Bizarre search engine terms – 2018 edition

I don’t often look at the statistics for this blog, but occasionally it tells me one or two interesting facts. One of the more revealing is the search engine terms that bring people here. These are a selection of the ones that brought you here in the last year or so!

b.e.f. ‎– music for stowaways torrent

No. Just no. I say this every time, but if you want illegal music, this is not the right place to look. Stream, buy second hand, or best, buy the original in some form. Most of B.E.F.‘s debut album is available on the 1981-2011 box set.

“stephen hague” produce

A search which has brought people here on an astonishing nine different occasions. Stephen Hague turns up a lot on this blog, of course, and not always by name. Over a four-decade career, he’s been responsible for producing many of our favourite acts around here, including Orchestral Manoeuvres in the DarkPet Shop BoysNew OrderErasureMarc AlmondElectronicBlurDubstarSarah CracknellAfro Celt Sound Systema-haPeter GabrielClientClaudia Brücken and more. A future stowaway hero for sure.

location of the first brit award in 1981 [and 1981 brits awards]

A lot of people seem to come here now looking for information about the BRIT Awards. As you’ll see from this article, the first BRIT Awards was not in 1981 – there wasn’t even a ceremony that year. The first was in 1977, at Wembley Conference Centre. The first regular ceremony was in 1982, at Grosvenor House.

best kraftwerk album to start with

Everyone will have their own opinion on this, but I gave mine when Kraftwerk appeared on the Beginner’s guide feature three years ago. I’d stand by that judgement – start with Trans Europa Express or The Mix. It’s worth paying extra for the German releases.

vangelis aimless noodling

This might be one of my favourite web searches ever. Honestly, yes, a good chunk of Vangelis‘s music is aimless noodling, and rather amusingly it turns out that I actually used those exact words when I reviewed the Metropolis soundtrack in 2014, although at the time I wasn’t referring to the man himself.

If you want more, here’s the 2017 edition.

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Grammy Awards 2017

Around this time of year, I usually like to put together a quick post summarising the Grammy Awards. Honestly, it’s a total nightmare – there are way too many awards in a myriad different categories, and I don’t really care all that much, but let’s see what we can see anyway…

First up, skipping straight to category #10, Best Dance/Electronic Album, where Jean-Michel Jarre was definitely robbed for Electronica 1: The Time Machine, and not even Underworld could grab it with Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future. Instead, it was taken by someone called Flume, with Skin.

Another veteran who didn’t make it this year was Vangelis, whose latest album Rosetta lost in the Best New Age Album category to White Sun‘s White Sun II.

There were some vague highlights in the Best Remixed Recording category, where Timo Maas turned up as a nominee, reworking Wings, but failed to win. Among the competition was Joe Goddard of Hot Chip, with a version of The Chemical Brothers‘ Wide Open, but that also failed to win.

There were some well-deserved wins for David Bowie in the Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Music Album and Best Recording Package and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (whatever the heck that means) categories, all for Blackstar.

An honourable mention is surely due to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose latest album Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers didn’t quite grab the Best World Music Album, and finally, hats off to Dolly Parton, who with the help of Pentatonix won the Best Country Duo/Group Performance award for Jolene.

There’s a painfully long list here, if you want to find some highlights for yourself.

Preview – Vangelis

Ever inventive and unusual, Vangelis turned up a couple of weeks ago with a new album called Rosetta, composed for the European Space Agency to celebrate the first ever soft landing on a comet a couple of years ago (you remember – it bounced and everybody burst into tears!) As a taster, here’s Origins (Arrival):

Various Artists – Metropolis

This week’s movie soundtrack comes direct from 1984, while the original movie was released all the way back in 1926. As a huge fan of the original film, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this album – on the one hand it’s the legendary Metropolis, with a soundtrack by the legendary Giorgio Moroder. On the other hand, it is pretty awful. But I haven’t actually seen this version of the film, so I can only really judge the soundtrack on its own merits.

First up is Freddie Mercury delivering a typically lively performance on Love Kills, which also sees Giorgio Moroder excelling himself with an enormous 1980s backing track. It doesn’t always quite seem to complement Mercury’s vocal, but by and large it works. Whether or not you think it’s any good will probably depend on how you feel about the performers, but however you look at it, this is a pretty strong opening track.

Next we get Pat Benatar to perform a pretty poor song called Here’s My Heart. Although written and mixed by Moroder, he doesn’t seem to have had much a say on this particular track unfortunately. Jon Anderson (of And Vangelis fame) turns up after that for the entirely competent Cage of Freedom, followed by Cycle V with Blood from a Stone.

Without having seen it, it’s difficult to even begin to imagine how this might have sounded as the actual accompaniment to the film. At times you wonder how it ever could have worked, but at others it’s rather more clear, such as the pleasant instrumental The Legend of Babel, which closes side A. But even in its better moments, it is, unfortunately, extremely dated. It might well be only thirty years since its release, but it sounds like considerably more.

Side B opens with Bonnie Tyler, whose heart seems to have recovered to the degree that she can deliver Here She Comes with some degree of flair. It doesn’t help hugely – it’s a pretty poor song, but she’s doing her best.

Slightly better, but still very much a 1980s power ballad is Destruction by Loverboy. You can almost see them making silly faces on Top of the Pops when you listen to this. Was it just that Moroder’s sound was so defining of the early eighties, or did he go out of his way to make this album sound as dated as possible? It’s difficult to be sure.

The later tracks don’t really help matters, as Billy Squier and Adam Ant do their level best with On Your Own and What’s Going On, but neither really achieves a huge amount unfortunately. Finally, Moroder turns up again for another instrumental, Machines, which this time proves just to be a bit of fairly aimless synth noodling.

I’ll watch it one day, but for all I know the Giorgio Moroder version of Metropolis may work extremely well. It is, however, difficult to see how this album might reach its sixtieth birthday and stand the test of time anywhere near as well as the film had when it was released in this form. Best avoided.

The 1999 reissue of Metropolis still seems to be available from major retailers, such as here. You can find the DVD of this version here.

Various Artists – Late Night Tales: Röyksopp

As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of compilation albums, particularly not mixed ones, which is silly really, because I do like a good mix tape. But for Röyksopp I’m happy to make an exception – their Late Night Tales collection is bound to be pretty special. Besides, the download version also gives you a full set of unmixed recordings, which is really rather nice of them.

It opens with the first of two exclusive tracks of their own, Daddy’s Groove, which is a beautifully sweet track. It doesn’t have a huge amount in common with anything they have done before, with its computerised vocal and very laid back feel, but it is very gentle indeed. So gentle, in fact, that I’m not entirely sure I would have opened with it, but never mind.

Next up is another sweet and mellow piece, Rare Bird‘s Passing Through. As with many of the acts on this release, this wasn’t something I knew previously, which is perhaps embarrassing, given that it dates back to 1975. I suppose I don’t know my prog rock as well as I should.

Little River Band‘s Light of Day was equally new to me, and is nearly as old, dating from 1978, and is also very good indeed. It has a certain timeless quality, and really does fit on here very well – Röyksopp seemingly have extremely good taste!

Or perhaps not – I’m really not convinced by Tuxedomoon‘s version of In a Manner of Speaking, with its awful vocal delivery and almost total loss of the haunting quality that the song can hold. For me, this is definitely the low point of the album.

Vangelis turns up to pick things up with his Blade Runner Blues, but it isn’t until the next track that things really hot up, as Röyksopp themselves turn up with their latest collaborator Susanne Sundfør to cover Depeche Mode‘s Ice Machine in very stylish fahsion. If nothing else, it’s worth owning this compilation for a copy of this one track.

From this point onwards, things enter decidedly chilled mode, with Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s bizarrely sweet and evocative Odi et Amo, followed by F.R. David‘s Music, another track I hadn’t heard before, but one which is really quite exceptional. It actually sounds even older than it turns out to be (released in 1982), but that’s OK.

Prelude‘s bizarre folk sound (with a very heady level of reverb) works rather nicely on After the Goldrush, and then Richard Schneider Jr. turns up for Hello Beach Girls, which is enjoyable, despite being totally bizarre in every conceivable way.

Next comes Mr. Acker Bilk‘s 1961 number 2 (or 1, depending which chart you’re looking at) hit Stranger on the Shore, apparently the best selling instrumental single of all time. Then it’s forward a couple of decades to the 1980s for Thomas Dolby‘s strangely evocative Budapest by Blimp. Clearly Röyksopp‘s taste is not only good, but also eclectic, and also a little bit odd.

Byrne & Barnes‘s Love You Out of Your Mind is a pleasant – if very easy – song, but is probably the last of the highlights for me. Later tracks by John Martyn, XTC, and others are nice enough, but the night has clearly got very late indeed. The album closes with a section of a story read by Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch, which is ultimately fun, but probably means rather more if you’ve heard the previous chapter.

But overall, Röyksopp‘s Late Night Tales is an extremely enjoyable compilation – both as an introduction to music that you might not have heard before (although admittedly probably should have), and also just as a chillout album. It delivers a wide variety of sounds, mixed together largely seamlessly, and definitely deserves to be extremely well regarded.

You can find the download version of Röyksopp‘s Late Night Tales at all major music retailers, such as Amazon, where you can also enjoy some funny reviews by morons.

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.

Trance Atlantic Air Waves – The Energy of Sound

Fifteen years ago this week saw the release of the first real Enigma side project in a long time. Made up of Enigma‘s Michael Cretu and his long-time production collaborator Jens Gad, it is ostensibly a cover version album. However, unlike normal albums of this kind, it’s actually pretty good.

The first track is Lucifer, originally performed by The Alan Parsons Project in 1979. The portamento and guitar leads swell over what is, really, what sounds like a fairly typical Enigma backing track of the period. In a good way.

Second is a cover of Harold Faltermeyer‘s Axel F (1984), now with added samples of someone saying “Give me a big beat,” and another one which you’ll have heard before in The Happy Mondays‘s Hallelujah. Famously, Michael Cretu claims that he doesn’t actually listen to much contemporary music, and that does show sometimes, but this is still a pretty banging track.

Exactly what events led to this collaboration is difficult to fathom. The Enigma project was between albums, with the last album of the original trilogy Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! having come out a couple of years earlier and the follow-up The Screen Behind the Mirror not due until two years later. Cretu’s wife Sandra wasn’t recording at this time either, so perhaps this was just a stopgap, or maybe it was just a bit of fun. The first single Magic Fly had come out the previous year, and was followed by Chase and Crockett’s Theme over the following months.

The great version of Crockett’s Theme is the next track in fact, originally performed by Jan Hammer in 1986. The vast majority of tracks are excellent – they’re all old synth instrumentals, which are rightly regarded as classics by the world at large. This one is particularly good, with bouncy drum lines and a massive synth lead.

Next up is Dance with the Devil, an odd choice given that the original, a 1973 hit for Cozy Powell is largely a drum solo. It works pretty well, but it’s probably the weakest track on what is actually a very strong album. Then the fifth track is the softer and more Enigma sounding Addiction Day, led by a brilliant morphing portamento sound. It’s also one of a couple of exceptions on this album, being a new track written by Jens Gad rather than a cover.

A long take on Ecama‘s 1978 hit Magic Fly follows, now with added samples saying, “I said shut up,” which isn’t too charming. It does sound a little dated now, fifteen years on (remember, in the case of this track, it was only twenty years old when the album was released) but it’s good nonetheless. This is the Wonderland Mix, and without having heard the “original” it’s difficult to know how they actually compare, but it’s a strong lead single.

Chase, also originally performed in 1978 by Hansjörg (better known as Giorgio) Moroder, is up next. It’s a much more atmospheric track than the original, although again it isn’t exactly contemporary, even for the late 1990s – the remixes done a couple of years later for Giorgio’s remix project are much more lively. It is good though – the atmosphere suits it, and it’s another great track.

There are then two more Gad/Cretu originals: Twelve After Midnight and L-42. Although obviously otherwise unknown, both fit in perfectly alongside their more esteemed neighbours, driven again by strong synth leads and sampled spoken vocals. L-42 could even have easily squeezed onto the previous Enigma album and fitted perfectly.

The final track covers Evangelos “Vangelis” Papathanassiou’s 1976 hit Pulstar. More of an extrapolation than a direct cover, it follows a similar pattern to the other pieces – the original melody is accompanied by spoken samples and lots of big synth backing. That description may not do it justice, and just so we’re clear, it is, of course, excellent.

Looking from the distance, both of fifteen years, and from not really knowing its history, Trance Atlantic Air Waves is an odd side-project, but although dated now it’s a good album, and a worthwhile look back at a handful of instrumental synth masterpieces from the preceding thirty years.

To my surprise, you can actually find this album on iTunes, here.