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.

Categories
rock

Avery Plains + We Are Joiners

Groningen is the Seattle of The Netherlands.

The city is known for its alternative music culture. Vera is one of the oldest and probably the coolest Dutch music club. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a haven for indie culture. All the cool national and international bands played shows there for all the cool kids. Double cool. Although it suffered from the changing live concert policies by MOJO (part of Clear Channel) in the early 2000s to only program one or two shows by international bands preferably in the Amsterdam region, Vera managed to stay relevant.

It is not a coincidence that Subroutine Records, the leading Dutch indie label, was founded in Groningen. The label gave a face to the rising New Dutch Indie scene. With pioneers The Sugarettes and Nikoo, both from Eindhoven, the scene skyrocketed in the late 2000s. In the 2010s it established a network of independent labels like Narrominded, Geertruida, Snowstar, Smikkelbaard and more. New exciting bands emerged from Maastricht to Groningen, and from Goes to Enschede.

In January 2017 indie culture took over pop club Paradiso in Amsterdam for 24 hours and over a 100 Dutch indie acts. The festival’s name was Van Onderen: from the bottom (up). Traditional media like Vice’s Noisey had a hard time dissing the festival (writing about a cult, sect and church of indie) and failed miserably.

Back to Groningen.

Two acts from the local indie scene just released new material. Avery Plains is a so-called supergroup: its members used to play in bands like Dandruff, Moonlizards, Meindert Talma and Audiotransparant. The band debuted on Subroutine, made a first album and were the support act for Dinosaur Jr. Their second SoOn has just been released on Flat Plastix. In the press sheet, the band mentions Swervedriver and Wipers and driving a rusty Ford Mustang in search of lost love.

Great metaphor and pretty accurate. SoOn is the soundtrack for an alternative reality where time doesn’t exist. Dusty roads and rusty muscle cars are everywhere and love is only an excuse to keep on driving. Interrupted for a half-warm beer in a shady truckstop. I could wander there forever.

Musically Avery Plains is a colourful blend of all edges of indie rock from the late 1980s and early 1990s. A bit of early Screaming Trees, Swervedriver, The Feelies, Kitchens of Distinction and The Afghan Whigs. Absolutely love the noisy guitars and crusty vocals. The twin guitars (and flanger) in ‘A Song of my Own Rising’ are magical. Reminds me of, well, drinking a half-warm beer in a shady truckstop.

In many ways, the debut ep Carriers is the opposite of SoOn. We Are Joiners are two lads recording their songs in the bedroom with just a Boss BR1180 recorder, cheap microphone and guitar with nylon strings. Sounds like early 1990s Sabadoh and has that typical slacker atmosphere. No Ford Mustang here, but a bicycle with a flat tire. And it’s beautiful. Three out of four tracks are under two minutes and sound raw, fresh and lively. Love it.

Funny detail: the duo is now working on their second ep that will be mastered by Pim van Werken, who wrote the underground diss in Noisey. Luckily he is a better producer than a writer ;- )

SoOn by Avery Plains is released by Flat Plastix, Carriers by We Are Joiners is released independently.

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
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
rock

Lewsberg – In This House

The indie-rock scene in The Netherlands is thriving, especially near the west coast of Holland. The Rotterdam based band Lewsberg debuted in 2018 on Subroutine. This second long-player is self-released. Things didn’t change much. In This House is an uncomfortable collection of minimalistic indie songs. And I love it.

The band is named after Robert Loesberg, a Dutch poet and writer that was part of De Zestigers, a group of artists coming of age in the late sixties. Loesberg wrote poems for the magazine Bijster, columns for the infamous Propria Cures (a radical Amsterdam student magazine) and published one novel – Enige Defecten. Loesberg was highly talented but struggled with addiction, anti-social behaviour and life in general. He died at 46 in his house in The Hague.

The music of Lewsberg sounds like to soundtrack to Loesberg’s life. It’s minimalistic, a tiny bit out-of-tune, rushed and in way unfinished. The lyrics are tiny masterpieces, more spoken than sung with a deliberate accent, about the ordinary things in life. Musically Lewsberg draws from Velvet Underground, early The Modern Lovers, Television and Japan.

But in essence, Lewsberg embodies a typical Dutch feeling that is also manifest in a lot of Dutch literature, from Slauerhoff to W.F. Hermand and early Joost Zwagermans to Thomas van Aalten: having absolutely no fucking clue what you are (supposed to be) doing.

I love Lewsberg.

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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
rock

Pink Cigs – Pink Cigs

Riffs. Beards. Nostalgia.

That’s Pink Cigs from Sheffield. The self-titled debut sounds like it has been recorded in 1971, but the album definitely doesn’t sound retro or pastiche.

Yes, the influence of early heavy rock is crystal clear.

Black Sabbath. Blue Cheer. A bit of early Purple.

But there is more. The production of Pink Cigs is raw and direct. Then there is the intensity of the records. Reminds a bit of Monster Magnet’s Spine of God: this is a band that doesn’t hold back and goes all the way. Like this is the last thing they’ll ever do.

In Exposed Magazine Pink Cigs describes themselves as “Picture the toilet bowl after Sabbath, Deep Purple and James Gang went for a big stinking curry at Balti King… That’s us!”

Classic riff rock and Indian food? Does it get any better?

This debut is a must for lovers of the classic riffs, early New Wave of Heavy Metal and raw psychedelic and early stoner rock.

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Pink Cigs by Pink Cigs is out now.