Thursday, 27 December 2012

Top 10 Albums 2012

Throughout the year I keep a list of records that potentially can make my top ten year list, that I have to make for ROAR E-Zine every year. I extract the final list from it, which will change several times before I'm happy with it. It's a hell of a job that causes me many headaches.

01. Tame Impala - Lonerism
This year's top position was clear right after playing Tame Impala's record a few times. Lonerism is a master piece, a great trip from start to finish.
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02. Shaking Godspeed - Hoera
Quite a few Dutch productions made it into my concept list. But Shaking Godspeed had to end high. These guys have so much power and Hoera is a delicious rock album.
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03. Jack White - Blunderbuss
With Blunderbuss Jack White is showing that he can make great music all by himself as well and is proving once more to be a musical genius.
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04. Deftones - Koi No Yokan
Suddenly Deftones came up with a terrific album. Just in time to make it into this list. Koi No Yokan is one of the best albums in their impressive catalogue and may even challenge White Pony.
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05. Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls
Out of nowhere came Alabama Shakes with their mix of blues, soul and rock. They were the talk of the town and with this record showed this was completely justified.
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06. Toy - Toy
This London band debuted with their eponymous record full of great, eighties inspired psychedelic shoegaze songs.
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07. Benjamin Herman - Deal
Saxophone player Benjamin Herman took care of the soundtrack for the Dutch movie Deal and did a brilliant job. It resulted in beautiful movie music, proving once more that he's one of the best musicians in this country.
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08. The Horse Company - Calypso
Also from The Netherlands, this band from Zwolle surprised with a gorgeous album filled with atmospheric rock songs.
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09. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again
British soul man Michael Kiwanuka released a beautiful album. Home Again may not always be consistent, but it's a great recording nevertheless and Kiwanuka's voice and songs are just lush.
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10. Blaudzun - Heavy Flowers
Dutch musician Blaudzun established himself as one of the most remarkable and most talented artists in our country.
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There you have it, ten beauties. There were so many more great albums, which makes it so hard and a bit unfair to only name ten. Time for some aspirin now and bring up 2013! Happy New Year!

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Friday, 21 December 2012

Aging De Dijk Never Getting Old

Yes it's that time of the year again, De Dijk playing Paradiso. This time I'll let the pictures do the talking. You can read about past shows over here, there's not much difference between them. But every time they're great, playing some brilliant music and creating a beuatiful and cheerful atmosphere. The band is taking a well earned one year sabbatical, so next year we'll have to look for some other form of entertainment halfway December. And of course we'll back for them in 2014.

De Dijk at Paradiso Amsterdam, December 15 2012

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Horse Company and Phantom Limb Warm Up Club Ziggo

The Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam can hold over 15,000 people. Attached to it is a small stage called Club Ziggo where a lot is happening as well. It is mostly used for special show cases, where the entrance is free when you can get on the guest list. When The Horse Company and Phantom Limb were announced, I made sure I was on it.

The Horse Company at Club Ziggo Amsterdam, December 9 2012
These guys from the town Zwolle in The Netherlands took me by surprise this year. They released a great album Calypso, which turned out to be their third. Somehow they flew below my radar for the past years, so I took this chance to check them out for the first time.

Club Ziggo feels like a cold place lacking atmosphere. The Horse Company know how to turn this around with their warm rock songs. The focused musicians are calmly playing their skilful songs, that sound just as good as on their record. It's a blend of Americana, pop, rock and country. Some songs start tiny but slowly grow into grooving rock songs. I'm definitely going to get me their first two albums as well and keep a close eye on this band.

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Phantom Limb at Club Ziggo Amsterdam, December 9 2012
The English band made a huge impression on Lowlands this year, where they were filling in for a cancellation at the last minute. Not the least because of singer Yolanda Quartey's strong voice. Although their music, soul mixed with country and gospel, isn't quite my taste it was a treat to see them again. And they would even play two sets: an acoustic and an electric set.

In the acoustic set, the band is laying down the perfect foundation for Quartey to excel. Her voice is really impressive, so strong with a lot of depth. The electric set shows that the band have a lot to add. They make the music breath and offer just enough counterweight to their singer to nicely balance the sound. Once again I'm impressed with this band and even though it may not exactly be my cup of tea I feel the urge to buy their CD that Quartey is happy to sign for me.

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It has been a very good night on a bit of a bleak location. That's too bad since the initiative is a great way to watch bands from up close and for them to present themselves. So I'm definitely in for a next time.
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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Colourful Yeasayer

You have got to give Brooklyn band Yeasayer credit for trying to reinvent themselves on all three albums they released so far. After the highly successful second one, Odd Blood, they travelled into a different direction again. Fragrant World sounds more electronic and for some fans this is hard to get used to. How is this band going to put this together live on stage?

Yeasayer at Paradiso Amsterdam, December 5 2012

Well, they need a lot of equipment apparently. Paradiso's main stage is full of keyboards, samplers, drum machines and other electronics. Together with a huge backdrop, consisting of numerous triangular mirrors, and colourful lights there's hardly any room for the band members themselves. When the show takes off it's clear right away how effective these lighting effects are. Together with the new electronic direction it's as if we're looking into the future.

One thing that sticks out is that there's no drum kit any more. New drummer Cale Parks is not seated but is standing in the middle, surrounded by samplers, drum machines, pads, cymbals and some drums mounted to a rack. He's playing them ceaselessly during the show, producing great beats and rhythms. Contrary what you may think the music still sounds human, which is quite impressive. Every band member has transformed his sound accordingly. Anand Wilder's guitar produces synth like sounds instead of guitar riffs, while it's hard to believe what Ira Wolf Tuton is able to make his bass sound like.

Songs of Fragrant World sound very organic live. The gentle 'Henrietta' has gained more depth. It's hard not to move to 'Fingers Never Bleed' and 'Demon Road' with their groovy tribal like drums. Older songs got new arrangements so they fit in as well. 'Wait For The Summer' never sounded better. From time to time it's almost like everyone is a bit stunned by the music and the colourful lights. Chris Keating is telling us so many times how much they love playing here, that it's hard to believe him. But after an impressive one hour regular set and a half hour encore, it's easy to forgive him.

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1. Blue Paper
2. Henrietta
3. 2080
4. Longevity
5. O.N.E.
6. Don't Come Close
7. Madder Red
8. Demon Road
9. Wait for the Summer
10. Reagan's Skeleton
11. Ambling Alp
12. Fingers Never Bleed
13. Devil and the Deed
14. Tightrope
15. Folk Hero Shtick

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Come Back Hard

For over twenty years The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have been making gritty blues rock mixed with several other styles. This resulted in many a good record. They also weren't afraid to experiment. In 2005 the threesome decided to take a break. Now they are back with a new record, Meat And Bone, the first one in eight years. And they want us to know they are back!

The John Spencer Blues Explosion - Meat And Bone (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

The record opens convincingly with the hard rocking 'Black Mold' to be continued with an honest blues rock song 'Bag Of Bones' including the harmonica. But still these songs are just a warmup for the rest of the album. Because in 'Boot Cut' the band is really getting loose. An irresistible distorted bass riff is keeping the lovely rough song together, which is also provided with some spacy sounds. It is followed by a whole range of great songs: the swinging 'Get Your Pants Off' wíth cowbell and the nasty 'Strange Baby', the great 'Danger' that reminds of The Rolling Stones on speed now and then.

Only towards the end of the record is the band taking it a bit more slow in the ballad 'Unclear'. You need this break, because they have been rocking hard for nine songs straight at that point. The instrumental 'Zimgar', a somewhat experimental swinging song, is the worthy closing track. It's quite an insane ride the gents are treating us to. But it's one that stays interesting throughout. They are living up to their name, because the mix of styles with emphasis on great dirty garage rock, results in an explosive mixture beyond control. It is about to burst anytime and just has to explode in the end. Added to that is some healthy tongue in cheek.

Without a doubt it is fair to say that Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion truly have returned. Their break must have done them well, because the threesome sound very energetic and convincing. At the end of last month they started a short tour in Europe, but unfortunately excluding The Netherlands for now. This is too bad since the new songs will most definitely go down well live too.

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

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Monday, 3 December 2012

Soundgarden Reclaim Their Throne

In the heyday of the grunge era in the nineties, Soundgarden were one of the most creative bands out there. The band threw some stoner and psychedelic influences in the mix resulting in a big and heavy sludgy sound. That slowly transformed into a more polished and balanced sound and peaked at the epic albums Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. After disbanding in '97 the band now returns with a new album King Animal.

Soundgarden - King Animal (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)

After the band fell apart, drummer Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam. Singer Chris Cornell chased a solo career that got off to a promising start but reached an alltime low with the collaboration with Timbaland and the dreadful album Scream. He was more successful in Audioslave halfway his solo attempts. Guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Ben Shepherd kind of disappeared from the spot lights. In 2010 the band announced their reunion and after a few shows revealed the work on a new album.

These kind of band reunions can have dubious results. Musicians are often chasing faded glory and releasing music that is just a shallow copy of what used to be. When playing King Animal, the album opener doesn't promise much. 'Been Away Too Long', also the first single, isn't bad, but sounds pale compared to their old work. It's a polished rock song with some good bits, but already is forgotten when it's finished. Fortunately after that the old band is picking it up. Next song 'Non-State Actor' already sounds familiar after a few seconds with a killer riff and Chris Cornell screaming. It turns into a great heavy stoner-like song with Cornell whaling like in the old days.

The album holds more songs that definitely are great additions to the Soundgarden catalogue, including the occasional time scale tricks we know so well like in 'By Crooked Steps'. 'Blood On The Valley Floor' is an old fashioned slow heavy groover. 'Worse Dreams' is a no nonsense straightforward rock song. Some of the slower songs show what they are all about: 'Bones Of Birds' has every band member at its best and probably is the best song on the album. 'Eyelids Mouth' has Soundgarden written all over it. There are a few misses as well though, 'Attrition' really sounds like filler material.

All in all this is not a bad start for a reunited band. They didn't try to recapture the old glory days but really went out there to make a good rock album. Especially the fans will be relieved and pleased to hear Soundgarden still is up there with the best.

Listen to 'King Animal' on Spotify.

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Friday, 30 November 2012

Michael Kiwanuka Is Showing Lots Of Soul

With his début album Home Again British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka made one of the best records in 2012 I think. It is filled with beautiful soul songs, inspired by classic soul musicians like Otis Redding. Kiwanuka's great voice is perfect for the warm songs as he proved already to me on the Rock Werchter festival this summer. I was really eager to see him perform in a club show as well.

Michael Kiwanuka at Tivoli Oudegracht Utrecht, November 24 2012

The venue sold out weeks ago and so it's a full house this Saturday night. The friendly singer and his band kick off slowly and need a few songs to warm up. The sound has a bit too much reverb to my taste and seems to keep floating in the middle of the hall. Maybe this is because of the shape of this venue. On the other hand the percussion is clearly audible in the mix, which is hardly ever the case.

Kiwanuka has gathered a great band around him who are willing to wander off on an adventure. Some songs get a different version than the one on the album. The great 'Tell Me A Tale' sounds even more thrilling and sultry than the album version. It slowly slips into a great jam. The band knows exactly when to emphasize their singer or give his voice the space it needs. That voice sounds great tonight. It's guaranteed to give you goose bumps.

Especially in the slow songs, Kiwanuka will definitely get to you. He has to be one of the most talented soul singers at this moment. Unfortunately it's the weekend and apparently for many people this show is just an excuse to catch up with their friends. The noise of people chatting is sometimes almost deafening. I actually see some people standing with their back to the stage as if they're in their favourite pub. Finally the venue becomes more quiet when he's playing 'Home Again', apparently the only song some people know. It doesn't seem to bother Kiwanuka who kindly thanks everyone several times.

Of course with only one album out there's not a lot of songs thet can play. Like more often they play the Jimi Hendrix song 'Waterfall', who would have turned 70 a few days later, and turn it into something of their own. A nice tribute for the guitar legend. So after two encores the show is really over. I'm really looking forward to new music from this great musician and hope to see him again in a sold out club that truly can appreciate his talent.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Bigger Is Better For City Reign

About a year ago I watched Manchester band City Reign perform for the first time. The four lads were playing a tiny venue somewhere in Amsterdam while a few people and their family were watching. Everyone was so nice there and although I was already following the band a bit longer, these friendly musicians deserved more of my attention. So it was very good news when they announced to visit us again.

City Reign at Winston Amsterdam, November 22 2012

Dutch music blog Apply Some Pressure, who are excited about the band as well and have been following them very closely, helped them pick two Dutch bands as support act so they were able play the Winston. Unfortunately can't to get to the venue in time and therefore have to miss Sur Nilsson and Dakota. I get in just in time, to see City Reign take the stage for only a handful of people including of course their great supportive family. But I guess a full house was not to be expected.

As I walk in I bump into one of the guys' parents, who tells me the band had a bit of trouble reaching the venue and therefore missed the sound check. The beginning of the set is therefore a bit messy sound wise. But slowly this is taken care of and after a while the balance is a lot better. Finally we're able to hear how much progress the band made over the past year. I'm glad to hear they have kept on growing. Although for this gig drummer Duncan Bolton's brother is filling in on bass, the band sounds pretty tight. The pleasant songs have more depth and the new ones sound very promising. The songs are continuing in the "Madchester" tradition, inspired by bands like The Smiths, along with Britpop giants Oasis and Blur. Also echoes from The Cure and R.E.M. sound through.

In general their sound got bigger, which gives the songs more body and variation. The nice guitar parts of Micheal Grice and singer Chris Bull, are sometimes gently and playfully ringing. At other times they turn into solid and heavy rock riffs. But combined with Bull's pleasant voice and nice harmonies it never gets too rough. Built upon a solid foundation the songs are firmly standing upright. The band are definitely finding their own sound and are growing comfortable with it. This is also obvious from the song 'Ahead Of Ideas' that they released recently, ahead of the release of their first full length record in February.

It's obvious City Reign worked very hard in the past year. You notice that this band is very serious about their music. Their effort and dedication is praiseworthy. When they continue growing like this and with some luck, 2013 could be a turnaround year. If their album can get enough attention and the songs some airplay, they may be looking at bigger venues to play. I sincerely hope so since these guys deserve it. The band and their sound are definitely ready for that.

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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Mixed Feelings With Green Lizard And Face Tomorrow

One of our country's best rock bands, Face Tomorrow, announced a while ago they are gonna call it quits. It was hard to believe after they released their self titled last album one and a half year ago and seemed more alive then ever. Around the same time one of the best live bands of some ten years ago, Green Lizard, announced their comeback. Needless to say I had to go see them both for their 'Hello, Goodbye Tour'.

Hello, Goodbye Tour: Face Tomorrow + Green Lizard at Melkweg Amsterdam, November 15 2012

Green Lizard
When I was introduced to this band early 2000's I was sold right away. Their grunge and heavy rock music combined with energetic live shows were great to watch. They disappeared off my radar some years after, only to find out that the group had disbanded in 2007. But this year there suddenly was some Green Lizard activity around singer Remi Tjon Ajong and the band rose from its ashes. It's great to see him back on stage with his brother Brian again and their new band members Axel van Oort on bass and Jochem van Rooijen on drums. But it's clear they have not changed their music. That's because mostly they are playing their old songs of course, but the band seems to want to stick to their roots. I will be interesting to hear what a new album will sound like.

They sure have not lost their skills despite being a few years older. It still rocks hard like in the good ol' days. Remi's voice sounds strong and the band is playing with a lot of heart, energy and enthusiasm. When Remi's kids join him on stage for 'Junior on their little toy drums and guitar there's no doubt the fans have embraced them again.

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Face Tomorrow
When Face Tomorrow take the stageit's clear right from the start why we're going to miss this band. The band fly into it one hundred percent and are working up a sweat the entire show like they always do. The set is one hell of a ride. For fifteen years they have always played every show like it could have been their last. This time however it's actually true. Although a couple of shows will follow, this is my last Face Tomorrow show. And that makes me feel sad. How come this band never grew bigger? Why did the media give hardly any attention to such a great band? Why didn't they get more air play? Not main stream enough? Too heavy?

These things make me angry. I see it happen to more great bands. Some X-Factor or Pop Idol nitwit is playing for 15,000 people and bands like this are playing to only a handful of people. Singer Jelle Schrooten, with his impressive voice, would blow away every contestant of these shitty shows that only deliver mediocre artists and lower the music standard of the average person watching that rubbish. Even when Schrooten's voice isn't completely alright according to himself. These guys give it all they have got. Besides Schrooten, the rest of the band too are playing full of fire. And then the songs: 'Worth The Wait', 'Move On', 'My World Within', what a great songs!

Schrooten asks the crowd what they want to hear. Someone answers 'Overpowered', their biggest hit, a rock ballad. Schrooten asks "really?" and then continues with 'Delirium' instead. Maybe because his voice is not up for it today or that ballad, although a good song, just doesn't say what they are about. The band ends the night in great style with 'Sign Up'. What a power! A passionate mosh pit forms spontaneously, giving the band the worthy farewell they deserve. In the end this night doesn't end in sorrow, but in excitement because of a great show by two great rock bands. "sign up cause we are here to stay". Where can I sign up for a Face Tomorrow come back in five years like Green Lizard did?

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1. Back to the Starting Line
2. All The Way
3. Enlighten Me
4. Burning Bridges
5. My World Within
6. Puppet on Strings
7. Paralusion
8. For Me
9. The Maze
10. Move On
11. On My Own
12. Delirium
13. Worth the Wait
14. Sign Up
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Friday, 16 November 2012

Tony Allen, King Of The Groove

Together with Fela Kuti, drummer Tony Allen invented the afrobeat several decades ago. Now in his seventies he's still one of the biggest performers in that genre. The master made a guest appearance at this year's Amsterdam edition of Felabration last month. But whenever you are able to see a legend like Allen perform an entire show, you have to grab that opportunity.

Tony Allen's Black Series at Bimhuis Amsterdam, November 9 2012

For the Black Series tour, the drummer from Nigeria is visiting the jazz club Bimhuis in Amsterdam which filled up nicely. He's accompanied by a young band where especially trumpet player Nicolas Giraud is getting plenty of freedom to play his sparkling solos. Allen is seated behind a golden drum kit overlooking the young band. But he's not pleased with everyone sitting down in this jazz club. Naturally this is quite normal in this kind of venue but Allen wants people to dance! Many people are quietly moving their body in their seat to the irresistible grooves. "Allen doesn't hold the sticks: they float between his fingers as if by magic" according to British news paper The Guardian. This is absolutely true. His relaxed and loose style is a delight to watch. The groove never ceases, which he keeps on going at all time. Even when playing fills or grabbing a few more drum sticks, the groove is always there.

That's what makes him such a great drum player. His timing is phenomenal, always laid back, playing his grooves behind the beat. Bass player César Anot is the perfect match here. Anot seems to be smiling the whole evening and is enjoying the rythms the master drummer is laying down. After the break, people are still in their seats and Allen can't take it any more. He and his band urge people to stand up and start shaking their booty. Fortunately no one can ignore this request any more and within no time we are all dancing. Now the show is really taking off. Allen is smiling and the band is looking content. The band's efforts are paying off now and the room is boiling with energy. This causes the music to swing and groove even more. It shows how important energy between a band and an audience is.

Every member of the band is allowed to show their skills. Francois Xavier Bossard on keys is playing some hot solos, Claude Dibongué is playing laid back guitar solos and singer Audrey Gbaduidi is getting her time in the spot light as well. Of course they have to come back for encores since the crowd is hungry for so much more now. It's good to see how a band can turn around a performance and end up winning big time. Allen is all smiles and for a good reason. What a legend!

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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bombay Show Pig Impress With Convincing Penguin-Friendly Rock Show

After the Alabama Shakes show we're lucky to to catch almost most of Bombay Show Pig's show upstairs in the small hall. When we get there they have only just started. Earlier this year the duo released one of the most surprising records in our country this year, Vulture/Provider. This night just keeps getting better.

Bombay Show Pig at Paradiso Amsterdam, November 8 2012

When you listen to their music it's hard to believe it's only two people creating this much noise. Samples, loops and other effects are used in a smart way. Drum player Linda van Leeuwen is occasionally throwing in some keyboards to spice up the music. This way the firm rock songs are built up from layers and sound full. It enable Mathias Janmaat to play his creative riffs and on top of van Leeuwen´s heavy grooves. Somehow he also manages to play bass lines with pedals and loops at the same time.

With a tight setlist that keeps the tempo high, the crowd stays focused. The small hall has filled up nicely, maybe also with a few people who, like us, came here after the show downstairs. Unfortunately I missed the song 'Fingerprint', where Joppe Molenaar is playing the drums, dressed in a penguin suite like he does in the 'Sancho Panza' video. But Molenaar, who's the respected drummer for Dutch alternative bands Voicst and Bettie Serveert when not dressed up as a penguin, is more than willing to get his picture taken with me afterwards.

It's clear the duo has played a lot this year. The songs are tight and both are well attuned to each other. Strong songs like 'Stuck In My State Of Mind', 'Shackles And Chains' and 'Sancho Panza' prove that they are able to come up with catchy crowd pleasers. When the show is over there's even another surprise. Van Leeuwen and Janmaat play two more acoustic songs at the merchandise table in the back. Accompanying images of the album's artwork artist are shown on an overhead projector (old school!). I'm pretty sure they have won over many people tonight, maybe even some of the Alabama Shakes fans.

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