Monday, November 17, 2008

Paul's Best Music of 2008

The year is also to an end, and as a music lover it has been a pretty good year. Therefore I am creating this post to share my "best of" list of 2008 with you, together with some additional discoveries. My top 5 are in no particular order, since I simply cannot make a decision which album is best.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - DIG!!! LAZARUS DIG!!!

Since the release of "Abbatoir Blues & The Lyre of Orpheus" in 2004 Nick Cave has been on my play list continiously. This album finds Nick Cave moving in a more "Rock 'n Roll" vibe, probably influenced by his adventures with Grinderman. If you like good lyrics with content, Nick Cave is your man. The title song is already of such a high lyrical level that all other current artists are blown of their feet. My personal favorite on this album is "Midnight Man". Especially when those organs kick in in the chorus. Below you can see a performance on "Later..." of "More news from Nowhere".

Brendan Canning - Something for all of us

Didn`t really like that Kevin Drew album of "Broken Social Scene Presents....", but this one is a lot better. There is something on this album for all of us. The title song, "Hit the Wall" and "Churches under the Stairs" have that characteristic Social Scene sound: Driving drumbeats and bass, colored in by a guitar with nice distorted sound. What stands this album apart from the other BSS albums are the instrumental songs. "All the best wooden toys come from Germany" and "Chamaleon" are two beautiful instrumental tunes, which put you in a dreamy state of mind. Perfect after a long hard day of work, while heading home in the train. All dark outside. Just you and this music in your ears.
The Dø - a mouthful

My parents didn`t really like this purchase. The girl who sings on this album is from Finland, and has a very high pitched voice. I`ve got to admit, sometimes it comes very close to the "irritating level", but most of the time she just sounds incredibly cute. And backed up by a very solid production and a sound ranging from Finnish Folk to Psuedo-hiphop to Indie, this is a delight to listen to. If you want to get to know this band, get your hands on the songs "At last", "stay (just a little bit more", "Unissasi Laulelet" and "Queen Dot Kong". These should give you a pretty complete view of what this two man band is capable of.

Nicole Atkins - Neptune City

So what? I bowed for the girl singer songwriter hype that has taken over our world. Please mind though, this is no "Duffy Winehouse" clone. This lady is from New Jersey and not from the British isles. At for a fact, she actually is closing in on the three decennia mark instead of being far below the legal age for drinking in her own country. I`ve got to admit, it's a pretty dramatic album with a very "noir" vibe to it. Perfect for a rainy autumn day. The production on this album is also very high; there's no song avoiding the violins and other orchestra stuff. But despite this overkill, something on this album wins me over; Her beautiful voice including a number of very strong songs. She also seems to sing very easily, which only makes it more impressive. The thing that won me completely over was her performance on the BBC. She was in complete control and new exactly what she was doing. There are a lot of highlights on this album. "Maybe Tonight", "The way it is", "Cool enough", "Neptune city", "Brooklyn's on fire" and "Party's over" are all songs that I would recommend to listen. That's 6 out of the total playlist of 10 songs. Not a bad score for a first album.

Eagles of Death Metal - Heart On

The Eagles have landed! Their third album, and in my opinion the best of them all. It's starts of perfectly with the classic rocker "Anything 'cept the truth", which might be a bit too long for it's own good. This however is made up by the short and feisty "Wannabe in L.A.", which also happens to be the first single. Things start to really warm up though with "(I used to couldn`t dance) tight pants". Maybe it is due to the friction, but this song man, wow! It's probably the best rock song to be released all year and is really, really danceable. Especially the high pitched chorus line "I don`t want to do what I`m supposed to, I just want someone to get close to". It cannot get any sweater than this. This is followed by an even dirtier "High Voltage" which is like sending out an pack of elephants out on a banana field ready for harvesting.

"Secret Plans" is also pure perfection. High tempo, simple lyrics, great chorus. That's all what a good song needs. "Now I`m a fool" is the perfect song to chill out to and shows the Eagles from a more sensitive side. This sensitivity is abandond at the song "Solo Flights" which is about, well, self gratification. Not many songs in music history must have been about this act, this one pulls it of, just. The last song "I`m your torpedo" has got a brutal rhythm section to kick the life out of you. Sounds a bit like those drums are oversteard? Well, it makes a perfect ending to this Rock 'n Roll album. The finest in years.

The Edmonton Folk Fest (2)

Saturday was again another beautiful day. My friend Jen was again fully occupied with volunteering (beer tickets anyone?) while the rest of our group was scattered over the festival. For me my day started at stage number three, where there were some interesting combination. First of all there was the garden party with Dervish, Bellowhead and the Carolina Chocolate drops.

The odd one in this group were the Carolina Chocolate drops, the only band not coming from the European continent. From what I can remember, I was pretty impressed by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I bought their cd the same day, so I must have been. After that there was the masterclass with a great female banjo player called Alison Brown, french artist Daby Toure, Jerry Douglas and Maura O`Connell, an Irish woman with a beautiful voice. There seemed to be a special click between Alison Brown and Daby Toure, who had a lot of fun together when playing their songs. These are the best moments musically at Edmonton: When you notice that two completely different artist who never met before, have a connection with each other and just click. This is what happened at the masterclass. Maura O`Connell the the icing on the cake. Compared to the other songs, her's were a bit more timid and classic, which made a perfect combination with great banjo-picking and african tones.

Now it was time for my first ever view of the Broken Social Scene. Maybe it is a bit of an anti-climax to see one of your most favorite bands playing on a small stage while everyone is chilling out in the sun, but I loved every second of it. The most stylish guy on stage was definitely Brendan Canning; Wearing a pink top with a chequard short skirt. Pretty impressive. Luke Doucet fitted in perfectly in the formation. It was pretty hard to distinguish him from any of the other Socials. John Bottomly was a bit more distinctive on stage as a person, but is music fitted in perfectly with the rest. Another amazing thing about the Folkfest: By going to your favorite band you will also get to know 3 or 4 other bands.

After a spicy dinner I went on and saw the Peatbog Faeries for the first time. A violin and bagpipe play the solo's together, while the rest of the band lays down a subtle groove. It's one of a kind, and the first time I was indeed baffled. Later however you came to realise something: They are a bit of an one trick pony. The bagpipe and violin lead every song and there is not much variation in this theme. Still, in this first concert they were one of the revelations for me for this festival. Heading back to the maintsage it was time for..sleepy music. Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow quartet featuring Bela Fleck was interesting, but they played music that would come much better to it's right in a more intimate setting. I cannot remember anything from Ryan Shaw, which probably says enough. Joan Osborne was on next.

After she finished singing "One of Us", its started raining. A message? A sign? All in all, it was a bit too much "middle of the road" music for me. Aimee mann had a better voice and songs. Last but not least came Michael Franti and Spearhead. Sometimes you just wish that the dead would rise up against the living. In this case the dead guy should be Bob Marley vs. Franti. Shallow, simple and empty. These are the three words with which I would like to describe Franti's music. He can talk all he wants about his former teacher, father or brother, his music lacks the same emotion has he tries to portray in his speeches. Did Bob Marley talk as much? I don`t know..but my opinion is that you should let your music do the talking, and with Michael Franti it was the other way around. What makes it all worse is that everybody was enjoying themselves, and I just didn`t get it. Of course I tried to join in; but after the 20th time where we were asked to jump by Franti I was like; Jump yourself! A good artist giving a great concert shouldn`t have to tell his audience to jump constantly, they`ll do that on their own. Bah..that psuedo-emotional and happy crap was just not meant for my ears. Call me a grumpy old cynic, but you should have seen me during Rage Against the Machine, or Moloko, or the Flaming Lips, or Franz Ferdinand, or Nick Cave...or...or...

Sunday was the last day of the Folkfest. I already had a heavy sunburn that day. Luckily the day started with the Broken Social Scene, Serana Ryder and Royal Wood on one stage. "Looks just like the sun" was a great start of the day. A bit to early apparently for Brendan Canning who joined in a bit later with his bass. Serena challanged Kevin Drew to an improvisation battle, and after some hestitation he took the challange. The lyrics he made up were quite hillarious and made him pass the challange with flying colors. Eventually the band also started to make up a song as a bit of an ode to the Folkfest. memory abandoned me..I`ve forgotten the lyrics. But believe me, it was a great song and one of the highlights for me of this festival.

After that I made one of my best choices ever: I went to the Mighty Popo. His band is a mix of American and African musicians, and his songs reflect this multi-cultural line-up. He even got the crowd up to dance at some songs, quite a feat at the fourth day of a festival, in the burning sun. Afterwards he would also do a cd-signing. I bought it and got it signed. I don`t know why, but every time I meet a band I never know what to say. You try to avoid the clichee: "wow, that was a great show". But what else is there to say? You don`t know him; You just found out that he and his great music even existed.

Fast I went to the stage where the Carolina Chocolate Drops were performing. I got a perfect seat right in front of the stage, and enjoyed every second of their show. It's not only how they mastered their instruments, it's also their pure enthousiasm while playing. They also have a bit of an experimental side to them. At one of the side stage concerts, the girl, sang a song in gaelic. Quite impressive for somebody from the States. After this performance the festival was pretty much perfect for me. Except for one thing: I still had to see the Broken Social Scene on the main stage.

They tried to get a standing audience in front of the stage, but the security didn`t allow for it. The first half of the concert I thus spend sitting (from a perfect position that I gave us by getting up extremely early) and enjoying the concert passively. I got increasingly annoyed by the clear ambiguity of the audience in front of me. They didn`t seem to care that one of the best and most innovative bands of Canada was playing on stage right in front of them. And they weren`t even performing badly: There was no bad note during the whole concert, it was a tight concert. So halfway the set I decided to go to the front of the stage, and move a bit on the music (some might call it dancing).

A song I especially remember was Ibi dreams of pavement. It's an all out emotional song with a perfect harmony at the end. We were asked to scream our lungs out, and so we did (in the dancing area at least). Thinking back at it, I`m a bit emberassed, but why should I be? It felt good at the time, and if it felt good at that time it was the best thing to do.

For the Duhks I had to get closer to the main stage, since one of my Canadian friends absolutely loved them. I liked what I heard, it was danceable, but that's about all I can remember. Chris Isaac however. Wow! Coming up in a pink suite, runnig around on the field with a hoard of crazy old women chasing him. Trying the climb on the light-tower but miserably (but graciously) failing, running back and finishing his song in style. Then starting to sing a song called bad, bad man. Putting himself in the position of the dictator in the band, who does horrible things to his fellow band-mates (who have been on tour with him for the past 20 years). And to start his most famous song "Wicked woman", and playing it perfectly, still with that same voice as 20 years ago. He changed to an even brighter costume during the second half the set, and continued to play a selection of slow love and rockin' songs. Later I had to explain to me friends that it is not a matter of liking the music yes or no; It is more about the show as a whole, which was just first class entertainment.
What I especially liked was that he does not take himself too seriously: He knows that he is an entertainer, he knows that he is not the greatest songwriter of all time, so what would stop him of giving his audience a great close to a great festival? Nothing! Thanks Chris for beating my expectations of you to pulp! The finale was a song by Ian Tyson; "Four Strong Winds". The crowd sang along en masse. I only knew a few words. Thanks to Neil Young who covered it at the Band's Last Waltz. If the flight-tickets are a bit cheaper next year, there will be a next year. This festival is a lot better than "the way to cocky for its own good" Lowlands. I hate an audience who are trying to be hip a bit too hard. This audience was just nice, gentle and incredibly mellow. And I prefer it that way.

The Edmonton Folk Fost

The Edmonton Folk Fest! Now I`ve been to quite a number of festivals, and let me tell you, this one beats most of them. First of all because it has a line-up, which besides some big names on the main stage, is completely unfamiliar too me. Next to this, it is a sit-down festival. At some times I found this to be a very frustration position to be in. For some music you just have to get up and dance. Two times I managed to get to the dancing area (both on the last day) to get myself in a more familiar, standing, position. Now I`m not much of a dancer; I`m dutch; a bit of a "houten klaas" (translated, a wooden plank). I try to keep that last thought out of my mind though while standing in the dancing area; It's all about having fun hey?

It all started of with Cat Power. Wow. She was really out there, somewhere. Her setlist mostly consisted out of slow, heartwrenching songs, and she put a lot of feeling in every word that came out of her mouth. I would call it Soul, with a capital S. I wouldn`t buy a cd from her, but that performance was 100% real, no act. Aimee mann was next. I don`t remember much from this performance, and this was not due to too many beers in the beer garden. I do remember being impressed by her voice, and the beautiful slow songs. It was not fireworks, more like watching a candle burn, at a very beautiful night.

