Ghost World – You Made Me Smell Your Fingers
Last Friday I accidentally stumbled upon a free show at Teurastamo and it couldn’t have been a happier happening. I got to see Ghost World play a loud and fast rock show. This slacker rock quartet is a time capsule to the sound and the of 1992 college radio. Think Babes in Toyland meets Dinosaur Jr. at sunrise after a long night.
The band’s live set is a little bit raw and rough, even sloppy, but the songs are full of emotion and soul. Despite the loudness and the apparent anger, there’s plenty of room for softer pop melodies. It’s teenage wasteland with a smile.
Make no mistake, though. There’s no grunge nostalgia in Ghost World music. The band members are too young for that or even have lived the era. They are just a bunch of guys and a girl with nothing else to do but play loud guitars. And, it’s re-energizing.
Ghost World released their self-titled debut album last spring via Svart Records.
Them Bird Things – House of Stone
Them Bird Things are back! Electrified and reenergized.
This year Them Bird Things celebrate their tenth anniversary with the release of Stephen Crow Must Die, their fifth album. In the last decade, the band have produced five outstanding albums, first revisiting the songbook of sixties garage band Mike & The Ravens and then mastering their very own blend of folk, rock, country and psychedelia. Those albums were mostly acoustic, however, Them Bird Things were always a rock and roll band at heart. This was, it is only natural the band would release a loud, vibrant, dirty rock and roll album. That’s what Stephen Crow Must Die is. Guitar riffs, thundering beats and above all an excellent vocal work by singer Salla Day. Plus hooks, plenty of them. A bastard child between Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and The Pretty Things.
Stephen Crow Must Die will come out later in the summer, and today you can hear the fist single, ’House of Stone’. As expected, Them Bird Things can’t do things the easy way, and therefore invite you to experience their new music in the form of a 360 video.
Notes from Tallinn Music Week 2017
Who killed genre? The question kept repeating in my head throughout the whole weekend as I walked the streets of Tallinn, from venue to venue, exploring sounds, discovering new acts.
Are music genres meaningless nowadays?
This was the theme of the panel that kicked off for me this year’s Tallinn Music Week (TWM), possibly the best music showcase festival in Europe. Three brilliant music minds led the panel discussion: music writer Simon Reynolds, DJ and Senior Director of Programming at KEXP Kevin Cole and music journalist Kieron Tyler. All of them agreed we live in some sort of an undefined post-genre era. Boundaries are vanishing and slowly disappearing. The festival’s program is a good example of this. It lists 34 different genres and most of the bands refused to be classified in one genre. Artist rather choose different tags to describe their music, even making impossible combinations such as avant-garde and easy listening. The weirder the mix, the cooler the band. That’s the trend.
Still, the music program at Tallinn Music Week is very much anchored in traditional genres. Whether you’re a metalhead, wish to explore unheard folk from different countries or simple you want to dance the night away to funk or hardcore techno, there’s a showcase that’ll fit your taste. The diversity of the festival is sublime, making it tremendously inclusive and welcoming.
So, music genres matter, right?
Not really. Or better said, we really don’t care. In the pre-Internet, pre-streaming days, music fanatics had a deeper connection with the music they listened. Fans were rockers, punks or metalheads. Crossover was unlikely. After all, music discovery required time, effort and money, so why to spend limited resources chasing a genre one might not like. Along with the music genre came fashion and a way of life. Go to a metal show in the eighties as a punk and you’re likely to take a beating. Gangs did not mix well and music was a key component of a lifestyle.
Nowadays our music listening habits are much different. Music is a commodity. Thanks to streaming services we can easily jump from one music genre to the next one before a song is over. From Mastodon to Kendrick Lamar, from 1930s Appalachian music to Nigerian funk.
This is why music genres do not matter at a festival like TMW. Genres are just hints, signposts that allow us navigate through the festival. Start your evening listening Hungarian folk and end up in a techno party after a few gut-punching shows. This diversity, this inclusiveness is what TMW does best. And it does with an impeccable production that takes over the city across singular venues.
Three things I learned in Tallinn
Donald Trump is a glam icon
Simon Reynolds is the author of outstanding music books such as Retromania and Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy. Reynolds is a much better writer than speaker, but at the music conference in Tallinn, he delivered an hour-long lecture on glam rock and fame. David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper were probably the biggest stars of glam rock. You may want to add Lady Gaga to that group. But think of someone else. What if Donald Trump is the ultimate glam rock star, said Reynolds. His obsession for stardom, fame, his multi-persona. Apply some makeup and, scarily enough, this thought might be true.
Rock belongs to the basement. Rock bands and loud guitars are no longer the main performers at any festival. At TMW rock music lives in Woodstock Rock Stars bar, in the outskirt of Tallinn’s old town. There, bands come to play in its low-ceiling basement, while locals drink cheap beer and whisky shots, surrounded by posters of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. In every edition of the festival, I’ve experienced fantastic shows in this soggy watering hole, like Black Lizard in 2013. This year was no difference. On Friday night, I head to Woodstock to see a couple of rock bands from Canada: Like A Motorcycle and The Stanfields. Both offered a fantastic rock’n’roll experience. The Stanfields blend hard rock with elements of Atlantic Canadian folk. And yes, that combination got the dozens of rockers in front of the stage jumping and pogoing. Like A Motorcycle displayed even higher energy with their ear-piercing punk rock, revisiting the riot grrrl sound of bands like Sleater-Kinney.
Rising stars: TMW 2017 MVPs
Ok, I’m cheating here. I did not get to see Mikko Joensuu in Tallinn, but I heard many delegates raved about his performance. “Transcendent”, Kevin Cole called his music. The fact that his music is not getting more exposure outside Finland is bewildering.
The first time I saw The Holy I was blown away by their massive, overwhelming sound. In Tallinn, the band played a late night gig at the beautiful Kino Sõprus theater and once again they delivered a fabulous show, creating awe-inspiring soundscapes. The band’s live sound is loud and overwhelming, yet clear and melodic, taking the songs from their debut EP to anthemic heights. Beautiful music.
I must admit this Estonian guitarist was completely unknown to me, but after this year’s festival, I will keep a close look at his work. Erki Pärnoja and his band played four packed gigs during the festival, presenting his newest album Efterflow and becoming one of the stars of the festival. On Thursday night, I got to see Pärnoja’s gig at club Sinilind. Ok, seeing is an overstatement because when I arrived to the venue, the place was completely packed and I could only find a spot behind the stage. From there, I absolutely enjoyed the band’s ethereal and dreamy pop explorations with a collection of elegant instrumentals.
Finland at Tallinn Music Week 2017
After eight editions, Tallinn Music Week is well-established as the largest new music and urban culture festival in the Nordic and Baltic Countries. Over 200 acts are part of the line-up, with shows all over the city, along a meaningful conference and a showcase of Tallinn’s fabulous restaurants. It’s a long, long weekend to discover new artists and bands of any genre, from all over the world.
Once again, after Estonia, Finland is the second country with a larger representation with 26 artists. This year’s edition includes well-known Finnish artists such as Mikko Joensuu, Astrid Swan, Teksti-TV 666 and electro pop veteran Jori Hulkkanen. Plus, revered booking and management agency Fullsteam will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a very special party at the iconic Kultuurikatel. Already my favourite showcase festival, this will be my fourth time at TMW. I’ve marked in red the following Finnish artists in the programme.
The Empire Strikes
Turbonegro, Gluecifer, The Hellacopters… In the late 90s and early 2000s, a wave of Scandinavian bands played some of the most exciting rock’n’roll and punk rock in years. The Empire Strikes are taking a few pages from this bands’ playbook, loudly bringing high energy rock back to the forefront. The band just released their second album, High Tide.
One of my favorite parties at TMW is the Estonian Funk Embassy Stage at the charismatic Erinevate Tubade Klubi. Hours of funk, soul and disco in a remarkable club. Seven-piece The Blassics will take the stage to get the audience dancing with a bunch of old-school funk instrumentals, spiced up with some afrobeat. Very organic, very greasy Oh, by the way, there’s no need to bring your dancing shoes as outdoors shoes are not allowed. You’ll be provided with some fancy slippers at the wardrobe in the entrance.
