Listen to this track by Bristolian trip-hop representatives along with one-time Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil chanteuse Elizabeth Fraser. It’s “Teardrop”, the second single off of their, well, massive 1998 album Mezzanine. It remains to be their most commercially succesful set. Not bad for the supposed difficult third album, although it would prove to be difficult in other ways.
By the time of this album’s release, a couple of things had changed. First, trip hop as a genre was morphing, including more ambient electronica textures and traditional rock/pop structures. Second, things had become tense between the three members of the band, with conflicting priorities and contradictory directions in the studio delaying this album’s release. Founding member Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles would depart during this period, due to the dreaded “creative differences”. One of those differences was being voted down for his assertion that the band should work with another singer on this track instead of Fraser; Madonna, who was excited to work with Massive Attack on this song. What would that have sounded like?
Yet, this song belied all the strife that surrounded the making of this record, in part thanks to the distinct and serene quality of Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal, with lyrics written by her. Those lyrics have been (mis)heard and (mis)interpreted by listeners many years after its release. Maybe what makes this song so special is that it somehow goes past literal meaning completely anyway, and moves into an area of meaning where words aren’t even the point. Read more
Listen to this track by Icelandic former Sugarcubes frontwoman turned electronica art pop maven Björk. It’s “Hidden Place”, the first single as taken from her highly acclaimed 2001 album Vespertine, released in the summer of that year. The album would go onto many a best-of-the-decade list, and stand as a significant change in artistic direction for its author.
The record was created while Björk was engaged in the creation of the soundtrack for the movie she starred in at the time, that being Lars Von Trier’s Dancer In The Dark. The movie was screened at the Cannes film festival in 2000, where Björk won an award for Best Actress. Along with the critical accolades however, her experience on the shoot was purportedly tense. Von Trier’s tight control of the project rankled against her own creative impulses in the lead role. As a result, Vespertine could be looked upon as an equal and opposite reaction to the action of starring in her first (and possibly last) feature film with another artist in Von Trier at the helm.
This wasn’t just about control. It was also about tone. In the movie, Björk’s character Selma after whom the companion album Selmasongs is named is an extroverted and driven character who becomes the tragic victim of circumstance. If this song has a character at the center of it, then she could be considered Selma’s opposite; a langourously relaxed, insular, and contented person. This is due to another force in Björk’s life at the time; new love. Read more
Listen to this track by studio wunderkind hailing from Dundas Ontario and now proud Londoner, Dan Snaith, AKA Caribou. It’s “Melody Day”, a kaleidoscopic slice of fantastical neo psychedelia re-imagined as a folktronic piece as taken from 2007’s Andorra.
The record was looked upon as his best work under the Caribou name (he’d previously gone by “Manitoba” until The Dictators’ “Handsome Dick” Manitoba took issue …). It was the winner of the 2008 Polaris Music Prize, going up against acts like Basia Bulat, Black Mountain, and Stars, among others, which certainly indicates its considerable quality.
The song itself hearkens back to a time when pop music was expanding inwardly as times were a-changin’ in the mid-1960s; think late-period The Zombies, Soft Machine, and Syd-era Pink Floyd. This Anglicized style of yesteryear may or may not be a result of a move that Snaith made from Canada to London in 2001, where many a great British psych record was made. Regardless, Snaith is a modern artist, using the tools of his own era to somehow evoke the spirit of that earlier analogue era, which is no mean feat. This certainly shows that the sound of the past can still make an impact, regardless of the tools it takes to make it.
Snaith may have used another arrow in his quiver as well, of course; his PhD in Math! Read more
Listen to this track by Scottish downtempo post-rock duo, and National Film Board obsessives Boards of Canada. It’s “Dayvan Cowboy”, a track that appears on their 2005 album The Campfire Headphase as well as the follow-up EP that appeared the next year, Trans-Canada Highway.
This track was the lead song of the whole record, released a few weeks before to give listeners a taste of what was to be the band’s third release. With their previous releases, they’d become known for heavily treated instrumentation that obscured the original sounds of the instruments used to create the parts.
The result was pure analogue electronic texture that translates into warm atmospheres with a sense of spaciousness, and an ineffable nostalgia for the hazy memories of childhood. That’s their genius.
But, on this track and on many of the others, they changed their tack a bit.
Listen to this track by synth-pop movers and dark-dance auteurs Depeche Mode. It’s “Personal Jesus”, their return to the top 40 US charting single as taken from 1989’s Violator.
It would be a song that would secure their continued success in North America, and establish them as a key alternative dance pop act that had evolved from their original incarnation of fresh-faced Kraftwerkian synthesists, under the creative guidance of co-founder and original member Vince Clarke. By the end of the 1980s, head writer Martin Gore had successfully steered the band’s material into the darker corners of human experience. This song would be one of the best examples of the establishment of their work as having much darker, psychologically complex themes compared to when they first started out.
For instance, there is a distinct human dynamic outlined in this song that most bands were not exploring in the mainstream; the willingness to be subsumed by another. But, is this just about sexual roleplay tied up in religious imagery as it is often assumed? Or, are there implications that go beyond that? Read more
Listen to this track by cinematically-inclined electronic duo and shapeshifting musical stylists Goldfrapp. It’s “Human”, the third single from their debut record Felt Mountain.
The band take their name from Alison Goldfrapp; singer, keyboardist, and lyricist. This debut won them a shortlisting for the Mercury Prize in 2000, although they were outshined by Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, as many other records were that year.
Together with keyboardist, programmer and arranger Will Gregory, the duo would evoke the sonic effects of the spacious grandeur of John Barry soundtracks of the 1960s, although with icily beautiful electronic textures to put the music squarely in the 21st century.
But, what of this song? What other elements besides those elements can be found here?
Listen to this track by electronic-pop foursome and first-phase blippy synthesizer enthusiasts from Basildon, Essex Depeche Mode. It’s “New Life” a key track and second single from their debut 1981 record Speak & Spell.
This song would mark the band’s initial sound, under the creative leadership of Vince Clarke. Clarke would soon leave the band after the album gained traction, and form Yazoo (aka Yaz), and then Erasure later in the decade. Under Clarke’s influence those bands would also demonstrate a notable dexterity when it came to catchy synth-pop.
Incredibly, he would put this skill on display even this early on, with one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs, built on a compelling synth figure, helped along by vocalist Dave Gahan’s distanced and appropriately detached singing style. “New Life” would be their breakthrough hit in Britain, partially on the strength of their performance of the song on Top of the Pops. In the years that followed, they’d build a significant audience on our side of the pond with a succession of albums that moved them into darker thematic and sonic territory.
Despite all that, Clarke would soon cut his losses and leave the band after this record and the tour that followed. But, what is it that his influence brought to the band?
Listen to this track by masked and anonymous Parisian disco-electro twosome, Daft Punk. It’s their made-for-summertime single “Get Lucky” as taken from their long-awaited 2013 record Random Access Memories. The song features vocals by Pharell Williams, a vocalist, songwriter, and one-half of The Neptunes production team.
Also joining them on this track is the one and only Nile Rodgers playing that impossibly funky rhythm guitar part that only he can play. If only they could have got Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson too for the full on Chic effect, although that bass part played by Nathan East nails that Edwards style. But, that’s the thing with this song, and with the rest of the record as well; it is very conscious of its inspirations.
This tune is unabashedly 20th century, with ’70s disco, and ’80s electro being the main courses, supplemented by fender rhodes soft rock textures and real drums, as played by Omar Hakim no less, to supplement the duo’s characteristic vocoders, drum machines, samplers and synths.
There seems to be quite a lot of sentimentality on this record as a whole, with a number of other contributions and references to bygone eras to be found therein.
Listen to this track by Vancouver-based electronica and post-punk popist concern Catlow, a solo project conceived and led by singer-songwriter Natasha Thirsk, known for her work with the Dirtmitts. It’s “Remorse Code”, recently featured on the Catlow Facebook Page with a video using crowdsourced images made by and submitted by fans.
A while ago, we featured a piece on Natasha Thirsk, and a track off of her newest EP Pinkly Things. The song; “House Arrest”.
I love that track!
And, I love this one too, less guitar driven than “House Arrest”, and touching on an ambient dance feel instead. Yet, that post punk feel is a thread that runs through both tunes, and the rest of Pinkly Things, too.
Anyway, I wanted to get the word out in this special edition post here on the ‘Bin, just because Catlow is one of four acts to be featured at Vancouver’s Railway Club on December 21, 2012 as a part of D Trevlon Band album release.
For all of you local Vancouver readers, or out-of-towners looking for a reason to come to Van City, you can find out all of the details on the Facebook Event page above, and then come see Catlow play live, and up close.
And don’t forget to ‘like’, as they say, Catlow on Facebook.
Once you’ve done that, you will be able to watch the video for ‘Remorse Code’ too.
Listen to this track by British mixologist duo and sampling enthusiasts Lemon Jelly. It’s “Nervous Tension”, a gem taken from their 1998 EP The Bath, and later to appear on 2000’s full-length KY, which brought three of their EPs together.
The track is the result of a combination of disparate ingredients, including the main “voice” of a hypnotist using his powers to irradicate the negative effects of the titular condition. This is the voice of a real practicioner of hypnosis, one Peter Reveen, originally from Australia, but having built his name right here in Canada.
In addition to performing at live events, Raveen also cut records to help people relax, to quit smoking, and anything else that might affect a positive change through the power of suggestion – Relax With Raveen*.
Lemon Jelly (Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen) took Raveen’s voice and created a little alchemy, and with a goal perhaps not a million miles removed from that of the original source material.