Sunday, February 12, 2017

Album Review: One Waka - Dub Sea Voyages (2016)

One of the biggest challenges facing any ambitious reggae/dub collective in this small corner of the globe is the lazy tendency to tar the music with the dreaded (no pun) “BBQ reggae” brush. It has become almost something of a default critics’ starting point, and newcomers especially are tasked to come up with something rather special if they wish to be taken seriously. Christchurch-based seven-piece One Waka just about manage to achieve that on this follow-up to their 2012 debut South Bay Sessions. Dub Sea Voyages seeks to celebrate all things whanau, all things local, and for the most part One Waka’s music avoids the critical traps. There’s a strong focus on identity and place throughout, and each of these songs has its own special variation on less generic reggae forms, thanks in large part to the use of te reo Maori, moteatea (chants), traditional instruments like the koauau (flute), plus a wider sense that having fun is paramount over everything else when it comes to making music. (“We’re living like kings in the Golden Bay.”) The rootsy instrumental ‘JD’ and the Exodus-referencing ‘Te Tapuae o Uenuku’ are genuine stand-outs on a 12-track album largely without filler. Occasionally they do come across as being too earnest, particularly with some of the lyrics (eg. the cliché “simmer down, no need to fuss and fight” on ‘Rockers’), and a few tunes would benefit from being shortened a little – a couple catch a second wind which really doesn’t carry them anywhere. But those complaints are minor.

This review was originally published in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of NZ Musician magazine.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Album Review: Tommy Nee - Colorblind (2016)

Niuean-born and NZ-raised, Tommy Nee is a recent graduate of Auckland University’s school of music, and Colorblind is his highly polished debut EP. Putting aside any deliberate irony – or otherwise – in the use of the American spelling in the title, the five-track release appeals first and foremost for its borderless qualities, and the wider inclusiveness of the soulful saccharine pop music contained within. Nee has a lovely voice, full of subtle emotional nuance, soft in places, and rich, full and honey-drenched when called upon to hit some of the higher notes. The R’nB-geared music underpinning that vocal is flawlessly played and produced, but it’s the arrangement, and his ability to craft a distinctly Pasifika-flavoured set of sun-soaked tunes that serves him best here. As hinted at in the title, his lyrics don’t shy away from important issues, those of race and identity being most prominent. But mostly the message is delivered amid lovingly disguised hooks, which makes it even more compelling. The highlight of these five tracks is the gentle acoustic centrepiece 'Feel', which is anything but politically motivated. It showcases Nee as being equally at home when lamenting on matters of the heart. This is a more than promising start for an artist we’ll surely hear a lot more from in years to come.

This review was originally published in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of NZ Musician magazine.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Festive Dozen 2016: Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra - Too Much Information (Laolu Remix Edit)

Contrary to my natural inclination to finish this year's festive countdown with something state-of-the-nation, politically relevant, poignant, and suitably downbeat, it also seems appropriate to help transport you into a NYE party state of mind by posting an edit of one of 2016's biggest club jams. Which, coincidentally, was released almost a year ago to the day ... roll on 2017.

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2016) ...


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Albums of 2016

It's time for the annual blog year-end wrap, and a list of 2016's best albums. Or in the case of the way we roll here at everythingsgonegreen, the "best" as in a list of the ten "most listened to" albums in my house this year. The only prerequisite for inclusion here is that I had to purchase a copy during the year. And, of course, I had to like it more than the other 100 or so new (or reissue) albums I picked up in 2016. Streaming doesn't count, and Spotify is dead to me - for OCD reasons that I may one day expand upon in a separate post.

10. The Leers - Are You Curious?

Yet another of the many great recent things to come out of Auckland's Red Bull Studios with Ben Lawson's name affixed to it, The Leers' debut album was a firm favourite across the first half of the year. Are You Curious? was an absorbing radio-ready blend of indie pop hooks and big slabs of bluesy psychedelia. My review can be found here.

9. Crystal Castles - Amnesty (I)

Evidently no longer the critical darling he was when Alice Glass was fronting his unique form of agit-electro-rave on three previous albums, Ethan Kath returned in 2016 alongside a new vocalist, with a new full-length work, and thankfully, more of the same. My review is here.

8. Radikal Guru - Dub Mentalist

Dub Mentalist arrived right at the end of the year so I didn't manage to get a full review up on the blog. But it was nonetheless impressive enough to get more than its share of pod time, and that's all that really matters in terms of where it ultimately stacks up. This is the third straight Radikal Guru album to make the blog's year-end list, so some context here might be that I’m a committed fan of the Polish dub fiend, and therefore, Dub Mentalist, by default, was always guaranteed more ear time. But it still had boxes to tick and expectations to meet, which it did with some aplomb, and Radikal Guru’s signature mix of the deep, the digital, and the rootsy, ensures Dub Mentalist rates just as highly as the other two albums. The tunes given the most room and space to breathe, sans vocalists, take on lives of their own, and those are my favourites here. But that doesn’t mean contributions by guest conspirators like Jay Spaker, Echo Ranks, Solo Banton, and Earl 16, don’t also have their place. This guy keeps on rolling out a wholly unique brand of extra-terrestrial dub at fairly regular intervals, but his genre of choice and area of expertise is so niche, nobody seems to notice.

7. Pacific Heights - The Stillness

Shapeshifter-come-electro-head-bobber Devin Abrams came up with something personal, intimate, and quite raw (in parts) with The Stillness, yet it was also polished, accessible, and everything a successful breakout solo album should be. During a year when local work blasted all preconceived limitations out of view, The Stillness could quite easily have placed much higher on this list. My review is here.

6. The Radio Dept - Running Out of Love

On the surface Running Out of Love appeals as a dose of saccharine Swedish indie pop. Scratch a little beneath that, however, and you’ll find something much darker buried deep within its slightly rotten core. My review is here.

5. Adrian Sherwood/Various - At The Controls Vol.2 1985-1990

This is another one of those pesky compilation albums that has no place on a list such as this (see unwritten blog rule 425, clause 1b). Well it would be, if it wasn’t an On-U Sound compilation, and a collection of prime On-U era archive material, mixed by label guru and occasional world leading mixologist Adrian Sherwood. In defiance of the rule, At The Controls v2, also topped one of the annual lists over at the obviously very learned website, The Quietus. Admittedly it was a list for rogue releases, oddities, and collections that don’t really fit in anywhere else. A little bit like Sherwood himself. My review is here.

4. Underworld - Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future

Aside from the Radikal Guru album, Underworld’s awkwardly-titled BBWFASF (phew) was the only other entry in the ten that I failed to write a full review for during the year. But just like Radikal Guru, Underworld’s place on this list was practically assured as soon as the album arrived in my inbox. As an Underworld fan. I was always bound to give more time to BBWFASF than some others. I even thought their otherwise indifferently-received Barking album of 2010 was one of the best of its year. The thing that makes new Underworld material so hard to resist is the sense that they’re always a few steps ahead of the game, always state-of-the-art, despite massive changes in the rules over the course of the 25-odd years they’ve been doing their thing. And all - for the vast majority of those years - within that most fickle of flighty genres, dance music. In truth, it probably doesn’t hit the giddy or euphoric heights of their first couple of albums, and there’s no ‘Born Slippy’ or an epic ‘Rez’ to be found here, but the music of Underworld has evolved to occupy a different space these days, and there’s still a lot to love on BBWFASF.

3. Pitch Black - Filtered Senses

See all of the above. Add in a local context. Ahead the rest, state-of-the-art, across 20 years. Etc. For me, one of the best Friday mornings of 2016 was the one when I skyped Paddy Free in New York, and he spoke of Pitch Black’s accomplishments and getting to do what he loves every day like it was the most natural thing in the world. Reviewed here for the blog and for NZ Musician magazine. 

2. David Bowie - Blackstar

Only David Bowie could pull this off. What better way to go out than to do so just two days after releasing an album that positively oozed all things life and death? Without giving us so much as a hint in advance. I’m still a little spooked by it. A massive loss, but he left us with an incredible legacy. My review is here.

1. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

I told anyone that would listen just how good this was. Every listen felt like it was turned up an extra notch. As Radiohead continue to astound and build on an already expansive discography, A Moon Shaped Pool is merely the latest flawless instalment. In reality, daylight was second. My review is here.

Five Honourable Mentions:

The Average Rap Band album, El Sol, very nearly pipped The Leers for a place in the final ten, falling just short in the end. It probably just needs to simmer through another summer.

I thought the Suede album, Night Thoughts, had a lot going for it, in a very insular and retro kind of way, but it also felt a little bit out of step with everything else going on in 2016. I remain a Suede devotee and completist.

The also no-longer-particularly-relevant Primal Scream released something close to an actual synthpop album in the form of Chaosmosis, which had a few cracker tunes on it. But the feeling I got listening to it, given the Scream’s cutting edge past, is that cliché commercial pop, in this instance, might just be the last bastion of the ultimate Nineties scoundrel. Bobby Gillespie has a lot to answer for, and that vocal is now more irritating than ever.

I know Warpaint’s Heads Up got a lot of love elsewhere, with good reason, and I did enjoy it, I just didn’t find myself wanting to go back for fourths, fifths, or a sixth listen. Even though I understand that’s probably exactly what I needed to do.

My guilty pleasure quota was sated by the music of Icelandic blues-rockers Kaleo, and their album A/B, which arrived somewhere out of left field and was an album I wouldn’t *normally* find myself listening to.

Some other end-of-year gongs (“the EGGs”):

EP or short album of the year was Yoko-Zuna’s Luminols, five quite diverse and distinct tunes, with the Tom Scott collab, ‘Orchard St’, going on to become a big pod favourite.

Reissue of the year was Jack White’s Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016, because I’m a big White fan, and cos I like the idea of putting some of this stuff together, where it wouldn’t ordinarily be automatically compatible by default. And because, if for no other reason, the stripped back bluegrass version of The Raconteurs’ ‘Top Yourself’ blows me away every time I hear it. White’s release was pushed closely by two deluxe/expanded releases: the 40th anniversary issue of The Ramones’ 1976 debut, which became a triple disc featuring demos and live takes, and Pure McCartney, which was another scarcely needed yet still strangely compelling post-Beatles career overview from his nibs. There was also the small matter of Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall getting a deluxe makeover.

Freebie or exceptional name-your-price release of the year: as found on Bandcamp, toss a coin and choose between Adi Shankara’s dark and dense Structures, or the Auckland-based Peach Milk, with her delicious Finally EP.

The everythingsgonegreen gig of the year was Tami Neilson’s San Fran (Wellington) set from way back in March. Thoroughly polished and professional, great company, and a brilliant vibe on the night.
More generally, 2016 was a year of relentless mourning for pop culture fiends. All of those barely anticipated deaths: from Bowie to Prince to Leonard Cohen to George Michael. And everyone else in between. Farewell to popular artists like Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Maurice White, and Pete Burns. To roots and country music stars like Leon Russell and Merle Haggard. To iconic producers like (Sir) George Martin and Prince Buster. To local (NZ) legends such as Ian Watkin, Ray Columbus, and Bunny Walters. To stars of the big and small screens - Gene Wilder, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Jean Alexander, and Caroline Aherne. Even beyond the world of music, film, and the arts, transgenerational global figures such as Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro couldn’t survive the cull. Plus there will be many others of varying importance and influence to you personally (that I simply haven’t covered here). Bottom line: it’s been a rough year …

And while I’m sorely tempted to use the last paragraph of this post to launch into an opinionated rant about global politics - Aleppo, terrorism, the global refugee crisis, Brexit, Trump, and the rise of the xenophobic Right in general - I’ll spare you …

Be gone 2016 ... watch your arse on the way out.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Festive Dozen 2016: James Vincent McMorrow - Get Low

Merry Festivities, boxing day hiccups, and thanks for reading in 2016.

We're nearly there, the penultimate tune of this year's dozen belongs to Irish folkie James Vincent McMorrow, with 'Get Low' ...

"I love the way your heart had no rules, loving what your heart becomes, even when you smile, you're still cruel ..."

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2016) ...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Festive Dozen 2016: The Radio Dept. - We Got Game

Sometimes it's the simple little things. Understated low key album tracks with cunning hooks. Extracts lifted from otherwise barely noticed albums. In this case, it's 'We Got Game', a stand-out track from Running Out of Love, the rather good 2016 album by Swedish indie-popsters The Radio Dept ... a tune that appears to owe a massive debt to the early Detroit techno stylings of Inner City producer Kevin Saunderson. You decide.

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2016) ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Album Review: Average Rap Band - El Sol (2016)

I picked up my digital copy of the Average Rap Band debut album, El Sol, as long ago as April, but in typical lazy arse fashion, as a grumpy greybeard and confirmed hip hop sceptic (context is everything), I’ve waited until the year is all but over to share my thoughts about it.

Then again, if you're looking for timeliness and relevance, you'd hardly come to everythingsgonegreen for the good oil, would you?

I hope not ...

So anyway, the 11-track El Sol is the first upsized album release for ex @peaceniks Tom Scott and Lui Tuiasau, as the Average Rap Band. It’s a follow-up to last year’s well-received Stream of Nonsenseness EP, and as you’d expect from this pair, it’s yet another state-of-the-art benchmarking album for the local hip hop scene.
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to call this "local"? Even though Scott and Tuiasau are now based in Melbourne, and not Auckland, where they previously made a big noise as part of the critically acclaimed @peace, and prior to that, as part of the wider Home Brew crew.

Those former projects tagged Scott and Tuiasau as massively talented wordsmiths. Masters of rhyme, and students of flow, each man possessing an uncanny ability to turn even the most mundane routine observation into something resembling an existential vision. It isn't just about being clever and wordy, it's also about timing and having the delivery to ensure those words have maximum impact.

El Sol is packed full of such seemingly throwaway (but not really) moments, and the duo's attention to detail when it comes to straight up storytelling is a pivotal element here. As is the sense of place present in each tune - helped by a clear commitment to telling these tales in unashamedly authentic "Kiwi" accents, rather than falling into the common (and often cringeworthy) trap of seeking to imitate our American brethren.

Musically, it draws from a relatively broad base and these narratives are underpinned by a variety of funky beats - from 80s style Jam & Lewis-flecked slow-jams to replica G-Funk styles. Even where the subject matter veers toward the serious, the vibe underneath it all seldom deviates from summery and relaxed. It all tends to blend together seamlessly, and in production terms, nothing ever feels out of place or rushed.

Highlights include the sublime 'Pool Side' (a Tuiasau stand-out moment), the humorous 'Pizza Man', and the great-ball-in-the-sky worshipping title track.

Ps. All things considered, I guess that’s a favourable review for someone who struggles with post-1990 hip hop. But I also picked up new work from past heroes like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Common, during 2016, and I struggled with each one of those albums. Yet, stuff like El Sol, plus new EPs from the home-schooled likes of Raiza Biza and Yoko-Zuna were impressive this year, and it’s clear, despite a sense of default cynicism, hip hop from this corner of the globe is currently flying a steep upward trajectory …

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Festive Dozen 2016: Radiohead - Burn The Witch

As boring and as cliché as it undoubtedly is, I'm going to find it very difficult to go past Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool for everythingsgonegreen's (much coveted!) album of the year. (The album isn't boring but I suspect my selection is predictable). That decision still hangs in the balance, and I'll probably end up making a definitive call while consuming a few too many fizzy drinks over the upcoming festive season. But in the meantime there's this, the strings-heavy 'Burn The Witch', one of two advance singles from back in May, a leftover from the Kid A sessions, and a rather deserving Grammy nominee for Best Rock Song of 2016. Enjoy the slightly disturbing Wicker Man-themed clip:

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2016) ...

The Festive Dozen 2016: Earth Wind & Fire - Boogie Wonderland (LNTG Muscle Mix)

I know this is a 2016 list, but it's also a reflection of your blogger's pod activity across the year, and it wouldn't be an honest everythingsgonegreen list unless it contained a large element of all things retro. And so we celebrate a little bit of Earth Wind & Fire and Maurice White (R.I.P.), who we lost to the great Boogie Wonderland in the sky back in February. Presumably for a rendezvous in the Legends Lounge with Bowie, Prince, Ali, and the many others who left us during the year. This clip also gives me the chance to showcase the remix/edit work of Late Nite Tuff Guy, a master of housing up funk flavours from yester-year, and another post-production genius to figure prominently on my playlists throughout 2016:

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2016) ...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Matrix Downloaded 006

In keeping with recent themes, here’s another name-your-price Bandcamp compilation featuring a raft of Euro-centric EBM (and/or EDM), industrial, and electro pop tunes. All at the darker end of the spectrum. Almost a year on since the last volume in this well regarded compilation series was released, Belgium-based label Alfa Matrix has issued Matrix Downloaded volume six. Again, with 45 tracks on offer here, the quality is variable, and a pick’n mix approach is perhaps best advised ... enjoy.

Here’s a snippet from the label’s own online blurb:

“A 200 minute-plus compilation that reflects the label’s music repertoire and impressive artist roster in the full-force of its diversity also reminding us that ALFA MATRIX is one of the very few indie electro labels who still dare to scout new talents and to inject new blood into the scene while others would definitely choose to sleep on their laurels while focusing on their sure values of established bands.

Absolutely the perfect way for ALFA MATRIX to close their 15th year of existence – some 15 years of non-stop heavy sonic propaganda on the underground electronic music front with their impressive army of artists! The ultimate collection of scene famous and established artists featured next to rising new talents and stunning new discoveries… Since 2001, ALFA MATRIX has been offering to you electronic music with attitude… EBM, synth pop, industrial, electronic, indie rock, nu electro, dark elektro, avant-garde, goth metal, wave, techno house: you get it all!”