Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not Such A Perfect Day

And so earlier this week we lost Lou Reed … rock legend. Whether as part of the Velvet Underground or as a solo artist, Reed was one of the genre’s single greatest influences across the last half century.

I’m not about to embark on any sort of clumsy obituary, but yesterday I was on the receiving end of a mailing list email from Metric’s Emily Haines, and I thought her heartfelt tribute to Reed was well worth reproducing here …

When Lou Reed asked me, "Emily Haines, who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones," I shot back, "The Velvet Underground." Quick thinking, sure, but also the truth. In our song "Gimme Sympathy," we lament the fact that none of us living today are likely to achieve the stature or saturation the signature acts of that era enjoyed. But for me none of that music comes close to the contribution Lou Reed has made to the world. It's immeasurable. Famously cranky, his integrity is unrivaled. He irritated everyone with difficult music. He refused to spend his life re-writing "Walk on the Wild Side," effectively sparing himself a lifetime of boring conversations with fools. Anyone who couldn't see that his tough exterior was an essential shield for the man who gave us "Pale Blue Eyes," with all its intimacy and relatable sadness, has missed the point of his life completely.

I'm not one to proclaim fated encounters, but it seems as though everyone I know who had the power to bring Lou and me together used it to make it happen. A strange combination of forces channeled Hal Willner through Kevin Drew through Kevin Hearn through Neil Young's "A Man Needs a Maid" and that was that. When we finally did meet, it was obvious and easy, like an idea that's been floating around for years and then one day emerges effortlessly, fully formed. Our connection was free of the fawning fandom and nauseating idolatry that so often characterizes such show biz interactions between a young woman and an older man. He was never condescending. I didn't worship him. We talked about my late father Paul Haines' recordings of Albert Ayler, we talked about Escalator Over the Hill, we talked about Roswell Rudd and Henry Grimes. This thin man with gold teeth and clear engaging eyes was a thrill to be with, and his barbed wire wit made hanging with him like a tightrope walk. You couldn't drift.

People always seemed afraid to be straight with Lou but I wasn't. At the rehearsal for our performance at Vivid Festival at the Sydney Opera House in 2010 (an event he curated with Laurie Anderson), he couldn't remember the guitar part for "Cremation," the song he wanted me to sing with him. I said, "You have to remember. You have to play the guitar," and the room fell silent as though I had hit the height of blasphemy. But he just looked at me and said, "You're right."

Persuading him to play "Pale Blue Eyes" when he joined Metric onstage for "The Wanderlust" at Radio City Music Hall in 2012 required a more nuanced approach and I'll always remember the golden look of approval he gave our guitarist, Jimmy Shaw, when he played that delicate guitar line onstage that night.

An essential thing people seem to miss when they think of Lou Reed is the scope of his sense of humor. When he invited me to play with him at the Shel Silverstein tribute concert in Central Park in 2011, I was the straight man, backing him up on piano and vocals as he turned the song "25 Minutes to Go" into a roast of Mayor Bloomberg's New York for billionaires.

Near the end, there were things Lou wanted to do that his poor health prevented. We had planned to perform together at Coachella but he wasn't well enough and had to cancel. More recently, his visit to Toronto became impossible and I found myself standing around talking to Mick Rock instead, looking at photographs of the glamorized Lou when really the person I wanted to see was the man that had made it through all those years and married Laurie Anderson, the man who continued to live and love and create. I hijacked the DJ's playlist at the gallery, forced everyone to listen to "O Superman" and gave a big drunk speech about it. I guess you could say it was an early expression of the grief that was to come.

Kevin Hearn has played in Lou Reed's band for years. Hearn and I have been working on some new recordings of my songs, just vocals and piano. A survivor of blood cancer himself, Kevin visited Lou and Laurie many times throughout Lou's treatment in Cleveland. It appeared for a while there that Lou was on the mend, but in recent weeks his condition declined. When Lou called for him a few days ago, Kevin feared the worst.  He wrote to me late last night, "I went to see Lou in Cleveland. He had to go back in the hospital. He is not doing too well I'm sad to say. Laurie was there too. They asked what I have been up to and I told them about the songs. They wanted to hear something so I played them 'Dedicated.' I hope you don't mind. They really liked it." I fell asleep last night hoping my voice had been of some comfort to him. And when I woke up, I found out he was dead.

The first time I sang "Perfect Day" for him, Lou said, "You have to bring more pain to it. You're not singing about a fucking picnic." Consider it done.

Playing "Cremation" with Lou was heavy enough at the time, but now that he's gone the lyrics just break my heart. "The coal black sea waits for me me me/ the coal black sea waits forever/ when I leave this joint/ at some further point/ the same coal black sea/ will it be waiting?"

In his last message to me, Lou wrote, "I'm so sorry Emily I would've if I could have but I'm a little under the weather but I love you."

I love you, too.

Perfect. And if I can offer anything it’s a song in the form of a clip. For all that ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ has its own unique place in rock’s rich tapestry, and for all that ‘Perfect Day’ has gone on to become a latter day cross-generational classic, this is the Lou Reed track that left the greatest impression on everythingsgonegreen …



Random 30 2013: Birdy Nam Nam - Defiant Order

Birdy Nam Nam is a four man DJ collective from France. As a group they’ve been together since 2001 without being overly prolific in terms of released material - four albums, a handful of EPs and singles, plus some remix work on various projects. They can also lay claim to "world champion" status after they claimed a Technics DMC "team" title a few years back.

'Defiant Order' was originally released in 2011, but it gained more traction from a second outing and a bunch of remixes on Skrillex’s OWSLA label in early 2013.

This one was a firm favourite of mine throughout the first half of this year. I especially love the squelchy bass synth, something of a nod and a wink to the halcyon days of acid house ... (or should that be halcion daze? - sarcastic Ed)

Incidentally, the name Birdy Nam Nam is lifted from a Peter Sellers line in the hilarious 1968 Blake Edwards film The Party (a cornerstone flick in the everythingsgonegreen comedy vaults).

There’s some great stunt riding in this clip, here’s 'Defiant Order':

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monuments and Statues - 'Red Dress' and Welcome to The Undertow

Following on from a recent post celebrating (and lamenting) the sheer volume of “free” or “name your price” downloads out there, I recently came across a new single by a band called Monuments and Statues, which hails from Canada, or Kingston, Ontario, to be more specific.

The single is called ‘Red Dress’ and it first appeared on an EP called Welcome to The Undertow (which is also available for download) back in 2010. With the prospect of a full-length album on the horizon, ‘Red Dress’ has been re-released in 2013 in single format, and although it took a few listens to really get a handle on it, it’s been well worth persevering with.

‘Red Dress’ is also very representative of the rest of the material found on Welcome to The Undertow – the four-track EP. The band doesn’t really fit any traditional genre labels. The music is fairly ramshackle, it lacks structure, but it’s all the more intriguing just because of that. It feels like it deliberately avoids mainstream pop forms, with focus on instrumentation – cello and banjo to the fore – and strong vocal harmonies. There’s a strong acoustic presence and each track on the EP has a certain charm all of its own.

I think the “folk” label is about as close as I can get, but even at that, there’s classical elements at play, there’s a baroque feel to some of it, and hey, it’s also a little bit country ... have a listen for yourself, and if you like it, look out for the band’s album when it turns up sometime soon:

Download ‘Red Dress’ and Welcome to The Undertow from the Monuments and Statues Bandcamp page here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Random 30 2013: Daftside - Get Lucky

Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington collaborate as Darkside, and the duo’s album, Psychic, is one of the more experimental/avant-garde, spaced out pieces of work you’ll hear all year. The pair also collaborated as “Daftside” in order to dissect and reconfigure Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album in their own indomitable style. That brought mixed results (for me) but I thought they nailed it on the re-work of ‘Get Lucky’ – one of the tracks of 2013 in its original form. Have a listen:



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Random 30 2013: London Grammar - Wasting My Young Years (Sound Remedy Remix)

London Grammar’s polished and rather prissy debut album, If You Wait, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it did peak at number two on the UK album charts, so it was certainly popular. Some sections of the mainstream media have touted the trio as one of the year’s best new acts, and there’s no question in my mind that the band’s music is mature beyond its otherwise very youthful demographic.

London Grammar: mature beyond their young years ..

‘Wasting My Young Years’ is one of the singles off the album and it was apparently written by vocalist Hannah Reid about an ex-boyfriend. It reached number five on the UK Indie charts. The original iTunes single release came bundled with a number of remixes, but by far the best of the lot was an unofficial remix by the Venice Beach-based producer Sound Remedy.

This subtle re-working captures all of the track’s raw emotion and high melodrama just perfectly, and it’s been a regular on rotate in my house over the past couple of months – not only thanks to me, but also thanks to my teenage daughter (naturally!).

A free download of the track can be claimed by “liking” Sound Remedy’s Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Free Stuff: GRiZ - Rebel Era (2013)

I’m sucker for free stuff. I’m also an obsessive music hoarder. Combine the two and naturally enough I’m continually on the lookout for free music – whether it comes in the form of single mp3 files for download (see Soundcloud, Bandcamp, various other) or giveaway albums such as sampler CDs. It’s fair to say I download and listen to a lot of crap “free” music before discarding a fair portion of it.

Every once in a while though I stumble across a genuine keeper, something so worthwhile I sit here scratching my head wondering how it’s possible that such great music wound up being a giveaway. One recent example is this album from a guy called GRiZ, a 20-something music producer from Detroit ... it’s called Rebel Era, and it’s an impressive electro/dubstep/blues hybrid that blows me away each time I listen to it.
I don’t know much else about GRiZ, other than the fact that he’s also done some work with like-minded producer Gramatik under the Grizmatik moniker.
Griz, incidentally, is also a slang word used for high quality weed (something from the everythingsgonegreen Bumper Book of Completely Irrelevant Facts right there).
So anyway, if you like electro-geared dubstep with an old fashioned bluesy tinge, you might just like this free download of Rebel Era. It’s relatively hot off the press, released just a few weeks back.
Get the download here: GRiZ – Rebel Era

And here’s a link to the GRiZ Soundcloud page: GRiZ on Soundcloud

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Random 30 2013: Atrasolis - Departure

We’re now well into the final quarter of 2013 so I thought it might be timely to start counting down – at irregular intervals – some of the best music I’ve heard through the calendar year. I’ll do an album countdown sometime around Christmas, but to begin with I’ll deal with individual tracks, whether they’re album tracks or diamonds gleaned from the wider playlists that have sustained my listening pleasure in 2013. I’ll probably come up with 30 or so across the next few months.

Starting with Atrasolis – ‘Departure’

I’m not sure how old this little banger is, and it’s probably not in any way representative of the genres I’ve engaged with most in 2013, but it’s certainly a track that helped kick-start my morning commute for a few short weeks back at the start of the year. I think I picked up a high bit-rate copy on Soundcloud more or less by accident but it’s gone on to become one of my most played tracks of the year.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Album Review: Foals – Holy Fire (2013)

Holy Fire is the third album from Oxford oufit Foals, and it continues a fine run which has seen the band expand its repertoire with each new outing. Three albums in, it’s been steady improvement every step of the way, with each new release raising the bar ever that bit higher.

But where the previous two full-length efforts gave us a fairly straightforward take on formulaic guitar-based indie rock, Holy Fire deviates a little into hitherto uncharted territory for Foals, and this album sees the band sticking a toe into the murky waters of psychedelic funk. It feels a bit like a dance album, or at the very least a conscious move away from the identikit Foals sound of past work.
The album opens with one of its highlights, the brooding near instrumental ‘Prelude’, which steadily builds in tempo and intensity before peaking and then fading amid a crescendo of chiming guitars and crashing percussion. The electro-funky feel of the opener acts as a statement of intent as much as it does a lip-smacking curtain raiser.

That much is immediately confirmed with ‘Inhaler’, a dirty bluesy stomper that recalls the vibrancy of prime era Rolling Stones and crosses it with the swaggering rhythms of the only slightly more contemporary likes of the Charlatans and Stone Roses. I swear I hear vocalist Yannis Philippakis channelling the not-yet-ghost of Jagger at various points across the album, but it’s never more evident than on ‘Inhaler’. Philippakis is not blessed with the best range known to mankind but he does make the absolute most of what he’s got.

The opening rush continues on the energetic funk of ‘My Number’ before Holy Fire then settles down to find a rather more sedate but equally seductive groove … less ebb, more flow. ‘Late Night’ works as a fitting centrepiece before the album tapers off a little over the second half of its 50-minute duration with a couple of tracks requiring some work before they really take you anywhere rewarding.

The production of Alan Moulder and Flood is pristine and Holy Fire sees Foals employing a much wider range of weaponry than ever before, with synthesisers and drum machines very much to the fore this time around. Guitars still play a leading role, but there’s less riffing and more rhythm. Ultimately, I get the sense that Holy Fire is as much about celebrating retro chic as it is about a band finally finding its mojo.

I picked up a download copy of Holy Fire much earlier in the year – it was released as long ago as February – and I guess the real proof of the pudding is the very fact that it’s been a virtual fixture on rote pretty much ever since. I like this one. I like it a lot.

Here’s ‘Inhaler’ …


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Album Review: Bikini Roulette – Erotik Fiction (2013)

Throwing open the marble doors of the everythingsgonegreen mansion to Tony Murdoch for a guest post:

This is a very casual review of an anything but casual debut release CD by Wellington band Bikini Roulette. To be totally honest with you it has arrived without a lot of fanfare or hype, but let me tell you good people, this album is a uniquely original addition to New Zealand's varied and widespread musical landscape.
Erotik Fiction kick-starts your heart with the adrenaline pumping and lyrically jumping ‘She Cut Me Loose' ... "married to a wet dream" /"smoking wreck of a playboy pet looking for dirty fun"... all wrapped around a well funky bottom end which moves nicely into 'Play Dead', in which singer Matthew Pender's "right down at the bottom, the recipe for trust" vocals play tag with guitarist Adrian Win's slippery as a snake-arse cowboy guitar licks.

Upcoming gig: Bikini Roulette + Lady Parts
Phew, I need to take a breath and I kinda do on Pender's semi-biographical musings in 'Making Plans For Yesterday' ... "you're already older than your childhood heroes were when they'd done their best work" ... and things skip along nicely with 'Chasing Diamonds Down A Sewer' ... "when I'm down I get needy, when I'm up I just get greedy".

Then we arrive at (for me anyway) one of the albums absolute highlights; 'Confessions Of You (Mini Bar Blues)' sees Pender's falsetto Prince-like delivery beautifully underplayed with an arrangement to die for - sumptuous and understated keyboards link up with a similarly tasty rhythm section - yep, this tune has “hit single” stamped all over it.
Saxophonist Chris Petrie really cuts loose on 'Close Ain't Close Enough' which has the eager punters itching towards that dance floor - if you dance first, I'll follow...

Now if this was an old fashioned LP it's time to change sides, but it's not so we won't. So onwards with 'Voodoo Suitcase' - man the stakes are rising - this is a whole lotta fun with Win's disco dirty sounding guitar leading to an absolute stampede towards that dance floor - god damn that rhythm section is super sized - yep, we're in a happy place!

The engine room - skin man Ben Chapman and bassist Anthony Lander - cook up a proverbial storm on 'Second-hand Soul'.
Normal transmission (ie funked up 'n' fully fried rock'n'roll) on 'Like No Other Man' followed by another tasty falsetto vocal delivery from Pender on the well impressive and harmony laced 'A Girl Like That' - another track with radio play written all over it.

The album’s closing track - by the way, there's no room on the dance floor now - 'When Eve Got Bored Of Apples' rounds off this adventure with Bikini Roulette quite nicely - gosh, my heels have worn down...

Well, I'm picking Erotik Fiction to be the must-have NZ CD for this fast approaching Kiwi summer. Oh, and forecasters are predicting a hot one which I'm guessing will soon be the adjective of choice for everyone to describe this slice of aural dynamite.

(Thanks Tony! ... am I the only one who knows that you’re not actually kidding about those heels? ... I just want to add that the album is also available on the band’s Bandcamp page - link below)


Album Review: Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect (2013)

Neon Neon is an infrequent collaboration between onetime Super Furry Animal, Gruff Rhys, and renowned Hip hop producer, Bryan Hollon (aka Boom Bip). It’s taken me a while to get around to reviewing this one, but the duo’s second and most recent album, Praxis Makes Perfect, was released earlier this year, and it’s a follow-up to 2008’s critically acclaimed Stainless Style.

Stainless Style was a concept album loosely based around the life of maverick stainless steel car maker John DeLorean, and its seemingly effortless Eighties synthpop sheen provided a perfect musical backdrop for the biographical account of an extraordinary life that both peaked and crashed during that very decade.
Praxis Makes Perfect continues the concept of dedicating an entire album to the life of a leftfield individual – in this case we get an album structured around the life of Italian political activist and publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

Given that Feltrinelli himself died in 1972 – suicide, an explosive one – I was initially wary that Neon Neon might discard the style and production used to such good effect on the debut, and instead give us something even more retro as the accompanying soundtrack.

I needn’t have been concerned, it turns out that Praxis Makes Perfect is every bit as faithful to the shiny synthpop style that worked so well five years ago, despite any apparent lack of surface synergy the genre might have with a man whose own public profile peaked in the Fifties and Sixties.

But Rhys and Hollon do this stuff so well it immediately feels both fully formed as a musical work, and pretty well realised as a concept piece. Praxis Makes Perfect is not without its moments of cheese, and there are perhaps issues with the notion that any sort of biograph-concept album can be squeezed into a timespan of less than 32 minutes (10 tracks), but however else you cut it, the album still stands as a fine collection of well written pop tunes.

There’s a lost-in-the-Eighties boyish energy about this pair, a wry humour to be found in some of their lyrics, and while Praxis Makes Perfect may not have yet reached the critical heights of its predecessor, Neon Neon deliver another good one second time out.

Download: ‘The Jaguar’ (clip below), ‘Mid Century Modern Nightmare’.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Album Review: Lorde - Pure Heroine (2013)

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”  - Oscar Wilde

Whatever your take on 16-year-old Kiwi “pop sensation” Lorde, there’s no denying she’s everywhere at the moment. She's on top of the Billboard charts, on the radio, on television, and featuring in just about every other form of the news media – whether that be in the print/hard copy form, or merely popping up at hourly intervals in the much-harder-to-ignore cyberspace. Social media in particular has gone into overdrive, with Lorde being subjected to bitter tirades from crestfallen Miley Cyrus fans, and later getting into hot water for her own remarks on Taylor Swift's role modelling ... etc etc. Suddenly everything she does is big news. There was even a bizarre spat (of sorts) between a couple of high profile local bloggers about the wider relevance of Lorde's music, something that ties in nicely with the above well worn quote.

I’m quite sure it’ll pass and the current levels of both hype and controversy will die down sooner rather than later. It will all come back to the music in the end, but the way things are panning out, 2013 is definitely shaping up as The Year of Our Lorde. I use the word “our” in the same way some others might summon the royal “we”, and I do so because she’s local, and here in New Zealand, Lorde is a pretty big deal right now.

And so with all of this going on, curiosity naturally got the better of me and I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of her album, Pure Heroine, as soon as it was released last week. I could say that I did so only on behalf of my 15-year-old daughter, but that would be a glaring fib. She’ll merely be an indirect – albeit happy – beneficiary of her old man’s rabid music consumerism.
For all that grizzled middle-aged blokes are not Lorde’s target market, my first impression of the album is that it’s much better than I anticipated. There’s some great tunes, some quality songwriting, and Joel Little’s production certainly allows the music to breathe in a way that showcases an unexpected level of maturity. Little also enjoys co-writing credits on the majority of material on the album. There’s no question Lorde does teenage pop way better than most – these songs are very catchy, even if their durability has yet to be put to any sort of longevity test.

If I have a moan, it’s that over the course of a whole album Lorde’s voice starts to grate. It’s fine in short bursts, it even has a certain gravitas about it for one so young, but across the near 40 minutes it takes to traverse Pure Heroine, the vocal did start to become a little tiresome in parts.

I’m also very wary about embracing the notion that going number one on iTunes and Billboard (with ‘Royals’), is somehow a barometer of what’s good and what isn’t. It’s certainly an achievement, no question, but all it really means is that she’s incredibly on-the-button right now and ‘Royals’ is a catchy little tune with a great hook. It doesn’t necessarily mark it as “quality”, and it doesn’t in any way whatsoever guarantee a long and successful career in the ultra fickle world of pop music.

But good luck to Lorde regardless. This is a pretty impressive start, and what a weary old cynic like me thinks is hardly important in the wider scheme of things. This is all about the moment, the now, and Lorde's living it.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Retail Therapy 5: Colin Morris Records, Wellington

If the Soul Mine was my record digging poison of choice when I lived in Wellington’s Eastern suburbs in the late Eighties, then later moves to more central locations like Aro Street, Majoribanks Street, and Dixon Street, meant I also found myself frequenting inner city record shops more than ever before. One of Wellington’s most iconic and best loved shops of that era was Colin Morris Records in the heart of downtown Willis Street, a staple of the Wellington record-digging scene for the best part of two decades either side of my ‘OE’.

I don’t really know Colin Morris, but I know enough about him to say he’s an expert in the art of music retailing. And he was always a mine of relevant information on those occasions I dared to engage him long enough in chat. For whatever reason, I always felt a little wary of Morris. I was perhaps a bit in awe back then, probably because he was that bit older, but also for the fact that he was prolific in music critiquing circles, and a regular contributor to The Dominion’s music pages – something that continues to this day. I guess it was because he was an authority in a field I was passionate about.

By the time Colin Morris Records became the most convenient central option for me, there was a mainstream shift away from vinyl and tapes, and CD’s had taken hold as the music consumer’s vehicle of choice. Me? … I had been buying vast quantities of music on cassette, mainly for the portability it offered … but the Compact Disc definitely appealed. I had a few, and I just needed to invest in some decent hardware before I could delve too heavily into that format. Curiously enough, it was my obsession with buying product that kept me too poor to do just that.

The thing about Colin Morris Records was not only its central location, but the sheer variety the shop offered. Morris is obviously a serious jazz fan, and as I recall it, his shop also stocked a wide range of classical material. I was not particularly interested in either genre, but it’s fair to say it was one of the most well rounded “small” record shops I’ve ever visited. I’m not even sure it was all that small, it certainly felt like it expanded in floor space sometime between the mid Eighties and mid Nineties, and I spent many a Friday night or midweek lunch break diligently digging through the seemingly endless rows of product on display.

My recall of the shop’s demise is hazy – it was at least a decade or so ago now, or maybe even longer if my suspicion that the shop as an ongoing music outlet was swallowed up by one of the chain brands is correct. Morris himself has continued a career in retail, and for a while ran a music mail order business called Slipped Disc. He’s clearly a passionate music man, and his thoughts on the subject can be found just about everywhere you care to look. He currently has shows on both National and Concert radio.

I’d loved to have sourced a decent photo of the shop in its prime, but sadly there don’t appear to be any online.

Such was its wide range of stock genre-wise, and its overall longevity, it would be impossible to sign off with a single clip truly representative of the shop, so here’s something local, something very Wellington, and something from an era I associate strongly with Colin Morris Records …

Enter The Fuzzy Dimension

A friend of mine over at Eleventh Our Creative introduced me this week to a concept called crowd-funding … or in the specific case she was talking about, the crowd-funding of an album that will supposedly be the epic masterwork of ex-Orb guy Kris ‘Thrash’ Weston.

Weston’s project – Enter the Fuzzy Dimension – is dependent on an ambitious bid to raise £60,000 via Kickstarter. In return for your pledge – a range of options – you’ll get an exclusive album that comes in various forms, and the level of your “reward” is largely dependent on the level of your pledge.

Weston is clearly a guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously (see link) but this whole concept raises an interesting discussion on so many levels around how people produce music, how it will be produced and distributed in the future, and even whether or not there is any mileage in Kickstarter projects.

There is also a discussion to be had around artistic integrity, and the whole notion of getting your “art” out to the widest audience possible (something that Weston’s project appears to reject with it exclusivity basis) but perhaps it’s best if I let Weston take you through the idea in his own words:
And here’s a link to Eleventh Our Creative’s Facebook page: