Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Ryan Adams - My Wrecking Ball

I was something of a late-comer to the self-titled 2014 Ryan Adams album. So much so, it was well into 2015 before I really started to digest just how good the slow-burning album was. I listened to it fairly religiously during the build up to his Wellington show in July – along with his 2015 Live at Carnegie Hall release – so it’s fair to say it was a fixture on my Pod for much of the first half of the year.

I thought the album had a nice “retro” feel about it, and it ticked a number of genre boxes (Americana/country-rock, indie and classic rock), but it was a throwback to the old fashioned singer-songwriter era of yester-year that gave us ‘My Wrecking Ball’, one of the album’s genuine highlights.

For that special someone in your life who turns up unannounced, unexpectedly, and then proceeds to take a wrecking ball to all the walls and barriers you'd spent a lifetime building. Whether they be perceived or real. The person who calls into question everything you’ve ever believed in, or believed about yourself ...

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2015) ...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gig Review: Fleetwood Mac, Mt Smart, Auckland, 21 November 2015

The wind swirled and the rain fell relentlessly at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland last Saturday night. But it didn't really matter too much, as the age-defying Fleetwood Mac thrilled the near 40,000 in attendance with the band's 119th show of 2015.

Even one or two serious production issues along the way – intermittent big screen failures being an obvious one – couldn't dampen the spirits as the band reeled off one big hit after another over the course of nearly two and a half hours.
The bulk of those hits came from the band’s trilogy of late Seventies albums, with Rumours dominating the set-list throughout; after opening with 'The Chain', the concert was four songs old before we strayed from the Rumours path (with 'Rhiannon' off the eponymous 1975 effort). The "regular" set peaked and closed with 'Go Your Own Way', while the four-song encore included 'Don't Stop', before the gig closed with Christine McVie's 'Songbird' … and to think I was fretting a little beforehand that Rumours might perhaps be overlooked.

In between, we got the best of the rest, including 'Everywhere', 'Tusk', 'Sara', 'Little Lies', and a terrific take on 'Big Love', which was testimony to the genius of Lindsey Buckingham, and one of the night’s highlights.

Each member of the group took a moment to shine individually, Stevie Nicks in particular lapping up the adulation with ‘Landslide’ (gratuitously dedicated to the All Blacks), and the pure magic that is ‘Gold Dust Woman’, which was none the worse, and quite probably all the more dramatic, for arriving amid one of the night’s heaviest downpours.

Mick Fleetwood surpassed himself during the encore, with the long-time live favourite ‘World Turning’ including his obligatory lengthy drum solo, and before we knew it, after the ‘Songbird’ torch moment, the band was gone, having covered some 20-plus favourites.
Early Doors: Calm before the Storm
Grump time: Some of the production (big screen/sound) was poor, and I’m not sure how much of that can be attributed to the quickly deteriorating weather conditions. The support set of (Australian brother/sister duo/band) Angus and Julia Stone was also not without issues, in much calmer conditions.

Grump time 2: Don’t sing loudly in my ear. No matter how much you believe you’re Stevie Nicks “drowning in the sea of love”, you’re actually not. You’re annoying and you have a poor grasp of the words. I paid money to listen to Stevie, not your lame fog-horn attempts to replicate her. She’s a boho-goddess with velvet tones, and you’re the exact opposite of that. Okay. Got that? Ta.

Otherwise, all things considered, Fleetwood Mac at Mt Smart was pretty special, and I’m pleased I made the effort – which was, just quietly, considerable.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Rodrigo y Gabriela - Torito

The 2014 album, 9 Dead Alive, was the fourth full-length outing from Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. Fans and critics alike rated the album the duo’s most accessible and pop-orientated effort yet, something which was underlined by the fact that sales of the album propelled it into the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic.

This tune, ‘Torito’, lifted from 9 Dead Alive, is perhaps the best example of that, blending as it does the duo’s latin influences, or natural flamenco flair, with an infectious and rather compelling pop aesthetic. ‘Torito’ enjoyed high rotation on my Pod throughout the closing weeks of last year, and had become a firm favourite by the start of 2015.
(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2015) ...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Nicolas Haelg - Seduction Magnet

I really love it when old musical genres are given fancy new threads to wear. Especially when it results in something of a minor rebirth within that genre. In the last few years, that last bastion of the nightclub scoundrel, disco, has to one extent or another been given a new lease of life thanks to the emergence in clubs of a sub-genre called deep house.

It has a slower tempo (in terms of bpm) than house and most forms of what we might loosely call techno, but it’s bass-driven and usually relies on a funky guitar hook or riff to make those knees twitch. That’s a classic disco trick, as perfected over time by funk guitarists like Nile Rodgers, Bobby Womack, and Eddie Hazel, among many others. It’s the sound of Chic, Sister Sledge, Parliament, and more recently, Daft Punk. I think it’s something most people just feel, rather than hear, so please excuse my rather awkward attempt to describe it.

It’s also something that featured a lot in the work of a guy called Nicolas Haelg, a Switzerland-based producer who was prolific in his output and commitment to deep house throughout 2015. It seemed like every six weeks or so throughout the year, Haelg had a brand new track up on his Soundcloud page – usually free to download – either collaboratively or under his own name in a solo guise.

This is really just disco under another name, produced by a young guy whose parents would barely have been old enough to embrace the original sound the first time around. It’s the sound of New York 1975-1979, of mirror-balls, of glitter, and of sequin smoking jackets. Haelg’s brand of funk is so much of a throwback you can practically smell the amyl nitrate as it gets passed across the dancefloor ... okay, so I’m getting a little bit carried away, but you get the picture.

In short, and to get to my typically long-winded point, Nicolas Haelg might just about be the funkiest white guy on the planet right now, and one of his earliest bangers of 2015 was ‘Seduction Magnet’ … check it out:

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2015) ...


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Classic Album Review: Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (1977)

So much has been written about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours over the years, it feels almost redundant adding my own two cents worth here. But I’m revisiting the album at present, because in a couple of days I’ll be amongst a heaving throng of thousands at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium, watching Fleetwood Mac perform the second of three (2015) concerts in New Zealand … the band’s ‘On With The Show’ tour. I’m quite excited about that, and right now, Rumours seems like the most natural thing in the world to be listening to.

Unlike most of the rest of the world’s music obsessives, I’ve never seen Fleetwood Mac live before. And I’m breaking some rules to get there. I usually get pretty hung up on the idea of seeing bands well after their prime. Hung up, as in precious and anal. I’ve blogged about that before. About my refusal to attend gigs based purely on a sense of nostalgia.

With Fleetwood Mac though, it feels different. It feels like I’ve got nothing to lose by seeing them at this stage of their career, well after their peak years. I guess that’s mainly because my relationship with Fleetwood Mac has always been based on a large helping of nostalgia. And because Rumours itself represents a comforting feeling of warmth and familiarity, carried forward from my childhood. You see, my Mum had this album when I was growing up. And Fleetwood Mac represent her generation, not mine. I’m going not because the band is precious to me, but because I’ll probably never get another chance to honour that formative (very early) period of my life in quite the same way.

My older sister and I thrashed Rumours while both in our early teens. She was probably a much bigger Fleetwood Mac fan than I was at the time, but I’m quite sure I adored Stevie Nicks every bit as much as she did … even if it was for a different reason.
Teenage Kicks/Stevie Nicks

More than that, as much as I’ve always loved Rumours, I’ve never been a massive fan of Fleetwood Mac in a widescreen sense. It was Rumours or bust, Rumours or nothing. If you can appreciate the difference. I’m a Rumours fan, Fleetwood Mac is merely the vehicle to deliver it. Mac albums like Tusk (1979), or Mirage (1982), say, I couldn’t care less about … but Rumours is special.

Fleetwood Mac and Rumours always felt like a guilty pleasure for me. Not a love I’d share openly with too many people. It wasn’t punk, “new wave”, alternative, or fresh enough to be considered a band I’d admit to liking. The band was a commercial radio staple. They were everywhere. It was mainstream, and beyond saturation point. So I kept it close, and it took years for me to be honest with anyone about just how much I love the huge-selling Rumours.

Rumours is an album with a little bit of everything.

The back story; two sets of couples, one British, one American, one recently divorced, and the other going through a process of breaking up while the album was being made. And the odd man out, a drummer trying desperately to hold it all together. You’ve heard it all before, or at the very least, you’ve read about it all before. And there was an undeniable chemistry there. Like some sort of demented unwashed Transatlantic rock version of Abba (plus one) gone badly wrong.

