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