Begin again – revisiting the beginner’s guides

In all, between 2014 and 2015, this blog posted 66 beginner’s guides. The idea was to present six things:

  • Key moments – why you might have heard of these people before
  • Where to start – my thoughts on which of their albums to buy or listen to first
  • What to buy – the three items you should track down next
  • Don’t bother with – an item that is probably best avoided, or definitely should wait until you graduate to the level of completist
  • Hidden treasure – one song that’s hidden away somewhere and should be located at all costs
  • For stowaways – some collected highlights from their posts on this blog

They were very popular – in fact, for a long time, Depeche Mode‘s was the most popular post on this blog, and while that does suggest to me that it reached the wrong audience slightly, it’s still a good thing. They were also divisive – inevitably, people disagreed with a lot of what I wrote and told me so in angry or passive-aggressive ways. This is the internet, after all.

So what’s happened since they were written? Here are some highlights:

  • Air released a vinyl-only box set called Music for Museum, which you can probably skip for now
  • Conjure One released Holoscenic, which is nearly as good as their debut album, so is probably worth tracking down
  • Crystal Castles came back with a new lineup – I haven’t heard it yet, but the feedback seemed positive
  • Depeche Mode returned with the fantastic Spirit. You wouldn’t want to start with it, but it should be high on the list
  • Erasure keep churning albums out every couple of years, and finally seem to have returned to the consistent quality of the late 1980s and early 1990s
  • Goldfrapp have a new album, but it’s not quite as good as the previous one
  • The Human League have a new best of to consider, A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • Hot Chip keep throwing out great albums every time you turn your back for a moment
  • Jean Michel Jarre has managed three fantastic new albums: the two Electronica volumes and Oxygène 3
  • Kraftwerk now have a diverting live collection to consider
  • New Order now have the fantastic Music Complete to add to the list, which wouldn’t be a bad thing to add to the “what to buy” list either
  • Pet Shop Boys brought us the lovely Super
  • Röyksopp reappeared with two albums, Do It Again and The Inevitable End, before taking what looked at the time like an early retirement
  • Saint Etienne reissued their reissue series and just came back with Home Counties

You can find the index to all the beginner’s guides here.

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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?

Retro chart for stowaways – 15 May 2004

I’m off on my holidays at the moment, so here’s the album chart from twelve years ago this week!

  1. Air – Talkie Walkie
  2. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  3. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  4. Dido – Life for Rent
  5. Erlend Øye – Erlend Øye – DJ-Kicks
  6. Zero 7 – When It Falls
  7. Sugababes – Three
  8. Dubstar – Stars – The Best of Dubstar
  9. Bent – Programmed to Love
  10. Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven

Chart for stowaways – 11 March 2017

Apologies for the slight delay – here’s the album chart!

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  2. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  4. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  5. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  6. Delerium – Mythologie
  7. David Bowie – Legacy
  8. David Bowie – Blackstar
  9. Air – Twentyears
  10. Shit Robot – What Follows

Chart for stowaways – 25 February 2017

These are this week’s albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  2. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  4. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  5. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  6. David Bowie – Legacy
  7. Delerium – Mythologie
  8. Air – Twentyears
  9. David Bowie – Station To Station
  10. Shit Robot – What Follows

Chart for stowaways – 11 February 2017

Move along, nothing to see here…

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  2. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  3. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  5. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  6. Delerium – Mythologie
  7. David Bowie – Legacy
  8. Air – Twentyears
  9. Mike Oldfield – Return To Ommadawn
  10. Shit Robot – What Follows

Air – Pocket Symphony

Of all of Air‘s albums, 2007’s Pocket Symphony is definitely one of my favourites. The hits might have been eluding them by this stage, but the album was well received, and for me it remains Air‘s last great studio album (2009’s follow-up Love 2 has little to love, Le Voyage dans la Lune is a good extension of a soundtrack, and Music for Museum is a little too avant garde for my tastes).

It opens, as all good Air albums do, with something soft and gentle – in the case of Pocket Symphony, it’s the adorable Space Maker. There’s already a certain spaciousness to the piece, with a bit of melancholy as well – gone is the simplicity of the first album, and the daftness of the second – this is the sound of a group who are entirely comfortable in their skins and with their sound.

Lead single Once Upon a Time is the second track, with a lovely rippling piano arpeggio. In an earlier age, this would have been a huge hit single, but in 2007 it only got a French release and only had one b-side.

Of all people, Jarvis Cocker turns up to deliver the vocal on One Hell of a Party, and does an exceptional job. The melancholic side of Air – not really explored too deeply on earlier releases – is really rather beautiful, and Cocker’s lyrics and vocal performance are both sad and sweet.

But there’s also plenty of Air‘s traditional sound here – Napalm Love is a sweet love song, and Mayfair Song is a charming instrumental. Left Bank is another sweet, lonely acoustic piece, and their ode to pop superstars Photograph is very pleasant too.

The second and final single – and the only one in the UK, although you could have been forgiven for failing to notice its release – was Mer du Japon, a very simple one-line song which apparently was written to honour the Pacific Ocean. It’s a little too simple in some ways, but it’s a pleasant piece nonetheless.

The instrumental Lost Message follows, and then Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy fame turns up to sing the adorable Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping. It might not have been destined to be a hit single, but it’s a great song even so, and a very worthwhile collaboration.

By this point the album is pretty much over – the vocal Redhead Girl and instrumental Night Sight close the album in gentle fashion, and it’s finished already. This may not be Air‘s most famous works, but it’s definitely one of their most consistent and finest hours.

You can still find Pocket Symphony at all major retailers. There are a few bonus tracks, either on the digital versions or using “OpenDisc” technology (no I don’t know either) on the CD.