Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Like A Fairy Tale

I have been going backwards reviewing (read: praising) The Sun Sawed in 1/2 albums. I started from Bewilderbeest quite some time ago and have now arrived in year 1993 and the band’s first full-length release, Hot Feet For Monkey God. The name is certainly a hint of what you are going to hear… Also, people who have only heard the band’s more recent work (like Fizzy Lift and Mind Flip) and like to label The Sun Sawed in 1/2 as a power pop band might be a bit surprised. In my opinion, this album is not very power pop-oriented. I don’t really consider it power pop at all. However, this fact doesn’t make the album any less interesting. On the contrary, Hot Feet For Monkey God is an excellent album of psychedelic jangle pop. It is also very, very interesting in many special ways that I’m going to describe in this analysis.

The AMG review is absolutely correct about this album being like a quirky soundtrack to a fairy tale. Tim Rose’s lyrical themes from 1993 are quite different from his more recent work, indeed a lot more storybook-like. The album opens with The Lemon-Lime Forest, a song that immediately shows quite of lot of what this album is about soundwise. The way the saxophone is used as a rhythm instrument makes The Lemon-Lime Forest sound quite funky. With lovely background vocals added the song is a real delight. Still, it is just a warm-up. Soon follows Annabelle’s Book of Hours. It is simply so great, probably my #2 favorite song from the band and, in my opinion, probably the most bubblegummy SS1/2 song because the melody is clearly in some way influenced by nursery rhymes. Pepper Bear is another great song, irresistibly bouncy and features both saxophone and trumpet sounds, irresistible also due to its psychedelia and excellent dynamics.

Hot Feet for Monkey God is also quite unique in the Sun Sawed in 1/2 catalog because of the many lead vocalists. Four different people can be heard singing lead, including Tim Rose’s brother Ken (June, Mesmerized) who does a wonderfully sweet job. Tim Rose himself also sings a few lines in three songs. Saxophonist/keyboardist Dave Farver provides vocals to Grace. Not only is he like the best sax player in the world but obviously he can also sing quite soulfully!

The fourth vocalist is of course Doug Bobenhouse, the most gorgeous, sweetest, loveliest singer in the universe. Remember, I’m not only talking about men, I’m talking about ALL singers! Believe it. What is also amazing about Doug is that he has such a natural talent. It didn’t take him long to become what he is today - on this album he is only a few years past 20 and he is already perfect. Even if you are not the biggest fan of his boyish, rich, delicious sound, you won’t find a single flaw in his excellent performance.

The Carnival Ride is another of my favorites. The song is driven by acoustic guitar, Bill Yaeger’s energetic drums, and, once again, saxophone. The wonderful interplay of sax and vocals is very memorable. At this point it also has to be stated that the drum work on this album is overall impeccable. Towards the end the album gets even more psychedelic when the title track begins. Hot Feet for Monkey God is one of the SS1/2’s most intriguing songs. It is almost instrumental and it evolves into quite a samba in the end! The song is likely to produce most interesting mental images. The album ends with Enlightened, which I seriously think is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful song this band has recorded so far.

Hot Feet for Monkey God is the most acoustic Sun Sawed in 1/2 album. The result is charming as well as elegant, and an album of carefully arranged songs. In some places the style leans towards minimalism and elsewhere more complicated arrangements.

The use of different instruments on this album brings out a great talent in the band’s 1993 line-up. In addition to acoustic guitars there are electric ones (with psychedelic riffs and solos) as well as keyboards and accordion but the woodwinds will probably steal your attention quite often when listening to this album. In fact, Dave Farver’s saxophone dominates some of the songs even more than the bright-sounded guitars. One of the most distinctive features of this album is also the use of china cymbal – to me it is not the first thing you would expect to hear on a pop album. The china cymbal, however, brings out certain edgy nuances that would not be the same if they were expressed in some other way. Talking about nuances, they have been taken good care of on this album. Every song sounds like it has been mixed extremely carefully. All in all, there are no unnecessary layers and every sound and every instrument has a meaning.

Another important thing about this album is the feel. Hot Feet is mostly quite melancholic which is clearly a part of the magic - although nothing could ever be too melancholic when Mr. Bobenhouse is singing. Melancholy and absolute sweetness are a winning combination. On the other hand, it is not just any kind of melancholy, it is a magical, mysterious feel that practically makes you want to turn off the lights and dance with the fireflies...

This album succeeds in capturing some of the most mesmerizing aspects of psychedelic music and it does it with style. Whether it is a moment of oriental mysterious feel, a gorgeous saxophone part, a sweet melody or a magnificent organ solo, you just might start developing a deeper appreciation towards the magic of psychedelic pop expression. That is at least what happened to me... Of course a lot of it is just indescribable – you have to experience it yourself!

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 on iTunes
The Sun Sawed in 1/2 Facebook fan page
The Sun Sawed in 1/2 on MySpace

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Other Wilson Brothers

I really like Dan Wilson and his former band Semisonic. However, I haven’t paid much attention to Dan’s brother, Matt Wilson. So, when I heard a song called Alone by Matt’s current band The Twilight Hours, I was impressed right away.

I’ve been enjoying Semisonic’s music already for a few years. It started from F.N.T., one of the grooviest songs I’ve ever heard. I also purchased Dan Wilson’s solo album Free Life some time ago. Many people already know that Matt Wilson founded a band called Trip Shakespeare back in the 80s and Dan also joined the band later. After Trip Shakespeare the brothers have had their own projects. I haven’t listened to Trip Shakespeare or those other Wilson bands/projects much yet so I guess I should do just that.

Listen to this song by the Twilight Hours and then get the album Stereo Night. This stuff is simply magical – very, very good songwriting with tender melodies and lovely, organic sounds. It is great to hear how much alike Matt and his brother are. Both have a plenty of talent, write great songs and sing soulfully. To cut a long story short, that is real beauty!

The Twilight Hours on MySpace
The Twilight Hours Facebook fan page
The Twilight Hours Official website

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lost in Music ’09 Oct 22-24th

I really enjoy going to see gigs. Writing about them is also cool, although you have probably noticed a long time ago that I don’t tend to stay on schedule. Well, here is my report from this year’s Lost in Music, YleX Live concerts on Friday at Klubi and Pakkahuone. It was a wild variety of music but it surely was entertaining, just like it was last year. Click the band names in the headings to go to the MySpaces.

The evening was opened by Rödsögården, a young band that, according to their bio, originally had some serious logistics problems with band members being scattered all over Finland. I saw this band in this same Lost in Music event a year ago and was rather mesmerized. The band surely has a very Swedish-sounding name but their music is performed in English. This year Rödsögården played new songs from their debut album. I liked what I heard but for some reason wasn’t as impressed as last year. In any case, the band had found its supporters. The audience greeted the guys with loud applause. Rödsögården’s music is quite melancholic but also melodic, and it will probably appeal to many people who also like bands like Coldplay and Kent. A 21st century version of U2?

Them Bird Things
Now here’s something interesting! I first heard about this band from my friend – a friend from whom I only tend to get Japanese music tips. Later, I read an article about this band in Sue magazine. I was quite surprised to read that the band’s lead singer is actually a woman – I had thought she was a guy... Well, listen for yourselves, her voice is lower than most of the male singers I listen to. What a unique voice it is!

Them Bird Things describe their music as Americana/Pop/Folk Rock. The group was formed by American songwriters Steve Blodgett and Mike Brassard, and producer Will Shade who collaborated with Finnish singer Salla Day. This definitely doesn’t sound like the most common way of starting a band. At Pakkahuone, the group performed a very acoustic set. What I remember of the gig is quite different from the sound you can hear on their MySpace. In my opinion, the music has a very strong 60s pop vibe which is really no wonder when you think about who is behind the music. At the gig, the audience (who mostly didn’t even bother to applaud much) seemed to like Shame, Shame Shame the most. It is indeed a catchy song. Check it out!

Manna is a singer whose alternative rock is influenced by many music styles. It seems to me that one of the strongest influences in her most recent music has been shoegaze-styled rock due to working with one of the Joensuu guys from the band Joensuu 1685. Manna has received quite a bit of attention abroad lately, and she has been compared to such female characters as Nico and Debbie Harry. Manna seems to be doing what she finds musically most interesting, and that is certainly a good thing. Her gig was so crowded that I didn’t get to see much of it but she did a good job. I already saw her at Monsters of Pop quite recently and liked her style. Want to find distinctive female artists? Here’s one from Finland.

