Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Festive Dozen 2014 Finale: Bass Culture Players ft Payoh Soul Rebel - Forgiveness

I’m not a huge fan of religion. In whatever form it takes. Whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or some other “brand” of worship. I just don’t go there. In so many ways religion has become such a destructive force, it is difficult to view it through anything other than very cynical eyes. I love music, pop culture, books, football, and my family – not necessarily in that order. Those things, while not providing much in the way of rules for living, seldom let me down. On occasion I’ve even been known to become quite precious about that bastard of a game we call cricket. I’m especially passionate about beach cricket and driveway cricket. But not religion.

I believe in science, which may or may not make me a humanist, I’m really not sure. I suppose the closest I’ve ever been to unravelling the mysteries of “spirituality” was many years ago when I was convinced I could become Rastafarian. As you do. For a while I studied what that actually meant, the general “ethos” behind it, and even contemplated visiting Ethiopia in search of further inspiration and/or wisdom. It turned out to be a rather temporary condition. Somewhere along the way the plan was thwarted and binned – probably because I was white, ginger, broke, and way too wasted to make any of it a reality.
But it turns out I’m also a hypocrite because like the vast majority of other heathens in the western world I also celebrate Christmas. I’m not sure how that comes about. Probably just habit, and because it comes with the bonus of a few days of holiday. The chance to spend quality time with the family while they drool over the wonders of materialism, and I lose myself in the delights of long since forgotten about black and white movies on television. There’s also, weather permitting, the distinct possibility of some driveway cricket. But the Christmas break – and by extension, an acknowledgement of Christianity – is the catalyst for all of that. It seems a very odd thing for a non-believer to become a temporary believer when it suits, but there it is.

I often confront a similar dilemma, or condition, when it comes to listening to roots reggae music – so much of it deals with faith and all matters spiritual. Yet I actually love all of that stuff about praising Jah, connecting with the “most high”, and the endless number of biblical references. I’m not quite sure why I enjoy those songs of praise in a musical form, but they resonate, and I connect with them in ways I seldom do with other forms of musical expression … but ask me to sing a hymn? Hmmm.
A few years ago, a friend suggested that "everything happens for a reason" and to be honest I was fairly dismissive of the notion. It reeked of that mysterious “higher power” and I just couldn't grasp the concept. But I totally get it now. It wasn't about not having any control over events or being subjected to some kind of pre-determined destiny, it was about using the experience life was throwing at me in order to understand myself better. Using events to shape personal growth.

And this year, more than ever, I’ve continually been given cause to think a little bit more about that higher power. About what it all means, this thing called life. About mortality. And about those pesky issues such as personal morals. About truth, and dare I get to the point (please do – Ed), about that staple of all faith, that thing called forgiveness. It’s something I've been struggling with - forgiving others for perceived (and real) injustices, while also seeking forgiveness from others. Most importantly, after much soul searching, I came to realise that I couldn’t move on or embrace any of the “personal growth” referred to above, unless I learned to forgive myself and others … even if that meant doing it in my own non-religious arse-about-face kind of way.
So anyway, to stop short of turning my final pre-Christmas post of 2014 into some sort of sermon with loads of new age gobbledegook, and to conclude the Festive Dozen countdown, here’s the Madrid-based Bass Culture Players with the everythingsgonegreen tune of the year – not just for its lyrical significance and personal relevance, but because Payoh Soul Rebel’s Marley-esque vocal blew me away each and every time I heard it … Merry Christmas everythingsgonegreen reader, enjoy the festive break, I’ve just been told it’s my turn to bat ...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Album Review: Dum Dum Girls - Too True (2014)

If there was any sort of award for the best “short” album of the year, the latest offering from Dum Dum Girls would be hard to resist. Co-produced by veteran New York-based studio wiz Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, Go-Gos, others) alongside Sune Rose Wagner of Danish beat merchants The Raveonettes, and released on Sub Pop, Too True is essentially 30 minutes of garage-infused girl pop that harks back to some sort of golden age for the three-minute pop song.

The album is primarily the work of vocalist/guitarist Dee Dee Penny, who also gets a bass credit, along with help from co-producer Wagner. And while the end result is close to outstanding, the lyrically strong Too True tends to lack the fuller sound more evident on its 2011 predecessor, Only In Dreams, which in my view remains the best Dum Dum Girls outing (of the three albums). And it’s probably no coincidence that particular album was made by a full band line-up.

Too True is practically flawless in its attention to detail, with reference points for the shiny 80s pomp of The Bangles at one end of the pop spectrum, and the raw reverb-driven dark edges of the Jesus And Mary Chain at the other. Somewhere in the middle you’ll find a bit of Ronnie Spector, some Chrissie Hynde, and perhaps even some Patti Smith.

And whilst Penny hasn’t completely abandoned the angsty post-punk stuff of the very earliest Dum Dum Girls work, the pop flavours evident on Too True tend to complement the more commercial sensibility previously found on Only In Dreams … only in a shorter and slightly sweeter form.

Key tracks: ‘Rimbaud Eyes’, ‘Lost Boys And Girls Club’ (see clip below), and ‘Little Minx’ …

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Festive Dozen 2014: She's So Rad - Levels

Back in early September I spent a weekend up in Auckland, and I managed to take in a couple of live gigs. On the Friday night I went to the ‘Going Global’ showcase at Galatos, which basically meant a number of up and coming young local bands playing short sets in a multi-roomed venue over the course of some three to four hours. Sadly it was impossible to see them all, but the most impressive acts for me on the night were Jesse Sheehan and his band, teen-wiz Race Banyon, and these guys, She’s So Rad … with ‘Levels’ going on to become one of my favourite late-year earworms. Not a bad video clip either …

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shades of Grey: R.I.P. Chris Sheehan

I thought I’d re-post a blogpost from some 18 months ago concerning Chris Sheehan, who sadly lost his long battle with cancer yesterday. This is the closest thing I can offer to a tribute piece on one of New Zealand’s most underrated musicians. Chris was an inspirational figure for me growing up, and one of the reasons I came to love music as much as I do. My thoughts are with his partner Claire and family … R.I.P. Chris


The recent social media coverage given to ex-Palmerston North musician Chris Sheehan’s fundraising campaign has been heartening to observe. Sheehan, aka Chris Starling, is presently based in Spain, and is raising funds for a shot at “one last album”. He’s been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic nodular melanoma, and the outlook for him is apparently pretty bleak. But there is a lot of love and respect out there for his work, and Sheehan’s fundraising efforts have largely been successful thus far. You can contribute to Sheehan’s cause here. I’m personally looking forward to any new work he can offer us.

Sheehan’s sad news, and a wider collective desire for his fundraising to gain requisite exposure, offered the chance for bloggers and mainstream media alike to profile and pay tribute to someone who’s tended to fly under the radar for long periods. From a number of small independent blogposts to that of Wellington blogger Simon Sweetman, whose recent piece on the mainstream Stuff website generated some good support from Sheehan’s homeland.

So with a few of the more high profile aspects of Sheehan’s career … the Dance Exponents, his move to London, the Starlings, the “solo” career, and stints with acts like Curve, Babylon Zoo, the Sisters of Mercy, and briefly, NZ’s own Mutton Birds … having been well documented elsewhere in recent times, by others far more qualified than myself, I’m going to offer something completely different here, and give you my take on an otherwise very much undocumented stage of Sheehan’s career … let’s call it his “Shades of Grey period”:
Chris Sheehan circa 2000
I first knew him only as Chris, the teenage guitarist in a shit hot covers band called Shades of Grey at the rough-around-the-edges Café de Paris pub in my hometown of Palmerston North. I’m pretty sure it was 1982, perhaps late ‘81 to late ’82. I would have been 17, going on 18, under the legal drinking age of the time, and there I was, every Friday and Saturday night, frothing with excitement, in the back bar of the Café. I soon became friends with a guy named Jim Conlon, a fellow muso who knew Chris well, and despite the significant risk to my person as the son of a well known local cop (the front bar was the haunt of the local “motorcycle club”), I quickly became a Café fixture, albeit a bit of a wallflower.
I wasn’t a big drinker but I craved excitement, the rush of live music, and Shades of Grey with its prodigy guitarist, who I had guessed was even younger than me, was the only game in town.

Shades of Grey played dark pop, punk, and post-punk; covers like ‘London Calling’ (The Clash), ‘Solitary Confinement’ (Members), ‘Rockaway Beach’ (Ramones), and a raft of Cure tunes. They were pretty good, if very raw and occasionally a little too loud for the confines of the small space they occupied. Lead singer Don Stevenson possessed just the right amount of arrogance, and a great punk howl. Drummer Brent Maharey was the epitome of surfer cool, while curly-haired bass player Steve Dodson remained more of a mystery (to me). But the group’s real point of difference was Sheehan, whose sheer unbridled talent propelled the novice band to new heights each and every weekend on tracks like ‘The Fire’ (The Sound), ‘Damaged Goods’ (Gang of Four), and more often than not most spectacularly on the Dead Kennedys’ classic ‘Holiday In Cambodia’. Even something as simple and understated as early Cure b-side ‘Another Journey By Train’ could be transformed into something utterly compelling in Sheehan’s hands.

The Café had a tiny raised “dancefloor” directly in front of what passed for a stage, and when I wasn’t hugging the walls of said dancefloor, I could be found standing directly in front of Sheehan, looking up slightly, mesmerised not only by his expansive repertoire of fretwork and riffery, but by his stance, his posture, and his nonchalant mastery of the instrument he bore. That, and the look of apparent contempt he offered me whenever I caught his eye. With that slight frame, and the shock mop of jet black hair, Chris appeared nothing if not very cool, and his understanding of that seemed absolute. There was certainly something extraordinary about him at that age, and we all knew he’d go a long way. And we knew he’d have to go a long way away from Palmy.    
Dance Exponent
That time, and that band, rates as a period of genuine discovery for me, and I’d often spend the weekday lunch breaks seeking out the originals for many of the covers I’d heard the previous Friday or Saturday night. It became a labour of love, and often involved hours on end trekking about Palmy’s limited record shops. The Record Hunter outlet on Broadway did imports, so all was not lost if I couldn’t find what I coveted any particular week. Suffice to say, no covers band since has had quite the same impact on my music collection. And the thrill of those nights at the Café remains with me to this day, the picture I have in my mind’s eye of Sheehan on that poxy little stage is crystal clear. And for my sins, all these years on, I remain friends with a good number of the fellow wastrels I met in that godforsaken excuse for a “lounge bar”.

An early incarnation of the band had a female keyboardist who may or may not have been called Christine, and this was the version I witnessed the first couple of times I saw them. A much later version – one that eventually moved away from the Café to the more expansive Lion Tavern – saw drummer Brent move on, to be replaced by a Turkish stickman called Nihat, who’d previously starred in Snatch, Palmy’s other “new wave” covers band of choice during the era … (and everythingsgonegreen might just indulge itself with a piece on Snatch at some point in the future).

But it all ended just as quickly as it began, and I probably only ever had a handful of conversations with Chris, awkwardly snatched between sets at the Café, before he got the call to join the Dance Exponents, one of New Zealand’s premier pop groups of the time. Chris added a harder, more experimental edge to the Exponents’ work for a period of time, and I was a little disappointed when the recent otherwise definitive documentary on the band tended to race through or gloss over the Sheehan years.

It hasn’t always been easy for Sheehan, and while his work has often attracted a decent level of critical acclaim, it hasn’t always hit the commercial heights lesser talented individuals have frequently achieved.

But I’d be a liar if I said I knew Chris Sheehan very well at all. I’ve just followed his career from afar, and I was merely lucky enough to observe him as a supremely talented work-in-progress, a young guy taking his first formative career steps. I count myself pretty fortunate for that experience, and the chance to add this small story to a much greater whole. I look forward to getting updates on his progress via social media and I wish you all the very best Chris if you read this …

I’d love to be able to offer you a clip of Shades of Grey, but here’s the next best thing – not the best quality clip, but one that showcases some great axemanship from Chris Sheehan:



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Festive Dozen 2014: The Analogue Fakir - The Forms

The music of Muhammad Hamzah (aka Celt Islam, the Analogue Fakir, Nine Invisibles) has been highlighted a fair few times already on everythingsgonegreen. While it would probably be pushing it to suggest that the genre of Sufi dub wouldn’t exist without him, Hamzah is surely the current master of its form. 2014 was another busy year for the man in question with several new Celt Islam releases, including an album called Generation Bass.

However it was while wearing his Analogue Fakir moniker back in 2013 that he released an album called Worlds We Know, a barely noticed electronic/psydub gem, which eventually made its way to my pod late last year. That meant it was prime listening material for me throughout the early part of 2014, pretty much providing the roadtrip soundtrack to most of last summer. Here’s ‘The Forms’ … 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Album Review: Various - Hyperdub 10.4 (2014)

The final instalment of the Hyperdub '10' series is an expansive 2-disc 28-track set that merely confirms what most of us already knew: when it comes to innovation and state-of-the-art bass music, the Hyperdub label pretty much leads the way - in terms of output and longevity.

The fourth release presents some new material, along with what amounts to a collection of the label's "greatest hits", and it includes a previously unreleased Burial track called 'Lambeth', which opens proceedings. It then goes on to cover all of the requisite bases and sub-genre types, with highlights coming from the usual suspects - four tracks from Cooly G, including some lovely retro-style housey goodness (see clip below), four from relative latecomer DVA, another classic from the Burial archives ('Street Halo'), and the obligatory but no less essential contribution from label guru Kode9 (with two tracks).

If you're reading this, I'm just as likely preaching to the already converted, so I'll leave it there. Suffice to say the Hyperdub '10' series has been one of the genuine highlights of my music-listening year in 2014 … here's to another ten years.

Having said all of that, it would be remiss of me not to reflect on the fact that, despite those birthday celebrations, the year hasn't necessarily been a particularly upbeat or an easy one for the label, or for those directly connected with it, with the sad loss of two of its key conspirators ...

R.I.P. DJ Rashad and R.I.P. The Spaceape.

Here’s Cooly G with ‘Him Da Biz’ (off 10.4):

The Festive Dozen 2014: Koncrete Roots - Guns Don't Argue

I blogged earlier about the Dub-O-Phonic Netlabel when I included Sunjaman in the Festive Dozen, and this mid-year release on the same imprint was another to feature heavily on the various playlists bouncing around my pod. It’s a cut from Rudie Duplates, a wicked little EP containing five previously unreleased Koncrete Roots dubplates … and ‘Guns Don’t Argue’ is a reconfiguring of something from way back, something special and a little crooked …

Thursday, December 11, 2014

XLR8R's Top 100 Downloads of 2014

Those year-end countdowns are now in full swing, and since the generally pretty excellent XLR8R website has long been one of my “go to” sites for all things of an electronic/dance bent, I was keen to see what that site was going to throw at us for 2014.

As per previous years, XLR8R has generously and conveniently packaged up its Top 100 downloads of 2014 in a free fully downloadable zip package. Navigate to near the foot of page linked below, and fill yer boots …

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Festive Dozen 2014: Tackhead - For The Love of Money

This year also saw the return of industrial funk supergroup Tackhead. In 2014 terms, that meant a new album, For The Love of Money, and bunch of senior statesmen doing what they do best, what they love … keeping it simple, with no pretensions about reinventing the wheel.

For The Love of Money was to all intents and purposes a covers album, with new versions of past work included, but it also proved to be an exceptional piece of work from perhaps the most underrated group of my lifetime.

The title track is no less relevant today than it was all those years ago when the O’Jays first released it, aided unquestionably by Tackhead’s spectacularly unique take on it …

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Album Review: The War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream (2014)

Lost In The Dream is the third full-length release from Philadelphia-based indie rockers The War On Drugs.

Such was the level of critical acclaim during the weeks and months following its March 2014 release, Lost In The Dream is almost certain to feature on many of those upcoming end-of-year “best album” lists. And when it does, those plaudits will certainly be well deserved. In fact, despite the departure of the influential Kurt Vile after the release of its 2008 debut album, The War On Drugs is a band on the rise.
With its Eighties-style sheen and glossy pop production, Lost In The Dream was almost instantly familiar to my ears. In a warm and comforting way. It was like I’d heard it before, but I kept having to remind myself that I couldn’t possibly have – it was brand spanking new. It was like an old friend whose face I recognised but couldn’t quite place … I knew this music, but where the hell did I know it from?
It turns out that I knew it from the hybrid of Eighties reference points that feature heavily throughout its hour long duration. Such touchstones are everywhere on Lost In The Dream – from the dark Americana feel of Bruce Springsteen, to Fleetwood Mac, to The Blue Nile, to the “big” sound of The Waterboys … and beyond, well beyond. Derivative yet still unique, new, and original to The War On Drugs.
Then there’s the cinematic imagery: a vast open space, somewhere like the Arizona desert maybe, a road trip, top down in a ’56 Cadillac convertible. It’s dreamy pop music with a slightly shadowy hue, uplifting yet also a little paranoid, disturbing, claustrophobic ... calming, and liberating … all at the same time.

I’m pretty sure some will call it a masterpiece … and they probably won’t be too far wrong.
Highlights: ‘Under The Pressure’, ‘Red Eyes’, and the title track, but generally there’s no filler and this is a “no skip” album …

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Festive Dozen 2014: The Nomad - Brok Out (featuring Lotek)

It would be impossible for everythingsgonegreen to reflect back on 2014 without including at least a snippet of something from The Nomad. The year under review was a huge one for the artist concerned; he released a top notch album (7), toured extensively, and reminded everyone of his standing as one of the country’s most prominent electronic/bass music producers with the release of a “best of” package.

His gig at Wellington’s Boat Café back in September was quite probably the best gig I went to all year (and there were a few goodies to choose from).
I was also lucky enough to sit down with him to chat about his music, where he’s been, and where he’s headed, something that led to a feature piece being published in NZ Musician magazine (click here).

I thought 7 was a fantastic piece of work, and included on that album was a grimey gem called ‘Brok Out’, which featured Melbourne-based Londoner Lotek …

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Festive Dozen 2014: Paolo Nutini - Scream (Funk My Life Up)

Paolo Nutini is an artist to defy those pesky stereotypes.

Firstly, that wonderful Italian name – he’s from Milan right?
Nope, he’s from Glasgow.

Oh, he must make downbeat twee indie rock right?
Nope, he makes the sort of sassy funk that Prince once specialised in.

Oh, he must be a black Glaswegian right?
Er, nope, Paolo Nutini is a master of that genre we once called “blue-eyed soul” …

Oh, man, that sounds a bit dodgy, a white Glaswegian making funk music, and why haven’t I even heard of him before, he must be pretty crap right?
Um, actually he’s a three-time BRIT nominee, a firm favourite at festivals around the globe, a guy who performed at the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, and someone who released what was quite probably the best album of his career (Caustic Love) in 2014 … but hey, don’t take my word for it, decide for yourself …