Tuesday 31 December 2013

Top 10 Albums 2013

What a great music year 2013 turned out to be. This year we saw wonderful albums coming out and the level was very high. Still the top of my list was crystal clear and I didn't have to go through a lot of trouble to be coming up with the top half.

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Nick Cave and his The Bad Seeds simply made a gem of a record. Push The Sky Away is a highlight in his catalogue. Does he ever make a bad record?
Play in Spotify

2. Arctic Monkeys - AM
Arctic Monkeys announced their new record would be a mix of Dr. Dre and Black Sabbath. That sounds pretty bad, but turns out to be a brilliant combination.
Play in Spotify

3. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
There was no way around Arcade Fire this year, so much is clear. With a thought-through pr-campaign they drew everyone's attention. And then that record. Pretentious? For sure. Bombastic? Absolutely. But also very good and surprising.
Play in Spotify

4. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
Of absolute beauty is The National's album. It is full of gems, that make you listen breathlessly.
Play in Spotify

5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II
UMO made an impression with their second record, simply titled II. It is a nice combination of psychedelics and nice guitar playing.
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6. White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade
White Denim show what they're made of again on Corsicana Lemonade. It's full of virtuous rock songs played by great musicians.
Play in Spotify

7. Jacco Gardner - Cabinet of Curiosities
There were also many nice Dutch productions again this year. Our own Jacco Gardner even drew attention across the border. His psychedelic baroque pop record Cabinet of Curiosities is an atmospheric album filled with beautiful songs and sounds.
Play in Spotify

8. Queens Of The Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Josh Homme looked death into the eyes and this eventually resulted in ...Like Clockwork. A nice and varied record that not only has pounding rock songs but also leaves room for reflection.
Play in Spotify

9. Mikal Cronin - MCII
Mikal Cronin no longer stands in Ty Segall's shadow after releasing MCII, that has nice fuzzy pop songs on it.
Play in Spotify

10. Automatic Sam - Sonic Whip
Dutch rock band Automatic Sam shows with Sonic Whip why they are one of the most interesting rock bands in this country. And also one of the most underrated ones if you ask me.
Play in Spotify

The bottom half of this list was a lot more difficult. That's why I also want to mention De Staat's I_CON, Floating Coffin by Thee Oh Sees and Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold. They missed this list only by an inch. Looking forward to a new year of releases. Happy New Year!

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Monday 30 December 2013

New Cool Collective Celebrate 20th Anniversary

I've written about New Cool Collective several times and have been following the jazz collective for more than ten years. But the band formed years before that, twenty years ago to be precise. They have been playing some shows to celebrate this milestone and end with a big celebration in the Melkweg. Needless to say I had to join in on the celebrations.

New Cool Collective at Melkweg Amsterdam, December 23 2013

When we arrive at the venue, the doors are still closed and a long line is waiting. I still have no idea what this was about, but we decide to go for a beer first. When we return there's still a line and by the time we make it in, second support act Typhoon is about to wrap it up. Fortunately he will return later as a guest. The big hall is completely packed when the birthday boys take the stage. They start out as the "standard" jazz combo, which is the line-up they play the most in. Everyone is in a festive mood, also because it's Christmas in a few days, and positive vibes fill the hall right from the start.

New Cool Collective show why they are the best jazz combo around at the moment and what makes them into a one of a kind band. Jazz combo is not even the right term to describe them, since the band has mixed styles like jazz, latin and afro-beat into a unique genre. It usually results in swinging music that bring cinematic images to mind. Saxophone player Benjamin Herman acts as the front man, occasionally addressing the audience. As usual his enthusiasm is hard to ignore and catches on quickly. The band is playing in a relaxed fashion and every member gets a moment in the spot light.

After a first warm up set, there's a break to set up for the next part of the show: time to bring in the big band. This is the line-up you won't see them use that often. A lot of horn players are added and the band transforms into a show band counting almost twenty members. The songs sound more full this way, but still unmistakably carry the New Cool Collective signature. There's no celebration without guests, so Queax Queax Joans, Ruben Hein, Hans Dulfer, Typhoon and comedian Hans Teeuwen all join in. It results into a colourful celebration with Christmas songs and plenty of laughter. In the final encore everyone returns to the stage for a cheerful version of Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody'. And so we raise our glass to this magnificent band for a toast. Let's hope they will be around for at least another twenty more years.

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Tuesday 24 December 2013

Forty Years With Los Lobos

The hard thing about making a live album is to transfer the energy of a venue and band onto the record. Los Lobos have a strong live reputation and try to catch it on Disconnected In New York City. The band has been around for a grand forty years. With this release they are celebrating that milestone. They have released live albums before in their long and impressive career. Last year a live CD and DVD came out together with the special twentieth anniversary edition of the highly acclaimed Kiko.

Los Lobos - Disconnected in New York City (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)

Maybe that's the reason no songs of that record can be found on this thirteen track album. The deluxe version has four more tracks and a DVD. They clearly chose for the biggest hits of their career. An overview that contains both 'Gotta Let You Know' of their 1984 major label debut How Will The Wolf Survive, and the title track 'Tin Can Trust' of their last album from 2010. All of the songs sound great. The sound is crystal clear and it is as if the band is playing in your living room. There's a nice balance between the band sound and the response of the crowd.

Los Lobos are showing what a great musicians they are and what good songs they have written. The nice mix of blues, latin and rock is always tasteful. It is moving between swinging cumbia and sensitive ballads. Because of the "greatest hits" approach many well known songs are passing by of course. But it also made it less exciting. The band give a nice overview of their catalogue but are not really showing what they are capable of. Because of the selection of these songs from two intimate concerts in the City Winery in New York, it somewhat lacks coherence. Therefore it feels more like a collection of snapshots instead of the experience a Los Lobos concert can be.

Of course the versions of 'The Neighbourhood', 'Tears Of God' and 'Little Things' are beautiful, but it never really takes off. They are closing with that one big hit we all know. 'La Bamba' is mixed with 'Good Lovin'' into a medley. We all know Los Lobos is so much more than that one smash hit that made them famous around the globe. But you can't really hear that on this album. We will have to go see them in the flesh to hear that.

This review has been published on Festivalinfo in Dutch over here.

Listen to Disconnected In New York City on Spotify.

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Wednesday 18 December 2013

Monster Magnet Unleash The Mighty Beast Again

Things didn't look good for a while for Dave Wyndorf, singer and the only remaining original member of US band Monster Magnet. In 2007 he almost overdosed on drugs. Wyndorf barely dodged the reapers scythe. It saved his life but also gave him excess body weight. The once muscular noodle had transformed in an old overweight rocker, hardly looking anything like the person he used to be. Music wise the band wasn't the relentless monster of before either.

Monster Magnet - Last Patrol (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

Earlier this year however Wyndorf proved with a tight rock show in Tilburg's 013 that he found the old magic back. Now there's a new album Last Patrol that is showing the same. The beast is back and is hurtling over you like in the old days with pounding rock songs. The guitar riffs are violent and convincing, supported by the familiar heavy grooves. The songs also have the usual quiet moments, where tension is building up to eventually erupt relentlessly. The long title track 'Last Patrol' takes the cake as it develops into a kind of spacy rock anthem.

But it's not just violence that is thrown at us. There are the usual moments where the band is showing its psychedelic side, like in 'Stay Tuned', and where it's slowing down. The group even dares to cover Donovan's 'Three King Fishers' and add add their own signature to it. And are we hearing bongos in 'The Duke Of Supernature'? In 'End Of Time' the Apocalypse seams near with roaring guitars and rolling fills. Ruthlessly the beast is racing along as if it awoke in a rude way. This is clear in the threatening 'Paradise'. The monster lays his anger upon us in 'Hallelujah' to eventually seal our fate in the feedback dredged 'Mindless Ones'.

Monster Magnet is playing with renewed energy. Even the nice art work of the cover is showing a powerful and aggravated demon that is up to no good. Hopefully Last Patrol is not living up to its name and turns out to be their last exercise, since in this shape Monster Magnet can go on for years.

This review has been published on Festivalinfo in Dutch over here.

Listen to Last Patrol on Spotify.

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Tuesday 10 December 2013

Flying High On The Sitar With Elephant Stone

At the last edition of the Into The Great Wide Open festival an intriguing instrument is set up on the stage in the woods. On a low plateau the sitar is waiting until someone is going to play it. The man behind Canadian band Elephant Stone, Rishi Dhir, will only play it once during their successful performance at the festival. The sounds of the instrument are spreading throughout the trees and enchant its listeners. On their second album, simply titled Elephant Stone, you can hear it more often.

Elephant Stone - Elephant Stone (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

Dhir is an established sitar player who already worked with bands like The Horrors and The Black Angels. Dhir, whose roots obviously lie in India, is mixing his background into his music in several ways. We can hear the tabla and other Hindu influences. According to Dhir he was inspired by Bollywood movies as well. Especially in 'A Silent Moment' you can here these influences including nice oriental singing.

The result is a spicy and tasteful mix that is lightly digestible. The psychedelic songs are easy on the ears and are never too heavy. The sitar is mostly used in a subtle way and only now and then acts as the main attraction, like in 'The Sea Of Your Mind'. This song really is one big jam that eventually ends in a delightful apotheosis with a repeating sitar and fireworks by the guitars. It's the highlight of the record. The sitar proves to be the ultimate psychedelic instrument. Everything is floating on the remarkable and almost spiritual sounds. No wonder George Harrison was studying the sitar later on in The Beatles era.

But the other songs are worth it as well. Because the rest of the album is full of fine songs. Sometimes they are Beatlesque tunes like 'Hold Onto Yr Soul' and 'Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin'. They are almost light easy listening pop songs. Others are explosive guitar jams, performed with a lot of heart. Rishi Dhir understands well how to attract attention by being different. His musical talents combined with his background are a smart move which results in a wonderful record.

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

Listen to Elephant Stone on Spotify.

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Friday 6 December 2013

Savages Are Unstoppable

It's been quite a year for Savages. They released one of the finest records of 2013 and have been touring extensively. The four women leave a real impression with their intense live shows. Tonight is their last show of the year and singer Jehnny Beth says she's glad to be playing that one in Paradiso.

Savages at Paradiso Amsterdam, December 3 2013

Beth left her high heels at home tonight. It doesn't really make a difference for her performance. While she's standing in the middle of only a few spot lights, her piercing eyes are going around the hall. It is as if she's trying to take in every one of us. The dark show together with the fierce and sometimes hypnotizing music still hasn't lost any of its impact.

A large part of the powerful music comes from the strong rhythm section. Drum player Fay Milton is confidently pounding out the solid grooves. Bass player Ayse Hassan adds great bass lines that give the songs an unstoppable drive. It sounds as if the band is playing even tighter than the last time I saw them. 'Shut Up', 'Husbands' and 'No Face' sound incredible that way. The mix of dark new wave, punk and noise music is contagious. In the more quiet songs like 'Waiting For A Sign', everyone is so quiet that you can even hear the amps buzz.

Even though the four have been on the road for quite a while, they are not showing any signs of exhaustion. The set list is slowly building up to a climax with faster songs at the end of the set. Of course the show isn't really long, since they don't have enough material yet for a two hour show. It doesn't really matter when a performance is this intense. Especially not when they end with an inspired version of 'Fuckers', which they stretch out to a seemingly endless version. The repeating grooves put you right into a trance. It's the perfect close of a still impressive and at some points even astonishing show.

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01. I Am Here
02. Shut Up
03. City's Full
04. I Need Something New
05. Strife
06. Waiting for a Sign
07. Another War
08. She Will
09. No Face
10. Hit Me
11. Husbands
12. Dream Baby Dream (Suicide cover)
13. Fuckers

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Tuesday 3 December 2013

Rock Is Dead? Not with Navarone and Guild Of Stags

Over a year ago I heard some music from Navarone for the first time. I was completely blown away by the strong rock songs and how well it all sounded. It didn't take long for me to buy their record A Darker Shade Of White and couldn't wait to see them live. I had to wait for quite a long time but finally I was able to catch them at the last show of their tour around the country. As a bonus Guild Of Stags, another rock band I wanted to see, was the support act.

Navarone at Melkweg Amsterdam, November 30 2013

It's a nice story how Guild of Stags found their singer Michael Devlin. The Brit was visiting a beach club where the rest of the band was jamming to some classic rock tunes, which he happened to love himself. By chance he got on stage with them singing Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love' and turned out to be the missing piece of the puzzle. And truly they are a great match. Their seventies style classic rock combines perfectly with his voice and appearance. And yes, the way he looks and sounds reminds strongly of Robert Plant and their music definitely is heavily inspired by Led Zeppelin. But when it sounds this good who am I to complain about that? It's hard to believe this group of musicians found each other by chance. In the end they do a great job in warming us up for the main act.

One by one the members of Navarone take the dark stage where only a few lights are lit. The silhouettes start playing their parts and build up to the first song. When Merijn van Haren starts singing I'm blown away once again. His voice is incredible. But besides good musicians you also need good songs. And that's exactly why Navarone caught my attention. Their songs are of high quality. Mostly they are rooted in classic hard rock but they touch upon prog-rock from time to time as well. Songs like 'The Red Queen Effect' and 'December' sound even better than on the album.

The band makes great use of dynamics in their music. Guitarist Kees Lewiszong is playing quiet tingling guitar melodies before he's making his guitar scream in the louder parts. It makes the songs really stick out. Especially because they are patiently building up their songs and steer them into the direction they want. 'Sage' is a great example of this. It also helps that the band is playing very tight. They even get away with an awesome version of Deep Purple's 'Child In Time' without the use of an organ.

There's a beautiful and intimate acoustic moment when van Haren sings 'Devil's Ferry' without microphone. Guitar player Roman Huijbreghs is joining him on acoustic guitar and vocals while drummer Robin Assen adds some harmonies at the end. It's not hard for the band to convince everyone of their skills in the nicely filled venue tonight. At the end of their set it doesn't take much for them to return to the stage for one more glorious encore. The band will start working on their second album now. I can't wait to hear it and see them again.

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1. Quarter Rest
2. December
3. On My Knees
4. My Favorite Sin
5. Kickin' My Can
6. Highland Bull
7. Sage
8. Devil's Ferry
9. Child in Time (Deep Purple cover)
10. The Red Queen Effect
11. Dawn
12. The Wander

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