Ever since I started writing my blog, over 200 days and articles ago, my focus has mainly been on games. Not necessarily just video games – I’ve covered tabletop RPGs, board games and card games too – but generally gaming in some form or other. I’ve also taken the odd detour into more personal territory a few times and there’s even been a few movie reviews.
However, one area I’ve never covered is music. You’d be forgiven for thinking that music isn’t as important to me as gaming, but – though I have been focusing quite heavily on gaming in my spare time for a while now – that’s most certainly not the case. Inspired by a conversation with a close friend, I wanted to take you on a little tour of my musical interests, with links and videos wherever possible.
I’ve tried to keep it mostly chronological – and I’ve deliberately stayed away from the more mainstream tracks that have caught my attention over the years, in the hope that you may find something completely new to you. Music can be a powerfully evocative, very personal thing – so the chances are that there’s stuff here you may not like at all. I do hope there’s at least a few things here you enjoy though!
Despite an early teenage interest in heavier, guitar-led music, by the time I’d left school and started trying to push against what I’d been fed by the media and my peers, musically, I discovered a real love for electronica; back then, it was all categorised as ‘dance’, but these days I suppose most of what I liked could almost be EDM. By the mid-90s, Orbital (Phil & Paul Hartnoll) had already released three brilliant albums of electronic music, little of which I’d really call ‘dance’.
It was meticulously crafted, often densely layered and – a difficult thing to pull off with electronic music – soulful stuff. There’s almost too many of their tracks for me to whittle it down to just one, but Halcyon+On+On (specifically the album version, which I’ve linked to above, being a more structured and chilled out track than the dancier single version) gave me the hope and strength to carry on through many a difficult night as a young adult – and still means an awful lot to me. It sounds utterly timeless to me; though there’s a sad story behind its creation (involving the Hartnolls’ mother and her addiction to a sedative called Halcion), it always strikes me as a hopeful, uplifting and optimistic track.
Salt Tank: Eugina
I started working at a music/video games distributor in early 97; many of my colleagues were into a vast array of little known music. One of my closest friends at the time shared my love of Orbital and slightly leftfield electronic music in general – and he introduced me to some incredible stuff. A little known band – still – called Salt Tank had released a few great tracks and by far my favourite was this almost Halcyon-esque (especially in its slightly impenetrable but beautiful female vocal samples), epic length tune called Eugina. It’s still a wonderfully compelling track that I find uplifting and chilled out in equal measure.
Way Out West: Domination
A bit of a change of pace now, with another band I was introduced to courtesy of my late 90s, like-minded colleague. Way Out West are still going strong to this day (as you’ll see later down this list), but this is one of their earliest tunes, from their self-titled 1997 debut album. It’s another epic in terms of length – but, in contrast to the previous two tracks I’ve shared, it’s an absolute banger. If you knew me in the late-90s, you were probably bored of me playing this particular track – and I still can’t get enough of it. Turn it up loud and make sure you can feel that bass. You’re welcome.
A band I discovered thanks to PlayStation classic WipeOut 2097, some of Fluke’s tracks may be familiar in passing (having been featured, oddly, in movies such as the very first X-Men), but Reeferendum is a non-single track from their album Risotto that deserves more attention. I guess I must have a taste for longer tracks, because this is another epic. Just a brilliant slice of late 90s electronic music, there’s little else to say about this one.
New Order: Crystal
This is probably as mainstream as this list will get; I’ve always been a massive New Order fan and Crystal is one of my favourite tracks of theirs. It’s also notable for being why The Killers – the actual band, not the fake one in the video – are so-called.
Way Out West: Hypnotise
Obviously not the first Way Out West track on the list – and it won’t be the last. Another great dance track, this time from the early 00s and their oft-forgotten, unfairly maligned second album: Intensify.
Yet another gorgeously laidback track with a female vocal; I think this was, once upon a time, used in a mobile phone ad campaign. Perfect Sunday afternoon listening.
Blue States: Elios Therepia
A long term project of London-based producer/composer Andy Dragazis, Blue States have made some absolutely sublime albums, with sometimes surprising changes in their sound. Their second album, Man Mountain, has a great, live band feel with a big, orchestrated sound (one of the tracks, Season Song, is featured in the movie 28 Days Later) and their third album sounds like it’s made by an indie band, albeit with a nicely layered, trademark care in its production. Their first album – on which Elios Therepia is featured – is a collection of downtempo, chilled out tracks that was made, essentially, in Dragazis’ bedroom. The one thing all of those albums have in common is that they’re all great, albeit in vastly different ways.
Elios Therepia is notable for having a very Greek-influenced (in keeping with Andy’s heritage) sound. It’s an unusual one, which is why I wanted to include it here – it’s very different to everything else I’ve highlighted, but well worth a listen.
Yeah ok, you got me – I do love a lot of chilled out tunes. Bonobo – another band still going strong today – have made some incredible stuff and they’re a mesmerising live band too. Terrapin was the track that made me fall in love with ‘their’ (Bonobo is actually the alias of musician/producer Simon Green) sound.
The Egg: Lost at Sea
Like Bonobo, The Egg make wonderfully melodic, downtempo music – but they also have a lot of upbeat and dancey tunes too. They’re a brilliant live band as well; hearing this particular track performed live is quite an experience – beautiful stuff.
Nicola Hitchcock: You Will Feel Like This
Nicola Hitchcock, singer/songwriter previously in trip-hop band Mandalay, struck out on her own for solo album Passive Aggressive in 2005. This slightly melancholy – but lovely – track is from that album.
Nouvelle Vague: Heart of Glass
Nouvelle Vague specialise in loungey, mostly female-led covers of famous pop songs. Heart of Glass is one of the few songs of theirs with a male lead vocal, but I’ve chosen it because it’s such a lovely and unique cover of the brilliant original.
Chromeo: Fancy Footwork
Cheeky Canadian electro mischief makers Chromeo have been doing their 80s funk thing for quite some time now – and they’re brilliant. This is one of their earliest tracks; a great introduction to their look and sound. I highly recommend seeking out more of their songs (and if you don’t find Momma’s Boy hilarious, you may be dead).
Empire of the Sun: On Our Way Home
Consistently turning out spectacularly gorgeous videos for their songs, Empire of the Sun’s two band members usually feature very prominently – but On Our Way Home is notable for their non-appearance. It’s also a wonderful song with a video that has a sweet and compelling narrative, shot in a typically beautiful style.
FFS: Johnny Delusional
A project of indie-art popsters Franz Ferdinand and the eternally leftfield synthpop band (though it feels very reductive to call them that) Sparks, the cheekily named FFS and their first – so far only – album produced some unsurprisingly odd, witty and very good tunes. This one’s included here because, well it’s the one I identify with the most. I almost feel personally attacked by this one, but I don’t mind because it’s ace.
Pnau: Go Bang
Nick Littlemore, one half of Empire of the Sun, is also renowned for the music made with his original band, Pnau. One of their more recent albums, Changa features some absolutely incredible songs and they have – perhaps unsurprisingly, given Littlemore’s involvement in the similarly brilliant visuals that Empire of the Sun are associated with – a wonderful, very appealingly colourful and trippy selection of videos to accompany the songs from the album.
Way Out West: Oceans
Told you that you hadn’t seen the last of Way Out West on this list! After the release of their second album, Intensify, in 2001, I have to say that Way Out West’s output was variable at best. However, that changed with the release of Tuesday Maybe in 2017; it was an album that heralded a real return to form. There’s no weak link at all – each track is worth listening to – but Oceans is my favourite by far. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song with guest vocals by Liu Bei, fairly minimal in construction but beautifully melodic and, like many other songs here, nicely chilled out.
Gunship: Tech Noir
We finish (for now) with one of my favourite bands of recent years; Gunship’s Tech Noir (a Terminator reference from a clearly cine-literate band who seem, like me, to have grown up on a diet of 80s action movies) has a John Carpenter narration and a claymation video with a stunning array of retro references. It’s almost purpose built for me; it pushes all my buttons, ticks all my boxes and is a perfect way to end the list.
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