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.