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.