Friday, June 26, 2020

Chromatic Apparition - Cyclicity

It's been a long time, but I finally have a new song to share. It's the first release of my new project Chromatic Apparition. The lyrics are what I tell myself to keep myself sane. Enjoy!

https://chromaticapparition.bandcamp.com/track/cyclicity


Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Few Thoughts on The Sound

I first encountered The Sound when I visited Drake Records in Köln just about ten years ago. The gracious owner offered my friend and I a drink and put on Jeopardy after he saw me browsing the New Wave section. I loved it, but for some reason ended up buying Wolfgang Riechmann’s Wunderbar instead. Just a few years later, Edsel Records released two box sets containing almost the entire recorded discography of the band, and I devoured both with glee. I’ve been meaning to write an article about the band and these reissues ever since. Now that I’m stuck inside during a pandemic, what better time to finally do it?

The roots of The Sound lie in The Outsiders, a (sorta) punk band fronted by Adrian Borland. After two albums and EP that already showed the band pushing on the boundaries of punk and independent record production, the band started to splinter. In the midst of a substantial lineup change, the band ended up changing their name to The Sound while recording a demo album that bridged the gap from The Outsiders to the eventual debut album of The Sound. This demo album, recorded in mid-1979, eventually saw release in 1999 as Propaganda. It’s still somewhat punky, but Bi Marshall’s clarinet and saxophone show the band grasping beyond the basic forms. Most of the lyrics are fairly basic critiques of British society and suburban life (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but a few are particularly noteworthy, such as the staunchly anticapitalist “Cost of Living” and the prescient “Music Business”. Three songs would later be rerecorded for Jeopardy and one for the Physical World EP. The album is fairly raw, and although some critics (and members of the band) consider it the band’s “real” debut and even their strongest album, I think it lacks the sophistication, finesse, and subtlety of their best work. It’s still cool to hear them in transition, though, and apparently some of the tracks were recorded with Outsiders member and later lyrical contributor Adrian Janes on drums before he left for university.

After a brief diversion with the experimental Flesh As Property EP by Second Layer (featuring just Borland and bassist Graham Bailey), the first proper Sound release was the Physical World EP in late 1979. While the title track and “Coldbeat” (later rereleased as the 12" b-side of “Sense of Purpose” in 1981) are in the same vein as Propaganda but with slightly better production, the final track, “Unwritten Law”, already shows the band moving in a deeper, darker, and more dramatic direction. This early version is absent from the recent reissue box sets, and although it isn’t as strong as the rerecording on Jeopardy or any of the live versions, it’s still a thrill to hear a primitive version based more around guitars than the brooding keyboards that would define all later versions.

[The Physical World EP.]

The Sound then signed to Korova, best known as the home to Echo & the Bunnymen. The Sound would be forever damned to follow in their footsteps and live in their shadow, although the frequent comparisons were not entirely unfounded. At any rate, their debut album and first release on Korova was Jeopardy in 1980. It’s amazing to hear the quick leap they made from everything they made before then. Despite the hasty sessions and miniscule budget, the result is stunning. Although the production is certainly not at the level of the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles (which apparently consumed all of Korova’s budget, leaving The Sound in the lurch), the immediate energy of it plays to the band’s strengths. The album is raw and still just a touch punky, yet comes across sophisticated and fully formed. “Hour of Need” and the new version of “Unwritten Law” benefit from noticeably more nuanced production. Marshall’s icy keyboards shine, as do Bailey’s throbbing post-punk bass and Michael Dudley’s propulsive drumming. Other highlights are “Missiles”, an unapologetic critique of the military-industrial complex, and “I Can’t Escape Myself”, an incisive assessment of mental health struggles. It’s a great album.


After a tour supporting Echo & the Bunnymen, The Sound issued the Live Instinct EP, shortly before the Bunnymen’s Shine So Hard live EP. While Shine So Hard sounded great and showed the band progressing into their next phase, Live Instinct is something of a regression. It’s upbeat and intense, rough and unsubtle. It’s alright, but offers nothing particularly special. Korova then assigned The Sound the same producer for their second album that had handled the Bunnymen’s Heaven Up Here, Hugh Jones, and he clearly had his own ideas of how From the Lion’s Mouth (1981) should sound. The result is cleaner, more elaborate, and much more refined, but the quality of the songs doesn’t quite match Jeopardy. The grandiosity and stateliness of the production is a welcome change, but the songs suffer from a loss of energy and power. In the process of writing the album, Marshall was apparently kicked out of the band and replaced by Max Mayers, although Marshall was still credited with cowriting “Skeletons” and “The Fire”, the two songs that sound the oldest and rawest. She has claimed that she wrote parts for all of the songs, and that most of those parts ended up on the final album, but Meyers is credited with cowriting five of the songs. Regardless of the author, keyboards and synthesizers took a more prominent role. The highlight of the album remains the strident opener, “Winning”, a battle hymn for combating depression that foreshadows their later anthems. The album was followed by a non-album single, “Hot House”, another excellent upbeat song confronting some sort of struggle.


The Sound’s lack of commercial success began to grate on both the band and their label, and their third album, All Fall Down (1982), is spitefully uncommercial. It’s dark, challenging, and full of synthesizers and drum machines. It’s much more aggressive than From the Lion’s Mouth and perhaps closer to Jeopardy or Second Layer’s World of Rubber (1981). The album has a poor reputation, but most of its risks pay off. The boldest, most difficult track is the opener, “All Fall Down”, but plenty of accessible moments can be found thereafter. “Party of the Mind” is a great pseudo-pop song, and “Monument” is another superb anthem. “Where the Love Is” and “Calling the New Tune” are strong upbeat numbers as well. The album certainly isn’t perfect, but it grows on me more and more with each listen. “We Could Go Far” is a fascinating floating dream, and the irony that the label insisted on adding the bass drum is painful. The box set includes the original version without it, but ultimately both versions have their charms. The reissue also includes three other outtakes that presumably would’ve been b-sides if they’d released a single from the album. None of them are duds, and the best of the bunch, “Sorry”, was even played live.


After getting dropped by their label, The Sound somehow ended up getting paired with former Factory Records singer/songwriter Kevin Hewick for the This Cover Keeps Reality Unreal EP (1983). It sounds like The Sound fronted by Hewick, but Hewick isn’t as convincing as Borland, and it doesn’t hold together well. The first side is more conventional while the second is quite experimental. The final song, “Scapegoat”, was apparently recorded solo by Hewick a year before the rest. It’s a unique release but not particularly successful.


While on the search for a new label, the band recorded a set of demos that first saw release on the second of the Edsel box sets. Three of the tracks would end up on the Shock of Daylight EP, another three on Heads and Hearts, and the remaining four eventually appeared as b-sides as late as 1987. The recordings are a bit rough and it sounds like they suffered some tape generation loss, but the songs are generally fleshed out and well arranged. Most of the songs already sound fairly similar to their eventually released versions, albeit with simpler arrangements and production. Although the demos are an interesting artifact, nothing about them is better than the final versions, so there isn’t much going for it.

Eventually, The Sound ended up on Statik, and their first release with them was Shock of Daylight (1984), an EP that seems like a huge leap from their past. The six songs are all tuneful but deep, with strong lyrics that are generally less downbeat than before. “Counting the Days” is particularly amazing; it sounds like a love song, yet is ambiguous enough to prevent a simple reading. “Winter” is sparser and gloomier, but the other five songs are all anthemic and strong yet complex. The EP might be the most optimistic Sound release, and it’s cohesive and consistent without getting dull. It’s their finest moment.


This was followed by Heads and Hearts (1985), which continues some of the same sounds and themes and almost maintains the same level of quality. “Whirlpool” is a bit dark, but it’s a powerful description of the depressive energy that can suck you down. “Under You” and “Wildest Dreams” are similar, and they too manage to address mental health struggles without sounding trite. On the other hand, “Total Recall”, “Love Is Not a Ghost”, “One Thousand Reasons”, and “Temperature Drop” are grand and beautiful. “Restless Time” and “World As It Is” are slightly more aggressive and recall their earlier sound, which doesn’t work quite as well, while “Mining for Heart” is a throwback to All Fall Down with its minimalism and openness. The band were apparently disappointed with the album and its production, and while it does have a distinctly 80s sound, it’s only barely dated, and the many synthesizers are rarely over the top. The album doesn’t quite match Shock of Daylight, but it’s almost on par. The b-sides aren’t quite at the same level; most of them are heavy and negative. The box set also adds “Shimmer”, a previously unreleased outtake that tops all the b-sides and fits in right with the album tracks. One wonders how it was overlooked for so long!


To make up for their frustrations with Heads and Hearts and its supposed shortcomings, The Sound quickly released a live album, In the Hothouse (1985). Strangely, only four songs from Heads and Hearts made it to the album, but it also included “Prove Me Wrong”, which would end up on Thunder Up two years later in a similar form. The best track is a frenzied version of “Wildest Dreams” that benefits from a blazing solo, but otherwise the production is rather dry and it hardly even sounds like a live album. It’s not bad, but it sounds more like a best-of compilation than an exciting live album. It doesn’t show much that the studio albums didn’t already, and it sounds too tight and clean. There are plenty of bootlegs that are more dynamic and compelling.

After Statik also ended up screwing over the band, they got one more chance with Play It Again Sam, who released their final album, Thunder Up (1987). By this point, Borland’s mental health struggles were beginning to wear down the band, and the album shows it. The first side is almost too bright and direct, with a surprising abundance of optimism and a lack of subtlety, while the second side is darker and more mixed in tone. Although the band had gradually included more and more band compositions over time, this album is almost entirely written solely by Borland. “Barria Alta” is the lone band composition, and it is the most complex and detailed song on the album. “Iron Years” is a solid pop song, but it comes across just barely over the top. “I Give You Pain”, on the other hand, is a solid slow burner like they hadn’t done since “New Dark Age”. Despite that the band got to work with their preferred producer Nick Robbins, the album sounds fairly dated, mostly because of the cheesy synths. The band apparently prefer the production of Thunder Up over Heads and Hearts, but I think the latter is superior in sound and in songwriting. Thunder Up still has some great moments, but it has less depth and nuance.

[Thunder Up.]

The last item in the Edsel box sets is The BBC Recordings, originally a double-disc album released in 2004. The Read and Peel sessions are attached as bonus tracks to the albums they were promoting while the BBC Live in Concert disc is given its own CD. The Read and Peel sessions both have high production values that might make them even better than the album versions. The Read session in particular sounds substantially better than the versions on Jeopardy, and while the Peel session is about as good as the From the Lion’s Mouth versions, the Peel session sounds more natural and less forced. The highlight is an early, slower version of “Hot House” that sounds like it’s still very much a work in progress. The BBC Live in Concert disc also sounds great and somehow more alive and intense than the studio versions. There’s less variation in the sound, but all the tracks are strong. Ian Nelson again shows up to contribute sax to the same three songs he played on from Heads and Hearts, and his parts are more upfront in the mix.

After The Sound, Adrian Borland stayed quite active in the music world until his unfortunate suicide, although he never again quite matched the same level of quality that he had with The Sound. His solo albums carried on where Thunder Up left off, with less of an alternative or post-punk sound and more of a mainstream pop sensibility. His songwriting was generally still good, but the production was often quite cheesy and dated. Borland was also a member of Honolulu Mountain Daffodils (under pseudonym), a bizarre and playful band led by Pete Williams. While many of their songs are indulgent or uninspired, plenty are creative and successful. The vocals are consistently bad, but the atmospheres and ideas are often quite good. “Also Sprächt Scott Thurston”, “(I Feel Like A) Francis Bacon Painting”, and “Collector of Souls” are particularly noteworthy. Later in his career, Borland also collaborated with Carlo van Putten and others (including Mark Burgess of The Chameleons!) under the name White Rose Transmission. Their albums are well-produced, gothic, and haunting, but the results are again mixed. Some of their music works, but some is drab or awkward.

It’s a shame that The Sound never found wider appreciation. Living in the shadow of Echo & the Bunnymen did them no favors; while the Bunnymen may have reached greater heights, one wonders if The Sound could’ve gone just as far if they’d been given the same budget and support. I’m glad that they persevered despite all the downsides of the music industry and that they managed to find sympathetic labels for so long. The Sound never released a bad album, and their willingness to grow and develop without repeating themselves makes their back catalog quite rewarding to explore. The Edsel box sets are well worth their price and are quite well assembled, even if the Statik albums and some of the rarities are sourced from somewhere other than the original master tapes.

Scores:
Propaganda: C+
Physical World EP: B-
Jeopardy: A-
Live Instinct EP: C
From the Lion’s Mouth: B
“Hot House”: A
All Fall Down: B+
This Cover Keeps Reality Unreal EP: C
1983 demos: C-
Shock of Daylight EP: A
Heads and Hearts: A-
In the Hothouse: C+
Thunder Up: B
The BBC Recordings: B

Further Reading:
Interview with Bi Marshall, Part 1
Interview with Bi Marshall, Part 2

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Arnold Kasar - Live 2020.02.27 Roter Salon, Berlin, Germany

Thirteen months ago, I saw Hans-Joachim Roedelius play a small, intimate show in which he told stories, read from his book, and DJed CDs more than he actually played anything live. I loved his wit and outlook, so I enjoyed it despite that it was hardly a “concert” in the traditional sense. Hence, this concert was an easy sell to me: Roedelius had teamed up with pianist Arnold Kasar, which presumably meant they’d be playing “real” live music, which is exactly what I wanted more of. Plus, the show was at the Roter Salon, a side wing of the Volksbühne (which I’d visited and admired last year at the Torstraßen Festival). The Volksbühne is a great venue for plenty of reasons (beautiful, reasonably priced tickets, close to my apartment), and the Roter Salon packs all of that into a smaller, more intimate, cozier experience.

The show was scheduled a bit late, and started later than that, but there was no opener. In the meantime, I watched both Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Arnold Kasar wander through the crowd and chat with their friends. Eventually they got on stage, and to my surprise, Roedelius sat at the grand piano while Kasar stood at a table with a keyboard and various electronics. I’d rather expected the opposite, considering that Roedelius was the aging synthesizer pioneer and Kasar the younger, classically trained pianist!

They started into a peaceful piece that continually evolved through phases as the two musicians changed instruments and techniques. Roedelius mostly played piano but also worked a laptop to control samples and possibly a synthesizer. Kasar played keyboards, synthesizers, some effects boards, and electric piano. The piece was meditative and contemplative yet fluid and expressive. The highlight was something of a piano duel accompanied by a rather screechy violin sample. It was completely non-competitive and non-aggressive, yet fascinating to watch the two musicians complement each other’s parts and build around them. Despite the calming effect it all had on me, though, the crowd seemed a bit restless as the work carried on for about 45 minutes.

Kasar gave a brief address to thank us for coming despite any adversities or viruses, and then him and Roedelius sat back down to perform a shorter, more energetic piece with both musicians on pianos. Roedelius played rapidly rolling appeggios while Kasar added textures. The blend of the traditional piano with the electronic added some nice harmonic variation. I was hoping for another extended work, but it had a more conventional pop song length.

Roedelius spoke up and implied that that was the end, but of course he agreed to an encore. First, Kasar sat down at the grand piano while Roedelius leaned on it adoringly. Kasar’s piece was sprightly, intricate, fanciful, and more in the traditional style of a solo piano performance. Then they swapped places and Roedelius began playing a soft, sparse piece that I quickly recognized. It was Brian Eno’s “By This River”, which Roedelius and his former Cluster colleague Dieter Moebius had cowritten and performed on. Roedelius sang the vocals in his simple, frail, direct, unadorned voice, but hit the notes right on and carried the melody beautifully. It was quite a pleasure, and he claimed it was the first time he’d tried singing it live!

And that was that. They only played for about an hour. It was a pleasant set, it ended on a great highlight, and I know that Roedelius is quite old, but still: I was expecting a bit more. I was a bit disappointed and surprised that it was over so soon. That said, I’d also expected that Roedelius would sit back and let Kasar take the more complicated piano parts, but that wasn’t the case at all. Roedelius still had enough strength and precision to take the lead. Kasar was an excellent foil for him, as his textures, harmony, and traded-off piano parts were a great match. I just wish there had been more.


Score: C+

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tour of Tours - Live 2020.02.13 Lido, Berlin, Germany

Just about two years ago in the same venue, I saw the Tour of Tours for the first time. Since then, the individual band members have continued their separate projects as usual, but they also recently released their first proper album, A Road Record. It’s mostly a live album from the 2017 tour, but it also includes elements from rehearsals and the backstage. It shows off the breadth of the project and includes something from everyone in involved, including Honig, Jonas David, Tim Neuhaus, Ian Fisher, Town of Saints, Florian Holoubek, Martin Hannaford, Ryan Thomas Carpenter, and Davide Iacono (of VeiveCura). The spoken bits can be a bit distracting for repeated regular listening, but the album as a whole is an immersive, complete experience that captures many of their collective strengths. The production is great and substantially more cohesive than their prior Song of Songs, which felt more like a simple compilation assembled around the title track.

This concert picked up the same threads. The collective naturally performed many of the same songs from the album and from the last concert, but over the course of over two and a half hours, they also threw in some new songs and others that I hadn’t heard before. Every one of the ten members took the lead at some point, including even the quiet percussionists Florian and Davide and guitarist Martin. They also invited their merch seller and the producer of their new album to the stage to play along for a song each. Best of all, they continually traded instruments and even vocal parts. They were already doing that in the past, but this time around, they took it to another level. On several songs, almost every verse would be sung by someone other than the original songwriter/vocalist, which gave the songs a new dimension to grow in. Furthermore, the constant rotation of instruments meant that there were always plenty of little surprises. Most members took a turn on the bass, at one of the keyboards, and on the drums and percussion instruments. Tim Neuhaus sat in on the drums for an extended enthusiastic spell, Jonas brought a brass horn and a vocal effects board, Heta Salkolahti’s violin had a prominent role, and Ian fleshed out the sound with banjo and 12-string acoustic guitar.

For most of the show, all ten members of the collective shared the stage, but for a few songs in the middle, they brought the energy down a bit and let some smaller subsets of the group play with more reduced arrangements. Most dramatically, Heta and Harmen Ridderbos of Town of Saints played a Finnish folk song without accompaniment. It worked beautifully and helped to broaden the mood. With the full band back on stage, another highlight was a bizarre, theatrical interlude led by Ryan Thomas Carpenter in which he spoke-sang an extended take on Sun Ra Arkestra’s “Nuclear War”. For the encore, the band came back for one last round of rousing numbers from each of the main contributing projects. At the end, they again jumped down from the stage and went to the center of the crowd to play a rousing version of “Up in Smoke” and their one collaborative number, “Song of Songs”.


I was again impressed by the collective’s ability to switch things up and keep such a long show interesting. Their various separate projects share plenty of common ground, and there is some risk of building a solid, unified sound, but they fought the urge to blend too much and managed to keep their own unique elements. Their willingness to switch up the songs, arrangements, and individual parts goes a long way to keeping the show fun and engaging.

[Edit 2020.02.17:] Here’s (most of) the setlist:
01. Song of Songs [Partial] →
02. Short Circuit Breakdown [Town of Saints song]
02. Forest Fire [Tim Neuhaus song]
03. Trains [Jonas David song]
05. In My Drunken Head [Honig song]
06. Idle Hands [Ian Fisher song]
07. Stay For [Jonas David song]
08. Miner’s Song [Town of Saints song]
09. Hello [Florian Holoubek song]
10. Star [Hannaford song]
11. [Unknown Finnish Folk Song] [performed by Town of Saints]
12. Climb [Jonas David song]
13. [Unknown] [Davide Iacono song]
14. [New Song] [Ian Fisher song]
15. Crashing Through Roofs [Tim Neuhaus song]
16. Nuclear War [Sun Ra Arkestra cover, led by Ryan Thomas Carpenter]
17. Euphrates [Town of Saints song]
18. For Those Lost at Sea [Honig song]

Encore:
19. Almost Darlin’ [Ian Fisher song]
20. Weak Bones [Jonas David song]
21. As Life Found You [Tim Neuhaus song]
22. Golden Circle [Honig song]
23. Up in Smoke [Town of Saints song]
24. Song of Songs

Sunday, January 26, 2020

BUM / Atomvulkan Britz / Lutzilla - Live 2020.01.25 Tr*ckstr, Berlin, Berlin, Germany

The night opened with Lutzilla, a duo that evolved from Lutz Steinbrück and his prior band Neustadt. Lutz appeared on guitar and vocals with Florian on drums. Florian’s kit was quite minimal, with only one tom-tom and one cymbal, but the tightness of his performance boosted the songs substantially. The shifting rhythms were well-synchronized between the guitar and drums, which did much to ground and stabilize them. The percussion also significantly energized the songs, and several even had a punk edge to them.

Atomvulkan Britz is a duo consisting solely of bass and drums. Their sound was noisy and punky and yet quite rhythmic and had a sense of post-punk experimentation. The bassist relied on effects to drive his style as much as the rhythms and riffs themselves, including thickly distorted fuzz, heavy phasing, and the characteristic chorus sound of Simon Gallup of The Cure and Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order. The drummer also had a dub-like delay on his snare that somehow managed to be a focal point of the set. The effect came in and out, and I’m not even quite sure who was triggering or controlling it, but it lent an unexpected and otherworldly tone to their sound. The lack of vocals or explicit melody was unconventional, but their energy and creativity kept my attention nonetheless.

Last up was BUM, a quartet of guitar/vocals, bass/backing vocals, drums, and synthesizer. They too were intently rhythmic and punky, but they took their music in a variety of directions. The foundation was post-punk funk à la Gang of Four or the Au Pairs, but there were plenty of louder, noisier sections more akin to post-hardcore. The wild creative energy of the drummer and the insistent propulsion of the bass really drove the songs, but the keyboards added a nice extra layer of texture. The vocalist was more focused on the words than his guitar, but when he did play, it was sharp and angular. His style was also somewhat textural and didn’t fit neatly into a “lead” or “rhythm” category. For one song, he read a poem over the music, but unfortunately that was the only time I could consistently understand the lyrics. The intensity of their set was such that when they had to pause for an extended tune-up, it was actually a refreshing break. Nonetheless, they carried me with them.

Tr*ckstr isn’t the easiest venue to find, and it clearly tries to maintain an air of mystique, but once you’re in, it feels cozy and punky. The sound isn’t particularly detailed, but it’s loud and the atmosphere is good. If the line-ups are regularly this solid, I’ll be back, even if it means reeking of smoke afterwards.

P.S. Thanks to Lutz, Ulri, Tim, and Brooke!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Ben Osborn / Zazuka - Live 2020.01.08 Schokoladen, Berlin, Germany

The last time I was at Schokoladen was just over ten years ago. I saw a punk show on New Year’s Eve and went outside at midnight to watch people throw snowballs and launch fireworks. I had such a good time that I memorialized the day in a song. Considering that I don’t live far away these days, it was nigh time to return.

Unfortunately, one of the originally scheduled acts, Tan LeRacoon, had to cancel due to illness. In his place was Zazuka, a Jordanian-German singer-songwriter that played solo at a keyboard. She was a bit meek and quiet, and the music was generally sparse and sombre, but she managed to cover a lot of ground and offered a fair bit of variety. She sung in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish, including a couple covers. Some songs were jazzy, with a hint of cabaret from a century ago, while others were rooted in various folk traditions. Her lyrics were also noteworthy; one bemoaned a person stuck too deep in their traditions that apparently held them back. For two songs, she brought Barbara Cuesta on stage to add backing vocals, which was a nice extra touch.

Ben Osborn from England also mostly played alone, but was a bit more adventurous in his instrumentation. He played guitar on one song, but a problem with one of his pedals prevented another. Instead, he mostly stuck to his keyboard and some light electronics, and he even played around a bit with a drum machine. His keyboard skills weren’t as dynamic as Zazuka’s, but the manner in which he blended the instrument with his synthesized sounds and effects more than made up for it. He joked about playing techno, but the electronic elements never dominated over the fundamental components of his voice and keyboards. He also brought up Barbara Cuesta to guest on two songs, and on the latter, she even played guitar.

Osborn also joked about him and Zazuka seeming out of place in a punky anarchist bar, but he said they were also anarchists, just of the “quiet” variety. He also made several references to chamber pop, but to my ear both acts were singer-songwriters somewhere in the realm of folk music. My understanding is that the studio recordings of both are somewhat more orchestrated and carefully arranged, so perhaps the label would apply more accurately there. At any rate, it was a pleasant evening and a welcome return to a place I have fond memories of.

Scores:
Zazuka: C
Ben Osborn: B-

P.S. Thanks to Lutz, Dave, and Tobias!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 in Review

I’ve never written a post like this before, but 2019 was something of a special year. Somehow, without even really trying, I wrote more reviews in 2019 than in any prior (37 posts). At present, there are 33 posts tagged 2019 (not counting this one), also more than any other year. It’s also the first year I saw a show and wrote a review in every month. I still haven’t gone to any major European festivals, but I did go to a local psychedelic festival that seems to be breaking out (Synästhesie), another local alternative/independent festival (Torstraßen Festival), and a street festival on the street I live on (Choriner Straßenfest). And in another first, I conducted my first interview (with Joshua King of Joshua and the Ruins). It’s been a busy year!

I managed to see three of the classic kosmische heroes (Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster and Harmonia, Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia, and Tangerine Dream, albeit with none of the original members), in addition to plenty of my other longtime favorites (The Specials, Ian Fisher, ChameleonsVox, The Smashing Pumpkins, Andrew Bird, Neil Young, Boogarins, Tame Impala, Wilco, Fehlfarben, Stereolab, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).

I also got to see several strong newer German bands (Britta (new is relative), Barbara Morgenstern, Die Heiterkeit, Theodor Shitstorm, Laura Carbone, and Perilymph, among plenty others), and there were also plenty of pleasant surprises at festivals and in opening slots (Yeasayer (who just broke up), Michaela Meise, The Chap, Chris Imler, and Sunn Trio, to name a few).

There was also plenty of great music released in 2019. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
You may note a few big names with new albums aren’t on the the list. To be honest, I found some of the high-profile releases by big-name artists middling or even disappointing, namely Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Ghosteen, The National - I Am Easy to Find, Wilco - Ode to Joy, and Thom Yorke - Anima.

On the other hand, there were (as always) a few older records that I came across this year that particularly impressed me, including: Britta - Lichtjahre voraus (2003), The Boo Radleys - Everything’s Alright Forever (1992) and Giant Steps (1993), Michael Rother - Flammende Herzen (1976), Neonbabies - 1983 (1983), and Ideal - Bi Nuu (1982).

Lastly, there were also a number of great records from recent years that I missed at first but have now caught up with, such as: The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum (2016), Theodor Shitstorm - Sie werden dich lieben (2018), and The Veldt’s pair of 2017 EPs, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation and Thanks to the Moth and Areanna Rose, although most of the latter appears to have been previously released as Apollo Heights on White Music for Black People (2007).

Like I said, it was a great year for me in terms of music! Here’s hoping that the fun continues in 2020.