Way Out West – We Love Machine

There’s something about the energy of Way Out West‘s music that always makes them particularly compelling. We Love Machine may be exactly ten years old today, and it may not have performed particularly well on the commercial stage a decade ago, but it’s still a driven, and memorable album.

It opens with title track We Love Machine, an electronic dance piece with occasional broad guitar strokes and atmospheric electro sounds. The strumming and tribal drum interludes are spaced perfectly apart among synth swirls and feedback-laden squelches. It may seem a little aimless, but it’s also beautiful in its way.

In spite of that, it doesn’t really prepare you for the second track, One Bright Night. There’s a sparkling, starry background, with melodic chimes playing in the foreground, before it grows into a hint of a tantalisingly beautiful song. Choral echoes gradually build towards something quite exceptional. Bluntly, I’m not sure it ever quite fulfills its promise, but it’s still an extremely good, sweet and gentle piece.

This is not, in a way, a style of dance music that you really hear much now – and it probably wasn’t around much in 2009 either, which may explain why this album didn’t perform too well. Only Love was actually the lead single, but despite a few disco elements now and then, it has relatively little to offer. Bizarrely, this is not a particularly commercial album, in spite of having all the right sounds and beats – but it is a delicate honing of Way Out West‘s sound, that’s more polished than most of the albums they released in the 1990s.

So the punchy, somewhat crunchy sound of Bodymotion does help, and while it isn’t perhaps as soft and gentle to listen to, at least as the first two tracks, it is a fun, bouncy, electronic track, for the most part. The vocals are a little lacklustre though, to be fair – it sounds like a less good version of Moby‘s Bodyrock. The panpipe breakdown is fun, if nothing else.

Pleasure Control is a pleasant, beatsy instrumental, which, while it doesn’t have a lot to offer by itself, makes for a nice inbetween moment, steering the album back onto course. It would probably sound amazing on a small-press acetate 12″, played in a club, and sounds good here too, but somehow doesn’t quite seem to meet its full potential.

That’s a bit of a theme here, actually. Future Perfect was another single, and again feels like a case where maybe the single would have worked better than the album. Its deep, hypnotic beats are great, but do seem to be screaming out to be heard in a particular environment, where sitting down, listening to the music in its raw state, and trying to write a review, turns out not to be particularly easy. It’s not at all that this is a bad album – just that it maybe requires a certain state of mind before the listener turns it on, which isn’t necessarily entirely fair on the reviewer.

There are more accessible moments, of course – Survival is more of a dance-pop crossover track, with huge organ pads. It’s good enough to make it worthwhile to buy this album, although somehow I’m finding that it seems to mean a lot less to me now than it did when I first heard it.

Even the longer instrumentals aren’t too dull – Ultra Violet is a deeper house track but has some punchy and atmospheric synth work, and rippling bass parts that lift it up from just being another house track. Tales of the Rabid Monks is catchy, if somewhat forgettable.

But every so often, there is a track that makes you prick up your ears. Final single Surrender is one of these – the understated vocal is good, but nothing special – it’s really just an accompaniment to the huge house beats, but the phased lead synth lines that drift in and out are brilliant. If slightly chilled out, trippy house music is your thing, this is a great example.

Of course, not everything can stand out like this. The Doors Are Where the Windows Should Be is an entirely competent instrumental, and Tierra Del Fuego is a sweet, dreamy piece, also free of vocals, but honestly it’s difficult to keep focus at this end of the album. It’s good, and it definitely has its moments, but some of them seem best kept in 2009 now.

You can still find We Love Machine at all regular retailers.

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Liza Minnelli – Results

I think I had always imagined that Liza Minnelli‘s pop career started with Results, and it is, but it turns out it was actually her ninth album in total, and one of her last. Pet Shop Boys were at the top of their game at the time

It opens with I Want You Now, a Pet Shop Boys composition that’s delivered with irritatingly theatrical flair. As with much of this album, the instrumentation comes from Pet Shop Boys‘ 1989 live tour crew, which leads to an eclectic sound at times. This isn’t, honestly, a great opening track, though – at least not for Pet Shop Boys fans – think about it, at this point they had just released their intriguingly dark dance album Introspective, and now this odd excursion into theatrical pop?

