Monday, April 21, 2014

Album Review: Celt Islam - Medina EP (2014)

Here’s another great new release from Earth City Recordz, just out on Bandcamp this month. This time it’s the Medina EP, from our good friend Celt Islam, and once again it’s an intoxicating blend of boundary-pushing electro and state-of-the-art dub.

This is truly wonderful stuff, whether it’s the rootsy feel of the title track, the pulsing eastern flavours of ‘Warrior Dub’ (featuring The Renegade Sufi), or the harder dubsteppy/industrial edges to closer ‘Khanaqa’ (featuring Inder Goldfinger), it all adds up to another compelling listen, a dud-free five track EP of the highest quality.

As the blurb says, Celt Islam’s music is … “a fusion of western and middle eastern influences combined with a futurist Islamic dub attitude. Open the doors of your mind and soul to Electro Dub Sufism!! …”

And who could argue with that?
Here's the opening track 'Freedom' ...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Guest Post/Gig Review: Jake Bugg, Auckland Town Hall, April 10 2014

Time for a guest post … welcome Methven-based musician and artist Pania Brown, who gets to the those pesky places everythingsgonegreen can’t always reach … somewhere like Auckland on a Thursday night, say, and a Jake Bugg gig at the Town Hall …

Here's the ‘somethings’ I think you need for making successful music:

 1. you need good songs

 2. you don't need a gimmick

 3. you don't need "a look" but...

 4. you do need to look good

 5. you need to be good

 6. you need to believe in yourself

 7. make it look effortless

Whether he would admit to having ever thought so hard about the Rules of Rock 'n' Roll as written by such as myself, 20 year-old Nottingham born Jake Bugg follows, reinvents and bends the rules as he wants.

What strikes me immediately on seeing him is he is young and small, and it's hard to believe he can command a large stage basically alone and command it like an old hand. The band tears into the 20 songs like men possessed and again I am surprised by how much of a rock star he is ... I was expecting more of the crooning ballads, a stool and an acoustic guitar I suppose. There are those songs too, the highlight being "Broken" where the single light illuminates his small figure alone on stage, just a man, a guitar, a bloody good tune and a distinctive mega voice, you can hear a pin drop and the sound of young hearts breaking all the way along the front row. He makes it look sooo easy. No question, this kid's good.
The concert was way more rock 'n' roll than I had expected, I knew he played electric guitar, but I wasn't expecting the nonchalance with which he did so, and the roaring of the crowd to any solos and his occasional casual wander around the stage towards the eager young fans pressing up against the stage, suggests I wasn't the only one.

I wasn't able to come to his previous concert here. I hear he was vastly better this time around, having been merely amazing last time. I hear this one was twice as well attended. The amount of touring he's squeezed in the last few years will certainly have helped. He's been a very busy man, and in one of the few things he said to the audience  - (as a) man of few words - he acknowledged their support, as the effort made to come all this way to the other end of the world is not small, nor does it go unappreciated thanks Jake!

The audience was more varied from my expectations, from the very young to the much older, and people like me - somewhere in between - and bless! not a "snap-back" to be seen, which suggests his much more eclectic fan base.

Bugg must be sick of hearing that he's an old soul, but when he sings "They keep telling me, I'm older than I'm supposed to be" (on “Storm Passes Away” from Shangri-la), you believe it regardless of his age, and so do all the kids in the audience on Thursday night at the Town Hall. When he rolls through "Two Fingers", and the entire audience put up their fingers and sing along - which they do to most of the songs - I am aware of what classics these songs now are to many, and how he has captured the thoughts of his generation, whether the youth of New Zealand, or the UK, or anywhere in between. Smart boy. Smart man.

When 2012 saw the release of his self titled debut and I first heard it, yet again I was blown away by his youth because the songs are very - and I hate genre-labelling – well, "old" sounding ... was it country? Was it rockabilly? Was it pop? And why the hell was a kid from Nottingham playing and singing like that? But none of that matters at the end of the day, I loved it, and I loved it even more when seeing him in the flesh, interviewed on chat shows and seeing how down to earth he seemed and so downright ... well, cool and unaffected. The fact that he looks like the love child of Noel Gallagher - a friend and big fan - and The Beatles isn't a bad thing, but he sounds like neither. He sounds like someone mixed early Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Gene Pitney into a blender and pressed 'whizz'.

In that small body dressed in simple unadorned black t-shirt, jeans and trainers, there's no doubt in my mind Jake Bugg knows exactly what he's about and where he's going - first album No 1. No problem. The much feared second album, easily as good as the first, different but the same, d'you know what I mean?

I was smiling from the carefully chosen pre-show songs: Johnny Cash "Personal Jesus", The Smiths "How Soon Is Now?" to the end of the show and the encore with a cover of Neil Young's "Hey, Hey My My". Of course Bugg would probably be aware that Oasis used to play that as one of their regular covers, statement of intent innit? It seems someone knows exactly what they are doing. Or maybe he just likes the tune, either way, Jake Bugg's come so far so soon, I'm so keen to see what he does next. Seems like rock 'n' roll's in good hands again. My my.

Words and photos: Pania Brown. Pania can be found performing live at various South Island venues of ill repute, and also at Pania Brown Artworks.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Classic Album Review: The The - Soul Mining (1983)

Just a quick look at an album about to enjoy a 30th anniversary Deluxe makeover – which is due for release on June 30 2014. It’s an album I’ve endured a love/hate relationship with over the years after being an early convert and fan. On occasions I’ve returned to it and thoroughly enjoyed it, yet at other times I’ve found myself wondering what all the fuss was about ... but I suppose the fact that I’m looking forward to a Deluxe version some 30 years on is perhaps the best indicator of how I feel about it. I wrote a review for the album half a dozen years ago (for another site) and I thought I’d reproduce that here. Even at that point it appears I still couldn’t make up my mind ...

Soul Mining was the debut album for ridiculously-named The The, aka Matt Johnson, and when it was released in 1983 it met with much critical acclaim due to its insightful, immediately intimate, and often soul-baring lyrical content. Many in the music press at the time considered it to be merely the first instalment of what would surely be a succession of fine albums from Johnson. They were wrong. For me, Soul Mining stands today, the best part of a quarter of a century later, as the high watermark in Johnson’s rather fragmented career, and rarely would he come close to approaching such heights again.

Or perhaps I should rephrase that – rarely would Johnson emulate the heights that the *best* tracks on the album reach, and Soul Mining remains a somewhat inconsistent and uneven release.

It is no coincidence that two of the album’s three truly outstanding tracks – ‘This Is The Day’ and ‘Perfect’* – are also its most uplifting and optimistic moments, full of self-evaluation and wry observations about the state of the world and Johnson’s place in it. While both songs are laced with cynicism, dark paranoia, and equally large helpings of sarcasm, what makes them uplifting is their poppy structure and Johnson soothing us with a couple of genuinely positive life-affirming declarations in each chorus:
On ‘This Is The Day’

“This is the day, my life begins to change, This is the day, when things fall into place”
On ‘Perfect’

“Oh what a perfect day, to think about myself, My feet are firmly screwed to the floor, what is there to fear from such a regular world”
‘Uncertain Smile’ is the third stand-out, not so much for its similarly dark and contemplative lyrics, but mainly for the cameo hand offered by Jools Holland and his mastery of the keys. It’s superb, and there is a piano “solo” (go figure!) tucked away in there that really has to be heard to be believed. 

The rest of the album? … well, to be perfectly honest I struggle with it, and I just find the remaining five tracks to be far less friendly on the ear - at best - and downright inaccessible - at worst. It all feels a little overbearing and perhaps Johnson was guilty of trying a bit too hard. I dunno, maybe there’s just a little too much heart-on-sleeve self-loathing for my taste.
Overall, the aptly-titled Soul Mining is ultimately not as good as the majority of critics rated it at the time, but it is still well worth a listen nonetheless, if only for its three essential and quite brilliant highlights.
* The original vinyl LP edition of Soul Mining did not include ‘Perfect’, which was actually a great shame because it really was a genuine Eighties classic, and given that it was released as a single around the same time as the album, it would normally have been an automatic inclusion. Curiously, on my belated CD release (purchased in the UK circa 1994) it appears as an ideal upbeat album closer. I also note the blurb on the Deluxe release mentions the exclusion of ‘Perfect’ on the original album ... but yep, I’ve checked again and it’s right there on my CD. So either I’m completely bonkers or it was added belatedly to some versions/formats. I’m opting for the latter.
For details on the upcoming 2014 Deluxe version go here.
Oh, and here’s ‘Perfect’:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Classic Album Review: The Cure - Disintegration (1989)

I can’t pinpoint a specific time, a date, or even a year, but at some point in the mid-to-late Eighties, I found myself no longer listening to the music of The Cure on any regular basis. The band had long dominated my world of music consumerism, and (back then) only New Order could rival it in terms of numbers so far as my “music collection” was concerned.

It wasn’t really a conscious thing, a deliberate decision, or anything quite like that, but somewhere along the way I simply ceased to care. I guess I just felt sure that the band at its best had already been captured on those early albums, and to a set of ears fast becoming attuned to the disco-ball excesses of club and house music, much of the band’s post-1985 work was starting to come across as little more than lightweight throwaway pop fare.

It took me a year or two to realise it, but Disintegration was different, and it was an album to pull me (temporarily) back into the fold. This album finds Robert Smith right back to his dark goth-flavoured best, and Disintegration stands as a major return to form … albeit one that turned out to be rather fleeting in the end.

The more high-profile tracks on here will be well known to most – even non-Cure enthusiasts; ‘Pictures Of You’, ‘Lovesong’, ‘Lullaby’, and ‘Fascination Street’ having all been given considerable exposure both at the time of the album’s release and over subsequent years.

All four cuts are decent enough examples of what can be found on Disintegration, but it is perhaps the lesser known tracks that really impress the most – which is always a good sign. ‘Last Dance’ is classic Smith and sounds as though it wouldn’t be out of place on either Faith or Pornography, ditto the intense ‘Prayers For Rain’ and the epic ‘The Same Deep Water As You’, both of which are superb.

While the theme and the general feel of the album is essentially heavy and foreboding, its excellent production ensures it remains fully accessible to even the most casual of fans. Even with lyrical emphasis placed on the cryptic, and on relationships and matters of the heart, seldom does it plunge the suicidal depths of the aforementioned Pornography album.

All of the usual Cure markers are present and accounted for – multi-layered keyboards, trademark pulsing bass, and of course, Smith’s excellent guitar work with its heavy reliance on the careful art of repetition. All the while Smith’s unmistakable vocal towers above what is quite often a wall of sound. The polish applied in terms of production provides the perfect finishing touch.

Disintegration stands as a snapshot of just where Smith was at in 1989 … able to embrace his natural “pop” instincts without compromising the “traditional” sound of The Cure. Recommended.
Prayers For Rain:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Classic Album Review: The Cure - The Head On The Door (1985)

By the mid Eighties, the music of The Cure was starting to evolve. The 1984 album, The Top, had been a lightweight and far more pop-orientated affair than previous efforts, while strong radio-friendly singles like the funky ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ and the jazzy genre-bending ‘The Lovecats’ also marked a notable change of direction for the band. Suffice to say, Robert Smith had started to reveal a happier side, and a hitherto untapped penchant for idiosyncratic pop music was slowly but surely being unveiled.

So by the time The Head On The Door came out in 1985, The Cure had already taken a couple of giant leaps towards mainstream/crossover success, and in all respects this album succeeded in consolidating the band’s new found popularity with the masses.

It’s not that Smith and co had completely abandoned the goth-pop formula and post-punk leanings that dominated earlier work, it’s more that The Head On The Door struck just the right balance between the light and the dark.

It helped of course that the album contained a couple of brilliant singles in the form of ‘In Between Days’ and ‘Close To Me’, both of which enjoyed high rotation on the increasingly influential MTV playlist, something that did much to enhance the band’s fledgling popularity outside of the UK.

‘In Between Days’ is quite simply one of the best songs The Cure ever released and it doubles as The Head On The Door’s opener. Propelled by a repetitive baseline (an old Cure trick) and Smith’s virtuoso guitar (he’s not the best guitarist in the world but he’s certainly one of the most instantly recognisable post-punk guitar heroes), ‘In Between Days’ reflects the coming together of those two strands of the band’s sound – its bouncy upbeat tempo being almost at odds with its murky lyrical content.

‘Close To Me’ on the other hand, is far more straightforward, and even today probably represents one of Smith’s finest “pop” moments. Bright, inventive, and undeniably romantic, it helped establish Smith as a master of the eccentric love song. The catchy lyrical hooks and cheery synth certainly helped highlight the band’s new commercial sensibility.

Instrumentally and musically, The Head On The Door found The Cure adopting a far more diverse and worldly approach than ever before, one that incorporated several strong international flavours – as with the Japanese feel of ‘Kyoto Song’, and the Latin/flamenco guitar on ‘The Blood’.

‘Six Different Ways’ is a poppy little number, devoid of very much at all outside of exposing Smith’s vocal at its most quirkiest, and it almost threatens the filler status I’d definitely assign to ‘The Screw’, which sounds more like a half-finished and rather annoying idea than a fully-fledged track befitting an album of this quality.

‘The Baby Screams’ finds us back in familiar bassline-driven territory, while the much loved ‘A Night Like This’ (was this a third single?) is a dark repetitive guitar-based track and one of Robert Smith’s best ever laments of lost love, with – unthinkable for fans of the band’s earlier minimalism – what appears to be a pretty darned impressive sax solo.

The closer ‘Sinking’ is a monumental combination of heavy synth and introspective/dark lyrics, and it challenges ‘Push’ as the album’s main highlight outside of the singles. ‘Push’ features a brief but wonderful set of psychedelic lyrics, and with its waves of cascading guitar it has lost none of the intensity it first wooed me with nearly 30 years ago ... it remains one of my favourite Cure tracks.

The Head On The Door still rates as one of The Cure’s best albums, it cemented Smith’s reputation as a clever wordsmith and exposed his love of the short sharp quirky pop song. Over the course, Smith went on to change many of the default rules that originally applied to his band’s music, and despite the occasional glance back over his shoulder (see Disintegration, Bloodflowers) – with some degree of success it has to be said – this album gave The Cure genuine fresh momentum, and there really was no turning back beyond this point.