Electronic Sound #21 – Print Edition


As if I wasn’t proud already about being part of the Electronic Sound team, this month that sense of pride went up a couple of notches as the publication made the transition from being an entirely digital proposition to a fully-fledged newsstand magazine. That’s a bold move in a day and age where we’re told that everything is going in the opposite direction, but the team at Electronic Sound have undoubtedly pulled it off. You can buy copies of the print edition here.

I’m doubly proud because one of the most important features I’ve ever had the good fortune to scribe is heavily featured in the first newsstand edition – an interview with Very Records owner and one half of Erasure, Vince Clarke. The interview was conducted one extremely sticky May afternoon in Vince’s Brooklyn home studio.

As if that wasn’t seismic enough for an individual whose entire interest in music writing can be traced back to a record label flyer that fell out of the 12″ single of Erasure’s ‘Chorus’ almost 25 years ago, we were joined by Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll by Skype from his home in Brighton to discuss the Clarke / Hartnoll album 2Square. Once I’d properly decided that dance music was the place for me in the mid-Nineties, Orbital were a duo I fell for in a big way, and so getting airtime with not one, but two, idols in one go was a pretty sweet deal. I am eternally grateful to Electronic Sound for this opportunity, and also to my family for letting me duck out of part of our vacation in New York to undertake the interview.
Photography for the interview came from the wonderful Ed Walker. Ed wrote a great piece about the experience for his website, which can be read here. While you’re there, please do take a look at Ed’s surreptitious photographs of New Yorkers, which are all taken during a specific period of the day where light is particularly beautiful.

In addition to the Clarke / Hartnoll feature, I also interviewed Rico Conning for this issue. Conning will be familiar to Mute fans because of the remixes and edits he did for the label during its Eighties heyday. I had not appreciated that prior to working at William Orbit’s Guerrila Studio, Conning (and Fad Gadget drummer Nick Cash) had been in a post-punk band called The Lines. The interview tells the story of their hitherto lost third album, Hull Down, which was finally released earlier this year.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

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Shelter – Ascend (Ministry Of Pop album, 2016)

Shelter are a familiar name to anyone with a passing interest in the solo work of Erasure’s Andy Bell given his collaboration with the duo on 2014’s iPop album, another in a series of extra-curricular projects from the Erasure frontman that have started to emerge in the past few years.

The team of Mark Bebb and Rob Bradley describe Ascend as a more mature offering, and while that might be true in the sense of its slightly more emotional, slowed-up moments, the album is also 100% true to the Shelter sound – namely slick, polished, generally upbeat electronic pop songs that lean heavily toward modern hi-NRG club-friendly structures (see the vaguely ‘Jump’-referencing ‘This Must Be Love’) – but also finds the collaborations that have coloured their previous releases consciously absent.

Judging by the lyrics and phrasing on tracks like the opener ‘Breathless’ or ‘Do You Remember’, Shelter’s time in the company of Andy Bell has evidently rubbed off on them. Mark Bebb’s vocal on these songs has the same thwarted, disappointed, defenceless quality – they’re love songs, for sure, but they seem to be delivered from a unrequited vantage point. Bell has made a career out of that bruised, fragile quality, amplified by Vince Clarke’s sympathetic synth melodies, and what you have here is a decent emulation of that latter-day Erasure style. It’s a formula that Shelter revisit throughout the album, but without ever making them sound like one trick ponies or like they’re just trying to rip off their mates.

Elsewhere, there are moments of rapturous surrender, pitched perfectly for the secret corners of nightclubs; tracks like ‘In The Dark’ might have the rhythm and pace demanded by clubland, but the tone is sullen, dangerous, edgy. Some of the best moments on Ascend happen when Shelter slow things right down and eschew the politics of the dancing for the type of pop music that seemed to wither and die about thirty years ago. ‘Figaro’, for example, is all Latin-inflected rhythms and sun-baked summery heartbreak. The track has that whole ‘La Isla Bonita’ mystery thing down to a fine art, with the juxtaposition of jangly guitars and melodramatic, shimmering melodies more than enough to get a jaded pop music fan like me properly wistful.

It may be a simple product of my general disdain for a pop music landscape which feels duty-bound to use collaborations as the only way to keep things vaguely interesting, but the most compelling moments on Ascend are undoubtedly those that find Shelter operating as a self-contained unit. When they lock the doors to the studio and leave the collaborators outside, Ascend is a smart, well-crafted, confident electronic pop album with plenty of fine songs that suggests a duo finding their own voice.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – Fly : Songs Inspired By The Film ‘Eddie The Eagle’ (Universal album, 2016)

  
I reviewed the soundtrack to the film Eddie The Eagle for This Is Not Retro. Fly features a who’s who of Eighties music, including everyone from Martyn Ware‘s Heaven 17to Paul Young, most of whom have recorded exclusives for the album.

Erasure‘s Andy Bell delivers the title track, while Nik Kershaw’s ‘The Sky’s The Limit’ (from his 2012 album Ei8ht) steals the show as perhaps the best song ever written about following your dreams. Kershaw said he wrote this song to his child to show that you really can be whatever you want, and as a father to two growing little girls, I can’t listen to this song without getting emotional.

My review can be found here

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence 

Andy Bell – Torsten The Beautiful Libertine (Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red album, 2016)

  

Erasure‘s Andy Bell has recorded the follow-up album to Torsten The Bareback Saint, written by Barney Ashton-Bullock with music by Christopher Frost. Bell performed the first chapter in the life of the colourful polysexual Torsten at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 and will perform this next installment during March 2016 at Above The Stag in London’s Vauxhall.

I reviewed Torsten The Beautiful Libertine for This Is Not Retro. My review can be found here. Also on This Is Not Retro is my interview with Andy from last year and a review of the Variance remix collection.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound – Issue 18

  

Electronic Sound Issue 18 is now available, with a major focus on fifty years of electronic music, and as ever its delivered with the magazine’s usual depth of focus.

For the latest issue I reviewed albums by Africaine 808 (a crazy musical gumbo drawing from a whole world of sonic soundclashes), Duke St Workshop (a truly terrifying setting of horror writing by HP Lovecraft to electronics), Deux Filles (the long-awaited return of Simon Fisher Turner and Colin Lloyd Tucker), Wild Style Lion (dirty electronics with contributions from Sonic Youth‘s Kim Gordon and Dinosaur Jr.‘s J Mascis) and an improv set from Klaus Filip and Leonel Kaplan for trumpet and sinewaves.

Also in the magazine is a short feature I wrote on the acid- and Salinger-influenced duo The Caulfield Beats, and the third of my 2015 interviews with Erasure‘s Andy Bell, where he explains three of his foremost influences. Prepare to be somewhat surprised by what Bell was inspired by. I know I was pretty taken back.

Electronic Sound is available at the iTunes App Store or at electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Electronic Sound

Dinger – Sunsets Pink (Moulin Blanc download, 2011)

  
ep // Sunsets Pink

le moulin blanc records | download | 11/03/2011

Sometimes iTunes has a wonderful way of completely justifying its existence and its impact on the music industry. The relative efficiency with which bands / artists without a record label can just get music out there for people to buy with a few clicks is part of its universal appeal, especially where releasing rare or hard to find material that would be costly to press up for a relatively small audience remains the preserve of the short-run musical underground – The Wire is filled with small-run releases on tiny labels, mostly on CD-R or cassette. iTunes therefore is perfectly suited to efficiently releasing out-of-print items, especially where they are heavily bootlegged.

Still, even with iTunes’ utilitarian dimension, I never expected to be able to download five tracks from Dinger, the duo of Andy Bell and Pierre Cope that existed before Bell’s fateful audition with Vince Clarke that led to the formation of Erasure; the duo’s moniker came from Bell’s nickname, presumably a play on his surname. Previously I’d only managed to download ‘I Love To Love’ and ‘Air Of Mystery’ from some dodgy Erasure fansites, and presumed that the two tracks (which I seem to recall formed the only official 7″ release by the band) were the only songs they recorded. So three additional tracks is a bit of a bonus.

The principal curiosity value of this EP is being able to hear a young Andy Bell making his first foray into the world of pop music, ahead of that audition, audio evidence of which has also come available thanks to the Erasure Information Service. It was often said, by Bell and others, that it took pretty much the whole of Wonderland before Andy found his ‘own’ voice, claiming that the voice he adopted as his ‘own’ was modelled on Alison Moyet‘s. On the strength of the tracks compiled on Sunsets Pink, I’m not so sure. It is different, certainly, but not unrecognisably so. If anything, Bell sounds like a cross between David Bowie, David Sylvian and the guy from Our Daughter’s Wedding that sang that ‘Lawn Chairs’ track, very melodramatic and engaging, especially on the slinky and dangerous ‘Air Of Mystery’. It’s very of it’s time, unlike the voice that brought Vince’s songs to life on Wonderland.

The point about sounding of its time is most enforced by the sound of Cope’s backing; the whole thing has a very 1984 / 85 vibe, particularly in the use of funky slap bass, a sound that hasn’t aged well. When used in a controlled manner it sounds sublime – ‘I Love To Love’ still sounds to me like an early, shimmering OMD cut, though the middle eight – with a slap bass solo – is a bit much. Erasure could have easily recorded this for Wonderland – the one note synth melodies are right up Vince’s street and I swear he has actually co-opted that descending hook since. ‘The China Song’ (about, er, going to China) sounds like an attempt to distill the sound of the (Expanded) Talking Heads of Remain In Light, and has that cute sense of awe that the early Eighties had for all things foreign and ‘exotic’ (and that presumably explains the palm trees and holiday sunset on the sleeve image). That same funk vibe propels ‘Kettle Of Fish’ whilst also referencing the stuttered S’Express beat that Bell’s future collaborator Pascal Gabriel would develop for ‘Theme From S’Express’.

‘Dance’ is a seedy number with a Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret feel, Bell imploring us to ‘dance, dance, dance‘ while far-off chatter and voices mutter away in the background. It’s the least straightforward pop song here, the most uncompromising, and probably my personal favourite, even if I did wish the low end of the beat was more prominent.

A single track download of ‘I Love To Love’ was released on iTunes on 4 March 2011.

‘Air Of Mystery’ and ‘I Love To Love’ were originally issued as a 7″ single by SRT / Face Value Records in 1985. a quick glance at Discogs suggests that getting your mits on an original of the single will set you back around GBP55.

  
download:
1. Kettle Of Fish
2. Dance
3. Air Of Mystery
4. I Love To Love
5. The China Song

Originally posted 2011; edited 2015

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Erasure – Snow Globe (Mute album, 2013)

  
As its Christmas, I’ve found myself listening to Erasure‘s 2013 seasonal collection Snow Globe more than anything else over the last few weeks. I truly think it is one of the best Christmas albums ever made.

Here is the small review of the album that I wrote for Clash upon its release.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence