Delerium – Chimera

By 2003, pretty much everybody had sampled O Euchari, and nearly a decade or so into the good bit of their career, it was time for Delerium to join in the fun. Actually, a lot of people had worked with Zoë Johnston by this stage as well, so Chimera‘s opening track Love may not have much new to offer, but it’s a pretty good song nonetheless.

It was hardly a concept invented by Delerium, but this was early in the age of overprocessed vocals, which is a shame, as Jaël is a good singer, but After All, the single which preceded the album by a few weeks, does suffer initially somewhat from sounding as though it’s being sung by a robot. Having got beyond that, there’s a good song hiding here, and packaged with the traditional million-or-so remixes, this was a reasonable hit. Well, except for the fact that it came out during the sorry era when the UK record industry killed itself by limiting singles to a twenty minute duration.

Ultimately, it isn’t until Just a Dream that we really get a taste of the beautifully scenic sound that had had typified the preceding albums Karma and Poem, and it’s every bit as good as you might have hoped for.

The pop sound returns with the promo single Run for It, for which they drafted in vocalist Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer (that’s even how she was credited). It’s a good song, but somehow seems a bit insubstantial after the preceding track. Proper second single Truly follows, with none other than Nerina Pallot on vocals. Another pop song, but a particularly good one, and since they waited until 2004 to release it as a single, it managed to get a slightly more substantial CD release.

Serenity is next, one of the longest tracks on here, and perhaps the closest yet to the blueprint laid out by the preceding albums, with its operatic and multinational vocal samples and rippling synthesisers. Touched is sweet too, although honestly, after a decade and a half of listening, it does sound rather dated now.

Forever After suffers from this as well – the Turkish vocals from Sultana are nice, but the scratching in the middle section seems a bit questionable now. It leads into the adorable Fallen, starring Rani, who previously sang on Underwater, the final single from the previous album. Fallen is really sweet, although it does seem to be about someone who’s about to commit suicide in the morning by throwing themselves of a star, which isn’t so cheery.

Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer reappears for Orbit of Me, which for me is another of the weaker tracks on here, but then Julee Cruise turns up to deliver Magic. This one is a bit schizophrenic – in a way, it doesn’t really work (and no, I’m not a warlock – to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what one is) – but in a way, it does. Either way, it definitely worked a lot better for me fifteen years ago.

Eternal Odyssey is a very pleasant, if long, instrumental, which does a bit of an Enigma by sampling Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings halfway through for no particularly obvious reason. Which, by the way, is also something someone had done by this stage, probably more than once.

The general theme, in case you hadn’t worked it out by now, is that with ChimeraDelerium were trying to go “pop” by borrowing ideas from lots of other people. It works, for the most part, as this is an entirely competent album, but it lacks the innovative streak that had characterised their sound in the mid-1990s.

Delerium mainstay Kristy Thirsk appears to lead the vocals on Returning, which might actually be the best track on here – it’s a sweet, almost lullaby-like track that closes the album well. But just as you start to wonder why the rest of the album couldn’t have been a bit more like this, that O Euchari sample turns up again. Chimera is a good album – it’s just not quite innovative enough to be a great album.

The only CD of Chimera currently on sale in the UK appears to be an import, but you can find that here, if you like.

Faithless – Outrospective

Faithless never really did anything wrong. Maybe it’s just me that’s forgotten about them, or maybe history is somehow clouding my judgement, but to my surprise I find myself approaching this review with a bit of trepidation.

Fifteen years ago this week, the dance superstars released their third album Outrospective. After the slightly confused debut Reverence (1996) and the traditionally difficult second album Sunday 8pm (1998), this was definitely their best yet, so what reason could I possibly have for this trepidation?

It opens with Donny X, a pleasant instrumental electronic piece which ends with Maxi Jazz giving a few introductory words before the lovely Not Enuff Love begins. It’s a bit trippy, which seems somewhat unnecessary for such a sweet song, but maybe that’s just me.

If you were paying attention in the early summer of 2001, We Come 1 would have caught your attention, and so it is on the album, although for once it possibly suffers a little by appearing in its full eight minute glory. It’s great – those backwards kicks are enormous – but it feels as though it all happened a very long time ago now.

But I still feel as though I’m forcing myself to be critical, especially as the lovely Zoë Johnston turns up to deliver the vocal on the adorable Crazy English Summer, a song which has subconsciously haunted me for years since I left the UK. It feels as though it’s designed to remind me personally of the rained off barbecues and long walks in the countryside of the 1990s.

Muhammad Ali is the one track on here that I’ve never entirely understood – ultimately I think Maxi Jazz‘s relationship with the boxing legend is different to mine, and the disco backing doesn’t quite work for me.

Machines R Us is next (technically, that’s a backwards R, but I can’t actually be bothered finding the keystroke for that right now), continuing the disco theme slightly. It’s an instrumental, which is pleasant, and carries us through to Dido‘s inevitable appearance with the sublime single One Step Too Far. This in turn drifts gently into the introduction of one of the best dance tracks on here, the brilliant Tarantula, definitely one of the best songs about spiders in recent times if nothing else.

You do have to wonder what on earth Maxi Jazz is on about sometimes though – Giving Myself Away is nice, but has somewhat inscrutable lyrics. The instrumental Code is really sweet too, and carries us through to two more appearances by Zoë Johnston, firstly on the anthemic and understated Evergreen. This is so good that it had me wondering if Johnston had ever released a solo album. As it happens, she has, so I may be checking that out soon. Anyway…

I had my doubts, I confess, but by the end of Outrospective I’m finding I still love it every bit as much as I did fifteen years ago. Some parts have dated, definitely. But the elements that made it great are still very much there. This is definitely Faithless‘s finest hour.

If you can still find a copy of the double CD version of Outrospective/Reperspective, that’s the one to go for.

The Grammy Awards 2016

Every year in recent times during Awards Week, I’ve tried to go through the list of Grammy winners comprehensively, and come up with some of the highlights. If only it weren’t such a bloody long list…

Best Dance Recording is always an eccentric list, particularly with the US opinion on what counts as dance (although the BRITs always seemed to want to fill the nomination list with Jamiroquai back in the days when the category existed). This year’s nominees included Above & Beyond with Zoë Johnston, with We’re All We Need, and The Chemical Brothers featuring Q-Tip with Go, but of course the winner had to be Justin Bieber, accompanied by Skrillex and Diplo, whoever they might be.

Best Dance/Electronic Album also showed some promise, but Skrillex and Diplo carried that one away too. Unsuccessful nominees included Caribou‘s Our Love, and The Chemical BrothersBorn in the Echoes.

I’ve never really understood what “alternative music” is supposed to be, but Björk must have been a strong contender with Vulnicura in the Best Alternative Music Album category. Ultimately, she lost out to Alabama Shakes.

Best New Age Album probably showed some promise, but I’d never heard of any of them. Congratulations to Paul Avgerinos for the win. Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Gilberto Gil lost out to Angelique Kidjo in the patronisingly named Best World Music Album category, while David Bowie‘s Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) managed a belated win in the somewhat inexplicable Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals category.

In the completely bizarrely named Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical (because those classical remixes are such a big deal now), Dave Audé won for his reworking of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars‘s Uptown Funk. And finally, in the eighty-third category, Best Music Film, Roger Waters‘s concert recording The Wall lost out to Amy, the documentary about Amy Winehouse. Probably justified, although The Wall live was a pretty impressive spectacle.

There’s a whole lot more, and there are probably other things of interest to you, if you can make it through the ridiculous number of awards, which I’m sure doesn’t devalue them in the slightest. You can view the results in full here.

Bent – Programmed to Love

It only seems like yesterday that Bent‘s debut album launched, but in fact it was fifteen years ago already that the beautiful, eccentric, laid back sounds of Programmed to Love were drifting across the airwaves for the first time.

The album begins with the brilliant showcase Exercise 1. Everything that you’re going to love is here, from the sweet swelling pad effects and bonkers vocal samples, through to the overwhelming sense of happiness it brings. It’s difficult to listen to Bent without an enormous smile on your face.

This is an album that drifts, as Exercise 1 mixes into the sweet but short Laughing Gear, and then the exquisite Private Road, with our first taste of Zoë Johnston‘s superlative soft vocals.

Cylons in Love offers our first taste of another key side of Bent, the lead vocal part sampled from an ancient recording, probably on vinyl. A lovely processed vocal part comes in to make the piece a duet, and works remarkably well.

It just seems to keep flowing, with the serene I Love My Man, and the slightly daft but fun instrumental Invisible Pedestrian. All the way through Programmed to Love, the sillier moments balance out the prettier ones, and sometimes, as on Chocolate Wings, they also converge. And even at its most bonkers – the pair of Wrong Rock and I Remember Johnny are a prime example – it’s still a lot of fun.

There’s a point just over half way through where everything comes together perfectly, as the perfect Swollen is followed by Welly Top Mary, then the ironically named Irritating NoisesA Ribbon for My Hair, and Always. If this isn’t an album of contrasts, then that’s only because it’s an exceptional piece when viewed as a whole.

Both of the full singles from this album, Always and Swollen are truly wonderful, the latter including a remix from François Kevorkian which is, of course, well worth hearing. In their album form they are six and seven minutes long respectively, and are entirely deserving of the space they have been given. You don’t often find music to this standard.

Closing this version of the album comes the pairing of Toothless Gibbon and Exercise 2, neither of which would have changed the world on their own, but they do close out an excellent album in a suitably bonkers manner. Ultimately Programmed to Love was just the start of an extremely strong career for Bent, but if this is all you remember them for, then that’s really no bad thing. Essential listening.

