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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Dog Almond “Drifting Animals” LP

a2445370845_10Christophe Calpini and Franco Casagrande are two busy, genre-defying, musical pedigrees who play around with styles as they play around with projects. With CVs as long as their arms, their musical journeys are both peppered with collaborations that read like the Swiss Who’s Who of the electro-jazz, indie-folk, reggae and hip hop scenes. Calpini – a veteran drummer, knob twiddler, arranger and producer, who made his mark back in the 90s with Silent Majority, then continued via Eric Truffaz, Alain Bashung, and set up cult underground projects in the shape of Mobile in Motion and Stade. Casagrande – best known as the guitarist in the Swiss reggae band The Moonraisers, errant collaborator with outfits as varied from Chapter to Awadi, and master of a very capable vocal talent.

Ready to bite

‘Drifting Animals’ is the third Dog Almond LP recently issued on their own label, altogether a different affair from their quirky, groovy-edged “In Dog We Trust” of 2010 where the pooches were cute, cuddly and playful. Here the dogs are in a more sombre mood and are ready to bite. As the album cover suggests, intricate beauty sits aside danger, decay and darkness. The sound is fuller, larger, played live and loud. Distorted guitars, reverberating drums, vocoder voices add a depth and perspective which is at times melancholy, other times angry, always emotionally and musically audacious.

Epic, moody, multi-textured, swirling pop songs

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Setting the tone perfectly is the opening track, “Dull Knife”, a richly menacing and dubby instrumental soundtrack, (imagine a would-be Tarantino reggae Western), greatly coloured by the baritone sax of Ganesh Geymeier. There’s an ambiant, trip-hoppy vibe that then takes over, big beats played sparse and wide giving room to highlight Casagrande’s vocal abilty that sits well in both a soft pop frame as that of fierce rocker. For some reason comparisons with Depeche Mode are springing to mind – epic, moody, multi-textured, swirling pop songs that could seduce a daytime radio listener as much as the stadium rock fan. “If it’s easy” is a typical example of a darkly captivating, tortured love song that sucks you in and spews you out thanks to less-is-more pacing, crafty sinister reverbs and an emotionally-sensitive vocal. My money sits with the closing track, “Inventing a moment”: deceptive languid melancholia set on fire by wonderful string arrangements and the guest-featured sax that swirls us into a heady jazz-tinged finale.

Dog Almond forthcoming gigs:

7/03/14: Chat Noir-Carouge (Ge)

28/03/14: Le Bout Du Monde – Vevey (Vd)

3/05/14: Hacienda-Sierre (Vs)

Erika Stucky Bubbles and Bands’ tour @Pully City Club, 15th of March 2013

Erika Stucky_2Erika Stucky has been nicely described as “a Swiss post-modern jazz singer and yodeller”. My version would be “an anarchic Heidi sight & sound experimentalist with a spunky, punky, funky performance art ethic”. Truly a national treasure who sticks out like a welcome sore thumb in a country only too well-known for quiet, order, efficiency, occasional dullness and no toilet flushing after 10pm. I left the concert last Friday night joyfully dazed and confused and wishing she were my next-door neighbour. Give Erika the chance for referendum and dullness would be effectively banned from the Swiss idiom.

Accompanied by great talent on the drums (Lucas Niggli) and tuba (Marc Unternährer) and a bit of fiddling on the lights, Erika turned the comfy Pully City Club into a mad powerhouse of sound, sights, textures and sensations. The musical content was made up of of random songs heard whilst on the road touring, a kind of musical diary that got played around with on the tour bus and dressing rooms. But do not mistake this as night of karaoke standards.

It’s a loose and baggy monster of interpretation where Donovan (“Sunshine Superman”), The Beatles (“Helter Skelter”) and The Stones (“Gimme Shelter”) give way to Stucky’s vocal range, musical styles and provocational ways. Her delivery varies from minimal to positively orchestral, gentle to deranged, soulful, bluesy hoochie-coochie to African chanting, Japanese scatting, or was it Swiss German?…. lordy, there were so many languages… She has able pipes and she knows how to use them, skillfully creating a constantly fluctuating sense of light and shade, one minute lulling you into a safe muscial comfort zone to then have you climbing out of your skin. Never has the occasionally annoying been so engaging.

Visually too, it’s more than a cosy, quirky circus act. The backdrop aided by clever lighting tricks creates multiple Erikas: little, looming, friendly, scary. Snippets of Scorsese-style home movies accompany the music; we were spared the famous baby-tossing sequence that caused outrage in Italy, but were subjected to the blood-curdling cup of coffee which cutesy Madame overfloods with sugar and proceeds to sip cautiously, tortuously as if being held at gunpoint.

Interaction with the audience is warm and delightful, (oh the joy tales of hanging out with Japanese bonadage ladies in Norway), it showcases her polyglotism – though never a show off – and informs us that Erika is over 50 and a recent mum. Information which, to my mind, adds to her general boundary-expanding charismatic ways. Here’s a woman who can weave one song out of two (The Beatles’ “Revolver” and Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma”), kick ass into Eminem’s Lose Yourself, create crazy soundscapes out of playing the accordion, banging a shovel and sampling herself yodelling live AND be totally sexy with it.

“When you come to see me live, you pay to be surprised” she modestly quips near the end of her show. Damn right in bold, italics and underlined. Stucky tells us that the gig has to finish bang on 10pm because of strict anti-noise laws, “eh, oui, c’est bien la Suisse” shouts out a member of the audience. But no-one left the auditorium unhappy with Swiss rules and regulations, clearly one and a half hours of Bubbles and Bangs had filled us with enough anarchic musical vibes to start our own personal revolution.

Erika Stucky (vocals, accordion, sampler, light show and anything else she could get her hands on), Lucas Niggli (drums), Marc Unternährer (tuba).

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