Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eerie, Yet Terrific

Now let me share with you a childhood memory of mine. Even though it isn't winter yet, this song is just perfect for this moment – despite the fact that the darkening evenings and cold weather rather tend to make me choose my sunniest sunshine pop hits...

A couple of months ago it occurred to me once again that my favorites, the Beach Boys have also made a version of California Dreamin' which was originally performed by the Mamas & the Papas in 1965. When this Beach Boys version first came out in 1986 I hardly had been born but I remember hearing this sometime later, when I was still only a child. It was the early or mid-90s and for some reason this music video was aired on Finnish TV, possibly even a few times, actually. The video seemed to make a huge impact on me because it looked really familiar when I watched it again many, many years later.

I still find this video impressive. It is definitely gothic and eerie, which is always unusual of the Beach Boys. Seeing the guys here is really nice even though it leaves me feeling kind of melancholic. Roger McGuinn makes an appearance with his 12-string Rickenbacker (wow...) and there are also alto sax solos (arguably the coolest instrument there is) by John Phillips. I also enjoy the 80s-styled production, not to mention incredible vocals from Al and Carl! I could listen to this for hours.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Folk Rock Gates Opened

It is starting to look like I have been enticed into a small folk rock craze, mostly thanks to the Association. Listening to the Association was at some point like a learning session aiming at a deeper understanding of the band. Now, every second with the Association is like being in heaven... While getting acquainted with the band, I also learned to appreciate folk rock style, melodies and aesthetics more than ever. Now, when I put on anything that has those folky melodies my mind screams: aah yeah, folk rock, this is the good stuff!

Well, this isn't really the first time I have been interested in folk rock. However, we may have to say something about the term folk rock at first. There are countless different manifestations of folk rock. There is folk rock, folk pop, folk metal, neo-folk and who knows how many other variants of music that is based on folk. There are also local variants of folk and folk rock all around the world. For me, the starting point is the Association, so that defines my current interest. I am mostly talking about music that was inspired and developed from American folk music. Still, I don't wish to limit myself. Instead, I hope to keep an open mind. If I discover a great Arabic folk music band, I will definitely check it out...

Anyway, probably the most famous folk rock band I have listened to before is the Byrds. Both the Byrds and the Association have recorded Bob Dylan songs. If I haven't misunderstood all of this, those jangly and harmonic Dylan covers played a big role in the American folk rock success. Dylan himself also went electric which made him more and more popular.

We could now perhaps define folk rock as being folk decorated with elements that make it more appealing for large audiences. A traditional folk song is bare and has little decoration. There isn't much auditory spectacle. A folk troubadour singing alone and playing a guitar can obviously be wonderful, but a band like the Association with its rich full band arrangements and enormous vocals gives the music a whole different treatment.

This question has a lot in common with the dilemma of how much a song needs decorations, different instruments and production. Some people want more, some people want less... And it depends on the song, time, genre, etc. In my opinion, the composition (with its tunes and chords) is the core of any traditional (pop) song. Still, a rich sound with an excellent, carefully conducted arrangement can make a song rise to a whole new level. So, even though the bare song, the idea, is the most important thing and an achievement in its own right, it also helps a great deal to make it sound as appealing as possible.

My next goal is to find out and compare how different bands transform their folk songs into more ambitious arrangements – or decide to stick to more simple arrangements. I have a list of interesting performers. On that list there are the Mamas & the Papas, the Beau Brummels, the (New) Seekers, Donovan, and P. F. Sloan. Finally checking out Bob Dylan would probably be pretty useful, too.

I have to say I don't really know much about folk rock. I only know a few artists and I know who the most influential UK and US folk artists were. So, I could say that the search is now on. The real gems are often hidden I would be more than happy to get recommendations. What are your favorite folk rock bands?

New 60s Favorites, Part Three

A beautiful thing about 60s pop/rock groups is that whenever you decide to take a look at one of them, the band comes across as charming and really good pretty much every time... This time it was an Australian band called the Easybeats.

For music-lovers this band is probably very familiar. The Easybeats have even been referred to as the Australian Beatles. On the other hand, asking any (especially younger) person on the street about the band just might result in ”never heard of” type of answers. For instance, there are probably only one or two Easybeats songs that have been performed by Finnish artists. At first there weren't almost any Easybeats songs I remember hearing on the radio or anywhere else.

I am telling you this just because it plays an important role in my previous knowledge of the Easybeats. Now, just like the Association and the Creation, this band has shown me several sides and styles which really makes the music stand out. The Easybeats especially seem to enjoy the straightforward, groovy rock'n roll songs (Good Times, She's so Fine, Made My Bed (Gonna Lie In It), Wedding Ring, and For My Woman), even throwing in some Motown soul (I Can't Stand It).

There are also some songs that almost sound like they were recorded by the Beatles for some early album (Pretty Girl, It's so Easy). A song like Falling off the Edge of the World is an interesting example of a song that at first sounds a lot like the Beatles – but it still sounds more like the Easybeats after all! Some of my other favorites are the melancholic psychedelic melodies of Land of Make Believe, Remember Sam, and Come in You'll Get Pneumonia. Heaven & Hell, the single that was banned in the US, is also a wonderful slightly psychedelic pop song. It certainly would have been a great follow-up to Friday on My Mind.

River Deep, Mountain High is probably one of the most famous songs in the band's repertoire. It is so good that I don't feel like I need to hear the Ike & Tina Turner version at all... Stevie Wright's lead vocals are superb: he definitely has all it takes to perform soulful songs that also tend to have raw rock'n roll energy. Hello, How Are You is also such a great ballad that I want to mention it. And don't forget The Music Goes Round My Head, a cool baroque piece!

The band was founded in 1964. Children of British and Dutch emigrants, the Easybeats became very successful in their home country and soon were touring Europe and the US with the Rolling Stones. Friday on My Mind was a million-selling hit and a few smaller hits followed. Originally, lead singer Stevie Wright and rhythm guitarist George Young formed the songwriting team, but Wright was later replaced by lead guitarist Harry Vanda as a songwriter. Problems with management, radio airplay and record company support as well as the songwriting team becoming increasingly independent resulted in the band breaking up 1969. The songwriting team continued working on other projects, and there was an Easybeats reunion in 1985.

The Easybeats were a band that had their own unique voice and energy. They definitely weren't just another Merseybeat-styled band or generic 60s rock group. Instead, they sound like a band that took many great things from contemporary music and combined the influences to make a basis for their own music – a method that works even today!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Joensuu Gospel

Although shoegaze is probably not really mainstream kind of music – definitely not in a small country like Finland – Joensuu 1685 has gained quite a lot success. Due to this success even I decided to check out what it was all about. But as usual, other things got in the way and I never really got round to concentrating on the self-titled debut album, released by Bone Voyage (a record company led by 22 Pistepirkko guys) in 2008.

Joensuu 1685 was considered to be one of the most important indie bands in the release year of the debut album. The band was also one of the most popular live acts at Lost in Music festival the same year. I remember attending the gig and enjoying it quite a lot despite the very strange power shortage at the end... The band consists of Markus and Mikko Joensuu who are brothers, and non-related Risto Joensuu who just happens to have the same last name.

For a three man band Joensuu 1685 makes a whole lot of noise – that noise is very pleasant to any open-minded rock lover's ears, though. I have finally been listening to the Joensuu 1685 album properly and I enjoy everything about it. There is a lot of charm in its dynamics, heavy but nice rocking psychedelia and interesting sounds. All in all, I would call it a masterpiece of both modern sound and recording technology. Lead singer-guitarist-Farfisa player Mikko Joensuu is an openly spiritual person which shows in songs like (You Shine) Brighter Than Light and Electric Ocean Sailor. The spiritual aspect definitely gives an interesting vibe to this music.

Crystal Light is one of the most fascinating things here: a seven-minute song of noise, monotonic driving kraut beat and a thick vocal effect. Compared to this song Kill/Shot/Love, Sick City, and Baby, Baby, Baby are somewhat easier to the ear, practically quite catchy pop (or rather rock) songs. Nothingness also has that monotonic kraut vibe but the song is a lot more slow and calm. At first it sounds a bit threatening but soon transforms into one of the most blissful melodies I have heard in some time. The transitions between songs on this album have been rendered very carefully. Amazing, perfected sounds and fascinating songs make this, in my opinion, an A+ album.

Joensuu 1685 has been on hiatus during the past couple of years. The Joensuus have been working on a different project called Siinai and debut album Olympic Games came out in July 2011. Siinai describes its own music as new age, which may not sound all that appealing to some people... In fact, you can just as well describe the music as instrumental kraut rock with massive soundscapes. I was very impressed by Siinai's performance at Monsters of Pop festival a few weeks ago. Mikko Joensuu also played a solo gig (which I sadly didn't see) at the same festival. I hear there was some really good solo material performed. Maybe a solo album is on the way?

For now I will stick to Joensuu 1685 and check out Siinai's album later when I am once again in need of something different and refreshing.