On this Autumnal Friday we have releases from three of Bella Union’s finest. The first of which is a live album from the incredible Susanne Sundfør who performed a recorded show at the Barbican last year. The album is available as a deluxe limited edition super-heavy Cornflower Blue double Vinyl including B/W fold out collage poster and deluxe CD including B/W fold out collage booklet. Order HERE.
“Innovative and genuinely captivating… a musician who has truly mastered her field” The Independent
“Scandinavian magical mystery tour induces euphoria” Evening Standard
Secondly we have another live album from legendary Oklahoma band The Flaming Lips, who performed with the Colorado Symphony. The album is available via Bella Union on Digital and CD from today, to then be followed by a vinyl release in January. The Flaming Lips performed their universally acclaimed 1999 album The Soft Bulletin in its entirety with the Colorado Symphony at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. This particular event has been regarded by those in attendance as one of the most awe-inspiring, moving and magical moments of a lifetime. Order HERE.
“This is one of those albums people are going to obsess over for many years to come.” Pitchfork
“A joyous, celestial celebration of sound.” NME
And last but by no means least, The Low Anthem are releasing a tenth anniversary edition of their 2008 album ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’. To celebrate the reissue, The Low Anthem will be heading out on tour across the US and Europe in 2019, which will include a London show at the Union Chapel tonight. Order HERE.
“These are magical songs laden with imagery and poignancy.” The Guardian
“The musical cadences employed in their songs leave the listener awash with comfort and the sense of homecoming.” Drowned In Sound
Having recently announced their new album See You Tomorrow, due for release 17th January and available to preorder here, Pennsylvania trio the innocence mission today share a gorgeous new single titled ‘This Boat’. Speaking of the track, lead vocalist Karen Peris had to say… ” This Boat – among other things, how words can take on a different relevance with time. The word “change” for example, has had such a wide arc of meaning for us over the years. Strangely, it happened that for this song we returned to the high school band room where we first met each other, and played and recorded the grand piano and timpani there.”
Sufjan Stevens, who has covered the innocence mission’s classic ‘Lakes Of Canada’, once called their music “moving and profound. What is so remarkable about Karen Peris’ lyrics is the economy of words, concrete nouns which come to life with melodies that dance around the scale like sea creatures.”
The band recorded See You Tomorrow in the Peris’ basement (and the dining room where the piano sits). Karen wrote and sang ten of the album’s eleven songs, and plays guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, electric bass, melodica, mellotron, and an old prototype strings sampler keyboard. Don contributes guitars, drums, vocal harmonies, and one lead vocal on his song ‘Mary Margaret In Mid-Air’. Fellow founder member Mike Bitts adds upright bass to four songs including ‘On Your Side’, the album’s first single.
Thematically, See You Tomorrow evolves from ‘Sun On The Square’, touching on the major changes that happen in the life of a family. Karen says, “Great love of course contains great anxiety, for the safety and health of the loved ones, for one’s own ability to be a good enough helper and companion, for the future. And the intense desire to hold the present moment of togetherness, at the very least to store it up in vivid detail, so that it can be not lost at all.” This desire can be felt in the song ‘Movie’, whose piano accompaniment echoes both the flickering of film and the unstoppable rush of time, and in ‘St. Francis and the Future’, which relates the tiny, perfect detail of a Jan Van Eyke painting to the human longing to hold off change, to keep it in the unflawed distance. Karen relates, “We were thrilled to come upon the painting ‘St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata’ long ago on a family day trip, and a kind attendant at the art museum gave our children a little magnifying glass to view it, and in the distance was a tiny city, birds in the sky, just barely visible. I’ve found in recent years that I was writing poems about that moment, but that the background of the painting had taken on a relation to the inevitable changes that I, as a mom, was mentally trying to hold off.”
Each successive innocence mission record marks the passing of time, and how we handle, and learn from, our experiences. “As time goes on I suppose we keep looking more toward connectedness, and feeling more gratitude though also more challenge about life, and wanting to find a language to define it somehow and wondering how others experience it,” says Karen. “The thought that these are universal concerns makes me feel more drawn to write songs, to join in a conversation, even though the conversation itself is sometimes about being at a loss for words.”
Two examples are ‘John As Well’ – “to crave knowing other people deeply, and being more truly known by someone” – and ‘At Lake Maureen’: wondering aloud about what the other person feels, for example the specific colours that they encounter in the natural world at a given moment, and how that combines with their emotions at the same moment.” The song contains one of Don’s favourite lyrics: “Make my soul come clean, a sail above Lake Maureen, sing into storms, sing into storms. This day is going.”
“There is a longing there to be transformed and a hopeful expectation that it is possible,” he explains. “I find joy, or a similar type of joy, in all of the songs,” he concludes. “A humble recognition of challenges and hardships, the acknowledgment and comfort in knowing that they are both personal and universal, and the expression of light and hope” – which is one way of summing up the perfect marriage of melody and words that is See You Tomorrow…
Following their critically acclaimed collaboration with John Grant on last year’s Creep Show project, Wrangler today announce news of their new album, A Situation, released 28th February via Bella Union and available to preorder here. The band have also announced 2 x headline shows, in London and Manchester, in late February. Dates/info HERE.
To celebrate the release the band have shared an extraordinary digital video for “Anthropocene”, a track about the collapse and fall of human civilisation. Of the track Wrangler say: “We have left our mark on the world on which we walk. This is a soundtrack for the urban age. Sounds to lift us above the detritus which envelops and strangles us.” Of the video director Akiko Haruna adds: “The effect humans have on the planet is something that I am conscious of daily. Anthropocene shows our world, compressed onto the Wrangler logo. Over it looms three ugly heads, representing the human ego and how we might view ourselves as deities or Gods; the overseers of our world. Within the Wrangler world, we show a range of things happening in our current world such as sweat shops, deforestation, farming, fracking, sustainable energy, transport, etc. It was an immense privilege to work with 3D animator Ben Chan, who helped this world come to life. The situation is a serious one and I am very afraid, so to keep things bearable I like to force a slice of humour in everything. The space ship at the end is a little light relief from the situation; Escape. Realistically, I am much more for saving what we have and would rather not ditch our beautiful planet, but there’s nothing like a little space expedition to keep the options open.”
When Wrangler first formed they had a very simple modus operandi. The clue was in their name. Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards (The Maths), Stephen ‘Mal’ Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Phil Winter (Tuung) would get together with a very select kit list of careworn analogue synthesisers and vintage digital sequencers. Their task? To wrangle new music from the ancient equipment. These self-imposed restrictions helped produced two classic long players: LA Spark (2014) and White Glue (2016).
However, the times have changed and so have Wrangler. The coming decade, which looks set to be dubbed the Terrible Twenties, may be the last time that bands actually get to release albums. Ecological collapse, climate crisis, food shortages and the disintegration of the fabric of society will mean that the slow devolution of the music industry isn’t even one of the main things that musicians (or anyone else) should be worrying about. So the trio have thrown everything into their third (but hopefully not their last) album. The result – A Situation – is simultaneously their bleakest and funkiest release to date.
This collection of warm, reverberant, amped up tracks, that land somewhere between future music, synth pop, industrial dance, classic techno and rigid electro, captures the ambiguities of the group perfectly. Just as they use the ageing outmoded equipment that other people once chose to throw away in order to make tomorrow’s music, they are the paranoid group who (just about) dare to hope that things still might turn out OK. They cast a doleful eye across the hellscape of 2019 and state, if the end is truly nigh, then it’s never been more important to celebrate the little time we have left. And if a revolution to save ourselves is possible then we’re all in need of a revolutionary party, with a revolutionary soundtrack to match.
The album title A Situation is purposefully ambiguous, perhaps referring to a job that needs doing or a nettle that needs to be grasped; perhaps referring to an unspecified event that is potentially either an opportunity or a threat.
