Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rumblings from the Nuclear Bunker: Q & A with Terrorball

I tracked down Hamilton-based electro funk producer Terrorball (aka Gareth Pemberton) and asked him 10 quickfire questions about music and life in the bunker:

In one sentence, who or what is Terrorball?

It's the name I've been releasing music under since 2011.

What motivated the Cold War themes found on (latest album) How I Learned To Stop Worrying?

I managed to catch the end of the Cold War as a kid so I've always been fascinated by that period. I'm interested in the paranoia of the time and the propaganda pumped out by both sides.

Your music has a strong retro feel, who or what are its biggest influences?

My main influences are stuff like older Daft Punk, Justice, and Yasutaka Nakata, who produces music for the group Perfume. Also Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds album has always been a favourite.
You've got nine albums up for grabs as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp, are there any plans for a physical CD or vinyl release in the future?

No, though I would love to release something on vinyl.

Does Terrorball operate in a live capacity at all? If not, are there any plans afoot to expand the scope of your work?

Not at the moment but I've been collaborating with someone on some stuff, and hopefully we'll be doing some live shows in the near future, under the name Lobot.

What is the one instrument/piece of equipment or production tool you can't live without?

Ableton Live.

What is the best piece of music-related advice you've ever been given?

Learn to listen.

When the nuclear holocaust hits, what three desert island discs will you take to the bunker?

Daft Punk - Alive 2007, The Beatles - White Album, and Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds.

Name one local/NZ artist the world needs to know about?


Complete this sentence: the best thing about living in Hamilton is ...

... the smell.

Here's a clip from How I Learned To Stop Worrying:


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Classic Album Review: Split Enz - True Colours (1980)

If the 1979 Frenzy album had seen Split Enz move away from their earlier prog/psych/glam-rock roots to a adopt a more pop-flavoured and accessible sound, then the True Colours album of 1980 finally provided the band with the sustained commercial breakthrough they so richly deserved.

Populated by three iconic singles – ‘I Got You’, ‘Poor Boy’, and ‘I Hope I Never’ – True Colours is a true landmark release in terms of New Zealand music, and it cemented Tim and Neil Finn’s burgeoning status as highly talented wordsmiths. Whatever else True Colours did, it also supplied the soundtrack to my final year of high school, and for that, it will always have a special resonance for me.

Firstly, let’s take a look at those singles:

‘I Got You’ was the first single off the album. Drenched with “new wave” sensibilities, combining a polished lyrical hook with spacey keyboards, it was a major smash on these shores and also went on to achieve minor hit status on the international stage.

‘I Hope I Never’ is often cited as Tim Finn’s finest moment, a haunting yet strangely compelling heart-on-sleeve love song of epic proportions. While it didn’t quite have the crossover appeal of ‘I Got You’ and charted only briefly at the time, ‘I Hope I Never’ has subsequently flowered over time to become one of the Enz’ best known songs.

However, for me, ‘Poor Boy’ stands-out as the album’s best track, and quite probably the highlight of the band’s long career. Three and a half minutes of pure pop bliss. All chiming synth and washes of guitar set to an electronic pulse, ‘Poor Boy’ tells the tale of a young man bemoaning his inability to connect with an imaginary long-distance lover (in this case, an inter-planetary one!). It works on several levels, not least the appeal it holds for any disenfranchised pubescent youth struggling to get to grips with romance, or dare I say it, for any young man toiling with the radically different mindset of the opposite sex. (Yes, I was briefly that young man) …

"My love is alien, I picked her up by chance, she speaks to me in ultra-high frequency. The radio band of gold, gonna listen til I grow old. What more can a poor boy do? …”

In these modern days of virtual relationships, social media connections, and widespread internet-dating, connecting with a long distance lover via radio or cellular frequency, or via cable, may not seem too far-fetched at all. But back in the pre-cyber days of 1980, back when Bill Gates was just another annoying speccy playground nerd, it seemed like a preposterous notion.

(And besides, be careful what you wish for …)

Those three tracks are easily the best of a pretty decent bunch, eleven tracks in all, including a couple of atmospheric instrumentals – ‘Double Happy’ and ‘The Choral Sea’.

The album opener ‘Shark Attack’ initially sets the tone nicely. An up-tempo track with a mix of breakneck percussion, quirky piano, and swirling guitars, it rather humorously explores the theme of bad relationships, and draws a parallel between matters of the heart and being mauled by a Great White. For all of the spruce applied, Split Enz clearly hadn’t lost their sense of humour. Or indeed, their sense of reality!

Themes of youthful alienation are all over True Colours, with tunes like ‘What’s The Matter With You’ (“you look down on everything we do”), ‘Missing Person’ (“I walk home the wrong way, hoping I’ll go astray”), and ‘Nobody Takes Me Seriously’ taking pride of place among the non-singles.

The two remaining tracks – ‘I Wouldn’t Dream Of It’ and ‘How Can I Resist Her’ – do veer dangerously in the direction of the dreaded “filler” tag, but overall, True Colours captures Split Enz at something close to a peak, some eight years and five albums into a prolific and generally much underrated career.

Split Enz were initially thought of as arty/student prog-rockers whose theatrical outfits and face paint made louder statements than their music, so after several years skirting around the fringes of orthodox pop, True Colours was the album which finally gave them widespread credibility based on their music alone.

Ultimately, when viewing the bigger picture, globally, Split Enz will just as likely be recalled as the band which launched the career of one of NZ’s best loved musical sons, Neil Finn – who joined older brother Tim in the band prior to the Frenzy album. Finn would, of course, go on to earn much international acclaim as the main man behind Crowded House. That link, however valid, does seem a touch unfair – for me, Split Enz stand as one of NZ music’s most innovative and influential bands, and much of their early Eighties output was way better than any of the conventional pop mush eventually churned out by the far more globally popular Crowded House.

You just need to listen to True Colours for proof of that.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Classic Album Review: Split Enz - Mental Notes (1975)

Mental Notes* was the 1975 debut album for the eventual flag-bearers of the Kiwi “new wave” scene, Split Enz. The then seven-piece band had been together for a couple of years by the time of its release, initially touring as “Split Ends”, while cultivating a reputation as a zany theatrical group of avant-garde pop weirdos. Suffice to say they were most popular on the university circuit at the time.

A decade or so ago, Mental Notes topped a local music magazine (Rip It Up) poll to select the best New Zealand album of all-time. Now polls are polls are polls and you’d be foolish to place too much emphasis on their results but I really can’t believe this album rated higher than dozens of others more deserving of such an honour – at least two of which are subsequent Split Enz releases (Frenzy and True Colours).

Yes, Mental Notes is hugely significant as the debut album of one of NZ’s finest bands, but purely as a listening experience on its own, which is how the album should be judged, surely, I really can’t see what all the fuss was/is about. It just makes me feel like I’m the dumb kid at the back of the class and the only one who doesn’t get the joke. It feels like it’s a little bit too clever for me (or for its own good).

Part of the problem I have is that it’s generally all over the place; it integrates too many styles, it contains too much superficial so-called progressive rock, it has far too many pretentious arty moments, and the entire album is in danger of falling apart whenever the vocals kick-in on any given track. Vocalists Tim Finn and Phil Judd rarely adopt a conventional singing voice and you almost feel as though each singer is attempting to disguise shortcomings by adopting that mock theatrical tone. Sorry, but overwrought shrilling just ain’t my bag (baby).

Perhaps for some, the album’s variety is the very source of its appeal, and the unique sound part of its charm, but it certainly doesn’t work for me. Like I say, I just don’t get it.

Possible highlights (of the ten tracks) – I’m not sure there are too many to choose from; the lead single ‘Maybe’ is catchy enough I suppose. Then again …. maybe not (boom!). The live favourite ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ has a certain appeal, even if I’m not entirely sure what, and of course ‘Titus’ is often quoted as one of the band’s best early moments (but not by me).

I’m looking for positives, but in truth I’m afraid I can only rate it for its historical importance, with perhaps a half mark for genuine originality. Oh, and Phil Judd’s cover art is certainly pretty special in a very DIY kind of way.

Split Enz would, over the course of the following decade, go on to forge a unique place for itself in the annals of NZ music with some of the best pop music ever made. However, much of that was produced after the teenage Neil Finn joined the band in 1977, his first serious contribution coming on 1979’s Frenzy album. The band did enjoy a few minor local hits before that portentous development – most notably the likes of ‘Late Last Night’, ‘My Mistake’, and ‘Bold As Brass’ – but I really wouldn’t recommend the early Split Enz work or Mental Notes as a reliable guide or starting point for anyone new to the band.

* The band’s second album, aptly titled Second Thoughts (1976), is also known as Mental Notes in the UK and the US (and possibly elsewhere), but beware, this is an entirely different album.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gig Review: Fur Patrol, Bodega, Wellington, 18 June 2016

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Saturday night was going to be all about a double bill, a Bodega homecoming for local band Fur Patrol, alongside international headliner Swervedriver. Indeed, it was a 20-year reunion gig, with these two bands having performed on a bill together in the capital as far back as 1996, when Fur Patrol was just in its infancy.

But for yours truly, plans often have a tendency to go badly awry. Especially plans of the “Saturday night at Bodega” variety. The gig happened sure, the double bill unfolded as it should, but for myself and my regular gig-attending sidekick, it turned out to be a gig of one half, and we missed the (headline) Swervedriver set in its entirety. Having said that, Fur Patrol, as the opening act, was super impressive, and I can’t let that portion of the night go undocumented, hence the rather lop-sided review that follows.

This is not the first time I’ve been forced to abandon a gig at Bodega halfway through, but at least this time there was no ambulance and all-night hospital stay involved. And this time it was through no fault of my own – on this occasion it was my daughter who reacted badly to the heat of the moment, suffering the onset of syncope (or blackout dizzy spells) to the extent that I had to escort her home just as the night reached a highly anticipated peak. Rehydration, in this instance, just wasn’t going to cut it. At least she had the wherewithal to wait until Fur Patrol had finished. And just quietly, it was mainly Fur Patrol I was there to see.

I can perhaps console myself that Swervedriver surely can’t have been any better than when I saw them at King Tut’s in Glasgow back in 1993, when the band was something close to its prime. I can also console myself that I was being a very thoughtful and loving Dad. It’s hardly very rock’n roll, but a nonetheless very necessary part of the deal. And to think she was supposed to be MY minder, not the reverse.
Julia Deans - photo: UTR/Instagram (with thanks)
Surprisingly, the now three-piece Fur Patrol played for more than an hour, I’m picking something close to a dozen tracks, way more than any ordinary support band has any right to expect. But the Julia Deans-fronted outfit is no mere ordinary band, and nobody in the two-thirds full venue was complaining. This was a Wellington band reclaiming its old turf, in no uncertain fashion, with something close to a greatest hits set-list, after several years in the wilderness.

Deans really is the consummate performer, and it’s easy to see why she rates as one of the country’s all-time great front women. Right from the outset, opening with ‘Beautiful’ (from 1998’s Starlifter EP), she was a class act on guitar, getting that very Nineties Pixie-esque tension-building soft/loud/soft thing happening as a perfect supplement to her ever sultry vocal performance. It was an ideal scene-setter for what was to follow.

And that rhythm section, which, due to recent inactivity, you may have thought would be prone to a little rustiness, nailed it instantly, and the understanding and cohesion between bassist Andrew Bain and drummer Simon Braxton was as good as it’s ever been. I am actually struggling to recall the last time I saw a rhythm section that tight at Bodega (possibly Killing Joke, a few years back).

More than anything, the band, with Deans on guitar throughout – former guitarist Steve Wells having departed in 2004 – Fur Patrol made a helluva racket for a three-piece, and at one point I found myself feeling a little sorry for Swervedriver, wondering just how on earth they’d manage to top this little lot?

The band’s biggest commercial hit, ‘Lydia’ (from the album Pet), served as a mid-set centrepiece, suitably loved by the adoring fans, but more generally it was the lesser known tracks that made the biggest impression on me. ‘Hidden Agenda’, from the largely unheralded third album Local Kid, was a hard-rocking live masterstroke, while ‘Art of Conversation’ and ‘Precious’ stood out among the cuts lifted from Collider. Saving the best until last, and I was a little surprised by this, because I’d hoped against hope it would get an outing, Fur Patrol closed an exceptional set with an intoxicating take on ‘Man In A Box’, a very early favourite which goes right back to the band’s formative years.

Just as Deans and co bid us a raucous farewell, my trusty sidekick turned to me to suggest we “get some fresh air”, and my night was all but over in a flash. Like Fur Patrol itself, as a rendezvous, it was all too brief, and I’ll never quite know what happened next with Swervedriver (other gig reviews notwithstanding). But I do know enough to know that Fur Patrol played a blinder for its part, and really, I’m almost tempted to argue that it was worth the price of admission alone.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Album Review: Various - Day of the Dead (2016)

For many of us of a certain generation, for many years, the Grateful Dead have been little more than the convenient butt of many a hippy joke. A band that helped define an era, certainly, but nonetheless a band widely considered to be the complete antithesis of the punk rock and post-punk movements. And therefore, very much fair game to become an object of ridicule (in my insular world, at least). It is, or was, a position many mainstream observers also adopted, to be fair, with derogatory "Dead" references popping up in movies, books, comedy/parody, and various other forms of popular culture in the years since the band's profile peaked in the late Sixties and Seventies.

It probably didn't help that songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia bore an uncanny resemblance to (pothead) Tommy Chong of the infamous Cheech and Chong comedy duo. Or that the music of the Grateful Dead was deeply entrenched in what I personally considered to be a barren no man's land – that well traversed four-pronged crossroads where country rock meets classic rock meets folk meets Americana. It was a place I didn't really want to hang out for any length of time, and despite becoming more open minded as I get older (or so I like to think), it still doesn't really excite me all that much. And yes, these prejudices say a lot more about me than they do about the Grateful Dead, sure.

But the Dessner brothers-curated tribute album, Day of the Dead, throws something of a fresh light on the band's music, and while it doesn't really change my position on the Dead, it does offer another perspective – that of the contemporary artist of a distinctly post-millennium vintage, charged with interpreting large chunks of the band’s extensive catalogue. Including some of the biggest “indie” names in the business. It reconfigures our context somewhat, by placing emphasis back on the music, and not the lifestyle.

Tommy or Jerry?
First things first, just for clarity: I picked this up mainly on account of the involvement of Aaron and Bryce Dessner, simply because I'm a big fan of their work with The National. My version of the album – that which is under review here – is the three volume download. The alternatives being the 5-CD set, or limited edition vinyl box set. Either way, it all amounts to some 59 cover versions, and well in excess of five hours’ worth of music. With sale proceeds going to the long-standing Aids charity Red Hot Organization.
The first volume in the download set is sub-titled “Thunder” and it is by some distance the best, or most easily digestible, portion of the release. From the perspective of a Dead sceptic (aka your reviewer), it’s the volume which contains the least meandering, more accessible material. With the exception of the exhausting near 17-minute Terrapin Station (Suite)’ (by assorted and various). Highlights include Courtney Barnett’s take on ‘New Speedway Boogie’, The National’s version of ‘Peggy-O’, and the collaboration between Ed Droste (of Grizzly Bear) and Binki Shapiro on ‘Loser’. This volume also includes contributions by luminaries such as The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Bonnie Prince Billy, Perfume Genuis, Sharon van Etten, Mumford & Sons, Lee Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth), Wilco, and latter day Grateful Dead touring band member Bruce Hornsby. Plus many others.

The second volume – subtitled “Lightning” – was a real struggle for me, mainly on account of so many of the songs being of the more rambling variety. Rambling, as in … on and on and on and … seldom going anywhere particularly satisfying. Certainly this volume adds weight to the old adage that sometimes less is more. The worst offenders here being the work of Nightfall of Diamonds on the track of the same name, plus the Tunde Adebimpe/Lee Ranaldo collab ‘Playing in the Band’. And while Marijuana Deathsquads’ take on ‘Truckin’ is relatively brief by comparison, mercifully brief even, it does tend to bring out all that is most unpalatable about the musical excesses of the Grateful Dead. On the more positive side of the ledger, the second volume features The National’s majestic take on ‘Morning Dew’, and the rather funky Orchestra Baobab with ‘Franklin’s Tower’. Look out too for the soulful contribution of Charles Bradley (and the Menahan Street Band) on ‘Cumberland Blues’.

Volume three, “Sunshine”, also offers up something of a mixed bag, with the highs coming from This Is The Kit on trad tune ‘Jack-A-Roe’, and from The Flaming Lips with ‘Dark Star’. Relatively slim pickings. At the opposite end of the spectrum, again there’s a couple of ten-minute-plus episodes I could well have done without, and I thought Fucked Up’s take on ‘Cream Puff War’ was simply awful. Music befitting the band’s rather unimaginative name. Somewhere in the okay-but-not-overly-great category we find Real Estate with ‘Here Comes Sunshine’, and New Zealand’s own Unknown Mortal Orchestra with ‘Shakedown Street’.

So there it is. Warts and all. Genuine variety from a wide range of bands and artists. Kudos to the Dessner brothers and co-producer Josh Kaufman for bringing so many musicians and diverse styles together in the name of a charity project. Any criticism (or otherwise) of the album should not detract from that monumental effort. There’s some great stuff here, but there’s also some very ordinary stuff, and a few quite woeful tracks. It kind of goes with the territory. The very nature of a project this expansive. There’s so much here it would be unrealistic to expect to enjoy it all, and equally difficult not to find stuff you can enjoy. Even as a non-Deadhead.

There’s no question that in the annals of popular culture the Grateful Dead is a very important band. As much for the era, or the ethos, that the music represents. I guess if you’re not a fan of the Grateful Dead, and therefore unlikely to ever listen to the band’s music, but want to learn a little bit about what all the fuss was about, what helped to build the myth, then this is as good a place to start as any. Worth a look, occasionally worth a listen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bending Spoons

I always get a little nervous when I'm sent new music from bands or artists I've never heard of. Often my natural inclination toward cynicism is right on the money, and on other occasions I'm pleasantly surprised with what I find when I investigate further. Last weekend, brand new local band Cricket Farm sent me an mp3 copy of their debut track, Bending Spoons, which I was thrilled to discover, and it falls rather comfortably into the latter category. So much so, I thought it was well worth sharing here. Which I guess is the whole point of them sending it. It's a quite lovely slice of soft acoustic folk, with a sweet vocal from Hayley Robertson, and just a hint of humour right at its core. And yes, it does feature a guy playing spoons ... check it out on the band's Soundcloud page here.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Album Review: Terrorball - How I Learned to Stop Worrying (2016)

Self described as "earth's penultimate sonic ensemble of one", Gareth Pemberton is a Hamilton (NZ)-based producer who releases music under the name of Terrorball. I’ve blogged about him previously on everythingsgonegreen. I really don’t know a lot about him, but he appears to be on some sort of relentless and unrepentant mission to bring disco back out of the closet, with the vast majority of his work having a distinctly old school retro-funk flavour to it. At last count, Terrorball had nine albums available as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp, all released post-2011, with his latest work, the cold war-themed How I Learned To Stop Worrying, officially hitting cyberspace earlier this week … although regular followers of his work (on Soundcloud) will know that Pemberton tends to (advance) drip feed tracks at a fairly prolific rate, so much of this has been available for a while. Quite possibly the best thing to come out of the ‘Tron since, since, um, that last good thing, that other time.
You can stream or download How I Learned To Stop Worrying below:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

More Art-X Love

Brand new, yet more dubby melodica-drenched goodness from prolific blog favourite Art-X (of the Ondubground crew). It comes in the form of a four-track EP called Blue Lotus, made in collaboration with SoulNurse studio producer Gabriel Bouillon. Once again it is a very generous name-your-price download. Grab it, or stream it …


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Album Review: Adi Shankara - Structures (2016)

Not to be confused with the 8th-century Indian/Hindu philosopher/theologian of the same name (whose own debut album is surely eagerly awaited), or indeed the sitar player of an unfeasibly similar name, *this* Adi Shankara is a Montpellier-based producer of super heavy electro dub sounds. His highly promising debut album, Structures, which veers between ambient bass textures and rather more upbeat driving electronica, was released fortnight ago as a free download on the Original Dub Gathering website. Best consumed in solitude, and recommended as a headphones experience - I fully immersed myself in the album during an extended beach walk last weekend. The best tracks (of eight) include 'Far From What My Eyes Can See' (featuring Kiangana), and 'Rust'. Pick up a download copy of Structures (click here) and lose yourself in it.
... or you can simply stream the entire album via this clip below:

Saturday, June 4, 2016

everythingsgonegreen on Facebook

For a while now, I’ve had this small hang-up about cluttering up the newsfeeds of friends on Facebook with frivolous music and pop culture posts. Articles, photos, and music clips off You Tube and the like. I can be somewhat prolific and inconsiderate at times. I mean, some friends like that stuff, but it’s not for everyone right? Do my Mum, my kids, or any of my workmates really care what music I’m loving at any particular point of time? Do they particularly want to read the poorly written everythingsgonegreen blogposts I occasionally deem worthy of sharing on social media?  Probably not. So rather than indiscriminately bombard them with copious quantities of pop culture junk, I’ve done the humane thing, and set up an everythingsgonegreen Facebook page as a depository for all of that stuff. Click on the link below, and make sure you "like" the page so that you’ll never miss another blogpost. In fact, you’ll get way more bang for your invisible buck there than you will here. And share it with your friends. But only if you - and they - like that sort of thing, naturally.

Click here for everythingsgonegreen on Facebook

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Album Review: Yoko-Zuna - Luminols EP (2016)

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of young Auckland band Yoko-Zuna. Last year’s debut album, This Place Here, was a heady genre-defying mix of the many styles we routinely categorise as “urban”, with a heavy emphasis on sounds at the jazzier end of the spectrum. This week the band released its follow-up, an EP called Luminols, recorded at Red Bull Studios in Auckland, and released on Loop.
Once again the four-piece band nail it, as a unit, and alongside the many co-conspirators involved, which reads like a mini who’s who shortlist of the current Aotearoa hip hop scene – see the likes of Tom Scott, P Digsss, Lukan Rai$ey, Laughton Kora, LarzRanda, and Heavy. The five-track EP is another boundary-pushing, innovative, thoroughly mature piece of work.
For me, the best hip hop is that which embraces a live backdrop (see The Roots, as the most obvious benchmark) and that’s exactly what makes Yoko-Zuna special amid a sea of young up-and-coming local hopefuls. These guys use a range of instrumentation (that sax is a killer) and it’s hardly surprising they – along with regular producer Cam Duncan – manage to woo “big” names (in a local context, at least) like Scott, Kora, and Digsss, along with the relative newcomers featured here. Just as they nabbed David Dallas for the debut.
Without really wanting to single out highlights too much, it’s that more experienced trio who provide special moments here; the P Digsss (Shapeshifter) collab, ‘Lightning Sabres’ is an infectious excursion into clubland electronica, Kora’s contribution, ‘One Question’, is as soul-drenched as anything else he’s ever released, while Tom Scott (HomeBrew, @Peace, and Average Rap Band*) adds yet another masterclass in rhyme and flow on ‘Orchard St’. Complete with his trademark relevant, clever, and mildly-amusing set of lyrics.
(* I think the Average Rap Band debut album, El Sol, is one of the best local releases of 2016 so far, and I will review it for the blog at some point soon).
You can stream or pick up a copy of Luminols on Bandcamp here, and check out this clip for ‘Lightning Sabres’ below: