Record of the month (October): Evelinn Trouble “Arrowhead”

Unknown-1Comparisons are inevitable between Linnéa Racine (alias Evelinn Trouble) and her sister compatriots, Sophie Hunger and Anna Aaron. Swiss German warrior queens unconventionally reinventing their own style and vocabulary of the feminine musical idiom. Admittedly, Trouble is the most daring and dangerous of the lot. Starting out aged 16, her 4th LP ‘Arrowhead’ marks ten years of Trouble’s eclectic, defiant stance on the alternative Swiss music scene.

This is clearly NOT easy listening

Conceptually speaking, ’Arrowhead’ flies straight at you like a the sharp, piercing foreign body it suggests to be. An epically dark, dramatic work that lends itself perfectly to the term ‘rock poetry’. Based on the idea of a travelling performer hit in the middle of the forehead by a flying arrow at the airport en route to a gig, no time to have it removed, the show must go on. The nine tracks recount the torment, anguish and rebellion of the dreamlike state that Arrowhead is thrown into. « Like a chickenless head, living among the dead, run around with my arrow in my head, cannot get my head around where to be or where to go ». It’s an opus best appreciated with some context otherwise the oppressive, trippy, melancholic vibe might be at times too relentless for the listener. This is clearly NOT easy listening. Having the lyrics to hand, studying the Ziggy Stardust-inspired visuals and accepting the rock opera tendencies all help to glean the mesmerising scope of this project.

“An orchestrated trip”

Recorded in four days at the Invada Studios in Bristol, there are flashes of Massive Attack spaciousness and Portishead introspective mournfulness. Joined by musicians Florian Götte (bass) and Domi Chansorn (drums and percussion), Evelinn Trouble wails, plays guitar and adds sound layers. There’s an angry intention behind most tracks, the production is haunting and echoey with clashing, crashing sounds symbolic of an urban anxiety dream. A trapped soul is desperate to get out, yet revolted by what it has to go back to. Mumbling, fumbling, pleading, screaming. As the press release states, « it’s an orchestrated trip ». Trouble’s restless spirit and powerful blues voice conveys this alarmingly well.

It makes sense to see the whole body of work as a journey

In conversation, she mentions her desire to make a ‘concept album’ rather like those heavy rock pieces of the 70s. « There are melodic motifs that reappear throughout ‘Arrowhead’, repeated symbolism in various tracks, so it makes sense to see the whole body of work as a journey. Everything came to me quite magically. I actually had the dream of the arrow getting stuck in my head. It came at a time when I was travelling around a lot like many musicians. I was in a constant state of confusion, no home base, no safety, the urban traveller lost in a sometimes dangerous environment. I guess this is the sentiment I’m trying to convey the most. Life is not nice and easy all the time. The arrow will eventually come out, or you just forget it’s there and you learn to live with it ».

Apart from touring the album this winter, Trouble will be performing in the Thom Luz production of ‘Unusual Weather Phenomena Project’ in Zurich. Seeing as the theatre is clearly a place she’s comfortable with, I look forward to seeing the stage production of ‘Arrowhead – The Rock Opera’ at some point in the future.

New LP
Evelinn Trouble, “Arrowhead”, Bakara Music

Forthcoming gigs:
16.10. Le Singe, Biel (CH)
17.10. Le Bateau Ivre, Mons (BE)
20.10. The Finsbury, London (UK)
21.10. Powerlunches, Dalston (UK)
22.10. Mother’s Ruin, Bristol (UK)
23.10. Shacklewell Arms, London (UK)
24.10. Mau Mau Bar, London (UK)
25.10. The Union Bar, Hastings (UK)
30.10. Moods, Zürich (CH)
31.10. Mokka, Thun (CH)

 

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Sknail: close encounters of the glitch jazz kind

 

coverNot a great fan of distorted digital noises of any kind, I was not prepared to like the work of Blaise Caillet – AKA Sknail – the main perpetrator of the nu-electronica subgenre called ‘glitch jazz’. However, one must always be ready to eat one’s hat. In the intelligent hands of Caillet, the Sknail project is carried off with such graceful modernity and beauty that no one could begrudge him a few mechanical distortions here and there.

A mercurial soundscape

« Snail Charmers » is the second LP that spearheads this sci-fi fusion of jazz and the dark side of modern electronics. Listening to the album is like stepping into a mercurial soundscape where drums are replaced by subtle, finely-tuned scratches and digital malfunctions. Thanks to Caillet’s gifted production skills, they actually are made to sound beautiful, sitting perfectly at ease next to six professional jazz musicians and their elegant experimentation. The LP is a seamless work, fabulously suited to the soundtrack of a would-be Nordic thriller set in a misty land of half human, half robotic jazz warriors.

This Mad Max journey of confrontation between man and machine.

The chilly, not-quite-human electronic glitches are woven with great craftmanship into the sinuey hues of voice, trumpet, bass clarinet, piano and double bass. The result is a silvery, thin blanket of sound that is far warmer and more welcoming than expected. ‘Snail Charmers’ and ‘Something’s got to give’ are probably my favourite tracks of the year so far. Rapper/narrator/singer, Nya, works wonders with his languid, lilting vocals, adding the needed human guidance along this Mad Max journey of confrontation between man and machine. This work is cleverly thought-out and studied from every angle: concept, sound and visuals. Glitch jazz is indeed a product of our digital times, proving that the conquering and innovative spirit of  jazz can be merged with anything, even “the aesthetic of failure”.

In conversation with Blaise Caillet:

Did you come up with the term ‘glitch jazz’?

Blaise Caillet: Glitch jazz is a subgenre of electronica. When I checked it on google, the term “glitch jazz” already existed. There are mostly DJ productions, in other words an electro beat with jazz samples and some little glitchy sounds thrown in. When I created the “Sknail” project, I wanted to take the word “glitch jazz” quite literally, ie: real glitches with real jazz! It felt really new. Now when you google “glitch jazz”, the first result that appears is sknail.com.

How was your first LP, ‘Glitch Jazz’ received?

Blaise Caillet: Some listeners were shocked and still are now! The first time I heard Alva Noto (pure glitch music) I was shocked too but it’s good to be troubled or affected when listening to new music. Personally, I always look for this sensation when listening to music. The first Sknail LP was generally well received by people looking for these kind of sensations. I prefer developing an original musical project, taking a path where nobody has gone before, even if it’s something shocking or displeasing.

Drums? Is this the role of the glitches?

Blaise Caillet: Yes, you can look at it this way. The glitches are micro samples and micro sounds stemming from machine failures, electronic malfunctions. When these micros samples are cut, clipped, treated, stuck together, you can get a very smart and definite percussion sound.  In the end, the way to give a pulse to a track doesn’t matter, the important thing is getting the pulse, feeling the vibe. Also, using glitch rhythms in electronic music gives a different, finer sound than the “classical” electro drum machines. It results in a different aesthetic.

A lot of the tracks on both LPs have a very filmic, soundtracky quality. Do you plan to work in this domain?

Blaise Caillet: Yes I do. I worked last year with a French producer to adapt a Sknail track for a short movie that was featured in the “Nuit des Images” at Lausanne’s Elysée photography museum.

The timbre of the music has a beautiful melancholic quality. Do you think glitch jazz can ever be upbeat and joyful?

Blaise Caillet: I always use minor and modal (without harmonic changes) tonalities in this project. That gives a very specific mood to the music with a melancholic timbre. This timbre is specific to a certain kind of avant-garde jazz and, when it’s mixed with a cold and clinical electronica glitch music, it transcends itself. This is what I’m into: mixing the timbre and the styles, finding new aesthetics. At the beginning, I tried to make some tracks that were joyful and upbeat, but that didn’t work. They had a kitschy side, a kind of a hopping experimental electrojazz house sound which wasn’t what I was after.

Your rapper, Nya, touches on some relevant points about today’s decaying society, (especially in ’Slow Poison’). Is the band more a celebration or an attack on the digital age and what’s it’s brought to the world?

Blaise Caillet: I’ll let Nya answers this question: “It’s neither an attack nor a celebration of the digital age. It’s a balancing act, as with so many things in life. Trying to stay true to our human selves while at the same time evolving and adapting to our environment. Never losing sight of the essential things.”

How important are the visuals to your music? Who’s in charge of them?

Blaise Caillet: It’s very important. When you listen to music, you automatically create images and scenes in your mind. So I think it’s a very smart way to deliver the sound and the image of the music together, to suggest an entire artistic concept to the listener. And the aim is the same as the music: to create something innovative. Online, I met Efrain Becerra from Phoenix, Arizona, I stumbled upon his FB page and was very impressed with his 3D graphical work. I contacted him with the instruction: “Imagine how a jazz club might be in the year 3147 ». We had a lot of brainstorming ideas and exchanges via e-mail, Facebook, Whatsapp but I still haven’t seen, touched or talked to him yet face to face. Welcome to the 2015 dematerialized world!

What’s the Sknail live experience like?

Blaise Caillet: It’s important to understand that my musicians have never met (for both albums!). I recorded each musician one by one and created the tracks layer by layer because I’ve got only one microphone and because I really didn’t know where this project was going at the start. My objective was to realize an entire project by myself: artistic concept, creation, composition, arrangement, recording, mixing, promotion. The only thing I haven’t done myself is the mastering. I’m now working on how to produce the live show. First I have to find the adapted hardware and software, then, figure out how to perfectly synchronize the glitches with the double bass player to make the perfect rhythm section. In a live situation, I want the musicians to be very free like in a “classic” jazz concert, we play the theme and/or the vocal part very straight and arranged, and then the improvisations take off with great interaction between musicians.

Do you have any other music projects outside of Sknail?

Blaise Caillet: I did all the electronic musical arrangements for the last album of Ultra Dieez from Geneva, (Mathieu Delieutraz: composer, singer and guitarist who plays French rock/folk). When we decided to work together, I mixed the electronica glitch timbres to his roots bluesy French rock music and the result was great.

The TWO blues band: small number, big sound

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The TWO have been making waves on the Swiss blues scene for the past three years, bringing depth, integrity and colour to what sometimes feels like a long-lost musical tradition. Made up of  Mauritian Yannick Nanette (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Swiss Thierry Jaccard (lead guitar, backing vocals), this tight unit is highly thought of in the Swiss blues community and has even caused ripples abroad by reaching the semi-finals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis earlier this year.

 

The blues musical tradition has never felt so alive

Watching them play live at La Fête de la Musique at Lausanne’s The Great Escape, I was struck by how authenticity and simplicity are key to their success. Totally committed to their honest, organic sound without a hint of flim-flam to embellish all that is beautiful in its raw and rootsy state. Inhabited by some past life blues ghost once guitars are in hand, The TWO postively levitate with a feel-good factor even when the timbre is plaintive and sombre. The enthusiasm for their musical mission is palpable. The audience are with them, behind them, for them. The blues musical traditon in their hands has never felt so alive. « I’ve got blues in my bones, I’ve got groove in my soul » wails Yannick with a fire-breathing intensity and a voice that bridges the distant Creole with the Delta. It’s a haunting voice that cannot fail to penetrate, transmitting despair in a way that’s more unique than rare, thankfully it is equally uplifting in parts reminding us that the blues is also a music of hope and dreams.

 

“The blues is an enormous canvas to paint on”

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I recently came across this quote from Roger Daltrey talking about his early influences with The Who: « Because it’s so simple and heartfelt, the blues is an enormous canvas to paint on ». Much from little is exactly the tradition that The TWO are carrying forward with effective heart and spirit. Their album ‘Sweet, Dirty, Blues’ was released last November off their own backs and is an honest, raw, relevant work reminding us that all forms of popular music stem from the stripped down simplicity of a nifty guitar riff and a pained, sincere voice. They’ve also just put out an 7-inch single on Lausanne’s Rocafort Records which can only be purchased at their live gigs. I have a hunch that more people will be talking about this vibrant, engaging duo after their first official appearance at Montreux Jazz this summer.

 

Some questions and answers with The TWO:

How and where did you meet? How long have you been playing together?

The TWO: We met five years ago in Sierre. Thierry was playing at the Hacienda concert hall with the funk band, Brainless. I loved their sound so much that I (Yannick) asked if I could join in for a jam session at the end of the show. They agreed, I rushed home, got dressed nicely, took my harmonica and the story began. Since then I’ve been touring with the Brainless band. Thierry and I quickly saw we had a special feel for the blues and soon decided to work together. Three years have gone by since then and we’ve been grooving restlessly wherever the music takes us.

Name some of the blues inspirations that have impacted on your sound and style of playing.

The TWO: Eric Bibb, Keb Mo, Ray Charles, Eric Triton, Menwar, Zanzak, Baster, Kaya.

There’s not a lot of Swiss blues music around, do you feel like a rare breed?

The TWO: The blues can be everywhere as long as the music is honest, as long as one drives it out from one’s soul, as long as the music is vital, as long as it is an urge to sing or die. What we mean is that the blues is not an aesthetic, some kind of drawer where one is categorised to suit a music market. In the beginning black people were singing to find a light, to cheer up and encourage themselves to bear the conditions of slavery. The blues was a prayer, a cry to come together, to be one, united to face hardship and suffering. Our blues comes from here and we sing with our soul, this same desire to make people come together and move for change. In Switzerland artists like Mark Kelly, Sophie Hunger and many more sing with this fervour, honesty and soul, which for us is the blues.

How did your trip to Memphis affect you?

The TWO: We were really happy to go there, proud to sing our blues where the blues was born. It was some kind of pilgrimage but there in Memphis, many questions came up. We realised that the blues cannot be imprisoned in a place. Music is art and if try to hold it for yourself, keep it in a museum, it withers and dies. The blues is everywhere! No matter where you are, no matter who you are and where you’re from, you can have the blues. It is not an American thing, it is a human thing.

Are The Two always going to be just you two?? Will there be more musicians featured on your forthcoming work?

The TWO: Music is about meeting people and sharing. From time to time we play with a drummer, Felix Bergeron and a violinist, Bastoun. In any case, The TWO is more than just two guys playing their guitars. So many people work behind the scenes, are unseen and these people help our music to be what it is. For now we are touring with our album ‘Sweet, Dirty, Blues’ that came out last year. Time, music and crossroads will tell what happens next.

 

Forthcoming live gigs:

03.07 – Summer Blues, Basel

04.07 – Gena Festival

08/09.07 – Sierre Blues Festival

10.07 – Vallemaggia Magic Blues

13.07 – Montreux Jazz Festival

18.07 – Cahors Blues Festival (FR)

19/20.07 – Verbier Festival

22.07 – Narcao Blues Festival (IT)

23.07 – Blue Balls Festival , Lucerne

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