Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gig Review: The Beths, Meow, Wellington, 14 September 2018

The thing about The Beths is that there’s very little fuss about anything they do. 11pm sharp, following sets by Bad Friend and Hans Pucket, they gathered on stage and launched straight into the title track from the band’s debut album, Future Me Hates Me. It’s short, sharp indie pop at its best, and for the next hour or so, punters at a sold-out Meow were treated to a non-stop procession of tight bouncy tunes from that album, and a few earlier gems from 2016’s Warm Blood EP.

There might not have been much fuss, with lead vocalist Elizabeth Stokes barely interacting with the crowd throughout, save for a few words, but there was an irresistible energy right across the venue, and the first couple of rows back were positively heaving. I felt thankful to be stationed near the rear of the bar and still able to take it all in without subjecting my old bones to any unnecessary Friday night injuries.

All of my own favourites from the album got an outing … ‘You Wouldn’t Like Me’, ‘Great No One’, ‘Happy Unhappy’, and ‘Little Death’, were all terrific without being note perfect replicas, which is just how I like it. They all led to a one song encore, ‘Whatever’, which is fast becoming something of a signature tune for a band enjoying a meteoric rise in 2018.

I don’t think for a moment the band itself would consider this particular gig one of its best, there were some timing issues and a couple of dropped notes, and I wondered aloud whether the vocal mix was all it could have been at one point. But none of that mattered in the slightest, this band doesn’t necessarily have to be right at the top of its game to be one of the very best in the country at the moment.

I’m pretty sure the next time The Beths visit the capital, it’ll be to play a bigger venue asking a lot more than a mere $15 on the door.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Album Review: The Beths - Future Me Hates Me (2018)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up a copy of The Beths’ debut album, Future Me Hates Me. I reviewed the band’s opening gambit, the Warm Blood EP, for NZ Musician a few years ago, and I’d heard a couple of advance releases, ‘Great No One’ and ‘Happy Unhappy’. 

Yet cynical-old-me remained a touch suspicious that the glowing reviews appearing in Rolling Stone and on Pitchfork were merely a case of hyperbolic bandwagon-jumping. Mainly in relation to the generic and frequently-used “jangly guitar bands from New Zealand” angle. Not to mention indie pop’s seemingly relentless need to always come up with a new “next big thing”.

In a local context, at least, that was the weighty label worn very impressively last year by the similarly-geared Fazerdaze. This year, it looks as though The Beths have been tasked with filling that often extremely onerous vacancy. As the latest buzz-band according to those who supposedly know a thing or two about this stuff. It rather depends on how much credence you give Rolling Stone and/or Pitchfork, of course, but not all bands are well equipped enough to cope with such a burden. Many a talented bunch have just as quickly fallen off the radar after failing to meet unrealistic media-driven expectations.

So, having said all of that, I suspect The Beths have got the words “stay well-grounded” emblazoned boldly across the front page of the band’s constitution, and the only truly important question right now is – does Future Me Hates Me actually live up to any of that early hype?   

Short answer: Yes, I think it might just make the cut.

Long answer: the album is packed full of clever pop music, with great songcraft, and an abundance of hooks. Lyrically, there’s a nice balance, a good blend of the light and the dark; some weighty stuff mixed in with morsels of humour and a level of self-awareness not often found in a band with this youthful age demographic. As much as I usually cringe at throwing such blanket generalisations out there.

But perhaps the key element to the wider appeal of Future Me Hates Me is the sense that producer – and guitarist – Jonathan Pearce knew exactly how much dirt to leave in the mix when it came to adding spit and polish. There’s a raw edge to many of the tunes on the album. It’s post-punk indie 101. Girl-fronted guitar pop that’s a little bit frayed around the periphery. Universal, yet slightly bent, and even a touch subversive. 

The band keeps things focused and mostly tight throughout, underpinning the girl-next-door vocal nuances of the generally excellent Elizabeth Stokes, and there’s no question that The Beths have taken giant strides forward since the release of Warm Blood back in 2016. As good as that EP was, this feels like a much more mature piece of work. The sort of thing that usually happens when a band hones its craft in a live setting as often as this lot has over the past few years.

