Sunday, November 29, 2009

Morrissey On Desert Island Discs

Broadcast today, 11:15 on BBC Radio 4. Kirsty Young's castaway is Morrissey.
As the lead singer of The Smiths he captivated a generation of angst-ridden teenagers and, a quarter of a century later, he remains the outsider's outsider.

As a child, he was enthralled by the emotion and beauty in pop music. He discovered the joy of public performance when, as a six-year-old boy, he stood on a table and started singing. But from an early age he felt he had to avoid everything conventional life had to offer. 'I just didn't want the norm in any way, he says, 'and I didn't get it. And I'm very glad.'.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Defining Song Of The Decade?

There's a brilliant Dorian Lynskey piece on Guardian Online about Freelance Hellraiser's genre (and it seems, era) defining bootleg/mash up "A Stroke Of Genius"
In the autumn of 2001, a British producer called Roy Kerr, aka the Freelance Hellraiser, spliced together the music from the Strokes' Hard to Explain with the vocal from Christina Aguilera's Genie in a Bottle and named it A Stroke of Genius – even the title seemed magically serendipitous...

Fittingly, the record plays out like a seduction. In her original song, Aguilera is coquettish and controlled, keeping her sexuality on a tight leash until the right guy comes along, and the music reinforces her restraint by maintaining a slow simmer. "My body's saying let's go," she breathes. "But my heart is saying no." In Julian Casablancas's vocal on Hard to Explain there's another inner battle ("I say the right thing/ But act the wrong way") but, stripped of their singer's hesitancy, the band's itchy sexual energy becomes a "let's go" too strong to resist and Aguilera sounds like she's being swept towards a rendezvous that's both dangerous and delicious.

Go and read the whole piece. It's fantastic.

And listen to this truly awesome track while you do so.

Come, come, come on and let me out.

White Noise

In the hunt for out of print exotica, lost libriary music, and particularly, crazed soundscapes oozing from the radiophonic workshop that has taken place over the last decade, there has been a mighty amount of amazing music unearthed. This, however, might be one of the best, one of the most crazed, one of the most out-there gems that has been brought to light, heavily featuring as it does, the very, very, wonderful Delia Derbyshire.

In 1969 White Noise released the groundbreaking album An Electric Storm on Island Records. The album was created using a variety of tape manipulation techniques, and is notable for its early use of the first British synthesizer, the EMS Synthi VCS3. Amongst many oddities, the first track on the album Love Without Sound employed sped-up tape edits of Vorhaus playing the double bass to create violin and cello sounds.

"I use voices a lot too, but not as conventional vocals. I always use a lot of voices, and if somebody having an orgasm in the background is used as part of one of the waveforms, it makes the sound more interesting, without the listener actually knowing what they're hearing."

- Interview with David Vohaus

Although not initially commercially successful for Island, it has over the years proved to be a cult classic, going on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, namechecked by such contemporary artists as The Orb and Julian Cope, influencing contemporary acts such as Broadcast, Add N to (X), and Secret Chiefs 3.

White Noise is at its core a psychedelic record, it's just psychedelic with a desire to create sounds that had never before been committed to vinyl. The Silver Apples are a good reference point, but what White Noise managed was even beyond their breaks-heavy innovations. Just check the opening track's vocoded vocals, epic soundscapes, clattering percussion and the kind of loungey bass that Stereolab and Broadcast would end up making their own. It's a struggle to believe that this was made in 1969 as you are launched through a collage of samples, noise, synthesis and tape effects. Every synthesizer part, every edit, every sound seems so perfectly placed and is the absolute showcase of Derbyshire's unique and virtuoso talents.

'White Noise' is innovative, genre-bending, utterly insane and with a twisted sense of humour that echoes down through the years.

320 Kbps.

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Two Weeks Left...

As some of you will know by now, there's a five week countdown happening here at Castles In Space. There are only another two weeks to go. I'm doing something at the moment and soon I'm going to stop doing it. It's a personal thing which feels important to me. I'll share it with you. I'm going to mark the occasion. Not long now. There are two weeks to go.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The History Of The Units

Emerging from San Francisco's new wave and performance art scene of the 1970s, The Units were a band that broke free from the conventions of the punk movement, embracing a daring, all-synthesizer approach that made them pioneers in the field. Some of this early material from the band would initially seem to be in contravention with the spirit of the punk movement - for example, the arresting 'Bird River' is ostensibly a million miles away from anything that might be called punk: in essence its bounding synth arpeggios have more in common with convoluted krautrock or prog than new wave, taking on a kind of homemade psychedelic feel that's highly inventive but entirely lacking in the primal thrills that defined punk rebellion.

