Saturday, June 29, 2013

Album Review: Suede – Bloodsports (2013)

I remember when I first became aware of Suede because it coincided with a particularly exciting time in my life. It was early 1993, and I’d just travelled from New Zealand to Scotland, via London, for what turned out to be an extended stay in my father’s homeland.

I recall sitting in a pub in Glasgow’s east end one afternoon lamenting the fact that I didn’t really know anyone (beyond my Dad’s family) but for whatever reason (being unemployed?) I seemed to have way too much time on my hands and nobody to share this great adventure with. Truth be told, I was a bit lost. Prior to going to the pub I’d picked up a copy of one of the music papers – probably the NME – and I spent much of that afternoon reading it from cover to cover. Even back then I was a pop culture obsessive, and at the time I was quite convinced that the UK was the epicentre of the pop culture universe, so I was determined to bring myself right up to date. Plus it was a good excuse to sit there and drink.
Suede was everywhere. How come I’d never heard of these guys, let alone heard them? There was a big write up in that paper and when I perused the charts I noted a track called ‘Animal Nitrate’ by Suede sat high in the singles chart, within the Top 10. If I recall correctly, I went out and bought it immediately (on something called a Cassingle, which was perfect for my Sony Walkman of the era) – either that afternoon or the very next day. I’m pretty sure I still have it. It was every bit as impressive as the NME had told me it was. I was an instant convert. A Suede fan. In for the long haul.

The band’s self-titled debut album was also riding high in the album charts at the time and it would eventually win 1993’s Mercury Prize – the second ever recipient after Primal Scream’s epic Screamadelica had won the inaugural award. I pinned a small poster sized replica of the album cover on the wall of my bedsit flat. I stared at it for hours trying to work out if it was two guys kissing or whether it was in fact two girls, or even – shock, horror – a heterosexual couple. Whatever, that image sealed Suede’s fate as the most androgynous outfit in all of pop (at that time), and it wasn’t just singer Brett Anderson’s vocal that prompted immediate recall of David Bowie in his glam-rock pomp.

The Face of November 1994

Suede continued to feature heavily in the various music paper hype machines across the next couple of years; the bust-up between Anderson and (then) guitarist Bernard Butler, in particular, providing plenty of melodramatic copy fodder.
I collected everything Suede released between 1993 and 2002 – five studio albums and a remarkable B-sides collection called Sci-Fi Lullabies. As I saw it, each release became less essential than the one that preceded it, but all of the band’s albums contain something worth listening to. I even quite enjoyed Anderson’s solo work of a few years back.
Fast forward to 2013 (thank you, patient reader), and Suede’s sixth studio album, Bloodsports, released a full 11 years after the previous full-length outing. It was with some trepidation, admittedly, that I listened to it for the first time recently.

I needn’t have worried. It sounds exactly like the Suede I recall. The Suede of old. And I do mean exactly like. Okay, it probably doesn’t quite live up to the high standards of the first three albums, but it is unmistakably Suede; the same formula, the same lyrical themes, the same signature guitar, and of course, the same old Brett Anderson calling the shots from the frontline. Naturally enough, I quite like it.

But I like it because I’m a Suede fan. It isn’t the most ambitious piece of work ever released. It doesn’t exactly break any new ground. It won’t be an album that has today’s indie kids or hipsters ranting and raving endlessly about its charms. It is simply Suede (or Anderson, take your pick) doing what Suede does best. Just quietly, some of it is probably a bit dated, lost somewhere in the no-man’s land between glam, emo, and the Britpop style the band initially hovered around the periphery of.

Bloodsports is an album to sate the appetite of fans, or an album for lapsed fans curious to see what the state of the Suede nation looks like in 2013. While I absolutely still count myself as one of those fans, I truly doubt the release of this all-new work will result in any great number of new converts.

Highlights: ‘Barriers’, ‘It Starts And Ends With You’, and ‘Sabotage’ (clip below). But it’s all pretty good and there are no real duds.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Album Review: DU3normal – Flow Frequency (2013)

Following on from the themes explored in the Panda Dub review (below), I thought I’d throw the spotlight on DU3normal, a dub producer from Budapest, Hungary.

DU3normal’s recent album, Flow Frequency, is certainly another prime example of the genre boundary-pushing we looked at in the previous review, and it’s something we’ve now come to expect within the ever evolving form we once knew singularly as “dub”.

Like Panda’s work, software-driven electro/steppa styles are very much to the fore on Flow Frequency, and the album is an exploration into all manner of digital possibilities. Despite the seemingly rather sterile approach to making what has always been the most rootsy and earthy of music, DU3normal somehow conjures up enough sticky magic for this to feel totally authentic.

Part of the reason it works is due to a number of great collaborations, most notably on tracks like ‘Flow’ (with Bandulu Dub), and ‘Steppa Anthem’, which combines the vocal gymnastics of Sensi T with the remixing skills of Injham.

Production is pristine, and at 66 minutes across 17 tracks, it’s a generous listen. If I can fault it, there is a sense that some of this can become a bit samesy at times, but it’s frequently saved by regular excursions into African vibes and otherworldly Eastern moods, the addition of extra spice meaning it never becomes routine or so laidback as to become bland.

The subtle dubstep core right at the heart of Flow Frequency doesn’t really provide the album with any great point of difference from a multitude of similar 2013 releases, but it’s done tastefully enough, and the rhythm and flow of the music always remains intact.

I’m enjoying this album, a lot, and it’s been getting a fair old workout recently. I really like the idea of new technologies expanding forms of music into completely unknown territories, and although live dub played on real instruments by real people will always be preferable to listeners of a certain generation, this digital stuff has its place – especially when it’s done this well.

Best Tracks: ‘Flow’ (with Bandulu Dub), ‘Steppa Anthem’ (with Sensi T), ‘Wet Concrete’, and ‘Sitar Dub’.

Released on the Dan Dada label earlier this year, Flow Frequency can be downloaded here … while the DU3normal Soundcloud page can be found here.

Album Review: Panda Dub – Psychotic Symphony (2013)

The “dub” genre, that basscentric cosmic offspring of what we once called reggae, is expanding at such a prolific rate it seems that each passing week brings us a brand new sub-genre to contend with. And where dub was once specifically identified as the voice of Jamaica’s roots and culture movement and its wider Afro-carib diasporas, it is now very much a global phenomenon. You need only look at its recent spread across the continent of Europe for confirmation of that.

 There’s always been the odd pocket of interest in Europe of course, but beyond the obvious West Indian stronghold otherwise known as the United Kingdom, it’s fair to say the good people of the European mainland have largely been immune to the genre’s wider charms. But diversification – of scenes, sounds, and styles – combined with a whole bunch of new technologies has undoubtedly changed the game, and dub’s horizons haven’t so much been expanded, as been blown wide open.

There’s roots artists like (Sicilian) Alborosie in Italy, High Freequency in Spain, and mainstream pop stars like Gentleman in Germany. There’s also the rootsteppah styles of Radikal Guru coming out of Poland, and the digital dub of DU3normal from that bastion of roots and culture we call Budapest, Hungary. Plus many others. There’s simply no escaping the reality that genre boundaries and traditional borders no longer apply in 2013. Which has to be a good thing right?
And then, of course, there’s the subject of this review, Panda Dub, from Lyonnais, France (not to be confused with Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad). Psychotic Symphony is the latest release from this largely anonymous artist who has been quietly releasing his unique variation on dub since as far back as 2005. My own introduction to the music of Panda Dub came back in 2010 with Black Bamboo, a release that turned me on to the expansive possibilities of digital dub.

Effectively a laidback afro/electro hybrid made primarily on computers, there’s perhaps a feeling that this is some kind of software-based dub, a synthetic, lightweight or lesser version of the real thing, but Panda also includes a wide range of live instrumentation, from a variety of flutes to melodica to erhu, to create a sound all of his own.

If there is any question mark over the credibility of Panda Dub, or the authenticity of this digital form, then it’s worth noting that this former metal fiend regularly takes his live show across Europe, with a number of dates already booked during this Northern hemisphere summer. So while his music has all the hallmarks of being a fastidiously poured over homemade brew, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t translate well beyond the confines of a studio.
Released on the Original Dub Gathering label, Psychotic Symphony doesn’t deviate too far from what we got on Black Bamboo, or earlier work (see the Anthology 2005-2008 release for a taster), though it does seem a little more fully formed, more focused, and its themes feel more developed. Bass dominates, there’s a strong UK-steppa influence, some rhythmic dubstep, and extensive use of sampling throughout.

Released digitally right on the cusp of the New Year (2012/2013), Psychotic Symphony has been a permanent fixture on my pod right through the calendar year to date, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s proving a reliable “go to” whenever I’ve felt the need for something a little different.

Highlights: ‘Sometimes I Don’t Sleep’, ‘Crazy World’, ‘Into The Woods (featuring Poussin)’, ‘Time’, ‘No Rule In The Underground’, and the title track itself.

A free download of Panda Dub’s previous release, the 2010 album Black Bamboo, can be found here ... and here's the Horace Andy-sampling 'Time' off Psychotic Symphony:



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gig Review: Killing Joke, Bodega, Wellington

It’s funny how you can think you know a band’s work intimately, and then realise you really don’t know it all that well at all.

Halfway through Killing Joke’s Bodega gig, the final set of what was effectively a “Greatest Hits/Singles” album promo jaunt, amid a whirlwind of pulverising noise, I fast came to the conclusion that I really knew only a small fraction of the band’s extensive studio discography. And what I did know, was pretty much confined to the first decade of the band’s 35-year career. Which, when you think about it, hardly constitutes knowing a band “intimately”.

But Killing Joke’s earliest work always had greater prominence in my mind’s eye, only because it meant so much to me at the time. Truth is, I’ve lost touch with the band over the past couple of decades, a point that was literally hammered home to me (in jackhammer fashion) at Friday night’s not quite sold out gig.

Not that any of it mattered. This was the legendary Killing Joke. In Wellington for the first time, and they were here to celebrate the old stuff anyway.

I got to see all of my favourites – a magnificent ‘Requiem’ to open, ‘Wardance’ three tracks into the set, a much earlier than anticipated rendition of ‘Love Like Blood’ (which I’d picked as a default encore option), ‘Eighties’, and ‘The Wait’. All there and accounted for. There were others I recognised but was perhaps a bit too sozzled to recall here … things got a little “vague” as the night wore on (ahem).

What I do know is that it was very loud, there were none of the sound problems I’d associated with Bodega in the past, and despite it being crowded, hot, and sticky, none of the issues that had apparently tainted Killing Joke’s Auckland show the previous night.

Vocalist, founder, and main man Jaz Coleman, was truly a sight to behold. With flowing jet black locks, deep set crazy eyes, and a truly impressive crow-like beak, he really is the ultimate frontman. With such an imposing stage presence his only focus was to give the crowd exactly what they wanted, what they expected. He knows the game and plays the role perfectly.
Flanked by a perpetually bored looking guitarist Geordie to his right, and bassist (and uber producer) Youth – who was clearly loving it – to his left, Coleman cuts quite the Rock God profile. His on stage dramatics and tendency to take the piss out of himself, somehow defy a 53-year-old body, and delight the whippersnappers in the front row(s) – or the dysfunctional Bodega equivalent of a “mosh” – in equal measures.

In the end we got a solid 90-minute set, of which 30-odd minutes was an encore … from noisy early punk, to gothic post-punk, with large segments of layered industrial grind … if this proves to be something of a sign-off tour for Killing Joke, they’ve left me with a gig to savour, and one that will now perhaps become my defining memory of the band.

If I didn’t really know Killing Joke to begin with, I certainly left the venue feeling rather more enlightened, and satisfied that the gig qualifies as quite probably the best $70 I’ve spent all year.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


AudioCulture is a brand new website documenting the rich history of pop music and wider pop culture in New Zealand. If you’re a fan of NZ music you’ll know about it already – unless, of course, you’re locked up in a padded cell somewhere, sans computer and have no contact with the outside world. Or live in Whakarongo, which is pretty much the same thing.
The website is the brainchild of longtime NZ music industry identity Simon Grigg, and it brings together a quality set of knowledgeable writers to document the good and the great of this thing we often refer to by the catch-all “Kiwi music”.

We’ve had some great books on the subject over the years – John Dix’s bible ‘Stranded In Paradise’, Chris Bourke’s ‘Blue Smoke’, Grant Smithies’ excellent ‘Soundtrack’, and most recently Simon Sweetman’s thoroughly enjoyable ‘On Song’. But apart from a few key individuals keeping the flame burning online with independent blogs (such as the sadly now defunct Mysterex), we’ve never before had a website that digs as deep and covers as much territory as AudioCulture.
Congratulations and a big thank you to all involved in AudioCulture (aka “the noisy library of New Zealand music”), it looks terrific, it’s a wonderful resource for history boffins, and the best thing about it is that it will only continue to get better ... if any everythingsgonegreen reader hasn’t already done so, I strongly recommend you take a squizz:


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kraftwerk: Classic Albums – The Man Machine & Computer World, Vivid 2013, and Free Mixtapes

The annual Vivid Festival in Sydney has just come to the end of its spectacular near three-week-long run. Described as an extravaganza of “light, music, and ideas”, it really does look like a must see event.

This year’s Vivid Festival was made all the more exciting by the fact that legendary German technocrats Kraftwerk performed EIGHT times in just four days at the Sydney Opera House, rolling out what is otherwise known as The Catalogue – eight exceptional albums (one per gig, two gigs per day/night) from Autobahn (1974) through to Tour de France (2003). I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t totally jealous when I learned that local ‘Stuff’ music blogger Simon Sweetman had attended. Simon’s experience is well documented here …

Anyway, it got me thinking more and more about Kraftwerk. The organisers of Vivid must have been pinching themselves when they secured Kraftwerk’s participation in the event because no other musical outfit across the globe (individual, band, DJ, or “operator”) could possibly provide a better fit for the “lights, music, and ideas” ethos than Kraftwerk. Across the past four decades this German phenomenon has been at the forefront of the electronic music evolution, proving instrumental in the development of many sub-genres, not the least of which have been Hip hop and techno.

Beyond the obvious untouchable pop culture markers such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Velvet Underground, it is doubtful there has ever been a more influential act than Kraftwerk. The group’s longevity and ability to set new trends knows no bounds. As a unit, they continue to astound.

With that in mind, I revisited a couple of key Kraftwerk albums in my collection and wrote a brief review for each (below). I also stumbled across a collection of fairly cool freely downloadable Kraftwerk related mixtapes featuring the group and a whole range of different artists as compiled by DJ Food here ...

Kraftwerk – The Man Machine (1978)

The Man Machine (or Die Mensch Maschine) is one of several truly great Kraftwerk albums released during the group’s heyday of the late Seventies/early Eighties.
With just six tracks clocking in at around 36 minutes, The Man Machine is also one of Kraftwerk’s shortest albums, but with typical German efficiency (generalisation alert!) there is no shortage of quality with the “band” (are Kraftwerk really a band, or a group of IT geeks?) somehow managing to squeeze as much into those 36 minutes as possible.

There’s no real need for me to wax on about what this sounds like – Kraftwerk being the synth Gods they are – but this is the album that gave us ‘The Robots’, ‘Neon Lights’, and the very belated hit single ‘The Model’. It also gave us perhaps the most iconic album cover of Kraftwerk’s entire career.

Kraftwerk – Computer World (1981)

Like so much of Kraftwerk’s storied output, Computer World (aka Computer Welt) was light years ahead of its time.

The album – following on from the success of 1978’s The Man Machine – was several years in the making, yet it could have been made any time between its 1981 release date and say, the turn of the new Millennium some 20 years later, and still sound relatively fresh.

It’s worth remembering that back in 1981 computers weren’t quite the everyday item they are today, and back then they were very much a big deal. Indeed, I recall my own sense of excitement when buying something as basic as a “space invaders” pocket calculator around that time!

For a bunch of German cycling obsessives to dedicate an entire album to this new electronic phenomenon seemed rather indulgent in the extreme.

But of course, we now know different. If they (computers) haven’t exactly taken over the world, then they most certainly have taken over the lives of a large portion of its inhabitants - which is exactly what Kraftwerk were banging on about all those years ago.

Highlights: ‘Computer World’ (both parts 1 & 2), ‘Pocket Calculator’, and ‘Computer Love’.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Classic Album Review: Killing Joke - Killing Joke (1980)

With Killing Joke set to play my local (in Wellington) in just over a week’s time, I revisited the band’s phenomenal first album, the career-launching eponymous debut from 1980 ... a gig review will follow on everythingsgonegreen.

It is difficult to imagine the sort of impact this album would have had on any poor unsuspecting pop-loving innocent stumbling across it for the first time upon its release some 33 years ago. But the album cover art/sleeve design would surely have provided at least some advance warning of the content given that it ultimately so accurately mirrors the album’s musical imagery.

This is music for the UK’s disaffected inner city youth circa 1980; the sound of punk once that initial burst of teenage excitement, chart momentum, and shock factor had given way to far more evolutionary and pragmatic realities like advancing the genre musically.

This is a soundtrack for all those of the post-Pistol persuasion still sober and unfortunate enough to be living in the real world. The music of the many thousands of angry bleak urban landscapes spread across the globe, yet curiously enough, still music of a very British, and very Eighties nature; it’s the noise associated with cold rains, rattling old underground trains, wet concrete walls, and litter-strewn, wind-blown wastelands; the sound of boredom, of unemployment, of recession; a forewarning of Margaret Thatcher’s all new recently-elected conservative government, and its stockpile of life-changing (for many) social policies about to be unleashed upon the masses with all the subtlety of a spiked wooden piece of four-by-two bashing about the side of the skull.

It sure as hell ain’t Abba, Supertramp, Xanadu, or whatever else was rocking your little cotton socks that particular year.

It is also, it’s fair to say, a somewhat watered down variation on Heavy Metal. With large helpings of what can only be described as an early template for the form of noise we know today as “industrial”. This is a primitive industrial punk/metal/pre-techno hybrid - frantic drumming, layers of grinding guitar, droning synth, and with Jaz Coleman’s gruff building site delivery, a vocal to both die for and rally behind all at the same time.

Best Tracks: ‘Requiem’, ‘Wardance’ (“music to dance to”), ‘Complications’ (“this is the new age”), but pride of place must go to the glorious minimalism of ‘The Wait’ (clip below).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Album Review: The National – Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

A couple of fellow blogger friends of mine have come down very hard on The National’s latest album, Trouble Will Find Me. One described it as “dreary” and asked the question, why bother? Another called it a “disgrace” and a “turgid exercise in self-flagellation” ...

Harsh words indeed.

The New York based band’s sixth studio effort has certainly divided opinion so far, and I note the popular Pitchfork site, on the other hand, was somewhat gushing in its praise for the album, rating it a positively sizzling 8.4/10 and including it in its ‘best new music’ category.

So there are perhaps a couple of things worth considering in all of this.

The first is that The National haven’t done too much differently on Trouble Will Find Me. What worked on Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet (the band’s three most popular sets to date) tends to work just as well on the new album.
Yet there may have been an expectation for The National to come up with something novel, something exciting and fresh to stave off the sort of critical backlash often reserved for mid-career bands. Onetime ‘next big thing’ type bands keeping faith with a formula that served so well during formative years. Is there a school of thought dictating that The National must now somehow move on?

The second thing is that this band’s albums have always been slow creepers – the sort of thing best appreciated after giving it time to really sink in. Certainly, 2010’s High Violet was quite slow in revealing itself, and it took a number of listens before it dawned on me what a beautifully constructed piece of work it was. High Violet, for me, grew to become one of its year’s best albums. The counter argument to such a notion, of course, is that a good album really shouldn’t take that much work.

The National: great live rep, fading in the studio?
Trouble Will Find Me, as it turns out, does feel like an exception to that rule. And curiously enough, it grabbed me by the scruff of the neck right from the off. If there is a major point of difference between past work and this album, that is it. This one was instantly accessible. For me, obviously. For others, not quite so much.

There’s parts where Matt Berninger’s silky baritone feels like it’s speaking directly to me. And while this album’s set of lyrics don’t veer anywhere near as dramatically between the severe self-loathing and extreme violence of its predecessor, Trouble Will Find Me has an uneasy melancholy and dark beauty right at its core. Berninger’s words have always had a capacity for surprise, and with the odd dollop of humour thrown in, Trouble Will Find Me is every bit as quietly mischievous as everything that preceded it.
The band is faultless throughout, naturally; these guys are nothing if not thoroughly professional. Arrangements are immaculate, and production ultra clean. Perhaps that’s one of its problems? It almost feels a little too pristine, and if it’s the spirit of raw rock n roll you’re looking for, then you definitely won’t find it here.

And I do actually get what others are on about. A lot of this does feel fairly generic – there’s some truth in those claims. The band, while tight and polished, could be accused of playing it safe, and there is a valid concern that The National might be stagnating, switched to auto-pilot and merely going through the motions.

Beyond all of that however, I really do love this album (at the moment). I’m not sure where it will ultimately rate alongside the rest of The National’s discography, but despite its mixed reception, I’ve a very warm feeling that I’m only going to keep on enjoying Trouble more and more as the year unfolds.

Highlights: ‘I Should Live In Salt’, ‘Demons’, ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, ‘Sea of Love’, ‘I Need My Girl’, and the superb ‘Graceless’.