Monthly Archives: September 2014

…2014 w 39 – Album of the week is “Metamatic” by John Foxx.

People like me, old enough to have a too large record collection knows how a sudden impulse can make you listen to a certain record, inspiring a foray into similar territory that can take days to complete. While mostly a joyous experience it can be taxing on significant others with different musical tastes. Last week´s return to the art-new-wave-rock of Ultravox! was one of those departures leading to repeated listenings to the music made by John Foxx between 1977 and 1981.

MetamaticAfter leaving Ultravox! he started a solo career by releasing “Metamatic” in 1980. Based on synthesizers and drum machines, this was an album that today is considered an early electro-pop classic. At the time, Foxx was cited in interviews talking about the use of synthesizers, early on employed to try to sound like other instruments, very much like plastic initially tried to look like wood and other natural materials. Foxx´s thoughts on synths was to use them as the unique instruments they were, and make new sounds never heard before. Which is exactly what he did on this now over 30 years old album.

Opener “On the Plaza” very much sets the tone with its icy sweeping synths and rudimentary ticking drum machine track. “He´s a liquid” and “Underpass” has slightly more dramatic soundscapes and the clanging rhythms on “Metal beat” heralds later adventures in sheet metal drumming like for example Australian band SPK. “No-one driving” goes into pop territory, while the sound of “Blurred girl” looks back at “Hiroshima mon amour” off the “Ha! Ha! Ha!” album. That said, “Touch and go” (which was performed in concert with Ultravox!) is perhaps the song most reminiscent of his old group.

The overall sound of the record is clean, clinical and without the least hint of the dirtiness of regular rock, something that felt really refreshing at the time. The lyrics are arty and distanced, Foxx later confessing to having read a bit too much Ballard (how is that even possible?!?). I think the songs are still holding up, and the album as such one of the embryos of a whole new direction for musicians tired of the usual guitar-driven music that had dominated the previous 30 years.

It´s sometimes interesting to think about what others were doing at the same time. In 1980 Bob Dylan released “Saved”, Judas Priest “British steel”, The Rolling Stones “Emotional rescue”, AC/DC “Back in black” and Bruce Springsteen “The river”. On the other hand the year also saw the release of “Closer”, “Organisation” and “Empires and dance”. Not a bad year, when you think about it.

Louis XV doesn´t disappoint.

Hotel de ParisIn 2006 me and the wife visited the formidable three Michelin-starred Louis XV in Monaco for the first time. That same year had seen the restaurant listed as number 7 in the world in Restaurant Magazine. Opened in the famous Hotel de Paris in Monaco as early as 1987 by chef Alain Ducasse, it took less than three years to achieve the Michelin three-star rating that it´s kept ever since. Legendary chef Ducasse became the first to have three-star restaurants in three cities, as well as being one of only two chefs ever to hold 21 stars simultaneously. Now his empire consists of 13 restaurants in France, three in Monaco, three in the US, three in Japan, two in the UK, and finally one in Italy, Hong Kong, Russia and Qatar. I guess he´s keeping busy.

Louis XVI still have very vivid memories of the first time dining at the Louis XV. The astonishing ambience of the wonderful dining-room, all tradition and class making it perhaps the most beautiful in the world. Flawless service down to the smallest detail, with food and wine matching the level of the overall experience. A foie gras starter with an excellent Alsace wine was followed by a grilled entrecote for two, sliced into mouth-watering pieces at the table, accompanied by a wonderful Saint Émilion that the Sommelier helped us choose. And then there was the dessert – still the best dessert I´ve ever tasted, but more of that later.

Spending part of this year´s summer vacation in a rented house just outside Nice, a return visit was unavoidable. Again staying at the Port Palace Hotel, with it´s view of the moored yachts in the harbour and the race-track of the Monaco Grand Prix passing right outside the doors. Just a short stroll from the hotel, the Lois XV is located at the Place du Casino which is worth a visit by itself. This time reservations were not in the dining room but on the beautiful terrace facing the square and the Casino de Monte-Carlo, offering views of the splendid Belle Epoque architecture while enjoying the pleasant summer evening.

After a glass of Laurent-Perrier rosé champagne we finally decided to try the Pour les Gourmets  menu  consisting of six dishes. Two amuse bouches were served , thin slices of crunchy bread with baked-in vegetables followed by a small focaccia with the restaurant´s take on Salade Nicoise, before the tasting menu itself commenced. Formidable lobster with beans and peas, hot pot with extraordinarily fresh vegetables of the season and oven baked sea bass done just right, all accompanied by a Grand Cru Chablis. The Guinea Fowl was exquisite and the cheese as always in this class of restaurant worth a trip of its own.

Wild strawberriesFor dessert, it was your choice from the dessert menu. And there it was, the one I´ve only been able to dream about since our first visit. Wild strawberries with Mascarpone sorbet. The aromatic sweetness and hint of acidity of the strawberries perfectly complimented by the creamy Mascarpone. A brilliant way of showing what you can do with very few ingredients combined in the right way. So simple but so good. Without a doubt still the best dessert I´ve ever tasted.

Even though the dinner was now officially over, things still continued to arrive at the table. Delicious macarons, chocolate pralines, cookies, toffee and even a serving of different ice creams. A finish of Ethiopian coffe before walking home to the hotel through the warm summer night, past the harbor with its now lighted yachts and onboard parties.

Dining at the Lois XV is in many ways a reassuring experience. In an era of experimentation and emphasis on technique, here we have an establishment concentrating on keeping up the high-end part of tradition. No molecular gastronomy, just first-class ingredients cooked to perfection.

…2014 w 38 – Album of the week is “Ultravox!” by Ultravox!.

John FoxxFor those of you remembering the Midge Ure-fronted synth pop band who had a hit with “Vienna”, let´s just at once make it clear that this is not what we´re talking about today. Formed in 1974 as Tiger Lily, this group of musicians went through a series of name changes until finally settling for Ultravox! (the exclamation mark inspired by krautrockers Neu!). With frontman and singer John Foxx they released three records in two years, after which creative leader Foxx quit the band and was replaced by above mentioned Ure, taking a turn into a considerably less interesting brand of pretty anemic New Romantic synth pop. As would be expected, the more artistically accomplished early incarnation of the band was very much less commercially successful than the later one.

The first two albums “Ultravox!” (1977) and “Ha!-Ha!-Ha!” (1977) went from art pop with a new wave nerve to a full blown assault of modernist rock, going through the changes from punk-flavoured intensity to post-punk intellectualism in a single year. 1978´s “Systems of romance” saw the band lose the exclamation mark in their name and again changing, this time into trailblazers of the emerging electronic pop scene. A direction that lead man John Foxx continued to explore on his first solo release, the iconic “Metamatic” now by many considered a modern classic.

While the second album could in many ways be seen as superior to the debut, with its distinctly more mature songwriting and arrangements, “Ultravox!” had the advantage of freshness and the impact of promising something new. This promise was eloquently carried forward on “Ha!-Ha!-Ha!” in the form of a more realized sound and many of the band´s best songs. That said, the debut was and still is an important piece of late 70´s music, heralding a lot of what was to come later.

Ultravox!Everything from the front sleeve to the pictures of the band members seemed modern and exciting, and the photo-set of John Foxx on the back looked like something out of Cronenberg´s “Videodrome”. With production duties shared between Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite it´s perhaps not that surprising that we get some of the same artful intensity that the first Roxy Music albums had.

Apart from the harmonica, “Saturday night in the city of the dead” opens like a song by The Damned (a name used by the group until they learned that a band of the same name already existed). “Life at rainbow´s end” highlights the connection between John Foxx and the new pop of Bill Nelson post Bebop Deluxe. The faux Brian Ferry croon of “Slipaway” joins early Roxy with classic British progressive rock into an entirely new beast.

Every good album has a standout track, and “I want to be a machine” is this one´s. Beginning with something sounding like “Future legend” on Bowie´s “Diamond dogs”, the song continues with emotionally delivered lyrics about living without emotions over a backdrop of  acoustic guitars. Slowly building momentum with toms and violin, adding dramatic booming bass and an electric guitar hopping between channels, before ending with manic violin and an echoed shout. So good it gives me goosebumps.

“Wide boys” is simple rock with a new wave edge and a sound reminiscent of what Bowie would sound a few years later. “Dangerous rhythm” gives a hint of what it would sound like if Bryan Ferry did the vocals for Police, and is together with “Lonely hunter” perhaps the band´s most uncharacteristic songs. “The wild, the beautiful and the damned” is another highlight, pairing the energy of new wave with melodic intensity. Closer “My sex” winds the album down and bookends this great collection of songs.

This is a record that really has aged well and sounds as inventive now as it did then. The first three albums are what´s making this band great, and everything that came afterwards is best forgotten. A widely accepted story about late 70´s music is that punk came along and wiped away boring, self-indulgent music by returning the basic energy to rock. Listening to this album you realize it´s not entirely true.

…2014 w 37 – Albums of the week are “The Beatles in mono” by The Beatles.

There´s probably not that much you can say about The Beatles that hasn´t already been said. Everybody with an interest in popular culture will have some sort of relationship to this group of musicians, who from small beginnings in Liverpool went on to conquer the world and change the history of pop music.

The Beatles was one of my first contacts with the intensely emotional experience that really good music can be. The second album I ever bought (at a mere seven years of age) was “Sgt. Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the first record to grip me enough to listen to several times every day for months was “Help” when I was eight. Through the years other bands became more interesting and new developments pushed rock music into unchartered territory, seemingly making its origins feel obsolete and conservative. However, although The Beatles´ records were rare guests on my record player for many years, the pure quality of their songs  always dazzled me every time I heard them. So, when this massive chunk of music was released there wasn´t really any question of not laying my hands on a copy.

The Beatles in monoUntil 1968 all Beatles records were mixed both in mono and stereo, with the mono mix considered the important one by the band, often not even present during the stereo mix. This new release comprises all their first 11 studio albums as well as a compilation of non-album tracks, artfully transferred to gorgeous 180 gram vinyl directly from the old master tapes. The box also includes a 108-page book with unique pictures and texts from the era. This is without a doubt an important musical document, giving the listener a unique opportunity to hear these almost universally well-known songs in a new shroud, by many claimed the way the band themselves wanted them to be heard.

There´s a lot of material here, of course needing many repeat listenings to get a grip on. This is without a doubt going to be a treat to be enjoyed for a long time, and I´ve only just begun. It´s simply amazing that 50 year old music, so well-known that it´s part of our cultural DNA, can still feel new and exciting.

…2014 w 36 – Album of the week is “Hardware” by Agent Side Grinder.

Agent Side GrinderNo album of the week last week, since I was keeping too busy to really have time to listen to anything in particular. But now we have a record that´s been on heavy rotation the past few days and will serve fine as this weeks choice.

Formed in Stockholm in 2005 as an electronic band with a post-punk and industrial twist, having made four albums to date, garnering the typical cult following. The early albums were pretty dark and not as melodically realized as later offerings, making them much more a concern for the initiated. This type of electronic music has never really been my cup of tea, and can actually be quite boring if it´s not extremely well executed. Way back, when the first innocent synth-pop took a left turn into what was to become a mash of bombast and growled lyrics, is where I lost interest. Today, however, you could probably count more genres of this type of music than I could have named bands back then.

HardwareI hadn´t really heard of Agent Side Grinder before this album was released and started to collect good reviews, even from pretty mainstream press. Serving as something of a breakthrough for the band, this album shows that they´ve managed to hone their skills without actually losing any bite. Pulsating rhythms, basslines echoing of Joy Division, vintage modular synths and suitably alienated  lyrics sung in a deep baryton. Everything still with enough melodic dexterity to keep things interesting, taking advantage of the efficient arrangements and production.

I wouldn´t say that these guys are doing something decidedly new, but their take on this intersection between darkwave and modernized synth pop is definitely worthy of a listen. The aesthetics of the record sleeve as well as the industrial romanticism in the video of stand-out track “Wolf hour” (with vocal help by Henric de la Cour of Yvonne fame) all builds into an appeasing whole that I relly can´t help falling for.