Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Front 242, Alfa Matrix, and Take Five

Earlier this year, back in July, I blogged about Belgian electro-technocrats Front 242, the Alfa Matrix label, and an appetite-whetting remix competition.

The plan – according to the blurb at the time – was that the winning remix of Front 242’s (track) ‘Take One’ would get a release at the end of August (2015), and be made available as a download on the Alfa Matrix bandcamp page.

Or so I thought … cue electronic tumbleweed floating across the vast cyber plain that separates various arteries of the worldwide information super-highway.

I checked back regularly, re-checked, and triple checked, even, but still nothing appeared.

Until last week, when yet another one of those super impressive ‘Matrix Downloaded’ name-your-price compilation releases appeared on said bandcamp page, and what’s that I spy with my rather beady eye? … included on there is a remix of ‘Take One’ by a producer called Kant Kino. Which I can only presume was the winning remix.

Regardless of that, and more to the point, this is the 5th edition of the Matrix Downloaded series, and once again it’s a very extensive package featuring all of the label’s key artists (61 tracks in total). If you’re unfamiliar with the label – and I’d suggest that the sonic wizardry of Front 242 is a fairly accurate guide – then what have you got to lose by downloading and sampling?

If you’re really keen – or a convert – you can also grab the four previous compilation releases as name-your-price downloads. Don’t be shy …

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Of Monsters And Men - I Of The Storm

Back in 2012, Icelandic band Of Monsters And Men released a debut album called My Head Is An Animal, which went on to make the widely coveted (ahem) everythingsgonegreen “albums of the year” list. It was a great little album; bold and bouncy, and packed full of references to the fantastical and the mythical. It was a "happy place", a genuine escape into another world (maritime and nautical themes abound), and I became very familiar with it very quickly.

Fast forward to 2015, and Of Monsters And Men returned with a follow-up, a second album called Beneath The Skin, which, whilst being every bit as compelling as the debut, was a much darker, far more introspective offering. Again though, I loved it, and the band immediately re-established itself as a permanent fixture on my Pod throughout the year.

Beneath The Skin lacks the one really big single (or big hit) that My Head Is An Animal benefitted from (‘Little Talks’) in terms of wider exposure, but I think overall, over the duration, it’s a slightly superior piece of work – some of the songwriting is quite wonderful and the band sacrificed nothing by way of pop hooks in order to achieve a more contemplative, earthier hue. Not so much a happy place but still a destination well worth visiting if you don't mind the occasional lump-in-yer-throat moment.

One of the album’s highlights is ‘I of the Storm’ … check out the clip below:

(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) ...


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fresh Cuts for NZ Musician December 2015/January 2016

The December/January issue of NZ Musician hit the streets this week, and as per usual I managed to sneak a couple of album reviews past the quality control radar of the magazine’s editorial staff …

B2KDA: Rising

Officially, Rising is album number four from the collective previously known as Batucada Sound Machine, or BSM. But it’s also a first for the group while wearing a shiny new B2KDA badge. Such is the fluid nature of this ever-evolving 10-piece-plus ensemble, it’s quite remarkable how many of these tunes stay faithful to the modus operandi and work of all previous BSM line-ups. And that’s a good thing – a proven formula that works. If B2KDA does manage to set out its own stall under the new guise, then pure unadulterated funk remains very much at its heart – see tunes like the single, Can’t Give You (What You’re Asking For), and The Greatest Step. There’s also a crossover into bass and brass-heavy dub territories, with king-size slabs of electro (I’m A Physicist), ska (Same Old Thing), and world music flavours (Por La Noche). Such is the diversity on offer, Rising appeals as being almost completely borderless in its widescreen vision, a hybrid of international sounds blending together in the name of a funky dance party. Which is hardly surprising given that the album was recorded and pieced together at five or six different locations across the globe, places as far flung and diverse as Berlin, Singapore, Dunedin, and umm, Blockhouse Bay. The finishing touches were added in the studio of Sola Rosa’s Andrew Spraggon, with the end result being a light and breezy album crammed full of fresh summery vibes.

Host Club: Gymkhana EP
If the tunes found on this debut EP are anything to go by, then Host Club look set for a big future. Coming to us straight out of Western Springs High School, as recent regional Rockquest finalists and yet veterans of Auckland’s vibrant all-ages scene, Host Club’s most immediate and obvious point of difference is the very distinctive baritone of lead vocalist Finn Dalbeth. It’s a voice that defies his teenage years, underpinned by the type of energetic and quirky indie rock more readily associated with a much older generation. As such, this music should appeal not only to the band’s own demographic, but also to those of us raised on the eccentricities and foibles of ’80s pop. Gymkhana was recorded and mixed by Karl Apao of Soundkard Productions. While each of the four tracks here offer up something slightly different, it’s the brooding tension and heavy vibe found on Miscellania, the closer and single, that showcases the Auckland four-piece at its very best. Whisper it, lest we place a hex, but these guys might deserve some watching.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Princess Chelsea - Too Many People

In an ideal world, it would be a case of ... ‘move over Lorde, Princess Chelsea is here to claim the throne as the new Global Queen of Kiwi Pop’.

But, as we know, it’s far from an ideal world, and Princess Chelsea (aka Chelsea Nikkel) remains, for the most part – in a global context, at least – a relatively unknown prospect.

Which is surely only a temporary state of affairs, with the Auckland-based artist’s 2015 album, The Great Cybernetic Depression, growing in stature with each passing week. It certainly deserves its place on the many local year-end "best of" lists it currently features on, being an almost perfect blend of irony-tinged social comment and dreamy space-pop. More of the latter than the former.

One of my own favourite *pop* tunes of 2015 was ‘Too Many People’, a great piece of iPod fodder/commuter fluff … check it out, I really like this clip, it's a bit sad and melancholic, yet at the same time our understated star looks as though she could be performing alone in her bedroom, singing in front of the mirror (hey, we’ve all done it. And what on earth is that cat doing @ 2.20?) ...

(By the way, everythingsgonegreen has no real issue with Lorde’s status as the flagbearer for Kiwi Pop ™ on the international stage. We're just prone to being a little facetious at times. Okay, a lot facetious. And anyway, we all know Kiwi Pop ™ isn’t really a proper “thing”. Beyond these shores. Yet.)

(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) ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Whakataurangi Ake

Here’s something brand new from Disjecta Membra, who I’ve blogged about previously (albeit briefly). This is a quite lovely collaboration with another local artist, Rob Thorne, and it feels like something of a major departure from what we’d usually expect from Disjecta Membra. But clearly it’s very personal, and the real beauty here lies in its intimacy.

The thinking behind the release – a free download, no less – is explained further in the following press release:

Wellington’s Disjecta Membra together with acclaimed taonga pūoro artist Rob Thorne have today released a new rendition of ‘Whakataurangi Ake’; an old waiata from Rereahu-Maniapoto, composed by the noted kaumatua, Charles Tauhou ‘Pumi’ Taituha (1930-1993).
‘Whakataurangi Ake’ has been recorded and released with thanks and acknowledgement to Jaqui Taituha, mokopuna of Pumi Taituha. In recognition of Pumi’s whānau, hapū and iwi, an interview with Disjecta Membra on Maniapoto FM’s ‘Pātere’ programme was scheduled to coincide with today’s release. Sadly, due to recent bereavements within the Maniapoto FM whānau, however, the interview has now been postponed to next Wednesday, 23 December.
Normally, Disjecta Membra might be better known for dark, atmospheric, ‘gothic’ music. But in more than twenty years’ evolution the band have ventured beyond the confines of the genre, often drawing from a rich New Zealand cultural heritage in the process of carving out their own unique and distinctive identity.
Similarly, before entering the world of taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments), Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu)’s musical roots lay in the experimental noise and swampy alternative rock scene of late eighties/early nineties Palmerston North. That background in ‘fringe’ music, coupled with Thorne’s emphasis on bringing ancient and modern together, is what led the group to seek out his collaboration on the track.
Disjecta Membra’s treatment of ‘Whakataurangi Ake’ was initially devised as a form of welcome to international performers whom they were playing live support to, inspired by the song’s frequent use on marae throughout the country as a waiata tautoko at pōwhiri.
For bandmates Michel Rowland (Ngāi Tai/Ngāti Tai) and Matthew Tāmati Scott (Waitaha), the piece took on further layers of meaning due to Michel’s grandfather and Matthew’s father having both passed away ahead of their first live performance of the waiata in 2014.
‘Whakataurangi Ake’ is available for free download from, accompanied by a pdf booklet containing original artwork and graphic design by bassist and in-house designer, Isobel ‘Izzy’ Te Aho-White (Ngāi Tahu). The track was also recorded and produced by Izzy’s brother-in-law, Bryan Tabuteau for Molière Recording.
The band’s previous release, ‘Madeleine! Madelaine! (Molière Mix)’, appeared on the popular international Bat Conservation Trust fundraiser compilation, ‘For The Bats Volume III’ in October. ‘Madeleine! Madelaine!’ has received extensive airplay from radio stations and specialist broadcasters in the UK, Europe, North and South America, Australia and even in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Ironically, the band still struggle to achieve regular airplay at home.
Rob Thorne’s album, Whāia Te Māramatanga, was released on New Zealand instrumental music label Rattle in 2014, to widespread critical praise. He has since toured New Zealand exhaustively, more than once, and in January/February 2016 will be in Berlin, performing and recording a commissioned piece for the CMT Festival for Adventurous Music & Art.
Thorne and Disjecta Membra meanwhile look forward to several collaborative projects together in the near future.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Silk 86 - Dem Curves

I picked this one up as a download from the XLR8R website a few months back, and it probably doesn’t need an explanation, or too many words to accompany it. It is best consumed via headphones and doubtlessly loses something if you attempt to take it in via tinny PC speakers or straight off your phone.

Because it’s ALL about dat bass, and dem curves … a piece of classic old style house music from London-based production duo Silk 86. Grab a free download of the latest Silk 86 EP here.

(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) ...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Mel Parsons - Get Out Alive

I listened to a lot more locally produced New Zealand music than ever before in 2015. Not only because of my commitment to writing reviews and articles for NZ Musician, which guaranteed a steady flow of fresh material (and inspiration), but also because I wanted to. Because I sought it out and looked for it at every turn.

I truly believe that 2015 was a bumper year for local stuff, one of the best ever, and when I get around to writing up the annual everythingsgonegreen “albums of the year” list, I already know that around half of those albums will have been made by NZ-based artists.

One such release was the Mel Parsons full-length offering Drylands, a gem of an album which just kept on getting better and better with each and every listen.

It is a difficult task to single out one solitary track from Drylands for the purposes of this (Festive Dozen) exercise, simply because there are so many choice cuts to pick from. But in the end I’ve opted for the Silver Scroll-nominated ‘Get Out Alive’, the third single culled from the album. The beauty of this one is that it is based on a real-life event, an actual car accident that Parsons survived, so it’s written and sung straight from the heart …

(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) ...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe - Wehmut

I wouldn’t have known much about Anton Newcombe or his fabulously named psych-rock band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, if it wasn’t for Dig!, the Sundance Award-winning rock documentary of roughly a decade ago. I was a fairly big Dandy Warhols fan at the time, and Dig!, of course, um, dug deep, into the often fractious relationship between Newcombe’s band and the much more high profile Warhols. Neither band emerged from the documentary unscathed … with inter-band rivalry, petty in-fighting, jealousy, and drug abuse, being the film’s predominant themes.

The Dandy Warhols subsequently struggled to match the highs of a turn of the millennium peak (the band was at its best between 1996 and 2003), while The Brian Jonestown Massacre went on to enjoy a large cult following for many years – quite probably because of the film’s success, and the enhanced profile that came with it.

Which more or less brings us up to date, and to my point … which is to acknowledge what the now apparently clean and sober Newcombe has been doing in 2015. Namely, collaborating with Toronto-based singer-songwriter Tess Parks on an album called I Declare Nothing, which had a mid-2015 release.

I probably could have selected any number of tracks from the album for the sampler I offer here, and I really loved ‘Cocaine Cat’, but none capture the album’s stoner-psych-prog crossover excess quite like ‘Wehmut’. I’m not really sure what Parks was doing before this, but that voice has certainly been lived in, and in Anton Newcombe, she may just have found a perfect muse.

Curiously enough, I’m sensing a fairly strong Dandy Warhols influence here …

(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) ...


Monday, December 7, 2015

Golden Curtain and Hell Is Other People

A few months ago I sat down with Andrew Mckenzie of Golden Curtain for a chat about the band and music in general. The conversation formed the core of an article published in the October/November issue of NZ Musician magazine. I thought I’d put the unedited version online here (the magazine version had a few changes):

It’s the province that gave us Pixie Williams, Johnny Cooper, and Phil Judd. More recently, it’s where Connan Mockasin and Lee Prebble learned their formative music chops. And it is home to the 2015 Taite Music Prize winners, Jakob. I’m talking about that bastion of sun, surf, and vineyard, Hawke’s Bay.

Right now it’s also home base for Andrew Mckenzie, Andrew Gladstone, and Brad Gamble, who collectively go by the name of Golden Curtain. If those names seem familiar it’s because you’ll recognise them from past lives with Grand Prix (Mckenzie), Garageland (Gladstone), and A Twin Moon (Gamble).
I’m sitting down to chat with vocalist/guitarist Mckenzie primarily because Golden Curtain has a new album out, the trio’s third full-length effort. It’s called Hell Is Other People, but despite some previous form as a philosophy student in Wellington, Mckenzie is quick to deny any connection the album title might have with one of Jean-Paul Sartre’s most famous lines.

“I’m sure people will listen to the title song and know I’m not being super heavy or dark. It’s a light-hearted chorus, and I wasn’t getting into existential philosophy or anything when I wrote that one.”

Gladstone was initially set to join us, in the immediate wake of a well-received Garageland reunion gig in Auckland. But he was forced to pull the plug after becoming consumed by his very own personal version of hell; the same brutal seven-day cold that clogged up GP waiting rooms right across the land this winter.  

Mckenzie and drummer Gladstone share a couple of different musical projects, and it’s clear the collaboration is as much about embracing a much coveted work/life balance as it is about a mutual love of playing music. Mckenzie explains:

“More and more as time goes on, you start wondering what the game plan is with this whole thing. By the time you get to our incredible old age you start asking yourself about the things you enjoy doing. The most enjoyable thing at the moment is just coming up with new stuff and recording it.

“As a band we’re just trying to go forward and come to terms with the fact that people don’t buy albums anymore.  I think it’s really important to keep on making music, but to also understand that at the same time you’ve got to keep your day job. This is where I grew up. I’m working on the orchard, and I’m doing music.

“Since I came back here and started playing music with Andrew, I decided I needed to pull back on the Americana. There are one or two songs on (the second album) Dream City which have a country flavour, but I had this reinvigoration in terms of English rock and pop music. That’s actually where the title of (debut release) English Tuning came from. We went back to that classic English style.”
 L to R: Mckenzie, Gladstone, and Gamble
Hell Is Other People might just about be the band’s most pop-geared effort thus far, yet for all of its hooks – and there are a few – Mckenzie was not shy about keeping things experimental and fresh.

“On this latest album, I came up with this idea that involved re-stringing the guitar as well as re-tuning it. All of those songs are on a guitar where two of the thickest strings are taken off and replaced by thin strings, like you’d find on the other side of the neck. So instead of going across two octaves, there’s one octave, but there’s a lot more notes, and once you realise that, you can hear it in the music. Because we’re a three-piece I can’t be doing anything too involved on the guitar while I’m singing so I was trying to come up with a way I could try to play some more interesting chords, but in an easy way.”

Mckenzie is also keen to assert that the album was very much a team effort, giving recognition to the role played by others.

“Brad is a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter. He’s about 20 years younger than Andrew and I. His first instrument is the bass, but because he can play everything, he can listen to it from the perspective of a songwriter, a drummer, and a guitarist.

“Andrew had the idea to add some brass and wind to a couple of songs, and there’s a ‘Girl from Ipanema’ feel to some of it. So a friend of ours, Anton Wuts, who is a guitarist, but also an accomplished wind instrument player, came in and helped us out. As did Matt Mear, who originally came in to play trumpet, but helped out on French Horns.

“We had access to some really great gear, great mics and a lot of really old German equipment owned by sound engineer Brett Stanton, another friend of ours. We set things up at my home in a way that gave us a much better sound quality than we’d been used to. I came up with a rough mix and tracking, but Brett tidied up the mix and mastered it.”

Plans are already in place for another album, and it’s likely to feature a song-writing collaboration with San Francisco-based writer Alex Green, who edits and writes for a website called Stereo Embers.

Bit on the side: there'll be a load of compromisin' ...
“Alex put out a book called Emergency Anthems, a collection of his prose. I did an interview with him about a year ago, and learned of some stuff culled from his book that the publishers didn’t want to use. He sent some through, and I read it and saw how it could be turned into songs. So he gave me free rein to do what I like (with the words). We’re actually seven songs into it; he’s sending through lyrics and we’re coming up with the music.”

Although it’s not quite a return to the halcyon heyday of yester-year, the live scene in the Bay has flourished since the return of the storied Cabana venue in Napier in 2008. More recently there has been the emergence of a venue called the Common Room (in Hastings). It hosts regular jazz nights, and generally acts as a hub for all manner of creative revelry. In addition to playing live with Golden Curtain, Mckenzie and Gladstone partner up as country “side-project” Michael Rhinestone Cowboy.

“It’s really just guitar, drums, and unrecorded old Grand Prix country songs. Andrew’s got this really old drum kit, older than us, and I play acoustic guitar. It’s really good for parties and we’ve done a few gigs at the Cabana as well. It’s light-hearted and fun.

“The beauty of this is that none of us need Golden Curtain to be any sort of money-making thing. I know some musicians who have gone down the road where they want their career in music to be their living so they get into all sorts of stuff, including chasing government funding, and playing gigs that most of the time you wouldn’t really want to do. If you don’t need music for your income then you’re free to play the music you want to play.”

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Courtney Barnett - Depreston

I have to admit, when I first heard the music of Courtney Barnett, I didn't quite get it. I couldn't quite see the attraction, or grasp what it was everyone else seemed to be raving about. And there is no question that an awful lot of people saw an awful lot of something - if indie rock had an "It Girl" in 2015, it was surely the Melbourne-based 28-year-old.

Then about halfway through the year I heard 'Depreston', a track off her debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, and it all just instantly clicked ... it was the simplicity of her kitchen-sink lyrics, and the immediate accessibility of her girl-next-door DIY charm.

I was gutted that a series of unavoidable events forced me to miss her November Wellington gig (at Bodega) and - even worse - her Slow Boat Records in-store. Next time!

'Depreston' was a tune I kept returning to, and it appeals as an ideal cut to showcase what you'll find on Sometimes I Sit, an album which wound up going Top 5 in Oz, and Top 20 in the UK, the US, and New Zealand.

They say you should always write about what you know, and it's a modus operandi that serves Barnett well on this low key irony-fuelled slice-of-life journey into every day suburban living ... Preston being an actual suburb, a short drive north of Melbourne’s CBD.

(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, December 1, 2015

The Festive Dozen 2015: Paul Hardcastle - '19' (30th Anniversary Remix Collection)

I do hate to go on, but one of the most timely and poignant reissues of 2015 was the 30th anniversary release of Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’. A deluxe compilation containing 14 different mixes of ‘19’.

For me, it’s a track that never ages – despite its surface aesthetic and reliance on old technology making it an almost-certain-to-become-dated type of tune.

And of course, how could it possibly age when its anti-war message remains unheeded and just as relevant all these years on?

No, we haven’t learned the lessons of history. Yes, we still send boys to war.

Only these days the enemy we fight is harder to define, harder to locate, and hides behind the facade of religion. It sits stagnant for long periods, in our cities, and in our communities, just waiting to pounce. It is almost impossible to detect. And the truth is, it has very little to do with religion. It remains an indiscriminate killer.

Worst of all, how can you fight against an enemy who values death and martyrdom above all other things?

Well, it’s simple. You can’t fight that enemy. Certainly not in the way we’ve been fighting it so far. It’s clear we (a collective “we”, and I think I’m referring to “the west”, although I’m not entirely sure anymore) need a change of tack. The traditional “bomb the living bejaysus out of everything that moves” approach clearly hasn’t worked. And it will never work.

Just as it didn’t work in Vietnam.

(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) ...