Sacred Bones artist Hilary Woods has documented the intensity of giving life and the labour of childbirth in her latest album ‘Birthmarks’ as a metaphor for the human condition.
Recorded during the winter of 2019 in Galway and Oslo in collaboration with experimental Norwegian producer Lasse Marhaug while heavily pregnant, it is the former JJ72 bassist’s second long player.
Written over the course of two years, as the title suggests, ‘Birthmarks’ deals with revisiting and caressing wounds left by the memory of their scars. If its predecessor ‘Colt’ was mysterious, then ‘Birthmarks’ is something much stranger, a cryptic alchemy with Woods pushing boundaries, using her voice beyond the song format with stark minimalist electronic sounds and dark atmospheres creeping in from time to time.
Comparatively conventional songs begin the process with the heavily volatile tension of ‘Tongues of Wild Boar’ sounding almost ritualistic compared to the downbeat folkisms of ‘Orange Tree’ with its air of MAZZY STAR landing in Twin Peaks. Despite the sense of solemn foreboding, there is beauty in their soundscapes.
With a haunting cello-enhanced gothique, Hilary Woods herself said “For me, ‘Tongues of Wild Boar’ is fierce, pliable and incessant. Navigating emotionally charged states of discomfort and becoming, it is a song deeply lodged in the body that yearns to surface for air and escape its own shadow.” Meanwhile, the more personal ‘Orange Tree’ deals with that dreaded fear of the unknown.
Introducing itself with an understated rumble, ‘Through the Dark, Love’ utilises a primarily acoustic base with a string section and an alluringly understated vocal from Woods that lifts with a beautifully simple piano middle section. ‘Lay Bare’ is more drifting and ethereal, while the sax inclined ‘Mud & Stones’ morphs into something of a collage experiment, ditto with the uneasy distorted overtures of ‘The Mouth’.
Quite unsettling, ‘Cleansing Ritual’ comes over as a cathartic slice of musique concrète with foggy ship klaxons recalling OMD’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ before rumbling into motorised drones. Ending with ‘There Is No Moon’, a forlorn piano, treated keys and some enigmatic whispers provide some comparative lighter relief after the fractured nature of the pair of tracks before it.
‘Birthmarks’ is nowhere near as straightforward listen as ‘Colt’, but with its introspection and mistier field of view, it will find appeal for those who like to be musically challenged, with the degree of difficulty increasing as the album progresses.
‘Birthmarks’ is released on 13th March 2020 via Sacred Bones in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats
Hilary Woods plays London Cafe Oto on Monday 18th May 2020
The ‘Mothership’ has landed and it is indeed I AM SNOW ANGEL’s most ambitious work yet.
The quietly subversive vehicle of Julie Kathryn, the Lake Placid native wrote, performed, programmed, produced and engineered the album herself in a woodland cabin retreat outside New York, although there are some guitar contributions from Charlie Rauh on two tracks.
At eight tracks, while this is not a long concept album in that progressive rock kind of way, ‘Mothership’ has a thematic core which is possibly darker than the dreamier I AM SNOW ANGEL material of the past.
With a political air of alienation, ‘Mothership’ has been described as an intersection of traditional spirituality, the paranormal and science fiction. After a surreal instrumental intro with the widescreen overtures of ‘Inception’, ‘Honeybee’ provides some Americana twang alongside glitchy atmospheres and dense icy strings, recalling the mysterious air of Hilary Woods who released her debut solo album ‘Colt’ on Sacred Bones Records in 2018.
On the wispy drama of ‘You Were Mine’, the feelings of loss conveyed over an airy collage of mystery are chillingly bittersweet, accompanied by a magnificent synthetic orchestra and a minimal dressing of guitar. More loudly dynamic, ‘Loud and Sharp / Hard and Fast’ does what the title suggests in an aural cocoon of drum loops, bass synth, guitars and voice samples.
Reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti, ‘Prey of My Own’ is intense and claustrophobic.
“One of the big influences for me on my new record was actually David Lynch” confessed Julie Kathryn ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “especially the new series of Twin Peaks”.
The sombre air of the ‘Mothership’ title track gives a very austere atmosphere swathed in intensity…
“What follows (in the rest of the track, and in ‘Wake Me’) is either an actual abduction or a very vivid nightmare that leaves her frightened and disoriented” Julie Kathryn said, “When the protagonist wakes up / returns to consciousness, she finds that the world has changed, and she has changed.”
Drifting among sombre strings, ‘Wake Me’ works with detuned spacey synths to provide a twist, building around a steadfast swung rhythm, mighty guitar textures and haunting whispery vocals, before drones and six string make a profound declaration in ‘I Love You’, an ultimate expression of blind devotion which captivates and unsettles simultaneously.
Sonically nocturnal and emotive, embroiled in a delicate melancholy via an earthy merging of technology and nature, ‘Mothership’ moves I AM SNOW ANGEL away from dreams into more cerebral climes but is still quietly subversive.
At the end, there is almost a sense of cabin fever, isolation and uncertainty, reflecting some turbulent times in a volatile world.
With her ‘Mothership’ opus about to land soon, Lake Placid’s I AM SNOW ANGEL has presented a new in-studio performance video of her current single ‘Honeybee’.
The vehicle of songstress and producer Julie Kathryn, her wonderful debut long player ‘Crocodile’ was a quietly subversive statement that crossed modern electronica with some Americana twang and even closed with a wispy drum ‘n’ bass cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’.
Recorded appropriately enough in a cabin located in the wintery Adirondack Woods which are north of New York, ‘Honeybee’ has been presented in two versions, depicting according to Kathryn: “two iterations of a dark and bittersweet metaphorical world where alienation is omnipresent, and love and salvation are ephemeral (never truly unattainable no matter how much I long for them).”
“In the City Mix” she said, “I overlayed trap beats with glitchy and robotic vocals to help bring the song’s melody to life while also depicting the inevitable merging of technology and nature.”
However, the more sedate and barer Cabin Mix recalls haunting air of Hilary Woods who released her debut solo album ‘Colt’ on Sacred Bones earlier this year; “I employed onamonapia by using sounds that, to me, are reminiscent of the buzzing and gurgling of a honeybee and it’s honeycomb lair, but with a dark edge.”
‘Honeybee’ is the follow-up to the chillingly bittersweet ‘You Were Mine’ and the long awaited parent long player ‘Mothership’ is now slated for 25th January 2019. As well as finishing the I AM SNOW ANGEL album, Kathryn has also undertaken some sound design with her own Dream Pack for Splice as well as engineering and producing ‘No Sound’, the new single by Canadian singer / songwriter Grace Lachance.
But despite the workload, Kathryn simply says: “I’m so grateful that I get to make music all day every day ✨? “
‘Honeybee’ available as a download via the usual digital outlets
The album ‘Mothership’ is released on 25th January 2019
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and for obvious reasons, cannot include everything that was in this year’s shortlist…
So worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE. Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are our 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully added, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. “Having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions” she told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
Within the sedate setting of St Pancras Old Church in London, Hilary Woods launched her debut album ‘Colt’ with an intimate live presentation.
It couldn’t have been any different from when at the age of 20, she found fame as the bassist of Irish indie trio JJ72.
Going on to open for MUSE and COLDPLAY, Woods left the band in 2005 to pursue her passion for film, art and literature.
Woods started making music again in 2014 to begin the journey towards ‘Colt’, a highly personal collection recorded in an abandoned flat somewhere in Dublin. With an invitation from THE CURE’s Robert Smith to play at his Meltdown festival, it is an indication of the regard with which she is held by other musicians.
While ‘Colt’ itself combines piano, synths, field recordings and old string instruments, Woods accompanied herself alone on keyboards and guitar, save the occasional appearance by a violinist.
Opening with a stripped back version of 2016’s ‘Bathing’ from the ‘Heartbox’ EP, Woods’ wonderfully forlorn voice captivated throughout as she simultaneously transfixed herself to her ivory tinkling. It was an indicator of how the show would play out.
Under minimal lighting with a whispery allure in her voice, Woods excelled with her piano on ‘Take Him In’, while ‘Black Rainbow’ captured the serene essence of Julee Cruise.
Remembering absent friends, the gorgeous ‘Inhaler’ left those present breathless in awe at Woods’ previously hidden (to the public at least) range of capabilities.
One of the highlights from ‘Colt’, Woods’ rendition of ‘Jesus Said’ replicated the original, with the wonders of technology allowing its drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano passages. Described by the songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, its meditative trance-like quality was perfectly suited for the occasion.
A bare portrayal of ‘Prodigal Dog’ added some haunting moods while using loop pedals on ‘Limbs’, Woods built layer upon layer of string machine as a piano motif played out the coda.
‘Secret Sabbath’ from her first solo EP ‘Night’ affirmed the evening’s endearing understatement and with enigmatically nothing to say until before her closing semi-acoustic rendition of ‘Daughter’, Woods confessed to having nerves.
But she expressed her heartfelt appreciation of the attentive and informed audience who had gathered. With ‘Colt’ released by the highly regarded Sacred Bones Records who can count Zola Jesus, John Carpenter and David Lynch among their roster, the Irish songstress has proven she is worthy of belonging in such esteemed company.
With a wonderfully captivating performance of just eleven songs, Hilary Woods provided some welcome air and mystique to a world that has been infiltrated by far too many untalented wannabes playing out their lives in public on islands of love or whatever.
With thanks to Frankie Davison and Kate Price at Stereo Sanctity
‘Colt’ is released by Scared Bones Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats
Hilary Woods performs at Robert Smith’s Meltdown 2018 in the Purcell Room at London’s South Bank Centre on Wednesday 20th June and The Sugar Club in Dublin on Friday 14th September