2018 end of year favourites (music)

20 12 2018

Here are my favourite music releases from 2018 AKA good ideas to use up your Christmas Amazon gift vouchers. You can thank me later.

Top 5 new albums (in no particular order)

Blancmange – Wanderlust

wanderlust

Blancmange released their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, in October. Wanderlust is a much more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums, but it contains three of my favourite songs of the year with Distant Storm, the insanely addictive In Your Room and Not a Priority (featuring Hannah Peel). The album is a real late-career highlight.

Read my full review of Wanderlust

Buy the album at Amazon

The Midnight – Kids

the-midnight-kids

The Midnight were a new band to me in 2018. I stumbled across them via an online recommendation from Jacob Holm-Lupo from White Willow / The Opium Cartel, and 6 months later they are my 3rd most played artist of 2018 (thanks to Last.FM). If you are interested – my top 5 most played artists (via scrobbles) last year were

1. David Bowie
2. The Stranglers
3. The Midnight
4. Roxy Music
5. Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Anyway, back to The Midnight. They are an electronic act from the USA, described as being part of the synthwave collection of artists, and are heavily influenced by 80s music / pop culture. Their artwork matches the music perfectly, and putting it simply, they write well-crafted electronic pop songs.

Kids is The Midnight’s most recent album, and features the pure-pop of America 2 and is bursting at the seams with analogue synths and drums that sound like Simmons sds9.

Vocalist Tyler Lyle and fellow band member Tim McEwan perfectly capture that feeling of nostalgia and hope (tinged with melancholy) that ran through the music, film and TV of the 80s. I dare you to listen to their music and see if you can resist digging out your copy of The Stand, Back To The Future or any of your favourite series or films from that decade.

Buy Kids by The Midnight on Amazon (MP3)

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Wapentak

sweet billy pilgrim

The newly streamlined (now just Tim Elsenburg and Jana Carpenter) Sweet Billy Pilgrim released the wonderful Wapentak in mid-2018. Available in digital form from Amazon, or in physical form direct from the band, this is my favourite Sweet Billy Pilgrim album to date.

I love the way the album slowly builds as each song progresses. The first few songs are stripped back and highlight Tim and Jana’s perfect vocal interplay. By the time we get to Junkyard Dogs, the beauty of this album fully reveals itself. The trio of Why the Long Face, The Briar Bell and A Shelter of Reeds hits the absolute sweet-spot for me.

Why the Long Face feels like Steely Dan with a sprinkling of Field Music, and boy oh boy, what a perfect chorus. The Briar Bell highlights the vulnerability in Jana’s vocals that sit so well with Tim’s aching harmonies.

A Shelter of Reeds is simply stunning. At times the arrangement (especially the Danny Thompson influenced bass parts) remind me of Never For Ever period Kate Bush, and the two vocalists hit a real peak on this song.

Have a listen to A Shelter of Reeds and then buy the album (CD or mp3), it deserves to be added to your collection.

Tracey Thorn – Record

record

Record is an album full of one word titles and shifting moods, from the electronica of early single Queen, the love song to pop music that is Guitar and one of my favourite songs of the year Face.

Face is up there with personal favourites By Picadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept and A-Z as one of the most moving songs in Tracey’s solo catalogue. The whole album is musically and lyrically so strong and uplifting, and feels like an antidote to the often bitter and cruel world we currently live in.

Buy Record on Amazon

Lunatic Soul – Under the Fragmented Sky

fragmented sky

Under the Fragmented Sky is a companion piece to 2017’s Fractured album, and finds Mariusz Duda continuing to explore textures and moods with this largely electronic project. Album opener He Av En uses voice as an instrument, and adds Cure like guitar lines to the mix.

The fractured, jittery synths of The Art of Repairing sit in stark contrast to the more traditional arrangement of the title track. I love how the music of Lunatic Soul continues to evolve with each album, and Under the Fragmented Sky continues the journey.

Buy Under the Fragmented Sky on Amazon

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2018

David Bowie – Welcome To The Blackout

BLACKOUT

My favourite Bowie live album (it’s Stage on steroids, or maybe it’s the side-effects of the cocaine?) and worth buying for the version of Stay alone!

Buy Welcome To The Blackout at Amazon

The Midnight – Days of Thunder / Nocturnal

nocturnal

These are not 2018 releases but I am breaking the rules and including them here, as I first heard the albums this year. Sadly not available on CD at the moment, the albums are available on vinyl and download only.

If you want your pop-fix, you will fall in love with the feeling of Light Years (feat. Nikki Flores), but the title track, with its deep bass and neon-lit synths hits all the right buttons for me.

Buy Days of Thunder (mp3)

Buy Nocturnal (mp3)

Favourite re-issues of 2018

Kate Bush remasters

KB-CD-Packshot-2-Square-3000 2

The Kate Bush remasters finally arrived this year, and whilst the only new material was one previously unreleased track, Humming, the album’s have never sounded so good. If you don’t have much Kate Bush in your collection, the box-sets are a great way of collecting the vast majority of Kate’s music. 

The highlights for me are improved versions of The Dreaming and Aerial.

Read my full reviews of Part I and Part II

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part I  

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part II

John Foxx – Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

meta500

This year saw the release of the definitive version of this electronic classic from 1980, which contains 49 tracks across 3 CDs. 

Read my full review.

Buy Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

This Mortal Coil – It’ll End In Tears / Filigree and Shadow / Blood

Blood

The three albums from This Mortal Coil were made available in remastered form for the first time this year (the remasters were previously part of a now out-of-print box-set).

I think most people would be interested in the first album, It’ll End In Tears from 1984, due to the inclusion of Tim Buckley’s timeless Song to the Siren, featuring Elizabeth Fraser & Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) but all three albums are worth investigating.

Filigree & Shadow (1986) is my favourite and is a perfect winter album. Live piano and strings cosy up with discordant electronics to create a gothic masterpiece. The Jeweller (Dominic Appleton, Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski with Simon Raymonde) segues perfectly with a Simon Raymonde composition, Ivy and Neet.

Talking Heads Drugs (from 1979’s Fear of Music) is given a radical refresh by Alison Limerick with members of The Wolfgang Press and Colourbox.

The third and final release Blood, like Filigree & Shadow, was a double album on its initial vinyl and cassette release. Each album is a single CD disc for these reissues. Randy California’s Nature’s Way is a highlight, with powerful vocal performances from Alison Limerick and Deirdre Rutkowski.

Buy It’ll End In Tears 

Buy Filigree and Shadow 

Buy Blood 

Here’s to a great year of music in 2019.





Kate Bush – Remastered

4 10 2018

Kate Bush will release remastered versions of her entire studio album catalogue on CD and vinyl in November 2018.

I was only thinking the other day that I would love to hear a remastered version of The Dreaming, and here we are. The power of positive thinking. Back to reality – tweets from the Kate Bush twitter account are as rare as hen’s teeth. So when one arrives in your timeline (a tweet, not a hen’s tooth), its normally significant, like announcing the 2014 Before The Dawn tour and now this extensive re-issue campaign. I feel they may have missed a trick with not using #NovemberWillBeMagicAgain, but KB-HQ twitter team, you can have that one for free if you want.

For the casual fan, the CD box-sets are a great way to add some classic albums to your collection. As an avid fan since 1978, I’m looking forward to hearing the new remasters of some of my favourite albums and hearing with new clarity so many songs that are etched into my soul.

The vinyl box-sets are, by their very nature, quite pricey, but being split into four different sets will help you build your collection over time, if vinyl is your format of choice.

From the initial artwork shown on Kate’s website, the CD and vinyl packaging looks beautiful, so I would suggest going for the physical releases, rather than digital, if you possibly can. Hopefully the details below will make it clear what is available, so you can start saving for your purchases!

The albums have been remastered by Kate and James Guthrie (apart from the live Before The Dawn album which retains its recent, original mastering).

Read my review of the first CD boxset here.

My review of the second box-set is now live.

So here is the detail, with the Amazon pre-order links.

