Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Album Review: Seva HiFi – Cosmic Matakau (2017)

Cosmic Matakau is the second full-length release for the Auckland-based collective Seva HiFi. It's a follow-up to the group's 2012 album 'Early', and has been released on the same Sugarlicks imprint. The 10-track Cosmic Matakau follows a similar funky template to that well-received debut, with the core group - Baz Suamili, Levani Vosasi, and Gmuva - once again drawing upon a hybrid of influences and cultural references points to come up with a pacific-styled variation on old fashioned disco. Albeit a slightly more contemporary housed-up version of that genre, cross-pollinated by an assortment of world music vibes and rhythms. There's a generous helping of psychedelic trip hoppy moments, plenty of soulful harmonies, and frequent use of strings (thanks to guest collaborator Stephen Hussey). Other co-conspirators include backing vocalist Tyra Hammond, and Isaac Aesili, who added synths and horns, with the whole thing being held together by the sumptuous sticky production techniques of Gmuva himself. Moreover, Cosmic Matakau is a little slice of dancefloor sunshine in a box, and it might just be the perfect antidote to those long winter nights ahead. Close the curtains, dim the lights, turn up the bass, and let yourself glide.

(This review originally appeared in the Fresh Cuts section of the April/May issue of NZ Musician magazine – in fact, it was the final review in the final print issue of the mag. NZ Musician will continue as a digital publication only).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kiwi Music Reading 101: Five essential books on New Zealand Music …

Love it or hate it, May is New Zealand Music Month. I’m firmly in the “love it” camp, and can never really understand the criticism it attracts. Surely there’s a lot to celebrate, and there’s nothing wrong with attempting to champion local sounds and flavours, whatever month of the year it is. Regular blog readers will appreciate that everythingsgonegreen doesn’t need an excuse, and the local stuff has always, and always will, form a large portion of the blog’s content.

Anyway, as part of that shameless balls-out cheerleading process, I thought I’d compile a list of books I consider to be essential reading when it comes to coverage of this thing we call New Zealand music. There’s way more than a mere five “essential” books on the subject, of course, but those listed below are titles that take pride of place in my own collection, and they all offer something of a historical perspective, which is more or less my bag when it comes to reading material. It could be that I enjoy these books most because they’re the ones I wish I’d written myself … cue that old Dad-joke about wanting to be a historian before discovering there is no future in it (boom!):

Stranded In Paradise (1988/2005) - John Dix

Often considered the "bible" of Kiwi music history, John Dix's coffee table tome, Stranded In Paradise, was first published in 1988. A perfectly balanced mix of anecdotal stories, factual accounts, insightful analysis, and photos of varying vintage, the book was unprecedented in its scope or depth of detail, effectively tracing the evolution of rock music and pop culture on these shores from the mid-1950s onwards. An initial print run of 10,000 copies was completely insufficient for the barely anticipated level of demand, but it also helped to create something of a myth around the book - brand new copies were all but impossible to source, while used copies became highly coveted prized possessions. That all changed a little with the publication of an updated 2005 edition which not only sated the long running demand for the original publication, it also updated its coverage to bring us right into the 21st century. Where the first edition took us to the emergence of the Flying Nun label, post-punk, and the Compact Disc, the later volume took us into a bold new world with fresh challenges. One where hip hop was the predominant emerging force, a world where the CD had already reached its use-by date, and one where music was being consumed in hitherto inconceivable ways. And, of course, we’re now more than another decade further on from that … the next edition of Stranded might well need to be virtual. My own version of Stranded In Paradise is the 2005 (expanded) update, given to me as a farewell gift by colleagues in a workplace I never really left. Evidently, they knew me (and my reading habits) much better than I had anticipated. I’m sure I read something in early 2016, hinting that a fresh limited reprint process was underway, specifically to replenish barren Library copies/stocks across New Zealand, but I’m not sure that actually happened.
Blue Smoke (2011) - Chris Bourke
If Stranded In Paradise takes the story of New Zealand music and pop culture from the rock’n roll era through to the early 2000s, and I think we can safely say it does, then Chris Bourke’s Blue Smoke is the crucial sister publication. Subtitled ‘The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918–1964’, it’s a book that dares to delve a little deeper, to go back even further, before parking up and concluding its coverage in the mid-Sixties, which is more or less where Stranded launches in earnest. It’s the other half of the story, if not the most important part of the story, because without the pioneering artists, venues, and scenes covered off in Blue Smoke, there would surely have been no need for a Stranded In Paradise. And so it is that Chris Bourke, in meticulous detail, is able to transport us back to an immediate post-colonial, yet still very colonial, New Zealand. Different eras and variations thereof, in fact, depending on your location, your generation, and any predilection our illustrious subjects may have had for the temptations of the devil (and his/her music). But it is about much more than the history of local music; it’s also the most comprehensive account you’ll find of how the people of our previously wild and untamed land evolved in a social context. It’s the story of coffee (or milk) bars, of rural pubs and clubs, of small town cabarets, of big city ballrooms, of the first recordings, the artists involved, the first influential and important performing troupes, and indeed, those of the much less important but still very noteworthy variety. It’s about how we - the collective New Zealand, if you will - found our feet, if not our rhythm, exactly. It’s about styles, trends, and fashion during times when those things were largely - according to mainstream society, at least - considered frivolous and more than a little self-indulgent. Like Stranded, Blue Smoke is built for strategic placement on a coffee table, and is packed full of terrific photos and various odd bits of fascinating ephemera from yester-year. A hugely important body of work.

Soundtrack (2007) - Grant Smithies
Subtitled ‘118 Great New Zealand Albums’, Soundtrack is another coffee table offering, but one that looks specifically at those albums author Grant Smithies considers to be all-time Kiwi classics - 118 being the seemingly random number which met Smithies’ criteria. As a long-standing journalist within the pop culture realm, what Smithies doesn’t know about the local music scene really isn’t worth knowing, with the bonus being that he’s also able to provide a very entertaining and frequently amusing narrative. Along the way he recruits a variety of friends, luminaries, and experts to contribute their own take on specific albums, and those alternative voices - including those of musicians - ensure genuine diversity (of perspective) is on offer throughout. As a result, we end up with Flying Nun classics nestling comfortably alongside hard rock/metal albums, post-millennium poly-soul and hip hop works featuring alongside seminal albums from a bygone era - see self-titled albums from La De Da’s (1966) and Space Waltz (1975), for example. For the most part Smithies and co avoid the bleeding obvious, with just two Split Enz albums, only one from Crowded House, and rather surprisingly, nothing from Seventies giants Hello Sailor, or Th’ Dudes. If anything, and it’s not really a criticism as much as it is a highlight, it does feel like Smithies has scratched something of a post-2000 itch with his album selections … which works well if, like me, you missed out on many of the musical gems released during what was clearly a hugely productive (2000 to 2007) period for local albums, and thus need some insight into what is what, or what was what. In that respect, Soundtrack makes no claim about being definitive, in fact, Smithies makes it clear right at the outset … “you hold in your hands a book crammed with blind prejudices, foggy memories, rash declarations, unsubstantiated assertions and, quite probably, lies” … and that’ll do quite nicely, thank you very much.    

On Song (2012) - Simon Sweetman
I’m probably a little biased here, because the author is known to me, and has in the past helped me out a couple of times with complimentary gig tickets, and on one occasion even allowed me to contribute a fanboy piece (on On-U Sound) to his widely-read but now defunct Stuff-published Blog On The Tracks page. That said, there’s a lot of musical matters we disagree on, and I sometimes wonder why a guy who is often highly critical of NZ music-related issues (his dismissal of NZ Music month, and of NZ Musician magazine, being just a couple of examples) set out specifically to write a book about, umm, New Zealand music. Whatever the case, On Song was, and is, a superb read, thanks to Sweetman’s boundless knowledge and an inherent understanding of his subject matter - regardless of whether or not he thinks NZ music is an actual “thing”, he writes like a genuine fan of the “genre”, with his passion and sheer enthusiasm fair dripping off the page at times. More than any of that though, it’s the way the book is pieced together that makes it far more essential than most - Sweetman selected 30 songs and then set about interviewing each song’s key protagonist(s). So the author provides the framework, adds the context and/or some historical perspective, but the really good oil comes direct from the artist, which makes the whole reading experience a lot more in-depth and intimate than it otherwise might have been. It is key to providing On Song with a real point of difference. I’m not sure that the 30 songs featured are meant to be any sort of definitive guide to NZ music, they’re mostly popular and important, and they may just be the songs that matter most to the author, but each one offers something about who we are, or where we’ve come from, or in the case of a couple of one-off hits, they serve to highlight or offer a reminder of a particular time and place in our history. And that’s a pretty cool thing.

100 Essential NZ Albums (2009) - Nick Bollinger
I’ve just picked up a copy of Goneville, Nick Bollinger’s memoir/account of growing up in and around Wellington’s music scene of the Seventies and beyond. I’ve yet to make a start on it, but I’m really looking forward to reading it, partly because, for my own sins, I’ve met a few of the characters who feature. But mostly I’m looking forward to it because Bollinger is a terrific writer, someone who I always sought out and respected as a reviewer during one of his past lives with the NZ Listener. 100 Essential NZ Albums does exactly what it says on the spine - it’s Bollinger’s choice of local poison, presented in a slightly more orderly fashion than the Smithies/Soundtrack list, which creates the impression - and it may just be me - that it is somehow a more authoritative or definitive list of albums. Which it probably isn’t. After all, we’ll all have our own opinion about what should be included and what shouldn’t. Bollinger’s list of albums certainly appears to be a wider-ranging set, historically very savvy, with a lot more emphasis on pre-1980 albums - the likes of Hello Sailor and Th’ Dudes are acknowledged, as are earlier works by pioneers like Bill Wolfgramm, Johnny Devlin, Dinah Lee, Ray Columbus, and Max Merritt. On the other hand, there’s something distinctly off-the-cuff (yet still very considered, surely) about the Soundtrack list, something more personal and less generic perhaps, than Bollinger’s inclusions. It feels as though Bollinger deliberately set out to tick boxes and cover all eras rather than simply present coverage of his own favourite local albums. It offers a big picture overview, one that Soundtrack lacks, or doesn’t even attempt. They’re both quite brilliant and absorbing books, covering the same subject matter, but still very different in style and approach. If the Smithies book is one I’d most likely pick up and flick through, Bollinger’s is the one I’d be more inclined to read cover to cover … aided by the fact that, unlike all of the above, it’s a handbag-accommodating soft cover, perfect for reading during my daily commute on public transport.

Ps. I will likely post a review of Goneville on the blog when I’m done with it. I’ll also get around to completing a review of Roger Shepherd’s Flying Nun memoir, In Love With These Times, at some point in the near future. Well, okay, probably not the “near” future. I haven’t exactly been prolific when it comes to blogposts in recent weeks, so we’ll just see what happens …

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Invisible Circuits

When I spoke with Pitch Black’s Paddy Free late last year, just as Filtered Senses was being released, we talked a little bit about the legacy significance of remix albums, and the notion that each of the duo’s full-length releases to date has been given something akin to a second life.

Six months on, and it’s the turn of Filtered Senses to reveal its makeover in the form of Invisible Circuits, a 10-track album, set for release on 7 July 2017. This, from the Pitch Black Bandcamp page, is a summary of what we can expect:

It has long been a Pitch Black tradition to follow up their studio offerings with a complementary remix collection. So 'Futureproof' was followed by 'Dub Obscura', 'Electronomicon' by 'Electric Earth and Other Stories', 'Ape to Angel' by 'Frequencies Fall' and 'Rude Mechanicals' by 'Rhythm, Sound & Movement'.

What makes these collections stand out is the depth and breadth of their co-conspirators and the unlikely avenues they take the originals down: Keretta's math rock mix of 'Bird Soul', Tom Cosm epic version of 'Sonic Colonic' or Youth's psychedelic trance take on 'Melt' come to mind. '

Invisible Circuits' is in a similar league, with collaborators from across the globe and across genres. There are turns from regular remixers dubmeister International Observer and minimal's Simon Flower, techno legend Radioactive Man, cult American downtemple act Kaminanda, Rinse & Sub FM regular Crises, sonic whizzkid Tom Cosm, progressive house's Tripswitch, Berlin basshead Beam Up, new kids on the block Digital Playground and UK dub royalty, Alpha Steppa.

A Pitch Black remix album wouldn’t be a Pitch Black remix album without an offering from International Observer (he holds the ranking record of 4 for 5) and for ‘Invisible Circuits’ he brings his light and playful touch to the deep groove of ‘It’s the Future Knocking’.

Cult American downtemple act Kaminanda’s remix of ‘Invisible Chatter’ is in a similarly dubbish vein, but with a fuzzy psychedelic edge and an added squelch or three plus a radical sonic switch later in the track.

A chance meeting at a vinyl night led to Radioactive Man (of Two Lone Swordsmen fame) not only supporting them at their London show in 2016 but also his stripped back acid techno version of ‘Circuit Bent’.

Pitch Black met Brian May back in the ‘90s when they toured Australia with Salmonella Dub and his then act High Pass Filter were the local support. Now based in Berlin, he has provided a cheeky tabla infused rerub of ‘Filtered Senses’ under his Beam Up alter ego.

Next up is Rinse and Sub FM regular DJ Crises who has gone back to the deep dubstep flavours he used to play on his show, ‘Sunshine ina bag’, for his remix of ‘Pixel Dust’.

Minimal technoman Simon Flower (Poker Flat, Nurture, Moonyard) is another serial Pitch Black remixer, and for his remix of ‘A Great Silence is Spreading’, under his peak_shift moniker, he’s gone deep and long, adding skittering beats and bass to the original ambient track.

Sonic whizzkid Tom Cosm took it upon himself to remix of ‘Without the Trees’ live on the internet, via, allowing his viewers to make real time suggestions to the process. 42 hours and countless webchats later, he has created a slow and steady grower of a track that builds to an ecstatic climax.

Moving on to Section Records head Nick Tripswitch, who came to fame with his 'Circuit Breaker' album for Liquid Sound Design back in '05. Pitch Black kept on bumping into him at festivals across Europe over the years and they finally have the pleasure of adding his sonic perspective, via his progressive house remix of ‘Dub Smoke’, to one of their releases.

The penultimate track is a stripped out drum & bass retweek of ‘Invisible Chatter’ by Digital Playground. They are a relatively new electronic act on the Kiwi music scene and have just supported Pitch Black on some dates of their recent New Zealand tour.

Finally. ‘Invisible Circuits’ ends where it started, with another remix of ‘It’s the Future Knocking’, this time by dub royalty in the form of Alpha Steppa. The son and nephew of scene stalwarts Alpha and Omega, his UK steppers style version is set to wobble you firmly onto the dancefloor.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Album Review: Various - Taranaki Music Sessions (2016)

A very regional collection of tunes reviewed specifically for NZ Musician (website only, in this instance). This CD release was probably not something I’d usually pay a lot of attention to, but like most nice surprises, the devil was in the detail, and there were a couple of gems to be found once I dug a little deeper:

Last year, when those learned types over at Lonely Planet rated our beloved Taranaki as the second best place in the world to visit in 2017, outgoing New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd likened it to a “coming of age” for the region. For those of us rather more unfamiliar with the ‘Naki’s worldly delights, it came as something of a shock. What next? Claims that the province was an epicentre for all manner of homegrown musical brilliance? Well, yes actually, if the thinking behind the Doug Thomas-curated Taranaki Music Sessions is any indication. It goes something like this … when passionate Eltham-born and raised sexagenarian Thomas returned to Taranaki from Auckland in 2014, he set about pulling together all of the disparate strands of the local music scene, both past and present, to compile a CD of music quite unlike any other. In early 2016, the fruits of those efforts saw the light of day in the form of the 18-track Music Sessions release, which features a wide variety of genre (rock, pop, folk, chamber, and um, opera), and artists ranging from the still up-and-coming (Stephanie Piquette), to the long established (Brian Hatcher, Gumboot Tango), to the niche (Hayden Chisholm, Krissy Jackson), and all the way through to the outright legendary – see Midge Marsden, Larry Morris, and Dame Malvina Major, who gives us one of the more unique versions of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ you’re ever likely to hear. That old standard also happens to be the only non-original tune on the album. In short, there’s a little bit of something for everyone, with your reviewer’s favourites being Hatcher’s fiery opener ‘Pedal To The Floor’, and Chisholm’s jazzy sax groove, ‘Repetition’.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

If You're Born On An Island The Ocean Heals You

While I’m at it – punting local stuff doing the rounds on Bandcamp (see recent posts) – there’s also this little gem, a full-length album from talented multi-instrumentalist Lake South, titled If You're Born On An Island The Ocean Heals You, which was released earlier this week.

I suspect Lake South may be better known as the main dude behind the now defunct electro-popsters Urbantramper, or as Lake Davineer, who forms one half of the popular Wellington Sea Shanty Society. But his tune ‘Good Keen Man’ did receive a fair amount of exposure in the not too distant past when it was nominated as a finalist in the prestigious Silver Scroll songwriting awards.

‘Good Keen Man’ is one of the album’s highlights, but look out too for ‘Renters’, a wry lament on the state of the residential property market here in New Zealand, and ‘Binge Drinking & DH Lawrence’, which features the backing vocals of one Nadia Reid.

There’s some good stuff here – strong lyrics, great hooks, immaculate production, a lovely folky feel, and I especially love that distinctive local vocal twang.

Stream or download below:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Nestled Between Vast Depressions

Speaking of talented local artists giving stuff away on Bandcamp, here’s something new from the relatively prolific young Wellington producer skymning … rather accurately tagged as “downtempo, electronic, ethereal, instrumental, and textural” … the only thing I can add is “quite beautiful” …

Favourites include, ‘I’m Up’ and ‘Fell Into Place’ … stream or download below:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Return of Secret Knives ...

I blogged about Secret Knives (aka Ash Smith) as far back as 2013, when I wanted to share an impressive album and a remix EP being given away on the artist’s Bandcamp page. In truth, I knew very little about Smith, other than the fact that he was based in Wellington, a bass player, and clearly something of a perfectionist - the hallmark of both the EP and the album (‘Affection’) being a rare attention to detail in terms of arrangement, production, and polish.

For at least three of the next four years, the mysterious Mr Smith (and Secret Knives) somehow conspired to drop right off the everythingsgonegreen radar - until this week, when I noticed he was about to undertake a 12-date nationwide tour alongside French for Rabbits, as part of that band’s album-promoting ‘The Weight of Melted Snow’ New Zealand tour. The Wellington gig will take place at San Fran on 1 April, but I was even more thrilled to see (what will surely be) a far more intimate set booked for my local, at the Raumati Social Club, on 31 March.

As if that isn’t enough to be getting excited about, there’s also new content from Secret Knives on Bandcamp - offered as a free download - in the form of a five track EP, My Capriccio, which features Smith’s reconfiguration and reworking of tunes by Shocking Pinks, The Mint Chicks, Yumi Zouma, and Glass Vaults. As well as the title track, which is a Secret Knives original, and perhaps the best track of a thoroughly captivating set.

File under: shoegaze, electro, and carefully crafted pop.

Stream or download below:

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Album Review: T2 Trainspotting (Soundtrack) (2017)

I initially intended to pick up a copy of the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack via an online download, but then I realised it was far more fitting to grab a CD version of the album – something that pays homage to the era of the original (movie and OST) and the inherent sense of nostalgia that comes with a cult movie sequel of this nature.

Nothing screams “the 1990s” louder than a CD, and of course, buying the CD meant I could also satisfy my collector/OCD tendencies by stacking the latest version on a shelf alongside CD copies of the two previous Trainspotting soundtrack albums (reviews here). It’s the little things, right?

That sort of attention to detail wouldn’t be lost on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack compilers, and there’s real synergy (ugh, sorry) between the 1996/1997 albums and this new edition, including returns for Iggy Pop, with a beefy Prodigy-mixed ‘Lust For Life’, Blondie, with ‘Dreaming’, and a couple of tracks from Underworld, with the epic ‘Born Slippy’ getting a ‘Slow Slippy’ makeover this time around.

And just like the original(s), T2 contains an absorbing blend of the “old” and the “new”: in addition to the aforementioned grizzled campaigners, The Clash (‘White Man’), Frankie (‘Relax’), Queen (‘Radio Gaga’), and Run DMC (‘It’s Like That’), all sit comfortably alongside next generation notables like Wolf Alice (‘Silk’), High Contrast (‘Shotgun Mouthwash’), and the Mercury Prize-winning Edinburgh hip hop crew, Young Fathers, who offer up three tracks including ‘Only God Knows’, which gets the benefit of some backing from the Leith Congregational Choir.

As ever, the litmus test for a successful soundtrack is not just about whether or not it accurately represents the mood and sounds of the movie, but how it pieces together or flows when removed from the context of that cinema experience. Does it stand-up as a compelling listen in its own right?

In the case of the T2 OST, despite what might normally be considered a potentially disastrous pick n’ mix magpie approach, a tracklisting that spans some five decades, I think it stacks up well.

And that’s not just because the album has, like the movie itself, a massive slab of nostalgia right at its core, it’s also because it acknowledges that life moves on, and because it celebrates the present every bit as much as it clings to the past. Which is not something we can say every day of the week up here on the distinctly retro-fitted top floor of everythingsgonegreen towers.

Highly recommended, and if you like a bit of street violence with your black comedy/drama, then the movie is not a bad watch either. As with the original movie, many of the best scenes involve a toilet of some description (ahem) ...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Disturbing The Comfortable, Comforting The Disturbed ...

I’ve recently been indulging my still-not-relenting near-30-year obsession with all things to do with the On-U Sound label by posting a handful of archive videos/classic On-U clips on the blog’s Facebook page.

It initially started out as an attempt to convert a confirmed naysayer friend of mine to the label’s many delights, but ultimately it became an exercise in wanton self-indulgence, and merely another excuse for me to revisit some of my favourite tunes from the distant past.

That series of posts – unbeknown to me – coincided with the label’s rather belated arrival on the ever popular Bandcamp platform (see here), and with that, a number of serious discounts on digital copies of albums from the label’s extensive back catalogue.

I strongly recommend you have an explore … if I’m not already preaching to the converted, that is.

Also see Bandcamp Daily’s interview with label guru Adrian Sherwood and current sidekick, Pinch, here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Lazy Days and Fazerdaze

So the blog has been in hiatus for the past couple of months. Which is not as painful as it sounds. You may not have noticed. There’s been a couple of posts, album reviews written specifically for NZ Musician which I‘ve reposted here simply because I use the blog as a receptacle for all manner of bits and bobs I’ve been writing. Which clearly hasn’t amounted to much over the summer period. I imagine that will change as the days get shorter, the nights get colder, and I’m more inclined to spend time inside. And more likely to be left to my own devices, literally and figuratively.

But it’s not just a summer thing or pure laziness; there’s been a fair amount of upheaval in my world of late, and I’ve genuinely struggled to form coherent and legible sentences for much of 2017. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to tidy up or add a few edits to a time sensitive piece someone had submitted for a guest post. And while I’ve managed to keep the blog’s Facebook page ticking over with relatively fresh content most days, it’s fair to say I’ve lacked the requisite inspiration to come up with anything remotely substantial in terms of an actual 500-word-plus music-related blogpost. Well, there’s that (the inspiration factor), and perhaps just a smidgen of pure laziness.

I’ve been getting out quite a bit – I’ve been relishing the cinema experience and since the turn of the year I’ve seen a run of pretty decent movies which include ‘A United Kingdom’, ‘Lion’, ‘Hidden Figures’, and ‘Pork Pie’. The first film on that list – a story about sovereignty, bigotry, and interracial love in Botswana – was especially poignant as I watched it a few days after my own daughter had returned from a five-week humanitarian trip to Botswana and Zambia. The release of ‘Trainspotting 2’ is the most obvious next must-see on the Popcorn (& Pinot) Bucket List.

I’ve missed a few gigs I wanted to see, however. Gigs by people and bands I’m friendly with. At venues I wanted to be at. I’ve had people and bands I’m friendly with send me press releases and new music to sample (and review – which I’ll get to). All of which have been neglected. Since New Year, it seems I just haven’t been able to summon the energy (or health) necessary to embrace all things Rock n’ Roll. Either by attendance or merely writing about it.

That said, I made it out last Saturday night, for what amounted to a triple bill. A triple date (three couples) seeing three bands none of us were overly familiar with. At a venue – Caroline (bar) in Wellington – which challenged us all in terms of location, ambience, and age demographic.

The first band of the night was Girlboss, a young four-piece none of us knew anything about. Two women, including a none-too-confident lead singer who showed real promise, and two guys, nervously took us through a half dozen tunes that could best be described as shoegaze-meets-Flying Nun. If this wasn’t exactly their first live outing (and it wasn’t), then they will surely only benefit massively from gigs of this type, because I got the overwhelming sense that, lack of confidence aside, Girlboss will get much better before too much longer. They probably just need someone to keep telling them that.

Next up was the band we were all there to see (primarily), the Auckland-based Fazerdaze, who somehow managed to find themselves conceding the headline spot to Kane Strang (the third act on the bill), which was a little unexpected. I’ve written a little bit about Fazerdaze here, and the band didn’t disappoint, proving that even in a live setting they could live up to the considerable hype they’ve been burdened with across the past year or so.

For lead singer Amelia Murray, the Caroline set was more or less a homecoming gig, and she was quick to acknowledge her ex-Onslow College classmates in the audience, which had hit near capacity by the time Fazerdaze started its set. By the second song in, the aptly titled new single ‘Lucky Girl’, Murray and the band were in complete control, with the crowd fully engaged in the band’s enthralling blend of summery jangle and harder-edged power pop chords. It stayed that way for the entire set – which lasted around 45 minutes – culminating with a sublime take on the hugely popular ‘Little Uneasy’, which followed a rather more forgettable Gwen Stefani cover (the name of which was lost on me).

If the Fazerdaze performance was well worth the price of admission alone (it was), then I found Kane Strang to be very disappointing. To the extent that I couldn’t actually stay beyond a handful of tunes (perhaps 20-25 minutes at most). For whatever reason, I had expected a solo set from Strang, but instead we got the full four-piece band, and a kind of sludgy overblown far-too-loud fuzzy mess. Sometimes less is more.

I’m not sure whether or not the low ceiling of the venue was to blame (Fazerdaze managed okay), but the mix was all wrong, and Strang’s vocals lacked any clarity or real definition. The Strang tunes I knew best from his studio releases, say ‘Things Are Never Simple’ (for example), took on an entirely different complexion, with the difference in production values being too stark to cope with.

Perhaps it was me, a combination of being forced to stay upright for too long and having sore ears, but I wasn’t the only one heading for the door prematurely, and after the highs of Fazerdaze, it meant the night ended somewhat earlier than was initially planned.

Yet, with all that said and done, it was good to get out again, and great to hang out with friends at a gig for the first time (of any note) in 2017. And of course, it gave me something solid to blog about, a brief window of inspiration, and a reminder that for all that I’ve been a little out of the loop over the past few weeks, I actually love doing this stuff …

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Album Review: One Waka - Dub Sea Voyages (2016)

One of the biggest challenges facing any ambitious reggae/dub collective in this small corner of the globe is the lazy tendency to tar the music with the dreaded (no pun) “BBQ reggae” brush. It has become almost something of a default critics’ starting point, and newcomers especially are tasked to come up with something rather special if they wish to be taken seriously. Christchurch-based seven-piece One Waka just about manage to achieve that on this follow-up to their 2012 debut South Bay Sessions. Dub Sea Voyages seeks to celebrate all things whanau, all things local, and for the most part One Waka’s music avoids the critical traps. There’s a strong focus on identity and place throughout, and each of these songs has its own special variation on less generic reggae forms, thanks in large part to the use of te reo Maori, moteatea (chants), traditional instruments like the koauau (flute), plus a wider sense that having fun is paramount over everything else when it comes to making music. (“We’re living like kings in the Golden Bay.”) The rootsy instrumental ‘JD’ and the Exodus-referencing ‘Te Tapuae o Uenuku’ are genuine stand-outs on a 12-track album largely without filler. Occasionally they do come across as being too earnest, particularly with some of the lyrics (eg. the cliché “simmer down, no need to fuss and fight” on ‘Rockers’), and a few tunes would benefit from being shortened a little – a couple catch a second wind which really doesn’t carry them anywhere. But those complaints are minor.

This review was originally published in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of NZ Musician magazine.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Album Review: Tommy Nee - Colorblind (2016)

Niuean-born and NZ-raised, Tommy Nee is a recent graduate of Auckland University’s school of music, and Colorblind is his highly polished debut EP. Putting aside any deliberate irony – or otherwise – in the use of the American spelling in the title, the five-track release appeals first and foremost for its borderless qualities, and the wider inclusiveness of the soulful saccharine pop music contained within. Nee has a lovely voice, full of subtle emotional nuance, soft in places, and rich, full and honey-drenched when called upon to hit some of the higher notes. The R’nB-geared music underpinning that vocal is flawlessly played and produced, but it’s the arrangement, and his ability to craft a distinctly Pasifika-flavoured set of sun-soaked tunes that serves him best here. As hinted at in the title, his lyrics don’t shy away from important issues, those of race and identity being most prominent. But mostly the message is delivered amid lovingly disguised hooks, which makes it even more compelling. The highlight of these five tracks is the gentle acoustic centrepiece 'Feel', which is anything but politically motivated. It showcases Nee as being equally at home when lamenting on matters of the heart. This is a more than promising start for an artist we’ll surely hear a lot more from in years to come.

This review was originally published in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of NZ Musician magazine.