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

Laurie Mayer – Black Lining

To tell the truth, I don’t know a lot about Laurie Mayer. She seems to turn up as one of the creative forces behind a lot of William Orbit‘s projects, right back to the Torch Song albums of the 1980s. After about two decades of hiding in the background, 2006 saw her release her first (and, to date, only) solo album Black Lining. It came out mere months after Orbit’s Hello Waveforms, and has some intriguingly common roots, but is also something quite unique.

Black Lining, with its sublime wood-nymph (or whatever that’s supposed to be) artwork opens with the softly jazz-piano inspired Flung. Describing it is difficult, and even that sentence slightly does it a disservice – as we all know, bad jazz can be overwrought, messy and irritating, whereas this is chilled-out and sublime. But there’s something about the rhythmic style of this piece that does remind you a little of the genre.

Low Floating Territory is one of the lovelier pieces on here, drifting gently for nearly seven minutes, and carrying you along with it like a leaf on the breeze. Sometimes music can influence the listener very deeply, and look what this CD just made me write. This is very special indeed, but it may compromise your editorial judgement somewhat.

After a while, the pieces start to drift past so gently that you stop noticing. The sweet choral harmonies of Breathe, You Theomorph, and then the reverberant synth lines of title track Black Lining. The more experimental Thundercloud still doesn’t really storm its way across the sky, but it does seem to hover threateningly.

Then comes one of the more fascinating moments, Jagged Rain, later released as the one single from this album. It comes across as a slowed-down and more mellow version of Surfin, from Hello Waveforms – but without any writer credits on this release, it’s impossible to know for sure whether it happened that way round or whether this one in fact came first.

The main part of the album draws gently towards its close with the troubled Never Will I Leave You, and finally the subdued string piece Leviticus. Just eight lovely pieces of music – probably about all that’s needed here. Except that’s not quite it – there are also two “variations”: Low Floating Variation and Flung Variation. Both are sleepier renditions of the earlier tracks, bringing out different aspects and hiding others.

Across the entire hour or so of music, Black Lining is seductively soft, dreamy, and sweet. It may not – with the possible exception of the title track – have the catchy pop hits you might normally look for, but it’s well worth having on the shelf for times when you need something a little quieter.

The original CD release, with its exceptional artwork, is unfortunately no longer available, and the 2012 remaster which is still available has a vastly second-rate replacement. But it’s probably not about that – you can find the remaster here.

William Orbit – Hello Waveforms

William Orbit traditionally unleashes his albums in fits and spurts, and so it was a five-year wait between 2000’s seminal Pieces in a Modern Style and the follow-up Hello Waveforms. It finally appeared a decade ago this week, which seems a good excuse to go back and check it out again.

Orbit has always been a dab hand with slower, softer pieces, as he proves with the lovely portamento-driven Sea Green, which opens the album. The rest of the album might well end up being a touch livelier than this, but if the whole thing were in this mold, that would definitely be no bad thing. But while Sea Green could have easily fitted on one of his many Strange Cargo albums, second track Humming Chorus is a different matter. It’s still soft and gentle, but doesn’t quite have the same mood. In many ways this track owes more to the classical reinvention project that preceded this one.

For the most part, instrumentals are the order of the day here, as the fantastic Surfin proves. It was subsequently recreated in even softer fashion by Orbit’s long-term collaborator Laurie Mayer on her solo album Black Lining, but the Hello Waveforms version soars above, and is by far the best track on here. There’s just something about the soft and gentle synth work that really gets under your skin.

The softer, almost Indian-sounding You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers comes next, serving ultimately only to build up to the magnificent Spiral, featuring Sugababes on vocals, and proving that if nothing else, they are definitely extremely good at singing.

The second half of Hello Waveforms is, it’s fair to say, just a touch less remarkable, although you wouldn’t think so from the album’s centrepiece, the adorable Who Owns the Octopus. Maybe with so much high calibre material coming before, some of these later tracks just feel a little less special than they actually are, and Bubble Universe certainly fits nicely – but it also isn’t one that you’ll be humming for weeks after listening.

Other later moments are more striking, such as Fragmosia and the intensely lovely choral piece They Live in the Sky, but other songs such as Firebrand and Colours from Nowhere fit better into the “nice” category than the “excellent” one. Ultimately it’s better to view them as part of the wider soundscape of the album, rather than potential hit singles in their own right.

But Hello Waveforms is, for the most part, quite exceptional. Six years after his most successful work, William Orbit returned with something quite different, not straying too far from his roots, but at the same time remaining as inventive and adventurous as ever. In the end, you have to wonder whether this might be his best work to date.

You can still find Hello Waveforms at all major retailers, such as this one.

William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5

You would have to be living on another planet if you didn’t get excited about William Orbit‘s latest album. The fifth in his ongoing Strange Cargo series which started 25 years earlier with a bizarre mix of acoustic guitar and ambient synthesiser, and continues to this day with enormous rippling synths, and heavy helpings of Laurie Mayer and Beth Orton.

Without fail, all the albums in the series open with something exceptional, and Strange Cargo 5 opens with the fantastic On Wings. Characteristically for Orbit, this is a beautifully bubbly synth-driven instrumental, which grabs you by the hair and seems as though it’s going to go on forever.

It doesn’t and the gentler Big Country follows, with an acoustic lead and soft pads, and then Just a Night or Two, a more uptempo pop-like piece which feels as though it deserves a vocal performance from one of Orbit’s many collaborators over the top.

Maybe it’s just time for some vocals, because the next song is I Paint What I See, with William Orbit‘s long-time collaborator Beth Orton. As you might expect from the team who brought you Water from a Vine Leaf back in 1993, it’s a delicious mix of spoken vocals and warm electronics, and is easily the best track on this album. It’s hard to see into the infinite with all this rain, apparently.

It’s difficult to complain when Orbit has released the album entirely for free, but he has done the old trick of squeezing a few too many tracks onto here – sixteen is definitely overkill, and there are bound to be some less exciting moments among them. NE1 is one of these, an experimental acid piece that doesn’t really go anywhere in particular.

The instrumental Large Hadron Love Collider is next, a pleasant uptempo synth track which paves the way for Lode Star, a nice but ultimately forgettable piece. This is, it seems, an album to be regarded as a whole rather than the sum of its individual parts.

The collaborations with Laurie Mayer come thick and fast by the middle of the album, starting with the lovely My Friend Morpheus, which wafts wonderfully from soft humming vocals to acoustic ripples, to synth-based explorations. Then The Diver, a haunting piece which is reminiscent of Mayer’s solo album Silver Lining, creates a perfect centrepiece to the album. Poppies is similarly dark and beautiful.

The pace picks up again with the rippling Love This Town. That’s an adjective you find yourself using a lot with William Orbit – think of the work he did with All Saints back in the 1990s and you’ll realise he’s long made a habit of it. That is not, by any means, a bad thing. Recall and Milky Way Station follow, two more very sweet tracks, and before you know it the album is nearly over.

Willow is the track that brings everything together for me. It has the acoustic lead, the soft pad chords, and the beautiful melody, which are the other key ingredients of Orbit’s musical formula. If you hadn’t realised by this point that Strange Cargo 5 is brilliant, you were probably never going to.

After that, Parade of Future Souls and The Changeling don’t really seem to add a huge amount, apart from to the general completeness of the album. It does have a couple too many tracks, but in general the fifth Strange Cargo album is every bit as good as its predecessors, and also a lot more free, so it’s well worth tracking down.

You can find MP3 and 24-bit WAV versions of Strange Cargo 5 on Soundcloud here.

Playlist for stowaways – Soundscapes

The fifth Playlist for stowaways is a tribute to the 1990s BBC Radio Derby show Soundscapes. Presented by Ashley Franklin until his removal from the station in February 2000, the show is fondly remembered by fans of electronic music who lived in the East Midlands over the era. Or perhaps it’s only me? Anyway, I put this little mixtape together with a selection of music that he did include, music that he would have included, and music that he should have included.

Ashley talks more about his ousting on his blog here.

This is MFS005, Soundscapes, and it can be listened to here.

  1. Banco de Gaia – Obsidian
  2. Andy Pickford – Lughnasad
  3. Asana – Re-embodiment
  4. Röyksopp – The Fear
  5. Paul Nagle – Shanghai Surprise
  6. The Orb – A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld
  7. Rick Kenton – Red Sky
  8. Moby – Heaven
  9. The Shamen – Xochipili’s Return
  10. Delerium – Amnesia
  11. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom (Part 5)
  12. Laurie Mayer – Low Floating Territory

William Orbit – Strange Cargo III

One thing I wanted to focus on this year was important anniversaries. This one, I hadn’t even particularly planned – in fact I only had to shift the post by a couple of weeks to hit it. For it was twenty years ago this week that William Orbit returned with his third Strange Cargo album.

