Delerium – Spheres II

Reviewing early Delerium is always a bit of a challenge. Prior to Silence, the vast majority of their work was dark, spacious, instrumental, a little industrial, and very different indeed from everything that came after.

Morphology is a case in point – among the long pad swells and growling acid bass line are periodic industrial beats and obscure spoken word samples, and just generally nine and a half minutes of musical space. It isn’t beautiful, exactly, but it is very good.

What’s interesting, in a way, is how similar it is to the later material, though. The big change was the addition of vocalists – firstly just on a couple of tracks with Semantic Spaces (released an astonishing two weeks earlier), and by Karma (1997) and Poem (2001) on pretty much every track. But other than that, the sounds and style on Spheres II is actually very similar.

It’s easy to forget that Delerium was, for those first five years, pretty much just a side project of the much more successful industrial, almost electro-metal act Front Line Assembly. By the end of 1994, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber already had eight albums to their name under that moniker – but they had also released as many albums again as Delerium, and were showing no sign of slowing.

Lacking the vocals, though, makes this all seem a bit more lacking in direction. Transhumanist is driven by a slow, churning acid bass line. You can see how this outlet for broader, longer, tracks would have appealed to Leeb and Fulber, and so the change that came next is all the odder, in a way.

Having started out with two albums in 1989, one in 1990, another two plus a huge EP / mini-album in 1991, they were already pretty prolific right from the start. Oddly, they had then disappeared for three years, one assumes working hard on writing and recording what would become Spheres (February 1994) and Spheres II (September 1994). Then in the meantime, they also recorded Semantic Spaces (August 1994), which added their first vocalist and paved the way for Karma, and ultimately the mega-hit Silence.

That would be, for anybody, a pretty odd release schedule, and quite why they didn’t decide to hold Semantic Spaces back a few months is a bit of a mystery to me. You can only assume that they decided they liked the new direction better, and decided to rush-release the remaining old stuff before launching in too deeply. But either way, I think it’s safe to see Spheres II as the closing piece of that early era – even if it actually appeared a little after the new one started.

Shockwave is an oddly titled piece – you want it to be huge and explosive, but it’s a gentle, tentative, and drifting piece with weird glitchy vocal samples and hard stereo mixing.Four minutes or so in, it grows into a beautiful, pad-filled, glitchy analogue piece. Some of Delerium‘s early material is so vague that it’s pretty much inaccessible to most listeners, but this is an exception.

It never really stops being pleasant, though – Dimensional Space, one of the shortest tracks on here, clocking in at a mere five and a half minutes, is broad, expansive, and populated mainly by pads. It’s almost orchestral in the way it plays out, although I’m not sure quite how this would play out if an orchestra tried to repeat it.

Hypoxia is great – probably my favourite track on here, actually – it has a wonderfully analogue eighties feel at times, with plinky plonky sounds and softer, less industrial sounding drums. It grows into a huge, Blue Monday-esque choral pad. It’s brilliant – in fact, the only thing I’d change would be the name – as I understand it, hypoxia is a state of panic and anxiety caused by oxygen deficiency. That’s an industrial title – this track feels neither panicked nor anxious to me.

Otherworld is the shortest track in here, although still nearly makes five minutes. It’s a sweet, rippling synth piece, with simple but pleasant chords played by pads, and oddly reverberating chimes. And finally comes In Four Dimensions, which starts with an almost ticking clock, before oddly growing into a weird, Amazonian piece, sampling heavily from Recoil‘s debut 1+2 EP. It’s long – so long, actually, that it’s hard to really enjoy over its full twelve and a half minute duration. It has moments that lift it, such as the rippling synth arpeggio half way through, but it’s not, on the whole, the most exciting closing track ever.

To describe Spheres II as the best of Delerium‘s early material would be a leap for me, as I simply don’t know the rest of it well enough. It does feel more like a compilation than a decisively sequenced album, which lends credence to the idea that it might have been a rushed release. It is mature, though, and well produced – this, to me, is the sound of a duo who know what they’re doing and are comfortable with their sound, but are just in a bit of a hurry to get it out of the way so they can move onto something else.

You’ll struggle to find it new, but second hand copies of Spheres II are widely available.

Delerium – Faces, Forms and Illusions

Three decades ago this week, Delerium released their debut album Faces, Forms and Illusions. It would take nearly ten albums and ten years before Sarah McLachlan would suddenly propel them to the upper reaches of the charts outside of Canada, but many of the elements that made them popular were already audible on their debut release.

Two years earlier, Canadian duo Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber had formed two-thirds of the dark industrial trio Front Line Assembly, and by 1989, they were already two cassettes and four albums into their career. Faces, Forms and Illusions

It opens with Monuments of Deceit, with a dark, punchy, industrial bass line that reminds me of the early material from Alan Wilder‘s Recoil


Less respectful, it seems to me, is their use of one of the images of Thich Quang Duc‘s self-immolation for the cover image. It’s a stirring and shocking image reduced to yellow and black, and while it may have served an artistic purpose at the time in somehow reflecting the artists’ vision for the album, it’s hard not to see it as a little crass.

The music is, in general, surprisingly mature for a duo who were still in their early twenties, but it’s a little difficult to tell whether they were trying to convey a particular spirit of self-sacrifice and Eastern theology, whether it was just slightly misguided mysticism, or whether they were channelling something else entirely. The other images in the release don’t really clarify this, and the track titles seem to suggest they may not have had a clear vision in mind at the time.

But put all of that aside, and concentrate more on the music, and there’s a good album here – Inside the Chamber is a good, longer track; and Sword of Islam is haunting and dark. Then the second half of the album opens with the atmospheric New Dawn, never really breaking from the core sound of this album, but bringing the mood lower still.

Certain Trust breaks that mould, though, with a rippling arpeggio part that must have sounded dated very soon after its original release – the digital synthesisers of the late 1980s didn’t stay fashionable for very long. There are some nice vocal melodies on this track and well-placed chimes, but the drumming seems a bit half-hearted. It’s probably the best track on this half of the album, though.

Hidden Mask, curiously hidden from later versions of this album, is good too, as for the first time on this album the beats drop away, and give way to broad, sweeping pads, and warbling vocals. Then we’re on to Strangeways, a slightly dull but confusing track punctuated by synthesised machine gun fire that suggests that maybe this album wasn’t just about confused mysticism after all. It’s strange though – the riots at the prison of the same name wouldn’t happen until the following year, and would be unlikely to be well known to Canadians anyway. It’s difficult to know exactly what they’re channelling here.

Intriguing typographical errors and spelling mistakes seem to have always been a part of Front Line Assembly and Delerium‘s career, as the CD adds bonus track Subvert/Wired Archives/Sieg of Atrocity. Clocking in at just under twenty minutes, it’s an ambitious track to challenge the listener, and it does offer some nice new synth melodies, particularly during the first part. It’s an interesting enough additional track that you probably wouldn’t want to end up missing it by owning the vinyl version, anyway.

Faces, Forms and Illusions is raw, the sound of a duo who haven’t fully worked out what they’re doing yet, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, particularly for those who like Delerium‘s later work. It might be best avoided if you don’t, though.

Unfortunately Faces, Forms and Illusions no longer seems to be widely available, either in its original form (yellow sleeve) or its later reissue.

Recoil – Unsound Methods

Two decades ago this week saw the release of the third studio release from Alan Wilder‘s Recoil project, Unsound Methods. Whereas 1992’s Bloodline and its predecessors 1+2 (1986) and Hydrology (1987) had been primarily side-steps for Wilder, allowing him to explore different directions than he could with Depeche Mode, by 1997 he was now a solo artist in his own right, and this album came just months after his former bandmates’ comeback with Ultra.

It opens with Incubus, on which Francis Ford Coppola gets a writing credit thanks to a sample from Apocalypse Now. Vocals come from Nitzer Ebb‘s singer Douglas McCarthy, giving it a grimy quality which the preceding album had only hinted at.

Lead single Drifting is next, probably the most commercial of any of the tracks on here. It’s a bluesy, beatsy piece, with a brilliant vocal from Siobhan Lynch, and it serves as good preparation for the next track, the filthy, angry Luscious Apparatus. Narrated by the late poet and writer Maggie Estep, it’s a fascinatingly angst-ridden story of love and hate that fits the mood of this album perfectly.

Stalker is next, another collaboration with Douglas McCarthy, which is every bit as dirty as the title might lead you to expect. It was later released as a double a-side single with Missing Piece. Then comes the bleakly midwestern Red River Cargo, a huge piece of experimental semi-electronic blues rock which might actually be one of the best tracks on here.

Next is Control Freak, returning to earlier collaborator Estep for a slightly less successful but entirely enjoyable exploration, before we get the other half of that second single, Missing Piece. As with the first single, Siobhan Lynch appears to deliver the vocals on possibly the most laid back track on the whole album. It’s not particularly slow, but notably less angry than anything we’ve heard before now, and that’s pretty welcome by now.

By this point in the album you should pretty much have an idea of how it works, and be in the right mood to enjoy it, but it’s winding down already – Last Breath may not be the last track, but it is the penultimate. The tempo seems to be dropping too – this track still has the blues flavour (or perhaps flavor?) that previous tracks have brought us, but it’s also fairly relaxed now.

Finally we get Shunt, another dark and this time particularly rail-themed track that closes the album over the course of seven minutes or so. It’s an entirely appropriate ending to this curiously middle American album.

Unsound Methods is understated, challenging, experimental, and ultimately an excellent departure for Alan Wilder. Like many, I’d have been happier if he’d stayed to help shape Depeche Mode over the years that followed, but I’m also glad that we have Recoil to keep us challenged.

You can still find Unsound Methods at all major retailers.

Music for the Masses 26 – 15 November 2004

The second Monday evening show saw the station’s webcam working for the first time in 2004, which therefore meant me (right) and my special guest Carl (left) spent much of the show trying to get ourselves seen on the internets.

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Show 26: Mon 15 Nov 2004, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Saint Etienne.

  • Daft Punk – Aerodynamic
  • Chicane – Saltwater
  • Conjure One – Sleep
  • Mory Kante – Yeke Yeke (Hardfloor Mix)
  • Zero 7 – I Have Seen
  • Madonna – Nobody’s Perfect
  • Saint Etienne – Who Do You Think You Are?
  • Front Line Assembly – Everything Must Perish
  • William Orbit – Barber’s Adagio for Strings (Ferry Corsten Remix)
  • BT – Return to Lostwithiel
  • Sylver – Turn the Tide
  • Recoil – Jezebel
  • Moby – Run On
  • Saint Etienne – The Bad Photographer
  • X-Press 2 feat. Dieter Meier – I Want You Back
  • Hal feat. Gillian Anderson – Extremis
  • Zombie Nation – Kernkraft 400
  • Sohodolls – Prince Harry
  • Apollo 440 – Heart Go Boom
  • The Beloved – Sweet Harmony
  • Orbital feat. David Gray – Illuminate
  • Saint Etienne – Amateur
  • Giorgio Moroder – Chase (Jam & Spoon Remix)

Depeche Mode – Songs of Faith and Devotion

When I wrote about Depeche Mode‘s previous album Violator a few weeks ago, I closed the review by saying the only thing to do was to move onto Songs of Faith and Devotion. Finishing with Violator would feel as though you were leaving a job half-done, so here’s the second half of that review.

But things are very different this time around. Violator, from its very first notes, is characterised by analogue warmth. There’s none of that here – right from the start of I Feel You, you’re both pulled in and alienated by noisy grungy feedback, and whereas the guitars were kept to a minimum previously, they’re in full force here.

