lunes, 2 de agosto de 2021

The Chills - Scatterbrain (2021)


Since returning in 2015, Martin Phillipps and the Chills released two albums (Silver Bullets and Snow Bound) that not only reestablished the long-running band's place in the indie pop scene, but added some extra polish to their already-glittering legacy. 2021's Scatterbrain stays true to the big pop sound of their previous two albums while adding a little bit of prog rock-inspired trickery and some mystical lyrical concerns. From the opening track, the jumpy, synth-heavy rocker "Monolith," it's clear that Phillipps and the band are delivering another strong album. The room-filling drums, rumbling bass, swelling synths, and jangling guitars combine with Phillipps' vocals -- which are as strong as ever -- to create a sound that rocks pretty hard while still feeling nimble and light. The rest of the record takes a winding path sonically while allowing Phillipps space to meditate on aliens, magic, disappointment, and the slippery nature of time. More than many Chills records, there's some sonic diversity at play. "Hourglass" travels gently from introspective acoustic guitar backing to angular synths and comforting strings; "Caught in My Eye" balances stately piano with glitchy electronics and clomping drum machines; "You're Immortal" adds Morricone-esque horns and backing vocals to an arena-sized track that sounds like prime major-label Chills, and the title track is filled with ping-ponging electronics, howling guitars, and Phillipps' seething vocal delivery. Along with these sonically challenging tracks there are also a couple of knockout pop songs that make you remember that this is the guy who wrote "Heavenly Pop Hit." The rambling "Walls Beyond Abandon" is one; the wonderfully hooky "Little Alien" is the other. He also wrote a truly lovely anthem for the troubled times the album was created in with the sweet ode to staying home, "Safe and Sound." Overall, this wide range of styles makes for one of the most surprising and listenable albums they've done yet. It's dramatic, it's grand, and it proves yet again that Martin Phillipps hasn't lost a step and will hopefully go on for a long time making records as good as Scatterbrain.  

viernes, 13 de noviembre de 2020

The Bats - Foothills (2020)


The Bats have made a career of consistency, keeping the same lineup and not changing their sound too dramatically since forming in 1982. Their slow and steady approach has resulted in the straightforward presentation of countless wonderful songs, all quietly accumulating over the course of a nearly 40-year run that brings us to tenth album Foothills. As with everything that preceded it, Foothills is a no-frills collection of slightly melancholic but ever-upbeat pastoral pop songs written by guitarist/vocalist Robert Scott, and brought to life by the subtle touches added by the rest of the band. This takes the form of a few jaunty, uptempo rockers like "Warwick" and "Red Car," but sticks mainly to patiently paced jangly fare. The chiming guitars and simple shifts in dynamics between verses and choruses on album opener "Trade in Silence" all make for an incredibly direct tune, but it's the kind of less-is-more approach that has defined the band's best work over the years.

On more slow-moving tracks like gorgeous closer "Electric Sea View," the Bats' gifts for understated arrangement come through clearly, with gentle vocal harmonies and layers of tremolo-heavy keyboards and fuzz guitar adding depth and mystery to the sonic picture. Over the course of Foothills, incredibly small production choices like these make a huge impact. A single droning synthesizer note on "Warwick," the trembling guitar leads that meander throughout "Another Door," and barely there accordion tones on "As You Were" all expand the songs without overwhelming them. The rising waves of feedback and glockenspiel that show up for just a moment at the very end of the steady and wistful "Change Is All" instantly take the song to a different plane before quickly melting into the next track. Similar to the musical component, the lyrical content of Foothills is never too overt or heavy-handed. A band that's been active in relatively obscure circles for 38 years might be prone to tunes about growing older, nostalgia, or struggles with change, but if those expected themes appear, they come up more as emotional implications or nods to universal feelings instead of blunt statements. The Bats hold tightly to their time-tested sound on Foothills, producing another 12 songs of bright and wistful pop not quite like even their closest peers in the New Zealand indie pop scene. At this point, the standardization of their sound is the furthest thing from a criticism. The Bats' ability to achieve beautiful new results by returning time and again to the same specific set of sounds and inspirations remains one of the best things about the band.

miércoles, 25 de marzo de 2020

David Kilgour - Bobbie's a girl (2019)

Both on his own and with his band the Heavy Eights, David Kilgour built up a strong CV of chiming, noisy, and sometimes thickly psychedelic indie rock since the Clean stopped recording (for a while) in the early '90s. On records like 1994's Sugar Mouth or 2004's Frozen Orange, right up to 2014's End Times Undone, he's made thoughtful, tuneful albums that chime warmly as his understated vocals deliver a big, soft punch. It's a formula that has served him well for a long time, but on 2019's Bobbie's a Girl, Kilgour and his band change things up. For one thing, it's mostly an instrumental album, with Tony De Raad and Kilgour's acoustic and electric guitars carrying the main melodic weight, Thomas Bell's bass and Taane Tokona's drums subtly shading the background, and an array of carefully placed keyboards coloring in spaces here and there. A majority of the songs are meditative and inward-looking while still being darkly compelling. "Entrance" sets the scene like a cloud settling in overhead, and many of the songs follow suit. Sprinkled in among the pretty, wordless ballads ("Coming in from Nowhere Now"), dramatic Bad Seeds-esque laments ("Swan Loop"), and off-kilter noise-blues jams ("Ngapara") are occasional pop songs like the sweetly soaring "Smoke You Right Out of Here" and "Looks Like I’m Running Out," which spits out shards of pain in fragments of electric guitar then attempts to heal the damage with reassuring vibraphone runs.

It's no surprise that the album's tone is extra thoughtful and a little sad at times, since it's inspired and shaped by the death of Kilgour's mother as well as his longtime mate Peter Gutteridge. The band took their time making the music and creating the right feel, and the heartbreaking results show that their efforts were well worth it. Along the way, Kilgour realized that jettisoning the words allowed the interplay of the instruments to conjure up the exact feeling of loss and melancholy that he was looking for without language getting in the way. That choice makes the album a little less accessible on first listen, but once the music takes hold, it sinks in deeply. Though it is something of an outlier, at its core, Bobbie's a Girl is just like the other albums Kilgour has made over his long career: lovely pop music powered by his knack for crafting songs that feel like snippets from real life.

The Verlaines - Dunedin Spleen (2019)

The Verlaines have been a seminal Dunedin band since 1980, creating songs that mix astute lyrics with complex, visceral music often influenced by songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Graeme Downes’ day job as a music academic at Otago University. ‘Dunedin Spleen’, the band’s 10th album, continues this trend – and makes up for any delay between records with 19 tracks.‘None of these chords I own, I’ve only gave them temporary shelter,’ the album begins, and the lyrics throughout are similarly thought-provoking, intelligent and satirical, though not without warmth and sadness. The impressionistic chords and touching lyrics of A Crib At Flatline Bay reveal deep loss, while Way Too Old To Grow Up Now is an affectionate nod to a friend and fellow musician in a particular Dunedin scene.

A new Verlaines album always means sophisticated songwriting and musicianship, which ‘Dunedin Spleen’ has in buckets. Freeform impressionistic jazz, show tunes, Weimar-Germany influenced punk jazz (Church And State) and garage rock (None Of These Chords) all feature at points, while elements of punk, indie, and art-rock help to define the album’s sound. Crashing chords, and winding guitar and organ lines add depth to the songs, which are immediate and vital. It’s fair to say that some of the more recent Verlaines’ albums have been harder to engage with, but not so ‘Dunedin Spleen’ – it’s urgency frequently matches the visceral classics from the band’s early years, and shows Downes (and The Verlaines) at their melodic, and intricate, best.

viernes, 26 de abril de 2019

The Weeds ‎– Wheatfields (1985)

Sometimes they played in their underwear and in 1985 they released the raucous folk-blues ‘Wheatfields’ as a one-off single, flipped with a live take on Elvis Presley’s ‘Trouble’ on Flying Nun Records.

The Weeds ‎– Soundtrack (1986)

Homemade tape on Robert Scott's EST imprint played as a fake hootenanny with The Weeds performing as different bands. 

jueves, 25 de abril de 2019

Drone - The Land Of The Free (1986)

This is Art band Drone's first single. They were formed from the ashes of Tauranga band Rome. Darryl Hocking and Daniel Newnham had both played in Rome and where attending Elam Art School at University of Auckland. Rosemary Whitehead also hailed from Tauranga. They released two singles and an album in New Zealand as well as an E.P. in the UK.

The Crocodiles ‎– Hello Girl (1981)

This was Wellington band The Crocodiles' fifth and final single to be released in New Zealand. The Crocodiles were formed in 1979 by guitarists Tony Backhouse and Fane Flaws, drummer Bruno Lawrence, and keyboardist Peter Dasent. All of whom played in Spats. They were joined by vocalist Jenny Morris and bassist Tina Matthew who both played in The Wide Mouthed Frogs. Their first single, Tears, was a New Zealand top twenty hit in 1980. Only Tony Backhouse and Jenny Morris were left of the original line up by the time Hello Girl was released. Soon after its release they relocated to Australia and disbanded a few months later. In two years The Crocodiles released two albums and five singles as well as two singles and two albums in Australia and a single in Britain. Hello Girl is sung by newcomer Rikki Morris (not relation to Jenny). While Jenny Morris sings the B-Side Romantic as Hell.

The Knobz ‎– I Like It (1980)

This is the debut single from Dunedin band The Knobz. It was released in 1980 by EMI. Who later rejected their second single, the hugely successful Culture on the grounds it was too political. The Knobz released a total of four singles and one album. They also self-released the single Radiation For Free as Rockylox the previous year.

Grey Parade – Call To The Trees (1985)

Not to be confused with the British band Grey Parade from around the same time. This is the Auckland Pop band of the same name. They featured two members of The Exponents. The A-side is produced by Exponents bassist Dave Gent who also plays the guitar in the group along with drummer 'Harry' Harralambi. This was their only release.

Spines - Fishing (1982)

This was the first release from Wellington (via Hamilton) band Spines. Jon McLeary was the only constant member of the group. They released records on three of New Zealand most respected independent labels Ripper, Jayrem and Flying Nun. The Fishing EP features Caroline Easther who went on to play in Beat Rhythm Fashion and The Chills. The sleeve has a 45 RPM sticker on it as the label was printed stating the speed was 33 1/3 RPM but the correct speed is 45. The sleeve was also printed with an incorrect track listing. Side one is  1. It's All Inane, 2. Sideways and Side two is 1. Gillian 2. Fishing.

Techtones ‎- That Girl (1981)

This is Auckland Power Pop band The Techtones first single. They emerged from the the ashes of Auckland Punk band  Sheerlux. They released an album as well as three singles. Their album T.T.23 moved away from  Power Pop sound of That Girl to a more lofi sound. It was co-produced by Flying Nun's Doug Hood.