vrijdag 31 januari 2014

De Staat live in Patronaat, Haarlem. 30-01-2014

Photo: Wo.
De Staat came, De Staat saw and De Staat won. Old Julius could not have done better. On a stage exuberant with bright lights, predominantly red, against a backdrop showing the I-con artwork, De Staat played a set in which everything that makes the Nijmegen band so good came together. Pounding rhythms, rhythmic artistry, close harmonies, super tight playing and enthusiastic showmanship.

This gig was the last leg of the Dutch club tour. Band and fans were ready to celebrate. One thing stood out. The fans of De Staat are on average young. The result was that in the loud, pounding songs a moshpit was created that filled up fast.This was the main difference with the afternoon show at Werfpop in 2012. In the thick mud most people sort of gaped at what was going on. Here everyone was there for De Staat and showed it.

Photo: Wo.
De Staat thrives on rhythm. In this sense hiphop is surely a part of the cocktail that makes up De Staat. The easy way that Jason Derulo's 'Talk dirty' was turned into a De Staat song, shows how close its music is to hiphop (and shows the influence of Radio 3 dj Giel Beelen as most bands bring their early morning show cover song to the stage afterwards). The loud pounding of 'Witchdoctor', the rock-dance song that is in the premier league of rock dance, made the fans go berserk, with the band fuelling the fire. But it's not just rhythm in this sense. De Staat excels in weirder, more complex rhythms and makes them sound easy along the way. Rhythm and counter rhythm on two guitars and singing as well. Rhythmic effects that leave me behind in awe at times.

Photo Wo.
Next to that there is almost always a melody on keyboard or lead guitar over these rhythms that makes the songs stand out. The two or three piece harmonies do the rest. Sometimes just by alternately shouting ho, sometimes in beautiful harmonies. What is special is that the songs that work best live, are not necessarily the songs I prefer to listen to at home and vice versa. This is an element that definitely is uncommon, at least for me, at gigs. I want to hear my favourite songs. De Staat totally pleased me by doing the opposite. Relentless pounding heightened my senses and the party I was part of. All these elements together make De Staat stand out and special. Make it a band to treasure and follow in the future.

Another very special item is that guitarist Vedran Mircetic plays the role of the bass player in most bands. He doesn't move at all. Only to change guitars. While bass player Jop van Summeren plays a role in the festivities in singing and moving around a lot. His bass synthesizer gives De Staat elements of the way Soulwax presents itself live. De Staat has four extrovert presenters and one interested in playing only. The extroverts certainly include drummer Tim van Delft, who never misses a cue to be part of the fun. The final solo was special also. Keyboard and guitar player, rapper and singer Rocco Hueting plays a car horn solo in the final song. I had seen this before, but it remains something special to see. Finally, Torre Florim, the lead man of De Staat, is growing into the-larger-than-life personality a front man needs to be on stage. Charisma is growing here.

Photo: Wo.
De Staat seems to be at the top of its game. The question is are other countries ready for its music? Hearing and seeing the quality on offer, the answer ought to be yes, but history shows that Dutch rock bands seldom break big abroad. No clue why that is. De Staat offers a combination that could be winning, but whether it is possible for them to go all the way? We'll see. In the meantime I'm quite pleased having seen the band again in a great venue like Patronaat, where the sound was near perfect and just before the brink of getting too loud. Well done.


If you like to read more on De Staat on this blog:


Werfpop 2012

and there are many more interesting articles, interviews and stories to find.

donderdag 30 januari 2014

Crown electric. Kathryn Williams

De Britse folkie Kathryn Williams schaar ik ongeveer sinds het begin van het huidige millennium onder mijn favoriete singer-songwriters. Dat Kathryn Williams tot dusver geen plekje heeft weten te bemachtigen op mijn BLOG heeft alles te maken met haar magere productie de afgelopen jaren, al moet ik met het schaamrood op de kaken bekennen dat ik het in 2009 verschenen The Quickening helemaal gemist heb (en dat is doodzonde weet ik inmiddels). Kathryn Williams debuteerde in 1999 met het veelbelovende Dog Leap Stairs, maar maakte pas echt indruk met het in 2000 verschenen Little Black Numbers (dat overigens genomineerd werd voor de Britse Mercury Prize; de overwinning ging destijds naar Badly Drawn Boy); een plaat die ik serieus zou overwegen wanneer er nog eens een koffertje moet worden klaargemaakt voor een enkeltje onbewoond eiland. Ook in de jaren die volgden bleef Kathryn Williams prachtige platen maken met vooral fluisterzachte, maar ook buitengewoon inventieve folk. Old Low Light uit 2002 is bijna even goed als Little Black Numbers, terwijl Relations uit 2004 een van de weinige platen met louter covers is die ik aan iedereen kan aanbevelen. Na een stilte van een jaar of vier kwam Kathryn Williams een maand  of twee geleden op de proppen met Crown Electric. Het duurde even voor ik de plaat op het spoor was, maar vervolgens was ik weer heel snel verkocht. Heel veel veranderd is er in alle jaren dat Kathryn Williams muziek maakt niet. Ook Crown Electric valt weer op door prachtige ingetogen folkliedjes met een instrumentatie om van te watertanden en bovendien  één van de mooiste stemmen in en buiten het genre van de Britse folk. In tegenstelling tot de meeste van haar soortgenoten moet Kathryn Williams het absoluut niet hebben van vocale krachtpatserij. Kathryn Williams zingt vaak fluisterzacht, maar wel met zoveel emotie dat het je alleen maar kan raken. Dat ze wel erg meisjesachtig klinkt voor een vrouw van haar leeftijd neem ik graag voor lief. De folky popsongs die Kathryn Williams ons op Crown Electric voorschotelt liggen stuk voor stuk bijzonder lekker in het gehoor, maar prikkelen allemaal ook op een of andere manier de fantasie, bijvoorbeeld door invloeden uit andere genres (waaronder jazz en zelfs een vleugje bossa nova) ruimte te geven. Crown Electric doet dit meer dan eens via de prachtig gearrangeerde strijkers en bassen of andere accenten in de als een warm bad aanvoelende instrumentatie , maar hiernaast is er ook altijd de hele bijzondere stem van Kathryn Williams. Kathryn Williams bekijkt het leven zeker niet door een roze bril, maar desondanks sprankelen haar van melancholie over lopende folksongs volop en is Crown Electric een plaat waarvan je alleen maar heel blij kunt worden. Ik ging er op voorhand van uit dat Kathryn Williams het idioot hoge niveau van Little Black Numbers niet zou kunnen halen, maar inmiddels ben ik daar niet meer zo zeker van. De instrumentatie, de zang en de kwaliteit van de songs liggen op Crown Electric op een geweldig hoog niveau en de plaat is nog zeker niet uitgegroeid. Een aantal tracks (waaronder een duet met Ed Harcourt) zijn zelfs zo mooi dat ik best durf te spreken van een meesterwerk. Vanaf de eerste luisterbeurt was ik verslaafd aan de prachtige nieuwe plaat van het toch wat miskende talent Kathryn Williams en dat gaat voorlopig ook niet meer veranderen. Liefhebbers van vrouwelijke singer-songwriters in het folk segment moeten deze plaat absoluut horen, al is het niet zonder risico. Na Crown Electric volgt immers nog een stapeltje Kathryn Williams platen van een soms bijna ongekend hoog niveau.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier naar 'Heart shaped tone' luisteren.

