Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark


Alex Maenchen

Alex Maenchen has 5 articles published.

LIVE REVIEW: Grouper, Jazzhouse, 21.04.2015

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Cam Deas is a modern man in search of a song. It’s a pretentious (and frankly plagiaristic of a track of his) way of saying that he’s an idiosyncratic electro wizard who doesn’t seem to conjure music as much as he bridles it. In Deas’ world, a musician is not a creator. He’s a wrangler.

His setup looks like a mid-20th century vision of a techno-futuristic picnic: a tabletop splayed with an assortment of boxes connected by cables, with bundles of them spilling over the edges. The main piece is on the right, a large red box that opens to reveal some sort of computer console, out of which even more cables pour. On the left, out of place, lies an acoustic guitar.

What follows is a 40-minute set consisting of Deas effecting noise. When he turns them on, the machines emit high-pitched electronic signals. Those signals then repeat and distend, becoming thick and elliptical. Occasionally he steps over to the guitar. Using a slide, he slaps out some rustling tones and then returns to the machines for processing. Up until this point, the shape of the sound is abstract, a going-in-all-directions mood piece with jutting textures that keep you on edge. Then it all collapses. The climax, if you can call it that, is the violent dissolution of these layers, resulting in a deep and profound trembling that shakes the room. I’m seated behind the sound guy, watching the levels spike well into the red. He doesn’t move, though. On stage, Deas is presiding over an experiment going horribly wrong, which is object of the piece. The spectacle of it is scary, penetrating, and, at times, thrilling.

When the stage is cleared, Liz Harris, who performs under the moniker Grouper, appears like an apparition in the wake of a terrible accident. Live candles have been placed at either side of her, and she sits in the middle of the stage, legs crossed. Above her, a projection screen lights up with sun-soaked images, what looks to be a home movie of a vacation on the Oregon coast.

It’s a beautiful contrast to what came before. Like a lot of ambient musicians, Harris can hide herself deep inside her work, inviting us to observe the labyrinth from a distance as she feels her way out from the middle. For the show, she limits herself to voice and electric guitar, both of which she buries low on the high reverb setting. In a way it makes her sound far away, but there’s a warmth that envelopes you and brings you closer.

Harris’ music is wash of sweet melodies that rises like a gentle tide. Her set harkens back to the sound of 2007’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, where songs like “When We Fall” and “Tidal Wave” serve as the clearest sonic callbacks. It’s the steadily strummed chords that keep you from drifting in the dreamy atmospherics, directing focus toward the foreground where we find Harris, at once receding and surging, in slow motion.

Most reverential experiences are definite about their sense of place. The movie projected on the screen aims to take us to the coast, where land meets ocean, where shape loses shape. With Harris, it’s more about a sense of time. There’s something about digging into the past that can bring you to a moment of clarity in the present. Her songs are thick with the sound of thought, the turning over of memories. But she’s there. And so are we.

LIVE REVIEW: Calexico, Amager Bio, 14.04.2015

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Photos by Johannes Leszinski

Where are you from? Where are you going?

Amager Bio on a drizzly Tuesday. A diminutive blonde woman plays a lap steel guitar on a stage that surrounds her in shadow. Seated and dressed in white, she arches over the instrument in her lap, running the slide over the strings with one hand while she plucks them with the other. Her wispy tremolos are accompanied by a nylon-string acoustic guitar, the maraca rhythms of a drum played with brushes, and a cello.

Maggie Björklund doesn’t introduce herself until the last song of the supporting set, after someone in the audience calls out for the name of her band. Earlier, before a song she described as “film musik,” she had encouraged us to substitute our own narrative, as the film had yet to be made. It isn’t entirely fair. Björklund’s music conjures images of desert vistas at dusk where the mind can go wandering. It’s airy and expansive, but there’s little to draw your attention. Sometimes when the band crescendos toward a climax, you wish the lap steal would snag like a pinched nerve. But no—Björklund’s resigned to a mood. It’s music by the bonfire. At least it’s warm.


Calexico’s set opens with “Cumbia de Donde”, a track off their new album Edge of the Sun where the Latin reference points are front and center, and that seems to be the point. “I’m not from here/ I’m not from there,” sings Joey Burns in a call-and-response interplay with trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela and guitarist Jario Zavala (“De dondé eres?/ A dondé vas?”). It’s instantly infectious, and it helps that the capacity-crowd is super responsive. Syncopated rhythms get your shoulders popping on the off-beat as you join in the refrain: “I’m in the moment and I’m on my way/ I’m on my way.”

After nearly 20 years, Burns and drummer John Convertino remain the driving force of Calexico, and much of their success is credited to a wholehearted embrace of the collaborative spirit. Though neither Sam Beam nor Neko Case are present to sing their respective parts on “Bullets & Rocks” and “Tapping on the Line”, you’d think the touring band was comprised of other contemporary heroes of alternative country you just hadn’t heard of.


Valenzuela and Zavala in particular are standouts. Zavala, a powerful axman, is in kind blessed with natural charisma. During the elegiac “Maybe on Monday”, a song about a departed love, he manages to whip the crowd in whoops and cheers with a searing solo on baritone guitar, totally earning the applause break and mean mugging all the while. Valenzuela is a less showy performer, who gets his moment with a beautiful solo vocal performance of “Inspiracion”, a song he wrote for 2008’s Carried to Dust.

Calexico’s always had a nack for capturing a sense of place. Even when they’re paying tribute to other bands from other eras, with faithful covers of Love’s “Alone Again Or”, R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, and The Minutemen’s “Corona”, their set is charged by an ambiance that transports you. As with their namesake, Calexico’s music is a port of entry to the sounds and themes of the American Southwest, where the steady warble of slide guitar and horns hold your soul in the borderlands of darkness and light. Toward the end of the set, on “Not Even Stevie Nicks”, Burns takes us “into the blue, into the blue”. The song then builds magnificently into a familiar tune—Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Though they may have “the wound that the sun won’t ever heal”, I’ll always “Follow the River” when Calexico’s in town.


LIVE REVIEW: Against Me!, Vega, Copenhagen, 08.04.2015

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AgainstMe (press photo by Ryan Russel)

Laura Jane Grace may once have been a teenage anarchist, but it’s difficult to imagine a time when she was given to convenient politics. Yes, she’s still talking about a revolution. And as headliners go, few bands to play the stage at Lille Vega have been more mainstream than Against Me!, which underwent a personnel change in the wake of last year’s excellentTransgender Dysphoria Blues. Yet Grace has always valued experience over pretense, knowing full well that “making yourself up as you go along” is what killed punk music in the first place. Sometimes though, you have to depend on a bit of both to put on a good show.

Grace heads up centerstage with longtime fellow guitarist James Bowman to her left. To her right is Inge Johansson, former bassist of The (International) Noise Conspiracy, and in the back is Atom Willard, former drummer and founding member of Angels & Airwaves. On the opener “True Trans Soul Rebel”, the chorus blares like an emergency signal, calling all cars: “Who’s gonna take you home tonight/ Who’s gonna take you home?” They play it true to the record, sounding out all the hooks with the conviction of a band playing from the heart.

It’s admirable that this clean cut approach actually helps emphasize the vulnerability in Grace’s songwriting. In the dozen or so years since Reinventing Axl Rose, Grace has retained a keen sense of self that helps make the music of Against Me! as challenging as it is accessible—you don’t simply sing along to a line like “You’ve got no cunt in your strut/ You’ve got no hips to shake” without feeling the sting of those words. Still the crowd is right there, showing their recognition by singing along on the big numbers with outstretched arms.

Between songs it’s all grins. It’s not unusual that a band should want everyone to have fun, but with Against Me! there seems to be a deeper appreciation for the need to feel good. When she’s on, Grace is a storm, angled toward the mic like a hood ornament, each word a gale unto itself. Even if sometimes giving it your all is “Cliché Guevara”, it’s inspiring to feel that a person has taken full ownership over who she is. And for a band to share that with a room full of people is a hot kindness that makes us all feel good.

(Press photo by Ryan Russel)

LIVE REVIEW: Eyehategod, Loppen, 07.04.2015

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Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (

The evening’s proceedings were scheduled for a late start Tuesday night, with LLNN kicking things off at 21:30 as the first supporting act. A spiritual offshoot of The Psyke Project, which disbanded in 2014, LLNN retains guitarist/vocalist Christian Bonnesen and drummer Rasmus Gajhede Sejersen, who have more than 20 years of experience between them playing the Danish hardcore scene. Bolstered, and in a way guided, by the addition of Sejersen’s little brother Ketil on synths, the group takes a measured approach to rhythm and tempo, which gives their re-appropriation of hardcore staples like red-faced screams and crunchy guitars that sound like they were strung with rusty chains a fresh sense of urgency and weight. The way LLNN does it, those abrasive elements are coming through clear; doused in reverb and tremolo, their suffocating bigness is not the kind that wears on you, but one that sets the mood.

Tombstones (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Tombstones, the program’s second supporting act, are interested in a more classic breed of rock. This Norwegian trio still believes in the guitar riff, unabashedly chugging power chords with the palm-muted drive of an icebreaker. Appearance wise, they fit the mould of a throwback, modestly bedecked in Chuck Taylors, tight pants, and shirts ranging from T, to sleeveless, to none. In a context that’s otherwise licorice black (noting the cloaked mannequins at either ends of the stage), Tombstones inject a refreshing bit of regular hard rock into their visions of doom, featuring plentiful doses of sustained growls and droning distortion. This combination helps them build suspense and dread like the best horror movies, letting the audience fend for itself in the dark before the cathartic upswing of a groovy bass lick.

“Guitar strings are not meant to last” quips bassist Ole Christian Helstad at the expense of his six-string counterpart, whose instrument failed him on the previous song. Still, we all cheered when it roared back to life.

Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)


A half hour before midnight, Eyehategod unceremoniously take the stage, futzing with their instruments for a couple minutes. For singer Mike Williams, who’s double fisting a couple beers, that means putting one down to take off his backpack, contents unknown, while drinking the one he’s still holding. At one point Queens of the Stone Age’s “Tension Head” plays over the house speakers: “I’m feelin’ so sick—no more.” The self-canceling proclamation of misery in that lyric is inherent to the very act of singing the blues—by singing about something that makes us feel bad, we feel better. With all the bad stuff that Eyehategod are about to unload on a room full of people, however, that Queens song couldn’t be more wrong.

If you reversed the sound of a giant, rusted-out machine grinding to a halt, you’d get the opening number “Agitation! Propaganda!” The guitars of Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton whine between fits of aggressive chord chomps while Aaron Hill explodes off the drum set like he’s dropping bombs. The drummer matters here, as the gears turn and the machine gathers speed. Williams isn’t as much singing as he is retching, unable to spew more than a couple throaty syllables at a time. The violence of the music reflects the activity at the front of the stage, which seems to liquify into a mess of thrashing bodies.

Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)


Things don’t settle down exactly. It’s more that you get on Eyehategod’s level, where the stickers on Gary Mader’s bass reading “THIS IS LA. / NOT L.A.” begin to make sense. “New Orleans Is the New Vietnam” is a power-to-the-people rager with an infectious central groove reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine back when they were first coming up in Los Angeles during the early ‘90s. Where both crackle with a fire for social justice, the difference is that neither Eyehategod’s production nor message cleans off the ashes: “Shoes don’t fit, you don’t fit / This shit don’t quit, we don’t fit.”

As they rattle off bangers like “Medicine Noose” and “Zero Nowhere”, Eyehategod make an impressive show of ending songs on a dime. It’s like they haven’t lost a beat in the prolonged absences of them playing together as a group over the years—they’re still as tight as ever. And this is all in spite of the fact that Williams is tying one on, big time. There’s a moment when the band nags him to decide on a song. Williams takes his time, mugging for the crowd a little bit. Eventually he agrees with their choice, “Revelation/Revolution”. Who knows if it’s an act. It’s kind of charming though. We want the guy to rock on.

You know you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid when the crowdpleaser is a song called “Sisterfucker (Part 1)”. For as filthy and destitute as Eyehategod’s themes can be though, their music is fun. In a live setting, it’s obvious that this is the result of a total partnership between friends. As we near the end of the 90-minute set, the songs go nameless, but they’re no less anthemic in their sense of triumph.

Huh, I guess they were singing the blues.

Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

LIVE REVIEW: Jessica Pratt, Stengade, 28.03.2015

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Jessica Pratt (Press Photo)

Although the heavy wear on the floorboards shows that this space is more than a jar for fireflies, the size of Spillestedet, Stengade’s main room, probably doesn’t exceed that of your average middle class apartment. For Jessica Pratt, whose recent LP On Your Own Love Again was almost entirely recorded in her bedroom, it’s a good setup.

Same goes for warm-up act Cian Nugent, an instrumental guitarist out of Ireland. It feels like a school dance with a wide open space in the middle of the floor as Nugent steps around a cute couple sitting on the edge of the stage to begin his acoustic set, which garners little reaction, if any, from anyone. This is partly due to the fact that Nugent is a noodler — a highly skilled one, but a noodler nontheless — and it’s difficult to tell whether he’s actually starting something. He specializes in vast-feeling folk compositions that occasionally get lyrical accompaniment but are more often built upon with these impressive technical flourishes. One moment he’s picking through the spectrum of a particularly pretty chord and the next he’s ripping a brassy tone straight out of the Chuck Berry book of licks. And in those moments it may be a secret that his songs do follow some sort of blueprint. I only get smart to it 25 minutes in when I notice myself hanging on every note. Nugent eventually gains the respect of the room, which is about three-thirds full by the time he politely says, “See ya later.”

If you weren’t near the front row just 15 minutes later, you probably didn’t see Jessica Pratt take the stage because you couldn’t for the head of someone’s boyfriend who decided to stand directly in front of you. At this point the place is packed and stays that way for the rest of the show.

While Pratt’s set is certainly one you want to be there for, it’s one of those shows you can content yourself with just listening. Pratt is “the darling in a hidden shroud” from her opener “Wrong Hands,” both in text and performance. The minimal lighting amounts to the stage being washed in a dark green cloud of dry ice. In the middle of it is Pratt, plucking away at patterns “in my mind, in my mind.”

But that doesn’t mean she’s simply turning over recorded material for us. She’s joined by Cyrus Gengras, another musician quietly based in Los Angeles. On “Night Faces,” the clean sound from his electric guitar swells to bring out the warmth of Pratt’s intricate acoustic phrasing, which could otherwise just as easily fade into the knot of some emotive chord. It’s dream pop at the ground level, where the reverb is still cave deep and the melodies clear like emeralds. But you can’t deny the tenderness with which Pratt and Gengras hold every note. That’s where we are, through to the end of the set, in the palms of their hands. Listen and you’ll hear it, during the encore, in the very last song, “What I have in my hands is, it is worth a million in gold.”

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