OMD – Liberator Revisited

“I thought this one would be edgier, but I seem to have written my poppiest album ever!” – Andy McCluskey

If you were to poll a cross section of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark fans asking them to rank their twelve studio albums in order of favourite, it’s highly likely that 1993’s Liberator is going to rank somewhere in the bottom three.
The second of a trio of 1990s solo Andy McCluskey albums released under the OMD name, Liberator has divided opinion since its original release almost 25 years ago. Despite featuring some moments of brilliance, many reviewers were damning with their criticism, declaring it as both “a collection of featherweight pop doodles” and “twiddly chocolate-box tosh”. In this article we look at the build-up to this album, and revisit its contents track-by-track.

By the time the Sugar Tax tour had ended in November 1991, the live band – which comprised Nigel Ipinson, Phil Coxon and Abe Juckes – had performed over sixty shows in Europe and the USA, including a handful of support slots for Simple Minds (who they would later support in 2009 on the Graffiti Soul tour). This was in addition to a slew of other promotional work in support of the album and its four attendant singles, including two huge Top Ten hits in ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’ and ‘Pandora’s Box’. And, with a TV soundtrack (BBC’s For The Greater Good) to add to McCluskey’s impressive CV, OMD’s profile had not been as high since the early 1980s.

Whilst an ill-advised brace of follow-up singles – ‘Then You Turn Away’ and a remixed ‘Call My Name’ – failed to crack the Top 40, the year still ended on a high with a well-received second wave of live appearances in the UK and further dates in Europe. The dilemma facing the 32-year old McCluskey in the new year was whether to record and release a quick follow-up to Sugar Tax and consolidate OMD’s high profile, or to spend time building up a substantial pool of new songs in which to fashion an album that was as worthy of the OMD name as its predecessor. With a double-platinum record on their hands, Virgin Records would most certainly have exerted pressure on him to deliver a sequel as soon as possible. McCluskey told Future Music magazine in 1999: “I made Liberator too quickly… I was so surprised by the success of Sugar Tax I ran straight back into the studio and wrote another album!”

Production and programming duties were handled by McCluskey and Phil Coxon, the pair having become acquainted during the recording of the Sugar Tax album at the Pink Museum recording studio in Liverpool. Coxon had done some engineering work on the album and was talked into playing keyboards on the ensuing tour by McCluskey. Crucially, Coxon had also proven himself as a capable remixer, producing several uncredited mixes of ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’ for the American market.

Confident of a repeat-success of Sugar Tax, Virgin Records invested fairly heavily in the promotion of Liberator, bankrolling two expensive videos for ‘Stand Above Me’ (filmed on location in New York) and the green-screened ‘Dream Of Me (Based On Love’s Theme)’. A large number of promotional box sets were also issued – these included a biography, 4-track audio cassette and From Factory to Liberty, a VHS video that featured a short history of the band and a documentary of the New York video shoot. As for the sleeve, the story behind this is an article in itself, with Virgin deeming the original design too risqué. Its vibrant replacement, featuring a collage of images of a Cherokee Native American, also incorporated a new OMD logo, which erased a quarter of the typeface.

HMV and Menzies declared Liberator their ‘Album of the Week’, while Tower Records, Virgin Megastore, Our Price, Woolworths, WH Smith all displayed the album in their windows – over a hundred independent retailers also featured the album prominently in store. In addition, Capital Radio ran an OMD weekend shortly after the album’s slightly delayed release in mid-June.

Following some criticism about the Sugar Tax booklet, McCluskey consented to his lyrics being printed inside Liberator, but insisted that they weren’t presented in the conventional poetry style. McCluskey was now also comfortable with his name featuring prominently, as opposed to just ‘OMD’.

Stand Above Me

With his grounding in dance music, which included remixes for Liverpudlian electronic outfit Oceanic (best remembered for 1991’s ‘Insanity’), Phil Coxon was invited to produce some remixes for the new album’s lead-off single. ‘Stand Above Me’ was white-labelled first,” recalled Coxon in 1993. “They [the record label] thought that if a trendy, hip DJ says “what’s this record?”, picks it up and it’s got OMD on it, it’s very likely he’s going to put it back down. So it was put out as ‘Stand Above Me’ by The Liberator and it worked – it fooled them all. All the DJs were playing it all the time, even the DJs in Liverpool who got copies of it.” The label’s – and McCluskey’s – faith in Coxon was vindicated when they were rewarded with a sizeable Billboard dance hit. The problem was, the remixes bore no resemblance to the actual song and Coxon’s remixes would attract a fair amount of criticism from fans throughout the year.

Backed with sparkling B-side ‘Can I Believe You?’ (which many fans favoured to the A-side), the single arrived in May 1993. Described by McCluskey as a Ronettes-meets-Status Quo mash-up, the simple 3-chord song was co-written by Stuart Kershaw and Lloyd Massett, who had both contributed significantly to the writing of Sugar Tax. It followed the same template as ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’, with its huge drums, steady organ and throwaway lyrics. Indeed, an appearance on Top Of The Pops saw McCluskey, Coxon and Ipinson all donning guitars in a Quo-like tribute! A perfectly serviceable, but decidedly unmemorable lead-off single, it peaked at number 21 (it’s possible that it missed out on a Top 20 placing due to its lack of a second CD single).

Though the band deemed the single worthy of a place in the encores of the Liberator shows, the track hasn’t aged well and was left off the two compilation albums, The OMD Singles and Messages.

Everyday

Arguably, one of the biggest problems with Liberator is that it’s trying too hard, and the desire to spawn hits comes through in its over-fussy and cluttered production. Somewhat tellingly, McCluskey told Vox that year: “The main thing is, I hate songs that are no good, that you can’t remember the tune of. I can’t stand boring songs, and if I wrote them I’d be really pissed off with myself. I sweat blood to write songs with tunes that you can remember.” The grammatically-incorrect ‘Everyday’ is a case in point, with its cloyingly catchy melody that called to mind the Sega and Nintendo platform games of the early 1990s. It had actually started life as a middle-of-the-road ballad – which McCluskey had co-written with Paul Humphreys in 1987 – and some fans maintained it should have stayed in the vaults.

The accompanying video was a relatively low-budget affair that incorporated footage from a warm-up gig at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre. The single flopped, peaking at a lowly number 59, and is perhaps best remembered for its haunting, ethereal B-side, ‘Every Time’.

King Of Stone

One of OMD’s great strengths over the years has been their ability to craft a beautiful melodic song using the bare minimum of chords – ‘King Of Stone’ certainly falls into this category. This simple two-chord song was one of the album’s highlights, with McCluskey cleverly switching from first to third person in the lyrics: “Once again, he’s all alone/ Here am I, the king of stone”. What lets it down slightly is the production, featuring a booming percussive loop and irritating handclaps.

Dollar Girl

Boasting a huge chorus that threatened to morph into ‘Unchained Melody’, ‘Dollar Girl’ had been inspired by an article that McCluskey had read about Russian prostitutes dealing only in American dollars. With its sequencer-heavy production and a well-used Korg M1 providing the choral effects, this one-time single contender became a favourite with the fans who favoured tracks such as ‘Speed Of Light’ and ‘Call My Name’ from the Sugar Tax album.

Dream Of Me (Based on Love’s Theme)

With mixed reviews for the album and the failure of ‘Stand Above Me’ to crack the Top 20, initial sales of Liberator were disappointing. The album would eventually spend just 6 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 14 (by contrast, Sugar Tax had hit number 3 and spent over six months in the charts). Virgin rolled the dice with the second scheduled single…

McCluskey ‘had an idea’…based on ‘Love’s Theme’, a transatlantic instrumental chart-topper for Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra in 1973. It was originally written for Sugar Tax but Barry White had blocked its release, before eventually relenting a few years later. McCluskey expanded on the story in Vox magazine that year: “He thought the hook went, “Had an idea – let’s start a love theme.” Anyway, he rang me up and said: ‘Look Andrew, this is your masterpiece, you sing what you wanna sing. But “Let’s start a love theme” – I love it. It could be a man and a woman, friends, family, countries – the whole motherfucking world!”

Interestingly, the original ‘Love Theme’ sample was used on the album version of the song (with White collecting a sizeable portion of the songwriting royalties), but erased from the Single version. McCluskey reflected to Future Music magazine in 1993: “Even after 15 years in the music business, I’m finding new ways to get screwed by people.” As a condition for the use of ‘Love Theme’, White was unfairly listed as sole writer and producer of the track.

Pedro Romahni was employed to direct the stunning video for the single. Romahni was a well experienced director who had helmed several videos for artists such as The Beautiful South, The Sugarcubes and Paul Weller. McCluskey had been particularly impressed with the video for Dina Carroll’s 1992 single ‘Ain’t No Man’, which combined meticulous choreography with clever camera trickery to create an animation-like effect.

Representing something of a departure from OMD’s traditional sound, the well-crafted single peaked at a disappointing number 24. There was an array of formats, which included two largely forgettable non-album tracks (‘Strange Sensations’ and ‘The Place You Fear The Most’).

Sunday Morning

To some, the appearance of ‘Sunday Morning’ on Liberator suggested that McCluskey was short on material. However, in the 1990s it was seemingly quite fashionable to cover songs by both Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, with the likes of Duran Duran, U2, Nirvana, Billy Idol and the much-missed Kirsty MacColl all having a crack. OMD were not averse to the odd cover version themselves (see ‘Telstar’, ‘The More I See You’, ‘Neon Lights’, etc) and had of course already covered the arthouse rockers’ seminal tale of a New York drug deal, ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, on the 10″ B-side of ‘Messages’. Nigel Ipinson’s straight, but unremarkable, glockenspiel arrangement was faithful to the original 1967 single, while the guitar solo was provided by Stuart Boyle (who’d also played on Sugar Tax).

Agnus Dei

Used as the opening music during the live shows that year, gothic rave instrumental ‘Agnus Dei’ was the first track written for Liberator, and something of a concession to the musical trends of the era. Inspired both by a love of religious choral music and the fast-paced techno tracks of the early 1990s (see Altern-8, U96, Urban Hype, The Prodigy, 2 Unlimited, etc), McCluskey explained the track’s inception to Future Music magazine in 1993: “I like techno and rave music, but I didn’t know how it was done, so that song is, like, teach-yourself-techno. Instead of doing a generic rave track, I wanted to put its own personality there… so I threw in a sample from a Christopher Tye cathedral music CD.”

Phil Coxon recalled that the original demo was quite different to the album version: “He [McCluskey] was worried about it being too fast, and I think the culprits for putting that fear into his head were the record company advisors from the dance department who seemed concerned that really fast rave was out now.” Indeed, by the time of the album’s release, ‘rave’ music was becoming increasingly out of fashion, with discerning dance record buyers favouring the ‘Eurodance’ sub-genre (see Snap, Culture Beat, Haddaway, et al).

Love And Hate You

‘Love And Hate You’, a more conventional ‘verse-chorus’ pop song with analogue synths, maintained side two’s fast pace. It was originally conceived as a slower, reggae-style number during writing sessions for Sugar Tax, before being given something of a Vince Clarke-style makeover. McCluskey told the Telegraph fanzine in 1993: “Lyrically, it’s about loving and hating somebody – you love somebody but they drive you mad. It’s great fun – it’s a really good pop song. Probably sounds a bit Erasure-ish actually – it’s like a tough Erasure song.”

Heaven Is

Ten years after it was debuted during a short tour in September 1983 (supported by Howard Jones), ‘Heaven Is’ finally made it on to an OMD album. The original version (as documented on live bootlegs and 2015’s Junk Culture reissue) was a ‘Blue Monday’-inspired LinnDrum-heavy experiment, with McCluskey reeling off a list of things that made him tick. Much-fabled amongst OMD fans during the mid-1980s, the track was considered for inclusion on both Crush and The Pacific Age. The new version featured some lyrical tweaks, with adult film actress Christy Canyon replacing former BBC presenter Selina Scott as the object of his affections. Disappointingly, it lacked the original’s charm – over produced and permeated with more dated ‘rave’ stabs, ‘Heaven Is’ was something of an anti-climax.

Best Years Of Our Lives

By the time of the album’s release, McCluskey had been writing songs with Stuart Kershaw for over three years. “Increasingly, though I hate to say it, the way that we write has become more and more like the way I used to work with Paul Humphreys,” he admitted to Future Music magazine. “I’m sitting at the computer and Stuart’s sitting at the keyboard, he’ll start playing something and I’ll say, ‘Ooh, that sounds nice!’… his ideas are so totally different to what I would be capable of myself, so it’s exciting when he plays something that I wouldn’t think of but I know I can do something with.”

One particular idea stemming from this partnership was ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’, one of the best tracks on the album and a firm favourite amongst fans. This slow melancholic number featured one of McCluskey’s finest vocal performances, and its appearance on a 4-track sampler cassette suggested that it was considered for single release. Sadly, this never materialised, and the song was performed just once in concert at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, August 1993.

Christine

Another track co-written with Stuart Kershaw – and originally written for Sugar Tax – ‘Christine’ was, arguably, the album’s masterpiece, with McCluskey utilising a fictitious narrative about a suicidal New Yorker who has resorted to stripping to make ends meet. The genius of the track lies not just in its beautifully vivid lyrics, but also in the way in which the production complements the tension of the song. A hip-hop-style drum loop evokes images of the Manhattan streets, while the strings heighten the increasing drama as the doomed protagonist enters the water and floats into the darkness of the Hudson river. It’s pretty bleak stuff, but classic OMD.

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Only Tears

After the superb ‘Christine’, the album somewhat limped over the finishing line with the disappointing closer ‘Only Tears’. McCluskey described the song, thus: “I guess it’s just about sadness at the end of a relationship and how you should be dealing with it.” With the line “When you lose someone you depend on” featuring in the lyrics, some fans often compared the song to Eurythmics’ 1986 hit ‘When Tomorrow Comes’.

In terms of his objective, McCluskey certainly succeeded in making an album that was more electric and 90s-sounding than its predecessor. But, with expectations so high after the enormous success of Sugar Tax, Virgin will have been bitterly disappointed by the poor return on their investment in the follow-up. Much of the blame for its poor performance has been attributed to its production, with McCluskey telling Spin Magazine in 2013: “I programmed it all myself. Then I worked with a producer [Coxon] who reprogrammed it. I wanted to keep my programming and he wanted to keep his programming, so every song had two sets. Boy, was it busy. Way too busy. That’s something that unfortunately I didn’t really get my head around at the time.”

With McCluskey and Coxon pulling the songs in different directions, it would be very easy to point the fingers at the producers. However, the main problem with Liberator is that the songs – on the whole – simply weren’t good enough. There were two notable tracks that almost made it on to the album: ‘Kiss Of Death’ was a ballad that sources close to the band raved about, and there was ‘Twins’ which had been inspired by a Life magazine article about a girl who died in a circus fire in 1946. It’s difficult to speculate whether these songs would have improved the album – McCluskey declared that they were too good to be B-sides.

One other song that could have improved Liberator was ‘Kissing The Machine’, an excellent collaboration with Karl Bartos, but this ended up on the former Kraftwerk legend’s album Esperanto (and, 20 years later, on English Electric).

The experience proved to be something of a learning curve for McCluskey, who would spend three years crafting Universal; a far superior album, but one that would ultimately close the book on this particular stage of OMD’s history.

Suggested alternative tracklisting:

Stand Above Me / Can I Believe You / King Of Stone / Dollar Girl / Dream Of Me (Based On Love’s Theme) / Agnus Dei / Every Time / Kissing The Machine / Christine / Best Years Of Our Lives


Thanks to Paul Browne and Mark Crouch

www.omd.uk.com
www.omd-messages.co.uk


AUSTRA at Village Underground

Toronto’s finest pay a visit to London…

Austra’s Future Politics album was a timely release that explored themes of human nature, politics and the environment. In a particularly turbulent time, Katie Stelmanis outlined a manifesto of sorts in which everyone has to play a part to battle against the “approaching dystopia”.

The album had largely been a solo effort with Katie penning much of it on her computer, stepping away from the studio sessions that had produced 2013’s Olympia. As a result, there’s perhaps a more intimate nuance to the material on the new album. Adapting those songs for a live performance must have provided a few challenges, but what’s interesting is the way much of the Future Politics songs (as well as earlier material) gets given a much heavier, dance-orientated adaptation for the live stage.

Meanwhile, support act Pixx seem to be a fine compliment to Austra. There’s a solid collection of songs with, at times, a similar baroque pop approach to our Canadian chums. Hannah Rodgers has a confident stage presence, while there’s a beefy, percussive feel to much of the material rolled out for the live show.

Prior to Austra arriving on stage, a playback of ‘Deep Thought’ (the brief plaintive instrumental from Future Politics) is given up as an overture of sorts before Katie and co. file out to their respective places.

The sound for Austra’s performance is also heavily weighted towards a much more bassy end of the spectrum. At times, this threatens to drown out the vocal elements of some tracks, but it also means that some songs take on a much more robust delivery than on record, such as ‘When We Were Alive’ and ‘Future Politics’ itself.

‘Utopia’ comes surprisingly early in the set and, again, has a particularly bass-heavy sound to it. To emphasise this, Dorian Wolf switches over from synths to bass guitar for the song.

In fact it’s only later that you realise the setlist opens up with the first tracks from Future Politics in sequence. This includes ‘I’m A Monster’, which offers a more reflective element to the live show with Katie’s operatic vocal delivery on-point.

Despite the small stage, Katie also makes an effort to come stage-front and wanders from left to right at moments. It’s perhaps a little disconcerting to have her literally inches away from everyone at the front – and at times there was a worry that she would misjudge the edge of the stage.

The band take a step back as Katie takes a solo spot on the piano for an emotive ‘Forgive Me’, but things step up a gear for a powerful version of ‘The Choke’. This gradual increase in a more emphatic performance of Austra material steps up again for a thumping rendition of ‘Freepower’.

Maya Postepski is in her element here, giving the drum kit a thorough workout. Meanwhile, Ryan Wonsiak becomes MC for the evening, leading the audience on with expressive gestures with his arms.

There’s a welcome response from the crowd for a fetching version of Olympia’s ‘Home’ before Katie begins to have a little boogie on stage for the opening bars of ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’.

The stage is bathed in red for a spectacularly energetic ‘Beat And The Pulse’, which also sees Katie headbanging at one point! This is followed up by a percussive live take on ‘Lose It’ before the band launch into the final song, which is ‘The Villain’. Arguably one of Austra’s best recorded songs, lately it’s been elevated to an energetic club-orientated thrash live version.

The band file back on stage for the encore, which includes the trance-like rhythms of ‘Habitat’ and ends with a particularly heartfelt ‘Hurt Me Now’. The audience give a final loud burst of applause as the final notes seem to echo in the cavernous location of Village Underground.

Austra have demonstrated that they’re a formidable live act who can still offer up surprises. But perhaps the most important thing is that they’re a band that are thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage. Katie Stelmanis continues to also prove that her particular talent for melodies and arrangement, matched with thoughtful lyrics, isn’t in danger of deserting her any time soon. As Austra depart London for the next leg of the Future Politics tour, we can only wonder what future sounds have yet to be explored.


www.austramusic.com


Teclist: SHAEFRI, VICTORIA CELESTINE & DJUSTIN

Veering towards a more pop-orientated list this week from the subtle dreampop of SHAEFRI, the synthpop-tinged pop of VICTORIA CELESTINE & the crunchy electronics of DJUSTIN

Shaefri – Monster

Based in London, electronic musician Shaefri has a mesmerising voice which floats over an evocative layer of gentle melodies on new single ‘Monster’. “I wrote ‘Monster’ at a time when I was in a bit of a dark place” suggests Shaefri, “and I found it to be a useful way of helping me accept that I had this ‘creature’ within me, that likes to self-destruct, but to try to resist it whilst learning to live alongside it – we all have our demons, but they help to make us who we are.”

Filmed in Cornwall, the video for ‘Monster’ shows Shaefri chased by four different painted masks representing aggression, weakness, fear and manipulation. Her minimalistic style has a subtle power and this beguiling slice of dreampop is likely to win over new fans.

‘Monster’ is out now, taken from the forthcoming EP Cracks. Shaefri will be launching the EP at a live show at Notting Hill Arts Club on 6th April.

https://www.shaefri.com
https://www.soundcloud.com/shaefri
https://www.youtube.com/shaefri


Victoria Celestine – Carrying On

There’s a bright and joyful flavour to this tune from Texas-based musician Victoria Celestine. ‘Carrying On’ also has a bit of a Chvrches feel at work here, which is never a bad thing when so many artists are aiming at a darker, sombre take on electronic music.

Although she spent her formative years learning piano and singing, it wasn’t until 2010 that Celestine embarked on her singer/songwriter career. While her music is definitely aimed at the world of pop, it’s also shored up with some good electronic foundations.

‘Carrying On’ will be available via digital on 21st April via A Badge Of Friendship.

http://victoriacelestine.com/
https://soundcloud.com/viccelestine/
https://twitter.com/viccelestine
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/artists/victoria-celestine


Djustin – Dancing

There’s a nice, crunchy feel to this number which comes courtesy of electronic duo Djustin. Formed of Johan Angergård and Rose Suau, the pair originate from Stockholm and Detroit respectively.

Djustin describe themselves as “a starry-eyed narrative set to driving beats, crystalline synths, and alluring vocals”, which is pretty much what ‘Dancing’ is all about. Their debut album Voyagers, from which this track is culled, arrives on 5th May.

‘Dancing’ is out now via Labrador Records.

http://djustin.com/
https://soundcloud.com/labrador-records
https://twitter.com/djustinband


The Music of GHOST IN THE SHELL

The anime adaptation goes electronic…

The business of scoring a film soundtrack has, in recent times, resulted in the soundtrack often having as much cultural impact as the film itself. The 2011 crime thriller Drive for instance cribbed from synthwave and had a carefully curated soundtrack that boasted the likes of Electric Youth and Kavinsky.

Equally, Tron: Legacy relied on the classic electronic sound of Daft Punk to capture the essence of the virtual reality world. Meanwhile, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson scored the critically-acclaimed Arrival (and is also scoring the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049).

Meanwhile, the forthcoming adaptation of classic anime Ghost In The Shell appears to be leaning heavily towards an electronic-influenced soundtrack, while also chucking in a few surprises along the way.

Originally a manga series, Ghost In The Shell is perhaps best known for the 1995 anime adaptation which has since become one of the most iconic classics of the anime genre. Set in the near future, Ghost In The Shell focuses on the character of Major Motoko Kusanagi, a special operative for the counter-terrorism outfit known as Section 9. The themes that the film (and later anime series) explored revolved around political intrigue, corruption and terrorism, but also looked at the concept of identity and the influence and evolution of artificial intelligence. The Major has a completely cybernetic body in which her “ghost” resides, enabling her to have superhuman abilities as well as the skill of hacking computer systems.

For the live action adaptation, Scarlett Johansson takes on the role of The Major for an adaptation that has attempted to be a largely faithful recreation of the anime. It’s a film that hasn’t been without its controversies (particularly surrounding the casting of Johansson) and the ‘cyberpunk’ aesthetic has been a tough thing to capture successfully on film in the past, but the visual design and approach employed by the film makers looks promising.

The soundtrack for Ghost In The Shell is being scored by Clint Mansell. The former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman, Mansell has carved out an impressive resume in film soundtrack work that includes Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan and the JG Ballard adaptation High-Rise. Mansell has also championed the dystopia duo of Jupiter-C, adding a remix to their recent release.

Meanwhile, attentive electronic music fans would have noticed the familiar tones of Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ in some of the trailers. The version used for Ghost In The Shell is a cover by Ki:Theory, aka US musician and producer Joel Burleson. Batting between the worlds of rock and electronic music, Burleson has previously done remixes for the likes of Ladytron, Daft Punk, UNKLE and Hans Zimmer.

Gary Numan has also contributed to the soundtrack, in the form of the brooding soundscape of ‘Bed Of Thorns’. The track had emerged in demo form from Numan’s production of forthcoming album Savage. The new album has been the focus of a Pledgemusic campaign – with ‘Bed Of Thorns’ one of the tracks that had originally been aired for people pledging to the campaign.

The film also features contributions from DJ Shadow, Above & Beyond and producer and composer Johnny Jewel (Glass Candy, Chromatics). Jewel had also previously contributed to the successful soundtrack for the aforementioned Drive. Trip hop figure Tricky also appears on the soundtrack with the oddly muscular track ‘Escape’.

There was some debate over Steve Aoki’s contribution however. The EDM producer and musician’s radical take on Kenji Kawai’s original theme music for the 1995 anime was largely derided by fans (However, Kawai’s original version of the theme is apparently also present and correct in the film).

These tracks will also feature on the forthcoming album Music Inspired By The Motion Picture Ghost In The Shell whose tracklisting is as follows:

01. Kenji Kawai ‘Utai IV Reawakening’ (Steve Aoki Remix)
02. Johnny Jewel ‘The Hacker’
03. Boys Noize ‘Cathryn’s Peak’
04. DJ Shadow ‘Scars’ (feat. Nils Frahm)
05. Above & Beyond ‘Surge’
06. IO Echo ‘Aokigahara Forest’
07. Tricky ‘Escape’
08. Ki:Theory ‘Enjoy The Silence’
09. Johnny Jewel ‘Free Fall’
10. Gary Numan ‘Bed of Thorns’
11. Johnny Jewel ‘The Key’
12. Kenji Kawai ‘Utai IV Reawakening’

Whether or not Ghost In The Shell manages to win audiences over remains to be seen, but the continued use of electronic music in film soundtracks is certainly a trend that deserves to continue.


Ghost In The Shell is released 31st March.

Music Inspired By The Motion Picture Ghost In The Shell is released 31st March. Pre-order via: https://ghostintheshell.lnk.to/album

http://ghostintheshell.tumblr.com/


CAROLINE McLAVY Electrostatic

Dancepop delights from the grassroots electronic scene…

The domestic electronic music scene has been rapidly evolving in recent years as the next generation of musicians step up with their own approach to synthpop. This can take many forms, often taking influences from a broader range of artists than simply the classic period of the 1980s. Or simply crafting effective electronic music from good melodies and rhythms.

Emerging from the Leicester music scene, Caroline McLavy has a background in running rehearsal rooms in her home city for a number of years. Although she’s used to working with rock outfits, her heart was always drawn to the more electronic end of the musical spectrum.

Electrostatic came together over a long period of time and features 11 tracks that revolve around traditional themes such as relationships, anxiety issues and frustration. As an album, it’s peppered with synth hooks, emotive melodies and simply good danceable rhythms.

Co-produced with Richard Henderson, Electrostatic’s main direction is simple solid electropop. But at times there’s a much more subtle use of music composition at work. There’s a clever use of counter melodies in places and a sharp ear for the use of additional electronic elements at the right spots.

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The album opens with the effective electronic dance pop of ‘Constant Pain’ which features an insistent synth melody on top of chugging electropop rhythms.

‘I’ll Take my Chances’ opens up with Blue Monday-esque percussion for an engaging slice of synthpop. Meanwhile, there’s more of an emotional punch to ‘This Is Not My Life’, a more reflective track that’s built around synthetic strings and some beefed up percussion.

McLavy dips back into dancepop for ‘Miss Perfect’, which apparently deals with McLavy’s frustrations in living with various housemates over the years. There’s a nice use of vocal melodies at work on this track alongside buzzy synth rhythms.

‘Signals’ addresses the confusion over the conflicting signals people can give off with a track that’s built around throbbing bass beneath a busy electronic collage.

There’s a good combination of classic electronic elements on Electrostatic alongside often alongside lyrics that can embody the mundane aspects of life. At points, it’s reminiscent of ‘lost’ synthpop outfit Macondo who mastered the art of good tunes and wry humour.

This is particularly evident on tracks such as ‘I Lied’, which has a much more classic electronic arrangement with its icy synth melody and busy electronic delivery.

The puzzles of relationships are explored in the bossa-nova beats of ‘Where Did I Go Wrong’, which has a nice subtle melodic appeal to it.

Album closer ‘The Calm Before the Storm’ has a deceptively low-key opening with a 2-note synth tune before opening up with a driving bass synth rhythm. It’s a curious number with its ambiguous lyrics (apparently to do with a visit from the bailiffs!) but also one of the best cuts on the album.

Electrostatic isn’t necessarily breaking new ground, but in a very competitive scene of emerging synthpop artists, McLavy has produced an album of good, serviceable pop tunes that manage to stand on their own.



Electrostatic is out now and available from Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, GooglePlay and Amazon.

http://www.carolinemclavy.co.uk

Caroline McLavy will be performing live at: 1st April: The Silicon Dreams/AnalogueTrash segment of the Threshold Festival in Liverpool, 8th-9th July: Silicon Dreams Festival.

Silicon Dreams is an electronic music festival taking place at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall Music Room and will feature performances from Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. More details: www.silicondreams.org.uk.


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Beautiful Life

The return of Sweden’s cinematic pop perfectionists…

Based in Stockholm, THE SOUND OF ARROWS are an electronic music duo consisting of Oskar Gullstrand and Stefan Storm who have crafted their own very distinctive style of widescreen synthpop since 2006.

Since the release of their debut album Voyage in 2011, the pair have been relatively inactive. But as perfectionists, The Sound Of Arrows like to take their time on music. “Most of the bands we really rate, they don’t make music on a conveyor belt – it’s more about when they’re ready and when they have something to present. It just took time to get right.”

‘Beautiful Life’, which is released today on the band’s own Skies Above record label, marks the return of the Swedish synthpop outfit. The song continues the electronic duo’s talent for cinematic pop, but there’s also a more organic element with big string arrangements prominent in the mix. “Turn up the music and bring down the rain” suggests the dreampop lyrics atop subtle synth rhythms. Meanwhile, the track is given plenty of epic sweeps courtesy of the strings section.

The Sound Of Arrows story originally kicked into gear with the release of the Danger! EP back in 2008. But it was 2009’s ‘Into The Clouds’ that put them on the map. It became one of the UK’s most downloaded songs for the week it was released, its appeal drawn from the synth melodies and washes of sound that typified The Sound Of Arrows approach.

Plans for an album soon followed, but the pair discovered that their sound was constantly evolving, which meant that they ended up dumping the first two album efforts. Although they managed to complete the third incarnation of the album (which became Voyage), issues with their then-label Geffen saw the album locked up for a year. When Geffen folded, the boys took the initiative and released Voyage themselves. This actually proved to be fortuitous as they could spend longer fine-tuning the album and also put back songs that Geffen hadn’t liked at the time.

Voyage presented a confident debut album for any electronic act. Just about every track has that combo of both “Big pop melodies wrapped in big, epic washes” and “melancholic euphoria” that the band described their sound as. It’s not surprising that the duo have listed outfits such as Vangelis and OMD as inspirations. From the electropop dramatics of ‘Conquest’ and the euphoric exuberance of ‘Wonders’, Voyage is a masterpiece of an album that still sounds fresh and exciting today.

Plans for a follow-up to Voyage were being looked at almost directly after the release of their debut album. Instead, Stefan Storm went off on a slightly different direction originally with Kids Of The Apocalypse, a project that kept the big sound of the Arrows, but drew on inspiration that included everything from Massive Attack, M83 and Gorillaz.

Although an announcement for a possible follow-up was announced in 2015, we’ve had to wait slightly longer for our next journey into the magical world of The Sound Of Arrows. But the duo are keen to get back into action. “We wanted to open the windows and let in some fresh air on this album,” explains Storm. “It’s less conceptual than our debut Voyage and a little more about us having two feet on the ground and maybe gazing up at the sky, rather than floating up in space this time.”

A release party took place in Stockholm on Thursday night in which the song was premiered in a live performance – complete with a string section.

‘Beautiful Life’ provides an intriguing window into the evolution of the outfit’s sound from the more obvious electronica of Voyage’s material. At the same time it’s indicative of the way that Gullstrand and Storm like to evolve their sound.


‘Beautiful Life’ is out today via Skies Above.

http://www.thesoundofarrows.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thesoundofarrows
https://twitter.com/soundofarrows
https://open.spotify.com/artist/3Kt34aALAZu5GUd3WRqsrZ
https://www.instagram.com/thesoundofarrows/


Teclist: MISSING WORDS, a.me & AMANI

A diverse selection of tunes this week from the bold synthpop of MISSING WORDS, the lo-fi charm of a.me & the smooth and soulful tones of AMANI…

Missing Words – Howl At The Moon

Hailing from California, Missing Words are a 3-piece synthpop outfit who have just released a new EP titled Memories. Described as “a compilation of youthful memories, losses, gains, and overall growth”, the tracks on this release have a bit of a nod towards synthwave. Some of the bassy synth rhythms certainly call to mind the likes of Electric Youth.

But there’s a a widescreen synthpop sound on tracks such as ‘Howl At The Moon’, with some nice melodic elements and sweeping synths. The track, which also features John Kunkel (The New Division), suggests the foundations for bigger things in the future.

Missing Words EP Memories is out now.

http://missingwordsband.com/
https://missingwords.bandcamp.com/releases


a.me – Plus D’un

a.me (pronounced “ay-mee”) is the combined project of Amy Hearn and former Blanche Hudson Weekend drummist, producer and programmer, Matt Robson.

Taken from their forthcoming album Crocus, ‘Plus D’Un’ showcases an unusual combo of electronics and indie pop. In fact the pair have flagged up such diverse influences as New Order, The Field Mice and Saint Etienne in the creation of their music. There’s certainly a lot of the breathy pop elements of Saint Etienne at work here which gives a.me a stylish flourish.

a.me arrive courtesy of the same outlet that produced Girl One And The Grease Guns, Next Phase : Normal Records. With a pedigree like that, you can’t really go wrong.

Crocus is due for release 29th March.

http://www.squirrelrecords.co.uk/


Amani – Feathers Falling

There’s a poignant element to this soulful, melodic tune care of South London-Based singer/songwriter Amani. ‘Feathers Falling’ was penned in the wake of the death of her sister, resulting in a haunting vulnerability to the delivery of the song.

The dark lo-fi elements at work here, combined with Amani’s husky vocals call to mind the smooth musicianship of artists such as Fifi Rong. It’s certainly got a similarity with the immersive soundscapes and layers of atmospheric sound.