Which brings me to the location of this festival. Edmonton has got it all, and thus also a small ski-hill in the middle of the city, close to downtown. Now in the winter I figure that people will ski from it, but in the summer it makes up for the most ideal festival location ever. Great views and sound from all over the field, and a great view on downtown Edmonton also. The weather was also flawless during the 4 days of the festival, which makes it the place were I got most of my tan this summer.

On friday the sessions at the side-stages started, and these sidestages were the places where the action really happenned. We started the day with a session called "Finger Pickin' Good". Three bands were on stage at the same time: Amos Garrett and the the festival House band, Jonny Lang and Don Ross & andy McKee. Now the goal of these sessions is to get the musicians working together, resulting in some awesome and mindblowing jam-sessions. During this first performance I already experienced on of these. Especially the songs lead by Jonny Lang were quite exciting. I think he played some blues-standards, and the good thing about these is that they allow all the other musicians to join in pretty easily. Don Ross & Andy McKee are both specialist guitar players (one has got 15 million views on youtube), and this made up for some great solo's. These two also played some individual songs, but it was when they played together with the band that things really started to become very interesting. Four guitars on one stage creates so much dept in the music (or makes it a mess, whatever's your take on it), that you don`t know to which guitar you have to listen to first.

After that it was time for the "Shades of Africa" workshop. Here I met 4 of my favorite new discoveries of the festival. Bill Bourne and Madagascar Slim. Two old veterans from the festival, and both very capable musicians. They seemed to have jammed with almost everybody these four days, always doing it with a smile. Then there was Daby Toure. A young french musician, who I happen to know from a Peter Gabriel concert, where he was the opening act. He impressed me a lot more here than back then. Especially is drumming on the guitar was great to hear, he had a good sence of rhythm. The Mighty Popo is an artist from Rwanda, who emigrated to Canada a few years ago. He had a great band around him, and made some original and smooth African music.

At the end of the festival I bought his cd and got it signed! So if the Mighty Popo becomes the Incredibly Mighty Popo one day, I can say I`ve seen him from 2 meters distance. Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko are an odd but great couple. One is a great Canadian banyo player, while the other has his roots in Mali (I believe). Sissoko plays a strange african instrument with a sound like a harp. Pretty complicated to play I guess, but he mastered it perfectly. Together these four bands really recreated the feeling of being in Africa, in Edmonton.

Serena Ryder. First of all, I listened to some of her recordings now, and she sounds a lot better Live than on cd. Her solo performance on stage 6 was together with only one gitarist and this helped to create a much less pollished , and I guess unique, sound. Especially that voice of her's was just subliminal. At one song she just went all out with it, and I got a lump in my throat. This does not happen very often anymore (except when I see old favorite legends like Genesis and Neil Young), which should indicate that this was a very..very special concert. Her looks are also not working against her, so I was pretty much sold after the concert. Her music could best be described has a mix between country/folk and a bit of soft rock. And then she started to play "This Wheel's on fire", an old Band song. Damn you evil woman! You're doing everything right tonight for me to loose my heart. Which I did, for a split-second.

After that I saw two of friend's favorites. Jonny Lang and Hawksley Workman. Now Jonny Lang used to be a gitarist-wonderkid, and I`ve already seen quite of those come and go. They are indeed great guitar players, but this does make you a great songwriter. My impression of this concert was that he was trying too hard, especially with his voice. I prefer subtle music, but his style of Blues (the 80s rockin' kind, a la Gary Moore but then with less memorable songs) just didn`t appeal to me. Hawksley Workman was something completely different. I came here to have fun, and the music sounded just like that. Modern Rock, with a bit of a dramatic twist to it (it reminded me a bit of Queen at some points, and not just because he played "Under Pressure"). He played quite a bit of covers (3 or 4), a bit of shame since I would like to have heard a bit more of his own stuff. The songs he played were solid, and it was a great show indeed. I only believe that this guy has a bit more up his sleeve that he had shown us that night. I`ll keep an eye on him.