The PC has been fixed and updated (yay!) but in the meantime I’ve fallen a little behind in my writing (boo!) so I’ve been frantically trying to catch up (blerg!). Doing what I can when I can, though, and making sure I don’t stress out over it all. And I’m not stressed! Which is good, right? Even when I’m trying to squeeze some words out before or after a busy shift at the Day Job?
Anyway. Been listening to a lot of new tunes lately, such as the new boygenius record (fittingly entitled ‘the record’), and it’s quite good! It’s been getting a lot of positive press and high-grade reviews. And let’s be honest, a group with Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker in it has no business being half-assed now. Three phenomenal songwriters writing flawless alternapop. I highly recommend it.
So what have I been listening to lately while writing MU4? Lots of things! I’ve mostly been focusing on newer releases these last couple of weeks, and this is what’s currently on rotation:
Flyying Colours, You Never Know, released 17 March. A sort of Slowdive-meets-dreampop hybrid that’s a little more bouncy than shoegaze but still moody enough to keep me enthralled. I’ve been looking forward to this one since hearing the first single “Goodbye to Music” on KEXP.
Depeche Mode, Memento Mori, released 24 March. I was curious as to what this new album would sound like, and it kind of reminds me of Ultra melodywise, but the sound is more like Construction Time Again. It’s definitely a somber affair for many reasons, but this band has always fit perfectly in that niche.
The Church, The Hypnogogue, released 24 February. The band lineup has definitely changed over the years — Steve Kilbey is the lone original member at this point — but their signature sound hasn’t changed at all. This one’s very much like their previous records, very moody and experimental.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples, The Town That Cursed Your Name, released 24 March. I’ve recently found out that this local band has been getting play on KEXP, which makes me extremely happy!
Secret Machines, The Moth, the Lizard and the Secret Machines, released 24 March. Recorded not that long after 2008’s self-titled album but never released, the band finished it off recently. It’s quite unlike any of their other albums, more of a noisefest than a melodic adventure, but it’s perfect background music for my sessions!
U2, Songs of Surrender, released 17 March. A forty-song mix to tie in with Bono’s memoir, it’s full of reimagined recordings of both hits and deep cuts. Many of them also have updated lyrics (per Bono, he felt these new words are closer to what he envisioned for each track). Still, it’s a great set!
It’s been a while since I’ve listened to Delerium. It’s a not-quite side project of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of industrial band Front Line Assembly, leaning more towards ambient, almost new-agey electronica, quite the opposite of their harsh and twitchy main project. You might remember them from back in the 90s when they had a surprise hit with Sarah McLachlan and “Silence” — definite a song of its decade, complete with Enigma-esque Gregorian chant, grooving mid-tempo beat and dreamlike keyboards. That song and the album it came from (Karma) did in fact get a lot of play in the Belfry, and “Silence” does make an appearance on the second volume of the Songs from the Eden Cycle mixtapes.
The project is still active, sliding out an album every couple of years in between FLA releases. Their sound has definitely evolved some, but is still firmly anchored in that classic dreamlike new-age/ambient moodscape. The new album Signs, which just dropped earlier this month, is a stellar record that feels like a return to their best forms, with some quite lovely songs that fit perfectly here in Spare Oom and MU4. I’m quite happy to have them back on my Eden Cycle playlist again.
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 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.
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.
December’s releases were mostly rereleases with a few new albums sprinkled here and there, but those reissues weren’t merely cash-grabs but collections worth picking up and checking out. There were a lot of them this year, weren’t there…? Anyway, this one’s going to be a bit short as well because of that.
Voice of the Beehive, Let It Bee (Remastered & Expanded), released 2 December. One of my favorite albums of 1988, it finally sees a major reissue with several b-sides, single versions and live tracks added. It’s a super fun album full of sassy pop gems. [Music trivia: yes, that’s Woody from Madness on drums! Bedders was also part of the band at one point too!]
Robbie Williams, Life Thru a Lens (25th Anniversary), released 2 December. US listeners might know half these songs better as part of his American compilation The Ego Has Landed, but this is the original UK source album. This was his first peak period with hit singles such as the ubiquitous “Angels”. This too has been reissued with numerous b-sides and live tracks.
Hot Hot Heat, Make Up the Breakdown (Deluxe Remastered), released 2 December. Another reissue of a 2002 album that got heavy play in the Belfry during my writing sessions. “Bandages” was one of my favorites of the year as well, and still pops into my head now and again.
The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Mountain Lake Park, released 2 December. Glenn Donaldson’s output this year has been quite extensive, and with this one — named after a small park here in the Richmond that I’ve walked through many times! — is full of lovely instrumentals recorded around the same time as this year’s Summer at Land’s End (and originally released as a vinyl-only bonus record with that one). And he also dropped a new EP on the 23rd, Dust in the Path of Love.
Paul McCartney, The 7″ Singles box set, released 2 December. A full 159 tracks spanning his entire solo career and containing several rarities such as non-album sides, single edits and international versions. This one’s less about the remixes and all about the original songs.
Leftfield, This Is What We Do, released 2 December. This group sneaks out an album at the end of the year of laid back electropop I love the best: the kind that gets me moving but I can also listen to while chilling out.
The Clockworks, “Blood On the Mind” single 9 December. Yet another single by this great band, this one sounds a bit like early Smiths with its bouncy Johnny Marr-like jangle, but it sounds just as tough as any of their previous singles. I see nothing but success for these lads!
Roger Waters, The Lockdown Sessions, released 9 December. The eternally grumpy Waters released an EP of reworks of his classic songs from both Pink Floyd and solo albums, including an extremely moody reworking of “Comfortably Numb” that gives the original a run for its money.
…and that’s it for the year! Come back tomorrow for my year-end mixtape and best-of lists!
In true Q4 fashion, November contained some new releases but far more box sets and rereleases: Ride’s 4 EPs, Spice Girls’ Spiceworld, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Fall’s 1970s, David Bowie’s Divine Symmetry, Erasure’s Erasure, Sparks’ No 1 in Heaven, and the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots just to name a few. I’ve only mentioned a few here that were of deep personal interest.
SAULT, 11, AIIR, Earth, Today & Tomorrow, and Untitled (God), released 1 November. The mercurial British collective surprises everyone with not just one but five new albums, full of spiritualism, faith and positivity.
Phoenix, Alpha Zulu, released 4 November. I didn’t even know they were coming out with a new record until I heard “Tonight” popping up on satellite radio during our last vacation! I haven’t quite had the time to listen to this too much, but what I have heard I really like.
Seal, Seal [Deluxe Edition], released 4 November. I’ve mentioned this before that this feels more like a Trevor Horn-featuring-Seal album (I prefer his second album to this one), but “Crazy” remains one of my all-time favorite 90s songs. The remaster gives this record a much-needed warmth that was lacking in the original mix.
Fitz & the Tantrums, Let Yourself Free, released 11 November. Another band best heard (and seen) live, they’ve weathered the pandemic and are back with a new and fun album that gets you moving. We’ll be seeing them early next year!
Various Artists, Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes box set, released 11 November. The most enduring part of nearly every movie Hughes made in the 80s was the eclectic soundtrack. Why lean on big names and commercial sheen when you can introduce your audience to New Order, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Yello, Love and Rockets, Simple Minds, Oingo Boingo and more? His soundtracks were a big part of my youth and introduced me to many ‘college rock’ bands I may not have ever discovered elsewhere. This one’s a surprisingly detailed mix of 74 tracks from eleven different films and worth searching out.
Royksopp, Profound Mysteries III, released 18 November. The electronic band completes the trilogy of introspective thoughts about the unknown. It’s quite the achievement as the albums sound great on their own but also work seamlessly as an extended whole. One of my favorite projects of the year.
bis, Systems Music for Home Defence, released 18 November. This Glaswegian band is still going strong with its unique brand of bubblegummy technopop full of fun and humor.
Soundtrack, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, released 25 November. While most of this record is incidental music by John Murphy, it’s the two Old 97’s tracks that make this one such a treat, full of the same silly humor as the Christmas special.
The Cure, Wish [30th Anniversary Edition], released 25 November. released nearly four years after their previous deluxe edition rerelease (2018’s Mixed Up), my favorite 90s Cure album gets not only an extended review but a fantastic remaster that gives it so much more depth and warmth.
Metallica, “Lux Aeterna” single, released 28 November. The band’s first studio release since 2016’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct album sees them older and more contemplative but still in full-throttle. Written and recorded during the pandemic along with their upcoming album 72 Seasons, the new track feels like a new direction for them.
Coming tomorrow: December brings the last few weeks of new music for 2022.