‘How To Start A Revolution’contains a different kind of warning. Mal says: “There was originally a little bit of irony in this track but if anything the world has become even scarier in the last two years. If you keep on pushing people there will come a tipping point and it will come back to bite you. There’s no irony left any more.” ‘Machines Designed (To Eat You Up)’ is about the fully-automated AI state surveillance that threatens us all. It looks like the future that Cabaret Voltaire warned us about over four decades ago is now finally here. Mal says: “It’s not my fault! I take no satisfaction at all in this stuff coming true. If it felt dystopian then, it feels more dystopian now. Wrangler are still questioning power but some of the tools of power have changed. I’m now fearful of Google in the same way I was fearful of Thatcher in the 80s.” Phill adds: “In the 70s and 80s if you wanted to have a go you could any weekend of the year but nowadays it’s harder to see who the enemy is and where they are. Come on out and have a go. Where are you hiding?” Benge concludes: “People are aware of the problems with Google, Facebook, 5g, social media, etc. but they’re woven into everything we do, so impossible to deal with.” Addressing the multiple failures of the internet ‘Mess’originally had the more direct title ‘It’s A Fucking Mess’ which just about says it all. ‘White Noise’ is perhaps the bleakest track of all, based round a spoken word piece by Mal, inspired by a reflection on JG Ballard’s notorious and transgressive experimental novel The Atrocity Exhibition.
But Wrangler refuse to ignore the possibility of hope. The mirror image of ‘Mess’ comes in the shape of the copper-bottomed Kraftwerkian techno pop banger, ‘Rhizomatic’. As Mal says: “It’s an uplifting song, simply because the decentralisation of technology is the one aspect of the internet that might save us.” But perhaps the most positive aspect of the album is hardwired into the DNA of the track ‘Slide’simply because it stands on a continuum with the most uplifting of jacking Chicago house and the most utopian of New York garage.
Both sides of the coin – the dystopian and the utopian – are necessary for Wrangler to work. Phil sums it up the most succinctly when he says: “The heavier things get, the more I just want to jump around and have some fun.” A Situation will be released 28th February via Bella Union and is available to preorder here.
Having released their self–titled debut album to excellent reviews in July on Bella Union, The Soft Cavalry (husband/wife duo Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive) cap a successful year by heading out on a UK tour with their friends RIDE a week today. Of the tour Rachel Goswell says: “I’m really excited to be going back out on tour with Ride, albeit in a different guise, after all these years and to be sharing The Soft Cavalry with everyone! I’ll also be bringing the glitter with me.” Dates/info HERE.
Critical acclaim for The Soft Cavalry, out now on Bella Union:
“A cerebral yet vast and cinematic ode to love and new beginnings, layering ambrosial synths and sparkling guitar with a familiar pairing of Goswell’s seraphic incantations and Clarke’s warm tone… Goswell is an understated weapon in everything she touches, a powerhouse of potent feminine energy.” Uncut – 8/10
“Exploring the same spacey pastures as Slowdive but with license to roam further… Pink Floyd by way of Secret Machines… There’s plenty of promise here.” The Observer – 4 stars ****
“Complex and captivating, Goswell’s ethereal vocals add dream–pop haze to already–atmospheric songs… A slow–burning triumph.” The Independent – 4 stars ****
“Goswell’s cloudy exhalations mist up these songs but their life–buffeted earnestness suggests a shoegazing Elbow (Dive) or The Cure at their most heart–on–long–sleeve (Never Be Without You).” MOJO
“Somewhere between shoegaze and synth–pop… A powerful and remarkable debut.” NME – 4 stars ****
“Bulletproof’s strident disco beat and chiming arpeggios evoke New Order, while the orchestration and arrangements hint at an appreciation of Pink Floyd and Talk Talk, ‘Spiders’ and the closing ‘The Ever Turning Wheel’ unfolding with cinematic majesty… A powerful union.” Long Live Vinyl– 8/10
“Their self–titled debut shares some of Slowdive’s dream–pop DNA but with elements of Pink Floyd, Mercury Rev and The Blue Nile… A monument of emotion, atmosphere and melody… A beautiful, considered piece of work.” PROG
“Atmospheric, cinematic, dramatic, evocative, The Soft Cavalry present intense, melodic dreamscapes.” Classic Rock – 7/10
“Earnest ruminations on love and faith are set against epic soundscapes and tasteful piano lines… It has some lovely moments, the Talk Talk–like ‘Dive’ in particular.” The Times
“Frequently lovely… A debut full of unhurried balladry, washes of guitar and occasional swoops into dramatic climaxes.” Evening Standard
“Musically there’s a surprising amount going on: swathes of piano, brooding synth, tidal hooks and unexpected chord structures framed against moments of backlit, butterfly grace on tracks such as recent single Bulletproof or the Goswell–led Passerby.” The Skinny – 4 Stars ****
For Steve Clarke, The Soft Cavalry’s self-titled debut album is the first record he’s masterminded from start to finish, with invaluable contributions from his wife, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, on co-vocals and spiritual/practical guidance, and Steve’s brother Michael, who produced the record. The band’s music is a particularly British brand of intense cinematic drama. Melodic and timeless, the album lands in the atmospheric dimensions between Pink Floyd, Talk Talk and R.E.M. A record radiating midlife crisis but equally enormous elation; a helix of fear and hope, aching for resolution.
Dog In The Snow’s album debut for Bella Union is Vanishing Lands, as imposing, haunting and luminous collection of songs in the darker spaces between dream-pop, art-rock and electronica, lifted by euphoric melodies, ravishing vocals and absorbing lyrics. The album was initially created at Brown’s home in Brighton before co-producer Rob Flynn helped her add shifting, impressionistic swathes of colour, from the ominous chords that open ‘Light’ to the vocal eddies that close ‘Dark’. Brown wrote 8 of the 10 songs in a 3-week spell after a period of “strange dreams”. She recalls: “Dreams in black and white. I found myself in a dreamland and discovered it was being destroyed. I chose Vanishing Lands as an album title because it sounded suitably desolate, and lent the songs a feeling of cohesion.”
The themes of the two oldest tracks suit the ‘ruined world’ scenario. ‘Icaria’ is named after a utopian society established in the 1840s by a French socialist which only survived for 50 years. ‘Gold’ refers to America’s gold rush bonanza of the same era, when people searched for a better life, but instead created and faced catastrophe.
Born to a Thai mother and Scottish father, Brown was raised in Singapore from the age of five to eighteen, when she returned to the UK, making her home in Brighton. Learning guitar and subsequently Garageband software to construct broader sounds and styles of songwriting, she absorbed influences such as Sufjan Stevens, Scott Walker, David Lynch, Clint Mansell and Brian Eno: brooding, immersive, filmic universes through which Brown could escape her shy nature. But she has since stepped out, both as a commanding solo performer and one of the singers and musicians in the touring version of Lost Horizons, the collective co-founded by Simon Raymonde, Bella Union’s label boss.
Brown also cites key literary and visual influences. Film director Ingmar Bergman’s B&W masterpiece The Seventh Seal and David Lynch’s B&W lithographs impacted on Vanishing Lands’ desolate aesthetic and album artwork. Less overt this time are Singapore and Brown’s “fragmented sense of identity, being mixed race,” that underpinned her debut album ‘Consume Me’. The name Dog In The Snow comes from Franz Kafka’s iconic and prescient novel The Trial: “It seemed to represent finding liberation in an oppressed situation,” she explains. “I was trying to think of something with limitless creative space that doesn’t feel hindered in any way.”
The plight of the individual battered by the political system is echoed by the hooded black figures that appear in the album imagery, including the video that Brown has made for the fragile album highlight ‘Roses’. Her inspiration was a photo of refugees at sea, their faces hidden, desperate to escape their ruined homeland. But would their destination, if reached, provide comfort or more ruin? “It doesn’t help when people aren’t welcoming,” Brown says. “That was my mother’s experience when she arrived from Thailand.”
The album’s core theme also covers environmental ruination. ‘Fall Empire’ opens and closes with a warning: “If we did dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster”, which Brown heard on the groundbreaking 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi. Given the path that humanity is currently taking, no wonder Brown’s dreams seem to prophesise the end of times.
Still, she feels Vanishing Lands’ finale ‘Dark’ is “the most optimistic song on the album. Like I’m waking up from this dreamland and finding freedom rather than it being a negative feeling. Because things do change. We have to hope things will get better.”
Odyssey: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde Vol II is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Paradise: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde. The new compilation, released 6th December via Bella Union, is a further celebration of the great British arranger, musical director, producer and songwriter Ivor Raymonde, who died at age 63 in 1990. Today we share The Martells’ ‘Time To Say Goodnight’, of which Simon Raymonde notes… “probably my favourite discovery was The Martells’ ‘Time To Say Goodnight’ which Ivor produced when he worked at Decca Records. They only released one seven-inch single which sells for over £200, so it’s quite a rarity and more importantly a banger of a track.”
Previously, we shared Twinkle’s unreleased single “Michael Hannah”/ “Take The Trouble”, made with Ivor Raymonde in 1971, which was released in a limited edition of 300 copies on 25th October 2019 via Bella Union. The track is streaming HERE. Twinkle later re-recorded “Michael Hannah”, but this is her original version, while “Take The Trouble” is not included on the album.
Like Paradise, Odyssey has been compiled by Ivor’s son Simon Raymonde with author, journalist and music historian Kieron Tyler. Simon explains that: “The research Kieron and I did for Paradise showed us that there was still an extremely rich seam of his music to be uncovered. A follow-up volume was increasingly inevitable.”
Paradise told the story of a British musical great for the first time. Classic Sixties hits like Billy Fury’s “Halfway To Paradise”, Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” (co-written by Ivor) and The Walker Brothers’ “Make It Easy On Yourself” were collected. All were arranged or produced by Ivor and heard alongside just-as-fantastic tracks by David Bowie, Sonny Childe, Cindy Cole, Tom Jones, Los Bravos and Helen Shapiro.
Odyssey is additional confirmation of the seemingly limitless scope of Ivor’s talents. More hits are featured: the Alan Price Set’s irresistible Top Five interpretation of Randy Newman’s “Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear”, Dusty Springfield’s kinetic “Little By Little”, Frankie Vaughan’s epic chart topper “Tower Of Strength” and the aural drama of Marty Wilde And His Wildcats’ “Endless Sleep”. There are also lesser-known tracks by best-sellers: Los Bravos’ Raymonde-composed soul stomper “Brand New Baby”, Cat Stevens’ moody “Blackness Of The Night” and the extraordinary 1966 Walker Brothers’ album track “Where’s The Girl”, which pointed to where the solo Scott Walker would soon be heading.
Although Ivor Raymonde was a back-room figure, he made the Top 30 in early 1963 as the clandestine vocalist with The Chucks – a studio demo had been made with no intention of it ending up in record shops. Then, it was issued and a band name needed. Ivor plumped for The Chucks and “Loo-Be-Loo” began rising up the charts. On Odyssey, it is at last given its context.
Not everything was a hit. Paul Slade’s epic “Odyssey” missed out on the charts. So did Giles, Giles and Fripp’s baroque psych-pop gem “Thursday Morning”: three-quarters of the band, which featured Robert Fripp, became the first version of King Crimson. One track could never have been a hit: “Twinkle’s “Michael Hannah” was recorded with Ivor in 1971 as a potential single but never released. Now, it is united with 24 other examples of Ivor Raymonde at his best.
Instead of Ivor, the cover image of Odyssey is of Ivor’s wife Nita. As Simon explains: “Since the release of Paradise the love of Dad’s life and my dear mum Nita passed away. I thought it fitting that the cover reflects the huge influence this woman had on him. So often, as was society’s norm in the ’50s and ’60s, the woman behind the scenes rarely got a mention. She raised four children while he made his way in the rapidly changing music business, and definitely helped keep his feet on the ground. Using this beautiful photo of Mum as a cover for Odyssey: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde Vol II redresses the balance a little. He kept it perched on top of his upright walnut Kemble piano in his study and while Mum took it down when he died, thankfully she put it away somewhere safe. It’s certainly a peculiar and unsettling feeling to be left with no parents to turn to, to call, to rely on, and perhaps this emptiness lead me into such a deep period of soul mining.”
Further going into the reasons for a follow-up to Paradise, Simon adds: “I knew there was more but even a serial curator, late-night trawler like me, at some point thinks ‘the best stuff must now surely be all discovered.’ But finding tracks like Christopher Colt’s ‘Girl In The Mirror’ is like unearthing a rare Donovan track produced by Ray Davies. Probably my favourite discovery was The Martells’ ‘Time To Say Goodnight’ which Ivor produced when he worked at Decca Records. They only released one seven-inch single which sells for over £200, so it’s quite a rarity and more importantly a banger of a track.”
Odyssey: The Sound Of Ivor Raymonde Vol II is issued on CD, double album and as a download. Every track but one was originally issued or recorded in mono: stereo became standard in the pop market in 1968/1969. Keeping the integrity of the compilation in mind, all but one track appears in mono. With tracks issued as singles, the masters used are those of the singles themselves.