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
ambient electronic

Applescal – Diamond Skies

There are so many layers to discover on Diamond Skies.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In a way, Applescal is the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance. Like his other records, Diamond Skies lacks the strong melancholic element of Cologne ambient scene (The Field, Popnoname) but is full of grand gestures. The optimism and directness of James Holden are never far away. The trance influence takes the edge off. It never becomes sentimental, like for example Nathan Fake’s ‘The Sky was Pink’ does.

Applescal is Amsterdam based producer Pascal Terstappen and Diamond Skies, released on this own Atomnation record label, is his sixth album. This one is his most coherent and direct.

That’s the second layer.

The album sounds like dancing on a house festival somewhere in the woods near Amsterdam while the sun is fading away into the night but still feels warm on your skin. It makes you long for those golden moments. The moments you become the rave and the rave becomes you. Terstappen captured that feeling all too well. Maybe on purpose, because he finished Diamond Skies in Covid-19 lockdown.

In that sense, this a nostalgic album. Well, let’s replace nostalgic by the German word Fernweh. It’s not so much the longing for what once was (house festival in the woods, etc etc) but for what we’ve lost and eventually will get back if we’re lucky. The mood on Diamond Skies is that of longing for an alternative reality where we are still able to dance, watch the sun disappear, sip cold white wine, dance some more, and witness a beautiful sunset.

That makes me both sad and happy. That’s layer three.

Playing Diamond Skies loud on my stereo makes me long for a summer full of dance parties so much, but also makes me feel like I’m there. Opening tracks ‘Incognitana’ and ‘Legobeats’, played on high volume, suck you in and drown you in rave aesthetics. The subtle piano chords, playful synths and clouds of ambient melodies are incredible addictive.

Diamond Skies might be the most coherent and direct Applescal album, it is also his most sophisticated. Beneath the superficial and linear structure of the tracks, hides a moody and strong sentiment.

Come to think of it, maybe Diamond Skies is Fernweh because it emotionally connects to the best house party you’ve ever been to, and that might well be one that you’ve only imagined in your dreams.

This is an album for dreamers.

Diamond Skies by Applescal is released by Atomnation.

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

KROOKS FIFTEEN

Party in Amsterdam!

KROOKS celebrates its first fifteen releases with this free compilation. A great way of getting to know the records label that started out earlier this decennium as a bold adventure by three friends to integrate electronic music culture with new ways of telling stories.

Although KROOKS magazine – with short, inspiring stories about contemporary issues with a call to action in the last sentence – and the KROOKS events – always a cool program on a special location – became popular in the city, both ended after a year of hard work and not earning enough to sustain high quality. In my opinion, KROOKS peaked too soon. The concept would flourish in the new culture of the 2020s.

The output of the record label has been stable since the early days (2015, right?), giving a voice to the emerging new kind of downtempo and lounge-like initiatives in the city.

This compilation is a good overview of the recent developments in the scene. The diversity is great, but all tracks included have that KROOKS-feel to it. It’s hard to describe what that is.

Let’s give a try: a slightly positive attitude with dark edges and a spiritual feel laced with downtempo beats and lush basses.

Something like that.

Best examples on this compilation? The moody and slow ‘Coyote de Arena’ by Absentune, the faster and playfully exciting ‘Supernova’ by SpaceAgePoetry (the beautiful spoken word in Dutch) and Dialogue (the production), the dreamy ambient pop of Arjuna Schiks’ ‘Mahesvari’, and the jazzy house of ‘Pink & Orange Sky’ by label co-founder Satori.

Leaves eleven more fine examples of the contemporary downtempo sound of Amsterdam. Although, there are also contributions from Nijmegen, Manchester, Buenos Aires and Mexico City on here.

Maybe it’s time to extend the solid musical basis of KROOKS to an event or even a publication to propagate the open and progressive nature.

Oh, wait…

Fifteen is released by KROOKS Records.

Categories
electronic

Jordan GCZ – Space Songs EP

One of my favourite techno acts of the past two decades is Juju & Jordash. The two producers from Amsterdam possess the ability to make new music sound like old, and old music like new in a way that the result always has that authentic vibe. Their live-sets are amongst the best I’ve had experienced in my thirty-year life as electronic music adept/raver. Making them the poster boys od Dekmantel.

Both are also producing solo material. While Gal Aner (Juju) is working together with others a lot, Jordan Czamanski is quite busy as Jordan GCZ releasing a new 12″ at least every year. His style is in line with that of Juju & Jordash: open, lush, raw.

Jordan has the ability to strip music to its essence: a beat, a loop, a synth melody. That is the start of all his tracks. By adding new layers he is adding more soul and emotions. Perfection isn’t a goal here: his music always had this imperfect, raw vibe.

Space Song EP, released on the Future Times label based in Washington DC, is no exception. The five songs on this release embody the essence of techno: feel one with the machine. The ten minutes of ‘Half-Time’ lead the way: this is techno that is not trapped in a space-time vacuum but just is. The lushness of the beats, dominant open bassline, meandering synths: this is what techno embodies. Electronic music doesn’t get any better.

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Space Song EP by Jordan GCZ will be released by Futures Times on April 3rd.

Categories
electronic

Sounds from the Rocking Chair

One of the coolest and most interesting labels from Amsterdam is already going strong for over a decade: Moving Furniture is a haven for qualitative experimental, mostly digital music.

The back catalogue is impressive: most known experimental composers and musicians in The Netherlands released their music on the label. Owner Sietse van Erve is a key figure in Amsterdam’s experimental electronic music scene.

It isn’t easy to keep up such an effort in the current musical landscape. A lot of labels are struggling and have a difficult time. At the end of last year, Van Erve announced a successful crowdfunding campaign. He also asked musicians for help. This compilation is the result. Twentyfour musicians contributed to Sounds from the Rocking Chair. Most of them teamed up in pairs and composed new music dedicated to the campaign.

The result is one of the coolest compilations of mostly Dutch experimental electronics. Resulting in over sixty minutes of cutting-edge ambient, noise, drones, modular synthesizers, modern classical and mixtures of all of these genres. Making Sounds from the Rocking Chair also an excellent introduction into the world of Moving Furniture.

Personal favourites? The ice-cold collaboration between Radboud Mens and BJ Nilsen, and the gloomy ‘Piano Music Redux’ by Freiband and Orphax (label owner Van Erve himself). But every track on this compilation is worth a listen.

The successful crowdfunding already led to a beautiful release by Tongues of Mount Meru. Make sure to check it out on Bandcamp.

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Sounds from the Rocking Chair is released by Moving Furniture.