Saturday, August 29, 2015

Album Review: AHoriBuzz - Into The Sunshine (2015)

AHoriBuzz is the “solo” project of prodigiously-talented guitarist Aaron Tokona. You may (or may not) be familiar with Tokona’s work with bands like Weta, Cairo Knife Fight, and Fly My Pretties. If you’re a fan of New Zealand music, you’ll surely at least be aware of his reputation as one of this country’s hardest working and most in-demand session musicians.

So while Tokona has featured on many local albums across the past decade and a half (at least), his own releases under the AHoriBuzz moniker have tended to be rather more spasmodic, if not few and far between. The recent release of Into The Sunshine goes some way towards addressing that, collecting as it does all of the “singles” released over the past couple of years or so and putting them in one place.

The album consists of five tunes, but ten tracks, with Tokona offering up five original versions and five revamped takes on the same tunes … so, for example, we get ‘Turnaround’, plus the Joe Revell remix of ‘Turnaround’, we get ‘Glitter in the Gutter’, plus the Rhombus remix of ‘Glitter in the Gutter’ etc etc.

There’s contributions from Anika Moa and Anna Coddington on the rejigged title track, Ben King and Jason Peters feature on ‘Sugar’, while the remixing skills of Dick ‘Magik’ Johnson turn the alternate ‘Providence’ into a real highlight.

Ultimately, Into The Sunshine clocks in at something close to 70 minutes, and I reckon it’s likely to be the funkiest hour-and-a-bit you’ll hear all year. You’d have to be a little bit dead inside if these tunes don’t make your knees quiver and buckle just a little. Make no mistake, this is dirty funk and psychedelic disco with a distinctly Aotearoa spin on it.

Or dancefloor music with an unmistakable “hori buzz” about it … as Tokona himself would surely have it. Not pub or club dancefloors necessarily – makeshift or impromptu backyard dancefloors; decks, garages, kitchens (at parties) and the like. Something close to home. Chur.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Return of Rhian Sheehan ...

Wellington composer Rhian Sheehan is a massive talent. I was drawn to his work more than a decade ago now after hearing his stunning debut album Paradigm Shift (2001) and its equally gorgeous follow-up Tiny Blue Biosphere (2004). Each of those releases raised the bar for the local “electronica” scene, and Sheehan looked to have a secure future as a producer of spacey club-orientated dance music should that be the path he chose to take.

Only it wasn’t, Sheehan’s horizons were much broader than that rather fickle fast-paced (and often superficial) scene, and in the years since he’s gone on to compose and produce work of a much more classical bent – electronic and orchestral soundscapes which mark him as an ideal “go to” guy for soundtrack work. He is, to all intents and purposes, one of those artists who has become impossible to pigeonhole.

Earlier this week Sheehan released a brand new live album (via Bandcamp) featuring music from gigs at the Wellington Opera House dating back to 2010 and 2013. Most of it being material from his popular Standing In Silence (2009) and Stories From Elsewhere (2013) albums.  For reasons best known to Sheehan himself, he’s released it on a “name your price” basis, so get in there and grab it and pay what you like. If you are unfamiliar with Sheehan’s work, this is an ideal starting point, and is highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Classic Album Review: David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

There’s an awful lot of David Bowie-related nostalgia doing the rounds at present. There’s the upcoming box-set, Five Years, to look forward to, and there's been a regular stream of reissues over the past few years – most recently (in July) the Let’s Dance album was the latest to receive the deluxe treatment. And of course the phenomenal career-spanning 'David Bowie Is' exhibition (and related documentary film) has kept earth’s very own favourite alien firmly under the spotlight at a number of museums and galleries across the globe since it first opened in London back in 2013.

I'm currently weighing up the pros and cons of whether or not I can sneak across the ditch for a few days to catch that exhibition while it’s still on in Melbourne, but in the meantime I thought I’d add my own little bit of nostalgia by revisiting something from the dark and distant past.

This was not just any old David Bowie album though; this was Bowie in his prime, Bowie in all of his early Seventies glam rock pomp, Bowie at his irresistible best.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was essentially a concept album, as Bowie explored rock stardom and its multitude of pitfalls from the inside out. That doesn’t mean however that it was a meandering sprawling monstrosity of an album, or a bloated mess the like of which was very common when the words “concept” and “Seventies” were paired together.

Nope, Bowie managed to get his message out there directly and concisely, with conviction, and by doing so was able to create an album that not only merited the critical acclaim it received, but one that has (arguably) gone on to help define an era.

While the album was not without its flaws, its simplicity was in many respects its best feature. Nowhere does it stray too far from the prevalent theme of RocknRoll meets hedonism meets excess meets impending doom.

And you’d have to assume on this evidence that Bowie himself once knew a thing or two about those things.

Most of it was straightforward unrepentant rock music, nothing too complicated, some of it a little futurist and spacey in parts, but nothing felt too indulgent when measured against the context of its time.

Not only did it contain three of David Bowie’s all-time best singles in ‘Starman’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, and ‘Suffragette City’, Ziggy also played host to seminal album cuts such as ‘Five Years’, ‘Moonage Daydream’, and ‘RocknRoll Suicide’.

Bowie would go on to become a major influence across several generations, and this album, along with his chameleon nature, had a fundamental role to play in laying the foundations for the legend he's become.

Your album or "record" collection isn't complete unless it has this one in it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pitchfork, the Eighties, and Me ...

It’s pretty widely accepted in my house that I spend copious amounts of time “living in the past” and generally indulging in nostalgia. I can’t deny that, and everythingsgonegreen itself offers ample evidence for the prosecution … this blog is nothing if not very Eighties-centric at times. Obviously I also like to keep things relatively fresh and relevant occasionally, but on the whole, my comfort zone is the decade that taste forgot, and one or two years either side of it. It’s often said that you should “write about what you know”, and I like to think I know the “pop culture” side of the Eighties as well as any other 40 or 50-something-plus out there. Another thing I’m often accused of – by those in the know – is being a compulsive list writer. This is also true, although that fact is not reflected so much on the blog.

So, you can probably imagine my excitement earlier this week when I noticed a brand new “Staff List” over at the prolific Pitchfork website titled “The 200 Best Songs of the 1980s” (as rated by the many contributors to that site) … which represents a veritable orgy of Eighties-related nostalgia. Obviously every last one of us would have our own ideas and preferences about what should and what shouldn’t make that list, but I think Pitchfork pretty much nails it here (aside from an unfathomable top two). Take a look, click on the link below.

Pitchfork's 200 Best Songs of the 1980s

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Classic Album Review: Blam Blam Blam - The Complete Blam Blam Blam (1992)

There’s been a lot of discussion on my Facebook feed recently about the “lost” Silver Scroll award of 1981. For whatever reason, New Zealand’s premier annual songwriting gong wasn’t awarded that particular year, with APRA seeking to rectify the anomaly at this year’s upcoming awards (next month). The 2015 ceremony also doubles as APRA’s 50th birthday bash so it presents an ideal opportunity to announce a belated winner.

Among the five songs shortlisted/nominated a month or so ago - and a clear first pick by my own reckoning - was Blam Blam Blam’s ‘No Depression in New Zealand’, which I think shades the alternatives offered by Split Enz, The Clean, The Swingers, and the Screaming Mee Mees. As a result of the heightened publicity and in response to those Facebook threads, I found myself returning once again to the music of Blam Blam Blam, and recalled an album review I wrote for another site some time ago (below) …

(And yes, I guess it is a little disingenuous to call a compilation album a “classic album” but it’s not the first time everythingsgonegreen has thumbed its pointy nose in the face of custom and it won’t be the last):

The Auckland-based three-piece Blam Blam Blam consisted of Don McGlashan (drums/other/vocals), Tim Mahon (bass/vocals), and Mark Bell (guitar/vocals) … and The Complete Blam Blam Blam is essentially everything of note the band released between 1981 and 1984. 19 tracks featuring the Blams’ sole genuine album release Luxury Length virtually in its entirety, its non-album singles, the relatively rare self-titled EP debut release, and a brief taste of the band live during its “reunion” tour shows of 1984.

I saw the Blams live in 1981 when it had a support slot on a New Zealand-wide Split Enz tour and it’s fair to say I was blown away by the vibrancy and originality of a young band whose only “previous” at that stage was a solitary track on a local post-punk compilation release (‘Motivation’, which appears here).

Later that year came the chart-crashing (well, the NZ Charts) anti-establishment anthem ‘There is No Depression in New Zealand’. An ironic and original slice of Kiwi Rock with a punky and subversive edge …

"There is no depression in New Zealand, there are no sheep on our farms, we have no dole queues, we have no drug addicts, we have no rebellion, we have no valium, valium, valium" ... etc.

It was ironic in the sense that those words more or less aped the level of denial being sold to more conservative sections of New Zealand society by a government with its head in the sand. It came out at a time when the country was split right down the middle during the Springbok tour debacle of 1981, and a time when the presence of riot police - the infamous “Red Squad” - was an increasingly regular feature on our streets. It was a genuine winter of discontent for all those living in NZ at the time, brought about by the government’s decision to accommodate a rugby tour which shook and stirred the collective conscience of all those opposed to the South African government’s appalling apartheid policy. Hence there was widespread violence on the streets as the protest movement collided head-on (literally) with establishment forces and its henchmen. The Blams, alongside many other bands with a left of centre appeal - such as tour-mates The Newmatics - in many respects provided a natural musical backdrop to all of the mayhem unfolding.
‘No Depression’ was a short-lived Top 20 hit but its fractious riff and sardonic lyrics became embedded deep within the nation’s collective psyche for years to come. The single’s B-side, the ska-tinged ‘Got To Be Guilty’, was equally politically motivated, telling the lurid tale of a local high profile early Seventies murder case, of police planting evidence, a wrongful conviction, an attempted cover-up, and an eventual, if controversial, pardon for the convicted man …

"He’s gotta be guilty, there’s no point in changing the subject, we didn’t get where we are today, by being soft on an obvious reject … he’s gotta be guilty, he called the policeman a liar, he costs this country money, and there’s no smoke without fire" ... etc.
The lead single off the subsequent Luxury Length album, ‘Don’t Fight It Marsha (it’s bigger than both of us)’, also peaked inside the Top 20. Written by the band’s lead vocalist and drummer, the multi-instrumentalist Don McGlashan, ‘Marsha’ was a somewhat different and more accessible take on the band, and to some extent perfect crossover fare, a drum machine-driven lament of lost love and the failure to fully let go. A true Kiwi Rock classic, whatever yer poison.

There generally wasn’t a bad track on the Luxury Length album, and the same applies to The Complete Blam Blam Blam, with a rejection of bland conformity being an obvious theme on tracks like ‘Battleship Grey’, ‘Like My Job’, and ‘Businessmen’. Other highlights include ‘Learning To Like Ourselves Again’, ‘Call For Help’, ‘The Bystanders’ and the menacing closer ‘Last Post’. Oh, and look out too for a raucous cover of the theme from ‘Dr Who’ (the B-side on ‘Marsha’).

Originating out of the nascent late Seventies Auckland punk scene - most notably via bands such as The Plague and Whizz Kids - Blam Blam Blam saw its flame flicker brightly but all too briefly, with the band suffering a premature demise when bassist Mahon was badly injured in a road accident. Throughout 1981 and 1982 however the Blams were fairly prolific on the NZ recording and touring circuit, and briefly reformed to tour again in 1984, and again, somewhat unbelievably, for a one-off series of shows in 2003.

The highly talented McGlashan meanwhile went on to greater things, commercially at least, with his late Eighties/Nineties pop rebirth as frontman for fringe indie contenders The Mutton Birds. Naturally, they too enjoyed a large Kiwi fanbase.

If you can’t get hold of Luxury Length (you’ll be lucky), keep a beady eye out for this release … The Complete Blam Blam Blam certainly provides for a concise overview of one of NZ’s truly great lost bands.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Album Review: Various/Sherwood at the Controls Volume 1 1979-1984 (2015)

I’m a sucker for Adrian Sherwood and/or On-U Sound archive compilation albums. There’s been a few over the years, and I’ve purchased – at one time or another, in some form or another – pretty much all of them. Give or take. I particularly loved the Pay It All Back series of the late Eighties and Nineties and that full set still takes pride of place in my CD collection – I also had vinyl versions of the first couple of albums but was ultimately only able to complete the set on CD. I can’t imagine there would be too many collectors out there privileged enough to have the job lot on vinyl, but I’m happy to be proven wrong and wonder if any such collector would be up for a sneaky marriage proposal. You know where to find me (you lucky thing!). 

The thing about Sherwood and his remarkable label, of course, is the producer’s uncanny ability to work with – and transform the work of – artists of all colour, creed, gender, and genre. Something amply demonstrated on Sherwood at the Controls, which digs deep into those treasured archives to present a snapshot of some of his best work from the label's formative 1979 to 1984 period.

Sherwood at the Controls features 14 tracks from that era, with hard-edged post-punk from the likes of The Fall (‘Middle Mass’) and The Slits (‘Man Next Door’) sitting comfortably alongside the dub and roots flavours of the late Prince Far I (‘Nuclear Weapon’), Singers & Players (‘Reaching The Bad Man’), and perennial On-U favourite African Head Charge (‘In A Trap’).

Somewhere in the middle of those very compatible extremes we find Shriekback (‘Mistah Linn He Dead’), Mark Stewart’s Maffia (‘Learning to Cope with Cowardice’ – the “flexi” version), and another frequent collaborator in the form of Annie Anxiety (aka Little Annie) with the near unclassifiable ‘Third Gear Kills’.

Then there’s the stuff that I’m less familiar with – even as an ardent Sherwood fan – from the where-are-they-now files of Medium Medium (‘Hungry, So Angry’) which opens proceedings, to Maximum Joy with ‘Let It Take You There’, Nadjma with ‘Some Day My Caliph Will Come’, and a track from the wonderfully named (in an Eighties context) Gardening By Moonlight, who offer us ‘Strange Clues’, yet little clue as to who they might actually be. There’s also a notable contribution from well-known music journalist Vivien Goldman (‘Private Armies Dub’) which closes the album.

Which just leaves us with my own choice cut from the album, Voice of Authority’s ‘Running (Feeling Wild)’, a slightly dated yet nonetheless absorbing slab of electro funk which features Congo Ashanti Roy.

"no kittens were harmed during the making of" ... etc

There’s always a danger that these types of archive/compilation releases can come across as being disjointed or lacking in flow, but while Sherwood explores all manner of styles on At The Controls, it all blends together well and the listening experience is seldom less than riveting.

I guess I should also offer the disclaimer that I’m a massive fan of the producer and the label, so this review may be slightly coloured by that fact; Sherwood could probably be convicted of kitten molestation and I’d still not be fazed about expressing my undying love for his work. That’s just the way it is. And hey, the kitten was just as likely asking for it anyway.

As if that isn’t enough, as if being a historically significant collection with a plethora of rare and under-the-radar material isn’t enough, the very best thing about Sherwood at the Controls is the bit that reads “Volume 1” … you know what that means don’t you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Soul Mine Revisited

A couple of years ago I wrote a series of posts (under the Retail Therapy banner) about a handful of Record Shops that had, in one way or another, been a huge part of my life at various points along the way.

Included in that series was a post on Wellington’s The Soul Mine (1985-2006) which neatly framed my relationship with that particular shop. That post turned out to be one of the blog’s most popular in terms of page hits (even attracting, gasp, some comments), but I always felt that it was incomplete and lacking somewhat in terms of wider reach.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Tony Murdoch, owner of The Soul Mine, to talk some more about the shop and I used the guts of that conversation for a piece which I submitted to AudioCulture, a widely read website dedicated to documenting the history of popular culture in New Zealand – whether it be people, bands, venues, or “scenes”. Murdoch kindly supplied photos, flyers, and quotes, I added some words, I deleted some others, and we ended up with this (click here to read more about The Soul Mine on AudioCulture).

Monday, August 10, 2015

Album Review: Celt Islam - Murshid (2015)

Murshid (Arabic: مرشد‎) is Arabic for "guide" or "teacher", derived from the root r-sh-d, with the basic meaning of having integrity, being sensible, mature. Particularly in Sufism it refers to a Spiritual Guide.

Murshid is also title of the latest album/EP release from prolific Sufi dub specialist Celt Islam, featuring nine tracks across 50-odd minutes, and once again it's a masterclass in fusing Eastern/World elements with state-of-the-art psy-dub and trippy electro vibes.

Some of this stuff has appeared - in one form or another - on earlier releases but highlights here include the drum and bass/jungle flavours of 'The Blessed Gathering', and the re-tread 'This Is A Sign' which features a Danman vocal over what was 'Sinking Sand Dub' off the Irfan EP from earlier this year. There’s also an Analogue Fakir remix of ‘Dervish’ featuring regular collaborator Inder Goldfinger. All great stuff.

But don't take my word for it, check it out on the Earth City Recordz Bandcamp page.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Head Like A Hole @ San Fran 2

Wellington hairdresser and photographer Tony Barrett was at San Fran last Thursday night to capture some classic shots of Head Like A Hole on and off stage. The photos below - all featuring frontman Booga Beazley - represent just a handful of the dozens Barrett took on the night. Thanks Tony for agreeing to share with everythingsgonegreen. (for the gig review, see previous post)


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gig Review: Head Like A Hole, San Fran, Wellington, 6 August 2015

Last Thursday night marked the Wellington leg of Head Like A Hole’s 2015 nationwide Narcocorrido tour, something of a homecoming gig for Aotearoa’s finest “stench rock” exponents ...

Support band 8 Foot Sativa kicked things off with a solid half hour (or so) set of tight energetic metal, and while they’re very good at what they do, the indecipherable vocals and an overwhelming sense of in-yer-face-ness render this band a bit beyond the comfort zone of your blogger’s delicate pop-loving ears. Which, I guess, is exactly the point. There’s no question 8 Foot Sativa’s set was well received and there’s a very good reason they’ve survived at the forefront the genre – in a local context at least – for as long as they have.

Head Like A Hole opened with a foreboding, tension-building take on 'The Great Wall', replicating the dramatic opening moments found on Narcocorrido, the band’s latest album. Booga Beazley immediately reminded the two-thirds-full venue – a relatively disappointing "hometown” turnout I’d have thought? – of why Head Like A Hole enjoy such a fierce live reputation, with the vocalist’s theatrical Rock God persona at its most pronounced (and grin-worthy) throughout the first couple of songs. It’s been far too long …

As the set progressed we got a perfect blend of past and present. Exactly what the vast majority of punters wanted. The best material, or personal highlights, from the recent Narcocorrido album included a great version of 'Rotten', the menacing dirty blues of 'Mexico', and what was perhaps a eureka moment in terms of pure dual/dueling guitar riffery, 'The Rise and Fall of the Sun'.

Then there was the older material; an early outing for 'Fish Across Face', sleazy mid-set workings of 'Comfortably Shagged' and 'Wet Rubber', with the show steadily building to the climactic peak of closing numbers ‘Cornbag’, and the much loved ‘Hootenanny’, after which the band downed tools and walked off …

And just when we thought it was safe, the band returned for a three-song encore – oldies ‘A Crying Shame’ and ‘I’m On Fire’, plus ‘Glory Glory’ off the 2011 “comeback” album Blood Will Out, to close.

It was very much one of those Increasingly Rare Hard Rock Occasions for yours truly (I’m getting soft in my dotage) and all the more enjoyable because of that. The gig served to reinforce what (I suspect) most of us in attendance already knew, that the years may be rolling on, the laughter lines may be more pronounced, and the numbers may be dwindling slightly these days, but Head Like A Hole refuse to compromise, and the band was as professionally chaotic and chaotically professional as it ever was.

It’s just a shame more locals let the gig slip by unnoticed … (though Lydia Lunch and Ahoribuzz playing elsewhere – separately – may have had something to do with that).

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Album Review: Blur - The Magic Whip (2015)

I've never been a big Damon Albarn fan. I think I was probably a convert to Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish album for a brief time in the Nineties, I enjoyed the first Gorillaz album, and I've admired some of Albarn's production work. But that's not really a huge amount to hang a hat on over the course of more than two decades, and I've generally found his forays into afrobeat and other "solo" and side projects rather ordinary. Nevertheless, a brand new Blur album is still a relatively newsworthy event, so I thought I'd take a sneaky peek at what the 2015 version of the band has to offer.

Conceived and recorded in Hong Kong, The Magic Whip is Blur's first studio album since Think Tank in 2003, and the band's eighth overall. The album presents such a hybrid mix of the many different styles that kept the band's music so fresh and vital all those years ago, some pundits have dared to call it a "return to form" ... though after more than a decade away, it's perhaps a little harsh to suggest the band had "lost form". It's more likely they'd simply lost phone numbers.

Even after such a long period apart, the album is immediately identifiable as being a Blur album – with prototype Blur eccentricity and unpredictably right at its heart. The string-laden opener 'Lonesome Street' instantly reminds us that one of Blur's best loved party tricks is the one that invokes a keen sense of nostalgia, and it’s an ideal way to kick things off. With the rocky guitar stabs of first single ‘Go Out’ we’re then reminded of just how important Graham Coxon is to the chemistry of the band. Coxon's skills had largely been rendered superfluous to requirements during the recording of Think Tank, so his return here is a welcome development. ‘Go Out’ is classic Blur in that brooding, yearning for something, kind of way.

There's some pretty good stuff all the way through. From the beautiful simplicity of the acoustic ‘Ice Cream Man’, which is probably the album’s highpoint (for me), to the gentle psychedelia of ‘Ghost Ship’, the Asian flavours of ‘Pyongyang’, and the simple formula pop of ‘Ong Ong’, it’s almost as though they’ve never been away. In keeping with some of Albarn’s more recent work, there’s afrobeat textures on ‘There Are Too Many of Us’, and an electro-funk feel to closer ‘Mirrorball’. The Magic Whip is a veritable feast in terms of musical diversity.

Having said all of that, the album is also something of a sleeper or slow burner, and it took quite a few listens for me to fully get my head around it. I picked up my copy of The Magic Whip as far back as April or May, so this review has been a long time coming. Rather like the album itself.