But then what could be more in tune with the spirit of punk than flagrantly defying it? In 1978, eschewing guitars and the conventions of rock music altogether was probably about as close to the ideologies of the punk movement as you could get, and in the scrappiest most homemade sense, that's just what the band set about doing. The band's crowning achievement came a year later with 1979's comparatively polished 'High Pressure Days', which is by any standards a marvel, full of Talking Heads attitude, complex, jerky delivery and a proto-hip hop heaviness from the backbeat that just exudes originality and brilliance. If you only had to pick one Units track to add to the great new wave canon, then this would surely be it.

The synth-strangling 'Warm Moving Bodies' and 'Go' offer yet more comparatively straightened out sounds, but you'll still plenty of madness in the mix thanks to curious electronic sketches like 'East West 2', the like of which you'd never have heard The Human League going anywhere near. The Units represent an overlooked adjoining movement that bridged the DIY ethics of new wave with the electro-pop movement of the 1980s, and these early recordings represent a snapshot of that transition in all its shambolic, experimental glory.

320 Kbps

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arc Of Doves - Impressions

Another limited edition of just 300 hand numbered and assembled copies from Brock Van Wey's Quietus imprint.

In the same way that Brock Van Wey is BvDub, Tetsuya Nakamura is Arc of Doves.

This debut album is nothing short of exquisite with every piece here being finely crafted and absolutely full of warmth and emotion.

There's a range of influences from classical music, deep electronica, the occasional Berlin-esque texture and a nice sense of percussion. This album has a magical, ethereal feel to it that grows the longer you spend with it.

Another ambient future classic, then. Can Brock Van Wey do no wrong?

320 Kbps.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

We Took Our Name From the Neu Track...

I haven't had much time for a few days to post much, but to make up for that, here's something a bit special.
Formed at the end of 2004 by Tim Felton, who previously officiated as part of retro-futuristic sci-fi popsters extraordinaire Broadcast, and Billy Bainbridge, once a member of fondly remembered electronic entity Plone, two of Birmingham’s finest bands of recent years, Seeland released their first single on Stereolab’s Duophonic in mid 2005, followed by an EP a year later. Since, they have grown into a trio as bassist Neil McAuley joined the ranks, and have developed their sound to fit the realm of their first long player.

Fond of old style library music, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Joe Meek or early German Krautrockers à la Kraftwerk or Neu!, Seeland add some refined pop touches which find their roots in the early to mid eighties synth pop of the Human League or Depeche Mode to create a rather warm and inviting record with Tomorrow Today. Effortlessly assembling little pop gems, wrapping gentle catchy melodies around delicate electronic motifs, drenched in pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk, old Doctor Who sound effects and library music-style polish, the trio create a dreamy and vivid soundtrack, where tones contrast without clashing and forms are all rounded and smooth.

This new promo EP includes not only "Captured" a track taken from the highly recommended album, "Tomorrow Today" but also a trio of remixes of album track "Call The Incredible" from Ghost Box's Advisory Circle.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Richard X - Back To Mine

This wonderful personal selection from Richard X feels thematically linked to the Gatekeeper and Maiovvi stuff I've posted over the last few weeks.
A compilation, of sorts. The sound of too much white wine, Pro Tools and a record collection. You can get the CD and read the liner notes for soundbites on the merits of each track if you like. Its a very indulgent compilation (sorry DMC boys) but I've heard it in a central london pub one night, and i thought Legowelt certainly imporved the ambience. The tracks that we couldn't get were Le Parc by Tangerine Dream, What It Is by Busta (and Kelis) and the theme from the Equalizer by Stuart Copeland. You could burn these onto the end yourself for a limited edition rerelease if you want. Anyway if you haven't got it here's a personal tracklist overview: Dean from I Monster is one of the best Uk producers, Assault is a great film, Goldfrapp are also great even though Alison might have gone off the Black Melody empire, Jona Lewie is not just for Christmas, Kelis is my hero, Nivea shouldn't have been lost in the crowd, H17 will get another day in the sun or The Sun, Animotion are all good americans, SYD needs to get more things out, Legowelt doesnt need to get out more, Pete Shelley is beyond Sapien, Mum and Dad are the family RX never had, Denton and Cook should have done Byker Grove, Trans X are not guilty, Tiga is funny, The Silures are serious. As said, better get the compilation.

01. I Monster 'Who Is She?'
02. John Carpenter 'Assault On Precinct 13'
03. Goldfrapp 'Black Cherry'
04. Jona Lewie 'You'll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties'
05. Kelis 'Young Fresh 'n' New'
06. Nivea 'Run Away (I Wanna Be With You)'
07. Heaven 17 'Let Me Go'
08. Animotion 'Obsession'
09. S.Y.D. featuring Nancy Fortune 'Discomanic'
10. Legowelt vs. Orgue Electronique 'Haunted Arp'
11. Pete Shelley 'Homosapien (Dub)'
12. Mum & Dad 'Dawn Rider'
13. Denton And Cook 'Tomorrow's World: Theme from the BBC TV Series'
14. Trans X 'Living On Video'
15. FPU 'Ocean Drive (Tiga's White Linen Vox)'
16. The Silures '21 Ghosts'

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Sight Below - Murmur EP

Over the past two years much of the ambient-electronics community has become attuned to the sonic subtleties of Rafael Anton Irisarri. Either in his 'The Sight Below' guise for Ghostly International, or using his birth name for the Miasmah label, Irisarri has conjured gorgeously blurry soundscapes that appeal to everyone from Thom Yorke to Biosphere, who provides a very rare remix of 'The Sunset Passage' on this limited 12".

A side tracks, "Murmur" and "Wishing Me Asleep", provide hissing, blissed-out ambience driven by pulsing 4/4s. Irisarri's looped, delayed and reverbed guitar treatments cause his tracks to swell and contract with a head-expanding effect, creating vastly ethereal atmospheres that are as natural as they are lush and electronic.

For the flipside, ambient hero Biosphere appears with a remix of 'The Sunset passage', creating a widescreen vista of extended guitar notes, ominous drones and a pulsing throb that works a deep, enthralling magic on your brain-sac.


A free EP, "No Place For Us", which is just as good as this 12", is available for high quality download from the Ghostly International website.

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Antoni Maiovvi - Shadow Of The Bloodstained Kiss

As promised in the recent Gatekeeper post, here's more of that classic dark Italio disco sound for you.
‘Shadow of the Blood Stained Kiss’ is the Antoni Maiovvi score to a nonexistent 1983 Italian Sci-fi giallo starring Barbara Cupisti and Ian McCulloch. In the distant future "Europa," the 2nd moon of Jupiter has been colonized by man. In the midst of this Utopian era a dangerous struggle for power between organised crime and the highest level of government is underway and when Juliet Hardy (Barbara Cupisti), a stunning discotheque singer, becomes witness to a murder the only person who believes her is tough-nosed cyber-journalist, Jason Scott (Ian McCulloch). Together, they unravel more than they bargained for as a sadistic killer runs loose brutally slaying anyone in connection to the crime. Who does this man in black work for and what is the connection between him and an ancient order that have been controlling the known universe since the dawn of time?
This is really, really authentic stuff and is a total must for all of us fans of Carpenter and Romero soundtracks and those deliciously Eighties fat analogue sounds. Although a strictly limited edition, this terrific album is still available here, so I'm only keeping this up for a few days. I also heartily recommend the first album which was limited to 100 copies, but is available for download here.

320 Kbps.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Four Weeks Left...

There's a five week countdown. Here we are at week four. I have no idea if this will be of interest to anyone else, but something which feels important to me will be happening. I'll tell you about it. It will be a bit of a celebration. A few things might get explained. Interested? There are four weeks to go.

Mood Altering Mushroom Music

Cardiff based Illustrator/DJ/Crate-digging-vinyl-hound Pete Fowler’s first volume of Monsterism Island was full of obscure exotica and lost first era psychedelic records, but this second volume comprises a top drawer selection of all-new spaced out bleepery from an impressive cast list.

Instrumentals drawing on lounge, exotica, folk and plenty of inspiration from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, involving well known names like Gruff Rhys, Luke Vibert and Jerry Dammers, plus members of Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve and Future Sounds of London. Not to mention a few tracks from Ghost Box. This expertly complied selection of nu-psychedelia doesn’t look back but takes dance culture as the lift off point to create a new strain of mood altering mushroom music.

Although I really could live without the "humourous" spoken word sections from the Wizzard.

1. Intro - Rum Cove
2. Magic Morning - Monsters At Work
3. Magma On My Mind - Marc Shearer
4. Designated Wizard Practice Area - Belbury Poly
5. Silver Snorse Hotel - Luke Vibert
6. Snyrds Rising
7. Nest We Forget - Jonny Trunk
8. Fisherman's Jam - Monsters At Work
9. Village Strollin' - Wolf People
10. Golden Blooms
11. 'Til We Merry Meet Again - Circulus
12. Mr. Sponge's Groovy Oscillations - Amorphous Androgynous
13. Wild Robots Power Up - Gruff Rhys
14. Welcome To The Night
15. Chocolate Skull - Squonjax
16. Empty Library - Jerry Dammers
17. To All The Wizards In Lockdown - Richard Norris
18. The Purple Woods
19. Seven Thousand Pound Bee - Cherrystones
20. Volcanic Drive - Hardfeelingsuk
21. Final Froog - Tremortex
22. Dreamer's Dream
23. Lair Of The Grolfax - The Advisory Circle
24. Wandering Black Holes - Richie Crago
25. Owl Ritual - Nancy And Paddy
26. Crystal Hermitage - Batfinks
27. Outro - The Call Of The Horn

320 Kbps.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Selected Radiophonic Works

Brilliant 3 hour BBC radio documentary about the Radiophonic Workshop presented by former Communard, Richard Coles.
Richard Coles tells the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop's extraordinary story.

In 1958 an extraordinary musical laboratory opened at the BBC. It was called the Radiophonic Workshop and provided music and sound for a wealth of BBC programmes, from The Goons to Dr Who.

With contributions from Coldcut, Dick Mills and Mark Ayres, Richard Coles explores the achievements of the unit and presents a carefully chosen selection of programmes showcasing the department's work:

The Dreams (05/01/1964)
The Goons (02/02/1959)
Inferno Revisited (17/04/1983)
Relativity (1974)
Electric Tunesmiths (30/12/1971)
Bath Time (1976).
This is a great overview of the work and history of the revered Radiophonic Workshop and really succeeds in placing the work they produced in context. Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in December 2008.


For those that missed them, I also recently Tweeted some rare Radiophonic Workshop tracks which I ripped from a 1974 BBC Soundtracks album. As far as I know, unavailable elsewhere.

Open Golf '73/Wimbledon '74 Theme.
Theme From "Take Another Look."
Theme From Moonbase 3.

Melanie C - Northern Star

I’m guessing that some of you might take some convincing about the joys of this one and that I might have a bit of a sales job to do. But the nights are drawing in, the children are asleep and I’m up for the challenge. Join me if you will...

So: Melanie Jayne Chisholm. Born January 1974. Nine years younger than me. Born in Whiston, Merseyside. One hundred and six miles away from where I was born. Sporty Spice. The one who could really sing. Spice Girls 1994 - 1998. Solo career 1998 – present. Spice Girls reunion tour in 2007. Became a Mum earlier this year. New album promised next year. Found an extended welcome in continental Europe after we did our usual “build ‘em up, knock ‘em down” routine in the UK.

Melanie Jayne Chisholm. Liverpool fan. Sporty spice. The one with the voice. The backflips, tracksuits and pony tails. The least attractive one. Lesbian rumours. Clinical depression. Eating disorders. The one who could really sing.

I’ve got nothing but happy memories of the initial Spice Girls period. It was a crazy time wasn’t it? I was utterly beguiled when I first saw 'em bouncing around in the "Wannabe" video. PROPER pop music. Full of vitality, youth, fun and sex. Hormones and laughter. I never bought any of their music, or saw them live, or even watched the film, even though Richard E. Grant was in it, but I was really, really glad that they were around. Good times. Happy days.

I look back to that period and it feels like the first half of the Nineties might have been my actual halcyon days. I sometimes think that the Noughties have all just been a horrible dream. And I want the world to wake up now. War. Terrorism. Another war. Security paranoia. Economical crisis. Hard times and stress. The rich getting richer. Jobs for the boys. Clinical depression. Evil people wielding great power. Abuse of power. Celebrity. Opium for the masses. Celebrity meltdown. Big Brother is watching you, watching us, watching you. Eating disorders. Build ‘em up, knock ‘em down. In your face. Up your skirt. Deeper. Further down. Darker. Fade to black.

Where can we turn? What can we do? Well, it’s the artists, isn’t it? We turn to art (or God, I suppose, but I can’t offer you anything in the way of hope or enlightenment in that direction. I'm firmly in the Dawkins camp). We look to our culture to provide enlightenment. To place things in context. We turn to our artists to express the pain. To articulate the feelings which we all feel. To make sense of the chaos in which we find ourselves. To find some common ground, some connection, some humanity in the tide of negativity. Some vulnerability among the arrogance. Some love among the indifference. Some understanding.

Melanie Jayne Chisholm. Born January 1974. Manufactured pop star. Celebrity. Clinical depression. She’s been there, done that. She’s been there, bought the T shirt. The T Shirt had her name on. It was her face on the soft drinks, on the washing powder, on the supermarket hoardings, on the products in our kitchen cupboards. It was her voice on the radio. She was the one who could really sing. Backflips, tracksuits, pony tails.

I have an argument which runs along the lines that ALL art is valid. Any attempt at expression, any attempt to document the human condition in any way, shape or form is of equal value. Criticism is nothing more than a filter. There is a beauty in any art. Everything has some value. A connection will be made somewhere, with someone, at some time now or in the future. It matters not if a single person finds it relevant and powerful, or it connects with the masses. Mainstream or cult success. Posthumous reappraisal. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is getting it down. Leaving a mark. Self expression is fulfillment. “Live your life without regret/Don’t be someone that they forget.”

“Northern Star” was Melanie Jayne Chisholm’s first solo album following the Spice Girls disintegration. It was 1999. The Spice Girls had ended as these things do. Cultural phenomenon. The world loved them. Cynical marketing. Milk the cash cow. Build ‘em up, knock ‘em down. The end. Solo career beckons. The dumper. Popular on the Continent. Big in Japan. Reunion. Disappointment.

“Northern Star” is one of the most affecting pop songs I have ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of pop songs. It’s obviously autobiographical. And in context of her career, her life, it’s one of the finest songs ever written. This isn’t hyperbole, I’m totally serious. It’s all in there: the career, the rise, the fall, the pain, the doubt, leaving your mark, making human connections. It is pop music in excelsis. It is low culture attaining the status of high art. It is one of the purest things that has ever been made. It moves me a way that is difficult to articulate. It’s beautifully written, produced, arranged, recorded and sung. It’s damn near perfect. No wait, it IS perfect. How about that? It is an erudite expression of the power of human emotion. It is a statement about defiance in the face of adversity set to a towering musical accompaniment. It is, quite simply, everything I love about music.

In Private Lives, Noel Coward wrote, “[It is] Extraordinary how potent cheap music is”, and Heaven help me, this is potent stuff. I have never heard, nor do I ever want to hear, the whole of the “Northern Star” album. Down that road there can only be disappointment for me. Nothing else can be this good. This wonderful. This truly, truly great.

To conclude, I should probably list a few of the myriad things which make this song so celestial. A little guide for the unconvinced, perhaps? An I-Spy book for the reluctant? Well, apart from the lyric and the vocal performance, there’s the string arrangement. Romantic and powerful, like being ravished by a siren. There are the multi-tracked harmony vocals, so beautifully arranged. There is the final chorus section which kicks in after the instrumental middle section, so uplifting, it feels like a key change, but it isn't. There’s a little fizzing synth line which appears in the coda which goes up the scale and then back down again, which makes the hairs on my neck rise. There is perfection. There is beauty. There is Melanie Jayne Chisholm.

I love you for this song, Melanie Jayne Chisholm. Born in 1974. Nine years after me. 106 miles away from me. You have made my heart burst with joy and you have made me cry. Within the space of 4 minutes and eleven seconds, time and again and again and again, in public and in private. You have made your mark. You have gotten it down. You have made a connection.

320 Kbps.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Roedelius - Works (1968 - 2005)

An epic compilation from the great Hans Joachim Roedelius, renowned pioneer of Krautrock and early electronica.

The motorised, ear-melting drone of Harmonia’s Monza opens this retrospective, complete with blueprints for Bowie’s Berlin years and circuit diagrams of whole subcurrents of 21st-century electronica and avant-rock. Cluster’s fizzy synthetic soundscapes follow, including a collaboration with Brian Eno.

Roedelius then immerses himself (and us) in a three-decade-long warm bath of ambient minimalism and sepulchral piano figures. Listening to "Works (1968-2005)" is like taking a degree course in groovy experimental electronic music. It contains so many important starting points for many sounds and genres, it's quite amazing that it all came from the brain of one musician.

Properly amazing.

320 Kbps.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Pulp - Countdown

A compilation of the first four pre-fame albums from Fire records - "It", "Freaks", "Separation" and "Masters of the Universe". This 2 CD set was released at the height of their fame, much to the anger and resentment of Jarvis. Fire records are, by all accounts, a bunch of unscrupulous bastards who didn't treat the band in a fair manner during the wilderness years, but who were more than happy to cash in when success came a-calling.

Highlight of the set is undoubtedly the eight minutes plus extended version of the title track which was released on a 12" single. Beyond that, there is much to enjoy, but the overall impression is that the band just weren't ready. It seems apparent that as soon as they got good, everybody noticed them.

My friend, Trina, who majorly dug the "Different Class" period Pulp was kind of horrified by this when I played it to her once. "They sound very different" she said. Still good though, Treen, Still good.

This is out of print now and is currently going for about a fiver on eBay.

320 Kbps.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Petter & Dairmount - Subakuatik Blues EP

I grabbed this earlier in the year, but it's now available at a bargain price over at Boomkat. That's a shame, as it indicates that this hasn't shifted the units too well, which is a surprise, cos this is sounding great to me.

The Underwater Dance mix is a great, bouncy, accessible house track. I had it on in the room today while I was playing with my kids and they said they liked it a lot. They may have just been humouring me though. Try it out on your children and report back.

Vinyl rip at 320 Kbps.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gatekeeper - Optimus Maximus

I'm super-stoked that there seems to be a slight resurgence of the bombastic fat analogue soundtrack type of stuff so brilliantly typified by the works of John Carpenter et al.
Inspired by the ghoulish soundtracks of Goblin and the synthetic drama of John Carpenter, Kompakt's new offshoot, Fright records, delivers a disco shocker from Gatekeeper. 'Optimus Maximus' comes on collectors edition granite vinyl and is limited to only 300 copies. These tracks brew a potent blend of darkside Italo with a demonic suspense made to fully grip the floor. While the arpeggiated basslines and drum machines are purely retro vintage, the dynamic synthlines and hi-end processing give this away as a modern production, but that's a large part of its spellbinding charm and should be considered a stone-cold essential for all darkside disco fiends.
This four tracker is consistently great, but my favourite two tracks are "Forgotten" and "Obsidian", both of which are to be found on the second side. This really is a massively clever repositioning of that clunky Carpenter-esque sound to something blisteringly NOW. Enjoy.

For those of you who want more of this stuff (and let's face it, who wouldn't), can I respectfully point you in the direction of a revitalised Illegal Smoking Robot (Welcome back, Tone. You still rule the school), where The Emperor Machine's very good "Space Beyond The Egg" has just been posted. Not exactly coming from the same place, but shall we say, going on the same journey.

Can I also hereby give you notice that another recent classic of the genre will be arriving here at Castles In Space very shortly.

Vinyl rip at 320 Kbps.

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Tim Hart & Maddy Prior - Summer Solstice

I've frequently skirted around the edges of folk music looking for "the good stuff", but have been bitten a few times buying into highly acclaimed music which ultimately left me totally cold. To complicate things further, there are deep issues of identity relating to this traditional music for me. I'm Scottish in lineage, but coming from parents who were both born and bred in the North of England (as was I), I feel slightly fraudulent enjoying Scottish and Irish folk music, which is unfortunate for me, as the Celtic stuff is generally much, much better than the swathes of hey-nonny-nonny English music which proliferates. How typically English that seems to me - unbearably parochial, but envious of the perceived shared history and instant comradeship so apparently prevalent in the communities to which I can never be a part of.

One of the routes into the truly good traditional English based folk music that I have managed to stumble upon, was the early music of Tim Hart and Maddy Prior. These names may well be familiar to any Brit growing up in the seventies, due to the work of Steelye Span, who, almost unbelievably at this distance, regularly used to hit the upper echelons of the chart with their folk-rock singles back when I were a lad. "All Around My Hat" anyone?

I was also familiar with the stunning voice of Maddy Prior due to her appearances on several Mike Oldfield albums, who was a big favourite of mine before the punk wars hit and I had to pretend I didn't like fantastic albums such as "Hergest Ridge" and "Incantations" anymore, at least for a few years. Prior's vocal work on the latter album in particular is utterly great and hearing that album now, I am always transported back to my Mum and Dad's front room, where the stereo sat next to the Christmas tree. I used to sit in the dark with nothing but the fairy lights on and listen to the album that the NME had called "The most boring piece of music ever made" and while my horizons were quietly expanded (I don't think there were any other kids at Barrow Technical College For Boys asking the English master for a copy of Longfellow's "Hiawatha"), I learned that it was important to make your own mind up about some things, and that sometimes, people who should know better were plain wrong.

Anyway, obsessed as I am and always have been, I am always on the look out for new thrilz, wherever they may lay. Which brings us to this gem.


From 1970 to 1982, Hart and Prior were the backbone of Steeleye Span. In 1971, as well as recording two albums as part of Steeleye Span, they recorded Summer Solstice - a much more professional recording than their first two albums, including a string arrangement by Robert Kirby, better known for his work with Nick Drake. Almost every song that Hart sang was traditional. Steeleye Span's commercial success peaked in 1975. They toured in the United States and Australia and used electric instruments more frequently. However, further hits eluded them. They announced that their 1978 tour of the United Kingdom would be their farewell.
Those two early albums, "Folk Songs of Olde England" (Volumes One and Two), are pretty special, but this takes the prize for hitting the target exactly for fusing the right amounts of the traditional with some more contemporary touches.

The more broad minded among you should get a kick out of this great record (sounding good on a 1996 Mooncrest reissue) and the highlights are legion. Try the irresistible version of "The False Knight On The Road" or the wonderful, wonderful "Sorry The Day I was Married". And no sniggering at the back for "Fly Up My Cock", OK? They are singing about a bird, OK?

Or ARE they? I've seen a documentary about the period called "Carry On Don't Lose Your Head", and it transpires that those hey-nonny-nonny dudes were pretty bawdy.

320 Kbps.

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Five Weeks Left...

There's a five week countdown. A personal milestone will be reached. There will be a celebration. A secret will be revealed. A story will be told. There are five weeks to go.

Exotic Pylon - Quiet Village/De Wolfe/Mordant Music

Pretty awesome Exotic Pylon Halloween special radio broadcast featuring Quiet Village discussing and playing library classics from the De Wolfe stable, followed in the second half by a session from Castles In Space favourites, Mordant Music, is now available here.

Only 128 Kbps, but still totally worth it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Audible Visions

I promised you some more cosmic space disco, so here we fucking go.

Audible Visions is a collaboration between Alexis Le-Tan (Space Oddities, les edits du Golem) and the design collective Ill-Studio: a spaced-out musical ceremony in which sounds from the past meet ideas from the future. This mixtape from another dimension blends electro, new beat, space disco, minimal-synth, afro and new-wave grooves in a concoction which after one listen, is bound to give you sonic hallucinations.

Beautifully packaged in a hand numbered Warhol Factory silver pillow with beautiful poster. There are but a few of these of these still available here.

Go and get one. This download will only be available for a few days.

320 Kbps.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sylvain Chauveau - The Black Book Of Capitalism

French composer Sylvain Chauveau has released several records of minimal compositions for piano, strings, wind instruments and electronics, "with silence as an important musical element". Two of his tracks were chosen this year for Kompakt's annual "Pop Ambient" compilation.

This debut album is ageless and timeless. Full of otherness, like smoke billowing around the corners of a darkened room. Music like this doesn't age. It's lovely, inventive stuff. Rooted in European soundtrack work, but with enough dark twists to keep the interest levels super-high. Gallic voices appear and then fade to black. There are pianos, guitars, brass, bells, crackle, sweet female voices and strings. It's a bit Badalamenti/Lynch and it's a little bit Yann Tiersen, but both lighter and darker than either.

His later work is equally beautiful, but perhaps less edgy, sometimes drifting into a string drenched, drone-y minimalism. Check out the website for more details. It all comes with a massive recommendation. There's even a fantastic album of chamber music versions of Depeche Mode songs.

For research purposes, and because I'm a totally hopeless case, I've tested this music both at home and outside, as a soundtrack to the London commute. It's perfect at home, especially for very late at night (I'm listening to it now) but it works terrifically well on the iPod, where it has the effect of adding a stillness and welcome back step from the in-your-face rigours of London tube journeys. I'm playing myself in a film about my life, basically. But that might just be me.

You'll like it, I promise.

320 Kbps.

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