Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Albums of 2018

It’s that time again. Time to revisit some of the albums that made the biggest impression on everythingsgonegreen across 2018. The obligatory year-end “best of”, or in the case of this blog, those albums that got the most ear-time on my pod throughout the year. There’ll have been better albums released in 2018 than the ones listed below, for sure, no doubt, but if they didn’t make their way into my collection then they won’t have made the cut here. These are simply the “new” albums I own copies of and listened to the most, no more, no less: 

10. Cat Power - Wanderer 

I’ve endured an on-again off-again relationship with Chan Marshall’s music over the years, so I couldn’t really call myself anything other than a fair weather fan. But I thought Wanderer was a welcome return to form for an artist who hasn’t had her problems to seek over the past decade or so. It was certainly one of the more unexpected additions to my collection, and an album that kept growing in stature with each and every listen. Wanderer felt like a very deliberate return to the basics which served Marshall so well when she first emerged a couple of decades ago: strong songwriting, subtle hooks, simple structure and arrangements ... all geared to place emphasis firmly back on that sultry, seductive vocal. It was a very consistent set, with no real stand-out tracks, apart from the Lana Del Rey collaboration on ‘Woman’, which might just be something close to a career highpoint. A mature piece of work that possibly flew under the radar of all but her most committed fans. It didn’t get a full review on the blog but the above should suffice.

9. Darren Watson - Too Many Millionaires 

I can’t pretend to be all that knowledgeable about the blues, but I know enough to appreciate the fact that Wellington’s own Darren Watson is a serious talent. Too Many Millionaires is merely the latest in a long line of releases to prove that point. My review can be found here. 

8. Dub Syndicate - Displaced Masters 

I try to grab at least one release from the On-U Sound catalogue every year. I’m a man of routine and habit, and some 30-year-old habits can be hard to shake. Plus, I know what I like, and I like what I know. This one is a late 2017 release, of sorts, but as I was quite late getting to it, I’ll include it here regardless. Great for On-U devotees, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. My review can be found here. 

7. The Breeders - All Nerve 

I wasn’t too impressed with All Nerve after my first couple of listens. In fact, I recall messaging a friend much earlier this year to say “the new Breeders is just like the old Breeders, but not in a good way” ... as though I was expecting some kind of revelatory experience. Labouring with the belief that somehow the band would show signs of progression, or somehow offer something different from the tried and trusted MO used on EVERY other Breeders album. But with false expectation being the mother of all disappointment, I then decided to just relax and enjoy the album for what it was. And it turned out to be another genuine grower. Familiarity became anything but contempt, just feelings of warmth, comfort, and a much fuller appreciation of a damned fine rock n roll album. An uncomplicated rock n roll album. A stop-start fast-slow hybrid of fuzz, surf, and power pop guitar. Everything I could realistically expect from the return of the band’s Last Splash-era peak line-up. So yes, not a lot different from the old Breeders, but still a bloody good album. Another one that didn’t get a full review on the blog.

6. Marlon Williams - Make Way For Love 

It wasn’t so much a breakthrough year for Marlon Williams because he’d already achieved that much, but he did win best solo artist and album of the year at the NZ Music Awards, plus a highly coveted Silver Scroll. My review for Make Way For Love is here. 

5. The Cure - Torn Down 

Another year drifts by without any new music from the still active and touring Robert Smith. But there was this, Torn Down, a Record Store Day special. A fresh set of Smith remixes of old material, and a belated sister release for 1990’s Mixed Up. That will have to do. Truth be told, I loved it, and my review is here. A review, incidentally, that was the blog’s most read/hit “new” post of 2018. 

4. Thievery Corporation - Treasures From The Temple 

From all accounts - not least the word from the duo itself - Treasures From The Temple is supposed to be a “companion” release to last year’s largely overlooked Thievery Corporation album, Temple of I and I. Mostly because it’s a collection of remixes and leftover work from the same recording sessions. But it’s also a whole lot more than that rather underwhelming description would suggest. It’s an immaculately produced, eclectic mix of reggae, dub, hip hop, synthpop, and electronica that defies any real definitive genre categorisation. You could argue that the music of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton (plus assorted associates) hasn’t really evolved much since the release of the duo’s 1996 downtempo classic (debut) Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi, yet the formula applied back then still works today. The best of the plethora of guest vocalists who feature include rapper Mr Lif, reggae dude Notch, and the divine Racquel Jones. One small reservation: the glossy production and sheen on a couple of roots reggae tracks somewhat detracts from the authenticity of those vibes. It may have worked better if they’d left some grit or dirt in there. No full review on the blog for this one either.

3. Moby - Everything is Beautiful and Nothing Hurt 

This one is a bit deep and cynical in places and I’m not really sure why I’ve grown to love it as much as I have. Is it because of those traits, or in spite of them? Whatever, if it wasn’t exactly a comeback album for Moby (who remains prolific), it certainly heralded the return of his music to my own cynical and frequently insular world. Reviewed here. 

2. The Beths - Future Me Hates Me 

2018 could hardly have gone better for The Beths; extensive touring, a well received debut album, and massive amounts of barely anticipated global exposure. My review of the superb Future Me Hates Me is here. 

1. Antipole - Perspectives 

Perspectives tapped into my often suppressed love of all things dark and dramatic. It’s an album of remixes, drawing its source material from Antipole’s late 2017 release, Northern Flux (reviewed here). I didn’t manage to give Perspectives a review on the blog because it arrived in early November and I’ve spent the past six weeks or so fully absorbing it. Fully immersing myself in it. I think my familiarity with Northern Flux - which is effectively a stripped back version - only enhanced my enjoyment of Perspectives, with the remix album adding depth and texture to a set of tunes I had already fallen in love with. There’s a fair amount of additional percussion and synth thrown into the mix on a lot of these tracks, layers of the stuff even. And more generally, there’s an extra edge to the production not always evident on the original album. Although Northern Flux comes with its own standalone charms, of course. Perspectives includes remix work from the likes of Ash Code, Delphine Coma, Kill Shelter, Warsaw Pact, and Reconverb, to name just a few. I knew nothing of Antipole at the start of 2018, but discovering the band, and then digging further into the Unknown Pleasures label - and associated acts - opened up a whole new world. And yes, I realise it’s probably a little unusual to have a remix release as my album of the year, but I make up my own rules as I go along here in the padded cell that doubles as the everythingsgonegreen office. 

Close but no funny cigar: 

Through the first half of the year Rhye’s Blood got a fair old workout, but ultimately the chilled out take on soft-core disco was perhaps a little too lightweight to stay the distance. 

Suede’s The Blue Hour was yet another solid effort from one of my favourite bands of the past 25 years. Suede rarely falter, and this album was yet another quality addition to the band’s extensive discography. 

First Aid Kit’s Ruins held some appeal, before I decided it was all a little too similar to Stay Gold, the band’s last full-length release from 2014. I remain a big fan of the Söderberg sisters and their sweet border-defying harmonies. 

Local band Armchair Insomniacs caught me by surprise with their eclectic self-titled debut, which was highly polished and crammed full of great hooks. Where the hell have they been hiding? (Reviewed here) 

Also flying a little under the radar - for all but committed club fiends - was the globetrotting, sometime Auckland-based DJ Frank Booker, who raided his own archives to digitally release two disco-drenched mini-albums, Sleazy Beats and the Untracked Collection. Both on Bandcamp, both superb. Sleazy Beats qualifies as my short album or EP of the year.

There were plenty of reissues, retrospectives, and deluxe releases to catch my eye (and ear) across 2018, my own favourite addition being a toss up between Yazoo’s box set Four Pieces (the duo’s two albums plus demos and remixes), and Bronski Beat’s Age of Consent deluxe. The Yazoo release probably edges it on account of the volume and variety it offered. 

Compilation of the year - the inspired and long overdue late 2017 collection of New Zealand disco-era classics and not-so-classics, Heed The Call, reviewed here. 

Gig of the year? I didn’t get along to as many gigs as usual this year, but with a focus on quality over quantity I can’t really say I missed anything - or anyone - I really wanted to see. For my money, for the night, the vibe, and the company, it’s hard to go past Pitch Black’s sonic dub-driven extravaganza at San Fran in Wellington in mid-March. Reviewed here. 

In terms of cinema-going experiences, unlike last year, I can’t really hand-on-heart say there were any music-related films that held much appeal for me in 2018. And I include Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born in that assessment. But of the films I did see and enjoy, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was probably the pick of an otherwise quite limited bunch. And although it was a late 2017 release, and I didn’t catch it in a theatre, I thought Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool had easily the best soundtrack of all the films I viewed during the year. 

Right. That’s that, annual stocktake completed. Happy festive things and thanks for reading in 2018 …

Monday, December 17, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Coco Solid - Just One Kiss

Coco Solid's 2018 album, COKES, was an eclectic hybrid of urban pop, soul, hip hop, and synthpop. The dreamy 'Just One Kiss' was a masterclass in the latter, and it ticked so many boxes for your blogger, any (initial) resistance to its teen-pop charm became utterly futile …

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Marlon Williams - Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore

Make Way For Love was one of the year's best local albums. Marlon Williams won two NZ Music Awards, plus a highly coveted Silver Scroll for 'Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore', one of the album's stand-out tracks:

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Armchair Insomniacs - Frequency

The self-titled debut album from Auckland's Armchair Insomniacs was a breath of fresh air, and a hybrid of so many different musical styles it was impossible to stick a label on it. My own favourite cut was the yacht-rock embracing ‘Frequency’ …

Thursday, December 6, 2018

New from Margins ...

Out late last month as a name-your-price digital release on Bandcamp, six sumptuous mellow electro-house tracks from New Zealand’s Margins label, featuring new music from six local artists/producers. Well worth a download … 

Here’s the blurb from the label itself: 

New Zealand house and techno label MARGINS is seriously stoked to release MAC.002, a brand new compilation of underground New Zealand dance music. The second compilation and seventh release from MARGINS, MAC.002 showcases six choice cuts from a musically diverse group of budding Antipodean producers. 

The compilation opens with “Atlantic Warrior,” a melodic dancefloor-focused earworm from Auckland angels turned London lads, Manuel Darquart (Coastal Haze/Childsplay). The floor fillers continue with two hot house cuts from newcomers Robert Hattaway and Reebox. Things get a little trippy in the middle with a bizzaro acid cut from D. Tyrone, one half of dj kush boogie (Lobster Theremin). Auckland house artist Fly Nights then proceeds to calm things down, courtesy of the gentle percussion and gorgeous pads of “Soto,” before Wellington artist Ludus closes the compilation in style with the stunning “Bad Butter.”

With MAC.002, MARGINS continues to offer listeners from around the world a sneak peak into the weird world of New Zealand’s unexplored underground dance music scene.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Yumi Zouma - In Camera

Globetrotting electro-pop band Yumi Zouma is another local outfit to gain a lot of traction overseas without really hitting the heights at home (yet). I loved the dreamy ‘In Camera’, lifted from September’s third instalment of their self-titled EP trilogy. Strictly pure pop.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Gig Review: The Catherine Tate Show Live, Opera House, Wellington, 30 November 2018

As the title would suggest, Catherine Tate’s two-hour-plus performance at a sold out Wellington Opera House last Friday night wasn’t so much a stand-up routine, more a live excursion into the various characters and skits that have made her TV show such popular viewing over the past decade and a half. 

Which made perfect sense because the key to Tate’s humour is not the freshness of her act, but rather the familiarity of it, and the ability of her audience to recognise and identify with the disfunction - or outright ridiculousness - of those characters.

From Bernie the horny and incompetent Irish nurse, who opened proceedings, right on through to a prolonged celebration of everyone’s favourite foul-mouthed gran, Nan Taylor, who closed the show, we got a procession of characters and the full range of Tate’s comedic talents. Aided by a cast of three additional performers who played the supporting, more peripheral, roles throughout. 

There were several skits involving Kate, the irritating office worker (“go on, have a guess, it’ll be fun”) before we got the payoff the third time around, but sadly just one each for a couple of my own favourites, Derek (“gay dear? ... me dear? ... how very dare you”), and snotty schoolgirl Lauren (“am I bovvered”). 

There was even a brief pre-recorded (screen/interlude) cameo for Billy Connolly, playing the role of St Peter at the pearly gates. And naturally the night wasn’t going to pass by without a few - relatively brief - reliably non-PC, audience participation moments. 

The extended Nan Taylor sequence at the end included a rendition of the variety show classic ‘Enjoy Yourself (it’s later than you think)’ in a forlorn attempt to get the audience to sing along - something that might work well in the safe environs of an old blighty pub, but something that is much more difficult to achieve with a rather more reserved, sober, and seated antipodean audience. 

There were a few moments - particularly during that final sketch - when Tate struggled to remain fully in character, but none of it really mattered, for the most part she had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, and I think it’s fair to say that all in attendance left the venue feeling “well happy” (as Lauren might say) with what they’d witnessed from the class act that is Catherine Tate.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Marlin's Dreaming - I'll Stick By You

Continuing the long tradition of fine young indie bands working out of Dunedin, Marlin’s Dreaming caught my attention in 2018 with ‘I’ll Stick By You’, the opening track from the band’s September-released EP, Talk On/Commic.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Album Review: Dub Syndicate - Displaced Masters (2017)

The On-U Sound vaults are vast and deep. We already know this. Over the years we’ve seen dozens upon dozens of examples of those vaults being explored and excavated, be it to remaster or reissue past work, or to exhume unheard or previously shelved material in the name of a brand new album. Adrian Sherwood and his team are masters in the art of digging deep into the label’s archives in order to access the good stuff. And there’s an awful lot of good stuff. The sort of work that many other labels would have been only too happy to release in its original form years ago.

In the case of Dub Syndicate’s Displaced Masters - released at the tail end of 2017 - it’s a case of returning to the master tapes and out-takes of some of that collective’s best known work. Releasing it here in all of its stripped, raw, and unfussy glory. And of all the artists to grace On-U Sound across the decades, Dub Syndicate are/were perhaps the most prolific, so if you’re a fan of the label, you’ll likely have heard the enhanced (previously released) versions of most of this album’s material before. What we get here are the alternate dubs and tunes from the first four Dub Syndicate albums in their naked and purest forms. 

Tunes like ‘Haunted Ground’ which became ‘Haunting Ground’ upon its eventual release. Featuring, of course, the late great Bim Sherman. Or ‘All Other Roads Are Shut Off’, which morphed into ‘No Alternative (But To Fight)’, featuring Dr Pablo (and Maggie Thatcher). Indeed, check out Dr Pablo’s ‘Red Sea Dub’, the stripped back slice of melodica heaven which closes proceedings here - the finished product having featured on his acclaimed 1984 collaborative effort with Dub Syndicate, North of the River Thames. 

Displaced Masters won’t appeal to all. It’s fascinating for fans of the label to hear these tracks in their most rudimentary forms, great for fans of Dub Syndicate, and Sherwood completists, but it will, by definition, hold less appeal for non converts. That’s the nature of a beast like this. Some might even call it the dreaded (no pun) acquired taste, given that most of it showcases Sherwood’s production at its most experimental, and right at the very start of a steep learning trajectory. 

Personally, I’m a real sucker for this stuff, and Displaced Masters is yet another worthy addition to my already rather extensive On-U Sound collection. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Stef Animal - Our Spanish Dream

Released back in February, Stef Animal's Top Gear album was something quite special. For reasons many and varied. But rather than go into too much detail about the concept behind the album (my review for NZ Musician is here if you want that detail), I thought I'd share with you my own favourite piece from the album: 'Our Spanish Dream (Roland U-110)', which closed proceedings in truly majestic fashion:

Sunday, November 18, 2018

AudioCulture: Atomic

Just published this week on AudioCulture, my fourth contribution to a site which documents the who, what, where, and why of all things New Zealand music. 

It’s a “scene” story about the popular Atomic club night in Wellington, which by my reckoning is the longest-running regular club night in the country - 22 years and counting. It’s also about DJ Bill E’s wider obsession with all things retro and post-punk, and the various archiving projects he’s involved with. 

Check out the story at the link below ...


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Jonathan Bree - You're So Cool

Ex-Brunettes dude Jonathan Bree is fairly prolific in pumping out slightly subversive indie pop earworms. Whether in his solo guise, or in partnership with another ex-Brunette, Princess Chelsea. ‘You're So Cool’ is a prime example, and it was the first single from his 2018 album, Sleepwalking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: The Beths - Little Death

Regular blog readers will know this one was coming. ‘Little Death’ was probably my pick of a very decent bunch of tunes on The Beths’ debut album, Future Me Hates Me. 2018 was a huge year for the band, not only with the phenomenal impact that album made, but with extensive touring – UK, Europe, Australia, and the USA – they also made their mark on a global scale. A terrific band with the world at its feet.  

Monday, November 12, 2018

Album Review: Moby - Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (2018)

A few years back, I couldn’t have cared less if I never heard another Moby album, ever. The uber producer’s 1999 effort, Play, pretty much destroyed any ongoing interest I had in the artist. Thanks mainly to the ridiculous level of exposure it received. For a few years around the turn of the millennium, Play was everywhere, and I became heartily sick of hearing it, or snippets of it even, especially as the musical backdrop for copious amounts of corporate advertising (in particular, see ‘Porcelain’). 

I’d been a fan of Moby’s early Nineties output, with club bangers like ‘Go’ and ‘Move’ being my introduction to his work. But Play took Moby into another stratosphere entirely with its crossover mix of ambient pop and cod-blues. And since Play, I’ve somehow managed to avoid everything else Moby has subsequently released. Until a few months back, that is, when in a moment of apparent weakness, I found myself downloading a gratis copy of his new album, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.

Of all the spontaneous decisions I’ve made in 2018 - mostly questionable ones - that has been one of my better choices, because Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt turned out to be a genuine revelation. It’s a long way removed from Play, and almost 20 years on, I can’t help but wonder what I might have missed in the interim. After all, Play was studio album number five, while Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt checks in as album number 15. That’s a whole lot of potential artistic development, right there. I’m also aware that post-Play albums like 18 (2002), and Hotel (2005), were massive sellers, so they can’t really have been all that bad. But only if you embrace the notion that units sold is an accurate representation of the quality on offer, which isn’t always a straightforward given. 

It could be that I just needed a lengthy break from Moby in order to appreciate his work again. Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt has made my return far more painless than I initially thought it might be. 

The album is refreshing in ways I never expected it would be: fragile, melancholic, haunting, and dripping with the existential angst we’re all bound to experience at some point along this journey. It’s jammed full of self-deprecation and insecurity. It feels a bit personal, like we’re privy to a “confession” in places … particularly when confronted by Moby’s own voice, be it spoken word or singing, as opposed to the multitude of guest vocalists who also feature (see Mindy Jones, Apollo Jane, Julie Mintz, plus others). 

It examines the state of the world through the eyes/voice of a middle-aged man who really isn’t all that happy with what he’s seeing in 2018 (or more accurately, 2016 and 2017 when the album was conceived). But there’s also some acceptance there. A resignation that we’ve little choice but to live with, and absorb or consume, the fear and disillusionment our infinite information/communication networks lumber us with every minute of every day. 

So, the lyrics are designed to provoke and challenge, but they’re cushioned, for the most part, by an almost unfashionable electronica backdrop, something of a throwback to trip hop’s best days. Moby’s own production is superb - it was recorded at home - and I think the word “lush” probably best describes the wider feel of the album, which clocks in at just under an hour. 

Highlights: ‘Mere Anarchy’, ‘Welcome To Hard Times’, ‘The Middle Is Gone’, and saving the best until last, ‘A Dark Cloud Is Coming’. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: Merk - Lucky Dilemma

Released as a single back in February, ‘Lucky Dilemma’ was something of a breakthrough solo release for ex-Fazerdaze guitarist Merk, aka Mark Perkins. Lifted off his Swordfish album, this hypnotic track has hooks in all the right places, and it earmarks Merk as a young pop talent well worth keeping a beady eye on. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Choice Kiwi Cuts 2018: DEAF - Truancy

With the end of the year nigh, over the course of the next six weeks or so, I want to share with you ten of my favourite “Kiwi” tunes (or clips) of 2018. My pick of the local stuff. Tunes that made me sit up and take notice during the year … 

Starting with DEAF, a Wellington band that gained a lot of traction with the release of its debut EP (get it here). That five-track effort included this quirky yet relatively dark post-punk gem, 'Truancy'. I really loved this one.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Album Review: Antipole - Northern Flux (2017)

If there’s one thing I enjoy almost as much as I enjoy post-punk of a distinctly 1980s flavour, it’s post-punk of a distinctly 1980s flavour being performed by current day artists. Modern-day takes on a genre that simply refuses to go away quietly. The late 2017 Antipole album, Northern Flux, is just one recent example to capture my attention (and my affections).

I really don’t know very much about Antipole. Other than the fact that it’s the handle used by Norwegian Karl Morten Dahl (and friends) to spread the gospel according to the genre we call darkwave. Or goth, as it might once have been known. Even that feels like a rather cheap throwaway label to apply to Antipole’s art, but in truth, all of the album’s most obvious reference points stem directly from the dark post-punk minimalism of a bygone era. 

Northern Flux was on high rotation on my pod throughout the first half of 2018, after I stumbled across it on Bandcamp earlier this year. Each time I listened to it, I heard something new, yet also something from the past, and it really is a terrific example of an artist - or band, if you account for Dahl’s accomplices Paris Alexander and Eirene - successfully mining a formula from yester-year before adding a shiny new sheen. 

It’s a fairly simple formula. Well-worn and tested. Melodic guitar pop blended with icy synths to create music infused with atmosphere, texture, and layers of tension. See Joy Division and early Cure for the most obvious examples. But applying a formula, and doing it this well, are not always the same thing. 

There’s always the danger that any sequence of tunes which rely so heavily on the use of repetition - in this case, chord structure and a similarly hypnotic rhythm throughout - will ultimately result in an album which winds up being somewhat less than the full sum of its parts. There’s a risk that tracks tend to blend together as one, each fresh track being indecipherable from the previous one, and whilst Northern Flux occasionally skirts around the periphery of such peril, it is, for the most part, a hugely intoxicating and thoroughly absorbing listening experience. 

Highlights: ‘October Novel’, ‘Shadow Lover’, ‘All Alone’, ‘Narcissus’ (clip below), and the Joy Division cover ‘Insight’, which closes the album. 

Released on the Franco-Spanish Unknown Pleasures Records label, with 14 tracks clocking in at 64 minutes, Northern Flux is recommended for anyone who enjoys retro-styled pop music at the darker end of the spectrum. And without looking at anyone in particular (*hides mirror*), miserable but dedicated old post-punkers hell-bent on not letting go any of their long-since-departed youth. 

Postscript: This month (November) sees the release of an Antipole/Northern Flux remix project called Perspectives, which features work from the contemporary likes of Ash Code, Delphine Coma, Agent Side Grinder, Kill Shelter, Warsaw Pact, and others. You can grab a copy of that release from Antipole's Bandcamp page here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Gig Review: Radikal Guru, Laundry, Wellington, 26 October 2018

This is a not-particularly-complete review of Radikal Guru’s gig at Wellington’s Laundry last Friday night as I missed (maybe) half of it, but I still want to share a few words about the event given that I’d waited the best part of a decade to see the artist perform live. 

With the last train to the wilds of the Kapiti Coast locked in at just after 1am, and with the only later option being a $150-odd taxi fare, I was desperate for the main act to begin his set as soon as possible so I could make that train. That meant sitting through three or four local DJs before Radikal Guru announced his presence to a packed bar around midnight.

The build up was an enjoyable enough excursion into all facets of bass music - heavy dub, one drop, glitchy dubstep, some higher bpm stuff - with Ras Stone’s set of mostly rootsy material, plus some voiceover/toasting, being the best of a pretty good support bunch. 

Radikal Guru opened with a tribute to King Tubby, which seemed like an appropriate way to kick off a set which was, for the not-quite-hour or so I was there, drenched in the roots reggae flavours championed by the late great Jamaican producer. 

From there, non-original material was mashed together with original Radikal Guru stuff, and tunes like ‘Warning’ (off his Subconscious album) went down a treat with a crowd that was generally much younger than I had anticipated. 

You never know quite what you’re going to get when it comes to DJ “gigs”, but the Polish producer was in top form, which was an achievement in itself given his gruelling touring schedule. It also won’t have been particularly easy translating a lot of his original material into a live setting, especially at a small venue like Laundry, reliant as that work surely is on exploring space and sonic possibilities with all manner of in-house studio technology. 

But it was all too brief, all over in a flash really, and the bar was absolutely heaving by the time I was tasked with flying out the door to make that last god-forsaken train. 

No complaints, at just $10 on the door, as brief as it was, I felt a little humbled to be sharing the same rarefied air as an artist I’ve long admired from a distance. Thanks to Nice Up, Laundry, and the man himself.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Classic Album Review: The Clash - Combat Rock (1982)

Another guest contribution from Craig Stephen (thanks Craig) ... helping to fill in another glaring gap in the classic album ranks:

Of the 1977 punk crowd, only The Clash and The Jam were still standing by 1982, albeit neither would last long in their original line-ups. The Sex Pistols, The Adverts, Stiff Little Fingers, The Damned, et al, had either split up or had reached the peak of their talents.

The Clash’s longevity was largely due to the protagonists’ chameleon-like tendencies and their ability to latch on to new and old styles and make them their own. By the (British) spring of 1982 they were ready for what would be the final episode in the Westway Story: the combative Combat Rock. 

It would follow the double album London Calling and the triple Sandinista, but Combat Rock wrestled away the expansive (some say bloated) nature of those twin classics, with a strict two-sided, 12-track album. No dub versions nor any kids in the studio. It wasn’t how Mick Jones wanted it, but his plan for an 18-track double with the working title Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg was overruled.

A 2013 Bootleg only

The first half dozen tracks feature the radio-friendly lovelies: ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, ‘Straight To Hell’ (they were fused together on a double A-side), ‘Rock the Casbah’, and ‘Know Your Rights’ (the first song to be issued in single format and a monumental flop in the UK). 

It is ‘Know Your Rights’ that opens the album, the buzzsaw guitar reminiscent of Duane Eddy accompanying Joe Strummer’s mischievous rather than angry vocals on the three fundamentals we are permitted. But, as he notes, in an impish manner, there’s a hook to each of them. 

“Murder is a crime ... unless it is done by a policeman – or an aristocrat.”

“You have the right to free speech … as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it.”

Which brings us nicely to ‘Sean Flynn’, the song of the actor turned photojournalist, taken by insurgents in Cambodia and never seen again. Like the album as a whole (the focus on the Vietnam war, the cover shot taken on a rural rail track in Thailand), the song has an Asian feel about it, with Japanese or Korean-style drumming. There are only two verses and if the name of the protagonist wasn’t in the title you’d be hard pushed to figure out what the central figure was doing. 

From south-east Asia to the Middle East. ‘Rock the Casbah’, one of the genuine classic rock tracks of the early 80s without reeking of chauvinistic and outdated rock notions, is a critique of the banning of music in Iran: “By order of the prophet/ We ban that boogie sound/ Degenerate the faithful/ With that crazy Casbah sound.” 

To really appreciate it, listen to the version, in Arabic, by Rachid Taha. 

During the touring of the album, Strummer sported a mohawk, just like the one Robert de Niro had in Taxi Driver, and what’d’ya know but ‘Red Angel Dragnet’ is a paen to vigilantes and borrows from the film itself. Long-time Clash associate Kosmo Vinyl even mimics Travis Bickle in the film (“Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets"). 

Written by guitarist Paul Simonon, it was inspired by the killing of one of the Guardian Angels on a New York subway earlier that year. Nevertheless, it’s easy-on-the-ear homage to a bunch of well-meaning but perhaps misguided people might give some the impression vigilantism is a bona fide way of protecting the streets. 

As well as Vinyl, there are guest appearances by beat poet Allen Ginsburg, and graffiti-artist extraordinaire and sometime performer, Futura 2000 – the latter on ‘Overpowered by Funk’, whose title very much gives the game away. 

Ginsburg’s contribution to ‘Ghetto Defendant’ is in the form of a “voice of God” narrative. He begins the track and thereafter peppers it with a few words here and there, and while it seems as if his contribution - more of a mantra - is limited, his lines work well with Strummer’s narrator/ heckler routine. 

As with Sandinista, The Clash straddle and explore a world of music: ‘Overpowered By Funk’ delves into the burgeoning hip-hop scene of New York and 70s funk; ‘Straight To Hell’ and ‘Know Your Rights’ dabble with rockabilly, while ‘Car Jamming’ again highlights the band’s long-held love of reggae and dub.

Going back to Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg – while some of those tracks became B-sides the bulk has largely been unheard. So, given the time since its release now stretches to 36 years, it would seem appropriate to give the entire album an honorary release.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Album Review: Darren Watson - Too Many Millionaires (2018)

A few months back, Wellington bluesman Darren Watson made an honest and heartfelt social media confession about how mentally and physically exhausted he felt in the wake of his most recent New Zealand tour. 2018 has been a big year for Watson. A new album, Too Many Millionaires, recorded and duly self-released, followed by the obligatory promotional treadmill, capped off by a series of gigs hot-footing it around the country. To paraphrase Watson, there wasn’t much left in the tank. Which is perfectly understandable. It’s the musician’s equivalent of a sportsman fronting a post-match interview with the requisite “I left everything out there on the pitch” … 

As is so often the way for blues artists of a certain vintage, Watson just keeps getting better with age. Even if Watson himself is unlikely to buy into that type of lazy cliche or stereotype. After all, he’s been breaking through barriers for the 30-plus years he’s been doing this stuff. As a passionate student of the genre, living at the bottom of the world, plying his trade thousands of miles beyond the heart of the Mississippi delta, forging a career playing a brand of music that many would claim to be the sole preserve of black America. 

Which of course it isn’t. Watson proves that. As have others. But it can sometimes feel that way. Particularly for anyone craving any amount of authenticity beyond the barely palatable blues-rock crossover fare which frequented mainstream radio in the Seventies and Eighties. 

In terms of the album itself, critics far more knowledgeable than myself - especially when it comes to blues music - have been swift to label Too Many Millionaires as Watson’s best work yet. And from all accounts it rates as his most commercially successful album to date. 

It’s certainly one of the more stripped back and less complicated albums he’s ever released. Something that not only serves to highlight the quality of the lyrics on offer, it also brings the work of Watson’s band into sharp focus. In particular, the tight rhythm section, and Terry Casey’s artistry on the harmonica. 

As with past work, Watson is not shy about mining New Zealand’s rich - yet mostly unheralded - blues heritage, breathing fresh life back into a Bill Lake number on the title track, and paying tribute to local legend Rick Bryant on ‘That Guy Could Sing!’

On ‘National Guy’, Watson unrepentantly explores similar themes to one that got him into some hot water with the electoral commission a few years back … 

“If you wanna share some of mine, well, get to the back of the line” … 

Opener, ‘Hallelujah (Rich Man’s War), and ‘Un-Love Me’, appeal as the best of the rest, and but you’ll not find a dud track anywhere on Too Many Millionaires. 

The only reservation for me, is that after the closing strut of ‘Past Tense’, I’m still left wanting more, and at just eight tracks, running its full course at a few ticks over 32 minutes, the album is perhaps a little too short. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Classic Album Review: OST - Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Often primarily thought of as a Bee Gees album, the Saturday Night Fever OST is right up there as one of the most important soundtrack releases of the Seventies (if not beyond). 

Important, not only because it revived – in no uncertain terms – the flagging career of one of the best vocal groups ever heard around these parts, and not only because it includes three of the decade’s biggest-selling singles in ‘Night Fever’, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, and ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, but important because it was the album that finally moved the disco genre out of a few select and exclusive New York clubs to transport it firmly into the (global) mainstream. And let’s face it, despite John Travolta’s best dance moves, the movie itself was always unlikely to achieve such a feat on its own. In fact, seldom can any soundtrack have sold so many movie tickets.

The three aforementioned singles are obvious highlights, and the Gibb brothers culled a couple of tracks from earlier albums – such as ‘Jive Talkin’ off Main Course (1975), and ‘You Should Be Dancing’ off Children Of The World (1976) – to completely overshadow the best of the rest and effectively claim the album as one of their own. 

Other disco-era luminaries like Kool & The Gang, KC & The Sunshine Band, Tavares, Yvonne Elliman, and The Trammps all feature here, with varying degrees of quality control. 

For all of that, listening to the album in its entirety without resorting to the skip button can be extremely hard work indeed. Mainly on account of some of the symphonic tat sprinkled liberally throughout – the David Shire stuff and the like, cheesing us out in much the same way watching an old episode of the Love Boat would. But hey, it is a soundtrack, and those instrumental interludes are surely right there in the movie, so that is what we get. 

However, none of the negative points can detract from the fact that Saturday Night Fever remains a landmark release, even today, more than 40 years later. Not so much critically, but certainly commercially, and as much as I’ve tried to shake them, many of my own high school memories remain inextricably linked with this album, and that of the Grease OST a year or so later. 

Yeah, I know, I know … but there’s not much I can do about it now is there?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Terrorball's Cluster Funk

This blog’s favourite Hamiltonian, Terrorball, returns with more electro-funk goodness in the form of an album called Cluster Funk. Once again it is available as a name-your-price download on the Bandcamp platform. For this listener, the highlights come near the end, with ‘Lagoon’ and ‘2 Bit’ hitting all the right spots. The rest of it is not too bad either …

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Album Review: Death and The Maiden - Wisteria (2018)

Wisteria is the second full-length outing for Dunedin three-piece Death and the Maiden, and it propels the band along the same dark melodic-pop path first explored on the self-titled debut of 2015 ...

Only this time out there’s a level of self-assurance not immediately obvious on the debut, and it feels as though there might be a little more polish on offer. Perhaps that’s merely a natural progression for a band now more comfortable in its own skin, but it might also be the result of extra gloss added by Danny Brady and Bevan Smith during the production and mastering processes.

Whatever the case, there’s an additional sprinkling of fairy dust on this one, and a sense that subtle changes made to a core formula have worked well on Wisteria. Crisp, pulsing, synths, bounce off and push hard up against dense, intoxicating guitars, to produce a heady blend of post-punk and trip-hoppy electronica. 

Nine tracks of the stuff, each one evidently keen to carefully exploit the delicate art of repetition, and all of them fair dripping with requisite levels of melodrama.

If there’s a small reservation to be had, it’s that the vocal delivery is occasionally a little too thin, or maybe just buried too deeply in the mix.

But that’s a minor complaint, all things considered, and Wisteria is another worthy addition to an ever-expanding list of top notch releases from the deep south’s Fishrider Records.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Guest Post ... Party Fears Ten: How Scottish post-punk saved the world (sort of)

Following our hugely popular (no need for the BS – Ed) list of Aussie bands that weren’t shit, the bard of Montrose, Craig Stephen - the contributor formerly known as Porky - removes his porcine disguise to uncover 10 of the finest Scottish post-punk bands …

But, what, no Altered Images? Gasp.

The Scars

This Edinburgh band was formed in early 1977 by brothers Paul and John Mackie. A window ad in a record store roped in idiosyncratic vocalist Robert King and drummer Calumn Mackay and away they went. Long after their first gig at Balerno Scout Hall, the four-piece signed for fabled local label, Fast Product, which was notable for issuing early releases by The Human League, Gang of Four, The Mekons and Joy Division. Their debut album, Author! Author!, arrived in 1981 and earned five stars in Sounds and a rave review from the NME’s Paul Morley. I can’t disagree with either of those writers: it wasn’t always an easy listen but it was a magnificent piece of work; a kind of post-punk goth menagerie. Ahead of their time some say, and despite leaving a back catalogue of excellent singles and the album, The Scars were gone by 1982. 

Josef K

They lasted two years (if that), released one album during their existence, and scrapped another - a decision that is almost universally regarded as one of the biggest mistakes in pop history - but Josef K are one of the most feted and cultist bands to emerge from the post-punk era. Franz Ferdinand, for instance, love ‘em. Josef K were formed in 1979 and after one single on the obscure Absolute label signed to Alan Horne’s Postcard Records. Two singles were released on the legendary label and in late 1980 they were preparing to issue their debut album, Sorry For Laughing, when it was suddenly shelved, apparently because it was “too polished”. It wasn’t till July 1981 that a Josef K album came out. The Only Fun in Town featured reworked versions of five of the songs on the Sorry for Laughing album. A month later they broke up. You can get both albums on a combined release and make up your own mind which should have been issued first.

The dizzyingly esoteric Associates

The Associates

Anyone who had had the pleasure of visiting this writer’s previous enterprise, Porky Prime Cuts, will be familiar with my love of The Associates, who were responsible for the most lavish and extraordinary album of the entire 1980s, Sulk. It was a hugely ambitious effort, in terms of sound, attitude, and lyrics, with Billy MacKenzie’s spellbinding octave-scaling voice to the fore. It even spawned some hits – Party Fears Two, Club Country, and Love Hangover, leading to some fantastically over-the-top TV appearances. Other contemporary former indie-experimental bands like the Human League and Scritti Politti achieved success but they did so by embracing a commercial sound and swanky clothing/dashing hair-dos. In contrast, The Associates told the world through their third studio album: this is us, take it or leave it. Sulk was both opulent and strange. MacKenzie's lyrics were dizzyingly esoteric, with Skipping’s infamous couplet "ripping ropes from the Belgian wharfs / breathless beauxillious griffin once removed seemed dwarfed", baffling everyone. Their year of magnificent triumph was also their last as MacKenzie and Alan Rankine parted ways before Christmas. MacKenzie revived The Associates two years later, but other than the operatic pop opus of Waiting For the Love Boat it was never quite the same.

Simple Minds

Clearly we’re not talking of the Don’t You Forget About Me-era Minds, or frankly any version of the band after 1983. In the cavalcade of mediocrity that Jim Kerr et al have subjected the world to over the past three decades, it’s easy to forget how sublime the Glaswegians were in a frighteningly glorious spell from 1979 to 1983, with seven albums running the gamut from euro electronic to proto-stadium rock. Empires and Dance (1980) is long forgotten but is memorable for the futuristic single I, Travel. A couple of albums released on the same day in 1981, and effectively siblings, developed the prog rock meets new romantic sound. The zenith was New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), released in the second of those years. Margaret Thatcher was in power and there was war, mass unemployment, and inner city decay, but there was a feeling that music shouldn’t be dragged down by it all. Kerr’s vocals are masterly, bridging the great divide between the new romantic era and crooners. Three singles from New Gold Dream became unlikely hits, including Promised You A Miracle, but it was the lumbering, neo-experimental tracks like King Is White and In the Crowd and the title track that shone brightest. By 1983, the Minds were moving in new directions and while that would end in U2-esque stadia glitz, there was life in the old dog yet, and Sparkle in the Rain straddled the synth pop Minds with a beefier sound.

The Cocteau Twins

They weren’t twins nor they were from one of the main centres. They hailed from the unlikely oil refinery town of Grangemouth. Initially, they were dismissed as dour, sun-hating goths, which wasn’t entirely dispelled by their opening records. They cast out a spiky, dissociative sound with Liz Fraser’s ethereal, high-pitched vocals and nonsensical lyrics. A committed fanbase propelled them into the UK top 30 in 1984 with Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops, and there was plenty of critical acclaim (one tale is that Prince ordered their entire back catalogue), but they remained very much an acquired taste until 1990’s Heaven Or Las Vegas opened them up to a new audience. There is now a massive reissue project taking place so there’s no excuse for not seeking them out.

An early Orange Juice line-up

Orange Juice

A Glasgow mob that had a monster hit in 1983 in the shape of Rip It Up, which broke free from the synth coterie of New Romanticism to smash into the UK’s top 10. Orange Juice were founded in the ever-so-pleasant suburb of Bearsden, originally as Nu-Sonics by Edwyn Collins, Alan Duncan, James Kirk and Steven Daly, with a name that immediately eschewed the macho posturing and pseudo rebellion of punk. They released a handful of promising singles, including Blue Boy and Simply Thrilled Honey, during 1980 and 1981 on Postcard. Polydor Records snapped them up and released the You Can't Hide Your Love Forever album in 1982, but Kirk and Daly left that same year. There would be a few more line-up changes before they split in 1984. Edwyn Collins went solo and would record a Northern Soul tinged epic A Girl Like You that was so huge it could only be avoided in the UK during the summer of 1995 by hiding in a cupboard.

The Skids

The finest thing to come out of Dunfermline since steel tycoon and public libraries proponent Andrew Carnegie. The Skids were formed around the nucleus of Richard Jobson and Stuart Adamson, who would go to form Big Country, a band that, for very good reasons, were never going to get onto this list even if it was expanded to 97. They had several top 20 hits - Into The Valley and Working For The Yankee Dollar, as well as Masquerade, and there was the excellent album, The Absolute Game, released in 1980. And there was The Saints Are Coming, which was so good it had to have the tag team of U2 AND Green Day to cover it. They had songs about the conflict in Ireland and signing up to the British army because Fife’s traditional industries had been decimated. And there was also a song about Coronation Street’s uber curmudgeon Albert Tatlock.

That Desperadoes compilation you've probably never heard of ..

Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes

A little twee, perhaps, but no list should ever be fundamentally entrenched in their ideals, and therefore this Edinburgh act, formed in the mid-80s sneak their way in on account of their slightly subversive singles and for being, well, damn fucking good.  Their sound was typical of the mid-80s, with scratchy guitars, melody, and a male-female vocal dynamic. A string of singles and EPs, such as Splashing Along and The Adam Faith Experience, saw the light of day, but no studio album emerged – although there was certainly enough material for one. That would be rectified in 1989 through the compilation, A Cabinet of Curiosities, which reunited their early singles and EPs to splendid effect. It was not all love and lust and breaking up: a later single, Grand Hotel referenced the IRA’s bombing of the Brighton building that nearly killed Mrs Thatcher. And there was no Jesse Garon in the band: the name was appropriated from Elvis Presley's stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. Ain’t that just sick? But brilliant.

The Fire Engines

Ingrained in that same Caledonian post-punk movement of Postcard Records, The Skids, and a smattering of short-lived but no less brilliant acts, the Fire Engines, irrespective of their seemingly squeaky clean name, were more abrasive and discordant than their peers. The Engines (named, in fact, after a 13th Floor Elevators’ track), packaged their debut album, the manic Lubricate Your Living Room (Background Music for Action People!) in a plastic carrier bag. A subsequent non-album single, Candyskin, was an about-face that accentuated Davy Henderson's nasal vocals and introduced a string section. They had ideas aplenty, but despite another illuminating 7-inch, Big Gold Dream, disbanded in late 1981. Henderson and Russell Burn would seek chart success and world domination (neither succeeded) in Win which this blog has explored in the very recent past.

Cartoon punks, The Rezillos
The Rezillos

Their cartoon punk sound earned them a tour with The Ramones and a deal with Sire, but after only two years and one album, they were gone-burger. That was some album and they even featured on Top of the Pops, with the cheekily named single Top of the Pops. Guitarist and songwriter Jo Callis helped the Human League achieve mega-success, while co-singers Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife formed the Revillos, a sort of continuation of the Rezillos, but with a bigger 60s pop sound. The Rezillos have recently reformed and unlike many of their contemporaries, aren’t being laughed at. The Rezillos are alluded to twice in The Bridge by the well-known Scots author Iain Banks. So there you go.

The Jesus and Mary Chain

Who’d have thought a new town could spawn such a magnificent monster. The Jesus and Mary Chain were formed in East Kilbride, a Glasgow overspill. Their coruscating debut single, Upside Down, scared children and grannies alike. They played notorious gigs at which pissing off the audience wasn’t an issue, and unleashed Psychocandy, one of the most anti-pop but brilliant albums of the 80s. Brothers Jim and William Reid and two mates made a record that was one part bubblegum pop and three parts lacerating guitar feedback. It sounded like Abba covering The Birthday Party while locked in a mineshaft. They never did quite match those feats thereafter, but a sensible move towards the mainstream resulted in a good few pop albums, like the follow-up, Darklands. They’re still going and are still very potent.

And with that final inclusion, Craig offers up not 10, but a distinctly OCD-defying 11 great Scottish post-punk bands. Let’s be honest, he’s done well to stop there. Thanks Craig.