PICK OF THE WEEK
I won’t mince words: you may not be familiar with these artists, but I promise you that at least two of them are among the very best at what they do. Not just the best in Poland, but the best anywhere. TIDES FROM NEBULA and TRANQUILIZER, although very different from each other, are exciting new voices on the country’s musical landscape. And that’s not to dismiss ARRM, who specialize in a heavy, spacey, instrumental drone-oriented music that is dark, beautiful, and seductive.
And speaking of dark, beautiful, and seductive, the only singing voice you will hear all night will be that of Luna Bystrzanowska, the enchanting front woman of the fantastic TRANQUILIZER from Gdynia. Her singing combines angelic harmonies, tortured emotion, and the odd bit of dissonance, and synthesize it into something completely original – often within the same song. The music is full of light, dark, and shades in between, and brings the late 1980s/early 90s electronic ethereal gothic dream pop of artists like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and This Mortal Coil into the 21st century by utilizing a combination of live instruments and modern technology. Even when the songs depict chaos, there is a delicate and fragile beauty present.
In concert, Miss Bystrzanowska has an otherworldly presence that always casts an irresistible spell over the audience with a voice that is both delicate and commanding, and drummer Konrad Ciesielski (who was just in town with one of his other bands, the excellent progressive post-metal Blindead) plays with a sympathetic touch that can conjure a jazzy triphop mood one minute and evoke the athletic heroics of Keith Moon the next.
Their debut album, Take a Pill, was #2 on my Best Polish Rock Albums Of 2015 list, and the 10ö8 EP, released earlier this year, was equally compelling. The recording of their second full-length album will continue after this tour, but in the meantime they’ve released the excellent new song (and video), “Mantra” (see below), which shows their continuing evolution and bodes extremely well for the future.
Warsaw’s TIDES FROM NEBULA are, quite simply, one of the most original instrumental guitar bands I have ever heard. Unlike most instrumental rock music, they focus on melody and composition rather than individual athletic musical technique, and their sound is completely their own. Over the course of four albums since 2009, they have crafted a musical language that manages to blend the layers of lush distortion of British shoegazer pioneers My Bloody Valentine with the technical precision of Rush. Their command of layering different guitar effects is astounding.
I was first introduced to their music in concert, at the 2015 Metal Hammer Festival in Katowice, and they instantly stood out on a bill that included prog and metal giants like Dream Theater, Riverside, and Collage because they are positively unique and hypnotic live. Since then, they’ve released Safehaven, their best album yet. This is music complex enough for the cerebral progressive rock listener, heavy enough for the metal crowd, shimmery enough for the shoegazer, and even trippy enough for the raver.
This has the makings of being one of the best shows of the year.
You can hear the new TIDES FROM NEBULA album, Safehaven, here:
TRANQUILIZER’s new “Mantra”:
If you’re from the US, the UK, or even much of Europe, you may raise an eyebrow at this show being booked at the cavernous Tauron Arena, recent site of giant events by such household names as Justin Beiber and Black Sabbath, at nearly equal prices. In fact, your first reaction, like mine, might be, “um…Bad Boy who?”
Outside of Eastern Europe (and weirdly, South Africa) they were only a minor blip on the pop radar, and even that was thanks to a couple of low-charting singles in the 1990’s – nearly a full decade after their early-to-mid eighties heyday. But here in Poland, a number of their songs are still staples on daily radio, and apparently they can still draw a crowd.
You could make the case that this show is more of a nostalgic Eurodisco dance party, were it not for the presence of veteran new wave popsters ALPHAVILLE, who really seem to be the odd men out on this night.
Or, I should say, odd MAN out. One thing that BAD BOY BLUE and ALPHAVILLE DO have in common is that, in both cases, there is just one person present from the lineup that recorded their hits. But at least when ALPHAVILLE pull out “Forever Young” and “Big in Japan” on Saturday night, it will be the original voice – Marian Gold – you will see (and hear) singing them. BAD BOY BLUE’s John McInerney was part of the original trio, but didn’t assume lead vocalist duties until later, after most of the band’s success.
But that’s much more than can be said for BONEY M, or I should say, SOUND OF BONEY M. There’s a very long complicated story involved, but basically, BONEY M was completely the recording studio creation of German producer Frank Farian at the height of the disco era, who then hired a number of dancers and singers to go out and perform the songs under the name. A veritable cluster**** eventually ensued, and since the 1990s, nearly everyone ever connected with the recordings and/or performances have taken ‘their’ version of BONEY M out on the road, resulting in multiple legal cases and name changes. SOUND OF BONEY M is singer Sheyla Bonnick’s version, and – you can’t make this stuff up – her connection to the band is that she was briefly employed as a backing vocalist during the promotional campaign for the first single, “Baby Do You Wanna Bump” back in 1975! Understand – she’s NOT actually ON the record (or any other BONEY M record, for that matter,) but nonetheless, she is one of many tangentially related people to tour using some variation of the name.
It’s probably worth mentioning that many of the people who toured as BONEY M were never on the records, as Farian did the lead vocals himself (with heavy electronic processing) and routinely used session musicians and singers – a formula he repeated with great success and eventual infamy later as the mastermind of a, um, ‘historic’ R&B duo called Milli Vanilli, so don’t feel too bad for the guy.
If this is your thing, think of it as a tribute act, or don’t think about it at all, and just enjoy the humorous disco history lessons of such oddball novelty songs as “Ma Baker,” “Rivers of Babylon,” and my personal favorite, “Rasputin.” It could be an entertaining, if slightly overpriced, evening.
Since 1998, double bassist/composer Wojtek Mazolewski has led the avant-garde jazz group PINK FREUD through many incarnations and personnel changes, but the band’s commitment to experimentation has remained resolute. Among the expected influences such as Miles and Coltrane, as well as the occasional nod to progressive music that the pun of their name might imply, they have also occasionally utilized electronic music as fodder for their explorations. On this tour (and new album, also called PINK FREUD PLAYS AUTECHRE,) they’ve embraced it completely, with an entire evening structured around the music of the pioneering British IDM (that’s Intelligent Dance Music, by the way) duo Autechre.
Of course, they do so without the actual electronics, deconstructing the compositions to their bare foundations before rebuilding them as vehicles for jazz exploration. And as you can see in the recent hour long film here, these are some master musicians who play without restraint.
Another Polish music history lesson: IRA in this case is NOT an acronym for the Irish Republican Army, even if that misconception actually got the group banned from playing in the UK. Instead, they are named after the Latin word for anger, and I’m sure their ire was raised by having to cancel tour dates over it.
From the mid-1980’s, the band had a very successful decade as one of the most popular artists of Poland’s formidable heavy rock scene. They broke up and reformed a few times, and the natural process of musician attrition has left vocalist Artur Gadowski the sole remaining original member. Still, the band has just released My, their 11th studio album, and whoever’s playing with Gadowski, this music has a diehard faithful that keep them alive.
MONDAY 28TH NOVEMBER
GRANIE NA SZCZEKANIE
(Playing For Barks)
Charity Concert For Krakowskie Towarzystwo Opieki nad Zwierzętami (Kraków Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals)
Featuring: Grzegorz Turnau / Aga Zaryan / Magda Steczkowska & Wiktor Tatarek / Stan Borys / Mariusz Pedzialek & Renata Zelobowska-Orzechowska / Jaciek & Andrzej Zielińscy (of Skaldowie) plus many more…
(Zwierzyniecka 1 – 19:00 – 60,80,120zł)
I don’t trust people who don’t love animals. It’s not really rational, I know, but I feel like it says something negative about you if your heart doesn’t melt at the sight of a dog… or a cat… or a horse… or…
Okay, full disclosure; as I write this, one of my five pet rats, Snorlax, is sitting on my shoulder… so yeah, I like animals a lot.
Every year, some of Poland’s greatest artists come together to support the Krakow Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Generally, it’s a different bunch of musicians, actors, singers, etc. every year, but GRZEGORZ TURNAU has been there consistently since the beginning.
“We’ve been doing this for many years,” he tells me from home on a rare day off. “It’s a charity concert to benefit the home for homeless animals. There is an auction, and we play some songs.
“Of course, it’s not obligatory to sing about animals,” he adds, “but the songs are dedicated to the charity.” TURNAU will be taking advantage of the uniqueness of the occasion to perform some songs from his 1998 album Księżyc w misce (The Moon in the Bowl), a collection of his theatrical songs with a childlike fantasy-based whimsy (and one of his personal favorites.) In addition, there will be a duet with jazz singer extraordinaire AGA ZARYAN, who will also be performing on her own. ‘Extraordinary’ is no exaggeration when speaking of ZARYAN; not only is she the first Polish artist ever signed to the legendary Blue Note jazz label with half a dozen gold, platinum, and multi-platinum albums to her name, she was also voted best female jazz singer in Europe by the readers of Jazz Forum magazine six years consecutively AND was even nominated for Woman Of The Year by the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.
More evidence of this very diverse, star-studded lineup: brothers JACIEK & ANDREZJ ZIELIŃSCY are chief architects of the illustrious SKALDOWIE, one of the first Polish bands to incorporate the folk music of their region of the country (Podhale) with rock music, adding classical influences as well, and singer STAN BORYS is a veteran of the theater and the sung poetry genre, while the renowned classical pianist RENATA ZELOBOWSKA-ORZECHOWSKA will collaborate with the great oboist MARIUSZ PEDZIALEK, and… I could go on and on about the impressive pedigree of everyone on the bill, but suffice to say, this is an opportunity to witness a veritable who’s-who of Polish musical royalty, at a great price, for an even better cause. So what’s not to like?
Best of all, the proceeds go directly to the four-legged folks who need it, and are not spent on the kind of organizational infrastructure that sometimes absorbs a large portion of charity donations. “It works well,” TURNAU explains, “in that all the money goes to the support of the animals and the animal hospital, and not for banquets and such.”
The story goes that when Queens Of The Stone Age mainman Josh Homme first heard VADER, he thought to himself, ‘these guys are like The Eagles of death metal’ – and voila! Thus, his side project, the Eagles Of Death Metal, or at least the concept thereof, was born.
The story doesn’t say exactly what substances Homme might have been ingesting that day, but it’s safe to assume that he was referring to VADER’s place in the hierarchy of Polish music, and NOT any musical resemblance to the laid back country rock of “Hotel California.”
Although they started as a fairly straight forward heavy metal band over three decades ago, VADER are perhaps the best known Polish death metal band in the world, with ten studio albums and almost as many EP’s under their belt. Their current Imperium Polonaie Tour is to commemorate the new The Empire album, but recent sets have also featured a healthy dose of their back catalogue, and occasionally a cover of a Slayer classic.
For anyone wishing to explore the unique history of Polish metal, seeing VADER is a must. They are one of a handful of HM/death/thrash, etc. bands that survived the communist era, and as such, are a vital part of musical history.
Back for a special encore screening, this film was originally envisioned as a document of the recording sessions for Cave’s 16th album with The Bad Seeds, but soon became so much more. After the tragic death of Cave’s teenage son Arthur, most artists would have closed ranks and gone into isolation. Instead, Cave channeled the maelstrom of grief, anger, fear, and anguish into the harrowing album The Skeleton Tree, and allowed filmmaker Andrew Dominik to continue to document the process. Cave decided that, rather than sit for the usual round of promotion that accompanies a major record release, this film would be his press statement. It is, of course, at times overwhelmingly distressing, and some find it occasionally uncomfortably intimate, yet it is cathartic to watch Cave express that which seems inconceivable through his art. With Leonard Cohen gone, Nick is one of the last of a certain kind of songwriter, and The Skeleton Tree (as well as his last album, Push The Sky Away) confirm that he is still at the very top of his game.
In English with Polish subtitles.