woensdag 29 januari 2014

Let it live free. He's my brother she's my sister

Another release through the Noisetrade.com website that I would like to draw your attention to. A live EP from a band that does not exactly have an easy name for a band: He's my brother she's my sister. The band name reminded me immediately of the The Hackensaw Boys' track 'We are many'. "On my right sight is my brother on the left is my sister". Musically it doesn't though. This band plays the kind of roots rock that regularly sounds so well in Q-Bus, Leiden. Texas based band 100 Year Flood and San Diego's Dirty Sweet, e.g., that played so well there. Los Angeles based He's my brother ... should be able to do the same thing one day.

Let it live free is not a regular EP or album. It is comprised of a few livetracks, a studio song and a cover, specially compiled for the, basically free, release on Noisetrade. A teaser that has to draw the listener to the real thing or to a show. The real thing is one album released in 2012: 'Nobody dance in this town'. Let it live free is an EP that shows what He's my brother ... is capable of. The music is on the brink of folk, country, rock and other music associated with traditional American roots music.

There really is a sister, Rachel, and a brother, Rob, Kolar, who started the band and sing. Alternately solo and harmonising. No sweet voices here, there is a kind of roughness in there. Think The Parlor Soldiers and especially Alex Culbreth solo. In the cover of The Mamas & the Papas' cover 'Straight shooter' it is even as if Paul Kantner is in the studio. The rest of the band is made up of Lauren Brown (Tap Dancing! Drummer. Now that makes me curious to see the band some day.), Oliver 'Oliwa' Newell and Ryan Richter. The stand up bass, the slide guitar all makes that the songs sound traditional, while at the same time He's my brother ... allows itself to rock full out. Roots rockers to the core this band consists of.

An often heard complaint with bands like this is "they are much better, much more dynamic and such on stage than on record. What I think is the best song on Let it live free is 'The same old ground', the studio track on the EP. This way this EP really becomes a teaser to get to know the band better. Let it live free really sets me on a path to studio album 'Nobody dance in this town'. The great cover of one of The Mamas & the Papas better non-single tracks, 'Straight shooter' closes Let it live free. A good statement to end an album, but also a track that is in line with what went before, musically and quality wise. And that's a compliment.

He's my brother she's my sister gave the world a present that anyone who likes it can unpack. If you're a fan of music in the roots segment you may want to find out where you can find the packet. I just gave the secret away....


dinsdag 28 januari 2014

I_con. De Staat

And every once in a while it happens. A record is released, I sort of notice it, but the album disappears from view into the unconsciousness. Today I make my amends to De Staat, by publishing my review of I_con, released in October 2013. Vaguely I remember a comment that De Staat tried to capture sort of everything on record and that I wondered at the time what would that sound like? I know now. So come along.

De Staat is three albums underway. Starting with 'Wait for evolution' in 2009, followed in 2011 by 'Machinery'. The music of De Staat is best defined as a robotic form of industrial rock. Staccato played rock that never forgets the melody, no matter what eruptions of pure noise are going on as well. Torre Florim leads his men through rhythm patterns and changes that vaguely remind me of Frank Zappa, without the music ever coming close for one second. The growth from 'Wait for evolution' to 'Machinery' was tremendous. Superb songs, not for your every day listening, but superb none the same. Added to that was a great show at Werfpop 2012, showing what a great band De Staat had become (You find that review here). So where is De Staat at in 2013?

Even at first listening I can declare that there is another giant leap taken here. What an overwhelming amount of influences and impressions are hurled at me. Wow! The start may be hesitant, after a few seconds the full band bursts free and doesn't stop rocking loudly until the very last second of I_con. The record with all sorts of music on it? It may well be. An encyclopaedia of music I_con may turn out to be. Listening to I_con is like listening to 'Sgt. Peppers lonely hearts club band', like 'Freak out' or 'One size fits all'. At every new turn in the record another surprise. No effect goes unused in trying to make a song better or having it make a bigger impression than the one before it. I can't tell you yet whether I_con will ever be as esteemed as the albums I just mentioned, but it definitely has the same effect on me, listening to it for several times now. My jaw just drops at times. Wow! Not unlike The Kyteman Orchestra nearly two years back.

Now having effects in music does not make a good, let alone a great record. So where is I_con on this score? It starts with just a hesitatingly played guitar. 'My bad'. It's even listed as a song, where all band members "laugh" and singer/guitarist Torre Florim's contribution is swearing. It stops, starts over now called 'All is dull'. The guitar plays the same chords, in the same way. And then it just happens. De Staat kicks in, full force, full blast, laying down a statement. There's no other word for it. And this is just the beginning of the journey. A journey that took me to several extremes. At first I had the impression that Queens of the Stone Age was the main travel guide on the journey. At second guess I've opted for Masters of Reality. I_con is much more playful than the average QOTSA album. Going from loud rock, to immeasurably loud dance influenced pounding. From dreamy songs, to 60s psychedelia infused rock or downright dance rhythms with eastern melodies. De Staat takes it all on. There is even a sequel to Iggy Pop's 'The passenger'.

How extreme things are is shown is the first few songs. 'All is dull' is a loud rocker ending with Tarzan like screams of victory, announcing who is victor here. This changes into a 'For the benefit of Mr. Kite' sort of carnival song. Like sitting in a merry-go-round, whirling around and around. 'Build that, buy that' gives just that impression. Added with some Kaizers Orchestra/Franz Ferdinand kind of (counter)rhythms and melodies. 'Devil's blood' is dreamy, slightly psychedelic. 'Witch doctor' pounds my brains out. And we are only four songs on the road. A map of all sorts of music indeed.

Not all songs on I_con are instant faves. The dreamy Masters of Reality ones are totally my favourites, followed by the harder rocking ones. It is the more out there songs that I clearly have to get used to, but they are also the ones that make me go wow! De Staat is taking on all this extra weight and clearly growing from it, becoming a better and more diverse band. Live it may just be utterly spectacular. The pulsing and pounding fast-paced rhythm of 'Make way for the passenger' that also allows for spectacular guitar work, accents and Cossack harmonies, may be a total winner live. Pandemonium and moshpit. It is at moments like this that I fully realise that De Staat has taken its music to another level. 'Machinery' had its moments of "what is happening here?", I_con has so many more and the much better songs. The balance between effect and song is so much better. De Staat once started as a solo outing of Torre Florim, which needed band members to play live. De Staat AD 2013 is a band. Excuse me: A Band. The growth is fantastic, the potential for much more so obvious.

And when I thought I had heard it all, along comes the totally mesmerising 'I'll take you'. A song sung by Florim and his partner Janne Schra. The light and the shade, the beauty and the beast, they meet somewhere in a perfect middle in this dark and brooding song.

Looking at the list of records from The Netherlands that I've reviewed in the past year, the list of records with the moniker good or better is getting quite long. Quality is going up all the time it seems. The question remains how can these bands break big, like the dance scene has broken big abroad? A record like I_con deserves to be heard anywhere.


You can listen to 'Get it together' here.

maandag 27 januari 2014

Mechanical bull. Kings of Leon

Me? Reviewing a Kings of Leon album? Well, that's new. And it is, as I, except for a certain liking for 'Sex on fire' or the ridiculously funny 'Sex met die kale', I was not exactly a Kings of Leon fan. Too flat, too one sided and that voice! Enough to stop me from listening to anything the band put out after the second album. Despite all the rave reviews I saw coming by. So what made me listen to Mechanical bull? Nothing at first, until my brother told me just before Christmas that Mechanical bull and Pearl Jam's 'Lighting bolt' (I'm still contemplating writing here) were much better albums than Arctic Monkeys' 'AM'. So I took him up and decided to listen anyway. And look here, my very first Kings of Leon review ever!

What captured me is the directness of several songs, with the variety of the songs as a good second. The third obstacle, the voice of the singing Followill, all of a sudden didn't bother me as much as before. In some his voice even seems the perfect fit. Not every song totally convinces me, but most do.

Mechanical bull is an album that came after a band lay over for a year, after the crash of singer Caleb Followill. As even I know about it, as non-fan, I won't recap this here. Apparently the band members took some time to listen to other bands. There are so many influences on Mechanical bull, that I did not hear circa 10 years ago when Kings of Leon started its career. There is so much more melody in the songs. Melody that is accentuated by effects instead of walls of sound. Take 'Beautiful war'. The way this song plays out has been done many times over. I won't even name any other band. This Kings of Leon ballad flows soft and sweetly, with guitars left and right laying accents for most of the song. O.k., it spells U2 from 'The Joshua tree' all over. The Edge like guitars end the song. It is the voice of Caleb Followill that makes 'Beautiful war' a Kings of Leon song.

It is tricks like this that made me think, o.k., I have to listen one more time and another and found myself liking Mechanical bull. So by letting in some other influences Kings of Leon captured me, finally. Another example. 'Wait for me' starts with the 'Beds are burning' guitar sound of Midnight Oil. There are loads of guitar overdubs, all played with care and inventiveness. Sometimes just a three second long fill, embellishing 'Wait for me' in all the right places.

Then the best song of the album kicks in: 'Family tree'. Also a familiarly sounding muted guitar line in a blues pattern. Perhaps 'Family tree' is the simplest song on the album, but played in such a great and self-assured way that it rocks from A to Z. With a little gospel added in the almost vocal part, 'Family tree' gets the little extra also. Great song.

