Monday, October 26, 2015

Fresh Cuts for NZ Musician October/November 2015

I had a couple of album reviews included in the latest edition of NZ Musician magazine (see below). I’m pretty certain the Yoko-Zuna album is among the very best things – local or international – I’ve heard all year, and I’ll be very surprised if we don’t end up hearing a lot more from these super-talented young Aucklanders.
Yoko-Zuna: This Place Here

One of the best things about the jazz and hip hop genres is the capacity each has for embracing the concept of collaboration. The nature of hip hop in particular – with its emphasis on sampling and production – makes it ripe for a cross pollination of musical ideas, and many of the genre’s seminal moments have been born from this pick and mix approach. And so it is with ‘This Place Here’, the debut release from Auckland four-piece Yoko-Zuna. It’s an album which features lyrical/vocal star turns from local luminaries such as David Dallas, Spycc, Team Dynamite, Bailey Wiley, Melodownz from Third3ye and Goodshirt’s Rodney Fisher. Throw in a variety of instrumentation from the group’s core members – keys/synth, sax, flute – plus terrific recording and mastering from Cam Duncan, and the result is a wonderfully eclectic mix across the album’s nine tracks. So much so, it feels plain wrong to file this hybrid concoction exclusively under the hip hop banner. The album’s roots are deeply embedded in the genre, there’s no question about that, but above ground, given the air and room to breathe, these soul and jazz-infused tunes take on a life of their own; boundaries are breached, horizons are expanded and ultimately ‘This Place Here’ is guaranteed a much wider reach than might have been expected. One or two tracks appeal as glorious half-formed ideas that could perhaps be developed further, but there are no duds. The RnB-styled One’s Cycle, topped with a delicious soul-drenched Bailey Wiley vocal, is a sumptuous stand out.

Greg Fleming And The Working Poor: Stranger In My Own Hometown

Fleming’s second outing with The Working Poor, and alongside the evident irony, the road-worn Auckland songsmith has perfected the art of what might be called working man’s blues rock. An edgy country-tinged blues rock, with a gruff lived-in vocal to both die for and rally behind. The sort of voice you might get if you crossed Dylan with Knopfler, or Petty, or Waits, or any combination thereof. Produced by the band’s drummer Wayne Bell, Fleming’s vocals sit atop beautifully crafted compositions and songs about things that matter. Songs about important things like bad politics, cruel cities, and matters of the heart – not necessarily in that order. Songs like Corporate Hill, Night Country Blues, the lovely piano ballad Autumn Auckland, and the intimate Heart’s a Wreck. But more than that, more than the voice, more than those lyrics, what really makes ‘Stranger in My Own Hometown’ work is the sense that each member of the six-piece band knows exactly what their job is, and as a unit they execute it to perfection. And you can’t really ask for much more than that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Spiritual Father

We love a little bit of melodica here at Chez everythingsgonegreen. We're also a wee bit partial to all things dub in digital forms. And as you surely already know, we're no stranger to the concept of "name your price" or "free download" ... so when all of those elements combine in the form of a tribute to Melodica King Augustus Pablo by French producer Art-X over at the Original Dub Gathering website/label, we feel compelled to tell you about it. Even if we are a little late arriving at the party - it was released in early September. It's a great listen. Grab yourself a copy of Spiritual Father here at ODG, or here at the Art-X Bandcamp page.

And here’s a little taste of 'Java' ...


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Album Review: New Order - Music Complete (2015)

The majority of online reviews so far have been positive, but comments on my social media feed over the past fortnight would suggest the early reaction to Music Complete has been rather mixed. I’ve seen it called “a return to form”, and I’ve seen it described as “shit”. As ever with these things, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

I'm not even sure what we should realistically expect from a New Order album in 2015. I certainly don't think we should be looking for anything too revolutionary or progressive, or anything game-changing. My own starting point for Music Complete was an appreciative "wow, great, more New Order after all this time"... which is not to say I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

Music Complete is the band’s tenth full-length studio album, and the first set of brand new material in ten years. It’s the band’s first album as a five-piece, and the first album without Peter Hook. Not that any of those things stand out as being overly obvious when listening to it, and the album has a comforting “old” New Order vibe all the way through. Which is just how I like it.

If anything, the album feels heavily front-loaded. Virtually all of the real gems arrive within the first 35 minutes – from opener and advance single ‘Restless’, through a half dozen tunes to the Iggy Pop-voiced ‘Stray Dog’, the band doesn’t miss a beat. The Tom Rowlands-produced ‘Singularity’, the bouncy disco of ‘Plastic’, and the unrepentant pop of ‘Tutti Frutti’ (clip below) are all as good as anything the post-Technique New Order has done.

From there, things taper off a little, quickly moving from the sublime to the ordinary, before the truly awful ‘Superheated’ – a regrettable Brandon Flowers collaboration – closes the album on a massively cheesy note. The only real dud here, ‘Superheated’ might better have been called ‘Overcooked’, in deference to the type of music the vocalist’s own band usually coughs up.

The other collaborations work well enough; Iggy’s cameo appearance is an unexpected bonus, Chemical Brother Rowlands offers a deft hand as co-producer on a couple of tracks, while vocals from La Roux, Denise Johnson, and Dawn Zee all add texture on tunes where Barney might otherwise lack the requisite vocal chops.

Old Order, not unlike New Order

Mostly though, this is archetypal New Order, classic guitar lines blended with driving high-bpm electronica/techno. Hook’s absence isn’t obvious, and I no longer buy the idea – as I once did – that if you don’t have Hook, you don’t have New Order. Tom Chapman proves to be a more than adequate replacement here. And naturally the whole thing is stylishly packaged up in a fetching Peter Saville sleeve design.

I’m not sure Music Complete is the ubiquitous “return to form” if form is assessed by 1981-1989 standards, but neither is it “shit”. If pressed to place Music Complete into some sort of historical context, where Power Corruption and Lies or Technique sit at a notional summit, where Movement is the black sheep, and Brotherhood a dark horse, this album is a mid-ranking effort, something akin to a Republic or a Low Life. It’s better than any of the other post millennium releases, but not quite a masterpiece in its own right. Which, when you stop to think about it from a 2015 perspective, is still a rather marvellous thing to be.

A week or so ago The Guardian’s Miranda Sawyer wrote a great interview piece about the band’s return (click here).


Monday, October 5, 2015

Bowie Boxed

After months of hype and no little amount of anticipation, the new David Bowie box-set has finally arrived (click here). Released on 25 September, it covers all of Bowie’s output between 1969 and 1973, which was arguably his best period. Apparently we can expect a few more of these (Bowie boxes) in the months ahead.

I think this very comprehensive review over at Pitchfork (click here) offers a great overview of everything on offer, and it also works as something of an early career synopsis.

The Box includes:

A 10 album set featuring 6 original studio albums & 2 live albums on CD & 180g audiophile vinyl.
Plus, exclusive to the Box Sets:

The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (2003 Ken Scott mix)
Re:Call 1: a new 2-disc compilation of non-album singles & b-sides including previously unreleased mono single edit of 'All The Madmen' and the highly sought after 'Holy Holy' original single unavailable since release in 1971.

The CD & Vinyl box sets come with a companion book featuring memorabilia, rare and previously unseen photos, hand written lyrics, original album press reviews and essays from the original album producers.