Album Reviews

David Kilgour – A Feather in the Engine

2001, Arc Life, ARCLIFE016

The Clean seems to be drifting more towards lead guitarist David Kilgour’s now-prominent laid back sound. 2001’s reunion album ‘getaway’ was a refreshing slice of acoustic pop washed in feedback, all three members lazy vocals, mixed together with bass player Robert Scott’s jangle tendencies, and drummer Hamish Kilgour’s noise-rock leanings.

David’s first solo album since that promising reunion is as refreshing as ‘Getaway’, and seems to come together more as an album. Kilgour shows the same sense of melody he’s renowned for and even though the album doesn’t ‘rock’ as such from start to finish, he shows he can create a little heat with the more upbeat ‘today is going to be mine’.

Kilgour’s appears to be pushing his song-writing abilities, as the album is quite introspective, with David’s vocals quite up front in the mix. They are often backed only by his familiar echo-enhanced acoustic guitar. It works to a certain extent, as the album is definitely a very pleasant listen, but as with the cleans last full-length, it feels like something is missing.

We’ve seen Robert Scott flirt with more electronic and soundscape grooves on 1999’s ‘The creeping unknown’, and now Kilgour seems to be following the same path, mixing in an array of more classical instrumentation (check the ‘Instra 2’ tracks – particularly the reprise). The album comes out as more of a complete album than the clean’s previous reunion album (the pop-centered ‘unknown country’) which divided a lot their fan base – but the question still stands on whether Kilgour has succeeded in his intentions.

It’s great to see a man with such a fine ear for melody and groove as Kilgour mixing in elements of piano, cello, keyboards and violin to his guitar pieces though, and i for one appreciate his attempt to diversify his music. I’d like to see Kilgour follow through on the sound he’s slowly making his own, his solo material is sadly oft ignored – and yet contains some of the most gentle yet dramatic instrumentation and infectious lyrics of the current lo-fi scene.

Album Reviews

Dimmer – I Believe You Are A Star

2001, Columbia, 5024222000

The Straitjacket Fits were an unusual, charismatic, and somewhat untrustworthy rock band. Over the course of ten years Shayne Carter proceeded to claim authoritarian command of one of New Zealand’s most popular bands, releasing three albums.

This trilogy finished with the uneven blow (after two brilliant earlier albums) and the band eventually disintegrated in 1993. Since their split in ’93, Carter decided to build a new band taking a slower approach. Forming dimmer in the mid-90’s, carter never really found the band combination he could relate to, being something of a control freak.

The advent of the home studio around this time, though, sparked a new idea in Carters’ head. Playing into his nature of controlling things, carter could do it all by himself. Over the course of the next six years carter taught himself the bass guitar (he’s been quoted as saying he came to respect bass players during this time), and dedicated himself to being as present as possible on his burgeoning masterpiece.

Six long years fits fans waited for material from the reclusive song-writer, while an early EP entitled Crystalator merely hinted that carter might be heading in a less-traditional, more-electronic sound than his previous body of work.

Upon listening to the album, it becomes quite apparent that carter has not only flirted with more electronic leanings, but he has indeed redefined his sound. The album is comfortable, never at all straining or giving the impression that carter has gone beyond his means. The fits were always known for sonic exploration, along with Bailter Space becoming one of New Zealand’s more cherished noise-rock outfits, but they were also known for amazing gentle harmonies and heartfelt emotional songs.

The album starts somber, Carter’s hushed vocals cutting through a truly funky bass and breakbeat-driven opener, “Drop you off”. He’s a man without regret, the (ever-present) vocal cuts like a knife with a spiteful bridge — “I’m not your friend, i’m a stone-cold traitor”. Coming across like a slightly less world-worn take on Portishead, the track sets the mood for the album.

Album highlight “Seed” grooves along at a steady rate, rumbling-growling bass is propelled forward by a revolving synth pattern – surely a live favorite. Choruses of vocal backing fit very well into this continuing potent rhythm, making the six years of labor obviously worth every second. The first single, “evolution”, does nothing to dispel that theory either. It’s a cracking, swaggering and funky number with carter again employing somber lyrics to create a dark and smoky atmosphere.

“Pendulum” again employs carters’ up-front vocals to full effect. This time they are over a disconnected, pulsating synth backing. “Powerchord” is something of a change, though. Its upbeat rhythm, punctuated by sizzling horns and a chaotic synth line, speeds forward at a breakneck speed – reminiscent of Primal Screams’ XTRMNTR album.

