Solstein – Solstein album review

23 05 2023

Solstein is a project that melds the groovier side of fusion with elements of prog and funk. The band features drummer Keith Carlock (Steely Dan, Toto, John Legend, Sting) and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel, Donner) as well as up-and-coming guitarist Stian Larsen and keyboardists Brynjar Dambo (White Willow) and Bill Bressler.

Solstein album cover (picture of a volcano with lava pouring into the sea).

The album was mixed and given pristine analog mastering at Holm-Lupo’s Dude Ranch Studio.

The Solstein album demands your full attention, and is an instrumental album that does not work as background music. Opener Intersection features an addictive bassline from Holm-Lupo and the sort of attention to detail, mood enhancing synth and electric piano work that paints the canvas on the many wonderful White Willow / The Opium Cartel releases. A top flight drum performance from Keith Carlock and wildly experimental guitar lines from Oslo based Stian Larsen set the scene for the songs that follow.

American jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Oriental Folk Song throws down some grooves and performances that will get the Steely Dan fans heads bobbing. Strong solo synth lines from Bill Bressler bring this song, born in the 60s, into the here and now. I can’t wait to hear this album on vinyl, the music is made for that medium, and will highlight one of Holm-Lupo’s finest mixes to date.

Southwester is the only track on the album to not feature Stian Larsen, so the synths take centre stage. It is also the albums longest track, so there is plenty of time for the musicians to stretch their wings.

Brynjar Dambo joins Jacob with a variety of string and solo synth lines feeding off the melody, that rides along with Carlock’s laid-back groove. Mr White Willow is of course no slouch on six-strings, so this is not a guitar-free zone by any means, but the keyboards lead the charge.

The Night Owl is not a Gerry Rafferty cover, before you start googling! Its one of two tracks not featuring live drums, and like February 9th that crops up a couple of songs later, it features a stripped back line-up of Stian Larsen and Jacob Holm-Lupo. The space and the occasionally desolate arrangement adds a unique dimension to The Night Owl, which quickly became my favourite piece on the album. The simplicity and direct emotion pours out of the speakers.

Siriusly is the only track to feature live vocals, with wordless backing vox supplied by Ina Aurelia, mixed in with synth lines. A short, warm reggae section drops surprisingly in the middle of the song, before giving way to more inventive guitar and synth interplay. There is real value for money in this track – with a jazz-funk section, then moving to a fusion section after taking a reggae detour. Its some journey, with the main melody staying with you long after the song ends.

February 9th cuts the arrangement back to the bare minimum, with Larsen’s mournful, echoing guitar lines atop Holm-Lupo’s deep electric piano and atmospherics.

The Creeper gives off strong Herbie Hancock vibes, with Stian Larsen’s jazz chops in full, majestic flow. This song has a post-midnight, inner-city feel that sends chills when heard loud and through headphones. Featuring classy Rhodes from Holm-Lupo, the album heads to its climax as The Creeper ushers in Hamada, with rhythmic guitars and bell-tree percussion, and one of the most progressive performances on the album.

Hamada is a fitting end to a wonderful album, that reveals surprising new layers after each play, which is always a sign of longevity in music.

Pre-order the Solstein album from Jacob Holm-Lupo’s online store

Pre-order the Solstein album on vinyl from Amazon UK
Pre-order the Solstein album on CD from Amazon UK

Solstein album cover

Intersection (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock)
Oriental Folk Song (Wayne Shorter)
Southwester (Holm-Lupo/Carlock/Dambo)
The Night Owl (Holm-Lupo/Larsen)
Siriusly (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock/Dambo)
February 9th (Holm-Lupo/Larsen)
The Creeper (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock)
Hamada (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock/Bressler)

Hi-res Revelations (part 1) – Qobuz playlist

11 05 2023

As a recent covert to the Qobuz hi-resolution streaming service, I thought it would be a good idea to make some playlists of some of the songs that highlight the wow factor of lossless streaming.

What does the hi-resolution experience sound like? Hi-res audio offers greater detail and texture, bringing listeners closer to the original recorded studio or live performance. Bass hits deeper and harder, vocals are clearer, percussion is crisper and the songs sound fuller, more expansive and richer. Parts of the recording that you may not have noticed in a lossy format become more visible, and at times its like hearing the music through new upgraded ears!

I’m a couple of weeks in, and this playlist is made up of some of the tracks that jumped out straight away as being a huge upgrade on the audio quality of songs that I have known and loved for years.

Some of the album covers from music featured in this playlist - Issac Hayes, The Who, Tears For Fears, Mike Oldfield, Kate Bush, Steven Wilson, Donna Summer, Prince and St. Vincent.

Qobuz uses the tagline “Rediscover Music” and that is what I have been doing over the past few weeks. For those new to hi-res music, you need extra equipment to hear beyond CD quality – so a DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) is needed. Streaming from mobiles / tablets works without a DAC up to CD quality, so better than the MP3 quality of Spotify (that I will be ditching!) but if you add a portable DAC such as the DAC I use – AudioQuest DragonFly DAC (and for Apple / iPhone users a Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter is needed), you can listen to hi-res from your phone or tablet.

If you are planning to listen through your hi-fi setup, through your amp and speakers, you will need a DAC streamer such as the Cambridge Audio MXN10.

There are other services, such as Tidal and Apple Music, but I have settled on Qobuz due to the added features such as the editorial options that are provided, along with a great online community and the easy way to get track / recording details for songs and albums.

The catalogue is not perfect – there are some hi-res gaps that I hope will be filled over the next year. The main catalogue is comparable in volume to Spotify, with music available in CD quality but not all of it is in hi-resolution / lossless at the moment. Notable hi-res omissions (although they do have lots of these in CD quality) for me include The Police, The Stranglers, some Steely Day (what, no Aja, once of the best sounding albums of all time?), Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing (another sonically amazing album), Thomas Dolby and some Prince releases.

I’ve spent the past week browsing the hi-resolution catalogue and have added lots of favourites to go back to savour, so Qobuz have already succeeded on the re-discovery front. If you are a Qobuz subscriber, please have a listen to my playlist and let me know what you think. I hope you find some music you like, that you may not have been aware of before.

Hi-res Revelations (part 1) tracks

Peter Gabriel – The Rhythm Of The Heat

The Rhythm Of The Heat had to be the song to open my playlist. Taken from Peter Gabriel 4: Security from 1982, the song sounds stunning in this lossless format. Gabriel’s vocals are clear, and the arrangement builds slowly, with a stark, restrained backing until the percussion explodes on the 3/4 mark.

Peter Gabriel - Security (4)

The Who – Who Are You

Who Are You, the title track from The Who’s 8th studio album, was released in 1978 and was the last album to feature Keith Moon. The synths really bubble in this hi-res version, and Entwistle’s bass has a more prominent role, showing how the bassline really fed into the groove on the final chorus. Townshend’s guitar work in the stripped back middle section is one of my favourite Who moments.

Issac Hayes – Theme From Shaft

Theme From Shaft is one of my favourite songs. Whenever I hear this track, I am instantly transported back to the early 70s. I treasure my original double vinyl version of the Shaft soundtrack, but this hi-res stream is by far the best sounding version I have heard of this iconic and influential single. The hi-hat and wah-wah guitar interplay sounds like you are in the studio as the track was being recorded. I have heard this song hundreds of times and I never tire of it. Can you dig it?

Isaac Hayes - Shaft

Paul McCartney Goodnight Tonight (single version)

This 1979 single is included on the Pure McCartney compilation on Qobuz, a quick and easy way to dive into Macca’s post-Beatles catalogue.

Featuring one of McCartney’s finest basslines, the backing vocals and Rhodes piano on Goodnight Tonight is timeless.

The Carpenters Rainy Days And Mondays

Considering how well-known Rainy Days And Mondays has become, its surprising to note that it wasn’t a big hit in the UK, though it did reach number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A lot of the songs that blew me away during my first few weeks of using Qobuz were often beat driven, with complicated arrangements, but that was not the case here. The simplicity of the arrangement is pure pop perfection.

Karen Carpenters lead vocal before the strings kick in, is a performance of real beauty. Tommy Morgan’s plaintive harmonica lines just add to the magic.

Mike Oldfield – Five Miles Out

Mike Oldfield has a fair collection of lossless albums on Qobuz, but at the time of writing is missing hi-res versions of Platinum (my favourite Oldfield release), Incantations, Ommadawn, Hergest Ridge and criminally, Tubular Bells. I am hoping they get these early albums in hi-resolution soon. Qobuz do have a hi-res version of one of my favourite Oldfield albums from the early 80s, and I have included the title track from Five Miles Out in this playlist.

Five Miles Out featured Maggie Reilly and a heavily vocoder’d Mike Oldfield on vocals. I have always loved Oldfield’s guitar work, especially his sharp solos, and he is joined by Rick Fenn (10cc) on additional guitar here.

Five Miles Out has never sounded better, with a power and clarity that makes listening to this song an absolute joy.

Kate Bush – Breathing

It was difficult to pick just one song from one of my favourite artists, Kate Bush, who is well-represented in hi-res on Qobuz. It would be too obvious to pick Running Up That Hill (which admittedly does sound wonderful in hi-res) so I went with another personal favourite, the 1980’s post-apocalyptic Breathing. Mood killer!

The Rhodes sparkle and the bassline from the late John Giblin works so well with Kate’s intelligent and emotional multi-layered vocal arrangement.

Kate is not given enough credit for her production skills, which shine on the Never For Ever album. The subtle reverb on the snare, and the placement in the mix of all instruments give this track a rare power. Turn the lights off and turn up the volume if you are a Qobuz subscriber, and prepare to be moved.

Kate Bush - Never For Ever

Steven Wilson – Drive Home

The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) sounds delicious in hi-resolution, and I could easily have chosen any of the album’s tracks to highlight the power of hi-res audio, but I went for the single Drive Home for my playlist.

You can hear the scrape of fingers on guitar, and the drums have real depth. The production is stellar on Drive Home, and the guitar solo from Guthrie Govan takes this song to another level, making this one of Wilson’s most exquisite songs to date.

This Mortal Coil – I Come And Stand At Every Door

Beauty can also be found in darkness. The trilogy of albums from This Mortal Coil can be found in hi-res on Qobuz, and I have chosen I Come And Stand At Every Door from the final This Mortal Coil album, Blood.

Musically a million miles away from The Byrds version of the song, that was based on a poem by Nazim Hikmet. The discordant drums cut through the vocals from Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski, who deliver a gothic choral performance that sends shivers down my spine.

Tim Bowness / Giancarlo Erra – Change Me Once Again

Tim Bowness / Giancarlo Erra remixed and re-released their Memories of Machines album on it’s 10 year anniversary in 2022, and I have included one of the albums key tracks here. Change Me Once Again (featuring Julianne Regan on backing vocals) has a real lightness of touch, with thick acoustic guitars, and a mid-paced tempo, that sounds delicious in hi-resolution.

“Forget the heartache, forget the past”

The Cocteau Twins – Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires

The Cocteau Twins are also well-represented in hi-resolution on Qobuz, and I’ve included one of their most beautiful pieces, Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires from the bands sixth studio album Heaven Or Las Vegas, from 1990.

The jittery percussion and heavily processed guitars are more noticeable in lossless form, and listening to this song in this quality almost feels like an out-of-body experience.

Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas

The Pretenders – Kid

This single from 1979 sounds so much more vibrant in hi-resolution. The production by Chris Thomas is warm and bright, with the drums and the multi-layered guitars (those harmonics 😍) topped by Chrissie Hynde’s unique vocals make this my favourite early Pretenders song.

Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight

I simply had to include this song from Face Value. The beauty of hi-resolution audio is the lack of compression – with room for the quieter parts to breathe, so when that iconic drum break smashes through your speakers, your whole soul shakes.

The Knack – My Sharona

It’s all about the drums, baby! My Sharona is another groove-led song. This American new wave classic was always one of the best produced songs of the genre, and the scratchy guitar solo screams out of the speakers in hi-res.

Squeeze – Slap & Tickle

Now we go over to one of the UK’s finest bands, and a 1979 single from Squeeze. The band have never sounded better, with percussive guitar and swirling Kraftwerk / Giorgio Moroder inspired synths.

Donna Summer – Now I Need You

And talking of Giorgio Moroder… Donna Summer has a few hi-resolution albums on Qobuz, including what I think is her greatest album, the double Once Upon A Time from late 1977.

Summers vocals switch from warm and sensual to detached and clinical, depending on the mood of each track. The songs were written by Summer, Moroder and Pete Bellotte, and Now I Need You, with its massed choir like backing and pulsing electronic beat, oozes an alluring synthetic warmth.

I may have to include I Feel Love in my next Qobuz playlist, as it sounds so good at volume on this hi-res streaming platform.

Prince – If I Was Your Girlfriend

One of the more experimental tracks from 1987’s Sign “O” The Times double album. If I Was Your Girlfriend makes good use of the Fairlight and Prince’s favoured (at the time) Linn drum machine.

The bass (both slap and deep note) really cut through in hi-res, and the complexity of the vocal arrangement shines like never before. A perfect headphone song.

Prince - Sign "O" The Times

Tears For Fears – Mothers Talk

Mothers Talk was the first single from Songs from the Big Chair, and is not a favourite of the band, so is rarely performed live.

The guitars and drums cut clean through the sample-heavy song, and like the aforementioned Shaft, Mothers Talk takes me back to the time of its original release, and I’m wearing white jeans and a Relax t-shirt. In my dreams.

Porcupine Tree – Russia On Ice

I could have chosen so many Porcupine Tree songs, as they are always an example of quality production, but I went with Lightbulb Sun‘s Russia On Ice due to the complexity of the arrangement, and the peaks and troughs that highlight the beauty of hi-resolution audio.

Richard Barbieri contributes some of his strongest soundscapes, with synths, mellotrons and organ adding mood setting textures, whilst Steven Wilson delivers pitch-perfect harmonies and emotive guitar solos.

Lightbulb Sun is the last Porcupine Tree tree studio album to feature original drummer Chris Maitland, with Gavin Harrison taking over for In Absentia in 2002.

Electric Light Orchestra – Night In The City

Night In The City is from 1977’s massive selling Out of the Blue. The whole album sounds beautiful, but one of its lesser known tracks highlights the clarity afforded to it in hi-resolution.

Listen to the separation of the acoustic and electric guitars, alongside Rhodes keyboard and string riffs. Its a joy to hear, either loud on speakers or at night via headphones.

Electric Light Orchestra - Out Of The Blue

Harry Nilsson – Jump Into The Fire

One of the older songs on my playlist, Jump Into The Fire was given a second lease of life by being featured in a tense, paranoid scene in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic gangster film Goodfellas.

The track is taken from the album Nilsson Schmilsson, which features appearances from top session musicians Chris Spedding (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass) and on the wild drum break that sounds top class here, Jim Gordon.

St. Vincent – The Nowhere Inn

The Nowhere Inn is from the soundtrack to the film of the same name. When compiling the playlist, it quickly became obvious that I was choosing lots of older music, so I added this song as an example of the improvement in audio quality from a more recent release. The twists and turns in The Nowhere Inn constantly surprise and delight.

Daddy’s Home is another recent St. Vincent album, with its stylistic nods to the early 70s, that sounds glorious in lossless format.

St. Vincent - Nowhere Inn

I hope you enjoy listening to my Qobuz playlist. Please follow me on Twitter if you want to be informed of part 2.

Listen to my Qobuz playlist – Hi-res Revelations (part 1)

Peter Gabriel – The Rhythm Of The Heat

  • The Who – Who Are You
  • Issac Hayes – Theme From Shaft
  • Paul McCartney – Goodnight Tonight (single version)
  • The Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
  • Mike Oldfield – Five Miles Out
  • Kate Bush – Breathing
  • Steven Wilson – Drive Home
  • This Mortal Coil – I Come And Stand At Every Door
  • Tim Bowness / Giancarlo Erra – Change Me Once Again
  • Cocteau Twins – Frou-Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires
  • Pretenders – Kid
  • Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight
  • The Knack – My Sharona
  • Squeeze – Slap & Tickle
  • Donna Summer – Now I Need You
  • Prince – If I Was Your Girlfriend
  • Tears For Fears – Mothers Talk
  • Porcupine Tree – Russia On Ice
  • Electric Light Orchestra – Night In The City
  • Harry Nilsson – Jump Into The Fire
  • St. Vincent – The Nowhere Inn

Listen to my Qobuz playlist – Hi-res Revelations (part 1)

Hazel Mills – The Embrace EP Review

9 05 2023

Following an ongoing long-term tenure as keyboardist/backing vocalist for Goldfrapp and Florence + The Machine, Hazel is releasing a new collection of songs, an EP titled The Embrace, in collaboration with producer / engineer TJ Allen (Portishead, Bat For Lashes).

Hazel Mills - Embrace EP artwork

This is the first new music released under Hazel’s name for a long while. Earlier releases such as 2007’s Butterfly EP, with the haunting Freestanders, 2010’s psychedelic White Rabbit and the short-lived post-punk Adding Machine (with shades of the John McGeoch era Siouxsie and The Banshees seeping through) are sadly no longer available on streaming services, so this feels like a palate cleansing and a new beginning.

Embrace opens with the first track released to digital services, Enclosure. Gone are the heavily processed vocals of some earlier material, with Mill’s powerful, warm vocals front and centre. The synth lines recall the later period Japan and I hear touches of Kate Bush at times in Hazel’s delivery and vocal arrangements, with engaging harmonies and distorted lines built low in the mix.

Enclosure is a powerful opener and like all quality electronic music, it reveals new aspects on repeated listens. So play it often!

Track two is The Embrace, a mixture of acoustic piano and electronica. The production from Hazel and long-time collaborator TJ Allen is remarkable. The drum processing and use of reverb at key points adds a powerful dynamic during this song. I love the mix of 80s electronics coupled with a real pop sensibility on this addictive piece.

I am a recent convert to lossless / hi-resolution streaming via Qobuz, and was pleased to see the songs released to date from Hazel’s EP are available in hi-resolution on Qobuz.

Hold The Water has traces of the DNA of some earlier Hazel Mill’s material, with glitchy and modern urban beats and deep synth lines underpinning an emotional vocal, with eerily processed deep backing vocals.

Hold The Water highlights some of the major changes in this new music, an increased confidence in Hazel’s vocals and a heightened use of moving and sophisticated vocal arrangements, that cut through the at times icy electronics, with human warmth.

Hazel Mills - photo by Roberto Vivancos.

The final track is the stripped down, gentle beauty of Fragile Creature, my favourite song on the EP, and to me the best song Hazel has released to date. The first half of the song feels like a long lost Hounds Of Love / The Ninth Wave suite track.

Sparse piano and multiple, ethereal vocal lines weave their way across the ice as the deep synths eventually kick in. Hazel’s vocal is simply magical. I hear hints of traditional Irish folk in the rich vocal stylings, whilst the music feels very modern and glacial.

“But even my breath would blow you down”

Fragile Creature feels unlike anything I have heard before from Hazel. It’s a marked departure from the past and bodes so well for a potential full album, with such a variety of styles and moods that hit you hard.

The Embrace EP is released on 19th May 2023 via Hazel’s Bandcamp and streaming services.

The Embrace
Hold The Water
Fragile Creature

Written & co-produced by Hazel Mills
Mixed & co-produced by TJ Allen
Mastered by Guy Davie @ Electric Mastering Ltd
Hazel Mills: Vocals, piano, synths, programming
TJ Allen: Guitars, bass, additional synths & programming
Alex Thomas: Live drums (Enclosure & The Embrace)
Tim Bran: Additional synths (Enclosure)
Will Gregory: Additional synths (Fragile Creature)

Hazel Mills website
Follow Hazel on Twitter and Instagram.

Recommended listen
Hazel added vocals and piano, along with other guests including Chris Spedding, Paul Thompson, and Guy Pratt on Andy Mackay’s band The Metaphors album London! Paris! New York! Rome!

Hazel Mills & Harriet Riley cover Japan’s Ghosts

North Atlantic Oscillation – United Wire album review

28 04 2023

United Wire is the new album from North Atlantic Oscillation, and the first release since Grind Show in 2018. The album is available as a download or limited (and it really is limited!) CD direct from the band. A streaming release will follow.

North Atlantic Oscillation - United Wire cover art

The cover-art suits the album perfectly. The bright pinks, blues and purples of the artwork match the colourful and vibrant sound of the tracks on United Wire, an album thats built to be played in one sitting, with the tracks linked to each other with no gaps.

Clock is stuffed to the brim with found sounds, deep hit you in the gut bass and jittery percussion as the sequencers swirl up and around you as the beats and Eastern synths transport you on the first part of the United Wire journey.

“Everything is a clock
A novella, a rock”

There are lots of little Easter Eggs lurking in the lyrics. Lines from previous songs sneak into other tracks almost un-noticed, and the dog from the first track (in audio-form) is referenced (but not heard) in the second track, Corridor. There is a contunuity to the sonic palette, the bright and colourful synth’s take us through the whole album, lifting and decaying to hit the listener emotionally.

I’ve always loved the drums and percussion on NAO songs, and United Wire offers us more of the same high quality rhythms, this time with the beats often mangled and distorted, but all the more powerful for it.

Rosewood adds a little classic rock flavour to the mix, I hear hints of 70s The Who in the urgency and power. Let me know if you think I’m deluded in the comments!

Glyph is one of the most immediate tracks. A laid-back vocal from Sam Healy, and a more minimal backing tick over until the song bursts into life, and as suddenly as it does, it breaks down again and mutates with a rare appearance of audible guitar on the album.

“And I’m all for breaking up monopolies
If the fragments all contain the recipe”

Glyph’s are typographic marks, and the lyrics reference this, with talk of imagery and how things are presented. Glyph the song certainly leaves its mark, referencing the power of previous NAO songs in a welcoming way.

Matryoshka is one of United Wire‘s key songs, and one of my favourite NAO songs of all time. Automaton spewed lyrics ride on top of a delicious tribal beat, that builds and builds, and then bam, it drops off to the most natural and organic piece of music on the album. A jazzy, at times quite progressive Radiohead sounding interlude, with loping drums and beautiful guitar lines, rapidly distorts before you have time to really appreciate its brief and stark beauty, turning into an industrial, visceral end section.

Coil is a slow-paced piece. Aching strings and an occasionally slightly discordant piano, with a wonderful reverb tail on Sam’s vocals, make for an emotional performance.

“The wanting builds a cage
So we crawl back, start again”

The percussion changes as the song comes to its conclusion, with an almost military precision that ushers in Torch, a dark and punishing song with the vocals laid low in the mix. On my first listen to Torch, I thought the song was a little “business as usual” but worry not, as at around one minute thirty the song drops off the edge of a cliff and ushers in a pulsating burst of electronica that almost coats an early 90s rave gloss over the song, before it sheds its skin by sleight of hand and becomes a rock song once more.

Cage dials in the electronics, with shifting time signatures, and as the longest track on the album, is given the time and space to develop at a natural pace. The mood and the arrangement shifts several times during Cage, with some parts of the song being just Sam’s voice underpinned by an electronic backing.

A feeling of familiarity coupled with nostalgia is delivered with the unfamiliar (for NAO) use of presumably sampled or VST brass instrumentation and some lyrics repeated from earlier on in the album.

The track then slips off down a swirling black and white time tunnel to greet us with Powder. The lyrics seem to reference past material, and are maybe a farewell of sorts, or possibly the signalling of a new beginning. The drum pattern reminds me a little of the iconic performance by Mick “Woody” Woodmansey on David Bowie’s Five Years, about an impending apocalyptic disaster that will fall upon Earth soon.

Whatever its meaning or inspiration, its a wonderful song, the last full track before the short, hidden piece Recoil, a mutated static filled outro to the album.

There are layers of mystery with United Wire. No performance credits are listed, so I don’t know if anyone other than Sam still remains in North Atlantic Oscillation? I presume this is the case, but NAO is still instantly recognisable in its current format, whilst touching on new horizons that bode well for future releases from an artist that has been away for far too long. Welcome back.

1 Clock
2 Corridor
3 Rosewood
4 Glyph
5 Matryoshka
6 Coil
7 Torch
8 Cage
9 Powder
10 Recoil

Released by Vineland Music

Buy the limited CD

Buy the download

North Atlantic Oscillation Bandcamp

If you are new to the music of North Atlantic Oscillation, why not pick up a copy of the excellent compilation Lightning Strikes the Library, which is well-priced (whilst stocks last), along with other NAO releases, at Burning Shed.

Follow North Atlantic Oscillation on Twitter

The Mousetrap Factory – The Beauty of Routine album review

21 04 2023

In 1981 the Liverpool based band A Better Mousetrap was formed. The band performed in venues around the North West of England before disbanding in 1985 and they were never heard of again, until now. In 2020, three original members got together to work on the music they created in the 1980s. Calling themselves The Mousetrap Factory, over the next two years they recorded updated versions of old songs, along with some new ones. These form the album The Beauty of Routine which will be released in 2023 and is available on-line via Burning Shed.

The Mousetrap Factory - The Beauty of Routine album cover.

The Beauty of Routine features nine songs, including a cover of Humdrum by Peter Gabriel. Tim Bowness has written the sleeve notes.

The album starts with Trivia, and an old telephone dial tone, with a disembodied “hello”, maybe referencing the future calling the past? This is not the album the band would have made in the early 80s, and Trivia feels like a 21st Century song and production, whilst clearly drawing from the bands musical past. References to modern day living provide lyrical updates to the song that was originally conceived in 1981. I love the proggy keyboards from Brian Hulse, and as always with Hulse recordings, the drum programming is a highlight.

Distant Man was written in 1980, a slow building piece, with a wonderful post-punk bassline from David K Jones, and an emotive performance from vocalist Peter Goddard.

“The letters fade, I loose my hands
And they must never know what I feel for you”

Space is the first “new” on the album. Set to a laid-back, loping beat that is underpinned by deep bass, minimal synths and percussive guitar lines, the reflective, at time spoken, lyrics suit the music perfectly. This song makes me want to jump into my (imaginary) time-machine and visit the long-lost London Planetarium to listen to this song, lying back with headphones on whilst experiencing the laser lightshow.

“Infinite, vast, formless, nothingness”

A Contradiction, originally written in 1981, changes direction mid-way through the song, with a very clever dialling down of the speed and pace, with the end section reminding me a little of The Garden era John Foxx. Not in the sound of the vocals or the instrumentation, but the highly emotional, gentle and almost choral arrangement.

A Contradiction is an epic track, with the band pouring more ideas into this single track than some bands put into the mix for a whole EP. Talk about value for money!

Humdrum is a cover of the Peter Gabriel song from his 1977 debut. The Mousetrap Factory add more jittery electronics to their updating of this classic late 70s original. The reimagining is respectful, whilst taking the song into new directions so many years later. Peter Goddard adds his own vocal stylings, instead of providing a more obvious, deeper delivery of the lyrics.

Waiting/Monologue was originally written in 1982, and has some early Simple Mind’s referencing drum and bass interplay, giving the song a potent urgency. Stripped back lyrics and heavily processed vocals make this one of the most interesting arrangements on the album.

I Stand Aside is the second and final new song on the album. Its also my favourite song on The Beauty of Routine. It has a freshness and lightness of touch, to make it stand aside (sorry, not sorry) from the other songs on the album. A stunning vocal performance and arrangement from Peter Goddard, with sympathetic and unobtrusive backing from band colleagues Hulse & Jones, delivers one of the albums key tracks.

“I stand aside
I only came here to enjoy the ride
But if you’re planning something more beside
I stand aside”

The final two songs were both written in 1980. Mrs. Green reminds me a little of The Teardrop Explodes, which is always a good thing. The nursery rhyme-like lyrics, and the unexpected break-down at the half-way mark, gives this track its unique charm.

The Beauty of Routine ends with the slow-paced and atmospheric The Nineteenth Day, featuring deep-cut synths and a melodic bass-line that works so well alongside a very theatrical, expressive vocal from Peter Goddard.

“I hold the future…”

The Beauty of Routine brings together the bands past and transports their music into the here and now, in a way that hints at a possible future.

Pre-order The Beauty of Routine CD from Burning Shed

Download the bands cover version of The Blue Niles Over The Hillside

Distant Man
I Stand Aside
Mrs. Green
The Nineteenth Day

Visit The Mousetrap Factory website.

News: NOW Yearbook 1978

23 03 2023

NOW Yearbook ’78 is a new 4CD or 3LP collection that covers one of the greatest years for UK pop singles. The compilation is available on vinyl – with a 3LP limited pink vinyl release featuring 46 tracks, and two versions of the CD release: the limited hardback 4CD version (including a 28-page booklet featuring a summary of the year, a track-by-track guide, a quiz, and original singles artwork) and a standard 4CD version, both featuring the same 85 tracks.

Now Yearbook 78 vinyl cover

It is worth noting that the limited editions (vinyl and hardback) usually sell-out, and if you don’t want to pay a premium tracking down more expensive copies on Discogs or eBay, if you are interested, get your order in quick!

1978 was a great year for so many genres. Look at the new wave hits (mostly congregating on LP 2 side B and CD disc 2). Siouxsie and The Banshees debut single Hong Kong Garden jostles for attention with The Clash’s (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, an early classic from The Jam with the chilling Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, alongside one of Ian Dury and The Blockheads finest singles What A Waste. The Bruce Springsteen / Patti Smith song Because The Night is a track that sounds as powerful today as it did back in 1978. Great music is timeless.

The rock and roll revival of the late 70s is represented by Darts with The Boy From New York City, and one of the biggest films of the year in Grease features with two of the soundtracks ballads, Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted To You and John Travolta’s Sandy.

Disco was one of the most popular genres in 1978, and some absolute classic are featured on NOW Yearbook 1978. Donna Summer features twice with MacArthur Park and the classic pop of I Love You. Instant Replay from Dan Hartman and the Michael Zager Band’s Let’s All Chant will get you on your feet as well as singing along. Eruption’s I Can’t Stand The Rain was all over the airwaves in 1978 and is deservedly included here, as is Earth, Wind and Fire’s Fantasy along with a couple of soul ballads in Heatwave’s Always And Forever and Love Don’t Live Here Anymore from Rose Royce.

Classic Rock and progressive pop also features strongly. An often overlooked band from this era, City Boy, contribute, their only hit single. One of the last great singles from The Who (Who Are You) is well-sequenced in this compilation next to Cold As Ice by Foreigner, a staple of FM radio in Life’s Been Good by Joe Walsh and the finest Blue Oyster Cult single, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, a song used to wonderful effect in the TV adaptation of Steven King’s The Stand from 1994.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds was a massive selling album in the late 70s, and one of the key songs in Justin Hayward’s Forever Autumn features in NOW Yearbook ’78. Renaissance and their top 10 hit single Northern Lights is rarely played on oldies stations these days, but its a fine single. A Taste Of Honey with Boogie Oogie Oogie was another that was a much-played song on the radio and yet seems to have been forgotten as the years have passed.

Now Yearbook 78 CD set

Some songs that do still feature on 70s themed stations make a welcome appearance. Gerry Rafferty and Baker Street with one of the most iconic sax solos in pop and Mr. Blue Sky, a signature song from Electric Light Orchestra, are well-known, yet some less celebrated singles such as Love Is In The Air by John Paul Young and the late Andrew Gold with the pop nugget that is Never Let Her Slip Away are just as rewarding.

The only mis-step is the inclusion of Father Abraham’s Smurf Song. I know it was a hit but does anyone really want to hear this novelty song in 2023? The CD will be switched off before the song comes on, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in doing this. It was wisely programmed as the final track on the CD set.

NOW Yearbook 1978 is available now.

3LP pink vinyl (limited)
Deluxe hardback 4CD (limited)
Standard 4CD

3 LP Vinyl Track listing


LP 1 Side A

Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky
Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
Rod Stewart – Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?
10cc – Dreadlock Holiday
Justin Hayward – Forever Autumn
Wings – With A Little Luck
Kate Bush – The Man With The Child In His Eyes

LP 1 Side B

Bonnie Tyler – It’s A Heartache
Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love
Clout – Substitute
Crystal Gayle – Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue
Elton John – Part-Time Love
Billy Joel – Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
Joe Walsh – Life’s Been Good
Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

LP 2 Side A

Donna Summer – MacArthur Park
Chic – Le Freak
A Taste Of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie
The Three Degrees – Givin’ Up Givin’ In
Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman
Yvonne Elliman – If I Can’t Have You
Odyssey – Native New Yorker
Earth, Wind & Fire – Fantasy

LP 2 Side B

The Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap
The Undertones – Teenage Kicks
Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
Siouxsie And The Banshees – Hong Kong Garden
The Rezillos – Top Of The Pops
Elvis Costello & The Attractions – (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
The Jam – Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
Patti Smith – Because The Night

LP 3 Side A

ABBA – Take A Chance On Me
Baccara – Sorry, I’m A Lady
Boney M. – Rivers Of Babylon
Althea & Donna – Uptown Top Ranking
Blondie – Denis
Olivia Newton-John – Hopelessly Devoted To You
Renaissance – Northern Lights
Dean Friedman w/ Denise Marsa – Lucky Stars

LP 3 Side B

Marshall Hain – Dancing In The City
Eruption – I Can’t Stand The Rain
Dee D. Jackson – Automatic Lover
Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip – I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper
Hot Chocolate – Every 1’s a Winner
Commodores – Three Times A Lady
Rose Royce – Wishing On A Star

4CD Track listing

Disc: 1

Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky
Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
Rod Stewart – Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?
ABBA – Take A Chance On Me
Boney M. – Rivers Of Babylon
10cc – Dreadlock Holiday
Althea and Donna – Uptown Top Ranking
Donna Summer – MacArthur Park
Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman
Yvonne Elliman – If I Can’t Have You
Chic – Everybody Dance
Odyssey – Native New Yorker
Rose Royce – Wishing On A Star
Commodores – Three Times A Lady
Marshall Hain – Dancing In The City
Clout – Substitute
Bonnie Tyler – It’s A Heartache
Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love
Wings – With A Little Luck
Kate Bush - The Man With The Child In His Eyes

Disc: 2

The Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap
The Undertones – Teenage Kicks
Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
Siouxsie and The Banshees – Hong Kong Garden
The Rezillos – Top Of The Pops
Blondie – Hanging On The Telephone
Elvis Costello and The Attractions – (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
The Clash – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
The Jam – Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
Ian Dury and The Blockheads – What A Waste
Patti Smith – Because The Night
The Cars – My Best Friend’s Girl
The Motors – Airport
City Boy –
Sweet – Love Is Like Oxygen
Elton John – Part-Time Love
Billy Joel – Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
The Who – Who Are You
Foreigner – Cold As Ice
Joe Walsh – Life’s Been Good
Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
Justin Hayward – Forever Autumn

Disc: 3

Chic – Le Freak
A Taste Of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie
Tavares – More Than A Woman
Alicia Bridges – I Love The Nightlife (Disco ‘Round)
Dan Hartman – Instant Replay
Michael Zager Band – Let’s All Chant
Raffaella Carrà – Do It Do It Again (A Far L’Amore Comincia Tu)
Baccara – Sorry, I’m A Lady
Sheila and B Devotion – Singin’ In The Rain
Voyage – From East To West
Donna Summer – I Love You
The Three Degrees – Givin’ Up Givin’ In
Eruption – I Can’t Stand The Rain
Dee D. Jackson – Automatic Lover
Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip – I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper
Crown Heights Affair – Galaxy Of Love
Gladys Knight and The Pips – Come Back And Finish What You Started
Hot Chocolate – Every 1’s A Winner
Earth, Wind and Fire – Fantasy
Heatwave – Always And Forever
Rose Royce – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore

Disc: 4

Blondie – Denis
Olivia Newton-John – Hopelessly Devoted To You
John Travolta – Sandy
Darts – The Boy From New York City
Bill Withers – Lovely Day
John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air
Barry Manilow – Copacabana
Renaissance – Northern Lights
Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley – If I Had Words
Boney M. – Brown Girl In The Ring
Brotherhood Of Man – Figaro
Co-Co – Bad Old Days
Dollar – Shooting Star
Andrew Gold – Never Let Her Slip Away
Dean Friedman w/ Denise Marsa – Lucky Stars
The Manhattan Transfer – Walk In Love
David Soul – Let’s Have A Quiet Night In
Crystal Gayle – Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue
Elkie Brooks – Don’t Cry Out Loud
David Essex – Oh What A Circus
Brian and Michael – Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs
Father Abraham – Smurf Song

New Musik – From A To B – The Sony Years review

8 03 2023

Cherry Red are releasing a 4CD box set bringing together all of New Musik’s three studio albums along with a disc of B-sides, single edits and remixes.

New Musik - From A To B – The Sony Years cover

The From A To B – The Sony Years box-set includes a booklet featuring fascinating, scene setting notes from Record Collector’s Daryl Easlea, that includes quotes from Tony Mansfield.

Formed in 1977 by Tony Mansfield, a former member of The Nick Straker Band (A Walk In The Park) with bassist Tony Hibbert and drummer Phil Towner, New Musik’s first single Straight Lines was released in 1979, and their debut album, From A to B, followed in April 1980.

Living by Numbers was the band’s most successful single and the album, which entered the Top 40 in the UK Albums Chart, featured two further hit singles with This World of Water and Sanctuary.

New Musik’s first album came at the beginning of the 80s synth driven explosion that was to shape the decade, sharing a similar electronic soundscape to The Buggles, but also including guitars and bass. Straight Lines is a powerful opener and is followed by the equally commercial Sanctuary, a bright shining pop gem.

From A to B is primarily an extremely commercial electronic pop album, but with a variety of moods and textures. Slower paced songs such as A Map Of You and the fretless bass driven, shifting The Safe Side hint at the further experimentation that was to seep into the music on the later albums.

New Musik - From A To B cover

Its the singles that stay with you on the debut album. This World Of Water has dark lyrics that are disguised in the upbeat music.

“These waters have frozen
Can’t break the ice no more
It’s raining so hard now
Can’t seem to find a shore”

My favourite New Musik single from the album is Living By Numbers, a song that reached No13 in the UK singles chart, and instantly takes me back to 1979 whenever I hear it.

“They don’t want your name
Just your number…”

The band’s second album Anywhere was released in 1981 and and was the last album to feature band members Towner and Hibbert. At this point, its time to strap yourself in, as the music takes a slightly more left-field turn. The warm pop sound remains but is peppered with a darker, more experimental side.

Anywhere‘s opening track, They All Run After the Carving Knife, was chosen by Steven Wilson to be included on his curated Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue – Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89 compilation from early 2023, so is likely to have turned some new fans onto New Musik.

New Musik - Anywhere cover

Areas is one of the highlights in the New Musik back catalogue, and this is referenced by the faithful 2013 cover version by Dutch rock band The Gathering from their Afterwords album. The mood of the New Musik original is hazy and evocative, and it may have been a missed opportunity not releasing this song as a single. Churches is an evolution in the bands sound, with a more dynamic bass line, and a more natural arrangement.

This World of Walter is an obvious play on words on the single from the first album. CR-78 percussion drives this charming, short album track.

“And Walter’s sure that his world’s no more
Than just a fading dream”

In the sleeve-notes, Tony Mansfield describes this period of New Musik as his favourite, and its easy to see why. There is a playfulness and warmth to songs such as Luxury, and more experimentation with reversed vocals along with sharp tangents cutting into some of the arrangements.

Peace sees a clever use of tribal drumming, a tool often used in post-punk recordings, but here used as a tight, mechanical mechanism buried quite deep in the mix, as a way to drive the song and add a degree of tension.

Traps adds some progressive / Tony Bank’s like keyboards to the palette, and is one of the most electronic songs on the album, topped by wonderful production touches such as Mansfield’s trademark twisted, processed vocal lines.

Anywhere ends with the uplifting Back To Room One. A haunting song, crammed full of aching, emotional nostalgia and the perfect way to end an album. This track is pure pop, shorn of most of the production touches, relying on the honesty and vulnerability of the song to hit you hard.

“Take me back to my old room
It’s not there any more”

The third and final New Musik album was Mansfield with studio musicians. Warp was released on Epic in March of 1982. Digital samplers and sequencers were utilised for this album. Here Come The People features some lovely funk guitar lines and percussion that is very much of its time. A Train On Twisted Tracks includes a Wasp synth sequence similar to The Stranglers Just Like Nothing On Earth, bubbling away in the background. The use of disembodied sampled voices adds to the slightly sinister feel of this track.

New Musik - Warp cover

All You Need Is Love features twice, with the first being a New Musik original inspired by The Beatles classic, with New Musiks version coming next, topped up by a taste of Greensleeves for good measure.

Hunting features some deep synth bass and heavily processed vocals that add a layer of strangeness to this key experimental album track. The quality dips a little for the remainder of the album, with the seemingly Kraftwerk influenced The Planet Doesn’t Mind offering one of my least favourite New Musik songs.

The final song on the final New Musik album is the title track Warp. A more robotic percussion lets the synths and powerful vocal take centre stage as the band comes to its natural end, with the track slowly decaying into a series of audio errors. Warped to the final note.

Disc four features B-sides / edits and extended versions. The Planet Doesn’t Mind (single edit) works better than the Warp album version. Single B-side Sad Films (from 1979/1980) is one of the most “band” sounding tracks from New Musik, and features some late 70s harmonies and a traditional arrangement, making it quite unique in the bands catalogue.

Missing Persons/Tell Me Something New is notable for a New Musik guitar solo! Again, quite a traditional arrangement, with a killer chorus, and an abrupt ending leading into a haunting soundscape of reversed and mutated sounds to end the track.

She’s A Magazine could easily have been included as an album track. Chik Musik sounds exactly how you would imagine it to sound, and this short instrumental jam is followed by another instrumental, the short burst of Magazine Musik (aka She’s A Magazine).

From The Village was inspired by the cult tv show The Prisoner. While You Wait (extended version) is a longer take of the Anywhere era single, and the extras disc ends with an extended mix of the Warp opening track, Here Come the People – Remix.

Mansfield went on to achieve success as a producer with After The Fire, a-ha, Aztec Camera, The B-52’s, The Damned, Captain Sensible, Naked Eyes, and Mari Wilson. From A To B – The Sony Years pulls together the studio albums and the majority of the key non-album tracks, and is a perfect collection for fans of the band who don’t already own the CD reissues from a few years ago. The box-set will also appeal to the more casual fans of early 80s electronic pop.

Buy New Musik – From A To B – The Sony Years 4 CD box-set

From A To B
Straight Lines
A Map of You
On Islands
This World of Walter
Living By Numbers
Dead Fish (Don’t Swim Home)
The Safe Side

They All Run After the Carving Knife
This World of Walter
While You Wait
Changing Minds
Back To Room One

Here Come the People
Going Round Again
A Train on Twisted Tracks
I Repeat
All You Need Is Love
All You Need Is Love
Kingdoms For Horses
The New Evolutionist (Example ‘A’)
Green And Red (Respectively)
The Planet Doesn’t Mind

B-Sides / Edits / Extended Versions
Straight Lines – Single Edit
While You Wait – Single Edit
The Planet Doesn’t Mind – Single Edit
Sad Films – B-Side Living by Numbers
Missing Persons / Tell Me Something New – B-Side This World of Water
She’s A Magazine – B-Side Sanctuary
Chik Musik – B-Side Sanctuary
Magazine Musik – B-Side Sanctuary
Twelfth House – B-Side All You Need Is Love
From The Village – B-Side While You Wait
Guitars – B-Side While You Wait
The Office – B-Side Luxury
24 Hours from Culture (Part 2) – B-Side The Planet Doesn’t Mind
While You Wait – Extended Version
Here Come the People – Remix

Buy New Musik – From A To B – The Sony Years 4 CD box-set

The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Deluxe box-set) review

17 02 2023

Cherry Red have released a deluxe limited edition box-set of The Turn Of A Friendly Card, the fifth album by The Alan Parsons Project, the brainchild of composer, musician and co-creator Eric Woolfson and celebrated producer and engineer Alan Parsons.

The Alan Parsons Project - The Turn Of A Friendly Card

The album sessions featured contributions from musicians such as Ian Bairnson (guitars), David Paton (bass), Stuart Elliott (drums) with Eric Woolfson playing keyboards and providing lead vocals, along with Elmer Gantry, Chris Rainbow and Lenny Zakatek.

This 2023 3CD / Blu-Ray (region free) limited edition box-set includes an additional 42 tracks drawn from Eric Woolfson’s song-writing diaries, studio session out-takes and a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Alan Parsons and a high resolution remastered original stereo mix, along with the promotional videos of Games People Play, The Gold Bug and The Turn Of A Friendly Card plus a promotional television advertisement. This stunning set also features a lavish illustrated book with a new essay with photos, memorabilia, letters along with personal recollections from Alan Parsons and Sally Woolfson, along with a reproduction poster.

As with previous Alan Parsons Project albums, an array of vocalists was again utilised. Lenny Zakatek had first appeared on I Robot. Future Camel singer Chris Rainbow had made his Alan Parsons Project debut on Pyramid. While for Elmer Gantry, it was his first shot at singing with the Project (he would later go on to feature on 1982’s Eye In The Sky). The Turn Of A Friendly Card also features the very first Eric Woolfson vocal performances for The Alan Parsons Project. Woolfson features on the Nothing Left To Lose section of the album’s title track suite, and also on Time.

The Turn Of A Friendly Card artwork and CDs

There is not a massive upgrade to the sound of the CD’s, which sounded amazing anyway, but this version is the definitive take on the album, and it is the best sounding version of The Turn Of A Friendly Card, so worth replacing your original CD. Spread your love of the music by buying this version and gift your original CD to a friend! Please note that the blu-ray was not provided for this review, so I cannot comment on the content on the final disc prior to release.

The original album sits on the first of the four discs, and its a top quality album that has stood the test of time. Games People Play (with a vocal from Lenny Zakatek) was a top 20 Billboard hit in the USA. The Eric Woolfson sung Time was another US Top 20 hit, with it’s sweeping, luscious strings and Beach Boys referencing vocal melody driving one of the key tracks on the first section of the album.

I Don’t Wanna Go Home is a perfect representation of the late 70s Alan Parsons Project sound, with layers of sharp, rhythmic guitars and crisply produced percussion.

From the old vinyl side two section onwards, the music offers an updating of the Project sound, with the earliest hints of an 80s sensibility creeping into the arrangement and orchestrations. The Gold Bug and The Turn of a Friendly Card suite pushes the album firmly into classic album territory.

Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons.

From track 11 on the first disc, we get the first batch of extra tracks. Nothing Left to Lose [Chris Rainbow Overdub Vocal Compilation] is a fascinating insight into the multi-layered vocals, here in their glorious, isolated form. As is Games People Play [Rough Mix], which captures the energy in this early, unpolished diamond of an arrangement.

Disc two presents Eric’s Songwriting Diary, and is the disc I return to the least in this collection, but it is a unique way of “being in the room” as the songs were created. The tracks are sourced from Eric’s portable cassette recorder, and is made up of piano and vocal sketches of the ideas that led to the full songs. So lots of hiss and “la la la’s”, but a rare and very personal insight into the creative process, that is rarely heard for classic albums.

Disc three picks up the quality, with alt takes and single mixes. May Be a Price to Pay (Early version with Eric Guide Vocal and Unused Guitar solo) works well, and offers a different flavour to the albums opening track. Most of these tracks have Eric’s guide vocals left quite low in the mix. Its a shame they are buried so deep, as they offer a fascinating insight into the development of the album.

Games People Play (Early version – Eric’s Guide Vocal) shows how well developed the song was from the early sessions, and highlights how much of the vocal arrangement was followed from Eric Woolfson’s early guide vocals. There is plenty of cowbell in this early take, always a welcome bonus!

The Gold Bug (Chris Rainbow backing vocals) is another unique insight into the multi-layered vocals from this key album track. The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two) (Eric’s Guide Vocal and Extended Guitar Solo) is the pick of the alt-versions, and rounds of the sessions before the CD ends with three concise single mixes – of Games People Play, The Turn Of A Friendly Card and Snake Eyes.

Buy the box-set from Amazon

Buy the box-set from Burning Shed

Buy the single disc vinyl version (from 2013) from Amazon


The Turn Of A Friendly Card

May Be A Price To Pay
Games People Play
I Don’t Wanna Go Home
The Gold Bug
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part One)
Snake Eyes
The Ace Of Swords
Nothing Left To Lose
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part Two)

Bonus Tracks

May Be A Price To Pay (Intro Demo)
Nothing Left To Lose (Basic Backing Track)
Nothing Left To Lose (Chris Rainbow Overdub Vocal Compilation)
Nothing Left to Lose [Early Studio Version with Eric’s Guide Vocal]
Time (Early Studio Attempt)
Games People Play (Rough Mix)
The Gold Bug (Demo)

Eric Woolfson’s Songwriting Diaries

May Be A Price To Pay
Games People Play
I Don’t Wanna Go Home
The Turn Of A Friendly Card
Snake Eyes
Nothing Left To Lose
Tofc / Snake Eyes / I Don’t Wanna Go Home
La La La Lah
Next Year
Someone Else
Taking It All Away
To Those Of You Out There

Recording Sessions Bonus Tracks

May Be A Price To Pay (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal And Unused Guitar Solo)
Games People Play (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal)
Time (Orchestra And Chris Rainbow Backing Vocals)
The Gold Bug (Early Reference Version)
The Gold Bug (Chris Rainbow Backing Vocals)
The Gold Bug (Clavinet With No Delay)
The Turn Of A Friendly Card – Part One (Early Backing Track)
Snake Eyes (Early Version – Eric Guide Vocal)
The Ace Of Swords (Early Version With Synth Orchestration)
The Ace of Swords (Early Version with Piano on Melody)
The Turn Of A Friendly Card – Part Two (Eric Guide Vocal And Extended Guitar Solo)
Games People Play (Single Edit)
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Single Edit)
Snake Eyes (single edit)

5.1 Surround Sound Mix (2019) And High- Resolution Original Stereo Mix By Alan Parsons

May Be A Price To Pay
Games People Play
I Don’t Wanna Go Home
The Gold Bug
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part One)
Snake Eyes
The Ace Of Swords
Nothing Left To Lose
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part Two)

Visual Content
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Album Ad)
Games People Play (Promotional Video)
The Gold Bug (Promotional Video)
The Turn Of A Friendly Card (Promotional Video)

Buy the box-set from Amazon

Buy the box-set from Burning Shed

Buy the single disc vinyl version (from 2013) from Amazon

Musik Music Musique 3.0 – 1982 Synth Pop On The Air compilation album review

23 01 2023

Musik Music Musique 3.0 – 1982 Synth Pop On The Air is the third 3CD compilation from Cherry Red, released on 17 February 2023. Featuring more obscure tracks from well-known artists from 1982, including Thomas Dolby, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Japan, Ultravox, Soft Cell and Kim Wilde, alongside lesser known acts that give the collection a real taste of the time.

CD one of the collection opens with Thomas Dolby’s third single, a homage to Radio Caroline, the percussive Radio Silence. Manchester’s The Passage deliver the electronic pop of XOYO, with its addictive chorus. Mirror Man has always been one of my favourite early Talk Talk singles, with the band going on to make such a valuable contribution to 80s and early 90s music as their style expanded from these early pop beginnings.

OMD’s She’s Leaving comes in the form of a slightly remixed European single version, and is one of the key tracks on the bands Architecture And Morality album from the previous year. Breakdown (1982 Single Version) from Colourbox features a heady mix of synth, guitar and percussion topped with soulful vocals, hinting at the experimentation that would culminate in the one off M|A|R|R|S collaboration that led to the No1 single for Pump Up The Volume in 1987.

I’ve Seen The Word (a double A side with God’s Kitchen) was one of the slower-paced, more reflective early singles from Blancmange. One of the most influential early 80’s synth bands, Fashion, contribute the Zeus B Held produced slice of pop-Electronica that is Streetplayer (Mechanik), taken from their wonderful Fabrique album.

Japan’s European Son is a David Sylvian song that drips with Giorgio Moroder sounding hard-synth lines, but Moroder actually passed up the opportunity to produce this song, with production duties handled by Simon Napier-Bell, with the song mixed by John Punter. Always one of the bands most commercial songs, it fits well on Musik Music Musique 3.0. Justice is performed by Paul Haig, the former guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for post-punk band Josef K. Justice is a previously hard to find, very commercial single recorded in New York in 1982. Paul worked with former Associates singer Billy Mackenzie in the late 80s and contributed to several much-loved posthumous releases from his former colleague.

The original Mike Howlett produced single version of Tears For Fears Pale Shelter from this compilation highlights the longevity of much of the duo’s work. Last years The Tipping Point added to the bands stellar discography. Arthur Brown (yes, the Fire Arthur Brown) offers a synth based track, with wonderful electronic percussion that is a complete departure from his past work.

Coded World by Faith Global is one of the more interesting lesser-known tracks on this compilation. Vocalist Jason Guy is joined by original Tiger Lily / Ultravox! guitarist Stevie Shears for this confident, well-structured song. The later, more successful version of Ultravox are represented by the instrumental Monument, the B side to the single Hymn.

Disc two kicks off with Dramatis (Gary Numan’s backing band) with their sixth single The Shame. The Fiat Lux b-side This Illness was produced by Bill Nelson, and has touches of Nelson’s sound from around this time. Bill’s brother Ian was a member of this short-lived band. The track is one that Bill Nelson fans will surely love. Tasteful bass and guitar lines are a highlight of Shame, with a real Chimera feel to the keyboards.

The 7″ version of New Order’s early classic single Temptation is a highlight of Musik Music Musique 3.0. Dead Or Alive’s What I Want, here in demo form, is a world away from their massive hit You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) that followed in 1984. What I Want has more new wave leanings, and a harder vocal from the late Pete Burns.

Ieya 1982 is a re-recorded version of the Toyah single that originally featured on 1980’s The Blue Meaning. A smoother, tighter arrangement compared to the original take, it highlights the contributions of the new band line-up.

“Isn’t it nice, sugar and spice
Luring disco dollies to a life of vice”

Sex Dwarf is the lyrically and musically uncompromising side to Soft Cell, taken from late 1981’s debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, hence why it was able to sneak onto this compilation. Sex Dwarf is the duo of Marc Almond and Dave Ball at their shocking, seediest best, and they still have the power to deliver, have a listen to 2022’s magnificent Happiness Not Included album (available on CD and vinyl).

The slinky bassline of You Remind Me Of Gold is a highlight of the Mirror Man b-side from The Human League. Edinburgh’s Drinking Electricity contribute the Altered Images via The Loco-Motion twisted pop of Good Times, which sounds better than my description of the song.

The third and final disc is launched by one of Heaven 17’s finest singles, of which there were many, with Let Me Go!

An early Thomas Leer song, Mr Nobody, stands up well as a brilliantly arranged and not at all dated track. Thomas formed Act in the late 80s with Claudia Brücken (Propaganda). Their only album Laughter, Tears and Rage included the wonderful Snobbery and Decay, and is worth tracking down.

The compilation has gone for a less obvious Kim Wilde track, the melancholic late 1982 single Child Come Away. Prior to their success on the Top Gun soundtrack, Berlin were delivering songs in the vein of the Giorgio Moroder inspired synth-pop of Sex (I’m A….).

Mikado’s Par Hasard is a sweet, gentle pop song released on Les Disques du Crépuscule. Scotland’s Those French Girls second and final single Sorry Sorry is a Simple Minds meets Ultravox piece of quirky angular pop. The most well-known song by cult artist Nick Nicely is featured, the lysergic widescreen pop of Hilly Fields (1892). If you have never heard this song, you are in for a treat.

Ukraine, featuring former Fischer-Z keyboard player Stephen Skolnik, is a heady mix of early 80s synths, with new wave guitar and Fashion-like percussive bass. The bands Remote Control is a delightful taste of the genre crossovers that fueled a lot of the great music created in 1982.

1-2-3 is an 80s updating of the 1965 Len Barry song, performed by Julie And The Jems, the sole single release from former Tight Fit vocalist Julie Harris.

Thick Pigeon (Miranda Stanton and American film composer Carter Burwell) contribute the delightfully eccentric Subway, a mixture of new wave bass and sugar-sweet electronics, topped by Stanton’s unique spoken vocals. One listen will result in this song becoming lodged in your brain for days.

Sergeant Frog, with the instrumental Profile Dance, is an alias of Phil Harding, who went on to work with Stock Aitken Waterman a couple of years later. Harding’s resume as engineer and producer included The Clash, Toyah, Matt Bianco, ABC and Donna Summer.

The final disc ends with The Buggles infuenced electro-pop of Omega Theatre with their epic Robots, Machines And Silicon Dreams. Omega Theatre was the electronic pop project of 60s songwriter John Shakespeare. Shakespeare and Grammy-winning co-writer Geoff Stephens threw the kitchen sink at Robots, Machines And Silicon Dreams, with multiple shifts and turns throughout this pleasing single.

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Thomas Dolby – Radio Silence
The Passage – XOYO
Talk Talk – Mirror Man
100% Manmade Fibre – Green For Go
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – She’s Leaving
Poeme Electronique – V.O.I.C.E.
Colourbox – Breakdown (1982 Single Version)
Blancmange – I’ve Seen The Word
Fashiøn – Streetplayer (Mechanik)
Japan – European Son
Greeting No 4 – Condition
Richard Bone – Digital Days
Paul Haig – Justice
Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
Arthur Brown – Conversations
Die Krupps – Goldfinger
Planning By Numbers – Lightning Strikes
Faith Global – Coded World
Aerial FX – Instant Feeling
Ultravox – Monument

Dramatis – The Shame
Fiat Lux – This Illness
New Order – Temptation
Kevin Coyne – Tell The Truth
Dead Or Alive – What I Want (Demo)
Toyah – Ieya 1982
Fad Gadget – Life On The Line
Thirteen At Midnight – Climb Down
Soft Cell – Sex Dwarf
Yello – Heavy Whispers
Zoo Boutique – Happy Families
The Human League – You Remind Me Of Gold
Moebius – Pushing Too Hard
Passion Polka – Juliet
Endgames – First-Last-For Everything (Club Version)
Leisure Process – Love Cascade
Drinking Electricity – Good Times
Section 25 – Hold Me

Heaven 17 – Let Me Go!
Voice Farm – Beatnik
Telex – Sigmund Freud’s Party
Thomas Leer – Mr Nobody
Kim Wilde – Child Come Away
Communication – Future Shock
Berlin – Sex (I’m A….)
Local Boy Makes Good – Hypnotic Rhythm
Mikado – Par Hasard
Falco – Maschine Brennt
Those French Girls – Sorry Sorry
Nick Nicely – Hilly Fields (1892)
Time In Motion – Quiet Type
Ukraine – Remote Control
Julie And The Jems – 1-2-3
Thick Pigeon – Subway
Sergeant Frog – Profile Dance
Omega Theatre – Robots, Machines And Silicon Dreams

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Barclay James Harvest – Once Again remastered album box-set review

12 12 2022

Cherry Red are releasing a 3CD/Blu-Ray Remastered & Expanded version of Barclay James Harvest’s second album, Once Again on 27 January 2023.

Barclay James Harvest "Once Again" album cover

Originally released in February 1971, Once Again was recorded at Abbey Road studios and was produced by Norman Smith.

This new expanded edition features three CDs and an all-region blu-ray disc and comprises 44 tracks on the box-set. The set features the original UK stereo mix remastered from the original master tapes and also includes new 5.1 Surround Sound and stereo mixes by Stephen W. Tayler, a new remaster of the 1972 SQ Quad mix of the album and a multi-channel version of the 1972 Quad mix.

In addition, there is also a rare live performance recorded for BBC Radio One’s John Peel show in February 1971, and seven further rare bonus tracks, including an early version of Mockingbird and the full version of the unreleased piece White Sails (A Seascape).

This release includes a lavishly illustrated booklet with a new essay from Barclay James Harvest experts Keith and Monika Domone and a replica of a 1971 promotional poster.

The original album contains a remaster that is faithful to the original mix along with two bonus cuts and three live John Peel Sunday Concert performances. If you already know and love the album, there’s not much to add that you don’t already know, other than this is the album presented in its original form, sounding at it’s best.

Barclay James Harvest "Once Again" advert

Once Again was described by Prog magazine in 2020 as one of the fifty ‘most influential albums in the development of Progressive Rock’. The album includes an early BJH progressive classic in Mockingbird and one of the first recorded appearances from Alan Parsons, before he engineered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon and recorded the hugely successful Alan Parsons Project album series.

The remasters from the original master tapes were carried out by Ben Wiseman at Broadlake Studios in Hertfordshire.

The new Stereo Mixes and 5.1 Surround Sound mixes are by Stephen W Tayler at Chimera Arts, Real World Studios, Box, Wiltshire.

Much like the recent Bill Nelson’s Red Noise box-set, the new stereo mixes by Stephen W. Tayler offer the biggest surprises and rewards. The scene is set with the expanded to 10 minutes opening track. The mixes are very different, whilst keeping the feel and the mood of the original songs. With a wider mix, the album asserts itself further as a progressive classic.

The main difference is the removal of the hard-panning of the original tracks, and more prominent and powerful vocal mixes, meaning that I am drawn to these new stereo mixes. I love that Tayler has totally turned the mixes on their head, whilst avoiding the temptation to move the songs into a more modern setting, so the overall feeling remains faithful to the era.

Barclay James Harvest promotional photograph

Song For Dying, always one of the stronger tracks, uses new instrumentation that gives the song a different pace. Galadriel is more faithful to the original arrangement, but parts of the song, such as the horns, are noticeably more prominent.

Mockingbird is a revelation. With reverb adding to the percussive power, whilst keeping the performance intact, there is an added power to this career highlight from the band. The strings and vocal harmonies lift this new mix to unheard highs, removing the fog of time from the original mix.

Ball and Chain also benefits from the production tools available in 2022, with a widescreen production. The bonus tracks also benefit from the wider technological palette, with this early 70s rocker given more colour and depth.

White Sails (A Seascape) clocks in at just under the 12 minute mark, with aching strings giving the song a timeless feel. This abandoned from the original album piano and strings instrumental acts as a beautiful prelude to the second version of Mockingbird, Stephen W. Tayler’s reimagining of the powerful May 1970 version of the song.

The third disc offers a stereo mix of the quad version, with the 4th disc (not supplied for review) featuring a blu-ray containing the 96 kHz / 24-bit new 5.1 Surround Sound mix / new Stereo mixes /original stereo mix & 1972 Quadrophonic Mix.

The stereo quad mix adds further volume to the vocals and instrumentation, which is at it’s most effective on Mockingbird, with an added potency to the percussion.

The Cherry Red box-set is the definitive version of Once Again, and even if you own the original album, the new Stephen W. Tayler stereo mixes deliver a powerful, welcome additional version of these classic well-loved songs.

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Once Again – The original stereo mix remastered

She Said
Happy Old World
Song for Dying
Mocking Bird
Vanessa Simmons
Ball and Chain
Lady Loves

Bonus tracks

Too Much on Your Plate
Happy Old World (Take One)
She Said (BBC John Peel Concert 1971)
Mockingbird (BBC John Peel Concert 1971)
Dark Now My Sky (BBC John Peel Concert 1971)


Once Again – The new stereo mixes

She Said (new stereo mix)
Happy Old World (new stereo mix)
Song for Dying (new stereo mix)
Galadriel (new stereo mix)
Mocking Bird (new stereo mix)
Vanessa Simmons (new stereo mix)
Ball and Chain (new stereo mix)
Lady Loves (new stereo mix)

Bonus tracks

Mocking Bird (first version – May 1970)
Too Much on Your Plate (new stereo mix)
White Sails (A Seascape) (complete version)


Once Again – The 1972 SQ Quadrophonic mix

She Said (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Happy Old World (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Song for Dying (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Galadriel (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Mocking Bird (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Vanessa Simmons (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Ball and Chain (1972 SQ Quad mix)
Lady Loves (1972 SQ Quad mix)

Bonus tracks

Galadriel (non-orchestral version)
Mocking Bird (non-orchestral version)

DISC FOUR (Blu-ray)

Once Again
96 kHz / 24-bit new 5.1 Surround Sound mix / new Stereo mixes /original stereo mix & 1972 Quadrophonic Mix

She Said
Happy Old World
Song for Dying
Mocking Bird
Vanessa Simmons
Ball and Chain
Lady Loves

Bonus tracks

Too Much on Your Plate
White Sails (A Seascape) (complete version)

Pre-order Barclay James Harvest Once Again box-set from Amazon

Pre-order Barclay James Harvest Once Again box-set from Burning Shed

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