Things look up with the second track, Losing My Mind, later re-recorded with a less flamboyant and more nasal vocal by Neil Tennant and included as the b-side to their single Jealousy. It’s theatrical too – it’s a Stephen Sondheim composition – but the production here lifts it and makes it every bit as good as any Pet Shop Boys cover version. For Minnelli, it was her biggest hit, peaking at number 6 in the UK.

If There Was Love (“were there love,” surely?) is next, not necessarily a song that you could imagine Neil Tennant singing, but one that might have even fitted on the second side of Behaviour. Results is undeniably the sum of its part – you have Liza Minnelli with her theatrical influences, and Pet Shop Boys caught somewhere in the late 1980s, between the dance sounds of Introspective and the sombre mood of Behaviour.

So Sorry, I Said is lovely – there really isn’t any other way of describing it. The album’s third single in late 1989, it wasn’t much of a hit. That should have been obvious, really – the 7″ version was just the album version, which is downtempo to say the least – but it’s a sweet, appropriately apologetic song.

Don’t Drop Bombs isn’t exactly the polar opposite of the preceding track, but for the first time on here it’s really a full-on pop song. This is the sound of Pet Shop Boys truly collaborating – it could have been a perfectly good song of theirs, but as a Liza Minnelli song, it fits her well too. And while it may not be the best track ever recorded, with its huge eighties snares, it isn’t at all bad either.

There are a few unexpected tracks on here, and the cover of Tanita Tikaram‘s Twist in My Sobriety is one of them. What it really underlines is that the original song was great, and while I have no memory of what it sounded like for Tikaram, it works well for Minnelli. Even the whistling is forgivable, under the circumstances.

Less forgivable is the cover of Rent, with an orchestral arrangement by Angelo Badalamenti, who, as the silent partner on It Couldn’t Happen Here a couple of years earlier had helped provide one of the most beautiful moments of Pet Shop Boys‘ early career. Here, somehow his work has worked with the overbearing vocal delivery and butchered what was a beautifully melancholic track by turning it into a tacky showtune. It’s gaudy, and somehow even manages to sound insincere. It’s hard to imagine how this song could have turned out worse.

But that’s as bad as this album gets – final single Love Pains was a flop, but covers a disco classic, now as a Hi-NRG track. I could do without the key change under the circumstances, but it’s not bad. Then the cover of Tonight is Forever, from Pet Shop Boys‘ first album Please, is somewhat over-the-top, but works well, and is definitely well placed as the penultimate track on here.

Finally, I Can’t Say Goodnight is a new Pet Shop Boys composition, a broad jazzy, summery song, which has clearly been written especially for this album. Courtney Pine‘s saxophone solo in Left to My Own Devices on the duo’s 1989 tour may have been interminable, lasting for several decades at least, but his work here is well placed, and complements the vocals and backing well. The slow 6/8 rhythm gives it a typically murky feel which works well. It’s a good closing track.

Pet Shop Boys have since described Results as a PSB album with Liza Minnelli on vocals, and that isn’t unfair. In a sense, that means it will satisfy nobody, as fans of neither act are really likely to cross paths often, but even so, there are moments on this album when it works pretty well, so it shouldn’t be ignored outright.

You probably don’t need the 4-disc remastered edition of Results, but it’s certainly definitive – and can be found here.

Delerium – Spheres II

Reviewing early Delerium is always a bit of a challenge. Prior to Silence, the vast majority of their work was dark, spacious, instrumental, a little industrial, and very different indeed from everything that came after.

Morphology is a case in point – among the long pad swells and growling acid bass line are periodic industrial beats and obscure spoken word samples, and just generally nine and a half minutes of musical space. It isn’t beautiful, exactly, but it is very good.

What’s interesting, in a way, is how similar it is to the later material, though. The big change was the addition of vocalists – firstly just on a couple of tracks with Semantic Spaces (released an astonishing two weeks earlier), and by Karma (1997) and Poem (2001) on pretty much every track. But other than that, the sounds and style on Spheres II is actually very similar.

It’s easy to forget that Delerium was, for those first five years, pretty much just a side project of the much more successful industrial, almost electro-metal act Front Line Assembly. By the end of 1994, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber already had eight albums to their name under that moniker – but they had also released as many albums again as Delerium, and were showing no sign of slowing.

Lacking the vocals, though, makes this all seem a bit more lacking in direction. Transhumanist is driven by a slow, churning acid bass line. You can see how this outlet for broader, longer, tracks would have appealed to Leeb and Fulber, and so the change that came next is all the odder, in a way.

Having started out with two albums in 1989, one in 1990, another two plus a huge EP / mini-album in 1991, they were already pretty prolific right from the start. Oddly, they had then disappeared for three years, one assumes working hard on writing and recording what would become Spheres (February 1994) and Spheres II (September 1994). Then in the meantime, they also recorded Semantic Spaces (August 1994), which added their first vocalist and paved the way for Karma, and ultimately the mega-hit Silence.

That would be, for anybody, a pretty odd release schedule, and quite why they didn’t decide to hold Semantic Spaces back a few months is a bit of a mystery to me. You can only assume that they decided they liked the new direction better, and decided to rush-release the remaining old stuff before launching in too deeply. But either way, I think it’s safe to see Spheres II as the closing piece of that early era – even if it actually appeared a little after the new one started.

Shockwave is an oddly titled piece – you want it to be huge and explosive, but it’s a gentle, tentative, and drifting piece with weird glitchy vocal samples and hard stereo mixing.Four minutes or so in, it grows into a beautiful, pad-filled, glitchy analogue piece. Some of Delerium‘s early material is so vague that it’s pretty much inaccessible to most listeners, but this is an exception.

It never really stops being pleasant, though – Dimensional Space, one of the shortest tracks on here, clocking in at a mere five and a half minutes, is broad, expansive, and populated mainly by pads. It’s almost orchestral in the way it plays out, although I’m not sure quite how this would play out if an orchestra tried to repeat it.

Hypoxia is great – probably my favourite track on here, actually – it has a wonderfully analogue eighties feel at times, with plinky plonky sounds and softer, less industrial sounding drums. It grows into a huge, Blue Monday-esque choral pad. It’s brilliant – in fact, the only thing I’d change would be the name – as I understand it, hypoxia is a state of panic and anxiety caused by oxygen deficiency. That’s an industrial title – this track feels neither panicked nor anxious to me.

Otherworld is the shortest track in here, although still nearly makes five minutes. It’s a sweet, rippling synth piece, with simple but pleasant chords played by pads, and oddly reverberating chimes. And finally comes In Four Dimensions, which starts with an almost ticking clock, before oddly growing into a weird, Amazonian piece, sampling heavily from Recoil‘s debut 1+2 EP. It’s long – so long, actually, that it’s hard to really enjoy over its full twelve and a half minute duration. It has moments that lift it, such as the rippling synth arpeggio half way through, but it’s not, on the whole, the most exciting closing track ever.

To describe Spheres II as the best of Delerium‘s early material would be a leap for me, as I simply don’t know the rest of it well enough. It does feel more like a compilation than a decisively sequenced album, which lends credence to the idea that it might have been a rushed release. It is mature, though, and well produced – this, to me, is the sound of a duo who know what they’re doing and are comfortable with their sound, but are just in a bit of a hurry to get it out of the way so they can move onto something else.

You’ll struggle to find it new, but second hand copies of Spheres II are widely available.

The xx – xx

Of the many artists who have entirely passed me by, The xx are probably the best known. Somehow I totally missed their initial successes, failed to notice their huge cult explosion, and entirely avoided their moments in the limelight. That wouldn’t be so unusual now, but ten years ago, when this album first came out, that was a bit strange. But it’s no reason to avoid them now.

Their debut xx opens with Intro, a meandering guitar piece which strolls gradually along, with ethereal male vocals and a strummed bass line. Then comes VCR, a number 132 single in 2010. Meandering is the key – there’s a somewhat jaunty glockenspiel line, but otherwise this is a slow, almost plodding track with a vocal about watching old videos.

Their debut single was Crystalised, which just missed out on the Top 100 in early 2009. It gradually builds into a sort of lo-fi, less electronic version of New Order, maybe with a bit of a bluesy feel thrown into the mix. It’s good, and easy to nod along to, but it’s also difficult to reconcile with The xx‘s huge acclaim. This was a Mercury Prize-winning album, and they were winning awards left, right, and centre. Why?

Perhaps the answer lies in Islands, their biggest hit – to date, actually – having hit number 34 and reaching silver certification in late 2009. Not particularly, unfortunately. If you wanted to be unkind, you would pick up on another gently strummed guitar line and the self same instrumentation as the last few tracks. That’s not really fair, as the vocal delivery is interesting, and there are some nice electronic drums, but can you honestly repeat any of the lyrics? Seems unlikely.

These are short tracks, though, and already we’re nearly half way through with Heart Skipped a Beat. The ethereal feel that we had at the start is back here, with some softer, higher sounds. This might be my favourite track so far, actually.

Some of the songs would make for interesting film soundtrack moments – Fantasy is a bit vague still, but there’s a lovely gentle feel to it, and the sort of bass part that makes you want to check your heart is still functioning as it should.

But something still doesn’t quite seem right – I wonder if it is the lyrics, after all. Shelter contains the couplet “Could I be, was I there? / It felt so crystal in the air.” What on earth is that supposed to mean? It’s atmospheric, yes, but surely that’s pretty lazy lyric writing, isn’t it? Or maybe The xx‘s lyrics aren’t intended to be scrutinised quite that closely – maybe the mood is the thing here after all?

But if that’s true, it would be nice to have some variety – this is a nice album, but it is pretty samey so far. Well, until Basic Space, anyway – the electronic backing is muted, but it’s beautifully glitchy. It’s even got a nice, catchy chorus too. This came along just in time, didn’t it?

Infinity keeps it going as well – it’s got some wonderful percussion, punctuating the vocals, and the sauntering guitar work is well placed too. These last couple of tracks almost make that Mercury Prize win worthwhile! Or maybe I’m just starting to get used to it, finally.

You do get the impression that The xx might be best enjoyed live, in a dark club, probably with some plant-based narcotics on hand. Listening to the album feels a bit like fundamentally missing the point. Night Time is a bit of a mess of beats and Peter Hook-like strumming, but it’s a nice mess, nonetheless. Closing track Stars is spacious and pleasant, although still perhaps seems a little forgettable for a closing track.

So xx is either a mixed bag, or takes a bit of getting used to, but it does end up in a nice place. Ten years on, it still has its indie charm, even if it does feel a bit wrong not to see them perform any of this live. One day, maybe.

You can still find xx at all major retailers, although possibly only as an import.

Bent – Best Of

It would appear that now is a great time to review Bent‘s compilation Best Of. Four albums in, and ten years into their career, they released this compilation pretty much exactly a decade ago, and after a disappointingly long break, they are finally Comin’ Back again. If you’ll pardon the pun.

It opens, appropriately, with Swollen, from debut album The Everlasting Blink – not their biggest hit, but their first foray on the UK charts, having hit number 87 in early 2001. As I imagine I’ve said here before, it’s an exceptional piece of music, thanks in large part to Zoë Johnston‘s moving vocal. Quite how this wasn’t in the Top 20 is a mystery to me.

