Plenty – It Could Be Home

14 04 2018

It Could Be HomePlenty was Tim Bowness’s immediate pre-no-man band. In 2016 and 2017, Bowness and fellow founder members Brian Hulse and David K Jones re-recorded Plenty’s catalogue of 1980s songs, revising some of them and even adding a newly written song (The Good Man). The end result is the debut album, It Could Be Home released on 27 April 2018 on Karisma Records.

Plenty are joined on the album by no-man live band members Michael Bearpark and Steve Bingham, Tim’s Bowness / Chilvers collaborator Peter Chilvers and Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / Opium Cartel).

Whilst the album is understandably shot through with a real 80s sensibility, with touches of The Blue Nile, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, and David Bowie lingering in the sounds and arrangements, It Could Be Home deserves to be listened to as more than just a work of pure nostalgia.

The album opens with a synth heavy, lightly delivered Jagger / Richards As Tears Go By, that is more Stranger Things than Lost in the Ghost Light. Hide delivers an Associates vibe to the music, and signals an album that is much more upbeat than recent Bowness releases. I think that the recent Bowness solo album’s have delivered some of his finest work, with material that is often comparable to a lot of his work in no-man, but it is good to hear a different side with Plenty. Vive la différence.

By far my favourite track on the album, the melancholic Never Needing is the one track on It Could Be Home that would fit onto one of Tim’s recent albums. Fans of no-man’s early work will recognise the song – previously recorded by no-man as Life is Elsewhere, and nowadays mostly existing on dusty old bootlegs or sitting as an (original “dodgy”) Napster-era, hiss-filled mp3 file on people’s hard-drives.

The Plenty version is a revelation. Sparse, brooding and slow-building, with an aching synth line and some of Tim’s most personal and direct lyrics and vocals. This is one of those occasions where I can confidently say that it is worth buying the album just for this song.

“You live in your world and I die in mine.
But I’m hopeful life is elsewhere”

Broken Nights really lifts towards the middle section of the song, before a key 80s stalwart (synth marimba bells) usher in the rest of the song.

Foolish Waking is another of my favourites from the album. Beatless and with some wonderful guitar lines from Michael Bearpark, and feeling a little like the work of the only Tim Bowness/Samuel Smiles studio album, World of Bright Futures from way back in 1999.

plenty

Strange Gods is underpinned by a delicious Mick Karn like bass-line, has hints of Bowie in the verses and a chorus seemingly inspired by The Blue Nile. So how can you not like the song? The mix, carried out with obvious love and attention by Norwegian guitarist, composer and producer Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel) is colourful and warm throughout the album, but especially on Strange Gods.

Every Stranger’s Voice features Peter Chilvers on piano and the forensically detailed lyrics are filled with memories of an intense but long dead relationship. A powerful Michael Bearpark solo lifts the song towards its conclusion.

Another uptempo track is Climb, which has a real post-punk meets The Associates taking a quick detour via The Comsat Angels (circa the Fiction album). What a marvellous melting pot.

The Good Man is a new song that emerged during the recording sessions, and lyrically is tied to the album’s key track, Never Needing. The music has a late 80s feel, and lyrics that signal regret at letting go and giving up the fight too soon. The Good Man and the album’s closing title track offers something very different from recent Bowness releases.

The fact that the recording sessions produced new material of this quality, along with out-takes (such as a wonderful version of Forest Almost Burning, that I hope is revisited) suggest that there is a future for Plenty beyond this album.

If you pre-order It Could Be Home by Plenty from Burning Shed, on CD, vinyl or exclusive limited edition blue vinyl, you will receive an exclusive postcard and a free download EP of four of the band’s 1980s demos. Please note – this exclusive offer is only available until 27-04-2018 and only From Burning Shed.

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on CD from Amazon

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on vinyl from Amazon

As Tears go by
Hide
Never Needing
Broken Nights
Foolish Waking
Strange Gods
Every Stranger’s Voice
Climb
The Good Man
It could be Home

Band website: www.weareplenty.com





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

Pre-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





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.

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Buy First Light by Fader (CD) on Amazon

Buy the album on Vinyl

or buy the album on mp3

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Sand – A Sleeper, Just Awake.

25 09 2016

cover_275lA Sleeper, Just Awake is the second album from Sand, the solo project from Sam Healy of North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

I bought the first Sand album in 2013, and it didn’t grab me straight away, but I rediscovered it recently and its had lots of plays particularly the haunting A Pill to Keep the `plane from Crashing (a track so good it appears on the forthcoming North Atlantic Oscillation compilation).

So I was pleased to find out that a new Sand album is on the horizon. A Sleeper, Just Awake builds on the primarily electronic vein of the debut album, but has much more variety in its choice of instrumentation and hit home much quicker than the first album.

Mayfly is a powerful opener and a real beauty – with a stunning arrangement and percussion that reminded me of Talk Talk and Steve Jansen / late period Japan. As with NAO, there are twists and turns and a great use of power followed by restraint that keeps you hooked throughout the songs.

L.T.G.B. has intriguing lyrics (I can’t wait to see them in the CD sleeve-notes) and is presumably a play on the term LGBT.

“Comic opera brought you here, months too late”

One of the first things that attracted me to NAO was the complex, often manic drums that topped a modern, progressive sound palette. Sand offer equally ambitious percussion, mainly using drum machines, which adds to the different taste between the two projects. Commitment to the Bit reminds me a little of Danish pop proggers Mew. I love the almost overloaded mix on this track, as it breaks down to a synthy, reverb-laden middle section, as the brief respite allows you to appreciate the songs power.

The awkward time signature of Seldom Used Furniture adds to the tracks charm, and at the moment, its my favourite track on the album. A slowly evolving arrangement in a song devoid of an obvious chorus makes this song stand out as one of the albums key tracks. Every single time I play Seldom Used Furniture I silently exclaim to myself “those synths”. Its a stunning piece of music, and one of Healey’s greatest songs.

“Knock yourself out”

Talking of time signatures, berceuse is a style of composition that is a lullaby, usually in 6/8 time. Sand’s Berceuse is instrumental for the first half of the track, before deep, heavy instrumentation and vocals disturb the arrangement before it shifts back to its almost mantra-like song structure.

sand-logo-1024x288

Embers ushers in one of the albums more atmospheric arrangements. Sparse guitar and synth populate the verses, with an almost Beatles / Lennon like chorus.

Initial has a Nine Inch Nails meets David Lynch vibe, with danger and disquiet hiding behind the almost cinematic string arrangement.

“First I damage you, then you carry me”

The album draws to a close with its two longest tracks. Coward builds from swirling organ and a click-track percussion track into an arrangement that blurs the boundaries between Sand and NAO.

“We’ve come to rest, at the edge of the air”

One of my favourite parts of the album is the quiet section just after 4 minutes into Coward. An almost no-man, Returning Jesus sounding section – just drums, bass synth, piano and distant, discordant guitar carry the song to its final destination.

The album ends with its longest piece, Earth Mound Square. I love the mixture of hard-sequenced synths and acoustic instruments that drive the first section of this track. I’m a sucker for songs that mix electronic and natural sounds, so I was always going to be a fan of A Sleeper, Just Awake.

The arrangement shifts, sways and evolves slowly, maybe mirroring how landscapes evolve over time through the gradually changing seasons. The end section has some moving, minimalist lines that bring the album to its conclusion.

Earth Mound Square is a well-chosen ending to a beautiful, moving and varied album by Sand. A Sleeper, Just Awake is already well on its way to being my favourite release from the North Atlantic Oscillation / Sand catalogue.

A Sleeper, Just Awake along with Hannah Peel’s similarly titled Awake But Always Dreaming, must surely be a contender for best electronic album of 2016.

A Sleeper, Just Awake is released 30 September 2016.

Buy the album

Buy the CD / download directly from Sand

Buy the download on Amazon

Buy the first Sand album on Amazon

Buy North Atlantic Oscillation – Lightning Strikes The Library – A Collection from Amazon





Department M – Deep Control

9 04 2016

Deep ControlDeep Control is the first full-length album release from Department M.

Department M is Owen Brinley (former Grammatics singer / guitarist) and drummer Tommy Davidson. They are joined on the album by vocalist Snow Fox, James Kenosha and Lins Wilson.

I was a fan of Grammatics debut album – especially the songs Relentless Fours and Inkjet Lakes, so have been looking forward to the first Department M album, and it does not disappoint.

Department M dial up the electronics on Deep Control, and inhabit the space vacated by Songs of Faith and Devotion era Depeche Mode. Guitars are not the driving force in Department M, they are more atmospheric and layered and work well with the powerful drums, deep bass synths and intricate keyboard lines.

Bad Formulae is an early example of how Brinley’s voice and songwriting has progressed over the past few years. The pace and mood shifts from soft to menacing in the blink of an eye.

Bleak Technique is propelled by some great interplay between the bass and drums, as well as joint vocals from Brinley and Snow Fox. I love the goth-like guitar lines that precede the chorus.

Watch a (very different from the album cut) but moving nonetheless live solo performance of Bleak Technique below…

Kill My Superstition takes a few listens to get under your skin, but this song of addiction, with it’s nagging flute / synth line pays dividends after repeated plays.

“Kid sister morphine, you blaze a trail, from neon carriages sirens exhale”

Stress Class is the nearest to the sound of Brinley’s former band. But the album really shifts up a gear with Air Exchange,  which is easily one of my favourite tracks on the album. I love the changes in pace and the duel vocals. A lot of electronic bands rely too much on processed percussion – Department M having a non-VST driven drummer adds a real sense of power and urgency to these performances.

“Help me forget myself, how hard could it be?”

Department M

Deep Control, Pt. 2 is a gorgeous late-night torch-song, that reminds me a little of Flat Earth era Thomas Dolby. The album was recorded at The Lodge, Bridlington, as was the final Lone Wolf album from last year. The sound of the studio, which ran deep through the Lone Wolf album, can  really be felt on this track.

Linear features a strong electric bass-line, and as the synths break-down, the second section of the song is the most powerful piece of music on the album. Linear ends on an almost post-punk note, it’s a wonderful track.

“trace the vapour trails above, so linear.”

Compulsion is the album’s closing piece. A perfect storm of hard sequencers, off-kilter jazzy sax lines and a nagging guitar riff push the track, and the album, to it’s conclusion.

Deep Control was made to be played loud, so download the album, and do just that

Buy Department M – Deep Control on Amazon





East India Youth – Culture of Volume

8 04 2015

eastindiayouthCulture of Volume, the second album from East India Youth, opens with The Juddering, an instrumental that starts off spitting out a synth- line reminiscent of Bowie’s title track to Station to Station, before the big synths take over.

Culture of Volume is not an instrumental album, the majority of the tracks feature vocal performances, the first of which, End Result, sneaks in some Duran Duran sounding synth flavours, and displays an intelligent, expansive arrangement.

Beaming White, though driven by mid-80’s sounding synths in the intro, has a feel of Delphic‘s Acolyte album. And that’s a key point with this album – William Doyle (aka East India Youth) is clearly influenced by the 80’s sounds of Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, John Foxx and Soft Cell but he writes songs that are contemporary, with vocals more inspired by Wild Beasts and Everything Everything than his apparent 80s influences.

Hearts That Never is one of the more up-tempo pieces, with a great bass-line and rolling percussion. The hands-in-the-air anthem Entirety is lifted by the sweet keyboard lines towards the middle of the pacey, at times industrial track.

The stand-out song for me is Carousel, which has shades of The Garden era John Foxx, and a real 1980’s 4AD feel in the use of long, spacey reverbs. Beatless and beautiful, it’s a moving piece of music, especially the slowly distorting outro, which has a little of the feel of The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski.

The straight-forward pop of Don’t Look Backwards has a dreamy treated piano and strings ending, which plays perfectly into my second favourite track, the 10 minute plus Manner of Words. Slow-burning textured pads and lead lines give way to disintegration and decay.

The album closes with Montage Resolution, another instrumental soundscape built from layers of jagged reverb-heavy lines underpinned by a deep synth.

This is the first music I’ve heard from East India Youth, and its piqued my interest enough to seek out their debut album, Total Strife Forever.

Buy Culture of Volume CD or download on Amazon

Buy Total Strife Forever on CD or download at Amazon








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