Record Companies – Virgin Records

All of the major labels are big enough that they have, at times at least, been able to boast an impressive range of artists, but few are as interesting as Virgin Records. Formed in 1972 by Richard Branson, Simon Draper, Nik Powell, and Tom Newman, they went on to become one of the most influential labels in the music business.

Famously, Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells was the label’s first release, and in the early 1970s, they became well known for their prog rock releases, also becoming an early home to Tangerine Dream, but then in 1977, hit the mainstream by signing the Sex Pistols. Major releases from Culture Club, The Human League, Simple Minds, XTC, and others followed, making the label a household name throughout the 1980s.

That was essentially it – in 1992, Richard Branson sold Virgin to EMI, and while the list of signed artists continued to grow, including such huge names as The Future Sound of London, the Spice Girls, and Meat Loaf, its heyday as an influential brand really seems to have passed by this time.

You can read more about Virgin Records here:
https://www.virginrecords.com/

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine

I don’t know, you wait eight years for a new Jean-Michel Jarre album, and then three turn up at once. Sorry, I know that’s an obvious thing to say, but it is amusingly apposite. The fun but definitely questionable Téo & Téa (2007) left a slightly iffy taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and apart from the re-recorded and questionably legal version of Oxygène that followed the same year, there was then an extended silence until 2015.

What he was doing, it turns out, was working with every other electronic musician under the sun to create a two volume album, Electronica. The first opens with the sweet title track The Time Machine, with Boys Noize, and then comes one of the opening singles, Glory, with M83. So far, so pleasant.

Both of these albums have been criticised for being a bit disjointed, which, while not entirely unfair, seems a bit of an odd thing to say – of course they are, they’re effectively compilations of collaborations. But the sequence is generally logical, and there isn’t really anything particularly bad on here, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Fellow French musicians Air turn up next, for Close Your Eyes. Some tracks seem to have a lot more of Jarre, and others have a lot more of his collaborators on them, and in general, this one ends up sounding like Air might if they employed Jarre as a producer. That is to say, pretty good.

The first time you can really call something here “brilliant” is on the two parts of Automatic, both collaborations with Vince Clarke. For Clarke, this sounds a lot like his recent solo and collaborative electronic projects, but Jarre’s influence is clearly audible here too, particularly in Part 2, and both halves of the track really are excellent.

The increasingly great Little Boots turns up next, pretty much the only musician other than Jarre to make the laser harp part of their live show, and their collaboration is If..! (yes, two dots). While it’s certainly true that Jarre did something on this one, it’s difficult to know exactly what, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

They keep coming – Immortals, with Fuck Buttons, is an excellent meeting of minds, and while Suns Have Gone with Moby may not be the high point of either artist’s career, you have to be glad that it happened.

It is undeniably an odd list of collaborators though – which is not to say that Gesaffelstein shouldn’t be here – after all, why not? Few might put him in their top thirty living artists of all time list, but the resulting track Conquistador is pretty good. This isn’t so true of Travelator (Part 2) (there doesn’t appear to be a part 1), with Pete Townshend, which I’m not convinced does the legacy of either great musician any particular favours.

That isn’t true of what is apparently Edgar Froese‘s last recorded work, Zero Gravity, which after so many decades finally brings us the joint credit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, and it’s ever bit as excellent as it should be. It’s also nice to see Jarre revisiting his earlier musical partner Laurie Anderson for the decidedly odd Rely on Me.

Where these two albums both go a little astray for me is with the number of tracks – they’re varied, but after thirteen pieces of music and with no end in sight, you’re always going to be a little weary. Towards the end of the first volume, we get a fun trance excursion with  Armin van BuurenStardust, followed by the weirdly dubby Watching You, with 3D from Massive Attack.

Right at the end, John Carpenter turns up for the appropriately creepy A Question of Blood, and finally pianist Lang Lang accompanies an atmospheric piece on album closer The Train & The River. It’s a long, varied, and complex album, but in general it stands well on its own, and if you consider yourself a fan of any sort of electronic music, you should probably be a fan of this.

You can find part 1 of the Electronica project at all major retailers.

Top tracks of 2015 – Jean-Michel Jarre

Going back to our top tracks of 2015, it’s time for number six! Here’s the chart so far:

  • 10. Sarah Cracknell feat. Nicky Wire – Nothing Left to Talk About
  • 9. Marsheaux – Satellite
  • 8. MG – Pinking
  • 7. Dave Gahan and Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing

After a very long gap indeed, Jean-Michel Jarre finally decided to make his comeback a couple of months ago with Electronica 1: The Time Machine. After a long drawn-out promotional period, my personal favourite turned out to be the collaboration with Tangerine Dream, Zero Gravity, but it doesn’t seem to have a video. So here’s Glory instead:

 

Chart for stowaways – 5 December 2015

Here are this week’s top ten singles, with a slightly surprising re-entry at number ten, and no fewer than three former or current members of Depeche Mode:

  1. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  2. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  3. MG – Europa Hymn
  4. Little Boots – Working Girl
  5. New Order – Restless
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  7. MG – Pinking
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre & Vince Clarke – Automatic
  9. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  10. Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls

Chart for stowaways – 21 November 2015

Here’s the latest singles chart:

  1. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  2. MG – Europa Hymn
  3. Little Boots – Working Girl
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  5. Dave Gahan & Soulsavers – All of This and Nothing
  6. New Order – Restless
  7. Soulsavers – Take Me Back Home
  8. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  9. VCMG – EP3: Aftermaths
  10. MG – Pinking

Chart for stowaways – 7 November 2015

Here are this week’s top singles on the all-important Chart for stowaways:

  1. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  2. Little Boots – Working Girl
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  4. New Order – Restless
  5. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  6. Everything But The Girl – Before Today
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Vocal
  8. Sarah Cracknell – Nothing Left to Talk About
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct
  10. Everything But The Girl – Single

Chart for stowaways – 24 October 2015

Here’s this week’s singles chart for stowaways:

  1. Little Boots – Working Girl
  2. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  3. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  4. New Order – Restless
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct
  7. Everything But The Girl – Before Today
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (I)
  9. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Plastic
  10. Little Boots – Better in the Morning

Chart for stowaways – 10 October 2015

Here’s the latest singles chart. Let’s welcome New Order for a long stay back on the charts!

  1. Little Boots – Working Girl
  2. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  3. New Order – Restless
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (I)
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  6. Everything But The Girl – Before Today
  7. Marsheaux – See You
  8. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Plastic
  9. Little Boots – Better in the Morning
  10. Sarah Cracknell – Nothing Left to Talk About

Live – March 2014

Here are five of your live highlights in the next few months:

Boy George

Starting his tour in Edinburgh on Sunday 30th, and then visiting Manchester, Birmingham, Greenwich, Norwich, and Bristol, with more dates no doubt being announced soon.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Simian Mobile Disco

You’ve already missed them if you’re in Romania or Portugal, but dates are coming up in Germany, Spain, Italy, the UK, and Croatia, with festival dates throughout the summer.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Banco de Gaia

Performing this Saturday at Electric Brixton, with The Orb and Bomb the Bass (how exciting is that lineup?)

More details at Songkick

Salif Keita

With his new tour starting at the end of the month in France, before moving on to Norway, the Netherlands, and the UK over the coming weeks.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Tangerine Dream

Starting their latest tour in Copenhagen at the start of April, before moving onto Paris, London, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria.

Full list of dates at Songkick

Asana – Trikuti

Brace yourself for this. This might come as a surprise.

There’s a whole genre of music out there that you don’t know anything about. It’s called “EM” (Electronic Music), and it’s generally inspired by the likes of VangelisTangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre. One of the finest EM musicians is Andy Pickford, and in 1996 he produced Asana‘s second album Trikuti.

Asana is the nom de guerre of UK-based solo artist Dave Barker. Following his largely unremarkable debut ShrineTrikuti should, although little known, probably be regarded as one of the finest albums of the genre. It opens with a “little” three-minute introduction called Communion, full of bubbly synth arpeggios and slightly daft new age vocal snippets.

The second track is also a short one, clocking in at just under seven minutes. Signals opens with an analogue synth arpeggio, and swiftly builds into something entirely worthy of all the artists I listed at the start. The odd slightly naff sound here and there pokes through, but by the time you’re halfway through the track, it’s grabbed you completely.

Clocking in at just over an hour, there are just seven tracks on here, of which four are truly exceptional, and Union of Knowledge is the first of these. It’s a little dated in places now, nearly two decades later, but that’s forgivable. Again, it’s driven largely by synth arpeggios, with a few little vocal samples playing the melody from three minutes in. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to the sheer scale of the tracks on here.

The next track is the best on the whole album. It opens with gentle twisting pad sounds, a few light drums, and warped vocal samples, and then the synth lines start. There’s a clear formula at work here, but it’s a strong one. At the end of each section, the track breaks down in a different way before building back more defiantly than ever. Eleven minutes of music have rarely passed this quickly.

DNA Ritual is good, although perhaps a little less overwhelming. The general theme here seems to be some kind of alien takeover, and while I’m not entirely clear what’s going on during this “DNA ritual,” it’s still a good track. This one’s a little lacking in melody, driven more by complex synth lines, but it’s none the worse for that.

Seemingly it’s rather difficult to find the words to describe an album like this, which may explain the curious wording of this review. I found the title track Trikuti to be the weakest of the bunch, so I wouldn’t describe it as engrossing and beguiling, but it’s by no means bad either.

The final track is Unbeliever, and is another of the stronger pieces on the album. Generally softer and more chilled out than anything up to this point, it bubbles along for its eleven minutes with lots of pads and strong melody lines, before closing with another daft vocal sample, this time something about the nature of truth.

You probably have to have the right sort of taste, but Trikuti is a great album if you like your synth music to be full of pads and arpeggios, energetic but laid back, and very much inspired by the works of the pioneers of the 1970s.

The original version of Trikuti is no longer available but you can find the recent reissue (with all the tracks rearranged for some reason) at Asana‘s website here. You can hear more of this kind of thing on my September playlist Soundscapes, here, and there’s a guide to all of Asana‘s free output here.