Category Archives: Album reviews

“A true miracle”: Metamorphosis by Alexia Chrysomalli

Introducing Alexia

Born in 1984 in Thessaloniki, Alexia Chrysomalli took her first music lessons at the age of 8, when she came in contact with Byzantine music. She went on to study the clarinet and classical singing, and has been a professional singer since the age of 19.

Alexia is a founding member of all-female vocal ensemble Stringless and has also been a member of Greek ethnic band Namaste. She has been steeped in traditional Greek music, mostly from Thrace and Macedonia, and has been singing in village feasts and playing with several distinguished traditional musicians in order to learn and delve into the traditional songs she loves so dearly.

The birth of “Metamorphosis”

All those songs had a major influence on Alexia’s compositions and singing and, along with an “internal sense and path of self inquiry”, are elements that found their way in her debut album Metamorphosis, which has just been released independently. In Alexia’s own words, the album is “a united concept and every song is a stage or level that a soul can experience during a deep transformative period”.

Although there was practically zero budget for the project, there was nevertheless a strong need and determination to make it happen. As Alexia puts it, the album’s creation was “a true miracle”, becoming possible largely due to the devotion and the open heart of all those who worked on it, including her friend and manager Helen Kontos, producer Kostas Kontos, sound engineer Kriton Kiourtis, and all the musicians who took part in the recording: Kyriakos Gouventas, Giannis Karakalpakidis, Thanasis Kleopas, Panagiotis Alepidis, Vangelis Maramis, Vasilis Karakousis, Anastassia Zachariadou, Kostas Chanis and Ermis Savvantoglou. Kudos also go to Daphni Kontou for the graphic design and Michalis Vlavianos for the cover photo.

The album features Alexia’s own compositions, with her magnificently rich and soulful voice radiating throughout. Metamorphosis is full of beautiful moments such as the vocal parts in the opening track Calling or the seductive melodic lines in Source. Another highlight is the album’s closer Helios, an ode to the greatness of life-giving Sun.

“New artists, fresh sound, open-minded audience”

Regarding the contemporary Greek music scene, Alexia feels that it needs “some refreshment from the side of the artists but also from the side of the audience. We need new artists with fresh sound and a more open-minded audience. During these times of crisis we do not invest a lot of money in culture. One of the results is that every year most Greek music festivals feature the same artists again and again. So there is not much space for the new, wonderful musicians who want to share their work with the audience.”

There are, however, alternatives: “Like an independent artist, I think is quit easy to make yourself heard through social media. People who resonate and get inspired by your work can easily follow you.”

Photo by Michalis Vlavianos

What if Alexia’s music library was set on fire? The first records she would run to rescue would be the albums of Dead Can Dance, Amália Rodrigues, Evros from the group Methorios (“a piece of art for the traditional music of Thrace”), as well as recordings from jam sessions she had with people she met over the last years.

As for the future, Alexia aims to give as many concerts as possible both in Greece and abroad. “I want to share my music with people that it means something to their heart and soul”, she says. “The last year I composed 14 news songs and I am looking forward to start recording again.”

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Drawing the line of a new horizon

It all began two years ago, when Ewelina Chiu and Daniel Vlček first met as participants of DaDa Festival in June 2014. Following an impromptu performance with Dan on electronics and Ewelina on the mic, the two Prague-based artists decided to collaborate under the name ba:zel doing various acts such as exhibitions, “soundtrack” performances, and other conceptual projects .

ba:zel

The Prague-based duo ba:zel (Ewelina Chiu & Daniel Vlček)

After a productive 4-month residency in the Dutch city of Arnhem (where they worked in isolation inside an old 1980s army complex) the electroacoustic duo focused on making music and laid down six tracks, keeping the name ba:zel. Their debut album eye draw(s) the line, released earlier this summer, is the result of a 2-year process and the first release for both of them.

Vocals, piano, and flute parts were recorded at Faust Studios in Prague, while the album’s electronic parts were recorded at home by Daniel himself. The whole album was mixed by Slovenian producer Gasper Šantl, and mastered by Andreas “Lupo” Lubich at Calyx Mastering in Berlin.

The sound of ba:zel bears a wide array of influences ranging from free techno and hardcore electronica (drawing from Dan’s background as a DJ in the Czech underground techno scene) to classical music, which finds expression in Ewelina’s melodic vocal lines and piano playing. As the vocalist herself puts it:

I’ve never sung before, so when I write melodies and lyrics I’m influenced by classical forms like the sonata, waltz, nocturne, etc. Afterwards I end up deconstructing the melody when Dan and I put the whole thing together. When I write lyrics I’m influenced by literature and poetry, specifically the poet E.E. Cummings and authors of the beat generation, and also Czech authors such as Kundera and Hrabal. The texts play with language, are coded, and invite the listener to decrypt.

The combination of Daniel’s imaginative use of electronic sounds and Ewelina’s delicate, fragile vocals (which, at times, bring to mind Icelandic songwriter Sóley) makes eye draw(s) the line an absorbing, atmospheric album that indeed appears to draw the line of a promising new horizon for the two Czech artists.

From Iceland with love

While Kraftwerk were hitting up Paradiso for the opening night of of their epic 8-gig retrospective, a more humble event was taking place at Tolhuistuin, the vibrant new venue for arts and culture located in Amsterdam North, just opposite the city’s imposing railway station.

The line-up consisted of two lesser-known bands from Iceland, which has proved to be a consistently good source for creative new artists in constant search of diverse soundscapes.

Not just a pretty face

In 2011 Icelandic songwriter Sóley released We Sink, her first full length album, followed by Krómantík in 2014, which featured solely piano music. Having been noted for their “dark surrealism”, Sóley’s songs are characterized by strangely beautiful melodic lines and her subtle, delicate singing.

Her slight clumsiness/nervousness on stage only made her performance more attractive (at some point she asked the audience ”are you from Amsterdam?”), while her dream-like compositions (which included tunes from We Sink but also several new songs) quickly captivated the crowd and created the perfect setting for the act that was about to follow.

Low profile, high standards

Low Roar came to being after singer-songwriter Ryan Karazija moved from California to Reykjavík following the break-up of his old band Audrye Sessions. In Iceland, he recorded Low Roar’s self-titled debut album, which was followed by 0 (2014), a truly magnificent record that combines elegantly Karazija’s folk-style guitar playing and ethereal vocal lines with electronic loops and post-rock elements.

Low Roar’s silent dynamism and low profile combined with their focused, dedicated playing made for a great performance at Tolhuistuin; taking the music to various directions from reserved lyricism and atmospheric ballads to electronic and dance breaks, Low Roar offered the crowd a live show of the highest level.

 

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The ceaseless roar of a rock legend

The return of the rock god

Out of all the charismatic frontmen who rose to fame during hard rock’s golden age, Robert Plant stands out as one of the most significant and influential figures. His tenure as Led Zeppelin’s lead singer and lyricist earned him near-legendary status, while his unique singing style had a tremendous impact upon subsequent generations of rock musicians and vocalists. Besides, it was largely Plant’s looks, flamboyant appearance and powerful stage presence that gave birth to the “rock god” archetype.

Robert-Plant

Robert Plant in the 70s

But even more remarkable than Plant’s mythical stage persona has been his enduring desire to expand his musical horizons and explore new ways of expression. Throughout his solo career, Plant has experimented and recorded with several different bands (e.g. Priory of Brion, Strange Sensation, Band of Joy), while also collaborating with musicians from diverse backgrounds such as Irish folk songwriter Moya Brennan and American country singer Alison Krauss.

A sensational lullaby

Plant’s latest album Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar is not so much a solo effort as a group project with his new band The Sensational Space Shifters. In some ways, it represents a recap of his musical wanderlust over the years, bringing together Plant’s eclectic influences ranging from bluegrass and Depression-era blues to Celtic and Malian music.

Echoes of Led Zeppelin can be heard throughout the album, from the playful allusion to the riff of Nobody’s Fault but Mine in Little Maggie (performed on the one-stringed African instrument riti with its characteristic high-pitch sound) to Pocketful of Golden, which shares its opening line with Thank You (the very first Led Zeppelin song Plant wrote lyrics for). Other album highlights include Rainbow with its driving rhythm and Embrace Another Fall, where guest vocalist Julie Murphy gives a beautiful treatment of the ancient Welsh song Marwnad yr Ehedydd.

With this exciting and inspired new record, Robert Plant proves once again he’s got far more to offer than worn-out, unoriginal repetitions brimming with nostalgia. The image of the long-haired, bare-chested, blond rock god may persist, but those who have been following Plant in his sensational post-Zep shift through time and space will no doubt find Lullaby to be a truly delightful stop in this long and unpredictable journey.

Old, slow and popular

Just a couple of years after the release of Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen (who recently celebrated his 80th birthday) is back with a new album. It’s been almost 45 years since the legendary Canadian songwriter and poet embarked upon his musical career – one with much to reflect upon.

New songs for the old ceremony

'Popular Problems' was release in September 2014Popular Problems is Cohen’s 13th studio album and though the total length is just under 36 minutes, the album’s 9 tracks more than make up for its short duration.

Cohen has always liked to take his time the album’s opening track (Slow) reminds us, setting the tone for what is about to follow. Track after track, Cohen’s mature, relaxed and confident voice takes us through a musical journey of introspection and confession in what ultimately becomes a cathartic experience for both singer and listener.

Popular themes

Some of the principal themes Cohen has dealt with over the years such as love, religion, and politics are all present and treated with sincerity, humour as well as profound feeling. In some of the album’s best moments, as in the last verse of Almost Like the Blues, self-reflection, existential agony and sarcasm intermingle:

“There is no God in heaven / And there is no Hell below / So says the great professor of all there is to know / But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse / And it’s almost like salvation; it’s almost like the blues.”

Most of the songs feature discreet -at times almost imperceptible- orchestrations, while Cohen’s distinctive singing is surrounded by angelic-sounding choruses and female background vocals that strike a sharp contrast to his deep, hoarse voice. Besides, and not surprisingly, the album’s lyrics are of high literary quality. In fact, the words to some of the songs (e.g. A Street and Nevermind) were previously published as poems before finding their way into the album.

With Popular Problems Leonard Cohen offers us one more token of his seemingly exhaustless creative urge and spiritual yearning. And judging from You Got Me Singing, the album’s closing track, it appears the Canadian troubadour’s quest isn’t drawing to a close quite yet:

“You got me singing / Though the world is gone / You got me thinking / I’d like to carry on.”

Singing it like it is

Meet Lara Eidi and the band

Lara Eidi is a singer-songwriter of Lebanese-Canadian-Greek background. She first got involved with music the moment she “learned how to mimic” through trying to sing and recreate any sound she happened to hear. She started with classical piano at the age of 8 and also had harmony and theory lessons at the conservatory. Next to her piano and singing skills she is also an accomplished guitar player and the founder of Lara Eidi Band, a small jazz-folk-pop trio comprised of Lara, Stavros Parginos (cello, loops) and  Giotis Paraskevaidis (guitars, loops, beatboxing).

Tell it like it is

The band just released their second EP  Tell it like it is to an amazing crowd at Athen’s Numismatic Museum, and it seems like the musical adventures of the promising trio are only beginning to unfold.

So how did Lara Eidi Band come about? Here’s the story in Lara’s own words:

It came at a point when I was close to packing it all in, music wise, after being disheartened by how little one could accomplish in the music scene in Greece. I had just returned to Greece from Scotland naively thinking I could achieve something. So after being a session singer, piano player and songwriter for a multitude of bands I retreated from the music scene thinking: ‘What can I do to change this course I’ve chosen?’ And then it hit me: 2 years ago I stayed at a friend’s house in Athens, locked inside a beautiful musical basement, writing tons of songs and feeling like a kid discovering toys for the first time. After that I called Stavros Parginos, a wonderful cellist and multi-instrumentalist who I had worked with before, and asked him if he would like to work on some of my songs with his cello. He said yes with a smile. So a year ago we started gigging around Athens, traveled abroad to Beirut, Lebanon, and Edinburgh , and recorded my first EP, “Little People” (Irida Studios). Then we met the third member of our band, guitarist Giotis Paraskevaidis. I heard him play at a gig, not knowing who he was, and approached him to ask if he would like to play my music. He was super positive about it – and also turned out to be a very good friend of Stavros! All of a sudden the music was reborn with this incredible energy. After doing a few cover songs on YouTube (incl. Nina Simone’s Be my Husband, filmed on a rooftop in Athens by videographer Dimitris Stamatiou and our sound guy Iraklis Vlachakis), we were eventually inspired to create “Tell it like it is” (Sierra Studios, In a Jam Studios) which is about just that: My personal way of saying that the music I write, and the way it’s developed together with the guys, doesn’t really fit into an roster and that’s OK. And so we found ourselves going from a singer-songwriter to a band formation. I told the guys I wanted to call the band LSG (laughs) but they insisted on Lara Eidi Band!

A beautiful challenge

Music for Lara is a “life force”, a kind of challenge that “needs to be embraced in its fullest and most beautiful forms”. And it seems she is indeed taking up the challenge – Lara will be going to London to follow a Masters in Jazz Voice Performance at the Guildhall School of Music, while at the same time keep performing with her band in both UK and Greece.

And what if Lara’s record collection was on fire? Here’s what she would save first:

I would save my Woodstock Full Two Volumes CD. I have to zone out to this more times than I care to mention! I’m a girl. I also have to save Sheryl Crow, Sarah Ann McLachlan and Alanis Morissette .

You can find Lara Eidi Band on:

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A whiter shade of black

Sailing between Finland and San Fransisco

White Sails is the project that sprang from the collaboration between singer Leigh Gregory (ex-Mellow Drunk) and multi-instrumentalist Ville Vilpponen (ex-Dora Flood, The Bias), along with Ville’s brother Jaakko on drums.

The three met in San Fransisco, but as Ville and Jaakko moved back to Helsinki during the summer of 2012, White Sails became a bi-continental endeavor.

Their self-titled debut album, which was released earlier this year by Ruska Records, is characterized by slow-paced tunes where the atmospheric music blends smoothly with the thick, suggestive vocal lines. Firmly rooted in the ’70s classic/prog-rock tradition, the album still manages to sound refreshingly modern.

New White Sails EP

A new EP by White Sails is scheduled to be released in August by Fruits de Mer Records, including new material along with two covers of the early Black Sabbath instrumentals ‘Laguna Sunrise’ and ‘Fluff’. Listening again to these forgotten gems played with a brand new, polished sound is a real treat and a perfect complement to Sabbath’s own spectacular comeback earlier this summer.

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