Saturday, January 31, 2015

Album Review: Hawaiian Maiden – Good Hustle (2014)

Christchurch-based multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wheeler is better known around the local traps as the drummer for punk stalwarts None Left Standing. But if his solo incarnation, Hawaiian Maiden, is anything to go by, his heart is pure old school rock n roll.

Wheeler's debut release under that amusing moniker is called Good Hustle, and it contains six rockabilly-come-surf rock instrumental gems that somehow manage to transport the listener back to a far simpler time and place. Back to a sepia-tinged postcard world where the sun shines all day every day, and where long boards rule the waves. Back to a pre-metric era when you could travel city-to-surf in your Mark 2 Ford Zephyr convertible for less than a couple of quid’s worth of high octane benzene.

It’s part vocal-less Violent Femmes, it’s a little bit early B-52’s, but mostly it’s Duane Eddy hanging out with a combi van full of mates up in the dunes at dusk. More than that, it’s a lovingly crafted piece of work that sounds like it was as much fun to make as it is to listen to – six quirky vibrato and reverb-drenched tunes, with eccentric oddball titles.

There’s a production credit to David Webber, a trumpet solo from Guy Higginson on the almost ska flavoured ‘Helen, It Goes Without Saying’, but for the most part Wheeler does everything himself.

Perfect for balmy summer evenings at the bach.

You can buy Good Hustle at the Hawaiian Maiden Bandcamp page here.

This review originally appeared in the Dec/Jan issue of NZ Musician

Album Review: Darren Watson - Introducing Darren Watson (2014)

I mentioned in an earlier post how I’d been fortunate enough to sit down to chat with local bluesman Darren Watson. That conversation formed the basis of a feature piece for the December/January issue of NZ Musician magazine – click here for the online version, Bugged by the Blues.

Watson was also kind enough to present me with a CD copy of his latest album, Introducing Darren Watson. I found the album title something of an oddity given that Watson has already released four prior solo albums, plus another couple of even earlier albums under the guise of former band Chicago Smoke Shop. But I suppose, given the massive increase in national profile Watson enjoyed during 2014, the “introducing” part was perhaps rather fitting for some.

For those of us living in Wellington though, Watson needs no introduction, in fact he might just about be the hardest working “live” artist of the past couple of decades in terms of gigging in and around the capital – and that’s no exaggeration.

Actually, scrap the word “capital” and replace it with the words “lower North Island”, from support slots with major international acts to gigs in tiny bars/cafes/halls in places like Tokomaru and Paekakariki. For Watson, it’s clearly all about spreading the gospel.

As you’d expect, Introducing Darren Watson immediately comes across as the work of a seasoned pro.  The work of someone who has finely honed his craft over many years of playing live. Andrew Downes and Mike Gibson get the production and mastering spot on without attempting to polish things up too much – it is primarily a blues album after all, keeping things relatively rough around the edges is part of its charm.

If the album threw up the odd surprise or two (for me), they were merely reminders of just how versatile Watson is. For all that I say it is “primarily” a blues album, it isn’t “just” a blues album … there’s nods to old school soul, there’s slabs of funk, and there’s parts that skirt around the outer regions of a number of different genres. It rocks, rolls, and grooves in equal portions.

The key to a lot of that of course is Watson’s superb guitar playing, but it’s also obvious that his vocal has only improved with age – there’s something compelling about a more lived-in voice … the subtle nuances, the changes in tone and emphasis, the sense that Watson has actually lived some of the life experiences he’s singing about is a critical element to the authenticity of this work.

There’s eight Watson compositions – I’m an instant convert on opening stomper ‘Some Men’, and things only get better from there – plus two gems penned by fellow Wellingtonian Bill Lake, the well-worn ‘I Wanna Be With You’, and the hugely seductive ‘Thought I’d Seen It All’.

Overall, Introducing Darren Watson is a more than worthy addition to an already outstanding catalogue of work from New Zealand’s premier bluesman – you can pick up a copy from Watson’s Bandcamp page here.

Watson’s website is here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dubmatix - Mysterium Dub

Going back a few years, another early blog favourite for everythingsgonegreen was Canadian roots/dub specialist Dubmatix. Well, he’s back better than ever in early 2015 (the truth is, he never really went away) with a bandcamp freebie in the form of a track called ‘Mysterium Dub’ … check it out below:

Roots dub harkening back to the King Tubby era with a dose of modern dub. Spring reverbs, classic Roland echoes, tube reverb, live instruments. Old school.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Album Review: Celt Islam - Irfan EP (2015)

It seems perfectly fitting that my first new music purchase of the year comes from regular everythingsgonegreen perennial Celt Islam. It comes in the form of the six-track Irfan EP, and the release is available on the Earth City Recordz bandcamp page (get it here).

Celt Islam’s latest offering is yet another gem, and it features collaborations with the Renegade Sufi (aka Dawoud Kringle, on the excellent title track and opener) and the much travelled Danman (on ‘In This World’).
Across the six tracks we get snippets of all of the regular “Sufi dub” reference points we’ve come to expect from Celt Islam’s past work; eastern and African elements, psy-dub, and harder to categorise EDM-based stuff. As per usual, the quality control factor is set appropriately high, and this is yet another “no skip” release from this prolific hard-working artist.
If you haven’t checked out Celt Islam’s work before, this is an ideal starting point. Look out too for releases from The Analogue Fakir and Nine Invisibles.

And here's something from the pages of Wiki:
In Islam, ‘Irfān (Arabic/Persian/Urdu: عرفان; Turkish: İrfan), also spelt Irfaan and Erfan, literally ‘knowing, awareness’, is gnosis; however, it also refers to Islamic mysticism. Those with the name are sometimes referred to as having an insight into the unseen. Irfan is also a Muslim given name, usually for males.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Albums of 2014

Okay, time for the annual EGG awards, aka “the Eggs” … or more simply, a list of your blogger’s favourite (read: most listened to) albums of 2014 …

10. Todd Terje – It's Album Time

It might well have been album time, but it was also about time. Norwegian producer Todd Terje has been relatively prolific as a remixer for other artists over the past few years, but this time it was finally all about him and he came up with a cracker. It's Album Time was an absorbing mix of tracks that had been out for a while in one form or another ('Strandbar', 'Inspector Norse') and newer previously unreleased material. It was also an almost perfect hybrid of state-of-the-art technology and old school dance vibes, with disco rhythms grinding hard up against softcore techno beats – all set to Terje's trademark electronic pulse. Bryan Ferry made a cameo appearance and gave us one of the album's surprise gems with his take on Robert Palmer's 'Johnny And Mary'. The album may have been a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.
9. Al Dobson Jr – Sounds from the Village Volume 1

To be honest I probably wouldn't have known too much about this one if an old friend (connected with the artist and label) hadn't sent me a Bandcamp download code. Although some of the shorter sketches barely qualify as tunes, when consumed as a whole, the album was never anything less than a warm and seriously infectious listening experience. My original review can be found here.

8. Jack White – Lazeretto

Another year, another Jack White album, and while he appears to have overstayed his welcome in some quarters, I remain a fan. In fact I've got a theory about why I love Jack so much: for years I cursed that genre loosely defined as "classic rock" – it was just music for those who relied only on FM radio for their daily music fix and it wasn’t for me. In any form. Ever. Then along came Jack White – unconventional (White Stripes), raw (Dead Weather), challenging (Raconteurs), and farking loud (everything). A basket to place all those classic rock eggs I'd been denying myself (but had subconsciously, secretly even, started to appreciate). And so now that I'm at an age where the guilt has been removed from the notion of "guilty pleasures", I can just fully indulge in the music of Jack White without fear. Because White is nothing if not old school classic rock, and Lazeretto is merely the latest quite brilliant manifestation of that. Even though I know it's all been done before, there's no overkill here, and this shit still sounds relatively fresh to me.

7. Ha the Unclear – Bacterium, Look At Your Motor Go

Dunedin and/or sometime Auckland-based band Ha the Unclear is one of the few bands I missed at the Galatos showcase gig back in September … more fool me. And although I only picked up a copy of this album in early December, it's been given a good old fashioned thrashing across the past month – so much so I just had to include it as one of the most instantly loved albums of my year. To call the album “quirky” and quintessential Kiwi pop feels like an injustice to a work that’s so much more than that, yet for me those (admittedly lazy) descriptions somehow best nail the most immediate appeal of Bacterium, Look At Your Motor Go. I think vocalist Michael Cathro’s strong local accent only enhances that sense of Nu Zild-ness, because for the most part the album’s lyrical themes are universal, if somewhat odd and peculiar, and not at all exclusive to this part of the world – from religious ritual (‘Apostate’) to old age and regret (‘85’). But it’s when the perspective is expanded to include that of a coffee table reflecting upon its relationship with its owner (on ‘Secret Lives of Furniture’) that the narrative truly astounds … all set against a series of triumphant jangly/harmony pop tunes.
6. The Nomad – 7

7 was one of those albums that just kept getting better and better each time I heard it. Which was often. I got the chance to interview and profile Daimon Schwalger (aka The Nomad) for NZ Musician mag and I think what separates him from the vast majority of electronic producers is that he bears none of the stereotypical dance music snobbery you often tend to encounter with many DJ/producers. He is, in fact, a music lover first and foremost. It's something that shines through on all of his work, never more so than on 7, an album rich with the sort of cross-genre pollination we've come to expect from him. Co-conspirators on 7 included Jamaican up-and-comer Dexta Malawi, Melbourne-based grime merchant MC Lotek, talented newcomer (vocalist) Christina Roberts, Israel Starr, and past collaborators like Caroline Agostini, King Kapisi, and Oakley Grenell. Plus others. A line-up that pretty much speaks for itself. The album release party at Wellington's Boat Cafe in September – part of a NZ-wide tour – turned out to be one of the best nights out I had all year.

5. Tackhead – For The Love of Money

Some will just as likely write this one off as little more than just another covers album from a band struggling for any degree of 2014 relevance. I pity those people, for they know not what they miss. My original review is here.

4. Radikal Guru – Subconscious

Radikal Guru is a longtime everythingsgonegreen favourite and Subconscious was a more than worthy (late 2013) bass heavy follow-up to The Rootsteppa album, which topped this list in 2011. My review is here.

3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji  

It's a simple enough formula: man, guitar, stripped back folk rock, and a lyric sheet full of compelling lyrics. Mix deathly themes with no little amount of personal tragedy, and you get the wholly unique yet nonetheless unsettling Benji. Original review here.

2. The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

I'm sure I must have played Lost In The Dream more times than any other album during 2014. It probably helped that its smooth lines and nostalgia-friendly grooves were so workplace compliant ... my original review is here.

1. Robert Plant (& The Sensational Space Shifters) – Lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar

Harking back to that classic rock thing again, it turns out my favourite album of the year was made by a 66-year-old man whose music I could barely bring myself to listen to 30 years ago. But as much as I avoided Led Zep (where possible) during my teenage years, I've also grown to love the solo career of its key protagonist. Across the past decade particularly – from 2005's Mighty Rearranger to 2010's Band of Joy, and all collaborations in between – the music of Robert Plant has been nothing less than a revelation. And as much as that has given me a different and far more positive perspective on the band that made his name, Plant's latest work bears little resemblance to that of Zep. In fact, given the eclectic nature of Lullaby, it's practically impossible to burden it with any label – there's fiery Celtic rock, soft acoustic tones, some bluegrass, and a smattering of unrepentant edgy Americana. The critical element to all of it though is Plant's unmistakable vocal, which just keeps getting better with age. Another great body of work to add to an already incomparable legacy.
Honourable mentions: Celt Islam's Generation Bass, Brian Eno and Karl Hyde's High Life, First Aid Kit's Stay Gold, Jakob's Sines, and Vorn's More Songs About Girls and the Apocalypse.

Best reissue of 2014: it is impossible to go past the deluxe version of Nightclubbing, the 1981 Grace Jones classic. Aside from the original full length album you get five additional mixes of 'Pull Up To The Bumper' – including a particularly early version produced under the working title of 'Peanut Butter', which was credited to the Compass Point Allstars as a nod to the incredible studio line-up who worked alongside Jones at the legendary Bahamas-based studio. There are also alternative mixes for key album tracks like 'Use Me' and 'Demolition Man', but the other truly interesting artefact here is the cover of Gary Numan’s 'Me, I Disconnect From You'.
Best compilation of 2014: given the attention to detail I paid when diligently reviewing all four volumes of Hyperdub’s 10 series, I can’t really go past that little lot when it comes to ‘various artists’-type releases. With 101 tracks over the course of nearly seven hours it was as comprehensive as these types of retrospectives can be. A great collection from a seminal bass music label.

2014 was a year I finally got to listen to more Kiwi music. Something I’ve wanted to do for many a year, without really following through. Although The Nomad album shaded the Ha the Unclear release for my New Zealand album of the year, I could just as easily have selected a handful of local releases for the blog's ten albums of the year. That includes work from Jakob, Vorn, and Darren Watson.

Other thoughts: despite criticism elsewhere and a general shrug regarding the Pink Floyd finale, I thought the bulk of The Endless River represented a fairly decent album of previously shelved material. I also thought regular blog favourites like The Raveonettes and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart made good albums in 2014, even though neither scaled the heights of previous work. Thom Yorke’s latest solo effort also had its moments.

Flops of the year: U2’s spam effort, whatever the hell it was called. The Sinead O’Connor album was very ordinary and something of a generic plod-rock release with few redeeming features (and I say that as a Sinead fan). And naturally enough the Smashing Pumpkins (aka Billy Corgan) threw up another very disappointing effort, one that landed itself in the recycling bin after just one listen.

So there it is, the obligatory annual list posted for another year … here’s Grace doing Gary Numan:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Going Going Gone ... reflections on 2014

So here we are in 2015 already, and once again I’m running a little late. Where every other self-respecting music blog on the planet has long since signed off 2014 with some sort of “best of” list, everythingsgonegreen has once again been found wanting.

Not so much on purpose or anything quite as strategic as that. I guess I just decided the short break from my day job also signalled the chance to step back from discretionary night job stuff like writing blog-posts. I just decided to do nothing for a fortnight, and besides, there was cricket to be had.

And there was other stuff involving food, and drink. Lots of drink. And it’s been hot, which makes you thirsty. So you drink more. And before you know it, you’re face down on the carpet doing slug impersonations, humiliating yourself in front of visitors on a daily basis.
exiting the Eighties, zombie-fied NYE 2014
And NOTHING gets done.

Am I right? …

Oh. Just me then.

All carpet surfing aside, it’s not as though I haven’t been using the time constructively. I’ve been thinking about that annual list thing. It’ll be the usual everythingsgonegreen effort (or lack thereof) – not so much a “best of 2014” album list but an offering of those “most played in my house” during 2014. You know the drill.

But I think that post is a few days away yet and I’m back here temporarily only to make promises, and to do that thing I do when I just want to keep the blog ticking over – to post something about nothing and everything.

Getting reacquainted with the shagpile also had me reflecting on a whole lot of other 2014-related shenanigans. A year tinged with so much irony I just gave up and rolled over to it by the end (possibly quite literally – kissing those woolly strands).

The year I didn’t resolve to stop smoking proved to be the year I finally did. The year I decided to embrace healthier lifestyle choices found me visiting Wellington hospital more times than I had in the previous twenty years. For a variety of reasons. Most tragically on one occasion, when I visited only to say goodbye to a good friend just before they turned his life support off … R.I.P. Ciaran aka ‘El Presidente’.

There was a load of other depressing and sad stuff too, some family illness, but hey, let’s not do that here. There was overseas travel and at one point, my first ever exposure to a luxury remote island resort. Actually, given that I worked in hospitality for the best part of a decade, that’s perhaps a sorry admission in itself.

There were some writing-related highs: I got paid to write, and my Audioculture piece on Wellington nightclubs in the 80s was that popular site’s most read contribution of the year (!), clocking up over 5,000 hits within 12 hours of being published.

From a personal perspective, that’s going to be hard to top in 2015.

And there was the NZ Musician thing – seeing my work in glossy print, and getting the chance to chat with a few seriously talented local heroes.

If not reward for perseverance over style, then at the very least the chance to finally put those years of drinking in dark smelly clubs to some semblance of reasonable use.

So goodbye 2014, and a happy New Year to you, patient blog reader, I’ll be right back with that album list just as soon as I pick myself up off the floor …