Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Album Review: Jack White - Boarding House Reach (2018)

It happens at least once a week in my house. That one meal time when all of the leftover food from the previous few days is cobbled together to create a makeshift dinner. Usually on a Sunday, but there’s no set night really. We call it “hodge podge” night. And those words - hodge podge - are all I can think of when I listen to Jack White’s latest solo album, Boarding House Reach.

In the past, I’ve been a staunch defender of White and his ability to excavate elements of the past to produce something new, but even I’m left scratching my head with this one. Critics argue that White is now simply going through the motions, trading on the phenomenal success of the first couple of White Stripes albums. With Boarding House Reach being the faux-experimental mish-mash it undoubtedly is, Jack White appears determined to merely add weight to that criticism.

Of course, there’s an obvious attempt to present a facade of progression and creativity, and sure there’s the odd glimpse of White doing what he used to do so well, but beyond the album opener, ‘Connected By Love’, there’s not much here to get excited about. And I use the word “excited” liberally, with all the generosity I can muster. You know you’re in trouble when you cite one of the most thoroughly mediocre curtain-raisers of White's entire career as the album’s solitary highlight.

The rest is just noise. Literally. Muffled noise, even. Half formed ideas - see ‘Abulia and Akrasia’ and the shambolic ‘Hypermisophoniac’ for the worst examples - that don’t really go anywhere. Bits and bobs that White in his pomp, or in any other guise other than that of “solo artist”, would surely have been forced to shelf. 

It all feels very self-indulgent, highly complacent, and it lacks any of the spark, energy, or grunt - as copyist or derivative as it may have been - that once made Jack White’s music such a vital proposition in the first place. 

I remain a fan of his earlier work, naturally, as a paid up member of the Jack White fan club, but Boarding House Reach really is a monumental disappointment to these ears. Even within the context of the steadily diminishing returns White’s solo career has offered up over the past few years. 

Boarding House Reach is the musical equivalent of hodge podge night, and when you’ve got house full of notoriously picky eaters, woe behold the chef who serves up anything as half baked as this. Pass the gravy.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Classic Album Review: Portishead - Dummy (1994)

Emerging from the short-lived early Nineties “trip hop” boom, Portishead have their own unique sound, and the band’s debut album, Dummy, sounds as fresh today as it did at the time of its release back in 1994.

Combining elements of hip hop and jazz, with a laidback and somewhat distinctive approach to synthpop, Portishead’s most immediately identifiable feature is the voice of lead singer Beth Gibbons. Fragile, haunting, and strangely seductive, Gibbons’ vocals stood out like a fluorescent beacon in a vast sea of pre-Britpop mediocrity, and Dummy’s huge success was in no small way attributable to the way Gibbons interpreted the light-on-structure but nonetheless compelling material she had to work with.   

After a decade of inactivity, Portishead made a formidable comeback in 2008 with the belated release of a third album, the critically-acclaimed and aptly-titled Third, which went some way towards restoring the band to its former heights. However, the innovative Dummy set the benchmark, not only for these guys as a unit, but also for a host of other so-called trip hop wannabes seeking to emulate Portishead’s success - and that of Massive Attack - at the time.

Few succeeded, and commercially at least, the sub-genre faded into obscurity, or perhaps it is fairer to say it was swallowed up by a relentless bombardment of Britpop and the crossing over of in-yer-face high-bpm techno. Or maybe it simply morphed into the ubiquitous “chill-out” genre, who can really say? Given that neither Portishead nor Massive Attack have been especially prolific, it is hardly surprising there have been long periods without any persuasive points of reference.

Six (of eleven tracks) download essentials: ‘Sour Times’, ‘Wandering Star’, ‘It’s A Fire’, ‘Numb’, ‘Roads’, and the fantastic closer, ‘Glory Box’.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Mixtape: A Three Minute Ride

Friday the 24th of August is New Zealand’s National Poetry Day … so here is my extremely rudimentary, not very politically correct, contribution to that cause. The context being that this was written some years ago, back in the day when making a mixtape (like, an actual cassette tape) for the person of your affections was a far better option than, you know, actually talking to them about pesky feelings and stuff. 

Disclaimer: everythingsgonegreen is a much better person these days ;- ) … even if my poetry remains as bad as it ever was:

The Mixtape: A Three Minute Ride 

A mixtape with Siouxsie, the Sisters, and Cure
I’d woo her with darkness and gothic allure
She’d sense my heartache, my mystery, my gloom
And sooner or later she’d be up in my room

But that didn’t work, she just looked at me funny
So I’d try one more time, all sweetness and honey
Some Eagles, some Beatles, and maybe some Bread
But then I decided I’d be better off dead

So revert to plan B and reveal the real me
Some Clean, some Exponents, perhaps some Dead C
But that was no good, she hated that stuff
If only I’d gone for some Coconut Rough

By now I was desperate, and feeling alone
Nothing I did would get me that bone
Maybe the Stones, some glam, and some punk
James Brown, Barry White, and a whole side of funk

Then up in my room, just smoking some pot
I found a new sound that hit the right spot
Some Marley, and Tosh, some Scratch, and some dread
It worked, she was cooked, clothes off, into bed

It lasted one song, not even a side
Over and done, a three minute ride
The mixtape had worked, but the love didn’t last
And that girl soon became a thing of the past

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Porky Post … Album Review: Half Man Half Biscuit - No-One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut (2018)

Porky’s back, looking for laughs, so he sought out the new work by the incomparable Half Man Half Biscuit:

It’s impossible to tire of Half Man Half Biscuit, regardless of the unfortunate fact that bands trading on wit and sardonicism tend to have a short shelf life. The Biscuits, however, are made of sterner ingredients.

After a break of four years, following 2014’s eight-out-of-ten Urge For Offal, they’re back in action for their 13th studio album for which I am expecting exceptionally good things. 

Usually the song titles alone are an indicator of the content and in tracks such as Alehouse Futsal, Mod. Diff. Vdiff. Hard Severe, and Swerving the Checkatrade, it’s obvious that the Wirral four-piece has lost none of its panache and love for the minutiae of life.

The archetypal Nigel Blackwell cynicism about life’s characters is cranked up to 11 for a track that has its heart (and nose) in South America:

“You went from Magaluf to Stalingrad/ On altogether more different snow” which leads to Blackwell stating the bleedin’ obvious: “What made Colombia famous/ Has made a prick out of you.” 

Knobheads on Quiz Shows is, rather disappointingly, given its title, one of the weaker tracks, but the scathing lyrics pretty much make up for the limp bog-standard indie. Village idiots on television is par for the course, and they’re an easy target – which is why they are hauled up by the producers in the first place. But the Biscuits make it into an acidulous crusade anyway: 

“I don’t watch films in black and white/ The trees and flowers and birds have passed me by/ I’ll just guess and hope I’m right/ The first man into space was Captain Bligh.”

Its caustic content makes it the natural successor to Bad Losers on Yahoo Chess (from the band’s 2008 album CSI: Ambleside).

Renfield’s Afoot is equally caustic, with Blackwell beginning with his observation of a notification about a bat walk which recommends taking along warm waterproof clothing and a flask, and a time to meet. To which the Biscuits go all punk rock guitar and our hero has a go at the well-meaning organiser, informing them that he knows the place like the back of his hand and won’t be following the party line … 

“So don’t go trying to organise my bat walks/ I’ll be going on any-time-I-like walks” …

The outdoor life, you sense, is one that Blackwell adores but has an intense dislike for those who partake in such pleasures. Such as the man who got a Boardman bike off a Cycle to Work scheme and now goes out every Sunday in a “full Sky replica kit.” 

Football mentions are alas brief, nothing in the line of All I Want for Christmas is A Dukla Prague Away Kit

There’s namechecks for Dorothy Perkins, Battenberg cake, the Hadron Collider and Throbbing Gristle – and that’s just on Harsh Times in Umberstone Covert.

On realising that perhaps he is being a little too obscure, and for the assistance of his listeners in Crieff and Kinross, Blackwell whispers after a chorus in Bladderwrack Allowance mentioning Robert of Blaby, that Blaby is in Leicestershire.

Here’s some more lyrics: 

“Somebody’s mumbling Galatians/ Somewhere a wolf-print fleece needs 90 degrees/ Pushchair-related confrontations/ Pastoral conceits, Italian fancies, comic glees.” (Terminus

“I don’t think I’ve encountered a man so irate/ You’re a better man than I if you get past his gate/ He treats hawkers and Mormons with equal disdain/ Jesus I feel won’t be coming back again.” 
(Man of Constant Sorrow (With a Garage in Constant Use))

I think you get the picture, but the wit and obscure references are more than matched by a band on fire and making a sound that is ensuring this album is gaining more attention that the past few.

Oh, and the insert includes a crossword. I don’t imagine any Cliff Richard albums had one of those.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

More Miloux ...

I wrote a little bit about the music of Auckland-based electronic artist Miloux back in 2016 (here) when she released her debut EP, the aptly titled EP1. Miloux – Rebecca Melrose to her parents – then disappeared off the radar with no recorded output of note until July of this year, when a digital single, ‘Paris’, popped up on Bandcamp. It turns out that release was merely a precursor to a more expansive EP hitting the same platform earlier in this month, titled, you guessed it, EP2. ‘Paris’ features as the centrepiece among the five tracks on the release, all of which explore similar themes, and employ the same synthpop MO, to those found on the debut. If you liked that one, you’ll probably enjoy this one. As with the first release, Miloux generously offers it up as a name-your-price download ...

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Classic Album Review: Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)

I was a relative latecomer to the delights of Daydream Nation. It’s the album where cult heroes Sonic Youth completed their gradual transformation from experimental noiseniks to hugely influential guitar-based alt-rockers. 

Whether this was a conscious and deliberate path, or otherwise, this album sounds a little bit like the missing link between Eighties post-punk and the (then) fledgling grunge scene, and it probably stills stands as the band’s most structured and commercially-flavoured work. 

Whatever else it was, Daydream Nation has subsequently become a highly feted album, lauded by critics and fans alike, and the esteemed music webzine Pitchfork went so far as to rank it as its No.1 album of the Eighties. Sales figures don’t tend to support this lofty position, but there is no denying its wider influence, and that of the band itself.

Partners in crime, and onetime partners in life, guitarist Thurston Moore and bassist Kim Gordon share the majority of songwriting and vocal duties, but fellow axeman Lee Ranaldo also features prominently on both counts. Distinctive guitar - angular, jerky, unusual tunings, but lots of riffage as well - and thundering rhythms dominate as tracks form almost seamlessly from one to the next, the album eventually becoming a procession of controlled noise, with only occasional forays into the realm of experimentation, something this band has always been heavily associated with.

I wasn’t a big fan of Sonic Youth prior to hearing this, though I loved (side-project) Ciccone Youth’s version of (Madonna’s) ‘Into The Groove(y)’, and ‘Superstar’, the band’s contribution to an early Nineties Carpenters covers compilation, but if it did nothing else, finally getting to grips with Daydream Nation meant I could fully appreciate what many others had known for a very long time.

The opener, ‘Teen Age Riot’, which was released as a single, is a definite highlight, as is the (closing) ambitious ‘Trilogy’, but there are no obvious weak tracks on Daydream Nation. A genuine “must-have” album for fans of post-punk or indie, as you’re bound to hear shades of your latest favourite band on here. There was an updated 2007 Deluxe release, which is probably the version to go for.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Restless Electric

I’ve been quite impressed with this self-titled EP release from the Auckland-based four-piece Restless Electric. There’s five tracks on the release, three of them sit at the more mellow end of the indie rock spectrum, bookended by opening and closing tracks which veer heavily into the realm of psychedelia. It was released on Bandcamp earlier this month as a name-your-price download … grab some:

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Frank Booker's Sleazy Beats

I saw Frank Booker perform live at Leroy’s Bar in Wellington back in November last year, but it wasn’t a set I’ll recall with any great fondness, and I doubt he will either, thanks mainly to the sparseness of the crowd and a rather flat atmosphere on the night. It wasn’t so much that Booker was off form, far from it … more the fact that DJ performances tend to rely heavily on crowd response. There’s only so much the artist can do if they’re playing to a partially empty room. Quite why it turned out like that, given Booker’s wider profile within global dance music circles, remains a mystery. That said, Booker has played a fair bit around Wellington over the years, and anecdotally it would appear that the poorly attended Leroy’s gig was an exception, rather than the rule.

Anyway, Booker has just created a Bandcamp account, to showcase and release a collection of tunes previously issued by Sleazy Beats on vinyl only, and it’s well worth checking out. Nine tracks of pure state-of-the-art disco, crossing over into deep house. I really love Booker's use of the bassline from Shriekback's 'My Spine Is The Bassline' on the closing track 'Roady', which makes it one of the stand-out tracks on the release. But they're all pretty good. Here’s the blurb from the man himself:

“A collection of the three releases from the wonderful Sleazy Beats Recordings camp. These were strictly limited pressing, vinyl only, and have never been available as digital downloads. After seeing some of the prices being paid on discogs, I contacted Guy & Kris to see if they were ok with making these available for digital heads, and this release comes with their blessing…” 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Lost & Found

Black City Lights - now defunct - were one of the best, yet mostly unheralded, New Zealand bands/duos of the past decade. They've uncovered some lost recordings and uploaded them on Bandcamp. Lost & Found is a collection of early demos, unreleased material, instrumentals, and remixes. Also note that the Another Life album and the Parallels EP are still name your price downloads on the same platform. I’m going to write a little bit more about BCL in the near future. Stay tuned.