Let’s Dance – Róisín Murphy: Róisín Machine (Skint / BMG)

Róisín MurphyRóisín Machine (Skint / BMG)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

A new Róisín Murphy album is always a cause for celebration – whether it has been with her band Moloko or, in more recent times, a solo record in collaboration with a number of electronic music luminaries. This time around Róisín Machine, her first long player in four years, sees her working once again with Crooked Man aka Richard Barratt.

As if the new album was not enough Murphy has been busy making visual complements to the music under lockdown.

What’s the music like?

It is difficult to imagine a more stylish artist than Róisín Murphy. Even with Moloko it felt like her expressiveness matched the music in an effortless way, which made the finished result even more stylish and cool. Little has changed under her own name, though if anything the music is more dance based and the vocals even more meaningful.

Róisín Machine tells a story, threaded beautifully from start to finish, and as a result it works best when heard in a complete span. There are many telling lyrics, but the opening gambit, “I feel my story’s still untold, but I make my own happy ending”, sets the scene perfectly, after which Murphy and Barratt concoct a persuasive, loping groove.

Questions are asked as the album progresses. Kingdom Of Ends finds the singer “waking up every morning, thinking what the hell am I doing?”, while even during the cool chic of Shellfish Madamoiselle, with its bumpy beats and warm synthesizers, she feels that “I shouldn’t be dancing at a time like this”.

Difficult, though, when the music is so persuasive. The groove and vocal of Something More are a perfect match, the stylish slow disco-house brilliantly done. The same, too, goes for the effortless groove of Incapable. For the last two tracks, Narcissus and Jealousy, the tempo quickens and the pulse rate too, Róisín more obviously on the dancefloor.

The most compelling stories are told in Murphy’s Law, however, where she sings of how “I’d rather be alone than making do and mending”, but finds her instincts are pulling her in different directions.

Does it all work?

Yes – either as a single whole or as individual tracks, Róisín Machine is brilliantly worked through. The singer sounds completely at home, but at the same time there are thought provoking lyrics and feet-provoking grooves.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. This is an album that embodies the saying ‘Style never goes out of fashion’. Róisín Murphy remains one of our finest vocalists, and like a fine wine is just continuing to improve with age. Richard Barratt proves the ideal match in the production department, and together the two have made one of the best pop albums of the year.

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Let’s Dance – The Beloved: Happiness (Special Edition) (New State Entertainment)

The BelovedHappiness (Special Edition) (New State Entertainment)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Music can make you feel old sometimes. With the recent trend for deluxe reissues of older albums that is happening on an increasingly regular basis for this particular writer! However in the case of The Beloved, initial horror at their standout album Happiness reaching 30 years of age is replaced by the pleasure of a chance to listen to it again – now in the company of a number of exclusives.

The album has been remastered and reissued with its distinctive and attractive artwork, very much of its time but also falling in nicely alongside the misty-eyed memories people have been creating of Ibiza recently. After the Heritage Orchestra’s Ibiza Classics tour and the White Lines series on Netflix, the reissue of Happiness is timely – and it’s tempting to say it’s a shot in the arm for us late in the summer.

What’s the music like?

Inevitably Happiness sounds dated now, but when you hear it alongside the more clinical Ibiza sounds of the current year its analogue charm is only amplified. There is a strong, positive thread running through the album too which is enormously helpful in these times. Songs like Hello, Don’t You Worry, The Sun Rising and I Love You More all hit the ears sunny side up, with Jon Marsh’s husky vocals enjoying the Balearic climate.

The Sun Rising continues to stand as one of the very finest tunes from the early 1990s, its blissful piano-led house music fit for any dawn-themed chillout set. The knowledge that it was written while the sun rose over Nunhead only increases its likability, totally suited to everyday phenomena. The roll call of Hello is always fun but also meaningful, trying to picture all the different people Marsh name checks and also identifying how they match up. It’s a great set of soundbites.

The extra material offers a great deal of context, especially with the accompaniment of the booklet notes, where Marsh confirms that he and Steve Waddington were ‘doing our own thing. Absolute musical freedom.” That much is confirmed by Acid Love, Sally and Jackie (Won’t You Please Come Home?), all of which are footloose and euphoric if occasionally on the ragged side. The influence of New Order is put to good use on these songs in particular.

 

 

Does it all work?

Mostly. There are a couple of more obvious album tracks towards the album’s close, and some show their age a little more readily, but this is still a very strong set of songs suitable both for the singles chart and for the centre of a dancefloor. The Beloved really hit a rich vein of form around this time, and it’s great to be reminded of the artwork that complements it so well. They really were in touch with Ibiza clubbers at the time.

Is it recommended?

Yes. With lockdown, quarantine and external pressures creating anxiety like never before, the reappearance of Happiness provides just the sort of escape its listeners will be looking for, along with the simple assurance that maybe things will be alright after all. When you listen to any of the singles on here, The Beloved make you feel that could indeed be the case!

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Let’s Dance – Various Artists: The Ladies of Too Slow To Disco Vol.2 (How Do You Are?)

Various Artists – The Ladies of Too Slow To Disco Vol.2 (How Do You Are?)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

First, an explanation. If you are understandably wondering how something called Too Slow To Disco is put under the ‘Let’s Dance’ banner, then let me try to justify! For six years now, DJ Supermarkt has been making annual compilations of West Coast pop music, mostly from the 1970s, under the Too Slow To Disco label. In doing so he has anticipated the revival of so-called ‘yacht rock’, assembling a mixture of well-known and little-known names under the banner.

The compilations are well-planned and are on the slow side…but they could definitely be experienced in a club environment, or by the pool – hence their inclusion under Let’s Dance. And let’s face it, this is very high quality, song-based chill out music.

What’s the music like?

The first Ladies of Too Slow To Disco gained a lot of interest, with a Guardian piece exploring where some of its singers are now, and the second hits the same sweet spot. The songs are drawn from 1974-1982, and on this volume DJ Supermarkt looks to strike out further in the directions of soul, gospel and jazz.

The journey is a successful one, on the way enjoying the very smooth grooves of Marti Caine‘s Love The Way You Love Me, which if anything is ‘out-slinked’ by Diane Tell‘s Mon Ami-E. Linda Tillery sings beautifully of how she would ‘like to get to know you in a special kind of womanly way’, while Martee Lebous raises positive thoughts on the rather lovely For David. Lulu makes an appearance too, with the slow but very smooth funk of I Love To Boogie.

Each of these songs tells a story, and most of them have accomplished arrangements, such as the subtle brass colouring applied to Nicolette Larson‘s Baby, Don’t You Do It, while there is a good deal of funk around too – the best saved for the star of the show, Elkie BrooksThe Rising Cost Of Love.

Does it all work?

Yes. Anyone following this series will know the amount of work that goes in to digging out the tracks, but arranging them in the most coherent order is also a skill that DJ Supermarkt has in abundance. Not a hair is out of place here!

Is it recommended?

Yes. For breeezy sounds in the heat of the summer Too Slow To Disco has prove to be a series that is hard to equal, and for poolside holiday listening it has no equal. The ladies on this instalment fit seamlessly into an increasingly long list of excellent (and educational) compilations!

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https://open.spotify.com/album/5EODFztSmOUSvVchHFXhWM?si=pRf0c2kLQOqaPLKJmrnPnw

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Let’s Dance – Jody Wisternoff: Nightwhisper (Anjunadeep)

Jody Wisternoff Nightwhisper (Anjunadeep)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Jody Wisternoff is dance music royalty, being one half of Way Out West where he is joined by Nick Warren. The two have made powerful and progressive albums since the mid-1990s, sitting squarely between house and trance music, but are free to run their own solo projects alongside the duo. Nightwhisper is Jody’s second solo album, his first since 2012, and it has served as an outlet to express conflicting emotions felt through the death of his father, with a sustained period of caring for him beforehand.

Written in 2019, it faces those sorrowful events in the context of weekends where Wisternoff was involved in the ‘day job’, as it were, DJing at exotic party locations.

What’s the music like?

The conflict between the different areas of Wisternoff’s life is certainly felt here, but the overall impression is firmly positive. The songwriting here is direct and so it is easy to relate to. For example when the loop ‘don’t go away, don’t leave me now’ starts up on Here To Stay, the combination is just right – some introspective thoughts but presented through a really good vocal hook.

Wisternoff chooses his vocalists well, with the husky tones of Rondo Mo working well on Lately, or James Grant and Jinadu on the ultra cool Blue Space, singing how ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for a sign’. Grant also appears on the title track, a blissful number tapping into the spirit of The Beloved. The varied rhythms that Way Out West have always used are in evidence, too – Andromeda marshals its breakbeats well, Story Of Light works a sharper bassline, and the lovely soft timbres on For Those We Knew are really nicely done. Mimi Page’s vocal adds a beautifully weighted tribute here, an apt memorial piece.

Does it all work?

Yes – Wisternoff uses his experience to provide exactly what is needed for a pool soundtrack or for the dancefloor. To be honest each of these twelve tracks can move effortlessly between the two, and since the vocals are good they stand up well to repeat plays.

Is it recommended?

Yes. This is classy, hot weather music which works really well on the beats front, but has music of substance to go with it. Because of that, Nightwhisper works equally well as foreground and background listening – and it stays with you emotionally too.

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Let’s Dance – House Masters: David Penn (Defected)

Various ArtistsHouse Masters: David Penn (Defected)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Spanish DJ David Penn gets this very welcome career retrospective from Defected, a chance for fans to appreciate not just his original, Latin-flavoured house tunes and his teamwork with DJ Chus, but a whole host of remixes. Penn has in the past bravely taken on classics like Pete Heller’s Big Love and Sophie Lloyd’s Calling Out, but as this collection shows he always comes out on top.

What’s the music like?

Excellent, and brimming with good vibes. The original productions include Penn’s uplifting Nobody, which sets the tone from the off, but also What Is House, with Rober Gaez, and Stand Up, a piano-led, gospel-tinged winner with Ramona Renea. The collection has a really good ebb and flow between these productions and Penn’s remixes, so early on we get the rolling beats and bass of Jack Back’s (It Happens) Sometimes and a brilliant take on Candi Staton’s Hallelujah Anyway, smooth as silk in the production but still hitting the essence of the song. Later on the same can be said for Ron Hall & The MuthafunkazThe Way You Love Me, which Penn treats just right, and also Todd Terry’s Babarabatiri, which plays right into his Latino strengths.

Speaking of which, Penn’s El Sur, with Jabato, is a highlight later on – as is Esperenza, the long-established anthem made with regular sparring partner DJ Chus. Both appear later with a remix of Lenny Fontana’s The Way, before teaming up with Concha Buika to bring the house down on Will I (Discover Love).

Does it all work?

Yes. Penn’s remixing style is uncomplicated – which is an underrated quality, because it means the quality of the original still shines through in spite of the new clothing. The Mediterranean warmth is ever-present in his own productions, which flow beautifully and are consistently classy. A good piano riff is rarely far away from a David Penn production!

Is it recommended?

Yes. It’s great to see Penn getting the spotlight in this way, and he deserves his place alongside the hall of fame Defected have built up in their House Masters series. He understands what makes house music work so well in the hotter European climes, and this compilation shows off his output beautifully.

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You can buy David Penn’s House Masters compilation from the Defected website here