Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern)

4 03 2018

Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) is the second in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases. Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern) is the first of two playlists of some of my favourite alternative songs.

I hope my playlists will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with, and maybe remind you of some acts that have slipped off your radar. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to Alternative Jewels (say hello to the modern).

Opening up the playlist are The Dear Hunter, with one of my favourite tracks from their Migrant album. Bring You Down is one of the band’s most accessible songs, and a great live track. That chorus!

migrant

The Dear Hunter now count one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Gavin Castleton, as one of their members, so I am even more keen to see them live again whenever they next head back to London. I also recommend The Color Spectrum and any of the Act albums, especially Act III: Life and Death.

Crowd Surf Off A Cliff by Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton is one of the most simple yet haunting songs of recent years. The key track on the Knives Don’t Have Your Back album never fails to move me.

Next up in my playlist is the more Fleetwood Mac than Fleetwood Mac pop/rock of Dreamworld by Rilo Kiley, taken from the Under The Blacklight album. I’m probably straying a little from the alternative music genre here, but its such a good song.

My most played track from St. Vincent is the short but achingly beautiful piano instrumental We Put A Pearl In The Ground from the Marry Me album. Cherokee by Cat Power, from her Sun album, is so evocative. Close your eyes and you can feel the blistering desert sun on your skin.

starsIn Our Bedroom After The War is my favourite Stars album (closely followed by Heart). Personal is a tale of dating ads and rejection, and one of Stars most heartbreaking songs. You and I Are A Gang Of Losers by The Dears is a great single, with an amazing chorus and powerful lyrics. The Gang of Losers album is the perfect starting point if you are new to the band.

Hello? Is This Thing On? by !!! or Chk Chk Chk as they are often known, is the song that first introduced me to this wonderful NYC based dance-punk band. I get real Sandanista mid-period The Clash vibes from this track. The paranoia is off the scale here, and you will not be able to keep still whilst listening to this song. Dance suckers!

open heart zooI had to include Danish prog-poppers Mew in this playlist. You can’t go wrong with any of Mews albums, but a good start would be No More Stories… from which Silas the Magic Car springs forth. The first UK artist on this playlist is Martin Grech, who has gone a little too quiet over the past few years. There have been rumblings of new material recently, so hopefully new music is not too far away. Tonight is one of my favourite songs from the Open Heart Zoo album. A lovely, beautifully paced arrangement and production.

Stay Tuned from Anja Garbarek’s Smiling & Waving features Richard Barbieri on atmospheric synths and co-production from Steven Wilson. An evolving, often stark production gives way to a delicious, Portishead like chorus.

I am a newcomer to the music of Destroyer, and whilst Poison Season and Kaputt are my favourite albums so far, Shooting Rockets (From The Desk of Night’s Ape) from Trouble In Dreams is one of their finest songs and so an obvious choice for my playlist. A bold, often discordant arrangement pays dividends after several listens.

midlakeShearwater are really an albums band, so it was hard to pick one track, but just for the vocal effects on the songs end section alone, I had to pick Leviathan, Bound from Rook. I fell in love with Midlake around the same time as Shearwater, and The Trials of Van Occupanther is such a  thoughtfully constructed album. Head Home could easily have been released in the early to mid-70s and the song surely would have been a staple of FM radio in that era.

Another stripped back song is up next, with Joseph Arthur’s A Smile That Explodes from Our Shadows Will Remain. This is the Joseph Arthur that I prefer – an intimate, natural performance from a great singer-songwriter.

Field Music cross so many genres. Whilst they clearly fit into the alternative genre, I hear shades of 10CC and other 70s acts in their adventurous arrangements. I recommend the short and sharp Plumb and their latest, Open HereThe Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ by the late Jackie Leven is the oldest track on this playlist. Leven was a Scottish songwriter who fronted the late 70s band Doll By Doll, and this song is a late career highlight.

lunatic-soul-IIThe final two tracks are worlds apart. I Need My Girl is taken from Trouble Will Find Me by The National, a band who I feel are making the best music of their career at the moment. Gravestone Hill is from Lunatic Soul II. Lunatic Soul is the progressive / electronic project from Riverside vocalist and bass guitarist Mariusz Duda. Lunatic Soul have gained a sizeable following and will shortly be releasing their sixth album. All of the albums are worth seeking out – but especially the two most recent albums – Walking On A Flashlight Beam and Fractured.

I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below and please share this blog / playlist. The next playlist will be the second Alternative Jewels – one of older songs – expect post-punk a-plenty.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





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.





Big Big Train – Merry Christmas

2 12 2017

As my favourite time of the year approaches, I always add my Christmas playlist to my phone. Since the late 80s I’ve not had many new tracks to add to the playlist that includes Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, Jona Lewie’s timeless Stop The Cavalry, December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and my favourite festive song of them all, Greg Lakes I Believe In Father Christmas.

front cover by Sarah Louise Ewing

Finally, I have two new songs for my most wonderful time of the year playlist courtesy of Big Big Train. The lead song from the single is Merry Christmas and it follows in the tradition of the aforementioned I Believe In Father Christmas and Stop The Cavalry by being a story with a social conscience.

“When did the ringing of tills drown the pealing of bells?
Who cares as long as the products sell?”

David Longdon’s lyrics are a call to arms – reminding us to forget for a short while our commercialism, our faces stuck staring at our phones and asking us to try to remember the innocence and beauty of our memories of Christmas from the past.

“What wouldn’t you give to believe again, like you believed back then?”

Naturally, the music of Merry Christmas has all that you would expect from a future Christmas classic – a choir, brass band and sleigh bells adorn this gem of a song. Watch the heart-warming video, starring Big Big Train fan Mark Benton, below.

Merry Christmas will become a permanent fixture in my seasonal playlist, right before Greg Lake’s Chrimbo classic. They sound great together, by the way.

The vinyl and CD versions contain another new song, the six minute plus Snowfalls. A hymn to winter, its a wonderful companion piece, and really captures the spirit of the season.

“Tread lightly while snow falls from the clouds carried on the cold winds, from far away.”

Its definitely worth buying the physical version to hear Snowfalls, which could easily have graced any of the bands recent albums.

Pic Simon Hogg

Whilst Merry Christmas is limited to a particular time of the year, the Greg Spawton penned Snowfalls has more longevity. Building slowly, the instrumental layers are added as the song builds. The keyboards give the effect of snow falling throughout the track.

Snowfalls is a recording that highlights the bands effective use of dynamics, from the lightest of touches to the powerful crescendo’s that drive many Big Big Train performances.

In the spirit of charity at Christmas, a donation to the Night Stop homelessness charity will be made for every copy of the vinyl, CD, and download sold. So what are you waiting for – the links are below.

The single tops off a very good year for Big Big Train – with the Grimspound and The Second Brightest Star albums, and a short run of successful live shows.

Let me raise a virtual glass to the band – and here’s to some more new music soon…..

Buy the single (CD / vinyl) from:

Burning Shed
The Merchdesk

CD single from Amazon

Vinyl single from Amazon

Buy the digital version of Merry Christma

https://bigbigtrain.bandcamp.com/





Thomas Lang – Scallywag Jaz (2 disc 30th anniversary edition)

11 11 2017

THOMAS-LANGFinally available again, in a 2 disc, expanded 30th anniversary edition, is Scallywag Jaz by Thomas Lang, one of the best albums from the late 80s.

You may have seen Thomas and his band supporting Alison Moyet or Suzanne Vega in the late 80s, or caught the band on one of their many tours. You most definitely would have heard the most well-known Thomas Lang song – The Happy Man – on the radio or seen the song performed on The Tube.

But there is much more to Scallywag Jaz than The Happy Man.  A fine version of the Billy Paul standard Me & Mrs Jones, along with the Hart & Rodgers Have You Met Miss Jones? and the original Shoelaces (Mrs Jones Part 2) tell the age-old story of lust and betrayal.

One of the standout tracks (and it still sounds wonderful performed live over 30 years later) is the albums opening track, Fingers & Thumbs.

A dark, brooding piece that really highlights the strengths of the early Thomas Lang material.

The albums pop / jazz feel led to comparisons to Sade at the time, but there was more depth to the material on Scallywag Jaz. Listen to the album and you will find yourselves telling all your friends that you have discovered one of the UK’s finest vocalists, and you cannot believe why he is not a household name. Be warned – don’t say I didn’t tell you.

Injury is lyrically the darkest track on the album, and features one of Tom’s finest vocals.

“If I could choose your injury
I would tear your heart into pieces”

Sleep With Me has long been one of my favourite Lang tracks, and it has not dated at all. Such strong swagger in this one!

Spirit features backing vocals from Sam Brown and some great bass and guitar work from John Murphy. John is now a successful film composer – whose work includes 28 Days Later & Sunshine.

The 30th anniversary reissue pulls together may long-lost Lang tracks from the era – of which the anti-war Sons Of is a particular highlight. The playful, fairground evoking arrangement (a great production by band-member David A Hughes) works so well with the dark, emotional lyrics.

“Sons of true love or sons of regret
All of the sons you cannot forget”

The second disc is a treasure trove for Lang fans. A couple of versions of The Happy Man, including the Robin Millar produced 2nd single version, kick off the disc.

Other notable rarities include a demo version of Sleep With Me, and a track from the rare as hens teeth vinyl only EP, Red, available on CD for the first time.

One of Tom’s finest early songs, The More That You Expect, is a highlight of disc 2. This song could easily have made the final cut on the original Scallywag Jaz release.

A couple of newer songs, recorded a couple of years ago appear halfway through the album. Thomas recently wrote that “Scared is about how difficult and painful it was to come out. Now I know how important it was to be honest and not to be scared, as its only made me stronger.” Scared is powered by a strong bass heavy groove and was co-written in the 90s with the late John Uriel. Vocally Tom sounds better than ever on Scared and the more uptempo Americana of I Believe.

The remainder of the album is made up of live tracks – from the Live in Tokyo 1991 limited release and some more recent, previously unreleased recordings from Liverpool. These tracks will really whet your appetite for the 2018 Scallywag Jaz tour that is on the horizon.

So first off buy the definitive version of the lost 80s classic that is Scallywag Jaz. Then buy the most recent Thomas Lang studio album, The German Alphabet. Ok, all done? Good – now why not follow Thomas Lang on Twitter and look out for the 2018 tour dates. You can now pat yourself on the back for acquiring such fine taste in music. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Buy Scallywag Jaz: 2 Disc Expanded 30th Anniversary Edition from Amazon

Buy The German Alphabet (CD) by Thomas Lang

Buy The German Alphabet (Vinyl) by Thomas Lang

Buy Torch (CD) by Thomas Lang





no-man – Returning Jesus (2017 remaster / deluxe edition)

7 11 2017

returning_jesus 500Originally released in February 2001, Returning Jesus received highly positive reviews in Mojo, Uncut, Billboard, Classic Rock and other publications at the time of its release and has continued to be seen by both critics and fans as one of the best albums produced by the duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson.

The November 2017 KScope reissue features a 2017 Steven Wilson remaster, and sleeve notes from Tim Bowness.

Only Rain is one of no-man’s most minimalist pieces. A seemingly Arvo Part inspired string intro slowly builds and comes to life with a beautiful Ian Carr trumpet refrain. The first noticeable upgrade with this 2017 remaster is the double bass from Colin Edwin, you can really feel the strings, as if you are in the room with the band. If you have seen no-man live on one of their rare live performances over the past few years, Only Rain is one of the highlights.

Returning Jesus was the beginning of a drift away from more electronic recordings of the bands previous albums. No Defence, along with album closer All That You Are, have a feel of classic 50s or early 60s standards. Smoky trumpet and slide guitar adorn No Defence, one of the most wry songs on the album.

“Love it all. No Disgrace.”

Close Your Eyes, rescued from the earlier song Desert Heart, and expanded from the Carolina Skeletons EP, builds into one of the albums highlights, with some fine Steve Jansen percussion and a memorable Wilson guitar solo. The arrangement, especially the end section, is stunning. Close Your Eyes was a highlight on the 2012 no-man tour. If anyone has a recording of the song from that tour, please get in touch!

no-man yellow

The next couple of tracks are two of no-mans finest ballads. Carolina Skeletons is one of the most underrated no-man songs. If it doesn’t melt your heart, you need to visit a doctor. The production on Caroline Skeletons is top notch. Processed sounds mix with cleaner instrumentation, topped by Tim’s vocals (Wilson certainly knows how to mix his partner in crime perfectly).

Outside the Machine builds from a delicious Steve Jansen groove, whilst piano and fretless bass underpin one of Bowness’s best vocals. Its croon-central! The subtle vocal processing and backing vocal arrangement is a masterclass of how to convey emotion in a simple, direct way. The electronics and textures of the end section remind me a little of the David Bowie Outside album.

“You’re all lit up like catherine wheels. You’re all lit up, but you’re not real.”

Outside the Machine is a beautiful track, as is the title track to the album. One of the most discordant, unconventional tracks the band have recorded, Returning Jesus is also one of the most moving. A temporary return to electronica, the gamelan loop is inspired and when the layered strings, bass and guitar lines sweep into the song, there is a real magical feeling. As Returning Jesus progresses, a heavenly synth sequence ushers in the pleading Bowness “I don’t want to stay a million miles away” line.

I remember reading an interview with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, who described waking up to Winter in July by Bomb The Bass, and thinking he had gone to heaven. I get the same feeling whenever I hear the Returning Jesus title track – it simply has 3 or 4 moments where the song sends me to another place.

noman greenAfter the albums only instrumental, Slow It All Down, we come to another album, and indeed career, highlight from no-man. Lighthouse is my favourite no-man song, but strangely, not this version!

The studio version is the nearest to progressive rock no-man have released and appears to be a lot of fans favourite track on the album. Jansen’s drumming is out of this world, but for me the definitive version is the Lighthouse (First Demo) that appears on the second disc of this re-issue. I admit that the drum machine is no match for the album versions live drums, but the demo version sums up everything I love about no-man. And from 3 minutes 56, a much expanded (from the later version) mostly instrumental section, with an angular guitar line duelling with slowly building piano arpeggios, is one of my favourite pieces of music from any band, in any era. Every time I hear it, it sends shivers.

Back to the main album, All That You Are with its shuffling drums and rock ‘n roll ballad feel, is a fine end to the album.

Second disc highlights

The second disc (on the CD version) has a fine selection of EP tracks, demos and alternate versions from the Returning Jesus era. Something Falls is a return to the mostly beatless Speak era sound. Sometimes the most simple, stripped back arrangements can be as effective as a full-on mix, and that is certainly the case here.

I love the production on Until Tomorrow – banjo to one side, vocals to the other, a trick used in a lot of 60s recordings. It helps you concentrate on the individual performances with enhanced clarity. Chelsea Cap is one of the finest long-lost no-man tracks, with a great drum track, some wonderful organ and a chorus to die for. It could have easily made it to the main album.

Song About The Heart is an early version of the theme that became Lighthouse. Of the two versions of Darkroom on the second disc, I prefer the more twisted, almost Wild Opera-like alternate version.

Like A Child is a further exploration of the Close Your Eyes percussion with a Bowness vocal sample from the end of the same song. Slow It All Down (Long Version) is an interesting, very different version – more electronic than its disc one counterpart.

Another highlight of the second disc is All That You Are (Demo), with a similar arrangement, but feeling less nostalgic due to the more forceful drum pattern and synth strings. Its interesting how much of the arrangement was already decided in this demo version.

This is by far the best version of Returning Jesus. The 2017 Steven Wilson remaster delivers the definitive version of this classic no-man album.

Deluxe CD

Amazon
Burning Shed

CD 1 – Returning Jesus (2001):

1. Only Rain (7:24)
2. No Defence (5:20)
3. Close Your Eyes (8:25)
4. Carolina Skeletons (5:08)
5. Outside The Machine (5:46)
6. Returning Jesus (5:19)
7. Slow It All Down (3:42)
8. Lighthouse (8:12)
9. All That You Are (4:44)

CD 2 – EP Tracks/Demos/Alternate Versions (1994-2003)

1. Something Falls (3.34)
2. Close Your Eyes – 1998 EP version (7.47)
3. Carolina Reprise (3.00)
4. Until Tomorrow – Hi-Fi (2.59)
5. Chelsea Cap (5.25)
6. Darkroom (3.52)
7. Until Tomorrow – Lo-Fi (3.15)
8. Song About The Heart (2.48)
9. Lighthouse – First Demo (10.27)
10. Darkroom – Alternate Version (5.35)
11. Like A Child (4.10)
12. Chelsea Cap – Alternate Version (6.50)
13. Lighthouse – Second Demo (8.58)
14. Slow It All Down – Long Version (5.13)
15. All That You Are – Demo (4.36)

Vinyl: double 180g LP

Amazon
Burning Shed

side 1
1. only rain (7.24)
2. no defence (5.20)
3. close your eyes (8.25)

side 2
1. carolina skeletons (5.08)
2. outside the machine (5.46)
3. returning jesus (5.19)

side 3
1. slow it all down (3.42)
2. lighthouse (8.12)
3. all that you are (4.44)

side 4 – ep tracks:
1. something falls (3.34)
2. chelsea cap (5.25)
3. until tomorrow – hi-fi (2.59)
4. darkroom (3.52)
5. carolina reprise (3.00)





Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome

11 10 2017

Cover by Danny BranscombeMonochrome is a new solo album from Daniel Cavanagh, following hot on the heels of the latest Anathema album, The Optimist.

The album is described by Cavanagh as having “…a late night, candlelit feeling, evoking the light of dusk as the summer sun sinks below the horizon, setting the scene for thoughts and meditations that many people will relate to.

Album opener The Exorcist ushers in this mood beautifully. Sustained piano notes hang over synth sequences as the arrangement evolves. A close cousin to Are You There?, Cavanagh delivers an emotional vocal. Sometimes the most simple arrangements hit you hardest, and this is most definitely the case with Monochrome.

This Music features Anneke Van Giersbergen as co-vocalist. Sparse lyrics let you focus on the instrumentation, which delivers one of the most joyful, uplifting songs on the album.

Anneke joins Daniel on the beautiful Soho. A slow-building arrangement, this is one of Monochrome‘s strongest performances. Soho could easily have graced any of the recent Anathema albums. The second section of the song has an array of well-crafted reverb and delay treatments on the synth pads that underpin the piano line.

Piano is the lead instrument on Monochrome, and the albums longest track, The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours, is where the playing really shines. There is a wonderful mixture of piano tones and its clear that the effects and treatments are being ‘played’ as much as the actual instruments. The mostly instrumental The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours is the most progressive sounding track on the album and at times, feels a little like it could also be drawing inspiration from the post-rock sound of bands such as Mono (particularly Hymn To The Immortal Wind) as much as from the emotional intensity of Talk Talk and Sigur Ros.

The guitar intro of another mostly instrumental track, Dawn draws us back to the classic recent Anathema sound. The violin of Anna Phoebe shines on one of the shorter pieces.

Oceans Of Time builds from its feather-light intro section. Brush drums and organ underpin this soothing, calming piece. Layer upon layer is gently added to the mix as we arrive at the middle section of the song, which is a piece of pure beauty. You can almost feel the tension in the studio as everything is stripped back to the piano and acoustic guitar. Its an intensely moving part of my favourite track on the album.

Artwork by Danny Branscombe

The album closes with Some Dreams Come True. There is magic living in these notes – I’ve always loved the Anathema songs where a motif repeats and slowly mutates, which is what happens with the first part of Some Dreams Come True. Fans of Steve Reich will surely approve. The arrangement builds in the second part, almost reprising the songs that have gone before.

Monochrome feels like it was made for a particular purpose. To calm, reassure and lift your mood. It feels a million miles away from the sort of album you can dip in and out of, in this playlist obsessed, instant gratification era.

So whether you listen to this album on CD, vinyl or via streaming, pop on your best headphones, close your eyes and immerse yourself in this music.

The Exorcist
This Music
Soho
The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours
Dawn
Oceans Of Time
Some Dreams Come True

Buy Monochrome by Daniel Cavanagh on CD

Buy Monochrome by Daniel Cavanagh on vinyl

Buy The Optimist by Anathema on CD

Buy The Optimist by Anathema on vinyl





David Bowie – Lodger (Tony Visconti 2017 Mix)

30 09 2017

The 2017 Tony Visconti mix of Lodger comes as part of the A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) box set released today (29 September 2017).

IMG_0116

Lodger was Bowie’s 13th studio album, originally released in May 1979. The last of the Berlin Trilogy, the album was recorded in Switzerland and New York with Brian Eno, and was produced by Bowie’s longest collaborator, Tony Visconti, who also oversaw this 2017 mix.

First of all I must confess that Station to Station and Lodger are my favourite Bowie albums, so this review is not a critique, but a review of how the album sounds in its 2017 mix.

The short version of the review is this: Lodger has never sounded so good. Ok, now for the longer review! It does not sound as if there has been much tinkering with the instrumentation or vocals on the album, just a reworking using modern technology and the original master tapes – so it’s a remix, not a remaster.

From the drum roll that ushers in Fantastic Voyage, it’s clear that this is a high-fidelity version of the album. The strings and backing vocals are much clearer in the mix and there is added reverb on the tail-end of the “cos we’ll never say anything nice again, will we” vocal line. Apparently the lyrics are about the possibility of nuclear war, so this song is more relevant now than ever.

There is some great piano work from the late Sean Mayes on this song. I can recommend Sean’s Life on Tour with David Bowie book, which gives an interesting account of life on the road with Bowie and the band on the 1978 Isolar II tour.

African Night Flight is also greatly enhanced by the 2017 remix – there is greater separation between all instruments, and the guitar and chanted vocals sit much more comfortably in the mix. The excellent Dennis Davis drum parts on Move On sound so clear, and as with most tracks on this new version of the album, reverb and delay treatments are added to Bowie’s vocals. The ending of the song reveals layers that I have not noticed previously, that were hidden in the original mix.

Yassassin sounds a million dollars. The guitar and drums (especially the kick drum) are pushed to the forefront, giving the track so much more punch and drive. It’s like discovering a whole new song. The same applies to the frantic Red Sails – the guitar and sax interplay is so much clearer. Some of my favourite guitar lines on the album can be found in this track.

I was particularly looking forward to hearing my two favourite Lodger tracks, DJ and Boys Keep Swinging, and the new mixes Sound very fresh. DJ sounds so much richer – the drums and keyboards, including the wonderful ARP Solina, plus the amazing Adrian Belew guitar solos towards the end of the song, sound better than ever.

The kick drum and bass guitar are so much punchier in Boys Keep Swinging. Renowned for some of the band members switching instruments, this track, released as a single, is in my top 10 Bowie songs. Around the 2.30 mark, there seems to be a high-pitched guitar line removed in this mix, which is a little disconcerting and one of only a couple of negative points in the 2017 version of Lodger.

Repetition has the most disturbing lyrics on Lodger, and the song is greatly improved by this remix. I love the odd bassline on this track, and the guitars sound so vibrant. Once again, there are elements that I have not previously noticed that are more visible in this new mix.

The album closes with Red Money, the album’s update of the Bowie / Alomar song that appears as Sister Midnight on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot album. The bass is deliciously bubbly in this mix, and the instruments, especially the drums and percussion, sound so good. The Comsat Angels sounding guitar riff at around 1.30 and 2.20 – one of the strongest parts of the song for me, disappointingly sits much further back in the new mix.

So whilst this 2017 Tony Visconti mix overall is a vast improvement on the original 1979 version of the album, I will still return to the original of some songs, such as Boys Keep Swinging and Red Money.

Other highlights (on top of some of Bowie’s finest albums) on the box-set include the extended version of Beauty and the Beast (I had not heard this version before) and my favourite version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire), the stunning Giorgio Moroder soundtrack version, which has one of the most emotional Bowie vocal performances.

“Its been so long, so long, so long”

The A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) box set is my favourite of the three released to date.  The whole package includes the following discs (all remastered, apart from Scary Monsters) plus a hardback 128 page book with photos plus notes from Tony Visconti:

Low / “Heroes” / “Heroes” EP / Stage (original and 2017 versions of the live album) / Lodger / Lodger (2017 Tony Visconti Mix) / Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and the compilation Re:Call 3.

Buy “A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982)” CD boxset – on Amazon

Buy “A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982)” vinyl boxset on Amazon

Buy “Life On Tour With Bowie” by Sean Mayes on Amazon








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