Marsheaux – E-bay Queen

Marsheaux are, for me, fascinatingly enigmatic. They’re a Greek female duo, who I really know nothing about. Their debut E-bay Queen was released fifteen years ago this week, and it’s really hard to know what to make of it. It encourages you, somehow, to just close your eyes and enjoy it at face value – and that can only ever be a good thing.

It opens with M.A.R.S.H.E.A.U.X., the beautifully squawky band manifesto. Apart from the eponymous initials, it’s a thumping electro instrumental, with some great acid noises that appear halfway through. You would not, I think, buy an album just for this, and with that in mind, it’s confusing that anybody bought this in the first place, because there weren’t any singles either, but it’s definitely good.

It isn’t until Flash Lights that things really start to make sense. We know now, of course, that this isn’t Marsheaux‘s finest work, but it’s still enough to hook you in as a listener, and even if the “follow the tits” instruction in the lyrics is somewhat crass, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

And it keeps getting better – for the first time, Shake Me is a track that quickly shows itself to be brilliant. With its catchy chorus and rippling synth lines, this nods sweetly to the past without actually being retro, and yet it isn’t exactly contemporary either. This is music for uncomfortable and awkward misfits, the world over. Which, by the way, is very definitely a good thing.

So wouldn’t it be really clever if Marsheaux threw something contemporary and familiar in at this point, just to subvert the pattern the have built already? Something like, say, the Lightning Seeds‘s lovely Pure? So that’s what we get – a great song, given new life with a female vocal and gloriously “pure and simple” synth lines, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s a fantastic rendition of the song, and really deserved to be a huge hit by itself. If only it had ever been released as a single.

Play Boy keeps the run of great tracks going. It’s slower, and perhaps also a little darker, insofar as darkness ever really shows up on this album. It’s hard to define in a way – this is really a pure pop album, but it’s also slightly challenging, subversive pop – something that only comes as an import from Greece. Who knew that Greece had a strong music scene with its own synthpop artists? And with budgets to release items with packaging as beautiful as this, too?

Computer Love is, of course, a bit of a nod to the track of the same name that Kraftwerk debuted in 1981. While there’s little direct homage in the lyrics or sounds, and I’ve never seen them talk about it particularly openly, a lot of the sounds on this album seem to take inspiration from the Düsseldorf quartet – the focus is on tight, clear sounds, not broad pads or sweet, mellow atmospheres. Yet despite that, there’s a certain soft charm.

Tonight is one of my less favourite tracks on here: somehow the synth line is a bit too manic; the hand claps a little too heavily distributed; and for the first time it feels as though you’ve heard this all already. This is a consistent album, certainly, but that comes at a price of some tracks being a little too similar to one another at times. Then, of course, Marsheaux subvert their own form by covering the vocals with some crazy and unusual effects, and you start to wonder whether anything really makes sense any more.

The Game quickly picks things up again, though, with a brilliantly odd blip that doesn’t quite ever seem to be hitting its beat. It’s a lovely song, and possibly for the first time uses softer pad sounds to change the mood somewhat. They aren’t prominent, by any means, but this is a great song. Then comes Analyse, somewhat less subversive but every bit as much fun.

Ola Girizhoun is next, the only track to be sung in Greek. That’s a bit of a shame, really – they’re singing in English in order to make themselves seem more accessible to global audiences, and that absolutely works in their favour, but not without anonymising one of the things that makes them special – they aren’t native English speakers, and hearing them singing in their own language is a treat. Which makes it all the more interesting that this is actually a Chris & Cosey song, where Marsheaux have added their own lyrics. Work that one out.

Hands on Me is a lively piece with resonating synth sounds, but honestly a bit less actual melody than some of the earlier tracks. Then we’re onto the final track already – another cover, this time of the eternal instrumental Popcorn. This was, apparently, a huge radio hit in Greece at the time, and it’s a worthy cover, somehow just managing to stay on the right side of being extremely cheesy. It’s great, but at the same time hard to take very seriously. Maybe that’s a good thing, though – while lovely, and occasionally a little subversive, this seems to have been a pretty serious album up to now.

Five or six albums on, Marsheaux remain enigmatic, always taking unexpected steps. E-bay Queen, with its odd name and entirely unpredictable packaging, is a great debut. It has its weaker moments, but nothing that you could actually call a flaw – which is a very impressive way to kick off your career. But will we ever see them gracing the charts? It seems unlikely, somehow.

Your best option for hearing E-bay Queen is to find the mp3 download.

Marsheaux – Peeka Boo

Just a little over a decade ago, the second album from Greek synthpop duo Marsheaux was unleashed on the world. After the understated pop of E-Bay Queen (2004), it really came out of nowhere. If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to Marsheaux before, this is well worth tracking down.

It starts with some gentle synth murmurs, which grows a little to become Hanging On. By the chorus, it’s up there with some of the great electronic pop songs of history. Second track Wait No More is even better – it’s catchy, melancholic, and you could name hundreds of eighties acts who are being chanelled here.

There is, to use that awful term, a degree of “retro” here, and not just in the analogue synth sounds – the songs are a couple of decades behind schedule as well. But that’s far from a bad thing, and there’s still a freshness in the sounds and simple female vocals that make it stand out.

There are thirteen tracks on here, and with the perplexingly mis-spelt No Sence and the glorious cover of The Promise, it quickly cements itself as one of the finest synth albums of its era.

It’s worth a mention for the packaging, and ingenious although apparently ineffective marketing ploy, which unfolds into a large purple paper bag with eye holes, and instructions were provided by the record company to purchasers that they were to share photos of themselves with it on their head. Which is surely every bit as creative as anything anyone has come up with before.

What’s really surprising is that it doesn’t really get boring. It has its lower points, of course, but City of Lights leads to the fantastic Dream of a Disco – which absolutely should have been a huge hit single – and you realise you’re pretty much half way through the album already.

What a Lovely Surprise is good too, although quite what the relevance of the line about “fairies do not exist” might be is a bit of a mystery. But there are enough songs on here that you do start to forget which is which after a while. Home and What You Don’t Like are great, but Love Under Pressure is the one later track that really stands out, with its grimy disco vibe (yes, I said “vibe”).

Then comes People’s Mind, which might have been a b-side if there had actually been any singles, perhaps on the back of the next track, a great cover version of New Order‘s Regret. It’s not especially new, or different, but if nothing else it’s a worthwhile reminder that it’s a great pop song.

The last track is Heaven, full of subdued drum sounds and low pads. It’s an entirely suitable closing track to a brilliant album. The only downside now, ten years on, is the knowledge that little Marsheaux has done since gets anywhere close to being this good. But if you’re looking for that one synthpop album full of great pop songs and maybe some Mediterranean charm (don’t laugh – you might be) this is definitely it.

You can find Peeka Boo in a double-pack with debut album E-Bay Queen, still widely available.

Retro chart for stowaways – 14 April 2007

These are the top ten albums from nine years ago this week:

  1. Client – Heartland
  2. Air – Pocket Symphony
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Téo & Téa
  4. Onetwo – Instead
  5. Marsheaux – Peeka Boo
  6. Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory
  7. Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods
  8. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  9. Moby – Go – The Very Best of Moby
  10. Faithless – To All New Arrivals

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.

 

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!