Monday, May 14, 2018

Something Different: Estella Dawn

Writing for NZ Musician is essentially a labour of love, and while it’s given me the opportunity to chat with local heroes like Paddy Free (Pitch Black), Darren Watson, and the guys from Head Like A Hole, to name just a couple, few interviews come with the personal connection this one offered ... that rare experience of chatting with someone you first met when they were a baby. Or when you can claim to have met their grandparents, even!

Estella Dawn is a young Kiwi singer-songwriter of considerable promise, currently based in Colorado, and although I don’t necessarily fit the exact demographic Estella’s wholesome pop style targets, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to profile her for NZ Musician – by way of an “ex-pat files” piece on the magazine’s website (link below). You can sample her sole release to date via Spotify, but look out too for a new set of tunes in the not too distant future ...

Sunday, May 6, 2018

More Dub Vibes From The Echo Chamber

We love us some dub vibes up here in the everythingsgonegreen tree hut, so just a quick post to highlight the release of yet another volume (or two) in the Dan Dada Records ‘Echo Chamber Around The World’ series of excellent compilation albums. We're up to volumes 9 and 10, featuring Aotearoa’s own Dub Terminator, plus 34 more top notch dub and roots reggae tracks from a wide range of artists. My own favourites here are tracks from Burning Babylon, Dubmatix (ft Earl Zero), Ras Bruno, Mystical Warrior, DU3normal, Mr Zebra & Rebel I, Dubalizer, Guidub, and Funk Dub Division, but there’s no real duds on this expansive globetrotting release. Released under an international Creative Commons license, free downloads don’t get much better than this … here’s the label’s blurb and a Bandcamp link:

For the last 22 years Dr. StrangeDub (Michael Rose) and DJ Baby Swiss (Elmar Romain) have been bringing dubwise sounds to the massive on their radio program the Echo Chamber. With the heaviest dubs, the most conscious roots, and the funkiest club beats from around the world, all chilled and expertly mixed into a subsonic stew, the Echo Chamber is always the hippest place to be every Wednesday morning (from 2:00 to 6:00 a.m US CST). The program airs on KFAI-FM in Minneapolis, MN (U.S.A.) at the 90.3 and 106.7 frequencies, and streams online at www.kfai.org. Find the playlists and two most recent programs in the KFAI-FM archive at: www.kfai.org/echochamber. Also check the two online archives of past shows: Mixcloud -- www.mixcloud.com/strangedub/

A typical show features a heavy dose of the latest roots & dub reggae and a potent shot of old school roots and dub. But dub just lays the foundation and holds the trip together: the DJ dub doctors cover the entire reggae rainbow, and they pull in the heaviest chilled beats from clubs around the world. For most shows, Dr. StrangeDub is at the controls for the first 2 hours, while DJ Baby Swiss "runs tings" in the second half of the show. For this compilation, the Echo Chamber has once again teamed up with Bandulu Dub and Dan Dada Records to present a worldwide trip into Dub. This collection represents a broad variety of musical styles... and spans the globe in doing so. This is very much in keeping with the eclectic "anything goes" format of the Echo Chamber radio program – where “dub” is as much an attitude or approach to music as it is a genre of music. On behalf of Dan Dada Records, Dr. StrangeDub (Michael Rose) and DJ Baby Swiss (Elmar Romain) extend our undying gratitude to all the artists and record labels that agreed to be a part of this worldwide dubwise project! Spreading the positive dubwise vibe to the world... 


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Album Review: Disjecta Membra - Achromaticia (1997/2017 20th Anniversary Edition)

When Michel Rowland of Disjecta Membra revealed late last year that the band’s debut album from 1997, Achromaticia, was about to benefit from a twentieth anniversary makeover, I knew immediately that I needed to pick up a copy. Despite already having a copy of the album in digital form, I pre-ordered the expanded triple CD set online and waited some months for its arrival. There were delays, mostly due to the fact that Rowland is a staunch perfectionist who wanted to get every last detail of the release exactly right, but late last month the CD(s) finally turned up in my letterbox. It’s fair to say, it was well worth the wait.

