How do they do it? Having been around for a decade and a half, The Phoenix Foundation continue to produce songs that are rewarding to listen to, intriguingly built, with layers of texture to peel away if one feels so inclined. There's also that perfect balance of saccharine and satire, and for me there's the "dopamine hit". Not always, but often. "Mountain" is the first single release off "Give Up Your Dreams" or "GUYD" as the band has been promoting it. The album is due out on August 7th, and has so far been reviewed well (see the links below). The album was approached slightly differently this time, with songs written as a band, and more structured studio time. Although apparently there was much twiddling of knobs and tweaking of effects processors after the initial recording sessions. It sounds like the album will be more up-tempo, but judging from "Mountain" and the just-released "Give Up Your Dreams" single (see Stereogum link below) it remains melodic and hooky. See the Salient link below for a very good interview with Sam Flynn Scott on the making of the album. The "Mountain" video is classic Sam Kristofski, with echoes of videos previously shot for Opossom and Tom Lark. I'm a fan. Bated breath on the new album. I have provided a link to the Memphis Industries site below for prospective purchasers. NZMusic4U is one!
Sam Kristofski link:
The Phoenix Foundation - Mountain (Official Music Video)
This is music for musicians, and for those who like to think about their music as much as feel it. Introverted Dancefloor is the name of a new project from Bevan Smith, known for running a variety of monikers over time...Aspen, Skallender, Signer...and also for being one half of one the great NZ bands of the mid-2000s, Over The Atlantic. The new self-titled album from which "Happiness is Such A Mess" hails has taken four years to arrive. It sounds like it was an almost tortured genesis. Bevan deliberately put himself under a lot of pressure to create an album that was difficult to make. Limiting himself to only two synths, one mic, one filter and one effects processor, many of the songs were scratched and restarted. "Happiness.." demands quite a few listens to get inside one's subconscious, but it is a pleasure after several. And it is not just an aural experience, bringing with it some simple, hopefully helpful, existentialism...(!)
"If you ever feel unhappy,
don't forget that things are bound to change,
not that change is such a good thing,
there's a chance that things might get much worse"
The stunning video that accompanies this single was directed by Rowan Pierce, with photography by Matt Henley. Choreography was by Victoria Colombus with dancers Errol Anderson and Emma Martin. Bevan has been on the Carpark Records label since 1999 and says he feels grateful to still be one of what we know to be a stable of well-respected artists. But his continued presence on the label is not accidental. Here is an artist who must continue to interest music fans. And there is an integrity to the intellectualism he brings to it. It is also fun. A range of links are provided below to enable the reader to get to know Introverted Dancefloor better. Highly recommended. Watch out for the album release in September. Hopefully we will get a few more video releases ahead of the release date.
Introverted Dancefloor - "Happiness is Such A Mess"
Gorgeous. Everything that Glass Vaults has been, but warmer. Glass Vaults' new album "Sojourn" is launching in September. The two releases so far indicate an evolution from what I experienced as a ambient melodic electronic focus with often-times dense minor scale textures, to what might be a more guitar-driven (but not dominated) sound, and a sunnier tonal outlook. The "Sojourn" single is my favourite of the two tracks released so far, "Sacred Heart" being the first release. "Sojourn" is a simple love song with a big heart, and layers of rich melody, texture...and light? Impressionist music maybe. The cover art hints at this. Richard Larsen's vocals seem enhanced by the context. And the second lift of the song at 3:10 is one of those dopamine moments. I recommend you listen to this on very good headphones, or on a sound system with good bass response. The beautifully-constructed video is the work of Ryan Fielding, and uses some footage from the much-missed "Camp A Low Hum" music festival which I regret never having attended. The love song could just as easily have been for the festival, a meeting of those that follow alternative life paths and the music that seems to be an integral part of it all. As it is, Paul Simon's "Graceland" and the NZ summer are also objects of the artists' affection here. I will be buying "Sojourn". If you would like to listen to the first two singles right now, or even get acquainted with historical material, please go to the link below. I own everything Glass Vaults have released so far.
Glass Vaults - Sojourn
Sweet lonesome vocals that say something + reverb. Pedal steel + reverb. Over-driven guitar + reverb. Harmonies slurred and blurred by reverb. For me, all of that is very difficult to resist. So how did Nashville destroy country music for those who wanted the authenticity that makes this music of the wide open spaces so compelling? I am an electronica fan, but its artists like Mel Parsons (and Marlon Williams for that matter) that take me where electronica has normally had me for itself. Stark contemplative moments of emotional clarity. This is a simple but beautiful song. Though I am pretty sure this elegance would not have been so easy to create. "Driving Man" was written by Mel Parsons, produced by herself and Gerry Paul (the guitarist) w/ Lee Prebble recording (yes, at The Surgery) and Auckland's Oli Harmer mixing. Anji Sami (She's So Rad) and Lisa Tomlins are on backing vocals. The video was produced and directed by Tim McInnes (Ruffell Productions) with photographic direction by Sabin Holloway. The video stars Beth Alexander & Khuzwane Holder. It all works. If you would like to get to know Mel Parsons' art better, there is a (typically) great Graham Reid interview link below. Otherwise, cos of course you like it, buy it at the link below. I have.
Graham Reid interview here...
Mel Parsons | Driving Man
Three things that really distinguish Melodownz (Bronson Price) and his colleagues in Third3ye is a delicious use of melody and harmony, an overall subtlety of presentation, and thematic content which is far from the overly common & sometimes close-to-narcissistic "watch me on my journey to the top". "One Liiif3" is one of the best tracks from Melodownz' debut solo album, "Beginner's Luck", released late-2014. The single was produced by My Disguise (a Kiwi living in Perth right now) with mastering by Rizvan Tuitahi, himself a talented MC, producer. The album was otherwise produced by a range of producers including Ben Jamin and Jay Knight. Engineering was by Rizvan. The video was put together by Lifers.Co. Bronson has a pretty impressive backstory which you can flesh out at the interview link below. You can buy "Beginner's Luck" at the link below. I own it.
The interview with Melodownz...
Watch Melodownz live at the link below...
MeloDownz - One Liiif3 (Official Video)
Hitting the NZ music industry like an Exocet out of a sea-fog, Matthew Young's first musical offerings in late 2014 ("Loveblind", "Knock") stunned many for the writing, the vocal delivery and the production. New Zealand has recently developed somewhat of a mini-cluster of RnB-influenced future-poppy artists and here was someone coming in at a slightly different angle and again doing it so well. The enigmatic Mr Young appears to have a 360 degree approach to what he does, whether that be writing, singing, sound and image/fashion, and so far executed all with aplomb. The only industry player not surprised by the quality of all this is Sony, who have signed him. I note Djeisan Suskov (now going by the singular moniker "Djeisan") is responsible for production on "Magic". Clearly a versatile producer, he has done a superb job on this, and other tracks I have heard. I have previously come across Djeisan's work with Artisan Guns, Dear Times Waste and his own project Cool Rainbows. All substantially different to "Magic" but the clarity and space I associate with his production is still there. The video was put together by Jordan Arts and Matthew, and is a suitably sophisticated visual presentation. Matthew Young's new EP "DIVE" is due out June 12th and is currently available on Spotify. Many of the tracks are also available at the Soundcloud link below. An exciting artist that will surely break big.
Some blog interviews below...
MATTHEW YOUNG - Magic
I am pretty confident that people who should know, do. But not sure how many others realise Paul McLaney is a bona fide New Zealand musical treasure. Much of his music might be an acquired taste, but like all the greats, time tests his music well. After a period of releasing a more electronic loop-driven series of albums (which I adore), he clearly couldn't fight the British progressive rock lurking in his genes. As a result we get a three song musical cycle that presents much in the way of great post-progressive rock music of the late 1970s and 1980s. The first of this cycle was "The Best Is Yet To Come", seen earlier this year on this blog. "When The Wind Blows" is a complex, multi-layered masterpiece, and an honest message to a friend in trouble. Mr McLaney knows how to use dynamics. "When The Wind Blows" starts as standard Impending Adorations electronic fare, but evolves into something that clearly has some inspiration in the sort-of-forgotten-but-amazing late 80s, early 90s Talk Talk/ Mark Hollis' albums. Those albums are so influential and if you haven't heard them...go there! The Auckland Gospel Choir stump up beautifully in the single. The stunning video is by RedKidOne who is responsible for this three-song cyle. You can buy this very special single at the links below.
Also on Spotify...
The Impending Adorations - When The Wind Blows
A synthesizer break-up song? I was similarly enraptured with a Korg Poly Six back in the early 1980s. Having bought it on the (dumb) assumption it would somehow deliver digital samples ("promises I knew you wouldn't keep"), it was an unrequited love. But time heals all wounds. From the critically acclaimed "USB" album, "Poly" is a love song, at least stylistically, to that keyboard, and many others like it. Full of the dense, noisy, square wave textures typical of early 1980s synth-pop, if you knew those years well, Little Bark's music is very much a lovingly constructed homage to that era. And it is very good. The NZ Herald called this album "a sprawling, assertive record", awarding an overall 4.5 stars out of 5. The album was produced by the multi-talented Stef Animal (of amazing shoegaze band The Golden Awesome). She has also delivered us a rich, many textured video for this single as well. Little Bark is Sophie Burbery, formerly of Wellington, now based in Auckland. You can buy the album at the link below. I have bought it. Go on! Immerse yourself in 1980s' electronic love!
Little Bark - Poly (Music Video)
Steriogram, NZ's most-likely-to band of the early-2000s has an interesting diaspora, with members going on to be hair product moguls, music managers (Lorde, Mt Eden, Thomston)...and I don't know what else (can someone tell me?). But Bradley Hanan Carter has kept resolutely at it, and has over the last few years, together with a few others, mainly Americans, put together a band that has provided us with an impressive body of work, the quality of which well surpasses what he was doing with Steriogram. The band, based in Los Angeles' Echo Park area, was originally known as NO, but ran into problems getting mixed up with a number of other bands called NO, as well as having the inevitable intellectual property and search-engine issues. So they have been called Black English for awhile now and are slowly building awareness of their own particularly brand of what some have called "post-hymnal anthematic" (see Issue blog link below). It could be compared to a Killers, The National blend. "Another Life" is a superb track that sounds like it should live on the radio, but it has actually taken some time for us to get this video...the original footage being shot in 2012. I hope it makes it on to the airwaves as it sounds like a hit. The video, directed by Zak Stoltz and produced by Stephen Buchanan, is of typical high quality. In fact, the band has put out some of my favourite videos, a selection of which are below. Black English are on their own Bedroom Empire label, distributed through Arts and Crafts Records. You can buy their album "NO", (previously known as "El Prado") at the link below. I own it, play it often, and love it.
Selection of favourite videos...
"Leave The Door Wide Open" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W09JxJSjoO8
"Whats Your Name?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i28vjNt19NY
"Stay With Me" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdUbp_YVmEE
Black English (formerly NO) | Another Life
Like silk curtains lightly brushing over oneself in a gentle breeze, this deliciously hypnotic single from Terrible Sons is beautiful even without the video it now comes with. But put Arthur Gay's (Candlelit Pictures) inspired visual metaphors and execution against such a special track, and it leaps off the interwebs. Terrible Sons is a husband and wife team, Matt Barus (prev Dukes) and Lauren Barus, seen previously on this blog in her solo guise as L.A.Mitchell. The production is spacious, balanced and the surge of the chorus with its strings comes with just enough size to loosen the dynamic from the circular drone that many folk tracks suffer from. Matt describes the single as a "me against the world song". The lyrics are haunting and thoughtful. The single was released May 15th as is available at the link below. A gem.
Buy on iTunes: http://apple.co/1AVoc6W
Terrible Sons - 'Neptune'