Categories
ambient

J. T. Boogaard & R. M. van der Meulen – PLACE

Eindhoven is no Rotterdam, although both cities have similarities: a lot of new buildings, wide streets (initially build for cars), daring architecture, rough edges and a couple of cozy working-class neighborhoods.

This morning I took a walk through Strijp-S and Woensel West with PLACE as a soundtrack. I was lucky: all the elements for a perfect experience were present. A beautiful low sun produced a warm glow and generated a bit of warmth and there were hardly any people outside.

Most of the names on this cassette tape, released by Rotterdam based cassette label No Hay Banda, refer to different locations. For me, the soundscapes do well with these far from polished cities. Maybe because it’s so obvious they aren’t perfect. While living in Cologne I used GAS and the Kompakt Ambient Pop series as a soundtrack for my city walks. Heerlen, for me, is a perfect match for the releases on Pollen Records and most of the Border Community stuff.

PLACE does a good job in Eindhoven. The seven tracks on this tape seem to be especially crafted with an eye for detail, but fact is that there are the outcome of an improvisation. Roel van der Meulen (active as singer-songwriter RoelRoel) and Jasper Boogaard (in Nagasaki Swim and founder of Front) gathered their machines and got together in their home studio and started building these soundscapes.

Seven beautiful time capsules are the result of this meditation. Flirting with the warm melancholy of La Düsseldorf (‘Nieuwe Westerdokstraat’), estranging and open (‘II’), pastoral, cold and slowly building toward a climax that never comes (‘La Vilette’, ‘Nieuwkoopse Plassen’) and mysteriously exciting (opener ‘I’). There are references to the Cologne ambient sound and releases on Border Community, but Van der Meulen and Boogaard definitely succeed in creating a sound of their own.

Love the fact that there are no beats present. It makes PLACE ideal as an environmental soundtrack, adjustable to the pulse of the moment.

Can’t wait to use this excellent tape for my walk or bike-ride through the dunes near Haarlem.

PLACE by J. T. Boogaard & R. M. van der Meulen is released by No Hay Banda.

Categories
ambient electronic opinion pop rock

Best albums of 2020

This post is dedicated to Martin Ploeg who died in 2020.

Since I stopped writing for music magazine OOR, making lists seems pointless. My taste is changing constantly and I love so many different styles of music that it is impossible for me to do justice to the diversity of cool albums I listen to.

Why posting a list of best albums of 2020 then? Good question. Music journalist and longtime friend Harry Prenger asked me to compile one and I felt like making a list because of this crazy year of working from home, not going to concerts and using music to give structure to a new daily practice without one.

2020 was a rough year for me. I left my teaching job at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology and wasn’t sure if my own Studio Hyperspace would provide enough work. My father died after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease and I found myself in lockdown in a new unknown city.

Looking for new challenges in a world that seemed to have stopped spinning is difficult. I started STASIS to have an outlet to keep writing about pop culture. In November the Fashion Institute Amsterdam (AMFI, a part of HvA) asked me to help them set up a new master programme for changemakers in the fashion industry and just before the Christmas holidays, I got an offer by the new International Music Academy Lab of Inholland to join them as a learning director. The coolest job ever. E.V.E.R.

So professionally, 2020 turned out to be a great year after all. Personally, it was rough. Music played an important role to keep me happy and focused.

The following eleven records were important for me during the numerous train travels to my father in the deep south of The Netherland and, after he passed away, making the best of the situation.

Special shout out to Adorno. You are my best friend. I absolutely love your hairy fur touching my cheeks when I’m half asleep.

Okay, let’s go.

Apneu – Silvester

Been following this indie band from Amsterdam since the beginning and their third album is an absolute classic. It’s catchy, moody, tight. The production by Ralv Milberg lifts the album to a next level. But it’s the songwriting that makes Silvester stand out. Read my STASIS review here.

Applescal – Diamond Skies

Not only the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance, but also a perfect medicine for missing out on parties and concert. Diamond Skies captures the moment in which the rave becomes you and you become the rave. Read my STASIS review here.

The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue

The only interview I did this year was a Zoom call with Kevin Martin aka The Bug. In Blue reminds me of other work of The Bug but also serves as a perfect sonic representation of being in lockdown. The thin, high-pitched and ghost-like vocals of Dis Fig, give the album a melancholic feel that triggers me to listen to it over and over again. Read my STASIS review here.

Jessy Lanza – All The Time

An absolute sucker for slick, catchy and sweet pop music with a microhouse feel to it. Jessy Lanza is the best. No idea why I didn’t wrote about this excellent album here at STASIS. Listen to All The Time at Bandcamp.

Hunter Complex – Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

Always loved the music by Lars Meyer aka Hunter Complex, but this album is different than his previous work because there is no nostalgia anymore. Meyer has found a way to use all kinds of sounds and tropes from the past to come up with something that is 2020 at its core: a post-nostalgic ambient synthpop masterpiece. Read my STASIS review here.

Coriky – Coriky

Maybe this is a bit of a nostalgic pick. Coriky is the band of former Fugazi (and Minor Thread) guitarist and singer Ian MacKaye. Got to think of it, my love for Coriky isn’t rooted in nostalgia: this debut album is indie rock at its best. Wonder why I didn’t write about the album for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

Vril – Bad Manners 4

Dancefloor oriented project by Vril aka Ulli Hammann for the Berlin-based Bad Manners label. The album is a registration of a perfect early morning set (think 3 am) in the ambient techno room of Dekmantal or another cool electronic music festival. Also, didn’t review this one for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

We Are Joiners – Clients + Carriers

Sort of compilation of the first two EP’s by an indie duo from the city of Groningen. Love the slacker atmosphere. Harry Prenger also can’t get enough of We Are Joiners. Really curious what they are up to in 2021. Read my STASIS review of Carriers here.

Europ Europ – Slow Train

Ancient and timeless, that’s Slow Train. It’s like It’s the musical expression of Das Abendland‘s struggle for survival. The soundtrack to go with the ritual cleansing of a romantic past that never might have existed. Maybe, Dutch anti-modernist politician, Thierry Baudet should listen to Europ Europ and fall in love with Europe again. Read my STASIS review of here.

Vladislav Delay – Rakka

For me, Sasu Ripatti never made a bad album. His work as Luomo is unique and unmatched. As Vladislav Delay, he is more experimental. Rakka is an exciting blend of ambient, industrial, techno and dub. A perfect soundtrack for an underground dance party in your mind. Read my STASIS review of the song ‘Rajaa’ here.

Hirashi Yoshimura – Green

Reissue of the 1986 ambient album by Japanese producer Hiroshi Yoshimura. The album sounds like it has been released on Kompakt records by a hipster Scandinavian producer who just moved to Berlin. Love it, even the green vinyl. Listen to Green at Bandcamp.

What are your favourite albums of 2020? Let me know.

Categories
electronic

Puttylolian – BE iDVW

Last year Julian Hermans died at the age of 12. A year earlier, he debuted with the bouncy fast dance track ‘Touwtjespringen’. Despite being ill for years, he worked together with bass producer Subp Yao and was planning a debut album. He also worked on the cover art of the album. Designer Guus Prevoo of Homo Ludens guided him in the artistic process.

His parents have been important driving forces of the creative scene in the city of Heerlen since the ‘culturele lente’ started in the early 2000s. Eva-Katrien founded important art and design initiatives like ‘Zachte G’ and ‘Dutch but not from Holland’. Maurice is a well-known local musician and debuted in the early 90s with the indie band Cowboys of the Sky.

Julian was a creative talent. In April 2019 he debuted as Puttylolian with ‘Touwtjespringen’. A few months later he was the youngest DJ ever at the local Daddy’s Cool festival. In the week before he died of the consequences of an acute cerebral hemorrhage, he came up with his moto be mad! Hence the title of his debut album: iDVW is like mad! upside down.

