Preview – BT

After propping up the trance scene in the 1990s, BT disappeared for a while to make weird, almost industrial music. Seems he’s returned to his roots now, with a new album called The Lost Art of Longing. Here’s No Warning Lights, with a vocal from Emma Hewitt:

BT – Ima

Another review of the works of BT is long overdue on this blog. We looked at Emotional Technology a couple of years ago, and concluded it was pretty good, but today’s review is of a much earlier album – BT‘s first, in fact. Ima was released an incredible 20 years ago this week.

With only five tracks (one of which is three quarters of an hour long) it’s an oddly formatted album – so much so, in fact, that I was curious to see how it could ever have been fitted onto an LP or cassette. What I discovered was that they had gone for a completely different – possibly actually better – track listing. Even the reissued CD version appears to have shifted things around a little, making you wonder whether BT was ever entirely happy with this release.

There’s some confusion around the name online, and straight off the bat I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was an acronym or a word. It turns out that Ima is the pronunciation of the Japanese character 今, which means “now”. A number of online sources actually call the album 今 Ima, but that seems a little silly to me…

It opens with the gentle burbling of Nocturnal Transmission, a pleasant trance piece which bobbles along pleasantly enough for a little over nine minutes, without ever really saying much. It was actually BT‘s second single, after an initial attempt with Embracing the Future, although its chart impact was negligible.

Quark is every bit as pleasant, and doesn’t entirely go anywhere either. There’s a nice acid attack a couple of minutes in, and a few other creative side-steps, but otherwise it’s really just another long trance piece (it’s pretty much the shortest track on here).

Shortest of all is Tripping the Light Fantastic, and that’s a shame in a way, as it’s possibly the most interesting track so far – again with an acid bass, it brings in some vaguely inventive vocal samples and repeated arpeggios to keep you entertained for its ultra-short duration of around six and a half minutes, perhaps in an effort to help prepare you for what comes next.

Sasha’s Voyage of Ima is heavy going at the best of times – it’s really the sort of thing best saved for an overlooked bonus disc. There’s really nothing at all wrong with Sasha‘s megamix of BT hits, but it does seem at times as though it’s going to go on forever, as you work through Embracing the SunshineQuark again, two mixes of Loving You More, and then reprises of Nocturnal Transmission and Tripping the Light Fantastic. You can’t fault BT for doing something inventive and different, but surely you can fault him for hiding some excellent songs (particularly Embracing the Sunshine and Loving You More) somewhere in the middle of a 45-minute single-track opus with somebody else’s name on it? Maybe not.

Eventually, like a good thing, the opus comes to an end, leaving us with just one more track, Divinity, which, listening to it in 2015, is a nice but fittingly unexciting end to the album.

And that, perhaps, is the point – in 1995, Ima was groundbreaking and unique. In 2015, it’s still unusual, and there are still moments to find here, but for the most part it’s fairly dull and unexciting. The two decades which have followed have been kinder to BT than they have to his debut.

You can still find Ima all over the place, both in its original and reissued form – the digital release appears to favour the latter version, as may you.

Music for the Masses 39 – 7 May 2005

For the final run of Music for the Masses, from April to May 2005, I had secured the coveted Saturday night slot, building people up to a stomping night out in Leeds. Or alternatively helping them to revise for their exams. Or potentially neither; it was rather difficult to tell. But looking through the playlist, I can see a slightly more uptempo seam running through the show, culminating with the Electromix at the end of the show.

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Show 39: Sat 7 May 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: The Shamen.

  • Morcheeba – World Looking In
  • Erasure – Here I Go Impossible Again
  • 1 Giant Leap feat. Robbie Williams & Maxi Jazz – My Culture
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Shamen – Comin’ On (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Sylver – Make It
  • Aurora – Ordinary World
  • BT – Orbitus Terrarium
  • Kraftwerk – Aérodynamik
  • The Shamen – MK2A
  • Depeche Mode – Freelove (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Technique – Sun is Shining
  • Felix – Don’t You Want Me
  • Yello feat. Stina Nordenstam – To the Sea
  • New Order – Jetstream (Arthur Baker Remix)
  • The Shamen – Indica
  • Binar – The Truth Sets Us Free
  • Talk Talk – Talk Talk
  • Mirwais feat. Craig Wedren – Miss You [Electromix]
  • Elektric Music – Lifestyle (Radio-Style) [Electromix]
  • Front Line Assembly – Everything Must Perish [Electromix]
  • Fluke – Absurd
  • Bent – The Waters Deep

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Music for the Masses 32 – 16 February 2005

Always keen to try new features on the show, the Spring term had seen my try out the Unsigned Act feature, where I would try to give a new or unsigned artist a bit of free airtime, with no strings attached (well, except they had to be good). In the end, it was a bit of a failure, as pretty much everyone who showed an interest failed to submit anything on time. One of the few exceptions was Blue Swan, whom we also covered here on the blog.

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Show 32: Wed 16 Feb 2005, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Faithless.

  • BT – Love, Peace and Grease
  • Conjure One – Centre of the Sun (29 Palms Remix)
  • Dave Gahan – I Need You
  • Mirwais – Naïve Song
  • Leftfield – Afro-Left
  • Faithless – Don’t Leave
  • Bomb the Bass – Winter in July
  • Echoboy – Lately Lonely
  • Groove Armada – At the River (Live)
  • Blue Swan – Black Widow [Unsigned Act]
  • Jollymusic feat. Erlend Øye – Talco Uno
  • Faithless feat. Dido – One Step Too Far
  • Electribe 101 – Talkin’ with Myself 98 (Beloved Mix)
  • Vic Twenty – Sugar Me
  • Moby – Left Me Up
  • Étienne de Crécy – Am I Wrong?
  • Yazoo – Don’t Go
  • Faithless – Mass Destruction
  • Deep Dish – Stranded
  • Goldfrapp – Utopia

Music for the Masses 26 – 15 November 2004

The second Monday evening show saw the station’s webcam working for the first time in 2004, which therefore meant me (right) and my special guest Carl (left) spent much of the show trying to get ourselves seen on the internets.

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Show 26: Mon 15 Nov 2004, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Saint Etienne.

  • Daft Punk – Aerodynamic
  • Chicane – Saltwater
  • Conjure One – Sleep
  • Mory Kante – Yeke Yeke (Hardfloor Mix)
  • Zero 7 – I Have Seen
  • Madonna – Nobody’s Perfect
  • Saint Etienne – Who Do You Think You Are?
  • Front Line Assembly – Everything Must Perish
  • William Orbit – Barber’s Adagio for Strings (Ferry Corsten Remix)
  • BT – Return to Lostwithiel
  • Sylver – Turn the Tide
  • Recoil – Jezebel
  • Moby – Run On
  • Saint Etienne – The Bad Photographer
  • X-Press 2 feat. Dieter Meier – I Want You Back
  • Hal feat. Gillian Anderson – Extremis
  • Zombie Nation – Kernkraft 400
  • Sohodolls – Prince Harry
  • Apollo 440 – Heart Go Boom
  • The Beloved – Sweet Harmony
  • Orbital feat. David Gray – Illuminate
  • Saint Etienne – Amateur
  • Giorgio Moroder – Chase (Jam & Spoon Remix)

Various Artists – Tomb Raider

Finally! A film soundtrack to review where I’ve actually seen the associated film. Not that I actually remember it in the slightest.

But the soundtrack begins with a special mix of Elevation by U2, who always leave me with slightly mixed feelings. So this manages to be at the same time both one of their less good tracks and one of their better ones – it’s a good pop song, but ultimately it just falls a bit flat.

Then industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails turn up with Deep, which is probably very fitting, and not entirely unpleasant, but ultimately it’s nothing particularly amazing. Third come The Chemical Brothers, always enjoyable but not always quite as interesting as their reputation might suggest, sounding very like themselves with Galaxy Bounce.

The first half of this CD isn’t unduly interesting – Missy Elliott and Nelly Furtado do their none-too-interesting collaborative version of Get UR Freak On, with a lot of talking, noodling, and general repetition; Outkast turn up for one of their less interesting moments with Speedballin’ and even Moby is far from being at his best with Ain’t Never Learned.

BT picks things up eventually at track seven with The Revolution, which, while it does sound a lot like BT, is at least a good track, and it gets better after that with an exclusive mix of the brilliant – and entirely apt for the Tomb Raider franchise – Terra Firma by Delerium.

If you never saw the slightly disturbing video for Basement Jaxx‘s Where’s Your Head At, then that’s perhaps no bad thing, because it seems to be indelibly marked in my mind now, but the song still sounds good even now, over a decade after its original release. Which is not so true of Fatboy Slim and Bootsie Collins‘s Illuminati, which is a worthy collaboration, but nothing special. The real theme of this album seems to be that artists haven’t had much opportunity to branch out from their typical sound, and this is a typical example.

Surprisingly, though, things really start to pick up towards the end of the album. Fluke‘s Absurd is a surprising and extremely worthwhile inclusion, as is Leftfield‘s fantastic Song of Life, from Leftism. Whoever compiled this collection was clearly keeping all the good stuff for the end.

Groove Armada‘s beautifully chilled out Edge Hill provides further evidence of this, and then I’d never heard Satellite by Bosco before listening to this compilation, but it turned out to be a great track. After that, even Oxide & Neutrino don’t sound too bad – and in fairness to them (I’m not sure why they deserve it), Devil’s Nightmare is probably their least bad moment.

Film soundtracks are, as it turns out, strange beasts, with selected tracks from all over the place which are only really justified in sitting side-by-side because of one particular film. And this soundtrack, while it started off pretty patchy, got extremely good towards the end, so is definitely worth finding the time for.

You can find Tomb Raider – Music from the Motion Picture at all major stores, such as here.

BT – Emotional Technology

Brian Transeau, or as he more pronounceably prefers to be known, BT, seems to have been around forever. From relatively humble beginnings in the mid-1990s trance world, he quickly worked his way up to becoming one of the best known names in American dance music.

The album we’re listening to this week is exactly ten years old, and it wasn’t long after that that I came across it in a little record shop somewhere halfway across the world, and was rather taken by the sound.

Emotional Technology opens with a little one-minute piece called The Meeting of a Hundred Yang, made up mainly of backwards vocal and instrument samples, and then before you know it this jumps into the first proper track Knowledge of Self. It’s got some great harsh industrial bass and backing noises, but apart from that it’s mainly a person saying, “If you want some, come and get some.”

Superfabulous comes next, something of an improvement, although actress Rose McGowan‘s vocal, although pleasant enough, isn’t anything particularly special unfortunately. What makes this album great is its production.

This really comes to the fore with the next track Simply Being Loved (Somnambulist), which apparently appears in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most vocal edits in a single song. You don’t really need to know that, because it’s a great song too, but it is a pretty good fact, and it makes for a really unusual song, peppered as it is with weird broken vocal sounds.

The longer and more traditional BT sound returns with The Force of Gravity, actually a slightly disappointing and overlong piece until the chorus finally turns up halfway through. “Do you cry your eyes to sleep?” asks vocalist JC Chasez. Well no actually, I don’t, because I don’t actually know what that means.

Dark Heart Dawning is an unassuming track to follow, with slide guitar and a gloomy vocal, but it’s actually another great song; one of the highlights of the album actually. I highlighted the production earlier, but when all the elements come together, with a strong piece of songwriting and intriguing production too, that’s when this album is truly special.

Subsequent tracks The Great Escape and PARIS are rather less remarkable, although still entirely pleasant, but Circles gets things going again. Ostensibly a catchy little pop/rock song, it has a great chorus, although the clarification of “Our love is cyclical: it moves in circles,” does seem slightly unnecessary.

Significantly, and perhaps unusually, this is also an album which increases in quality towards the end. The later weaker tracks Last Moment of Clarity and Communicate are better than those at the top of the album, although the general trend of making songs drag on for rather longer than they ought to does continue.

The penultimate track is Animals, another piece in the style of a rock ballad, which, perhaps surprisingly, is a style which suits BT well. Lyrically it’s not great (I think it’s mainly something about “pretty animals”), but it’s still a strong track, and another of my favourites on the album.

For the last track though, he pulls all his tricks out of the box – another dance-rock ballad, with intriguing production, and also a great lyric, The Only Constant is Change is probably the best track on the album, and is a wonderful way to close it out.

There are two different sleeves for this album – the American version (on iTunes below) features a weirdly smug photo of BT sitting on a bench, but if like me you find that slightly offputting, go for the international version instead. Emotional Technology may be a little hit-and-miss at times, but nevertheless it really is a fascinating album, and when it hits the right note, it really is very good.

You can find Emotional Technology and the rest of BT‘s back catalogue in all the usual places, including at iTunes here.

August 2013 for stowaways

Well it’s not even August yet, and already it’s time to prepare ourselves for what’s coming up. This month brings all sorts of exciting stuff, including:

  • Reviews of recent releases from VCMGDeath in Vegas and Kevin Pearce
  • Anniversaries of great oldies from KraftwerkBTDepeche Mode, and others, with a huge bunch of bonus oldies to follow in early September
  • Another exciting Playlist for stowaways, and all the usual live highlights, previews, charts, and everything else

One thing worth mentioning – you have now seen the last of the Friday freebies. When I started this blog just over a year ago, I was amazed to find that there was quite so much legal free stuff hanging out on the internet, just waiting to be downloaded. You didn’t agree though – of the 42 freebies I’ve shared with you, just a handful have ever been clicked on. That’s OK – as of this month I’ll be sharing a series of videos instead each month, starting in August with five oldies from out of the olden days!

The Opiates – Hollywood Under the Knife

If ever there was an album which was highly anticipated by me, it was this one. Back in 2008, Billie Ray Martin and Robert Solheim came together to record the Anatomy of a Plastic Girl EP, which includes four tracks of total synth perfection. The promise was always that they would revisit this and turn it into a full album. Somehow, this journey took three full years, and I think they did get a little lost en route. Or maybe not…

Martin has always been a slightly eccentric star, but one who has always been able to rely on a quite astonishing voice. The “dark electronic soul” of Electribe 101‘s Talking with Myself back in 1988 was synth-driven dance music with a strong soulful vocal, and her solo work in the 1990s was always characterised by a similar vein – Your Loving Arms (produced by BT apparently) was, if I remember correctly, promoted by quotes about how her voice somehow contained natural healing properties, and actually the gullible part of my mind does start to believe that when listening to her work.

The album opens in perfect style with the best of the new tracks Rainy Days and Saturdays, with throbbing synths and Billie Ray Martin‘s haunting vocal. Exceptional but older EP tracks I’m Not Simone Choule and Candy Coated Crime follow, taking us through to the true masterpiece of the album Anatomy of a Plastic Girl.

If there has ever been a better example of electronic pop perfection, then frankly I can’t think of it. To the sound of rhythmic throbbing synths Anatomy of a Plastic Girl tells a really quite evocative story of someone who has undergone rather too much cosmetic surgery. “For where the glitter lay, there is a battlefield,” Martin sings, somehow capturing a quite beautiful melancholy which you never really see as you watch the stars parade their silhouettes “down Rodeo Drive.” This track sits as close as it comfortably can to the centre of the album where it belongs, and if every track prior to it has been leading up to this point then it’s also fair to say that nothing will ever live up to it again.

The rest of the album is mainly newer, and brings us the slightly misguided Reality TV and Jalousies and Jealousies, and also another piece of EP perfection Oprah’s Book of the Month Club, Pt. 2. Sadly nothing seems to ever quite live up to the power of the 2008 material. You have to wonder slightly whether the EP was a bad idea in the first place – it contained four totally perfect tracks, and really nothing was ever going to live up to that. The album closes with a longer alternative version of Candy Coated Crime, which rather beautifully channels I Feel Love.

So half of Hollywood Under the Knife is an exceptionally good album. The rest is also good, but is somewhat overshadowed for me by what came before it. If you’ve not heard any of it, then I suspect you might enjoy the whole thing as a complete product a lot more than I’m able to. Or maybe the lengthy recording process genuinely has resulted in a slightly flawed and schizophrenic release. Either way, I’ll look forward to whatever The Opiates decide to do next, but let’s hope it’s slightly better coordinated next time!

Incidentally, from the remixes I’ve heard I’m not sure you need the double CD version which adds Hollywood Cuts (The Remixes), but maybe that’s what you’re looking for.

Hollywood Under the Knife can be found in all the usual places, such as iTunes, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.