Archive for March, 2010

One of IEM’s favorite artists, JJ Appleton was picked to compete in the final contest to be the opener for Bowling For Soup during several UK gigs. We would like to ask you 30 seconds of your time to give him your vote in this poll.

Vote Here

Personally I would be very happy and grateful if you wouldn’t mind to cast that vote in favor of JJ Appleton, cause it would give me a good excuse for a short UK trip, and I know JJ will be very grateful too!

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Holly Conlan – Fascinator
October 3, 2009

Conlan debuted in 2005 with a promising debut album and made a pitstop with the “Bird” EP in 2008. Her solid songwriting brings us pretty pop songs, often based on a nice, well-written piano melody. She now releases “Fascinator”, a brand new album with a 13-song tracklist.

When reviewing her previous release (“Bird”) I found that Conlan is definitely a gifted songwriter and has fine vocal control. And while her music was of high quality I felt she needed a little more time and experience to really stand out in the crowd of young female singer/songwriters. She falls in the category of Sara Bareilles, Laura Jansen, Vanessa Carlton and the likes, but where these artists were able to really break through, that point is yet to be reached by Holly Conlan. All the ingredients were there, she just needed to find a comfortable and steady place where she could really find her own sound and make her music more unique.

On “Fascinator”, in the basis, not much has changed. Conlan still writes beautiful pop songs, ranging from bouncy radio tunes to heartfelt ballads and more melancholic singer/songwriter pieces. She shows more range and variety than she did on her previous releases, which indicates she’s grown musically and more importantly that she’s grown more comfortable in what she’s doing. From the edgy opener You & Me (very interesting arrangement!) to the heartfelt Take The Blame, the radio-friendly Uh Oh, the folky Good Ones (in its simplicity one of the strongest tracks on the album!), to the ultimate melancholy on I Am Alone, the potential hit single Beautiful Night and the intimate closer Sparkle, the album is remarkably solid and proves to do justice to the title as most of the songs are very fascinating.

Conlan doesn’t rely on the piano as heavily as she did before and this gives her more freedom to let her musical creativity run wild (in a good way). Good variety, great arrangements and at times a nearly poetic way with words lays the basis for a collection of good songs that together make a very interesting album and musically two steps forward for Holly Conlan. More than before she embraces her singer/songwriter roots and therefore you can feel much more of a connection with the songs. That she was a talented young musician is something we already knew, but now she is proving it to the world with her new record “Fascinator”.

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Diane Birch – Bible Belt
June 2, 2009

I remember that awhile ago, must’ve been last summer, I was catching up on some late night television and while I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on and primarily focusing on other things I had laying around, I suddenly heard something that made me turn my attention back to the screen. I’m not sure what late night show it was, but there was Diane Birch, performing one of her songs and apart from immediately thinking that this act could become a huge star very fast, I found myself captivated by the music.

While I had only heard one song at that point, I could already hear many different influences and clever use of lyrics and metaphors. So after that, I looked up Diane Birch on the internet and the next day I went out and bought her excellent debut album “Bible Belt”. The diversity of Birch’s character and personality reflects in her music and it makes for a record that doesn’t just range in influences, but also shines in subtle variety without giving up the organic flow a good album needs.

For a young artist (Birch is only 27, 26 even when the album was released), she is showing a lot of maturity in her music and is able to target an audience that ranges from 8 – 80. Her ability to write excellent pop songs that lean towards pop, soul, rock, folk, blues and even gospel gives her a lot of range to play with and showcase her music in. For example, take the very catchy Valentino which is an uptempo pop song with nice rhythmic subtleties where Birch shows excellent vocal control, while on a song like Nothing But A Miracle there’s a certain bluesy undertone in the song that gives the song a character boost. Highlights are Ariel, which rivals Billy Joel in his best days, the potentially worldwide radio hit Rewind and the folky/americana-influenced (a la Carole King) Mirror Mirror.

The album focuses more on the songwriting and arrangements than it does on Diane Birch’s vocals are presentation. And while there’s nothing wrong with those on the album, it doesn’t hold the power and intensity that Birch showcases when she is on stage. Her comfortable attitude and ability to easily connect to her audience is remarkable and makes her an all around artist. When you listen to the album, it might not blow you away right the first time you hear it, but when you let the music sink in and you hear the strengths and subtle creativity that went into this record, it is hard to deny that this is a very strong debut.

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Sorting Reviews

You may have noticed that the reviews under the ‘Reviews’ tab are out of order. This is because for some reason they don’t get ordered alphabetically when I add a new one. Therefore I have to manually number all the pages to keep them in order. I’m planning to take care of this in the next few days. Please bear with me for the time being. Thank you for understanding!

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Interview with Ben Howard

Q: Hi Ben, how are you doing?

A:  Yeah all good.. at home for a few days with my sister waiting for the rain to subside.

Q: For those who haven’t heard of you, can you give a short introduction of yourself and your music?

A:  I’m a fairly happy soul that lives in Devon and writes about growing up. i guess the music’s got a pretty organic acoustic feel to it.

Q: Last year you released the “These Waters” EP, which was quite impressive. Do you have plans for another release any time soon?

A: Yes we’ve been trying to mix the touring with a bit of recording over the winter and we’re sitting down in the next couple of months to finish of the first album. Looking to release it at the end of summer so all very exciting.

Q: What can we expect from you, in terms of new music? Will you go in different directions or will you explore similar sounds as “These Waters”?

A: In terms of sound we’ll probably still keep it pretty low key- I like that rough-around-the-edges feel. The plan is to keep mixing it up and experimenting and as long as the musicality’s still improving I’m happy.. There’s so much scope to develop the live stuff and the recorded stuff over the next year or so, so I’m always looking forward to whatever’s next.

Q: You tour a lot in the UK, France, Germany & The Netherlands, basically in Western Europe. Do you have plans to take your music across the Atlantic and do a full US tour in the near future?

A:  One day for sure, we’re taking things as they come. ‘These Waters’ was originally a kind of demo and I didn’t expect the kind of praise it got so I’m stoked to be touring Europe and just playing music full time.. I’d love to go out there and do a stint- touring in the sunshine could be a beautiful novelty.

Q: Speaking of touring, you’re currently setting up for another spring tour in Europe. First you’re opening for Angus & Julia and then you also have some headline dates. What is it that you look forward to most on these tours?

A:  I love the day to dayness of it all.. you meet so many people and travel so much in such a short period of time and it’s always so concentrated and focused that it stops you thinking beyond the box too much. I love things that absorb you completely.

I’m a big fan of Angus and Julia as well so it’s a blessing to be able to see good shows every night.

Q: I can’t speak for other places, but your fame is growing in the Netherlands and I’ve heard quite some people talk about going to your shows. For those who aren’t sure yet, tell them why they shouldn’t miss your show!

A:  Because we play music that we love.

Q: You have a very interesting way of using the full potential of your guitar. How did you learn to play the guitar like that? Did you take lessons or did you teach yourself how to play the guitar like that?

A: The percussive stuff’s all self taught, something open tunings and a few different artists really opened my eyes to. I had a great guitar teacher when I was a young kid, someone who taught me that enjoyment was the real key for doing anything well but that was a good few years back now.

Q: As a singer, songwriter and guitarist, who are your biggest influences, and what makes these artists so special for you?

A: People like Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, Nick Drake, and a whole host of other folk musicians really inspired me as a boy. Their’s were sounds of such originality and clarity with such stripped back settings. Everything from the Doors to Paul Simon and Garfunkel seemed to have a lot more feeling back then and that’s really what should inspire people. I saw Bon Iver at Glastonbury at that was something truly inspirational, for an hour nothing could touch him.

Q: And in that light, is there a band or musician you would love to go on tour with? Say you could pick anyone in the world, who would it be? And why?

A: I’d go with Bon Iver just to sit and watch! Mind you I’d love to tour with Xavier Rudd again- those guys really know how to be happy and enjoy it all, it’d definitely be fun a second time round.

Q: In a lot of European countries a debate is going about the regulation of downloads and to legally determine when it is legal or illegal. What is your take on downloading and sharing of digital music? How do you see this in light of the changing music industry?

A: It’s a tough one.. we’ve created something that no doubt cripple’s the industry. I like to think illegal downloads only do real damage to the endless amounts of careless pop music though.

I like to believe a true fan of music or an artist has a genuine respect for what the artist does and has a distinct understanding of their actions. In that buying an album they are helping the artist to continue making music. It’s hard because everyone wants something to be free.

On another note I think it’s different for different artists. The majority of good music I listen to are good live performers and that’s what they enjoy doing. I think music piracy is forcing many people to look at the live aspect of the record industry as an income and in many ways that’s what sets apart good music and musicians from the fly by night pop sensations..

It’s a big issue with so many variables, pro’s and cons.. that’s just a start!

Q: For an artist or band trying to make a name, what do you think is most important to keep in mind and what is important to work at? Where do you have to put the accents to get the attention of the mainstream audience?

A: I don’t know really, I don’t think I’ve got to a stage where I can look back and give advice on that. My motive has always been just to be who I am, and play what I love- if that doesn’t get me anywhere then at least it wasn’t because I tried to be something I’m not.

Q: Okay, one more question. What is the best thing about being a musician and what is the worst thing about it? And if you weren’t a musician, what would you think you’d be doing?

A: The best thing is I can say ‘I’m working’ when I’m having a cup of tea and a cigarette and fiddling on the guitar.

I’m still trying to figure out the worst thing.

And If I wasn’t a musician…  I think I’d just be endlessly traveling.

Thanks for doing this interview with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions!

Thanks for doing this interview with us. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions!

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Patrick Park – Come What Will
April 6, 2010

Patrick Park - Come What Will

Those of you who read my reviews for Patrick Park’s previous albums will remember that I am a big fan of this singer/songwriter. And the funny thing is that I can’t really explain what it is exactly that makes me like his music so much. Obviously I am able to connect to it on a very personal and direct level and the folk/rock arrangements are very pleasant to the ear and make for great radio pop songs. This combined with Patrick’s clear and soothing vocals give you the idea that he’s speaking to you personally.

Not necessarily musically, but in the approach, Patrick Park reminds me a lot of earlier folk singers like Carole King, James Taylor, and even Bob Dylan in his earlier days. These people could deliver a song (and they still can!) to you with so much conviction and at the same time invest in it personally so that you not only believe the song but that it literally speaks to you. Patrick Park also possesses this quality. Apart from being an excellent songwriter he is also a superb performer. Musically one might put Park in the same strait as artists like Joseph Arthur or Tom McRae.

On his new album “Come What Will”, which will officially be released in April, Patrick Park treats us to 10 new songs. The personal feel and relatable lyrics are brought to life by Park’s passionate and soothing vocals. As a vocalist he has a good range and knows how to use it to get the maximal emotional response to his music. And with gems like You’ll Get Over, Blackbird Through The Dark, You’re Enough & Starry Night, Patrick Park shows he’s come together as an artist. “Come What Will” has the intimate and personal feel of his breakthrough record “Loneliness Knows My Name” yet also the pop appeal of  his previous album “Everyone’s In Everyone”. It’s the perfect comfort zone for this groovy, laid-back and intriguing performer. It gives his songs a chance to shine and it showcases the great talent that is Patrick Park. His current fans will be very happy with this record and he is sure to win many, many more fans with this excellent new album!

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Imogen Heap – Ellipse
August 25, 2009

Imogen Heap - Ellipse

You can say a lot of things about Imogen Heap, and her music may not be easily accessible to just anyone, but above all, both artist and music are interesting. Whatever you think of it, it’s never boring. She has a way of playing with sounds and influences that is both engaging and disarming. On her previous album “Speak For Yourself” it was mainly Heap’s oddness and her distinct vocals that set her apart, well, and also her style of songwriting. But on “Ellipse” she incorporates a wider range of influences without losing that odd and intriguing essence that she’s gotten known for.

It would be too easy to dismiss “Ellipse” as an alternative electro-pop record. It’s too sophisticated for that. Whether the songs are about more trivial things or more pressing matters, the thoughtful songwriting and arrangements make for a challenging and somewhat peculiar musical journey. But somehow it all fits. Heap’s signature vocals, the use of clever samples and beautiful arrangements make for excellent songs need to be not just heard, but listened to.

She varies between more bombastic songs like 2-1 to a somewhat poppy sound on Bad Body Double and Swoon and shows she can disarm her listeners with a more intimate song like the piano-ballad Half Life. Imogen Heap shows to be an allround artist and while you may think she is hiding behind her computer samples and ProTools a little too much (to a certain extent I tend to agree), she shows she has all the goods. The sampling and layering is a trademark that fits with the quirckiness and oddity that surrounds Imogen Heap, yet on “Ellipse” she shows she uses it but doesn’t NEED it to convince an audience. This, in my opinion, is the real growth compared to her previous album.

“Ellipse” may not hold a song as commercially interesting as Hide And Seek on her previous album, but as a record it is much more complete and sophisticated and her signature sound combined with her distinct lyrical and vocal style makes for an interesting listen. The songs are powerful at times and almost sentimental at other times. Like I said in the beginning of this review, in the end you can think of it what you want, but the record never gets boring. It’s a distinct style and sound, so it’s not for everyone, but if you’re willing to listen, there can be a whole lot for you to enjoy.

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Cloudmachine – Back On Land
16 april, 2009

Cloudmachine - Back on Land

Cloudmachine may not be the best known band hailing from the Netherlands but they certainly are one of most underrated Dutch bands. On their previous albums they were able to build on impressive songwriting, Ruud Houweling’s distinctive vocal sound and a very professional performance of the emotionally layered songs.

Their breakthrough happened in 2006 with the excellent album “Hum of Life” and last year they released the follow up “Back On Land”. Once again, the album is filled with slightly melancholical, well-written and inspiring songs building on a sound that holds the middle between indie pop and alternative rock. Some people compare Cloudmachine to Novastar or Johan, and I’ve even read references to Radiohead. And while I have to admit that there are similarities in the general sound I don’t feel much like comparing Cloudmachine to any of these bands. The distinctive vocal sound and the personality of the music puts it in its own category for me. Not that the other bands aren’t as good, I just think there are definitely subtle difference in style and sound between all these bands.

But let me get back to the album. “Back On Land”, released in 2009, starts out strong with Things Are Going To Change and doesn’t let go of that high quality anywhere on the album. All the songs have a characteristic sound and are passionately delivered. Themes of life, love, hope, despair, well, the things we all know and relate to, are present in the songs and are described in colorful yet accessible lyrics. The music is inspiring, challenging even but it doesn’t push you off the edge. Sometimes bands put so much effort in creating complex songs that in the end the essence of the music is lacking. Cloudmachine doesn’t forget that at the end of the day they are still making pop songs, which you can hear in the pleasant Safe Haven and the excellent indie pop gem Fading Picture which ends in a supreme finale.

Sadly I didn’t discover this album until early 2010, otherwise it would have no doubt made the top25 albums of 2009. It’s an album that holds excellent music, interesting lyrics, contains emotional depth and sticks to the essence of pop/rock music. It’s smooth, it’s intriguing and most of all the music is simply beautiful. It strikes a chord. Key tracks of the album are Pirouettes On New Legs (somewhat filmesque, but very pretty), Fading Picture (great pop song with a very impressive anthemic build up and epic finale), Spit Me Out (a little more melancholic, sentimental even, but oh so beautiful) and album closer Sanctuary (a musical journey that holds your attention from the first note to the last).

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Tristan Clopet – Purple [EP]
January 7, 2010

Tristan Clopet - Purple EP

Tristan Clopêt is an up and coming artist who makes a kind of music that can best be described as a mix of modern rock with alternative influences from the 80s, 90s and with a funky undertone. Some people have referred to Jeff Buckley and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I can definitely see the RHCP references, especially in the opener and Ethereal Evidence, yet I feel like it’s only partially fair to make that comparison, especially if you listen to a track like So Alive which falls more in the category of early Snow Patrol, Feeder & Republic of Letters, with the more anthemic build up.

Overall it’s a pretty solid EP that shows talent in songwriting. The vocals are excellent, they really are and the guitar work is very professional. Everything fits together quite nicely. And while the songs are solid and well-written and sometimes even quite catchy, there is something about them that makes me wonder about the commercial successfulness of this EP. I’m convinced local radio will pick up on it, and the songs lean themselves perfectly for live performances as they are filled with energy and emotion. Personally I actually like how the production of the songs is kind of raw and down-to-earth if you will. But for the songs to be embraced commercially I think the whole thing should sound a little more polished.

At the end of the day, “Purple” is a solid EP, containing 6 strong songs, songs that grow on you the more you hear them. Good songs possess that quality. Listening to this release gives me the feeling I’m listening to a real musician, not just someone who can play a nice song convincingly, but a real musician who invests in a song and gives everything to let it come out. I have to give Clopêt praise for that, as that is what music is about. It’s about the energy and emotion you put into it and the connection you have with it yourself as well as the connections your listeners can have with the music. I believe that Clopêt gets that and you can hear it in the music. Whether the songs on this EP will mean a breakthrough for him, I’m not quite so convinced yet, but I do hope it offers this musician opportunities to take his career forward, because he holds the talent and musicality that deserves to get a chance. The mix of modern rock and different alternative influences makes for interesting variety in his music. Songs like Superficiality Is A Sin & Love And A Question are excellent songs and should convince you of this man’s potential. Check out his songs and judge for yourself.

Official Website

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Ben Howard – These Waters [EP]
July 14, 2009

I discovered Ben Howard when he was opening for Brett Dennen during his European tour. And that night, which was a very special night anyway, however short Ben Howard’s performance may have been, he proved to be the discovery of the year for me.

Afterwards I bought a copy of “These Waters” to explore what else this guy is capable of. And what I found was an interesting collection of acoustic songs in which Howard’s vocals are shining and his excellent guitar playing is a thing of beauty.

All the songs are worth mentioning but the two stand out tracks are London and These Waters. The way Ben Howard utilizes maximum potential of his guitar and sings with flawless vocals gives the songs something extra in both rhythmic and melodic quality.

The EP starts with The Wolves, which is more uptempo and the most impressive feat of this song is the timing. The sentiment in Cloud Nine is very impressive and it was probably my favorite song during his short live set that I saw. Excellent use of the guitar! The harmonic and melodic play that goes on in London is wonderful and with a lot of feeling Howard brings his strong lyrics to life. The combination of the use of his guitar, the strong introspective lyrics and comforting yet powerful vocals make for a gem of a song that really is the crown on this EP. The more folky Move Like You Want is faster paced and the breathy, almost seasoned sounding vocals give the song a lot of character. The EP ends with a bonus song called The Fire, which has a very demo-y feel to it. The raw and personal feel to it actually adds to the song instead of taking away from it.

So all in all this is a very impressive and complete EP, especially for a young musician like Ben Howard. I am very curious to hear what lies ahead for this talented and interesting musician.

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