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The Hives – Club Vera Live (February 13th, 2001 in Holland)

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Digital Underground Inc, 2001

I am not that much of a fan of live recordings.  I find that no matter how much energy is apparent on the album, what songs are involved or whatever the banter is, it’s just a let down.  It gives you a good idea as to how the band sounds in person, of course, but it completely doesn’t work for me because it’s not in person.  Can’t see anything, can’t smell anything, can’t feel anything … I know KISS pulled it off well on “Alive” but ever since then most live accounts are unimpressive for my ears.  However, I can’t resist any album by a band I really like, especially one that I actually have seen live.  Even if I wasn’t in Holland for this recording, I might be able to relive the great time I had here in Boston with some common songs.  Plus, one never knows when old habits (or perceptions in this case) die, so maybe this would be a live album I could stand.

For those who have heard live bootlegs before, I suppose this review might be predictable.  Therefore, I’ll split it into two predictable parts:  the good and the bad.  The good is mainly the Hives themselves.  Aside from a few singles from their “Veni, Vidi, Vicious” period, the Hives are shamefully ignored for the most part in America.  When one hears songs like “Knock, Knock”, “Main Offender” and “A Get Together to Tear It Apart” on this live record one can feel the hasty energy that the Hives emit on the crowd.  Maybe they’re not as fast as the early Ramones, but they surely can inspire some rapid head bobbin’ and arm jerkin’ in most humans with a pulse.  Since it’s a 2001 concert, the Hives rip through most of the “Veni, Vidi, Vicious” record without a lot of sounds of recognition from the Dutch audience.  Ahhh, those early and best days of the Hives.

Many of the songs get extended a bit due to vocalist Howlin Pelle Almqvist’s chatter between songs.  These were the times that reminded me of when I saw the group, for Almqvist’s discussion is mostly directed towards saying how great his band is and how the Hives were now everyone’s favorite band.  The cheeky confidence, as well as some of the made up stories that Almqvist tells (like the one where he personally surveyed the people of Holland by phone to determine their favorite Hives song), doesn’t come across as dull or irritating.  I suppose when humor is involved anyone is easier to listen to.

Now for a bit of the bad.  At some point during the fourth song some guy decides to speak loudly to the person recording the show.  Apparently the dude with the big mouth missed the recording device that had to be held in the air at the time, but I suppose those interruptions happen often for bootlegs.  For a recording that isn’t straight out of the sound board, the recorder did a great job staying away from a majority of the loud crowd members so that the songs are easily heard.  The songs all still sound a bit muddled due to distance, but that’s forgivable.  That one dude probably still lives with the shame of besmirching this bootleg, though.

Another item that is annoying is that this album doesn’t have a track listing!  To all you bootleggers out there, just throw a track list on there somewhere will ya?  Hives fans know their songs I’m sure but they don’t want to have to guess where certain ones are if they want to skip to them.  Perhaps the bootlegger did intend to put a track listing somewhere in the album art, but while they were printing out the mind numbing day-glo cover the Dutch authorities busted down their door in a Hives bootleg crackdown mission.  The bootlegger had to escape by the window, likely in tears, since his or her product was unfinished.  Yes, that must be why there isn’t a track list.  Couldn’t have been due to indifference, I’m sure of it now.

Listen and see all things Hives at their website, but perhaps it’s just best to see them at Pinkpop in Holland in 2001.  Hey, pretty good visual aim considering the bootleg, eh?

I admit that I am surprised that I didn’t find this a grating listening experience.  The Hives’ songs all sounded as quick as their album versions while the recording never got choppy or distracting.  I don’t know if I”ll ever really enjoy live albums, but this one turned out to be a pretty good one overall.  The Hives continue to release official albums as well as tour around the world, so it’s certain that if you end up seeing them live sometime there will be a person up front with some kind of recording device.  Just don’t go up to them and say something like “Hey!  Are you recording the show?!”.

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The Stomachmouths – Born Losers

March 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Subliminal Sounds, 2003

I suppose my first question was why these guys named themselves after two body parts strung together.  It’s almost like the band had a deadline to submit their band name to the art director and, lacking any ideas, asked the nearest two year old kid to make something up.  They probably had to throw out initial suggestions such as “Mmmmmjuice!” and “What’s A Band?” before deciding on the strange moniker concoction.  Apparently they had no problem with image, but my second question is why the ruse about the art cover?  C’mon guys, I know you’re not from the 1890s.  Honus Wagner did not listen to your music either, so it is clear that you are either from the sixties or trying to be from the sixties with those haircuts.  Since sixties bands tended to name themselves after objects you might see in hallucinations (and not nightmares … stomachmouths indeed!), I figured I had a retro band here.  Those kind of groups are always worth a dollar to me.

So indeed, the creases and sepia-toned album cover matches with what the Stomachmouths deliver in music.  They are absolutely a retro garage rock band from that sixties period, even if they’re from Sweden.  I imagine when they fuzzed out their guitars and let the quivering keyboard quiver in the studio, those mop top haircuts had to swaying all over the place.  There were also probably a lot of empty bottles of Pripps Bla and Norrlands Guld beer lying around the studio as well heh heh.  What?  Impressed that I know my Swedish beer?  … okay, I looked them up.

The opener of “Don’t Put Me Down” sends the listener careening through a haze of guitars, constant rapping of drums, and the sneering vocals of Kery Stefan.  It oozes that old garage rock sound, which is pretty much the norm throughout the rest of the disc.  As one might expect from the psychedelic sixties (even though these guys were from the eighties … and Sweden …) there’ the slower grooves of “Dr. Syn” as well as the screamers of “Cry”.   They’ve also got an instrumental song like “Eegah!” which is a cross between a rock ‘n roll barnstormer and a surf track.  I enjoyed hearing the keyboardist trying to keep up with all that bash and reverb.  No matter what act these guys were trying to emulate at the time, the record is non-stop momentum.

Unfortunately, a lot of the music seems potted up much too high, as if it’s trying to hard for volume that it sort of irritates the ears a bit.  I noticed this halfway through the disc during “You’d Better Find Out”, probably due to the overabundance of guitar and Kery’s singing.  “Hold Me Now” has the keyboardist holding one note throughout most of the song and it is always present in the foreground.  Hey, I’m all for loud music, but something about the production seems piercing and muddled.  At least the energy still comes across, but a little breathing space isn’t bad to have once in awhile.

Oddly enough, the last thing I thought I’d hear is a pretty dead on impression of Cartman (from “South Park”) on “Something Weird”.  I know that Stefan was probably trying to sound bizarre given the song title, but he probably didn’t know that he could have been the inspiration for a humorously politically incorrect cartoon.  Despite the resemblance, I’m glad this is a one and done approach … something about going nasal on a rock song doesn’t really do anything for me.  Thankfully typical rock songs like “Speed Freak”, “Heart of Stone” and “Keep On Looking” keep this record afloat with great grooves.

You can certainly hear a few tunes from these guys on their MySpace page, but I like the live Youtube video from a Stomachmouths show.

I like the disc enough and I think I would have really enjoyed seeing the Stomachmouths play live somewhere, but the music has obviously been done before (aka the sixties) and there aren’t too many standout tracks that I might particularly return to.  They had to be well-loved in Sweden though, or at least that is what the extensive liner notes give the impression of.  The Stomachmouths are, of course, no longer around but this compilation ultimately gives as good enough of an impression as one will need if they want to know what they missed.

The Hellacopters – Supershitty to the Max!

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Man’s Ruin Records, 1998

Since I’m a heavy enthusiast of rock ‘n roll, I already know of the Hellacopters through their excellent “By the Grace of God” record.  However, this one I picked up actually came out some years before that record, so as it goes one never knows what, if anything, of the band you know exists from their early days.  Could they be flat out metal and the stuff I heard later is watered down?  Did they start cute and poppy like adorable Swedish musicians, only to decide to wreak havoc on the listening public due to a chemical imbalance?  Given the album title and cover image of a maniacal goblin, I figured these guys were going to try on their best Motorhead impression and tear it up.  Indeed, after ‘Play’ was pressed, there really wasn’t much time to strap myself in.

Yeeeaah!  ROOOOCK!  (pump fist pump fist pump fist)

I’m not lying, the first track of “(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!” has to rank right up there as one of the best first tracks off of the first album for a band from Sweden. Nicke Andersson’s frenzied vocals sound like the microphone is being consumed while the rest of the band produces something that might have come from an early KISS.  “24th Hell” is borderline punk with the speed in tempo and chorus, which continues just as urgently (and as shortly) with “Fire Fire Fire”.  Talk about making an instant impression on the debut record!

The rest of the record unfortunately wears of some of the excitement of the first few tracks, mainly because they all sound the same.  Every song has Andersson absolutely in your face with blast of volume out of his mouth, only to severely muffle the microphone and thus get drowned out by the band.  There is no break throughout the album (nor should there be on a ROCK ‘n ROLL record, maaaan) unless you count the slightly slower “Tab”, so after awhile one could start to feel that songs start to blend together.  “How Could I Care” has a great chugging guitar riff that pounds throughout the tune, but since it came not too longer after “Bore Me” and right before the thrash punk tune of “Didn’t Stop Us”, it gets a little lost in getting itself noticed.  They might as well have thrown “Random Riot” in with “Didn’t Stop Us” given its pace and muddled vocals, though the chorus sounds a lot cooler in my opinion.

Beginning with “Didn’t Stop Us”, the last six tracks finish rather quickly.  It likely has to do with the aforementioned pace, though “Spock In My Rocket” is the exception to the acceleration.  It still burns fire with heavy guitar and the clashing of the drums over the choruses (which, by the way, was featured in the twelve previous songs as well).  However, it lasts for six minutes!  It’s armageddon in a song.  Then, of course, as a band from the late nineties the Hellacopters opt for the signature ‘hidden song’.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be an even more muffled live track that just comes across as a bunch of noise in the end.  Oh well.

The Hellacopters’ website could use a real update, but at least they’ve still got a good assortment of music up on MySpace.

It’s a tough call for this one for me.  I really liked the music and would love to hear a few tracks from these guys from time to time when I need an instant boost of power.  However, thirteen tracks that generally sound the same and come across as rushed might be a little overdone.  I still think the Hellacopters are a great band and that people should definitely go check out any release from them.  Since “By the Grace of God” sounds a lot more varied and contains much more clarity, while still delivering true on its fantastic rock anthems, I recommend starting there rather than the very start with this debut.

The Sounds – Living in America

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

New Line Records, 2005

Do you remember those Geico commercials with the Neanderthals getting all angry about the hint that they aren’t very intelligent?  I thought the early ones were amusing, especially the one where two of them pull up in motorcycles and are approaching ladies in bright leather outfits like a young Michael Jackson used to wear.  The jagged, retro music that provided the backdrop fit the slow motioned commercial quite well so I sought it out.  It was the Sounds’ “Hurt You” from their second album and thus a mental note was made.  Unfortunately this isn’t the album that has that song but, as mental notes and a few quarters will go, I figured the Sounds were worth a spin.

Perhaps this has been discussed already, but the Sounds consist of four lightly leathered and loose men and a blonde chick as the lead singer.  They also utilize keyboards as well as a punk rock swing yet aren’t very edgy.  If you guessed Blondie the Sequel, you are in my head all the way.  Therefore, perhaps unfairly, I will sometimes compare these guys to Blondie throughout the review.  Do the Sounds have their own “Call Me”?  Do they slip into a “Heart of Glass” rap at any point?  Are they in a phone booth it’s the one across the hall?  Man, I love that cover.

In the year 2005 the indie music scene was caught up in a swamp of Interpols and Bloc Parties, so it’s not too much of surprise that the Sounds also specialize a bit in the punk dance genre.  They’ve got plenty of bursting choruses like on “Dance With Me” as well as fist pumping glitz on “Seven Days a Week”.  Maja Ivarsson (the concerned-looking lady on the leather jacket) who does emit a light raspy force that fits well with the style.  However, early on I felt that she easily gets drowned out by the tsunami of volume coming from the band of dudes.   Ultimately, after just a few songs I found that the Sounds might be trying a little too hard to pump up the masses.  If the whole record sounded similar to the first three songs then it would get tiresome rather quickly.

Even though they’re from Sweden, the Sounds do tend to get swept up with American and British stylings of the time often.  However, they do have moments that harken back to the earlier days of music from the countries they are emulating.  “Hit Me!” is one of the better tracks on the disc if only because it doesn’t sound so convulsingly overwhelming with audio flair.  It actually does sound like something Blondie might have managed in their earlier days, which is a good, quick rock song that primarily features Ivarsson’s vocals and Felix Rodriguez’s steady punk riff.  Also “Mine For Life” has a fantastic extended synthesizer solo … yeah, I said that.  It definitely tore things up like a neon light dance club from the eighties.

As one bops along through the album, one gets a feeling that these guys are not just trying to get in your face with their synthe-zeal given their early impression.  “Reggie” proves to be an excellent track with just enough modern trends to make it urgent but not too musically gluttonous.  In fact, it is better than any of that stuff they hurled at the listener early on.   “Hope You’re Happy Now” doesn’t have the strongest lyrics but Ivarsson sounds particularly miffed (if not husky) in what can be topically ascertained as a song that essentially flips off a former interest.  By this time the synthesizers have actually grown on me, so as the Sounds punk their way out on “Riot” I felt that this group may have earned their right to open for Blondie in an alternative universe time warp kind of way.

The Sounds are still making their way around Sweden, so if you happen to be out on that island these days then perhaps you can catch them in person.  If not, listen to a bit at their website, MySpace page, or Last.fm!

Dammit, I just looked around … some other sites have already compared these guys to Blondie!  Blast!  Well originality down the tubes, the album “Living in America” could be considered the Sounds’ attempt at getting familiar by being familiar.  They are still around putting out records that go a bit heavy on the electronically punk air, but I suppose that is what the popular flavor is these days.  Despite the mixed feelings gained from this record, I do believe I should catch up on what the Sounds, er, sound like these days.  I bet they’re fun.

Love Is All – Nine Times That Same Song

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

What’s Your Rupture? Records, 2006

The note of “Sleeve By Josephine” means nothing to most, and yet this was one of the more stand out record designs that I’ve ever seen.  I liked the circular, jammed black and white newspaper look that gives off a combative sense of order and chaos.  The printed words that you can barely see in the album art repeat the name of the record over and over as if Jack Torrance was shedding his dull boy image and getting into indie rock.  The back of the record has a lot of pink dots, block lettering and faded type printing, so I felt that no matter what this sounded like it was probably going to have at least a little fun to it.

It turns out that Love is All is yet another rock band from Sweden that, as has been mentioned before via the Flaming Sideburns as well as other groups, continues to impress me as a country that legitimately deserves attention for its music.  Granted, unlike those other rock bands Love Is All pours on the dance rock element that is more popular these days.  Every song tends to have a rapid tapping of cymbals and break neck speed that could be considered punk if it wasn’t all sung by a high-pitched female.  Josephine Olausson, already established as the aforementioned artistic talent, sings urgently in nearly every song with a slight echo that sounds like she might be singing somewhere in a subway station.  Do they have subways in Sweden?  Regardless, the opening tune of “Talk Talk Talk Talk” is showcases the fervent pace and singing that the band continues for most of the record.  Nicholaus Sparding pitches in with a bunch of “one more time”s but it is all one big dash to the end of nearly three minutes of tune.

The band gets a little softer (and conceivably more available for marketing ad jingles) with “Turn the Radio Off” which incorporates some cutesy keyboard and sweeping saxophone.  Not having heard some of their more recent stuff, I might even say that this might be where the band could be heading if they got tired of the usual high exertion they spin into on songs like “Busy Doing Nothing” and “Spinning & Scratching”.  The band definitely hooks into a more typical indie move with a song like “Make Out Fall Out Make Up,” which I knew was catchy for a good reason and but did not make me necessarily like it.  You know those modern songs that start slow and build up anticipation for a big chorus, and then what do you know, the big chorus happens?  Well, that is exactly what this song does.  It pulls that stunt about four times under three minutes, so even though it is a short song it feels very long and a bit tired after awhile.  I threw it into the small listening station for you hipsters out there…

I like this record as it has enough edge and bombast to make the listener think these guys are going to do something great after their debut. Spinning a few of their newer tracks shows that they have definitely held onto the dance element, gotten a little more touchy feely, and shed much of the mayhem they established on this record. I figured that would happen, but I suppose that just means they’re growing right?  Ach.  Love Is All still has a lot of excitement about them starting with this record, so go check them out for some music that has a little less abandon than what you might get usually from the States.

Johnossi – Self-Titled

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

The Control Group, 2007

I’ve never been to Sweden nor do I know much about the country except for the bikini team (thus, dating myself), but the country has proven over the past decade that they can deliver some great music.  I’m sure there are many indie acts to back up this declaration, but the ones that come to mind for me are the Sahara Hotnights, the Hives and, er, Abba.  My only worry is that, if I decide to act on this appreciation for Sweden and opt to visit the country, I’ll accidentally go to Norway or Finland instead.  Hey, I’m a math guy, I can’t spend the idle braincells to actually remember which is which on a map … but I do feel the shame.  Regardless, the duo of Johnossi hails from Sweden and are making it very difficult for anyone to get confused about which country is delivering the most rock n roll these days.

Comprised of a guy on the drums and a guy busily doubling up on vocals and guitar, Johnossi has the appearance of a usual indie band but turn out to be a little more out of the amps.  Following the volume of other duos like the White Stripes and Jucifer as well as the cool vibe of the Black Keys and the Kills, Johnossi’s songs have what could arguably be described as more accessibility and catchiness than any of those previously mentioned bands.  John Engelbert’s vocals are very listenable, for they neither irritate nor do they come across as flimsy.  His clarity and force are an excellent complement to the noisy compositions as well as the softer, pensive tunes.  The rapid, creative drumming of Oskar Bonde makes all of the songs more interesting to listen to than what might be basically expected from the lovely Meg White, so this collective truly has much going for it in terms of potential and craft.

As for the songs themselves, despite a few lulls it’s very apparent than Johnossi aren’t going to put anyone to sleep with cryptic balladeering or curious instrument solos.  “The Show Tonight” started off in such a way that it made me think that these guys really were just another indie rock band.  However, about a minute into the song I realized they were much louder than expected.  This built up into the excellent bombs away rocker of “Execution Song” that illustrates a difficult heartache.  Even Swede rockers can be softies.  “There’s a Lot of Things to Do Before You Die” is another exciting number that Engelbert aggressively yet despairingly sings regarding the anxiousness of getting out there and progressing with one’s life.  It’s gets a little slower in the middle with “Family Values” as one of the few quite tunes of the record, only to turn it back up into a real rouser in “Press Hold”.  I really do think their louder songs of the album sound the best, for even if Engelbert can show that he can be sensitive, I’d rather the group punch their way out of whatever emotional distress they’re in.

For a debut record I think Johnossi have proven that they’re a really interesting rock n roll act with the combination of songwriting and muscle.  They did manage to put out another record that didn’t turn out to be as good as this one, but that’s the way it goes sometimes with the sophomore effort.  What is great to know is that, unlike the usual bands I write about here, Johnossi is still together!  Whoa, wow, imagine that.  As long as you have your travel globe handy you may even have yet another reason to visit the wonderful, hard rock land of Sweden.  The other reason?  Well …

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Mando Diao – Ode to Ochrasy

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Mute Records, 2006mandoDiao

Rarely do I ever get to see these dollar bin wonder artists live, but I actually have seen Mando Diao live.  I went to see them based on the suggestion from a friend and thought the Swedish quintet were a lot of fun to watch even if I wasn’t fully wrapped up in their honest hope that the place would be jumping.  They main thing I took away was the fact that all five guys had different, trendy haircuts.  There was the really curly guy, the long unkempt guy, the short, slick guy, etc.  I felt they were trying a little too hard on their look but still walked away thinking it was a fun show.

I don’t recall when I actually got to go see them, but for all I know they were promoting this very record at the time!  It’s a pity, then, that a bigger crowd hadn’t turned out to see these guys because this record is packed with exuberant rock n roll energy and a real rush to the head.  I don’t think they cooled off until about the fourth song on this record, even if “The Wildfire (If It Was True)” as only quieter because there’s slightly less going on.  The idea of overwhelming the listener with the triple punch of the first three tunes at least gets the notion out of the way that Mando Diao are trying to find their way during their third record.  It is about the time for bands to think of different paths (Radiohead) or get more serious (Strokes), but Mando Diao opt to continue their rampant and crisp rock and hope no one gets too critical about it.  Aside from the softie “Josephine”, one can only get excited when they hear “Killer Kacynski” or “TV & Me”.

To give them a listen, check them out on their website or MySpace page.

It’s true, they do sound a little like a jacked up Blur without the cleverness but for a dollar these guys are a great addition to one’s music collection. I’m not sure if they’ll ever break out here in the States, but I’m sure they’re huge in Sweden. They’ve even put out two records since this one, which only means they’re putting out a lot of good stuff in a short amount of time.

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