dinsdag 23 januari 2018

We're Not Going Anywhere. David Ramirez

"Where were you ...  when we lost the twins. Where were you when the fear settled in". That is one way of entering into an album and how David Ramirez introduces himself to me. Spooky, scary and almost other worldly. It is just not something I fell comfortable being confronted with. An expression of feelings so intimate, so privately confrontational that I can only hope (for) Ramirez (he) has made this up or used an example he encountered somewhere along the road of life.

On 2 February David Ramirez plays the Q-Bus in Leiden and this could well be a show that is going to be very interesting attending. Based on his latest album, We're Not Going Anywhere, to me it is clear that I will be going somewhere soon. The music is a mix of dark Americana, pop synths and indie rock, including a strong influence by Ryan Adams.

Ramirez started playing music in the 90s covering indie rock songs until under the influence of Ryan Adams he started a new band playing folk and Americana songs. Since the second half of the 00s he's playing solo and recording records since. We're Not Going Anywhere is my first exposure to his music.

The title of the album is not one of excitement, progress nor change. We're Not Going Anywhere suggests a dark touch and that is exactly what David Ramirez delivers. Some of the songs do not allow any light in. With the title song perhaps as the darkest of all. Don't ever listen to this song when standing on a platform with the train rolling in .... Ramirez at first whisper-singing the song making it near impossible to stress any part of the melody. With just a piano behind him, he fills the whole space of the mix with his voice as soon as the volume and emphasis go up.

Others hold a little pop feel within them. Again others play with the more heartfelt songs of Bruce Springsteen, without ever getting that pompous sound that I dislike so much in that artist. Ramirez is able to give that kind of song a lighter touch, allowing it to breath and show its strong points without having to overdo anything.

David Ramirez manages to keep my attention with the record. By infusing other elements into his songs, like a strong indie rock guitar solo in 'Communion' combined with some fine pedal steel guitar playing, the song does not so much let the light in, yet totally comes alive. It shows how different sides of music can influence each other in a successful way.

Musically David Ramirez fits in well with many artists I have seen in Q-Bus over the years. Like Grayson Capps, Tim Easton or Nels Andrews. Ramirez shows more restraint on record. The less is more principle definitely was applied when arranging and recording We're Not Going Anywhere. Devoid of instruments is the wrong definition, how to apply them as little intrusive as possible is certainly applicable.

We're Not Going Anywhere is not an album for everyone (if such an album exists of course). Many will be turned off by the dark atmosphere. Those who get past the first lines and song, may be in for a trip. Perhaps an unsettling one, but not devoid of beauty. I'll be honest and share that I have not made up my mind entirely what my relation to this album will be. What I do know, is that if Ramirez can bring this intensity to the stage, his shows in this country may prove to be very memorable. Just try the album is my advice and see how far in you get.


Information on the Q-Bus show you find here:


You can listen to 'Time' here:


maandag 22 januari 2018

No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal. The Apartments (2)

'Tinseltown In The Rain'. I heard the song for the first time in years recently and now I'm listening to No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal for the first time and The Blue Nile just does not want to leave my head. There is something in the class of this album that brings forward this dark 80s song; that I never even truly liked. The class is underscored by the cover art. A beautiful picture showing a timeless setting. Only the way the lady under the umbrella is dressed will give a way something. The rest can be anytime between the invention of electrical light and now. A mystical photograph because of the combination of electric light, the snow and dark or perhaps the extreme greyness of a snowy, winter's day.

The Apartments in an Australian band from Brisbane that started 40 years ago this year. Off and on the band around Peter Milton Walsh played and recorded. In 2015 the band produced this album, released by the French independent label Microcultures that recently released that other beautiful album ' Dreameater' by French artist Garciaphone. I was made aware of the existence of No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal by the review of Erwin Zijleman on this blog (read on here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/07/no-song-no-spell-no-madrigal-apartments.html?m=0) based on a, already sold out, Dutch release. It was only before Christmas I started listening to it and knew I wanted to write my own review as well.

So this is a band that is around for 40 years with a very modest output. Perhaps everything culminated into this one effort. And what an effort it is. The jazzy pop atmosphere of the album is not of this time and age. Everything spells artists like Black, Sade, the already mentioned The Blue Nile, Talk Talk and other almost forgotten heroes of the mid 80s who played songs with a strong jazz influences and managed to score hits for a fairly short period of time.

What strikes me first listening to No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal with a headset on is how lush the album sounds. The level of fine details the musicians have put into the songs and the fine orchestrations that accompany the songs. There is so much atmosphere put into the songs, it sounds very much like a fairyland the listener is invited to enter. Walsh is far from afraid to let the listener dwell on his own thoughts, to let his mind wonder off to pastures full of relaxation and pleasant dreams. The music is strong enough to let the listener go there and pull him back in to enjoy this music even more.

If The Apartments gets direct, it is with a bass like Air used for its breakthrough album 'Moon Safari', as in 'The House That We Once Lived In'. Only to be replaced by a lush electric guitar and a more direct one. Walsh sings over it with his somewhat hesitating voice. Not young, not old, just very serious with a dreamlike quality. For me this is a song in which all the fine points of the whole album come together. A song to dream to, to meditate to, to listen to ever so intently, but above all a song to tremendously enjoy.

I may seem to suggest that The Apartments sound like the 80s, it is far from the whole picture. For that the production is too 2010s. There is no album of the era with its, then new, recording studios with an endless number of tracks, where artists like Bryan Ferry utterly got lost in, sounding like this album. And that recorded for a small independent record company from Australia and New Zealand in 2015. For that it is simply too spacious, organic in sound and too true to life itself. It is easy to imagine The Apartments playing here in my home. Just by closing my eyes.

French critics voted No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal their album of 2015, as first Australian album ever. I will not go so far (in hindsight). What is easy to underscore is that The Apartments have released a fine album, with several beautiful songs on it. Nothing revolutionary, yet so fine. Every lover of the better kind of pop song ought to get a copy of this album and a further release in this country might just be called for.


You can listen to and order the album here:


zondag 21 januari 2018

Anthropocene. Peter Oren

Ik was zeker niet direct overtuigd van Anthropocene van Peter Oren, maar weet eigenlijk niet precies wat me bij eerste beluistering in de weg zat.
Het tweede album van de singer-songwriter uit Bloomington, Indiana, valt op door vaak ingetogen en altijd zeer stemmige klanken en door een bijzondere stem. Het is een stem waar ik flink aan moest wennen, waarschijnlijk omdat hij anders klinkt dan de meeste andere stemmen in het genre.
Het is ook een stem die het oor streelt wanneer je er eenmaal aan gewend bent; iets dat ik in het verleden ook heb gehad met de stemmen van onder andere Tindersticks zanger Stuart Staples en Bill Callahan (aka Smog), waarbij Peter Oren af en toe in de buurt zit.
De Amerikaan maakt op zijn tweede plaat muziek met vooral invloeden uit de country, blues en folk, maar Anthropocene is geen dertien in een dozijn rootsplaat, al is niet makkelijk uit te leggen waarom dit zo is.
De songs van Peter Oren zijn voornamelijk akoestisch en ingetogen en zijn gebouwd op een basis van akoestische en elektrische gitaren en de al genoemde stem van Peter Oren. Toch is Anthropocene geen hele sobere singer-songwriter plaat.
Producer Ken Coomer, ook bekend als de eerste drummer van Wilco, heeft de akoestische gitaren van Peter Oren aangevuld met hier en daar een pedal steel, een elektrische gitaar, een piano en een viool en heeft verder op subtiele wijze synths en een ritmesectie toegevoegd aan het bijzondere geluid op de plaat. Hij heeft vervolgens de stem van Peter Oren wat naar de achtergrond gemixt en zo nu en dan voorzien van wat galm, wat de muziek op Anthropocene een ruimtelijk effect geeft.
In muzikaal opzicht klinkt het allemaal sober, maar ook prachtig. De akoestische gitaar van Peter Oren zorgt voor een warme basis, terwijl het elektrische gitaarspel en de prachtige pedal steel bijdragen van Laur Joamets (Sturgill Simpson) en Sam Wilson en hier en daar een vrouwenstem bijzonder mooie en trefzekere accenten toevoegen aan het geluid op de plaat. Het is een geluid dat op fraaie wijze verder wordt aangevuld met de genoemde andere instrumenten en uiteindelijk een wat donkere ondertoon heeft. Het is ook een geluid vol dynamiek, want Peter Oren is misschien niet bang voor bijna verstilde klanken, maar schuwt ook de stevigere uithalen op de elektrische gitaar niet.
Het levert in combinatie met zijn stem muziek op die het uitstekend doet op donkere herst- en winteravonden, maar Anthropocene verdient ook aandacht wanneer de zon nog op is. Ik moest op een of andere manier erg wennen aan deze plaat, maar inmiddels hoor ik alleen maar de schoonheid en de intensiteit van de indringende songs van Peter Oren en iedere keer als ik ze opnieuw hoor zijn ze nog wat mooier. Bijzondere plaat dus.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt Anthropocene hier beluisteren en kopen:


zaterdag 20 januari 2018

Luit en duidelijk: Stathis Skandalidis Plays Gilbert Isbin

Iedere keer dat ik deze cd draai is het een verrassing wat ik er nú weer in hoor. Ja, luit. Dat is duidelijk! Werkelijk fenomenaal hoe lichtvoetig en transparant deze Griek, Stathis Skandalidis, de luit bestiert. Hoe hij de vele tempowisselingen in deze muziek speels volgt. Hoe hij de snelle loopjes uit de luie luit tovert. Slechts af en toe hoor je dat de luit het net niet bijbeent. Razend knap en wondermooi.

Ik heb begrepen van componisten dat het soms moeilijk is hun werk over te leveren aan uitvoerende musici, die hun werk wellicht niet helemaal begrijpen of bij gebrek aan virtuositeit onvoldoende recht doen. Maar omgekeerd vergt het van een componist heel veel moed om een werk in handen te geven van een virtuoos als Skandalidis. De transparantie van deze gracieuze Griek is namelijk genadeloos. Iedere onvolkomenheid in de compositie zou onmiddellijk ontmaskerd worden. En Isbin speelt zelf ook niet onverdienstelijk gitaar en luit, heb ik begrepen. dus…

Maar hij heeft het aangedurfd, Isbin. Volkomen terecht en met wat een schitterend resultaat!
Gilbert Isbin is een Vlaamse componist, gitarist en luitspeler. In zijn muziek combineert hij allerlei muziekstijlen. Ik hoor barok, middeleeuws, flamenco, hedendaags, neoklassiek, jazz, pop, volksmuziek. En de volgende keer dat ik de cd opzet hoor ik waarschijnlijk weer wat nieuws. Het grappige is dat je bij veel van de nummers kunt kiezen hoe je ze wilt beluisteren. Beluister je het als een rock & roll-nummer en dan hoor je rock & roll met wat verrassende middeleeuwse melodielijnen, jazz-tempowisselingen en barok-fraseringen. Maar beluister je hetzelfde stuk als een volkslied, dan hoor je een volkslied met verrassende wendingen en stijlkenmerken. Enzovoort enzovoort. 

Deze muziek blijft mij iedere keer weer boeien. Ik vind het trouwens wel veel concentratie vergen om er goed naar te luisteren. Het is beslist geen achtergrondmuziek. Maar ja, kan ik de heren een nog groter compliment maken dan dat? Ik vind het in ieder geval een ontdekking! Enneh, oh ja, prachtig opgenomen!


Je kunt hier kijken en luisteren naar een live opname van een liedje van de cd:
In dit geval gaat het om een bewerking van een oud Vlaams volksliedje.

vrijdag 19 januari 2018

Cut The Wire. Tim Knol

What a nice surprise, this new record by Tim Knol. The level of pop is so exquisite it is near impossible to resist.

From the get go of his career Tim Knol was on the radio and tv without that leading to a massive breakthrough in the form of hits. He played every festival for two years in a row. Which seems the 10s normal for artist in the more serious segment of music. I have seen him play twice, but somehow his music never totally convinced me. Too much of trying to be someone else? Perhaps. His third album totally passed me by, as it seems to have been the case for more people. The The Miseries album came totally out of the blue for me. An album so different from all that went before, including a near earsplitting show in Leiden. After that silence. Tim was noted as having become a photographer and traveller.

Come 2018 and a new album in which all seems to come together. His singer-songwriter characteristics blend with the pop part of the The Miseries pop-punk. Tim Knol has no fear to use the most, blatantly obvious choices of notes and chords, including a na na na part to get to the most beautiful result. In that he comes close to the music of Douwe Bob and his former band companion Duyf, now playing with Douwe Bob. Comes close, I write, as Tim Knol is not copying here. This is his own distinct voice and signature, leading to his best album to date. Reading the bio accompanying Cut The Wire shows there is no animosity between the two. Douwe Bob joined the recording process for two days, as did Tangerine (his once support act). Anne Soldaat is, as ever, present as side kick and producer.

Promo photo by Renate Beense
In the music elements of country are infused into the songs via guitar licks and even a pedal steel guitar. Pop shines through the vocals, the acoustic guitar and vintage (sounding) keyboards. Some songs hold The Beatles or The Kinks like vocal melodies, others delve into singer-songswriters of old and Americana from the U.S. The influences on this album range from far and wide.

I'm going to focus on 'Going Places'. A song that has it all as far as I'm concerned. A great pop feel melody, some light behind the shade and a blistering guitar solo, distorted, fierce and fiery. Upsetting the whole apple cart of Cut The Wire. A 30 second plus intro. This is Tim Knol having come of age and showing us who he is and where he stands in life. The pop feel 'Going Places' is of the same quality Maggie Brown plays on its last album 'Another Place'. Knol lets us hear what he wants us to hear, released of all pre-conditions and expectations of others and, yes, that may well be the outcome of the freedoms The Miseries allowed him. Chapeau, Mr. Knol for this song.

In all Cut The Wire is an album that presents a few sounds and textures. Different sides from Tim Knol show through, including a darker, perhaps more doubting one. Like in a song called 'Kickin'', sung with a deeper voice. This is offset by the more poppy and 60s sound of 'Listen Love'. In short there definitely is something for more people in Cut The Wire than in his previous solo recordings that were more one-sided. Whether that is a good thing for Knol's career remains to be seen. In my opinion it is. Change allows for longevity and growth in a career. Cut The Wire is abundant proof of that.