INTERVIEW: The Black Seeds

The-Black-Seeds-By-David-James-931-crop-3

It has been five years since The Black Seeds released their last album, but after internal changes and abandoned recordings the Wellington reggae/soul outfit are back and firing on all cylinders with their new album Fabric.

Back in 2014 The Black Seeds were immersed in the recording of a new album, one that head Seed Barnaby Weir was touting as ‘a Black Seeds fully original mixtape’. At the time he was optimistically anticipating a 2015 release, but then… nothing eventuated. Now, a new album has indeed finally emerged but it isn’t the same one they were working on in 2014.

“At the time we we were working on that album and Mike Fabulous (guitar) and Tim Jaray (bass) were still in the band. We got about 50% of the way through and then those guys decided to leave the band, at different times, and so that was the main delay,” explains Weir. “It was totally amicable, they’d both been in the band for 13, 14 years and Mike was also doing his solo project (Lord Echo) and wanted to focus on that. Tim has kids and wanted to focus on them and so while it was a challenging time and it was a shame we didn’t get to put out that album we were working on, it was also a good time to realise that we could still continue and that we wanted to continue. That was the main holdup and why it has been five years since our last album.“

Rather than continuing the work they’d started on the abandoned album, Weir was keen for the new lineup to be on whatever new record they would release. “We did totally change our stance and content and direction. We started off with a new bass player and Ned Ngatae, who wasn’t a new member but he became the full-time guitarist. We wanted to make sure that going forward we got all the guys on the album and make it a good solid release. We didn’t want to use the half album we’d made, we wanted to start afresh and make a commitment to that. As a  result, none of the songs were rushed or token inclusions,” says Weir.

In terms of the content of Fabric, Weir explains that the sound and the theme of the album is one that encapsulates all of the elements that make up the band. “When you start to collate songs for an album it starts to have its own life and build steam and momentum but it’s not necessarily purposeful and discussed. It’s more organic creatively and it starts to appear and get its own character. The fabric of our lives and the world, our community and existence plus the physics angle and particles of energy all came together as a theme that I delved quite deeply into.,” Weir reveals. “As a band I think we probably pushed the envelope a bit more on this album. It does sound a bit different but I’m glad it does and I’m really happy with the tones and the patterns and that it doesn’t all sound the same.

Now approaching their 20th year as a band, Weir looks back fondly on those early formative years and is equally excited about both The Black Seeds’ present state and future possibilities. “In the beginning we were a bunch of guys who were volunteers and DJs at Radio Active in Wellington and we just had a love for music and in particular for American soul, Jamaican SKA and dub and there weren’t many bands in the late 90s who were doing that. Initially we played full, elongated, heavy dub jams and it was quite instrumental. With the first two albums we made a shift and started making more songs and started becoming a more serious band rather than just a party band,” recalls Weir, before adding… “The fabric of the Black Seeds is a long term experience as musicians and we’ve always had that emotional and philosophical element in our music. I think this time around we’ve put together quite cohesively. We’re looking to the future and feeling good about it!”

Chris Familton

Advertisements

ALBUM REVIEW: Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now

a1815629117_10

Humour in heavy rock music requires just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek irreverence to avoid it tipping over into slapstick and immaturity. Bands such as Revolting Cocks, TAD and Killdozer all found that balance between savage guitars, a pummelling rhythm section and cutting, sarcastic lyrics, and in these modern times the masters of wit and riffs are Pissed Jeans.

Why Love Now finds them further refining their grinding punk rock and sludgy grunge sound – finding that sweet spot between sonic brutality and catchy hooks. ‘The Bar Is Low’ digs in with a dirty and distorted bass groove, like if AC/DC had come from the Pacific Northwest, before blossoming into a Stooges meets QOTSA galloping chorus. It’s that dynamic interplay that makes the album so damn appealing. It rocks hard but it’s not one dimensional gonzo rock.

Lyrically Matt Corvette continues his fascination with the minutiae of modern living. Lives lived through small screens, webcam fetishes and male sexual obsessions. Office equipment gets a seedy, sexual treatment courtesy of a spoken word piece (‘I’m A Man’) by author Lindsay Hunter (Ugly Girls) over an industrial track that sounds as gloriously warped as the aforementioned Revolting Cocks. It’s the marriage of Corvette’s strangled howl and  Brad Fry’s guitars that best defines Pissed Jeans’ sound. They are familiar in their 90’s alt-rock phrasing and delivery but they never allow themselves to get pegged down as revivalists due to the way they can stagger from the loose chaos of Jesus Lizard to the proto-metal riffing of Soundgarden. You get a sense that they’re passionately obsessed with their musical heroes yet they’re constantly seeking to mutate and evolve their sounds, musically and lyrically.

As the album comes to a close they leave us with the one-two punch of  the slow and sleazy Nirvana-like ‘Activia’ and the jerky metallic slabs of Not Even Married. Two different styles but perfect examples of why Pissed Jeans are seriously fun.

Chris Familton

Featured

40 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2017

DS2017favealbums

If anything, their music inhabits even darker territory, the songs collapsing in on themselves as they chug and career along – The Terminals, Antiseptic

In this day and age of accessibility and cultural saturation, it can be hard to unearth music you like, and at the same time discover new music outside the mainstream or the most prominent online access points. Digging through the detritus and overload, I’ve found that more and more I lock onto albums that give a little extra. They create their own world of music for the 30-60 minutes you spend with them. They make you wonder how the artists wrote the songs, how they composed the music. I was drawn to imperfect performances, atmosphere over precision (though The War On Drugs manage to exemplify both), melody, energy, intelligence and rhythm.

My favourite album of the year probably won’t feature on any other list you read (though hopefully it does). The Terminals, from NZ, released a record that mainlines a sense of musical nostalgia in my synapses, harkening back to the music of my teens and early 20’s in the NZ underground. The legacy of Flying Nun, alternative rock and darkly emotive music from a couple of islands at the end of the Earth. In my review I said “The Terminals have never been creatively stronger than they are on Antiseptic. It’s their finest album and the sound of musicians digging deep and exploring a lifetime of musical influences and experiences without concession to anything outside of their own ideas and instruments.”

Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of musical styles, from eccentric folk to kraut-tronica, country to ragged suburban punk rock, gothic 80s synth to skronking saxophone. Dig deep and enjoy.

terminals

1. The Terminals – Antiseptic REVIEW

58cfd0b948f99

2. Aldous Harding – Party REVIEW

a3966561371_10

3. Kevin Morby – City Music

243a5b88-5f71-4ae0-8705-1c4e3b81cde2

4. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness REVIEW

the tall grass

5. The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road REVIEW

a1874843766_10

6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent REVIEW

jepanddep

7. Jep and Dep – They’veBeenCalled REVIEW

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 10.19.22 am

8. Underground Lovers – Staring At You, Staring At Me REVIEW

war_on_drugs_the_a_deeper_understanding_0817

9. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding REVIEW

0011897714_10

10. Suicide Swans – Augusta

11. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

12. Ryan Adams – Prisoner REVIEW

13. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

14. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher REVIEW

15. Omni – Multi-Task

16. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

17. Traveller – Western Movies

18. Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure

19. The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly

20. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

21. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot

22. Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons REVIEW

23. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms

24. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

25. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now REVIEW

26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

27. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

28. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

29. The Singing Skies – Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground REVIEW

30. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

31. Chomper – Medicine Mountain

32. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House

33. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades REVIEW

34. Marty Stuart – Way Out West REVIEW

35. Chain And The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock REVIEW

36. Karl Blau – Out Her Space REVIEW

37. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head REVIEW

38. Destroyer – ken REVIEW

39. John Maus – Screen Memories

40. Gold Class – Drum REVIEW

ALBUM REVIEW: Beaches – Second Of Spring

Beaches 2017

Beaches go into overdrive on their new seventeen track album. It’s their magnum opus of sorts, taking everything they’ve explored on the first two albums and synthesising it into one kaleidoscopic take on all things psychedelic.

The album opens with two relentlessly churning tracks that set the stage for what is to follow. It signals their intent to push further out into the sonic aether, bridging the gap between melodic noisy pop hooks and hypnotic guitar-drenched head trips. Void is a brighter, headlong take on Wooden Shjips, psych-Kraut interstellar explorations while on track four they ease up on the gas and introduce chiming guitars, a post-punk interlude and a back half that sounds like The Primitives jamming with Look Blue Go Purple. Calendar sounds like a lost Pixies outtake with its mix of raw grind and dreamy vocals while Wine dives and shimmers like Crazy Horse doing shoegaze.

Arrow is the headiest pop rush the quintet have conjured up, the perfect nugget for the approaching warmer months and it feels like the apex of Second Of Spring. In the back third Bronze Age Babies adds a surprise with a recorder voicing the main melody before Grey Colours takes a gloriously melancholic wander that Robert Smith would be proud of. There’s a lot to take in but it’s an endlessly rewarding and freewheeling album for a band who are the equal sum of their parts and eager to explore all musical possibilities.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Machine Translations – Oh

machine_translations_oh_1117

J Walker returns with his first album in four years and it finds him in an eclectic yet economical mood. The Bright Door (2007) possessed polish and an ornate sheen while Oh replaces that with rougher edges and a subtle shift toward a lower-fi aesthetic.

The opening track Made A Friend sounds like Beck in his melancholic balladeer mode before the first single Parliament Of Spiders (and later, the title-track) veers off into skewed art-pop mode akin to Spoon. It highlights the stronger focus on rhythm and melodies that jump from the speakers with more immediacy. Sola gets even more primal with a Sonic Youth meets Sparklehorse guitar skronk and driving urgency.

Walker has a way of vocally inhabiting his songs in a range of styles, from slacker dispatches to warm songwriter crooning. It shows his magpie approach to writing but even though the styles vary the sonic palette he utilises is cleverly controlled and its elements blended in service to the song, never for the sake of obtuse musical eccentricity. The instrumental Room 17 particularly stands out with its delicate phrasings and Dirty Three-indebted European gypsy sway.

Oh is an endlessly fascinating album, still built on multi-layered creativity but presented in concise and vibrant form.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Karl Blau – Out Her Space

karl-blau-out-her-space

Karl Blau experienced a taste of wider critical acclaim on the back of his last album Introducing Karl Blau. The title and the fact that it was a collection of country covers was somewhat misleading, given that he’s has already released something more than 20 albums. With Out Her Space, Blau has shape-shifted into the world of avant rock, funk and soul, eschewing his lo-fi origins and retaining the lush production quality of his last album.

There are clear comparisons that can be made with another inquisitive songwriter such as Bill Callahan and Will Oldham. Callahan and Blau also share a love of dub music, the latter reconfiguring the Paul Simon/bong-inhaling sound of Poor The War Away into Dub The War Away, a tripped-out bass-heavy excursion that would make Bill Laswell proud. Valley Of Sadness is an attempt at pastoral psychedelia but it ends up sounding frivolous and unnecessary. Blue As My Name finds a nice brisk strum into Love territory, I Got The Sounds Like You Got The Blues draws jazz horns into Blau’s pulsing rhythmic orbit before the eight minute Where You Goin’ Papa goes on a poly-genre journey akin to Harry Nilsson singing the hits of every section in the record store. This is a fine exercise in fearless and inventive songwriting.

Chris Familton

 

INTERVIEW: Ben Salter

Ben Salter Promo 7 by Barry Douglas_preview

If there’s one thing that Ben Salter (The Gin Club, The Wilson Pickers) always appears to do, it’s to back himself. This time he’s even gone so far as to name his new solo album Back Yourself, and in the spirit of impromptu creativity and capturing songs on the fly he took a new and challenging approach to the writing and recording of the album.

“It was very different. I initially conceived it as being entirely improvised in the studio, says Salter. “I anticipated I’d do it fairly cheaply in friends’ studios, write the songs, record quickly and keep it playful – but if you don’t have any ideas when you get to the studio it can go downhill fairly quickly!” he laughs.

“We did a couple of weeks like that in Tasmania but came away with far less material than I’d hoped and it didn’t quite work as I’d thought. I had someone offer me help to finish it and they put me onto producer Chris Townend in Melbourne. I told him my plan and what I’d done and he was down with doing some more of the improv thing but I was kind of lamenting the fact that I hadn’t written the songs and that I’d gone about it this way. I think it ended up being good in the end though, I think it works,” reflects Salter.

Attention to detail and willingness to experiment with the songs to find their most interesting form made for an equally thrilling and frustrating process, but one that ultimately yielded the most rewarding results. ”There’d be days when we’d sit there, take songs apart and replace every single part – different bass lines, instrumentation etc. It ended up being a mix of what I’d anticipated and some studio re-working. It was quite challenging at times to go into the studio and just have nothing and be plagued by the normal doubts with the added indignity of not having any actual songs! Now in hindsight I can see that the impulses and instincts that drive the creation are still intact,” says Salter.

“I don’t really write for anything in particular,” admits Salter, when asked about his writing process and how it differs as he shifts between musical projects. “A lot of the sound is very much down to the personnel and the vibe. I’ve just finished recording an album with Conor Macdonald from The Gin Club here in Tasmania and Adrian Styles from the band played on it too. When we get together it just automatically has a very Gin Club sound. Some songs just don’t fit with other bands or I want to keep some for my own albums, Salter explains. “Writing these in the studio meant I didn’t even get the chance to make that decision as I needed all the songs I could get!”

Having a hand in a number of project means Salter operates as a full-time musician, yet it is only in the last year or two that he’s started earning what anyone would consider a reasonable amount of money as a recording and touring artist.

“Before that it was constant poverty,” Salter grimly recalls. “It’s certainly not getting easier. I treat it as my own thing – I book my own shows and I’m lucky I have a label who give me money and support. I don’t like it when musicians complain about it being hard. I just think, get another job if you don’t like it. There are plenty of other people who would love the opportunity they have,” says Salter.

“I don’t see things like Spotify being run in a very fair way. It’s hard with intellectual copyright as a musician,” states Salter, before switching his attention to the positive side of being a working musician. “Playing live, it’s never been better. If you’re willing to work and play all the time and you’re halfway decent, you can do it all the time. With the internet and email I can organise a NZ tour and a tour of Japan. It’s not rocket science. I’ve never been able to afford hotels all the time and you get a bit worn out but I wouldn’t swap it for anything to be honest.”

CHRIS FAMILTON

ALBUM REVIEW: U2 – Songs Of Experience

u2_feat_kendrick_lamar-get_out_of_your_own_way_s

U2 are a band that have always traded in grand gestures, yet at their finest and self-defining moments they’ve always tempered the pretension with mystery, mood or atmosphere. The spacious textures of  the Daniel Lanois-indebted The Joshua Tree, the emotive post-punk chime and sparkle of those early singles and the dark grooves of Achtung Baby all showed a creative and experimental group who, on Songs of Experience, prove once again that their best days are still 20 years in the rear view mirror.

Over three years in the making, this companion album to Songs Of Innocence inhabits similar sonic territory with it’s radio-friendly production and a blend of tender ballads and big, rhythm-heavy rock songs. The former is where they still excel with opener Love Is All We Have Left finding the sweet spot between modern production and raw and tender emotion. Likewise the optimistic and dreamy closer 13 (There Is A Light). Between those points most of Bono’s lyrics fall into bad high school poetry territory with clumsy rhymes and the cloying tendency to resort to wordless chants of woo hoo’s and la la’s.

The Showman (Little More Better) has a chorus like 80s Rick Springfield, the Kendrick Lamar-featuring American Soul is a brash and trashy attempt at a Black Keys-styled blues rock stomp that fails while Red Flag Day is a tangle of cliched guitar chords, a tired and bland rock song, badly dressed up in pop production. It all amounts to a grasp for relevance, an overworked reliance on studio sheen and the unimaginative box they’ve painted themselves into.

Chris Familton