Thursday, July 24, 2008

A New Star Is Rising

I’m very happy to say that I just played my first gig.. It was yesterday at a private party that was arranged by my dad’s friend and his wife. The happening was dubbed “one of Europe’s smallest country music festivals” which meant that I played country music at the gig.

Originally, I intended to go to this “festival” to help my dad as a roadie, and listen to some great country tunes. As my dad’s band was missing both their lead guitarist and bass player at the time, it became possible that I might be needed to fill in the band with some instrument(s). I was presented to the audience as a cowbell player. As one probably might not expect, I didn’t play cowbell at all during the set. Instead, I was invited to the stage to play acoustic guitar, and later bass.

It was cool to perform. I wasn’t nervous at all, and it really felt good having some real musicians play with me. I played about 6-8 songs including On the Road Again, True Love Travels on a Gravel Road, and Wonderful Tonight. The strange part of it was that I didn’t know the chords to a couple of the songs, and no one had them written down.. It wasn’t actually that bad, however.

So, this really was my first gig! I had performed to relatives before but this time there were only unknown people in the audience. The gig apparently went so well that my dad told me that the band might need me to fill in some other time, too. Here I am, turning into a country musician before I’ve even got to know very many country artists.. I’ve surely listened to my dad’s band play numerous times, but my knowledge of country music in general requires some serious further studying.

Obviously, my dream about a pop band of my own has to wait (since I don’t even have friends who might be interested in playing pop-rock).. I don’t mind. Playing country music is awesome!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Help! British Invasion Has Invaded Me!

It’s summer – what would be a better way to spend it than listening to awesome 60s pop? British Invasion is hot stuff (Beatles and DC5 are pretty good bands..), but this invasion isn’t really limited to just British music. This is an American Invasion, too, and maybe a bit Australian. My latest passion #1: The Hollies.

I found The Hollies three years ago. I listened to their stuff a bit and noticed they had some excellent pop tunes and harmonies. Also, I noticed they had one amazing lead singer, Allan Clarke. The result was utter bliss and happiness. The hype subsided after some time but I think it’s about to start again..

I can’t help it. I love nasal male pop singers – their voices, I mean.. But I guess you just can’t help loving the person a bit, too, for having such a great voice. Unfortunately, representatives of this wonderful talent seem to be very few and far between. Or maybe I’ve just missed all the best nasal singers somehow. If this is true, I really hope someone will tell me where they (and their recordings) are..

On the other hand, there might be a huge number of nasal male singers right behind the corner. I’ve even found some already – there really seem to be quite a few Japanese male singers with nasal voices! But but.. Whether they sing pop music or not is another thing.

The Hollies have lots of brilliant tunes: I’m Alive, Here I Go Again, On a Carousel, Bus Stop, Just One Look, Would You Believe, Look Through Any Window, Stay, Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress). The Air That I Breathe is one of the most heavenly tunes ever, and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother is beautiful. So good, so amazing stuff.. I have to have some more right now!

The Hollies Website

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Own Summer 2008

Tammerfest 2008 is far behind already but I want to make some notes about what I witnessed in Vanhan kirjastotalon puisto in Tampere on Saturday 12th. As a wannabe music journalist I enjoy writing gig reviews as well as album reviews (This blog, however, is not intended to be very journalistic in style because it’s only about blabbing about things I like or find interesting).

My Own Summer is probably the most interesting thing about Tammerfest city festival. It is a one –day happening, it’s free, and there are always new, promising Finnish indie rock bands performing (and some metal bands too). This time there were definitely a bit too many glam metal bands – too little variation, too few happy, pop-rocking, melodic bands.. There was something seriously worth seeing, however.

The first band was Lob Nor, a nearly all-girls band, the winners of some rock competition for junior high students. Their music didn’t make a huge impression on me, but they played well, and they had a good singer. It was nice to see such young people playing together as a band. That’s something I’ve never accomplished, even though I surely would’ve wanted to..

On Volcano played an amazingly strong set of shoegazer rock. It was magical. I don’t know much about shoegazing yet but it sounds brilliant with all the noise, good energy and atmospheric sound. I will definitely go to see On Volcano’s next gig, too. The band has released one EP so far.

The highpoint of the day was the folk-punk duo Jaakko & Jay. Jay had a snare drum and one cymbal, Jaakko played acoustic guitar and sang. There was lots of wild energy, and the songs were very, very good. It was so great fun that I hardly recall a gig that would’ve been more fun. The extremely simple instrumentation (a drummer with a two-part drum kit – that’s crazy!) was a big part of the fun, and Jaakko’s excellent vocal expression combined with great pop punk melodies was awesome. These guys don’t seem to want to release anything official but they have some music samples on MySpace, mostly live recordings. There are also a few downloadable songs at I recommend seeing them live. You won’t be disappointed – it’s fresh and extremely lo-fi.

After Jaakko & Jay started the almost unending cavalcade of glam metal bands, none of which sounded particularly interesting to me. There were T.A.P., Lines of Leaving that sounded so much like Lapko that it was quite confusing, and Renoise. These bands had many young female fans standing in front of the stage, but even they didn’t seem to be very excited about the bands. It was quite strange.. But Jaakko & Jay had already made my day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reelin' and Rockin'

Here’s another band I think everyone should pay attention to. The Dave Clark Five were a glorious and successful English 60s pop band. Apparently, DC5 was one of the few bands that were able to challenge The Beatles commercially. There is one strange thing, however. How come hardly anyone has heard of them? I, for example, had never heard any of their songs before I heard… a song called Because played on some power pop radio station on the internet. After some time, I decided to dig deeper into this band.

It’s quite interesting that the band was named after the drummer instead of lead singer (whose name was Mike Smith, by the way). As a founder and band leader, Dave Clark positioned himself in the front, just like can be seen in the picture above. DC5 wasn’t a usual British Invasion band in too many ways. Their hit songs such as Glad All Over and Do You Love Me showed such wild energy that The Beatles had a hard time keeping their tempo up!

The Beatles were and are maybe too famous. The problem about them is that their enormous popularity leads to ignoring dozens of other bands that were as good as they were. There are even people that don’t seem to want to give a chance to any other British Invasion or 60s band.. I don’t get those people. Also, I don’t get anyone who thinks the best music is always the music that sold/sells the most. However, I don’t think commercially successful bands should be boycotted, either. In fact, there are two important facts that everyone should think about when discussing music:

1) Commercial success doesn’t make music better.
2) Commercial success doesn’t make music worse.

I myself tend to have problems mostly with rule number two. I have some attitude problems every now and then, even though I constantly find myself listening to some million-selling music. It’s nice when a good band succeeds, but too much is always too much..

Back to Dave Clark Five before this blabber gets out of hand… Listening to The History of The Dave Clark Five has revealed that DC5 has so many awesome tracks that it’s almost hard to believe how good this stuff is. It’s exactly as good as The Beatles, and it actually has some features that The Fab Four’s (and generally British Invasion) music doesn’t contain, such as frequent use of saxophone and certain influences (I hear some doo wop in DC5’s music, for instance). I think it’s especially the saxophone that gives this music similar warmth that appeared in the music of The Beach Boys.

When every song sounds excellent right from the start, it gets a bit overwhelming.. I don’t mind, however. Checking out this stuff brings out new favourites all the time. Right now, I have to mention a song called Little Bitty Pretty One. It’s a one and a half minute-song and it struck me instantly. It’s brief, it’s catchy, it’s magical - hear for yourselves.. Geez, just listen to this stuff!

The Dave Clark Five Website

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mael Brothers

I truly wish I hadn't missed their recent concert in Helsinki.. They sound so good! It’s of course Sparks I’m talking about. The band’s been around since the early 70s, and the members Russell and Ron Mael still make new records and play live shows. Recently, they performed all 21 albums of their prolific career in London. I also heard that their gig in Helsinki on June 16th was tremendously good. These brothers are nearly in their sixties and they’re still going strong!

This music is exciting, it’s distinctive.. At first it’s not even very easy to say which genre it represents. Mael brothers have actually made lots of different kind of music during their career. Their first albums, however, are clearly pop-rock, and they may have some psychedelic features, too. I’ve been focusing mostly on their most famous album Kimono My House (1974), and also given some attention to the two following albums, Propaganda (1974) and Indiscreet (1975).

Kimono My House is a very good album. This Town Ain’t Big Enough for
Both of Us opens it and it’s followed by another great track Amateur Hour. These excellent songs represent Russell Mael’s brilliant, very, very distinctive falsetto voice. However, this album has a lot more to offer than just a couple of hit songs: it’s very interesting all the way.

Sparks lyrics apparently contain lots of fun and peculiar stuff - a treat for lyrics-interested listeners. These songs have quite weird titles already (e.g. Thank God It’s Not Christmas).. Something about this music also strongly reminds me of Queen/ELO. Hasta Mañana Monsieur is a good example of that effect.

One of my favourites is Lost and Found, a song that didn’t appear on the original album, but it is included on the 21st Century Edition. It was a b-side to Amateur Hour single. Equator is a brilliant song for checking out Russell Mael’s vocal capabilities. In that song he really uses his voice as an instrument. That sound is amazing – I think I’m going to fall in love with it as I keep listening to this music.

If you haven’t checked out this band, I highly recommend it. The music really is worth listening – be it new or old. I’ve heard, for instance, that their 2008 album Exotic Creatures of the Deep is really good.
Should check that out..

Sparks at MySpace

Friday, July 4, 2008

Summer Distortion

Here’s an album that belongs to my every summer. It’s loud, it’s distorted, it sounds like Weezer and The Beach Boys at the same time.. Silver Sun’s self-titled debut (1997) made a huge impression when I found it in the summer of 2005 (if I remember correctly). Since then, I’ve returned to listen to the album countless times and my reaction has always been stunningly positive. I remember writing a personal review on this album some time ago. Expressions like “too good to be true” appeared there..

To me, these tracks are pure joy in musical form. Golden Skin, Dumb, Far Out, and Service are all amazing tunes, and the harmonies are really good. Yellow Light is really stunning with its melancholic and dreamy feel and great dynamics. That same dreamy feel actually keeps appearing on this album (e.g. 2 Digits), and I think it’s really good. I’d call Julia my favourite song, but there isn’t much difference in how much I love each of these tracks. The ultimate hit song is of course Lava, a wild pop-rocker with some interesting lyrics..

On this album, the lyrics are crazy, apparently mostly complete nonsense. To me, that is probably the best alternative, since I’m terrible in understanding songlyrics.. When there isn’t much to be analyzed, mostly just funny rhymes and stuff that doesn’t mean anything, you can focus completely on the melodies. On the other hand, these lyrics may contain some hidden meaning..

James Broad’s great lead vocals are bubblegummy and a bit geeky, I’d say. A very nice arrangement detail is the use of some sort of wind instruments in Julia and Far Out. I guess they are clarinets. They sound very good.

The album has 15 tracks, 14 of which are songs. Everything looks amazing during the first 11. I don’t know why, but for some reason I often end up thinking there is something wrong with the end part of the album. Songs like Wonderful, Bad Haircut and Nobody are not exactly Julia or Golden Skin, but they aren’t bad in any way either. It’s obviously just my brain working again.. Sometimes all it can remember of a good song is a small hint of doubt about whether a song was perfect or not.

What a summery distortion packet! It’s gorgeous, it’s melodic, it’s harmonic, it’s sentimental, and it will drive your mom crazy!

Silver Sun Official Website

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Sun-Mania Continues

It’s time for another moment with a specific sun-related band that I simply love too much. The Sun Sawed in 1/2 still remains as my most frequently listened band, and I don’t see a change coming any time soon.

Fizzy Lift (1997) is the ultimate Sun album. It is the band’s fourth full-length album. Bewilderbeest (2000) is surely amazing, it’s Slavic and a lot of other wonderful things, but you just can’t mess with Fizzy Lift…

Denny’s Girl is a solid opener, and it introduces the gorgeous saxophones right away. It’s a wonderful track that has excellent melodies and harmonies. Mary Celeste is also a really amazing tune. The happy chorus is so good that my words can’t describe how much I like it. Timpani Heart is one of the most overly sticky-sweet songs ever.. I simply love it. The sweeter, the better, you know.. Timpani Heart is a perfect example of the fact that it is impossible to write a power pop song that I would find too sweet.

Then comes Sing You Fast Alive, a song that is enough to sing me unconscious with delight.. The folky violins are exactly in the right place. They really give this song character. The melodies - pure perfection. As always, when it comes to this band, my biggest compliments go to the lead singer.. I doubt if any other singer could ever make this song sound sweeter.

Ten Ways Amazed is amazing. It’s a very sad song with extremely happy, loving lyrics – sounds like sort of a contradiction to me. The song is excellent. Annie Emptyhead is a special song because it’s basically the only Sun track I’ve never learned to love 100%. However, there’s nothing wrong with the song, it is very good. Sleepwalker and Dragonfly make a wonderful rocking song double. Both tracks are top class powerpop: energetic and happy, yet both contain some angst and melancholy.

Heart Is Dim is a song that seemed good already a year ago, but it didn’t become a favourite until recently. Almost all of these songs seem to become my favourites one after another. The truth is, however, that nearly every one of these songs is my favourite, I just keep forgetting it for some strange reason..

Four Letter Girl is basically too good to be true.. Such a wonderful track in every possible way. Brighter Than God’s Canary sounds like the weirdest song of the album. The wild and exciting arrangement creates a wonderfully psychedelic atmosphere. There are also a couple of very peaceful songs on the album: Starting to See and All Is Said Tonight, both great (surprise, surprise..).

The thing that keeps me so effectively attached to The Sun is the lead singer Doug Bobenhouse. He is a 100% confident singer. There really doesn’t seem to be anything he isn’t vocally capable of (except for singing badly, of course..). His vocal style is suitable for power pop in every way: it’s absolute sweetness added with a perfect portion of angst when needed. To me, the sound his voice is like chocolate. I never get tired of it, and it really is one of the greatest and most enjoyable things ever.

Doug sounds so much like Andy Sturmer.. It’s so cool! They should sing a duet.. Also, the former bands of both the guys should get back together, make new albums and come to Finland to play some gigs!

However, Bobenhouse is actually just a messenger (an AMAZING one..). I should praise the man who wrote most of these songs alone, and I do praise him: Tim Rose is a real hero. He has written some of the greatest modern pop songs and melodies I’ve ever heard (although I have to admit that I’m definitely not the right person to objectively assess his songwriting, since nothing about my attitude to The Sun Sawed in ½ is objective..). Tim Rose’s talent and work is not to be left unnoted.

This album (and generally this band) has changed much more in me than just music listening habits. I now have developed a huge love affair with wind instruments, especially saxophones.. And when it comes to singing voices, it has to be bright, happy and nasal – at least in order to become one of my favourites. So many great things bring The Sun to my mind these days.. I don’t know if I’ll ever find music that would please me as much as this does, music that feels so right and perfect all the time. However, saying this aloud might just lead me to find a new Sun tomorrow.. That would really be something but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

While waiting for a new sun to rise, I’ll just listen to The Sun some more..

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 at MySpace

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Goth Business

Just like last year, I attended Lumous Gothic Festival, the biggest goth happening in Finland. On Saturday, I put on some black lace and lots of eyeliner and headed towards Klubi, one of the best live venues in my hometown Tampere. When I arrived, I bought a ticket, stepped inside the club and sighed with delight.. The place was full of goths! It was so beautiful a sight that I couldn’t believe it for a while..

The first act was Desiderii Marginis alias Johan Levin, a one-man band from Sweden specializing in dark ambient. The gig started with the biggest and loudest bass sound I’d ever heard. The whole place was trembling.. It was wild. Levin performed many interesting songs and sounds, and in the background you could see an old gothic mute film. I’m not much of an ambient expert but the music so
unded quite good to me.

Belgian Star Industry was the second band. Their music was indeed traditional modern gothic rock. It reminded me of The 69 Eyes, a nice Finnish goth band. I liked Star Industry’s music very much. There were catchy choruses and lots of energy. Lead singer Peter Beckers performed excellent low vocals and wore a black cowboy hat. The whole concept of rock music with a much darker approach soundwise was very refreshing and exciting to me. The band also performed a couple of songs with electronic elements, such as a very beautiful song called Like a Ghost that can be heard on their MySpace page.

The third act was Canadian synthpop group Psyche lead by Darrin Huss. Psyche is already a 25-year-old band and I’d say their sound is very modern these days. There are gothic elements in the music but it is also suitable for any dance music club, I’d say. Again, there were catchy choruses and energy. Lead singer Huss has a very strong voice. He sounds quite a lot like Bono and his appearance has something in common with Dave Gahan. You could really see that he is a skilful and experienced performer. This gig was all about dancing, and that’s what I like..

This evening was intense. The music was good and the people looked amazing.. If only I hadn’t got so tired sometime between the end of the second gig and the beginning of the third, I would have enjoyed the gigs even more. I really don’t know what it was – summer flu, general holiday fatigue or what..

However, this experience gave me some encouragement so that I just might start checking out some newer gothic stuff at some point – instead of sticking to The Cure and other 80s and late 70s bands. In fact, I still have a lot of those bands to listen to, too.

Lumous Website