Throughout, the album maintains a sly, dark, and somber tone – carter employs airy drones and gentle vocal coloring to full effect. It switches back and forth between upbeat and funky songs and other pieces that are downright mellow. The entire time, though, it’s propelled along by stunning driving bass and breakbeat drumming. As the product of six years of dedication and hard work, i think the result is well worth the effort. And infectious lyrics of the current lo-fi scene.

Album Reviews

Demarnia Lloyd – Set Upon a Curve

2002, Arc Life

Oh how CD’s have changed the face of music! Where once a double-album ‘opus’ from the likes of Led Zeppelin barely scraped the 60-minute mark, we now expect our albums to be at least 45 minutes long, which would have seen quite unusual to the music fans that preceded the digital age. I say this because the latest pop gem from Demarnia Lloyd of Cloudboy fame that’s sitting on my desk.

At a mere 26:30 spread over 9 tracks, one would be forgiven for thinking the album lacks meat. But all vinyl addicts know that’s not always the case, and that the best records are the ones that leave you wanting more.

Lloyd recorded this startling collection of songs at the historic remote smith’s grain-store in rural Oamaru, southern New Zealand. Taking inspiration from the harsh environment and the effect that had on her dream patterns – Lloyd sculptured the album as both highly visual (Lloyd and Cloudboy’s live appearances are often full theatrical performances) as well as thoroughly melodic.

Making considerable advances since 2000’s ‘Trace’ EP, the album is a complexly woven platter of breathy vocals, intricate and delicate instrumentation. Lloyd quickly establishes a melloncollie mode with opening track ‘over again, pull me in’. The song still retains the key traits of her previous outing, and without any form of percussion, the song customarily floats along on a pulsing bed of organic synth sounds. What she has done though is refine her sound to incorporate the fine touches the Cloudboy album had in spades.

Whereas the original EP was stark and relied almost solely on Lloyd’s fine voice, the new album has an ethereal soundscape aspect that’s thoroughly alluring.
On ‘Too long away’ Lloyd experiments with short electronic beats propelling the song further, creating a humming, pulsing rhythm reminiscent of Radiohead‘s more recent albums. In fact all number of electronic beats, crackles and shuffling grooves flow in and out of Lloyd’s dreamy, breathy multi-layered vocal.

‘A crooked road’ makes subtle use of plucked violin, the upbeat ‘Vell guitar’ features mandolin from contributor Jeff T. Mitchell, and pretty much every track takes a different approach to sculpting soothing sounds.

Lloyd is as on form as ever vocally, this time incorporating a fair amount of over-dubbed complimenting vocals, all in her inimitable hushed, refrained vocal (almost a single pitch throughout the album). The effect is quite gorgeous, the vocal equivalent of my bloody valentine’s guitar-drones.

A thoroughly engrossing and complete album, and a marked improvement over Lloyd’s previous releases. And yes, it does indeed leave me wanting more – Lloyd’s style seems to be evolving at a substantial rate of knots these days. With the popularity of Cloudboy on the rise these days, we can only hope that their, and of course Demarnia her self’s charming brand of dream-pop finds itself a greater outside audience.

Album Reviews

Disasteradio! – Visions

2007, A Low Hum, HUM032

You ever play Q-Bert? How about Paper-Boy? Ever seen the hilarious end sequence from the Monkey Island games? I tell you what; Disasteradio! (affectionately known as D-Rad by his friends and Luke Rowell by his mum) has. In fact hes just the kind of guy to shed a thousand expletives while describing the shear power of the Fairlight keyboard system, while flying through another round of your favorite 1980s videogame. His songs are a mix of upbeat, bleepy keyboard pieces in the style of old-school video-games, and some damn funky beats making quite a favorite on the dance-floor.

In fact D-Rad has been a bit of a super-star in the A Low Hum-centered New Zealand music underground for the past few years, and hes been continually promising the release of his first Real album (after 3 self-produced CD-R releases – all now available for free via The Internet Archive) for a while now, so its great to see Blink get this to us after previously dealings with Wellington label Capital Recordings never eventuated. Visions feels like the cumulative history of his songs; pretty much how they appear these days in his genius live shows.

His songs have grown in stature, production and even managed to become more poppy and addictive. Opener Awesome Feelings (one of the many highlights from Real Groove Magazines recent New Sound compilation) is a case in point. That familiar-to-live-show-veterans opening synth line is now followed by typical D-Rad vocoded lyricisms: 1-2-3 gone have some fun, were feeling awesome coz the day is done / Living in a city thats full of squares / but we are awesome and we dont care hes an enthusiastic, positive guy.

Another obvious highlight – Hotline has been a choice little number for a couple years now. Like the best hits from Man-Machine era Kraftwerk he portrays himself as a robot just out to have some fun, and what makes more sense than an ode to the automated Telephone Exchange System? In fact Kraftwerk is a pretty firm influence on D-Rads sound; with shuffling metallic rhythm (the long-running influential German group are quite obsessed with Trains) and genuinely retro keyboard bleeps.

However, Disasteradio! is no one-trick pony. Take Back the Rave brings things forward another decade or so to the early 90s euro-rave sound, with a funky rhythm and a choice mid-song breakdown. Digital Pop marks the first appearance of Lukes vocals sans computer-vocoding (i keep thinking of Trans-Am circa Red Line), Stairdancer sounds like a mash-up of new-wave bands (with a pounding beat and swift synth line) whilst Believe in Yourself has a moody intro and ominous melody, like the soundtrack to some overcome-the-odds-type movie (and another killer breakdown thats also dead-funny).

Disasteradio! makes music for pop-music fans who like to have a little fun. Its all very positive, upbeat stuff, harkening back to younger days and whatnot, plus it makes for fine dance-floor-banger material. Great to see this finally get a full release I know Ive been looking forward to it immensely and I reckon the time spent fine-tuning and developing this mini pop-orchestras has been well worth it. A fine album.

Album Reviews

Duchess – Duchess EP

2005, Tea Set Records

Review by Achilles Heel

Not bad for a first EP, in fact it’s almost pure perfection for a first time thing. This band of 3 girls and one guy have only been together since 2004. Albeit they formed out of a band in high school but sound like they have been doing it forever.

Don’t expect random jams of ‘songs’ made up mindlessly in the practice room of a garage band; expect harmonic and jangly instrumentation with saccharine melodies and intricate songs about ‘social ineptitude, heartbreak, the perils of development, hamilton night clubs, bad gardening experiences, and swimming’ as said on duchess’ website. Also stated in the bio ‘they do not claim, nor are they interested in, virtuoso musical abilities, but believe that with a bit of taste you can do a good song far more justice’ and that is why all 6 tracks are faultless. With all killers no fillers, duchess leave sum 41 redundant with living to up that statement.

For a band who have been involved in high school band competitions in the past, this doesn’t sound largely Rockquest [thank goodness]. Though, Anika Moa claps on alt-country ‘Raglan City’. Also Geoff from Goldenhorse plays guitar on that track and the EP features a multitude of drummers.

Opening track ‘Raglan City’ sets a recurring theme about the thought of escape, from unsettlement in moving to Auckland (where the band is now based) from raglan. Anna sure makes it obvious the issues about Auckland. It is not instantly clear until you listen to the whole EP, especially on the definite high ‘out and about’. Which addresses the adjustment of moving to a new city and the social ineptitude in the line “You don’t really get my sense of humor” and many others.

It sounds like being self-absorbed sometimes can be a good thing when it comes to superficial issues from the oc such as ‘fitting in’ and ‘lack of acceptance’. Auckland doesn’t seem to be the only issue addressed in the songs; hamilton also gets it as well. ‘Bonsai tree’ doesn’t make much sense about too much rain killing flowers, it’s either that or hamilton isn’t a hotspot for gardening. It’s an upbeat but reflective song which talks more than just flowers. Nightclubs seem to be hotspots if gardens aren’t as in ‘dancing shoes’ which could be one of the songs about hamilton nightlife sounds like it’s about catfights over shoes.

Another song ‘Pretty girl’ (not on this ep) elaborates even more on the nightlife there, could it be that this ep should have a name like ‘baggage’ since it’s basically a concept album [almost]. The two remaining songs ‘you buried me alive’ and ‘useless’ relate to each other about being jinxed in some sort of way when it comes to relationships. ‘Useless’ goes on about being both sides being full of imperfection, ‘you buried me alive’ is apparently about being buried alive (literally? Who knows…) it also is the only track that those with a taste of loud guitars would like (or not) since the other tracks are either more jangly guitar styles (‘Bonsai tree’, ‘Out and about’), alt-country (‘Raglan City’), slow waltzes (‘Useless’) and more.

Some songs might be too saccharine tinged for most, in short you like ‘girl rock’ you’d like this.

Album Reviews

The Incisions – Let Terror Rain

2003, Self-Released

Wow, this is loud, caustic stuff.

The 2nd album from the ever-changing Christchurch 3-piece The Incisions blow the current crop of rock’n’roll revivalists out of the water. Its pure fire in a recording, scratchy, loud, abrasive and rude – more in the style of Japanese noise merchants Guitar Wolf or (particularly) Teengenrate than The Datsuns (who seem positively polished in comparison).

An excellent set of explosive songs fueled by the standard rock’n’roll metaphors (girl’s play a big part lyrically – with vocal duties split between Nick Heart and former Hi-Tone Destroyer, bassist Ben Johnstone), but maybe with something else a little special underneath the wall of feedback and grit.

From the very first blast of opener ‘Axis of evil’ – which actually mimics the driving and distorted bass rhythm of the Velvet Underground’s debauched ‘The gift’, the album feels like a homage to its musical heritage. And things don’t just stop there.

The album concludes with a number of acoustic based tracks, showcasing Heart’s vocal and guitar talents along with some excellent sugary sweet accompanying vocals from Mel Smith (reminiscent of The Brunettes merely for their shared Beach Boys influence).

It may not be hi-fidelity (tape noise and hiss drench the album), but it’s certainly a very distinctive and effective album – highly recommended.

Album Reviews

Pine – Longplayer

2002, Arch Hill

Christchurch, New Zealand’s Pine have been crowd and college radio favorites over the past 3 years, crafting simple, elegant and often catchy pop hit after pop hit. After 2000’s Speeding EP, expectations nationwide have been high for their anticipated debut.

Thankfully the album is very faithful to their live sound, a nice and cheery combination of guitar, minimalist drumming (their live set entitles lead singer Stephen McCarthey donning a snare drum as the sole percussion instrument), gentle keyboard drones and wilting vocals.

McCarthey’s vocals have always been a bit of a talking point – taking on a Liam Gallagher-esque inflection. For the first time though, both keyboardist Hannah Beehre and guitarist Aaron Beehre have lent their voices to their recordings, and the results are very pleasing. The album basically expands on their previous EP – with re-recorded takes of some of their biggest successes.

‘Wanted boy’ has been beefed up with McCarthy on melodica, and Aaron’s subtle backing vocals add a level of warmth to an already great song. ‘Make way for the king’ is perhaps the albums most upbeat number – filtered vocals over a tight, short and ultra-poppy backing.

Album Reviews

Greg Malcolm – Homesick for Nowhere

2004, Corpus Hermeticum

Brought out on local (Lyttleton-based) Dead C guitarist Bruce Russell‘s Corpus Hermeticum label, ‘Homesick for nowhere’ is quite a departure from Greg Malcolm’s previous releases.

Back in the mid to late 90’s, Malcolm create quite a bit of controversy with his (partially Creative NZ funded) album ‘Trust only this face’ which featured the politically and media-lauded track ‘The ballad of Peter Plumley Walker’, ironically a song meant to criticize the media’s handling of the (now infamous) cricket umpire’s last living moments, and it’s follow-up ‘What is it Keith?’ more recently Malcolm formed his 3-piece kletzmer surf-guitar band Surfing USSR, releasing their debut earlier this year.

The new release is a document of Malcolm’s solo avant-garde performances over the past 2 years, a selection of interpretations of pieces by the likes of Steve Lacy, Konrad Bauer and Ornette Coleman in his self-styled ‘Depresso Guitar’ format.

Malcolm spent several years living and performing in the avant-garde and underground jazz scene in Berlin and these tracks display the creative intricacies he has since refined. Playing as a one-man-band of sorts, Malcolm manipulates many sound devices, mainly a heavily prepared guitar (with an array of pickups, multiple sets of strings and a balancing area of moving objects to roll over), an assortment of devices such as e-bow, fans, slide etc, and also a ‘floor guitar’ which Malcolm taps with his foot to create rhythmic pulses. It’s quite an experience, and Malcolm conjures up some truly beautiful and textural sounds.
Thoroughly recommended for fans of the more unusual.

Album Reviews

Jean-Paul Sartre Experience – Jean-Paul Sartre Experience

1994 / 2003 Reissue, Flying Nun, FNCD078

With Flying Nun reissuing a number of their long out-of-print release, it was about time the boys from Jean-Paul Sartre Experience saw the light of day again. Their early discography is as follows: they released a self-titled EP, then followed it up with a mini-album entitled Love Songs.

These were then released as a cumulative album, which was initially also named love songs, and then expanded and changed to the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, just to confuse archivists. The end result is quite a collection of genuine pop-classics, and was the moment in time when the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience was really hitting their stride.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience (later shorted to JPS Experience or JPSE due to legal hassle’s with Sartre’s estate) was formed in Christchurch in the mid-80’s and immediately set about creating a suite of songs that tread the line between charmingly naive love songs (‘Let there be love’), upbeat sing-a-longs (‘I like rain’) and even kooky, disjointed attempts at white-bred rap (‘Crap-rap’).

Both blessed and cursed with all 4 members being songwriters (with Dave Mulcahy, Jim Laing and Dave Yetton all providing both guitar and vocals) their songs were fresh, invigorating and stylistically scattered in these, the early years.

Eventually the band would split after years of tightening their formula until things just weren’t fun anymore (their last album, the wildly uneven and downbeat bleeding star). Mulcahy then launched the brilliant, larger than life, and unfortunately short-lived Superette, eventually going solo. Yetton created his own ‘sissy-pop’ project – The Stereo Bus which eventually grew out of its humble solo beginnings to be a very popular 5-piece. And lastly their drummer Gary Sullivan (who often took the back stage in JPS Experience’s career) formed the acclaimed, but commercially ignored scuzz-rockers Solid Gold Hell.

Dave Yetton had a penchant for creating what he freely admitted was girly pop – soppy love songs and silly, carefree lyrics. Mulcahy acted as the ever-vigilant older brother with tracks like ‘Firetime’, adding structure to result in a perfect balance of playful melodies and sobering lyrics. Their songs were playful, yet intelligent (‘Flex’), reflective, but upbeat (‘Grey parade’) – you’d expect with such a clash of idea’s the songs would fail to gel, but luckily Jean-Paul Sartre Experience is one of those releases that exceeded all expectations.

‘Loving grapevine’ is perhaps the most perfect example of how their songs worked so well. Jim Laing’s demented, gleeful vocals are so exuberant you can’t help but think how much fun they had recording the album. A relatively straightforward pop number, the song is highlighted by cheery backing vocals – when the guitar solo strikes mid-song, it almost seems out of place.

In fact, the vocals are the most distinctive element of the album, three vocalists perusing a myriad of approaches add up to an awful lot of styles. Even the more serious numbers (‘Transatlantic love song’) seem characteristic when accompanied by such out and out fun numbers as ‘Jabberwocky’ and ‘Let there be love’.

The instrumentation is brilliantly suited though too, particularly Sullivan’s drumming which seems to drive the seriousness of the songs — the more fun and over-the-top the songs, the more disjointed and playful the rhythm. For an album with no credited bassist, their sure are some catchy grooves too – particularly the slowly building ‘Jabberwocky’. It rolls and rolls as the song grows and grows, building tension and allowing ragtime piano and guitars to float in.

Follow that up with the funky, disjointed slop-hop sing-a-long ‘Crap rap’ (trust me, it’s a lot better than it sounds) with bass that pops and grooves in an ultimately impressive fashion (considering the pedigree of these four white southern boys).

I would challenge any lover of pop to come away from this album without at least one favorite. I mean, who could resist the ever-charming ‘I like rain’ and it’s Casio-tone melody? These are the kind of songs Chris Knox would have been making if he weren’t such a crotchety old bastard. High recommended for days inside, days at the beach, days spent snuggle with loved ones, or nights spent partying.

At their peak in the mid to late 80’s, JPS Experience were considered one of the finest and most popular bands in New Zealand, along with their noisy neighbors The Headless Chickens and The Straitjacket Fitz. This album is the perfect document of the cheery, upbeat side of classic New Zealand pop, and a firm addition to Flying Nun’s current catalog of reissues.

Album Reviews

Minisnap – In My Pocket EP

Self-Released, 2002

Self-releasing seems to be the way to go in New Zealand at the moment.

Minisnap have finally put out their long awaited ‘In My Pocket’ EP, the title track of which has been garnishing RDU playtime for quite a while now. It’s a nice production, 4 original sparkling pop gems (which includes a hidden bonus track) and the obligatory dance remix, produced by fellow Christchurch native Jolyn Mulholland (aka Gasoline Cowboy).

Featuring Kaye Woodward’s distinctively upbeat vocals and guitar and the fine rhythm backing of Paul ‘Superbass’ Kean and Malcolm Grant on the drums. Expect thick grooves, off-kilt rhythms and some lovely flowing guitar, just in time for summer.