Trillion – The Perfect Frequency

It’s always different when you know somebody’s past work, isn’t it? Like – I’ll never admit ‘Down in the Groove’ is a godawful Dylan album even though it is, and Metallica fans will never admit that the only thing they ever did good was Loutellica or whatever it’s called. As a critic you put on your nice-critic voice, where you sort of look for good things to say because you don’t want to be an asshole – we do this a lot in NZ music because it’s a small town-eat-town and nobody wants to be banned from the kool kids klub. So my nice-critic-voice, the one that’s clad in fuzzy sweaters and pumpkin-spice-everything, wants to say “you can’t doubt Trillion’s sincerity, producing a Beach-Boys style track..etc”. But the mean bitch critic! inside me – perhaps clad in last season’s Zambesi and wearing a perfume made from the tears of vanquished foes and resting my feet on a stool made from Phar Lap, well, that critic wants to let ya’ll know that peace-and-love was corny enough the first time it came around, back in 1965 when Janis Joplin invented love and the world started falling to pieces as a result. Again – hints of the Beach Boys, but in the form of Brian Wilson’s latter-day efforts, which sort of lack that innate sense of play that Good Beach Boys records have. It’s as well put together as that Owl City song that came out a while back. But songs are more than being well-put together, aren’t they? They’re a mysterious stew of used bits of gum, and candy floss and sincerity isn’t enough – it comes off as cloying. Love songs are best when they’re flawed. I like Trillion’s rap. I hope he licenses this song to Toyota or something for an ad and they give him lots of money. C

Phil Parkes – Nothing in My Head

Overly optimistic Macartneyisms, which is better than Lennonisms – I mean, Pete Best is the best Beatle, innit? OK I’m kidding – after the deluge of Clean fans who wrote in calling me a baby eater I should be more straight with ya’ll – truth is I actually really like Paul and ‘Ram’ is the best solo Beatle outing, so it’s not a bad place to start, really: The Nirvanas started there and look where they got! They did OK! They had a coupla good songs! As much as a dislike overly optimistic music – ‘Happy Birthday’ being the worst of it, closely followed by ‘Wagon Wheel’, there is a good coda here. A good coda is an underestimated thing. The coda does go on a bit, though – this probably could be cut to two and a half minutes. There’s some weird fuzzy vocal processing going on, too – maybe unintentional yet disconcerting; it’s not as noticeable in the chorus. At its best it reminds of the great folkster Shane Olinski  – at its worst, when it drags, it does not. I had a good breakfast this morning – croissant with scrambled eggs and bacon and tomatoes – then I went to Farmers and looked at garlic crushers and Taylor Swift perfume and so on. I am in a good mood! My point is context is everything and if I wasn’t in a good mood I would not enjoy this – again, overly optimistic Macartneyisms: they’re not for everyone! But look – it was a good croissant. I wasn’t like, HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANT. I was like, thank you! B-

The Cavemen – School Sucks

I first encountered The Cavemen years and years ago when the seminal Moonrakers played a show with them at the Wine Cellar and The Cavemen were about 10 years old or so, or straight outta highschool anyway, maybe, and they had already been playing show after show and working damn hard like a Real Band (TM) with their noses to the grindstone and all that nonsense. They were as together as the American Ballet Company (I watched all of ‘Flesh and Bone’ in a day – the ballet metaphors will be coming thick and fast for the next while, so lace up your pointe shoes ok?). I could pick any song from the album and review it (all mercilessly around a minute and a bit – never a riff to get bored of, never an indulgent moment here). I found ‘School Sucks’ at random – though KILL THE TEACHERS is as good a mantra as any and the solo isn’t too long – it’s like a pisstake of dumb Black Sabbath wannabe solos without the bogan Ibenez guitar (I mean, Black Sabbath solos are almost unlistenable – I’ll tell you that for free). It gets frustrating attaching titles like ‘punk’ or whatever to a band – perhaps ‘garage’ is OK but largely meaningless. I’d rather think of The Cavemen as a enormously hard-working band who are terrifyingly in time with each other and make music that feels as if you have had too much caffeine and then consumed a salami sandwich and then consumed one of those litre cans of cheap Czech beer. 

Ron Gallipoli – Death pts. 1 & 2

Do you remember mumblecore? I don’t think I ever saw any ‘mumblecore’ films – was that Lena Dunham one about the tiny chairs mumblecore? I saw that. Maybe ‘Girls’ is mumblecore on a larger scale – certainly it mumbles its way through to its 10th season (‘Girls: the next generation’). I imagine Ron Gallipoli is a kind of musical practitioner of mumblecore, which probably reached its peak with Smog’s ‘Prince Alone In the Studio‘ – what do I mean by this? Who the fuck knows. Maybe I mean it meanders its way onto triumph, onto a Sam Peckinpah-esque glory the way some cream smeared over a pumpkin pie has Sam Peckinpah-esque glory. I have harped on enough about the glories of Australia’s greatest singer, Anita Lane, but the percussion here still has hints of sleaze and that elusive sense of atmosphere – kind of paranoid, stale beer, etc – it’s a triumph to make a song sound like stale beer in the first place. There’s some good words in there, too which could easily sound dull and leaden in the wrong hands. Gallipoli has the right hands. Pathos, etc. A

ILJ – Drugs are Bad/Stay in School

This is the real deal – drum machine inflicted pop where the drums seem as much a part of the song as the alternately lethargic and wry vocals. You couldn’t imagine the song any other way – the canned feeling it lends acts as a canvas for a surprisingly beautiful descent into doom, or if not doom that grim feeling you get when you know you haven’t done the dishes and have people coming over but you end up eating cereal instead and not doing the dishes anyway. Or grim when something worse than that has happened – if you can imagine something worse than not having done your dishes. Looming over the whole affair is this sense of play – not the Nintendo-kind of play, like Wii Sports or whatever. More like Sarah Mary-Chadwick smirking at us all (there’s more than a hint of Mary-Chadwick here). “You’re so cool” first begins as a benign catch-all chorus, yet it soon turns – the closest feeling I can conjurer up is being backstabbed by Regina George in high school. But more melodic. And funnier. A+

Bespin – Osiris

Critics love a doormat and this song is tailor-made for extracting epithets like ‘impressive’ from the established aficionados as easily as runny shit. Sure they practise a lot and plan out crescendos like they are mounting a campaign to take down pussycat mountain but don’t kid yourself that this is anything more than another bad imitation of glorious empty depth rather than actual sweet shucking frocknroll. If you want to know what this sounds like then think The Verve Gravity Grave/ All In The Mind – its all the hype of swirly dynamics and molten lava that sounded amazing if you were sixteen and read the NME every week in 1992. Soon you heard about Echo and the Bunnymen and graduated shortly after onto Love. This band is for early stage musical dementia patients only – don’t worry though you are quickly going to regress into a better place. Imagine also the fawning heavy space this would create in concert – the eyes closed and the swaying – the loud dynamics pulsating into swells upon swells and the crushing boredom of knowing that one climax will follow another. Its music alright – made for people looking for a little romance from a night out – a landscape painting or two – a glassy veneer looking out on a seascape which only gets more monotonous the more you stare. C-  -Matt Plunkett

Fazerdaze – Jennifer

I missed this when it came out – maybe it was because I was too busy at the annual David Bowie bridge tournament (I didn’t win, but nor did wee Davie) but it came up on the BEST SELLING part of bandcamp and the cover is pretty – so. Fazerdaze (or at least ‘Jennifer’) sound like Beach House – that breezy lemon squeezy Cali-sounding white-walls Scandi-furniture type deal. I’ll admit that when guests come over who I don’t know too well I’ll play Beach House – it makes excellent dinner music, better than Manilow at any rate. Meaning, this is pretty lovely but innocuous – like Scandinavian furniture that litters design stores with an alarming frequency – perhaps this is not a generous assessment – but like Satie (who coined the term ‘furniture music’) there’s little this track leaves you with other than a pleasant breeze as it passes by. It feels like music that you are supposed to like – it is well-produced, well-mannered, well-tempered and ticks all the right boxes (‘shoegaze’ ‘surf rock’ ‘dreamy’ ‘slight experimental tendencies’) yet never quite hits the mark. Maybe what I am saying is that music that ticks all the right boxes lacks a bit of charring or grit – some kind of astringent element. I risk sounding like a broken record but you can be too competent, y’know – those lovely arpeggiated synths are too spot on. Too much good taste can be boring, as Diana Vreeland would say. C+

Steve Abel – Sidewalk Doves

It has been a month of the big names in my tiny head – meaning I do realize Steve Abel isn’t all that and a bucket of fish and chips wrapped in a double downer, but when I was having my coming-of-age Abel’s depressing album that I’m too lazy to google the name of was the thing I listened to, alongside Dimmer and other things, played on a large pair of speakers and a Naim amplifier that (still) overheats from time to time. Ah, THE JOY OF YOUTHFUL MEMORY. I don’t think here is quite as good as the depressing Abel album – it had ‘Beautiful Fish’ on it. It’s a very pretty video, mind you. It’s a very mid-80s Lou Reed kind of song structure – “New York cityyyyyyyy” repeated over and over, some desperate attempt to conjure something – we are not sure what, exactly. Songs are like little memory-portals we vomit from out mouths and it’s palatable here, the memory-portal aspect of the chorus. Maybe I’m jaded or over songs about New York, because there are almost more songs about New York than there are about Cashel Street. Yet surely so many songs build on a storied history – Sinatra, Swift et al – they build on tradition – here Abel’s voice is very pretty and the instruments unobtrusive, but you feel “New York” could be replaced with anything. It’s a little prayer. Nothing wrong with that. Not all songs need to be ‘depressing’ or ‘deep’ or go beyond the surface, yet here we are left wondering what is Abel singing about – in his own words, a ‘super simple pop song’. Well, so is Hey There Delilah.  B