Dang, how are we on volume 27 already? Or more to the point, how are we not at a higher volume, considering I started the series in 1988? Heh.
Either way, I’m happy to return to making mixtapes more consistently again. I’ve made it a point to give my listening habits a bit more breathing room — and paying attention once more to when a song or album catches my attention, and letting my brain latch onto it instead of just flitting onto the next shiny. I know it’s helping that I made that choice on purpose to tie in with my MU4 novel project, but the real point was to reconnect with why I love to listen to music so much. I’d lost track of that for a while.
[Note: One song is missing from this Spotify version of the mix, “Splinter” by Chatham Rise, which sits between Miss Grit and Beck as track 9.]
Yes, folks. I am old enough that I remember the iconic and extremely low-budget (most of it seemingly spent on tinfoil) video for A Flock of Seagulls’ song “I Ran (So Far Away)” being new on MTV and loving it to bits. Never mind that the non-instrument props are from whatever they had in the studio’s back closet, this was taking the idea of music video to another level. They were part of a British wave of, well, New Wave. Distinctly pop yet heavily steeped in fashion, science fiction and even a bit of doom-and-gloom. It took Cold War darkness and tension into unexpected and highly creative directions.
This past week, the band dropped a Deluxe edition of their first album, a three-disc collection of a new album remaster, single mixes and b-sides, several BBC radio sessions, and even a short live set. The remaster itself sounds amazing, given that it’s not always easy to give a synth-heavy sound a warm feeling. The remaster gives the album plenty of breathing room and clarity for each performer. And Paul Reynolds’ distinctive guitar work, similar to that of U2’s Edge with its soaring and extremely melodic qualities, sounds crisp and clear.
The rest of the album may have its filler moments, but it also contains some bangers such as the singles “Space Age Love Song” and “Telecommunication” as well great deep cuts “DNA” and album closer “Man Made”. I highly recommend giving it a spin!
I’m not entirely sure if it’s my weird work schedule last week that threw me off, or that I’m just trying to avoid doing the hard work needed to get through this frustrating patch, but I’m having trouble focusing on MU4 again lately. And that needs to be fixed. I’ll hopefully have something up on Thursday!
I mean, with a song — and title — like “Absorbed in Light”, how could this album not be a perfect writing soundtrack for the Mendaihu Universe? I’ve been coming back to this one just about every time I sit down to work on MU4. It’s got everything I love: moody atmospherics, glistening reverb with the occasional wall of guitar drone, and minimal lyrics.
I’m quite thrilled that I’ve latched on to a couple of new albums so far this year, as I’ve been in need of musical inspiration for a while now. This one in particular is not only soothing but drops me right into the mindset I need to focus on this new project. Plus it’s just a lovely record overall, and I highly recommend giving it a spin.
I knew about this band from my HMV years when their 1999 album Ágætis Byrjun came out as an import (it would get an American release a few months later). They were like an apocalyptic version of Cocteau Twins — both bands creating otherworldly music with curious and indecipherable lyrics, but while the Twins veered towards beauty, this band chose fragility instead. Their songs were always on the verge of not so much breaking apart as disintegrating before our eyes and ears.
In 2002 they released an album of eight untitled tracks simply entitled ( ) and sung entirely in lead singer Jonsi’s ‘Hopelandic’ conlang. I remember hearing an NPR review of it just before it came out, with the reviewer being utterly blown away by it. I picked it up pretty much on the drop date (one of my Newbury Comics runs after work, natch), and gave it a spin in the Belfry. It would end up getting some serious play during my writing sessions that year and into the next while I wrote The Persistence of Memories.
The band released a remastered version late last year and it sounds just as lovely as it did then, if not better. The album still feels just as fragile and cold, but that just adds to its beauty; this is an album of delicate sounds and moods that calls for contemplation and meditation.
Depeche Mode, one of the defining bands of my youth and later years, just dropped a new single this morning! It’s called “Ghosts Again” and it’s from their upcoming album, the fittingly titled Memento Mori. It’s their fifteenth studio album and their first with just the core of Martin Gore and Dave Gahan (Alan Wilder left in the mid-90s and Andy Fletcher passed away last year) and focuses not just on the pandemic but the passing of their bandmate and friend.
I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan since I first heard “People Are People” in 1984, a full two years before I even knew what college radio and alternative rock or post-punk was. That song was a surprise breakthrough hit for them in the US, making it all the way to number 13 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. While it took them a few more years to return to such heights here, they’d hit their stride with a trio of albums: 1986’s Black Celebration, 1987’s Music for the Masses, and 1990’s Violator. They never quite hit the same heights after that, even despite strong records, but I don’t think they really needed to at that point: they’d already claimed their spot as a deeply influential and highly creative bands of the era. Many synth bands of the current generation owe a lot to this group.
This new song sounds a lot like their earlier pre-US-fame songs, perhaps something off of Construction Time Again or Some Great Reward, and now I’m curious about what the rest of the album will sound like. It’ll be out on March 24th, and I’m definitely looking forward to it!
Yes, believe it or not, I am not just listening to Belfry-era albums while writing! In fact, I’ve got a lot of relatively new tunes playing as well! Here’s a smattering of what’s on rotation here in Spare Oom…
The Tubs, Dead Meat, released 27 January. This is totally something I’d have listened to back in the late 80s-early 90s. It’s got that post-punk jangliness I loved at the time (The Church, IRS-era REM, and so on), plus its lyrics are very of that time (and very much similar to those of my band The Flying Bohemians). Thanks to KEXP — again — for introducing me to this great London band!
Belle & Sebastian, Late Developers, released 13 January. It’s essentially leftovers from the band’s 2022 album A Bit of Previous but they stand extremely well on their own. It’s a super fun listen and kind of sounds like a successful mix of their folkier early sound and their poppier later years.
Everything But the Girl, “Nothing Left to Lose” single, released 13 January. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt are back as EBTG after far too many years and they haven’t missed a beat. This is a stellar song and I’m eagerly awaiting their new album Fuse, which should drop mid-April.
New Order, Low-Life (Definitive), released 27 January. For some reason I always skipped over this album when I listened to this band back in the day, preferring Brotherhood instead, but giving this one a new listen recently has made me realize just how flipping great it is! However, as I’d mentioned to a friend earlier, it occurred to me that this is a stellar album marred by songs being in the wrong key; not that Bernard Sumner is out of tune (he tends to waver sometimes, which I’m used to), but that these songs are so out of his range, as he really strains on some tunes like “Sunrise”. Still, great album!
파란노을 (Parannoul), After the Magic, released 28 January. Noisy shoegaze from South Korea? Of course I’ll give it a listen! You guessed it — another band introduced to me by KEXP. They’re definitely reminiscent of Ride, with songs that sound like light bursts and unassuming vocals that insert themselves perfectly into the melodies.
Dave Rowntree, Radio Songs, released 20 January. The debut from Blur’s drummer is intriguing in that it’s quite moody and mellow but also reveals who might have been behind some of Blur’s more quieter and more introspective songs as well.
Oh hi there! Don’t mind me, just listening to the new remaster/reissue of New Order’s 1985 album Low-Life while working out the second chapter of MU4. I’ve been creatively busy these last couple of weeks and I’m happy to report that things are going well so far, at least as far as scrappy first drafts of first chapters are concerned. Exactly where I need to be right now.
I’m planning on returning to the blogosphere next week, so I’ll see you then!