Saturday, July 30, 2016

Circuit Bent

In anticipation of a new album, Pitch Black have released another advance taster on Bandcamp, a track called ‘Circuit Bent’, state-of-the-art electro dub featuring words and vocals from Alison Evelyn. It’s a timely reminder of just what we can expect from Messrs Free and Hodgson ahead of their upcoming full-length offering, and they’ve made this one a free download for a limited time. Stream or download below.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Album Review: Shades - For The Sake Of Experimentation (2016)

Released a month ago as a name-your-price deal on Bandcamp, For The Sake Of Experimentation is a six-track EP from a duo called Shades. Not to be confused with the Melbourne-based artist of the same name, these guys, according to their brief and rather modest bio on Bandcamp, are “two dudes from New Zealand”. As self-produced self-released debut EP’s go, this one is exceptionally polished, and I'm a little surprised it hasn’t yet gained a little more commercial traction. Then again, Gavin Woodward and Nick Wrathall, who work out of Auckland and Wellington respectively, are only just starting out, and their beautifully crafted intoxicating blend of dreamy pop hasn't yet caught the ear of the wider public. Brief excursions into the realm of hip hop aside, there's something distinctly "yacht rock" about these tunes, and with its breezy production sheen, the EP appeals as something of a throwback to a bygone era of plush radio-friendly pop. There’s four songs on For The Sake Of Experimentation, but actually six tracks, with ‘Soundless Speed’ working as a short intro at just over a minute long, and we get two versions of a tune called ‘Shapeless’, with a rework by Yume acting as the EP closer. I’m a bit reluctant to single out highlights, but both ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Summer Spent’ probably fit the bill. Stream or download from the link below, or check out the same work on the Shades Soundcloud page

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Album Review: Shady Brain Farm - Feather In A Fire (2016)

This review was originally written for publication in the Fresh Cuts section of the June/July 2016 edition of NZ Musician magazine …

First things first, the CD packaging for Feather In A Fire, the latest release for the ominously named Shady Brain Farm, is truly impressive. Not only in its cover design, which is an unusual concoction of acid-tinged pop art and freaky monster imagery, but also in a wider sense, with a double-sided band poster inlay adding an immediate connection with our subjects. The Auckland three-piece’s music is less easy to categorise, with the 12-track album throwing up a genuine hybrid of styles and influences – from ska and cod reggae, to power pop, to what can only be described as some form of arty psychedelic surf rock. And often, it feels like the flit between genres is only the clever flick of an FX pedal away for guitarist and vocalist Ben Furniss. Yet it’s likely this artistic ambiguity is a deliberate ploy, a firm if unspoken modus operandi, and if variety really is the spice of this thing called life, then here is a colourful upsized carton of tasty soul food. It’s that freedom from any stylistic prejudice, and the refusal to be easily labelled, which is perhaps the album’s biggest strength.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Album Review: Broods - Conscious (2016)

Nah, I'm not sure why I've got this one either. Apart from it being another local release I couldn't let slip past. Which is kind of silly, because I didn't really expect to enjoy it. Let's call it an OCD thing and move on. I'm not really the target demographic for Broods, and I'm pretty sure Broods' music has a pretty specific target demographic.

So I'll try to be brief: this is a distinctly 2016 brand of synthpop, full of soft emo-tugging hooks and similarly persuasive production tricks. Cutesy colour-by-numbers electronic pop, immaculately produced - naturally - by Lorde collaborator Joel Little.

It isn't that siblings Georgia and Caleb Nott aren't talented, or not very good at what they do, because they are. It's just that the music they make doesn't really speak to me on any level other than a very superficial one.

Which in itself isn't always an issue either. I actually quite like similarly teen-geared stuff from local youngsters like Lontalius and Boy Wulf. It's just that for all of those pop hooks, Conscious feels very safe and a little too bland for my taste. It lacks innovation beyond a well-worn formula, and its intended inoffensiveness is actually a little offensive to me. It doesn't challenge me in any way whatsoever. But then, I never really expected it would.

For all of that, despite my cynicism, on a commercial level, with Conscious, Broods have successfully negotiated the often tricky album number two. It was flying high in the album charts when I last checked, and my opinion of it makes no odds one way or another. The duo's path is well set.
But, with synthpop being the super fickle genre it undoubtedly is, they may want to think about mixing it up or pushing a few more boundaries next time out. That’s all I’m going to say ...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Album Review: Various/Sherwood at the Controls Volume 2 1985 - 1990 (2016)

I ordered the CD/T-shirt bundle for this release as long ago as March (a pre-order for a June release), so my excitement when the package turned up in my letterbox last week was palpable. I may be a grizzled middle-aged man, but my inherent ability to revert back to "kid in a sweet shop" mode right on cue really is quite remarkable at times.

Of course, that's really just another way of saying that anyone hoping for a balanced or objective review of the latest On-U Sound compilation release will probably be best served going to another site.

The second volume of Adrian Sherwood's At The Controls series showcases a selection of the On-U label's extensive archives from the period 1985 to 1990. It's a follow-up to last year's impressive first instalment, which featured producer/label guru Sherwood's work from 1979 to 1984. More generally this release covers what was arguably Sherwood's most productive period, and highlights the man's uncanny ability to sprinkle fairy dust across a variety of different musical genres.

As such, hard-edged industrial post-punk electronica from the likes of Mark Stewart ('Hypnotised' 12-inch) and KMFDM ('Don't Blow Your Top') sits comfortably alongside the heavy funk beats of Tackhead ('Mind At The End Of The Tether') and Doug Wimbish & Fats Comet ('Don't Forget That Beat').

Naturally there's the obligatory helping of dub (roots/reggae and electro) with tunes from Lee Perry ('Music & Science Madness'), Bim Sherman (a stripped back dub version of 'Haunting Ground'), African Head Charge ('Hold Some'), plus a couple of tracks from label stalwarts Dub Syndicate ... although one of those is little more than a short interlude, effectively paying tribute to label legend Style Scott, R.I.P.

Other highlights include the so-very-Eighties politically-charged early hip hop of The Beatnigs with 'Television' ("it's the drug of the nation"), which features a pre-Spearhead Michael Franti. There’s a genuine synthpop relic from pre-hard industrial era (read: pre-heroin) Ministry with 'All Day', and Pankow's completely bent but still wonderful take on Prince's 'Girls And Boys'.

Contributions from Tackhead drummer and frequent co-conspirator Keith Le Blanc, ex-anarcho-punks Flux, Afro-German outfit The Unknown Cases, plus the otherwise little known Italians, Rinf, take the track-listing up to a generous 16 cuts in total - or just over 72 minutes of listening pleasure all up.

And yet, despite the wide variety of artists and styles merged together for this compilation - as with the first volume - nothing feels out of place. Every track is drenched in Sherwood signature moments - be it his absolute understanding and mastery of space through the use of echo FX or reverb, be it the careful placement of a politically-motivated sample or three, or be it some other odd sound-shape or subtle bass drop just when it's least expected. This is Sherwood at the controls, as uncompromising as always, and operating at something of a career peak.

Finally, the quality of the liner notes - not always an On-U label strength - was a nice surprise. The CD release comes with a booklet containing a very comprehensive set of notes, which provide some of the best commentary I've yet read about this remarkable label. There's a good selection of rarely seen photos - including one of a young Sherwood, with hair.

Oh, and I love the Tee, black with the album cover design, even if it is somewhat tighter fitting than I had anticipated it would be … three months clearly being an unruly length of time in the life of your blogger's ever expanding waistline.

I can hardly wait for the next volume already. Make mine an XL.

Here’s Tackhead’s ‘Mind at The End of The Tether’ ...