Bronski Beat – The Age Of Reason (Cherry Red Records)
6 / 10
Synth pop legends re-invent classic 80s album.
Re-making previously successfully albums has become something
of ‘a thing’ of late. It can be a dangerous
game to play in many respects, either it is a huge success and the new version
offers a new angle (or on odd occasion betters the original) or, it maybe fails. Sadly, The Age Of Reason drifts into the latter
category as it falls short and in plain terms, often just doesn’t work.
It’s a brave thing to do, The Age Of Consent was, and is, a
landmark album. The pop genius of Steve
Bronksi (the bands constant) was undoubted and coupled with the sadly departed Larry
Steinbachek and Jimmy Somerville, Bronski Beat were a true breath of fresh air in
the onslaught of synth bands in the early 80s.
The songs on the original album are second to none and it is a classic
On The Age Of Reason, Bronski is joined by programmer Ian
Donaldson and vocalist Stephen Granville who sounds like a cross between
Sylvester and David McAlmont (no bad thing) and the album is re-imagined with a
modern dance feel. It tries its best to update
the songs and in many ways, it does so but, to be frank, the songs in their new
form don’t really carry themselves. The
original versions seem to spiral around in the head as the new album is
listened to and it becomes a case of remembering how good it was rather than
how it now is.
Granville is a good singer, no doubt, but his voice is often
too far down the mix to be able to stand out and the attempts to sometimes
follow Somerville in presentation doesn’t quite sit right. Album opener, the mighty Why is the stand out
track as it retains some of the raw feel with ‘that’ bassline that pounds from
beginning to end and does enable the voice to stand out as it should. From thereon in The Age Of Reason doesn’t
quite live up to expectation.
No More War is spliced with It Ain’t Necessarily So and
passes without any major impact, Junk and Need A Man Blues represent blandness
rather than edgy tracks that they once were.
The track synonymous with Bronski Beat, Smalltown Boy, loses its piercing
percussion sound in favour of a forgettable beat which almost takes the track
Strangely, the album doesn’t contain I Feel Love/Johnny
Remember Me made famous for including Marc Almond and it seems strange that is
it missing. Maybe copyright issues prevent
its inclusion but its absence is a big loss.
Strange goes to irony as one of three new tracks, Flower For Dandara
closes disc one on a high note - a tribute to the Brazilian transsexual Dandara
dos Santos who was callously murdered outside her Brazilian home earlier this
year. The track is tastefully performed
and with the addition of vocals from Rose McDowall is a fitting mark of respect.
Disc two of the release features four more versions of
Flower For Dandara and two other new tracks in five mixes of Stars (the Sylvester
cover) and four mixes of I’ll Be Gone.
The quantity of mixes makes the new songs tedious and overpowering.
The Age Of Reason isn’t a bad album, it just feels wrong in several
places and often just doesn’t sound quite right. Classic songs are always classic songs and
the tracks here are certainty perfect pop on many levels but, disappointingly,
the new versions fail to add to the originals and a purchase of The Age Of
Consent may be a preferable decision.
A new compilation from Glitterbeat Records featuring one of
Africa’s most endangered peoples.
This is the sort of thing that makes ‘World Music’ so fascinating. Music in its most basic organic form. Music played on hand-made and /or adapted traditional
instruments. Words sung by people who
really have no concern if they are pitch perfect because they sing to express
feeling and emotion. This is music for no other reason than to exist as music.
The Abatwa (‘pygmy’) are one of the most threatened races in
the World and with it comes music that too is scarce and isolated and which is
incredibly compelling. There is a
remarkable texture to their sound largely made up of string instruments
including the one-string Umuduli and eleven string Icyembe but also battery operated
loop machines which click and beep like a child with a new toy. Night Street Walker, Who Will Care For My
Children? by Jean Claude Nzabonimpa even features found metal and rattle
This is lo-fi, D.I.Y. music in its (im)purest form. You can imagine walking into an Abatwa
village in the Rwandan borderlands and coming across these people playing their
sounds and music to each other and maybe even to themselves. Songs filled with passion and such
emotiveness that it would be hard to peel yourself away until they pack up
their sparse backing and move on. Nineteen
year old Rosine Nyiranshimiyimana performs an improvised rap on The Child From
The Streets with nothing more than the battery operated loop machine and
backing vocals, and the result is stunning.
There are more vocal oriented tracks like I Will Serve by
Emmanuel Hatungimana the short album opener AIDS Is Bad and, incredibly emotive
tracks like War Song performed by Beatrice Mukarungi a sixty-seven year old
mother leading her sons.
As ever with compilations from Glitterbeat, this album is
enthralling in the extreme and offers an insight into yet another musical
strain hidden away in this huge planet and, as the poignant sounding title
track closes the album another gem has been witnessed.
SPC ECO has released their new album 'Calm', which follows their 'Under My Skin' EP, released earlier this year.
