maandag 29 mei 2017

Bathing Beach EP. Novo Amor

On the cover of this EP there are some blurred lines between earth and sky. Like the aura of the forest can be seen in the sky. A hazy shade in the sky before clouds can be seen and finally the sky turns blue as it should.

As unclear as the cover art is, so dreamy is the music of Novo Amor. The kind of music that is a part of 10s music. Part folk, part dreampop and part singer-songwriter, with a male high voice and sounds that are all over the mix.

Novo Amor, which means exactly what I thought it would, albeit in Portuguese, is a one man band from Wales. Ali John Meredith-Lacey releases songs under this name since 2012. This is the second EP on route to the debut album in 2018. Is it something to be on the look out for?

After some careful deliberations following several listen sessions I tend towards yes. The reason being that Novo Amor manages to present the world a fairytale reality in his music. An atmosphere too good to be true and probably is. Its music is not of the earth, but sails over the treetops, part of the air, where it mixes with that aura, and is taken where wind and turbulences take it.

The voice is so light and high. It floats over the music. With it comes a form of music that is almost ethereal. Music that I've heard before from several other artists. And somehow they all do not matter when I'm listening to Novo Amor. Meredith-Lacey creates his own universe, especially for you it seems.

There's absolutely no need to pick out one of the songs. I would tell you about the meandering violins or sparse guitar notes, the long, drawn-out sounds, the spaces between the music or how it is filled by strings or something darker. In the end these would be words are inconsequential. Either you believe in fairytales or you don't. Usually I don't, in fact I tend to think of them as pretty horrendous in hindsight. I did not see the endless cruelty when young, just the tension and the adventure. For the fairytale called Bathing Beach I may just make an exception.

Does the world another new folklike album? It just might. We'll all know more next year. For 2017 Novo Amor gets the benefit of the doubt and a little more to go.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Carry You' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utj0BFuv1-Q

zondag 28 mei 2017

Jardin. Gabriel Garzón-Montano

Gabriel Garzón-Montano is een muzikant uit New York die het etiket R&B opgeplakt heeft gekregen.
 
Het is een etiket waarvoor ik over het algemeen niet direct enthousiast opveer, maar dat deed ik wel toen de eerste noten van Jardin uit de speakers kwamen.
 
De muziek van Gabriel Garzón-Montano bevat absoluut invloeden uit de R&B, maar de tweede plaat van de Amerikaan (zijn debuut Bishouné: Alma del Huila ken ik niet) is ook niet vies van invloeden uit onder andere de soul, funk, pop, psychedelica en jazz.
 
Jardin is door alle invloeden een plaat die associaties oproept met van alles en nog wat. Zeker in de psychedelische en funky momenten lijkt het er op dat Prince is opgestaan, maar Gabriel Garzón-Montano sluit ook aan bij een deel van het oeuvre van Stevie Wonder, de eerste plaat van Lenny Kravitz, de soul van Maxwell en D’Angelo, de veelkleurige muziek van Todd Rundgren uit de jaren 70, het experimentelere werk van Paul McCartney en zo kan ik nog wel even door gaan.
 
Ook de liefhebber van hip hop en R&B zal waarschijnlijk van alles herkennen op Jardin, maar ik ben niet genoeg thuis in dit genre om te kunnen zeggen of vaak genoemde namen als J Dilla en Timbaland relevant zijn.
 
De muziek van Gabriel Garzón-Montano is muziek die absoluut buiten de lijntjes kleurt, maar toch maakt de muzikant uit New York het je niet heel moeilijk met Jardin. De voornamelijk ingetogen klanken liggen bijzonder lekker in het gehoor en voldoen ook uitstekend op de achtergrond.
 
Jardin wordt echter een stuk interessanter wanneer je de muziek van Gabriel Garzón-Montano met volledige aandacht beluistert. Jardin valt op door bijzondere songstructuren, een veelheid aan invloeden en songs die zowel het oor strelen als de aandacht prikkelen.
 
Jardin klinkt bijzonder en dat is vooral de verdienste van de instrumentatie die op fraaie wijze warmbloedige organische klanken (met een hoofdrol voor de piano) combineert met elektronica. Het is een uiterst subtiele instrumentatie die er voor zorgt dat Jardin warm en ontspannen klinkt, wat in deze tijden van overvolle producties een oase van rust oplevert. Die rust domineert overigens ook in de vocalen, die zich vrijwel nergens overdreven opdringen.
 
Bij eerste beluisteringen van Jardin vond ik het na een tijdje wel wat eenvormig worden, maar naarmate je de plaat vaker hoort, blijken vrijwel alle songs op de plaat aan kracht te winnen.
 
Jardin begeeft zich absoluut op terreinen die ik normaal gesproken niet zo kan waarderen, maar Gabriel Garzón-Montano doet zoveel mooie dingen dat ik blijf luisteren. "Quiet Magic" noemde The Daily Californian eerder deze week en dat is een mooie omschrijving van deze fascinerende plaat.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Crawl':

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

zaterdag 27 mei 2017

The Hackensaw Boys live. P60 Amstelveen, Thursday 25-6-2017, with Giant Tiger Hooch

You have found The Hackensaw Boys on these pages from the very first months onwards right up to today. The band from Charlotsville, Virginia has been written on since 2004 in WoNo Magazine actually, from the first show I saw in Q-Bus Leiden.

It's been two year since I saw the band play last, three times in just over a week, so it was about time.

Things have changed. Now officially a trio, with Dutch musician and tour manager Thomas Olivier now full time on double bass duties as addition for this tour (and on record as well), the band is as concise as it has never been before. All the embellishments of banjo, mandolin, accordion, mouth harp and what not were shed. The band is left with just the charismo, fiddle and guitar. To be honest, I had expected to write about how I missed the banjo player of all banjo players, Jimmy Stelling, I did, but not to the extent I expected.

The Hackensaw Boys were a tight knitted outfit in Amstelveen. The songs were brought down to their essence with the fiddle the only instrument allowed to escape every once in a while, but serving the whole in the meantime, more clear than ever before. Now tight is the description fitting The Hackensaw Boys in all of the great shows by them that I was privileged to see. This was different, because no one can afford to have a lesser night now. String breaking, always a feature at a show, now is a small disaster as there is no option to fall out for a minute. And strings tend to break at The Hackensaw Boys shows. The relents pounding and pace of the songs are more than strings seem able to handle. There is so much energy in several of the songs, that I'm truly glad not playing in this band; my arm would fall off at the elbow before the end of the first song, were it not that my hand would fall off long before that incident could occur.

The nucleus of the show were songs from the band's latest and fine album, 'Charismo', reviewed on this blog last year. (Read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/04/charismo-hackensaw-boys.html) It shows what fine songwriters Ferd Moyse and David Sickmen are. Two completely different songwriters at that. The former delivers mostly fiddle songs, while the latter comes up with a whole range of songs, from sing-a-longs to contemplative, introspective ballads. Combined with a fine catalogue of songs from former albums, fun is guaranteed for all.

It all ended with three songs in the audience. I received my shot of 'Alabama Shamrock' and could go home happy once more. The band could always play like that as far as I'm concerned. The effect is even more direct. It does give some limitations admittedly.

It seems the band will be back in October. New songs have been cut in Amsterdam over the past days, so a new album is on its way. Somehow I know it will be special again. For now I'll play 'Charismo' on the LP I brought home with me.

Now before The Hackensaw Boys another band was on stage. A band that made a lot of more noise, as it played electric. Giant Tiger Hooch is a Dutch band that plays rock and roll, rootsrock and 60s influenced garage rock with large helpings of electric blues. Fronted by a singer who indeed talked a lot and at least cost the band one song. This did not withhold the band to play its rough rocking songs to the maximum. The drummer played with a 1950s or 60s suitcase for a bass drum and somehow I have the idea that I've seen this before, but for the life of me can't remember where or when.

A few times I was reminded that someone like Wim Bieler or Wally Tax could have fronted this band. The rough side of The Outsiders and Q65 showed through several times. Giving Giant Tiger Hooch a Nederbiet feel in several of the songs.

Unfortunately my introduction to Giant Tiger Hooch will also be the final one as the band announced that they were on a farewell tour. Well I'm glad to have caught it while I still could. Supertight, If you're a fan of the likes George Thoroughgood, the rocking side of Los Lobos or an electrified John Leek Hooker, go and see this band before it is all over on 2 January 2018.

(All photo's by) Wo.

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

zondag 21 mei 2017

Remedies. Soup

Bijna twee jaar geleden kwam ik via een tip van een lezer in aanraking met de muziek van de Noorse band Soup.
 
The Beauty Of Our Youth beluisterde ik tijdens een zware onweersbui en bleek een perfecte soundtrack bij het overtrekkende noodweer.
 
De muziek van Soup had immers de intensiteit en de kracht, maar ook de schoonheid en dynamiek van een onweersbui, aldus mijn recensie twee jaar geleden.
 
De lezer die me twee jaar geleden wees op The Beauty Of Our Youth tipte me nu over de nieuwe plaat van de band uit Trondheim.
 
Het viel twee jaar geleden al niet mee om meer informatie over de plaat van Soup te vinden en dat is dit keer nog lastiger. Zoek op Soup en Remedies en je leest van alles over de geneeskracht van soep bij het verhelpen van allerlei kwaaltjes. Voeg Norway als trefwoord toe en je ontdekt dat ook de Noorse keuken flink wat geneeskrachtige soepjes kent.
 
Net als de vorige keer heb ik de muziek van de Noorse band maar laten spreken en net als de vorige keer heeft dit een fascinerende roller coaster ride opgeleverd. Remedies bevat maar vijf tracks, maar dit levert wel 42 minuten muziek op. De kortste track op de plaat telt maar net 2 minuten, maar Soup is ook niet bang voor een ruim dertien minuten durende track.
 
Vergeleken met de vorige plaat kiest Soup op Remedies voor een net wat meer ingetogen geluid. Het is een geluid waarin invloeden uit de progrock, psychedelica en post-rock prachtig samenvloeien, maar waarin ook ruimte is voor invloeden uit de hedendaagse rockmuziek.
 
Het fascinerende van de muziek van Soup is ook dit keer dat de Noorse band een fraaie balans heeft gevonden tussen redelijk toegankelijke rockmuziek en muziek die stevig experimenteert. Remedies is nog net wat toegankelijker dan zijn voorganger, vooral omdat de echt zware uitbarstingen dit keer grotendeels ontbreken. De muziek van Soup intrigeert op hetzelfde moment genadeloos met verrassende wendingen, heel veel dynamiek en prachtige spanningsbogen.
 
Zeker in de wat langere tracks en vooral wanneer Soup kiest voor grootse of zelfs bombastische klanken raakt de muziek van de band qua opbouw nadrukkelijk aan de symfonische rock en psychedelische rock uit de jaren 70, maar Remedies lijkt af en toe ook een geïmproviseerde jam of verrast juist met passages met een duidelijke kop en staart en meer eigentijdse klanken.
 
Muziekliefhebbers met een allergie voor progrock moeten niet aan Remedies van Soup beginnen, maar een iedere met een stiekeme, latente of juist bloeiende liefde voor dit genre, zal zeer aangenaam verrast zijn door de muziek van de Noorse band.
 
Waar Soup vorige keer een onweersbui voorzag van een fraaie soundtrack komt het dit keer met de soundtrack voor de ontluikende lente. De zon kan al aangenaam schijnen, maar een kille bries is nooit ver weg en een hagelbui zeker niet uit te sluiten.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar Remedies en het album kopen:

https://soupsound.bandcamp.com/album/remedies

zaterdag 20 mei 2017

The Last Rider. Ron Sexsmith

With 'Carousel One' Ron Sexsmith had entered my musical life. Better late than never it seemed. I just loved that record and now there's a new one already. The Last Rider is not such a big surprise, but certainly as good, pleasant and soothing as 'Carousel One'.

With 'Americana', Ray Davies' new album released last month, I am even pointed more to the commonalities between Ron Sexsmith's songs and Davies'. Say 'Don't Forget To Dance' and I have the starting point for The Last Rider. Beware, I don't mind the commonality at all. 'Don't Forget To Dance', a single by The Kinks from 1981, is a sweet song, full of nostalgia for a time long gone, reminding us not to forget to do now what we loved then.

It is this atmosphere Ron Sexsmith recalls with the music on The Last Rider. Another denominator could be the quest for the perfect popsong. It is a giant surprise when a song all of a sudden goes wild, like the outro of 'Breakfast Ethereal'. Where do all these instruments all of sudden come from?

Usually it seems a song is a vehicle to sing a beautiful melody. His sweet voice as a given, Sexsmith sings free-flowing melodies about love and feeling loved and maintaining that state through life. "These songs were hiding behind the door. I had nobody to sing them for. Till you came along". This lyric from 'Worried Song' tells it all in my perception. Love unlocking the most beautiful songs. Against all proof Ron Sexsmith shows the world that love is a far stronger muse than deep and dark depressions or misery. When searching for the holy grail of a perfect popsong that is.

This truly sums up The Last Rider. There is nothing else to tell. If you want to find beauty in music, how a musician and songwriter can capture just that in notes and melodies in the vocal delivery, The Last Rider is a must. Like the song below. If you don't get it, well what could I say then? Yes, it is sentimental, but that is the whole point, isn't it? It seems that with every spin of The Last Rider I like it better. It's time to start listening to older work of Ron Sexsmith.


Wo.

You can listen to 'Who We Are Right Now' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knxCqDiC3OE

vrijdag 19 mei 2017

John Lee Hooker's World Today. Hugo Race & Michelangelo Russo

John Lee Hooker was born in 1917 and died at the age of 83 in 2001. He was one of those names of old blues men for me, basically until that album in the late 80s with a lot of the great stars of the time, 'The Healer', including two hitsingles with Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt. I found out that I didn't really like his sort of blues. Too one dimensional and, well, to be honest, boring. My standard in blues is Muddy Waters and nothing else compares it seems.

So when I found an album called John Lee Hooker's World Today on my digital doorstep I wasn't too curious to find out more. Of course I tried any way and found out about a mysterious sounding album that presents a modern type of blues that goes beyond anything John Lee was ever able to conjure up. Sit back, relax and be ready to get into a trance with Hugo Race & Michelangelo Russo's version of the blues as played in 2017.

The duo looks at the songs with the eyes, ears and options of 2017. The typical Hooker stomp is there. Under, over and right through it modern sounds are mixed that gives the songs something that it never had nor could have had at the time Hooker recorded. Recorded in something like 24 hours in Berlin, one continuous session, Race & Russo get into close contact with Nick Cave. My first connotation is with the opening song of Fink's blues album that passed through these pages circa a month and some back. Where Fink wrote original blues songs Race & Russo delve into John Lee Hooker's repertoire, including a cover of MC5 Hooker had done.

Promo photo by Rimmer
So it is not a surprise to me that the songs are monotonous. There's no other word for it. Hooker just loves a song in one chord, with short bursts of guitar notes. The rhythm often just his foot stompin' the rhythm. How the man ever wrote material for dozens of albums is beyond me.

World Today does not do anything to hide the elementary music Hooker made. What the album does show is what modern technology can add to the songs. A harmonica is smeared out, as if windswept, over the song. Electronic sounds and treated guitars have the same effect. Creating an atmosphere of desolation. Of U.S. trains honking before crossing unprotected crossings in the wrong side of far off places. There is no joy in this atmosphere. As if what is going on here is dead and not just a little.

Strangely enough I'm reminded of Dire Straits. That mysterious single, that turned out to be the band's greatest hit here in NL, 'Private Investigations'. Near non-music, all atmosphere. Where all music and joy was cut out of the song. Something like that is going on here as well. Except that was always the case with Hooker's music. Totally one dimensional. What was added was danger. John Lee Hooker managed to sound dangerous, perhaps was dangerous in his younger days. That was taken away because he lived to an old age and became something of a pop star in his 70s when he was brought back into the limelight and found a new generation of fans.

The man still has fans as Hugo Race & Michelangelo Russo show. I'm still not a fan of John Lee Hooker's music, but am certainly impressed by what is going on here. Dire Straits meets Nick Cave and John Lee Hooker. Many a day I had never expected to write down this combination, but here it is.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Love Blues' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQn3SfSf4HE

donderdag 18 mei 2017

Chris Cornell (1964 - 2017)

Some rock stars die too young. Chris Cornell is one of them. Despite the fact that his hey-day as front man of Soundgarden lay behind him for over 20 years, it is obvious that the respect his voice earned him, made sure the world had not forgotten him. A show of the reunion tour that brought Soundgarden to Europe, got reviewed twice on these pages in 2013 (see the links below).

For me Soundgarden is a thing of the past. Part of the grunge movement, but not my favourite band at the time. Nirvana simply is the best, Pearl Jam the best known and Alice In Chains so much sludgier. I'm happy with a few singles, with the dark, brooding 'Black Hole Sun' as my favourite.

By now it is clear to conclude that fronting a grunge band was not a healthy thing to do. Of the five major bands at the time, if we include Stone Temple Pilots, only one singer is still alive, Eddie Vedder. He'd better stop smoking straight away.

Cornell had played in Audioslave with the three remaining members of Rage Against the Machine, releasing three albums together, until RATM regrouped. Some solo albums followed, but it did not seem like Cornell really had focus nor an audience waiting for new music by him. I remained untouched by either his solo albums and Audioslave.

He had become a musician that depended on past achievements to reach his audience. People still loved to come and watch Soundgarden reunion shows, probably without wanting to hear too much new songs. A fairly sad state to be in. Perhaps this also was what it was and no great inspiration hit him any more.

The cause of his death is still unknown. Beyond that it was unexpected, there is no news. For fans no doubt the demise of Chris Cornell will have come as a great shock. I will just play 'Black Hole Sun' every once in a while and remember a great singer who sang songs that were not meant for me.

Let me end with referring you to the true fans.

Wo.

Here are the two reviews. The first by /PV, the second by ReginA:

https://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2013/09/soundgarden-live-hmh-11-september-2013.html

https://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2013/09/soundgarden-live-heineken-music-hall-11.html

The Bird & The Rifle. Lori McKenna

Lori McKenna dook eind vorig jaar op in flink wat van de Amerikaanse countryjaarlijstjes. Het is voor mij een grote verrassing, want Lori McKenna ken ik eigenlijk alleen maar uit het verleden.
 
Aan het eind van de jaren 90 dook haar naam voor het eerst op in het folkcircuit in Boston, aan het begin van het nieuwe millennium maakte ze twee hele aardige platen, maar de meeste opzien baarde de singer-songwriter uit Boston, Massachusetts, wat mij betreft met het in 2004 verschenen Bittertown, dat ik in het betreffende jaar schaarde onder de beste vrouwelijke singer-songwriter platen.
 
Hierna verloor ik Lori McKenna compleet uit het oog. Dat was ook niet zo moeilijk, want tussen haar meesterwerk uit 2004 en het dit jaar opgedoken The Bird & The Rifle verschenen zo te zien slechts twee platen, waarvan er één niet kon rekenen op positieve recensies. In de tussentijd was Lori McKenna in Nashville wel heel actief en succesvol als songwriter voor anderen.
 
Het afgelopen zomer verschenen The Bird & The Rifle werd in de Verenigde Staten zeer warm ontvangen en daar valt echt helemaal niets op af te dingen. In het genre dat me zo dierbaar is, heeft Lori McKenna immers een van de mooiste platen afgeleverd het afgelopen jaar. 

Voor The Bird & The Rifle deed Lori McKenna een beroep op producer Dave Cobb en dat is op het moment bijna een garantie op succes. Dave Cobb, die in 2015 achter de knoppen zat bij Sturgill Simpson, Corb Lund en Jason Isbell, deed vorig jaar ook hele mooie dingen voor Mary Chapin Carpenter, Amanda Shires, Brett Dennen en neef Brent Cobb en heeft hetzelfde gedaan voor Lori McKenna.
 
The Bird & The Rifle is voorzien van een mooi verzorgde en behoorlijk vol klinkende productie. De grotendeels akoestische en gloedvolle instrumentatie is opgepoetst met flink wat strijkers. Dat is soms wel wat veel van het goede of net wat te gladjes, maar op de plaat van Lori McKenna pakt het prachtig uit.
 
De Amerikaanse singer-songwriter is inmiddels achter in de veertig, wat heeft gezorgd voor een rauw randje op haar stembanden. Het zorgt voor flink wat doorleving en dat contrasteert prachtig met de mooi verzorgde instrumentatie en productie.
 
Op Bittertown manifesteerde Lori McKenna zich 12 jaar geleden niet alleen als een geweldig zangeres, maar bovendien als een zeer getalenteerd songwriter. Beide kunstjes is ze op The Bird & The Rifle nog niet verleerd. In vocaal opzicht is Lori McKenna de meeste van haar jongere concurrenten met gemak de baas en ook haar songs steken flink boven het maaiveld uit.
 
Dat de nieuwe plaat van Lori McKenna opduikt in de jaarlijstjes met de betere countryplaten van 2016 is dan ook niet meer dan logisch. Ik heb hem eerder gemist, maar ben nu weer helemaal bij de les.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'The Bird & The Feather':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ3mEOBQZM8

woensdag 17 mei 2017

Lens. Close Talker

In my iTunes directory the position of Close Talker is very befitting: two up from Cold War Kids. (With a band called Codeine in between.) Why? This is a band I'm reminded of a few times while listening to Lens. That is one way of starting this review. The other is that I at first had mistaken the album name for the band name. So naming an album after one of the wingers of the NL football team is special for a band from Canada. Saskatoon somewhere on the vast prairies. Alas, that turned out to be my mistake.

Lens is a solemn album. Close Talker not only takes its music seriously. It plays serious music. Right from the start the trio draws its listeners into its own world. Those inclined to listen to music that is like a carpet of sound should feel right at home. I'm thinking of that hitsingle called 'Diamonds' of The Boxer Rebellion, to set the mood here.

Lens starts hesitantly. Sparse keyboard sounds and a soft voice. When the drums, smooth bass and spacious guitar join the sound is expanded. The album really gets under way when the sound is more electrified by the guitar. 'All Of Us' is not so representative of what follows. The song is more to the point, in a very indirect, humble way.

The true sound of Close Talker comes to the fore in the second song. 'Reptiles'. Spacious keyboards with the other instruments keeping close together. A rather suave, vast sound that in most songs is built up in the right ways, by using dynamics and changes of a lead instrument or sound. One of my favourite songs on the album is 'Okay Hollywood' where the band does several of these tricks in one song. The staccato verses and the wider choruses show a keen ear for detail.

Close Talker released its first album in 2013 called 'Timbers', a year after starting the band. Will Guiring, vocals/guitar, Mathew Kopperud, guitar/vocals, Chris Morien, drums/vocals and Jerms Olsen, bass/vocals started the band. Since 2105, after Olsen left the band, Close Talker is a trio. According to the bio "honing their skills, creating a more vast and iconic sound". The leaving of Olsen may explain why I have the impression to be listening to a digital bass on Lens.

It took me a while to warm to Lens. It has happened after a few more serious sessions with the album. In these moments I noticed the details that were delivered with the whole. The subtle differences Close Talker allows into its sound. Once I had come to this point it wasn't difficult to share my thoughts with you, where before it was.

Take 'Afterthought'. A song that did not draw me to it, nor distinguish itself in any way to me. In fact I thought it fairly boring and that for a song that was widely acclaimed and "is as intimate as it is earnest". I did not hear it. Until I noticed, once again on Lens, how this song is slowly flashed out into a something else, something good, full of atmospheric sounds and additions to what it started out with. This sums up Close Talker more for me than the Cold War Kids outing 'Waking Up' that follows 'Afterthought'. The more prominent drums, guitars and rhythms do one thing for Lens though: create variation and they take the solemn top of things.

From what I understand Close Talker have set a huge steps in its development. It will be interesting to find out to see if the band is able to set another step in the near future that will get them in the league where many other bands have already arrived in. For now Close Talker is certainly a band to watch with this fine sophomore album under its belt.

Wo.

You can listen to and buy Lens here:

https://closetalkerband.bandcamp.com/

dinsdag 16 mei 2017

Building Bridges. Fischer-Z

De Britse band Fischer-Z leverde met Word Salad (1979), Going Deaf For A Living (1980) en Red Skies Over Paradise (1981) drie platen af die de popmuziek van de late jaren 70 en vroege jaren 80 kleur gaven.
 
Na Red Skies Over Paradise was het helaas net wat te lang stil rond de band en verdween Fischer-Z uit beeld.
 
De band rond zanger/gitarist John Watts, die vanaf dat moment in zijn eentje Fischer-Z vormde, maakte nog wel een aantal platen, maar trok weer voor het eerst mijn aandacht met het uitstekende This Is My Universe, dat een jaar geleden verscheen. Precies een jaar later is er al weer een nieuwe plaat van de band en ook op Building Bridges klinkt de band rond John Watts weer net zo urgent als in haar gloriejaren.
 
Fischer-Z is nooit bang geweest om de belangrijke maatschappelijke problemen aan de kaak te stellen en doet dat ook op Building Bridges. Direct in de openingstrack Damascus Disco spuwt John Watts als een ‘angry young man’ zijn gal over het bombarderen van woonwijken in het Midden-Oosten en in de tweede track wordt vervolgens op even scherpe wijze de uitbuiting van arbeiders in de wereldeconomie aan de kaak gesteld.
 
In de teksten is het nodige vuur en venijn te horen en dit vuur en venijn komen terug in de muziek. Fischer-Z klinkt op Building Bridges heerlijk rauw, maar net als in haar beste jaren verpakt de band haar muziek en boodschap vrijwel zonder uitzondering in aanstekelijke songs.
 
Ook op haar nieuwe plaat grijpt Fischer-Z weer met enige regelmaat terug op haar gloriejaren, maar Building Bridges klinkt, net als het vorig jaar verschenen This Is My Universe, toch anders dan Word Salad, Going Deaf For A Living en Red Skies Over Paradise.
 
Vooral in vocaal opzicht is er wel wat veranderd. De stem van John Watts is wat minder hoog dan in het verleden en laat een rauw randje horen. Ik moest daar vorig jaar nog wel wat aan wennen, maar op Building Bridges zingt John Watts wat mij betreft beter dan ooit.
 
Ook in muzikaal opzicht is de nieuwe plaat van Fischer-Z een verrassend sterke plaat. Building Bridges klinkt nog diverser dan de al zo gevarieerde platen uit de beginjaren van de band en combineert stevige gitaren met funky blazers in songs die stuk voor stuk anders klinken. Persoonlijk vind ik de songs waarin John Watts stevig om zich heen trapt over alle ellende in de wereld het sterkst, maar ook de net wat lichtvoetigere songs op de plaat blijven heerlijk hangen en stralen urgentie uit.
 
This Is My Universe vond ik vorig jaar een aangename verrassing en een veel betere plaat dan al het andere dat Fischer-Z na 1981 uitbracht, maar de plaat kwam nog niet in de buurt van de briljante trilogie die de band tussen 1979 en 1981 uitbracht.
 
John Watts, die overigens dit jaar het 40 jarig  bestaan van zijn geesteskind Fischer-Z viert, komt wat mij betreft met Building Bridges wel in de buurt van de drie briljante platen van een aantal decennia geleden.
 
Direct bij eerste beluistering was het genieten, maar inmiddels is de nieuwe van Fischer-Z nog veel beter en de rek is er nog lang niet uit. Een knappe prestatie van een muzikant die al zo lang mee gaat en zijn successen vierde toen de wereld er nog totaal anders uit zag. En nu volgend jaar ook deze trilogie vervolmaken.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Damascus Video':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShwAp6IQmEM

maandag 15 mei 2017

Gather live. Birds of a Feather en Jara Holdert

Op vrijdag 19 mei is de derde aflevering van Gather live. Na het mooie optreden van The Wanderer en het ontwapenende optreden van No Ninja Am I april jl. is het de beurt aan de Amsterdamse singer-songwriter Jara Holdert en het Zwitserse duo Birds of a Feather. Wat kunnen we verwachten in het oude V&D gebouw in Haarlem?

Birds of a Feather releaste recentlelijk haar nieuwe EP 'Rise Up', volgend op hun eerdere EP 'Light Up', uit 2016. Ze staan beide op Spotify. Amy McKay en Ryan Lean zingen en spelen samen in delicate arrangementen die iemand toestaan om uiterst relaxt te luisteren naar hun nummers. Enerzijds kan een liedje klinken alsof het zo uit de kerk is weggelopen, terwijl anderzijds het volgende een beschaafde pop rock song is. Voeg daarbij een song die klinkt als het een intro is voor een nummer vol EDM beats, die natuurlijk niet komen, en het beeld is wel compleet. Birds of a Feather is een gevarieerde band, die niet bang is om haar nummers geheel verschillend in te kleuren.

Dit maakt het lastig om vergelijkingen los te laten. Het voert te ver om te zeggen dat het duo een eigen geluid heeft gevonden. Daarvoor gebeuren er teveel verschillende dingen. Het hokje beschaafde pop staat zeker wijd open, maar dat vertelt het verhaal maar ten dele. In de samenzang schuilen hints richting country, in de muziek voorzichtige elementen naar veel modernere muziek. 'Home' is een gedragen song, maar de atmosfeer maakt het nummer ronduit spannend. Diverse keyboards doen hun ding op de achtergrond en creëren zo een eigen wereld onder 'Home'.

Live verwacht ik prachtige samenzang van Birds of a Feather over zacht gitaargetokkel heen. Intieme momenten in licht gevarieerde nummers die zorg dragen voor een mooie luisterervaring.

Jara is een singer-songwriter uit de residentie. Op You Tube vond ik een paar solo nummers, die mij de impressie gaven met een naar jazz neigende singer-songwriter te maken te hebben. Dat klopt ook. Zij studeert jazz zang.

Op Soundcloud trof ik nog een aantal nummers aan. Het startte met nummer dat meer indie klonk, met een bandbegeleiding. Jara Holdert's stem is nogal hoog, een beetje zoals Joni Mitchell, dus dat moet je liggen. Zodra 'Sorrow' begint te spelen, is de vergelijking geen vage referentie meer. Het had mij kunnen foppen. Als vervolgens een Astrud Gilberto achtig nummer begint, is duidelijk dat Jara net zo veelzijdig is als Birds of a Feather. Ook zij is niet voor een sound te vangen. Haar stem moet je liggen, merk ik. Maar 'To Like You' vangt mij met zijn fraaie opbouw en prettige referenties.

Met deze twee artiesten moet het aankomende "huiskamer" concert in Gather opnieuw een interessante bijeenkomst worden. Veel mooie liedjes van twee totaal verschillende artiesten.

Wo.

Deuren open om 19.30 uur. Meer informatie vind je hier:

https://www.haarlemmarketing.nl/uitagenda/overzicht/2278063272/gather-live-jara-birds-of-a-feather

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Rise Up':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yDMHhLVdN0

Nummers van Jara staan hier op Soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/listentojara

zondag 14 mei 2017

In Debt. Disco Inferno

Google the web and all hits on Disco Inferno will get you to the 70s disco hit of the vocal group The Trammps. So when I was sent a record by a band called Disco Inferno (of D.I.) I was mildly surprised. My amazement only grew when I read the bio. It gave me the impression that I was about to listen to a new Big Star. An overlooked band of geniuses from the early 90s that experimented with electronics in their music like has become so common years later.

When I put on the record I was surprised but not like Big Star once surprised me. I heard music like they played in the early 80s. The Cure, The Comsat Angels, that sort. Darkness all around, the bomb about to fall on us all and as little melody as music allows for. Joy in listening and playing music simply strictly forbidden. So that not only caught me by surprise, it set me off on the wrong foot as well.

Disco Inferno was a band formed in Essex in 1989 by four teenage lads, soon to be a trio. When Ian Crause bought himself a sampler, things changed in how the band approached music. All the sounds were sampled and reprocessed into the whole. A painstaking lot of hard work at the time, that in the end got little recognition, until bands much later started working the same way and started naming Disco Inferno as an influence. The band released three albums and a lot of EPs. That music was summarised into a compilation called In Debt which is now re-released through Rocket Girl Records.

So that was history for you. What to make of the music now? I can't get myself over the feeling that In Debt sounds horribly outdated. This has everything to do with the 80s doom and gloom feel that lies over all the songs. There's a darkness that just doesn't belong in this world any more. No matter how gloomy people are in 2017, at times, a lot of them are better off them 25-30 years ago. And they know it. The question whether this is a long-ignored masterpiece should be left to someone who really loves 80s music, which I did, and do, not.

So, is there nothing positive to write on In Debt? Yes, there is actually. For starters it is always a good things that music people truly believe in is made available for others to discover. What also attracts me to the album is the inventive rhythms Rob Whatley (drums) plays on several of the songs. Over that the bass of Paul Willmott plays all the right accents. This leads to fairly exciting songs like 'Set Sail'. The guitar style laid over the beat is light, yet extremely busy, like a waterfall full of cascades that ends in a Niagara.

Crause's voice suits the music. Dark, joyless, laying a near lifeless atmosphere over the music. I have a hard time enjoying this. Yet, the voice has the effect it intends to have. I'm not feeling really happy from listening to In Debt. Again I hit on a song that rocks out a bit more, 'Freethought' and find myself nodding my head. 'Freethought' is all but that. Attention went into the details of the song. The looped guitar sounds that keep coming back, around which nothing is withheld. Whatley going "Animal", guitars all over the place and the bass doing runs in the background.

Anyone who listens to the music will find details like this. In the dark soup of gloomy music gems are hidden to be discovered. With a few listening sessions I have discovered some. Disco Inferno was able to find sounds and pieces of music that add to the whole and never seemed to have been content with just the first or second set of ideas. It always managed to go beyond that and add to what was there initially. In that way I'm certainly glad to have been introduced to In Debt.

Would I have bought the record? No, for that this music is simply just past my taste in music. The 80s just don't belong in there. A pop element in the vocals is missing to really grab my attention. Having said that, In Debt is an album worth discovering for people who love this sort of music. Disco Inferno is no ordinary band. In that the bio is completely right. Go and discover, writes

Wo.

You can listen to and buy In Debt here:

https://discoinferno1.bandcamp.com/releases

zaterdag 13 mei 2017

Live A Fugitive and Stahlr. Cinetol, Amsterdam Thursday 11 May 2017

On the first summer's evening of 2017 I took the train to Amsterdam to go and see A Fugitive and a band?, solo artist? with the mysterious name Stahlr. It turned out to be one of the strangest shows I've attended. Not because of the music, but what was going on in another part of the building, where a restaurant and bar had been turned into a football match haven. Ajax was trying to qualify for the Europa League finals and managed. The two events inevitably started mixing for most people concerned. The show starting around the football and watching football in the interludes. Let's leave Ajax behind and focus on what I came to do, listen to music.

Before the show started I had met with friends, family and booking agent of the acts. We were just about the audience I'm afraid. Simply too much competition of weather and Ajax. The good thing is that this did not deter both artists to play with the energy and commitment a show needs.

Photo: Wo.
Walking into the Cinetol stage was rather a strange experience. Near total darkness, smoke everywhere and no one inside. Absolutely no one. So back into the light outside.

The darkness, the mist. It turned out that it was part of the act. When Stahlr, who I had got to know as Anne by then, stood on stage, all that could be seen, very, very faintly, was a person donned in a long, mysterious, hooded cape. Face hidden within the hood. Light coming straight from the bottom lighting the figure up for just a flash. Despite the glistening robe I was reminded of pictures of the Middle Ages. Of monks and the people who brought Black Plague victims to their mass graves. Only the protective, strongly pointed nose mask filled with herbs was missing. The hooded figure stood behind a desk with some electronics on it and in front of two panels with light bulbs and a laser. Big, dark, brooding beats started. So deep, reverberating the room. Immediately it was clear to me that the sound system here was so good as it not only withstood the onslaught, but made every nuance in the electronic sound available to hear. Without being too loud. (Later I found out that Paradiso assists here.) When the first song played itself out I found myself wondering why this can't be heard on the radio. Perhaps because the average speaker would blow itself up.

Stahlr captured me totally, where I have to point out that she sings beautifully over these dark beats. Even the hiss from the smoke machine falls in with the beats. A lot is orchestrated to the last detail in this show.

A technical problem with one of the songs, broke the spell. Here was no high priest of Egyptian times singing for us. All the music comes from a laptop placed on the floor. The magic and mystery comes from a well thought out light show. What Stahlr actually does on stage, besides singing beautifully, is cloaked in mist, mystery, light and laser. It worked for me though.

After the break with a lot of football and excitement I went back in to watch A Fugitive. Followers of this log will recall how excited I was about her EP 'Coincidence' that was released this April. The three songs captured me fully and are charged with emotions. "A Fugative makes a statement ...of no small proportions" I wrote at the time.

Photo: Wo.
The stage was filled with electronics, pedals, a few keyboards, a laptop and who knows what else surrounding the singer and to contrast all the black, a beautiful white Fender Stratocaster in the hands of Rosan Rozema. Songs are built op from scratch with samples of melodies and sounds. Beats kicking in at the right moment that seemed pre-recorded. With each addition the mood of a song changed slightly; or by avalanche.

Making music takes concentrations as everything has to fall into the right place. Here it is even more than that. While playing and singing it is necessary to start and stop sampling at precisely the right moment, making the sample coming back in or add whatever sound or rhythm, as there is no one else doing this when you're a solo act. On top of that the artist is performing so has to show just that. Practising and practising is most likely what it takes and Rosan Rozema showed that she was comfortable doing everything at once. And more, as she obviously stood her ground, self-assured and showing it in her performance.

The songs from 'Coincidence' stood the test live effortlessly. The other songs sounded promising. A Fugitive is a project that deserves more listeners as things don't get more intense without losing musicality than this. A Fugitive simply pushes all the right buttons.

Wo.

You can listen to and buy 'Coincidence' here:

https://afugitive.bandcamp.com/

You can listen to Stahlr here:

https://soundcloud.com/stahlr-676914479

vrijdag 12 mei 2017

Whiteout Conditions. The New Pornographers

I can remember seeing pictures of whiteout conditions in my country but can't remember having been in such a condition ever. Global warming is making heavy snowfall an exception for quite some years now. Let alone in combination with heavy frost.

So now an album with that title, from a band that I rather like. What does the new album bring. A lot of pleasure, that is for sure. With the exception of Dan Bejar and drummer Kurt Dahle the whole crew is there, delivering the purest of pop rock imaginable.

Owning all records and having seen the band perform twice in the past years, a new album is more than welcome. Carl Newman has come up with eleven new pop gems that he seems to have a patent on delivering. The songs pulsate with energy and shine from being polished so hard. In combination with the harmonies and alternating lead vocals an unbeatable formula is tapped from. The only imaginable complaint is that the variation created by Dan Bejar's songs, like on 'Brill Bruisers', is lacking here. That would be really splitting hairs though when the level of songs and musicianship is as high as on Whiteout Conditions.

Part of the energy that oozes out of this record comes directly from the propulsing synths that are being played in the best 80s tradition, merged into a high and modern poprock environment. The synths keep at it. Never in a straight manner. Always sending out signals with a slight delay built in, creating a digital heartbeat in the music. The synths set the pace of Whiteout Conditions.

They are incorporated into alternative rocksongs with a fine bed of drums and bass. On top of it all are the vocals. With fine singers like Carl Newman, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder it is possible to work out intricate vocal arrangements. And that is what The New Pornographers do as its trademark. The contrast between Newman and the two ladies is nice. Once they all go at it together things get even better.

Overlooking the whole album, I have to conclude that the touch of brilliance that 'Brill Bruisers' and 'Twin Cinema' both hold is missing. A hint of something shiningly fresh and new. For that Whiteout Conditions is too dark in sound. Or too whitened out, to keep with the title. I find it hard to internalise the songs, where on other albums I did not have that problem. This doesn't take anything from the fact that I enjoy listening to this album. In the end it is the new The New Pornographers album and that is enough. There's so much to enjoy here.

Wo.

You can listen to 'High Ticket Attractions' here:

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

donderdag 11 mei 2017

The Navigator. Hurray For The Riff Raff

Hurray For The Riff Raff is de band rond frontvrouw Alynda Lee Segarra.
 
Alynda heeft Puerto Ricaanse wortels, maar groeide op in de Bronx in New York. Op haar 17e verruilde ze het zware leven in een wat minder florissante wijk in New York voor een bestaan als muzikant in New Orleans en dit begint zo langzamerhand zijn vruchten af te werpen.
 
De platen van Hurray For The Riff Raff zijn sinds het uit 2008 stammende debuut alleen maar beter geworden en ook The Navigator is weer beter dan zijn voorganger.
 
The Navigator is een opvallend ambitieuze plaat, waarop Alynda Lee Segarra een verhaal vertelt dat lijkt op haar levensverhaal. Het is een levensverhaal dat voor een belangrijk deel wordt ingekleurd door de muziek waarmee de frontvrouw van Hurray For The Riff Raff opgroeide in New York.
 
Op Spotify heeft Alynda Lee Segarra een lijstje geplaatst met de songs die haar hebben geïnspireerd tot het maken van The Navigator en dat is een interessant lijstje. Het is een lijstje dat wordt gekleurd door haar Puerto Ricaanse afkomst en de muziekgeschiedenis van The Big Apple, maar het belangrijkst was naar eigen zeggen de eerste beluistering van David Bowie's The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust. Persoonlijk hoor ik overigens veel meer van Patti Smith, die ook vertegenwoordigd is in de playlist op Spotify.
 
Hurray For The Riff Raff opereerde tot dusver binnen de kaders van de Americana (in de breedste zin van het woord), maar op The Navigator slaat de band haar vleugels uit. In een aantal songs raakt de muziek van de band aan de Americana die het in het verleden omarmde, maar de plaat biedt ook volop ruimte aan de rockmuziek uit de grote stad.
 
Invloeden uit de rockmuziek uit de jaren 60 en 70 staan centraal op The Navigator, maar Hurray For The Riff Raff vermengt deze invloeden op bijzonder knappe wijze met uiteenlopende andere invloeden.
 
Het ene moment sluit Alynda Lee Segarra nadrukkelijk aan bij de muziek die Patti Smith in de jaren 70 maakte, maar The Navigator sluit ook net zo makkelijk aan bij de emotievolle folk van Natalie Merchant of bij de Latin die op zijn beurt weer aansluit bij de roots van de zangeres van Hurray For The Riff Raff.
 
Dit alles wordt vermengd met donkere klanken, Surf gitaren, hier en daar melancholische strijkers en altijd heel veel passie. Het levert een plaat op die zich met geen enkele andere plaat laat vergelijken. Het levert ook een plaat op die ondanks de zeer uiteenlopende invloeden klinkt als een geheel en wat is het een indrukwekkend geheel.
 
In muzikaal opzicht schiet het alle kanten op, maar in vocaal opzicht is The Navigator verrassend consistent. Alynda Lee Segarra zingt op de nieuwe plaat van Hurray For The Riff Raff met hart en ziel en maakt indruk met vocalen die haar songs tot leven brengen.
 
Bij mijn eerste beluistering van The Navigator had ik 12 songs en 40 minuten lang kippenvel en dat keert bij iedere volgende beluistering terug. Hurray For The Riff Raff heeft een hele moedige plaat gemaakt en wat is het een verschrikkelijk goede plaat.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'The Navigator':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcXlkjAyvl4