vrijdag 26 mei 2017

Sound Of Freedom. Paradisia

Every once in a while I have a need for some peace and quiet, a time for reflection. Now the music on Kairos, the radio show of .No on Concertzender, reviewed here on a monthly basis, regularly provides the music that allows people to contemplate their lives or meditate on music bringing them into a trance, alone with their being.

Personally I need another kind of music. Enter Sound Of Freedom by the London based trio Paradisia. Three female voices weaving in and out of each other, allowing a listener to crawl into the melody. The accompaniment is just what a song needs. For most of the time it is the three voices that are central. Sophie-Rose Harper is the lead singer accompanied by Anna Pesquidous (harp) and Kristy Buglass (keyboards). They went to Berlin to record the album where other instruments were added to their basis.

For me the music presented on Sound Of Freedom somehow represents freedom. There is a kind of positive undertone throughout the album that allows each and everyone to escape the here and now. Closing your eyes is enough. Let the music in and it will carry you away. Somehow each and every note seems to be in its logical place creating a seamless experience. Now that could be a very negative connotation, which it is not. Paradisia does not produce empty perfect pop, nor seemed to have strived to find the perfect pop song. For that the voice of Sophie-Rose Harper is to distinct. She stands out from the pack in many ways. Very much her own in a few ways.

When the band started to colour the music in with German producer Mirko Schaffer, three songs were produced by Matt Twaites, the magic all came together. A timeless sort of music came out transcending the decades with a slightly modern accompaniment that places Paradisia firmly in 2017. With Harper's voice hinting at famous singers of the 70s. It's easy for me to imagine a song like 'Just Now', one of the more straightforward songs on the album, in the Eurovision Songcontest, blown up into humongous (and often ridiculous) proportions, where Paradisia simply touches all the right notes. Creating a pop song without any superfluous effects. 'Just Now' is just right. In fact this band could win it one day with the right song.

The song that stands out most, inevitably if someone covers Bruce Springsteen's greatest hit, is 'Dancing In The Dark'. Instantly recognisable and changed beyond anything Springsteen ever played. Just piano, so slow, and the voices of the ladies. If anything it shows the strength of Springsteen (I'm not a fan and thought the song only so-so at the time, too bombastic). Just listening to the song shows that it is good.

Allow me one more example of how good Paradisia plays with my mood. 'Silent Lover' starts out as a U.K. folk song of around 1970, with everything superfluous stripped away and progresses into a beautiful pop song, with a dark lining moving in front of the sun. Again the band plays with a motif showing that nothing is what it seems and one idea can lead to a few others, while presenting a coherent whole. 'Silent Lover' is the female counterpart of Tim Christensen. Just think of songs like 'India'.

Paradisia presented me a huge surprise with Sound Of Freedom. Listening to the first notes I thought been there, done that, many times. Before the album was over the first time I was already convinced. Something that each consecutive spin not only confirmed by deepened. Sound Of Freedom is one of the better albums of 2017 to date.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Silent Lover' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgu4DhT035k

donderdag 25 mei 2017

Swimming In Strange Waters. The Wooden Sky

Two years ago The Wooden Sky popped up on these pages for the first time with its fine album 'Let's Be Ready'. Two years later the band returns here with Swimming In Strange Waters.

For those who need a short reminder. The Wooden Sky is a band from Canada, Toronto to be exact. The album title is a reworked quote from 'Dune' and appropriate for the sign of the times. 2017 seems to be becoming a somewhat normal year, although I'm nearly surprised by news each and every day. So in that sense we all are not only swimming in strange but let me add uncharted waters.

The Wooden Sky tries to give a voice to those times and does so mainly in a recognisable sound. That does not mean that Swimming In Strange Waters just copies 'Let's Be Ready'. Far from even. I remembered a more direct record and listening to it for the first time since a while, proved me correct. The Wooden Sky still has a form of Americana as its starting point, but now adds a fine, at times mysterious rocking sound. Somewhere between Bruce and The Gaslight Anthem. Nothing on Swimming In Strange Waters is this straightforward. Somehow things are allowed to float in the air, leaving room for subtleties. A lot is left to the listener's imagination to fill in. A mood to catch yourself.

That made this new album a surprise and more difficult. It took me a few spins to get used to it, where 'Let's Be Ready' was instantly likeable. Just listen how the title song opens the album. A darkness sweeps over the room, lifted when the light sounding guitar far in one corner of the mix joins the other instruments. Creating a contrast between the hard pounding drums, the harsh guitar and the lightness in the corner, added to by a equally high sounding organ. If something shines through abundantly it is the energy captured in the song. The Wooden Sky is on a roll here.

It is these two aspects that makes Swimming In Strange Waters the better album. Experiment and urgent energy. Here's a band holding nothing back from its listeners. It is happening now and that is what we have to understand. Just listen how 'Life Is Pain, Pain Is Beauty' rumbles on. Relentless.

When the tempo goes down, it is without seeking easy wins. 'You're Not Alone' presents us a firm drums, an organ and a staccato played violin. When we hit the solo section it is a soft sounding guitar and the violin who fill it in, while in the background some electronics do their thing. Pleasing effects remain behind for another time perhaps.

Promo Photo
Over this all the gravelly voice of Gavin Gardener sounds like a strict master in class. Commanding listening just by presence. There's no need for using any force whatever. There's a hint of Van Morrison in his voice, but Gardener's is so much more smooth, so better to listen to. The vocal melodies flow more easily because of it.

Coming back to the demo's the band recorded before embarking on a world tour supporting 'Let's Be Ready', The Wooden Sky decided not to bring the songs to the studio but record them at home on analogue equipment. There's no way of comparing of course, but the decision seems wise. Listening to this album I'm under the impression that I'm hearing more who The Wooden Sky is. This is the bare essence without someone in the studio suggesting to do more of this or add that.

This body of work results in nine new songs ranging from the acoustic 'Born To Die', a truth like a cow, as we say over here, to some nice rocking songs in which nothing is taken over the top, creating that mysterious atmosphere I already wrote on. Ranging between roots, Americana, rock and mystery The Wooden Sky manages to find many a right balance.

The result is a strong mildly rocking song like 'Black Gold'. One part direct, one part haunting and leaving everything in between to me. While the floating melody of 'Riding On The Wind' gives just that impression of being taken here or there by the wind, like piece of paper or a leaf being played by the wind. The way the synth or the guitar through a Lesley speaker? swirls in the background gives exactly the right impression.

With Swimming In Strange Waters The Wooden Sky returns with a strong and imaginative album. An album which surprised me at first, but slowly but surely crept under my skin. It seems like it will be a while before it creeps back out. If ever.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Swimming In Strange Waters' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pltWX_FHsz4

woensdag 24 mei 2017

Mockingbird Soul. Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough

Will Kimbrough maakte aan het begin van het huidige millennium een aantal uitstekende soloplaten, maar is toch vooral bekend als sessiemuzikant.
 
Dat doet hij meer dan uitstekend (je kunt zijn naam terug vinden in de credits van heel wat legendarische rootsplaten), maar de gitarist en singer-songwriter uit Mobile, Alabama, verdient wat mij betreft toch wat meer eer.
 
Die krijgt hij van Brigitte DeMeyer, want het onlangs verschenen Mockingbird Soul is een duoplaat geworden.
 
Brigitte DeMeyer timmert ongeveer net zo lang aan de weg als Will Kimbrough, maar was met platen als Something After All uit 2006 en met name Savannah Road uit 2014 (waarop Will Kimbrough overigens al een flinke vinger in de pap had) net wat succesvoller dan haar mannelijke collega.
 
Op Mockingbird Soul hebben de twee gelouterde rootsmuzikanten de krachten gebundeld en dat pakt uitstekend uit. Voor hun gezamenlijke plaat trokken de twee naar Nashville, Tennessee, waar ze Mockingbird Soul vrijwel zonder hulp van anderen opnamen. Mockingbird Soul is een eerbetoon aan de muziek uit het diepe zuiden van de Verenigde Staten en bevat elementen uit met name de blues, soul, country, folk en gospel.
 
Dat Will Kimbrough een geweldig gitarist was wist ik al, maar op Mockingbird Soul overtreft hij zichzelf met prachtig en opvallend veelzijdig gitaarspel, dat de songs op de plaat veel extra glans geeft.
 
Ook in vocaal opzicht weet Will Kimbrough zeker te overtuigen, al moet hij hier toch zijn meerdere erkennen in Brigitte DeMeyer die haar doorleefde vocalen keer op keer uit de tenen haalt. Het is een stem vol soul en blues, die de songs op de plaat voorziet van heel veel emotie en beleving. De stemmen van de twee kleuren overigens ook prachtig bij elkaar, waardoor de harmonieën herinneringen oproepen aan de grote duo’s uit de geschiedenis van de Amerikaanse rootsmuziek.
 
De vocalen worden zoals gezegd ondersteund door prachtig gitaarwerk, maar Brigitte DeMeyer en Will Kimbrough kiezen verder voor de eenvoud. Meer dan wat baswerk, eenvoudige percussie en een incidentele mondharmonica hoor ik niet. Dat klinkt misschien erg sober, maar het gitaarspel van Will Kimbrough is op Mockingbird Soul zo mooi en vol dat je er ook niet veel meer bij zou willen hebben. Ook het baswerk blinkt overigens uit in al zijn eenvoud.
 
Brigitte DeMeyer en Will Kimbrough moeten met Mockingbird Soul concurreren met stapels andere rootsplaten en trekken wat minder aandacht dan de grote namen, maar nadat de plaat eenmaal in de cd speler was verdwenen was ik onmiddellijk om. Mockingbird Soul doet immers niet onder voor al het andere dat in dit genre op het moment verschijnt en is in muzikaal en vocaal opzicht wat mij betreft zelfs beter. Prachtplaat.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Freight & Salvage':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnVP50sHbnw

dinsdag 23 mei 2017

Modern Kosmology. Jane Weaver

Jane Weaver is a new name to me, despite the fact that Modern Kosmology is her sixth album (bio) or ninth (Wikipedia), make your choice. That allows me to listen to her music with an unbiased ear, as apparently she is metamorphosing on her new album. What I'm hearing is a musical adventure with a lot of energy that takes me from Fischer-Z to The Velvet Underground and the right kind of 80s rockdisco.

Jane Weaver is from Cheshire in England and active since the 90s. First with the band Kill Laura and since 2002 as a solo artist. 15 Years later I'm introduced to an artist who is in her mid 40s and tapping into a lot of music that has come by in the past 50 years.

Don't expect any overjoyed exultations on Modern Kosmology. For that Weaver is perhaps too reserved, too British. Do expect a travel down many a high and by way of pop and rock music. With her light voice she's always in control of what is going on around her. And that is rather a lot. From pulsating rhythms to a firm folk ballad and a rocking song, Jane Weaver presents it to us in a secure and confident way. There's no doubt that here is an artist who stands by what she does.

Promo photo: Rebecca Lupton
Let's start at the beginning. 'H_A_K' starts with pulsating electronics, a slow vocal before a beat goes at it, the prolonged words drawn out. Until the two merge. 'Going Deaf For A Living' spooks through my head, exempting the modern electronics that did not exist at the time. 'H_A_K' shoots off the album like a sprinter at the Olympic Games and runs on like a TGV at full speed. The light and the dark contrast in the song is superb.

Again a beat plays a roll. 'Did You See Butterflies' has a beat that is kept up by a guitar strummed solidly assisted by drums and bass. Slightly psychedelic singing and keyboard playing, give the song an otherworldly quality. Something very mysterious is going on here.

That dreamy quality is something that describes Modern Kosmology as a whole. This is no dreampop, far from. For that too many dark parts are let into the music. No, it is in the singing of Jane Weaver. She seems to hover over whatever is going on musically. Almost ethereal, as if I could look straight through her had she been singing in my room. That combination works rather well.

She uses her voice in a more folklike tradition as well. Without becoming so eclectic as a Maddy Prior. This way of singing gives her voice a totally different sound, somewhat higher and more pronounced. 'Slow Motion' is a good example of this. The music is 80s poprock. A light synth over darker sounds sets the tone. Over the music this clearer voice is singing almost sounding happy "that we are lost".

Promo photo: Rebecca Lupton
How versatile this record is 'Loops In The Secret Society' shows. The intricate guitar interplay of Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison is all over the place, the underlying pumping rhythm and a light voiced, accentless Nico is singing. Only the screeching viola of John Cale is missing here. It's 50 years ago the banana record was released and it still inspires people to play songs like it. Now 'Loops In The Secret Society' is the odd song out on Modern Kosmology, but certainly one that stands out as the most direct song. How many guitars are woven into this song? Four? Five? There are little parts everywhere.

And out come the dance rhythms once more. In 'The Architect' Jane Weaver rocks out in a very 80s kind of way. It's the synths that rock again. Depeche Mode with a little OMD and China Crisis. Gary Newman with non-robot/staccato vocal delivery. Enough pop is let in to make the song sort of irresistible.

Modern Kosmology is an album that attests to explorations. More importantly Jane Weaver seems to have found what she was looking for. Resulting in a diverse yet strong album that mixes history with modern techniques in most attractive ways. An album worth exploring from the first to the very last note.

Wo.

You can listen to and buy Modern Kosmology here:

https://janeweaverfire.bandcamp.com/album/modern-kosmology

maandag 22 mei 2017

The Witch. Pumarosa

There are albums that get to me right at the very first listen session. They have something that make me prick up my ears and pay attention. The Witch is one of those albums. The further I got into the album, the more I liked it, the more it seemed to have it's own unique feel.

This impression did not change with further sessions with the album. Our relationship easily deepened. Now the challenge is to find the right words.

The Witch is the first album by Pumarosa, a London based band fronted by Isabel Munoz-Newsome. The clock is turned back decades, while pretending very hard to be in 2017. So many familiar sounds come by, sounds that have been played for years and still they sound so fresh on The Witch. Pumarosa mixes a few qualities within its music that fall together into a statement of no small proportions. Youthful exuberance meets a longing to reach for things behind the corner, while a certain shyness meets an expectation of greatness.

The album opens with 'Dragonfly' in which the band makes a statement right away. It is hard to ignore what is on offer. The opening song is much more direct than the more experimental stuff coming on later in the longer songs, that will leave plenty of room for playing around between the musicians on stage. In fact the album starts with a few seconds of silence before soft keyboard sounds come in that slowly fill my room more and more. An isolated bass note joins and Munoz-Newsome starts singing over the keyboard landscape. When the rhythm section joins in it is with an 'The Unforgettable Fire' pulse. Isobel's singing reminds me faintly of the young Bono. All is atmosphere, soundscapes, with outbursts of guitars in the chorus.

'Honey', the second song, is a lot more solid. "Oh, you stupid son of a bitch", follows "God gave us honey". An interesting lyric to say the least. The song brings me into 'Gloria' territory, U2s first single of its second album 'October'. And I will stop there with the comparisons, because I listen to The Witch in one go without any trouble and there isn't a single album of you U2 I can listen to as a whole. It does help though to pinpoint where this music is taking me, to the first half of the 80s. With the difference that the music of Pumarosa has something upbeat. Even in the more laden songs like the title song and 'Priestess' there is always a sun somewhere. 'Honey' plays itself out in a great way. The song is brought to a great climax without ever overdoing it. Pumarosa knows how to restrain itself to have a much bigger impact.

'The Witch' reminds me of Elenne May. You will recognise a lot of the atmosphere of this song in several of the songs of the Amsterdam based band. If you like this song, you better start listening. 'Veggie Patch In The Desert' is one of my favourite albums of all time.

With 'The Priestess' Pumarosa comes close to the atmospheres The Black Angels evokes on its latest, fantastic album 'Death Song'. Without the heavy 60s sounds that band depends on. Still, in 2017 so far that is the biggest compliment I can give to an album, as I haven't heard a better one yet. 'The Priestess' seems to delve into a knowledge that is set outside of time, the eternal. "You dance, you dance, you dance" and there the rhythm goes. Again, all that restraint, yet standing still will not be an option. The saxophone is the only exuberance Pumarosa allows itself. The message is so clear. Lasting for 7"30 minutes, the listener is slowly brought into the trance the priestess already is in. There were bands like this in the 80s also, bands I long ago forgot the names of. Pumarosa allows a hint at commerciality into its music, making it so much more worthwhile listening to.

By then it is also clear that Pumarosa likes to take its time. The shortest song, 'Hollywood' clocks in at one second under four minutes. An atmosphere is built and expanded upon until a modest and more modern walls of sound spout from the disc. This can be a laden song like 'Lion's Den' or a more upbeat song with the downbeat title 'Gruesome', one of the more poppy songs on The Witch. The singing may have a Bananarama hint to it, it is one of my favourite vocal outings on The Witch. The upbeat sound allows Isabel Munoz-Newsome to do more with her voice. Highs and lows are reached, instead of the solemness in the slower songs.

Pumarosa manages to keep my attention easily while the record progresses. The fact that a different sound is added to a song, like a funky guitar or a modern beat under an acoustic guitar, makes the songs sound slighlty different from each other. Only "Witches" or "Priestesses" would have been killing, no matter how monumental.

With that last word, I come close to a conclusion. It's too early to tell yet, but it may be that this album may reach that level, monumental. In the meantime I am listening to one of the best debut albums of 2017. A lot is happening here in a very balanced way, that shows a level of maturity way beyond the band's status. The Witch is intriguing and good, with room left to grow abundantly.

It all goes out with a bang of an 80s influenced dance rock outing 'The Snake' in which something of all the 80s new wave female singers seem to come together, Siouxie, Hazel O'Connor, Toyah, etc. A great way to end an album.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Dragonfly' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEwXzS5t1bY