Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Welcome to Stegzy’s Music Project

 

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Hello there!

Hello! Thank you for coming along.

Over the years I have accrued over 182Gb of music. That’s loads. Some I have paid for, others I have obtained as gifts or nefariously.

A great deal of this music I have not listened to, mostly because of protests from people in the same room but also because it would take me about 92.7 solid 24 hour days to listen to the entire lot (figures accurate). So, towards the end of 2012, I thought I would listen to each album in its entirety and post a small review of what I have listened to.

So far I have listened to a variety of music from various ends of the music spectra. From pop to experimental via the twisty-turny pathways of prog, goth and heavy metal. This blog was set up in response to demands by long term readers of my Livejournal blog. Mostly “Stop”, “Please no more” and “My God! You call this music?!”. Curiously, the same demands that come from people who are unfortunate enough to travel as a passenger in my car.

Each day, using J River Media Centre and iTunes,  I will be listening to the albums alphabetically without the aid of headphones and posting comments, reviews and general thoughts on each album as I come across them. Some might be good, others, bloody awful.

You can follow my progress here or via my Last.FM profile.  So, sit back, tune in, drop out, buckle up and fetch your pipe and slippers. With over 1800 albums to listen to, it’s going to be a very long ride.

**Update** – I am now accepting contributors. If you would like to review an album from my collection, please contact me via comment, PM or email. You can request an album to be appointed at random or let me know which artist you like. I might just have an album or two for you to provide commentary on.

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Hurdy Gurdy Man – Donovan [#600]

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The Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan

So you’re a film producer and you are wanting to set the scene of your hippy fest movie set at the height of the 1960’s hippy movement. Or maybe you’re just a young person experimenting with retro drugs. Or perhaps you’re just old looking, with mad long Gandalf hair and matching beard dressing in army fatigues. Chances are you’re using the title song of this album to project some kind of ennui.

While Jim Morrison was riding on his storm and Hendrix was wanking his guitar. Manson and his family murdering people and John Paul George and Ringo were discovering drugs, Scottish folk artist Donovan was writing far-out folk tunes like some sort of Scottish Bob Dylan.

Legend has it that Donovan wrote the eponymous title track for his pal Mac Macleod and his band Hurdy Gurdy. However other sources, mostly Wikipedia and Donovan himself, say the song was written whilst visiting mystics in the Indian subcontinent with John Lennon, George Harrison, Mia Farrow and possibly every other Tom Dick and Harry from the music and art scenes at the time. Moreover, Donovan has performed the song with a verse he claims Harrison wrote for him so I guess there’s some truth in that.

When I obtained the album I was exploring music from the sixties looking for artists and albums I had possibly overlooked. I was already familiar with the title song so was interested in hearing other works by Donovan to see if there was any “connection”.  Sadly there wasn’t but I’ve kept it in my library purely for the “just in case” option.

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Hurdy Gurdy – Hurdy Gurdy #599

 

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Hurdy Gurdy by Hurdy Gurdy

Legend has it, Danish prog band Hurdy Gurdy wrote to Donovan in the late 1960s asking him to help the band break into the music scene. Impressed by the demos he received, Donovan went home and wrote a song for the band but when he heard them perform it, he rewrote a more acoustic version and kept it for himself.

 

That song became Hurdy Gurdy Man.  

Of course whilst Donovan made it big on the world stage, Hurdy Gurdy would have disappeared into obscurity if only for the Great Free-for-All-Download of the mid to late noughties. You know, that big downloady thing people did back then that killed popular music? I often think about my actions during that time and how I wrongly downloaded music from online file sharing locations depriving many artists of their hard earned funds. Hardworking artists and music that I would never have heard of had it not been for the whole downloady thing because, face it, who has time (and money) to spend all day looking through the racks of market approved music in HMV?

