EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: September 20th, 2013

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Another week of shake-ups in the local festival scene here in Australia with the cancellation of Harvest Festival and the probably not coincidental announcement that AJ Maddah (Soundwave, Harvest) had become a partner in Big Day Out with Ken West and US company C4. It seems a bit strange that one week Maddah is bemoaning the indie-centric BDO lineup as one reason for Harvest’s slow ticket sales and then the next week he cancels the Harvest dates and the BDO partnership is made public. Obviously the deal would have been in negotiation and discussion for a long period and Maddah would have been privy to the BDO line-up a long time ago. Regardless it could be a good thing in the long run. The BDO assimilates more indie type acts to balance the rock elements and Soundwave becomes the premier hard rock/metal touring festival. Laneway is growing every year and that too should benefit from Harvest being off the calendar. Speaking of Laneway, their first line-up announcement happens next Tuesday.

In terms of new releases this week there only a couple of notable ones that have caught my ear. The wonderful folk voice of Nathaniel Rateliff, Elvis Costello & The Roots’ LP sounds like it might deliver, Mark Lanegan’s covers album Imitations (he should be singing the Great American Songbook, not Rod) and Crystal Stilts maintain their quality output on Nature Noir.

In my daily trawl of the net and via the deluge of band, record company and publicist emails there are often bands that jump out as having something that catches your ear before you have a chance to hit delete or skip. Two in particular stood out this week in The Golden Awesome out of Wellington, NZ and The Grand Rapids from Melbourne, AU. Both deal in psychedelic flavoured rock and shoegaze but they’re coming at it from different angles. See what you think.

Next week Swervedriver kick off their Australian tour playing their seminal album Raise in full plus various other highlights from the back catalogue.

September
Thu 26th – Brisbane – The Zoo
+ support We All Want To / Mosman Alder
Fri 27th – Sydney – Metro Theatre
+ supports Charlie Horse / Greta Mob (Bom Aterg)
Sat 28th – Melbourne – Corner Hotel
+ supports Iowa / White Walls
Sun 29th – Melbourne – Northcote Social Club
+ supports Infinite Void / Lunaire
October
Wed 2nd – Adelaide – The Gov
+ supports Horror My Friend / No Action
Thu 3rd – Perth* – Rosemount Hotel

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Favourite Songs of 2011

So many people are starting to base their listening on songs these days, such is the reduction in attention spans, the proliferation of YouTube browsing and the ease of compiling ones own playlists featuring the best stuff you want to hear. Separate to my Top 50 LPs of 2011 I’ve also put together a list of songs that caught my ears and became hard to shake. There were of course dozens of others that could be included here but this is a lucky dip of sorts into some of my favourite tunes of 2011 that might lead you further into the artist’s work if you havent checked them out yet…

In no particular order as they are all great…

Dick Diver – On The Bank

Those Darlins – Screw Get Loose

J. Mascis – Not Enough

Total Control – One More Tonight

Light Asylum – Dark Allies

The Strokes – Under Cover of Darkness

Iron & Wine – Tree By a River

Timber Timbre – Bad Ritual

Little Dragon – Ritual Union

Wilco – I Might

Two Tears – Eat People

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

Iowa – Complete Control

The Laurels – Black Cathedral

The Adults – Nothing To Lose

Austra – Lose It

Atlas Sound – Te Amo

Twerps – Dreamin

Royal Headache – Really In Love

Melodie Nelson – Waiting

Black Lips – Spidey’s Curse

Crystal Stilts – Shake The Shackles

Jamie XX – Far Nearer

The Felice Brothers – Ponzi

The Paper Scissors – Lung Sum

Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk

Wavves – I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl

Wild Flag – Romance

Leader Cheetah – Crawling Up A Landslide

FEATURE: Life in a Chord | Flying Nun Records

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Flying Nun, here is a reprint of a piece I wrote about the label last year…

written by Chris Familton

A record label at the right place at the right time can be integral to a music scene, often gaining revered status further down the track as history settles into place. Sub Pop, Motown and Factory are obvious examples. At the start of the 80s very few would have predicted the impact (albeit on a lesser scale) that a label started in the lounge room of a record shop clerk, on a culturally isolated island at the bottom of the world, would have.

Born in Christchurch in 1981 to Roger Shepherd and raised in Dunedin, Flying Nun became home to a unique cross-section of bands who were influenced by both the cold dark winters and the independent music that was coming out of the northern hemisphere.

Simon Coffey, who was a radio DJ and gig promoter at the time, sums up the origins of the so called ‘Dunedin Sound’. “I think it was the combination of the UK’s Punk ethic of DIY and rejection of bloated 60s/70s rock (seen clearly with acts like The Clean, Tall Dwarfs and The Puddle), the influence of US ’60′s psychedelia, up to and including acts like the Velvet Underground which combined to embody themselves as lo-fi pop.”

The original mission of Flying Nun was to create an outlet for bands from the South Island to have their music heard and the first wave included The CleanThe ChillsThe Bats, The Verlaines and Chris Knox’s Tall Dwarfs. It is those bands that are now, more than 25 years later, being cited as influences by current acts such as Stephen Malkmus, Jay Reatard, Pete & The Pirates, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls.

JB Townsend of US band Crystal Stilts recalls when he discovered Martin Phillipps’ The Chills. “The first time I heard Pink Frost I was astonished that there was a band out there with a song that sounded like that. The whole spacious half melancholy pop thing… It was exactly the feel I was going for in our earlier records. They took from all the right resources before them and make it sound thoroughly unique and as good as their classic predecessors.” says Townsend.

One of the key figures on the Flying Nun scene was Chris Knox. The singer of early NZ punk bands The Enemy and Toy Love, he was the driving force behind the label’s lo-fi approach to video, artwork and early recordings. Matthew Bannister of Sneaky Feelings summed up Knox well in his book Positively George St; “The most important contributor to the cult of shambling amateurism was Chris Knox, a punk puritan who mistrusts anything too polished or seductive.”

That perceived lack of aspiration worked in the label’s favour, so much so that contemporary bands like UK’s Pete & The Pirates see it as a defining part of Flying Nun’s appeal. “What makes them unique is that they never seemed to aspire to what most labels would: making money! and they didn’t seem to interfere with the artistic processes of the artists,” says singer Tom Sanders, “It seemed almost like a strong compulsion to capture the music that the label found and loved in it’s rawest and most honest form, seemingly for posterity rather than commercial gain.”

New Zealand writer Graham Reid has been writing about the Flying Nun since the mid 80s and recalls an insular scene which contributed to the lack of wider success for many of the bands. “They were so inward looking, some of them only played ten hours together before they recorded something, they didn’t tour, they didn’t play often enough to become good at their craft – they didn’t want to do that. They’d play 2 gigs in three months and want a cup of tea and a lie down,” he laughs, before adding, “It was like a little boys club that looked in on itself.”

Prior to punk music reaching New Zealand and planting the seeds for these bands, there had been little for people to latch onto and call their own. A cultural cringe outweighed pride and self promotion. Graeme Jefferies of Flying Nun bands This Kind Of Punishment and The Cakekitchen sees the label as a major cultural turning point for the country. “I think from my own generation’s point of view that it was extremely important for our cultural identity. That early Flying Nun stuff has some real milestones and was the first real indication of Kiwi underground culture outside of books and movies. It was really important then and historically it still is.”

As the label grew and the bands began to expand their sound with larger recording budgets the strain began to show. In the mid 80s the label shifted offices to Auckland to be closer to the wider music industry which was viewed by many as a betrayal. By 88, with cash-flow problems mounting, a deal was made with Australian label Mushroom Records which provided both funding and international distribution opportunities.

Though both The Chills and Straitjacket Fits inked deals with American labels Slash and Arista, the big push to promote many of the bands overseas ultimately led to burnout and disillusionment causing many of the label’s profile acts to disband. Shepherd battled on, relocating to run the London office in 95, but, by 97 he had departed the label and Mushroom had amalgamated with Festival Records, further distancing Flying Nun from its independent beginnings.

The label has been relatively dormant in the 21st century with The D4The Phoenix Foundation and The Mint Chicks the exceptions. Recent activity in 09 from prominent ex-Flying Nun bands shows the creativity of the early pioneers is still strong with new albums from Shayne Carter’s Dimmer (Degrees Of Existence), The Bats (The Guilty Office), The Clean (Mister Pop) and The Verlaines (Corporate Moronic).

The most recent and encouraging development in the Flying Nun world is the news that a Roger Shepherd-led consortium has bought back the label’s catalogue from Warners who absorbed Festival Records in 05. Neil Finn is one of the other major backers of the group and you sense that in their hands the legacy of Flying Nun as well as the cultivation of new artists will be well looked after.

Though it never sold a lot of records it seems that there is still an immense amount of pride and respect for the label that started at the bottom of the world, took flight and ended up influencing so many with its pure and enthusiastic dedication to music.

www.flyingnun.co.nz

Interview with Martin Phillipps

Interview with The Clean

Live review of The Bats

Review of Dimmer’s Degrees of Existence

This article first appeared in A Fine Line magazine


REVIEW: CRYSTAL STILTS – Alight Of Night

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Reviewed for FasterLouder.

crystalstiltsCrystal Stilts are part of the current wave of bands from America that are continuing the Velvet Underground lineage of droney lo-fi garage rock. Along with Vivian Girls and Black Lips they are carving out their own part of a scene that looks back more than it looks forward. On their debut album they take a couple of key elements and combine them to mixed results.

Alight Of Night follows the release of a self titled EP last year. The new record is a much stronger representation of the band’s modus operandi; to create dark and moody post-punk music that is high on drama and atmosphere rather than musical perfection.

One obvious comparison is Velvet Underground. On the closing track ‘The City In The Sea’ there is an overwhelming sense of hearing their sound before. It is the pulsing bass, the jangle and muted twang of the guitars and the floor tom focused drums that takes the listener back to new York warehouse apartments in the late 1960s where Reed and Cale introduced a new drone aesthetic to rock & roll music.

The other interesting influence is 1980’s Flying Nun acts from New Zealand such as The Chills and The Clean. Others like Jay Reatard have been referencing the energy of these bands but JB Townsend and Brad Hargett take the grey gothic parts of the antipodean sound and mix it up with some Joy Division and early Cure to give it an even moodier feel.

‘The Dazzled’ is a perfect example of the NZ connection, particularly in the jaunty rhythm that sounds loose and casual which is exactly the reason for its charm. The song ‘Crystal Stilts’ adds a Jesus & Mary Chain grit to proceedings while ‘Graveyard Orbit’ throws in some reverb-laden surf guitar on prozac, dialing up the dreamy haze factor.

Hargett’s vocals are the weak link on Alight Of Night. He struggles to find a comfortable place within the music and the highlights often come where the instruments are left to stumble on by themselves. His dull monotone moans come from a gothic place where the likes of Robert Smith, Ian Curtis and Andrew Eldritch (Sisters Of Mercy) have all resided. His best moment is on ‘Prismatic Room’ where he attempts a stronger melody and and seems to rise above the flatness of most of the album.

Lyrically Hargett is preoccupied with the existentialist crisis of identity. With lines like “When I conjure memories they feel like someone else’s” and “Finding faces in a blackness / Fathom form in the abyss / This vision’s chaos of color / Is a collision of bane and bliss”, he paints a pretty bleak outlook on life.

Instruments like organ and harmonica give an organic touch to the album, going someway to balance out the claustrophobic darkness that pervades much of the record.

If you can get past the vocals on Alight Of Night there are some wonderful touches that connect back to so many key moments in music, from the Doors to goth to post punk and indie. The overall feel is of a dense and heavy vibe so if you need some cheering up stay well clear. If you love wallowing in your own despair and swirling thoughts then you will embrace Crystal Stilts with open arms.