Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Send Me an Angel by Real Life

I mentioned briefly not long ago that Real Life had also done a cover album recently with a bunch of 80s tracks.  I looked up what I had blogged before from Real Life, and realized that I'd only ever done one of their tracks, and it isn't the one everybody knows.  I know, I know... sometimes I like to avoid the obvious and do something different, but missing "Send Me An Angel" seemed somehow wrong, so I've added it to the list.  To be just a little bit different in a minor way, I've added the 2009 version, which was re-recorded for this compilation.

Real Life seldom had much of a break (other than this song, actually)--they're a talented, albeit seriously 80s outfit, who had done a bunch of work long before they had a major hit.  In fact, they released "Send Me An Angel" as far back as 1983, although it made little impression that far ago, and in the US at least, it was hard to even find much of their material.  Wikipedia will tell you that Heartland at least was readily available, but I never really had much luck tracking them down until Best of Real Life: Send Me An Angel came out in 1989.  Heck, I couldn't even find anyone who could accurately tell me who sang "Catch Me I'm Falling" for years.

"Send Me An Angel" got picked up for some movie soundtracks in the 80s, though, and due to that, the band made a bit of a come-back.  I picked up their greatest hits compilation in 1989, and their Not Quite Greatest compilation Let's Fall in Love as well, and shortly after, Lifetime which had a few minor Billboard Dance chart hits, like "God Tonight" and "Kiss the Ground."

About this time, I put two and two together and realized that a song that I remembered liking years ago ("Catch Me I'm Falling") was actually by them and not A-ha, and I became a fan.  But I never saw their original releases available anywhere in any format.

After the synthpop crash of the early 90s, they continued on, becoming briefly more industrial sounding on Happy.  I never even got Imperfection, so I can't tell you much about it but both it and a remix version are available on Spotify.

I did pick up their cover album, however, where they also covered themselves and re-recorded "Send Me An Angel" one more time.  It's a good version, although it's not really too noticeably different from the 1989 version.  It's hard for me to say that I prefer one to the other.

As I said earlier on the Parralox cover album, it's interesting to see who a band decides to cover and why.  In this case, Real Life specifically limited their offerings to 80s "synth essentials"--per the subtitle of the album.  Anyway, the tracklist is as follows:

  1. "Send Me An Angel" 2009 version - originally recorded by Real Life
  2. "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" - originally recorded by The Eurythmics
  3. "Cars" - originally recorded by Gary Numan
  4. "Fade to Grey" - originally recorded by Visage
  5. "Everything Counts" - originally recorded by Depeche Mode
  6. "Blue Monday" - originally recorded by New Order
  7. "Primary" - originally recorded by The Cure
  8. "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" - originally recorded by The Korgis
  9. "Shout" - originally recorded by Tears For Fears
  10. "Nowhere Girl" - originally recorded by B-Movie
  11. "I Melt With You" - originally recorded by Modern English
  12. "Tainted Love" - originally recorded by Soft Cell
  13. "The Model" - originally recorded by Kraftwerk
  14. "Send Me An Angel" 1983 remix
  15. "Send Me An Angel" 12" remix
The last two tracks are no doubt tacked on just because they can be; they have a primitive feel to them, and I do not prefer them to either the 1989 or the 2009 versions.

You'll also notice based on the tracklist that several of those original artists aren't necessarily "synth" artists, meaning that calling this collection "synth essentials" is a little bit odd.  Certainly the new versions by Real Life are synth driven.  There's a few Easter eggs in their two; the noise that opens "Cars" is actually the noise that opens their earlier song "Girl Jesus" but it sounds close enough to the Gary Numan version that I can see why they used it as a bit of an in-joke.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Quiet by Harm Joy

Harm Joy is a literal translation of the German term schadenfreude which we already use in English quite a bit to refer to laughing at someone else's misfortune.  I've just discovered them recently; they're an electroduo that makes synthpop with a strong darkwave or coldwave influence.  Darkwave and coldwave, as you might expect, tend to be on the darker and colder end of mood and tone for synthpop (and other post-punk new wave too, for that matter) and are overtly associated with the goth movement.  While I'm not goth myself, I'm sympathetic to, and in fact a big fan of, a lot of outfits that later became foundational to goth music; Depeche Mode, Clan of Xymox, The Cure, Cruxshadows, etc. in particular.  So as long as the goth isn't too heavily applied, or degenerates into self-parody, which isn't all that hard to do, I appreciate a bit of that vibe.  Harm Joy has just about the right amount of it without going over the top.  Great vocals too, although you can tell that they're not native English speakers on occasion due to awkward sentence structure or vocabulary.  Nothing that Germans like Camouflage or De/Vision wouldn't do on occasion.

I would have liked to find a lyrics version of "The Quiet," probably my favorite song of theirs, but I couldn't so you'll have to watch the official video.  I've noticed, in at least two or three official videos, that they have a very odd tendency to make videos where they are abusing goth girls in their underwear, so I recommend being wary; you may want to listen to the song without actually watching much of the video.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Eye in the Sky by Parralox

You can tell a lot about an artist by who they cover when they decide to do tribute albums.  Two of my favorite Australian synthpop artists recently both did tribute albums; relative newcomers Parralox and still-chugging old-timers from the 80s Real Life.  Here's the tracklist for the Parralox album, according to Discogs:

  1. "In the Night Two" (originally by The Pet Shop Boys)
  2. "Eye in the Sky" (originally by Alan Parsons Project)
  3. "Headhunter" (originally by Front 242)
  4. "Touched by the Hand of God" (originally by New Order)
  5. "Kebabträume" (originally by DAF)
  6. "A Forest" (originally by The Cure)
  7. "Somebody" (originally by Depeche Mode)
  8. "The Day Before You Came" (originally by ABBA)
  9. "Blind Vision" (originally by Blancmange)
  10. "Physical Attraction" (originally by Madonna)
  11. "Silent Morning" (originally by Noel)
  12. "A Little Respect" (originally by Erasure)
  13. "The Model" (originally by Kraftwerk)
  14. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (originally by Joy Division)

When I bought it from Amazon as an mp3 download, I had a slightly different tracklist; it also adds "Heaven" (originally by Depeche Mode), "The Number One Song in Heaven" (originally by Sparks) and "I Love You Too Much" (originally by The Bee Gees) but lacks "Kebabträume", "A Forest", and "The Day Before You Came."

Either way, one thing that's fairly obvious is that their influences, and those whom they chose to cover, represent a fairly broad and somewhat eclectic mix of artists from the 70s, 80s and 90s.  Many of the old-fashioned 80s New Wave synthpop artists are not unexpected, but some of the other 80s pop (Madonna, Alan Parsons Project, etc.) are a little surprising, and songs by artists like Noel and Sparks are a bit on the esoteric side.  It's interesting to see what they did with the songs too; even though the original of "Eye in the Sky" is not a synthpop song, or even an electronic music song of any kind at all, for that matter, it still sounds surprisingly faithful, for instance.  "Headhunter" on the other hand, is toned down a bit; rather than sounding like a harsh EBM track, it is rendered as a danceable synthpop song.

Although John von Ahlen has done vocals before for Parralox, he does quite a bit more than normal on this album, and regular vocalist Amie Mann (who, given the release of the new single "Crying on the Dancefloor" may have parted ways with John and left the band, from the looks of things) appears more as a cameo than anything else.

Anyway, I'll talk about the Real Life cover album another time (this post is already getting lengthier than is my wont for music posts) but for now let me just say that it's a bit more focused on a time-frame and genre than the Parralox album, although there is certainly a fair bit of overlap in terms of artists covered (Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, etc.) although they also have a few surprises, and interestingly, they both cover Kraftwerk's "The Model."  They also covered themselves and released a new version of "Send Me an Angel" which is pretty good, although not really substantially different from the 1989 version, really.  The album also features the 1983 version, though, which is otherwise a bit tricky to rundown in the States.

