Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 2008

The Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 4

Happy new year everyone. May your 2008 be filled with the discovery of some great new music and that this discovery is assisted by The Nevstar Music Guide ! Bumper issue this month with an excellent ‘solo’ effort, a classic Britpop album and an intriguing top ten list. But before we start, if you are enjoying the Nevstar Music Guide, please take a moment to forward this Music Guide to someone else you know who is a music fan and might enjoy it. Anyone wanting to receive future editions can just click here and put “Subscribe” in the Subject field. Thanks for that. Right, into it:

Album of the Month

Maps : We Can Create

A defining aspect of the Web 2.0 is the concept of user-generated content (ladies and gentleman, the Nevstar Music Guide) with amateurs creating video content, posting book, movie and album reviews and generating their own music. I find the latter particularly interesting as no longer do record companies have a monopoly on what artists are recorded. Echoing Elvis Presley pressing a couple of songs for $1 a side, would-be Pop Idols now have access to relatively cheap recording equipment enabling them to easily convert their inner symphonies into digital form. The output is barely inferior to professionally produced material. With non-traditional distribution also available on the internet through MySpace et al, new and talented individuals can easily find audiences for their creative output.

A perfect example is James Chapman, aka Maps, who records his pop / electronica compositions on a 16 track machine in his bedroom without the assistance of any computer to help mix the songs. You could never tell, with a wide array of instruments and sounds seamlessly accompanying his ghostly vocals and languid melodies. His debut album, We Can Create, is the equal of anything that the majors released this year and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in the UK. Its an inspiration for anyone with the ambition to record those songs bursting from within.

Maps is a ‘band’ that strides across appallingly stringent definitions of genre. It is simply beautiful music which should not be dropped into a specific category. At times, it resembles the dreamy, atmospheric pop of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. In its quieter moments, it recalls Portishead and Zero 7 while the bigger songs generate a ‘Wall of Sound’ reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or perhaps even Kid A era Radiohead.

My favourite track is It Will Find You which mixes a hip hop beat with a distinctive looped six note lead riff. Complementing the magnetic music is Chapman dreamy vocals which are accompanied as the song builds by a variety of other ‘noises’ dropped in as appropriate. The effect is stunning and displays his mastering of layering quite disparate sounds into one satisfying and fulfilling aural experience.

Quite simply, you really should take a chance and listen to this album. You wont be disappointed.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : It Will Find You

Listen To If You Like :
Portishead.......................... Dummy
Moby .................................Play

If You Like This Try :
Mercury Rev ......................Deserters Songs
Death in Vegas ...................The Contino Sessions

Essential Classic Album

Pulp : Different Class (1995)

It was during 1995 that the Britpop era reached its pinnacle of prominence. Acres of column inches was devoted to a record company induced ‘competition’ between Blur v Oasis as they launched much hyped singles on the same day. However, it was an album released that year by the third of the Britpop triumvirate that has perhaps endured long after debates about the respective merits of Country House v Roll With It had faded from view.

The album Different Class perfectly represents the Britpop era in that it mixes all that was great in British music to that point from Beatles-eque melodies, Bowie / Roxy Music era nu-wave rhythms to the lyrical cleverness of The Kinks or The Smiths. At the same time it offers a cracking selection of intelligent and witty songs set to naggingly catchy melodies.

Pulp are fronted by the enigmatic Jarvis Cocker whose band laboured in obscurity throughout the 80’s trying desperately to build a following before he was suddenly at the forefront of the most exciting musical movement in a generation. Fortunately, JC is one of the pre-eminent lyricists of his or any other time and his observations perfectly capture the moment and the time. It is a party album, albeit one with brains and a conscience, exploring themes of sex and love, drugs and dying, class and sophistication.

The best song on the album is Common People which soared to No. 2 on the UK singles chart, an unheard of position for an indie track. It is an incredible track somehow mixing an unforgettable head shaking, toe-tapping beat, with a rousing anthemic like chorus amidst a tale of love and, for bonus points, a damning indictment of class differences

Morever there are a number of other terrific tracks with nary a weak one in sight. Mis-Shapes which starts off the album is a cracker. It’s a great call to arms for a generation raised in the turmoil of England in the 70’s and profiles the new hope that Cool Brittania promised. “We wont use bombs, we wont use guns, we’ll use the one thing we have more of and that’s our minds”. Disco 2000 is a strange, yearning love song for a childhood friend set to a cracking guitar riff while Sorted for E’s and Whizz and Bar Italia take subtle shots at the rave culture exploding onto the scene at the time. There are also quieter introspective moments such as I Spy and F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.

Jarvis ultimately revolted from the celebrity lifestyle that his new found fame afforded. Pulp’s next album, This Is Hardcore, is a glimpse into a tormented soul. As Jarvis himself opines, “this is the sound of someone losing the plot, you’re gonna like it, but not a lot”. It is outstanding in its own right, but for first timers, start your love affair with Pulp by putting Different Class onto you CD buy list. It’s example of a band at the height of its powers at the right place and at the right time.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : Common People

If You Like This Try :
Pulp ................................His ‘n Hers
Blur ................................Parklife
Roxy Music .......................Country Life

Top Ten List

The history of rock and roll has been shaped by many bands and events. But which particular ones were pivotal. Here is my view on the seminal moments in Rock History which changed the course of history of rock music for better or worse. So, in chronological order, here are the Top Ten Greatest Moments in Rock History.

1. Elvis Presley Records 'That's All Right’ : September 1954

This is ground zero for rock and roll. Its impact cannot be overstated. A poor white boy with a ‘black’ voice, Elvis grew up listening to a combination of black rhythm and blues, gospel, and rockabilly. Fooling around in Sun Studios, he started playing an uptempo version of ‘That’s All Right Mama’, an old blues classic first recorded by Arthur Crudup. Sam Phillips heard this new version and urged them to get it on record. The rest, as they say, is history.

2. James Brown Records ‘Live at the Apollo’ : 1962

Already the hardest working man in show business, performing in excess of 300 shows per year, James Brown in 1962 indelibly inked his place in history with this album. Recorded at his own expense, it went on to become the first million-selling rhythm and blues album ever. It stands as a beacon of originality which was immeasurably influential to soul, funk and rap artists who followed. Sampled and copied to this day, his energy and verve on stage is captured perfectly in this timeless album. Available here.

3. The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show : February 1964

No British band had ever made it big in the US although many had tried. Weeks before their arrival in 1964, Capital Records had signs hanging in Times Square denoting “The Beatles are Coming”. Most thought it was a promo for a new horror movie. But America soon woke up to Beatlemania as four young guys with ‘shockingly” long hair showed up on the No. 1 rated Ed Sullivan Show watched by an estimated 73 million Americans. Launching into All My Loving, a nation sat transfixed. Rock and Roll was exciting again. In a way, the first reaction to The Beatles was correct. The British Invasion had begun. By March 1964, the Beatles occupied the top five positions on the singles chart in America.See rare footage here.

4. Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival : July 1965

One of the more notable impacts of the Beatles was the influence it had on Bob Dylan. He had made his name as a folk poet carrying on the legacy of Woody Guthrie. Dylan recalls hearing the Beatles for the first time while driving and realising that the music world had changed. He thus turned up at the Newport Folk Festival with a, gasp, electric guitar. Amidst boos from the audience, he played three electric rock and roll songs to decidely mixed reaction before storming off the stage. Footage is available in the great Martin Scorcese film on Dylan, No Direction Home. It however marked the start of a remarkable period in his career as he recorded three absolute masterpieces (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) in the space of 18 months. Dylan similarly had a major impact on the Beatles, allegedley introducing them to drugs while imploring them to pay more attention to their lyrics. Thus they went from I Want To Hold Your Hand to Eleanor Rigby.

5. Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival : 1967

Myths endure while reality fades. This concert is a classic example. The myth endures that Jimi Hendrix went on stage an unknown, but walked off a legend. The reality, if you check out the stunned look on the crowds faces, suggests otherwise. White America simply wasnt ready for a black guitarist who wrote, sang, played lead and rhythm guitar while dominating the stage as a wild, effervescent showman. He had to head to the UK to really break into the big time. But this moment will forever be remembered as when a brash new talent was introduced to the world. A world which will never see his like again. Copies of the entire concert have just been released on DVD. See footage here.

6. Woodstock and Altamont : 1967 / 1969

These two legendary concerts marked the peak and ultimately death of the hippy ideal. Somehow, 500,000 crammed into a farm in Woodstock in northern New York state to listen to an absolute Who’s Who (including The Who!) of 60’s popular music. Highlights included an incendiary rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by Jimi Hendrix and Joe Cocker singing With A Little Heap From My Friends. Facilities were woefully insufficient, but the spirit of that hippy culture meant everyone somehow got along.

It was slightly different two years later in Altamont. Festivals had sprung up everywhere with hippies expecting everything to be laid on free of charge. A late change of venue saw around 300,000 turn up for a three day festival at the Altamont speedway in California designed to hold 15,000 for three hours. It was a toxic mix with the crowd becoming increasingly unruly. As the Rolling Stones took the stage, an altercation took place between the Hells Angels (recruited as security guards) and a black youth called Meredith Hunter who was then stabbed to death. “No angel born in hell, can break that Satan’s spell”. It was the end of the hippy era and the counter-culture nirvana it promised.

7. David Bowie creates Ziggy Stardust : June 1972

Perhaps scared of his own personality, David Bowie created an alter ego in Ziggy Stardust supported by his band, The Spiders From Mars. The first of many alternative characters, Ziggy allowed Bowie to experiment with a ‘new band’ while acting out his own fantasies on stage. Echoing the creative freedom that Sgt Peppers allowed the Beatles, Ziggy simultaneously created a great album, started off the entire glam rock movement as well as kickstarting music concerts as stage show extravaganzas.

8. Sex Pistols play gig on River Thames : June 1977

The moment, Queen’s Silver Jubilee, 7th June 1977. The Sex Pistols appropriated the date for the release of their ‘tribute’ song, “God Save The Queen”. Virgin Records, the bands third label in three weeks, organised a boat so they could play a version of their new song in front of the House of Parliament. A select group of about 50 witnessed the concert as the boat was accompanied down the Thames by Police boats requesting the immediate cessation of ‘hostilities’. Caught on camera in the terrific documentary The Filth and Fury including a special shot of long haired Richard Branson protesting their innocence. As Johnny Rotten later said, “We declared war on England without meaning to.”

9. The launch of MTV : 1981

A pivotal moment in rock history was the launch of MTV in 1981. While increasingly irrelevant now as essentially a reality TV channel, MTV originally changed the game plan for the distribution of music. A video became an essential marketing device. It led to the rise of photogenic bands such as Duran Duran and artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson who understood the entertainment requirements of the new medium. And the first song played on MTV, the answer to a great trivia question, was none other than Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles.

10. The Opening of the Hacienda : 1985

Dance music was already on the rise, but the opening of this famous club in Manchester by Tony Wilson saw the start of an era featuring the DJ rather than the band as the star attraction. To this day, the best DJ’s, playing music created and recorded by others, are followed and revered around the world as they play the soundtrack to escapades into drug-fuelled fantasies.

Got a different opinion ? What moments do you consider pivotal in the history of rock ?
And that’s it for another month. Hope you have enjoyed this latest edition. Tune in next month for The Top Ten Movie Soundtracks of all time.

A bientot all you music lovers.

December 2007

The Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 3

Welcome back to my new favourite hobby; writing the Nevstar Music Guide for you, my devoted and faithful readers. This months issue highlights a top release from a New Zealand band, profiles an album that is awfully close to my favourite of all time, and we check out Nevstar’s Top Ten for 2007 which should provide adequate material for stocking fillers. If you’re a first time reader, welcome; if you’re a regular, welcome back.

Album of the Month

The Phoenix Foundation : Happy Ending

It can be cogently argued that this is a golden age for NZ music. Local music content, without a quota system, is around 23% of commercial radio airplay. The charts are widely populated with NZ RnB type acts, local roots/dub bands are headlining music festivals, and there are a number of interesting power pop / rock bands on the summer circuits. The diversity of the offerings is as impressive as the depth and quality.

And then there are acts which defy easy generalisation such as Wellington based Phoenix Foundation. They have recently released an extremely thoughtful and vibrant album that is well worth checking out or gifting to your nearest and dearest for Christmas.

Happy Ending is hopefully more of a beginning than an end. This is their third release following Pegasus (2003) and Horsepower (2005) which met with critical if not much commercial success. Since their last album, there have been babies, solo albums and scoring over half of the soundtrack to film festival favourite, Eagle v Shark. However, they are evidently not short of ideas, electing to quickly release an album on that bastion of the New Zealand music scene, Flying Nun. It is an album with an extremely wide contrast in styles and influences thus shattering any pre-conceived expectations.

The album starts with two strong guitar based tracks in Bright Grey and Bleaching Sun. It then veers into atmospheric territory with quiet pianos and ghostly vocals on Slumber Party before venturing deeper into the abyss with call-and-response vocals highlighted in Gandalf. On it goes, sampling briefly a number of music influences, yet retaining a sense of melody and lightness of touch. We are even treated to a side dish of country-folk in No One Will Believe Me When Im Dead before the album gets really strange.

Towards the end the album vaults into another dimension delivering a trio of tracks heavily influenced by the prog rock era. Omerta is a mesmerising instrumental which would not be out of place on early Pink Floyd or Yes albums. It is followed by two similar efforts (Burning Wreck, Sugar) but now featuring some embedded vocals to complement the orchestral compositions. Then, abruptly it closes, and in 12 tracks taking less than an hour we have somehow traversed from local indie guitar pop to music from the dark side of the moon. Yet it is quintessentially New Zealand and a welcome addition to the Flying Nun catalog.

Don’t be put off by the cover. The contents are far more complex and adult than the childish painting on the front. It is without doubt, one of the best releases of the year.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : Bright Grey

If You Like This Try :
Voom ............................................Hello Are You There ?
The Veils ......................................The Runaway Found

Classic Album

The Stone Roses : The Stone Roses (1989)

There are great albums, there are classic albums and then there are ESSENTIAL albums. Albums that no self-respecting music fan should be without. Albums that are a product of their era yet are simultaneously timeless. Albums that transcend the dross of the music ‘business’ and glide into the ethereal world of high art. The Stone Roses eponymous debut album is such an album and perhaps one of the finest releases of the last 30 years.

