Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s By Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence

25 03 2017

OK, lets start with a confession. The 70s is my favourite decade. Its a decade that I lived through as a young ‘un (I was 10 in 1970) and saw me through to my first years as a young adult. It was the decade that provided some of the music that has seeped into my very soul, especially the mid 70s classic rock and the punk / post punk music from 77-79 that shook the establishment. So Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s was always going to scream out READ ME, READ ME NOW. Oh and prepare to open your wallet – as you will probably find yourselves heading over to Amazon to buy lots of the DVDs and blurays of programmes you loved when you were young, or to eBay to pick up comics (old copies of Look-in) or other 70s memorabilia.

Scarred for Life Volume one: The 1970s

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s is a printed publication (740 black and white pages printed, with a free colour eBook version) that covers the decades weird and wonderful television (including favourites of mine such as The Tomorrow People, Sky, Survivors and A Ghost Story For Christmas), as well as a look at the changing face of UK TV culture. And that’s not all – the publication looks at board games – such as Top Trumps and Escape From Colditz, plus films and comics (including the mighty Action from 1976) as well as 70s fads and food (I had forgotten all about Horror Bags Fangs Crisps!). Oh and the array of 70s ice-lollies – no wonder I’ve spent so much money at the dentists over the years.

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s opens with an excellent scene-setting introduction by horror writer / historian Johnny Mains. Scarred by Television is the books first section. If you lived through the 70s, the memories are instantly sparked by the description of TV in that decade – no remote controls, tiny screens and few channels, compared to todays HD and hundreds of channels beamed into our homes through satellite / cable and on demand net based programming. On demand was not an option in the 1970s – in fact recording of programmes to watch later didn’t feature in most households until the 1980s. So TV watching was a much more communal event – everyone watched the programmes at the same time and discussed last nights viewing at school or work the next day. And if you missed the programme, or if it clashed with something else your family was watching on the homes ONE TV, that was it – no pausing, rewinding or catch-up TV. You simply missed it.

Programmes discussed in depth in the first few chapters include The Owl ServiceThe Ghosts of Motley Hall and one of my favourites, The Tomorrow People (which has a Bowie reference, fact fiends). Name that tune! The Blue And The Green Tomorrow People story has stuck with me all these years.

SkyOne of the most enjoyable parts of Scarred for Life is the coverage of the HTV series Sky. I remember watching and enjoying early episodes of this programme, but for some long forgotten reason, I never got to watch the whole of the seven part series. But I never forgot those terrifying black eyes…..

There is also a lengthy and informative section on Play For Today – including the haunting Blue Remembered Hills, which can be found on the Essential Dennis Potter boxset.

The sci-fi section of Scarred for Life includes the BBC post-plague drama Survivors. Much grittier than the (sadly cut-short after two series) more recent version starring Max Beesley, the original series lasted three seasons and went straight into my Amazon basket after reading about it in this book.

My favourite TV related section of Scarred for Life is the Gothic TV section – especially  the section on A Ghost Story For Christmas. I occasionally saw episodes during the 70s but bought the BFI DVD collection a couple of years ago due to the 2010 remake of the M. R. James story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and dipping into this collection has become a Christmas tradition. The Scarred for Life piece goes into great detail, even mentioning the 1860s M. R. James origin of the Christmas Ghost stories that led to this wonderful BBC festive regular. I know its not Christmas as I write this review, but I think I’ll dip into the collection again this weekend. Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas, after all.

The How we used to live section discusses the way that some mainstream 70s TV dealt with race (the impact of ‘light entertainment’ shows such as The Black and White Minstrel Show and Love Thy Neighbour) and particularly the awful, lazy stereotyping in Mind Your Language. The section also discusses the “something for the Dads” casual sexism that was prevalent in Seaside Special / Top of the Pops and various sitcoms such as Doctor In The House and On The Buses. To their credit, the Scarred for Life writers don’t choose the easy “weren’t the 70s wacky” route in their discussions about these issues.

Scarred for Life takes an interesting approach to its lengthy Doctor Who section. Instead of focusing on the show and the stories, they take a fresh approach discussing what it was like being a fan of the show – writing about the Doctor Who Exhibitions and the eras Doctor Who annuals and magazines.

If, like me, you are of a certain age – the phrase “clunk click every trip” will mean you watched the multitude of public information films that ran through the decade, and they are discussed in loving detail in Scarred for Life. To this day, I’m still petrified of dumped fridges and ponds.

charleysays

The section covers with Charley Says, The Green Cross Code and the downright terrifying Joe & Petunia (the coastguard animation still haunts me). Coo-ee!

I spent many happy hours playing Escape From Colditz as a kid in the early 70s. The board game was inspired by the popular TV series, starring Robert Wagner and David McCallum, that ran for two series between 1972 and 1974. It made a change from the endless magic sets and compendium of games that I received each Christmas. So I really enjoyed the children’s games section in this publication, that also covers Top Trumps, a card based game (I recall having lots of military and vehicle based sets – mainly tanks, jets and motorbikes).

The savage cinema section is well researched. Covering films such as Soldier Blue, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry and the Death Wish series, the writers put these films in the context of the post-Vietnam, permissive society fighting Mary Whitehouse era. Classic films such as Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and Deliverance are also covered.

The writers also delve briefly into the “When Animals Attack” late 70s film genre, mentioning Grizzly, but sadly no mention of one of my  (corny) favourites from the era – Day of the Animals. I saw Day of the Animals as a double-bill (what a great concept, bring it back!) at the cinema in 1977 with a great film called The Car, with James Brolin being pursued through the desert by a seemingly driverless Lincoln Continental (The Car is mentioned further on in Scarred for Life).

Another well-written section of the book are chapters given over to covering some of the satanic / possession films of the 70s. Covering less obvious choices, such as Dennis Potters Brimstone and Treacle (not to be confused with the later film version starring Sting) as well as the sort of films you would expect, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist, the writing is often focused on the public’s perception of the films rather than plot synopses, which is a fresh take on these much-discussed classic horror films.

I also found the folk-horror section interesting – as its a sub-genre I know little about, so feel inclined to explore further.

The Pop Movie Turns Dark covers the trio of pop films That’ll Be The Day, Stardust and Slade in Flame. I’ve never seen the Slade film but love the two David Essex films. I didn’t realise that That’ll Be The Day is based on Harry Nilsson’s song 1941, so thanks for that pop-quiz nugget, Scarred for Life.

thatll-be-the-day

The sections on 70s books and comics is the section I was looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. I bought several pre-ban issues of Action – I wish I’d kept them, as it was a ground-breaking comic that is covered in depth in this publication. And I had forgotten all about the Pan Book of Horror Stories – that turned me onto the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker among others. I was also a big fan of the early James Herbert books – The Rats is discussed in Scarred for Life, but my favourite was The Fog. I’ve still got my original copy and it still scares me to death. Its a shame there is not more coverage of James Herbert – he may not be regarded as being a writer in the same class as Stephen King in horror writing circles, but his books were extremely popular in the 70s and 80s for the very good reason that they were terrifying.

Scarred by… food. Horror themed ice-lollies (Lyons Maid Red Devils & Haunted House), Smiths Horror Bags crisps (I can taste them now!) and Golden Wonder Kung Fueys (bacon and mushroom corn balls mnnnn) are all on the menu in Scarred for Life. Oh how I miss the 70s.

There is an interesting chapter on UFO imagery used in 70s music, including Boston, ELO, The Stranglers and a fair bit about David Bowie‘s apparent fascination with aliens. The sections ends with the top 10 UFO songs of the 70s. I won’t give it away – buy Scarred for Life and see for yourself.

Scarred for Life is a great read for anyone who lived through the decade, or for anyone in love with the music, TV and films that poured out of this amazing period. The TV series Life on Mars gave a great flavour of the 70s, so if you loved that show, Scarred for Life will paint an even fuller picture of the decade. I am really looking forward to the next volume, that will cover the 80s. I can’t wait to read about the nuclear paranoia of that decade, especially the mighty Threads.

You can buy Scarred for Life Volume one – the 70s now as a 740 page perfect-bound paperback (the printed version comes with details of how to obtain the colour e-book version as part of your purchase).





White Willow – Future Hopes

6 03 2017

Future HopesFuture Hopes is the follow up to the mighty Terminal Twilight from 2011 (one of this blogs earliest reviews)- so its been a long wait for new music from White Willow, the Norwegian progressive and (increasingly) electronic band.

Album number seven revolves around core members Jacob Holm-Lupo and Mattias Olsson and features for the first time vocalist Venke Knutson, who has had several pop hits in her native Norway.

Deep bass synth lines usher in album opener Future Hopes. It’s clear early on that the metal leanings of earlier White Willow albums have largely given way to a more progressive palette, topped off with layer upon layer of synths. Don’t worry, this is not a guitar free zone by any stretch of the imagination. The title track Future Hopes has some moving guitar solos towards the end of the track.

Silver And Gold is the most stripped back arrangement on the album – with just Venke, Jacob and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen performing on this track. The 80s music loving fan in me welcomes the Fairlight drums on this song. Silver And Gold is a beautiful piece of music, and Venke’s breathy vocals are perfectly suited to this track.

The prog is dialled back in on In Dim Days, a classic White Willow piece. There is plenty of space for exploration and lengthy instrumental passages on In Dim Days. The bass and drums work really well on the album’s heaviest track, and there is some nice hammond work from Lars Fredrik Frøislie (who has a huge part to play on the CD album’s closing track).

Recent White Willow music (I’m talking to you Floor 57 from Terminal Twlight) has often had me thinking “That would sound great in a J. G. Ballard film adaptation” and Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss is one of those moments on Future Hopes. One of two instrumentals on the album, this short atmospheric piece presses all the right buttons, reminding me a little of the textures and mood of side two of Bowie’s Low. It really sets your imagination flowing, which is always a good sign of potential longevity in a piece of music.

Photo by Dagfinn Hobæk

A Scarred View is the album’s masterpiece. Clocking in at a vinyl side filling 18 minutes and 16 seconds, it has all the time and space it needs to develop from its Vangelis Blade Runner like opening. A tale of arid desolation and drought damaged landscapes, the song contains some of the album’s best vocal and guitar performances. A Scarred View is one of those tracks with so much going on, and so many layers revealing new musical delights on each listen, that you never tire of hearing the song. It really does not feel like an 18 minutes long track.

Old school prog and 70s electronica fans will love the middle section of the song, with its heady mix of hammond organ topped with layers of moog, prophet 5 and especially arp solina (a mid to late 70s Bowie synth staple).  It takes me back to my youth, attending the laser shows at the London Planetarium, to a soundtrack of progressive and classic rock by the likes of Alan Parsons and Yes.

The whole album sounds rich and warm, especially A Scarred View. It is recorded so well, with plenty of space in the mix for the peaks and troughs, and sounds wonderful cranked up loud through a good amp and speakers. Buy Future Hopes on CD and vinyl if you can – not MP3 (I opted for CD but kind of regret not going for vinyl now, as I would imagine the album is made for that format).

Animal Magnetism is a CD bonus track, that was released nearly two years ago – you can read my review of the standalone release of the song, a cover of The Scorpions track. I loved it then and I still love it now!

Damnation Valley is the second instrumental, and another CD bonus track. Possibly a homage to Damnation Alley, the 1977 post-apocalyptic film? A bar-room piano and mellotron soaked piece, its a soothing end to this version of the album.

The album artwork from the legendary Roger Dean, and the quality album mastering by Bob Katz add to the whole album experience, and that’s what I believe albums should be – experiences. If you love the music of Genesis, Alan Parsons, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and all those progressive and classic rock artists from the golden era of the mid to late 70s, then this is an album you are likely to fall in love with.

And if you are already a fan of previous White Willow (and The Opium Cartel) releases – you don’t need me to tell you this is a must have album for your collection. Future Hopes is likely to be considered by many as a career high for the band.

Buy Future Hopes by White Willow on CD from Amazon

Buy Future Hopes by White Willow on vinyl from Amazon





Cobalt Chapel – Cobalt Chapel

2 02 2017

rsz_cobalt_chapel_editedCobalt Chapel are a psychedelic / folk duo featuring Cecilia Fage (Matt Berry & The Maypoles) and Jarrod Gosling (I Monster, Regal Worm), and they have just released their debut album on the KLove label.

The late 60s / early 70s inspired music is built round the vocals of Fage and the classic keyboards (mostly organ) and drum machines of Gosling.

The album is very dark and perfectly suited to the Autumn and Winter seasons. The songs conjure up moods and memories from an England long lost to technology, reality television, rampant commercialism and a loss of imagination and mystery.

Album opener We Come Willingly is a tale of murder, driven by the album’s signature organs and vintage drum machines fed through an army of effects.

Fruit Falls From The Apple Tree continues the baroque ‘n roll feel, with a lovely layered vocal during the middle section, as the keyboards and low bassline shuffles alongside the powerful drums. I love the mixture of progressive and folk music that runs through all the songs on this fine debut album. And an album is what it is – built to be heard in one setting, in sequence, so you appreciate the journey as the artist intended.

Ava Gardner is a short instrumental that precedes one of my favourite tracks on the album, Who Are The Strange.

Reminding me a little of early Portishead mixed with The Shortwave Set (whatever happened to them?), this was the first track that Fage and Gosling wrote together.

The lyrics tell the story of a near-death experience and the rattling effects and stabbing organ are as unsettling as the lyrical content.

The Lamb is a cover of the John Tavener choral piece that you may know from the film Children of Men, and is the most moving track on the album. The arrangement is simple but its a beautiful, stunning performance, with wonderful harmonies from Cecilia Fage.

Photography by Alex Lake

Black Eyes is inspired by the 1975 film The Stepford Wives. Distorted drums and keys, along with a slowly mutating arrangement, underpin this sad song of transformation and loss of will.

Singing Camberwell Beauty is the first song that I heard from the album, and it remains a favourite. A playful fairground waltz that gets darker as it progresses – and a song that will surely appeal to Saint Etienne fans due to the spoken interlude


Singing Camberwell Beauty is not “the last waltz” on the album,  as Maze is a short Camberwick Green on acid piece that leads into Two.  The album cover will give you a clue about the “two heartbeats” referenced in the song.

Horratia is “the story of an aging B-movie actress revisiting her life and career; a young face that many people once remembered and now an old face that is all but forgotten, except in the minds of obsessed horror/sci-fi convention-goers…” I love the twists and turns in the instrumentation on this track.

Positive Negative is inspired by The Avengers, and has a wonderful, slow building malevolent end section as layer upon layer of distorted organs pile on top of the vocals.

Photo by Chris Saunders

The album ends on Three Paths Charm and is the longest track in this collection. A mostly instrumental piece, with the occasional backward vocal lines and chants, acting almost as a summary of what has gone before.

Cobalt Chapel is a captivating first release, and there is a real continuity in the instruments used and the textures and moods they create. Its very easy to lose yourself in this album, and I am really looking forward to what the bewitching partnership of Cecilia Fage and Jarrod Gosling cook up in the (hopefully near) future.

Buy the CD on Amazon

Buy the Vinyl on Amazon





Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

14 01 2017

Lost In The Ghost LightLost In The Ghost Light is the fourth solo album from Tim Bowness (no-man / Henry Fool).

Lost In The Ghost Light is a concept album revolving around the onstage and backstage reflections of a ‘classic’ rock musician (Jeff Harrison of the band Moonshot).

Joining Tim on the album are Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief), Hux Nettermalm (Paatos), Andrew Booker (Sanguine Hum), and guest appearances from Kit Watkins (Happy The Man/Camel), Steve Bingham (no-man), David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Andrew Keeling (Robert Fripp/Hilliard Ensemble/Evelyn Glennie) arranging for string quartet and flute on three of the album’s songs.

Tim’s new album, as well as being a concept album, with a very clear theme, is also musically his most cohesive release.  His most recent solo albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World have both appealed to those who love progressive music. But if you are a fan of classic, first generation as well as modern prog, Lost In The Ghost Light will more than likely tick all the boxes for you. Musically, this album draws from the spirit of experimentation of the late 60s and early 70s, whilst keeping the Bowness musical identity intact.

I think its safe to say that Lost In The Ghost Light is an album that will be getting a ton of love from the (recently saved) Prog magazine, and will be appearing in a lot of reviewers end of year favourites lists.

Worlds Of Yesterday sets the scene with a backing of warm arpeggio acoustic guitar, some fascinating fretless bass and mid-70s keyboards / organs. The end section is wonderful, with flute (from Kit Watkins) and Bruce Soord‘s soaring guitar building up to a final 30 seconds that will surely melt your prog-filled heart.

Moonshot Manchild – well, Phil Collins would kill to have that feeling again. The piano and strings in the verse are solid-gold solo Collins, whilst the chorus and instrumental sections are unadulterated pre-80s Genesis.

“The days are long when you’re not working”

One of the most rewarding aspects of Lost In The Ghost Light is the multitude of instrumental passages, and Moonshot Manchild is one of the main beneficiaries of this freedom to explore the boundaries of the songs. I expect this song to be a possible Prog anthem of the year.

“You’re wearing the styles of your age.
 A slave to the whims of a phase, 
You dreamt of eternity’s gaze,
Now you’re running out of time.”

David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) and Mr Pineapple Thief handle guitar duties on Kill The Pain That’s Killing You, the albums least proggy track. It’s more akin to the sound of Tim’s previous albums, with a hint of no-man thrown in for good measure, so its obviously an album highlight for me!

Mid-way through the album, we have what I consider to be the albums jewel in the crown. Nowhere Good To Go is a delicious Bowness ballad, one that’s so good that it could easily be a song from no-man‘s Returning Jesus. It’s quite simply one of Bowness’s best songs.

An ever evolving arrangement keeps the song fresh, even after repeated plays. The moving lyric and vocals stay constant throughout the song, as the arrangement gets increasingly prog-flavoured towards the end. Nowhere Good To Go is a finely layered song, but underpinning the arrangement and the emotional performances is a beautiful and painfully sad story of the loneliness of the touring musician who is long out of touch and now forever out of time.

“The theatre’s deserted,
And there’s nowhere good to go.”

You’ll Be The Silence is one of the albums longest tracks, which gives the song time to build and explore.

“You caught the music of the moment by accident.
You caught the moments in the music by chance.”

A song of regret as the albums protagonist watches his band become largely irrelevant as the industry moves on and leaves him behind. Where would a band as out-of-time as Jeff Harrison‘s Moonshot fit into these days of a down-sized music industry, with no more excess and huge physical album sales? An industry moving toward streaming as the norm? I suppose they would say their new album is a return to their halcyon days and hope for reviews of the “best since Scary Monsters” variety.

“You went on stage together,
But you failed to find the art.”

Lost In The Ghost Light is filled with remarkable individual performances – Stephen Bennett hits a career best on the album in my opinion. Colin Edwin also gives some fine performances, the highlight being a moving bass harmonics solo on You’ll Be The Silence.

Tim Bowness

The Bowness production / arrangment and the usual high-quality mix and mastering by Steven Wilson need to be recognised in  reviews of the album. The way the Univox SR-55 drum machine slips seamlessly in and out of the percussion arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is a joy to hear. A tip of the hat must also go to Bruce Soord, who delivers a passionate solo in the outro that David Gilmour would be proud to call his own.

The album’s title track is pure no-man – glitchy electronics and a treated vocal that recalls the darkness of no-man’s Bleed or the Wild Opera period. The lyrics see our man Jeff questioning the relevancy of his music and whether there will be more, or whether he will remain on the soul-destroying roundabout of the nostalgia circuit.

You Wanted To Be Seen continues the questioning and self doubt, with a backing that recalls Fragile era Yes with a pinch of Pink Floyd added for good measure.

I love Andrew Booker‘s performance on this track, which works so well with Bruce Soord‘s multi-layered guitar. It reminds me a little of late period Porcupine Tree in it’s intensity.

The album ends with Distant Summers, with Colin Edwin giving it some Danny Thompson on the double bass, and a stunning flute solo from Ian Anderson. Tim delivers one of his most emotional vocal performances on Distant Summers, and I hear echoes of early Kate Bush in the piano / bass interplay and string arrangement.

“Third on the left,
A monster and a mess,
Back in the days that you still love the best.”

A couple of years  have passed since the last Bowness album, but the wait was definitely worth it. Lost In The Ghost Light is a rewarding album that reveals new details on each play. I cannot wait to hear what people think of this album, as for me, its the best Bowness album to date.

5.1 mixes on the CD/DVD version

The 5.1 mixes by Bruce Soord of Lost in the Ghost Light and Stupid Things That Mean The World make up the DVD section of the double-disc version.

Lots of new details come to the fore in the 5.1 mixes. The vocal harmonies in Worlds of Yesterday and the piano on Moonshot Manchild are much more prominent in the 5.1 mix.

My favourite track on the album, Nowhere Good to Go, sounds amazing in this mix, with a lovely separation between the synth and the lush acoustic strings. Old school Genesis fans with love the synth lines that really stand out in this version.

The arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is stunning heard through a 5.1 set-up. The album’s short title track sounds very different, with hidden, competing electronica making for a disturbing experience.

Another album highlight, You Wanted To Be Seen, has to be heard at volume to be appreciated fully.  The violin parts sit beautifully in Distant Summers, as does Ian Anderson’s solo.

I forgot to download (doh!) the 5.1 mix of Stupid Things That Mean The World that came as a pre-order bonus when the album was originally released, so this was my first listen to the album in 5.1. Just like Lost In The Ghost Light, new details emerge in the 5.1 mix of this album. Having the two 5.1 mixes adds real value to this package.

The first track that really stands out is Where You’ve Always Been – there is a lovely clarity in the individual performances, and it was a joy to get re-acquainted with one of the most underrated Bowness songs.

Know That You Were Loved works so well in 5.1 – no fancy tricks, no panning effects, just the power of an emotionally direct song in extremely high audio quality.

Press Reset is the real highlight of the 5.1 mixes for me. The bass notes cut through the mix, and oh man, when the heavy percussion and bass kicks in, it sends shivers every time.

“This is the day you’ll disappear”

The neighbours will be having words with me, as I have to crank up the volume on this track.

Everything You’re Not also reveals more detail of the unusual harmonies that go so well with the nostalgic strings and brass.

The short but certainly not sweet Soft William also takes on a new lease of life in this mix. Album closer At The End Of The Holiday reveals its powerful melancholy in 5.1. An emotional string intro leads to a moving arrangement, with brutal lyrics, and a proggy organ solo that almost act as a precursor to where Bowness would venture next with his new album, Lost In The Ghost Light.

Artwork

My initial review was from a digital copy of the album. Now I’ve got my physical copies – vinyl and CD/DVD – a special mention of the albums wonderful artwork is warranted. Tim has worked with Jarrod Gosling to flesh out the story of Jeff Harrison and his band Moonshot, whose story runs through Lost In The Ghost Light.

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The album cover works as a perfect scene-setting statement, and really should be experienced in its full-size vinyl format. The gatefold sleeve (part of which is shown above) is stunning – with Moonshot vinyl, singles, vhs, CD and cassette artwork. The £1.99 sticker on the Moonshot Live at the Rainbow cassette raises a smile every time I see it.

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Lost In The Ghost Light – vinyl


Lost In The Ghost Light – CD/DVD

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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.

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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





Hannah Peel – Awake But Always Dreaming

11 09 2016

awake-but-always-dreamingAwake But Always Dreaming is Hannah Peel’s second solo album. Following on from the more traditional music of her debut album, The Broken Wave in 2011, the next few releases included two Rebox EP’s (made up of covers of songs by Soft Cell, New Order, John Grant and others using music boxes).

As well as working with John Foxx, Beyond the Wizards Sleeve and as a member of The Magentic North, Peel has released a series of increasingly electronic vinyl / download releases such as Nailhouse and 2014’s Fabricstate (with its moving lead track, Silk Road).

Awake But Always Dreaming is a natural continuation into a more electronic landscape. The album opens with recent single All That Matters, an upbeat (lyrically and musically) slice of hi-energy pop.

The pace of the album settles down with Standing On the Roof of the World, a slow-burning piece that ushers in the themes of the album – communication and the most emotive thread running through the songs, the effect that dementia has on people and how it impacts on their close relationships.

Hope Lasts feels like a potential single – the hook sticks with you long after the song has finished.

Tenderly has a potent mix of acoustic piano and electronics, and as the song progresses, I’m reminded of Vespertine era Björk (mainly in the glitchy percussion and deep synth lines). Tenderly is one of the album’s strongest tracks, and always a pointer of a good song – it would be just as moving if stripped back to its core components of voice and piano.

The lyrics start to take a darker turn at this point, and the music reflects this change in mood. Peel’s vocals on Don’t Take It Out On Me have an undercurrent of coldness and repetition that perfectly reflect the anger and resentment in the lyrics. As someone who is currently watching a loved one disappear under the cloud of dementia, this song hit me very hard.

“Wherever you have been, I am made of stone”

Photo by Adam Patterson

Beautiful piano lines drift in and out of focus during the intro to Invisible City, with moving lyrics that touch on the feelings of someone engulfed by the over-powering and all-encompassing illness.

“I built this city around my body, these walls they hold me, like you once did”

Even though Awake But Always Dreaming is clearly an album informed by Peel’s experiences with her Grandmother and her illness, it works on so many other levels. The lyrics are not so specific that it won’t mean anything to you if your life has not been touched by memory loss or dementia. If you’ve felt loss or loneliness in any form, the songs on this album are likely to resonate.

Awake But Always Dreaming is a well sequenced album. The instrumental Octavia almost feels like a musical nightmare, with what sounds like a Kate Bush / The Ninth Wave referencing whispered “wake up” towards the tracks end.

The album’s closing pieces seem to play out to the increased fog of confusion in the disjointed beats and vague whispers. Awake But Always Dreaming‘s title song references a life now often focused on the past, not the present and certainly not on new, shared future memories. Musically, its the most disturbing arrangement on the album and is a powerful prelude to the album’s key track, Conversations.

With what sounds like a projector running in the background (maybe showing film of the subjects past), ghostly memories drift in and out of focus as the film stops, and the lyrics begin.

“When I wake up, dont recall what happened yesterday”

Conversations is the highlight of Hannah Peel’s recorded output to date. An emotional, powerful vocal performance and a simple, direct and brutally honest lyric mark this out as the highlight of the album. There is no poetic licence in the words, no attempts to romanticise the situation, or to soften the blow. Its painful but so true.

“Where did you go?”

Foreverest is the albums longest track at just under 9 minutes. I love the ambitious arrangement on this track. There is a feeling of a release of tension on Foreverest as the journey nears its inevitable end.

Awake But Always Dreaming closes with the Paul Buchanan (The Blue Nile) song Cars in the Garden. Underpinned by Peel’s music box, this duet with Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts is an emotional finale.

“When you wake me up and say
All the love the others gave me
One day I could leave it all
And find the place that we forgot”

I hope this album starts conversations about memory loss and dementia. I will close by saying that in a time when NHS resources are stretched and people with dementia and their carers often feel unsupported and isolated, there are great organisations that can help – such as the charity Dementia UK , who support families through their specialist Admiral Nurses. Feel free to donate to the charity if you can.

And of course, buy Hannah Peel’s wonderful Awake But Always Dreaming album.

Buy the Awake But Always Dreaming CD on Amazon (includes mp3 autorip)

Buy the Awake But Always Dreaming vinyl LP on Amazon (includes mp3 autorip)

Buy Rebox on Amazon

Buy Rebox 2 on Amazon

Buy Fabricstate on Amazon

Buy Nailhouse on Amazon

 





Thomas Lang – The German Alphabet

4 09 2016

thomas-lang-the-german-alphabet-webTo say that there has been a long wait for The German Alphabet, the first studio album from Liverpool singer-songwriter Thomas Lang in 20 years, is an understatement. Even Kate Bush has released 3 albums during that period, and Kate Bush albums are rarer than hen’s teeth (insert your own cliche here).

Now that’s out of the way, is The German Alphabet any good? Oh yes its good, you will be pleased to hear.

If you are a fan of Scallywag Jaz, Little Moscow and The Lost Letter Z, you will not be disappointed. *That voice* is still in fine form, but if you are expecting a re-run of the first 3 studio albums, The German Alphabet does not retread old ground. Its exactly the sort of album you would expect to hear from Thomas Lang in 2016, and is not a nostalgia-fest.

Album Theme

The aspect of the album that jumps out straight away is the theme – musically the album is a nod to John Barry, Ennio Morricone and ambitious film soundtracks. In fact, the songs themselves are like short films, with a strong narrative running throughout the lyrics.

Kicking off with the albums title track, flutes and a high in the mix bass-line sit amongst dark electronics. An almost spaghetti western guitar line features on this (and several tracks) and The German Alphabet is topped off with a high-energy vocal performance from Thomas. The arrangement is wonderful on this song – strings and horns dip in and out of the mix, without over-staying their welcome.

After an up-tempo start, Rain slows things down. The arrangement sounds like Portishead meets Massive Attack. Rain is one of the trilogy of very electronic tracks on the album, and contains one of the finest vocal performances from Thomas. I love the breakdown towards the end of this song, with some Robert Fripp-like electronics and sweeping strings. I think this will be one of the most popular songs on the album amongst fans.

Shaken not stirred

Pale Imitation is surely a contender as a future Bond theme. This is a classic Lang tune – with some lovely (almost progressive) organ and smooth percussion under-pinning an emotional vocal performance.

“I’ve got a plan but you won’t get behind it”

Pale Imitation reveals itself to you over repeated plays – with little details rising in and out of the arrangement.

Tom-Parr-St-15.05.16

Film Stars you may already know, as it first appeared on the 1990 (cassette only) Refugees From Little Moscow EP. I’ve always hoped this song would get a wider audience, as it contains one of Thomas’ best vocals.

Just piano and voice, its a delight and Thomas channels his inner Rickie Lee Jones on this track. And I could be wrong, but towards the end, it sounds like Mr Lang lights up a smoke to see him through to the end of the song. Now that’s jazz!

Pulse is the first track I heard from the album, around a year ago. It has evolved from the early take, but remains by far the most electronic track on the album. The rhythm is in the pulsing synths, as there is no acoustic percussion, and it has a late 80s / early 90s feel.

The strings (and vocals) on the chorus are simply heart-wrenching. It remains one of my favourite tracks on the album.

“I touch your face, so cruel”

Vegas baby!

I think Klee records flew Martin Scorsese in to help Thomas write the lyrics for Be Missing, as its a pure 1970’s Las Vegas / Gangster flick-in-a-song.

Be Missing is also the first appearance of a (Scallywag) Jaz(z) arrangement on the album, mixed with some early 90s Portishead thrown in for good measure.

Lyrically, Be Missing is probably Thomas’ finest hour, and I love the crazy toms / mournful vocals on the tracks outro. Its all very high drama, and is definitely Goodfellas in song form.

“They dug a hole in the sand that’s true – and maybe its your size”

Colorado Boulevard is a gem of a tune, and is a beautiful late night torch ballad. Dim the lights, sip on some expensive whiskey (on the rocks of course) and wallow in this song.

Smokey, slow strings and trumpet power this expensive sounding, as powerful as Sinatra, jazz diamond. Over time, I think this song will sneak into my heart as one of my top 10 favourite Lang tracks.

Swing me baby one more time

I Go Wild (BBV) is the big-band version (a more acoustic, stripped back take is available on the LP version of the album). Its dripping with Vegas panache – the song is driven by a joyous ensemble that makes you run upstairs and slip on your tuxedo every time you play it (or maybe that’s just me).

Michael Bublé would pay a million bucks to swing this hard, ain’t that a fact.

Lucky Me dials down the tempo, and is the album’s sweetest ballad. Another top-notch vocal (and lyrical) performance, I’m sure this song will be a favourite on the forthcoming live dates.

“No moonlight and roses, we’ve been here forever”

Lucky Me name-checks some of the musical (and political) heavyweights, and Tom’s vocals ooze class.

Talking of heavyweights – Kiss The Canvas is a love-song to the pugilist arts, and is well-timed, coming in the year we lost “The greatest”, Muhammad Ali.

I remember going to a London Lang gig in the early 90s and the band were all crowded round the TV post-gig watching a Benn / Eubank fight (if my memory serves me well), and Tom’s love of boxing is clear on Kiss The Canvas.

Kiss The Canvas tells the story of the darker side of the sport, more pay to lose than pay-to-view.

The album doesn’t run out of steam, ending on two very strong songs. Sugar Don’t Work has a feel of early Goldfrapp, and is another of those songs that comes into its own after dark.

If David Lynch is looking for a lead song for the forthcoming Twin Peaks series, he should take a listen to the dark beauty of Sugar Don’t Work.

The darkest song on The German Alphabet, Watchman closes the album. The last of the electronic trilogy of tracks, there is a feeling of cold-war paranoia in the lyrics and a little of the spirit of Billy Mackenzie and The Associates in the music of Watchman.

Lost till I found you

An honorary mention must go to Lost Till I Found You, from the vinyl version of the album. One of the final songs from the DA Hughes / John Murphy / Lang partnership, its worth buying the vinyl album for this one song alone. Like the theme tune from a great, lost 80s movie, its no leftover.

Lost Till I Found You captures some of the best parts of the late 80s / early 90s  – the emotive synths and the subtle drums, and would be a highlight of any of Lang’s albums.

It looks as if this song can be bought in digital format from Amazon from 30th September.

“Winds blow through, rains came down – lost till I found you, lost till I found you”

I hope all fans of Thomas Lang’s music get to hear The German Alphabet, as its a vital part of the Lang catalogue of work. The album has clearly been put together by Thomas and the musicians who play on the album with so much love and attention. I hope we don’t have to wait 20 years to hear the next album.

Buy The German Alphabet

Dusseldorf (CD)

The German Alphabet / Rain / Pale Imitation / Film Stars / Pulse / Be Missing / Colorado Boulevard / I Go Wild (BBV) / Lucky Me / Kiss The Canvas / Sugar Don’t Work / Watchman

Buy the CD from Klee Music

Buy the CD on Amazon (includes mp3 version)

Munich (vinyl)

The German Alphabet / Rain / Pale Imitation / Lost Till I Found You / Pulse / Be Missing / Lucky Me (alt version) / I Go Wild (alt version) / Sugar Don’t Work / Watchman

Buy the vinyl from Klee Music

Buy the vinyl on Amazon (includes mp3 version)

Find out more about Thomas Lang

Visit the Thomas Lang website / Follow Thomas on Twitter

Visit the Klee Music website








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