Greatest Hits – Covid Edition

I’m all too aware that there haven’t been a lot of new reviews around here lately – sorry for that. For now, with the lockdown firmly in place, let’s roll back to some of the reviews from the last couple of years that you might have missed!

Chart for stowaways – 14 September 2019

Some interesting oldies reappearing this month…

  1. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  2. Kylie Minogue – Step Back In Time – The Definitive
  3. Erasure – Wild!
  4. Lightning Seeds – Jollification
  5. The Beloved – Single File
  6. Moby – Last Night
  7. Brian Eno – Apollo – Atmospheres And Soundtracks
  8. Camouflage – Relocated
  9. Client – City
  10. Camouflage – Sensor

Greatest Hits – Vol. 9

Every so often when things are quiet, I like to take a bit of a breather and highlight some of the reviews you might have missed in recent times. Here’s another selection:

  • The Avalanches – Since I Left You
  • Camouflage – Spice Crackers
  • Enigma – MCMXC a.D.
  • Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain
  • Gotan Project – Lunático
  • Kraftwerk – Autobahn
  • Pet Shop Boys – Please
  • Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
  • Yello – Baby
  • Various Artists – Metropolis

Read and enjoy!

Camouflage – Relocated

German synthpop act Camouflage may have spent much of the late 1980s and early 1990s imitating a selection of your other synthpop acts, but by 2006 they definitely had a sound of their own. Relocated was their seventh album, and it’s probably fair to say that it was their most mature to date.

In general, it takes a similar form to the preceding album Sensor. After Memory, a short instrumental, it launches in earnest with We Are Lovers, which probably should have been a single but definitely wasn’t. Ultimately, as with much of Camouflage‘s output, it comes across as a bit vacuous, but it’s still pretty good. First single Motif Sky takes a similar form – you can see why they picked it as a single, but what on earth does any of it mean?

What Relocated does have going for it is quite an unusual sound and rhythm, and when they let the songs take their own form, that can be pretty effective. Real Thing, for example, is completely unlike anything that anybody else was releasing at this time (and quite possibly since), and therefore easily stands out.

By 2006, the more abstract soft synths such as Absynth were well established, and had started to make headway into the world of music, and Passing By in particular sounds heavily influenced by them, with its churning bass part and heavy filters. There are also strong rock influences, which show their face particularly on Confusion, perhaps the one track on here that seems to be screaming out for some guitars, although of course it sounds no worse for not having them.

A guitar – albeit an acoustic one – does turn up for The Perfect Key, and gives Camouflage the chance to demonstrate that after a decade and a half of making music, they’re actually pretty competent songwriters. As always, the lyrics have suffered a little by being in the wrong language (I’ve never really understood why German bands don’t write more of their songs in their mother tongue), but it’s generally pretty strong.

Another short instrumental Stream gently guides us through to Dreaming, another piece which feels as though it might benefit from some guitar work. It makes for a slightly odd sound, but it does work.

If this album has any real failing, it’s that it has too many tracks – we’ve still only had one of the three singles by this stage, and when the third, The Pleasure Remains, turns up, you’re starting to feel as though this album has been going on for quite a long time. It’s another good song though – again, this is rock-flavoured synthpop with a distinct Teutonic leaning, and that’s a pretty good sound to have.

On it goes. The pleasantly choral Bitter Taste leads to guitar-driven (finally!) second single Something Wrong, and another intrumental, Light. Finally, we get the best track on here, the adorably endless How Do You Feel? Which would have been a great place to end proceedings, but at this stage in their career Camouflage appear to have been unable to just say stop – there are actually hidden tracks at both ends of this album, and Last Contact, tucked away right at the end, is a particularly long one.

But apart from needing a bit of editing here and there, Relocated is a very strong album, particularly for so late in their career. Camouflage have a lot to be proud of, but I wonder if this album might in fact be their best?

Import editions of Relocated are widely available – try here for starters.

The Stowaway Awards 2016

Here are the winners of this year’s Stowaways:

Best Track

As announced over the New Year, the winner of this year’s Best Track award was New Order feat. Elly Jackson, with Tutti Frutti.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • Camouflage – Greyscale
  • Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  • Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  • Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  • Little Boots – Working Girl
  • Marsheaux – A Broken Frame
  • MG – MG
  • Roísín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  • New Order – Music Complete

The winner is New Order!

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – The Virgin Suicides
  • Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  • Erasure – Always – The Very Best Of
  • Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded
  • Faithless – Faithless 2.0

With an exceptional selection of b-sides, mixes, and rarities, the winner is Everything But The Girl, for the special edition of Walking Wounded.

Best Video

  • Étienne de Crécy – Hashtag My Ass
  • Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  • Hot Chip – Huarache Lights
  • Leftfield & Sleaford Mods – Head and Shoulders
  • Little Boots – Better in the Morning

The winner is Leftfield.

Best Artist

  • Camouflage
  • Sarah Cracknell
  • Hot Chip
  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Leftfield
  • Little Boots
  • Marsheaux
  • Roísín Murphy
  • New Order
  • Soulsavers

Winner: Hot Chip.

Best Live Act

Winner: Little Boots.

Best Ambient Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre and Lang Lang, for The Train and the River.

Best Remix

Winner: Röyksopp, for The Presets‘ remix of I Had This Thing.

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Winner: Étienne de Crécy.

Outstanding Contribution

  • Erasure
  • Everything But The Girl
  • Hot Chip
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Erasure.

 

Albums chart of the year 2015 for stowaways

It gives us great pleasure to unveil the top albums of 2015! Here’s the chart:

  1. New Order – Music Complete
  2. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  3. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  4. Little Boots – Working Girl
  5. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five [released 2014]
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
  8. MG – MG
  9. Erlend Øye – Legao [released 2014]
  10. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End [number 1 of 2014]
  11. Étienne de Crécy – Super Discount 3
  12. Pink Floyd – The Endless River [released 2014]
  13. Camouflage – Greyscale
  14. Shit Robot – We Got a Love [released 2014]
  15. MG – MG EP
  16. The Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
  17. Björk – Vulnicura
  18. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses [released 1989]
  19. Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  20. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon [released 1973]

Deepest commiserations to Erasure and Madonna, who were only just outside of the top twenty this year! Better luck in 2016!

Singles chart of the year 2015 for stowaways

Time now to announce the top singles of 2015 on the Chart for stowaways:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (I)
  2. Röyksopp – I Had This Thing [number 46 in 2014]
  3. MG – Europa Hymn
  4. Little Boots – Working Girl
  5. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  6. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  7. Étienne de Crécy – Hashtag My Ass
  8. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  9. The Beloved – Love to Love
  10. Röyksopp – Sordid Affair [number 36 in 2014]

Here are some highlights from outside the top ten:

  • 11. Moderat – Bad Kingdom
  • 15. Hot Chip – Move with Me
  • 18. Marsheaux – See You
  • 24. Leftfield – Bad Radio
  • 26. Sarah Cracknell – Nothing Left to Talk About
  • 29. Róisín Murphy – Exploitation
  • 30. Camouflage – Shine
  • 38. Shit Robot – Do That Dance
  • 44. Lean Jean-Marie – Bring it On
  • 50. Röyksopp – Running to the Sea [number 1 in 2014]

The Stowaway Awards 2016 – Nominations

At the beginning of the year, it’s always time to celebrate the best of the previous one, and so we enter the latest season of awards. We’ll look at the nominations for this year’s BRIT Awards next week, but first, more importantly, here’s a selection of the nominees for the 2016 Stowaway Awards.

Best Album

  • Camouflage – Greyscale
  • Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – Angels & Ghosts
  • Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  • Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  • Little Boots – Working Girl
  • Marsheaux – A Broken Frame
  • MG – MG
  • Roísín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  • New Order – Music Complete

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – The Virgin Suicides
  • Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  • Erasure – Always – The Very Best Of
  • Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded
  • Faithless – Faithless 2.0

Best Video

  • Étienne de Crécy – Hashtag My Ass
  • Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  • Hot Chip – Huarache Lights
  • Leftfield & Sleaford Mods – Head and Shoulders
  • Little Boots – Better in the Morning

Best Artist

  • Camouflage
  • Sarah Cracknell
  • Hot Chip
  • Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Leftfield
  • Little Boots
  • Marsheaux
  • Roísín Murphy
  • New Order
  • Soulsavers

Outstanding Contribution

  • Erasure
  • Everything But The Girl
  • Hot Chip
  • Leftfield
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

We’ll find out the winners in a few weeks’ time!

Chart for stowaways – 29 August 2015

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  2. Little Boots – Working Girl
  3. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  4. Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  5. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  6. Moderat – II
  7. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  8. MG – MG
  9. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  10. Camouflage – Greyscale

Camouflage – Spice Crackers

It’s probably fair to say that however much you like them, Camouflage have suffered from a bit of an identity crisis over the years. From their early days trying to sound as much as possible like Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, their sound did eventually mature into something special and unique, but it did take a while.

On Spice Crackers, their humour is evident from the opening title track, which includes samples from Wallace and Gromit and Crackerjack. This is an album about interstellar travel and evolution, something of a musical tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so you do have to wonder slightly what the title has to do with anything. But why not?

Then comes the single X-Ray, which in its album form is a little tame compared to the manic single version. Spice Crackers was the fifth full-length album for Camouflage, released in 1995, and at this time having a single version remixed by some big name that sounded nothing like the original was all the rage. Sometimes, as in this instance, it worked in their favour. The album version is good, but the single is excellent.

Kraft, also a single, is extremely good. The title is German for “power”, by the way, just in case you were thinking about cheese, and knowing that is key to understanding this track – the whole thing is performed trilingually (if that’s even a word) in English, French, and German. It’s unique, serene, and truly brilliant.

There’s a short interlude for Electronic Music, but clearly Camouflage wanted to get all the singles out of the way as quickly as possible, so it’s the lead single Bad News which comes next. It’s a bit manic, running at maybe 20 or 30 bpm too fast to really be comfortable, but it’s a great song.

Days Run Wild follows, with some curiously synthesized East Asian sounds in the background. Spice Crackers is undoubtedly a concept album, but it’s not always easy to guess quite what the concept is. This particular theme continues with the curiously named A Place in China (Heaven’s Not).

After another short instrumental, another bizarre title follows with Funky Service (What Do You Want to Drink?) There’s clearly some kind of in-joke going on here, of which I’m not a part, but it’s a nice enough piece anyway.

Ultimately, when Camouflage find their sound, they can be very good, and Back to Heaven is a fine example of this. It’s a great piece of electronic music, with a very strong vocal, and a good melody line, which is really all you can ask for.

But as Spice Crackers continues, it seems to become more abstract. Je Suis le Dieu is a very odd almost-instrumental piece, and is followed by Ronda’s Trigger, which is great – in fact it’s one of the best tracks on here, but it is still a little bit incomprehensible.

The lovely closing track Spacetrain follows another short instrumental, and over another pleasant eight minutes or so, brings the album to its end. Spice Crackers is a difficult album – in many ways it feels as though Camouflage were still learning their Kraft, if you’ll pardon the pun. But it’s also very enjoyable, and difficult not to recommend.

The 2009 essential double CD reissue of Spice Crackers no longer seems to be in print, so go for this version, which should still be widely available.