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)

 

Plaistow present ‘Titan’

Photo: Mehdi Benkler

Photo: Mehdi Benkler

Plaistow set the bar high

Distilling their sound to its very essence, Plaistow have produced, Titan, a big statement from this piano trio led by Johann Bourquenez. With lofty track titles that have the double aspect of Saturn’s moons, and characters in Greek mythology, Plaistow set the bar high, but do they reach it?

They break their own spell

Very young children like to repeatedly bang a drum until you feel you want to punch them. Plaistow use a similar style with chords stabbed over and again, or single piano keys thumped, as in ‘Phoebe’ where Johann’s low notes are emphasised by Cyril Bondi’s simultaneous, single drum hits. This reiteration goes on, enforcing a sort of hypnosis, on both us and them, before – stop. They break their own spell with a sudden spin-around, taking a new direction in rhythm or melody. Plaistow are in control.

Subtle but malevolent bass strings

Often the beats don’t have any slack, or swing, although the deliberate rhythm-shifting and off-beats work well. ‘Kari’ starts with drama: a rattling snake of percussion, subtle but malevolent bass strings, and brushes of piano wire. Johann launches unapologetic, driving notes and with Cyril’s sparse drums, breaks the mood. There are movements in their compositions; each track becomes a surprising journey within itself.

A drone that cements the music

Cyril Bondi has upped his game with a few, assured themes. There are scuttling creatures, percussive bullet rounds and a cymbal-edge metal whine that’s particularly vital, a drone that cements the music to our ears. Vincent Ruiz’s bass is less confident, but within his subtlety there is a distinctive voice emerging, notably in ‘Pan’.

In my interview with Johann last year he explained that Plaistow disguise themselves a jazz trio but are “filled with techno and noise walls”. The tension between these impulses is exciting. Titan is a few tracks too long for me, but Plaistow have avoided an arrogant album by embracing whatever emerged in their improvisations; a genuine range of emotion. Some of these noise walls are woven from elegant melodies; there are romantic glimmers and a veil of Middle Eastern texture.

The piano runs are disturbing and unhinged

As a student I was into Jean Cocteau’s work. He spoke of self-realisation requiring someone to close their eyes, let themselves be taken unawares and follow their dark angel… Bourquenez also follows his light, he taps into his subconscious and gives voice to what he finds. This music has a palpable artistic energy because of that.

In ‘Tethys’ the piano runs are disturbing and unhinged but have the opposite effect in ‘Daphnis’ where the music literally washes wounds with wave after soothing wave. It brings a lump to my throat. ‘Enceladus’ makes my skin crawl, the goosebumps hardening momentarily before the music seems to force open the heart. It feels almost religious, a simple but stunning piece. Much of the album’s impact is physical.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, or being too personal, but when I first met Johann he looked like he smoked too much and drank too many dark espressos. For this album, he kicked smoking, cycled daily and swam in Lac Leman. Titan is like a discovery of the physical self and of the elation kids feel when they run, climb, roll or bang a drum over and over and over…

New record
Plaistow, ‘Titan’

Plaistow tour dates:
07.11 Jazz Festival, Berlin (DE)
09.11 Jazzdor, Strasbourg (FR)
27.11 Les Murs du Son, La Chaux-de-Fonds (CH)
04.12 Jazz Festival, Jerusalem (IL)
10.12 Paradox, Tilburg (NL)
12.12 State-X Festival, The Hague (NL)
13.12 Jazzdock, Prague (CZ)
22.12 Moods, Zürich (CH)
13.01 2016 Bee-Flat, Bern (CH)

Preview: Klaus Johann Grobe at For Noise

© Paléo / Boris Soula

© Paléo / Boris Soula

I can’t pay a bigger compliment to Klaus Johann Grobe than to say they make me want to learn German (I’m actually looking at courses in London now). For the moment I freely sing along to their album Im Sinne der Zeit not knowing what on earth I’m saying. When I got the CD I played it every morning, over and over, because it made me so happy.

A minor-key world of melancholy and sensuality

My interest in KJG was immediate. I was due to see them at the Great Escape festival in Brighton in May and so I did some research on YouTube (of course). I found a live version of ‘Traumhaft’ and the very first chords of Moog/Farfisa synths pricked up my ears – the sound was so dandy, almost comical, and yet honest and soulful. The vocals seemed to dwell in a minor-key world of melancholy and sensuality, entwined with a thread of quiet optimism. It sounded nostalgic for DIY culture and a time of simplicity yet was progressive and fresh.

© Paléo / Boris Soula

© Paléo / Boris Soula

The irresistible synth sensibility of Sevi

Their show confirmed me as a fan and I literally barged people out of the way so I could be near the front (I avoided the very front row as I was aware my stalker-grin might scare the band). It was the irresistible synth sensibility of Sevi Landolt that drew me to them, but the equally genuine and clever rhythm section of Daniel Bachmann on drums and Stephan Brunner on bass (for the live shows) made this trio greater than the sum of its parts. I cornered their manager (who happens to be a great guy from Liverpool), gushed about how much I liked them and got a CD – then I gushed about how much I loved the CD cover. My gushing hasn’t stopped.

A serious depth of musical knowledge

On the album, tracks such as ‘Koffer’ give a sense of The Doors metamorphosing into The Jam via Herb Alpert. There are wafts of garage band, psychedelia and post-punk outfits like Howard Devoto’s sharp and lyrical, Magazine. Sevi throws us scraps of groove that the keyboard King, Jimmy Smith, would even nod his head to. You sense there is a serious depth of musical knowledge that underpins their unique ideas, but they draw on influences without being derivative.

KlausJohannGrobeThese guys aren’t afraid of an easy listening sway

‘Les Grecks’ still makes me chuckle as it wafts in memories of Peter Fenn’s music for the TV quiz show, ‘Sale of the Century’. These guys aren’t afraid of an easy listening sway or blowing an unashamedly romantic mist onto tracks like ‘Vergangenes’. If they keep their timing, simplicity and never try to be anything except genuine, I’m sure I will stay hooked. In fact I’m coming all the way to Switzerland to see them play the For Noise Festival in Pully on Thursday 20 August (I’ll be near the front with a big stalker-grin on my face…).

20.08. For Noise, Pully (CH)
21.08. C/o Pop, Köln (GER)
22.08. Dockville, Hamburg (GER)
09.09. Daba Daba, San Sebastian (ESP)
10.09. Moby Dick, Madrid (ESP)
11.09. Psych Fest, Zaragoza (ESP)
12.09. Sala Apolo, Barcelona (ESP)

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