Categories
pop rock

Lemon – Love Can Take You Places

For me, Manchester and Amsterdam are connected since the mid-1990s. I used to purposeless walk the city with my walkman. I taped the Second Coming album by Stones Roses and loved every second of it. Extremely underrated album. In ‘Straight to the Man’, Ian Brown sings ‘Amsterdam is Sodom and Gomorrah’. Don’t know why but since the first time I always heard ‘Amsterdam in summertime’.

Odd, right?

But, for me, that vocal line connected Manchester and Amsterdam. By that time I travelled a lot to London, Manchester and Birmingham. As a rising music journalist, I tried to experience pop culture from where I thought it happened. I was extremely Britain oriented. Well, let’s be honest: the first part of the 1990s is dominated by British pop culture. Right?

Long story short: Amsterdam felt like a bit like Manchester. I know, also back then, the cities where each other’s opposites: neoliberal, rich, a bit fake versus working class, recovering from economic and social depression, honest. But feelings don’t mind facts.

Since that moment in 1994, the two cites were connected.

In early 1990 there were a couple of Dutch bands that embraced the new exciting sound from Manchester (Charming Children, Pearls For Swains, Eton Crop), but by 2000 focus shifted to the new emerging post-punk scene in New York.

Except for Lemon.

Four lads from Amsterdam madly in love with Manchester.

On their debut album, Lemon took the early 1990s sound and transformed it into something new. Same like Kasabian, The Music en Viva Stereo also did around that time.

From their second Hey… (2006) on they moved towards a more laidback sound, honouring Madchester pioneers Happy Mondays, Stereo MC’s and The Charlatans. They called one of their later albums Nedchester (2011).

And now Lemon is back with an awesome new song.

‘Love Can Take You Places’ is a monument for both Nedchester and Madchester. It embodies the essence of the sound, the blend of northern soul and indie rock, the idea that maybe life isn’t fair but that we still have our music. The ultimate escape.

Scene icon Cath Coffey of Stereo MC’s is present as a guest vocalist and takes the song to a higher level, but it is the excellent songwriting that makes ‘Love Can Take You Places’ stand out.

There is only one possible improvement.

Well, actually two.

We need a way much longer dance version of the song. Like eight minutes with an Andrew Weatherall like touch.

It’s also time for a sixth Lemon album and I want to suggest a couple of new collaborations, including New Order and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream. Maybe Eton Crop (back together again) also want to jam.

That’s it.

For now, I’ll enjoy the excellent quality of ‘Love Can Take You Places’.

Love Can Take You Places by Lemon is self-released.

Categories
ambient electronic pop

Velvet Desert Music #2

Another compilation. While I normally listen to podcasts and my own playlists when I’m on the move, being in quarantine at home makes me long for selections by others. Since I don’t like Spotify and Bandcamp still doesn’t offer a playlist option (what is wrong with you guys!?), I’ve been turning to compilations and mixes.

Now, the best compilations come from Kompakt. The record label from Cologne has some long-running series: Total, Pop, Ambient. The quality is always high. I love the label. It released some of the best electronic music tracks and my top 10 of best dance tracks ever is filled with Kompakt stuff. I wrote about them in 2013 in The Quietus (read it here).

But when they announced a new compilation series called Velvet Desert, I was sceptical. Desert? Really? I mean, I’ve lived in Cologne for a couple of years, and I still have a lot of different associations with the city. Desert isn’t one of them. Since I believed that Kompakt and Cologne are like ying and yang, I had a tough time figuring out how to fit in heat, drought and sand.

Well, I have this habit of overthinking stuff. Sorry about that.

With Velvet Desert, Kompakt wants to bring together contemporary electronic music that combines elements of rock, folk, country, surf, krautrock and psychedelics. Announcing the first edition, compiler Jörg Burger described the essence like this:

“Just think…from Sergio Leone to David Lynch, from Elvis in his deepest moments to Johnny Cash somewhere between amphetamine backlash and American Songs, from Hollywood Babylon to Hotel California, from Mulholland Drive to Paris, Texas. Served with a pinch of Tago Mago and Pink Floyd at Pompeii. Then you know exactly what Velvet Desert Music is about…”

Totally get Jörg’s idea, but I still had some concerns. That’s my flaw, sometimes I need some time to adjust to new situations.

With this second instalment, I’m ready to embrace Jörg’s concept, although I still think the music on this compilation would do a great job as the soundtrack for a space-age western. Music-wise, this collection of slow and electronic excursions into folk, krautrock, psychedelics and world music is really nice. Starting off with ‘Not So Far Away’ by Michael Mayer, a slow moody track with an incredible bass sound, it sets an atmosphere of detachment, submission and fernweh.

