Makeup For The Silence

The digital home of music writer Jesse Richman

Makeup For The Silence

Tag: OMD

#9 Album of 2013 – Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark – English Electric


(feat. track – “The Future Will Be Silent” [spotify])

There was quite a bit of press earlier this year regarding English Electric, hailing Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s twelfth album (and second since regrouping following a fifteen year hiatus) as the proverbial “return to form.” I’m not so sure I see it that way.

Yes, English Electric’s use of musique concrete and synthesized text-to-speech recalls the sound experiments of the now-beloved (if then-disastrously-received) Dazzle Ships. Sure, the relatively spare compositions that populate the album – more Ralf Hutter than John Hughes – bring to mind early albums like Organisation and their self-titled debut. But though English Electric is built of the same constituent parts as those early works, the construction is much more akin to that albums from the OMD’s more commercially successful mid-80s era.

OMD’s early albums cross-pollinated rudimentary pop with abrasive textures, dispersing bright synth lines across fractured soundscapes; they played with distortion and dissonance. The band was building the future from junky, janky synths, cobbling together the leading edge of the computer age and the remaining bits of the industrial age into a sound that straddled the line between epochs. Their music felt like the future, but it was a recognizable future, with clear ties to the then-present.

Today, OMD are working with the gleaming machines that populate our everyday life. The difference shows. English Electric is a product purely of the post-industrial era; there’s none of the grime of manufacturing to be found staining its gleaming laser-tooled chassis. The pop songs here ring pure and true; songwriters Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries are older men now, and they’ve traded their grit for timeworn sincerity; even experimental tracks like “The Future Will Be Silent” and “Atomic Ranch” clank and hum musically, warmly.*

That could read like it’s a bad thing; I assure you it’s not. A true revisiting of those early albums might make for an exciting experiment, but the results would inevitably sound retro-futuristic.That’s a neat aesthetic, but it’s one that runs counter to OMD’s driving force. Those early albums may have aged into a retro-futurist tinge – a beautiful one, even – but OMD has always been about looking forward to the future, not back to the false future they had predicted as best they could. It’s that spirit, of driving forward, of wholly embracing what’s coming (even the worst of it) with open arms, that has kept OMD both vital and ever evolving.

“English Electric” isn’t just a clever name for an album by one of the progenitors of synth Brittania; it’s also the name of a defunct manufacturing company. English Electric built early airplanes; they constructed some of the first British computers. They quite literally built the future: cutting-edge machines yes, but also machines that transformed the world around them, transformed the way we live and interact with the world, and each other. Machines that changed the basic realities of our day-to-day existence. English Electric the album reiterates that mission statement which the industrial concern and OMD shared.

English Electric isn’t, then, a return to form. English Electric is a return to function. And that’s the real marvel of its achievement.

*If I had to peg English Electric’s sound to somewhere in the band’s timeline, I think 1984’s Junk Culture is the closest referent, but it’s still not a great comp.

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2013 Mix

Makeup for the Silence – Best of 2013 Mixtape

Makeup for the Silence - Best of 2013 Mix

Though I’ve done an annual mix each of the past three years*, this year was the first time I actually compiled an ongoing list of my favorite songs throughout the year. You’d think that would make this process easier; instead, I wound up with a glut of sincere favorites, and a lot of hard choices to make. For some reason, I insist on keeping this thing to a >80 minute playtime, i.e. the length of an actual CD. I’m not under the pretense anyone is actually burning this to a disc (I’m certainly not), but there’s something to be said for this mix being digestible in a single sitting, for it being something I can listen to on repeat and actually get familiar with – I like the way albums ebb and flow and tell stories through sequencing and pacing, and it’s something I’ve always put a lot of care into when making mixes. That gets unwieldy in a lengthy playlist. I enjoy getting to the point where I feel unsettled if I hear a song in my mix and it’s not followed immediately by the track that’s supposed to come next.

As always, I’ve elected to leave off any sort of big radio hits (well…kinda. You’ll see what I mean in a second). That’s a challenge in any year – for a guy who mostly writes about punk and other music of that ilk, I’m really a pop fan at heart. But this year was especially challenging. 2013 was the biggest year in recent memory for Superstar Pop – if you’re a musician people call by just their first name, odds are good you put out an album this year. A lot of those albums were genuinely great, and even when they albums were merely OK, or weren’t particularly pop-radio friendly, each seemed to contain at least one or two killer singles.

Not only that, but two artists who I normally would have found room for here, Fall Out Boy and Paramore, came back in such a big way this year that I couldn’t justify squeezing them in – both “My Songs Know What You DId In The Dark (Light Em Up)” and “Still Into You” found Top 40 radio ubiquity, and nobody’s going to be overlooking those acts just because I didn’t squeeze them onto my list. (Unlike, say, in 2011 when Patrick Stump made it onto my mix with a track from his criminally underappreciated solo album).

Finally, this year’s mix wound up especially upbeat; there’s a lot of bright, synthy, dancey pop that really hit home this year (and some moody, synthy, dancey pop to go with it). There were a number of songs I really loved – Defeater’s “Bastards”; View From An Airplane’s “Stayed Awake”; Sparks The Rescue’s “Ceara Belle”; many others – that just didn’t fit here stylistically, and even more – anything by The 1975, for one – that felt too similar to other tracks on here to make the final cut.

That said I’m really happy with how the final mix came out. Download**, listen, enjoy!

Makeup For The Silence – Best of 2013

  1. Feeling In The Night – The Reign Of Kindo
  2. Paper Royals (Lorde vs M.I.A.) – Mashed Pot8er
  3. In For The Kill – Kelsey Chaos
  4. Waste My Time – Tilian
  5. Dresden – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  6. Baby Shakes – Shone
  7. I’ve Been Waiting For This – Butch Walker
  8. Sad And Blue – Jimmie Deeghan
  9. Keep Me In Your Heart – The Here And Now
  10. Take A Picture – Carly Rae Jepsen
  11. Dreaming – Smallpools
  12. Excalibur – TEAM
  13. Supernatural – roboteyes
  14. Love Is A Dog From Hell – The Limousines
  15. Forget You – Cady Groves
  16. Hanging On A Honeymoon – William Beckett
  17. All I Know – Washed Out
  18. The Way Back – Whitewaits
  19. True Trans Soul Rebel – Against Me!
  20. Au Revoir (Adios) – The Front Bottoms
  21. Etc. – Francis and the Lights

click image to download

Stay tuned; the yearly Top Ten will begin tomorrow!

*you can always find the complete collection of mixes which have appeared on Makeup For The Silence, as well as all the playlists I’ve contributed to elsewhere, right over here.

**just like last year, there’s a Spotify version of 2013’s mix available, but also like last year, there were a handful of tracks on the final mix which aren’t available on the service. I totally understand Spotify’s convenience – after dabbling with it for a couple years, in 2013 I really converted to using it as my primary listening spot, ahead of iTunes – but I recommend downloading if you want the real deal.

2013 Year In Review

Motley Crue – Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)

Last year, I wrote up a lengthy State Of The Scene report, almost inadvertently – it began as a few stray comments I intended to send in along with my Pazz & Jop ballot, and spiraled out into something much larger.Those comments, unsurprisingly, didn’t get printed (though two of my picks did manage to get called out in this piece!)

The irony is that, this year, there would be no sense in me sending in something similar. What, last year, seemed to me so far off the critical radar that I felt compelled to shine a spotlight on it, is this year such a glaringly obvious trend that there’s nothing I could write that wouldn’t be redundant of the excellent, and well-read, work this year by folks like Ian Cohen and Leor Galil. What was a thousand words last year can, this time out, be reduced to an #emorevival hashtag and a few links.

The real kicker? Not a single artist that could reasonably be called an emo revival act made my list of albums or singles that I submitted to the Voice this year, nor will any make my Top Ten here. I don’t think any are even making the final cut on my 2013 Mix. These acts are calling back to a generation of emo which precedes the discovery of melody, or theatricality, or ambition, or edge, even cartoony edge. There’s precious little of that sort of stuff in my personal canon – American Football’s album and the first two Owen CDs; Mineral‘s The Power Of Failing; early Bright Eyes, if you want to count that – but noodly sadboy navelgazing has never really been my scene.

Even the stuff I liked most from that era, like Jimmy Eat World‘s Clarity or Death Cab for Cutie‘s The Photo Album, place song structure, harmony and production values at their fore. Of all the things you could ape about late-90s emo, “lack of vitality” seems like a poor choice, and yet it’s the dominant mode of the day. So you can write an intricately fingerpicked, multi-movement suite without a single memorable hook or any shift in emotional tone? Congrats, you’re Yngwie Malmst-emo! Pick up your award at the circular file under my desk.

What excited me this year?Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace waving her identity like a battle flag on True Trans. Bands with guitars that made me want to dance, from Haim’s Days Are Gone and Chvrches The Bones Of What You Believe to SmallpoolsEP and The 1975’s self-titled album. Wonderful comeback albums from two acts that could be called emo revival, except that they were part of the terribly uncool* era of emo we’re currently trying to pretend never happened: Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock And Roll and Paramore’s Paramore.

*Even a metal purist acknowledges hair metal as a part of the genre’s history, even an important (if embarrassing) step in it’s development. Why is it that old-school emo fans consistently privilege cool over historicity and narrative?

Follow-ups from acts that made my list a year or two ago and managed not to disappoint, like OMD (the perfectly-titled English Electric) and Mansions’s Doom Loop. Nu-twang that sidestepped clap-n-stomp blustering of Mumfordcore in favor of something a little more personal, like Twin Forks’ EP and Lacey Caroline’s Songbird and Jimmie Deeghan’s Cheap Therapy. Side projects of old favorites that not only delighted but surprised, like WhitewaitsAn Elegant Exit (Rob Rowe of Cause & Effect) and The Here And Now’s Born To Make Believe, Part 1 (Alan Day of Four Year Strong). My every-third-year nu-gaze treasure, this time around from The History Of Apple Pie, Out Of View.

And pop. Pop! So much pop! It was the year of the superstar: Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Drake and Katy Perry all put out albums that were deeply intriguing, each one for vastly different reasons. Some were great; most weren’t; even the failures contained some combination of perfect singles and deeply ambitious overreaches that made me want to figure out what went wrong, and why, and how.

And if this was the year pop superstars reasserted themselves, the pop underground held its own too. Some of my favorite pop jams came from folks who didn’t even register a blip on the mainstream radar, like Kelsey Chaos’ Out Of This World and Tilian’s Material Me, Cady Groves’ “Forget You” and roboteyesself-titled. Even Carly Rae Jepsen, the most unfairly-scarlet-lettered One Hit Wonder in recent memory, got in on the fun with maybe my favorite song of the year, ”Take A Picture“.

So you can count me out on scenes for now. This is the state of my scene, and that’s a scene of one. It’s a post-genre world, and the freedom to run from what doesn’t click with you is just as exhilarating as the freedom to dig into something new or uncool. That’s where I stood for a long time, before the 2000’s emo revolution sucked me in, and it’s to where I gladly return. Everything old is new again. It’s the same old, same old situation.


(feat. track – “History Of Modern (Part I)” [spotify])

It’s a little strange, but in a year where I listened to an absurd (at least by my standards) 250 new releases, I’ll remember 2011 more than anything else as the year I got obsessive over a band that formed shortly before I was born and hit the peak of their popularity two decades ago.  I had been a casual fan of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark for a while now (1981’s Architecture & Morality has been a personal favorite for maybe four years), but this was the year I really fell down the rabbit hole.

Largely it was in part to finally seeing OMD live; their spectacular March show, their first in NYC since 1988, absolutely knocked me on my ass, and opened me up to the true breadth and depth of their catalog, and the two subsequent shows they played here in September only further solidified their greatness in my mind.  I spent most of my summer and fall in full-on obsession, tearing through their back catalog, watching old music videos and documentaries on Youtube, ordering live DVD’s (including this absolutely spectacular performance from the band’s first-phase synthpunk prime packaged in with a european reissue of A&M) and figuring out how to rip the audio from them to carry around on my iPod.  My charts are slightly wonky due to a nearly six month period last year where scrobbling was out of commission on my computer, but they were far and away my most listened to band in 2011.  The year was, to my mind, The Year Of OMD.

And so in many ways this pick is a symbolic one, a placeholder for OMD’s entire catalog and the way it entered my life in 2011.  And yet, History Of Modern would be deserving even without all that other stuff.  From “New Holy Ground”’s haunting sensitivity to “Sometimes”’s downbeat Moby-isms to “The Right Side”’s motorik chug to “History Of Modern (Part I)“’s bright apocalypse, History Of Modern finds OMD touching on virtually every style and mood they’ve played with in the past, and evidences their continued mastery of each. History Of Modern is not just a welcome return from one of the great, unfairly unheralded bands of the synthpop revolution, but a shockingly strong album from a band at a phase in their careers that generally finds artists engaging in a lot of laurel-resting and goodwill-coasting.

If there’s any fudging on my part going on here, it’s in that I probably didn’t listen to History Of Modern quite as much as the other choices that made my list this year, primarily because I spent so much of my year (and particularly late summer / early fall) listening to the whole vast rest of OMD’s catalog, or at least large chunks of it.  (I still haven’t spent much time digging into the post-Paul Humphries era, aside from the singles from that time; I should probably give at least Sugar Tax its proper due, judging from the reviews.)  That wasn’t because of any real shortcomings on History Of Modern’s part, it was just a factor of a) time and b) the exceptional nature of OMD’s earlier work. History of Modern’s high points stand up to anything else in OMD’s catalog, and its consistency rivals that of anything they’ve done excepting Architecture & Morality.  It’s a worthy album of their artistic legacy, and at this late stage in OMD’s career, that’s saying something.

[I’m quasi-violating one of my cardinal rules here: History Of Modern was, by all accounts I can find, released in late 2010.  From what I remember earlier in the year, there was either a delayed American release or an American re-release or some such similar jiggery-pokery in early 2011, but even if I’m wrong on that account, this album (and all the attendent other stuff that comes with it) was too essential, too integral to my 2011 to be left off.  Hobgoblins of small minds and such.]

Fall's Idylls playlist cover art

PropertyOfZack Playlist: Fall’s Idylls

Fall's Idylls playlist cover art

As promised, here’s a downloadable version of my PropertyOfZack Playlist

When warm green summer flings turn cold and brown, and all things, even love, wind down, I strangely find myself at ease in the chilly air and the falling leaves.  Somehow, wrapped in cold and gray, it feels ok to not feel ok.

Fall’s Idylls

  1. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – New Holy Ground
  2. Lindsey Buckingham – Shut Us Down
  3. Sparks The Rescue – Vanities
  4. The Dangerous Summer – Surfaced (Acoustic)
  5. Never Shout Never – Until I Die Alone
  6. The Narrative – I’ve Been Thinking
  7. Nick Drake – Road
  8. Tancred – Lion Hands
  9. This Providence – Keeping On Without You
  10. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – She’s Leaving

(click album cover to download)

PropertyOfZack Playlist : : Thrice, American Dream Records, Staff


We debuted our PropertyOfZack Playlist feature with Thrice just last week, so we’re thrilled to have them back in their weekly spot. Joining the band is American Dream Records (The Graduate, Ace Enders, Hawthorne Heights), and our reviewer, Jesse Richman. Check out the Playlists and listen to the songs while reading everyone’s thoughts!

(Click on image to listen in Spotify)
When warm green summer flings turn cold and brown, and all things, even love, wind down, I strangely find myself at ease in the chilly air and the falling leaves.  Somehow, wrapped in cold and gray, it feels ok to not feel ok. – Jesse Richman

(Click on image to listen in Spotify)
Fall has settled into the North Georgia mountains. There are lingering moments of summer sun during the days, but the nights are filled with the crisp, cold air that lets you know change is coming. For me, that’s what Fall has always been representative of.  It is a transitional time, both environmentally and socially, when leaves and lives fade away, the energy and buzz of summer runs out, and all you can do is begin to prepare yourself for the seemingly endless winter.  
Personally, I’ve always felt that Fall connects with music more so than any other season. Maybe it’s because so much of the music I love has elements of what the season itself represents. Maybe it’s a nostalgia for being in a certain place with a certain person at a certain time. Or maybe there’s just something that changes when at the end of the day it’s just you, the music you love, and that cold, quiet air outside.
This is a collection of songs that I connect with all of those feelings. – Joe Cubera

(Click on image to listen in Spotify)
Tom Waits – Goin’ Out West
Tom Waits – Alice
Tom Waits – Cold Cold Ground
If you’ve never heard Tom Waits, he’s one of my favorite humans. These three songs should give you a brief glimpse at the span of his work. Get into it. – Dustin Kensrue
The Beatles – Get Back *Song is currently not on Spotify
Quite possibly my kids’ favorite song. They both know all the words. I put my Beatles collection on shuffle the other day and this song came on. It made me smile. – Teppei Teranishi
Tom Waits – Johnsburg, Illinois
Tom Waits is one of my favorite artists. I love his insane and quirky stuff but I REALLY love him for his mellow stuff – so insanely beautiful. – Ed Breckenridge
Miles Davis – Blue in Green
Kind of Blue is one of my favorite records of all time. I’ve always really enjoyed Miles way of playing but,  what I did not realize until fairly recently is that Bill Evans piano playing is really what makes these songs sink deeper into my soul. I remember watching my dad listen to this song with his eyes closed in bliss. This song makes my eyes water every time I hear it. I love this song and love my Dad for introducing me to Jazz music. – Ed Breckenridge

Read More

So PropertyOfZack rolled out a new Playlist feature last week, where bands, labels and the like post playlists along with links to Spotify.  They’ve also decided to include playlists from staff as well, and I’m honored to be featured alongside (among others) one of my all-time favorite bands, Thrice.

The playlist is actually a fall playlist I was working on for here initially; you can get to it on Spotify by clicking the cassette tape logo above.  If you’re not on Spotify yet or prefer having files you can actually move around and stuff (weird thought – pretty soon MP3 files:cloud music::CDs:MP3 files), I’ll put a link to download the mix up later tonight (along with some spiffy cover art).

Fall is my favorite season of the year; this mix has been helping me sink into it the last few weeks.

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