Thursday 30 October 2014

Getting Lost In The War Of Drugs

With their third album Lost In A Dream The War On Drugs forced a break through this year, which will end up on many year lists at the end of this year. And for a good reason, since it's a smart record with wonderful songs, built up in a clever way. Now the band is playing the bigger club stages and selling them out in no time. I'm glad I got my ticket early since Paradiso sold out months before tonight's show.

The War On Drugs at Paradiso Amsterdam, October 28 2014

It is clear that most people got acquainted to the band with the last album, since songs of that album are greeted with a bigger response than older songs. The five piece band have improved their sound, that now is full and layered. And pretty loud as well, judging from the faces of some people, although I don't really notice because of the ear plugs I'm always wearing. All I know, is that the sometimes clear sound is wonderful tonight, exposing all the beauty of this band.

The songs, a mix of Springsteen and Dylan, with a little pinch of Dire Straits added to it, are clever songs. Repetitive parts by guitar, keyboard and sax, are playfully dancing around each other. Since the parts themselves are kept simple, it never ends up in a wild mix of noise, but instead it combines into a colourful palette of music. Adam Granduciel's vocals are embraced by the music and his skilful guitar solos cause little eruptions, adding enough excitement to the mix, so it never gets boring.

Older songs that sometimes are more acoustic originally, get slightly different arrangements so they fit the new songs and sound. The band patiently crafts a wall of sound, that never gets too thick or wild, also because the set list is balanced, inserting slower songs at strategic positions to allow the crowd to relax again. It allows you to completely submerge yourself into their music and get lost in it. It wouldn't surprise me if this band will get even bigger in a few years and start filling up even larger venues.

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01. Burning
02. Arms Like Boulders
03. Under the Pressure
04. In Reverse
05. An Ocean in Between the Waves
06. Suffering
07. Best Night
08. Red Eyes
09. Eyes to the Wind
10. Lost in the Dream
11. Baby Missiles
12. Buenos Aires Beach
13. Your Love Is Calling My Name

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Wednesday 22 October 2014

Ty Segall Close To A Masterpiece

Not many artists are as active and productive as Ty Segall. The number of records, singles and music the man is releasing as himself, one of his alter egos or his many collaborations, makes you wonder about his night's rest. You would think he may be choosing quantity over quality, but the constant flow of music never disappoints. Manipulator is his seventh solo album and is definitely not his least.

Ty Segall - Manipulator

On this record Segall doesn't hold back in any way. He's going from garage rock, to glam rock, from britpop to hardrock. And with seventeen songs, just short of an hour of music, length wise he's not pacing himself either. It results in a sum up of everything he stands for, every piece of music he ever recorded and includes all the music that inspired him. The production is prolific with strings scattered around like in 'The Clock'.

And so we can hear plenty of Bowie on 'The Faker' that even echoes a bit of 'The Jean Genie'. 'Feel' has a big hardrock riff that keeps growing throughout the song, packing plenty of Zeppelin. T-Rex is never far away in a glam rock piece like 'Who's Producing You?' and there are Beatles references all over. Fans of his garage sound, don't need to worry, since most songs also have a garage rock edge to it, like 'Tall Man Skinny Lady'.

You do wonder if he shouldn't have left some songs out, cut it back to ten, maybe twelve songs, which could have made it more compact, more coherent and could have turned the album into an instant classic. On the other hand it does show all Segall's pretty colours, without holding back. He's dusting off classic rock in his own way and on his own terms, letting it shine more than ever. Maybe because of all the variation and lack of focus it doesn't turn Manipulator into an absolute masterpiece, but it's a damn fine album nevertheless.

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Wednesday 15 October 2014

Sold Out Felabration Has Rough Start, Ends On A High

For the fourth time Jungle by Night are organizing Felabration, the annual celebration in honour of Fela Kuti. So far they have been able to come up with great bands and this year this is no different. Next to German band Karl Hector & The Malcouns they were able to book Ethiopean jazz master Mulatu Astatke. Plenty of reasons to join the celebrations again.

Felebration at Paradiso Amsterdam, October 11 2014

The celebrations are off to an early start and we can't make it in time for the beginning. Unfortunately this means we miss most of Karl Hector & The Malcouns' performance and walk in during their last song.

