The Space Brothers – Shine

For a while, in the late 1990s, The Space Brothers seemed to epitomise dance music. They would appear, once or twice a year, with a one-off single that was just so catchy and memorable that you couldn’t stop yourself wondering who exactly these people were. Then, eventually, two decades ago this week, they finally appeared with their first and only album, Shine.

It opens with Your Place in the World, a sweet piece with trippy beats and heady vocals. This is not, however, a piece that would catch your imagination by itself in particular – you need to have a bit of a feel for what’s coming up already in order to understand its importance. It’s good – although some of the vocal effects are a little unsettling – and the vinyl noise particularly helps, but it wouldn’t grab you if you didn’t know what you had picked up.

The title track is different. This was the single that had launched their career just over two years earlier. The Space Brothers had already had their hands on some of the biggest Balearic summer hits at this point, and it’s apparent even just from the high portamento-driven pads that there’s something a bit different going on here. As it builds, you realise it has everything – the slightly (but not uncomfortably) acid-infused bass line, the clicking synth riff line, the huge drum builds, and, of course, that vocal.

The vocalist, for this and second hit Forgiven, is Miss Joanna Law, who was at this stage already a decade into her career. A year before Shine originally came out, she had appeared on Way Out West‘s seminal The Gift, and both there and here provided vocals that lifted the song far beyond itself. This is entirely brilliant, and provided their biggest hit, although it only just scraped the top twenty.

This is Love is next, with a surprise heavy sample from Jean-Michel Jarre‘s Oxygène (Part I). It’s encouraging to see that The Space Brothers have no shame in revealing their influences quite this openly, but it still comes as something of a surprise. It makes for a curiously understated track, with the sort of chanting that kept cropping up on dance tracks around this time.

By now, the tracks are mixing into each other thick and fast, so the huge effect-laden snares of fourth single Heaven Will Come should come as little surprise. Most of the other tracks on here star Kate Cameron on vocals, who appears to have starred on pretty much every trance hit around this time. This is one of the slower pieces, but probably one of the better ones on here.

After all of that, the guitar twirls and disco beats of I Still Love You come as something of a surprise. It builds into another bounding trance track, so whatever variety seemed to briefly be promised quickly disappears. This is not a particularly eclectic album, but it is one of the best and most coherent examples of Balearic trance to appear under a single artist’s name.

In amongst the other pieces, it’s The Light that particularly stands out. The lyrics may be a bit new age, but the vocal delivery is impressively commanding. For me, though, it’s the remix that blows me away – this album, probably appropriately, comes with a second disc, mixed by Paul Oakenfold, and featuring a remixed version of pretty much the whole album, and the trance remix of this laid back track somehow seems to work a lot better. On the main album, this is one of those pieces that builds and builds, with a lot of promise, but it never quite seems to know where it’s going.

But in spite of putting the wrong version on the main album, you can’t deny that The Space Brothers are masters of their craft. Forgiven, originally released as Forgiven (I Feel Your Love) in late 1997 (The Space Brothers seemed to be putting brackets on the end of all their singles for a while), you have to remind yourself that this would have been the difficult second single, following after Shine. It does share a lot of the same sounds, including the portamento, and even the same vocalist, but in many ways it’s a better song. Just maybe not the best choice for second single, unless you don’t mind pigeonholing yourself.

The Same Journey opens with another piece of Jean-Michel Jarre, the unsettling vocal sample from Zoolook. Having got that out of the way, it’s a spacious piece, with plenty of room for vocal acrobatics. Ultimately, it’s probably fair to say that it’s one of the less good tracks on here, but it’s not bad, by any stretch of the imagination. The bar is pretty high here.

Then it’s time for more portamento, with the third single, Legacy (Show Me Love). They set a solid formula on those first three hits, but ultimately I’m glad they deviated from it for most of the album. This is another great single track, though, and not a bad comeback after a longer break, or indeed a bad choice of single to preempt the album. It just does sound a bit as though you’ve heard it all before at this point.

After all that, closing track Beyond the Sun is anticlimactic, to say the least. Kate Cameron does her best, but she’s really only just repeating “remember” most of the time while another vocalist wails something unintelligible. This track would be filler on pretty much any album, and while it works reasonably well in context as a closing track, you can’t really see it ever fitting anywhere else.

Until that final track, though, Shine is an exceptional album – a now-timeless document of late 1990s Balearic trance, that while now somewhat dated, still stands up well. I don’t know where The Space Brothers are now, but I’d like to think they’re still sitting on a beach in Ibiza, and continuing to large it. Whatever that means.

Copies of Shine still seem to be floating around, here for example, but keep an eye out that you aren’t actually looking at the single of the same name, as there appears to be some confusion!

Way Out West – We Love Machine

There’s something about the energy of Way Out West‘s music that always makes them particularly compelling. We Love Machine may be exactly ten years old today, and it may not have performed particularly well on the commercial stage a decade ago, but it’s still a driven, and memorable album.

It opens with title track We Love Machine, an electronic dance piece with occasional broad guitar strokes and atmospheric electro sounds. The strumming and tribal drum interludes are spaced perfectly apart among synth swirls and feedback-laden squelches. It may seem a little aimless, but it’s also beautiful in its way.

In spite of that, it doesn’t really prepare you for the second track, One Bright Night. There’s a sparkling, starry background, with melodic chimes playing in the foreground, before it grows into a hint of a tantalisingly beautiful song. Choral echoes gradually build towards something quite exceptional. Bluntly, I’m not sure it ever quite fulfills its promise, but it’s still an extremely good, sweet and gentle piece.

This is not, in a way, a style of dance music that you really hear much now – and it probably wasn’t around much in 2009 either, which may explain why this album didn’t perform too well. Only Love was actually the lead single, but despite a few disco elements now and then, it has relatively little to offer. Bizarrely, this is not a particularly commercial album, in spite of having all the right sounds and beats – but it is a delicate honing of Way Out West‘s sound, that’s more polished than most of the albums they released in the 1990s.

So the punchy, somewhat crunchy sound of Bodymotion does help, and while it isn’t perhaps as soft and gentle to listen to, at least as the first two tracks, it is a fun, bouncy, electronic track, for the most part. The vocals are a little lacklustre though, to be fair – it sounds like a less good version of Moby‘s Bodyrock. The panpipe breakdown is fun, if nothing else.

Pleasure Control is a pleasant, beatsy instrumental, which, while it doesn’t have a lot to offer by itself, makes for a nice inbetween moment, steering the album back onto course. It would probably sound amazing on a small-press acetate 12″, played in a club, and sounds good here too, but somehow doesn’t quite seem to meet its full potential.

That’s a bit of a theme here, actually. Future Perfect was another single, and again feels like a case where maybe the single would have worked better than the album. Its deep, hypnotic beats are great, but do seem to be screaming out to be heard in a particular environment, where sitting down, listening to the music in its raw state, and trying to write a review, turns out not to be particularly easy. It’s not at all that this is a bad album – just that it maybe requires a certain state of mind before the listener turns it on, which isn’t necessarily entirely fair on the reviewer.

There are more accessible moments, of course – Survival is more of a dance-pop crossover track, with huge organ pads. It’s good enough to make it worthwhile to buy this album, although somehow I’m finding that it seems to mean a lot less to me now than it did when I first heard it.

Even the longer instrumentals aren’t too dull – Ultra Violet is a deeper house track but has some punchy and atmospheric synth work, and rippling bass parts that lift it up from just being another house track. Tales of the Rabid Monks is catchy, if somewhat forgettable.

But every so often, there is a track that makes you prick up your ears. Final single Surrender is one of these – the understated vocal is good, but nothing special – it’s really just an accompaniment to the huge house beats, but the phased lead synth lines that drift in and out are brilliant. If slightly chilled out, trippy house music is your thing, this is a great example.

Of course, not everything can stand out like this. The Doors Are Where the Windows Should Be is an entirely competent instrumental, and Tierra Del Fuego is a sweet, dreamy piece, also free of vocals, but honestly it’s difficult to keep focus at this end of the album. It’s good, and it definitely has its moments, but some of them seem best kept in 2009 now.

You can still find We Love Machine at all regular retailers.

Saint Etienne – Continental

Continental isn’t a real album. Not in the sense that anyone thought of it as a studio album when it came out, anyway. Initially released two decades ago this week, but only in Japan, this follow-up to Tiger Bay (1994) compiles highlights from the singles, compilations, and other bits and bobs that appeared during the group’s first wilderness period. But then in 2009, it got a surprise inclusion in Saint Etienne‘s series of deluxe edition albums, so now we get to enjoy it as a real album after all.

It opens with the lovely Shad Thames, a bright and chirpy synth instrumental which hadn’t appeared anywhere prior to this point. If you only know them for their pure pop songs, it might come as a surprise to know that Saint Etienne have a great line in quirky instrumental, sample-based, and also long tracks. It’s a perfect opening track.

Burnt Out Car is next, a fantastic song, and in common with the timeless nature of this album, it did eventually appear as a single, but not until the end of 2009, when it heralded the London Conversations compilation. Here, it’s in its original form which first appeared in 1996 on the Casino Classics collection, mixed by Balearico.

Sometimes in Winter follows, another track that appeared in remixed form on Casino Classics, although this time we get Saint Etienne‘s original take. It’s a sweet slice of 1960s-style pop – the kind of thing the group have a justifiable reputation for being very good at. Then comes Winter Melody, kind of a continuation of the previous track, as it takes elements of Psychonauts‘ remix from the earlier release and stretches them a bit. A slightly odd inclusion, but also very much in line with the rest of this release.

One slightly trippy oddity leads into another, the short drum and bass-inspired Public Information Film, and then comes The Process, which was one of the b-sides of He’s on the Phone, presumably the track that necessitated this compilation in the first place. It’s also the track that comes next, and it’s a difficult one not to love. It’s a Motiv8 production, and his mixes do have a tendency to sound pretty much exactly the same as one another, but this one is pretty much as good as they ever got. You’ll find it very difficult not to sing along.

Side B opens with Stormtrooper in Drag, the cover version which originally appeared a few months earlier on the Gary Numan tribute compilation Random. It takes a lot of inspiration from He’s on the Phone too, with a pulsating mid-1990s synth line in the background and occasional rippling piano, and honestly once you accept that it’s a little bit dated now, it’s pretty great too.

Then things go unexpectedly glam with Star, the first of two tracks here on which singer Sarah Cracknell shares a writing credit with Ian Catt, so it’s probably safe to assume that this grew out of her solo album sessions and then maybe gained a bit of Saint Etienne production along the way. Good, but not really up to the standard of most of the other things on here.

The next pair of tracks consists on Down by the Sea and The Sea, which are pretty much two parts of the same song again. The latter appeared on Casino Classics with a lovely spacious, maritime-flavoured drum and bass remix from PFM, whereas the former is a full, although slightly avant garde, song. Together, they make up around ten minutes of music, a fifth of the entire release.

After several minutes of frantic drumming, we’re left with Lonesome, the second Ian Catt collaboration, and closing track Angel. It’s a slightly alarming change of pace, as Lonesome is largely acoustic pop, but it’s rather pleasant. Then Angel is the Broadcast remix which had appeared already on Casino Classics, which is nice, and very ethereal, but definitely not quite as good as Way Out West‘s version which appeared on the same release.

So Continental may or may not be a real album, and it’s definitely a slightly odd mix of tracks, but it’s also rather good, and is definitely worthy of its insertion into Saint Etienne‘s back catalogue.

The double-disc version of Continental gets a reissue of its own in just a few days, and comes with a bonus disc of early and alternative versions from the period. It will be available here.

Music for the Masses 29 – 6 December 2004

Show 29 was the last before the Christmas break in 2004, and while that may be a little off-season at the time of posting, it inevitably had a bit of a festive theme, with Erasure – also starring as the artist of the week – turning up on the playlist with She Won’t Be Home and other wintry hits from Pet Shop Boys and Saint Etienne.

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Show 29: Mon 6 Dec 2004, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Erasure.

  • Bomb the Bass – Darkheart
  • The Postal Service – Recycled Air
  • Sohodolls – Trash the Rental (Demo)
  • Ladytron – Playgirl
  • Depeche Mode – Photographic (Rex the Dog Dubb Mix)
  • Erasure – Sono Luminus
  • Alpinestars – Burning Up
  • Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas
  • Lemon Jelly – Stay with You
  • Espiritu – You Don’t Get Me
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Chronologie (Part 6)
  • Andy Pickford – Oblivion
  • Erasure – She Won’t Be Home
  • Piney Gir – Girl
  • Empire State Human – Little Alfie
  • Way Out West – Ajare 2
  • Jolly Music feat. Erlend Øye – Talco Uno
  • Client – In the Back of Your Car
  • Delerium – Wisdom
  • Peach – Hush
  • Erasure – Breathe
  • Sparks – The Calm Before the Storm
  • Saint Etienne – I Was Born on Christmas Day

Music for the Masses 23 – 24 October 2004

Three weeks in, and the newly reborn Music for the Masses radio show was finally starting to find a rhythm, even if it was just a week away from its end. Freed from the shackles of the playlists which dogged the show’s previous incarnation, there were now slots for forthcoming new releases, music news, and the new Artist of the Week slot. The laid back, late night nature of the music won the show a lot of praise – the fast talking of the presenter less so…

Show 23: Sun 24 Oct 2004, from 4:00am-6:00am

Broadcast on LSR FM, on FM and online. Artist of the week: Moby.

  • The Beloved – A Dream Within a Dream
  • Leftfield feat. Toni Halliday – Original
  • Monaco – What Do You Want from Me?
  • Moby – Porcelain
  • Röyksopp – Remind Me (Someone Else’s Radio Mix)
  • The Grid – Rollercoaster
  • Olive – Beyond the Fray
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence (Reinterpreted)
  • Peach – From This Moment On
  • Moby – Heaven
  • Way Out West – Blue
  • Bent – Stay the Same
  • Alex Gold feat. Phil Oakey – LA Today
  • Gloworm – Carry Me Home
  • Dirty Vegas – Walk Into the Sun
  • Adamski (with Seal) – Killer
  • Erlend Øye – Sheltered Life (Radio Mix)
  • Beyer & Lenk feat. Tiga – Ananda
  • Moby – The Whispering Wind
  • 808 State – Pacific State
  • Jam & Spoon feat. Rea – Be Angeled

This show was recorded, and for the most part still exists. It will be posted as a Playlist for stowaways soon.

Music for the Masses 20 – 7 June 2000

Apart from the legendary demo tape (more next time), this was the last of the original run of shows, broadcast on Bay Radio, Aberystwyth’s student radio station. It closed with Erasure‘s lovely Piano Song.

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Show 20: Wed 7 June 2000, from 10.55am-1.00pm

Tracks taken from the playlist (Total 13 tracks). A indicates A-list (9 tracks); B indicates B-list (2 tracks) and C indicates C-list (1 tracks). S indicates the Single of the Week. R indicates tracks which were taken from my own collection (Total 8 tracks). L indicates the ones from the “library” (Total 5 tracks).

  • 1. Richard Ashcroft “Money to Burn” A
  • [IRN 11.00 News]
  • 2. Dubstar “Stars” (Way Out West Remix) R
  • 3. Moby “Porcelain” A
  • 4. Muse “Unintended” A
  • 5. Mo-ho-bish-o-pi “Hear the Air” A
  • 6. Maxim feat. Skin “Carmen Queasy” A
  • 7. Apollo 440 “Heart Go Boom” L
  • 8. Depeche Mode “The Things You Said” R
  • 9. Duran Duran “Someone Else Not Me” L
  • 10. Idlewild “These Wooden Ideas” A
  • 11. Limp Bizkit “Take a Look Around” S
  • [Advert Break]
  • 12. Air “Playground Love” L
  • 13. Pet Shop Boys “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus” R
  • 14. Dandy Warhols “Get Off” A
  • [IRN 12.00 News]
  • 15. Jean Michel Jarre “Je Me Souviens” R
  • 16. Space Brothers “The Light” (Space Brothers Remix) L
  • 17. Paul van Dyk feat. Saint Etienne “Tell Me Why (The Riddle)” R
  • 18. Tom Jones & Mousse T “Sex Bomb” B
  • 19. Billie Piper “Day & Night” C
  • 20. Phoenix “Too Young” A
  • 21. Beloved “Loving Feeling” R
  • [Charts]
  • 22. Sonique “It Feels So Good” A
  • 23. Olive “Miracle” R
  • [Advert Break]
  • 24. Dum Dums “I Can’t Get You Out of My Thoughts” B
  • 25. Travis “Baby One More Time” L
  • 26. Erasure “Piano Song” R

Producer: Me. Waha! I shall take over the world!

Notes: Not a bad last show (well, for the time being). Pity my co-host never turned up, but there we go. The aim was to get in all my favourites from the last year or so, which I think I managed. Et fin!