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)
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