Kongos – Egomaniac

Kongos are a family affair.  Brothers, in fact – the four sons of South African Sixties rocker John Kongos, who’s best known for his 1971 top 10 hit single, He’s Gonna Step On You Again.  Yes, the very song that was remade in the 90’s by Manc tripsters Happy Mondays (re-labelled Step On).

The brothers were born in Johannesburg but came of age in Phoenix, Arizona and it was there that they became the musicians you hear on this their third release.  Given their background it’s no surprise that their music is a mix of pan-African instrumental styles, laced liberally with a fair amount of air-pumping rock’n’roll.  If you didn’t know what I’ve just told you, then you’d be convinced that this was one of those bands that comes out of the cultural melting pot of NY’s East Village.  None the less, its music that feels both cosmopolitan and disorienting.  It reminds me a little of what Johnny Clegg was doing back in the 80’s using Soweto sounds over pop beats.  Johnny Kongos’ wheezing accordion adds a little traditional South African jive and flourish to these tracks.  There’s a close connection to songs like Paul Simon’s Boy In a Bubble in there.  No surprise given Graceland’s inspirational legacy, Jesse’s guitar traces intricate bluesy West African curlicues, Daniel pounds like the Burundi drummers and Dylan’s ghostly slide guitar hints at Ben Harper’s take on Americana and blues. That’s especially clear on the opener, and first dingle Take It From Me, which has this mesmerizing chanting chorus led by a four-note drum punch.  On this as with all the tracks there’s a commercial tinge that you can’t quite put your finger on but it’s pleasant ant familiar.

By comparison The World Would Run Better, the second tune, is almost a direct reference to Simon’s Call Me Al, with its complicated lyrical burbling held afloat by this funky ethnic beat and pumping accordion undercurrent, and in this case another quirky statement “Argentina is too far south, they should move it closer to my house.”

One could argue that they get weirder, and more interesting, when they’re not trying to make another bit chart hit.  Lyrics like “I want money that’s already spent” are way too wise for their young age.  That’s on On Where I Belong, as: “I want to influence an age group/ Maybe 15 to 22… I wander all my life or disobey a cosmic ray”.  Ok, I’m not sure what that all means, but c’mon!   How cool are these lines?   In another place “I’m tired of using my mind.  Just wanna be wired to the grid”, or “I wanna get f*cked up and then hit Undo” and similar references to the digital surrender of free will to internet domination.   It all works well over hook-laden grooves and infectious melodies.

There’s plenty many more clever, and entertaining, moments on this album.  What I really love about this album is the sheer brilliance of writing, which has the smarts of the best indie releases and the commercial polish of a big main stable release.  That’s a rare thing today in this environment of 5 minute twitter bait pop stars and plastic social mediocrity.

These guys deserve a fan base as big as Game of Thrones and as smart and dedicated.  I tip my goblet to them.

Advertisements

Lawrence Arabia – Absolute Truth (Flying Nun)

 

Good ol’ James Milne.  We’re so happy to have you back.  It’s been nearly 4 years since your last release, The Sparrow, a sublime and truly satisfying album.  With clever, twisted songs like Early Kneecaps and Travelling Shoes creating deliciously determined earworms it seemed almost inconceivable that you could repeat, lest top, that effort.  Ah, but I suspect by all accounts, you have. 

Collaborating again with the Black Seeds’ Mikey Fabulous and secreted away during the early hours at very unglamorous Hutt Valley plastics factory recording this instant and catchy cache’ of sparkling pop melodies you’ve brought us treasure that both delights and entertains us.

On the latest single, Another Century, you open with irony: “It’s impolite to say it’s best summer ever, even in the presence of farmers who are living through disaster…this weather is a splendid thing.”  It makes both a reference to recent headlines and to the overused script-lines of nearly every Disney Beach film I’ve be subjected to in the past 20 years and captures that sentiment, too.  Still it’s a beautiful and irresistibly twee love song.  I assume ‘another century’ refers to the longevity of a relationship?  Peppered though out the cheesy doo-woops just add even more colour, keeping the whole beach-love theme afloat.

I Waste My Time has a similar groove to the White Stripes Hardest Button To Button, except that instead the grungy treatment you’ve chosen a saccharine sweet layering over yet more deliciously ironic lyrics.  It’s a bitter sweet song, barely masking a desperate man trying to win back his beloved, in despite of the obvious futility of it all: “Cro-Magnon Man has nothing on me….I want you to respect me…I wanted to impress you, Darling.”  You know that will never work but please die trying.

Brain Gym is another very clever song: “When I was young and arrogant, you told me to shut my mouth and get on with it…I was an empty soldier, now I’m older, I’ve got shoulders.”  I adore the gushy couplets offset by the funky undertow on this one.  Yet another earworm moment.  How many can we stand?

And I can tell you’ve been hanging around the Finns of late because there’s more than just a little bit of McCartney and Lennon on O Heathcote in its narrative folky approach.  I half expected the chorus to break out into “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”.  In a parallel universe I’m sure George Martin would have included it on the White Album sessions.

Everywhere I look, Mr Arabia, there are delights, like the most exquisite box of chocolates, with not a ginger to be had.  For instance, The Palest Of Them All is the most perfect of pop songs.  I was instantly transported back to a gig at Wellington’s Happy when I saw you open for Liam Finn.  Your candy-apple lullabies contrasted beautifully with Mr Finn’s more cynical works.  If we could take this number back it would work stunningly well on the stage.  You must perform it live but be prepared for an audience of smiling and swaying punters drifting into a blissful coma as the music swells and gushes.

Mr Milne, this is quite simply your more wonderful work to date but I have to ask about your closer, What Became of That Angry Young Man?  Was that you that “fell asleep beside the recycling…awaiting for the night to take you?”  This is your only truly serious moment, book ended by some classic rock guitar work in the bridge and rounded off like a song from a musical you’ve yet to complete.  It’s the only time you move away from the twee, but it still works a treat.  Well done – that man!

First appeared on www.13thfloor.co.nz

 

Ladyhawke – Bodega, Wellington – 22 July 2016

Ladyhawke

Photo by Alexander Hallag – Themusicistalking.com

Although it may be rooted in the sweet soul pop and glam of the early 1990’s Pip Brown’s music and stage performance remains a crisper, more economical version those glamorous disco idols like Michael Jackson and Donna Summer.   As we’ve come to expect, Brown appears without fanfare on Bodega’s small but perfectly formed stage to deliver a packed room of all ages, genders and persuasions to her snappy 14 song set.

We all know about Pip’s stage anxieties, so getting a Hollywood style performance was never on the cards, but I gotta admit there was a certain confidence and comfort that I’ve not seen before.  There was even a little bit of chat, with an acknowledgement of Bodega’s upcoming closing and some thanks, too.  Pip’s early career was built on this stage and she was keen to let us know.

Dressed in sweatshirt and baseball cap and flanked by a guitarist, bass played and drummer, plus a few simple digi-toys like a MPC unit and laptop, Brown launches into The River, Golden Girl from the new album, Wild Things bookended by Another Runaway and Manipulating Woman, from her debut.  If anything, it showed how consistent Brown’s writing is, and how over three albums her style has remained constant – sweet pop with wistful hints of disco and the occasional dark tones.

There are a few slightly rockier moments, especially Professional Suicide, which Pip finished strongly belting out the vocals with intention and conviction.  Likewise, she carried off Love Don’t Live here and Dusk Till Dawn, one of her first singles will similar aplomb.  Given her recent release of a new disc it was rather surprising how many songs came from her debut – 9 in all, with only 5 from Wild Things.  A bit disappointing.

Bassist ‘Tom’, drummer ‘Matt’ and ‘Nick’, on “other stuff” (they don’t reveal their surnames publicly) provided the energy and stage presence playing well as a team and genuinely seeming to have fun.

This is the second of a three date whirlwind tour across three major cities, so sadly the provinces won’t get to hear her new single A Love Song, or the closing number Paris is Burning and the ‘one and only’ encore Delirium.  All were, as they say, short but perfectly formed.  It is great to see Pip back on the road, and on her ‘hometown’ stage.  She’s often said that the reason there were such large gaps between her three albums was that, as a perfectionist, she’s never content to release substandard work.  With this new album being slightly more funky than her last and the return of her appetite for the stage, let’s hope we see more of her in the future.

Originally published at 13thfloor.co.nz

Broods – Shed 5,Wellington – 17 July 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Thank you, Wellington,” announced Georgia Nott, midway through tonight’s set.  “Thanks for coming out to see us on such a cold night.  We’ve a full house.  But then this is like a home coming, and, as you probably know, we’re pretty much related to half of New Zealand!”  She was right, it really was a family affair.  And much of the Nott’s extended family – aunts, uncles, mom, dad, even Opa, was ensconced up the back row of tonight’s sell out show.  But it wasn’t just the entourage.  Amongst the audience 10-year-old girls and boys danced with their parents, Mums boogied and Dads staunchly head-nodded along; older siblings mouthed every lyric; Uni students chatted and cheered; and more senior punters grooved along in their own way, making up numbers.  An all ages affair.  The city’s babysitters were all having a night off.

As at Auckland, Georgia took the stage in a dark blue and shimmering fringed kimono.  Her brother Caleb, accompanied by a keyboardist and drummer preferred to lurk at the back behind mission control – a collection of impressively cool small synths, pads and samplers.  Georgia’s delivery of the opening number Conscious was spectacular.  Her voice soared above the melodrama of the song’s digital maelstrom.  Having learned from her Auckland experience she ditched the robe after the first song, revealing a tight fitting sleeveless cat suit and heels.  It was like the Avenger’s Mrs Peel in a blond wig had taken the stage.  The narrow room gave the perfect opportunity to play with the shadows cast by the lights washing cold white across the stage.  All that was missing was the usual carpet of dry ice to enhance her as she strutted backwards and forwards across the stage.  Her image was like a scene from the old classic Nosferatu.  The stark tones stayed throughout Hold The Line and Everytime but later the lights changed to warm reds and steel blues, with simple patterns of white geometric patterns, resembling Tuku Tuku panels and futuristic pyramids, possibly inspired by the Black Light sculptures of Para Matchitt.  Whatever, it was highly effective.

Halfway through the set the siblings quickly depart and return again transformed from all black clothing to whites, Caleb in white trousers and Tee and Georgia in a glamorous one-piece camisole/play suit thing, The influence of living in LA has clearly rubbed off on these two former Nelson kids.  Kiwis are not known for their overt showmanship.  Possibly it’s our tall poppy humbleness but it was great to see something of that tonight with the balance between making an effort and sheer out right gloating held in check. The big angsty Freak of Nature gets a big blast and a huge cheer of appreciation.

Still the most impressive part of the show was their simple ‘open mike-nite’ moments delivering three songs All of Your Glory; Sleep Baby Sleep and a late addition to the set called Taking You Down, at the front of the stage with simply guitar and voice.  For me, personally, if the song can be carried off like this then it’s a strong thing.  And that was definitely the case.  Respect was given, too, when all went so quiet you could hear a pin drop – so much so that the lady in front of me was complaining that the shutter click on my camera was too loud.

Sadly, Lorde wasn’t available to help on Heartlines, which she co-wrote with Broods.  They did this as an acoustic on Jesse Mullin’s show on RNZ on Friday and for me, I thought this worked much better.  Appropriately, the Wellington audience cheered encouragingly for Are You Home?, as if they owned this group (bonds across the Strait to Nelson are strong here).  But they saved their full volume for the closer, and big single, Free and their big break Bridges.  Like Auckland, Broods put on a classy, crystal effort with perhaps a warmer vibe.  As a band they’ve yet to really learn how to bond with their audience, like say Amanda Palmer or Lorde does, but then this team is still working in progress.  Lighting, mood, and delivery were great, if a little clinical.  Georgia is well on her way to becoming a forceful stage presence. She struts about, plays with shadows, her body tensing and releasing like a cat pouncing when she hits the big notes.  She rarely smiles but you can feel her shyness eroding.  Like Chris Lowe (the quiet one in the Pet Shop Boys) Caleb prefers to hide behind his techno toys.  A shame for his female fans – young and old, who openly enjoyed his time at the front of the stage during their acoustic set.  As a package their music, especially live is very much of the moment, so their challenge going forward is to work on variety. Given all that we all hope to see them back in Wellington very soon.

Review originally published on 13th Floor.co.nz

Felice Brothers- Life in the dark (Yep Roc)

First published on www.13thfloor.co.nz

The wonderful Felice Brothers (2 real and several ‘adopted’) are back again, and the world is better for it.  Bringing with them is their own fairy tale version of America, a place that can no longer exist in this bitter world of shopping mall terrorism and the shakier foundations of a country bleeding pus in the Trump-era.

Properly recorded in a farm setting, complete with clucking chickens and the faint hum of a tractor or two, you’d almost expect John Denver to burst in at any moment.  Although these guys, in reality, spend their days commuting New York’s L train circuit their hearts and musical aspirations belong in their own ‘Dylanesque’ Americana.  I hate the expression, but it really does fit.  It’s a collection enhanced and perfected by wheezing accordions, ye-haw fiddles and folkie tales about long-fergot-ten bandits and vagabonds.

Pure Smithsonian escapism if you, like me, grew up watching Daniel Boone, you’ll love this.  It’s a rustic mix, the occasional barn dance is close to hand, with a deceptively homely backdrop – a clever vehicle for songs that do subtly but powerfully address the modern world, albeit by allowing you to escape it.

It’s a shortish set, but buried in these nine songs are many moments of cynicism.  There are pawned wedding dresses, houses and cars sold in “rich man’s wars” –  a nod to the recent global economic crisis. Ian Felice’s lyrics walk a thin line between the darkest black humour and damn right evil but their troubling imagery is musically exuberant.  Plunder, for example, is the story of a dog called Archibald but suddenly and bizarrely starts referencing a schoolgirl drowning.  It’s blusey and feels like it came straight from Bob, via John Cougar Mellancamp.

Elsewhere there’s other Americana, this time in a more suburban situation with the Springsteen styled Triumph ’73, which closely tracks the slower moment on The River or Philadelphia.  It’s a break up of sorts “Town is watching as I pass, throwing shadows on the working class…”  You can hear the rejection as another blue collar factory worker slips out of town, minus his final redundancy check.

There’s a coupla great honky tonk tunes in here.  Like Dancing on the Wing, a 4/4 time stream of consciousness ho-down-town brown: “Was it Edison that sells the medicine. I could sure use some retalin, from him.”  And so it goes…

Grimly funny Jack At The Asylum is a terrific, characterful song with just a hint of a barn dance in the undercurrent.  Completing the album is a beautiful closer, Sell the House, which totally captures the all too painful scene of a family break-up and the drift away of individuals, like ripples spreading on the water.

They spread out in the soundtrack moments, the credits roll like the inventory list of failed relationship.  “Sell the house, sell the car, take the kids to Jacksonville, give the kids a kids for the Father they miss.”  It’s always that way.  Mum gets the kids, and the responsibility.  Dad gets the isolation and the heartbreak.  Not to labour the pun, but this one makes a sufficient splash. The brothers continue on their own parallel universe.  If their music was a movie, it’s be Wim Wenders or Lar van Trier interpretation of middle America.  A fantasy reality, alternate universe.

Motörhead – Clean Your Clock

Review written for www.13thfloor.co.nz

Lemmy Kilmister’s Untimely death left a huge hole the music world, that’s for sure.   Since I first saw them playing Ace of Spade on an episode of the Young Ones they’ve been in a secret joy to behold.  With his handle bar moustache, warts and high tilted mic and hard drinking, womanising grunt machine   Lemmy was the sort rocker every 13 boy wanted to be.  In his late years he hadn’t changed a bit, perfectly preserved in the formaldehyde of the late 70’s metal. He was unique alright, with a larger-than-life persona who had legions of fans and friends.  This album is more than a testament to all that.

Just over a month before Lemmy’s departure last year Motörhead played two sold-out shows at Munich’s Zenith theatre.  These were caught on tape and compiled into this live collection – Clean Your Clock and put out in every conceivable format from standalone CD, CD/DVD, Blu-ray/CD, vinyl and a limited edition box set.

 

Motörhead have release over a dozen live albums over the years starting with 1981‘s classic No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith. Nearly 35 years later, five songs from that album were also included on Clean Your Clock, showing the staying power of those classic songs and the band themselves. ThIs 15 song line up is classic Motörhead, and to be fair it could have been lifted from nearly any show from their 20 plus year career.  It’s a mix of the expected classics – Ace of Spades, Bomber, Dr Rock (Dedicated to the late deported Filthy Animal) and Overkill, which gets the machine percussion treatment and classic OTT live rock wind up and release.  There’s also a few more modern songs like Lost Woman Blues (from Aftershock, 2013) and When the Sky Comes Looking for You, which appeared on last year’s Bad Magic album and fully shows that his band had plenty of black blood still flowing in it.  A quieter moment includes the almost acoustic, and delightfully scruffy Whorehouse Blues from 2004’s Inferno.

 

To call this concert collection bombastic would be an understatement both guitar whizz Phil Campbell and ace drummer Mikkey Dee get their cliché solo moments, showing off like there’s no tomorrow, and Lemmy’s bass artillery fire is on constant attack mode. Their performance is a perfect mix of grunt, grizzle and rock till yer drop, This ain’t the London Symphony Orchestra.  This is the eternal trade Mardi of Motörhead, as it’s always been.   Who knew that day would come when the guns would be silenced?  None the less the 13 year boy in me was totally loving every moment of it.  I was air drumming the couch pillows and whipping imaginary frantic chord thrash sand shreds all over the shop.  When the family’s home I’m banished to the garage to thrash this or I take it on my mountain bike.  It makes a perfect soundtrack for downhill mud runs – all energy and fury.  Clean Your Clock is raucous and raw, with the set captured as it was played, with a lot of energy and passion along with some minor imperfections. Ok, so the cracks are there.  You can audibly hear Lemmy getting weaker on tracks like Orgasmatron but it also cements how badass determined he was. Even though fighting cancer, and refusing to get it checked out, he continued to striding every stage with those big cowboy boots and massive Rickenbacker – seeking to destroy.  Lock’n’Loaded.  What’s amazing is that even though he was nearly 70 he’s rockin’ harder than many performers half his age. Ailments aside, that gravelly rasp and cheeky mongrel Brit accent is still fatally charming.

 

If you’re lucky to get hold of the DVD/Blu-ray edition lookout for the accompanying documentary, which has interviews with Lemmy, Campbell and Dee along with a collection of musicians talking about Lemmy (including Girlschool and Biff Byford from Classic Brit band Saxon.

 

Motörhead concert were always a joyous occasions, fans always left pumped, energised and happy.  So this is something of a slightly sad celebration of and amazing band that refused to follow trends, fashion or attitudes.  They were limited in style and genre but they did it well, in fact pretty much owned it.  The will always be a small corner in every good record collection that is forever Motörhead, and that is reason enough to get this album.  RIP, Lemmy.