ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Finn – Out Of Silence

neil_finn_out_of_silence_0917

Out Of Silence is unique for the fact that it was rehearsed and then recorded live at Finn’s Auckland studio, whilst being streamed live to the world via Facebook and You Tube. It was a fascinating insight into a logistical and creatively adventurous undertaking. Even for those who didn’t see or know about the process, the spirit and communality of the session is imbued in one of Finn’s most intimate and ornate albums.

Written and performed wholly on the piano, Finn takes a baroque pop approach to the songs, draping them in rich and sweeping orchestral figures, minimal guitar and drums and a choir that includes famous New Zealand names such as Tiny Ruins, Don McGlashan, SJD and Lawrence Arabia. As you’d expect, Finn’s voice is the icing on the cake – delicate and fragile at times as he explores the personal and universal mysteries of love (‘Love Is Emotional’), uplifting and melodically expansive on the infectious ‘Second Nature’ and the sweet falsetto soul of ‘Chameleon Days’.

‘Terrorise Me’ is a deeply affecting and resolute repudiation of the terrorism that struck Paris and the simple act of celebrating music. It has a melancholic Ray Davies feel, culminating in a chorus with the line “love is stronger when it hurts”. Finn once again proves his ability to translate both joy and deep emotion into concise and poetic lyrical form. Add in his classic and inventive melodic framework and Out Of Silence is another tour de force from New Zealand’s finest songwriter.

Chris Familton

Advertisements

Neil Finn – Out Of Silence album recording/webcast

neil_finn_out_of_silence_0917

Out Of Silence was recorded live in-studio via webcast on Facebook and YouTube and will be mixed, mastered and digitally released one week after the recording, on 1 September 2017.

“It’s pretty damned exciting. It’s the way I always dreamed of making music.”

Each Friday for the last month, Neil Finn has been convening in his Roundhead Studios in Auckland, New Zealand with a collection of musical friends and colleagues and a worldwide audience of over 15,000. Live streaming the sessions has allowed the general public into the world of the recording studio and a chance to intimately witness the technical and creative process that goes into preparing for, and recording an album.

The first three weeks of the Out Of Silence webcasts were used to rehearse and fine-tune a selection of the songs destined for the album as well as treat the studio and online audiences to some musical surprises. Finn was determined to make it an interactive experience, allowing for Skype calls from both members of the public and friends and family from overseas. Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour called in from Ireland and playing along to their song As Sure As I Am, Liam Finn and Connan Mockasin beamed in from Los Angeles and Jimmy Barnes (whose daughter EJ was part of the studio choir) delivered a thrilling Skype duet of the Split Enz classic Shark Attack.

Though the primary purpose of the early sessions was to rehearse for the album recording in week four, Finn rose to the sense of occasion that the process presented. In week two brother Tim joined him for a set of Finn Brothers songs while the following Friday saw Neil back on guitar fronting a tight rock band comprised of James Milne (bass), Elroy Finn (drums), Delaney Davidson (guitar) and Finn Scholes (keyboards) playing Crowded House songs (Weather With You) and Split Enz songs such as I Got You.

Each of the lead-up sessions were a tightly focused two hours but for the final webcast and full recording of the album, a four hour window was allocated. There was clearly less frivolity and loose joking around with the seriousness of the matter at hand. One got the sense the preceding week had been an intense period of rehearsing and ironing out any weaknesses in arrangements and performances. Finn also alluded to a week where many of the musicians had to battle winter illnesses to get to the final stage of the project.

“Is there anything we need to remember?” asks Finn. “Don’t fuck it up!” came the reply from his son and the album’s producer, Liam.

In a tightly packed studio, with Finn solely on piano, brass and woodwind sections, a percussionist, choir, drummer and guitarists as well as studio technicians and a film crew it was clearly an exercise in logistics and planning. As the session progressed it became clear how much of a people-person Finn is. In a high pressure environment, with the world watching, he was still able to create a working atmosphere that allowed individuals to relax and express themselves, for opinions to be voiced and all without a raised voice or overtly autocratic approach. It made for an inclusive and harmonious vibe in the room and one that filtered through into the soul of the music.

With son Liam Finn in the producer role, the album songs were recorded out of sequence, allowing them to ease into the session and also to bracket together the songs that required the various additional groups of musicians. The one constant was the choir, a who’s who of New Zealand music, including James Milne (Lawrence Arabia), Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Reb Fountain, Sam Flynn Scott (The Phoenix Foundation), Don McGlashan (The Muttonbirds), Sean Donnelly (SJD), EJ Barnes and Tim’s son Harper Finn. Dressed in robes and described by Finn as looking like “the mysterious alumni of some obscure university”, they provided a warm, campfire vibe that took in gospel and folk elements, giving weight and ascendency to Finn’s voice across the recordings.

Multiple takes of each song were undertaken, with micro adjustments made on each successive performance. Finn experimented with the interplay between his piano playing and singing, requesting a click track on some takes and none on others – anything to find the right mood and feel for each song. He fine-tuned string arrangements on the fly with arranger Victoria Kelly and provided suggestions to the choir on where to focus the impetus of their singing. It was a fascinating insight into both the process and Finn’s creative spirit and attention to detail.

From the momentum and pulse of Second Nature to the swooning melancholy of More Than One Of You, the Robert Wyatt’ish Alone with Tim Finn on guitar and vocals to the topical and Split Enz-sounding baroque pop of Terrorise Me with the line ‘love is stronger when it hurts’, Finn touched on themes of war, terror and policing but countered it with the greater and often more mysterious power of love. The overarching sound of the album was one of ornate and highly textured music, classic in tone and sophisticated and adventurous in its emotional range.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Over Everything (2017)

barnett vile

The indie rock matchup of 2017 has finally revealed the first single and video with Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile releasing their new song ‘Over Everything’. It’s a stunning black and white video too, with swapped lip-syncing and some amazing scenery.

The album Lotta Sea Lice will be released on 13th October via Milk! / Matador and they’ve also roped in colleagues such as Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three, Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint and Mick Harvey to play on it.

NEW MUSIC: Peter Bibby – Medicine

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.01.06 am

The larrikin troubadour returns with his first new release since his 2014 debut Butcher/Hairstylist/Beautician. ‘Medicine’ rolls and tumbles along with his trademark stagger and loose swagger. Super catchy, twitchy and jangly as he rattles off all kinds of medicinal relief. Top stuff.

The track is available September 8 via Spinning Top / Caroline and Bibby plays Big Sound next week:

Tue, Sep 5th | 11:30pm @ Ric’s Big Backyard

Thu, Sep 7th | 11:40pm @ The Foundry

INTERVIEW: Aldous Harding (2017)

aldousblue

The New Zealand folk singer arrived with a reputation for unsettling live performances which suggested a fragile personality that was, at the same time, quite unique and creatively courageous. Aldous Harding wrote and sang like a distant echo from archaic times. It was heart-on-sleeve stuff but delivered with a a theatrical bent that sounded quite magnificent and intriguing but perhaps obfuscated the content of her songwriting. Now, on her second album Party, she continues the mystique but brings it blinking and still resolutely eccentric, into a clearer and ultimately more rewarding spotlight.

“I would’ve taken to the fucking hills back then. It wasn’t a great time,” says Harding, grimly recalling her emotional state around the time of the release of her debut album. “It’s getting easier now and I want the music to get the attention it deserves but I do still struggle with the attention in a sense that I don’t want things like rushed answers or awkward interviews or weird promo shots to detract in any way from what I want to do musically.”

This new streak of creative self-confidence and a clear vision of where Harding wants to take her music is catapulting her into a comprehensive touring and media schedule for the rest of 2017 yet, in her mind, it’s all part of the game when you’re passionately pursuing your muse. “It’s definitely a step-up in terms of what’s expected of me. In terms of press, touring, photos. I’ve always felt pressure to write good music and to be honest I do put a bit more pressure on myself to write better music but that’s what most artists do,” admits Harding. “They’re always trying to make the next one better. I just want to make better music than I do now, however I don’t even really know what that will sound like yet. I just want to write good songs and put them out with the support of a label.”

Harding travelled from the South Island of New Zealand to Bristol, England to record the album with acclaimed producer and musician John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse, Eels). That experience was surprisingly painless for someone who in the past has discussed the emotional stress of recording her songs.

“It was good, it felt natural and John made it really easy,” Harding enthuses. “We were really professional about it, not a lot of mucking around. We sat down had coffee and went straight into ‘Imagining My Man’ and didn’t stop until the record was done. There were quite a few elements and we had to figure out what I wanted to do with them, filling up songs that were written quietly. John was very patient too,” she concedes. “Perfume Genius and Laura Jean, they were two records he’d produced where I could feel where I might want Party to go and so I got his email and sent over the demos. Within three or four months I was over there. It felt like it happened really quickly.”

Party contains a more direct, less obtuse style of songwriting, particularly lyrically, yet Harding is reticent to identify any specific life events or emotional changes that may have contributed to the shift. Instead she explains it as part of her natural artistic evolution.

“Art just develops and I’m getting older and I’m listening to new music that I haven’t heard before. I definitely have a free feeling where I don’t feel like I have to write anything in particular. I’m not bound to any genre or that I have to always be dark. I’m not working from a manual, I’m just trying to write decent songs,” Harding reiterates. “ You should be able to go wherever you want.”

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher

jen cloher

This is album number four for Jen Cloher and in keeping with the title and stark artwork, featuring her naked and with guitar, it is her most honest, clear-cut and autobiographical release to date.

So many songwriters cloud their ideas and experiences in metaphors and diversionary tactics but Cloher goes straight for the literal and personal, detailing the trials and tribulations of extended periods apart from her partner (and guitarist) Courtney Barnett, suburban malaise, gay marriage, Dirty Three and the shallowness and strain of the music industry. It amounts to an internal and external state of the nation address, delivered with poetic poise and intellectual observation.

Musically, Cloher and her band frame her songs with a loose indie rock sound that can be locked and direct, with a gentle toughness (Shoegazers), drifting and dreamy (Regional Echo) or noisy and surging like Sleater-Kinney (Strong Woman). That stylistic range creates a flow and dynamism to the album and complements the songs perfectly, ensuring the focus remains on Cloher and her lyrics. That intimacy takes the listener right to that place side-of-stage at a Dirty Three show or a kitchen table with your loved one 17,000 km away.

It’s hard to distil one’s thoughts and emotions into song with such self-awareness, artistic confidence and lack of pretence but Cloher has, quite wonderfully, done just that.

Chris Familton