Hurdy Gurdy is Hurdy Gurdy’s first and, as far as my limited research has taught me, only album. I came across it while looking for hurdy-gurdy music, which, if you know me well enough you will know, is my favourite musical instrument. Sadly there are no actual hurdy-gurdys on the album. However,  it is saved by being very much a prog sounding album, with lots of guitar twiddling and quite a bluesy feel to the whole. The non-melodic singing is a little shouty for me and reminiscent of some post In the Court Of the Crimson King King Crimson or early Triumvirat. I think the only reason I’ve kept hold of it is that it’s quite a rare album and I’m always a stickler for rarities.  Fortunately, good old Youtube has the whole album for you to hear yourself.

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Human’s Lib – Howard Jones #598

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Human’s Lib by Howard Jones

Nothing says 80’s music more than a bloke with spiky hair and a synthesiser.

 

Oh, Howard Jones. I remember you with your spiky hair on singing What is Love? on Top of the Pops. I remember you on Live Aid singing Hide and Seek. I remember trying to work out the inaudibly sung lyrics in pre-internet days. I remember seeing you on a “We wuz in the Eighties” vox pop TV show in the early noughties. I remember thinking “What ever happened to Howard Jones?”.

This is Jones’ first album featuring three of his hit songs from his early 80s career. Rich in 80s synth melody with interesting if a little bitter lyrics the album has fared well in time but doesn’t carry as much of the welly as other albums from contemporary bands and artists. It’s more of a choice of listen than something you would  build an iTunes playlist from.

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Human Equation – Ayreon #597

Ayreon_-_Human_Equation

Human Equation by Ayreon

Human Equation is a double concept album from legendary Nineties/Noughties Dutch prog experiment Ayreon.

A man in a coma for twenty days struggles with inner demons and outside influences through internal song, each day being a track on the album. A supposed break from Ayreon’s  album spanning “Forever” story arch, although in the last track we do hear albeit briefly, from Forever of the Stars from the album Final Experiment and the Dream Sequencer from Universal Migrator which ties it all in nicely.

Human Equation is not my most favourite of Ayreon discoveries instead I’m all for the drama of Into the Electric Castle but as 01011001 hadn’t been released at the time I obtained my copy of Human Equation, it was a lid on the metaphorical pie of Ayreons work for me.

Like other Ayreon albums, guest singers each take a voice of a character within the overarching story with the likes of Dream Theatre’s James LaBrie and Soul Machine’s Eric Clayton joining the cast. Even prog keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman‘s son Oliver guests as synth player on track 7.  A feast of noughties prog.

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How We Quit the Forest – Rasputina #596

How_We_Quit_the_ForestIn the early noughties, while the rest of the internet and Guardian supplement cultured Gen-Xers were going wild for the likes of Amanda Palmer, the Dresden Dolls and the Decemberists, I was trying to be a proto-hipster by bigging up the likes of Rasputina.

Sadly, Melora and co didn’t quite make the mainstream as Palmer did but hey, that’s not the point, the point being to make memorable expressive opine music that lasts regardless of when in time it is heard.

This album contains the first track I’d ever heard by Rasputina, Olde Headboard, and is a prime example of why album sales in the post-internet age depreciated with audience consumption methods.

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How to Measure a Planet? – The Gathering #595

 

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How to Measure a Planet? – The Gathering

Back in the mid-noughties I was directed towards The Gathering’s Mandylion album and swiftly became enamoured with the Dutch Prog-metal band. Yet, while Mandylion and Home scratched an itch, How to Measure a Planet? made sure that further irritants were applied to the metaphoric discomfort.

At the time I was a mature student studying Media at Huddersfield University which often required late nights of reading European Media Directives,  Media Theory and writing essays on audience paradigms. Sometimes, to get me into the study zone, I would listen to albums while wearing my headphones, often on repeat. How to Measure a Planet became one of those albums. Constantly on loop,  songs from the album such as Liberty Bell and Probably Built in the Fifties would often blur into each other in some sort of semi-hypnotic chant. Moreover, I would sometimes fall asleep, book flopping to my side, waking sporadically through the night hours to what seemed like an extended mix of the song I’d already woken and fallen asleep to. As a result, this album has a kind of important place in my life soundtrack.

How to Measure a Planet is the band’s fifth studio album.

 

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House of Yes: Live at the House of Blues – Yes [#594]

House_of_YesWhen this album was released back in 2000, the internet as we know it today was still in its fledgeling state. Websites were mostly created and owned by actual people rather than by corporations and users actually had to seek out their news rather than have it shown to them if an algorithm deigned to do so. As a result, I was only aware it had been released because I saw it while I was browsing the CD racks in HMV.

Of course, with it being a Live/Best of compilation and I already had most of the songs Live or in compilations, I was reluctant to part with hard earned cash for stuff I already had and instead bought something a little more desirable like Air’s Moon Safari or whatever else was about in those days. However sometime later, probably during the Great Internet Download Free-for-All of the early noughties, I was given a copy of the album by a work colleague and so it joined my collection.

House of Yes is a live double album featuring music from Yes’ earlier career and their album The Ladder. It also features Billy Sherwood on guitar and Igor Khoroshev on keyboards, Sherwood left shortly before the album’s release and Khoroshev had already been booted out of the band by that time due to a sexual harassment controversy.

I can’t say that I don’t like this compilation. There are some good performances on the album the enjoyment of which can be enhanced by the viewing of the DVD of the gig.

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House of Love – House of Love [#593]

The_House_of_Love_(1988).jpgLike most teenagers, I was fortunate enough to be Bez to my old school friend, Mike’s band Jean Pierre O Malley & the Gieger-Muller Tubes. I attended most practice sessions (mostly on the promise of a few pints of beer afterwards) and I accepted that they would do cover versions of songs I didn’t really know.

We did a set of two songs, the Stones’ Paint it Black and the more obscure Christine by the House of Love. We had a slight standing ovation (three people, mostly groupies) and a huge round of applause from all those present. The band then split un-acrimoniously but the strains of Christine resonated around my head for several years after.

Then, one evening, during the Great Internet Download Free-for-All of the mid-noughties I saw that the album House of Love was available for me to download. I immediately put Christine on and relived that night of proto-fame at the Bishop Eton Parish Centre Youth Talent Show 1992.

I have to say though, we were better.

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Hotel Paper – Michelle Branch [#592]

Hotel_Paper.jpgTrying to cash in on the popularity of grumpy skater chick Avril Lavigne, music execs yoink another young lady with attitude into the limelight. That lady was Michelle Branch.

I remember how the American music execs positioned itself to launch Branch to the European side of the pond.  This previously unheard of artist started to appear on late-night European chat shows and a couple of her songs popped up here and there as incidental music on TV shows. Even the Guardian newspaper’s Saturday supplement suggested that no middle-class proto-hipster’s coffee table would be complete without a carefully placed copy of the album to wow their less cultured dinner party guests.

I bought it. I liked it. I listened to it in conjunction with the more feisty Lavigne. I watched as almost like a light switch being turned off, Branch seemed to dissolve into the general white noise of music, overshadowed by Lavigne and later, more successful artists.

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Hotel – Moby [#591]

Moby_Hotel.jpgI really want to like Moby. I’ve tried. It just seems that all his music sounds the same. Almost. It also seems that most of the music that Moby writes somehow ends up in a film at some point.

Inspired by Moby’s fascination with hotels and their nature Hotel is Moby’s seventh album following on from 18 and Play. He has said in an interview that this is his least favourite of his albums. Conversely, I find it the most accessible of the artist’s catalogue but saying that I haven’t listened to the album that many times either.

The album comes with two bonus discs, Hotel: Ambient and Hotel: B-Sides. I’ve long since disposed of Ambient and B-Sides went to the recycle bin last year.

 

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Hormonally Yours – Shakespear’s Sister [#590]

ShakespearsSisterHormonallyYoursalbumcoverIn a time when many still missed the polka dot skirted weirdness of Strawberry Switchblade and were adjusting to the gothness of Robert Smith’s Cure while still enjoying on the sly, a little bit of Bananarama, along came a duo of musicians as if to answer that call.

Shakespear’s Sister, that band with the woman from Bananarama (Siobhan Fahey) and that scary looking American woman looking like a cross between Cruella De Ville and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark  (Marcella Detroit), last appeared on this Music Project at #172 with their “best of” compilation, which, as the band had only released about two albums anyway, pretty features the songs of this their second album.

Highlights from this album include their two “hits” I Don’t Care and Stay With Me. As a spotty youth when this album was doing the rounds, I was drawn to the catchiness of their music which helped me blend in with my contemporaries, but I was still at a stage where I didn’t feel safe stepping out of my musical comfort zone of Yes, The Tubes and Chris Isaak  so I never bought the album at the time of release. Indeed, it wasn’t until much later that I plucked up the courage to obtain this album and their “Best of” an action, I suppose, that was done purely out of nostalgia.

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Home – The Gathering [#589]

Gathering_homeDuring the Great Download Free For All of the mid-noughties when I was ripped from the comedy inflatable bosom of Nightwish and thrown grovelling at the awesome rock prowess of The Gathering, I was self-tasked with the necessity to obtain the band’s entire catalogue.

Fortunately, this was one of those times when such an action was worthwhile. Aside from the band’s first couple of albums, Always and Almost a Dance, which are both truly dreadful and were swiftly deleted from my collection, their other albums just kept on sending tingles.

The Gathering are another example of where the UKs coverage of quality Euro music is lacking. The downright snobbery of the UK music industry in regard to artists from beyond the North Sea frequently turns my stomach. There really are some excellent artists out there but because a minority have the monopoly on what is seen and heard in the UK, it is often the case that without the internet, nothing “non-British” would be available. Indeed, even with impending changes to the accessibility of internet this will only get worse and result in  further impedence of the spread of culture from east to west while the spread of culture from west to east will continue unhindered.

Home is The Gathering’s eighth album and the last to feature Anneke van Giersbergen who, in my opinion, made the band. It seems that 2006 was the time of departure for a few female led Eurometal bands (eg Nightwish and Tarja’s departure), but rather than disappear into obscurity, van Giersbergen went on to work with Ayreon and do her own stuff and quite successfully too. Like Mandylion, it has an almost progressive concept album feel to it but the concept album vibe might just be my overactive imagination.

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Hits – Pulp [#588]

Pulp_HitsJarvis Cocker and Sheffield’s finest with an hour and twenty minutes of lyrics illustrating gritty northern GenX premillennial social situations.  How times have changed. Yet Pulp is still powerfully relevant and reflective of youthful experiences.

This is the band’s final (at time of press) Greatest Hits compilation and features all the familiar Pulp tunes. I obtained the album having spent years avoiding Cocker’s band like the plague due to the band’s seemingly undue popularity amongst my peers. However, having reflected on how the band’s music seemed to pop up in film soundtracks that I liked I gave them a go by trying their Greatest Hits album. My opinion remains the same, but whenever I feel a little less northern, I give the album a listen and immediately feel all gritty post-industrial.

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Hit Factory: Pete Waterman’s Greatest Hits – Various Artists [#587]

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 11.33.40.pngBack in the eighties and nineties, when he wasn’t that wrinkly dude off the talentless shows on a Saturday night, Pete Waterman was a successful record producer. Polluting the airwaves with hideous plastic pop.

Of course, growing up in the eighties meant that hideous plastic pop was de rigour and many of the songs played at family occasions and parties came from the Hit Factory stable. It is difficult to not listen to examples of this music without being transported back in time thirty years to a wedding or school disco, where teenage hormones raged and lessons in social interaction began.

Hit Factory features artists such as Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Mel & Kim, Steps and 2Unlimited. It is truely dreadful. And yet, I believe that everyone’s record collection should contain at least one example of youthfully contemporaneous music. That way our memories persist and from our memories, we learn and develop.  Indeed, many of the artists featured have either returned to obscurity or seen sense and improved without the Stock Aitkin Waterman interference in their art.

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High Broad Field – Sieben [#586]

R-3966307-1350801376-8852Last time we saw neofolk violinist Sieben on the music project was when he was supporting pagan folk band Faun on their live compilation Faun at the Pagan Folk Festival. This time Matt Howden whacks on his Sieben hat and applies his violin skills to his sixth release.

Howden’s style is very distinct. Lots of staccato and wood slapping violin wizardry with tense sustained notes overlain with perfectly pronounced dark lyrics multitracked and layered down with loops. As I’ve said before on the Music Project, Howden’s musical prowess is virtually unknown on the British scene which is a real shame, he really has a great talent which is well known throughout Europe but with little recognition in the UK.

High Broad Field is the preceding album to his Desire Rights and is a very close kin stylistically to the same. Elements from Sex and Wildflowers and Ogham Inside the Night are evident and one can hear aspects of Desire Rights in their infancy throughout the album. Delicious silky music for those who think Nigel Kennedy is a bit shit.

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Hidden Vagenda – Kimya Dawson [#585]

HiddenVagendaFormer Livejournalist, Goddess of lo-fi, mother of tweecore and sometime member of the Mouldy Peaches, Kimya Dawson, released her fourth album Hidden Vagenda in 2004. A time when lo-fi folksy tweecore was grabbing the youth underground via the internet at the time, the youth rejecting corporate created plastic bands in favour of unknown kids in their bedrooms chucking out tunes via the internet.

What a different sound and time that was.

I remember going to see Dawson perform tracks from this album in Liverpool during her European tour. The cosy venue had a sizable crowd for its size but it wasn’t rammed. Instead one could easily reach the bar without battling through a wall of people. Indeed, at the back of the venue, near where the bar was, one could see Dawson furiously knitting while the support acts did their bits. Eventually, when Dawson finally came to the stage to perform her part, there followed 90 minutes of the most enchanting mix of protest song, tragedy and tweecore punk folk.  Most of which featured on today’s album.

Some years later Dawson featured on the soundtrack for the hit GenX film, Juno. This was the only time I felt like a true hipster. I had seen Dawson, I had read Dawson, I had heard Dawson, long before all these new “fans” before the mainstream. And by that time the enthusiasm for the genre had started to fade.

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Hidden Treasures – Dead Can Dance [#584]

UnknownThe problem with bootleg albums is that they become addictive. Especially when the band has been around for ages and you’ve come to them late. Following my introduction to Dead Can Dance in the autumn of 1993, I had already collected the majority of their albums on CD by the time the Great Music Download Free For All hit the UK in the mid-noughties. So I would often spend hours late at night scouring the alt.sounds.gothic.mp3 newsgroups looking for new and rare Dead Can Dance material that I was, perhaps, unfamiliar with.

Hidden Treasures is one such catch. Released in 1994, possibly recorded in Italy though some sources differ, the “Unofficial” album has live performances of tracks stretching back through from the band’s Towards the Within stage of life but also features a collection of tracks from much earlier. Thing is, as with all live bootleg recordings, some of the songs are much different than their studio recordings which, I suppose adds to their appeal amongst fans.

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Herzelied – Rammstein [#583]

Rammstein_Herzeleid_coverDavid Lynch’s Lost Highway is an often disregarded cinematic masterpiece. Dark, brooding and just plain fucking weird. It also happens to be right at the top of my top ten favourite films list.  For me it’s not the twisted script and imagery that makes the film so enjoyable, nor is it the years of enjoyable debate I’ve had with others trying to interpret its meaning. For me, the cherry on the top of the enjoyability of the film is its soundtrack. Upon which a, then relatively,

For me, the cherry on the top of the enjoyability of the film is its soundtrack. Upon which a then relatively unknown German band featured with two songs, Heirate Mich and Rammstein. Both of those songs appear on this album. Sadly HMV and Virgin Megastore in Liverpool

Sadly, when I was looking for albums by the band in the mid90s, neither the HMV nor Virgin Megastore in Liverpool had anything by them. I did ask a young metal loving shop assistant I knew in Virgin if he had heard of them but he declared that he wasn’t “into any of that Euro shite mate”.

Of course, having poked about on the then fledgeling internet via dial-up, I was able to locate a European exporter of the band’s albums. So, brandishing my new credit card I bought copies of both Herzelied and Sehnsucht online. They were my first ever internet purchases and they took two weeks to reach me.

Herzelied is Rammstein’s first album. It is a little boisterous for those with an ear unaccustomed to mid-nineties Euro metal and, like the guy in Virgin, you might not be “into any of that Euro shite”. But if you’re looking to leaving those big-haired American rock ninnies behind and having your head shaved and your body oiled up as you enter a world of more diverse and interesting world of Euro quasi post-industrial metal, then you won’t go wrong with a bit of Rammstein.

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Hergest Ridge – Mike Oldfield [#582]

Hergestridgecover.jpgOldfield’s second album takes inspiration from a delightfully picturesque area of Herefordshire where Oldfield was living while attempting to escape the media attention gained from the success of his first album.

Until about 2000, I had only been brave enough to listen to the extract of Hergest Ridge that featured on the Complete Mike Oldfield box set having been advised by an elder sibling that “It isn’t much cop”. Still, as with all things in life, your siblings sagely advice can be similar to the type of sage that sits at the back of one’s parent’s kitchen cupboard in that Sharwoods bottle that dates from the 1970s, out of date and a matter of preferential taste.

To be fair, they were kind of right because even after a delayed listening, Hergest Ridge just doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of Tubular Bells or later works such as Islands or AmarokIt’s a very reflective or poignant work, perhaps one that is for good listening to when reading broadsheet newspapers while ensconced in one’s garret. Sure, it is Oldfield’s “difficult second album” but it shows off the young Oldfield’s developing talent and has some beautiful recurring melodies that also crop up in later works.

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Hecate – Ordo Equitum Solis [#581]

R-436890-1421008785-2640Further darkwave caterwauling from the Franco-Roman musical union of Ordo Equitum Solis.

It is with this album one is clearly able to distinguish the influences from bands like Dead Can Dance, Miranda Sex Garden and Coil woven throughout the album’s fabric. Like a dusty tome, the album is often difficult to digest in the wrong setting. This isn’t something you might want to accompany you while you do the vacuuming or brass polishing, nor is it the ideal setting for a children’s eighth birthday party unless, of course, you are fostering future gothlings. Instead, this is the kind of album you’d probably want to burn some incense sticks with while donning one’s floaty hooded gown following a healthy manicure for those extra long nails of yours and drinking large amounts of dark red wine while lasciviously doing the dance from Kate Bush’s music video for Wuthering Heights.

The album is split into at least four sections, an introduction, Songs of the Man, Songs of the Fool and a coda which kind of suggests to an old Prog fan like me, that this work should be listened to in its entirety with attention paid to the liner notes or the song titles. Sadly, I don’t have any liner notes. All I have is song titles and from them, I conjure up mental imagery of sordid sexiness of the hooded variety in vaulted cellars filled with wine and incense smoke. Which probably says a lot about my own psychology than anything else…

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Heavenly Voices Parts 1 – 3 – Various Artists [#578-580]

A bumper three albums on a Friday with a most peculiar acquisition, Heavenly Voices.

Much like how Looking for Europe does for the Neofolk genre, Heavenly Voices does for the dreampop/ethereal wave genre by way of the artists on the Hyperium record label. Here we have, in effect, three distinctly glorious compilation albums featuring a whole range of talent from artists like Eden’s Sean Bowley and his side project Sunwheel to fully functioning bands like Bel Canto,  Black Tape for a Blue Girl and Miranda Sex Garden.

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[#578] Part One is possibly the most accessible of the three. A little catawauling here and there but a nice build up towards (and what was my introduction to) Ordo Equituum Solis‘  Playing with the Fire.

Dreamily swimming onwards through Die Form’s Cantique and culminating in Winter Moon Descending by Annabel’s Garden

hev[#579] Part Two takes a different approach. The songs here have a much more floaty dreamy kind of feel with a slight dash of hauntology. This album was my introduction to the whole Heavenly Voices trilolgy and as a result not only are there many artists who have appeared previously in the Music Project, for example Collection d’Arnell Andréa and Black Tape, but also many who are yet to come. Possibly my most favourite tracks from this album are Sunwheel’s Walk Upon the Grass (which, incidently, I was intending to shoot a music video for but couldn’t find a willing person to film in time! Maybe a later opportunity will arise) The Sea is My Soul by 24 Hours and the haunting 56 in 81 by Eleven Shadows.

 

11K190SNXWLFinally Part 3 [#580] copies of which are currently changing hands for around £300. Featuring a much more accessible approach to the genre with more familiar artists like Miranda Sex Garden and Bel Canto. Again, this album introduced me to many artists and it is easy to see why people prize it so highly. Emerging from Part 2’s forest of floaty vaginas into a dystopian landscape of industry like a stumbling ninny, the listener finds Part 3 rips up the leafy glades of Part 2 and drills deep concrete foundations of industrial darkwave right into your mind.

Legend has it that there is actually a part four and a part five compilation. Rumours, whispers abound.  Sadly the Hyperium label closed shortly after the death of its founder in 2002, but many of the acts continue on in the worlds of Darkwave and etheralwave.

 

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Heaven’s Open – Mike Oldfield [#577]

Mike_oldfield_heavens_open_album_coverLong term followers of this blog may remember my joy at Amarok, when that came out I was overjoyed, but when Heaven’s Open came out the following year, I was ecstatic. Here was Oldfield singing pop songs, angry ones at that, and doing a whole side of his multi-instrument magic. Awesome.

Of course, this was in the days before the internet. When music news and gossip was gleaned from NME and Melody Maker, both publications that I avoided because I didn’t want to be seen to be a desparate hipster, and, of course, because I wanted to happily stay in my musical comfort zone with Yes, Mike Oldfield and the Tubes. So I was unable to learn until much later that this was Oldfield’s last album on the Virgin label and a great big “Fuck You” to Richard Branson, although if you listen carefully to the lyrics of the songs, it’s fairly obvious.

With five singles tracks, including the non-hit title track, Heaven’s Open and a massive 20 minute opus much akin to Amarok, the album is totally out of character compared to later and earlier works. Even Oldfield’s temporary rebranding of himself (to Michael rather than Mike) gives the whole album and uneasy feel. However you can hear the development of stylistic motifs from both Islands and Amarok and the birth of riffs and styles that would cross over to Tubular Bells II.

 

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Heaven or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins [#576]

Cocteau_Twins—Heaven_or_Las_VegasOh dear me. Scottish shoe-gazing shenanigans with the band’s 1990 release Heaven or Las Vegas.

There I am, at that futile point in ones life where you are dabbling with new scenes, trying to find a genre you identify strongly with. At the same time, I am exploring cinematography, in particular the works of David Lynch, and watching cult TV series typically featuring 90s yuppies shagging and dinner partying; the media’s way of saying “hey your life is mediocre, this is the life you want”.  When what do I hear? Only Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser wailing away on some incidental music.

Later I discover that this Fraser woman is the same woman singing about Pearly Dewy Drops on the Uncut 4AD Sampler CD that I have (it was my very own 4AD3DCD) and on the This Mortal Coil CD I was gushing over.

I happened to mention this to a hipster friend. He was such a hipster, he didn’t have a beard or wear half mast trousers, because beards and half mast trousers would be on trend ten years later and he was too cool to lead a trend so far in the past. Hipster friend pointed out that I “should” like Cocteau Twins and that I should use “arcane internetery” to “obtain” their back catalogue, not just for myself, but to also pass to him so that he could survey the same and ensure that it was truely safe for my delicate ears to digest.

Heaven or Las Vegas is Cocteau Twins’ sixth album. A much more developed sound than their earlier albums and not as abusive to the ears. You could quite happily drive across somewhere like say, Scotland or Ireland, with this on your car stereo without it feeling out of place. Indeed, Fraser’s mumblings are a little more intelligible and soothing than before. Of course, as with most of the albums in my collection, I came to it too late to enjoy the excitement of watching a band grow and blossom. Instead I came to Cocteau Twins at the end of their career, too timid to venture beyond their greatest hits and in a different situation from one where I could sit, chill and absorb at leisure as I could in my twenties.

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Heaven and Hell – Vangelis [#575]

Vangelis_Heaven_and_HellBeardy greek mashes his keyboards once more to produce an enigmatic work with a guest appearance from Jon “Yes” Anderson.

Years ago Carl Sagan did a TV show called Cosmos (the soundtrack to which has already been covered here). It told us all what we knew about the solar system and featured stunning imagery which inspired many young people to get interested in astronomy. Thirty-odd years later, the astronomy factory’s failed to surface and the teacher saying “Astronomy is full of maths” was the right thing to say to impressionable lazy young people embarking on their first tentative steps into the real world. While I was saved a failed career in astronomy thanks to that warning, I carried a little piece of Sagan’s masterwork in my memory, that of the theme tune.  A tune that brought to mind black and white portable television sets and eager cassette recorders waiting to catch the music from the final minutes of the TV show.

Years later, while searching for the music, I learned that the tune was actually from Vangelis’ work Heaven and Hell. While tempting to skip through to the actual bit from Cosmos the album is actually worth listening to in its entirety. Especially as near the end of the first side, our favourite high pitched male singer, Anderson, pops up with an outer space lyrical coda to the side. Indeed, I believe this is the album upon which Vangelis and Anderson worked before forming their own double act, the imaginatively named Jon & Vangelis.

Of course, if you have been following this project for the several years it has been running you might also recall that Vangelis was a member of Aphrodities Child which also dabbled in Biblical musical imagary, with their album 666.

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Heart Still Beating – Roxy Music [#574]

Roxy_Music-Heart_Still_BeatingBryan Ferry and chums sleaze their way through an hour and 8 minutes of live music recorded in Frejus, France, 1982.

This is Roxy Music’s third live album complete with saxophone fellatio from Andy Mackay and guitar wanking from Phil Manzanera though surprisingly it was not released until 1990.

I think by this time Ferry’s pals had had enough of the whole lounge lizard vibe and were starting to look at future career prospects. Indeed, the album Avalon, the promotional tour from which Heart Still Beating is a recording, was to be the band’s last. Although technically, they did what most successful bands do and they did release several live and best of compilations after. Indeed, Ferry had only just got started and he wanted to stay afloat and even at the grand old age of 71 (at time of press) Ferry still oozes across the stage with his performances like some leery lecherous old granddad who’s got his eye on your twenty-year-old daughter. And not just for the job as his secretary.

Heart Still Beating as an album covers a nice range of Roxy Music’s work while also focusing on their more relatively modern love songs compared to their saxophone riddled earlier works. A good start for those unaware of Roxy Music’s historical bag of tricks and those wanting to see what that old rascal Ferry has to offer.

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