Saturday 31 December 2011

Top 10 Albums 2011

Normally I don't do top 10 lists myself. But since I'm a writer for ROAR E-Zine, a Dutch music website, and they asked all their writers to come up with one I might as well post it over here as well.

The hard thing about year lists is, that they seem final, but in reality are just snapshots. So here's my 2011 snapshot:

01. The Black Keys - El Camino

And then The Black Keys release a great album just before the closing of the year that ends up at the top of my list. They seem to have found the perfect formula for great rock tunes: songs that are great compositions, keep on going and that I want to hear over and over again.

02. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
Just like the Arctic Monkeys who took revenge with Suck It And See for the, in my opinion, unjustified moderate response on predecessor Humbug. When they can keep up this level I expect a true classic in one or two albums.

03. White Denim - "D"

White Denim also keeps on delivering quality. "D" turned into a true piece of art.

04. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Girls had their definite breakthrough with their Father, Son, Holy Ghost that is full of nice indie songs.

05. dEUS - Keep You Close

And 2011 is without a doubt dEUS' year. Keep You Close left a big impression and meantime they are doing a true victory tour around clubs and festivals.

06. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

Beasty Boys came back hard this year with a great album, that can measure up to their greatest work.

07. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

With a smart promotional campaign no one could ignore Foo Fighters' Wasting Light. And it's just as I like it: like a hit in the crotch and a kick in the ass.

08. TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light

TV On The Radio is a different cup of tea; a well thought through album with intelligent songs.

09. Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Just like Radiohead and their The King Of Limbs. Sometimes they are too much for me, but this album is nicely balanced.

10. Happy Camper - Happy Camper

And there were great Dutch releases, that just missed my list. Happy Camper did make it with its beautiful atmospheric songs and the wonderful varied vocals.

So there you have it. 2011 was a good year with great music and some great gigs as well. I can't wait for 2012! Happy New Year!
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Wednesday 28 December 2011

The Black Keys End The Year With A Blow

One of the last releases many people were waiting for this year was the new The Black Keys album El Camino. A while ago they gave us 'Lonely Boy' with its great video that went viral to their own surprise. The release of Brothers raised the bar high and many people had great expectations. And boy they did not disappoint us!

The Black Keys - El Camino (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
In fact they even raised the bar a little more. Their sound is even more polished. Long gone are the times of rough blues rock. In this case however it's not a bad thing. Brothers already gave us catchy rock tunes but still with a rootsy blues sound. But also with enough pop for a wider audience. El Camino takes it a step further. And yet they managed to stay clear of the pitfall where so many bands fail. They did it without selling out and overproducing the album. Danger Mouse who only produced one song on Brothers did the whole album again this time. And apparently it's a golden combo.

It's as if they have found the cooking bible to writing great rock songs. Every single song is a little gem that has great hooks. There isn't a weak moment to be found. 'Lonely Boy' was the perfect choice to release as a first single and is a great representative for the album. 'Dead And Gone', 'Money Maker', 'Sister', 'Stop Stop', to name but a few all have great guitar licks and grooves. The riff in 'Run Right Back' may be simple, but it's brilliant at the same time. And every time you play this record it gets better. I just can't stop listening to it. And so The Black Keys end this year with great fireworks.

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Saturday 24 December 2011

Yearly Party With De Dijk

Another year running at its end, another December, so this means another De Dijk show at Paradiso. I've lost count on how many times I have seen them play. Many of those were Paradiso shows, the place that's their second home.

De Dijk at Paradiso Amsterdam, December 17 2011 (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
There's not much I can tell without repeating myself. It sounds pretty boring: year after year we find ourselves there with the same band, that partly play the same songs although they do have their new songs of course. But in reality it never is boring. It's one big party with great music. And although all editions may sound alike they are not.

This year turns out to be a great one. The sound is great, the band looks focused, comfortable, in great shape and in an excellent mood. And the new album has songs that work great on stage too. I'm with my usual group of friends, drinking cold beers and the world doesn't seem bigger than Paradiso's main hall for a few hours. And isn't that what it's all about?

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Monday 19 December 2011

Back To The Dark 80s With The Horrors

Many people were pleasantly surprised when The Horrors released their latest album Skying earlier this year. The songs move between new wave, noise and punk and the electronics add a dark touch to it. The album ended up high on many year lists. They should have played with Halloween but it was postponed until tonight.

The Horrors at Melkweg Amsterdam, December 11 2011 (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
They would definitely be a perfect band to play with Halloween and not just because of their name. The sometimes gloomy music combined with the lighting that has them standing in the shadow most of the time, suits a pumpkin party well. It was killing for my pictures though, so I only was able to get a few that are decent enough to upload. And even those aren't great.

But it's the music that counts and that's all fine. They play a tight set and their songs work great on stage. It shows that all the critics heard it well, since it's clear the songs of the last album are really good. They sound like Simple Minds and Talk Talk in their heydays, mixed with some Joy Division darkness. Singer Faris Badwan sounds convincing and the tight band make good use of playing loud accents.

The synths add the extra dimension that lifts the songs from nice to great. Tracks like 'I Can See Through You' and 'Still Life' go down well and they impress with a sold performance of 'Sea Within A Sea'. There's hardly any interaction with the crowd but that only contributes to their stage presentation. It does stay all a bit on the safe side and the band seems to play on routine and is leaning back too much. Maybe next time they could spice up their set list a bit more to keep it interesting enough for themselves. The Horrors won't scare you, but their music may give you some shivers now and then.

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1.Changing The Rain
2.Who Can Say
3.I Can See Through You
4.Scarlet Fields
5.Dive In
6.Endless Blue
7.Sea Within A Sea
8.Still Life
9.Mirror's Image
10.Three Decades
11.Moving Further Away
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Tuesday 13 December 2011

Wolfendale's Mysterious World

With a mutual background in cinema and animation Sander Strick and Marc van den Boom started making a record. Both are from Eindhoven, the town where big multinational Philips produced its first light bulb. The band Woldendale was formed, named after British astronomer Arnold Wolfendale. In an old Philips building they put down a studio to write and record songs. After they got signed by V2 Benelux the album was finished by no one less that Joe LaPorta, who has worked with Foo Fighters and Vampire Weekend in the past. The result is Foghorn, named after the first line in the mysterious David Lynch TV series 'Twin Peaks' from the nineties: "The lonesome foghorn blows", spoken by Pete Martell, a character played by Jack Nance.

Wolfendale - Foghorn (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And so we run into the cinematic background of the duo everywhere. Since not only the album's title, but everything in their music is breathing cinema. And this movie world that they created is mysterious and dark. In a clever way they patiently use their musical landscapes to shape this world. As they put it themselves: "Music that's looking for dusk instead of sunlight". And for that matter the title was chosen effectively. It raises images of misty landscapes and twilight worlds, a mystical fantasy world, with a little surprise behind every tree. Master filmmaker Lynch couldn't have thought it up any better.

The music if full of variation; progrock-like pieces are alternating with more jazzy and folk-like songs. It reminds of Pink Floyd, Radiohead and sometimes Motorpsycho too. But the atmosphere is always the binding factor on the album. The highlights are mostly in the first part of the record. Dreamy guitars in 'Dr. Henry Kazoo', the beautiful 'Red Sparrow' that fluently transforms into title track 'Foghorn'. And then the wonderful 'Ending Up' with its nice harmonies. The sound effects complete and intensify the the atmospere even more.

Like a ship that slowly moves through the fog, passes Foghorn steadily along. With closed eyes you perceive a foghorn in the distance through the splashing water. David Lynch could come up with a movie for it easily. Every spin discloses new discoveries. Wolfendale is a worthy addition to the Dutch music catalogue with international potential. They could even make to the elite league of the Dutch music scene.

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

Listen to 'Keep You Close' on Spotify.

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Saturday 10 December 2011

Early Christmas Present With Smith & Burrows

What do you do when you're in a big rock band and after making albums and extensive touring you have some time to spare? You make an album with a good friend and play some club shows. Just for the fun. That's exactly what Tom Smith of the Editors did. He teamed up with good friend Andy Burrows, ex-drummer of Razorlight, and they made an album named Funny Looking Angels. It even turned into a Christmas album.

Smith & Burrows at Paradiso, December 5 2011 (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

The songs on the album are mostly covers and only a handful of new songs. It hardly feels like a Christmas album. Although it's lighter than the Editors, it has a bit of a dark feel to it, which suits that time of the year. For the occasion Paradiso has put down chairs so half of the audience is sitting down. The stage has some Christmas lighting to get us in the mood. The funny thing is, that today we're celebrating "Sinterklaas" in The Netherlands, which to us definitely isn't about Christmas trees and lights at all.

They start off with the nice cover of Black's 'Wonderful Life'. Smith's voice is perfect for it and it definitely does the song justice. Andy Burrows is behind the piano, that's positioned in such a way, that the right side of the crowd can hardly see him. Unfortunately this includes us and so we only get to see him when it's his turn to sing a song. This is the setup for tonight: Smith and Burrows take turns in singing a few songs while the other is playing the piano. In the meanwhile their band is staying in the background but doing a great job at the same time. Isabelle Dunn's chello is fitting the music really well.

Of course one album isn't enough to fill a concert and so they throw in some Editors and Razorlight songs. Especially the Editors songs lend themselves really well for this more or less acoustic setup. The already brilliant 'Papillon' grows even more as we could already hear on Studio Brussel a while ago. But also there are great versions of 'The Weight Of The World' and 'Walk The Fleet Road'. Burrows cannot compete with the strong vocals of Smith. His voice is just not as solid, although he's definitely doing a decent job. Razorlight's 'America' and 'Before I Fall To Pieces' even have the crowd hesitantly clapping along.

Most of all the two are having lots of fun. There's time for joking around and even screwing a few things up. Smith starts off Yazoo's 'Only you' too fast and they have to start over. That song, like on the album, feels really out of place with Burrows' falsetto vocals. At one point there's a small intermezzo with a tombola where people are winning a Barbara Streisand vinyl record, a t-shirt and a mug. Smith even goes over to the winner of a bottle of booze on the balcony to hand it over personally, while the band is playing the Rocky tune. And so this is just one great merry get-together with some great musicians. From time to time it turns magical, like in the final song of the night 'When The Tames Froze', where they are both wearing wings. And so everyone is already feeling the Christmas spirit when we leave. I hope Sinterklaas doesn't mind.

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01. Wonderful Life (Black)
02. Funny Looking Angels
03. Papillon (Editors)
04. The Weight Of The World (Editors)
05. If I Had A Heart (Andy Burrows)
06. Only You (Yazoo)
07. America (Razorlight)
09. No Sound But The Wind (Editors)
10. Walk The Fleet Road (Editors)
11. Half A World Away (R.E.M.)
12. On And On (Longpigs)
13. Before I Fall To Pieces (Razorlight)
14. In The Bleak Midwinter (Gustav Holst)
15. The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé)
16. As The Snowflakes Fall
17. This Ain’t New Jersey
18. When The Thames Froze
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Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Dukes Not Victorious Yet

in 2010 singer/guitarist Shanka and drummer Greg Jack formed The Dukes, after they had been playing together a lot in a band named "No One Is Innocent". They did a small European tour and recorded their debut album Victory. They already played the Melkweg in support of The Subways in October. According to themselves they were inspired by bands like The Dandy Warhols, The White Stripes and Nirvana. And the album holds thirteen of those raw garage rock tracks.

The Dukes - Victory (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
And indeed those influences can be clearly heard. Some of the songs like 'Resilient Lovers' strongly remind you of especially The Dandy Warhols. The band is lacking their own sound here. The song named after themselves on the other hand is a rough song with screaming guitars. Slower songs are following it and there's quite some variation. In title track 'Victory', where Garbage clearly can be heard, the monotonous vocals in the choruses aren't helping the song. The vocals aren't always that great throughout the album anyway.

The production is pretty smooth now and then, maybe even a bit too much. The music loses too much of its edge and energy in that case. Since especially in the energetic songs, where the band is going full force, that's where The Dukes are at their best. The strong 'The Mangler' is a song that does work. The musicians sound more in their comfort zone there and that's where their strength is. They should stay clear from wanting to sound too much like their inspirations. This was evident in their half an hour in the Melkweg. The boys have enough quality and experience to put down something of their own.

Victory is showing too many faces. The album is flying into every direction. Sometimes it's strong, but it has just as many weak moments. When the band are able to focus on their strong points and continue into that direction, it could lead to something nice. It's not a bad album, but they are definitely not leaving a lasting impression.

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

Listen to 'Victory' on Spotify.

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