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
Many R&B songs are sung with an intensity that sits at odds with the banality of the lyrics. It is one of the reasons I find it difficult to spend much time with the genre. But occasionally there comes along an artist who brings depth and a new perspective. Thomston (Thomas Stoneman) is one of those. "Collarbones" is not strictly R&B, with an electro-hum reminiscent of my other NZ favourite of 2014, Bad Blocks. But its roots are there, enhanced by superb, spacious production. And the lyrics? The song is about the writer's realisation that a friend has an eating disorder, and the internal conflicts around acting on his concern. The maturity of the writing is stunning. "Collarbones" consistently brings a tear to this writer's eye. There is a care and sensitivity which I believe is no affectation, as my limited interaction with the artist has been remarkable for its courtesy and respect. Although embodying a genuine and personal message, "Collarbones" also has an element of the theatrical about it, and in some ways it could be a signature song within a musical. I find it interesting that Thomas had performed in stage productions at an earlier age as there is almost a Stephen Sondheim feel to the writing on this track. "Collarbones" is from Thomston's latest "Backbone" EP which is available in its entirety through Spotify, linked below. You can buy last year's "Argonaut" EP at the iTunes link. "Collarbones" and "Grey" from the new EP are at the Soundcloud link. I would be very surprised if at some stage over the next two years we didn't see Thomston crack the US market. If you would like to see him live, he has a few live dates coming up. See below. Top marks to Jamie Lawrence of 8com for the stunning video.
May 2nd, St James Theatre, Auckland
May 12th, Les Etoiles, Paris
May 14th, Great Escape Festival, Brighton
August 20, Pukklepop, Belgium
More dates TBA
THOMSTON - COLLARBONES (Official Music Video)
LA-based Strange Babes first came to my attention last year with their jangly (and quite magical) "Holiday" single. I have since found out that there are serious pop-chops behind the band, with Joel Little's old band-mates Sam McCarthy and co-writer but non-member Jaden Parkes (both Kids of 88) writing the bulk of the songs so far. But in addition there is now the serious addition of Leroy Clampitt of Banglade$h ("Lean" is still one of the most read/listened to posts on NZMusic4U), and Maddie North (also a stylist, make-up artist and photographer). Having found a 2012 single from the band, it feels like Strange Babes was a tangential guitar exploration that found a tailwind...probably as a result of the strength of the songs. And what songs! Hooky as hell. Others have described the music as a mix of the Beatles, the Byrds, and Teenage Fan Club. The influences are clear. But it works on its own terms. Recent reviews have punters raving about this unknown live support act as they played with the Naked and Famous on tour. It is not a revolutionary sound - but difficult to resist. There is much here for the big labels so it will be interesting to see where this goes. Sam Kristofski did the video. Appropriate sort of look to it and it works too. Some links below for you to get involved with Strange Babes.
Listen to "Holiday" here...
Interview with Grateful Web...
Strange Babes - Come Back Around
“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)