Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Britain's Psych-Folk-Pop Champions of 2010

The Coral's latest album Butterfly House (2010) is already being celebrated in the media as one of the best albums of the year. As usual, I have been too busy with other things to properly listen to this album... However, I listened to it today and was really, really delighted at it.

The Coral, founded in 1996, has already created quite a back catalog. Butterfly House is the band's sixth album. I got acquainted with The Coral's music when the band's 2007 album Roots and Echoes, had just come out. I spent quite a lot of time listening to that album... Well, it is certainly one lovely album. Just thinking about songs like Jacqueline and Cobwebs makes me feel warm and happy.

About Butterfly House then... The album definitely is impressive! The members of the Coral are masters of their own melancholic, soft-psychedelic folky, jangly pop style. Musically the band hasn't changed its ways all that much from the previous album but the Coral concept has been taken a couple of steps further. James Skelly's songwriting pen has been sharp, again, and writing most of the songs together with another band member seems like a good choice.

When it comes to the song order, Butterfly House is built in an interesting way. The first four songs are more like the stuff on the previous album. Then begins an almost uninterrupted row of songs with superb, very Byrds-like harmony vocals. Like diving into another wonderful mood.. The music is so atmospheric that you can practically feel the leaves falling down from a tree. Wow... Now that I think about it, I see all kinds of pictures in my head while listening to this album. Music that stimulates your imagination like that can't be bad.

There are jangly sounds and excellent harmonies, sounding a lot like the Byrds.. The general feel also reminds me of Surf's Up by the Beach Boys. Another band that comes to mind is America. Anyway, some of the songs here practically sound like immediate classics! Just listen to songs like 1000 Years, Two Faces, and Green Is the Color.

Humane, warm, atmospheric, wonderful organic (and jangly!) sounds, made by people who obviously love what they are doing.. That is what I call Music.

Here is a music video for 1000 Years.

The Story of a French Maestro on Silver Screen

This actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but I still want to mention this film I went to see: Gainsbourg. It is not just any music film, you see. It is a 2010 film about Serge Gainsbourg, the great French composer, singer, poet, actor... whose music I haven't been paying much attention to even though it is obviously great stuff.

The film was really entertaining and well-made. The acting was good, and I enjoyed the unconventional way of describing Gainsbourg's inner self. The plot followed Gainsbourg's life story nicely, concentrating on the main character's personality, scandalous love life (obviously), and the way he developed his visionary music. In my opinion, the makers of this film could have highlighted the music part a lot more but I enjoyed it like this as well. I am endlessly curious about how musicians get their inspiration, how they work on their music, and so on. That is why I probably couldn't be satisfied with a film about a musician if it didn't include (preferably a lot of) stuff about making music.

I don't often see films about musicians. That is why there aren't many film reviews/commentaries in this blog. I would love to see films about musicians more often – and not just documentaries! The strange part is that I actually found out about Serge Gainsbourg while doing research on a power pop musician years ago. Good thing, and now I think I should finally start listening to the maestro's work!

Gainsbourg IMDb article
Trailer for English-speakers (YouTube)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Elephants... into...... SWANS!

Just when I thought live couldn't get any sweeter...

The waiting is over, it really is.. The first new the Sun Sawed in 1/2 track is here! The track appeared on Facebook about 30 minutes ago. I can't stop listening to it... It is the title track of the new album Elephants into Swans.

Listen to the song here.

Right now I can only think about two things:
2. I want more!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Belated Gig Reviews Part 4: On Volcano & Ultramariini

So, a couple of weeks ago I went out, once again, to see bands play live. The headlining act of the evening was a band called Ultramariini but at the end of the evening I couldn't help thinking that the warm-up act On Volcano was actually a lot more interesting!

Yes, I realize that I have recently been exposed to such ambitious music that it might affect my thinking and reactions quite a lot. However, this blog has never been much about objectivity..

Grandiose, epic, big sounds... Music created in the spirit of shoegaze/indie rock bands and something about it even reminds of such bands as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós. Those are the ingredients of post rock – and nowadays also On Volcano's music. With classy Christmas lights illuminating the stage, the skillful musicians of On Volcano played an amazing set. This wasn't the first or even the second time I saw On Volcano but now they had really found their sound and perfected their music – I am already waiting for a full album. Almost every song of the live set was longer than five minutes and there were long instrumental periods, but the music was still perfectly balanced... It is the magic of post rock! Also, you just have to love a band that concludes the set with a ”country ballad”. Definitely the best post rock band of my hometown Tampere!

Ultramariini plays pop that could be described as indie but it also has qualities to make it appeal to wider audiences. Frontman Matti Johannes Koivu has been doing solo albums during the past years and performing as a solo artist. I have seen him live probably three times and loved every gig. Now his old band Ultramariini has returned and released a new album called Ydin. I will probably check out that album at some point – and most definitely On Volcano's new EP New Blood which the band is giving out for free!

Free download of On Volcano's New Blood EP
Ultramariini at MySpace

80s Power Pop Moment

This video was linked to Facebook several months ago. I spotted it and listened to it and thought to myself: "Wow!" Indeed, this is 80s power pop at its finest. Chris Von Sneidern was in this band, Flying Color, which existed 1984-1990.

There was such a rich jangly, beatlesque power pop scene in the 80s. I should do more research in that area. The availability of a lot of stuff from that time can be a bit questionable, though.. But giving up doesn't help either.

My goodness... Gorgeous stuff!

Greatness From Sweden

Again, I have a million things to write about. I wouldn't want to keep it too brief but I may not have a choice. Better say things briefly than not at all...

First of all, something I have been wanting to mention for quite some time. If you already haven't, do yourself a favor and check out the latest from the Swedish power pop front. The Genuine Fakes is a new band and based on everything I've heard from them they are definitely worth some serious attention.

A couple of videos for starters. The first one, I Don't Want It: classic 90s power pop sound á la the Posies, or Popsicle. Loud, sweet, catchy as hell! Also, extra points for great dancing in the video.. Nice video, all in all.

Then, When Reality Hits You: another really catchy tune, featuring the guys... shaving.

The Genuine Fakes have also made a cover version of Beyoncé's song Irreplaceable. What can I say... It's really good! It can be heard at MySpace, for instance. The release date for the Fakes debut album, which is called The Striped Album, is very soon, December the 1st.

The Genuine Fakes at MySpace
Official website
The Striped Album site

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Teenage Fanclub Live – Larger Than Life

My musical relationship to Teenage Fanclub has been renewed. I feel like a whole new TFC fan – a lot more devoted one. More deeply charmed by the magic of the Bellshill Beach Boys than ever!

It is such an amazing thing to get Teenage Fanclub to Finland only a few weeks after the Posies paid a visit to this distant land. It is a real privilege... Besides, it never ceases to amaze me to actually see other people – lots of people – coming to see bands that I like really much. It is not all that common for me, you know... I have seen near-deserted clubs so many times. Although it is very difficult to be certain of it, experiences like witnessing one's favorite band with hundreds of other people might have some unexpected, positive effects on one's subconscious. I like to think that it does.

After traveling to Helsinki by train, arriving at Nosturi, and listening to Finnish warm-up act Delay Trees play a nice set, it was inevitable that I was going to see one of my all-time biggest favorites alive in front of me – for the first time.

Soon the gig started. There they were... Norman Blake, the most talkative guy, rhythm guitarist, a sort of lead character who was smiling sunnily almost all the time. Raymond McGinley, the absolutely sympathetic guy on the left who delighted the audience with his riffs and guitar solos. Gerry Love, the more serious-looking bass player, but still the sweetest-sounding guy of the entire band. Drummer Francis Macdonald, the current provider of the loveable TFC beats. Keyboardist/guitarist, multi-instrumentalist David McGowan. Together these guys made the Teenage Fanclub experience come alive.

It was amazing to see these people and what they look like while playing these songs. I have always thought that TFC has its very own special style that I respect deeply... Seeing TFC live felt almost like a pilgrimage, with the difference that the band came to Finland, instead of me going abroad to see the band.

The first song was Start Again. I was very impressed: only Norman and Gerry were singing but the sound was incredibly rich... Bang! The huge vocal talent of TFC suddenly became so clear to me that it was quite overwhelming. What an unforgettable moment! The current TFC line-up includes five guys, all of whom sing harmony vocals. Luckily most of the gig was very well mixed and the harmonies could be heard quite nicely.

Some of the most wonderful songs of the set were Sweet Days Waiting and When I Still Have Thee – both were songs from the new album (Shadows) and really fresh and new to me, who hadn't listened to them very much yet... I was also very charmed by I Need Direction, I Don't Want Control of You, It's All in My Mind, Verisimilitude, Don't Look Back, Sparky's Dream, and all the other classics! The gig was concluded with a great version of Everything Flows, as usual.

The warm atmosphere during the gig was, after all, just the beginning... During the next days after the gig I listened to a lot of TFC, mostly Songs from Northern Britain, and also other albums... I felt things I hadn't felt before this much: new, wonderful, warm feelings, as well as understanding. When I started listening to TFC years ago, I was generally quite new to pop/rock music.. or any kind of music. Since then I have introduced myself to many different types of music and therefore it is now much easier to see TFC in the context of power pop, or pop, rock, or any other music in general. Now I understand why some people regard TFC as the best pop band in the world. The people who don't appreciate TFC much... They just haven't been enlightened yet!

By the way... How I have missed listening to sweet power pop! I looked at my mp3 player and noticed there were practically only about ten power pop bands there. That is not much for a person like me, you know... Moments like this remind me of the fact that even though I don't wish to consider any specific music genres/styles better than others, I do like to amuse myself by placing sweet power pop above everything else. In a way I really think about power pop as my favorite music attribute. There is something very special about the combination of those features that tend to be present in the music called “power pop” by many people. Power pop often is sweet... I like sweet vocalists, most definitely I like sweet-sounding guys, who play sweet music with sweet sounds. I want more sweet guys into my life!

What a speech... Also, this might not really be the end of the subject ”TFC and me”. So, beware!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Dream Come True

Nononononononono. I'm NOT talking about the very unfortunate and sad demise of Not Lame. This record company will be dearly missed. Thanks for everything, Bruce! I look forward to the new Pop Geek Heaven site.

What I wish to say is that Teenage Fanclub, the heroes of jangly, cozy and warm, extremely charming (power) pop, are playing live in Helsinki, Finland, tomorrow. I will be there, of course. I haven't seen the Fannies before, so I am really excited!

These Scottish popsters were among the very first power pop bands I ever listened to. You could say they are an old favorite of mine, although there most definitely are loads of people who have followed the band much longer than me.

I have paid so little attention the latest Fannies album Shadows (2010) that I really feel embarrassed. I purchased the album when it came out but somehow it got lost when I was in the middle of some another 70s hard rock craze... Fortunately it's never too late to go back to being a big Teenage Fanclub fan again!

In any case, Shadows is a really beautiful album... Sweet songs, peaceful feel, and definitely a lovely atmosphere! Soundwise it is like Man-Made (2005) with everything made sound even better. Some people were not happy with the sounds on Man-Made but I am sure they don't have anything bad to say about Shadows. I LOVE Man-Made – the sounds, too.

Well... I am not going to start analysing this band and my experiences with it any further now. I might do that after the gig.

Some really good stuff from 1997:

TFC at MySpace

TFC website

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Love 'Em, Keep 'Em!

Guess what... I have discovered the music of KISS! And geez, what a great rocking pop band they are. Inspired by my friend, the author of One Chord to Another, I decided to check out KISS a few months ago. So, I got myself some early KISS albums and started listening. I noticed very quickly that the huge fame was well-earned. The albums were packed with gorgeous hard rock sounds with good melodies, even some really nice vocal harmonies...

According to some rumors, Gene Simmons has stated that there hasn't been much magic in making music with KISS. The band is a product and it sells well. Sounds familiar to me... A lot of music from the past decades was targeted to an audience that knew what it wanted – and the music was made by people who knew what the audience wanted. A good thing is that the product may still sound very good more than 30 years later.

Pictures of KISS still surprise me. That is because I haven't seen visual KISS material all that much.. I guess I have been kept in the dark (or something like that). The band looks goofy! And very goth-glam, I have to admit. KISS has also been known for spectacular live performances. The band's latest gig in Finland was last summer. I didn't go to see the show but the next time I just might do that...

So, I have been listening to KISS, Rock and Roll Over, Destroyer, and a bit of Love Gun. My favorite is Rock and Roll Over. This album also introduced me to the band's other lead singer, Paul Stanley... Well, he sounds really good. Nicer than Gene Simmons, at least. Paul Stanley is an important person also because he is the only other original member who is still in the band. He has also been credited to numerous big KISS hit songs.

To me, listening to KISS is a nice hard rock project. I often have use for groovy, hard-rocking, energetic music like KISS. That's why taking KISS to, say, the gym is simply awesome. You can never get enough of those hard rock riffs, catchy playing, and good songwriting!

KISS website

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

10 Reasons to Love Einstürzende Neubauten

Now that I have a new, extraordinary favorite I wish to share some of my thoughts concerning this experience. Here is a list of things I have learned to enjoy about Einstürzende Neubauten (EN) in a very short time. EN is an enjoyable band even thought it has little to do with traditional pop or rock music. It is a band for those moments when you want something completely different... Now, the things I love about Einstürzende Neubauten.

