Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Random 30 2013: Lord Echo – Digital Haircut

Last but not least, something funky to take us into the New Year, straight out of Wellington, Black Seed Mike Fabulous, wearing his Lord Echo hat, with ‘Digital Haircut’, off the 2013 album, Curiosities. A fitting way to conclude the “Random 30” series of posts, which sought to (randomly) document some (well, 30) of the best of my 2013 pod fodder ... see ya in 2014 ..

Monday, December 30, 2013

Classic Album Review: Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

In late 1979 or early 1980, when Joy Division – completely out of nowhere – bolted straight into the New Zealand singles chart at No.1 with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, it was my first encounter with what might be known as the “NME effect” … a sort of prehistoric equivalent of what’s known today as “going viral”.

The single arrived without any major label push, and without much hope of mainstream radio play, yet somehow the UK music press of the time – pretty much restricted to three-month-old ship-freighted newsprint copies of the NME and Sounds et al – had sufficient clout with the less mainstream masses to ensure advance orders and pre sales were at a premium by the time it docked.
The band’s Unknown Pleasures album, also on debut, did exactly the same thing on the album charts, arriving at No.1 on the back of advance sales, with little more than the word of a select few UK-based music journalists to really recommend it. Which is quite astonishing really – more so when you consider that there was no previous reference point for Joy Division’s music in this tiny backblock, 12,000 miles away from the band’s home town of Manchester.

What is even more notable in all of this, and the source of some disappointment for a few at the time, is that neither ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, nor subsequent singles ‘Atmosphere’ (another No.1), and ‘Transmission’, were included on Unknown Pleasures.

Notable, because back in 1980 – unless you were Pink Floyd – you simply didn’t have a chart-topping album unless it was preceded or accompanied by a single of some note. In the case of Joy Division, the album came as a standalone, with no singles whatsoever lifted from it. This was standard modus operandi of the Factory label at the time.

The role played by producer Martin Hannett was pivotal to achieving Joy Division’s unique sound. It was Hannett who harnessed all of the individual elements within the band to create a truly remarkable whole; Curtis’ bleak lyrics and despairing baritone, Bernard Sumner’s prototype post-punk guitar and keys, Peter Hook’s distinctive bass, and the drumming of Stephen Morris, all working in unison to generate noise and imagery the like of which had never been heard before.

There was post-punk before and during Joy Division’s time, but Joy Division and Hannett moved the genre’s boundaries forever, and just as likely played a major part in bringing the fledgling goth-rock sub-genre into public consciousness. Hannett’s key contribution was to bring the drums and percussion to the fore, and he was able to create a sense of space within otherwise clustered and claustrophobic confines, which perfectly complemented the gloomy nature of Joy Division’s sound.

Unknown Pleasures has since gone on to become one of the more critically-acclaimed releases of the past 30 years. Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980 – just prior to the release of band’s follow-up album, Closer – has doubtlessly contributed to the band’s wider mythology over the years but there is no denying that Joy Division’s place in post-punk legend is well deserved, and Unknown Pleasures still stands as a landmark release.

Best tracks: ‘New Dawn Fades’, ‘She's Lost Control’, and ‘Shadowplay’...
And here’s a little something that didn’t make it on to the album:

Random 30 2013: Crystal Fighters – You & I (Gigamesh Remix)

Crystal Fighters released an album of such blissful pop perfection earlier this year, when it came to reviewing it, the miserable old cynic in me couldn’t help but search for reasons *not* to like it. I suppose I did rate the album, but I was damned if I was going to admit to being happy about something so blatantly summery and conspiratorial, when I myself was surrounded by so much frozen mid-winter discontent.

And all that sugar? … surely that stuff had to be bad for me, right?

Here’s the Gigamesh Remix of ‘You & I’ (a darker higher bpm mix than found on the album):


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Random 30 2013: Darkside - Paper Trails

I blogged about Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington in their Daftside incarnation here, but as Darkside the same pairing collaborated to make Psychic, one of the best albums of the year. An absorbing mix of experimental state-of-the-art electronica and old style blues, ‘Paper Trails’ is one Psychic’s more instantly digestible cuts, but by no means the stand-out on an album chock full of surprises ...


Album Review: Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain (2013)

I picked up a copy of Inform - Educate - Entertain, the debut album from the London-based duo Public Service Broadcasting, after my old friend Porky had reviewed and recommended the album over at Porky Prime Cuts earlier in the year.

Last year’s ‘The War Room’ EP had already introduced me to the possibilities of what might happen when you combine a firm indie rock aesthetic with a keen sense of history and access to a massive archive of BBC radio samples, but there was a unfulfilling brevity about that World War-themed EP.
However, the full-length album has enabled PSB to expand its horizons a little, and that ultimately makes for a far more rewarding (if more intense) listening experience.

Inform - Educate - Entertain is a retro-futurist journey through several generations worth of radio samples, presenting soundbites to act as markers which identify and document just how far it is we’ve actually come.

And back in the day, when the world was still black and white, those radio announcements, emergency broadcasts, and news features – formal or otherwise – usually meant a thing or two. Something that’s relatively easy to forget in these ultra-connected, heavily-networked, supposedly far more enlightened times.

Inform - Educate - Entertain essentially does exactly what it says on the tin (or in its title). The album works as a reminder that life wasn’t always as easy as we have it to today. A reminder of just how hard our forefathers had to work to become informed, and of the limited choices they had in terms of how that news was consumed. And as a chance to appreciate just how much our world has changed … not only in the UK but also across the globe – although the themes presented are generally specific to Britain, back when it was still prefixed by the word “great”.

‘Spitfire’ is the only track from the EP to be carried forward to the album proper and it remains a fascinating insight into the general mindset of the pre, mid, and post-war British public. Other highlights include ‘Signal 30’, ‘Night Mail’, ‘Lit Up’, and ‘Everest’ (clip below) …

... and here’s a track from the ‘The War Room’ EP of 2012:


Friday, December 27, 2013

Random 30 2013: Volfoniq - Hypnos

I’m really not sure what to say about this one – digital “one-man-dub” meets some kind of crazy ska/rocksteady beat, somewhere in southern France? … that’s about all I know. Well, apart from the fact that ‘Hypnos’ is lifted from Ernest, a free release that turned out to be one of the very best of the many new “dub” albums I managed to get my hands on during 2013.

Random 30 2013: Maps – A.M.A.

The work of James Chapman (aka Maps) keeps getting better with each new release. I’ve been following him for a few years now, and his 2013 album, Vicissitude, his third under the Maps moniker, is possibly his best outing yet.
'A.M.A.' doubles as the album opener and lead-off single, and if it’s the task of the lead track or single to accurately portray or provide a marker for the remainder of the album’s content, then the sense of urgency and subtle tensions found within ‘A.M.A.’ pretty much ensure the track does its job with aplomb.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Random 30 2013: HIGH HØØPS - Music Sounds Better With You

This track turned up mid-year, homegrown product for a summer’s day in the heart of a southern hemisphere winter. This is Auckland beatmaker HIGH HØØPS getting down on the arse of Stardust’s seminal ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ – a decade or so after the fact.

And it works. Cut up bits and bobs of cloudy, glitchy, lush electronica serve to highlight the solid R&B sensibility found in the original, and HIGH HØØPS somehow manages to breathe new life back into a tired old favourite. Best consumed through a quality set of headphones.

Classic Album Review: U2 - Boy (1980)

U2 must just about be the hardest band in the world to review with a completely open and uncluttered mind. So much has happened since the band’s debut album, Boy, was released in 1980, any perspective immediately flies straight out the window if you pause to dwell too long on all of U2’s subsequent achievements.

I suppose the flip-side to the “hard to review” assertion is that it isn’t really necessary to go into too much detail about what the band sound like. Unless you’ve spent the last couple of decades stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean sans any form of communication, you’ll know exactly what U2 is all about. Even then, chances are …

And while U2 may no longer be the No.1 band on the planet, they were there or thereabouts for the best part of 20 years thanks to a series of albums that rarely faltered in terms of consistency and overall quality – 1984’s Unforgettable Fire laying the foundations for such status, before 1987’s The Joshua Tree cemented the claim. More recent efforts have been less than convincing, and it’s hard to imagine U2 ever returning to the giddy heights scaled between 1984 and 1991.
The Steve Lillywhite-produced Boy, however, is where it all started. Raw, uninhibited, energetic, ambitious, and positively bursting with fresh ideas, Boy – along with its immediate follow-up October (albeit an inferior album) – captures U2 as genuine up-and-comers, four angry young men from Dublin, fully motivated and hungry for it.

“It”, I guess, being acceptance and credibility within conceivable parameters at the time, rather than the phenomenal global success they’d eventually achieve, something I doubt was even on the outer limits of the band’s collective radar back then.

Boy isn’t U2’s most polished album but for my money it remains the band’s best, and it’s the one I’ll reach for if I feel like a taste (admittedly seldom these days). Your initial exposure to a band – a bit like a first love – never really leaves you and you’ll always connect with it in one form or another. Doubtlessly, in the minds of most, U2 have released much better albums over the course, but for me, the more prolific the band’s output, the more disconnected I’ve tended to become. I like Boy because it reminds me of why I liked U2 so much in the first place.

Highlights: ‘I Will Follow’ (so far as establishing a template goes, there are few album openers better than this), ‘Twilight’, ‘Stories For Boys’, ‘A Day Without Me’, and ‘Out Of Control’.
Lest we forget ...


Monday, December 23, 2013

Random 30 2013: Calexico - Maybe On Monday

Continuing a theme, Americana or alt-country outfit Calexico was another band that took me into previously unexplored territory across the calendar year. ‘Maybe On Monday’ is lifted from the band’s seventh studio album, Algiers, which, naturally enough, was recorded in New Orleans.

Algiers wasn’t strictly a 2013 album; it was released in late 2012, and it probably represents a commercial highpoint for the band thus far. It wasn’t my first exposure to Calexico either, but I’ve only ever been a distant and very casual fan, and perhaps the time has now come for me to have a serious dig around the band’s already extensive back catalogue.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Album Review: Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe (2013)

It’s one thing to ride a wave of positive publicity and become the latest indie-band-flavour of the month … it’s quite something else to produce an album that outlives the initial hype.

That was a task faced by Scottish band Chvrches (said as “churches” … go figure) earlier this year, when for a few short months there, it seemed as though the band’s name was splashed across just about every music website I dared to visit, not to mention some of the more mainstream sections of the music press.  
The Bones of What You Believe duly arrived mid-year, and it’s fair to say it did so as one of the more talked about first-up albums of the year. I’m not sure it quite matches the level of hype it’s attracted, and I’m really not so sure I understand what all the fuss is about.

But evidently it’s just me who doesn’t quite get it … in terms of “critical acclaim”, the album certainly appears to have lived up to the lengthy drum-roll afforded it … and it’s also made a major impact commercially; going top 10 in the UK, topping the US independent album charts, and hitting number 12 on Billboard.

Not a bad return for a young band that only played its first gig in July of 2012.

And it’s not bad as an album either, it’s just not all *that* special. And hardly the album-of-the-year contender it’s been touted as in some quarters.

The Bones of What You Believe is essentially 48 minutes of solid synthpop; decent tunes gleaming brightly against a backdrop of highly polished pop production. There’s plenty of drama to be had and it also offers some great pop hooks. All pretty good things.

But what taints the listening experience for me – and I write this as a fan of the genre, and as an often irrational sucker for bands working out of Glasgow – are the parts where Lauren Mayberry sings, which unfortunately, actually covers the bulk of the album.

Mayberry’s voice is pleasant enough, sure, but across the course of an entire album it starts to feel a little tiresome – too lightweight, a bit too saccharine, and it steers the music far too far towards the throwaway teenpop/bubblegum end of the pop spectrum.

The album reminds me a lot of The Naked And Famous debut effort of a few years back, and while this is a decent enough first up album as it stands, I really don’t see Chvrches as a band with any long-term credibility beyond the realm of pure chart pop.

The band may have produced a “critical” hit fresh up, as yet another one of those next-big-thing type debutantes, but the true test of the band’s resilience comes next time out. When the next album arrives … after people have had this one in their collections long enough to get a handle on whether or not they really need to go back for seconds.

Download: ‘The Mother We Share’, ‘Lies’ (clip below), ‘Night Sky’ and ‘Lungs’ …


Random 30 2013: The Civil Wars - The One That Got Away

Americana, country, folk … call it whatever you want, the music of Nashville’s triple Grammy-award-winning duo The Civil Wars made a big impression on me in 2013, for reasons I’ve yet to really fully fathom.

‘The One That Got Away’ appealed as one of the best tracks off the self-titled second album, which turned out to be a pretty big seller, topping the Billboard album charts and peaking at No.2 in the UK. It seems I wasn’t alone then …

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Random 30 2013: Destroy DC - Dub It Down (Dub Architect Remix)

I’ve blogged a couple of times this year about Washington DC producer Dub Architect, and his Dub Volume 2 release of a few months back duly gave us a few new gems to drool over. Among that swag bag of seriously spacey vibes was a reworking of this track (‘Tear It Down’) by so-called “progressive punk” outfit Destroy DC. I’ve had this on regular rotate over the past few months ....

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Classic Album Review: Roxy Music - Avalon (1982)

Always pretty much a Brit-centric type of group, indisputably so during its earliest Eno-driven arthouse incarnation, Roxy Music had nonetheless made significant inroads into the all important American market by the time of its all-too-premature demise in the early Eighties. The band’s 1980 album, Flesh And Blood, contained a couple of radio-friendly hits which helped bridge the Atlantic divide, but it was 1982’s silky smooth follow-up, Avalon, that really established the band’s reputation in the States.

What a pity then, it was the band’s final album before Bryan Ferry embarked on a markedly less successful solo career – one that recommenced with Boys And Girls in 1985, after Ferry had released a run of solo albums in the Seventies; “filler” side project-type efforts, released between Roxy albums.

But if the band had to break-up, as it did for the best part of the next two decades, Avalon provided as fitting a swansong as you’re ever likely to get, and it is without question Roxy Music’s most accessible and commercially successful effort. It completed a remarkable transformation from unrepentant hard-line art-rock glamsters, to fully fledged neo-soul easy listening popsters – something that initially began as far back as Eno’s departure.

Nothing on Avalon is particularly hard to listen to or overly challenging. Even the seemingly insignificant little instrumental numbers (‘India’, ‘Tara’) add to the impression that Ferry and co were lapping up the sun, sipping expensive cocktails on a beach, shootin’ the breeze and recording whatever whimsical idea emerged.

The combination of Ferry’s nonchalant croon, Phil Manzanera’s instantly recognisible yet frequently sleepy guitar, and Andy Mackay’s successful merging of sax with synth (a real feature on Avalon), proving irresistible.

It should come as no real surprise then, that the album was recorded in the Bahamas. The band may well have been doing exactly as outlined.

Key tracks include the hit single ‘More Than This’, ‘Avalon’ – the super slick title-track, which was also released as single, ‘Take A Chance With Me’, the brooding slow rocker ‘The Main Thing’, and the light and breezy ‘To Turn You On’.

Random 30 2013: The Pixies - Indie Cindy

Okay, so the Pixies 2013 “comeback” wasn’t exactly the most widely celebrated return known to mankind. Truth be told, it probably WAS a bit crap in terms of meeting wider expectations, and it’s undeniable that the band is very much poorer for Kim Deal’s absence. But it was also new work from old favourites, and (fanboy alert) I certainly didn’t think it was as bad as some made out.

‘Indie Cindy’ was easily the pick of the bunch on the EP1 release, and it proved ideal pod fodder over the last six months of the year; as much for its faux-Fall chant-along/sing-along qualities, as for all of the rare Pixies-of-old touchstones it seeks to reach.

Not so much the comeback of the year, no … just a group of old-timers doing their wild and crazy old thing.


Random 30 2013: Primal Scream - 2013 (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

When I reviewed the latest Primal Scream album earlier in the year, I made note of the fact that More Light was essentially a hybrid collection of just about every musical style the band had ever thrown at us. My copy of the album came with a number of bonus tracks, and it seemed very fitting that among those bonus cuts was a remix by long-time collaborator Andrew Weatherall. ‘2013’ was one of the better tracks on the album in its original form, but it was even better after it got the Weatherall treatment.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Random 30 2013: Kavinsky - Nightcall (featuring Lovefoxx)

French electronic producer Vincent Belorgey is better known as Kavinsky, and his collaboration with Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo on ‘Nightcall’ (featuring Lovefoxx) was originally released on EP back in 2010.

After being included on the soundtrack for the movie Drive in 2012, the track received another fresh burst of life in early 2013 when Kavinsky included it on his debut album OutRun. In a further surprise twist, London Grammar also covered it on its own full-length debut effort.

The Daft Punk influence on the original is hugely obvious, and ‘Nightcall’ has to rate as one of the best electro tracks of the year.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Classic Album Review: The Jam - Sound Affects (1980)

Positively dripping with social commentary, awash with gripping guitar riffs, and glued together by a distinctive and unmistakable rhythm pairing, Sound Affects is THE must-have Jam studio album.

Repeated listening over the years has done little to dampen my enthusiasm for it, and neither has its impact been diluted in any way by overly regular exposure. It never fails to take me back to a happy yet not-so-shiny place.

It is often hard to believe that The Jam was a mere three-piece affair, such was the racket the band was able to create when firing on all cylinders. Most of the songs are short, sharp, and to the point, but always cleverly worded and thrillingly constructed.

I’m tempted to say Sound Affects was ahead of its time but I won’t, because clearly, this album more than any of the others in the band’s all too short discography, was very much of its time. Quite aside from being a brilliant rock n roll record, it captures the spirit of post-1979 working class England quite unlike anything else.

Sound Affects contains arguably Paul Weller’s finest ever moment with ‘That’s Entertainment’, while other highlights include the opener, ‘Pretty Green’, the fantastic single, ‘Start!’, plus ‘Monday’, ‘Set The House Ablaze’, ‘But I’m Different Now’, and ‘Man In The Corner Shop’ … there’s not much filler to be found here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Random 30 2013: The Kite String Tangle - Tennis Court (Lorde)

2013 was a huge breakthrough year for local artist Lorde, something further underlined (in bold) earlier this week when the teenage songstress received four Grammy nominations. I enjoyed her cover version of the Replacements’ ‘Swingin’ Party’, and thought Pure Heroine was a promising enough debut album … but to be honest, I think I can probably live happily enough without hearing ‘Royals’ ever again.

For me, her best track in terms of pure song-craft was ‘Tennis Court’, and I think this superb cover by Brisbane-based producer Danny Harley – aka The Kite String Tangle – hammers that point home. It’s one thing to offer up a cover when the original has already had its day, but quite something else to do so while it’s still so high profile and fresh. Of course it helps that Harley has a great voice and is a unique talent in his own right, and I look forward to hearing more from The Kite String Tangle.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

IZWID, Kutmah, and Hit + Run

Last weekend I checked out the Red Bull Sound Select presents … /Hit + Run gig at Wellington’s Bodega venue. It was a rare night out, not only for the opportunity it presented to hook up with a bunch of old faces from way back, but for the promise of a handful of top drawer travelling DJs, and to experience live screen-printing as performance art … or to witness live art as performance. Or something.

I’d committed to doing it sober … (ish), so it’s fair to say the night had a sharper edge to it than it normally would, but the vibe around the venue was warm and generous, and the beats were never anything less than the main attraction … despite one half of the dancefloor seamlessly morphing into an art studio for much of the night. The first 100 punters walked away with a hand-picked design screen-printed tee, as the smoothly oiled Hit + Run Crew did its thing. It was a lot of fun. 
I went primarily to catch up with Hit + Run marketing guru Scott Bulloch, a long-time friend of some 30 years. I’d been in touch with him via social media earlier in the week, after noticing another project he’s been heavily involved with – IZWID – was starting to gain some serious traction. I was keen to learn what that was all about, and after experiencing the artistic aesthetic of Hit + Run first hand last weekend, I can now see exactly what IZWID is setting out to achieve … a compelling blend of art, music, and performance.

I asked Scott to explain where IZWID comes from, what drives it, who’s involved, and what we can expect in the future …

“IZWID is the imprint of an artist called Kutmah, a place we can release the music and art which have been secret signatures in Kutmah’s performances over the last few years. From what I understand, “Iswid" is Egyptian for “black”… Kutmah (of Egyptian heritage) explained to me that his mum always pronounced her “S’s” as “Z’s”, IZWID id iz then!

Kutmah is probably one of music’s best kept secrets in London right now, he’s a tight friend, so we decided to make his stuff less secret with an arts and crafts style label without any (of the) record company bullshit. The motivation was that he really wanted to help these musicians to get heard beyond his sets … people go mental on this stuff on the dance floor, but labels don’t want to know, so time to start a “record label”.

Kutmah is not just a DJ, he’s a curator, a digger, a creator, and a super nice guy who really only comes out to play and enlighten others. When he plays, who the hell knows what he is playing at any time, but when he does play a set just seems to meld together into some story about your life. You get touched, and that’s a rare thing in these days of super pop shit and pre-genrefied prejudice. It’s hard to explain but there are these often unreleased elements that he uses to tell stories with his performances; they can be sad, they can be motivating, they can be disturbing … to me they are simply mesmerising when knitted together in a mix. Kutmah has the ability to take music from any age and make it sound like it was supposed to be played right now.

I met Kutmah just over a year ago through my good friend Brandy Flower, who has championed Kutmah since he was a freaky kid. Brandy and the HIT+RUN Crew is the reason IZWID exists. He is the link that brings art and music back together.

IZWID’s first release was Esgar, hard out energetic Future Bass with dub overtones and a hypnotic bass space. The second release from Seven Davis Jr I’ll describe as Shroom Funk. It’s all over the place as much as the 1999-2012 time it was created in, but I have to say it’s one of the finest musical deliveries I’ve ever been part of; it’s house, it’s warped out funk, it’s offensive if you’re a puritan. It’s funny to me, I love it, so dirty, analog, and it reeks of sex.

The next instalment is from Peckham, some beautiful loose beats from a young talent sonically travelling under his grand-dad's name, Al Dobson Jr. He is IZWID-003 and I can’t wait to make this record. We have a busy schedule going into 2014 that was pre-planned a year ago. In saying that, you should not expect anything … we’ll just plonk it in front of you anyway”.

And here's a slice of warped out funk sex from Seven Davis Jr:

Random 30 2013: The Analog Affair - We Were Lovers

The Analog Affair is an electro-pop duo working out of Washington DC and ‘We Were Lovers’ is a cut from an EP called Wild, released a few months back. It’s a bit of creeper, and there’s a great pop hook to be found amid its seriously lush tones. It’s a gently told story of hope and regret, but all the beautiful soft vibes in the world can’t hide the burnt out car wreck at the centre of it. As ever, love never ends well.