Gildan's Guide to Good Music: Agua de Annique - Pure Air

Gildan's Guide to Good Music

The world of music is a vast ocean of crap - join me on a voyage to the tiny isolated islands of excellence.

As the tagline not so subtly suggests, it's really easy to find terrible music - you have but to turn on your radio, and lo, bad music abounds. The good stuff though, well that's rarely quite so easy to find, and while some popular music actually deserves the accolades it receives[1], most excellent music languishes in comparative obscurity. And that's where I come in!

If it's thought provoking, epic, eccentric, or exceptional (or possibly all of the above), I take it upon myself to write about it in the hope that at least one of the comparative handful of people who actually read my rambling and rampantly egotistical definitely quite humble reviews will find it useful[2] - or if not useful, at least momentarily entertaining; I take what I can get really.

After a conspicuous absence from the "reviewing circuit" that can be entirely attributed to me faffing about for the better part of two months, I have returned once more to regale you with my enthusiastic proclamations and lavish praise on music I deem "good" - tremble before me and despair! I mean commence rejoicing of course, I don't even know where that despair bit came from.[3] As I intimated at the end of my last segment, this time around I'll be talking about something a bit... different.



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Agua de Annique

Pure Air

Musical Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Rock
Running Time: 52 minutes
# of Tracks: 13
Particularly noteworthy songs: The Blower's Daughter, Beautiful One, To Catch a Thief

Anneke van Giersbergen is, as I've remarked in the past, hardly a household name in my neck of the woods - I'm fairly confident that accosting random acquaintances to find out if they've ever heard of her would yield me a harvest of blank looks all around. Her name is one that I have a great deal of fondness for however, for a variety of reasons which I will now proceed to ramble about for a while, if that's all right with you. Or even if it's not, it's not like you can stop me, now can you? Mwah ha ha ha!!

Where was I? Right, reasons I love Anneke van Giersbergen! Well first and foremost, there's her long association with Dutch Ambient Metal band The Gathering[4], where she was the lead vocalist from 1994-2007, a tenure that produced 6 excellent albums that I'm somewhat ashamed to say I've never listened to as albums; judging by the various tracks I've heard from them over the years though I can safely conclude that I would/will enjoy them in that context if/when I get around to it. Then there's her collaboration with Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project on the albums Into the Electric Castle and 01011001, which were both bloody fantastic; it's worth noting that being associated in any way with Arjen Lucassen can only make me like you more, heh.

The single biggest reason I hold her in such high regard though can be traced back to something that I've talked about previously in this guide: The Devin Townsend Project album Addicted. It was the name recognition she held in my mind courtesy of her work with The Gathering and Ayreon that got me listening to Devin Townsend; if it weren't for her, I might never have discovered just how freaking awesome Townsend is (a chilling thought to say the least!), so I am understandably quite grateful that circumstances conspired in the order that they did to produce that outcome.

So with that in mind, what then is Agua de Annique? So glad that I hallucinated you asking! Agua de Annique is Anneke's current solo project, which she left The Gathering to pursue. Surprisingly enough, given her musical background and past history of collaborations, it isn't in any way shape or form a Metal band. Nope, Agua de Annique is an Alternative Rock band specializing in music that is both contemplative and upbeat in equal measures (shocking!). If it weren't for that key element it possesses, namely that nobody here has bloody heard of it, it would fall pretty much exactly under my personal "music I might happen to like but would certainly never write a Guide to Good Music article about"[5] mental file that I relegate any stand out examples of mainstream music into.

Pure Air is the band's second album (following their first release Air), and as much as I would like to tapdance around just what makes me talking about this particular album so unusual (yes, there's an even bigger reason beyond "it's not Metal!"), so I can drag out the surprise of the eventual reveal, I decided that would be kind of annoying. So instead I'm just going to spell it out right now:

Pure Air is an acoustic cover album.

Yes indeed, I am talking about an album that consists entirely of acoustic covers - feel free to boggle for a while.

...

All right, now that you're all done with that, allow me to tell you why it's wonderful and totally worth listening to. Pure Air is a mixture of old and new, well known and obscure, and what might seem to be random selections often have an underlying reason to them. 4 of the 13 tracks are acoustic reworkings of songs from Air, and 8 out of the 13 tracks feature either a guest vocalist singing with Anneke, or in the case of the track "Valley of the Queens", a guest musician: Arjen Lucassen (yay!), which makes perfect sense when you realize that "Valley of the Queens" was one of the songs that Anneke originally sang on the Ayreon album Into the Electric Castle.

There are similar stories behind the inclusion of other songs on the album - Niels Geusebroek from Silkstone peforms on two tracks, one of which is appropriately enough a Silkstone cover, Sharon den Adel from Within Temptation lends her voice to a cover of "Somewhere", a song that Anneke has performed with her live as a duet on multiple occasions (recorded for posterity on the live albums Black Symphony and An Acoustic Night at the Theatre[6] respectively), and John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia) performs a duet with Anneke on a cover of the Wetton/Downes song "To Catch a Thief"; in the course of researching this piece I learned that the original version was also a duet between Anneke and Wetton, who was a guest vocalist on that particular album, so it makes perfect sense that they would collaborate again on this rendition.

The rest of the tracks don't appear to have any deeper story to them beyond "they sound nice when performed as an acoustic cover", but I'm certainly not going to complain about that when they feature guest vocalists like Danny Cavanagh from Anathema (love his voice): this is an album full of contemplative, serene, and haunting performances; if it weren't for the cover of the Alanis Morissette song "Ironic" (much maligned by internet pundits because nothing described in the lyrics is actually ironic), I wouldn't hesitate to call it perfect. With that song on the track list though I have to bump it down to merely almost perfect (and Anneke's version is better than the original - the song itself is still stupid though). I don't know about you, but I can live with almost perfect.

Due to YouTube being spectacularly unhelpful today, I was unable to turn up anything but live performances of several of the tracks that I wanted to embed here, so I've settled for my standout favorite track on the album "To Catch a Thief" and "Somewhere", since those were the ones that I could find.


I can only hope that you derive an equal measure of the pure undiluted joy I experience when listening to every track on this album that is not "Ironic" (so stupid!), and that you've enjoyed my completely characteristic rambling on on a rather uncharacteristic subject - if not, well there's always next time I suppose! Or right now, if my embedded subliminal message does the trick You saw nothing, nothing I say! ...Ahem, right, this is the part where I traditionally suggest you keep reading my Guide to Good Music articles or the bombs will go off and it will be all your fault, so if you could just pretend that I've done something roughly along those lines while I track down whichever of my personalities is inserting these ridiculous falsehoods into my fine upstanding music column, before confronting it atop an ominous obsidian spire embedded in the caldera of an active volcano in a metaphorical battle to the death, that would be great! Really frees up my afternoon that way.

Other entries in Gildan's Guide to Good Music

Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR
Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day
Ride The Sky - New Protection
Karmakanic - Who's The Boss In The Factory?
The Romanovs - ...And The Moon Was Hungry...
Penumbra - Seclusion
Within Temptation - The Heart Of Everything
Octavia Sperati - Grace Submerged
Virgin Black - Requiem - Mezzo Forte
Allen/Lande - The Battle
Devin Townsend Project - Addicted
Todesbonden - Sleep Now, Quiet Forest
Beyond Twilight - Section X
Katatonia - Night Is The New Day
After Forever - After Forever
The 69 Eyes - Back In Blood
Red Circuit - Homeland
Hurt - Vol. 1
Myrath - Desert Call
Ayreon - The Human Equation
Nocturnal Rites - The 8th Sin
Witchbreed - Heretic Rapture
Arjen A. Lucassen's Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age
Joe Bonamassa - The Ballad of John Henry
Taal - Skymind

Want to be notified whenever I post a new Guide to Good Music article? Well then join the Guide to Good Music notification service group, and you'll receive a notification whenever I post a new Guide to Good Music article! Huzzah for truth in advertising.

[1] In which case it is certainly good music, but you don't really need me to tell you about it, now do you?
[2] Whether that's always the case is debatable, as these articles of mine generally don't receive a great deal of comments or views - but that's okay, since I write mainly to amuse myself. Feedback, while nice, is merely an optional extra.
[3] You can still tremble before me if you like though!
[4] Fun factoid: The Gathering's name is a Highlander reference.
[5] I have idly contemplated doing a one-off piece on "popular music you are allowed to like (that won't prompt me to sneer at you and call you a philistine)" in the past however, so it's possible that I might someday discuss certain bands in that context.
[6] Which is, as the name would suggest, also an acoustic album.

Been a fan of hers ever since hearing Souvenirs (The Gathering) many, many years ago. When I heard she was leaving them I kept a close eye out and got into AdA straight away.

Good performances on the Hevy Devy stuff too, and I did like her Arjen collaborations even if I am less keen on his style of music now than I was 5 years ago.

If you want something a bit different which she gues vocals in (although they do get a bit lost in the mix), check this out:

All-in-all it seems your taste is/was very similar to mine when I was listening to metal (and only metal!) those years ago. I still like a lot of it, but don't keep up as much as I should with new releases. And on that note, thanks for letting me see Orphaned Land's new album finally came out. Mabool was awesome.

Casimir_Effect:
All-in-all it seems your taste is/was very similar to mine when I was listening to metal (and only metal!) those years ago.

I keep re-reading that sentence and I can't quite work out what you intended it to convey - do you mean that my taste in Metal is very similar to what yours was during that time period, or that I seem to only really listen to Metal (and that my tastes are similar to what yours where during that time period in your own life)? Because the second one is far from the case, based only on what I've chosen to write about you'll get a very inaccurate picture of the extent of my musical interests; I tend to talk about Metal mostly because everything I discuss is part of my own music collection and the Metal end of that spectrum tends to be more obscure than the rest of the collection (and I'm all about 'ever so slightly' reducing obscurity you see).

If you meant the first interpretation though you're probably right.

Casimir_Effect:
And on that note, thanks for letting me see Orphaned Land's new album finally came out. Mabool was awesome.

Happy to be of assistance!

Gildan Bladeborn:

Casimir_Effect:
All-in-all it seems your taste is/was very similar to mine when I was listening to metal (and only metal!) those years ago.

I keep re-reading that sentence and I can't quite work out what you intended it to convey - do you mean that my taste in Metal is very similar to what yours was during that time period, or that I seem to only really listen to Metal (and that my tastes are similar to what yours where during that time period in your own life)? Because the second one is far from the case, based only on what I've chosen to write about you'll get a very inaccurate picture of the extent of my musical interests; I tend to talk about Metal mostly because everything I discuss is part of my own music collection and the Metal end of that spectrum tends to be more obscure than the rest of the collection (and I'm all about 'ever so slightly' reducing obscurity you see).

If you meant the first interpretation though you're probably right.

It was the first, don't worry. Most metal-only fans hate anything The Gathering did post Mandylion so liking Annique's solo stuff sets you apart immediately.

I know what you mean about the metal end of the musical spectrum holding the most obscure stuff. The problem I always had is finding the few obscure bits that are actually good, and not just said to be good because they're obscure (ie. indie dick-waving). Personal metal favourites of mine are Stolen Babies, Red Sparowes (only not obscure to post-metal/rock fans) and Flametal (metal flamenco music).

I always have a bit of a problem in catagorising obscure metal though. Obviously stuff like My Chemical Romance or Marilyn Manson aren't, but what about Blind Guardian or Sonata Arctica? To me, Ayreon is mainstream because I knew people who listened to it as well. But to many it would easily appear not to be due to a near complete lack of air-time or media coverage. Guess it's all down to the individual.

Casimir_Effect:

It was the first, don't worry. Most metal-only fans hate anything The Gathering did post Mandylion so liking Annique's solo stuff sets you apart immediately.

I'm not that familiar with The Gathering so i may be getting the wrong end of the stick here, but i think the difference between a metal fan and a metal-fan whom appreciates good music is that they can appreciate songs which arn't metal. I came across Helloween's re-do of Dr Stein on youtube, and there were a lot of negative comments about it because they made it into a jazz song. How bias and childish must one be not to at least appreciate music from other genres?

I know what you mean about the metal end of the musical spectrum holding the most obscure stuff. The problem I always had is finding the few obscure bits that are actually good, and not just said to be good because they're obscure (ie. indie dick-waving). Personal metal favourites of mine are Stolen Babies, Red Sparowes (only not obscure to post-metal/rock fans) and Flametal (metal flamenco music).

I always have a bit of a problem in catagorising obscure metal though. Obviously stuff like My Chemical Romance or Marilyn Manson aren't, but what about Blind Guardian or Sonata Arctica? To me, Ayreon is mainstream because I knew people who listened to it as well. But to many it would easily appear not to be due to a near complete lack of air-time or media coverage. Guess it's all down to the individual.

In my books, Blind Guardian is power-metal, as is Sonata Artica, and Ayreon is prog-metal.

On topic, Pure Air sounds nice indeed. If i do get bored of listening to electric guitars and want something more sober and peaceful then i know where to look.

I like it! As a side note, why do the many faces of Snobbery always have a gotee? Is it a requirement to get into the super-secret-treehouse?

Nickolai77:
In my books, Blind Guardian is power-metal, as is Sonata Artica, and Ayreon is prog-metal.

That's true of early Sonata Arctica sure, but there were some progressive elements in places on Reckoning Night, and with Unia they took a decided turn towards prog-metal. I'd call them Progressive Power Metal if anything.

Casimir_Effect:
Personal metal favourites of mine are ... Red Sparowes (only not obscure to post-metal/rock fans)

Funny you should mention them, for a while this piece was going to be about their album The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer, before I kept procrastinating and then forgot that I'd planned to do that. I'll probably still talk about that album at some point, because I love me some instrumental post-metal/rock (Russian Circles is another great band in that vein, in case you haven't heard of them).

Catchy Slogan:
As a side note, why do the many faces of Snobbery always have a gotee? Is it a requirement to get into the super-secret-treehouse?

It's just one of the requirements - you also need the special decoder ring!

Nickolai77:
Snippy

That's basically the reason I'm so happy to be out of the metal scene - there are too many people there who hate anything different. I remember Dr Stein from Keeper of the Seven Keys 2 and I love it. But I also like that new version. And it's not like Helloween have said "That's it. We've erased the old one from history and now this is the only Dr Stein there is". The old one is still out there and the fans who are insulted are just such fucktards. Megadeth got a similar backlash when they released A Tout Le Monde (Set Me Free).

With the bands I was meaning less about genre-classification and more about if they would be counted as obscure or not. But in terms of genre, BG is power/speed now but used to be quite thrashy, SA is speed/power/prog, Ayreon is prog.

Gildan Bladeborn:

Casimir_Effect:
Personal metal favourites of mine are ... Red Sparowes (only not obscure to post-metal/rock fans)

Funny you should mention them, for a while this piece was going to be about their album The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer, before I kept procrastinating and then forgot that I'd planned to do that. I'll probably still talk about that album at some point, because I love me some instrumental post-metal/rock (Russian Circles is another great band in that vein, in case you haven't heard of them).

I do enjoy a good bit of Russian Circles. I went through a massive post-___ stage a while back so have a large catalogue of stuff like that to pick from. With Red Sparowes I actually prefer the first two albums, especially Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun (even if the song titles are ridiculous). don't get me wrong, I like the new album. But Every Red Heart... is just so damn epic.

Casimir_Effect:
With the bands I was meaning less about genre-classification and more about if they would be counted as obscure or not.

I usually determine whether or not something is obscure by first deciding on the frame of reference. If you start out presuming audience familiarity with the genre and related acts, i.e., you're thinking of Metal fans to start with, then you're going to get entirely different answers than you would with a different audience in mind; there's no way I'd ever consider classifying Nightwish, Ayreon, Sonata Arctica, Blind Guardian, et all as "obsure" in that context, as virtually every Metal fan I have ever met or interacted with is already familiar with those bands (tossing out names like Wildpath, Unsun, or Domina Noctis on the other hand would be more likely to prompt puzzled expressions among that group).

Phrasing the question like that though is really asking if a given band is considered obscure by fans of obscure music, which is a somewhat limited focus. Make no mistake, if you reside in the US of A like I do, those "mainstream" (to us) bands are bloody obscure. The news doesn't mention them, the radio doesn't play them, they are not a part of the collective cultural awareness in the sense that you could reasonably expect anyone you meet who is not a hermit isolated from the world around them to have at least heard of them.

Which is why I generally use that barometer to determine obscurity, as it skews the results less than assuming that people I know or interact with online are somehow representative samples and not outliers, heh.

 

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