For now, here's "Eye in the Sky" by Parralox.  Sadly, this version doesn't feature the "Sirius" opener, which Alan Parson's Project sometimes did.  Parralox has a version of the song that does.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Adjust Your Set by Mesh

Alright; one more for today.  After doing a number of 80s one-hit wonders (for relatively loose definitions of "hit") it occurs to me that I'm going to someday, and maybe not that far from now, run out of bands to highlight.  Sure; I have a lot more music than is highlighted here, but does anyone really want me to highlight 30-40 different Depeche Mode or Erasure songs?  This is part of the reason I branched out beyond synthpop into italo-disco and EBM, etc., and why I branched out beyond the 80s to music that is more recent, but firmly rooted stylistically in the synthpop and new wave movements of the 80s.

Mesh is a band that hasn't really had its due here on my blog.  I only have one Mesh post (not counting this one, which I'm adding now.)  It was originally a video of "Confined" but when the video crapped out, I replaced it with "Crash."  I later found another copy of "Confined" on youtube, and added them both.  However, this rather inauspicious history belies their importance.

Mesh is cursed with very bad timing.  Forming in 1991 and active throughout the 90s and beyond, they've never been able to enjoy the mainstream synthpop boom that they really should have been entitled to.  Then again, they've also moved in and out of a "pure" synthpop sound over the years.

Their earliest material (although not released early) is found on Original 91-93, which naturally suggests the vintage of those tracks.  These songs are synthpop.  However, Mesh's first actual release was Fragile in 1994 sounds like slightly more melodic Nine Inch Nails.  They then went on to sound like classic line-up Depeche Mode for several albums in a row, before branching off into a kind of "synth rock" sound that can honestly be called somewhat unique.

To be fair to Mesh, they also really pounded the pavement in the 90s.  Back then, the synthpop scene was much smaller and more insular, and yet Mesh (along with De/Vision) emerged as real superstars in that scene.  For that matter, Mesh also did a bunch of remixes, including for De/Vision, from time to time.

I've been a fan, although I'm not always as sold on their style as I could wish.  One of my absolute favorite of their songs, "Confined" is from relatively early In This Place Forever, but in general I prefer The Point at Which It Falls Apart and Who Watches Over Me?, which are also the most Depeche Mode-like of the lot.  We Collide and on features a much more layered, intense production, and a grittier rock-like sound.  It was also produced by Gareth Jones, which is interesting.  It also has some of my favorite tracks, although I'm a little bit more skeptical in general about the style.

For today's, I've picked one of their most recent songs, "Adjust Your Set."  The mix is by Rob Dust, and he certainly brings his own style, but the Mesh produced original isn't as different as you'd think in sound.

Sister Marie Says by OMD

One final entry for today.  This song was actually originally written in 1981 by OMD which, of course, I've talked about here already before.  It wasn't recorded until much later; after the classic line-up had broken up following "If You Leave" and "Dreaming", and after Andy McCluskey had run with the name for a number of years, issuing the largely excellent Sugar Tax album, and then a few other largely forgettable ones.  McCluskey gave up in the mid to late 90s with the name and let it rest.

In the mid-00s, Humphries and McCluskey got to talking, they were invited to perform in Germany, and the legal issues with the name OMD itself were largely sorted out, and... well, they got the classic line-up band back together, and came out, in 2010 with the excellent History of Modern.  There's a lot of good tracks (although a lot of weird ones too) on History of Modern, but my favorite is this old one, reworked decades after the fact, but still sounding pristine, as if it belongs firmly to the 80s.

Although one curious side effect.  McCluskey often has odd pronunciation.  Although the title of the song is "Sister Marie Says" it usually sounds like he's saying Sister Mary.  Sometimes it sounds like he's saying Sister Murray.

Dancing In Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop) by Q-Feel

Another one-hit wonder of the early 80s with a song that mentioned heaven prominently, Q-Feel was actually making a rather cheeky song about dancing in space.  It would probably be completely forgotten (instead of merely mostly forgotten) except that it was added to the soundtrack album of Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  The song was released originally in 1982, but had a re-release in 1989.

Again; I heard it for the first time in the 90s on an 80s compilation, but then again, I never watched Girls Just Want to Have Fun when it was new, or even for several years afterward.  It's not that great of a movie, and frankly it's more fun just to see Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt playing teenagers when they were young enough to pull it off (although that novelty wears off very quickly.)  I also remember being pretty disgusted when her love interest sucker-punches a much larger rival and then runs away, and that's portrayed as a romantic moment.  What a loser!