‘Feathers Falling’ is due for release on 31st March via Amani’s own label 2NOR. An EP titled Perpendicular will follow soon after.

https://soundcloud.com/amani-am-i
https://www.facebook.com/AmaniOfficialMusic


JULIAN DeMARRE Electric Child

JULIAN DeMARRE delivers effective cinematic electronica…

Musician and composer Julian DeMarre’s forte is crafting ambient/electronica compositions that pull in analogue synths to create oddly atmospheric soundscapes. In 2015, DeMarre teamed up with director Malik Bader for the crime thriller Cash Only, which went on to win the Cheval Noir award at the Fantasia Film Festival.

Now DeMarre has composed a series of tracks for new album Electric Child, whose central theme revolves around reconnecting with the composer’s youth as well as looking forward to an uncertain future. Produced in collaboration with Dan Powell (Soniccouture) and recorded in both LA and Berlin, the album also features contributions from Heiko Maile (Camouflage), Michael Saup (Supreme Particle) and percussionist Tom Saup.

There’s a languorous quality to opening track ‘In A Strange Place’ whose oddly floating melodies suggest a sense of peace and tranquility. ‘State Of Flux’ combines a choppy rhythm with a warm, immersive somnambulance that suggests late nights and early mornings. It’s a track that breathes the warm ambience that’s reminiscent of bands such as Boards Of Canada.

Meanwhile, ‘Im Uberfluss’ opts for a more traditional technopop approach with its modulating rhythms and synth melodies.

Electric Child also features tracks that take inspiration from controversial topics, such as the pulsing electronica of ‘Finland’. The track is weaved around samples of a speech that Hitler gave in 1939 in response to Roosevelt’s demand that Germany not attack certain countries. DeMarre conceived of the track as a response to the recent rise of nationalist tendencies across the world.

Elsewhere, the mesmerising fractured rhythms of ’Disco Nnect’ draws inspiration from the final minutes in the TEPCO control centre in 2011, when the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant was imminent. The track also contains audio communication TEPCO was forced to release. This theme of nuclear disaster in Japan looms large over the album and Johan & Vedder’s video for the track ‘State Of Flux’ contains imagery from the forbidden zone in Fukushima Prefecture.

It’s also a concept that carries over into ‘Silverlining in Shinjuku’, whose squelchy electronics were inspired by an article revolving around “Silver Porn,” a trend in Japan where senior citizens find a second career appearing in porno films made in the red light district of Tokyo. ‘Silverlining in Shinjuku’ offers up a reflection on how life would be affected if a nuclear fallout had reached Tokyo. The track is peppered with indistinct vocal samples lending it a slight sense of unease.

‘Like To Feel Your Blip’ has hints of Leftfield in its bassy rhythms while tracks such as ‘Aggregat’ and ‘Clavius’ offer a much simpler slice of electronica that casts a nod to the more melodic elements of the German school of electronic music (think Tangerine Dream or Cluster).

There’s nods to the iconic Blade Runner score by Vangelis on ‘Portoplasm’ whose slightly out of phase synths pulse in and out lending it a ’70s cinematic feel, the sort of thing that Italian pro rock outfit Goblin made such an art out of. Elsewhere, ‘Echospace’ has a warm analogue feel to it overlaid with dreampop synths that convey a sense of comfortable fuzziness.

Described as “atmospheric music with the weight of tape machines and synths from the ’70s and ’80s”, the album does call to mind elements of synthwave and fans of the likes of the Stranger Things soundtrack will find common ground here. But in Electric Child, DeMarre has assembled an album that still carries its own identity and manages to convey an inspired soundtrack ambience.


Electric Child is due for release digitally on 20th March 2017 via Hommebot.

http://www.hommebot.com
https://www.instagram.com/hommebot
https://twitter.com/hommebot200


NEW ORDER to release new live album

Manchester’s premier league electropop outfit back in action…

NEW ORDER have continued to establish their legacy in recent years with the release of their 10th studio album Music Complete in 2015 and, more recently, a residency at the forthcoming Manchester International Festival.

Now the band are set to release a new live album titled NOMC15.

Back in November 2015, the band played two sold out nights at London’s Brixton Academy in support of Music Complete. The second of the two shows was captured by Live Here Now, and is set for release as NOMC15 (New Order Music Complete 15) on 26th May 2017.

Available as Deluxe Limited Edition packages, the album is released on Double CD, Triple Clear Vinyl (180g) and high definition download, all featuring the new artwork by Warren Jackson. Additional bundles available exclusively via Live Here Now include a T-shirt and a limited run of A3 Art Prints, reproducing the NOMC15 artwork.

All the items are available to order, directly to the fans, at neworder.pmstores.co. The formats are available individually and in specially-priced bundles, including the previous New Order / Live Here Now release, 2011’s Live at The London Troxy. Every fan that pre-orders NOMC15 will receive ‘People on the High Line’ (feat. La Roux)’ to download, instantly.

The tracklist for NOMC15 is as follows:

1) Singularity
2) Ceremony
3) Crystal
4) 5 8 6
5) Restless
6) Lonesome Tonight
7) Your Silent Face
8) Tutti Frutti
9) People on the High Line (feat. La Roux)
10) Bizarre Love Triangle
11) Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
12) Plastic
13) The Perfect Kiss
14) True Faith
15) Temptation
——————–
16) Atmosphere
17) Love Will Tear Us Apart
18) Blue Monday

The album is available to pre-order via https://neworder.pmstores.co/


NOMC15 is released on 26th May 2017.

http://www.neworder.com


DEPECHE MODE Spirit

Basildon’s finest pull the trigger on politics for their latest studio release…

“People, what are we thinking? / It’s shameful, our standards are sinking / We’re barely hanging on / Our spirit has gone”.

