vrijdag 31 maart 2017

Cousins. Kim Janssen

For over a month I'm listening to Cousins, the new album of Kim Janssen. Although I've played the record at least a dozen times, under different circumstances, I find that I'm not able to connect to it. In a way I'm surprised as there are so many sounds and the approach to playing a song that I usually like. In another way I'm not, as this may be that one album on the neo-folk side of music that may be one of the too many.

Let's try and find out whether I can determine what inclines Kim Janssen's music and me to not connecting. Usually I would have left a record at that, as I put myself in a position not to write something negatively about a record in general. When someone has given his or her all, who I am to write overly negatively about someone's product of creativity, care and love? I may point out to an aspect I do not like or think doesn't meet an expected standard, but that is it. The reason I am writing here, is that I do not think Cousins is a bad album. It just seems to be missing something that makes a difference to me personally and I would like to try and find whether I can determine this element.

First allow me to make a few other comments. I notice that this album has been made with love for the music. Kim Janssen obviously believes in the power of his music. Great care has gone into the arrangements of the songs and not to obfuscate a lack of quality. Some songs can even be called lush. Strings and brass can be heard over the band and at times a very prominent drum, so typical for the neo-folk music of the 10s. My aloofness has nothing to do with the production as such. I can't find much at fault with the record as such, except that I have the idea in a few songs that they could have been mixed a little clearer in sound, but that is it.

So what is it then? A few things present themselves to me. First I find that the melodies do not resonate inside of me. When a song touches me, the melody starts its own life within me. It returns within my head, making me feel better or at least differently. None of the songs on Cousins touch me in that way. The result being that not one song can be reproduced by me. I can't sing or whistle a single song and I've played the record at least a dozen times since receiving it. Too often the record is over without me having noticed it being on really. So it doesn't draw me to it. There simply is no connection.

The second reason may be Kim Janssen's voice. I'm not really sure here, yet it may be part of the explanation. Again, his voice doesn't turn me off as some voices do, but I miss a sense of warmth in it, inviting me to listen, appealing to my ears. More or less the same happens with the melodies of the music. I hear influences from the 10s all the way back to Jim Croce in the early 70s, in voice and music, yet they do not assist me finding my way in.

The third reason may be coming closer to an explanation for me. I miss a true commitment somehow. That little spark making a song come alive. Whether from gladness or the deepest despair, a high or a low or just being glad in the middle, Cousins to my ears sounds flat, as if all emotions are neutralised. I am truly surprised when a little spark erupts in the title song, like the outburst of a long declared dead volcano on a bright clear day.

I have played Cousins often and probably may do so again in the near future. Paradoxical isn't it? Yes, it is. As I wrote and let me reiterate, Cousins is far from a bad record. Perhaps I'm still looking to find that spark, like I do not trust my own ears. Otherwise it may come with Kim Janssen's next record. The final song 'Rama VI' is a the one that does appeal to me. Where some air is let in and an acoustic guitar is the centrepiece of the song. As if control was surrendered to the feel of the song. And that may be my final finding. The brake may have been put on too often on Cousins. 'Rama VI brought 'The Stiles' from his mini album 'The Lonely Mountains' to mind. One of Janssen's songs I truly like.

Having written this I am going to invite you to listen to this album any way. This is me and my ears, trust your own and go find out what this album is about. I've read that someone else stated "Kim Janssen's best record ever", so there you go.


You can listen to Cousins and buy it here:


donderdag 30 maart 2017

Kairos, March 2017 by .No on Concertzender

Each month Wo. tunes his ears to the sounds .No selected for his monthly show on Concertzender. A show with music that is not exactly on his daily musical menu. In fact it is a once a month menu at that is it. Except for those songs that Wo. may have inspired .No to listen to. Let's see what Wo. finds this month. Will he be delighted, horrorised or just plain aloof?

Ha, that is not a piano Kairos starts with, so that is something new compared to the past months. It sounds like a guitar, but may be an older version of the instrument and it is. Stathis Skandaldis plays a lute. I am a guitarist, but this is the sort of thing that just doesn't excite me in any way. It is a sort of classical composition I'm working my way through, but all it does is somehow remind me of the Tudor court in that tv series of a while back and all those more or less willing people dying because of the illogical whims of a despotic monarch.

Ha, there's the piano. Peter Broderick plays John Cage. There's quite some echo on the piano, with atmospherics in the background. Somehow I have the impression that I'm not listening to a composition but at a random working around the keys without losing harmonics from sight. Each note belongs to the next. Nearly only single played notes befitting one another are played. If it wasn't played so fluently, I'd suspect that someone was just practising here. It is the cadence that makes the song work. It is a piece for people who can only play with one hand at a time. With 10 minutes it takes something out of my patience I have to admit. I find myself waiting for something to happen. I know Veronica Falls does not belong here, but how I crave for that song after seven minutes of 'In A Landscape'. Now I can fantasize with that title, white clouds moving over a green landscape. I can see it, but more because of the title than the music. So I just lay myself down and watch the sky for the remaining minutes Peter Broderick plays.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Now that is a band that I've read about for years, but nothing I read enticed me to listen to the Canadian band's music. It sounded too far out there for me and now I get the opportunity to do so thanks to Kairos. The piano of Broderick is taken over by a sort of drone, but a very short, consecutive ones. I read that in 22 minutes Broderick returns with another composition from his album 'Partners', so I have a while to go. My introduction to Godspeed You! Black Emperor is going to be a thorough one, called 'Static'. Electronic sounds fill my ears. One like an old steamtrain gathering speed. They all move in and out of the mix. All experiment, but nothing of a structure emerges. Voices enter, telling something about God and for the first time a recognisable instrument joins the whole. A violin and a very treated guitar. 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven' is the album's title, I notice. Somehow it sounds familiar to me and I remember having watched a live something by this band on You Tube some time ago. So it's not 100% new after all, but there's no way for me of telling whether it was this composition. I notice that I am taken through different sequences that are not necessarily connected. This band even knows how to rock out with wild guitars and violins accompanied by banging drums. Underneath a bass and keyboard play a sequence of notes over and over. What I'm hearing is totally new for Kairos and may scare off a lot of listeners. So much for meditating, folks! This music reminds me of an album I reviewed recently by Bardo Pond called 'Under The Pines', more psychedelic but with the same sort of violent eruptions, assaulting mind, ears and live undoubtedly, bodies. Things even get wilder here. I'll leave you to experience this sonic onslaught yourself and there's still minutes to go in which the mood is taken down again towards drones and sounds, taking it all full circle. Weird, imposing, impressive and more all at once.

Somehow .No manages to let the drones move into the piano of Peter Broderick, through a sort of church singing, but only as a strange sort of accompaniment to the piano playing. The song is called 'Carried' and that is just what this music does. Music to rest on, especially after what came before. When I close my eyes I totally am at ease, just following the changes in the chords played, while the basis is the four notes played with his left hand. Not unlike 'Static' 'Carries' is a strange hybrid of a composition. There are all these strange things going on.

I leave that behind me when Kairos returns to the 'Rothko Chapel' cd, with a composition by Eric Satie, 'Gnossiene No. 4, played by Sarah Rothenberg. Beautiful, fully mixed, all present. All this takes just a few notes, that is all there is. Yet unlike Peter Broderick, Rothenberg reaches me on a deeper, emotional level. This music speaks to me in volumes and reaches out much more. Touching me, caressing me, where 'Carried' carried me. A huge difference.

The change is ever so lightly, yet the mood changes, the piano sound is more down to earth. I have entered a new composition by Frederico Mompou. The magic of 'Gnossiene No. 4' is gone though.

We return to 'Slow Healer', Lyenn's album of 2016. Not my favourite song though. The song moves forward like an invalid bereft of his appliance, dragging himself towards the end goal. The scene with the lepers from 'Jesus Christ Superstar' gets into my brain, something I can't shake before the song is over.  'Keep It Still' is more mood than song though. Sounds all around and a whispering voice over it. Forever halting and not starting. Pushing me away. Don't come nearer and I take heed.

Eternal light enters my ears. Voices and drones composed of voices make up the eternal light of György Ligetti and are over before I know it.

Another artist I wrote a review about that still needs to be published on the moment of writing this is presented. Kim Janssen plays a down to earth, folky song on an acoustic guitar. Presenting emotions and a subdued lust for life, despite singing about dying alone. All his new record 'Cousins' seem to lack. 'The Stiles' reminds me of several songs, including Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, mainly because of the horn. It keeps alluding me what it is. The next note solving the mystery won't come to me.

Next we return to Polish jazz. Wisniewsky plays his slow notes again. A composition that is full of holes and silences, resonating former notes. Last month I wrote enough on what this music made me think of, so there's no need to repeat it. Again I'm struck by how much effect a musician can have with minimal effort.

Because of the mood changing, it is clear that there's another artist playing. The number of notes accumulate fast, the bass is replaced by bass notes on the piano. Peter Broderick returns for a second time with a composition of his album 'Partners'. This one is called 'Conspiralling'. There's even a hint at singing. This is the busiest of the three Brodericks present, waking me up from my reverie of the last songs. Ready to move into the rest of the day.

Quite a ride this Kairos was. One of extremes with its highlight right in the middle. The piano was here a lot again, but a theme? It may have been the addition of sounds or voices in compositions that I would not really expect or need there. So confusion? Sounds good enough for me.


You can listen to March '17s Kairos here:


This months playlist:

00:13         Gilbert Isbin. Weaving. Stathis Skandaldis, luit. Album ‘Stathis Skandalidis plays Gilbert Isbin’. Tern Records, Tern 007.
03:23         John Cage. In a Landscape. Peter Broderick, piano. Album ‘Partners’. Erased Tapes Records ERATP88CD.
13:24         Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Static. Album ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’. Kranky krank043.
35:02         Peter Broderick. Carried. Peter Brodderick, piano. Album ‘Partners’. Erased Tapes Records ERATP88CD.
40:59         Erik Satie. Gnossienne No. 4. Sarah Rothenberg, piano. Van album ‘Rothko Chapel’. ECM NEW SERIES 2378 4811796.
44:18         Frederico Mompou. XII Molto lento e tranquillo uit 4me cahier (1967). Marcel Worms, piani. Album ‘Música Callada. ZEF 9609.
45:49         Frederic Lyenn Jacques. Keep it still. Album ‘Slow Healer’ van Lyenn. V2 Records Benelux
48:29         György Ligeti. Lux Aeterna. Fragment. A Cappella Amsterdam, Daniel Reuss & Susanne Van Els. Album ‘Ligeti Lux Aeterna’ hm Gold edition HMC 501985 
50:38         Kim Janssen. The stiles. Album ‘The Lonely Mountains. Snowstar Records.
52:50         Ignacy Jan Wiśniewski. Poranek. Ignacy Wiśniewski trio. Album ’Jazz Shirim’. Wood and mood.
      55:03         Peter Broderick. Conspiralling. Peter Brodderick, piano. Album ‘Partners’. Erased
                       Tapes Records ERATP88CD

woensdag 29 maart 2017

Honest Life. Courtney Marie Andrews

Courtney Marie Andrews is een uit Phoenix, Arizona, afkomstige singer-songwriter, die sinds haar 13e songs schrijft en vanaf haar 15e op het podium staat. Ze is inmiddels 26, heeft al zes platen op haar naam staan en is, via België (!), in Seattle, Washington, terecht gekomen.

Heel veel aandacht heeft Courtney Marie Andrews nog niet getrokken met haar muziek, mede omdat ze haar platen tot vorig jaar niet beschikbaar maakte via streaming diensten als Spotify en Apple Music.
Dat is aan de ene kant begrijpelijk, maar aan de andere kant loop je als muzikant hopeloos achter de feiten aan en bereik je niet de doelgroep die je wilt bereiken, waarna de obscuriteit lonkt.
Dat heeft Courtney Marie Andrews kennelijk ook ingezien, want het vorig jaar al in de Verenigde Staten verschenen en hier nauwelijks opgemerkte Honest Life, krijgt nu niet alleen een Nederlandse release, maar is gelukkig ook via de streaming diensten te beluisteren.
Hopelijk levert het de Amerikaanse singer-songwriter de aandacht op die ze verdient, want Honest Life is echt een prachtplaat.
Op Honest Life maakt Courtney Marie Andrews vooral indruk met haar stem. Het is een krachtige stem vol emotie en doorleving en dus geknipt voor de genres waarin ze opereert; folk en country. Het is een stem die af en toe lijkt op die van Emmylou Harris, maar het doet me nog het meest denken aan Maria McKee, die helaas maar één geweldige countryplaat maakte en daarna uitweek naar andere genres, maar vooral onzichtbaar werd.
In muzikaal opzicht hoor ik ook wel wat raakvlakken met de muziek die Joni Mitchell in haar jonge jaren maakte in de Laurel Canyon, maar de songs van Courtney Marie Andrews zijn over het algemeen wel wat toegankelijker.
Het zijn songs die opvallen door een prachtig stemmige en voornamelijk ingetogen instrumentatie, waarin gitaren en piano rustig voortkabbelen, maar de gitaren ook wel eens voorzichtig uit mogen halen en strijkers en pedal steel bijzonder fraaie en doeltreffende accenten zetten.
Wat verder opvalt is dat de songs van Courtney Marie Andrews zeer persoonlijk zijn en mede hierdoor met hart en ziel worden vertolkt. Het geeft Honest Life een bijzondere lading en het is deze emotionele lading die platen in dit genre zo bijzonder maakt. De songs zelf zijn tenslotte ook nog eens van een bijzonder hoog niveau en volstrekt tijdloos.
De cover van de plaat herinnert aan de jaren 70 en ook in muzikaal opzicht neemt Courtney Marie Andrews je op deze mooie en indringende plaat mee terug naar het verleden. Ze doet dit wat mij betreft op zeer imponerende wijze en steekt met Honest Life een aantal grootheden naar de kroon. Dat we nog veel van haar gaan horen lijkt me zeker.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Honest Life':


dinsdag 28 maart 2017

Fade To Gold. Trip To Dover

Trip To Dover sounds like the memory of a childhood trip, although Dover for me sounds more like the beginning and the ending of a U.K. holiday. Driving that winding road through the town up from the harbour. Up to what effectively are the famous white cliffs before riding into the Kent countryside.

This Trip To Dover is a Dutch duo from Eindhoven. Olga (vocals, guitars) and Johannes Taal (keys, sounds and vocals) mix rock, dance, electro and things 80s. Since 2013 they release songs under the name Trip To Dover. Two EPs and two singles. With Fade To Gold Trip To Dover has released its first (mini) album.

The first thing I'm reminded of the the single of Glaswegian singer Dee (Miller) that her brother and label owner Thomas sent me a while back. 'Love Massacre' has a lot of the atmosphere I find on this album. From there Trip To Dover builds its music bigger and wider. Even when it's just the guitar, with a load of effects on it, opening 'I'll Be Juliet', the sound is loud and spacious. Yes, that is before the beats and synths enter the song. Already it seems to fill the whole mix and my room. This may be a duo only, soundwise it could be a battery of drums playing all at the same time.

Promo photo: Marcel Krijgsman
The music on Fade To Gold for me goes right back to a pioneer in electronic pop songs like Gary Newman. With his band Tubeway Army he scored a hit called 'Are Friends Electric?' in 1979. To me that was a starting point, from which all things electronic pop music departed. Depeche Mode, Visage, Duran Duran and things with beats from the U.S. later in the 80s that I do not like, which find their origins more in Giorgio Moroder's work with Donna Summer. 'I Feel Love' mixed with 'Personal Jesus' is found here in the form of the title song.

Here we hit on one of the strengths of Trip To Dover. To write an electronic ballad that totally explodes in a dance frenzy, before coming back to the strong vocal melody. Olga Taal could have sung in a rock band, in a punk band and in a pop band doing ballads, next to this rock dance beast. Her voice is so strong and so versatile. (I would work on the 'th' sound though, that would make it sound 100%!)

Photo: Frank Bouwkamp
Dance is not my kind music, really. Yet, I find myself caught by the energy streaming out of Fade To Gold. Like I wrote recently on this blog about the new album of My Baby, this music is exciting. Wild with an animal magnetism. The way Trip To Dover builds up its songs make it easy to succumb. Live this ought to be one big party of holding back and releasing the audience. I can imagine myself dancing a lot of the time with the music presented here.

That is only half of the story though. I find myself enjoying listening to Fade To Gold at home as well. The sound is so wide, it fills the whole room at the right loudness. There's a lot to discover in the songs. So many sounds, beats, effects to follow. On top of it all is that fantastic rock voice in all its guises ranging from sweet angel to fiery devil.

Photo: Sharik Derksen
What happens when all the electronics are discarded can be heard in the sort of bonus track of the 2016 single 'Boy'. Just an acoustic guitar, a piano and voices. It's no surprise to me that "a real" song comes forward. A song that could have been sung by Anouk and has the same quality as that singer's best songs.

Fade to Gold is an album that aims for the sky. It is as big as an independent band can pump itself up without losing credibility. It rocks hard, the beats are loud, the effects all in the right place. What is not lost in the storm is the song, the melody. Combined with the use of dynamics and a lot of atmospherics, Fade To Gold seems to push all the right buttons with me.


You can listen to 'I'll Be Juliet' here:


or buy the album here:


maandag 27 maart 2017

Dolemite. Tim Claridge

Tim Claridge is no stranger to these pages. You can find him under the name Death Goldbloom, Hymalayan and as guitarist for Natalie Ramsay. You can find the cover picture of Dolemite in the interview we published with him last year. This however is the first time you can find him on these pages under his own name as a solo artist.

Claridge released a solo metal album in 2012, 'In The Company Of Crows'. Dolemite is the second release under his own name, released more or less simultaneously with another EP called 'Every Place In Hell Is Special', that will be reviewed here soon. On Dolemite I find several familiar tunes that have been reviewed before as Death Goldbloom songs, together with a few unfamiliar ones.

Now for those following my reviews of things Tim Claridge it will not come as a surprise that I'm of the opinion that his songwriting skills, playing, arranging and singing all betray a great talent. A talent in need of discovery. Dolemite underscores this once again.

Listening to '66th And Crimson' with somewhat fresh ears I noticed something that I had missed before. Let me call it a Hot Tuna from its debut album sound. That album was pure acoustic blues which this album isn't. '66th And Crimson' has that same laidback, yet same surefire playing Jorma Kaukonen has. That aside, it is a great song. The mysterious atmosphere draws the listener ever closer. The passionate background vocals by Natalie Ramsay makes me listen some more and on top of all that the song takes many a unsuspected turn. Some violins even. It was one of the songs that made me really listen to Death Goldbloom as it now does to Tim Claridge.

The blues is the basis of a lot of the music on Dolemite. Just listen how 'Already Gone' has that light blues touch only to explode into a fiery beast. The devil is around, which is quite common in Claridge's work. Who says that that crossroad in the 10s still lies in the Mississippi delta? It may well be in Vancouver, BC (nice contrast that BC) on 66th and Crimson for all I know. The topic fascinates Tim Claridge that much is clear.

The second album released by Death Goldbloom was called 'A Dirty Dozen Bars'. From that two songs are lifted, 'Iron Tongue' and 'Ain't Got Nothing'. The first is a soft ballad. Acoustic guitars and a piano. Singing together with Natalie Ramsay again. 'Ain't Got Nothing' is a lot louder. Again with a lot of blues infected guitar playing. Most likely the last collaboration with drummer Tomek Kijkowsky, as the band split up before the release of the second album.

With the outro of 'Tokyo Rose' Tim Claridge deprives us of the rest of this beautiful song. Again his versatility comes forward. Slow, sort of romantic, with strings and a piano. Not the kind of song one associates with blues(rock) songs in which the devil plays a role.

The next song is a cover and here is another reason that I had the Hot Tuna association. 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' is one of the tracks on 'Hot Tuna'. This version is turned more into a murder ballad with ever so slow guitar playing. A lot of activity on the lighter strings. The song is turned into a co-self-penned song 'Lead Me On My Way'. Again there is this extremely light touch that moves the song forward ever so slow.

'Lightbringer' is more a sketch of a song that a fully worked out one. The same seems to go for the title track. 'Dolemite' has a dark cello and a hint at lyrics. I would not be surprised if it turns up at a later stage fully fledged and rocking hard. An exercise in mood? I do notice how fine Claridge and Ramsay sing together here again. They bring out the best in each other it seems. My advice is to listen to their recordings as Hymalayan.

Dolemite is an in between EP on route to more new work that is under way. In between means a bunch of very fine songs though.


You can listen to and buy Dolemite here on Bandcamp:


zondag 26 maart 2017

Let's Focus. Thoughts on the band Focus

This feature on the blog, an online discussion between two gentlemen from the U.K. and Wo., seems to be turning into a series. After a conversation on progrockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer followed an online discussion on Todd Rundgren and, I might add, who not? Both were published earlier in this year. At the very end of the Rundgren discussion Gary suggested to continue with another band. That invitation was picked up on, so let's focus on Dutch prog and classical rockers Focus.

Gary, 23-02:
We must have a discussion about another Dutch favourite band of mine… Focus!

Wout responded on 28-02:
As you know we have a minor generation gap. When you started to buy your first albums, I was still mainly dependent on the radio and bought a few singles that were on offer during sales. When you were into ELP, I was able to scratch together my very first self bought LP, 'Cuz I luv you' by Slade, with the two big hits of 1971 on it.

As Focus was famous mostly in the same years, the band sort of past me by. I must have known some of the singles, but I can't truly remember, 45 years later. My real initiation came in 1977 at the other end of the world.

In 1977 I quit school and packed my things and went to Australia for over five months to meet and stay with my family on my mother's side. She had left Australia in the mid 50s, met my dad on Canada's west coast and moved to The Netherlands to get married. Hence I travelled for over a day in late July 1977 and met people who I had never seen before.

I had saved a lot of money, in my eyes, for the trip and my parents doubled that. What did I do with a portion of that money? Buy albums of course. What I remember is Boston, Heart, The Rolling Stones, the 'Magical Mystery Tour' double EP book version, that great single by Mother Goose, 'Baked Beans', 'In The Flesh' by Blondie and a compilation album. Filled with songs from the late 60s and early 70s. 

Here I am, Down Under, and found a compilation album with e.g. John Mayall, Eric Burden's Animals, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and two Dutch bands. One is, of course I'd say, Golden Earring with 'Radar Love'. The other is Focus, 'Hocus Pocus'. One of those yodel songs with fantastic guitar work. Jan Akkerman was always what attracted me in Focus. I was a guitarist before I became one almost 10 years later. That Akkerman was voted best guitarist in the world did not pass me by. It was the music that did. Albums were too far away for me and my friends. The music most likely too far out for our 11, 12 year old ears. In 1972 I got my first record player, a GDR made one. Not before too long I was able to catch up with The Beatles, the red and the blue album in 1973 and 1974. Now that was a priority for me.

Now Jan Akkerman. I did know him a little better, but let me start here. There's a little more to come later on.

Gary, 1-3:
Yes I would imagine that Focus’ album material would not be easy listening for most people (then or now), beyond Hocus Pocus, Sylvia and House of the King (which was the theme music to a UK sit-com by Steve Coogan called Saxondale. See http://dai.ly/x37dgm9 . Saxondale was roadie during the 70s but is now a 'pest control consultant’. There are many names dropped including (in later episodes) Keith Emerson! I really recommend getting a box set!

I have always been a fan of Focus since the mid 70s, excellent musicianship and composition.

I look forward to your continuation…

Wout, 3-3:
Late in 1968 I discovered the Veronica Top 40 and that it was released every week on a leaflet that my local record store had laying on the counter. Although I listened to the radio already a lot, I now understood that songs were not just played. There were hits, tips, flops and golden classics. The Top 40 was broadcasted on this pirate station called Veronica on Saturday afternoons between 14 and 16.00: "The National Saturday Afternoon Happening", fanfare tune announcing it and all.

And so a song came by in 1969 by a band called Brainbox. 'Down Man' only became a moderate hit, yet drew my attention. It was different, harder, with a great guitar. Like I was attracted to that guitar sound in 'Hair' by Zen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO8cMRbDkfE), my second self-bought single ('Hey Jude' being the first). I was also told that the song was a hit abroad.

That might have been it, were it not that I was surprised at our yearly Saint Nicolas feast with a present I did not see coming: an LP! A compilation LP of Dutch bands with their hits in 1968 and 1969 called 'Their Greatest Hits'. The members of the four or five bands all stood gathered on a beach or sand dune, with the names of each on the back. So I knew what Jan Akkerman looked like, better I also knew how Pierre van der Linden, later Focus' drummer looked liked. These guys also looked distinctly different from the other bands. Blue jeans, hipper, not so much longer but wilder hair. The singer of Brainbox was Kaz Lux, with whom Akkerman made a few duo records after he left Focus. The second Brainbox song on the LP was 'Sea Of Delight', the band's second single and an edit of a song that took a whole side of the band's first LP, which I bought over a decade later. 'Dark Rose' being the third and final single of this version of Brainbox.

Now I haven't played that compilation for decades, yet that one song, 'Down Man', is still a fantastic song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJWLVYK9zk4). Aggressive, yet warm and passionate. The lyrics are a bit of a shamble I'm afraid, the music is fantastic. The interplay between Lux' voice and Akkerman's guitar solo is fabulous. The drive the acoustic guitar brings to the song gives it a great, propulsing pace. One of the highlights of our Nederbeat years.

Now of course Jan Akkerman had built a name for himself before Brainbox. Ask my friend Willem, ten years my superior, and he'll speak to you about The Crazy Rockers from the early 60s in which Akkerman was the guitarist as an early teenager. After that he played that Russian music inspired solo in 'Russian Spy And I' by The Hunters, a song that had caught my ear somewhere in those years (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEH1qTiGY5w). It's a gimmick hit song, but the (speed of) playing is something else for 1966.

When we moved from the big city to the country late in 1969 I lost the reception of the pirate station, Veronica and there was no Top 40 in the town for over a year. A gap in my musical development. In that gap Focus started.

So what is your experience with this Dutch band?

Mark, 3-3: 
The interesting thing for me is how did a hitherto unknown Dutch band manage to break through the Anglo-American dominance of the 1970's rock scene? Focus were more successful than Golden Earring who we remember only for one impressive single: Radar Love. Three factors probably: the unique vocal histrionics of Thijs Van Leer on the instantly memorable Hocus Pocus single; Jan Akkerman's hard-edged guitar mastery that threatened to displace Eric Clapton in the best guitarist category in the annual Melody Maker poll - helped by Slowhand unaccountably drifting into softer, laidback Ocean Boulevard territory; and the power of the one and only British TV late night live rock show: The Old Grey Whistle Test which they performed on in December 1972 - watch it on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5owrU-axzXg.

Moving Waves was the lp that shot up the album charts as a result of that performance and posters of Jan Akkerman started to appear in the ads pages of the NME. Focus 3 which I also bought as a "must have" was an over-confident extension as a double album (you had made it if your label let you roam freely across 4 sides) but it showed their impressive versatility to the full. While I didn't put a poster up on the wall in my student digs, these two albums were a  part of the soundtrack to my university years - and when I worked In Rotterdam in late 1977.

Hamburger Concerto was heavier rock and the Mother Focus title seemed like a cheap shot at maintaining their profile. Inevitably, after their meteoric rise from university gig curiosities to UK tour concert headliners, they faded rapidly from view as the ground shifted and new wave swept all aside. The acrimony between Akkerman and Van Leer probably prevented them from adjusting to the changing times with a clear sense of musical direction: they failed to re-Focus. 

Their records alas then headed for the cheaper sections of the second hand racks: that's where I off-loaded my copies, along with Yessongs, ELP's Trilogy and Pictures at an Exhibition - sorry Gary but back in London in 1979 I was unemployed and severely strapped for cash to buy my Jam and Clash singles. However, my recent more affluent circumstances have allowed me to do some serious record collecting and I've sought out replacement copies during my tours of record shops worldwide; so these two albums are now rightfully restored to my collection - and not solely for nostalgic reasons: they do make it the turntable from time to time because they have hardly dated at all: testimony to their impressive musicianship. skilful embrace of classical and jazz influences and the sheer thrill of tracks like Silvia and House of the King. I have yet to replace my copy of Van Leer's "Introspection." I can't remember too much about that record other that it was serious and heavy in the "prog" sense: will continue to keep an eye out for a decent copy.

Wout, 7-3:
@Mark, Funny you mention 'Introspection'. It triggered a memory I had nearly forgotten about. I only have one experience with the album. One of my uncles, who we visited very regularly, had the album at the time. And now I remember that I must have known the hitsingles of Focus. My uncle announced that he had an album by Thijs van Leer of Focus and I remember that that fact impressed me. Until he played the album. The impression I got was that he had put on a classical album. That was the first and last time I have listened to it. I am still not one for things classical.