The album includes the popular live favourite ‘Whatever’ (originally found on Warm Blood), while other highlights include the title track itself, ‘Great No One’, and ‘Little Death’ … and more generally, you can expect to see Future Me Hates Me featuring regularly on those ubiquitous best-of-the-year album lists come November and December. In New Zealand, and elsewhere. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be on mine. 

Clear some space on the bandwagon, I’m climbing aboard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Book Review: In Love With These Times, My Life With Flying Nun Records, by Roger Shepherd

Published a few years back, In Love With These Times is Roger Shepherd’s memoir-come-history of the Flying Nun record label. It’s taken me an age to get around to reading and reviewing it. Never let it be said that everythingsgonegreen is anything other than current and relevant …

There’s a sense that Roger Shepherd is something of an accidental hero in the Flying Nun story. The notion that he founded the label - on the whiff of an oily rag - primarily to release the highly original music being made by local bands he was enjoying live, and regularly networking with as a record shop employee, makes for a wonderful backstory. It becomes quite clear he did so on little more than a whim, without much thought, forward planning, or finance. At the outset at least.

All of these things would come back to haunt Shepherd, and his label, at various junctures over the course of the next three decades. Yet, in many respects, it was Shepherd’s determination to trust his instinct, to embrace the DIY ethic, aligned with a fierce sense of independence, that came to define the label. It was precisely the same modus operandi employed by the many bands that eventually benefitted from his risk-taking. 

The Clean, The Chills, The Gordons, and the rest, would all have existed regardless, sure, but it seems doubtful anyone associated with the conservative major labels of early 1980s New Zealand would have had the vision to release their music. Shepherd grasped their (collective) appeal immediately and made sure the rest of the country - and eventually, more curious or enlightened individuals globally - would get to hear the music. 

Shepherd pays credit to the crucial roles played by the likes of Chris Knox and Doug Hood, among many others, along the way. He writes extensively about the label’s evolution, the rise, particularly through the fledgling years of the 1980s, the relocation to Auckland, the fall, the (forced) financial and artistic compromises, the post-millennium rebirth, plus his own travels, and his personal battles with addiction and mental health.

Shepherd writes passionately and candidly about all of that stuff. He’s a decent writer, an engaging and witty mine of information throughout. 

And while the guts of the Flying Nun story may have been told (elsewhere) before, it’s never been told with the same level of insight and colour as provided here by Shepherd. Just as you’d expect from the man with the most intimate insider knowledge of the label. And it’s this level of detail, the highs and lows associated with that, alongside the personal anecdotes and the frequent self-deprecating stories around his own journey as a man - as opposed to a reluctant businessman - that make In Love With These Times the definitive account. 


Here's Shepherd’s own account of writing the book, as published by Audioculture:

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Classic Album Review: Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords (2008)

There was talk in the local media recently that Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, aka Flight Of The Conchords, were working together again. Planning something special. It may even have been in the context of putting together a brand new television special, I can’t recall the exact details. But it’s been a full decade since the release of the duo’s self-titled debut album, so it seems timely to acknowledge the ten-year anniversary of that release, and the scarcely anticipated success that followed ... 

The Wellington comedy/musical outfit certainly lived the dream. From humble, relatively isolated, small-town New Zealand roots, to the big wide world of HBO sitcom celebrity, best-selling albums, lengthy international tours, Grammy Awards, Oscars, and Emmy nominations, it was a wild ride for a few years there. 

Just because they’re funny. Or rather, just for being able to strike the otherwise frequently elusive balance between good music and good comedy. Without ever crossing over too far into that murky shameless world otherwise known as the Novelty Act. 

It’s more of the knowing smile/quiet chuckle, warm fuzzy type of humour, as opposed to the belly laugh variety, but then that’s an integral part of its charm. Quiet, observational humour about everyday situations, occasionally dark, often sardonic and mocking, seriously satirical, and usually highly self-deprecating – what’s not to like? 

And who says they’re trying to be funny anyway? On this evidence these blokes are surely serious musicians … purely in a not so serious kind of way, obviously. 

Did I mention, gee whizz, they also collectively nabbed a coveted Wellingtonian of the year title? Ahem. 

Best tracks: ‘Inner City Pressure’ (Neil Tennant eat yer heart out), ‘Leggy Blonde’ (featuring sidekick and “band manager” extraordinaire Rhys Darby), ‘The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)’, ‘Business Time’ (“that’s why they’re called business sox”), and the best of the bunch, ‘Bowie’ (self-explanatory … inter-planetary, even) … 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Album Review: Jack White - Boarding House Reach (2018)

It happens at least once a week in my house. That one meal time when all of the leftover food from the previous few days is cobbled together to create a makeshift dinner. Usually on a Sunday, but there’s no set night really. We call it “hodge podge” night. And those words - hodge podge - are all I can think of when I listen to Jack White’s latest solo album, Boarding House Reach.

In the past, I’ve been a staunch defender of White and his ability to excavate elements of the past to produce something new, but even I’m left scratching my head with this one. Critics argue that White is now simply going through the motions, trading on the phenomenal success of the first couple of White Stripes albums. With Boarding House Reach being the faux-experimental mish-mash it undoubtedly is, Jack White appears determined to merely add weight to that criticism.

Of course, there’s an obvious attempt to present a facade of progression and creativity, and sure there’s the odd glimpse of White doing what he used to do so well, but beyond the album opener, ‘Connected By Love’, there’s not much here to get excited about. And I use the word “excited” liberally, with all the generosity I can muster. You know you’re in trouble when you cite one of the most thoroughly mediocre curtain-raisers of White's entire career as the album’s solitary highlight.

The rest is just noise. Literally. Muffled noise, even. Half formed ideas - see ‘Abulia and Akrasia’ and the shambolic ‘Hypermisophoniac’ for the worst examples - that don’t really go anywhere. Bits and bobs that White in his pomp, or in any other guise other than that of “solo artist”, would surely have been forced to shelf. 

It all feels very self-indulgent, highly complacent, and it lacks any of the spark, energy, or grunt - as copyist or derivative as it may have been - that once made Jack White’s music such a vital proposition in the first place. 

I remain a fan of his earlier work, naturally, as a paid up member of the Jack White fan club, but Boarding House Reach really is a monumental disappointment to these ears. Even within the context of the steadily diminishing returns White’s solo career has offered up over the past few years. 

Boarding House Reach is the musical equivalent of hodge podge night, and when you’ve got house full of notoriously picky eaters, woe behold the chef who serves up anything as half baked as this. Pass the gravy.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Classic Album Review: Portishead - Dummy (1994)

Emerging from the short-lived early Nineties “trip hop” boom, Portishead have their own unique sound, and the band’s debut album, Dummy, sounds as fresh today as it did at the time of its release back in 1994.

Combining elements of hip hop and jazz, with a laidback and somewhat distinctive approach to synthpop, Portishead’s most immediately identifiable feature is the voice of lead singer Beth Gibbons. Fragile, haunting, and strangely seductive, Gibbons’ vocals stood out like a fluorescent beacon in a vast sea of pre-Britpop mediocrity, and Dummy’s huge success was in no small way attributable to the way Gibbons interpreted the light-on-structure but nonetheless compelling material she had to work with.   

After a decade of inactivity, Portishead made a formidable comeback in 2008 with the belated release of a third album, the critically-acclaimed and aptly-titled Third, which went some way towards restoring the band to its former heights. However, the innovative Dummy set the benchmark, not only for these guys as a unit, but also for a host of other so-called trip hop wannabes seeking to emulate Portishead’s success - and that of Massive Attack - at the time.

Few succeeded, and commercially at least, the sub-genre faded into obscurity, or perhaps it is fairer to say it was swallowed up by a relentless bombardment of Britpop and the crossing over of in-yer-face high-bpm techno. Or maybe it simply morphed into the ubiquitous “chill-out” genre, who can really say? Given that neither Portishead nor Massive Attack have been especially prolific, it is hardly surprising there have been long periods without any persuasive points of reference.

Six (of eleven tracks) download essentials: ‘Sour Times’, ‘Wandering Star’, ‘It’s A Fire’, ‘Numb’, ‘Roads’, and the fantastic closer, ‘Glory Box’.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Mixtape: A Three Minute Ride

Friday the 24th of August is New Zealand’s National Poetry Day … so here is my extremely rudimentary, not very politically correct, contribution to that cause. The context being that this was written some years ago, back in the day when making a mixtape (like, an actual cassette tape) for the person of your affections was a far better option than, you know, actually talking to them about pesky feelings and stuff. 

Disclaimer: everythingsgonegreen is a much better person these days ;- ) … even if my poetry remains as bad as it ever was:

The Mixtape: A Three Minute Ride 

A mixtape with Siouxsie, the Sisters, and Cure
I’d woo her with darkness and gothic allure
She’d sense my heartache, my mystery, my gloom
And sooner or later she’d be up in my room

But that didn’t work, she just looked at me funny
So I’d try one more time, all sweetness and honey
Some Eagles, some Beatles, and maybe some Bread
But then I decided I’d be better off dead

So revert to plan B and reveal the real me
Some Clean, some Exponents, perhaps some Dead C
But that was no good, she hated that stuff
If only I’d gone for some Coconut Rough

By now I was desperate, and feeling alone
Nothing I did would get me that bone
Maybe the Stones, some glam, and some punk
James Brown, Barry White, and a whole side of funk

Then up in my room, just smoking some pot
I found a new sound that hit the right spot
Some Marley, and Tosh, some Scratch, and some dread
It worked, she was cooked, clothes off, into bed

It lasted one song, not even a side
Over and done, a three minute ride
The mixtape had worked, but the love didn’t last
And that girl soon became a thing of the past

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Porky Post … Album Review: Half Man Half Biscuit - No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut (2018)

Porky’s back, looking for laughs, so he sought out the new work by the incomparable Half Man Half Biscuit:

It’s impossible to tire of Half Man Half Biscuit, regardless of the unfortunate fact that bands trading on wit and sardonicism tend to have a short shelf life. The Biscuits, however, are made of sterner ingredients.

After a break of four years, following 2014’s eight-out-of-ten Urge For Offal, they’re back in action for their 13th studio album for which I am expecting exceptionally good things. 

Usually the song titles alone are an indicator of the content and in tracks such as Alehouse Futsal, Mod. Diff. Vdiff. Hard Severe, and Swerving the Checkatrade, it’s obvious that the Wirral four-piece has lost none of its panache and love for the minutiae of life.

The archetypal Nigel Blackwell cynicism about life’s characters is cranked up to 11 for a track that has its heart (and nose) in South America:

“You went from Magaluf to Stalingrad/ On altogether more different snow” which leads to Blackwell stating the bleedin’ obvious: “What made Colombia famous/ Has made a prick out of you.” 

Knobheads on Quiz Shows is, rather disappointingly, given its title, one of the weaker tracks, but the scathing lyrics pretty much make up for the limp bog-standard indie. Village idiots on television is par for the course, and they’re an easy target – which is why they are hauled up by the producers in the first place. But the Biscuits make it into an acidulous crusade anyway: 

“I don’t watch films in black and white/ The trees and flowers and birds have passed me by/ I’ll just guess and hope I’m right/ The first man into space was Captain Bligh.”

Its caustic content makes it the natural successor to Bad Losers on Yahoo Chess (from the band’s 2008 album CSI: Ambleside).

Renfield’s Afoot is equally caustic, with Blackwell beginning with his observation of a notification about a bat walk which recommends taking along warm waterproof clothing and a flask, and a time to meet. To which the Biscuits go all punk rock guitar and our hero has a go at the well-meaning organiser, informing them that he knows the place like the back of his hand and won’t be following the party line … 

“So don’t go trying to organise my bat walks/ I’ll be going on any-time-I-like walks” …

The outdoor life, you sense, is one that Blackwell adores but has an intense dislike for those who partake in such pleasures. Such as the man who got a Boardman bike off a Cycle to Work scheme and now goes out every Sunday in a “full Sky replica kit.” 

Football mentions are alas brief, nothing in the line of All I Want for Christmas is A Dukla Prague Away Kit

There’s namechecks for Dorothy Perkins, Battenberg cake, the Hadron Collider and Throbbing Gristle – and that’s just on Harsh Times in Umberstone Covert.

On realising that perhaps he is being a little too obscure, and for the assistance of his listeners in Crieff and Kinross, Blackwell whispers after a chorus in Bladderwrack Allowance mentioning Robert of Blaby, that Blaby is in Leicestershire.

Here’s some more lyrics: 

“Somebody’s mumbling Galatians/ Somewhere a wolf-print fleece needs 90 degrees/ Pushchair-related confrontations/ Pastoral conceits, Italian fancies, comic glees.” (Terminus

“I don’t think I’ve encountered a man so irate/ You’re a better man than I if you get past his gate/ He treats hawkers and Mormons with equal disdain/ Jesus I feel won’t be coming back again.” 
(Man of Constant Sorrow (With a Garage in Constant Use))

I think you get the picture, but the wit and obscure references are more than matched by a band on fire and making a sound that is ensuring this album is gaining more attention that the past few.

Oh, and the insert includes a crossword. I don’t imagine any Cliff Richard albums had one of those.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

More Miloux ...

I wrote a little bit about the music of Auckland-based electronic artist Miloux back in 2016 (here) when she released her debut EP, the aptly titled EP1. Miloux – Rebecca Melrose to her parents – then disappeared off the radar with no recorded output of note until July of this year, when a digital single, ‘Paris’, popped up on Bandcamp. It turns out that release was merely a precursor to a more expansive EP hitting the same platform earlier in this month, titled, you guessed it, EP2. ‘Paris’ features as the centrepiece among the five tracks on the release, all of which explore similar themes, and employ the same synthpop MO, to those found on the debut. If you liked that one, you’ll probably enjoy this one. As with the first release, Miloux generously offers it up as a name-your-price download ...

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Classic Album Review: Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)

I was a relative latecomer to the delights of Daydream Nation. It’s the album where cult heroes Sonic Youth completed their gradual transformation from experimental noiseniks to hugely influential guitar-based alt-rockers. 

Whether this was a conscious and deliberate path, or otherwise, this album sounds a little bit like the missing link between Eighties post-punk and the (then) fledgling grunge scene, and it probably stills stands as the band’s most structured and commercially-flavoured work. 

Whatever else it was, Daydream Nation has subsequently become a highly feted album, lauded by critics and fans alike, and the esteemed music webzine Pitchfork went so far as to rank it as its No.1 album of the Eighties. Sales figures don’t tend to support this lofty position, but there is no denying its wider influence, and that of the band itself.

Partners in crime, and onetime partners in life, guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon share the majority of songwriting and vocal duties, but fellow axeman Lee Ranaldo also features prominently on both counts. Distinctive guitar - angular, jerky, unusual tunings, but lots of riffage as well - and thundering rhythms dominate as tracks form almost seamlessly from one to the next, the album eventually becoming a procession of controlled noise, with only occasional forays into the realm of experimentation, something this band has always been heavily associated with.

I wasn’t a big fan of Sonic Youth prior to hearing this, though I loved (side-project) Ciccone Youth’s version of (Madonna’s) ‘Into The Groove(y)’, and ‘Superstar’, the band’s contribution to an early Nineties Carpenters covers compilation, but if it did nothing else, finally getting to grips with Daydream Nation meant I could fully appreciate what many others had known for a very long time.

The opener, ‘Teen Age Riot’, which was released as a single, is a definite highlight, as is the (closing) ambitious ‘Trilogy’, but there are no obvious weak tracks on Daydream Nation. A genuine “must-have” album for fans of post-punk or indie, as you’re bound to hear shades of your latest favourite band on here. There was an updated 2007 Deluxe release, which is probably the version to go for.