These couplets could easily apply to the downward trajectory that the band have been on, creatively, since Playing The Angel, but they actually belong to the final track on Depeche Mode’s disappointing 14th studio album Spirit, a collection of politically-imbued and socially-aware synth rock songs for the masses, housed once again in an uninspiring Anton Corbijn sleeve .

By the band’s standards, the album was recorded very quickly with former Simian Mobile Disco member James Ford, who has helmed albums by the likes of Mumford and Sons, Foals and Florence and the Machine (he has also recorded two albums with indie super group, The Last Shadow Puppets). Lead singer Dave Gahan observed: “He’s not just a great producer, he’s a great musician. So he was able to guide us. Martin had written some great songs and demoed them and I had too, so he was able to take those songs and take them to another level.” Reportedly, Ford also acted as a mediator, diffusing some initial tensions between Gahan and main songwriter Martin Gore.

Released just a few weeks after President Trump’s inauguration, ‘Where’s The Revolution’ arrived via a fanfare of flags and fake beards. Spirit’s opening statement revealed a more sonically-challenging direction and set the tone for much of the new opus, showcasing some more aggressive and politicised wordplay: “They manipulate and threaten / With terror as a weapon / Scare you till you’re stupefied / Wear you down until you’re on their side”. As perfectly pitched as it is within today’s political climate, the production is shambolic. Despite featuring some nice slide guitar, the transition from the verses to the chorus’s snarling, rallying cries is clumsily executed, while the meandering “train is coming-engine is humming” middle-eight equally grates. Mercifully, the single version is a minute shorter.

By contrast, ‘Going Backwards’ is a pretty impressive album opener. It starts with some big piano chords and understated guitar. Slowly building via some urgent-sounding synth work to heighten the drama, Gore produces some suitably bleak and vivid imagery, which Gahan sonorously delivers: “We can track it all in satellites / See it all in plain sight / Watch men die in real time / But we have nothing inside / We feel nothing inside.”

Following the cacophonous rhythms of ‘Where’s The Revolution’, the pace slows with ‘The Worst Crime’, a more ambient and less cluttered production, with Ford allowing some much-needed space. Though not bursting with melody, Gore once again delivers some impressively harrowing lyrics: “There’s a lynching in the square / You will have to join us / Everyone’s going to be there / We’re setting up the truss”. Gahan was sufficiently impressed when discussing the track with Rolling Stone magazine: “We can all talk about whatever is going on until we’re blue in the face but you have to take real action, and sometimes we don’t know what that looks like. Individually, I believe people are inherently good, but we’re really distorted by the information we get and we act out on that information out of fear.”


‘Scum’ is the album’s most discordant and angry offering, featuring some more vitriolic swipes from Gore: “You wouldn’t even offer up your crumbs / To the dying, and the crying / You’re dead inside, you’re numb / You’re hollow, and shallow / Your empty life is done”. It’s the album’s definitive ‘call-to-arms’ statement, with Gahan enunciating the line “pull the trigger” in almost comical fashion. However, the polyphonic production is chaotic and distorted, and symptomatic of much of Ford’s seemingly cut-and-paste methods.

‘You Move’, a rare Gahan/Gore co-write, takes the listener on a more hedonistic detour from the previously bleak soundscapes, with Gahan declaring “I like the way you move / I like the way you move for me tonight” against a backdrop of electronics that recall Computer World-era Kraftwerk.

Since making his songwriting debut on Playing The Angel with the excellent ‘Suffer Well’, Dave Gahan has steadily consolidated his reputation as a more-than-capable lyricist. His work on the last Soulsavers album attests to this, while ‘Broken’ was arguably the best track on Delta Machine. The other-worldly ‘Cover Me’ is probably the best track on Spirit, described by Gahan thus: “It’s about a person who travels to another planet only to find that, much to his dismay, it’s exactly the same as earth. It’s a different planet but the same. He really can’t get away from himself. If he wants things to change, he’s going to have to implement it.” Musically, it follows a similar krautrock path as the previous track, replete with some suitably sinister synth sounds.

‘Eternal’ marks Gore’s lead vocal debut on Spirit, an inoffensive ephemeral ballad in which the protagonist declares his eternal love in the midst of an apocalyptic horror: “I will be there for you, always / And when the black cloud rises / And the radiation pours / I will look you in the eye / And kiss you.”

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Described by its writer as an internal monologue, Gore declared ‘Poison Heart’ to be Dave Gahan’s best song to date. Employing a more stripped-down production, with some characteristically tremulous backing vocal work from Gore, this is something of a medium-paced filler.

The pulse is raised on the somewhat repetitive ‘So Much Love’, which almost descends into self-parody with lines such as “There’s a fire in my veins / The desire causes pain”. But, with it it’s Neu!-like percussive drive and creepy synths, this perfectly serviceable synthpop number just about wins through.

“Corporations get the breaks/ And keep everything they make” sings Gahan on ‘Poorman’, another distortion-heavy filler that, lyrically, echoes ‘Everything Counts’. Disappointingly, the melody is nowhere near as memorable.

Things improve with Gahan’s ‘No More (This Is The Last Time)’. Working within a more conventional synthpop framework, the album’s most memorable chorus finally arrives: “This is the last time / I say goodbye / The last time / Then we won’t have to lie.”

Final song ‘Fail’, featuring another Gore vocal and some impressive industrial experimentation, serves as something of an album recap and, true to form, ends on a general note of hopelessness; its writer coming to the conclusion that “we’re fucked” and “we’ve failed”.

Between 1986 and 1993 Depeche Mode released a quartet of peerless albums. Outside of these Alan Wilder-less parameters, each subsequent new release has been – and will continue to be – compared with this body of work. To their credit, the band aren’t interested in becoming a heritage act such as The Human League and have continued to evolve and experiment, both via their regular-as-clockwork album releases and their attendant solo projects. The fanbase they’ve amassed since Ultra will of course be delighted with Spirit. But, as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.”


Spirit is released 17th March 2017 on Columbia Records.

http://www.depechemode.com