Heerlen-based and well-known producer Subp Yao aka Gert-Jan van Stiphout, took all the fragments, snippets, beats, and piano tryouts to his studio and, with help of Maurice, forged them together in sixteen tracks that do justice to the musical talent Julian had.

Although BE iDVW sounds like a collection of ideas, it clearly shows just how gifted Julian was. His influences range from hip hop, electronic dance music, piano music, experimental stuff, and rock. The dub in ‘Mijke heeft een leef Hoofd’ is incredibly poppy and gives a glimpse of what Julian could have achieved.

The making of this album must have been an intense, emotional, and painful process. The result is a beautiful tribute to Julian and an artifact that makes sure he and his budding talent will never be forgotten.

BE iDVW by Puttylolian can be ordered on Bandcamp.

Categories
ambient electronic

Fridolijn – Chapter Two

Although Fridolijn van Poll considers triphop as one of her major influences, her music has mostly been described as jazzy dream folk. Echos of Portishead and Massive Attack are definitely there: her sound is floating in a pleasant, distancing mood. She has been described as the heir of Nick Drake. On Catching Currents, she floats – yes, definitely a reoccurring word – between the softness of Joni Mitchell and the dreamy, untouchable sound of minimalist composers.

Earlier this year the singer-songwriter from Amsterdam released Chapter One, a collection of three songs somewhere between dreampop and folktronica. Follow-up Chapter Two just came out and takes the electronica influences even further. Together with actor and composer Lieuwe Roonder, Fridolijn crafted three moody, dreamy songs that rub against ambient house. The songs have two versions: a vocal and an instrumental one.

Fridolijn’s voice has distinct qualities and gives the songs a dreamy feel and on the moody side more depth, but to be honest, I absolutely love the instrumental versions. ‘Once More’ as instrumental for example sounds like quality microhouse from Cologne and could earn a place on one of the recent compilation by Kompakt.

The same goes for ‘Forever Maybe’ and ‘If Your Heart Were A City’. The slowed-down rhythm of the first one is mysterious and distant and would be a cool edition to next years Velvet Desert compilation. ‘If Your Heart Were A City’ is more ambient and moody, like the work of producer The Field.

Can’t wait for Chapter three.

Chapter Two by Fridolijn is released by Freija Label / Lab Music.

Categories
electronic

The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue

Just before the lockdown in early March, Kevin Martin moved from Berlin to Brussels. After ten years in the capital of Germany, he and his family were in for a change. For Martin, used to super-diverse Brixton, Berlin turned out to be a bit too mono-cultural.

Last month we spoke about his move for cultural magazine Gonzo (circus). Read the January/February issue (only in print) if you want to know more. His dancehall sound system and regular night Pressure remain at Gretchen, a club located in Berlin’s Kreuzberg area. Due to the covid-19 measurements, Martin still has to find out if Brussels is ready for his dancehall madness.

Before moving, Martin recorded a couple of albums. Last year he released Wrecked, as Zonal and together with long-time collaborator Justin Broadrick. Sedatives, a solo album under his own name Kevin Richard Martin, came out just a couple of months ago. I’ll link to the albums below.

Although US-born Felicia Chen aka Dis Fig lives in Berlin, she and Martin recorded In Blue without meeting each other in the studio. Last year, Dis Fig released Purge, a dark, rough, in times bombastic, industrial, experimental noise album on which Chen uses her voice mostly as an instrument.

The skeleton for In Blue dates back to 2018 when Martin recorded songs for a radio show. Early on in his explorations in music, he fell in love with dub and dancehall. Most of his recent projects are excursions to the borders of those genres. As The Bug, he combines a more studio scientific approach to dub and dancehall with a deep emotional longing for the dance floor. Both are equally important, although they seem to be extremes.

On the album In Blue, Chen uses her voice much more in a songlike vocal structure. Her vocals are thin, high-pitched and ghost-like, giving the deep fuzzy and noisy basslines the necessary counterbalance. Without them, the minimal dancehall rhythms, stripped from all melody and warmth would sound too rough and alienating.

Martin mixed the album in his new home studio in Brussels during the lockdown, and that makes it easy to interpret In Blue as a claustrophobic reaction to the isolation and loneliness fueled by the hopeless situation of being confined in your own home. In the last song ‘End In Blue’, the only thing left is the airy vocals of Chen on repetition. Martin and Chen refer to the sound of this album as ‘Tunnel Sound’: a foggy, melancholic meltdown of narco-dancehall, zoned soul and dread drenched, electronic dub. 

The result is as beautiful as it is scary.

In Blue by The Bug & Dis Fig is released by Hyperdub.

Additional links
Wrecked by Zonal is on Bandcamp.
Sedatives by Kevin Richard Martin is on Bandcamp.
Purge by Dis Fig is on Bandcamp.

Categories
electronic

Egopusher – Beyond

In a way, Egopusher reminds me of the past. Don’t know if that’s a compliment for the duo: the press release of Beyond pinpoints the album as a soundtrack for (in)possible futures. That makes sense. The future already happened. So, my reference isn’t that strange.

What past or pasts does Egopusher bring back?

First of all, that of the pre-covid19 club culture. Beyond is a celebration of optimism, confidence and anticipation. It reminds of club nights with maximum techno. Techno that, in contrast for minimal, doesn’t leave any room for individual expression but is so dominant that it dictates every centimetre or inch of the dance floor. A totally immersive experience. I love it.

Beyond also reminds me of the carelessness or even recklessness of the 1990s. The sound on the album is open and maximal. Grotesque, even. In contrast to Egopusher’s first album Blood Red (2017), there are no limitations.

Egopusher is drummer/producer Alessandro Giannelli and violinist Tobias Preisig, both living in Zürich. In the press release, Giannelli notes that the album makes him think of a soundtrack to a sci-fi film that would be directed by Sofia Coppola. There is also a familiarity with the esthetics of 2001: A Space Odyssey, probably one of the best know sci-fi movies. The movie is open, explorative, boundless and moody, just like Beyond.

In contrast to the maximal character of the sound employed by Giannelli and Preisig, there is an emphasis on details. Rhythms slowly change, maybe grow is a better metaphor. The blend of techno, trance and ambient is in that respect similar to the work of James Holden and his Border Community record label.

Beyond walks the thin lines between the club, trip, kitsch and contemplation. In the two centrepieces – ‘Re-Entry’ and ‘Elenor’ those elements blend together brilliantly. The synthetic sounding drums and synths and cliché hand claps match perfectly with the neo-classical elements.

The ambient trance of ‘Faint’ and ‘Sheen’ is like a baroque version of Wolgang Voigt’s GAS.

This is a beautiful trip into the past or futures that we once dreamt of.

Beyond by Egopusher is released by Quiet Love Records.

Categories
rock

Global Charming – Mediocre, Brutal

What started as a side-project by musicians of various indie bands in Amsterdam, took shape in this debut mini-album. Global Charming is as Dutch as pop music gets: a bit clumsy, raw, uncomfortably comfortable. Mediocre, Brutal also marks a new peak for Subroutine. It turns fifteen this year and with excellent releases by Naive Set, Apneu and Global Charming so far the record label lives op to the expectations.

More about Subroutine’s anniversary soon.

Let’s talk about Global Charming.

Lately, The Netherlands are a goldmine for lovers of quirky indie rock. Global Charming is heavily influenced by Talking Heads and other no wave and postpunk from the late seventies, but sounds typically Dutch. Like Lewsberg, De Avonden, Rats on Rafts and Katafreuffe, the foursome sounds angular and direct. Like the famous Dutch literature in the 1950s and 1960s. There is also this hidden influence of the Dutch Ultra’s from the early 1980s. As Peter Bruyn wrote, echo’s of Dutch bands like The Ex, De Nits, Minny Pops and De Div are also present.

The details make Mediocre, Brutal so memorable: the synthesizer burps in ‘Soft Fruit’, the clumsy guitar solo in ‘Curveball’, Sara Elzinga’s vocals suddenly present in the background, flute in ‘If It Is’.

But it’s the overall vibe that makes this such a good debut. In the best moments, Global Charming sounds confident in letting go and play as loose as possible. ‘No Compromise’ and ‘My Turn To Sleep’, both under two minutes, are examples of this raw, a bit clumsy sounding style. ‘Celebration’ shows the future potential: a 4,5-minute motorik-driven, raw and direct rocker with a killer chorus that encourages to sing along. Reminds me of the best songs of LCD Soundsystem.

On the 16th of October the band, together with Apneu, will play at Patronaat Haarlem to celebrate Subroutine’s 15th birthday. Don’t miss it.

Mediocre, Brutal by Global Charming is released on Subroutine Records.

Categories
rock

Apneu – Silvester

Apneu, my favourite indie rock band from Amsterdam, lost its uncomplicated catchy sound. At least, that’s what the leading Dutch music magazine OOR claims. Don’t believe the hype: Apneu still is catchy and uncomplicated.

Okay, I have to admit: my relationship with Apneu is a special one. During the perfect spring of 2006, I constantly travelled between Köln, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. With cut-up, we shared offices with the largest Dutch online music magazine KindaMuzik in the attic of the Nederlands Pop Instituut (NPI) at the Prins Hendrikkade. I used to be editor-in-chief at KindaMuzik and still worked for them and also worked for OOR, but cut-up definitely was my main occupation. I grounded the webzine for underground culture with a bunch of crazy friends in 2001. Around 2005 we had around 35.000 unique readers, which was a lot since we wrote about underground culture in Dutch.

We had some great writers and were exploring short videos (made by the incredible Maria Cristina Fazecas and Karianne Hylkema) when our new intern arrived. Joeri Joustra studied journalism in Zwolle and wanted to explore his role in contemporary journalism. He made some really cool podcasts for cut-up and wrote a couple of good articles. Near the end of his internship, I got a call from his mentor at university who told me Joeri wanted to quit his study. According to him a bold but stupid move since Joeri only had to write his thesis to graduate. If I could talk to Joeri and try to change his mind.

We talked. Joeri didn’t finish his journalism study (because he wanted to do stuff that we did at cut-up as a real profession) and went on to pursue his other dream: enjoying playing the bass.

He succeeded, made some good albums with Boutros Bubba, worked together with artists like Spoelstra and Kattadreuffe and became a key figure in the Amsterdam new dutch indie scene. With Silvester, he just released the third official studio album of Apneu, the band he co-founded a decade ago. So in a really indirect way, I played a tiny role in the creation of this album.

Trust me, that doesn’t make me biased (nah, maybe just a little). Having said that, Silvester is one of the best indie rock albums I’ve heard in years. My former colleague at OOR John Denekamp is right: this new Apneu album is darker and more coherent than earlier material by the band. The powerful production by Ralv Milberg adds a new layer. The tightness he added to the production of the albums by Die Nerven is also present here. Especially his gift to put the vocals to the background a tiny bit.

That doesn’t make Silvester less catchy. Quite the opposite: Apneu never has been catchier. The songs are more playful than before, the variety between and in songs higher. But it’s the songwriting that makes this album the best Apneu til now. They are a bit less explosive and direct, but the generally more introvert character of the songs, combined with the perfect melodies and catchy riffs makes the album stand out.

In ‘All These Sounds Rewind’, ‘Stay Stupid’ and ‘Porcelain’ the ghost of Evan Dando (The Lemonheads) roams. In his golden years, he wrote extremely catchy indie songs with fuzzy guitars as a contrast. On this album, Erik Schumacher’s vocals even remind me a bit of Evan’s (the desperate singing and murmuring). This is certainly not a lost The Lemonheads albums, but it catches the same playfulness, openness, desperation and melancholy.

That sound culminates in the last song on the album: ’20’. One of the best indie songs I’ve heard in a long time.

What a great record.

Silvester by Apneu is released by Subroutine Records.