Sunday, April 26, 2015

Original Dub Gathering and Free Stuff ...

Here’s something from the “grab free” aisle … a couple of easily digestible items of scrummy dubby goodness, by way of France and the ODG label.

First up, a short seven-track compilation, ‘Dub vs Wild’ … a collection of electro dub tunes from artists who appeared at a recent label promo gig at Transbordeur in Lyon. It’s just a snapshot of a moment in time, but it works as a nice sampler of what ODG currently has to offer (click here).

Secondly, long-time everythingsgonegreen favourite, Panda Dub – who also features on the above – has released a follow-up album to 2013’s Psychotic Symphony called The Lost Ship.
I plan to write a full review of The Lost Ship just as soon as I've spent some time alone with it, but for now let's just say it features way more bass-heavy slabs of ethno-electro-dub than anybody has any right to expect in one sitting. Yet again Panda delivers free to your inbox (click here).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

I Got Your Office Right Here ...

Fresh from winning his legal argument against the Electoral Commission’s attempt to ban the broadcast of ‘Planet Key’, Darren Watson is back with a brand new single.

‘I Got Your Office Right Here’ was released yesterday, and while the new tune’s satirical bent might not be as immediately obvious this time out, the unrepentant Wellington bluesman sticks to the same tried and trusted political themes. And why wouldn’t he?

In addition to providing the requisite vehicle for Watson’s balls-out music, the latest up-to-the-minute and on point video clip (below) takes a wry look at the dodgy DIY skills, the bizarre hair-pulling fetish, and the creepy handshake awkwardness of a certain smarmy Prime Minister. Er, allegedly.

Check the clip, have a listen, and grab a copy of ‘I Got Your Office Right Here’ from Watson’s bandcamp page (here).

(Oh, and somehow, for reasons perhaps best kept to Watson himself, at the end of the clip there’s a nice GCSB-baiting credit offered to a certain blogger residing not a million miles from the page you’re currently on … infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Album Review: Mel Parsons - Drylands (2015)

Given that she's a two-time Tui Award nominee, a member of high profile Kiwi "supergroup" Fly My Pretties, and a regular touring act in this part of the world, it might seem a little odd that local songbird Mel Parsons would turn to Kickstarter to help launch her third solo release.

But I guess that's more of a comment on the changing nature of our music industry – or the "independent" music industry – in New Zealand in 2015, than it is a reflection on Parsons' standing within it. The pros, cons, and foibles of self-releasing and crowd-funding albums is perhaps a topic for another more in-depth blogpost on another day. Suffice to say I got involved, I pledged on Parsons' behalf, and last week I was the lucky recipient of an advance/signed CD copy (and a download) of Drylands.

There's something distinctly down-to-earth about the music of Mel Parsons. It’s probably her West Coast upbringing that allows the 30-something singer-songwriter to cut through the crap, and to stay on the outer periphery of trends and scenes. To remain faithful to what has served her so well in the past – her very own blend of alt-country and folk.

It’s also clear that Parsons understands that beauty can often be found in simplicity. Because there’s nothing overly complex in the music found on Drylands. Which might be interpreted as a barb if she didn’t appear to be such a prolifically-talented perfectionist. Yes, Parsons keeps it simple, and in many ways her music is a throwback to a far less complicated age, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a unique 21st century spin, and its execution is flawless right across the album’s 13-track, 52-minute duration. The real strength of Drylands rests with its lyrical content, and thankfully, great songwriting will never be out of fashion.

The folk and country elements that make up the bulk of the album are not particularly unique to New Zealand either; Parsons has toured extensively across North America and those influences shine through. There is such a strong Americana presence (on tracks like ‘Alberta Sun’ and ‘Driving Man’, just for starters), any newcomer to her music would be forgiven for thinking she grew up in a remote location on that vast continent, rather than one of the remotest on a small island at the bottom of the South Pacific.

But the wide variety of instrumentation on offer – acoustic forms, cello, slide etc – ultimately means it also feels wrong to try to pigeonhole this music. Calling it country, or folk, fails to acknowledge the rock moments, or some of the Celtic flavours, or its wider pop accessibility.

Aside from the clever wordsmithery, the star turn here is Parsons’ voice, which is at its best when taking on a slightly rough-around-the-edges or lived-in hue, over the less ragged, more pure vocal she’s also capable of achieving.

Produced by Lee Prebble at Wellington’s Surgery, Drylands was officially released on April 10. You can pick up a copy from the Mel Parsons Bandcamp page (here). Parsons is also touring across New Zealand throughout April and May in support of the release, so look out for her at a town near you soon.

Highlights: ‘Alberta Sun’, ‘Non Communicado’, ‘Don’t Wait’ (which features Ron Sexsmith), ‘Get Out Alive’, and ‘Down So Long’.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Labour of Love

I posted a link on my Facebook page earlier this week that generated quite a lengthy thread. The link was this blogpost from Michele Catalano (click here) over at which looked at the lost art of the mixtape. The post generated plenty of comment, and no little amount of collective nostalgia, proving it was a subject near and dear to the hearts of people of a certain generation.

Catalano completely nails what it was that made a mixtape something special, and offers some food for thought on how a lot of the love has been lost with the throwaway nature of the way we consume and share music today.

Let’s be clear, by “mixtape”, we’re talking about collections of tracks or songs compiled from vinyl to actual cassette tape. Or in later years, those recorded from CD to cassette tape, rather than any of the more recent definitions of the word. It’s interesting too, that much of the “art” itself was lost during that very transition between vinyl and CD. 

Funkin' Marvellous (1987)
But mixtapes were never just random sets of songs transferred from one medium to another. A quality mixtape had to have a theme or a specific person in mind (usually the recipient). They had to include songs/tracks from a variety of source material. Across a 90 minute time-span – with a C90 always preferable to a C60 – you couldn’t include more than a “couple” of tunes (at most) from the same artist. The title of the mix had to be specific and relevant, and preferably the cover or inlay had to be handwritten by the compiler.

Most of all, a great mixtape had to be made with love and care; be painstakingly compiled and crafted, not clinically thrown together like we tend to do with mp3 or wav file playlists today.

These were just a few of the basics, and not rules unique only to everythingsgonegreen. These things were more or less unwritten but widely accepted prerequisites when it came to the now lost art of making a mixtape.

I made dozens of mixtapes through the course of the mid-Eighties to mid-Nineties. I’d buy boxes of TDK or Sony cassette tapes in bulk, and I loved the sense of anticipation involved in opening a new box, and removing the cellophane from the first hitherto virginal untouched tape. It was something of a ritual.

Some tapes were made for purely selfish reasons – often taping music from the collections of friends or flatmates simply to “acquire it” – but mostly I made tapes as gifts for friends and acquaintances of the era. Because I loved the music and genuinely wanted to share it, or as with a few cases, because I wanted to be “the guy” who shared it. Sometimes I just needed an excuse to pass on my “message” – whatever that message may have been on any given day or week. Ahem.
A Festive Compromise (1988)
So Catalano’s post was inspirational and as the Facebook thread evolved and started to take on a life of its own I was able to share a few photos of mixtapes made for me by a few of the friends involved (in the discussion), and they were able to share photos of long-since-forgotten-about tapes I’d made for them.

One particularly astute commenter, no stranger to compiling mixes himself, made the point that “the perfect mixtape is always just out of reach. There’s always at least one track that doesn’t quite work, or another that would be better” and how we were always “limited by what records we owned or could scrounge from friends.” Quite something, coming from a guy who owns more than 3,000 records.

As the owner of several boxes full of cassette tapes, many of them being those of the home-produced variety, I also understand the significance of the mixtape as a time-marker. Or the idea that each tape works as a standalone reminder of the period during which it was made. Each tape being representative of something, be it a genre, a place, a friend, or a lost love. Each has a short story behind it, and works as a memorial for days we’ll never get back again. A snapshot of a brief moment in time. And I like that.

*Funkin' Marvellous (September 1987, mixed): This was compiled and created in the DJ booth at Clares Nightclub one afternoon in 1987 by my (then) best friend, who also happened to be the resident DJ at that club. This is a good mix of funk and pop, with a hint of nascent hip hop and house music flavours. The value of 12-inch extended dance mixes is aptly demonstrated on this one, near the end – during the fade for the wonderful State of Grace tune – when DJ turns MC briefly to apologise for a messy transition: he’d been disturbed and the record played out longer than was ideal … a nice personal touch that always made me smile when I heard it.

*A Festive Compromise (December 1988, unmixed): This was compiled and created by yours truly in the lounge of my Hataitai (Wellington) flat during the week between Christmas and New Year in 1988. My partner/flatmate of the era was a design student who had returned “home” to Auckland to spend the festive season with family. I worked in hospitality and time off at New Year was nigh impossible. Thus, I was stuck at home and perhaps feeling a little dark (you think? – Ed). I partly raided the record collection of our other flatmate – who was also (rather more mysteriously) absent – to create what would later become one of my all-time favourite road-trip tapes. The title, of course, references a lyric from the Cure track featured.
Speaking of ...


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Classic Album Review: The Police - Reggatta de Blanc (1979)

I once owned a copy of each of the first six singles released by The Police; each one was a seven-inch blue vinyl pressing, complete with the original picture sleeve. Purchased as a set sometime in the (UK) summer of 1980, the conveniently packaged limited edition “six pack” has since, somehow, somewhere, contrived to go awol. On a journey involving more than a decade’s worth of impromptu house guests, several broken relationships, and more grotty bedsits than I care to recall, the entire set was evidently deemed surplus to requirements at one stage or another. Inadvertently abandoned by yours truly, or perhaps sleekitly acquired by a casual acquaintance, I wonder whether someone equally as passionate about the band’s early work has been the beneficiary of a “lucky find” somewhere along the way?

Whatever, I’m no longer the proud owner of that precious vinyl set, and it was only recently I felt compelled to splash out on some sort of token replacement in the form of this album, 1979’s Reggatta de Blanc.

This was the second full-length offering from The Police, and it immediately preceded the release of the six pack – which contained the three singles on here (‘Message In A Bottle’, ‘Walking On The Moon’, ‘The Bed’s Too Big’) and three from the band’s debut, Outlandos D’Amour (‘Roxanne’, ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, and ‘So Lonely’).

Reggatta was a big improvement on the band’s raw debut outing, a far more polished effort, and it stands out as the landmark work ahead of the band’s more commercial Synchronicity (post-1983) period. This album offers a snapshot of the band on its way up, and the success of its first two chart-topping singles (‘Message’ and ‘Walking’) had helped to expose the band to a much wider audience.

The Six Pack
It also finds the three-piece Police somewhere close to a collective peak; the still hungry and ambitious Sting reserving his best vocal delivery for the album’s slower moments, while Andy Summers’ unique guitar craft and Stewart Copeland’s virtuoso drumming and percussion supplement perfectly the egocentric vocalist’s (still occasionally rudimentary) bass-playing.

The result is an album awash with offbeat rhythms, tight white reggae, and plenty of stirring and quirky lyrical twists, which more than make up for the odd corny moment and a somewhat uneven track-listing.

The dense and brooding ‘Bring On The Night’ rivals opener ‘Message In A Bottle’ as the best track on the album, and by extension, one of the very best things The Police ever did, while the skanky ‘Bed’s Too Big Without You’ is another one right out of the top drawer.
I’m not so keen on the more uptempo tracks, Sting’s vocal often being reduced to a fuzz, and almost paradoxically Summers’ guitar work somehow feels compromised and far less effective on the more rock-orientated numbers. Ditto the tracks credited to Stewart Copeland. Although, Copeland’s ability as a drummer – as one of the very best on the planet – easily offsets any shortcomings he may have had as a fledgling composer.
Mine was but a brief flirtation with The Police, but right down to my slightly scruffy soft-cover US-import CD copy of the album, the punky-reggae influences apparent on Reggatta de Blanc capture the essence of that short-lived affair exquisitely.

I was never overly impressed by Synchronicity, or indeed by the two albums that preceded it – Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) and Ghost In The Machine (1981) – and it’s difficult not to feel that The Police’s brief spell of global dominance also tended to rob the band of the mercurial charm that made it so unique and appealing in the first instance.

After the release of ‘Every Breath You Take’ had transported The Police into an entirely different stratosphere commercially, the writing was on the wall, and by the mid-Eighties an increasingly irritating Sting was in the process of launching a solo career that would take him into the netherworlds of folk and world music … and the band, mercifully, was no more. For the time being at least.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Triumphant Return of Planet Key

It’s only taken eight months but finally we have a ruling on Planet Key. I’ve written a little bit on the background to that here and here. Out yesterday, the judgment strikes a firm blow for all who believe in freedom of artistic expression ... this from the press release:

The High Court has today delivered its judgment on the challenge brought by the makers of the satirical song and video “Planet Key” against the Electoral Commission’s opinion that the song and video were "election advertisements" under the Electoral Act and "election programmes" under the Broadcasting Act.

In a 76-page judgment, Justice Denis Clifford ruled comprehensively in favour of Watson and Jones. Significantly, he held that the Electoral Commission’s interpretation of the legislation “would impose limits on the right of freedom of expression of the plaintiffs and New Zealand citizens more generally in a manner which… cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Darren Watson and Jeremy Jones say they are delighted with the ruling, saying that it vindicates completely their sense of grievance about Commission’s advice that Planet Key could not be lawfully broadcast, sold through i-Tunes, or posted on the internet.

Watson and Jones’ lawyers say that the case upholds freedom of speech and protects the rights of artists to express their personal political views.

This is great stuff, and well done to Watson and Jones for what can only be described as an overwhelming vindication of their position … and well done to all of the legal beagles involved in getting the right outcome.

So, go and grab a celebratory name-your-price download of ‘Planet Key’ from Darren Watson’s Bandcamp page here.