Although honestly this is somewhat true for Magic Love too, a non-charting single from 2004’s second album The Everlasting Blink. Like all of Bent‘s more “magical” moments, it’s a sweet song which probably should have been a huge hit single. Then, from the next single, comes Beautiful Otherness, with the brilliant Jon Marsh on calm, collected, and deep vocal. Three tracks in, and we have here a quite exceptional collection of tracks.

To Be Loved follows, from 2006’s final album Intercept. If it’s a dip in quality, that means little when the bar is so high. From any other artist, this would probably be one of their best songs. From Bent, the calibre seems perhaps a little too high for this track to have its moment of glory.

Bent‘s chart performance was always a bit of a problem, and 2004’s exquisite Ariels provided just one minor hit single. More of that later, but for now, As You Fall is all we get from this album. It’s a lovely track, and does a good job here of representing Bent‘s softer and more melodic side.

Other album tracks follow, with Private Road taking us back to the 2000 debut Programmed to Love. Zoë Johnston makes a return to lead vocals, and while less moving on this track, the spirit remains. Then, with only four albums to choose from, we jump to 2004 again for the fun but poorly-titled The Handbrake. Even if you know Bent, you’re unlikely to remember which track this is, but it’s one of the better ones from Intercept. This is a perfect track for the midway point on this album, and frankly, if you don’t love this, you needn’t bother reading any further.

The first album was more sample-driven, and I Love My Man is a good example of this, a perfectly chilled out track, full of eclectic samples from goodness only knows where. It originally appeared on later editions of Programmed to Love. Then Comin’ Back follows, one of Bent‘s biggest hits, although that isn’t saying a huge amount – it hit number 89 in 2004. It’s a lovely song, with a sweet and powerful vocal. It’s a reminder, were it needed, that when Bent were good, they were very, very good.

The gentle and seductive Bewitched as I Am comes next, taken from their sneaky 2001 download-only album Downloaded for Love. It’s something of a special treat here, and a curiosity which will be known well by some, but not at all by others. Then from the first album comes the creepily titled instrumental Invisible Pedestrian.

But it’s Bent‘s full vocal songs that tend to hit the hardest. I Can’t Believe It’s Over appears here in its single version from 2004’s Flavour Country EP. Originally taken from the same year’s Ariels album, it was heavily reworked and turned from a fairly nondescript album track, albeit with a lovely vocal, into a dramatic and beautiful song, which should absolutely hold pride of place on the Best Of collection.

But there are, of course, many dimensions to Bent‘s music, and the jauntier tracks are another of their trademarks. Leavin’ Me takes another vintage sample and turns it into a disco track. It’s all a bit odd, and strangely brilliant. Trademark Bent.

The same is true of closing track Always, later murdered by Chicane. It’s another vintage vocal sample, but this time the arrangement that has been built around it is chilled out and beautiful. It was their second hit and their second biggest hit, peaking at number 84 in July 2001.

Which brings me to an interesting point – their biggest hit, and arguably their only true hit, having peaked at number 59 in mid-2003, was Stay the Same, which is notable in its absence here. Compilations always miss certain tracks off, and subjectively this is no major omission on this occasion – but surely it’s odd to miss your single biggest selling single from your Best Of compilation?

Either way, Best Of Bent is a good collection, and it’s nice that it was fairly restrained, with only fourteen tracks. There was a bonus disc of previously unreleased material too, for those who needed an extra nudge to buy it.

You can still find Bent‘s Best Of from all major retailers.

Clark – Totems Flare

It’s an interesting challenge to try to review material by an artist you know nothing about. Worse still, when it’s a largely instrumental work, so finding the words to say is even more difficult. So, let’s be clear: I have no idea where I got this album from, and I don’t know anything about Clark apart from the fact that this album was released a decade ago on the quietly legendary Warp Records.

Totems Flare opens with Outside Plume, which is definitely interesting, and challenging, but isn’t exactly pleasant to listen to, as the dark, fuzzy, and discordant sounds mix together in weird, uneasy, arrhythmic form. At worst, it is at least different from most of the music you’ll have heard recently, and that alone makes it worth a listen at this stage, but hopefully the whole album isn’t going to be like this.

Fortunately, it isn’t – Growls Garden follows, with a gloomy vocal and a much broader range of synth work. There’s still a sense of unease here, particularly in the verses, as the beats only seem to be doing a fraction of the work they should be doing, but there is at least a melody, a sense of rhythm, and some vaguely familiar sounds. They’re fuzzy and loose in form, as is the vocal really, but it comes together nicely, in a more accessible form – you can see how this might have got some radio and club plays at the time.

In the absence of any real knowledge of Clark, it would be tempting to do some research, but as regular readers will know, I try not to do that too much when reviewing, as it can so easily be a distraction from the music itself. Clark might, for all I know, be a side project of the owner of the shoe company of the same name, but trying to review their work while learning this kind of thing would strongly distract from the music. As would speculating about it, actually – I’m drifting.

Rainbow Voodoo is pleasant, but it’s probably fair to say that it’s a bit of a mess. The vocals almost sound like scat, and they kick off a rhythmic synth line that echoes the words that have been delivered. As always, you can definitely say that it’s interesting, particularly when the wild chiptune-plinky-plonk part kicks off towards the end. Then Look into the Heart Now follows, full of weird vocal samples and acid synth noises. Somehow it hangs together better than some of the other tracks, despite perhaps having a little less substance.

Of course, part of the reason your mind is wandering is that the music, while definitely interesting, does encourage you to take flights of fantasy. Maybe some stronger narcotics are needed in order to really do this justice? But you have to admire Clark for just going off and doing something interesting with his music, without any real attempt to be accessible or provide much of an explanation or commentary. In a way, it’s easier to review – this music is whatever you want it to be at the time. For me, it’s fuzzy, odd, and a bit bouncy.

That’s good, because if you listened with a traditional muso mindset, Laxman Furs would honestly be pretty awful. There isn’t a single melodic element here, and the sounds haven’t been chosen because they work well together – everything seems to be here to challenge and question the listener’s expectations. Yet somehow it’s still holding together as an album, five tracks in. Totem Crackerjack, too, is lively, with a huge bass part and frenetic drums, and somehow manages to hold itself together despite that being about it.

It should be fairly clear what you can expect by now, though, and while some tracks like Future Daniel hang together better than others, it’s all starting to get a little tiring now. How much quirky, fuzzy, awkward synth noise do you really need in your day? There’s a short piece called Primary Balloon Landing, and then Talis seems to use the same vocal sample as Growls Garden, but to less interesting effect this time. That seems to be it, really, for this end of the album – Sons of Temper doesn’t appear to have much to offer, and Absence isn’t great either. At least they don’t try to push the duration too much – there’s nothing on here longer than about five minutes.

So Totems Flare is, for me at least, a bit of a mixed bag. I liked Growls Garden, but didn’t particularly enjoy anything else here. The general mood and sound was interesting enough to keep me entertained for half an hour or so, but then it all seemed to fall apart for me, and very quickly. Could it just be that Clark isn’t my thing? Or should I just demand that they give up and go back to making shoes? I honestly don’t know.

You can still find Totems Flare from all regular retailers.

Marsheaux – E-bay Queen

Marsheaux are, for me, fascinatingly enigmatic. They’re a Greek female duo, who I really know nothing about. Their debut E-bay Queen was released fifteen years ago this week, and it’s really hard to know what to make of it. It encourages you, somehow, to just close your eyes and enjoy it at face value – and that can only ever be a good thing.

It opens with M.A.R.S.H.E.A.U.X., the beautifully squawky band manifesto. Apart from the eponymous initials, it’s a thumping electro instrumental, with some great acid noises that appear halfway through. You would not, I think, buy an album just for this, and with that in mind, it’s confusing that anybody bought this in the first place, because there weren’t any singles either, but it’s definitely good.

It isn’t until Flash Lights that things really start to make sense. We know now, of course, that this isn’t Marsheaux‘s finest work, but it’s still enough to hook you in as a listener, and even if the “follow the tits” instruction in the lyrics is somewhat crass, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

And it keeps getting better – for the first time, Shake Me is a track that quickly shows itself to be brilliant. With its catchy chorus and rippling synth lines, this nods sweetly to the past without actually being retro, and yet it isn’t exactly contemporary either. This is music for uncomfortable and awkward misfits, the world over. Which, by the way, is very definitely a good thing.

So wouldn’t it be really clever if Marsheaux threw something contemporary and familiar in at this point, just to subvert the pattern the have built already? Something like, say, the Lightning Seeds‘s lovely Pure? So that’s what we get – a great song, given new life with a female vocal and gloriously “pure and simple” synth lines, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s a fantastic rendition of the song, and really deserved to be a huge hit by itself. If only it had ever been released as a single.

Play Boy keeps the run of great tracks going. It’s slower, and perhaps also a little darker, insofar as darkness ever really shows up on this album. It’s hard to define in a way – this is really a pure pop album, but it’s also slightly challenging, subversive pop – something that only comes as an import from Greece. Who knew that Greece had a strong music scene with its own synthpop artists? And with budgets to release items with packaging as beautiful as this, too?

Computer Love is, of course, a bit of a nod to the track of the same name that Kraftwerk debuted in 1981. While there’s little direct homage in the lyrics or sounds, and I’ve never seen them talk about it particularly openly, a lot of the sounds on this album seem to take inspiration from the Düsseldorf quartet – the focus is on tight, clear sounds, not broad pads or sweet, mellow atmospheres. Yet despite that, there’s a certain soft charm.

Tonight is one of my less favourite tracks on here: somehow the synth line is a bit too manic; the hand claps a little too heavily distributed; and for the first time it feels as though you’ve heard this all already. This is a consistent album, certainly, but that comes at a price of some tracks being a little too similar to one another at times. Then, of course, Marsheaux subvert their own form by covering the vocals with some crazy and unusual effects, and you start to wonder whether anything really makes sense any more.

The Game quickly picks things up again, though, with a brilliantly odd blip that doesn’t quite ever seem to be hitting its beat. It’s a lovely song, and possibly for the first time uses softer pad sounds to change the mood somewhat. They aren’t prominent, by any means, but this is a great song. Then comes Analyse, somewhat less subversive but every bit as much fun.

Ola Girizhoun is next, the only track to be sung in Greek. That’s a bit of a shame, really – they’re singing in English in order to make themselves seem more accessible to global audiences, and that absolutely works in their favour, but not without anonymising one of the things that makes them special – they aren’t native English speakers, and hearing them singing in their own language is a treat. Which makes it all the more interesting that this is actually a Chris & Cosey song, where Marsheaux have added their own lyrics. Work that one out.

Hands on Me is a lively piece with resonating synth sounds, but honestly a bit less actual melody than some of the earlier tracks. Then we’re onto the final track already – another cover, this time of the eternal instrumental Popcorn. This was, apparently, a huge radio hit in Greece at the time, and it’s a worthy cover, somehow just managing to stay on the right side of being extremely cheesy. It’s great, but at the same time hard to take very seriously. Maybe that’s a good thing, though – while lovely, and occasionally a little subversive, this seems to have been a pretty serious album up to now.

Five or six albums on, Marsheaux remain enigmatic, always taking unexpected steps. E-bay Queen, with its odd name and entirely unpredictable packaging, is a great debut. It has its weaker moments, but nothing that you could actually call a flaw – which is a very impressive way to kick off your career. But will we ever see them gracing the charts? It seems unlikely, somehow.

Your best option for hearing E-bay Queen is to find the mp3 download.