BEST OF 2015: 11. New Order ‘Music Complete’

If anybody had tried to tell me in January that New Order would release an album I would place highly in my 2015 list, I would have laughed in their face. ‘Waiting For The Sirens Call’ was the sort of record you bought out of a sense of duty rather than enjoyment. ‘Get Ready’ had its moments but it was almost impossible to view the band as anything other than a spent creative force. When the news they’d signed to Mute emerged, it was intriguing but hardly a guarantee of brilliant music. Then came the dreadful early press photos and a rather familiar sense of doom descended. Even during early listens to first single ‘Restless’, I found myself balking at the lyric “I want a nice car, a girlfriend who’s as pretty as a star.” But then something clicked. The album came in the car with me for a few days and I found that a fair few of the songs were sticking as earworms from the off. When the time came to give the clear vinyl a whirl, I had the speakers turned up and something bordering on a sense of optimism. It did not disappoint.

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Having been so ready to be underwhelmed, the genuine pleasure I experienced listening to ‘Singularity’, ‘Plastic’, ‘Tutti Fruiti’ and ‘People On The High Line’ one after another was a shock. These are great, great songs. There’s no desire to be exclusive or on trend. These are songs meant to make you want to move. I’ve spent a minute or two staring at that last sentence, mulling over just how old it makes me sound but I think it captures the open, inviting energy at the heart of ‘Music Complete’.

Plastic’ has more than a nod to Donna Summer in its whirling rhythm while, in this company, ‘Restless’ suddenly sounds like vintage mid-period New Order. Elly Jackson from La Roux offers vocals on several tracks, ‘People On The High Line’ is an out and out mature pop banger with wonderful wide-panned percussion, but she also plays a part in a song I am almost inexplicably obsessed with.

Tutti Frutti’ should be a slightly embarrassing disco re-tread, bedecked with naive synths and a ludicrous deep-voiced delivery of the titular phrase at various points. But, despite my near constant, sometimes tiring, ironic filter on the world, it gets to me. It prompts idiotic grins and a warm, fuzzy euphoria from me with every play. The chorus is emphatic, despite the platitudinous line “You always make me high, whenever I feel low.” In unison with Jackson, Sumner sounds entirely sincere and cynicism flies out the window. The string pattern that comes in towards the end is utterly magical, used sparingly but providing a truly perfect finishing touch to a weirdly brilliant song.

Elsewhere, ‘Stray Dog’ features Iggy Pop intoning Sumner’s words to menacing effect and ‘Superheated’ features Brandon Flowers and manages to sound a bit like New Order covering The Killers without it being shit. Which is quite an achievement. One other figure from outside the band features in spirit if nothing else, as ‘Nothing But A Fool’ has that signature New Order bass sound despite a certain person’s absence from proceedings. On this evidence, they’re better off as they are.

It’s not a perfect album and the traditional weaknesses  remain but they are rarely an issue and, more importantly, completely eclipsed by the brilliance of a good chunk of this material. That four song run I mentioned earlier is a remarkable feature on a 2015 New Order record when you reflect on the past twenty years. The title, ‘Music Complete’, tells you that they knew they’d got it right this time and I’m certainly not going to argue. Does make you wonder who’s going to fly in from leftfield to deliver an unexpected belter in 2016 though.

BEST OF 2015: 12. Floating Points ‘Elaenia’

Great instrumental music has the capacity to take you out of yourself. Your emotional response is entirely dependent upon the notes, layers and textures, without language to influence and inform. Electronic music has often had the knack to induce wide-eyed euphoria by executing a neat switch or building a refrain up with such control that the release is felt by all. But, it often feels like you’re being manouevred into position for those big moments. It makes them no less thrilling but you can see them coming a mile off. Far more rare are pieces which play the long game, lulling you over time rather than hinging on one or two well chosen moments. Even rarer still is the instrumental album without any filler. ‘Elaenia’ is one such album and it is a joy from start to finish.

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Before hearing ‘Elaenia’, I learned that Sam Shepherd, who goes by the name Floating Points, has a PhD in neuroscience and is obsessed with Talk Talk’s remarkable final album ‘Laughing Stock’, including a particular emphasis on how the instruments were recorded. While plenty seem keen to major on the first detail, with tenuous analogies and barely plausible parallels drawn at will, I was far more excited by the second. Listen to the drum sound on ‘Ascension Day’ on that 1991 release and notice how incredibly present it feels in the room. For Shepherd, that was a musical lesson and when you hear the majority of the beats on ‘Elaenia’ it’s possible to note the comparison. Played on a kit rather than built on a laptop, the percussion on this wonderful record is one of many highlights. Take ‘Silhouettes (I, II & III)’ as an example. Emerging out of a digital pulse, the drums are up in the mix, skittering and rushing while the warm Fender Rhodes electric piano gathers furious momentum. When it eases into its slower, jazzier middle section and the strings emerge, it’s actually quite moving. The constituent parts are then meddled with in its final passage and it slowly unravels, depositing you gently at its conclusion. It’s a remarkable piece of music and central to this record’s appeal.

‘Argenté’ will play well with fans of Nils Frahm’s ‘Spaces’, occupying similarly open territory. ‘Peroration Six’ concludes proceedings and it’s the most ferocious piece here. It starts in similarly delicate fashion to a number of the other tracks but as the drums appear things start to mutate, with squally guitar sounds, brooding synths and an almost oppressive presentation. By its half way point it seems to be at full stretch but the drums then explode, the strings enter the fray and the whole thing lays siege to your mind. I played it half a dozen times in a row the first time I listened to the record and even then I could barely figure it out. But I suspect that’s partly the point because, just as you’re preparing yourself for a shattering conclusion it just drops out, a bar or two too soon. I still don’t claim to understand it but it is a fittingly bold way to close an album that occupies its own space with measured confidence. An intense, enigmatic listen, ‘Elaenia’ is one to play loud.