1. The Original Sound
Ever thought about the possibility of using random objects as musical instruments? Einstürzende Neubauten has always been known for custom-made instruments that are a big part of the band's sound. Throughout its career EN's sound has been composed of unique instruments made out of scrap metal, pipes, machinery, and tools - they even have an airplane turbine! Yeah, that sounds like a way to be recognized as avant-garde, doesn't it? But remember: if you want to start with something easier, try the newer EN material first. Leave the drilling machines and squalling Blixa Bargeld for a later time.

2. The Drums
I have always been a sucker for wild rhythms. I enjoy many kinds of drum playing styles and although I often stick to music that doesn't emphasize the drum section all that much, grandiose, ultra-energetic (non-electronic!) drums make me drool. When I started to get into Einstürzende Neubauten, one of the things that caught my ear were those intense drumming elements. It sounded so wild, like real African drumming. Einstürzende Neubauten also uses a lot of strange, wonderful things as percussion, such as pipes, canisters and barrels resulting in a sound different from almost any other drum kit in the world.

Well... Now you might just tell me start listening to music that only has drums in it. I love grandiose rock drums, jazz drum solos, and many other things, but I don't think I would be kept very interested for long with only the sound of drums. Another thing is that I have always preferred non-electronic drums, meaning drum sounds that were played by a real person by banging a drum or another drummable object. All in all, I want my music with both good rhythms and other instruments, with various sounds.

3. The Unexpectedness
Whenever I listen to Einstürzende Neubauten (especially those songs that I haven't listened much yet) I feel like anything could happen. There seems to be no way to know what will come next. And when the unexpected happens, you enjoy it. Then another wonderful phenomenon strikes in – that is listening to a song that you recognize having heard before.
I have always thought that the secret behind music is repetition and getting familiar with the stuff you hear. You can't easily embrace music that sounds strange and unfamiliar. Everyone needs time to adjust to music – that is why I don't recommend rejecting anything you haven't listend to properly and preferably several times.

4. The Dark Aesthetics
The gotchic aspects of Einstürzende Neubauten can be heard almost everywhere in the band's music. Especially in Neubauten's early material the industrial sound is the obvious gothic element but a certain darkness tends to be present everywhere in the band's music. Dark ambient sounds are obvious in EN's 90s and 00s material. I also like to describe some of the newer material as industrial - sounds created with metallic objects (other than the usual cymbals) are industrial to me.

5. The Nuances
Music benefits a lot from strong nuances. It is not to say that nuances are an absolute necessity but they tend to be a great asset. EN uses nuances so effectively that they probably couldn't be used in a broader scale. With the music varying from minimalism and even total silence to infernal noise Einstürzende Neubauten will fill your senses with the extremeties and everything in between.

6. Making interesting music with little emphasis on melody
Based on what I have found out about the band, Einstürzende Neubauten is more interested in sounds and, yes, even the verbal side of its music than melodies. Still, probably most of EN's songs have melodies – quite good ones, as a matter of fact. One of the band's strongest sides is making interesting music without those obvious, catchy pop melodies that I have grown so accustomed to. Sometimes I feel like some EN songs have too simple or monotonous melodies but... you get used to even those if you keep an open mind, perhaps even learn to see the melodic simplicity as a means of expressing something different.

Now, I can make a new statement about the most important thing in music. That is not necessarily melodies! Sound variation can be seen as an even more fundamental part of music, and the concept of sound variation does contain melodies as well. Of course any sound variation is not automatically good enough. The sound variation must be satisfactory to the listener or else it sounds for example bland or too complex.

From this perspective you can actually see that Einstürzende Neubauten just happened to cross paths with me when I was in a suitable state of mind: ready to learn to love new ways of musical expression. It could have been some other band as well... Or maybe not. There are so many special positive characters in EN's music.

7. The Persistence
Einstürzende Neubauten is currently on its 30th anniversary tour. 30 years is a good age for any band, especially for the ones that still have plenty of creativity left at that point. EN is currently unsigned but has operated as a self-releasing band for several years now, gathering supporters and giving out exclusive material to the supporting fans.

8. The Language
German is a great language, although not known for absolute beauty. However, if you think about it, softly pronounced German sounds a lot like French. German is also a good choice if you want to be particularly emphatic... I studied German in high school for two years and enjoyed it a great deal, but I don't understand German much.. It should be noted, though, that EN keeps changing the singing language in many songs. There are parts of songs or entire songs in English and French, even something in Spanish, I think.

9. The Artistic Versatility
Einstürzende Neubauten has never been limited to just performing music. There have been projects concerning film and theater and the live gigs have even been said to include elements from performance art. If I am not mistaken, everyone in the current line-up has released solo material. For instance, Blixa Bargeld is an author, actor and spoken word artist – some people have reported him being quite a stand-up comedian. He has also recorded an album of Bertolt Brecht's poetry.

10. The Inspiration
As a pioneer of industrial music and an icon of experimental/avantgarde music, EN has inspired numerous other music makers with crazy, inventive, revolutionary ideas. EN's music is just as enjoyable as it is difficult to categorize. After being exposed to EN's music for only about a week I started feeling like I should try to make music of my own in EN style!
To cut a long story short, I really like this band and the fact that there is sort of an intriguing battle between different aesthetical views going on in my head right now. In many ways I have already accepted these new musical beauty standards as my own. It's good to broaden the horizons. I feel like a winner.

Some (mostly live) videos from YouTube:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Ultra-Energetic Yellowcard Is Back!

It was annouced about a week ago that Yellowcard will play a concert in Helsinki, Finland, in February 2011. To me, Yellowcard has been one of those bands from which I like to listen to a couple of songs every now and then. Sometimes there is nothing like the energy in songs like The Takedown and Rough Landing, Holly!

Yellowcard took a couple of year's break from music but they are now back and recording a new album that will come out next year. I remember thinking a couple of months ago that if Yellowcard came to Finland I would most definitely go see them and mosh all through the gig. How come, my intentions are actually going to become reality!

Really, I'm not going to mosh all through the gig... But a part of it at least! To celebrate the great news here is a song from Yellowcard's latest studio album Paper Walls (2007): Light up the Sky.

Watch the video for Light up the Sky

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

30 Days of Dead

Here is a quick music tip for you. The Grateful Dead are doing an interesting 30-day campaign. They are giving out a new, unreleased, free mp3 track every day during November. I am definitely going to check this thing out. Also join the Facebook fan page for GD information and hints for this campaign - there is also a contest going on. If you are a GD expert, answer the daily question and you might win something cool!

When it comes to my personal interests, Grateful Dead is still fabulous. However, I have been spending a lot more time playing Grateful Dead on the guitar than listening to the band's actual recordings... It was some time ago when I did listen to Terrapin Station quite a lot, and before that American Beauty was THE thing. I think I fell in love with the absolutely sincere and haunting country songs. So, now I enjoy playing the songs on the guitar, and singing, too. My favorites are Friend of the Devil and Ripple (that riff!).

Also, to pursue my hippie urges I bought myself a Grateful Dead t-shirt last spring. It must be one of the coolest pieces of clothing I have ever put on.

30 Days of Dead website
The official Grateful Dead Facebook site

The Posies Live = Euphoria!

To see the Posies full-band gig again... To see a new Posies album was another thing that seemed unlikely to me mainly because it took quite a few years for it to be released. Well, obviously I hadn't been following the news too carefully because everyone else seemed to know about the album before me. So, the news came, the album was released and I went running to the record store. Blood/Candy is a superb album, definitely an improvement after the 2005 album Every Kind of Light. Soon it was time for a new Posies gig! I chose Turku due to the possibility of also seeing some friends there. The same day Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow even played an acoustic set in 8raita record store, which I of course went to see. It was magnificent – those gorgeous harmonies can be heard so much easier without all the other instruments.

The lasttime the Posies visited Finland was in autumn 2007, if I remember correctly, but Jon and Ken didn't bring their rhythm section with them that time. The first time I saw the entire nowadays version of the Posies was in November 2005. At that time I hadn't seen a lot of gigs (by any band) yet, and the Posies definitely gave me some real shock therapy! I still remember it as the craziest, wildest, loveliest, as well as loudest gig I have ever seen. Excellent work, guys! That is how I would summarize that show now.

This time Jon and Ken were a bit more calm... But they rocked and rolled nevertheless! Jon, Ken, Darius (Minwalla), and Matt (Harris) played a solid show presenting almost every possible Posies classic, including some excellent rarities, and most of the songs on the new album. As always, lots of incomplete cover versions were also played. This time the band seemed to get kicks out of The Who's material.. Gosh, they could play excellent the Who tribute gigs anytime!

I tend to enjoy Jon Auer's voice a bit more than Ken Stringfellow's but that composition always gets reversed in live situations. Ken's voice is better suited for hard-rocking live performances and his presence is more energetic. Jon Auer surely is charming as well and his angelic voice and intriguing stage personality could never go unnoticed. Together Jon and Ken are invincible.

Thank you so much guys and welcome back anytime!

Acoustic live in 8raita record store: