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March 8, 2001

Gjallarhorn :


Gjallarhorn: Sjofn album cover
Gjallarhorn
are a Finnish World Music group whose second record, Sjofn, I've been playing non-stop for over a week. Like Hedningarna, they keep a nice Shamanistic pulse going over which to sing and play those odd Finnish harmonies. They are a little more New Age oriented than Hedningarna, but in a good way: they create a soothing atmosphere which at any time
can start getting under your skin, usually just before it is interrupted by a Banshee shriek or a subtle but menacing mood change. (Gjallarhorn have a website, but it's not very good so I've made the link go to Amazon.com's information page about the album. )

This is a backdated entry from before I started this blog. It was originally posted on rocr.net.

July 15, 2001

Finntroll: Jaktens Tid

The doughty warriors of Finntroll. Wouldn't you like to know the number of their interior decorator?
Finntroll make a pretty good metal noise. Their singer sounds like he has gargled sulphur dioxide and is very angry about it. The drums are at times like a carpet bombing, and the guitar alternates between furious rhythms and deep droning chords over a menacing keyboard backing. You've heard all that before, of course, but you probably haven't heard the accordion, banjo and Sami joik-singing that make Finntroll more than just a good metal group. Their album Jaktens Tid has livened up my drawing sessions lately - it's at the same time hilariously over the top and really very good musically. The songs, in Swedish, are mostly about fantasy subjects, particullarly trolls. Their rhythm guitarist is quite an accomplished fantasy artist, so you get some evil-looking monochrome paintings in the booklet. And don't they look natty in their furs?

This is a backdated entry from before this blog was started. It was originally posted on rocr.net

March 1, 2004

You're pretty good looking for a girl

Whitestripes.net, the semi-official fan site for the White Stripes, has a bunch of Peel Sessions by the popular beat combo. Plus a Saturday Night Live skit which is not very well-written but the way Drew Barrymore as Meg whispers "meesh meesh meesh" at the guy who plays Jack cracks me up.

I'm a reluctant White Stripes fan... cmkaapjes had to practically cram their music down my throat, but once I got to know it better I learned to love the writing, and the duo's manic energy even at slow tempos.

March 13, 2004

I'm reeling in the music and I've only had a few...

Currently playing obsessively: Lionheart by Kate Bush. I'm a huge fan of her eighties output, but coming back home from the pub late last night, I put this, her second album from 1978, on and it brought back all sorts of memories. It's a lot less MOR than I remembered as well, with the orchestration and synths on "Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake" giving us a taste of the eerieness she'd later perfect for tracks like "And Dream of Sheep" on Hounds of Love.

Unfortunately my copy is an old, cheap, much-battered vinyl edition and sounds like it was recorded by a campfire. Needs cleaning up or replacement.

March 15, 2004

Bah! Bah and thrice Bah

These great music blogs: I Hate Music, Popular and The Naked Maja are all too sexy for an RSS feed, and won't be added to my blogroll for that reason. I can blogroll manually *or* depend on Bloglines to automate the process, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna do both, and Bloglines is my method of choice for now.

Too bad really. I Hate Music is a hilarious expose of all that you already knew was awful about even the music you like; Popular is a wonderful project to review every UK number one since the dawn of time, or the 1950s, whichever came first; The Naked Maja is an in-depth look into one writer's tastes in pop music. I recommend all of them.

March 27, 2004

Eeeeeeeviiiiig piiiint!

After going to two nearly-identical concerts by Kaizers Orchestra on two different tours six months apart, I was a bit concerned that their second album, Evig Pint would also be a repeat of their first. Instead, we get a record that, while still resting heavily on the mid-tempo, 2-beat tunes with punky energy and gipsy gangster-themed lyrics in Norwegian, is a lot more mature. Compared to the first album, it's darker, but without losing its humorous touches. The tunes are still instantly hummable, even if you don't know the language, and there is a bit more adventure in the instrumentation (not that the first album was lacking in that). Highly recommended.

April 1, 2004

Oh, all right then, here's some April Fool stuff.

From The Highway Star:

Deep Purple announce new release schedule
"In the future, Deep Purple will only release new music on current and past members' birthdays."

... could be any day of the year then.

April 28, 2004

Peter Gabriel Binge!

Peter Gabriel's soundtrack work can now be had for cheap at Plato stores in the Netherlands and quite likely elsewhere as well. I'm now listening to The Long Walk Home which I expect to be hard to get into but worthwhile after a few playings, just like Passion was when I got it from the library a few months ago.

May 3, 2004

The best thing about the EU expansion...

...is hearing a lot of music from the Baltic and Eastern European countries on the radio. Just minutes ago, I heard a track from an Estonian group whose name I missed, but they'll be in the Eurovision Song Contest this year. OK, so that's not much of a recommendation, but despite being a EuroSong contribution, it actually sounded great, with all the hallmark touches of Finno-Ugric music: powerful female voices in daring, harmonies, with a touch of accordion. If that is Estonia's trashy pop music, I would love to hear the more authentic stuff!

May 5, 2004

Joe Meek at 75

I love reading alternate history, especially of subjects I know a little about, and The Naked Maja's "had he lived" account of music producer Joe Meek's career after 1967 does a pretty good job of it.

"One day Syd came in with some funny-looking pills which he said some German mates had given him. I took one look at them and immediately flushed them down the toilet. Syd was just about ready to take a swing at me, but ever since then he's thanked me for doing that, almost on a daily basis."

It gets a bit silly towards the end though.

May 14, 2004

How to enjoy Eurosong without mental scars.

Kieran of Crooked Timber is a sad, obsessive man. Where would we be without him? He has created a statistical analysis of geo-political favoritism in the Eurovision song contest, complete with confusing but convincing pictures.

However, Kieran's premise is flawed:

...Eurovision songs are (to a first approximation) uniformly worthless, [so] we can assume that votes express a simple preference for one nation over another, uncomplicated by any aesthetic considerations.

Eurovision songs aren't uniformly worthless; instead, mediocrity is the order of the day. There is usually something to enjoy at Eurosong: last year I thought the Belgian entry was quite good (it made number 2) as well as one song from one of the Baltic countries. I'd need to look that last one up. And there are some spectacularly crappy ones each year, like the dreadfully unfunny spoof inflicted on us by the Austrians, or the English entry which was only saved from getting negative points by the bassline at the start.
But most songs are like last year's Dutch entry: bland, mediocre, destined to end one step below the left column in the final tally (considering the Dutch' track record in the years before, that's a pretty good score). I remember that by the time the contest was on, I had rather learned to like the Dutch entry; I thought the tune was more memorable than many of the others' and that the production value was better. But even then, I suspected that this was the result of having been brainwashed by it on the radio in the preceeding weeks. A year on, I'll be damned if I can remember how it went.

Last year was the first time in a decade I watched it. I got together with some of my buddies (Danny, Sidsel and Jeroen, I think. Possibly my brother as well) to watch the ghastly spectacle unfold. The blonde Eastern European starlets, the cheesy touristy shots of the host country, the cooked-up controversy, the key changes, everything. How did I survive? The answer is very simple.

Alcohol.

Lots of it.

If you want to survive Eurosong without mind-scarring, make sure that you're at least into your second drink before the first song starts, and keep up the pace. I know that that's not good for the brain either but you will need the soft blanket of hazy good-cheer to protect yourself from the three-hour bombardment of saccharine mediocrity that is the contest. Naturally, there's a drinking game to help you keep up the pace, but it has far too many rules. You need only one event to guide your drinking: the Key Change.

Key changes are a tried and tested device for giving a song a bit of extra "lift" and make it seem catchy. It's particularly useful when a song is so badly written that it can't go for three whole minutes without running out of steam. The hallmark of a good Eurovision Song Contest entry is that the key is shifted up by a full tone or more (not a semitone. Semitones are scary and Goffic) around the 2:20 mark. The hallmark of a great Eurosong entry is that the key is shifted up twice in the three minutes allowed for each song. In fact, during that other song that I liked last year, I told my buddies "you know, this song is so good I won't even mind a key change." The Key Change occured immediately afterwards. So I said "see? I'm not bothered by it at all? The only thing that can ruin it now is another key change!" The second Key Change occured immediately afterwards, and I decided not to tempt fate by suggesting that there was still time for a third. If there had been a third, the song would surely have won.

Drink two fingers' worth of booze for each time the key is shifted up and you'll be too plastered to remember your own name before the judging even starts. So you can, indeed you will, forget those other complicated rules in the official drinking game.

The judging is pretty dreary and repetitive to watch although possibly not compared to the songs. It becomes fun if you've kept a ranking of your own, especially if you've fought with your buddies over it. Keeping track of who gives points to who is also a good idea - and you can print out Kieran's graphs and pretend that they represent your analysis of the year's vote. You will be the life of the party!
One other great aspect of the judging is that you get to see the performers waiting for the outcome, penned up like sheep and drinking rather faster than you are. They will pick their noses on camera, talk to their families at home on their cell phones and generally look like cattle waiting to be slaughtered, which is exactly what they are at this point. Last year's winner, a Turkish singer whose name fortunately escapes me, was interviewed during the final moments (it was a fairly close race with the Belgians) and revealed herself to have all the wit and composure of a plucked chicken. It was much more entertaining than hearing her sing.

POSTSCRIPT: I see that those perfidious Brits are still trying to tie last year's execrable performance by Gemini to the war in Iraq, and are already using the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as a pre-emptive excuse for a new humiliation. Knock it off, lads! Never was the Eurosong Jury process as fair and objective as when it returned no points at all to Gemini.

POSTSCRIPT no. 2: A few days ago I mentioned hearing and liking the Estonian entry, without knowing that it was in fact an entry for the contest. Turns out it hasn't made it past the semi-finals that were held for the first time this year. Bummer.

The BBC Proms

Ah, the new BBC Proms schedule is out, and once again, Gilbert and Sullivan have lost out. Whereas Elgar will get no less than 7 appearances in the proms, each of which will be 15-30 minutes long, Holst four of similar length, and even Handel (who's rather out of favour nowadays) gets one 12-minute composition, Gilbert and Sullivan get one two minute song, which, coming as it does on the last night of proms, and being the little list song from the Mikado, will, if past years are anything to go by, have the lyrics rewritten and, in all likelihood, the performer won't have practiced enough to sing it at patter-song speed, so it'll be sung too slowly.

Why?

Is it, as Loweko speculates, because many G&S songs take horrible amounts of training and rehersal, whereas a little Elgar just requires an hour or three of tuning?


Or is it something more? After all, they included a Gilbert and Sullivan concert for decades before dropping it suddenly a few years ago.

Is Gilbert and Sullivan not upper-class enough for the BBC Proms? Has it been tainted by popularity, in the same way that an independant artist who starts making money loses all street cred? Does the spirit of snootiness haunt the BBC, forcing them to push everything that's popular into the Last Night of the proms, where they put all the things that aren't good enough for the rest of their lineup....

Somehow, I suspect so.

May 21, 2004

Two political songs, for your enjoyment

FCC Song all fucks by Eric Idle.
President's Day by Loudon Wainwright III.

I saw Loudon in concert in Groningen yesterday, and the response then was pretty much the same as at the in-store performance at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California where this recording was made.

Commentary by Loudon:

Due to its particular timeliness with regard to our nation's impending electoral decision in November, I have made the rather unusual (for me) decision to cast it into the ether of cyberspace, there to be had gratis(*), absolutely free of charge for citizens armed with an MP3 player and a taste for broadside material. It is my sincere hope that those of you who like the song and approve of my plan will assist me in spreading the word about "Presidents' Day" in order to inform and/or inflame any swing voters out there who remain at all ambivalent or apathetic about the current administration and its reckless, dreadful policies.

(*) Indeed, Loudon has made his opinion about MP3 downloading known in the song "Something for Nothing", off the So Damn Happy album he is currently promoting. If you can still see him on his tour, don't miss him.

May 23, 2004

More songs for your continued edification and further delight

After posting those songs in the previous entry, I decided to check if Richard Thompson had weighed in on recent world events. If he has, he hasn't posted the results yet, but I did find this on his website:
Dear Janet.

Thompson's albums tend towards the serious and bleak, but he has lighthearted pieces like this in his live shows, and it is these tracks that end up on his website. It, and I Agree With Pat Metheny, aren't representative of his body of work as a whole. I expect that if and when Thompson writes about current events, the result will be much more stinging and philosophical than the songs in the previous posting, and that they will be part of his next album, just like the title track to Shoot Out the Lights (inspired by Russia's invasion of Afghanistan), "Psycho Street" off Rumour and Sigh (inspired by the Salman Rushdie affair, but far removed from it by the time it appeared on record) and "Outside of the Inside" off The Old Kit Bag, a haunting, scary track exploring the mindset of Islamic fundamentalists. Those tracks take work but they're more than mere throwaways or protests.

(By the way, all the links to Thompson albums above go to Amazon in the US, and I get a kickback if people buy them, or if they continue to browse from them and buy something else. So you can familiarise yourself with Thompson's work, and supplement my income at the same time! Sounds like a deal to me.)

June 21, 2004

Best 100 British?

The always excellent Naked Maja counters the Observer's list of 100 best British records with a list of his own.
The point of reading these lists, of course, is to go through them and test how good your taste is by checking off records that you actually own. By the Maja's standards, I'm doing appallingly badly, with only 4 records from his list in my collection. The Observer's list flatters my taste a little more, allowing me 7 matches, but on the other hand, that list has not just two Radiohead albums but two Oasis albums on it, which ought to tell you something about how seriously we should take that one.

So go on, go through these lists, and tell me how good your taste is. And if you'd care to guess which of those albums on either list appear in my collection, be my guest.

Yes, I'm a nerd about music. Shoot me.

July 9, 2004

Innocent Victorians?

As Fred Goldrich pointed out on Savoynet today...


Robert Browning in "Pippa Passes", wrote:


Then owls and bats
Cowls and twats
Monks and nuns in a cloister's moods,
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry.

presumably under the impression, encouraged by mischievous
friends, that a twat was a sort of hat worn by nuns.

...I don't think I can add anything to that.

July 31, 2004

Note to punksters

I just saw The Apers at Vera Groningen as part of Vera's series of summer gigs. In these gigs, well-known underground bands get to play cover sets of a band of their choice. The Apers did a great job with their set of Rip-offs covers, but kind of lost me when they started playing a mix of their own songs and classic punk repertoire after that. Their presentation is energetic, they have a powerful sound and they know their stuff, but there's only so much punk I can take in a single evening before I want to hear something else. No punk group should be allowed to play 35 songs in an evening no matter how short the songs are.
So I left them without hearing them play "The Ace of Spades" which people in the audience were calling for. Bummer. I hate walking away from a good band.

August 14, 2004

Desirable

SteelStringBackpackerGuitar.jpgI saw this backpacker guitar from Martin in one of the local music shops, and couldn't resist playing a few chords on it. It has a surprisingly good sound, a bit like the parlor-type guitars that Ian Anderson plays. In fact, I think if you fit it with a pick-up, it would work well in that sort of context: an acoustic guitar in front of an electric rock band. The lack of bottom end wouldn't be noticeable at all, and the volume would be amplified anyway. I wouldn't mind having this one to carry along with me while traveling at all. It's not quite as good as IA's parlor guitars, but certainly acceptable for the campfire, especially if like me, you have a... let's say a powerful, vigorous playing style.
What did they economise on to make such a light-weight acoustic guitar? Solidity, mainly. The label warns to only use ultra-light strings. No problem, that.
The model in the shop differed from the one in the picture because the head was smaller, by the way.
Update: I didn't know that Amazon sold musical instruments including the backpacker guitar. I suppose adding it to my wishlist (see this post) would be too much of a long shot.

August 24, 2004

This one's the Beltona brand

Wow. I really should go dumpster diving some time:

Many times records in the trash belong in the trash—they’re scratched so badly it would be impossible to listen to them. Other times, though, they’re salvageable (just a bit dirty and easily washed, or not in as bad as they look). Judging the condition of records and how salvageable they are is something I could write a whole other essay on. I’ll just say that things are not always as they seem, but with experience one can learn what’s really OK and what’s beyond redemption. Still other times, records are in virtually mint condition, but are not the genre or format that is readily saleable by the person who until recently had them. Typical situation: an old person dies, and their heirs have no interest in the deceased’s music. Thus, one often finds such things as cantorial records, easy listening, big band jazz, ’50s pop vocalists, the Harmonica Rascals, Jerry Vale, and schmaltzy Christmas music in the city’s trash. Much of this is of no particular interest to me, but there is plenty of interesting listening to be culled from it, including lots of what would now be called Space Age Pop. (Easy-listening versions of hard-rock hits of the ’60s are a particular fave of mine.) Classical music is by far the most common thing to find in large quantities, and it’s often in tip-top shape. I daresay that if I started from scratch today, I could have a large and varied collection of classical LPs in less than a year’s time at absolutely no cost. A few weeks ago, for example, I took home about 100 more or less mint classical LPs, many of them on Deutsche Grammophon; I had to make two trips from the Dumpster.

[...]
And then there are 78s, which most people don’t have the machinery to play.
[...]
The trash has yielded a number of outstanding finds. (Just how, where, when, and why piles of 78s, as well as LP records, 45s, and even CDs, end up in the trash, is something I must keep to myself--but know that they do.) Last winter I actually had to hail a cab, even though I was only a few blocks from home, in order to carry home the stack of 78s I found (book after book of near-mint Artie Shaw records, as well as Mel Torme, 1950s mariachi bands, some other odd Latin stuff, etc.—the fact that they were in such great shape had a lot to do with my taking them). And the other night I found another great stash. This one is mostly jazz—much of it by well-known artists such as Count Basie, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins, and some fine work by them indeed. And while I’m certainly glad to have copies of such classics as “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You)” by Roy Hamilton (Epic), “Caldonia” by Louis Jordan (Decca), and “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt (RCA Victor), once again it’s the oddball stuff that captures my fancy.

And I just might find a nice deskchair there as well. Or some original H.G. Kresse pages.

(Via Electrolite's sidebar.)

This should be a national holiday!

Why didn't anybody tell me that today was Drs. P's 85th birthday? Belated congratulations to the great Dutch/Swiss songwriter and light versifier. Met jouw verjaardag zijn wij heden blij, knolrapen, lof, schorseneren en prei.

August 30, 2004

Henry the Human Fly

Fledg'ling records have reissued Henry the Human Fly, which is great news. Richard Thompson's debut solo album from 1972 had been kinda-sorta available since 1991, but I for one had never seen it in the shops before. I had a copy burned for me from vinyl by an acquaintance, but it's just not the same. The remastered edition is a huge improvement on that copy, with Thompson's acoustic guitar and the other instruments coming through with great detail and presence.
It's one of the best Thompson has made in a long and illustrious career. In every decade since the 1960s, Thompson has come out with at least one album that ranks among the best made that decade, and occasionally with more. Henry the Human Fly is a bit difficult to get into but once you get past the sound of Thompson's voice on this first attempt, you will hear great songwriting with the deceptively simple tunes and gut-wrenching lyrics that have been his trademark ever since.
The guitar playing is also beautiful, effective and mature. Mojo listed the record as one of the 20 greatest guitar albums ever, but don't expect a record driven by guitar pyrotechnics. Thompson's guitar playing, even then, served the songs, and not the other way around.

Continue reading "Henry the Human Fly" »

September 23, 2004

Andre Hazes dies

Singer Andre Hazes, one of the Netherlands best-loved singers of popular song, died today aged 53. I was never much into his style of music but over the years I've learned to respect him for his professionalism and the care and enthusiasm he put into his work. He was easily the best at what he did. About a year ago I saw part of a TV broadcast of one of his gala concerts, and was impressed by how perfect everything was. At the time, the singer was suffering from hearing problems, and his phrasing had become jerky as a result, but the (huge) band was dead on and the crowd was nuts throughout the 3 or 4 songs that I saw.

From Expatica:

Hazes, 53, was rushed home from holiday in Spain in a serious condition. He was admitted to intensive care suffering from a high fever and pneumonia. He died of a heart attack at about 9.30am on Thursday, his family confirmed.

Hazes was a diabetic and battled with alcoholism for several years. He was born in the Pijp district of Amsterdam in 1951.

The popular singer was discovered by a television presenter some eight years after his birth when he was singing at the city's Albert Cuyp market to earn money to buy his mother a present. Hazes' family was very poor as a child.

He had several hits in the 1970s and 1980s and despite a turbulent career — due in part to his alcohol addiction — he has always been much loved by the Dutch public.

Continue reading "Andre Hazes dies" »

September 24, 2004

TV Eyes

I got a mix CD in the mail the other day, from my brother. The best tracks on it are three by TV Eyes who sound more like an eighties pop group than any eighties pop group ever did.
Two of the members were part of Jellyfish, which also spawned The Moog Cookbook. These guys can, and eventually will, play anything.

September 30, 2004

I buy far too many CDs!

My one vice, the one bad habit that will one day be the ruin of me, is buying much much more music than I can afford. One day, I'll go too far, and end up homeless, or crushed under the weight of a falling cupboard full of CDs... or worse, I could end up a musicblogger. I've noticed that quite a few people who write about music in weblogs are desperately unhappy, and although music can help people remain sane, writing about it often allows writers to wallow in whatever their problem was in the first place.

For now, though, I can buy CDs and vinyl and pay for them out of my tax refund, which was a big'un this year. It's irresponsible, but it won't actually bankrupt me... yet.

I have some time to spare right now, so here and in the next few posts will be a roundup of stuff I bought in the past couple of months weeks.

Today, I got Want One by Rufus Wainwright, now marked down at the record store. Rufus is the son of Loudon Wainwright III, one of my favorite singer/songwriters.While he does have some of his dad's melodic sensibility, the music on Want One sounds more like a cross between Muse and Jellyfish, with traces of Roy Harper. The lyrics are less anecdotal and poignant than dad's, and more existential. Not sure if I like the lyrics, and his voice can grate a bit after a while, but the tunes are strong and the big production is just gorgeous. The layered instrumental work keeps it interesting. One to play a few more times before I can tell if it has any staying power. Update: after three listenings, I can say that the answer is no. Rufus's vocal mannerisms annoy me and the orchestrations get in the way of the songs.

I also got Smoke and Strong Whiskey by Christy Moore. Moore is the older brother of singer-songwriter Luka Bloom, and the similarity is clear in his voice and songwriting approach. I was very much immersed in coloring Friday's comic while I listened to this for the first time, so I can't say too much about it, other than that it was rockier than I expected it to be. It's very much an Irish record, but a folk-rock one instead of the folk that I expected. Soft folk-rock, mind. It has electric guitars and hammond organs, but doesn't get very loud, mostly because Moore's voice is very quiet. Smoke and Strong Whiskey is pleasant enough, but nothing stuck out. There's a cover of the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" on the album, but while it's better played than the original, it lacks the original's energy and the cattiness that you got from the duet between Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl. Moore's own songwriting is pretty good though, and I'll probably end up loving it when I've heard the record more often. Update: on repeated listening, I like about half the songs. "Scapegoats" is a particularly good one. It's odd to think that 14 years on, there is once again a need for songs like that.

Continue reading "I buy far too many CDs!" »

October 1, 2004

mclusky did Vera

They rocked.

Continue reading "mclusky did Vera" »

October 6, 2004

Bwa ha ha!

Shot by Both Sides never fails to deliver good snark:

Meanwhile, Mark Chapman has been refused parole after a "review of records". Clearly they didn't review any of John Lennon's post-1973 records, otherwise they'd have granted him an official pardon.

October 17, 2004

Laibach - Anthems

I may well be the only person in the world who gets a bit nostalgic about Laibach. I can still remember the day I first heard them: some time in the late 'eighties, I was browsing at a record store when I noticed that the urgent, militant rhythm that was playing over the speakers had the chord progression and tune of Queen's then-recent hit "One Vision". The words, however, were rumbled in a sepulchral bass-baritone, and were in German! Queen's Live Aid-inspired paean to world unity was transformed, simply by literal translation, into something much more sinister. I went to the checkout to ask who had done this, and found the checkout guys puzzling over the same thing, and wondering if these lyrics were even legal to publish!
I didn't buy the record then, but have always remembered that it existed. Last year I bought Laibach's latest album W.A.T. and found that a decent but not particularly innovative industrial dance album. It's very listenable and somewhat menacing, but lacks the edge of that earlier work. Laibach's albums are hard to get around these parts, and I have not seen the Opus Dei album that that Queen cover, known as "Geburt Einer Nation", first appeared on in the shops since then*). Now at least, there's a good career-spanning compilation out: Anthems.

Continue reading "Laibach - Anthems" »

October 18, 2004

Rock and or Roll!



The first time a saw M.A.S.S. play it was unexpected. They were opening un-anounced for The Datsuns and were taking the audience by surprise. I remember distinctly thinking "W.T.F.?!" when walking into Club Vera's main hall - "this band rocks!" They didn't have an album out then, and I learned they made the trip London- Groningen, just for that one gig, for a fee of €100... This band, at the very least, had their heart in the right place!

Now they have their first album out, which is called "Revolution." Is the album revolutionairy? Not in my opinion. But that doesn't matter at all, because it contains some of the best kick-ass Rock'n Roll tunes I've heard in some time. They're touring like mad at the moment, so if you live in the U.K. or mainland Europe, you have a good chance they're coming to a place near you. And you *do* want to check them out!

October 19, 2004

The only card I need

Hayseed Dixie's cover of "The Ace of Spades" is purty durned good, if a bit on the slick side. Download it. (17 MB Quicktime video)

October 21, 2004

The Ocean, Helsinki Suicides

I like listening to metal records, but I rarely go to metal concerts. Strangely, it's mostly the idea of having to endure the music at ear-splitting volumes that turns me off. The dirty secret of metal records is that most of them aren't actually that loud. If I were to play a Finntroll record at home or in the studio and follow it up with an acoustic record by, say, Dave Swarbrick, the first couple of seconds of the Swarb record would have me running to the deck to turn the volume down.
Metal producers create the illusion of loudness by using heavy compression and saturating the mid-to-high range. Soundmen at metal concerts do the same, but also turn the volume way up.
Tonight, though, I went to a metal gig at Vera. I wanted beer, Jeroen wanted to see a gig, so we quickly arranged to combine the two. And it has to be said, metal is always good for drinking beer to. The acts on display were The Ocean (warning: Flash-based site with sound), supported by The Helsinki Suicides.

Continue reading "The Ocean, Helsinki Suicides" »

October 25, 2004

Finntroll - Nattf�dd

Band picture, from the CD

A pleasant little soiree at Finntroll Manor, with chamber music and polite conversation.


Back in 2001, I reviewed Humppa-black-metallers Finntroll's second album, Jaktens Tid, giving it a big thumbs up. This year, the band released an acoustic album Visor om Slutet, and an electric album, Nattf�dd, both of which I snapped up when they came out. At the time, though, I wasn't too keen on either of them, but I've been listening to Nattf�dd while drawing lately, and it's actually almost as good as Jaktens Tid. That's quite an achievement if you realise that the band has had what amounted to a brain transplant between those two albums. First, vocalist Katla developed a viral tumor in his throat and had to stop singing or die. Visor om Slutet was recorded with Katla sharing the vocals with his hand-picked successor Wilska. Then, guitarist Teemu "Somnium" Raimoranta, while drunk, fell off a bridge and didn't get up. Katla and Somnium were the originators of Finntroll's combination of Black Metal, polka-like rhythms and ethnic Finnish instrumentation, so this was a bit like James and Lars dying in Metallica's 1986 bus accident, leaving Cliff and Kirk to soldier on as best they could.
Against the odds, Nattf�dd is a fine album, and every bit as good for drawing by as Jaktens Tid. The remaining original Trolls have stuck with the concept well, with keyboardist Trollhorn writing most of the music. What makes Finntroll so much more fun than other Black Metal bands I've heard (and thanks to my headbanging buddy Danny I get to hear a lot of them)?

Continue reading "Finntroll - Nattf�dd" »

October 26, 2004

Cheapshottin' Gun's 'n'Roses

Playing at the studio now because Jeroen brought it: Appetite For Destruction by Guns'n'Roses. Fuck, they were a great band at that time. Must have taken them a lot of work to hush that up later on.

Broadcasting legend John Peel dies

A sad day for music: Discjockey, concert presenter and host of the Peel sessions John Peel has died aged 65. From the classic rock era to the heyday of The White Stripes, Peel's voice has graced hundreds of concert and radio session recordings. Peel was consistently on top of the latest developments in rock music, and remained committed to seeking out the best right until the end.

The Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt said: "John Peel was a broadcasting legend. I am deeply saddened by his death, as are all who work at Radio 1.

"John's influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades and his contribution to modern music and music culture is immeasurable.

"Hopeful bands all over the world sent their demo tapes to John knowing that he really cared. His commitment and passion for new music only grew stronger over the years.

"In fact, when I last saw him he was engaged in a lively debate with his fellow DJs over the state of new music today. He will be hugely missed."

Update: I've been looking at the tributes that have poured in just about everywhere remotely connected to Britain. I think Pete Ashton has one of the best, explaining why people took to him and going beyond the (true but not all-explaining) "he was like a friendly uncle who knew cool music" line:

Throughout the 90s I tended to be the only person in my immediate group of friends that listened to him. As time has progressed this has changed as when that identification is made one tends to have made a friend for life and this evening nearly every weblog I read has a post like this on it. I don't think he has fans as such or followers. Rather he made a certain frame of mind acceptable and this, I think, is his real legacy.

In fact I'll go out on a limb and say it's not really about the music. The music is a conduit for something else, something quite intangible which I think comes down to that fucked up sense of juxtaposition he imposed on us. He made having an open mind cool, which is saying something when you think about it. Once you'd accepted that you could listen to every form of every form of music and appreciate it on its own merits then you could apply this to everything else in life. Any form of creative endeavour is worthwhile. The fact that someone, anyone, is doing something different and interesting becomes vital.

On the whole fans (for want of a better word) of him tend to be sensitive folk who just want things to be nice, who feel beaten down by the relentless enforcement of mediocrity. He not only provided a place on the radio for us to retreat to, his spirit encouraged others to do the same. Every small club, fanzine, website, setup of any description that implicitly encourages people to just do stuff owes him a debt, and they know it. The generation, generations really, that grew up with him learned something important and it stuck with them. We're the ones who smile when we see enthusiasm, who know that there is so much more to life...

My own personal memory of Peel, by the way, started with his radio show on Dutch VPRO, 20 years ago. I didn't always get the music, but I loved the sound of Peely's voice and his outspokenness about his likes and dislikes (he did have dislikes, Bruce Springsteen being one of them), the strange items such as reviews of mix tapes sent by him to critics in Senegal or what have you, and the fact that he hardly ever played anything twice on that show. What a guy.

I'm in

My head-banging buddy Danny pointed me to this: Information SuperhighwayStars II. I'd been playing with the idea of setting something like this up myself, because the first version of this project was so cool. The name is pretty quaint by now though. Who even remembers the phrase "Information Superhighway"?

Now, to think of a track to cover...

October 29, 2004

The Apes, Weird War

I'm really happy that bands like The Apes exist. They convincingly take you back in time all the way to 1971 or thereabouts, playing music that owes as much to Uriah Heep as the Doors, with a stage presentation to match. The main difference is that Apes keyboardist Amanda Kleinman is a lot cuter than Ray Manzarek or Ken Hensley were even when they were in their prime. Whenever singer Paul Weil, clad in ultratight, low-slung pants, showed a little too much bum cleavage, my eyes darted to the left side of the stage... but let's talk about how they sounded. I think they could have been a little more together as a band, but each of them individually had the 1970-era stylings down pat. The only thing that was missing was a Ritchie Blackmore-caliber guitarist.
I only saw part of The Apes' set at Vera tonight because I arrived late expecting them to be the main act when they were in fact opening for Weird War. Weird War didn't do that much for me. From a strictly musical viewpoint they were better than The Apes: tighter, more technically accomplished, more adventurous. Their white-boy funk was the the sound the Talking Heads would have made in their early days if the Talking Heads had been able to play their instruments properly. However, I couldn't get past their singer. He seemed to want to be Prince, and while he got pretty close with the sound of his voice, his stage presentation resembled Mick Jagger, circa 1988; in other words he looked a bit of a pillock. That spoiled matters for me a bit although closing my eyes helped. Weird War are a very good band indeed — just not for me.

I left Vera with a 10" by The Apes. Review to follow.

That's one more idea that I can scratch from the list

Pete Ashton (again!) linked to this Guardian article about Creative Commons UK. That's pretty interesting stuff, but what struck me was the introductory paragraph:

In the summer of 2002, Steven McDonald, the bass player with American punk-pop band Redd Kross, had an idea. Listening to White Stripes - the minimalist Detroit duo who produce their stripped-down garage sound with just a guitar and drums - he wondered what it would sound like with a bass track. So he downloaded a White Stripes tune and tried it out. He liked it so much that he did their whole album, eventually uploading the new bass-laden tracks to his website, complete with a Photoshopped cover featuring himself as third band member.

And this is exactly what I've been suggesting to my friend Danny that he should do sometime. Lucky for us that neither of us had time to spend on that (I'd have helped him with the recording, and making tea).

November 11, 2004

Singer-Songwriter roundup

Rented from the public library (because I can't afford to buy as many CDs right now as I've done in the past few months):

Genius by Warren Zevon. I'm a bit disappointed by this one, to be honest. Zevon has an excellent reputation as a songwriter, but on the basis of this nearly career-spanning retrospective, I don't think he lived up to it. There are some good songs on there, especially 1988's "Boom Boom Mancini" with its bluesy touches, 1991's carnivalesque "Mr. Bad Example" and 1978's "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" but like the Bruce Cockburn retrospective I rented a year or so ago, many of the songs are marred by sugary arrangements and the limitations of Zevon's voice. I'll explore his work a little further by listening to the albums that the best songs on this record came from but I don't expect to discover another artist of Richard Thompson's caliber.
Little Ship by Loudon Wainwright III. I'm a huge Loudon fan already so I was bound to like it. It's not his best: both the album's predecessor Grown man and the recent Last Man on Earth are stronger overall. The songs repeat themes Wainwright has visited time and again without adding much in the way of new ideas, and the arrangements are at times a little too clever for their own good. Indeed the two songs from Little Ship that made it to the live album So Damn Happy, "So Damn Happy" and "Primrose Hill", sound much better in the stripped-down, guitar-and-vocal version offered there. Nevertheless, Little Ship is well-crafted, pleasing to the ear and recommended for anyone who likes Wainwright's other stuff. And "What Are Families For" is a great, great song.

November 14, 2004

Deep Purple - Burn (remastered, vinyl)

My vinyl copy of the remastered version of Burn (Amazon UK link) has finally arrived. The point of the remaster program was to put out CD editions that sound better compared to the original CD editions released between 1984 and 1990 (many of which sounded appaling), and getting a vinyl edition to replace a pretty decent and not yet worn vinyl pressing sort of defeats the purpose. But what the hell, I like vinyl, it's a Deep Purple album, and I wasn't going to get the CD ShinyDisk for reasons I wrote about earlier.
The 2LP edition isn't as lavishly packaged as the CD ShinyDisk, but it has all the historical information and photos on the inner sleeves. No lyrics, alas. The disks are solid to the touch but not as heavy as I like them. It's a good, clean pressing free of noises in the lead-in groove.
Musically, of course, it's all familiar stuff. This music has been with me for the better part of two decades. It's not sophisticated songwriting, but the band had a powerful, driving hard rock sound with elements of big band swing in Ian Paice's drumming and classical touches from guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord. A new departure at the time of release were the double vocals from new bassist Glenn Hughes and new lead vocalist David Coverdale (later to make a big pillock of himself in Whitesnake). Hughes' voice was high and soulful (at least on studio recordings - live, he'd often over-scream himself); Coverdale's dark and smoky. This took the music in a more bluesy direction although the title track and "You Fool No One" still qualify as out and out rockers that wouldn't have been out of place on earlier records. It's great stuff.
The remastered edition doesn't sound too different (on vinyl at least) from the original — a little more mellow perhaps.
The second disk contains four remixes of tracks on the album, plus a remixed non-album track. Splitting the remixes off from the body of the record is a great idea. They now make for a short album in their own right instead of a bunch of bonus tracks tacked on to the end, coming up after you've just heard the original versions. Ant they're very listenable. The changes aren't great - the remixers have shot for mostly matching remixes using new technology to improve clarity rather than for revisions like with the Machine Head remix disk (Amazon UK link). No alternate solos here — just slightly improved sound and some changes to beginnings and endings. Nice work; I'll be playing it regularly.

November 22, 2004

Metal CD roundup

Working my way up to getting some proper writing done on this day of low productivity...

A while ago I noticed that having some good, nasty metal music on the discman helped me focus on my work better. To test that, I went to the library and rented four metal CDs. All of them were recorded after 1995, had promisingly tasteless cover art and had a name and reputation that I was familiar with. Unfortunately, that didn't stop them from being mostly awful, making this experiment a failure (that is, I still don't know if metal is better at keeping me focused on my work than other genres because I found listening to them too much of a chore to play the records repeatedly while working).

Beyond the Veil by Tristania is weepy Goth-metal mixing grunted male vocals with an operatic female soprano. There wouldn't be much wrong with that if the group, like many other weepy Goth-metal groups, hadn't forgotten to write coherent, comprehensible songs and resorted to stringing together riffs and fragments of music. I don't expect John Hiatt-level songwriting in a metal record, but I do have some minimal standards. Bleah.

Stratovarius, who had been recommended to me in the past, do have coherent songs, but that didn't make Elements pt.2 any less of a chore to listen to. If I'm in the mood to put on a metal album, the last thing I want to hear is life-affirming, optimistic lyrics. I want anger, hate and agression; get with the lootin', pillagin' and settin' fire to churches already! Seriously, Stratovarius' sub-Helloween Happy Metal got on my nerves. A lot. So did the guitar solos. I'd have enjoyed this one when I was 14 years old, but now it just sounds empty and air-headed.

Pro-bot by Dave Grohl and guests, is better. It's a tribute to the underground heavy metal of the 1980s with a wide range of vocalists from that era providing lyrics and vocals to music that Grohl wrote especially for them. It does emulate the pedestrian playing and indifferent production quality that I remember from 1980s underground metal, and some of the guest contributors are reduced to schtick — Lemmy from Motörhead in particular sounds like a shadow of his former self in "Shake Your Blood". Even Lemmy's bass playing sounds thin and distant. But it has some memorable songs, particularly "Ice Cold Man" with Napalm Death's Lee Dorrian guesting. It sounds more like Soundgarden than Napalm Death, but that's a good thing. In all, a decent effort that I could bear to play again.

Finally, Godless Savage Garden by Dimmu Borgir is an odd one. It's got a couple of re-recorded songs from a previous album, some live stuff and a ridiculous cover version of Accept's "Metal Heart". The live tracks are a blinding racket, worth listening to only for the opportunity to hear the "singer" pronounce the band's name. The studio tracks, however, are more disciplined and worth listening to. In fact, they energised me rather nicely and came closest to realising my aim of having some music to keep me awake and focused while working. That Accept cover is really really silly, though, especially the interpolation of one of the most appalling pieces of kitch found in the classical canon: Für Elise. I wonder if that was in the original. It's kept from going over the thin line between the clever and the stupid by the sheer apblomb with which it's delivered. I should probably have picked a later Dimmu Borgir album (indeed, I've got one album in MP3 format courtesy of head-banging buddy Danny), but the first five tracks on this one were quite enjoyable.

November 29, 2004

welcome Cleveland, on this sunday afternoon

It was probably afternoon in Cleveland, but we were several thousand miles away in Groningen, where it was, in fact, night. Weary of touring, probably, Rachel Nagy, lead singer of retro garage rock band the Detroit Cobras greeted the audience thus, with a wink and a smile, and a puff of her cigarette. Smoking incessantly, drinking steadily and looking almost bored, her performance was nevertheless entertaining. The Detroit Cobras are a coverband playing '50's Rock 'n Roll and Soul in their unique garage rock way. Standing there looking so blas� I sometimes wondered how Rachel Nagy would sound when actually interested in singing: though her attitude is more likely a pose and her singing was pretty amazing as it was. At times raw, sometimes suave, often beautiful.
In that light it is worth mentioning the opening act of the evening, studio-mate Josje's band the Monroes. Same genre, '50's and '60's inspired Garage Rock, Josje's voice has less range than Rachel Nagy's, though is somewhat sexier. Also Josje's stage appearance is far more enthousiastic. That she's having fun on stage was obvious and this being their first major gig, they did great. If the Monroes manage to get their sound right, they'll be a band to watch. Go Josje!

December 15, 2004

No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NO!

Absolutely not!
I just heard that Queen (meaning Brian May and Roger Taylor - the writer of "I Want to Break Free" has been written out of history) are going to tour with Paul Rodgers on vocals. Online news reports quote Brian May as saying


We were both so amazed at the chemistry that was going on in All Right Now, that suddenly it seems blindingly obvious that there was something happening here.

which is the same PR bollocks that rock stars always spout. It may be true this time, of course. Indeed, there are worse singers than Paul Rodgers (Imagine they'd gone on the road with Paul Carrack!). A partnership between May, Taylor and Rodgers may well be worth pursuing to them, if they form a new band, write new songs and generally look to the future. But the reports show them trading on the name Queen, announcing that they will play Queen and Free material, and generally digging up the corpses of the past. I don't see anything good coming out of that.

Expect a Nirvana reunion in 2009

After posting that last entry about the Queen "Reunion", I started wondering why I was so particularly hostile to this one when other band reunions either don't bother me at all or arouse my enthusiasm. I wasn't bothered by The Pixies' reunion, for the simple reason that they never did that much for me, and I was very keen, five years ago, to go and see the legendary Dutch pop group Doe Maar in concert when they reformed. And let's not even go into my abiding love for Deep Purple...

Continue reading "Expect a Nirvana reunion in 2009" »

December 30, 2004

Kate Bush comeback announced, Greeks to switch to Turkish calendar

I will believe this when I hold the record in my sweaty hands, and not a second earlier. In fact, I'll hold off on believing it until I've listened to the record and it has provoked some other physiological reactions not suitable for mention in a family weblog.
Admittedly, by that standard, The Red Shoes must have been the work of a better-than-Toriaverage Kate-clone...
Seriously, I've learned not to get my, er, hopes up too much where rumoured new Kate Bush albums are concerned. In fact, I am getting fed up with those rumours altogether, because they always get in the way of Kate-related projects that are actually feasible. On the back of earlier "Kate returns" rumours, remasters of her back catalogue have been postponed and bands have been banned from putting out cover versions of her songs. The back catalogue issue is particularly harmful - it's about the only classic oeuvre published by EMI that is still only available on CD transfers from the 1980s, and most of her B-sides and remixes are only to be found on an overpriced boxed set duplicating the albums that Kate-worshippers already have. Also, and inexplicably, there is still no DVD of Live at Hammersmith.
Unless and until Kate comes up with the goods, I don't really want to hear about it. Let me just chance upon it unexpectedly and run to the store counter with my, er, heart throbbing, all a-flutter at having found a gift from the heavens.

January 4, 2005

Robert Johnson=Britney Spears

While I'm in "Heh indeed, read the whole thing" mode, go and read this post about Delta Blues, Robert Johnson and the problem of 'golden ages' from Publius. It's better than his Nirvana article, I promise.

Punk rock karaoke

This is how I spent part of New Years' Eve: enjoying the local punk rock/heavy metal karaoke at Vera. I didn't have a go myself because by the time I arrived all the songs I could sing were already taken, but I had fun watching mild mannered Vera staff belt out songs like "The Ace of Spades" at the top of their lungs. The band themselves were pretty good, and could adapt well to the sometimes unpredictable singers.
Check out two minutes of fame (WMV, 8 Mb), with singers they filmed earlier at a Vera staff party. The first person looks vaguely like Barbara Stok... the shirtless guy is Ricky the Fearless Cartooneer.
Searching for their website on Google, I found that there were quite a few punk rock karaoke bands already, and Barbara told me this band had admitted to stealing the idea from a New York band, possibly this one. I think these Californians got the ball rolling though.

January 7, 2005

So Mick would have been Nelly Furtado?

Another one about the blues, from Tom Popular, who points out, among other things:


What does it actually mean to say that a sharecropper in Alabama and a public schoolboy in Surrey are playing this same type of music? You can reach for the utopian answer, of course - music is music, the great unifier. But even then a sly hierarchy creeps in: the sharecropper is not after all being assessed on how much they remind one of the schoolboy.

January 14, 2005

10, random

Just this once, I'll take part in the time-wasting. The ten first songs to come up in shuffle play on my MP3 playing software are:

1. "Not One of Us" - Peter Gabriel
2. "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be" (live) - AC/DC
3. "Only a Dream" - Solomon Burke
4. "End of a Holiday" - Fairport Convention
5. "The Lady Wore Black" - Queensrÿche (I wonder if that y-umlaut character works)
6. "Beat It" - Michael Jackson
7. "I Wish I Was Crazy Again" - Johnny Cash
8. "Get Rhythm" - Johnny Cash
9. "Hevnervals" - Kaizers Orkestra
10. "The Short Measure of My Lady" - Phillip Pickett and Richard Thompson.

Feel free to laugh now.

February 6, 2005

It's been done, folks. *Everything* has been done

Boing Boing rarely tells me stuff I already know, but when it's about music, they're a little behind the times:


Punk cover bands and Motorhead's bluegrass makeover

Punk cover bands: here are two, but IMO that's enough to comprise a genre. Any others out there?
Gay Black Flag cover band BLACK FAG Link
All-Jewish Skrewdriver cover band JEWDRIVER: Link
(Thanks, Sean Bonner!)

Continue reading "It's been done, folks. *Everything* has been done" »

February 13, 2005

Lais - Douce Victime

Almost a year ago, I refused to buy Douce Victime by Flemish sirens Lais because it was on one of those shiny non-CD CDs that EMI puts out routinely. (I am currently refusing to buy the solo album from Kaizers Orkestra main man Janove Ottesen for the same reason, and am very worried about the forthcoming new Kate Bush album. Let's hope that, like Pink Floyd, she can use her clout within EMI to put a stop to that nonsense.) However, this has never been an absolute boycott - instead I consider ShinyDisks to be severely devalued by the playback problems they cause me and the need to (irony of ironies, all is irony) make backup copies immediately after buying them because the so-called copy protection technology breaks the error correction track and makes the disks much more damage-prone. If a CD like that gets marked down, I think about buying it again. Douce Victime is currently on sale, so I got it.

Continue reading "Lais - Douce Victime" »

February 19, 2005

Just a thought

If there was a festival whose bill consisted of Kaizers Orchestra, De Kift, Krang, Stuurbaard Bakkebaard and, oh, I don't know, maybe Tom Waits headlining, I'd probably go. Even though I really, truly, madly, deeply hate festivals.

Lais in D'Oosterpoort

Jeroen, Sidsel and I saw Lais perform in a packed Oosterpoort tonight and they sure didn't disappoint. Considering that, on the basis of their four records, I consider them to be among the very best European music has to offer, that's high praise indeed.
They were backed by a guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist and accordionist, and that backing group sounded a lot better on the new material than the big production I mentioned in my review of the album.

Continue reading "Lais in D'Oosterpoort" »

April 17, 2005

Confuse the cat



Upbeat Flemish emo. Think Deus meets Franz Ferdinand, with a touch of the Delgados, that's Confuse the Cat. Former Reiziger frontman Geert Plessers' influence is very audible, the songs still have those rough edges and eerie repetitive guitar riffs. But Confuse the Cat manages to take the songs beyond where a lot of emo bands get stuck in soundscaping: adding melody and up tempo rythms make the songs much easier to digest and far more diverse.
When I saw them live yesterday at the Vera downstage bar, they had just played another gig for a enthusiastic crowd of 600. This didn't stop them from going all out for the measly 30 or 40 people that had patiently awaited their arrival at half past midnight. It was well worth the wait, though, as they put on an energetic live performance that even survived the lousy accoustics of the room. Rests me to recommend their new album "New medicine" that I bought at the show yesterday, and that hasn't left my cd-player since I put it there this morning.

April 19, 2005

Our dear friends, the music industry

Interesting tidbit from Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan's latest open letter to his fans:

Fact: Deep Purple sold around 150,000 tickets in the UK alone, at the beginning and end of the 'Bananas' tour that covered about 38 countries in 18 months and played to millions around the world. EMI, in the UK, pressed - and sold easily - 18,000 copies. They refused point blank to produce any more.

I couldn't in all fairness even paraphrase the reasons they gave to our management and - even more insultingly - to our friends in Cologne, because those reasons are beyond my comprehension. But I do wonder if they have ever had to explain this sort of thing to the shareholders, who might be baffled at the decision to pass, on - at a conservative guess - the potential of half a million pounds worth of gross sales in one territory, and that from a band that has generated in excess of one billion pounds of income from the public into the coffers of the industry as a whole over the last thirty five years (not that we've seen much of it you understand).

One other thing - I think most of us on the creative side were appalled at the rejection by our industry of the Internet potential when it emerged quite a few years ago. That's what happens when you fire your bright people and rely upon your suits. Had IT been embraced instead of being seen as a threat then... ah, what then?

[snip]

Enough, we move on. DP is no longer with EMI and - if the silly grin on Bruce Payne's face is anything to go by - the future looks very bright indeed, in the category - new record company; but that's for him to announce. (BP is our beloved manager).

(Bold emphasis in the original, italics mine) As long as record companies continue to hurt their artists through incompetence and obstructionism, and steal whatever proceeds are made in spite of their incompetence and obstructionism, their arguments against file sharing and other forms of unauthorised use will ring hollow.(Note:as a copyright owner, I don't want them to ring hollow. On the merits, the record companies have a point although it's not a sure-fire one). EMI UK, in their infinite wisdom, killed off a perfectly commercial album. Were the decision makers the same who starved Under Wraps and Ian Anderson's 1983 solo album Walk Into Light of promotion? They might well have been - EMI bought the record company these albums were released on in the early 1990s.

If you look at the way many older recording artists handle their releases, you'll find that many of them do the same thing specifically to insure themselves against record company stupidity. They will only sign short-term contracts, reserve the right to put out fans-only live records themselves and increase their output through the fans-only channels dramatically after leaving major labels. And they will rescue their songwriting catalogue from their old labels by putting out live CDs and DVDs featuring their core material, at the risk of appearing to trade on their old glories (an accusation that can safely be leveled at Jethro Tull these days, but not at, e.g. Richard Thompson who is always working on many new projects but still took out time to record an acoustic record of his best-known material).
Deep Purple do all these things; let's hope they figure out a way to make the Internet work for them as well. For all the good that EMI have done, the band might as well have released Bananas under a Creative Commons license and given it away for free to promote their concerts.

April 30, 2005

Finntroll at Vera, April 29

... I don't remember ever seeing crowdsurfing at Vera. Turns out that Finntroll aren't just big names in the metal subculture, but have actual hero status, complete with loud cheers, hands in the air and a major buzz going through the audience when they walked on stage.
They did a pretty good concert, as well, although they weren't nearly as tight as on the records, especially in the first few numbers. Singer Wilska did a decent job reproducing some of the joik-singing in tracks like "Jaktens Tid", and the signature keyboard sound was there despite the fact that the keyboard player was new.
What didn't translate well to the stage is the tongue-in-cheekness of it all; I suppose that on stage just playing a good metal set is difficult enough, so it was all a bit more straight-faced than on record. But as the gig progressed, the band got tighter, and the guitar sound gained in clarity and depth. On the whole, I'd say it was a good concert but not a great one. The crowd at the sold-out venue loved it though.
The band toured with two support acts. I gave the first one, Amoral, a miss but did catch a few numbers from Naglfar, a decent thrash-metal group. They looked and sounded all right but suffered from the emotional flatness that affects many metal acts; the songs were just made of bits following one another, with no real buildup or mood change. So suddenly there might be a bit where the audience is supposed to go "Hey" in time to the rhythm, but there's no reason why that should happen in that precise part of a song instead of any other.
I liked the crowd. Metal people tend to be friendly and wear interesting things - I was amused by the sight of a girl wearing a tiara. Apart from the tiara and the two young guys in Crusader outfits, the dress style was more restrained than the Gothic style, and a lot more tasteful - for a given value of taste. Many in the crowd had shirts with gruesome imagery or suicidally depressing slogans, which is incongruous if the person wearing the shirt is a fresh-faced, even angelic-looking teenager. Ages ranged from about 13 to mid-fourties, by the way. Americans may be interested to know that alcohol was sold despite the presence of minors - but hopefully not to the minors.
After the concert, Jeroen, Danny, Sidsel and I had a heroic drinking session, which makes the final work on my presentation (I have decided to give it after all) a bit difficult right now.

May 26, 2005

I should listen to this, and probably so should you

Via Pete Ashton, the Bluegrass Preservation Society Radio Show sounds like the sort of thing I'd love. I'll listen to the podcasts when I have a wee bit o'time.

June 6, 2005

Dinosaurs rule the earth once more - birds extinct

Dinosaur jr, a name from way back when. Back in the days when I was a little sk8er boy, this was one of the favorite bands around. Tonight I saw them live, at the Vera-club: their first gig since they re-united. They huffed and puffed and blew the house down! Bit older, lot greyer, they captivated the audience (very little young-uns) from the start. Their mix of punk, rock, metal and americana and good songmanship with a lot of distortion made me realize that this one of the key bands of the late eighties and early nineties. They have such a distinct sound, though I couldn't whistle a single one of their songs, do know how to write them. A good time was had by all, the band including.
Suicidal Birds opened for them. I hadn't heard of them before. A punk-rock band, with a female lead singer and female guitarist, that's something that grabs my attention of the bat. Turns out they're from Frysia, which is something I wouldn't have guessed, they have a very mature and international sound. The singer, responsible for all songs, drives the songs, and drives them well, Indy 500 well, as far as I'm concerned. A tough job, opening for a huge band like Dinosaur jr, being a complete unknown, they did very well. I hope (and expect) to hear more from them!

June 25, 2005

Hip to be square



Often I get asked: "Oh Chuck, where dó you get those hip tunes from?"
To hipsterize and rockify your MP3 collection, visit this site. A simple and legal(!) way to avoid those stares when you play your Ricky Martin collection over and over; now you can get the pearly whites from those hip chicks and meaningful nods from the cool cats when you play the latest Reverend Beat-Man and the Un-Believers!


Now you've proven your hipness, you can take a step further: überhip!
The Reverend Vince sounds like Tom Waits, but has different troubles: Satan hates him, and he's trying a hard to be an asshole, but he just can't cut it, because he has Jesus.

August 26, 2005

Record shopping with Richard Thompson

... in the latest New Yorker online.

September 13, 2005

Mahna mahna

Wikipedia really has the answers to all important questions.

October 3, 2005

New Kate Bush album: Aerial

I never thought I'd live to see this day: New Kate Bush single online (short, Flash-based excerpt only, not enough to gauge the quality by; sounds kind of Peter Gabriel-esque). Concrete release dates and a title for the album:

Aerial
UK release: November 7.
US release: November 8.
Tracklisting at Screaming CD/DVD reveals it's a double.

I am shaking like a leaf. Via, Via. More.

October 29, 2005

Deep Purple - Rapture of the Deep

The new Deep Purple album Rapture of the Deep isn't working for me. The musicians sound like they're having fun working on complex, interesting ideas, and there is some good songwriting on there. But the record keeps losing momentum because between great tracks like the title track and the set closer "Before Time Began" there are too many duff pieces that sound like 1980s FM rock written by numbers. Tracks like "Don't Let Go" and "Back to Back" just make me nod off.
Mind you, that title track is really very good - proof even that these guys still have classic material in them. Other reviewers have mentioned that it reminds them of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", but a closer parallel is the work of the Canadian 1990s group The Tea Party. Another strong track, "Clearly Quite Absurd", makes the grade despite being in the despised Rock Ballad idiom. It has an interesting chord progression and takes an odd turn towards the end.
One other good thing about the new album are the tantalising glimpses we get of what Ian Gillan can do when he uses the lower end of his vocal range. More of that, please, and less of the screaming; that has long lost its relevance and become nothing more than a party trick. Generally, I like the conversational style of much of Gillan's present-day singing; it isn't quite rap but combines the flow of good rap with actual, if understated melody. It works well with Steve Morse's guitar playing, which is also, in a way, quite chatty.

What I think would have improved the record is a few more songs breaking away from the hard rock style. Those made the difference between, on the one hand, Purpendicular from 1996 and Bananas from 2003, two latterday Deep Purple albums I still play regularly, and on the other hand 1998's Abandon, which I don't. One or two tracks like the quirkier pieces on those albums to replace the uninspired rockers would have made the whole thing a lot more convincing.

November 8, 2005

Two quick music links

Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now by Mitch Benn and the Distractions. Dig the song, dig the URL even more. (Via one of the miscreants at Tapelounge)

Kate vs. Tori with photographic comparisons between the two. The winner gets to fight a bear.

November 30, 2005

Find the 100 bands

If you have somea lot of time to waste, guess the 100 bands or solo performers referenced in this poster. Anyone know a larger version for everyone to look at?
Via Tatgoddess.

December 19, 2005

Didn't Listen To The Album Watch 1: Daniel Paquette, Fab Magazine, Toronto, Canada

I don't trust music journalists. At all. I believe they ask lazy questions in interviews, don't understand music much at all, prefer quote-mining press releases for things they can spin according to their prejudices instead of actually listening to music or indeed reading up on their subjects properly, and would much rather write about themselves than about those stinky musicians they are paid to write about (by the way: I freaking hate Gonzo journalism except possibly in the hands of an expert practitioner. Genius always gets a free pass; the rest of us have to Do Things Properly).
I especially don't trust professional music reviewers to listen to records, go to concerts or know what they're talking about, and every once in a while I get confirmation of this distrust. There's the story of the Uriah Heep concert that got canceled way back in the 1970s and that still got a bad review from some drunkard who couldn't be arsed to give the venue a phone call to see if it was on. More recently, but long enough ago for me not to remember the particulars, there was a letter in the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden from a hardcore band who had played in a venue in Groningen. They didn't complain about getting panned, but they did complain about the reviewer failing to notice that their entire set had consisted of Cliff Richard covers. The reason should be obvious: the reviewer wasn't at the gig at all.
And today, the Homeground forum gives us another one. A Professional Music Critic, a Mr. Daniel Paquette from Fab Magazine in Toronto, dismissed the new Kate Bush album Aerial as "beyond hideous" saying


After a 12 year wait from this legendary heavy pot smoker, we get Kate singing the words 'washing machine' for three minutes non-stop.

Of course, we get nothing of the kind. What we get is one song in which the words 'washing machine' occur as part of a chorus. If Mr. Paquette had listened to the album, or read the lyric book, he'd have known that. Instead, he just copied the scribblings of other Professional Music Journalists, distorting them further in the process. The rumours that Kate would have 'A song about a washing machine' on the record (it isn't, to anyone with ears), had been circulating before release and were ideal fodder for someone whose idea of journalistic professionalism is to copy rumour uncritically. Such a low standard of workmanship is beyond hideous.

I've been meaning to do a series on this issue, by they way. It's nearly impossible to open a music magazine without finding similar cluelessness (regardless of whether the review is positive or not or whether I like the artist or not) and it always irritates the hell out of me. However, unlike Professional Music Journalists, I don't get paid to write these things, so don't hold your breath.

December 22, 2005

1980 fake Deep Purple footage found!

The Highway Star has published some rare video and audio from the ill-fated, bogus "Deep Purple" reunion from 1980. The recording quality isn't great but it's an opportunity for those of us who weren't around at the time to hear what the fuss was about.
In 1980, 4 years after Deep Purple split up, a Deep Purple tour was announced, which turned out only to involve original Deep Purple singer Rod Evans, plus four unknown musicians. Evans had sung with Deep Purple on three albums, Shades of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn and Deep Purple which were only moderately succesful at the time (although they are still on catalogue and are actually rather good). They had an American hit with the Joe South song "Hush" but were going nowhere commercially. Evans and bassist Nick Simper were fired from the group and Ian Gillan and Roger Glover brought in. That line-up went on to enjoy immediate Anglo-European and Japanese success, and re-conquered the US later. They wrote and recorded "Child in Time" "Smoke on the Water" and the other material that is now considered the classic Deep Purple repertoire. Rod Evans sang in a few bands in the US, then left the music business until coming back with a Deep Purple line-up that had no creative or personal continuity with the classic material. It was booed off the stage on a daily basis, and the group were sued by Deep Purple's original management, to the point where he was forced to quit music again and lost the rights to his royalties for the first three Deep Purple albums. Few recordings exist, indeed these are the first I've ever come across.

Evans' voice was pretty good as far as I can tell. The bassist sounded and moved a bit like Roger Glover. Otherwise, it's what you'd expect - a decent cover version of "Smoke on the Water". The audio file is a full-length recording of the song.

January 1, 2006

Everything new is old again

New Year's Eve, 2005 or rather, the small hours of New Year's Day, 2006. I'm at Vera's New Year's Eve party, grooving to the beats. I like the beats - the discjockey is playing popular alternative rock, punk and dance music with the occasional classic dance track tossed in. At one point, I hear something with subdued synth bass over which a rock guitar is heard, and I ask Jeroen "What's this? Sounds like New Order" only I know that it isn't New Order; it's how used to wish New Order would sound. Jeroen answers "Oh, I don't know. One of those interchangeable new bands"

I like those interchangeable new bands. So much stuff sounded like it was recorded in 1984. I felt right at home with that. I resolve to seek out a lot of those interchangeable new bands in the new year, and buy their records.

January 14, 2006

Going slightly hard of hearing for a couple of hours this weekend

Just like every year, I forgot to buy tickets for the multi-day, city-wide festival Eurosonic or its sister festival Noorderslag. This year, however, I did find the time to pick up some of these twin festivals' table scraps by going to the instore performances at the record store Plato, featuring many of the same artists. I like instores. The sound may not be ideal, the stages may be cramped and the auditorium too small to fit the crowds easily, but you get to sample artists' live abilities for free in short, focused performances. Also, you get to see them browse the CD racks. Not to mention that the audiences are relatively sober and almost clean.
On Thursday I saw Cuban-born pop singer Liset Alea, whose song "Dame la Cuenta" was a surprise favorite of mine on Plato's autumn sampler disk, and local freak-rockers Planet Orange. Unfortunately, she was a bit ill so she started late and cut her acoustic set down to three songs. I'm not sure if her music works that well in an acoustic setting. On the record, I liked the electronic beats in combination with her writing. The set was pleasant enough though. Planet Orange's Beefheartesque rock with Fender organ, trumpets and noisemakers was a lot more exciting. I'd seen them before, 5 years ago, and until recently I was under the impression that they'd split up. Not so, fortunately. It was strange to see how keyboardist Harm Wierd had changed; the first time I saw him, with Friction (Freakrock Foundation) in the mid-1990s, he had long hair, a beard and a very authentic hippie dress style. By the time Planet Orange became a going concern, the long hair had already gone, but now he looks like a professor in some obscure subject that doesn't require its practitioners to ever leave the library, like pre-Columbian Finno-Ugric philology or something like that. It's not just the tie, the dusty brown jacket or the mushroom haircut, but the combination of the tie, the jacket and the haircut that creates the impression. Still plays the organ like a madman though. Singer Dickie Visser still looks like a giant ape, even though I could tell as he walked past me in the store that he isn't all that tall. It's his burly build, wild hair and lumbering movements that make him look that way. He's quite a wonderful performer, with his gruff voice and rudimentary trombone skills. I bought their new record, Drip Drop Dripping, on the strength of the band's show.

On Saturday, I wanted to see Audiotransparent, a local band whose music I'd heard on Plato's PA system before. They've been getting some good reviews and I've seen references to them pop up on the livejournals of people outside the Netherlands, so I was really curious about them. But when I walked into Plato at the scheduled time of 2 o'clock, it was immediately clear that the band getting ready to perform weren't them. Audiotransparent are a self-identified shoegazer group, and I don't associate that style of music with lumberjack shirts, five-o-clock shadow, traditional instruments and beer bottles on stage. It turned out that Audiotransparent had also caught a bug and had to bow out of the instore performance; I don't know if they did any of their other scheduled gigs this weekend. What I got to see instead of them was very good though. El Pino and the Volunteers played raw alt.country/Americana and did a bang-up job at it. I prefered their faster, upbeat pieces to their slower singer-songwritery stuff. Fun to see that style of music tackled by such young guys too. I bought their mini-CD as well.
I decided not to wait for the next band, GEM, but pay for the CDs I'd been piling up in my hands and visit some other stores for some regular shopping. More on the CDs I've bought later. I returned to Plato after 4, in time for a band called T99 to start their show. I wasn't too taken with this trio, for some reason; their music didn't connect to me much until their final number, which was an energetic surf instrumental. If they'd done their whole set with that kind of material, I'd have loved them.
Next on the setlist were LPG, a local band who have got quite a lot of media attention because a recording by them is to be used worldwide in a Nokia commercial, even though they didn't have a record contract when they made that deal. I've got mixed feelings about them and think the media buzz happened too early for them. They've got some exciting musical ideas but at this mini-gig, they performed them rather hesitantly. A couple of dozen more gigs would have put them in a better position to present themselves to the world.
The first song of their set was fronted by a guest, home-recording songwriter Spinvis singing the title song of his new album Dagen van Gras, Dagen van Stro. He was easily the most charismatic person on stage at that moment, but his own performance half an hour later, an "outstore" mini-gig on the street in front of the store, with video projection, didn't work that well for me. I'm not going to stand out in the cold while some guy on a stepladder reads lyrics from paper to a taped backing track, and so I was on my way back home 5 minutes in.
A mixed bag it was then. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on El Pino's fresh-faced if rather unkempt young lads, will be enjoying Spinvis' music on the radio and on record, and hope to catch Audiotransparent some other time.

January 18, 2006

Strips in Stereo

Poepoe is showing previews of Strips in Stereo a forthcoming project in which Dutch hit songs are adapted into comics. The first one by Barbara Stok, based on the Doe Maar hit "Is Dit Alles" is making me very very interested in the result:

Continue reading "Strips in Stereo" »

February 6, 2006

Quick and dirty music roundup.

Albums I've been listening to:
Sigur Rós, Takk.... Everyone and their dog put this in their end-of-year list for 2005, just as I was getting into that meandering, ethereal sound a bit. This one's good, but it's not that good, and certainly not the big progression from their previous records that people have said it was.
Bettye Lavette, I Have My Own Hell to Raise. Similar formula and approach to the comeback album Solomon Burke did for ANTI in 2003, Don't Give Up On Me. May actually be better. I love that croak she's got in her voice.
Vashti Bunyan, Lookaftering and Just Another Diamond Day (the latter on vinyl from Magic Buzz record store in Groningen). Two albums in 35 years, blah blah blah, lives up to the hype. Wouldn't want to have only records that sound like this in my record collection but Lookaftering in particular is an album to grow into slowly.
Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band, No Roses also on vinyl. A bit intimidating to get into. I'm not sure if I quite "get" the appeal of Shirley Collins's voice. She's highly thought of as a folk singer and has been for almost 50 years, so the fault is likely to be entirely at my end. It's not like I got Sandy Denny immediately either. There's some lovely shambolic backing from what wasn't really a band at the time, just a bunch of musicians hired as needed. Compared to that other seminal folk-rock album, Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief from the year before, this record has more of a punk feel underpinning Collins's traditional vocal style.
Planet Orange, Drip Drop Dripping. Good, as expected.
Ritchie Blackmore, Getaway. Double CD of session recordings from Blackmore, recorded between 1963 and 1982. About half of it is Joe Meek-produced singles of varying levels of cheesyness. Judging from it, Meek's reputation as an innovative producer is overrated and it's actually a relief to get to Disc II and its Derek Lawrence-produced sessions which put Blackmore at the center of attention more and have a more hard-edged sound. Blackmore himself is on cracking form in every last track on the 2 CDs, even those where he is coupled with such inept singers as Gunilla Thorne. The best bits for me as a Deep Purple fan though are the last dozen or so tracks in which he works alongside Ian Paice and Jon Lord, resulting in an instantly-recognisable, Purple-esque ensemble sound. When those three were in one room, the results just had to sound good.
Deep Purple, various live tracks found on iTunes. It looks like Purple's Australian fan-market record company has made a deal with iTunes allowing some of their output to be released on iTunes, albeit at a somewhat inflated price. So we get the Orchestral gig at the Rotterdam Ahoy from 2000, and an Australian gig from 2001. Cherrypicking from those albums, I got the two tracks from Rotterdam featuring special guest Ronnie James Dio singing his own material backed by Lord, Paice, Morse and Glover, and two Deep Purple nuggets from the 2001 concert, "No One Came" and "Mary Long". Unfortunately, the Dio tracks aren't nearly as impressive as I remember them being when I actually was in the audience at that very concert. The Australian performances aren't among the band's strongest either. Jon Lord in particular sounds as if he was counting down the nights to his retirement (which would take place soon after the Australian concerts). I hear that the current Deep Purple tour has them on much better form again, which sort of makes me wish I'd got tickets for their January gig.
OST, Walk the Line: For an actor, Joaquin Phoenix is a very good singer, getting vocal performances in that are very close to Johnny Cash's original feel without copying him exactly. The same can be said for Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and the backing band is very strong. Listening to the whole album from beginning to end is a bit much, though, because it's all well-worn Cash material without major changes to the arrangements.
New London Consort and Philip Pickett, Songs of Angels. I haven't given this one a full hearing yet, but one thing stands out already: Compared to the only other Phill Pickett recording I have, Bones of All Men with Richard Thompson (review), the sound palette on this one is radically different. It's not so much that the rock rhythm section and acoustic guitar are missing; it's that on Bones all instruments including the renaissance ones were recorded as if they were rock instruments: up close and in your face. On Angels, everything has more of a concert hall sound, more distant and harder to distinguish, but also more alive and cohesive. There are some extended pieces on this record and I look forward to listening to it properly (I got this off iTunes so it went directly into the random playlist.)

And with that, I think I'm caught up... It does get easier if I don't bother with the Amazon links; it's not as if these were used much anyway. My favorite records for 2005 were Aerial by Kate Bush, Here Come the Choppers by Loudon "Dad-of-Rufus" Wainwright III and Front Parlour Ballads by Richard Thompson, by the way. Aerial grew on me more quickly than I expected, so consider my review of it superceded.

February 7, 2006

Highway Star, Siberian-style.

Here's a bit o'Siberian classic rock for ya: The Deep Purple track Highway Star performed with chinese bamboo flute, shaman drums, Siberian Top-Shur and throat-singing, by Father Gorry. The ogg file is the full version; for some reason it saved as text with a .txt extention on my computer, but once I'd changed the extention I could play it. The production is a bit amateurish with some not quite smooth cuts in the track, but it's still fun to listen to. The page also has tributes to Metallica and Roger Waters.
(via the Highway Star blog, which also showcases a live cover version of Burn in shred-metal style by Mr. Big. Not my cuppa tea but the musicianship is impressive.)

February 14, 2006

Banner and music memeage

I've got a new 88 * 31 microbanner up in case you want to do exciting things! Like linking visually to Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan on your own website!
Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan
Feel free to deeplink; it's only a small file.


Since that's not enough to fill a post with, here's a music quiz. Random playlist, first 20 songs, first line or two of each (not counting spoken interjections, and I'll be skipping the Sigur Ros stuff because it doesn't come with lyric sheets. Also, I'll skip the instrumentals and any band or artist showing up twice). Guess! I'll update with the correct guesses and credit for them. It's a varied list and may be a bit more difficult than many other such quizzes, but quite a few of these tracks came from recent free CDs given away by record stores or coming with international music magazines so they shouldn't be completely unguessable. Others are from records mentioned on this very blog, so there's an opportunity for you to cheat.

Continue reading "Banner and music memeage" »

February 17, 2006

Orgasmatralalaika

Post about classic rock tracks in Northern Asian ethnic style just once and people will start pestering you with more of that. Danny alerted me to a cover of Motörhead's Orgasmatron with Tuvan throat singing. One to download and keep.

March 20, 2006

In which Reinder squeals like a fanboy

Like I wrote in an update to the post on Rapture of the Deep Tour Edition, the "Copy Control" on that album seems to do exactly nothing although one or two commenters on the Highway Star blog have complained about distortion on the CD. This may or may not be the result of paranoia from people who are specifically looking out for artefacts caused by the "Copy Control" process.
In any case, it looks like the CD is safe to play, and the pointlessness of "Copy Control" is demonstrated by the fact that the album is on Bittorrent like everything else. I've just listened to the live tracks, and feck! I don't think I've ever heard them sounding this good. These guys, none of them younger than 50 and led by a writing team who turned 60 last year (Ian Gillan and Roger Glover) are on fire this tour. One criticism that had been leveled against Rapture of the Deep in the press, which I agreed with even after I warmed to the record, was that the group were staying in their comfort zone too much. This may be true, but Roger Glover in particular has extended the comfort zone of his playing quite a bit, and the comfort zone is a good place to be in while playing live.

With that in mind, I'm going to get that live disk first thing in the morning, and look for tickets to the summer festival they're playing in the Netherlands this year (Arrow Rock, where they're probably the only act I'm remotely interested in).

The consumer warning in my previous post on the matter is hereby withdrawn.

May 6, 2006

Loituma memage

Ever since I first saw the Finnish group Värttinä live at a local festival in 1994-ish, I've had these periodic outbursts of listening to Finnish and other Scandinavian music. I've got several compilations of the stuff as well as albums by Värttinä, Hedningarna, Annbjørg Lien and my long-term favorite of the bunch, Gjallarhorn. *)
Looks like I'll be in for another burst of Scando-mania, because one band that I was familiar with from the Northside compilations (which are a good starting point as they are, in their own words, cheaper than food), Loituma, have recently gone viral. Everyone and their dog is linking to either the live performance of "Levan Polkaa" or the Loop from the song used in an animation of an anime character twirling a leek. It makes about as much sense as the O RLY owl, but at least it has a very catchy tune.
Can't find any Loituma on iTunes, alas. They're pretty good. Note the bass voice in the leek-twirling version going "Pol-ka, pol-ka" throughout. I prefer looking at the singers at work, though.

*) I also like a range of Scandinavian rock and metal groups. There are more of those around than ever and they're often a lot more interesting than their Anglo-American counterparts. I'd ask what they put in the water up there if I didn't already know that the answer was "vodka".

May 28, 2006

[Adam Cuerden:] Lost in Translation

Arrgh. Why can't anyone ever seem to do a half-decent translation of anything set to music? Some examples:


Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, Heard in performance in Edinburgh:

"You must forgive and forget; I love you forever more!"

(Inevitably turning into, thanks to unthinking repetition into part of the music with different phrasing: You must forgive - and forget I love you forever more)


Arthur Sullivan's "Festival" Te Deum

"To Thee Seraphim and Cherumbim continually cry"

...To which I can only think "God must have a headache from all that continuous crying."

"When thou tookest upon Thee to deliver Man, Thou didst not abhor the Virgin womb"

....Because everyone knows that most abhor virgin wombs. Most men, except perverts, only want sex with skanky hos.

Lots of bad translations in here, but I'll skip onwards for now.


"Oh come all ye faithful", Verse 2:

"God of Gods Lord of Lords Lo, he abhors not the Virgin womb Very God! Born but not begotten Oh come let us adore him..."

...First off, the meter's all off. You have to slur almost every accented syllable over two or more notes. Secondly: "Very God"?!?!, "God of Gods"?! So there's other gods now?!?! Not abhoring virgin wombs again? and that awkward "Born but not begotten"?


J.S.Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring":

"Thou shalt ever lead Thine own, Soaring, dying round Thy throne"

What? So souls are Heavenly Moths, and God the Celestial Candle?


...Really, if you're going to translate, DO A DECENT JOB OF IT.

May 30, 2006

Made in Japan... sort of

I'm no Dream Theater fan, no matter how often they show up in recommendations lists based on "People who like the stuff you like also like...". I can't get into them; for all their musical virtuosity, their sound leaves me cold. But given better material to play, they can be rather good:


(Can't see the video?)

If they released the full set as an album I just might buy it. (Via)

June 26, 2006

Ringel-S

They're not actually German, and they're not actually time travelers from the year 1982, but Belgian electro-clashers Ringel-S could have fooled me. They have the right sunglasses as well.

I saw Ringel-S at the 4th Heaven & Hell Darkwave mini-festival on Friday. I was there because my friend Danny's band Swansdown were opening, and I was kind of curious about the headliner, veteran Goths Clan of Xymox. Swansdown were pretty good and had the good sense to bring dancers so we'd have something to look at other than their mugs. Xymox turned out to be very similar to Swansdown (probably the other way around, natch) but more seasoned, professional and bombastic. Unfortunately they went onstage at 12, at which point I was already quite knackered and didn't feel like listening to any more music, so I left. If they'd come on two hours earlier I probably would have loved them.

I'm not sure Ringel-S, who came on between the two other bands, properly belonged on the bill as they are a lot lighter in tone. But I loved them instantly. They get that Kraftwerk style and know how to turn it up to eleven. Jeroen and I both bought different editions of their demo CD - so far, my favourite track is "Sex auf DVD" from the blue version.

July 14, 2006

Richard Thompson - 1000 Years of Popular Music (2006 DVD version)

I really thought I was going to go a whole month without buying music, but here I am. Yesterday I got two DVDs: 1000 Years of Popular Music by Richard Thompson and Pulse by Pink Floyd *). I haven't watched the Floyd DVD yet, partly because I think it'd be a crime to watch it on a tiny laptop screen and partly because it's very long and I want to watch it from beginnning to end at least once, but I have seen the Thompson one. It's great!

1000 Years of Popular Music was previously released as a mail-order only single CD recorded live in 2002. This new version is based on a new concert, with a new setlist and a new line-up of musicians. If you already have the original, there's still plenty that's new on this version. But for the most part, what makes it worth buying is being able to see Thompson, singer Judith Owen and drummer Debra Dobkin tear through some of the classic songs from the Middle Ages onwards. Especially the money shots — by which of course I mean the close-ups of Thompson picking his guitar and fingering the chords. Oh, and the interview and between-song banter from Thompson.
Musically it's all very strong stuff. Lovely guitar work, great vocal support from Owen in particular. Thompson's own voice may be limited but he uses it to great effect and he sings these songs better, overall, than he did on the first version of the album. I did think that the three-part harmonies in some of the songs (especially the madrigal "O Sleep Fond Fancy") didn't work too well, with Dobkin's voice in particular not quite gelling. She did fit in on the more rock-oriented songs towards the end though.

There's something odd about Dobkin's drum kit setup, by the way. She uses a left-handed kit, but has the bass drum where you'd expect the floor tom to be, positioned horizontally to be hit with a stick instead of placed vertically on the floor to be kicked with a pedal. This is a bit of a handicap when providing the driving rhythms for songs like the Easybeats' "Friday On My Mind"; Dobkin simply has one appendage less than other rock drummers (well, most of them) to play the rhythm with, and as a result, the beats occasionally sound a bit strange to my ears. "Friday On My Mind" still sounds blistering, though, thanks to Thompson's rhythm guitar skills.

Dobkin is also the only rock musician whose online biography was written by Cicero. How's that for credibility with the intellectual elites?

While I enjoyed Judith Owen's vocals on this and other Richard Thompson albums (Adam, by the way, insists that she is miscast for the Gilbert and Sullivan number "There Is Beauty In The Bellow of The Blast" but I've grown quite fond of her interpretation), her stage presence gets a bit irritating here and there. I think the problem is that she's used to being a solo performer - her arm movements and facial expressions would work in the sort of show where the attention is on her anyway, but are distracting when someone else is supposed to be the star of the show. Thompson himself, of course, is not a very animated performer, so Owen's movements become extra distracting in this particular combination.

One nice thing about the DVD is that the first printing comes with two extra audio CDs containing the full concert, albeit without Thompson's banter. This is really convenient if you want to just have the tracks in your MP3 player or don't have a DVD player handy. I wish more DVD releases had this extra feature.

*) Links go to Amazon UK. Readers in the US may want to use their local Amazon store.

August 21, 2006

Gogol Bordello at Noorderzon

Yesterday, I went to see Gogol Bordello at Noorderzon. Now, I could write a review, but why should I, if I can show you what they're like?

Gogol Bordello live on the Jimmy Kimmel show last March

YouTube eliminates the need for reviews, or indeed basic literacy.

I think I mentioned last year that the free music stage at Noorderzon is at one end of a pond, so the bands play facing a body of water. Which in Gogol Bordello's case meant that they couldn't do this:
Percussionist, dancer and human stage prop Pamela and singer Eugene Hütz crowdsurfing on a bass drum, with poor sound
but they did get a number of people fired up enough to jump into the pond. The strange setup does create some problems: if you want to be involved in the gig, the closest spots to the stage are to the sides of the pond, where the sound is too loud and pretty unbalanced, whereas the best sound can be enjoyed at other end of the pond, where you can't see the musicians all that well.

Performing "Not A Crime" on Later with Joolz Holland

Most of the Gogol Bordello material available on YouTube has poor sound and video quality but this clip from British TV is all right. It's time they put out a professionally shot concert DVD though.

September 30, 2006

You only think you hate "We Are The World"

Last week, while looking for more Kate rarities on YouTube, I found this: the worst charity single ever, with a train wreck of a video to match.

Spirit of the ...foooo-rest!
Somebody out there thought that giving each celeb one line to sing was a waste of lines, and faded each celeb out and the next one in after half a line. Somebody out there thought that actually writing a tune for the project was pointless - after all, once it's been at number one for sixteen weeks, everyone's going to hate it no matter how good it is, right? Oh, wait, it vanished without a trace? Why would that be?
Kate, by the way, does get a whole line and enough space to actually do some interpretation. Shows you how big a star she was at the time. She also gets the Michael Jackson treatment of being filmed separately from the other singers, but that may be because she recorded her bit at her own studio and refused to come out for the video shoot. Unfortunately, there are limits even to Kate Bush's godlike powers, and she can't redeem "Spirit of the Forest".

Kate has notoriously withdrawn from the public eye over the past twenty or so years, and exasperated fans have often wondered why. Perhaps it was to avoid being asked to take part in projects like this one. That's well worth becoming less famous for.

January 25, 2007

Action painting and ape-man antics.

A reader sent me a link to this video by Planet Orange, for the title song of their latest album, Drip Drop Drippin'. Neato, although it does seem to swipe somewhat from R.E.M.'s Pop Song '89, visually.
Watch Drip Drop Drippin'.

February 17, 2007

New Free Richard Thompson song, plus Earth Day Footprint questionnaire

I missed this at Making Light's Sidelights, but managed to catch it at Avedon Carol's Sideshow: Richard Thompson has a new song up on his website, called Dad's Gonna Kill Me. First impression: pretty energetic delivery with his usual strong guitar work. Dunno if it's the best writing he's ever done, yet, but I'll know when I've listened to it more.

Another quick catch: the Earth Day Footprint Quiz tells me that if everyone lived like me, we'd need 2.1 planets. This in spite of me not owning a car and living in a very modest apartment. My footprint is well below the average for a person living in the Netherlands, but, like my cellphone, it's not small enough.

February 21, 2007

Sellahair

Reinder is not one to blow is own horn, especially if the horn is a rickety old electric guitar and it has been a while since he played it. But with the coming of Sellaband many a band that had previously given up hope of ever being discovered give it another go.

Sellaband is a project where bands can present themselves and ordinary Joe Schmoe can buy shares in order to finance the recording of an album. The first few thousand dollars can be accumulated by spamming friends and family-members, but to get to the magic $ 50.000 mark you have to get some real backing by a wide audience. The first band to achieve this, Dutch Goth metal band Nemesea is about to hit the recording studio.
It is an interesting concept, and certainly a child of the times. It seemse only fair that the public gets the idea it can be part of the music industry, as said industry seems to be increasingly estranged from the public. There are bands to be discovered in all genres and different levels of quality. Personally I'm rooting for Dan.e's band Radius, and will buy my share as soon as my bank balance will allow it. I like the way it allows you to show your support to a band, and it's risk free. If the band doesn't make the 50k you can get your money back, and if they succeed, you'll at least get the album.
I'm not sure though I like the current development of everyone and their tape recorder-toting dog creating a Sellaband-account and sit back and wait to be discovered. A little self-criticism goes a long way and I for one wouldn't mind seeing the project a little less clogged with bands that lack basic musical quality and just seem to be hoping to be hyped into a record deal. Or, in the case of The Hooded Crow, blowing the dust of old tapes. I'm not sure Reinder is aware THC is even on Sellaband, so please read this as a general critique and not pointed at individuals (least of all Reinder). I do not see much point in using Sellaband to promote a band that hasn't been around for a decade, fun though it may be to listen to their music.
Though I'm thankful for the band pictures...

Quick links for Wednesday

Children's literature is full of scrotums! (Via Neil Gaiman)

Matt Taibbi: Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires:

While America obsessed about Brittany's shaved head, Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid.

MediaFork is a new media-ripper derived from HandBrake, whose development had stalled recently. Works on OSX and linux (linux version Command Line only). I couldn't get the source code to build, but the binary version worked swimmingly. So far, I've done all my DVD ripping with MPlayer, but you can never have enough tools... and this one seems to be a little smarter than MPlayer at finding the correct audio channels automagically.

Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise. Reminded me of this Majikthise post from a month or so ago. Remind me to be nice to a homeless person some time.

The man responsible for putting my old band's music on Sellaband and adding old photos showing me in the band also regularly sends me interesting music links, so I can almost forgive him. Today, he sent me a link to Dalek I, an obscure early synth duo. I didn't care much for this sort of thing when I was actually living through the synth pop era, but a lot of it sounds rather good to me now.

May 5, 2007

Happy Freedom day!

Today, the Dutch, like the Mexicans, celebrate their freedom - specifically we celebrate our liberation from Nazi Germany in 1945. The day before May 5 is Remembrance Day, marked by flying the flag at half-mast and having 2 minutes of silence at 8 o'clock in the evening.

2007 has so far been the sort of year that sneaks up on you, or at least it's been for me. So despite seeing the flags and hearing it mentioned in the media, I forgot to commemorate the dead. Sorry, the dead!

Actually, for people my age and younger, it's pretty hard to put any concrete face on the dead of World War II. There is some public debate on whether Remembrance Day should continue. An overwhelming majority seem to think it should, which puzzles me a bit. Once everyone who knew someone who died in WW II is him/herself dead, it's going to be an empty sort of ritual, which I don't think is what the body politic needs.

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming majority for keeping the May 5 celebration, which is even stranger. The results of our liberation are with us every day and the benefits of not living in a fascist state can be explained to and understood by a small child. Even now, it's a far more relevant occasion than Remembrance. But as early as the 1980s, the celebration was downgraded to a lustral feast instead of an annual one. Luckily, that has been reversed, but the debate over it comes up every once in a while. I didn't hear it this year, but that was because I haven't been paying much attention to the media lately.

Maybe it's because Liberation Day celebrations are fun, and the Netherlands have for most of the post-war years been cursed with Christian-Democrat led governments (or their predecessors - the current CDA was formed, or rather congealed, in the late 1970s) run by people who don't like fun, or at least find it somewhat unseemly to enjoy oneself in public. In the past few decades, the most visible form of Liberation Day Celebration has been the Bevrijdingsfestivals, free music festivals in city parks. In other words, loud noises, drinks, greasy food and alternative/charity-oriented stalls selling or promoting stuff.

Personally, I'm not a big festival fan. I prefer seeing bands indoors, in some smelly den, in the dark, with good beer on tap. But today, it looks like it's gonna be nice weather outside, and there are some bands I'd like to see. If you're going to the Bevrijdingsfestival in Groningen, I'll be seeing Johan on the main stage at quarter past five, Planet Orange on the Local Heroes stage at half past seven, and Cochon Bleu on the northern stage at eight (schedules are approximate and subject to change at the last minute, though festivals these days do run a tighter ship than they used to). Meet me there over a watery festival beer!

Worth a read: Segregation Blues

From the Graun:

Folk music is liberalism with guitars, right? Wrong. Our understanding of it is based on deep-seated racism, argue Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor

...
One of the main tasks folk song collectors have always faced is choosing which of the many songs their informants sing are folk songs and which aren't. Most of them have thought this a relatively easy task: folk songs are uncommercial, pure products of a shared heritage, passed on from generation to generation, whereas pop songs are outside interlopers, invasive species that endanger the survival of the genetically unmodified, authentic, living tradition.

...most folklorists assumed that distinct and culturally separate groups ranging from American blacks to Appalachian whites still existed, despite the evidence that their music had undergone countless transformations through the mixing of traditions. John Lomax, who, along with his son Alan was the premier collector of American folk music, embarked on his monumental quest for black American folk songs in 1933 by defining them as the "songs that are ... the least contaminated by white influence or by modern negro jazz". What Lomax was really after, though, he had revealed a year earlier: he wanted to feel "carried across to Africa ... as if I were listening to the tom-toms of savage blacks". ...In other words, when deciding which songs were "most unlike those of the white race", Lomax would always choose the most primitive forms of expression, disregarding the jaw-dropping complexity and sophistication of much of the black music of his time.

The "white influence" was, of course, impossible for Lomax to escape. In the Southern black penitentiaries, where he assumed the prisoners would "slough off the white idiom they may have employed", his informants inevitably sang garbled versions of songs of black, white, and mixed origin, distantly remembered from their days of freedom. Lomax was also forceful in suggesting the kinds of songs he was looking for. In one recording he tries to cajole the blues singer Blind Willie McTell into playing some of that "complaining music" about hard times, in spite of McTell's protests that he didn't know any.

By contrast, the English folksong collector Cecil Sharp was interested in isolating white Britishness. He travelled the country lanes of England seeking out rural workers for their unadulterated traditional material. In their songs he saw a distant reflection of the "merrie England" of myth. Sharp then travelled to America to document the survival of the English and Scottish tradition in the isolated communities of the Appalachian mountains. At the time, one out of every eight Appalachians was black, but Sharp dubbed black Americans "a lower race", recoiled from towns with too high a proportion of them, and concentrated only on those songs he considered pure British folk song.

My own working definition of folk music is if it's gone through any kind of oral tradition it counts as folk, no matter the origin. Smoke on the Water? Totally folk. Works much better than any kind of purism.

Read the whole article (Via Crooked Timber). See also: Robert Johnson = Britney Spears.

May 14, 2007

A beginner's guide to Eurovision

Mr. Bob posted this on the Comicgenesis forums (I think it's by him. It's not credited but it looks like his style and is the sort of thing he would do. Besides only a Dutch artist would give that much prominence to the Dutch-Belgian blocquette): A beginner's guide to Eurovision for Americans and other lifeforms of feeble intellect and little awareness of the outside world
Stereotypes galore, but actually pretty accurate. Especially about the Dutch having to be high to think they have a chance to ever win it again.

Thou shalt not watch that, thou shalt watch this!

Thou shalt not watch this on YouTube*) for the stupidity will make thy brain dribble out of thine ears. Thou shalt watch it here**)

*) Unless thou hast the Greasemonkey Tamer script for Firefox (Via) and even then, as I haven't been able to download it to test it, I can't unconditionally recommend that.

**) or at Progressive Gold, for it was Martin Wisse who first revealed this to the unwashed masses, or at least one unwashed mass. You know, just in case you're reading this through an RSS feed that doesn't pick up embedded objects...

May 15, 2007

[Adam Cuerden] Groningen bij Dag

Well, I'm back from my holiday, and really should do the rest of that 75% finished Baraminology post. It even has nevw illustrative material. But first, the visit to co-bloggers Reinder, Jeroen, and Secret Guest Co-Blogger who May or May Not post.

It was a fun, if somewhat subdued trip, due to me recovering from a rather long illness. Got quite a lot of Dutch comics at the Stripmuseum, got enough liquorice to be sick of it for a while, practiced drawing and finally finished some old art and generally had fun with friends.

But the reason for this weekend in particular was to make fun of Eurovision, so, let's begin. I type up my notes as taken on the day, without much commentary. It's much more fun that way.

Bosnia and Herzegovenia: Very poor visuals, but a good, well-written Eastern European folksong. The lead singer was wearing a dress like a cabbage, surrounded by women staying perfectly still in odd poses and some idiotic-looking fellow with some folk-guitar - probably a balalika - serenaded her.

Spain Endlessly repetitive, but energeticly agressive song. Four posers in white suits dancing quite well, but over-choreographed. Terrible background.

Belarus At first, I thought this might be alright, then they started singing.Nice visuals, good effects with people seeing to become attached to walls.

(This was followed by a transition featuring a particularly ugly man wearing almost nothing diving into a hot spring.)

Ireland It was something like a stereotypical Irish song sung by a woman who was... either panicked or on drugs. I suspect there will be more blogging on this entry over the next few days.

Finland Elvira, Mistress of the Dark returns! And sings a not half-bad song. Sounded like something Cher would sing. Not crap, not great.

Macedonia Pure crap.

(This was followed by a transition which involved making an ice sculpture, then setting it on fire. What the hell?)

Slovenia Gothic music meets Eastern European folk music with a snappy disco beat. It... kind of works.

Hungary A pretty good blues song by a person with a good voice and a pleasant girl-next-door appearance. Probably the best so far by a long ways. One of the few I'd happily listen to again, though, admittedly, listening to it again as I type it up, it's still pretty good, but not as good as I remembered it. Singer's great though.

Lithuania Pretty average song, of the sort you'd find in a modern musical like Chess or as a background to a movie. Boring, but not ear-bleeding.

Greece Music to film porn to. If the lead singer's involved, gay porn.

Georgia Not bad, whatr's with the caucasian men dressed as Japanese warriors dancing with swords?
Sweden Crossdressing man singing a retro song out of the 70's. Catchy, but music to line dance to.

France Flaming homosexuals do country and western. Badly.

Latvia Very... old-fashioned song, in Italian. That will not end, Augh!!!!! [Last four words underlined repeatedly]

Russia Five strong, agressive women's group singing a 1980's / 90's song with a strong, rocking beat. [I didn't write much on this one, probably because it was the best of the songs, and so I was distracted actually listening to it]

Germany 1940's cabaret, very well done.

Serbia Butch girl dressed as a man surrounded by beautiful women. Awfully like a bad Cher song, but far better sung.

Ukraine Bad transvestite. No further information too drunk from keychange dinking game. Keyc hanges every few seconds. At least 12. [This one's very poorly written. I was pretty drunk by then]

U.K. Stewardesses [spelt Stueurdesses - I was drunk] and stewards with inuendo by "Are You Being Served". That's about it. Done in the most awful, boriing manner, but while looking for the video, I found this version which is... far, far better, if still very silly. I suppose humour really is all in the performance, and the Eurovision performance... sucked mightily..

Romania: What the fuck? This cheesy song about love is like a children's program's theme song. Lots of key changes.

Bulgaria ...the Hell?

Turkey To quote what I wrote at the time: "I'm oo drunk to comment on this... thing. See 'Ukraine'." I'm too scared to watch it again to find out what I meant.

Armenia See Reinder's comments. At the time, I was only able to write "Can't stop laughing. What the hell?" I did laugh the entire time it was on, and could not stop. Sadly,. it still has that effect on me.

Moldova For some reason, I never wrote anything on this at the time. Watching a bit of it, I think my brain may be trying to block the memory. Nice use of classical modes, though. Pity they forgot about giving the singer a melody.


Conclusions: Russia by far the best. Hungary and Germany pretty good, a few others are alright. Several total clunkers. Don't know why Serbia won. Maybe people really like Cher and girls that look like fat 16 year old boys.

Not-quite-live-but-definitely-drunk-Eurosong-blogging

Sorry I didn't post this on Sunday. I was hungover. After that I was kind of busy for a while. Just pretend I had to get it off Bittorrent like my weeklyDoctor Who episodes. Adam has already posted links to YouTube vids for all the entries, so I won't do that again. Here are my notes from the evening, edited so that they at least approach comprehensibility. I'll have some more substantive comments on the losing entry at the end of the post.

Continue reading "Not-quite-live-but-definitely-drunk-Eurosong-blogging" »

May 16, 2007

Now that I am Dead

Because Adam heard this song while he was in Groningen and asked about it:

Richard Thompson - Now That I Am Dead. The sound is a bit low, but once you've turned up the volume it turns out to be decent quality.

And because you can always have some more Richard Thompson:

The Ghost Of You Walks, with Danny Thompson, performed on Jools Holland's show fairly recently, judging from how D.T. looks.


1952 Vincent Black Lightning, unsourced solo performance, probably 2004-2006.

Finally, some Fairport:

Now Be Thankful, performed by the Full House line-up in 1970, with Dave Swarbrick on vocals. Richard was a funny-looking young man, wasn't he?

February 5, 2008

In my media player lately

Led Zeppelin: Mothership: I've never been much of a Led Zep fan, and indeed have been puzzled about the amount of uncritical worship they've been receiving for as long as I've been aware of music. Mostly, I think, it's because I don't care much for Plant's voice or Page's guitar work most of the time.
However, when they got it right, they got some good compositions written and some fine rock grooves committed to tape, so this best-of selection spanning their existence as an active band recording in the studio is pretty damned good. "D'yer Maker" is still awful though.

Laïs: The Ladies' Second Song: When I first heard this album, I wasn't too sure if I liked it. While the Flemish trio deserved praise for choosing a new direction and not repeating their previous album, I found that the specific direction, with its electronic sounds and a-melodic vocal lines, took some getting used to. But get used to it, I did, and I now think it's a winning combination. Best album of 2007, in fact, edging out...

Richard Thompson: Sweet Warrior: Thompson gets back to the full band sound and comes up with some exquisitely crafted songs that sound like they could have come from any era. In other words, it's a Richard Thompson album, so it's damned good. On the other hand, it's a Richard Thompson album, so "damned good" doesn't quite cut it in comparison with his earlier work, particularly Mock Tudor, my favourite Thompson record, from 1999.

Loudon Wainwright III: Strange Weirdos: see my comments on Richard Thompson's Sweet Warrior, above, only cross out Thompson's name and substitute Wainwright's, cross out Mock Tudor and "1999" and substitute Here Come the Choppers and "2005", and add that one or two songs on this record really get on my nerves, particularly "X or Y".

Queen: Rock Montreal: Gosh, there's some awful singing from Freddie Mercury on "Play the Game" - did he hate that song or what? Still, Queen do in fact mostly rock Montreal on this live registration recorded in 1981, and generally deliver the goods, though they have played tighter on other concerts. This was one of the last tours where Queen were a true five-piece, before Spike Edney was brought in to play keyboards from backstage. It makes for a leaner sound, especially on the funky, poppy numbers they had come up with for the albums Jazz and The Game. Recommended if you're into Queen, otherwise you might as well not bother as it's exactly what you'd expect.

April 17, 2008

"All suffused with an incandescent glow"

Many thanks to Kieran Healy for posting this a couple of days ago on the occasion of Tom Lehrer's 80th birthday:
Rare filmed performance by the great man

...and wow... There's more!

July 13, 2008

Doe Maar, July 12, 2008

24 years after they split up for the first time, the legendary Dutch pop group Doe Maar can still sell anything with their name on it, so their second reunion stint (4 club shows, three gigs at Feijenoord Stadium and a festival gig in Belgium) sold out in no time. But did they have anything to add to their first reunion in 2000, especially now that they didn't come up with a studio album this time around?

Yes.

Hell yes.

How about much better sound, to start with? The 2000 gigs, great though they were, suffered from the fact that they were in Ahoy' Sports Hall, notorious for its reverb-laden acoustics. Tonight's concert at Feijenoord's stadium had crystal clear, well-balanced sound with the deep, pure lows that the group's reggae-inspired style needs. In fact, it was easily the best sound I'd ever heard at a concert?

How about a leaner band? Back in 2000, I felt at times like there were too many people on stage - a percussionist, a brass section, an extra guitarist doubling Henny Vrienten's bass lines. I wanted to see and hear the four main guys - Vrienten, Jansz, Hendriks and Pijnenburg. This time, there were still additional musicians on stage, but the way it was handled was that the band was augmented by three people, two of whom were multi-instrumentalists. There were also two guests who came on stage for two or three songs each. While the total number of musicians was the same as last time, the impression was of a leaner band that had to choose which parts to play and which to drop.

How about a stronger set list? Though the set started and ended pretty much the same as on the 2000 gigs, the two and a half-hour concert had some real nuggets in it - "Ruma Saja", "Situatie", "Winnetoe". Paradoxically, the fact that the band didn't have a new album to promote helped make the set seem more up-to-date. The old stuff is still relevant in a way that much of the material from Klaar never managed to be.

And how about having Joost Belinfante back in the band? I had heard he was going to show up to perform his ode to cannabis sativa hollandica, "Nederwiet" but I didn't know he was going to be on stage all the time, as one of the three additional musians mentioned earlier. Belinfante is one of those performers who are more than just musicians - his mere presence added a touch of unpredictability to it all, like a morris Fool. Where Doe Maar as a whole sound like a well-oiled machine, you never really know what Belinfante is going to do next, and how his favorite plant will influence him. "Nederwiet" doesn't have a fixed lyric or even a fixed number of lines in the verses, so the musicians have to be on their toes.

And what musicians they are! With the improved sound quality, leaner band and timeless set list, Doe Maar really showed off their skill at creating tight, danceable, dynamic performances. The most impressive part of their sound is their rhythm section, with a precise, angular style driven by Vrienten's bass work. Jan Hendriks on guitar has one foot in the rhythm section, spending most of the evening strumming chords on the afterbeat - but when he gets some solo space, he uses it very well indeed.

If you're Dutch, you almost certainly know the songs. If you're not, let me tell you that Doe Maar have some great songs - humorous ones, thoughtful ones, touching ones, but always understated ones whose poetry is in their simplicity. This night, they impressed me greatly. Best concert I've ever been to.

I haven't seen any watchable footage from the 2008 gigs on YouTube yet, but here are some YouTube highlights from the 2000 gigs, taken straight from the DVD:

"Is Dit Alles"

"Doris Day"

Doe Maar review, addendum

If the rumoured new Doe Maar album actually materialises, I will do a "Countdown to... " on this blog in the days leading up to the release date, like I did with the Kate Bush album Aerial. I'll review all previous albums in order, one a day, including the live albums and the Dub album. I might draw the line at reviewing all the compilations, though.

It's that big a deal to me, and besides, it'll be fun introducing a nationally-famous Dutch group to my international readership and trying to explain why they're a big deal.

In my review, I said that the songs from Klaar didn't have the relevance that the earlier albums had. I've been listening to that album though, and my statement shouldn't be intended to mean that the album is bad. It's very, very good - just not up there with their 1980s material in terms of hitting the nail on the head all the time.

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