Secession, a mid-1980s Scottish synthpop band, may in an odd way be best known for the work two of its non-original members did after the band broke up. You see, bassist J.L. Seenan and drummer Charlie Kelly joined Secession in time to be part of the lineup for the band’s only LP, 1987s A Dark Enchantment, and following Secession’s demise the pair joined a duo that Charlie’s brother played in. That duo later benefitted from having a very famous fan, one who covered their songs and mentioned them in interviews. That fan was a guy named Kurt Cobain, and the band was The Vaselines.
So what about A Dark Enchantment? Well, one would expect the overall mood was being set by the slightly gloomy synth-goth of the instrumental intro “Eventide”, but that’s followed by a classic 1980s hopeful struggle-song, the synth and bass line driven “Promise” (I’ve worked so hard to get this far / Don’t try to take it from me), a number that would be right at home in any one of a few dozen classic 1980s flicks. But then… then “Sneakyville”. What is happening here? The deep male vocals offset by the distant female harmony take everything in a completely different direction, more of a dark dancefloor banger. That was unexpected. And then… horns? “Winifred”, what are you doing to me?? It’s almost like A Dark Enchantment is a label comp, but there’s just enough of a thread to hold it all together as part of one cohesive work. “Ocean Blue”? Female vocal dream pop. The brief instrumental “Reprise (Love Lies Bleeding)”? A fleeting moment of emotion, 61 seconds of soft interlude. You just never know what’s waiting for you on the next song.
Terror Bird is the project of Vancouver’s Nikki Nevver. Sonically Terror Bird are a bit retro, the synths harkening back to the 1980s, with a sort of dark romantic vibe. The music is a soft dreamy foundation that helps suspend Nevver’s vocals, an effect that comes together most fully in the ethereal “Cemeteries”.
I didn’t find Human Culture available anywhere for listening online, but you can check out some of Terror Bird’s other releases at Nikki’s Bandcamp page HERE. If Human Culture is any indication, there’s some great stuff to be heard there.
A-Ha was Mrs. Life In The Vinyl Lane’s first favorite band and is still probably in her Top 3 (and maybe still #1), and we all know what an impact your first favorite band has on your musical life – you never ever forget them. So when I saw there would be a Record Store Day release of early alternate mixes of their seminal album Hunting High And Low I knew I needed to be on the lookout for a copy. Frankly I didn’t expect it to be that hard to find, even though the edition size was fairly small (2,450 copies… not 2,500 mind you, 2,450…) for such an iconic band, but we struck out locally. Fortunately, however, Al Gore invented the internets I and was able to secure a copy for pretty much the retail price online via Discogs. Thanks Al!
I’m not an expert on the A-Ha catalog. Certainly I know the mega-hits from Hunting High And Low (“Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV”) because, well, if you watched MTV at all in 1985-86 you couldn’t miss these videos – “Take On Me” in particular seemed to be played about once an hour for six months straight. I also don’t have nearly enough experience with this record to hear the differences between the studio version and these alternate takes, though Holly certainly could. What I can tell you is that this thing sounds perfect – no cracking, no hissing, pure sonic clarity. In fact I’d say it’s probably one of the 10 best sounding records I own. So if you’re interested, have no fear – these “early” takes are fully produced and sound tremendous.
I’m not sure how many times we’ve seen Vök live over the years. Four? Five? It’s something like that. The first time was in April 2013 right after they’d won Músíktilraunir, Iceland’s annual Battle Of The Bands. They seemed so young and shy on stage at Faktorý, but even then you could tell their sound was special. It’s been fun watching them evolve into confident performers, particularly vocalist Margrét Rán who is able to walk that magical fine line between self-assurance and vulnerability.
In The Dark is Vök’s second full-length release, coming on the heels of 2017s Figure and a pair of earlier EPs, Circles and Tension. It finds the band very polished, every song near-perfect in composition and production. Rán’s voice tends to stay in a lower register, husky and breathless, injecting a human element onto the primarily electronic musical canvas. If anything In The Dark feels like a more toward a more adult contemporary space. While that genre is oft-maligned and usually reserved to imply something less-than-favorable, those criticisms miss the point, the point that there is plenty of room for enjoyable music in that space. These songs can find a home on the dance floor, but also in your car stereo when you’re out and about making life happen. “No Direction” is my favorite track, one that breaks free a bit from the overall sound of In The Dark, its wave-like synths and Rán extending herself into a higher range making it a refreshing mid-point to the album.
What can I say about Tom Jones that hasn’t been said already? The man is a musical legend, and based on a live performance of his I caught on TV the other day he’s still got it. And the “it” is that signature Tom Jones voice and swagger.
I have a fascination with this style of pure singer/performer. Jones was definitely established and famous enough by 1973 to warrant a “Greatest Hits” album, and even someone like me who knows basically nothing about him has heard half of these tracks. But the truly interesting thing is that he doesn’t have a single writing credit on this record. The idea of being a singer who doesn’t write any of your own material just seems strange to me, though historically speaking it’s not unusual at all – even some bigger pop stars of the last decade perform material primarily written by others. And of course being a great singer doesn’t mean you’re a great writer, and vice versa. It just feels strange that so many of the songs you know specifically as Tom Jones songs were in fact written by others. “It’s Not Unusual”? Gordon Mills and Les Reed. “She’s A Lady”? Paul Anka. I know, I know… you can say the same thing about the early albums by Madonna and Britney Spears too. Regardless of who wrote ’em, Jones can sing ’em, and Tom Jones’ Greatest Hits will definitely make it back to the turntable again in the future.