Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Epitaph)

First published on 13thfloor.co.nz

Descendents Cover

There’s a couple of well-read publications that feature on the shelves of my local supermarket sporting CDs of recently released material and endless rehashes of classic rock era bands.  My daughter calls those mags ‘Dad Rock”.  “How many articles about The Smiths, The Doors and Pink Floyd do I really need?” she asks and compares my own obsessions with her mum’s dedication to watching schmaltz dramas like Grey’s Anatomy.

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The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset

First printed in 13thfloor.co.nz

The first time I heard the title track, Hit Reset, I had to check the box.  I thought I’d stumbled across an unpublished collection by Japan’s Shonen Knife, perhaps recording with Brazil’s CSS under the direction of Julian Hatfield or Kim Deal. I wasn’t too far of the mark.  The Julie Ruin is actually the four-piece vehicle of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of 90’s punksters Bikini Kill and electro-punk group Le Tigre.  Hanna was something of a Riot Grrrl role model and poster person for the cause.  Then due to media pressures, tour fatigue and late stage Lyme disease, an infectious bacterial disease caused by Borrella bacteria spread by tick bites, she pretty much dropped out of sight.

 

You may have seen Hanna in the 2013 film The Punk Singer, a detailed documentary that acknowledged her contribution to music.  It also featured her solo effort Julie Ruin, which Hanna made principally in her apartment in Olympia, Washington with future Le Tigre bandmates Sadie Benning and Johanna Fateman.  It touches upon feminism, crocheting, aerobics and resisting police abuse – all the usual Riot Grrrl topics.  When she returned to music proper it was with a band by that name, releasing Run Fast as their debut.  And her voice and presence was still as shocking and unsettling as it was when she first started out.  Hit Reset isn’t any kind of rethink.  It’s more like a continuation of the plan, this time with more fury and fun than the tenser first outing.

 

The album opener is all awkward tension and attitude, mixing up relationships with life’s potency to self-implode without warning.  It grinds away at societal norms and recommends how to crash them at any opportunity.  Typical punk fodder with a smoother backbone.  It’s a snotty nosed brat of a song, declaring exactly where the axe will be falling on this one, baby!

 

I Decide has some nice hidden references to a myriad of 80’s digital synth bands like Visage tucked under a very cool digi-drone and an even cooled pile of grunge guitars.  Then you get the opposite on Be Nice, which hovers very closely to early Sonic Youth.  It’s just like their legacy EVOL, perfect songs, artfully destroyed with jagged feedback, smudged amps and distorted lyrics.  Rather Not is a pure saccharine high school crush demo, probably best left off and a bit of a letdown after the preceding stuff.  As is the very Japanese-pop stylings of Let Me Go.  Cheesy, twanging strumming and 2 chord changes held together with sticky tape and tambourines.  It sounds as amateur and professionally lo-fi as possible.  Actually, if CSS’s LoveFoxx ever makes a solo album it could sound like this.

 

Then, midway, the album takes a turn into cleaner, hook laden pop territory.  Let Me Go is packed full of tricks like waa-waa fuzz pedals, 60’s psychedelic keyboards and indie drumming motifs (think early La’s and Charlatans).  And songs like Planet You, which also has vocals by keyboardist Kenny Mellman, has definite punch sealing this as a youthful, energetic and gleeful affair even when the songs tackle difficult topics.  They’re never too heavy or depressing, more like a sarcasm like on Mr So and So, where she’s making fun of male pseudo-fans in the fast, spoken verses of bile and rhetoric jest and dark humour.  It seems maturity suits this punk madam.  Middle age doesn’t have to all be about a nice house in the suburbs and picket fences.  You can still have a good laugh while you kick against the pricks!

Trip To The Moon: The 13th Floor Interview

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First Published on www.13thfloor.co.nz

A Traveller’s Tale, Trip To The Moon’s sixth studio album, is the essence of over 3 year’s solid work claims Trevor Reekie.  Reekie along with multi-instrumentalist Tom Ludvigson has been recording their own unique version of trip-hop jazz and fusion since before the turn of the decade.  A few day’s before its release Tim Gruar talked to Reekie over the phone from Auckland about the album’s long gestation period.

“It’s always a long time coming, these albums.  Or put another way –  36 months of Sundays lost to this project – to conceptualize, compose, re-contextualize, arrange and record.”

“Like previous works”, he notes, “this new work mainly comes out of regular Sunday sessions when Tom and I get together to create riffs and samples.”   During that time the pair noodled away at Ludvigson’s Rockynook Studios creating beds and themes using synthesizers, pads and software like Abelton Live.  “We basically record everything we do, so we were just jamming away and we ended up with a huge body of work to cull through.  We eventually halved that for the album.

Tom creates all this music from an array of digital toys and stuff and I then create loops and overlays from those.”  From there the duo made the cuts, and ended up with a core selection of backing tracks all “in the key of ‘G’.  That was the driving theme.”

If the names sound just a little familiar, then you’ll know Swedish born Tom Ludvigson from his days in the popular Auckland jazz combo Bluespeak, or the Inner City Jazz Workshop; the Jack Morris Big Band, Big Sideways; the fabulously underrated Low Profile/Elephunk or even Rick Bryant’s 80’s sensations the Jive Bombers.  He also surfaces regularly at festival in Auckland and Wellington over the years and he created the music for the TV documentary on Robin Morrison called Blues For Robin.  Ludvigson gets around. A multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, band leader, performer, record producer, musical director for stage performances, session player and teacher.  He does it all.

Of course, listeners to Radio New Zealand will know Trevor Reekie’s name and voice from the Access All Areas and Hidden Treasures shows or perhaps his time in 80’s electro-pop group Car Crash Set and his record labels, Pagan and Antenna.  Check the back of your vinyl collection and you’ll see his name as producer on discs like the Mockers, Dance Macabre and Marginal Era.

The group’s title is a reference to A Trip to the Moon, a 1902 French silent film directed by Georges Méliès and was started up in the early 2000’s as a collaborative outlet for Reekie and Ludvigson, away from their day jobs.  Over the years the group has morphed somewhat, settling on the current lineup, which has been a longtime constant now.  That includes guitarist Nigel Gavin (Nairobi Trio, Gitbox Rebellion, Jews Brothers) and Jim Langabeer (a saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist who’s toured and recorded with Sammy Davis Jnr, The Bee Gees, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Alan Broadbent and Mavis Rivers) and Greg Johnson, who Reekie has produced in the past – all long time collaborators and friends.

Reekie’s background is mainly rock orientated but he also has a large appreciation of jazz and world music.  “I wanted to collect up all the jazz that Tom is so well versed in and digitally merge it into our overall sound, like a sort of journey.  Which is what it became.  One of the most obvious examples of this is on the opening track Santa Monica Stroll, which, with Greg Johnson’s signature trumpet layered over the tune almost feels like something Miles Davis would have produced around the time of his Tutu album.  “He’d be very flattered by that.”

“Actually Greg lives in LA now, so we sent him the tune and this what we got back.  It does have that kind of nostalgic, warm vibe about it.”  Another noteworthy piece is the closer Soudade.  “It’s a Brazilian Portuguese word.  It means a sort of deep emotional state of nostalgia, a sort of profound longing for someone or something that’s long gone.   I think this song has that slow drift into time, or memory, like the inability to let go of a particular emotion.”  Reekie knew instinctively that this album would begin and end with these tracks and in between there would be different types of moments.  He knew exactly how it would sequence.  This would not be just a random collection of songs.

It was intentional to bring in a number of ethnic instruments to build on the world traveller theme.  For instance, Nigel Gavin adds glissentar (an eleven string, fretless, acoustic/electric guitar) and the delicate sounds of a fretless 7 string oud (a pear shaped lute).

Themes vary from Middle Eastern influences to stardust sprinkles, evoking some kind of travel, whether it is real or imagined.  Some came from other projects or were influenced by other work.  “Indira’s Pearl, for example,” says Reekie, “came from a rejected piece Tom had composed for a documentary some friends were making in India.  We could have built it up like some sort of (Bollywood) dance theme but I chose to keep it very minimalist.  There was a time we would have coloured it all in but not now.  Simple is good.”

You arrange your own itinerary when Trip to the Moon hits the road on a limited 3-night adventure this month.  Buy the CD at the door and get in for free.

Friday August 19th – Lot23 – 23 Minnie St, Eden Terrace

21 August – The Wine Cellar, Auckland

Steve Abel & Reb Fountain – Meow August 18, 2016

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First Published On www.13thfloor.co.nz

Like his Auckland gig at the Wine Cellar, Steve Abel’s appearance at Meow was short and very sweet.  He starts, as any good host should, by thanking the opener Reb Fountain for her own very sweet 10 cent mixture of deprecating banter and whiskey-soaked, forlorn cowgirl tunes culminating in a surprisingly upbeat singalong version of desperate times Hope and Hopeful

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Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

First published on www.13thfloor.co.nz

Irish multi-instrumentalist singer Lisa Hannigan initially found her feet playing with Damien Rice.  That was back a bit when she was but knee high to a grass hopper.  Now older and wiser (she’s 35), with two confident solo albums (the double-platinum, Mercury-nominated debut Sea Sew and Irish #1 Passenger) under her belt her sound is mature and confident way beyond her years.

With producer Aaron Dessner (The National) at the knobs her third effort is exceptional, and explicitly beguiling.  It’s a bewitching slice of gothic folk poetry that has a distinctive European film noir atmosphere to it and I love it.

Having no clue who she was before the moment the simply constructed Fall seeped out of my headphones, I was utterly distracted.  Hannigan’s voice is not especially unique but her slightly smoky Gaelic lilt is incredibly seductive as it transverse deliciously simple chords and strings.  It hints those we’ve encountered previously, such as Karin Bergquist (Over The Rhine), kd lang or the Unthank Sisters.

The first single is Prayer For The Dying inspired by the death of a friend’s parent passing of a friend’s parent after an extended is beautifully haunting, almost as if Kristin Hersh, in her Your Ghost-era had gifted the song.  It’s like an old Patsy Cline lament mixed with Throwing Muses and some Over The Rhine front room swagger.  The reverberating, shimmering chorus (“Your heart, my heart”) sends tingles down the spine.

In contrast, Snow is more upbeat but still simple, mainly guitars and piano.  Between the lyrics, the mood and beat you can imagine a winter’s train ride through a large, vast open plain, with only memories to comfort (“Song like treasure” … “heading from city to sea, we watch the cities go by”).  Its hook-laden, stealthily creeping up on you.

Given all this, Hannigan sounds like she’s at the top of her game.  But after playing in support of Passenger for nearly two years, she hit the wall, enduring writer’s block.  Plus a new relationship meant that she was dividing her time between Dublin and London.  Adrift and lost, she threw herself into distraction instead.  She voiced a mermaid in the Oscar-nominated animation Song Of The Sea, undertook some soundtrack work for the Fargo TV show and contributed to the Oscar-winning score for the film Gravity.  And, to add further procrastinations started up the popular Soundings podcasts which put Hannigan in the interviewer/host’s seat interviewing guests such as Harry Shearer, Sharon Horgan and David Arnold.

It was only an email from Dessner, scouting for work, that got her back into the studio.  Hannigan was missing the collaboration spirit of her earlier Dublin days.  Initially, they exchanged ideas by email and iPhone but the full album only came together when both finally met up in Denmark.

Later, the full recording took place in a church in Hudson, New York, during a furious seven-day stint.  The echoes you hear on songs like We The Drowned and the homely a capella of Anahorish are from the resonance of the wooden rafters and stone walls.   In some ways it has the same magical dust as Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions, minus the menacing undertow.

The resulting album, inevitably, is about homesickness, isolation, death and consolation but move profoundly, it’s above the love we receive during these times.

Throughout you can’t escape the metaphors of a career and a soul lost-at-sea.  Only the slight tango of Tender refuses to show any vulnerabilities in the cold water of a strong current.

But despite all these morbid references this is not a morose album.  It’s surprisingly uplifting.  Songs like closer Barton, with its Sunday morning organ rally gives you a sense that Hannigan has struck her claim on a distant island, standing strong like Anna in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, out on the causeway, defying the buffering waves (“I’ll be on my own a while smiling like a crocodile”, you can see for miles….”).

So by the end it’s clear that Hannigan is strong enough to swim any straits.  She’s not only treading water again but can easily reach the shore and moreover, she’s beginning to enjoy the dip.  This is, I think her strongest work.  It’s confident, it shows vulnerability and it show cases a wonderful natural voice, whilst referencing all the alt-country music I love.  A great effort.

A Road Tour of American Song Titles – from Mendocino to Memphis

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 First published on http://www.13thfloor.co.nz 

The 13th Floor’s Tim Gruar talks to Karl du Fresne about his new book:

“I received my first lesson in American geography from Perry Como when I was about 8 or 9 years old,” writes Karl du Fresne, in the introduction to his book A Road Tour of American Song Titles – from Mendocino to Memphis.  Over three unique road trips, accompanied by his wife Jolanta, du Fresne navigated the American heartland in search of the towns that featured in iconic songs like Wichita Linemen (Glen Campbell), El Paso(Marty Robbins) and Okie From Muskogee.  Along the way he explores the rich musical connections of cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, San Jose, Las Vegas and Detroit and describes detours to some of-tracks locations like the gospel church in the Louisiana Delta where Jerry Lee Lewis first performed; or the location of the Tallahatchie bridge, made famous by Bobbie Gentry in Ode to Billie Joe or the Mississippi graveyard where Robert Johnson is argued to be lying under a pecan tree.  Whilst a personal journey of indulgence, du Fresne couldn’t help embellishing his new travel book with musical history and trivia.

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Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno – 1000 Watts (Caroline)

First published on 13thfloor.co.nz

‘Quantic’ is the recording nom de plume UK born globe trotter Will Holland, whose signature sound is rooted squarely in the golden age of the Big Band era.

His previous release, The Western Transient, traversed Coltrane’s smooth jazz with elements from the 1950’s Be Bop band leaders and fair smatterings of Salsa and Mambo.

This time, for his third album, he’s mining early dub, ska and reggae with the intention of creating a live ‘sound system feel.”  True that.  But somehow the vibe just doesn’t wash.  Maybe we’re all a little jaded from the countless mining of Jamaican studio archives.  Or maybe it’s just not possible to say something new without it all sounding like some cheap revivalist show.

For Holland the intention was certainly genuine.  He rounds up a keen and trustworthy list of contributors – U-Roy, long-time collaborator Alice Russell, reggae singers Hollie Cook and Christopher Ellis; the late, great keyboard maestro Ikey Owens (Run The Jewels, The Mars Volta, Jack White); and legendary Jamaican drummer Santa Davis {Bob Marley, The Aggravators).

Recorded directly to tape, the model was to make an ‘authentic’ record but somehow it just seems to lack the flame to really burn.  Spring Tank Fire shows promise with a heavy dub base and groove, skanking horns and vintage dancehall ‘riddims’.  Although I seem to have heard this somewhere else.  The Upsetters or Augustus Pablo perhaps?  It’s a pretty repetitive tune, wallpaper for a gunja café in downtown Amsterdam.

There’s a bit more inspiration in A Life Worth Living featuring UK soul mistress Alice Russell and old skool veteran Jamaican MC Ewart Beckford (aka U-Roy) who provide some sweet vocals over a pretty pedestrian track.

Homeward Bound and Ikey’s Vibe just seem to bleed into each other, providing yet more paste for the wallpaper.  On the latter you get just a taste of the late, great Owen’s ecclesiastical keyboard style as it’s merged into the gumbo of the dub on the tune.  But like a sip at a Food Show it’s not enough to really satiate.  Sadly, the Grammy award winner passed away in 2014 whilst touring with Jack White under somewhat mysterious circumstances.  A shame indeed.

Hollie Cook is another reggae singer who puts in an appearance, on the ska influenced Shuffle Them Shoes. This time it’s a pretty good number, catchy and definitely danceable, ruined, alas, by Cook’s voice which is just too squeaky high for it.  She struggles to convincingly sell it and it all feels like a high school band performance.  A bit of a wasted opportunity.  As is Dusk. another slice of monotony, and Night Shade, which is just plain boring.

Christopher Ellis should have been the perfect Jimmy Cliff moment at the end of the disc, on All I Do Is Think About You.  Sure it’s a sweet love song, but about as unconvincing a Billy Ocean mega hit, all schmaltz and mush.  Best avoided, except maybe at weddings.

Chambacú is probably the only outstanding moment, something of a killer cumbia cover brought home by Colombian Nidia Góngora, who’s worked with Quantic in the past, on more folk-oriented projects in the past.  This time, it’s a real party tune and good to dance to.

The Quantic team have a crack at ska, Skatalites style.  But again, sorry.  Having seen the real thing, Striding on The Grand is just a limp hop, and Macondo is more of the bland.  Sure the funk’s in the horn section and the nifty beeps and bobs show us the ‘arkology’ tools but you have to ask: so what?  In fact if I was to sum this all up, I’d it’s a good effort at authentic without the credibility of being real.  Or put another way, Flowering Inferno will be great to put on at your next dinner party.  But if you want to show off your hi-fi system then reach for one of those Studio One or Trojan complications – on vinyl, of course.