NEW MUSIC: Empasse – Ultraviolet

Let’s kick off the new week with some really nice post-rock sounds out of Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) in New Zealand. If you dig the type of music created by Mogwai and Jakob then this will be your kind of thing. ‘Ultraviolet’ is moody, dark and ominous even when it’s not heavy. It’s cinematic too, but still operates in a compositional rock format.

Empasse is the work of Nick Johnston, a local government bureaucrat by day and musician by night. Some of Nick’s previous bands include post-rock band Sora Shima, and indie pop bands The Changing Same and Dynamo Go.  

Nick describes the Ultraviolet EP as a “soundtrack to a story that is not well known in New Zealand outside the Waikato Region where I live” – the story of the town of Rotowaro, a former mining village that was entirely removed in the 1980s to make way for an opencast coal mine. The mine fuelled the Huntly Power Station, the largest thermal power station in New Zealand which has been identified as responsible for over half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions from electricity generation. 

“Ultraviolet is about the damage and wounds that we cannot see – in this case, it is the rural communities that have battered over many generations to grow and power our larger cities, as well as the carbon emissions damaging the health of our planet.” 

NEW MUSIC: Wax Chattels – Cede

PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz

The Aotearoa/New Zealand trio Wax Chattels release the final single from their new album Clot, out September 25 via Flying Nun and Captured Tracks.

The vitriolic choruses of ‘Cede’ are in Amanda Cheng’s (bass/vocals) native language — Taiwanese Hokkien — and are an indignant confrontation about Cross-Strait relations and self-determination.

Amanda Cheng on ‘Cede’ — “I am angry. Saying “you don’t know who I am” in Taiwanese Hokkien is to say “you don’t get to tell me who I am”. You don’t just scream like this to put on an album — you scream like this because it’s the only thing you can do.

This song is an affront to the near-silent cultural genocide that’s taking place — the censorship, the militant threats — and the international community’s insistence on practicing diplomacy with economics at the front of mind. If it takes a loud song that’s half in an unfamiliar language for people to ask, “what’s that about?”, then so be it.”
 

Amanda Cheng on the video for ‘Cede‘ below — “I set out to make a video that was unenjoyable to watch; unhinging a domestic, ‘safe’ setting. To contrast the blunt lyrics, the thematic statements in the video are more subtle — there’s a geopolitical narrative there, but you’ll miss it.”

The video was directed by Amanda, with the helping hands of Annabel Kean and Callum Devlin of Sports Team.

PRE-ORDER AND SAVE CLOT

SPECIAL SOUNDS FOR STRANGE TIMES: Simon Sweetman

Over the last few months, one of the things many people have been turning to during periods of isolation during the pandemic is music. Music for distraction, companionship, solace and joy. Whatever the reason, putting on a favourite album or discovering something new that pulls you in and hits the spot, intellectually or emotionally, can be a great and wonderful experience. In this series we check in with musicians, journalists and broadcasters to see what has inspired repeat listening and provided some special sounds for these strange times.

For episode two we’re very lucky to have New Zealand author, podcaster, music journalist and poet Simon Sweetman taking us through three albums that he’s been drawn to over the last few months. Simon has been writing about music for much of his adult life, he’s the man behind the long-running music blog Off The Tracks, host of Sweetman Podcast, which is now up to its 218th episode and in 2012 he published his first book – OnSong: Stories Behind New Zealand’s Pop Classics. His next writing project is his first book of poetry, due out in October through The Cuba Press and titled The Death of Music Journalism. He also recently made his first foray into e-books with Drummers You Just Can’t Beat a series of essays about favourite and influential drummers.

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Forces of Victory (1979)

Lockdown – in its various states and guises around the world – has done funny things to us and I first noticed that when all I wanted to listen to was reggae and dub music. This isn’t usually the case – but I found myself a fan anew. Returning to old favourites and desperately soaking up classic material that was brand new to me. I devoured the entire Bob Marley canon which included first listens to a few albums and I warmed my soul with the work of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell. Of their collaborations, this has always been my favourite, I guess it’s that nostalgia-thing of returning to the work you heard first. I hunted this album out 20 years ago or so after watching a documentary that was ostensibly about the poet John Cooper Clarke. And much as I loved it for that and soon immersed myself in his written words and worlds, it was the footage of LKJ that really impacted. Specifically his poem called “Sonny’s Lettah” – it’s probably my all-time favourite work of Johnson’s. And so Forces of Victory has been on a loop or me across the last few weeks. And, yes, I’ve gone through other albums by LKJ – his first handful all so magnificent that it’s almost a line-call – and Bovell’s production and DJ work outside of his collaborations with Linton. It’s all pretty special but Forces of Victory remains the one for me. It’s one of those albums where I remember instantly where I was when I first heard it.

Curtis Mayfield – Curtis (1970)

I was preparing a recent feature for RNZ where I talked about Curtis Mayfield’s life and work and played some tunes. That means I went deep – right through all the work, even though it was only a 40-minute program and I focused mostly on the soundtrack work and the diversity of his writing, from The Impressions through his own songs and several producing and writing jobs for other acts. But at home, in the build-up, I worked through all of the Impressions albums (fabulous!) and all of Curtis’ solo material. The album I kept coming back to though was his 1970 debut. I finally bought myself a copy for the turntable, but this was one of the first things I rushed out to buy when I got hooked on Curtis Mayfield about 25 years ago. The songs here, and the production, so vital and fresh and perhaps sadly so they are still so relevant. I mean take a listen to ‘We People Who Are Darker Than Blue’. That’s a movie in and of itself right there; that could be anyone else’s one and only greatest hit. For Curtis, it’s one of the ones you mention in a first or second breath.

Grace Jones – Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (1998)

This two-disc anthology covers the work Grace Jones did with Sly & Robbie in the early 1980s. Phenomenal music that had a massive impact on me at the time and continues to – I feel like I’ve never not been a Grace Jones fan. As a kid she was just intriguing: turning up on TV and in movies, making these great pop songs and then finding out she was a model, artist, celebrity. The music is the thing I’ve always cared most about with Jones and this time around it was as much to do with loving and studying the work of Sly and Robbie – all timed and tied up with my reggae fascination I guess. The signature Grace Jones hits are here – ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, ‘Walking In The Rain’ and her magnificent covers of ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Love Is The Drug’. (In fact she’s just a covers machine here: ‘She’s Lost Control’, ‘Use Me’, ‘Breakdown’, ‘Ring of Fire’, ‘Demolition Man’ and of course the title track – ‘Private Life’. Again this sounds so fresh and inventive close to 40 years on and the mix of dub and long versions, demos and originals paints a picture of the studio genius of Sly and Robbie as players and producers. 

NEW MUSIC: Rhian Sheehan – Still

New Zealand composer Rhian Sheehan has recently released a new album, Recollections, Vol. 1, which features a number of new tracks, and a number of tracks performed as part of his 2018 A Quiet Divide Album Release Tour.

Still‘ is a beautifully percussive and textured track that peppers an undulating piano line with clickety-clack rhythms that conjures everything from a ticking clock to a typewriter, or even metronomic footsteps. There’s a gentle lulling quality to the track for the first few minutes before tension is added using the same shapes but with greater push and a deeper synthetic swell.

Elsewhere on the album there are deeper electronic synth excursions, ambient and drone compositions and grand post-rock soundscapes.

Recollections, Vol. 1 is out now on Loop Recordings Aot(ear)oa.

NEW MUSIC: Ria Hall – Walk

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Here’s a recently released new track from NZ’s Ria Hall, written with Laughton Kora. It’s a great slice of Pacific reggae but one that rides a minimal and dark rhythm instead of hitting summer jam heights. That works in its favour. Don’t get me wrong, it still gathers momentum and swings along with a real hook to it but it’s definitely on the lowdown tip. Dig it!

‘Walk’ comes from Hall’s new album Manawa Wera which is out now on Loop Recordings.

 

NEW MUSIC: Fly My Pretties – Quiet Girl

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New Zealand collective Fly My Pretties have been a live proposition up until recently when they entered the studio to record new imaginings of tracks from their back catalogue.

The Studio Recordings Part One involved 25 contributors over a 12 month period – including Barnaby Weir (The Black Seeds) accompanied by Anna Coddington, Bailey Wiley, A Girl Named Mo, Hollie Smith, LA Mitchell (Terrible Sons), Lisa Tomlins, Adi Dick, Age Pryor, Iraia Whakamoe (The Nudge), James Coyle (The Nudge), Jarney Murphy (The Black Seeds), Laughton Kora, Mike Fabulous (Lord Echo), Nigel Patterson (The Black Seeds), Paul McLaney, Rio Hunuki-Hemopo (TrinityRoots), Ryan Prebble (The Nudge), and on this track ‘Quiet Girl’ – Samuel Flynn Scott (The Phoenix Foundation).

The song takes a smoky, late-night dreamy angle that conjures up the sound of Twin Peaks, Chris Isaak , and a distant ghostly echo of The Doors.

The Studio Recordings Part One is out now on Bandcamp and the usual streaming services.

NEW MUSIC: Salad Boys – This Issue

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New sounds from New Zealand band Salad Boys. ‘This Issue’ is a fine blend of hypnotic rhythms and guitars that tease and twist themselves into fascinating melodic shapes. At times the guitars reminded me of the warped brilliance of the 3Ds but the rest of the song is on a different trip. Heavy-lidded mantra-like vocals. It’s all wrapped up in a caustic and brittle lo-fi kinda mix which adds to the scratchy psychedelia of it all.

The single also features the track ‘Onwards and Downwards’ and is the follow-up to last year’s This Is Glue LP.

NEW MUSIC: Charcoal Burners – The Verlaines and Husker Du

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We posted another Charcoal Burners track earlier this year and this one also hits the spot with its warm buzz and jangle of guitars, interlaced with piano (that reminded us of Able Tasmans). I like that they reference the sound of the song in its title, you can definitely hear both bands that they mention, more so their Dunedin counterparts. I’d also throw in a comparison with the less caustic side of Swervedriver in the way the song gently churns and drones.

‘The Verlaines and Husker Du’ follows their 2019 album The Best Day You Could Imagine.