The Comet Is Coming – The 13th Floor Interview

This appeared last month as promotion for the upcoming Wellington Jazz Festival: http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=88520

TCIC-by-Fabrice-Bourgelle-1

Playing the Wellington Jazz Festival this weekend are the London-based psychedelic funk-meisters The Comet is Coming. They mix sounds from the universe including snippets of Parliament, Sun Ra and Afro-funk pioneers like Fela Kuti – all channelled through a digital dashboard of synths and crazy sax.

The imagery associated with the band is based around outer space, science fiction and B-movies, as can be seen in the music videos for their wacky singles Neon Baby and Do the Milky Way. And to add to the mystery the band members go by the pseudonyms King ShabakaDanalogue the Conquerer and Betamax Killer; who are saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, synth player Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett respectively.

The band are currently touring the world, so getting them to sit still long enough for and interview was out of the question. Still, that didn’t stop Tim Gruar from jumping on the keyboard for an email exchange to find out more about their cosmic capers and what to expect this weekend.

https://youtu.be/Bih6JQzbFY0

TG: Where did this crazy thing you call The Comet is Coming all come from?

Betamax Killer: Me and Danalogue the Conqueror play as a psychedelic electro synths and live drums duo called Soccer96, he writes. We noticed this tall, shadowy figure hanging at some of our gigs. At one point he turned up by the side of the stage with his sax in hand and when he got up to play with us it created an explosive shockwave of energy that stunned us all. A couple of weeks later he calls me up and says that we should make a record. So, we booked three days and it all came together amazingly fast. We played and recorded with no pre-written material but by the end we had recorded hours of music.

TG: It struck me, watching your video for Neon Baby how far we’ve come with music making. Especially digitally, I notice, Yet the images you use in your vids are snippets from TV Sci Fi and B Movies (gotta love the Space 1999 and Battlestar Galactica cuts). Was that the vision of the future you had when you were growing up?

Betamax Killer: When I grew up, I was allowed to stay up late Friday night to watch Red Dwarf on TV. It was totally out of control story plots that were impossible to predict. At the same time, it was incredibly stupid humour. Later when I was at University we didn’t have a TV licence but a friend of mine had all the Red Dwarf episodes on VHS. And so, it was pretty much the only thing I could watch for a whole year. I don’t know if you had that show in New Zealand actually.

TG: Actually, we did. And its late night screening time was responsible for me sleeping in at least on 3 occasions, maybe more.

Because Betamax asks if we had red dwarf here in Nz and Im saying ‘yes’ .

TG: What guided your thinking, to model the sound and the visuals on this retro space theme vibe?

Betamax Killer: I’ve always enjoyed the creative freedom applied when imagining the future. We get to completely redesign anything we want about the world and see what happens. Old sci-fi appeals to me as it pulls you back into the past and whilst launching you ahead into the future at the same time. Everything feels strange but also familiar. I think this is also reflected in our writing and production. We record using tape machines and old mics and old instruments, but also attempt to travel into the unfamiliar.

TG: Your sound has that retro-future theme to it. Who were your early influences? I’m hearing Sun Ra Archestra, Manu Di Bango, Afrika Bambataa, Parliament, George Clinton and Funkadelic. Would I be right?

Betamax Killer: Personally I definitely had big George Clinton phase. I used to drum along with some of those albums, trying to get deep with the pocket, but also soak up the positive mushroomy vibes. He always seems to have a divine insight that feels enlightened and it’s very infectious. I always felt you are listening to a man who has done enough drugs to see through everything, and he’s letting me know that it’s basically all good if you stay funky. I think this is a very important lesson both in life and in music. To create positive intention and an honest musicality to bring all earthlings together.

TG: The band make their music in a small studio with the best name ever. Tell me about the ‘Total Refreshment Centre’ studio recordings that spawned Neon Baby? I think I can hear bottles clinking and people talking and dancing in the background – was this recorded live like a nightclub?

Danalogue the Conquerer: The Total Refreshment Centre is a very special place in Dalston, London. It is an old victorian warehouse that has been re-purposed as a live music space, along with a brilliant recording studio, co-run by Danalogue along with legendary electronic artist Capitol K.

The original sessions that spawned tracks from our Prophecy EP (2015) – including Neon Baby – and tracks from the LP Channel The Spirits (2016) were based largely on improvisation, played completely live, to tape, with the tape machine inside the room with us, engineered on the fly. Whilst the daytime sessions had yielded plenty of fruit, we had an inclination that a night session with people in the room, beers and good vibes might give an extra angle to our output, and an extra energy. Neon Baby is one of the few tracks from that session, and there are indeed bottles clinking and percussion being played off mic, which occasionally pops through. Watch the video (see below) to neon baby and you will see short exerts filmed in the moment!

 

TG: In fact, I have seen one of their videos of a recording session and was blown away by how ‘simple’ their set up is – yet how complex the sound is by comparison. What equipment are you using to make all that sound?, I ask.

Danalogue the Conquerer: The band is essentially comprised of a drum kit, a saxophone, and two synthesisers, both analogue, both Roland, one Mono, one Stereo. It is pretty simple, and I’d argue that you can get bands with far more members and instruments that don’t sound anywhere near as huge sounding. On record, we use a drum machine to stay in time which is sometimes added in the mix, but I guess part of why it sounds like a lot of sound is that we are often playing with a degree of intensity that fleshes it out.

TG: No band likes to talk about their writing process. How does it get started – because when I hear your music it’s like divided equally into 3 parts and I can’t tell which parts leads and the rest are following. Normally, in jazz you have melody and a downbeat that directs the tune. The soloists play over the top and grab the glory by in Comet the it feels more democratic.

Danalogue the Conquerer: I don’t think we started out to make a jazz record, so in that sense our writing process has nothing to do with jazz. Betamax And I already had a writing and recording style from playing as Soccer96, and involved improvising onto tape in a recording studio, so when Shabaka joined us we were ready to roll. We also ran Shabaka through a giant guitar amp owned by Capitol K which took the saxophone to an electric guitar kind of place, and set a new, dirtier vibe particular to our group.

In terms of composition, Herbie Hancock said once that improvisation is composition, just in a very fast form, you compose in the moment, minute to minute, make your choices in a split second, and if you all listen together, and play with synergy and cooperation, you can even form structures, dynamics and arrangements in the moment. It takes a very special group of players to pull that off, and I knew in the first minute of the first recording session that what we had as a group dynamic was going to be explosive!

TG: From what I’ve read, this group came together when King Shabaka joined in from the sidelines. I ask Wasn’t this originally a two-piece called Soccer69? Can you explain the origins of the group?

King Shabaka: I liked the music of Soccer 96 so I asked to sit in on their set a few times. We decided after a while to book a studio and record some jams. We found structures out of hours of free improvisation and built an album from it. Then started to perform at parties, then festivals.

TG: Can you tell me about your sax (and clarinet) playing. How did you develop this sound? Why not, for example play like Bird or in a more traditional way? What spirits guided you in this direction? Have you got formal training or did you learn from the street or a club? I keep reading about Sons of Kemet and your group’s associations.

King Shabaka: I trained classically at the guildhall school of music on the clarinet predominantly. I’ve developed a way of playing that incorporates aspects of many types of music that I like outside of the parameters which usually typify genre-specific playing. I’ve been through many phases of assimilating various styles so at a point in my career I was playing more orthodox jazz, at a point I was more into free improvisation. At this time, I’m into how I sound now which feels like an amalgamation of lessons learnt from these and more styles. I’ve always enjoyed jamming and performance in clubs so outside my classical training I learnt jazz by trial and error in clubs and bars, and through studying books and albums.

Currently the ‘Comet’ has just landed at a jazz festival in The Netherlands.

King Shabaka: Generally, if the gigs are marketed to people who are up for a rave and are open to joining us in the energy then it’ll be an epic show regardless of geographical placement. Sometimes we’ll turn up to a small town somewhere and there just won’t be that (type of) demographic, though, so we feed of vibe that the crowd is giving regardless and as long as it’s an honest exchange on both sides I think there is potential for a great performance. (When you come to our gigs you have to) feel free to express yourself with integrity.

In other words: Party hard!

The Comet Is Coming play the Wellington Jazz Festival Saturday 10 June.

https://thecometiscoming.bandcamp.com/

https://www.jazzfestival.co.nz/

The Comet Is Coming: Wellington Jazz Festival, Wellington Opera House, 10 June 2017

The Comet is Coming

The Comet is Coming. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court/ Wellington Jazz Festival

The Comet is Coming came, saw and conquered, leaving an explosion of psychedelic dust in its wake and the uncontrollable urge for Festival goers to get down and boogie. Wellington was passionate about The Comet, nearly selling out the Opera House for their Jazz Festival performance. The Comet took off slowly with a couple of intense and deeply indulgent jams building up layers of funky Herbie Hancock styled futuristic keyboard loops – courtesy of Danalogue The Conqueror (aka Lan Leavers); vibrant counter-rhythms from Betamax Killer’s drum kit and swirly, punchy sax from King Sabaka.  They started this way and except for a short interlude where Danalogue played a short and quiet keys solo continued at full assault mode.  Some of their performance collapsed into deep percussion led rhythmic trances, punctuated by sax and drums which seemed to compete and compliment, simultaneously.
If the Comet’s music was a colour, then they’d be a psychedelic rainbow.  It’s impossible to finger a particular pantone but let’s just say that this was close to a Pink Floyd 60’s trip out.It was sometimes hard to tell where one ‘song’ began and the other finished but in there I noted their big singles Neon Baby and Do The Milky Way and a new single from an upcoming ep called Start Runnin’.  The first two drew huge cheers as they appeared out of the fog-jam of free jazz mixed with elements of Afro-jazz, Funk and even Soul, creating these recognizable hooks that got all shoulders moving and heads nodding in the seat.  The new single was more of a slow builder, very cinematic, and again referencing the avant-garde side of the jazz spectrum.

This crew managed to do so much with so little, and this is impressive.  The poncho wearing hippy presence of Danalogue, leaning over two simple synth-keyboards was something of an illusion, given the myriad of sounds and loops he produced as he frantically twiddled knobs and consciously pounded keys over and over more like a drummer than a pianist.  Betamax’s drumming was just simply stunning.  Watching him was like a calm and gliding duck – on the surface he was tranquil, but underneath frantic rhythms and counter-rhythms are exploding.  His solo used a mixed of drum kit and a digitised tom to produce some unique and surprising sounds.  These weren’t the usual rolling and building constructions you get with jazz.  He’s like four drum machines all going at once – Drum and bass; Hip hop and syncopation (think Brubeck or Krupa) all at one!  Now while that was impressive, you can’t leave out the stunning energy exuded from King Shabaka’s sax.  Using a simple reverb tool he created layer upon layer upon layer of beats and punches.  His style is more like Fela Kuti than Bird.  The aim is to create these sophisticated patterns, like aural fractals.  It’s more like a texture than a melody that he’s creating.  But wow! What textures.

If I had a grumble, it’s a small one.  Comet’s music is probably more suited to a warehouse party than an Opera House, with many of tonight’s punters being, naturally younger, but feeling a little formality of the of the location.  Many threw off their twinset and pearls and headed to aisles to get down to the groove.  Lighting was adequate but again could have done with a proper video show.  Something with plenty of vintage sci-fi like their music vids.  But that’s just a minor point.  Hopefully, they’ll be back again and we’ll get to see that.

Originally featured: http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=88630

Harold López-Nussa Trio – Wellington Opera House 11 June 2017

Photos by Lisa B Doyle/ Wellington Jazz Festival

What a treat, to finish this year’s festival with the Harold López-Nussa Trio. Beaming ear-to-ear, all three, which included Horacio Hernandez (electric bass) and ‘Harry’s’ brother Ruy Adrian (drums) exuded radiant energy, and a real sense of fun.

With a drum kit and a wonderful grand piano placed at the front of the stage it quickly became clear that this was not a single billing. The brothers played off each other all night. It was like they’d been doing this forever, probably with duelling spoons at the dinner table when they were young. Harry’s fingers literally flew across the keys with the subtlest of gossamer touches yet his music was complex and meaty. The rhythms were all based around well-known Cuban themes, mined from a rich boyhood sitting at the knee of his father Ruy Francisco and uncle — Ernán – both gifted pianists from Havana. Harry even played one of his uncle’s pieces tonight, based on a Chopin sonata. But he wasn’t just playing the standards, he was reinventing them. Still in his 20’s Harry plays as if he was born with a piano in the womb. He wiped his face with a towel several times, yet his body language showed a man calm and collected, in contrast to the frantic energy of his fingers.

Harry moves with ease between classical, popular and jazz styles but never shies too far from his Cuban heritage, or his family roots. A quick look at his experiences reveal a recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Fourth Piano Concerto” with Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra (2003) but also winning the First Prize and Audience Prize of the Jazz Solo Piano Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, in 2005. But he’s done his time outside the jazz world with projects as diverse as Ninety Miles (a recording with David Sánchez, Christian Scott and Stefon Harris) and Esencial (an album of compositions by revered Cuban classical guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer). If you haven’t heard these then seek them out – the hunt is well worth it. He also did work on the Rhythms del Mundo album, which paired him with veterans from Buena Vista Social Club; and has toured with Omara Portuondo. No wonder the stage seems so natural to him!

Now listening to Harry alone would have been a treat but measure this up against his brother Ruy, who replied to every note with his own interpretation. He performed several solos that totally upstaged his brother, mixing Latin beats with batucada, bongos and wood blocks. Harry had a turn too, making use of a foot pedal version that he played during one of his many solos.

Their repertoire was chosen for its colour and variety including the Afro fusion pieces including several pieces from his new album El Viaje, sadly without the trumpet and Senagalese vocalist and bassist Alune Wade. What is cool is how diverse the music is, moving from sow to full on grooves that are mesmerising and even funky in places. We also go his very cool Fantasmas en Caravana (check out the circus themed video) where his fingers fly at incredible speed.

To break it up there’s a quiet solo dedicated to his mother (Lobo’s Cha), which is so simple and sublime then it’s followed by the brothers playing a traditional 19th Century Cuban song taught to them in their youth. But this is no Chopsticks. Their party piece brought the house down as one brother (mainly Ruy) plays rhythm hands while his brother leads off on tangent after tangent. Then, mid song, and without skipping a beat the get up and swap seats and roles, and then again. It reminded me of Victor Borge, without the silly antics. Another tune, Bacalao con pan, provided yet another opportunity for the brothers to face off in friendly rivalry with Harry pulling out all the stops to blast us with an electric performance on his key board. Again, his fingers moving at lightning speed but somehow you could hear every note and nuance. Then in the other corner Ruy is blasting out endless drum pattern using sticks, brushes and his hands – sometimes all at once it would seem. All the time both are smiling with absolute joy. The audience had picked up on the mood and were soaking it all up. At the end they all stood and stomped loudly in appreciation.
Such was the energy and improvisation on the stage, punters may feel a little let down by the recordings. El Viaje, in particular, is a brilliant record but it just does capture the magic on the stage. There’s only one way to get some of that.

There was, sadly one encore, a very ‘straight’ version of Que Sas Que Sas (Perhaps, Perhaps) to finish the night, and a lone Cajón was left unused. Perhaps the mood, which was overwhelmingly one of fiesta, did not call for it. What a brilliant way to finish the Festival.

Jonathan Crayford Wins Tui for best Jazz Album

New Zealand Jazz Awards

Jonathan Crayford was awarded the Tui for best Jazz Album, at a cocktail party attended by Wellington’s jazz community and sponsors of the Wellington Jazz Festival.

Callum Allardice announces award at the Wellington Jazz Festival Photo: Stephen A’Court.
The event included Anthony Healey, Head of APRA and Damian Vaughan (Recorded Music New Zealand). Jonathan Crayford picked up the award for Best Album for East West Moon, which he recorded in New York with Ben Street and Dan Weiss. Crayford was up against some tough competition including veteran Jazzman Mike Nock (Vicissitudes) and new comer Myele Manzanza (OnePointOne).

Callum Allardice (of The Jac) managed to swing Best Composition for his piece Deep Thought. Festival favourites award went to The Brad Kang Quartet for their amazing concert at St Peter’s on Friday night.

Tim Gruar

Originally appeared at: http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=88663

Thomas Oliver – San Fran May 13, 2017

Thomas-Oliver023Originally published at 13thfloor.co.nz

On the eve of Mother’s Day, Wellington musician Thomas Oliver gave us all an early present (including the mums) by stopping in at his home town on his national tour. The fuss was the release of his first proper album, Floating in The Darkness.

Ok, ‘proper’ is probably not quite the word, given he’s already made a bunch of others, first as part of the Thomas Oliver Band, and then there’s an all instrumental release from back in 2013 called Beneath the Weissenborn. The Weissenborn, by the way is a type of lap slide guitar, originally made by Herman Weissenborn in LA back in the 1920’s and 30’s. It’s an instrument Oliver has come to master over the years and we certainly got plenty of chances to see his skills in action tonight.

Most of tonight’s set is from the new work. Oliver starts off slowly with a stripped back version of Tenderly, mainly featuring Oliver on his Weissenborn. On the album, it’s got a bigger sound thanks to his meticulous production standards and fanatical approach. On stage, it’s a little more loose and a bit more of a quiet storm than the big soul swell that you get on the CD. I certainly missed the ever-present soul-sister BV’s of Lisa Tomlins but that said Bella Florence does an equally nice job. Her touch is subtler but it suits this live rendition pretty well.

Next up is a very tender ballad, Remember, which is a delicious slow burner. Again, the album version has a certain vibe to it that varies from Oliver’s live version. For the better, in this case, I think. His voice is so pure and sweet, utterly convincing and bordering on goosebumps inducing at times. But the sweetest, most delicate moment is on one of his older songs Boy – a track that’s been in his tour set for a while now. It tells the tale of growing up and stepping out in the world but unlike many coming of age songs it’s devoid of mushy sentiment. Just more of Oliver’s simple vocals and his guitar.

The band comes to life with the album tracks Shine Like The Sun and Budapest is Beautiful (which was written, incidentally, in that great city). It’s at this time that we get a fleeting visit from flugelhorn player Barret Hocking, who provides some sweet and jazzy brass under this bittersweet love song. They play in support but slowly but surely start to come into the foreground. Ed Zuccollo’s Rhodes-like keyboards are particularly wonderful as they start to pepper each tune, giving everything a slightly ecumenical feel.

After this, Oliver clears the stage and performs a very sensitive take on Bob Marley’s Is This Love, which he originally did for a recent tribute album to the man. It’s very different from Bob’s original, delicately constructed around the melody and unfettered by the usual reggae feel. It works surprisingly well. The audience stand with their mouths open in amazement, savouring every second. Me, too. You can really feel the love.

To break the spell, the band return and knock out the ol’ standard Take Me To The River. Ed gets to put his keyboard through its paces on this one. I was hoping to hear a bit more from his vintage Moog but maybe it needed to cool down.

If that wasn’t impressive then they were just warming up, with the best coming. Bad Talkin’ Man is a simple tune but, done well, it’s a pretty stunning blues jam and Oliver and his band give it their all. We get a crazy good solo on the Weissenborn from Mr O followed by funky solos on keys from Ed Zuccollo and then a face off between drummer Sam Norman and bassist Johnny Lawrence. Just when you think it’s all over they reprise it all and get the audience to join in for another 10 minutes. But no one was checking their watches. We were all too busy wigging out!

Finally, they close it down and finish up with the big single – If I Move To Mars, which they do just as it is on the album. It’s a great tune and works as well live as on the very cool video Oliver made and released last year. The crowd loved it and are shouting at the top of their voices ‘Encore, encore!’ Just as well, as it gives Oliver the chance to bring out his other guest, legendary Kiwi digital music composer Rhian Sheehan, to help out on the trippy finale Let This Be The One. Sheehan adds layer upon layer of guitar is subtle, spacey walls of sound that provide the perfect architecture for this song. It builds slowly to a climax, swirling around Oliver’s simple but clever song lines and yet more sweet vocals.

If you haven’t seen Thomas Oliver yet, there’s still time. Although tonight was sold out, so be quick! Two years ago, he was the one to watch. With a couple of year’s performing in festivals around the world he’s gained enough stage time to say that he’s now the one you shouldn’t miss! He’s done Aussie, Vietnam, Europe and supported Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Fat Freddy’s Drop. And check out his new album, Floating in The Darkness. Tonight was the first time I’d heard it played live and it’s a keeper, I’d say.

Album Review: Wire – Silver/Lead

As UK’s original post punk pioneers are about to enter their fifth decade they are still writing with a natural worn in style that still has the flair of their first albums, if not quite the immediacy.  Despite many years of innovations and countless influence Wire’s best songs are still those that feature uncomplicated riffs, solid, if angular melodies and strong powerful lyrics that question modern day living and progress.

Can you believe it? 2017 will be the 40th anniversary of the release of Wire’s highly influential landmark debut Pink Flag. This was an album that flew in the face of the big studios and shunned the temptation to make lavish productions, instead combining of harsh minimalism, fragmented hooks and twisting lyrics that swirled around the subject matter without ever truly landing on the point. Art-school ambiguity mixed with plenty of plenty of pseudo-cockney ‘Oi’ in the attitude, to add authenticity and punk cred (These day, ‘Punk’ has become a euphemism for DIY production – albeit with an arsenal of computers and tech equipment that no punk rocker in the 70’s could ever hope to squeeze into their squalid bedsit). That approach became the band’s trademark, a model for the years to come. Not that it was easy. There have been many stops and starts; reformations; rebirths and changes in course. Even their more recent material, which is considered more ‘straightforward’ still is brain-taxing. They’re a tough group to pin down. Which is what makes them all the more fun.

As music goes, Silver/Lead, their 16th album to date, is as straightforward it gets. Despite innovations of our age, there’s no auto cue, synths, samples or overdubs. Perfect hooks, simple riff driven numbers with clear, clean production – although the murky vocals of earlier works are, understandably, gone now. That was a ‘youth’ thing and doesn’t really wash today but the challenging lyrics and the implied darkness behind some of these tunes still imply darkness. Every song is like a streamlined airliner, cutting through the sky in a perfect flight path piloted by smooth, subdued vocals (mainly from Colin Newman, with the rest from Graham Lewis).
As always, Lewis’ lyrics remain a puzzle. They intentionally border between abstract and vague. So much so that they are almost meaningless but there is one line that could give a clue about this album: “The path that is progress is under repair.” To me that seems like a change in expectations. We look for silver but often find lead. The lead weight that drags you down. Our optimism turns to sour disappointment. This is why we have to fix ourselves.
If there’s a theme or common thread on here, it seems it’s through the voice of a narrator whose intent on moving forward. Yet they’re unsure how to do this. There’s many references to roads, boats and rivers throughout this album – constant indicators of motion and direction. The more I listen the more I hear the voice of a man who’s making a futile attempt to escape himself. “My reasons for living were under review…Standing in the road, where would I go to?” (A Short Elevated Period).
There’s a tension between moving on and dwelling on the past comes during the pep talk style of Diamonds in Cups: “The course of creation is often quite strange/Keep your mind open, be willing to change”. Put another way, you can always gain energy from uncertainty because a lack of finality opens the door for opportunity.

On the oh-so-simple-hook laden This Time you get the time honoured reassurance: “This time it’s going to be better. This time I’m gonna be strong”. My first guess is that he’s talking about relationships but then it could be anything. It all starts with an open ended statement: “Some folks believe in magic/ Does voodoohoodoo do it for you?/ Some folks claim they know all the answers/ And for a price they’ll share them with you” There are later clues: “Some folks have the gift for living/ Others make a living hell/ Some folks take love as a given/ And can’t stop falling under its spell.” But somehow I’m not convinced. ‘Love’ in this case has been reduced to a personality or an ‘thing’. But then what?

More questions come on Alibi: “Have you got a leg to stand on?/ Have you got a stick to call your own?/ Have you got a peg to hang on?/ Have you a hook to weight and bait?/ Have you got a dread of nylon?/ Are you a man-made island?/ Have you got a head of pylons?/ Have you got the buzz to live?/ Have you got an alibi?” An alibi for what? It isn’t said. Not clearly. Perhaps this is interchangeable. It’ll fit any situation. A song for all seasons.

Ambiguity is all very well but sometimes they’re just too clever. Sleep on the Wing is a great song. There’s a cool, breezy melody but the lyrics are just so abstract. I can only guess this is a comment about leaving a relationship on the other side of the world. Flying home to safety. But I could be wrong: “Ration your thinking to what is good for me/ Partition a sprinkling of what is good for you/ Compress the essence of what is inside your view/ Acknowledge the presence and fashion a frame/ Upward and inward, outward and forward/ Sleep on the wing, fly through the night/ Fell off the page in the right-hand corner/ The morning after you told me Ex-Pat was dead? One of the best – a top spot runner/ Half a second faster, she was pole on the grid!”

As Wire’s turns 40, they still sound natural and their music, at least, is an easy listen. Their lyrics, not so much. There’s nothing revolutionary on this album but then at their age is that possible? Core members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, and Robert Grey are all in their 60s. They’ll not be jumping around on stage declaring the abolition of the monarchy any day soon. However, that’s also not to say that this is just more banality on the pile. It’s true that they’ve been cranking out material for nearly half a century. They become more beguiling in their dotage. They want to taunt us instead of spit in our face. They tease us intellectually, procrastinating us with ambiguity.

Album Review: The Sadies – Northern Passages

First published: www.13thfloor.co.nz

Introducing The Sadies, a group you may have never heard of – at least in this part of the world. But for well over two decades, this Canadian foursome have been firing off a cannon indie rock, tinged with psychedelia and the occasional nod to Americana. On their 10th studio release Northern Passages, singers/guitarists Dallas and Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean, and drummer Mike Belitsky return after a four-year hiatus with a product that feels like an updated amalgam of Nuggets-era garage rock and country.

Almost intentionally, the band set up an abrupt, jarring juxtaposition between the first two tracks, the down-home pastoral Riverview Fog and the punky garage clamour of Another Season Again. The first is like some campfire melody, an open letter to a long-lost friend, a reaching out to reconnect the severed ties. Having never heard of this band, I was settling in to enjoy some nice soft Crosby styled Americana until Wham! The second tune bullies its way in like a pogo-ing bovver boy and had me jumping around the room. The third tune, There are No Words, is even more fuzz drenched. Like any good Datsuns’ number it’s big, ballsy, grungy. But just as one-punter-mosh- pit in my living room is starting to get sweaty it morphs into a slow cowboy two-step powered by steel guitar and a clop-clop woodblock keeping time. Oddly it works. It’s Easy makes no apologies for being a Neil Young tune. After all they’re all Canadians, so there’s always an opportunity.

The Elements Song swirls along like a slow building tempest for nearly minutes before shape-shifting from a gorgeous psych-rock wig out into a stompin’ honky-tonk hoedown.

Elsewhere, there’s more Americana such as the Byrds’-like country groove of God Bless the Infidels or truck driver soundtracks Through Strange Eyes. And another in a similar style, but utilizing the most esoteric title As Above, So Below.

Hidden amongst all these wee nuggets is the unannounced appearance of Kurt Vile, who adds his guitar and voice to the laid back, slacker tempo on It’s Easy (Like Walking). His laconic delivery works in so well with the bands grunge swagger. I’ve not yet checked but I suspect they have always collaborated well because this partnership seems so comfortable.

So, while this band is new to me, it feels like a band that I know, at least a little. Their material has enough variety and challenge to keep me listening and the juxtapositions between garage rock and Americana and country elements seem to work pretty well. But don’t take my word for it check out a few of their tracks online.
Here’s a link to one of them: