Prophet Hens Come In Through The Back Door

August 17, 2016 at 8:31 pm | Posted in Albums, Music, New Zealand | Leave a comment
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The Prophet Hens‘ Popular People Do Popular People was a near perfect first record. It was immediate and inviting. You heard it once and stashed it in your favorites bin along with the Chills, the Clean and the Bats. So what do you do after releasing a brilliant first album and how do you avoid the notorious sophomore slump for record number two?

Perhaps you intentionally rethink your brilliance into something slightly different. Or perhaps you roll with changes that life throws at your band. Get a new rhythm section and give Penelope Esplin a greater roll in the vocals department, let loose a little and embrace a less delicate approach to you general sound.

It may not be as as immediate and it wasn’t for me at first, but as it percolates it begins to surpass what you thought at first was unsurpassable. The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys leaves bedroom and sheds the moodiness of the first record, and embraces more driving rhythms sometimes even bleeding into motorik territory (see closer Modal). I’m not sure if it’s a better record than the debut, but it’s more confident and fun and certainly it’s no slump!

The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys is out now on Fishrider Records.

Trick Mammoth Digging Up Good Stuff

February 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Posted in Archaeology, indiepop, Music, New Zealand | 1 Comment
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Earlier this week construction workers were digging a big hole for a new building in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle and discovered the eight foot tusk of a 2,000 to 60,000  thousand year old mammoth. The giant tusk was excavated and is now safely at the Burke Museum here in town, but many questions are still left unanswered. What was this creature doing in Seattle 50,000 years ago? What was the music scene like? Was there any indiepop? Is the tusk real, or was it perhaps, a trick mammoth?

I don’t know if there have been any recent mammoth bone discoveries in New Zealand, but they’ve got a pretty good Trick Mammoth down there. From Dunedin and certainly not prehistoric this trio sounds like they know their  history. Taking inspiration from the Bats, Pastels, Beat Happening and Heavenly these indiepop archaeologists piece it together quite nicely. Their debut album just out on Fishrider in New Zealand and Occultation in the UK is full of dainty delights that brush away the dirt. I especially like the way vocalists Adrian Ng and Mille Lovelock blend together like butterfly wings fossilized in ancient sediments. This records is a beauty that is well worth preserving.

You can stream the record at Trick Mammoth’s bandcamp page.

stream: Trick Mammoth – Week End (from Floristry out on Fishrider)

Be a Male

November 15, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Music, New Zealand, Powerpop | 2 Comments
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Power pop ain’t exactly a path to riches and fame. There are hundreds of powerpop bands littering the footnotes of rock history. So when I hear a band described as powerepop I fear for their future. So for their sake let’s not call Males powerpop. How about helium powered pop?

Males being a band of males from Dunedin, New Zealand. Because of this mere fact you might be expecting me to be spouting off comparisons to a myriad of Flying Nun bands, but you would be wrong, at least in this case. Their hyper active pop songs remind me more of the Wannadies, Blow Pops, Tommy Keene and a little bit of Let’s Active. Based on that kind of lineage it’s fairly obvious that pop hooks come at you a quick pace and they don’t let up.  Their nine song record is packed full of  two minute pop candies that fly by so fast that you barely have time to go through addiction or the subsequent withdrawal. My main complaint is that it’s over too fast. Maybe one more verse on a couple songs would help it stick to your ribs better. As it is, I keep it on repeat and listen to it twice instead of once to get a longer lasting effect. 

Fishrider Records also of Dunedin, who you may remember put out the excellent Prophet Hens record earlier this year, have just released the record on CD, vinyl and digital. You could call it an album if this your introduction to them. Other trainspotters will note that it actually compiles a previous EP, a single that never came out on Manic Pop and fresh set of songs not heard before. In any case the nine songs are now available in one convenient package. Now if I could just figure out what the singer is singing on the chorus of So High. It sounds like “I’ve been getting academic ulcers.” If that is the case, it’s perfect study music for those all-nighters.

stream: Males – So High (from Run Run Run​/​MalesMalesMales on Fishrider Records)

The Eversons Get Better

May 24, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Kiwi-rock, Music, New Zealand | 2 Comments
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What if Weezer were from New Zealand? The obvious answer is that probably nobody would have ever heard of them. Well, you people would have, because you guys are erudite pop aficionados. The Eversons are from New Zealand, so they’re working with one hand tied behind their back, but they’re taking the bull by the horns and moving to Melbourne, Australia. Not really, though they allude to it in their song Heading Overseas.

I’ll admit it, I was never much of a Weezer fan, so I’m going on hearing only a handful of their songs and the fact that the Eversons themselves tagged their bandcamp page with that band. The Eversons excel in writing songs containing call and response lyrics with a mean sense of humor. Comedians often talk about their jokes being rooted in sadness, depression and truth and if that is to be believed, then the Eversons seem to mining their own discontent. These songs on the surface seem to be off the cuff funny, but on closer listen the songs give way to vitriol. That’s what makes their debut album Summer Feeling sustain, the humor kind of gets your attention, but the underlying malcontent and frustration keep you coming back. That and the fact that these guys can write a pop song.

Yeah, there’s the afore mentioned Buddy Holly worshippers, but the Eversons also look to the Kinks and Blur in the way they architect their songs around the ordinary guy. They’re lucky to have two songwriters, which provides some diversity to the music. Some songs have an off-kilter weirdness of the Moles and others are more direct with their big clean riffs bringing to mind the Wannadies. The Eversons’ EP  from last year was promising, and the New Zealand band fully deliver on that promise with this LP. Maybe they’ll move to Melbourne and make it big.

mp3: The Eversons – Heading Overseas (from Summer Feeling available from Lil’ Chief)

Stream the entire record: Bandcamp


Do the Mash Potato on the Gravy Rainbow

April 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Posted in mp3, Music, New Zealand | Leave a comment
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You smoke pot and you’re sleeping in, mid-afternoon with your friends down in parliment…
You want to be a writer, but you’re not very good…
You went on a tour with a band. I had kids I’m a family man…
You fill your house with the records you own. That sounds kinda sad…

Lil’ Chief Records, the lil’ label down in New Zealand that brought us Ruby Suns, Reduction Agents, Brunettes, Voom and Lawrence Arabia among others have just release the first EP from Wellingon’s the Eversons. They are four guys that sound like they know their native pop history and cleanly sprinkle it with chunks of pavement. In addition to their impeccable pop hooks, they’ve got a sense of humor that is reminiscent of the Pooh Sticks and Art Brut. What’s not to like especially if your an awkward kid with a sensitive side and a strange trainspotter sense of humor?

mp3: The Eversons – Gravy Rainbow

mp3: The Eversons – I’m a Conservative

Make sure you head over to the Lil’ Chief Bandcamp page to get The Eversons EP.

Clean Surfers

October 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm | Posted in Kiwi-rock, mp3, Music, New Zealand | 2 Comments
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Surf Friends are from Auckland, New Zealand. I don’t know how they met, but based on their name and their sound I would guess it was over some conversation that they struck up about fellow New Zealanders the Clean at some point break while waiting for the next set to come in. They’ve put out a slew of singles on Power Tool Records down south and now they have decided to put out a long player which they’re calling Confusion. It rolls with some Krautrock grooves, jangles in a few places and Velvet Underground riffs abound. Derivative you ask?  Yes, but it looks to all the right places.

mp3: Surf Friends – You’re On My Mind

Stream and/or buy a download of the album at Bandcamp.
Buy a hard copy of the album from Power Tool Records.

Chanting with Lawrence Arabia

January 13, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Posted in mp3, Music, New Zealand, Psychedelic Pop | 1 Comment
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Chant Darling came out last year down in New Zealand, and when it came out I made a mental note to pick it up, but that note got lost in some dusty corner of my skull.  Thanks to Bella Union for the second reminder note which amounts to their issuing Lawrence Arabia‘s second album Chant Darling in the UK.  Lawrence Arabia is the nom de plume of Jason Milne who has had his hand in many kiwi productions, most of them associated with the fine Lil Chief record label.  Besides his own previous Lawrence Arabia album, Milne played with Ryan McPhun in McPhun’s Ruby Suns, and teamed up with McPhun again in the one-off Reduction Agents album.  He’s also played with the Brunnettes and toured with Okkervile River and Feist.

Last year Milne struck out on his own in a couple of ways.  He put Chant Darling out on his own Honorary Bedouin label and he packed up and left New Zealand for the UK.    The self-title debut was too synth-heavy and fell little bit flat.  No such problem with the new record, Chant Darling is a major step forward.  It is a much more practiced and thought out affair.  Milne kind of sounds (and looks)  like a young Harry Nilsson meeting Louis Philippe for the first time and arranges his songs using the Brian Wilson by way of Fleetwood Mac school of pop.  There are little effects like the gasp in the song Eye A and the submarine-like bass throughout the record begging you to listen to it on a big hi-fi.  Milne’s time as journeyman musician has payed off, enabling him to incorporate influences from his previous bands like the Ruby Suns in the world music flavor of Auckland CBD Part 2, or the Reduction Agents in the country tinged I’ve Smoked Too Much.  If you are a fan of psychedelic pop this record is a sure thing and a fine addition to the likes of the Crayon Fields, Brown Recluse and the Afternoon Naps.  Bring on the new worldwide Elephant Six Collective!

mp3: Lawrence Arabia – Apple Pie Bed (from Chant Darling)

mp3: Reduction Agents – 80’s Celebration (from The Dance Reduction Agents)

mp3: Lawrence Arabia – Half the Right Size (from the self-titled debut)

The Clean Revival

June 4, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Posted in Flying Nun, mp3, Music, New Zealand, Seminal Bands | 6 Comments

definition of a seminal band

It’s been quite a couple days for fans of the Clean. The seminal New Zealand band announced that they will be releasing a new record called Mister Pop on Merge in September and a few US tour dates have started to trickle out. This is the first album of new songs since 2001’s Getaway. The Clean have always operated in a sporadic way, breaking up, reforming, going off to do their own thing and then getting back together out of the blue to put out another album out. They started way back in 1978 and were the impetus for Roger Shepherd starting the Flying Nun label. The band released some singles and eps and then broke up with the Kilgour brothers forming the Great Unwashed and Robert Scott starting his own band the Bats. The band reformed in the late 80’s for some gigs in the UK and only then decided to release their first album Vehicle on Rough Trade in 1990. After that flurry of activity, the band went on another hiatus only to reform again in 1994 and release another album entitled Modern Rock. Unknown Country followed in 96 and then Getaway in 2001, all the while David Kilgour put out solo albums, his brother Hamish made records as Bailter Space and the Mad Scene, and Robert Scott kept busy with the Bats and the Magick Heads.

These days, It seems like every other new band that I like is directly or indirectly influenced by the Clean. Bands like Real Estate, the Ganglians, Surf City, Eat Skull, Crystal Stilts, Jay Retard and a half dozen others that escape me right now can all trace their influences back to this seminal New Zealand band. Being influenced by the Clean is nothing new, just ask Yo La Tengo and Pavement. So it seems like the perfect time to reform for another album, with the band reverently looked upon as kind of the godfathers of a new golden age of DIY garage rock here in the States. The other day I half jokingly said that I hoped that the Clean would see fit to make out to Seattle on a long overdue US tour. This morning my wish was granted when I found out the band would be doing a gig here in September at Chop Suey (19 September to be precise). I don’t think that they’ve actually toured the US since 1990 to promote the Vehicle album. The band played a handful of shows a couple years ago at the Cake Shop in New York, but that’s been about it for Clean fans.  The wait is finally over.

mp3: The Clean – In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul (from Mr. Pop)

Here are a few more songs from the Clean.  Most of, if not all can be obtained by purchasing the Anthology double CD from Merge.

mp3: The Clean – Tally Ho!

mp3: The Clean – Beatnik

mp3: The Clean – Point That Thing Somewhere Else

mp3: The Clean – Draw(In)G To A (W)Hole (from Vehicle)

mp3: The Clean – Do Your Thing (from Modern Rock)

mp3: The Clean – Late Last Night (from Dark Beloved Cloud 7 inch)

mp3: The Clean – Happy Lil Fella (from Unknown Country)

Catching Up: Minisnap

November 17, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Indie, Jangle, Kiwi-rock, Magic Marker, mp3, Music, New Zealand | 2 Comments
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Minisnap’s appropriately titled Bounce Around album is another one of those records that has been neglected on these pages this year, but certainly not on my stereo.  I meant to write about it in March when I bought it from Rough Trade, but again I profess a lack of time and my slow writing skills as pathetic excuses.  Back in March and even now I couldn’t believe that Kaye Woodward had been holding back so many great songs over the years. Especially when you consider that during the 10 year break that the Bats took from 1995 to 2005.  I figured, like everyone else, that we would never hear from her or the Bats again.  I guess I should back up a bit for those of you wondering what I’m rambling on about.  Minisnap is essentially the Bats without Robert Scott, and replacing him with Marcus Winstanley on guitar.  The Bats are considered by many, myself included, a seminal New Zealand band that put out many great records on Flying Nun beginning in the late 80’s on into the mid 90’s.  Bat’s front man Robert Scott was also in the Clean, the band that really put the New Zealand indie scene on the map so many years ago.  So the Bats without Scott may seem like a non-starter, but as you hear the first notes of New Broom you realize that Robert Scott is actually only one fourth of the Bats.

In the Bats, Kaye Woodward sang lots of harmonies and maybe lead on an occasional song, but it was always Scott that seemed to be leading the charge.  This is not the case with Minisnap, Woodward has written 12 songs that easily rival anything in the Bats catalog.  The band employ that trademark jangle that was so familiar on the classic early Bats albums like Daddy’s Highway, Law of Things and Fear of God and which they seemed to so easily resurrect on 2005’s comeback At the National Grid.

Minisnap, though sounding like a Scott-less Bats, do stretch out in different directions.  For starters, Woodward casts a more upbeat sunnier disposition with her bright voice, and the band come across a bit more laid back using brushes on the drums and even employing a ukulele-like charango on opener New Broom.  But don’t let me kid you, if you like the Bats, Minisnap will do quite nicely.  Not to worry either if you thought this marked the end of the Bats, they are just about to release a new album next month.  For those of you not as impatient as me, Portland’s Magic Marker has put out Minisnap’s Bounce Around in the US, so you can order it directly from them for a much more reasonable price than I paid, and they’ll probably even through in a badge for you in the process.

And if one Minisnap album isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck because Cloudberry has just released a new Minisnap 7″ with two brand new songs.  Whew!  How’s that for a dose of New Zealand jangle!?

mp3: Minisnap – New Broom (buy the album Bounce Around)

mp3: Minisnap – Crooked Mile (also from Bounce Around)

mp3: Minisnap – Whistler (from the Cloudberry 7″)

Ruby Colored Glasses

April 2, 2008 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Chop Suey, Gigs, Live Music, New Zealand, Seattle | 2 Comments

Ruby Suns at Chop Suey, Seattle | 1 April 2008
Ruby Dear

There are some bands that have to be seen live to be truly appreciated, their recorded output just never quite measures up to what they produce live. Then there are bands that seem to create magic in the studio, but have trouble recreating that magic live. The Ruby Suns (formerly known as Ryan McPhun and the Ruby Suns) unfortunately fall into that latter category. I was really looking forward to seeing them live, their first album made my 2006 best of list , and their new album is even better. Sea Lion expands on the the trippy Beach Boys thing and adds in some world music and 80’s synth band influences to catchy effect.

Live though it just wasn’t happening. Having only three people to replicate the menagerie of sound was a real disadvantage. McPhun manically jumped from drum to guitar to keyboard, to looped drum pad and back again throughout the set, and it made me tired just watching him. He had two women assisting on bass, keyboards, flute, etc., but he really needed at least one additional person for guitar and maybe another for drums. I doubt it would have recreated the symphonies from the record, but add two more players and simplify the arrangements and it would have been a much better show. They weren’t terrible, Amee Robinson’s There Are Birds was nice and Oh, Mojave came close to capturing a good vibe. Just don’t go expecting to hear anything close to what is on the record.

mp3: The Ruby Suns – There Are Birds (buy Sea Lion)

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