Who? Surf Friends
Label: Powertool records
Tell me more: Surf 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.
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
Label: 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
Label: 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.