ALBUM REVIEW: Laura Carbone – Live At Rockpalast

7/10

Laura Carbone

Berlin-based artist Laura Carbone has been creating a great deal of buzz in music circles since the release of her debut album Sirens in 2015. Prior to its release, Laura had been the lead singer of German electro-punk outfit Deine Jugend but had broken away eager to develop her own style using her own musical influences. So, she embarked on her musical journey with the help of producer & songwriter Bonassis who was formerly a member of death metal bands Pyogenesis and Liquido.

Following tours with The Jesus and Mary Chain, INVSN and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Laura released her second album,  the intoxicating Empty Sea to critical acclaim in 2018 and the release ear-marked Laura Carbone as definitely “one to watch”. It was arguably Los Angeles that shaped the sound of Empty Sea giving Laura the confidence she craved. She came up with the title of the album from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “The True Bride” in which a kidnapped princess must empty a lake with a spoon full of holes; “There were moments when I really doubted myself as I had some blocks, retreating to LA to write really gave me the courage to get the album together, the experience of overcoming doubt made me think about the girl with the spoon”.

2019 was an absolute whirlwind year for Laura as January kick-started her first European tour followed by appearances at the New Colossus Festival in New York in the Spring and three performances at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Together with her Berlin band-mates (Mark Lewis (guitar), Brodie White (bass), and Jeff Collier (drums) Laura had a brief Summer break before arriving in Los Angeles in September to begin her first headlining tour of North America and Canada, promoting the Empty Sea album.

The performances were really well received by American audiences where she proved deserving of her comparisons to the likes of PJ Harvey and early Joan Jett, revealing a stage presence which was forceful and dynamic. Back in Berlin and barely able to catch their breath, Laura and the band were then invited to play a primetime simulcast, live concert for Germany’s “Rockpalast” (Rock Palace) music television show (equivalent to the UK’s legendary  UK’s “The Old Grey Whistle Test”). The list of rock and pop names that have performed live at “Rockpalast” is legendary, including the music pedigrees of Bowie, Echo & The Bunnymen, Siouxie and the Banshees and Talking Heads and many, many more.

So, needless to say, this invitation was something very special for Laura. “Rockpalast” was the kind of show that as a teenager, growing up in a small town in southwestern Germany she stayed up late for on Saturday nights. Never in her wildest dreams did she think that she too would appear on its stage years later. And so it came to be that on October 12th 2019 Laura and the band took the “Rockpalast” stage at the Harmonie venue in Bonn for a live nationwide broadcast, hot off the heels of her North American tour and crowning 2019 as Laura’s most successful so far.

Back home in Berlin, the band toasted a wonderful 2019 after playing on the main stage of the Synasthesie Festival. They then went their separate ways for the holidays ready to start work on Laura’s third studio album in January 2020. But, 2020 had other plans in the form of the coronavirus pandemic which put paid to the studio bookings and any album or tour plans as Berlin went into lockdown on 13th March. After the initial shock, an idea began to form in her mind – to release the “Rockpalast” show as a live album. Laura saw this as an opportunity to be innovative and in the absence of a new studio album, for now, this would bring a live experience to her fans and new audiences who were craving to hear live music.

“The Empty Sea” opens the album with the teasing twangs of atmospheric guitar. Dark and sombre in tone, this is a song of surrender as Laura sings with sultry tones:  “I’m ready to fall”. It’s gothic and dreamy initially with a tentative vocal from Laura but soon rises and falls to the waves of the song with suitable drama especially when the drum beats begin to thunder and the guitar reaches frenzied feverish feedback levels.

“Who’s Gonna Save You?” is slathered with slides of lead guitar and rock drum beats that taunt with a sense of foreboding and the guitars are psychedelic in quiet rage. The song is sharp-edged and gauzy carrying a heavy, bluesy Americana vibe which happens to be one of Laura’s notable musical influences. The kick drum seems to rattle pulsing through the veins of those that listen. It’s a hypnotising performance of a splendid song.

“Swans” is ace – an uptempo ‘90s grunge number littered with spine-tingling Cure-esque guitars and a  magical uplifting chorus that enchants: “It’s just a new phase/new phase of the moon” whilst “Silky Road” has a delicious brooding beginning – seductive and tempting with Laura’s vocal dripping with suitable siren quality. Her repeated moans along with steady drum beats and throbbing guitar riffs create an enchanting atmosphere full of desire and passion in a nail-biting piece that fades out in a wave of distorted sound.

“Heavy Heavy” is bold and lively with a catchy chorus and strong drum beats with Laura’s vocal cool and edgy against a backdrop of glistening guitars. It’s all about the instrumentation here with clever craftsmanship of some intriguing musical landscapes – there seems to be the sound of mandolin violins at one point and shivers of cymbal percussion three-quarters of the way through which add a captivating undertone.

“Lullaby” is THE stand-out track of the album. It’s absolutely brilliant. Evident of her love of Chris Isaak, the song is drenched with those trademark echoey tremors of guitars and haunting atmospheres. Its lyrics are dreamy and romantic and swathed in soft tones: “Follow the sunset to distant skies, bittersweet serenades, to dive into the light”. Totally, totally heavenly.

An engaging feature of the live album is the improvised interludes between “Lullaby” and the next track “Tangerine Tree” – you get the sense that Laura is not in a rush here; you can feel her settling down into the proceedings. “Tangerine Tree” is the other dazzling album centrepiece. This song is evocative of a David Lynch film – it’s blissful, sublime but revealing poppier songwriting than the rest of her setlist. Her vocal is fragile and longing as she sings: “I’m your blackout at your sunrise” – it’s a really beautiful song with shimmering guitars. Her pronunciation of “Tangerine” is just a bit appealing too.

Solitary, melancholy drum beats with restrained guitar notes open “Nightride” – a track that tells us to keep going: “Soft and Slow the river flows leads to the place where wild roses grow”. Steady backbeats support the layers of rock textures and reverb guitars. “Grace” is a moody country ballad with more “Chris Isaak-infused” reverb-laden guitar. With one opening lyric, a nostalgic atmosphere is captured: “Grace – are you lonesome?”  The Americana “nitro twang” is smokily cinematic with a lovely interlude mid-song as Laura introduces her band. It’s one of the more expansive tracks with a delirious vocal from Laura as she repeats over and over: “Hold it on fire feel pain and desire” as the song reaches an emotional climax.

“Cellophane Skin” and “Crisis” embrace darkness, friction, and full abandonment and are charged, bold and dramatic. Laura’s vocal has a dark energy as she explores the extremes in music, playing with noise, feedbacks and chaos – guitars nosediving into a melancholic haze of warped distortion. The album closer is an unexpected and quite honestly, fabulous cover of the 1967 Aretha Franklin classic “Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). The song starts off with slow, feverish guitar notes – Laura bringing her own uniqueness to the song with a belter of a vocal and gifted musical arrangement. Her voice is so full of energy yet powerless in the face of unbridled desire. It’s a brilliant and bold end to the album.

Laura has certainly brought her unique brand of “Noisy Dreamadelica” to her alternative –rock sound. She has a dark, “Lynchian” appeal to both her look and sound, enticing listeners with her twist on 80s/90s darkwave and creating songs full of sharp lyrics, dark melodies and spellbinding atmospheres all with a vocal range that can both howl and purr.  Laura has shown that she is not afraid to embrace and reveal her musical influences in her music whilst producing a variety of styles and arrangements, making the music her own.

Laura Carbone’s “Live At Rockpalast” is an impressive 75-minute setlist of heavy, raw, punk-infused rock partnered effortlessly with bluesy, bittersweet ballads. Mixed in Los Angeles by Scott Von Ryper from The Jesus & Mary Chain and mastered by Philipp Welsing at Original Mastering in Hamburg, the album has no overdubs whatsoever.

 

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