Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act Two

Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act Two is, in effect, the second album by the brilliant Skywatchers project, which saw folk singer Kevin Pearce work with Sheffield’s I Monster to exquisite effect. This time, Pearce let Dean Honer, half of the duo, loose creating a remix album based on his second full-length solo release Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act One.

The detuned synth sounds of A Bell Tyke Fruit open proceedings, and you should quickly have a fairly clear idea of what’s going to happen on this album. The vocals have been processed with some kind of vocoder effect, and everything else has been thoroughly messed around with. It’s pleasant, in a weird kind of way, but it’s also very experimental indeed – it’s hard to imagine anybody actually enjoying this kind of thing.

For the most part, the tracks which follow, with elaborate titles such as Ant Wee Hermaphrodites, make for a fun one-time listen but offer relatively little more. Long-time Finnish arthouse collaborator HK119 turns up to repeat the vocals in A Species Fluke, and really adds very little in the process. The throbbing industrial beats make for a fun diversion though.

None of this is to say there’s anything particularly wrong with this album, if you’re able to accept it for what it is. Valiant Nudie is intriguing, Hotdogs by Turrets an unexpected highpoint with its unusually clear vocal and rippling synth line, and Zen Grief a curiously mediaeval sidestep.

The honour of best track on this album goes to Weevil Ven Bone, the most melodic piece on here. The vocal, again so heavily processed that the lyrics are completely unrecognisable, still holds enough emotion to drive the song onward, and the rhythmic backing, which in other circumstances might almost be described as cheesy, complements it perfectly.

Other tracks are harder to latch on to. Clank Gain Woes is noisy and dramatic, as is Wah Brain, but neither really grabs you. Leprous Wenches Vale does, with its huge throbbing synth backing, but there still isn’t a lot in the way of lyrics here, if that’s what you’re looking for. Three Ohm Owl and Edits close the album out in equally odd form – a fun deviation, but not something you would want to listen to every day, by any means.

So Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act Two is an oddity, and definitely not a follow-up to the lovely The Skywatchers Handbook, but it does keep you entertained at least, which can sometimes be a lot to ask for.

You can find this release on Dean Honer‘s Bandcamp page for just a fiver.


Three years of stowaways – the best of 2012

Coming up in just a couple of days is this blog’s third birthday! It started quietly back in 2012 with the video to Pet Shop Boysthen new single Winner before I disappeared off on holiday, and then started in earnest a couple of weeks later…

The main highlight of that first year for me has to be I Monster and Kevin Pearce‘s sadly overlooked Skywatchers project, and their lovely album The Skywatchers Handbook. It had come out originally a couple of years earlier, but I have never really managed to stop listening since then, and I reviewed it in mid-2012.

The year ended for me with a countdown of the best tracks of the year, with Saint Etienne high on the chart thanks to their exceptional comeback album Words and Music by Saint Etienne, but it was something I was inadvertently sent when I purchased that album that grabbed the top spot – the exceptional Longest Day by Soulsavers, with Dave Gahan on vocals.

Albums chart of the year 2014 for stowaways

Here are the top twenty albums of 2014 for stowaways:

  1. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  2. William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5
  3. Moby – Innocents
  4. Erasure – The Violet Flame
  5. B.E.F. – Music of Quality & Distinction, Vol. 3 – Dark
  6. I Monster / People Soup – I Monster Presents People Soup
  7. Napoleon – Magpies
  8. William Orbit – Orbit Symphonic
  9. DARKSIDE – Psychic
  10. Erasure – Snow Globe
  11. U2 – Songs of Innocence
  12. The Human League – Dare
  13. Röyksopp – Junior
  14. David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed
  15. Sparks – In Outer Space
  16. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us *
  17. Way Out West – We Love Machine
  18. Deep Dish – Junk Science
  19. Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole
  20. Maps – Turning the Mind

* Number 3 in 2013

Last year’s number 1, Pet Shop Boys‘ Electric, slips just outside this chart to number 21, while Röyksopp and Robyn‘s collaborative mini-album Do it Again grabs the number 1 spot on the EP chart.

See also: Albums chart of the year 2013 for stowaways, Albums chart of the year 2012 for stowaways.

Skywatchers – Poyekhali!

As you may recall, 2010 saw the appearance of an I Monster side-project of which I was inordinately fond, a collaboration with Kevin Pearce by the name of Skywatchers. The original ten-track album The Skywatchers Handbook, which I reviewed previously, came with no fewer than four bonus tracks on the digital release, which were reissued last year as part of an EP with a couple of extras on the end.

The EP was entitled Poyekhali! (“Off we go!”) which was apparently what Yuri Gagarin had to say for himself as he headed off on the first manned orbit of earth in 1961. As with the original album, this appeared to relatively little fanfare, but it’s definitely worth hearing.

These bonus tracks are, perhaps inevitably, not quite up to the standard of the original album. Tie You to Me is pleasant, but it’s not quite a fully fledged song. The Sirens of Scopuli is, but perhaps the lack of obsessiveness about space and the slightly less dreamy quality makes it stand out a little as something different.

The eight minute epic When Up Falls Down is more what Skywatchers are good at – it’s ethereal and dreamlike, mixing acoustic folk music with subtle electronics, full of atmosphere and just a little bit of obsessing about astronomy. It also packs something of a punch – after listening to it float by for five minutes or so, the drums suddenly appear, accompanied by a punchy synth arpeggio and a lot of bounce. It’s totally brilliant, and definitely the highlight of this collection.

The fourth track – the last of the bonuses on the original album – is a cover. Licked by Love was originally performed by The Penelope[s] and Morpheus on their 2009 album Priceless Concrete Echoes. Here, it’s one of the shortest of Skywatchers‘ tracks, and made for a pleasant closing track on The Skywatchers Handbook.

This release presented two new tracks – the miniature Night of the Crabs, which although perhaps not the most exciting thing this collaboration had ever yielded is definitely worth a listen, as is the closer Yours Sincerely, Freeman Lowell.

After just one album, Skywatchers seem, at least in their original form, to have ceased to be, which is truly a shame, as when they were at their best, they were truly exceptional. Let’s all collectively cross our fingers for another release very soon.

The EP Poyekhali! can, like all of their releases, be downloaded for a modest fee from their Bandcamp page here.

Chart for stowaways – 1 March 2014

Let’s jump forward a couple of weeks for the top ten singles:

  1. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Running to the Sea
  2. Depeche Mode – Soothe My Soul
  3. I Monster / People Soup – Devils on Horseback
  4. Goldfrapp – Yes Sir
  5. Madness feat. Ian Dury – Drip Fed Fred
  6. U2 – Invisible
  7. Depeche Mode – I Feel Loved
  8. Napoleon – You Could ❤ This
  9. Kevin Pearce – Weevil Ven Bone
  10. I Monster / People Soup – Flavours

Chart for stowaways – 8 February 2014

The top ten singles:

  1. Röyksopp – Running to the Sea
  2. I Monster – Devils on Horseback
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Winner
  4. Depeche Mode – Soothe My Soul
  5. Napoleon – You Could ❤ This
  6. Goldfrapp – Yes Sir
  7. Way Out West – Surrender
  8. Deep Dish – Summer’s Over
  9. Kevin Pearce – Weevil Ven Bone
  10. Depeche Mode – Heaven

Meanwhile Napoleon hold onto the top of the album charts for yet another week.

Chart for stowaways – 1 February 2014

Here are this week’s albums:

  1. Napoleon – Magpies
  2. I Monster / People Soup – I Monster Presents People Soup
  3. Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole
  4. Deep Dish – Junk Science
  5. Way Out West – We Love Machine
  6. Röyksopp – Junior
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  8. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
  9. Marsheaux – Inhale
  10. Karl Bartos – Off the Record

Apart from Napoleon holding on to the top spot for yet another week, this week’s chart reads a little like a Best Of 2013, which is all very exciting.

Chart for stowaways – 18 January 2014

As we stealthily skip a couple of weeks to try and catch up, here are the albums:

  1. Napoleon – Magpies
  2. Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole
  3. Way Out West – We Love Machine
  4. I Monster – I Monster Presents People Soup
  5. Deep Dish – Junk Science
  6. Télépopmusik – Angel Milk
  7. Client – Command
  8. William Orbit – Pieces in a Modern Style
  9. I Monster – Swarf
  10. Skywatchers – Poyekhali!

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

Kevin Pearce – Pocket Handkerchief Lane

In 2010, some or all of Sheffield musical geniuses I Monster teamed up with folk singer Kevin Pearce for one of the best projects of recent years, Skywatchers. I was completely blown away by their album The Skywatchers Handbook, and obsessively looked forward to the follow-up.

Three years on, and it still hasn’t come, but what we do have isn’t far off – for his debut solo album Pocket Handkerchief Lane in 2011, Pearce elected to work with I Monster again as his producers, meaning that this is far from the pure folk music that you may have been expecting.

The first track is Get By, a curiously throbbing but laid back song, and a very sweet song indeed. The slightly grungy middle section is about as dark as things get on the whole album actually.

Pearce has a wonderfully expressive vocal style, which on the Skywatchers album leant a haunting quality to the space and science fiction-obsessed music. Here, stripped of the most inhuman vocal effects, the sound is a little more down to earth.

This doesn’t always work in its favour unfortunately – tracks such as Older Times and Turn Me to Ice are perhaps a little more pedestrian than they deserve to be. Pleasant, of course, but also lacking the punch of which Kevin Pearce has shown himself capable.

Don’t Fall Down is a return to form, with another ethereal vocal over a rather dramatic guitar-driven base, and the middle track Waste is one of my favourites on the whole album, again full of emotion and spirit.

Later tracks Burning Summer Sun and Don’t Tell My Heart are similarly powerful, the former driven by the repeated line “I don’t want to be alone,” and an almost cheerful guitar rhythm. The latter ends with a distinctly premature fade, but then turns into Vultures, which with its electro bassline is definitely one of the best tracks on the album.

The last track is another fine moment – Last Blow Out. Again, somehow Pearce’s vocal does seem to work better when backed with multi-instrumentation rather than just his guitar, or perhaps that’s just my prejudice. But the rhythm and backing on this track really make it a rather powerful closer.

By the end, it’s actually pretty surprising that this whole album has only lasted a little over half an hour – it’s a very easy listen, full of emotion and clever lyrics, and it’s not even remotely offensive. If anything, it is perhaps a little forgettable in places, but the better moments more than make up for the weaker ones.

I’ll apologise for the continual comparisons, but The Skywatchers Handbook this is not. But Pocket Handkerchief Lane is still a very good album, sitting in its weird place on the cusp of folk and electronic music.

The best place to find Pocket Handkerchief Lane is on the artist’s own page on Bandcamp.