dinsdag 31 oktober 2017

This Leo Sunrise, Moon Moon Moon, Lost Bear live. Saturday 28 October 2017, Vondelbunker Amsterdam

This Leo Sunrise. Photo: Wo.
Those following this blog have noticed how the releases of the independent label Tiny Room Records have found their way to these pages over the past year. Three acts of the label played a show together at one of the most unlikely venues I have ever visited, a former air raid shelter under the bridge crossing the Vondelpark. In this Vondelbunker shows of all kinds are organised by people who are always strapped for cash to keep the initiative going.

This Leo Sunrise
opened the evening. This isn't the best band I've ever saw, nor does the band have the best singer I know, but what it is extremely good at, is creating a special atmosphere and build up its songs with these little layers, that makes the initial mood shift into a next. Texture is added and an inner tension is brought into the music that is searching for a release. This often comes in the form of a violin, that takes on the lead role in the tightly playing band. I notice that this band holds some fine musicians that have the ability to hold back and release at the right times, without egos getting in the way. With her harmonies violin player Violet Meerdink adds a little angel dust to the music, giving it just this little extra. This Leo Sunrise plays on a thin line where I am concerned, but more often than not I find myself moving with the changes and being surprised where I find myself next. Often with a smile on my face. Intriguing band, to say the least.

Moon Moon Moon. Photo: wo.
Moon Moon Moon
is the bedroom project of  Mark Lohmann, where he does everything by himself. On stage this setting is not an option. Where I expected to find Mark behind a stash of things with keys and musicians around him doing the rest, I am introduced to a guitarist fronting a five piece band. His project is brought to the stage ever more, especially now that Moon Moon Moon is part of the Popronde. It is one thing to make music in your bedroom and quite another to present it on a stage. It is here where the five piece still have some meters to make. With the songs they had me before the show started, the next step is to perform them. Each of the five musicians has the ability to play. In fact I was quite impressed by what I heard in some of the songs and I haven't even started on the harmony singing four of the five bandmembers indulge in. An audience, however, may appear as a large entity, even a mass of people, in fact each person is an individual and that individual needs to be convinced that you are playing for her or him only. That is the challenge Moon Moon Moon faces now: to perform. Manage that and even during the quietest of songs people will remain silent. What was good to hear, is that the lo-fi recorded songs, with a strong dependency on atmosphere and noise, get a fine treatment in a hi-fi live setting, where they all come alive in well worked out arrangements. As I wrote, five fine musicians are on their way to become a band.

Lost Bear. Photo: Wo.
Lost Bear
is a band that is together for nine years and it showed. The band rocked out, (too) loud and to me proved that they can open for any Pearl Jam show where ever in the world. With a fantastically tight drummer and two guitarists who supported and enlarged each other's contributions, it was the bass player who was allowed to be the loosest of the bunch. Add to that a singer who creates some chaos in different ways: not knowing his lyrics, walk around looking like a raving lunatic, drink lots of beer, knocking the still filled bottles over over, while wringing sounds from himself, reading the lyrics from the inner sleeve of the LP someone hastily handed him. Lost Bear is a sight to see as well. The music seemed to get better by the song and just like its albums the music could go off in several directions, with hardly any pause or even none. Just some lingering feedback and the next song started, hardly giving me time to pause and think about what I was seeing and hearing. When somewhere during the show it was mentioned that the singer was leaving the band, I understood immediately this was bad news. This was not because he couldn't remember his lyrics, that much was clear. Afterwards I was told that Lost Bear has 200 (!) songs in need of finishing. A pool for a lifetime for most artists.

It was an interesting evening in the Vondelbunker, with three bands in total different stages of their development, but all three with, equally different, music deserving to be heard. Do not expect, dear reader, to have heard the last of Tiny Room Records releases on this blog. Expect the last one of 2017 in the coming month, by Garciaphone and we will all be surprised in 2018.

And the Vondelbunker. Yes, it is the weirdest venue I have ever gone to. The toilets are jammed, the Dixies outside are dark, but the beer was cold, the quality of the sound system in combination with the acoustics was a lot better than I had expected. Thanks to a person who was constantly working on the sound from his iPad. Once upon a time this must have been a squatters venue and it looks like the last remnants of the era are still lingering around. Make no mistake, I felt very welcome as a first timer. If you like to know more on the Vondelbunker, see here:


On the releases on Tiny Room Records, see here:


maandag 30 oktober 2017

Hinges Of Luck. Douglas Firs

Douglas Firs entered this blog with a review by Erwin Zijleman, after which the band was followed through the years. With Hinges Of Luck we celebrate the release of the band's third album.

As things often go with bands, the album one is first introduced to remains the favourite one; if that album was a great one. To my recollection 'Shimmer And Glow' was just that. That proposition rang true for the second album, 'The Long Answer I No'. It is time to see how Hinges Of Luck fares.

The album follows a trend I see more often these days. It starts with an 'Intro'. A nondescript soundscape of the kind that is reviewed on these pages when 'Kairos' is reviewed. Here the moody piece last only 45 seconds, before another moody song starts. Bare, empty. A drum, incidental bass notes and a faint organ. And then one, two and more guitars kick in. 'The Both Of Us' nearly derails before all the noise is taken out and we are back at the beginning. Who listens closer notices the differences though. The bass and drums have switched ear. A small joke Douglas Firs allows itself and its more attentive listeners, before all hell breaks loose once again. It is that Gertjan Van Hellemont doesn't have a rougher voice, otherwise my ears might have been bleeding while listening on my headset.

Together with Sem Van Hellemont on piano, Simon Cazier on bass and Cristoph Claeys on drums, Gent based Van Hellemont makes up Douglas Firs. Like all Belgian musicians they play in (a few) other bands as well.

After the partial onslaught of 'The Both Of Us' Douglas Firs takes the mood down. Songs become more sensitive and Van Hellomont's voice goes up considerably when needed to get that extra effect. '45 Days' may be a neat song, where everything stays firmly between the lines, it holds an inner beauty that makes it a different song because of this. In songs like this and 'Too Much & Too Fast' I'm remembered of the slower songs of Neil Young. From there it is a small step to the early works of Tim Knol. The early synthesizer of ELP's 'Lucky Man' may be added, it adds an estranging layer at best.

When the next song could have been a David Crosby song of recent years, as well as one of Neil Young's most quiet ones, it becomes clear that Gertjan Van Hellemont plays no games of hide and seek with his influences. 'The Waiting Around' is over before I know it. It holds beauty yet it hasn't convinced me personally yet, because it is so obvious where this is coming from.

By then I am six songs into Hinges Of Luck and I'm happy that with 'Hannah' the tempo goes up a bit. I was in for a different pace by then. Hinges Of Luck is an album that I have to be in the mood for. There are days I simply do not reach the other side. On other days the album sucks me in and I follow the four piano notes in 'Hannah' like manna falling from the sky. "Hannah doesn't live here any more", with 'Judy' a lot more is going on. A Dylan song with a very modern sound, my brain tells me, but not the best song on the album. It seems more effect than composition.

By then I have moved into the second half of Hinges Of Luck. The part that made me wonder whether I should write a review at all. With a song like 'Undercover Lovers' it's as if the music eludes me, makes it unable for me to get a grip on it, while something tells me I could like it if I could get the right hold. Like with some songs of Broken Bells. There is a song somewhere behind what I'm hearing foremost, that I could like.

The label tells us that Hinges Of Luck is Douglas Firs' best album too date. After several listening sessions I'm still not convinced. The jazzy title song e.g. also disappears somewhere behind experimental sounds and arrangements. This one is just not for me. It does seem to hint at a new direction Douglas Firs is moving into. Tom Waits without the extremities coupled with the singing and harmonising of Neil Young, like in 'A Long Time Ago'. The band comes back to my good side here. And ends there with the beautifully played acoustic guitar of the final song 'Montréal'.

So all in all Hinges Of Luck holds a lot of beauty, but some of it just doesn't reach me in the spots where beauty has to arrive for me. I will admit to the fact that this album is a large jump away from the previous album, 'The Long Answer Is No'. Douglas Firs dares to dive off the deep end and deserves credits for that, even if not all is received well by me (at this point in time).


You can liste to 'Undercover Lovers' here:


Buy Hinges Of Luck here:


zondag 29 oktober 2017

All I Ever See In You Is Me. Jillette Johnson

Al weer bijna vier jaar geleden debuteerde de Amerikaanse singer-songwriter Jillette Johnson met Water In A Whale.
Ik was diep onder de indruk van de eerste plaat van de jonge singer-songwriter uit New York, maar het debuut van Jillette Johnson wist Nederland helaas niet te bereiken en was op dat moment ook niet beschikbaar via streaming diensten als Spotify en Apple Music, waardoor het talent van de Amerikaanse in Nederland niet werd opgemerkt.
Ook de tweede plaat van Jillette Johnson krijgt in Nederland vooralsnog niet veel aandacht, maar dat gaat ongetwijfeld veranderen wanneer de plaat in september ook hier in de winkels ligt.
Op All I Ever See In You Is Me zet Jillette Johnson immers een enorme stap voorwaarts en schaart ze zich definitief onder de smaakmakers in het genre van de vrouwelijke singer-songwriters.
Voor de productie van haar tweede plaat wist de singer-songwriter uit New York niemand minder dan Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell) te strikken en dat is een uitstekende keuze geweest. De gelouterde producer uit Nashville, die de afgelopen jaren meerdere jaarlijstjesplaten produceerde, heeft de tweede plaat van Jillette Johnson voorzien van een tijdloos geluid dat perfect past bij haar mooie en veelzijdige stem.
De Amerikaanse singer-songwriter werd in de recensies van haar zo indrukwekkende debuut vergeleken met grootheden als Carole King, Kate Bush, Tori Amos en vooral Laura Nyro, maar verrast op All I Ever See In You Is Me met een geluid dat nog veel meer associaties oproept, maar ook het eigen Jillette Johnson geluid laat horen.
All I Ever See In You Is Me is voorzien van een zeer ingetogen geluid, waarin de piano van Jillette Johnson de hoofdrol speelt. Vanwege de combinatie van piano en zang roept de tweede plaat van de Amerikaanse uiteraard associaties op met de grote vrouwelijke singer-songwriters uit de jaren 70 (met name Carole King en Laura Nyro), maar All I Ever See In You Is Me herinnert ook aan de tijdloze pop van Fleetwood Mac en aan de misschien net wat te zoetsappige country van Dolly Parton.
Meer dan het debuut roept de tweede plaat van Jillette Johnson bij mij echter ook associaties op met de intieme popmuziek van Natalie Merchant, met de avontuurlijke pianopop van Regina Spektor en bij vlagen ook met de melancholische muziek van Fiona Apple. Door het vleugje Lana Del Rey en Vanessa Carlton krijgt All I Ever See In You Is Me ook een voorzichtig eigentijds tintje, maar de tweede plaat van Jillette Johnson is uiteindelijk toch vooral een klassieke singer-songwriter plaat.
In dat genre moet de Amerikaanse concurreren met flink wat getalenteerde soortgenoten en opboksen tegen de groten uit het verleden, maar All I Ever See In You Is Me kan de strijd als je het mij vraagt aan.
In muzikaal en productioneel opzicht klopt alles en ook in vocaal opzicht maakt Jillette Johnson nog meer indruk dan op haar debuut. Het zijn echter vooral de uitstekende songs en de persoonlijke teksten die de plaat naar grote hoogten tillen. Ik schrijf hem alvast op voor mijn jaarlijstje, want Jillette Johnson doet alles waar ik een zwak voor heb. En ze doet het echt verdomd goed.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier 

zaterdag 28 oktober 2017

Colors. Beck

Beck is one of those artists that over the past quarter of a century always received favourable reviews from critics. Somehow the man never reached me. From the horrible 'Loser' to whatever came after, I never truly heard something that enticed me listen to his music. For reasons unknown to me that changed with 'Morning Phase' (read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2014/03/morning-phase-beck.html). Come 2017 and I at least await Colors with a favourable ear.

From interviews in the past I understood that his record company allowed Beck to basically do whatever he liked; and he did. Very different albums saw the light of day. That is no different for Colors. Upbeat pop and dance is what the clock strikes in the fall of 2017. 'Sussudio' all over again it seems, with just a lighter, less Michael Jackson touch, than in Phil Collins' hit from the mid 80s. Beck creates the lightests of moods possible. The fun element is so high my dental enamel is in danger of bursting with all the catastrophic results imaginable to go.

Having lived in 'The Seventh Heaven' for several years in the 80s and having been responsible for the music on the parties we held there in the common room, I think I'm an expert on fun songs with an 80s vibe.

There's not a song on Colors that could pass for an 80s song. For that the songs are to powerful and organic in sound. The songs hold sounds and elements from the gloomy age, the light in them are like the purest pop songs from the 60s. That is where Colors succeeds for 100%. It seems to celebrate life, to celebrate 'I'm So Free' and all the good things that come with it. Somewhere I read that Beck said that it is far easier to write sad songs. The search for the happy sounding songs worked quite well actually.

Together with ex-bandmember and now quite famous producer Greg Kurstin Beck made this album. Among them they played nearly all the instruments on Colors. Listening a little better to the album I spot some similarities to what Danger Mouse does with James Mercer as Broken Bells, with Danger Mouse being a former producer of Beck. The latter wins where keeping the happy mood is concerned though.

What Colors excels in, is mixing the soul/disco sound of the 70s with alternative pop and rock. The drums, bass and guitars behind the disco guitar and rhythms make for an interesting hybrid that works really well. Time doesn't seem to get a grip on Beck Hansen from the photo's, that could be nicely shopped of course. Somehow like Thurston Moore until fairly recently, the boylike face remains young and smooth. It makes the music so much easier to believe in. "Dreams, she's making me high", Beck sings in 'Dreams'. With its typical 80s synth sound and upbeat feel no substance of any sort, legal or illegal, is needed to get into the state mentioned in the song.

The hip hop part of the album, 'Wow', could have been left out as far as I'm concerned. It's a song like this that makes the album just too long for me. 'Up All Night' makes up instantly. The Madchester rhythm is tight, fun and so danceable. Followed by a (sort of) ballad called 'Square One'. It all ends with 'Fix Me'. Another beautiful ballad in which Beck sets himself free. Fix Me? Sorry Mr. Hansen, but with an album like this, there seems to be no need for fixing anything if it ain't broke.

Beck is able to keep up the mood right up to the end and that leads me to the conclusion that I have two Beck albums I like on my side. It seems miracles have not left this world after all.


You can listen to 'Up All Night' here:


vrijdag 27 oktober 2017

ISON. Sevdaliza

ISON van de Iraans-Nederlandse zangeres en kunstenares Sevdaliza (Sevda Alizadeh) verscheen een aantal maanden geleden al, maar is me toen echt compleet ontgaan, net als de EP’s die ze de afgelopen jaren heeft uitgebracht.
Omdat de plaat ter ere van de release op vinyl een week of twee geleden, de afgelopen weken nogmaals de hemel in werd geprezen, ben ik eindelijk maar eens gaan luisteren naar het debuut van Sevdaliza en wat is het een bijzondere en fascinerende plaat.
Daar zijn ze inmiddels ook ver buiten de Nederlandse landsgrenzen achter, want zelfs het invloedrijke Pitchfork heeft het debuut van Sevdaliza inmiddels overladen met superlatieven.
Daar valt echt helemaal niets op af te dingen, want Sevdaliza maakt bijzondere, nee unieke muziek. Het is muziek die tot dusver vooral het etiket triphop krijgt opgeplakt. Daar valt wel wat voor te zeggen, want de bijzondere instrumentatie op de plaat en de lome ritmes doen wel wat denken aan de muziek waarmee Portishead in de jaren 90 zoveel opzien baarde.
Als ik ISON vergelijk met het legendarische debuut van Portishead, valt op dat Sevdaliza haar debuut heeft voorzien van een moderner en gevarieerder geluid dan Portishead destijds deed. Het elektronische klankentapijt op ISON is zwaar aangezet en valt op door loodzware ritmes. Het is een behoorlijk experimenteel geluid, dat zeker bij eerste beluistering veel vraagt van de luisteraar.
Het geluid op het debuut van Sevdaliza is aan de ene kant zwaar aangezet, maar klinkt ook ruimtelijk. Het is een geluid dat uiteindelijk volledig in dienst staat van het fascinerende stemgeluid van Sevdaliza, die net zo doorleefd kan zingen als Portishead zangeres Beth Gibbons, maar ook moeiteloos kan opschuiven richting de moderne elektronische muziek of richting muziek die met enige fantasie in het hokje avant garde kan worden geduwd.
ISON is zoals gezegd een plaat die in eerste instantie veel vraagt van de luisteraar, maar na enige gewenning komt de plaat op fascinerende wijze tot leven. De fascinerende instrumentatie van Sevdaliza en producer Mucky zit vol dynamiek, avontuur en toverkracht. Wat het ene moment loodzwaar klinkt, kan het volgende moment opvallend lichtvoetig klinken, wat van ISON een vat vol tegenstrijdigheden maakt.
Het ene moment luister je naar loodzware beats of vervreemdende elektronische klanken, het volgende moment naar een aangenaam kabbelende piano en honingzoete strijkers. De bijzondere stem van Sevdaliza voegt alleen maar tegenstrijdigheden toe aan deze geweldige plaat. De Iraans-Nederlandse zangeres gebruikt haar stem op bijzondere wijze als instrument en kan zowel puur en eerlijk zingen als betoveren met zwaar vervormde stemmetjes.
Bij eerste beluistering is er op ISON zoveel te horen dat het je soms duizelt, maar hoe vaker je de plaat hoort, hoe meer er op zijn plek valt. Sevdaliza maakt het je zeker niet altijd makkelijk op ISON, maar staat ook garant voor songs die je afwisselend compleet van je sokken blazen of zwoel verleiden. Het levert een luistertrip op die qua avontuur en intensiteit niet vaak zal worden overtroffen dit jaar. Dat de plaat inmiddels wereldwijd wordt bejubeld is dan ook volkomen terecht.
Ik begrijp eerlijk gezegd niet waarom ik de plaat zelf eerder dit jaar heb gemist, want als je zoekt naar het debuut van Sevdaliza is de plaat opeens overal. Belangrijker is dat ik de plaat nu wel heb ontdekt, want ISON van Sevdaliza zal, wanneer aan het eind van het jaar de balans wordt opgemaakt, er een zijn die je echt niet mag missen.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier ISON in zijn geheel beluisteren:


donderdag 26 oktober 2017

Swell To Great. Modern Studies

Every once in a while an album comes by that has to be approached with veneration. An album as solemn as a mass in church. Swell To Great is such an album. Modern Studies is a kind of band that seems to be on this planet to send a message from the point of view that a joke or a laugh could break the spell of the message that is sent. Like the very first singers repeated folklore through verse and the history of the tribe. It was not about the melody but about the verses and the content.

This introduction I had written before I started to read up on the band, that I had never heard from before. At least this time it was not my inadequate knowledge of music, Swell To Great is Modern Studies' first album, by musicians that had played in other bands (together). It was the story around the album that brings my opening of this post in a somewhat more interesting context.

The "founding member" of the band is an old church harmonium from Northern Ireland that found its way to Scotland and the centre duo of Modern Studies, Emily Scott and Rob St. John. Anyone listening to Swell To Great can only but notice the centre sound of it: the Victorian harmonium. Around it several of the songs were written and arranged. In fact the album title comes from one of the sound options the harmonium offers: swell to great. In combination with a cello the mood is set.

A harmonium is the poor church's organ. Calvinists had one in their homes when I was a child to sing church hymns on. That explains the sound of the album. It's solemn, serious and supposed to aid people in thinking about their lives and contemplating their sins. It is exactly the sound Swell To Great offers; in parts of the album.

Promo photo by Paul Marr
Not all is 19th century. The basis of Swell To Great is folk music of old. As such it's only the starting point. Modern Studies, 'in folk music' I'm of mind to add, starts working from there. Scott and St. John, together with Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie, create an atmosphere that has many modern elements woven into tradition of old. Through the use of tapes an atmosphere is created that I hear regularly in Kairos, .No's radio show, with the difference that here at the heart of a song is a song and a (vocal) melody. From there a world is presented that is almost beyond music and could be anything, mythical, mysterious, cold and warm at the same time, like a hallucination during a high fever. Like a river in a rustic landscape covered with mist, cutting the river and the sky in two.

In other songs the past is left for what it is and Modern Studies proves to come up with a modern pop oriented folk song. 'Bottle Green' and 'Divebombing' are two very successful examples of this approach. The singing by either Emily Scott or Rob St. John is always subdued, the setting in which they sing makes it (even) more serious. It then happens that an instrumental like 'The Sea Horizon', besides reminding me instantly of a beautiful painting and album cover ('Maggie Brown') by Gerhard Richter, makes me think of the folk side of Pink Floyd on 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Echoes'.

The more I listen to Swell To Great the more sides to the band I start to notice. There is simply not one story to this album. There are several. Modern Studies has different faces that it plays well off. It would be going too far to state that Modern Studies is unique, but the band has carved out a little piece of something for itself that certainly makes it stand out. I have to be in the mood to listen to the music or bring myself into the mood while listening and then it happens. Once I've reached that state my brain swells with the music. Special Swell To Great certainly is.


You can listen to and buy Swell To Great here:


woensdag 25 oktober 2017

Jen Cloher. Jen Cloher (2)

At the beginning of this year I had told myself not to double reviews of the same record. I am about to break this unofficial rule. Not once but twice. Simply because I think these records are too good to pass by. So here is Jen Cloher following my review of Soup's fantastic album 'Remedies' (Read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2017/10/remedies-soup-2.html).

Jen Cloher is from Melbourne, Australia and married to Courtney Barnett, who plays guitar on the whole album. I can only hope that Ms. Barnett is not the jealous kind, because it is her partner who has made the best album so far. She released several albums before this one, but they all passed me by. Things start here for me.

Jen Cloher is not one to keep her influences hidden. In general it is an obvious conclusion that on Jen Cloher alternative rock is her mainstay area. More specific the nihilistic rhythms of The Velvet Underground and the deadly vocals of Lou Reed are the basis the album is built on. So the couple Barnett-Cloher are fishing in the same pond musically, with Cloher being the more direct of the two.

The opening of the album is a very decent song, 'Forgot Myself'. It is with the second song. 'Analysis Paralysis', that I really started to prick up my ears. The Velvets are all over the song and competing with the 60s band's best up-tempo songs with ease. While the drums just go on and on in a 'What Goes On' fashion, the guitars go for it. Each in one of my ears. One chugging a rhythm, the other adding solo notes and going crazy in the solo, that is squirming within the boundaries of the chord progression and taking a peek outside here and there to see what happens. Near 8 minutes and not one second too many.

The voice of Jen Cloher goes from Lou Reed's style to her own. Every once in a while she can't help to soften her voice and even let a few emotions in. Taking the song on a trip that the guitars end. A third guitar enters the whole and well, what can I say. It brakes all the rules, yet adds to the fun. 'Analysis Paralysis' is a great song, that sets Jen Cloher firmly within my musical world.

After this onslaught the mood mellows out considerably. The artist shows a totally other side to herself, with songs that could be called alternative ballads. A soft chugging guitar, a few solo notes, a modest bass guitar and a drum that plays loudest of all. Over it she sings with a voice edging towards a whisper. Lou Doillon comes to mind here. Soft, mellow and bursting at the seams with quality, 'Regional Echo' is. The song that follows is even softer, as an acoustic guitar enters the scene. 'Sensory Memory' is about a relationship with someone at a distance, a touring musician. Now both are touring musicians, so the question whether this is autobiographical may not have to be asked. Slowly the song expands and grows bigger with little additions and counter melodies, where slowly a little madness creeps in. I have no way of telling who is playing what at this point in time, but one of the guitarists is Courtney Barnett and I have a better knowledge of her songs up to now.

The rock side of Jen Cloher returns with 'Shoegazers' which again addresses the life of touring musicians and breakthroughs. "It's got nothing to do with making music". Even my lot, the critic, is addressed when Jen Cloher fears to be forgotten tomorrow. Not so fast, Ms. Cloher, I have only just discovered you. Again the song explodes in an oh so pleasant way. No straight lines in sight, guitars holler and moan and move towards the exit with a dark, staggering sound.

With 'Strong Woman' the most recognisable song so far starts. Like so many of the alternative rock girlbands of the 10s. Again Jen Cloher kicks in the peddle in the choruses. The guitars are allowed to drift out of the song. Feedback is barely kept in its cage. These musicians are clearly having fun and giving it their all to make 'Strong Woman' a success.

Moving into the second half of the album the atmosphere is now familiar. Still the album surprises with a more bare rocksong like 'Great Australian Bite'. More harsh, but also more elementary. There are no frills to make things prettier than they are. No not the choir either. It adds to the darkness of the song, that lets through less and less light and openness.

The acoustic guitar that follows in 'Loose Magic' is a relief. Jen Cloher is at its softest. The mood keeps going up and down until the very last note of the album. Jen Cloher is not afraid to sound soft but is neither afraid of opening the floodgates of her mind and let it all hurtle out, conscious, unconscious and everything in between. Her music takes on many forms and guises with one constant factor: so far I think Jen Cloher contains pretty sensational music.


You can listen to and buy Jen Cloher here:


dinsdag 24 oktober 2017

All The Things I Used To Love. Cecilia

This summer I visited the studio of the Italian band Bongley Dead. I was presented a cd with the words "you do not need to write about it". Well, I listened to it and decided to do so anyway.

Cecilia Pellegrini in 2017 joined Bongley Dead, but is a singer-songwriter in her own right. So let's take a closer look at her self-released album. It was released two years ago this week, but it is time the world gets to know the mini-album a bit better.

The cover art of All The Things I Used To Love is like the cover of a children's novel. A dream of making music on the top of a roof, with a cat or to fly to the moon with a rocket that looks like a proper rocket, like Tin Tin's. There is a nice similarity with the music on the album. Cecilia presents her listeners with dreamy, perhaps even a bit naive songs, in the best possible meaning of the word. They are beautiful, ever so smooth and she has that little edge to her voice that all lady singers from Italy (that I know of) seem to have. And no, the music has nothing to do with the music of Bongley Dead.

Having heard Cecilia sing two of her songs live in the studio of Bongley Dead, solo with just a guitar, I was already impressed. Listening to what she is capable of on record, another dimension opens itself. Whether alone on her guitar, as in '1971' or with a band and a leading piano, 'Pareto Improvement', it is Cecilia who is in control of the song and the whole. Singing softly to the listener, in English or Italian, she takes us on a short ride. A ride through her musical universe.

Yes, I can totally imagine the two year old son of Federico (bass player in Bongley Dead) singing "toot toot" the whole day in the back of the car, at home and in bed before he falls asleep. The song has a jazzy undertone, a Paolo Conte style piano playing, but above all the toot toot chorus that is so easy to pick up for someone who does not have a lot of language yet. Federico give him the cd and he will probably take it with him his whole life, like I have taken 'Hello Mary Lou' ("Lou Lou") with me on mine since my 1st birthday. 'In Quale Posto I Meteoritti Vanno', "The Toot Toot Song" as it may be better known, is a beautiful song in its own right.

Cecilia, summer 2017. Photo by Wo.
One of the highlights of this mini album is the best song Suzanne Vega never wrote. 'Pareto Improvement' is driven by a strong piano riff and a jazzy rhythm behind. The drummer is not afraid to hit the snare hard, to give this fragile song a oomph, a strong backbone. I like this song so much, that it is hard to imagine that, just like the best songs of Bongley Dead, it is heard by so little people.

By now I am in the mood that Cecilia wants me to be in. She takes it down, to more modest atmospheres without losing sight of the beauty of her songs. The upbeat 'A Thousand Miles Away' that takes us to the moon and see millions of constellations from there accompanied by the accordion player on the roof. The more solemn and serious 'Lovesong 27' takes the mood further to quieter music until the album ends with the small 'Lullaby (For All The Things I Did)', which makes the circle round for this album.

All The Things I Used To Love is only six songs long. Six songs in which Cecilia shows the world her huge talents. Six songs in which the mood is dreamy, laidback. Six songs that were given a lot of attention through intricate arrangements, in which with the modest means available the most is made of them. Anyone who loves singer-songwriters that try to move beyond elementary presentations would short sell him/herself to not listen to this exquisite mini album. An Italian talent presents itself in a near perfect way. Go on, try it out with the link provided below.

You can listen to All The Things I Used To Love here:


maandag 23 oktober 2017

Weight_Falls. Kim Churchill

Yes, people, Jack Johnson is not the only surfer dude to write and play songs on an acoustic guitar. Kim Churchill from Australia is another one. Having seen him play in the Q-Bus in Leiden a few years back was an experience. Not just a singer-songwriter, no, far from that. Percussion on the floor and around his feet, loops that were built and sonic storms racing through connected stomp boxes, together created A performance. A rhythmic wonder Kim Churchill on stage is. So many things are happening at the same time, all made up on the spot or at least so it seems, that two ears at times simply were not enough to catch all the effects.

Come 2017, come Weight_Falls. This latest treasure trove of songs is his fifth album since releasing his debut, 'With Sword And Shield' in 2010. For me things Kim Churchill started with his 2014 album, 'Silence/Win'. An album that in my review called Sheeran, Howard, Hozier and Churchill I compared favourably to the at the time latest albums of the other names mentioned (read here: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6022018216922190253#editor/target=post;postID=5836037832821262641;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=1;src=postname).

Weight_Falls again is an album where Kim Churchill at heart is a singer-songwriter disguising the fact behind modern rhythms and a full band sound. Rhythms that can be handclapped or played on percussion and drums or from more modern digital sources. His guitarplaying always supports the rhythm, perhaps with a frivolous note or note pattern, rhythmic it is. When this effect is turned into a song like 'Heart Of You', I appreciate the effect certainly a lot less. It gets a little to Coldplay-y to my taste. His voice can do a Chris Martin easily too, yet Churchill will never overdo it and remains himself.

This rhythmic fact makes the music of Kim Churchill somewhat unique. I can't say that there is a Kim Churchill sound, but without a doubt he creates something that I do not hear too often. Where all these elements really come together is in the song 'Second Hand Car'. The kind of song that will really work well on stage. The kind of song Churchill excels in.

The thing that he excels in is also his pitfall. The performance is so extremely strong that the quality of the songs is noticed only when alone with the music at home. Not every song is as strong as the performance of the song. Having said that, as I wrote in the past, I rather listen to these songs than to Ed Sheeran's on any given day.

Forced to choose I would always choose the live show above the record. On stage Kim Churchill is a sensation. So if you have the chance go out and see him... Weight_Falls is a fair and certainly decent alternative and holds enough good songs to justify multiple listening sessions over time. Finally it is worth noting that Kim Churchill is not out to please in an easy way. This makes the album grow a little again, because when it gets down to it, it certainly does please.


zondag 22 oktober 2017

Dragonfly. Kasey Chambers

Kasey Chambers bracht de eerste negen jaar van haar leven heel ver van de bewoonde wereld door. Haar ouders probeerden in Australië te (over)leven van de jacht en visserij en deden dit op plekken die destijds nog volledig waren afgesloten van de moderne tijd (niet altijd te verwarren met beschaving).
De jonge Kasey Chambers zat ’s avonds daarom niet voor de buis, maar zong met haar ouders countryklassiekers bij het kampvuur. Het zorgde voor een diepe liefde voor de muziek en met name de country, waardoor een carrière als muzikant voor de hand lag toen Kasey Chambers eenmaal op eigen benen stond.
Die carrière kreeg in 2000 een vliegende start met haar debuut The Captain. De plaat werd enthousiast ontvangen in haar vaderland, maar kreeg ook in Europa en de Verenigde Staten voet aan de grond. Kasey Chambers zag haar meisjesdromen uit komen toen ze toerde met Lucinda Wiliams en Emmylou Harris en wist het succes van haar debuut te overtreffen met het briljante Barricades & Brickwalls, dat ik persoonlijk schaar onder de (alt)country klassiekers.
Na de release van het al bijna even goede Wayward Angel in 2004 leek een plekje tussen de groten van de alt-country verzekerd, maar sindsdien verloopt de carrière van Kasey Chambers helaas wat moeizamer. Kasey Chambers verdeelde haar tijd tussen soloplaten en platen die ze maakte met haar echtgenoot Shane Nicholson. Die laatste waren prachtig, maar de soloplaten helaas een stuk minder dan haar eerste drie platen.
Pas op het in 2015 verschenen Bittersweet kwam Kasey Chambers weer in de buurt van het niveau van haar eerste drie soloplaten en nu is dan eindelijk Dragonfly in Nederland verschenen (zes maanden na de oorspronkelijke release in Australië en de VS).
Dragonfly is een dubbelalbum en bevat maar liefst 80 minuten muziek. Het is muziek die goed laat horen waartoe Kasey Chambers in staat is. Haar sterkste wapen is nog altijd haar stem en het is een stem die gemaakt lijkt voor de country. Kasey Chambers zingt met veel emotie en heeft een heerlijke snik in haar stem. Daar is lang niet iedereen gek op, maar ik smelt nog altijd voor de stem van de Australische singer-songwriter, die de emotie weer uit haar tenen haalt.
Op de eerste helft van de plaat werkt Kasey Chambers samen met de Australische singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, die zorgt voor een wat traditioneler of een opvallend bezwerend geluid. Op de tweede helft werkt de Australische weer eens samen met haar broer Nash en dat is een combinatie die nog altijd uitstekend werkt.
Dragonfly is een zeer gevarieerde countryplaat met ingetogen en meer uptempo tracks en met traditioneel aandoende muziek en tracks die eerder tot de alternatieve country moeten worden gerekend. De songs zijn stuk voor stuk uitstekend en ook de muzikanten op de plaat leveren uitstekend werk, maar het is ook dit keer de stem van Kasey Chambers die het meeste effect sorteert.
Het Kasey Chambers effect leek na drie geweldige platen een beetje uitgewerkt, maar met Dragonfly laat ze horen dat ze nog steeds behoord tot de allerbesten in het genre.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Satellite':


zaterdag 21 oktober 2017

Gordon Downie (1964 - 2017)

One of the most typical voices in rock music was silenced on 17 October. Yesterday morning the first song I heard on the radio after my girlfriend turned it on before she goes to work in the morning was 'New Orleans Is Sinking', my favourite song of The Tragically Hip. Gordon Downie had died, was my thought. Never before had I heard a song of The Hip on Dutch radio, so it had to be.

When the band released its last record the story was that Downie had an incurable form of brain cancer and would die in the foreseeable future. That future was over one year later.

The Tragically Hip came into my life with its fourth album, 'Fully Completely', holding that special phrase for Dutchmen like myself: "I remember Buffalo, I remember Hengelo", from 'The Houndredth Meridian'. Searching back in time, immediately I found 'Road Apples' and 'Up To Here', the albums that to this day remain my two favourite TTH albums. Everything seemed to come together here, an intensity they never truly found again. From 'Day After Night', my fourth The Hip album, onwards the band started to play softer songs until I lost interest later on in the decade. Later in the 00s the albums became better again, but it just wasn't the same any more.

Live was a different matter. The band always went the little extra and Downie was a derwish on stage. Moving like he was twisting himself inside out, casting spells with his hands and arms, mesmerizing himself and his audience, while the band around him stoked up the fire ever higher. Always bass player Gord Sinclair caught my ear. His playing fills every hole there is to fill and take little leads here and there as well. I was lucky to have seen the band twice. Once in Amsterdam in the 90s and once in Utrecht in the 00s.

This band was such a sensation live that I never understood that it coudn't make that last jump to the larger venues. The music was there, the passion and the intensity of the shows. This band gave it their all and somehow that was not enough.

From day one the band played in the same line up and the members must have been real friends. Now that one pillar and probably an irreplaceable one has fallen, I do not see how they can continue or even want to. Time will tell.

For now I take out my 'Up To Here' copy and play that greatest of The Hip songs 'New Orleans Is sinking' in tribute.


You can listen to 'The Hundreth Meridian' in Hengelo here:


vrijdag 20 oktober 2017

Remedies. Soup (2)

This spring Erwin Zijleman wrote a review of Remedies on this Blog (read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2017/05/remedies-soup.html). I was so intrigued by the cover, more than by the review, that I started to listen. I came close to being swept off my feet. Next I ordered the album online, as LP of course, as I fully wanted to enjoy the artwork. It never came. Instead I went to the label in Germany and received it within days. The artwork just goes on and on as it does with the three song EP I also ordered. Sleeves may have been put on walls, but this album cover can go to musea for modern art straight away. Lasse Hoile is an amazing artist. But what about the music? Let me get to that. First things first.

One of the most impressive pieces of natural art I have ever seen are in the middle of the Australian continent: Ayers Rock and the Olga's. These two rock formations can stand as an example of the music on Remedies. There are parts on the album that are totally monolithic, while other parts are windswept, open and more disguised. The music on Remedies is one big adventure taking listeners from one surprise to the other, from breathtaking parts to a repetitive and effective bassline that carries a whole section of side B.

Soup takes me deep into prog country. Way further than I have been for quite some time. Flying Colours is an example in the past years and Steven Wilson. That may be about it. This band from Norway holds nothing back and throws everything it's got into the record, the music, the songs, the band - and comes out a total winner. Another record contending for the top 10 in 2017.

To think that the album starts with a, heavily strummed, acoustic guitar and a way of singing that makes me think of Dutch band Blaudzun. In the background all sorts of things are going on already, tell-tale signs of things to come. A feedbacking guitar held in check. The singing is typical prog style, more telling a story than a true melody. At around 1"20 the music starts a soft build up, towards the second vocal part with a full band backing. From that moment onwards Soup takes its listeners on a magnificent ride past highs and lows, fast and slow, hard and soft, brutal and subtle. It is all there, one whole LP side long. The sleeve may say that there are two songs, but the main vocal theme returns later on, as you will notice. It seems to me that 'The Boy In The Snow', the title of the second song, is a part of 'Going Somewhere', title one.

Soup is a band from Trondheim in Norway and the vehicle for the musical ideas of Erlend Viken. After starting recording music in 2004, he released two solo albums. Through the years musician step in and out of Soup until for Remedies the band consists of Espen Berge (drums), Ørjan Jensen Langnes (guitar and keyboard) and Jan Tore Megård (bass), besides Viken. Don't be fooled by past stories, Remedies sounds very much like it has been recorded by a band. The density of the music is just huge. A wall of sound puts itself in front of the listener. It is not for nothing that the credits for the music are shared by Soup.

The sound at times is close to the limit of what my ears can handle. The cymbals are pounded tremendously hard, crashed, the dry sound of the snare drum that is hit equally hard. And then it all backs down again, like nature after the storm or after when a dog, close by, stopped barking. In these moments Soup creates a beautiful atmosphere where it is so pleasant to just wallow in. To undergo the music and follow the different instruments that move in and out of the whole. All the while the tension being built up, beat by beat on the drums. Instruments play more notes. More sounds are added to what the composition started out with and we return to the central theme of side one.

The EP 7" cover
Side two totally changes everything. A church organ, recorded in the church of Namsos, the town Remedies was mainly recorded, is the sole instrument. 'Audion' is the title of the composition, that has nothing to do with rock, but is something that returns on a rock record every once in a while. As such it is the transition between the two album sides. On cd it will work even better as the music is one whole there.

The subtle way 'Sleepers' starts out with, hints that Soup knows its Pink Floyd. Like the synthsound does, coming straight out of the 'Wish You Were Here' album. The melody is somewhat more uplifting than Pink Floyd's at the time. 'Sleepers' is pure beauty in the way it is played, the small harmonies come together, the way the melody of the vocal and the synth beautify the monotonous core of the song, making me not want to miss a second.

When the bass takes over the basic duty from the acoustic guitar, the song changes in mood and directness. Slowly it is build out further, making it grander and more impressive. Layer after layer is added of little musical motives that fit together yet are different. Sonic storms come by and lie down when an electric guitar takes over the central duties as a solo instrument. Here I'm reminded of Mike Oldfield for just two minutes, before 'Sleepers' moves into its final sequence and the storms slowly return, to fade away again for a more electronic sound experiment worthy of a spot in Kairos.

The final song 'Nothing Like Home' morphs out of the soundscape slowly, little by little it exposes itself. Hesitatingly as if it is not supposed to be here at the end of Remedies, but is trying to get away with it anyway. Again, in these limited spots, Soup shows how good it is in harmonising. Changing moods in one song is an average manoeuvre for Soup, so it does so in 'Nothing Like Home'. Slowly the composition regains the confidence the rest of the album has and let's a guitar motive play the song home, with more and more instruments arranged in intricate harmonies and counter melodies around it. Bigger and bigger the song becomes, in nothing reminding me of its modest origins.

Remedies is one of the most beautifully covered albums ever. It is also one of my favourite progrock records ever. A perfect combination.


You can listen to and buy Remedies here:


or here:


donderdag 19 oktober 2017

Beth Wimmer, met Billy Watts op gitaar: Wo.'s Huiskamerconcert, 14 oktober 2017

Foto: Wo.
Het is al bijna vertrouwde muziekgrond, de Haarlemse huiskamer van Wo. en Karen. Hun tweede huiskamerconcert dit jaar, dit keer met de in Zwitserland woonachtige Californische singer/songwriter Beth Wimmer. Zij trad op met haar Amerikaanse vriend, producer en gitarist Billy Watts, die trouwens al decennia in een heel aardige eigen band speelt: Mojo Monkeys.

In het eerste deel van het concert trakteerde Beth ons op een selectie van haar nieuwe, vierde CD, Bookmark, die pas volgende week uitkomt. Beth zingt wat nu Americana schijnt te heten, een begrip dat mij op zich niet veel zegt. Maar houdt het inderdaad maar op een mix van folk, country, beetje blues, en snufje rock! Haar stem is erg goed, krachtig, zuiver, met veel emotie. De nieuwe cd klinkt mooi, en de nummers die mij in het bijzonder aanspraken waren Louisiana, en titeltrack Bookmark.

In het tweede deel van set, na een goed verzorgde pauzeborrel in het zonnetje in de achtertuin, speelden Beth en Billy een selectie uit het eerdere werk van Wimmer, met name haar cd’s Ghosts & Men (2011) en Miracle Girl (2008). Opvallend genoeg speelde ze niet het nummer dat haar tot op heden de meeste radio airtime in de VS en diverse prijzen heeft opgeleverd: Self Righteous Son of A Bitch. Dat is nogal een rocksong, dus wellicht niet geschikt voor de huiskamersetting.

Wel presenteerde ze een mooie selectie uit haar oeuvre. Tekstueel gaat het vooral over de liefde en relaties, geheel passend bij het genre natuurlijk. Dus kregen we grappige nummers zoals Mexico, waarin zelfs een Zwitsers jodeltje zit. Het door de vrouwelijke aanwezigen wel heel erg gretig omarmde Simplicity of a Man, Mahogany Hawk, een fijne ingetogen versie van Bowie’s Starman, Makin’ War (over haar Zwitserse vriend die net nadat zij bij hem was ingetrokken drie weken dienstplicht moest vervullen), en het mooie Move On. Luister en oordeel zelf, via http://www.bethwimmer.com/. Kortom, Beth maakte indruk, net als de gastheer en gastvrouw!


woensdag 18 oktober 2017

We Rise. Morrissey & Marshall

Although We Rise is out for several months, the album did not reach me until recently. The exuberant way We Rise opens with 'Cold November Sunrise' was so directly in my face that I gave the whole album a very good listen. No, it doesn't get that good or perhaps better phrased, not as surprising, after that brilliant opening song. Well deserving of attentive listening and a review the album remained.

What happens in 'Cold November Sunrise'? Something near beyond description as the song races from influence to influence and becoming ever louder, wider and wilder. It all starts with a song that seems directly influenced by the loudest kind of song Crowded House could come up with. Sung like the Finn brothers seemed to have a patent on. The patent expired it seems as this Irish duo has given itself quite some helping of the 'Chocolate Cake'. From that soul influenced song it goes straight into a Britrock chorus including a wallop of soul singing by a lady who reaches to 'The Great Gig In The Sky' heights. The horns give the song that extra 'The Reflex' exuberance. At the same time it is all funky as ****, let me avoid a four letter word here just like Morrissey & Marshall do in this song. Around 1990 this could have made a giant hit. Alas it is 2017. See if I mind.

Darren Morrissey and Greg Marshall come from Dublin, but left it behind to make it in London. We Rise is the duos second album, one with all the production they could afford. And that seemed a lot hearing how the album opens.

In fact in the second song the mood is taken down. In 'Loved & Be Loved' the acoustic guitars they left Dublin with come out of their cases. A band, strings and that lady singer are added, creating a ballad with a lot of potency. The sound is strong and full of confidence. "You're not alone" Morrissey and Marshall sing and that may not just be a sentence in a song, but a prediction.

As 'Play On' starts the Madchester sound and rhythms come out and by then it's clear that this duo doesn't want to be stuck in one hole. A whole parade of influences come by, where again the way of singing of Morrissey and Marshall reminds me of Tim and Neil Finn on 'Woodface'. In other words forceful and certainly not subtle.

In the bio the influences mentioned are all from the 60s: The Kinks, The Beatles and The Byrds. From what I hear those influences all seems much more indirect. Let's say The Beatles by way of Crowded House and The Byrds through Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. 'She's Got Love' is more Tom Petty than The Byrds e.g. At the same time the song does have beatlesesque elements, without coming close to a The Beatles song.

With 'I Need You' the album holds one real ballad. Not my favourite song of We Rise, but then I usually am not one for ballads.

We Rise is an album for people who love permanent harmony singing set in different settings, but predominantly in the form of a mild, but firm rocksong. Songs like 'Beautiful World' is a beautiful ad for Morrissey & Marshall. A song that is upbeat and meant to make people feel better. So if you're in for an autumn boost in the days to come, you know where to find it on a 'Cold November Sunrise'.


You can listen to 'Cold November Sunrise' here:


and buy We Rise here:


dinsdag 17 oktober 2017

Gathering. Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is getting on in life. Having passed that mythical step of 40 years, he released his 9th album recently. And on this album he mildly rocks and mellows out with a couple of country songs. Something for everybody, but probably reflecting where he presently stands in life.

Josh Ritter came into my life with the album 'Hello Starling'. Especially with the odd one out song 'Man Burning At Both Ends', a song that travelled with me all through this continent on holidays. Then the old cassette player gave out, where the old car kept driving, and many older songs moved out of my life. Nothing Ritter released in the years that followed compared to this song, so I lost sight of his music until I received his previous album 'Sermon On The Rocks' in my digital mailbox. And yes, I liked it as you can read here, http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/02/sermon-on-rocks-josh-ritter.html. I found an urgency in that album, that surprised me. 2017 Brings Gathering. Let's dive in.

Let me start with comparing the covers of the two albums. All bright colours and spattered paint on 'Sermon On The Rocks'. All paint and colours again for Gathering, but far from the exuberant ones as on the former. Is it a sign of what to expect musically?

Sounding from the intro 'Shaker Love Song (Leah)' I would say yes, but that feeling left me as soon as the horn splashed 'Showboat' takes over, not to speak of the song that follows 'Friendamine'. The driving pulse of that song does remind me of that fave song of the mid 00s, if less serious in flavour.

Johnny Cash is honoured with the 50s country rock of 'Feels Like Lightning', the kind of song Chris Isaak is quite familiar with as well. The pumping rhythm is adorned with intricate guitar playing, fast played little licks and a light sound is all it takes. Although I do have to mention the pleasant aahhs in the background as well to do right to 'Feels Like Lightning'.

By then it is totally clear that Josh Ritter presents songs with different styles on Gathering, which makes this record a pleasure to listen to. A country ballad like 'When Will I Be Changed' is infused with some gospel and soulful horns. When the older voice of Bob Weir enters, the whole gets something even more authentic, as if an older preacher sings for his congregation.

Gathering is not an unique album. All the styles on the album have been done before, sometimes better, which only stands to reason. What Gathering does is add a dozen plus one good songs to the whole of what went before. Where I not only notice that Gathering is diverse, but that I by now conclude that Josh Ritter has made himself totally over from what I heard circa 10 years ago.

The subtleness of 'Train Go By', the slow melody played on the acoustic guitar, the Hammond organ that adds a minimum of notes, the harmonies that weave themselves around the central voice of Josh Ritter. This is all done with imagination and a assuredness that comes with confidence, wisdom and knowledge. The same goes for 'Dreams', where strange things happen, like the piano eruptions. A song that could have been on a Steve Waitt album.

After that song Josh Ritter surprises me a few times more. In other words, after a few listening sessions I come to the conclusion that Gathering surpasses 'Sermon On The Rocks' in depth and that is an understatement, where the first listen gave me the opposite impression. Gathering has a level of depth that reflects the world in 2017. We seem to be doing very well, perhaps never better, but around us weird things are going on, inexplicable but also sort of unstoppable. Gathering seems to reflect all this and on the other hand is just an album containing fine, if very varied music ending with the oh so solemn 'Strangers'.

So returning to the painting. Yes, the cover totally covers the whole. Gathering is a serious album, solemn even at times. At the same time this album is one that deserves a beautiful cover, more beautiful than this one and less ominous, as it shows about all Josh Ritter is capable of in 2017. And that is a lot it seems.


You can listen to 'Showboat' here:


maandag 16 oktober 2017

Lotta Sea Lice. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

For those following this blog and indie music more in general the name Courtney Barnett does not need an introduction. Should there be anyone in the world who only follows this blog, I truly hope that that number is extremely low, Kurt Vile is an American indie artist, who is often associated with The War On Drugs, where he used to play in, years ago. The two artists have become close friends and decided to record an album together instead of each one album apart.

In the past three years Courtney Barnett became the darling of the indie press and fans with her ramshackle songs and a faint hint at a healthy from of craziness that found its way into her songs. Kurt Vile made less of an impression on me, so I haven't much to report on him here.

Together they create this laidback atmosphere in which songs find their own way forward. Both have a voice that can lift a song totally above its weight or drag it down, as both also have a whining quality when used in a less emotional way. Both versions can be found on Lotta Sea Lice, where of course the former wins, as I would never have started a review if it had been the latter.

The album opens with a formidable song called 'Over Everything'. The mid-tempo just goes on for over six minutes. The duo takes alternate singing duties, in which they barely hang on to the vocal melody it seems. The voice and melody waver, like they are in higher spirits. A Courtney Barnett speciality of course. The guitars interplay in a The Velvet Underground kind of way, without the starkly pounding, cymballess drums of Maureen Tucker. Slowly the sound is expanded, increased and more intense.

All the songs on Lotta Sea Lice are long. 4.00 Minutes is the minimum. Barnett and Vile take their time to work out their songs and really bring them to our attention. The approach is spot on as by far the songs work. The only exception is 'Let It Go', the second song on the album. There seems to be no end to it. The duo sets things right straightaway with 'Fear Is Like A Forest'. The song is so strong. With its Neil Young flavour it has that under the skin tension that makes it so good to listen to. The two voices work extremely well together.

The effect Barnett and Vile have on each other is clear by then and how they make each other better. The tendency to make songs go a bit wacky is suppressed in Barnett, while Vile's songs simply become better with Barnett on his side. From the streaming service I was allowed to use, I have no way of telling who is responsible for what, except that both do a take on an older song of the other. Kurt Vile does 'Out Of The Woodwork', with Barnett harmonising. Courtney Barnett does 'Peepin' Tom' all alone with a fingerpicked guitar.

It is a busy year for Courtney Barnett fans. Her wife Jen Cloher released a new, self-titled album with Barnett on guitar and singing duties and this one with Kurt Vile. The fans must have a hey-day as both albums are very fine to listen to.

In 'Continental Breakfast' the two sing about a continental friendship. Softly played, softly sung. I can't explain why this song works, where 'Let It Go' doesn't for me. The closest I come to an explanation is that the two both sing lighter and more lively, making the soft-touched song come alive. That they can sound deathlike as well, is shown in 'Unscript'. The influence of Lou Reed is all over the place. His main style, the talk singing with a deep voice, is something that Courtney Barnett has no trouble with at all. Her voice is the song, behind it things happen, but that is just filler. No matter how well the band plays together behind her and fills a long outro. Slowly the madness creeps in before it all is reigned back in before the final chords are played.

With 'Blue Cheese' a little country seeps in, like it did on 'Loaded' by The Velvet Underground. It works really well on this album. A banjo mingles with the electric guitars. Again the duo surprised me here. From the dark all this light comes in, making the song almost cheerful. In the specific circumstance of Lotta Sea Lice 'Blue Cheese' is a whopping party.

The album ends with 'Untogether'. The right title for a song made on two continents by e-mail? Again Barnett and Vile find the right voice for each other, something about the sum and its parts. The song is kept so small, the vocal melody and the harmonising do all the work ever so successfully. A conclusion that says nearly all there is to say about Lotta Sea Lice. A fine album it is.

BTW. It seems the Grace Slick from the second half of the 60s has reincarnated watching the promo photo.


zondag 15 oktober 2017

Joy Street. Songdog

De uit Wales afkomstige band Songdog bracht in 2003 haar tweede plaat Haiku uit. Het is een plaat die in het betreffende jaar heel hoog in mijn jaarlijstje stond, maar desondanks was Haiku mijn eerste en laatste kennismaking met de muziek van de band.
Min of meer bij toeval kreeg ik vorige week de nieuwe plaat van Songdog in handen en ook Joy Street blijkt een ware parel.
Tussen Haiku en Joy Street zitten nog vijf andere platen, die ik absoluut ga beluisteren, maar voorlopig kan ik geen genoeg krijgen van Joy Street.
In mijn herinnering maakte Songdog op Haiku sfeervolle folkmuziek met uiteenlopende invloeden en dat is ook precies de muziek die de band op Joy Street maakt.
Songdog is de band rond singer-songwriter Lyndon Morgans, die ook op Joy Street weer laat horen dat hij het oude werk van Bob Dylan koestert, maar vervolgens zijn eigen ding doet met de invloeden van de oude meester. Joy Street herinnert aan de Amerikaanse en Britse folk uit de jaren 60, maar sluit ook aan op de onweerstaanbare folkpop zoals deze in de jaren 80 door bands als Aztec Camera, Del Amitri en Prefab Sprout werd gemaakt. Wanneer Songdog Keltische invloeden verwerkt in haar muziek, en dat gebeurt met enige regelmaat, duiken bovendien flarden van de muziek van The Waterboys en bands die de traditionele Ierse folkmuziek hoog hebben zitten op.
Lyndon Morgans laat zich op Joy Street gelden als een singer-songwriter die in eerste instantie verhalen vertelt. Het zijn mooie verhalen vol weemoed en melancholie, maar de muzikant uit Wales is ook niet bang voor een eenvoudig liefdesliedje.
Alle verhalen zijn verpakt in songs die zich bijzonder makkelijk opdringen, maar de muziek van Songdog graaft dieper dan die van de meeste soortgenoten van de band. Lyndon Morgans eert op Joy Street de tradities van de Britse en Amerikaanse folkmuziek, maar stopt zijn songs ook vol met uitstapjes buiten de gebaande paden. Joy Street is hierdoor een plaat die vermaakt en verrast, maar het is ook een plaat die sprankelt.
Op het eerste gehoor klinkt het allemaal niet heel bijzonder, maar wanneer je de songs op de plaat een volgende keer hoort, blijkt hoezeer de songs van Songdog zich al in het geheugen genesteld hebben en voor hoeveel plezier ze zorgen.
Het was de grote kracht van het al weer bijna 15 jaar oude Haiku en het is ook de kracht van Joy Street. Het effect dat de plaat sorteert wordt verder vergroot door de prachtige en zeer veelzijdige instrumentatie op de plaat en de glasheldere productie van Nigel Stonier, die in een ver verleden bij Fairport Convention achter de knoppen zat.
Songdog trekt met haar platen tot dusver helaas niet heel veel aandacht, maar de twee keer dat ik de band nu tegen ben gekomen heeft platen opgeleverd om zielsveel van te houden. Het kan geen toeval zijn.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier 'Song For A Five String Guitar' beluisteren.


zaterdag 14 oktober 2017

Kairos September 2017 on Concertzender by .No

It's that day of the month again that Wo. sits down and listens to the radio show of .No called Kairos on Concertzender. Through the years something has changed as more and more artists who made it to the pages of this Blog find their way to the show. Songs that fit really well in the concept, while Wo. is exposed to music that he would never have heard in his life, make their way to his ears. Sometimes he even truly likes them. So what has .No put on his playlist this month?

Too often people seem to die in .No's circle of friends, teachers and acquaintances. Again the show is dedicated to someone, unfamiliar to me, who crossed that mysterious border that awaits us all. The show starts with a befitting piece of music, the 'Intro' to that beautiful album 'Another Place' by Amsterdam band Maggie Brown. A song that makes the listener cross the border into the album, one of my favourites of 2017 and the 10s.

'Intro' is very short and soon an acoustic guitar takes over. Again Bruce Cockburn comes by. The song is more traditional than Maggie Brown's. Moodwise the selection works well. In this English folkstyle song called 'Life's Mistress' the Canadian tells a story of watching things from the outside in and how the lady is one with nature. The guitar is intricately plucked, playing different melodies on the bass and higher notes. This man can play.

A famous song is up next, but in a estranging version. A sound like Indonesian gamalans play the melody, Sidsel Endresen sings 'The Lady Is A Tramp'. The song by Rodgers and Hart from the 1937 musical 'Babes In Arms', made famous by Frank Sinatra. In this version the vocal melody totally remains in its strength, meets and then joins another culture. Endresen together with Bugge Wesseltoft created something truly new from something now 80 years old. Whether I like it is another question, but the same goes for the musical version and Sinatra's. I can hear how good he sings, but it is from another generation, so close to alien to my ears. It makes me understand my own musical generation gap, rap, house, trance, etc., better and appreciate the taste of youths in the 10s for what it is: their music. Although several of them truly appreciate the bands and songs that I like best.

The gamalan is slowly replaced by a piano that could have been a Sinatra accompanying piano, but is not. It is Brian Eno from one of his more famous titles, that I never listened to until now, 'Ambient 1. Music For Airports'. And indeed the air travellers in the 70s and 80s may still in general have liked Sinatra style music. I'm in for an initiation of Eno's ambient music, I see. Over 16 minutes. So I'm closing my eyes and listen. Sinatra leaves the song and is replaced by a repetitive piano motives, with ambient sounds and tape hiss and estranging notes that are thrown into the whole. The version of 'The Lady Is A Tramp' worked well with this composition as a fine introduction I notice. The music has a calming effect on me, if not drowsing me, making me feel sleepy, but also a bit sad. Nothing seems to be going on any more. As if the world has stopped turning, aeroplanes stopped flying and airports only catch cosmic waves, particles and debris, that are translated into music for airports. With no people there to listen. And yes, that makes me feel sad. Impressive? Yes. Too long? Yes, also, but only about three minutes.

Maurice Duruflé's In Paradisum (from Requiem Op.9)' by The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford disturbs the ambient music, probably a whole LP side, with angelic singing and some music hidden somewhere deep in the mix, a small church organ. The singing is a relief after the repetitive ambient, close to minimal music of Eno. Slowly the subdued emotions rise and deeper voices join the childrens'.

The piano chord that follows is flawlessly placed. Once again Low Roar comes by. This time with the song '13' from its album 'Once In A Long, Long While'. A piano plays sole, sparse notes accentuated by a chord. Is it my imagination or do I hear the choir mixed in here and there, deep in the background?

In general I notice again how deep .No has moved into piano driven music. Where I remain a guitar guy, I tend to listen to a lot of piano once a month. Which makes for a nice change.

Jonas Munk & Jason Kolb also return to Kairos. For a snippet of their music called 'Odessa'. No famous stairs here, no pram rolling of them either. Just a windswept place created by electronic sounds, over before I know it, with another slow playing piano moving in.

This is Jeroen Elfferich's 'Snowflakes'. The piano tickles like slow falling snowflakes can do, those first small flakes that drift through the air, solitary, having no impact apart from how beautiful it looks. Sometimes just before real snow starts falling, covering everything and muffling sounds and the world. Elfferich's music is like that first flakes. Slowly gathering momentum with a second melody. I have the impression that I'm hearing more than two hands at work, so is this a work for two pianists? It seems very much like it. And then it stops. And starts again, the last flakes are falling down. No, they are not, we get some more.

Martin Pals returns too. The folk tune is sung by Rosan Vloedgraven. The playing by Pals. The singing is in a way like Jerney Kaagman did in the first and best incarnation of Earth & Fire, the music spans several centuries. Sort of confusing, yes, but also an exercise that shows that the (prog)rockers of the early 70s had their influences in traditional folk. All evolves, returns and evolves again.

From here the music changed so fast that I lost count and had to start listening again, forcing me to revise my storyline completely.

By now another veteran of Kairos and this Blog is House of cosy Cushions. The guitar composition is something I truly like. Some sounds come in, a treated voice emulating a horn of some sort. It's over very fast, but yes, I like this.

Then Bhava comes back. I think for the third time in a row I'm hearing something of the album on Kairos that makes me wonder why I liked the album by The World of Dust so much? Where are the songs, .No? Give them to us. They are so good! This jazzy outing is made to sound like it comes to us from another century, as if one of the earliest recordings. .No gives us only a minute, so have no way of knowing whether this is it or that there is more, preventing me from getting the point The World of Dust wants to make here, as I am not getting it now.

In moves a piano and a violin. Minco Eggerman returns with his Georgian album 'Kavkasia', a song called 'The Other Side Of Dawn'. The violin is as disruptive as the Greek players on the Chris & Carla album recorded in Thessaloniki, where they played The Walkabouts together with the Greeks. I am talking about the solo violin here and not the string section that sounds like a movie soundtrack where lovers see the sun go down together. In the background the guitar goes on without hesitation as does the sole piano.

And where does This Leo Sunrise start? Can I catch it the second time? Am I crazy or is .No's playlist fooling me. As the guitar and piano finally disappear, I can only suppose that the two scratching violins belong to 'The Gardener Path'. When things go quiet, singing starts and I recognise the song. English folk is, again, the basis of this song. Folk mixed with ambience. I think I have found this month's overarching theme here. Slowly the song expands, but remains calm and tranquil. The faint estranging effects in the background give 'The Gardener Path' something scary as if more could happen here than just listening to a song. Well done, This Leo Sunrise.

Church bells mixes with the violin. More sacred music. Not coincidentally from an album with that title. Men's voices of Theater of Voices sing solemnly something composed by an anonymous. Disappeared in time. That there is hope for any anonymous was proven last week by research on Medieval manuscripts that over 200 years after their discovery are attributed to a clerk of a Dutch baron. So be patient anonymous composer of 'Resonemus Hoc Natali'. Who knows what lies in store for you.

We move on to a cheap piano (I'm not buying it, but o.k.). Dustin O’Halloran & Adam Bryanbaum Wiltze composed a minuet for a cheap piano, with some electronics behind it to hide the cheapness? The piano playing, once again, is sparse. The electronics are just as sparse. The piano sounds rather flat, so it might be cheap after all. But why would one want to compose a minuet for a cheap piano? It is beyond me.

A piano starts the last song. We are back at the beginning of the show with Maggie Brown. It's album ends with the song 'Hummingbird', the song that Marcel Hulst commented on that the band couldn't find the right guitar intro to and settled for a piano instead. 'Hummingbird is a beautiful song that ends the album 'Another Place' and this Kairos. For you, listener and reader, I hope that .No will return to the album and let's you join in the pleasure of listening to the purest of pop songs 'Hail To The Rain' or the title song. If not, go to Maggie Brown's Bandcamp page and buy the album there. In 2017 there will not be many better albums, says,


You can listen to this month's Kairos here:



00:07 Maggie Brown. Intro. Album ‘Another Place’. Private label.
00:48 Bruce Cockburn. Life’s mistress. Album ‘High Winds White Sky’. True North Records TN 3.
03:59 Rodgers/Hart. The lady is a tramp Sidsel Endresen & Bugge Wesseltoft. Album ‘Nightsong’. ACT (4) ‎– ACT 9004-2
09:20 Brian Eno. Music for Airports 1/1. Album ‘Ambient 1. Music for Airports’. EMI 50999 6 84523 2 2.
25:42 Maurice Duruflé. In Paradisum (from Reqiuem Op. 9). The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. Dir. Bill Ives. Album ‘Sacred Music’. Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908304.33.
27:15 Ryan Karazija. 13. Low Roar. Album ‘Once in a long, long while’. Nevado Records 823674059620.
31:52 Jonas Munk & Jason Kolb. Odessa. Billow Observatory (Jonas Munk, elektronics, Jason Kolb, guitar & elektronics). Album ‚Billow Observatory‘. Felte 003.
33:10 Jeroen Elfferich. Snowflakes. Album ‘Zero’. Private label.
38:35 Martin Pals. When comes that sleep Rosan. Monad (Rosan Vloedgraven, Martin Pals). Private recording.
40:06 Richard Bolhuis / House of Cosy Cushions. Outcast Cats. Album ‘Haunt me Sweetly’. Outcast Cats records CAT 0C01.
42:08 Stefan Breuer. Cumulus. Bhava. Album ‘The World Of Dust’. Snowstar Records/Tiny Room Records.
43:28 Minco Eggersman. The other side of dawn. Album ‘Kavkasia’. Volkoren 73.
45:45 This Leo Sunrise. The gardener path. Album ‘Spoken’. Tiny Room Records TR008.
50:51 Anonymus. Resonemus Hoc Natali. Theatre of voices. Dir. Paul Hillier. Album ‘Sacred Music’. Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908304.33.
54:03 Dustin O’Halloran & Adam Bryanbaum Wiltze. Minuet for a cheap piano number two. Dustin O’Halloran & Adam Bryanbaum Wiltze. Album ‘A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Erased Tape Records ERATP032CD
56:49 Maggie Brown. hummingbird. Album ‘Another Place’. Private label.