The Comsat Angels – Chasing Shadows / Fire On The Moon

17 11 2015

chasingshadows2015Edsel records have issued remastered and expanded versions of the first three albums from the influential Sheffield band The Comsat Angels.

The fourth set in the reissue campaign is the long out-of-print Chasing Shadows coupled with the virtually never in print Fire On The Moon.

Chasing Shadows was released on Island Records in 1986, and I own up to the fact that its an album I’m very fond of. I’ve always thought it contains some of Stephen Fellows best vocal performances (I would imagine the setting of Compass Point Studios had something to do with that). The music, although a world away (pun intended) from their first three albums, still carries plenty of (restrained) power.

Album opener The Thought That Counts sets the scene for the album, with stabbing keyboard sequences and arena-rock friendly guitar and drums.

The album includes some of my favourite performances from keyboard player Andy Peake – especially on The Cutting Edge. And that bass / drum interplay!

Under The Influence sounds great on this remastered album – especially the mighty Mik Glaisher powerhouse drums. Carried Away is one of the great lost Comsats classics. Slow-burning and simply arranged, the emotion in the bands performance shines through.

You’ll Never Know features guest vocals from a champion of the band, Robert Palmer, who was also executive producer, and instrumental in getting the band signed to Island Records.

Lost Continent is one of the standout tracks on Chasing Shadows, and is followed by the most powerful track on the album Flying Dreams, which has many of the hallmarks of the bands early albums. I’ve always loved the breakdown “start to climb” instrumental section at the end.

The album ends with the moving Pray For Rain. The Comsats at their most vulnerable – just keyboards, vocals and bass.

“I met my match, but then the fire spread”

Andy Peake really shines on this performance. He is primarily known for his layered, atmospheric playing, but he can really tickle those ivories.

csarecording

The 2015 remaster includes The Cutting Edge single b side, Something’s Got To Give, a fine song and I’m glad its included on this release.

The second disc in this reissue set contains the complete Fire On The Moon, which was released in limited quantities in the USA and Holland in 1990, under the name Dream Command. I have to be honest and say its my least played and least liked Comsats release. There are only two tracks that I can recommend – Venus Hunter (with its Missing In Action inspired guitar ending) and the wonderful Mercury, that could have graced any Comsats album. The rest just don’t have that CSA magic and sound weary and tired.

Remastering / extra tracks

Of the four reissues, this is the album I was looking forward to hearing the most. The original Chasing Shadows CD always sounded too quiet. The 2015 remaster by Phil Kinrade at Alchemy Remastering adds a sparkle to the original album, and makes it a pleasure to rediscover in its new sonic glory.

The sleeve-notes are interesting, and the booklet includes the lyrics to the two albums, although unlike the previous three reissues in the series, the booklet is short on images from the era. But its all about the music – and although I’m not a fan of the second disc, Chasing Shadows does not disappoint and makes this reissue a must-have for Comsat Angels fans.

Chasing Shadows + Dream Command Fire On The Moon (Deluxe 2CD edition)

DISC ONE
The Comsat Angels Chasing Shadows
1. The Thought That Counts
2. The Cutting Edge
3. Under The Influence
4. Carried Away
5. You’ll Never Know
6. Lost Continent
7. Flying Dreams
8. Pray For Rain
Bonus track
9. Something’s Got To Give

DISC TWO
Dream Command Fire On The Moon
1. Celestine
2. Whirlwind
3. Sleepwalking
4. Reach For Me
5. Ice Sculpture
6. Venus Hunter
7. Phantom Power
8. Transport Of Delight
9. She’s Invisible
10. Mercury

Chasing Shadows 180 gram Heavyweight black vinyl
1. The Thought That Counts
2. The Cutting Edge
3. Under The Influence
4. Carried Away
5. You’ll Never Know
6. Lost Continent
7. Flying Dreams
8. Pray For Rain

Fire On The Moon 180 gram Heavyweight black vinyl
1. Celestine
2. Whirlwind
3. Sleepwalking
4. Reach For Me
5. Ice Sculpture
6. Venus Hunter
7. Phantom Power
8. Transport Of Delight
9. She’s Invisible
10. Mercury

Buy the album

Buy Chasing Shadows / Fire On The Moon Double CD on Amazon

Buy Chasing Shadows vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fire On The Moon vinyl on Amazon

Also available…


Buy Waiting For A Miracle Double CD from Amazon

Buy Waiting For A Miracle vinyl on Amazon

Buy Sleep No More Double CD from Amazon

Buy Sleep No More vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fiction Double CD from Amazon

Buy Fiction vinyl on Amazon

 

Visit The Comsat Angels – Sleep No More website





The Comsat Angels – Waiting For A Miracle

14 11 2015

Edsel records have issued remastered and expanded versions of the first three albums from the influential Sheffield band The Comsat Angels.

The Comsat Angels are surely long overdue a reappraisal as on the of the most important UK post-punk bands. The first three albums are essential listening for anyone who has an interest in this era of UK music, and they should also appeal to fans of current bands such as The Editors, Interpol and early Bloc Party.

waitingforamiracle2015The Comsats released their debut Waiting For A Miracle in 1980. Hearing the eerie opening guitar wails as the rhythm picks up on opening track Missing In Action always sends be back to my teenage bedroom listening to the album on vinyl.

Later albums from the band do reflect the time in which they were recorded, but the first three Polydor albums are on the whole timeless, and if you heard them for the first time in 2015, you would still find yourself under their spell.

The influence of Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart can clearly be heard in the instrumentation on Waiting For A Miracle. The distorted bass and emotive percussion drive second track Baby.

“I don’t want to be your “baby”
I don’t want to have to crawl for you”

Not a note is wasted on this stark song – the restraint in the performance is clear.

Independence Day is the bands most well known song. The harmonics are instantly recognisable to anyone who listened to late night radio in 1980. I’ve played this song hundreds of times over the years, and Independence Day still sounds as fresh now as it did when I first heard it 35 years ago.

A sci-fi / futuristic feel runs through the core of many of the albums songs, especially the title track. Its no coincidence that the band were named after a JG Ballard short-story.

Total War is a simple but powerful arrangement. The bass, drums and keyboards power the song, which is devoid of guitar until the end section. When the original line-up of the band reformed for a hometown gig in 2009, this song was a highlight of the set.

Monkey Pilot showcases the range of the bands powerful and inventive drummer, Mik Glaisher. The feeling of isolation is mirrored by the music in Real Story, its a standout performance by the four band members.

“Now he’s in unreal estate
Until he dies”

Postcard is the darkest song on the album. a slow-building performance with ride and tom driven percussion building the tension, as some wonderful guitar lines interplay with the vocals.

“I just thought you’d like to know”

Remastering / extra tracks

All the albums in this Edsel re-issue series have been remastered by Phil Kinrade. The remaster is subtle – the drums sound a little brighter, and the mix sounds wider and less cramped. It is more noticeable on the non-album tracks – for example the early Ju Ju Money take is a noticeable improvement on the previous CD.

The extra tracks include the Red Planet EP from 1979, a selection of demos and John Peel session tracks from 1979/1980. Edsel have taken care in the reissues presentation – including lyrics for the main album songs in the booklet and making sure all the CDs use colours from the album artwork.

The sleeve-notes from Tim Peacock (Record Collector) with input from the bands Stephen Fellows, throws light on the bands early history and the recording of the first album.

Waiting For A Miracle (Deluxe 2 CD edition)

DISC ONE
1. Missing In Action
2. Baby
3. Independence Day
4. Waiting For A Miracle
5. Total War
6. On The Beach
7. Monkey Pilot
8. Real Story
9. Map Of The World
10. Postcard
Bonus Tracks
11. Home Is The Range
12. We Were
13. Ju Ju Money
14. Work

DISC TWO
1. Red Planet
2. I Get Excited
3. Specimen No.2
4. Independence Day (Demo)
5. Real Story (Demo)
6. Target Talk (Demo)
7. Living In (Demo)
John Peel Sessions
8. Total War
9. Independence Day
10. Baby
11. JuJu Money
12. Real Story
13. Monkey Pilot
14. Waiting For A Miracle
15. Home Is The Range

VINYL – 180 gram Heavyweight black vinyl
1. Missing In Action
2. Baby
3. Independence Day
4. Waiting For A Miracle
5. Total War
6. On The Beach
7. Monkey Pilot
8. Real Story
9. Map Of The World
10. Postcard

Buy the album


Buy Waiting For A Miracle Double CD from Amazon

Buy Waiting For A Miracle vinyl on Amazon

Also available…

Buy Sleep No More Double CD from Amazon

Buy Sleep No More vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fiction Double CD from Amazon

Buy Fiction vinyl on Amazon

Buy Chasing Shadows / Fire On The Moon Double CD on Amazon

Buy Chasing Shadows vinyl on Amazon

Buy Fire On The Moon vinyl on Amazon

Visit The Comsat Angels – Sleep No More website





Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe

10 11 2015

aloneintheuniverseAlone in the Universe is the first album of new material released by Jeff Lynne under the ELO banner since 2001’s Zoom. The opening track When I Was a Boy sets the stall out straight away. The descending bassline and strings let you know that you are listening to the classic ELO sound.