And what about those songs?

Beautiful songs about fading and failed relationships. Songs about intimacy and infidelity. Songs about hope. Songs about despair. Songs about trying to hold it all together. Even the odd song about nothing very much at all really.

Musically the album is a hybrid of styles; from straight-up pop, to ballads, to hippy folkie stuff, to hard driving rock. It had singles that charted, and album tracks that became iconic simply because they were epic album tracks off Rumours.

Fleetwood Mac had a few different incarnations over the years, and as such the band will mean different things to different people (see the Peter Green or Bob Welch years), but the five individuals who made Rumours represent the ultimate in Fleetwood Mac line-ups … the perfect core. And it’s the line-up I’ll see in Auckland.

I do hope they remember to play something from Rumours.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Yoko-Zuna - This Place Here

It’s taking pleasure from the small things in life that keeps us smiling, isn’t it?

One of the biggest buzzes – from the smallest of treats – I got during the year happened every second month or so, when discovering a freshly wrapped bulging CD-sized package safely stowed away in my letter box, courtesy of NZ Musician magazine. Upon discovery, sometimes before I’d even made it all the way up the driveway, I’d excitedly open said package, completely blind to the delights (or otherwise) of the music the magazine had sent me to review. And who doesn’t like getting new music (in physical form) and a nice surprise in the post?

More often than not it was something I was vaguely familiar with, so I might have already formed some kind of opinion. But on the occasion back in September, when the debut album/CD of young Auckland jazz-hoppers Yoko-Zuna turned up there, I simply stared blankly back at it, scratching my head. That release, This Place Here, would quickly go on to become one of my most thrashed albums of the past few months … pretty much locking itself in as one of the blog’s albums of the year.

Here’s the title track for that work:

(The Festive Dozen is a fairly randomly selected year-end collection of clips featuring the tunes which featured most prominently on the (generally pop-loving) iPod playlists of everythingsgonegreen at various stages throughout 2015) ...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Playing It Strange

I’ve been following the work of the Play It Strange Trust for a few years now as it seeks to showcase talented young musicians from secondary schools across New Zealand. Each year the Trust runs a songwriting competition in conjunction with the Lion Foundation, NZ on Air, the Rock Shop, and a number of other key supporters. And each year the best of the entrants are able to have their compositions professionally recorded and produced, before that work is then released in a digital format on an annual compilation album (there were CDs released a few years ago, I’m not sure whether or not that remains the case).

That though is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Trust achieves – there are other competitions and a whole range of support functions as it seeks to nurture and promote the country’s best up-and-coming young musical talent. The Trust’s CEO is one Mike Chunn (ex-Split Enz, Citizen Band, former head of Mushroom Records) and its Board of Trustees includes the heavyweight likes Brendan Smyth (NZ on Air), actor Sam Neill, and ex-All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick … so it’s fair to say it has some clout and reach.

We live in an age where so many aspiring young musicians and/or singers are easily distracted or sidetracked by the prospect of instant fame, or offered one dimensional profiles via glorified talent quests like X-Factor and Idol. Those shows amount to little more than throwaway entertainment fare for the masses, so it’s heartening to see long-haul organisations like Play It Strange providing alternative paths and frameworks for genuine talent to prosper.

This year’s songwriting competition was won by Grace Wood of St Kentigern College in Auckland for ‘Young, Naïve, and Reckless’ (oh how we wish!) …

Grab a free download of the 2015 compilation from the Play It Strange Bandcamp page:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Home Alone/Autumn

Home Alone is a Wellington-based label, and Autumn is a collection of b-sides, rarities, and live songs from local artists released earlier this year. I’ve been meaning to share the link to the name-your-price download for quite a while now.

I think I probably downloaded the digital album sometime back in late May or June, when it was released, and many of the tracks on it have subsequently gone on to become firm favourites of mine as the year has progressed.
None of the songs are particularly bold, brassy, poppy, or “in-your-face great”, but at its best some of this music is quite beautiful – crafted, delicate, fragile, and defined by its simplicity. I reckon you’ll need to have a listen to grasp exactly what I mean.
It isn’t quite perfect – there are a couple of tracks here that don’t really work for me – but I’d say 70% of it is top drawer in terms of 2015 local product.

Highlights include the tunes from Lake South, French For Rabbits, and Eb & Sparrow.

Check it out …

Monday, November 9, 2015

Blog Update: Taking Stock ...

Okay, so once again I've broken The Golden Rule of Blogging by failing to come up with regular fresh content. Not even a short post or two to keep things ticking over. No surprise then, that page hits and views have fallen right away. It's the way things go when you've lost your blogging mojo – or to put it another way, when you've been unrepentantly lazy.

Only that's probably not true. Lazy is such a cruel and unforgiving word ;-)

It's actually been somewhat chaotic up here on the top floor of everythingsgonegreen towers in recent weeks, and for one reason or another, I just haven't been able to post very much. There was a rather pressing deadline to meet with the day-job, there’s been a lot of family-related travel, and a whole raft of other real life matters to contend with.

I have actually been writing – there’s a feature and two album reviews in the latest issue of NZ Musician, and I’ve just completed a major project on early Nineties Wellington band Emulsifier, which involved a lot of research, and I plan to submit that work for publication on AudioCulture. I’ve also got a couple of other little AudioCulture fires on the backburner, which I hope to get back to eventually.

But mostly I’ve been going out and enjoying life, rather than sitting in front of the PC. Not just in terms of emerging from the obligatory winter hibernation, with summer just around the corner, but also in terms of trying to achieve that much coveted work/life balance thing that all the experts tell us is one of the keys to happiness in life (ya what? - Ed).

In terms of music and nights out (my default discretionary leisure time activities), I’ve been learning to go out and enjoy gigs sober (gasp); something I would not have dared to imagine five years ago, and in fact, something I would not have thought possible, even as recently as two years ago.

Last Saturday I attended Bodega’s celebration of all things UK ’79 – with cover bands Splintered In Her Head (who had an old friend of mine making his debut on drums), Wazzo Clash, and Permanence, each giving us their own take on tunes from The Cure, The Clash, and Joy Division respectively. I had one beer the entire night, and while I might not have been the life of the party exactly, I still caught up with a number of old friends, and felt all that much better (for my sobriety) the following morning. I mean, who knew it could be that easy?

I’ve also been getting to wear my “proud Dad” hat quite a bit over the past few weeks – as we approach the end of the 2015 academic/school year. My eldest daughter has just graduated high school (year 13, or 7th form, as my generation knew it) as the recipient of her college’s major music prize, The Kapiti Cup, for her “outstanding contribution to music composition”. Next year she’ll attend Victoria University in Wellington, to commence a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Psychology and Music Composition. Meanwhile my youngest daughter completed her year (year 11) with a first place in Dance, and a second successive (invite-only) appearance at “the Nationals” (a workshop/dance scholarship awards weekend). To say I’m proud of their achievements in the arts is something of an understatement.

So blogging has tended to take a back seat for a while, and everythingsgonegreen has been rather neglected. I suppose if I’m being truthful, it could have been a lot worse. At one point a month or so ago, I seriously considered taking the blog offline altogether. I felt like taking a long break from all forms of social media, but worried about losing momentum – or whatever little blogging momentum I had! … while in terms of my other vices, Facebook and Twitter, well, let’s just say my “fear of missing out” got the better of me again.

So here I am. Feeling refreshed and ready to resume semi-regular posts again. I think. Partly motivated (possibly only temporarily motivated) by some unexpected positive feedback I received last week, when a complete stranger contacted me via email to say how much she enjoyed a blogpost I originally wrote some three years ago. It was one of those self-indulgent grassroots scene/nostalgia-type posts I enjoy writing so much, one where I was really just documenting something low key and niche, mainly for my own benefit. Which made the feedback all the more surprising (and special). It was exactly the positive reinforcement I needed at a time when I’d all but given up on the idea that my writing was actually reaching anybody.

Sometimes it's just the little things. Yes, it’s true that I write this stuff for me, as a form of catharsis in many cases (like this post), but it’s always good to know that others are getting something from it as well. So thanks Melody, you rock!

Right, back to the music …

Over the coming weeks – as a lead up to the end of the year, when everythingsgonegreen will highlight its “albums of 2015” – I plan to post some clips, a dozen or so, of the biggest or most-listened-to tunes of my year. The songs that meant the most to me over the calendar year. Songs that helped shape my year. An annual “festive dozen”, if you will. I’ll try to mix things up a little with that, to cover off the various genres I enjoy.

See you again soon (but no promises!) …