Friday, May 30, 2014

Album Review: Various – Hyperdub 10.1 (2014)

Glasgow-born Steve Goodman has crammed a huge amount of living into his 40-odd years on the planet. He’s a DJ/producer (aka Kode9), a label founder/owner (Hyperdub), an author, and a noted academic – he has a PhD in philosophy, no less.

He’s been a busy guy, and while he’s probably best known at present for his work under the Kode9 moniker, it’s a fairly good bet that in years to come the now London-based Goodman will be best recalled for what he’s achieved with the Hyperdub label.

Hyperdub was of course one of the first independent labels to unleash what’s become known as dubstep upon an unsuspecting world when Burial’s much acclaimed self-titled debut was released on the fledgling imprint back in 2006. That album is widely credited with kick-starting the genre, and a year later Burial followed it up with his masterpiece Untrue, which cemented Hyperdub’s status as a leading player in what might loosely be called club or “dance music” circles.

In truth, Hyperdub is about so much more than just dubstep, and across its ten-year existence it has released a diverse range of music – from techno to grime to drum’n’bass to electro to Hip hop and multiple sub-genres in between.

It seems like only yesterday I found myself salivating over the release of Hyperdub 5, a compilation release celebrating the first five years of the label's life. But that was as long ago as 2009, and here we are, a full five years on, looking at tenth birthday celebrations and the release of 10.1. Apparently 10.1 is merely the first of four birthday or anniversary releases we'll see this year, and just like 5, it's a two disc set with new or recent tracks on disc one, and a collection of back catalogue releases on disc two.
In fact 10.1 almost feels like a companion release to 5 given that the archive disc only goes back about five years, effectively picking up where 5’s archive content left off. And 10.1 stands as testimony to the label’s diversity – where artists like Burial, Darkstar, Joker, and Zomby delivered the highlights on 5, the best moments on 10.1 are offered by the likes of Mala (‘Expected’), Flowdan (‘Ambush’), the recently deceased DJ Rashad (‘Acid Life’ with Gant-Man), and Kode9 himself, who again does his best work alongside the imposing growl of The Spaceape (on ‘Chasing A Beast’).
The aforementioned tracks all feature on disc one – as new or recent content – but perhaps disc two offers a better perspective of what Hyperdub is all about, where it’s been, and where it’s headed. Highlights among the archives being tracks by Burial (‘Spaceape’ featuring The Spaceape), Cooly G (‘It’s Serious’), DVA (‘Natty’), Ikonika (‘Idiot’), a couple more from Kode9, and a couple from grime merchant Terror Danjah.
Overall this is great value – the 36 tracks here (including three “bonus” tracks on my version) provide a superb overview of a hugely important and influential state-of-the-art label that shows no sign of slowing down or dipping in the quality of its output. Something worth celebrating after ten years. I eagerly await the three follow-up releases we’ve been promised in 2014. Thanks Hyperdub.

Here’s Flowdan with ‘Ambush’ ...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Classic Album Review: OST/Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come (1972)

The soundtrack to Perry Henzell’s 1972 classic Kingston ghetto flick, The Harder They Come has become a reggae/ska staple over the years.

Less a Jimmy Cliff album and more a compilation, it is jam-packed with the pick of Jamaica’s finest early reggae artists, and it works as a virtual introductory “who’s who” of those who ignited the genre’s flame long before the likes of Bob Marley ensured its longevity in the annals of popular music.

Twelve cuts …well, ten, but we get two versions of Jimmy Cliff’s title track, and two variations on ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ (to bring Cliff’s own contribution to the album up to six), but each one is a gem. From Scotty’s ‘Draw Your Brakes’, through The Melodians ‘Rivers Of Babylon’, to Cliff’s immortal pop/gospel-tinged crossover, ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, this is all pretty essential must-have stuff for anyone proclaiming to be a true fan of Jamaican music.

Toots Hibbert’s Maytals contribute two of that outfit’s best known tracks in ‘Sweet And Dandy’ and ‘Pressure Drop’ (the Clash-inspiring original), but the album’s best moments are surely Desmond Dekker’s ‘007 (Shanty Town)’, and The Slickers’ masterclass ‘Johnny Too Bad’ (see clip below).

Awesome stuff, and it comes with the anorak bonus card of being an historically significant and hugely important release.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Album Review: Michael Jackson - Xscape (2014)

Whatever else can be said about Michael Jackson’s tragic death at age 50 back in 2009, one positive outcome has been that people have once again started to reconnect with his extraordinary musical legacy.

For a while there, amid all of the other peripheral baggage that blighted the final two decades of his life – the abuse claims, the plastic surgery, the weird behaviour – it seemed we were in danger of forgetting all about the man’s music. Indeed, by 2009 it had become all too easy to forget that Jackson was one of the most important pop cultural figures of the 20th century. Not “wacko jacko” or the freak he was being portrayed as, but Michael Jackson, singer, musician, composer, producer, dancer … performance artist extraordinaire.
And so here we are in 2014, five years on, and all of that other stuff can be permanently parked, consigned to the garbage bin of speculation, myth, and history. Thankfully Jackson’s enduring legend (and legacy) lies with his music.

Xscape is the ELEVENTH posthumous Michael Jackson album release (thanks to Sony & Motown), but only the second full-length release comprising of brand new unreleased material (after the release of Michael in 2010).

Well, obviously it’s not “brand new” – the eight tracks on Xscape were composed and recorded at various times between 1983 and 1999, but for whatever reason they didn’t get released. Being the perfectionist he undoubtedly was, I wonder how Jackson would feel about these previously shelved tracks being out there today?

I’ve got the deluxe version of the album, which means 17 tracks – the eight tracks which make up the regular album, as mixed and produced by a large team led primarily by Timbaland, plus the same eight tracks in their original form as Jackson had left them. The closing track on the deluxe is a third version of the lead-off single ‘Love Never Felt So Good’ (a 1983 Paul Anka co-write) which features Justin Timberlake.

As much as I actually prefer the tracks in their original incarnation – as opposed to the eight freshly produced tracks as they appear on the regular version of the album – there’s nothing particularly outstanding on Xscape and there’s probably a good reason why Jackson had shelved this stuff.

I mean, it’s all okay, the 74 minutes listening time doesn’t drag or anything, but by Jackson’s standards it’s all a bit ordinary … the most interesting relic amid the original material being a track called ‘A Place With No Name’ which is a funky variation on America’s classic ‘Horse With No Name’. For me, it’s the best thing here (clip below).

If you’re a fan, you’ll lap this up, if you’re not, you’ll probably wonder whether or not the world really needed another Michael Jackson album. I find myself doing a bit of both.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Album Review: Capital Cities – In a Tidal Wave of Mystery (2013)

In a Tidal Wave of Mystery is the debut full length release from LA duo Capital Cities, and if I didn’t fully digest it last year when it first came out, it’s probably only because initially it felt rather more like pod fodder than it did a fully formed album. It seemed a little insubstantial, utterly shameless about its pure pop forms, and throwaway stuff compared to whatever more serious fare was demanding my attention at the time. I ripped a few specific tracks for playlist purposes, cast it aside, and left it at that. But it caught up with me again recently, so I thought I’d take a closer look … I’ve got the Japanese Edition, which came with a few extra tracks.

Now I love pop music as much as the next guy, quite probably a lot more than the next guy, but this is fairly blatant stuff, and rarely can a band have attempted to cram so many pop hooks into a single hour of listening. One hook after another, laid on fresh, tune after tune.

Which is all well and good … if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Mine tends to come and go; the older I get, the less lolly-water-tolerant I become … let’s just say music this saccharine sometimes takes a little bit more effort these days. But In a Tidal Wave of Mystery is for the most part a long way from being as bad as I first feared, even if it remains every bit as sugary sweet as it first appeared. It really should come with a health warning.

I wasn’t surprised though. That’s just how Capital Cities roll. These guys made a living writing hooks and jingles for commercial radio long before this album was even a glint in the collective eye. Some of this stuff is so obviously tongue-in-cheek, it feels a little churlish not to just go with it. It feels wrong not to embrace the “feelgood”, and easier to just let it wash over you as it comes thick and fast in a series of short three-to-four minute bursts. About the same length of time it might otherwise have taken you to consume something like a chocolate cream egg, or a liquorice allsort, say.

‘Safe and Sound’ was the big “hit”, going No.1 in Germany and top 10 in at least five other countries, thanks presumably to the likes of Microsoft, HBO, and others who used it in advertising campaigns.

‘Farrah Fawcett Hair’ (clip below) is my highlight though; it’s a trippy little rush of warm fuzzy breeze, a happy place, made all the better for the cameo appearance of Outkast’s Andre 3000. A “good shit” track about life, love, and what it’s like when someone plays with your hair. Perhaps the perfect example of Capital Cities endeavouring to not take itself too seriously, a pattern that emerges right across the album.

‘Kangaroo Court’, ‘Lazy Lies’, and ‘I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo’ are the best of the rest on the 12-track standard album release, the additional four “bonus” tracks on my Japanese Edition being blighted only by the stiff and wooden cover of (the Bee Gees’) ‘Stayin’ Alive’ … what’s been heard, can never quite be unheard.

If straight-forward pure unadulterated pop music is your bag, you’ll absolutely love In a Tidal Wave of Mystery. I do (sort of) love it … in small doses. And I “like” large portions of it, but there are also bits where I cringe a little more than I’d like, and this one comes recommended with reservations …


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Roots Foundation: Rockers Sermon

It’s been well documented elsewhere but one of the great tragedies of the recent Kilbirnie self storage facility fire (in Wellington) was the loss some 8500 records owned by renowned Wellington DJ Danny ‘Lemon’ (of the Roots Foundation). A couple of other local DJs – Top Knot and Splash – also lost records and other personal effects in the fire, a couple of Academy Awards/Oscars were lost (which will be replaced), and I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that even a couple of classic cars were destroyed.

It was a terrible event for all concerned, made worse perhaps by the revelation that the fire turned out to be a case of arson, and the fact that in many cases the gear in storage was not insured. I’m fairly certain that Lemon was one of those not covered.
Lemon’s record collection was very special in that it was surely the largest of its kind in the country – being mostly long since deleted rare reggae, roots, rocksteady, and dub vinyl. Priceless and irreplaceable items, among other things. He estimated that only “five percent” of his lost collection would be available for purchase today if he attempted to replace it – a collection that was lovingly compiled over the course of 35 years, gone in an instant, up in smoke. My eyes start to water just thinking about it, and indeed Lemon described it as his “worst nightmare being realised”.

Anyway, I’m going over old ground, but context is important, and the reason for this post is twofold:

The first is to highlight the fundraiser (gig) taking place on Lemon’s behalf on 1 June at San Fran in Wellington. The line-up represents a virtual who’s who of local DJ talent with the most obvious draw being Lemon’s own collective, Roots Foundation Sound System.

But the night will also feature old school luminaries like Auckland’s Dubhead ... who I’m pretty sure I recall spinning vinyl as far back as 1990/1991 when I attended a ‘Unity’ (clothing shop) NYE “warehouse” party at the Auckland Town Hall – possibly the last time I saw him perform. (And quite why I was up in Auckland for that NYE remains a mystery!)

And then of course there’s someone like Koa, a Roots Foundation original, a softly-spoken humble guy who’s been on the Wellington scene forever. I can recall Koa being the resident DJ at a club called ‘Clares’ back in the Eighties, and he’s been everywhere that’s anywhere ever since.
Add the likes of DLT, Goosebump, Marty Vital, Riki Gooch ... local legends all, plus a few others, and it should be a cracking night – with a lot of reggae, a helluva lot of bass, and I’ll wager we’ll hear some old fashioned funk as well.

The second reason for this increasingly long-winded post (it was going to be a quick 100 words) is to draw your attention to an exceptional article by Lewis Tennant on the Audioculture site, which looks at the Roots Foundation story and more generally the evolution of Sound System culture here in New Zealand.
As you know, everythingsgonegreen is a big fan of grass roots history, and this is a superb example of a story that just had to be told, one that would have just as likely fallen through the cracks in the pre internet era. Have a read ... (click on the link below)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Album Review: The Dandelion Seeds - The Dandelion Seeds (2013)

The Dandelion Seeds hail from Reykjavík, Iceland, and the band’s self titled debut album – along with a couple of earlier EP efforts from 2011 – is available only as a pay-what-you-like option on Bandcamp. It’s a December 2013 “release” but I think we can safely put this one in the 2014 box and call it “current”.

It seems the album was locked in and ready for wider release but the band’s label went bust before the final product ever saw the light of day (other than digitally on Bandcamp). Which is a great shame because one listen to this psychedelic behemoth of an album was enough to convince me that The Dandelion Seeds are surely destined for much greater things.
Well, they would be if they weren’t currently in hiatus and involved with another project – making music as The Pink Street Boys. I’m not sure whether or not that means we’ve seen the last of The Dandelion Seeds as a going concern, but if that’s indeed the case, they’ve left us with something special to savour.
Nine tracks clock in at around 34 minutes so it’s fairly brief, but it’s a case of quality over quantity, and seldom have I heard so many classic rock touchstones crammed into such a short time span.

Not only is this a throwback to 1967 and the original Summer of Love, it will also connect with fans of early Nineties shoegaze (there is a strong Ride influence) and prime period Dandy Warhols. The music of Stone Roses provides for another obvious reference point, even if the stuff found on this has a much harder and rather more ragged edge to it.

Byrdsian jangle, portions of sonic fuzz, swirly keyboards, and strong vocal harmonies make this a truly tripped out affair – the sort of thing Pink Floyd might have been proud of when Syd Barrett was still around.

This album took me by complete surprise when I stumbled across it by accident – downloaded on a whim (and a hunch) – and it wouldn’t ordinarily be something I’d seek out, but if you like classic rock with a strong psychedelic tinge, I recommend you take some time out to listen to The Dandelion Seeds. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Highlights include: 'Crazy Sun', 'Soul Thing', 'The Beast', and 'The Waiting Game'.

Grab your download here – The Dandelion Seeds on Bandcamp

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Album Review: Sun Kil Moon – Benji (2014)

Ex-Red House Painter Mark Kozelek is someone who knows how to spin a good yarn. On Benji, his sixth album under the Sun Kil Moon banner, Kozelek spins aplenty, and the album is very much an exercise in old school style storytelling.

Benji is personal, intimate, and tragic; all stuff that – when done well – can touch the soul quite unlike anything else. And Kozelek does it very well here. So much of Benji’s beauty lies in its simplicity.

Adopting for the most part a basic man-guitar-songbook template, Benji is chock full of tales and anecdotes about life, love, and death, and it’s fair to say there’s also a great deal of human tragedy to be found across its hour-long duration.
As with past work, Kozelek continually comes up with unusual angles and odd lyrical frameworks to work with – see mass murder, mercy killing, fire, rock’n’roll, childhood, loving, and fucking … just for starters.

But it’s the devil-in-the-detail intimacy that ultimately makes Benji something special.

The album opens with 'Carissa', a song about trying to make sense of the seemingly mysterious fire-related death of a second cousin. It feels like a cathartic quest for some kind of closure through words and music, and as an opening track it works a little bit like a statement of intent.

The death theme is explored further on 'Truck Driver'; another fire, another lost relative … yep, it seems there’s been an awful lot of bizarre stuff going on Kozelek’s wider world.

But there’s quiet reflection and melancholy too – 'I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same' checks in at over ten minutes, which is probably a little bit too long, but it’s an extended tale about growing up, getting older, and moving on. It’s also about the notion that whatever happens, as life changes, we stay fundamentally the same people on the inside – there’s a point where Kozelek sings about how certain music of Led Zeppelin makes the same impact on him now as it did way back when he first heard it. So it’s also about how music can stand as a marker over time, for memory and reflection and it is something I could strongly relate to.

There’s a first sexual encounter on 'Dogs', and subject matter like perceptions of beauty and acceptance of “difference” are explored on 'Micheline', one of the albums highlights.

Song titles like 'I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love' and 'I Love My Dad' are self-explanatory, yet no less heartfelt or haunting for their obviousness. Kozelek’s vocal seems to find a slightly softer lilt when singing about matters closest to the heart.
'Pray For Newtown' is pretty close to being the pick of a pretty decent batch; it’s mostly about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, where 26 people died (naturally!). It’s an intense four minute lament, utterly compelling, despite its gruesome subject matter … or rather, perhaps because of it. Referencing several other instances of mass murder in the song, Kozelek has us reflecting on our own good fortune, placement, or luck … call it what you will. We’re asked to spare a little change in the form of some empathy for the victims of the horror, and for the families left behind.

The death theme continues (surprise!) with 'Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes'; Ramirez being a killer dubbed “the nightstalker” during a reign of terror in Southern California, and the haunting delay/echo FX used on the vocal add a slightly spooky edge to this track, as Kozelek somehow manages to summon bite-sized portions of the evil and darkness that surrounded Ramirez himself.

Musically, this is a fairly sparse and stripped back affair, mostly acoustic guitar-based, with the odd subtle layer of additional instrumentation popping up here and there. It’s only when we get to the closer 'Ben’s My Friend' (about fellow muso Ben Gibbard) that there’s any real hint of Kozelek seeking out a fuller sound – with additional bass and horns/sax – but even at that, the closing track feels a little at odds with the rest of the material, and I’m not sure it works so well.

That’s a minor quibble, and if I also have a few small issues surrounding arrangement and production, the true measure of Benji’s worth is in the words and in the storytelling. And in the album’s ability to touch and move as you journey across its eleven tracks.

Despite some of the dark subject matter, there’s something distinctly life affirming and refreshing about this album, and Benji is so close to perfect it might just be a very early contender for album of the year. Let’s wait and see.


Here’s ‘Pray For Newtown’:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different …

I was pretty excited earlier this week with the announcement that West Ham United FC will be visiting my home city of Wellington this coming (northern hemisphere) summer, our NZ winter. The “Hammers” will play in a “tournament” involving fellow English Premiership team Newcastle United, two-time A-League champions Sydney FC, and host club Wellington Phoenix.

You see, aside from having an incurable obsession with pop culture, you could say I’m also something of a football nut.

In fact, way back in the day, between 2001 and 2010, long before everythingsgonegreen was even conceived as an alternative outlet to “document shit”, your humble blogger used to write a fair bit about football for a webzine called Etims, an independent site celebrating all things Celtic FC. It was a labour of love – a small team of about six of us contributing up to a dozen or so posts per week and it soon became (and remains) a hugely popular fan site … clocking up something like one million page hits inside its first five years. While humour was its most obvious draw, my angle was frequently the more serious view of the long distance fan.

One day I just stopped writing for Etims, for no real reason really, I guess I lost a bit of the requisite passion, but as a football supporter I’ll always be a Celtic fan. Family history and the fact that I was employed at Celtic Park for a period in the early Nineties makes that one of the few locked-in non-negotiables in my world. My Celtic “mojo” has faded a little in recent years (distance is an obvious problem) but I made it to Celtic Park as recently as 2011, the love is always there, and I know I’ll never lose it.
More than just a football club ...
When it came to watching football (on television) growing up, by dint of its wider accessibility and a weekly highlights show, English football was an ever-present, and given that Celtic (and Scottish football) received virtually no coverage in New Zealand, it became almost obligatory for me to adopt “another” team. So I did, and that “other team” is West Ham United.

It’s West Ham, I guess, because one night in May 1975, as an 11-year-old, I was allowed to sit “up late” with Dad to watch live (early morning) coverage of West Ham winning the FA Cup Final against Fulham. It seemed like a really big deal at the time, and I can still recall the buzz of that occasion. The West Ham team of that era played an irresistible brand of football and those precious Sunday lunch hours watching London Weekend Television’s ‘The Big Match’ suddenly took on an extra significance for me. It also helped that my Monrad Intermediate school uniform colours replicated those of West Ham.

Nightclub superstar Macca
That means I’ve followed the fortunes of West Ham for the best part of 40 years now, as the club bounces its way around the top two tiers of English football (best finish, third in 1986); occasionally brilliant, so often way more stylish than any other club, yet frequently a major disappointment as serial under-achievers.
I also have a life-long friend, Scott, who for his sins is also a firm and committed West Ham fan (as opposed to my rather more “casual” status). He’s just an hour down the road, so I hope to hook up with him for the occasion of West Ham’s visit, if only to tick that one off any mutual bucket list.
Scott and I share many passions – not only football, but a love of industrial strength dub and On-U Sound reggae. We shared a roof for a year or so 25 years ago, and his influence on my early record collection was immense. It was Scott who introduced me to the delights of dub guru Adrian Sherwood and I recall it was quite the thing when we learned of Sherwood’s own shared passion for West Ham – albeit a far more consummated relationship with the club than either Scott or I could ever have hoped to have. But it felt like an alignment of the tribes, an affirmation of sorts, something meant to be, West Ham, Adrian, Scotty and me …

We saw Sherwood together in Wellington back in 2011, indeed, Scott was granted a post-gig audience with the man himself. Another bucket list event we shared was The Specials in Auckland in 2009, so I’m thinking West Ham in NZ would make it something akin to a very sweet hat-trick … it's been a while since we caught up, so I’ll give him a call.

Right. Back to the music, here’s some appropriate content to finish – On-U Sound’s Barmy Army, on the Adrian Sherwood-produced West Ham-celebrating ‘Devo’ … (a track dedicated to West Ham cult hero Alan Devonshire):