Tuesday 28 July 2015

Spinning: Wolf Alice - My Love Is Cool

Their name was already buzzing around the music scene after releasing two EPs and a few singles, but now London based band Wolf Alice have released their first full album My Love Is Cool. Right after the release I saw the group play at the Best Kept Secret festival and was quite impressed with their music. After that I had more time to listen to the album properly.

After giving it a few plays I even became quite addicted to it. I instantly liked the mix of electro pop, rock and grunge which sounds refreshing. The band fronted by singer Ellie Rowsell who originally started out as a folk band, have perfected their sound since their first EP and now it sounds well balanced. It enables them to bring in lots of variation, sometimes pushing towards electronic pop and going into a more rough rock direction at others. That way songs like 'Soapy Water' and 'Your Loves Whore' are quite different but nevertheless already carry the Wolf Alice mark.

Rowsell also is able to adapt to both directions, singing with a clear voice on 'Silk' or screaming on top of her lungs on the rocker 'You're A Germ'. And then the tracks also have lots of hit potential which catchy hooks, creative grooves and breaks like on 'Bros' and 'Giant Peach'. The grungy elements that sometimes are subtle or quite obvious like on 'Fluffy' give the album the right amount of bite. The songs deal with the usual themes in a young person's life like relationship trouble, the search for true love and other uncertainties in life. However the music is where the real beauty lies and that you will appreciate more and more every time you listen to it.

The best thing is, that Wolf Alice have created enough space around them to move in either direction or keep sitting where they are. In any case they are in a position where they can grow and let their music evolve in several ways. Live on stage you can hear it's still evolving and therefore it's worth to go check them out when they are in the neighbourhood. Especially since there's also plenty of potential to move up as well and the band may not be playing small stages any more within a few years.

Listen to 'My Love Is Cool' on Spotify.

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Tuesday 21 July 2015

Spinning: Tame Impala - Currents

One of the most anticipated albums of the past few months was without a doubt Tame Impala's Currents. Musical genius Kevin Parker already slowly revealed some tracks which gave some insight in the new directions he was going. It was clear the album only had a supporting role for the guitar and that Parker moved the synths into the spotlight. It is interesting to hear how this unfolds for the entire record.

Although it's not strictly a break-up album, Parker's break up with Melody Prochet of Melody's Echo Chamber is apparent on the album and has led to a few songs like the wonderful smooth soul track 'Cause I'm A Man' and 'Eventually'. The break-up and the album are part of the changes he has been going through and this is what reflects in the songs. Parker explained in an interview that changes flow through a person like currents and are part of life. It's clear those changes are what the record is about, including the break-up in his relationship and the changes in his music. Parker even sings about this in 'Yes I'm Changing'.

When you first hear the songs, they remind of 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards' from the brilliant second album Lonerism. Many songs have the same feel and maybe Parker used that as a starting point. The songs are fluently flowing into each other and instead of fuzzed guitars you get spacy synths on reverb. Although especially that second album carried some big hits like 'Elephant', this one seems to lack potential hits. But 'Elephant' seemed unlikely to become a hit at first as well and when you give it a second thought, songs like 'The Less I Know The Better' and 'Let It Happen' could easily turn up high in the charts.

With every spin, the new sounds sinks in more and becomes more familiar. Listening closely to the album it's also not such a drastic change as it seems. The tools may be different but Parker is actually still crafting his songs in the same way as he used to. Instead of carving his art from stone with a chisel, he's now painting on canvas. Although the result is seemingly different, giving it a close listen reveals that it is still unmistakably a genuine Tame Impala work of art with lots of gems sparkling in it. It does feel less of a master piece than Lonerism, but maybe after some time it may prove to be just as brilliant or even better. If not, it's still a wonderful album and a proper addition to Parker's catalog.

Listen to 'Currents' on Spotify.

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Tuesday 14 July 2015

Bospop 2015 Saturday

The Bospop festival in the South of The Netherlands is advertised as a classic rock festival. However going over the line-up, classic rock is used in the broadest sense of the term, which is in fact a good thing, since it opens up to a somewhat peculiar but at the same time interesting program. Friends suggested to visit the festival on the first day which looked good and so we did.

Bospop 2015 Saturday, July 11 2015

Comfortably located next to the highway it is a fast and easy journey to the festival. We were there on time because we definitely didn't want to miss the wonderful Navarone kick off the day.

I know what I am gonna get from this amazing rock band. Their music is breathing classic rock in every way but at the same time sounds very fresh and up to date. Traces of Pearl Jam can be found as well and the sturdy rock riffs and drum grooves are solid enough to carry the incredible voice of singer Merijn van Haren. It's a dirty job opening a festival, since most people have not even arrived yet and it's pretty hard winning over the ones that don't know you. But Navarone work hard and put down a convincing show once again. At the end of their set it got more crowded in front of the stage which means they were able to drag people to their show. For us it's a wonderful start of this sunny day.

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We try a bit of Croatian ladies band Luminize who fail to impress me and sound like any other average band in this pop rock genre. On the main stage another Dutch band, Racoon, have started their set. I used to like the old Racoon sound when they played catchy indie rock and am not too fond of their more melancholic side that gave them their success. But it's a good live band that usually delivers. But today maybe the heat got to them and it seems as if every song is played in a lower gear. Most songs are mid tempo anyway and the music matches this hot lazy afternoon. I've seen them in better shape before.

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Layla Zoe
So it's time for some fire to keep this day going and Canadian blues singer Layla Zoe is right on time. She has a great voice and her band is also doing a good job. Of course there's nothing new to the standard blues rock songs they are playing with the occasional shredding blues solo, but it should be appealing to a classic rock minded crowd. It sounds great and Zoe is working hard to keep everyone focused, using the whole stage for her rock poses and addressing the crowd regularly. It's exactly what we need at this moment and Jan Laacks's guitar solos are quite impressive and stoke the fire even more.

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Melissa Etheridge
I lost track of Melissa Etheridge after her successful years at the end of the eighties and early nineties. I only know her music from this era and am not familiar with her more recent work. Today she proves to be a very professional and impressive live musician. Her voice is excellent and she knows how to play a crowd. She has gathered a very good band around her and especially Fugees bass player Jerry Duplessis is a delight to watch and listen to with his meaty bass sound. Of course she ends her set with a very lively version of 'Like The Way I Do' that goes down well.

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Former Marillion singer Fish is treating Bospop to a complete performance of the Marillion classic Misplaced Childhood. It's part of a 30th anniversary celebration of the album that rocketed Marillion to super stardom. Although I'm not really fond of the eighties prog rock genre it is nice to hear those songs live. They are well performed although I'm a bit disappointed in Fish's vocals who has sounded better in the past. For a true Marillion fan this must be a real treat but in the end it becomes a bit weary for me and I can't make it to the end.

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Gary Clark Jr.
Instead we return to the main stage and find ourselves a good spot in front of it where Gary Clark Jr. has already started playing. He is sometimes called the "new Hendrix" which is no wonder when you hear him play. Although I like his sound and songs, he's not there yet to really compete with the legend himself. Probably that's not what he intends to do anyway, but instead is just trying to play great music. It's a good set, but Clark Jr. could fire it up more and turn his performance into a more lively one.

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Belgian band Novastar is actually the project of Dutch born Joost Zweegers who is a talented songwriter. The ballad like songs aren't exactly classic rock songs but I'm glad I get to see this band. The melancholic music combined with the clear pleasant voice of Zweegers is wonderful and it sucks me right in. It results in a dreamy mood that works quite well on a warm summer's night.

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ZZ Top
Bearded blues giants ZZ Top are today's headliner and the ones to close the first day of the festival. Due to the modest setup of the festival and the relaxed crowd we have a great spot to see the blues trio perform. Of course I've seen them last year and you know exactly what you're going to get. The three veterans may not exactly go crazy on stage, but it's the details that count. The greatest hits set has all the songs you can wish for, from 'Tush' to 'Gimme All Your Loving', but it's the subtleties that make it so enjoyable. The quick looks the three are exchanging, the chemistry between Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, the few choreographed steps and the subtle jokes. If you're into their music like me, the legendary band are still a lot of fun to watch. And of course they can still play some great blues music.

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I think this festival is not about spectacular headliners or crazy shows. It is aimed at a crowd that wants to hear some good music and enjoy a nice day. That's exactly what we got today and so we can go home completely satisfied.

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Friday 10 July 2015

Spinning: Daniel Norgren - Alabursy

A few years ago I saw Swedish musician Daniel Norgren for the first time and was immediately sold. Normally I'm not really into this country-like singer/songwriter music but there's something different about the Swede. He proved it again last month when I saw him in a festival tent full of chatting people where he managed to play a wonderful set as if I was the only one there. He played some songs of his newest album Alabursy as well.

That record struck me right away with its gorgeous compositions, the wonderful voice of Norgren and the atmosphere the songs create. It's one of those albums that simply wants you to stop everything you're doing and just sit down and listen with your eyes closed. Intimate songs like 'Everything You Know Melts Away Like Snow' and 'Like There Was A Door' are so beautiful they make you forget about the world around you. It's as if the music takes you out of your surroundings and puts you into the Swedish woods in front of a cabin with nothing else to distract you.

It's the way he builds up the compositions, so patiently and laid back but never letting the tension slip. Together with wonderful lyrics like on 'As Long As It Lasts':
"I hear the old folks when they say it's funny how time slips away/I hear the old folks when they say the day's getting shorter every day"
Sometimes the songs and lyrics get kind of obscure like on the bit creepy 'Why May I Not Go Out And Climb The Trees?' where he sings about someone telling a kid nasty reasons why it can't do things:
"May I let the puppy sleep here in my bed? Puppies got bugs that lay eggs inside your head"

Norgren unmistakeably has a unique talent of writing lyrics and music, the ability to create somewhat mysterious songs that grab you by your throat and don't let go any more. I don't think I will hear many better albums this year. If you haven't heard of Daniel Norgren yet I suggest to look him up. Sit down, close your eyes, forget about the world and simply listen.

Listen to 'Alabursy' on Spotify.

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Monday 6 July 2015

On Stage: FFS

American synth pop band Sparks have been around for more than fourty years and influenced many artists along the way including Franz Ferdinand. They met each other years ago and decided to work together, which finally happened years later and led to their first self titled collaborative album earlier this year as FFS. When Franz Ferdinand released their last album it was clear the Scottish band reinvented themselves, which became even more obvious at their live shows. The show together with Sparks promised to be quite a night.

FFS at Melkweg Amsterdam, July 2 2015

The sold out show on this hot summer's night results in a sticky, but merry atmosphere in the packed main hall. It turns even euphoric when the band takes the stage and kicks off with the catchy 'Johnny Delusional'. Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael are both at the front leading the pack and tonight's festivities. It suits them well and the rest are in a great mood too, judging from the smiles on their faces. It's obvious both groups are enjoying the collaboration and their time on stage.

Even Ron Mael who always sits grumpy behind his keyboard, changes his act for a moment to do a silly dance. Next to the FFS songs that sound fresh and convincing, some hits from both bands are mixed in. Songs like Franz Ferdinand's 'Do You Wanna' and Sparks' 'The Number One Song In Heaven' are greeted with equal excitement. Although it looks like the biggest part of the crowd are Franz Ferdinand fans, everyone tonight has embraced this wonderful combination.

The catchy side of Franz Ferdinand that works so well in songs like 'Take Me Out' surprisingly mixes perfectly with the bombastic theatrical side of a classic Sparks song like 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us'. I guess it works so well is because they simply do what they each do best and don't try to force it. Despite they sing it themselves in the closing song of tonight, 'Collaborations Don't Work', this one actually does, simply because it's not a collaboration. It's more than that, it's a band.

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01. Johnny Delusional
02. The Man Without A Tan
03. Save Me from Myself
04. Police Encounters
05. Do You Want To
06. The Power Couple
07. Little Guy From The Suburbs
08. Things I Won't Get
09. So Desu Ne
10. The Number One Song in Heaven
11. Michael
12. This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
13. Dictator's Son
14. Take Me Out
15. Piss Off
16. When Do I Get to Sing "My Way"
17. Call Girl
18. Collaborations Don't Work

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Friday 3 July 2015

On Stage: St. Vincent

Anne Clark started out in The Polyphonic Spree and in Sufjan Steven's touring band until she formed her own band in 2006 and became St. Vincent. Last year she released her self-titled fourth album that won her a Grammy. Her live shows are one of a kind so on a hot tropical Wednesday we went to see her in Paradiso.

St. Vincent at Paradiso Amsterdam, July 1 2015

I am surprised to see that Paradiso's main hall isn't sold out and there's plenty of room left, which is quite a blessing on this hot day. Before the show there's a request to "refrain yourself from recording the experience digitally" so I only take a handful of pictures for this blog post. St. Vincent, who always has a great wardrobe, comes up in a wonderful kind of latex suit and starts off with a great version of Marrow. She's in great form tonight and her voice sounds very clear. Her guitar licks are ferocious with lots of distortion, but especially in the more quiet songs you can hear her remarkable talent.

She climbs up the white stairs on stage halfway the show to perform a few songs including wonderful versions of 'Cheerleader' and 'Prince Johnny'. It's those theatrical elements that make a St. Vincent show a lot more than live music. The lush compositions become even stronger when you see her perform them with a little choreography and mimicry. After the encore she returns to the stage by herself for a very intimate performance of 'Strange Mercy' that everyone is watching breathlessly. With a spectacular version of 'Your Lips Are Red' she ends the show in style. St. Vincent is a one of a kind experience by a charismatic unique artist.

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01. Marrow
02. Birth in Reverse
03. Regret
04. Cruel
05. Digital Witness
06. Year of the Tiger
07. Severed Crossed Fingers
08. Cheerleader
09. Prince Johnny
10. Rattlesnake
11. Actor Out of Work
12. Chloe in the Afternoon
13. Teenage Talk
14. Every Tear Disappears
15. Bring Me Your Loves
16. Huey Newton
17. Strange Mercy
18. Your Lips Are Red
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