Archive for April, 2011

BAMMsterdam Review: Das Pop – The Game

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When Flemish band Das Pop made a comeback with their self-titled 3rd album in 2009, it seemed as if they had never left. Das Pop (the record) delivered some of their best cuts of the infectious seventies pop that made them so enjoyable in the first place. Their airy, upbeat energy, mixed with bittersweet undertones and crisp sonorities, feels like it’s been around forever. Yet, the band’s quality songwriting, plus the instantly recognisable voice (and daft stage antics) of singer Bent van Looy make Das Pop one of the top brands in Belgian pop music.

The Game (artwork)

Times are changing however. These gentlemen have progressed well into their thirties, and a new generation is itching to take their throne as catchiest popband in the Benelux (Dutch electropop  outfit Lola Kite and Flemish indiepop prodigies Balthazar among them). The Game, Das Pop’s fourth studio effort, could be seen as an answer to the question of their ambitions for the next 10 years. In it’s own right, it’s another pretty upbeat collection, with plenty of clever popsongs. But there’s also a more pensive state of mind that surfaces on The Game. It seems Das Pop has slowed down to take a look at it’s situation; past, present and future. You can almost hear them wondering “can we still get away with acting out teen dreams like we used to?”

The answer is somewhat ambiguous. While some songs on the album keep up the energetic, partying-on-a-saturday-night-in-the-seventies vibe they’re known and loved for, but there’s also plenty of room for new -more intimate- musical directions. Consider “Flowers In The Dirt” for instance, a mid-tempo lovesong, in which Van Looy seems to play on more down-to-earth, mature motives. He examines a troublesome relationship with a calm and collected perspective than in his days as a spokesperson for teenage dreams and angst. Along the same line, “Fair Weather Friends” trades-in despair for the kind of sarcasm you would expect from a wizer, older guy looking back on teenage tribulations. Meanwhile, “The Thunder” is the kind of piano-ballad you’d expect from Joe Jackson, one of the quoted sources of inspiration. The other is ABBA, whose intelligent, songwriting casts echoes throughout the album (listen to “Gold” and tell me you don’t hear it, I dare you!).

Sonically, The Game is a bit darker, and more layered than it’s predecessor. The guitars are scruffier, the drums (courtesy of the amazing Matt Eccles) dryer-sounding and the overall sound a lot less breezy than on Das Pop. It’s a risky step, but they’ve managed to keep it within FM-radio bounds for the most part. No surprises here: They’re not the types to go overboard on soundscaping or self-indulgent introspection. Das Pop are nothing if not craftsmen with an eye for their audience. When Van Looy commented in an interview: “in making this album, we tried to be as uncool as we could be”, it’s hard to believe. These guys are still earning plenty of cool points for their efforts.

Das Pop

The Game might be a more mature record, with less straightforward audience-pleasing cuts. But it also capitalises on the kind of self-awareness you need to keep making music and stay credible even beyond your teenage-heartthrob years. The album is unmistakenly a part of Das Pop’s evolution from frantic disco act to a more serene, adult pop outfit. It left a few hickups on this album, but I guess that’s all in The Game. In any case, it leaves nothing to wonder as to whether Das Pop will come out victorious the other end, ready to create many more gems of popmusic over the next decade or so.

Watch Hottub Perform ‘M.A.N.B.I.T.C.H’ On BAMM TV

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The word ‘unique’ is a little bit overused – yet not in the case of Hottub, an Oakland funk/punk collective whose single ‘M.A.N.B.I.T.C.H’ is a wildfire odyssey of screw-you attitude, ripped tights, smeared makeup and keyboard-dudes in pointy silver hats riffing off ‘The Final Countdown’. If you think that can’t possibly be as awesome as it sounds, you’re wrong – check out THIS VIDEO PERFORMANCE, exclusive to BAMM TV. If Hottub don’t put a big stupid grin on your face, there might just be something wrong with you.

Catch Sea Of Bees Live In New York

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Any of our East Coast readers may want to take note – the wonderful Sea Of Bees (otherwise known as the blissful musical stylings of Jules Baenziger) have several dates lined up in New York later this month, spanning from the 21st April to the 1st May. We were lucky enough to catch Jules during a gig at San Francisco’s The Indepedent late last year, where a performance of ‘The Woods’ left the crowd enraptured. More details concerning her NYC dates can be found here.

BAMM UK: Kids In The Hall

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BAMM UK is a regular look at music/digital issues from our London-based correspondent. This week: Kids In The Hall …

You can usually find about one a week.

Seriously. It’s easy. Go searching, and you’ll stumble across it – the story, one which perfectly highlights the ailing state of the old-school music industry in the face of the digital revolution. Think of the constant headlines about declining CD sales, or Prince ‘s laughable hissy-fit about the internet being ‘a ‘fad’, or the latest multi-million pound lawsuit being levelled against a 16-year-old in Oklahoma for illegally downloading a couple of Metallica tracks …

Not that this is anything new. Stories about the misfortunes of giant record labels in the online age have been around for ages – ever since Napster was a hot new word-of-mouth phenomenon and 90% of message board content concerned the glimpse of Scully’s bra in last night’s X-Files. But … there’s always a new one, popping up with clockwork regularity. This week, I thought I’d found it when I stumbled across the following: a piece on supergroup U2 and their upcoming tour which will net them a cool $717 million.

It’s all there, isn’t it? Dinosaur rock group on dinosaur label make dinosaur-size bucks. The whole ‘more-money-in-touring-than-record-sales’ vibe. The creeping notion that bands with such godlike influence and wealth were just a forty-year cultural anomaly, and we’re entering a more down-to-earth era of the music industry. Everything that’s outmoded and outdated about the trad music biz, wrapped up in one neat story.

Above: a record exec, yesterday

So. I was going to write about U2 … but then I happened across this. At first glance it’s a relatively innocuous subject: Manchester, England, is to get its very own ‘Music Hall Of Fame’. Heartily endorsed by Noel Gallagher and Peter Hook, it will feature such luminaries as The Smiths, Oasis, New Order, The Bee Gees and The Stone Roses. And then it hit me. This – rather than the U2 piece – is a story which perfectly flags up the stagnant nature of the mainstream record industry.

You see, I’ve always had a slight suspicion about such ‘look at how awesome we are’ enterprises, be they the UK Music Hall Of Fame or the long-standing Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. What are they, essentially, apart from self-aggrandising slap-on-the-back-fests by gigantic record labels? Just take a look at the bands mentioned above. Any of them strike you as lacking in critical praise or recognition? As for the inductees into the other Music Halls – we’ve got Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Queen, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles among others. Anyone actually need reminding that The Beatles were, y’know, quite an influential little band?

It seems obvious to me that – at least in part – these Halls Of Fame aren’t so much about ‘celebrating’ big artists as establishing the status quo. The major labels are saying “stick with us. We’ve got the big boys. We’ve got the billion-sellers and the nice shiny gold discs to hand out to ‘em. DON’T LOOK ELSEWHERE.” They don’t seem to realise that their efforts are being met with a massive shrug from an entire generation-and-a-half who’d rather spend their time discovering exciting new music than re-evaluating Sgt Peppers for the 600th time. It doesn’t need re-evaluating. Leave it alone.

Which brings me to the overall point: couldn’t the money ploughed into a glitzy exhibit entitled ‘Hey Guys, Exile On Main Street Is Still Really Good, Check Out This Pointless Reissue’ be better used to expose and develop young new artists? Should the creaky establishment take precedence over an evolving (and commercially riskier) music scene? I can guess what the massive record labels think. But – increasingly – their opinion matters less and less.

And that’s why stories like this aren’t going away anytime soon …

Appwatch: Pocket Hipster

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Who wouldn’t want their own Pocket Hipster? Just imagine: dipping your hand into your pocket (expecting to find an assortment of loose change, keys and chewing gum wrappers) only to pull out a pint-sized dude in a corduroy jacket and Fugazi t-shirt who proceeds to spend hours polishing his ‘Vote Nader’ badge collection and submitting reviews to Pitchfork.

Thanks to the wonderful people behind this iPhone app, that fantasy can now become stark reality. Pocket Hipster allows you to install a pair of male and female fashionistas on your iOS, who will then gleefully tear through your music collection with critical verve. Expect to have your cherished musical taste dismissed as being ‘too mainstream’ or ‘totally offensive’ within minutes.

Above: even The Little Mermaid is a hipster

On a more useful note, Pocket Hipster also contains a comparison-based recommendation service, which will use its hipsterly knowledge to link you to tracks you’ve  never heard of. While not pitch-perfect, Pocket Hipster has nevertheless thrown some interesting new artists our way. The best thing? Unlike the similar service offered by real-life hipsters, Pocket Hipster will never try to bum a cigarette off you, or insist on showing off their full-body tattoos of, god, I dunno, Leonard Cohen lyrics or something.

Well, not unless there’s an update in the works.