Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Retro Stefson: Retro Stefson

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Those who know me in person may be getting sick of my love for Iceland – for its language and culture and nature and its entirety. It started for me with their pop music as it has for many-many people. Sigur Rós and Björk probably don’t need an introduction – it’s all the same if you like their music or not in this respect. You know they are from Iceland. You know they redefined many things about pop: music-writing, beauty, technology and performance. But Iceland (and of course Icelandic music) is much much more than this genius band and this visionary. And you do not necessarily have to look for great bands among the more established ones who have been around in the last 10-15 years. In Iceland you’re never late.

What else could be a better example for this than Retro Stefson, a 7-piece band which formed in Reykjavík in 2006 and whose members are still conspicuously young. Retro Stefson released their first album Montaña in the year of their formation and the sophomore effort followed in 2010 as a release at one of the most well-known Icelandic rock labels Kimi Records. Kimbabwe – as that album is called – got distribution outside Iceland and it certainly showed a rather ambitious yet creative and fresh band with a truly unique approach to music. Especially if we consider that all of them are at the beginning of their 20s.

Their mixture of funk and some really sensibly written pop-rock with a hint of electronic instrumentation certainly showed great promise. Retro Stefson is however not your everyday “pop-rock” band. Of course many take at least 21 steps back when they – prior to having listened to the band in question – hear that something is “pop-rock”. In their minds a really tacky picture is constructed of some people getting together playing awfully boring songs about love and longing and things like that. Well, Retro Stefson is not at all like that.

Retro Stefson is rock because they have drums, guitars and basses they are not afraid to use (fade in at 1.05 in their song Rome, Iowa off Kimbabwe and you’ll know better than ever) and they are pop because their lyrics are well-constructed and really nice to listen to, especially with such clever hooks written. However, Retro Stefson’s music has another hugely enjoyable face as well: jamming. And that’s where their funk-like attitude comes in and their live energy is let out. Up until now there was no need to go to a concert when you wanted to hear 7-9 minutes around one structure since Montaña and Kimbabwe were filled with jams like ‘Senseni’ and ‘Kimba’ which showed that this lot had a lot in them when it comes to making people dance, yet on albums with such catchy sounds and straightforwardly clever music it was a bit strange and off-putting. Not because these songs were inferior to the others, it’s just that you don’t expect Valentino Rossi to participate in X-Games as a rider pulling off tricks on his motorcycle.

And this is where Retro Stefson comes into the game. This third album is much more focused and much more dense than the previous two. And it’s just what we needed from the guys. 3-4 minutes a song, smartly arranged, nice – yet.. well, retro – synth sounds, a rhythm section tighter than the leggings you would want to put on an elephant and diverse, intriguing song-writing. Let it be the groovy yet soothing ‘Glow’, the quasi-house crowd-bouncer ‘Qween’, the electro-‘breakrock’ song ‘Time’, or ‘(o)Kami’, which could easily bring back quiet storm into popular music with its electric piano and guitar sound taking us to the golden age of psychedelic soul – you know these songs are gems. They also are relatively short but hey, that’s what the repeat all button is for. And the jams can come at the gigs.

Nowadays a significant part of musicians who want to keep the album format alive are aspiring to make a record which showcases the multi-talent of theirs, cramming hip-hop, rock, ballads and electronica-infused songs onto a single album which is supposed to be nice and inspiring but in fact, it takes the face and cohesion away.

Not in this case. Every single song shines and shouts the same: Retro Stefson er rosaleg hljómsveit*

*Retro Stefson are an awesome band

Review: Kosheen: Independence

It’s always strange going back to times that were either emotionally or humanely significant to us throughImage something else than merely remembering. It is shocking, even, how scents, tastes, sounds, déja vu or anything else can take us back to or at least make us remember our long-gone dreams, hopes and feelings of the time. Remember ourselves, essentially. I’m not planning to elaborate on this issue, you can google the word madelaine and Marcel Proust. What Mr. Proust couldn’t possibly have written about though is Kosheen’s fourth album, the aptly titled Independence. Which appears to be my little piece of madeleine. But does it taste good?

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Public Image Ltd.: This is PiL

Public Image Ltd. have returned. Or at least John Lydon with some new-old comrades what we now call PiL. The roster this time is more than intriguing: with Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith two interesting artists returned – joined by multi-instrumentalist Scott Firth [here: double bass, bass guitar and synths] to prove that PiL still had appeal. (No pun intended.) 2009’s shows were a hit as well as the following legs in 2010 including a vastly enjoyable performance at Sziget Festival, Budapest. Then news came that an album was in the making. Now this was something riskier than pure touring. (And playing really well I should add.) Was the butter money well-spent?

