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.