dinsdag 21 november 2017

The Queen Is Dead. The Smiths

Everyone with the faintest interest in modern music will have noticed it in one way or another: after 31 years the last studio album of The Smiths got the royal industry treatment of a re-release full of extras. I am going to go off the deep end here. As far as I'm concerned The Smiths were nothing but a bunch of wankers with a few noticeable songs like 'Big Mouth Strikes Again' and 'Panic', songs that were very danceable in the 80s parties I attended. But on an album and after the second song I had to turn it off, as I simply started to have a mental allergic reaction to the voice of Morrissey and the guitar jangles of Johnny Marr. I never returned to any of the albums since the 80s. One thing though, the covers of the band's 45s were always strikingly beautiful. Of course I hardly have any, for obvious reasons.

The, perhaps, strange, thing is that I started to appreciate Morrissey solo somewhere in the 00s with his album 'Ringleaders Of The Tormentors' and reviewed Johnny Marr's solo album 'The Messenger' favourably on this blog. So it's time to dive and listen to the, according to the critics, best album of The Smiths for the first time, perhaps ever even, as I had my fill from 'Hatful Of Hollows' and 'Meat Is Murder' by then. Here I go.

In fact 31 years after the release the new encounter with The Queen Is Dead is not half bad. If we strip away the intro to the title song, on dreaming about an England Morrissey and his lads never lived in, 'The Queen Is Dead' is a very pointed and direct song. I would call it a perfect opening. The drums and bass are fierce. The guitars solid and full. The tingle-tangle piano (sound) plays a few nice accent notes. Morrissey is playing with a voice morphing device. The tempo prevents him from being his miserable self. Definitely a boon. Mind this is the first song. The outro is fantastic. It just keeps pounding onwards, with changing lead instruments marching into infinity it seems.

'Frankly, Mr. Shankley' is about the owner of Rough Trade, The Smith's record label. Lyrically it is of no consequence for decades. The reggae rock sound makes it sound obsolete as well. We're into the 21st century that is breathing down Morrissey's neck for nearly two decades, so all he wishes for in 1986 seems to have been reached in 2017. "Give us money", it came down to that when all was sung and done. Rather worldly actually.

'I Know It's Over' is a ballad. With a "lover, lover, lover" part that may have influenced Jeff Buckley's singing in 'Lover, You Should've Come Over', I notice. The song shows The Smiths can reach a maximum effect with a minimum of instruments. The melody is simply very alright. That the song slowly flashes out and rocking some more helps to get through the nearly 6 minutes the song lasts. Yes, it's too long! The first part is impressive though. The Smiths shine at a bare minimum.

'Never Had No One Ever' is one of those titles that make me fear the worst. Morrissey at his worst, whining away about how sorry we have to feel for him. Johnny Marr's dark sounding guitar lead lines provides the right contrast, as do the bass of Andy Rourke and drums of Mike Joyce. They all provide a deeper end to the sadness and a sense of relief for me as listener.

'Cemetry Gates' has that fast played acoustic guitar that most of my favourite songs by The Smiths have. I'm remembered of Albert Hammond songs of the 70s like 'I'm A Train'. If so, the most unexpected of influences on this band. That guitar continues straight into the only single of the album, 'Bigmouth Strikes Again'. The song with that mysterious lyrics about Joan of Arc. There I was dancing to the fast rhythm wondering what it could all mean. From the time that it was easy to sing along to most of the lyrics. That great break allowed for some extra dancing as well. Great song, then, now, for ever probably. Just like 'Panic', not on this album.

'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' is these days seen as the most important title on this set. To me it's one of these lamentable Morrissey songs. So let's skip it fast.

'Vicar In A Tutu' is a surprise. A song I most likely never got to hear in the past. I never got this far into the album. It's upbeat, up tempo and a bit preposterous. It is a song like this that makes me understand a little of the claim that The Smiths were the most important British band since The Beatles. It is the sort of weird song The Beatles had on its records that was truly surprising, strange and sort of fun. The image of the vicar is extremely funny in itself. The country style feel of the song underscores the fact that it's not necessary to take it seriously. A side that I had never discovered to The Smiths before.

'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' is a song that I used to hate. That typical whine, with Morrissey smooching his words all over the melody. I find myself discovering all these little details around the song, the additions to the three piece band, but also the firm bass that stands out prominently. Again I notice how important the acoustic guitar is on The Queen Is Dead. Nothing but surprises.

It all ends with 'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others'. Just like their (grand)mothers, yes. And in very different ways too, I might add. The strange fade in, out and in, brings a tight songs with the typical The Smiths' guitar jingle jangle. It's a bit of a toss away at the end of the album, with rather uninspired lyrics. Somehow I find myself liking it too.

Summing up, The Queen Is Dead surprised me and not a little, as you might have surmised from reading the above. There are sides to The Smiths I had never heard before. In fact, I discovered that the band may well have evolved into a truly good band and not remained the vehicle for the post-teen angst of Morrissey. Who without a doubt was posing to give himself  front. One to be able to stand out and one to hide behind, trying to find out where he really stood in this life. Had the band managed to continue.

The strangest thing of all? That I went into that stack of records I collected between the early seventies and circa 2000 and found three The Smiths records, including a second hand bought version of .... The Queen Is Dead. For the life of me, I can't remember buying it or ever having playing it. The not enjoying part, yes, definitely. Bob Dylan sang it around the year 2000: Things have changed.

A hideous cover though, Alain Delon or not.


maandag 20 november 2017

The Slow Clock Two. The Slow Clock

The Slow Clock One passed me by, the second iteration of this project hasn't. Earlier in the year I reviewed Chinup's latest effort, 'Shine Bright Like A Diamond' (read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2017/05/shine-bright-like-diamond-chinup.html.) and received an invite to listen to this album as well.

The Slow Clock is another project of singer/guitarist Harmen Kuiper and a totally different beast than his work with Chinup. Experimental, electronic beats and all. Don't be surprised however when Gruppo Sportivo comes by, in an ever so modern form. The Slow Clock is not afraid of throwing an odd ball here and there, setting its listeners on the wrong foot every once in a while.

Despite the fact that this music is a few steps away from what I usually listen to, I find that the album has a keen ear for melodies. In the mostly (ultra) short song, 2.30 minutes is an exception, Kuiper works out a modest idea. It reminds me of the Philadelphia based duo Carol Cleveland Sings, despite the fact it develops its song more (read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/11/effervescent-lure-carol-cleveland-sings.html). The Slow Clock uses electronics in the same way and has that upbeat feeling hidden in its music. A seemingly surprising outlook on what it is singing about. Nowhere the comparison is stronger as in 'Attack And Defend'. And yes, early Zappa is in there as well, like Gruppo Sportivo, but hey, didn't that band cover 'Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance' in its intro to 'Superman'? Circles are round it seems.

In a way it is a shame some of the songs on Two do not get a fuller life in hi fi versions. Several deserve it certainly. A small little pop song like 'Turning Up The Crank Handle' has a nice melody and a hook that catches me. It has a 60s feel without copying anything.

It's not allowed to look a given horse in the mouth. Still it is a shame that the album does not have a clearer sound. It is truly lo-fi in sound like the music reaches me through a muffler. There's no sheen in sight on The Slow Clock Two. This is a shame, because it would have been even better with it.

There is an eleventh "song" on the album. One that does last longer. 13.20 minutes to be exact. 'Don't You Wanna Join That Number' it is called. A Zappa title if I ever heard one. The answer is still no. Like I always skip the last two songs on 'Freak Out'. 'Don't You Wanna Join That Number' is a sound experiment. I have no taste for it, but if you do, be my guest and do join in.

For me The Slow Clock Two ends with its 10th song 'The Lame Duck' that starts with the friendly words "You were redundant". No matter how unfriendly it sounds, it does give the sung to person the sound piece of advice to get rid of bad luck. 'The Lame Duck' is another of these hidden gems on the album. Harmen Kuiper is proving to be a songwriter that I intend to follow. Lo-fi or not, with The Slow Clock Two he has surprised me a second time in one year. I don't mind being surprised some more in the near future, whether by Chinup or The Slow Clock.


You can listen to The Slow Clock Two and download it for free here:


zondag 19 november 2017

Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home. Malojian

Het is inmiddels twee jaar geleden dat ik eindelijk toe kwam aan de beluistering van Southlands van Malojian. De tweede plaat van de band rond de uit het Noord-Ierse Belfast afkomstige Stevie Scullion maakte vervolgens vrijwel onmiddellijk de spreekwoordelijke onuitwisbare indruk en haalde de top 10 van mijn jaarlijstje over 2015. (Lees hier verder: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/02/southlands-malojian.html.)
Dat kunstje herhaalde de band van Stevie Scullion met het nog geen jaar geleden verschenen This Is Nowhere, dat werd geproduceerd door niemand minder dan de legendarische Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Low, Joanna Newsom, The Breeders).
Stevie Scullion heeft over inspiratie kennelijk niet te klagen, want nog geen jaar na This Is Nowhere is er al weer een nieuwe plaat van Malojian verschenen. Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home werd door Stevie Scullion zelf geproduceerd en opgenomen in een vuurtoren aan de Noord-Ierse kust.
De Noord-Ierse muzikant werd hierbij bijgestaan door muzikanten van enige naam en faam als sessiedrummer Joey Waronker, Teenage Fanclub Gerry Love en de van Yorkston, Thorne & Khan en Lamb bekende Jon Thorne, maar de meeste aandacht gaat ook dit keer uit naar Stevie Scullion, die er wederom in is geslaagd om een serie zwaar verslavende en volstrekt tijdloze popliedjes af te leveren.
Het zijn net als op de vorige twee Malojian platen popliedjes vol invloeden uit de Britse folkrock en de Amerikaanse countryrock. Hier blijft het zeker niet bij, want ook Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home klinkt weer als een omgevallen platenkast en het is ook dit keer een platenkast die een uitstekende smaak etaleert.
Malojian citeert flink uit de folkrock uit de jaren 70, maar laat ook dit keer flink wat invloeden van The Beatles horen, terwijl van recentere datum flarden Elliott Smith en Grant Lee Buffalo opduiken. Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home volgt hiermee deels hetzelfde recept als zijn voorgangers, maar klinkt toch ook weer anders.
Stevie Scullion kiest op Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home vooral voor lome en dromerige songs, waarin invloeden uit de psychedelica prachtig samenvloeien met invloeden uit de traditionele Britse folk. Waar Malojian je op haar vorige twee platen nog wel eens ruw liet ontwaken met gruizige gitaaruithalen, kiest de band op Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home vooral voor beneveling.
Het levert een fascinerende luistertrip op vol flarden uit het verleden. Ik krijg bijna wekelijks platen die zich op precies dezelfde paden begeven, maar waar de meeste van deze platen niet ontsnappen aan het etiket (overbodige) retro, zorgt Malojian ook dit keer voor heel veel luisterplezier.
Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home is een plaat die je door alle bekende invloeden al jaren lijkt te kennen, maar het is ook een plaat die je steeds weer verrast doet opveren en ondertussen strooit met zonnestralen, wonderschone accenten van strijkers en blazers en andere zoete verleidingen.
Na Southlands was ik bang dat Malojian te makkelijk zou vervallen in herhaling, maar This Is Nowhere voelde geen moment als een herhalingsoefening. Het geldt ook weer voor Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home, dat misschien nog wel iets beter verleidt dan zijn twee voorgangers. Grote kans dus dat Malojian voor de derde keer op rij de top van mijn jaarlijstje gaat halen, maar wordt het niet eens tijd voor erkenning in veel bredere kring?

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier naar Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home luisteren en het album kopen:


zaterdag 18 november 2017

Glow. When 'Airy Met Fairy

A band from Iceland and Luxembourg? It seems like a tax evasion case before I have heard one note. When 'Airy Met Fairy is a true band however and a name like that invites me to listen, even if it sends me negative images of disco, dance or worse. But then, from Iceland the strangest sorts of music comes to the world. So who knows what to expect really.

Listening to Glow for the first time, somewhere in the background during dinner, it proved the right sort of music for that occasion. Non-intrusive yet incidentally capturing attention without demanding it. When listening with half an ear Kate Bush of old is a direct reference. In the way of singing and in atmosphere. Fairies are never far away in this music. Glow holds a dreamlike quality with singer Thorun Egilsdottir as the perhaps friendly witch. Her voice is the kind I always imagined the witch's in Hansel and Gretel would have. Specifically this part: "Nibble, nibble, like a mouse, Who is nibbling at my house?" (Thank you www.grimmstories.com/language for the translation.)

So imagine a singer like a witch, a woman on helium in front of a band, that plays ever so soft and subtle. She has lived in both countries, studied in France, plays piano, decided to write in English and worked as an actress and tv anchor. When she met Mike Koster (bass, moog) and Thomas Copier (drums) they became When 'airy Met Fairy' and started working on a repertoire together in 2015. Honing their skills on stages around the world slowly but surely they worked towards Glow.

Glow is the kind of album that takes you by the ear as soon as you give it a few minutes of your time. Agreed, Egilsdottir's voice can turn you off the album within seconds, but as soon as you let her in, you will be sold. With minimal effects the band creates its own world around seemingly uncomplicated tunes. Not unlike Joan Wasser on the debut album of her nom de plume Joan as Policewoman, 'Real Life', 'Airy Met Fairy plays with essential emotions in a minimal setting. In nearly every song the right effect is created by adding a Moog or piano to the sound. eels bar the strong beats in a song like 'Susan's House' is another reference, leaving the piano only.

It is a surprise when a full sound, everything is relative though, emerges on Glow. In 'Sanctify You' the sound swells to a storm of When 'Airy Met Fairy proportions. After which the album continues in this dreamy, minimal way. I find that Glow is extremely intriguing. With a minimal effect it is able to change a song completely and making for an impact that I did not see coming.

Summing up, I find that Glow is not so much extremely good, but extremely well made, intriguing and captivating. So it's not 'Dark Side Of The Moon' or 'Abbey Road' to name two of my all time faves, but certainly up there with albums like 'Real Life' or 'Beautiful Freak'. An album to cherish with care, like I tend to do with something fragile and of beauty.


You can listen to 'Intoxicated' here:


vrijdag 17 november 2017

Walk Into A Storm. The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow is een band uit Brooklyn, New York, die in de Verenigde Staten de jaarlijstjes haalt, maar in Europa tot dusver helaas geen potten weet te breken. Ik begrijp daar eerlijk gezegd niet zoveel van, want de eerste twee platen van The Lone Bellow waren werkelijk geweldig.
Op het titelloze debuut van de band uit 2013 liet de band Americana horen zoals die ook door bands als The Civil Wars en The Lumineers (dat helaas nog steeds wordt geassocieerd met één niemendalletje) wordt gemaakt, terwijl het door The National’s Aaron Dessner geproduceerde Then Came The Morning uit 2015 imponeerde met een voller, avontuurlijker, veelzijdiger en gloedvoller geluid en bovendien diepe indruk maakte met vocalen die de hele plaat garant stonden voor kippenvel.
Walk Into A Storm is de derde plaat van de Amerikaanse band, die het hippe Brooklyn inmiddels heeft verruild voor de bakermat van de country, Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville dook The Lone Bellow vervolgens de studio in met Dave Cobb, momenteel met afstand de meest gewilde producer binnen de Amerikaanse rootsmuziek.
De verhuizing naar Nashville en de samenwerking met Dave Cobb hebben zeker hun sporen nagelaten in de muziek van The Lone Bellow. Walk Into The Storm schuurt, zeker vergeleken met Then Came The Morning, dichter tegen de traditionele countrymuziek aan, terwijl Dave Cobb heeft gezorgd voor een geluid vol invloeden uit de jaren 70.
Het is een geluid dat mogelijkheden biedt voor The Lone Bellow. Zeker in de flirts met countryrock en aandacht voor de muzikale erfenis van Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young en The Eagles kan het muzikale vuurwerk worden ontstoken en dat doet The Lone Bellow dan ook met grote regelmaat op Walk Into A Storm.
Voorman Zach Williams laat ook op de derde plaat van The Lone Bellow weer horen dat hij een groot zanger is en bovendien een zanger is die zijn ziel en zaligheid in zijn stem kan leggen. De band beschikt met Kanene Donehey Pipkin echter over nog een stem die iets met je doet en zeker wanneer de twee samen de registers open trekken imponeert The Lone Bellow net als op haar vorige platen met zang die door de ziel snijdt.
Walk Into A Storm klinkt in muzikaal opzicht wat minder imponerend dan zijn voorgangers. Dave Cobb heeft de plaat zoals gezegd voorzien van een behoorlijk traditioneel klinkend geluid en heeft dit geluid ook nog eens volgestopt met strijkers. The Lone Bellow zet vergeleken met het zo bijzondere Then Came The Morning een stap terug wanneer het gaat om muzikaal avontuur en een eigen gezicht, maar in tegenstelling tot een groot deel van de Amerikaanse critici, vind ik ook Walk Into The Storm weer een geweldige plaat.
In muzikaal opzicht is het misschien wat minder spannend, maar het traditionelere geluid vol invloeden uit Nashville past uitstekend bij The Lone Bellow. Zeker wanneer de instrumentatie in dienst staat van de vocalen, en dat is op het grootste deel van de plaat het geval, maken deze vocalen nog meer indruk dan in het verleden en zit ik toch weer op het puntje van de stoel. De tijdloze popsongs op de plaat prikkelen bovendien de stoffen in het lijf die zorgen voor geluk, waardoor de zon weer gaat schijnen.

Walk Into A Storm is niet de logische stap die ik na de vorige plaat had verwacht, maar onderstreept wat mij betreft wel het enorme talent van deze band, die ook dit keer weer meerdere keren zorgt voor flink wat kippenvel, wat toch een bijzondere ervaring blijft.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier naar 'Walk Into A Storm' luisteren: