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

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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.

Music for the Masses 37 – 23 April 2005

The post-Easter run of shows introduced two new features, both pre-recorded mixes. The Live Bit consisted of ten minutes or so of live material, while the Electromix was a trio of dark electronic tracks mixed together. I had a lot of fun with this week’s by trying to censor My Robot Friend‘s track in creative ways.

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Show 37: Sat 23 Apr 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

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

  • Jakatta – American Dream
  • Björk – Army of Me
  • Lemon Jelly – Make Things Right
  • Faithless – Tarantula
  • Delerium – Daylight
  • Alpinestars – Burning Up
  • Portishead – Sour Times
  • Happy Mondays – Hallelujah
  • Groove Armada – At the River (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Client – White Wedding (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Erlend Øye – Sudden Rush
  • Paul Keating (Closer to Heaven Original Cast Recording) – Positive Role Model (The Almighty Definitive Mix)
  • Delerium – Fallen
  • Moby – Spiders
  • Everything But The Girl – Mirrorball (Jazzy Jeff Remix)
  • Ultravox – Vienna
  • Tiga & Zyntherius – Sunglasses at Night
  • Delerium feat. Sarah McLachlan – Silence
  • Death in Vegas – Hands Around My Throat [Electromix]
  • My Robot Friend – Sex Machine [Electromix]
  • Leftfield – Phat Planet [Electromix]
  • Goldfrapp – Hairy Trees

The Live Bit and Electromix features from this show both still exist, and will appear in a future Playlist for stowaways.

Music for the Masses 24 – 31 October 2004

The last Sunday in October 2004 saw the last ever (to date) FM outing of the Music for the Masses show. While this was something of a shame, not having to get up at 3am every Sunday morning and cycle across a bleak northern city was generally a good thing. And since I didn’t know whether this could even be my last ever radio show, the obvious choice for Artist of the Week was my long-time favourite act, Pet Shop Boys.

Show 24: Sun 31 Oct 2004, from 4:00am-6:00am

Broadcast on LSR FM, on FM and online. Artist of the week: Pet Shop Boys.

  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence (Reinterpreted)
  • Everything But The Girl – Hadfield 1980
  • Death in Vegas – Aisha
  • New Order – True Faith
  • Pet Shop Boys – I’m Not Scared
  • Erasure – Piano Song
  • Deep Forest – Will You Be Ready?
  • Client feat. Carl Barât – Pornography
  • White Town – Duplicate
  • Wolfsheim – Kein Zurück
  • Pet Shop Boys – Always
  • Faithless – Swingers
  • Utah Saints – What Can You Do for Me?
  • The All Seeing I feat. Phil Oakey – 1st Man in Space
  • Delerium feat. Sarah McLachlan – Silence (Above & Beyond Remix)
  • Kraftwerk – Computer Love (The Mix Version)
  • Pet Shop Boys – Miracles
  • Sparks – My Baby’s Taking Me Home
  • Basement Jaxx – Rendez-Vu
  • Rob Dougan – Clubbed to Death

This show was recorded, and for the most part still exists. It will be posted as a Playlist for stowaways soon.

Retro chart for stowaways – 29 January 2005

Here are the top ten singles from a decade ago this week:

  1. Client feat. Carl Barât – Pornography
  2. Erasure – Breathe
  3. The Chemical Brothers – Galvanize
  4. Delerium feat. Sarah McLachlan – Silence 2004
  5. Kylie Minogue – I Believe in You
  6. Lemon Jelly – Stay with You
  7. Roni Size – No More
  8. Bent – Flavour Country EP
  9. Dirty Vegas – Walk into the Sun
  10. Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence 2004

The Best Singles of 2004

I also found this one in my archives, dated December 2004…

Air “Cherry Blossom Girl” (Virgin; January; #175)

Without a doubt the most beautiful track on Talkie Walkie, which is one of their best albums to date. The single that was available in the UK, a Canadian import, features no other tracks of interest, but the original should have been a huge hit.

Bent “Comin’ Back” (Open; August; #89)

An absolutely beautiful track from the duo’s third album Ariels, and without a doubt a return to form. Astoundingly, despite unfavourable reviews, this became one of their most successful singles, and the album fared better than either of its predecessors.

Delerium feat. Nerina Pallot “Truly” (Nettwerk; February; #54)

Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber made their name in the UK with classic stomping dance tracks, and continue in that vein with numerous new mixes from well known names. A welcome reworking of one of the best tracks from their recent album Chimera.

Delerium feat. Sarah McLachlan “Silence 2004” (Nettwerk; November; #38)

The third full UK release for the track that made Delerium in the UK. This time, as well as the best of the earlier remixes, it contains new versions by Above & Beyond and Filterheadz, neither of which detract from the splendour of the track. A welcome reissue to promote their recent Best of compilation, the only thing missing is the original album version.

Depeche Mode “Enjoy the Silence 2004” (Mute; October; #7)

A welcome return for the track that made the group one of the forerunners of electronic music. A multitude of new remixes of this and other tracks propelled the single back into the top ten and helped the remix album towards the right end of the charts.

Dirty Vegas “Walk into the Sun” (Parlophone; October; #54)

Finally, the long-awaited return from one of the best new bands of 2002. Unfortunately, the world seems to have forgotten them, and poor reviews and lack of airplay meant the single barely charted and the album didn’t make it at all. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad track though. Easily as good as anything on the first album, this is another essential track for them.

Enigma “Boum Boum” (Virgin; October; #108)

A fantastic return to form for an artist who has fallen behind the times somewhat in recent years, backed up with wonderful remixes by Chicane and Wally Lopez. Somewhat unsurprisingly, though, it didn’t manage the charts, despite being Cretu’s first UK single in four years.

Erasure “Breathe” (Mute; November; download only)

A fantastic return for a band who have seen relatively little success and a lot of unfavourable reviews over the last decade. It probably won’t be a hit when it receives its full UK release in January, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

Faithless “Mass Destruction” (Cheeky; May; #7)

Occasionally Maxi Jazz comes out with astoundingly insightful and ingenious lyrics. This is one of those moments. It’s not the pounding four-to-the-floor insanity we might expect from Faithless, but it’s still a fantastic track, and herald for a good fourth album.

Goldfrapp “Black Cherry” (Mute; March; #28)

Yet another single from the wonderful album of the same name. This time the tracks included were minimally spread across the three formats, but included wonderful remixes, videos, live versions and a new exclusive b-side.

Kraftwerk “Aérodynamik” (EMI; April; #33)

Finally having dragged themselves back into the studio for the rush-released Tour de France Soundtracks in 2003, the true godfathers of electronic music returned with another single and continued on their travels with yet another world tour. The single features four exclusive new versions which no self-respecting home should be without.

Lemon Jelly “Stay with You” (XL; November; #31)

After a break of eighteen months, Lemon Jelly returned at the end of 2004 with possibly their best track to date. It may lack the charm of Nice Weather for Ducks, instead bringing together influences from French dance music as well as many familiar sounds, but it’s an instant classic nonetheless.

Pet Shop Boys “Flamboyant” (Parlophone; March; #12)

Many people are of the opinion that 2003 was one of the boys’ best years to date, seeing them returning to their more familiar electronic sound, and being rewarded with reasonable success for their troubles. This, the second single from their second hits album PopArt, was backed with numerous stunning remixes, the video, and a brand new b-side.

Soho Dolls “Prince Harry” (Poptones; November; #57)

The group made their name in the summer touring with Client, and, thanks to that, achieved a minor hit with their first single. It’s very raw and electronic, even more punk than Ladytron, and absolutely bristling with attitude.

Sylver “Love is an Angel” (??; October; no UK release)

Rumour has it that this is a true return to form. Having seen less success than deserved since their wonderful debut Turn the Tide, this track took them back into the German Top 20. Still no sign of any UK success, though.

Delerium – Karma

Sometimes, you might be looking for a new pop sound; sometimes something a little harsher and darker. Often, you’ll find something which almost fits what you’re looking for, but only very occasionally, an album will turn up which fits your requirements on every conceivable level.

Karma was one of those for me. Of course I’d heard the single version of Silence, and I think by the time I bought Karma I’d even worked out that it would probably sound nothing like the single, and yet there was something about the haunting vocal and melodies that fascinated me and gave me a strong desire to explore further. I’m very pleased I did – half way through my first listen of Wisdom I was already singing along, and it wouldn’t take long before I had in my possession all of Delerium‘s albums and singles, including the many versions of Silence.

The story of Delerium is itself a fascinating one. Kickstarted in the late 1980s, the project really seems to have been a softer, more ambient approach to music than Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber‘s initially better known industrial project Front Line Assembly. The first Delerium album Faces, Forms and Illusions was released in 1989, and a progression of gentle and entirely commercially unsuccessful albums followed over the next five years.

The real change seems to have occurred with Semantic Spaces (1994), by my reckoning their ninth album in five years, for which they worked on two tracks with Canadian vocalist Kristy Thirsk. The one single, a double a-side of Flowers Become Screens and Incantation seems to have been a minor success, and it is therefore likely that this was a key driver for what would three years later emerge as Karma.

The album opens with another track with a Thirsk vocal, Enchanted. But before you reach the vocal, your journey carries you through several minutes of soft chimes, choral sounds, playground noises, and sampled voices chanting in unknown languages. You should by now have a very good idea of what this album is going to be. The complex layering of Thirsk’s vocals is both confusing and a beautiful complement to the sampled voices, and nearly nine minutes later, the track finally draws to a close.

One of the many singles Duende follows, with a vocal by Camille Henderson. At this point you may realise that without a cross-examination of the booklet, it’s difficult to work out what on earth the vocalists are actually singing about. Somehow though with Karma that doesn’t even matter much – the mood and general spirit of the album are the most important thing, and that is excellent in the extreme.

Even the softer, more instrumental tracks on the album demonstrate a gentle, layered beauty, as pieces such as Twilight, Lamentation and Remembrance demonstrate. What you are hearing, you swiftly realise, is almost a more globally aware application of the Stock Aitken Waterman school of pop music – within each carefully layered and polished track is a steady progression of musical parts, each building on or taking its lead from its predecessor.

Then comes Silence. If there’s any vocal capable of pulling your heartstrings harder than Sarah McLachlan‘s on this song then I don’t know what it is. Much slower and more layered than the more commercial remixes that you’ll have heard elsewhere, you can kind of see how the original version would probably never have been a hit on its own. But for its sheer power and its ability to transport you to other worlds, I’m not sure this version has any competition.

The German Canadians Leeb and Fulber continue on their whirlwind tour through North Africa and India, perfectly mixing samples and obscure instrument sounds to create a quite extraordinary soundscape. Truly, every track on the album has its own special charm, and as a whole this has to be one of the finest releases in my collection.

Euphoria (Firefly) is one of my personal favourites. When vocalist Jacqui Hunt tells us “I never want to lose / What I have finally found / There’s a requiem / A new congregation,” she somehow carries you to another place entirely. Wisdom, perhaps the one ‘pop’ song on the album, with its undertones of buried regrets, is equally powerful.

This is perhaps where the power of Karma lies. Each track in its own way, perhaps through Egyptian sounds or evocative vocals, seems to whisk you away to another place and time. Listening to this album is like taking a geography class in one seventy minute audio experience.

The final track, another Kristy Thirsk vocal, is entitled ‘Til the End of Time (I’m going to forgive the slight linguistic lapse, as Front Line Assembly albums in particular are rarely free of spelling mistakes). Another song with more of a pop feel, it brings the album to a close in almost euphoric fashion with an incredible vocal and rippling synth arpeggio, making you want to dig out Poem already to find out what happened next. Another time, perhaps.

Karma has, over the years, been released in various forms. The initial version included a track entitled Koran, which was subsequently removed as it contained illegal samples. An optional “bonus disc” added Heaven’s Earth and Window to Your Soul. Then Window to Your Soul was slotted onto the main album in place of the inferior Koran, before finally the whole album was reissued with a bonus disc of remixes from the era. Which, to complicate matters further, contains different tracks in each country.

It’s difficult to know which version of the album to point you towards – you’ll need to look at all the different options available in your country and work it out from there. Here it is on iTunes, and here’s a double CD on Amazon.com.