Love and Rain lifts the tempo, and along with the majority of this album, would not have sounded out-of-place blasting out of your FM radio back in 1977/78. And that’s fine by me – I wouldn’t expect a 2015 ELO album to sound like its of the here and now. That would be just plain odd.

Alone in the Universe works well as it delivers what you would expect – well-crafted pop songs that last around the 3 minute mark.

When the Night Comes serves up the albums first classic Lynne chorus, and the song is underpinned by a late 70s / early 80s reggae infused bass and guitar line.

The Sun Will Shine on You is one of the album’s strongest songs. It packs in more hooks in the first minute than the majority of current albums. The bass and synth are especially effective on this stand-out track.

Lynne likes to throw 50s rockers onto most of his albums, and Ain’t It a Drag has its roots in the era of Buddy Holly and Duane Eddy. But whilst the arrangement of Ain’t It a Drag pays homage to Lynne’s youth, the song is more Tom Petty than Roy Orbison, and it is not locked into just one era.

However the bossa-nova beat of I’m Leaving You IS pure Roy Orbison, and feels more Travelling Wilbury’s than ELO, and is the only slight misstep for me on the album.

Jeff Lynne

Earworm alert! You will probably think that you have already heard One Step at a Time, even if you haven’t heard the song on Spotify, as it draws heavily from the classic ELO sound and feels instantly familiar. As you would expect, the production values are high on Alone in the Universe.

Alone in the Universe feels like a early to mid-70s track, and whilst lyrically Lynne goes all Ground control to Major Tom on us, I really think the arrangement on this final track is a notch above the other tracks and makes you return to the song more than others on the album.

Alone in the Universe does not break new ground by any means, but thankfully its not one of those returns that makes you wish the artist had remained away from the recording studio. Its an album full of very good pop songs, and it sounds just like you would expect an ELO album to sound. It’s also free of excess – coming in at under 40 minutes and so leaves you wanting more.

So if you were a fan back in the 70s and 80s, there is plenty for you to enjoy on Alone in the Universe. Welcome back ELO.

Buy Alone in the Universe on CD from Amazon

Buy Live in Hyde Park bluray from Amazon

Buy The Classic Albums Collection on Amazon





Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984)

10 10 2015

Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) is a new in-depth look at one of the most influential (and often neglected) bands of the late 70s / early 80s.Japan - A Foreign Place

Published exclusively by Burning Shed in deluxe hardback edition, the book features contributions from former band members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, with archive material from David Sylvian (who did not contribute directly to the book) and the late Mick Karn.

Anthony Reynolds 212 page book starts with the early years of the band, and provides a fascinating insight into the musicians formative years in South-East London (Catford and Lewisham).

Along with the obvious 70s musical and cultural starting points, such as Bowie, Bolan, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, other surprising influences such as Motown and New York’s Television crop up as feeding into the mix of what was to become Japan.

The influence of Simon Napier-Bell and the lack of money making its way to the band, even during their most successful Tin Drum period, is well-documented in the book. In these days of a reduced and weakened music industry, you often hear about the golden era of the 70s and 80s when artists sold millions of albums, so its easy to forget that not everyone reaped the financial rewards during this bygone era.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the pre-fame years – especially stories about the early gigs, where Japan shared the stage with acts as diverse as Blue Öyster Cult and The Damned. The often negative audience reaction seemed to give the band the strength to ride the criticism that was to come their way over the next few years.

As well as talking to the band members, Anthony Reynolds also gives a voice to key-collaborators such as guitarist David Rhodes, along with school teachers and friends of the band. This helps to frame the time-scale of the story, as the band moved from being a guitar-heavy, new wave inspired band to the more electronic, layered experimental outfit that eventually found chart success and critical acclaim.

The Tin Drum album and the farewell tour are covered in depth in the book. Listening today to the bands most famous song Ghosts reinforces that its as moving now as it was when originally released all those years ago – late 1981 to be precise. The songs stark arrangement has certainly helped the song age gracefully.

The role of producers – particularly John Punter and Steve Nye (who worked with David Sylvian on several of his post-Japan solo albums) is explored and the sections on the recording of the later albums makes for fascinating reading.

Some awkward moments are also touched on in the book – including the falling out between Karn and Sylvian that led to the band’s disintegration, and the Gary Numan misunderstanding on a Japanese tour.

Reading Japan – A Foreign Place made me listen again to the bands catalogue with renewed enthusiasm. I rediscovered songs that had passed me by at the time, such as Fall In Love With Me and Alien. I also fell back in love with the Tin Drum album, especially the percussion work of Steve Jansen (Visions of China has such a unique drum pattern).

Japan – A Foreign Place is well-paced, and clearly written by a fellow musician who is a lifelong fan. The words and (many) pictures give a flavour of the various stages in the bands short but colourful career. It is also pretty fair in the amount of time devoted to individual members – its not the David Sylvian story, and its good to hear more about the contribution and personalities of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean.

My only criticism is that the period covered by the book ends in 1984. I would have liked to have read about Rain Tree Crow, the post-Japan collaboration from 1991 that remains one of my favourite 90s albums, and is a period that is not really well-documented. Also, because of the timescale, there was no opportunity to discuss the time Jansen, Barbieri and Karn spent working with no-man in 1992. Maybe Anthony Reynolds will consider writing a post-Japan book?

Ok, I’m off to listen to Quiet Life and Tin Drum, followed by Gary Numan’s Mick Karn infused Dance. Why don’t you join me?

Buy Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) from Burning Shed

Buy Gentlemen Take Polaroids on Amazon

Buy Tin Drum on Amazon

Buy Exorcising Ghosts on Amazon

Buy Quiet Life on Amazon

Buy Gary Numan – Dance on Amazon





East India Youth – Culture of Volume

8 04 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Culture of Volume CD or download on Amazon

Buy Total Strife Forever on CD or download at Amazon





Laura Groves – Committed Language (EP)

18 02 2015

committedThis is Laura Groves second EP, the follow-up to 2013’s dreamlike Thinking About Thinking (EP).

You might be aware of Laura’s previous work as Blue Roses, and the often raw, inspired by the northern landscape acoustic songs from their 2009 debut (and only) album. The music released under Laura’s own name is much more layered and electronic, though still finding the space to add guitar and live bass to good effect on some songs.

EP opener Committed Language could have jumped straight out of your dusty old cassette copy of Now That’s What I Call Music 1984 – with it’s warm analogue Japan‘esque synths, and off-kilter percussion. I hear some of the playful song-arrangements of Todd Rundgren, and the electronic experimentation of Chimera era Bill Nelson in some of Grove’s recent material, and Committed Language is no exception to this.

Dream Story has grown from the demo version that I heard online around 3 years ago, and is now driven by production (especially the bass and drum machine) that recalls Fleetwood Mac‘s Tango In The Night. Dream Story takes a few wonderful diversions along the way, and the lead-in to the chorus is as smooth as the world’s smoothest thing. And that’s smooth.

Have a listen to a stream of the song from Laura’s SoundCloud page below.

Friday is a piano and rhodes ballad, that slowly builds as sugar-sweet backing vocals flit around the lead vocal. The most direct arrangement on this 4 song EP, and a moving song.

lgroves

The EP closes with Mystique, a slow-burning jazzy track. Hazy chorused guitar washes through a song Steely Dan would be proud of (if they didn’t spend 45 years perfecting the reverb on the snare). Mystique repays your faith after repeated listens, as new highlights make themselves known to you as this haunting song really gets under your skin.

I recently bought a wonderful yacht pop / yacht rock compilation called Too Slow For Disco, and the tracks on this EP would not have sounded out-of-place in that era, the magical period between 1975 and the mid 1980s. The 80s are often described as being a light, superficial musical decade, but a lot of colourful, adventurous music was released during that time – it wasn’t all Wham! and Haircut 100.

The jazz inflections, bold arrangements and synth / rhodes layers give the music on this EP a warm, nostalgic identity that fits the sad songs on Committed Language. Now, where is that album Laura?

“I think I’m ready now, bring back the mystery…”

Buy Laura Groves – Committed Language (EP) on bandcamp

Buy the Blue Roses CD on Amazon





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 a revelation 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








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