Electronica vol 2: The Heart of Noise

Eight months after volume 1 hits the shelves (and download sites), here comes volume2. If the earlier work was a surprise to some in its variety, then the somewhat eclectic mix of things on show here might be less of a shock. The list of artists is, in some ways, probably even more of a surprise than first time around. Who’d have imagined Cyndi Lauper or the Pet Shop Boys, eh?

As with vol 1, I’ll describe individual track briefly to illustrate exactly who the collaborators are, but bear in mind that there are mostly on fist listen. My faves, as with vol 1, are likely to change over time.

The Heart of Noise (Rone)
I wasn’t really aware of Rone, but this is great. Very much in the same vein as Vol 1’s Automatic with Vince Clarke. Atmospheric. Nice bass line. And an insistent melody, building from a more ruminative first part to a thumping second. Good start, M Jarre, good start.

Brick England (Pet Shop Boys).
Neil Tennant says this song has echoes of Dickensian imagery, especially of the industrial, brick-built landscapes of the big cites, like London. I think this is why there are callbacks all over this song from the Industrial Revolution suite. It also makes me think of the 2012 Olympics Opening Cermony and its Underworld-written section with the dark satanic mills rising out of the green pastoral idyll. It works, beautifully. A truly barnstorming song.

These Creatures (Julia Holter).
A beautiful, floating and ethereal piece of music. But if you’ve heard any of her stuff before (go on, listen to Silhouette, it’s fantastic) that shouldn’t be too much of a shock. When I first heard Silhouette, her voice and the arrangements, with the sort of phased quality of the melody, made me think of Liz Frazer and the Cocteau Twins. And it’s more of the same here. This is no bad thing.

As One (Primal Scream)
Pretty much a reworking of The Scream’s Come Together. Solid, reliable, hooky. But not quite hitting the heights of some of the other stuff on here.

Here For You (Gary Numan). Very much in the style of early 80s-era Gary. An undertow of throbbing stabby menace in those big meaty chords, and then those quintessentially semi-detached Numan vocals. Love it.

Electrees (Hans Zimmer). Lovely. Wide, sweeping, cinematic. All those things. And little snatches that remind you of Wooloomooloo and Oxygène 2 at the start.

Exit (E.S): who by now, you will probably know, is none other than Edward Snowden. Ed’s contribution is a spoken word discourse on privacy and its defence. It is intersperse with a banging dance bed, and even brings the beat down (which rather reversely reminded me of Lil Louis’ French Kiss – one for the teenagers there), before bring it back again.

What you Want (Peaches)
The one misfire on the album for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not…bad. It’s just that I just really struggled to engage with it. Others have described it as assertive; I veered towards strident. My problem, not the song’s.

Gisele (Sébastien Tellier)
I think Seb was having some fun here. It almost feels like he’s playing with elements of pastiche of Kraftwerk. It has a very 80s sound, and the vocal treatment sounds a lot like Kraftwerk songs like We Are The Robots. I love it, but given how much I like Tellier’s own stuff, I’m biased.

Switch On Leon (The Orb). Ooh. Very Orb-y. Nice slightly doomy sounding chords. Snatches of Russian and English dialogue. Clearly about Leon Theremin. Nice!

Circus (Siriusmo). A pleasant surprise. Actually very baroque in feel, with the faintest whiff of Wendy Carlos flitting about in amongst everything. Rather spiffy, truth be told.

Why This, Why That, Why (Yello).
It’s Yello. It’s nuttier than monkey poo. It’s hatstand. You get the picture. But it s rather good too, with it’s Dieter Meier’s delivery intoning about swimming like a trout, and snatches of children’s choir.

The Architect (Jeff Mills).
Echoes of Revolutions with the intro and the fairly middle eastern strings. But little string stabs throw you off kilter before the beat kicks in. Definitely the potential to be the theme music to some noirish crime/gangster thriller

Swipe to the Right (Cyndi Lauper)
Now this is good. The clip I’d heard previously suggested this was going to be a bit of a peach. Not mistake, this is fabulous. Her voice sounds perfect for this song, and the vibe definitely carries an suggestions o the dark. Actually, in places, Cyndi’s delivery reminds me of Debbie Harry on Rapture.

Walking The Mile (Christophe)
Like a pimped up chanson, in the grand style. Christopher’s voice has been treated in an interesting way, which gives it a reedy, slightly spectral quality. I like this, but it’s probably going to take a couple of listens to fully appreciate this one.

Falling Down, The Heart of Noise (The Origin).
Just Jarre alone here. Falling Down pulses dramatically, and has a fairly surprising vocoded vocal, before some rather dainty arpeggios kick in and nestle among burbling chip-tune sounds. It’s pretty cool.

The final track is a variant on the start of the album, feeling a bit more ‘stripped’ than the start, like it’s the demo for what came after. Maybe it’s subtitle is an indicator that. Interesting

If the first album were an indicator that JMJ had got some of his musical mojo back, this album shows that the project was indeed as wide-ranging as he wanted, and demonstrates his assertion that electronic music, “has a history, a family, and a future” more than he could possibly envisaged when he first planned it. Even though he’s never really been away, it’s great to have him back again.

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