Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that lyrics are very much my bag; you won’t find many acts featured in these parts who use cliché, bland platitudes or well-trodden similes to describe their current emotional state. And, it’s arguably my love of lyrics that has tended to rule out instrumental and faux-classical pieces from the mix. That all changes today.
When I first heard Sacha Hoedemaker’s ‘Better Days’, I was floored. The words can almost write themselves as the cinematic piece swoops and builds to its final flourishes. You can’t help but feel optimistic about the future and positive about the right-now as first the piano and then a section of strings takes us on a truly melodic dance.
“More than ever, we can reflect upon our lives and think of the better days of yet to come. It’s so important to connect to each other and stay positive. I hope this piece provides with the motivation you need to turn today into a better day.”
That’s what Sacha offers in the press release that accompanies ‘Better Days’. The Music Director at an Improvisational Theater in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago, Sacha is well-versed in performing multiple times a week as an improvisational musician. That’s no doubt aided his punishing release schedule in 2021 so far that’s seen him add new music to his YouTube channel every couple of weeks. It’s all good but this piece, Better Days, is the one I choose to feature.
I ask Sacha what he’ll do when the better days do come. “The first thing I’ll do is travel most likely.“, he says. “I want to take a break and see something else than my studio. Get inspired by the outside world to write more and more music.”
When the inevitable glut of movies get made dramatising all of our Covid-19 experiences, this piece of music could very well feature. Opening credits, end credits or that moment when the scientist has the Eureka moment on discovering the vaccine – all might be suitable points for the opening bars of ‘Better Days’ to chime. It’s no surprise that Sacha has a background rich in film soundtrack.
For now, close your eyes and imagine the days that are better for you. Let the music take you away to a happy place and give you temporary respite from the day-to-day.
January is often the month of detox. After Christmas excess, we all make conscious decisions to stop eating as much cheese and go on mini health sprints that last at least until the second week of the month. Then, the dullness of our diets combined with the sheer, building pressure of work leads us to scream out for more beige food. We crack open the alcohol again – those days are just around the corner.
I once lasted until January 23rd in detox mode. It’s a record of which I’m quite proud. Now, I don’t bother to make resolutions.
In these detox days, one could be forgiven for thinking that Benedict’s ‘Finish The Wine’ is a statement urging us to throw caution to the wind. Life isn’t fun with lockdowns so we should at least empty the fridge and cupboards before making commitments to healthy living. Sadly, it’s anything but.
“Finish The Wine is a Mrs Robinson 2020 (theme from The Graduate),” says Martijn Smits, the main man behind the Dutch Act, Benedict. “The song tells the story of a young man having dinner with a woman a little older than he is. The game is on, the dinner is nice, they totally fall for each other but neither of them wants to show their cards. He willingly believes all her lies to get her into bed.”
I ask Martijn if the story is true and he confirms its veracity which piques the interest of this curious bugger.
The song has been out for some time. It’s one of the key tracks on Benedict’s fine album, ‘You Can Tell Me Nothing That I Should’, that saw the light of day in 2020. The album is well worth a listen (if your detox is getting you down) drawing on clear influence from the likes of The National and Tindersticks to create a cinematic gem.
But Benedict has recently been releasing a set of videos recordings songs from the album in a live setting. And it’s the subtle variations in these recordings that truly demonstrate the power of the songs; the lyrics come more to the fore along with an intensity of vocal. The arrangements, simpler than on the record, seem practiced and perfected.
‘Finish The Wine’ was the first of these videos to be released with a further live video for ‘When We Were Young’ getting an airing as a Christmas Day present.
One of the delightful and yet unintended consequences of maintaining Sonic Breakfast for four years now (on and off admittedly) has been the occasional, ongoing contact that’s developed with a pretty wide array of musicians from around the globe.
Two and a half years on from writing not one but two short blog posts about Dusty Stray (here and here), I receive an E-mail from Jonathan, the man behind Dusty Stray. He tells me that the new record, Estranged, is to be released imminently (on October 12th in fact). We exchange E-mails. Jonathan is now back in Amsterdam after a couple of years in Colorado and I’m now here in Spain. It’s a sort of refreshing proof that our lives haven’t stagnated.
Jonathan sends me a private link to ‘Estranged’ and I sit down to listen (with headphones).
In my humble opinion, more people should throw themselves into the work of Dusty Stray. And perhaps for a newcomer, Estranged is as good a place as any to start. It’s an album that’s both beautiful and sad. We watch through a window as Jonathan writes about relationships that are almost done – but not quite. We listen as his voice grieves over the potential loss; a range of instruments creating a sort of ‘folk-noir’ soundtrack that simply accentuate the mood.
“The cracks and the stains have been covered, all of the locks have been changed, broken windows boarded up, and we’ve become estranged.” That’s what Jonathan sings on ‘Houses’, one of the album’s many stand-out tracks. You feel the sadness and the honesty in the story-telling. A perky solo does its best to lift the misery but any respite is temporary.
Not that it’s an album so desolate that there’s no cause for optimism. In ‘Things Will Look Different’, the romance refreshes before the lap steel and harmonica herald further disappointment. “In the morning, you were gone”, sings Jonathan with tumbling heart. ‘After The Play’, a romantic interlude, places our protagonists in a theatre and there’s flirting-a-plenty going on as tears are shed over the actions on the stage.
“The title of the new album comes from the general out-of-place feeling I had returning to the US after living so long in Europe,” says Jonathan about Estranged. And you realise that there are different ways to read the album’s grief. On a literal level, it’s about that always-odd time when a relationship might have ended but you’re not quite sure. From a wider perspective, this is an album about falling out of love with a country that you now feel estranged from.
In a world of Brexit and Trump it’s easy to see why this might resonate.
I’m reminded that, back in the chaos of 2015, I was sent a video from Dusty Stray’s new record. I was also sent a link to that album, ‘A Tree Fell And Other Songs’, which was being released early in November.
I exchanged some E-mails with Jonathan Brown, the incredible talent behind Dusty Stray and confirmed that I was definitely going to write about ‘Blood Trail’ on Sonic Breakfast. But then, the stuff of life got in the way and I stopped updating my blog.
I say to all who’ll listen that it was a perfectly treatable skin cancer without really stopping to think about the effect it had on my head in those Autumn months. As the trees became bare so did my cupboards.
Born in Taiwan, Jonathan Brown grew up in Texas as a son of a preacher man. Raised on songs about death and resurrection, he began writing his own songs taking influence from early American folk music. Travel, dead end relationships and forming freak folk bands led him to a place where he’s now based in the Netherlands. Jonathan curated the recent SnowApple video that I featured in my Sonic Breakfast Top Ten of 2015.
A Tree Fell And Other Songs, the fourth full-length Dusty Stray release, was written in a small, lone trailer in the flatlands of Holland alongside the dead end of a river. The twelve original songs illustrating “dead end” relationships flow into one another in a natural, organic way. It’s a fine listen if you want to indulge in a bit of melancholy.
‘Blood Trail’ has a haunting, memorable lilt. It’s almost got the feel of a murder ballad save for the fact that nobody dies. I asked Jonathan what the song was about: –
“It’s all about a somewhat traumatic childhood memory of when I was about 7 or 8 playing in the dirt/mud along our driveway — making some kind of “castle” or something — and some neighborhood kid came along and completely destroyed it. I was so angry that I picked up a nearby brick and threw it at him hitting him in the head and causing a lot of bleeding and screaming. He turned out to be ok — didn’t even need stitches — but the image of that little blonde-haired kid suddenly blood red-haired sitting on our kitchen counter while my mom was helping him is still with me. And I think that was my first and last violent act…”
People have been asking me if I’m going to be doing a ‘Sonic Breakfast Top 10’ again this year after the success of last years chart. Here’s the answer!! Yesssss…
It’s been something of a stop/start year for SB if I’m honest. Increased ‘day job’ responsibilities, another busy festival season, new outlets for my writing (hello Leicester Mercury) and a bit of that personal shenanigan stuff have all contributed to a slightly more sporadic approach to blog posting. I resolve to do better in 2016! Nevertheless, I’ve still featured some fab music that I’m keen to revisit.
What better place to begin the countdown of the ten Sonic Breakfast posts that have given me the most pleasure in 2015 than with this track from Copenhagen based ‘Of The Valley’? Brian DellaValle continues to plug away with his music. The city of Hamburg appears to have taken Brian close to its bosom in the latter part of this year. He’s played the Reeperbahn festival there and a gig in the last couple of weeks. Let’s hope for more recorded material as strong as Ride Alone and possibly a couple of gigs here in the UK in 2016?
This was one of my first posts after the lengthy blog break for another Summer of festivals. Since I reviewed the single ‘Longshot’, Correatown have released the superb album ‘Embrace The Fuzzy Unknown’. It’s well worth a listen should you get the chance.
Angela Correa’s words here feel suitably uplifting for an End of Year post – “Sometimes the life we have is just as beautiful, if not more so than the life we imagined because it’s ours and it’s real. Sometimes it’s even better because we’ve lived through all the days and moments to get there.”
Other videos have now been released to accompany the album. Here’s one for a favourite track of mine – True North.
I still listen to the ‘listening post’ on Tom Robinson’s ‘Fresh On The Net’ website. It’s a fine way to be introduced to new acts such as VanWyck. This is one of my favourite interview based posts from 2015, largely because of the richness of the answers given by VanWyck. There’s much of interest to read within.
Amsterdam based VanWyck has been undertaking a pretty mammoth task of late. Since September, she’s been publishing a weekly digest about her ventures into songwriting and recording. Christine’s plan is to do this for a whole year. To date, there’s been twelve songs released – some are lo-fi, scratchy phone recordings but with a talent such as VanWyck this just adds to the ambience.
Most songs are accompanied with videos – footage from other moments of cinematic history that add to the track. ‘Tanned Legs’, the song that first pulled me into VanWyck’s world now swims in vintage mermaid murkiness.
Let’s stay in Amsterdam a while with the fabulous SnowApple. If there was a blog post this year that sums up the ever so slightly chaotic experience that my life has been then this one is it.
I’ve still to see SnowApple live. They played a short tour here in the UK in the summer which again I managed to miss. Judging by the photos I’ve seen from incredibly successful tours in Mexico, future dates here might be more of a challenge to get tickets for.
On that summer tour, they recorded this song ‘Old Fashioned Morphine’ which has recently been released with a vintage underwater video..What is it about vintage underwater videos coming out of Amsterdam? Interestingly, the video was put together by Jonathan Brown (aka Dusty Stray). We’ve been E-mailing this year and I’ll be featuring Jonathan’s music on Sonic Breakfast in 2016.
Delighted to see that 2015 has been a pretty spectacular year for one of my favourite discoveries from New York, Wolf Colony. The album ‘Unmasked’ wasn’t far from my car CD player throughout the months of Spring. It’s joyous, electronic pop with an edge and I adored sharing it with others who fell in love with it as the days got longer and summer approached.
I didn’t feature any of the follow-up videos beyond the beautiful ‘falling in love’ moments of ‘The One’. I probably should have done so. Watch ‘Holy’ to take you to a place of sand, sun and strange, floaty symbolism. It helps that it’s full of beautiful people as well.
Still anonymous, Wolf Colony ended the year with a fab three track EP ‘Oceans’. When asked to comment on the new EP he replied, ““True love is eternal. It changes form, but never fades away. Ocean is about the five different stages of a relationship:
I have a weekend ritual. It might be on a Saturday or it might be on a Sunday morning but I’ll always find time, when lounging in bed, to listen to the listening post on the brilliant Fresh On The Net website.. It’s a rich source of fine new music. A few weeks ago now, I was blown away when listening to ‘Tanned Legs’ by Van Wyck. I savoured the air of minimalist mystery. I liked the gentle approach.
Intrigued, I tried to find out more but there was little circulating about this stunning new voice. I satisfied my curiosity by sending some questions by e-mail.
Van Wyck will be a new act to many readers of Sonic Breakfast. How would you describe yourself to them?
I’d describe this EP as dark and intimate. I’ve tried to get real close to the listener, to draw them gently into these songs where I hope they find wonder, solace and maybe some form of fragile beauty. And I guess my lyrics are very descriptive. In the last weeks I’ve been compared to Damien Rice, Leonard Cohen and Marlene Dietrich, which makes for a weird and wonderful cocktail. (a jewish irishman with long legs)
What makes you happy? And conversely what makes you sad?
happy: the unexpected
sad: too much of the same
You’re based in Amsterdam. Does living there influence your sound in any way? What’s the best and worst things about living in Amsterdam? Is there a scene of similar folk based musicians or are you having to blaze your own trail?
Right now I’m pretty much blazing my own trail, but that’s not Amsterdam’s fault. I’ve been in many different bands, both as a musician and as a vocalist and have decided a year ago to focus on my own songwriting and performance and try to find my own space in between al these genres and scenes that have influenced me. Van Wyck is my first solo endeavor and I wanted to sing myself loose so to speak, from any particular genre. Of course folk music has had a deep influence on me, but so has Harry Belafonte, Prince and Marvin Gaye.
Amsterdam and The Netherlands have no strong own tradition in music (could you name any Dutch bands?) It’s a small country and has focused mainly on copying english and american genre’s. There is no typical Dutch brand of folk, or similar female songwriters like you find now in the Scandinavian countries. but there are a lot of wonderful musicians and songwriters working at the moment. Because of this lack of tradition and history there is also a lot of freedom to create something new. And the worst thing about Amsterdam? Definitely the Bierfiets!
Sonic Breakfast first heard about you as a result of hearing a track of yours, Tanned Legs, that was submitted to the weekly listening post on Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net. How encouraged were you by the response you got from that? Do you often observe scenes in municipal swimming pools?
The response were heartwarming, it was so wonderful to read how people find words to describe my music. They often find better words that I could and point out things that were hidden beneath the surface for me. And to be reviewed in french is always a treat. So yes, it’s been incredibly encouraging and has given me the feeling that i’m on the right path.
And yes! Swimming pools are always a source of inspiration, I think it’s the floating, or the warm water, or all those vulnerable bodies in ill-fitting suits, somehow makes it easier to reach this subconscious realm where I think my songs stem from.
Who would play you in the biopic about about Van Wyck?
I don’t think I’ll merit a biopic anytime soon, but I would love my music to be featured in a film. People often say they find my music cinematic in that the lyrics conjure up so many images and I love listening to music in cinema’s. Deep in those red velvet seats in the dark with big speakers all around. So I would love to write the score for a movie, probably something french and moody and otherwise a classic film noir with Lauren Bacall and Robert Mitchum
And finally, what do you wish for most over the next six months? What excites you most about future appointments in your diary? What will success look like over the next six months?
This is an excellent question because I am so looking forward to the coming months. I’ve started rehearsing with some wonderful musicians and this Monday will start recording new material. After working on my own for quite some time, this is a big change for me. I’m very much enjoying singing harmonies at the moment. So I hope to release a new EP in the coming months – that would be success number one. Number two would be playing live with my new band. And the ultimate success would of course be to create the album I have glimpses of in my mind – in my perfect world it would be produced by Ethan Johns. I am a great admirer of his work and love his ability to sound both so close and intimate yet sweepingly overwhelming at the same time.
Vulnerable bodies in ill-fitting suits, classic film noir, Marvin Gaye and Ethan Johns. It’s fair to say that Christine Van Wyck has inspired this man. Take a listen and see what glistens. I sense you’ll be as charmed as I was.