Jameszoo and the Metropole Orkest Collaborate on the Entrancing 'Melkweg'

Photo: YouTube still

Experimental composer Jameszoo flexes his musical muscles with the Metropole Orkest on Melkweg. The sound is unique and bracing, not unlike discovering the soundtrack of a new planet.



17 May 2019

Following a series of curious EPs, the Dutch composer, producer and electronic musician Mitchel Van Dinther, better known as Jameszoo, unleashed his first full-length album, Fool, in 2016. Critics praised the dense, playful electronics – which Jameszoo himself has describes as "naïve computer jazz" – and the sounds emitted from the album seemed to suggest an artist whose creativity was impossible to contain. Perhaps then, it's inevitable that Jameszoo eventually opted to set his sights beyond studio electronics for his next release.

As far as a comfort-zone-busting milestone goes, Melkweg fits the bill perfectly. It takes Jameszoo out of the studio, onto the stage, and adds dozens of musicians to the mix - namely, an orchestra. Recorded in 2017 at Amsterdam's iconic Melkweg concert hall (as part of the annual Amsterdam Dance Event), the album features Jameszoo collaborating with the Grammy-winning 49-piece Metropole Orkest, whose high-profile collaborators include Elvis Costello (My Flame Burns Blue), Basement Jaxx (Basement Jaxx vs. Metropole Orkest), and Mike Keneally (The Universe Will Provide). Conducting the orchestra is famed composer and arranger Jules Buckley, and the musicians are also joined by Richard Spaven (drums), Niels Broos (keyboards), Frank Wienk (percussion), John Dikeman (saxophone) and Jameszoo himself on electronics, synths, and Wurlitzer.

The worst thing you could say about Melkweg is that if you're familiar with the artists involved, it sounds pretty much how you would expect it to sound. Buckley coaxes a warm, organic sound out of the orchestra, and Jameszoo adds plenty of his characteristic funky experimentalism. The mission statement is apparent from the very beginning, as the opening track "(flake)" begins with Jameszoo's spacey, fluttering synth lines and the orchestra assists with sympathetic flourishes. This intro segment leads into dramatic Kubrickian sci-fi touches and eventually, funky electric piano and an arrangement so stuffed with interesting ideas that you might be afraid the album will implode long before it's over.

Not to worry. Jameszoo, Buckley, and the orchestra seem to constantly feed off each other's energy, as on tracks like "(lose)", where the orchestra's lush film score chords mesh with understated electronic static before exuberant, prog-funk synth stabs make way for a dreamy, ethereal coda. None of the musicians seem like they're crashing into each other in awkward, unintentional ways. The stylistic meshing seems oddly natural.

There are times when Metropole Orkest leads the way, and other times when they seem to take stylistic cues from Jameszoo, as on "(soup)", which contains a full of compliment of strings and brass, but in the service of a gorgeous, understated funk jam oddly punctuated by a low-key, free-jazz sax breakdown before collapsing into noisy chaos. The single "(rolrolrol)" is led by primitive electronic percussion and some positively Stevie Wonder-esque synth melodies. The classical and non-classical musicians seem to relish the concept of venturing into each other's territories.

On the graceful, strutting "(flu)", the orchestra is assertive and razor-sharp and is emboldened by Jameszoo's crew, taking cues from the string-laden disco-funk of the 1970s. Likewise, the gentle sigh of "(crumble)" combines an exotic, brittle beat with a brass drone while occasionally coming up for air with gorgeous melodies and orchestrations that would make Isaac Hayes proud.

Collaborations between orchestras and non-classical artists are often fraught with awkward clashes. Sometimes the pop artists are in over their heads; sometimes they get so consumed by the newfangled atmosphere that their own characteristic sound is lost in the shuffle. As for Melkweg, there is definitely a clash of styles, but it works to everyone's advantage. The sound is unique and bracing, not unlike discovering the soundtrack of a new planet. As long as Jameszoo keeps mining his boundless curiosity, there should be plenty more unique music where that came from.





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.