Blog

Best Of 2019

Is it too late for a roundup of my favourite albums of 2019? I’m actually glad I waited so long, because a very good album from last year only recently came on to my radar.

Here’s my selection of records I highly recommend listening to, if you don’t already know them.

Tandem Felix: Rom-Com

While everyone kept raving about the latest Wilco release Ode To Joy, I’d like to make sure, this sort of like-minded band from Dublin gets some attention: Tandem Felix is the project of David Tapley, a subtle singer-/songwriter who is giving insights into his and other people’s life. It’s kind of downhearted but witty, filled with splendid melodies and a quality of mellow comfort. In-between showing moments of a slacker attitude and some psycherock tendency with the song “Oil Money”. Surprisingly, Rom-Com is a debut full-length. You wouldn’t expect that, because it shows a very fine and thought through production. The arrangements are meticulous and the song collection is cohesive. And most of all: I can listen to it every day without getting tired of it. Also, worth mentioning is the well-chosen artwork by French surrealist Guy Billout. It perfectly reflects the oeuvre of Tandem Felix.

Vanishing Twin: The Age Of Immunology

Well known for their lead single “Magician’s Success” which comes with a space pop vibe à la Stereolab meets Broadcast, Vanishing Twin have way more to offer. Seeing the band live in early December 2019 in Hamburg was mind-blowing. Percussionist Valentina Magaletti impressed with a versatile playing and obviously enjoyed keeping the group together with her jazzy shuffles, shouting commands to her three international colleagues on bass, guitar and vintage keys. Vanishing Twin are a genre bending affair and nothing like the usual indie outfit. They are modern visionaries taking a different approach in every track: old film scores, psychedelic krautrock, melodic art pop and jazzy soundscapes. The Age Of Immunology takes the listener on to an exciting adventure.

Cate Le Bon: Reward

I always liked Cate Le Bon. Her songs sometimes are kind of strange – but in a beautiful, haunting way. And after all these years, the Nico comparison still lingers on. Not only the light and dark tone of Le Bon’s voice and her Welsh accent reminds of the German singer, it’s also embodied in the artistic self-image. With a credo like: show courage and never confine your sound and vision. The music on Reward isn’t trying to please the mainstream, it’s experimental and playful. But there’s also a pop- and folk-feel and there’s always a connection between the composition and the emotion. It’s open-minded and passionate and with this combination, Cate Le Bon creates songs that sound like nothing else. She’s also an awe-inspiring producer and responsible for the slick production of Deerhunter’s latest album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? It was a pretty good year for Cate Le Bon and she’s definitely one of the most exciting artists of 2019.

Doug Tuttle: Dream Road

I fell in love with Doug Tuttle’s songwriting a few years back when he started with his psychedelic band project Mmoss. But then he started recording songs alone in his bedroom studio and he got better with every release. On his fourth solo album Dream Road, multi-instrumentalist Tuttle perfected his elegant nostalgia-soaked sound. His vocals are quite hazy, but with full of emotive lyrical content. And although this downer pop moves into delicate grounds, it’s soothing and hopeful. The fragile harmonies are hypnotic, deep and warm. Doug Tuttle’s songwriting recalls all the lost good moments of late 60s and early 70s pop with a haunting touch of psyche and Americana. I have found myself returning to this beautiful record a lot last year and it keeps on spinning on my turntable.

Kiwi jr: Football Money

This fantastic record was released in March 2019 and re-released earlier this year on a label from Leipzig (Germany) called Persona Non Grata – I still remember Persona Non Grata from the 90s, when they started out as a low-key Fanzine, covering all the Indie rock bands I was into at that time. And here’s the thing: Kiwi jr from Canada just as well could have been your favourite act from the 90s. Every track on Football Money sounds familiar: there are jangly guitars and beatific melodies. Catchy hooks and choruses to sing along are combined with a great sense of humour. It’s this kind of nonchalance we fell in love with listening to Orange Juice or Pavement. A ferocious feel-good energy is running through the veins of this debut album. It’s astute and not too calculating in referring to all the familiar sounds. It’s fun! And I hope there’s more to come from Kiwi jr.

Further records I really enjoyed in 2019:

Pernice Brothers: Spread The Feeling

Lens Mozer: Don’t Stop

Max Gowan: Bygones 

Sunbeam Sound Machine: Goodness Gracious 

Froth: Duress

2019 was a pretty decent year for music and it looks like 2020 is going to be a good one too! Stay tuned…

13th February 2020

Barczewski

The ground under your feet is always shifting and the world around you is changing faster than ever. Maybe it’s best to welcoming the uncertain and the unknown, just like Barczewski is doing in her latest recordings.

Born in Poland, grown up in Düsseldorf and now working and living in London since 2006, Manuela Barczewski is the kind of artist who’s feeling at home in many places and is yet still interested in discovering new paths. In the past years, she’s been searching for new ventures, exploring the grounds beyond the comfort zone and kept on re-finding herself as a composer.

The current project started as a duo in the summer of 2017 with multi-instrumentalist James McLean. He was a valuable companion on cello for jamming and experimenting with sounds. Without putting pressure on taking the songwriting in any particular direction, the project carried itself naturally and instinctively with improvising ideas coming first and then structure later. “We developed this kind of patchwork method”, Manuela Barczewski explains, “listening back to our improvised sessions, we simply picked out the highlights and tried putting all the pieces back together on a reasonable basis.”

This musical partnership of Barczewski/McLean and their unconventional approach of composing music worked well. But a year into the project, James McLean decided to move to Vietnam. In only two days, they recorded a couple of tracks in Manuela Barczewski’s home, supervised by sound engineer Amir Shoat. Thereafter, Manuela was in charge to work with the recorded material. In March 2019, she went to the recording studio of Guy Sternberg in Berlin with drummer Sebastian Vogel (Kante, Britta), who put down some slick percussion parts. Back home in London she invited a couple of fine voices (Charlotte Law, Sebastian Bürkner and Tom Woolner) to blend a touch of choir into the mix.

The finished recordings are now self-released by Barczewski on Bandcamp. It’s a collection of songs with unexpected turns and vibes and with musical references that aren’t easy to pinpoint – in the best possible way.

The Understory creates a somewhat eerie atmosphere. The sound of the cello ebbs and flows to a subliminal percussive pulse. After three minutes, the track takes a different direction with a steady but sparse guitar theme. This could be classic slow-core tune, but The Understory reaches another level and gently unfolds evocative potential by Manuela’s singing, which is emotionally resonant and augmented by the choir in the background.

Another Day has a similar scheme. It also presents a twisted combination and starts off with a background of flowing layers, this time with a fine accentuated rhythm force. Accompanied by a narrative singing style, this song might refer to old blues or folk tunes. But once again, the track takes an unexpected turn and brings in a solid electric bassline. The arrangement still is minimalistic while Manuela’s voice is flirting with the darker side of sonic borderlands.

Red works with a rather conventional song structure. It’s equipped with a repetitive theme and shifting percussive sounds. The leading part here is clearly the melody of Manuela singing about the quality of certain colours. Red – of course – “is revolution”!

What’s Ahead? shows a return to bands like ​Codeine, where the hypnotic guitar part is slow and heavy. Its contemplative quality is embraced by the warm meandering vocals and shows a moment between intimacy and urgency.

Suspicious is strikingly spartan and slow, but a rather powerful piece of music. The gentle ambient texture leaves a lot of space for a slow-building vocal part. This track is a challenging set of self- observations and leaves the listeners with goosebumps.

Barczewski is a master of subtlety and quietude. She’s delivering the right words, dark sounds and emotions for unsettling times like these.

31st January 2020

The Late Pioneers

The Late Pioneers, Close Enough, Bandcamp

I don’t remember how I actually came across The Late Pioneers. I downloaded the We All Knew Biscuits E.P (2018) from Bandcamp a while ago. But somehow the songs slipped through my daily business and got lost in my ever-expanding music library. Until I received a notice the other day that there’s a new release from The Late Pioneers. And this time, the band immediately got my full attention.
It’s easy to connect with this new collection of songs released under the title Close Enough: there are plenty of splendid melodies and the way they harmonise sound very familiar. All topped up with chiming guitars and a neat lo-fi approach. Also, there are different singers and songwriters in the band, each bringing in a distinctive style and approach into the band. We all know about the benefits of having three singer/songwriters in a guitar band, right?

The Late Pioneers are four long-time friends, originally from the Manchester area. Because they ended up living in various parts of England, they only get together once or twice a year to record some music at someone’s home. It’s clearly a labour of love. You can hear they are having fun getting together, swapping instruments all the time while recording all sorts of songs. Thankfully, they share this music straight away on Bandcamp (occasionally accompanied by a quick video for YouTube) for everyone to enjoy this creative outcome. Of course The Late Pioneers are no leading innovators in the field of hand-made indie guitar music. They are clearly influenced from a broad range of musical directions. Not in a contrived or copied manner, but with fresh authenticity.

From the past five years, there are numerous releases to check out on Bandcamp. And further more to dig into: several side-projects like Autopia, Combo Ribs and The Separates. I’d recommend to start with The Pinetop Sauna because they also have a knack for three-part harmonies and classic guitars. It’s less lo-fi and sounds more American influenced to me. Yes, there’s loads to discover. Hope you enjoy!

11th November 2019


UPDATE

Less than three months later, and The Late Pioneers are now having a CD compilation out via the wonderful people from Subjangle. The album consists of the Close Enough EP from 2019 (tracks 1-7), the Bin Wang album from 2016 (tracks 8-16) and four tracks (17-20) specifically chosen by Julie Fowler (editor of the Colours Through The Air Blog and also one of the co-founders of Subjangle). It’s well deserved, that this great music finally gets a proper physical release!

31st January 2020

Reeperbahn Festival 2019

Sasami live in concert @Knust Hamburg Festival

It’s that time of the year again: the famous Kiez of St. Pauli buzzing with sounds, words and music fans during the 14th edition of the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg. Four festival days packed with numerous talks, awards and meetings – Same procedure as last year? The answer is both yes and no.


Taking part at the annual RBF almost feels like a very pleasant class reunion: meeting up with dear old friends I only get see once a year like Dino, who works for Redeye Distribution in Berlin or my dear colleague Alice from Aachen. She runs the fabulous blog Offbeat Music and also cares for music in her radio shows for ByteFM and NovumFM. And of course, there’s loads of music to hear and to discover! Sometimes too much at once with 90 venues on board for 600 shows. Not really a bad thing, right?

W.H. Lung

I wasn’t at all familiar with the first band I watched on Wednesday evening and had no idea what to expect. W.H. Lung hail from Manchester, played as a five piece and mix several goods from the 70ties to 90ties: some kind of motorik synthie-pop, combined with a shoegaze guitar sound and a slight dark wave attitude. Imagine Stone Roses married to Neu! while flirting with Joy Division. It was a wild combination, groovy and forceful. The lanky singer of W.H. Lung exposed some versatile skills in body balance while his bare feet showed a daring collection of colourful toenails.

