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Catching up with John Foxx January 23, 2016

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When I started this blog to write about music, mainly for my own pleasure and to stave off the boredom of being between jobs, I posted several times about John Foxx for two reasons: first, I like his music, and second, he’s prolific. Looks like the most recent of his albums I posted about were the live album In the Glow and some reissues back in 2009. So what’s he done lately? I’ll skip reissues and compilations and remixes.

 

jf1D.N.A. (2010, one CD and companion DVD with videos). It’s a collection of tracks created for collaborators to make videos from. Many of the videos are good, but the CD doesn’t really flow as an album, mixing beat-oriented and ambient tracks.

 

jf2Interplay (2011). The first album by new project John Foxx and the Maths. More song-oriented than some of the preceding albums but built entirely with vintage analogue synthesizers. Retro synthpop, basically.

 

jf3Torn Sunset (2011). An ambient collaboration with Theo Travis, who’s also worked with Robert Fripp and various jazz and progressive rock musicians. I like Foxx’s work with Harold Budd, but Travis’s flute pushed the line between ambient and new age a bit too much.

 

jf4Nighthawks (2011). A new release packaged with a reissue of the Foxx/Budd Translucence/Drift Music albums, this teams Foxx and Budd with Ruben Garcia on more piano/electronics ambient music.

 

jf5The Shape of Things (2011 and 2012). The second release by John Foxx and the Maths came in two versions a few months apart. The first was a 14-track album with an 8-track bonus disc of remixes and collaborations, the second was a single disc with all of the album tracks plus one from the bonus disc and one new track. It basically continues the Maths’ melodic retro electronic song style, if slightly darker.

 

jf6Evidence (2012). John Foxx and the Maths continue to develop their style, but this album is a mix of new material, collaborations, and remixes rather than a single piece of work conceived as a new album.

 

jf7Analogue Circuit: Live At The Roundhouse (2012). This is a big package from a big concert, with John Foxx and the expanded version of the Maths and special guest, former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, playing songs from Ultravox’s 1978 album Systems of Romance, Foxx’s 1980 Metamatic era, and the recent Maths material on one DVD and two CDs.

 

jf8Rhapsody (2013). Currently the final recording by John Foxx and the Maths, this is a “live in the studio” album, presenting solo Foxx, Maths, and Ultravox songs as they might be played live but with the sound quality of a studio recording.

 

jf9Gazelle Twin/I Speak Machine: Exponentialism (2013). Not exactly a Foxx album, this is an EP featuring four Foxx/Ultravox songs as covered by two women who worked with Foxx in recent years on Maths projects, released by Foxx’s label.

 

jf10Empty Avenues (2013). Musicians from The Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle, of the Ghost Box label, known for retro/hauntological electronic music, collaborate with Foxx under the name John Foxx and the Belbury Circle. It’s a beautifully melodic EP, the least synth-purist thing he’s done in years, with some of his best singing and songwriting in a long time.

 

jf11European Splendour (2013) Another EP, this time in collaboration with Jori Hulkkonen. More electronic than Empty Avenues but just as strong and melodic. These two EPs rank among his best recordings since the 1980s. Or ever, really.

 

jf12B-Movie (Ballardian Video Neuronica) (2014). Back to the conceptual, this instrumental electronic album sounds like outtakes from Metamatic and soundtracked a video inspired by the work of JG Ballard.

 

jf13Evidence Of Time Travel (2014). More conceptual instrumental electronica, this collaboration with Steve D’Agostino is the soundtrack for a multimedia work by the artist Karborn (apparently Foxx’s son). Somewhat more austere and abstract than B-Movie, but not overwhelmingly dissimilar.

 

jf14London Overgrown (2015). Inspired by the experience of moving to London in the 1970s as well as by Ballard’s disaster novels and surrealist art, Foxx has long incorporated references to visions of an abandoned, overgrown London in his music over the years. This is something of a summation of the concept, recycling a couple of tracks from other sources, including bits of Cathedral Oceans with the vocals removed. But it works well and nobody else makes ambient quite like this.

 

jf15Ghost Harmonic: Codex (2015). Another strong ambient album, this collaboration between Foxx, Benge (from the Maths), and violinist Diana Yukawa.

 

That’s a lot of music to absorb. The critics loved the Maths albums; I liked them quite a bit, but my favourites here would be the two EPs from 2013 and last year’s ambient albums.

John Foxx: In Mysterious Ways (1985) October 4, 2010

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John Foxx: In Mysterious Ways

John Foxx: In Mysterious Ways

A bit of background: In the late 1970s, Roxy Music recreated itself as a smooth, glossy, pop band with little of the invention and creativity of its early albums. Flesh + Blood, for instance, was expensively produced, commercial dance pop. For a lot of fans — including myself, sometimes — it feels too conventional and commercial to rank as one of their classics.And yet… I wouldn’t want to lose songs like “Oh Yeah,” “Over You,” or “Same Old Scene.”

A little more background: in the mid-’80s, a lot of the bands that were playing synth-heavy, arty new wave/postpunk music a few years earlier moved away from their roots, shooting for either pure pop appeal or some kind of rockist authenticity, adding more conventional instruments to their sound and, often, moving away from oblique or abstract lyrics to U2-style anthems. Ultravox started in that direction on Lament and lost all traces of their ealier sound(s) on U-VOX; the Simple Minds went bombastic on Sparkle in the Rain and AOR on Once Upon a Time; OMD became a catchy pop band; the Human League and Depeche Mode experimented with guitars; Gary Numan tried to get funky… maybe it was the result of feeling that they’d done what they could with their original styles and wanting to expand their horizons; maybe it was the way synthesizers became a big part of mainstream ’80s rock and pop and were no longer a futuristic, cutting edge sound.

It’s in that context that John Foxx’s fourth solo album appeared. His first, Metamatic, was almost all synthesized; The Garden was something of a return to his Ultravox sound and (it seemed to me, at least) someone taking the idea of “new romantic” as more than a fashion statement; The Golden Section continued in that direction with the addition of some Beatles/psychedelia influences. He was, in his own way, making a move similar to many of his peers by using more guitars.

But In Mysterious Ways caught Foxx fans flatfooted. Though he’d had some chart success in the UK before, it had been a matter of the time being right for someone doing what he was doing. In Mysterious Ways, by comparison, felt like the work of someone consciously changing his style in an attempt at getting more mainstream success. It has more conventional big ’80s production, female backing vocals that are at times over the top, and the love song lyrics are a long way from the Ballardian feel of Metamatic. Essentially, it’s Foxx’s version of Roxy’s Flesh + Blood, or Bowie’s Let’s Dance, the big pop move. Except that Foxx’s didn’t work. The fans weren’t crazy about it and no new audience materialized.

For years I thought of In Mysterious Ways as sort of the equivalent to his former band’s U-VOX: the moment where it all went wrong. Ultravox broke up after U-VOX, and Foxx didn’t release any new albums for more than a decade after In Mysterious Ways. But here’s the thing: I can’t listen to U-VOX, but I really enjoy In Mysterious Ways. Foxx’s big dramatic love songs, even through the glossy production, feel real. He sounds genuinely happy and in love. Where his vocals on Metamatic were generally cool and controlled, he’s unrestrainedly emotional here.

In 2008, In Mysterious Ways was reissued as a double CD set with a number of previously unreleased tracks. Some strike me as not just commercial but uninspired; the bonus disc isn’t going to strike many as a lost masterpiece. But there’s one interesting change: one of the original album tracks, the pounding and overblown “This Side of Paradise,” was replaced by the nearly acoustic ballad “Spin Away.” Its production doesn’t quite match the rest of the album, but the feel is appropriate. One thing I hadn’t consciously noticed before: “This Side of Paradise” sounds very much like it was intentionally modeled on Simple Minds’ Sparkle in the Rain, with its big damn overproduction by Steve Lillywhite. Worked better for Simple Minds, though.

I was in a bit of a mood this afternoon and put this album on for the heck of it, and almost instantly I was smiling and feeling a lot better. That’s pretty damn good for an album that seemed like a disappointment 25 years ago.

John Foxx: Metamatic (1980) January 30, 2010

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John Foxx: Metamatic

Thirty years ago I’d just really started to get into punk and new wave and electronic music. I really liked the music of Gary Numan, who combined all of the above, and I’d read interviews with him in which he mentioned Ultravox as an influence. But I couldn’t find their records anywhere.

Meanwhile, a friend at high school had discovered the UK music papers, which had a lot of news about all of this new music we were curious about. The first one I picked up was an issue of Record Mirror — not exactly the most respected of the bunch, I later learned, but it had articles on Kate Bush and the Clash, so it looked worth a shot.

And this was there:

Record Mirror review

It was a combined review of Japan’s Quiet Life and Foxx’s Metamatic, the first I knew of his solo career, and even though the review seems hopelessly vague about the sound of the record, I knew I had to have it.  That was 30 years ago. Which is why this post now. I’ve blathered a lot about Foxx here already, so I won’t go on about Metamatic, and what a brilliant and groundbreaking album it was, and how great it still sounds, and how the whole second disc of bonus material with the last reissue makes it worth buying again.

Funny thing… I eventually got into Japan, too, and bought Quiet Life. I love it, but the Roxy Music/disco/Moroder sound of it makes it seem more dated in a way than the relatively primitive synth sounds of Metamatic. They became timeless with Gentlemen Take Polaroids, I think.

So, time to get back to business as usual around here. I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I didn’t have as much spare time as I was used to, which is why the paucity of posts lately. But I think things are getting back in balance. And if not, well, when the contract is up I may be really prolific here.

John Foxx: In the Glow (2009) and various reissues November 2, 2009

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John Foxx: In the Glow, Shifting City, the Pleasures of ElectricityYes, I’ve posted about John Foxx several times already. But if he keeps putting out albums…

Unlike his four previous releases this year, his latest albums are expanded reissues of previously available material, remastered and in some cases remixed, and shuffling some material previously available on other releases.

In the Glow has the most previously unreleased material, in the form of live recordings from two 1983 concerts. There are no songs that haven’t been released in some form before, but many of these particular versions are new to CD. Nine songs appeared as the first disc in the 2002 double CD The Golden Section Tour/The Omnidelic Exotour, which is now out of print. There are 26 songs on this new release, though many appear twice. There are some differences in the performances, though, which makes the duplication worthwhile. For fans of Foxx’s most commercially successful era, this may be the album to get, as it’s a full band playing songs from The Garden and The Golden Section as well as Ultravox’s Systems of Romance. Sounds like the drummer is playing electronic drums on all the songs, and Foxx seems to be losing control of his voice a little towards the end of the first concert, but for anyone who wanted to know what a live Foxx concert sounded like back then, this is well worth getting. The sound quality, incidentally, is very good. Much better than the bootlegs that have been floating around for years.

After these concerts, Foxx released one more album, In Mysterious Ways, and then disappeared from the public eye for over a decade. He returned in 1997 with Cathedral Oceans, an ambient album, and Shifting City, a collaboration with the relatively unknown Louis Gordon. Shifting City is a bit odd — it’s a guitar-free album, totally electronic, harking back to his Metamatic album, but some of the songs draw on the Beatles and psychedelic influences that were noticeable in his music circa The Golden Section. Songs like “Crash,” “Shadow Man,” and “Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible” are somewhere between techno and industrial, but “Through My Sleeping,” though electronic, is unmistakably influenced by the Beatles’s psychedelic period. There are a couple of forgettable, underdeveloped slow tunes (“Forgotten Years” and “Everyone”), but overall, despite the slightly inconsistent tone of the album, it was a very welcome return. The reissue has been somewhat remixed and remastered, and the first disc has three bonus tracks, a demo version of “Shadow Man” and Subterranean Omnidelic Exotour versions of two Ultravox songs. The second disc of the Shifting City reissue is the second disc of the 2002 Golden Section Tour/Omnidelic Exotour mentioned above. That in itself was an expansion of two very limited edition releases called Subterranean Omnidelic Exotour, which I don’t have. They’re live-in-studio versions of songs played on tour by Foxx and Gordon, released in lieu of an actual live album. Some older songs sound a little thin and flat with only synths; some sound quite good, and some Shifting City songs have a more dynamic feel.

The Pleasures of Electricity was the second Foxx/Gordon album, originally released in 2001. It’s more stylistically consistent than Shifting City, hewing closer to Foxx’s 1980 Metamatic album and classic Kraftwerk. When I first heard it in 2001 I thought it was a bit samey and unoriginal, but over time it’s grown a lot in my estimation. This reissue is a bit odd, though. The first disc is the original album with four songs remixed. The second disc is the original album with those songs in their original form, plus two previously unreleased songs from the same recording sessions. There’s a lot of duplication here, but the album, the alternate mixes of those four songs, and the two bonus songs wouldn’t fit on one disc. This way, at least, fans who missed the original can have both versions of the album. And fans who have the original are already used to having a lot of duplication in our collections.

And speaking of duplication: two other Foxx CDs were reissued recently. Impossible and A New Kind of Man, released in 2008, were originally limited to a thousand copies each, but have been re-pressed due to popular demand. Impossible was largely rerecorded versions of songs from Foxx’s back catalogue, but it also included two new tracks. A New Kind of Man was a live recording from a 2007 tour in which Foxx played his 1980 Metamatic album and some related songs. The only change was that one song on Impossible was remixed; the remix was made available as a free mp3 download, so people who bought the limited edition wouldn’t have to buy the CD again. Very thoughtful and much appreciated, that was.

I’m going to guess that that’s it for John Foxx for 2009, but there’s always the chance something else may pop up. He has several albums in the works and has been talking with other people about starting new projects.The future may yet see collaborations with Leftfield’s Paul Daley, Benge, Vincent Gallo, Harold Budd (again), Robin Guthrie (again)….

John Foxx: Metamatica, Urban Motets, Metatronic, Metadelic (unreleased) September 11, 2009

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John Foxx: Urban Motets

John Foxx: Urban Motets

John Foxx recorded three albums as leader of Ultravox in the late ’70s and four solo albums in the early ’80s before disappearing from the music scene for several years. In the late ’90s he reappeared with two albums on his own Metamatic label, the ambient Cathedral Oceans and a collaboration with Louis Gordon, Shifting City. Since then, he’s released more than two dozen albums, including collaborations with several other musicians, interview albums, live albums, and more.

But there are a few that fans are still wondering about.
(more…)

John Foxx: The Quiet Man (2009) August 16, 2009

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John Foxx: The Quiet Man

John Foxx: The Quiet Man

The remarkably productive John Foxx has now had four CD releases this year, and more are expected. The Quiet Man isn’t a conventional musical release, though; it’s somewhere between an ambient music album and an audiobook.

Since early in his solo career Foxx has been writing short, surreal pieces of fiction about the Quiet Man. He’s reportedly been working them into a book, due possibly this year, but in the meantime, he’s recorded a an album of ambient music with Quiet Man texts read by Justin Barton. Foxx himself read part of the material on a previous CD, but apparently felt the anonymity of the Quiet Man character would be aided by having someone with a London accent, rather than Foxx’s northern accent, reading the material.

The Quiet Man is an odd album to listen to. You can’t just listen to it as music because the focus of the recording is on the spoken words. But the surreal nature of many of the stories, and the quiet ambient music in the background, make it easy at times to drift away and forget to listen closely enough. I’m tempted to listen to it with a printout of the relevant texts available on the Metamatic website, to focus my concentration and see if there are differences between the written and recorded versions.

If there’s an ideal listener out there who hasn’t yet heard of John Foxx, that person would probably be someone who enjoys reading J.G. Ballard’s short stories while listening to Harold Budd. For people who are already fans, buying it shouldn’t take much thought. As I posted on the Metamatic forum, it’s a remarkable work. The Quiet Man isn’t something new; it’s always been there in the background, little excerpts showing up here and there over the years, but this is the most sustained exposure we’ve had to it yet. Foxx’s lyrics, and the track titles of his instrumental pieces, have always been strongly evocative, instantly generating images in the mind’s eye. The Quiet Man draws those words and images together, linking the seemingly disparate grey concrete world of Metamatic and the lush and verdant world of The Garden, among others, while also giving me a lot of flashbacks to reading JG Ballard, walking alone through unfamiliar cities, being lost in movies…

Ultravox!: Ultravox! (1977, reissued 2006) August 16, 2009

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Ultravox!: Ultravox!

Ultravox!: Ultravox!

Punk imagery, an exclamation point swiped from krautrockers Neu!, the presence of ’80s superproducer Steve Lillywhite and experimental/electronic music legend Brian Eno, and, for listeners now, the knowledge that they were to become pioneers of electronic new wave… this should be the sound of yesterday’s tomorrow.

So it’s kind of surprising just how futuristic-sounding this album isn’t.

There’s not a lot of punk energy in the mix yet (though it’s present on their next album, Ha! Ha! Ha! and their single “Young Savage”); instead, there’s a mix of mid-’70s sounds. A bit of prog , some glam, a little funk and disco, and some basic rock and roll. There’s barely a synth to be heard. The opening track, the rocker “Satday Night in the City of the Dead” is just bass, drums, electric guitar, harmonica, and John Foxx’s fast talk-sing vocals.  “Life at Rainbow’s End” and “Wide Boys” vary things a little, but they’re still recognizably rock.

So where are the hints of everything to come? Well, key influence Roxy Music is certainly evident, in the dramatic “Slip Away,” the first song to make use of keyboards on the album, the elegant light funk of “Dangerous Rhythm” (Foxx even imitates Bryan Ferry’s delivery occasionally), and the funk/disco of “Lonely Hunter,” which may also owe a little to David Bowie’s plastic soul period. The sense of drama, the gradual building up of tension, and the prominent use of Billy Currie’s violin in “The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned” mark it as something of a precursor to the next lineup’s first big hit, “Vienna.”

The two standout tracks, though, are the songs that close out each side of the original LP. “I Want to Be a Machine” is a suitably Kraftwerkish concept, but ironically, it starts out sounding like an early Bowie song, with acoustic guitar and violin for the verses and the first chorus, before bass, drums, and electric guitar kick in for the second chorus, three minutes into the song. With the changes of style that happen throughout the seven minute long song, and the violin-led crescendo ending that makes up the last minute and a half, it sounds a lot more prog than punk, and musically nothing else they did sounds much like it. But the sense of alienation, and the imagery of the lyrics, have plenty of echoes in later Ultravox and in solo John Foxx music as well.

The last song on side two is the much shorter, quieter rumination “My Sex,” in which Foxx speaks over a sparse backing of piano and synth, with an Enoesque keyboard melody for a chorus. Unlike “I Want to Be a Machine,” this does anticipate a lot of later Ultravox and Foxx music. It retains the former’s alienation and distinctive lyrics, but strips the emotion from the vocals and adds a much more electronic, less rock sound.

The CD reissue adds four bonus tracks: live versions of “Slip Away” and “The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned” that add a little more energy, a live version of “My Sex” that’s a little less sparse, and the appropriately named non-album track “Modern Love,” which starts out with a chugging guitar/bass/drums/keyboard sound similar to the more upbeat tracks on the first Modern Lovers album. By the chorus it sounds a bit more like a fairly generic new wave song, but it’s entertaining to hear a band that later became influential itself pay tribute to another band. (I really can’t imagine it’s just a coincidence.)

It may be hard to hear a lot of connections between this album and, say, Vienna (the first Ultravox album with Midge Ure replacing Foxx) or Metamatic (the first Foxx solo album), but you can hear the progression leading to those albums happen in songs like “My Sex” and in the changes in the Ultravox sound on their next two albums. It’s like comparing William Hartnell’s Doctor Who with David Tennant’s — at first glance they may as well be completely separate entities, but the second wouldn’t have happened without the first, and a lot happened in between that shows evolution in action.

John Foxx and Robin Guthrie: Mirrorball (2009) May 17, 2009

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John Foxx and Robin Guthrie: Mirrorball

John Foxx and Robin Guthrie: Mirrorball

Having heard the albums Foxx and Guthrie recorded (separately) with ambient musician Harold Budd, I expected an instrumental album with layers of piano, synth, and Guthrie’s distinctive reverbed guitar sound. So it came as something of a surprise to hear Foxx singing on several songs on this album.

The end result is something like the Cocteau Twins’ album Victorialand crossed with Foxx’s Cathedral Oceans project. While this is the warmest, most melodic, most accessible of Foxx’s three albums so far this year, it’s not quite pop music. When Foxx sings, he draws, as he did on Cathedral Oceans, on the sound of traditional church music, going so far as to sing in something that sounds at times like Latin, Italian, or Spanish, but isn’t. It’s like the invented language the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser often used, and it adds an evocative, distant sense of mystery even to songs like “Estrellita,” the song that stands out as the one most likely to appeal to people who’ve never heard of Foxx or Guthrie.

Guthrie’s guitar playing and sound have always evoked descriptions like atmospheric or ethereal, and that’s certainly the case here. He provides his usual restrained and delicate touch, playing simple guitar lines with plenty of reverb, creating a paradoxically austere yet full sound. Foxx’s vocals work similarly, usually being treated with a bit of echo. Some songs add acoustic guitar, piano, or unobtrusive programmed percussion. There’s an emotional weight to the album; it’s not dry or abstract (unlike some of the D’Agostino/Foxx/Jansen album earlier this year). The words may not tell you what to feel, but you’ll find your own appropriate reactions. This is beautiful music.

You can see a video for “Estrellita” on Foxx’s Quiet Man blog. If you like it and order the album from Foxx’s preferred retailer, Townsend Records, you’ll get a download link for an exclusive extended version of one of the songs.

D’Agostino/Foxx/Jansen: My Secret Life (2009) March 29, 2009

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secretlifeBegun as a collaboration between John Foxx (once of Ultravox) and Steve Jansen (once of Japan), the original recordings for this album reportedly gathered a little dust while Foxx worked on other projects, and it was Steve D’Agostino who reworked and completed the album. Though it’s the work of three people, this is sparse, quiet music. Jansen played gongs, Foxx played piano, D’Agostino added some electronics. It’s ambient music, sometimes leaning a little closer to the isolationist end of the ambient spectrum (i.e., more about noise and texture than melody), but if it’s not as effortlessly pretty as a Harold Budd album, it’s never as harsh as the more extreme isolationist artists.

Foxx’s piano is reminiscent of both Erik Satie and Harold Budd, but it’s only one part of the mix, often not there at all. Instead, there are sustained drones, chimes, and occasional electronic sounds, against which Foxx occasionally places brief melodic passages. It’s very subtle though at times unsettling music. It reminds me a little of some of The Caretaker’s hauntological recordings, in which moments of melody are dimly perceptible through drones and smears of sound, but this is probably more accessible to the average listener.

Jansen’s gongs make this album easily distinguishable from Foxx’s past forays into ambient. Unlike the Cathedral Oceans albums, there’s no singing of any kind, and the feel and texture are very different from those of Translucence/Drift Music, his Harold Budd collaboration. It’s possible that some Foxx fans might find this album harder to get into; I’m not sure what Jansen fans would make of it, because I’m not very familiar with his post-Japan work. D’Agostino is a relative newcomer, but I’d certainly be interested in hearing more from him.

If this album has any shortcomings, the main one would be its length. At only 36 minutes, it’s in no danger of overstaying its welcome, and I would gladly listen to more of this.

John Foxx: My Lost City (2009) March 19, 2009

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John Foxx: My Lost City

John Foxx: My Lost City

After three late ’70s albums as the original leader of Ultravox and four solo albums in the early ’80s, John Foxx seemed to disappear from the world of music for a decade or so. He returned with two albums: an electronic dance music album in collaboration with Louis Gordon, which built on his early electronic explorations on 1980’s Metamatic, and the more surprising Cathedral Oceans, a mostly instrumental ambient recording influenced by church music.

If there was anything in Foxx’s earlier albums that suggested he might produce something like Cathedral Oceans, it was the title song on his second album, The Garden. Though there was some percussion and some lyrics, it stood in contrast to the rest of the album, being a slow and pastoral electronic track, ending with birdsong and distant and distorted voices sounding vaguely like some kind of liturgical chant.

Much of My Lost City, it turns out, is from the missing years, and it’s the sound of John Foxx gradually developing the ideas that became Cathedral Oceans. There are bootlegs of a 1989 concert with some of this material, but My Lost City has the studio versions. And more.

Some of the songs do sound like church music from some other world — Foxx is singing what might be Latin, heavily echoed, as synths provide a minimal background. Others are purely instrumental, like “Holywell Lane,” a piano and synth track reminiscent of Harold Budd, and other more austere electronic pieces. The brief “City of Disappearances” sounds like it was recorded on a church organ.

So, it’s historically significant for Foxx fans. How is it as an album? Pretty good. The Cathedral Ocean-like tracks aren’t as minimalist as the actual Cathedral Oceans albums; some of the pieces are more conventionally melodic than some of Foxx’s other instrumental music. Considering how many reissues and rerecordings have come our way over the last year or two, it’s great to have some new music — well, new on CD, at least.

Is it a good starting place for a new fan? I’m not so sure. It isn’t quite as cohesive as his other albums are. Better to check out a Cathedral Oceans album or the two-disc Translucence/Drift Music album by Foxx and Budd. If you like those, you may well want to explore this earlier effort. However, My Lost City is reportedly a limited edition, and it may not be available indefinitely. It’s available exclusively through Townsend Records, though resellers are already offering ridiculously overpriced copies.

John Foxx update January 30, 2009

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My Lost City

John Foxx: My Lost City

A few posts back I talked about John Foxx’s early albums being reissued. This year, he’ll have at least three new albums. The first one out will be My Lost City, a collection of instrumental tracks that Foxx has accumulated over the years. That will be followed by A Secret Life, a collaboration with Steve D’Agostino and Steve Jansen (the latter a former member of Japan with his brother David Sylvian), and Mirrorball, a collaboration with Robin Guthrie, known for, among other things, the Cocteau Twins, Violet Indiana, a few solo albums, and several albums with Harold Budd, who has himself worked with Foxx.

Like a lot of other musicians these days, Foxx has taken to the Internet to promote and sell his albums rather than trying to stay signed to one of the troubled major labels. Many of his recent CDs, in fact, have been limited runs of a thousand copies, selling primarily to a core fanbase who’ve been following his music for years. (Me, for instance.) He’s been using the web to get his message out in a variety of ways (Myspace, the Quiet Man blog, a youtube channel). There’s also the Metamatic website and bulletin board.