THE CD BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered Part I

KB remastered 1

  • The Kick Inside
  • Lionheart
  • Never For Ever
  • The Dreaming
  • Hounds of Love
  • The Sensual World
  • The Red Shoes

Amazon pre-order

KB-CD-Packshot-1-Square-3000_01


Kate Bush Remastered Part II

KB remastered 2

  • Aerial
  • Director’s Cut
  • 50 Words for Snow
  • Before the Dawn (Original Mastering)
  • 12″ Mixes
  • The Other Side 1
  • The Other Side 2
  • In Others’ Words

Amazon pre-order

KB-CD-Packshot-2-Square-3000 2


THE VINYL BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl I

  • The Kick Inside
  • Lionheart
  • Never For Ever
  • The Dreaming

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-1-(Flat)_0 1


Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl II

  • Hounds of Love
  • The Sensual World
  • The Red Shoes

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-2-(Flat) 2


Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl III

  • Aerial
  • Director’s Cut
  • 50 Words for Snow

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-3-(Flat) 3


Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV

  • 12″ Mixes
  • The Other Side 1
  • The Other Side 2
  • In Others’ Words

Amazon pre-order

KB-Vinyl-Packshot-4-(Flat) 4


The track-listing for the Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV box-set and the last 4 CDs of the second CD box-set consists of:

12” Mixes

Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
The Big Sky (Meteorological Mix)
Cloudbusting (The Orgonon Mix)
Hounds Of Love (Alternative Mix)
Experiment IV (Extended Mix)

The Other Side 1

Walk Straight Down The Middle
You Want Alchemy
Be Kind To My Mistakes
Lyra
Under The Ivy
Experiment IV
Ne T’Enfuis Pas
Un Baiser D’Enfant
Burning Bridge
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 2012 Remix

The Other Side 2

Home For Christmas
One Last Look Around The House Before We Go
I’m Still Waiting
Warm And Soothing
Show A Little Devotion
Passing Through Air
Humming
Ran Tan Waltz
December Will Be Magic Again
Wuthering Heights (Remix / New Vocal from The Whole Story)

In Others’ Words

Rocket Man
Sexual Healing
Mná na hÉireann
My Lagan Love
The Man I Love
Brazil (Sam Lowry’s First Dream)
The Handsome Cabin Boy
Lord Of The Reedy River
Candle In The Wind





2017 end of year favourites

23 12 2017

I haven’t done this for a few years, but here are my favourite music, tv and film releases from 2017.

Top 5 new albums

In no particular order:

Paul Draper — Spooky Action

Spooky Action from former Mansun mainman Paul Draper is a strong debut album. The songs are ambitious, a mix of new wave and alternative with a slight hint of prog. Whilst the album has hints of Drapers old band, it does not trade off nostalgia.

Tracks such as Don’t Poke The Bear and Friends Make The Worst Enemies are angry and highlight Paul Drapers powerful vocals. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion breaks new sonic ground for Draper, and is an album highlight.

The contribution of Catherine AD aka The Anchoress  to Spooky Action is noticeable and welcome.

Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

2017 saw the release of the Tim’s 4th solo album, and my favourite to date. You can read my full review here.

The most progressive sounding release so far from the no-man vocalist, the album has a concept built around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career.

My favourite track on the album is one of my most played songs of the year, the haunting Nowhere Good To Go.

CousteauX – by CousteauX

The comeback of the year for me. Rising from the ashes of the late 90s band Cousteau, CousteauX take the Bowie-esque vocals of Liam McKahey and the razor sharp song-writing of Davey Ray Moor to new levels. Whilst retaining the charm of the original band, CousteauX have added a much more powerful and darker hue to their new songs.

Read my full review here.

Fader — First Light

A real surprise this one. The album crept up on me after two or three listens and it has remained a favourite throughout the year. Fader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin).

First Light is a very low-fi electronic album containing one of my favourite songs of the year in Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks”, this brooding, pulsating piece of electronica is timeless.

Read my full review here.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

A mostly instrumental album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia has picked up new fans as the year has progressed. One for fans of Mike Oldfield, John Foxx and Jean Michel Jarre, its a very moving album. The mixture of synths and a (real) brass band works surprisingly well, and Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is one of those albums that you should listen to in one sitting, in the correctly sequenced order. Turn off your shuffle!

Read my full review here.

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2017

My favourite progressive album of the year was White Willow – Future Hopes. Dropping the metal leanings of earlier albums, and adding a wonderfully colourful warm palette, Future Hopes is a synth lovers dream. My favourite track on the album is the gentle Silver And Gold. Read my full review here.

Destroyer – ken was released quite late in 2017, and is still seeping into my heart. Destroyer are definitely a marmite band – but I’m a huge fan. ken feels like a love song to the electronica of bands such as New Order. Just listen to the way the synths sweep in on opening track Sky’s Grey. An album for fans who enjoy uneasy listening!

Atone by White Moth Black Butterfly is a very commercial progressive / pop album from members of the bands TesseracT and Skyharbor. Delicate vocals (reminding me of the late George Michael at times) sit atop sweeping orchestral decorated songs.

There are some really strong performances and clever production touches to this fine album. At times I am also reminded of This Mortal Coil in some of the arrangements and reverb-heavy keyboard treatments.

Atone is on its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.

The first album from Cigarettes After Sex might only have one gear – a slow gear – but I have grown to really love this album. I adore the guitar sound – sort of like The Cure mixed with I’m In Love With A German Film Star. The lyrics are intriguing, if slightly pervy and the Twin Peaks vibe makes for a rewarding listen.

Favourite re-issues

David Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) covers my favourite Bowie era (the “Berlin” trilogy). Apart from the dreadful error with the Heroes album (I’m still waiting for my replacement disc, record company grrrr) I’m happy with this box-set. Its great having the Moroder version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) and the full Baal EP on CD, plus the Tony Visconti re-mix of Lodger is fascinating and very different from the original.

The 30th anniversary re-issue of Scalywag Jaz by Thomas Lang brings all the associated tracks from the period, plus live recordings and a couple of new songs, into one package. Its a great value, definitive release for one of the finest albums of the 80s.

Read my full review here.

I also think the remaster of Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac deserves a mention at this point. The deluxe version includes some fascinating (high quality) demos, 12″ mixes plus the main album has never sounded so good. Big Love from me for this 2017 reissue. I’m so sorry.

TV and Film

My favourite film in 2017 (although the film was released in 2016 I caught it on bluray this year) was Nocturnal Animals.  Produced and directed by Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, this psychological thriller kept me in a state of unease until the very end of the film.

The TV event of the year for me was by far Twin Peaks: The Return or as it is billed on the bluray, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. I was a fan of the original series when it aired on TV in 1990, then fell in love with it again watching the series on its DVD re-issue many years later. I had high hopes for the new series, but after the initial nostalgia fuelled first few minutes, it was clear that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to surpass the original.

It wasn’t perfect, but then neither is life. There were entire sections and episodes that frustrated and baffled, but they were out-weighed by the visceral brutality of some of the characters (new and old) and their actions. This new series took me to places both wonderful and strange, and if this is the end of the Twin Peaks story, I’m so happy that we got to witness the return.

Episode 8 – watched in the early hours (the time it was broadcast in the UK), was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I have ever had. I simply could not believe what I was watching, and I went to work shortly afterwards with a mixture of euphoria and confusion.

As well as the bluray of The Return, there are also two fascinating books from Mark Frost (The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier) to help fill in the blanks and the missing years. What a fine way to spend your Christmas vouchers!

My other favourite TV series of 2017 was HBO’s Big Little Lies. The series starred Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern, and kept the dark, brutal secret that rumbled through the entire series out of sight to the very end.

Finally, my favourite TV re-issue from 2017 was the blu-ray of Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series.  The high definition remaster of the ITV series from 1980 features 13 spine-tingling stories starring Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott and Brian Cox.

Here’s to a great year of music, film and TV in 2018.





Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Light

25 02 2015

now-we-have-lightNow We have Light is Oxford band Sanguine Hum’s third album, and the follow up to 2013’s The Weight of The World.

Now We have Light expands on the sound and themes of the previous album,  but takes things a step further, with a concept based double album. I’ll leave you to discover the concept when you explore the CD (look into my eyes, buy the CD).

Desolation Song sets the scene, introducing the main character in the concept. Some beautifully layered textures and solo lines from guitarist/vocalist Joff Winks, plus an array of tempo changes ensure that this album will appeal to fans of Pink Floyd and Steven Wilson.

“It’s basically a tale, the telling of a story…”

The gently pastoral backdrop of Drastic Attic leads into the psychedelia of Getting Warmer, with its bubbling synths and distant bells courtesy of keyboardist Matt Baber.

Out of Mind is a perfect example of the complexity to the arrangements and performances on Now We have Light. A subtle break-down and then build-up takes place at the songs mid-point, with the rhythm section of bassist Brad Waissman and (current no-man / Tim Bowness / Henry Fool drummer) Andrew Booker really adding to the mood and drive of this key song.

The keyboards (a mixture of hard Moroder-esque sequencers and jazzy rhodes) cook up a treat on the jazz-rock referencing TheftDerision closes the first CD – and normally a track of this quality would be a fitting album closer, but the story continues onto the second CD.

Cat Factory is driven by a tight funk bassline, and reminds me a little of some of the mid-70’s Stanley Clarke albums that I listened to in my formative years.

sanguine-hum

On the Beach (no, not a Chris Rea cover version) is one of the most progressive tracks on the album, which at times also has a feel of Hatfield and the North and early Genesis.

The two longest tracks on the album are up next – End of the Line has a steady groove and addictive keyboard lines. Spanning the Eternal Abyss weighs in at nearly 11 minutes and as such has the space to fully explore the riffs, moods and multiple layers of the song.

Spanning the Eternal Abyss is made up of several parts, and I particularly love the toms and piano early section, before the track slows down (with a glitchy, funereal pace percussion loop) towards the end.

The album’s closing tracks, Bubble Trouble and Settle Down feature vibraphone work from jazz musician Jim Hart. Settle Down features the album’s best vocal performance from Joff Winks. It struck me on the early listens to Now We have Light that whilst the lyrics are an important ingredient in the songs, they are not obtrusive but make their point on repeated listening.

If you like modern progressive rock (Steven Wilson, Big Big Train, White Willow, Lifesigns et al)  or progressive influenced / post-rock  bands such as Radiohead, Mogwai or Sigur Ros, I would urge you to investigate Now We have Light and the music of Sanguine Hum.

Buy Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Light (Double CD version) on Amazon
Buy Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Light (Box-set – 2CD/DVD) on Amazon





Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

13 11 2011

The last Thomas Dolby studio album was Astronauts & Heretics back in 1992, so to say A Map Of The Floating City is long-awaited is a bit of an understatement.

There have been a couple of live releases and re-issues in recent years (notably the wonderful collectors edition of The Flat Earth in 2009) but the silence with regards to new music was finally broken last year with a couple of digital EP’s available from the official Dolby website.  6 of the EP tracks appear on A Map Of The Floating City.  Whilst they work perfectly well as album tracks, it’s a slight disappointment that the album is not made up of more new music, but after such a long wait, it’s only a minor complaint.

Album opener Nothing New Under The Sun kicks off with a bassline that’s vaguely reminiscent of The Jackson’s Can You Feel It, and this is the only real nod towards the 80’s on the album.

“Hey any fool can write a hit
loop me a breakbeat baby I’ll tweak it till it fits”

A wonderful rhythm guitar line from long-time Dolby collaborator Kevin Armstrong drives the song.  The Princealike dirty bubbling synths introduce Spice Train, a track that sits better on the album (as a standalone single it never really hit me).  The Eastern promise of the strings and backing vocals work well with the travelogue lyrics.

Evil Twin Brother, with it’s New York fire sirens, Shaft guitars and themed lyrics really set the scene for the song.  Much like the way I Love You Goodbye from Astronauts & Heretics, with it’s crickets and thunder gave a real cajun flavour, Evil Twin Brother gives a real feel of the at times claustrophobic New York city vibe.

“They say that New York city never sleeps
But I think they’re only talking about me
it’s 3am and ninety-five degrees.”

The album is split into three themed sections.  The final track that makes up the first section (Urbanoia) is A Jealous Thing Called Love, a lovely latin-tinged song of regret and betrayal, featuring Bruce Woolley (co-writer of Video Killed The Radio Star with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles) on backing vocals.

Amerikana is the second section of the album, which starts with Road To Reno.

“He was a crooked politician
she sold brassieres at Sears
he said he liked The Beatles
And she liked Tears for Fears” 

A tale of a Badlands styled road-trip, that’s never going to end with chocolates and flowers, although Mars bars get a mention in the lyrics.  The guitar has a real Dire Straits circa Communiqué era feel, which is apt as Mark Knopfler features a couple of tracks later.

The Toad Lickers is a banjo and jaw harp (from Imogen Heap) led song about  “a group of crazed eco-hippies in the Welsh mountains who get high on Bufo alvarius and creep into the local town after hours in search of munchies” according to Thomas on his website.  Glad he cleared that one up, as otherwise I’d have no idea what on earth this strange song is about. The track features backing vocals from Adele Bertei (who provided the soaring vocals on Dolby’s Hyperactive! from 1984, pop-pickers, not toad-lickers).

17 Hills is the longest track on the album, and is up there with Screen Kiss as one of my favourite Dolby songs.  Featuring the afore-mentioned Mark Knopfler on guitar, this evocative track always reminds me of the wide-open spaces of California, and the hills overlooking the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.  17 Hills features some lovely fretless bass work from Jeffrey Wash.

“The city rises on seventeen hills
seventeen hills from the Bay
The silhouette of those beautiful hills
is right at the end of this old stormdrain.” 

Love Is A Loaded Pistol ends this section of the album and is the most stripped back track, with just Dolby and a string section.  I’ll let Thomas explain the inspiration for this song:

“The idea came to me in a dream: I had a nocturnal visitation from Billie Holiday who traveled through time to give me a song lyric. Of course, I was amazed and I was overjoyed. She was in an evening gown and looking ravishing. She sat next to me and said ‘I’ve got a lyric for you.’ I said ‘Great, hit me!’ She said ‘Okay…..This time it’s love.’

I smiled awkwardly. There was a pause. Then I said ‘erm…. well it’s a bit crap, isn’t it?’ She looked dejected and asked why. I said there had to be half a dozen songs with that title over the years, not that any particular one sprang to mind. ‘Well you can make it cool, right?’ Suddenly the waking me got very upset with my dream me and interjected some diplomacy. I mean here I was with one of the greatest singers that ever lived, and I just told her her idea was crap. I started to say something like ‘Look, I’ll try to work your lyric in….’ but it was too late. Billie was fading and I felt myself waking up…”

Oceanea is the final themed section of the album, which starts with the song of the same name.  Featuring Eddi Reader on vocals, it’s a beautiful, haunting song that even includes what sounds to me like, shock-horror, some auto-tune effects on Dolby’s vocals, not in a Cher way you understand, but just a subtle inflection on certain words. The lyrics are the most moving on the album, and Oceanea is definitely the personal highlight of the album for me.

Simone, with its theremin intro from Bruce Woolley, has a lyrical twist that I won’t give away here, and at times reminds me of Aja period Steely Dan or maybe even early Prefab Sprout (who Dolby first worked with on the Steve McQueen album in 1985).

The album ends with To The Lifeboats, with its lovely rolling drums from Pat Mastelotto and haunting acoustic guitar, sounds of the sea and a not very positive end for the subject of the song, by the sounds of things.

Hopefully the warm critical response to this album will mean there won’t be such a long wait until the next Thomas Dolby album.

Buy A Map Of The Floating City at Amazon UK

Buy The Flat Earth at Amazon UK

Buy The Golden Age of Wireless at Amazon UK

Buy The Sole Inhabitant – (+DVD) at Amazon UK

Buy Astronauts & Heretics at Amazon UK

All lyrics © Thomas Dolby

All A Map Of The Floating City videos on this page taken from the official Thomas Dolby YouTube channel.

Thomas Dolby website 





White Willow – Terminal Twilight

28 10 2011

White Willow - "Terminal Twilight"I must admit, I’d not heard any of this Norwegian band’s music before, though I did buy the Night Blooms album by The Opium Cartel (another project from White Willow’s Jacob Holm-Lupo) but I was keen to hear the album due to the involvement of no-man’s Tim Bowness on the track Kansas Regrets.

The album appears to be based on an end-of-the world concept (a progressive concept album, oh no I hear you cry!), but it works well. Yes, it’s a very progressive album, awash with retro synths, mellotrons and shifting time signatures, all trademark progressive tools, but it’s also made up of some very strong songs and one of the best productions I’ve heard so far this year.

The albums second track Snowswept is driven by a powerful drum track and a crystal-clear vocal from the bands singer, Sylvia Erichsen.  The third track is co-written by Tim Bowness, who takes over lead vocal duties on Kansas Regrets.  The most acoustic, and at the same time probably the least progressive sounding track on the album, Kansas Regrets is a highlight nonetheless.

“Those country boys just left you cold
The local girls they acted old.”

The track features some gorgeous vocal harmonies and lovely harmonics scattered amongst the guitar playing.  Have a listen to the full song in the video below, which was  filmed, edited and directed by Dion Johnson.

If you are a fan of Bowness or no-man, Kansas Regrets will probably be the track that appeals to you straight away.  If you have any appreciation of progressive music, and the wide, colourful musical palette used in this genre, Terminal Twilight will quickly become one of your most cherished albums.

Red Leaves is streamed in full on the White Willow website – I’ve added a link below.

Red leaves by White Willow

There are times (especially on this track) when I’m reminded of Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds album from 1978, though the story on the White Willow album is told through the lyrics and the music only, no need for narration and so thankfully no appearances from David Essex required!  Some wonderful Gilmouresque guitar solos round off Red Leaves.

Floor 67 is fast becoming my favourite track on the album.  The lyrics really set the mood on this track, and capture the feeling of isolation and despair, as the apocalyptic weather destroys all in its wake, whilst the subjects of the song try to ride out the storm living in their own world, stocked up with alcohol in a high-rise building.

“But we stayed on through the winter
As the empire crashed and burned
And we heard the world grow quiet
And the voice on the radio said its goodbye.”

The chorus is very moving and I love the way the song ends, with snatches of ghostlike voices, almost like lost radio transmissions.

The mostly instrumental Natasha of the Burning Woods leads into the longest track on Terminal Twilight, the 13 minute Searise, the heaviest track on the album, which lyrically hints at the outcome of the song subjects quest for survival. Terminal Twilight closes with A Rumour of Twilight, a drone / acoustic guitar led instrumental piece.

So a new group for me to investigate, and a surprising contender to become one of my favourite albums of 2011.

Tracklisting:

Hawks Circle the Mountain
Snowswept
Kansas Regrets
Red Leaves
Floor 67
Natasha of the Burning Woods
Searise
A Rumour of Twilight

Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon UK
Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon US
Buy Terminal Twilight from The Burning Shed

http://www.whitewillow.info/





no-man – mixtaped / returning

29 11 2009


mixtaped
is no-man’s first DVD, and it serves as an excellent introduction to the band once described as “Britain’s most underrated sorrowful sonic architects”, as well as offering much for the long-term fan.

The double DVD comes in two parts. DVD one is mixtaped, which is the whole recording of no-man’s London show from 2008 (the band’s first full live performance in 15 years), plus a live photo gallery.

The second DVD is titled returning, which contains an 85 minute documentary, the complete videos for several no-man songs, a no-man chronology and deleted scenes.

disc one – mixtaped

Wilson, Bowness & Bingham

One thing that really stands out on the live DVD (as it did at the concert) is that no-man live are a very different beast to the studio incarnation.

The 2008 European shows surprised many with the power behind some of the songs. time travel in texas from this DVD is a prime example. The studio version (from 1996’s wild opera) is from the trip-hop era, and is dark and glitchy. The 2008 live version keeps the main arrangement but adds real muscle to the performance.

all the blue changes is one of the stand-out performances on this DVD. A slow-building crescendo, the song includes some wonderful interplay between guitarists Michael Bearpark and Steven Wilson. 

no-man live on the "mixtaped" DVD

days in the trees is a re-invention of one of the more well known no-man songs. Whilst it still keeps the spirit of the original song intact, this classic song, served up without the break-beats, and performed by this 2008 version of no-man, had a fresh new momentum.

lighthouse, from 2001’s returning jesus album, stayed faithful to the studio recording, and seemed to be a definite highlight for the audience on the night.

In fact, this performance reminded me why lighthouse is my most-played no-man track, and why the final section of the song is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. The guitar / violin interplay and subtle mood changes within in this performance are so moving.

A wonderful, slide-guitar infused take on carolina skeletons follows, and the atmospheric returning jesus is performed with a real lightness of touch.

The mixtaped DVD ends with two flowermouth tracks. things change features a guest performance from former no-man member Ben Coleman, who gives a blistering performance on electric violin. The concert ends with the beautiful watching over me.

Ben Coleman guests on "things change"

The clarity of sound on this DVD, especially if played on a 5.1 system, is amazing. There is wonderful separation between the instruments, and tracks such as returning jesus, lighthouse and all the blue changes raise the bar on what a live DVD should sound like. The picture quality on the live disc is sharp and the colours are vibrant.

The detail is such that you can read the set-list on Stephen Bennett’s Mac that shows that the early no-man track housekeeping was to have been the last song in the set. In the end, this song was only played on the German date, and an audio only soundboard recording of this performance plays whilst the picture gallery is displayed on the mixtaped DVD.

The Director, Richard Smith, deserves special mention for the way the live disc is presented. It’s free of un-necessary quirky / gimmicky fade-ins and camera tricks.  As someone who was at the concert, I feel that mixtaped serves as an honest and accurate reminder of that special evening.  For those who were not lucky enough to see the live show, and are maybe new to the bands music, this DVD is a perfect introduction to the music of no-man.

DVD tracklist:

only rain / time travel in texas / all sweet things / pretty genius
all the blue changes / truenorth / wherever there is light /
days in the trees (version) / lighthouse / carolina skeletons /
returning jesus / mixtaped / things change /watching over me

Oh, and before anyone pulls me up on the lack of capitals in the song titles, no-man are a band best experienced in lower-case, always.

disc two – returning

All too often, documentaries are tagged onto DVD’s merely as extras, and they often consist of a few soundbites tagged onto clips of the main feature. This is not the case with returning. Producer / Director Richard Smith has put together a feature that could have easily been issued as a standalone disc.

Steven & Tim in nomansland

The 85 minute documentary features contributions from all previous members of no-man, as well as collaborators such as current live band members and the man responsible for the bands iconic artwork, designer Carl Glover.

The most revealing parts of returning come from seeing Bowness & Wilson working together in the studio and from some of the painfully honest comments about the background to certain key no-man albums.

One particularly poignant section is where the departure of Ben Coleman is discussed, from Ben’s perspective as well as from Tim & Steven’s. The wounds still seem to be raw, which make Ben’s appearance in the live show particularly touching.

The only disappointment with the documentary is that the bands’s former label One Little Indian declined to take part, and that some no-man material could not be used in the documentary (wild opera‘s music had to be replaced by demo versions).

The new video for "back when you were beautiful"

The whole history of the band is covered, from the early days (including clips of a key 1989 gig) through to the recent schoolyard ghosts album. The collaboration with former Japan / Rain Tree Crow members Jansen, Barbieri & Karn is also covered, along with clips of videos and TV appearances from various points in the band’s history.

Disc two also includes the complete videos for several no-man songs, including a wonderful newly commissioned animated film for back when you were beautiful.

So, if you come to no-man as a curious outsider who is maybe a fan of Steven’s other band, Porcupine Tree, or as a long-time admirer, the mixtaped DVD is a must-have purchase, and one that stands up to repeated viewings.

View the mixtaped trailer:

Buy mixtaped at Amazon UK
Buy mixtaped at The Burning Shed

Visit the no-man website








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