Archive for October, 2010

Who? Belle and Sebastian

Title: Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
Rough Trade
Tell me more:
A glorious sepia-tinted cover means only one thing: a new Belle and Sebastian album. And this one is celebrity-endorsed with guest appearances by Norah Jones (boo) and An Education actress Carey Mulligan (yay) on one track apiece.
The Lowdown: The Glasgow icons reached a zenith during the past decade with two stellar albums, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) and The Life Pursuit, from well over four years ago.
And to this bulging library of goodness we can add Write About Love, more beauty in a digipak, complete with idyllic photos of a couple reading Keats in a field.
The basic tenets of a B & S album are all enclosed: dreamy vocals from Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin, plaintive melodies, and beautifully penned songs about relationships that never happened, schoolyard bullying, and, on Calculating Bimbo, a tale of the toxic friend who only calls at midnight when a relationship with a muscleman goes awry. “I’m your captain for the long haul” sings a willing Murdoch as the call for help comes in. There are some lovely tracks with 60s bounce; it’s impossible not to be entranced by the hook-heavy I Can See Your Future or the escapist harmonies of the title track featuring Mulligan.
But the decision to rope in Jones was a big mistake: she has no idea of what B & S are about nor does Murdoch really how to utilise her fully. Some people have cruelly labelled this an MOR album: it isn’t that and yet there are cringeworthy moments and languid balladry, a la Read the Blessed Pages, that gives those calls some authority.

Anything else?
In 1999 the band were awarded the Best Newcomer gong at the Brit Awards, upsetting the corporate industry’s hopefuls Steps and 5ive.

Who? Lupen Crook

Title: The Pros and Cons of Eating Out
Beast Reality records
Tell me more:
Crook’s persona shifts between ” lone folkie, loco punker, schizoid artist, gutter poet, sex-obsessed lover, drunken romantic, twisted rocker, doting father and provocative prankster”.
The Lowdown:
The above description came from the accompanying press release, something Porky tends to avoid as it’s usually full of glowing, over-the-top hype but in this instance I can only but praise the effort the label has gone to in trying to win over the world’s best pig-based music blog. The CD comes within a booklet that contains photographs of Crook and his band, a statement “on the album title, artwork and themes” by Crook, excerpts of lyrics and various confused and bemused articles. In the cold and fake age of downloads and iTunes, such effort needs a raft of one-hand clapping at the least.
It would be, given this volley of flattery, naive to expect something tantamount to a masterpiece in an era of wanton musical turgidness, and I’m of an age that I can gird my loins on ripping open a parcel from a PR company acting on behalf of a record label. The salt is easily spread over, a pinch or a teaspoonful at a time. The Pros and Cons … is a challenging album, consuming the sounds of the Balkans, musical theatre and the New Wave of New Wave, not always deliberately. It ends up as a stir fry using leftovers and flavours that clash, providing a 41-minute dish that both sparkles the tastebuds and leaves you feeling bloated. I can think of the Libertines, and moreover the flood of imitators that followed, in using intelligence with pace; glamour with individuality. It worked with Barat et Doherty but the imitators missed the point. Crook HAS the point, he is just confused what to do with it.

Who? The Woe Betides

Title: Never Sleep
Songs in the Dark
Tell me more:
Woe Betide: Simon Mastrantone, Grundy le Zimbra and Colonel Sexlife; only Mr Sexlife was born with his stage name.
The Lowdown:
There are as many indie-rock bands in the YooKay as there are slugs in your garden. They play places like Bury St Edmunds, have created a hundred web pages to plug themselves, and have a following of 18-year-old humanities students.
Never Sleep starts promisingly, with the bass-reliant On The Wheel, and the excruciatingly over-done Bone on Bone, but then I hear some wonderful use of the piano on the heart-stopping One of Your Pills while This Head, Your Heart is just about the finest three-minute rousing anthem you can get outwith the Manic Street Preachers circa 1999. A single, Sylvia, is infuriatingly cuddly, the kind of thing you want to fast-forward but can’t because it has already dig a hole into your soul. Their use of instrumentation is admirable but the songs don’t always match the ambition.

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The Tunnel

The Mt Victoria road tunnel was opened in 1931, an era when cars didn’t have seat belts or indicators, nor passengers really as only the wealthy could afford them.
It is the only real link (other than a couple of circuitous detours) connecting Wellington’s international airport and its populous eastern suburbs, and the city centre and everywhere north of it. It’s usually clogged with traffic and is not a pleasureable drive.

Hell, driving doesn’t compare to walking though. The ageing thoroughfare has a raised walkway along the side, with space enough for two skinny people walking extremely close together. One of them has to be no more than 5′ tall to avoid hitting their head against the slope.

It’s also used by cyclists who just slam past, not giving a toss if a pedestrian’s forced onto the waist-height wall, or thrown into the traffic below.
Walking through is a fucker enough with the pollution and incessant noise of traffic, then you’ve got this bizarre Wellington tradition: tooting the horn in the Mt Vic tunnel. That’s a bit of an ear-bleeder. But I have to confess that, after my experiences with inconsiderate cyclists, I now hoot just as I’m passing them in my car, hoping to  give them a jolt.

No-one can quite say what the reasoning behind this is but most drivers just seem to like the orchestral sound of the horn in this claustrophobic alleyway.

Many people who walk through it, do so every day, the cost of the bus being prohibitive for a short journey to the other side and the only foot alternative being the steep climb over the forested Town Belt, which is a must-avoid at night.
Initial predictions, back in the late 20s, were for 4,000 cars per day. By 1995 it was 33,000 per working day and God knows what it is today.

There are plans for alternative tunnels, which may well ease congestion in the tunnel and new Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown has put transport at the top of her hitlist, perhaps leading to such radical innovations as light rail in the city.

I walked through the tunnel today, with my iPod playing the New York Dolls at near full volume and I still could barely hear Trash . My lungs need a good airing now.
Just thought I’d let you know, should you ever drive through.

* This is a slightly revised version of an article posted in 2009.

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Who? Surf Friends

Title: Confusion
Powertool records
Tell me more: S
urf Friends (not to be confused with another Kiwi band, Surf City) have only been around since early 2009 but haven’t been sitting on their rears, releasing an EP and four CD singles – that’s right CD singles, not downloads.
The Lowdown:
These Friends are not shy about their influences – in the press release they joyfully profess to blending the “early indie sounds of Flying Nun bands … with new experimental waves of No Age and Deerhunter”. Listening to Flying Nun re-releases all day is a worthwhile occupation and it’s a fairly obvious influence on Confusion with You’re on My Mind in particular sounding very much like The Clean, but there’s also the early 80s rough-around-the edges pre-Blue Monday atmosphere of New Order coming through. While their influences are of a generation ago, that doesn’t mean to say the Friends are retro-obsessed; there’s a freshness to this marriage of the past and the present, and an emphasis on moving things forward, as much as they can.

Who? Deerhunter

Title: Halcyon Digest
Tell me more:
No, I don’t think I will.
The Lowdown:
The cover, one of the eeriest and strangest I’ve seen for a good while, suggests some incredibly dark goings-on. And reading the true story in the sleevenotes that accompanies one track, Helicopter, about a Russian under-age gay hardcore porn star who seemingly meets a grisly end after being involved with a crime baron, I have no reason to dispute otherwise. More evidence on Coronado: “I was sick. I was dead. Lay my head on the cement bed.” Yet, it’s all done so pleasantly, Deerhunter are a graceful pop band, the type that seemed to be all over the place in the mid-80s counter-culture. There are harmonies aplenty on Don’t Cry, heavy riffs on Revival and moody effects on Desire Lines. There’s a sense of mystery amid the familiarity that makes Halcyon Digest an intriguing and pleasureable listen.

Anything else? Their debut was entitled Turn It Up Faggot.

Who? Michael Franti & Spearhead

Title: The Sound of Sunshine
Liberator music
Tell me more:
I always thought Spearhead WAS Franti. I remember him best from the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, a politically-charged hip-hop(ish) band from the early 90s, when rap and politics were synonymous. Songs such as Television: Drug of the Nation were a rallying call for the millions of dispossesed in the United States.
The Lowdown:
Ah, the blissful sounds of summer. It’s not difficult to get hooked on the self-titled opening track, as it transports me to a sandy beach with the rays baking on your back, and bikinis hiding lady’s goodies. Shake It is a perfect way to kick off a party full of nervous faces; and I’ll Be Waiting is a look-at-what’s-really-important kind of anthem. It’s an album from someone who had serious health problems recently and now has an alternative take on life, all played in an up-tempo pop-reggae manner that could offend no-one. This is a long way from a band named after a socialist catchphrase.

Anything else? The illness was a mid-tour ruptured appendix that left Franti in hospital for over a week, and threatened his life.

Who? Devils Elbow

Title: Sand On Chrome
Hit Your Head Music
Tell me more:
Rock und roll all the way from the North Island’s sun capital, Hawke’s Bay dished up by Alec Withers and Andrew Gladstone.
The Lowdown:
The band description supplied by the label weaves a tapestry of rock’s greatest rollers pummelling Devils Elbow into a fighting stage and recording act with The Clash, Springsteen and Gram Parsons all having a role. However, I hear the spirit of Steve Earle most clearly on Sand On Chrome, a man for whom the term punk-country was invented. There’s a varied pace throughout, with Withers’ vocals dipping and peaking, sometimes sounding a little strained but never far off the mark. There’s no doubt that Devils Elbow – like Fat Freddys Drop there’s a deliberate grammatical challenge – are a duo with an enormous knowledge and thirst for rock, country and whatever else comes to hand. And while sometimes the tracks on Sand On Chrome sometimes appear to blend into one another there’s plenty of good ideas here that should take them beyond way beyond Waipukurau.

Anything else? They are the occasional support and backing band to Husker Du’s Grant Hart.

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