Album of the week (September 9, 2019)

III by Sorten Muld (Denmark)
Whereas the previous album, Mark II, relied on electronics and voice, this time they've brought plenty of "real" instruments into the mix, giving a much wider variety of tonal colors and textures. But the sonic heartbeat remains the electronics, whether samples, loops, or beats. They avoid the obvious rhythms -- you won't find any house or drum'n'bass here, for example -- and give the song what it needs, rather than trying to push it into any pre-planned formula. As before, they rely on traditional texts (and often traditional tunes, too) from Denmark and other Nordic countries, and they keep the blood and gore ballads as their specialty -- more killings and intrigue per verse than gangsta rap. Singer Ulla Bendixen's voice has developed during their hiatus. It can still be both seductive and commanding, but it's taken on more nuances and emotions, able to convey everything more clearly and subtly. But the whole band's come a long way. By comparison, Mark II was very raw, the kind of album that beat you over the head. This one brings you inside, every bit as powerful, but more thoughtful and measured, an approach that works well with this material. Think of them as electronic punks who've grown up and developed into resourceful, skillful musicians who are renewing the past for a club generation.

(Review by Chris Nickson)

Album of the week (September 2, 2019)

Forever Young by Alphaville (Germany)

Forever Young is the debut album released by West German synth-pop/rock group Alphaville on September 27, 1984, by Warner Music Group. The album is Alphaville’s most critically-acclaimed album, and an estimated 2,000,000 copies have been sold. Reviews of the album are generally positive, with one reviewer calling it “a classic synth pop album” and “a wonderfully fun ride from start to finish.” It charted well, hitting the Top 20 in six European countries (and hitting #1 in two of them), but it failed to make an impact on the US charts, faring no better than #180.

The lyrics of Summer in Berlin may contain a subtle reference to the 1953 East Germany uprising that started on June 17th.

Album of the week (August 25, 2019)

Danse Memoire, Danse by A Filetta (Corsica)

This album is a tribute to Aimé Césaire and Jean Nicoli.

From the liner notes:

«What can Aimé Césaire, a huge Martinican poet and playwright appearing in the Hall of Fame of the twentieth century, an important politician (Mayor of Fort-de-France and Member of Parliament for Martinique) have in common? trained in the great schools of the Republic and Jean Nicoli, modest teacher who taught in Upper Senegal (the current Mali) in the late 1920s before returning to Corsica to become one of the leaders of the resistance during the second World War ?
Both are islanders, attached to their native land, and men of refusal: they reject very clearly the colonialism and the sufferings inflicted on the weakest. One is the descendant of African slaves and the ardent defender of the concept of "negritude" that he invents, the other is revolted by the plight of the African people in the name of "progress" and "the civilization "of colonialism. Both passionately love Africa. 
Communists, they denounce the misdeeds of capitalism that crushes men and civilizations. When the time comes, they pledge against fascism and Nazism and tirelessly defend their ideas; "The idea, this unwelcome fly" will write Césaire in his "discourse on colonialism".
To his children, Jean Nicoli executed on August 30, 1943 by the fascist occupant, will leave these few admirable words: "... At four o'clock I will be shot. Have in front of you Papa happy and smile proudly in the street ... I die for Corsica and for the party. As a mourning you will both wear a beautiful head of More and a big red carnation ... ".

Album of the week (August 10, 2019)

Nouveau Flamenco by Ottmar Liebert (Germany/Spain)

Ottmar Liebert’s most famous album gave a new genre its title, and the New Age market a new champion. From the liner notes:

Nouveau Flamenco represents a spirited new sound emanating from Santa Fe. Its magic blends the heart and soul of the Spanish gypsy guitar with a contemporary groove, a sound mastered by Ottmar Liebert. Liebert's classical guitar training is flavored by jazz and pop influences, and his music expresses what is inseparably universal and deeply personal. The ancient dramas of sorrow and joy are released and artfully transformed for the listener of today. Nouveau Flamenco is truly acoustic poetry with elegance and passion.

Album of the week (July 22, 2019)

11 de Novembre by Sílvia Pérez Cruz (Spain)

Over the past decade, Catalan vocalist Silvia Pérez Cruz has lent her delicate voice to a wide variety of projects (most notably with her band las Migas), but 11 de Novembre is her first proper solo album.

Also for the first time, Pérez Cruz composed and arranged all the material, and co-produced the album with Raúl Fernández Refree. Pérez Cruz’s effortless eclecticism breezes through songs that touch on folk, acoustic jazz, fado, flamenco, Cuban, and Brazilian music, without losing her own identity.

She is equally at ease singing in four different languages (Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Galician), or setting poems by Feliu Formosa, Maria Mercè Marçal, and Maria Cabrera to music.

A deeply personal, beautiful album dedicated to the singer’s father, who had recently passed away

Album of the week (July 8, 2019)

Anian by 9bach (Wales)

9Bach is an alternative folk group formed by Welsh singer-songwriter and pianist Lisa Jên and guitarist Martin Hoyland, a veteran of 1990s alt-rock band Pusherman. The group now includes Ali Byworth (drums and percussion), Dan Swain (bass guitar), Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), and Mirain Roberts (vocals). The sextet’s name puns on “nain”, the word for “grandmother” in north Wales; “bach” means “small” in Welsh.

Album of the week (June 30, 2019)

Phantom Songs by 17 Hippies (Germany)

The review below is by The Guardian UK

A sophisticated, quirky band from Berlin who sing in German, French and English, 17 Hippies have spent 16 years developing an unlikely style that mixes French chanson and German cabaret with Balkan gypsy music and Americana, with a dash of anything from calypso to Middle Eastern styles thrown in. The Hippies are currently a 12-piece band, and they play anything from accordion to brass, violin to ukulele and banjo, sounding at times like a cool European answer to the equally hard-to-categorise Pink Martini.

Like those easy-going American mavericks, they are excellent musicians and have a fine female singer, Kiki Sauer, who is at her best here with the gently edgy Ton Étrangère, which matches chanson with what sounds like the muted backing for a spaghetti western. Elsewhere, singer Dirk Trageser tackles eastern European dance influences on the brass-and-accordion-backed Biese Bouwe; a third vocalist, Christopher Blenkinsop, echoes Leonard Cohen on Across Waters; and there's a jazzy, brass-and-violin reworking of Captain Beefheart's Gimme Dat Harp Boy. A few more songs from Sauer would have been welcome, but this is a brave and entertaining global fusion that deserves international success.

Album of the week (June 23, 2019)

Je Suis Une Île by Halo Maud (France)

Hailing from the French proggy, psychedelic and experimental pop scene that birthed Melody’s Echo Chamber, Moodoïd and cult label La Souterraine, Halo Maud’s ethereal songs flit between English and French language, focussing on notions of freedom and power through a wild and playful lens.

Right through the dream-pop sensibility and the swirling-synth psychedelia of Halo Maud’s debut album, something uncanny lurks. “I never did what other teenagers were doing,” she says, by way of explanation. “My father is a reverend but my mother rejected all religion, so I was always busy having a mystical crisis.” The record is rich with these contradictions, with the urge to be both precise and vague, wanting to be somewhere and wanting to run away.
The music also has a delicate balance between English and French. Maud Nadal grew up in rural Auvergne, in central France, and lives in Paris, but for years she wrote in English. “It took me a while to find my voice, to find my language even. I always listened to English music so when I started writing songs they were in English, too, and French came later. It’s difficult – everything sounds good in English, French is much harder.” That push-and-pull between the languages, where a song often contains both English and French, is another example of the stories lurking beneath the songs – “When I sing in English, the words float away from me straight away,” she explains. “When I sing in French, I feel something different, something more immediate, and I think the audience do too.”
These songs are ethereal, they seem to float above: “Sometimes I feel that the way time passes is about how you look at it. It’s about patience and perspective. I like to play with time, in the music, speed it up, slow it down, play it backwards. Sometimes things make sense when you put them in reverse.” She’s talking about her life (of course) as well as her album: “The first song and the last song are a pair, about the traces and sensations left at the end of a relationship.”
The whole record folds in the middle, in fact, the second half looking back at the first with a flinty eye. That opening track, ‘Wherever’, is a sweet tumbling love song – her voice is delicate and sweet, until you notice it’s also spooky and sinister. ‘Du Pouvoir’, the almost-jaunty second track about confidence and finding your place in the world, has an evil twin on side B of the record: ‘Je Suis Une Ile’ samples ‘Du Pouvoir’ but plays it backwards, like an apocryphal 80 metal hit, and adds an icy rage to the optimism of the earlier song. The whole flipside of the album is a wonky mirror, with playful loops and percussion and keys that are always about to slip from mischief to malevolence.