Category Archives: good music

Derek web – fingers crossed (review)


so if you stop listening now
we can still be friends
if your eyes can see what’s killing me
i’ll need you by the end
but i’ll understand if you stop listening
(Derek webb – stop listening)

I’m not really following the American ‘Christian music’ scene at all (I’m just waiting for a new psalters album…) but Derek Webb is a songwriter and musician that I have been listening to since my late twenties. Especially the ‘mockingbird’ album is a personal favourite, and it will always remain one. I’ve always liked his songwriting, his wrestling with hard questions, his honesty and his voice.

And now there’s a new album, ‘fingers crossed’, an album ‘about 2 divorces’ as he said somewhere on facebook in which he wrestles with losing his marriage and his faith. Musically this might certainly be his best, and his voice has never sounded better, but it’s not really easy listening…

Check it out for yourself here on his website. It’s available on vinyl too, which might be a good idea if you like the album and want to support Derek. It certainly must be music that sounds a lot better from vinyl than from electronic format.

So how’s the album itself? Let me start by saying that Derek Webb proves himself a superb songwriter once again on this album. His semi-electronic arrangements work better than ever here, and the atmosphere he conjures are incredible and in line with what he’s trying to communicate. Unlike his ‘Stockholm syndrome’ album where the experiments with all kind of electronics led to a bit of incoherence on album-level this one works very well as a whole, with a lot of musical consistency.
It’s a really good piece of work, with intelligent songwriting, well-crafted lyrics and interesting arrangements that work well to convey the feelings of what he’s struggling with. The songs are also performed well, Webbs guitar-playing and singing are at a high level here. His voice has never sounded this intense.
A real artist is someone who can channel whatever they want to communicate through their art, and Derek Webb is definitely a good artist here.

i still believe in love
like i believe in just war
i think it’s possible
but maybe just not anymore

so i say goodbye, for now
(Derek Webb, goodbye for now)

But what does he communicate? The ‘double divorce’ aspect of the album is very clear in almost every song. Descriptions of the loss of his faith, and the loss of his marriage, his own infidelity and the world around him that has fallen apart. The painful thing is that it seems that the main thing left from his own former (reformed) Christianity is a deep sense of his own total depravity. To be left with mainly that in the divorce is a very bad bargain I must say.

Some of the songs are really hard to listen to just because he is such a honest and almost exhibitionist songwriter, who shares a very painful reality that he’s living now throughout the songs, while he has separated himself from all things that were central to his life before. It must take some bravery to make a ‘coming out’ album like this in the American scene. I can’t imagine what it must be to do such a thing, it must be very hard to fall out of an entire universe like that. A universe that is completely consistent in itself, and getting increasingly worse I must add. The way parts of American fundamentalism have embraced a man who has no concept of truth at all (after decades of railing against ‘postmodernism) alone would create more cognitive dissonance to me than I might be able to bear if there wasn’t a certain ocean between us. So when it comes to the Christian subculture it might have been a divorce with a partner that’s falling apart and never was what it promised to be. I can understand that such a separation might be the only way to keep your sanity. (see my blog posts The American situation as a crisis for my faith and farewell, online American Christianity here)

And still…  In spite of being a very well-crafted album this is not music I’d listen to much. Quality and artistic excellence isn’t the only reason why one listens to music. There must be some kind of positive reason why I will listen a certain album and song and not another one. There must be a certain resonance… (which is the reason why a lot of people like abominable music that’s happy and easy to digest, and why terrible dumb pop music is always topping the charts.)

“women and whiskey are persuasive
at making me forget you”
(the devil you know, Derek Webb)

It’s not really healthy for me to feed myself energetically too much on secondhand desperations that aren’t mine. I’m married, and far from the American dechristianiation, and I’ve never seen or encountered women as a temptation (I prefer them as friends), and neither do I have his very special relationship with alcohol. There’s not much I gain from listening too much to this album.

Why would I keep listening to a song like ‘the spirit bears the curse’ for example, well-crafted as it is. It’s a very clever song that subverts the whole Christian worship cliché lingo into a song of adoration to alcohol? Yes, it’s smart and witty, and it would have a lot of effect in a live-show, it works as a bit of cabaret even. When you heard it once the surprise is gone. But having this song stuck in my head, with a chorus of adoration directed towards the wondrous deity of alcohol is not what I want.

And here we are with the problem of a piece of art in which someone is very able to channel his demons very successfully…

These are not my demons…

I do have enough demons of my own already… But there’s a lot of people elsewhere who must share these demons, and for those who go through a similar deconversion experience -which will be a lot of people, the dechristianiation of the US is certainly at hand- I suppose an album like this will give a lot of recognition and consolation.

The very personal lyrics of the first and last song make me feel like it’s wrong to stop listening to this one, but that’s just how it is. There is something perverse in our audience/listener system and the asymmetrical pseudo-relationships it gives, especially for the artists that pour out to everyone but may end up alone in the end. But realistically I can’t do anything from here.

I’ll still listen to ‘mockingbird’, and maybe to this one too from time to time.

But I can’t share your demons.

Peace to you Derek.
Shalom to you in all its aspects I mean with that.

Bram

 

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Bram Cools album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ now available + Literary side project


Hi people,

I’ve delayed writing more posts because I didn’t even know what to say in a confused world like this, because I was busy with work and family and other stuff, and because I’ve been woking on my music and launched another side-project, the scifi/dystopian story ‘Ghostified City’ that will be published in parts on Oranderra, my fiction blog. For those last 2 I will give you some announcements:

‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ available now

Hi friends and listeners,

This is just to notify you all that my new album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen‘ is available now at bramcools.bandcamp.com . Musically and lyrically a follow-up to ‘cyberluddism’ and ‘Instant pocket apocalypse’, and a trip though different musical genres and a range of everyday battles and strange subjects in several languages. Apart from English there are 2 songs in Dutch/Flemish, one and a half in the artificial minimal language toki pona, and some key lines of another song in Latin, as well as several wordless pieces of music.

Listen and download ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ here. And please let me know what you think, and if you like it share it with others…

Literary side-project ‘Ghostified city’ now online

For those who like the dystopian themes in my recent music, or those who like scifi and dark dystopian stuff in general there is a second non-musical announcement: I have started publishing the story ‘Ghostified city’ in parts on my fiction blog Oranderra this week. See here for what it’s about and here for the first part. There will be one or two updates to the story each week. Note that the style and some of the contents might not be suited for an audience that’s too young.
Adaman Yimmand would really appreciate if you check it out and like the Oranderra facebook.

peace

Bram

Tracklist:

1. Welcome outside 04:23

2. Selfmade universe 03:29

3. Muggles gonna muggle 04:11

4. Splintering dimensions 03:15

5. mi wile e ni 03:23

6. Cyberluddism VIII 02:13

7. In het niks 03:15

8. Shadows of shadows 04:31

9. Oh God would you? 03:46

10. Hold on 03:54

11. Cyberluddism IX 02:55

12. Enemies 02:53

13. Dark hour of fire 04:35

14. Mixed bags 02:55

15. Hoelang blijven we spelen? 02:23

16. Salva mea 04:12

17. Untitled in C-minor 02:36

18. Unseen disconnect/mi sona ala 03:35

19. Under the radar 03:42

20. Cyberluddism X 01:29

Bram Cools Christmas song (or something like that…)


Good news for the few sparse Terrans who enjoy the sounds that I make under the misguiding umbrella term of ‘music’ from time to time. 2015 had seen a no really new Bram Cools music thusfar, only a release of my older Contemporary Christian Muzak, and some other old songs (like this remake of ‘last fish in the sea’, previously unheard by all except 3 or 3 humans) but no actual new songs.

badsantaDTL

The good news is that just before the new year I can proudly announce you that at least one new song from 2015 will be on my musical CV.  It even is my first attempt at something that could be seen as a Christmas song (although in the broadest sense possible of that term probably)
To make long weird explanations short: the Bram Cools song Why Should She Care (this alien feast) (also on soundcloud) is featured on the new Down The Line 2015 Christmas compilation (the bad santa edition). It might be a bit dark for a Christmas song though…

More from the Down The Line collective in the zine here.

Have a listen to all the songs, scare your grandma with them  and tell me what you thing… (yes, there’s even a krampus song in it!)

peace and happy holidays!

Bram

Bram Cools Music: new song ‘last fish’ & news about ‘Contemporary Christian Muzak 2004-2007’


(This is an adapted version of the Bram Cools Music newsletter. You can subscribe here if you want.)

A new Bram Cools song: ‘last fish’fish

A new Bram Cools song called ‘last fish’ can be listened on soundcloud now. it is actually a remake of a very old song from my early twenties, that originally appeared on a ‘limited edition’ cassette which was restricted to one copy. Even I don’t have it anymore, but this song nonetheless survived, and it kept playing in my head from time to time unlike most of the songs that I recorded once and never played live. So I decided to re-record it and I’m glad that I did.

The original was just me playing a keyboard with 2 sounds, singing a cryptic and dark text to a very repetitive xylophone-loop and some strings recorded in one session on minidisk in my usual manner at that time. I have recreated those 2 lines and added some more arrangement to fill it up some more. It’s still not the typical Bram Cools song (if such a a thing exists) but I do like the outcome a lot.

It’s quite gothic, and completely different from the songs I’m writing at the moment, but still too good not to share, and as a very atypical track it’s perfect to end a long period of silence without new Bram Cools song… I hope you all enjoy the song and share it with others who might like it.

But that’s not the big news. The big news is the following:

“Contemporary ChristianMuzak 2004-2007′ to be released soon

I did already announce in my last mail a coming electronic release of my old ‘Contemporary Christian Muzak’ songs, finally together on one album. Now I tell you that it will be released very soon, in the beginning of september.

For those still uninitiated: Years ago now I had a band called the Contemporary Christian Muzak collective (or CCMC). We tried to play some kind of experimental Christian music that did both connect to the Creator and make some interesting sounds that haven’t been used 100 times before already. Most of it was not exactly elevator music fit for a boring Christian radio station providing safe happy clappy Christian music for the conservative middleclass as the name might suggest, but rather some kind of rough folky indierock, mixed with very weird free-from noise and experimental impro-parts as well from time to time…

We only did a few concerts throughout the years (around 2004-2007) but we did have a lot of fun, and I really miss those days! But time passes and things change, and the bandmembers had families and other bands and other stuff going on, so it all sort of fell apart. Unfortunately We never did any studio-recordings as a band, and no real CD-worthy live recordings have been made either. So all that’s left is my own home-recorded multitrack-versions with mostly myself on a lot of instruments and Bram Beels on digeridoo in some of the songs. Some of these songs needed to be finished, and that has finally happened.

So stay tuned!

peace

Bram

(And thank you for clicking!)

PS: Find more Bram Cools music for download at bandcamp.com. (All music is currently ‘choose your price’)

 

RIP Luc De Vos, Flemish rock icon and more (with tribute-song)


ThLDVe news of the unexpected death of Flemish rock icon Luc De Vos reached me this weekend. He was only 52, and he will be missed much. Since I do not expect any of my international readers to have ever heard of him I do think an introduction to this unique artist might not be a bad idea… I’m aware that it’s impossible to even try to understand a phenomenon like Luc De Vos without being Flemish, but I can try to give a small introduction…

Growing up in Flanders means that you’re always subject to the influence of a lot of different cultures in the media, especially language-wise, more than having your own culture around all the time. Most of the music on the radio and the programs on TV were not in Dutch, but in English, or French, or in the case of TV German or Scandinavian even sometimes, subtitled in Dutch. In such a situation using your own language for art is always a bit strange, and I always has a strange connection with the phenomenon of language myself.  Music in my own language was always a bit weird too. Both standard Dutch and Dutch from the Netherlands sound a bit sterile and foreign, and people who had their own voice in my own language were rare when I was a teenager. Flemish rock in our own language was a very limited phenomenon in the nineties. Most people circumvented the problem completely and sung in English, but there were a few exceptions who did make decent rock music in Flemish, like Stijn Meuris (Noordkaap), Frank Vanderlinden (De mens) and Luc De Vos (Gorki). Together with many other bands in English they were part of the soundtrack of my younger years.

Luc De Vos always was one of the most notorious people in the Flemish scene. He was a unique musician who had found his own voice, and given a platform to do his unique stuff. His way of singing might be completely unorthodox already, but his were the strange minimalist melodies and surreal lyrics that stood out most. He could break all rules of lyric-writing, sing it in a very raw rudimentary melody, and still be played on the radio. Because for some reason it worked. I can remember hearing ‘wie zal er voor de kinderen zorgen‘ for the first time and thinking ‘What on Earth is this song’. Now it’s still one of my favorite songs of all time…

As a songwriter I can’t deny that Gorki did probably have more influence on my songwriting than I’ve always admitted, and probably not just when writing in Dutch. I also sang some of his songs regularly when I was busking with my guitar in Atwerp in you young twentysomething years (primarily to get over my anxiety of being on stage, I never made that much money with it). I can still play and sing most of his hits ‘Mia‘, ‘lieve kleine piranha‘ & ‘Anja‘ if you give me a guitar. Those songs are part of my history.

And then there’s the phenomenon of the song ‘Mia’, about which I wrote already a post some years ago. The very unlikely ‘greatest Flemish song of all times’, which was originally just a B-side. It’ a very unlikely song to be a hit, let alone occupy the first place in a list of timeless classics. And still it happened to pass that this song became the best Flemish song ever. The MIA-awards (Belgian music awards) were even named after that song.

Luc De Vos was more than that one song though. He recorded more than 11 CD’s with Gorki, and some side projects too. He also was a writer, and a thinker, and a very human person, some kind of basic humanist. A very intelligent person with very layered humor, who was constantly mocking himself, as if he couldn’t believe that people liked his music. And on the other hand a very professional musician who knew very well what he was doing on stage. A man with an opinion, and with his own vision.

A man that was way too young too die.

He will be missed.

His legacy will remain.

PS: as a tribute I decided to do one of his songs in English, so that people who don’t understand Dutch can have a glimpse of what Luc De Vos was like. (although his lyrics are untranslatable) I chose ‘wie zal er voor de kinderen zorgen’ and did not try to copy the original, but made my own version in vintage lo-fi Bram Cools style. All rights are owned by Luc and his family. But you better go listen to the original and buy the album ‘ik ben aanwezig’.

 

Billy Corgan on Christian rock and more…


BCBilly Corgan, (or is is Willie now?), singer of the grunge band the smashing pumpkins, has done a pretty interesting interview with CNN in Hong Kong earlier this month. The whole transcript is here.

One part from it has been going round, and is about God as the future of rock, and his message to Christian rockers:

RAJPAL: So what are you exploring now?
CORGAN: God. I once did – a big American magazine was doing a thing called, “The Future of Rock”.
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: And, you know, they asked 50 artists, “What’s the future of rock?” And my answer was, “God”. And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, God’s the third rail of -” What is it? “Social security is the third rail of politics in America”. Well, God is the third rail in rock and roll. You’re not supposed to talk about God. Even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like, “Don’t go there”. I think God’s the great, unexplored territory in rock and roll music. And I actually said that. I thought it was perfectly poised. And, of course, they didn’t put it in the interview.
RAJPAL: What would you say to Christian rockers, then?
CORGAN: Make better music. (LAUGHTER) CORGAN: Personally, my opinion – I think Jesus would like better bands, you know? (LAUGHTER) CORGAN: Now I’m going to get a bunch of Christian rock hate mail.
RAJPAL: But that’s interesting –
CORGAN: Just wait, here’s a better quote –
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: Hey, Christian rock, if you want to be good, stop copying U2. U2 already did it. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of U2-esque Christian rock.
RAJPAL: Sure.
CORGAN: Bono and company created the template for modern Christian rock. And I like to think Jesus would want us all to evolve.

I’m not in touch with the modern commercial Christian rock scene, nor do I live in a country where one can find a Christian rock radio station on a car radio,  but I do think what he’s speaking about, even though I have heard more third-generation Coldplay clones in Christian rock lately than U2-sounds, but whatever.

Maybe that’s indeed the overall idea of Christian rock you get from the radio, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of people, adherents to the Christian religion,, making rock music or something like that which is informed by their faith soemwhere, and who do not sound at all like the mentioned U2 (or coldplay) rip-offs. They might not get as much airplay and sell as much records, but they are musically much more interesting. And Billy Corgan must know that, having Jeff Schroeder in his current band  line-up (who has been part of the Christian indie scene, and played guitars on the violet burning’s selftitled album).

Mr. Corgan himself has been singing about God and other religious themes since the beginning of the Smashing Pumpkins, but does not seem to tie himself down to one religion, even though he appears to be more spiritual than ever.

What also struck me is how he describes his old band, the original line-up of the smashing pumpkins:

we were four strangers who agreed on a musical vision. And we did more harm than good.

And then he identifies one of the problems of that band as ‘false loyalty’:

I would say the key experience for me, from the original version Smashing Pumpkins was, “What is loyalty?” What is loyalty? Because I had a false concept of loyalty and I rode that ship all the way to the bottom. When most people wiser than I, would have jumped off the ship when it was to their benefit.

So people always say, “What’s your greatest career regret?” It’s when the band blew up in ’96, that I didn’t jump off and make a new ship. I rode that ship all the way to the bottom. Like, literally, until it was like the bubbles were coming up and I was sitting there like –

RAJPAL: Is it kind of like, you know, when you’re staying in a bad relationship, that you’re always hoping that something will change. That things will work out in some way, shape, or form.

CORGAN: Yes. I’m sure you’ve only had successful relationships, but I mean, if you’ve ever been there where you’re breaking up with somebody for the ninth time – [..] We did a lot of that. We didn’t really break up so much as we were like, “OK, now it’s going to be like this, or it’s going to be like this”. And then, of course, nothing would change.

Another idea that could be interesting to think about is his rejection of the very well-known dogma that suffering is good for art. I actually have never seen that one questioned before, and it’s even more interesting that he uses an Eastern religion -shintoism- to make that point. I don’t know why he uses shintoism and not Buddhism here, which is based on the elimination of suffering, and does not see a positive role for it.

Makes one wonder if the ‘suffering is good for art’ is born in Christian ideas about suffering. And if it’s indeed as valid as we all suppose…

CORGAN: There’s a long established concept that gets bandied about, which is “Misery makes for great art”. And I actually think this is – if we were asking a Shinto Monk, I think they would laugh at this idea
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: Because you’re basically saying, “Suffering’s good for business”. And I don’t think suffering’s good for business. Crazy’s good for business, suffering isn’t. I think suffering or the gestalt of, “Here I am, ripping my heart open” – I think that lasts for about two or three albums.
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: At some point, you have to mature into the deeper work. Most people are living lives of sort of survival. And constantly posing an existential crisis, either through fantasy or oblivion, really has been pretty much explored in rock and roll. At least in the western version of rock and roll. Maybe not over here in Asia, but we’ve sort of, kind of, been through all that.

I wonder if his ‘deeper work’ as he sees it himself will ever be able to reach as much people as ‘mellon collie and the infinite sadness’, which was one of my favorite rock-albums in the nineties, but I must say that his last CD ‘oceania’ is not bad at all and better than most things I’ve heard from him from the nineties!
But it seems like he is not concerned with getting that success back.

Well, if you make repressed, middle class, white, suburban, existential crisis music and a bunch of people just like you buy it, is that success? […]  I mean, yes, it’s success in the form of communication. But is it success in being true? No, it’s not true. It’s true to its corner, but it’s not true.

Maybe it’s just me, but the guy says a lot of things (some of which I’m not even talking about here) that are really worth contemplating.. Rockstars can be interesting sometimes, don’t they?

peace

Bram

(PS: normal blogging schedule might resume somewhere in September)

Musical fridays 2: Charles and the white trash European blues connection.


A while ago I announced a series of ‘musical fridays’, so here’s the second post, with a very obscure song, ‘Americans’ by ‘Charles and the white trash European blues connection’ taken from my ‘song in my head’ posts on facebook…

Hidden somewhere in my CD collection iconnections an obscure CD in a paper case with a picture of the back of some strange guy with the words ‘Charles and the white trash European blues connection’ on it. It’s not at all that clear anywhere whether that’s the name of the band, or the name of the Cd, or both… On the CD if you care to listen to a lot of noise can be found, which is supposed to be music, and that opccupies a niche somewhere in between blues and garage rock, sometimes with a light industrual feel even. There’s not that much information on the case, just the names of band members and stuff like that, and it can be noted that the whole album has been recorded and mixed on one afternoon on april 2nd in 1998. I suspect that it was not the most sober afternoon in those musicians’ lives, but that might just be a prejudice…

There also is a sticker on it with a single name, ‘Arno’, probably a later addiction from the record company to clarify a bit about the CD so they could be able to sell at least a few copies of this record. I’m not sure much copies of it were ever sold, and I even suspect it is out of print now. It’s one of those records that went forgotten in the history of rock’n roll…

All of this doesn’t mean that the ‘Arno’ guy isn’t a big name in the wonderous world of Belgian rock’n roll. The so-called Arno, full name Arno Hintjens, is a well-known Belgian rock-singer, who was the frontman of a band called TC Matic in the seventies/eighties, a noisy band whose greatest hits are called putain putain and oh la la la. But he is also known for his solo music, which is quite variable. He’s the kind of rockstar with a broken voice that sounds like he’s always drunk (or worse) and who sometimes can sound quite inspired on one song, and in the next song just makes plain dumb music. (I thik of a song like bathroom singer, and yes I am a madness fan and still I find this very dumb music) A lot of his songs are in French, and in a surreal twist of weirdness the guy has even been given the knighthood (the title of “Knight in the Arts and Literature” actually) for what he has done for the French language by the French government. Don’t ask me… Europe can be a pretty weird place sometimes if you think about it..

Back to that CD… I don’t like everything Arno has recorded, but I’ve always liked that ‘Charles and the white trash European blues connection’ album a lot, and not only because it’s a good CD to scare guests with… It is one of the albums that brought me alive through my twentysomething years… A very pure form of very basic rock’n roll with a heavy groove and a very raw form of the blues… And still a CD to put on very loudly, as loudly as possible, when my wife isn’t home… but it’s so obscure now I can’t find any of it on youtube except for this Kinks cover ‘death of a clown‘. 6 out of 10 songs are here on grooveshark though…

A song that always stood out for me is the last song, called ‘Americans’, which is a simple tune about the things Americans gave us (Europeans), a subject I’ve been thinking about lately. The music is raw and the vocals are tormented, and very pure, and the lyrics are a bit random and filled with ‘explicit content’ of the type we have been importing from the US a lot…

And now that we’re here, just listen to their version of the old delta blues classic ‘you got to move‘. It won’t get more industrial and garage than this, but then there’s that really incredible harmonica solo, wow…

So, am I the only one who likes Charles and the white trash European blues connection?

peace

Bram