Monday, May 18, 2009

May 2009

Welcome to the May edition of the Nevstar Music Guide. Apologies for the lateness of arrival. Its all happening as they say. Anyway, onto the good stuff.

Album Of The Month

The Horrors - Primary Colours

In the disposable pop culture of the new century, there are rarely second acts. If you dont hit it big the first time, there is no ability to hit the reset button and try another tack. Except that is, if you are The Horrors. After a debut album which was all look and no substance, The Horrors have ditched the make-up, wild hair, and cartoonish antics of their tepid debut album and produced (with a little help), an extraordinary sonical recalibration. That effort is the Album of The Month, entitled Primary Colours.

The Horrors debut album (Strange House) two years ago was all flash. They had a carefully calibrated look designed to appeal to 17 year old male art school students. Its not that they couldnt play, simply they seemed to chose not to, as if it would aversely impact their 'coolness'. The song were without energy, passion or intent. I played it once and not since. However, given a further recording opportunity, they have produced a stunning second album with the assistance of regular Portishead producer Geoff Barrow.

The list of influences is broad, compelling and immediately obvious. There is the almost ritual nod to the likes of Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine. However the lead vocals also hint towards The Cure, Human League or Depeche Mode, while some of the arrangements make liberal use of the back catalogs of bands like Neu! or Can from the German Krautrock era. But its all seamlessely entwined in a set of languid yet urgent tracks, which paradoxically reach great heights by plunging into the depths of despair. This is not an album to play if you are feeling depressed at home by yourself.

The first track is Mirror's Image which is the most overtly Joy Division influenced effort complete with Ian Curtis like weariness and ambivalence. But lest we feel shortchanged, the second track, presciently entitled Three Decades, ups the energy, tempo and atmospherics. Its the culmination of three decades of bands trying to recapture the energy and sound of the early nu-wave acts and doesnt disappoint. An early highlight. More is to follow with nods towards the Cure (Who Can Say), the Pyschedelic Furs (Scarlet Fields) and even the Smiths (Do You Remember). But the overall impact is thrilling rather than nostalgic. A band playing music it loves for its own sake and not for others. Its wrapping the sounds and feelings of our youth into an easily accessible memory stick for easy future access, reminding us of what we love and why we love. My favourite track is the rollicking I Cant Control Myself which is the most overtly guitar based track complete with driving rhythms and studious nonchalance.

The album comes to a close all too soon with the first single, Sea Within A Sea, an eight minute epic which strides out boldly from the shore, seeking new shores to conquer and leaving us gasping for hints about what the future holds beyond that tantalising horizon. For an album rooted in the past, it does a pretty good job of making us wonder about our futures.

Best Track : I Cant Control Myself

Listen to or buy here.

Try it if you like :

Joy Division : Closer
My Bloody Valentine : Loveless
Jesus & The Mary Chain : Psychocandy

If You like this try :

White Lies : White Lies
The Editors : The Back Room
Interpol : Our Love To Admire

Essential Classic Album

Simon & Garfunkel : Bridge Over Troubled Water

'Leave them wanting more' is a common refrain in the entertainment industry. Regrettably, few artists manage to leave at the top. Whether addicted to fame or fortune, most bands continue to produce albums when they should make way for other talent. A shining exception is the extremely talented duo Simon & Garfunkel who recorded a handful of albums culminating in the magnificent Bridge Over Troubled Water which they never attempted to top. It was No 1 in the United States for ten weeks and has sold over 25 million copies. With the duo scheduled to tour NZ shortly, it seems timely to reconsider this, their finest work.

Simon & Garfunkel featured two quite diverse talents. Paul Simon was the talented lyrcist while Art Garfunkel had one of the most distinctive and memorable high falsetto tenor voices of all his folk rock contemporaries. When combined with Simon's lower register voice, we are treated to one of rock music's greatest harmonies. On many occasions it sounds like only one person is singing in common with bands like The Everly Brothers. It is perhaps appropriate that one of the final tracks is a live cover of one of the latter's finest songs (Bye Bye Love).

The album starts with the title track, a candidate for one of the greatest rock songs ever written. Its a track with a religious undercurrent as the protagonist (perhaps God?) offers himself as a bridge over troubled waters. It was originally only two verses but the producer encouraged Simon to pen a third verse ("Sail on silver bird, sail on by") which gives the song a stately presence and increases its grandeur. Amidst the turmoil of the late 60's, it hinted at movements towards reconciliation amongst divergent streams of a warring society.

Yet, its what follows, that marks the album out for greatness. The major achievement is the diversity of the album. There is the first experimentation with African rhythms by Paul Simon in El Condor Pasa. We find bongo drums predominating in the singalong favourite, Cecilia. Then there is the magnificent, almost epic drums in The Boxer (a personal favourite), while the quieter moments in So Long Frank Lloyd Wright are exquisite. And you would be hard pressed to write a catchier tune than Baby Driver, nor a more indolent melody than The Only Living Boy in New York. And then album proves its timeless nature with Keep The Customer Satisfied, an anthem for the consumerism of the 00's if ever there was one. Its an album rich in both texture and scope.

Creative differences between the two led to a mutually agreed temporary separation which became permanent as they undertook different projects. They have reformed from time to do concert tours but have (so far) resisted the temptation to record another studio album. This writer, for one, hopes they never do. It would nice for Bridge Over Troubled Waters to remain their final statement.

Listen to or buy here.

Best Track : The Boxer

If you like this try :

Simon & Garfunkel : Bookends
Crosby Stills & Nash : Deja Vu
Buffalo Springfield : Buffalo Springfield Again
The Byrds : Hey Mr Tambourine Man

Top Ten List

May is New Zealand music month and therefore I thought this month, we would look back on some of the greatest of all kiwi songs; those that have morphed into iconic Kiwi anthems. The definition of an anthem is hard to nail down but to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you hear it. So what songs are great kiwi anthems; the ones that everyone knows and loves? Well here is the Nevstars Top Ten Kiwi anthems.

Top Ten Kiwi Anthems

10. April Sun in Cuba - Dragon (1978)

Hailing from NZ, Dragon moved to Australia in the mid 70s and produced a string of crowd pleasing stadium anthems, none bigger than April Sun in Cuba. Marc Hunters terrific vocals belt out the perfect song to sing along with as you head out of the city for a long weekend at one of our beautiful beaches. "Im tired of the city life; summer's on the run."
Ample evidence of their charm and talents on display in their video here.

9. She's A Mod - Ray Columbus & The Invaders (1964)
Nothing less than the sound of the British Invasion sung with a kiwi accent. Ray Columbus could've contributed nothing else and he would still be remembered to this day for this one brilliant single. Bouncing with energy and complete with its own dance, this is a certainly a formidable kiwi anthem.
See grainy video here.

8. Counting The Beat - Swingers (1981)
It only takes one song to become kiwi icons, and The Swingers managed it with this deceptively simple, catchy yet incredibly enduring song. Written by former Split Enz member Phil Judd, almost 30 years later, virtually no one under five years old is unaware of its charm. Went to No 1 in both Australia and NZ. See video here.

7. Home Again - Shihad
Of all the songs on the list, this is probably the one you most need to see live to truly appreciate its power and charm on a bunch of kiwis. Guaranteed to make any overseas based NZer instantly homesick. That band that famously and heroically decided that they would rather be massive in New Zealand than a passing fad globally. Comes complete with terrific quirky NZ video. See here.

6. Whaling - DD SMash (1984)
One song that certainly cannot be left out is the remarkable Whaling penned by Dave Dobbyn during his time with the band DD Smash. Released in the same year that Dave Dobbyn was arrested for inciting a riot (hows that for living the rock and roll ethos!), Whaling remains a treasured kiwi single, sung by generations old and young at parties, weddings and concerts to this day. Video can be seen here.

5. If It Werent For Your Gumboots - Fred Dagg
John Clarke's famous alter ego made lots of impact when he first appeared on the nations screens in 1975. But perhaps none is as enduring as the very Kiwi song, If It Werent For Your Gumboots. Sources report that Clarke made the song by altering Billy Connolly's The Welly Song. Regardless of its origins, its place in NZs aural history is assured. Short snapshot of the song here. Its counterpart, We Dont Know How Lucky We Are should also be sung by every kiwi at least once a year. Its video is essential viewing.

And for those who to this day do not know what 'pleurisy' ("you will have a dose of the flu or even pleurisy"), the Nevstar can now reveal what you might get if you dont wear your gumboots. Pleurisy is in fact an inflammation of the pleura, the lining of the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. When the inflamed pleural layers rub against each other as the lungs fill, it can cause a sharp pain. It is usually caused by an infection which could be obtained if you arent wearing your gumboots! Who said the Nevstar Music Guide is not educational!

4. I Got You - Split Enz (1980)
Their breakthrough hit which went on to become their most iconic and treasured song. While its arguable as to whether its their best song, something about it resonated immediately with the NZ public and saw it leap straight to No 1 on the singles chart. Notably more 'poppie' than previous Enz efforts perhaps reflecting the increased influence of Neil Finn, one of NZs finest ever songwriters.
See video here.

3. Loyal - Dave Dobbyn (1988)
You could make a really good case for this becoming the NZ national anthem sung proudly before test matches as our black national flag waves proudly. Slightly sullied by association with the losing Americas Cup campaign, this song will be played and sung by generations of Kiwis long after the memory of that loss has past.
See video here.

2. Bliss - The Dudes (1980)
'Its not the drinking, but the way we're drinking' intones the ALAC advert. Well, is it any surprise that the nation has a drinking problem when one of our most iconic songs contains the pivotal lyric "Drink yourself more bliss"! A terrific, anthemic, crowd-pleasing singalong played at the conclusion of just about every 21st Ive ever been to. Cmon, the song starts with (if I have this right), 'yah, ya ya ya yahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, ya ya ya yahhhhhhhhhhh'. Hows that for great songwriting! See video here.

It should also be noted that this is Dave Dobbyn's third entry in the list and you could easily name another dozen worthy of consideration (eg Right First Time, Be Mine Tonight, Slice of Heaven, Outlook for Thursday). The man is a living kiwi legend.

1. Why Does Love Do This To Me? - The Exponents (1992)
I cant recall a No. 1 in the Nevstar Music Guide that was so evident nor so inarguable. Its the one kiwi song that every Kiwi knows all the words to. An absolute iconic, joyous, electric three minutes of perfect pop music. Reportedly took the same time to write as it does to sing and simple to learn on a guitar. Everyone has their own story of singing it amongst fellow kiwis but my favourite memory was during the Wellington Sevens. At halftime, they put songs on for the crowd to singalong to but the music stops once the game resumes. WDLDTTM was played towards the end of the day at halftime of a game, but when the music stopped, this time the singing continued. Without any musical accompaniement, 27,000 people continued singing to the end of the song. Now THATS a kiwi anthem!

See video here.

So, whats the verdict? Agree, disagree? Feel some other songs should be considered as NZ kiwi anthems? Send me an email or leave a comment.

Thats all for this month.



Frank said...

Good to see that it got an honourable mention but would have thought 'Slice of Heaven' would have trumped all of Dobbyn's others. Even if only because it is recognised by other nations as our unofficial anthem. Note its continuous presence when the mighty ab's cross the tryline

Frank said...

also i know i tend to be a bit biased towards shihad but hows about 'Pacifier' from the general electric making an appearance...

Anonymous said...

Can't fault your top 10 Nev - not surprised by the #1 choice especially given your history of starting singalongs in pubs!!

Feeling all nostalgic about Simon & Garfunkel and Everly Bros now.

By the way, White Lies are set to do a gig at The Studio on 1 August.