Archive for April, 2011


Who? The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Title: Belong
Play It Again/ Fortuna Pop!
Tell me more: The name of this New York-based band comes from an unpublished children’s story by a friend of the singer, Kip Berman. How’s that for an obscurely-referenced influence?? They are so indie, they do split singles on vinyl.
The Lowdown:  The Pains have a trifle of a cult following among the folks who would have listened to John Peel and read Filter magazine. According to the typically overblown press release the band have moved away from their lo-fi sound, and done so without abandoning their roots. Having not come across the Pains before (this is only their second album) I can’t say if they’ve abandoned their original ethos but Belong remains very much of the indie ilk, and I’m reminded by My Bloody Valentine on the first few bars, and The Cure on a good chunk of this album. There’s the blissful pop of Heart In Your Heartbreak;  the committed drive of The Body and the gentle, trembling infectiousness of Anne With An E. It all sounds quite lovely, and yet it lacks a little je ne sais quoi, Belong remains in the same gear, trundling along it a nice pace, slightly above the speed limit.


Who? Little Bushman

Title: Te Oranga
Tell me more: It’s been some time since the Bushmen released their last album, Pendulum – late 2007 in fact. Frontman Warren Maxwell, who is also a member of the reformed Trinity Roots, says Te Oranga is a celebration of the warmer side of humanity.
The Lowdown: The first time I encountered Little Bushman was at the Newtown Festival in Wellington back in 2009, when I was blown away by the delicate rhythms and I envisaged Jimi Hendrix had come back to the world, having eschewed the electrically charged side of his music and fully developed the mellower, psychedelic side. That may sound as if I’m pigeon-holing the band into a nice wee corner but let me quantify that by saying the Bushmen are very much a New Zealand band. That’s difficult to describe to someone from outwith the Shaky Isles, but there is an essence and virtue among Kiwi bands that’s unique to those artists. The Bushmen marry various genres but the thread is 60s psychedelia.

As someone who comes from the thought process that angry is better, born of a youthful love of punk and reggae, I often have to remind myself that some of the best records and songs are those about love, peace and the human condition. So, there’s no axe to grind, no point to make. Just some sprawling, ambitious tracks like Gone, that are long, but the length is justified as Maxwell, and co delve into different layers of sound and weave them together. That track and the space-rock Dream of the Astronaut Girl come in two parts, saddled together rather than as a reprise. This means the four-piece allow themselves the luxury of developing the tracks as much as they can, but it doesn’t sound like prog-rock-esque indulgence and in the true nature of a concept album, which I guess this is, Gone Part II segues nicely into the eight-minute Big Man.

I’m also pleased to hear snippets of the Maori language interspersed into some songs, and in full on the opening title track, with a translation provided on the website.



Who? Black Wings

Title: Meltwater
Powertool records
Tell me more:
The Black Wings have been around since 2006 but this is the first album for a three-piece based in Palmerston North in New Zealand’s North Island.
The Lowdown:  Many bands have black as part of their name (Lips, Cab, Watch, etc etc) but the addition of Wings evokes the bleakness of the colour, a reminder of birds such as the raven and the crow that are integral to the Gothic sub-culture. The Black Wings also have, in singer Brendan Conlon, a man with a wonderfully gravelly voice that adds to the mysteriousness of their music and lyrics. Add in JC Burns’ pulsating basslines, and you have an intense clutch of songs, some uplifting, some more in keeping with the subject matter. On, The Grave, for example, later era Pogues gives life to a song about the loss of a loved one, Conlon lamenting that, despite all his attempts to keep his wife safe from harm, “deliverance was to come from above.” After listening to Amber, about knowing when death is looming, you’d be excused for thinking this was a monumental wrist-slitting album. But there’s far more to Meltwater, including a cover of Paul Kelly’s ode to assertiveness, I Won’t Be Your Dog Anymore and, on Time Flies, Conlon issues the old idiom that time goes quickly when you’re having fun.

Anything else? Available at powertoolrecords.co.nz


Who? Azalia Snail

Title: Celestial Respect
Powertool records/ Silber records
Tell me more:
Snail has been around for some time, and released records on Sub Pop, the famous Seattle label. People like Beck know her well but most folk outside of the West Coast will be unfamiliar with her unusual style.
The Lowdown:
There is a beauty within Snail’s songs. She has a delicate voice and the 14 tracks on here are conceptual bites, some verging on pop music, several others in a vague, indescribable  ether. My personal favourite, Burnt Cookies, a glorious, swaying pop record about an argument over, well, burnt cookies, is in direct contrast to Fallen Down, which could well have been used on a self-motivation new age disk, or Feels Right in which discordant keyboards hum as Snail sings in an oblique manner. Celestial Respect is a mood album, one that requires patience and commitment, it is not a throwaway, there are elements to be picked up at later date. However, even with such qualities it will only appeal to someone with an interest in the esoteric.

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The Clash: Cut The Crap (1985)

Given the literary kicking this album has received both in contemporaneous reviews and reflective scribblings, I sought out another copy hoping to discover that, despite these waves of negativity, Cut The Crap was actually a lost classic. I had visions of it being in the manner of Dexys Midnight Runner’s Don’t Stand Me Down, also released in 1985, which has undergone something of a reappraisal including a generally-approved re-release.
And let’s be honest about this, because Cut The Crap was butchered on its release and any reappraisal rarely finds evidence to contradict those original viewpoints. Referring to it as the worst album The Clash ever did, as many reviews have done, is about the least offensive thing that has been written.
In revisiting the album I found that, while I certainly couldn’t reverse the critical onslaught, I found it far less grating than before and I even discovered hitherto undiscovered groundbreaking ideas and sounds that, if created in another climate, may have made for a decent piece of work. But, in overall terms, it still sounds turgid, over-produced, and the lyrics could’ve been written by schoolchildren asked to make what they think is a punk album.

It’s fate was sealed months before the recording process because The Clash had stopped becoming a working band and only Joe Strummer of the five players in the touring band appeared regularly in the studio. How it descended into such farce is a tale I will relate later but first let’s look at the offending item itself.
I bought the CD as the vinyl copy I have is in an attic many miles away and that copy will be in good condition, unless damp has struck, as it had about three listens in 20 plus years.
The opener, Dictator, has Spanish-language samples, though they are over-done, and some of the rhythm and feel of Combat Rock, but is spoiled by inane chanting masquerading as verses. A shame as it has a poignant message about a power-mad tyrant: “Yes, I am the dictator, I satisfy the U.S. team.”

There’s little positive you could strip from Dirty Punk and We Are The Clash is unco-ordinated with very clumsy instrumentation. Neither Cool Under Heat nor Movers and Shakers could have been even a discarded outtake in The Clash’s heyday, but Are You Red…y despite its apocalyptic tones, is one the few standout tracks, pilfering from very early New York hip-hop and is another track that could have had its roots in Combat Rock with its captivating beats.

Three Card Trick is among the better-written tracks – “Patriots of the wasteland torching two hundred years.” But is let down by poor production; Play to Win intersperses spoken words with an unfocused melody and the closer Life Is Wild blends a football commentary, some fine grooves and Strummer’s immense vocals is allowed some scope, something it isn’t in many other songs.

Simonon and Strummer (The Clash Blog.com)

But before this track is what I regard as, with This Is England, the album’s best moment … North and South, which moves away from the mob-chant swamp that has preceded it, stealing all the melodies from the rest of the album and is a slow mover in the vein of Straight To Hell.

So, I’ve found some strong points but it’s an album I’m likely to file away, to be heard in about five years when I’ve become fed up with dancehall or punk-country.
It falters because the band had become nothing more than a rump by 1984-85. After Mick Jones left the Clash in 1983, Joe Strummer tried to keep the red flag flying recruiting three unknown musicians from ads in the music press. With drummer Topper Headon having also left, Strummer and Paul Simonon were the only remaining founder members. In came Nick Sheppard, Vince White and Pete Howard.
Instead of continuing on from Combat Rock, which while retaining the arena sound they had developed, flirted with rap, funk, and reggae, The Clash Mk II harked back to the band’s punk days of 1977 to mid-79, and for a while the portents were good despite some reservations from music writers, notably Melody Maker’s Lynden Barber who described the new Clash live show as reactionary.
In December 1984, Strummer and manager Bernie Rhodes set out for Berlin where they would start the recording for Cut the Crap.
The pair wrote all the songs – or at least they were all credited to the duo, Strummer later disputing his manager’s literary input – and none of the other band members made much of a contribution, even Simonon, as session players like the Blockheads’ Norman Watt-Roy had greater input. Rhodes under his nom de guerre, Jose Unidos, produced the entire album.
When it was finally released, several months after a fairly successful busking tour, the momentum had been lost, and in a mire of legal disputes over the band name, Strummer mourning both his parents and Rhodes’ excessive role in the making of the album, it bombed.

The back cover

It reached No.16 in the UK and No.88 in the states, poor figures from a million-selling outfit. But the real kick in the balls was from the critics, who couldn’t contain their contempt, apart from an easily-pleased Jack Barron in Sounds.
Two months prior to its November 1985 release, the band initially appeared to be in some form, with the sole single from it, This Is England breaking into the charts. This is an exceptional single, part-punk ribaldry, and using much of the styles Strummer was attempting to incorporate into the new Clash sound.

However, it was the only single released, as none of the other tracks would have persuaded any daytime DJ to play it. Even John Peel would have struggled to give it a whirl.

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