Alison Moyet – Other (Cooking Vinyl album, 2017)

Other should be heard as a companion album to Alison Moyet’s The Minutes from 2013. Both carry with them a sense of freedom and experimentation thanks to the fluid working method Moyet has serendipitously developed with Björk and Madonna producer and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Guy Sigsworth. Moyet herself believes these last two albums represent the best material of her career, and, in the case of ‘Other’ specifically, proves a contended reflection on what it’s like to be a middle-aged woman observing the world instead of being observed in the limelight of success.

Central to Other’s, er, otherness, is a deeply poetic approach to lyric writing and phrasing that means these songs are loaded with intrigue and complex, often impenetrable and highly personal ruminations. Moyet prefers not to explain the themes at play in her songs, and that somehow adds to the slightly curious way these songs appear to us as listeners.

However, we know that the languid, soulful trip-hop of ‘English U’ is a tribute both to her mother and the English language generally; that the stirring, towering ‘The Rarest Birds’ deals with diversity and the right to be whoever you want to be, and was a product of watching life go by in her adopted home of Brighton – the evocative line ‘navigate the city walks by gum-grey constellations’ coming after watching a woman walking along a gum-strewn pathway in the town. References to Brighton also pop up in the deeply affecting reflections etched into ‘April 10th’ and the opener ‘I Germinate’, itself a metaphor for new life, something which feels apt given the way that upping sticks to the south coast seems to have given Moyet something of a creative rebirth.

If Other showcases the many fibres and facets of Moyet’s voice – the raw, bluesy intonation, the complicated balladry, the West End-honed chanteuse – musically, we find Other delving carefully into electronics, atmospheric soundscapes and clever, almost glitchy beat structures which enrich these songs with varied textures and hues. For anyone desperate to know what a 2017 version of Yazoo might sound like, the skittering, dense, moody synthpop of ‘Reassuring’ or the angsty, stop-start disco euphoria of ‘Happy Giddy’ are about as close as one might ever get.

The talented Sigsworth, like, say, Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, is adept at blurring the lines between the programmed and the organic, imbuing these songs with as many pianos, strings and guitars as he does carefully-wrought electronics. The vaguely dubsteppy ambience of ‘April 10th’ sets a spoken-word poem to an exciting tapestry of noises and non-rhythms, with cadences in Moyet’s delivery that would have made this a compelling addition to Rufus Wainwright’s recent collection of reimagined Shakespeare sonnets. The creeping, edgy ‘Alive’ that concludes the album nods to Sigsworth’s work with Massive Attack, setting Moyet’s aching vocal to a haunting, cinematic noir-ness that feels like it’s where her voice belonged all along.

With an album as deftly-executed as this, It would be all too tempting to see Other as Alison Moyet’s creative nadir; instead it has the feel of a new beginning, of an artist working furtively with a like-minded collaborator and approaching her unique talents – as a vocalist and as a songwriter – in utterly unexpected and enthralling ways.

This is the second of three pieces I wrote to coincide with the release of Other, but it is only now being published. The first was a full interview with Moyet that ran in the issue 30 of Electronic Sound. The third piece, which focuses on her influences, will be published in a later issue of Electronic Sound. The two feature articles were drawn from an interview with Alison a bar in Chelsea in May 2017.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Originally written for This Is Not Retro – previously unpublished

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RAC – Ego (Counter Records, 2017)

“Pop music really shouldn’t be this clever.” — Clash review, July 2017

André Allen Anjos, aka RAC, is set to release his second album of smart pop songs with a revolving cast of singers later this week via Ninja Tune’s Counter subsidiary.

I reviewed the album for Clash. You can read my review here. Suffice to say that I don’t think I’ve heard a pop album by a modern act this good for a long, long time.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Toro y Moi – Boo Boo (Carpark Records album, 2017)

Boo Boo feels like what we might call a coming-of-age album, the theme of which is that, despite all our best endeavours, life isn’t always perfect.

I reviewed the very fine new Toro y Moi for Clash. My review can be found here

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Fader – First Light (Blanc Check Records album, 2017)

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Fader is a duo of Blancmange’s Neil Arthur – whose collaboration with Mute stalwarts Fortran 5 on ‘Persian Blues’ remains, in my humble opinion, an overlooked classic – and Benge from John Foxx & The Maths.

First Light is their first album and is released by Blanc Check next week. Here you’ll find Arthur at his elliptical best, backed by some varied and truly ingenious electronic backdrops.

I reviewed the album for This Is Not Reto. My thoughts can be read here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for This Is Not Retro

Can – The Singles (Spoon / Mute compilation, 2017)

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Last week Spoon / Mute released The Singles, a collection of all of Can‘s singles and selected B-sides, which serves as a great entry point into the musical genius of this band.

I reviewed the compilation for Clash – read my thoughts here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Rupert Lally / Espen J. Jörgensen – Øde (No Studio album, 2017)


The work of Rupert Lally and Espen J. Jörgensen is a lot like a tabloid-friendly romance. The duo have consciously uncoupled more than once, only to reform again each time. There’s no animosity, no conflict, just a compulsion to continue pushing out albums and to keep collaborating whenever they feel like it, typically followed by mutterings that each will be their last project together.

The result of this on-off-on again approach is a series of interconnected albums where the only connection is a firm willingness to do whatever feels right at that particular time. The pair have traded in ambient soundscapes, touched on pop and even mucked around with guitars. From a distance, being so outwardly inconsistent in terms of style could be decried as an incoherent vanity or therapy project never intended to be heard outside of the duo themselves; the reality is instead a rich seam of new ideas and new approaches, largely arising as a result of never physically working together in the same place as one another.

The 25-track Øde’s precedent lies in Lally’s last two solo albums, Day One and Scenes From A High Rise, both of which made heavy use of modular synthesis in their rich sound design, and both of which found Lally’s music taking on a somewhat uncharacteristically dark hue. Øde pushes that darkness to an extreme, the result being a nervous, edgy, tense affair full of cloying atmospheres and a panic-inducing analogue buzz about the sequences.

It would be tempting to view Øde as being a sonic representation of the parlous state of the world right now. Lots of such albums have begun to emerge as musicians variously attempt to direct their anger and resentment through their music; being mostly instrumental, Øde can’t rely on lyrical gestures to make its point. Instead, the album does a commendable job of encapsulating what it feels like to be living through all of this: the feeling that there’s something in the air, something restless, something not quite right that could develop into something far worse if not kept in check. Not for nothing does the album open with a tone-setting piece of sound design – echoes, muffled feedback, a tired voice – called ‘Getting Darker’.

While a lot of Øde relies on modular synth work, the album’s construction from lots of short pieces allows for a multitude of brief ideas to flourish, ranging from orchestral arrangements to wonky hip-hop, filled out by glitchy static and borrowed atmospheres. The pair have always traded voraciously in the markets of eclecticism, but never quite so liberally as they do here. No idea is allowed to develop into repetition, and yet each idea is developed just enough to avoid feeling like a collection of unfinished sketches. The approach feels highly democratic, as if each idea is afforded equal airtime in the album’s debate with itself.

Whether this represents another final album among final albums remains to be seen. If it is, Lally and Jörgensen may have just delivered their definitive statement; if not, what you are listening to here is surely part one of the soundtrack to the end of the world, as realised by its self-appointed resident composers.

Øde is released via Bandcamp – rupertandespen.com

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Laibach – Nova Akropola (Cherry Red album, 1985)


Recorded in London in 1985 with, among others, Mute regular Richard ‘Rico’ Conning, the 2002 reissue of Nova Akropola is an excellently-presented special edition gatefold digipak from Cherry Red Records, and captures Laibach just prior to their Mute releases.

The album begins with ‘Vier Personen’ (‘Four People’), a veritable shot to the head comprising barked, parade ground orders and militaristic drumming, over which an electro-industrial drum machine pattern is repeated, slowly developing as additional banged pipes and other sonic detritus is introduced. A grim and slightly sinister track, this opener adequately sets the tone for the remainder of the album.

‘Nova Akropola’ (‘The New Acropolis’) takes the dark tone of the opener, but deploys strings (keyboards, judging by the repeat points) as the main carrier of its emotion. Horn refrains and a slow, reverberating drum pattern create a filmic atmosphere, with the trademark ‘devil voice’ vocals making their first appearance; the track feels mournful, funereal, conveying plenty of rage and sadness in its minimal sonic palette. Pounding Nitzer Ebb-style drums introduce ‘Krava Gruda – Plodna Zemlja’ (‘Bloody Ground – Fertile Land’), a percussive electronic and machinery-driven vocal track conjuring up memories of Einstürzende Neubauten‘s earliest experiments with air cylinders and heavy construction equipment. Unlike the previous two pieces ‘Krava Gruda…’ has several different themes, rather than a central, developed refrain.

Beginning with some organ discord, ‘Vojna Poema’ (‘War Poem’) quickly develops into an operatic piano song extremely reminiscent of some of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s compositions. Baritone vocals are mixed with what sounds like a full orchestra towards the end of this 1920s-styled piece of avant-cabaret. If ‘Vojna Poema’ was a departure from the earlier tracks on this album, ‘Ti, Ki Izzivas (outro)’ quickly returns us there – layers of stark percussion stalk through this short piece, fading out into ‘Die Liebe’ (‘The Love’), perhaps the closest to some of Laibach’s later Mute output: faster-paced and more aggressive, with those sinister vocals casting a dark shadow on the repeated phrase of the title. The track also features a wider array of electronic sounds, with one of the central melodies recalling Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, once again reinforcing the ‘extreme soundtrack’ atmosphere of this album.

‘Drzava’ (‘The State’) sounds like a twisted take on the electro genre, wherein Mantronix-esque drum programming is mixed with horn flourishes and orchestral-style loops (sampled, I presume), and also features some vocal samples that appear to be of political speeches. The track is one of the liveliest on this album; certainly not euphoric, the track is just one or two shades lighter on the colour chart than the black of the previous material. The accompanying promotional video with dancer and some-time Wire collaborator Michael Clark is fantastically bleak, perfectly rendered in monochrome colours. ‘Vade Retro’ is positively terrifying, its rhythm recalling some sort of alternative version of the Terminator soundtrack as conceived by Throbbing Gristle. The ‘vocals’ here are otherworldly, alternately wheezing and ghostly and scratchy and insistent; the ‘melody’, on the other hand, appears to be church bells mangled and heavily-processed to near oblivion. Perhaps the most aggressive and extreme track here, ‘Vade Retro’ is an exciting collage of sounds that pushes Laibach into electroacoustic territory.

‘Panorama’ ushers in on kick drums that appear to have been borrowed from New Order’s seminal ‘Blue Monday’. Extensive use of synths and percussive samples make this one of the more accessible tracks on the album – the rhythm is tight and the sounds are less obviously harsh. At around three minutes, the track pares back to some percussion loops and spoken word English reportage, before quickly reassembling itself. The final track (‘Decree’) once again begins with some sampled marching band drums, over which another electro break is layered. With the exception of some fairly random atmospherics and the odd sample, the track seems to be nothing more than a stop-start percussive experiment or remix of a more complete work. Despite its absence of more concrete ideas, the track is strangely captivating, although you do feel that this represents something of a filler, a space that would have been better filled with a track more in keeping with the extreme sonic soundscapes elsewhere on the album.

Originally posted 2003; edited 2017

Notes: this was a pretty important review for me, as it represented one of the first times I’d been sent a free CD just to be able to review it. I was amazed at the time that Cherry Red responded to my email at all, let alone that they would part company with a batch of catalogue stuff just so that I could write about it for a website – my own – that was just launching and which was so niche it was never going to attract any readers. Whenever I take the notion of receiving music in my inbox every day via various PR firms for granted, I think back to how fortunate I was that Cherry Red sent me this and other CDs, even though this one has now been sold out of my collection.

(c) 20017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence