Albums chart of the year 2013 for stowaways

The albums chart is a little less skewed than the singles. Here’s the top twenty for 2013:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Electric
  2. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
  3. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
  4. Little Boots – Nocturnes
  5. Marsheaux – Inhale
  6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric
  7. I Monster – Swarf
  8. Front Line Assembly – Echogenetic
  9. Sparks – Interior Design
  10. Claudia Brücken – The Lost are Found
  11. Kevin Pearce – Pocket Handkerchief Lane
  12. Sparks – Two Hands One Mouth
  13. Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne *
  14. Pet Shop Boys – Elysium **
  15. The Presets – Pacifica ***
  16. Front Line Assembly – AirMech
  17. Karl Bartos – Off the Record
  18. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (III)
  19. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 4
  20. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 3

* Number 1 in 2012
** Number 2 in 2012
*** Number 34 in 2012

Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 3 & 4

A couple of months back we worked our way through the first two volumes of Boris Blank‘s library music project Avant Garden. When I reviewed them, it came as something of a surprise that there was now a volume three and a volume four. Now seems as good a time as any to listen to those last two.

Boris, of course, you will know from Yello, the slightly bonkers Swiss duo who have been making bassy blues-flavoured electro for time immemorial. On Avant Garden the influences are similar, but it lacks the daft deep vocals over the top.

Volume 3 opens with Big Beans, a low rhythmic instrumental which could easily fit on any Yello album. I’m not sure what film or TV projects this might work well alongside, but it’s a pleasant, typically Blank sounding piece.

Elektro Kabinet is a bit different, although it still doesn’t entirely blow you away as a listener. It’s got a bit of the flavour of their 1994 album Zebra in places, a theme which will reoccur before the end of this collection, and makes for a fun listen.

She’s Got Balls is better, despite the curious title. Powered by the rather inventive sort of rhythm that Yello have made their trademark, it has a pleasantly laid back melody and pad section which is soft and gentle. Body Electrik is a little harder and darker, and for the first time might not actually sound out of place on the soundtrack to something.

My favourite track on volume three is the middle one, The Last Mile. It’s got all the atmosphere and energy of Yello when they’re at their best, so much so that it almost feels a shame that it got shunted onto a mini-album of library music. This piece, if nothing else, is proof that this collection is for more than just completists.

Inner Mountain and Off the Rails are more atmospheric pieces, lacking somewhat the melodic charm of some of the better moments on the album, but still pretty strong. Penultimate track Open the Box also lacks that special something, but is still a pleasant piece.

Volume three’s closer is called Night Train, sharing its title with a song on Zebra, and draws influence from several tracks on that album. Although it doesn’t quite have the charm of the original, it’s still a very pleasant atmospheric piece, and does sum up the 1994 album very nicely.

Volume four is slightly different, consisting of a lot of short tracks, kicking off with Open Skies, although it sounds more nautical than aeronautical to me. Meccano Dreams is similarly gentle and atmospheric, but Lite Haus is the first piece on this volume which really grabs you and screams “listen to me!” It’s full of atmosphere and drama from the start, and then an enigmatic choir turns up. Volume four, it seems, is where Boris Blank really pulled out all the stops and made proper library music – at least on the first half of the collection.

Midnight Procession continues in a similarly dark, atmospheric, and beautiful vein, and is also the longest track on this volume, clocking in at nearly four minutes. Ancient Desire and Missing Orbit are pleasant chilled out pieces, and then Dome is another of the true highlights.

From this point onwards, volume four is pleasant and full of moody pieces of music, but there’s little that grabs you in quite the same way. The AstrologerLost Language and K2 lack the experimental or melodic charm of some of the earlier tracks, but are still entirely listenable. The final trio, Siren Song, Neutrino Lab, and Face in the Cloud, have marginally more to say for themselves, but are still largely best enjoyed as library music rather than trying to imagine you’re listening to something new from Yello.

But all four volumes of Avant Garden have their respective highlights, and are worthwhile listens. It may not entirely count as new Yello, but it’s a lot better than your bog standard library music.

You can’t buy these albums, but you can listen to both Avant Garden Vol. 3 and Avant Garden Vol. 4 on Extreme Music’s still very nasty retro website here.

Yello – Flag

Twenty-five years ago this week, it was the 1980s, and it was in that decade that Yello scored their two huge hit singles – Oh Yeah and The Race. Both are good, but it would also be unfair to judge their thirty-five year career just on the strength of those two tracks.

The Swiss duo of instrumentalist Boris Blank and deep-voiced professional gambler Dieter Meier had already built a strong reputation by 1988. Flag was their sixth album, and it’s something of a concept album, built around the predictably huge international hit The Race. Most of the tracks are somehow themed or sound like an homage to speed. The first of these is Tied Up, which opens the album with the chant “tied up,” for some reason, before building into big brass and tribal swells. As with a lot of Yello‘s output, it’s (a) very silly and (b) a lot of fun.

The one serious track on the album is the second, Of Course I’m Lying, and it’s a timely reminder that when Yello do serious tracks, they do them very well indeed. Its only real tie to the rest of the album is the bizarre line about how “you’re lying so much better when you drive a car,” but otherwise it’s atmospheric and sweet and sounds a lot like a scene out of a film.

3rd of June is next, a story about someone called Mr. Toony, and despite having studied the lyrics carefully I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to be about. It’s a fun track though, largely chanted with another big tribal rhythm. Then Blazing Saddles turns up to close Side A – not a cover version, although it sounds as though perhaps it should be. With a pumping beat, catchy melody, and atmospheric backing it’s totally brilliant.

Side B kicks off with the single, The Race (actually Tied UpOf Course I’m Lying and Blazing Saddles were all singles too, but none of them would be played ad nauseam during every single sporting event for the next few decades). In its album form, it’s eight minutes long, making it very definitely the focus of the album, but that’s not surprising – it’s also entirely excellent. It’s perhaps tempting to wonder whether the car noise sound effects are a little over the top, or whether the brass build is a bit too much, but it all adds up to the “event” nature of the track which is perhaps why it’s so popular.

From thereon the rest of the album was only ever going to be filler, and true to form Alhambra is pretty lousy. It’s an instrumental, with a bit of chanting and some more tribal drumming, and in fairness it’s not unpleasant; just perhaps a little pointless and falls extremely flat after The Race.

Otto di Catania is better, performed entirely for some reason in Italian, and actually as with all of Yello‘s finer moments it’s heavy with a decadent southern European feel. I’ve studied the lyrics, and I can confirm it’s not actually about anything in particular, but it’s very sweet nonetheless.

If you weren’t too keen on Tied Up then you’re not going to be very keen on the last two tracks. The first was a bonus for the CD version of the album only, Tied Up in Red, which is a rather unnecessary eight minute version of the opening track, and doesn’t really add anything in particular. Then the closing track is Tied Up in Gear, meaning that eighteen of the forty-eight minutes that make up this album are taken up by just one track! This version is a bit livelier, with guitars and stuff, but it’s still a little underwhelming as an album closer.

So Flag is a bit of a mixed bag, all told, which is true for a lot of Yello albums. When they’re good, they’re deep (literally), and full of atmosphere. When they’re not so good, they’re silly and bouncy and often fun too. But this was the album which delivered The Race, which was one of the few Yello tracks which everyone remembers, even if they don’t remember why. And for that, you have to applaud it.

Buy the reissue and you get a nice remaster with an extra track and two more mixes of The Race too – this is the version you’re looking for.

Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 1 & 2

Boris Blank is, without a shadow of doubt, a very odd character. Having blinded himself in one eye as a child by playing with explosives (there’s probably a lesson to learn there), he would go on to become the instrumental driving force behind Swiss band Yello, creating a constant mix of beautiful and downright silly music for over thirty years now. Blank is the one who wasn’t formerly a professional gambler, just in case you got them confused.

Avant Garden Vol. 1 and Avant Garden Vol. 2 slipped out quietly and under the radar in 2012 as library music on the Extreme label. As with all the releases on their label, your best bet is to listen online – the link’s at the bottom. Or hope they’ll turn up in your favourite TV show at some point – it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

Cigarette Girl is the first track, slightly mixing the sound of Yello with Summertime by Jazzy Jeff. The trend is set very early on, a sound which is definitely familiar from all those Yello albums, but without the bloke with the deep voice saying “oh yeah” a lot over the top.

The Time Tunnel, the third track on the first of the two albums, is probably the best on this album, much more similar in style to the Yello albums of the last decade or so. Similarly Out of Chaos and Escape Route are charming little sub-3-minute pieces which take influence from Blank’s own sound of recent years.

Avant Garden Vol. 2 has more highlights – Bosphorous is the second track, although I’d say it’s more Slavic than Turkish in sound. Either way, there’s a strong Eastern influence with choral sounds, building brass and pads, and dramatic drum sounds.

Vol. 2 is darker than the first, generally more atmospheric and a little spine tingling in places. My favourites are two of the shortest tracks, The Bridge and Intervals, both of which are heavy with dark and stormy weather.

Other highlights on Vol. 2 include AncoreHeavens Below, and the closing track Pacific Light. Still echoing with sounds that will be familiar from the last few Yello albums, but dark, dreamy, and every bit as atmospheric as library music should be.

Avant Garden Vol. 1 and Avant Garden Vol. 2 are a very welcome pair of mini-albums from Blank. True, it would be better to have another full-length Yello album, but there’s time for that still. It would also be very nice if this library music were made available to the people who want to hear it. But it’s OK – at least you can listen to everything. And at least it’s all great.

Listen to both Avant Garden Vol. 1 and Avant Garden Vol. 2 on Extreme Music’s nasty Flash-based website here. There’s a volume 3 and 4 as well, which we’ll cover here at some point in the future, once I’ve had a chance to listen to them myself.

Chart for stowaways – 4 May 2013

Pet Shop Boys are back! And as per usual, that means they take over the chart with a vengeance, kicking Depeche Mode off the top spot and occupying nearly every other position. Here are this week’s singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Memory of the Future
  2. Depeche Mode – Heaven
  3. Delerium – Days Turn into Nights
  4. Sparks – Two Hands One Mouth
  5. Tomorrow’s World – So Long My Love
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  7. Röyksopp – Running to the Sea
  8. Depeche Mode – Happens All the Time
  9. Boris Blank – Dome
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Axis

So PSB enter at number 10 with their new single Axis, and also are back in at 18 with Leaving as well as reclaiming the top spot with most recent single Memory of the Future.

Chart for stowaways – 27 April 2013

No major changes in either chart this week – here are the top five singles:

  1. Depeche Mode – Heaven
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  3. Röyksopp – Running to the Sea
  4. Depeche Mode – Happens All the Time
  5. Boris Blank – Dome

And the top five albums:

  1. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
  2. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 4
  3. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 3
  4. The Orb – Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
  5. Electronic – Electronic

There’s more action further down the singles chart for Röyksopp, and Claudia Brücken is still bouncing around. On the albums there are all sorts of exciting things happening further down for Crystal CastlesThe Postal ServiceSparks and Skywatchers, all of whom will probably be around for a good while yet.

Chart for stowaways – 13 April 2013

Here are the top ten albums for this week:

  1. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
  2. Karl Bartos – Off the Record
  3. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 4
  4. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 3
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture and Morality
  6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Organisation
  7. Claudia Brücken – The Lost Are Found
  8. The Presets – Pacifica
  9. Gary Numan – I, Assassin
  10. Various Artists – Le Pop 2

More next week!