Out of Europe: Five from Belgium

As the idiots currently keeping their overpaid, corpulent backsides on the green benches in the Houses of Parliament continue making a complete and utter shite show of the political equivalent of chewing on a live hand grenade, I thought it time to rock up with another Out of Europe post.

And where better to rock up to, as it were, than Belgium? One of the smaller countries in Europe but densely populated and which also happens to be a seat of the European Parliament – cue the brainless barks of “our laws shouldn’t be made in Brussels”. I’ve only spent a couple of days in Belgium and that was in Brussels so I’ve yet to see what I’m told are the beautiful towns of Bruges or Ghent but I’m sure that can be easily fixed.

I will say that one of the real joys of this series I seem to have set myself (whether I can find five from every other member of the EU) is exploring those countries’ music and discovering acts I’d otherwise have had no awareness of. So while Girls in Hawaii and the obvious honourable mention here, and to some extent dEUS, were familiar to me the joy of getting new music and culture into my ears continues and continues to highlight what an absolute twatting pile of excrement the ‘leave’ vote really was.

Girls in Hawaii – Here I Belong

One of the few Belgian bands I knew… my wife got the first Girls in Hawaii (2005’s From Here To There album while she was living in France and so it has a special place in my heart as it soundtracked a lot of our driving about that country. A couple of years after their second album their drummer was killed in a car accident and it was a few years before they regrouped. I’ve not yet checked out their new album but this is from their third album Everest and while not as upbeat as their usual offering I love the slow build and pace of this one.

Plastic Bertrand – Ça plane pour moi

Because who hasn’t heard this? It sold nearly a million copies and Plastic Bertrand sits as one of Belgium’s biggest selling musicians with 20 million plus sales.

dEUS – Quatre Mains

dEUS were the first Belgian-based indie band to sign to a major record label and this one kicks off their most recent (2012) album of French-language rock.

Gorki – Red Mijn Ziel Vooral

So the whole language thing in Belgium is a bit of an odd one – the country seems split between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking. So, in the interests of fairness, I was hunting for a Belgian band that sang in Dutch. My digging lead me to Gorki who kicked off in 1991 with their breakthrough ‘Anja’ and follow up ‘Mia’ which appears to have dominated Belgian charts for some time. They kept at it for another twenty years only coming to an untimely end in 2014 when their singer, Luc De Vos, was found dead in his working apartment from acute organ failure. I’d already been struck by the moving sound of this one before I read that far and it seems to add something to the sense of longing in his voice.

Cecilia::Eyes – For The Fallen

Belgian post-rock? Go on then. I’ve been enjoying Cecilia::Eyes’ second album the last couple of days, Here Dead We Lie which seems to have a strong world war two theme, think Pink Floyd’s Final Cut. On second thought – don’t, that one is pretty shit. Thankfully most of this genre is devoid of words so there’s no chance of Roger Waters droning on painfully over the top of it.

Honourable Mentions go to Mintzkov’s ‘Life After Fire‘, De Portables’ ‘Col Phillins‘ and, of course:

Django Reinhardt – I’ll See You In My Dreams

Django Reinhardt nearly lost his life when the caravan he and his wife lived in caught fire when he knocked over a candle on his way to bed. His right leg was paralysed, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. They wanted to take his leg. He told em arseholes and left the hospital and was walking within a year. The use of his fingers didn’t return, though, so he developed  a new technique which become known as ‘gyspy jazz’ and, to quote Wikipedia, his ” innovations on the guitar helped elevated it above its prior position as usually only a rhythm instrument.”

Out of Europe: An Irish Top Five

Of all the stupidity and upheaval that the colossal butt-fuck of an idea called ‘Brexit’ that so many fools were goaded and misled into voting for is likely to cause, one of the biggest potential quagmires is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, thrown into even greater murk by that soulless banshee May’s desperate tactic of clinging to power by giving a massive bung to the D.U.P in utter disregard to the issues it throws up with the Good Friday Agreement.

As such I thought it fitting for this Out of Europe series to draw up a quick Top Five from Ireland who, while we continue to be lead blindfolded into a dead end, will remain in the blissful embrace of Europe. And, as we’ll be tearing Northern Ireland down with us, acts from that island’s north east tip don’t qualify.

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow

Formed in Dublin in 1983(!), My Bloody Valentine’s opus Loveless took two years to record (that’s nothing, it would be 27 years before they followed it up) and its extensive production costs got them dropped from their label but, fuck me, it’s amazing.

God Is An Astronaut – Forever Lost

A post-rock band who’s sound, according to that fabled source Wikipedia, “employs elements of electronic music, krautrock, and space rock.” I cannot for the life of me remember how I found them but I’d often listen to their second album – which this is from – at the gym.

Damien Rice – Rootless Tree

Success is often a real fucker. Look at what it did to Kurt Cobain. Damien Rice seems similarly unimpressed by it. When songs like ‘Canonball’ and ‘Blower’s Daughter’ pushed his solo debut O into so many peoples’ cd collections he withdrew and pushed against the tide. He’d only wanted to make the one album but his label pressed him into releasing 9 (from which this is taken) which leaned a little darker and met massively mixed reviews. It would be another 8 years before he dropped anything else. I like the line “fuck you, fuck you, love you and all we’ve been through.”

The Frames – Revelate

Dublin’s Glen Hansard is a busy chap. Aside from a solid solo career and frequent touring supporting and playing with Eddie Vedder he’s part of the folk-rock duo The Swell Season and continues to front the Irish rock band The Frames which he started in 1990. Oh, and he acts too – he starred in the film ‘Once’ and some other film called ‘The Commitments‘.

U2 – Until The End of the World

This band is certainly more of a cult act, probably little-known outside of Ireland. Despite what I can only assume are poor-to-middling sales they’ve been around a while now occasionally flirting with some good write-ups in the local press, bad haircuts and have even played a few venues outside of their native Dublin despite their singer’s clearly shy and introverted demeanour.

Honourable mentions to the blues of Rory Gallager and The Cranberries’ Dreams

Out of Europe: A Romanian Top Five

Here we are, over a year from that colossal outpouring of Stupid that was the Leave vote and with all the idiocy that has fallen out of the government in its tailspin and while all the polls and surveys now indicate that the general consensus amongst us Brits is “holy shit that was a big fucking mistake, STOP STOP STOP” the stupidity continues.

So as we look to be the first country since Greenland to shoot itself in the face in the name of political turpitude, I thought it was as good a time as any to shift the focus of this series to one of the EU’s most recent members, a country to whom I owe so much and have a huge amount of love for despite its contradictions, my second-home in Europe as it were; Romania.

I can’t include one of the precious few songs sung in Romanian I know for even though Zdob și Zdub sing in the language, they’re from the neighbouring Moldova. So ‘Everybody in the Casa Mare‘ will have to remain a ‘linked-to’. I’m also anxious to use this one to show that the Romanian scene is far more than the ‘traditional folk‘ music associated with the country.

This post has been a little longer in gestation than many. My wife, having left the country a fair old amount of time ago, hasn’t kept up with its music and so we reached out to a friend who runs a concert promotion company out of Bucharest and a couple on here are her recommendations. OneDay is a self-financed, independent effort aimed at promoting Romanian new music and introducing emerging international bands to the local concert scene. Pretty cool, right? She’s been involved in getting some pretty big names to the country and is always championing new Romanian music.

As such this post has been something of a voyage of discovery for me, opening my ears to a huge and varied music scene in the country – I’m next heading over in September and am hoping to hit up a few record shops as well as getting back into the mountains.

But I’ll start this list with the first bit of ‘alt/rock’ in Romanian I heard, via my wife….

Omul Cu Şobolani – Depresia toamna-iarna ’06-’07

So, I have no idea whether Omul Cu Şobolani  (I believe they were formed in București) are ‘cool’ back in Romania anymore of it’d get me ‘ugh’ looks in a record shop but this group keep it simple – one guitar, bass, drums and vocals. It was the first bit of rock I heard from the country and I still enjoy it.

Greetings Sugar – Drunken revelations (with Bogdan Serban)

This one came via the recommendations list. These guys also hail from and describe themselves as a “dark hearted band from Eastern Europe”. There’s something of The National / Interpol to the vocals on this, their second single. ‘Drunken Revelations’ is the follow up / over half to their début single – Greener – also worth checking out.

Fine, It’s Pink – Waiting for You

Fine, It’s Pink (another from the list) hail from  Iași and categorise themselves with phrases like “electronic bluesy dream pop” and  “electronica post indie”…  I love the mix of different elements in this one topped off by those vocals.

Fluturi Pe Asfalt – Nu crezi că pot?

Now we come to the discoveries… That ‘Related Videos’ feature on YouTube can also be a blessing for it’s where I found Fluturi Pe Asfalt. This four-piece from Cluj-Napoca (Romania’s second biggest city) tick off so many things I love in music: soaring guitars, mood, thumping drums, post-rock elements, a BIG sound… I’ve been rinsing their bandcamp page for listens (not everything is on YouTube and Spotify isn’t as international as it would like to think) and once I’ve finally worked out how to shift my iTunes over to the new Mac at home I’ll be hitting the purchase button.

We’ve also switched back to Romanian too. The language (I hang my head at my limitations with it) suits the genre, I think and, for those who’s Romanian is as bad as mine – “Nu crezi că pot?”means “Don’t You Think I Can?”

Pinholes – Poza

These guys describe themselves as “alternative rock band with influences that vary from post/art-rock to shoegaze and post-punk.” Again – I’m really getting into this and there’s something about the dark, brooding tone to this, the thumping drums  that I love and, again, tick so many boxes for me. Oh, Poza = Picture.

 

Out of Europe: A French Top Five

So as the news arrives that France has decided not to vote in a fascist president* (even if 11 million of them did vote for one –  what the fuck mes amies?) I thought that I’d revisit the Top Five / Out of Europe format with a quick list of those songs – a sort of “this is what we’re saying goodbye to” from those countries that will remain part of the EU long after our pathetically ego-driven and pig-ignorant leader has ripped us from it.

Already covered: Sweden

France is, of course, our closest neighbour. Living down in Kent I’ve always been aware of that proximity and, when I worked down by the coast I’d see it on a daily basis, the rising of the North’s cliffs and coast on the horizon, often pulling up for lunch, looking at it across the Channel and wondering about the culture that dwelt over such a small stretch of water and just how close, within reach exploring it was. It was my first taste of wanderlust.

As it would happen, I ended up spending a large amount of time in France and Paris a few years later as my wife was still living there for the first year or so of our relationship. As such, while you end up with mixed feelings about any country / place you spend a lot of time in, I hold many a fond memory for the place and most of these songs are tied up in that.

So…. in no particular order and trying to cover as good a spread of genres as possible….

Noir Désir – Lost

Yeah…. so; this kind of enters into the whole separation of art from artist and whether you a) can and b) is the art more important than the artist. Given that everything Noir Désir recorded preceded Bertrand Cantat’s violent and fatal assault of his girlfriend** it should be the case that one of France’s biggest rock band’s work remains free to stand alone but it’s a heavy shadow that’s been cast over it. Still, as I’ve said before – I wasn’t aware of this when I got into the band and I still enjoy the music as it reminds of me of my time there, having discovered them while sat in traffic in Paris and listening to the radio. This one comes from their final album des Visages des Figures, a more brooding affair than previous efforts but a successful one.

MC Solaar  – Nouveau western

A genius recasting of Serge Gainsbourg et Brigitte Bardot’s 1968 classic French song ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ – that song itself reportedly based on a poem Bonnie Parker had written moments before she and Clyde Barrow were gunned down. MC Solaar – or Claude M’Barali to give him his full name – was one of the first to get rap through to the mainstream in France. ‘Nouvaeu Western’ tackles racism and colonialism, is catchy as hell and features an absolutely brilliant video.

M83 – Kim & Jessie | Air – All I Need

If we’re talking French electronic music (and not discussing Jean-Michel Jarre) there’s got be three bands that will come up: Daft Punk, Air and M83. I like a bit of Daft Punk but couldn’t really say I listen to any of it enough to warrant a place for it here. M83’s ‘Kim & Jessie’ had me hooked from the opening with those monumental electric drum hits. There’s something so surging, nostalgic and warm about this song that’s irrefutably good. Air’s ‘All I Need’ from their first album Moon Safari (nearly 20 years old ffs) has a similar effect on me, just bliss.

Yann Tiersen – “J’y suis jamais allé”

Man I could probably fill another post with rambling about French films and their soundtracks and may well do at a later date when you know… procrastination allows.  I’d have to talk about Eric Serra’s soundtrack work and give off gas about Subway or how addictive I find from Enae Volare from Les Visiteurs and….  Let’s get this list finished first though.  Probably the most well known soundtrack and most obviously ‘French’ of the lot though is this piece from the mighty Yann Tiersen’s second album Rue des cascades as it would go on to feature in his soundtrack for Amelie five years later, catapulting it and Tiersen to a much greater audience. I still love it though, cliché as it may be.

This is, of course a quick list – ie; those that came to me first. If I sat down and gave it more thought then a) this would never get finished and posted and b) I would likely swap a few but then….

Honourable mentions:

Yael Naim – Paris

Alain Bashung – J’écume

Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55

Eric Serra – Guns and People

*I’m trying (clearly not completely succeeding) to avoid politics on this blog but I will say that while I celebrate any victory over far-right, holocaust-denying fascism I don’t believe Macron is a strong result either and the thing with his wife….. forget about it.

**Cantat was sentenced to 8 years in prison for Involuntary Manslaughter and was released on parole having served 4. During his time in prison his house was burnt down. After his release – much protested by the band made a brief attempt at returning but the guitarist called it quits citing  “emotional, human and musical differences” with Cantant and the band announced it was done. Cantant has continued in music though this remains a controversial discussion point in the musical press and community.

Out of Europe: A Swedish Top Five

While the stupidity of June 23rd and the fumbling-in-the-dark it lead to continues to dominate the news  (unless America votes in a racist, misogynistic Oompa Loompa today) I thought I’d revisit my initial “Out of Europe” list… I thought I’d go for a region, in this instance Scandanavia, but quickly found I’d come up with five from the same country.

So, in the same “this is what we’re saying goodbye to” thought, here’s a Top Five From Sweden (in no particular order, of course, and without a Waterloo in sight*):

Kristofer Åström – How Can You Live With Yourself

There’s just something so amusing and great about the juxtaposition between those gentle strums and lyrics like “I hope you’ll burn in hell”.

Refused – New Noise

I don’t think I ever was or ever will be – especially as my clock has just clicked over another year closer to 40 and I merge quietly into listening to ‘Dad rock’ – to talk about Refused or profess fandom in the same way I’m probably unlikely to be considered serious when I talk about At The Drive In’s Relationship of Command (“Hello, mother leopard. I have your cub”). I will say, though, that I love and loved The Shape of Punk To Come in all it’s screaming, emphatic and brutal force.

Shout Out Louds – Oh Sweetheart

I cannot recall how I found this band back in the mid 2000’s. Their first album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff is chock full of cracking, upbeat and well crafted tunes like this and The Comeback. I can’t say I’ve heard a great deal since though, so perhaps it’s time to head to Spotify….

Junip – Line Of Fire

Having found solo success on his own with his bare, acoustic tracks and covers (including Heartbeats) José González did the sensible thing and got the band – Junip – back together again. I first found them on the The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack and then their 2013 self-titled.

Last Days of April – The Thunder & The Storm

I could have put anything from Last Days of April here, they remain my favourite European export and I’d be hard-pushed to find a dud in their catalogue. So I went with something form their latest – last year’s Sea of Clouds – if only for the moment halfway through when the pedal-steel and guitar takes over and just keep going.  For a quick LDOA bracer:

It’s On Everything
I Wish That You Would Mean A Lot Less To Me
Forget About It
Who’s On The Phone (because there’s no way of linking to Lily)
Two Hands And Ten Fingers

There’s some honourable mentions for this one (Sweden has sent some wonderful music out into the world) including that one-hit-wonder Glorious by Andreas Johnson, The Knife – purveyors of the original Heartbeats, and Lykke Li’s wonderful Melodies & Desires.

 

*no matter how many people claim there’s something great in ABBA I cannot stomach them, the DJ at my wedding was even banned from playing them no matter who made a request (I have a list of those that did, too).

Quick List: Out of Europe

What a terrible, terrible result greeted those of sane mind on Friday morning.

I’m still in a state of shock and find myself hoping that somehow this nightmare can be halted, the damage curbed and sensibility prevail. As Bob Pollard says “Everybody’s got a hold on hope, it’s the last thing that’s holding me.”

So I’ve been in a state that I can only liken to a hangover, a walking dream of fuzzy-headed lack of comprehension. Life has had some real positives since but I was locked down by the impact of what Out could mean. I’m starting to shake that off, step away from the bar and get some distance, level-headedness again and so to try and push that along and get back to something resembling normality I pinged a message to a friend: “Out of Euope; Top five songs by European Artists”.

A sort of ‘here’s what we’re gonna lose’ type thing.

This was mine:

Sigur Ros – Starálfur

I could’ve gone with practically anything from this band. At the top of the tree, though, would be either this or #1 Untitled from () which gives me goosebumps each time I hear the start but this one, with it’s palindromic strings, means a whole lot to me.

Refused – New Noise

Can I scream?

Noir Desir – Un Jour En France

There’s a huge amount of controversy about whether it’s still ok to listen to this band. I’m not going to go into it or even dare to pretend I can offer an opinion as it’s one of those that leaves me startled.

For myself, though, Noir Desir represent something of a happy memory. When my now-wife and I were dating and living in Paris I remember being stuck in traffic on the périphérique and then, amidst all the usual dross on the radio that was removed from what I could tune into, hearing a heavier, rocking sound. It was this. I came to hear them after Bertrand Cantat was already in prison so my enjoyment of them (songs like Lost or Le vent nous portera and Tostaky (Le continent)) is more tied to my own time in France and with my wife than anything else.

Girls In Hawaii – Misses

Girls In Hawaii are a Belgian band and another that remind me of my time in France as it was my wife who get me into them while she was still living there and we’d played their first album almost non-stop on our first holiday together while driving around Normandy – you can kind of get the idea as to why the Leave vote is such a hard one to bear. They’re a cracking little band who sadly lost their drummer in a car accident after recording their second album. This track, the first new material they released some years after his death, is undoubtedly connected and all the more affective as a result.

Cardigans – My Favourite Game

Because this was everywhere at the tail end of the 90s and re-introduced the band that everyone was tired of after the overplaying of Lovefool. A great album too.

So that’s my list. It’s not perfect, and it was a spontaneous one. If I’m in an editing / revising one I know already I can saw there’s two Swedish acts there, no Last Days of April, no Air and no Nouveau Western which deserves more than an honourable mention of only for its video. But then I could, and may, just as easily do a Top 5 for some of the EU countries alone.

However, yes, along with Nouveau Western I’ll add some honourable mentions for:

Last Days of April; Feel The Sun Again (see my previous post on Aspirins and Alcohol for more)

Eric Serra / Arthur Simms: It’s Only Mystery (if you’re going to watch Subway don’t get the dubbed version)