Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act Two

Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act Two is, in effect, the second album by the brilliant Skywatchers project, which saw folk singer Kevin Pearce work with Sheffield’s I Monster to exquisite effect. This time, Pearce let Dean Honer, half of the duo, loose creating a remix album based on his second full-length solo release Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act One.

The detuned synth sounds of A Bell Tyke Fruit open proceedings, and you should quickly have a fairly clear idea of what’s going to happen on this album. The vocals have been processed with some kind of vocoder effect, and everything else has been thoroughly messed around with. It’s pleasant, in a weird kind of way, but it’s also very experimental indeed – it’s hard to imagine anybody actually enjoying this kind of thing.

For the most part, the tracks which follow, with elaborate titles such as Ant Wee Hermaphrodites, make for a fun one-time listen but offer relatively little more. Long-time Finnish arthouse collaborator HK119 turns up to repeat the vocals in A Species Fluke, and really adds very little in the process. The throbbing industrial beats make for a fun diversion though.

None of this is to say there’s anything particularly wrong with this album, if you’re able to accept it for what it is. Valiant Nudie is intriguing, Hotdogs by Turrets an unexpected highpoint with its unusually clear vocal and rippling synth line, and Zen Grief a curiously mediaeval sidestep.

The honour of best track on this album goes to Weevil Ven Bone, the most melodic piece on here. The vocal, again so heavily processed that the lyrics are completely unrecognisable, still holds enough emotion to drive the song onward, and the rhythmic backing, which in other circumstances might almost be described as cheesy, complements it perfectly.

Other tracks are harder to latch on to. Clank Gain Woes is noisy and dramatic, as is Wah Brain, but neither really grabs you. Leprous Wenches Vale does, with its huge throbbing synth backing, but there still isn’t a lot in the way of lyrics here, if that’s what you’re looking for. Three Ohm Owl and Edits close the album out in equally odd form – a fun deviation, but not something you would want to listen to every day, by any means.

So Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole – Act Two is an oddity, and definitely not a follow-up to the lovely The Skywatchers Handbook, but it does keep you entertained at least, which can sometimes be a lot to ask for.

You can find this release on Dean Honer‘s Bandcamp page for just a fiver.

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Three years of stowaways – the best of 2012

Coming up in just a couple of days is this blog’s third birthday! It started quietly back in 2012 with the video to Pet Shop Boysthen new single Winner before I disappeared off on holiday, and then started in earnest a couple of weeks later…

The main highlight of that first year for me has to be I Monster and Kevin Pearce‘s sadly overlooked Skywatchers project, and their lovely album The Skywatchers Handbook. It had come out originally a couple of years earlier, but I have never really managed to stop listening since then, and I reviewed it in mid-2012.

The year ended for me with a countdown of the best tracks of the year, with Saint Etienne high on the chart thanks to their exceptional comeback album Words and Music by Saint Etienne, but it was something I was inadvertently sent when I purchased that album that grabbed the top spot – the exceptional Longest Day by Soulsavers, with Dave Gahan on vocals.

Retro chart for stowaways – 6 June 2010

Here are the top ten albums from June 2010:

  1. Skywatchers – The Skywatchers Handbook
  2. Little Boots – Hands
  3. Fever Ray – Fever Ray
  4. Goldfrapp – Head First
  5. Massive Attack – Heligoland
  6. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
  7. I Monster – Dear John EP
  8. Tracey Thorn – Love and Its Opposite
  9. The Knife – Tomorrow, In a Year
  10. Zero 7 – Yeah Ghost

Chart for stowaways – 7 June 2014

Not having properly cross-examined the singles for a couple of weeks, this is how they’re looking right now:

  1. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do it Again
  2. E-Zee Possee – The Sun Machine
  3. Dirty Vegas – Let the Night
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Flourescent
  5. Napoleon – Everything’s Changed
  6. William Orbit – Orbit Symphonic 1a
  7. Skywatchers – Serves Me Right
  8. Röyksopp & Robyn – Every Little Thing
  9. Diamond Version with Neil Tennant – Were You There
  10. William Orbit – Water from a Vine Leaf

Mad “Billy” Orbit’s domination of the chart continues on the albums, with Orbit Symphonic at number 1 and Strange Cargo 5 entering at 2, while Röyksopp are at 4 with the full Do it Again EP and 5 with their last album Junior.

Chart for stowaways – 17 May 2014

We haven’t covered the albums much in detail recently, and there still isn’t a huge amount going on over there, but here are this week’s top ten:

  1. Moby – Innocents
  2. B.E.F. – Music of Quality and Distinction, Vol. 3 – Dark
  3. DARKSIDE (Nicholas Jaar) – Psychic
  4. Dirty Vegas – Let the Night EP
  5. De La Soul – Stakes is High
  6. Tiga – Ciao!
  7. Skywatchers – The Skywatchers Handbook
  8. Soulsavers – The Light the Dead See
  9. Ladytron – 604
  10. Art of Noise – Influence

Pet Shop Boys hold onto the top spot for a second week on the singles with the Flourescent 12″ single.

Beginner’s guide to I Monster

Bonkers Sheffield duo who briefly hit the charts in 2001 with Daydream in Blue, and otherwise have only managed to grab the limelight by appearing in an enormous number of films and TV shows. Despite which, they have a quite exceptional set of three albums to their name already, and are well worth tracking down.

Key moments

After some early tracks which are now lost in the Sheffield underworld, Daydream in Blue became a significant chillout hit, and then The Blue Wrath became one of the most important tracks on the Shaun of the Dead soundtrack.

Where to start

Begin with the remodelled version of Neveroddoreven (2004) – it’s the one with flies wearing suits on the cover. In addition to being a great album, you’ll find a couple of cleverly hidden bonus tracks at each end.

What to buy

Fill in the gaps from Neveroddoreven with 2012’s Rare compilation, then jump forward to 2009 for their third album A Dense Swarm of Ancient Stars (the download version has bonus tracks). As an entertaining side-step you could then go back to The All Seeing I‘s related 1999 album Pickled Eggs and Sherbet.

By the way, they did make the debut album These Are Our Children (1999) available for free at one stage, and if you can find a download then it’s definitely worth a listen.

Don’t bother with

Most of the singles, which are largely just remixes, and the Remixed collection (2012) might feel a little bit too much like hard work for the time being.

Hidden treasure

Each album has at least one or two hidden treasures. The album-only track Stars on Sunday from Pickled Eggs & Sherbet is truly exceptional, as is Laser Gun from These Are Our Children. Finally, Only a Show, one of the b-sides to As Long As There Is You and Me (2006) is a very special treat.

And finally if you haven’t heard me wax lyrical about their side project Skywatchers then please check out the links below.

For stowaways

Skywatchers – Poyekhali!

As you may recall, 2010 saw the appearance of an I Monster side-project of which I was inordinately fond, a collaboration with Kevin Pearce by the name of Skywatchers. The original ten-track album The Skywatchers Handbook, which I reviewed previously, came with no fewer than four bonus tracks on the digital release, which were reissued last year as part of an EP with a couple of extras on the end.

The EP was entitled Poyekhali! (“Off we go!”) which was apparently what Yuri Gagarin had to say for himself as he headed off on the first manned orbit of earth in 1961. As with the original album, this appeared to relatively little fanfare, but it’s definitely worth hearing.

These bonus tracks are, perhaps inevitably, not quite up to the standard of the original album. Tie You to Me is pleasant, but it’s not quite a fully fledged song. The Sirens of Scopuli is, but perhaps the lack of obsessiveness about space and the slightly less dreamy quality makes it stand out a little as something different.

The eight minute epic When Up Falls Down is more what Skywatchers are good at – it’s ethereal and dreamlike, mixing acoustic folk music with subtle electronics, full of atmosphere and just a little bit of obsessing about astronomy. It also packs something of a punch – after listening to it float by for five minutes or so, the drums suddenly appear, accompanied by a punchy synth arpeggio and a lot of bounce. It’s totally brilliant, and definitely the highlight of this collection.

The fourth track – the last of the bonuses on the original album – is a cover. Licked by Love was originally performed by The Penelope[s] and Morpheus on their 2009 album Priceless Concrete Echoes. Here, it’s one of the shortest of Skywatchers‘ tracks, and made for a pleasant closing track on The Skywatchers Handbook.

This release presented two new tracks – the miniature Night of the Crabs, which although perhaps not the most exciting thing this collaboration had ever yielded is definitely worth a listen, as is the closer Yours Sincerely, Freeman Lowell.

After just one album, Skywatchers seem, at least in their original form, to have ceased to be, which is truly a shame, as when they were at their best, they were truly exceptional. Let’s all collectively cross our fingers for another release very soon.

The EP Poyekhali! can, like all of their releases, be downloaded for a modest fee from their Bandcamp page here.