Retro chart for stowaways – 31 March 2007

Due to a whole bundle of personal things coming up, I need a bit more space to get the charts posted, so here’s a retro chart from 12 years ago this week:

  1. Air – Once Upon a Time
  2. Onetwo – Cloud Nine
  3. Tracey Thorn – It’s All True
  4. Client – Drive
  5. Client – Zerox Machine
  6. LCD Soundsystem – North American Scum
  7. Faithless – Bombs
  8. Client – Lights Go Out
  9. Eric Prydz Vs. Floyd – Proper Education
  10. CSS – Off the Hook

Retro chart for stowaways – 19 May 2007

These are the top ten singles from eleven years ago this week:

  1. Sohodolls – My Vampire
  2. Dragonette – I Get Around
  3. Groove Armada feat. Stush – Get Down
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Téo & Téa
  5. Client – Drive
  6. Onetwo – Cloud Nine
  7. Air – Once Upon a Time
  8. Faithless – Music Matters
  9. Erasure – I Could Fall in Love with You
  10. Client – Lights Go Out

Onetwo – Instead

In a parallel universe, Onetwo would have been an enormous electronic supergroup. The duo of Claudia Brücken, formerly of Propaganda, and Paul Humphreys from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and a collaboration with Martin L. Gore of Depeche Mode, really should have been enough alone to guarantee a couple of number one hits. But this is the twenty-first century, and anyone above the age of 25 who who keeps their clothes on is considered “cult”.

So Onetwo‘s brief career began in 2004, with an EP entitled Item, and three years later came the one and only album, Instead. It opens with the glorious two-part The Theory of Everything. A great introduction to the warm synth and simple vocals that characterise the duo, it is however somewhat overshadowed by Sequential, a beautifully evocative piece that must be one of the finest pop songs never to make the charts.

Home (Tonight) continues the theme, and while for the most part this is an album where the tracks work together to form something brilliant, rather than always trying to stand out on their own, there’s plenty to enjoy here too. Similarly Signals, one of just two tracks on here from the original 2004 EP, is another gentle and beautiful song.

The really unexpected moment comes with a cover of Pink Floyd‘s Have a Cigar, which works well and sounds great, but you are left wondering somewhat how on earth it came to be recorded and included here. There’s a certain logic when it mixes into another cover, this time of Cat Power‘s I Don’t Blame You, with Humphreys on lead vocals, a voice barely heard since, but just about recognisable from OMD‘s Souvenir.

Then comes Cloud Nine, definitely the best moment on here – in fact, it’s probably one of the finest songs of the decade, in spite of the opening “shalalalalala” from Brücken. Featuring the writing talents and guitar work of Martin L. Gore, somehow the chords and warm synth sounds come together perfectly. Also worth mentioning is that it features the synth work of friend of this blog Jon Russell, also known as Jonteknik.

If there was any doubt that Onetwo were in fact a synthpop supergroup, Andy McCluskey gets a writing credit on the lovely Anonymous, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a bit of an OMD feel to it, particularly in the chorus. Then Heaven has a bit of an end-of-album feel, even though there’s still plenty to come after it. There’s a pleasant ethereal other-worldliness to it, and while there’s not been anything particularly dark or violent up to this point, it still makes for a welcome change of pace.

It’s always nice to hear singers using their native language, and so it is with Kein Anschluß (which, interestingly, by 2007, was actually a misspelling). I suspect it’s partially intended as a nod to some of the duo’s influences from Brücken’s homeland, with its rhythmic electronic beats and almost Gregorian sounds. It’s easily one of the best songs on here.

After another downtempo moment with The Weakness in Me, you finally have to accept that it’s time for the closing track A Vision in the Sky, a sweet and memorable pop song with a gentle swing pattern and an enormous choral pad backing. This is entirely how this album should end – with something epic and unforgettable. If only it had sold a few more copies.

But ultimately Onetwo‘s downfall was that the seventeen year romantic partnership of Brücken and Humphreys meant an inevitable end to their combined musical career, but the 2006 reformation of the original line-up of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark had already put paid to most of Humphreys’s time commitments. So sadly, we’re left with just one album from Onetwo, completely forgotten but entirely brilliant, Instead.

You can still find Instead at all major retailers.

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

Introducing Jonteknik

A few weeks back, as you may recall, I put out a call for unsigned acts to get in touch. By way of a quick introduction, I don’t think it would be fair of me to put too much of my opinion in these pieces, as I’m not the kind of person who’s very good at making his mind up quickly, so they will be compiled primarily from information given to me by the artists.

Anyway, since he was the first to contact me, I decided it was only fair to start with Jonteknik, who has a new album out called Giants Under the Microscope.

Giants Under the Microscope

In a way it’s a bit of a mystery that Jonteknik is unsigned, actually, as he is no stranger to the music business. He started making music around 1988, and quickly picked up accolades from Music Technology magazine, The Mix, Melody Maker and Future Music. After a couple of singles in 1993, his major breakthrough came in 1996 when he met producer Pascal Gabriel, who introduced him to Claudia Brücken, with whom he would ultimately collaborate on the Onetwo project (which I’ll review here in full one of these days as it’s one of my favourite albums ever).

His first full solo album was Sounds from the Electronic Garden, released in 2009, from which we’ll listen to the Kraftwerk-inspired King of the Mountains in just a moment. Giants Under the Microscope is his new instrumental follow-up.

I asked Jon to gather together a quick “demo” of three tracks for us to share, so the first track we’ll listen to today is Manoeuvres:

It’s hard not to like this gentle beats-driven instrumental taken from the new album, but more compelling still is the beautiful northern imagery in the video, with its deserted roads and wind turbines.

Second up is King of the Mountains:

You’d be a fool if you didn’t spot the influence of Tour de France here, and as a tribute to the Düsseldorf pioneers and their musical importance, it’s excellent. I will add that as a cyclist myself I’m not sure this quite captures the spirit of the road in the way that Kraftwerk did, but that could just be the lack of “oooh” and “aaah” sounds.

Third for this set is his collaboration with Martin Philip Pride in Your Pocket:

Apparently Vince Clarke likes it, which is good enough for me. This one is pop, with slightly dark undertones in the background. A great and very varied trio, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Just for a fun bit of background, I compiled a few really obscure questions for all the acts featured in this series. Here are some highlights from the world of Jonteknik:

What’s your favourite synth, and why? 

Arturia Oberheim SEM-V soft synth, it has a brilliant fat sound and I find the arpegiator so infectious.

If I forced you to do an exclusive cover version, what would it be?

Electricity by OMD.

Nobody really listens to music any more. Discuss.

Life has become a full time job in itself. People seem to have left time to relax and chill so music becomes a soundtrack to doing ‘stuff’. I also think the advent of portable devices such as mobile phones and ipods have given music the job of helping to pass the time while on the move. You will also notice at gigs that more and more people are just talking to their mates, it is so infuriating! I just want to say “Shut up and listen to the music!”

It’s not all bad. Music is instantly accessible these days so there is more chance of us audiophiles being able to find new acts that we wouldn’t have discovered before, I’ve found online music magazines and blogs are great for the discovery of new music. Open your eyes and your ears will follow, rewarding your mind with new sonic adventures.

The latter, in particular, I thought was a rather wonderful response. Jon was actually kind enough to send me his full album too, and while it would be unfair to review it in full in this piece, I can tell you that I really enjoyed it. Highlights for me were Robot Music and Muckle Flugga.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard today, Jonteknik‘s Bandcamp page is here:

Claudia Brücken – Combined

By way of admission, I don’t really know a lot about Claudia Brücken, or actually most of the bands she performed with. I’ve owned for a long time (and adore) the Onetwo album, and I’d heard her collaborations with Andy Bell on his underwhelming solo debut Electric Blue. But it was only at the end of 2010, when the internet went (completely justifiably) totally crazy over her new single Thank You that I really pricked my ears up and paid attention.

Combined is one of a series of ZTT releases highlighting some of their finest acts, and it is totally brilliant, without a shadow of a doubt. Over the course of an hour, it takes you on a 27-year journey through Brücken’s career, via PropagandaActOnetwo, and a whole pile of solo tracks and collaborations.

The album opens with Propaganda‘s quite exceptional Dr. Mabuse (A Paranoid Fantasy) from 1984. It’s an unlikely pop hit, with its nod to the amazing and heavily influential Fritz Lang films, but it is an utterly brilliant track and a great album opener from the era when they were working heavily with Paul Morley out of I Love 1984Duel (1985) is probably better known, although it appears to have just missed out on a place in the UK top 20. Anyway, I think I’d heard it before, and it’s another great track.

By 1987’s Absolutely ImmunePropaganda had gone their separate ways, and Claudia was working with Thomas Leer under the name Act. Unfortunately for me Combined at this stage hits its one relatively low point, with a short string of forgettable hits from the late 80s and early 90s. Absolut[e] (1990) is a brief return to form which seems to slightly channel Kylie‘s PWL era, but the mind-blowing material stays on hold until just after the halfway point.

Onetwo‘s Inside album (2004) is one of the best synthpop albums of the last decade, and so it will no doubt get a full review at some stage in the future. The quite exceptional Martin L. Gore-penned Cloud Nine makes it onto Combined, as does a nicely freshened up version of Sequential.

New track and lead single Thank You is far and away the finest track on the album. Listening through to the album in order it’s not entirely clear to me how Brücken became the epitome of synthpop perfection, but somehow after 20 years of making music that is exactly what she had become.

The last few tracks perhaps go some of the way towards answering that question. Light the Way and her collaboration with Paul Rutherford, a cover of This is Not America are particular highlights, and suggest where the seeds of super-stardom may have first been sown.

For some reason Combined isn’t on iTunes in the US so I can’t link to it, although the live DVD This Happened is available here. comes to the rescue here.