EnglandNewOrder – World In Motion (Factory Records single, 1990)

Irrespective of whether England win against Croatia this evening, ‘World In Motion’ will still be a fantastic song.

That’s because, unlike ‘Three Lions’, with its raucous insistence on football ‘coming home’, ‘World In Motion’ doesn’t presuppose that we will win. Even in the (dodgy) rap by the then-England squad, it’s just talking about tactics, not some sort of incessant over-confidence in those tactics guaranteeing us success. Without that Keith Allen-penned rap, ‘World In Motion’ isn’t really even a football song; it’s just a great pop song about people uniting together through love.

In 1990, I still followed football. I still played Subbuteo, I still played football at lunchtime at school and I still collected Panini sticker albums. I bought ‘World In Motion’ (on cassette) primarily because it was a good song during a period of heightened euphoria, but it also signalled the end of my interest in football completely. In place of Panini stickers I began collecting records. I haven’t looked back, though I did find myself buying the reissued ‘World In Motion’ t-shirt and I will be wearing it tonight.

Sacrilegious though this may be, I sort of always wished that New Order had recorded a version without the rap. I think it would stand up well as one of the best of New Order’s singles without it, even though it would never have given them their only number one.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Shelter – Soar (Ministry Of Pop album, 2018)

Shelter, the duo of Mark Bebb and Rob Bradley, have consistently proven themselves capable of producing understated, appealing electronic pop music. Whether on the upward-pointing arcs of their 2016 album Ascend or their celebrated collaboration with Erasure’s Andy Bell on iPop, Bebb and Bradley have a tight handle on how to make music that grabs you, lifts you up, occasionally gives you a firm, emotional shake and generally leaves you feeling just a bit more optimistic than you were before you started listening to it.

Third album Soar builds where Ascend left off with a collection of ten songs variously trading in thudding euphoria, fragile balladry and glossy synth pop. What works so well about the music these electronomads create is the humanising quality that vocalist Bebb brings to Bradley’s electronic templates. A track like ‘Touch’ ripples forth on a rich bed of synths, dark-hued rhythms and mesmerising melodies, but it is Bebb’s singular vocal that wreaks havoc with your emotions, adding a tenderness and delicate edge amid the alien, robotic sounds his voice weaves around.

One of the standout tracks here is ‘Karma’, which opens with a stern, angular bassline reminiscent of Fad Gadget’s ‘Back To Nature’ that is promptly overwhelmed by regimented rhythms and layers of icicle-sharp synth tones. Bebb here is the dramatic, finger-pointing sage, explaining pointedly to the listener that no action is without consequence, a note of empathy the only relief from an otherwise sinister delivery. Opener ‘Electronica’ is a bold, techno-infused paean to the electronic music of the last forty years, the line ‘Microchips and wires made us who we are,’ being just about the most pointed description of why so many of us remain fascinated by this enduring, constantly-evolving music.

It’s the album’s title track and ‘1984’ that steal the show here, though, both being brittle, heartfelt songs wrapped tightly in classic electronic pop blankets, all perfect melodies and propulsive rhythms. On these tracks the Shelter sound is reminiscent of Bright Light Bright Light, carrying the same dizzying ability to spin your emotions around full circle and leaving you uncertain whether you should be upbeat or miserable. (Anyone who’s spent any time with my reviews will recognise that as a songwriting quality that I fall in love with much more than is good for me.)

Soar is currently being crowdfunded and will be released as a two disc album complete with 12” mixes of each track. Head to Crowdfunder to show your support, where you’ll find a range of pledge options, including a special edition of iPop.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Piney Gir – The Great Pretend (STRS single, 2018)

Prefacing her seventh album, You Are Here, Piney Gir’s new single finds the Kansas-born, London-residing Angela Penhaligon embracing warm, fuzzy analogue synths and angular pop that nods to the likes of Roxy Music, all bleached into haziness by Malibu evening sunshine.

‘The Great Pretend’ was inspired by one of those nights you look back on and wonder whether it really happened. In this instance, it was a trip to the home of author Neil Strauss, an evening filled with celebrities, connections and conversation that at the time felt utterly normal but which took on a strange otherness after; sufficiently so to give ‘The Great Pretend’ – with its languid bassline, wayward guitars, layers of analogue loveliness and rousing (yet muted) chorus – a strange feeling of opaqueness, like the true meaning behind the words is elusive, personal and known only to its creator.

The single is rounded out by two B-sides, the jangly and uplifting, slightly glam ‘Spirited Away’ and the cover of The Paragons’ reggae track ‘Happy Go Lucky Girl’. The latter is delivered in a style that Piney says is a nod to Julee Cruise and Twin Peaks, but which to me sounds like a serene bit of unused Latin-infused background music from Dirty Dancing (this is meant as a compliment). But hey, Piney used to live in the place where Twin Peaks was filmed, North Bend, WA so she definitely knows the weird atmosphere of that place better than most.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

I am HER – Herstory (Driver Sounds album, 2018)

Who is she? I am HER is Julie Riley, lately of Crown Estate and formerly of Mute sub-label 13th Hour’s Rosa Mota.

I am HER is also her three daughters – Hope, Elkie and Ruby – whose initials begat the capitalisation in Riley’s project’s name; they don’t appear on the record, at least not in a recorded capacity, but they are there in spirit. “I am what I am now as a result of making these fine young women,” says Riley. “I am HER.”

Musically, I am HER is a very different proposition from Crown Estate, her distance collaboration with fellow Rosa Mota survivor Sacha Galvagna. Where Crown Estate relied on loops and electronic composition, I am HER finds Riley on guitar, delivering compelling six-string tracks with occasional piano and the addition of drumming accompaniment from the highly adaptable Jeff Townsin of fellow 90s group Submarine. One might call this music lo-fi, but somehow these songs sound much larger than the sum of their parts, despite the intimacy of Riley’s delivery.

The feisty ‘Harpy’ is immediately connected to the mid-90s alternative rock scene that Rosa Mota emerged into. A varispeed number, it is at once wild, raw and shouty, yet reveals itself as it progresses to be utterly beholden to a folk and early rock ‘n’ roll tradition. The standout ‘Heretic’ does something similar, a roll-call of feelings and emotions amid what sounds like a turbulent, volatile relationship, its linear guitar riffs and forward motion reminiscent of the most focussed Sonic Youth material, its urgent chorus plea of ‘Don’t make love a dirty word,’ delivered both as a challenge and a reflection on today’s more impermanent approach to dating. ‘Blue’ has a Jesus And Mary Chain stateliness, carrying that sort of fragile, melancholic, world-weary tone best heard in the early morning’s reflective hour, while the clever poetic wordplay of ‘Heroine’ is the Velvets’ ‘Heroin’ transformed into a love song for life instead of nihilistic impulses.

If Crown Estate presented Julie Riley as a singer and composer with abundant musical dexterity, the songs on Herstory serve as a reminder that her heart and soul reside in rockier territories. Those who, like me, fell in love with Rosa Mota across their two albums are well versed in the story of how that group fell apart following the disappointment of how their second album, Bionic, came together despite brilliant songs and a brilliant producer. Herstory is like the Rosa Mota album that never was, but which could have been if they hadn’t imploded; a mature, clever record full of emotional depth and considered lyric writing.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence 2018

VeryRecords: Reed & Caroline ‘Hello Science’ album – released July 6 2018 (Press Release)

VERYRECORDS is pleased to announce the release of Hello Science, the second album from New York and Berkeley electronic duo REED & CAROLINE. The album will be released on JULY 6 2018.

“Formulate hypotheses and gather all the facts – it’s science! It’s all about science!”
Reed & Caroline, ‘It’s Science’

Reed Hays and Caroline Schutz will release their second album through Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords on July 6 2018. Titled Hello Science, the album is the follow-up to 2016’s Buchla & Singing. For clarity, this record also contains plenty of Buchla and singing. And a cello. Oh, and a Vako Orchestron too.

If the title of Reed & Caroline’s debut made it completely clear what it was all about, the subject matter of Hello Science is again immediately apparent. Consisting of twelve songs written by Reed Hays and sung by Caroline Schutz, the inspiration behind the album can be summed up by the album’s grandiose centrepiece ‘It’s All About Science’, because it literally is all about science – at least on the surface.

Hays, who grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, a town where rocket scientists decamped from Europe after the Second World War, fills these songs with intensively-researched references to science and technology – the good, the forgotten and the downright frightening – but he does so in a way that reveals their underlying meaning to be something altogether more profound. Themes of grief, loss, the squandering of the Earth’s resources, our diminished personal privacy, data manipulation and exploiting web-connected home appliances prevail in the album’s songs, but yet they’re disguised as accessible pop tracks.

“Somewhere along the line I realised that my love of science is something spiritual and optimistic,” explains Reed Hays. “In these troubling political times, people are putting science into question. It’s almost like a faith that’s being outlawed. Because of that ‘Hello Science’ became really personal for me.”

The album opens with the contemplative electronics and strings of ‘Before’, a timely treatise on the finite nature of everything on this planet we call home, as well as playfully reminding the listener of their very corporeal impermanence. The urgent post-punk / New Wave-influenced ‘Dark Matter’, featuring bass and vocals from Ayse Hassan and Kendra Frost of Kite-Base (supporting Nine Inch Nails this fall) comes with a succinct enquiry of a chorus – “Does dark matter matter?” – while the ominous, prowling synths of ‘Entropy’ shroud the anguish of a departed friend in chaos theory.

“Reed really uses science as a way to cope with things,” says Caroline Schutz. “It’s a way of making yourself feel better about those issues by looking at them from a scientific perspective.” The exception to such deep catharsis is the blissfully upbeat ‘Ocean’, co-written with Schutz’s pre-teen daughter, a track filled with fluid synths and euphoric Buchla 100 handclaps.

Hello Science is an album rich with contradictions, where contemporary concerns are executed with decades old (and centuries old) musical equipment, where songs that celebrate the overlooked women computers that powered NASA’s early space endeavours and songs that celebrate the perforated printer paper you drew on as a kid can coexist. Yes, it’s all about science – but it’s also human too.

Reed & Caroline will support Erasure on all dates of their North American tour, which commences in Miami on July 6.

Hello Science will be released as a download, stream and CD via www.veryrecords.com.

Track listing

1. Before
2. Dark Matter
3. Buoyancy
4. Another Solar System
5. It’s Science
6. Digital Trash
7. Ocean
8. Entropy
9. Computers
10. Internet Of Things
11. Continuous Interfold
12. Metatron
13. Before (Vince Clarke Remix)

Credits

Caroline Schutz – vocals
Reed Hays – Buchla, Orchestron, cello
Ayse Hassan & Kendra Frost – bass and background vocals on ‘Dark Matter’
Harriett Hays – Russian vocals on ‘Internet Of Things’

Synth corner: Reed Hays on the Orchestron

It may not look like much, but the Vako Orchestron was intended as a portable alternative to the Mellotron. This thing was more the size of an organ and instead of tapes it uses clear plastic discs, and each concentric groove on the disc is a different note.

Kraftwerk used an Orchestron on three of their albums. It creates a very scratchy, low-bandwidth sound. It’s the source of the strings on ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and the the choir on ‘Radio-Activity’, both of which are very unique sounds. They were the only band to really run with it.

The Orchestron is basically a turntable with a lightbulb inside, and a motor. Every key you press opens a little window and a light shines on part of the disc. It’s got such an eery, haunting sound. It’s just so kooky, a technology that’s so linked to one tiny little era in the mid-70s.

For Hello Science Caroline sang every note on the keyboard, and we made a bunch of optical discs from those recordings using the original Orchestron factory equipment through a guy called Pea Hicks. It’s truly amazing that he’s kept that equipment alive. That opened up all sorts of possibilities for adding really interesting vocal sounds to some of the tracks by reducing Caroline to little optical floppy discs. I told Vince about it and he thought I was completely insane, like ‘Can’t you just get samples of all that instead?’.

Reed & Caroline biography

Reed Hays first used the Buchla Electric Music Box after hiding in an empty harp case in the basement of Oberlin College and sneaking into the electronic music lab after hours. Caroline Schutz, an art major, became an accomplished singer and musician in her post-Oberlin days with her bands Folksongs For The Afterlife and The Inner Banks. By sheer chance, Reed and Caroline’s first synthesizer and vocal collaboration became the score for a number of L’Oreal hair commercials.

Their first album, Buchla & Singing was released by VeryRecords in October 2016.

About VeryRecords

VeryRecords was founded in Brooklyn by Erasure’s Vince Clarke in 2016. We are a small record label dedicated to releasing very fine electronic music. The label was launched with 2 Square by Vince Clarke and Paul Hartnoll, which was then followed by releases from Reed & Caroline (Buchla & Singing, 2016) and Alka (The Colour Of Terrible Crystal, 2017).

“Shaping up as a label to keep a serious ear on.” – Electronic Sound

Press release (c) 2018 Mat Smith for VeryRecords

Voodoo Child – The End Of Everything (Trophy Records album, 1996)

The first album from Moby‘s Voodoo Child alias comes with a title that, like other things released by Richard Melville Hall around this time, is hardly filled with optimism. His first Moby album for Mute was titled Everything Is Wrong, he released a single under the alias Lopez around this time with the title ‘Why Can’t It Stop?’ and Animal Rights, whilst not necessarily negatively-titled, was filled with a real sense of bitterness, anger, disbelief and unbridled rage. I may very possibly have dreamed this, but I seem to remember reading that around this time Moby split up with his long-term girlfriend and so who knows whether these titles reflect a slightly embittered state of mind – lots of the titles on this album are suffixed by the word ‘love’, so it could be true. Equally, we know Moby is a huge fan of Joy Division, a band that made being miserable a career option.

In any case, for all the pessimism of that title, the sleeve images – aside from the gust of wind blowing at the palm tree on the front cover – are actually pretty tranquil. True, there’s no-one in the pictures, and sure, the unpredictability of the ocean can inspire fear in lots of people, but it looks like a nice enough beach. The sense of peacefulness I take from the images are a decent enough clue to the music on The End Of Everything. It doesn’t look like the worst sort of end to me.

Moby has done ambient before – a whole album of the stuff back in the Instinct days, the remix of ‘Hymn’, the bonus Underwater album that accompanied Everything Is Wrong, soundtrack stuff and plenty of other things since – but he’s never done anything like The End Of Everything. This is fragile, emotive electronica dominated by crisp beats, noodling layers of liquid synth modulation and those trademark string lines that really started to sound like a proper orchestra here rather than the occasionally bad looping evident on other Moby records.

‘Patient Love’ is what happens when the intro to Kraftwerk‘s ‘Neon Lights’ doesn’t suddenly open out into a shimmering cinematic pop soirée; instead this is gentle, lilting synth pop with all the analogue wobbliness an electronic music fan could ever need in their lives, and a patient, slowly-developing progress that seems several worlds away from the freneticism of earlier Voodoo Child tracks. It’s also rather jolly, in a wonky sort of way, though a sequence of unexpected chord changes around the halfway mark muck around with your senses cruelly. ‘Great Lake’ is ‘Go’ all over again, just with chiming synth notes and jazzy piano sprinkles struggling to know where they’re supposed to be heading, and that classic Moby moment deconstructed into the territory of textured nuance.

Elsewhere it’s all serene washes of colour, those heart-wrenching strings, gentle phasing, meditative bass lines, clusters of devastatingly accomplished piano sprinkles and beats that chug along wearily like they’ve been burned out from too many nights of intensive partying. Yes, there are moments of darkness that befit the mood evoked in the title of the album (‘Slow Motion Suicide’, somewhat predictably, is pretty bleak), but generally this is a slick, absorbing collection of listening electronica with enough quiet flair and looseness to separate it comfortably from the bland direction that some ambient music opted to take.

All taken together, The End Of Everything feels a lot like watching a big screen blockbuster on a mobile phone – it somehow seems far too bold and expansive a body of work to have been delivered as a low-key side project; it needs, almost demands, a larger presence than it rather anonymously has. Consequently, it stands as one of the most discreetly accomplished, enduring and satisfying releases in the entire Moby back catalogue. The End Of Everything was released on Moby’s Trophy Records sub-label of Mute and the US version of the album featured a different tracklist. In a typical Moby act of self-depreciation, the catalogue number for the Trophy release was idiot1. The inside of the sleeve includes a brief and heartfelt mini-essay from Moby on animal welfare.

First published 2013; re-posted 2018

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Parallax – Push For The Love Of Life (Mute Records single, 1993)

According to something I read back in 1993, Mute had not signed any new artists to the label for some time, the last new artist being Moby who joined the label the year before. Parallax, whose first single ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ was released by Mute that summer, were supposed to be Mute’s hot new talent. The project of Jason Young, Parallax were a bratty outfit grappling with the vernacular of hardcore rave, mixing those sounds with harsh industrial noise blasts and the type of rapping favoured by the likes of Pop Will Eat Itself. ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ would prove to be one of just two singles released by the band before promptly disbanding. ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ was written and produced by Jason Young and engineered by Julian Briottet, brother of Renegade Soundwave‘s Danny Briottet.

Though at times it feels barely a fraction above demo quality, ‘Push For The Love Of Life’ remains a personal favourite. The song is characterised by a frantic (if far too quiet) 4/4 drum rhythm and urgent bass line. Over that Young drops in a concise array of droning sounds, rave whistles, sampled snarling metal guitar, sirens and so on, topped off by impassioned and defiant rap. Whilst this brand of agit-rap hasn’t aged terribly well, there is a desperate quality to it, the track ending with a frustrated ‘never let go‘ from the frontman. In addition to the main single-length Savage Mix, the 12” and CD also features two further versions – the Valentine Mix and an instrumental version (credited on the promo 12” as an extended instrumental mix). The Valentine Mix ditches the vocal and adds acid-style synths which would give this mix a dancefloor appeal were it not for the simplicity and lack of club-friendly punch that characterises the track’s beat. Some ‘Join In The Chant’-style insistent howling is a nice touch and there’s still nothing quite so thrilling to me as a 303 sound operating on the edge of being out of control.

The release is rounded off by a demo version of the track ‘No Concept’ which was mixed by Paul ‘PK’ Kendall. Someone has said that the track samples Faith No More’s ‘Crack Hitler’ but I wouldn’t be able to verify that. ‘No Concept’ has a nice breakbeat, droning washes of nagging feedback and a distorted rap that feels like it would have suited Nitzer Ebb‘s Douglas McCarthy. There’s a sense of dystopian helplessness on this track, signalling the rise in quality that would characterise Parallax’s second (and final) release, the Bullet-Proof Zero EP.

First published 2012; re-posted 2018.

(c) 2012 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence