I'm not doing the usual top 20 best whatevers as I'm too busy really. There are a couple of Depeche Mode projects in the pipeline (ha ha etc) which are eating up my writing time and my actual day job continues to annoyingly get in my way. So instead, here's a round of of the Best Music Things that caught my eye/ear/attention this year.
Before I start though, I just want to say thanks very much for reading all the nonsense I've posted this year and thanks for all your comments. It amazes me to think that people want to read what I write and I'll never quite get over that. Hope you all have a lovely festive season and I'll no doubt see some of at numerous Depeche gigs next year. Anyway, here we go:
BEST BIT OF 2016 #1 - HQFU
HQFU's debut album is one of the finest this year and her live shows are insanely good - it's music that would make the dead dance. The album launch show at Glasgow's Glad Cafe in April was very much one of this year's best bits. I even forced Helen Marnie and Stuart Braithwaite to have a picture taken with me. Not a very cool thing to do I know, but it was me, Ladytron and Mogwai - I wasn't going to miss that. Even admitting I did that is embarrassing, but let's move on.
Mt Doubt makes music that never fails to inspire or move you. Hot on the heels of 2015's My Past Is A Quiet Beast, In Awe Of Nothing provided more evidence of Leo Bargery's unique talent, with tracks like Afterglow setting the bar high for new Scottish music this year. You really must see Mt Doubt live too to witness the songs taken to new, wonderful heights.
Ok, it probably won't be Violator part 2, but what I've heard about the new album is encouraging. There's a full tour too and I'm already signed up for the opening gig in Stockholm and the London Stadium gig in June with a few more to follow. Brace yourselves for a DM onslaught in 2017 on this site.
I won't stop talking about them until you all listen. There's something smarter than the average bear about this band and 2017 is going to be the year many more people find out about them. You know where you read it first
Another band who can't stop getting better and better. All the parts you need are there - space disco synth perfection, the catchiest of tunes and remarkably beautiful record packaging courtesy of the ever wonderful Nightschool Records. Fruit Juice is one of 2016's must have releases. Your life is poorer for having it.
Every time Machines In Heaven release something new, they go into territory they've never gone into before and they master it effortlessly. I've come back to this album a lot this year and I never tire of listening to it.
BEST BIT #7 - RODNEY CROMWELL FAX MESSAGE BREAKUP E.P.
Possibly one of the best releases this year, taking tracks from 2015's magical Age Of Anxiety and remixing them to perfection. I don't think Rodney or the Happy Robots label are capable of releasing anything that isn't just brilliant
In a city already besieged by incredible labels (festive hellos to Hotgem, Nightschool, Scottish Fiction and Olive Grove), Last Night From Glasgow came along and changed the game. A not for profit, crowdfunded label that focuses on the artists above all else with each release a uniquely beautiful thing. They've put out wonderful music by BooHooHoo ( a wristband usb ep), Stephen Solo (a credit card usb) and Mark W Georgsson (a 7" single of all things) among others and have hosted a series of live events, culminating in last Sunday's epic The Christmas Effect gig at Mono. Next year promises to be even bigger for the label and that's incredibly exciting. They are to be applauded for all their work - thanks Ian, Murray and the gang
BEST BIT #9 - TEEN CANTEEN - SAY IT ALL WITH A KISS
I strategically missed them out of Best Bit #8 as they deserve attention themselves. Their debut album, Say It All With A Kiss was one of Last Night From Glasgow and indeed this year's best releases. I defy anyone to do anything other than fall in love with the album. Teen Canteen also jointly presented The Christmas Effect with Last Night From Glasgow with lead singer Carla's side project Ette also featuring. As an aside, Ette's Homemade Lemonade album released on Olive Grove this year is another you have to check out
Teen Canteen review http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/teen-canteen-say-it-all-with-kiss.html
BEST BIT #10 - A MONTH LONG PERIOD OF REJOICING
It seems astoundingly big headed to pick one of my own things as a best bit, but in March I did a month long feature on Depeche's Black Celebration to celebrate its 30th birthday. I had a whole lot of wonderful contributors, I interviewed Gareth Jones and, for that period at least, I can say that I knew more about Black Celebration than Martin Gore probably did. It was fun and, along with all the otehr Best Bits, it's why I do this.
I could go on and on but I'm stopping here. I missed out Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool, Nick Cave's staggering Skeleton Tree, The Pixies at the Barras, the big Erasure boxset, the fact I managed to get Kraftwerk tickets for next year, superb releases from Zyna Hel and Monkoora and much more. After 2016 started so horribly for music with David Bowie's death (that still looks wrong when you write it down), there was plenty in the music world to find joy in both globally and, happily for me, locally too. Next year will be equally if not more epic and, between Depeche Mode ramblings, I'll try to keep you as up to date as I can.
This year sees Erasure celebrate their 30th anniversary with, among other things, a recent acoustic show and an intriguing huge boxset, From Moscow To Mars, which comes out today, 9 December. There is a lot to love to within the box and I recently reviewed it for XS Noize as you can read here: http://www.xsnoize.com/box-set-review-erasure-from-moscow-to-mars/ . Rather than review it here too, I thought I'd approach Erasure's 30th birthday from a different angle. I've been a fan for at least 25 of those 30 years and Erasure are one of the bands that have remained a constant in my life, so I thought I'd celebrate the band's anniversary with my own take on the Erasure 30 theme. Here are my 30 reasons why you should you love Erasure.
1 to 5: Some personal highlights:
1. The Chorus album
Let's start with the band's very best work - 1991's Chorus. In an era when Erasure specialised in releasing incredible hit singles, every song on Chorus was a potential top 10 track. From the title track to the gorgeous closing track Home, Chorus is Erasure at their finest. Bonus points too to Vince for his stunning analogue synth work throughout. The bleeps and beeps that run through the album were a particular thrill at the time and they still sound stunning now. If you don't have this album, then you're really letting yourself down. Go and get it now.
