Archive for March, 2010

Today is the first day of spring. Therefore the first quarter of the year is gone and we can reflect on some of the album releases. Here’s a list of the 5 albums (I’m not putting them in order, just the 5 albums) that I was impressed by most.

Noblesse – We Are Not Humanity

mr. a balladeer – Sorry, Kid

Gerald Edward – You Write The Words

Eels – End Times

Vampire Weekend – Contra

(Republic of Letters – Painted Hour would have made the list had it been officially released. However, this album release is still pending so it will be a contender for a later list!)

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Noblesse – We Are Not Humanity
March 12, 2010

Dutch rock band Noblesse recently released its sophomore album “We Are Not Humanity”. The band built a solid reputation, both as a recording band and as a live act, after the release of their debut album “Sound The Alarm”. Known for their intensity and lyrical depth, the band had high expectations to meet.

With “We Are Not Humanity”, Noblesse not only delivers on the expectations, the band is able to exceed the expectations. With a smooth conceptual art rock album that is melodically challenging and rhythmically intriguing, they provide the fans with not just 10 excellent tracks, but much more than that, they provide an excellent album, as the songs all grab into eachother musically and thematically.

Tapping into points of universal discussion like consumerism, communication, virtues, morals, and so on, they are able to deliver their messages and questions through deep lyrics and intense music. The most impressive feat of the band may well be their ability to play with the music and the lyrics. By using one towards the other and vice versa, they create a very interactive and dynamic environment in which their songs can flourish. Art rock may be the name of a genre, but in Noblesse’s case you can also take those terms seperately, because “We Are Not Humanity” is not just a very solid rock album, it also is a work of art.

Songs that definitely stand out are You Look Good, Different Flow, Detrimental & Life Support. You Look Good has a bit of a pointy sound, verging on powerpop in the rhythm, which gives it a very danceable and almost catchy character. Different Flow is closer to a classic rock song with strong guitar riffs and haunting vocals that work to a sparkling finale of the song. Detrimental is the easiest song on the album to sing along to and a likely candidate for a radio single as it’s a song that has the ability to stick in your head. It’s not a typically catchy song, but both rhythmically and melodically it resonates in your head for quite some time. Especially the chorus has that effect. Album closer Life Support is a modern rock opus with quite an epic build up. I picked  these four songs as key tracks because they show the band’s diversity, class and intensity very well.

It’s only march, but “We Are Not Humanity” is without a doubt the most impressive album release of the year so far. I would strongly encourage you to check out Noblesse and “We Are Not Humanity on their bandcamp page, where you can also purchase the album if you feel the same excitement and connection that I felt and am still feeling.

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El Pino & The Volunteers – The Long-Lost Art of Becoming Invisible
November 12, 2009

El Pino & The Volunteers - The Long-Lost Art of Becoming Invisible

One of the more interesting bands hailing from the Netherlands, El Pino & The Volunteers have released their sophomore album “The Long-Lost Art of Becoming Invisible”. The general sound on the album is completely different from their debut album “Molten City”.

Where the band displayed a more raw and pointy sound on their debut, they have now very much settled in a comfort zone with this indie-pop feel, drawing inspiration from rock & roll, americana and alternative music.

“The Long Lost Art…” is a very professional and mature album that shows not only a lot of talent and potential, but also a certain determination and a lot of sentiment. Had I heard this album before the year’s end, it would have definitely made my ‘top of 2009’ albums.

The first time I saw El Pino was quite a few years back when they opened for Augustana. I then saw them again not much later when they played a full show, and the energy and passion they put in their live shows is very commendable. So I was very curious how that energy and passion would translate to the band’s new sound. And when I saw them again a short while ago, even though it was a small acoustic gig, you could see they still play with that same intensity and just have fun doing what they’re doing.

“The Long Lost Art..” is a varied album with more uptempo songs and some slower paced songs. With catchy radio songs like Wake Up, No Cure For Stupidity, Here’s To The Rescue and powerful songs like Not Jealous (ft. Janne Schra) & the album’s title track, there are different things for different people to enjoy. Key tracks are No Cure For Stupidity, the Voicst-like The Big, The Blind, The Undefinded and White On White.

A lot of the songs on the album lean themselves well for radio airplay and have a good vibe and hold the right amount of energy and sentiment to become outstanding live songs. El Pino & The Volunteers delivers on an excellent album that will no doubt propel them to one of the top acts in the Dutch music scene. And after that, the rest of the world cannot be far behind.

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Jo Henley – Inside Out
February 2010

Jo Henley - Inside Out

Jo Henley’s first release “Sad Songs And Alcohol” was a very interesting and pleasant album with musical roots in the americana/bluegrass/country genre. The country-pop genre has been doing quite well the past couple years with it’s mainstream and current sound. And while it is perfect for radio and commercial use, there is something generic about it, most of the modern country-pop albums don’t have that special directness reflecting everyday life or emtional depth that the old honkytonk and country albums used to display.

However, there have been a few examples of bands and artists that show a similar personal connection and emotional depth in their music. For me, Jo Henley kind of bridges the two. The songs have a very pleasant and radio-friendly sound to them yet the music is reminiscent of the old country music in its feel and message.

“Inside Out” is a real album, where all 11 songs fit together perfectly and musically it all forms a whole. It opens with The Great Depression, which is kind of a classic country song with some honkytonk and bluegrass influences. The uptempo, feelgood melody and typical country lyrics just make you smile.

The Fire reminds me of a 70s country song, but I can’t remember which song exactly. The rootsy, more paced sound is soothing and intriguing, yet the song doesn’t have the catchiness or current sound that makes it fit as a radio song. The mid-tempo title song, Inside Out, is one of the album’s top tracks. Very danceable and it is a good mix of a more classic and a more current sound. The most impressive part of Save The Last Dance For Us is how the vocals and music are coming together. While it’s not extremely uptempo or has a distinctive beat it still is somewhat catchy.

When I listen to Cheyenne, I can just picture an old saloon where the band is playing this song. I believe it would make a very good radio song, it’s easy to sing along, the melody is catchy and it’s one of those songs that just stick in your head. I think it is one of my favorite songs on “Inside Out”. Jo Henley continues with Holly, which is a slower song. Musically and vocally, there’s nothing wrong with the song but I keep waiting for the song to get going, to take off, so to speak. But unfortunately it doesn’t really. It’s a very decent song but it could’ve used a little more punch or a climax in the song.

The interesting Gonna Make It Right continues the album. The catchy song is another good example of combining the old country feel with a more current sound. One of the better songs on the album. It would also make a good radio single. It’s uptempo and gets you in a good mood. With Only I Can Break Your Heart, Jo Henley shows a more emotional side. With the electric guitar and the poppy melody it feels more like a current country-pop ballad, and it works very well. The song may have radio potential as it could be a sing-along, but most of all I think it could make a good closer for a live set. Tears On My Sleeve is a very pleasant song and the rootsy, comfortable feel it produces, combined with the excellent musical arrangement makes it a very interesting and fun track to listen to.

Apart from loving the title of the song, Getting Good At Goodbye, is a very good song. It showcases that emotional depth I was talking about and with the arrangement and impressive vocals those feelings come out wonderfully. To me, apart from being my favorite song on the album, Getting Good At Goodbye also has the best lyrics. It may be because they perfectly reflect a time of my life, so I can easily connect to the lyrics personally, but Jo Henley is able to put the sentiment from the lyrics into the music, which is something that always impresses me when a band does that. The album ends with Love (Is A Long Way Down), which has a bit of a blues-rock feel to it. Not what I had expected, but I enjoy it. The almost gritty and somewhat raw sound makes it a very suitable end to this excellent album.

“Inside Out” is a very worth successor to “Sad Songs And Alcohol”. It shows more variety and more depth in the songwriting, and it shows Jo Henley is a band that has the potential of breaking through to a wider audience, not in a couple of years, but right now. The quality of the music and songwriting is good, the band is passionate about their music and can deliver it accordingly. If “Inside Out” gets a chance, and people are willing to stand behind it (and why wouldn’t they?), it could definitely be the band’s breakout album. In its genre, this is probably my favorite release of 2010 so far.

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Black Atlantic – Reverence For Fallen Trees
December 2009

Black Atlantic - Reverence For Fallen Trees

Dutch indie band Black Atlantic releases the album “Reverence for Fallen Trees”. This is their first full-length after they released an interesting and impressive EP a few years back. The band has been trying, and to a point succeeding, to create international appeal. With tours in the US, Netherlands and Germany and a good range of connections in the field, they manage to reach out to fans all over the world.

“Reverence For The Fallen Trees” contains 10 songs that have a very subtle, almost minimalistic feel. The intimacy and personality is what makes the songs so special. Sometimes you would feel like something is missing or that you would like to hear a little more ‘kick’ or ‘punch’ in the songs. But that really isn’t the case with this album. Things fall into place, the intimate vocals and subtle arrangements create a certain connectivity in the songs that is not only impressive but simply beautiful.

I could go into detail for every single song on the album, but this album feels as a whole, so I would like to judge it as a whole. From the intro track Baiulus to the closer I Shall Cross This River, the album provides for a musical journey that is comforting, challenging, intriguing, relaxing and curious all at the same time. For what is officially a debut album, this is of a very high quality. It’s music you can feel, music you can be touched by. While there is a vast pool of talented musicians and bands out there, it still is a pleasant surprise to me when I come across a band that has a certain quality that makes them stand out. For me, Black Atlantic displays that kind of quality.

While I’m not going to go track by track, I would like to point out two stand out songs on this album: the folky Madagascar, which was released as a single before. It has a very impressive build up and maybe a little more of a richer sound than most of the other tracks on the album. The other song I would like to specifically mention is An Ocean And Peril, which is one of those rare songs where the sound and mood of the song perfectly reflects an image that makes the song makes sense. When you listen to this song, you can just feel it’s right.

I would recommend “Reverence For Fallen Trees” to everyone who enjoys pure and honest music. You can listen to it for free on the band’s Bandcamp. You can also purchase it there on a ‘name your price’ basis. Be sure to give this band a listen and if you are as excited about this band as I am, make sure to spread the word and purchase their music.

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Mikey Wax – For Better Or Worse [EP]

Mikey Wax - For Better Or Worse

Mikey Wax is a singer-songwriter from Long Island who released a six song EP this year, following his 2008 debut album, “Change Again”.

Mikey’s unique voice on “For Better or Worse” makes for some easy listening. Upon first listen, his voice reminded me a bit of BBMak and The Moffatts – two so-called “boy bands” that played instruments from about 10 years ago. Mikey’s music is pretty mellow but also catchy. Fans of other singer songwriters such as Howie Day, who Mikey just finished up a tour with, would most likely enjoy Mikey’s laid back poppy sound.

So Crazy
stands out as a track that is a little more rockin’ than the rest. All the songs go together well on this EP. Check Mikey out if you’re into John Mayer (one of his influences), Jason Reeves, Tyler Hilton, or Jason Mraz.

Overall Rating: A-

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Bascom Hill – Inevitable
July 8, 2009

Bascom Hill - Inevitable

Bascom Hill is a band I’ve been following around since late 2006. They debuted with their album “Maybe” in 2005 and the smooth mainstream pop/rock sound they displayed was of a very high level already. I remember feeling impressed with how natural it sounded. They have a sound similar to Vertical Horizon, The Fray, John Mayer, Lifehouse, and other contemporaries, but I would especially refer to Vertical Horizon, because Bascom Hill showcases that same sound that has the roots in the songwriting but still comes together as a band sound.

On “Inevitable”, the band showcases that mix of pop and rock influences again. The production of the album is very well done and the songs come out in a way that mainstream radio can only embrace them. Catchy, uptempo singalongs with relatable lyrics. With a bit of luck this could very well be the band’s break out album.

Starting with the very catchy Go On which has that alternative pop feel reminiscent of Vertical Horizon on “Everything You Want”, the album is off to a very good start. With energy and passionate vocals this song has the right inensity to shine on the radio. Bascom Hill continues with another catchy pop/rock song called Between Poses. The song has the radio-friendliness of a The Fray song and the vocals are from a very high quality. If you aren’t singing along to the chorus after two listens I think you’re doing something wrong.

Then on to one of my favorites. My World is another song that needs to be heard on radio. It was actually the first song off “Inevitable” I heard and I was instantly convinced of its potential. Very catchy and the chorus, once again, is money in the bank. On Ever Wish, the band takes down the pace and that results in a beautiful acoustic, mid-tempo ballad. The lyrics speak to you, because of the universally recognizable message in them and the combination of the ‘smaller sound’ of the song and the soothing vocals give this song just the right character. The band sticks to an (semi-)acoustic sounds on Hello, but they combine it with the uptempo catchiness from the previous songs. A very laid-back, yet energetic (interesting, right?) track and when Charlie Victor sings “you had already walked away..” I can just feel what he’s singing.

On Mystified, Bascom Hill shows a more gritty, rock & roll sound and the added energy and power doesn’t take away anything from the song. Just like on their debut CD, the band shows that they know how to balance between a more poppy and a more alternative sound. Good placement of the song too! A more soulful, soothing sound is shown on Ivy, which is a song that grows on you. The arrangement is actually very strong and with every listen I start to like it a little bit more.

Everytime I listen to For You, I just get silent and let the music take over. The subtle instruments, the touching vocals and the impressive build up of this song are excellent. I like how the acoustic guitar and the piano bring out the mood of this song with near perfection. It may not be the jumpy, uptempo radio single, but musically this is quite impressive. My initial thoughts were that Prettiest Girl isn’t the most memorable track on the album. It doesn’t hold a lot of tension or excitement in the arrangement and while musically and vocally it is performed perfectly and the song is very soothing, it has more of a bonus track feel to it than an actual album track.

Then back to one of my favorites. Save Me is another radio single candidate if you ask me. The pointy, uptempo song has a modern rock & roll feel and is an instant foot tapper. It’s quite danceable and has a killer chorus. Good hooks and outstanding musical delivery. One of the very best songs on the album. The title track, Inevitable, is a very cool rock & roll track with a very good beat to it. Mix it, press it onto a CDS and release it to radio and both pop & rock fans should both start to request this on their local stations.

We then get to the interesting album closer. Where’d You Go has a little bit of an americana/blues feel to it, especially in the intro and in the vocal vibe. It is slightly (just slightly) reminiscent of a John Mayer-esque song. It is quite different from the rest of the album, and the demo feel of the song really works. It’s like a dessert after the main course. And it tastes very well!

Bascom Hill makes music that falls into the most crowded genre of music possible. So a lot of critics might say it sounds like this or that, say it is nothing we haven’t heard before, etc. etc. I tend to disagree. Yes, there are similarities with other bands, I named a few myself. But Bascom Hill manages to display a sound of their own, and they bring quality, intensity and enthusiasm to the table. They show they have what it takes to make it. “Inevitable” is a record that shows diversity within the genre and shows that the band can easily pull off that variety. There is a high level of songwriting, convincing and believable delivery of the songs and an overall class that makes them not only noticeable but also ranks them among the top acts in their genre.

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Imogen Heap – Live @ Luxor, Köln
March 14, 2010 // Luxor, Cologne

Imogen Heap

It would be unfair to say I was a fan of Imogen Heap before today. I appreciated her work and I have always thought her songwriting was unique and very interesting. So when a friend I recently made asked me if I wanted to come along to her show in Cologne, it wasn’t a big stretch for me to say that I would very much like to tag along.

And after tonight, I’m very glad I did. Back Ted N-Ted opened the show. He did his thing, and he didn’t do it too bad, but honestly, I didn’t get too excited about his little performance. He had a couple moments, but overall it didn’t come across too memorable. I don’t know if it were the songs or if he just wasn’t able to get the songs’ full potential out there tonight. He seems like a nice kid and an interesting musician, but he needs to gain experience in songwriting and stage presence I think.

A little while later, Imogen Heap came on stage and pretty much from the get-go, she displayed she was extremely comfortable doing what she’s doing and with a lot of humor and great timing, she was able to get the whole (sold out!) venue on her hands in no time. In between technical issues with the sampling computer, funny jokes and anecdotes about the men in her life, she showed off her musicality, often assisted by Back Ted N-Ted and other touring musicians. The interesting and very original arrangements of the songs are what makes her so special. That and her unique vocals.

She’s an excellent pianist and stage performer and her songs leave a lot of room for a little improvising here and there and are remarkably fit for a full show. I couldn’t tell you the setlist for the life of me, but I know I was very impressed with what I saw and heard tonight. An excellent performance by a very interesting and unique musician. And after tonight, I believe it is fair to call myself a fan of Imogen Heap!

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Seabear – We Built A Fire
March 16, 2010

Seabear - We Built A Fire

A steady flow of talented music has come from Iceland over the years. Bands like Sigur Ros and Amiina are a few we’d think of right away, but the alternative folk/pop band Seabear is a name that shouldn’t be left out. They are now releasing their sophomore album “We Built A Fire”. In a time where the genre is taking flight again (think: Beach House, Spoon, Peter, Björn & John, etc.) there is a lot of material to compare this album to. And Seabear can easily compete with the names I just mentioned.

The opener Lion Face Boy leads into the album well with the soulful vocals and the breezy, open feel. It has something comfortable about it. Fire Dies Down has a more haunting sound yet it also has something familiar about it. The musical arrangement of the song is very sound and the spheric and melodic nature of the song come through beautifully.

I’ll Build You A Fire is a little more uptempo and has a very rootsy, folky undertone. It comes off the previous song perfectly and has a sound that could actually fit on mainstream radio, without the song being too mainstream. Speaking of songs with potential mainstream success, Cold Summer is probably the best example of that on this album. It has a very round and melodic sound yet it saves the folky nature. It is a song that the listener can easily connect and identify with. Both the words and music speak volumes and that’s all a good song needs.

A more rootsy, even bluegrass-ish influence seeps into Wooden Teeth, which, to me, is one of the funner tracks on the album, with its more upbeat feel and tempo. One of the most impressive tracks on the album is Leafmask, it’s a song with hidden subtleties that you might not hear the first few listens, but the song has a beautiful arrangement and the vocals (also pay attention to the backing vocals) work out this song magically. Softship, also, is an impressive song. A little more uptempo and with a little more drive than the previous song, but the harmonizing vocals and the high level of musicality in this song lift it up to be one of the album’s highlights.

Initially I wasn’t too impressed with We Fell Off The Roof, but it proves to be a grower. I’m really warming up to the song, yet I think it still doesn’t rank among my favorites on the album. The essentially acoustic track has a somewhat intimate feel to it and the mid-song energy kick is pretty nice but it doesn’t seem to stand out as much to me as most of the other tracks on the album do.

Warm Blood is a song that has a lot of tension in it. The ‘tamed excitement’ charges this song and Seabear knows how to make it count every second of the way. The song has a more complex arrangement with a mix of piano, acoustic and electric instruments and while it may seem a little chaotic to some, it actually comes together really well. If there would be such a thing as eclectic, symphonic folk, this would fall into that category. In Winters Eyes has a nice catchy beat to it and the dreamy, folky vocals give the song a lot of character. Not the album’s  most memorable song, but a very good song nonetheless.

Album closer Wolfboy is a little grittier and more uptempo and therefore quite a surprise. It seems a bit out of place compared with the rest of the album, but when taken a closer listen, the vocals still have that dreaminess in them and the arrangement might be a little less folky, but it contains the same interesting build up of tension that some of the other songs have. Also pay attention to the subtle piano parts in the song. Musically this is pretty damn impressive.

“We Built A Fire” is a very good album and marks another 2010 release that is very worthy of being noticed. Seabear is a band that makes music of a high quality. Their sophomore album may not be the best known release of 2010. It does, however, rank amongst the better releases of the year, at least so far.

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Noblesse – We Are Not Humanity
Release Show – March 12, 2010

Between 8PM and 8:20PM suddenly the show started with the band starting to play and not much later, dancers appeared on the floor of the Melkweg in Amsterdam, coming from all corners. I don’t know much about modern dance but the combination of the conceptual art rock of Noblesse and the interesting choreography displayed by the dancers was a feast for both eyes and ears.

They started with Detrimental one of the ‘catchier’ songs on the album. (not sure if catchier is the right word, but I can’t think of another word that fits). The vocals were hard to hear for a little while, but the sound tech solved that very quickly and then the show really got underway.

While the music feels like conceptual art rock it doesn’t feel forced or too complicated. It’s deep and it provokes, it’s challenging, but it’s not distantiating. It has interesting melodics and emphasized rhythmics, musically. Which is one of the reasons this show was so suited to be incorporated with dancers.

Noblesse basically went through the whole “We Are Not Humanity” album while the dancers did their thing. Sometimes also, there was time for a little ‘story time’ where in a very amusing way we were slowly introduced into the music and dance again. There was use of visual effects (including the floor itself!) and props and this made the whole event much more interactive for the audience also.

Noblesse is one of the better kept secrets in music. And last night they proved they know how to treat their fans to a fantastic show. It was impressive, it was original and it was just damn good! Their new album is available through bandcamp, be sure to get it, it is very, very, very good.


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