All posts tagged nz

  • Rolling Stone album review: Die! Die! Die! – ‘Harmony’, August 2012

    An album review for Rolling Stone, published in the September 2012 issue.

    Die! Die! Die! - Harmony 
    (Inertia)

    Kiwis hone their brand of noise-punk to a sharp edge

    Since forming in 2003, this Dunedin noise-punk trio has gone from strength to strength. Their last album, Form – released in 2010 on Flying Nun Records – was a muscular mix of rock aggression and pop smarts. Die! Die! Die!’s fourth LP, Harmony, is another leap forward, and their finest work yet. The formula is simple – guitar, bass, drums and vocals – yet these three continue to make thrilling new breakthroughs. Their career represents an ongoing tug-of-war between noise and melody, and on Harmony they excel once again: a pair of slower, melancholy tracks contrasts well against the gripping flurry and bluster of the remaining eight songs. Highly recommended.

    Key tracks: “Erase Waves”, “Seasons Revenge”

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    Elsewhere: an interview with Die! Die! Die! singer/guitarist Andrew Wilson for The Vine in 2010

    Elsewhere: a review of Die! Die! Die!’s 2010 album, Form, for The Vine 

  • Mess+Noise Storytellers interview: Shihad – ‘Deb’s Night Out’ and ‘Home Again’, May 2012

    An interview for the Mess+Noise ‘Storytellers’ series. Excerpt below.

    Storytellers: Shihad’s Jon Toogood

    As part of our occasional Storytellers series and to coincide with the release of a new career-spanning documentary, ANDREW MCMILLEN talks to Shihad’s Jon Toogood about two tracks from their back catalogue: an unheralded gem from the mid-1990s and the most popular song they’ve written to date.

    Shihad, one of New Zealand’s longest-running bands, have enjoyed a healthy career marked by experimentation. Now based in Melbourne, they’ve moved from industrial metal (1993 debut Churn) to include elements of pop and electronica (1996’s Shihad, 2008’s Beautiful Machine) while maintaining a central obsession with guitar-heavy rock music, as best exemplified on 1999’s The General Electric.

    I met with singer Jon Toogood [pictured above, far right] upstairs at Brisbane venue Black Bear Lodge – he was in town playing shows with new outfit The Adults – to discuss two Shihad songs in-depth: ‘Deb’s Night Out’ from 1995’s nine-song Killjoy; and ‘Home Again’, the first track from the self-titled album that followed a year later. Much has been written about how much energy Toogood exhibits when fronting Shihad on stage, and the same remains true when he’s engaged in conversation.

    ‘Deb’s Night Out’

    Andrew: I want to start with ‘Deb’s Night Out’. This song sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb, not only on that record but across your whole catalogue.

    Jon: Musically, it was very, very heavily influenced by Skeptics, who we were listening to a lot at the time. They’re a New Zealand Flying Nun band, who were quite different again from the Flying Nun crew in the fact that they weren’t using guitars. It was a lot of sample-based shit, a lot of keyboards. They used Euphonics, or E-Sonics … Some fucking early sampler. They just sounded fucking unusual but they also had this edge … [that was] quite majestic, melodically. Hard to explain. Really beautiful, but really weird.

    Anyway, we were listening to them a lot at that point. Phil [Knight, guitarist] wrote the loop the whole song’s based around, that thing that starts the whole song. That’s Phil on a sampler doing that. When he played it to me I was like, “Whoa, it’s really beautiful.” Then we wrote a bass line and then it was like, “Wow, that’s cool,” and then I just wrote a little poem over the top which was about a friend of my ex-wife’s who was a heroin addict. She came around to our house one night, in Wellington. At that point our daughter was one-year-old. She was asleep in the bedroom and her friend came around and was asking for money. We sort of chilled her out and then we ended up playing games, like Monopoly, but she was cheating. She also tried to steal some money so I actually said, “You – get the fuck out!” And it was pissing down with rain. So that’s where that song began.

    It’s a pretty relaxed instrumental, paired with lyrics that describe a dark tale of a relationship dissolving.

    It’s a song about disappointment, and a friend, really. She was more a friend of my ex-wife’s rather than mine. Oh, it was just the classic junkie thing. She was high; just never trust a junkie, really. She didn’t do anything to dispel that myth, or that cliche. She lived up to it. It was like, “Oh, that’s really disappointing”. I was a bit younger, so I learned, “Right, that’s actually how that drug works.” It was one of my earlier experiences with it. It was before Gerald [Dwyer], our manager, ended up dying of a morphine overdose.

    I didn’t know that.

    That happened after Killjoy [1995] and before the fish album [Shihad, 1996], which is probably a reason why the fish album is all over the place. Our heads were all over the place because we’d lost our manager.

    Was that in New Zealand?

    It was at the Big Day Out in Auckland. He managed us and another band called Head Like A Hole and we both had really blinding sets. We had seen him in the day; he was backstage and he’d rubbed his nose raw … because when he was on heroin, he’d scratch … The last thing I remember, it was really tragic, us all going [at the BDO], “You look a fucking mess, man. Get the fuck out of here! What the fuck are you doing?” He’s like, “There’s nothing wrong with me.” He went back to the hotel between our sets: we were on the main stage earlier, and Head Like A Hole were on the third stage later. He went back and had a hit, and it was really strong and he died. There was no one there at the hotel to help wake him up. By the time we’d got back to the hotel, someone knocked on his door, and then got it open, and he was dead on the floor. We thought it might have just happened, or something like that. But, yeah, he’d been dead for hours.

    Did you know that he had a problem like that?

    We knew that he used recreationally. But he had cleaned himself up for a while, and I think that’s what fucking killed him. Because he’d cleaned himself up for a while and then got some really pure morphine and basically decided to hit up what he used to do when he was using it more regularly – which kills a lot of people, anyway. There was no one there go to, “Hey, wake up.”

    So, ‘Deb’s Night Out’; how soon after that night did you write that song?

    Pretty much straight away, the day after. It was like – bam. [Guitarist] Phil [Knight] had given me that bit of music … It sounded like the feeling that I had, sort of bittersweet. Just sad, you know? And it was good timing. “Here you go Jon, I’ve got this music.” Great … We recorded it at York Street [Studios, Auckland], and we’d wanted it to be a loop rather than a live drum track. At that stage, as well, the studio was still new to us so everything was recorded to a two-inch tape. Before we were using ProTools properly, we went, “Oh fuck it, we’ll just cut a loop of Tom [Larkin] drumming.” So we actually cut it, had the splice going and we had to hold a drum stick in place [so that it could loop continuously] because there was only a small bit of tape. That’s why it’s got this weird skip in it, because it’s not quite perfect.

    That’s another cute thing I remember about that track. I remember laying down those keyboards right at the end, because it was always just one loop. I thought after that last line, “Pray for the rain/To wash you far away”, it needed to “rain”, musically. That’s the most Skeptics-y part, that whole [sings descending chord progression aloud]. It’s that sort of anthemic thing that the Skeptics did, but with keyboards.

    Did you ever see Deb again?

    Actually, I probably did see her once or twice, but nothing too deep. She probably was a little bit scared of me once we kicked her out.

    Does she know you wrote a song about her?

    I don’t care! [Laughs] I don’t even know if she’s still alive.

    At what point did you show your partner the song?

    At what point did I show my ex-wife? I remember her being around while we were recording it in Auckland. She would have known what it was about. [Pause] I’m always a bit cagey with lyrics, even with the people who are close to me – even with guys in the band. They’re real personal and I was always real … I don’t want people to not like them, so I keep them to myself until the very moment where I can’t hide them anymore, because we’re releasing the fucking record. Which is probably why I’m so fucking overly sensitive to bad reviews! [Laughs] Because I live in denial all the time! [Laughs] I am getting better at it. I am getting better at going, “Oh, fuck it. I’ve been doing it 22 years, this is the idea I’ve got, boom.” But around that, I was, what, 26 when I wrote that? Still very, very uptight.

    For the full interview, including questions about the classic Shihad track ‘Home Again’, visit Mess+Noise.

    Speaking with Jon about these tracks in September 2011 was a huge thrill for me, as I’ve long loved Shihad; my overall Last.FM charts show that I’ve listened to that band more than any other since I joined Last.FM in October 2004.

    The music video for ‘Deb’s Night Out‘ is embedded below.

  • Rolling Stone album reviews, December 2010: The Naked and Famous, Fuzz Phantoms

    Two albums reviews for the January 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

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    The Naked and Famous
    Passive Me, Aggressive You
    Somewhat Damaged/Universal

    New Zealand punks bring the dance-noize to new audience

    Owing to their fascination with Loveless-like walls of guitars and the synth-led electro-pop of Passion Pit and MGMT (circa Oracular Spectacular), this N.Z. five-piece have a foot planted firmly in both past and present. Their debut album bristles with nervous energy, like they’re itching to impress. And they do. Central to Passive Me, Aggressive You’s success is the skill with which their two main reference points are balanced: “Frayed” paints a mood of dark, distorted menace, yet it follows the album’s most optimistic jam (“Punching In A Dream”). In “Young Blood”, though, the band has conjured up one of 2010’s best singles. Alisa Xayalith delivers its self-aware opening line (“We’re only young and naïve still”) amid a storm of skittering synths and a hefty bass swoon. It’s a monster track masterfully handled, yet there’s the unshakeable sense that their best is still yet to come. Despite pursuing two disparate musical styles, The Naked and Famous embrace both, and thrive.

    Key tracks: “Young Blood”, “Punching In A Dream”, “Frayed”

    Elsewhere: An interview with singer/guitarist/producer Thom Powers for The Vine

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    Fuzz Phantoms
    Fuzz Phantoms
    Independent

    Kisschasy frontman’s garage rock side-project unveiled at last

    Best known as the lead singer and songwriter of pop band Kisschasy, Darren Cordeux has left his bandmates behind – for the time being – in favour of pairing up with his partner Tahlia Shaw under the Fuzz Phantoms moniker. Funded by 50 individual backers via online platform Kickstarter, this debut is a 12-track, 28-minute collection that flits between power pop and garage rock. Shaw is no gun on the kit, but her loose style is nicely juxtaposed by Cordeux’s considerable chops: his occasional flights of six-string fancy (best exemplified in “Met A Youngster”) are tasteful and impressive. Fans of Cordeux’s past work will find much to like here. The singer seems to have found solace in simplicity: stripped back to basics, Fuzz Phantoms sounds like two musicians (and their bassist pal) enjoying themselves. They’re unlikely to set the world alight with this release alone, but for the moment, the pair seem content – and rightfully so.

    Key tracks: “No Crime”, “Nowhere”, “Met A Youngster”

  • The Vine interview: Thom Powers of The Naked and Famous, December 2010

    An interview for The Vine with Thom Powers of New Zealand pop/rock act The Naked and Famous. Excerpt below.

    Interview – The Naked and Famous

    Throughout their long musical history, the island nation of New Zealand couldn’t lay claim to a single blog-worthy buzz band. Split Enz? Pre-internet, by a long shot. Shihad? They’ve been mining the same hard rock territory for 20-plus years, and they’re unlikely to extend their influence beyond anyone who’s not already a fan. Cut Off Your Hands? A contender, sure, but they’ve not released new music since 2008. Die! Die! Die!? Amazing band, but probably too punk-niche to be retweetable. Flight Of The Conchords? More of a comedy act than musical, I’d argue.

    Formed around the creative partnership of Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith, The Naked and Famous took their name from a Tricky song. Soon joined by electronic whiz Aaron Short and then David Beadle and Jesse Wood, The Naked and Famous’ fortunes took off with the release of ‘Young Blood’ in May 2010, much to the delight of music fans with an urge to scratch the same itch first disturbed by Passion Pit (and earlier, by MGMT’s debut). A divine slice of electro indie-pop, ‘Young Blood’ – 900,000 views and counting – is a monster single that taps right into the vein of naïve adolescence (for real: its first line is “We’re only young and naïve still”). The September-released album, Passive Me, Aggressive You, shot to #1 on the New Zealand off the back of that single and its equally addictive follow-up, ‘Punching In A Dream’. (Interestingly, first single ‘All Of This’ was released in November 2009, nearly a year before the album’s release. It failed to chart.)

    Despite their neon-glow, both singles betray the band’s true sound. Influenced by acts like Nine Inch Nails and Tool, Passive Me, Aggressive You’s non-singles exhibit more of a fascination with walls of shoegaze-like guitars and electronic sequencing than bright synth-pop. This is promising; it suggests that The Naked And Famous have a plan that extends much further than a couple of hypeworthy singles. Ahead of their appearance on the 2011 Big Day Out tour, TheVine connected with the band’s co-founder, singer, guitarist and producer, Thom Powers, to talk hype, remaining independent, and Reznor.

    I’ve seen the word ‘hipster’ getting thrown in the band’s direction a bit lately. How do you respond to that?

    Dissing us, are they?

    Sometimes it’s positive, sometimes it’s negative. The connotation of ‘hipster’ tends to shift a bit.

    I don’t know. Hipsters are always going to exist, I think, and then they move out of home and grow up I guess. [laughs] I’m not sure, I don’t know. I don’t really know what to do about it. I’m not one of them, so I can’t really relate.

    Good answer. Do you read your own press?

    Sometimes, yeah. I skim through it. I try not to take it all too seriously. But it’s really hard unless you’re some sort of Zen Buddhist to actually detach and not become emotional about things, so it’s more to protect yourself. Don’t read the good ones, and don’t read the bad ones either. I do skim through them. I take it at face value, really.

    Do you care about what people think about the band?

    It’s a weird question. Yeah, I think I do, but at the same time if all I cared about was what people thought about [us], it would be superficial. I think that’s a pretty complicated question to ask, because I would care about what people thought if they thought it was destroying the world. But if some hipster thinks that I’m not cool enough, and he wants to call me a ‘faggot’ on the Internet, then I don’t really care about that. I can’t quite answer that question because there are too many social levels to answer it on.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

    More of The Naked and Famous on their website. The music video for their song ‘Young Blood‘ is embedded below.

  • Mess+Noise album review: Surf City – ‘Kudos’, October 2010

    An album review for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Surf CityKudos

    Kudos is an anachronism. It simply shouldn’t be. It is the antithesis to modern music. While every other band is doing their best to sound like the future, New Zealanders Surf City are stuck in the past. There’s nothing futuristic about it, and yet, like a Magic Eye image, if you stare into their gaping sonic void for long enough, a conclusion reveals itself. Suddenly, it all makes sense: Surf City sound so fresh because they’re not trying to sound fresh.

    From the moment the first glassy guitar notes of ‘Crazy Rulers Of The World’ stream from the speakers, it’s clear that the six years the band have spent working toward their debut were worth it. In fact, just why Kudos succeeds so resolutely could be put down to the band’s patience. Their self-titled EP wasn’t released until 2008; likewise, nothing about Kudos feels rushed. Again, Surf City is antithetical to modern music, and the forever fast-forwarded release cycle perpetuated by tech-savvy musicians. Their social networking sites are neglected. Too busy making amazing music, I guess.

    Full review on Mess+Noise. More Surf City on MySpace.

    I wish I could embed a video or something to show you just how amazing this band is, but there’s fuck-all info about them online. You can stream the album’s best track, ‘Icy Lakes’, via Polaroids Of Androids, however. Do it.