This album gives me the chills. With the expansive synth sound typified by other Australian synth-pop groups like Icehouse, and brutally catchy, Madonna-esque sugary dance beats, this is a record full of earworms.
At the centre is Tina Cross’s exceptional voice, which can range from the cool and gliding (“Over to You,” “Think of Me”) to the effortlessly bouncy (“Body Talk,” “Meant to Be”), and suggests Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper inspiration.
In several ways Koo Dé Tah stood in contrast with their contemporaries. Australian pop music in the 80s was heavily Anglo-Saxon male-dominated—whether by virtue of the pub rock circuit, insular cultural attitudes, or otherwise. Koo Dé Tah was comprised of two accomplished musicians with differing backgrounds (New Zealander Tina Cross with Māori heritage, and former Russian popstar Leon Berger). That they had a radio hit with “Too Young For Promises” and were still unafraid to take risks and experiment makes this record all the more remarkable.
This blog started with the intention of sharing records that more people should hear, and I think that’s more the case for this record than any other thus far. It occupies a strange mid-point, both in visibility and in the context of the artist’s body of work. It’s been reprinted a handful of times, and its Discogs recommendations include acts as disparate and big-league as Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Tracy Chapman, and Prefab Sprout (begging the question, who exactly is listening to this record?). Claire Hamill debuted on Island Records, opened for Jethro Tull, and made several very big-budget albums. She dabbled in folk, synth pop, and electro before landing on Voices, which has been (somewhat confusingly) labeled as new age. It’s perhaps owing to that very difficulty in pinning her down or understanding her body of work that her work itself, with its dazzling high points, seems to have slipped through the cracks. We missed the trees for the forest.
But backing up: after an audition for Island founder Chris Blackwell, Hamill released her debut at seventeen, an impressive piece of folk that belied her age. It immediately drew comparisons to Joni Mitchell and was advertised in Time Out with the tagline “When most girls are frantically hunting husbands, starting work in Woolworths or learning to type, Claire has finished her first album.” (Happy International Women’s Day, by the way!) But despite her label’s high hopes for megastardom, her records continued to fall flat of large-scale acclaim. After a few more folk-rock efforts on a new label, Hamill ended up on CODA Records, Beggars Banquet’s “new age” imprint. She released Touchpaper, an ambitious electro-sophisti-pop record about which there are some great notes here, and then, while living in the English countryside married with a new baby–“a sweet time in my life”–decided to make a record using only her voice. Entirely self-written, self-produced, and featuring just a bit of synth and drum machine, Voices feels like a pared-down predecessor to Camille’s Le Fil. She uses her voice not just as a choir but as strings, as as keyboard, and as texture, all the while staying attentive to inclusions of inhales–they’re emphatic, but never oppressive. Songs like “Harvest,” which so clearly evokes a chorus of women reaping wheat, manage to worldlessly distill the bucolic ethos of what Aaron Copland needed an entire opera to do. Despite repetitive motifs and loops, nothing ever slogs. Everything moves.
What’s really shocking about a first listen, though, is how clearly you can hear threads leading directly to and from so many important artists. At the risk of sounding like the token music journalist who compares every female artist to every other female artist, you can explicitly hear the Celtic-tinged multi-tracking that Enya would go on to make a career out of, Kate Bush’s emotional fluency, a Cocteau Twins cavernous goth sensibility, Julia Holter’s polished baroque, Virginia Astley’s loving chronicle of the English countryside. Nothing folky, but totally pastoral. A (mostly) worldless spectrum of feeling. There are jewels to be found throughout Claire Hamill’s career, but Voices is her strongest, and perhaps most unsung, stroke of brilliance.
A note that while I always encourage you to buy records you love whenever possible, Claire has been personally funding her continued independent music-making, so if you love this as much as I do, please consider buying it!
I found this lurking at the back of a box of records in a charity shop in a nondescript part of north London. I’d never heard of Piero Milesi, but was drawn to both the title and the image on the sleeve, which turns out to be a still from the film to which this is a soundtrack. It depicts an enormous engraving outside a Volterra psychiatric hospital by patient Oreste Fernando Nannetti, who referred to himself as Nanof-11, an “Astronautic Mineral Engineer of the Mental System.” While I’m keen to track down the movie (which doesn’t even have an IMDB page!), in the meantime I make do with the music, which is characterized by lush synthesized themes interspersed with moments of meditative calm. Personal favourites are “The Presence of the City” and “Mr. Nanof’s Tango” (which really begins to soar about half way through, so stay with it). Originally an architect, Piero Milesi created musical installations as well as soundtracks, so you can see why the story of a vast stone book recounting life in a psychiatric institution appealed. Earth to Nanof-11, are you out there; can you hear us?
Debut from Japanese duo dip in the pool. Fairly minimal, often baroque-leaning synth and voice arrangements, with deep, widely spaced drums that, in such a synthetic context, takes on a cyber-medieval quality. Standouts are the title track and the stunningly beautiful “Rabo del Sol,” the music video for which is previewed below–it comes from their 1991 laserdisc release of music videos. Both those tracks evoke a similar mystical gravitas, a perfect vessel for Miyako Koda’s straight-tone vocal sobriety. (Interestingly, though a handful of tracks pick up to a spronky trot–like “Hasu No Enishi” and “View”–and feel like obvious video game scores, it was a slower, more ceremonious track called “Ismeel” that was later used in the PlayStation game Omega Boost.) The duo recently released a collaboration with the Visible Cloaks geniuses on RVNG, and unsurprisingly, it’s very good.
Celebrate Halloween this year with the strange surreality of Michele Musser’s Eye Chant. Recorded in the mid-eighties in Harrisburg, PA, the album takes you on a sample and synth-based odd-yssey where the only constant is freaky. Her sound palette includes synths, drum machines, a baby crying, animals, ship horns, waves, thunder, children laughing, bubbles, a clock ticking, plenty of vocal samples, and a spoken word passage. Experimental, with scattered elements of Berlin School (especially on the opening track) and new age synth.
Several tracks are cynical with regards to romance. “100% Bridal Illusion” discourages a prospective spouse, containing vocal samples communicating the triteness and misery of marriage. “Proteus and The Marlin” tells the story of a pathetically devoted woman who sleeps with a stuffed marlin for the rest of her life after her crazed, megalomaniac husband–who believed he was the Greek god Proteus–throws himself off the Golden Gate Bridge.
The album finishes with what is obviously the “hit” and the track that most makes this apropos for today. Check out the spook-funk groover “Too Much” below.
Pastoral, intimate meditations in the gentlest tones from a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer. Vocals are sparse, but Glenn-Copeland’s deep gospel-opera timbre is still what keeps me coming back. Keyboard Fantasies was lovingly recorded in Glenn-Copeland’s tiny home town of Huntsville, Ontario, where he lives to this day. Please consider purchasing this album directly from the artist.
The best. Cheeky, punchy, synthy bossa-pop (or electro-samba, depending on who you ask). Production by Alan Moulder (Loveless, Siamese Dream, The Downward Spiral, Korn, casual) and Martin Hayles (Orange Juice’s Rip It Up, also casual). Instant gratification in a big way. Six songs written by Antena, plus a cover of Sister Sledge’s “Easy Street.” You might also recognize “Seaside Weekend” as a rework of a track she had originally done with her band, Antena. For fans of Antena, Sade, Linda Di Franco. Pleased to boast that I grew up listening to Isabelle Antena—my dad heard the maddening “Quand Le Jazz Entre En Lice” in a hair salon in Tokyo, where my family was living at the time, and took it home to my mom, who got hooked on it. Enjoy!
One of three records funded and released by Misawa Home Corporation for use in their prefabricated houses between 1986 and 1988. (The other two releases are both by Hiroshi Yoshimura; I’ve posted my favorite of the two here.) As with some of the other Japanese minimal records I’ve shared, Nova is an unabashed embrace of, as Spencer of Rootblog phrased it, “the illusion of nature in a hyper-urban environment.” Judicious use of water, insect, and bird field recordings, sparse bells, piano, and synth. Somehow just as evocative of an idealized, imagined natural world as it is of the synthetic, heavily manicured interiors that seek, roundaboutly, to reference nature. Regardless of where this puts you, it’s very good.
Other-wild experimental electronic industrial ramblings from the Spanish group later renamed Mecanica Popular. A range of feeling, but the entire album sounds like the soundtrack to a film that takes place in a factory on an alien planet. This record (whose name translates to “How Do Insects Have Fun?”) stands out on its musical merit, but this proto vaporwave/net art cover is also pretty amazing. This group was part of the same Spanish electronic scene as Orquestra de Las Nubes, who are featured on this Música Esporádica record.
Supremely beautiful recording from German minimalist composer and author of the 1978 book Through Music to the Self: How to Appreciate and Experience Music Anew, which I swear I was reading in my town’s library growing up when I was supposed to be doing readings about the Civil War.
The album looks and feels likes something that might have made its way into my library stack as well. Recorded at the Academy of Music in München with pipe organ, conch, and Tibetan cymbals, this is a pipe organ study, exploring a range of moods as well as Hamel’s impressive knowledge of eastern and western scales and motifs. Much of the music comes on crescendoing waves of arpeggiation, from calmer melodies to dense, almost unbearable chaos–only to be sliced through by a return to peace.
For anyone interested in more of Hamel’s, his 1977 release Nada is also very good.