Bobby Oroza

Another flamboyant detail popped up later this evening when the Finnish soul singer Bobby Oroza played his showcase at Angie’s Nightclub. He presented his soul-soaked tunes in a matching wardrobe from head to foot with classy dark suit, pocket square and shiny black shoes. All topped up with magenta-coloured socks! Oroza’s handsome appearance and sentimental sound may feel like being caught in a long-lost time warp, but that’s fine. His heartfelt crooning was perfectly harmonized, relaxed and comforting, sometimes refined with jazzy guitar chops and an up-tempo rhythm section. At one point he apologized: “I only got love songs. I hope that’s alright?”. No doubt about it, Bobby Oroza’s a humble artist with exceptional style and talent.

Sasami

Thursday for me at the Reeperbahn Fest was a bit of a dilemma. Three showcases I wanted to see shared the same time slot. Bummer! In the end I chose Sasami and I think this was a pretty good decision. The classically trained indie-songwriter Sasami Ashworth is anything but ordinary. She’s an artist making her own way and transformed her songs to an inspiring live experience as a trio. Sometimes I worried her long hair might get tangled up between the strings of her guitar. Her performance was raw and powerful with a refreshing and healthy “fuck this!” attitude. Sasami never intended to please the crowd. But she’s on a mission and she cares for female empowerment. Again and again she mentioned the hashtag #empoweringwoman. Right on! Some people in the audience were overwhelmed, if not disturbed by her statements, and she obviously touched a raw nerve.

And here’s the thing: The Reeperbahn Festival signed up to Keychange, an international initiative who cares about gender equality in the music industry. This year’s line-up was indeed progressive, lots of female artists included like Sasami from California and her excellent female rhythm section. But the harsh truth is: the venue for her was only half-filled and the audience mostly male. Sasami definitely deserved better.

The Stroppies Melbourne live in concert @ Molotow Hamburg RBF#19

The Stroppies

My next musical highlight happened on Friday, shortly after midday. Australia was this year’s focus country and thankfully not only big names like Feist were thrown into the festival field, also the less known Indiepop act The Stroppies played two shows.

The stage at Molotow for The Stroppies was tiny and the PA system wasn’t the best. Nevertheless, the four-piece from Melbourne managed to play an enjoyable and charismatic set of old school jangly guitar tunes. I quite liked the enthusiasm of the drummer, who sang along all the time although he had no mike. The bass player was super cool and her deadpan vocals added a light post-punk feel in to the mix while the other singer changed between strumming the guitar or dealing with the vintage keyboard. Sometimes on his knees and with his head on the keys. Above all, it was fun and fresh. The Stroppies finished off with delights and the brooding vibe of Cellophane Car – this alone was already worth doing the festival trip to Hamburg! But hold on, there was more good stuff to follow.

Penelope Isles

When the Brighton quartet Penelope Isles released their debut album on Bella Union this year, I worshipped a few tracks. But live, they were incredibly impactful and impressive. With up to four voices in the mix, Penelope Isles presented a super tight and powerful performance of harmony-laden indie rock galore and beyond. The band acted like a solid unit, easily managed to shift between instruments and genres. Maybe it’s because the two singers and songwriters are brother and sister – it’s a family affair with a deeper understanding for sonic aesthetics and expression. Their song Gnarbone ended up as a ten-minute adventure of captivating heavy psyche-rock dynamics. At some point the track ended, but suddenly they start again and the audience just went crazy. It was one of these special goosebumps’ moments, a rare treat in live music these days.

Thank you Penelope Isles and thank you Reeperbahn Festival 2019. It was a real pleasure again.

 

27th September 2019

Best of 2018

Best Of 2018 Shy Boys The Fernweh Lake Ruth Teenage Fanclub Ari Roar Tony Molina

I listen to an awful lot of music every day, it’s my job and responsibility as a radio presenter. But most of all, it’s a labour of love digging out interesting stuff, making new discoveries in all directions. The end of the year makes me think of my ultimate favourite tunes, which is never an easy thing to do. However, here’s some kind of a Best Of list with some records and artists I especially enjoyed in 2018.

Adrianne Lenker – “Abysskiss” (Saddle Creek)

Some of you are probably familiar with Lenker as a guitarist and vocalist in Brooklyn-based indie rock band Big Thief. Her full-length solo record is a stripped-down singer-/songwriter approach and with this, she’s covering intimate emotions on her stroll along the abyss. In a way it’s hauntingly intense, but nevertheless comfort for your soul. Adrianne Lenker shows a subtle, otherworldly brilliance with her light fingerpicking on acoustic guitar while her songs are thoughtful, deep and poignant. And with this combination, there’s a true affinity to other outstanding artists like Judee Sill or Connie Converse.

 

Ari Roar – “Calm Down” (Bella Union)

Sometimes it’s true: great art comes from great pain. Adrianne Lenker has quite a history with being born into a religious cult and she almost died, when a railroad spike crashed her skull as a kid. And she managed to create something special in the wake of the tragedy, just like Caleb Campbell alias Ari Roar. The Texan singer-songwriter struggled with panic attacks from early on. As a late teenager, he had an operation on the spine, which left him bed-bound for months. Of course, these experiences have an impact. And in this case, he’s doing the best by channelling it into beautiful melodic lo-fi pop. The sweet miniatures on Calm Down might sound effortlessly in the first place, but there’s something else underneath the surface, with traces of doubts and fear. It’s a glorious debut for repeat listens.

 

Clearance – “At Your Leisure” (Topshelf)

This band provides a compelling sound by picking up familiar indie rock in a modern way. They create something fresh and interesting and already got a lot of praise here in my blog. If you like passionate, bright guitar music from the 80ties and 90ties, you should listen to this one.

 

Field Music – “Open Here” (Memphis Industries)

Whenever there’s a new Field Music record, it always ends up in my top ten of the year. Again, the spacious production on Open Here is exquisite, the compositions are intricate and classy. Field Music are ambitious, but they have all the knowledge and the talent to follow their visions. It’s a beautiful and well-crafted record that needs to be heard, because it has something to say. Maybe it’s all a bit too smart to reach the big crowd – but I’m sure the time will eventually come and Field Music get all the praise they deserve.

 

Lake Ruth – “Birds of America” (Feral Child Records)

They like to go under the banner “baroque pop”, but there’s so much more to discover in the music of Lake Ruth: from folk to jazz to avant-pop. I’m a fan of Matt Schulz since his days with Enon – he’s an excellent, versatile drummer. And singer Allison Brice, she has a way of phrasing her poetic lyrics in meandering harmonies like no other. All backed-up by a multi-layered smooth texture with a slight vintage touch. Lake Ruth are quite unique doing their own thing, and Birds of America is nothing less but an awe-inspiring masterpiece.

 

Shy Boys – “Bell House” (Polyvinyl)

Undeniably, these guys know how to sing! And the harmonies all perfectly meld together. It’s a special quality that only happens, when siblings start a band. The family sound is so intriguing because the harmonies are amazingly organic. Music history is filled with such examples and just like Field Music, the Shy Boys are band of brothers, supported by a couple of best friends. I summoned up a rave review earlier this year in my little blog here.

 

Stephen Steinbrink – “Utopia Teased” (Melodic / Western Vinyl)

This singer-/songwriter is a terrific talent. And again, we have an artist here, who knows a lot about the dark stuff in life. Stephen Steinbrink was left devastated after a fateful fire during a warehouse party in Oakland, California that killed 36 people in December 2016. After a couple of months stunned with grief, Steinbrink quit a minimum wage job, locked himself up in a shipping container with all sorts of music equipment, stimulated by a daily diet of LSD. And the songs started pouring out of him. Utopia Teased sounds a bit different, less perfect than his previous records. It’s a bit more daring with field recordings and synthesizers, but again it’s a collection of beautiful songs with substance and a hidden treasure for eternity.

 

Still Parade – “Soon Enough” (Feel Flows)

This is a very fine piece of work from Berlin, but made with love in LA. It feels like Niklas Kramer had a very clear vision for his new Still Parade album and he obviously put a lot of effort and thought into it. It sounds warm like a cozy blanket and puts the listener at ease. Of course, the Beach Boys influence is evident, but in a clever way. Smart harmonies combined with a startling sense of intimacy, and the formidable production brings out a nice vintage flair. It’s the kind of music that makes the world a better place. Sometimes, that’s just what you need.

 

The Fernweh – “The Fernweh” (Skeleton Key)

Yes, I am repeating myself here – I already picked this album for my Best Of list two years ago! Back then, I received a promotional copy from the band directly. Thankfully, it just got a proper release via Skeleton Key because this sublime debut is really exceptional. It’s a beautiful collection of hazy late 60s, early 70s inspired folk and pop, combined with a gentle nod to British psychedelia. Treat yourself & give it a listen, if you’re not already familiar with this. The Fernweh demonstrate an exceptional level of song craft and the record deepens with every listen.

 

Tony Molina – “Kill The Lights” (Slumberland)

Tony Molina is deeply rooted in 60s songwriting and DIY aesthetics. With Kill The Lights, he created a truly glorious pop record by offering 10 tracks in under 15 minutes. His sensitive songs are infectious and short to the point. Just like Ari Roar, Tony Molina is able to put it all into a 60-second song and I never get tired of listening – again and again. This really is a lovely, but as well soul-baring record.

 

Teenage Fanclub – Vinyl-Reissues (Sony)

Why should I be interested into these reissues when I already have all the vinyl of Teenage Fanclub in my collection? Well, guitarist and singer Raymond McGinley of the band explained to me: back in the 90s, the vinyl was just a copy of the CD. But if you want the best vinyl sound, you need a special mastering. That’s basically, what Teenage Fanclub did: they took the original master tapes, worked through all of them at Abbey Road Studios and improved the mastering for this new vinyl edition. And it really does make a difference, especially the new pressing of 1993s Thirteen is now more immediate and has a much better dynamic. Also, each essential album includes a bonus seven-inch single, mostly of tracks which originally appeared only on CD singles and EPs. To promote all these reissues from the Creation era, Teenage Fanclub played a very special concert series in Great Britain. Here’s my review of the nights in Birmingham and London, which also marks my concert highlight of 2018.

 

SUPER 8 – T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies/Turn Around Or…/HI LO (Futureman Rec)

Frequent listeners of my radio show already know about SUPER 8 – Paul Ryan a.k.a. Trip got a lot of airplay in 2018. Not only, because he put out a lovely mix of guitar pop as a one-man-band with all sorts of instruments like cello and trumpet. He also managed to surprise again and again with new top material. Three homemade full lengths were released this year on Futureman Records and it’s hard to pick a favourite album really. Each release is kind of special and filled with a laid-back and sunny charm. Backed up now and again with some thoughtful songs and well-curated cover versions. It looks like SUPER 8 will be back in 2019 with a more acoustic-based album – a thing looking forward to!

23th December 2018

Teenage Fanclub performing the Creation Years

Teenage Fanclub live review Creation Years London Birmingham

I have a lot of love for chiming guitars and music made in Scotland, particularly for Glasgow’s Teenage Fanclub. October 9th in 1990, I was one of nine people in the audience, when the band played their very first gig in Hamburg. A billboard sign outside the Motolow announced “Teenage Fanclub from England”. To make things clear, someone crossed out the term England and wrote Scotland in capital letters. It was a night to remember.

Techno & Tequila

Despite the small crowd, the performance was powerful, the sound quite raw and the hair pretty long(ish). After the show I went to a bar called Sparr and bumped into the crew of young Scotsmen again. Somehow, guitarist and singer Norman Blake spotted my English textbook and started talking to me. I explained to him I had a test in school early next morning and still need to learn some stuff. That night I definitely brushed up my English. But I missed the exam because me and my friend Sonja ended up hanging out with Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley for a few more hours.

There’s no curfew in Hamburg and we cruised up and down the legendary Reeperbahn. We drifted into pubs and bars, danced in a shady techno club, drank way too much tequila, had awful coffee in the morning and played a round of Trivial Pursuit in the tour van before parting ways around midday. At that point I had no idea, that Teenage Fanclub were about to produce some of the finest records ever and that I’d still be friends with them almost three decades later.

Gerry Love Dave McGowan Teenage FanclubFor some reason, Teenage Fanclub have never failed to deliver the quality. They proved to be a cherished constant in turbulent times, survived the ups and downs of the music biz, the era of grunge and Brit-pop by just carrying on doing their own thing. But the idea of celebrating the sublime years and reissues of Creation Records with a three-night concert series seemed very ambitious to me. Some songs never played live before had all to be learned from scratch. Furthermore the original drummers were invited to get back into action. Do they actually still know how to keep the tempo?

On top of all, it was announced that bass player, songwriter and vocalist Gerard Love is parting ways with the band right after this tour. It’s the end of an era, but not the end of Teenage Fanclub. However, there was no way I was going to miss this very last chance to hear the three distinct songwriters performing their irresistible, much loved harmonies.

Blow away the cobwebs

In retrospect, I’m glad I went to the three-night residency in Birmingham and not only to the London shows. The O2 Institute in Birmingham was a mid-sized venue, packed with devoted fans from all over the world and offered a more intimate environment compared to London. The first night was all about Bandwangonesque (1991) and Thirteen (1993) They played both complete albums in the original order, only interrupted for a small break between sets. And when Teenage Fanclub kicked off with The Concept, the magic happened: hearing the spirit of 1991 is like receiving the holy grail. It’s an overwhelming feeling, a throwback into youth and not only a thing of nostalgia: the band sounded better than ever.

Also, it was a joy to see the original drummer from the early years, Brendan O’Hare. He may not be the most formidable percussionist, but he created a great sense of fun and played an unexpected role during this series of concerts. I suppose I wasn’t the only one who went to these shows with mixed feelings. There was a delicate sense of uneasiness in the air knowing Gerard will soon separate from the band for good. Whenever things turned a bit awkward, Brendan had a charming way to deal with it. Like when a small crowd on night two in Birmingham kept singing a slightly annoying version of Haddaways What Is Love for the soon departing Mr. Love, Brendan saved the situation by stepping on stage, frankly saying: “On behalf of the band – shut the fuck up!”.

Goosebumps

Night number two was all about GrandSetlist Teenage Fanclub Prix (1995) and Songs From Northern Britain (1997) and presented the most successful episode of Teenage Fanclub’s back catalogue. Here, we had Paul Quinn back on the drums. He delivered a tight backbone to the songs and enjoyed playing along with his old pals again. But I wondered what it’s like for Francis, having to clear his seat most of the time for Brendan and Paul. Francis MacDonald nearly disappeared in the back behind a pile of instruments and almost secretly added whatever was needed. He filled all gaps by playing along and singing harmonies and showed he’s a pretty versatile all-rounder.

Just like Dave McGowan, who also added some salt into the mix and necessary extras to the sound of Teenage Fanclub. It’s obvious, how much he enjoys playing with this band and how he’s eventually stepping away from acting just in the background.

Hearing the third and final night in Birmingham for me was probably most exciting. I always thought Howdy! (2000) was a hidden gem. Plus, I had no idea what to expect in the second part filled with numerous B-sides. Some surprises and highlights were played and a very emotional moment happened in the end while the band performed the mantra-like ballad Broken – the audience joined in and kept singing on while the music slowly faded out. Just the right amount of goosebumps.

London vs. Birmingham

The three nights in London were magnificent as well, but the huge Electric Ballroom (capacity 1500) was tightly packed and the sound system appeared a bit dodgy. I found myself squeezed in between tall guys who wholeheartedly sang along all the while. They knew every word and had strong voices – I didn’t hear much of the singing coming from stage. Which was fine, really. Another special thing about these Teenage Fanclub shows is seeing, how dedicated and devoted the fans are. There was happiness and passion all around and many broad smiles. The enthusiasm seemed unlimited.

Raymond McGinley Norman Blake Teenage FanclubThe Fanclub-way

While Birmingham had a cover version of Madonna’s Like A Virgin, the London show was finished off with their debut single Everything Flows. And yes, it’s not really a song from their Creations catalogue but it made perfect sense. Choosing this anthem-like tune as a farewell and presenting it in a “charismatic, shambolic Fanclub-way” (to quote Brendan here) seemed appropriate in the context of the event.

Visiting these shows, was a joyous, intense experience. I’ve seen this band countless times in many different stages and cities. But hearing some songs for the first time live was remarkable. It showed again, how much good this music evokes. And that there’s so much more incredible stuff in the Teenage Fanclub back-catalogue. Sidewinder, a song with Brendan on vocals was a true highlight. I had this song in my head for many days. Norman Blake’s very stripped-down acoustic performance of If I Never See You Again was sublime and emotionally resonant. Furthermore, Thaw Me and My Uptight Life by Raymond McGinley were stellar and left a lasting impression on me. I’d love to hear these songs again in the future, when they carry on without Gerard Love. Of course, Gerry’s presence and songs will be deepy missed. But after all, Teenage Fanclub life goes on! For next year, the band announced plenty of tour dates for Asia, Australia, North America and Europe. All German dates in April are supported by my beloved radio station ByteFM. See you there?!

 

4th December 2018

Clearance

Clearance At Your Leisure album review

Thinking about Chicago, the jazz-inspired post-rock scene pops into my mind. Experimental-folk, alt-country and avant-rock delivered by inspiring labels like Touch and Go, Thrill Jockey or Drag City. It goes without question that the city gave a home to burgeoning genres and outstanding talents throughout decades. Nevertheless, I was slightly surprised to hear the band Clearance also hails from Chicago.

The quartet has been around since 2013, but I just discovered them with their sophomore record At Your Leisure (out on Topshelf Records). And this album instantly got me. It sounds to me like a good friend from the 90ties, a comrade I’ve missed far to long. But at first, I wasn’t quite sure where this friend was actually coming from.

That’s because Clearance have a lot of familiarity and expertise to offer: there’s the slacker attitude of Pavement in songs like Destination Wedding or Gallery Glare. Jangly moments taking you back to bright guitar-pop made in Britain. But then again slightly dissonant and complex sounds referring to Sonic Youth. Furthermore, there’s is a good feel of Kiwi-pop in the mix: strumming guitars with breezy tunes full of earworms.

It’s all thrillingly unpredictable what Clearance have to offer and it all sounds pretty organic and easy. And now writing this down, it makes perfectly sense this band is located in Chicago. This place has always been one of the best for innovative and reflective musicians and a good breeding ground for freewheeling indie rock bands – just like Clearance!

22nd October 2018

Reeperbahn Festival 2018

Reeperbahn Festival 2018

Reeperbahn Festival 2018

The Reeperbahn Festival in my hometown Hamburg is always a spectacular event. Drifting along the Kiez of St. Pauli, checking out various live acts in different venues and meeting lots of wonderful people like my dear colleague and friend Alice Peters-Burns (Kaleidoskop/Offbeat) is simply hard to beat. Although it’s not always easy to take a decision on what to do as the four festival days are more than packed: music-related events in the fields of photo exhibitions, literature and films compete with networking events, meetings, award ceremonies, parties and numerous concerts around the Reeperbahn. Of course, I set a focus on seeing live shows. So, here’s a short summary of what I like to share with you.

Anna Burch

Detroit based singer-songwriter Anna Burch played in a venue next to my beloved radio station ByteFM and surprisingly she changed her bob hair into a simple short cut. With this new look she could’ve easily been mistaken for Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos. Only Anna Burch has a different, rather cool charisma. Besides that, she presented her upbeat dreamy slacker-pop with the elegant upright posture of a dancer and did a good job. Everyone seemed happy when the minor hit-single Tea-Soaked Letter resounded by the end of the show.

Halo Maud

Halo Maud live Reeperbahn Festival 2018 Angies's Night Club HamburgAlors mes amis, the music scene of France got some extra attention during this year’s Reeperbahn Festival with exceptional talents like Halo Maud from Paris. Her debut album Je Suis Une Île is a hazy mixture of proggy French pop and psychedelic. It really makes no difference whether Maud Nadal sings in her native tongue French or switches to English. She clearly found a voice of her own and developed a memorable style. Seeing the band live as a four piece, it was more than easy to get into it. The rhythmic power drew you into the songs while the performance created a pleasantly seamless sound experience. Fact is, the dynamic of a show slows down and people’s attention quickly drift off due to re-tuning or change of equipment, but not here: Halo Maud have put some good thoughts into their live set and kept the energy flowing from start to finish.

Okkervil River

Some other extraordinary venues were added this year to the thirteenth edition of the Reeperbahn Festival, beautiful locations with pretty difficult sound qualities: The show of Okkervil River was set up in Hamburg’s largest main church, the Michel. Up to 2500 listeners fit into this place and the reverb of this huge building is just as overwhelming. Therefore simply too much for electrified music! The band tried to adjust and played a stripped-down version of their songs – nevertheless the sound was awfully blurry. Only when frontman Will Sheff wandered amidst the community, singing unplugged to his battered looking acoustic guitar, my ears were delighted.

Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread

I also expected Michaul Nau to play a cosy acoustic set, as his late-night performance was due in the St. Pauli church – but he and his backing band The Mighty Thread played a pretty solid and straightforward show. Compared to the famous Michel, this neighbourhood church is a modest building. Luckily the reverb here was not as harsh and suited well to the rolling organic vibe of Michael Nau. With his crazy hair and reddish full beard, the songwriter from Maryland had the looks of a classical Russian author of the 19th century. But he’s a contemporary master of profound laidback songs. Not sure if the seated situation worked best that night for Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread, but for me it was ideal sitting down at the end of a long festival day and quietly tapping my foot along to the soulful, meandering melodies.

Liza Anne

Liza Anne live review Reeperbahn Festival 2018 @ PrinzenbarAnother good thing about the Reeperbahn Festival: it works without headliners. Only a special guest was shortly revealed on Friday – the British rock band Muse. While they played music for the masses, the real pleasant surprise happened next door at the Prinzenbar. In this dimly lit, tiny little room in Baroque-style I witnessed Liza Anne, a songwriter from Nashville TN. She got on stage with a pink overall and a red beret. Her three band mates all had work clothes in red. And yes indeed, they were hard workers: they played a tight show with a great energy and really nailed it. I walked home thinking that the future of indie rock is definitely female fronted.

Generally, with up to 600 shows in the mix, there’s a lot to see, but also much to miss out. However, it’s a small comfort knowing the Reeperbahn Festival will be back in 2019. Then, the musical focus is set on Australia – another thing looking forward to!

28th September 2018

Shy Boys

Shy Boys Album Review Bell House (2018)

Oh well, I’ve been caught up by too many things and completely neglected my blog – sorry for that! It’s not dead yet. All I needed was a good reason for getting back into the writing business again and here it is, thanks to Shy Boys and their outstanding new album Bell House.

 

My colleagues at ByteFM already described its brilliance in a top-notch review in German. But I have to express my own excitement about this record here for you and for the music geek in all of us. So here we go: Shy Boys are a quintet from Kansas City and I know there are some very fine bands hailing from this area like The ACBs or Ghosty and also The Coctails were once founded at the Kansas City Art Institute before moving to Chicago.

And now we have Shy Boys, five guys singing sweet little, affirmative songs in perfect harmonies and I’m not at all surprised to see, that two bandmembers also play with The ACBs: there’s a similar feel to it in terms of sound and shape. But here on their second album, Shy Boys are taking the notorious indie-pop to a higher level and created nothing but a little masterpiece. It’s all good, from start to finish filled with musically nimble songs.

Of course, it’s easy to pin down some glorious influences: The Beach Boys moments, the sense of harmonic structures from singing in the church – but all this put together in a very gentle, upright and beautiful intimate way – it’s simply hard not to fall for this. While lead songwriter Collin Rausch sings about childhood memories and reflects on mundane things in life, the band creates an atmosphere of creativity and faithfulness, all in the sake of the unspoiled pop experience. I’d say you can hear there’s a quality in all this which only evolves over time when there’s a special connection between all band members. And indeed: Shy Boys is the product of five best friends (two of them brothers) who manage to combine all the soul-feeding harmonies and strong songwriting with an almost natural, effortless touch. It’s a very special thing, please check it out!

23th August 2018

SUPER 8 – Interview

Super 8 Interview Futureman power pop BMX Bandits one-man band

It can be a real challenge, doing research for my radio show about new or less known artists. I’m always curious to know more about the people behind the music and like to pass on some extra details to my bright listeners. These days, you might think, any information is easy to find online. But no: often enough, I have very little to work with.

This was also the case, when I first listened to the fabulous song collection on T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies! by SUPER 8 – there was almost no background information available. But as it happened, I shared direct messages with TRiP, the artist behind SUPER 8 and luckily, he didn’t mind me asking some nosey questions!

 

When did you start playing music? 

I was given a cheap, catalogue guitar when I was a kid and, although it intrigued me, it was more of a prop than an actual working instrument. I got a better guitar when I hit my teens and started to take music-making more seriously from there on in (especially when I realised that music came fairly easily to me!)

Any band projects we should know about?

I was in bands when I was growing up in the North West of England. I would stand in on bass, I even tried to convince myself I was a lead guitarist for a spell but, looking back, it was just a rite of passage …. It wasn’t until I left the North West and moved to Scotland around the turn of the century that I decided I wanted to try and make more of a go of music (which also coincided with me actually singing my songs for the first time – prior to that I had never sung publicly before).

I’d like to know more about the details of your latest album T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies! – Are you a one-man-band (who plays Cello and Trumpet)? How did you manage the process of recording?

Ha! Ha! Yes, I’m a one-man-band Jack-of-all-trades/master of none! Everything on the “T-T-T-Tech Mels!” album is just Me, Myself & I. That said, writing, performing, recording and producing everything myself wasn’t something I consciously set out to do – it just happened. Moving north of the border, I didn’t know anyone to begin with so I just fell into doing stuff on my own as in: “I’m hearing cello on this latest song but I don’t actually know anyone who plays cello so I’ll just have to hire one and try to play it myself!” As with pretty much everything I play, the fact that I have no formal training nor practical/technical experience when it comes to playing it doesn’t seem to stop me. I’m really just making this up as I go!

Apart from being colourful, how would you describe your sound as SUPER 8?

As a writer, it tends to start with just a snatch of a basic vocal melody with a loose acoustic guitar accompaniment. Once I’ve mapped out the rough shape of a song, I try to let the song tell me where it wants to go rather than the other way around! Sometimes it doesn’t need much more than where it originally springs from acoustically (like tracks ‘To Morocco’ & ‘Just A Serenade’ for example). Other times a song gets to get ‘the works’ (eg: backwards loops; glockenspiel; kitchen sink?!) just whatever suits and is right for the song really!

You name The Monkees as a major influence – why them? Aren’t they just a silly boy band, a retort product made for the masses? 

Yeah, of all the amazing bands out there it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek I guess to pick The Monkees as a major influence but I guess they are! I used to watch The Monkees TV repeats as a kid – it was my favourite programme. I guess they just stuck with me (plus they had some amazing songs!!!)

Any other important influences or bands you like to relate to?

I was brain-washed as a child with a diet of Beatles/Stones/Kinks/Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Diamond (I found The Monkees all by myself – LOL!) Growing up when a lot of my peers were embracing the whole New Romantic movement I instead found myself gravitating back in time to the music of: T-Rex; Bowie; Neil Young; James Taylor; etc. I suppose the first band of ‘my generation’ that moved me musically was The Smiths and, from there, I began to find my niche. I got the jangly guitar bug from C86 onwards. You’ve got to love a bit of McCarthy et al on occasions! I actually love & appreciate loads of music from Classical to ‘cheesy’ 60s Bossa Novas through to the cut-n-paste audio mash-up montage work of acts like The Avalanches but the stuff I keep coming back to, the music that really floats my boat I guess, is great songs by predominantly guitar-based bands! Think: Beatles; Beach Boys; Big Star; The La’s; Teenage Fanclub; Elliott Smith; you get the idea!

 

You covered Serious Drugs by the BMX Bandits – why did you choose this song? 

Err, it just sort of happened really! It came up on an old mix tape a while back. I hadn’t heard it in some time but I still remember buying it when it first came out after hearing it on the John Peel show. It was one of those songs that instantly ‘struck a chord’ with me on first hearing – it has everything that constitutes a GREAT song in my book! Anyway, it must have been working away on my sub-conscious as, the next time I picked up a guitar, I started playing it (albeit with the wrong chords to begin with!) I’m not really known for doing cover versions per se (what time I have to make music is usually spent writing my own stuff) but it seemed to make sense that I try and do it justice and give it a go. It didn’t take very long to come together which is always a good sign for me. I was honoured to discover recently that the guys who actually wrote said song (namely Duglas T Stewart of BMX Bandits; Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and Joe McAlinden of Superstar fame) wholeheartedly approve of my rendition. I’m not worthy!

For your own songs, it feels like there’s some autobiographical stuff coming in? 

Yeah, I guess drawing from personal experience does have a habit of creeping in but I do try to keep an open mind and write from different perspectives too.

S.K.Y. is quite a thoughtful song, what’s the story behind this tune? 

Someone I knew was in a difficult place. I couldn’t find the right words to say at the time but, with guitar in hand, this song just presented itself. Music is weird like that (weirdly good!)

Do you play live shows?

Like I say, I was in bands when I was younger. When I first moved to Edinburgh I used to play on the acoustic open-mic circuit (KT Tunstall’s Cowgate sessions and Paul Gilbody’s ‘Acoustic Edinburgh’ nights for example) but these days I find playing on my own acoustically is quite limiting. I’ll be playing and thinking: “Where’s the trumpet solo?” “Where’s the double bass?” In fact, the last ‘proper’ gig I did was back in 2006 supporting ‘The Stylistics’ at Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall. They had a full 13 piece band on stage whereas I just rolled up with my acoustic and a harmonica – it was quite daunting! I’m not ruling out the whole playing live thing for the future but you have to wear a different hat. I’m definitely more ‘at home’ in the studio nowadays.

How come you ended up with Futureman Records, a label in Detroit? Do you actually need a label these days when there’s Bandcamp?

The whole business of music is SO different nowadays. Deep down I’m still ‘old skool’ in my tastes I guess. As I say, I’ve become a bit of a studio hermit over the years! I hadn’t really planned on being on a label so wasn’t actively seeking one out but, off the back of my BMX Bandits cover as it turned out, I was approached by Futureman Records’ head honcho Keith Klingensmith and, after checking out his label I thought: “Yeah! Why the hell not?” With bands like The Hangabouts signed to the label, I guess it’s put a new spin on things for me. It’s no longer just me tinkering away in my home studio, I sort of feel part of an international music club with proper deadlines to meet and stuff! It’s all very professional (even though it’s not – Ha! Ha!)

Any idea, why power-pop is such a male dominated thing? To me it seems like girls are very present in the songs, but never play instruments…

To be honest I don’t even know what ‘Power Pop’ is! Great songs are great songs regardless of genre tags & pigeon holes. Is Lindsay Murray (also signed to Futureman Records) ‘Power Pop’? She’s female, she plays a Rickenbacker … does that make her ‘Power Pop’? I really don’t know! If girls wanna BE ‘Power Pop’ then, hey, take out a loan, get your folks to remortgage their house or whatever it is you need to do to be able to beg, borrow steal said seemingly pre-requisite Rickenbacker then write some (good!) songs and just BE ‘Power Pop’ ladies (or not!)

What was the first and the very last record you bought?

Serious Drugs’ by The BMX Bandits on 7” vinyl in 1993 (LOL!)

What are your plans for the future?

I’d just like to be able to eke some kind of sustainable way of being able to do what I love which is making music. The way things stand, music just doesn’t pay the bills … at all! It would be great to be in the fortunate position whereby writing songs is just ‘what I do’ and a means to just getting by.