Thursday, 28 April 2011

De Staat Are An Unstoppable Machine

A few years ago after Dutch band De Staat's mastermind Torre Florim released its début album they played every meaningful festival in the Netherlands and some abroad. Their groovy rock songs proved contagious and every stage they climbed turned into victory. With their second album they made clear they are aiming higher now and want to see how far they can take it beyond the Dutch borders. The album itself is promising and certainly stands a change but what about their live shows?

De Staat at Melkweg Amsterdam, Friday April 22 2011 (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
Support act Death Letters are working hard to warm up the crowd. The venue has filled up considerably and the two young musicians are successfully managing this tough job. It does show though that their more blues oriented songs are more convincing than their newer punk songs. But it looks like the crowd can appreciate the duo's efforts.

And then the interesting looking machine is revealed. It starts banging the rhythm to 'Ah I See' also the opening track of new album 'Machinery' and De Staat kick off their show. It's a strong opening and with the song, that features a catchy car horn, the crowd immediately gets one of their best ones. It is followed by five more tracks of the new album that most people already seem to know note by note. The songs of the first album blend in smoothly although the set list leans more to the new album. Like on that record The Routines' Kelly joins them on stage for 'Sweatshop'.

The machine remains unused for most of the show until in the final encore drummer Tim van Delft switches it back on. It starts producing the lazy groove for album closer 'Back To The Grind'. It's an interesting sight and a nice gimmick. Although their songs have some unmistakable similar characteristics and mostly follow the same recipe it still is a varied show. The members of the band are all entertainers and are using big gestures. Percussionist and master of sounds Rocco Hueting is the one that adds the additional flavour to the colourful bunch. With Florim they have the charismatic front man that sometimes like a victorious general is leading his troops through the noisy battle field.

And so it looks like they have all the needed parts of a machine capable of taking on the rest of the world. Time will tell if they will succeed at it but with everything in place they might just well achieve it. And that would be well earned.

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Friday, 22 April 2011

Beautiful Grief With Alain Johannes' Spark

Who is that bald guitar player with super group Them Crooked Vultures? An unknown musician to many, Alain Johannes was sharing the stage with the three super stars. But his record explains the rightful place of Johannes in that band. Not surprisingly he played with Queens of the Stone Age, but the likes of No Doubt and PJ Harvey also used his services. He's widely praised for his virtuous and technically skilled guitar play. He wrote the songs for his solo album Spark after the death of his wife Natasha Shneider in 2008, with whom he founded the band Eleven and who played in Queens of the Stone Age as well. And this way writing for the album was part of his mourning. The record was released in October in the USA with the help of good friend Josh Homme and now finally in Europe too.

Alain Johannes - Spark (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And with great result. Johannes is showing why everyone is so impressed with his guitar skills. Listen to 'Make God Jealous' where you can only hear the exuberant guitar besides the vocals. Other string instruments pass by as well like a cigar box guitar in 'Endless Eyes'. He wrote this song in memory of his diseased wife for a benefit show. After that one by one the remaining seven songs spawned. With that it turned into a short record of not even half an hour but with the intensity of these songs that's no problem at all. All our beautiful songs that are pleasant to the ear. Johannes has a nice voice that carry the songs. He's playing away his sorrow and besides mourning and remembering is also an ode to his wife. 'Return To You' even is a Beatlesque song with a cheerful melody. But understandably mostly you hear the loss like in closing track 'Unfinished Plan'.

Something beautiful can spring from a tragedy as more often happens. Alain Johannes proves his remarkable talent with this personal record. It won't give him the same stardom as Josh Homme since the music isn't enough mainstream for that. But those aren't his intentions with this album. He will impress many though with these beautiful and emotional songs. Perhaps it can bring other people comfort who have suffered a similar loss and that must be a nice thought for him.

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

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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Middle Of The Road Songs By Young The Giant

In 2004 The Jakes were formed while the members were still in school. Eventually it resulted in Young The Giant after a few changes, a band with five members and different ethnical backgrounds. They won a contest that allowed them to open for Kings Of Leon and that put it all in motion. They were signed by RoadRunner Records and last year they released their self-titled debut album in the US. Now it's Europe's turn to get to know the band from California.

Young The Giant - Young The Giant (Ronald Says 5 out of 10)
And they started off big right away. Producer Joe Chicarelli was brought on board who worked with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and My Morning Jacket in the past. And the production sounds great. Both the vocals and instruments sound clear and well done. 'My Body' that was released as a first single in the US and on iTunes is a good song and a nice introduction to the band. Current single 'Apartment' in Europe also is not a bad song. All looks fine so far you'd think. But that's exactly what's wrong, since it's nothing more than just fine.

The first spin it all sounds pretty fresh and okay. But after a few more listenings the record starts to get weary. The novelty has worn off and what remains is an average indie rock album that doesn't leave a big impression. Singer Gadhia is a sort of hoarse version of Coldplay's Chris Martin and the music also fits this category. But where Coldplay is top of the bill with qualitatively strong songs, Young The Giant doesn't deliver anything exciting. The lyrics also don't add any new insights or creative findings. And besides the mentioned 'My Body' not one song is really convincing.

Young The Giant turns out to be the opposite of a grower. In the beginning it may be quite enjoyable but after a while the songs lose their spark. The band is an average indie rock band with equally middle of the road songs that will be doing great as background music in a supermarket. They won't be able to impress many people with it at this side of the ocean.

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

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Sunday, 17 April 2011

Garage Rock With Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters is currently one of the biggest rock bands and can book any studio they'd like. But they chose to record their latest album in David Grohl's garage instead. And on top of that they went old school and recorded it all using analog equipment. According to the band themselves this resulted in their loudest record. The preview they gave us in the form of the heavy metal 'White Limo' surely pointed in that direction.

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And surely they didn't disappoint the rock lovers. It's true this record has become one of their loudest ones. But also one of their most convincing and maybe best albums since 'The Colour And The Shape'. Right from the start they lead off with their typical sound: screaming guitars, screaming Dave Grohl, pounding drums but yet in a civilized way. This is Foo Fighters at their best. It breaths sweaty sexy rock 'n' roll. And of course some of the songs are big stadium rockers. But that's how they are best consumed: a sold out venue and some sweaty guys on stage rocking their pants off. Just listen to 'Rope', 'Arliandria' or 'Back & Forth'.

Besides getting Nevermind producer Butch Vig in for the album, they also invited former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic to appear on the track 'I Should Have Known', that is about their former band mate Kurt Cobain. And I don't know if it's Novoselic but the song does have a different sound to it than the rest of the album. Sometimes the band relaxes a bit for the occasional slower song although it never turns into a cotton candy dreary rock ballad. 'These Days' starts off slow but then turns into the kind of pop/rock song that is so typical Foo Fighters.

Somehow the band found a lot of positive vibes in that garage and they came out fully energized. And meanwhile they show how to make a great rock album. Maybe it's the analog recording that gives it that extra touch. Bottom line is they prove that they're still one of the top rock bands and will be for a while. They even decided to take the garage theme further and you can get them to play in your own garage if you're lucky. Well guys, there's a huge parking under my apartment building in Amsterdam and you're invited to rock it Foo-style.

Listen to 'Wasting Light' on Spotify

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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Death Letters Are Growing Up

When the Dutch band Death Letters released their debut album in 2009 they were boys. You could hear this in their lyrics but the potential of the duo was clear right away. Now a few years later the lads from Dordrecht want to prove they have grown up with their second album Post-Historic. Like their big example The Black Keys they have to manage this with just the two of them. But the blues of their first record has been replace with more punk. And that means that they will floor the gas pedal regularly.

Death Letters - Post-Historic (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
And so they fly into it right away from the start while things get rough. There's plenty of bashing and now and then singer/guitarist Duende Ariza Lora cries out. So this has turned into a loud record, for which they travelled to Austin Texas to record it. Opening track 'Your Heart Upside Down', one of the better songs, is the well chosen first single. The tempo is high in general and therefore it sounds a bit rushed sometimes. There's nothing wrong with rushing it a bit in this type of music, but the tracks are spinning out of control now and then. With a bit more patience and control it would have sounded more solid and convincing.

Yet it all sounds quite varying, both all over and within songs. Like in 'I Wish I Could Steal A Sunset', one of the nicest songs on the record, that starts off rough and then halfway all of a sudden changes into a dreamy ballad, after which it will explode again. Or the other way around in 'In Fear Fools Search' that makes it into a good closer. There are some more quiet songs as well with striking psychedelic tunes, but those aren't the strongest point of the duo. But it does give the album enough moments of rest for the listener to catch his breath. You would almost forget that only two people recorded it.

With Post-Historic the Death Letters have delivered a decent enough record. They are showing to have grown and are a big promise for the future. There's still enough to improve, but that's only more promising for all the good things yet to come.

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

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Monday, 11 April 2011

Perfect Camping Trip With Happy Camper

Making an album with eleven guest vocalists is one thing, but playing it live with all those musicians is an even bigger challenge. Job Roggeveen, master mind behind Happy Camper, managed to make such an album although it took him a few years to complete his project. It resulted in an album with beautiful tracks. But what he thought was close to impossible happened anyway: he gathered the busy vocalists on stage to play all those nice songs live.

Happy Camper at De Kleine Komedie Amsterdam, April 5 2010 (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)

Case Mayfield is the one that has to warm up the crowd. The theater is full of friends, fellow musicians and Happy Camper fans. But Case is doing a great job with his modest appearance and nice intimate songs. Then it's time for the happy campers to take the stage. Roggeveen sits down behind his organ and the camping trip takes off. At the back of the stage an illustration of a camping site is hanging. The backing band are most of his El Pino & The Volunteers colleagues. One by one the vocalists take their turn in singing their songs from the album. After each song they announce the next singer.

What follows is one big happy musical trip through Happy Camper land. Leine, Tim Knol, Janne Schra, Ricky Koole, Blaudzun all await their turn in the spot light. The mood is hight and everyone is enjoying it a lot. Even technical problems for El Pino & The Volunteers frontman David Pino in the shape of a refusing "little blue box" that fails to amplify his guitar can't change that. Of course Roggeveen's own animated yeti Manfred is making his appearance as well. The illustration comes to life and the friendly yeti starts in a funny but at the same time sad animation while Roggeveen backs him up on the organ. At the end of the show all performers gather once more for the big finale.

It's an impressive achievement by Roggeveen to compose these great songs and to perform them live with all musicians. It also shows how many talented musicians we have in this small country. To see so many of them in one show is almost too good to be true and a real treat to the eyes and ears of any music lover.

The pictures of this live performance originally appeared in this review on

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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Another Step Forward For Noah And The Whale

The Musicians of Noah And The Whale once started out as an indie folk band. With their second album The First Days Of Spring, that was received with mostly positive reviews, their music already shifted towards indie rock. They took a different turn at that time and they have continued this on this third album. The quartet from the UK isn't afraid to use all kinds of electronics with it. This is clear right from the start of Last Night On Earth, when the pretty cheap drum computer sound and synthesizers kick off the album. Fortunately on the rest of the album the electronics are used more tastefully.

Noah and the Whale - Last Night On Earth (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

The result is a variety in songs and nice arrangements. It all sounds a bit bigger, but they mostly don't take it too far. It also leads to interesting creations. For example 'Give It All Back' has a catchy tune that sounds like the ring tone of a cell phone. This is working great resulting in a happy song. First single 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.' is a mix of 'Lola' by The Kinks, 'Love Of The Common People' by Paul Young with a splash of Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side'. The chorus that spells out the letters of the title sticks to your head for the rest of the day. The album title also comes from this song: "On my last night on earth, I won't look to the sky".

The comparison with Lou Reed isn't coincidental because singer Charlie Fink sounds a lot like the former The Velvet Underground front man, like in 'Wild Thing'. He also got inspiration by Reed's Berlin for this album. Other times his voice sounds a bit more thin, especially in the more intimate and melancholic songs. Despite this melancholy the album is pretty optimistic that breaths hope. But the lyrics aren't always on the same level. Fink is a pretty good lyricist and story teller and proves it once more, but still it isn't that comprehensive all the time. For the rest there aren't too many weak spots in this album. All in all Noah And The Whale made another step forward and prove it with this mature album.

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

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Monday, 4 April 2011

Lots Of Fire From The Dazzled Kid

A few years ago the band Voicst took the low lands by storm. Their catchy songs and exciting live performances were drawing big crowds. Then it got quiet and the members of the band decided to take a break and go their own way for a while. Front man Tjeerd Bomhof started writing songs which eventually led to the first album by Dazzled Kid. Time to check him out in the Melkweg.

Dazzled Kid in the Melkweg Amsterdam, March 30 2011 (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
The album 'Fire Needs Air' was received with mixed reactions. It has some good songs on it but it also has a few that aren't really that special. It will be interesting to see what the songs sound like on stage. First the band Houses are warming up the crowd. And they do that quite successfully. Their songs sound strong and the band play with lots of energy. One to keep an eye on.

Dazzled Kid is more than a one person project on stage. Bomhof brought five more people with him including percussionist Alan Purves and Marc Constandse on bandoneon and hand drum. This adds a new layer to the music. The band is playing on a high level and are pushing each other to new heights. The songs have more cohesion on stage. They have good arrangements and with this setup and band get a new dimension. Bomhof looks pretty relaxed and is telling entertaining stories in between the songs.

But the stronger songs on the album also prove to be the strongest live. Like first single 'Embrace' that also gets the most recognition from the crowd. As an encore Bomhof tries to sing Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' without band and amplifiers in a very intimate version. This is probably great for the front row but because of all the talking barely hearable further down the back. Too bad people nowadays can't show any respect to an artist that's trying hard to pour out his soul. The Urban Dance Squad Cover 'Deeper Shade Of Soul' works a lot better and puts a big smile on former Urban Dance Squad singer Rudeboy who is standing next to us. In the end Dazzled Kid shows that he's a valuable addition to the Dutch alternative scene.

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