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.”


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