Blancmange – Mindset album review

22 05 2020

Mindset is the third album to be written and co-produced by Neil Arthur with Benge (Wrangler/John Foxx And The Maths), and follows last years excellent Wanderlust album.

The title track is a strong opener, with familiar drum patterns and an addictive guitar and synth interplay that sticks in your head for days.

The synth lines on Warm Reception and This Is Bliss will surely warm the hearts of fans of early 80s electronic music.

“Drinking to forget, or was it to remember”

Arthur spits out his distaste at the unaccountable keyboard warriors hiding behind their screens and spewing bile in Antisocial Media. Initially sounding genuinely pissed off, but with his tongue firmly in cheek, Arthur’s Antisocial Media feels truthful, but also makes me smile. Anonymous truckers indeed!

“Two faced anonymous truckers… Correct me if I’m wrong”

Clean Your House is the most commercial track on Mindset – bright sparkling synths and clap-happy drum patterns sit at odds with the lyrical tale of a messy relationship coming to it’s bitter end.

Despite it’s darker lyrical subject matter, Insomniacs Tonight is an optimistic and warmly uplifting track. The music really fits the lyric and at times displays a nostalgic feel of earlier Blancmange, but this is definitely more a tale of restlessly lying wide awake staring at the ceiling, rather than living on it.

“No light”

Sleep With Mannequin has more than it’s fair share of sonic twists and turns, though the tempo remains constant throughout, at a metronomic pace. Benge’s work on this track reminds me a little of Richard Burgess’ Landscape.

The album’s longest track is the six and a half minute trip that is Diagram. A sparse but slowly building arrangement topped with a spoken tale of searching for transparency and truth, Diagram does not overstay its welcome.

I want to hear, hear silence”

Not Really (Virtual Reality) is an oddity on the album. An almost glam-rock stomper, heavy on guitar and stuttering sequences, before dropping off to usher in the final, atmospheric piece in When, with the beats slowed down to a heartbeat pace topped off with dark electronic pulses as Arthur contemplates “When is anything about what it’s about”.

Mindset is much less oblique proposition than its predecessor Wanderlust, and it works well as a complete album, with a wider sonic spectrum than it’s predecessors.

Lyrically the album is strong – Neil Arthur looks at the consequences of our living in an increasingly digital world and the way we communicate and how some people use words to harm others and distribute fear and untruths.

Buy the Mindset CD from Amazon

Buy Mindset on vinyl from Amazon





Airbag – A Day at the Beach album review

9 05 2020

A Day at the Beach is the 5th album from Norwegian band Airbag, and is their first studio album in 4 years.

A Day at the Beach features six new songs inspired by the resurgence of 1980s electronica, new wave and movie scores, whilst still retaining the band’s progressive rock leanings.

The album was produced by Asle Tostrup and Bjørn Riis, and befitting the musical content, is lovingly mastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel).

Machines And Men acts as a bridge between the progressive rock sound of Identity and Disconnected and a more electronic 2020 direction for Airbag. Guitars give way to Tangerine Dream / New Order referencing synths, but don’t worry, Bjørn Riis is still a strong presence throughout the album. As with all Airbag releases, there is a heavy use of textures, and peaks and flows to keep your attention and hit you emotionally. I particularly love the drum treatments on Machines And Men.

A Day at the Beach (Part 1) is an absolute joy. Decaying guitars and deep bass underpin piano and mid-period Porcupine Tree like synth swirls to deliver one of the most atmospheric pieces on the album.

Into The Unknown continues in a similar, albeit longer vein. The synth riff driving the intro has an 80s Drive soundtrack feel, and the neon pulse and achingly personal lyrics make the track an album highlight. The guitars from Bjørn Riis are restrained but all the more powerful as the track builds, and the drums kick in with a second half that will appeal to Pink Floyd and Prog fans.

Sunsets is one of the biggest surprises on the album,. Opening with an off-kilter drum pattern, and then heading in an almost post-punk direction, with a John McGeoch (Siouxsie & The Banshees / Magazine) guitar sound, before switching to a more traditional Airbag chorus.

The insistent bassline on Sunsets works well with the heavily processed guitar on the verses, and we are treated to a quality Bjørn Riis guitar solo at the half-way mark. Again, the use of textures and ever-mutating arrangements keep your interest piqued throughout.

Listen to an edit of Sunsets below.

A Day At The Beach (Part 2) dials the electronica back into sharper focus, with an pulse-led instrumental conclusion to the song that premiered earlier on in the album sequence.

A Day at the Beach is such a good headphones album, and I cannot wait to hear it played loud through speakers when I receive my vinyl copy in June.

The album closes with Megalomaniac, a slow-building guitar piece that suddenly falls away and then rises powerfully to see the album to it’s conclusion.

“You always get what you want…”

I am a huge fan of electronic music, as well as a lot of progressive rock, and I love it when the two genres intertwine as they do on this album. A Day at the Beach has been a long time coming, but is one of the highlights in Airbag’s catalogue of fine studio albums. The band may have lost two members but they have opened up the possibilities of what they can achieve and how they can tell their stories.

Machines And Men
A Day at the Beach (Part 1)
Into The Unknown
Sunsets
A Day At The Beach (Part 2)
Megalomaniac

Buy A Day at the Beach on CD from Amazon

Buy A Day at the Beach on CD from Burning Shed

Buy A Day at the Beach clear vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy Bjørn Riis A Storm Is Coming CD on Amazon

Buy Bjørn Riis Forever Comes To An End CD on Amazon

Buy Bjørn Riis Lullabies In A Car Crash CD on Amazon





Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers Modern Ruins track-by-track album review

5 04 2020

18 years after the duo’s debut California, Norfolk Tim Bowness (no-man) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno/Karl Hyde) return with their second studio album, Modern Ruins, mixed by Peter Hammill.

Opening with the direct and movingly simple Sleeping Face, the duo pick up from California, Norfolk before the album swerves off in a more electronic direction. Sleeping Face really “hits you like a fist”. One of the saddest songs in a huge canon of sad and moving Bowness songs.

The aching strings and plaintive piano, with hints of Americana, effective mood enhancing found sounds and a slight flavour of country music, means that the song sounds like a lost standard from the 1950’s.

Prepare to have something in your eye when experiencing Sleeping Face for the first time.

From this point onward, Modern Ruins deviates from its predecessor. The Boy From Yesterday is underpinned with bubbling and slowly decaying electronica. I love the way the arrangement builds, as Bjork-like pulses and colourful synth patterns scatter around Tim’s vocals.

You, making your move is a real surprise. Without giving too much away, think of the ending to the final Sopranos episode. How does this story end, did our protagonist walk away or did something more sinister occur?

The production on Modern Ruins is so strong throughout the album, and the audio treatment on tracks such as You, making your move are subtle but often sharply effective.

Blog Remember Me wins best song title of 2020 hands down for me, before the year is even done. Luckily, the song lives up to the great title. The album’s strongest ear-worm by far, it delivers an emotive study of how we communicate and hope to be remembered, ringing even more true with the added poignancy in our current climate of reliance on social distancing and digital communication to keep us as intertwined humans.

Blog Remember Me is remarkably uplifting and features a rare Bowness / Chilvers sing-along section at the end. I dare you to resist joining in.

“The things that seemed important, no longer seem important. 
The things that seemed important, no longer seen.”

Put simply, Blog Remember Me is one of my favourite Bowness / Chilvers songs.

The Love Is Always There reminds me a little of Among Angels by Kate Bush, and is one of the few tracks that could have been included on the duo’s debut release. A short and simple piece, it is well sequenced next to Cowboys In Leather, a song that would not sound out of place in a David Lynch film. A nice production touch is the rhythmic effect on the heavily processed backing vocals, making them work as an additional instrument in their own right.

Slow Life To Fade is my favourite piece on the album. I love the Arabic sounding distorted vocal phrases employed by Tim at key points in the song.

And when the electronics from Mr Chilvers really kick in, with hard sequenced synths battling against brutal, scary distorted horror-movie vocal effects, well I’m simply in musical heaven. And as Slow Life To Fade is the album’s longest track, I’m in a happy place for so much longer.

Modern Ruins ends with its second long piece, Ghost In The City. Another track that, production wise, reminds me a little of Kate Bush, particularly side 2 of Hounds of Love. The reverb hanging on for dear life to the coat-tails of Chilver’s piano notes is beautiful.

Ghost In The City is Bowness at his most lyrically bleak and raw. The strings and the deep piano lines give a feel of The Blue Nile at their most heart-wrenching, and like The Blue Nile, this song is a perfect soundtrack for late night headphone listening. More than anything, Ghost In The City evokes the calm beauty of a sleepy city at 4am, before the population springs back into action and pours out of their homes.

Modern Ruins is a step up from California, Norfolk. There was a feeling of a somewhat lo-fi, early 80s singer-songwriter release about the debut Bowness / Chilvers album. This new album feels more confident and assured, displaying more varied and expansive arrangements and an increased use of electronic textures.

Modern Ruins delivers a set of the duo’s strongest songs, with no weak points or overstayed welcomes. Every single note, vocal line and lyric, held together with all the ingenious production twists, make this one of my album’s of 2020.

Sleeping Face (4.08)
The Boy From Yesterday (6.23)
You, Making Your Move (1.58)
Blog Remember Me (5.40)
The Love Is Always There (3.38)
Cowboys In Leather (3.43)
Slow Life To Fade (7.32)
Ghost In The City (7.18)

Buy Modern Ruins from Burning Shed





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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