Centre Excuse is a duo of Teddy Lewis (vocals, synths, guitars) and Alex Rush (percussion, synths, backing vocals), school friends weaned on a diet of electronic music and modern punk in their home county of Rutland.
The pair have just released their debut album, the exceptional Favourite Soul. Further. spoke to Teddy for an exclusive look at the journey that he and Alex have taken, and how Favourite Soul came together.
I’ve known Alex since I was eight.
I always feel guilty about this story, but it is funny and sums up the sensibilities of a kid in year three at school. It was the start of summer and my family had just moved to our village of Empingham, Rutland from a stint in Tunbridge Wells. I was chucked in the deep-end: for the last two weeks of school before the summer holidays started, I went to Empingham’s village primary school for a taster and to prepare me for the next school year, just so that I would know some people.
I ended up having a pretty bad time with some bullying, but in the last few days Alex turned up out of nowhere. It was the lunchtime break and the bell rang to tell us all to line up and head back into class. By this point I knew who was in my class (there was only about ten of us) and Alex stood in front of me in the line. Alex is now a tower of a man, funnily enough, but he was one of the smaller kids for most of our school years and at this point I didn’t recognise him and thought he was younger. I said something along the lines of, “You’re not in year three – this is the year three line,” and he turned round looked up at me and said, “Yes I am – I’m new”.
From that point on we really gelled on everything – music, football, video games and generally just hanging out all the time having mad countryside adventures. Looking back we really appreciate those adventures as something very special to have experienced while growing up.
Rutland is beautiful, and I miss living there every day.
It’s basically countryside, fields, small villages, cows and a reservoir called Rutland Water. Growing up, we’d all go up to the village playing field to play big games of football and we’d ride our skateboards to the reservoir at the end of the village to hang out. Rutland Water was the real playground for us. We’d also bike down to the next reservoir village, Whitwell, just to share some chips from the café, even if it was pouring down with rain and completely empty.
As a place to start a band it felt very isolated. We only had our own devices and influences to push us this way.
Living there was probably very good for allowing us space to find our own sound and identity, however there was no real music scene in Rutland to build you up. There wasn’t much love for synth music among the people in our school year, but we always seemed to know what we stood for. Because of this we were never particularly ‘cool’, yet we had a great start with our first EP and live shows, but word doesn’t really travel far out of those borders.
Alex and I connected over bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure.
We’d been surrounded by synth music thanks to our parents while we were growing up. We were also into our era’s output of pop-punk, rock and metal like Blink-182, Slipknot and Linkin Park.
As we got older, we found ourselves digging deeper into those synth band catalogues as the internet really started to became a mainstream outlet, and we could explore outside of what we had in our homes on CD. As we found our individuality, we’d be finding and listening to sophisticated and sometimes darker records from the likes of Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, The Human League, New Order, The Cure, Nitzer Ebb, Joy Division and just too many to count. It was the way that this built upon what we already knew that made us think on how we could go forward creating music.
We got to a point where I played some keyboards and guitar, and started to find my singing voice. Alex had picked up drums and we started jamming in his shed, mainly Blink-182. Metallica’s ‘Wherever I May Roam’ was the first song we learnt together. We began incorporating synthesisers and electronic drums, and that became our focus. That all continued to evolve over the ten years that Alex and I have been playing music as Centre Excuse.
Centre Excuse is a strange name for our band, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
When Alex and I started making music, we wanted and needed something that wouldn’t show up alongside loads of other bands with the same name on Google, Myspace and Facebook, otherwise people were never going to find us.
The name came from a time when Alex, another friend who played bass with us for about a year, and myself were sat in English class. I wasn’t a bad student really by any means, but I’d had a run of not doing my homework on time with this particular teacher. I went up to her to give my new reasoning for why it wasn’t in, but she jumped in and asked me, “So Teddy, what’s the centre of your excuse this time?” Even today that seems like such an odd sentence, and something in that combination made us pick out the name Centre Excuse. Many occasions of being called Center Excuse, Central Excuse, Centre Exit on gig posters would then ensue, but people have become much better at getting it right since we started the journey towards our first album.
It took us ten years to make this record.
When Alex and I started, we were really young kids. Then we were teenagers at college, and we were together almost every day of our lives for so many years.
Things began to change when I moved to London to go to university. I really wanted to push the band further, as it was proving difficult to make any progress from Rutland. There followed many years of transformation, and a lot of time taken out to improve and naturally evolve what we were doing.
I’ve always done most of the writing and recording by myself, but Alex and I were able to bring things back together as a duo fairly easily when it came to the band, even after I’d moved away. I’d show Alex my new demos and we’d start everything again remotely, while I’d also be going up to Rutland for live rehearsals, which I still do.
We’ve made it work in a way that fits around the responsibilities in our lives, and we hope to make it our sole primary focus at some point. It’s been a difficult balancing act for a number of years now, but I believe Alex and I are as strong a unit as we’ve ever been, especially as we’ve reached the landmark of releasing our debut album. It’s all been building towards this moment.
I write and record the music and lyrics in my little home studio setup, then I’ll send it over to Alex to get his view on it.
We both know what makes a great Centre Excuse song, and we know how we can turn something into one if it isn’t quite there yet. If I wrote a song and Alex said he really didn’t like it, there’d be an issue and we’d have to look at how we could fix it.
On the album there are a number of tracks where Alex re-recorded some of the drum parts, as percussion is where Alex has his roots and where he especially excels. When writing, I always start with the music first. I usually start with either a guitar riff or synth line, and it’s the melody that forms the song for me to go on and create the rest. It comes from a feeling. I’ll get an urge to make something and it’ll pour out, and that’s when the best CE songs come.
I’m very production-oriented. I produce, track and mix the song as I create, so quite often there won’t necessarily be any demos: they’re more like early drafts of the final song. Once the music is fully laid out, that’s when I’ll start to think of the lyrics, which I mainly take from my own experiences or observations of the world and life around me. I’ve had quite a wide-variety of experiences in working very different types of jobs, and I’ve lived and moved around a lot of different places, so I feel I’ve always got a nice breadth of differing perspectives and human realities to write from.
Favourite Soul by Centre Excuse was released July 24 2020 by New Motion Records. Listen on Spotify.
Inevitably, when interviewing musicians in lockdown, you tend to spend a little longer talking about the here and now: how have you found it? What have you been doing? Have you been more or less creative? Where previously that might have felt overly personal and slightly intrusive, in lockdown – as we share these weird experiences together in isolation – it seems legitimate; expected somehow.
As John Foxx answers my questions in his quiet, calming, unhurried voice from his home in Bath (“A good place to be right now,” he says), it occurs to me that Foxx is a musician, vocalist and songwriter who has never seemed exactly comfortable dwelling in the present. Or the past, for that matter. His music has perpetually seemed to be soundtracking some point roughly twenty years into the future, both in its themes and the way it is presented.
And yet, with the latest John Foxx And The Maths album, Howl, Foxx has concerned himself with the future, present and past. It is an album that sees Foxx and the 2020 incarnation of his group – Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards, Hannah Peel and his early Ultravox bandmate Robin Simon – working with musical juxtapositions that felt like they were fleeting and underexplored in music the first time around. This is Foxx and The Maths looking back at those ideas and wondering what they might sound like right now, while also digging through recollections from Foxx’s own personal history.
The result is an album with a power and intensity unlike any other in his back catalogue, a collection of eight songs full of angular sonic shapes, enveloping electronic structures, and acerbic, observational lyricalal themes. It is an album that manages to look back at the past while still sounding futuristic and pioneering as only Foxx knows how.
I’m driving through Bodmin Moor on my way to the south-west edge of Cornwall. Even on a sunny day, the landscape of the moor is a barren and almost alien place. The grass has a scrubby, bleached quality, and even the sheep look hardened and moody. The only thing that punctures the sullen landscape are patches of vivid purple wildflowers growing along the side of the A30, the arterial road slicing through the moors which funnels holidaymakers, second-homers and delivery trucks back and forth.
Strange, then, that a place framed by a certain stillness and silence should be where Howl was realised. This is the locale of Benge’s MemeTune studio, a playground for analogue synthesiser enthusiasts and an enviable, almost certainly unrivalled, collection of electronic music equipment. “I go down there a lot,” enthuses Foxx. “Ben’s studio is right on the edge of the moor. It’s a great place to be and get things done. It’s totally isolated.”
Howl continues the stream of John Foxx albums that started when he and Benge began working together in 2009. Their output together is all the more remarkable for the long list of other projects Edwards is simultaneously involved with – Blancmange, Fader, Wrangler, Creep Show, Stephen Mallinder and so on – each one of which carries its own distinct sonic personality, in spite of him being the constant in each.
For Foxx, Benge reminds him of Conny Plank, the legendary German producer he worked with at the end of the 1970s. “He was about the only one that understood where everything coincided,” he recalls. “He was the only one who understood all the things that I particularly liked, such as Brit-psychedelia, that sort of ragged rock made by musicians like Iggy and The Velvets, and the German electronic scene that was going on in Cologne and Düsseldorf. Conny was the only one who understood that set of connections.
“Benge is a bit like that,” he continues. “He reminds me a lot of Conny. Even his mannerisms do. To meet two people like that in a lifetime is amazing. He’s very generous, and definitely the nicest person I’ve worked with. He’s no softy – he’s got very definite opinions, and won’t budge on certain things. He won’t use any cheap digital sounds, and will always take infinite pains to get the sound he wants to get. He’s a real craftsman.”
Some of that craftsmanship extends to how to make sounds take on a richer, more interesting tone. Foxx talks about how Conny Plank would play sounds through a piano to pick up incidental harmonics from the strings, or playing synths through valve amps to make them powerful. “Benge is exactly the same,” says Foxx. “He has exactly the same philosophy. He’ll route things through other machinery just to see what happens. He just has this delight in sonics, and that delight is essential to making something that sounds different and powerful and varied and exciting, rather than a pedestrian thing that you might have heard a thousand times before.”
Though they have found themselves working in a number of different ways on previous albums, for Howl, each of the songs started with Foxx. “I started off all the songs at home,” he says. “I tend to work in a very basic way – I’ll just get a drum loop working and then add a few sounds that feel right, but I don’t go into any real depth. I’ll get melodies sorted out and probably a vocal as well, but it’s very skeletal. I deliberately keep it like that, because I want to give Ben, and Hannah and Rob as much room to work as I can, and I want them to change things round if they need to. Some things get rewritten completely in the studio. Sometimes we keep lots of things that I’ve done, lots of times they’ll get jettisoned. I’m not precious about any of it. I’ve been through being precious. It’s a pain.”
After working through the initial recordings made with the group, Foxx sat on the songs for a few months. “That was a good thing,” he reflects. “It meant that I could listen to things at home and play with them to see what happened. Having the luxury of time was really interesting. It enabled me to get another perspective on what we’d done. Often you do things at a run, and you don’t get perspective on things until it’s too late and they’re released. This time I had a little while to forget about them, and then review them having cleansed the palate, if you know what I mean. That was really valuable, and it enabled me to be much more objective with things, particularly with some of the guitar stuff that Rob was doing.“
John Foxx first worked with Robin Simon on 1978’s Ultravox album Systems Of Romance, which would prove to be Foxx’s last album with the band he’d founded, as Tiger Lily, back in 1973. “I’ve been wanting to work with him like we did on Howl ever since I worked with him on that album,” he says. “After I left Ultravox I recorded Metamatic, which was all synths. I pursued that style of music for a long time. Rob would come in occasionally to do things, but it was usually a bit peripheral. I always wanted to work with him in a more central role, and just recently I’d started writing songs that really needed him to be in the centre, playing the centre of the song.
“I was trying to remember why I started making music like that in the first place,” he continues. “A lot of that was based around guitars, because that’s all you had in the late sixties and early seventies when I started out, so I just picked up a guitar again and started writing songs. I realised I could get Rob in to play that central role, which would give us a new angle on everything. Right from day one of having Rob in the studio it worked straight away. He’ll always give you half a dozen versions of your own song, some of which you don’t recognise. It’s a strangely affecting process because you’ll go, ‘Oh that doesn’t work at all,’ and then about a week later it’s indispensable – everything’s moved toward what he’s just done. He’s just got this instinct that I’ve never met with anyone else. He becomes so central in the song that everything else gets abandoned. It’s really interesting the way it works.”
Howl was Benge’s first time of working with guitars, which Foxx saw as a good thing. It meant that Benge had none of the baggage that gets attached to guitars – the way they should sound and the way they should be played – and could approach and manipulate the sound like he would any other.
The final ingredient in the 2020 version of The Maths is Hannah Peel, herself an accomplished electronic musician, but also a classically-trained violinist, conductor and composer. Peel has been a member of The Maths since joining them on tour in 2011, providing a distinctive sound that acts as a symbiotic connection between Foxx and Benge. “What can you say about Hannah?” asks Foxx rhetorically. “She can do anything, really. I guess you could say that she’s an excellent conventional musician. She understands harmony and writing and all the necessary things for a composer and conductor to understand in a very orthodox way, but with depth.”
Foxx adds that that Peel’s rarest quality is an interest in taking chances and just see what happens. “She’s completely willing to make noises and stretch everything as far as you possibly can,” he says. “She’s happy to improvise. I’ve worked with lots of classically-trained musicians before, and they’ve never been totally happy with what recording studios can do, but Hannah’s straight in there. Like Ben, she takes a great joy in seeing how far we can push things, and how strange we can make things sound, and that’s wonderful to work with. Like everyone else involved, she’s got great instinct and that’s what you look for with great musicians to work with: people who want the same thing that you want, but in a different manner, and who come at things from a different angle. There’s nothing worse in a session than having to explain things.”
The studio dynamic is important to Foxx. He talks with enthusiasm about recording sessions moving quickly and on instinct, where everyone is working at the right speed and no one has to explain anything. “Often, the only words that get spoken in the studio are ‘yeah’, ‘great’ and ‘go for it’,” he says, laughing. “It’s very inarticulate, verbally, because you’re communicating through music. You’re communicating through sound. It’s all monosyllabic, but there’s a heck of a lot of communication going on that’s not verbal, and that’s what I like. I like the non-verbal connections with Benge, Hannah and Rob.”
The centrepiece of Howl is its title track, a snarling, twitchy track full of fuzzy synths and Robin Simon’s distinctive, angular guitar. It still sounds forward-looking and modern, but it also sounds like an unreleased session from David Bowie’s Scary Monsters era, even down to Foxx’s vocal. That reference taps into something that Foxx and Benge spoke about in the run-up to making the record. “There are lots of eras that were never properly explored, and lots of moments that were not properly explored because everything moves so fast,” explains Foxx. “In Benge’s case it’s analogue synths. Digital synths came in and immediately everyone just abandoned analogue stuff without having properly explored it. Years later Benge picks it all up out of a skip and regenerates the whole thing, and then everyone realises that they didn’t realise how powerful analogue synths were.
“I think that period that we had in Ultravox with Systems Of Romance was another one that we never really got to explore,” he adds. “It was a new thing in its time. No one had done that before, and then it was abandoned, and I went into doing synthesiser-only things. We never got to explore what might have happened if we’d continued with that sound. It’s sort of a lost chapter, in a way. That was one of the things I thought might be interesting – seeing what would happen if we picked up that again now, in the light of everything’s that happened since. I often thought that with Kraftwerk. They did ‘Neon Lights’ and never followed that up. It’s unlike everything else they did. I thought that was a great new direction for them. To me it felt like Frank Sinatra with synthesisers, which I thought could be really interesting this, but they never followed it up.”
While being highly respectful of Kraftwerk’s legacy, Foxx was keen to try and slough off the inevitable influence they’ve had on him and most electronic musicians, from being relative outsiders in the 1970s to being completely central in the 1980s and 1990s. “I always think that when an orthodoxy gets erected like that, I just want to pass by it and get onto something else,” says Foxx.
On the vague similarities with Scary Monsters you can hear on ‘Howl’, Foxx likes to think of that as one of the happy accidents that can happen in the studio. “Rob came in on a song I’d already written, and just did a try-out for the sound,” says Foxx. “He suddenly got that very angular sound and he played it in a very angular way, and it was totally unexpected. Ben and I just looked at each other and went, ’Wow – we’ve got to keep that!’ Rob just played one take, and that was it. It did remind me of what Fripp had done on Scary Monsters, and I’d always liked that. I thought that was another thing that happened for a moment and then disappeared. It felt to me like that was a new way of handling guitar, but to me it felt a little bit stuck on, and not quite part of the song in some ways. I thought it would be great to revisit that and see what we can do with it in this day and age.”
“The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli . . . the rapid crowding of changing images, the sharp discontinuity in the grasp of a single glance, the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions.”
– Georg Simmel, The Metropolis & Mental Life (1903)
“What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?”
– Allen Ginsberg, Howl (1956)
‘Howl’ finds Foxx reflecting on modern cities and the pressures that they can inflict on their residents. “I’d been up to Manchester,” he recalls. “There’s a certain kind of drunk or drug user who like to shout in the middle of a crowd. When I see that, it just reminds me of the effect that cities have on people sometimes. The pressure means that people just have to let loose, and I could feel a lot of that in the air all over just before the pandemic. That pressure’s there, and it felt like it had to be let loose, and that’s what that song describes.”
Foxx also talks about re-reading Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem of the same name in the run-up to writing the song. He found a connection to the atmosphere he’d felt in big cities and the white-hot bop-era chaos and counter-cultural vibrancy of the period that Ginsberg’s poem so viscerally documented. “Songs are a lot of coincidences,” explains Foxx. “I always start with a sound, because I can’t start with words. What tends to happen is that the sound will attract lots of other things to it that. It’s a very unconscious process. You find yourself remembering lots of memories, and a lot of free association takes place. For example, there were all these things about the Golden Mile in Blackpool that used to be mayhem during what used to be called ‘Glasgow Week’, when the workers from Glasgow would head down to Blackpool for their week-long holiday. It a beautiful place full of lights, but in that week, it was also complete mayhem! There were lots of bits in that song that come together under that heading of ‘howl’. The process of writing songs has always interested me. It’s the way you can gather together little fragments and lots of little delicious things that you’ve kept somewhere, and then suddenly they’ve all got a context, and they all gather together. It’s like a kind of magnetism happens.”
One of the other standout songs on Howl is ‘Everything Is Happening At The Same Time’, a track that nods firmly in the direction of The Beatles at their most overtly psychedelic. That was the era in which the young Foxx – or Dennis Leigh, as he was known then – was first switched on to music, later experimenting with tape techniques in a not dissimilar fashion to The Beatles’ most extreme sound explorations.
“’Everything Is Happening At The Same Time’ was me revisiting that ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ moment, and seeing what we could do with that,” he explains. “At the same, in the lyrics to that song, I’m talking about things that are happening around us – specifically the fires in America and Australia and Europe, and that really triggered that one off. All the news reports over the preceding months before I wrote it had been getting worse and worse in every respect, and also more and more extreme. To me, it did feel like everything was happening at the same time, and no one was handling it. I just looked around at what was actually happening, what were we actually doing about these things, and it didn’t seem sufficient. It seemed like we’d allowed ourselves to drift into this kind of situation, like we’ve lulled ourselves into thinking that we’re very secure, when things are actually a lot more fragile than we supposed. And then of course we get this pandemic which really confirms all that.”
Foxx calls out Hannah Peel’s significant contribution to ‘Everything Is Happening At The Same Time providing the track which a series of churning, heavily processed violin sections. “She played it beautifully and widened the whole thing out,” he says. “Hannah just has this incredible ability to get into the song like that and the whole sound just becomes much broader and bigger because of that. It’s great to see her working and hear the results, and you can hear that coming through on that song.”
‘New York Times’ finds Foxx revisiting the canyons, avenues and streets of New York City, tapping into the same notion of people choosing to live under intense pressure as he does on ‘Howl’. I find myself reminded of a friend, recently moved out of Manhattan for good, who once told me that everyone has to be a little bit crazy to live there. For ‘New York Times’, Foxx adopts the kind of character personification and observational narrative familiar from Lou Reed lyrics, referencing the Velvets’ ‘Sister Ray’ as he does so. “My memories of New York are very mixed,” he says. “When I go back to Manhattan now, it’s a much, much calmer place in some ways. It’s still a highly pressurised city and it always will be. But, in the seventies when I spent some time there, it was always real mayhem. It was a difficult city to live in, with a lot of crime and a lot of drugs. New York was where every person who didn’t fit in accumulated, because it was cheap to live there. It was a tremendous place to be but it was so highly charged.”
For Foxx, New York was a strange, inexplicable and often terrifying place. ‘New York Times’ was his way of reflecting on the way the city has changed, and how the people who pass through the city changes. “That was the kind of narrative I was going for,” he reflects. “To me, it was like revisiting the ghost of ‘Sister Ray’ that The Velvets left behind. ‘Sister Ray’ was a very extreme song in 1968, and it gave you the real feeling New York as it was back then. I wanted to see how it felt, now, going back there, but not with any sadness. Things have just changed. You go through a city and it’s got ghosts in it, and memories, and at the same time it’s heading somewhere else. It’s that duality that I wanted to get. As you get older, you begin to see that everywhere. Everywhere you look you see the memories you’ve invested in a city, and that’s what make it part of your own memory. It’s like a self-programming device every time you walk down a street: you get these ghosts coming at you all the time. You react to them. You see the city through layers of experience that you’ve had. That’s why it’s called ’New York Times’. It’s not just about one time – it’s about many times.”
Howl is an album that couldn’t exist without what John Foxx describes as the “long perspectives” that come from almost fifty years of scanning the world around us, absorbing what troubles us, what drives us, what makes us who we are, and how things might turn out. You hear those ideas across the breadth of Howl, not just in its lyrics but in its sonic weaponry: synths explode like dirty bombs, guitars splinter like shrapnel and violins are so heavily distorted that it’s not remotely obvious where the line between the organic and the electronic sits.
In spite of Howl’s densely-layered structure and its Foxxian, inimitably futuristic poise, its architect likes to think of himself as one of life’s optimists. He talks about humankind’s essential resilience, our ability to rise out of existential crises and come out stronger. Howl is what comes from John Foxx – more poet than songwriter in the way he writes – taking in everything he sees around him and threading those notions with his own personal experiences. If it sounds like a scary, ominous place, it is also a place of nostalgia, of reflection and a powerful example of what happens when four disciplined masters of their craft come together on electronic music’s most vital frontier.
Howl by John Foxx And The Maths is released July 24 2020 by Metamatic. With thanks to Steve.
“Don’t throw it away like a disposable razorblade.” – Slippery People, ‘Resuscitate Our Love’
Today we bring you the first play of ‘Resuscitate Our Love’ by Slippery People, a new project from the Hove-based duo of David Best from Further. favourites Fujiya & Miyagi and Ex-Display Model, and Julian Tardo of Insides.
Named after a seminal Talking Heads track, Slippery People nods firmly in the direction of the skewed, twitchy, awkward funk sound instantly familiar from David’s work in Fujiya & Miyagi, but hitches that to a solid disco beat.
With the addition of euphoric vocals from Siggi Mwasote and intense percussion from Noel Watson, ‘Resuscitate Our Love’ is both reverential to the era my parents still get all misty-eyed about, while also giving it a fresh, ultra-modern edge infused with a distinctively DIY ethos. Full of hi-NRG synths, ridiculously funky bass sounds and some of David Best’s wryest lyrics to date, the track contains an inner rumination on love gone stale and desperate efforts to revive it, all wrapped up in a breezy, infectious groove.
“I’ve known Julian probably since 2004,” explains David of Slippery People’s origins. “He invited Fujiya & Miyagi to record in the much-loved Church Road Studio in Hove, which is where we recorded the Transparent Things album, and most of our other records after that. We both really love electronic disco, and that’s how Slippery People came about.”
The product of three years of sporadic recording around their other groups, ‘Resuscitate Our Love’ and its B-side ‘Swimming In The Shallow End Of Love’ are the first, essential tracks to emerge from the duo, prefacing other singles that will featuring contributions from Ben ‘Faz’ Farestvedt. Expect a sudden resurgence in disco balls and flared trousers.
Listen to ‘Resuscitate Our Love’ and watch Julian’s advert video below.
Slippery People · Resuscitate Our Love
Resuscitate Our Love / Swimming In the Shallow End Of Love by Slippery People is released July 10 2020.
Two new cassettes from The Tapeworm, one from Seoul-based sound artist Jiyeon Kim and another from industrial music mainstay Peter Hope’s Not Now.
Kim’s tape captures two iterations of the same piece from December last year, both being as similar as they are different. The source for each version – a rehearsal and then a performance the following day – was a cassette, Piano Mixtape, released under the alias 11 earlier in the year. Piano Mixtape contained various sketches, recorded using a range of devices over a three year period.
For both iterations captured on Long Decay And New Earth, Kim processed the piano recordings using two techniques – one where she sampled and looped various resonances, fragments and tape hiss from the original Piano Mixtape, and another where she repeatedly dubbed and overdubbed the original recordings on cassette to ‘age’ and effectively degrade the quality of the original piano motifs. Given that processing, the resulting ‘decomposition’ – to use Kim’s word – could have sounded harsh and uncomfortable, but the opposite is true. These pieces retain a certain fragility, the interventions Kim applying adding a nostalgia and charm through imperfection, like playing a broken 78 shellac disc in a particularly poignant dream.
Not Now is a duo of Richard H. Kirk collaborator and Sufferhead member Peter Hope (vocals / electronics) and Henri Sizaret (computer-generated electronics). The six tracks included on Within The Beyond are punishing, edgy, techno-inflected cuts, like music for the final club night of the apocalypse, most likely at Berghain.
On opening track ‘Cage Glow’, Hope’s chanted vocals are delivered with pure demonic menace, supported by an architecture of intense, thunderous beats that sound like they were fashioned from the sounds of the printing press pushing out the flyers for the aforementioned end-of-days all-nighter. ‘P8 Sister’ prowls forth on a seductive bassline, its refrain of “Go, primate” carrying a sinister, cryptic quality, while the erratic ‘Fleixh’ sounds like its remixing itself randomly through a broken algorithm, a brief flash of techstep rhythm providing some semblance of stability toward the end. Easy listening for speeding paranoiacs, the polar opposite to Jiyeon Kim’s piano meditations.
Long Decay And New Earth by Jiyeon Kim and Within The Beyond by Not Now are out now on The Tapeworm. the-tapeworm.bandcamp.com
Further. favourites YOVA release their new single, ‘You’re The Mirror’, today.
The duo of vocalist Jova Radevska and multi-instrumentalist Mark Vernon here offer up what appears to be a slice of breezy soulful pop that masks a set of lyrics dealing with mental health and the myriad concerns that have entered our thoughts since lockdown began.
With the addition of treacly bass from Daniel O’Sullivan and a jazzy keyboard lick that sounds like an outtake from a late-period Talking Heads session, ‘You’re The Mirror’ taps into a soul / funk tradition that showcases a different side to this talented group. Smart pop for pondering life’s uncertainties while enjoying a languid summer sunset.
Watch the video for ‘You’re The Mirror’ below. Listen to ‘You’re The Mirror’ at Spotify.
You’re The Mirror by YOVA is released June 19 2020.
Today Further. brings you the first play of ‘Poolside’, the new single by Brighton singer-songwriter Flossy Jones.
A hypnotic, languid pop song presented with an aching, mysterious narrative, ‘Poolside’ finds Flossy depicting a dream-like scene. We find voyeuristic boys watching the protagonist swimming while drinking on the edge of the water. We see palm trees and concrete flamingos gazing mutely and without judgment at the scene. It is a song of extreme juxtapositions, the summery warmth of the imagery in Flossy’s lyrics offset by a distinct chill thanks to a hazy backdrop of electronics, piano and submerged rhythms.
“It’s a story about the other woman,” says Flossy tentatively about the subject’s shrouded subject matter. “It’s about a time in my life where I’d wait at midnight underneath the palms each night for someone to arrive. The song came to me while I was watching the reflection of the moonlight in the pool. It was almost like a vision of darkness that caught my attention while I was waiting there one night. I find myself really inspired, creatively, by beautifully unconventional situations like that.”
For the most part, the mesmerising ‘Poolside’ is sung in a detached, understated style acting as the perfect match to the graceful, delicate musical backdrop. A latent sensuality comes to the fore as the track – and the affair – progresses, leaving the song poised on a strange axis between the romantic and the anguished; between levity and brooding disappointment; between a yearning for the affair to become something more defined and an acceptance of the futility of that notion. Its highly evocative imagery transports you into the scene, whereupon you find yourself complicit in the long looks of the pool’s myriad spectators.
The track is backed by the poignant, fragile and ultimately hopeful ‘When It’s All Over’. “I wrote that song at the start of lockdown,” says Flossy. “I missed everyone. I missed my life. Sometimes you have these moments where songs just come to you, and it takes maybe no more than five minutes to write them. It’s when you feel so passionately, where you’re right there in that very moment, and that was definitely the case with that song.”
Listen to ‘Poolside’ below.
Flossy Jones · Poolside
Poolside by Flossy Jones is released on June 19 2020 by Blitzcat Records. All proceeds from the first week of the single will be donated to Show Racism The Red Card.
Seven tracks of dreamy and much needed ambient electronic music from prolific Palma-based composer Hypnodial (Ilia Rodríguez). Tracks such as the beatific, widescreen ‘Summerine’ are poised on the delicate axis between hopefulness and resignation that the album’s title plays with. Elsewhere, the standout ‘Brokelyn’ and ‘Cloopseend’ have a rougher edge thanks to gently undulating, bassy drones upon which are stacked euphoric vocal textures and chiming, stirring melodic counterpoints. Music to focus troubled minds. Released May 28 2020.
A second outing for Mutante, a Worcester duo of Jonathan Parkes and Alec Wood. Mutante II explores the rich and enduring legacy of early 1980s soundtracks, its seven tracks each full of evocative synth sounds and a sense of creeping paranoia and dread. ‘A New Horizon’ and ‘Magnetron’ are among the highlights, both moving ominously forward on a bed of prowling, heavy bass sequences and submerged rhythms offset by grainy sweeps and a topline suggesting imminent danger. Don’t have nightmares; or, if you must, make sure this is your soundtrack. Released June 8 2020.
The title of the new album from secretive Paris-based Couronne de Merde translates as “I wish the winds were ash.” Containing six tracks inspired by his frequent trips to Beirut, these pieces occupy a frontier land between emotive electronic music and the oppressive architecture of modern industrial music. Here you’ll find thunderous mechanical rhythms, subtle melodic interplay and drifting field recordings of life sounds recorded in Beirut but woven together back in Paris. ‘ﻻ ﻳﻮﺟﺪ ﻣﻮﺕ’ (‘There Is No Death’) is the album’s signature piece, a brooding, contemplative moment surrounded by sonic rubble and devastation, while ‘ﻗﻮﻯ ﺍﻟﻜﺘﺎﺋﺐ ﺍﻟﻨﻈﺎﻣﻴﺔ’ (‘A Strong Regiment’) snarls and inches relentlessly forward on menacing percussive tank tracks. Released June 5 2020.
Score is the solo project of d_rradio’s Chris Tate, and Modern Wreck is the follow-up to 2018’s Vent, released by Cruel Nature in a highly limited edition of just 40 cassettes. Many-layered and ushered in with sounds that have an organic, naturalistic earthiness to them, tracks like ‘Women And Children’ have a gracefulness and euphoric poise, full of jangly guitars and instrumentation of unknowable provenance. The playful ‘Crown Shoes’ is dominated by subtle electronics and a jazzy piano refrain, while ‘Inside Joke’ has a delightful wonkiness somewhere between nomadic glitch music and gentle folk. ‘Money Shot’ is the album’s pop highlight, wandering forth on a breezy warmth redolent of tropical island sunsets. Released June 5 2020.
de tian is the longstanding partnership between Sheffield guitarist and electronic musician Paul Shaft and free music and Discus Music co-founder Martin Archer. The original version of de tian sprang up in the post-punk / pre-synth-pop hinterlands but when Shaft and Archer hooked up, their music evolved toward a more sonically diverse point. New album Transcriptome features nine tracks that find the duo working grooves out of industrial-style rhythms overlaid with Archer’s distinctive textural reeds and sax, with the addition of percussion from early de tian member Paul Hague. Key track ‘Transcriptome 4’ thuds with a wild, frantic pulse, wailing synth stabs and African percussion giving the track an air of only just being on the edge of self-control. Archer sweeps in with some especially evocative processed sax toward the end which cements the track’s beautiful chaos. Released May 7 2020.
Eight tracks of mostly smooth, vaguely jazz-inflected electronica from Scottsdale, AZ-based ambient music stalwart Todd Fletcher. Each piece is characterised by sedate beats, gently washing pads, gorgeously understated synth work and heavily processed spoken word vocals mangled into melodic reference points. ‘Ice Angel’ stands out for his percussive melody and frosty sheen, while ‘Teleothenaion’ nods reverentially in the direction of Ken Ishii. The brilliant ‘China Radio Sunshine’ floats forth on an electro-dub pulse over which smart, fluid, jazz-inflected melody is allowed space to roam. Apparently Fletcher sold all his synths once upon a time and decided just to play the piano. Clearly, and for us very fortunately, he must have changed his mind. Released May 20 2020.
Often, during lockdown, positivity has felt like it’s been hiding. We grimly fixate on daily statistics, obediently join queues outside supermarkets like it’s a breadline in the final days of Communism, and try not to freak out when people start talking about similarities with the Great Depression.
It’s possibly a vain hope to think that a song could single-handedly lift us out of our collective malaise, but London-based Nadine Khouri’s cover of Annie’s plaintive ‘Tomorrow’, recorded at home, certainly did much to raise my sagging spirits.
Delivered in Khouri’s warm, enveloping, reassuring tone, her version of ‘Tomorrow’ is rendered as a gentle, optimistic folk song, replete with dreamy, subtle layers and a profoundly moving essence. Taking a ubiquitous show tune and turning it into an anthem of fragile optimism like Nadine has done highlights her imagination and dexterity as an arranger.
To accompany the song, Nadine asked her social media followers to send in footage (much of which was filmed from their windows) which was then assembled into a video to accompany the song. “I really wanted to do something directly involving others,” says Nadine. “I found myself really moved by these contributions, which kind of helped me retain my sanity between my four walls. If it weren’t obvious enough, this pandemic has really shown how interconnected we all are.”
Nadine Khouri’s cover of ‘Tomorrow’ is released through Bandcamp today.
“I enjoy being busy,” says Blancmange’s Neil Arthur. On the day we spoke he’d written some new music, signed a huge batch of vinyl and CD copies of the new Blancmange album, Mindset, some gardening and some DIY jobs around his house. “I’m not very good at doing nowt,” he admits, in his lyrical Lancastrian accent.
Mindset is Blancmange’s twelfth album. That needs to be seen in the context of a prolific streak that has seen nine Blancmange albums appear since the group became active again in 2011, alongside two albums with Ben ‘Benge’ Edwards as Fader, another pairing with Gazelle Twin collaborator Jez Bernholz as Near Future and a mini-LP with Kincaid (his son, Joe). Stephen Luscombe, with whom Neil formed the band in 1979, was forced to leave the group after 2011’s Blanc Burn owing to ill health, leaving Blancmange as Neil’s solo project.
“I’m probably happiest when I’m being creative,” offers Neil by way of explanation, and it shows. None of these projects are wistful, nostalgic retreads of songs like ‘Blind Vision’ or ‘Living On The Ceiling’ with which Blancmange found initial success at the start of the 1980s. These are records that exist firmly in the here and now, that reflect back the current world we live in yet which are threaded through with personal reflections – on relationships, on situations, on life in general. Mindset finds Neil ruminating on everything from the playground recollections of his Lancashire youth, to calls for transparency and honesty, and onward to the darkest sides of social media. It is an album loaded with observation and dark humour – in other words, classic Blancmange.
Neil Arthur’s prolific streak has delivered more music into the hands of fans than Blancmange delivered across the whole of the 1980s. After he and Stephen went their separate ways after the release of Believe You Me in 1985, there followed a long stretch of very little music from Neil up until 2011, that silence being interrupted only by a solo album, Suitcase, in 1994. While his recent, comparatively frantic current release schedule might seem strange in the context of that silence, it helps to understand where he was spending his time in the years after Blancmange separated.
“I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to do film and TV music,” he explains. “You’ve got to work really quick when you do that stuff. You’ve got to be prepared to make decisions, and lots of mistakes as well. I think one of the disciplines that came from doing so much music, particularly for TV, was that the turnaround was sometimes so quick: if you were doing a pitch for a commercial or whatever, you’d go, ‘I’ve got to come up with this idea right now.’ There’s no point in pussyfooting around and getting all bloody precious about it – you’ve just got to get it down.” Right now, Neil is also working on another Near Future album, another project with Kincaid and is building up a collection of tracks with Erasure’s Vince Clarke (“He comes up with lots of ideas, he’s good to bounce stuff off and he’s fun to be around,” offers Vince.)
Neil also talks about feeling like he’s been “let off the leash” creatively. Supported by a loyal fanbase, he has been able to pivot the Blancmange sound in multiple varied directions, repositioning his vocal and distinctive outlook on the world alongside some of the most inventive use of adventurous electronics in the pop genre. Mindset is the third Blancmange album to have been crafted with Benge, and the record bears the hallmarks of the vast array of vintage analogue equipment to be found in his Memetune studio in Cornwall.
Given that there are two groups that see Neil collaborating with Benge – Blancmange and Fader – it begs the question as to what makes a Blancmange album, and what makes a Fader record.
“With Fader, Benge starts the ball rolling, and I think that’s crucial,” explains Neil. “He comes up with some instrumental ideas, some of which are more developed than others. They’re like thumbnail sketches – very simple some of them – but then some of them are more complex. That’s where it starts and then I add my twopenn’orth. On last year’s Fader album, In Shadow, Benge had done 95%, if not more, of the instrumentation, and I stuck to vocals, and then we mixed it and produced it together.” With Blancmange, the process is almost effectively reversed. “Blancmange is just me, and so it starts with me,” says Neil. “I write a load of songs, and then I offer them to Benge. We get together at his studio, we work on the structures, we change the sounds, add a few parts, and I add the lyrics.”
While both groups will eventually see both Benge and Neil meet somewhere in the middle, the different starting points gives Blancmange and Fader albums entirely distinct personalities. “The logic would tell you that,” agrees Neil. “For example, with Fader, I have the opportunity, on first hearing, to react to something that I have no idea what I’m going to get, and Benge has the same thing when I come up with ideas for a Blancmange record. Then we bounce ideas as we get closer to the point of it being finished. We get closer and closer to us both manipulating sounds on a synthesiser or whatever it might be, but the two projects have come from very different places, initially. They’ve come from different brains.”
If you take a look at the studio photographs on Benge’s Memetune website, what immediately strikes you is the sheer amount of kit available to bring to a project. I wonder whether that can be a problem, given there’s so much to choose from and potentially be distracted by, almost as if that might stifle the energy that comes with being prolific. “Well yeah, there’s a lot of lights flashing on and off and stuff like that,” laughs Neil. “When Benge and I work together, we’re pretty good at keeping it focussed on what is needed, and we don’t get too distracted. Of course, there are moments where you’re working on any project where you end up going slightly sideways, but we’re pretty functional when we work together. We’re very focussed on what’s needed.
“We have a hell of a laugh when we’re doing it as well,” he adds. “We have a lot of fun, even if a lot of the music’s quite dark. We spend a lot of time together in the studio laughing. You’ve got to, you know? Sometimes you can’t help it with electronic sounds – you’re sitting there gurning when you’re doing a filter sweep. It can be a real laugh.”
Anyone who’s taken a listen to a Blancmange record will recognise a particular strain of humour, and Mindset – for all its explorations of heavy subject matter – is certainly faithful to Neil’s ability to use wordplay to lighten the mood.
Perhaps the best example of this on Mindset is the track ‘Anti-Social Media’, a song that takes a sideways look at the trolling and the sinister sides of apps that were designed to bring people together, not force prejudices and divisions. “Thankfully nothing in this song is related to anything I’ve experienced personally,” says Neil, with some relief. “But, from an observational standpoint of what’s going on, I’ve taken loads of stuff in. It’s quite easy for people to let go of some opinion – they just send something off, just like that. Press the button and it’s gone. But the receiver can pick up on it in so many different ways, if there’s any subtlety at all in the message, and can quite often be very, very upset. It’s been in the news all too frequently, and there’s been some horrific, sad and tragic cases. Even so, I had a lot of fun with the lyrics – things like the line ‘chastise me and baptise me’, or the idea that you can criticise me but please just wait until the end of the song. I’m having a bit of a laugh at the idiots who think it’s alright to behave like that and hide. They’re cowards, aren’t they? Bastards. It’s something I wanted to write about, and it seemed to fit with the groove I’d got going.”
Speaking of grooves, taken as a whole Mindset moves forward with a relentless momentum, the rhythms and sounds nodding squarely in the direction of clubbier electronic music. “I wanted it to move along with a pace,” he says. “Dark as some of the lyrics might be with twisted black humour, I still wanted them to be supported by something that kept the pace going, and Benge and I didn’t want too much getting in the way of that if we could help it. It definitely leans toward a faster pace, so you’d be able to, you know, move a leg to it if you wanted to.”
‘Insomniacs Tonight’ plays with that sense of momentum using a framework of sounds and beats that belong in minimal techno, beginning very sparsely before firming up into something more anxious, evoking the feeling of a sleepless night. “I don’t sleep very well,” confesses Neil. “It’s a very different world in the middle of the night. That song starts very simply, but once it gets going, it’s like a train of thought.”
Another standout track on Mindset is ‘This Is Bliss’, an exercise in keeping things defiantly simple, staying resolutely sparse and unadorned throughout. “One of the things that I’ve tried to do lyrically, and musically, as I’ve got older is that if something doesn’t need to be there, you don’t have to have it,” Neil explains. “Benge and I agree on this – there’s no point putting another part on top of something if the one that’s there doesn’t need supporting. With ‘This Is Bliss’, there wasn’t a lot in it when I took it to Benge, and we kept it that way – we just improved some of the sounds, and replaced the original rhythms with analogue drums.
“The idea of keeping things minimal is something I’ve striven for for bloody ages,” reflects Neil. “Less is best, but sometimes it’s difficult to hold your ground on it. Maybe on this one we were getting closer to that. We tried to leave as much space as possible.”
This starts to tap into the influences that have informed Neil Arthur’s approach to music, many of which are reverentially to be found on display across the breadth of Mindset. “One of the biggest influences on early Blancmange, from my point of view, was The Young Marble Giants. Although they never used synthesisers, they’re the epitome, for me, of minimalism, and they’re still one of my favourite bands. It’s perfectly executed, lyrically, structurally, and in their instrumentation. You simply didn’t need anything else. I saw them live so many times, and that’s definitely stayed with me.”
Elsewhere on the record you can hear the trace echoes of Neu!’s distinctive pulse on the album’s title track, fused with a small dose of the Velvet Underground. You also hear deferential – but never plagiaristic – nods in the direction of Roxy Music, Sparks and LCD Soundsystem, all within the same song. To wear those influences so vividly on your sleeve without ever sounding anything other than like Blancmange is quite the achievement. Elsewhere on the record, ‘Diagram’s direct call for truth and honesty finds Neil crossing the intimidating style of Grace Jones with the lysergic energy of vintage Cabaret Voltaire, whose Stephen Mallinder is one of Benge’s bandmates in Wrangler. Sticking with Sheffield, Neil plays me the snarling intro to ‘Anti-Social Media’ and intones Phil Oakey’s spoken word intro to The Human League’s ‘Being Boiled’ over the top, accompanied by a dry and charismatic chuckle.
The album is also characteristically personal, though Neil is at pains to maintain some comfortable ambiguity. ‘Not Really (Virtual Reality)?’ transports us back to the Lancashire town of Darwen, his home town, the lyrics reflecting the moors of his childhood and the phrase he and his pals would use whenever someone was thought to be bending the truth – ’et wady’. There are also songs dealing with family and domestic issues, while ‘Warm Reception’ finds a detached Neil running through quotidian thoughts and ministrations, inspired by a painting bearing the same name by his wife. Not for nothing does he describe lyric writing as “like having a contact mic on the inside of my brain”.
The album concludes with the poignant ‘When’. “The chorus on that song really sums it up – ‘When is anything / About what it’s about?’ It happens to people all the time: someone can be on the receiving end of an emotive outburst that leaves a feeling of being distraught and empty. But then it becomes obvious that, in actual fact, you’ve received all this stuff because basically it’s the other person’s baggage, and you’re now having to carry that around yourself. What you may have had in mind when there was some kind of argument hasn’t been discussed at all. It’s like in a Woody Allen film when he puts the subtext underneath the dialogue – it’s nothing to do with what it’s really about.”
It’s a beautiful spring lockdown evening, and Neil, a keen cyclist, wants to get out on his bike near his Cotswolds home before it gets dark. There’s just enough time for one more honest reflection before he heads off. “I’m really bloody fortunate because we’ve got a very loyal fanbase,” he muses. “They want to listen to the new stuff, but obviously like the old songs. I’m very happy to play the old stuff – I thoroughly enjoy it, and I’m incredibly proud of the music Stephen and I did all those years ago.
“I completely understand that, when I go out on stage, it wouldn’t be a Blancmange show without those songs. That’s absolutely fine by me. I’ve got to say, though, I’m much more interested in the future,” he concludes before heading off, no doubt working on even more songs as he pedals his way through the countryside.
Mindset by Blancmange is released June 5 2020 by Blanc Check. Buy signed copies of Mindset at Blancmange’s website.
In May 2020, Sad Man – the alias of Bournville’s Andrew Spackman – ran a Twitter poll to ask fans to suggest the name of his next album. The options were Sad Man 13, ISO-Nation, Wonky Heights and the winner, with a cool 50% of the vote – Daddy Biscuits. It arrived in my inbox, just three months after his last release, with the description that it was a ‘wonky banger’.
Spackman has done most of the legwork for me with that, to be honest, as those two words perfectly sum up the sound of the twelve songs on this new collection. These are pieces that jerk around like they’re being attacked with an electronic music cattle prod, all quirky beats, skewed melodies and sounds that feel like they’re splintering and fragmenting inside your ear canal.
The jazz influence that can be felt on other Sad Man releases is here suppressed ever so slightly, emerging in the background on pieces like ‘Fump’ or in the coda on the icicle-sharp ‘Illustration’; instead, the only way I can describe a track like the nine-minute title track, or ‘Wonder’, or the effervescent ‘So So’ is how I imagine it might sound in the nightclub of a ship that’s about to capsize in a storm. Or a ‘wonky banger’, I guess.
Buried deep here is the minuscule ‘Water’. It’s a track that seems to pack so many disparate ideas into its brief, sixty second existence, from muted house-style riffs, deep beats and a frantic jumble of melodies that sound like a stroll around a dimly-lit games arcade.
Daddy Biscuits by Sad Man is released June 5 2020.