Thursday 21 February 2013

See You In Three Weeks!

There's more snow on the way I heard, so it's about time we get out. We're going to find out what the deal is with that pan flute music. Maybe I'll share 'Machu Picchu' by The Strokes with them. See you in a few weeks!

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Giant Leap For City Reign

When you're from Manchester it's not possible to make music and not get influenced by bands from the "Madchester"-era like The Smiths and Oasis. British band City Reign can't escape this either. On their first full album they are even embracing their rich legacy. The quartet released an EP earlier on their own label Car Boot Records. These influences were already obvious at that time, but the EP recordings could have used some better production. For Another Step they worked together with a producer who took them to Salford's Sacred Trinity Church. This has been an excellent choice, even though it's clear the band likes to keep things in their own hands.

City Reign - Another Step (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)

The production is more than right this time. The different parts sound clear and nicely balanced. There was no attempt to brush it up needlessly and erase all imperfections. It sounds like a nice guitar record with the pleasant, somewhat nasal voice of Chris Bull. On their single 'Making Plans' you can clearly hear the band is capable of writing compact songs with catchy guitars, powerful drums and playful harmonies. The record is full of these kind of typical Britpop songs. Once and a while we can also hear a melancholic song like 'The Line', that reminds of REM.

'Retaliate' is a bit of a stranger, a quiet and sensitive song, completed with strings. But it doesn't feel out of place at all and only shows the band has more to offer. After that they take it up a few notches with 'See What It's Worth' and 'Stay Where You Are', and show not to be afraid of using big gestures. They are moving close to their illustrious fellow citizens Oasis here, without trying to be a direct copy. 'Anyway, Anywhere' finally is the worthy closer with a genuine explosion of guitars and drums.

Most striking is how much heart and joy you can hear in their music. This "Madchester"-worthy record is the result of years of hard work, playing small rooms and moulding their songs and sound. They already played a few times in Amsterdam, the last time at the small and intimate Winston Kingdom. With this album the bigger venues should get into reach. It is not just another step, but City Reign are taking a giant leap here.

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

Listen to Another Step on Spotify.

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Monday 18 February 2013

Dutch Uncles Put Us To Work

Despite raving reviews for their second LP, Dutch Uncles remain a relatively unknown band. Of course they are not choosing for the easy road. The music is not your average indie pop and the the band can make it a bit difficult for their listeners. By using less common time signatures than a standard back-beat for instance. This is not any different on their third album Out Of Touch In The Wild, that was released this month.

Dutch Uncles - Out Of Touch In The Wild (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

No simple pop tunes this time either, which wasn't to be expected of course. But again ten songs that require quite some attention. The catchy sound with playful tunes did stay though, combined with the unique vocals of Duncan Wallis. His high voice is flawless and sometimes even sounds feminine. Together with his style of singing now and then, it reminds of Kate Bush from time to time. Add to that influences of Talking Head and King Crimson and you may understand a bit what it sounds like.

Besides using non-standard time signatures, the quintet is treating us to some nicely layered and lush arrangements. Often strings are used here, which gives songs like 'Zug Zwang' a more dramatic sound. Despite the more difficult ingredients the band never loses touch with the song itself. Many songs do have a catchy hook like first single 'Fester'. The nervous xylophone line in it will stick in your head for days. Instruments like a xylophone are used more often this way, but it never feels like a trick. It is giving the band, together with Wallis' vocals and a funky guitar here and there, their own face. For instance 'Flexxin' is getting its swinging character from these kind of elements.

Dutch Uncles underline their qualities and creativity with Out Of Touch In The Wild. Maybe they are not making it easy for themselves, since they are keeping far from mainstream with it. The band won't reach a big audience quickly or play the big stages because of that. Of course there's nothing wrong with that at all. On the contrary, let's hope this band will continue down this road in their own way and will put us to work many times to come.

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

Listen to In My Time on Spotify.

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Friday 15 February 2013

Avant La Lettre Try To Regain Momentum

The first album Belief seemed to give Avant La Lettre some publicity. Single 'Magic' was doing fine and got them air-play and awareness. Unfortunately two out of five members left the band and they couldn't make use of the momentum that had been created. Better make a new album fast and try again with that one, they must have thought. And so now there's already the successor In My Time, which they presented in Paradiso recently.

Avant La Lettre - In My Time (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)

It sounds like the band from Amsterdam got rid of the label "exciting guitar band" they got stuck on a few years ago. This is probably the result of the departure of their fellow band members and the resulting change in line-up. Or maybe the reason for their departure? Anyway, In My Time sounds like a true pop record. Gone are the rougher sound and need to experiment, but there are true pop songs with head and tail instead. Clearly they have put in time to write good songs and arrangements.

Those songs are all fine. Extensive use of electronics raise the feeling of the eighties. This is combined a lot with playful guitar riffs like in 'Postmodernity'. Halfway the mood is getting more heavy and darker with 'Hold On', 'Heart Beat' and 'Before/After'. Because of the slower tempo the album dozes off there. Fortunately they pick it up again in the cheerful 'Peace Sign' which has a nice hook. The jazzy title track 'In My Time' might just well be the most exciting track of the record. It is very welcome since excitement is what most songs lack a bit. And that's a shame since Avant La Lettre used to come up with a few surprises in the past.

Bottom line is that the threesome produced a fine pop album with songs that are pleasant to hear. Despite the fact that the lads stay on the safe side, in the end there's plenty to enjoy. Hopefully in the future we can expect some more unconventional work again. Maybe In My Time turns out to be a transitional album.

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

Listen to In My Time on Spotify.

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Wednesday 13 February 2013

Swinging Trip On Planet Unknown Mortal Orchestra

The first self-titled Unknown Mortal Orchestra album flew below my radar, but the second one II hit me hard. I love their mix of psychedelica and long jams. That album is receiving raving reviews and is even creating somewhat of a hype. I was just in time to get my ticket for Paradiso, since it eventually sold out a few days before the show.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Paradiso, February 7 2013

And so it's a full house in the small hall of the venue when the band takes the stage. They treat us to a trip that lasts just over an hour. It includes many great songs of their new album but also plenty of the first one. I really like the trio line-up of bands like this, since they can give each other so much freedom. Bass player Jake Portrait is playing great grooving bass lines, plucking his bass in a relaxed way throughout. Combined with Riley Geare's swinging drumming the songs get an irresistible drive. And it also lays down a solid base for singer and guitar player Ruban Nielson to put his freaky vocals and riffs on top of.

His voice does sound very thin though, even more than on the album. He's singing very high most of the time, but it doesn't really sound as a falsetto. I can imagine that it may not be appealing to everyone and I sure have to get used to the squeaky voice. But it's never annoying or in the way. What he lacks in singing he makes up on guitar playing, treating us to fuzzy solos and psychedelic riffs. From time to time it seems as if they are just jamming, tripping to their own tunes.

I have the feeling this is just the start for this band and there's a lot of room for them to grow. Playing many shows will definitely help them here and I hope to see them this summer on some festivals.

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Saturday 9 February 2013

Billy Martin's Wicked Knee Even Make A Tuba Rock

I had never heard of Billy Martin (shame on me). A friend asked me if I'd like to come along to his Wicked Knee show in the Bimhuis jazz club. The description looked interesting and a band founded by a drummer always sounds good to me.

Billy Martin's Wicked Knee at Bimhuis, Amsterdam February 6 2013

Martin explains that they have known each other for years and finally put together this band after talking about it for a long time. It's obviously not a standard band, since the other musicians are all part of the horn section: a trombone, a trumpet and a tuba. So no bass player? I was about to find out that you don't need a bass player when you have a great tuba player. It starts out with a bit of free jazz. Martin is playing around with the bells on his well filled percussion table and the horns are having fun producing strange noises. But it doesn't take long for them to kick off with some great tunes.

It's a mix of standards, "ragtime funk" as Martin calls it and a few surprising songs. We hear The White Stripes' 'The Hardest Button to Button' and Jimi Hendrix' 'Manic Depression' followed by the classic 'When The Saints Come Marching In' later on. What they have in common in arrangement is a New Orleans feel. Martin is playing some great swing grooves while Marcus Rojas is supporting him with his tuba to form the rhytm section. Rojas is great at it, he's coming up with brilliant bass lines and I've never seen such a swinging tuba performance. Curtis Fowlkes on trombone and Steven Bernstein on trumpet add playful accents and hearty solos. The performance is bustling with creativity and a delight to watch. There's plenty of time for some fooling around too, without making it cheesy. This only brings more life to the performance and is obviously pleasing the musicians as well. And so at the end they receive a well deserved standing ovation.

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Monday 4 February 2013

Traumahelikopter and Vanderbuyst Rock Club Ziggo

A free round of two bands that will blow you off your socks, Traumahelikopter and Vanderbuyst? I don't say "no" to that. So I applied to go on the guest list for this night at Club Ziggo, made sure I had my ear plugs and got ready to let my hair down (which I didn't do to be honest).

Traumahelikopter at Club Ziggo, Amsterdam January 31 2013

They made a stunning impression on showcase festival Eurosonic in Groningen earlier this month where they literally tore the ceiling down. This threesome will definitely blow your mind. Who needs a full drum set when you can stand up with a floor tom and a snare drum? Throw in some cymbals and there's plenty of noise you can make. And when you have two guitars, you don't really need a bass player right? These guys aren't about making music following the standard rules.

Their music is not about bringing the greatest grooves or guitar riffs. It's all about energy and having fun. And that's exactly what they're good at. Their raw energy, gritty dirty rock songs and enthusiasm is enough to give you a good time. And their LP that I bought after the show will put a smile on my face every time I play it. Seeing is believing so go check them out.

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Vanderbuyst at Club Ziggo, Amsterdam January 31 2013

Seeing is believing goes for Vanderbuyst as well. I heard many good things about this band, but didn't get a chance to see them yet. Their performance takes you back to the era of hair metal and everything that comes with it. That means tight pants, lots of hair a Flying V and so many lights the band hardly fits on the small stage. Of course this calls for some heavy rocking and you can leave that to these three musicians. Their music is just as you'd expect: a blend of Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Thin Lizzy etc.

Judging from the die hard fans that came down to see them, it's obvious they have outgrown these kind of show cases. A big group of fans are head banging and tossing their hair to the heavy grooves. Vanderbuyst are playing tight and it has to be great for them to play to such dedicated fans. So they give the fans what they came for and treat us to an energetic set.

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Keep a close eye on the Club Ziggo agenda since they keep lining up great bands there for free.

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