1. Give Up, The Postal Service, 2003
2. Furious Angels, Rob Dougan, 2001
I don't know if you've ever sought out a new band because they cite the groups you love as influences only to discover they sound nothing like those predecessors. Well, the obverse tends to throw up some pretty startling discoveries, take for instance New Order's Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr of The Smiths, who might have formed an edgy guitar-rock group but are, instead, Electronic. Something similar happened with the coming together of Benjamin Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and producer Jimmy Tamborello: Give Up is constructed of delicate bleeps and bloops, underpinned by skittering programmed beats. In the same manner Pet Shops Boys guest on some of Electronic's best tracks, so Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis lends her vocals to much of the record. It's an album of contrasts: Such Great Heights is joyous, while Natural Anthem fractured and brittle. I was introduced to Give Up when staying with a very cool, beautiful woman in San Francisco so it's never going to be bad (I'll always associate the trip with track Sleeping In, I think her favourite was Brand New Colony). However, I do have to question this couplet (from Clark Gable): 'I was waiting for a cross-town train/ In the London Underground,' by which he means the Central Line, presumably.
2. Furious Angels, Rob Dougan, 2001
Rob D's sole album to date was a labour of love, built around his 1995 track Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Variation) - inspiration for a 1996 film of the same name by Yolande Zaubermann, starring Elodie Bouchez, Béatrice Dalle and Roschdy Zem. It took six years for Dougan to perfect his heavily orchestrated masterwork, raising funds himself to avoid compromise. The result is uplifting, bold and aggressive; the sleeve features images of Dougan on fire, smashed to pieces or shot at. The album's opening, title track is its other most immediate number (along with Clubbed to Death) and begins with Dougan's growling vocals, reminiscent of a Chris Rea who, in the words of Blade Runner, has seen things you people wouldn't believe. This is a mescalined Mad Max with a death wish, exemplified on Speed Me Towards Death and Left Me For Dead ('You searched through my mouth to check for gold teeth/ You were pawning my shoes as I bled... I won't rest my head until hell is your home'). There's rock bottom, though, and there's rock bottom...
3. The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails, 1994
Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has long professed his admiration for Gary Numan and there's sporadic talk of them working together; the Brit synth godfather is more than a musical influence, if The Downward Spiral is anything to go by, as they share a virulent disregard for god. Reznor moved into the Beverly Hills house where actress Sharon Tate and four others were murdered by the Manson Family in 1969 to work on his second album, and its spirit permeated Piggy and March of the Pigs ('pig' was written on the front door of the house in Tate's blood at the time of the murders). Most of the album was produced with Flood, who had previously worked on NIN's debut, Pretty Hate Machine (1989), as well as with Erasure and Depeche Mode, among others. Some of it is silly (Big Man with a Gun, yeah yeah) but as Reznor strips away layers of humanity we're left with unexpected, beautiful instrumental A Warm Place and Hurt (covered by Johnny Cash). His most recent work was the soundtrack to David Fincher's splendid The Social Network; film scores might be a direction for the apparently blocked Numan to investigate.