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Alicia Bretón Ferrer – Headache Sorbet

(Glove Compartment)

Normally a record that boasts a song dedicated to, and featuring a pet cat (however sinister) would receive short shrift. But it’s been an awful year or so and we should all cut each other some emotional slack. The record title, Headache Sorbet is an appropriate and pretty witty summation of the last year, too, so bonus points can also be awarded there. Better, Headache Sorbet is the debut release from The Sweet Release of Death singer, Alicia Bretón Ferrer. And this fact promises a great deal.

The Sweet Release of Death have, over the last 5 years or so, built up a reputation for creating very appealing maelstroms of sound. They are an essentially arty Rotterdam band, meaning a lot of other things go into the mix, including Bretón Ferrer’s laconic worldview. But, despite the racket she, Martin Tevel and Sven Engelsman make, and her and Martin Tevel’s propensity for lugubrious, Rotterdamse wit, it’s always clear that Bretón Ferrer wears her heart on her sleeve when getting her message across. The Sweet Release of Death are an honest band at heart, however clever. That’s why this record, with all the mirror-facing bedroom soliloquies and taped confessions, doesn’t feel as if it’s a huge step away from the mothership.

Headache Sorbet is also a bedroom record through and through. Its humour and quick changes of mood and dreaminess, very much looking outside from in, remind me of the Grey Gardens documentary. And like Edie Beale, Alicia is a staunch woman. S-T-A-U-N-C-H. Bretón Ferrer’s no nonsense brand of humour is there from the off, with the footsie “shall we shan’t we” found in ‘Nosebleed’ and the swirling ‘No Suicide in the Kitchen’, where you’re not sure whether Alicia’s teasing you while she puts the tea on. Probably.

These opening tracks, and many others, display a simplicity born of confidence. It’s not only the fact that there aren’t (thankfully) a million instruments pressed into action. Rather the instrumentation – such as it is – is made to sweat out its last drops into the collective well. This effort gives a bigger headspace than you’d expect. Something else: despite the atonal eruptions here and there, the sound of silence often dictates on Headache Sorbet. The use of pauses, repetition, cut and paste vocal filters and breathing techniques that ratchet up the tension, or make more space for the listener’s thoughts, accentuate this quality. It’s a painterly record. Minimalist, European, arty American East Coast. ‘Having Fun’ with Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and John Baldessari, that kind of thing. Even on a sparsely decorated solo record, made in lockdown, Alicia knows when to hold back, and make her mark.

It’s a record that also slips by without the listener really noting what’s going on. This evasiveness has little to do with any deliberate obscurantism; the music on Headache Sorbet is always interesting and attractive. It’s more that these tracks, especially ‘Eyeball’, or ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Control’, are happy working on themselves in a corner. You can join in if you wish.

So overall a fascinating and very appealing release. And, oh, yeah. I quite like the track about the cat. Like many things at the moment, it’s found its time and place.

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Tessel – Cinema single review |

As with previous single ‘Family Time’, Tessel’s latest tune is a tale of something not quite right. Two jilted lovers sit side by side in the cinema, watching on as the silver screen reflects their own life straight back at them; each unable to confront their situation, both knowing it’s over. Tessel have an unerring ability to pick out these moments, packed with tension and narrative, all wrapped up within a single image. On ‘Cinema’, however, they are not alone, as fellow Utrecht native Annelotte de Graaf, aka Amber Arcades, provides suitably dolorous guest vocals.

With such downbeat themes, Tessel’s real challenge is to avoid falling into a mire of self pity.
‘Cinema’ opens with a sense of tranquillity – an ambient field recording amidst vast, reverberating guitar chords and gentle bass. As the serenity subsides, punchy drums and a comparatively clean guitar sound kick in, allowing space for the lilting, effect-laden, lead riff. Tessel use their straightforward instrumentation to great effect, effortlessly conjuring together an indie pop tune in which each part fulfils its role perfectly. The introduction of Annelotte de Graaf adds a fresh perspective to the melancholy narrative, her voice in harmony with the candid lyrics. She has the confidence to almost underperform, allowing the inevitable strength of her timbre and the melody to flourish.

Intent on a slightly incongruous switch in mood, Cinema lurches into an upbeat refrain part way through. This final section, light and sunny, is jarring. Nevertheless, the musical/lyrical disparity allows Tessel and De Graaf to lament without a sense of overindulgence, as the explorative bass, and funk-inspired guitars offset lines like “when you got home, you ended up crying in my bed”. It may not be the most adventurous single, but it nails the carefree indie aesthetic. And as sunnier days approach, the appeal of Tessl only grows stronger.

Cinema is out March 25th via [PIAS] Recordings.

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Michelle Hindriks from CIEL – Interview

Groningen’s Michelle Hindriks and her band CIEL deserve more attention. One of many acts trying to secure a footing in the soi-disant, fleeting world of mainstream alternative pop, and straddling the creative baggage of two country’s scenes whilst not really being in either, CIEL’s music has a nagging, moreish, sometimes quietly glorious quality to it. Not content with a new career in a new town (Brighton) she now has to contend with a music industry that is under permafrost. Operating between worlds, Hindriks is a thoughtful soul whose (over)analyses on virtually anything she talks about bleed into her music. High time to chew the cud, then.

CIEL releases a new single, ‘Pretty Face’, produced by Jack Wolter from Penelope Isles and mixed by Austin Tufts from Canadian band BRAIDS. Another piece is coming up in May of this year, produced by Steven Ansell from Blood Red Shoes.

LTW: You make dreamy pop music that has a lot of echoes (certainly for an old git like me) of a particular strain of British pop music from the 1980s: Felt, a million 4AD things, also the 80s Liverpool alternative pop stuff such as Pale Fountains, The Heart Throbs, Wild Swans…

MH: Yeah I love a lot of these 80’s and also early 90’s bands. Mazzy Star, The Breeders, Blonde Redhead, Kate Bush, or the music in Twin Peaks. I actually started listening to a lot of these artists because people around me would compare my music with it, so then they became inspirations later on. My own musical journey started with Nirvana when I was about twelve. I went through a Britpop phase as a teenager and eventually started listening to other sorts of stuff like Massive Attack’s Heligoland. Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter, Warpaint’s very first EP and Still Corners’ Creatures of an Hour were also records that inspired me massively as a teenager. I really loved the imperfections and the pureness in these albums. So I guess I started to listen to more modern versions of what people call “dream pop” to start with, and only after discovering all of that, I found out about the roots of the genre.

LTW: What do you mean by imperfection and pureness?

MH: I mean a certain pureness that is in the music. Maybe it is recorded slightly sloppily or there are little mistakes in the guitar parts and the vocals aren’t too perfectly tuned. It gives the music this human touch and makes it feel real to me. But of course it shouldn’t have imperfections that are too extreme and are not really pleasant to listen to. I think it is a very thin line when something is nicely imperfect and when it is too imperfect, and I wouldn’t be able to put into words where this line is, it’s more like a feeling I get when listening to certain music. I think how we experience this is very personal and depends on the time and place, too.

LTW: CIEL’s sound is very romantic. Lots of minor chords playing elegantly off each other and washes or chorus and delay pedals…

MH: I definitely love chorus and delay! Our producer Iggy B luckily shared that with us, he’s got a studio full of all great vintage reverbs, delays and choruses, so that definitely gave a lot of character to songs like “All My Life”. At one point we recorded different loops of pure feedback of his juno synth through a delay pedal and selected the best parts which are now softly layered in the bridge of the song. We mixed our last EP, ‘Movement’ with Iggy B. We came into contact with him via Jack from Penelope Isles. Iggy’s worked with artists including PINS, Ghost Poet, The Duke Spirit and Spiritualized, and we share a common ground for the kind of productions and sounds that we like.


LTW: What does chorus and delay bring to your sound do you think? What does it release?

MH: Chorus gives me a certain nostalgic and melancholic feeling. I think it also adds to this “imperfect” vibe that I love so much. When you double the instrument in a slightly different timing it literally makes the instrument sound the slightest bit out of tune. Delay brings this extra texture that makes the sound of the music more interesting to me. I could compare it to a painting: you can colour all the parts in the exact same colour which looks quite flat, or you can mix in different colours in a subtle way and colour all the parts in with different techniques that give depth and adds different textures to the whole. To me, that is more interesting and satisfying to look at.

LTW: I think the first time I saw you was in OCCII, Amsterdam, quite a while ago. Yet I thought that you weren’t really part of that underground circuit. What was it like starting up in NL for you?

MH: That seems ages ago to me, I think it was my second show ever as a frontwoman. I had always been playing in bands as a guitarist and synth player and had just decided to give my solo work a go. I remember being quite nervous. I have always been a huge fan of the underground circuit in The Netherlands and went to tons of basement gigs, yet I think I somehow never found the right place for this project in The Netherlands. I lived in Leeuwarden at the time, a small town which I still feel really connected to, though the scene there is quite small and I struggled to find the right people around me to collaborate with creatively. Weirdly it’s only now I’ve moved away there seems to be more interest for this project in The Netherlands.

LTW: But you saw most of these things people are now raving about in NL?

MH: Yes. I grew in a place called Groningen, in the north of The Netherlands and the venue VERA played a huge role in my teenage years – it formed my musical taste. They have the main venue where loads of exciting international bands have played and they have the “Kelderbar”, which is a bar in the basement with a little stage which can host about 100 visitors. I saw many gigs in this venue – some of the bigger ones being Health and Beach House.  It was the thing that got me excited during my high school years!. I would go to a lot of gigs of Dutch bands too, mostly at festivals like Le Guess Who, the travelling “locals festival”, Popronde and the showcases by LEPEL, Subroutine Records and Subbacultcha!, during Eurosonic. The show of Wooden Constructions in VERA during the Popronde always stuck with me; it had a certain rawness to it. I was also a big fan of a small label called Samling, with acts like Eklin and Bonne Aparte. I saw The Sweet Release of Death and Slow Worries play at (Subroutine’s) The Sound Of The Dutch Underground during Eurosonic, and those gigs impressed me a lot! And more recently I think the Dutch underground scene is still very interesting with acts like Yuko Yuko and The Homesick, who both come from the North too.

LTW: Do you want to tell us about the bands you were in before? Or is that a no go area? MH: Before I started focusing on CIEL I played guitar and synth in Dutch dream pop band Sväva. We formed in the North of The Netherlands and played together for about 5 years, including festivals like Noorderslag, Here Comes The Summer, Dockville and Le Guess Who. I had a great time playing with them, they felt like a family to me. I think one of the last shows we did was in WORM, supporting VÖK – which I remember as a very exciting show.

LTW: Your lyrics do sound like you’re waging a continual conversation with someone else… Who are these dialogues meant to address? Who’s getting it in the neck?

MH: I think it is mostly an internal dialogue with myself. A lot of my lyrics are quite introspective. Some of the songs are about closure of certain periods of my life, written at the point when I’m moving on to new things. You know, relationships, the places I left and friendships that changed. I think I sort of address the lyrics to the songs’ subjects almost in the way of explaining myself, but without actually expecting it to reach them. So in the end it is also more like an internal thing I guess. ‘All My Life’ is about being an introverted person and my journey of finding my space in the world with this personality. Sometimes I felt that people expect you to be more outspoken and outgoing. And in the past I sometimes wished to be less of an introvert, but nowadays I really value it and see the strengths of it.

LTW: And lots of lyrics about looking at things from an edge of somewhere, out of windows, on the shore, looking around whilst waiting for someone, your lyrics paint you in a permanent state of suspense…

MH: I am definitely “an overthinker”, which I guess brings you more easily in a state of suspense, although at the same time in day-to-day life I am quite a proactive and positive person and I don’t like to sit still at all. Especially in The Netherlands I went through some challenging times. And it comes naturally to me to write songs about things that I struggle with – sometimes it almost feels like some sort of therapy. I think being in a state of “not exactly knowing what is coming next” is quite a difficult feeling for most people, as it is in our nature as human beings to want to have certainty. Yet, I believe these uncertain times are necessary in life too. These are the times that give you the opportunity to re-evaluate certain stuff in your life and change something about it, even if you’re not yet sure how. I think these in-between periods are a quite important part of this process.

LTW: Yet you got active and moved to somewhere else, to Brighton, am I right? 

MH: I lived in Brighton before – in 2010 – and I thought it was a good time to visit the city again for a month. From the second I arrived the second time, I was 100% sure that I wanted to move back and eventually I only went back to The Netherlands for a couple of weeks to move out of my apartment there. It was a moment in which everything seemed to fall into place in the same time.

LTW: How do you see the differences of working creatively in a different country? The UK can be tough. Is that why you went?

MH: Moving from The Netherlands to the UK to do music here is probably not the most logical choice financially! [Laughs.] Back home in NL it was definitely easier to earn money from music and I got paid more than I do here. Moving to Brighton has been more like a strong gut-feeling, a dream, that I had been ignoring for years. I moved to Brighton for the first time when I was 18 years old and I always wanted to return to this town. Creatively I now have the feeling I found my place here in the UK. I have an amazing band around me, my bandmates Jorge and Tim work very closely together with me on these songs. There are so many like-minded people and amazingly talented bands in Brighton.. Penelope Isles, Hanya, Demonstrations, Lime and Holiday Ghosts to name a few.  It is really easy to collaborate with people that like the same sort of stuff and it’s exciting to be a part of that scene.

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Price – Timesaver Review

What to make of Price and their debut record?

Listening to Timesaver by the Groningen outfit meant other days listening to other things; from early Slade or Sparks, Cuby and the Blizzards’ early 45s to Bag’s one legendary single, Humble Pie and the Small Faces to Todd Rungdren’s early 70s offerings, No Goods singles, or that first glorious Teenage Fanclub record. Even some mid 2000’s EMO, fancy that, (it’s been a while). Why? Well, I was trying to understand what Price were aiming for, or drawing from, in style or spirit, with this rich, appealing and very comercial record. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I gave up and went back to the Price record itself, a good move, as Price do have their own thing going on. If only I could unlock it.

There is a panoply of ideas and possibilities sketched out on Timesaver. What we get, regardless of my procrastinatimg, is a very good, sometimes thrilling, often heavy guitar pop record that can sit alongside many other heavy guitar pop records with its head held high. Price’s trump cards are a strong sense of melody, and an understanding of what constitutes that most unfashionable of things, a good rock and roll song. There are some potentially great songs waiting to be written by this lot. But if we are splitting hairs, I must say that I was often nagged by the feeling that there is no definite statement, yet, of what their debut record stands for or is, outside of maybe being a reflection of what’s doing the rounds in the Netherlands’ fertile alternative guitar pop scene.

Regardless, the record starts off with some style. The opener ‘Remains of Dwellings’ is a powerful mid-tempo workout with a certain amount of swagger that has a very mid-90s feel to it. Guitars growl and thrum, the beat maps out a steady course and and the vocals, never too obtrusive, have a dual tracked “feel” that nods to a glam stance, without donning full lippy. Suddenly things drop off and we get a stripped down psych-goth divertissement, that doesn’t half come on like the late great Nieuwe Vrolijkheid. Only for a bit, mind, as the revs kick on and I could be forgiven for thinking I’m listening to prime time Vox Von Braun. It’s a powerful number that definitely does more than the sum of its parts. After that ‘Medic’ is a busy number built on a slightly itchy EMO-trash riff that has a lovely descend. It’s fun power pop. Again the vocals are content to mooch about in the mix, never really taking the reins, allowing the guitar effects to wash over everything. To show that they hold a set of cards the band produce the title track, a slow, soulful ballad, nestling on an acoustic guitar strum.

You get the distinct feeling the band are now asking themselves, “is there anything we’ve missed?” Answering that, ‘Walker’ announces itself on a very modish riff. Just when you think matters could become drawn out and loose, this clever riff pulls things back from getting too hairy. Which is a shame as the track could, if it wanted, and like many tracks on the album, propel itself spacewards. To finish side one we have a different musical point of view again, with ‘Manic Beat’, (which is anything but). The track sounds like it’s escaped from the C86 compilation in the company of a chorus and delay pedal. It could be a Cope b-side between Fried and Saint Julian. Or a La’s demo. It’s a very appealing pop nonetheless.

More refractions of pop’s prism are found on side two. ‘(Text Based Dungeon Crawler)’ is propelled by another very modish, vogueish lick, and builds steadily into a very appealing lament. Again the vocals flitter through the track, not looking to take centre stage, which does add a certain elusive charm. However enticing and enjoyable it is, though, it sounds as if the band holds short of really, really, going for it. The record has a very efficient way of tidying itself up, leading any diverse element towards a satisfactory conclusion. The songs end well. Loose ends are dealt with. This is a shame as they definitely have potential to make something genuinely rabble rousing.

When they relax and go for it, which, as the side progresses they do, Price becomes a force to reckon with. ‘Full Metal’ boasts a great mix of rollocking guitars and soulful introspection, the two sides of the song’s character is tied together by a fab refrain that has a definite heavy soul feel to it. As the noise unfurls and things are on the point of getting wild (just before they go all wide-eyed and soulful on you) you begin to wish they’d turn things up to 11 and make an even bigger messier, more heart-rending take. ‘Lycan’ wakes itself up into action courtesy of a rousing riff and a cute melody line. Best is definitely saved until second last with ‘New Quest’, a brilliant, almost elegiac anthem with bags of heart. You want the band to “be like this” all the time, the wide-eyed Rungdren riffing colliding with their strong sense of melody and a certain wantonness that has the legs to go further. And, hosannah! The ending is a brutal cut-off.

Whilst listening in to the umpteenth time to Timesaver, I began to form an increasingly harebrained theory about the record. It’s this: Price’s debut album somehow captures elements of the culturele samenleving in the Netherlands, reveals the sort of sharing that takes place, the acceptance that everyone in the scene can use particular shapes and attitudes that find themselves in currency. This in turn builds up a sort of unspoken zeitgeist that everyone indulges in. It’s the musical take on those weird rows of well tended gardens in the platteland, where each plot is a slightly different take on an overriding theme. I’m not saying Price deliberately does this, they are too talented, and I think individual for all of that. I hope, however, that one day in the not too distant future, they drink the reindeer’s piss, throw away any copy book they possess and go out into the dark; wild eyed and legless, wading against the current.

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Video Premiere – Rats on Rafts ‘A Trail Of Wind & Fire’ Single

Rats on Rafts are one of the great contemporary European rock bands. The Rotterdam quartet are also one of the first acts that signalled something remarkable was happening in the current Netherlands underground rock music scene. First championed by Louder than War a decade ago, Rats on Rafts continue to make widescreen rock music with a burning sense of mission.

Their new album, Chapter 3, is out in early 2021 on Fire Records. The band’s trademark tough, wiry guitar sound is present throughout. There are plenty of adrenaline rushes to enjoy as ever, but this time the thunder is often channelled alongside a sinuous, metronomic beat and a noticeable sense of mastery in the arrangements.

A lot of Rats’ material comes from live jams that slowly develop in their set, or long form practice room burn ups and edits in the mix, that slowly take shape over time.  The new single ‘A Trail Of Wind & Fire’, the second off the forthcoming album, is a superb example of that process.

According to singer David Fagan the track “combined two songs we had been working on for a while. ‘Rain’, (the Japanese guitars that start the song) started out as an ambient piece and covers the entire song from start to end. ‘A Trail Of Wind & Fire’ is the song that kicks later on. Rhythmically it was inspired by bands like Neu! & Hawkwind. The name of the song refers to the strong effect wind has on fire, it can make what starts out as a small fire turn into a big disaster once they team up.”

The video nods to examples of film noir such as ‘Le Cercle Rouge’ and 1940s surrealism. Other influences are worn proudly on the band’s sleeve. Fagan: “We were inspired by video artist Maya Deren and her cinematic philosophy: she was interested in amateurism as an artform and the manipulation of reality in filmmaking, travelling through time and space. Guided by the lyrics of ‘A Trail Of Wind And Fire’ and Deren’s philosophy, we went to visit the house where this video is set. We let the location take the lead in our imagination and let the story evolve on set. During the editing process we also kept this experimental way of working going, associating images, timelines and music together without focussing on what ‘makes sense’ but instead focussing on the subconscious.”

Inner city thinkers, Rats on Rafts cement their return with a bang. You can watch the video here in a Louder than War premiere.

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