Mechanical bull keeps up this high level all the way to the end. In other words, my brother was right. Mechanical bull is a good album. On the brink of rock, alternative and pop. Kings of Leon seems to have found another well to dip its pen in. This results in an album that is varied, poppy with rock influences and rock with pop influences, depending on the song. The rest seems to have done Kings of Leon good.


You can listen to 'Supersoaker' here.

zondag 26 januari 2014

High hopes. Bruce Springsteen

‘Een rommelplaat’ zo werd de nieuwe CD van Bruce Springsteen aangeduid in de diverse recensies in de grote kranten. Maar dat bepalen we liever zelf, dus hierbij ook de WoNo-bespreking.

Volgens de toelichting van Springsteen in het cd-boekje hebben we de nieuweling te danken aan Tom Morello, invaller voor Steve van Zandt tijdens het Australische deel van de laatste tour. Hij pushte The Boss om een aantal songs die nog niet eerder waren verschenen, maar soms wel live werden gespeeld, op te nemen, met het titelnummer als eerste.  

Dat opening- en titelnummer swingt de pan uit. Koortje in het refrein, aanstekelijke drum- en blaaspartijen, rauwe Boss-stem. Oorspronkelijk geschreven door ene Tim Scott McConell. Mooi hoor. ‘Harry’s Place’ begint net als de kroeg die bezongen word donker, Bruce zijn stem laag en onheilspellend, vervormde stemmen op de achtergrond en ….de in 2012 overleden Clarence Clemons op Tenorsax. Stevige gitaarpartij op het eind. Dit is een mooi saluut to the Big Man! ‘American Skin (41 shots)’ is een aanklacht tegen het geweld in de Amerikaanse steden: ‘is it a gun, is it a knife, is it a wallet, this is your life…..you can get killed just for living in, your American skin’. Ingehouden woede door het hele nummer, pure emotie in het begin, dat uitwaaiert in een  conventionele rocksong. Tussenconclusie: alleen al voor de drie eerste nummers moet je de cd kopen.

‘Just Like Fire Would’, een liedje van een de door Bruce bewonderde Australische punkband The Saints, klinkt eigenlijk direct als een Springsteen-klassieker. Met als onderwerp een scene uit het leven van een gewone man, in dit geval een chauffeur die een liefje voor de nacht treft in zijn motelkamer. Passend met lichte vrolijke muziek eronder. ‘Down in the Hole’, ook nog met Clemens, is minder aansprekend. Vervormde stem in het begin, die opeens overgaat in een normaal, nietszeggend beatje. Enige grappige is dat de kinderen Springsteen (voor de liefhebbers: Evan, Jessie en Sam) het achtergrondkoortje vormen. Het is te hopen dat ze ook aan leukere nummers van papa mogen bijdragen.

‘Heavens’ Wall’  is andere koek: gospel begin, 15 violen, 3 cellisten, 7 man achtergrondkoor, naast de gewone  E-street bezetting. Als je naar de een van recente Springsteen-concerten bent geweest verleden jaar in Nijmegen, of het jaar daarvoor op Pinkpop, dan kan je het aanstekelijke ‘rasie your hands, raise your hands’ ongetwijfeld nog herinneren. Leuk hoor!

‘Frankie fell in love’ is rechttoe rechtaan, geen gedoe, geen ingewikkelde boodschap, simpel over twee mannen die een appartement delen. Volgens Bruce eigen zeggen geïnspireerd door de tijd dat hij samenwoonde met Little Steven van Zandt. Zonder pretenties stampen. ‘This is your Sword’ begint een beetje Keltisch, maar wordt dan een beetje saai braaf nummer, net zoals ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’.

‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ is wel weer erg mooi. Maar dat wist de verstokte Springsteen-fan al, want het is natuurlijk het titelnummer van de CD die in 1995 werd uitgebracht. Maar deze versie is wel indringender en spannender. Het zachte ‘The Wall’ gaat Bruce zeer na aan het hart. Hij schreef het na een bezoek aan het gelijknamige monument in Washington voor de omgekomen militairen tijdens de  Vietnamoorlog. In bijzonder zijn vriend Walter Cichon, die in de jaren zestig samen met zijn broer de hotste rockband van New Jersey had, The Motiffs. Zij waren een voorbeeld voor iedereen in die tijd in die scene, ook voor Bruce.

‘Dream Baby Dream’ sluit de cd vervolgens erg saai en rustig af.

Ik kan de pers wel volgen als zij bedoelen dat het geen thematische cd is geworden, of een cd met een dominante sfeer. Maar de kwaliteit van de songs is hoog, dus hier is van rommel zeker geen sprake. Persoonlijk vind ik High Hopes beter dan voorganger 'Wrecking Ball' (klik hier voor HareD's recensie), of 'Working on a Dream'.


Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'High hopes' 

