Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt

The Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Mattson exploded onto the music scene in 2008 with his debut album “Shallow Grave” under the name of The Tallest Man On Earth. A confrontational, honest and authentic album with ten very original songs. It took me weeks to find out that this wasn’t a man playing on his porch somewhere in the Midwest or Southern parts of the USA but was really a not too tall man from Dalarna, Sweden. Most songwriters will try and sound to be from the US but TTMOE seems to do it effortlessly, making his work feel as authentic as possible.

And here is another ten-song collection called “The Wild Hunt” and he has done the impossible, make a better record than a record that was already a favorite for many. Some people like to say “I don’t see the comparison with Dylan!”. Well, those people need to listen to some more Dylan records and stop trying to be interesting because they are not. Acoustic guitar, similar playing and picking, a shaky voice, lyrics that are like poetry? Need I say more. Just listen to the beautiful “Drying of the Leaves” where he sounds like 60’s Dylan singing a 90’s Dylan song. And sounding like Dylan at his best is nothing to be ashamed of, because there is never one moment of “Eve of Destruction” type mimicking.

TTMOE is most of all his own self. Just listen to Mattson talk and you will hear some comparisons between his talking and singing. His voice is rough but honest and full of unforced emotion. If the scream in ‘King of Spain’ doesn’t get to you, go see a doctor. His singing has definitely gotten better since “Shallow Grave” and here he sounds like he is doing a show just for you in your own living room. It is just as overpowering. There are some background sounds, some crackling and his voice is not always 100% but that’s exactly what the music needs. Even the sometimes misfretted chords sound great.

We’re almost halfway through the year and this man from Sweden has made an album that far surpasses his earlier album. I can’t think of any albums released this year that have reached the overall quality of “The Wild Hunt”. Of the ten tracks just under 35 minutes there is not one not worth listening to on multiple occasions. An almost mystical experience.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Antlers in Paradiso, 25th of May, 2010

Last year’s “Hospice” ended high on our album of the year lists and even higher on our debut album of the year list. A remarkable collection of songs about a couple in a cancer ward set in layers of deep gut wrenching layers of sound. Instrumentation that first the theme of the album so well that even without lyrics you would not be surprised to hear afterwards that it was about a grave subject like this.

At last night’s show The Antlers managed to make the songs sound different from the album yet still retaining the overall mood. It was at times fascinating to hear just the band play while the audience was completely silent, as if they were stunned. Even for those in the sold out room unfamiliar with the album it might have left some bewildered about what had just happened. With only three members with the use of keyboards and a bunch of pedals they sounded great.

Apart from most of “Hospice” they played one very good new songs and if their new work will be anything like this there’s a lot more great music on the horizon.

Thank you likeahurricane69 for this great quality vid

Monday, May 24, 2010

The National - High Violet

One gets a different perspective on things when you move somewhere else. You start seeing your old world through different eyes, while at the same time viewing your new surrounding through the eyes of an outsider. If you want to remain an observer, always try to remain in this state. It’s the state from which Matt Berninger views his New York surroundings.

“High Violet” is very much an observation of New York and it’s people who struggle with universal themes like love, sorrow, faith, fear etc. Songs that are inhabited by drug addicted parents and soldiers. It’s about the moodier, more melancholy side of humankind. Is it dark? If anything it’s realistic.

Musically The National has not changed too much. Still that unique dark yet warming sound and Berninger’s soothing baritone. As always the drums drive the songs and add some of the melodies. A difference might be that the sound is slightly less polished as in the, for National standards, scruffy opener ‘Terrible Love’ but if you loved their sound before, you will still love it now.

While not reaching the artistic heights of “Alligator” and “Boxer”, this album is their “Only By The Night”. With it they will easily remain at the top of the indie-ladder and reach even more fans.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Explorer 23 for May 20th

With a break but a new list. A new #1, The National jumped straight into the lead with love favorites Blood Red Shoes not far behind.

TW LW #1
01 -- 01 The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio (1x#1)
02 01 03 Darwin Deez - Radar Detector (1x#1)
03 -- 01 Blood Red Shoes - Don't Ask
04 06 03 The Antlers - Sylvia
05 05 04 Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union
06 03 04 These New Puritans - Attack Music (2x#1)
07 09 03 Morning Benders - Promises
08 15 02 The Soft Pack - Answer To Yourself
09 02 06 She & Him - In The Sun
10 08 04 Fang Island - Life Coach
11 16 02 MGMT - Flash Delirium
12 04 06 Mumford & Sons - The Cave (1x#1)
13 11 03 The Salvadors - Atacama Disco
14 07 05 Hold Your Horses - 70 Million
15 19 02 LCD Soundsystem - Drunk Girls
16 10 06 Frightened Rabbit - Nothing Like You
17 -- 01 Angus & Julia Stone - Big Jet Plane
18 -- 01 Harlem - Friendly Ghost
19 23 02 The Last Dinosaurs - Honolulu
20 -- 01 Cloud Control - This is What I Said
21 -- 01 Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire! - Little Cowboys, Bad Hombres
22 -- 01 Lisa Mitchell - Oh! Hark!
23 14 05 Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - Get Better

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Titus Andronicus & Surfer Blood in Bitterzoet

True fans of the blog will know that Bitterzoet isn’t exactly my favorite spot to watch live music in Amsterdam. It has however hosted two great shows so far: These New Puritans and Titus Andronicus. TA was on a double bill with Surfer Blood who played last, but the more lasting impression was made by the 5-some from New Jersey.

When I got my ticket it was just for Surfer Blood. Their song “Swim” is #1 over the first 4 months of the Explorer 23 and their album is good, although at times uneven. So was their show. Frontman John Paul Pitts has looked into Ezra Koenig’s book of stage presence and moves and the band is youthful and fresh as the album is. “Swim” & “Catholic Kids” are great songs and potential anthems but the overall quality of the songs just doesn’t cut it compared to opener Titus Andronicus, who’s excellent 2nd album I’ve discussed a few weeks ago. It was a very pleasant surprise that they were added to the bill. As if you’re buying some fries in a restaurant and getting a juicy steak with it for free.

Starting with “A More Perfect Union” the band took off and never looked back. Bitterzoet’s stage is too small for a band with this energy. You can’t even fit 4 guitars on stage, the bass player had to stand sideways to leave some room for the jumping around of the other members. A collage of guitar sounds, piano and at times violins let to beautiful noise, broken at times by awesome breaks. You never know when a song is ended before the next one starts. They leave you guessing. The high energy led to some jumping around in the room too where a few glasses did not live to see the end. Yes, another great use of the Bitterzoet glasses: a potential danger for enthusiastic dancers next to being a nuisance during quiet shows.

Playing songs from both albums the power was more in the energy than in the songs itself, for that the lyrics were not easy to understand and the theme of the second album, war, didn’t quite get through to most of the audience. Highlight of the night, and one of the highlights of the year, was when singer Patrick Stickles joined the dancers on the floor during “Titus Andronicus” shouting ‘Your Life is Over’.

Surfer Blood may have more mass-appeal and hit-potential but the band that made a much bigger impression was Titus Andronicus. Both bands will hopefully play bigger venues next time around.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Explorer 23 For the first 4 months

Didn't get around to making a new list, so here is a Top 23 of the year so far.

01 Surfer Blood - Swim
02 Vampire weekend - Cousins
03 Mumford & Sons - The Cave
04 OK Go - This Too Shall Pass
05 Tegan & Sara - Hell
06 She & Him - In The Sun
07 Twilight Sad - The Room
08 Avett Brothers - Slight Figure
09 Soft Pack - C'mon
10 These New Puritans - Attack Music
11 The Antlers - Bear
12 Wild Beasts - We Still Got The Taste
13 Blood Red Shoes - Light It Up
14 Kings Of Convenience - Mrs Cold
15 Frightened Rabbit - Nothing Like You
16 Philadelphia Grand Jury - The Good News
17 The XX - VCR
18 Bettie Serveert - Deny All
19 Jonsi - Boy Lilikoi
20 Hold Your Horses - 70 Million
21 Atlas Sound - Walkabout
22 Phoenix - Lasso
23 Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Messy and Brilliant: Pavement in Paradiso, May 9 2009

It was as Stephen Malkmus said a weird day in Amsterdam. Piles of trash all over the city due to a strike by garbagemen and also the start of the Tour of Italy. 200 well trained guys on bikes who cycled through Amsterdam on a cold and cloudy day. This city can do that to you at times, show you how what messiness looks like while at the same time having some guys on bikes racing as no one else on this globe can. Maybe it was fitting that Pavement’s reunion tour brought them to the Paradiso on this day.

Pavement’s status as one of indie rock’s greatest band of the 90’s is without a doubt. Their first two albums “Slanted & Enchanted” and “Crooked Rain Crooked Rain” are classics and their follow-up albums are all if high-quality. After ten years they reformed and are now touring again. As their opener they had invited their onetime label mates Bettie Serveert who were Holland’s premier indie band in the 90s. Bettie Serveert never disbanded and have made beautiful records up to this day. Playing a selection of songs from their entire career they were good, though the high volume at times muddled their sound. But it was good to see them at work again.

Pavement’s setlist was also a greatest hits show. In a long set they played songs from all their albums so there were songs for every type of fan: The early ones from S&E and CRCR, their later “Brighten the Corners” fans and also quite a few young fans who were only around 8 years old by the time they disbanded. Pavement still didn’t seem to really be trying to be excellent but in good Pavement tradition it worked well. The band at times was sloppy and messy making you want to hear what they could really sound like. But face it, that is Pavement. If it was perfect it would not have been Pavement. The genius of the band shone through at moments, mostly later in the set. A great version of ‘Range Life’, a perfect rendition of their non-album single ‘Give it a Day’ and closer ‘Here’. ‘Here’ is a perfect pop song but almost improvisational in it’s live version.

Pavement was like the city was today. Messy but at times showing why in their field they are the best in the world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Roll Over Beethoven, It's Matt and Zooey!

She & Him in the Melkweg, May 6th 2010

I could start this piece by talking about her acting career and how it might have helped her musical career. It’s a topic a lot of people would start talking about. I won’t. Fact is that she was already playing and writing music from a young age. An actress who sings or a singer who acts? It’s not really important. The only things to remember about the movies is that she was in Almost Famous (yes, that movie that made singing Elton John songs cool again) and also in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Anyone slightly connected with whatever form of the HHGTTG is automatically on my coolwall. If she had never acted however she would still have a fine career as a musician. And oh, being married to a member of Death Cab will bring you even more cred.

My biggest concern before the show was Zooey’s voice. On some of the live YouTube clips her voice wasn’t exactly powerful and she looked shy and ill at ease most of the time. But nothing like that on the Melkweg Max stage. With a powerful stage presence and a voice that was better than on record it was a great show that has to shut up any nitwit thinking it’s that cute actress who also sings. Cute she definitely is. Most striking are her eyes and hair that glow even at the people in the back. Her incredibly lowcut summer dress was stylish and some of the girls in the audience have seem to taken to the Zooey-look, a down-to-earth yet classy way of dress. But with a woolen sweater the songs would still be great.

On "Volume 1" Deschanel has proven to know how to write a timeless song and on "Volume 2" it is no different. Actors making a CD will usually sing a selection of covers or songs written for them. Deschanel writes all the songs herself and can really hold her own as a songwriter. From perfect Brill Building Pop (‘I Was Made For You’), Beatles pop to Nashville country (‘Got Me’), she can do it all. The true genius is in how the songs sound from that era and not like songs that are supposed to sound like from that era but with a distinct modern flavor. The chosen covers fit neatly into the set and the albums and she could have written them herself like the funny and coy ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’.

Responsible for this great sound is M. Ward. The songwriter, producer, member of Monsters of Folk and Conor Oberst’ choice for president. That singer from Death Cab is the luckiest guy on earth. Not only has he married one of the most beautiful people in Hollywood, his wife also gets to hang out with M. Ward! His trebly guitar, with sometimes a slide, adds a perfect warm sound to the songs. If Zooey is the ultimate cool for the girls, Ward seems to be that for the guys with his calm and easy stage presence in which he let’s Zooey get all the attention.

Highlight was halfway through the show where as a brief interlude just the two of them played a small acoustic set that included ‘Brand New Shoes’ and Smokey Robinson’s ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ that was greeted by an extended applause. Another cover was played as the last song, a rocking version of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”.

Let Zooey make more movies and let M. Ward make more great albums but I hope they get together more often to produce some fine music and some fine live shows.

Thanks again StartBeginning for the great footage

Monday, May 3, 2010

Explorer 23 For April 30

01 09 02 Darwin Deez - Radar Detector
02 03 05 She & Him - In The Sun
03 02 04 These New Puritans - Attack Music (2x#1)
04 01 05 Mumford & Sons - The Cave (1x#1)
05 05 03 Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union
06 14 02 The Antlers - Sylvia
07 07 04 Hold Your Horses - 70 Million
08 08 03 Fang Island - Life Coach
09 16 02 Morning Benders - Promises
10 04 05 Frightened Rabbit - Nothing Like You
11 20 02 The Salvadors - Atacama Disco
12 10 06 Wild Beasts - We Still Got The Taste
13 06 06 The Twilight Sad - The Room
14 12 04 Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - Get Better
15 -- 01 The Soft Pack - Answer To Yourself
16 -- 01 MGMT - Flash Delirium
17 18 03 Stornoway - I Saw You Blink
18 19 03 Kate Nash - Do Wah Do
19 -- 11 LCD Soundsytem - Drunk Girls
20 22 02 Joy Formidable - Popinjay
21 -- 01 We Are Scientists - Rules Don't Stop
22 13 04 Tegan & Sara - Alligator
23 -- 01 The Last Dinosaurs - Honolulu

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Fluffy Bunnies, These New Puritans in Bitterzoet April 28th, 2010

That Bitterzoet wasn’t even sold out for These New Puritans is beyond me. But then again confusion and uneasiness seem to be an emotions linked to TNP like feeling nothing is to let’s say… Matchbox 20.

Touring to support their fabulous ‘Hidden’ album the foursome left an impression that will not be forgotten easily. If it was a great show? I couldn’t honestly tell you. Depends on what your definition of a great show is. If a concert is supposed to make you feel more happy afterwards than they failed miserably, if a concert is supposed to evoke strong emotions than they passed with flying colors and it will easily be one of the best shows of the year so far.

My biggest question beforehand was how they would recreate the sounds and atmosphere of the album and most of all the beats. With one tight drummer and one smashing drums half of the time while working samplers at the same time this was no problem. Battery songs is what frontman Jack Barnett calls them and ‘Attack Music’, ‘Three Thousand’ and ‘Drum Courts’ made you feel like you were at one time back in the late 70’s at a Joy Division concert but at the same time in that dancing scene from the Matrix movies. Keyboard player Sophie Sleigh-Johnson’s never changing facial expression definitely added to a more gothlike atmosphere. A band playing this tight is a sight to behold and summons up memories of Battles and Shellac. The amount of improvisation is something I did not expect at all. Loops with last longer or shorter, the guitar sounds was different but it all came together.

Barnett was at most times inaudible, due in part to huge echo on his microphone. If you didn’t know what the album was about you could still feel that it wasn’t about daisies and fluffy bunnies but about something more serious. Confusion was only added when Barnett kept saying it was the last song for about 5 songs.

War is serious but will also leave you with scars for the rest of your life. TNP is serious and it will leave a scar for a very long time.