For one reason or another, I keep moving away from bands like this… Well, if you like grandiose rock that focuses on big, aggressive sound and, instead of happy melodies, creating a rather gloomy atmosphere, you might well enjoy Murmansk. This band also has a female vocalist. I admit it: sometimes it can be a good thing to listen to this kind of music for a while. Then maybe you’ll know, what you would really like to listen to more.

Perhaps a bit same problem as Murmansk – a lot of noise, not that much focusing on songwriting or melody. This band was more interesting than Murmansk, though. Their live performance was energetic and there were some quite nice hooks. I guess some people enjoy this type of music - they can freely listen to it if they want. I rather focus on more melodic music.

The Souls
Maybe the most refreshing, positive act of the entire day was The Souls, a band that I didn’t know anything about before they started playing… Oh boy, it sounded really, really good, honest, straightforward, positive hard rock. The Souls, a power trio from Kouvola, stole my heart with their rocking sound and excellent performance. They have apparently also received some attention in medias. Well, well… The guys also have a couple of gigs outside Finland booked. Good for them, there are already so many disco rock bands conquering the planet that some honest hard rock can only do good.

I spent a considerable part of last summer listening to hard rock – it was actually even progressive hard rock… Anyway, when I saw The Souls play live, it sounded like a perfect answer for this new yearning for hard rock. I am quite certainly going to listen to this band more, as well as other hard rock bands – melodic hard rock bands that is. What is the use of rock without wonderful melodies? Just show me some anti-melodic hard rock and try to explain why it is better than more melodic hard rock. You will fail, miserably…

Joensuu 1685
The most sensational psychedelic rock/shoegaze band of Finland relied on shoegaze aesthetics in their performance. They seem to be quite popular here in Tampere because I couldn’t see their last year’s Lost in Music gig due to the venue being overpopulated when I got there. This time I got to see them, and it was quite interesting – especially the part when there was a bizarre power blackout in the middle of the set. Joensuu 1685 have received attention even in foreign medias. The band’s music does sound quite international. There are three people with the last name Joensuu in the band but obviously all of them are not related to the others. That is quite strange, but strange is also the music they make…

Psychedelic... Yeah, but don’t expect to hear much anything like 60s psychedelia. Expect more shoegaze á la Ride or those other bands none of which I know well, and perhaps a bit of Oasis. Joensuu 1685 is a band worth checking out, not only because of the hype but because of nice melodies, really cool feel and interesting sound policy.

Miss Saana & The Missionaries
“The biggest soul band in Finland” – that must be true. My jaw didn’t actually drop but it was very close when I saw this band take the stage… If I remember correctly, I counted 16 people: rhythm section (five), background singers (four), horn section (three), string section (three), lead vocalist. The band WAS big and performed original material in real 60s soul style. Everyone was dressed really nicely and knew their instrument. Plus they were obviously having a great time. I never would have thought there are bands like this in Finland. I want to join one! I could be guitarist, bassist, background singer… perhaps even saxophonist – some day…

Zebra and Snake
A two-man band playing music that could have been taken from Joy Division’s catalog. I can still remember that pulsating rhythm. Could it be that there is too much bass when you can’t tell your own heartbeat from the music?... Well, I don’t have anything against any type of intense dance music - trance or similar - but too much bass is always too much bass. At those moments I sometimes end up wondering if I’m getting old. I guess it’s that I haven’t gone to vocational school, so I’m not used to listening to the so-called “amis-pop” (note that the term has nothing to do with amish).

Zebra and Snake’s MySpace says: “Healing and easy listening”… Haha, that is actually quite funny… I admit it anytime, their music sounds a lot more pleasant when you can control the bass level yourself. Zebra and Snake actually sound a lot like Boys of Scandinavia, another quite similar Finnish Joy Division–styled electro band. I like both bands – a bit of electro every now and then is good variation to the traditional band instrumentation.

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All in all, Lost in Music was again a nice happening. What I described here was only about 1/5 of the entire festival. Klubi and Pakkahuone had a nice Friday evening with interesting bands, some of them very, very good. Maybe next year it is going to be even better!

Lost in Music website