Saturday, January 19, 2008

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


No comments: