Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Corvus Frugilegus

I’ve known Brendan Conlon on and off for close to 35 years. Through a shared passion for music. When I first met him he was playing Killing Joke covers in a Palmerston North pub. When I last saw him, he was playing Cure covers in a Wellington pub. And for all the years in between he’s been doing a whole lot of original stuff under a variety of names (Remarkables, Urchins, Burt Real, and Black Wings, for starters). This week Brendan has released an album of intimate/personal acoustic tunes on Bandcamp. It’s well worth a listen:

(Incidentally, Corvus Frugilegus is the scientific name for the Rook, with the artwork on this release created by Wellington artist Izzy Joy).

... and you can explore some of his work with Black Wings here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Album Review: Fazerdaze - Morningside (2017)

Iggy Pop loves it, the NME raved about it, even the notoriously hard to please rock snobs over at Pitchfork gave it the big thumbs up. So you probably don’t need me to tell how good the Fazerdaze full-length debut is. But I’m going to do that anyway …

Before I do, however, I should say that Morningside has been the source of some confusion for me. Mainly because when I saw Fazerdaze live and up close earlier this year, the set was played by a four-piece band. Yet, from all accounts amid the hype and hoopla surrounding the album’s release, and there’s been a lot of that, I keep reading that the album, with the exception of the odd bit of help here and there, was written, recorded, and produced in its entirety by Amelia Murray.

Which is quite something else altogether, and it really does mark Murray’s card as an exceptional talent. The whole thing is immaculately produced, pristine pop music, from start to finish. And yes, hindsight is wonderful, I now fully appreciate that it’s impossible for Murray to front these tunes in a live environment without a little helping hand. But for all intents, Fazerdaze is Murray’s project.
 
When an album is still in its post-release infancy – which Morningside surely is – there are a couple of key pointers which can help establish whether or not the work is going to stand the test of time.
 
The first is when you realise that the advance single releases – in this case ‘Little Uneasy’ and ‘Lucky Girl’ – aren’t actually any better than the rest of the material on offer. It means the quality control filter was set high enough, and it makes for a nice even no-skip listening experience.
 
The second key indicator is when it sounds better and better with each and every subsequent listen. Where you pick up little things, sounds that weren’t obvious before, when you hear something new every time you play it, and the album is able to bed into the subconscious with little or no effort at all.
 
Morningside ticks both of these boxes.

So what does it actually sound like?

Without wanting to single out specific tracks (see above), it might just about be the most highly polished thing ever released on Flying Nun. To date, at least. The attention to detail is next level, with ten tight crisp melodic power pop earworms all vying for the honour of being labelled the best thing on the album. Most of it is at the dreamy hazy shoegaze(y) end of the indie pop spectrum, but there’s also some darker fuzzy DIY moments to keep it sufficiently earthy.

But don’t take my word for it, or that of Iggy, just grab a copy and judge for yourself.

Check the clip below - 'Little Uneasy' ...



Sunday, July 9, 2017

Untouchable, and Remarkable ...

I’ve been listening to the album, The Very Best of The Topp Twins, because the CD was just sitting there, in my partner’s car, begging to be played, as a viable alternative to yet more scratchy and scarcely palatable talkback radio. And naturally enough, after giving the Topp Twins a whirl, I now feel the need to share a few thoughts about this remarkable sister act.

Firstly, I’m a bit of a fan, and I've managed to catch the Topp Twins performing live twice so far in 2017. The first time was a mid-summer outdoor event, with the twins co-headlining January's Wairarapa Country Music Festival, alongside the hugely underrated present day King of Aotearoa Country, Glen Moffatt. The second gig was a more recent set they performed at Southward's Theatre in Paraparaumu back in May, as part of the duo's Heading For The Hills tour. On both occasions the set was a mix of comedy and music – with characters like Ken and Ken, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, and multiple others, sharing the limelight with the twins in their most organic guise, as authentic country music artists.
 
And on each occasion it struck me how genuinely diverse the audience in attendance was – from youngsters to the blue rinse brigade, from rural people to city slickers, and from traditional hetero couples all the way across the spectrum to those within LGBTQ communities. Despite their own highly unique starting point, it seems that Jools and Lynda Topp speak the language of the common everyday person. The language of laughs and song, something distinctly Kiwiana, yet also something that’s universal enough to transcend generation, gender, and genre.

 
Such is their current day status as much loved New Zealand entertainment icons, it’s probably quite easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. Or particularly easy for them. During the early to mid-Eighties, when the Huntly-born sisters first emerged on the live music scene with their unique brand of local country-flavoured music, it’s fair to say they were viewed with some degree of suspicion by more conservative elements within New Zealand society, not least within the rural communities they’ve come to represent.
 
Denim-clad, mullet-loving, openly Lesbian, twin sisters, intent on agitating and shaking up the status quo, as keen environmental activists who also challenged mainstream stereotypical (and backward) views on gender and equality, the Topp Twins had a lot of barriers to breakthrough in order to be heard, let alone get some kind of message across. With many of those barriers being of the more invisible and unspoken of variety. Stuff that our aforementioned “everyday person” rarely thought of, back in those less enlightened times.
 
I think we’ve come a long way (as a society), and while I’m tempted to say that the Topp Twins have also come a long way, they’ve earned their acclaim without changing a thing. Without compromise. It’s usually the artist or performer who has to tailor their position, their act, or performance in order to achieve crossover success, and I don’t think the Topps have done that in any way whatsoever. They’ve held their ground and waited for the rest of us to catch up. And that’s a rare and remarkable thing.

As for that CD, the “very best of” album, I can’t recommend it enough – no comedy, just music, guitar, yodelling, harmonies, and an hour or so of homegrown goodness … from their seminal ‘Untouchable Girls’ through ‘Tomboy’, ‘Nga Iwi E’, ‘Shepherd’s Farewell’, all the way to the near standard ‘Honky Tonk Angel’ … even if their music draws a lot of inspiration from that most American of forms, country and western, collectively these tunes represent something close the perfect encapsulation of what it means to be this thing called “Kiwi”.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Guest Post: 1977 and all that … Turning Rebellion Into Money?

It’s time for another Guest Post, where we welcome our good friend Porky to the everythingsgonegreen pigsty. Porky tries to claim he was “too young” for the first outbreak of punk, but he still has some thoughts about the legacy of 1977 and all that …

This year is the 40th year of punk, if you take your starting point as 1977, rather than 1976 or 1969, or even 1956.
Punk’s origins are less important, the essence is. The Sex Pistols’ anger, The Clash’s passion, the Slits female revolution, the Saints and Radio Birdman’s honest, upfront bad attitude, the Suburban Reptiles’ uncomfortable Auckland abrasiveness and Bad Brains’ fusion of hardcore punk and roots reggae. These and many other bands shaped music in a way that still has some authority today.
Punk was the kick up the backside music needed in the 1970s, the swift sweep of the broom to prog, American MoR, cockrock and novelty guff that permeated the airwaves and Top of the Pops at the time. Music had become the mere background to lavish costume designs, puerility and daft dances as style supplanted substance.
 It wasn’t just angry; it was political: whether from 1977 (Pistols, Clash, Adverts) to its younger siblings (Crass, Dead Kennedys, The Exploited), on through the ongoing revivalist acts such as NOFX and Rancid, punk has been resolutely anarchist, socialist, feminist, reggae-loving, anti-racist, eco-warrior, and opposed to conservatism. It’s the voice of the disaffected.  
And yet, four decades on, I feel a cold breeze feather my skin as I think of what punk has become. What exactly does punk mean anymore? Is it about rebellion or has it become a nostalgia it’s okay to like? Was it even radical in the first place, and just another phase that the music industry soon latched on to and exploited? Oh my, I never wanted to have these questions floating around in my head. I was too young for the first outbreak, but you didn’t have to live through the Punk War to know what it fought for, daddio. 
So now we have the ungainly sight of John Lydon becoming John Liedown. The antagonistic rebel typified the movement in 1976 when he reflected the views of millions of bored British teens, beaten-down by the threat of rising unemployment and austerity, with Thatcher’s ghastly ‘I’m all right Jack’ vision just an election away.
John Lydon
 Now, Lydon is happy to reveal he thinks ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage is fantastic, Brexit is good for the working class and that Donald Trump is a nice chap and not racist at all. Always an enigma, Lydon carefully crafted himself an image of the apolitical warrior, the man on the street who just wants to stick two fingers to the man. His latest comments seem to suggest he is part of the establishment, happy to promote New Zealand butter.
He is only one, of course, and I’m unaware of any other punks that have drifted to the right. Joe Strummer’s final gig was a benefit for striking firefighters, Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers remains resolutely anti-fascist, and most new punk bands retain some semblance of that bolshy youthful angst.
But what of one of my original questions, has, in the Clash’s words “turning rebellion into money” become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Perhaps the answer lies in the actions of Joe Corre, the son of ex-Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
On a barge on London's River Thames late last year, the businessman set fire to his ₤5 million collection of punk memorabilia in protest against the commercialisation of the once-feared movement.
Joe Corre
Corre didn’t have anything to lose, he’s already rich, so the excessive worth of his pile of bondage trousers, bootleg recordings and trinkets would never have made a dent in his bank balance.
“Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need,” he said before striking a match to some Sid Vicious posters.
Who indeed is making money from the many punk special publications, the compilation albums and the books reflecting on the productive period from 1976-79 when anything seemed possible? I’d bet my prized copy of The Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut that the people that many punks hated are banking that filthy lucre.
But strip away all the exploitation and murky views and punk remains the one true musical revolution, when hating the British monarchy, opposing the fascist National Front, and wanting a riot of your own was not merely two fingers up to the establishment, it was the voice of an angry, youthful working class.
Now, fuck you. 

You want more Porky? ... you can find him here.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Overground/Underground

Following on from a more expansive EP release of a few months ago, former Wellington producer skymning, who I believe now works out of a London base, returns with another Bandcamp single, 'Overground/Underground'. Again it’s an exercise in creating sumptuous instrumental soundscapes that don't really take you anywhere too specific. I’m really enjoying this work, and it's another name-your-price download.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Classic Album Review: Stone Roses - Second Coming (1994)

Whatever the hype, whatever the sense of disappointment, whatever they try to tell you about this album, contrary to popular critique and the court of public opinion at the time … Second Coming rocks. It really is as simple as that.

But I do understand why so many critics took the hard-line approach with the album given that the Stone Roses self-titled debut (of 1989) was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all-time. Yet that seems a harsh stance to take when assessing this belated follow-up solely in isolation.

 When the Stone Roses released that debut, unquestionably an album of real quality, it could never be replicated. And even if the Roses had attempted to do just that, I’m quite sure the same critics would have condemned the band for being a one-trick pony. What didn’t help the cause, however, was the five-year hiatus between releases.

During that period of downtime, the band was beset with a whole range of “issues”, collectively and individually, but the sense of expectation from fans and critics alike became perhaps the biggest burden of all. The great shame is that this one was not only the follow-up, it was – give or take a random recent release or two – also a swansong.

Second Coming is a fine album in its own right. It certainly has a much harder edge to it than anything the band had released prior, with guitarist John Squire being far more prominent than ever before. Squire’s contribution is immense, and in many respects he’d taken over from Ian Brown as the key individual within the foursome by 1994.

Perhaps it’s in a lyrical context that Second Coming falls a little short, but the trademark/signature musical reference points remain firmly intact, with flowery retro Sixties influences still very much evident throughout.

In fact, the basic modus operandi of the band is essentially the same; guitar rock for the E-generation. Music to dance to, music to drink (and sway) to … music to get wasted to. That familiar, almost hip-hop-lite, slightly off-beat drumming, with tight and solid basslines, warm vocals, and layered harmonies, are all present and accounted for. Yet, if the MO was similar, its execution saw the rock’n roll factor cranked up tenfold, thanks to mainly to Squire’s axemanship.

If there is a criticism, it would be that the production rather pales in comparison to that found on the crisp debut effort … which, it could be argued, was ahead of its time regardless.

That, and the feeling that the album does drag a little through the middle stages.

Second Coming probably was a major myth-busting let down to the band’s massive fanbase, or those who expected the world with bells on, or the moon on a bloody stick, but it's also the sound of a harder, less naïve band, that had understandably moved on.

Highlights: ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, ‘Ten Storey Lovesong’, ‘Tears’, ‘How Do You Sleep’, and the single, ‘Love Spreads’.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Album Review: Aldous Harding - Party (2017)

Often, the very best art, is that which is the most confronting. Or that which challenges our sensibilities about what is “normal”. Or that which tests our ideas about how things “should” be presented. And of course, even the notion of there being something called the “best art” is something of a stretch, or a misnomer in itself. Every piece of “art” is unique, and what appeals to one man, might be a steaming pile of dog excrement to another.

We’ve seen it countless times, across multiple generations, and only Old Father Time allows for real perspective, or an assessment that ultimately sticks long after the critique or initial hyperbole dies down. Occasionally, ground-breaking works have been shunned by the general masses upon arrival or release, only for another generation to fully embrace the beauty or importance of it, years or decades later. And vice versa. More frequently, work hailed as extraordinary (or such) at first reveal, fails to stand the test of time.

I often think about bands like the Velvet Underground in that context; pretty much always in the shade (and in shades!) during the period when the band was an actual going concern, and performing regularly. A New York/niche thing, loved only by Warhol and an assortment of (visionary) weirdos, scarcely embraced at the time by a wider public intent on lapping up the mainstream sounds of The Beatles, the Stones, and the Beach Boys. Yet today, 50 years on, the Velvet Underground is frequently cited as some kind of hugely influential year zero phenomenon.

So anyway, we now come to Aldous Harding, the New Zealand-based “artist”/musician, and her new album, Party, her second full-length release. And no, I’m not about to say that the so-called gothic folk musician is some kind of once in a generation messianic pop culture figure that we’ll all “get” half a century from now … but I do think she is one of the more challenging or confronting local artists in recent memory.

Certainly her vocal style – she sings as though she has hearing loss or a slight speech impediment – and her unusual tortured-soul facial expressions can be a little cringe worthy at first. Cringe worthy in the sense that personally, both of those things make me feel a little uneasy, and they fly in the face of what I’ve come to “expect” from a young artist launching a pop career. Therefore, essentially, it’s my problem, not hers.

There was some uproar in social media circles (okay, my social media circle) recently when one of the country’s more high profile blogger/reviewers dared to publicly dismiss Harding’s work in a rather cruel way – by posting a YouTube clip labelled ‘Funny Goats Screaming Like Humans’ (as the review itself), before going on to say that Harding had “no songs”. A view that was, and is, completely at odds with the international profile and success she’s enjoying, but nonetheless a view from a popular blogger long noted for his no-holds-barred willingness to express an honest and frank opinion come hell or high water. He attracted a lot of flak on that social media platform, an unfeasible amount really, given that it is little more than one man’s assessment. But equally, there were a lot of people who agreed with his position.

The net result was that Harding and Party received a lot more attention than might otherwise have been the case, and although I had been aware of her (and the amount of praise she’d been the recipient of), it was only the controversy or discussion surrounding her worth that ultimately prompted me to download the album. Who said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity? She should put that blogger on a retainer.
 
 
Listening to Party, which was released on 4AD, via Flying Nun, I was confronted by that highly unusual singing style, and forced – thanks to comments I’d read on that social media thread – to weigh up just how “real” she was in terms of the overwhelming sense of loss/grief she exudes. Or the levels of existential angst she outwardly portrays. It had been implied that this part of her art was somehow fake, and therefore some kind of exploitative ruse.

In the end, I concluded that none of that last part really mattered one bit, any more than it matters when Robert Smith howls demonstrably during any number of Cure tunes, when Peter Murphy gets all Bauhaus on Bela Lugosi’s arse, or when, god forbid, the hair metal rocker removes his top in front of 50,000 screaming (and clearly deluded) fans. If he effectively gets his cock out and struts across the stage, then Harding seeks to accentuate or express her own inner demon by widening her eyes and pulling a funny face.

It’s confronting and it’s challenging. So what if it’s an act? … it’s merely part of her art. And what do these people expect, for Harding to produce a set of razorblades or go full fury Ian Curtis solely in order to prove her authenticity?

And I can’t agree that she has no songs. She does, it’s just that they’re highly unusual, formula-need-not-apply, stripped back, dark affairs, that aren’t easy to classify. With stark piano and acoustic forms, instrumentation that somehow leaves you wanting more. Part of that appeal, admittedly, is surely down to the studio talents of Bristol-based producer John Parish. There’s also couple of cameo appearances from Mike Hadreas, see Perfume Genius.

I’m several listens into Party, and I’m enjoying it to the extent that the only cringe factor I now endure is the one I feel when I think about how close I came to missing out on the album altogether. Where it stands in the wider pantheon of New Zealand music, beyond now always being used as a reference point in social media arguments about what constitutes an album review, is totally in the hands of our veritable friend, Old Father Time.

Highlights include the title track, plus ‘Blend’, ‘Horizon’, and ‘Imagining My Man’ (clip below) ...



 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Art-X meets Roll & Record

I’m always quite keen to post snippets about bits and pieces of music I pick up from Bandcamp, and as a firm blog favourite, French melodica ace Art-X has enjoyed plenty of everythingsgonegreen love a few times already. Last month he was back with a single release, ‘Digikal Connection’, where he takes a riddim produced by Roll & Record and adds his own very distinctive melodica magic over the top. A simple but very effective formula, and it’s yet another name-your-price download.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Album Review: Coldcut & On-U Sound – Outside the Echo Chamber (2017)

It is, of course, a very logical collaboration – two parts Coldcut, in the form of Matt Black and Jonathan More, and one part On-U Sound, courtesy of Adrian Sherwood. As producers of some of the finest electro and dub music to come out of the UK over the course of the past three decades, these guys are experts in the art of collaboration. They also know a thing or two about sonic possibilities.

In fact, if you removed the output of the Ninja Tune label, of which Black and More were founders, and the On-U Sound imprint (ditto Sherwood) from the rich tapestry of the aforementioned genres, not to mention the wider dance music and roots reggae scenes, you’d be left with an awfully big hole. One the size of several giant speaker stacks, even.

Yet, oddly enough, rather than engage the Ninja or On-U handles on this occasion, the trio have released Outside the Echo Chamber on the Ahead Of Our Time label, which previously served as the vehicle for Black and More’s earliest forays into production.

The collaboration goes well beyond that of the album’s three key protagonists, naturally. Throw in, just for starters, uber producer Lee Scratch Perry, onetime Black Uhuru vocalist Junior Reid, UK hip hop legend Roots Manuva, plus a couple of guys from the industrial dub heavyweight Tackhead; guitarist Skip McDonald (aka Little Axe) and bass player Doug Wimbish … and, well, you start to get an outline sketch of just what Outside the Echo Chamber is all about.

Look out also for the contributions from the comparatively low profile, or youthful, likes of Chezidek, Toddla T, Ce’Cile, Elan, and Rholin X (phew!).

There’s also a brief but nonetheless fascinating excursion into what I can only describe as Bollywood-soul, in the form of ‘Kajra Mohobbat Wala’, courtesy of Hamsika Iyer, the tune being an update of an old Hindu/Urdu love song.

We end up with 16 tracks in total; ten core tracks, plus six dub versions. The highlights of which include the distinctly political roots-drenched Perry/Reid/Elan offering ‘Divide and Rule’, the Roots Manuva-narrated opener, ‘Vitals’, and ‘Metro’, which, rather unusually, skirts around the outer limits of synthpop.

See also: genre-bending, hybrid flavours, immaculate production, all manner of special FX, bottom end, and echo … sugar, spice, and all things nice.

The bottom line is you’ll be hard pressed to find another album released in 2017 with as much emphasis on hybrid dub or big fat slabs of beefy bass.

The whole thing is really quite wonderful.

But, as a longstanding fan of the walks-on-water Adrian Sherwood, and as a long-distance admirer* of the Coldcut boys – I probably would say that, wouldn’t I?

* I don’t have a huge amount of Coldcut work in my collection, but I do have the early Sherwood edit of their ‘Stop This Crazy Thing’ from nearly 30 years ago. And as a certified hip hop-sceptic, I’ll stop short of suggesting that the Coldcut remix of that early masterclass example of rhyme and flow, Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’, is one of the greatest 12-inch singles ever made. But, between us, it just bloody well might be …
 
Here's 'Divide and Rule':
 
 
 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Album Review: Seva HiFi – Cosmic Matakau (2017)

Cosmic Matakau is the second full-length release for the Auckland-based collective Seva HiFi. It's a follow-up to the group's 2012 album 'Early', and has been released on the same Sugarlicks imprint. The 10-track Cosmic Matakau follows a similar funky template to that well-received debut, with the core group - Baz Suamili, Levani Vosasi, and Gmuva - once again drawing upon a hybrid of influences and cultural reference points to come up with a pacific-styled variation on old fashioned disco. Albeit a slightly more contemporary housed-up version of that genre, cross-pollinated by an assortment of world music vibes and rhythms. There's a generous helping of psychedelic trip hoppy moments, plenty of soulful harmonies, and frequent use of strings (thanks to guest collaborator Stephen Hussey). Other co-conspirators include backing vocalist Tyra Hammond, and Isaac Aesili, who added synths and horns, with the whole thing being held together by the sumptuous sticky production techniques of Gmuva himself. Moreover, Cosmic Matakau is a little slice of dancefloor sunshine in a box, and it might just be the perfect antidote to those long winter nights ahead. Close the curtains, dim the lights, turn up the bass, and let yourself glide.

(This review originally appeared in the Fresh Cuts section of the April/May issue of NZ Musician magazine – in fact, it was the final review in the final print issue of the mag. NZ Musician will continue as a digital publication only).