Despite B-MOVIE having released their debut EP ‘Take Three’ back in 1980, their guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Paul Statham is now possibly busier than ever musically.
As well as releasing B-MOVIE new material in the shape of the excellent three song ‘Repetition’ EP featuring the superb ‘Stalingrad’, his experimental solo ambient work and the avant Americana adventure of THE DARK FLOWERS, Paul Statham has now unveiled his DJ Shadow-inspired sample-based electronica soundscape project AFTER THE RAIN.
Statham’s career has included the electropop trio PEACH who had a US Top20 hit with ‘On My Own’ in 1997, as well as collaborations with people as diverse as Peter Murphy, Jim Kerr, Billy Mackenzie, Dido, Dot Alison, Sarah Nixey, Kylie Minogue and Rachel Stevens.
Now while AFTER THE RAIN does feature vocals, the tracks are not in the conventional song vein which saw Statham become one of the quieter success stories of ‘Some Bizarre Album’.
With Moby as a ubiquitous reference point, lead track ‘Gospel Train’ uses an emotive four line sample of ‘The Gospel Train’ sung by Belleville A Cappella Choir taken from a collection entitled ‘Southern Journey Vol. 1: Voices from the American South’. Offset against a propulsive electronic framework, the two contrasting elements hauntingly and successfully combine to recall the work of not just the one-time Richard Melville Hall, but also that of Alan Wilder in RECOIL.
Also cut within a gospel backdrop, the strangely vibey ‘Black Is The Colour’ uses phrases from the traditional standard of the same name made famous by Nina Simone, vocalised for AFTER THE RAIN by London soul jazz artist Billie Black. Punctuated by atmospheric and big beat sections, it offers a rather cerebral listening experience.
Beginning with acoustic six string, ‘Waterfront’ is less synthetic, its country roots flavour providing a nod towards THE DARK FLOWERS. Given an alien outlook by vocodered phrases borrowed from the similarly titled John Lee Hooker number, the brooding combination is unusual if nothing else, coming over like some of the Brian Eno song based album ‘Another Day On Earth’ from 2005.
Constructing new music around decades old archive material can be a thorny subject, but in his introductory offer for AFTER THE RAIN, Statham does it well and respectfully. Mysterious, yet hopeful and familiar at the same time, he adds yet another string to his talented bow.
“My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast”.
And so we are invited to go in; into the mysteriously twisted, sickening at times, never straightforward world of David Lynch. One likes the arts and photography, another excels in music, or vocals, few make good films, while the rest write or paint; Lynch has done it all. Having introduced his unparalleled strangeness into American film making and being true to his own ideas, the “madman” (as Mel Brooks called him), even refused to direct ‘The Return Of The Jedi’, claiming that Lucas would do it better his way.
Meeting Angelo Badalamenti, while filming his hugely successful ‘Blue Velvet’, proved to be the start of a captivating musical relationship, which Lynch has proven to treasure till today.
Angelo Badalamenti, whose superlative musical understanding led to various working relationships with many a pop and rock band, with Pet Shop Boys, Orbital, Tim Booth, Anthrax, Marianne Faithful and others, all creating electrifying soundscapes with a little help of the virtuoso.
As Lynch’s films gained critical acclaim worldwide, his musical interests and collaborations grew in parallel.
Who directed a 2011 Duran Duran gig streamed live from Mayan Theater in LA? Lynch did…
Who collaborated with Interpol on ‘I Touch a Red Button Man’ animation? Lynch did…
Who directed Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Came Back Haunted’ video? Lynch did… (incidentally striking a further musical pact with Reznor)
Photo by Michel Delsol/Getty Images
As it often appears, happenstance creates the optimal conditions for working relationships, and that’s exactly what happened with Lynch and Cruise.
The ethereal sounding, dainty Julee may have never worked with the visionary, if it wasn’t for the fact that Lynch couldn’t use Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren’ covered by This Mortail Coil in a key scene of ‘Blue Velvet’. As an alternative, he commissioned Badalamenti to compose a song of similar feel, with lyrics by Lynch.
As someone had to sing ‘Mysteries Of Love’, Badalamenti recommended Cruise, known for her sublime voice. Recently the rather talented Kid Moxie re-visited the tune with Badalamenti , putting her own spin onto the Badalamenti/Lynch hit.
And so enter ‘Twin Peaks’; first aired in 1990 on ABC, later being taken off air due to dwindling popularity, the series was far more than the crime drama with a twist, expected by the fans of Lynch. Having teamed with Mark Frost, the master created a cult program, which is often described as one of the best TV series ever.
The story of the death of young and beautiful Laura Palmer, set in idyllic landscapes of rural Washington state, and the search for her murderer has, for years, evoked fear, lust, wonder and interest into the metaphysical and mystical.
Needless to say, a correct musical setting was necessary to depict the uncertainty, terror and weirdness of the events unfolding in, otherwise, quiet town of Twin Peaks.
A quiet town… at least that’s what one expects on the surface; but Twin Peaks has its own dark secrets. The horrors and wrongdoings that underline the death of Laura Palmer are palpable and Lynch made sure that his take on the human immorality is fully stamped on his characters.
Cruise was again chosen to perform a number of songs, and Badalamenti provided the musical mysticism, resulting in a multi-million selling soundtrack to the series, even with the tracks being largely instrumental.
But within those magical non word pieces, lay three acutely polished gems, all performed by Cruise. ‘Falling’, acting as the theme tune, must be, by far, one of the most recognised songs that go with any TV series.
Cruise further benefitted from the Lynch/Badalamenti collaboration by releasing her first album ‘Floating Into The Night’, which housed ‘Falling’, ‘Into The Night’ and ‘Nightingale’, all used in ‘Twin Peaks’.
‘Rocking Back Inside My Heart’ is one of the songs performed by Cruise live on stage at the Twin Peaks bar everyone gathers at, with most of the young female characters singing to it.
‘Falling’ has been so popular, that a number of artists decided to cover it, and further inspirations appeared by Apoptygma Berzerk, Bright Light Bright Light, The Joy Formidable, The Wedding Present and many others. The latest cover is, interestingly enough, performed by Chrysta Bell, who appears in the Twin Peaks revival series, and has been involved in working with Lynch for many years.
Joined by LA based music magician and celebrated producer John Fryer, Bell provides a synthy rendition, which is a true testament to the song’s longevity and prowess.
Lynch and Badalamenti also produced ‘Summer Kisses Winter Tears’, which, originally by Elvis Presley, was covered by Cruise and featured in ‘Until The End Of The World’ movie. A wonderfully presented come back of the 50s, with dreamy guitar and lazy piano, floating over the consciousness, not without an underlying uncertainty, however.
Chrysta Bell met Lynch in 1999 and the pair have collaborated since, with the master co-writing two of her albums. Her stunning song written with the director himself, ‘Polish Poem’, was featured in the closing scenes of ‘Inland Empire’. Not only is it hauntingly beautiful, but depicts the end of the movie in a sublime manner.
But Lynch sings himself too, oh yes! ‘Good Day Today’ is minimal electro, breaking into the popular culture, with heavily melodyned vocal pleading for the want of having “a good day today”. The lensman wants to be sent an angel, and complains of tiredness over a fast paced, catchy beat; all this happening against a back drop of a disturbingly Lynchian video.
Karen O joins the magician on ‘Pinky’s Dream’, which has been skilfully remixed by Trentemøller into an electronic burst of metallic beats and heavy bass. Together with ‘Good Day Today’, both taken from ‘Crazy Clown Time’, the first album by Lynch, the tracks have been described as having serious electro pop influences.
‘I’m Waiting Here’, performed by the Swedish singer and songwriter Lykke Li, found itself on Lynch’s second album ‘The Big Dream’. Featuring a video, which could have been taken from any of Lynch’s productions, the dreamy arrangement gets abruptly cut off by unexplained noise and the uncertainty is ushered, breaking off the waltzing style of the music. This is what David is about; nothing is ever perfectly straightforward.
He remixes too… ‘Evangeline’ by John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen was masterfully adapted by the filmmaker. It’s gritty, dirty and fragmented: mechanical in texture. It feels like observing the intricate workings of a Swiss watch, while on blow, being surrounded by robots.
Moby has collaborated with the master for years too. This includes video directing, interviews and remixes. ‘Go’ was largely influenced by the Twin Peaks theme, which is sampled here, and it sold a staggering two million copies. And now Richard Melville Hall stars as the guitar player in Rebekah Del Rio’s band, performing live in Part 10 of ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival.
The Lynch collaborations are endlessly eclectic when it comes to genre and style. From ambient, pop, rock, via synth, classical and experimental. The working relationship with Marek Zebrowski, a Polish-American composer, also started during the production of ‘Inland Empire’, part of which was shot in Łódź. As both displayed interests in musical experimentation and improvisation, a concept evolved under the name of ‘Polish Night Music’.
More recently the hungry fans of the original ‘Twin Peaks’ series have been in for a treat. Lynch has always stressed that the story of Laura Palmer wasn’t complete and this year has seen the revival series hit the television screens. When Julee Cruise happily took to the stage in the original series, dazzling with a plethora of eerie, ethereal notes and semi-shy demeanour; the Revival brings plenty of musical surprises, inviting different performers to do their own sets in The Bang Bang Bar, a roadhouse in Twin Peaks. Each episode features a live performance from handpicked musicians, many of whom have a long history of association with the film master.
First off, Chromatics showcase ‘Shadow’, the video to which reminds of the Black Lodge’s red curtains. The Portland based band has undergone many a member change, but ‘Shadow’ certainly proves that the current set up is perfect. The track is Badalamenti dreamy, still bearing the electronic sounds of the now, and as an opener to the newest of the tales of the sleepy Washington town, it blends in nicely.
Au Revoir Simone from New York picks up the baton in Part 4, following The Cactus Blossoms. ‘Lark’ keeps in with the intangible atmosphere, leading through to Trouble’s ‘Snake Eyes’. An Americana rock and roll style, with added sexy saxophone and jazzy influences, this instrumental track leads into Part 6, with Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Tarifa’. With the copious amounts of folksy soothing day dream, the quirky vocal and bluesy elements, at times a la Fleetwood Mac, it’s a perfect summer evening track.
None other than Lynch’s old collaborator Trent Reznor comes back to mingle with the master yet again, after having worked on the score for ‘Lost Highway’, and Nine Inch Nails’ video for ‘Came Back Haunted’. This time taking the role of a goth band frontman, the leather clad Reznor and co, take to the Roadhouse stage to deliver ‘She’s Gone Away’.
As the first band to be actually introduced by an MC, NIN hauntingly induce their semi psychedelic, disturbingly mish-mashed track full of guitars over Reznor’s seductive male interceptions. Backing vocals are provided by Mrs Reznor, Marqueen Maandig.
Hudson Mohawke takes the DJ reins on ‘Human’ in Part 9, while Au Revoir Simone returns in the same episode with ‘A Violet Yet Flammable World’, which begins with a similar beat to Depeche Mode’s classic ‘Ice Machine’, to develop into an all girl extravaganza of voice and purely electronic sound, reminiscent of Marsheaux.
Rebekah Del Rio delivers memorable rendition of ‘No Stars’ written by Lynch. The Latin-American songstress has been a muse for the filmmaker for years, providing a cameo appearance in ‘Mulholland Drive’ to perform a Spanish a cappella performance of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’. In ‘Twin Peaks’, she is seen in a dress with a pattern reminiscent of the Black Lodge floor, ushers in a stunning vocal, both in English and Spanish. Yet another classic ‘Twin Peaks’ track.
What follows in Part 11, is a twist: a beautifully composed piano piece ‘Heartbreaking’ performed by Count Smokula.
Chromatics return in the next episode with instrumental ‘Saturday’, while the ominous number 13 brings the original series’ familiar James Marshall with ‘Just You’, which also appears on ‘Twin Peaks Music: Season Two Music and More’.
Folksy Lissie performs ‘Wild West’, just where David Bowie appears for the first time in Cole’s dream as Phillip Jeffries of ‘Fire Walk With Me’ movie.
Bowie moves back in in Episode 15, which is wrapped up by The Veils performing ‘Axolotl’. The London based indie band has been yet another of Lynch’s favourites chosen to perform live in Twin Peaks and they don’t disappoint with the quasi electronic, gripping tune, which injects a further dose of fear and uncertain weirdness so typical of Lynch’s disciples.
Number 16 showcases none other than Pearl Jam’s finest, Eddie Vedder, introduced as Edward Louis Severson with ‘Out Of Sand’. The fact that Vedder had been listed as a cast member well before the episode aired, created a stir and many fans eagerly awaited his performance at the Bang Bang Bar. Although the tune had been available prior to the premiere of Part 16, EV toned it down to acoustic guitar as the only instrument accompanying his hauntingly hungry voice.
Interestingly enough Vedder isn’t in the closing titles; Audrey Horne gets to perform ‘Audrey’s Dance’ once more, with a more sinister ending however.
The real treat wraps up Episode 17, with none other than Julee Cruise returning beautifully to finish the part, where Cooper and co go back to the past to try and save Laura Palmer. Julee’s second to none, ethereally magical voice on ‘The World Spins’ is an ultimate tribute to the whole of the series, with Number 18 (being the last) stripped off the, now familiar, musical end.
If anyone wanted answers in the Revival series, they’re probably banging their heads against the wall (or are getting tangled in the Black Lodge curtains), because more questions were introduced and the aura of weirdness has been intensified to almost mystical levels. Has the evil been eradicated? We don’t think so.
Have we got a happy ending? Certainly not so.
But isn’t that what Lynch is all about?
Riddles, riddles, riddles…
And what’s next for the genius? More music perhaps? Who knows, but with the wealth of experiences from the master over the years; musical or visual, haven’t we all been in for a treat?
Today, electronic instrumental music is everywhere, but often in the form of tedious dance tracks with no tunes all over Beatport and social media.
Luckily, there are still exponents of the classic synth instrumental, and thanks to the rise of the Synthwave sub-genre, there is currently a sympathetic environment for more esoteric and melodic musical offerings.
The key to a good instrumental is it either has to be very melodic to make up for the lack of vocals or very unobtrusive so that while the music is interesting enough to be listened to, it can also be ignored. Thus a Eurorack modular tutorial cannot credibly count as a valid release… 😉
As a follow-up to TEC’s 25 SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The CLASSIC ERA, with a limit of one track per artist, The Electricity Club presents its 25 FAVOURITE SYNTH INSTRUMENTALS Of The 21ST CENTURY in chronological and then alphabetical order…
SYSTEM F Insolation (2000)
While Dutch producer Ferry Corsten hit paydirt with club hits such as ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘Cry’ as SYSTEM F, the debut album pointed towards the Trance’s link to electronic pop. As well as a collaboration with Marc Almond entitled ‘Soul On Soul’, the long player included the beautifully majestic classic instrumental ‘Insolation’ which took a breather from the usual four-to-the floor format.
PPK were a Russian trance duo comprising of Sergei Pimenov and Alexander Polyakov. The original melody of ‘ResuRection’ came from Eduard Artemyev’s synthesized theme from the epic 1979 Soviet movie ‘Siberiade’ which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Easily mistaken for JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, the thrusting seven minute ‘Perfecto Edit’ in particular was like an exuberant rocket launch set to music.
Originally released by Perfecto Records, currently unavailable
With a piercing synthphonic riff, scat vocoder, robotic bass and a rigid programmed beat, ‘Turn It On’ saw LADYTRON take a bleep forward with an attempt at a KRAFTWERK track for the 21st Century via Liverpool, Glasgow and Sofia. But as it headed towards its final third, it detoured back to Liverpool and turned into ‘Electricity’ in a cheeky homage to Merseyside’s original electronic trailblazers OMD.
A Norwegian electronic duo consisting of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST released their second album ‘Melodica’ to a positive response, thanks to some production assistance by RÖYKSOPP on two tracks. The beautiful Arctic serenity of ‘Klong’ featuring local trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær alongside layers of gorgeous crystalline synths was one of the album’s highlights that easily outdid anything by GROOVE ARMADA and didn’t rely on using samples either.
Available on the album ‘Melodica’ via Frost World Recordings
‘Destroy Rock & Roll’ was the well-received debut album by Scottish DJ Myles MacInnes that alongside DAFT PUNK and BASEMENT JAXX, summed up the sample laden dance music that was prevalent at the time. Produced on a computer in his own bedroo, the album’s best track however was the more downtempo, MOBY-esque richness of ‘Emotion 96.8’ with its beautiful sweeping synth melodies and unobtrusive rhythm structure. A follow-up to the long player has yet to appear.
With a hypnotic Motorik rhythm, pulsating bleeps and spacey whirs driving a moodier template along the lines of cult German experimentalists EMAK, Phil and Paul Hartnoll continued their primarily instrumental template on their ‘Blue Album’, although SPARKS contributed vocals to a totally unrelated track called ‘Acid Pants’. The brothers split shortly after the long player’s release, but returned in 2009 to play The Big Chill Festival.
From ‘Hymn’ to ‘First Cool Hive’ to ‘A Seated Night’, the man born Richard Melville Hall is a master of the instrumental. The solemn ‘Homeward Angel’ closed MOBY’s comparatively conventional and sample-less ‘Hotel’ album with a solemn yet uplifting slice of mood music that in retrospect, was incongruous with the main act. However, since leaving Mute in 2008, his more recent self-released albums such as ‘Destroyed’ and ‘Innocents’ have displayed this more esoteric quality.
A ten minute instrumental epic, ‘Alpha Male’ came from RÖYKSOPP’s under rated second long player, one that moved away from the chill-out climes of ‘Melody AM’ into much darker sonic territory. The track’s lengthy ambient intro was interrupted by a mighty metronomic beat and the sort of progressive synth overtures that would have made JEAN-MICHEL JARRE proud.
Since his musical return in 1997 with ‘Shifting City’, JOHN FOXX has practically had albums coming out of his ears in song-based, ambient and soundtrack formats, both solo and in collaboration with other artists. The spacey mechanical Schaffel of ‘Kurfurstdendam’ came from an imaginary soundtrack he called ‘Tiny Colour Movies’, inspired by a friend’s birthday screening of a private film collection comprising of random surveillance clips and offcuts from Hollywood.
Few acts actually genuinely sound like their name… SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN, which translates as “the last man in space”, is the solo project of Swedish synthpop trailblazer Eddie Bengtsson, he of PAGE and S.P.O.C.K fame. The frantic ‘Space-Elevator’ with its swimmy string synths and Sci-Fi derived melody acted as an effective Moroder-esque interlude on his excellent sixth album ‘Tredje Våningen’.
Borrowing the distinctive bassline from SIMPLE MINDS’ 1981 single ‘Love Song’, the British duo put together this lively danceable instrumental for their debut TENEK EP. With a modern mechanical groove coupled to their trademark synth rock, the almost funky ‘Ice Fields’ became an early live favourite, although the duo have focussed on more song based adventures for their three albums to date, ‘Stateless’, ‘On The Wire’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’.
In 2007, Andreas Kleerup, producer and one-time drummer for THE MEAT BOYS, undertook his first mainstream collaboration with fellow Swede ROBYN. The success of ‘With Every Heartbeat’ led to the recording of his self-titled debut album which featured a number of brilliant instrumentals. ‘Hero’ was its perfect start and with a solid bassline and strong choral timbres, it had the vibe of how OMD might have sounded if they had formed in the 21st Century.
While most of the ‘Tron Legacy’ soundtrack album was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, DAFT PUNK’s spiky electronics and drum machine were kept in alongside the epic strings for the end titles of the sequel to the 1982 movie ‘Tron’. There were nods to Wendy Carlos who composed the score to the original film, with Thomas Bangalter focusing on the heroic themes while Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo was more inclined to generating the darker elements.
Available on the soundtrack album ‘Tron Legacy’ via Walt Disney Records
Forming in 2001, Swedish duo 047 began their chiptune experiments thought a mutual appreciation of vintage video games. But after their debut long player, Peter Engström and Sebastian Rutgersson began to incorporate melodic song based elements and vocals into their music. The end results led to the impressive second album ‘Elva’, but they celebrated their chiptune influenced roots with the jolly YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA salute of ‘Kanpai!’
‘The E-Bay Queen Is Dead’ was collection of rarities from the MARSHEAUX archives. While Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou have done a fair number of cover versions in their time, they are not really known for doing instrumentals. But the electro-boppy ‘Now & Never’ was a very promising wordless demo that Vince Clarke would have approved of; as one of his former DEPECHE MODE colleagues once sang: “words are very unnecessary…”
Fusing Detroit techno with more European experimental forms, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks’ second SOFT METALS album ‘Lenses’ featured the fabulous instrumental ‘Hourglass’. As Hall put it: “I really wanted to write lyrics for that one, but was never quite satisfied with what I came up with. I decided it would be better to let that one be an instrumental. I think it holds up on its own. It’s nice to give the listener a chance to interpret its meaning on its own rather than direct them with words”.
Available on the album ‘Lenses’ via Captured Tracks
Anais Neon and Martin Swan’s tribute to ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, ‘The future through a lens’ was a moody but booming instrumental that began their excellent debut longer player of the same name, which later netted a Schallewelle Award for ‘Best international Album’ in 2014. With their vast array of analogue synthesizers and exquisite taste for sound textures, it won’t be too surprising if VILE ELECTRODES aren’t offered some soundtrack opportunities in the near future.
Although making his name within EDM circles, the Norwegian producer born Todd Olsen paid a musical tribute to ‘Back To The Future’ and its futuristic gull-wing doored Delorean DMC-12 car with this suitably driving Synthwave instrumental. Unlike other so-called dance producers, Terje is conversant with electronic music history and possesses a wry sense of humour, as evidenced by the witty wordplay of track titles like ‘Inspector Norse’ and his own DJ moniker.
After the first phase of BLANCMANGE, Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe worked within the TV and film industry, scoring soundtracks and incidental music. Although best known for his voice, Neil Arthur’s instrumentals have been a continual form of expression. The brilliant ‘Cistern’ comes over like an imaginary Bond Theme for a retro-futuristic world. The wordless wonder that is the parent album ‘Nil By Mouth’ is an unsung masterpiece.
Adam Cresswell’s sombre vocals and the darker lyrical themes on his debut RODNEY CROMWELL album ‘Age Of Anxiety’ took a breather with the bright and breezy ‘Baby Robot’. With sweet synthesizer melodies, pretty glints of glockenspiel and a bouncy beatbox, the instrumental was inspired by birth of his son. “Yes, ‘Baby Robot’ is the one track on the album that’s 100% upbeat as it is about the experience of being a father” he gleefully told The Electricity Club.
While Danish duo DARKNESS FALLS are better known for their melancholic Nordic vocals and neo-gothic overtones on songs like ‘The Void’, the dark synthy instrumental ‘Thunder Roads’ proved to be one of the most striking tracks on their second album ‘Dance & Cry’. With a punchy drum machine mantra and menacing reverberant sequence, it was augmented by guitar screeches and sombre six string basslines reminiscent of JOY DIVISION and THE CURE.
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE & BOYZ NOISE The Time Machine (2015)
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s first album for since ‘Teo & Tea’ in 2007 was a two volume opus entitled ‘Electronica’; it features collaborations with a number of synth pioneers and modern day dance artists including BOYZ NOISE aka Berlin DJ Alexander Ridha. This climactic track took on a new life as the set closer on the French synth maestro’s ‘Electronica’ world tour, with a lasered 3D visual feast that required no special glasses! BUT BEWARE OF FLASHING IMAGES! 😉
Available on the album ‘Electronica 1 – The Time Machine’ via Columbia Records
The horror film king recorded his ‘Lost Themes’ series in collaboration with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies as standalone pieces, without the pressure of having to put the music to moving images. The second volume was completed on a tighter schedule to accompany a world concert tour and thus replicated some of the challenging moods in his soundtrack work with tracks like ‘Utopian Façade’ recalling his classic movie soundscapes.
Dixon and Stein are members of the Texan group SURVIVE and their accompanying music to ‘Stranger Things’, a cross between ‘ET’, ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Alien’, sent electronic music fans into online meltdown with its use of vintage analogue synths. With a soundtrack influenced by the horror flicks of Dario Argento and of course John Carpenter, the one minute opening title music to the acclaimed drama series said all that was needed to be said in its brooding dissonant tones.
As would be expected from a title like ‘Klangfarben’, this vibrant instrumental from Dublin trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS is an enjoyable homage to Germanic music forms, with a loose percussive feel that still maintains that vital degree of Motorik. A word meaning “soundcolour”, it refers to a technique whereby a musical line is split between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding timbre and texture to proceedings.
Ironically, MOBY’s ‘Ambient’ from 1993 wasn’t very ambient, with far too many beats to actually provide any profound relaxation…
But since then, the former Richard Melville Hall has properly explored the true environmental tradition first made popular by BRIAN ENO, issuing limited companion releases such as ‘Underwater’, ‘Little Idiot’, ‘Hotel.Ambient’ and the ‘alt.quiet.version’ of ‘Hymn’, alongside his more high profile and commercial work as exemplified by the multi-million selling opus ‘Play’.
Entitled ‘Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.’, these eleven pieces with their very simple numbered titles, each with an average length of twenty minutes, are to be ignored as much as they are to be listened to.
‘LA1’ is reminiscent of OMD’s lengthy instrumental ‘66 & Fading’, but fourteen minutes longer; gorgeously ethereal, this is aural escapism at its best. On the other side of the coin, ‘LA3’ offers what could be considered almost a melodic motif and recalls the cerebral qualities of BEF’s ‘The Old At Rest’, although it retains the impressionistic ethos of ‘Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.’
‘LA9’ has reverbed piano over drifting sweeps in a haunting but relaxing atmosphere, while ‘LA4’ is largely atonal with its manipulated gong textures. The minimal drone based ‘LA5’ has an almost ecclesiastical demeanour as parts of ‘Underwater’ did, while the slow crystalline movements of ‘LA11’ provide a perfect conclusion to the collection.
MOBY said via his website: “over the last couple of years i’ve been making really really really quiet music to listen to when i do yoga or sleep or meditate or panic”
He added: “i ended up with 4 hours of music and have decided to give it away. it’s really quiet: no drums, no vocals, just very slow calm pretty chords and sounds and things for sleeping and yoga and etc. and feel free to share it or give it away or whatever”
Eno experimented with low tape speeds for his work, and these low bitrate productions each have a hazy, grainy quality that adds a strange surface warmth to proceedings. Best listened to on shuffle at the end of a hard working day, ‘Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.’ is a worthy addition to the ambient artform.
For the last eight years, French synthesist JEAN-MICHEL JARRE has mainly focused on his live work and reworking past glories, touring the world with a greatest hits set featuring most of the iconic pieces of equipment that were used on the holy trinity of albums he is most associated with – ‘Oxygène’, ‘Equinoxe’ and ‘Magnetic Fields’.
Despite nearly pushing 70, the creative urge has sparked JEAN-MICHEL JARRE to release some new material and ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ sees his welcome return with 16 tracks and 15 collaborators.
Whilst for other artists (hello DURAN DURAN!), the collaboration option is often one which is resorted to a) when the creative fire has started to splutter out and b) when you cynically try to “get down with the kids” to attract a new audience, for Jarre it is the obvious and perfect route to take.
The album was a lengthy four years in the making, mainly because of his insistence to work in the same space as the collaborators, avoiding the internet route preferred by many electronic artists. All of the guests featured here are either ones who Jarre admires or who have been influenced by him, some of them are obvious choices, others are a little left of field, but more on that later.
The opening title track created with BOYS NOIZE is classic Jarre, both compositionally and sound wise, a very hooky melody with driving drums and sequencer parts that keep the piece moving throughout.
Entertainment for some can be had on this album by playing synth-spotting and seeing which sounds have been previously been used by Jarre. ‘The Time Machine’ features the Laser Harp sync bass sound used on the second half of the epic ‘Second Rendez-vous’ and works brilliantly here on what is an excellent album opener.
Unfortunately, the M83 song ‘Glory’, as well as being desperately mistitled, kills the momentum generated by the opener and still feels as plodding and pedestrian as when it was released as one of the lead-off tracks of the album earlier in the year. It’s not a bad song per se, it would surely have been preferable to have placed it towards end of the album… so for those of you that love to generate custom Spotify playlists, you know what to do!
The AIR pairing is a musical no-brainer, the duo being arguably the best electronic act to come out of France since Jarre first broke through. ‘Close Your Eyes’ features typical AIR chord progressions and ethereal vocals, both live and vocodered. But the surprise here is the rhythm track which lopes along like something from ‘Autobahn’; this is a good thing though and there are enough musical ideas in this piece which could easily have seen it extended by another 3-4 minutes.
The outro features classic pitch modulated synths and burbling EMS sound effects (both Jarre trademarks) and the song itself is sung from the perspective of a synthesizer “Switch me on, play my song and close your eyes”. On the strength of this track, one can only wish that there could be a whole collaboration album in the pipeline, it’s easily one of the most cohesive fits here and works beautifully.
For many, the VINCE CLARKE collaboration is a match made in synthetic heaven, and fans will be rewarded with two tracks here – ‘Automatic Part 1’ and ‘Automatic Part 2’. ‘Part 1’ is centred around an electro drum beat before leading seamlessly into ‘Part Two’ which goes 4/4 with the energy level being raised with another classic Jarre melody. Both pieces feature wonderful interlocking sequencer parts and they are everything that a follower of both musicians could hope for.
LITTLE BOOTS, whose recent profile in the UK has waned significantly, pops up with a typical piece of electropop fluff – ‘If..!’ sounds very MARSHEAUX-like in its conception with an ultra-hooky chorus and is only let down by some dubious tuning on some of Miss Hesketh’s ad-lib vocals. ‘Suns Have Gone’ featuring MOBY starts off like a long lost PHILIP GLASS piece, interlocking arpeggios recall the iconic minimalist composer before the former Richard Hall’s world-weary vocals and a solid beat take the track into more into EDM territory, but still with a melancholic feel to it.
‘Travelator’ is probably the biggest surprise on ‘Electronica 1’; despite being well known for his electronic experiments with THE WHO, few would expect Pete Townsend to appear on a Jarre album. The result is more successful than the pairing would suggest, although the sound of the rock vocalist surrounded by driving synths takes a few listens to get used to!
‘Zero Gravity’ is one of the other collaborations here that got fans of instrumental electronic music excited, it features TANGERINE DREAM and possibly one of the final pieces that Edgar Froese contributed to before sadly passing away earlier this year. Full of classic TD sequencer parts, it takes a few listens to truly appreciate, but once it has sunk in, acts as a fitting memorial.
In many eyes, Jarre is recognised as The Godfather of Trance, so a joint venture with a current artist from that genre would seem like a safe bet. ‘Stardust’ featuring ARMIN VAN BUUREN sounds pretty much as you would expect it to, very melodic with a thumping kick, descending synth melody and a hands in the air breakdown section.
The last couple of tracks on ‘Electronica 1’ will be welcomed by those that prefer Jarre’s mainly instrumental work, both the pieces with JOHN CARPENTER and LANG LANG are truly superb; ‘A Question of Blood’ (given its co-creator’s background) is a movie theme waiting to happen whilst the latter (‘The Train & The River’) combines classical piano over an extended electronic backdrop with one of Jarre’s classic sequencer riffs.
At approximately 4 minutes into ‘The Train & The River’, you WILL get goosebumps when Jarre drops in a descending phased Eminent string chord and just for good measure brings back THAT sync bass sound again… again this is another collaboration that is crying out for more pieces.
The only missed opportunity with ‘The Time Machine’ is that despite many of them being well known in their field, none of Jarre’s collaborators here could be classified as exceptionally strong vocalists; it would have been intriguing to have (for example) someone of the calibre of SUSANNE SUNDFØR vocalling, but it’s understandable why he chose the people he did.
Jarre has an embarrassment of musical riches here and with more saved up in the bank, a second volume is due next year due to the sheer volume of artists agreeing to work with him like HANS ZIMMER, SEBASTIEN TELLIER and GARY NUMAN.
This work, and hopefully ‘Volume 2’, will be a wonderful addition to the tradition and provides what is one of the best electronic albums that you will hear this year. As Jarre himself mentions in his sleeve notes, “Electronic music has a family, a legacy and a future…” and ‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ comfortably ticks all three boxes with consummate ease…
‘Electronica 1: The Time Machine’ uses the following electronic instruments: ARP 2600, EMS AKS, EMS VCS3, Fairlight CMI, Minimoog, Memorymoog, Moog Modular 55, RMI Harmonic, Roland Jupiter 8, Korg Micro-Preset, Theremin, Korg MS20, Roland AXS, GRP Modular, Elka Synthex, Laser Harp, Eminent 310, Mininova Vocoder, DigiSequencer, Coupigny GRM, Swarmatron, ARP Omni, ARP Pro-Soloist, ARP Odyssey, Waldorf Blofeld, Alesis Ion, Roland VP330, Virus Access, Clavia Nord Lead 1, Clavia Nord Lead 2, Clavia Nord Lead C2D, Emulator II, Korg PA500, Moog Taurus, Farfisa Pro 2, Vox Continental, Mellotron, Keio Minipops, Korg KR55, Roland TR808, Roland TR909, Roland CR8000, Eko ComputeRhythm, Keio Doncamatic, Linn LM-1, Linn LM-2, Metasonix D1000, Native Instruments Maschine