Updated: Jun 20
Breathless, Feist, Fiona Brice, James Ellis Ford, John Foxx, Multitraction Orchestra, The Orb
The Front Runners
See Those Colours Fly : Breathless
Breathless have been around for 40 years. They have perfected their special brand of aching melancholy and it’s something that everyone needs to hear.
Look for images of Breathless on line and you’ll find photos that are mainly in black and white, starkly stylish like the French films from which they took their name. Add in the support of 4AD founder Ivo Stourton and you may sense that they share his taste for eerie, different and wonderful sounds. You would not be wrong.
These songs are soaked in melancholy, with occasional railings against it, but there’s more than that in their songs. They touch the point that’s finely balanced between the desperate hope that something might turn up at the death against the hopelessness of recognising that all is probably lost. There used to be a sky full of sunshine, but now there’s just a pocketful left. And that pocket has a hole in it.
This is music that pierces deep into the soul, with sweetened melodies to accompany unbreakable heartache. They’re set above irreversible and unstoppable drones that propel the music. Dominic Appleton's vocals are those of the ordinary man at a desperate and emotional breaking point. The pleading of closing track ‘I Watch you Sleep’ (“Help me out, help me out; Hear me out , hear me out) is slowly drowned in quicksand as the music drowns out the vocals.
This is achingly lovely music. It’s something special.
Taster Track : My Heart and I
The Arcades Project : John Foxx
This is an album of truly beautiful music and it achieves a powerful kind of personal magic.
John Foxx has a strong case to be considered the king of electronic music. For the few who don’t know his background, he was a founding member of Ultravox. He left them after a couple of albums to concentrate on developing and stretching electronic music into more shapes and guises. Ultravox went rapidly downhill into arena filling pomp rock.
However it’s another 80s artist, Alison Moyet, who best captures the effect of this album. It’s in the title of her song ‘Weak In the Presence of Beauty’ -or, as I quickly found out, ‘Weak Minded In the Presence of Beauty’. It was as I lay immersed in the sounds and textures of this album during ‘Forgotten In Manhattan’ that I realised I could not explain its effect without destroying its magic.
Anyone who thinks that electronic music can’t be as full of emotion as a long repressed tear about to roll down a beautiful face needs to listen to this. It has the ambience of a deserted cathedral as Gregorian chants echo through its walls while remaining out of sight. It’s the music in your head as you process the shocked and unaccepted loss of a friend. It’s also the music in your head that helps you to feel better afterwards.
Surprisingly, this is Foxx’s first piano led album. He doesn’t rush it, but he balances it perfectly with electronic highlights. Piano brings yearningly poignant melody moments, as precisely as a scalpel. Electronica brings tear -inducing atmosphere, as in the hazy effects of ‘Floral Arithmetic’
This is music from machines by a man who understands, loves and consoles humanity.
Taster Track : Floral Arithmetic.
Prism : The Orb
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The Orb fill a special place in pop music, and this album reinforces all that’s good about it.
It’s a good title not just for the album but for their reputation. There are several ways of perceiving them. They can be a relatively straightforward EDM band, a band that make their own form of ambient music or a band that can connect the euphoria of the club with the joy of reggae. Best of all, you can hear them as musically blissed out come down music, originally from the club high but now from any prolonged and intense experience.
However you hear them, this album reminds you that they’ve always had a fully immersive and sensory sound, a soundtrack for a chemically enhanced film. They make clever concoctions that you can sink into; inventive chill with a jagged edge. I don’t know who Gary is in ‘Why Can You Be In Two Places At Once, When You Can’t Be Anywhere At All’ but then neither does he. And it’s worrying!
The Orb remain a kind of out of body experience.They sound less sampled and more as if they have snatched at fragments of music heard in deep space or from within the womb. There’s a body to each track that carries you along, bookended by distinct intros and outros and interspersed with imaginative interludes.The beats are skittish and creative, not supercharged and thunderously overwhelming.
So, if EDM is your thing, try large parts of ‘Living In Recycled Times’. If you want to feel the joyful connection to reggae, try ‘Love In the Ghetto’. For ambience, turn to ‘Prism’. And for the full range of what they do better than anyone listen to ‘H.O.M.E, (high orbs mini earths)’
This is where the 12” mix of the 80s leads to, and it’s a brightly stimulating place to be.
Taster Track : H.O.M.E, (high orbs mini earths)
The Chasing Pack
Multitudes : Feist
Feist returns with her first album in six years. She remains a defiantly individual artist who’s hard to categorise but worth getting to know.
She’s literally back with a clatter and a bang in ‘In Lightning’ and she repeats the trick in ‘Borrow Trouble’. Neither of these songs are typical of the album as a whole which is one of the most intimate you’ll have heard for a while.
Many of these songs are the sound of her heart and soul crying out in a voice for womankind. It’s particularly strong in ‘Love Who We Are Meant To’, an intimate reflection on the misfortune of loving the wrong person.
Each step you take into this album ensnares you more deeply into the spell of its mood and tones. It’s difficult to enter, but it’s also difficult to leave. Sometimes the songs feel as if their structure is less important than their texture which weaves its way around the song like a swaddling blanket. The songs feel delicate but deceptively strong like a spider’s web.
There’s a sense of magic as if lost in an enchanted forest. It’s a result of the incantations oozing from songs such as ‘Borrow Trouble’, ‘Calling All The Gods’ and ‘Become The Earth’.
This is a very poetic album, filled with images and rhythms that absorb and captivate in equal measure. Try this exercise in language and sound from ‘Become The Earth’:
“Periwinkle, cobalt, magnolia tree
Flee ‘til you’re free and stay loving me.”
As a Canadian songwriter, she’s covered Ron Sexsmith before and there remains a natural affinity between them as heard in ‘Songs For Sad People’. But she’s grown into someone who can sit comfortably with the likes of Leonard Cohen or even Bob Dylan. Like Dylan, this album shows that she contains multitudes.
Feist is someone who should be feted as someone important, a mirror to our innermost thoughts and emotions.
Taater Track : Hiding Out In The Ope
And You Know I Care : Fiona Brice
If it didn’t sound like a contradiction in terms I’d describe this as timeless nu classical. It’s serious but calming and plump with repressed beauty.
You may not know her name, but the chances are you’ve heard her work. Brice has been a go-to session musician for many acts, mainstream and alternative. A sample of name acts she’s appeared with on record, live and on TV include Placebo, Kanye West, Gorillaz and Ed Sheeran as well as many lesser known acts. She specialises in strings and vocals. She’s also a graduate of the Royal College of Music, and it’s that classical upbringing that comes to the fore here.
This is music that hasn’t quite stepped out of the shadows, but is on the point of revealing itself as something beautiful. Deceptively simple, it’s music that demands respect, potentially leading to rapture. It’s unlikely to prepare you for a Friday night out.
Musically this is underpinned by stately piano, virtually beatless except for the faintest of pulses in ‘Today will Be Different’. That makes for a surprisingly weighty listen. Vocally, she sings solo but with the impact of a small choir in an acoustically perfect chapel.
‘Nocturnal’ is typical. It progresses with the swell, ebb and flow of very deep water. It’s drenched in seriousness, slow moving and taking its time, perhaps too slow for some.
The thirty three minutes running time is probably enough for one sitting, but this is music you may well want to return to again. It has to fight against the pace of everyday life and it’s a struggle to give it the patience and time it deserves. To do so, though, will bring its own rewards.
Taster Track : And You Know I Care
The Hum : James Ellis Ford
This mix of songs and instrumentals is a strange beast. That’s strange in a sense that includes both beauty and interest.
James Ellis Ford was a member of both Simian and its later incarnation as Simian Mobile Disco. They provided left of centre electronic dance music for clubs and festivals. You may remember ‘We Are Your Friends’, an urgent stab of a record that was simultaneously edgy and reassuring. In a much quieter way this offers something similar.
Ford is now busier as a producer, and this is certainly a record with a producer’s ear for how a record sounds. Every note is carefully pitched. Every beat is on the button. Every effect adds to the album as a whole. You can hear it in the overlaid vocals of ‘Golden Hour’ and the extended, wavering note that ends ‘Caterpillar’.
In fact, this is an album that should be heard as a whole, not as a collection of individual tracks. Break it up into playlist fodder and you lose the cumulative impact. You will miss the way that ‘Tape Loop #7’ begins with a drone that carries the threatening wonder of an animal stirring gently in its sleep builds gradually and mutates into the more musical format of ‘Pillow Village.’ You won’t experience the surprise that comes with the introduction of vocals in ‘I Never Wanted Anything’ after the disguised loveliness of ‘Pillow Village’ has seeped into your consciousness.
‘The Hum’ is a slowed down rock / dance hybrid. It’s music for that guy in the club who clears a space on the floor to show off his moves and routines. It has the same individuality as jazz without sounding in the slightest jazz like.
“It’s been nice to see you for a while.
Now it’s closing time.”
That’s how Ford allows us to escape his sonic world.
We could say the same to him.
Taster Track : I Never Wanted Anything
Reactor One : Multitraction Orchestra
This six part experimental and improvised set of pieces forms a classical / jazz hybrid that has moments that surprise and seize attention.
Experimental music can be as close as music gets to ‘Emperor’s new clothes’. It can be different for difference’s sake. That’s not a risk with the Multitraction Orchestra. All the rotating musicians who make up the orchestra under Alex Roth’s leadership stretch themselves and their instruments to the max. It’s a chemical reaction of sound with each instrument triggering another.
It’s a densely packed affair that reminded me of scouring AM radio as a teenager, trying to find a new music station within the crackles of static and sonic interference all around. Occasionally you’d be rewarded by tuning into something new, but you still had to guard against the signal slipping away. The Treachery Orchestra finds that narrow sweet spot where everything is in focus.
Of course, finding the station was no guarantee that you’d like the music. Thankfully the results of this improvised experimentation are not unmusical. There’s something in each track to snare the attention. My favourite element was the bass line that appears midway through ‘Reactor One - Part Three’. I’m sure you would find your own.
This is a difficult and fragmented listen that nevertheless rewards the efforts invested in it.
Taster Track : Reactor One - Part Three
As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft
The Shadowplay playlists are at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share