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

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

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

Read my full reviews of Part I and Part II

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part I  

Buy Kate Bush – Remastered Part II

John Foxx – Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

meta500

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

Read my full review.

Buy Metamatic (Deluxe Edition)

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

Blood

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

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

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

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

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

Buy It’ll End In Tears 

Buy Filigree and Shadow 

Buy Blood 

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





Kate Bush – Remastered Part 2 Box-set Review

30 11 2018

KB remastered 2Kate Bush has released the second set of remastered versions of her albums – as a box-set and as individual albums, on CD and vinyl. You can read my review of the first box-set here.

Remastered Part 2 contains remastered versions of Aerial, Director’s Cut and the winter-themed 50 Words for Snow, plus the original (not remastered) version of the live Before The Dawn album and 4 disc collection of 12″ mixes b-sides and covers.

2005’s Aerial is still a highlight of Kate’s back catalogue. The 2018 remaster, if anything, is a little quieter than the original release. This is noticeable on opening track King Of The Mountain. Kate’s vocals sit better in the mix now, and it is really clear on How To Be Invisible, where the soundscape of the song feels wider and slightly less compressed. Aerial is definitely an album to play loud on CD or vinyl, even more so with this new mastering.

The most obvious changes can be heard on the second Aerial disc – A Sky of Honey. Much has been made of the removal of Rolf Harris from An Architects Dream and The Painter’s Link. The latter track is taken from the Before The Dawn live album (according to the sleeve notes). The remaining tracks on side two work so well as one movement, and the joyful end to Sunset and the whole of Nocturn (and the title track) sound amazing with the volume pushed up on CD. The rhodes piano on Nocturn sounds delicious.

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Director’s Cut is not a major improvement, the biggest change I noticed was the clarity of This Woman’s Work and the slightly more background drums on Top Of The City.

50 Words For Snow is a much more sympathetic remaster. The bass sits naturally in the mix on Snowflake, and the piano on the intro to Lake Tahoe is softer, as is Kate’s vocal. This is normally the time of year that this album gets played heavily by me, so the box-set is well-timed. The remasters of the later album’s are less obvious than on the earlier ones that feature in box-set 1, but it is still the best these tracks have sounded.

The final four albums don’t appear to have been remastered, but offer a nice selection of 12″ remixes (including my favourite KB 12″ – Experiment IV), ‘b’ sides, soundtrack cuts and more. I can’t comment on the Other’s Words (the covers disc) as the box-set I bought does not have this disc, and has two versions of disc 3 instead! Luckily Amazon are sending a replacement, but I won’t get to hear this until next week.

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Sadly The Other Sides does not catch all of the non-album tracks – The Empty Bullring, Ken and the Live On Stage EP in particular are noticeable by their absence, but we do get one previously unreleased track, Humming.

Humming was recorded in 1975 and was produced by Andrew Powell, who also worked on The Kick Inside & Lionheart. It sounds very much of its time, with a mid-70s country lilt to the guitar work, but the song is missing the playful and adventurous arrangements of the songs that followed three years later. Recorded when Kate was 17, its a strong vocal performance and whilst it is good to hear music from Kate’s formative years, I feel that Humming would have sounded out of place on The Kick Inside.

A highlight of The Other Sides is Lyra, Kate’s contribution to The Golden Compass soundtrack. This is the first time the song has been released on a Kate Bush compilation. Its an understated but emotional track, and Lyra reminds me a little of the early recordings from the sadly now inactive Clannad.

Similar to the first collection of remasters, this Part II collection is a must-have if you don’t already own the albums. If you already own them, you will appreciate hearing the albums in these best sounding versions. The album’s are also available as individual releases, apart from The Other Sides, which remain exclusive to the CD and vinyl box-sets.

Kate Bush – Remastered Part II Box-set

KB remastered 2

Aerial (2018 remaster) – CD or vinyl

aerial

Director’s Cut (2018 remaster) – CD or vinyl

directors cut

50 Words for Snow
(2018 remaster) – CD or vinyl

50 words for snow.jpg

Before the Dawn
(NOT remastered) – vinyl
before the dawn

Vinyl box-sets

Remastered in vinyl III (Aerial / Director’s Cut / 50 Words For Snow) 

Remastered in vinyl IV (12″ mixes / The Other Side 1 / 2 / In Other’s Words)

IV

The albums below are only available as part of the CD box-set or in Remastered in Vinyl IV, they are not available as separate releases.

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

The Other Side 1
Walk Straight Down The Middle
You Want Alchemy
Be Kind To My Mistakes
Lyra
Under The Ivy
Experiment IV
Ne T’Enfuis Pas
Un Baiser D’Enfant
Burning Bridge
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 2012 Remix

The Other Side 2
Home For Christmas
One Last Look Around The House Before We Go
I’m Still Waiting
Warm And Soothing
Show A Little Devotion
Passing Through Air
Humming (previously unreleased)
Ran Tan Waltz
December Will Be Magic Again
Wuthering Heights (Remix / New Vocal from The Whole Story)

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

Kate Bush – Remastered Part I Box-set Review





Kate Bush – Remastered Part I Box-set Review

17 11 2018

KB remastered 1Kate Bush has released remastered versions of her first seven studio albums – as a box-set and as individual albums, on CD and vinyl. A second box-set is released at the end of November 2018.

Kate’s early albums sounded amazing anyway, and the 2018 remasters thankfully are not just pushing the volume up or brickwalling. The differences are subtle but compliment and at times, enhance the music.

So on Kate’s debut album, The Kick Inside from 1978, there is a touch more bass response, and the new remaster adds greater depth to the vocals – such as on the “You crush the lily in my soul” section on the album opener, Moving.

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The Man With The Child In His Eyes sounds amazing, especially when the strings soar in the chorus, and the lead vocal on L’Amour Looks Something Like You sits so much better in the mix on this new remaster. Wuthering Heights reveals little flourishes that were previously less prominent in the mix, and the vocal sits so well.

LHLionheart, compared to the original CD issue (listening, not comparing waveforms!) is a more sympathetic remaster. The original sounds slightly muddy in comparison, whilst the new master feels cleaner and lets you push the volume up. This is especially noticeable on Symphony In Blue (the drums sound much better) and on Wow (the strings sound gorgeous).

Wow is a marked improvement, the mix is perfect and its like hearing the song for the first time. Yep, its the remasters first Wow moment. Sorry.

In The Warm Room (one of the most sensual songs I have ever heard) sounds delicious at volume. Hammer Horror now sounds like it was recorded in technicolor – the orchestral opening and the reverb on Kate’s vocals lifts the song to a new level.

NFEThe piano and keyboards on the intro to Babooshka from Never For Ever (1980) sound much less harsh than the original master, they sparkle more. One of my favourite songs on the album, Delius also benefits and feels more natural.

Breathing has always been one of my favourite songs. Has there ever been a more powerful anti-war /non-nuclear song than this? As through all the albums, the difference is subtle but noticeable, particularly on the instrumental section of Breathing. The song is not mastered as loud, so individual moments (such as single piano notes and deep bass) cuts cleanly through the mix, and makes you sit up and listen.

TDThe Dreaming is my favourite overall Kate Bush album, and I love the way the vocals sound on this remaster. At normal volume, the changes are noticeable, but when played at volume, the strengths of The Dreaming really hit home. Those drums on Sat In Your Lap!

Album closer Get Out Of My House is a delight – the guitar (from the late Alan Murphy) add to the paranoia and desperation seeping through the song.

The remaster adds warmth and power to the Fairlight lines and drums on Running Up That Hill from Hounds Of Love (1985) , and the bassline is more prominent than before. This song is one of my favourite memories from the Before The Dawn shows from a few years ago.

HOL

The title track has more punch to the inventive percussion and The Big Sky is a different version to the previous album release (it sounds like the single mix) and is a much livelier arrangement.

Side 2 aka The Ninth Wave is a lot of fans favourite pieces in Kate’s catalogue, and the 2018 remaster does not disappoint. The whole piece sounds clearer and more powerful.

The peaks and troughs of Jig Of Life are a joy to listen to at volume. The choral vocals are so much warmer on Hello Earth, one of the most moving parts of The Ninth Wave.

TSWThe Sensual World (1989) has more punch, especially in the chorus of the title track and on the percussion on Reaching Out, one of my favourites from the album.

Deeper Understanding is one of the major improvements on The Sensual World, with individual instruments and voices cutting through the mix with so much clarity.

The album ends with one of Kate’s most popular songs, This Woman’s Work. The treatment of the lead vocals and the use of reverb is a production masterclass, and this is the best the song has ever sounded.

TRSThe Red Shoes (1993) has some key improvements in sound quality – such as on the chorus of Rubberband Girl, with a stronger bass and guitar sound. The deep strings in Moments Of Pleasure are more vibrant and richer and Top Of The City sounds more widescreen and cinematic.

The heartbreaking You’re The One is beautiful, the original now sounds a little muddy in comparison.

The only negative point I have about these re-issues is the lack of fresh content with the packaging. Whilst the reproductions of the original artwork with the CD cases and the booklets is high quality and faithful to the initial releases, I am a little disappointed that the booklets just contain lyrics and recording details. There is nothing new in the booklets –  no previously unseen pictures, no essays or background to the albums or songs – either from Kate herself, or from any of the musicians or countless wonderful Kate Bush websites and blogs scattered across the internet. Also, a pet hate here (and not a fault of the compilers) – recent box sets (including the Bowie series) have a paper detachable back panel, listing the box-sets content that is not fixed to the box and does not fit inside, so easily gets damaged or lost.

Anyway, very minor grumble aside, this is an excellent release and all seven albums have been lovingly remastered and are definitely worth the outlay, even if you already own the original albums.

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

If you don’t have any Kate Bush albums in your collection, this box-set is a must purchase. Which reminds me,  I need to start saving for the second CD box-set. Or maybe add it to my Christmas list. Hint hint Santa.

Read my review of the second CD box-set.

Buy the albums on Amazon

Kate Bush – Remastered Part I Box-set

KB remastered 1

Kate Bush – Remastered Part II Box-set

KB remastered 2

The individual albums

The Kick Inside (2018 Remaster)

KI

Lionheart (2018 Remaster)

LH

Never For Ever (2018 Remaster)

NFE

The Dreaming (2018 Remaster)

TD

Hounds Of Love (2018 Remaster)

HOL

The Sensual World (2018 Remaster)

TSW

The Red Shoes (2018 Remaster)

TRS

 





Kate Bush – Remastered

4 10 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read my review of the first CD boxset here.

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

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

THE CD BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered Part I

KB remastered 1

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

Amazon pre-order

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Kate Bush Remastered Part II

KB remastered 2

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

Amazon pre-order

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


THE VINYL BOX-SETS

Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl I

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

Amazon pre-order

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Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl II

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

Amazon pre-order

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Kate Bush Remastered in Vinyl III

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

Amazon pre-order

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Kate Bush Remastered In Vinyl IV

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

Amazon pre-order

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


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

12” Mixes

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

The Other Side 1

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

The Other Side 2

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

In Others’ Words

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





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/





Tim Bowness – Songs From The Ghost Light

14 08 2017

Songs-from-the-Ghost-Light

Songs From The Ghost Light is a companion release to Tim Bowness’s Inside Out label albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014), Stupid Things That Mean The World (2015) and this years wonderful Lost In The Ghost Light.

The 34 minute mini-album is available in limited quantities on CD & vinyl from Burning Shed, and as a download from Tim’s Bandcamp page.

Stupid Things That Mean The World (chamber version) is a stark re-imagining of the 2015 track. Stripped of the albums guitar and drums, piano and strings underpin the vocals, which have a dollop of extra reverb added, making this version a very different beast. A disturbing alternative synth line adds tension to the middle section of the song.

The live version of The Warm-Up Man Forever (the studio version appears on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams) features a stunning drum performance from Andrew Booker and a wonderful Experiment IV-like guitar line from Michael Bearpark. As an advert for the Tim Bowness live shows, the non-studio cuts on Songs From The Ghost Light do their job.

No Longer The One is a reworked, much less proggy version of the Henry Fool rarity Pills in the Afternoon. A more expansive guitar line and a richer arrangement and production take one of Tim’s finest hidden pieces to new heights. Its my favourite track on this mini-album.

Some T-bo trivia – No Longer The One was lyrically altered to work with the Moonshot / Jeff Harrison story. Expect an angry tweet from the ageing old Putin worhsipping Moonshotter soon!

Once A Record is a mutated piece of mellotron madness built from The Great Electric Teenage Dream. Whispers, off-kilter and digitally twisted vocals and dark electronics bubble under the surface of a track that would not have sounded out-of-place on David Bowie’s 1. Outside.

Next up is a live version of The Great Electric Teenage Dream. The version on Songs From The Ghost Light is faithful to the times I have heard the song live at recent Bowness shows. Its a powerful performance, with brutal guitar lines.

The polar opposite is The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version). I prefer this take to the version previously released in 2014. Strings and mid-70s sounding lead synth lines push the songs melody to the fore.

The final live song is Abandoned Dancehall Dreams Dancing For You. One of Tim’s saddest songs of nostalgia and regret, Dancing For You is presented here in a moving live performance. A fine synth solo from Stephen Bennett drives the song to its conclusion.

Giancarlo Erra (Nosound/Memories Of Machines) contributes piano to the album’s closing track Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo), as well as mixing and mastering the album. Kit Watkins adds flute and ‘Heartbeat’ percussion to the discordant re-birth of what was already the most menacing piece on this years wonderful Lost In The Ghost Light album.

“Is there more?”

No Longer The One, The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version) and Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo) actually surpass their original incarnations as far as I am concerned. Songs From The Ghost Light works well as a companion to Tim’s successful Inside Out era albums, making you return to the originals whilst working well as an album in its own right.

Stupid Things That Mean The World (chamber version)
The Warm-Up Man Forever (live)
No Longer The One
Once A Record
The Great Electric Teenage Dream (live)
The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version)
Dancing For You (live)
Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo)

Buy the CD and vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy the Download from Tim’s Bandcamp page





Tears for Fears – Songs From The Big Chair (Box-set)

16 11 2014

big-chairNo I am not going mad, and slipping back in time to the 80’s to review the second album from Tears for Fears. This is a review of the 2014 six-disc deluxe edition.

It’s amazing that what was initially an 8 song release back in 1985, can justify a 6 disc release in 2014. Songs from The Big Chair threw up so many remixes, edits and alt-takes, and this new box-set collects just about everything you would want to see (and hear) from this part of Tears for Fears history.

Disc one is the original album, with what sounds like the same remaster as the 2006 (2 disc) re-issue. After the 8 songs from the original album, disc one contains some of the key “b sides” from the era, including the Fairlight showcasing The Big Chair and one of my favourite Tears for Fears b-sides, Pharaohs.

Disc two is titled Edited Songs From The Big Chair and opens with non-album single The Way You Are, which surprisingly the band are not keen on. My favourite Tears for Fears song, Mothers Talk, with its driving, hard synth riffs, gets plenty of representation on this box-set, and the single mix is a shortened, to the point take of the song.

boxset

Everybody Wants To Run The World, the Sport Aid version of the song from 1986, with it’s amended lyrics and added instrumentation is a welcome addition to the box-set, as is the “Running Version”, a mostly instrumental take. Mothers Talk (video version) has a piano intro verse that doesn’t appear on any other versions of the song.

Disc three, Remixed Songs From The Big Chair – well it’s obvious what you will find on this disc! Standout tracks for me include the wonderful Mothers Talk [Extended Version]. I’ve always loved the delayed bass on the outro to this mix. Broken / Head Over Heels / Broken (Preacher Mix) is notable for having a studio version of the end section (the main album outro section is a live cut).

Everybody Wants To Rule The World [Urban Mix] has a radically different middle section, plus a Simple Minds Waterfront sounding bass riff. This remains one of my favourite Tears for Fears remixes.

Disc four in the set contains Unreleased Songs From The Big Chair. Opening with three Richard Skinner sessions, the highlight of which is a wonderful performance of Head Over Heels (the keyboards sound great on this session cut). Next up are six tracks recorded in Toronto, including The Hurting’s Memories Fade.

An early (vocal-less) mix of Mothers Talk – with some great Shaft like rhythm guitar is a revelation. The Way You Are [Early Mix] is the other highlight on this disc.

big-chair-5.1Disc five – ahh disc five. This is the highlight of the collection. This disc contains a brand new 2014 5.1 surround sound mix of Songs From The Big Chair by Steven Wilson. If you know Wilson’s solo work, or his recordings with Porcupine Tree and no-man, you will be aware that his productions always sound amazing. He has recently remixed albums by Yes and XTC into 5.1 surround sound, and Songs From The Big Chair is another 5.1 success.

Its pure joy hearing the separation on these tracks – bass lines, keyboard layers and guitar riffs jump out of the speakers like never before. As with other Wilson recordings, the album is presented as a flat transfer with no additional mastering. I hate the current trend for brickwall mastering, so this pleases me greatly. This does mean that there are noticeable differences in volume during sections of the songs, so you really notice the performances. It’s a wonderful listening experience, and it’s like hearing a new version of an old favourite.

My only criticism of this box set is that the Steven Wilson stereo mix is not presented in CD format – so if you want to put these 2014 mixes onto your digital device, you are not in luck.

The final disc in the box-set contains a mix of promotional videos, BBC TV appearances and the Scenes from The Big Chair documentary. You also get a replica tour programme and extensive, enlightening notes written by Paul Sinclair from SuperDeluxeEdition, with contributions from the band and key collaborators, plus notes from Steven Wilson about the 5.1 surround mix.

This is the definitive version of an 80’s classic, and a great example of how to put together a value-added re-issue package. Now EMI, how about a Steven Wilson 5.1 surround mix of Kate Bush‘s The Dreaming and Hounds of Love?

Buy the box-set

Songs From The Big Chair – box-set on Amazon

Buy The Hurting deluxe on Amazon





Tim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

11 06 2014

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

A mere 10 years after his debut solo album, no-man / Henry Fool singer Tim Bowness releases Abandoned Dancehall Dreams on June 23rd on the Inside Out label.  And it’s a world away from his debut.

The Warm-Up Man Forever kicks the album off in style – the opening song seems to feed off the spirit of mid-80s Kate Bush, from the urgent Sat In Your Lap toms through to the Hounds of Love referencing strings. Although the pace of the song is definitely cranked up a few notches from these Bush classics – imagine the Siouxsie & the Banshees drummer Budgie pounding away in a post-punk stylee, if you will.

“Cruising the backstage, spitting feathers”

The Warm-Up Man Forever is a great opening song, and has really grown from the version performed on the no-man tour a couple of years ago. A blood-thirsty guitar solo from Michael Bearpark brings the song to it’s end.

In an alternate universe, this is the track that opens this weeks edition of Top of the Pops, pop pickers.

But that was just a phase…

Smiler At 50 slows the pace, and sets the tone of loss and regret that runs deep throughout this album.

“The girl that Dads could laugh with, a face just right for first kiss”

A beautiful, aching string refrain signals the middle section of the song, as it heads towards its unexpectedly proggy ending. Fans of Steven Wilson‘s recent albums will love this powerful, dissonant outro. The songs on this album have really been given the chance to stretch and find their own space, with longer instrumental passages that are missing from previous Bowness solo material.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Before you have a chance to recover, the most heartbreaking track on the album hits you. Songs Of Distant Summers is in the mould of the classic no-man ballads of years gone by. Hanging piano chords, underpinned by sweet synth layers and deep bass, with a lyric that touches on the feeling musicians sometimes experience during that intense moment of creativity.

“Sweet songs from fading summers, old friends who grew apart”

For some reason, this song reminds of the wonderful, blissed out classic Winter in July by Bomb the Bass. I remember reading an interview many moons ago, I think it was with Bernard Sumner from New Order, who said he woke up to Winter in July playing on the radio and he thought he had died in his sleep and woke up in heaven.

Whilst Songs Of Distant Summers is virtually beatless, it has that heavenly feel mixed with found-sounds buried deep in the mix, and it takes you to another place. Oh, and I’m always a sucker for any song with rhodes piano.

I’ve been living with the album for nearly six months now, and I really do believe that Songs Of Distant Summers is up there with no-man’s Truenorth as one of the finest Bowness songs.

She sees the factory buildings…

Waterfoot has shades of another Bowness vehicle, Memories of Machines, his collaboration with Giancarlo Erra from Nosound. The lyrics and music reference an industrial Northern England long since disappeared (in a similar way to the excellent Big Big Train). Emotive synths (plus more rhodes, yay) and a lovely acoustic guitar reference Steve Hackett and a little of the spirit of early Genesis to these battle-scarred ears. Waterfoot really grows after repeated plays, and it’s playfulness is a joy.

This may be controversial, but I will fight the corner for Dancing For You being on a par with some of the mid-80s Phil Collins ballads. Yep, you read that correctly. Phil Collins has always been an easy (lover) target – but In the Air Tonight, If Leaving Me Is Easy and Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away are wonderful songs. Have a listen, and let go of your prejudice.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Anyway, back to Bowness. The piano and 80s drum machine might reference classic Collins, but the lyrics are much more hard-hitting and direct than anything Mr Sussudio has committed to vinyl.

“She was dancing for you, and you looked away.
Dancing for you, another you, on another day”

The 70s sounding backing vocals and decaying guitar top off probably the saddest song on the album. And the sad songs say so much, don’t you know.

Smiler At 52 finishes the story from earlier in the album’s song cycle, and sadly it’s not ended well for dear old Smiler. Glitchy percussion and a nagging keyboard line underpin the story of a lonely, middle-aged Smiler and her mountain of regret.

“Far from young and not yet old.”

Looped vocals and an engaging bass-line take the song to its fade.

I Fought Against The South is the longest track on the album, and probably the biggest surprise on first listen. It’s the track on the album that really captures that live no-man feel from the recent live dates, and is almost a cousin to one of my favourite no-man songs, lighthouse.

A wonderful, loping beat and heart-wrenching strings and solo violin drive this slow-burning epic track. It’s a perfect headphone track, with great separation between instruments – listen as a dirty, scratched organ smashes into the mix 1/4 of the way through, and then disappears, taking the strings with it.

“The dream was in tatters, so what did it matter? My temper was quick but my movements were slow”

After a few seconds of near silence, the toms usher in the final, powerful instrumental section. Played loud, the fluttering cymbal work and interplay between guitar and keyboards is up there with the finest modern-day progressive music.

Too much is not enough

Normally, I Fought Against The South would be the perfect album closer, but Bowness has chosen to close the album with Beaten By Love. The oldest song on the album, this is the definitive version. A perfect post-punk bookend to the album opener, Beaten By Love is the darkest track on the album, with some fine bass work by current no-man bassist, Pete Morgan. Tim’s partner in no-man, Steven Wilson, as well as mixing the album, contributed the frankly evil-sounding guitar to the album’s menacing closing track.

“So completely, beaten by your love”

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams deserves to be heard by as wide an audience as possible. It’s almost an oddity in the modern era, a throw-back to those carefully sequenced releases from the golden era of classic albums.

Its a release that I think will eventually be considered as a career highlight. The attention to detail is evident throughout the whole package – from the range of wonderful, individual performances from musicians such as Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Porcupine Tree‘s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe and members of the no-man live band, to the album mastering by Pink Floyd engineer, Andy Jackson.

Potentially my favourite album of 2014? I thought it would be when I first heard the album back in January, and I’ve yet to hear anything released this year to make me think I was wrong.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Sounds of Distant Summers

The two CD version of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams contains a companion CD of alternate versions and out-takes. The wonderful Grasscut contribute a string-driven, more percussive take on Smiler at 52.

Ambient keyboard overlord Richard Barbieri (Japan / Porcupine Tree) delivers a colourful mix of Songs Of Distant Summers, seeped in the nostalgic tick of clocks, childrens toys and low, rumbling bass synth.

UXB serve up the most radical alternate mix, with the boy and girl vocals of Dancing for You brought to the fore, and the Bowness lead vocals completely stripped out. It’s almost like an electronic Swingle Singers! Please believe me when I say it works really well.

The 5 remaining tracks are out-takes from the album sessions.  The track Abandoned Dancehall Dream is a bossa-nova beat, scratchy stereogram sounding track over which Bowness croons  “the sound of dead men singing (they love you)”. It reminds me of the music of The Caretaker (think Kubrick’s The Shining), and it’s an intriguing shorter than short song, that whilst it fits the abandoned dancehall concept, sonically does not fit on the main album, but thankfully has found a home on the companion disc.

The same can be said of The Sweetest Bitter Pill – a jazzier song than any on the main album, with some lovely synth work. It featured in early album sequences but always stood out a little, and so found it’s rightful home on disc two.

The Warm-Up Man Forever (band version) sounds like early U2 fed on a diet of Icicle Works albums. It’s good to hear this early take, which sounds like my memory of how no-man performed this track on their last tour, but it’s surpassed by the main album take.

The remaining two tracks are alt-takes of Songs of Distant Summers, recorded during the early band sessions for the album. More guitar driven than the album version, they offer a different perspective, but as WUMF, the seeds cannot compare to the full-bloom.

Whilst you will probably dip into the companion album every now and then, its the main album that you will find yourself returning to time and time again. So treat yourself to a copy from one of the links below.

Order Abandoned Dancehall Dreams from Burning Shed.

Buy the CD from Amazon UK

Buy the CD on Amazon US

Visit the Tim Bowness website

Tim Bowness pictures by Charlotte Kinson





The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

"Ardor" by The Opium CartelArdor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.

Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.

Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.

Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!

When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.

Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring  vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of  Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.

Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.

Watch the Ardor album trailer

Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.

White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.

The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.

“If I run, where do I run to?”

Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.

Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.

Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK





Laura Groves – Thinking About Thinking EP

29 09 2013

"Thinking About Thinking" EPLaura Groves (who previously recorded under the moniker Blue Roses) has released her first new solo material since 2009, with the digital (and vinyl) release of the Thinking about Thinking EP on Deek Recordings.

The opening track, Inky Sea, has a real late night feel, with the dark rhodes piano and layered 80s keyboards reminding me of Cliff Martinez‘s Drive soundtrack.

The music has progressed from 2009’s mostly acoustic Blue Roses album, and benefits from a much wider production palette.

After the beatless opening song, Pale Shadows is driven by a tight drum machine track, and back to the 80s again, has hints of China Crisis The Cocteau Twins in the instrumentation, topped off with a very Robert Smith like guitar riff. It’s probably my favourite of the 4 tracks, with hints of Fleetwood Mac in the chorus (always a good thing!)

Sadly, a by-product of the post-CD age, it’s impossible to tell who is playing on the tracks as there are no liner notes with this digital release.

“When the walls break down, it’s a beautiful thing”

Laura Groves

Easy Way Out sneaks in a crafty bossa-nova beat and a strong bassline to underpin the complex, ever-evolving arrangement, that grabs you after repeated plays.

The title track of Thinking About Thinking slows down the tempo of the EP, and has a real USA West-Coast vibe, with hints of mid-70’s Todd Rundgren seeping through to my wise old brain.

At times, the close harmonies remind me of Prince‘s sublime Sometimes It Snows In April from the Parade album.

I hope the EP is a taster for a new album in the not-too-distant future. If you liked the Blue Roses album, or are a fan of early Kate Bush, this EP will be something you will want to investigate, so go on, treat your ears.

Buy the EP

Buy Laura Groves – Thinking About Thinking EP from Bandcamp

Other releases

Buy the Blue Roses album from Amazon

Buy the Does Anyone Love Me Now? EP (featuring Grammatics) and the excellent First Frost Night on Amazon

Buy the I Am Leaving Single (featuring the wonderful Moments Before Sleep) from Amazon








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