All of the fourteen entries are great, but the ones by Michael Mayer, Sascha Funke (dub blending with 80s guitar prog) and Lake Turner/WEM/Hand (the only faster song: sort of Neu!-like indie glam-rock) and Pluramon (what La Düsseldorf would sound like in 2020) are amazing.

Maybe the combination Kompakt, Köln and desert isn’t so strange after all.

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Velvet Desert Music #2, compiled by Jörg Burger, is released by Kompakt.

Categories
pop rock

My Friend Peter – Speak

The first thing I thought when I heard ‘Whitening’, the first single from Speak? This is the best pop song in years! And after I tried to put my emotions into intelligent words (I’m a former snobby music journalist after all): ‘Whitening’ is the hybrid baby of early 80s Rush and Talk Talk. Okay, with a little bit of 70s prog rock during the break. And a bit of Gary Numan.

Well, that sounds great, doesn’t it? The best period of Rush meets Talk Talk, one of the best pop gems ever. And it really sounds like that, won’t you agree?

Meet Benedikt Brands from Graz in Austria. A multi-instrumentalist and musical talent on so many levels. He plays in the High Brain, a psychedelic rock band. My Friend Peter is his solo project. He debuted in 2014 with Take A Look On The Other Side, a psychedelic pop album influenced by the 60s. Pink Floyd and Beatles aren’t far away on his second effort Entre les Trous de la Mémoire (2015) and the third one Is It Severe? (2016).

Nice albums, but the first weird pop tunes – blending different styles, taking influences from all kind of genres – are present on In Between (2017). The brilliant ‘Kraut in the Kitchen’ for example, where Benedikt blends krautrock with 60s beat, groovy funk-jazz and popcorn. Absolutely mental.

But Speak is on a different level. Because of a lot of different things. The sound of the bass, being one of them. That could be the most important, because it holds this album together. Benedikt searches for so many different takes on psychedelic pop music on this album that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of common ground. But then there is the bass. There is always the bass. Groovy, a bit funky. Always there. The bass.

That isn’t a surprise. His father is a double-bass player in a symphonic orchestra, his mother is a violin teacher. Benedikt plays nearly all instruments on Speak, recorded the album in his home studio, mixed it in Rio Studios, Vienna. Robert Neubauer did the mastering at Robotonstudio in Vienna. I was talking about a lot of different things that make this album brilliant? The warm, fuzzy production is also one of them.

Then there are the insane songs, their structure, melody, breaks. Single ‘Whitening’ isn’t the only jawbreaking song. ‘Intermission/Transition’ could have easily been an ultracool Stereolab song. The 10-minute pop song ‘Music to Go Anywhere’ is funky as hell (that bass!) and reminds me of the more psychedelic side of Blur.

Excellent tunes. Great album. Please make ‘Whitening’ the summer pop hit of 2020.

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Speak by My Friend Peter is released by Numavi Records.

Categories
electronic film pop

Hunter Complex – Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

Yesterday evening Hunter Complex streamed a live show from his studio to promote his new album Dead Calm and Zero Degrees. The performance showed the difference between this fourth one and the others: Hunter Complex is in control.

That sounds cryptic, doesn’t it?

Let me explain.

Lars Meijer started out as an ambient electronic music producer. He co-founded the influential Narrominded record label in Haarlem and debuted in 2009 as Hunter Complex with the 80s oriented electropop mini-album ‘Here is the Night’. References were Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Japan. Since then, Hunter Complex evolved in a much more sophisticated blend of different 70s and 80s styles of synthesizer-driven music, ranging from bubblegum pop to yacht rock, electro-pop to film soundtracks. Along the way, Meyer stopped using vocals.

Last years Open Sea was a blend of sultry, intelligent and bittersweet pop music. It was, as Simon Reynolds would call it, music that misremembers the 80s. A, no the best soundtrack for a rerun of Miami Vice in 2019. The album is a monument of desire for a decade in which everybody believed in a better future.

His new album Dead Calm and Zero Degrees sounds different: the longing for a past that never existed is gone. Instead, the album is a soundtrack for an alternative reality that isn’t so much rooted in the 70s, 80s or 90s. One aspect is the way Meijer uses analogue and digital synthesizers from all those decades interchangeably. But that isn’t the essence. His music could still sound aesthetically like the 80s, right?

Well, it doesn’t.

His performance last night showed a remarkable difference with previous shows. Instead of playing with classic movies from the 70s and 80s on the background, Lars played the movies on the foreground, him infiltrating in the images themselves as a spectre haunting them. Maybe you’ll think it is far fetched, but for me, that is a huge turning point in Hunter Complex’s aesthetics: instead of being haunted by the spectres of the past, Hunter Complex now haunts the spectres. That’s the control part I mentioned earlier.

Hence, there is no nostalgia anymore in this new work. 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.

Dead Calm and Zero Degrees by Hunter Complex is released by Burning Witches Records.

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Categories
electronic pop rock

Deutsche Ashram – Whisper Om

In the early 1970s, kosmische rock acts like Ash Ra Temple and Amon Duül organized their own ashrams, modelled after Indian examples, in the rural areas of West Germany. The ashrams were ascetic and spiritual places that offer room for meditation, yoga, experimentations with music and drugs. By creating an open space, they offered a way out of western society,

Are Merinde Verbeek and Ajay Saggar referring to these havens of consciousness with the name of their Deutsche Ashram project? Fact is that the music on their two albums sounds like a soundtrack of a world that is embracing the blend of the individual and the cosmic body. The basis is the shoegaze like indie pop that Verbeek already experimented with in her former band Mineral Beings. Sagger, of King Champion Sounds, adds deeper layers of psychedelic and cosmic instrumentation, without drifting too far from the shoegaze sound.

The combination of Verbeek’s airy vocals and Sagger’s walls of sounds works well. On second album Whisper Om the duo is drifting from Cocteau Twins like shoegaze over Ummagumma Pink Floyd to early 1990s Madchester meets My Bloody Valentine in the excellent ‘Slackjaw’.

Oh, and don’t forget to admire the beautiful artwork. An extra reason to buy the vinyl (the other being able to use your pitch and play the songs on all kinds of different speeds).

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Whisper Om by Deutsche Ashram is out now on Wormer Bos Records.

Categories
electronic pop

Fluqx – Monolith

At the end of last year, the duo Fluqx released a couple of independent songs. Next month there will be a debut album: Monolith.

Fluqx is Joel Krozer & Brian Della Valle. Both met in a studio where they recorded independently. Krozer is a known Danish producer, mostly working for film and commercials. Della Valle’s Of The Valley is a moody and intimate singer-songwriter project.

The combination works well. Della Valle’s fragile voice intensifies Krozer’s cranky and glitchy electronics. It’s like Weval and Boards of Canada meet.

Latest released song ‘Vanishing Point’ is the best so far: slow, glitchy, moody driven by a deep bassline and eighties synths. The song, beginning and ending with a dark piano line, could break down any time, but you know it won’t: the instability of all the different elements is also its stability.

‘Vanishing Point’ has a melancholic quality that isn’t purely nostalgic. The German word ‘Fernweh’ suits better: the song makes you long for a place and time that never existed. The accompanying video animated by Alex Dubrocard and shot by Joel Kroz captures that feeling in a beautiful way.

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Monolith by Fluqx will be released by hfn.

Categories
pop rock

We Are The City – RIP

One of the most intense pop albums of the last decade was Violent by We Are The City. The music of the Canadian trio sounded like a blend of Coldplay, Mogwai and MGMT. Sounds like nothing else, right? Make sure to check the accompanying Norwegian-language feature film.

Their fifth album, just released on the Vienna based label Sinnbus (for Europe), is a bit more introvert and poppy, but as intense. The trio went back to Kelowna – where Cayne McKenzie, Andrew Huculiak and David Menzel spent their youth and started the band – and recorded the album.

RIP is probably style-wise their broadest album. ‘You’re so Clean’ sounds like a blend between a power-pop song and, melody-wise, a seventies Thin Lizzy song. First single ‘Killer B-Side Music’ starts out like an Elton John ballad but explodes in the middle. Make sure to check the beautiful video that accompanies the song.

In February and March, We Are The City is touring through Europe. Dates are over here.

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RIP by We Are The City is released by Sinnbus.

Categories
pop

Ella van der Woude – Sol Mineur

In two weeks the album Sol Piano by Ella van der Woude will be released by Snowstar Records. We know Ella for her more poppy electronics. She released an album as part of the band Houses in 2011 and made a cool triphop EP as ELLA in 2016.

Sol Piano is different: Ella recorded the album in her apartment in Amsterdam mainly using her piano. The result is abstract yet close, intimate yet distant.

The first teaser singles are beautiful. The video for the latest, ‘Sol Mineur’, is shot in Switzerland, her second home, and matches well with the serenity of the song. Looking very much forward to the whole album.

Sol Piano by Ella van der Woude will be released in a couple of weeks by Snowstar Records.