Five years of stowaways – Part 3

Well, this might be the blogging equivalent of eating an entire chocolate cake, but it is our fifth birthday this week, and a bit of gluttony now and then is no bad thing.

When I was a teenager, tuning into the charts every Sunday on BBC Radio 1 (or “1FM”, as it was known in those days) was one of the most exciting parts of the week. I would memorise and write down the charts, and get excited about what was number one, and what the highest climber was.

So it should come as no surprise that when this blog started, the Charts for stowaways quickly became one of the key features. It’s really just a personal chart merged with the real charts, to let you into a bit of a secret – it’s a combination of my own listens and a bit of input from the official UK charts. Which still exist, by the way. Just about, anyway…

For now though, here’s a song about how great the charts used to be – from their glorious last album Words and Music by Saint Etienne, here are Saint Etienne with Over the Border:

Five years of stowaways – Part 2

Today marks five years since I started this blog, quickly setting something up just before I went away on holiday for a couple of weeks, just to see what would happen. The first post was the announcement of Pet Shop Boys‘ then-new single, Winner.

This is appropriate, because one of the reasons this blog exists in the first place was that I was keen to try and keep in touch with what my favourite artists were doing. It’s so easy these days if you don’t follow the right people in the right app to completely miss the new single from someone you love, and hence the Preview section, now running weekly on Mondays – it forces me to go out and find what’s coming up, and listen to whether it’s any good or not.

So Pet Shop Boys kicked this blog off, and it’s only fair that they get the slot on its birthday too. Here’s the current single Undertow, in its original form:

Five years of stowaways – Part 1

I promise this might perhaps be the last time we do anything to quite this degree, but it’s not often that you get to celebrate the fifth birthday of a blog! The actual birthday is tomorrow, but I think it’s alright to have a bit of self-indulgence now and then.

Honestly it’s really only because of the reviews (and to a lesser extent also the oldies) that this blog exists. Nearly a decade ago, I bought a new computer, and started ripping all my music onto it, and then I realised that I owned loads of things that I’d never actually listened to, or hadn’t heard for years. So, in no particular order, starting in late 2008, I worked through my entire music collection, listening to every song once.

It took two years, finally ending with a lot of crap at the end of 2010, and then I spent the next year allowing myself to listen to the good stuff a second, and occasionally even third time.

The end result of which was that by the start of 2012, I had completely lost touch – I had gone from buying several new CDs every week five years earlier, to pretty much buying nothing.

So, in order to revitalise my music listening, I started this blog, and forced myself to write reviews of the good stuff. The only rule: I had to listen to the whole thing, properly, and in full, while I wrote the review.

The style of the reviews has changed a bit over time, but the very first one that I wrote, just a touch under five years ago, was this one, for Jean-Michel Jarre‘s Essentials & Rarities collection. So let’s listen to something from that:

Chart for stowaways – 10 June 2017

Here are the latest albums:

  1. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  2. Erasure – World Be Gone
  3. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  4. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  6. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  7. New Order – Music Complete
  8. David Bowie – Hunky Dory
  9. New Order – Lost Sirens
  10. Gorillaz – Humanz

Greatest Hits – Vol. 10

A couple of times a year, I like to take a little breather and highlight some of the reviews that you might have missed on this blog in the past. Here are my choices this time. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed that, why not check out Volume 9, here?

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.