Friday, June 27, 2014

Crossing the Boundaries

Mikki Kauste has been writing music for Egotrippi for at least 15 years. Like any ambitious songwriter, he has probably never aimed to write only certain type of music, such as music to meet the conception of what is suitable for Egotrippi – not that “suitable for Egotrippi” is even easy to determine in the first place. As Mikki developed as a songwriter, new influences began to manifest themselves in his compositions. At some point he noticed he had written a bunch of songs that he didn't think would suit Egotrippi but he didn't feel like giving them to other artists either. Mikki decided to go solo.

The result was an album called Lintumies, released in May 2013. The album has been labeled as schlager music and while certain songs (Turmio, Oisin kerrankin mies, Rakkauden roinaa) sound very much like schlager, there are also other things such as timeless intimate pop ballads, following in the footsteps of the Walker Brothers' orchestrated grandiosity: Prologi (Lintumies), Pyydät liikaa, and Hyvästi Amsterdam.

Mikki has described his vision as pop music expanded towards grandiose Anglo-American pop á la Dusty Springfield, old Finnish schlager, Italian schlager, and French chanson. Also fascination towards old jazz has surely influenced Mikki's melodic sensibility. Even his jangly power pop song Tie from the 2011 Syksyn sävel song contest fits the album both musically and thematically. In a way Lintumies is a real crossover album, showing that different musical styles can easily be put together because they all have certain common roots in the golden decades of pop music.

So, what if this music had been released as an Egotrippi album? The audience would probably have been quite surprised, even confused, even though Egotrippi has been pushing its musical (and lyrical) boundaries during the past ten or more years. I do understand the decision to release the Lintumies material as a solo album. It was time for Mikki to show what he can do without his band – and he shines like never before.

Lintumies is a truly high-quality, coherent, intimate album full of timeless melodies. I am especially impressed by the heavenly ballads. The album lyrics are really good but Mikki's voice expresses much more than any words could ever do. Mikki is a really distinctive vocalist and he has been getting better and better throughout the years. On this album he is free from all boundaries, resulting in his most heartfelt renditions.

Somehow I get the feeling that this is only the beginning. Coming next, a jazz album? A chanson album? My expectations are getting high!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

20 Personal Egotrippi Favorites

Yes, you guessed it just right. I am planning to write a lot more about Egotrippi but first, here is a list of my favorite Egotrippi songs, a list that practically wrote itself.

Actually, I had already a picked a similar list of favorite Hollies songs before this and decided to do the same with Egotrippi. The Hollies list is coming up later. 

Given that there were eight Egotrippi studio albums and two compilations to pick from, many awesome songs had to be left out. There are no songs from the first album and there is only one song with lead vocals by Knipi – the competition was really tough. I couldn't decide which song was better than which so decided to put the songs in alphabetical order. I included a link to each song, YouTube or other.

Album: Vielä koittaa uusi aika (2006)

This is a very sad song even though some parts of the arrangement sound like a happy fanfare. The song was written by Mikki Kauste who also gives a heartbreaking yet peaceful lead vocal. The song structure is very good, allowing the song to grow and get more intense towards the end, ending with heavenly harmonies that sound like they could have been taken from Teenage Fanclub's repertoire (the Beach Boys could also be a relevant comparison...).

Album: Pilvien alla, maan päällä (2013)

Another song written by Mikki Kauste, this was originally written for the Finnish Idols semi-finalists to sing. The Egotrippi version is surely far superior. It is very beatlesque, and the vocal harmony work especially in the chorus is beyond all perfection and blissfulness. At one point I just kept listening to the harmonies in complete amazement over and over again. I think this is one of the most pleasant song Egotrippi ever has recorded, even though this version has also received some strangely negative feedback. Maybe the message of the song is too positive and optimistic, I wouldn't know.

3. Häälaulu 
Album: Maailmanloppua odotellessa (2008)

In this song written by Knipi the narrator is attending a wedding and in his mind gleefully criticizing everyone in sight, especially the newlywed couple – the marriage is surely bound to fail. The lyrics are probably not to be taken too seriously but the light-heartedness of the lyrics is also a perfect match for the happily sarcastic mood. The arrangement is fantastic: quite beatlesque, and it surely reminds of Jellyfish.

Also check out Irina Björklund's fantastic French-language chanson version of Häälaulu, Ton mariage.

Album: Moulaa! B-puolia ja harvinaisuuksia (b-side compilation 2001)

I wanted to include one actual cover song (not written by anyone in the band) because this one is simply so great. This Chicago song was originally performed with Finnish lyrics by Pepe Willberg in 1977.

What can I say? I can't resist music like this. In this version there is plenty of energetic mid-tempo power pop melancholy and awesome jangly guitars. Also, rarely has Egotrippi performed music as syrupy as this, which explains a lot of my fascination towards the band's take on the song. Egotrippi was mostly not known for romantic songs at this point. This version was recorded for b-side purposes and probably not many have heard it.

Album: Maailmanloppua odotellessa (2008)

Here we have another piano ballad written by Mikki Kauste. This slightly apocalyptical image of the future was inspired by current environmental issues and global warming. According to Kauste, this song is not at all political even though it practically brings the issue to our backyard. Political or not, the lyrics make it clear that our actions may someday result in some very concrete consequences. The situation begs the question: what kind of devastation does mankind have to face before we change our ways? What would convince you that something must be done before it is too late?

We once again hear some heavenly vocal harmonies. I enjoy the huge interval between the verse and the chorus. Mikki isn't afraid to use his falsetto.

Album: Helsinki-Hollola (2000)

It is kind of surprising that my #1 favorite Egotrippi song wasn't written by either of the band's main songwriters, Knipi or Mikki Kauste. Lennokki is always introduced as lead guitarist Skele's composition – it is the only one he has written for the band (that I know of). The lyrics are Mikki's handiwork and represent his poetic side at its best, truly serene and fascinating words, I think! The overall sound is big, and there is also a very emotional chorus and a dramatic guitar solo. Everything about this song is loveable. I just feel safe and peaceful listening to this.

7. Lydia
Album: Superego (1997)

Superego is certainly Egotrippi's funkiest album. Some of that funkiness is present even in this wistful song about lost love, or perhaps it is about unrequited love towards a woman who doesn't even exist. Despite being a rather sad song, the melody is also very uplifting. Lydia was released as a single and is favored by many fans but for some reason the band is unwilling to perform the song anymore.

8. Matkustaja 
Album: 20 Suosikkia (greatest hits, 2004)

Here we have Egotrippi's most popular and famous song. Originally left away from the album of the same name, Matkustaja was re-recorded for Egotrippi's greatest hits album 20 Suosikkia. The song indicated that Egotrippi had indeed taken a step from power pop towards folk rock. Matkustaja is very radio friendly and was played on Finnish radio more times than any other domestic song in 2004. When the song came out I went to buy the single – something I haven't done very many times... And I surely listened to it even though you could hear the song just anywhere and on almost any radio channel.

According to producer Lasse Kurki, Egotrippi was reluctant to include strings in their music at this time despite the fact that audiences surely embraced the end result. In fact, Matkustaja does sound fantastic also when performed live without the string arrangement. The acoustic version performed by composer Knipi on his tour with Matti Johannes Koivu makes me wonder if those certain small but extremely memorable melodic hooks sung by Mikki were even included in Knipi's original vision of the song.

Album: Pilvien alla, maan päällä (2013)

This song was changed in many ways when Egotrippi created their own version. Originally Knipi gave this to Jonna Tervomaa and it was released on her second album Neljä seinää in considerably slower tempo. The Egotrippi version has a whole different structure, it is more energetic and while it preserves the bittersweetness of the theme (a nasty break-up) I find Knipi's vocal rendition and the overall ambiance mysteriously hypnotic and comforting. The hypnotic effect even increases towards the end. Something really magical was captured in this version!

Album: Pilvien alla, maan päällä (2013)

Näkymätön is another song that was originally recorded by Jonna Tervomaa who also wrote the fantastic lyrics about feeling cut off from the outside world. The lyrics are really easy to relate to. Compared to the “original” version, Egotrippi's take is more grandiose. This song is a prime example of how some of Mikki's compositions end up sounding really dreamlike and in that way almost psychedelic – especially when they are arranged just right. Näkymätön is an incredible song, a true classic.

11. Onneton
Album: Matkustaja (2003)

Talk about hypnotic! This mostly acoustic song was recorded using only the things that could be found at producer Lasse Kurki's home. The result is lots of vocal echo, using a piano pedal and a Nick Drake vinyl box as percussion (!) and other cool things. This is another extremely bittersweet break-up song – maybe not even bittersweet, just plain bitter, as well as very dark and almost oppressive. A slower version of the song, released on the Matkustaja CD single (re-named Onnellinen, not to be confused with Mikki's solo song of the same name!), practically sounds like acoustic doom metal or something. Despite all, somehow I think Onneton is always really nice to listen to. Mikki's mesmerizing vocals are a huge part of the magic, and the arrangement surely is haunting!

Album: Alter Ego (1998)

Now, time for something lighter (maybe?). Even though Alter Ego was a relatively heavy album it had room for some tongue-in-cheek material as well. Poika kalpea is an extremely catchy, jangly song about a pale nerdy guy on the beach, accompanied by Beach Boys harmony vocals. Even though this sounds like a really happy song, the lyrics lead to a whole different conclusion. “Girls only smile at pretty guys – I could just blow up everything and go home!” I guess the tongue-in-cheek element here is quite superficial.

13. Rakkaani
Album: Vielä koittaa uusi aika (2006)

Many songs on Matkustaja album were really melancholic and sad, even though there surely were some happier moment as well. On the next album (Vielä koittaa uusi aika) Egotrippi decided to focus primarily on comforting sounds and themes. Rakkaani is a perfect example of this: a song about the beauty of a person offering emotional support to another person. I think the first comparison that comes to mind is surely You Still Believe in Me by the Beach Boys. These two songs share a similar melancholy while being extremely heartfelt and comforting.

14. Sininen 
Album: Matkustaja (2003)

This song was probably the first clear indication of Mikki Kauste's fascination towards the Slavic melancholy of schlager music. The arrangement sounds to me like a crossover between schlager and pop-rock. I think it does sound great even though producer Lasse Kurki has stated that this isn't the final mix he wanted to have released. Sininen is certainly one of Egotrippi's most dramatic songs, and I think Mikki's vocals are some of his best I have ever heard.

15. Sinä 
Album: Helsinki-Hollola (2000)

Representing the huge power pop guitar sounds of the Helsinki-Hollola album, Sinä is an absolutely exhilarating rocker written by Mikki Kauste. Sinä is a perfect opening song, clearly representing the sarcastic section of the album. I guess a lot of the fun emanates from the fact that we all know at least one person described in the lyrics – a really superficial person, that is. All in all, this is a superb song. The chord structure is amazing, the song structure is extremely well-built and there is, in fact, also clearly some melancholic schlager quality in the melody.

Album: Alter Ego (1998)

In my mind Egotrippi has never been very eager to write and sing wistful love songs but here we have one of the sort, written by Knipi. On the same album there were actually even a couple of other love songs as well, the most popular being Posteljooni (which I didn't pick for this list). Suklaasydän is my favorite because of the charming atmosphere. The song narrator mourns for lost love but is also happy to have collected such wonderful memories. This song is a real power ballad. You have to love the warm analogue sound the band was relying on at this time.

Album: Matkustaja (2003)

When I first heard this as a sensitive teenager, I thought this was really scary. Toisinaan does sound ghostly and gloomy but also uplifting. If I had to choose Egotrippi's gloomiest song, this would probably be it. However, there is much more to this song than gloominess. Toisinaan captures nothing less than one of life's biggest philosophical dilemmas. When you think about it, not too many years before the release of this song these guys were singing about Se on tosi jees. I bet no one saw this song coming.

I seem to favor many of Egotrippi's darkest, saddest songs. I do, because they are so good and memorable. This is of course not to say that gloominess is superior to joyfulness. I guess when it comes to Egotrippi I appreciate the opposites. Besides, I remember once hearing someone say that joy is one of the deepest human emotions, and that sounds quite plausible to me.

18. Yksinäisyys 
Album: Vielä koittaa uusi aika (2006)

You might say I didn't fully discover the beauty of this song until year 2013 even though I heard it already back in 2006. Now Yksinäisyys has become a huge favorite that I love to listen to for instance right before going to sleep, to give a peaceful feeling. Yksinäisyys is one of Egotrippi's most uplifting and comforting songs and it might also give your soul some peace.

19. Ympyrä
Album: Superego (1997)

Ympyrä was released years before Yksinäisyys but the spirit is actually very similar: peaceful, soothing, and a bit melancholic. Ympyrä is probably everyone's favorite because it is simply a magical song. You can't really describe it, you have to hear it. The song has a very nice guitar solo and a beautiful cello arrangement at the end.

Album: Matkustaja (2003)

This song is an obvious choice. Despite being partially very much influenced by a certain Procol Harum song, Älä koskaan ikinä is not only part of the Finnish pop classics repertoire but also still a really spellbinding song with its perfectly compressed power pop sound and catchy rhythm. The lyrics have been criticized for being silly but I think there is nothing wrong with being silly from time to time. It is indeed fascinating to think that even though the song sounds flowing and natural the recording process was extremely long and difficult.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Good Moment with Egotrippi

Egotrippi has been one of my favorite bands ever since I heard their hit song Älä koskaan ikinä back in 2003. I had obviously suddenly developed an ear for great power pop music because I liked the song so much that I decided to check out more of the band's music and soon ended up owning practically the entire back catalogue. In 2004 came Egotrippi's biggest hit Matkustaja and if the band wasn't a household name yet, now it surely had become one. Even though I really enjoyed the band's music, for ten whole years Egotrippi was in my personal experience usually overshadowed by other artists, especially by another Finnish group called Lemonator. For now it seems that things have changed.

In October 2013 I heard Egotrippi's new album Pilvien alla, maan päällä. It had been five years since the band's last album and even a couple years without any live gigs. While listening to the new album I soon noticed that the band's musical expression had risen to a whole new level. The album was the first one Egotrippi produced entirely themselves, celebrating the band's 20-year anniversary with their finest and most ethereal sounds yet.

The album in itself was a demonstration of the band's fantastic songwriting power. In addition to making Egotrippi albums, songwriters Knipi Stierncreutz and Mikki Kauste had over the years written and given more than 50 songs to other popular Finnish artists (also drummer Sampo Haapaniemi had written children's music). Pilvien alla, maan päällä was therefore Egotrippi's own way of looking back: instead of releasing a greatest hits album Egotrippi decided to record their own versions of some of the songs that had been given away years before.

At this moment, Egotrippi is in the process of writing and recording new material for the next album. Looking back to their 20-year career and music I myself have recently come to appreciate the band's always enthusiastic and sincere attitude to music more than ever. To cut a long story short, you could say that Egotrippi is active, always going forward, and therefore the most interesting thing this country has to offer to me.

Egotrippi does sing in Finnish language and therefore the band will probably never gain much popularity in other countries. Writing about the band in English might seem like a strange idea but I am not planning to start another blog just for Finnish-language artists. It is also very important to notice that even though Egotrippi sings in an incomprehensible language the band's music is very much a part of the Anglo-American pop-rock/power pop music tradition.

More about Egotrippi coming soon. Meanwhile, listen to a couple of the band's latest singles, Mestaripiirros and Hyvä hetki (above).

P.S. In case anyone is interested, there are actually some English translations of Egotrippi lyrics available. They are not very good but may offer some kind of help deciphering the music. YouTube is not of much help but I found one Finnish-English lyrics video.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part Four

Now, to bring this late 1990s nostalgia trip to an end, it is time to talk a bit about Hanson. When it comes to appealing to Finnish children/teenagers in the late 1990s Finland, Hanson probably scored even more successful hits than the Spice Girls. This was caused by the fact that both boys and girls could relate to these young brothers. Hanson's smash hit MMMBop held the #1 place on a popular Finnish music video chart show Jyrki Countdown for months.

Even though I spent more time listening to the Spice Girls I was surely impressed by Hanson's international breakthrough album Middle of Nowhere (1997). Brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zak Hanson wrote all their own songs, some of which in collaboration with other people. On the album there were obviously really catchy hits (MMMBop and Where's the Love were big ones) but I remember the more melancholic songs as well. Yearbook was really haunting, and now that I listen to Weird again, all I can say is these guys wrote some amazingly soulful music! Taylor Hanson did most of the lead vocals, and his work was impressive already back then. In addition, I Will Come to You is still stunning - a real classic. 

It may be partially because of Hanson that I ended up preferring music played with actual rock band instruments to computer-programmed music. I haven't followed Zak, Taylor and Isaac's musical career much otherwise than Tinted Windows but I guess that is what happens. I loved these guys and I still do. However, in my personal experience Hanson was never quite as big as Spice Girls. In fact, probably the only reason Hanson weren't my #1 craze in the late 90s was that the Spice Girls were so huge.

In the early 2000s my whole musical focus moved from electronic dance pop to guitar-driven pop-rock music. The final breakthrough was year 2003 when I suddenly realized there was something irresistible about domestic artists such as Lemonator, Egotrippi, Jonna Tervomaa, and others. Next year I was already buying or borrowing CD's by Teenage Fanclub, the Posies, Jellyfish, Jason Falkner, Material Issue, Weezer, Supergrass and of course, the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson (SMiLE) and the Beatles. For some reason most of the music from the time of this big awakening had some kind of a connection to power pop, although I also appreciated other “alternative” contemporary music such as Radiohead and Muse (and I still do). The rest is, you might say, history.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part Three

Continuing in the late 1990s spirit, it seems appropriate to point out that it almost seems like eurodance never truly went away. A lot of today's radio pop bears a similarity to the pounding beats of eurodance. Some eurodance artists have kept touring ski resorts and other party places in Finland in the 2000s and 2010s. This summer there is even going to be a big festival in Helsinki featuring many of the most popular eurodance artists. For many people eurodance may seem like a yesterday's craze but the phenomenon still has plenty of market (and nostalgia) value. We may feel a bit embarrassed that we enjoyed the music back then but, in reality, we still like it.

Scandinavia had quite a few hit-making artists when eurodance was hip. However, I was never particularly fond of domestic eurodance artists, so I spend more time with artists from neighboring countries. The most memorable artist for me was Danish-Norwegian Aqua whose cheerful bubblegum dance music has clearly left a permanent impact on me even though I nowadays prefer other kind of bubblegum music. Lene Nystrøm channeled the bubblegum vocal style while René Dif rapped, creating quite a contrast.

When I now think about Aqua, the first thing that comes to mind is the lawsuit concerning their biggest hit, Barbie Girl. Back then I surely fondly listened to every song on Aqua's hit album Aquarium (1997). Most people remember Aqua by catchy hit songs and entertaining music videos (Doctor Jones, My Oh My). Turn Back Time still sounds timeless, while Lollipop (Candyman) has a very strong 1990s feel to it. Quite interestingly Aqua is apparently the most commercially successful Danish group ever.

I also have to mention another Danish band, a girl duo called S.O.A.P. because they were just awesome. S.O.A.P. only released two albums, the second of which I never actually even listened to. Trends came and went pretty fast in my life at that time. S.O.A.P.'s first album Not Like Other Girls (1998) was created by the best of Danish eurodance production and sung by sisters Heidi and Line Sørensen.

The album included of course energetic dance pop hits (This Is How We Party, Ladidi Ladida, Romeo & Juliet) as well as more melancholic melancholic material such as Wishing and Who Can I Talk to, and it is especially these latter ones that I find the most memorable. There is indeed plenty of timelessness in S.O.A.P.'s pop melodies.

Monday, April 28, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part Two

The story of my earlier life continues. Soon after Mr. President's eurodance came the biggest 90s phenomenon, the boy bands and girl bands. The biggest thing were of course the Spice Girls.

Spice Girls could still be considered one of the biggest phenomena of my entire life. When they started releasing music in 1996 it was everywhere and they became almost every little girl's biggest idols and role models. Looking at the Spice Girls now it is no wonder they became so big. They sang very nicely (harmonies too), their music was absolutely catchy and melodic dance pop, their dancing was fun to mimic, they looked good and gave away lots of positive kick-ass energy, also known as girl power. In true bubblegum fashion there was also a massive amount of different merchandise around. Girls (and maybe a few boys) listened to them, collected photos, posters and stickers of them and dressed up as them. All in all, the Spice Girls gave me the ultimate bubblegum pop experience.

The Spice Girls did seem to represent positive values such as encouraging different people to accept themselves and other people as they are. They participated in the writing of their own music and their videos are still amazing to watch (check out Who Do You Think You Are, Too Much, Spice up Your Life, 2 Become 1, Viva Forever and others). For me, the music was always the biggest part of the experience despite everything else that was going on. Spice Girls' pop melodies are timeless and the music expresses true emotions even though the computerized production may not appeal to everyone – not even me, but it is a fairly small thing.

However, it can be argued that the Spice Girls may not have played a very significant role in inspiring girls to develop musical skills of their own. In fact, the different dance choreographies, clothing styles and looks in general got so much attention that practically the only thing the Spice Girls inspired in my life was collecting their pictures and dressing up like them. Or maybe me and my friends were just too young for other musical activities.

The Spice Girls were a fairly short-lived phenomenon but they surely were a fantastic one. The concept was very appealing both visually and musically. The Spice Girls phenomenon also had a strong social character: me and all of my friends were interested in the same music which is something that have I never experienced since.

I listened to the two first Spice Girls albums (Spice, 1996 and Spiceworld, 1997) very carefully but me and most of my friends seemed to lose interest after Geri Halliwell left and the group went on as a quartet: I guess it wasn't the same anymore. Maybe things like the Spice Girls mania aren't supposed to last very long.

I don't actively listen to the Spice Girls anymore but every time I do it is great fun. A while ago there was a documentary on TV about Viva Forever, the Spice Girls musical. It was great to see my old idols again, and a musical play surely is a very suitable medium to keep the music alive. All in all, it is good to see that there is still some pretty strong activity around the Spice Girls.

Also very much worth mentioning are the Backstreet Boys who were never the biggest thing until the Spice Girls had pretty much broken up. I did indeed listen to the Backstreet Boys quite a lot even when the Spice Girls were on top of their fame. The Backstreet Boys are still around and I was even hoping to finally go see them live in Helsinki a while ago but I still couldn't make it – I never seem to be able to! I don't listen to Backstreet Boys either anymore but when it comes to music they were once a relatively important part of my life.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part One

Nowadays I find myself listening to music from the Beach Boys, the Hollies, Scott Walker, Electric Light Orchestra, the Sun Sawed in 1/2, and many others. However, this has not always been the case. I have thought about writing something about the origins of my music (and melody) obsession for quite some time. There is really no point in making a deep analysis out of this, so I will just point out some of the most important things concerning how yours truly started her music-listening career. This four-part story is silly, tragic, nostalgic, fun, empowering, strange, or a combination of these, make your pick.

When my parents were kids/teenagers, they heard music from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Sweet. I myself was a child in the 1990s, so my music listening career happened to start from this.

Me and my parents obviously grew up in the same North European country but popular music changed quite a bit in 30 years time. This song by German group Mr. President was a huge hit in Finland back in 1996 and it is in fact one of my earliest music memories. I never saw this video back in the day but it probably goes without saying that your typical 90s eurodance video was low-budget and often featured singers in some kind of sunny holiday setting. Coco Jamboo was taken from Mr. President's second album We See the Same Sun, an album I spent a whole lot of time listening to, as well as the group's first and third album. I always enjoyed Lady Danii's strong lead vocals, and I didn't even mind Lazy Dee's rapping.

Eurodance music was sung (and rapped) by young, good-looking people and it was mostly written by producers. After all, eurodance is a form of electronic pop music. Generally speaking eurodance was melodic and almost everyone liked it even though you might say it was cheaply produced and all artists sounded like each other.

When you think about this music from today's perspective, I find it a little unsettling that as a child in the 90s I listened to eurodance almost all the time. Children surely tend to listen to whatever they happen to hear around them, and I have to admit eurodance music is catchy even though it may also be somewhat dated. I don't enjoy pounding synthetic beats much anymore and will probably get anxious rather than happy hearing music like that but I guess I will always like Mr. President anyway.

However, I also remember something different from this period. A couple of years after Mr. President's fame I discovered a cassette of 1950s rock'n roll including music from Bill Haley & His Comets, Gene Vincent and others. This didn't grow into much anything bigger at the time but it really seems like I enjoyed old times music already as a child.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Suddenly It's the Tremeloes

Even though I seem to be listening to hundreds of Hollies songs at the moment, I have also dedicated a good amount of time to another UK group, the Tremeloes. Considering how good they are I didn't hear much about them until I had already become aware of pretty much every other significant UK band of the 60s. I listened to a compilation by the Tremeloes a few times until my brain realized that there is indeed something really magical here.

The Tremeloes have performed several famous songs, such as Yellow River, Suddenly You Love Me, and, quite surprisingly the syrupy 1983 europop Words. Even though their most famous song is probably Silence Is Golden, they have performed plenty of easy-going songs some of which almost sound like they were recorded during a party at the studio (Here Comes My Baby, Even the Bad Times Are Good). In some of the most memorable songs the band does incorporate a mixture of fun and a certain melancholy. Check out Negotiations in Soho Square or Happy Song: the latter sounds not just happy but the opposite too. In any case, something about the Tremeloes' unique energy reminds me a little of the Beatles (the Tremeloes performed Good Day Sunshine) but even more of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich.

In addition to Silence Is Golden, I swoon over the Tremeloes harmonizing on songs like I Shall Be Released and Now's the Time. These guys could really sing and perform incredibly catchy songs. I am also most definitely fascinated by the variation: in the 60s section we have everything from the impressive melancholy of Be Mine, Come on Home and As You Are to considerably different songs (and arrangements) such as Helule HeluleMy Little Lady and Girl from Nowhere. As the 70s approached, the Tremeloes seemed to incorporate even a little bit of psychedelic feel. Prime examples of this include Me and My Life, By the Way, and the fantastic (Call Me) Number One.

The Tremeloes didn't score hits after the early 70s but the singles were still melodic and catchy. And just like so many other fantastic 60s bands, it seems, also the Tremeloes are still around.

Friday, April 18, 2014

New Nordic Americana

For some reason I don't seem to be able (or willing?) to follow current music anymore but I certainly wouldn't miss the release of Ochre Room's second album Box, Bar & Diamond. I saw the band live for the first time last September (Small Houses was also performing) and was immediately very impressed. Ochre Room represents americana, and folk rock, and there is also a clear presence of northern melancholy. The band hails from Tampere, Finland, my very home town, which of course adds to the band's significance.

There is actually even more to Tampere folk rock than Ochre Room. Another group Hi-Lo & In Between, that has been mentioned in this blog before, has already released three full albums. Named after an album by Townes Van Zandt, they follow a path fairly similar to Ochre Room. Their latest album came out in 2011.

Even while I don't consider myself a major consumer of americana music at this point, I highly appreciate the efforts of these bands. I enjoy seeing them live and overall hearing the music.

Check out a wonderful song called Other Side of the Town from Ochre Room's new album, and why not other stuff too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Story of a Memphis Band

It was shown on TV and it also became available via the Internet, so I finally got round to watching a documentary about the makers of some of the best music ever. This full-length documentary was called Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

The documentary was technically well constructed and there were lots of very good pictures and even some video from the recording sessions. Still, I wonder if the availability of visual material affected the way the documentary was balanced. To me, It seemed like the focus was very strongly on a more general view of the circumstances around Big Star such as the Memphis music scene and record companies in the early 1970s. A fan like me would have liked to hear more stories about the music itself, making of it and the personalities behind it. At times it felt like Big Star played a supporting role in the film.

Many important people appear in the film, and the material as a whole is impressive. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex Chilton's career after Big Star. Also some thoughts and feelings behind the creation of Chilton and Chris Bell's music were depicted nicely. However, I occasionally found the narrative and rhythm of the documentary diffuse making it difficult to determine the cause and effect of things.

There is always the question of what kinds of issues a music documentary should cover and which audience it is aimed at. Perhaps this particular documentary was mostly intended for those without much prior experience of Big Star. In that case a more general view of the background and surroundings of the main topic may be quite justifiable. In any case, different people are interested in different things and it is difficult to serve everybody.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Look at the Hollies

I seem to be getting more and more excited about the Hollies. Therefore I decided to watch a DVD called Look Through Any Window 1963–1975. I got this DVD years ago but noticed that I never actually watched it from beginning to end with all the interviews and stuff. This is part of the British Invasion series, although this one wasn't shown on TV at least in Finland.

The DVD is a nice cross-section of the Hollies style and TV live performances from the early days of channeling the Everly Brothers to their last major hits such as Long Cool Woman and The Air That I Breathe in the 70s. Some of the most interesting footage includes Clarke, Hicks and Nash doing three-part harmonies in the studio, apparently captured by George Martin's film crew.

Clarke, Hicks, Nash and Elliott give wonderful interviews in which they describe the joy, creativity and innovativeness of the Hollies, and how fantastic songs they wrote and realized in the studio and live. The self-praise is clearly justified. The Hollies wrote songs for instance about memorable events (Stop Stop Stop), women they adored (Carrie Anne), and sometimes beautiful words would just magically appear out of nowhere (Wings). In the arrangement section the Hollies were always trying to come up with something different, otherwise they would have gotten bored. The guys didn't even regard material such as King Midas in Reverse as “pop” which reflects the ambition of pushing the boundaries of their music.

The guys also give a rather positive impression on Nash's sad departure from the band in late 1968 and how the change after all turned out for the best for everybody. Nash found his place among Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Hollies continued their streak of hits (including no less than the overwhelming beauty of He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, 1969) with Terry Sylvester replacing Nash.

All in all, a very nice DVD, even though many of the songs aren't actually played live. The guys do look like they are having fun (even though the following video is of more serious character).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Staying with the Hollies

My fondness for the Hollies seems to develop in stages. I started by listening to a greatest hits collection many years ago and later moved on to some whole albums. The current situation involves a rather comprehensive view of the Hollies' early years.

It wasn't quite yesterday but when I heard about a new Hollies box set Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years (The Complete Hollies April 1963 - October 1968) I just had to get it. The box contains probably every song recorded during this time period, also conveniently including rarities released throughout the years on different compilations. Despite being very compact the box set includes nearly 160 songs and there are not all that many misses. I have been listening to this set for months and there are still lots of songs that deserve more attention.

The Beatles were the first through the door and they opened up the door for us and every other band to run through” (Graham Nash in an interview for the box set)

There is no big mystery behind the Hollies concept. Like many others, Clarke, Hicks and Nash had done their homework on American rock & roll and soon they were “selling [the music] back to the Americans as the British invasion”. The Hollies wrote many of their hit singles and stood out from the rest with their merrily sounding unique three-part harmony. The presence of the happiest vocal trio of all time often added with Allan Clarke's lead vocals makes for something really special. And as we know, the Hollies were also very skilled musicians in other areas than singing.

There is a very strong r & b presence especially in the earlier material. Little by little the blues seems to subside giving room to other kinds of nuances, including experimentations on different arrangements and orchestrations, and psychedelia. In any case the songwriting trio was amazingly prolific right from the start, even though “there was never any time put aside purely to write songs” as Nash states in the same interview. That is just incredible.

Most often I find myself listening to the first couple of CD's because they are generally the most energetic ones, radiating both primitive energy and good cheer. Moving on to the other CD's, there are always surprises and many interesting things to hear, and music on Stay with the Hollies (1964) is definitely different from the music on Butterfly (1967). This kind of a complete chronological set is great exactly because you can notice the overall high quality of the work: the Hollies weren't just a singles band but put a lot of effort to all of their songs. There must be a reason to why record companies don't release similar complete sets from all bands!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Comeback of Folk Rock

A few years ago I got so fond of the Association that I still get a warm feeling just by thinking about the group's music. Even though I wasn't then swept away by much any other folk rock group, familiarizing myself with another California music entity has recently created a fairly similar experience.

The Grass Roots (also referred to as the Grassroots) were originally a title that songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri used while hoping to score folk rock hits. After a couple of albums Sloan moved on to other projects while Barri stayed. From the early days to the latest performances a few years ago, including the Happy Together tour, the Grass Roots have undergone so many personnel changes that I am not even going to try to make sense of it all. Sufficed to say, the popular early member Rob Grill still performed with the band's latest incarnation but unfortunately died in 2011.

I have mostly been focusing on the earlier material on the 1960s albums, although moving to the 1970s and to a more blue-eyed soul style the Grass Roots surely sounded great as well. Released already in 1968, a real white soul classic Midnight Confessions was the band's biggest hit by far. I think the song is so catchy that I still tend to listen to it at least twice in a row. If I wasn't so lazy I would also definitely practice the horn parts on my alto sax!

So, what is it that makes the Grass Roots so awesome? There are obviously fantastic jangly, sometimes psychedelic folk rock sounds. Also, it probably comes as no surprise that I very much enjoy P.F. Sloan's vocal renditions of I've Got No More to Say, Lollipop Train (You Never Had It so Good), and Only When You're Lonely.

Actually, I had pretty much no idea who P.F. Sloan was until I heard a great song called P.F. Sloan performed by the Association a few years ago. By now I have certainly become aware of Sloan being responsible for a multitude of 1960s classic songs performed by my favorites such as Herman's Hermits, The Searchers and The Mamas & the Papas.

When I first heard Let's Live for Today I thought it was the greatest song I had heard in quite some time. Then I found out that it had already been performed before by another band with different lyrics. The main chorus melody was even originally plagiarized from the Drifters! With all this said, the Grass Roots version is still fantastic, and really dramatic. At first it sounds like a very classy carpe diem song, but towards the end there is kind of a fascinating manic twist.

The Grass Roots represent so many of the greatest aspects of 1960s pop. Just listen to Wake up, Wake up and notice the awesome acoustic guitar, jumping harpsichord, melancholic yet hopeful mood, encouraging lyrics, soul-soothing vocal harmonies and a punchy chorus. Much the same can be said about Here's Where You Belong. Another huge favorite is Melody for You, which was written by Sloan (the other two by Sloan & Barri).

For a while ago there was a time when I couldn't stop listening to the Grass Roots. But that is what happens with this kind of music.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tampere Beatles Happening 2014

I must be getting old because I considered for a second not going to Tampere Beatles Happening 2014. However, the second the first band of the Beatlemania show began to play I was so moved by hearing wonderfully melodic 60s music that I knew I had come to the right place. It was time to listen to some of the coolest Beatles and 60s tribute bands.

The first group were the Brothers from Germany. They performed Beatles numbers with both original and new arrangements with absolute skill and dedication. Their strength was in a balanced sound and the most beautiful vocal harmonies and a cappella. The Brothers also apparently have released original music. I think I may check it out.

Jay Goeppner was the most energetic performer of the evening. He was accompanied by the domestic Urban Crow who you might call the host band of the festival. Goeppner attracted most of the attention for being such a happy, brightly American who moves around a lot and shares good spirit to everyone. Focusing on John Lennon songs, Goeppner performed anything from early Beatles numbers to Lennon's most intensive solo material.

The most innovative performance was given by (perhaps the slightly unfortunately named) Russian Puttin' on the Beatles Style who played a really fast-paced set of three-accordion instrumental versions of Beatles songs accompanied by traditional rock band instruments. The virtuosity was amazing. It was easy to recognize the melodies, yet there was plenty of room for improvisation as well.

Then, there was a performance by the Overtures who were once again great but they played the exact same set as a few years ago. A long-standing Beatles and 60s tribute band, their performance is always really professional and they don't follow the original arrangements too strictly, but next time I would appreciate hearing different songs, and, generally speaking, maybe some more interesting choices than Light My Fire, You Really Got Me, and I'm a Believer.

The concluding act was Jiri Nikkinen The Beatles Tribute Band. Jiri Nikkinen is Finland's official Beatles fan and his set included some really interesting rarities. Jiri is such a classy guy.

The Beatles don't seem to attract young people like they used to, but there were indeed some people (like me) whose parents had barely been born when there was a band called the Beatles. The Beatles Happening is a real high-energy event, the most joyful and melodic festival in the whole country. You can't go wrong with that concept.

After five and a half happy (yet physically a bit painful...) hours of partying, it was time to pick up a free copy of a Beatles magazine and go home.