ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Finn – Out Of Silence

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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

Neil Finn – Out Of Silence album recording/webcast

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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

ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Finn | Dizzy Heights

square-600Rating7Neil Finn is an artist who is always searching for and experimenting with new ways to satisfy his muse. He’s a pan-genre musician capable of immersing himself in pop, art-rock, acoustic balladry and groove-based experimentalism and he masters most of them. On Dizzy Heights he applies a new psychedelic and fantastical pop-art filter to his songs with mixed results.

Finn worked with producer Dave Fridmann (Tame Impala, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips) and from the opening track his trademark dreamy swirl is all over Finn’s songs. Impressions is measured, and soulful and features Finn’s sweet falsetto that appears often across Dizzy Heights. The songs that display the largest Fridmann imprint are the ones that work the best. A song like Divebomber could even be straight off a Flaming Lips record. When the clouds clear and Finn’s song become more sonically and lyrically direct they often descend into moody and earnest electronic pop-rock workouts like Flying In The Face of Love.

The album features his wife Sharon and sons Liam (guitars) and Elroy (drums) as well as contributions from SJD and Connan Mockasin, all of them having a distinct influence on the overall sound of the album. Amid all the studio bells and whistles, clever and quirky arrangements and dizzying instrumental collisions it is still Finn’s magical use of melody that rises to the top. The songs and lyrical imagery may be too considered at times but this is still Finn pushing forward and continuing his brave exploration of music.

 Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

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REVIEW: 7 WORLDS COLLIDE – The Sun Came Out

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Reviewed for FasterLouder

7worldsIt is surprising that musicians don’t do this kind of thing more – getting together for the sake of the music, collaborating and sharing the experience of songwriting. One way to do it is the ‘supergroup’ which can either work (Them Crooked Vultures, Temple Of The Dog) or can be a turgid affair (Chickenfoot, Tinted Windows). The model that Neil Finn has developed, where a group of musicians travel to New Zealand with their families and gather to write and record, much like a working holiday.

The Sun Came Out is the second album from the 7 Worlds Collide collective. The first featured Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), members of Radiohead and Johnny Marr (The Smiths). Pretty much a line-up to drool over for indie and rock fans. The new project features many of the same musicians from 2001 plus members of Wilco, Bic Runga, KT Tunstall and Glenn Richards (Augie March). Wilco are often called the ‘American Radiohead’ so to get these chaps together is a fairly monumental musical summit.

As a result of the relaxed beach atmosphere and the extended family vibe of the whole project the songs all flow by breezily, with an americana tinge to many of them. It is effortless pop that drips with melodies and some wonderfully subtle playing.

Jeff Tweedy contributes a couple of tracks, the first being You Never Know from Wilco’s latest album. It is pure Wilco in sound and with the band recording some of their album on the visit it is essentially the same version you hear on that record. His other track What Could Have Been rolls along over a primitive drum machine and is the darker Tweedy, musing on past actions and consequences.

With Neil Finn being the head honcho he appears throughout the album, including the first song written and performed by Finn and wife Sharon. Neil has referred to Little By Little as their amateur version of ESG’s amateur pop funk. The song is a delightful sunny ode to children growing up and finding their own lives and Sharon’s voice suits the song – its not strong but it has a pop melodicism that sits well with Neil’s voice.

Neil’s Learn To Crawl sounds very Radiohead in the verses with Ed O’Brien’s treated guitar soundscaping in the background before the strident chorus surges forward. It is Finn showing another side to his writing beyond the Crowded House and more in tune with his solo work.

KT Tunstall contributes a very country pop styled track complete with ‘whoahs’, handclaps, and honky-tonk piano. It verges on Sheryl Crow at times but the playing and roughness around the edges pulls it back from the edge of MOR and gives it a more Jenny Lewis feel.

Johnny Marr’s track is the biggest disappointment of The Sun Came Out, meandering along without direction, intent or anything to really grab onto. Never possessing the strongest of voices,Marr’s song could surely have been replaced by one of the many other session tracks.

One of the big surprises is Radiohead’s Phil Selway who steps out from behind the kit and unveils a sweet Elliott Smith/Nick Drake acoustic number. He possesses a gentle keening voice and does well to temper it with mainly organic instrumentation. Lovely stuff.

Duxton Blues is Glenn Richards living out a dream. Imagine turning up with a song and having Johnny Marr and Neil Finn backing you. He doesn’t at all sound phased, delivering a strong track that strips away some of the clutter that sometimes clouds Augie March songs. Duxton Blues has one of the strongest choruses on the album, effortless, swelling and catchy.

7 Worlds Collide again proves to be more than a vanity project. Perhaps it can be criticised for its safeness and lack of stretch and experimentation but Finn’s choice of musicians and the idyllic surroundings dictated that songwriting would be the focus and the strength they would play too. The live concerts (to follow on DVD) will be a fascinating watch and one hopes that it won’t be another 7 years before Finn picks up the phone again.

NEWS: NEIL FINN’S 7 Worlds Collide super lineup…

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This week has seen three concerts in Auckland, New Zealand led by Neil Finn and featuring a stellar lineup that includes members of Radiohead and Wilco plus Johnny Marr, Liam Finn, Bic Runga, KT Tunstall, Don Mclashan, Lisa Germano and Sebastian Steinberg.

The last of the shows is tonight at the Powerstation in Mt Eden and will be followed by an album of original material that includes contributions from all the above artists.  The album is in aid of the charity Oxfam and is being recorded at Finn’s Roundhead Studios.

Here are some behind the scenes footage and interviews plus video of their performance of The Smiths’ There Is A Light…