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.





Blancmange – Wanderlust

19 09 2018

Blancmange release their tenth studio album, Wanderlust, on October 19, 2018. Wanderlust features ten songs composed by Neil Arthur, and arranged, co-produced and mixed with Benge (Wrangler/Creep Show). This is the pair’s third album together following their Fader First Light album in June 2017 and last year’s Blancmange album Unfurnished Rooms.

wanderlust

As with last years Unfurnished Rooms, Wanderlust is a more stark electronic offering than the early Blancmange albums. The major difference with this album is the inclusion of three songs (Distant Storm,In Your Room and Not a Priority) that could easily fit onto a “best of” album, and if released in the mid-80s, would have probably been top 20 singles.

Opening with lead single Distant Storm, the duo lay out their intentions straight away. Pulsing bass synths and expanding percussion layers drive a wistful, vocoder treated vocal from Neil Arthur. A Giorgio Moroder meets Madonna’s Lucky Star keyboard arrangement lifts this song to another level and adds real colour and warmth to the song.

In Your Room dials down the warmth a couple of notches, and is a much darker track. Musically this has a feel of the edgier early Soft Cell tracks, and features a simple yet naggingly addictive chorus. You will not be able to stop yourself singing along.

“In your room, In Your Room, IN YOUR ROOM”

I Smashed Your Phone opens with what sounds like the drum machine intro pattern to Wham’s Everything She Wants and has some interesting percussion programming highlighting key points in the song. The lyric references our often fractious relationship with modern technology, and this theme continues throughout the album.

Gravel Drive Syndrome is another album highlight. The tightly, unnaturally sequenced bleeps underpin a growing feeling of unease mirrored by this tale of social climbing at any cost. Talking to Machines is a John Foxx influenced synthesised slow-burner, warning us that our interactions are often with machines that are “Always on, on always”. Switch off and step away people!

Not a Priority is my favourite track on the album. Easily the most commercial song since the early Blancmange albums, Not a Priority features a sugar-coated joint chorus with one of my favourite current electronic artists, Hannah Peel. The synths bubble away, and along with the ever-present Moroder, I get hints of Kraftwerk and Propaganda on this album highlight.

“Please be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.”

TV Debate is the first track to add guitars to the mix. A Berlin era Bowie / glam-rock backing drives a tale of channel-surfing and wall-to-wall talking heads displayed on the screen. David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) adds an engaging guitar wall of sound to another of the albums key tracks, Leaves.  The arrangement rises and falls, mimicking the seasons, as nature meets mankind.

White Circle, Black Hole is a rare chink of light in the lyrical darkness, and has one of Arthur’s best vocal performances on the album, along with a twin guitar propelled chorus.

“Start again, such a good place.”

The album ends on the title track. Disembodied sampled voices, and a heart-beat kick drum introduces a song about living in this moment, in the here and now. Analogue synth lines take the lead instead of a traditional vocal chorus, as Wanderlust draws to a close on an optimistic note.

Blancmange 2018

I loved last years Unfurnished Rooms but Wanderlust sees Blancmange at their very best, bringing their pop sensibility back to the surface, whilst exploring the dark side of electronica. One of the strengths of this album is that the music channels the adventurous spirit of the 1980s, yet the lyrics explore a dystopian, close enough to touch, near future. This mix of darkness and light makes Wanderlust a unique album in the Blancmange catalogue, and one of the most interesting albums I have heard this year.

Distant Storm
In Your Room
I Smashed Your Phone
Gravel Drive Syndrome
Talking to Machines
Not a Priority
TV Debate
Leaves
White Circle, Black Hole
Wanderlust

wanderlust
Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on CD from Amazon

wanderlust

Buy Blancmange Wanderlust on vinyl from Amazon

near_future_-_ideal_home

Buy Near Future – Ideal Home on Amazon





Near Future – Ideal Home

8 04 2018

near_future_-_ideal_homeIdeal Home is the debut album from Near Future, a collaboration between Blancmange’s Neil Arthur and electronic artist Bernholz (who also performs live as part of Gazelle Twin).

The opening track, with its alarm-like electronics and 80s drum-machine toms, is a real statement of intent. I love the twin vocals on this track, they really remind me of the more experimental side of Godley & Creme (such as the Freeze Frame album from 1979).

Field This is a sparse, edgy piece of electronica, with off-kilter live and processed vocals.

“I remember when this was a car-park, I remember when this was a field”

Overwhelmed is one of the album’s highlights. At times reminding me of the title track to John Foxx’s The Garden, the glacial beauty of the strings work well with the heavily processed vocals and the kitchen sink drama of the lyrics.

Thought Terminating In Your Night builds from scratchy, discordant noise to a more fully formed piece, but the unnerving digital undertones remain to the songs end.

Come And Play is a warmer electronic track that builds from the sounds of children playing. I love the reverb-heavy, almost early Clannad like vocal lines that decorate the second part of this trance-like (mostly instrumental) song.  Along with the title track, this is my other favourite from the album.

near_future

Dawn is the album’s longest track, and another song that utilises found sounds before mutating into something far removed from the beautiful birdsong that ushers in the dawn. Heavily processed, at times robotic spoken words sit atop a mixture of harsh pulses and softer synth lines. The mixture of the two extremes is unsettling and suits the track perfectly.

Gap In The Curtain is another juxtaposition – the edgy, paranoid vocals jostling for dominance over the optimistic, rich synth backing makes this a unique track on the album.

The song that is nearest to the work of Neil Arthur’s main band Blancmange is Kites Over Waitrose. The arrangement reminds me a little of the dark mood of This Mortal Coil, the 80s 4AD collective. Abrasive saw synths and audio seepage underpin the spoken vocals on Kites Over Waitrose.

Album closer Bulk Erase could easily have been recorded in 1983 / 84, with its metronomic kick drum and slowly building keyboard lines.

“Too much has happened, that I need to forget
To be moving forward, without all this regret”

There are further strong hints of John Foxx in Bulk Erase as well as a more recent electronic artist, Deptford Goth.

This is an interesting debut release from Near Future, and adds to a very productive period for Neil Arthur – with recent releases from Blancmange as well as another alternative electronic project Fader.

If you have not heard the work of Bernholz, the other half of Near Future,  some of his releases are available on Spotify, including the album How Things Are Made which has some great songs including the wonderful title track.

Near Future – Ideal Home

1. Ideal Home
2. Field This
3. Overwhelmed
4. Fish And Chips
5. Thought Terminating In Your Night
6. Come And Play
7. Dawn
8. Gap In The Curtain
9. Kites Over Waitrose
10. Bulk Erase

Order Near Future – Ideal Home on Amazon





Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms

16 09 2017

unfurnished roomsUnfurnished Rooms is the 9th studio album from Blancmange.

The 2017 version of Blancmange is a world away from the colourful electronic pop of Living On The Ceiling and Blind Vision. Recent releases find the band (now down to Neil Arthur with co-producer and musical partner in Fader, Benge plus occasional appearances from guitarist David Rhodes) producing much darker and more minimalist electronica.

The title track of Unfurnished Rooms hisses and crackles, with a feel of the first two John Foxx albums. Deep synths and frantic guitar lines accompany this song with lyrics hinting at confusion and things being not what they seem, in a dream-like state.

We Are The Chemicals is an early album highlight. I love the glam-rock guitar and any track that centres around “a chemical spillage on a trading estate in Altrincham” is likely to pique my curiosity.

The 70s T-Rex type guitar is ramped up a notch for What’s The Time? – a conversation piece set to music.

“Whats your favourite crime?”

The album’s most moving song arrives at the halfway point of the album. The lyrics for Wiping The Chair focus on the minutiae of a former friendship or relationship, set to a potent mix of 80s sounding electronica and a gothy, The Cure referencing intro.

“But your voice still sounds the same…”

Anna Dine also feels like it is inspired a little by the sound of the early albums of The Cure – with the sort of deep bass that underpinned A Forest. I love the mood conjured up by Unfurnished Rooms, the album has a real feeling of space aided by the good use of glacial reverb and delay.

In December has ringing guitar lines sitting alongside warm, early 80s strings. Old Friends adds some twisted pop to the mix, delivered without warning in the form of a stunning chorus that serves as a prelude to the Nine Inch Nails channelling Gratitude. David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel) adds some quality guitar work to Gratitude, reminding me a little of the power of the late John McGeoch (Magazine / Siouxsie and the Banshees).

The album ends with the track that will probably become most fans favourite, Don’t Get Me Wrong. By far the albums longest track (at just over 8 minutes), and no, its not a cover of The Pretenders track! Don’t Get Me Wrong features long-time Blancmange admirer John Grant giving it his best Mike Garson on piano as well as adding wonderful mood-altering backing vocals. The album closer abandons the sparse , early 80s feel of the rest of the album, and hints at a possible new direction for Neil Arthur & Blancmange.

I’m so glad that Blancmange are still developing and heading in new directions, instead of looking back to their past. Give Unfurnished Rooms a listen if you are a fan of electronic music, I think you will find much to enjoy.

Buy Blancmange Unfurnished Rooms on CD

Buy Unfurnished Rooms on vinyl

Buy The Blanc Tapes





Blancmange – Happy Families / Mange Tout / Believe You Me

9 07 2017

Edsel Records are re-releasing the first three Blancmange albums on 4 August 2017, as the limited edition Blanc Tapes boxset and as three individual deluxe editions . The 2017 editions include a remastered version of the original album, plus b-sides, extended versions, remixes, demos, BBC Radio One sessions and three BBC In Concert performances.

Blancmange-Happy-FamiliesHappy Families (1982) was the first Blancmange album. The remastering on all three re-issues is really well done. No brick-wall remastering here – the music has never sounded as good as it does with these Edel re-issues.

From the Talking Heads like funk of album opener I Can’t Explain, through to singles Feel Me, God’s Kitchen and probably Blancmange’s most well-known track Living On The Ceiling, Happy Families is a wonderful early 80s album.

Disc 1 of Happy Families includes the 7″ and original version of Waves, as well as the extended version of Living On The Ceiling, the 12″ mix of God’s Kitchen and the 12″ instrumental of Feel Me.

Disc 2 is a mixture of demos and my favourite extended version from this period, the Feel Me [extended 12″ version], that features some great guitar work from guitarist David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel). The demos show a glimpse of a much less polished Blancmange – closer to the starker more experimental work of Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League.

Disc 3 is made up of Radio 1 session tracks from February 1982 (John Peel) and June 1982 (David Jensen) and a concert recorded at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in November of 1982. The highlights of this disc are two rare Blancmange songs – the OMD-like I Would and the dark electronica of Running Thin.

Blancmange-Mange-ToutMange Tout (1984) was another commercial success – and contains the singles Don’t Tell Me, Blind Vision (my favourite Blancmange single), and a fine cover of Abba’s The Day Before You Came.

Other stand-out tracks on Mange Tout include Game Above My Head (CD1 includes a wonderful 7 minute version), the frenetic All Things Are Nice and the dark, glitchy Martin Ware (Heaven 17) demo of Blind Vision.

If you look beyond the pure-pop of the singles, there is a real feel of mid-80s experimental dance, along with a David Byrne influence that I did not pick up on at the time.

CD2 highlights the experimental side of Blancmange, with a mixture of demos and extended versions, the highlight being a very different version of All Things Are Nice. CD3 has a 4 song Kid Jensen session and 12 tracks from a Radio 1 In Concert recorded at Hammersmith Palais.

Blancmange-Believe-You-MeThe final 80s Blancmange CD was Believe You Me (1985). The least successful of the original albums, it doesn’t quite have the freshness of the first two albums, but is still a fine album containing some strong songs, including opener Lose Your Love and one of the bands best songs, Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? 

Listening to this album now, especially songs such as M Diver (Alternate Dream) [demo] from the second disc, I think its clear that had the band continued, they could have found a second wind in the late 80s / early 90s amongst the likes of the psychedelic pop / dance of The Beloved and S’Express.

CD2 contains a mixture of interesting demos and extended / single edits, the highlights of which are the wonderful re-invention of Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? as I Can See It [7″ single version] and the lovely, respectful cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My MindRiver Of Life [demo] is a bluesy synth workout that points to Neil Arthurs most recent project, the boldly electronic First Light album by Fader.

CD3 is made up of a late 1985 Janice Long session and a BBC In Concert recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in late 1986. The highlight of this show is a superb version of Blind Vision (the final song in the set, but introduced as the first song in the set!). Not sure if that was a Spinal Tap moment or something to do with the CD sequencing, but its an enjoyable live show. Hello Cleveland!

blancmange-2017

The three 2017 remastered deluxe editions will appeal to Blancmange fans, and anyone who loved the electronic music of the 80s. The albums have been lovingly remastered and contain fascinating glimpses into the development of the bands songs.

Blancmange return with a new album Unfurnished Rooms in the Autumn of 2017, sadly without Stephen Luscombe but featuring guitarist David Rhodes.

Buy The Blanc Tapes Box set, Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Happy Families (Deluxe Edition) on CD

Buy Mange Tout Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Believe You Me Deluxe Edition on CD





Fader – First Light

22 06 2017

FaderFader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin). They have released their debut album, First Light, on Blanc Check Records.

First Light is a dark, simmering electronic album. The music sits somewhere between Cabaret Voltaire and early (pre-The Garden) John Foxx. And that’s a good place to be.

3D Carpets is driven by analogue synths and minimalist percussion, with a chorus that soaks into your brain. I don’t have a clue what Neil Arthur’s lyrics are about on a lot of the songs – but I love the images they conjure up,  they paint a picture that is open to personal interpretation. Its good to use your 21st century imagination.

Check The Power has a tense, paranoid vocal delivery from Arthur, and some fine, deep bass synth lines from Benge.

“You better go back”

I love the way the synths sound so dirty,  not like VST / emulations, the duo clearly use authentic machines.

There is a real depth to these meaty sounds. Way Out is a case in point – the sweeping synths shift from deep low to brighter high notes. At times I struggle to believe that this album was recorded in 2017, not 1979.

“Caught in the moment of doubt”

The title track continues the edgy feel, with Arthur shouting about “Catholic converters” and “Resume the search at break of day”. The track First Light reminds me a lot of John Foxx, have a listen below.

The marching percussion and thick synths on Wonderland conjure up memories of early OMD and very early Human League / Heaven 17. Over the first few album listening sessions, I grew to appreciate the stream of consciousness, quite dystopian lyrics. There is also a lot of humour on display here.

Liverpool Brick is a wonderful, beatless song. The sparse but melodic instrumentation works really well with the lo-fi recording of the vocals. Liverpool Brick also contains my favourite lyrics on the album. Like the track, the lyrics are very direct (in stark contrast to the rest of the album).

A Trip To The Coast delivers one of the most memorable songs on the album. A real mood of melancholy and lost, fading memories permeate throughout my favourite track, which will surely appeal to the Stranger Things generation. I hope A Trip To The Coast is used to promote First Light, as I think it will be a favourite with a lot of people. Put this song on your SoundCloud, Fader!

The album closes with another album highlight, Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks” (a print of which sits on my home studio wall, fact-fiends). Such a moving piece, with a metronomic delayed vocal delivered over a dark, simple synth-scape, and a throbbing low hum.

“In silence and silver, Ikea blue bag.
Washing away the stain, on our rags”

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper

First Light is a fine debut release from Fader, and a must-buy for fans of late 70s, early 80s electronic music. I hope its the first of many releases from the electronic duo, as there are clearly lots of places left for Arthur and Benge to explore.

Follow Mr Kinski’s Music Shack on Twitter

Buy First Light by Fader (CD) on Amazon

Buy the album on Vinyl

or buy the album on mp3

Visit Fader on Facebook or follow the duo on Twitter








%d bloggers like this: