Preview – Vangelis

This came out way back in January, but Vangelis was surprisingly reluctant to put it onto a video sharing site so I could share it with you. Now, in the midst of the normal summertime lull, I can share it – from his piano album Nocturne, here’s Love Theme from Blade Runner:

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.

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.

Bizarre search engine terms

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now, and I’ve been enjoying watching the statistics for you lot, the people who visit. Your numbers are good, on the whole, and a lot of you stay to read stuff, which is encouraging too.

But I think what I enjoy the most is the search engine terms by which you end up on the page. Here are ten of my favourites, with the answers so you don’t need to search so hard in future:

devo newport stowaway club

Your best place to look for information about concerts past, present, and future tends to be Songkick.

vangelis -dimitri -moras -ebay -download

Erm. No idea what you were searching for here.

history of modern music

The Guardian did a nice article about this a couple of years ago. See here.

queen wings and band aid 2 million

I suspect the question here is “which sold more?” Wings managed 2 million on the dot with Mull of KintyreQueen managed 2.36 million with Bohemian RhapsodyBand Aid sold 3.69 million copies of Do They Know it’s Christmas?; and meanwhile Elton John surpassed all records in 1997 with 4.9 million sales of Candle in the Wind.

actor inside mr blobby

Barry Killerby, apparently, for the bulk of his career anyway.

how many brit awards did girls aloud have

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, just the one – they won Best British Single in 2009 with The Promise. They were also nominated for Best British Group in 2008 and 2009, Best Pop Act in 2008, and BRITs Hits 30 for The Promise in 2010.

lady gaga attitude towards kylie minogue

Apparently Kylie Minogue thinks there’s an element of her in Lady Gaga, according to a slightly pointless article in the New York Daily News, here. But what does Gaga think of Kylie? Keep searching…

did robsin green sing in band aid

No. There’s a table on the Wikipedia page for Band Aid 20.

are atomic kitten write a new albums

Technically they weren’t write the previous ones. But yes, sadly they is, thanks to the ITV series The Big Reunion. Read more about it on their Wikipedia page.

the,dark side,of,cliff richard

I think this may be my favourite. It would be tempting to suggest he lives a vampire lifestyle by night, or maybe turns into a werewolf and howls in the moonlight.

But I don’t think so…

Introducing Kyma

Our guest unsigned act this week is Colchester-based solo “hobby musician” Neil Alderson, better known as Kyma. He describes his music as intelligent, mellow electronica, blended with real and organic instruments.

Having started with childhood piano and guitar lessons, Neil started writing songs in an alternative rock band in the late 1990s. His solo work started under the name Karma Police, taking inspiration from the Radiohead song, and kicking off with the album Swept Away (2003). Finding that too many people assumed he was going to be a Radiohead tribute act, he randomly came across the word Kyma (the Greek word for ‘wave’) from a Google search.

The first track we’ll be listening to today is Lost Sands:

It is a great instrumental with a wonderfully chilled out feeling, with gentle pads and strings backed up with soft oriental sounds, and steadily builds to a point half way through where everything breaks down and you realise you’ve just lost a huge throbbing bass as well. Things build again throughout the second half, hitting a point which I can only describe as trippy oriental dub. Fantastic.

Next up is Crystallized:

This one has a bit of an X Files feel for me, with its rippling piano part and a bass line fresh out of the 1990s (that’s a good thing). After Lost Sands this is a great contrast, and proves that Kyma can handle a good range of styles.

Third and last for this set is Angels Breathe, from 2004:

Opening with a distinctly wobbly vinyl effect, this piano-driven track is the only one in this set to include vocals, from a somewhat ethereal sounding lady. I can’t help but feel she’s a little clouded by the effects, but you can hear echoes of Delerium (that’s a very good thing).

Here are some highlights from Kyma‘s answers to my largely daft and unprofessional questions. He was particularly notable, in that his answers were among the best that I received from any of my guests…

What’s your favourite synth, and why?

Well it’s not really an easy thing to pick out an absolute favourite because I am always changing which synths I use and quite often each project will have a completely different rack of synths in the sequencer depending on what sound or theme I’m trying to develop. A number of tracks are born out of me literally randomly picking a synth or trying out something I’ve downloaded and randomly picking another one until I get a layer of sound that I like. I guess I have a few “fallback” synths, namely, FM7, Alchemy, Chimera, Microtonic, If you had asked me 10 years ago I probably would have included Greenoaks Crystal on that list too, not used it much in recent years though. I’m an advocate of freeware synths and I like finding a good freeware synth before resorting to paid for. (That could also be because I’m a cheapskate more than anything though!)

Rearrange the following into the correct order: The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Mozart, Kraftwerk.

Mozart, The Beatles, Kraftwerk.

Mozart has to be top really, a pioneer of his time and technically superior to the rest. The Beatles second, no one can deny the impact The Beatles had on music and they’re just so damn catchy! You probably would have thought being an electronic artist I would pick Kraftwerk as top but in my opinion the other two really made a bigger impact in general, as much as I respect what Kraftwerk did for electronica specifically.

And as for the other one, I’m not even going to sully my keyboard by typing out his name let alone let him onto my list!

Which (existing) movie would have benefitted your music on the soundtrack?

An interesting question… I have no idea! Well I’ve always been inspired by the Blade Runner soundtrack but I think it is already perfect so I would never think I could replace it, not in a million years! But maybe you could slip one or two of my tracks in there to sit alongside Vangelis‘ amazing work? But even then, the quality difference would show (obviously I mean just how bad the quality of Vangelis‘ work is compared to mine… obviously)

Thanks very much to Kyma for agreeing to appear here and for providing such great answers to my daft questions! If you want to hear more, head to his Soundcloud page.