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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Antwerp's Avant-Rock

Hoover "A new stereophonic sound spectacular" (S.M.A.L.L.)

I don't care much about Europolitics and was never fond of chocolate, but I do have a soft spot for the country of Belgium -- the homeland of Jaques Brel and the most interesting beer in the world, including my all-time favorite, the dark Leffe No. 8. Belgium can also boast some of the best independent record labels in the world (like Crammed, Crepuscule, Play It Again Sam and Sub Rosa), but local talent was somewhat harder to find -- until quite recently. Now, since Antwerp has shaken the avant-rock world with dEUS, there's another Flemish pop sensation coming up, and they're called Hoover. A quartet, fronted by an ethereal singer by the name of Liesje Sadonius (after Bjork, what problems?), they perform some perfectly trendy mix of trip-hop, "cold wave" rock and cocktail lounge vibes. Well-maintained, continental-style cool, rarely heard since Yello of Switzerland (no soft spots here, though).

Smog "The Doctor Came At Dawn" (Drag City/Domino)

Whether the label exists to describe this particular style, I don't know -- but the style is pretty distinctive and seems to be growing fast in popularity. Along with Palace and Silver Jews, Smog -- led by singer-songwriter Bill Callahan -- are the typical exponents. I'd call the style "lament rock" or "depressive psychedelic folk," because it's all very sad, very slow, very repetitive, quite gloomy but somewhat captivating at the same time. Song titles like "Spread Your Bloody Wings," "Everything You Touch Becomes a Crutch" or "Hangman Blues" give you the idea. So if you're down and out and lovesick and homeless, this may be the stuff for you. At least you'll know that somebody's even more down than you. And some of the melodies are truly beautiful.

Noa "Calling" (Geffen)

The top female singer from Israel makes her international debut, as produced by expert craftsman Rupert Hine under the supervision of Pat Metheny. This isn't hebrew ethno-disco, Ofra Haza-style, but rather sophisticated, English-sung pop, not unlike Tori Amos. Noa is a very good singer, the musicianship is brilliant -- but I found the album lacking an exotic edge, a sense of good clean Mediterranean fun. Most probably, this wasn't the aim.

Tom Robinson "Having It Both Ways" (Cooking Vinyl)

The gay punk-rock activist of the late '70s ("Sing If You're Glad to Be Gay"), Tom Robinson is back after God knows how many years with a very strong album. Musically, it's much more mature with elements of Brechtian cabaret and all this "grown-up" stuff, but lyrically Robinson has lost none of his anger and social commitment -- something that rarely happens in middle-age comebacks.