iEuropean – Into The Unknown (The People’s Electric album, 2017)

I wrote the following press release for iEuropean’s debut album on The People’s Electric.

The People’s Electric are proud to announce the release of iEuropean’s debut album Into The Unknown, which will be released worldwide on April 21st.

Into The Unknown is just that – an unplanned journey made on utterly unchartered waters, by two of the most unlikely of musical collaborators. That partnership has produced a bold, original musical statement full of unexpected moments, sudden shifts and towering pop songs.

After leaving his former group Empire State Human, iEuropean founder and electronic music stalwart Seán Barron found himself lost at sea and considering a voyage which he intended to take with numerous guest passengers delivering vocals. The project began with an auspicious pairing with Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flür (2014’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ EP), but Barron soon found himself drawn increasingly to the siren-like a cappella vocal he’d been sent of a song called ‘Sweet Paranoia’ by an actress and singer friend, Ruth Lalor. The iEuropean ship was taken hastily back to port, fully refitted and then set sail once more, this time as a fully-fledged duo.

Recorded between 2013 and 2016 in Barron’s studio in Dublin and then after its relocation to Kildare, the stylish production of Into The Unknown takes in prowling synths reminiscent of Alan Wilder’s Recoil releases and Depeche Mode albums, disco-era strings, crisp electronic rhythms and occasional unanticipated nods to techno and dance music. This is modern electronic pop music which is both forward-looking and reverential, unafraid to experiment but entirely sensitive to history.

The consistent thread running through this album is Ruth Lalor’s voice, full of bluesy angst and anguished emotional outpourings. Hers is a voice that belongs in smoky underground speakeasies and dimly-lit jazz clubs, all rich soulfulness and molasses-smooth tenderness. On paper, setting that voice to an electronic template would sound as treacherous and ill-advised as deciding to put to sea in the midst of a violent storm, but one listen to tracks like the rapturous nod to dance music on ‘Don’t Lose Control’ or the unpredictable switches of ‘Fire Out’ and you realise that this is a calculated risk that has absolutely paid off.

Into The Unknown was released on April 21st on CD and digital download. The CD can be ordered at www.thepeopleselectric.com/shop.

Track Listing:
1. Sweet Paranoia
2. Falling
3. Fire Out
4. Don’t Lose Control
5. I Will Follow
6. Requiem
7. Sweet Dreams
8. Bring On The Rain
9. We Are Brothers (feat. Clive Pierce from Hard Corps)
10.World Of Fantasy

About The People’s Electric

The People’s Electric is an electronic music community where everyone is welcome. Our artists like to release on physical formats, but our little community will just as readily embrace those who love to download too. We exist to bring great electronic music to your discerning ears, wherever your listening preference. We were founded in 2016 by Jon ‘Jonteknik’ Russell in Shoreham-on-Sea, England.

Press release by Mat Smith for The People’s Electric. (c) 2017 The People’s Electric

© 2017 The People’s Electric

Jonteknik – Skylines (album, 2017)

I have come to realise, as I get older, that if I had my time again I would have become an architect. The design and topography of big cities especially fascinates me; as I’ve argued (unsuccessfully) with my sister many times, an uncluttered Cornish landscape may well be beautiful, but take a look at the skyline of a city like New York and it’s no less breathtaking.

And so, with that admission positioned carefully upfront, I think I was always going to ‘get’ the latest album from Jon Russell, better known as Jonteknik, whose material I’ve reviewed here and for Electronic Sound over the past few years. Jon also kindly supported my 2014 MuteResponse project with the contribution of a very fine track, ‘Vincent’, which was an homage to Erasure’s Vince Clarke, even going so far as to use the same synth sound as Clarke used on ‘Phantom Bride’. It’s indicative of a considered, involved approach that Russell brings to all of his musical projects.

Skylines consists of tracks designed to evoke the architecture of various European cities, all of which are clearly unique, and all of which have made consciously unique design statements and additions to their individual skylines. Those statements range from the classical architecture to be found in Rome that set in motion an entire discipline based on the distinctive structural gestures of Vitruvius, the upward wrought iron thrust of engineer Gustav Eiffel’s initially temporary tower for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, or Eliel Saarinen’s National Romantic designs for Helsinki’s Central railway station.

Crafting music that evokes the unique character of a concept (in this case cities), without resorting to flippant stylistic stereotypes or whimsical parody, is an acquired skill, but one that Russell pulls off without breaking a sweat. A track like ‘Copenhagen’ has a bounce and vibrancy that entirely mirrors the energy to be found in Denmark’s über-hip capital; the atmospheres Russell creates for ‘Oslo’, on the other hand, have an unmistakeable coolness, but a little bit more grit, just as Oslo seems to be a somewhat more grounded and realistic compared to its much trendier Nordic rivals.

‘London’ has a cautionary creep to its development, with the comical / colloquial / embarrassing names of modern buildings like The Shard and The Gherkin delivered somewhat jarringly next to more acceptable, much less self-aggrandising forms of statement in the city – Nelson’s Column, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge. Russell manages to turn his ‘London’ into the perfect musical accompaniment to Rowan Moore’s recent book Slow Burn London, itself an objective appraisal of the UK capital’s many architectural successes and its much more pronounced failings.

This is electronic music that is, by necessity, highly evocative and broad in its vision. You can imagine the shiny, glimmering pieces here being used in capital city-surveying National Geographic documentary films involving lots of wide shots of city skylines or close-ups of iconic structures, while ‘From Madrid To Barcelona’ has a travelogue quality underpinned by an unmistakably train-like rhythm. Where electronic music alone falls slightly short of perfectly embodying the city he is trying to evoke the impression of, Russell deploys sprinkles of vocodered voices or found sounds – poetic sections about le mystère de Paris, a recorded announcement from Oslo’s Metro, lists of architectural movements to be found in that city, a taped voice detailing Berlin’s prime tourist traps, and so on. Elsewhere, judicious use of minimalism is used to evoke the feeling of space, fuller sections reflect the clustered density of buildings, complexity – of rhythm, of melodic interplay – is used to create the impression of moving at speed around a city like current through a circuit board or ideas around a neural network.

Even if you’re not an architectural nerd like me, and even if you’ve never travelled to most of the cities for which Russell has created a track, this is clever electronic music that deserves to be heard – and a brilliant retort to the hackneyed view that you can’t dance to architecture.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

2014: End of Year Wrap-up

First Aid Kit 'Stay Gold' album artwork

2014 was a year where I probably wrote more than any other year, but hardly any of it was for the Documentary Evidence site that began my journey into music writing over a decade ago. The year saw me start what turned out to be a slow and not exactly fun process of moving content from my original site to a new WordPress home, a process which will have to accelerate soon given that all of my archive writing for DocEv is now offline.

Most of my writing this year was for Clash, where I continue to contribute three of four short album reviews each month. This year I made a conscious effort to diversify who I write for, and lucked out when Electronic Sound gave me a last-minute opportunity to cover Jonteknik‘s debut Apt album for the innovative iPad magazine (I know Jon hates end of year round-ups, but Jon, I owe you a beer for that album and the door it opened for me with Electronic Sound – thanks.)

Since then I’ve delivered a number of pieces for the magazine, culminating in a major feature on Simian Mobile Disco in the summer. It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be working for Electronic Sound. The magazine’s team includes two people who undoubtedly shaped my interest in music writing back when I read Muzik as a teenager, back when I had no aspirations toward writing at all. Through their guidance I’ve become a better writer. I’ve also learned the value of full stops again.

I also started going to concerts and writing live reviews again this year. I reviewed Laibach, Nik Kershaw and Erasure for This is Not Retro (all with typically brilliant photos by Andy Sturmey), as well as a clutch of gigs at my closest music venue, The Stables, for a local Milton Keynes site (TotalMK) – Dylan Howe (my first jazz piece), Tom Baxter and Martha Wainwright.

2014 saw me write the least I ever have in the last five years about Mute releases. I covered the latest Cabaret Voltaire compilation, Erasure’s The Violet Flame and the Plastikman live album for Electronic Sound, Liars‘ Mess for Feeder and a couple of albums for my own Documentary Evidence site, but on the whole I’ve largely ignored Mute releases this year. Partly this is because I’ve been busy with other music writing, and partly it’s because I have struggled to keep up with the sheer volume of albums that the label have issued this year.

Critics are afforded the opportunity at the year end to come up with their favourite album of the year and so I feel justified in doing the same. Head and shoulders above everything else, for this writer it was Stay Gold by First Aid Kit. As is so often the case with the albums that capture your imagination the most, this was an album that I was hardly interested in when I read the press release.

I came back from a three and a half week vacation in New York and Florida in May and immediately found myself being asked to review a clutch of new albums by bands I’d mostly never really heard of before with hardly any time between them being commissioned and the print deadline. One of those records was Stay Gold. First Aid Kit are two sisters from Sweden and the press release seemed to lump them in with a folk scene that I am not always comfortable with, so I wasn’t exactly excited about covering this one.

Sitting on the train on a sunny, May morning, still feeling jet lagged and wondering why I ever signed up to write the reviews when I was so jaded and missing America, I decided to start with the First Aid Kit album and within seconds – the slide guitar sweep that quickly ushers in the opening track, ‘My Silver Lining’ – I was hooked and alert. Something about the music just talked to me in a way that lots of music never has before and I still can’t put my finger on precisely why; it’s possibly the combination of youthful innocence mixed with a sort of mature worldliness with which First Aid Kit approach their songs that got me, possibly the close harmonies of the two sisters, possibly the stirring quality of the title track ‘Stay Gold’ – I still don’t know, really.

What I do know is that a pair of lines on ‘Master Pretender’ – ‘Oh the streets of New York City / Look so pretty from way up here‘ – seemed to capture everything that I missed about New York and tapped into the way I was feeling as I closed the door on an incredible family holiday and went back into an uncertain work life.

Toward the end of the year I found myself listening to a lot more female singers – Martha Wainwright, Addie Brownlee and a singer called Natalie Prass, who I was introduced to by the same PR chap that sent me First Aid Kit (thanks Nathan), and whose debut album is really, really impressive; the sort of sound that might see this young singer scale the same heights as one Amy Winehouse did, all soulful sensuality of a style that has – criminally – more or less fallen out of favour. Check out ‘Why Don’t You Believe In Me’ below.

Oh, and in the last few days I’ve been playing a Canadian band called Viet Cong whose self-titled debut (out January) made me get all nostalgic for classic Interpol again, even if their debut knocks spots off my beloved New York band’s 2014 El Pintor effort.

Wishing all the readers of this blog a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Favourite sounds: First Aid Kit Stay Gold, Conor Oberst Upside-down Mountain, Ryan Adams Ryan Adams, Fats Waller, jazz, ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ by Gershwin, soundtracks to Woody Allen films, The Residents ‘Santa Dog’, Ghostly International, Front and Follow, my eldest daughter playing Latin guitar, my youngest daughter whistling or practicing her keyboard

Least favourite sounds: the announcer on X Factor, ‘What Does The Fox Say?’, arguments and shouting, alarm clocks

Record shops visited: Resident (Brighton), Rough Trade (New York)