Monday, October 25, 2010

Belated Gig ”Reviews” Part 3: Monsters of Pop

I don't like the word “indie” too much anymore.. You can place anything under that term and, worst of all, skip power pop completely! Monsters of Pop, organized for the fifth time in Tampere this year, is an “indie music festival” that presents even quite hard rocking artists these days. I think that is bit contradictory to the festival being called Monsters of Pop.. Anyway, this year's MoP had again some great performances to offer. Here are a few of the bands that played a gig.

Technique is a quite new band, I think, that performs dark, atmospheric, minimalistic, yet entertaining electronic pop music. The songs also tend to have a slow tempo.. It all makes a great combination. I always enjoy seeing this band.

Technique at MySpace

There were also some international guests at MoP this year, some of them from Sweden. Francis, a Swedish pop/rock band, performed fancy tunes at Telakka. It was a good performance from good musicians. I especially remember the soulfulness of vocalist.. whose name I wasn't able to find anywhere. Anyway, a soulful and energetic performance from a female-fronted Swedish pop band.

Francis at MySpace

The most memorable gig was Them Bird Things, a band that I now saw live for the second time. And what a great improvement it was. I read in an interview that vocalist Salla Day would have wanted to make the band's first album an acoustic-sounding one but it was made into more electric in order to give the audience an immediate hit album (Fly, Them Bird Things, Fly! 2009). This acoustic vision was then realised on the band's second album Wildlike Wonder, released earlier this year. So, the interesting part is, that the band had a lot more acoustic live sound during the first album gigs. Now that Them Bird Things have released a more acoustic album, the live sound was more electric nonetheless, and the band sounded better that way. And maybe they had gotten better playing together.

Luckily the gig was even mixed well enough so that you could hear vocalist Salla Day's amazingly distinctive voice over the other instruments. The song material is also a very, very strong asset for the band. The new album is a gorgeous Americana/pop album, check it out on Spotify, for instance. The album has received praising feedback which is really well-earned.

Them Bird Things at MySpace

Lastly, I will mention another Swedish band that was the last performer of Friday. The band, Bye Bye Bicycle, had had problems with getting to Tampere so they were forced to take the stage probably only minutes after arriving from Sweden. Despite all the trouble the band threw an excellently energetic gig and presented lots of catchy, danceable songs. That is the work of professionals!

Bye Bye Bicycle at MySpace

That was this year's MoP. In the future, I might give up my current boycotting habit and even go see all the performers. That way I would at least have better means of criticizing the things I consider to be wrong... Such as the excessive number of electronic music performers, very noisy rock on a pop festival and the total lack of power pop artists. I am still happy this festival exists, even though my most cherished memories from the festival tend to a few years old already. The things used to be better... Or maybe I have just grown more demanding when it comes to my indoor pop festivals.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Break from Prejudice

Oh my. How easy it is to reject anything, anytime. How difficult to embrace the new, despite how different or frightening it may seem at first glance. I rejected this band but then realized, once again, that I won't ever find my way out of the world of conventional, sugary pop melodies if I don't accept anything else. My latest interest is... You guessed it, gothic, and I have, of course, felt attraction towards gothic music and aesthetics before. But I haven't felt attraction towards a German band since I was about 10 years old. And I have practically never felt attraction towards a band that doesn't seem to place too much importance on traditional instruments.

Einstürzende Neubauten (meaning Collapsing New Buildings) is a German experimental band founded in the early 1980s. The band's music at that time was unconventional, noisy, and aggressive, probably quite disturbing to the ears of a non-accustomed listener. I find it interesting, though... That noisy music was real pioneer work in the field of industrial music. More recently Einstürzende Neubauten has given up the aggression and instead makes quieter music but still utilizes extraordinary sounds. Based on my first impression I would say that this band is more interested in any kind of unusual sounds that, well, the sounds of traditional rock instruments. Why use a regular drum kit, for instance, when you can bang different metallic objects? Then there is also Mr. Blixa Bargeld, the band's lead vocalist, an iconic goth character and real gentleman. Bargeld's voice is very low-tuned but that it definitely part of the charm. Add lyrics in German language (sometimes in English) and there you have it: something you most certainly haven't heard before (unless you already have...).

I haven't decided yet if missing Einstürzende Neubauten's Tampere gig last Thursday was missing a chance of a lifetime and if I am going to be miserable and bitter right until the band's next anniversary tour. In any case, I am already quite convinced about the fact that seeing a band like this is a unique experience, no matter if you agree 100% with the band's musical preferences or not.

I can feel this is only the beginning..

Einstürzende Neubauten at MySpace

Einstürzende Neubauten website

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Let's Dance

All of a sudden I felt like dancing! So I listened to The Feeling, a great British pop band which has released two albums. One of The Feeling's most danceable songs is I Thought It Was Over, a bittersweet but uplifting tune from the band's 2008 album Join With Us. Like everything I listen to, this song too has a human point of view, something that I have recently noticed to be one of the most essential things in music. In a way this song is almost too serious for dancing.. Anyways, it is a lovely song. Dance if you like!

Gees, I just love this song - and band! Dan Gillespie Sells is also a great vocalist and frontman. It has been ages since the last time I praised The Feeling. So, voilà, The Feeling!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Belated Gig ”Reviews” Part 2: Captain Cougar

And now... Something completely different. This gig took place already in the end of August but I still remember it like it was yesterday. So, I will share some thoughts concerning concert experiences as a whole.

On an August evening I went to Klubi see folk pop band Captain Cougar (as well as Jukka Ässä and Cry Bar) but I definitely have the most vivid memories of Captain Cougar's gig. What was it then? Perhaps the most well-planned concert I had ever seen. The core of every concert is of course music. Captain Cougar performed its latest, second album Of Dreams Long Gone in its entirety. And oh what a concert it was!

I have seen a few hundred gigs and very few of them included any kind of visual stimuli in addition to the band and the instruments. In the field of indie/underground/non-popular pop/rock bands there is rarely anything else on the stage than the band and the usual lights that the venue can offer. The ideal situation often is that there is no need for videos or anything else in the background – the music is so good and entertaining in its own right that extra props, video screens etc. are not needed. On the other hand, sometimes the music and the concert as a whole can greatly benefit from additional visual features. The most important thing is to think what the concert needs, what the band and the music have to say.

Captain Cougar had a good reason to decorate their concert with video screens. The band's latest album has a historical theme: it tells stories that mostly take place in the 1910s Finland. On the screens there were different old photographs and texts that looked like letters or poems.

However, the visuals didn't steal the show. That role belonged to the band and gorgeous lead vocalist Eva Louhivuori who I think must be one of the best and most expressive female singers in the whole country. I also loved to see many wonderful instruments being played: violin, horns, woodwinds, piano. Everything the band did on the stage showed deep respect towards the wonder of beautiful, touching music – music that matters and takes you to a whole different place. It is a good equivalent to reading a good historical novel but with less text and more audio temptation.

This world needs music like Captain Cougar. Music that is down-to-earth but utilizes effective nuances with style. Music that conveys real human emotions, organic instrumentation and stories that shouldn't be forgotten.

Captain Cougar at MySpace

Captain Cougar website

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Belated Gig ”Reviews” Part 1: Stalingrad Cowgirls and Sweatmaster

There are several past gigs I would like to tell something about.. At least mention the bands, because I always love a good gig that encourages you to check out new music.

Well, well.. First of all, let's say that on September 23rd I discovered the best Finnish all-female powerpop band. They are called Stalingrad Cowgirls and probably like to label themselves primarily as a punk rock band. Well, they do look very punk.. Black leather, black hair, definitely not too girly! These women were also the best female rock'n roll players in this country I had seen live: a wonderfully energetic gig, melodic songs and loud guitars! Geez, there's nothing like a good-looking melodic punk/pop band with good songs that also can play really, really well.

Stalingrad Cowgirls come from Salla, a small town called Salla, north of the Arctic Circle. These northern girls – Enni Kivelä (vocals and guitar), Riina Kivelä (drums), Henna Vaarala (bass) - debuted in 2007 with Somewhere High. Kiss Your Heart Goodbye followed in 2010. I will check out these albums. They can be listened to on Spotify.

Stalingrad Cowgirls at MySpace

Stalingrad Cowgirls website

These cowgirls in black weren't the headlining act on that night, though. The stage was also taken by another hard rocking band, Sweatmaster, from Turku. Sweatmaster is said to be the most underrated rock band in Finland. That might very well be true, although this country surely is packed with other talented, unnoticed bands as well.

This time Sweatmaster came to Tampere to promote their new, fouth full-length album Dig out the Knife. So how was the gig? Sweatmaster kicked ass, and the musicians were just as surprised by the roaring applause as always.

Check out the video for one of my favorite Sweatmaster songs: Good Looks, Big Deal. It was released on the band's second album, Tom Tom Bullet (2005). Now that's rock'n roll!

Sweatmaster at MySpace

Sweatmaster website

Hot Blooded

Now that I am on holiday, it is time to write more than usual (which isn't much..). I have practically dozens of topics I would like to blab about, so let's see how many I end up writing about during this week...

Styx was the band that introduced me to magnificent, theatrical 70s rock music. Following the recommendations of I soon discovered Foreigner and picked up the debut album from 1977. Musically speaking this band appeared to me as a sort of less grandiose but just as catchy little brother of Styx. In the summer of 2009 I spent many nice moments listening to Foreigner's self-titled debut album. No wonder I was drawn by such songs as Feels Like the First Time and Cold As Ice – they are great, melodic, rocking songs and contain really good vocal harmonies.

Given that one of Foreigner's founding members was the ex-King Crimson Ian McDonald, it might make you wonder why Foreigner's music is not all that progressive. Instead, any song by Foreigner I have heard so far sounds quite straightforward – there are no ultra-fast, complicated solos and the songs tend to be shorter than five minutes. On the other hand, it is quite understandable that by the end of the 70s bands started rather downplaying the progressive elements than still keeping them in their music. Maybe the progressive was slowly going out of style?

The other two founding members of Foreigner were Mick Jones, another British musician who had formerly served in Spooky Tooth, among others, and American singer Lou Gramm, who would soon charm the masses with both his excellent voice and songwriting talent. Together with drummer Dennis Elliot, bass player Ed Gagliardi, and keyboardist Al Greenwood, this British-American combo was ready to conquer the world. Unlike Styx, Foreigner managed to sell multi-platinum already with its debut album. Several more multi-platinum-sellers followed in the footsteps of the self-titled album.

I have taken it slow with Foreigner. So far I have only listened to the first two albums (the debut and Double Vision, 1978). Both albums are definitely good. The overall feel of Foreigner's music is very much like Styx: magnificent melodies, superb vocal harmonies, good energy, catchy hard rock riffs, added with a melancholic edge. Listen to a song like Blue Morning, Blue Day and you will immediately think about both Queen and Styx. A certain bittersweetness also gives Foreigner a lot of soul. Well, I guess I just described the ultimate pop song pattern, once again... Nowadays I call anything melody-oriented music “pop”. Foreigner is, in fact, pop in two different meanings.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Marvellous! Perfect!

I can't help posting this everywhere I can... It's a music video by my favorite Finnish band Lemonator, from year 1996. For the first time ever this video can be seen online from this day forward.

This was the band's first music video. The song is called Superb. It was released on an album called Yellow (1997). The song... is superb, of course! The video is also really cool.