For a cherished summer in 1990 following its release, The Stone Roses were THE band. Their concert on Spike Island is considered the apogee of their fame, an iconic rock moment, where 27,000 baggy trousered followers of the dance/rock amalgamation grooved under the hot British sun. The Roses had somehow managed to create an album which is note perfect yet achieves the formidable task of combining the verve and energy of dance music with the structure of guitar based pop.

“I don’t have to sell my soul; he’s already in me” sings Ian Brown at the start of the first track, I Wanna Be Adored, thus establishing his ‘devilish’ talent. We are thus instantly uplifted and transformed rejoicing in a band so assured and confident in their own talent. There is the pop perfection of Waterfall followed immediately by Don’t Stop which is the same track played backwards. The album pauses with Elizabeth My Dear as the band demonstrate their republican tendencies to the traditional arrangement Scarborough Fair made popular by Simon & Garfunkel. The second half matches the first with gems such as the Made of Stone and This Is The One before the album is brought to its stunning conclusion with the epic I Am The Resurrection.

I don’t think Im a talented enough writer to capture how good this album is nor adequately express my admiration for this extraordinary piece of art. Others do a better job particularly this excellent PopMatters review. I especially liked this part:

“Go now and buy it. I don't know what it will cost you down your local record shop, but its value is more than the price label says and thank the Lord that albums are not priced like pieces of art, or you'd never be able to afford a copy.”

The Stone Roses story doesnt have a happy ending. A bitter contract dispute prevented the release of a follow up to the debut album for five years. Once The Second Coming emerged in 1994, the world had changed. Britpop had hit the charts led by a group of one word named bands such as Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede who, ironically, were heavily influenced by The Stone Roses. But it matters little. Their place in history was already assured. Few come as close to touching perfection.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : Waterfall

If You Like This Try :

The Stone Roses ............................Second Coming
Crowded House .............................Together Alone
The Doves ......................................Lost Souls

Top Ten List

What better way to wrap up the year, but to reflect on the best albums to emerge from 2007. After a couple of relatively disappointing years, this year’s crop is top notch with several outstanding releases. I easily had 20-25 albums on my initial shortlist. But as a service to you, have whittled them down to ten super stocking fillers for the festive season. So this months Top Ten list is :

The Nevstar’s Top Ten Albums for 2007.

1. Wincing The Night Away – The Shins

A tough choice, but the best album of the year for me was this unforgettable release by US indie band, The Shins. Emerging into the mainstream after a celebrity endorsement from a certain Natalie Portman, The Shins produced their best album so far. A stunning collection of tunes steeped in subtle yet soaring melodies.

Listen To It If You Like : REM

2. 23 – Blonde Redhead

I love this album. I couldn’t stop playing it. It starts with a mesmerising track that seems to synthesizes brain waves like baroque music of the 1500-1600’s. What follows is a superb collection of dream-like vocals accompanying constantly evolving backing tracks. Not to be missed.

Listen To It If You Like : The Flaming Lips

3. From Here We Go Sublime – The Field

As outlined in an earlier addition of the Nevstar Music Guide, this is one of the best electronica albums I have come across. A debut album from a Swedish ambient producer, this mixture of chillout and trance is mesmerising. A slow-burning classic which is probably very danceable given the right ‘enhancements’.

Listen To It If You Like : Electronica Music

4. Turn The Lights Out – The Pony’s

As a friend pointed out, Turn The Lights Out is probably the best album Flying Nun never released. You would swear it was produced in Dunedin in the late 80’s. Fuzzy guitars supported by driving drums and understated vocals.

Listen To It If You Like : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

5. Happy Ending – The Phoenix Foundation

See review above.

Listen To It If You Like : The Veils

6. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire

I really wanted to put this higher but there is no room in the Top 5. Indie favourites, Arcade Fire returned with the most accomplished album to date. It is certainly one that needs to be played a few times to appreciate, but on repeated listens tracks like Intervention, featuring an orgasmic church organ are to be cherished. Don’t miss at next years Big Day out.

Listen To It If You Like : Death Cab For Cutie

7. Under The Blacklight – Rilo Kiley

A terrific collection of sunny pop tunes with dark themes by a band that deserves to be better known. Buy it for your cousin instead of Britney’s latest.

Listen To It If You Like : Fleetwood Mac

8. Infinity on High – Fall Out Boy

I have no idea what ‘emo’ is yet record stores now devote an entire section to it. Emotive rock music ? Isnt that a tautology ? To paraphrase one William Joel, its still rock and roll to me. Regardless, Infinity on High is a terrific collection of strong, ‘emotive’ tracks which will soon have you singing ‘emotivally’.

Listen To It If You Like : Green Day

9. Baby 81 - BRMC

After a bewildering yet interesting diversion into a country-folk album (Howl), the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club returned to its core with a hard driving, dirtier collection of guitar based tracks. While immaculately produced, it retains enough dirt beneath its finger nails.

Listen To It If You Like : Jesus And The Mary Chain

10. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - Spoon

In a just world, Spoon would be leading stadium sized crowds singing their inspirational rock ‘n roll. But they languish in obscurity while we are force fed ANOTHER Rod Stewart collection this Christmas. Strike back. Encourage contemporary creative bands by buying their albums. You wont regret it.

Listen To It If You Like : The Pixies, Pavement

A number of other worthy albums caught my attention this year.

Thus the next ten, in alphabetical order, are :

Apples in Stereo .....................New Magnetic Wonder
Airbourne ............................Runnin Wild
Buffalo Tom .........................Three Easy Piece
Justice ................................(Cross)
Kaiser Chiefs ........................Yours Truly, Angry Mob
Manic Street Preachers ............Send Away The Tigers
The National .........................Boxer
Reverend & The Makers ...........State of Things
White Stripes .......................Icky Thump

What was your favourite album for 2007 ?

Reader Comment :

Once again, had some great feedback on One Hit Wonders that I had missed. So here’s a list of some other terrific tracks which are the band’s only lasting contribution to the tapestry of music history.

1. Eye of the Tiger - Survivor

Ohmigod, how could I have forgotten this one ! A seminal song immortalised in Rocky III. One of the best songs to play when you are flagging on the treadmill.

2. Send Me An Angel – Real Life

A great track with a terrific drum solo. Number 1 in NZ and around the world, and nary a drum bashed in anger from them again.

3. How Bizarre - OMC

NZ also has its share of one-hit wonders, none bigger than this catchy tune which brought OMC ultimate riches and then ultimately bankruptcy.

4. Funky Town - Pseudo Echo

Another great 80’s track for which we are still waiting for a followup.

5. Twisted Sister - We’re Not Gonna Take It

An automatic entry in the list of Greatest Hair metal songs of all time although arguably not a one hit wonder. Watch the terrific video featuring Mark Metcalf parodying his ‘Niedemeyer’ character from Animal House here. At the end you can just hear samples from the same movie.

6. My Sharona - The Knack

A deceptively simple yet unbelievably catchy track.

7. Come On Eileen - Dexys Midnight Runners

Played without question at every single university party held in the early 90’s

8. Jump Around - House of Pain

Played without question at every single university party held in the early 2000’s !

9. I Touch Myself - The Divinyls

A memorable track, none more so than as the backing track when Austin Powers out ‘mojos’ the Fembots in Austin Powers.

10. Bette Davis Eyes - Kim Carnes

Perhaps a bit harsh to call this a one-hit wonder but merits inclusion for no other reason that to talk about her voice. Listen to what 3 packs a day can do for your vocal cords.

And a prize to the best feedback received so far which I will include in its entirety to avoid misquoting or paraphrasing.

“Angels - Robbie Williams rocked, and always gets the crowd joining in…..oops, it wasn’t a one hit wonder….but for the sake of us all it should have been!!”

That’s it for this month. Please take the time to forward on the email to any other music fans who might like to be introduced to a couple of interesting albums every month. They just need to email me at to be added to the distribution list.

Coming in January : Nevstar’s Top Ten Concerts in Rock n Roll History


Thursday, January 17, 2008

November 2007

The Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 2

Well feedback from the first Nevstar Music Guide was neither distressingly negative nor full of personal invective and received sum total of zero death threats or abusive letters. Thus taking these non-negatives as an endorsement of the idea (if not the literary value), I will carry on. And so behold, Issue No. 2 of the Nevstar Music Guide.

Album of the Month

The Field : From Here We Go Sublime

As you will no doubt discover throughout repeated iterations of the Nevstar Music Guide, my preference leans towards guitar based music. Perhaps its a legacy of a lifetimes frustration at my non-rockstar status. My definition of dance music was simply anything I could air guitar to. However, my tastes are evolving and some of the best electronica / dance genre find their way onto my stereo from time to time. This months album is one such effort and probably the best electronica album I have come across.

The Field is Alex Wilner, a Swedish ambient techno producer, who has produced a debut album, From Here We Go Sublime, that envelopes you in a wall of ambient noise which is both relaxing and inspiring. The tracks, while quite distinct, do follow a similar outline. A dance music bass track is overlaid with repeated tuneful samples which subtly evolve note by note, slowly ebbing and flowing like the tide. The tracks are languid and relaxing not ever attaining a climax or peak. They sound like they can be played forever, an eternal loop as a soundtrack to life’s merry-go-round. And then, on occasion, the beat stops as in A Paw In My Face where it is replaced by an teasingly familiar yet gorgeous guitar snippet. Indeed, it is from none other than Lionel Richie’s nauseous ‘Hello’. Any producer who can make me delight in Lionel Richie is obviously supremely talented.

There are a number of stand out tracks including the shimmering opener Over The Ice or the dance funk of Silent but my favourite is the nine minute epic The Deal. Starting with an authoritative bass beat which supplements the atmospheric tension, Wilner slowly adds in other features including a gospelish backing vocal which ghosts in and out of the scene he has created. The mood rises and falls throughout, never definitively rising to great heights, nor establishing morbid lows. Until it nears the ten minute mark when it abruptly stops. It’s a beating heart, witness to our highs and lows, until finally it beats no more.

The album may be tough to find in New Zealand but order from offshore or online if you must. You should not be without it. It will accompany any activity when you are in a reflective mood, from staring at the ocean to staring at the ceiling.

I came across The Field via the best music website which is This is must stop for those trying to filter out all newly released music. Metacritic compiles reviews of albums available on various websites and gives the album a score out of 100 based on those reviews. Its not foolproof, but universal acclaim by a wide range of music critics is not a bad place to start finding the best music. The Field is currently the Top album for all 2007 with a score of 90 / 100. But don’t take my word for it, or theirs. Seek it out yourself and prepare to be dazzled.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : The Deal

Listen To If You Like :
St Germain...........................Tourist

If You Like This Try :
Royskopp .............................Melody AM
Brian Eno .............................Ambient 1 : Music For Airports

Essential Classic Album

The Beach Boys : Pet Sounds (1966)

No music or artist exists in a vacuum. All artists stand on the shoulders of those that came before them melding and reworking ideas to suit their particular taste or talent. On occasions, artists inspire their contemporaries as well, goading them to aim higher in a virtuous positive feedback loop. One of my favourite examples is the impact the Beatles had on Brian Wilson and the best of all Beach Boys albums, Pet Sounds.

The Beach Boys were a successful West Coast band in the early 60’s. They combined elements of surfer music, doo wop harmonies and Phil Spector arrangements into a string of early 60’s hit songs. The songs were catchy but not particularly original and Brian grew frustrated at their lack of musical advancement.

The exhaustive touring demand by Capital Records to support the albums took its toll on Brian who finally cracked. He announced that he no longer wanted to tour and was replaced for concerts by a certain Glenn Campbell ! Thus Brian retired to the solace of the studio seeking musical inspiration. It took a while, but it was a record from four likely lads from across the ocean that did the trick.

Upon hearing the new Beatles album, Rubber Soul, Brian would later recall :

"When I first heard it, I flipped. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs ... that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, 'That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album.' ”

So as the Beach Boys toured Japan, Brian toiled away in the studio seeking to match the Beatles efforts. The resulting album is a wonder. It sounds so simple yet is amazingly intricate and complex. It contains layers of music incorporating lush arrangements of traditional instruments alongside all sorts of Brian’s ‘pet’ sounds. There are literally dogs barking, bicycle bells ringing, and reportedly Coke Cans jingling to accompany a multitude of horns, organs, guitars and flutes. Elements of early Beach Boys are also present with their trademark falsetto melodies, carefree attitudes and odes to beautiful albeit unobtainable women.

Such beautiful sounds would but be wasted without great lyrics to accompany it however. There is a sharp lyrical contrast between the idyllic life Brian envisages from the first line of Wouldn’t It Be Nice to the melancholy reflection at the end with Caroline No. In between we are carried away by the Sloop John B before Brian reflects forlornly that maybe I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times. The album was so good that they could afford to leave off “Good Vibrations”. The best track to these ears is the sublime God Only Knows which is absolutely one of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded.

The record sold poorly, mainly because Capital records didn’t know how to promote an album rather than a collection of hit songs. Or maybe it bombed because it was sleeved in an obvious candidate for Worst Album Cover of all Time. Regardless, it is now rightly recognised as their best moment and all music fans, serious or casual, should make its acquaintance.

And the effect on The Beatles ? Paul McCartney calls Pet Sounds his favourite album. It inspired him to go back into the studio and start work on an album called Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. You may have heard of it.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : God Only Knows

If You Like This Try :

The Beatles ....................Rubber Soul
Love.............................Forever Changes

Top Ten One Hit Wonders Of All Time

This month in our Top Ten list, I have compiled my Top Ten one hit wonders. So often a band contributes an absolutely unforgettable song only to then disappear without a trace. Still these ten songs can consider themselves part of music history, their place in the pantheon of great tracks firmly established.

1. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina And The Waves
A foot stomping, butt kicking, riotous call to arms. First song on Barry’s ‘Monday Morning’ compilation in High Fidelity. Praise indeed.

2. Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles
A terrific track outlining a particularly poignant moment in music history.

3. You Get What You Give - New Radicals
Great track hinting at a band that could offer so much more. But name other song they wrote.

4. I Ran – Flock of Seagulls
One of my favourite tracks from the 80’s. Fantastic 2 minute long intro as well.

5. Europe – The Final Countdown
A parody comedy show once ran a series of mock headlines. One of which was “Europe’s Greatest Hits rumoured to include The Final Countdown” ! Enough said.

6. Whip It – Devo
Marginal inclusion for the reason that they actually did produce a couple of half decent albums, but this is their one and only hit song.

7. Tubthumping – Chubawamba
Still played to this day at every sports event around the world. ‘I get knocked down…’

8. Mickey – Toni Basil
Personally, I can barely stand this song, but put it on at any party and watch the girls get up to dance.

9. It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
One of the all time great disco songs. A great 1-2 punch with Mickey if a party is flagging.

10. Who Let The Dogs Out – Baha Men
Perhaps one of the all time great ‘joke’ songs (followed closely by I’m Too Sexy and Shaddup Your Face).

What are your favourite One Hit Wonders ?

Reader Comment :

Thanks for those who took the time to send me some helpful suggestions and other great covers. The first top ten list provoked lots of comment. In fact the Top Ten list generated the most feedback of anything proving that nothing provokes a point of contention than a subjective Top Ten list. Seems there is a wide range of beloved covers. Here is a sample of some of those suggested by my informed group of readers that you might want to check out.

1. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor
Prince who ? Startling version which might also qualify under One Hit Wonders above.

2. Tainted Love – Soft Cell
Surely the definition of great cover is that you were unaware it was in fact a cover. Tainted Love was composed by Ed Cobb of the Four Tops and recorded in 1964 by Gloria Jones.

3. Summertime Blues – The Who
The Who make this Eddie Cochran song their own especially on their live album Live at Leeds.

4. All Along The Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
Suggested by more than one reader. A great version by the legendary left-hander.

5. With a Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker
Not sure if better than original but probably sounded great when he sung it in front of 500,000 people at Woodstock!

6. Throw Your Arms Around The Word – Eddie Vedder
An interesting take on this classic Hunters & Collectors track

7. Smooth Criminal – Alien Ant Farm
A grittier, tougher version of a Michael Jackson track.

8. Common People – William Shatner
The Captain provides his own rather unique interpretation of this classic Pulp track.

9. Hurt – Johnny Cash
Another song that the Man In Black made his own. Nine Inch Nails wrote the original.

10. Stairway to Heaven – Rodrigo Y Gabriela
While Rolf Harris made a mockery of this all time classic, Rodrigo Y Gabriela complete a terrific dueling guitar based instrumental version. Check out this YouTube video here.

Thanks for all the other feedback which was very entertaining and helpful. Keep it coming. Lots of constructive suggestions particularly those who suggested linking to samples of the songs or albums.

That’s it for this month. Please take the time to forward on the email to any other music fans who might like to be introduced to a couple of interesting albums every month. They just need to email me at to be added to the distribution list.

Coming in December : Nevstar’s Top Ten Albums for 2007

That’s it for this month. Let’s leave the last word to the immortal Rick James

“You can't have rock and roll without drugs, you can't have rock and roll without sex.”


October 2007

Welcome to my first monthly newsletter aiming to introduce you to some great music. The discovery of a great album is one of lifes joys. But with a bewildering array of recorded music released each and every week, how do you find those special albums?

My idea is to help filter out some of the unworthy by introducing you to some albums that I have particularly enjoyed. Every month I will highlight a new release and a classic album which may enhance your collection. The final item will be a Top Ten list on a different theme each month. You wont like everything I recommend but hopefully you will like enough to keep reading.

In attempting to write about music, I am however, consistently humbled by two great quotes.

"Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read" - Frank Zappa

“Writing about music is as pointless as dancing about architecture” - Unknown

So with these warnings fairly heeded, here is the Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 1.

Album of the Month

Rilo Kiley Under The Blacklight

Rilo Kiley are a four piece indie band hailing from California who have operated under the radar before this their fourth release. Amidst misplaced calls from some hardcore fans of ‘selling out’, they have released Under The Blacklight which is an excellent slice of indie pop with intelligent lyrics and darker thematic undertones. The songs bear a familiarity borne of the replication of several musical influences including 80’s pop, some 60’s soul and the reflective, considered moods of other indie pop.

The force behind the band is Jenny Lewis who writes most of the songs and provides lead vocals for all but one. She is blessed with a perfectly clear and lucid voice which amplifies this superb set of songs. Her voice, which sounds a bit like Alanis Morrisette (in a good way!), has an hypnotic impact which diverts your attention from the strength of the songs. Yet it is the lyrics which ensure the albums has legs. Exploring themes of sex and love, drinking and dying; the album has sinister undertones to accompany the pristine vocals. Thus I found plenty to like about this release where the eleven songs never outstay their welcome.

The best track is Close Call which opens with a jaunty guitar line and a lovely melody but a tormented set of lyrics which include the album’s best line “funny thing about money for sex, you might get rich but you can die from it”. Thus it continues combining effortlessly the ability to make you tap your feet, while investigating the darker side of life.

Listen to tracks or buy here :

Best Track : Close Call

Listen To If You Like :

  • Fleetwood Mac : Rumours
  • REM : Automatic For The People

If You Like This Try :

  • Death Cab For Cutie : Transatlanticism
  • The Shins : Wincing The Night Away

Essential Classic Album

Marianne Faithfull Broken English (1979)

Marianne Faithfull is a poster child of 60’s. She vaulted into the public consciousness as a stunningly beautiful young women singing a heartfelt solo version of the Jagger-Richards composition “As Tears Go By” which was a hit for her a full year before the Stones released it themselves. She was a long time girlfriend of Mick Jagger but descended into a personal hell with addictions to both heroin, alcohol and cocaine at different times. There are rumours that several Stones songs were inspired by Marianne. One urban legend surrounds her emergence from a drug-induced coma. In response to a question about whether she should quit, she said that “Wild Horses couldn’t drag me away” giving the Stones the title line to another hit song.

By the end of the 60’s, Marianne Faithfull was burnt out and disappeared from public view. So it came as a great surprise that she reappeared in 1979 with one of the great comeback albums of all time. Broken English is an absolute dark masterpiece. It is the sound of someone who is tired of life with a voice seeped in the misery of drug and alcohol addictions. Gone was her beautiful clear tones to be replaced by vocal chords assaulted by whiskey, cigarettes and drugs. The songs match the despair; tales of woe and misery, disillusionment and loss. It is not an album to cheer you up. It is one to play late at night, with a whiskey bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other while you reflect on shattered dreams, broken promises or unrequited love.

The title track may be known to most as she pours her heart out. The long drawn out sneer as she sings Broken English is an early highlight. The other well known track is the Ballad of Lucy Jordan which narrates the tale of a suburban housewife reflecting on what may have been. However my pick for the best track is the sensational cover of Working Class Hero. The John Lennon penned track is given the full treatment as Faithfull sings it with equal doses of sneer and depair. It puts to shame the recent attempt by Manic Street Preachers (a hidden track on their last album Send Away The Tigers) who sing it with far too much brightness and levity.

She has done some other albums and some acting from time to time, but nothing matches her effort on Broken English. There is some irony in the fact that a poster child for 60’s excess produced one of the greatest albums of the 70’s.

Listen to samples or buy CD here :

Best Track : Working Class Hero

If You Like This Try :

  • Frank Sinatra : Sings Only For The Lonely
  • Joni Mitchell : Blue
  • Pulp : This Is Hardcore

Top Ten Covers of All Time

Covers are normally an anaethma. Why reproduce the song if you have nothing further to add to the original. Several horrific efforts will annoy me for a long time. Think of Rolf Harris destroying Stairway to Heaven or Madonna assassinating American Pie. But occasionally, an artist does justice to an original version and occasionally improves it. So here are my Top Ten Covers of All Time.

1. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley : Top by a long way. The definitive version of this Leonard Cohen classic. Listen out for the sigh before the music starts.

2. Working Class Hero – Marianne Faithfull : See above

3. You Really Got Me Now – Van Halen : The Kinks just didn’t quite rock hard enough. Eddie put that right.

4. One - Johnny Cash : Maybe not better than the original but this haunting version by The Man In Black brings a whole new level of pathos to the song.

5. Helter Skelter - U2 : “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” Mission accomplised Paul.

6. Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds : Jim McGuinn’s eclectic 12 string guitar takes this Dylan composition into psychedelia.

7. My Way – Sid Vicious : The perfect song to encapsulate Sid’s attitude to life (short though it was).

8. Wild Thing – Jimi Hendrix : Hendrix did more than one great cover in his time, but this is my favourite. A stonking version of the Troggs one hit wonder.

9. Comfortably Numb – Scissor Sisters : Who would’ve thought this Pink Floyd track would suit a gay, electro-dance version.

10. Pinball Wizard – Elton John : Not really a cover as he sang on the Tommy movie soundtrack but Elton does a superb version of this Who track. His version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds is a close second.

What are your favourite cover versions ? Email me your suggestions and will include the best in a future edition. Any other feedback also greatly appreciated.

That’s it for this month. Please forward this to all music fans who might like to be introduced to a couple of interesting albums every month. To be added to the distribution list, please email me here