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Graham Coxon: A+E

Blur guitarist, solo artist and Fender endorsee with a beautiful signature guitar,English musician Graham Coxon has exploded back into mainstream popular music. Last year. Why do I write about – what more, restart my blog on current music! – his adventures? Should he really be rushed to A+E instead?

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Review: IamOmni: IAMOMNI

I was reading some older music magazines the other day and was really happy to discover IamOmni’s work as I was looking for some really cool hip-hop thing. I read up on the release and found out that this self-titled effort was produced by none other than Tricky. Later I found out that this fact is the best and worst scenario IamOmni could’ve imagined or created.

IamOmni is no newbie when it comes to music, apparently this is his 6th record but the first under the IamOmni alias. (He was known simply as Omni before.) He comes from Los Angeles and his flow is definitely West Coast with a twist. Mainly because of the clever lyrical content of the songs. Rhymes are great and it’s not just the music’s achievement that the album has sort of an apocalyptic atmosphere. As it is written in the album’s description on the production’s bandcamp page : “As we fashion the future from the rubble of the 20th century, our hearts and minds are the frontline of the new war, and the enemy has become part of us. IAMOMNI is IAMOMNI’s call to arms for the youth to claim control of themselves, and to understand that in a world where nothing seems real, they are the only thing left that is.” Hard words which seem appropriate for an album released right after the 2011 England riots had settled. IamOmni surely shows an exceptional openness, sensitivity and some genuine concern when it comes to the subjects above and delivers accordingly. And there’s a great roster of collaborators as well: Tiki Lewis is a central figure on the album and has a huge role in the production, just as much as Kassia Conway but there are others: Japan’s Shingo2, and Suffa from Australia hip-hop crew Hilltop Hood.

I wrote that the girls have an important role in the production and that’s what leads us to everything else other than lyrics and emceeing. Because the Trickster has everything else under control. Extremely great musical solutions, effects, guitar solos and the usage of woman voice in the choruses to ease on the stiffness of the songs are definitely signs of Tricky’s production habits and while this is not a general outline of how every song goes Tricky’s signature moves are definitely present throughout.

Tricky’s music (or more precisely: a more focused and more straightforward version thereof), IamOmni’s valid thoughts on today’s world and his solid rapping. 34 minutes of goodies.

Listen to the album below:

Watch a video:

Review: Euzen: Sequel

It’s always a distinct pleasure for me to review Nordic music and although I’m – as those who know me know (too) well – all for Iceland and its culture, I have a special place in my heart for music from Denmark, as I lived there for half a year back in the days.

Make no mistake, that was not a description of why ‘Sequel’ by Euzen might get good marks here. There’s not so good music everywhere in the world, it’s just that Danish seem to be exceptionally resonant for modernizing their culture and musical traditions. Hell, I dare to say that quality folktronica hails from somewhere around there. (Just think about the work of Sorten Muld or Valravn.)

Euzen is somewhat in that lot as their music is what the ancient Nordic people would’ve made if they had had the instruments and digital magic to work with. The rhythms and the harmonics are in many cases indeed based on traditional music. But even at first sight, without having heard anything by Euzen (having a knowledge of the scene), the band has something promising about its membership: Christopher Juul. He is the sound-sculptor, programmer, keys-player from Valravn and Euzen has been his pet-side project with Maria Franz from Norway. As they write in their blog, Euzen was founded in Iceland by Juul and Franz after a long friendship. Since then they have released one album, ‘Eudaimonia’ in 2009 and during the recording process, the lineup was expanded with Harald Juul (guitars and strings), Jon Pold (bass) and Kristian Uhre (drums, percussion).

2011 found the band releasing their sophomore, the aptly titled ‘Sequel’ and if you ask me how things stand, it is the definitely a ‘2nd-album-situation’ in case of a promising effort: more coherent and consistent sound, as clever instrumentals as ever, a clear conception and direction to move forward. Euzen stayed with what they do best but in some cases they definitely peaked out of their comfort zone.

It’s always difficult to write about ‘general characteristics that make up a band’s sound’ and not let the readers think that the work in question is NOT anything repetitive but since Euzen is one of the most unique electronica bands today and the artwork looks like a cover for a viking metal band, some general features should be welcomed. Maria Franz has a really interesting, synchopated way of singing, she has a lush and general high-pitched voice which is flawlessly countered by the creative and dynamic work of the rhythm section as well as Christopher Juul’s soundscapes. All in all, the sound is laid back with sometimes playful beats and the character of the music is somewhat comparable to some sort of a blissful battle between alternative pop and folk-based electronica. But Euzen managed to become much more than that on ‘Sequel’ with songs like ‘Judged By’ with a simple but sonically deep and vastly enjoyable guitar work by Harald Juul (this song was cleverly chosen to be the first single off ‘Sequel’, see the beautifully thought-out video below), ‘Coherence’ or the suite-like ‘Sequel’.

Anyone who want to experience an organic balance among contemporary electronic music, classical piano-work and arrangements, traditional but modernized elements of Nordic music and a pinch of progressive rock, do not hesitate to dive into “Euzeniverse” as the band call their own world. And those of you who have the opportunity of seeing them live in concert, tell us how good it was.

‘Judged By’ video:

Review: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ SAMPLER

When something so striking, surprisingly cruel, yet beautifully composed, arranged and produced piece of

Sampler cover art

music sees sunlight as last year’s score to ‘The Social Network’, it’s always hard to imagine for us fans anyone to be able to create something at least as good as the previous in only a year. Let alone for the successor to be as exciting and new as its precursor.

Well, no-one should expect wonders: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have not picked up nylon string acoustic guitars and called for a symphonic orchestra to help assist with this year’s soundtrack work of theirs. It is essentially the same, atmosphere-driven, heavily electronic, simple but meaningful set-up as it was to Mark Zuckerberg’s story. However, there is tangible difference in attitude when it comes to the actual music. Based on what’s – despite its length of 35 minutes – only a taster to the 3-hour “opus” (Reznor’s word), Reznor and Ross managed to transform Sweden’s cold, snowy and alienated landscapes into notes and the music resonates really well with the characters’ and the soon-to-be-vievers moods as well.

This time, it’s less percussive and less straightforward, at least on the sampler. There’s no sign of as direct a song as ‘In Motion’ was on the previous release this time around. In general, it resembles the second half of ‘The Social Network’ and makes us call back moments like ‘Eventually We Find Our Way’, ‘The Gentle Hum of Anxiety’ and ‘Soft Trees Break The Fall’.

It very well may be that what I wrote here will not turn out to be entirely true. The whole sampler EP has such a tense, yet complete character which shows its strengths and sets the tone that it might as well only be a prelude to a great saga embracing a huge variety of emotions and settings. And in that case, we’re going to encounter something even better than fantastic. Which the sampler is.

The six-track sampler can be downloaded free of charge from NullCo’s website.

Review: Meshell Ndegeocello: Weather

Meshell Ndegeocello – however she has spelled her name throughout the years – has been one of the most influential bassists and composers of her age – fortunately, our age as well. Music enthusiasts were blown away by her, let it be about her sensitive and sensual singing, her energetic, yet soulful approach towards playing the bass guitar, her feel of funk, jazz, electronica or of how a properly written song should seem and sound like. Everybody raved about her production skills – it’s easy to recall the arrangements of ‘Comfort Woman’ which were cleverly constructed layers supporting her incredible voice – as well as her mind-blowing work on (primarily) the 4-string. (The song ‘If That’s Your Boyfriend [It Wasn’t Last Night]’ being the perfect example.) In 2007 she went even further: she experimented with drum and bass, mixed jazz with really aggressive rock but somehow – by staying on top of her game and presenting fans with another densely, albeit not overly egocentrically or disturbingly produced album, ‘The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams’.

Her 2010 effort ‘Devil’s Halo’ came as a surprise (fans could diplomatically call it “a secret favourite”) with its short running time and on-the-spot songs with minimal space to let off the instrumentals. The setting and the instrumentation were also trending towards intimacy rather than an emotion-fuelled outburst or straightforward declaration of oneself like the 2007 album, or many of the songs from the past.

So when word came that Meshell’s finished work on her new album titled ‘Weather’, and a song (track 8, ‘Dirty World’) was made available for download as a taster, we got the picture of an album equally in the manner and temperament of ‘Devil’s Halo’ and a blast from the past with the emphasized – flawlessly intriguing – bassline and some universal lyrics. Is this picture correct and is the album any good?

Since you probably have seen the Monthly Must header above this (and every) entry, you have guessed that the answer to the second part of the above question is a bit more than positive. Why? Because ‘Weather’ can be seen as a piece of art in multiple styles – and the key is in the title. On one hand, ‘Weather’ resonates well with the genre called quiet storm. Quiet storm is a sort of late-night radio-type of music which has airy compositions in slower tempo, and gains inspiration of jazz, rock, R&B (positively Motown, Stax or Chess, not the Beyoncé-Rihanna axis) or soul music. And we can see that certain songs – which also reach back to the moods of ‘Devil’s Halo’ – really go slow and let Meshell’s voice come in front with minimal piano and guitar accompaniment in most of such songs – such as the rather touching ‘Chelsea Hotel’, ‘Oysters’ or ‘Feeling For The Wall’. Piano parts are lush, yet effective and give a really nice atmosphere to the songs (like a synth texture would), sometimes even strings come to make the song more powerful (most notably in ‘Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear’ but also in one of the album’s high points, ‘Petite Mort’).
But why else could this album be called – in ‘the writer’s’ humble opinion – ‘Weather’. Well, weather can be really unsettled and variable. In keeping with that, on the album there are rather uptempo songs bearing a bit of rock’s harshness and dynamics, such as ‘Chances’ or ‘Dead End’.

Still, how do these diverse and varied settings, scenes and moods come together in a whole? The answer is: through Meshell Ndegeocello herself. Because – when it comes to arrangements and instruments used – her albums can be electronic, hip-hop/soul/r&b oriented or just a guitar-bass-drumset trio, her personality and outstanding musicianship shows. And give way to a truly original, unique and excited world of ideas and emotions.

Thus, ‘Weather’ is November’s Monthly Must.

Review: Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto

Now that I’ve given a ‘couple more’ listens to Coldplay’s song ‘Paradise’ (about which I wrote a just-as-much sentimental and romantic piece over here), all the blinded passion that it caused when heard for the first time (correction: the first fifty times), have not at all gone away. They rather transformed into some general appreciation, and some moderate looking-forward when it came to the subject of this review, the album, ‘Mylo Xyloto’.

I did not even listen to the songs when they were offered for streaming one-by-one, day-to-day before the album’s release on iTunes. On the other hand, pre-ordering was an almost compulsory thing since ‘Paradise’ was not just a well-written and flawlessly produced song, but also a pledge and promise: Coldplay are going to twist on their style and put out an album which redefines them just as much as reaffirms their signature songwriting and instrumentation known, recognized and acclaimed throughout  their career.

In that sense, the album delivers. Without doubt. We get both sides: incredibly crisp and polished, yet creative and uplifting, sometimes almost ethereal production – soundscapes, arrangements, sounds, mixing, the whole package – paired with the oh-so-well-known and oh-so-loved signature instrumental solutions from the band, and the sometimes overly romantic, yet very straightforward and lovable lyrical content Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband and his lot are renowned for.

Take the song ‘Charlie Brown’, for instance. I sincerely think this song is the quintessence of everything Coldplay have ever recorded and published. I could easily enumerate which segment or layer of ‘Charlie Brown’ conjures up which era, album, sound and piece of character of the band (beginning with the 4/4 rush of the drums, the dynamic and dense bass reminiscent of ‘X&Y’, the guitar melodies which could have been left on a hard drive or tape from the sessions of ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’) but that would be lengthy and pointless since it would give the general public the biased and untrue notion of ‘Mylo Xyloto’ being a repetitive and dull album and ‘Charlie Brown’ being the only good song on it. Or the only song whatsoever.

But that’s not the case. The album’s second side puts the stakes even higher. Rihanna’s featuring on the song ‘Princess of China’ could be perceived as some sort of a clever marketing decision, instead it becomes the album’s most dangerously experimental song but the most surprising as well: Rihanna’s not here only because of her exotic voice – on the contrary, the Barbadian singstress stays on par with Chris Martin’s lead and steps out alone into the spotlight only in the coda at the end. Then comes ‘Up In Flames’, one of the album’s four ballads with minimalistic – mainly acoustic – instrumentation. Then, after ‘A Hopeful Transmission’ comes the album’s climax ‘Don’t Let It Brake Your Heart’ after which we go ‘Up With The Birds’, an uplifting epilogue to the story of two lovers, Mylo and Xyloto.