zaterdag 25 januari 2014

Sumie. Sumie

Er zijn niet veel muzikanten die het aandurven om in de eerste week van december hun debuut uit te brengen. De aandacht in de pers zal waarschijnlijk minimaal zijn, want de pers is bezig met haar jaarlijstjes, waarvoor je ook direct kansloos bent. Verder zal je als debuterend muzikant moeten opboksen tegen stapels prachtig verpakte verzamelaars en heruitgaven, die momenteel, mede door de aankomende feestdagen, gretig aftrek vinden en dat zal vaak een ongelijke strijd zijn. Het debuut van Sumie zal daarom waarschijnlijk wel wat ondersneeuwen de komende maand en dat is jammer. Heel jammer zelfs. Sandra Sumie Nagano heeft een Zweedse moeder en een Japanse vader en is geboren en getogen in het Zweedse Göteborg, dat ze na vele omzwervingen weer als haar thuisbasis heeft gekozen. Op haar debuut maakt ze met minimale middelen prachtige akoestische popmuziek. Het is ondanks de minimale middelen muziek met maximale impact. In de meeste tracks op het titelloze debuut van Sumie moeten we het doen met haar akoestische gitaar en haar mooie en warme stem. Dat is een beproefde combinatie, maar het is ook een combinatie die bijna vereist dat alles klopt. Op het debuut van Sumie klopt alles. De akoestische gitaar en de stem van Sumie sluiten perfect op elkaar aan, haar stem weet je te raken en in haar songs gebeurt ondanks het beperkte wapenarsenaal van alles. Het debuut van Sumie is een plaat die dwingt tot luisteren en je vervolgens vrij makkelijk weet te betoveren. Sumie laat zich op haar plaat bijstaan door pianist Dustin O’Halloran en muzikant/componist Nils Frahm, maar in de meeste tracks hoor je alleen Sumie, soms met wat eigen achtergrondvocalen, maar meestal zo puur als de eindeloze natuur van Zweden. En als er dan uiteindelijk toch nog wat extra instrumentatie opduikt draagt het alleen maar bij aan de kracht van de bijzondere muziek van de Zweedse singer-songwriter. Net zoals zoveel andere muzikanten uit Scandinavië heeft Sumie een voorkeur voor popsongs met een wat melancholieke ondertoon, maar zwaarmoedig wordt het nergens. Het debuut van Sumie is door de enorme puurheid en intimiteit geen plaat die je op de achtergrond moet laten voortkabbelen, al klinkt het ook dan best lekker. Het is echter vooral een plaat waarmee je jezelf op moet sluiten. Met maximale aandacht klinken de op het eerste gehoor misschien nog eenvoudige popliedjes van Sumie nog wat intenser en ook complexer. In een tijd waarin het merendeel van de zangeressen denkt dat het nodig is om alles voluit te zingen, is het fluisterzachte debuut van Sumie een oase van rust. Een verademing als je het mij vraagt. Sumie zal dit jaar door de ongelukkige releasedatum maar weinig jaarlijstjes halen vrees ik, maar in die van mij krijgt ze een ereplaats, vlak naast de schitterende plaat van Laura Marling, waarmee het debuut van Sumie absoluut raakvlakken heeft. Het debuut van Sumie is immers niet alleen een knappe en gedurfde plaat, maar ook een plaat van een bijna onwerkelijke schoonheid en intimiteit. Een plaat derhalve om hopeloos verliefd op te worden.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Show talked windows'.

vrijdag 24 januari 2014

Listen, the snow is falling (EP). Labasheeda

A few weeks back I received an e-mail: "Hi, we liked your review of ..., here's our new EP. Would you like to review it also?" Labasheeda? Having never heard of this band, I notice a challenge when I see one and downloaded the music at the place in Dropbox reserved for me. What to expect? I read something about an alternative punk band, so braced myself for the first notes.

Nothing prepared me for the soft tones reaching my ear. Folk, traditional US type string sounds, the ukulele, banjo, type of strings and modesty. The title song of the EP is, of all things, a Yoko Ono cover. It is a hesitant kind of song, so modest. A melodica? carries a small, recurring melody and two guitars accompany the quiet voice of Saskia van der Giessen. As the EP was released in December last, Listen, the snow is falling can be seen as a Christmas EP, were it not that the other songs do not really have any connotation to the Yuletide.

The first thing that came to mind was Nico, the German singer and actress Christine Päffgen, when she still had something resembling a voice in 1967. Saskia van der Giessen has the same sort of holding back quality in her voice. This notion disappeared listening to Listen, the snow is falling more often. If only because her voice is so much more pleasant to listen to than Nico's. Another voice coming to mind is the vulnerable sound of Portishead's Beth Gibbons. Musically Mazzy Star is a reference, the name Belly comes up, although I haven't listened to one of its records for years, so may be wrong here and the quiet side of The Velvet Underground.

Labasheeda is around since 2004. Through the years there have been several personnel changes. Saskia van der Giessen is around since the beginning, Her main partner is Arne Wolfswinkel who is in the band since 2006. They are currently working on a new album. Drummer Bas Snabilie complements the trio that has a few (split)singles, EPs and a LP to its name. Not that a lot of percussion can be found on this EP, as if in none. Where necessary the bass snare of a guitar picks up some percussive playing.

The music on Listen, the snow is falling sounds promising. The music is kept small in a (near) acoustic setting. For this to work, something of interest needs to be going on in the songs. It is here that Labasheeda surprises me in a pleasant way. The wavy way of singing keeps me on my toes. Not every note goes the way my ear expects it, wants it, to go. It is the little guitar notes popping up here and there that draw me into the playing. The other instruments that are introduced during a song make it more interesting. A violin, an electric guitar, the ukelele or an organ. 'Black blood', the third song, is built up this way. From acoustic guitars to new layers that are added to the texture of this song. The softly rippling instrumental 'Different places' and the ukulele song 'Elastic' complement the EP. Both are again fine tunes to listen to, no matter how small they are kept. 'Elastic' most likely is a great song in whatever arrangement it is played.

If you are looking for excitement, fast, then Listen, the snow is falling is not your kind of EP. Should you be looking for an EP that allows you to slowly be seduced, this music is what you are looking for. A ride on the slowtrain, with all the time of the world on your side to emerge in Listen, the snow is falling. Labasheeda allowed me to take a peak into its music, for which I thank it here and now.


You can buy Listen, the snow is falling here and listen to 'My instincts' here.

donderdag 23 januari 2014

Cerulean salt. Waxahatchee

De komende weken laat ik me vooral inspireren door de stapel platen die tot dusver om uiteenlopende reden niet aan bod is gekomen en door de jaarlijstjes van de betere muzieksites en tijdschriften. Het jaarlijstje van PopMatters laat nog even op zich wachten (de online media hebben immers geen haast), maar de uitstekende Amerikaanse muzieksite heeft wel alvast de lijst met de leukste tien indie rock platen van 2013 gepubliceerd. Hierin bekende namen als Savages, My Bloody Valentine en The National, maar ook een aantal nieuwe namen, waaronder de naam die uiteindelijk de eerste plek wist te veroveren: Waxahatchee. Waxahatchee is het alter ego van de Amerikaanse singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield en Cerulean Salt is haar tweede plaat. Haar vorig jaar verschenen debuut trok niet al teveel aandacht, maar dat is, zeker in de Verenigde Staten, wel anders voor haar tweede plaat. Katie Crutchfield komt uit Birmingham, Alabama, en ontleende haar alter ego aan de naam van haar ouderlijk huis in de Zuidelijke staat. Waxahatchee, die het broeierige Alabama jaren geleden al verruilde voor New York,  heeft haar wortels in de punk, maar maakt inmiddels muziek die met enige fantasie ook in het hokje singer-songwriter is te proppen. Het is wel singer-songwriter muziek die de grenzen van het genre opzoekt. Waxahatchee doet dat aan de ene kant door zo nu en dan stevige gitaren op te nemen in haar songs en aan de andere kant door minstens net zo eigenwijs te zijn als Liz Phair in haar jongere jaren (Cerulean Salt heeft zeker raakvlakken met het door Liz Phair nooit meer benaderde Exile In Guyville uit 1993). Waxahatchee is hiernaast ook niet bang voor ingetogen akoestische songs met een lo-fi gevoel. Het maakt van Cerulean Salt een bijzondere plaat, die raakt aan van alles en nog wat (naast Liz Phair hoor ik ook wel wat van PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Kristin Hersh, zeker Juliana Hatfield, Ani DiFranco en Sleater Kinney), maar uiteindelijk toch vooral een fris en avontuurlijk eigen geluid laat horen. De muziek van Waxahatchee is de ene keer rauw en de volgende keer zoet en heeft eigenlijk altijd een hoog DIY karakter. Cerulean Salt is in principe een plaat die door vele 'angry young women' gemaakt zou kunnen worden, maar je moet het nog wel even doen en dat blijkt in de praktijk tegen te vallen. Op de instrumentatie, de productie, de zang en de songs valt zeker wat af te dingen, maar op een of andere manier raakt de muziek van Waxahatchee mij. Vooral door het grillige gitaarspel en de bijzondere zang. Waxahatchee heeft niet de ambitie om door te breken naar een groot publiek en heeft zich niet omringd met hippe producers. Het is zo op zijn tijd een verademing. Wat Cerulean Salt uiteindelijk zo bijzonder maakt is de emotionele lading van de muziek van Waxahatchee. Katie Crutchfield stort de nodige ellende over je uit en dat doet wat met je, of je het nu wilt of niet. Qua impact heeft de muziek van de Amerikaanse wel wat van de platen van Elliott Smith, een volgende grote naam die kan worden toegevoegd aan het al zo imposante rijtje hierboven. Een ieder die alleen af gaat op deze namen zal misschien wat teleurgesteld zijn door het wat rammelende Cerulean Salt, maar geloof me, dit is een groeiplaat en wat voor een. PopMatters wil nog wel eens overdrijven, maar in het geval van Waxahatchee hebben ze het aan het juiste eind.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Peace and quiet'.

woensdag 22 januari 2014

Houses of the holy. Led Zeppelin

Early this month Erwin Zijleman, who regularly posts from his blog (Krenten uit de pop) on WoNoBloG also, had his birthday. This allowed him to do what he wanted or so he stated and wrote a post on Houses of the holy by Led Zeppelin (click here), stating this is my favourite Led Zep album. Coincidence has it that I also have had a birthday recently and Houses of the holy is my favourite Led Zep album as well. As I always do what I want, I decided to give my view on this album.

First a little on Led Zeppelin and me. I remember 'Good times bad times' entering the Top 40. I remember 'Whole lotta love'. What a great song that was. I even tried to buy it in the small Noord-Brabant town where I spent part of my youth, but came home with 'Marie Jolie' of Aphrodite's Child instead. They did not have 'Whole lotta love' and the message was that it would stay that way. By the time I had enough money to buy albums, Led Zeppelin had faded from memory and was more than over for me. It was at university that my friend and sometimes contributor to WoNoBloG and Magazine, Lebbol turned me onto Led Zep again. I found out that I like the first album a lot, that III goes a long way but that I couldn't listen to any of the others as a whole. From 'Physical graffity' onwards it sort of stopped totally. Things went too far over the hills for me. Except for and you'll have guessed it, Houses of the holy.

Starting with the cover that in 2014, 41 years after the release, may be unacceptable, the album intrigues. The start, 'The song remains the same', is so full of promise. Fast paced, exciting and so melodic, despite the typical Jimmy Page stop start riffing. John Paul Jones' popping bass and the hard hitting John Bonham behind both. Because of the endless guitar overdubs, there is more like a rock orchestra than a trio with singer playing. After 1.30 minutes the mood changes and Robert Plant comes in: "I had a dream". 'The song remains the same' is Led Zeppelin at its very, very best. There is so much going on in the playing, the rhythm that holds slightly back the whole time, as if delaying time, and Robert Plant singing his balls off. Like they are being squeezed too enthusiastically by one of his groupy friends.

'The rain song' comes next and takes the mood in a completely different direction. Folky, some slight 'Stairway to heaven' recapping, delicate and loving. "This is the spring time of my loving". John Paul Jones sets the stage with a mellotron laying this deep layer of emotions over 'The rain song', giving it a hint of mystique and classical music. At the same time Page is doing this beautiful stuff on acoustic and electric guitar. A few piano notes come in, a bass and then finally Bonham plays along: with brushes! One of the most powerful drummers ever, playing with brushes. Almost lovingly, caressing the skins of his snare. To some the song may be too long, but if you let it envelope you, it's the kind of song I do not want ever to end.

'Over the hills and far away' is another folk kind of song. Of course this was not new to Led Zeppelin. Half of 'IV' is folk based. Also 'III' has the first songs, think of 'Gallows pole', that betray that folk is a big influence of the band and not just the mix of Chicago blues and late 60s rock coming out of the States and the U.K. that set Led Zep on its path to immortality in 1969 and 1970. This mix of rock and folk with some mysticism made the band unique and gave them the song they will always be remembered for, 'Stairway to heaven'.

I can proudly say that I once could play something coming clsoe to the intro to 'Over the hills and far away' on guitar. The song has this great rolling guitar playing, before going off into somewhat harder twists. It is again Robert Plant who really carries the song. His high, slightly strained voice sings all the right notes, but let's not forget Jimmy Page's solo here. It starts of beautifully, before setting off for uncharted territories and bringing it all back with another unexpected twist in the song. Everything was possible and could be explored. There did not seem any limits. Listen to how 'Over the hills ...' ends.

Doing a James Brown outing. 'The crunge' and a little further a reggae song, 'D'yer mak'er', proves
that there really were no limits to Led Zeppelin in 1973. Yes, 1973. So we have (now classic) rock, folk(rock) and soul and reggae. It's pure blues that the band had left behind in 1973. On record, not live. I'm not a reggae fan, some famous songs apart, this is my favourite: 'D'yer mak'er' (or Jamaica).

'Dancing days' brings us back to the classic rock the band is famous for. Another song that has the typical Led Zeppelin playing. With hitting on the two and four, Bonham creates a delayed rock song, where most bands play on the one and three. Again John Paul Jones lends a signature keyboard sound to the song. This man's arranging skills are perhaps the most underestimated part of Led Zep. He comes up with many special sounds, making Led Zep more than just your average run of the mill blues-rock band. He may be the bass player, but then some more.

Now it's time for the pièce de résistance: 'No quarter'. Just the way the mood changes, e.g. 0.52 seconds into the song where it happens for the first time, is heavenly. The change from the moody, dark, brooding first part of the verses, the treated, muffled sounds, to the melodic part, with the guitar eruptions of Jimmy Page, is so fantastically good, that it sets 'No quarter' apart from many songs. Add some classical piano playing in the middle, utterly alone, destitute. The effect is brilliant. The clear sound over the underwater sounds of the organ. Words fail beyond here. 'No quarter' set the stage for 'Kashmir' on 'Physical graffiti', the epitome of this side of Led Zeppelin.

'The ocean' ends it all. Riffing like 'Black dog'. After the beauty that went on before, it's a bit like "mud on a flagship". The switch is pretty, too great, but wait. All of a sudden there is just a subdued "la-la-la" part, totally un-Led Zep like. A cappela!. 'The ocean' is a Jimmy Page song all the way and then the miracle happens. The pace changes in an instrumental part. Even doo-wap a doo wap's fly around. But also here there is a guitar interlude, that turns 'The ocean' almost into a different song. These momentary switches in a song, that alter everything. And so 'The ocean' is turned into another brightly coloured flag on the flagship called Houses of the holy.

There is only one conclusion possible after listening to Houses of the holy again for several times: Best Led Zeppelin album ever. Not the best individual songs, but as a whole? Yes it is as it is totally consistent in quality and performance. One of the best albums of the 70s easily and certainly top 100 material ever.


You can listen to 'The song remains the same here' here.

dinsdag 21 januari 2014

Interview with Olaf Caarls of Long Conversations

by Wout de Natris
© WoNo magazine 2014

With Jonathan, Ca. Long Conversation released a fine new album last year. After our favourable review WoNo Magazine got into contact with singer and songwriter Olaf Caarls. Here’s our interview with him

How would you like to introduce yourself/the band?
Two of my favorite quotes are 1) “I’m just a human being with a lot of shit on my heart” (Jack Kerouac); and 2) “We were boys, but nice boys” (Nescio). I guess that’s the best introduction I can give you right now.

Long Conversations in not an average band name. Is there an idea behind it?
In part it’s a very vain, and futile, attempt to counter the shortening attention span of a lot of people. I mean, you should google “long conversations” (I do…), and then check people’s Twitter timelines, for example. I think it’s hilarious that people would post “I love having long conversations” on Twitter. The irony of that is just unbearably funny to me.
But it comes from a line I once wrote: “Life is a long conversation with a stranger on a train” -- because it is; it’s interesting and funny and weird and wonderful, and uncomfortable, and petrifying, and tedious -- but the main thing is: you can’t fucking escape. There’s no way out. I mean, you could jump out of the train, but I’m not crazy enough to do that. 

With Jonathan, Ca. the band’s name was shortened to Long Conversations. What happened to the Closet Orchestra?
They were conceived as a backing band that didn’t exist -- when I played solo shows -- but now they’ve materialized, so I dropped it. 

The title of the album is Jonathan, Ca. What is your relationship with or the inspiration behind this town in California?
Ehm, I don’t know. Once I was driving through California and saw a trailer park with a confederate flag waving. Later I went back on Google Maps to find it, but I couldn’t, so I just made it up. It’s a nice place. It’s small, isolated from the world, and you can fill it with a bunch of characters. There are a few songs that didn’t make the cut with regards to the album, but they [the characters] all exist in my mind, living there, going to church, just hanging out. I guess inventing this town allowed me to fill it with the people and memories of my choosing. I liked that.

Where the title song is a personal song, Jonathan, the album title refers to the town Jonathan. Hence the difference in the two titles?
I just didn’t feel like making the story “perfect”, if you know what I mean. One refers to a person, the other to a town. There’s not much more to it than that. I mean, I wrote the song first, and then when I had to come up with a name for the town I just really liked the sound of “Jonathan”. It’s a good name. 

Some of the songs on Jonathan, Ca. are nearly bare, singer-songwriter while other songs have a full band sound. When do you know a song is as good as it gets in its final form?
You don’t. Or I don’t, anyway. They’re just interpretations of the songs. I know what feels good to me, but if we recorded the album today it would be radically different, I think. Do you know that famous concert Dylan did that was supposed to be at the Royal Albert Hall -- the recording I mean, which is actually in Manchester, I think. Anyway, they’re booing him, and he tried to calm them down saying “it’s a folk song, it’s a folk song” -- and then launches into some rock version of Ballad of a Thin Man, I think. But it is a folk song.

It’s like Jeff Tweedy said: everything’s a folk song at the core. Whatever you do with it afterwards depends on your mood, or the musicians playing, or the listener/audience, or the time of day. Lyrically I’m much more likely to have a moment where I think “Okay that’s it, I’m done, that’s what I want to say”, but musically, I don’t really care. It just keeps changing and that’s fine. It’s exciting.

Musically your songs do not necessarily follow the classic verse-chorus-verse pattern. Instead they follow a pattern around a chord progression. Do you try to weave a mood around your listeners and capture them that way?
I never consciously decided not to write in a standard pattern or whatever. But yeah I am interested in communicating a feeling or emotion, or “mood”, if you will. That’s the main goal, the means can differ with each song.

In my review I mentioned some names that seem influences to the album. What are your main influences?
Wilco, Okkervil River, Ryan Adams, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Spinvis, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo, oh and Death Cab for Cutie, obviously. But that’s just me, though. The other guys in the band listen to all kinds of different things. Like Jazz, or Post-Rock or whatever it’s called.

We built a fire starts with a long audio clip of a speech about the U.S. going to war against Germany. Where did you find it and is there a message behind putting this on the album, as it rather contrast with the lyrics?
First, I don’t think it contrasts with the lyrics at all. I mean, it does, but that’s the point right? “Contrast and compare”? Like, if there’s a message I’m trying to get across in that song it’s that people make different choices based on the same information, and that’s what that clip is about.
I think it adds a new layer to whatever is happening in the song.
Plus it’s hilarious. And his diction is great. I just think it sounds fucking cool.

Long Conversations is a band, but you are the driving force. What is the role of the band members when making an album?
To be honest, I don’t really consider myself to be the driving force. I guess I kickstart the whole thing with writing the songs, but after that it’s really up to them what they do with it. All I do is sit back and put in my two cents when I want to, plus I do have this sort of veto when things go in a direction I really don’t like, or that really doesn’t fit the mood of the song, but that’s about it. And especially with recording, most of them know a lot more about that sort of stuff than I do.

The one time I saw Long Conversations play live, in the Q-Bus in Leiden, things did not exactly go as one might expect. What is the story behind that evening?
Well, I was playing with a different guitarist at that time -- and he was so sick he was sort of hallucinating I think. And I was probably slightly drunk -- or at least inebriated enough to start a three-time song in 4/4, so… I don’t know. I don’t even know if people liked our set that evening, but I really liked that vibe. Like, you fuck up, but that’s okay too. It’s just different, it’s not necessarily wrong or something. It was the first time I had the feeling a song was like a furnished room that you walk into, and there’s nothing telling you you can’t rearrange the furniture, especially when it’s your own room.

In a Different way to fall you sing: ”Is that what you want?, that is no plan at all, it’s just a different way to fall”. It sounds like a grave warning to someone. Is it meant to be?
Yes, I guess. But this is actually kind of personal so I don’t really want to talk about it, if that’s okay with you.

Song to my sister to me seems the most personal song on the album. Is it meant as a song of consolation?
No, I don’t think there’s any consolation in that song. The title might be misleading. The guy singing that song really doesn’t care about his sister all that much. He just wants some idealized past to return and she’s refusing to play along. It’s a pretty cruel song, really. Not in the least because I just decided to kill off my father in a song, just because I could.
Although I sort of sympathize with the sister (and I guess the father, because he’s, you know, dead), I find it hard to like any of the people in that song.

Some titles of songs seem very close to you: Jonathan, We built a fire, Song to my sister, while others overlook vast expanses of space: Best century, Endless fields, Oceans. Was this divide something conscious?
Yeah I think so. Like I said, life is strange, you know? So much is happening at the same time, and to me it’s just magical that all that stuff goes on at the same time. I guess Oceans is the best example of that for me. It’s like taking three slices of life, almost at random, and they’re unconnected, but then for you personally, in order to live your life, you have to make them fit together. So you end up with this kind of cognitive dissonance that you can’t resolve, all this shit is happening at the same time, and it doesn’t make any sense, but somehow it’s connected anyway. Like that guy in Best Century, when he says “this is the best century I’ve seen in a million years” -- obviously he couldn’t have seen more than 2 centuries, at best, but somehow, for me, he’s entitled to say that. Because it is the best century he’s ever seen. Do you know what I mean? In spite of all this stuff that’s happening around him, all around the world, so many things that he can’t influence, he just holds on to his own belief. And he knows that it’s futile, but what the fuck else is he going to do?

What are the plans for the band in 2014?
Play shows, world fame. 

You can listen to and buy Jonathan, ca. here.

And read the review of Jonathan, Ca. here.