If the demise of ground-breaking duo Curve was a storm-cloud in the musical skies of the 90’s, the silver lining was that Dean Garcia went on to form SPC ECO with Rose Berlin. This a coming together of an electronic musical maverick and a vulnerable yet tender vocal style and even more endearing is the fact that this is informed by the bond of a father and daughter exploring their relationship and the world around them through music.
This bond lies at the heart of the music, and is something that goes beyond two musicians creating heartfelt sounds and becomes the language of their very souls, a conversation that is often too difficult to be encapsulated by mere words. Like many worthy conversations, Dean and Rose choose their words and make their plans carefully.
“When we started this record in early January 2017, we knew we wanted to take our time with it, no need to rush it out and go with the first ten songs we recorded, I think we made almost 3 albums worth of songs with this one so there are some cool outtakes to add or use as the album gets underway,“ says Dean Garcia.
“We also knew that we wanted to explore the layered guitar side of things that we've been side-lining since the ‘Sirens’ album. This record has shades of our first release ‘3D’, which was recorded about 10 years ago, as well as the current more Bristol-flavoured feels that we love so much. It has a bit of everything we like to hear and record, plus it's a calm way to celebrate our ten years of doing this. Rose has come into her own, she's actually quite good at this shit now, and she even drops a mean bass on this record.”
On the one hand, ‘Calm’ is potent and positively charged. On the other, it feels like a collection of moods, wistful reflections made into sound, barely tangible but emotively powerful expressions. Often with minimal symphonic landscaping and gossamer vocals, SPC ECO have created something that is vast and beautifully pervasive. Psychedelic washes and slightly trippy beats swirl around as gorgeous, gauzy dream pop prevails. But often it is the gaps between the notes and the breath between the words that has the biggest impact.
“Calm is nostalgic in the way it feels like there are vibes from all our previous albums,” says vocalist Rose Berlin. “We didn't limit the songs to one genre instead we had fun and did what ever we wanted. It's loud and trip hop, psychedelic lullabies and It's us. It's calm.”
This year marks 25 years from Curve’s initial release (celebrated with the re-release of deluxe editions of both 'Cuckoo' and 'Doppelganger') and 10 years since SPC ECO’s formation. While Dean still pursues exploratory and unusual musical routes through various other projects, such as S T F U with Preston Maddox, M A D with Monty from Jesus & Mary Chain, and two new remixes for dreampop duo Ummagma, it is through SPC ECO that Garcia is most musically prolific.
Music is made for many reasons and using many tools and inspirations but it takes a bond this close, this raw, this loving, this primal, to truly make music that resonates this deeply. SPC ECO 'Calm' is out now and available directly via the band's own Bandcamp.
On the trail of the Ummagma'Lama' remix created by Cocteau Twins multi-instrumentalist Robin Guthrie, Ummagma unveil a new deep dark delicious reworking of their track ‘Back to You’ by maverick electronic producer Dean Garcia, famed as half of seminal British indie/alt-rock band Curve with iconic vocalist Toni Halliday and half of SPC ECO with Rose Berlin.
This is one of two Ummagma tracks that Dean Garcia has re-envisioned for the band’s forthcoming ‘LCD’ EP, which follows up the 'Winter Tale' maxi-single with 4AD dreampop pioneer A.R.Kane, released earlier this year.
Ummagma is Shauna McLarnon, hailing from Canada, and Alexander Kretov, originally from Ukraine. Now based in Canada, Ummagma won the Alternative Eurovision on Amazing Radio, representing Ukraine among 23 countries.
Dean Garcia is renowned for sculpting sound to create alternate-universe pop hits that simultaneously straddle several genres. Apart from 15 years with Curve and a decade with SPC ECO, Garcia has also toured the world several times and recorded multiple albums with such established artists as Eurythmics, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck, Bryan Ferry, Sinead O'Connor and Ian Dury.
This collaboration between Ummagma and Dean Garcia is timely as, on August 25, Curve will marking their 25th anniversary by reissuing their first two albums – 'Doppelgänger' and 'Cuckoo' – as two-CD deluxe expanded editions.
“When listening to the original versions of these two songs, I wanted to make something that was an extension of the psyche n space mood that to me is the heart n soul of Ummagma,” explains Dean Garcia.
“With the ‘LCD’ mix it was a matter of going into the original stems and extracting the most trippy n spacey elements and expanding them into a different zone. ‘Back To You’ was more about enhancing the mood of the song as it stood, but with view to bring out its dark and foreboding nature. I enjoyed working on both mixes for different reasons, the sense of space and oddness within both mixes is the thing that glues it all together. File under Dark Psyche”
Ummagma ‘LCD’ will be released on September 22 via Label Obscura (cassette) and Somewherecold Records(CD), and is already available for pre-order on the duo’s own Bandcamp.