Friday 30 March 2012

The Mars Volta Is Trying To Behave

The Mars Volta are a love or hate band. Some people absolutely adore the band for their unconventional songs, crazy structures, weird timing and insane vocals. Others go nuts listening to just ten seconds of their music. I belong to the first group. It took me some time to get past the wall of noise and hyperactive music but now I can really enjoy it. So I was well prepared when I sat down to listen to their new album Noctourniquet.

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
I was ready to suck in those crazy structures, timing and vocals. Only to be disappointed after playing the album. Where was the experiment, Omar Rodríguez-López' guitar spinning out of control, the insane squeaks by singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala? They were hard to be found and this sounded pretty boring on The Mars Volta scale. But as with any of their records I should give it a few more spins before making up my mind.

And fortunately it isn't all that bad. The first song 'The Whip Hand' is still showing some of the usual The Mars Volta timing tricks but then things get more "normal". First single 'The Malkin Jewel' is a great rock song that could have easily been on an album by Nick Cave's Grinderman. And that's not a bad reference at all. 'Trinkets Pale Of Moon' sounds like a conventional ballad with a trip hop break beat. 'Molochwalker' and 'In Absentia' sound like normal rock songs at first listen, but do have their own little twists and turns that reveal themselves after hearing them a couple of times.

When compared to the earlier albums this album sounds more like the period after a huge storm. It's still windy but things certainly have gotten more quiet. So you brace yourself for those big blows only to find they are not going to happen. But like any The Mars Volta album it needs a few listens and concentration to grasp the full picture. And it's a relieve to find out that they stay true to their roots but keep everything more in control than usual. Personally I like the big storm better. That's why Noctourniquet is not up there with the likes of Frances the Mute or De-Loused in the Comatorium.

Listen to 'Noctourniquet' on Spotify.

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Tuesday 27 March 2012

Case Mayfield Gets Paradiso To Be Quiet

About a year ago I watched a singer songwriter as a support act. A shy guy took the stage and in a soft voice introduced himself. Then he started strumming his guitar and when he opened his mouth I was blown away. Now almost a year later Case Mayfield was in Paradiso to present his first full album 'The Many Colored Beast'.

Case Mayfield at Paradiso Amsterdam, March 23 2012 (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)

A big problem nowadays is people talking loudly during concerts. Not a problem with rock concerts, but for this show I was a little worried. Case Mayfield uses silence in his songs to make a point and to cause an effect. But as he starts playing the first song, people are hardly breathing. It is as if the whole crowd is holding its breath. It's the perfect atmosphere for Mayfield's dark and emotional songs, filling the room with tension. When he finishes the song, the room explodes. This seems a bit overwhelming for him as well.

Nowadays he's playing with a band. And that works really well. They lay down soundscapes for the songs, without draining their power. 'Tomorrow Is My Slavename' uses such a soundscape in a smart way and it works very well live. Centre of attention is Mayfield with his guitar and his music, who looks more comfortable surrounded by other musicians. His songs cut straight through your soul and send shivers down your spine.

It's songs like 'You Sure Lost A Lot Of Weight' and my personal favourite 'Alright Louise' that are the most impressive. Every word is well chosen and hits you with such an impact that you get sucked into the music completely. The crowd is more than willing to let this happen, turning this night into an unforgettable one. A glorious album presentation and a well deserved critical acclaim. Mayfield is a skilled and very talented songwriter that we are going to hear a lot more from in the future.

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Wednesday 21 March 2012

The Presidents Bring The Good Times

I didn't hear from this happy bunch for quite a while and suddenly they announced a European club tour. There's no album coming up, so I guess they just felt like playing. And of course with The Presidents of the USA that's a guaranteed fun night. Let the good times begin!

The Presidents of the United States of America at Paradiso Amsterdam, March 13 2012 (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
Just some time after that a Dutch band, called Hit Me TV, announced that they were going to play in Paradiso as well, to present their brand new album on that same night. That was a bit unfortunate, since I would have loved to see them play as well. They were starting 30 minutes earlier on the small stage so in the end I got to see them play a few songs. It was barely enough but I liked it a lot and hope to see a full show soon.

Time for The Presidents to hit the stage. They start off with a few of their hit songs to get us in the mood. Then front man Chris Ballew announces that they will play their whole first self titled album. He puts the needle on the record and off they go. The atmosphere is great, people are dancing, jumping, stage diving and crowd surfing. And most of all every one is having a good time.

Of course there's nothing new. No new songs, we've heard all of their songs a million times before and a lot of us probably have seen them play those songs quite a few times as well. But there's still that contagious pleasure and energy that this band is showing, that makes their gigs so much fun. Ballew is the always cheerful and charming host while drummer Jason Finn and guitarist Andrew McKeag are just all smiles the whole evening. They allow people to climb the stage, share some peaches from a can (they were put there by a man) and have girls walk a fashion show. There's just no bad vibe in the room when this band is playing.

After playing the first album they treat us to some more hits and an encore. After twenty eight (!) songs it's the end of the night. Maybe they are not the hippest band, or not playing the most creative or complicated music, and you know what you're gonna get. But that's why it's so damned good. Can't wait for the next time.

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1. Love Everybody
2. Volcano
3. Lady Bug
4. Some Postman
5. Jennifer’s Jacket
6. Kitty
7. Feather Pluckn
8. Baby You’re A Rich Man (The Beatles cover)
9. Lump
10. Stranger
11. Boll Weevil
12. Peaches
13. Dune Buggy
14. We Are Not Going to Make It
15. Kick Out the Jams
16. Body
17. Back Porch
18. Candy
19. Naked and Famous
20. Mach 5
21. Video Killed The Radio Star (The Bugles cover)
22. Froggie
23. More Bad Times
24. Supermodel
25. Finished off More Bad Times
26. Tiki God
27. Kick Out The Jams reprise
28. Ace Of Spades (Motorhead cover)
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Friday 16 March 2012

Turning Point For Blood Red Shoes

The rock duo Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell from Brighton, or Blood Red Shoes, are known for their lively shows. With lots of swagger and show they wildly throw their music at the crowd. This isn't always really subtle, but it is effective. The duo does tend to spin out of control now and then. Their first two albums didn't really force a break through yet. They weren't able to write the big hits needed for that. Maybe it will happen with their third record 'In Time To Voices'.

Blood Red Shoes - In Time To Voices (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
For this album they are going at it in a different way. They haven't put their wild years completely behind them, judging from a song like 'Je Me Perds', where the two go at it in a vicious way. But there is room for quieter moments now, where they are proving that they're able to dig deeper. Don't expect any honey sweet rock ballads, but songs like 'Two Dead Minutes' and the dark 'Night Light' do show a change in style. And that has been a wise choice. Continuing down the same road would have been a safe option, with a predictable end result. It might have pleased the loyal fans, but definitely wouldn't have made any new ones.

With In Time To Voices they are showing guts and more maturity. According to themselves inspired by rock bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, they are now exploring their more classic hardrock side. There's less full speed straightforward rushing, which gives the songs more air and develops more groove. And they are quite successful at it, like in the nice and heavy 'Down Here In The Dark'. It even gets poppy now and then and closing track '7 Years' reminds of Garbage. The needed big hits may as well be among them.

This third record by the Blood Red Shoes could be the turning point in their career. It has been a courageous step not to go down the easy road and that fortunately has turned out for the better. They lost some of their rashness which was replaced with maturity and patience. It turned into a varied album with interesting findings, that makes you look forward to future material of the duo. Hopefully they will be able to continue down this line.

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

Listen to 'In Time To Voices' on Spotify.

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Saturday 3 March 2012

The Phantom Four Mix Well With The Arguido

The Phantom Four is the surf band that emerged after Phantom Frank aka Frank Gerritsen's The Treble Spankers ended due to a stubborn injury. They invited Patrick Tilon aka Rudeboy, who we all know from Urban Dance Squad, to see one of their live shows. He was very impressed and they decided to hook up for some songs. The live gigs included Rudeboy as guest singer more and more and now there's a full album. Even better there's one with Rudeboy, or The Arguido as he calls himself here. Even better it's a double CD! One featuring The Arguido, 'Sounds From The Obscure' and one instrumental one without him, 'Morgana'.

The Phantom Four & The Arguido - Sounds From The Obscure/Morgana (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And from the first tones of Sounds From The Obscure you find yourself in a movie. Maybe a Tarantino movie, maybe a western. Exciting guitar songs that make you want to move. When Rudeboy kicks in, the songs get more body and sound more aggressive. And it's not hard to imagine the excitement when they experienced this themselves. It's a perfect match. Listen to the fierce 'Settle Down' that grabs you by the throat and won't let go. Or the very catchy and great 'Gun On My Temple' with a playful guitar riff and solid dirty groove. This album has even twelve of those beauties and not a bad one among them. Before you know it the album goes out with its final blow 'The Guestlist'.

So the other disc 'Morgana' is just a nice bonus right? Wrong! It's a great album by itself with cheerful surf songs. No wonder Rudeboy was so impressed by this band. Their songs are full of energy, impressive guitar playing and lots of creativity. Original songs like 'Belly Dance #6' which has, not surprisingly, some exotic elements. Or 'A Forest', a surfer's ode to The Cure, and title track 'Morgana' are just simply a feast to listen to.

I can only think of one thing that would make them sound even better: a live performance. I haven't got the chance yet, but will make sure I will catch them soon. Make sure you do too and don't forget to get this album. In the meantime: surf's up!

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

Listen to 'Sounds From The Obscure' on Spotify.

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