Friday, January 31, 2014

Hit+Run Sampler 2013

Here’s something I wanted to blog about a few weeks back, but didn’t quite get to ...

On NYE the Hit+Run Crew released a sampler of some of the imprint’s best work from 2013 – it was initially up on Bandcamp as a festive freebie but now has a small “buy now” (minimum $5.00) price to download.
Anyone already familiar with Hit+Run’s output will appreciate that the release represents great value, showcasing as it does some of the label’s more prominent artists and a fair few hidden gems. There’s some cool stuff on this – in particular, check out Crimekillz, Esgar, Kutmah, Seven Davis Jr, and Al Dobson Jr.

Here’s a short blurb from the H+R Bandcamp page ...

“Throughout 2013, H+R CREW released ELEVEN amazing albums consisting of original music, remixes and more (some in collaboration with IZWID and BLACK JUNGLE SQUAD). Also included here are two unreleased tracks from forthcoming 2014 HIT+RUN releases (January & February 2014) plus an additional super secret bonus track”.

Get the sampler HERE

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gig Review: Black City Lights at Mighty Mighty, Wellington, 24 January 2014

Last week, the owners of Mighty Mighty, one of Wellington’s best loved music venues, announced that the bar will close in May of 2014. From all accounts it is simply a case that this is “the right time” to move on, the bar having already outlived the use-by date initially assigned to it.

Having just blogged about the closure of another Cuba Street stalwart, the San Francisco Bath House, it was with some sense of poignancy that I found myself up at Mighty Mighty last Friday night. I was there for Black City Lights, a Wellington electropop duo, who shared the bill with Kariiiba and the late night DJ antics of Shocking Pinks.

I managed to catch up with one half of the duo, Calum Robb, prior to the gig, and he seemed like a genuinely humble guy – professing a love for the music of Kate Bush, and of the Eighties synthpop that so heavily informs the music of Black City Lights, before confessing to being a little taken aback that someone had paid $50 on Bandcamp for their album, Another Life, when it’s just as often available on “pay what you like” terms. And I’m pretty sure he agreed with my contention that the duo is bigger in the USA than it is in its “home town”, but we didn’t really go into it too much.

Opening act Kariiiba, entertained the steadily growing crowd with a heady hybrid of warped R&B cut-ups/sampling and innovative vocal FX (including his own). This was textured genre-less tech-noise, some of it quite beautiful noise, yet it was only when he’d warmed to his task sufficiently to start rapping that we saw hints of what direction his unique approach to music production might take in the future. One to keep an eye on.

Naturally enough Black City Lights stuck largely to the tried and trusted material from Another Life, album highlight ‘Give It Up’ arriving three songs in and proving especially popular with the mostly youthful dancefloor throng – it provided one of the most unlikely hands-in-the-air dancefloor singalong moments I’ve seen for some time, as it happens.

There was a pretty decent mid-set cover of the Delfonics’ classic ‘Ready Or Not, Here I Come’ (a track perhaps best known for its Fugees or dub appropriations) and a couple of other new songs were given outings, but mostly this was about giving a clearly revved-up crowd exactly what they expected.

Vocalist Julia Parr has a great sense of drama, not so much in terms of stage presence, which does have a quality all of its own, but more so in terms of vocal nuance and an ability to bring out the best from Robb’s dark electronic musings. This was one part Kate Bush – one part John Foxx-era Ultravox, and a whole lot more besides. There is something distinctly gothic about the music of Black City Lights, and that inherent sense of melodrama translates well in relatively intimate live settings like upstairs at Mighty Mighty.

The set was rather short, and the brief encore, if I can call it that, felt a little forced and obligatory. But it was a sticky night and extremely hot up on that small stage. Parr seemed to be struggling just a little over the final stages, and it’s fair to say I was a little worse for wear myself.

I’d spent the best part of four hours prior to the gig drinking alone, just killing time – trying to convince myself that it was great to have some time alone to kill – so by the time the BCL segment of the night was over, I started to contemplate the 50km-plus journey home.  I didn’t stick around for the Shocking Pinks DJ set ... effectively the international headliner portion of the night. Had it been a Saturday night I may have been up for it, but I already felt sufficiently blown away by what I’d just seen, and I left the soon-to-RIP Mighty Mighty feeling pretty lucky to have experienced what amounts to the best live – and original – darkwave-pop New Zealand has to offer at the moment.

And who could ask for much more than that?

Black City Lights play Meow, Wellington, on Waitangi Day, 9pm (doors open 6pm) in support of Daedelus ...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

New Year's Eve, SFBH, and all that ...

It’s been a quiet start to 2014 for everythingsgonegreen. I’m sure my reader will have noticed (note: Mum, just pick up the phone). From the highs of the festive period – and one or two extreme lows – right on through to that bastard we know as the mid January return to work, your blogger was hotly pursing that near mythical thing called rest and recreation. It’s apparently something people who live in the real world do at least a couple of times a year. Something normally reserved for “other people”.

I found a variation of it somewhere up in the far-flung north, but as much as I’d like to bore you with tales of wild dolphin trekking offshore in the sun-baked Bay of Plenty, this is a pop culture blog, dammit. Suffice to say the blog has been neglected while your blogger attempted to recover from such wanton pursuit of “rest”.

So before any of that, there was the small matter of a New Year’s Eve gig to attend – a party to say farewell to the iconic Wellington venue San Francisco Bath House, which officially closed its doors in the wee small hours of January 1 2014. I just couldn’t let the passing of the venue go undocumented on everythingsgonegreen – aside from Bar Bodega (old and new versions thereof), I’ve probably spent more post-millennium drinking hours at SFBH than I have at any other establishment. But I try not to think too hard about that, and neither should you (Mum). So I have to say my piece on its closure if only to sate some kind of weird need to do so purely for posterity purposes.
I’ve blogged about SFBH before and it seemed appropriate that the subject of that blog, DJ Bill E, was on hand to help give it a proper send off by way of his annual NYE bash ‘Hang The DJ’ – which combines the Eighties aesthetic of ‘Atomic’ with the more (or less) contemporary hue of ‘24 Hour Party People’. And it was equally fitting that the Phoenix Foundation, another iconic Wellington staple, opened proceedings … a band with plenty of “previous” at the venue.

I know New Year is a special night on the party calendar, but the first thing that struck me was just how crowded the venue was on the night. I’ve been to a lot of ‘Atomic’ nights up there over the years (less so the past two years), plus a fair few ‘24 Hour Party People’ nights, and plenty of other gigs as well, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it so busy up there. There’s no doubt the band brought its own following, and there were a lot of old faces I hadn’t seen for a while. It all made for a pretty special gig.

The Phoenix Foundation kicked things off early on, before 10pm. There were a few songs I couldn’t quite place in my vodka-induced haze, but the core of the set – the likes of ‘Walking In The Rain’, ‘Buffalo’, and ‘Sideways Glance’ – was well worth the price of admission alone. The band’s take on ‘Walking In The Rain’ is one of the most twisted Grace Jones live cover versions going, and the weird processed vocals give it a sleazier, even more decadent feel than that of the original … if that’s actually possible.

The brand new song, ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’ was another attention grabber, before the set concluded amid a crescendo of squally guitar and other psychedelic nonsense, the band building to its all-hands-to-the-pump wig-out best on the closing couple of “songs”, most notably Fandango’s monster jam, ‘Friendly Society’.

A typically loose and infectious Phoenix Foundation set was the perfect way for SFBH to rock out on its final night, and a great way to see off another calendar year.

From there DJ Bill E and his ‘Hang The DJ’ time machine took us all the way into 2014 and beyond. I thought our man called it pretty shrewdly early on in his set, dropping a couple of Kiwi music classics with The Clean’s ‘Anything Could Happen’ and Coconut Rough’s irrepressible ‘Sierra Leone’ to help generate a second wind amongst the strong local muso contingent and older sections of the spillover crowd still dazed from the band’s onslaught.
The DJ remained meticulous in his selections well into the wee smalls, and the dancefloor was packed to overflowing for much of the night … or at the very least until sometime after 1.30am when your blogger and his dance partner said goodbye to a special venue one last time. Our cross-town post-gig scout around revealed a paucity of anything remotely close to the vibe of SFBH, as it so often has in the past, and Wellington nightlife will be very much poorer for its absence.  

One story I’ve heard is that a refurbished premises will return as a “jazz bar”, whatever that actually means, but I can’t account for the veracity of its source. That particular Cuba Street site has a long and illustrious history (read dubious) … it had links with the capital’s red light scene – various incarnations and uses – for many years in the Seventies through to the mid-Eighties. I first encountered the premises as a cave-like club around 1989, early 1990, as a venue known as The Sub Club, a short-lived yet hugely popular Thursday - or was it Sunday? - night scene catering to the first waves of Techno and Acid House. From there it underwent various states of refurbishment, re-emerging as a player on the live circuit in the Nineties as Indigo, before eventually evolving into SFBH roughly a decade ago.

In another development, it turns out that a second iconic Cuba Street venue is set to close, this coming May, with the owners of Mighty Mighty this week announcing that the bar has also run its course. The “four month closing party” commenced in earnest on Friday night (just gone) with a three-pronged gig featuring “bigger-in-Portland” local darkwave duo Black City Lights. I was lucky enough to make it down to Mighty Mighty for that – so I’ll do a quick review of that set for everythingsgonegreen at some point in the next week or so.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Albums of 2013

So here we are in 2014 already. And a lot of 2013’s baggage has naturally enough, by default and design, managed to transport itself into the New Year. Not least is the small issue of this blog’s perennial failure to come up with its ten “albums of the year” before the metaphorical bells rounded things off so succinctly a few days back …

In past years I’ve done a series of album-by-album posts to highlight the albums I played (and enjoyed) most of all over the previous 12 months, but for 2013 I thought I’d cut to the chase and just list the ten “albums of 2013” in one post … partly because I’m in lazy-sod-holiday mode, but mostly because a few of them have already been reviewed here previously. These albums aren’t necessarily the best of the year, just the best as heard in my house, or in my headspace across 2013. The only prerequisite for inclusion is that I still had my mitts on a copy – in any format – at year’s end:

10. Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

Wise Up Ghost wins the prize for most unlikely transatlantic collaboration of the year. But then again, unlikely collaborations have always been one of Costello’s favourite things, and thanks to the huge talent and versatility of The Roots, the quality control factor on this one was always going to be set extremely high. The Roots might just about be the best thing ever to happen to Hip hop, certainly the group rates as the genre’s most authentic live act, and for all that Costello’s words and musings – quite often referencing work from his distant past throughout the album – are crucial to Wise Up Ghost’s success, the music of The Roots is something really quite special. A little bit post-punk, a little bit jazz, a whole lot of Hip hop (though Costello – mercifully – doesn’t rap), and never anything less than 100% funky. Best tracks: ‘Walk Us Uptown’, ‘Tripwire’, and ‘Viceroy’s Row’.

 9. Fat Freddy’s Drop – Blackbird

Speaking of bad rap (or not speaking of it) … these guys get a lot of it from local music scribes (or perhaps that’s “a bad wrap”?) and I’m genuinely at a loss as to fully understanding why that is. When I listen to this hard working local collective all I hear is “home”, a place to be; Wellington, a beach on the Kapiti Coast, or anywhere else specific to Nu Zild. Our accent, our landscape, our multicultural people … and if that’s a little bit too laidback or (apparently) derivative for some, then so be it. It works for me. If they can be knocked for a lack of (perceived) progression style-wise, it’s merely because the band is now very much at ease with who they are and the music they’re making. I happen to think that’s a very good thing. Blackbird was one of just a handful of CD’s I purchased during 2013 (downloading continued as my format of convenience and choice) and my edition came with the eight-track bonus disc. So I thought it was a pretty good score and I played it often. Best tracks: ‘Clean The House’, ‘Silver and Gold’, and ‘Barney Miller’ from the mixed bag bonus disc.
8. Foals – Holy Fire

When I reviewed Holy Fire earlier in the year I hadn’t expected it to wind up as one of my albums of the year, but I found myself continually returning to it, and it grew and grew and grew … originally reviewed here.

7. Lord Echo – Curiosities

Multi-instrumentalist Mike Fabulous is one very special talent. Fabulous has been, for a long time, one of the main protagonists behind the international success of Wellington reggae/dub outfit, the Black Seeds. A couple of years back he released his first solo effort under the Lord Echo moniker, and this follow-up, Curiosities, builds on that work to showcase what might prove to be a musical coming of age. Curiosities is a 42-minute ten-track no-filler extravaganza of funk, disco, jazz, and pure unadulterated pop ... plus a few other things besides. So there’s a wide scope of styles on the album and I think that, more than anything else, is what makes it such a persuasive listen. The album made a belated run for this list after I picked up my copy of Curiosities on CD very late in the year, but regular listening through December provided its own reward, and its own reason for being here. Best tracks: ‘Digital Haircut’, ‘Molten Lava’, and the sublime closer ‘Arabesque’.
6. The Analogue Fakir – Worlds We Know

A good cyber-friend of everythingsgonegreen, Muhammad Hamzah, a Sufi Muslim based in Manchester by way of Bradford, wears many hats. One of them is the one he dons as Celt Islam, and I’ve blogged about his work a few times already. Less well known is the work he does as The Analogue Fakir, but when he sent me a link for his 2013 release, Worlds We Know, I was completely blown away by the sheer depth and quality on offer. As with Celt Islam’s music, I simply can’t believe that more people aren’t embracing this worldly fusion of Eastern and Western vibes. Where Celt Islam’s stuff tends to be a more dub or dubstep-orientated hybrid of styles, Worlds We Know struck me as being every bit as state-of-the-art, but more indebted to electronic forms like EDM, and it works as a slightly freaky hard-edged variation on global electropop. But there’s so much more to it than any label I can tag it with – it isn’t really “pop” for a start, it’s far too dark in places, and almost post-apocalyptic in parts. A great, challenging, if largely overlooked album. Find out for yourself by downloading at the link below. Best tracks: ‘The Forms’, ‘Moments In Time’, and ‘Annihilation in Allah’.

5. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

And by the month of May, “trouble” had most definitely found me. By crook, rather than hook, back in a corner … again. This album was one of my favourites from the first half of the year and while it may not have been as dark and dramatic as High Violet, or as compelling as a couple of the band’s earlier albums, it was still a bunch of beautifully crafted tunes. And that man’s gentle baritone corners me every damn time. Originally reviewed here.

4. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Naturally. I’m a disco nut. I’m a history nut. I’m a Nile Rodgers fan from way back. I love some of that early Giorgio Moroder stuff. Combine all of those old school ingredients … stir to boil, and then add a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust in the form of new digital technology and you’ve got an instant everythingsgonegreen favourite. Random Access Memories plays out like some kind of skewed potted history of disco, and it was originally reviewed here.

3. GRiZ – Rebel Era

Rebel Era by GRiZ easily qualifies as my freebie download of the year. A brilliant concoction of old style blues and dubstep, Rebel Era was another one of those safe “go-to” albums on those rare occasions I was stuck for something to listen to. With heavy use of samples and a funk heart at its electro-dubby core, some might consider this throwaway fare, but for a while back there, GRiZ was the biz (sorry – Ed) in my world, and this “solo” album is every bit as good as the work he did with fellow dubstephead Gramatik (released as Grizmatik). Originally (sort of) reviewed here.

2. Public Service Broadcasting – Inform - Educate - Entertain

An almost flawless blend of sepia-tinged nostalgia and modern rock as we know it. But not as we know it. So different from anything else on offer. A journey into another world, another time, another place. Samples and soundbites abound. Originally reviewed here.

1. Darkside – Psychic

It seems appropriate – given that the vast majority of my music listening is via headphones – that my 'Fones album of the year and the blog’s overall album of the year is Darkside’s Psychic. I could – and did, more than once – completely lose myself in this album. Immerse myself in it. Use it to shut out everything else around me. Not always an easy listen, Psychic is an absorbing mix of production FX, vocal distortions, and ambient soundscaping, but it also leans heavily towards classic rock, with more than a few old fashioned blues signature moments buried deep within its sonic mash. It’s such a hybrid of musical styles and production techniques it’s (thankfully) impossible to damn it with one singular/solitary genre label. Hell, the first couple of minutes on the 11-minute opening opus amount to little more than a pulse, and it’s a full five minutes in before we get anything resembling a meaningful beat. So it requires patience, and the impression is that the album was designed to be listened to as a whole, not as individual pieces within that whole. But oh how that patience is rewarded. Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington also collaborated as Daftside, and hopefully we’ll hear more from this duo. Best tracks: ‘Heart’, ‘Paper Trails’, and ‘Freak, Go Home’.

Honourable mentions: Atoms For Peace – Amok, Panda Dub – Psychotic Symphony, Primal Scream – More Light, DU3normal – Flow Frequency, and London Grammar – If You Wait.

Reissue of the year – I can’t decide between The Breeders’ (Last Splash deluxe) LSXX, or the Tears For Fears reissue of The Hurting. So I choose both. Two reissues of the year – my blog, my rules!

Compilation of the year – I can’t say I downloaded or purchased too many compilation releases during 2013 (an unusual development for me) but this sampler release from the aptly titled Earth City Recordz label – reviewed here – opened up a whole new world of sound possibilities for me.

New Zealand album of the year – obviously Lord Echo (see above), closely pushed by Fat Freddy’s Drop, and two other Wellington-based-band releases: Black City Lights with Another Life, and the relatively low profile Bikini Roulette’s otherwise gripping Erotik Fiction. For all that Lorde’s Pure Heroine “made the grade” internationally and wasn’t too bad at all for a debut release, I can’t hand-on-heart say it rates as highly as many other blog and mainstream media year-end lists tend to suggest. I make no excuses for the very obvious Wellington bias in my picks, I really should have expanded my “local” music horizons a little further than I did, and I know I missed far too much good stuff through the year, something I hope to rectify (again!) in 2014.

So that’s that. Obligatory annual list completed.

Comment below if you agree or disagree (fat chance – Ed) … or maybe you just want to call me naughty names again … I’m clearly not all that fussy.