Album Review – Dead Can Dance (re-issues)

Dead Can Dance – ‘The Serpent’s Egg’/’Aion’/’Spiritchaser’ (4AD)

There’s no shortage of musical acts whose output changed over their lifetime. Talk Talk evolved from challengers to Duran Duran to minimalist post-rock, for example. And who would have predicted the trajectory of Everything But The Girl from being King and Queen of bedsit Bossanova to drum’n’bass and clubland acceptance? Yet perhaps the most astounding evolution belongs to Dead Can Dance. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard were lumped in with the goth-industrial scene of the 1980s when they released their self-titled debut in 1984. This may have been to do with being signed to 4AD but that debut, whilst strong, was not typical of the sound that Dead Can Dance would become most noted for. The Australian pair would produce a series of albums that drew on traditional music that at times crossed continents and centuries. The results were always high in quality, bewitching and beautiful, and some of the unusual music ever to be filed under ‘Rock & Pop.’ 4AD were probably the most suitable label for them to be on – it’s hard to imagine label head honcho Ivo Watts-Russell grumbling about the lack of an obvious single.
Between 1984 and 1996, the band produced seven albums, which have been re-issued over the last year on vinyl. (They reunited in 2012 to produce an eighth album, Anastasis.) The final re-issues (not quite sequentially) are their fourth, fifth and seventh releases.
The Serpent’s Egg, (****) originally released in 1988, was the last album made while Perry and Gerrard were still a romantic couple. The press release describes this album as ‘minimal but grandiose’, which is actually pretty accurate, and makes perfect sense when you listen to the album. The album opens with the glorious ‘The Hosts Of Seraphim.’ The album blends medieval and eastern influences – but so coolly and brilliantly it doesn’t need dance beats to try and bring it up to date (which, paradoxically, usually leaves results sounding very dated very quickly). Other highlights from the album include ‘Severance’ and ‘Ullyses.’ Usually when people talk of music being timeless they mean it sounds like it was made in the 1960s. So much of this – in the best possible way – sounds like it could have been made 500 years ago (technology notwithstanding).
1990’s Aion (****) is a great example of how judging a record on its cover might actually be pretty accurate: it’s  a section from the Earth phase of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s famed triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The album is a mixture of medieval and Renaissance styles. It’s a record that follows on logically from its predecessor. The highlight here might well be ‘Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book’. ‘Black Sun’ is another strong track on the album – which sounds almost untypically modern, yet utterly belongs on the album. There’s Celtic hints at times, too – but unlike so much music that tries to incorporate Celtic music it avoids tweeness or bombast. As with much of DCD’s music, it goes a long way to making you rethink the much criticised ‘world music’ label.
Spiritchaser (****) appeared in 1996. Over the previous few years they had gained a bigger following in the US, with their sixth album, 1993’s Into The Labyrinth selling half a million worldwide. Gerrard had released her debut solo album, The Mirror Pool in 1995 (she would go on to do soundtrack work, winning a Golden Globe for her work on Gladiator).
As with Aion, the album had been recorded at Brendan Perry’s Quivvy Church studio in the Irish Republic (as opposed to Egg being made on London’s Isle Of Dogs) by the album’s title, the band had moved  from the sound of the preceding albums to work with African and Caribbean tribal rhythms. Yes there are drums and percussion on earlier albums (check out ‘Mother Tongue’ on Egg) but this is an album driven by rhythm. This wasn’t intended as the band’s final album – rather that a planned follow-up was abandoned. Though the distortion on album opener ‘Nierika’ is a seemingly intentional false start, it again brings home the point that once you thought you had defined DCD, they would then surprise you. ‘Indus’ sees them share a writing credit with George Harrison – the melody is strikingly similar to The Beatles’ ‘Within You Without You.’ As an album it’s perhaps the most modern sounding (in a good way) than they had been since their debut.
It’s a joy to hear these albums as they were intended – they show how creative and original an act DCD were, and why they were more than just another goth band.
nbb techno gremlins have attacked – check out dead can dance on youtube, spotify, deezer etc..

A song for today #42: Sista Strange


Sometimes, you just connect with something.

A couple of weeks ago I was sent the debut track by Sista Strange, entitled ‘Friday Evening.’ It’s wonderful to hear something fresh and original sounding.

Sista Strange are a duo from South London. They are two girls – Jesley and CJ – and are both respectively 17 and 18 years old. ‘Friday Evening’ was written by the pair and  produced by them in their living room.

Over the course of less than two and a half minutes, they manage to sum up their influences and lay out their plans like a manifesto. I hear electronica, soul, hip-hop and drum’n’bass, served up as a kick-ass tune.

In their own words:’Sista Strange started through a series of experimental tracks we played around with in 2016 and passed back and forth through voice notes and emails. These felt super alien compared to the music we had been making in bands we were in at the time, and so we decided to turn them into a project that allows us to build our sound by mixing, chopping and freely incorporating whatever the hell we feel sounds good at the moment; whether that be minimalist drum and bass, sampling random sounds around London or integrating world sounds.’

I’m looking forward to hearing more very soon. Stream and download for free below.


A song for today #41: Simian Ghost

It has been a bit quiet round the blog, hasn’t it? Anyway, still here and every so often, something reaches me that I want to write about.

Today, it’s a track from a Swedish act called Simian Ghost, who will shortly release their new, self-titled album. It’s been a beautiful day today here in Scotland, and somehow this gorgeous piece of dancefloor pop just hits the spot.

Simian Ghost started out as a recording project by Swedish songwriter Sebastian Arnström and after two well received solo releases became a fully-fledged band a few years back.

In Sebastian’s own words: ‘“Stop Moving is a straight up disco track. We have done some stuff like that before, and we really liked it, especially playing it live. We wrote it last summer, when the world was still somewhat comprehensible. Now, as it continues to spiral out of control, we’re happy to offer a brief moment of musical respite from the chaos. It’s a song about letting go of your insecurities and falling into the arms of a well meaning stranger. It’s about giving yourself to the waves, trusting that they will carry you to a good place. We all need that sometimes.”

Don’t we just.

Not only that, but an unofficial fan video has emerged of Donald and Melania Trump appearing to dance to the song. Make of this what you will…

A song for today #40: Mined

Photo credit: Rosie Matheson for JFC Worldwide

Hello again. There are, as ever, no shortages of submissions in the inbox, and as ever, too little time to write about them and a computer that is playing silly buggers. Anyway…

This song and video from London’s Mined arrived in the inbox a few weeks ago, and both song and video are rather haunting, standing up to repeated play.

‘Mistakes’ is taken from his forthcoming EP Love’s Lows, which is due out in the spring.

According to the press release ‘Kofi Holmes Attivor aka Mined is – quite literally – a man of many names. Born to a Ghanaian family in Tooting in London, this electronica newcomer, philomath and a Molecular biologist was given eight names at birth. Raised on the RnB and soul from his parents’ record collection, he was granted his wish to get his first “sleek, silver Casio”. Putting his musical experiments on hold, Kevin pursued his other passion of science at University of York and a Molecular Cell biology degree. While investigating the sonic landscapes of Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” and the work by artists like Spooky Black, Majical Cloudz and Foals, he started developing his own sound that embodied his philomath pursuits.’

The follow-up to last year’s also rather brilliant ‘Pangs’ debut single, if you’re fed up with the charts being full of the same artist, then get behind Mined and spread the word.

Album Review – Stormzy

Stormzy -‘Gang Signs & Prayer.’ (#Merky Records)

In case you were under a rock for the whole of 2016, the year saw a massive resurgence of Grime. Not just in terms of coverage, but also chart performance. Arguably Skepta winning the Mercury with Konnichiwa was the cherry on the top. This album is not only one of the most anticipated debuts of the year – but setting the seal on grime’s importance on the UK music scene of 2017. Yes, Stormzy has taken his place alongside the well-established faces of the genre – Wiley, Kano and Skepta, amongstothers – but also taking on the likes of Ed Sheeran, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and Little Mix in the pop charts.

The album opens with the sound of a downpour – something we get a lot of in the British Isles – on album opener ‘First Things First.’ Similarly to Burial’s dubstep masterpiece Untrue (now astonishingly ten years old), this is an album that musically as much as lyrically evokes life in urban Britain.

The album has already produced two top ten hits – ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Big For Your Boots’ – tracks which give an excellent insight into bangers which showcase his eloquent rage. But that’s far from the whole story within. This is an album with different styles within. If you thought it was going to be all anger the two-part ‘Blinded by your Grace’ is Gospel meets soul in the style of a Motown legend like Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. While American artists have often discussed God in their lyrics, it’s been less common here. But Gang Signs & Prayer is truly an apt name, and it seems to sit more easily than when Prince used to tell his audience that ‘God loves all of us. It seems genuine and thankful, rather than preachy.

In terms of broadening the lyrical picture ‘Velvet’ sees Stormzy making plans for travel with his girlfriend after she’s finished her degree and ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ he shows how heartfelt grime can be. Given the soul feel on a lot these tracks, comparisons could be made with Frank Ocean as much as Skepta and Wiley.

Clocking in at just under an hour, it’s a long album and as with many albums, there’s a lot to take in on just one listen that shows this needs to be listened to carefully and repeatedly. It can seem a sprawl – but one worth exploring.

Michael Omari – as he’s known to his Mum – may be only twenty three but there’s vision within here that hints at further greatness. He told the BBC that he used to work in quality assurance on an oil refinery – but that it wasn’t for him. That industry’s loss is our gain. He’s already won MOBOs – but the strength of this young man’s work is likely to see him add far more to his mantel piece over the next twelve months.