Project Vainiolla is Kalle Vainio’s solo project. Experimental piano music to explore techniques, structures, creating layers of sounds and emotive soundscapes and textures. His shows might include grand pianos, pre-recorded tape, live electronics and lights. Anything is possible.
Demonic Death Judge
This four-piece not only has a fabulous band name, Demonic Death Judge, but also a solid collection of ear-piercing guitar riffs for some epic stoner/sludge. Released in January, Seaweed is DDJ’s third album.
The Holy have only released one EP, but they already being booked by major festivals, becoming one of the most interesting new bands in Finland right know. The secret is their peculiar approach to songwriting, their “Heartland” sound and, above all, uncompromising live shows. With the help of two drummers and a wall of guitars, their live sound is absolutely mind-blowing.
Astrid Swan – From The Bed And Beyond
Many pop albums are just a collection of songs which happen to be released at the same. But there are some others with songs that we, as listeners, can only understand in relation to the context in which they were created, written and recorded. This is the case of Blood of the Tracks, which will always be regarded as the ultimate divorce album as Dylan recorded it around the time his marriage fell apart.
From The Bed And Beyond, Astrid Swan’s newest album, certainly belongs to this second category. Even if you’ve heard little or nothing about it, the theme of the album presents itself crystal clear the first time you listen to it. These are songs about becoming a mother and falling ill with cancer. Songs about your body failing, about the fear of leaving your loved ones behind. Songs recorded in the aftermath of cancer, while the body is in the process of healing.
If you’ve heard a bit more about the album, you’re probably award this is a five-star album. Critics are loving this album and reviews are raving about it. They are probably right. It’s such an earnest, brutally honest and emotional effort. As expected, many of the songs come from a dark, sad place, presenting blunt, merciless words. Some of the lyrics feel like inserting needles under your fingernails. Go for a walk and listen to them, reflect on them. “I’m afraid I’ll never sing”, the singer sings in ’Song of Fear’. “I’m afraid of broken bones/ I’m afraid of hospitals/ I’m afraid I never kissed enough/ I’m afraid of disappearing/ from the hearts of the ones I love/ I’m afraid of dying young”. Bloody scary song.
However, towards the end of the song Astrid repeats relieve words: “I’m alive”. That’s the hope and light which remains at the core of the album. That’s the essential takeaway of this album. Be alive. Enjoy every sandwich.
From The Bed And Beyond joins a list of albums that empathize in times of cancer and loss, and it does it as one of the most gratifying and compelling examples. It’s a difficult album, uncomfortable at times. But it’s not depressing. Let yourself be carried by its elegant and sweet jazz touches, its intimate blues and the colorful synths and electronic soundscapes. While the music does not make a break from the negative phase of life in which it was created, From the Bed And Beyond dignifies the pop album as an art form.
Find out more about From The Bed And Beyond in this insightful Q&A with fellow Rosvot blogger June.
Catch one of the upcoming Astrid Swan gigs next week at Tavastia in Helsinki (29 March w/ Jennie Abrahamson), in Tallinn at Tallinn Music Week (1 April) and later in the summer at Flow Festival.
Waterloos – Writings on the Wall
Sans the makeup (yet), but with guitar riffs galore, Tampere trio Waterloos are set to continue the tradition of the most charismatic Finnish hard rock. One that expands from HIM to The 69 Eyes and most recently, Reckless Love and Santa Cruz. Inspired by 80s glam metal, but underlining the pop melodies and hooks, rather than the sleazy elements.
After just a few months composing songs and rehearsing, Waterloos present their first release, a four-song entitled EP Writings on the Wall. The EP stars off with the title track, which ticks all the boxes of the genre. That’s right, it’s song best savored while gulping shots of Jack Daniel’s. Personally, I find the other three songs more compelling, specially ’Jaded’ or the semi-ballad ’Where Are You Know’. Anyway, it’s a pretty solid effort which will be followed by a full-length album later in the year.