pretty awful, honestly – a distorted mess of shouting, but the softer chorus lead more than makes up for that.

Next comes the lead single, Prophecy, probably the best track on this album. It’s a whirlwind of grizzly, plodding beats with another punchy bass part. This is probably as close as this album gets to perfecting the idea of “electronic heavy metal” – it’s still quite shouty, but the drama, this time, is played out masterfully. If those aren’t guitars crunching along in the chorus, then they’re very well realised.

What is particularly well realised with this album, though, is the packaging – the disturbing man-beetle hybrid shapes on the cover and all over the sleeve are rather beautiful, and are complemented well by the gold and brown colouring and other design choices. But the lyrics are, as usual with Front Line Assembly, not great – the line “even angels love to fall,” in Prophecy is not, I think, a poetic statement about the death of love, but a selection of dark and grim words that have been chosen to add to the mood of the piece without necessarily meaning anything particular. Or maybe it’s just the delivery that makes it feel that way?

After a while, the tracks start to blend together somewhat. The biting, acidic instrumental Synthetic Forms works well, but does little to stand out. Falling is slower and more atmospheric, but still doesn’t make much of a mark. Similarly, Don’t Trust Anyone is fine, but doesn’t somehow quite seem to capture the feeling of the earlier tracks.

Next track Unknown Dreams is more noteworthy – there’s a problem, again, with the lyrics, as “Forever and ever / tomorrow may never come,” only really makes sense in a limited context. But this is unfair – Front Line Assembly do have good lyrics from time to time, but it’s hardly going to be the main reason that people listen to them.

Torched is pleasant too, with lots of grimy beats and blistering electronic squawks alongside a deeply atmospheric song. The static breakdown in the middle doesn’t quite seem to work, but otherwise it holds together well. Machine Slave is good, although by this point you’re probably thinking that you have definitely heard pretty much everything you’re likely to on this release.

So actually the closing instrumental Silent Ceremony is a pleasant surprise. With some of the dark, melodic charm of roughly the same duo’s work with Delerium, this is a standout track to hide right at the end. It’s no less dark than anything else on here, but it’s much more melodic, atmospheric, and frankly, beautiful.

It’s not even quite the end – a chirpy little instrumental called Stalker is what actually closes things out, and it does so in pleasant fashion. Like much of this album, it’s often exhilarating, and sometimes unpredictable – but occasionally also repetitive and somewhat dull. Implode is a very good album, and certainly a challenging listen for many audiences – but it’s not a great album.

You can still find Implode at all major retailers, although it may come at a premium in some territories.

Retro chart for stowaways – 16 Apr 2005

These were the top ten albums fourteen years ago this week!

  1. New Order – Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
  2. Moby – Hotel
  3. Basement Jaxx – The Singles
  4. Mylo – Destroy Rock & Roll
  5. Everything But The Girl – Adapt or Die – Ten Years of Remixes
  6. Client – City
  7. Daft Punk – Human After All
  8. Bent – Ariels
  9. Depeche Mode – Remixes 81-04
  10. Télépopmusik – Angel Milk

Coming soon – Record Companies

There are, of course, certain record companies that illicit the response of a highly collectible artist. There’s something about the consistency of their roster of musicians, or perhaps they’re just a little more daring than all the major labels.

So in this new series, we will celebrate a selection of the world’s finest, most intriguing, and oddest record companies. Stay tuned!

Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe (Bonus Tracks & Remixes)

Depeche Mode don’t release a lot of b-sides, and when they do, they are a little intriguing. On the back of their 2009 comeback single Wrong, they included the jaunty and intriguing Oh Well, and then proceeded to follow it up with a whole album of b-sides and remixes as the second disc of Sounds of the Universe. It appeared ten years ago this week, and we reviewed the first disc exactly five years ago this week.

It opens with Light, which is pretty good. Definitely b-side material, but good nonetheless. It’s a catchy song, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it should have been on an album. The Sun and the Moon and the Stars is nice, though, and sees principle songwriter Martin L. Gore delivering the lead vocal. In many ways, with the bleak electro backing, it sounds like something from his solo back catalogue, and again, I’m not sure it’s really Depeche Mode album material, but it’s a nice song, and it’s always good to get another Gore vocal.

This was, of course, the era when Dave Gahan, coming back from his solo material, was now able to contribute to the songwriting progress as well. So, having contributed three tracks to the main album (Hole to Feed, Come Back, and Miles Away / The Truth Is), there wasn’t quite as much space for Gore’s material. So most of what’s on the second disc is his, and normally with a Gahan vocal.

Ghost is another of these, with a catchy vocal and some wonderfully dark electronic backing. You can tell the quality is high here though – again, while Sounds of the Universe is far from Depeche Mode‘s finest hour, the standard is actually pretty high – and Ghost isn’t quite up there.

But we do get a decent range of Depeche Mode‘s signature sounds here – and one of the less well known of those is Martin L. Gore‘s abstract instrumentals, of which Esque is one. Running at just over two minutes, it’s a pleasant interlude, which tends to be pretty much all they’re ever used for, but it’s a good example of the style.

Let’s face it, though – Oh Well is the reason you’re interested in this bonus disc. Frankly, why this wasn’t on the main album is a bit of a mystery to me – maybe they just didn’t quite feel it fit somehow. This is, though, the first ever songwriting collaboration between Dave Gahan and Martin L. Gore, and it also features a joint vocal from the two of them, alongside some gloriously dirty electronics. It’s brilliant – better, actually, than several of the tracks on the main release.

That’s it for the bonus tracks – the remaining tracks are all remixes, and of an odd selection of tracks. First up, Efdemin turn up for a dubby (but full-vocal) mix of Corrupt. It’s alright, but Depeche Mode remixes are often pretty inscrutable, and this is a good example of that. It’s fairly relaxed, fully of soft beats and vocal samples, and not a huge amount else.

Minilogue‘s Earth mix of In Chains is easier to understand, reworking the opening track from the main album. While it was reasonable as an opening track, it isn’t the best source material that Depeche Mode have ever provided, but this turns out to be a spacey house mix, with huge amounts of reverb and some more dub influence on the vocals, but it bounces along pleasantly for eight minutes or so.

But while some of their remixes may be particularly challenging, others do hit their mark, and you can trust The Orb‘s Thomas Fehlmann to be the first to do that here, with his excellent Flowing Ambient Mix of Little Soul. It retains large chunks of the original, but adds a huge throbbing synth line that just chugs along gently for nine and a half minutes. It’s pure brilliance, of a sort that only seems to happen once in a while with Depeche Mode‘s remixes.

The remaining remixes are good, but don’t really break new ground. SixToes‘ somewhat anarchic string version of Jezebel is enjoyable, and it’s definitely an odd definition of the “remix”, as it’s difficult to figure out exactly who would play this and where, but it’s also very pleasant. Electronic Periodic‘s Dark Drone Mix of Perfect is an odd combination of electro and house, but works well too.

Finally, Caspa turns up to rework lead single Wrong. This is a pretty good glitchy version, although probably not quite up to the standard of some of the versions on the single, such as Trentemøller‘s take. But it closes out a decent collection in appropriate fashion – there’s not much special here, but there’s nothing really bad either.

All in all, the bonus tracks and remixes from Sounds of the Universe are pretty good. There were some better remixes spread across the singles, but this isn’t a bad collection. Both the bonus tracks and the remixes have plenty of sounds from Depeche Mode‘s universe (excuse the pun) to offer, and so it’s definitely worth hearing. Above all, this is where you can find Oh Well.

You can find all of these tracks on Sounds of the Universe (Deluxe), which is still available from major retailers, including the original album and also the demos, which we reviewed previously here.

Preview – The Beloved

I’m pretty sure I’ve mused before on how bands reach legendary status a couple of decades after their peak fame, and hopefully The Beloved are on the verge of achieving that end. They have recently reissued all their singles from Happiness, Blissed Out, and Conscience as digital releases with bonus tracks, and now the intriguing Your Love Takes Me Higher / Awoke 12″ just turned up for Record Store Day!

Due to the part of the world I’m in, there’s pretty much zero chance of me ever hearing it, so for now here’s the original version of side A: