Honeyroot – The Sun Will Come

A decade ago this week saw the release of the second of two Honeyroot albums, The Sun Will Come. Founded by Heaven 17‘s Glenn Gregory in the twilight of their career, the Honeyroot project saw him and Keith Lowndes working together on beautiful, relaxed pop music. The less accomplished Sound Echo Location had kickstarted the project in 2003, and with The Sun WIll Come, they truly managed to create something magnificent.

Confusingly, it opens with the triumphant instrumental Goodbye, before introducing the first of several fantastic guest vocalists for the quite brilliant Nobody Loves You (The Way I Do), a minor single release that appeared the same year as the album. With its enormous pads, chilled piano, and warping bass, as well as a very familiar lyrical message, it may be fair to say that nothing here is entirely new, but it is delivered in a quite exceptional manner.

The adorable instrumental Heavy Drops comes next, also the other side of the double a-side with the preceding track. There’s a gentle, soft arpeggio running through most of the track, with a soft melody line, that sounds absolutely fantastic. The vocal samples I’m less sure about, but it would be hard to spoil anything this good.

I got to know this album on a five-day train journey across Canada in 2008, and one of the most evocative tracks is the adorable single Where I Belong, almost an electro-country track with its slide guitar and melancholic vocal. Imagine the rhythmic chugging percolated by the occasional train horn as the miles go past, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of why this song means so much to me.

As with the version of Love Will Tear Us Apart on the first album, the cover of A Change is Gonna Come here is very brave. It’s a song with a lot of meaning for a lot of people, and it would be very easy to dilute or disrespect that, but I think this pulls it off, as a soft and beautiful piano piece.

Drifter is a sweet gospel-piano pop song, and then People Say is a glorious, simple pop track. By the middle of this album, its form is holding up well, although Every Single Day is probably the one moment on here that I think doesn’t stand up quite as well as the rest.

Then comes Waves, a beautiful pop song, with more rippling pads and acoustic-inspired sounds, as well as an enormous grumbly bass sound. Freeway is another great instrumental.

But the best has definitely been saved till the end – my favourite track on here is the adorable, lullaby-like The Stars, full of cascading arpeggios and huge reverb. If there’s a better album closing track then I would very much like to know what it is. Indeed, The Sun WIll Come surely must be one of the best albums of its era. If only anybody had heard it – their only foray into the charts was a minor scrape at the bottom end of the singles with Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Unfortunately the Honeyroot project was not destined to last much longer. A one-off single It’s All Good followed in 2008, and then Heaven 17 started doing stuff again, and its time was through. Which is a very great shame – I do like Heaven 17 a lot, but I’m not convinced they ever created anything quite as beautiful as The Sun Will Come.

You can still find The Sun Will Come at their own Bandcamp page for just a fiver.

Röyksopp – Remind Me / So Easy

It’s rare that I cover singles in the review section, and when I do, they have to be very special indeed. This one definitely is. This week in 2002, Röyksopp seemed to appear pretty much out of nowhere, with this gem.

Of course, their appearance wasn’t really quite that sudden. Over the preceding year or so, the singles Eple and Poor Leno had each appeared at least once already, and the album had been floating around in the lower reaches of the charts for some time as well, but this was the moment they really found fame.

The Someone Else’s Radio Mix of Remind Me is sublime. Whereas the original album version was a simple lounge piece which plodded along very pleasantly with a great vocal from Erlend Øye, this version brings enormous retro synth backing, and adds an actual chorus. Röyksopp have recorded some fantastic songs in the fifteen years that have followed, but nothing has ever been quite this good.

So Easy comes next. It wasn’t originally going to be on the single, but then the BT advert appeared in the UK, with the huge baby’s face, one of those adverts that you probably still remember today, and so it had to be included. It’s a great track, which only falls down slightly when you realise quite how much it’s been stretched out in order to last three and a half minutes. But aside from that, it’s really rather beautiful.

James Zabiela‘s Ingeborg mix of Remind Me closes the first CD, a pleasant chilled out version which adds urban samples and an enormous bass line to the original album version, but doesn’t quite have the shine of the single version. But that would be asking a lot – this is still excellent.

There’s really very little to fault here, with a beautifully designed CD sleeve showing cloud nestling, probably in a fjord or something, two great versions of Remind Me, and the adorable So Easy as well.

Unfortunately the second disc is a bit of a waste, and seems to have been thrown together a little too quickly – we get the album version of So Easy again, followed by the album version of Remind Me, before finally getting Tom Middleton‘s Cosmos mix of the main track, a long house version which isn’t quite as good as the remixer’s reputation would make you think it should be.

Worth tracking down are the 12″ versions, which bring you Someone Else’s Club Mix of Remind Me, which I suspect might have been an interim version between the album and radio mixes, and also Ernest Saint Laurent‘s Moonfish mix, which is probably as close as anything on this album can get to electro, but at the same time pulls some of the more chilled elements out from the album version.

If anything in Röyksopp‘s early years helped shape the sound of future albums The Understanding and Junior, I suspect it was the remix of Remind Me which led this single. It’s extraordinarily good, and is definitely worth owning in its own right.

If you prefer to buy new, the best you can manage now seems to be an oddly tagged collection of MP3s here. Otherwise track down the original CD release, which may or may not be here.

Moby – Moby

It’s a quarter of a century since rave happened. Specifically, it was 25 years this week that Moby‘s debut album Moby was released. For the preceding couple of years, he had been churning out 12″ singles under various pseudonyms, and so most of his early albums really seem to be compilations rather than actual albums. Having said that, it’s still annoying to me that the version that I own of this album has a slightly different track listing to the original one, and so I had to search around on YouTube to find the first track. Mind you, the UK release, The Story So Far, has a completely different selection of tracks altogether.

Anyway, having tracked the original album down, it opens with the slightly daft rave piece Drop a Beat, a single from early 1992 which would not have sounded entirely out of place on an early record by The Prodigy.

It’s fair to say this album hasn’t entirely aged well. Everything, originally from 1991’s UHF EP, is better, particularly when the house piano arrives, but it still all feels as though you have stepped out of a time machine into the early 1990s, rather than a coherent album track. I gather that’s what Moby thinks as well.

Yeah is less inspired, and then comes Electricity, which was previously the b-side to Drop a Beat, is a bit dull, but is one of the more pleasant tracks on here. Next is Next is the E, or I Feel It, as it was renamed for the UK charts. Quite why this was picked as the second UK single is a total mystery unless you imagine yourself in a sweaty early 1990s, drug-fuelled haze, at which point it starts to make some kind of sense.

Mercy is one of Moby‘s ambient moments – a little out of place here perhaps, and there isn’t a lot to it, but it’s one of the best things so far on here. It leads us on to the Woodtick mix of Go, the huge single which had just taken Europe by storm and probably led to the release of this album in the first place. It had originally appeared on the Mobility EP as his first release in late 1990.

It’s difficult to know what to say about Go – it’s certainly Moby‘s finest hour, and honestly if this album hadn’t existed then it would have been another five years or so before this turned up on one, which would have been a lot less than it deserved. It’s so good! Those huge string chords from Twin Peaks, the enormous drums. Not to mention the millions of alternative mixes, which we probably didn’t need.

Help Me to Believe follows, released under the Mindstorm and Brainstorm pseudonyms in 1991. It’s definitely nice to have something that’s fairly pure dance music, but not nearly as manic or crazy as most of the things on the first half of the album. You do get the feeling that probably isn’t going to last long though.

Your gut is right, although Have You Seen My Baby?, silly though it is, isn’t too offensive. Ah-Ah is much more what you might expect from a rave track, but it bounces along without causing too much trouble. Maybe it just feels less of an affront on the senses by this stage in the album.

Slight Return is next, definitely belonging on the Ambient album rather than here. It’s a very sweet piece, and although it doesn’t really go anywhere in particular, it’s difficult not to enjoy. The same is true for Stream, which has some lovely gentle tribal drumming and lots of pads. It’s a world away from the first few tracks on here.

And that’s about it. Except that the German CD closes with Thousand, which has pretty much nothing going for it except for the concept, and therefore also the title. It’s silly, but fun.

But Moby was the album that introduced us to Moby, the eccentric multi-instrumentalist who periodically sets the world alight

Perhaps surprisingly, Moby is still widely available.

Beth Orton – Daybreaker

She had risen pretty much out of nowhere over the preceding decade or so, and could now be regarded as a mature musician. For her fourth and most successful solo album, Beth Orton worked again with one of the stalwarts of what I hesitatingly call “folktronica,” Ben Watt, and also perhaps more surprisingly, Johnny Marr turned up to help out as well.

Daybreaker was released fifteen years ago this week, and opens with a sweet pop song called Paris Train, although there’s little clue in the lyrics why that might be a suitable title. When Orton is at her blandest, her songs are pleasant but distinctly unmemorable, and this is a good example of this.

Concrete Sky is the collaboration with Johnny Marr, and perhaps because of this, it does stand out somewhat, although Mount Washington, which follows, is the first track on here that really gets anywhere close to catchy. Then comes Anywhere, which was the lead single – and deservedly so – it’s probably the best track on the album.

Honestly, it might have sold well, but this isn’t a great album from this point onwards. The title track Daybreaker is pleasantly trippy and has some fun sound effects in it, but it’s not exactly exciting. Carmella and God Song are either pleasant or dull, depending on your perspective. The titles are still pretty perplexing for the most part, as well.

Some of them are witty, at least – This One’s Gonna Bruise, a collaboration with Ryan Adams, is a pleasant listen too. Orton’s haunting vocal breathlessly works its way through the notes, and the contrast with the electronic rhythm of the opening beats of Ted’s Waltz is notable too. But don’t get too excited – there’s nothing that would pass for uptempo on this half of the album.

Maybe not getting excited is exactly the point. There is a nice rhythmic quality to Ted’s Waltz, making it stand out somewhat, and while this might be a downtempo album by its very nature, it certainly isn’t boring. But hopefully it’s also OK to find it a little dull at times.

In which case, closing track Thinking About Tomorrow is entirely appropriate, as it’s forgettable on every level. It’s a shame, but there it is. Ultimately Daybreaker is far from a bad album, but it’s not even Beth Orton‘s finest hour. Get Central Reservation instead.

You should still be able to find Daybreaker at all major retailers.

Oi Va Voi – Oi Va Voi

If you hadn’t heard of Oi Va Voi, their reappearance in 2007 with their eponymous second album was something of a surprise. Even if you had, I suspect Yuri would have taken you aback somewhat.

On the previous album Laughter Through Tears, they had launched their own career and also that of KT Tunstall with a folksy blend of Balkan, Jewish, and various other sources of music. It was beautiful and sweet, but realistically was never going to be the kind of thing that would yield many huge chart hits.

Yuri, meanwhile, opens the second album, and is lively, very Eastern European in sound, and a huge amount of fun. It’s a piece about the Soviet obsession with space, and if that sounds like an unlikely combination of influences, it definitely is. It’s also absolutely brilliant, in every way.

There really isn’t much else like it on the album, which is definitely something of a shame, although it doesn’t diminish the quality of what is on here. Further Deeper is a melancholic piece full of unusual instrumentation and a great vocal.

There’s a noticeable mix of male and female vocals, which is often lacking on releases like this, and works very well. Look Down has similar instrumentation to its predecessor, but sounds very different, and the vocal helps a lot. It’s another beautiful piece.

After a while, the tracks do start to drift past a little. Dissident is pleasant, and Balkanik is a largely instrumental that does slightly echo Yuri. Then Black Sheep is a sweet folksy piece with contemporary backing that stands out rather more.

Then there’s a short instrumental, Nosim, before the pleasant but forgettable Dry Your Eyes, and then the lovely Worry Lines. The album is disappearing quickly, and that’s a great shame. It’s beautiful, sweet, and also not enormously exciting a lot of the time. Which isn’t entirely a problem – considered as a single piece, it’s a great album. But bluntly, there’s nothing quite as special as Yuri on here, and it could really do with that.

So in a way, the two minute instrumental and spoken word closing track Spirit of Bulgaria is all the more surprising. It’s nice to have something this witty at the end, but some degree of continuity would have been nice too, tying things back to the “Говорит Москва,” (“Moscow is speaking”) sample that opened the album. Given that this album came a full four years after the debut, you would think they might have got a bit more continuity in place.

But then, if you just listen to it as it is, and try to enjoy it, there’s a lot to appreciate here. Hopefully Oi Va Voi returned a couple of years later with the wonderful Travelling the Face of the Globe, and hopefully they will be back again soon with another multinational work.

The album Oi Va Voi is widely available.

Monaco – Music for Pleasure

Sha la la la la la la. Yes, What Do You Want from Me? is an extremely good song. Peter Hook is on great form, the lyrics are better than many of New Order‘s and singer and guitarist David Potts was on fine vocal form too.

Music for Pleasure, released twenty years ago this week, was Peter Hook‘s second attempt at a solo project after 1990’s largely forgotten Revenge project. Monaco, though, were pretty successful for a while, and of course What Do You Want from Me? is the single you remember, with its enormous bass guitar part and all the sha la la-ing.

The album followed reasonably quickly after the single though, and third single Shine comes next, still sounding a lot like New Order, or even Electronic during this period. It’s a bit more rocky, and Potts can’t quite reach the high notes, but it’s still a great song.

Getting the singles out of the way right at the start, we then jump to Sweet Lips, which came out just before the album, and was also a pretty sizeable hit. It’s much more dancey than either of the other singles, and it’s another fantastically catchy song. The album version is a slightly extended mix, which works well too.

1997 was, of course, just a couple of years after Oasis had turned up and persuaded everyone to dig out their 1960s record collections, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Monaco wanted some of the action as well. Buzz Gum is a pretty respectable imitation of all the other indie stuff that was going on in the mid-1990s.

It’s tempting to wonder whether loading all the singles at the front of the album was the best idea – it started off so promisingly, but Blue is pretty dreary, although it’s also mercifully short. Then comes Junk, a nine minute dance piece, which actually sounds as dated as the indie tracks now, but it’s pretty good.

Billy Bones is a slightly trippy slow-rock piece, which is pretty pleasant, then Happy Jack is another low-grade indie track, this time with a particularly average vocal as well. Tender is better – if you’ve forgotten the album, this is the one with the catchy “in my mind I live in California” line.

Sedona (which is in Arizona, not California) is the last track, and is the best thing we’ve had on here since the singles at the start. It’s a huge, and epic piece, bobbing along at a fairly leisurely tempo, and with some slightly naff synth reed sounds, but it’s a clever exploration of sounds, and makes for a great instrumental closing piece. After a minute of silence at the end, someone turns up to add “Oi! You can turn it off now!”

Strictly speaking, I could have done that three quarters of an hour ago, but I didn’t. Music for Pleasure is a mixed bag, but when it’s good, it is very good indeed. And it clearly must have had some kind of impact on me – I would never have suspected it when the album came out twenty years ago, but now I do live in California. Thanks, Monaco!

You should still be able to find copies of Music for Pleasure floating around, but I’m not sure I would pay that much for them…

Saint Etienne – Continental

Continental isn’t a real album. Not in the sense that anyone thought of it as a studio album when it came out, anyway. Initially released two decades ago this week, but only in Japan, this follow-up to Tiger Bay (1994) compiles highlights from the singles, compilations, and other bits and bobs that appeared during the group’s first wilderness period. But then in 2009, it got a surprise inclusion in Saint Etienne‘s series of deluxe edition albums, so now we get to enjoy it as a real album after all.

It opens with the lovely Shad Thames, a bright and chirpy synth instrumental which hadn’t appeared anywhere prior to this point. If you only know them for their pure pop songs, it might come as a surprise to know that Saint Etienne have a great line in quirky instrumental, sample-based, and also long tracks. It’s a perfect opening track.

Burnt Out Car is next, a fantastic song, and in common with the timeless nature of this album, it did eventually appear as a single, but not until the end of 2009, when it heralded the London Conversations compilation. Here, it’s in its original form which first appeared in 1996 on the Casino Classics collection, mixed by Balearico.

Sometimes in Winter follows, another track that appeared in remixed form on Casino Classics, although this time we get Saint Etienne‘s original take. It’s a sweet slice of 1960s-style pop – the kind of thing the group have a justifiable reputation for being very good at. Then comes Winter Melody, kind of a continuation of the previous track, as it takes elements of Psychonauts‘ remix from the earlier release and stretches them a bit. A slightly odd inclusion, but also very much in line with the rest of this release.

One slightly trippy oddity leads into another, the short drum and bass-inspired Public Information Film, and then comes The Process, which was one of the b-sides of He’s on the Phone, presumably the track that necessitated this compilation in the first place. It’s also the track that comes next, and it’s a difficult one not to love. It’s a Motiv8 production, and his mixes do have a tendency to sound pretty much exactly the same as one another, but this one is pretty much as good as they ever got. You’ll find it very difficult not to sing along.

Side B opens with Stormtrooper in Drag, the cover version which originally appeared a few months earlier on the Gary Numan tribute compilation Random. It takes a lot of inspiration from He’s on the Phone too, with a pulsating mid-1990s synth line in the background and occasional rippling piano, and honestly once you accept that it’s a little bit dated now, it’s pretty great too.

Then things go unexpectedly glam with Star, the first of two tracks here on which singer Sarah Cracknell shares a writing credit with Ian Catt, so it’s probably safe to assume that this grew out of her solo album sessions and then maybe gained a bit of Saint Etienne production along the way. Good, but not really up to the standard of most of the other things on here.

The next pair of tracks consists on Down by the Sea and The Sea, which are pretty much two parts of the same song again. The latter appeared on Casino Classics with a lovely spacious, maritime-flavoured drum and bass remix from PFM, whereas the former is a full, although slightly avant garde, song. Together, they make up around ten minutes of music, a fifth of the entire release.

After several minutes of frantic drumming, we’re left with Lonesome, the second Ian Catt collaboration, and closing track Angel. It’s a slightly alarming change of pace, as Lonesome is largely acoustic pop, but it’s rather pleasant. Then Angel is the Broadcast remix which had appeared already on Casino Classics, which is nice, and very ethereal, but definitely not quite as good as Way Out West‘s version which appeared on the same release.

So Continental may or may not be a real album, and it’s definitely a slightly odd mix of tracks, but it’s also rather good, and is definitely worthy of its insertion into Saint Etienne‘s back catalogue.

The double-disc version of Continental gets a reissue of its own in just a few days, and comes with a bonus disc of early and alternative versions from the period. It will be available here.