‘Mylo Xyloto’ is an elegant, yet daring concept album with slow ballads, driving bursts of emotion, mixing rocking guitars and bass with drums in many places inspired by hip-hop, and much, much electronica put in place with extreme sense of proportionality, care and artistic bravery.
Besides that, it’s an emotional story, lovely and vivid story which gets you out of the war-torn (war porn-torn), alienated, overly digital and mechanic, everyday life.

And it’s also the first MONTHLY MUST.

Review: Yonderboi: Passive Control

Finally, the time has come for me to be able to review the latest album by one of Hungary’s finest, namely László Fogarasi Jr., or as we all know and listen to him; Yonderboi. The album was released on MOLE Listening Pearls, the German label known for keeping the flame of quality downtempo and general electronica alive and fuelled.

This time, however, here in Hungary, the album seems to have got the sufficient amount of attention and coverage (or somewhere near that): some magazines even had a cover story for it, for example Hungarian music news blog, Recorder, to which Yonderboi gave a lengthy interview explaining the ins and outs of what we now know as ‘Passive Control’.

In that interview (and its 2nd part) Yonderboi – among others – mentioned that Passive Control is a closing part of a trilogy of albums, bearing the colour red as its principle element in the artwork (also shot and produced by Yonderboi himself), thus closing the trilogy of RGB (the debut, titled ‘Shallow and Profound’ being primarily organised in green, and the sophomore effort, ‘Splendid Isolation’ sounding out blue). However, there’s also a generational and gender-related aspect of the three: ‘Shallow and Profound’ was the child (having been made “100% out of instinct, with nothing at stake” as Yonderboi put it), ‘Splendid Isolation’ was the man (“[…] when I listen to the album, I consider it an absolutely credible print of myself – the storms of emotion and passion of my 20s are there”) and now ‘Passive Control’ is the woman where Yonderboi “handed over the controls to music itself”. Question is, can we submit ourselves to the music?

Popping the album into the player (either physically or virtually, however it should be noted that the CD release looks really decent), the experience kicks off with ‘Sustainable Development’, a mellow, piano-led song with beautiful additions of – probably synthesized – double bass, strings, pads and guitar. These songs – especially when written and produced so well – serve as perfect kicks-off of albums, this time however, the song has sort of an in medias res atmosphere as the spoken word part is performed by the same Edward Ka-Spel (yes, from Legendary Pink Dots) who closed ‘Splendid Isolation’ the same way. This notion accompanies us throughout ‘Passive Control’ and this is where Yonderboi grabs us by our guts and ears: this really the closing part, with a feeling of departure and letting go shining through every single moment of this album. And this is why ‘Passive Control’ works perfectly only when it’s played in its entirety.

Not that the album consists of bad songs though, not at all. ‘I Am CGI’ serves with a great example of how creatively the individual pieces are structured: it starts of as a gag with a vibe usually a characteristic of  folk songs from the Balkans, but after 1/3 of the song, it changes into a rather nice house 4/4 with the synthesized cowbell sound guiding as through till the end. Same happens with ‘Roast Pigeon’ (one of the high points on ‘Passive Control’, besides ‘She Complains’, ‘Brighter Than Anything’, the hip-hop of ‘Inexhaustible Well’ which might remind us of Gorillaz’s better moments or ‘Come On Progeny’, the only song per se on ‘Passive Control’)

At this point, Yonderboi’s faithful professional companion, singer Charlotte Brandi should definitely be mentioned who is versatile, creative and lovable enough to serve the concept of the ‘woman’s album’, her voice adds a lot to the two more uplifting and complex songs which give the album sort of an ‘inner frame’, namely ‘She Complains’ and ‘Come On Progeny’.

The album quits with ‘After The Snap’, a cello-led song (cello parts played by Hungarian musician Albert Márkos) written in 3/4, during which we can almost see some sort of end credits.

Truth is, ‘Passive Control’ is a cohesive whole that was released just in time: mere ‘singles’ and ‘EPs’ have not yet taken over our lives, the habit and tradition of whole album experience is still followed by many and this situation helps the album somewhat. Nevertheless, the production and musicians are all great and the album makes a great and successful attempt of fusing acoustic – or at least acoustic-like – sounds with electronica and genres of electronic music. Fellow Hungarians, and fans of solid, enjoyable, yet complex music from all over the world: we still have someone to be proud of.