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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Bass-O-Matic October 17, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Here’s an album I’ve long thought about posting up in this slot – the William Orbit led dance/pop/electronica outfit Bass-O-Matic who appeared in 1990, released one great album, one album only slightly less great and that was that. Of course it’s not quite that simple for Orbit’s career was already well established and would continue to be so, though perhaps this is where he really surged ahead for it dates from that interesting period before Orbit became the go to guy for Madonna and other worthies for song co-writing and production and after quite a long solo career (he’d been releasing albums since the mid 1980s, some of which went under the Strange Cargo moniker).

A friend gave me a tape of this in 1990 – along with KLF, the first Massive Attack album and a remix album of Cure tracks – attempting to open me up to all things house, dance and electronica. And you know what, it worked! When grunge broke big the next year while I liked parts of it, the truth was that it felt more like metal for people who didn’t want to say they liked metal, and I was already captured by dance.

Another thought, when I saw the cover I was blown away. It was like dancey space rock – sure, a completely different direction to space rock but with odd nods towards it. How could it be otherwise with the playfulness around Set The Controls for the Heart of the Bass, a vivid re-imagining of Pink Floyd’s Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun for the 1990s which takes the good bits from the original and makes the resulting track better than its precursor. And the sense of enjoyment was…well…new.

This is without question up there amongst my favourite albums. In some ways it’s perfect, with pop highs – Ease on By comes to mind – interspersing long but not tedious ambient instrumental passages (not so different from Hawkwind there either).

Then there are the samples. Set The Controls For the Heart of the Bass for example nods at Star Trek with a sample from the Motion Picture. Elsewhere there’s a profusion of samples from probably not great 50s SF films, the snippets from old British melodrama’s on Wicked Love and so on.

Fascinating Rhythm is a classic, there’s just no question about it – and it sounds, as is noted elsewhere, remarkably baggy in its shuffling rhythms. Sharon Musgrave’s voice glides across the song (which she co-wrote) The lyrics essentially perfect – the everyday and the mythic aspects of dance combining in the personal. Freaky Angel, another classic.

Just on Musgrave, her voice predominates, it is, as it were, the personality of the album and it makes it very much her album – she sings on at least four of the ten tracks, certainly as much so as Orbit’s. Her voice works perfectly on the more ambient tracks and equally well on the poppier tracks. And that’s an important point, it’s an album with each track blending neatly into the next to provide a cohesive collection.

There’s the small touches, the sequencers on Freaky Angel that lead into an almost bucolic synth line and then onto a none-more-early 1990s piano, the dubby thrust of My Tears Have Gone, the sense of possibility implicit in the instrumentation. It’s funky, knowing, carefree and danceable.

A second album without Musgrave was released in December of the following year, and while it’s very good somehow the moment had passed. That bright breezy pop was already on the way out shifting to trip hop and points various. The day glo colours were darkening somewhat. I always think this album is of a piece with his Strange Cargo III – another classic, the same sort of experimentation but again darkening somewhat, the pop fizz dissipating into more reflective approaches.

By the way, Orbit has a characteristic synth sound, you can here it at 3.01 on In the Realm of the Senses and at the beginning of Set the Controls…, as well as all over the shop on other tracks. I’ve often wondered how one could replicate that in Logic Pro, or whatever, and if anyone knows – answers gratefully accepted.

Fascinating Rhythm

Set The Controls for the Heart of the Bass

In the Realm of the Senses

Freaky Angel

Ease on By

Rat Cut-a-Bottle


1. An Sionnach Fionn - October 17, 2015

Fascinating Rhythm! How could I have forgotten that song?! Instant ’90s flashback 😀


WorldbyStorm - October 17, 2015

Exactly! It’s a classic!


An Sionnach Fionn - October 17, 2015

Possibly just a bit of nostalgia on my part but some fantastic dance and hip-hop infused R’n’B music seemed to come out of the UK in the late 1980s and through much of the ’90s. When I think of dance classics most of the last couple of decades seem a wasteland.


WorldbyStorm - October 17, 2015

Soul II Soul were absolutely fantastic. Club Classics and Vol II are just such a great records.

Tend to agree. There was a sort of shift in dance in the late 1990s and suddenly it all became amazingly samey in sound – for the most part.


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