The 2002 version of Programmed to Love that we’ve reviewed here doesn’t appear to be as widely available any more – if you’re stuck, just grab whichever version is available to you, and go with that!

Music for the Masses 30 – 2 February 2005

For the seven-week Spring term of 2005, Music for the Masses returned with a Wednesday slot, and was an entirely relaxed affair, with the presenter sitting back and operating the controls with his legs crossed. Or maybe I was just posing for the webcam – it’s difficult to know for sure.

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Show 30: Wed 2 Feb 2005, from 6:05pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Retrospective of 2004, with predictions for 2005 (no artist of the week).

  • Kings of Convenience – Misread
  • Delerium feat. Zoë Johnston – You & I
  • Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence (Ewan Pearson Extended Remix)
  • Dirty Vegas – Human Love
  • Bent – I Can’t Believe it’s Over
  • Air – Another Day
  • Zero 7 – Home
  • Duran Duran – (Reach Up for the) Sunrise
  • Mylo – Drop the Pressure
  • Basement Jaxx – Good Luck
  • Télépopmusik – Love Can Damage Your Health
  • Röyksopp – So Easy
  • Lemon Jelly – Only Time
  • Moby – Lift Me Up
  • Daft Punk – Around the World
  • New Order – Ruined in a Day (K-Klass Remix)
  • Erasure – No Doubt
  • Faithless – Why Go?
  • Client – It’s Rock & Roll
  • Sohodolls – Prince Harry
  • Ladytron – Seventeen
  • Deep Forest – Will You Be Ready?

Music for the Masses 21 – 10 October 2004

After a four year break, Music for the Masses made its triumphant return, switching now from Aberystwyth to Leeds, and finally making the break into the world of FM broadcasting. The first show started a few minutes late, as the producer had fallen asleep so deeply that he couldn’t hear the telephone ringing, as I frantically tried to get somebody’s attention inside the building so I could come in and do my show. After a lot of waving my arms around, I finally got the attention of the DJs, who politely waved back. Eventually, somebody let me in, and the show began.

Show 21: Sun 10 Oct 2004, from 4:05am-6:05am

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

  • Télépopmusik – Breathe
  • Air – Cherry Blossom Girl
  • Enigma – Boum Boum (Chicane Mix)
  • Delerium feat. Zoë Johnston – You & I
  • Depeche Mode – Behind the Wheel (Beatmasters Mix)
  • Alpinestars – NuSEX City
  • Front Line Assembly – Transmitter
  • Client – The Chill of October
  • Yello – Time Palace
  • Depeche Mode – Only When I Lose Myself
  • S.I. Futures – Eurostar
  • Echoboy – Turning On
  • Dirty Vegas – Days Go By (Acoustic)
  • New Order – Touched by the Hand of God (Biff & Memphis Remix)
  • Apollo 440 – Vanishing Point
  • Depeche Mode – Enjoy the Silence
  • Asana – Re-embodiment
  • Goldfrapp – Hairy Trees
  • Orbital & Angelo Badalamenti – Beached

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

Beginner’s guide to Bent

Often forgotten, Bent released a string of exceptional albums, although it does seem to have tailed off a bit in recent years. Some of their output is a little bit weird; some of it downright bizarre, but it’s always fun, and a lot of it is incredibly beautiful.

Key moments

Bouncing around on the moon with Patrick Moore and an exceptional vocal performance from Zoë Johnston on Swollen. Most of their output failed to get the attention it deserved, such as the excellent Stay the Same (2003) or Comin’ Back (2004), but even so the vast majority of their output is magical.

Where to start

Bent have a very handy Best Of which covers all of their key moments, and you’ll also get a bonus disc of new tracks (or remixes, if you go for the online version).

What to buy

Their debut Programmed to Love (2000 or thereabouts) is essential, as is the third album Ariels (2004). After that roll back to the second album The Everlasting Blink (2003) – it drags a little in places but it does include Beautiful Otherness, a faultless collaboration with The Beloved‘s Jon Marsh.

Don’t bother with

Downloaded for Love (2001), the free download album. The From the Vaults collections (2013) are probably for completists only, despite the odd moment of genius (see below).

Hidden treasure

Volume 2 of their From the Vaults collection features another excellent collaboration with Jon Marsh called We Watch the Stars. Spin-off act Napoleon are worth trying too.

For stowaways

The inescapable charm of O Euchari

O Euchari is the name of a piece of music by Hildegard von Bingen, and performed by Emily van Evera. What’s special about it? Well only that it keeps cropping up as a sample in amazing pieces of music. Here’s a little sample of tracks with that sample:

Emily van Evera – Vision (O Euchari in Leta Via) (1982)

The Beloved – The Sun Rising (1989)

Orbital – Belfast (1991)

Delerium feat. Zoë Johnston – Love (2003)

 

Am I missing any? Very probably…