X-Press 2 – Muzikizum

I don’t really know a huge amount about X-Press 2, apart from vaguely being aware of their presence in the mid-1990s, and of course the smash hit Lazy, taken from their palindromic album Muzikizum, which first appeared fifteen years ago this week.

Getting the title track out of the way first, the opener is a beatsie piece with some very familiar samples and a whole lot of house. If house isn’t your thing, you might well be struggling already, but it’s a varied enough piece, and you would at least find it mercifully short, at a mere six minutes.

Supasong is shorter, more repetitive, and definitely lacking somewhat in ideas. Somehow it doesn’t quite work: it isn’t deep enough to be deep house; it isn’t interesting enough to be anything really. Pleasant, but little more than that.

So the massive hit Lazy can’t really come too soon, although in its album form, rather than extending the song that you probably bought this for in the first place, X-Press 2 have instead just added a couple of minutes of house beats and sound effects to the front. When it does finally get going, it shouldn’t take you long to remember why you liked this so much. The piano introduction may sound like something from a decade or so earlier; the lyrics might be completely daft; but the melody is uplifting, David Byrne‘s delivery is great, and you’ll very probably identify with the theme as a whole.

What it isn’t, is particularly representative of the rest of the album, as Angel demonstrates. This is the closest we’ve come yet to deep house on this album, and for what it is, it’s pretty competent. The best just goes straight on and on, apparently. And it does – Palenque and Smoke Machine continue on a similar theme – catchy and repetitive, and pleasant enough to enjoy. But maybe not quite as memorable as Lazy.

Actually, pretty much everything on this album was released as a 12″ single at some stage, and I Want You Back was the follow-up to Lazy, and it barely managed that. Which is a great shame – Dieter Meier from Yello turns up to deliver a typically ridiculous vocal, and it turns out to be a good mix, with his low vocals and some deep house beats and effects.

Call That Love is next, and for the first time brings us some chirpy melodic elements from the start. Steve Edwards injects a soulful vocal, and after a bit the production goes completely wild – for the first time in about five tracks, we’re hearing melodic sounds; things other than drums and short samples. I’m not entirely sure that any of the words really make sense, but it’s pretty good if you can put that out of your mind.

AC/DC was another single, and another of the less interesting tracks on here, at least if you aren’t in a grimey sweaty club with lots of flashing lights going on. There are some nice disco elements at times, and there’s a lot to enjoy, but you do find yourself wishing there was something a little more substantial to it.

The Ending track is called the ending, and keeps up the slight disco theme, with a bit of dub as well as the deep house beats and structures. It’s a compelling mix, and yes, it may not be the best track ever written, but it works well, and it does exactly what it intends to.

Which is pretty much true of Muzikizum in general, actually. X-Press 2 needed an album to go with Lazy, and they pulled something together that did what they wanted it to. Not a lot more than that, admittedly, and that’s a shame, but if you can accept it for what it is, this is a good album.

The original album seems to be less available than it once was, but you can still find copies floating around.

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Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise

Barely six months after the release of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s first Electronica album, he was already back with the second volume. This time, of course, we start with certain expectations after the first, and it’s not a disappointment.

The second volume begins with the gloriously atmospheric The Heart of Noise (Part 1), a duet with the French electronic musician Rone, who I hadn’t heard of before, but who seems to have brought a lot of additional atmosphere to this piece. It steps naturally into Part 2, which curiously for a collaboration album features Jarre collaborating with himself.

You must have realised by now that I’m a pretty big fan of Pet Shop Boys, so it should come as little surprise that I was excited about Brick England, but it does seem a typical act of irony for the duo that what’s clearly their best song in a number of years didn’t actually make it onto their latest album, released just weeks before this one. But Brick England is just so good. If there were any justice, this would have been number one for weeks. It wasn’t even a single – actually, Jarre seems to have lost interest in this album as soon as it was released and gone onto recording Oxygène 3 instead.

Julia Holter turns up next for the sparkling These Creatures, and then the one track that I don’t understand, As One with Primal Scream. It seems clear that they didn’t bother turning up for this, so Jarre has collaborated with them in much the same way as rappers collaborate with bald annoying drummers – by taking their song and recording another one over the top. The results aren’t bad, but surely Jarre could have done better?

Some of the legends here are every bit as legendary as Jarre himself, and Gary Numan is surely one of the closest, and although I haven’t really felt he’s lived up to his status in the last couple of decades, it’s hard not to have a degree of respect for him. Here for You is good though – possibly even one of the better tracks on here.

Without the list of collaborators, it’s often hard to know exactly what’s going on, so the gentle Electrees (with Hans Zimmer) fades into the more violent Exit, largely a solo Jarre work until Edward Snowden suddenly appears out of nowhere to talk about privacy for some reason.

Next it’s the turn of Canadian singer Peaches, who confused me briefly when I wondered why I’d only vaguely heard of her, until I realised she’s basically never had a hit in the UK. What You Want is pretty good though, although perhaps not quite as good as Gisele, with the flamboyant French singer Sébastien Tellier.

Switch on Leon sees Jarre appropriately working with The Orb to express their deep love of synthesizers and electronic music, but ultimately here is little more than an interlude which continues with the pleasant and bumpy Circus, with Siriusmo.

The brilliant Yello turn up for Why This, Why That and Why, a strangely compelling track which, like Brick England, blows their own 2016 album Toy out of the water. It’s an odd one, but it’s definitely one of the best tracks on here.

Prolific experimental musician Jeff Mills is next, with The Architect, a pleasant instrumental before the brilliant Swipe to the Right, with Cyndi Lauper, definitely one of the best pop tracks that Jarre has ever been involved with. Then another French legend Christophe appears to deliver Walking the Mile, a pleasant pop song.

Right at the end are a couple of surprises – Jarre collaborates with himself again and delivers his own vocal on another great pop song, Falling Down, and then it closes with the track that started the whole project, The Heart of Noise (The Origin).

Ultimately both halves of the Electronica project are great albums, but I’d dare to suggest that The Heart of Noise is actually slightly better than The Time Machine. Needless to say, both albums are well worth a listen, and ideally a purchase, and hopefully, one day, even a follow-up.

You can still find volume 2 of Electronica at all major retailers.

Stowaway Awards 2017

Finally! We kick Awards Season off in earnest with the Important Announcement of the winners of the 2017 Stowaways.

Best Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre with Pet Shop Boys, for Brick England.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre, who had a particularly good year and stood a better chance of winning than most, with Oxygène 3.

Best Reissue / Compilation

The nominees:

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Winner: The Human League

Best Artist

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Best Live Act

Winner: Pet Shop Boys

Best Ambient Track

Nominated were:

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Winner: Delerium, for Ghost Requiem

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Potential winners included:

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Winner: Shit Robot

Best Newcomer

Winner: C Duncan

Innovation Award

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Outstanding Contribution

Could have been any of the following:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Delerium

That’s an unprecedented four out of ten for Jean-Michel Jarre. All being well, we’ll do the BRIT and Grammy Awards over the next couple of weeks.

Chart for stowaways – 14 January 2017

Here’s the latest album chart:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  2. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  3. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  4. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  6. Delerium – Mythologie
  7. Air – Twentyears
  8. David Bowie – Legacy
  9. Yello – Toy
  10. Brian Eno – Reflection

Stowaway Awards 2017 – Nominations

Now for the moment that you have, of course, all been waiting for: the announcement of the nominees for the 2017 Stowaway Awards. As always in recent years, there will be exactly ten awards, one of which (Best Track) you know already from the countdown a couple of weeks ago. Here are five more key nominations!

Best Album

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Best Ambient Track

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Best Dance Act / Remixer

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Outstanding Contribution

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Chart for stowaways – 31 December 2016

Here’s the last album chart of 2016!

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  2. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  3. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  4. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  6. Delerium – Mythologie
  7. Air – Twentyears
  8. Yello – Toy
  9. David Bowie – Legacy
  10. David Bowie – Blackstar

Albums chart of the year 2016

Here are the top albums of last year, for stowaways:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. New Order – Music Complete [number 1 in 2015]
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine [number 6 in 2015]
  4. David Bowie – Best Of Bowie
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  6. David Bowie – Blackstar
  7. Conjure One – Holoscenic [released in 2015]
  8. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  9. David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed [number 25 in 2015]
  10. Shit Robot – What Follows
  11. Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys [number 26 in 2015]
  12. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  13. Air – Twentyears
  14. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  15. Delerium – Mythologie
  16. David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
  17. Yello – Toy
  18. Little Boots – Working Girl [number 4 in 2015]
  19. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
  20. David Bowie – Hunky Dory

More in a year or so…