'Introspection' was, if I remember correctly, the best sold album of 1973 over here, followed by a few more Introspections in the 70s. In second hand stores there ought to be legions of copies, there were so many of them around. Several parents of friends of mine had the album.

Looking it up, thank you Wikipedia, the album charted in the spring and summer of 1972 for 15 weeks, to return just before Christmas of 1972 and remain charted for well over two years, including a #1 spot for a month in the winter of 1973, well into 1975.

By the time I started to earn enough money to buy albums regularly, 1978, Focus was a thing of the past. Still, I have looked into my collection and behold one album did pop up, 'Focus 3'. A double album. I had forgotten that. Also 'Sylvia' is in my 45 collection. Bought second hand only a few years ago. So I'll give 'Focus 3' a serious spin and come back at you on that.

Also I dug up the compilation from Australia. It is called 'Immortal Rock'. Even nearly 40 years down the road it gives a sense of pride that these two Dutch bands are among the 14 odd songs selected on these grounds:

"The late 60s and early 70s was an era when rock came of age. This album features a collection of all time rock classics emphasising the strong influence of British and European musicians. From Hendrix to Status Quo,...the Who's Who of Rock's golden era".

Well, to put things into perspective, the artists had to be on Polygram. Clapton is on it in three guises I notice, Cream, Derek and solo. Pete Townsend in two, The Who and Thunderclap Newman, which he produced and played bass on. As a whole it still looks like a strong compilation though. I was surprised to find a 1976 track by Status Quo was on there though. 'Rain' seems totally out of place, as does 'I Shot The Sheriff'.

As a fun fact. Inner sleeves in Australia at the time were made of plastic. So no liner notes and stuff on inner sleeves there.

Wo. has started to listen to Focus and reports on 14-03:
To update on my listening sessions. I turned to Spotify and started with Focus' first album that can either go by the title 'Focus I' or 'In And Out Of Focus' it seems.

That album truly surprised me. I have always associated Focus with instrumental, touching on classical music and nonsensical yodelling. Thijs van Leer is singing a lot on the album. Next to that there's a lot of psychedelia of the kind that had gone out of style for a while by then. The sort of music that is quite in vogue again since a few years. 'House Of The King' is the hitsingle, over here at least. It charted in the winter of 1971 for four weeks (#14). It seems like I remember Jan Akkerman's solo hit of the same song in 1974 (5 weeks, #17) better. More guitar driven and not flute. Overall conclusion: I rather like this album and may go out and buy it in the near future. As an extra. Akkerman's 'House Of The King' comes from his solo album 'Tabernakel', an album filled with classical compositions, played Jan Akkerman's way with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice as rhythm section. It seems he followed Van Leer here, with a lot less commercial success.

'Moving Waves' was up next. It seems that this is a hybrid album with one foot in 'Focus 1' and one foot towards the big breakthrough. The tandem Van Leer - Akkerman is getting into its stride. Pierre van der Linden has joined the band. There's more power in the pace of the album.

What I heard brought Ekseption to mind. A Dutch band with an international career in the early 70s. It scored hits in 1969 in NL with rock adaptations of Beethoven's 5th, Bach's 'Air', e.g.  Something that really impressed me at the time. That same uncle I wrote about before had the album, so I got to know Ekseption's version of 'Sabre Dance' as well. Both key players, keyboardist Rick van der Linden and trumpet player Rein van der Broek, are not among us any more.

From 'Moving Ways' it is not even that far away in time that the two driving players were to fall out. Now Akkerman, from a giant distance, seems a grumpy sort of man. The only way he communicates about Van Leer in the past decades is by calling him "that yodeller". It stands in the way of a potentially successful tour of enacting whole albums like many artists do nowadays. There's still a Focus and Akkerman played his 70th birthday tour last year.

It seems you got me into Focus a little. I'll dig up 'Focus III' soon.

BTW I'm about to score some tickets for the "It was 50 years ago today" show. It was announced last week.

Gary, 14-03: 
I was not aware of Ekseption before, I may have to check them out... thanks!

I love all of the early Focus albums and Moving Waves is certainly high on my list! I can still 'listen' to the title track in my head and get the words right even today! I even have early Focus bass player Cyril Havermans' solo album Cyril! Pierre van der Linden is one of my favourite drummers who was heavily influenced by Buddy Rich... as was Carl Palmer.

I have seen Focus in the mid 70's at an 'all-nighter' and they blew me away (although it may have also been the clouds of heady 'incense' that permeated the venue? ;)  ) and also Jan Ackerman's Focus at my local Mick Jagger venue (Mick's old school in Dartford, Kent) about ten years ago. I would have liked to have seen Thijs Van Leer's Focus that was touring at the same time but sadly I couldn't go.

A great band that excelled in something that is lost to music today... instrumentals!

And here we left Focus and focused on ..... Stay tuned to find out.
Gary Hunt
Mark Carvell

 P.S. from Wout:
While editing this conversation I clicked on the link to the 'Hocus Pocus' performance on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test'. It looks like this tells all of how Akkerman views Van Leer. As soon as Van Leer starts his yodel you can view Akkerman snickering towards Van der Linden. Has he ever really liked what he was playing here?

Focus is on Spotify.

zaterdag 25 maart 2017

Closure. Adna

The cover of Closure is not a common one in pop. A veiled woman, showing as much hair as possible. Not unlike I have seen in pictures or footage from Iran. Suppressed yet defiant? Closure is a word that so far I have heard most often used in a diplomatic sense: Do we have closure? Do we agree and can we move on to the next topic? For Adna Kadic herself it was the closure of the writing process. The song that came last became the title track and opening song. So there seems to be no link with the cover art.

Erwin Zijleman had the honor to write about Adna first on this blog. He wrote the review of her sophomore album, 'Run, Lucifer' in 2015. Her debut album 'Night' (2014) did not make it to these pages.

Closure is a heavy handed album by the Swedish singer who now lives in Berlin. The mood is solemn and serious. Perhaps not so much dark of tone yet subdued. Life is something serious and her music reflects that. Her voice is somewhat deeper than most women's voices, adding to that particular mood. French singer Lou Doillon comes to mind, although she dares to rock out every once in a while like on her last album, 'Lay Low'. The music, Adna says, comes from a dark place within herself that she has tried to come to grips with and give a place within her where she's o.k. with it. A serious process that is reflected in the music.

Adna adorns her music in a different way. Often adding a special touch to a song. A light sounding guitar or some electronics give a song a spark or a cloud with a silver lining. Somehow I have the idea that the end result I am hearing is what remains from a process of hard work and trial and error to find out what suits a song best. My guess is that she has found just what she was looking for. Although the music on Closure is not really my kind of music, I can totally relate to it, I find.

 Take the title song and the first on the album. The basis of the song is Adna's voice and a piano. The voice exhumes and takes up space. Made fuller by echo. Added to the song is a firm drum. Almost like Dotan's big drum percussion. It creates a tightness from which the song can't escape in any way. Not the musicians, nor the listener who is more or less forced to listen to the pounding drum. Taking in the rest of the song along the way.

Promo photo
'Overthinking' is a song that I somehow seem to know already. The light guitar notes that accompany the singing with the same chord pattern in the verse sound familiar. The song fits into the neo-folk sort of music the world has heard a lot of over the past years. Again the drums play a distinct role. It's the vocals that are so much more involved. Little vocal melodies and voices come from all sides. An intricate vocal ballet. Part of the sounding familiar part is explained by the fact that the melody and approach to the song returns in 'Soaked Eyes'. A different lyric, but quite similar.

Moving into the album Adna shows that she presents us with both piano songs and guitar songs. With the piano she certainly moves into Agnes Obel territory. Adna's songs appeal to the atmosphere she brings her listeners in. There's no blatant virtuosity in sight. What she does present is an intricately layered sort of music. Where a limited number of instruments are layered in such a way as to give the impression of a full sound, over which her voice(s) is/are draped. If I'm to choose, Adna plays her music far beyond of what Agnes Obel presented to the world last year. An easy win.

Closure is the ideal album to listen to with a headset on. All the details come to the listener once emerged totally. A moment between you and Adna and her musicians. It is this intimacy that makes me like Closure more than I'd expected at first listen. The carefully layered sound gives the album a distinct, own sound. It seems that the soul-searching and defining her music has paid off. Not much in life comes for free and even having talent takes hard work to cultivate. Adna has taken that lesson to heart and presents us with a beautiful album


You can listen to 'Overthinking' here:


vrijdag 24 maart 2017

Burn Something Beautiful. Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo is een bekende naam in de Amerikaanse muziekgeschiedenis.
Hij werd geboren in San Antonio, Texas, maar zette zijn eerste stappen als muzikant vanuit Los Angeles en San Francisco. Hij trok vervolgens naar New York, waar hij niet alleen terecht kwam in de punkscene, maar ook in aanraking kwam met hard drugs.
Vervolgens begon hij samen met zijn broer Javier en rootsmuzikant Jon Dee Graham de cultband True Believers.
Sindsdien maakt Alejandro Escovedo vooral rootsmuziek, al is hij nog altijd niet vies van een flinke portie rock ’n roll. Escovedo maakt soloplaten sinds 1992, maar ondanks het feit dat ze altijd kunnen rekenen op positieve recensies heb ik er maar twee in mijn bezit (A Man Under The Influence uit 2001 en het door John Cale geproduceerde The Boxing Mirror uit 2006). Allebei overigens zeer indrukwekkende platen, maar er moeten er meer zijn, zeker nu ik weet dat Escovedo het afgelopen decennium een aantal platen maakte met muzikant Chuck Prophet en David Bowie producer Tony Visconti.
Desondanks veerde ik niet direct enthousiast op toen onlangs Burn Something Beautiful verscheen. Dat enthousiasme was er echter onmiddellijk toen onlangs dan toch de eerste noten van de plaat uit de speaker kwamen, want wat is dit een lekkere en ook bijzondere plaat.
Alejandro Escovedo is inmiddels 65 en heeft al lange tijd een wat broze gezondheid, maar op zijn nieuwe plaat gaat hij tekeer als een jonge god. Dat doet hij niet alleen, want de gastenlijst op Burn Something Beuatiful is even indrukwekkend als de plaat zelf.
Escovedo toerde de afgelopen jaren met R.E.M. gitarist Peter Buck en Scott McCaughey van The Minus 5. Beiden staan op de gastenlijst, waarop verder de namen van onder andere John Moen (The Decemberists), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) en Kelly Hogan (Neko Case) prijken.
Escovedo levert, zeker gezien zijn leeftijd een verrassend energieke en gedreven plaat af, waarop invloeden uit de rock domineren en de gitaren heerlijk mogen janken. Burn Something Beautiful doet me meer dan eens aan de muziek van David Bowie (en af en toe ook aan Roxy Music of Lou Reed), maar raakt ook aan de rootsrock zoals die in de huidige thuisstaat van Alejandro Escovedo wordt gemaakt (hij werkt tegenwoordig vanuit Dallas, Texas) en citeert hiernaast uit de punk en de rock ’n roll die Escovedo in zijn jongere jaren in New York omarmde.
Met name het gitaarwerk van Peter Buck, die er vrolijk op los soleert, is geweldig, maar ook de rest van de band heeft er zin in en dan zijn er natuurlijk ook nog de fraaie psychedelische invloeden en de geweldige strot van Alejandro Escovedo, die zingt als in zijn beste jaren.
Keer op keer ben ik Alejandro Escovedo uit het oog verloren, maar na het fantastische Burn Something Beautiful heb ik mezelf beloofd om dat niet meer te doen. Burn Something Beautiful is immers een vijfsterrenplaat. Niets meer, maar zeker niet minder.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Farewell To The Good Times':


donderdag 23 maart 2017

Under The Pines. Bardo Pond

There are albums and there are albums. There are impressions of albums and you have impressions of albums. In this particular case the band called Bardo Pond has tossed me across a whole range of impressions, moods, responses, physical assault of my ears and brain. In short: Under The Pines is not your average sort of album.

Bardo Pond is a band that started in the U.S. in 1991. Released its first EP and album in 1995. Under The Pines is the band's 11 studio album. Not counting, compilations, EPs, jam recordings and numerous side projects of the five members.

There's not much that prepared me for this album. Simply because I do not have any. The closest that comes to mind is Esben and the Witch, a band I saw in Leiden a few years back. The music is as mysterious as the album cover is. Yes, in a way it is art. At the same time it is strange, overwhelming, ever present. The voice of singer Isobel Stollenberger is a mixture of a fairy and a witch. Double tracked a lot of the time. The voice floats, hovers, like a ghost or a paranormal experience, over the music. Strangely enough her voice or better voices is all that seems to keep a song like 'Out Of Reach' together. The only sane element in an onslaught of the senses. The lead guitar is out of control for most of the song. The rhythm guitar or what is supposed to be one goes all out as well. The drums pound away. Certainly it's a rhythm not one that necessarily keeps a song together. The bass is underneath that all somewhere doing something, who knows what. It is Stollenberger who is floating around as the sanest member of Bardo Pond, but only by comparison. Just listen to her doubletracked vocal lines. The song takes forever, over 10 minutes long.

Now it's fair game to ask, but why are you listening? Simply because I'm intrigued. Trying to find out what is going on here, with a positive attitude. It doesn't work in all tracks. 'My Eyes Out' is too monotonous for me. It just goes on and on. Gazing at their shoes, but I need a song in there. Like there is in the opening song, 'Crossover' and 'Out Of Reach'. Just a repetition of chords, endlessly the same is not enough, no matter how noisy the solo is, how loud the drones in the back are, I'm not engaged, just shaken, loudly, violently.

When the noise dies out in 'Moment To Moment' and a bluesy acoustic slide guitar comes in over the dark undergrowth, it is like the doors are thrown open and fresh air is let in. It's still night out there, but there may be the hint of moon and stars. The slide guitar at times sounds like two swords sliding off one another. A hint of danger never leaves Under The Pines. The fact that Bardo Pond allows for some variation in the aural sludge it drags itself through scores a point with me. When a flute enters the mix, a 60s psychedelic element enters the music. Making it breathe even more. The inner dynamics of the song lets it grow and grow into something larger, but that is o.k. Some restraint is shown making the album come alive.

Promo photo
The same goes for the title song. Stollenberger even moves off into Stevie Nicks territory, speaking of witches. Which is a surprise. 'Under The Pines' is the song that deserves that title most. The brothers Gibbons, John and Michael may still be fuzzing their guitars far and wide. With its six minutes the song is a bit too long. I can't lay away the idea that with a little more effort 'Under The Pines' could have been great, not just good. Repetition can bring one in a trance, but when that doesn't happen what remains is repetition.

The final song is 'Effigy'. It starts out so great. The lead guitar just growls every so much bars. Stollenberger's flute, mixed somewhat in the background, leads the way. As if keeping the animal locked up in the guitar's amplifier enthralled with its movement and sound. The sanity in the madness. Slowly but surely the whole band takes over more and more. The flute stages a losing battle, surrounded, slowly sinking beneath the maddening crowd, about to be trampled, but seems not to be afraid of what is bound to happen. It keeps its calm and holds out, yet barely.

Under The Pines is not my average day album. Yet I have played it a few times and am surprised that it touches me. Albeit in different ways on different days, touch me it does.


You can listen to 'Effigy' here:


or listen and buy the album here:


woensdag 22 maart 2017

Long distance information ... Chuck Berry I.M. #2. Chuck and John

Earlier this week Wo. wrote down his thoughts on the passing away of Chuck Berry. Today Mark Carvell shares some memories on tv shows he watched in the past starring Chuck Berry.

I hope the blog will commemorate another major passing: Chuck Berry. I first became aware of him through The Beatles' covers on the early lps (Rock'n'roll Music, Roll Over Beethoven...) - and then there was a great BBC "in concert" TV programme in 1972 with an unknown British pick up band dong their best to keep up with him (I don't think he ever had a regular touring band). This show gets repeated every now and then because it is a great performance and he was quite a raconteur (though it does alas include sing-along-a-ding-a-ling which was his big freak hit at the time that amazingly passed the BBC censors unnoticed....).

Most of the original rock-n-rollers and bluesmen all came to London around that time to record their obligatory "London sessions" albums with the British kings of blues rock who had done so much to keep them in work. But nobody in the early 1970s was at all interested in the rock'n'roll pioneers of the fifties - except John Lennon! He did a TV show in New York in 1972 with Chuck as special guest. I have an original vinyl bootleg of course but the historic audio-visual recording is readily available these days on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULJZbNQRNgU    - They played Memphis and Johnny B. Goode and there's a great interview with Chuck and a reminder how fab, fun and relaxed John was on TV in the early 1970s - and just imagine turning up as audience member for a TV chat show and there's John Lennon playing with Chuck Berry!!!! Not long after that John did his full on fifties tribute album with a photo of him on the sleeve in a Hamburg doorway and the other Beatles running in front past him. I have stood in that very doorway of course (see attached photo)......but that is another tour in another city!

Mark Carvell

Archivo Pittoresco. Lula Pena

Bij muziek uit Portugal denk ik aan fado en dat is een genre waarin ik niet of nauwelijks thuis ben en dat ik eerlijk gezegd ook lang niet altijd kan waarderen.
Ik had dan ook nog nooit van Lula Pena gehoord toen haar nieuwe plaat Archivo Pittoresco een week of twee geleden op de mat viel.
Heel gek is dat niet, want de wat teruggetrokken levende singer-songwriter uit Lissabon is tot dusver niet erg productief en wist met haar vorige platen slechts een kleine (maar naar verluid fanatieke) groep fans aan zich te binden.
Lula Pena komt net als de fado uit Portugal, maar het is te makkelijk om te beweren dat Lula Pena een fadozangeres is. Archivo Pittoresco bevat wel invloeden uit de fado, maar bevat voornamelijk muziek die ver is verwijderd van de klassieke Portugese fado.
Archivo Pittoresco valt op door een instrumentatie die veel ingetogener en subtieler is dan in de fado gebruikelijk en ook qua vocale intensiteit laat Lula Pena zich niet vergelijken met landgenoten die vooral binnen de kaders van de fado opereren.
De vocalen op Archivo Pittoresco zijn vaak net zo ingetogen als de sobere maar zeer smaakvolle akoestische instrumentatie en ook als de emotie en weemoed het even winnen van fluisterzachte zang, zit Lula Pena dichter tegen Braziliaanse Bossa Nova zangeressen aan dan tegen de gemiddelde fado zangeres.
De Portugese singer-songwriter laat zich hiernaast nadrukkelijk beïnvloeden door Spaanse flamenco klanken en Franse chansons en maakt bovendien muziek die in de smaak moet kunnen vallen bij ruimdenkende folkies.
Uit de verhalen die ik over Lula Pena lees op het Internet, maak ik op dat vooral de teksten van de singer-songwriter uit Lissabon van een bijzonder hoog niveau zijn. Dat kan ik gezien mijn beperkte kennis van het Portugees (dat domineert op de plaat) niet beamen, maar Archivo Pittoresco klinkt door de intense voordracht van Lula Pena wel poëtischer dan de gemiddelde plaat.
Ook in muzikaal opzicht wordt de lat op Archivo Pittoresco hoger gelegd dan gebruikelijk. Het ingetogen akoestische gitaarspel is soms veelkleurig en vol, maar kan net zo makkelijk lang blijven focussen op een paar bijna minimalistische noten.
Het is absoluut een handicap dat ik geen woord versta van de teksten op de plaat, maar desondanks slaagt Archivo Pittoresco er steeds meer in om me te benevelen en betoveren. Lula Pena doet dit met zeer bescheiden middelen, maar ze sorteren een maximaal effect.
Waar ik de fado over het algemeen net wat te aanwezig en dramatisch vind, maakt Lula Pena intense en emotievolle muziek die zijn kracht ontleent aan subtiliteit. Bij eerste beluistering gaat er veel langs je heen, maar hoe vaker je de plaat hoort, hoe meer er valt te genieten op Archivo Pittoresco.
Ik zou bijna Portugees gaan leren om ook de laatste dimensie van de muziek van Lula Pena te kunnen begrijpen, maar ook zonder deze dimensie is haar nieuwe plaat van een breekbare, intense en vaak onwerkelijke schoonheid.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Pes Mou Mia Lexi':


dinsdag 21 maart 2017

Close Eyes To Exit. Klangstof

On 17 February Moss released its fifth album, 'Strike'. It happened that because of that (announced) release I found out that Moss' bass player Koen van der Wardt had left the band to pursue his own career and had already released an album called 'Close Eyes To Exit'. As good a reason as any to start listening.

What to expect? My guess was alternative/indie rock with a pop element, in other words not unlike Moss. What did I hear?

Klangstof basically is Van der Wardt who has been working on his demo's for years. After leaving Moss, as that ultimately is Marien Dorleijn's band, he worked with the two other Moss members at first, nearly splitting Moss in the process. Kruyning and Stam decided to return to the mothership, after which Van Der Wardt gathered his own musicians around him of which two come from Norway where he spent most of his teenage years.

Close Eyes To Exit starts with an instrumental called 'Doolhof'. A hum, atmospherics before more traditional sounds of a guitar enter. If anything the music can be called dreamy. A cymbal fades in, synths, a second guitar, drums. It is easy to imagine that all were already playing but the switches on the recording console were turned to zero. One after the other is turned up ever so slightly, towards a full release. No one holds back any longer. The beast is out of the cage, searching, loudly, for a way out of the "doolhof".

Is this representative for the rest of the album? No and a little yes. The dreamy quality remains, like in the singing of Koen van der Wardt. Soft voiced, not necessarily organic, but always modest is his voice of choice. As is the mood of most of this album. The music is quite minimal in large sections. 'Doolhof' in all his largesse is not exactly representative for the songs following it.

Electronics is a main part of the album. Either the sound or the atmosphere created by synthesizers. Underneath the sounds a fiery drum can be played, electric guitars are present for most of the time. Again that does not explain the whole album. There are enough songs that simply slide by. Soft of tone. Like Talking Heads without the punk, new wave and beats and Dandy Warhols without the drugs. Klangstof challenges its listeners regularly. Take 'Amansworld'. There is no common rhythm, the song jumps from one form to another. It has different melodies, yet it sort of explodes around a by then familiar theme, in whatever beat it has. I haven't a clue. The album holds pure beauty. Just listen to the instrumental parts of 'Sleaze'. 80s synths all over the place, like Soft Cell in its most beautiful song 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'. (Its best song is 'Torch'.)

So to return to Moss. Where the bands meet is in the dreamy sequences. After that both take an opposite direction. Moss aims for the perfect indie rock song. Klangstof is experimenting a lot more and that can result both in a 'Amansworld' or in a 'We Are Your Receiver', which has a chorus to lick my ears for. Earlicking good. That is not Klangstof's standard though. Concluding I have to say that I still do not really know what to make of the album. I'm hearing some great music and also hear things that I simply have a hard time interpreting. It may well be that it simply takes more time to get familiar with. The question remains whether I will make the time to do so. "I'm not ready with 'Kid A', I told a friend soon after its release, but never got around to play it again. There's simply too much music for that sort of investment. Time will tell, folks.

P.S. In the meantime I've listened again and 'Sleaze' pushed itself forward a lot harder. So who knows?


You can listen to 'We Are Your Receiver' here:


maandag 20 maart 2017

Don't. Low Hill

It's been quiet for a while on the I Have A Tiger Records front. That ended with this song. The first release by a band called Low Hill.

Low Hill is a band round Laurens Vanhulle and based in Antwerp, who gathered some musicians around himself for a new musical project. The band name is as appropriately modest as it is right for the lowlands Antwerp is situated in. Low Hill may sound modest, the music is far from once the song develops itself towards its climatic ending.

In a way the same bells go off as when I listened to 'Love When You Don't Want It' by The LVE for the first time in 2014. I'm not as short of breath as I was then, but the effect the song has on me is similar. It touches me on a deeper level. Now both bands have the same producer, Joes Brands, so that may explain some of it, but certainly not all.

'Don't' starts with a faint rhythm far off in the mix. It could have been there by mistake or coincidence. It seems so distant, so not part of the intro and atmospheric first verse and chorus. There's so much room for the singer to move around in.

It is in the second verse when a muted, rhythm guitar joins and a female voice lifting mood and song up some more. A lead guitar joins as well, there's drums. Slowly electronics emerge and psychedelic treatments of the voices make my head spin around and around. The lead guitar takes the song over and starts playing a beautiful solo. Reminding me again of the way The LVE's hit song plays itself out. Don't is able to capture me in the exact same way. The difference is in the melancholy undertone where The LVE convinced me more. That takes nothing away from Low Hill's song that is a beautiful song all by itself.

Don't is the first song to be released by Low Hill. A first glimpse of what the band is about to unleash into the world. Vanhulle has worked for two years with his companions, Emiel Rymemans, Anke Verslype, Jordan Hudson and Marlon Leue to create music on the edge of classical songwriting, electronics and neo-soul, as the band describes its music. Add to that a lot of atmospherics and playing with the mood of the listener and the combination is intriguing to want to hear more in the future.

I can't tell the future but I understand that an album is under way. Too bad that it may still be some time off.


You can listen to Don't here:


You can buy Don't here:


zondag 19 maart 2017

Chuck Berry, I.M. (1926-2017)

Chuck Berry was born as Charles Edward Anderson Berry in October 1926. In a totally different, formally segregated world. Yet he managed to change the world of rock and roll with his songs, influencing hundreds upon hundreds of white teenagers in the western world to play his songs and take it from there right onto this day.

My introduction to his music went indirectly. Being too young to know his music directly or to hear his direct influence on the beat boom coming out of England, the first time I knowingly heard a Chuck Berry rock and roll song was in the winter or early spring of 1974. I deliberately write rock and roll as I do not need to be remembered of that awful song 'My Ding-a-ling'. Somewhere I had heard Johnny Winter's blistering version of 'Johnny B. Goode' and very shortly after that Jimi Hendrix' version that a friend had on the 'In The West' live album. It more or less stayed that way for a while. I learned some more songs but never the original. Starting with 'Carol' and 'Little Queenie' on the Stones' 1970 live album. That changed with a very cheap cd around 1990 with his greatest hits. The quality was so bad and some songs were abominable live recordings. Not an invitation to learn more. That would take some more years.

I only learned how important Chuck Berry really was to the generation behind him when I viewed the picture 'Hail Hail Rock And Roll' on TV somewhere in the 90s. Keith Richards deciding to give Berry a good backing band and Chuck Berry being a total asshole all of the time. Doing his best to derail the whole venture right up to the last minute and start a song, on stage, in a different key than agreed and practised on. The music was great though. The "duckwalk" present and all.

Don't forget that other hail moment in a movie as well. In 'Back To The Future' Michael J. Fox plays a blistering version Van Halen style of Johnny B. Goode with the band of "Chuck Berry's cousin". "Chuck, listen, this may be the sound you were looking for" while his cousin holds up the phone for him to listen. The world that the movie showed us, the world where Marty McFly turns up in, is the world that Chuck Berry described and in a way gave back to the youth of America and to poorer Europe a few years later. A world of promises, full of cars, freedom, girls and Saturday nights dancing and drinking.

One of the stories I had learned in the meantime, was about the payola system of dj Alan Freedman. The other side to the glamour story, the less glamorous. Freedman's name forever is tagged to Berry's first single. The only way to get his song 'Maybelline' on the radio was to give Freedman songwriting credits. On the other hand there's a theory that the best of Chuck Berry's songs were at least co-written by his pianist Johnnie Johnson. Most songs are in chord progressions that are illogical for the guitar, not for the piano. As young men like Brian Wilson put a new lyric over what basically is a Chuck Berry song. 'Surfin' USA' holds the name Berry next to Wilson for some time now.

For people my age a party with a live band is not complete without at least one Chuck Berry song on the setlist. Mostly because of the versions by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and all those other bands that played and recorded his songs in the early to mid 60s. Fact is that it is a good question whether The Rolling Stones would ever have become this band if Mick Jagger did not have an import Chuck Berry (and Muddy Waters) album under his arm at that fateful meeting on Dartford's railway station. Something bonded there that changed the face of rock and roll. Right up to this day that bond is intact. When I practice with my band, the biggest smiles always come out when we've played 'Johnny B. Goode'. It just makes us feel sooo good.

Chuck Berry has been in contact with the law many times, served jailtime and in general seems not to have been a very nice person. At the same time he was a family man, married for nearly 70 years. Never judge a book by the cover. Yet, all this is inconsequential to his legacy as one of the people who shaped modern music.

On his 90th birthday he announced a new record called 'Chuck'. His first since 1979. Sadly it will be released posthumously. For now let us hail hail rock and roll, as his music will live forever and inspire many people over the years to come. People who start playing guitar and learn rock riffs will always learn a few of or based on his.


You can listen to 'Johnny B. Goode' here: