Thursday 31 March 2011

Kyuss Couldn't Be More Alive

First there was Kyuss then there was stoner rock music. They are considered the inventors of the genre. Although they never really hit main stream out of its ashes rose one of the most influential rock bands of the last decade Queens of the Stone Age. Last year it was just John Garcia playing Kyuss songs. This time the only one missing is Josh Homme.

Kyuss Lives in Paradiso Amsterdam, March 29 2011 (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

A long recorded intro sounds through the former church to announce the beginning of the show. When the band takes the stage they get right to it. Garcia's eyes are hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. It's a familiar sight to see bass player Nick Oliveri and drum player Brant Bjork on stage with Garcia. And it looks as if they never broke up fifteen years ago. Only guitar player Bruno Fevery (Arsenal) taking the place of Homme reveals that so many years have passed.

Fevery however is a more than worthy replacement. His guitar sounds powerful and he fires off the signature Kyuss riffs with confidence. Solo's are finger licking good and he brings justice to the Kyuss heritage. The musicians are obviously enjoying themselves. There isn't a lot of talking in between the songs but they are exchanging smiles among each other and a beer with the fans. Maybe some time in an Amsterdam coffee shop helped as well. The sound itself is loud, dirty and heavy like it should be.

But what's striking is that the music is still solid as a rock after all those years. It doesn't sound old at all and songs like 'El Rodeo', 'Thumb' and 'Gardenia' that opens the set are monumental. Along the way the bands gets real comfortable and there's room for some jammin'. Even a screwed up 'I'm Not' can't change that. By this time the crowd has already subdued itself to the mighty stoner riffs.

More Pictures.

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Tuesday 29 March 2011

The Dears Are In A Dead End Street

Once they were hauled in as the future heroes of the indie rock scene and they were predicted a bright future. The Dears from Montreal have been around since 1995 and have released their fifth album. They managed to put themselves on the map with the album Gang of Losers and the prediction seemed to come true. But it didn't quite work out and this caused major problems in the band. Meanwhile their lineup changed significantly a few times and only singer Murray Lightburn and keyboard player Natalia Yanchak are the only remaining original members.

The Dears - Degeneration Street (Ronald Says 4 out of 10)
The many changes haven't done them any good. The latest album Missiles already received mixed reviews and they have continued down that descending road with Degeneration Street. The album starts okay with 'Omega Dog' and '5 Chords'. Not really exciting but descent songs indebted to the genre. But after that the record starts to sag and reaches a preliminary low in the weary 'Lamentation'; a lingering ballad that requires a lot of persistence of the listener. On top of that Lightburn's vocals are exaggerated and over dramatic.

After that the album doesn't recover anymore. There are some highlights now and then, but especially the slower songs make the album a bitter pill to swallow. The songs don't last, wander all over the place and sound outdated. The record tarnishes even further with the closing act and title song 'Degeneration Street'. With that the album fizzles out and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

It is clear that the Dears are on the wrong track. They lack original ideas and the record has no direction. The band is looking for a sound that will work well in the charts but ends up with cliches and outdated arrangements from their golden years. No, it's better to skip this album. It's questionable if the Canadians will be able to regain themselves.

This review has been published on ROAR E-Zine in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'Degeneration Street' on Spotify

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Friday 25 March 2011

The Black Keys Or How To Impress And Entertain A Crowd

When it was announced that The Black Keys were gonna play the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam I didn't run to the ticket shop immediately. Not only because I buy all my tickets online but also because the big hall with 5500 persons capacity didn't strike me as the best environment for the band. Although they had proven that they were capable of entertaining big crowds last year on Rock Werchter. But when DeWolff were added as a support act I just couldn't resist any more.

DeWolff at Heineken Music Hall Amsterdam, March 19 2010 (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And that's why they deserve a separate review. A few years ago these young musicians impressed me with their album and live show. And now they released their second album Orchids/Lupine which sounds even better. With their mix of good old 70s rock and psychedelica they start off their show for just a handful of people. But by the time the venue fills up they manage to convince a lot of them. It shows they have grown and aren't afraid to take a gamble with their set list. The three musicians stick to their normal playing style including long jams and solos. By the end of the show they earn a well deserved applause from the majority.

The Black Keys at Heineken Music Hall Amsterdam, March 19 2010(Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
After this nice warm up the golden drum kit of Patrick Carney moves to the front of the stage. The duo fly into it right from the start and open up with 'Thickfreakness'. This grabs everyone right away and they won't let go for the rest of the night. It really remains impressive to see how they can wrap a big venue around their finger with just the two of them. They don't even need a lot of interaction with the crowd.

It also shows how strong their songs are. Of course songs like 'Strange Times' and 'Tighten Up' can't be forgotten but the whole set list is one big highlight. Halfway the set they introduce two more musicians (Leon Michels on keyboard and Nick Movshon on bass) to help them out with the part of the set that has mostly songs from their latest Brothers album. But even when Dan Auerbach is standing in the spot light all by himself the crowd stays focused.

And so the time flies by. After sixteen songs they shortly leave stage to come back for two more. It's clear The Black Keys have outgrown the smaller clubs and have no problem filling up medium sized venues. It will be interesting to see how far they can take it in the future.

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Monday 21 March 2011

The Low Anthem Make A Tasty Pasta

Why book an expensive studio when there's an empty pasta sauce factory around the corner? This must have been on the minds of The Low Anthem quartet. And so they put their recording equipment for their new album 'Smart Flesh' in an old factory hall somewhere in their home state Rhode Island. This resulted in a record with eleven country and folk songs that got an extra dimension from it. They experimented with mic placement which is clearly audible. The tracks sound warm and rich and the quiet songs are tiny and modest.

The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
The songs themselves aren't that special to be honest. They are solid country songs that don't really stick out because of extraordinary compositions or lyrics. However the multi-instrumentalists of The Low Anthem did go wild on all kinds of instruments and this leads to lush arrangements now and then. And so one of the best songs on the album, 'Boeing 737', is accompanied by exuberant horns and you can hear different percussion instruments, all kinds of stringed instruments and sometimes a singing saw. In the more straightforward and singer-songwriter tracks singer Ben Knox Miller sounds a lot like Bob Dylan. The band is compared to him a lot but this isn't always completely true.

They sometimes fall back to the very basics. 'I'll Take Out Your Ashes' is only accompanied by banjo plucking and the sound of a radio program on the background including the old fashioned interference. What's striking like for example in 'Matter Of Time', is that every note played and sung has been placed and chosen carefully. It never sounds too much or rushed but are the songs breathing serenity. This makes the record crawl by like a simmering hot day in a dusty American town. Or it almost comes to a complete stop halfway in the instrumental 'Wire'.

The fourth album of The Low Anthem maybe won't go down as their master piece or a classic. It's a lot more accessible than its predecessor 'Oh My God, Charlie Darwin' and therefore less exciting to some. They do however deliver a solid record that excels in production, sound and the use of exotic instruments. There's plenty to enjoy by all means for people that fancy this genre.

This review has been published on ROAR E-Zine in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'Smart Flesh' on Spotify

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Wednesday 16 March 2011

Faint Introduction By Yuck

Accompanying the release of their forthcoming self-titled debut album Yuck are playing some club gigs across Europe to promote it. Their grungy sound and loud guitars are very suitable for some energetic performances. But their performance earlier on London Calling in November was greeted with a bit of scepticism. Time to find out if they have spiced it up since then.

Yuck at Paradiso Amsterdam, March 10 2010 (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)

Instead of kicking off at 22.00 the band are still setting up their gear followed by the sound check. The smaller stage of the venue is nicely filled due to the fact that tickets for an earlier show of Hjaltalin are also valid for this one. A simple self painted banner shows the name of the band with the 'Y' in the shape of a piece sign or a chicken foot. Hopefully they will show some violence on stage though.

It doesn't look like that. The members of the band are sticking to their spot on the stage and don't move around much. The notable appearance of drummer Jonny Rogoff with his big afro is tucked away in the back and mostly in the dark. Bass player Marika Doi is looking stoically to the ground from behind the curtain of hair hanging in front of her face. And singer Daniel Blumberg is standing in a corner below a spot light in a kind of bent posture most of the times. Most active player is guitarist Max Bloom who moves around now and then, but he is mostly in the dark as well because of the minimal stage lighting. At some point in the short set they all move closer to the drummer which results in a more vivid and less rigid performance for a short while.

This may sound like the whole thing is a big let-down. But there's a lot that makes up for the lack of energy on stage and that's the music itself. The songs of the upcoming album still sound great live. Songs like 'Get Away' and 'Stutter' retain their power and 'Georgia' seems to have grown even more. Like on the record they close the set with the long but interesting 'Rubber'. Sometimes when they show their softer side it does come dangerously close to false teenage pop romanticism, but what else can you expect from these young musicians?

Yuck does seem to have big potential and are capable of playing some great songs that sound rough and noisy. But they need to spice up some of them and especially show a lot more energy on stage if they want to convince many people. Otherwise a longer set will even get dreary in the end. Maybe they have to grow into their role of upcoming superstars and will be too big for these venues in a few years.

More Pictures (a bit dark but couldn't get better shots because of low stage lighting).

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Monday 14 March 2011

De Staat's Machines Ready For The World

A few years ago Dutch band De Staat surprised the lowlands with a stunning record Wait For Evolution. The groove based songs were greeted with high acclaim and they played every club and festival in the country. This also spawned interest from outside The Netherlands and they even played the festivals Glastonbury and Sziget. Now their new record Machinery has been released on a different label and should push them even further up into the world.

De Staat - Machinery (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
The first record was basically Torre Florim's one man project for which he formed a band to do the live shows. The new record is a true band result. The first record was said to be leaning highly on the stoner rock sound of Queens of the Stone Age and although it still has a strong connection to it they have managed to craft it into their own unique industrial sound. This means big fat grooves and the staccato almost narrative singing of frontman Florim.

And the band is flying into it right from the beginning with 'Ah I See' that has a brilliant car horn riff. It continues the same big sound on first single 'Sweatshop', highly addictive guitar riffs and strong rhythmic grooves combine into a huge sound. It's hard not to move on these songs and they should sound great on stage. Poor farmer MacDonald from the classic song loses his farm and gets a De Staat make-over into 'Old Macdonald Don't Have No Farm No More' which is more of a dance/rock song with heavy bass accents. Halfway the album kind of loses momentum with less strong songs and things quiet down a bit. But at the end they pick it up and end with a slow heavy and sludgy tune 'Back to the Grind'.

What makes this album even stronger is the use of all kinds of percussion and weird sounds that give the songs an additional dimension. You keep listening to the album over and over again to discover new elements. And the album is nicely packaged in a 64 page digibook. All the machines of De Staat are well oiled and powerful enough to take on the rest of the world.

Listen to 'Machinery' on Spotify

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Friday 11 March 2011

Yuck Like It Dirty

A few years ago Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom were making happy indie pop songs with Cajun Dance Party while breaking teen girl's hearts. They were still very young and decided that they wanted something different. The status of Cajun Dance Party is unknown at the moment, but their new band Yuck is alive and kicking.

Yuck - Yuck (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And that new band sounds a lot more dangerous and less playful than their previous work. Twelve varying grunge and noise tracks are on the debut album, that clearly carries the influences of Sonic Youth and The Cure. And that makes them one of the bands that go back to the beginning of the grunge music. According to themselves it's a tip of the hat to their heroes of alternative music like Dinosaur Jr. and Sparklehorse.

And they do that with a lot of success. The band sounds just like it was intended in that time. The gritty guitars are roaring nicely and are clearly hearable, while the vocals are distorted and mixed to the back. Gone is the innocent music they used to make. They're going full force regularly when the guitars are going wild like in 'Holing Out', while a track like 'Georgia' could have been on a The Cure album. Halfway they shift back in gear and there's room for more quiet work. But in these moments the band sounds convincing and in place as well, like in the nicely flowing 'Stutter'. After that they crank up the volume again to eventually reach a distorted climax in the closing act 'Rubber': a seven minute track that builds up to a wall of guitar noise.

Yuck is delivering a convincing debut album. Instead of playing it safe and continuing their indie pop adventure Blumberg and Bloom together with their new band fortunately decided to take a gamble. En that results in a band with a mature and varying sound. I was able to hear what that sounded like on stage yesterday in Paradiso Amsterdam so check back for that live review soon!

This review has been published on ROAR E-Zine in Dutch over here.

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Friday 4 March 2011

Are Frankie & The Heartstrings The Best Next Thing?

They are THE sensation in the UK at the moment and are said to be the front runners of the next britpop resurrection according to the British press. And all this as a result of their energetic performances because so far the quintet from Sunderland only released an EP. That's about to change with this debut album that according to the band found its inspiration in the 1890 novel of a certain Knut Hamsen.

Frankie & The Heartstrings - Hunger (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)

With 'Frankie & The Heartstrings' as a band name and the album cover for 'Hunger' in mind you would think it's a fifties revival instead of a new britpop band. And you may be startled when hearing the opening track that starts with a capella harmonies. But then the jumpy guitar riffs kick in and you're treated to cheery songs like Blur and more recently Franz Ferdinand can come up with. Catchy guitar lines and hooks are thrown in generously and all of this is topped off with tasty rock 'n' roll.

In just over half an hour 10 tracks pass by that for the most part are short catchy songs in fifties style including the characteristic backing vocals. The record breathes the atmosphere of that era but really doesn't sound old-fashioned or outdated. Especially the up tempo songs are heavy on rock 'n' roll but a slow ballad like 'Fragile' sounds quite modern and it doesn't get more British than 'It's Obvious'. Despite this apparent diversity the songs sound alike a lot and there isn't too much in them really. Simplicity can be a strong asset but you get the idea that the amount of attention may be a bit exaggerated. It's mainly easy to enjoy music that's best digested in a lazy chair with a nice cold beer on a hot summer night.

Frankie & The Heartstrings deliver a cheerful album that will probably do well because of all this attention and promotion. De summery tunes will appeal to many on the festivals for sure and maybe they manage to conquer the European mainland as well. But I don't think the hype is completely justified and could be short lived. Or their live performances truly are of epic proportions. If they can live up to the big expectations and really are the front runners of a next britpop generation is questionable. Unlike the front runners of earlier generations the band still misses the necessary significance.

This review has been published on ROARezine in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'Hunger' on Spotify

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Wednesday 2 March 2011

The Strokes Are Back: New Video

We had to wait for five years but any one following the music buzz couldn't miss that The Strokes are back. A new album 'Angles' is coming up March 22 and they released their first single 'Under Cover of Darkness' last week. Today they also released a video for it. I think it's a good song. Catchy guitar lines tumbling over each other and the unique nasal vocals of Julian Casablancas. I personally can't wait for the album.

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