I have been listening to SJD for over a decade now, and unlike many of the artists I have followed over the years, I find it easy to keep coming back to Sean Donnelly's music. I challenged myself to get inside why I was doing that and came to the conclusion it was the balance of elements that keeps it working. No one element dominates. There is melody, texture, dynamics, textural dynamics, and lyrics that are, well basically not shit (which can sometimes be a problem with musicians' musicians). The lyrics are sometimes spectacular. ("Superman, You're Crying" is a favourite.) And there has been a continual reinvention of his sound. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, although there have been some big leaps. For me the SJD experience has almost always has been a more introverted, more technical, more rewarding Neil Diamond-like experience. I am sure the parallels have been made at least once, and it really comes down to one thing, his voice is similar. I am not going to push that too far, as I enjoy Sean's music so much more than Mr Diamond's, but that is how I experience it. "I Wanna Be Foolish" is off the new album "Saint John Divine" due out in March on vinyl, CD and digital through Roundtrip Mars with distribution through Universal NZ. I have had the pleasure of listening to the next radio single, "Helensville"...a sublime track. The album was recorded with a team that included James Duncan, Chris O'Connor, Sandy Mill, Mike Hall and Neil Finn. There are apparently other notables also...but I have no names at time of writing. Look out for the second single and video for "Little Pieces" due out in February. As for the very clever video for "I Wanna Be Foolish", this was directed by Greg Page of FishNClips. Has there ever been a bad SJD video?! I have provided some links below where you can find out more about SJD, or maybe buy into some of that back catalogue. Here's to the speedy appearance of the new album!
SJD - I Wanna Be Foolish
In a way this is a trailer for a 2012 short film from Damon Keen called "Last Flight". At the request of the band he distilled a 15 minute short film down to 4 minutes for a video for a song it now seems made for. A spectacular piece of film, it was shot on White Island in the Bay of Plenty, and Tongariro National Park. If you would like to watch the full movie, I have included a link below. It was good enough to be picked up several film festivals. So what about this song? The pop sensibility just drips off it. There is some serious song-writing experience in the Delete Delete team, bringing together Lani Purkis, Kurt Shanks, Chris van der Geer who have all been members of successful NZ bands previously (Elemeno P and Stellar to name a couple). If I were to pick a period and a place that Delete Delete's inspiration seems to have emerged from it, is early 1980s USA synth-pop/rock, what they called "new wave", but which was stylistically so different to the punk-inspired non-electronic "sound" that emerged from the UK in the late 1970s. Successful USA "new wave" often turned up as strong hooks delivered as an electronic/guitar blend with strong female vocals. I hear Berlin, Pat Benatar, Kim Wilde and so many other artists of that era in Delete Delete's music. I also hear radio magic. Go to the Soundcloud link below to see what I mean. The band have their debut album due out in the first half of 2015. If you would like to see the Delete Delete live, they are on tour through NZ in January. The shows are in Christchurch (DuxLive Jan 8), Dunedin (Chicks Jan 9), Wanaka (Lake Hawea Hotel Jan 10) and Auckland (Golden Dawn Jan 16). Tickets are available from Eventfinder.co.nz for the first two shows, and on the door for the Wanaka and Auckland gigs. Plenty of links below to explore!
Last Flight movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F9IJPptXyM
Delete Delete - Broken Heart Kid
I was struck by the maturity and the diversity of Louie Knuxx's "PGT/GRR" album when I first heard it, and continue to play it regularly, despite the onslaught of music I get on a day to day basis. Although there are a range of producers, it is easily bound together by the lyrical acuity of Todd Williams, and (as I have stated previously) the almost feline menace he presents at varying levels through all of the tracks. There are some standouts from the album, my favourites being "You See" which features Jane Deezy, and "Sex and Drugs". But "Sand" is also a favourite, probably because of the effortless interplay of several of NZ's best MCs. At Peace's Tom Scott and Lui Tuiasau make superb contributions to the track, Tom's principally from a lyrical perspective, whilst Lui's is more of stylistic contribution. The subject matter may get a few readers' hackles up, as it is superficially a pro-drugs song. But there is more to it, and it is really about the individual's right to choose their own lifestyle, and contrasts the implicit choice of the risk/reward trade-off of drugs with the hypocrisy of the insensitivity that characterises some public institutions' interactions with troubled youth today.
Todd Williams on the track... "so there wasnt much to the track to begin with. Just a demo with my verse and hook. Sick beat by Jay as usual. Tom's approach to the content was what I expected, the way he approaches a feature I can only compare with Andre3000. He always stands out by exploring a micro concept within the broader concept. Great lines as well, my favourite is "you call it a sentence but it felt like a page" I related a lot to that line. Lui followed my lead content wise I think. Stylistically he killed the song, he used his voice like an intrument and his vocal techniques and recording techniques on this blew me away. Was great to send the demo away barely a song and have these guys turn it into something special."
Jay Knight confirms again in this track that he is one of the best beats producers NZ has at the moment. The video from "Subject Matter", also superb, was directed by Tim D. and Jamie McReady. The lighting/filtering is particularly interesting. You can buy the PGT/GRR album at the link below. The title's acronym translation? "Progressive gangster thug, gentleman romance rap". Sums up Louie Knuxx pretty well I think. Go buy it.
Louie Knuxx - Sand (featuring Tom Scott & Lui Tui) prod by Jay Knight
Sounding remarkably like an almost fully formed artist at the tender age of 18, it is no surprise that Thomston (real name Thomas Stoneman) was picked up by Saiko Management, the management group responsible for Lorde's meteoric rise. A little bird in the USA told me that it was actually Saiko's choice of Republic Records' magical PR team that was the catalyst behind Lorde's ability to cut through the promotional quagmire in the USA. I am interested to see whether Thomston also ends up on that label. If he does, that for me is a shoe-in to an explosive introduction to the American market, which this sounds perfect for. And of course if that works, all other regions will tend to fall in behind. Thomston (from my limited exposure to his music so far) appears to be someone who loves music for itself, and also its connection to the listener. He is clearly technically proficient, with a voice that sounds like it has been trained, but not too much. And that thing that I always go on about...dynamics. He knows how to move the drama around. Directed by Jamie Lawrence, the video for "Anaesthetic" is a sleek offering with some stark suffocation/drowning imagery, conveyed through a cold palette and some magnificent lighting. I have included a link below to a very good Coup Demain Magazine interview with the man. There is also a link where you can buy the "Argonaut" EP. I have already bought it. You won't be disappointed.
Thanks to Noisey for the video link.
"Anaesthetic" - Thomston (Official Video)
There has been some well-deserved career acceleration for Chelsea Jade (who previously performed under the "Watercolours" moniker). She has recently been in New York City performing two CMJ showcases, following this up with participation in the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo (winning selection against 6000 other entries). With two excellent EPs released over the last year ("Portals" and "Beacons"), she is now signed to Universal Music NZ. Chelsea has a strong record in terms of the integration of her music with visuals, and the video for "Visions" is no different. Demonstrating some athleticism (!), Chelsea channels the video for the 1994 Lisa Loeb hit "Stay", but with far more success, working together again with very talented director Alex Gandar. A central theme to the video is "desperately wanting to be anywhere that you aren’t, but nowhere else seems really appealing either "(quote from Under The Radar linked below). It is a striking piece. I have included a Rip It Up link below if you would like to know more about Chelsea. You can buy both her EPs at the links below also. I own all her releases.
CHELSEA JADE - Visions
From She's So Rad's long-time-coming sophomore album "Tango" (due early 2015 through From The Crate Records), this new single is a little wonder. With great dynamics (often missing from shoegaze), an elegantly lazy hook and a guitar solo/break that somehow reminds me of Boston's "More Than a Feeling" guitar track, the song gets a further visual lift from Dylan Pharazyn's sensual, provocative and funny "hotspringsploitation" video. Dylan also does much of the band's artwork. Jol Mulholland was involved with recording the single at Mt Eden studio The Lab, while the track was produced by band principal Jeremy Toy, and mixed by Tony Hoffer (M83, Supergrass, Silversun Pickups). The back-story to the long lead time on the new album is Jeremy's hospitalization as a result of a cowardly assault. Jeremy remains with some quite serious neural side effects, but somehow he is bravely continuing to deliver soaring pop tunes in his long-time collaboration with partner, Anji Sami, principal writer of this song. It sounds like "radio" to me if it gets the right promotion/distribution. Here's hoping it gets the oxygen. You can buy the single at the link below. I will be.
Single link: http://shessorad.bandcamp.com/#_=_
Band website: http://shessorad.com/
Cool It - She's So Rad
I suspect Jonathan Bree has a higher profile internationally than he does in NZ, but he is by no means a household name anywhere. However Jonathan has been responsible, either directly, or indirectly, for some of the most original, clever and listenable music to come out of New Zealand. He is probably most well-known for his role as a member of the Brunettes (w/ Heather Mansfield) but in my (humble) opinion his most important contribution was through the founding of Lil' Chief Records in the early 2000s. This label has continuously launched some of NZ's best indie bands. And his music is a highlight of that stable. "Weird Hardcore" is the first single off his new album "A Little Night Music". The last album "The Primrose Path" was stunning, and an easy buy for me. There is something of the disembodied "familiar" about Jonathan's music, and this latest single is no different. According to a Lil' Chief blogpost " while writing and recording A Little Night Music – Jonathan inherited a bunch of second hand classical records and began listening to a bunch of ballet scores by Tchaikovsky, orchestral suites by Grieg and Haydn symphonies. With no classical background but always an obvious appreciation for orchestral pop (Serge etc) A Little Night Music is Jonathan’s attempt to write more free-form ‘classical’ inspired compositions but still always with a McCartney-esque bassline.” Simon Ward has come up with one of his best videos ever and the package is complete. You can download the single for free at the link below (although please pay if you can). I have also provided a Facebook link, and a link to Lil' Chief Records. Can't wait for the new album.
Jonathan Bree - Weird Hardcore
Now represented by Saiko Management (Lorde, Mt Eden, Thomston), Tom Lark (real name "Shannon Fowler") I think will finally get the traction he deserves. His songs are fun, hooky, but not clichéd. A bit like a more available UMO. "Something To Tell You" is a Tom Lark classic. With such a superb production job, I assumed it had been a big-bucks effort, but in fact it is another of his self-produced bedroom efforts, combined with some great mixing by Eric Dubowsky. The track is very radio friendly, and man I do love that break! As for the video? A wonderful French '60s retro movie vibe. Can't help thinking Tom sort of belongs in that era somehow. Directed/edited by Sam Kristofski with photography by Kieran Fowler, art direction by Brant Fraser, and produced by Dan Higgins. This is a masterful song/video combo, therefore it makes the NZMusic4U Honour Roll. Not the first time Tom Lark as been up there. The new EP has been released and is a free download the link below. Lucky us. Thanks Tom!
Tom Lark - Something To Tell You
I am not qualified to comment authoritatively on hip-hop, but I would like to recognize something I enjoy, so I'll have a go. He's been on this blog before, for good reason. Onehunga's Spycc is one of the most satisfying MCs to listen to in NZ today. A superb choice of beats, and honest rhymes with depth. The delivery reminds me sometimes of Kanye West, and maybe Kendrick Lamar at his most straightforward. But Mr Latu is his own, and one of those I think is "most likely to". It's a crowded space, and difficult to cut through, but everything I have heard so far indicates there is the ability and drive to make it. To be honest, he has soared to greater heights on other tracks, but "Bad Habit" is posted on this blog for a reason. It is worthy of being noticed. Visually? It's a simple, effective video, doesn't look cheap, and rounds the offering out nicely. The video was directed by Danny Aumua, produced by One Island Films with photography by Tj Perea. Editing was by Danny Aumua and TamaGotchi (who also produced the track). You can download "Bad Habit" for free at the link below. And go "like" him on Facebook to stay in touch with developments. If you would like to know more, I have included a Martyn Pepperell interview as well (he's picked up the Kendrick Lamar link as well).
Spycc - Bad Habit
"Suddenly things have changed". Not really. Elvis is clearly not completely dead. Mzwetwo channels the King in one of the stand-out singles of the year, confirming both his ability, and his "likely to" status. Mzwetwo says the video "deals with themes of love, purity, and frustration". Umm. I like it. The partnership with Sza Hands remains fruitful. Limited resources, but no sign of it. Such a great video/song combo. You can stay in touch with Mzwetwo at the link below...and look out for the "Gallantino 2" EP. And if you like Sza Hands' work, go to the FB page.
MZWETWO - SUDDENLY