The B-side of the tape had the duo veering away from the eclectic pop focus of the first side. Like Bowie’s “Low,” this was a program of two halves and the hints of imperial period Depeche Mode came out here in full flower. Jones + Sky had been covering my favorite Mode single, “Strangelove” in their live sets of late, but the track here was dubbed “[Strange] Love.” The pair have turned their [great] cover version into something far off of the beaten path. The song has been exploded into feature length with an expansive buildup where Jones was in full dark VoiceOver mode. They’ve turned the track into something far more sinister.
It now played like a track from Pulp’s “This Is Hardcore.” Mr. Jones would recite lyrical fragments of the song in VoiceOver style while pushing out further with text of his own intertwining with the more familiar words of the song as the music bed built up. When the track eventually cued the familiar intro to “Strangelove” and the song began in earnest it almost came as a relief as the cover of the tune took the song back to the sunnier climes of the original version. Jones’ phrasing was not a million miles away from Dave Gahan here, but he attacked the song with a lighter, defter, touch.
If that song was an admission of the influence that Depeche Mode had on the creative outlook of Jones + Sky, then the next track did nothing to dispel that notion. In fact, “Black B-Sides” was the point where the shadow of the Basildon quartet engulfed our heroes. It’s simply the best track not to have issued from “Black Celebration” or “Music For the Masses.” The music bed here was more perverse and bleeptronic than the DM of that era, but Jones vocals were filtered in effects that only heightened the Gahanity of it all. At this point, the duo were channeling DM more strongly even than Red Flag on “Russian Radio,” which I thought was an obscure DM B-side for an embarrassingly long time!
The final track began with an intro straight out of “Masses” era Mode, but that aura was quickly dispelled when Jones entered the song. The track, “The Bardo Of Becoming,” certainly lived up to its name and Jones’ offstage yoga practice as he provided VoiceOver text inspired by the Tibetian Book Of The Dead. Possibly, the first such blending of that tome with modern synthpop. The result is pretty unique and becomes an outlier for where they duo might go next. I can’t think of anyone working in that idiom otherwise after the year of, say, 1975; making the decision to go there rather canny. Why should prog rockers have all of the fun? If OMD could bring back the Mellotron in 1981, then I’ve heard equally unlikely things work out successfully.
Jones + Sky say that there was more where this came from as they were coming through a period of much productivity. I like how they are adhering to the EP format thus far as it feels welcome next to their output thus far. It allows the still new partnership the chance to experiment and work out their influences as they develop from release to release. Releasing an EP every six months or so allows us to tag along easily. Though Sky and Duvall are Visage alumni [and even Jones sang at the final Visage concert held last Halloween at the New Romantic Festival], the sound here was definitely guided by the hand of Depeche Mode on side B, with the A-side being more eclectic. Though the version of “Strangelove” was a bold new statement of an old favorite, “Infinite Hearts” and “The Bardo Of Becoming” were intriguing tributaries I’d like to hear them pursue further.
As the graphic inset at top shows, the duo will be performing at the Some Bizzare Party Night Live at Canal125 in London this Friday evening with the infamous Stevo and Rob Green on the decks as DJs and Council of War also playing. Then they earn their Depeche Mode stripes honestly when they play at the Depeche Mode Convention in Estonia on November 12th of this year. I’ll be eager to hear the next fruits of their labors. In the meanwhile, Look for the “Maria” EP to be released on limited edition cassette and a wide variety of DL formats on August 19th on the duo’s Bandcamp Page.
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