maandag 22 mei 2017

The Witch. Pumarosa

There are albums that get to me right at the very first listen session. They have something that make me prick up my ears and pay attention. The Witch is one of those albums. The further I got into the album, the more I liked it, the more it seemed to have it's own unique feel.

This impression did not change with further sessions with the album. Our relationship easily deepened. Now the challenge is to find the right words.

The Witch is the first album by Pumarosa, a London based band fronted by Isabel Munoz-Newsome. The clock is turned back decades, while pretending very hard to be in 2017. So many familiar sounds come by, sounds that have been played for years and still they sound so fresh on The Witch. Pumarosa mixes a few qualities within its music that fall together into a statement of no small proportions. Youthful exuberance meets a longing to reach for things behind the corner, while a certain shyness meets an expectation of greatness.

The album opens with 'Dragonfly' in which the band makes a statement right away. It is hard to ignore what is on offer. The opening song is much more direct than the more experimental stuff coming on later in the longer songs, that will leave plenty of room for playing around between the musicians on stage. In fact the album starts with a few seconds of silence before soft keyboard sounds come in that slowly fill my room more and more. An isolated bass note joins and Munoz-Newsome starts singing over the keyboard landscape. When the rhythm section joins in it is with an 'The Unforgettable Fire' pulse. Isobel's singing reminds me faintly of the young Bono. All is atmosphere, soundscapes, with outbursts of guitars in the chorus.

'Honey', the second song, is a lot more solid. "Oh, you stupid son of a bitch", follows "God gave us honey". An interesting lyric to say the least. The song brings me into 'Gloria' territory, U2s first single of its second album 'October'. And I will stop there with the comparisons, because I listen to The Witch in one go without any trouble and there isn't a single album of you U2 I can listen to as a whole. It does help though to pinpoint where this music is taking me, to the first half of the 80s. With the difference that the music of Pumarosa has something upbeat. Even in the more laden songs like the title song and 'Priestess' there is always a sun somewhere. 'Honey' plays itself out in a great way. The song is brought to a great climax without ever overdoing it. Pumarosa knows how to restrain itself to have a much bigger impact.

'The Witch' reminds me of Elenne May. You will recognise a lot of the atmosphere of this song in several of the songs of the Amsterdam based band. If you like this song, you better start listening. 'Veggie Patch In The Desert' is one of my favourite albums of all time.

With 'The Priestess' Pumarosa comes close to the atmospheres The Black Angels evokes on its latest, fantastic album 'Death Song'. Without the heavy 60s sounds that band depends on. Still, in 2017 so far that is the biggest compliment I can give to an album, as I haven't heard a better one yet. 'The Priestess' seems to delve into a knowledge that is set outside of time, the eternal. "You dance, you dance, you dance" and there the rhythm goes. Again, all that restraint, yet standing still will not be an option. The saxophone is the only exuberance Pumarosa allows itself. The message is so clear. Lasting for 7"30 minutes, the listener is slowly brought into the trance the priestess already is in. There were bands like this in the 80s also, bands I long ago forgot the names of. Pumarosa allows a hint at commerciality into its music, making it so much more worthwhile listening to.

By then it is also clear that Pumarosa likes to take its time. The shortest song, 'Hollywood' clocks in at one second under four minutes. An atmosphere is built and expanded upon until a modest and more modern walls of sound spout from the disc. This can be a laden song like 'Lion's Den' or a more upbeat song with the downbeat title 'Gruesome', one of the more poppy songs on The Witch. The singing may have a Bananarama hint to it, it is one of my favourite vocal outings on The Witch. The upbeat sound allows Isabel Munoz-Newsome to do more with her voice. Highs and lows are reached, instead of the solemness in the slower songs.

Pumarosa manages to keep my attention easily while the record progresses. The fact that a different sound is added to a song, like a funky guitar or a modern beat under an acoustic guitar, makes the songs sound slighlty different from each other. Only "Witches" or "Priestesses" would have been killing, no matter how monumental.

With that last word, I come close to a conclusion. It's too early to tell yet, but it may be that this album may reach that level, monumental. In the meantime I am listening to one of the best debut albums of 2017. A lot is happening here in a very balanced way, that shows a level of maturity way beyond the band's status. The Witch is intriguing and good, with room left to grow abundantly.

It all goes out with a bang of an 80s influenced dance rock outing 'The Snake' in which something of all the 80s new wave female singers seem to come together, Siouxie, Hazel O'Connor, Toyah, etc. A great way to end an album.


You can listen to 'Dragonfly' here:

zondag 21 mei 2017

Remedies. Soup

Bijna twee jaar geleden kwam ik via een tip van een lezer in aanraking met de muziek van de Noorse band Soup.
The Beauty Of Our Youth beluisterde ik tijdens een zware onweersbui en bleek een perfecte soundtrack bij het overtrekkende noodweer.
De muziek van Soup had immers de intensiteit en de kracht, maar ook de schoonheid en dynamiek van een onweersbui, aldus mijn recensie twee jaar geleden.
De lezer die me twee jaar geleden wees op The Beauty Of Our Youth tipte me nu over de nieuwe plaat van de band uit Trondheim.
Het viel twee jaar geleden al niet mee om meer informatie over de plaat van Soup te vinden en dat is dit keer nog lastiger. Zoek op Soup en Remedies en je leest van alles over de geneeskracht van soep bij het verhelpen van allerlei kwaaltjes. Voeg Norway als trefwoord toe en je ontdekt dat ook de Noorse keuken flink wat geneeskrachtige soepjes kent.
Net als de vorige keer heb ik de muziek van de Noorse band maar laten spreken en net als de vorige keer heeft dit een fascinerende roller coaster ride opgeleverd. Remedies bevat maar vijf tracks, maar dit levert wel 42 minuten muziek op. De kortste track op de plaat telt maar net 2 minuten, maar Soup is ook niet bang voor een ruim dertien minuten durende track.
Vergeleken met de vorige plaat kiest Soup op Remedies voor een net wat meer ingetogen geluid. Het is een geluid waarin invloeden uit de progrock, psychedelica en post-rock prachtig samenvloeien, maar waarin ook ruimte is voor invloeden uit de hedendaagse rockmuziek.
Het fascinerende van de muziek van Soup is ook dit keer dat de Noorse band een fraaie balans heeft gevonden tussen redelijk toegankelijke rockmuziek en muziek die stevig experimenteert. Remedies is nog net wat toegankelijker dan zijn voorganger, vooral omdat de echt zware uitbarstingen dit keer grotendeels ontbreken. De muziek van Soup intrigeert op hetzelfde moment genadeloos met verrassende wendingen, heel veel dynamiek en prachtige spanningsbogen.
Zeker in de wat langere tracks en vooral wanneer Soup kiest voor grootse of zelfs bombastische klanken raakt de muziek van de band qua opbouw nadrukkelijk aan de symfonische rock en psychedelische rock uit de jaren 70, maar Remedies lijkt af en toe ook een geïmproviseerde jam of verrast juist met passages met een duidelijke kop en staart en meer eigentijdse klanken.
Muziekliefhebbers met een allergie voor progrock moeten niet aan Remedies van Soup beginnen, maar een iedere met een stiekeme, latente of juist bloeiende liefde voor dit genre, zal zeer aangenaam verrast zijn door de muziek van de Noorse band.
Waar Soup vorige keer een onweersbui voorzag van een fraaie soundtrack komt het dit keer met de soundtrack voor de ontluikende lente. De zon kan al aangenaam schijnen, maar een kille bries is nooit ver weg en een hagelbui zeker niet uit te sluiten.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar Remedies en het album kopen:

zaterdag 20 mei 2017

The Last Rider. Ron Sexsmith

With 'Carousel One' Ron Sexsmith had entered my musical life. Better late than never it seemed. I just loved that record and now there's a new one already. The Last Rider is not such a big surprise, but certainly as good, pleasant and soothing as 'Carousel One'.

With 'Americana', Ray Davies' new album released last month, I am even pointed more to the commonalities between Ron Sexsmith's songs and Davies'. Say 'Don't Forget To Dance' and I have the starting point for The Last Rider. Beware, I don't mind the commonality at all. 'Don't Forget To Dance', a single by The Kinks from 1981, is a sweet song, full of nostalgia for a time long gone, reminding us not to forget to do now what we loved then.

It is this atmosphere Ron Sexsmith recalls with the music on The Last Rider. Another denominator could be the quest for the perfect popsong. It is a giant surprise when a song all of a sudden goes wild, like the outro of 'Breakfast Ethereal'. Where do all these instruments all of sudden come from?

Usually it seems a song is a vehicle to sing a beautiful melody. His sweet voice as a given, Sexsmith sings free-flowing melodies about love and feeling loved and maintaining that state through life. "These songs were hiding behind the door. I had nobody to sing them for. Till you came along". This lyric from 'Worried Song' tells it all in my perception. Love unlocking the most beautiful songs. Against all proof Ron Sexsmith shows the world that love is a far stronger muse than deep and dark depressions or misery. When searching for the holy grail of a perfect popsong that is.

This truly sums up The Last Rider. There is nothing else to tell. If you want to find beauty in music, how a musician and songwriter can capture just that in notes and melodies in the vocal delivery, The Last Rider is a must. Like the song below. If you don't get it, well what could I say then? Yes, it is sentimental, but that is the whole point, isn't it? It seems that with every spin of The Last Rider I like it better. It's time to start listening to older work of Ron Sexsmith.


You can listen to 'Who We Are Right Now' here:

vrijdag 19 mei 2017

John Lee Hooker's World Today. Hugo Race & Michelangelo Russo

John Lee Hooker was born in 1917 and died at the age of 83 in 2001. He was one of those names of old blues men for me, basically until that album in the late 80s with a lot of the great stars of the time, 'The Healer', including two hitsingles with Carlos Santana and Bonnie Raitt. I found out that I didn't really like his sort of blues. Too one dimensional and, well, to be honest, boring. My standard in blues is Muddy Waters and nothing else compares it seems.

So when I found an album called John Lee Hooker's World Today on my digital doorstep I wasn't too curious to find out more. Of course I tried any way and found out about a mysterious sounding album that presents a modern type of blues that goes beyond anything John Lee was ever able to conjure up. Sit back, relax and be ready to get into a trance with Hugo Race & Michelangelo Russo's version of the blues as played in 2017.

The duo looks at the songs with the eyes, ears and options of 2017. The typical Hooker stomp is there. Under, over and right through it modern sounds are mixed that gives the songs something that it never had nor could have had at the time Hooker recorded. Recorded in something like 24 hours in Berlin, one continuous session, Race & Russo get into close contact with Nick Cave. My first connotation is with the opening song of Fink's blues album that passed through these pages circa a month and some back. Where Fink wrote original blues songs Race & Russo delve into John Lee Hooker's repertoire, including a cover of MC5 Hooker had done.

Promo photo by Rimmer
So it is not a surprise to me that the songs are monotonous. There's no other word for it. Hooker just loves a song in one chord, with short bursts of guitar notes. The rhythm often just his foot stompin' the rhythm. How the man ever wrote material for dozens of albums is beyond me.

World Today does not do anything to hide the elementary music Hooker made. What the album does show is what modern technology can add to the songs. A harmonica is smeared out, as if windswept, over the song. Electronic sounds and treated guitars have the same effect. Creating an atmosphere of desolation. Of U.S. trains honking before crossing unprotected crossings in the wrong side of far off places. There is no joy in this atmosphere. As if what is going on here is dead and not just a little.

Strangely enough I'm reminded of Dire Straits. That mysterious single, that turned out to be the band's greatest hit here in NL, 'Private Investigations'. Near non-music, all atmosphere. Where all music and joy was cut out of the song. Something like that is going on here as well. Except that was always the case with Hooker's music. Totally one dimensional. What was added was danger. John Lee Hooker managed to sound dangerous, perhaps was dangerous in his younger days. That was taken away because he lived to an old age and became something of a pop star in his 70s when he was brought back into the limelight and found a new generation of fans.

The man still has fans as Hugo Race & Michelangelo Russo show. I'm still not a fan of John Lee Hooker's music, but am certainly impressed by what is going on here. Dire Straits meets Nick Cave and John Lee Hooker. Many a day I had never expected to write down this combination, but here it is.


You can listen to 'Love Blues' here:

donderdag 18 mei 2017

Chris Cornell (1964 - 2017)

Some rock stars die too young. Chris Cornell is one of them. Despite the fact that his hey-day as front man of Soundgarden lay behind him for over 20 years, it is obvious that the respect his voice earned him, made sure the world had not forgotten him. A show of the reunion tour that brought Soundgarden to Europe, got reviewed twice on these pages in 2013 (see the links below).

For me Soundgarden is a thing of the past. Part of the grunge movement, but not my favourite band at the time. Nirvana simply is the best, Pearl Jam the best known and Alice In Chains so much sludgier. I'm happy with a few singles, with the dark, brooding 'Black Hole Sun' as my favourite.

By now it is clear to conclude that fronting a grunge band was not a healthy thing to do. Of the five major bands at the time, if we include Stone Temple Pilots, only one singer is still alive, Eddie Vedder. He'd better stop smoking straight away.

Cornell had played in Audioslave with the three remaining members of Rage Against the Machine, releasing three albums together, until RATM regrouped. Some solo albums followed, but it did not seem like Cornell really had focus nor an audience waiting for new music by him. I remained untouched by either his solo albums and Audioslave.

He had become a musician that depended on past achievements to reach his audience. People still loved to come and watch Soundgarden reunion shows, probably without wanting to hear too much new songs. A fairly sad state to be in. Perhaps this also was what it was and no great inspiration hit him any more.

The cause of his death is still unknown. Beyond that it was unexpected, there is no news. For fans no doubt the demise of Chris Cornell will have come as a great shock. I will just play 'Black Hole Sun' every once in a while and remember a great singer who sang songs that were not meant for me.

Let me end with referring you to the true fans.


Here are the two reviews. The first by /PV, the second by ReginA: