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LIVE REVIEW: Ed Harcourt, Pumpehuset, 15.02.2017

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Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset

Ed Harcourt is a versatile performer. Over the years, I’ve seen him play in dive bars and concert halls, with a full band and solo at an unstable upright piano in an old man’s pub. His set at Pumpehuset, however, removed him from notions of singer-songwriter and took the idea of one man band to another level.

Harcourt’s latest album, Furnaces, is full of dense production that doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to a solo performance without a lot of prerecorded tracks. And to be fair, he does have a number of prerecorded tracks at the ready for new songs and his back catalogue. What Harcourt also has, in a quantity I’m unable to count, is looping pedals. This means tracks are sometimes built from the drums up, but also that there are subtler shifts of multiple guitar or piano parts layered without fanfare.

It also means that no matter how familiar you are with Harcourt’s work, it’s impossible to predict what form songs will take. “Occupational Hazard” is reconstructed by drums, then guitar, then piano, and back to guitar, whereas the indie pop of “Church of No Religion” is stripped back to loop-free acoustic guitar. And we all learn a valuable lesson in etiquette: A whoop from the audience while Harcourt is trying to loop a tape played back from a Fischer-Price tape recorder gets picked up by the mic, requiring him to start again.

Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset
Photos by James Hjertholm

It’s one of many awkward but strangely endearing encounters between Harcourt and the small crowd that’s assembled. We’ve all decided to be in on the joke, whether he’s pondering aloud if he should buy a ball gag or inviting an audience member whose shirt he admires to go on a shirt pilgrimage to Milan with him. It’s why we laugh at these monologues and maybe why during “Until Tomorrow Then” Harcourt steps off the stage to serenade the crowd — a recurring schtick for this song — people hug him.

He’s already reached the two hour mark by the time he comes out for his encore, at which point the audience starts calling for older songs. He complies readily with “Music Box,” with laborious effort for “Shanghai,” and skirts a request for something from Lustre by vamping the chorus of “Haywire.” He’s nearing the end of his tour and has pointedly said that he doesn’t care how long this drags out. And quite plainly, staying past curfew to take your obscure song requests says more about how an artist feels about his audience than weird banter or even hugs ever could.

LIVE REVIEW: Teenage Fanclub, Lille Vega, 10.02.2017

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There’s a strange air at gigs of bands who hit their commercial peak in the ‘90s but never broke up. It’s the oddity that always being around never created more demand, that their availability didn’t spark the imaginations of a younger generation who could only hypothesize what it would be like to see them play live, that the devoted are the same devoted of 25 years ago.

And with that in mind, the vibe at Teenage Fanclub’s Vega show is curiously energized. These are the same devoted of 25 years ago, middle-aged or closing in on it fast, but they aren’t stuck in the early ‘90s. These are people who know the words to the songs from 2016’s Here, who call repeatedly for “Baby Lee”  (which doesn’t get played), who erupt when the band plays “It’s All in My Mind.” They’re the sort of crowd who have seen this band many times before and know the earliest work is saved for the very end of the set and wait patiently to hear it.

Teenage Fanclub themselves hit on a signature sound somewhere around the release of Grand Prix, and their new songs blend seamlessly with the old. It helps that over the years they’ve all become stronger singers, stronger players, and have found a place for their keyboardist/third guitarist to add an extra, shimmering layer to every song. It’s not a flashy or visually stimulating set, but it’s technically solid and full of positivity. 

Norman Blake in particular looks incredibly happy with his lot in life. He’s not bothered by the middle-aged couple down front talking selfies with the band behind them, nor is he fussed by the woman in a red dress who jumps up on stage towards the end of the set. All of the band look perplexed, but the woman, dancing around the stage, isn’t being obnoxious, isn’t getting in the way, isn’t trying to assault the band, so everyone lets it slide. She dances with their guitar tech and when the song ends gives a courtly hand to Blake, who looks amused and charmed. It’s about the least embarrassing way that scenario could have played out.

The lead up to the end of the evening rolls back the clock through “The Concept” and “Star Sign” before landing on their debut single, “Everything Flows.” If you’ve listened to the album version of “Everything Flows,” it’s easy to appreciate how much more tuneful the live performance is, how they’ve learned to build on the foundations of what their music was then but retain the raw, ramshackle energy that made it exciting in the first place. It’s a little emotional to watch because even if you as an individual do not have that attachment, everyone around you does. The band does. And it’s a good moment.

 

PHOTOS OF THE YEAR 2016

in Photos by
Mø

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh, Tom Spray and Amanda Farah

Mø (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Courtney Barnett (Photo by Tom Spray)
Savages
Savages (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bob Hund live (photo Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Le Butcherettes (photo by Amanda Farah)
Action Bronson
Action Bronson (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Chvrches (photo by Tom Spray)
A Place To Bury Strangers performing at Loppen in Copenhagen
A Place To Bury Strangers (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bisse
Bisse (photo by Morten Aagard Krogh)
Jackie Lynn
Jackie Lynn (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Gojira (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Wiz Khalifa
Wiz Khalifa (photo by Tom Spray)
mac demarco live roskilde festival
Mac Demarco (photo by Tom Spray)
Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen
Angel Olsen (photo by Amanda Farah)
guardian alien live roskilde festival
Guardian Alien (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 

Here Today’s Albums of the Year of 2016

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We’re not going to spend time talking about what a brutal year 2016 was for music lovers. Regardless of what genre you favor, 2016 was a year that took someone away from you. And while that might be the most immediately enduring sentiment about the past year, it’s necessary to take strength in the incredible music that was released this year. In the past 12 months, we’ve been blown away by newcomers and watched artists we’ve been rooting for all along come into their own. We’ve welcomed back old friends and received beautiful goodbyes from heroes. It’s because it’s been such an extraordinarily, musically rich year that we’ve made it through at all. These are our favorites:

Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen

Angel Olsen
MY WOMAN
[Jagjaguwar]

It’s two short years ago that Angel Olsen first captured our hears, but she’s come a long way from her minimalist, finger-picked solo guitar tracks. On MY WOMAN, Angel builds out her dreamiest moments into vast washes of rumbling guitar with vague memories of folk somewhere in the distance. This hasn’t stopped her from writing snappy pop songs or experimenting with synthesizers. Her vocals are just as moving as ever, but where quiet whispers were once her stock and trade, there is real evidence that Angel could be a leading rock vocalist of her generation.

And that’s what is so exciting about both Angel and this record: On MY WOMAN, she shows not only that an understanding of what she does so well, but that her own potential is limitless. More to the point, we can see now that she’s ambitious enough to follow that potential it wherever it takes her. — AF

Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Puce Mary
The Spiral
[Posh Isolation]

When Puce Mary released The Spiral, her third LP, she played a release concert at Mayhem, and the performance she gave is a serious contender to being the most intense of 2016. Stripped of the insane decibels, Puce Mary’s confrontational yet trance-like stage appearance, the lights and the smoke, The Spiral is still a captivating experience. The eight tracks on the album are very distinct, yet they blend together forming a whole that sucks you in as it progresses. Puce Mary is a master of contrasts, her music is brutal yet subtle, even fragile, and even though compositions are industrial, her music feels alive like an organism.

Last but not least:  It sounds amazing. The noise, the textures, the strange field recordings, the distorted vocals. The Spiral is an intense and demanding record, but also truly inspiring and in it’s own, complex way beautiful. — MAK

Mitski live Copenhagen Loppen

Mitski
Puberty 2
[Dead Oceans]

While it seemed as though she appeared from nowhere to make us get in touch with our feelings, Mitski has been toiling away for years now. Her fourth album, Puberty 2, perfectly combines her prolific efforts with a youthful perspective and energy and just enough life experience to make you believe her. The album is full of subtle bleeps and horn flourishes, but watching her play stripped back versions of the album was a highlight of the year.

It takes a good amount of self-awareness to call your album Puberty 2, and so much of its charm is her unabashed willingness to be awkward — which somehow also makes her the coolest girl in the room. You will feel like Mitski just gets you, and you’re probably giving yourself too much credit. We definitely understand the impulse, though. — AF

Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
[GOOD]

The Life of Pablo is a tricky, slippery thing of an album. Less of an album, really, than a saga, an half year long event tracking the evolution of an album. But really, it’s just a collection of some very good tracks by a producer who, whatever else he might be, is also touched by genius. From Nina Simone and Arthur Russel, via Chicago house, to Frank Ocean and Desiigner, Kanye’s sample palette is as diverse, crazy and unique as ever.

In 2013 Kanye West marked the death of physical media with the cover of Yeesus, an “open casket to CDs”. That was an album full of energy joyous destruction. It seems fitting that with The Life of Pablo, Ye confronts us with the direct evidence of the technical and emotional demands of the new dominant technology. Keep it loopy. — CC

Cate Le Bon live

Cate Le Bon
Crab Day
[Drag City]

There is a feeling of kinship that runs through Cate Le Bon’s music, that if you yourself have ever toed the line between interesting and just strange leads her to sound identifiable even in her most abstract images. Le Bon is a master of oddball pop songs, with her ramshackle style of guitar playing and many unique turns of phrase.

Crab Day demonstrates the same dry vocal delivery that has always set her apart and given her music so much personality, but this time she’s pushed herself and her sound to new depths. She’s stretch her vocal range and brought a new emotional connection to her songs, which is emphasized in her commitment to her visual lyrics. She’s also introduced some legitimate guitar solos to her work. Album closer “What’s Not Mine” stretches to seven minutes of everything we find charmingly off kilter about Cate Le Bon’s music, which is to say, it’s perfect. — AF

Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Fat White Family
Songs for Our Mothers
[Fat Possum]

Few bands are able to channel hatred with the pure intensity and conviction of the Fat White Family. If this is their “difficult second album”, the difficulty lies more in their own physiological limitations, rather than in a lack of ideas or direction. Songs for Our Mothers promised to “dance to the beat of human hatred”, but little did we know back in January the degree to which that emotion would imprint itself in 2016.

Harold Shipman, Ike Turner, Goebbels: the gleeful offensiveness of the cast goes hand in hand with a deeper moral outrage, as the Family wrap themselves further and further in darkness, with only their humour and some wicked riffs for support. There’s no knowing what the next year will bring, but we can only hope the Fat White Family will be around, in some form, to rage against it. — CC

Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch
[Sacred Bones]

On the face of it, this is a synthpop album about female vampires. But anyone approaching Jenny Hval’s latest album with the expectation of a thematically-coherent concept album clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Jenny’s dark and aloof sense of humour are present in all her work, and particularly on stage, and this year’s effort manages to be a lot stranger than it promised to be.

Though there are undeniably some very lush synth pieces on this record, particularly in its two singles, “Female Vampire” and “Conceptual Romance”, we don’t necessarily rush to Jenny for her tunes, but rather for the oddities that surround them. A moment of creepy melancholy in “Untamed Region” (I told you she was funny) is punctuated by a clip of documentarian Adam Curtis talking about the helpless confusion that seems to characterise our era. Jenny Hval isn’t pretending to guide us out of that confusion, but what she builds upon it well worth the listen.

— CC

PJ Harvey
The Hope Six Demolition Project
[Island Recordings]

The Hope Six Demolition Project is the follow up to the Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake, and PJ Harvey continues along the same lines collaborating with Mick Harvey, John Parish, Flood and documentary photographer/filmaker Seamus Murphy. But this time she has taken a more conceptual approach and adopted a role as a sort of singer/songwriter journalist reporting from her travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. This also applies to the recording process, that was framed as a performance open to the public. While some critics have expressed skepticism about the mix of music and reporting, we applaud her exploration of music as vehicle for change, and together with the albums distinct sound, musical quality and her impressive live performance this earns her a place on our list.

Honorable Mentions

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

Tindersticks – The Waiting Room

Danny Brown – Antrocity Exhibition

Lambchop – Fotus

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Factory Floor – 2525

Holy Fuck – Congrats

Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

PHOTOS: Bob Hund, Loppen, 24.11.2016

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Bob hund

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

LIVE REVIEW: Cate Le Bon, Jazzhouse, 09.11.2016

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Cate Le Bon live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

We were charmed when we first saw Cate Le Bon live at Roskilde this summer. But her show at Jazzhouse was the performance we really wanted from her. If that initial set left us wanting, it became clear that it was only ever a matter of translation.

As distinctive as Cate Le Bon’s ramshackle indie rock is — in particular her tuneful, quirky approach to Nico’s iconic vocal delivery — she’s not a very flashy performer. As a headliner, however, her personality comes through clearly. It’s in small touches, like the yelp at the end of “Duke” or the way the guitar outro on “How Do You Know?” deteriorates into an imprecise grind before springing directly into “I Can’t Help You.” It’s obviously well-rehearsed, but it’s a thrilling shot in the arm all the same.

Cate Le Bon live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

Because mostly what was lost in translation from the Roskilde performance was a question of energy. Cate Le Bon is understated in her performance, and her energy translates much better in Jazzhouse than on a Roskilde stage, where her little head tosses and subtle steps backward as she leans into a chord are lost to scale. And if we couldn’t infer that on our own, if we couldn’t see how much more comfortable she clearly is, she makes it pretty clear when she relates how pleased she and her band were when they arrived at Jazzhouse and saw the small stage near the bar upstairs. They were disappointed (or “terrified,” in Cate’s words) upon realizing they were playing in the main room.

But for this innate shyness, you can see the would-be rockstar, the guitarist who enjoys playing a solo. The frayed outro of “What’s Not Mine,” which unravels over the course of minutes, might not send her into spasms or even shake her from where she stands, but her absorption in clear. The details you can’t see from a festival stage that you can see from a few feet away in a tiny club is a reminder to us that the setting is an integral part of the experience. You can’t feel like you’re in on a secret when you’re standing in a field.

LIVE REVIEW: Holly Golightly, Lille Vega, 01.11.2016

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Musician Holly Golightly live in Copenhagen

Lille Vega is a nice venue: It’s a comfortable size, the sound is decent, and the décor is at the least completely inoffensive. According to Holly Golightly, the venue is also quite “grown up.” It’s hard to say exactly what she means by that — perhaps she’s never outgrown her scrappy punk years with Thee Headcoatees — but it’s a term she comes back to again and again.

It’s a positivity that comes in handy when the room is only about a third full. And it’s reflected back from the crowd; though blues and country-inspired rock songs aren’t the most obvious songs to dance to, people are dancing (or “jigging around,” as Holly prefers). But because there are so few people in the room, there’s plenty of space for it, and it’s nice to see couples busting out the moves they learned in that one dance class they took together when they first started dating.

At times the evening has the feeling of an elaborate pub gig, not least because Holly has spent most of the last 15 years subtly shifting through different, adjacent genres. And through the evening her songs traverse predominantly blues tracks into Americana and, on the stripped down “My Love Is,” a bossa nova-flecked jazz. Though Holly has long since stepped away from her noisy, garage rock beginnings, there i still a girlish, cheeky quality to her vocals, and she is adept at choosing styles that suit her voice.

And given that these styles are less raucous than her earliest projects, it’s a bit surprising when, late in the evening, she once again cites the grown-up nature of Vega and says,“Usually people are throwing things by now.” It’s possible that Copenhageners are especially polite, or it could be that the fight doesn’t go out of a performer just because she turns the volume down.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Jazzhouse, 29.10.2016

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen

Some artists have projections rolling behind them when they play live. Jenny Hval has a woman in a body suit rolling suggestively on top of an inflatable kiddie pool, drinking wine.

This isn’t shocking or perplexing for even a second. When you sign up to see Jenny Hval, you look forward to something a little weird. This time around at Jazzhouse, things are lower-budget, no video screens, only one backing dancer doing whatever it is she’s doing, and the sole video cued up on a laptop that definitely can’t be seen from the back of the room. But what’s great about it is that as serious as the tone of the music is — and Jenny’s latest, Blood Bitch, has a number of tense moments — the performance itself clearly isn’t. Everyone in the room is in on the joke. Jenny herself knows how absurd the plastic kiddie pool, the squashed up fruit, the strewn flower pedals that land in people’s drinks look, and that’s why it’s fun instead of uncomfortable.

The truth is that musically speaking, Jenny Hval’s live performance would be a one-to-one interpretation from her albums. It’s a function of her music being primarily electronic and her voice being solid and reliable. But she’s aware of this lack of variation in her sound and translates it to what could fairly be described as batshit crazy art school nonsense for her visuals.

There is more spontaneity on this tour, perhaps because it’s not so seamlessly scripted as when she toured Apocalypse, Girl. There’s more conversation with the audience about the songs and the props. There are explanations for the back row when Jenny and her companion sit pants-less in the pool with sunglasses on, rubbing their hands and legs with red dye. During “That Battle is Over,” the pool is flipped over Jenny, delighting the young children in the front row who peer through its translucent sides and wave at her (what parent thought it was a good idea to bring their children to this show, I can’t explain, but at least her visuals are on the side of suggestive that to an innocent mind would just be silly).

As the evening winds down and a lyric from “Kingsize” is teased before devolving into the cacophony of “Plague.” The kiddie pool, meanwhile, has been cast out into the crowd, with the backing dancer looking on in distress and trying to call it back. When it does make it back to the stage, they deflate it together.

If you’ve made it this far and are completely perplexed, all we can say is that Jenny Hval has been confirmed for Roskilde 2017. This is your advance warning: Do not sleep on that.

LIVE REVIEW: Angel Olsen, DR Koncerthuset, 20.10.2016

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Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen

The first time we saw Angel Olsen, we knew she was something special. Seeing her play solo songs on smaller stages now feels like a privileged view to the past, a moment that we’ll tell people, “We saw her when,” but catching Angel at Studie 2 of Koncerthuset with a full band or wailing over a keyboard as she does for “Intern” and “Woman” is not less intimate or less touching.

She’s filling bigger stages in a physical sense with more band members — two guitarists in addition to her own playing, a backing singer, plus rhythm section — all of whom are wearing matching grey suits and bolo ties. Her once stripped-back performance is significantly richer for the added musicians; the night is dominated by songs from her new album, MY WOMAN, but “Hi Five,” “Forgiven/Forgotten,” and “Sweet Dreams” all make an appearance with fleshed out arrangements.

Without the high production values of the studio, the new songs have a decidedly more country feel to them, and they can be heard as made up of discernible parts rather than just atmospherics. In other words, there’s more slide guitar than you’d realize, and it’s a very good thing. This grounding effect also changes the emotional projection of some of the songs; “Sister,” for example, has a new energy that makes it sound less tragic than the album version. When she sings, “My Life has slowly changed,” it might even be a positive thing.

While there is still a seriousness in her overall demeanor, Olsen has given up on the stony sternness that once set the tenor of her performances. She’s working on her stage banter, which she sometimes gives up mid-sentence (and she knows it’s funny when she does), and smiles break through just rarely enough to be rewarding.

But for these charismatic flashes, the reason you go to see Angel Olsen is because her voice is so dynamic. It’s sweet, it’s affecting, and it’s powerful. The build up to “Not Gonna Kill You” — in its live incarnation, a fully-fledged rock song — proves that she could end up being one of the great rock frontwomen of a generation.

Or she could be the next June Carter Cash. It all depends on where she wants to take her songwriting, and since she’s busted out the synths for the new album, that could really be anywhere. Perhaps by the time she’s playing the main room at Koncerthuset (and she’s destined for such audiences) we’ll have a complete picture. But if Angel Olsen is in it for the long haul, we guarantee we’ll be right there with her.

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