I Feel You is a fantastic return, a grimey love song with gospel backing vocals. It also reveals the curious contradiction of the title – there’s plenty of Faith and Devotion here, but Prejudice and Sex might have been more accurate. Second track Walking in My Shoes is perhaps closer to the album title, and is a less guitar-driven piece. Compare this to the Depeche Mode of just five years ago, and you might be a little confused by what you hear, but Walking in My Shoes is definitely among their finest moments.

The heavily gospel-influenced third track and also third single Condemnation follows, thoroughly justifying the Faith in the album title. They had never released anything quite like this before, and that alone should be reason enough to like it. Mercy in You is probably closer to what you might expect from Depeche Mode, although that might only be true with the benefit of hindsight.

For the first time in a couple of albums, Songs of Faith and Devotion does prove to have its weaker moments. Martin L. Gore turns up to deliver an occasional vocal on Judas, and while there’s really nothing particularly wrong with the song, it’s a little unforgettable alongside its more energetic and unusual neighbours.

The second half of the album opens with the exceptional fourth single In Your Room, although in slightly different form to the wonderfully powerful version which would become a single a year or so later. Unquestionably another of Depeche Mode‘s finest songs, with Dave Gahan at his grungy best.

Get Right with Me is another slightly weaker moment. It’s a gospel song in the style of Condemnation, but doesn’t quite grab you in the same way that it’s predecessor did. It’s followed by Interlude No. 4, an excerpt from Brian Eno‘s remix of I Feel You (numbers 1-3 were on previous albums) before proceedings are kicked back into shape with the brilliant Rush.

Songs of Faith and Devotion is an unforgiving album – the first time you listen, you might well find you hate it, but with time it will be songs like Rush that stick in your head. It’s a rock piece, but it hides a little bit of 1980s Depeche Mode in the grimey post-chorus melody, and it turns out to be an exceptionally good song.

One Caress sees Martin L. Gore delivering his own vocals again, this time with the accompaniment of a string quartet. It’s improbable, both for Depeche Mode and for this album, but it’s truly brilliant. Gore’s quivering vocal delivery fits the song perfectly, and it’s a perfect interlude between all the rock, and yet somehow it fits extremely well too.

Finally, it’s time for the album closer, an enormous piece entitled Higher Love. It’s huge, anthemic, and entirely brilliant, and finishes the album off in entirely appropriate style. Unlike Violator I don’t find myself desperately grabbing at the next album, but even so, it’s an exceptional closing track for a great album.

It was this album which pretty much broke the Basildon four-piece, with Gahan coming disturbingly close to death, and the others in a deep turmoil which culminated with Alan Wilder‘s decision to leave the band and concentrate on his Recoil project instead. Their recovery and return four years later with the disturbed Ultra was a welcome relief – the trajectory of young pop stars working their way up to rock idols, mapped out from Speak and Spell through to Songs of Faith and Devotion, would have been an extremely disturbing epitaph. But they did come back, this wasn’t the end, and fortunately it’s possible to enjoy it as one of their darkest hours.

As with Violator, the double disc version is the essential one to track down if you can, but otherwise go for the 2013 remastered version, still widely available.

Recoil – Liquid

In 2000, Alan Wilder‘s former bandmates in Depeche Mode would have been polishing off Exciter, their cheeriest album in decades. Wilder, meanwhile, with his deeply experimental Recoil pseudonym, was still exploring altogether darker territory.

The album is bookended by Black Box, also available as a b-side in its complete fourteen minute form. It’s a short story, but sounds more like an account of a failed laboratory experiment, and after the wonderfully grizzly previous album Unsound Methods (1997) it does seem to herald something very different. Until, that is, the first proper track starts, as Want sees a return of the enchanting murmured vocals that characterised so much of the previous album.

Something is a bit different, though – the guitars and drums are cleaner; even the feedback sounds more refined. But none of that can entirely prepare you for the third piece Jezebel.

It’s an easy song to love, once you’ve got your head around it, but after a couple of albums of late night electronica, the mix of southern blues vocals alongside Recoil‘s background synth frippery does come as something of a surprise. This was, of course, the same period when Wilder’s former collaborator and labelmate Moby was doing similar things all over the radio and TV, so perhaps it shouldn’t be quite so unexpected.

After JezebelLiquid is a good album, but it never quite seems to hit those heights again. It’s all entirely competent and very enjoyable – Breath Control is another gloriously filthy piece, and then Last Call for Liquid Courage, driven by some beautifully acidic 303 sounds, is great too, but they don’t quite grab you in the way Jezebel did.

Second single Strange Hours does come close. It’s another bluesy vocal, which might be why, or it could just be the brilliantly trippy percussion and haunting samples. Either way, it’s definitely one of the standout tracks on here.

The emotive Spanish vocals on Vertigen come as something as a surprise too, but it’s one that’s ultimately forgotten alongside the flippant beats and vocals of Supreme, which makes for a late highlight. It mixes into Chrome, which grows very steadily over its seven minute duration from something enjoyable into something entirely brilliant.

Part 2 of Black Box brings the album to a close in suitable fashion, with haunting synth and ambient samples backing up more of the short story. Like everything else you’ve heard on here, it’s beautiful and bizarre, and also very good indeed.

Ultimately Liquid turns out to be one of Recoil‘s most consistent albums, although you may find you can’t really name or remember much apart from Jezebel when it comes to an end. On the other hand, Jezebel is definitely one of Alan Wilder’s finest hours, and there are plenty of other enjoyable moments on here, so it’s definitely worth owning a copy.

You can still find Liquid at all major retailers, for instance here.

Chart for stowaways – 14 February 2015

Let’s count down this week’s top ten albums:

  1. Marsheaux – A Broken Frame
  2. Vitalic – OK Cowboy
  3. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  4. Erasure – Wild!
  5. Erasure – The Violet Flame
  6. Recoil – Liquid
  7. Enigma – A Posteriori
  8. Deep Forest – Music Detected
  9. Saint Etienne – Tales from Turnpike House
  10. Andy Pickford – Terraformer

The invasion of the oldies continues! Dirty Vegas spend their second week at number one on the singles with their cover of Duran Duran‘s Save a Prayer.

Beginner’s guide to Recoil

From its humble beginnings as a Depeche Mode spin-off, Alan Wilder‘s Recoil project has come to be something quite unique. If you haven’t come across it before, you might find it a little difficult to get started, so here are some pointers…

Key moments

You probably won’t have even heard of Recoil unless you’re a Depeche Mode fan, and even if you are, you might well not have heard any of the actual releases. That’s absolutely no reason to steer clear!

Where to start

Jump straight in with 1997’s Unsound Methods – it’s a challenging listen, and if you don’t like this, you’re unlikely to really appreciate anything else from Recoil.

What to buy

Apart from Unsound Methods, the other essential albums are Bloodline (1992), and Liquid (2000). Having digested these, track down the extended EP Hydrology (1988).

Don’t bother with

1+2 (1987), unless you get it packaged with Hydrology. It’s far from bad, but it’s really nothing special either – just a very experimental Depeche Mode side project. The most recent release SubHuman (2007) has its moments, but is largely forgettable.

Hidden treasure

Moby‘s 1992 remix of Faith Healer is worth hearing, although it isn’t as good as the original, and despite what I said above, a couple of tracks from SubHuman are worth having, particularly Prey and 99 to Life.

For stowaways

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Retro chart for stowaways – 11 August 2007

Here are the top 10 albums from seven years ago this week:

  1. Chicane – Somersault
  2. Recoil – SubHuman
  3. Komputer – Synthetik
  4. Ruth Ann – What About Us
  5. The Chemical Brothers – We are the Night
  6. Enigma – A Posteriori
  7. Air – Pocket Symphony
  8. Marsheaux – Peeka Boo
  9. Groove Armada – Soundboy Rock
  10. Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory