Sunday, August 5, 2018



Intros are often overlooked. An introduction to a new person can have have impact that can make a lasting impression - both good and bad - that inks itself on the memory. But the musical equivalent can simply be seen as a trivial diversion, forgettable filler,  irrelevant scene setter or an annoying interlude. They are not usually memorable in their own right. So here's two that I think are:

Odin's ride over Nordland (from the album Blood Fire Death) is from the legendary black metal maestros, Bathory. Whilst satanic themed music in the States and UK was still maturing out of b movie horror territory, the Swedes were already sharpening their axes, standing in caves with goat heads and leafing through the local parish pamphlet deciding which church to burn first. I've got a massive soft spot for the late Quorthon. He took the Hellhammer approach to raw, rabid energy and went on a sonic rampage all the way to Valhallah (just not the one on Vivian Street). I love this album. The artwork depicts a marauding horde on horseback, decimating life on earth, plucking unsuspecting victims by their hair and dragging them to their doomed destiny. The intro starts with braying horses and a stampeding army. Synthesised orchestration adds layers of majesty to the mix, then it all falls away to sad boy guitar strumming and angelic harmonies, till: all hell breaks loose in the first song proper, and the Norse gods set about dishing out some honest to goodness punishment to mankind, while also inventing viking metal into the bargain.

Odin's Ride is swiftly followed by A Fine Day to Die (first two tracks):

My second is from Pendulum's first album Hold your Colour. Prelude is glossy, grandiose and completely grin inducing. The awe of space and time make life on this small planet a mere triviality. To make sense of it all, we need drum and bass. It is this metaphysical glue that sticks two fingers up at relativity, looks condescendingly down at gravity and doesn't give a quantum buggery about anything else. Just play a meaty bass line and some cool samples over a break beat, and get the hell on with it! This album was the cusp of stadium style drum and bass, which became cheesy, vapid and crap music for hormonal teenagers. However, I still really dig what they did here. It still manages to bring out the cheesy, vapid, hormonal teenager in me.

Prelude is followed by Slam (first two tracks):



Dimmu Borgir - Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia - Fear and Wonder followed by Blessing Upon the Throne of Tyranny

Black metal is nothing if not atmospheric and these pioneers of symphonic black metal released, in my opinion, their best in this album, the title of which is virtually impossible for any human to consign to memory. A quick Wiki-search tells me Fear and Wonder was written by the keyboardist, and the album made use of real orchestral instrumentation for the first time. My knowledge of classical pieces is not good, but this seems well written and is an awesome start to this album, despite the possibility of it being considered a rip-off from a Batman soundtrack!

(First two tracks)

Estel - The Bones of Something - Stacy (intro) followed by Journey To The Centre Of John's Ma
I've actually played the second track at Music Club before, at the Horror gathering, but the intro to this album sets up the terror to come so well that I thought that's not good enough a reason to advertise this great, ultra independent Dublin band. Prepare to be a little perturbed!




A good intro track exudes hubris. Only the most swaggering artists would dare one. An intro track tells the world to sit down and buckle up.

So there is no way Madlib and MF Doom could go without one on the defining album of their Madvillain project, Madvillainy. Their project is satirical, playing on the fear of the black man and his sexuality that gangster rap plays up to such effect in its attempt to secure demand from insecure white boys.

The intro sets the scene for a succession of playful and amusing tracks across several different styles. The intro is a collage of samples from an old fashioned cops and robbers show. This is a recurring motif in MF Doom's work: while he encourages us to fear him as a supervillain, he also makes it clear that he spends most of his time getting stoned, watching TV and unsuccessfully hitting on women.

Part of the reason Madvillainy is such a good listen is that it makes great use of many jazz samples. When jazz infects an adjacent style, the results are often far more satisfying. A great example of this is of course Flying Lotus. He is far too cool to have an actual intro to his album Cosmogramma, but given the fractured and kaleidoscopic tone of the album, it makes perfect sense that one of the middle tracks is titled Intro//A Cosmic Drama. It was an easy choice, particularly since the following track, Zodiac Shit, is a real high point in the album, all watery synths, distant strings and thundercat's funky bass.


A couple of examples from my collection sprang to mind immediately... and then a couple more... and then... The closer I got to the day the greater the surfeit. Decisions, decisions...

First up, Combichrist. Their profile says (with my edits), "Combichrist" is an  group (wt?), formed in Norway (of course!) and currently based in the United States (of course...). The review also claims they are scions of the 'dark electro scene' so that's a thing then. Lead artist is a Norsk by the name of Andy LaPlegua, birthname of Ole Olsen for those studying why Scandi music is so dark...  His music is about as far as I want to go into the whole aggro/terror subterranean thing but he came through the electro dance scene so I do find myself tapping my toes a bit. Apparently he has also credited his dog, 'Pika', on some of his albums so his Mum obviously tried to bring him up proper. 

These are the first and second tracks from their second full album "Today We Are All Demons" (2009). Track 1, 'No Afterparty' becomes self evident when you hear it and sets the stage for the rest of the album... So we start with a bit of misery and go down hill from there with Track 2 'All Pain Is Gone'. By now you should be used to it and you'll breeze through the rest of the album...


I was introduced to the next group by Christian (who was then roundly thanked by all those present...). The description of Diablo Swing Orchestra as a Swedish (of course) metal band (of course!) from Stockholm (of course...) doesn't really match what they do, which is take to a swing beat with the usual guitars and drums while throwing in a cello, trumpet, accordion, trombone and a Wagnerian opera singer just for good measure... what could possibly go wrong? Not much, as it turns out. Their second album, "Sing Along Songs for the Damned and Delirious" (2009), is full of energy providing a musical confluence I'd never come across before. The only real critique I have is the helping hand they offer to those less fortunate in society... for example, Youtube is now clogged with amateur videos of amateur tap dancers attempting to boogie while wearing castanets on their feet to the not so delicate strains of "A Tap Dancer's Dilemma"... 

I also had to stretch the boundaries of the theme to get them on board but since LP's are making a comeback I shouldn't have to explain how this works... suffice to say IF "Sing Along Songs..." were issued as an LP THEN these would be tracks 1 and 2 of side 'B'... I give you "Siberian Love Affairs", a drunken bumbling half shambles of a mumble followed by a "Vodka Inferno"


I can’t remember if I had anything insightful to say when I introduced these tracks from King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine and truth be told I’m not entirely sure if these were my selections.  What I will say is that First Watch situates what is to come in place, tone and theme – the Scottish voices in a local greasy spoon are the backdrop to a piano played in a minor key that sets up the plaintiff tone of the record. This gives way to a two-chord tale ostensibly about the discomforts of going to sea, being content not to be out adventuring  but instead about observing from the shore, as one might from the corner of the greasy spoon. The albums themes are comfort in inaction, about time passing and passing people by. The contentment that can be found in that is also heard in the cosy noise of a Scottish caff.

If an introduction is meant to set up the atmosphere of the record to come, then what could be more evocative of the sound of the audience at the precise moment a band walks onto the stage? Crowd noise, the sound of hundreds or thousands of strangers reacting to the same thing at once, can be the sound of excitement and joy, or focussed attention. It’s a moment in time, capturing the relationship of the musicians and their fans, and sometimes even the sound of a much larger cultural picture – for instance in Dylan’s 1964 “Royal Albert Hall” bootleg.

So there’s the human element, where you listen to your fellow fans’ expression of appreciation across time and space and through your speakers. There’s also the sound itself, which can be like a brief but intense rain shower heard from a sheltered spot, or a low burning fire. When, in the case of esbjörn svensson trio’s Live in London record, the applause gives away to music that itself creates a wide sense of space around an insistent, intense melody, the effect can be quite magical.

I also note another way introductions play into this tune for me – Christian introduced me to e.s.t a year ago when I stayed at his house for a while. This introduction, along with a subscription to a streaming service, has lead me down a path of contemporary jazz and classical minimalism, as well as ambient music. There is no small risk that, after a long absence, Brian Eno will make a return to music club. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Karaoke Club


A great night! Not without trepidation of course however I cut my karaoke teeth at The Family Bar on K' Rd. (motto: The House Wine is Jagermeister) so I was feeling positive...  that, and some sage advice from GranMaster Jake along the lines of if you can't sing then at least be sincere!. During my first encounter with a tape deck (last century) I discovered that what I thought I sounded like and what I actually sounded like were two very different things... I suspect it's the same with most people however I never really recovered from the shock and consequently I think I sound like a loon when trying to string a song together. So the sincerity approach it was then... My singing might have been crap, but at least I meant it!! 

I was impressed with the breadth of songs and genres... and pleased that we were tending to steer to the 'alt' side of rock. There wasn't a track in there that I thought 'maybe not' and some that I certainly didn't have the courage to attempt... Who would have thought that the words King Crimson and karaoke could appear in a sentence together without making a story up. The only thing off the menu, in deference to Jake again for his sage advice, was number 4476... an unconventional parable of sorts made famous by an obscure movie called Wayne's World.

Oh, and the Beef Stew was pretty good :-)


Once over the initial hurdle of self conscious doubt, the brakes were well and truly taken off - careening over cliffs of musical respectability with complete self abandon whilst creating aural carnage en route. Not even my very limited ability inhibited enthusiasm. The single song threshold was breached and it was all down hill from there on in:

I love metal but I realised, halfway through Pantera's This Love, that I couldn't replicate Phil's muscular growl; I couldn't even muster sounding slightly gruff - it was pretty pathetic! I moved on to some Ole Blue Eyes, keeping to a safer, sultry half an octave. It felt like I nailed Santana's She's Not There, which was a dangerous state of mind as it lead to complete overconfidence and me deciding to butcher Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity. What the bloody hell was I thinking!?

Everyone had at least one decent song in them; Christel was probably the surprise package, making some meticulous style choices; Yet, Jake's ambition and confidence knew no bounds - adding shimmies,  gratuitous gyrations and mesmerising fleet footed funky struts. The full package.


I came to karaoke in my early 30s in Pittsburgh, where a few spots around the Italian-American neighbourhood Bloomfield would host regular nights. Thursdays were The Pleasure Bar, Fridays Del’s, and Saturdays Nicos – each night was run by the same guy with a laptop and access to 10s of thousands of mp3s. There was no hiding in private rooms in these places – you were out there, in the bar, in front of strangers who would happily provide you with instant and unfiltered feedback on your performance. My go-to was Take Me to the River, which despite my limited musical talent tended to be popular with the crowd. At least that’s how it felt in my American craft beer-tinged perception.

The Wellington approach to karaoke, where groups of friends cloister themselves in backrooms of Korean restaurants and pour over vast folders listing a surprising and surprisingly limited assortment of songs, is not my preferred style. Mainly because none of the bars seem to have Take Me to the River in any of those folders. Still, as my friend Devan is known to say, with karaoke you don’t have to be good, but you do have to be sincere. And so it is that Prince’s Kiss has become my new karaoke number. I don’t have any of Prince’s vocal range, style, or ability, and the timing of the lyric cues on the video at Newkor is wrong so I always fuck it up at the end, but it’s fun to try on a hyper-sexual persona for 4 minutes once in a while. My only other strong memory from that night was duetting with myself on Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Cruisin’, which, forgive me Devan, was not sincere, but did involve the logistical problem of switching between microphones for each part.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Bechdel Test

Theme: Musical Bechdel Test. The three rules applying to movies become only two rules here:
  1. There should be at least two women involved in (the conception/execution of) the piece.
  2. The piece should be about something other than a man.


I loved this theme, it was amazing and kind of obscene to see how much music didn't make the criteria!

I only managed one track, due to leaving my runway too short (the night before music club): 
Massive Attack; Paradise Circus from their Album Heligoland, 5th from the Brit group relelase Feb 2010 (for those interested Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea).
Paradise Circus was sung by guest vocalist Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star, and my second female included in the execution (liberal position taken on theme interpretation) was Georgina Spelvin who featured in the video, which blended footage from the 1973 adult film "The Devil in Miss Jones", Georgina was the porn actress who starred in the film 36 years earlier and was then interviewed for the promo, the interview was juxtaposed showing the aged version of Georgina with the 1973 footage.
Also interesting the unreleased original demo of this song featured Yolanda Quarty (Phantom Limb), Yolanda was the vocalist for Paradise Circus when it was known as Harpsichord while they toured in 2008 but Massive Attack chose to record and release the 2010 album with Hope, albeit it never in the same studio.  Martina Topley-Bird has also been the vocalist for this song as recent as 2014.


I get relationships are a major factor in people's lives, but why do men get to sing about fights, dungeons and dragons, fast cars and other esoteric subjects? I'd never really paid attention to lyrics from some of my favourite bands that I thought would make this theme a cinch - all their songs were about bloody blokes! Here's where I ended up:

Kemistry and Storm were a drum and bass DJ duo who also started the uber influential Metalheadz record label in the mid-nineties with Goldie. They often indulged in the glitchy, dark and technical side of the genre, which tends to float my break beat boat. This track finds the two ladies playing some quality tunes without even a consideration for Mankind, let alone paying attention to your average Tom, Dick or Harry. General doses brutality is the order of the day. First track off the album is Trauma by Dom and Roland that adds an ominous cinematic flair to the pummeling - taken from their excellent DJ Kicks mix album (it's the first track on the video below and only about 3-4 mins long).

Gorecki was a Polish composer who found belated fame with a '95 CD release of his Symphony Number 3. I was introduced to it by a flat mate at college who was studying music and played it most Sunday's (to assist with readjusting to society after jumping around to glitchy drum and bass on a Saturday night). The second movement of the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is sung by Dawn Upshaw, joined by the London Sinfonietta, which includes many female musicians. The music draws its inspiration from an inscription that an 18 year old Polish girl wrote on a Gestapo prison wall to her mother (the inscription read: Oh Mamma do not cry, no. Immaculate Queen of Heaven, you support me always). The music is dark, warm, moving, sad, yet beautiful.


This theme had me researching more than I have for any other, and opened me up to a whole host of female artists.

Warpaint - Disco//very
I roped in some friends for suggestions of what to pick for this theme and they quickly came back with Warpaint. This all female four-piece from LA formed in the mid-2000's and released their third album, Heads Up, from which this track comes, in 2016. I kept coming back to it as I debated a small number of possibilities, I think because I found it groovy while packing a bit more attitude and oomph than a lot of the electro dream-pop that many female fronted bands are producing these days. The video, which they released with another track from the album, shows off their attitude and individual personalities nicely.

Fly My Pretties - Mud & Stardust
I saw this show live, in the second row of the Paramount in Wellington. The whole show, and particularly this track, was mesmerising. I was a tad worried when presenting this as she finishes many lines with 'am'. Thankfully the matching rhyme was never 'man', and so I successfully negotiated the theme! Fly My Pretties, in case you don't know, are probably best described as a live-only, New Zealand super-group who members change from tour-to-tour and who co-write and cross perform their songs for release after the tour. This track was written and lead by Wellington's A Girl Named Mo.


Music is pretty much entwined with the human condition so while there are some fantastic female artists out there, a significant portion of their output has a bloke embedded somewhere... Luckily enough I have a couple of exceptions to the rule in my collection so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself but still ended up with a narrow field inside another narrow field. 

First up, Laurie Anderson and her debut 1982 album Big Science. The album did surprisingly well in NZ peaking at number 8 in the local charts... no mean feat for an avant-garde offering in a conservative country with a fraction over 3million people. Having said that, two years later in 1984 we embarked on a massive social upheaval from which some say we have never recovered. Coincidence? Who knows... The second female connection is through the album's producer, Roma Baron, a Canadian born record producer who is also credited with a number of instruments on the album including the second instrument from hell, the accordion. The main single from the album, 'O Superman', doesn't make the cut but the track just before it does... 'Born, Never Asked' (with handclaps by Roma Baron!)

The second offering is a three piece band from Osaka who were inspired by The Ramones. While they had some success in the US their other claim to fame outside of Japan was touring the UK as an opening act with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana... Why Kurt appreciated three women from Osaka who played 1980's punk pop while dressed like something out of the 60's we will never know but Shonen Knife have racked up over 30 years in the business and are still going strong and touring regularly. I saw them in late 2017 at Meow in Wellington... a very apt venue as they are also known for singing about cats. And food. In fact, unlike many punk/pop bands, Shonen Knife don't really sing about rebellion that much... or at all, really. They are more of your relentlessly optimistic, tooth grindingly positive, smile-till-your-face-aches, punk poppers... and sometimes that is just what you need! So, from the 1998 album 'Happy Hour' here is 'Catch a Bus'.



My partner comes from a family with two generations of proud feminists and we're busy raising a third generation to join them. I was stoked by this theme because one of the best things about feminism is its music.

When I met as a young man the young woman who later became my civil union partner, her music collection was infinitely better than mine. Riot grrrl was just one of the many fantastic genres she introduced me to. so for my first choice, I played perhaps the defining single of that genre - rebel girl by bikini kill.

There are many examples of political protest song in feminist rock, but my favorite tracks tend to be more celebratory - celebrating female autonomy, or female solidarity. And sleater-kinney combines protest with celebration as well as anyone.

Sleater-kinney live at the king's arms is right up there on the list of all-time best gigs for me, and a sleater-kinney poster has been on the wall of our girls' bedroom their entire lives.

At our civil union, polly and I played sleater-kinney's let's call it love as we signed the register. it's a ten-minute feminist response to led zeppelin's whole lotta love. It's a celebration of female sexuality generally and the multiple orgasm specifically. And boy does it rock.


In many ways, pop music is the register for empowerment of young women – it speaks to their desires, experiences, and often carries messages of self-affirmation for people struggling with the kinds of insecurities borne of a society that is against them. It’s fair to say a lot of anti-pop prejudice stems from sexism – the kinds of men who take themselves and music too seriously are unwilling to recognise the manifest qualities of the best examples of pop, and that is at least partly because they just don’t understand the audience it speaks to.

I make no claim to being especially enlightened – I just like a tune that bangs, which is the other important dimension of successful pop. One of today’s great proponents of the pop banger, Lorde, grapples with growing up in the public eye on her 2017 album, Melodrama, which is about breaking up, being lonely, and cutting loose. Homemade Dynamite is about the latter. Written with Swedish popster Tove Lo, it is about chemistry. Particularly, the chemistry between two people who meet at a party while rolling on MDMA, who strike an instant bond and feel, for a moment, like they can take on the world.

A couple of selections that were played at music club set me thinking about the music that mum used to play around the house before we teenagers seized control of the stereo once and for all. One of the CDs that made a big impression on me was Marianne Faithfull’s 1990 live album, Blazing Away. I knew almost nothing about Marianne Faithfull, but the drama of her voice and the subtlety of the arrrangements that supported it were transformative for me, and a big lesson in the emotional spaces that music can you to. I didn’t realise that many of the songs on Blazing Away were covers, such was her complete ownership of them and the overall cohesiveness of the record.

Years later, when my Tom Waits enthusiasm was in full swing, I realised that although it was Strange Weather was first released by Faithfull on her 1987 album of the same name, it was written by Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. It was subsequently released by Waits on his 1988 live album, Big Time. Big Time was itself part of Waits’ arc away from the lounge-bar crooner act of the 1970s through a Latin and Balkan weirdo vibe before he settled into the junkyard American songbook persona he’s explored since Bone Machine. Waits’ stylistic change of course coincided with his marriage to Brennan, who has been his co-writer since 1980. She is widely credited with this change of direction, including by Waits himself, who would praise everything about her, from her bizarre interests to her eclectic record collection. In the movie version of Blazing Away, Faithfull says it feels like her song, even though she didn’t write it. And it does, but it also has Brennan’s strange fingerprints all over it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Music Made Without Electronic Instruments


This was a good challenge for me as my tastes are primarily electronic. I like electronic music partly for it's versatility. With infinitely adjustable pitch, timbre, reverb etc electronic music can conjure any mood, any soundscape.

I chose two acoutic tracks that make use of less familiar instruments to create their own distinctive feel.

Greek band xaos (chaos) combine many different instruments from across the long history of the eastern mediterranean, such as the pontic lyre and greek pipes, to create an atmospheric, ghostly sound. Album opener Pontos Blues is a dirge for the ages, as the many dead and gone from the mycenean, macedonian, roman, byzantine and ottoman empires seem to float in and out of the room.

For my second track i chose a more straightforward mash up of styles from the middle east and subcontinent. A couple of years ago Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur laid down an album with Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame and a group of North Indian musicians calling themselves the Rajasthan Express. The title track Junun is a straight up banger: sufi poetry and trumpet over exuberant drumming, making it impossible to sit still.


An Pierlé - Telephone (Mud stories, 1999)
This is a song from the first album of the Belgian songwriter-singer-pianist An Pierlé. She’s known for playing the piano sit on an exercise ball, and for always having some herbal concoction that preserves her voice at hand during her performance. On this album, she played everything on her own - it’s just her fabulous voice and the piano. She recorded this album in the attic of a theatre in a small Flemish town. Apparently, on some songs, one could hear the faint sound of cars passing by down the road. But this is not intentional and so does not disqualify the music for the theme. I also find it quite amusing that the song I chose is called Telephone:


Sandmountain - The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
Someone had to play some bluegrass, so I picked this song that comes from the soundtrack of one of my favourite movies, The Broken Circle Breakdown, based on a play by Johan Heldenbergh. The movie is set in Belgium and tells the love story between Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a sensitive ‘cowboy’, fond of bluegrass, and Elise (Mieke Dobbels), a tattoo artist who joins him in his band soon after they’ve met. Their dream is shattered and their love challenged when their daughter falls heavily ill. This is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen. The song is a cover of a track originally played by The Stonemans (1977), and is about a plateau on a mountain in Alabama. Knowing this fact will the moment the song is featured all the more moving. Although this one fully instrumental, it’s worth noting that the actors portraying Didier and Elise did all the singing themselves in the movie, and that they have performed elsewhere with the band The Broken Circle Breakdown.



This should be simple enough. Since cave dwelling proto-sapiens were first found beat boxing around the camp fire, millennia have passed without even a whiff of the influence of electricity. The odd crackle of lightening that lit said cave wall might have added an improvisational woo to proceedings, and the accompanying rumble of electrostatic thunder a nice grime style sub bass backing to the song. However, considering that we are only one or two generations on from the introduction and proliferation of electric instruments, it's interesting that pre-electric already seems so twee and archaic.

Folk music rightly clings to traditions, sustaining cultural memes through time. The core of storytelling is they key to this musical institution and speaks of our highly develop communication skills that got us from beautiful cave painting to inane screen swiping. Sam Lee is one of those folk artists that truly understands the roots, traditional instrumentation and rich history purveyed in each song. He collects rare songs by travelling the length and breadth of the UK, transcribing oral memories from rural, coastal and traveller communities. He treats them with respect and turns them into poignant pieces, popular again in this digital age. I chose Phoenix Island from his most awesome album The Fade In Time.

I thought I'd go to Spain for my second offering. The visceral clap, stomp, shout and wild strum of flamenco is often pared down to a singer, cajon and guitar. I think it's the foremost musical style to provide such an emotional punch to the solar plexus. Weird counting and time signatures keep you off balance and lure you in, while lunatic finger picking, chord progressions and arpeggiated accelerations provide repeated crescendo. I've been a fan of Tomatito for years, so it was a great opportunity to listen to a couple of his albums again; I chose Al Mariyya from Aguadulce. It's what the English tourists in Alicante, eating chicken and chips, think they're hearing in their head while reading the Costa Blanca edition of the Daily Mail.


Bang - Shooting Star (on a Church Organ)
Matt Stokes - Sacred Selections

I came across a performance of Matt Stokes’ Sacred Selections in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin in 2007. Sacred Selections were live pipe organ recitals of experimental transcriptions of underground music, specifically black metal, northern soul and happy hardcore. This version, which I believe is a recording from the performance I attended, features Paul Ayres, organist of St. George’s Hanover Square, translating happy hardcore music into something recognisable and playable on an organ in a unique style. The project is described as showcasing historical aspects of the organ, its influence, music and position within both ecclesiastical and secular settings. Unfortunately I've only heard the happy hardcore adaptations, and am on the hunt for the full CD...

World in Union '95
PJ Powers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Well I mucked this one up, no two ways about it! This was a perfect example of my non-musically-trained brain being unable to pick up individual instruments or other subtleties due to the way I tend to enjoy walls of music as a whole. It was the first track that came to mind when I read the theme, and I stuck with it despite being unsure of the instruments used, and despite having a massive array of Irish singer-songwriters to choose from (Damien Rice is from my home town and Christy Moore is from my home county).

Regardless, this is a great take on the Rugby World Cup anthem by South African male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and solo artist PJ Powers. Some minor background electronics aside, the vocals are what really steal the show here, so I (kinda) stand by my choice!


Electricity is an unavoidable fact about recorded music. Even if the musicians are entirely acoustic and voice, since the 1930s electricity has been used in the recording as well as the reproduction of sound. This wasn’t always the case – the first format for recording and reproducing music was a hand cranked tinfoil cylinder, invented by Thomas Edison. Edison soon changed from tin to wax as the medium for recording, and turned the cylinder mechanically, and between 1877 and 1912 the cylinder competed against the disc as the format of choice for sound reproduction. Both the cylinder and the disc recorded music which was played directly into a large horn attached to a stylus, which cut the sound wave directly into the respective medium.

The wax cylinder had a few advantages over its rival. Chiefly, it could be used for home recordings, but it also had superior sound quality by some measures and at various points a longer playing time. Ultimately, marketing played a large part in the disc’s victory, and although production of cylinders didn’t cease until 1929, well after the invention of the microphone and amplifier that would infuse electricity into the records, the format’s fate was sealed before the Great War, long before the invention of the L.P.

As a consequence, only one studio album has ever included a track recorded on a wax cylinder. “I Can Hear You” was released on They Might Be Giants’ 1996 album, Factory Showroom. It was recorded on acoustic instruments in front of a small audience at the Edison Laboratories, played into a large horn which recorded it directly onto wax. The lyrics refer to contemporary technologies that reproduce human voices that are either novelties – car alarms, telephones in passenger plane seats – or barely reliable, in the case of the apartment buzzer and drive through speaker.

Italian composer Luciano Berio composed Sequenza iii as a way to explore the capabilities of a virtuosic female voice. Performed unaccompanied, Sequenza iii makes use of a number of the voice’s expressive modes, including laughter, clicking, and muttering. Over the course of the performance, a text emerges, but it is almost impossible to decode it from the texture of the overall performance. It goes:

give me                                a few words                        for a woman
to sing                                   a truth                                 allowing us
to build a house                without worrying             before night comes

The simplicity of the message is ironic given the aggressively technical and confounding nature of the score. If anything, the piece dismantles the idea that a pure voice (or purely vocal performance) conveys only words and truth as it uncovers the “excess of connotations” Berio said the voice was always carrying.

In some ways Sequenza iii feels like anti-music, especially as measured by the reactions of the Music Club. Berio was a modernist, avant-garde composer, and many of the techniques in Sequenza iii were developed out of studio experiments with electronic modulation, using it to reduce recorded voices to a kind of “objective physical reality,”  and setting various kinds of vocal expressions against sounds modulated to generate an “opposite timbre.”  Sequenza iii was thus a culmination of early experiments in electronic music disguised as an “acoustic” performance.


Oddly enough the first track I ever heard from The Penguin Cafe Orchestra was an electronic offering called 'Telephone and Rubber Band' used as a soundtrack for the Australian movie 'Malcolm'. The eponymous aspergers protagonist takes in a pair of dodgy boarders to cover the bills after being fired from his job with Melbourne Trams for building his own personal one-man tram out of spare parts and going for a spin on it around Melbourne one misty morning. The ersatz Bonnie & Clyde living with him soon recognise his unique talents and gift for remote control devices and use his naivety to convince him to help them to rob a bank... suspense ensues etc. 

The harmonium has metal bits in it but is wind driven instrument like the bagpipes, only nicer. Maybe. Anyway, to close off the movie theme reference, a variation of this track was used in the movie "Napoleon Dynamite". No idea why.

My second track uses heavy metal and is a staple of pretty much every military event where they can wheel the big guns out... the mish-mash of National Anthems, martial music and whatever came to hand could only be the "1812 Overture" 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Best of 2017

Image result for 2017


Ira Wolf - Sunscreen
I came across Ira Wolf when she played at Sofar Wellington in January 2017. She blew the audience away with this track from her (at the time) yet to be released third album, The Closest Thing To Home. I snapped that album up on Bandcamp as soon as it was released, and hearing Sunscreen always brings me back to that performance, sitting on the floor, staring up at this very talented lady. I believe she's still living a nomadic, musician life playing throughout the States and beyond, home being wherever she's put up at the time.

Igorrr - ieuD
Well, I had to pick something challenging as one of my tracks for 2017, and it doesn't get much more challenging than this! In actual fact, I'm not sure ieuD is the most challenging track on the album Savage Sinusoid by France's Igorrr, but it's as good an example as any of a chaotic mix of black metal, dub-step, avant-garde experimentalism and bonkersness. It's certainly something to get your teeth into, and while easy to dismiss as garish novelty, I definitely stand by it being one of my tracks of 2017. If you give it a fair go, with an open mind and a bit of perseverance you might find yourself getting lost in a trippy-dippy nightmare you never expected to enjoy! Listener and viewer discretion is advised!



Archspire - Remote Tumor Seeker
There was a lot of good metal released in 2017 but few that really stood out for me. However, every now and then, an album comes along that really grabs you by the balls; demonstrating that there are yet more innovative ways to bludgeon ears and neurons into an aurally memorable and enjoyable soup. It's one of life's paradoxes when something - on the face of things - seems impenetrable and gnarly yet becomes intoxicating and addictive. This is a song absolutely laden with phenomenally fast blast triggers, uniquely pneumatic vocals, pounding riffs, baroque guitar licks, and yet kinda manages to sound 'catchy'. It's a song that elicits an exciting primordial response. All hail the Remote Tumor Seeker!


Brand New - Millstone
This song was not released this year, so its cheating in some respects. I bought a Brand New album, called Daisy, many years ago and it has since languished on a shelf. This year I stumbled across its predecessor, called The God And Devil Are Raging Inside Me - which is a great title that sums ups a whole load of angst ably turned into musical form. That whole album is so bloody good that it made me re-listen and appreciate the CD I already had. And it got me very excited when I read that they had a new album being released in 2017, called Science Fiction. Many said that is was a return to previous heights. While I agree that it is really enjoyable album, I ended up selecting my favourite track off of the God and Devil CD, as it was this year's real revelation. 


In 2017, I mostly dug through my collection rather than seek out new things. Sad, perhaps, but good fun. I really piled on the live King Crimson, especially from the Eighties and Nineties, courtesy of and their massive archive and generous whole-tour discounts.

But I also found a really fun jazz band called Slivovitz. Seven Italian jazz cats who named their band after a plum brandy. A real gumbo of styles in every song - straight jazz, gypsy, funk, prog. And on this track, there's even a break of metal near the end, which always surprises me despite having heard the song a dozen times. If you appreciate the great FZ Roxy band from 1973, dig odd metres, or enjoy a bit of lyric-free musical humour... then you'll like these guys.

Also, my fave modern (and retro) psychedelic band was on fire last year, dropping a total of FIVE releases in 2017. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, from Oz. One release was seriously 60's retro, coulda been the soundtrack for the earliest Bond films. Another was a science fiction narrative with hard rock fills. This release was more experimental - there's a wider variety of song types and sonics. The unifying theme was using quarter tones throughout, thanks to extra frets on two guitars. Hard to enjoy as musical wallpaper, but worth celebrating the innovation (within Western pop music at any rate). This is my go-to song from the record. Sounds Balkan to me but it's apparently lifted from a well known Turkish piece - which is addressed in the YouTube comments.


Gas - Narkopop 4

As a young economics student I was taught an important distinction, between stated and revealed preferences. When netflix started out they allowed users to build a queue of movies for them to watch later, but netflix found that people would often add highbrow artsy movies that they never watched. Then they started recommending moves based on their data on what people actually watch, and use of the service increased substantially. People state a preference for highbrow movies, but when it comes down to it their revealed preference is for something more digestible.

Among the many amazing features that spotify offers, the annual review is perhaps the best because it reveals your own preferences to you (mine's attached for full disclosure). I may state a preference for intense noise rock, and indeed do enjoy this ocassionally, but the data shows that perhaps more than anything else I like the hypnosis-inducing strains of electronic music. The album I listened to more than any other this year was Narkopop by Gas. Insistent motorik type beats fade in and out of waves of distortion and drone in a disorienting, entrancing way. 

Super cat - Ghetto red hot

Another important economic concept is that of search costs. In a perfectly functioning music market we would know instantly all the possible bands and tracks and know exactly how much we like each one before we commit to purchasing or listening to anything in particular. But of course we don't live in a perfect market, so we have to incur search costs before we decide what to listen to. Before the internet search costs were high - you needed to schlep down to the record store and stand in those little booths listening through a cd or tape, or record (depending on your age - the distribution at music club is fairly wide). Because most of us aren't willing to spend a large amount of time searching widely, traditionally we ended up listening to a sub-optimal mix of music from an economic welfare perspective. The internet, and spotify in particular, has drastically reduced search costs and made it much easier to find gems in the long tail. LCD Soundsystem famously bemoaned this development in 'Losing my edge' as good taste has much lower barriers to entry than when James Murphy was a kid.

I have never had the time or inclination to be a music obsessive, so I love how easy spotify makes it to encounter new music. Every time I think I've heard everything and there's nothing new I find myself encountering some new corner of the musical universe. In 2017 I encountered the genre of dancehall for the first time. It's an easy genre to like, with an immediate energy that demands your attention. As someone who lives in Kingston, Wellington and works on crime policy at the Ministry of Justice, it's particularly easy for me to like a song with lyrics like:

Cause were dem dere when Kingston run hot?
When we look in di food for we pot?
Kingston we deh when Massop get shot
Kingston we deh when Copper get shot
Kingston we deh when Bird get shot
Man a, Kingston we deh when Cow get shot



First one –
Iggy pop with Jamie Saft trio “Everyday”   from Loneliness Road album
Originally I wanted to play the collaboration between The Jac and Black String, however the songs the two bands have created, have not been released. As Black Soul they have played twice together, NZ Jazz Festival in June and the Korean Jazz Festival in Oct-Nov. The Jac are a NZ jazz collective and Black String, a Korea group, using native instruments and a guitar to reinterpret Korean folk songs. Both are fantastic, together even more superb.
I digress…
To the song I eventually chose.
Earlier in the year, I had heard that Iggy pop was doing some collaborations, so I hunted it up. I think I may have heard him on Radio National. Anyway, I found the album, Loneliness Road. The band he worked with, Jamie Saft trio, Canadian. I love a trio, in any format of music. And I enjoyed the album, the combination of some restrained, pared back jazz at times, with Iggy’s voice, sometimes singing, sometimes speaking, the timbre interesting and emotional. Really enjoyable, late night, a digestive in hand type of music.

Second one –
Trombone Shorty “Laveau Dirge no.1”   from Parking Lot symphony album
I like Trombone Shorty, have for a quite a while. I like how he plays the Trombone, he plays a mean trombone, love to hear it.
This piece is a short instrumental, contained and full of emotion. It opens the album, a great opening, leads you into the album. When a dirge is not a dirge, but a piece of Louisiana, New Orleans music, up lifting and sad at the same time. Beautiful. The closing song for the album is Laveau Dirge finale, a fitting closure.


As much as breaking up sucks, breakup albums rule. In 2017, we were blessed with two classic breakup albums concerning the same breakup. The couple, Amber Coffman and David Longstreth, were both members of The Dirty Projectors, until they split following the release of the 2012 album, Swing Lo Magellan. Longstreth fired everyone on the band and had a hiatus, until 2017, when both Coffman and Longstreth released albums (Longstreth’s under the Dirty Projectors moniker).

The Dirty Projectors (s/t) is a brutal affair, largely electronic and emphasising the discordant elements of the Dirty Projectors sound even more than normal. The album also follows a classic breakup album arc, beginning with anger and accusation, moving through despair, into forgiveness and reconciliation. The first track, Keep Your Name, is a bitter affair, in which Longstreth attacks Coffman’s integrity, insisting that “what I want from art is truth, what you want is fame” as a line a song on Swing Lo Magellan, Impregnable Question, goes through distorted loops that make a mockery of its sweet, romantic sentiment. Longstreth’s own voice is electronically stretched and deepened to accentuate the despair, resulting in a gloriously self-pitying album opener.

Coffman’s own album to an extent bears out Longstreth’s accusation. Where The Dirty Projectors she was part of was a niche product, The City of No Reply is hipster r’n’b with mass appeal, in the best possible way. Where Longstreth’s album is suffused with anger, Coffman’s is upbeat, generous towards Longstreth, and much more focussed on rebuilding than tearing her ex down. The first single, No Coffee, is immediate and uplifting, and meshes post-breakup regret with a newfound confidence under the aegis of a classic pop hook.

Happily, the reconciliation that The Dirty Projectors ends with isn’t fanciful – Longstreth produced Coffman’s album, and the final track on each album is set to the same music.


I'm really happy to join this little community of music enthusiasts! Funnily enough, the songs I picked for today were also brought up to me via a community of music lovers, on The Internet. These are not songs from this year, but songs I've listened to repeatedly this year. The first one is by Gentle Giant and the second one by Rosemary Standley and Dom.

Gentle Giant, Proclamation (The Power and the Glory, 1974):

I grew up listening to discs by French crooners and various pop idols with my mum, but never to lots of rock. In recent years, I started to investigate the roots of the music that spoke to me much more later in life, alternative and prog rock, and fell in love with bands like King Crimson, ELP, or Yes. Navigating the infamous maze of YouTube comments to some of their videos, I followed up on the suggestion of a commentator to listen to Gentle Giant, the best band in the genre according to them. Their music immediately filled me with pure joy and satisfaction, as if I had known their chords for immemorial times. The explanation for that feeling is probably in video games I played as a kid in the 80's. I had discovered prog rock much earlier than I thought, inadvertently, on different kind of discs. Floppy discs. All full of games featuring master pieces composed in 8-bits by massive prog rock fans. I reckon this may have prepared my brain to be so receptive to that genre. I picked the first song of The Power and the Glory album. The sound on that video is not the best but it is worth watching just for the drummer's orgasmic facial expressions: 

Rosemary Standley and Dom, Duerme Negrito (Birds on Wire, 2014):

The second song is completely different, but I also stumbled upon it by chance. This time I followed a suggestion of my music provider app (?) to listen to this alternative band. I wouldn’t have labelled that album alternative but I love it anyway! Birds on Wire is a cover album of songs from all over the place. The singer has a lyrical singing background and is accompanied by just a cello. The result is beautiful! Duerme Negrito is a lullaby from Latin America about a child looked after by a neighbour while is mum is working in the fields. If he doesn’t go to sleep, his feet will be eaten by a white devil!