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Reviews April - June 2010

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Arno - Brussld (Bonus Track Version)  

 

Brussld (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Arno (Belgium)

If there ever was an heir to Gainsbourg with the genes of Tom Waits Arno would be it. After some mixed albums the last years he returns very strong with an album dedicated to the Belgian capital Brussels. Now for those of you who never visited the city, Brussels is a paradox in itself. A mixture of modern EU and NATO offices and ages old houses, squares filled with static restaurant and galleries while around the corner dark pubs house the self side of society. A city which a rich and impressive history but also a city where the police is afraid to enter certain areas. A city where French and Flemish culture are on a continues collision course and you can sense it everywhere. “Dancing in the streets of Belgium / Brussels, where they eat sprouts and raw mussels” is what Arno sings in the title song. Like no other Arno is able to make typical Belgian rock. Dark brown, with a raw edge and somewhat eccentric. Almost like Belgian beer. To Arno Brussels is a city where perfectionism and creativity go hand in hand; chaotic, surrealistic. If it was his goal to translate that to music he succeeded gracefully. Opening song ‘Black dog day’ is a dark steaming rock track which is immediately followed by the introvert ‘Quelqu’un a touché ma femme’ which sounds like he wanders lonesome across the Big Market, city lights glimmering on the rainy cobblestones, building up frustration about who touched his woman. ‘God save the kiss’ sucks up hints from the Arabic community while ‘Mademoiselle’ drunkenly swirls around like a carnival roundabout. The French/English lyrics are often almost as bizarre as poetic, as only Arno can view the world around him. On ‘Elle pense quand elle danse’ he informs us that “qu’il y plus de femmes que de Chinois” (there are lots of women who are Chinese). What we do with this info is beyond me. On ‘Pop star’ he sings “Yeah yeah / I’m a popstar / in her car / on danse le samba / I feel the chacha / on’irai le java”. Musically Arno’s new album (together with Serge Feys) for Naïve records shows that he is king in his own universe. Even a chewed out song like Bob Marley’s ‘Get up, stand up’ turns into a angry bitter work anthem in his hands. Arno gnarls the lyrics over a dusty piano melody, intense. With ‘Brussld’ Arno recaptures himself after the ‘Jus de box’ album and again proves his musical talent and unique position in Europop. Oh, and don’t forget ‘Le lundi on rest au lit’ (On Monday we stay in bed). 

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David Bisbal - Sin Mirar Atrás 

 

Sin Mirar Atrás (2010) - ♪♪
David Bisbal (Spain)

Brace yourself for the commercial latin-pop soundtrack of this summer with this new album by Spanish darling David Bisbal. Although new? The album was already released in Spain in October and got a release in the Latin Southern hemisphere in January. Record company is obviously having the same idea as we have since the album only now get’s a pan-European release. So why is this a nice soundtrack to accompany your upcoming trip to the Costa’s? The album is well produced. And unlike country fellowman Alejandro Sanz, Bisbal creates a nice mix of uptempo songs (‘Esclavo de Sus Besosletra’), midtempo ballads (‘Sueños Rotos’ and ‘Mi Princesa’), hip samplejazz tracks (‘Besos de Tu Boca’) and Arabic-Andalusian dance tunes (‘Al Andalus’). Next to that six of the twelve songs are co-written by Bisbal himself. And the symphonic orchestra of Bratislava is doing overtime these days in popping up on a lot of Europop albums. This time ‘Sueños Rotos’ and ‘Cuando Hacemos El Amor’ get the true orchestral approach. Then why just two stars? First of all it’s Bisbal’s shameless wink towards the US market over keeping a Spanish character that costs him one star. Added duet with Pixie Lot is mediocre Eurohouse and a useless track. Next is his way of continuously singing at the top of his vocal power. Although blessed with a pleasant voice some holding back would give a calm listen. Overall the album lacks enough character to make Bisbal an artist with an own signature. Now it all sounds like the Spanish entry to the Eurovision times 12. After four albums he should be ready to deliver that artistically more credible effort. If not he will stay that promising talent from Operación Triunfo that melts teenage girls hearts. But nothing more. 

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Miguel Bosé - Cardio 

 

Cardio (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Miguel Bosé (Spain)

In 2007 Miguel Bosé celebrated his 30-years in music with the duet album ‘Papito’ (worldwide sales over 2 million) and an extensive 2,5 year tour. During this period he gained 40 pounds. ‘Cardio’ (Greek for ‘Heart’), the title of his new album, is a reference to his struggle to lose weight. Clearly he succeeded, since Miguels looks better in shape than ever. More directly, ‘Cardio’ refers to the songs and production of the album, pulsating to the beat of life.

The songs are up-beat, optimistic, expressing a creative, youthful eagerness and energy. Pulsating, if you will. They combine the classic sophisticated Bosé-style with contemporary beats and rock edges. In that perspective, Bosé succeeded in reinventing himself, as he did so many times before. That is probably what makes him the unique artist he has become. Rooted in Spanish-Latin music, yes, but so transparent and open to all influences of the world. And always with lyrics that are dealing with relevant issues of the world we live in.

The album opens with ‘Estave a punto de…’ (‘I almost…’), an up-beat europop track (and first single) about taking control over your life again after some heard times. ‘Jurame’ (‘Swear to me’) is a passionate rap inspired by his collaboration with Latin singer Juanes:
“And something will always happen / Swear, swear by the Holy delirium / That there will be no more blood, there will be no religion / there will be no more beatings, there will be no shame / there will be no torture, there will be no storm ... / Swear, swear for heaven's sake / here we stand firm like beasts, hanging by a dream, never die, until there is peace, rest / Peace…”

‘Ayurvedico’ is a fantastic Bollywood-influenced song that will do perfect on the dance floor. The title refers to ‘ayurveda’, an ancient medical and nutritional system from India that Bosé practiced during the recording sessions. Title track ‘Cardio’ is a fantastic optimistic electro tune. ‘Y poco mas’ (‘And a little bit more’) is a traditional Bosé song with more depth and very philosophical lyrics about the mysteries of life and death. ‘La verdad’ is a beautiful retro-ballad with piano and choirs that resemble the Beatles. ‘Por ti’ (‘For you’) is a fantastic love ballade only Bosé can produce, with a guitar tune that could have been played by U2’s The Edge.

One of the stand-out tracks is ‘Dame argumentos’ (‘Give me arguments’). It has a dramatic melody and introspective lyrics full of self doubt:
“Give me arguments, give me a reason / Find and search a single error, why I feel so infamous / Give me a reason, something solid / For this fierce heart does not believe it is / Useless and cowardly / Grant me the right to know that / It is often granted to everything that has been”

The arrangements and production are very contemporary and ‘2010’. Bosé and his team obviously wanted to record a more liberated and rock orientated album. This ambition conflicts with the (over)production of the songs. It all sounds a bit deliberate and meticulous. With ‘Cardio’ Bosé ads another interesting chapter to his already 30 year successful career. It contains many interesting songs, most of them up-tempo, optimistic and danceable, some more deeper and darker with great lyrics. And only time will tell if this effort will prove to be a timeless masterpiece or just a nice contemporary pop album…

 

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Mladen Burnac - Feniks 

 

Feniks (2009) - ♪♪1/2
Mladen Burnać (Croatia)

The prodigy and his master. To the outside world that’s what the relationship between ‘young’ Mladen Burnać and Arsen Dedić looks like. And with this new album Burnać more and more moulds himself into the legacy of the Croatian songwriters craftsmanship. The link with Arsen started in 2005 when the two accidentally met and recorded the song ‘Jer ti ljubiš drugoga’. Since then the popsinger Burnać started to develop himself as a serious songwriter in the more popfolk genre. In that sense ‘Feniks’ is good effort. Lyrics are written by himself sometimes with the help of Fayo or Dedić. And here the skill of writing a good song becomes painfully clear. Most songs handle the universal theme of love but there is a difference if you sing: ‘Because of you I do not know anything anymore / The water does not flow / Don’t you know / These wounds do not heal / another gray weekend’ (Tavka je subdina) or ‘I say we live somewhere very fine / Up on top, shining like wine / Surrounded by rich and cheap people’ (Maja). It’s the difference between poetry and nursery rhymes. The first lyric was written together with Dedić the second by Mladen alone. You can hear that Burnać’ talent lies in writing a good melody. In fact the songs he wrote without Dedić may be not so poetic but are musically much more convincing. ‘Hotel’, ‘Maja’ and ‘Vrijeme je za promjene’ are good popmelodies. But one track, ‘Kraj, na početku se zna’ is my absolute favourite. Starting with a dramatic piano the song gradually evolves into a Croatian rockballad. Maybe it’s also because it one of the few songs Burnać changes his acoustic guitar for electric. It seems that being with Dedić Mladen became to humble and tried to sound to much like Arsen himself. And that while he is very much capable of standing on his own. In the end ‘Feniks’ is a nice album, with some nice midtempo songs but that not yet the masterpiece Mladen has in him. Somewhere between a two and three star album. Good, but listen first.

 

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El baile de los Días (2010) - ♪♪♪
Susana Cáncer (Spain)

With all the bombastic pop and rock we took from Spain Susana Cancér was a surprise. Having her roots in alternative rock formations like Cría Cuervos and Chatarreros de Sangre y Cielo this pianist/singer has turned to the borders of pop and jazz the past years. ‘El baile de los Dias (the dance of days) nods towards French Chanson and Spanish balladry. With her warm voice and piano she reminds me mostly of the Spanish equivalent of Chicago-based Patricia Barber. In eleven songs she explores her boundaries laced with self-written poetic lyrics. Like on ‘Mendigos de amor’ (Beggars of love): “And the dance of days / in the golden dust of evening / What once was whole / It broke into pieces / And we never ever met”. On the album she is accompanied by a small band Javier Colina on bass, Faín Sánchez – Duenas on percussion, Leo Sidrán on drums and Gonzalo Lasheras and Justo Bagueste creating soundscape kind instrumentals with guitar, harmonica and synths.  Javier Corcobado joins in for the haunting (but funky) duet ‘La ambición’: “Ain’t no beauty to ambition / only a dazzling / ignorance of death”. The album has this smoky underground vibe to it, and you can imagine yourself sitting in a Madrilène bar with Susana hypnotizing you like a siren. In that setting the cover of Serge Gainsbourg classic ‘La Javanaise’ isn’t even out of place. Cáncer is a surprise for all of you looking for an intimate album for after hours relaxation or your Sunday morning breakfast.

 

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Elisa Casile - Orchidee 

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Orchidee (2010) - ♪♪♪
Elisa Casile (Italy)

Born 1984, young singer Elisa Casile has been steadily planning her musical journey since 2003 when she performed the Festival of Castrocaro. In December 2008 she impressed the jury of SanremoLab with the song "Pensiero costante " This gave her the opportunity to record a first single called ‘Chiedi a Cupido’ and a  second single ‘La stanza di seta’ (The room of silk) in 2009. With the new single ‘Come fuliggine’ she now releases her debut album mostly filled with self-penned songs. Inspiration comes from everyday life and observations Elisa makes. For instance, the theme of the new single is based on an overheard conversation between men whose central theme was to keep track of their achievements. The video was made by director Umberto Nicoletti. ‘Orchidee’ features a pleasant mixture of singersongwriter songs, midtempo songs and more alternative rocksongs. With her sweet lightbrown voice you could say Casile is the alternative-acoustic niece of Mietta. Sometimes the sound of the album makes a bit of turn to too standard international alternative rock and with that Elisa risks of losing that typical warm-blooded Italian flavour. For that matter ‘Come fuliggine’is actually a bad example for some other pop-pearls that are present on the album. Luckily the song is followed by ‘Amare la lentezza’ which has that orchestral Italian breeze flowing under the dramatic melody. The same Mediterranean vibe comes along on the ballad ‘Sento la distanza’ where the orchestra emphasizes Elisa cries to “Run, running without taking a breath, turn, turn and turn”. And the catchy chorusline of ‘Chiedi a cupido’ will haunt you for days “Dimmi, dimmi, dimmi che farai / Alzerai bandiera bianca e ten e andrai”. (Tell me (3x) you will / wave that white flag and count to ten). The albums closes with one of the better songs of Italian songwriter Fabrizio De André ‘La canzone dell’amore perduto’ (the song of lost love) which she performed at the Rome Prize Fabrizio De Andrè, sharing the stage with Andrea Miro and Cristiano De Andrè. With ten songs ‘Orchidee’ is a well balanced debut. But it is also a compilation of the last two years of Eilsa’s young career and in that sense you could say she had a lot of time to compile the songs and kill the lesser ones. She did a good job but can she keep it up? Like the orchid flower she could wither or bloom again. We wait in anticipation.

 

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Féloche - La vie cajun (Bonus Track Version) 

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La vie Cajun (2010) - ♪♪♪
Feloche (France)

Weaponed with a mandolin French singer Feloche goes down to the Mississippi to soak up influences for his debut album ‘La vie cajun’ or the Cajun life. But instead of making this an album rooted in traditional music Feloche takes it home to France and blends all his influences with French pop. He cooks up a smelling stew Louisiana style, spiced with a touch of rockabilly, some hints of French electronics, beautiful remnants of crazy punk-funk and French cabaret.  The title song, the single ‘Darwin avait raison’ (Darwin was right), Qu'on te maraboute’ , ‘Jette les gants’ and ‘Reste avec moi’ are highly original songs that make you want to clap and dance along. Feloche sounds like Katerine, Jacques Higelin and Mathieu Boogaerts took a trip with Dr John (that eponymous musical wizard of New Orleans) and this is what they created in their voodoo backroom. Speaking of, Dr John joins in on a version of ‘Gris-gris’. They ‘but’ on the whole project is that by the time you reached his plingplong version of ‘Singing in the rain’ you have your belly full of Cajun Parisian swing. But then the whole trip is over anyway and you had a great listening experience.

 

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Fixkes - Superheld 

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Superheld (2010) - ♪♪
Fixkes (Belgium)

Fixkes is a Belgian band from Stabroek, close to Antwerp, around the brothers Sam and Jan Valkenborgh. For those of you familiar with the local Flemish popscene, Fixkes is the laidback hiphop fuelled variety to singers like Flip Kowlier or bands like Zita Swoon. You could also say they are the Belgian alternative to US-bands like Pavement or Weezer. That means a nerdy kind of pop music with ditto nerdy lyrics. Not to difficult, maybe somewhat melancholic about youth lost, they sing about the disappearance of rock-’n-roll, your Friday night fuckbuddy, misunderstandments about love, plakijzers (which is untranslatable) and superheroes. “I want a superhero to call my own / who is cheap and orders pizza’s / there are only seven days in a week / and sometimes not even that / it’s too much for me / I want a superhero”. And all sung/rapped in Antwerp dialect. For those of you who master Dutch or Flemish a bit the lyrics are sometimes hilarious and sweet. For those people Fixkes is a great band to lighten up your spring-day. For those of you who don’t ‘Superheld’ might be a bit to locally intended and a step to far. Musically it does give an eclectic view into the Flemish music scene but maybe stays a bit mediocre soundwise. Hence the two stars. Lofi college radio pop with hiphop vibes. Nice but done before. Try ‘Dorpstraat’, Rock-n-roll’ or ‘Neukvriendje’ to decide for yourself.

 

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Hayat Rüya Gibi (2010) - ♪♪
Göksel - (Turkey)

Turning 39 this year Turkish singer Göksel Demirpençe presents her seventh album called ‘Hayat Rüya Gibi’ or ‘Life is like a dream’. Like her previous album ‘Mektubumu Buldun mu?’ (Did you find my letter?) (2009) she agains dips into cover versions of songwriting legends like Bora Ayanoğlu (Deli Etme Beni Aşk), Sezen Aksu (İçime Sinmiyor), Fikret Şeneş (Seninleyim, Palavra), Yalçın Tura (Hasretinle Yandı Gönlüm) and Fecri Ebcioğlu (Eylül’de Gel). With the album Göksel tries to revive the days of the seventies when she walked as a young girl at the waterfront of the Bosporus. Which explains the Italian-European influence on a song like ‘Seninleyim Palavra’ which sounds like a Mina track but then Anatolian styled. With grand orchestra and a warm swooning melody. ‘Kıskanıyorum’ sounds like a waltz that could be heard from one of the water palaces at old Constantinople at the time. Now, this nostalgia trip may be very fine if you’re Turkish and turning forty but for foreign ears the Turkish orchestral bourgeois sound gets the better of you once you reached track number eight. And then you’ll still have to listen through a schlager like track like ‘Başıma Gelenler Tek Başına’. There are highlights to find though on this album like mentioned ‘Kıskanıyorum’ and the Orhan Gencebay composition ‘Kabahat Seni Sevende’. It’s here that the orchestral production by the Erdem brother (Cengiz and Deniz) fits perfectly with the light voice of Göksel. But after two of these projects it’s time for Göksel to leave the ‘Look I can make a credible album’- path and come up with a great pop album we know she can make. Till that day we’ll have to make do with a last pop-abum to date, ‘Ay'da Yürüdüm’ (I Walked on the Moon) from 2007 (containing the duet ‘Taş Bebek’ with Ferman Akgül from MaNga and Teoman). For now ‘Hayat Rüya Gibi’  is nice for the local market but maybe a step to far for a true Europop pick up.

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Gotan Project - Tango 3.0 (Deluxe Version) 

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Tango 3.0 (2010) - ♪♪
Gotan Project(France / Swiss)

French/Swiss/Argentina combo Gotan Project blew me away in 1999 when i bought their 10-inch debut single ‘Vuelvo Al Sur/El Capitalismo Foraneo’. Within the French electronic down-tempo scene of the time the Gotan Project was a big surprise with their style grounded in an Astor Piazzola tradition, which is then augmented in the studio with a varied palette of dub-sounds and guest artists. Even live their music  oozed an atmosphere of latin-american film noir with the band performing behind a movie screen showing tango dancing couples. Their 2000 debut ‘La revancha del tango’ was their tour the force. Since then the core trio of Philippe Cohen Solal, Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H. Muller  came a long way. No commercial, documentary or coffee lounge bar could do without the tango-electronics of the Gotan project. Picking up more or less right where they left off with 2006's second album ‘Lunatico’ ‘Tango 3.0’ is more of the same. You’ll get the laidback midtempo grooves and latin vocal samples. Slowly but surely you’ll get the feeling that the gimmick that was so wonderful in 1999 has run it’s course. Suddenly the sweaty dub-fuelled tango electronics sound chewed out and reheated again. Hanging on a hot summer’s day in your hammock it's still an enjoyable album from a highly skilled group, but those new to Gotan Project would be better served to start with their excellent debut.

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Tolerança (2010) - ♪♪♪
Gibonni (Croatia)

Gibonni (real name: Zlatan Stipišić) is one of the most popular contemporary singers from the Balkan area. Starting in rock and metal bands, he has developed into a serious singer-songwriter with a huge number of fan. With his great songwriting skills, his good looks and his renowned stage performances he resembles Eros Ramazotti (Italy) and Jean-Jacques Goldman (France). After ‘Unca fibre’, his dark and sombre album from 2006, Gibonni is back with ‘Tolerança’.

The albums opens with ‘Tolerança’ (‘Tolerance’), featuring controversial Croatian singer-songwriter Damir Urban and renowned Brooklyn based rapper Masta Ace. It’s a powerful energetic song, basically played by a small combo of drums, bass and guitar. It may sound like a cliché in 2010, but taking into consideration the recent history and current political situation of the Balkan area – and many other places worldwide for that matter – the songs message is still very relevant:
“Is not no matter where you're from, cause you're here with me / Is not no matter how you got here - air or sea / See, we're all here together now, hand in hand / And we're trying to make it better now, man to man / Face to face, can we erase the racism, with one voice chase the rhythm / And all VIPs will need to give / Cause we're all tryin' to eat, sleep, breathe and live / Spread love”

The next song on the album is ‘Žeđam’ (‘Thirst’), which is also the first single. It is an intriguing, guitar-driven mid-tempo love song. It sounds urgent and modern, yet with that unmistakable ‘Balkan’ ring to it.
‘Slavim ove dane što si tu’ (‘I thank these days that you are here’) is a exuberant gospel song, with a choir chanting that “the sun is always shining”. It is a very eclectic song, with its African beat, mandolin, violin and guitars. Some critics stated it resembled Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’. ‘Opet si bogu drag’ (‘Again, dear God’) is a typical up-tempo Gibonni song that will do perfectly on stage. ‘Vrata moje sestre’ (‘The door to my sister’) is a wonderful ballad full of nostalgia, with a nice French accordion. ‘Vesla na vodi’ (‘Rowing on the water’) is one of t best songs on the album. It is an atmospheric and melodic gem with an instrumental outro ‘Mala vesla’ (‘A little rowing’):
“This is no longer your concern / you are rowing on the water / and your home is filled with light / filled with your loved ones. / Because even when the sky is aiming for your soul and pulling you toward its wing / I’m hiding you behind a verse, because anything is possible there.”

With ‘Tolerança’ Gibonni delivered a very decent pop album that will please his fans and might earn him some (well-deserved!) recognition outside the Balkan area as well. Yet I still think this artist has not reached his creative peak. I look forward to his next album. Hopefully he will further develop his lyrical abilities to express his most inner feelings. And maybe he will find the liberty to compose songs for other venues than the big stadiums. In the meantime, I will certainly not get bored listening to ‘Tolerança’.

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Lidojums (2010) - ♪♪♪
Iedomu Spārni (Latvia)

Latvian band Iedomu Spārni had some trouble finding the right formula for their music. Not in the least due to bandmembers joining and leaving the band. Hence that in their ten year existence this is only their second album (debut ‘Dienasgrāmata’ was released in 2004). The album opens rather nicely with a duet with rocksinger Ivo Fominu (Viss vienmēr būs tāpat) followed by the titlesong. But then somehow the album sinks in when the band loses itself in Britpop styled melodies. O.K. ‘Nē, Nē, Nē’ has some Baltic synth-folk melodies over which Ieva’s vocals fall nicely, but it is not enough to carry a whole album. With less the mediocre ballad ‘Izrāde Galā’ as low point. However, just when you were planning pull the cd out of the tray, track seven get’s you back on your seat. ‘Tev nav sirds’ starts with some keyboards but then guitarist Jānis Dreiškins crashes in with a killer riff, drums roll and Iedomu Spārni suddenly displays a great feel for Baltic rock. Singer Ieva Zēģele shows she got balls and sings more forcefully and pulls the listener into the music. And it doesn’t stop there. Metal powerriffs and semi-distorted vocals drive ‘Ļauj man’, dark drones dominate ‘Miers’, bass player Viesturs Butāns shows his funkrock skills on ‘Laidiet’ and symphonic rocker ‘Kamer krit’ closes the album. By then you completely forgotten and forgiven the first half of the album and you feel you just listened to the Latvian rock album of the year. Guys (and girl), if you keep this up you have gold on your hands. Oh, please don’t sing in English, look what happened to your Eurovision attempt. (Iedomu Spārni had a go at the ESC this year with the song ‘No way back’ but was not selected).

 

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Kayah & Royal Quartet (2010) - ♪♪♪
Kayah (Poland)

‘Kayah & Royal Quartet’ is a new album on which Kayah collaborates with the Polish Royal String Quartet. Kayah became first acquainted with the Royal String Quartet in 2008 when she received their invitation to participate in the festival Kwartesencja, organized by this group of classically educated musicians. Due to the success of their collaboration, they toured together in May and June 2009. It was then that plans were  made to record an entire album together and in September 2009, they started working in the recording studio. Meanwhile, Kayah had just released her album ‘Skała’ and was promoting the album with an acoustic tour during which the Royal String Quartet made a guest appearance. And now their joined album has been released, simply called ‘Kayah & Royal Quartet’.

In recent history many popular artists have flirted with classical music. Often the result is poor, sometimes it is ‘interesting’ and only in very view occasions the result is actually worth listening. Well, the obvious question now is: does the concept ‘classic violin quartet meets famous pop singer’ work for Kayah and the Royal String Quartet? After having listened to the album several times, I have to conclude that it is an adventurous album, beautifully crafted and produced. Yet, it remains a sympathetic project, it does not exceed the quality and impact of Kayah’s original albums. The album resembles the album ‘The Juliet Letters’, recorded by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet. Kayah is one of Poland’s most successful female singers, both commercially and artistically. She composed many hit singles and albums of very constant quality. Her style is rich and jazzy, but her most remarkable feature is her warm, dark, powerful voice. She is not afraid to take a step from the beaten tracks; in 1999 she released an album together with Goran Bregovic, interpreting some of Bregovic’ popular Balkan folk songs. The album was one of the best selling Polish albums of all time. In 2000 she recorded a successful single with Ceasaria Evora, the singing legend from Cape Verde. And now she teams up with a classical violin quartet.

The arrangements are beautiful, as is the production of the album. Most of the 13 songs are older songs from Kayah with new classical arrangements. And the classic Piazzola song ‘Libertango’ gets an entirely new arrangement, although the result is not very uplifting. Kayah’s English sounds a bit odd and the tango-with-bandeon vibes have lost completely. The classic treatment did not do any good for the two Bregovic songs. But the album definitely has its moments. The new arrangements turn the pop song ‘Testosteron’ into an intriguing and dramatic tune. The same goes for ‘Jestem kamieniem’. And the classical treatment works great on the songs from Kayah’s most recent album Skała: ‘Bursztynowa wieża’ and ‘Do diabła z przysłowiami’ sound fantastic. Despite the fact that the album has its ups and downs, Kayah proofs – again - to be an exciting, experimental artist, always exploring the bounderies of music. And for that, she deserves our respect.

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RRDP (2010) - ♪♪♪
Mirkelam & Kargo (Turkey)

Turkish rock band Kargo has been around for some time (the band was formed in 1995) but continuing band changes of the past four years sparked rumours that the band would cease to excist. Especially the departure of lead singer Koray Candemir in 2002 was a blow to the band. But guess what, Kargo is back with rock singer Fergan Mirkelam helping out on vocals (Fergan already had a solocareer since 1995 with five albums on his name) and a good album to boot. The album kicks of with ‘Aşk Acısı’ that sounds like a Irish band U2 has gone Anatolian. Including over-the-top Bono-styled lyrics: ‘My respect for love / I did not take a shot / I carry water from the desert / That was defeated in love”. But with the title song ‘RRDP’, meaning ‘Rakin rol disko parti’, delivers a great signature track. Anatolian rhythms, Arabic riffs..great track. “Oh, the madness of separation then / The fate of absent-mindedness / If you are like me, stand still “ Together with ‘000’ this is the strongest track on the album outclassing the other eight tracks. The album sold extremely well in Turkey and went to the top of the charts in no time. Internationally Kargo, with Mirkelam, certainly has an appeal not only due to the fact that the rock-sounds are familiar for foreign ears. That said the album is obviously made to pull off a big rockshow. Only on ballad ‘Iyi geceler’ is a point of rest. ‘RRDP’ is a catchy commercial rock album and the joined forces with Mirkelam do work out great but somehow it also feels as if Kargo played a bit safe.

 

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Masumiyetin Ziyan Olmaz (Your Innocence Won’t Go To Waste) (2010) - ♪♪♪
Mor ve Ötesi (Turkey)

Is it me or is Mor ve Ötesi gradually becoming a more adult rockband. With an adult timeframe to make an album. Fans had to wait four years for new material since 2006’s “Büyük Düşler” (Great Dreams). Not counting last years remix/live album. For the new album MVÖ again seeks the cooperation with producer Tarkan Gözübüyük. And he also has grown into a more mature sound, leaving his Metal-roots behind (as we could also hear on Sebnem Ferah’s recent album). In all. ’Masumiyetin Ziyan Olmaz’ marks a departure from the band and producer’s signature alternative rocksounds towards a more pop-inclined sound. And why not? Since the band’s appearance at the ESC three years ago their name and fame as one flag bearers of Turkish modern rock grew in Europe. A name they confirmed with tour and a professional show around European countries. And Europe is ready for Turkish rock, just look at the succes fellow-rockers MaNga had in this year’s ESC. But back to the album. Central theme is MVÖ account of the World they saw around them the past four years. It is a vision of a World in termoil but the band also sees a light at the end of the tunnel. Opener ‘Korkma’ (Afraid), build a driving riff from guitarist Kerem Özyegen  urges the people not to fall into the trap of getting scared: “shadow of the sleep / this is how the World adepts / Do not be afraid, afraid, scared “.

In a community that seems to polarize and harden MVÖ urges us to keep up talking and listen to each other. And please also not to take everything to serious. Like they state on the excellent track ‘Yorma Kendini' (Tired of yourself) : “I tell you one thing / if you only would listen to me / If you would not cover your heart with your mind / right? / absolutely anything and everything is relative / those together are hard to understand / Well who knows / Who knows? / It's just fun after all ”. War and the Aztec calendar (2012) come by: “Look at my feast bombs / If you can not celebrate on drawn cries / Take my soul with your mind and confront”. But contrary to it’s skeptical themes somehow ‘Masumiyetin Ziyan Olmaz’ has not become a dark depressive album. Like said above it is a wonderfull power pop/rock album on which MVÖ sheds it’s alternative stigma to become much more. Singer Harun Tekin’s voice powerfully hovers over the riffs and rhythm section without overshouting himself. Maybe a cliché but MVÖ grew mature on this album without their innoncence going to waste.


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El Camino Hacia los Sueños (2010) - ♪♪
Lo Nunca Dicho (Spain)

The reputation of Spanish band Lo nuncha dicha has taken a flight in their homecountry since the band debuted with a mini-album in 2008 on the small Flor y Nata Records. They were the winners of the "Myspace No Preservatives," which gives them the opportunity to play alongside Lori Meyers and Sin Rumbo in a tour of Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona and Valencia. Much of their success can possibly be based on their frantic tour schedule (the band performed almost everywhere in Spain) and that they offered their album for free on their MySpace page. In 2009 they started working on a new album called ‘El Camino Hacia los Sueños’ (The Way of Dreams). What to expect from Angel Alvarez and his gang? Lo Nuncha Dicho obviously is very influenced by the standard Anglo-American rock. Songs like ‘Aquelle Noche’, ‘Que Estamos Haciendo Aqui’ and ‘Los quo Nunca Veneiron’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Green Day album for the Latin market. Punky, uptempo but standard. With a production that sounds like they hit the studio and recorded it all in one take. Where’s that Iberican vibe we know and love from those Spanish bands? It is there when the band kicks back gear for the more midtempo songs. ‘Cuando No Eramos Asi’ and ‘Tu estrella’ are songs that show hints of warmblooded sentiments. “Because everything is broken if you're not / Waking me / And there's nothing worth the wait for the present and the past / From all that we / When we were not well / When we were not even so did not care”. That’s teenage love Spanish style. “We are so good and while I'm so bad / That every moment hurts a little more / In silence and waiting to decide who is right and wrong, / Although this course will always choose everything you ever wanted to escape”. Angel has a nice rock-voice and the band plays sufficiently so the talent is there. Now they have to work on their character.

Want to listen yourself? The band offers the album as a free download.
Go to: http://lonuncadicho.bandcamp.com/

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Los Planetas - Una Opera Egipcia 

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Una Ópera Egipcia (2010) - ♪♪♪
Los Planetas (Spain)

Granada-based rock band Los Planetas have made a gradual progression the past years starting in 2004 with ‘Contra la ley de la gravedad’. If you listen to that album and then to their latest you’ll be astounded with the progress the band made the past six years. What only started as hints of wavering guitars, Mercury Rev’s influenced arrangements and indie rock with a big gesture has developed into Andalucian indie album that can match any other European alternative rockalbum. And with ‘ Una ópera Egipcia’ the band finally got the hang to mix the local musical (flamenco) influences with their the characteristic sound of distorted guitars, psychodelic samples and intricate, often twisted lyrics.  Opening with the instrumental 'La Llave De Oro', 'Una Corona De Estrellas' and 'Soy Un Pobre Granaino' get the record going. The album gets a regular guest appearance by La Bien Querida who caries the vocal track ‘ La Veleta’. In the lyrics Juan Rodríguez mixes a universal theme like love with more mythological imagery. On ‘'Señora De Las Alturas' he sings “if you stay with me / so you can tell / how much you need / but I think you know / I'll say it again / I love you more than anyone else / I still love you the same thing / to ease my woes
mistress of my abyss”.
One of the absolute highlights of the album is 'Romance De Juan Osuna', were thundering guitars, with the distorsion pedal doing overtime again, collide with the almost nightmarish drugfueled but poetic lyrics by Quintero. “The torments of my black duquelas / They are not remote or my enemies /I dreamed of cloves and cinnamon / I woke up to give me the punishment / (You're) My blood and my life / (You're) My lunita clear / As much as I loved / It goes without looking / The rose of love / The rich and poor cut / And all end in tears / Like the little kids”.

It is these tracks that lift ‘Una ópera Egipcia’ to a higher level and lifts Los Planetas music over the average rockband. Closing track 'Los Poetas' is a nine minute sound sculpture mixing haunting flamenco chanting with hypnotic distorted guitars and droning synths until J breaks the silence in an almost Gothic tradition: “This servant of the king of the universe / Could do, down from the heavens / A law to submit, which you denied.” According to the promotional note, the title ‘Una ópera Egipcia’ (Egyptian Opera) is a term used to refer to a gypsie musical masterpieces deserving only superlatives, whose origin seems supernatural. J (group leader) heard it referred to La Niña de los Combs but the term is almost 140 years and was used as a result of which Verdi was commissioned the opera ‘Aida’ for the opening of the Suez Canal. Now, to dub Los Planetas eighth album as such might be a bit over the top. Therefore the influences from British indie rock and nineties shoegazing are a bit to obvious. But if you’re looking for a good indie Eurorock album ‘Una ópera Egipcia’ is absolutely well worth your money.

 

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Alkistis Protopsalti & Feat Stefanos Korkolis - Fanera Mystika 

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Fanera mystika (2010) - ♪♪♪
Alkistis Protopsalti (Greece)

Fanera mystika (‘Obvious secrets’) is the new album from Greek super star Alkistis Protopsalti. The album is constructed around the compositions of famous composer and producer Stefanos Korkolis and renowned lyricist Lina Nikolakopoulou. Protopsalti has worked with both of them before. In 2004 she recorded many Korkolis songs on the album ‘Na se vlep na gelas’. And since Nikolakopoulou is one of the most popular lyricist in Greece (interpreted by Alexiou, Galani and many others), it is only natural that Protopsalti already sang many songs with her lyrics. But there are also a few songs on the album from lesser known composers and lyricists, for example Rebecca Roussi, who wrote the lyrics for ‘Kokino’ (‘Red’) and ‘Teleosame’ (‘Finished’). And ‘M’allon miazis’ (‘You look like another’) is a cover of the song ‘Malo’ written by Nieves Rebolledo, now with Greek lyrics by Nikolakopoulou.

Protopsalti has a really terrific voice, powerful yet very tender en vulnerable. Together with Dimitra Galani and Haris Alexiou she is one of the leading diva’s in Greece. But since she does not compose her own material, the quality of her albums highly depends on the people she works with. This results in a somewhat precarious oeuvre. Some records are really very good (especially her 1997 album ‘San ifaisteo pou ksipna’), some are mediocre ore even less (like the disappointing 2007 album ‘Sto oraiotero simio’). ‘Fanera mystika’ fits somewhere in between. The singing is great, as usual. Some of the songs are quite good, but definitely not all of them. The production is very transparent and modest compared to some of her other albums. Many of the songs deal with the eternal theme of love and relationships (and the ending of them…). In the song ‘Teleiosame’ (‘Finished’) Protopsalti sings:
"We’re finished / we are lost, bleed / Finished / We resemble two drops / We broke up and melted / Finished”. In some songs, Protopsalti takes it to another level, like the fantastic cover ‘M’allon miazis’ (‘You look like another’), in which she from the point of view of a woman who gets physically and emotionally abused by her husband: “It will become hell and fire / that can melt iron / and the bruises on my cheeks / will finish, I swear”. The song ‘I agapi mou pai’ (‘The love that goes’) is an impressive, classic duet with composer Stefanos Korkolis. On the song ‘I zoi mou ano kato’ (‘My life upside down’) Antonis Remos provides the second voice.

 

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La Shica - Supercop 

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Supercop (2010) - ♪♪
La Shica (Spain)

Elsa Rovayo, singer and driving force behind Madrilean band La Shica, has dedicated her life to flamenco. She did so after she saw legendary actress and singer Marisol Flores and she decided this is what she wanted to do. But after years travelling with theatre groups in flamenco suits moles, combs and bows low she became fed up with the traditional approach the flamenco scene had. I presume she encountered the mestiza scene from Catalonia (mixing gypsy sounds, flamenco with hiphop) and decided she wanted to take flamenco into the 21th century. With her debut album 'Trabajito de chinos' she did just that creating a style she herself called “hard copla”. The flamenco purists didn’t take lightly to her revolutianry style considering her the ‘antichrist’ of tradition. Luckily  for us Elsa did not care because with ‘ Supercop’, produced by Javier Limón, she continues on her chosen path. And again it’s an exciting mix of hiphop, jazz and traditional flamenco music. On opening track ‘Con dinamita’ she takes a bite back at her criticaster singing “She threw away the corset / by Despeñaperros / took the dibs / climbed into the hills / It outlined and assembled a set / High Voltage ...”.  Indeed. The result is again a highly original album, something that is completely new and yet oddly familiar. Most of the lyrics on the album were written by Luis Domerqc. According to the singer her "friend and psychoanalyst ", who translates her feelings in each song. "I identify with each text," says Elsa in a recent interview. Next to that she does a cover version of Sarita Montiel’s “Fumando espero” and “Limosna de amores” written by Rafael de Leon and Manuel Lopez Quiroga. Although Elsa says she remains oblivious to the critique from her former colleagues the lyrics to ‘Supercopleras’, on which she teams up with singer Bebe, hint to some frustration “Battalion Pharaoh / The one you want to add / That this is free from restrictions / That is what our last song is / And we will celebrate”.

The album almost comes to a close with the intimate and dramatic love song ‘Despedida’: “The first thing is that I love you / The latter remind we must embrace / which I was unable to give / the third is the first / Never forget you” but then the temperament full rhythms give the album a right sign off with ‘Mi familia y otros animales’. Rap, jazz, flamenco and handclaps bustle over each other in a swinging finale. If you’re already used to the Mestiza sound of Ojos de Brujo and Macaco you should take the next step and be baffled by the stylish universe of La Shica and Nu-Copla.  

 

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Joan Manuel Serrat - Hijo de la Luz y de la Sombra 

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Hijo de la Luz y de la Sombra, Miguel Hernández (2010) - ♪♪♪
Joan Manuel Serrat (Spain)

In 1972, at the peak of his talents, a young Joan Manuel Serrat released Miguel Hernández, an album setting music to the words of one of the greatest Spanish poets. Thirty-eight years later, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Hernández's birth, Serrat revisits for the first time Hernández's work on ‘Hijo de la Luz y de la Sombra’. But the circumstances around the album have completely changed. Serrat's 1972 album — Franco was still alive and in power — was a defiant, revolutionary gesture. At the time Hernández was a banned and thus almost forgotten poet during the Franco regime (1936-1975; Franco was also responsible for the poet's imprisonment and death in 1942, at age 31). Nowadays he is one of the key figures of 20th century Spanish literature. With the 1972 album Serrat once again defied the authorities by displaying Miguel Hernández as a symbol of political resistance. But those times have passed. With this new album Serrat clearly focuses more on the artistic values of the poet. Serrat reflects from his juvenile romantic works to his sombre late poems, infusing this collection with greater variety of mood and themes. The arrangements by Joan Albert Amargós are simple, jazzy and fresh even for the darker texts such as ‘El Hambre’ (The hunger) . “Starvation becomes the man in the labyrinths / Where life darkly dwells alone / Reappearance of the beast, recovers his instincts / His legs bristling, his grudges, his tail”. With this album you could blame Serrat for returning on his keyworks for lack of inspiration. But that would not do justice to the obvious sincerety Serrat has for the poets work. It  is one of Serrat's strongest late releases. Serrat's singing may have lost his youthful fierceness (no wonder, he received treatment for cancer twice in the 2000s) , but he can be genuinely moving, particularly when dealing with texts that obviously mean so much to him, such as the title track that closes the album. “You're the night, my wife: night at the most of its power lunar and feminine / You are midnight: the shadow height where the dream ends where love ends / I will put on your body when night spreads / their greedy desire for magnet and power. / An astral feverish feeling overwhelms me, burns my bones with a shiver. / You're the night, my wife / and I am noon”. Beautiful words. Like the project Spanish singer Luz Casal did recently our three stars are not because the project lacks quality or artistic value. It is because the power of the album is mostly in the lyrics. Musically everything is in service of them. For Spanish speaking Europeans this would be no problem, for others this will take some adjustment in your listening experience.

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Stromae - Alors on danse - Single 

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Cheese (2010) - ♪♪♪
Stromae (Belgium)

The power of the internet. Who needs agents, talent shows when you can switch on your webcam and perform for a public of millions. If that is exactly how it works remains to be seen but that’s what happened to young Belgian Paul van Haver. Son of a Rwandan father and a Belgium mother, he practices from his home studio in Brussels, Belgium. He produces his own tracks inspired by Belgian electronic acts like Technotronic and the New Beat wave of 1992. It’s the presentation of his music that makes him get noticed however. In 2009, in his bedroom seated at his desk in front of his keyboard and computer, he faces a camera playing the role of a music teacher. In a course on how to make a musical composition, he incorporates several of his own tracks like, “Alors On Danse,” thus becoming “lesson n8” of the "lessons of Stromae." . And now he relases his first album under that same name and ‘Alors on danse’ is already storming the European charts. So this is a happy summer record? Well not exactly because the world Stromae paints around him is one that is grey and without perspective. With ‘Bienvenue chez moi’ he gives the listener an outline of his small apartment and numbly explains what he likes and listens to. With ‘Te Quiero’ he goes further on path of depression “I wanted my death but for life / I will say "yes" to life, death / And even changing his mind / Even knowing it is wrong / We will not change life / So like everyone else I will suffer / Until Death”. It is ill fate that surrounds the Stromae universe and those of you who recently visited Brussels will know that the city and Belgium are going through rough economical and social times. Still the people cling to an almost hedonistic lifestyle. ‘Rail de musique’ sums the drugs needed to get through another pointless day “my cigarette, my shit, my dose, my weed, my coke, my speed, my crack, my music”.

In that way the hitsingle ‘Alors on danse’ is a sarcastic composition to a decadent community in demise:“Who says work says study / Who says money says spending / Who says credit says debt, / Yes we’re sitting in the shit. / Who says Love says kids, / Says marriage and says divorce. /Who say family bereavement because the problems do not come alone. / Since crisis everyone says famine is called the third world. / We wake up tired of the dull day, / Then you go out to forget all the problems. / Then we dance ... (X9)”. Meanwhile Stromae mumbles out the lyrics in an almost bored monotone way. With ‘Cheese’ Stromae gathers the best of Belgian electronic music and blends that into an existentialist soundtrack to the crisis. Belgium always was good in the credible electronic underground scene with acts like Front 242, Arbeid Adelt and Telex and later delivering some classic House music. Stromae shows an excellent heir to that scene.

Watch lesson no 8 that formed the basis for 'Alors on Danse'

 

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Bana bi'şey olmaz (2010) - ♪♪♪
Ozlem Tekin (Turkey)

It has been five years since Ozlem Tekin’s last album ‘10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1’, but now she is finally back with ‘Bana bi'şey olmaz’. Ozlem might not be the most productive singer, she is definitely one of the most influential contemporary pop artists in Turkey. Her songs often have controversial lyrics and with her second album ‘Òz’ she was the first mainstream artist in Turkey releasing an electronic pop album recorded entirely with electronic instruments. She took quite a turn with her previous album, on which she rocked harder and louder than before. After five long years, during which she got married to Cem Òcal, we were really anxious to hear what Ozlem’s new album would be bring us. Well, to be frank: the album is definitely not bad; it contains ten very decent pop/rock songs (and one extra acoustic song). But at the same time it sounds a bit safe and smooth, not as creative and adventurous as we hoped and expected from Oz.

Still, the album does not contain weak songs either, so if you are into female European pop/rock singers, Ozlem Tekin is definitely worth checking out and her latest album might offer a good introduction. The songs on the album were written and composed by Ozlem together with her husband Cem Öcal, Murat Çekem, Can Şengün and Burak Uçkun. It opens with the title track ‘Bana bi'şey olmaz’ (‘I am not me’) in up tempo rock style. Then she slows down a bit with the mid tempo ‘Kimse bilmez’ (‘No one knows’), followed by the dramatic ballad ‘Yatağım boş’ (‘My bed is empty’), one of the best songs on the album. Then a few mid tempo pop/rock songs follow, among them the traditional ‘Aslan yarim’ (‘Half lion’), that she turns into an interesting pop tune. The closing track is the beautiful (but unfortunately very short) ballad ‘Sil baştan’ (‘All over again’), on which Ozlem shows her ability to write touching lyrics:

“Half my life I’ve spend between four walls / … / The pain of my fortune my dark friend / The embrace heals the wounds of my heart / … / Never fear again / Snow melts from the gutter, the day arises on the horizon / Completely erase your fear / Never fear again....”

 

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Hastayim sana (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Yildiz Tilbe (Turkey)

‘Hastayim sana’ (‘I’m sick’) is Yildiz’ latest album. Yildiz was discovered by Turkish pop legend Sezen Aksu while singing in a nightclub in Ontario, where she lived at the time. Aksu invited her to come to Istanbul and while providing backing vocals for Aksu, Yildiz started working on her solo career as well, both as composer (for Tarkan among others) and as a solo recording artist. Since her breakthrough in the beginning of the nineties, she released more than ten albums and she has become one of Turkish best selling artists.

In the review of her previous album ‘Güzel’, I wrote: “…there is much to enjoy, so 'Güzel' earns 3 notes easily. I just hope that Yildiz will experiment more with real drums and percussion on her next one...”. I do not have the illusion that Yildiz read this piece of advice, but still, her latest album ‘Hastayim sana’ was recorded with an small orchestra, using mostly real acoustic instruments (ud, cümbüş, classical and acoustic guitars, keman, sax, a wide variety of percussion etc.). All this results in an adventurous journey through Yildiz’ musical world. All the songs were written and composed by herself and show many eastern influences. The exotic rhythms, at times possibly a bit difficult for Western ears, are typical for Yildiz’ songs. But this time, thanks to the fantastic orchestration, the songs sound warmer and more organic than ever. And Yildiz voice has matured as well, becoming less sharp, but warmer, even a bit husky at times (possibly due to her drug abuse in the past…).

 

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Sylvie Vartan - Sylvie Live

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Live (2010) - ♪♪♪
Sylvie Vartan (France)

It seems like a tradition for popular French artists to release an album after every live tour. Sylvie Vartan is no exception to that rule – during her five decade spanning career she released countless live albums. On September 19, 2009 she performed her ‘tour de chant intimiste’ on the famous Olympia stage in Paris, which has recently been released on a double cd (also available on dvd).

Now the question is: does this release add anything to the many existing Vartan-live albums? In my opinion, the answer is: yes. First of all Sylvie is not the best singer in the world, but she loves the stage and the stage loves her. She always succeeds in adding something extra to her shows. Secondly, the recital is build around the songs of her latest, very strong, album ‘Toutes peines confondues’, mixed with many of her classic hits like ‘Je n’aime encore que toi’, ‘Darina’ and ‘La Maritza’. This results in a very agreeable collection of songs. Thirdly, this live album is entirely performed in an intimate acoustic setting, so we hear older and recent songs in quite different versions.

But there are also some weaker moments on this live set. For example the Piaff-medly ‘L’hymne à l’amour/Non je ne regrette rien’, in duet with Johnny Hallyday. Vartan does sound far better than her ex husband, but what on earth did her decide to sing these two Piaff-songs? Neither her personality nor her voice have any resemblance to Piaffs. The same goes for her interpretation of Barbara’s ‘Mon enfance’. Somehow, the cover of the Everly Brothers’ ‘Gone gone gone’ fits her voice and style much better. And compliments to Sylvie for the fact that she actually succeeds in turning the dreadful Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder duet into a far better version!

If you are a big fan of Sylvie Vartan, your collection is not complete without this cd/dvd. And if you always wanted to buy one of Sylvie’s live albums but you did not know which one to chose: this is definitely one of her best.

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Jenni Vartiainen - Seili 

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Seili (2010) - ♪♪♪♪♪
Jenni Vartiainen (Finland)

Jenni Vartiainen is a young talented Finish singer, who just released her second solo album ‘Seili’. She became a national pop icon after winning the 2002 edition of Pop Star in Finalnd, along with two other girls. The trio formed a band called ‘Gimme’ and they released two albums before breaking up in 2004. After that Vartiainen started her solo career and she released her first album ‘Ihmisten edessä’ (‘In front of people’) in 2007 – it soon went platinum. She received several awards for her debut album. After a break she released her second solo album ‘Seili’ at the end of March – the album already went double platinum in Finland and the first single ‘En haluu kuolla tänä yönä’ (‘I don’t want to die tonight’) topped the Finnish download charts for many weeks.

So the question is: is Jenni Vartiainen a new europop talent?
After listening to ’Seili’ a few times, the answer is without a single doubt: yes! This girl proves that there can come some good out of all thje horrific tv talent shows. She composed most of the songs on the album, together with popular Finnish composers like Mariska and Teemu Brumila. The songs sound fresh and modern (a bit like Garou meets Goldfrap). Her voice is impressive and has a very unique sound and it becomes the most important instrument on the album. Best part of the album is that it is unmistakable Finnish. All songs are sung in the Finnish language and they have that cold, dark mysterious Scandanavian sound. And Finnish suddenly becomes a beautiful language to sing in, when you hear Jenni chant her songs!

And not only do the songs sound modern and fresh, the lyrics are worth listening to (or in this case: worth translating) as well. Take the song ‘Duran Duran’, a nice pop tune about a new found love Jenni experiences with some help from Duran Duran, who provide the soundtrack of the experience (“Simon Le Bon is already under sail…”). Or the beautiful closing track ‘Halvalla’ (‘Cheap’):
“Sleep in peace, but hey, no longer a dream / Who else is on offer / I can not guess / And if by chance you’re awake / So now you can get me cheap, for a throw away price / Now you can get it easy / My used heart“

And even a simple love song becomes a tru gemm when Jenni sings in ‘Minà ja hän’ (‘Me and him’):
“Even if you have to search for thousands of years /…/ Me and him, I know / We have a common soul / Me and him, I know / We have life eternal”.

‘Seili’ is a great europop album and I expect Jenni Vartiainen to build a long lasting career in music, with hopefully many moregreat albums to come!

(NB: interested? Check out Jenni’s website at: www.jennivartiainen.fi. You can order her albums and other Finnish pop music via www.recordshopx.com.)

 

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Le Vibrazioni - Le strade del tempo (Deluxe Version) 

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Le Strade del Tempo (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Le Vibrazioni (Italy)

The last few years there is a new wave of Eurorock flowing over the contingent. Largely influenced by British bands like Coldplay. There ‘Viva la Vida’ had quite an impact on the sound of European rock. On one hand you have the bands who form a dull copy of that sound, on the other you have band who incorporate a own signature to the music. In last category Italian band Le Vibrazioni falls. The Milanese band makes its fourth album a pleasant pop/rock album that takes elements from current rock styles but gives it that typical Italian twist. What it exactly is is hard to explain but it is something in the flowing melodies, the band gives a certain vibrancy to the music. Listen to the single ‘Respiro’ to hear what I mean. A simple pianoriff starts the ballad while singer Francesco Sarcina sings: “Today will like pass a tear that slips and where will it go? /Perhaps among the signs of a bitter smile / What will this winter be? /Another who does not know how fragile spring blooms again / Within a breath is its smell.” Of course, the band is Italian, most songs handle the universal theme of love. The intelligent lyrics are written in a visceral and warm manner telling all about the anxieties and joys of love. Like on ‘E volar via’ :” Please do not say that / this is just a stupid game / gently kissing and then whisper magic words”. Or more bitter on the title track “Thus' burning inside .. burns inside. And I'm tired .. always tired. Chasing the time .. turning backwards. / But the reality is this: I was hoping it was a 'other!” But don’t be deceived to think Le Vibrazioni made a sweet soft loveedovee album like we know from Italian acts like Eros Ramazotti. The band balances its style more with powerriffs, soft intervals and lush orchestral arrangements. Toptrack ‘Le sirene del mare’ is in my opinion a great example of New Eurorock. Starting with a dark riff, the song builds up like a warm wind, while the lyrics get their inspiration from ancient European mythologie. “Today is a day of mistral / Change the wind and the sea / and change the route that I follow my ship / Follow me everywhere / wherever direct / but I hear the song of sirens and their nakedness / Thalassa.”. The Coldplay link becomes very evident when Davide Rossi pops up as arranger on ‘Malie’. ‘Le Strade del Tempo’ is a good and very well balanced Italian poprock-album with some great tracks. A worthwhile album to check out.

 

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Maija Vilkkumaa - Kunnes Joet Muuttaa Suuntaa 

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Kunnes joet muuttaa suuntaa (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Maija Vilkkumaa (Finland)

With her sixth album ‘Kunnes joet muuttaa suunta’ (‘Until the rivers change direction’) Maija Vilkkumaa has once again delivered a fantastic rock album. With this collection of twelve songs, entirely written and composed by herself, she confirms her position at the top of the Finnish music scene, a position where she arrived some ten years ago and never left. The songs sound more mature than her earlier albums, which is only natural since the young singer is slowly growing towards her forties  (she is from 1973).

The songs on ‘Kunnes joet muuttaa suunta’ all have the typical Vilkkumaa signature. The hooks and choruses turn every song into an irresistible tune that you cannot get out of your head easily. Yet they sound somehow more structured and straightforward than her previous albums due to the more transparent and basic production and arrangements.

Apparently Maija’s lyrics are something very special. According to the Finnish reviews on the net (sorry, my Suomi is not that good…) the lyrics on ‘Kunnes joet…’ are no exception to that rule. She addresses social issues, reflects on youth and times gone by and, of course, the ups and downs in a relationship.

If you are into the more rock orientated genre, you should definitely check out this album by Maija Vilkkumaa. It is a solid rock gem that gets better with every time you listen to it. My favorite tracks: the dramatic and angry ‘Jos se vie mun miehen’ (‘If she takes my man’), the bold rock song and album opener ‘Rouvakellari’ (‘Ladies' cellar’) the tender but sad ballad ‘Viimeinen laulu’ (‘The last song’) and the super catchy ‘Siihenks se jää’ (‘Is it there where it ends?’). 

 

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Stefan Waggershausen - So ist das Spiel 

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So ist das Spiel (2010) - ♪♪♪
Stefan Waggershausen (Germany)

No less than 13 years (!) after his last regular album ‘Die Rechnung kommt immer’, popular German singer-songwriter Stefan Waggershausen is back with an entirely new record: ‘So ist das Spiel’ (‘That is the game’). Waggershausen brought in the help from some new and some older friends. Italian singer Alice, with whom he sang the European no. 1 hit single ‘Zu nah am Feuer’ (‘Too close to the fire’) back in 1984, is back for the duet (‘Was soll ich dir sagen’ (‘What shall I tell you’). The combination of the two music veterans works out great and this song is definitely one of the best on the album. Another old friend providing harmony vocals on the song ‘Für dich’ is famous Europop icon Nena. On ‘Der alte Wolf wird langsam grau’ (‘The old wolf becomes gray slowly’) Stefan duets with Annett Louisan and for ‘Endloser Sommer’ (‘Never ending summer’) he invited a whole bunch of German friends: Lilly & die Home-Boys, singer Sasha, actor Jan Josef Liefers and musician Henning Wehland.

Although Stefan and many of the friends he invited have their musical roots (and popularity) in the eighties, this album definitely is not a nostalgic trip back to that unique decade. The album is very intimate, acoustic and guitar orientated. Obviously, Stefan is still inspired by his adventure in Louisiana, USA, in the mid-nineties, when he recorded the blues and cajun influenced album ‘Louisiana’. He sounds more relaxed than ever, probably because he has nothing more to proof, having passed the age of 60. Somehow he resembles Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler. With so many Anglo-American influences, it is sometimes hard to recognize the europop roots. Fortunately every song was recorded in German and through the smooth, well-crafted arrangements and production Stefan’s europop-roots still resonate.

Lyrically, Stefan knows how to write good song texts. The songs on ‘So ist das Spiel’ have a nostalgic, reflective mood and so have their lyrics. In ‘Und sie sahen sich nur an’ (‘And they just looked at each other’) he describes the ending of a long lasting relationship, on which the tension is clear:
“He had to tell her that he hurt her / He knew / Please let me sink somewhere / but the ground just did not open / And as if the sun had died on this day / Love was thrown away in a grave – in a grave”

The passing of time is a central theme in many of the songs. And Stefan’s message is clear: get it while you can; do not postpone things you can do today, because tomorrow might never come. Just listen to ‘Die Zeit wartet niemals’ (‘Time never waits’):
“You cannot see me and yet you know me well / They resist all yet they pay me their tribute / No one will ever force me, not with weapons nor by military / … / She said live well / And a piece of advice for you / Your day will come as well, and there will be no bargaining then / Because I am for ever - I am eternally / I am Time / If you want to love someone then love him ... love him today”

Or in the song ‘1000 Küsse leicht’ (‘Light as a 1000 kisses’), where Stefan sings of Ramona, who looks at herself in the mirror at the age of 17, then 34, 43 until she can no longer wants to count the years of her age….: “And this night again, Ramona lies awake / And again she questions herself what she did wrong”

Stefan addresses the same theme in the song ‘Der alte Wolf wird langsam grau’ (‘The old wolf becomes gray slowly’), but in this case autobiographically:
“The old wolf is slowly becoming grey / he comes rarely out of the building / The old wolf does not say much, but he knows how to play the game / … / And the silver wolf does not want anything more / because his bones hurt him / Instead of bourbon he rather drinks green tea / And he sneaks home on quiet soles / He knows that soon he will only be a legend”

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