Random jukebox – I Monster

Here’s a great track from I Monster‘s Neveroddoreven, the lovely Heaven:

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I Monster – A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars

If you can handle a bit of insanity, life in I Monster‘s world must be rather fun. After some initial false starts with the absurdly wonderful debut album These Are Our Children (1999), from which came the 2001 hit Daydream in Blue, which grew into the initial Neveroddoreven album in 2002, which was then remixed and “remodelled” in 2004. So it wasn’t until 2009 that we finally saw a follow-up.

A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars is a complex offering, with strong hints of the absurdity and insanity that had peppered earlier releases, but also with a lot of musical maturity. It opens with the daft march of The Circus of Deaf, an amusingly humble title that references the early works of The Human League but takes it to another dimension entirely.

Lead single A Sucker for Your Sound follows, a beautiful song with a delightful vocal. It might not have been entirely apparent from the first track that in amongst the craziness, I Monster are entirely capable of exceptional music, but it should definitely be clear from this song. It’s every bit as good as anything on the preceding album.

There’s nothing really bad on here, but some of the tracks don’t stand out quite to the degree that you might have expected after Neveroddoreven. Goodbye Sun is one of the ones that struggles a little – it’s a nice song, and it has some fun lyrics and instrumentation – it just doesn’t quite grab you by the throat like some of their earlier tracks. In spite of including some fun impressions.

Cool Coconuts is similarly daft, a celebration of a tropical paradise in which bugs are parading up and down like the military. It’s soft and sweet, pleasant, and entirely silly, but somehow also pretty forgettable.

The same is not true of Lust for a Vampyr. When I Monster get things right, they write catchy songs with silly lyrics and pull in great vocalists, and then produce them in daft and unpredictable ways. Lust for a Vampyr is a great example of this – a catchy pop song about wanting to fall in love with a vampire, with some eccentric underground jazzy elements and Eastern European fiddle hidden in amongst the pop production. This is great.

Other tracks are less comprehensible, like Mr. Mallard. Fun, and delightfully silly, but difficult to fathom. But on the whole, A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars is a conflicted album, the mark perhaps of something that took a long time to come together, and maybe lost its way a couple of times en route. When it’s good, it’s exceptional, but a lot of it doesn’t quite get to that level, however reserved you try to be with your expectations. So it is with She’s Giving Me the I. It’s fun, and still infinitely better than most of the things on the charts, even back in 2009, but it just doesn’t quite seem to work as a song, unfortunately.

But for every pair of tracks that doesn’t quite work, there’s a pair that does. The hilariously named Escape from New Yorkshire and final single Dear John are both great. Yes, there’s a lot of jazz in the first of them, but if you grin and bear that, it’s a pretty good near-instrumental (there’s a bit of counting and a small amount of singing towards the end, but that’s pretty much it). Dear John is a delightfully silly song about an accountant reaching the end of his tether.

If this album was a bit odd already, from this point it just gets odder. First up is the catchy and very silly Inzects, full of processed insect vocal sounds, and that blends into Inzects 2 – The Mutations. If this were a film franchise, that would be a predictable move, but it isn’t – it’s an album, and that all seems a little surprising.

Time for something more sensible? Kind of – the next trio of tracks is subtitled the Sickly Suite, and opens with the lovely How Are You?, opening up a series of beautiful songs where the silliness seems to have been toned down a little. That merges disconcertingly into the sixties-inspired Out of the Shadows, another sweet piece with complex effects and a lovely vocal. Then Gone tells us about a killer – things never stay sweet for long around here.

The film analogy works well, actually – A Pod is Waiting is heavily science fiction-influenced, as it lists out people who are about to die and explains that they’re actually going to be put into some kind of pod instead. It’s still fun, and it’s still silly too.

So is the closing track, a robot cover version of Simply the Best, which works surprisingly well. It’s an appropriate closing track for an album that’s sometimes beautiful, always fun, and eternally silly.

It would be nice to have a more contemporary follow-up from I Monster, other than the intriguing prog rock side projects that have been turning up in recent years, but maybe they said everything they want to on that front back in the decade from 1999 to 2009. It’s a shame, though – while I’m not fully sure how much I like this album, and it may not be, um, The Best, it does have some very fine moments.

You can still find A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars from all major retailers.

Retro chart for stowaways – 9 September 2006

Here are the top albums from twelve years ago this week:

  1. Tiga – Sexor
  2. Hot Chip – The Warning
  3. Massive Attack – Collected
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
  5. Röyksopp – The Understanding
  6. I Monster – Neveroddoreven
  7. Laurie Mayer – Black Lining
  8. Fatboy Slim – Why Try Harder: The Greatest Hits
  9. Vic Twenty – Electrostalinist
  10. Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor

I Monster – Neveroddoreven

Just to make one thing clear before we get into this too deeply: I Monster are clearly certifiably insane. That’s pretty obvious from the intro to Some Thing’s Coming, in which a crowing cockerel gets hit on the head with a frying pan. Conventional really isn’t in their vocabulary.

When they get going, though, they really are rather good – inventive, clever, and very unusual, but also extremely good – Some Thing’s Coming turns out to be a great song, with a slightly grimy bass part and a rhythm that reminds you of the 1970s. Then the brilliant Daydream in Blue, their one and only hit single, in which they heavily channel Air, but do it so cleverly that you can hardly blame them.

I Monster had first appeared in the late 1990s, initially on a series of underground Sheffield compilations, and by the turn of the millennium had already released their debut, the now ultra-rare These Are Our Children (not to be confused with the track of the same name – more on that later).

Neveroddoreven first came out in 2003, fifteen years ago this week, with a very different track listing, although broadly the same collection of tracks – for the purposes of this review, we’ve stuck to the better-known 2004 reissue, but even that hides some secrets – rewind from the start of the first track on a compatible CD player, and you’ll find Cells hidden at the beginning, and Lucifer You Are a Devil at the end.

So next comes the Glamour Puss mix of single Hey Mrs., a glorious glam piece which should really have hit the top of the charts. As with most of the album, it is a bit unconventional, to say the least, but it’s also fantastic on every level. Then Everyone’s a Loser is a glorious song about the life of awkward people.

On any other album, by this stage, you would expect to find something a bit conventional, but here, even that is exceptional – I think the slower and more subdued Heaven might be my favourite track on here, and then Who is She? is entirely exceptional. Drawing heavily from a 1968 track called The Vengeance of She (Who Is She?) it comes together brilliantly.

Even the filler tracks are great – the short interlude A Scarecrow’s Tale is delightfully rustic, and carries us through to the curious electro-didgeridoo-blues of Stobart’s Blues. This is, for the first time, a slightly weaker track, but given the overall standard of this album, that was inevitable, and it’s hardly a bad thing. So, in fact, is The Backseat of My Car, now remodelled as Sticky Black Vinyl Mix, which somehow, while perfectly good, doesn’t quite seem to work.

But then we’re back to the perfection again – the song These Are Our Children (not, as I said earlier, to be confused with the album), is a beautifully dark ragga piece with children’s vocals. Then the more subdued Sunny Delights makes a late entry, full of sweet flutes and growling synthesisers.

Right at the end, you get the long version of The Blue Wrath, the daft jazzy piece that originally appeared in Shaun of the Dead. It’s a great closer for this album – completely ridiculous, of course, but also a lot of fun, and musically brilliant too.

So Neveroddoreven, with its palindromic title, is an exceptional album, however you look at it – and there’s a good chance that even if you know it already, you probably don’t know the hidden extra tracks quite as well. Well worth owning on CD, if you don’t already.

You can still find Neveroddoreven at all major retailers.

Retro chart for stowaways – 20 May 2006

While I’m still away on my holidays, here are the top 10 albums from eleven years ago:

  1. Massive Attack – Collected
  2. Goldfrapp – Supernature
  3. William Orbit – Hello Waveforms
  4. I Monster – Neveroddoreven
  5. Depeche Mode – Playing the Angel
  6. Madonna – Confessions on a Dance Floor
  7. Röyksopp – The Understanding
  8. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  9. Röyksopp – Röyksopp’s Night Out
  10. Sugababes – Taller in More Ways

Stowaway Awards 2017

Finally! We kick Awards Season off in earnest with the Important Announcement of the winners of the 2017 Stowaways.

Best Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre with Pet Shop Boys, for Brick England.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre, who had a particularly good year and stood a better chance of winning than most, with Oxygène 3.

Best Reissue / Compilation

The nominees:

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Winner: The Human League

Best Artist

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Best Live Act

Winner: Pet Shop Boys

Best Ambient Track

Nominated were:

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Winner: Delerium, for Ghost Requiem

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Potential winners included:

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Winner: Shit Robot

Best Newcomer

Winner: C Duncan

Innovation Award

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Outstanding Contribution

Could have been any of the following:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Delerium

That’s an unprecedented four out of ten for Jean-Michel Jarre. All being well, we’ll do the BRIT and Grammy Awards over the next couple of weeks.

Stowaway Awards 2017 – Nominations

Now for the moment that you have, of course, all been waiting for: the announcement of the nominees for the 2017 Stowaway Awards. As always in recent years, there will be exactly ten awards, one of which (Best Track) you know already from the countdown a couple of weeks ago. Here are five more key nominations!

Best Album

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Best Ambient Track

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Best Dance Act / Remixer

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Outstanding Contribution

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark