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'
There was an article in UK newspaper The Times recently, a grudging acceptance of the hypothesis that hip-hop has been the most significant creative wave within the last fifty years of popular music. But what is hip-hop? I won't get into that, but it has grown to be as diverse as to allow us acts such as Third3ye - with their spiritual take on the genre which they call "Earth Raps". I am sure these guys would love to be a commercial success, but they are clearly not targeting that outcome over creating music that is an authentic representation of their politics, their spirituality and of course their creativity. And that it makes it even more ironic, that an act that delivers such a broad-based attack on current societal norms has such potential crossover popular appeal. Third3ye started with MC's Angelo King and MeloDownz, but has since grown to include DJTORU and producer Ben Jamin'. Although "Levitate" is interesting from a textural production perspective, it is not my favourite track off "On3ness", their 2014 album. However, as a song/video combination it is a high point. FishNClips have done a superb job on this video. Third3ye is one of my favourite hip-hop acts of the last few years. Have a listen to some of the song links below. I am especially fond of their collaborations with Edward Waaka (Edward is now on the Revolution label). There is a good live review/article on the band from blog "When Did You Fall In Love With Hip Hop" linked below as well. It captures the band well. I have bought everything the band has given us so far. Go, listen and love Third3ye's version of the hip hop revolution.
"Out of this World" http://third3ye.bandcamp.com/track/out-of-this-world
"Crystal Cloud" http://third3ye.bandcamp.com/track/crystal-cloud-prod-edward-waaka
On3ness album link: http://third3ye.bandcamp.com/album/on3ness
The Times (UK) article (subscription): http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4431552.ece
Third3ye - Levitate (Official Video)
I've said it before. These guys (along w/ Streets of Laredo) converted me to alt-folk. I had seen folk as a stagnant art-form, and with my electronica bent, it was always going to be an uphill effort. But Bird Courage own me now...with their beautiful lyrics, dynamics, textural balance, and exquisite arrangements that have so little going on...but seem to flesh the songs out perfectly. Each new release continues to build on the promise that Erik Meier and Sam Saffery showed as subway performers back in 2011. The raw essence is retained, but now we get violin, cello and trumpet arrangements that polish up the songs - just enough. Bird Courage is one-half NZ, with Sam being the New Zealand contact point here. Sam is one of those rare people who was able to give up the material benefits of a legal career in New Zealand for a creative life that may at times have flirted with starvation. There is an emotional and creative integrity here. Pretty impressive. So what makes this release worthy? Well the usual brilliance is present, but in this offering we have very talented string players, ex-Melbourne violinist cum legal scholar Quyen Le, and virtuoso cellist Jacob Cohen. Sam dragged out his dormant trumpet skills for the track. He anticipates doing more with the trumpet on future material. Apparently upright-bassist Clinton Van Gemert, who joined the band in 2014 is still involved on a part-time basis. The band have been touring actively, having just finished a tour through the USA's north-west. They managed to sell out of their vinyl on the tour so clearly there is a taste for Bird Courage over that way. A point of interest, this stunning, and quite-expensive-looking-but-probably-not video directed by Cody Swanson, features another up and coming Brooklyn-based musician C.F.Watkins. She is in the process of writing a new album after recently completing crowd-funding. Bird Courage are not sure whether their next release will be an album or an EP, but going by the quality of "Channels", whatever turns up may well surpass "Maia Manu's" critical reception. Go and have a listen at the links below.
Bird Courage - Channels
Majestic. Sounding like Ian Curtis just woke up in a bar in Arizona and got up to sing his new material with the resident 80s cover band, this unpredictable post-punk/post-Pink Floyd/country blend gets better with every listen. Introduced to me by a very enthusiastic Calum Robb of Black City Lights, I know now why he was so amped up on the band. With four years, an album already under their belt, and living in Welly, you would think I would know have known about something this good. Better late than never. The band, led on vocals by Michael Keane and Harriet Ferry are currently releasing their sophomore album "With Knees of Honey in Goodbye Canyon", influenced by "the Nevada desert, Utah canyons and instrumental guitarists like William Tyler and Robbie Basho". The band came out of Michael's frustration with his solo work, and a decision to work on country-influenced material with Harriet Ferry, Kane Tippler and James Bennett, all artists from disparate inspirational quarters. The material has since evolved to form what they call "Canyon Rock". The band hooked up with Wellington audio engineer James Goldsmith for the new album, and in "Open Eyed" he has produced something big, organic...but not clichéd, nor pompous. Its ambitious material, so to do so shows an understanding of the band, something they have confirmed in recent interviews. The video from Arty Papageorgiou and Phoebe Gittins comes in from an angle I wouldn't have heard in the song, but delivers with a vengeance. It is a powerful song/video mix. You can buy "Open Eyed" at the link below. The first single "Grounded (Lips)" is also there and no doubt the new album will available at the same link very soon. I will be buying it.
So Laid Back Country China - Open Eyed