Chart for stowaways – 9 February 2019

These are the week’s top albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Planet Jarre
  3. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom (Re-Imagined)
  4. The Radiophonic Workshop – Possum (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  5. The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths
  6. Moby – Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.
  7. The Prodigy – No Tourists
  8. The Grid – Electric Head
  9. Sébastien Tellier – Politics
  10. Madness – The Very Best Of
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Sébastien Tellier – Politics

Having supported Air at the time of his debut album L’incroyable Vérité (2001), Sébastien Tellier was starting to find his form by the time of his second release Politics. But it starts with cacophony, before moving into the odd and jazzy Bye Bye.

To describe it as a bit odd would be vastly underselling Tellier. My non-medical opinion would be that he’s completely out of his tree. Bye Bye is oddly enjoyable, and then League Chicanos appears to move much more firmly into insanity. The debut album had included a trio of tracks subtitled Trilogie Chien, so this is maybe just a different kind of normal.

Wonderafrica is lovely, with the sort of huge funky electronic bass sounds that would typify the next album Sexuality (2008). The lyrics, for the first time on this album performed in English, are weak at best (“I’m eating bananas / under the sun” was hardly going to win any poetry awards), but there’s such a wonderfully mellow feel to the track that even that is forgivable.

Tellier had never released a single from the first album, and from this one there were two, La Ritournelle, which scored him his first minor hit on the French and British charts, and its follow-up Broadway, which is next on the album. It’s a nice song, with a pleasant pop feel, but perhaps an odd choice for single. La Ritournelle follows straight after, a seven-minute odyssey, complete with a gloriously and absurdly long middle instrumental section.

Sébastien Tellier‘s undiagnosed insanity is never far away, as Benny illustrates. I can only really guess what he was up to here – it’s fun, and he was clearly in his happy place, but it does also require a bit of work from the listener, if your happy place doesn’t quite align with his.

The short instrumental Slow Lynch carries us through to the oddly delivered German song Mauer, with a guest female vocalist, and a whole lot of jazzy portamento. Released now, this could be an oddly poignant piece about walls, which was maybe true at the time too – the album is called Politics, after all – but it would be truer now. It’s another adorable song.

La Tuerie sees Tellier messing around with glitchy, arhythmic elements, and frankly comes out of all that sounding pretty awful. It’s instrumental (apart from some heavy breathing), rather dirty, and very difficult to listen to. Not in a good way, where you might enjoy the challenge and slowly start to love the track – this really deserved to be hidden on a forgotten underground 12″ single, gathering dust somewhere.

If you weren’t already convinced of Tellier’s somewhat questionable grip on reality, the very title of Ketchup Vs. Genocide may help you form a diagnosis. It’s glorious, actually – definitely one of the best tracks on here, but it is a little odd, to say the least. Which is, as you’ll have gathered by now, something of an ongoing theme with this album.

In pretty much any other environment, a track like Zombi, which includes the lyric “we’re going to crush old ladies,” would stand out as very strange, but after the last forty minutes or so, this is quickly becoming the new normal. Listening to Sébastien Tellier does do that to you, and he should probably come with a special Parental Advisory Warning – may make you turn very odd. With the possible exception of La Tuerie, I don’t think I’ve ever failed to enjoy his work, but you do have to be ready to suspend your standard definitions of reality of a little while. If you do, it can be very enjoyable indeed.

You can find Politics at all regular retailers, if they still exist.

Sébastien Tellier – Sexuality

The summer of 2008 isn’t exactly legendary, and never went down in history, but it did give us Sébastien Tellier‘s finest album Sexuality, and the quite crazy Eurovision Song Contest performance that went with it.

It opens with the glorious analogue arpeggio of Roche, a somewhat nonsensical track about how everyone wants to fall in love with Sébastien in the Biarritz summer. This is one of the most listened to tracks in my iTunes library, partly due to a quirk of good timing (it came out around the time I set the library up), and partly because it’s just so good – refreshing, uplifting, and just generally new. The production, by half of Daft Punk, is perfect, somehow both minimal and overproduced, laid back and quirky. Sébastien, meanwhile, is still dreaming of Biarritz in summer.

Kilometer is next, another raunchy track, unmistakably French, but with a strong R&B feel and a gratuitous use of silence. Look brings back the analogue arpeggios, but slower and much more relaxed this time. There’s really little to fault here.

What there always is, is a healthy dose of insanity, and the Eurovision entry Divine comes next, one of Tellier’s two minor UK hits, having peaked at number 106. I suspect most people in the UK just didn’t get it, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense outside of the context of the album, and frankly I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense here either. It’s fun, though.

The raunchier tracks are never far away, though, and Pomme is another – both brilliant and mad, with a slightly bonkers R&B bass line. Une Heure is less overt, apart perhaps from the lyrics, and bobs along pleasantly with a warping bass part and gently tripping drums. Then comes the long instrumental Sexual Sportswear, the track that originally launched the album on MySpace. Like most of the album, it’s entirely brilliant, and this time the only slightly insane thing is the title.

