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

Chart for stowaways – 20 September 2014

Hopping forward a couple of weeks, just in time to see Goldfrapp‘s triumphant return to the charts, a year after Tales of Us was originally released. Röyksopp and Robyn are still firmly perched at the top of the singles, and floating around on the albums at number 16 too.

  1. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
  2. Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain
  3. Jean Michel Jarre – Sessions 2000
  4. Kings Have Long Arms – I Rock, Eye Pop
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Elysium
  6. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  7. Goldfrapp – Supernature
  8. Enigma – MCMXC a.D.
  9. Orbital – Work 1989-2002
  10. Sarah Nixey – Brave Tin Soldiers

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

Retro chart for stowaways – 3 March 2007

Early March 2007 saw us in the middle of a Client invasion, while they were still just about good. The top five singles:

  1. Client – Zerox Machine
  2. Client – Drive
  3. Faithless – Bombs
  4. Eric Prydz – Proper Education
  5. Client – Lights Go Out

… and the albums:

  1. Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory
  2. Marsheaux – Peeka Boo
  3. Darkel – Darkel
  4. Faithless – To All New Arrivals
  5. Moby – Go: The Very Best of Moby

Sarah Nixey – Brave Tin Soldiers

I’ve already stated definitively that Sarah Nixey is one of the finest singers of our age, and I’m not about to go back on that. Neither should Brave Tin Soldiers particularly be regarded as her “difficult second album” – her music career is more than mature enough to have weathered that particular storm. It’s a total change of direction; it has very little in common with 2007’s Sing, Memory, and we won’t waste time by comparing the two.

Well, maybe a little. For the most part, Brave Tin Soldiers drops the overt electronics, and replaces them with more folk-based pop. That’s apparent from the first notes of Silk Threads, and even from the very grumpy looking picture of herself that Nixey chose to put on the cover (I suspect she’s actually deep in introspection, or maybe stoic, rather than grumpy, but she certainly isn’t happy).

There is definitely an element of introspection – to a slightly military backdrop on the first track Nixey seems to sadly describe what it feels like falling in love (to be honest it’s difficult to tell – the lyrics are printed in the booklet in black on dark green, and are practically illegible). Single and title track Brave Tin Soldiers follows, and is another cryptic lyric, but is one of the most easily accessible pop songs on the album.

Cat’s Cradle continues the lyrical trickery – it’s a fairly happy song about a broken love affair. Gathering Shadows is altogether dreamier and gentler, which Nixey begins with “Father’s got a gun / Wartime souvenir,” and the story just gets darker from there, although it’s fair to say that there aren’t nearly enough murder ballads in modern pop music. It’s deeply filmic, but the juxtaposition of dark tales with gentle melodies or ostensibly happy pop lyrics with gloomy backing continues.

The Homecoming is another of my favourite tracks, amply describing what it feels like to return to a place you left years ago. More than anything in the lyrics, the chord change in the chorus is quite wonderful, and the song is altogether very special indeed. In a similar style to the end of the previous album (“Time stops when you put it…”) she closes with “… but I won’t stay,” leaving you wondering exactly what emotions Sarah was experiencing when she wrote this.

Love Gets Dangerous is the slightly philosophical track which follows. In general, the second half of the album is less immediately accessible, but there are highlights – for me Miss Sauvignon really comes alive thanks to a lush cello counter-melody. The Burial of Love is, perhaps inevitably, a song deep in personal memories, driven by gentle acoustic backing.

There’s a lot of death on here – a bit of research (OK, the internet) tells me that Black Rose is about an unmarried woman from the sixteenth century who committed suicide after becoming pregnant. Silent Hour is about the string of suicides in Bridgend in 2010. Again, stories like these gain a certain piquancy when told by Sarah Nixey‘s crisp vocal.

The closing track is the beautiful Frost at Midnight, a gently spoken piece in which Nixey seems to describe a scene from the depths of midwinter to a lovely piano and string melody (I say “seems to,” as a suspicious voice in my head wonders if she’s snuck another song about death onto the album, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on). It’s complex and lush, and again, a cello takes over in the middle, before Sarah starts to sing towards the end, and the whole thing builds to a crescendo of choral voices.

So, in my opinion, Sing, Memory this is not. But Brave Tin Soldiers has a lot to be said in its favour – Sarah’s voice is still beautiful, and the orchestral, occasionally military backing is lush in the extreme. It’s a great album, but one that’s worth understanding properly beforehand in order to appreciate it fully. Incidentally, if it’s electronics you’re looking for, then there are some great remixes dotted around on the singles.

Nixey’s second album Brave Tin Soldiers can be found on iTunes or Amazon.co.uk or all the other normal places.

Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory

Sarah Nixey is one of the finest singers of our age. There, I’ve said it.

Her solo career started in 2005, after her group Black Box Recorder decided to take a bit of a break. The first single was The Collector, and others followed, concluding with the full album Sing, Memory early in 2007.

Sing, Memory is neatly and properly split into two halves. The first begins with Sing (Prelude), in which Nixey in her impossibly posh and lovely voice tells us what this album is going to be about. Then we launch into When I’m Here with You, the main single from the album. It’s a fantastic song, and wonderfully sets the mood for the rest of the album.

Beautiful Oblivion follows, slightly more uptempo and with a little more power to its synth lines. Sarah is obviously very much in love with me. Err… I mean, whoever the song is written for. Strangelove (Sing Version) is similarly enchanting. On this track you get a bit of a taste of the era’s glam-pop stylings with occasional chants of “hey hey”, but as always it’s Nixey’s voice that keeps you listening.

The dark and mysterious Hotel Room follows. There’s something very other-worldly about this album – I think even at the time it felt somewhat anachronistic, and it doesn’t sound any more or less dated now. It just sounds fantastic. This is an incredibly evocative album in many ways. The whole thing comes in brilliant bright red packaging, and listening to it now really transports me back to my life in 2007, walking through cold snowy Yorkshire winters or sitting in the warmth of our terraced house looking out at the world.

The first half of the album closes with Nightshift, which is probably my favourite track on the whole album. Rather more overtly electronic than most of the other tracks, it adds a brilliant computer game effect (who doesn’t like them?) and is frankly just extremely beautiful.

The second half, the Memory half, kicks off after its prelude with debut single The Collector. The slightly sinister story of a lonely little boy who collects butterflies harks back somewhat to Nixey’s days with Black Box Recorder. The verses and chorus are almost entirely at odds with each other, making it rather a dark love song, but an excellent one too.

The album continues in a similar vein, and really any of these standing alone would have made for a fantastic single. Breathe In, Fade Out is softer, with some curious electro elements, and again Nixey’s voice is almost totally at odds with the darker electronics behind her. Endless Circles, surely a description of all of our lives, builds from very gentle beginnings to a chorus which takes me back to the early 1990s and the very first songs I loved on the radio.

I don’t honestly know how easy this is to read, and I’m definitely running very short on superlatives. I’m really finding it difficult to describe quite how excellent this album is – somehow it found me at a particular point in my life when I was extremely happy and it resonated perfectly with that, and now when I listen back to it I’m transported back to that time. So sorry if this all sounds a little sycophantic – all I can do is write about how this album makes me feel.

The Man I Knew is the centrepiece of the Memory half of the album, and tells another slightly off-kilter love story. Sarah Nixey clearly picked up much of the ingenious and sometimes decidedly twisted songwriting of Black Box Recorder, and is able to employ it with aplomb. Masquerade follows, and actually despite the title is a more straightforward pop song with a few slightly trippy elements and another lyric with hints of self-effacing bitterness.

The final track is the lovely Love and Exile with its massive squelching snare sound, bringing an absolutely perfect album to an undeniably perfect end. Well, not quite – this is where you benefit from having the CD. After a little gap, there’s a prelude, in the form of a truly exceptional cover version of The Human League‘s seminal (now there’s a word I don’t often use!) The Black Hit of Space. Although not astonishingly different from the original, it’s a worthwhile update, and Phil Oakey’s intriguing lyrics benefit from having Nixey as the vocalist. Fifteen tracks, and every one of them exceptional – how often does that happen?

There are also some great b-sides and EP tracks that you should consider tracking down, and an entire second album, which we’ll cover here very soon.

Sing, Memory can be found on iTunes just here, and this will also bag you a demo version of Strangelove, which may well be worth having too.

More about this blog

I think you’ll get the hang of this very quickly.

My name is Rollo, I’m old enough to remember the 1980s, and I mainly like pop and electronic music, but also a bit of world and a lot of chillout, and all sorts of things in between. But I mainly listen to electronic music, and so that’s mainly what we’ll be writing about here.

You’ll get a good idea of my favourite bands as we go along, but loosely I grew up listening to lots of Pet Shop Boys and Erasure, then I discovered Sparks and Depeche Mode, and for a long time my favourite band were The Beloved. Then I stumbled across Jean Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk, and in more recent years became extraordinarily keen on Röyksopp, Goldfrapp and William Orbit.

I come from Sheffield originally, so inevitably I have a lot of fondness for The Human League and Heaven 17, but not ABC so much. I love I Monster and Kings Have Long Arms to pieces. I’m a Geographer by trade, and I’m always fascinated by things which fuse music from different locations such as Gotan Project, Manu ChaoDeep ForestErlend Øye and Delerium.

I’m a Europhile, and so I adore French music such as AirTélépopmusikReadymade and Sébastien Tellier, and German music such as Camouflage and Wolfsheim. My favourite country in the world is Slovenia, so I’m particularly fascinated by Laibach. I’m a proud Brit, so I love Madness and The Specials.

I love pop music, and I think Sarah Nixey has the finest voice in the world, while Saint Etienne are probably the best songwriters. I like listening to unusual laid back music such as The Future Sound of London and The Orb. I like things with a darker edge, so I love Front Line Assembly and the Soulsavers album was wonderful.

My favourite discoveries of recent years have probably been MarsheauxHoneyroot and Skywatchers.

Funny how your taste in music is so fundamentally shaped by your personality, isn’t it?