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

 





The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

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

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

Watch the Ardor album trailer

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

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

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

“If I run, where do I run to?”

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

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

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

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK





Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers – California, Norfolk

3 11 2013

california, norfolk was the debut album from Tim Bowness (no-man/Henry Fool) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno/Karl Hyde). Originally released online, with no promotion and in very limited quantities in 2002, california, norfolk has been given a well-deserved deluxe-edition treatment by the Burning Shed label in 2013, and will now hopefully reach a wider audience.

disc one

california, norfolk cover

Disc one contains the original album, which is improved by the sympathetic Michael Bearpark remaster. This is not a brickwall, pump-up-the-volume remaster, but one which breathes space and separation into the original recordings.

So the bass sounds fatter, the strings cut through the mix and you hear sounds that were somewhat hidden before (such as what sounds like a clock in album opener hostage).

If you haven’t heard california, norfolk before, it’s a perfect late-night album. Echoes of The Blue Nile’s debut album filter through on hostage.

“the girl you never forgot,
went underground, defences shot”

Lyrically, hostage can be filed under the same heading of unrequited as Everything But The Girl’s sublime Missing. Both touch on memories of people who have moved on, whereas in hostage, I get the impression that the subject did not find “some better place”.

The title track has a real feel of a decaying seaside town, and reflects on the characters who remain behind when the glamour has faded.

post-its is one of my favourite songs, period. The perfect torch-song.

It’s the track I’ve played most from this album, since it’s original release 11 long years ago.  A processed old drum machine, yearning strings, and slightly off-kilter guitar serve as a perfect backdrop to some of Bowness’s most direct and emotive lyrics.

“We spent a lifetime devising plans, to waste our lives.”

post-its is a song I never tire of hearing, and it’s wonderful to hear this song again with the added clarity of the remaster.

“In this town not meant for kissing, we sat and kissed”

also out of air wasn’t one of my favourites when the album first came out, but has grown on me over the years. Some lovely Frippesque guitar on this track.

days turn into years is the bleakest song on the album. Set against a backdrop of textured synths and relentless rain bouncing off rooftops, this tale of being trapped in a situation where little changes is not for the faint-hearted.

“Photos of cats, in northern landscapes
lie on the bed, all wet with tears.”

rocks on the green is the album’s proggiest moment, with marimba, bass and guitar slowly building in intensity throughout the song. Some lovely synth lines creep into the mix towards the end.

winter with you is a track that divided listeners when the album was originally released, mainly due to the footsteps in the snow effect that runs through three quarters of the track. Personally I think this effect adds to the mood of the song, and offers an alternative rhythm that makes more sense than taking the easy option of just dropping a drum loop into a song thats so obviously rooted in the winter months.

Maybe it’s my love of snow, but around November of every year winter with you appears on my playlists. I love the sound and feel of walking through deep, fresh snow and I love sad, melancholic songs, so that’s all the boxes ticked right there.

“It never felt the way you wanted, she never came the night you cried.”

Its the longest track on the album by far, but one of those rare album epics where it doesn’t seem to last that long. Marimbas make another appearance to usher in the second part of winter with you.

“Don’t want to be a part of this.”

This track is a great companion piece to the winter-themed Iceland by All About Eve and Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow from 2011.

dreamer’s song end the album, and lifts the mood, like the arrival of spring. Musically uplifting, a pastoral sounding piece originally written for Henry Fool, lyrically it’s as miserable as ever, thank goodness!

Picture copyright Carl Glover

disc two

The second disc of california, norfolk is made up of a remaster of the overstrand alternate / outtakes collection, with some previously unreleased studio cuts and live recordings.

winter with you (alternate) is a snow-free zone, with fender rhodes piano and a much more chaotic string arrangement.

post-it’s (alternate) has a wonderful piano line after the first chorus, and is a good alternative take on the song, but cannot surpass the original version.

One of the highlights of the second disc is the version of sorry looking soldier (alternate), a song from the long out-of-print World of Bright Futures album, and this is one of my favourite versions of the song.

The alternate version of rocks on the green has a Mike Oldfield feel to the arrangement. world of bright futures (alternate), is a wonderful wurlitzer-like version of the Samuel Smiles song, and another great version.

criminal caught in the crime is a track that was re-recorded for the Slow Electric album from 2011, and gives a hint of what the second Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers album might have sounded like. It’s a much more electronic piece than anything on the main california, norfolk album, and has some lovely textures and organ sounds.

Four live songs bring the second disc to a close. Hearing the songs performed with just piano and voice in a live environment shows how they have evolved over the years, and the short version of post-its is my favourite of the four live songs.

Deluxe-edition packaging

The 2013 version of california, norfolk comes in a deluxe dvd-sized digi-book, which includes sleeve notes by Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers, plus previously unseen artwork from Carl Glover.

Buy california, norfolk from Burning Shed

Visit the Tim Bowness website








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