I'll come on to Erasure's remarkable ability with a pop single shortly, but I felt I had to highlight what I think is their greatest single, 1989's sublime Drama! With The Innocents, Erasure effectively mastered pop music, creating one of electronic pop's most remarkable albums, so their next move was always going to be interesting. Drama! added layers and layers to Erasure's sound, creating a powerful, over the top, extravagant masterpiece that still thrills to this day. An outstanding track and, as a bonus fact, one that features The Jesus And Mary Chain on backing vocals. That's quite a collision of two worlds.
3. Oh L'Amour
Simply perfect. As wonderful a love song as you'll get and an example of why early Erasure should not be ignored. How this single failed to have any impact is beyond me. Don't let Dollar's subsequent dreadful cover cloud it for you. Oh L'Amour is one of Erasure's most important singles and a song that remains a much loved part of their live set today. A useless piece of trivia is that it was the first song me and my mate John Harrower attempted when we formed a band in high school. Let's just say we didn't quite match Erasure. Dollar yes, but not Erasure.
4. No Doubt
Erasure's recent albums might not have matched their earlier work for consistency, but they can't be ignored as they contain many gems. No Doubt is the opening track of 2005's Nightbird and it revisits the soulful feel of some of the band's Innocents era tracks, adding sublime analogue sounds and featuring a chorus that soars. Album openers are tricky to get right but with No Doubt, Erasure nail it. The live version on the Nightbird tour was astonishing.
5. Heart Of Stone
Much like Chorus, The Innocents was full of songs that would easily have walked into the top 10. One of the great Erasure album tracks (and there are many) is Heart Of Stone from that album. It's pure pop perfection with wonderful lyrics where Andy sings of regret over a lost love. Easily one of their greatest songs, the album version, which is as near as perfect as you can get, was surpassed on the Phantasmagorical Tour with a live version that is beyond superb.
6 to 10: B-sides 6. Don't Suppose (Country Joe Mix)
Like any band worth caring about in the 1980's, Erasure knew the value of b-sides and their catalogue is filled with gems that in places rivaled the a-sides they accompanies. Don't Suppose is the b-side to Chains Of Love and it's best sampled in this remixed from the 12" release. The song has a melody that would bring a tear to a glass eye and lyrics that you can't help but adore. The additional banjo on this remix (hence the name) only serves to add a charming degree of country and western melancholy to great effect.
7. Die 4 Love
This track is the b-side from 2014's Reason single and it's almost a crime that it didn't make the cut for The Violet Flame. The song is reminiscent of a Chorus era b-side, which itself is a compliment, and it has one of those Erasure choruses. You know the type - instantly memorable, classic and impossible to forget. Other bands struggle for this sort of thing. Erasure use them as b-sides. That says all you need to know.
The 1994 single I Love Saturday was released as an e.p. giving us three additional tracks, all of which are worthy of inclusion here. Truly, Madly, Deeply's dark club feel is wonderful and Tragic (Live Vocal) is a spooky electro masterpiece, but it's Ghost that wins the day. 6 minutes long, confident, dark, it's a sensational track and provides a handy indicator for where Erasure were heading next with 1995's self titled album.
9. Over The Rainbow Over The Rainbow is the b-side of Chorus the first release from the album of the same name. As with anything from that period, this song is unimpeachable genius and it pops up on the 7" and cd single. Sampled German vocals start, leading us into as jaunty a song as you'll ever need, where Andy sings about sitting by a pool listening to ABBA and much more. So, so good.
10. Gimme Gimme Gimme
Talking of ABBA, as we'll see and as you of course know, the band are fans and this was shown when a cover of this track featured as an extra track on the Oh L'Amour 12", appearing again in remixed form on the Limited Edition 12". It's a faithful cover, but it has an Erasure twist and it's one of the first Erasure tracks I can remember hearing, so it's a special one for me.
11-14: Erasure Live 11. Live generally
Erasure are an amazing live band. If you haven't seen them, you really have to experience it. As well as songs you will know inside out, they fill their setlists with classic album tracks, Vince remixes songs to update them for the shows and Andy never, EVER fails to give anything other than an 10/10 performance. As for his vocals live, trust me, you'll struggle to hear a better performer. Erasure will tour next year, so if you haven't seen them, change that. If you're in Glasgow, prepare yourselves for one of the loudest crowds at any gig you'll see next year. Not to be missed.
12. The Phantasmagorical Tour The Wild world tour saw Erasure fill arenas worldwide and they ended the whole thing playing to a packed Milton Keynes bowl. For the tour following the Chorus album, they instead focused on smaller venues playing multiple nights at the likes of the Hammersmith Odeon and Edinburgh Playhouse. I saw them for the first time at the Playhouse and it was a remarkable experience. A setlist that played all of Chorus, the ABBA-esque e.p, a mechanical swan, Vince in a synth tank, backing singers who (a) were amazing and (b) John and I fell in love with instantly, halftime bingo and so much more - the whole thing was bewildering. It's still one of the finest shows I've seen and it highlights just how good Erasure are live.
13. The Tiny Tour
After a break of four years, Erasure returned to playing live with a hit packed set on the Tiny Tour, so called because they played small venues. Well, small to them anyway - I saw that at the Barrowlands for example. It was the first time tracks from Erasure had been played live and songs like Sono Luminus and Rock Me Gently fitted into their set seamlessly. Vince used old BBC computers on stage too which was rather cool. It was great to have them playing live again and, as they always do, they had the whole of the Barrowlands jumping.
