Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms

16 09 2017

unfurnished roomsUnfurnished Rooms is the 9th studio album from Blancmange.

The 2017 version of Blancmange is a world away from the colourful electronic pop of Living On The Ceiling and Blind Vision. Recent releases find the band (now down to Neil Arthur with co-producer and musical partner in Fader, Benge plus occasional appearances from guitarist David Rhodes) producing much darker and more minimalist electronica.

The title track of Unfurnished Rooms hisses and crackles, with a feel of the first two John Foxx albums. Deep synths and frantic guitar lines accompany this song with lyrics hinting at confusion and things being not what they seem, in a dream-like state.

We Are The Chemicals is an early album highlight. I love the glam-rock guitar and any track that centres around “a chemical spillage on a trading estate in Altrincham” is likely to pique my curiosity.

The 70s T-Rex type guitar is ramped up a notch for What’s The Time? – a conversation piece set to music.

“Whats your favourite crime?”

The album’s most moving song arrives at the halfway point of the album. The lyrics for Wiping The Chair focus on the minutiae of a former friendship or relationship, set to a potent mix of 80s sounding electronica and a gothy, The Cure referencing intro.

“But your voice still sounds the same…”

Anna Dine also feels like it is inspired a little by the sound of the early albums of The Cure – with the sort of deep bass that underpinned A Forest. I love the mood conjured up by Unfurnished Rooms, the album has a real feeling of space aided by the good use of glacial reverb and delay.

In December has ringing guitar lines sitting alongside warm, early 80s strings. Old Friends adds some twisted pop to the mix, delivered without warning in the form of a stunning chorus that serves as a prelude to the Nine Inch Nails channelling Gratitude. David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel) adds some quality guitar work to Gratitude, reminding me a little of the power of the late John McGeoch (Magazine / Siouxsie and the Banshees).

The album ends with the track that will probably become most fans favourite, Don’t Get Me Wrong. By far the albums longest track (at just over 8 minutes), and no, its not a cover of The Pretenders track! Don’t Get Me Wrong features long-time Blancmange admirer John Grant giving it his best Mike Garson on piano as well as adding wonderful mood-altering backing vocals. The album closer abandons the sparse , early 80s feel of the rest of the album, and hints at a possible new direction for Neil Arthur & Blancmange.

I’m so glad that Blancmange are still developing and heading in new directions, instead of looking back to their past. Give Unfurnished Rooms a listen if you are a fan of electronic music, I think you will find much to enjoy.

Buy Blancmange Unfurnished Rooms on CD

Buy Unfurnished Rooms on vinyl

Buy The Blanc Tapes

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Blancmange – Happy Families / Mange Tout / Believe You Me

9 07 2017

Edsel Records are re-releasing the first three Blancmange albums on 4 August 2017, as the limited edition Blanc Tapes boxset and as three individual deluxe editions . The 2017 editions include a remastered version of the original album, plus b-sides, extended versions, remixes, demos, BBC Radio One sessions and three BBC In Concert performances.

Blancmange-Happy-FamiliesHappy Families (1982) was the first Blancmange album. The remastering on all three re-issues is really well done. No brick-wall remastering here – the music has never sounded as good as it does with these Edel re-issues.

From the Talking Heads like funk of album opener I Can’t Explain, through to singles Feel Me, God’s Kitchen and probably Blancmange’s most well-known track Living On The Ceiling, Happy Families is a wonderful early 80s album.

Disc 1 of Happy Families includes the 7″ and original version of Waves, as well as the extended version of Living On The Ceiling, the 12″ mix of God’s Kitchen and the 12″ instrumental of Feel Me.

Disc 2 is a mixture of demos and my favourite extended version from this period, the Feel Me [extended 12″ version], that features some great guitar work from guitarist David Rhodes (Kate Bush / Peter Gabriel). The demos show a glimpse of a much less polished Blancmange – closer to the starker more experimental work of Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League.

Disc 3 is made up of Radio 1 session tracks from February 1982 (John Peel) and June 1982 (David Jensen) and a concert recorded at the BBC’s Paris Theatre in November of 1982. The highlights of this disc are two rare Blancmange songs – the OMD-like I Would and the dark electronica of Running Thin.

Blancmange-Mange-ToutMange Tout (1984) was another commercial success – and contains the singles Don’t Tell Me, Blind Vision (my favourite Blancmange single), and a fine cover of Abba’s The Day Before You Came.

Other stand-out tracks on Mange Tout include Game Above My Head (CD1 includes a wonderful 7 minute version), the frenetic All Things Are Nice and the dark, glitchy Martin Ware (Heaven 17) demo of Blind Vision.

If you look beyond the pure-pop of the singles, there is a real feel of mid-80s experimental dance, along with a David Byrne influence that I did not pick up on at the time.

CD2 highlights the experimental side of Blancmange, with a mixture of demos and extended versions, the highlight being a very different version of All Things Are Nice. CD3 has a 4 song Kid Jensen session and 12 tracks from a Radio 1 In Concert recorded at Hammersmith Palais.

Blancmange-Believe-You-MeThe final 80s Blancmange CD was Believe You Me (1985). The least successful of the original albums, it doesn’t quite have the freshness of the first two albums, but is still a fine album containing some strong songs, including opener Lose Your Love and one of the bands best songs, Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? 

Listening to this album now, especially songs such as M Diver (Alternate Dream) [demo] from the second disc, I think its clear that had the band continued, they could have found a second wind in the late 80s / early 90s amongst the likes of the psychedelic pop / dance of The Beloved and S’Express.

CD2 contains a mixture of interesting demos and extended / single edits, the highlights of which are the wonderful re-invention of Why Don’t They Leave Things Alone? as I Can See It [7″ single version] and the lovely, respectful cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My MindRiver Of Life [demo] is a bluesy synth workout that points to Neil Arthurs most recent project, the boldly electronic First Light album by Fader.

CD3 is made up of a late 1985 Janice Long session and a BBC In Concert recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in late 1986. The highlight of this show is a superb version of Blind Vision (the final song in the set, but introduced as the first song in the set!). Not sure if that was a Spinal Tap moment or something to do with the CD sequencing, but its an enjoyable live show. Hello Cleveland!

blancmange-2017

The three 2017 remastered deluxe editions will appeal to Blancmange fans, and anyone who loved the electronic music of the 80s. The albums have been lovingly remastered and contain fascinating glimpses into the development of the bands songs.

Blancmange return with a new album Unfurnished Rooms in the Autumn of 2017, sadly without Stephen Luscombe but featuring guitarist David Rhodes.

Buy The Blanc Tapes Box set, Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Happy Families (Deluxe Edition) on CD

Buy Mange Tout Deluxe Edition on CD

Buy Believe You Me Deluxe Edition on CD





Date Stamp – the 80s (part1)

30 06 2017

Date Stamp – the 80s is the first in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases.

sign o the times

The playlists will be a mixture of the familiar and lesser known songs, that I hope will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to part 1 of my 80s Spotify playlist.

My Date Stamp – the 80s (part 1) playlist opens up with Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer, from the Rio album. The synth lines alone lead to its inclusion in this playlist. Save A Prayer was released in August 1982.

Next up is the only 12″ mix in the playlist. A brilliant Laurie Latham production, and one of my favourite extended versions from the 80s. Released in March 1983, Come Back and Stay can be found on the No Parlez album, and contains one of Pino Palladino’s most memorable bass-lines.

N_networkIt was difficult to choose just one Prince song for this playlist, and I know future playlists will include other songs from the Purple maestro, but I kept coming back to the Sign O The Times album, and particularly the power-pop of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, included here in its full album length.

The video for this track was a mainstay on Night Network, the late night weekend ITV show that preceded 24 hour TV.  I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man was released as a single in November 1987.

Mothers Talk was the first single from the second Tears For Fears album Songs From The Big Chair. The single was released in August 1984, with the album following in February 1985. Fairlight stabs, heavy sequenced synths and 80s nuclear paranoia drive this powerful song. The Roland Orzabal guitar riff on Mothers Talk is one of his best. The song may be synth and sampler heavy, but the guitar work (and the delayed and distorted bass and percussion in the outro) make this a standout track on the album.

If you are feeling flush, a deluxe edition of the album was released in 2014. You can read my review here.

wilderTiny Children from the second Teardrop Explodes album Wilder (1981) is one of the bands most commercial pieces.

Released as a single in June 1982, it sat comfortably with the other pop songs released that year, but as with all great pop music, scratch a little deeper below the surface and you will find much to savour.

“Oh no, I’m not sure
Not anymore”

A Secret Wish was the debut album by German band Propaganda. The album was released by ZTT Records in 1985, and was produced by Stephen Lipson with Trevor Horn. p:Machinery is my favourite track on the album, and one of the finest mid-80s singles. I love the percussion and crisp synths, and lead vocalist Claudia Brücken is still releasing new music.

Fade To Grey by Visage is one of the oldest tracks in this playlist. The single (the bands second) was released in 1980. The song was promoted by one of  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s earliest videos.

lexicon of loveThe title song of this playlist is Date Stamp by ABC, from their debut album, Lexicon of Love. I’ve gone for one of the less-well known ABC songs, but its my favourite track from the album. It hits all the marks for me – great backing vocals, a stunning bass-line and some of Martin Fry’s finest lyrics.

“Looking for the girl who meets
supply with demand”

Lexicon of Love was released in June 1982.

Another lesser-known track is up next. Here Comes a Raincloud is from the second China Crisis album, Working with Fire and Steel. A fine ballad with a wonderful arrangement and beautiful production (from Mike Howlett).  The (real not synthesised) strings on this track still sound beautiful. A piece of pop magic from the Liverpudlians.

I’ve included the 10″ version of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Messages in my playlist. Another mighty Mike Howlett production. I love the hard sequences and the ever evolving bassline in this single from 1980.

I’m sure other Thomas Dolby tracks will feature in subsequent playlists, but I chose Airwaves as I think its a song that’s often overlooked. That chorus!

Airwaves features on the 1982 The Golden Age of Wireless album – I can recommend the excellent collectors edition.

I never tire of hearing Absolute by Scritti Politti. The mixture of sugar-sweet vocals and hard-beats hits the spot for me, even to this day. This Arif Mardin produced single from the bands period working in New York arrived smack bang in the middle of the 80s, and can be found on the album Cupid & Psyche 85.

A little journey back into the less-familiar for the next track on my playlist. Unless is from the debut Pale Fountains album Pacific Street, which was released in 1984. The slow-building percussion and reverb-laden synth mix with some heart-wrenching strings and an unexpected sequenced synth line towards the end of the song.

The band turned up the guitars for their final studio album, …From Across the Kitchen Table in 1986, before splitting, with vocalist Mick Head forming the band Shack, who have existed in various incarnations from 1987 to date.

44426-cafe-bleuI loved the early to mid-period Style Council singles and I’ve included the single edit of one of my favourites in this playlist. As with the previous track, some wonderfully detailed 80s percussion underpins My Ever Changing Moods. The song includes a typically great Paul Weller lyric and one of his best guitar performances from this era.

“The hush before the silence,
the winds after the blast”

My Ever Changing Moods was released in 1984 and can be found on Greatest Hits (this single version) or on their debut studio album Cafe Bleu.

Prefab Sprout’s Goodbye Lucille #1 (known as Johnny Johnny when released as a single) is a highlight of the bands second album Steve McQueen, which was released in 1985. The production by Thomas Dolby results in a timeless sounding album. Just listen to the intro – such wonderful separation between the layers of guitars.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions released their debut album Rattlesnakes in 1984, and its release was preceded by the single Forest Fire in August 1984. The album was recorded in John Foxx’s The Garden studios in East London. I’ve always loved the simple but very emotive guitar solo that pushes the song to its conclusion.

Lloyd Cole has always been known as a great wordsmith, and Forest Fire and its lyrics of wild love and lust are an absolute joy.

“I believe in love, I’ll believe in anything”

I’ve included the title track from Deacon Blue’s debut album, Raintown, in this playlist. A fine production from Jon Kelly (who also worked with Chris Rea, Kate Bush and Prefab Sprout). Raintown is a strong late 80s albums, and its worth tracking down the 2012 Edsel reissue.

Primarily known for his signature song Wonderful Life, the late Colin Vearncombe’s Black have left us with a rich catalogue of  songs. My favourite track from the debut album Wonderful Life is the torch-song Paradise. The album was re-issued as a two disc deluxe edition in 2013. Which I didn’t know about until writing this blog – so over to Amazon I go.

“Life should never feel small”

I’ve included one of Thomas Lang’s less well-known songs in this playlist. Thomas delivers a heartfelt version of Jacques Brel’s powerful anti-war (and song of loss) Sons of.  The song was often a highlight of Lang’s live shows in the late 80s, early 90s. Sons of is available on Scallywag Jaz and More – the Best of…

“Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own”

age of plasticMy playlist ends with Elstree by The Buggles. Taken from their first album The Age of Plastic from 1980,  the haunting Elstree features some lovely piano and a convincing minimoog oboe emulation from Geoff Downes.

The Buggles only released one further album, Adventures in Modern Recording in 1981. The past few years have seen rumours of new Buggles music, which would please me greatly, as I am a big fan of most of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes work.

Ok, Elstree ends with the words “Cut”, and so does this playlist. I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below, and I hope to return to the 80s for another serving of the familiar and the unknown in the next few months.

The next playlists will be two collections of Alternative Jewels – one of older songs and one made up of some of my more recent favourites. Follow the Music Shack on Twitter to find out when they will be available.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





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








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