Mulatu Astatke
I'm glad though that we're on time to see Mulatu Astatke and his great band. After their wonderful performance at the Into The Great Wide Open festival last month I'm ready for a lot more. Unfortunately the sounds is absolutely awful and Mulatu's vibraphone is almost impossible to hear. The sound engineer must have been sleeping since it doesn't really improve and the sound stays pretty band throughout their performance. Mulatu and some of his band members are sometimes looking desperately in the direction of the monitor engineer, so I'm guessing things are sounding bad for them as well.

It doesn't get them down though and the band are trying their hardest to play a good show. The Ethiopean master is sometimes explaining what composition they were playing, but this is hard to understand. You can tell he has composed sound tracks since some of the songs sound cinematic. In other compositions you hear why he's performing here tonight, when the songs are explosive and percussive. The skill of these musicians and the strength of the compositions make their performance beat the miserable sound.

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Jungle By Night
Things are different when Jungle By Night take the stage. Maybe the settings of the sound table were saved only for their performance, since there don't seem to be any problems during their performance. The young boys are once again in a festive mood and totally turn the night into a celebration. By now they can turn any venue into a party and get any crowd to move. Where their older songs are typical afrobeat songs, the songs of the new album are so much more. What they have in common is that they all sounds exciting and are played with a lot of heart.

The boys are firing up the willing crowd and are totally killing it tonight. And of course they go out with a blow, when all musicians of the night are joining in on the ultimate Fela Kuti song 'Zombie'. Kuti himself would have loved to be on this stage himself.

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Monday 13 October 2014

Fool's Gold Still A Hidden Gem

Mixing together African music with Western pop, Fool's Gold are an interesting band. The songs in Hebrew on their first self titled record made them sound even more exotic and managed to cause quite a buzz. This mix definitely works well and the band turns it into irresistible swinging songs. Time to check them out live.

Fool's Gold at Bitterzoet Amsterdam, October 8 2014

Only a handful of people found their way to the cosy venue for the band from LA. It's a small turn up for such an exciting band, but the band is determined to show everyone a good time. And that is very hard work tonight, since a part of the young crowd is a little more preoccupied with themselves and each other, than really paying a lot of attention to the band. When singer Luke Top is talking to the crowd, there's not much response.

It still doesn't get the band down, who work their way through a varied set. They have now found a stable line-up and have turned into a tight five piece. This is also noticeable in the new songs of their third album which will come out next year, that sound more coherent. The good thing tonight is that people did come in to do some dancing. And that is no problem with this band whose music is very hard to stand still to. The upbeat African rhythms are perfect to shake your booty to, which is exactly what everybody is doing. In the end that must be satisfying for this band who deserves much more. I'm definitely looking forward to their new album a lot.

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Thursday 9 October 2014

An Adventurous Journey With Gruff Rhys

With his band Super Furry Animals, Welsh musician Gruff Rhys already proved to be a versatile and unique musician. This is also showing in his other bands and solo career, where he's exploring different aspects of the musical spectrum. And besides musician and composer he's also an author and film maker. Tonight these things come together in his American Interior show, in support of his latest solo album and book by the same name.

Gruff Rhys at Bitterzoet Amsterdam, October 7 2014

The concept album American Interior has an incredible story as a base. It's the story about Welsh explorer John Evans who in the 18th century travelled to Northern America to track down an Indian tribe that was believed to be of Welsh descendant. There was a story in that time that America was discovered long before Columbus did by a Welsh prince Madog in the 12th century. Evans eventually tracks down the tribe after a perilous journey, but finds out they are not Welsh descendants at all. By then he's backed by the Spanish, annexates a large part of Northern America by accident in the Spanish king's name and has drawn a map of the Missouri river. Tragically on his way back he dies in New Orleans.

Rhys will backtrack the story and journey of Evans tonight with us. Wearing a wolf's head (super furry indeed) he introduces us to the legend of the Welsh indians by showing a short movie. Then, supported by slides starring a puppet representation of John Evans, we see Rhys following in Evans' foot steps. It's a hilarious journey where Rhys proves to be an entertaining story teller, sounding almost a bit confusing, but with a lot of tongue in cheek. I'm sure it has many believing he made the whole story up, but if you google the internet, you'll find it all really happened.

Every time Rhys tells part of the story and follows it up by a song of the record. The songs match that part of the story or at least have a connection to it. Rhys plays an old out of tune guitar while singing and has all kinds of inventive tricks to back him up. He uses a loop station to create harmonies, playing records that he recorded himself with some beats and soundscapes, and sometimes uses an old fashioned metronome for rhythm. He's really skilled at it and you don't miss a band for one minute. On top of that he has a wonderful voice that sounds warm and pleasant. Rhys proves tonight that he's a one of kind artist, a proud Welsh man with many talents and a true entertainer.

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Monday 6 October 2014

Passionate Show By Future Islands

Besides all the bands and artists who are carefully crafted and shaped by producers and record companies, completely adapted to a certain style or image in order to come up with hit machines (= money machines), there are still bands who are working hard and struggling. A small leap of fate can suddenly alter their careers. Future Islands have been around for ten years and already made three records before this year everything changed. Their new album Singles is definitely a record that sticks out. It landed them a performance in the David Letterman show, which went viral and put the band on the map.

Future Islands at Melkweg Amsterdam, October 3 2014

Of course it are the dance moves of singer Samuel Herring which made the difference. His unorthodox moves and passionate performance make all the difference. But it would be unfair to only focus on that. The band have come up with a wonderful album that is full of smart electro pop songs, including their smash hit 'Seasons'. Tonight they prove there's more about them than silly dance moves, although of course it's impossible to forget about that. But the sold out show in the biggest hall of the Melkweg is more than justified. The band even think this could be their biggest show so far.

Herring apologizes for his voice, that indeed sounds a bit hoarse, although it's only the start of their European tour. It's no wonder, since the way he keeps changing his vocals, asks a lot from his voice. He's singing low, high, everything in between, sometimes belting out phrases or even manages to cough up impressive grunts. Together with his passionate stage performance and the monkey like dance moves, Herring is definitely the one everybody is looking at, although the frontman looks the opposite of your regular rock star. He seems to be completely into the music, raising his hand like a musical star to emphasize his lyrics, feeling up himself, licking his arms or simply almost crawling around stage. It's magnificent to watch while his band buddies are playing their parts almost anonymously, somewhat unwitnessed in the back.

It doesn't matter since they are playing a tight set, that consists mostly of songs from their new record, including my personal favourite 'Sun In The Morning', with older songs scattered throughout. Their big hit 'Seasons' is about halfway the set and gets many cheers. But the crowd loves every song and minute of their show, joining in on the dancing. After an hour the band comes back for an encore and plays a few more songs. The energy level in front of the stage has reached a peak by now and during the last song 'Vireo's Eye' a girl jumps on stage to dance. It triggers a complete stage invasion, where the band looks a bit overwhelmed. Herring finishes up quickly and leaves the stage while rest of the band receive well deserved hugs.

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Friday 3 October 2014

Cymbals Eat Guitars Are Getting Close And Personal

The New York collective Cymbals Eat Guitars likes to ignore the usual conventions. For every record, the band around Joseph D'Agostino, is getting off the beaten track that they created themselves. For their previous record, Lenses Alien, this resulted in a whirlwind of styles full of unexpected twists and changes. It wasn't easy on the listener, but it definitely was a wonderful journey.

Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lose

For Lose D'Agostino stays closer to himself and is drawing from his own experiences, with the passing of a dear friend at the end of his teenage years as a common theme. It is somewhat superfluous to state that it turned into his most personal work. You can tell this from the compositions, since the madness from its predecessor is mostly omitted. Lose is much darker, sharper and therefore more intense. This becomes clear especially in 'XR' which sounds like an Irish punk folk song and where D'Agostini is telling about the tragic loss of his buddy: "The songs we never wrote/They float above and below me". 'Warning' is quite a heavy song as well where they are going at it aggressively.

Fortunately this doesn't mean that everything that made Lenses Alien such a pleasant experience has gone overboard. Halfway we find 'Laramie' that starts out slow with falsetto vocals, but then is picking up the tempo and ends in a nice jam. 'Jackson' has the same approach, which makes the song more exuberant with screaming guitar solos and harmonies that will propel the song while D'Agostino sings "I don’t wanna die". The characteristic voice of the singer may not be to everyone's liking, since his shrill vocals may not be appreciated by all. He proves to be a skilled song writer once again though and is opening up completely this time.

It turns Lose into a surprising record once more, that will show yet another side of the band. You do miss the quirkiness of the previous record, the inventive variations and sudden eruptions, that made you play the record over and over again. But this time it is easier on the listener, which could make Cymbals Eat Guitars more appealing to a larger audience.

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

Listen to 'Lose' on Spotify.

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