Who? The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
Label: 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Tell me more: The name of this New York-based band comes from an unpublished children’s story by a friend of the singer, Kip Berman.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
Label: 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
Label: 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.