14. The Violet Flame Tour
2014's The Violet Flame is up there with Erasure's best work which puts the album in rather illustrious company. The tour that accompanies it was Erasure's best in years with a live set that mixed classics with new tracks and saw Vince remix a number of songs for the live arena, using classic 12" mixes to great effect. The energy in the performances was a joy to behold and the gigs I saw were just huge celebrations of a band who deserve to be celebrated.
15-17: Albums 15. I Say I Say I Say
1994's I Say I Say I Say is often unfairly overlooked. The band didn't tour the album and Vince barely appeared in any of the videos. This apparent lack of enthusiasm from band is matched by the lack of enthusiasm most people have in the album but it's not album to be ignored. I Say I Say I Say marks the end of Erasure's pure pop phase with a near flawless collection of ten songs ranging from the full on pop of I Love Saturday to the more experimental So The Story Goes. It also features one of the greatest tracks Always which I'll come on to shortly. As a bridge between Chorus and Erasure, I Say I Say I Say is an important Erasure album and one to love.
This self titled album was released in 1995 and it saw Erasure at their most experimental. Gone were the three minute pop gems, replaced instead by lengthy tracks some of which were predominatly instrumental. The band's ability with melodies didn't disappear however, with tracks like Fingers And Thumbs (Cold Summer's Day) pushing the pop buttons perfectly. The album contains a number of tracks that are among the most gorgeous Erasure have produced - Sono Luminus and Rock Me Gently for example and the lead single, Stay With Me, is Erasure at their finest. Erasure is an album everyone should own.
The band's debut may be flawed in places but you can't ignore it. The singles are of course all great, but Wonderland is notable especially for two tracks that, for me, showed that Erasure were onto something special. Reunion and Love Is A Loser still sound as fresh as a daisy and both are simply perfect synthpop. The latter is as good as any of the singles releases from the album and when the band played it on the Phantasmagorical Tour, it received the warmest of welcomes. A sensational song.
18-22: 5 Singles everyone should own (that I haven't already mentioned) 18. A Little Respect
Obviously. I'll even overlook the dig at Depeche Mode in the video ;)
Have Erasure produced a more perfect love song that Always? The short answer is no. It's hard to adequately describe how incredible this track is. If you don't love it, you don't have a soul.
20. Stay With Me
As I mentioned above, Erasure at their finest.
21. Heavenly Action
Ignore anyone that says this is a bit too poppy - it's a love song, it's Erasure, it's therefore a winner.
If anyone thought Erasure's time had been and gone, 2005's Breathe put them right. There aren't many bands who can produce pop music like this. Embrace it.
23-25: E.P's 23. Crackers International e.p.
Not content with releasing chart dominating singles and albums, Erasure decided to release a festive(ish) e.p. in 1988. Crackers International features five songs over its formats. The main e.p. contains four songs - Stop!, The Hardest Part, Knocking On Your Door and She Won't Be Home. Each one is, for want of a better phrase, a cracker with Stop! and Knocking On Your Door yet further examples of how to nail pop music, The Hardest Part a moody number and She Won't Be Home the one song on here that actually mentions Christmas. There's an odd bit after the line "She phones her mum" where there's a sampled voice saying "Hello" which never fails to make you think someone is in the room saying hello to you. Listen to it - you'll see what I mean. The remix 12" and cd was called Crackers International Part II and featured remixes of Stop! and Knocking On Your Door plus a rather spooky take on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The limited edition Christmas card mini cd single is a rarity worth having.
If you're going to pay tribute to a band, why not record an e.p. of some of their best known songs and put your stamp on it to such an extent that you end up arguably bettering the originals. Ok, the rap by MC Kinky in Take A Chance On Me is remarkably bad, but that aside this e.p, which also features SOS, Voulez Vous and Lay All Your Love On Me is a masterpiece. The limited edition remix e.p. is superb too. This was Erasure's first number one which seems remarkable given the singles that preceded it and it was richly deserved. It was also Mute Records' first number one.
25. Am I Right? Am I Right? is the third single the band released from Chorus which means of course that the song falls in to the act of genius category. The single took the form of an e.p. with three superb extra tracks Carry On Clangers, Let It Flow and Waiting For Sex keeping Am I Right? company. One Saturday morning at the time I saw an advert in Melody Maker saying a remix e.p. had been released too so I jumped on the bus from Castle Douglas to Dumfries, headed to Barnstorm records and bought it. The power of advertising eh? The remix e.p. is wonderful too, featuring remixes of Am I Right? by The Grid, Chorus by Moby and Love To Hate You by LFO together with an acoustic version of Chorus album track Perfect Stranger.
26-30: The Rest of Erasure 26. Artwork
One aspect of the Erasure's releases that stands out is the artwork, certainly up to and including the Erasure album. Crackers International's festive art (below) is beautiful, the Chorus album cover's robotic features echoes the music perfectly and The Circus era singles and album are absolute peaches. The band took a lot of care with how they presented each release and the artwork only served to highlight how magical the songs it packaged were.
Like their labelmates Depeche Mode. Erasure were at the forefront of remixes in the days when the notion of 12" remixes simply meant adding 8 bars of extra bassline in the middle of the 7" version. Throughout their career, they've releases some outstanding remixes, too many in fact to run through in any depth here. The Am I Right? remix e.p. mentioned above is notable, but really most of their remixes up to recent times when they've become a bit too generic are worth having, especially from The Innocents era. Andy and Vince have even turned their hand to remixing themselves in recent years with Vince's takes on Stop, Chains Of Love and Hallowed Ground particular favourites of mine.
27. Pop! The First 20 Hits
If you take this album and Pet Shop Boys Discography, you don't need any other pop music in your life. I love the fact Pop! was subtitled The First 20 Hits as all that does is say "yeah we've got these 20 songs, they're all brilliant and we've only just started." To get a sense of exactly what Erasure achieved in their first 7 years, listen to this album in full and prepare to be blown away. The band's contribution is British music is, I think, hugely undervalued and criminally so. Erasure are simply one of the most important bands this country has produced and Pop! The First 20 Hits is all the evidence in support of that fact that you will need.
28. Andy Bell
Extravagant, blessed with a voice almost unmatched in music, an incredible stage presence, a prominent openly gay artist in a time which was a hugely important thing in a time when that wasn't necessarily the done thing in mainstream pop and much, much more. Andy is a gem and still manages to impress after all these years, with obvious joy every time he steps on stage. Fronting a duo is difficult when the other half hides behind banks of synths but Andy Bell makes it look effortless. He should be revered by everyone.
29. Vince Clarke
Vince is one of my heroes. He's a man who has managed to be in three of my favourite bands which alone is quite some feat. Depeche Mode causing too much pressure? Ok, jack that in and form Yazoo for a quiet life. Hmm that didn't work, Start a band with a singer no-one knows? Ah.Cue thirty years worth of incredible music. Vince simply cannot stop writing hits, no matter how hard he tries. He's easily one of the most influential figures in electronic music history and the thrilling thing is, he's getting more productive each year. The more Vince the better I say. One of my ambitions is to visit his studio in New York just to bask in the glory of his huge analogue synth collection. And to shake his hand and say thanks too of course.
BooHooHoo are the newest artist on the impeccable Last Night From Glasgow label and their debut e.p., the rather niftily titled DebutHooHoo has just been released. It's available in all the usual digital places and on a very limited USB wristband which is a quite wonderful thing. That's the key thing about Last Night From Glasgow releases - they're unique and joyous beasts, each one as inventive as the last. The bands whose music fill the formats are happily of the same ilk.
DebutHooHoo is three songs long, each a full on riot of synthpop meets disco meets 80's style power pop. Lead track Mould Me is the star with its synth washes sweeping majestically through layers of pure pop wrapped in synth bassline that could easily be an offcut from A Broken Frame era Depeche Mode. That, as you all should know by now, is no bad thing. Think Leave In Silence's one finger bassline, realise how perfect that is, and that'll give you a clue. As all good songs should do, Mould Me is carried along by its impossible to ignore chorus. It's one of those choruses that you feel immediately familiar with even though you're hearing it for the first time. An impressive feat and an superb track.
There's an 80's style feel throughout here, though that's not to say that this is an overtly retro feeling release. Dreams Tonight features an dangerously amount high of funk bass, but it survives, moving quickly into Hot Chip territory, echoing that band's ability to make the even inanimate objects dance. Closing track Now Is The Season turns all the influences I've mentioned above up by a factor of about 100, building up to a frenzied blizzard of sampled vocals and yet another stupendous chorus. You're almost of breath by the time it ends. I think I can speak for everyone in Nice N Sleazy's at the e.p. launch gig on 30 November when I say the live version left me feeling like that.
DebutHooHoo is yet another marvellous example of just how fertile Glasgow's electronic scene is. One of my favourite bands at the moment are The Insomniac Project, a band I've covered many times on this blog, and BooHooHoo are following in their footsteps with this release, with a pop lead take on disco infused synthpop. These are exciting times with bands like these showing everyone how to make this music work and DebutHooHoo is a captivating release. I'd recommend you get this.
DebutHooHoo by BooHooHoo is available now on Last Night From Glasgow.
BooHooHoo Facebook https://www.facebook.com/boohoohooband/?fref=ts
Reed & Caroline are a new signing to Vince Clarke's Very Records and they have just released their debut album, Buchla And Singing. As befits a release on Vince's own label, the music on the album is made on a Buchla modular synth alone. The Buchla was one of the first modular synths, with Don Buchla beating the perhaps more celebrated Robert Moog to the punch by a few years back in the 1960's. Sadly, Don Buchla recently passed away, but his wonderful, hugely influential invention lives on in this album and it's a fine tribute to him. Reed Hays' mastery of the Buchla is hugely impressive and it even outdoes his own label boss. When asked about the Buchla system, Vince said "I had one once but I sold it. It's way too difficult to use." Now, if Vince can't master it, it must be tough.
Anyway, to the music. As I mentioned above, Reed Hays is in charge of the Buchla and the vocals are provided by Caroline Schultz, with both working perfectly together. The album opener Singularity (We Bond) shows off the pair's skills perfectly - it's as glorious a slice of synthpop as you'll hear in a long time. Caroline's vocal style brings to mind the likes of Jen Wood's vocals on The Postal Service's Nothing Better and they really are central to the album's success.
Electrons is another standout track, its futurist lyrics and crisp electropop having a distinct air of, for example, Kraftwerk's Radioactivity album albeit with a far glossier pop sheen. The track also features in remixed form as a bonus on the cd with Vince Clarke offering his own take on the song. It's a sparser affair, slightly reminiscent of his superb Behind The Wheel remix for the last Depeche Mode project and it's well worth checking out.
There are more experimental moments as you might expect given the machine that is producing the music here. Oh My Dog and Nightmarf for example, show off the Buchla's collection of impressive noises to impressive effect. Henry The Worm perhaps pushes the experimentation too far, with its twee lyrics not really hitting the spot, but that aside, there aren't really any missteps here.
The fact that Reed & Caroline have managed to make such an interesting and enjoyable album using only an ancient and difficult to master modular synth system says much about their ability. Whilst the album title is literally correct, neither the Buchla nor the singing overshadow each other. Both come together in perfect harmony, producing excellent results.
Reed & Caroline's Buchla and Singing is available now on cd and download from Very Records and through all the usual digital music purveyors.
Teen Canteen's debut album Say It All With A Kiss is the third release on Glasgow's Last Night From Glasgow label and it's an album that simply doesn't fail to improve your day and brighten your mood every time you play it. The band marry exquisite harmonies with a mix of pure pop and post punk and, in doing so, they've produced one of this year's most exciting debuts.
The song above, How We Met (Cherry Pie), is as fine as example of Teen Canteen as you'll get. Irresistible melodies, a chorus that you can't resist and, simply put, a superb pop song. There are lots of clever touches and a lot of work has gone into creating the wall of sound like feel that surrounds the track and that's a wonderful thing. Sister is another track that pummels you into submission with its incredible catchiness and full on sound and Roses (My Love) follows suit, adding The Cairn String Quartet to give the song extra dynamics. Once you hear the closing "A-L-W-A-Y-S/It's always for you" refrain, you'll find it very difficult to stop yourself singing it for the rest of the day.
The band aren't all about full on powerful pop however. Friends starts off with a buzzing synthbass and sparse guitar, building up to a noisy, thrilling climax. The killer chorus us still there, but this time it's a song about breaking up rather than falling in love, darker but still wonderful. Candyfloss is another slower track, a show stopping end to the album that works perfectly.
The most refreshing thing about Teen Canteen is that there really isn't another band around that sound like this just now. There's a justified confidence to the songs, with a real feel of Phil Spector producing a post punk band throughout that you can only love. I haven't tired of this album since my copy arrived and I don't see myself ever tiring of it. Highly recommended in other words. Go and get it and put some Teen Canteen inspired sunshine into your life
Say It All With A Kiss is available now through Last Night From Glasgow and is available in all the usual digital places.
Rodney Cromwell's The Age Of Anxiety was one of my favourite albums of 2015 and it's still one I play regularly, the dark edge to the album's synthpop remaining interesting and, importantly, hugely enjoyable after multiple plays. Fax Message Breakup comes from the album and it's a track that pays homage to New Order circa Power Corruption And Lies and that is never going to be a bad thing.
The track was inspired by Phil Collins' fax induced marriage breakup many years ago, but mercifully sounds nothing like any of his works. Instead, dark swirling synths, melodica and some quite wonderful lyrics all mix, creating a superb track and one that deserves to be heard and loved.
There are a couple of great remixes of Fax Message Breakup here too. Happy Robots labelmate Hologram Teen remixes the track superbly, the Hologram Teen's Video Suitors Remix taking the track in a glitchy discodirection and AUW's Obsessive Perfection Remix brings more than a hint of Depeche Mode to proceedings. As a reader of this blog, (1) you'll know that appeals to me and (2) it will certainly appeal to you.
The e.p. is finished off with remixes of album tracks Cassiopeia (the Leaf Library Remix) and Baby Robot (the Chris Frain Remix) which offer cool takes on both tracks. I am a sucker for an album-track-remix-as-single-extra notion. That started off for me with Something To Do (Metal Mix) featuring on the limited edition 12"of Shake The Disease and it's something many more bands should do.
That needless Depeche diversion dispensed with, Fax Message Breakup is an e.p. you want to have in your life. Rodney Cromwell is one of the most interesting and inventive artists there is on the electronic scene just now - you'll kick yourself if you don;t check him out.
Depeche Mode are currently holding their press conference in Milan at which they have announced that they no longer have an official hairdresser. The announcement has shocked the DM fan world, but the blow of it has been softened somewhat by some other news.
At the conference, Dave spoke briefly, more of which in a bit, but once he'd finished, Fletch asked if he'd forgotten anything. Martin said
"Is this about the hairdresser?"
"That's right. We don't have an official hairdresser for the tour."
So there you go.
Oh, wait. There's more.
Depeche Mode have confirmed today that they will release a new album called Spirit in Spring 2017. The album will be followed by the Global Spirit Tour which starts in May, taking in 32 gigs in 21 European countries on its first leg, with most gigs being outdoor. Venues include Stockholm (tour opener), Antwerp, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, most of Germany and many more. Dave also confirmed that later legs would be announced including North AND South America.
Among the dates, there is the band's first U.K. stadium show since 1993's legendary Crystal Palace gig, with a show at the London Stadium on June 3 2017. Tickets for the first leg go on sale in the next few days.
The band played a short film to introduce the press conference which featured snippets of three tracks. The first felt very electronic and seemed to feature many of Martin's modular synths. The next was dark and atmospheric, featuring Portishead like guitar and lots of moaning and "woo-ooh"ing. The third and final track was the only one to feature vocals. Moody, electronic music played while the words
"Where's the revolution? Come on people, you're letting me down."
repeated twice. I don't want to get carried away, but all three sounded superb. Imagine me saying that eh?
Dave confirmed that the album has been produced by James Ford and that it's an incredible record that they're all proud of. Martin and Fletch echoed that by saying "We are" at exactly the same time. The album features two songs by Dave - don't know if there's a co-wrtiter or not as yet.
The band were asked about what they intend to play on tour - Martin said "I'm sure we'll upset a lot of you." They clearly read the online forums.
The conference has now entered the fan questions stage. As ever, these are mainly odd questions, but from them we do know that the band are working with Anton for the projections and photos, plus they'll be working on a video with him. Seems he'll be heavily involved as ever.
You'll read lots about this in many other places from now on, so that'll do me in terms of a live(ish) report. If you are a hairdresser in need of work, send the band a c.v.
Here are the full tour dates:
May 5 - Stockholm, Sweden - Friends Arena
May 7 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Ziggo Dome
May 9 - Antwerp, Belgium - Sportpaleis
May 12 - Nice, France - Stade Charles-Ehrmann
May 14- Ljubljana, Slovenia - Dvorana Stožice
May 17 - Athens, Greece - Terra Vibe Park
May 20 - Bratislava, Slovakia - Štadión Pasienky
May 22 - Budapest, Hungary - Groupama Aréna
May 24 - Prague, Czech Republic - Eden Aréna
May 27 - Leipzig, Germany - Festwiese
May 29 - Lille, France - Stade Pierre-Mauroy
May 31 - Copenhagen, Denmark - Telia Parken
June 3 - London, United Kingdom - London Stadium
June 5 - Cologne, Germany - RheinEnergieStadion
June 9 - Munich, Germany - Olympiastadion
June 11 - Hannover, Germany - HDI Arena
June 18 - Zurich, Switzerland - Letzigrund Stadion
June 20 - Frankfurt, Germany - Commerzbank-Arena
June 22 - Berlin, Germany - Olympiastadion
June 25 - Rome, Italy - Stadio Olimpico
June 27 - Milan, Italy - Stadio San Siro
June 29 - Bologna, Italy - Stadio Rentao Dall'Ara
July 1 - Paris, France - Stade de France
July 4 - Gelsenkirchen, Germany - Veltins-Arena
July 6 - Bilbao, Spain - BBK Live Festival
July 8 - Lisbon, Portugal - NOS Alive Festival
July 13 - St. Petersburg, Russia - SKK
July 15 - Moscow, Russia - Otkritie Arena
July 17 - Minsk, Belarus - Minsk-Arena
July 19 - Kiev, Ukraine - Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex
July 21 - Warsaw, Poland - PGE Narodowy
July 23 - Cluj-Napoca, Romania - Cluj Arena
Following the European tour dates in Summer 2017, the Global Spirit Tour will continue with shows in North and South America.
How many times do I get asked that? Last Thursday, for example, my firm hosted a quiz for clients. I was the quizmaster and wrote all the questions. One of the answers was Just Can't Get Enough (not one for the DM purists I know) and I mentioned the band both during the quiz and in the e-mail I sent the next day thanking everyone for coming, said e-mail referencing the fact that Depeche had been mentioned more times than was probably reasonable during what was an event promoting my firm.
One thing that surprised me that night was that many people said "Are they still going?" This was a bunch of people who, it must be said, had performed very well during my Synthpop Intros Round, all professing a knowledge of early 80's synthpop, including Just Can't Get Enough, yet none of the knew that Depeche were still going. Once I explained that they were, and I did so in the briefest way I could, every single one of them said, "Why Depeche Mode?" with a couple saying "Surely they were finished by the time you discovered music?"
Ok, that's a compliment as I'm 42 years old, but that aside, those reactions were odd.
So why Depeche Mode? What makes them stand out among all other bands? What continues to draw me to them after all these years? I adore many, many bands - R.E.M., The Pixies, The Smiths, Kraftwerk, New Order, Joy Division, Nine Inch Nails to name a few older ones, The Insomniac Project, Priest, HQFU, Machines In Heaven, Everything Everything, Nailbiter, Beliefs, to name a few newer, many of whom I've found thanks to this blog.
But, above them all, there will always be Depeche Mode. Yes, the most recent years haven't matched the highs of, say, 1986 to 1993 in terms of experimentalism as pop music, but my love for them has never wavered. Sounds Of The Universe tested it certainly, but I took that as an album being a vehicle for a tour and saw numerous shows and met numerous wonderful people, a feat repeated in 2013/14 with the wonderful Delta Machine and the even bigger number of shows I saw, catching up with old friends and making even more new ones.
I'm not, or at least I don't think I am, one of those fans who obsess over every Depeche detail there is. You might chuckle at that, given the nonsense I've written over 4 years of this blog, but I do like to see myself as one of the more rational Depeche Mode fans. Ok, there's a huge record collection that mocks that claim, but, among the DM tribe, I'm fairly normal. My 3 shows in 5 days on the Delta Machine tour is seen my non Mode pals as the actions of a man on the brink of a breakdown. To my Depeche friends, it's seen as a less than impressive attempt at keeping up with them.
I just paused to ask myself why I'm even writing this at 00:45 am on Sunday 9 October. Well, the reason is this: I've just come home from a night out with friends where I told them about unconfirmed Depeche Mode tour dates on what may, or may not, be the 2017 tour. (I won't mention what appears to be the name of the tour here as it's not confirmed). I also, with unnecessary excitement, told me wife about it in the taxi on the way to meet our friends. I then came home, did the usual last Facebook check of the night (you ALL do that) and saw what bears to be a new official picture of the band.
And with that, all thought of sleep passed and I started hunting out information. Information that I know will be speculation until Tuesday's press conference, but information I need to have all the same. I've already set aside an hour when I should be actually working for Tuesday's press conference. A press conference by a band? A press conference where they'll no doubt announce an 18 month campaign that we could already predict about 80% of the details. But, and here's the thing, it's a Depeche Mode press conference, where new Depeche Mode information will come to light.
So why Depeche Mode?
Because no other band inspires this sort of nonsense in a man that should know better given his age
Because Enjoy The Silence genuinely changed my life
Because of Stripped
Because of The Sun And The Rainfall
Because of the last minute of Strangelove on 101 where Martin sings "Strangelove" repeatedly
Because of that harsh but glorious metal bashing sound halfway through It's No Good
Because of The Things You Said
Because of the World In My Eyes video, teasing us with World Violation footage
Because of Precious
Because of the dark perfection of Ultra
Because Violator is the single most inspirational album of all time
Because Martin brought But Not Tonight back to such heartbreaking perfection in 2013
Because of so many other things, too numerous to name here
The mysterious countdown on depechemode.com has been partially if not wholly explained.
The band will be holding a press conference in Milan where they will presumably announce details of their new album and world tour. Will there be anything else in store? A new single to download immediately? Details of a Radiohead like super duper boxset? An album jointly produced by Alan Wilder, Vince Clarke and Ralf Hutter? Probably not, but most Depeche fans will now be entering a state of frenzied anticipation that will lead to aggressive disappointment no matter what Milan throws up. Such is life.
But we do at least now know that a day has been announced and on that day more announcements will be announced.
If you are German, you can win tickets to attend via Ticketmaster.de - CLICK THIS
More news as and when it comes in. Meanwhile, all eyes on Milan....
I featured Aberdeen based electronic experimental artist Fiona Soe Paing last year as one of my new artists of 2015. Her debut releases were captivating and her single Heartbeat, released on Glasgow's Hot Gem Records, was a real treat. Its hypnotic feel points the way to many of the tracks on her debut album Alien Lullabies, but that only tells half the story. With this debut, Fiona has crafted a bewitching, powerful album that merits repeated listens.
What immediately strikes you about Alien Lullabies is the way it surrounds and immerses you. Opener Prelude/Meet Me Where The Rainbow Ends takes is a gentle start, taking you by the hand and leading you in the darkness, before the wonderful Tamin Sah Pade grabs you in its Massive Attack like black grasp, eerie but uplifting. It's built on a mysterious, repetitive groove, balancing its dark feel against Fiona's wonderful vocals. Tah Stin Koh Mpor follows, like a reboot of Kraftwerk at their most alien during their Radioactivity period, an album that echoes throughout this release. Swamp Blues adds some beef to the sound with its treated vocals and Depeche Mode Songs Of Faith And Devotion era blues rock meeting Bjork's experimentalism head on.
In general, this album has a sparse feel, but the space in the songs is perfectly judged, with each track saying plenty without overdoing anything. Ballad Of The Two Sisters and Winter's Day are perfect examples of that - both sounding like echoes of a song beamed in from somewhere else, but both captivating. Behrot and Roller Ghoster offer the same slightly unsettling but ultimately uplifting experience. The closing Time Clocks is the perfect end to the album, sounding like an escape from the alien atmosphere that cloaks the preceding tracks, providing hope beyond the darkness. Again, I've reminded of Kraftwerk's Radioactivity album in feel and sound and that is very much a compliment.
Scotland's electronic music scene is something we Scots should be proud of, and one of its key features is the sheer diversity of music within that very scene. With Alien Lullabies, Fiona Soe Paing has added yet another layer to the electronic music on offer in the country and she's added one of the most enthralling layers of all. Alien Lullabies is an album you really must check out. Dark, experimental and quite wonderful. Don't miss out on this one,
Alien Lullabies by Fiona Soe Paing is available now on Colliderscope. The album launch show takes place on Thursday 29 Septmeber at Stereo in Glasgow and it's free to enter so get along there. Fiona also supports Michael Rother at Glasgow Art School on Friday 30 September.
Patience is an artist who first came to this blog's attention with the sublime The Church, released on Glasgow's ever excellent Night School Records in May this year. The two tracks on that release, The Church and My Own Invention sounded like long lost snippets of the finest late 70's/early 80's synthpop or coldwave - stark, minimal analogue slices of wonder that contained more than enough melody to make them synthpop, albeit synthpop with a distinct edge. With the release of The Pressure, Patience has raised the synthpop stakes and released what us surely the missing link between The Normal, Fad Gadget and Yazoo. Basically, this is the single Mute Records forgot to release.
This song contains every aspect of early synthpop that makes it special. The lead riff 17 seconds in is as striking as anything Vince wrote for the first incarnation of Depeche Mode and the addition of the primitive yet perfect beats 40 seconds in only serve to take the song to another level. The chorus is as joyous as you;d like and the synth lines that flutter in and out add layer upon layer of icy electronic perfection to the song. Seriously, you'll do well to hear a better song this year. Listen to it immediately then go and buy it. You need to have this.
The Pressure by Patience is released on Night School Records on 24 September. It's available on ultra limited 7" (300 copies) from Night School, Monorail in Glasgow or Norman Records. It's also available digitally too through the Night School Bandcamp.
The plan is to feature brief interviews with people who were there, who were involved in the gigs and more. At this stage, I'm hoping to hear from people who were at the gigs in 1981, 1982 and 1983. Were you there? Do you know anyone who was?
I make no apologies for reviewing a new Priest release almost as soon as it comes out. As you'll no doubt know by now, I'm a huge fan of this band and I genuinely think they can't put a foot wrong. This is their first full release since 2015's wonderful self titled debut, and it's a gem. There are many bands who release A-sides that don't even come close to the quality of these B-sides.
Youth, a brand new track,opens the e.p. in a blizzard of icy cool electro, bringing to mind the glorious emotional synths early OMD with a healthy dose of prime Yazoo. This track is up there with Priest's finest and encapsulates what they do best - uplifting synthpop that hits that emotional nerve that only that type of music can. We're The Same follows and, like I've said before (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/priest-were-same.html), it adds an edge to the band's sound which is great to hear, although it should be said that this remains a pop song and a superb one at that. The pop theme continues with Dark Sun, like Chrvches at their most bubblegum, before we end on the outstanding Don't Let Go. Imagine New Order era Confusion influenced by the Orlando sunshine rather than the New York electro club scene and you've got Don't Let Go. It's as catchy as you like and a superb end to this e.p.
And that's that. Only four songs, but four songs that immediately remind you just how good Priest are. For me, Youth is the standout here and it's proof that Priest are a band to keep an eye on. Roll on their next release I say. If Youth is the direction Priest are headed, there is surely no stopping them.
The B-Sides E.P. by Priest is available now on ITunes and Spotify.
In what Sony are calling the "first in a series of band approved retrospective projects," Depeche Mode's Video Singles Collection will be released on November 11, 2016. It's a 3 DVD set containing every single one of the band's videos, from the sublime (Enjoy The Silence, Walking In My Shoes, Personal Jesus and every other video from A Question Of Time to Home) to the ridiculous (It's Called A Heart, The Meaning Of Love) to Hole To Feed, an uncatregorisable video in every single sense. Let's have a look at what's on offer.
First up, the cover art is cool. The DM logo is a bit odd, but the use of the iconic icons is superb and has been wonderfully trailed by the band's official channels this week. 10 out of 10 for that. Content wise, you can guess what's there because, like I said above, it contains every video for every single the band have released. Over the three DVD's, that's 55 singles and many good, if not great videos. The landmark Anton Corbijn era ones stand out of course, but there's something enjoyably naive about some of the early ones, from the leather clad guys turn cocktail drinking trumpet players of Just Can't Get Enough to the clearly made on loads of drugs Julien Temple directed Leave In Silence. One of my favourite non Anton videos is Shake The Disease as that marks the precise moment the band became actual Gods.
There are bonuses too in the way of 4 additional videos:
People Are People (12" version)
But Not Tonight (Pool Version)
Soothe My Soul (Extended)
Stripped (Unreleased Alternate Cut)
I know I should have, but I've never seen that version of But Not Tonight and the Unreleased Alternate Cut of Stripped is intriguing. Soothe My Soul was not that enjoyable in its original format, so an Extended version fails to get my blood racing.
There is all new commentary from the band too, recorded this year. I usually forget to listen to commentary, but all new chat will be worth hearing. If it's like the commentaries they provided for the reissues, that'll be interesting.
One of the most intriguing things about this is Sony's assertion that it's the first of a number of band approved retrospectives. That certainly caught my eye and we can perhaps hope that more vintage Depeche stuff will hit our shelves one day. The next Singles boxset perhaps or maybe something more - who knows? It's worth keeping an eye on.
As for this release as a whole, it's going to know doubt cause the usual ructions among the fan base. The press release says that it's 55 "newly restored" videos on DVD, so I guess that means no Blu-Ray which won't go down well in some quarters.
An essential release then? Probably not, but it's one I'll buy anyway. A whole set of the videos in one place is fine by me and the new commentary should hopefully throw up a few interesting things. Next year seems to be when the Mode machine cranks up again, so it's nice to have a starter meantime. Ok, it's maybe more of a salad than a prawn cocktail in the starter world, but Video Singles Collection should hopefully be a tasty enough prelude to the main meal served up next year. A review will follow with, I promise, no tortured food analogies.
Depeche Mode Video Singles Collection is released on 11 November 2016 on 3 DVD set. It will be available from all usual outlets.
The Violator period is my favourite Depeche Mode period, not just for the jaw dropping, awe inspiring majesty of the music, but also for the artwork. The album cover is a work of simplistic genius and the single artwork for the four singles Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence, Policy Of Truth and World In My Eyes is stunning. There will be time to look at these in depth later, but today, we focus on a rare 12" promo for World In My Eyes, the fourth and final Violator single. This release is my favourite Depeche 12" promo and so it's ushered into the Museo to be celebrated with all its other rare chums.
12BONG20 12" promo - front
The first thing you see here is the stark but gorgeous cover. It's in a plain white sleeve with a sticker at the bottom. The picture on the right hand side is Dave doing the World In My Eyes sign (let's just call it that), his silhouette taken from the picture of him that appears on the rear of L12BONG20. Written on Dave is a series of five numbers and that's where you find what number your 12" promo is. Mine is 00419.
Sticker on front of 12BONG20 12" promo
Over the last couple of days, I've consulted the wise gang of collectors on the wonderful depmod.com forum and Facebook page and the consensus is that there were only 500 of these promos issued, so it's a nice rare thing to have. I absolutely love the sticker idea as it gives an extra touch of magic to the usually otherwise generic promo 12" single. Also, fans of catalogue numbers will note that this release doesn't have a promo style catalogue number. There is a P12BONG20 in existence and it features World In My Eyes (Mayhem Mode Mix) and Happiest Girl (The Pulsating Orbital Mix (Instrumental)) whilst this record features the three tracks that appear on the official release of 12BONG20, yet it's not the one called P12BONG20. A mystery eh? I accept it's the type of mystery that only applies to a tiny percentage of the world's population, but if you're reading this, it's likely that you're one of them.
12BONG20 Side A
To the music then. As you'll see above, the record is a white label promo which for the uninitiated, means that the label is blank. I'm sure you worked that out yourselves. Side A features one track, the imperious World In My Eyes (Oil Tank Mix) which is one of the finest Depeche mixes there is. Side A can be identified by the matrix that appears in the run out groove of the vinyl - 12 BONG 20 A1 PR-R Copymasters Miles B. The vinyl was mastered by Copymasters, presumably by a chap called Miles B, and distributed by PR Records, hence the PR-R.
12BONG20 - Side B
Side B features two remixes of two of the finest Depeche B-sides there are: Happiest Girl (Kiss-A-Mix) and Sea Of Sin (Sensoria). I mentioned the Violator era's general magnificence earlier. The fact that it gave us B-sides of the quality of Dangerous, Happiest Girl and Sea Of Sin is yet another reason to view it as essentially mankind's greatest ever triumph. Going back to the record above, you can impress friends and lovers alike by telling them that the matrix on the run out groove of Side B is 12 BONG 20 B1 PR-R B.
12BONG20 promo 12" - rear.
It would bother me if I didn't add a picture of the rear of the record for completeness' sake so there you go. Not my most thrilling work I admit...
This record is a genuinely rare thing what with only 500 copies in existence and it's a step above your usual 12" promo because of the glorious sticker on the front. The fact that, unlike all the other Violator era 12" promos, it uses imagery from the official releases, makes it really special, and, if you can find one, my advice is to get it. It can be pricey though with Discogs currently offering two for sale with the cheapest at an eye watering and somewhat taking the piss £249 plus postage (https://www.discogs.com/sell/release/1276324?ev=rb). Hang on for a cheaper sale and go for it - you won't be disappointed.