Nowhere and Back Again

Time for a little once-annual self-promotion. You may recall that over the last couple of years, I had been remastering the two instrumental albums that I released between 2002 and 2003, as well as their accompanying singles. From Roots to Branches was finally reissued in 2017, and the follow-up Shadowsphere turned out never actually to have seen a wide release, so finally saw its first full release in 2018.

Sonically, as you will no doubt quickly realise, neither album is exactly a great accomplishment, but the second album was also a technical disaster, with masters failing and numerous pieces being lost. In the end, the second single from that album, the Fading Synthesis EP, was abandoned, unfinished and lost. One of the first things I did in 2019 was to retrieve the pieces, leading to this brand new version:

There were then just a couple of things left to do – one of the new tracks on that EP was in fairly good shape, so I finished that off, and called it Time Honoured, and then there was a very old demo to finish off, called Glen of Tranquility. Having tightened those up with new mixes, I moved back to From Roots to Branches. There were a couple of tracks that I wanted to try remixing, starting with Leaving Home:

Finally, it was time to try something new – I pulled all the pieces of Landscape #1, Landscape #2, and Landscape #3, together with a more recent song idea, and built this, Landscape #4, as a bit of a modern tribute to the first album:

Which meant it was clearly time for a tribute to the second album, so I turned to the other b-side demo for Fading Synthesis, which was going to be a continuation of Noise Gate. So I pulled together elements from that, plus the three shorter tracks on Shadowsphere, and built this, Voices in the Shadows (Part 2):

Self-indulgent? Definitely. But it was fun to finally find closure for those early albums. I’m sure it won’t excite too many people other than me, but I hope it won’t offend them either. There’s even a CD available on Amazon now, too, including some of the extra tracks from the singles. You’ll find the album on some of the regular streaming services, such as Spotify, Deezer, and others, and as always, everything is completely free on Bandcamp.

Of course, now, it’s hard to stop – there’s plenty of unfinished business from after 2004, so a series of EPs will follow in 2020, and possibly even the fourth album.

Shadowsphere

A little over a year ago, I was rude enough to impose some of my own music on this blog, and since everyone was surprisingly supportive at the time (that is to say, people who didn’t like it just ignored the post and got on with their day), I’m going to do it again. Sorry in advance.

But the story starts back in 2002, with my first album From Roots to Branches, which was what I posted about last year, as I remastered it just in time to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary. The following year (2003), I followed it up with Shadowsphere, which was either more adventurous or very dull, or most likely some combination of the two. As a taster, here’s the opening track Noise Gate:

Also in 2003, I had released one single, one sampler, and one EP, and so I collected the tracks from those, plus some special unreleased demos and other oddities, onto a companion compilation called Hidden Paths. From that, here’s the original single version of Great Nowhere:

Remastering both of these collections presented some interesting challenges – there was a lot of background noise on several of the tracks which was coming from one or two of the synthesisers that I’d used. In the process, I found a more effective way to get rid of the noise, and so re-remastered From Roots to Branches in 2018 as well – and then proceeded to release both on CD, with bonus tracks.

There was some unfinished business though – I had recorded about half of one final single, intended for release in mid-2004, but the recordings had been lost. Trying to revive the tracks led to the Reverse Engineered singles, starting with Alien Worlds:

The series was due to continue a few months later with Infinite Wisdom, but due to another computer crash, I lost the initial re-recordings, so it didn’t actually happen until a few months ago. Here’s the single version:

There are now six releases online: From Roots to Branches and its companion album Fallen Leaves, Shadowsphere and its companion album Hidden Paths, and the two Reverse Engineered singles Alien Worlds and Infinite Wisdom. All are completely free, and available from my Bandcamp page.

From Roots to Branches

I’ve never used this blog to discuss anything particularly personal – politics aren’t entirely a no-go zone as far as I’m concerned, but my other projects and lives don’t really belong here. But it’s the start of a New Year, and it always takes us a little time to ramp up to the regular posts, so I hope you’ll forgive me a little self-indulgence.

As will become clear shortly, one of the reasons I write this blog is that I’m an exceptionally untalented musician myself – but I did give it a try, with two albums released in 2002 and 2003 respectively. For years, I’ve been meaning to go back and remaster them, and finally, about six months ago, I started work on a cleaned up version of the first album From Roots to Branches.

The first track on the album is Landscape #1, which is supposed to be broad and atmospheric:

If that’s a bit dull for you, I think this is one of my favourites, Landscape #2:

There are nine tracks on the album in total, some more “pop” than others, but honestly I think now that the most accessible tracks were on the three singles, Landscape #1Forgotten Summer, and Illusions of Twilight. I’ve compiled all these together with a whole load of previously unreleased material on a new compilation called Fallen Leaves. This is the first track I worked on for the whole project, started in late 2001, and entitled Charmed Life:

I was learning all the time, and the 2003 recordings fixed a lot of the things people had pointed out with the originals, so the single version of Illusions of Twilight is, to my mind, considerably better than the original album version:

Both From Roots to Branches and its companion album Fallen Leaves are available now, completely for free, from my Bandcamp page. If you download either, I’ll also send you a free copy of The Branch Line EP, which is a collection of demos and unreleased versions.

The second album Shadowsphere will follow in the first half of 2018.

Unsigned, but not forgotten

One of the things I really wanted to do when I started this blog five years ago was to try to do anything I could to help unsigned artists. I had tried previously, actually, on a radio show, and had found that a lot of unsigned acts couldn’t get their, um, “act” together to make it work as a cohesive feature, and so it only really ran three of four times before falling in flames.

The unsigned feature on this blog lasted a little longer, and did showcase some interesting acts, but it also opened me up to a lot of artists who for one reason or another weren’t appropriate for the blog, and one or two people who didn’t take that news too well. These are the perils of doing anything on the internet.

But let’s take a look at those who did make it, and see what they have been up to!

Blue Swan

First covered on my radio show in February 2005, and then subsequently looked at in detail on this blog in November 2012, this Danish duo seem to have entered a quiet phase in their career. Looking at their Soundcloud, their last new tracks were the ones we covered here five years ago, and there have been a few DJ mixes since then, but not a lot of activity.

Hugh Doolan

We covered this Irish acoustic act back in November 2012, and looking at his Soundcloud account he’s been very busy recently. His Bandcamp page includes ten releases since we last spoke to him, including acoustic tracks and film soundtracks.

Rance Garrison

Covered back in August 2013, when he was between albums, he seems to have released three new albums in the last few years, all of which are available on his Bandcamp page.

Jonteknik

We first covered Jon’s debut album in November 2012, and when we visited him again the following year, he had just released another album. He’s now part of a label that I need to look into further called The People’s Electric, and recently released an album called Skylines.

Kyma

Introduced to this blog back in November 2012, this UK-based act was still busy a year or so later, including proudly posting one of his songs that was played on BBC Essex, but he hasn’t pushed much to his Soundcloud recently.

mindXpander

An old favourite of mine from the mp3.com days of the early internet, I first covered them here back in 2013. Things seem to have been quiet for them for a couple of decades now, but you can still enjoy their back catalogue at Soundcloud.

Movement Ten

This Brighton-based duo were first covered here back in December 2012 when they had just released their debut album. The following year when we looked again, they had just released another album, but things seem to have been quieter since then.

Subculture

Featured on my radio show in 2005, unfortunately I don’t have any record any more of who they were, how they got in touch, or where they are now. If you know, please ask them to get in touch!

Devin Tait

First covered in August 2013, then revisited later that year when he was in the middle of touring, this flamboyant LA-based artist is now working on his next solo album The White Tomato. More at his official website.

Finally, I think a few more people had filled in the form on the website and asked for coverage. I’ll sit down and actually read those messages and do a feature on them very soon – apologies for the lack of responses if you’re feeling impatient.

Unsigned Act – Blue Swan (and Subculture)

With this blog and the radio shows that came before it, I have always tried to keep some space available for unsigned artists, but honestly giving them the chance to be written about or to appear on an actual radio station yields surprisingly poor results. In the end, I only ever covered two unsigned acts on my old radio show Music for the Masses (2004-2005), one of whom was Blue Swan.

I must have contacted them via email, and wrote the following…

The duo consists of Henrik Jürgensen, 31, the vocalist and a soon-to-be qualified accountant, and Kasper Lauest, 30, who is the producer and also a psychologist (in the band?) They have been producing music since late 1999, when they met on the first Pet Shop Boys internet forum at Dotmusic, discovering by chance that they had gone to the same high school, one class apart, so they decided to meet up.

They listened to each other’s music, and both liked what they heard. When they heard about the Pet Shop Boys fan tribute project Attribute, they decided to record a cover of A New Life. They liked the result, so continued working together. They continue the story:

Last August, we released our first “virtual” album Sinister But Fragile. The track Black Widow was supposed to have been recorded by a famous Danish artist for her international debut album, but the deal fell through.

They are situated around Copenhagen, Denmark. All of their songs are recorded in their home studio in Kasper’s house. They write their songs together, sometimes in collaboration with Kasper’s younger brother Jakob.

The track Black Widow was done as an instrumental entitled Brutal, written by Kasper and his brother. When Henrik heard it, he absolutely loved it and wrote the lyrics and melody line on top of it. All synth sounds on Black Widow were made using an Access Virus C, while the beat was programmed using Reason 2.5.

Their virtual album Sinister But Fragile can be heard and downloaded in its entirety for free at (a website which no longer exists).

Their favourite band is the Pet Shop Boys, and Kasper’s favourite TV show is 24.

If you’re wondering, the other unsigned act we featured on the show was Subculture, but my only notes for them read as follows:

  • “Trash pop”
  • New Order
  • The Human League
  • David Bowie
  • OMD
  • Suede
  • Ladytron

Ross (vocals), Mace (synth), Matt (guitar), and Julia (bass).

You can read our most recent feature on Blue Swan here. If you’re unsigned and want some coverage, please get in touch using the form on the “Are You Unsigned” page.

Where are they now?

We’ve covered eight unsigned acts to date, and since I’ve heard more good things from a couple of them recently, let’s take a quick look at what they’ve been up to!

The first act we covered last year was Jonteknik, who has just released another album The Satellites of Substance. It sounds a bit like Kraftwerk, and is really, really good. Check it out on his official website.

Movement Ten have just done another album too, entitled Build Them and They Will Come. A couple of tracks on Movement Ten were very good indeed, as I said when we listened to them together previously. More information at their website.

And finally – for now – Devin Tait is still touring in the Los Angeles region – read what we learnt about him before here, and visit his website there.

Do you want to be covered on this blog? Take a look at the guidelines in the Are you unsigned? section.

Introducing Rance Garrison

A bit of a change of genre for this week’s unsigned act. Rance Garrison has been writing and recording songs for “almost as long as he has been able to talk.” His debut album Black Crow came out last year, and he’s currently working on his second. Here’s a picture of Black Crow:

Cover Photo Edit 2

Rance “hails,” rather dramatically, from the Appalachian foothills of southwest Virginia. As usual, I asked him to pick just three tracks as a little demo to share. First up is It Still Moves:

“The night is silent like a tomb,” he tells us. I think it’s the haunting piano sound that makes this track rather beautiful. Bonus points for the rather flamboyant ending – I think this is probably my favourite of the three.

Next up is The Last Question:

I’d struggle slightly to categorise this one – it seems darker and altogether more apocalyptic than the previous track, and yet there’s also something decidedly chirpy about it.

Finally from this set, we have Seven Trumpets:

This is the most gentle of the trio, driven mainly by a piano and softer sounds. Things all go a bit discordant towards the end, reminding me – perhaps unintentionally – of Scottish bagpipe music! See what you think…

Rance points out, incidentally, that these tracks are best heard in the context of the album Black Crow, which you can find on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, CDBaby, and also on Bandcamp with bonus tracks and a booklet.

What’s your source of inspiration?

These particular songs (and the album as a whole, really) were written in the wake of several deaths that occurred in my family from 2008 to 2009. It was a sort of dark stretch, but death wasn’t ever far from my mind, and by extension, you could say that my personal spiritual beliefs about God and my understanding of faith and the meaning of life were never far from my mind, either, though I prefer not to think of these songs as an endorsement of any particular religion or of myself as an explicitly “religious artist.” In any case, the themes I was dealing with in my songwriting were at that time, and continue to be, pretty heavy stuff, I suppose.

As far as musical inspiration, I’m inspired by a bit of everything. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits have been big influences on my lyrics. Musically, I’ve been influenced by Pink Floyd, Waits, Dylan, Neil Young, The Twilight Singers, Bon Iver, and a host of other bands from the 1960s up to modern times. I’ve recently gotten pretty into Phosphorescent, but discovered that band after these tracks were written and recorded.

A lot of Radiohead‘s work also really resonates with me, especially from the Kid A and Amnesiac era of 1999 to around 2001. Basically, if it’s memorable and unique, and not afraid to go out on a limb and be a little experimental, I’m gonna dig it.

How long does it normally take to record a track?

I work out of a home studio since I live in a rural area that’s not exactly known as a center of musical creativity and since, at this point anyway, I couldn’t afford professional studio time even if that weren’t the case. On average, I would say that I can record a single track over a period of two to three days, sometimes less than that, and sometimes taking as long as a week or even a month to put the finishing touches on. If I recall correctly, It Still Moves was the last song I recorded for Black Crow, and it was done over a weekend. The Last Question was the first song that was finished, I think, and was recorded here and there over the course of about two weeks. Seven Trumpets was recorded over the course of about a week, I think.

It’s hard to say exactly how much time went into each track just because I’m also a full-time college student and have to do a sort of catch-as-catch-can style. All of the songs were recorded in the late night/early morning hours between work, school, spending time with my fiance, and other responsibilities.

If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?

On a deeply personal level, I would love to go back and stop the car crash that claimed the life of my little cousin, Stephanie, in 2008. I’m an only child, and she was the closest thing I ever had to a sister, rest her soul. Her death, and the deaths of her father and my great-grandmother that occurred later in 2009 that turned my life upside down (I was living in Nashville at the time and moved back home to rural southwest Virginia to care for family) inspired all of this music, but I’d trade that to have her in my life again.

Also I wish I would have taken greater advantage of the music scene in Nashville while I was there, but again, if that stuff hadn’t happened, these songs wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t be where I am now, about to finish my bachelor’s degree at the ripe old age of twenty-seven and engaged to a wonderful woman who is my best friend. I met her when I came back home, and I wouldn’t change that, either. Life is funny. The things you wish you could change lead you to where you are, and even if you are happy with the way things are, every man and woman has their regrets. Such is the way of life, I suppose.

Visit Rance Garrison‘s Bandcamp page for more information and to hear more.