Monday, January 28, 2013

electric aesthetic

Today, OMD unveiled the eye catching cover art to their forthcoming album "English Electric". Peter Saville, legendary Factory design guru, has stroked a few electronic brushes to come up with another striking visual that reflects on the past and points to the future. It's sleek, Modernist and yet, fittingly retro. Recently, OMD memeber Andy McCluskey revealed that "English Electric" is best described as reductive (nods to Madonna) as possible while still maintaining a current sound and aesthetic. So too, does Mr. Saville's cover art reflect that. Perhaps half jokingly, Andy has said the he feels it is appropriate that the sleeve of their new longplayer is a contemporary distillation of traditional hazard signals. "English Electric" will hit the "shops" on April 8. It will be available in several formats including a standard CD in a jewel case (very retro!), deluxe edition CD with a bonus DVD, heavy weight vinyl LP in a die cut sleeve (even MORE retro!) and a massive, tin box set. While the deluxe edition will feature a studio interview, three Henning M. Lederer animated videos and unseen tour photos, the vinyl version will also include the standard album in a cardboard sleeve neatly tucked into the elpee packaging. I'm splashing my cash on the box set which will include an exclusive 7" single featuring an unreleased b-side, a sixteen page lyric booklet, the standard CD, DVD, a CD of demos, three artwork prints and a photo of Andy and Paul. If you pre-order the box set from their website, as I have today, you will also receive two enamel badges. Triple retro points! They are sure to find a happy home on my demin jacket.

Friday, January 25, 2013

delta dawn

"Delta Machine" is lucky thirteen for Depeche Mode. Their new longplayer, the long awaited follow up to their twelfth studio effort, "Sounds Of The Universe", will be preceded by "Heaven" which will be made available across two CD singles and digital download on February 1.

Many fans were hoping for a reunion with sound craftsman Alan Wilder. However, their dreams have been dashed upon the rocks. Ben Hillier sat in the knob twiddler's seat for "Delta Machine" just as he did for DM's two, previous albums. On paper, this doesn't do the lads any favors where their detractors are concerned. However, they have promised an album which treads along some new sonic ground.

"Delta Machine" will be released as a standard CD and the now obligatory, fan gouging deluxe edition. The following is the tracklisting for the thirteen track version of the album.

1. Welcome To My World
2. Angel
3. Heaven
4. Secret To The End
5. My Little Universe
6. Slow
7. Broken
8. The Child Inside
9. Soft Touch / Raw Nerve
10. Should Be Higher
11. Alone
12. Soothe My Soul
13. Goodbye

The deluxified version of the album includes four bonus tracks tagged on to the end of it.

1.  Long Time Lie
2.  Happens All The Time
3.  Always
4.  All That’s Mine

"Heaven", the first single lifted from "Delta Machine" will be available in two CD configurations. For some odd reason, the band recycle "All That's Mine" from the deluxe edition of the album on the two track CD single instead of serving up a non-album b-side which renders that CD a completely unnecessary purchase. The five track CD single features "Heaven" alongside four remixes of the track.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

blood brothers

Suede are back, back, BACK! After an eleven year hiatus, my favorite band of the Britpop variety, will return with "Bloodsports", their sixth studio longplayer.

Clearly influenced by David Bowie, and to a lesser extent the long shadow of The Smiths, Suede, along with Pulp (who have a new tune out at the mo), were embraced by the artier side of Britpop as opposed to the lads that waved their banners for the likes of Blur and Oasis. Essentially, all four created the Venn diagram of the 90s rock scene in the UK.

References to drugs, alcohol, sex, androgyny and gasoline fueled Suede's lyrical tank. After their "difficult" yet accomplished and hazy, sophomore effort, "Dog Man Star", alongside the departure of guitar guru and songsmith Bernard Butler, the band embraced the flashbulb flicker of full on pop with "Coming Up". Double entrendre and tongues firmly placed in cheek. A big lipstick longplayer that is equal parts gorgeous and raucous.

Earlier this month, Suede roared back to life when they unveiled "Barriers", the first taste from their forthcoming elpee. A thundering, muscular tune featuring Brett Anderson's epic, sweeping, widescreen lyrical beauty.

The first, official single will be "It Starts And Ends With You" which will be available three weeks prior to its parent longplayer.

The following is the tracklisting for "Bloodsports".

1. Barriers
2. Snowblind
3. It Starts And Ends With You
4. Sabotage
5. For The Strangers
6. Hit Me
7. Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away
8. What Are You Not Telling Me?
9. Always

There is a lot of promise for the album due to the return of Ed Buller who twiddled the knobs for Suede's first three albums. "Bloodsports" hits the "shops" on March 18.

Monday, January 14, 2013

British electric foundation

The mighty Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark are about to unleash "English Electric", their twelfth studio longplayer and the follow up to "History Of Modern".

The album will be hit the "shops" on April 8 and appear in several configurations including a standard CD, deluxe edition set featuring a CD and DVD, heavyweight vinyl LP, fancy collector's tin boxset and digitial download. It's tough to keep track of all these things. So many variations. Collect them all!

The tracklisting for "English Electric" includes the following twelve tracks.

1. Please Remain Seated
2. Metroland
3. Night Café
4. The Future Will Be Silent
5. Helen Of Troy
6. Our System
7. Kissing The Machine
8. Decimal
9. Stay With Me
10. Dresden
11. Atomic Ranch
12. Final Song

The first single will be "Metroland" which will be available on March 25 from all fine, digital retailers.

In order to set the tone for the new elpee, Andy and Paul have created a video for "Decimal", the eighth track on the album.

Holy sequential circuits! A cacophony of automated voices. For a moment, I thought I was on hold with my insurance company. Definitely something that hearkens back to their "Dazzle Ship" days. I'm very much looking forward to the forthcoming album and subsequent tour. Set phasers on stun!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

ten in twelve

The end of the world did not come to pass last year. We all managed to move into the new year with our hopes, dreams, wishes and desires in tact. It should be interesting to see how artists manifest their creative ambitions in the brave new world of the interest as technology continues to move music from physical based configurations to the ether.

Last year saw the rise of new artists making names for themselves, some without the aid of a major label. Such is the ever changing landscape of the entertainment biz. Some longstanding artists continue to make the transition with ease. At least that's what it looks like from the outside.

2012 was also a year of life affirming, musical output from a number of artist, both new and those with years of experience. Below, are my ten favorite albums of the previous twelve months. They are listed in alphabetical order. Cue fanfare!

Bright Light Bright Light - "Make Me Believe In Hope"

In a world that continues to push melismatic vocals and samey-same, David Guetta-esque toe tappers, it's refreshing to hear classic songwriting over an interesting production landscape. "MMBIH" is an album of lyrical substance and melodic drive.

Some of the best retro touchstones from the 80s and 90s collide with contemporary sounds. Rod Thomas, for he is BLBL, has a yearning, tender, urgent quality to his voice which draws the listener in without being obscured by the beautiful ear candy in which he's wrapped.

Standout tracks are many. "Feel It", "Waiting For The Feeling", "Love Part II", "Disco Moment" and "Moves" are essential music for those in love with an artist who has a pop sensibility. Perfection. A high water mark of 2012.

Mick Hucknall - "American Soul"

The one that everyone is surprised to find on my list. I've been a Simply Red fan from the start. Mick Hucknall's brand of blue eyed soul has been a part of the fabric of my life for over 25 years. At first, without hearing a note, "American Soul" was a turn off. A covers album. Rarely a smart, creative move. But some artists can pull it off.

So, I was relieved when I heard the album. It is full of gorgeous production elements which adorn Mick's rich and passionate vocal. Most of the songs aren't well known. That's always a good place to start when putting together an album such as this.

There is one song, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", which I don't care for no matter how it gets interpreted. I can live without that one. But Mr. Hucknall makes up for it with a big surprise, "Hope There's Someone", a song originally recorded by Antony & The Johnsons. I'm not a fan of Antony, but Mick's take on the song is a beautifully touching and unexpected album closer. A great coffee table album for Sunday mornings. Sexy stuff.

Marina And The Diamonds - "Electra Heart"

Tipped for big things with her debut album, "The Family Jewels", Marina And The Diamonds didn't quite hit the heights Ellie Goulding did. However, it did solidify a fanbase which was ready for a sophomore follow up. Enter "Electra Heart" which seemed to have suffered a few false starts.

However, Marina delivered her expected blend of quirky lyrics and solid hooks with, perhaps, less Lene Lovich-isms in her vocal delivery. This allowed the songs to breathe a bit without some of the histrionics deflecting attention from the core of the album.

Wisely produced with an au current electronic flavor, "Electra Heart" still shows Ms. Diamandis' penchant for corrupt American ideology and the country's obsession with vapid conversation, self absorbed youth and reality dramas.

Pet Shop Boys - "Elysium"

For their eleventh, studio longplayer, PSB decided to bring the tempo down a bit and produce something as close to a mood piece without sacrificing their pop sensibilities.

Decamping to LA certainly played a part in the more laid back tone of the album. That and the theme of the passage of time and the melancholy that can be attached to it, put Chris and Neil in a more reflective lyrical mode.

Not what fans might have wanted, they still managed to deliver an engaging album which may have taken a few listens to sink in. Even with a couple of clunkers, the album still boasts one of their finest single moments, "Leaving", which is the lush cornerstone of the elpee.

Saint Etienne - "Words And Music By Saint Etienne"

Seven years in the making, Saint Etienne came storming back with one of their most accomplished and thoroughly satisfying pop album of their career. Always inspired by the heart of soul of London, "WAMBSE" loosely follows our fearsome threesome through the capital as they reminisce about their favorite bands and take us out among the serious music fans. The ones that live and breathe pop music in all its multifaceted glory.

Stacked with potential singles in a bygone era, ver Et have all the bases covered. There's the kind of knees up, Euro flavored, dance tracks they do so well ("DJ", "I've Got Your Music"). They do a nod to 60s Bacharach inspired pop ("Answer Song"). The early 90s are dialed in for the atmospheric, Balearic sound of "Heading For The Fair". Spooky, trip hop seems to be the basis of "Twenty Five Years". Shades of New Order weave in and out of "When I Was Seventeen".

Essentially, the entire album is a lovesong to all things British. Crammed with nostalgic influences yet it never sounds derivative. Beautifully resplendent pop music's gorgeous palate of colors from electronic to pastoral. Waving the musical Union Jack with a smile on their faces, hands on their hears and tongues firmly planted in cheek. An elpee for music lovers by music lovers.

Along with Bright Light Bright Light, Saint Etienne are a group I've had the distinct privilege to produce tracks for in 2012. Quite an amazing year for moi.

Saint Etienne - "More Words And Music By Saint Etienne"

Sarah Cracknell and co. have two albums in my year end ten. Not sure if this qualifies as a separate album because it was sold exculsively as part of "WAMBSE" at concerts on their recent concert tour of the US.

Sonically, the ten song longplayer stands on its own. It doesn't have the production sheen lovingly slathered on the host album. But that's part of its charm. A more organic sounding elpee full of top notch tunes as if it was produced as a separate entity. Sometimes less is more.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't an album of demos or throwaways. Sure, there are a couple of covers ("Manhattan" and "Just Friends", originally recorded by Scott Walker and Amy Winehouse, respectively). But they are tailored to the Saint Etienne sound. There's "Lullaby", a track released as the b-side of "I've Got Your Music", which is a beautiful coda alongside previously unreleased gems. Two quirky instrumentals ("Racing Car" and the Kraftwerk-esque "Landscape") plus "Fairground Rock And Roll", a cheeky, slightly raucous, Beach Boys inspired track, keep things buoyant through.

"MWAMBSE" is a magnificent compliment to the shinier, more effervescent parent album. A gorgeous, swoonsome comedown from a night out in London town.

Sam Sparro - "Return To Paradise"

Mr. Sparro's sophomore longplayer didn't receive much commercial fanfare, but it's certainly head and shoulders above his debut. Less emphasis on the electronics, less atmosphere (ie. megahit "Black And Gold") and big on disco attitude and funky fierceness.

Sam testifies on standout track, "Happiness", an exhilarating, 90s house inspired hip wiggler that defies anyone not to get up to get down. I wish he had the good sense to produce an old school seven minute extended version.

Jam & Lewis inspired "Let The Love In" is a real gem. His obvious love of Prince is felt in the sideways "Sign O' The Times" influenced "Yellow Orange Rays". Elsewhere, Sam's tender side shows up on "Shades Of Grey", the album tearjerker. Disco moments include "Paradise People", "We Could Fly" and "Closer". Quirky, funkiness abounds on "The Shallow End".

Tracey Thorn - "Tinsel And Lights"

A Christmas themed longplayer in a year end Top 10 is not a regular occurrence. However, when it's not strictly a tried and true seasonal effort - few Christmas trees, a little light on Santa sightings, not a reindeer in sight - then it makes sense to expand the boundaries on acceptable times of year to spin it.

"Tinsel And Light" is one of those albums. Keen songwriting, not reliant on a hard and fast Christmas theme, a delicately and homespun sounding effort and songs that evoke feelings of winter rather than the spirit of Saint Nick.

Album opener and original composition, "Joy", is a contemporary carol which beautifully encapsulates what it's like to remember the youthful wonder of the Christmas season. The covers have been tastefully chosen. You could be forgiven for thinking "Hard Candy Christmas", originally recorded by Dolly Parton, is a Thorn original. Musically and lyrically, along with the rest of the album, feels very much her own rather than recordings of other people's material.

Scritti Politti makes two appearances on the album, sort of. Tracey does a jolly version of "Snow In Sun", which originally appeared on their Mercury nominated longplayer, "White Bread Black Beer". Then Scritti main man, Green Gartside, duets with Lady Thorn on a Low's "Taking Down The Tree". Randy Newman's "Snow", recorded by everyone from Claudine Longet to Saint Etienne, is given a haunting, stripped back feel with Tracey's achingly beautiful vocal placed over a simple piano arrangement. All in all a gorgeous album suitable for any season.

Jessie Ware - "Devotion"

Every now and again, a dark, seductive, soul album rises to the top of the scene in the UK. This year, "Devotion" used its sublime charm to win over wine bars and the cool cats that inhabit them. This is not a bad thing.

Jessie has a warm, velvety vocal which is lovingly placed over sparse, icy beats. It's that juxtaposition, which hearkens back to trip hop classics like "Blue Lines" by Massive Attack, that makes the album immediately appealing.

Gorgeous, standout cuts include the quietly insistent "Wildest Moments", the slinky "Running" and the swinging, early 80s R&B inspired "Sweet Talk". Intoxicating.

The 2 Bears - "Be Strong"

Fancy a little boogie around the living room? Then "Be Strong", the debut longplayer from The 2 Bears is for you. Imagine New Order meets The Specials at The Hacienda. That's sort of a sideways description of the album. It's an amalgamation of house, hip hop and two step delivered with a healthy dose of indie personality.

Packed full of house inflected choons, this album would've easily had five Top 20 singles if it had been released in the mid-90s. "Work", "Ghosts & Zombies", "Warm & Easy" and the title track are serious earworms that never tire after repeated listens. Even "Bear Hug", which I resisted initially and can sound like a bit of novelty, has a hip wiggling charm about it.

"Be Strong" is the sound of England through the eyes of and ears of Joe Goddard (from Hot Chip) and musical compatriot Raf Rundell. Witty, thoughtful and it has a great beat you can dance to. Set to make you move, just get up on this groove.