Anyway, it's still a fun, albeit extremely silly, song.  By the time I saw the movie, I did know the song, and thought it was fun to see it in the finals.

(Feels Like) Heaven by Fiction Factory

I first heard of Scottish Fiction Factory and their one hit, "(Feels Like) Heaven" on one of those Rhino Records 80s compilations.  This was a major hit in some markets, but I can't see any evidence that it was actually released in North America at all, meaning that there isn't really any way I could have heard it until it was compiled.

Fiction Factory apparently only ever had two albums period, and broke up later in the mid-80s.  Band leader Kevin Patterson apparently still gets together for revival concerts and whatnot on occasion, but he's left the music industry entirely and works in IT for a university in Scotland.

I wish I'd heard this song earlier, but I suppose by the mid-90s when I got it on the Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80s compilation series was early enough.  It's a hauntingly beautiful little song.  I also regret that I never finished getting all of the volumes of that compilation, although I have most of them.  The're not easily available anymore.  Apparently Rhino had rights issues with the series and had to discontinue it for that reason, with no plans to re-release.  However, you can get them as used CDs from Amazon at, mostly, relatively decent prices.  Although pricing and availability vary by volume.

Curiously; and I just looked over the tracklists to double check, but none of the volumes have the Depeche Mode song "Just Can't Get Enough" on them.  In fact, there aren't any Depeche Mode songs at all, which seems like a glaring miss, but again--probably due to rights issues.  I can't believe given the choices of songs that they did pick, that they'd have deliberately left off songs like "Just Can't Get Enough," "New Life," "Dreaming of Me," "Leave in Silence" and even "People Are People."  In general, the compilations earliest volumes start at about 1979 or so, and volume 15, the last, had tracks from about 1985.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Secret Place by Marsheaux

Greek gals Marsheaux have just released a Depeche Mode cover album; they've essentially covered the entire A Broken Frame album song by song.  I've been a fan of theirs for a number of years, and I have most of their releases to date, including having just picked this one up.  I double checked my posts here, and it looks like the only time I've put Marsheaux on the board is when I added a completely different Depeche Mode cover (of "New Life" that time) so it was high time that I gave them some credit for their original work.  Marsheaux is very rooted in the 80s, and have in fact covered a lot of 80s material, including (obviously) Depeche Mode, When in Rome, Billy Idol, OMD, New Order, and actually quite a few more.  But they are really quite good on their own.  Their lyrics are often kind of strange; I chalk that up to them not being native English speakers.  But that doesn't really matter that much; what they do really well is evoke mood and tone with their songs, where the dream-like vocals become simply yet another instrument for them to work with.

I actually think Marsheaux has made some of the most romantic synthpop I've ever heard.  I don't mean that in a kind of bodice-ripper type sense, a la the romance genre of novels or the rom-com genre of movies.  But with an extremely airy, wistful, dream-like quality to much of their music, it reminds me, in mood at least, if nothing else, of the best of Book of Love's output (a point which I believe I mentioned last time.)

Marsheaux has been relatively productive; six original albums in 11 years is slightly better than one every other year, but they've also put out remixes, compilations, EPs, singles, and more.  I especially like that they sound different than the majority of my collection.  As much as I like De/Vision or Mesh, for instance, I have to admit that they're largely retreading (albeit very well) trails already blazed by Depeche Mode long before.  Depeche Mode casts such a long shadow over the genre that many bands, honestly, struggle to do anything that doesn't sound at least somewhat derivative.  Normally, I'm OK with that, since I'm a huge fan of classic line-up Depeche Mode (y'know, when the music that they made could still fairly be called synthpop instead of something else by a band that used to make electronic music back in the 80s and early 90s.)  I don't mind stuff that treads that same trail.  But because of that, I do really quite like the material that is more unique.  Marsheaux is cementing themselves as one of my favorites that does their own thing, seems to still be going strong, and has enough output to not be considered a flash in the pan.

I've got a lot of material that I could have picked for this particular entry, but I decided to go with probably my favorite song of their recentish (2013) Inhale release, "Secret Place."  This nicely encapsulates everything I've said about the band, I think, in one single track.