The release is made up of the original album on one CD, plus two further CDs containing demos, live tracks, covers, and excerpts from a Contact FM radio interview recorded while the band was still in its infancy. My purchase included a fourth element in the form of an additional digital download, which features more odds and ends of that ilk. The whole thing presents a fascinating, comprehensive, grassroots-level overview of one of Aotearoa’s most unique bands.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe the Hamilton-born, now Wellington-based Disjecta Membra as this country’s leading darkwave or goth rock band. Rowland – as founder (in late 1993), vocalist, and principal songwriter – has always been at the heart of all things Disjecta Membra, with various band members coming and going over the course of the past two decades. The album’s inlay and liner notes acknowledge the other key individuals involved, and to some extent those notes work as a potted history of the band. That booklet, and the packaging in general (photos, artwork, notes), is a lovely bonus.

The music on the core album itself is typically dark and cinematic. It opens with the dramatic ‘Cathedral’ and builds in intensity from there. ‘Cathedral’ finds Rowland channelling the not-quite-yet ghost of Andrew Eldritch and that track pops up again later in the form of a Deus ex Machina remix. For me, it is the heavier tunes within the 14-track set, such as ‘Rats’, ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’, and ‘The Sleep’ which hold the most appeal. But there’s a good mix of stuff – from shorter tracks like the dreamy spoken word wonderment of ‘Malcolm’, and the one-minute interlude of ‘Androgyne Waltz’, to the theatrical-almost-epic qualities of the 11-minute-plus closer ‘Danse Macabre’, which never quite lets you breathe out. In short, the album covers a great deal of ground.

Probably not quite as much ground as the three bonus sets (two discs, one download) however, which offer huge insight into how the band evolved. It has to be said, some of the earliest demos, the basement and garage recordings, are a hard listen, simply because of the poor audio quality. As you’d expect from material of that description, and vintage. Similarly, a lot of the live stuff sounds a little worse for wear. Yet, for all of those flaws, there’s real energy there, and a genuine sense of the post-punk spirit which clearly drove the band in its fledgling form. Most captivating, for me, are the various covers on offer, with work by some of my own favourites – The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie – all getting at least one box ticked.

Overall, the triple CD/four-set release is a wonderful snapshot of early Disjecta Membra. It’s one of those time-and-place things. If you weren’t there – and I wasn’t – it doesn’t really matter, you can catch up now with this massive collection of archive material. Probably more Disjecta Membra than you’ll ever really need, but well worth the indulgence all the same. Terrific stuff.

Read more about Disjecta Membra here, here, and here.

Disjecta Membra's website

And you can read more about Michel Rowland’s “other” project here.

Here's Cathedral ...



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

More on Super Black Market Clash

Something and nothing, but worth sharing for the anoraks out there …

Last week, when I posted a review of Super Black Market Clash, I noted that the band was responsible for “some exceptional and perfectly conceived album covers, and Super Black Market Clash is an excellent example of that, its imagery suiting the album’s largely rebellious content perfectly”… but I actually had no idea of the history behind that particular sleeve. This week, rather coincidently, some info popped up in my Twitter feed which helped to fill in a few blanks (h/t @thatpommybloke): the photo features longtime band associate Don Letts (Big Audio Dynamite, The Slits) approaching police during the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival, which was noteworthy for serious confrontation between revellers and police ...

The pic below superimposes the album sleeve into a current day photo of the exact location where all the action took place.  


More on this from Wiki:
In 1976, police had been expecting hostility due to what they deemed as trouble the year before. Consequently, after discovering pickpockets in the crowd, police took a heavy-handed approach against the large congregation of blacks and it became "no-man's land". The 1600 strong police force violently broke up the carnival, resulting in the arrest of 60 people.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Classic Album Review: The Clash - Super Black Market Clash (1980/1993)

Super Black Market Clash is basically an expanded version of 1980’s Black Market Clash 10” EP release, and essentially it’s a compilation album incorporating many of the band’s b-sides, rarities, remixes, plus other odds and sods. It covers a five-year time frame (1977-82), and as it tends to avoid the more obvious stuff, it results in a celebration of some of the band’s more unheralded moments.

Another consequence of this almost random approach is that we get a wide range of styles and perhaps the album’s biggest achievement is to successfully showcase the band’s extraordinary versatility. No bad thing.

So much so, it’s actually like a rough guide - a compacted version - to The Clash; from their earliest punk-edged incarnation as found on ‘1977’ (the flipside to ‘White Riot’), and ‘Capital Radio Two’, to the ska flavours of the Maytal’s cover ‘Pressure Drop’, the whitened urban soul of ‘The Magnificent Dance’ and Booker T’s ‘Time Is Tight’, the mid-album dub peaks of ‘Justice Tonight’ and ‘Robber Dub’, right through to the closer, ‘Mustapha Dance’, which is a remix of the 1982 single ‘Rock The Casbah’, this remains fairly eclectic yet still utterly compelling stuff.

And whatever else you can say about The Clash, love 'em or hate 'em, possibly even a bit of both if you’re anything like me, the band deserve plaudits for some exceptional and perfectly conceived album covers, and Super Black Market Clash is an excellent example of that, its imagery suiting the album’s largely rebellious content perfectly.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Classic Album Review: The Clash - London Calling (1979)

Forget about The Clash’s punk roots, by the time London Calling came out in 1979, the band had evolved considerably, and the result was this masterclass in cross-genre pollination. Not that the band had moved on entirely, or abandoned its core ethos; it's simply the case that collectively, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon, had improved markedly as musicians, and as a unit, and were thus better able to get their message across in a tighter and far more emphatic fashion.

While punk had started to encounter credibility issues, The Clash were evidently quite determined to be taken seriously, and in many respects, London Calling, with its underlying political posturing and unashamedly direct social commentary, established a template that many a post-punk contender would seek to adopt or emulate over the course of the following decade.
What should also be recalled is that the band were still a few years away from fully breaking through in the USA at this stage, and despite the album essentially being conceived in the States, London Calling retains a sense of Englishness that by default or by design still defined them. Make no mistake, even if they’d given this album a different title, the content would still evoke imagery of dark/wet grimy back streets, multicultural high-rise housing estates, rampant social injustice, and varying degrees of street violence.
When Combat Rock came out some three years later, with its plethora of US-chart breaking hit singles and stadium anthems, much of that tone and character was long gone and The Clash were headed for mainstream glory, concert tours, and extravagant pay days galore. It might be said, for all of their eventual popularity on the New World side of the Atlantic, by the time they belatedly achieved it, The Clash had already lost the very edge and points of difference that made the band so vital in the first place. It is hardly surprising a somewhat painful split was just around the corner.
So London Calling captures the true essence of The Clash, and any newcomer should start right here. The raw energy of the highly charged and almost threatening title track opens the album and that track itself remains perhaps the best example of what made the band so special. But look out too for the universal rockabilly influences on ‘Brand New Cadillac’. The ever-present Jamaican reggae vibes of ‘Guns Of Brixton’, ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and ‘Revolution Rock’. The similarly political overtones on the otherwise catchy ‘Spanish Bombs’. The simple funk of closer ‘Train In Vain’. Plus, what is, in my opinion, the album’s coup de grace, ‘Clampdown’, one of the best anti-working-for-the-man anthems ever committed to vinyl.
And all of that, before I even start to tell you how truly great that album cover is …

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gig Review: Pitch Black, San Fran, Wellington, 16 March 2018

Last Friday night, local electro dub fiends Pitch Black checked into Wellington’s San Fran venue for the second leg of the duo’s three-date Sonic Portal tour. It was a long overdue return to the capital for Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free, after Wellington missed out on the late 2016/early 2017 - mostly festival - dates that passed for the Filtered Senses (album release) tour.
A Sandwiches (club) gig in the capital of roughly a decade ago is still spoken about in glowing terms by all who attended (yours truly included), so it was little surprise to discover the San Fran venue almost full upon my relatively early 9.30pm arrival. Wellington dubheads and dance music aficionados clearly have long memories … though, of course, the short-term stuff may be more of a challenge. Whatever the case, this one carried the secondary billing of being a 21st party, with Pitch Black celebrating 21 years of being at the cutting edge of the local dub and electronica scene, and a cursory glance around the venue confirmed that it would just as likely have been years, if not a decade or two, since the last occasion many of these early doors punters had attended any kind of 21st celebration (that of their own children notwithstanding).
Free & Hodgson, dub fiends ...
Pitch Black had been playing around half an hour before I arrived, easing the crowd into the night with what they called their “downbeat set”, which meant a lot of gentle swaying and head bobbing, as our dynamic duo filled the room with layer upon layer of ethereal texture and languid bass-driven technicolour soundscapes. That continued for another half hour or so before we had the pleasure of Wellington’s own DJ Ludus (aka Emma Bernard) for company while our party hosts took a well-earned refreshment break.
Ludus was a perfect fit for this gig, and a swelling of the dancefloor during her mostly minimal ambient set – is minimal ambient a thing in genre-speak? – suggests she bought her own rather large following with her. It would certainly account for the injection of a few younger faces into the crowd, many of whom would scarcely have been out of nappies when Pitch Black unleashed its debut album, Futureproof, on an unsuspecting world 20-odd years ago.
When Pitch Black returned an hour later, the bpm factor and energy levels were upped significantly as they launched into what they call their “pumping set” with all the vigour of men half their age. It was around this point I realised it was going to be virtually impossible to review this (or any other) Pitch Black gig in any orthodox kind of way. The duo’s modus operandi is to continually fuck with the heads of their audience by blending and mashing together various tracks from different albums all at the same time. At no one point can it be said “oh, this is ‘The Gatherer’ …” or “this is from Rude Mechanicals”, because at no one single point are we being exposed to one single track. It’s a method that serves them well at giant outdoor festivals across the globe, and it is one that served them equally well at San Fran last Friday night.
Suffice to say Messrs Hodgson and Free covered a fair portion of their illustrious back catalogue as the night progressed into the wee small hours and we zig-zagged back and forth between albums. And they did so with some gusto. If they bypassed Wellington last time around, they were clearly keen to make it up to us, something they achieved with ease, and more …
If I have a complaint, and it’s probably more of an observation given the limitations of the venue, it’s that the visual feast I’ve always associated Pitch Black gigs with in the past simply wasn’t there this time. There was a backdrop with a multitude of FX and far-out visuals etc, but the lighting was relatively ineffective and the whole thing (visually) just failed to hit the heights I’ve come to expect. Having said that, San Fran can’t be faulted for its sound, which was crisp and clear, and there was a moment during the second set when I swear that bass was travelling straight through my chest.
I can’t wait for the next one, just don’t make us wait so long next time, eh fellas?


Here’s something I wrote about Pitch Black for NZ Musician some 18 months ago …

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Album Review: Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love (2018)

Marlon Williams is a difficult artist to categorise. His terrific voice and throwback musical style has seen him compared to the likes of Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson, Scott Walker, Richard Hawley, and Anohni. Plus a few other less obvious artists of a similar ilk. A recent Spinoff (website) profile even placed him in the same (local/New Zealand) realm as the great Maori show bands of the Fifties and Sixties. All of these reference points are certainly hard to argue with, if the evidence offered on Make Way For Love is anything to go by.

Officially, Make Way For Love is studio album number two for Williams, a follow-up to his eponymous debut of 2015, but there’s also been a live album (Live at La Niche, 2014), and during what might now be called his “early years”, he featured on a handful of releases as part of Christchurch band, The Unfaithful Ways. And not forgetting, of course, the highly acclaimed award-winning collaborative efforts he was involved in alongside local roots/country music luminary, Delaney Davidson.

It’s probably fair to say then, that at just 27 years of age, the Christchurch-born, Ngai Tahu descendant, has already crammed a whole heap of living into a relatively short timeframe. And that, in itself, is one of the key reasons Make Way For Love is such an absorbing piece of work. A broad range of life experiences helping to shape a compelling set of stories/lyrics, which nestle comfortably up against more obvious factors like his rather unique honey-drenched vocal delivery and beautifully crafted retro guitar-stylings.

There’s a couple of Davidson co-writes on the album, but mostly this is Williams baring his soul in the wake of his relationship break-up with Aldous Harding, who is no stranger to a bit of soul baring herself. In fact, heartbreak is easily the most prominent theme on the album, and one of the best tracks is a duet he performs alongside his ex-squeeze, ‘Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore’, which rather poignantly, was recorded after the relationship broke down.

Style-wise, retro-pop flavours rule throughout, and by that, I think I mean the strong influence of old-time crooning. But also in terms of instrumentation and song structure, with the majority of tunes ticking the unwritten three-to-four minute rule which tends to define pop music, be it retro, brand spanking new, or otherwise. Mostly, Williams keeps things simple and uncomplicated, which further emphasises the old-school elements at play.

Based on past listening, I had expected a far stronger country or bluegrass presence on Make Way For Love, and while it’s still there, and at the core of most things Williams does, it isn’t there in any in-yer-face kind of way, which ultimately means the whole thing defies any real genre-labelling. Which is pretty much where I came in …

Highlights: the aforementioned duet with Aldous Harding, the hook-laden ‘What’s Chasing You’, plus the title track/closer, which really does rather effortlessly invoke the spirit of those Maori show bands of yester-year.




Monday, February 26, 2018

Classic Album Review: Grace Jones - Island Life (1985)

With the phenomenon that is Grace Jones set to perform a couple of live shows in New Zealand this coming weekend, in Queenstown and in Auckland, it might be timely to take a look back at one of her blasts from the past …

At just ten tracks in length, Island Life is hardly the most comprehensive Grace Jones compilation out there, but it is close to perfect for my needs, and it contains her biggest hits from the 1977-1985 period. It is compact, concise, and places emphasis on quality over quantity. And the former fashion model-turned singer-turned actress-turned androgynous icon was at the absolute peak of her popularity when this was released in 1985, so it probably works as an ideal entry point for any newcomers.

Island Life showcases the full range of Ms Jones’ unique talents; pure funk in the form of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, which has to be one of the most infectious tracks ever committed to black magic plastic. Uncomplicated disco in the shape of early hits ‘I Need A Man’ and ‘Do Or Die’. Shades of soulful reggae with ‘My Jamaican Guy’. Very Eighties high-gloss production values on ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ (produced by Trevor Horn, and reputedly stolen from the clutches of Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Plus outright weirdness on the hugely trippy ‘Walking In The Rain’.

Jones’ penchant for covers is another feature of this compilation. While we get passable takes on ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Love Is The Drug’, it is her superb rendition of (The Pretenders’) ‘Private Life’ which impresses most. Taken from her 1982 album Living My Life, and sung with just the right amount of brooding intensity and sense of melodrama, it is more than a match for the original. Precisely the sort of thing Grace Jones excelled at, ‘Private Life’ just eclipses ‘Pull Up’ as my own favourite Jones moment.

If I was being a pedant or suffering a severe bout of bookish tendencies (something I can’t deny), then I might complain that there was no room on this album for ‘Nipple To The Bottle’ (also off Living My Life), or the title track off the 1980 album, Warm Leatherette, or indeed, further covers from her classic 1981 release, Nightclubbing – perhaps ‘Use Me’, ‘Demolition Man’, and Iggy Pop’s title track itself. But hey, it’s probably churlish to moan too much in this instance, this is just fine as it is.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Porky Post ... Classic Album Review: The Stooges - Fun House (1970)

Another outing for Porky, looking back at a classic album just two years shy of its 50th birthday …

I am a strong believer in music coming to the listener, rather than the individual seeking out the music.

My personal tastes have shipped and shaped over the decades. I’m now at an age that I should be appreciating Dylan, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac, but thank Buddha that’s never occurred.

Conversely, I am these days an aficionado of more robust, deranged, and frankly unloveable sounds than in my youth, when tweedom and indie ruled. I listened to Can in my mid-20s but couldn’t stomach them. But, now ... I understand.

Many years ago I bought The Stooges’ second album, Fun House, on CD at the same time as I got (the debut) The Stooges. But the gnarly, snarly nature of Fun House just didn’t resonate with me – the songs were too long and there wasn’t an ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, so I ended up giving it away. Sacrilege, I know.

I now have this bastard on vinyl and I’ve played it a lot over the past year. It’s got to me.
It kicks into action with ‘Down On The Street’, a blistering, bruising face-off with the devil in which Iggy Pop hollers words that skimp on the thinking and focus on the stinking: “Down on the street where the faces shine/ Floatin' around, I'm a real low mind/ See a pretty thing/ Ain't no wall/ See a pretty thing/ It ain't no wall.”
It’s the riffs that matter here and they are ear-bleedingly brilliant, amounting to a near four-minute battering of the senses.
‘Loose’ is a true rock’n’roll song; a hark back to the debut classic, while retaining a connection to their soul brothers, MC5. It has a brief but memorable chorus: “I’ll stick it deep inside/ I’ll stick it deep inside/ Cause I’m loose.” Make of that what you will.
While the Stooges were releasing this, David Bowie was in a whole different stratosphere. In 1969 the Londoner released his second solo album, the self-titled David Bowie, which included the radio-friendly ‘Space Oddity’. He appeared on course for a career as an intriguing but slightly kooky singer-songwriter. In late 1970 Bowie’s first bona fide hit album The Man Who Sold The World was issued in America (and six months later in the UK). Bowie had beefed up his sound, but his voice remained fey and there were no comparisons between the soon-to-be-superstar and The Stooges. And yet, in 1976, Bowie and Iggy Pop would unite to work on two Iggy albums released in 1977, and in return the American sang backing vocals on Low in the same year. But back in 1970 it would seem inconceivable that such a team-up could be possible.
Not when you had a track like ‘TV Eye’. The third track on Fun House is a dad-fucking rollercoaster of a four-minute ride. Listening now, with punk having bludgeoned its way through the youth consciousness, it’s impossible to comprehend just how out there this would have sounded at the time, and the rest of the album for that matter. Imagine. In the mid-60s there were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Small Faces and Hendrix, to name just a few. All pushed the envelope in some way or another but musically the bass levels were kept at modest levels. That all changed in 1969 when MC5 thrashed away to ‘Kick Out The Jams’ and The Stooges gifted the world ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, the ultimate punk song in a non-punk era.
Then there’s ‘Dirt’, which is slow, bluesy and meandering. It’s almost a dirge, almost a pop song; in a way it’s The Stooges lowering the pace, but the grungy, existential guitars and discordant drums take it elsewhere.
Flip over to ‘1970’, a natural successor to ‘1969’ from the debut. Such a shame there was no Stooges album in 1971, what could they have done there? Both songs have a tribal hypnotic rhythm that repeats to the point of mild torture, but the newer track is more frantic.

The opening line is a potent one: “Out of my mind on Saturday night/ Ninteen-seventy rollin' in sight/ Radio burnin' up above/ Beautiful baby, feed my love all night.”

The title track is the longest, at just under eight minutes, but well worth the effort. Steve Mackay’s saxophone adds to the raucous, late-night-jam feel.
But this is tame sat alongside (or chronologically just before) the album closer ‘L.A. Blues’, a totally chaotic blitz that takes some stiff drinks before being listenable for its entirety. It’s registered as an instrumental because Iggy just shouts and screams like some sort of rabid wolf. It has to have been one of the first truly out there sonic cacophonies of noise that today would be described as experimental. It’s like watching a car crash video: you are appalled but can’t take your eyes away.

Which in a way is apt description of the experience of listening to the entire album.
The Stooges crashed and burned thereafter. Drugs and more drugs didn’t do them any favours; there was one more album*, Raw Power, and the live compilation Metallic K.O. which heralded new tracks such as ‘Rich Bitch’, which would have made for a phenomenal mid-70s album, but sadly those tracks only exist only in non-produced form.
(*Two inferior post-millennium albums notwithstanding - Ed)