After entering the world of music in the early eighties as a member of Torch Song, William Orbit‘s first solo album Orbit came out in early 1987, pleasant but curiously flavoured by 80s MOR. Later the same year, the first Strange Cargo album followed, full of ambient instrumentals, a genre in which Orbit seemed much more comfortable. Strange Cargo 2 came out in 1990, a little deeper than its predecessor, but slightly lacking the power that he would find for the third outing.

Strange Cargo III opens with the dulcet tones of Water from a Vine Leaf. You’ll have to pardon the cliché, but it’s true. Having carved out a soft, laid back style on the album’s two predecessors, Orbit achieved absolute perfection for the first time with this track, gently rippling with gentle synth sounds until nearly four minutes in, when folk singer Beth Orton finally turns up to narrate. Tracks as good as this turn up once every few years at best, and should really be enjoyed to the full.

In fact, it’s so good that you could easily forget about the rest of the album. The second track is the curiously atmospheric and dubby Into the ParadiseWilliam Orbit‘s main trademarks – burbling analogue synth arpeggios and heavy reverb effects – make their appearances, and before you know it the track is over.

This is, perhaps, the theme of this album. It’s so laid back in many cases, that it’s difficult to keep up with the tracks and to separate them from each other. Time to Get Wize brings another dub-inspired track, this time with some acid noises and a particularly excellent vocal from Divine BashimHarry Flowers is gentler still, punctuated by some beautiful piano work halfway through. A Touch of the Night is, like many of the tracks on the album, a return to his Torch Song roots, working again with Rico Conning.

The eerie and unnerving minor chords of The Story of Light make for a stand-out track halfway through the album. “Let your love shine down on me,” comes the vocal, again channelling the works of Torch Song (although strictly speaking the excellent Shine on Me wouldn’t be released until 1995, so maybe I’m just talking nonsense here).

Strange Cargo III is definitely the most mature of the original Strange Cargo trilogy. The packaging had evolved from a curious photomontage on the original album to a horribly dated pixellated desert image on the second volume to finally a strangely sexual oriental carving on the third. The sound, widely influenced by film music, the growing ambient scene of the early 1990s, and the sounds of dub and acid, was a marked evolution of its predecessors. Generally, it is probably fair to say that this was the first of Orbit’s truly “classic” albums.

The second half kicks off with Gringatcho Demento, for the first time again channelling the North American desert scenes of Strange Cargo 2, but also heavily covered by swathes of dub electronics. A Hazy Shade of Random is perhaps the gentlest track yet, again with bubbling synth noises, piano chords, and occasional reverberating percussion, a pattern continued with Best Friend, Paranoia.

The Monkey King sees another Torch Song reunion, featuring as it does the vocals of Laurie Mayer, warbling quietly in the background as is her wont. And Deus Ex Machina, more laid back than anything yet, softly warbles and pulses, and also defies description somewhat.

The final track, Water Babies, is a necessarily long reprise of Water from a Vine Leaf, bringing the album back to the beginning so that you could easily just put the whole thing on repeat and listen for hours. Strange Cargo III is by far the best of the original three in the series (although I think the anonymously released Strange Cargo Hinterland, which followed in 1995, is better still). But if nothing else, this is the album that brings you Water from a Vine Leaf, and less memorable though the rest may be, that alone should be reason enough to own a copy.

Strange Cargo III can be found on here.

Chart for stowaways – 13 October 2012

Well, you know what they say – the flame that burns twice as fast burns half as long. Or something. Which Pet Shop Boys have proved this week. After a completely immobile few weeks in charge of the charts, this week they finally tumble, throwing everyone else all over the place around them and leaving a very odd set of charts…

This week’s singles:

  1. Delerium – Monarch
  2. Réplica feat. Client – Sorry
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Leaving
  4. Metroland – Moscow Train
  5. VCMG – EP3 – Aftermaths
  6. Apollo 440 – Fuzzy Logic
  7. The Orb feat. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Ball of Fire
  8. Metroland – Inner City Transport
  9. The Sound of Arrows – M.A.G.I.C.
  10. Laurie Mayer – Jagged Rain EP

Meanwhile on the albums, Metroland hop back up to the top spot and Saint Etienne sneak up to number two thanks to the deluxe reissue of Tales from Turnpike House.