Monday, 8 October 2018

The Blue Nile ‎– Hats (1989)

Style: Alternative Rock, New Wave, Ethereal
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Linn Records, A&M Records, Virgin

Tracklist:
1.   Over The Hillside
2.   The Downtown Lights
3.   Let's Go Out Tonight
4.   Headlights On The Parade
5.   From A Late Night Train
6.   Seven A. M.
7.   Saturday Night

Credits:
Performer – Paul Buchanan, Paul Joseph Moore, Robert Bell
Songwriter – Paul Buchanan
Producer – The Blue Nile
Recorded By – Calum Malcolm

Paul Buchanan, the elusive and self-deprecating frontman of Scottish pop group the Blue Nile, once compared making records to falling in love. “You can’t do it every year,” he elaborated. Since forming in 1981, the Blue Nile have released only four albums, each one followed by a long period of silence. Their music is patient and understated. Their songs mostly explore the trajectory of relationships, from their glittery beginnings to their plateaus of contentment and their exhausted, haunted finales. Their stories are set in the smoky locales of noir: in ragtown, shantytown, tinseltown. It’s usually raining. To listen passively to the Blue Nile is to ride in a taxi through the city at night as familiar scenes blur outside your window. 
To listen closely to the Blue Nile is to become a part of the scenery. In this way, Buchanan’s metaphor about the time between albums comes alive. The long gestation of each record suggests, as in the early stages of a relationship, a sharpening of the senses, getting lost in a world that’s getting smaller around you. You want to do it right this time. The Blue Nile’s music also sounds like falling in love, slow and starry-eyed, with melodies that fizzle and glow like streetlights. By the time they released their sophomore album, Hats, in the autumn of 1989, Buchanan was 33 years old, and his songs, once littered with bold declarations of love, now seemed to be composed entirely of ellipses and question marks. 
The members of the Blue Nile met while they were students at the University of Glasgow. After graduating and easing into an uninspiring teaching gig, Buchanan says he and his friends turned to music in search of a career that they “could be instinctive about.” With Buchanan on guitar and vocals, Paul Joseph “PJ” Moore on keyboards and synth, and Robert Bell on bass, they recruited a drum machine as their fourth member. 
The Blue Nile’s first single—1981’s “I Love This Life”—is a catchy song about an up-and-coming rock band doomed to remain a cult act. Dreaming of adoring crowds and hit records, Buchanan sings with appropriate joie de vivre, but even on his first single, he sounds more like a veteran actor portraying a teenager. He has the type of pained, dignified voice, like Frank Sinatra or Johnny Cash, that makes it hard to imagine him ever actually being young. “I know I’m going out of style,” he sings and immediately asks, “Am I already out of style?” The song, paired with a downbeat B-side called “The Second Act,” became a self-fulfilling prophecy as the band continued in relative obscurity. 
Their debut album, A Walk Across the Rooftops, arrived in 1984 via the stereo equipment company Linn, who were looking to expand their reach by starting a label. (“Linn weren’t a record company and we weren’t a band,” Buchanan would later reflect in Elliot J. Huntley and Edith Hall’s biography From a Late Night Train.) Still, their unusual working relationship allowed the members of the Blue Nile to record in Linn’s studios and operate without a strict deadline. As so often happens with our first brushes of love, the band chased this experience the rest of their career. No pressure and no expectations—a creative process they could be instinctive about. 
Whittled down to seven songs, A Walk Across the Rooftops is a stately record that established the Blue Nile’s sound—a sprawling, sophisticated strain of ambient synth pop—and their major themes. “I am in love with a feeling,” Buchanan sings in “From Rags to Riches.” “Is there a place in this city/A place to always feel this way,” he asks in “Tinseltown in the Rain,” a minor hit in Holland and the closest thing the Blue Nile have to a signature song. The album, punctuated by Bell’s slap bass and a vibrant backdrop of keys and guitars, dazzled critics and established a small audience of devoted fans. 
Instead of rushing to make a follow-up, the Blue Nile studied where their music had taken them, as they traveled through America and Europe. “[O]ne of the best things we saw in our first trip to London,” Buchanan told NME after the album’s release, “Was a guy and a girl standing in Oxford Street… They were obviously having a moment—breaking up or something, something that was wrong—and you just looked at it and knew the feeling. It was a brilliant reminder of what’s worth all the hassle.” 
It was an omen. The five years between A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats were trying times for the band. Relationships, both romantic and professional, crumbled around them. An album’s worth of material was scrapped—the feeling just wasn’t there—and the tapes were burned. Witnessing the dissolution of his parents’ decades-long marriage, Buchanan’s writing became increasingly sparse and tormented, like Raymond Carver stories stretched into the shape of torch ballads. 
At his mother’s house, Buchanan tracked a new song called “Christmas” that wouldn’t end up making the record. Its lyrics are a portrait of the least romantic kind of adult despair: money running out, children crying. But the song is a balm, smoother and sweeter than anything the band had ever recorded. At one point, Buchanan plays an uncharacteristic guitar solo and hums along sadly. “Take it easy,” he sings as if to himself, “I still love you. I believe in you.” 
This is the tone of Hats: a series of hard-won love songs written like no one was in the room. Despite its long incubation, the music arrived fairly quickly once the band established its arc. The song that opened the creative floodgates was “The Downtown Lights,” a rush of images and emotions that flows at the deliberate pace of a steady walk through snow. Buchanan’s guitar has hints of Nile Rodgers’ palm-muted funk; Bell’s bass slides where it once popped. By the end of the song, Buchanan is bellowing and the band is locked into an airtight stride, accompanied by a string section woven so closely to the lyrics you might think they’re daydreaming it. 
Despite the movement of the music, Hats is an album in stasis. The Blue Nile understand that, like all good theater, relationships are inextricably linked to their setting, and the characters on Hats are prisoners to it, escaping only in fantasy. “Walk me into town/The ferry will be there to carry us away into the air,” Buchanan sings in “Over the Hillside.” “Let’s walk in the cool evening light/Wrong or right/Be at my side,” he pleads in “The Downtown Lights.” “I pray for love coming out all right,” he sings in the climactic final verse of “Let’s Go Out Tonight.” Then he cries out the title as one final desperate attempt to save something that’s already gone. 
The magic of Hats is how the music makes defeat sound euphoric. Depending on your mood, Hats can be an uplifting album (“It’s all right” serves as its rallying cry) or a uniquely devastating one. These are multi-dimensional portraits: colorful cities populated by lonely people, romantic gestures received by silence, beautiful evenings going nowhere. The most immediate tracks on the album shift between moods like a plane dipping through clouds. “Headlights on the Parade” rides its glowing new wave groove while Buchanan prods a lover that something isn’t right. “Over the Hillside” begins with a sad hospital pulse and his depictions of a long, sleepless night, but it transcends to feel like an invitation, like elegance—“Thunder Road” in a luxury car. “Tomorrow I will be there,” he sings proudly at the end, “Oh, you wait and see.” On some listens, you believe him. 
The Blue Nile are a band whose criticisms only draw fans closer. Sure, all their songs are about love. Yes, they have erred on the side of adult contemporary. It’s true that, in the ’90s, Rod Stewart and Michael McDonald sang Buchanan’s words as comfortably as their own. But just as Big Star became a symbol for the fame-averse underdog ideals of ’90s indie rock, the Blue Nile have proven newly influential. You can hear their heavenly chill on recent albums by Destroyer; their lowercase romance in the xx; their intense intimacy in Majical Cloudz. When Buchanan joined Jessie Ware to co-write a track on last year’s Glasshouse, it became clear how his band’s work had been reflected in pop music’s patient, moody turns. 
While their influence has long run deep, with outspoken fans including Vashti Bunyan, Phil Collins, and the 1975, to this day nothing sounds quite like Hats. The Blue Nile themselves never quite replicated it, opting for a loose, soulful atmosphere on 1996’s Peace At Last and a more sober approach for 2004’s High. Its closest companion is Paul Buchanan’s 2012 solo album Mid Air—a collection of near-demos on piano that further refined his sunken vignettes. “Tear stains on your pillow,” he sings in “Wedding Party,” “I was drunk when I danced with the bride.” The stories—as with most concerning the Blue Nile—are between the lines. 
It’s a shame that Hats was never a hit, but it also would have been a shame if it were. It’s hard to imagine being confronted by these songs in the wild. It seems inappropriate to even listen to it in the daytime. You carve out a place to hear Hats; you confide it in other people. An oft-repeated legend about the band involves Paul Buchanan at a Glasgow bar shortly after the release of their debut album. As he downs a few pints among the locals, the conversation turns to music, and someone recommends him a great new band from the area. They’re called the Blue Nile, they say. You’ll love them, I’ve got their tape in my car. 
The anecdote illustrates the overarching philosophy for Buchanan’s art, to be removed from it completely. “[Y]ou hope that someday in the future some kid will be walking along the beach and find a little piece of green glass that has been worn down by the waves,” he once explained to The Sydney Morning Herald. “He’ll pick it up and put it in his pocket, take it home and love it. He won’t necessarily know why he loves it, but he’ll love it. Those are the kind of records we try to make.” In another version of this metaphor, he relates a boy and a girl watching a film on their first date: “They are much more important to each other, hopefully, than the movie is to either one of them.” 
At the core of Hats is a heartbroken song called “From a Late Night Train,” featuring just piano, trumpet, and Buchanan’s vocals, all combining to sound like rain on the windshield of a parked car. “I know it’s over,” he sings in a low, beaten voice, “But I love you so.” It’s a song that illustrates the stakes of love, sung in the final moments of a relationship when there’s nothing left to say but the inevitable. On a record filled with questions—Where is the love? What’s so wrong tonight? How do I know you feel it? How do I know it’s true?—sits this gut-punch of an answer. You’re left broken, alone, and in love, looking into someone’s eyes and seeing the end of a dream.
Sam Sodomsky / Pitchfork

The Human League ‎– Dare! (1983)

Style: Synth-pop, New Wave
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Edisom, Virgin

Tracklist:
01.   The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
02.   Open Your Heart
03.   The Sound Of The Crowd
04.   Darkness
05.   Do Or Die
06.   Get Carter
07.   I Am The Law
08.   Seconds
09.   Love Action (I Believe In Love)
10.   Don't You Want Me

Credits:
Synthesizer – Ian Burden, Jo Callis
Synthesizer, Other – Philip Adrian Wright
Vocals – Joanne Catherall, Susanne Sulley
Vocals, Synthesizer – Philip Oakey
Producer – Martin Rushent, The Human League

The Human League were deemed all but dead when the ‘musicians’ left to form Heaven 17. But Phil Oakey’s trip to his local Sheffield nightclub proved to be a very good idea, as he recruited a couple of schoolgirls who’d propel the band to new heights. Within a year Phil, Adrian, Joanne and Susanne (and later Ian Burden and Jo Callis) were to become the biggest band in the country and number one come Christmas 1981 with one of the top-selling singles of the decade. 
Dare, released in October '81, showcased the band’s growth from sinister-sounding electronics to a triumph of the new pop aesthetic arising from New Wave. With a high-gloss cover (which cost 50p more to keep it perfectly white) stolen from a Vogue fashion piece, Dare was heralded by a trio of successful singles – the clanking boom-crash of The Sound of the Crowd, the utterly wondrous Love Action (I Believe in Love) and the intense Open Your Heart. 
Older fans who might have been put off by this new ‘selling records’ approach were still catered for. Darkness practically invents electro goth, and I Am the Law is a perfectly ominous piece full of dystopian themes, with Phil giving it his best Judge Dredd. The album also touches on wish fulfilment with The Things That Dreams are Made of, explores JFK’s assassination on Seconds, and presents the Get Carter theme via a Casio VL-Tone – essentially a calculator with a samba preset. 
Martin Rushent’s enthusiasm for buying fancy new equipment, now at affordable prices, benefited Oakey’s quest for a fresh sound. But for all of Dare’s highs, its closer has proved to be The Human League’s deathless contribution to the eternal pop canon. Don’t You Want Me is a song that has taken a battering from keen karaoke amateurs since its release, but it remains one of the greatest chart-toppers ever. 
This reissue collects extended versions along with Hard Times, and includes Fascination, which was an import-only compilation of the next two singles – Mirror Man and the title-track – and respective B sides. Everything’s representative of the imperial phase of a band that genuinely had the world at its feet. Dare is a pop album so perfect that its makers could’ve easily left it there and their legacy would’ve been complete. That this music still sounds so incredible after 30-odd years is what makes it a classic.
Ian Wade / BBC Review

Fire! Orchestra ‎– Enter (2014)

Style: Free Jazz, Free Improvisation
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label:  Rune Grammofon

Tracklist:
1.   Enter Part One
2.   Enter Part Two
3.   Enter Part Three
4.   Enter Part Four

Credits:
Alto Saxophone – Anna Högberg
Baritone Saxophone – Martin Küchen
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – Fredrik Ljungkvist
Bass – Dan Berglund, Joel Grip
Bass Clarinet – Christer Bothén
Bass Saxophone – Jonas Kullhammar
Cornet – Goran Kajfes
Drums – Andreas Werlin, Johan Holmegard, Raymond Strid
Electric Bass – Johan Berthling
Electric Guitar – Sören Runolf
Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar – David Stackenäs
Electric Piano, Organ – Martin Hederos
Electronics – Joachim Nordwall
Keyboards, Mellotron – Sten Sandell
Lap Steel Guitar – Andreas Söderström
Tenor Saxophone – Elin Larsson
Tenor Saxophone, Conductor – Mats Gustafsson
Trombone – Mats Äleklint
Trumpet – Emil Strandberg, Magnus Broo, Niklas Barnö
Tuba – Per Åke Holmlander
Voice – Mariam Wallentin, Simon Ohlsson, Sofia Jernberg
Composed By – Andreas Werlin, Johan Berthling, Mariam Wallentin, Mats Gustafsson

The big band has been part of jazz since the 1920s, but in the late 1960s a new kind of large ensemble began to emerge as part of the directions then taking hold in the music. These groups took a stand alongside other free and avant-garde jazz innovators of the time, their positions energised by the febrile socio-political atmosphere that gripped much of the USA and Europe. They outgrew traditional trio and quartet forms, in tacit acknowledgement that the most appropriate response to racism, oppression and the military-industrial complex was to organise along collective lines. 
In 1968, trumpeter Michael Mantler's forty-strong Jazz Composer's Orchestra released a sprawling self-titled double album with contributions by Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, Charlie Haden and Mantler's then wife Carla Bley. A year later, Haden's own Liberation Music Orchestra released their debut album, also self-titled, while at the turn of the decade South African pianist Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath counted British free improv luminaries Evan Parker and Paul Rutherford among its members. As the 1970s wore on, Parker and Rutherford went on to play in Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra and Alexander von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, both of which survive to this day. 
With Enter, Fire! Orchestra extends its claim to form part of this illustrious lineage. Like its predecessors it has a strong musical personality as bandleader/conductor, in this case the Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. The ensemble began life as Fire!, the trio of Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin, who released four albums of heady avant rock including collaborations with Jim O'Rourke and Oren Ambarchi. Consisting of the core trio, plus more than 20 fellow travellers from the vibrant Scandinavian avant/improv scenes, Fire! Orchestra made its vinyl debut last year with the live album Exit, and now, Enter is its first studio outing. 
The result is four sides of blissed-out transcendence, galvanised by an immediacy that anchors the ensemble to soul and free jazz even as its joyous riffing takes it in the direction of psychedelic and progressive rock. Opening with a hypnotic Fender Rhodes motif, 'Part 1' sees vocalist Mariam Wallentin (Werliin's partner in Wildbirds & Peacedrums) set out the Orchestra's vision in deep, soulful cries of "Let us all go… let them all go… let it all go… feel it all go…" Metallic sheets of electric guitar are joined by the Mellotron, no less, its distinctive frosty tone harking back to the late '60s as surely as do Wallentin's ecstatic vocals. 'Part 2' kicks in with another '60s reference, as a deranged take on the Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows' morphs into a livid collision between guitar and electronics before giving way to a hymnal section for horns and brass. 
The album's episodic structure makes for a thrilling listen in which soloists and the full ensemble constantly reinforce and counterpoint each other. Gustafsson himself is a forceful presence, his tenor sax laying down some fearsome skronk over 'Part 3's infectious bass groove. Recalling his work with The Thing, the saxophonist alights with glee on a hook or phrase, gathers up his forces and transforms it into a juggernaut statement of intent. If there's a weakness to point out it's the voices of Sofia Jernberg and Simon Ohlsson, whose vocals lack the burning intensity of Wallentin's and occasionally descend into gimmicky abstraction and pompous rhapsodising respectively. 
Despite the Orchestra's evident liking for full-on collective freakouts, there are hooks and melodies aplenty here that drive the group's mighty impulse to communicate. That delicious opening Fender motif returns in 'Part 4', building joyfully with brass and horns as the three singers declare "This is not a dream, this is an awakening… so I have experienced both life and death". It's a powerful appeal to transcendence, one that's at once emotionally draining and utterly inspiring.
Richard Rees Jones / The Quietus

Arrigo Barnabé, Luiz Tatit & Lívia Nestrovski ‎– De Nada A Mais A Algo Além (2016)

Style: MPB
Format: CD
Label: Atração Fonográfica

Tracklist:
01.   Babel
02.   Ano Bom
03.   Tempo Meu
04.   Desamor
05.   Frente a Frente
06.   Baiar um Baião
07.   Luci Leão
08.   De Cor
09.   Dora Avante
10.   Valsa do Largo da Ordem
11.   Impassível
12.   Doroti
13.   Verde Louro
14.   O Dedo de Deus

Credits:
Direção de Produção - Wilson Souto Jr.
Produção Fonográfica - Atração
Produção Musical - Mário Manga
Engenheiros de Gravação  Alexandre Fontanetti e Bruno Fiacadori
Masterização - Carlos Freitas
Gravado ao vivo no Sesc Vila Mariana – São Paulo
Capa, fotos e projeto gráfico - Gal Oppido