“I am made in Britain. I define Britain.” And now he has found himself, physically, emotionally, and creatively, in New Zealand (Bethels Beach, West Auckland). Early 1980s ska bands brought Nadeem Shafi (aka Scalper) to music. Growing up in an increasingly racially polarised and scary London, Nadeem was inspired by the cross-cultural blend and style of bands like The Specials, The Selecter, and the Beat. He eventually became a core member of West London's politically-conscious, and often controversial, Fun-Da-Mental. And that political consciousness remains in his music today, albeit entering at an angle. His young niece once described his music as "scary", and there is a somewhat of a restrained aggression lurking in these rhymes. But there is also a lyrical beauty to this storyteller's metaphorical polemics. For those looking to pigeon-hole, recent work could be lumped in with trip-hop, but there is a broader range of influences at work. Some have likened him to Tricky. I will leave categorisation for the listener to decide. "Lunatics" is from the "Lunatics" EP due out Monday 23rd March. This is a pre-release ahead of "The Emperors Clothes" album, his third, which is due to be released on April 18th 2015 on French label, Jarring Effects (www.jarringeffects.net ). I have included a French blog's interview with Nadeem below. The video for "Lunatics" was filmed in the old Coromandel Hospital, put together by Jamie Greenslade, Jason Fa'foi, Mauricio Olmeda-Perez and Lucy Patterson. It . You can buy Scalper back-catalogue at the Bandcamp link below. Scalper's music is not music to escape with, but alternatively, and rather beautifully, be brought to contemplate some of life's harsher social and political realities as they emerge out of the shadow of the artist's metaphor. Highly recommended.
Scalper - Lunatics
I first came across Ophelia with their "Not So Frightening" single back in 2013 and felt it strong enough to be on this blog. That single was off the first anthology, "Face The Sea". The band's new EP "Invisible" is due out on March 13th, "Play with Me" being the first single. Alex Louise and Patrick Shanahan have been around for a couple of years doing something that at first listening sounds a little "Broods", but is maybe a little more "chanteuse". Echoing the Broods story, they also started out working with folk-driven material but ended up writing electronica. They see their current influences as "dubstep, indie/folk and orchestral soundscapes", the album focusing "on a deeper fusing of Alex’s story-telling song writing style and Patrick’s beat-driven production". This single's quality bodes well for the new EP. Compelling hook, sharp production and a superb vocal performance. An excellent job was done on the video by Design Weasel. Chris Williams directed. Have a listen to Ophelia at the links below. Remember the EP release is only a couple of days away! (March 13th)
Ophelia-Play With Me (Official Video)
Now comfortably ensconced in the Port Chalmers area near Dunedin, French for Rabbits are finally home to rebuild and get creative again. Brooke Singer and John Fitzgerald (and band) have had a hectic couple of years bouncing around the planet. They have also recently launched their debut album "Spirits". "Gone Gone Gone" is from the album and is the fourth single release I think. There are some great tracks on this album and I suggest you have a listen at the link below. This video, done in partnership with Ready!Steady!Studio! was mostly filmed in late 2013 on the band's first tour of Europe. As part of it they spent five weeks living at a surf camp in Portugal, home of the waterfight scenes. The New Zealand footage was shot around Aramoana, a beautiful place, with a very sad history. As Brooke says "its such a stunning place - it always feels a little eerie to me - the houses are a little bit shabby, and you can go out to the beach there and not see a soul...". The Bali kite footage was filmed separately by Jacob and Hana from Ready!Steady!Studio!. French for Rabbits are a very special band, with a fragile dream pop that is magical live. I saw them in Rough Trade in Notting Hill in London, and despite the restricted circumstances of a tiny record store, their music just floated. The album is highly recommended. I own it.
French for Rabbits - Gone Gone Gone
In 2013 and 2014 I came upon The Impending Adorations (IA), a solo vehicle for Paul McLaney, an artist who would possibly be more familiar to those with a few years under their belts. They would have known him as Gramsci in the late 1990s, early 2000s. I had liked Gramsci, but in The Impending Adorations, with its looped found sounds, atmospheric/ambient bent, and much matured vocal stylings, I had stumbled upon something of greatness. Many other reviewers have come to similar conclusions. In 2014 Paul started to work more closely with Andy Lovegrove, who some might recognise from Breaks Co-op, they of the early-2000s hit single "The Other Side" (linked below). This meeting coincided with an increasing frustration that Paul could really only take IA live with a laptop. Wanting to build more of a live format, this led to the evolution that we hear in "The Best Is Yet To Come", the first of three singles showcasing a more organic sound...which of course, can be taken on the road. "The Best Is Yet To Come" is a beautiful piece of work, which for me is almost a blend of the best of Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry and David Sylvian (and we will throw in Tears for Fears for the triplets). Yes, this song has clear roots in the 1970s and 1980s, but this is a conscious artistic direction for Paul who says "what we are trying to achieve with the new IA stuff is to rejuvenate that space of composition that inspired me - the more sophisticated area of pop - things like Peter Gabriel, The The, Talk Talk etc - music that was informed by a few more years on the planet and the experiences picked up along the way." And Andy Lovegrove's production on this single? It's sublime. Rich, textured and balanced. The video from redkidOne has a strong thematic link with the song's lyrics. Paul says the song was "written for a dear musical colleague who is battling a pretty serious depressive illness resulting in a few attempts on his life. In my time as working musician its an illness that seems highly prevalent amongst my peers, along with bipolar etc. The video is meant to be a metaphor for that descent; the letting go. Lyra - the central character is meant to represent the other and I suppose the male/female balance is some sort of id/ego thing. The plan is that we see her evolution to something more divine over the course of the next 2 vids". So expect a trilogy of singles with an emerging visual thematic link. The next single is "When The Wind Blows", to be in turn followed up by "Realpolitik". I have heard "When The Wind Blows" and loved it. "The Best Is Yet To Come" is also one of a trio of simultaneous releases from new collective/label "Revolution Music NZ", the others being Ed Waaka's "No Enemy of Mine" and Troy Kingi's "Break A Bone". If you would like to get more involved with The Impending Adorations, I have supplied links below. I have bought everything so far!
Bandcamp - http://theimpendingadorations.bandcamp.com/
iTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/nz/album/the...
Amplifier – http://www.amplifier.co.nz/release/11...
Google Play – https://play.google.com/store/music/a...
Rdio – http://www.rdio.com/artist/The_Impend...
Spotify – http://open.spotify.com/album/2CsbjW4...
Breaks Co-Op - The Other Side
The Impending Adorations - The Best Is Yet To Come
Sink \ Sink was a pretty special discovery for NZMusic4U back in 2013. Formed by Gareth Schott, an academic in computer gaming (amongst other things) at the University of Waikato, it is a beautiful mix of ambient, lo-fi and shoegaze influences. I have included a link to their music below. Gareth (guitar, songwriting) in collaboration with Sam Brockelsby (vocals, guitar, singwriting), Rob Shirlow (bass) and Mark McGeady (drums), has recently formed Ancient Tapes, bringing together diverse backgrounds into a format that channels influences from the mid-1990s, and earlier I would say. They have a love for shoegaze, although "passing of a year" is not obviously of that genre. What is it? A dynamic, surging mash of what sounds like early 1980s Chills, Smashing Pumpkins, Jakob and even the Golden Awesome. Shoegaze makes a crashing appearance in the coda. I can also hear sink \ sink in there, perhaps driven by the cello part, an addition that takes the track to the next level. This first single off the "Hummingbird" EP is both haunting and compelling. The EP was recorded on November 20th (yes in a day) with engineering and production by Sean Erin Lynch. Although Sam Brockelsby is the principal lyricist in the band, this track's lyrics are drawn from a poem by a friend of theirs, Annabel Henderson Morrell, titled "those weighed down by keys". You can read them on the Bandcamp site. The video is a clever found-footage montage I presume was put together by the band members. Love that parting car crash edit! The "Hummingbird" EP was officially released yesterday and is available at the link below. I love it. Favourite tracks are "passing of a year" and "a lifetime of". Go have a listen. I have bought it.
'passing of a year' by ancient tapes
Original, quirky and a little bit world famous, Princess Chelsea has intrigued me for some time. "The Cigarette Duet" is one of those phenomena of the interwebs, with over 18 million views (no, not a misprint) of a video that pretty much anyone can enjoy for its minor subversion. Bringing a sort of alt-nursery-rhyme (watch me destroy the English language) angle to New Zealand music, Chelsea Nikkel's art is a little ironic, sometimes acerbic but also playful and optimistic. There is maybe something of the Galactic Alliance here (if the Greens had put together a successful campaign in the Senate). In the interview linked below, Chelsea mentions someone describing the video for "No Church On Sunday" as "retro-futuristic". I think that encapsulates Princess Chelsea. And this is a much-loved artist. Most NZ musicians/bands I post on have maybe 10,000-20,000 Facebook followers if they are doing well. Princess Chelsea has over 60,000. There is something going on here. "No Church on Sunday" is from the forthcoming album "The Great Cybernetic Depression" which Chelsea says is "a more consistent sound than my first album, Lil' Golden Book, which had quite a varied palette." There is clearly lots of '80s timbre to come...in Chelsea's words, the album being "absolutely covered in Yamaha DX7s and Roland D50 Fantasy Bells with a huge snare." The "No Church on Sunday" video was directed by NZ's own video-Dali, Simon Ward, who was apparently channelling a video from early 90s female duo Shakespear's Sister. I assume "Stay", in which case I think it moves beyond that pretty easily. You can read more about Princess Chelsea and the new album at the very good Catalogue interview link posted below. You can also buy her choones at the Lil' Chief link. They do make a habit of sneaking up on one...
Princess Chelsea - No Church On Sunday
From "The Mikey Ellesmere LP" due March 27th, this is the first single from emerging Wellington MC, Mikey Ellesmere, real name Michael Androutsos. A one-time up and coming footballer from the Olympic football club in Wellington, injuries have seen him with time to devote to building a hip hop identity. And it is an interesting identity, one that probably can't escape the Greek community he comes from. Good! The first track I heard from Mikey about 12 months ago stood out ("Beautiful Misery" - see the Soundcloud link below). He seems to have an awareness of the overall sound he wants, and everything I have heard so far is not your usual local fare. There is ambition here. He has spent over a year working on the new album, which features Andy Fisher, Rei, Tomato Willis, El Capitan, Sujai Jones and Ants Ransley. The "Mad Genesis" single, in his words, "documents my journey mentally", "from starting as a mediocre artist and growing to what I am today, whilst also looking forward to what the future holds." Why is the video posted here? Mikey's rapping delivery stands out from the crowd (a large crowd), the production is big (Mikey's), and there are some great lines e.g. "The Parthenon is broken". If you like what you hear, there are a bunch of links below where you can follow Mikey Ellesmere. Looking forward to that album!
Mikey Ellesmere - Mad Genesis
I grew up in the 1980's on David Sylvian (and brother), and friends Holger Czukay and Robert Fripp taking random, but mostly tuneful samples, and building complex textures that were initially challenging, but very rewarding in the long term. None of that was commercially viable outside what was quite a wide global niche at the time. But having never thought that particular blend of randomness would make its way into the mainstream, in 2014 I then come across Bad Blocks. Effortlessly blending a pop sensibility with cinematic vision, and what I experience as an exciting mash-up of rhythmic and tonal discontinuities, my first listen revealed a masterclass. The maturity of the "Circulate" EP is breathtaking. Confident, restrained, moving. And just challenging enough. I am so excited about the potential for this two person venture, Hamish Lang and Daniel Neeve. As their record label, Brooklyn-based Stars and Letters says, their music is "at once familiar and yet quietly corrupted". The two of them met in Wellington and were initially working under the "South City Sushi Cop" moniker, but "Bad Blocks" works so much better (and for me, is one of the best band names I have come across in awhile). Hamish and Daniel currently reside in Melbourne, but I would not be surprised if events take them much further afield. The first video from the EP is suitably proficient, directed by another talented Kiwi, Josh Prendeville (website link below). You can buy the "Circulate" EP at the Stars and Letters link below. This is my favourite purchase of 2014. Find out more at the Stars and Letters link below.
Bad Blocks - Circulate from Bad Blocks on Vimeo.
It has taken me awhile to warm to this track (audio released July 2014, video released November 2014)...and not sure why, as it now seems an obvious inclusion in this blog. The snappy syncopation of the rhythm track, a huge chorus, and Joel Little's wonderful production should all be recognised for being essential components of one of the best New Zealand pop tracks of the last twelve months. The song is off Broods' album "Evergreen" released earlier in August 2014. I am not sure what sort of traction the band is getting stateside, but if they keep releasing tracks as strong as this, it is only a matter of time. I note the album has so far peaked at #1 in New Zealand, and #5 in Australia. That sort of success surely demands some further global label investment over the next couple of years, at the very least. The video was directed by Jordan Arts of Fish&Clips, with production by Felicia Asplet. Fish&Clips have pumped out some beauties previously (see link below), and although the video works conceptually, and there is some stunning imagery, for me it's execution doesn't quite fire. But who am I to judge? You can buy the "Evergreen" album at the link below. I have bought it.
Broods - L.A.F
In a society dedicated to reducing the gap between want and delivery, it was inevitable that there would be a backlash against the last thirty years' tsunami of instant gratification. There have been many strands to this backlash covering music, fashion, design and writing to name just a few. What is now the "hipster" aesthetic is a coagulation of these strands. The aesthetic in itself has created a banality of its own, with, for example, "retro", and "irony" now often existing for their own sake, without context. It has in some cases become almost comic. But there was a reason for all of this. As we lose the ability to be "present", we crave being in touch with those qualities of life that have been waylaid. And in artists like Lontalius (Eddie Johnston) we witness our barren consumer-technological fabric being used as a platform from which to record simple, genuine thoughts and feelings. Eddie has described his music as "sitting in your bedroom feeling sad about nothing in particular". Granted it could be taken as that superficially, but there is more to it. This sounds like our youth trying to survive with soul intact in a frantic, messy, noisy electronic world. "Walk Me Home" as it is heard here is not purchasable, and is actually a collaboration with Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth from his new EP, "Alone For The First Time". Ryan's interpretation is completely different, but still very good. This version, with raw vocals, surging Casiotone textures and beautiful counterpoint, is just stunning. And the video from Arty Films is brilliantly sympathetic. With wonderful editing (the neon arrows syncing with the Casiotone at 0:30!) and colouring, the video is also notable for the number of quality shots squeezed out of a suburban convenience store. Arty Films is Arty Papageorgiou, a Wellington-based writer/director who clearly has an eye for beauty where others don't initially see it. I have provided a link to his Tumblr site below. Lontalius has a new album coming in 2015, from which the first single is "Light Shines Through Dust" (linked below), in my opinion a candidate for New Zealand song of 2014. The sign of a good songwriter is a song's genre-immunity. Eddie's songs have that. There is also something of the "Thom Yorke" here. It is still early days, but Eddie Johnston is promising to be one of the greats.
Lontalius - Walk Me Home (Convenience Store Performance)