I hope all my favourite musicians don’t follow Foxx’s lead; there have been years when I’ve had to buy four or five of his CDs. I couldn’t afford to keep up with that kind of output from too many musicians. Well, if Kate Bush, for instance, put out a series of reasonably priced limited run CDs of previously unreleased music — outtakes, demos, experiments, whatever — I’d find a way to afford them. His Name Is Alive has released a lot of that kind of material, and I’ve only bought a bit of it, focusing on the major albums instead, because of concerns about quality vs quantity, cost, etc. For now, though, I don’t mind that Foxx is really taking advantage of the possibilities a small but devoted fanbase offers.

1980 never ended: Ultravox and John Foxx January 23, 2009

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Metamatic

John Foxx: Metamatic

In 1979, Gary Numan’s song “Are Friends Electric,” with its icy synthesizer sound, damn near changed my life. But this post is not about Gary Numan. It’s about a band I first heard about in interviews with Numan, who named them as a key influence: Ultravox.

Imagine young musicians working under the influence of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, and punk, and you’ve got early Ultravox. The original version, led by John Foxx, recorded three albums to widespread apathy. Foxx left the band for a solo career; the other members regrouped and brought in new lead singer/guitarist Midge Ure.

Vienna

Ultravox: Vienna

Foxx’s first solo LP was in stores before the first new Ultravox LP, but the latter was a much bigger commercial success, thanks to the album’s title track, Vienna. Over the next few years Foxx released three more solo albums and the Ure-led Ultravox released four more albums, but after 1986 or so both disappeared from the public eye, as Foxx withdrew from the music world and Ure left Ultravox for a solo career of his own.

And that’s where the story doesn’t end so much as take a long rest.

In the 1990s, a new version of Ultravox appeared, with only one original member, and produced two new albums, about which no more will ever be said. Meanwhile, Foxx reappeared with two new albums on his own label, the ambient Cathedral Oceans and the electronic dance music album Shifting City, recorded with his new creative partner Louis Gordon. To the surprise and delight of his fans Foxx entered a productive new phase of his career; he’s released several new albums with Gordon, two more Cathedral Oceans albums, an ambient collaboration with Harold Budd, some “live in the studio” albums, some spoken word interview albums, and a collection of material from before his comeback, a couple of songs of which had been released as singles under the name Nation 12. And more. He has several albums in the works, as well.

Meanwhile, in the Ultravox camp, Midge Ure and viola/synth player Billy Currie each carried on with their own solo careers, making music with little sonic debt to Ultravox.

What makes them relevant now? Well, Foxx has been mentioned as an influence by everyone from Metamatics to Hot Chip, and the Ure version of Ultravox has reformed for a concert tour later this year, selling out shows months in advance.

More importantly, for people who loved their albums way back when and those curious what the fuss is all about, there have been a number of reissues.  The three Foxx-era Ultravox albums, with a lot of great bonus tracks, were reissued in 2007, followed by a series of double CD reissues of Foxx’s solo albums and the current ongoing Ure Ultravox reissue program. Almost every available bit of bonus material has been compiled, filling the second disc in each set. Though some of that bonus material has been previously released, these are definitive editions for longtime fans and educational experiences for newcomers.

To the ears of a decades-long fan, it’s all wonderful. For newcomers interested in early electronic pop, electronic new wave, the roots of synthpunk and electroclash, etc, some of the material on these albums is going to sound really dated. Not only because some of it has been so widely adopted and recycled, but because some of it turned out to be following a creative dead end, and some is simply let down by dated ’80s production. Nonetheless, at their best, albums like Metamatic and Vienna have an almost out-of-time feel that helps them hold up well today. Get started there (and the Foxx-era Ultravox album Systems of Romance); they may be enough. But if you get hooked, there’s so much more to discover.