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Disco Days And Devils Dancing

Starring


Black Devil Disco Club, BlissBliss, Daddy Squad, Future Islands, Girl Ray, Peter Gabriel, Petrolz


The Front Runners


i/o : Peter Gabriel


Peter Gabriel’s first album for 10 years is a masterpiece. 


Drawn from work that he’s stockpiled over the last twenty years or so, they form a compendium of life experiences, lessons learned and wisdom gained. He spoils us with over two hours of new music. There are two versions of each song here, split into Bright Side and Dark Side Mixes. This review is based on the Bright Side versions but I’ll be catching up with the Dark Side over the next few days.


As you settle down to listen to this album, it’s inevitable that you’ll wonder which Peter Gabriel is about to turn up. Will it be the anguished protester who drew attention to SteveBiko’s plight? Or will it be the man who successfully captured the loving bond between farmer and pig in ‘Babe’? There are elements of both, but they’re gentler and less sentimental than those forerunners.


It's Immediately apparent that his songwriting quality is as strong as ever. This is not a collection that has been ransacked from the lower depths of the barrel. His voice is moving and full of emotion, full of repressed feeling. I was not prepared for how this album made me feel. It had me on the brink of tears for most of the 12 Brightside tracks.


Lines such as this from ‘Playing For Time’ - “The young move to the centre, the mum and dad, the frame” - capture the inevitability of time and the sad acceptance of life changing and being left behind. It’s a tone that flavours each of the songs. It’s beautiful and moving.


Where he considers the ills of the world, in ‘Panopticom’ and ‘The Court’ for example, he does so with melodies that are the payoff for listening to what he wants to say. His images remain unexpected, particularly in ‘i/o’. You sense that while he may have lost his fight (or learned to pick his battles), he can still write a memorable anthem.


He’s older now and wiser too. That gives heft to songs such as ‘So Much’ and ‘Love Can Heal’. ‘Love Can Heal’ is an equivalent to ‘Don’t Give Up’, his 80s duet with Kate Bush. Both songs are songs of belief and reassurance in times of desperate need.


There’s a lightness of touch, of the kind previously heard in ‘Sledgehammer’ too. ‘Road To Joy’ contains a splash of guitar funk, just enough to give it a distinct character. ‘Olive Tree’ is almost transformed into disco by the end. The strings that feature across the album add a grandeur and conclusion that suggest he has Heaven’s Gate in view.


The Brightside half of ‘i/o’ is a quiet, gentle record that is likely to stay with you. Peter Gabriel is a legend who continues to deliver.


Taster Track : So Much


(A quick, initial foray into the dark side suggests that if it’s the ‘Games Without Frontiers’ Gabriel you’ve missed, there will be plenty there for you too!)



The Chasing Pack


Etincelles : Black Devil Disco Club (BRDC)


This short set of French electro disco is music that puts a contented smile on your face.


Black Devil Disco Club were responsible for an obscure 1978 electro disco deep cut LP. In 2006 it was rediscovered at a car boot sale, gained the support of the likes of Aphex Twin and reissued, sparking a revival in the career of producer Bernard Fevre that continues today.


BRDC are direct descendents of the cosmic dancefloor electro sounds of Space, rather than the ‘bmm tish’ sound that swamped the airwaves elsewhere. It’s easy to hear in this EP the artier sounds of Daft Punk, or the wholehearted commitment to a sonic vision of Fred Und Luna. The songs sound as if they could fit right into a Cirque de Soleil show - perky, fun and just a little odd.


It’s a strong producer’s record. Its sounds, effects, rhythms and beats are spot on and easily snag the attention. It lacks only a killer ear worm or melody to take over the world. It’s not above a bit of nonsense to lighten its load. The “dub a dub dee, dub a dub doo” refrain to ‘Une Seule Personne’ is clear evidence of that. ‘Pof, Pof,Pof’ is as catchy as hell.


This is an album it would be easy to fall in love with the more you hear it.


Taster Track : Pof, Pof, Pof



Horizons : BlissBliss


BlissBliss offer sophistipop that carries warm lounge flavours and stylish easy listening.


It’s an odd genre, sophistipop. It had its peak at the end of the 80s and in my mind's ear it is embodied by Swing Out Sister with elements of Sade. It seemed to spread to include anyone who played with a bit of swing and style and dressed smartly. BlissBliss fit the label on both counts.


This is the sound of cruise liners, five star hotels and global corporate functions. I could imagine listening to this as I walked down Oxford Street on a sunny morning confident that a great day lay ahead. It’s a buoyant and uplifting sound, exemplified in ‘Do Or Die’ and one designed to have you feeling good about yourself.


If it lacks a little personality, it more than makes up for it with the quality of the playing and the evident enjoyment of the band that communicates itself to the listener. It’s undemanding daytime listening, comfortable and familiar and the ideal accompaniment to working from home. (On that basis, it’s also a subversive attack on Government management of the economy!)


It’s strange, but you appreciate the qualities of the album most in the cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. The original feels almost untouchable, but BlissBliss’ arrangement stands alone, reinforcing the impact of the original while showcasing the band’s skills and qualities to perfection.


All told this is an album with no surprises, but with nicely glossed songs that are performed well and with an appealing sincerity.


Taster Track : Drive




All Day All Night Automatic : Daddy Squad


This collection of energetic Eurodisco, mixes cheese and sleaze to pounding effect. It has many good points but ultimately outstays its welcome.


Here’s an interesting fact. If you dance to this album for its full 51 minutes and 45 seconds, the chances are you’ll burn off between 350 and 400 calories. That’s pretty impressive, relentless disco for marathon runners. It also means you’ve engaged with this album the way that Daddy Squad would like you to.


Daddy Squad makes no secret of his magpie tendencies, borrowing from disco, synthpop, electronica and anything else he can find to throw into the mix. If the music of Sylvester is for you, if the electropop of Moroder makes you move, if prolonged periods of sweaty abandon are your thing, then you’ll find lots here to enjoy.


It’s flamboyant, diva-like and highly energetic. This is music to feel coursing through you, to move to not just to listen to. It drills and bores its way into your skull. Heard in its natural club home and it will linger in your dreams and waking memories an aural hangover from the night before.


Unfortunately, in places it bores in another way too. Ultimately it may be fun but it’s also empty and unsatisfying. It’s a sampler for a DJ set, a calling card serving Daddy Squad not the listener.


There are definitely moments to savour. I enjoyed the way the title ‘Together Forever’ became the driving force of the song. Despite its parasitic disco interlude, ‘A Habit I Can’t Break’ is close to a quality song. The relentless disco beat is softened nicely by the French influenced style of cosmic electronica, and there’s the temporarily enjoyable but regret it in the morning sex song ‘The Glamonatrix Theme, featuring Dita Von Teese breathing and giggling away.


This is an album that will soundtrack a manic but good time night out. But when it’s over you still have to find your way home, return to work and work out where the money went the night before.


Taster Track : A Habit I Can’t Break.



People Who Aren’t There Anymore : Future Islands


Here comes more of Future Island’s pleasant and enjoyable blend of synth pop and guitars, ably complemented by Samuel Herring’s distinctive vocals.


Does that sound just a little like damning with faint praise? You’d be right. There’s nothing wrong with this album at all. You might just feel that, 7 albums in, you’d like a little more than that.


Future Islands have a decimal point audience on Spotify, 3.2 million monthly listeners as a ballpark figure. They have several songs that have been streamed more than a million times. Their remix of ‘Black Out Days’ is approaching a quarter of a billion streams. So they’re clearly getting a lot right. The trouble is, that while this album amuses and entertains, it doesn’t inspire or excite.


It’s hard to critique bands that are massive. They’ve perfected their art. Is it fair or reasonable to expect any more? There’s a moment in ‘Give Me The Ghost Back’, in the line “It’s that old grief again.” when Samuel Herring sounds too satisfied. It’s a good pop song, perhaps more of a single than ‘Say Goodbye’ but too much of this album doesn’t take you anywhere. It sounds as if it has been played safe.


‘King of Sweden’ sets the tone. It’s recognisably Future Islands reminding us that they’re a distinctive sound in a generic field. ‘The Tower’ has a nicely restrained commercial bounce. It all feels musically and lyrically in character. The mask doesn’t slip and we’re no closer knowing who Future Islands are.


It would be easy to single out Samuel Herring. His voice is special, but not too much is made of it. It is what it is, but this is a band album. Herring sounds like a kindly older man, looking back with a degree of resigned acceptance. Perhaps he’s carrying secrets, like a Dickens character scurrying back and forth, pressing his case. Musically, they're on a par with Genesis in their pop singles phase - solidly pleasant but also unfashionable.


You’ll enjoy this album, but it won’t change your life.


Tater Track : The Tower



Prestige : Girl Ray


You won’t hear a more devoted tribute to 70s and early 80s disco than this album from Girl Ray.


It sounds as if Girl Ray have done their research well. From the off you can hear the influences of Chic, Lynx and Kool and the Gang, but also the white boy disco pop of Haircut 100. If rhythm is a dancer, Girl Ray are your personal dance teachers.


There’s no question that this is an uncannily good homage to the disco years. My question is : Are there enough moments to pull you away from being a wallflower to joining the throng on the dance floor? I’m not sure. The trouble with disco is that it could feel empty and performed by rote. Girl Ray avoid that trap but they remind us that it's there and wander close to the line from time to time.


The final cascading “Ooh. ah-ah-ah” of ‘Everybody’s Saying That’ is a momentary glimpse of pure disco delight. The made for 12” closing track ‘Give Me Your Love’ is a near miss that sounds spectacular but doesn’t erupt into euphoria as you would have wished.


But let’s enjoy it for what it is, not what it could have been. This is a study in sixth form schoolgirl affairs of the heart. It’s innocent, full of anxiety and doubt and hinting at a bliss that is just out of reach.


It’s a fun vibe. ‘Hold Tight’ has a summery Bo Diddley feel. Its choppy rhythm reappears in ‘Easy’, a song that serves as an excellent warm up for the floor filler of your choice. ‘Tell Me’ contains the quintessential line “Baby we were hot like a cigar.” There’s the disco guitar solo of ‘Begging You Now’ and the pre-house keyboard of ‘Easy’ to keep you satisfied too.

If this is an album that doesn’t quite deliver on the sum of its parts, its parts are expertly done and provide a welcome nostalgia trip back to the days of disco.


Taster Track : Give Me Your Love



Ranhansha : Petrolz


Petrolz are a Japanese trio who have remained pretty well hidden outside Japan due to a refusal to release their music digitally. They’ve managed to make an album that is both like nothing you’ve heard before while remaining familiar in all its elements.


It’s a real mishmash of elements that will take time to unravel and appreciate. It’s unlike anything else around, in part because it sounds defiantly unfashionable.The fact that it’s sung in Japanese adds another layer to penetrate too. In recording first impressions, my thoughts became more detailed, grasping at  fresh elements as they became temporarily clear. 


Try this: Their music revolves around grooves and jams from Japan, with a weird splash of library prog. There are times that it feels like one climax after another in an 80s club on their 70s improvised rock funk evening. To 21st century western ears it’s different, at times bewilderingly so.


There are just six tracks here covering a little over 30 minutes. ‘Talassa’ is typical. It’s a not unappealing mess that needs unpicking through repeated listens. There are likeable elements throughout, but finding them is like stumbling across the flavour of your favourite in a hotpot of conflicting flavours. The album works best in ‘Tunnel’ which sounds the most melodic and cohesive track here.


Perhaps the main issue with this is that, for a band slowly putting their wares in front of a new audience, it doesn’t sound like an entry level album.


Taster Track : Tunnel



Playlists


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.


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