Some tracks are more forgettable – the gentle Elle fades away pleasantly into the background, but then Fingers of Steel turns up, a sweet song full of analogue riffs and gentle sounds. Manty is joyful, built seemingly around the sound of a woman laughing. And by then, the album is pretty much over already.

Then the slightly flanged piano work of L’Amour et la Violence appears. I’m not sure I could completely explain why, but this is my favourite track on here – the lyrics are very introspective (roughly translated, “tell me what you think of my life…” and the piano is played to perfection. It’s a perfect closing track, possibly one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Sexuality is daft – very French, often very raunchy, and almost always pretty silly – but it all works, somehow – it’s a fantastic album. Essential listening.

You can still find Sexuality through all major online retailers.

Greatest Hits – Vol. 10

A couple of times a year, I like to take a little breather and highlight some of the reviews that you might have missed on this blog in the past. Here are my choices this time. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed that, why not check out Volume 9, here?

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise

Barely six months after the release of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s first Electronica album, he was already back with the second volume. This time, of course, we start with certain expectations after the first, and it’s not a disappointment.

The second volume begins with the gloriously atmospheric The Heart of Noise (Part 1), a duet with the French electronic musician Rone, who I hadn’t heard of before, but who seems to have brought a lot of additional atmosphere to this piece. It steps naturally into Part 2, which curiously for a collaboration album features Jarre collaborating with himself.

You must have realised by now that I’m a pretty big fan of Pet Shop Boys, so it should come as little surprise that I was excited about Brick England, but it does seem a typical act of irony for the duo that what’s clearly their best song in a number of years didn’t actually make it onto their latest album, released just weeks before this one. But Brick England is just so good. If there were any justice, this would have been number one for weeks. It wasn’t even a single – actually, Jarre seems to have lost interest in this album as soon as it was released and gone onto recording Oxygène 3 instead.

Julia Holter turns up next for the sparkling These Creatures, and then the one track that I don’t understand, As One with Primal Scream. It seems clear that they didn’t bother turning up for this, so Jarre has collaborated with them in much the same way as rappers collaborate with bald annoying drummers – by taking their song and recording another one over the top. The results aren’t bad, but surely Jarre could have done better?

Some of the legends here are every bit as legendary as Jarre himself, and Gary Numan is surely one of the closest, and although I haven’t really felt he’s lived up to his status in the last couple of decades, it’s hard not to have a degree of respect for him. Here for You is good though – possibly even one of the better tracks on here.

Without the list of collaborators, it’s often hard to know exactly what’s going on, so the gentle Electrees (with Hans Zimmer) fades into the more violent Exit, largely a solo Jarre work until Edward Snowden suddenly appears out of nowhere to talk about privacy for some reason.

Next it’s the turn of Canadian singer Peaches, who confused me briefly when I wondered why I’d only vaguely heard of her, until I realised she’s basically never had a hit in the UK. What You Want is pretty good though, although perhaps not quite as good as Gisele, with the flamboyant French singer Sébastien Tellier.

Switch on Leon sees Jarre appropriately working with The Orb to express their deep love of synthesizers and electronic music, but ultimately here is little more than an interlude which continues with the pleasant and bumpy Circus, with Siriusmo.

The brilliant Yello turn up for Why This, Why That and Why, a strangely compelling track which, like Brick England, blows their own 2016 album Toy out of the water. It’s an odd one, but it’s definitely one of the best tracks on here.

Prolific experimental musician Jeff Mills is next, with The Architect, a pleasant instrumental before the brilliant Swipe to the Right, with Cyndi Lauper, definitely one of the best pop tracks that Jarre has ever been involved with. Then another French legend Christophe appears to deliver Walking the Mile, a pleasant pop song.

Right at the end are a couple of surprises – Jarre collaborates with himself again and delivers his own vocal on another great pop song, Falling Down, and then it closes with the track that started the whole project, The Heart of Noise (The Origin).

Ultimately both halves of the Electronica project are great albums, but I’d dare to suggest that The Heart of Noise is actually slightly better than The Time Machine. Needless to say, both albums are well worth a listen, and ideally a purchase, and hopefully, one day, even a follow-up.

You can still find volume 2 of Electronica at all major retailers.

The Stowaway Awards 2015 – Nominations

Now it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for over the entirety of 2014. Who will be nominated for the Stowaway awards 2015?

Best Album

  • Erasure – The Violet Flame
  • The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  • Dieter Meier – Out of Chaos
  • William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5
  • Erlend Øye – Legao
  • Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  • Shit Robot – We Got a Love
  • Simian Mobile Disco – Whorl
  • Sébastien Tellier – L’Aventura
  • Ben Watt – Hendra

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed
  • Camouflage – Singles
  • Depeche Mode – Life in Berlin
  • Erasure – Greatest Hits Live
  • Moby – Hotel Ambient

Best Newcomer

  • Clark
  • Diamond Version
  • MIKRO
  • Mulu
  • Shelter

Best Artist

  • Napoleon
  • William Orbit
  • Erlend Øye
  • Sébastien Tellier
  • Zero 7

Best Live Act

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Massive Attack
  • Moby
  • Pet Shop Boys

The results will turn up in a few weeks’ time, and we’ll move onto the BRIT Awards in a couple of days…