Dan Auerbach – Run That Race (from ‘Cars 3’)

The Black Keys are the Mark Zuckerberg of pale white boy rock. They are so boring I find myself slip off into sleep as I write this. They are the famous version of every mediocre dude band in your ‘scene’ wherever you are, they are the lesser White Stripes (who at least had Meg). So what a surprise to see Dan Auerbach write a half decent pop song, which sounds like latter day Macca, or perhaps even Wings. I have never seen CARS or CARS 2 or CARS 3. I like Pixar films. I have no interest in talking cars. Hats off to Auerbach, though — a Wings song is ten times better than imitation 70s (his solo stuff) or rockist imitation 70s (‘The Black Keys’). ‘Like I finally started living for myself again’, Auerbach sings. With lyrics as unabatedly schlocky as these it’s a good thing the melody clings to cheesy riffs with all its might. B+

 

Lizard – Mermaidens

I once was playing The Chills great hit ‘I love my Leather Jacket’ at work, and this lady goes “I HATE THAT SCARFIE MUSIC”. I said, what? She said ‘I love my leather jacket’. I said, ‘Oh, The Chills’. She said “I HATED THAT SCARFIE MUSIC WHEN IT CAME OUT AND I HATE IT NOW’. I said, I think Martin Phillips is too old to be a scarfie. She reiterated she hated scarfie music. I put on Tall Dwarfs. I said, Chris Knox. How about that. She said, SCARFIE MUSIC IS NOT DINNER MUSIC. B-/C+

Melenas – Volaremos

Shaggs-esque vocals meet a pop sensibility reminiscent of The Chills. And not in the try-hard way every half-bit band in Dunedin attempts to recreate The Chills, albeit in a ‘new’ way (The Prophet Hens spring to mind). It’s a wholly joyful sensibility where the pop springs out of the joy, like a joyful jack in the box, except a joyful jack in the box playing rocknroll. When I say Shaggs-esque vocals I mean vocals seem hollowed-out somehow, like how Nico sounds hollowed out all the way. Shaggs-esque is hollowed out half the way. It feels as if this might be a Link Wray record from an alternative timeline — one where Link Wray supplants The Beatles as The Greatest Musician and everyone sports Link Wray haircuts and Link Wray jackets and your parents talk about Wraymania. In New Zealand it is cold at the moment and this record gives my icy cold heart joy. Bravo. A

Aldous Harding – Blend

Aldous Harding is nowhere near as bad as Simon Sweetman says she is. She doesn’t sound like a goat. Goats do not like folk music. ‘Blend’ is folk music at its heart – Harding can’t rid herself of plaintive guitar lines, like those that were strewn over her debut. In songs like ‘Horizon’ Harding exaggerates those folk tendencies toward something that resembles what a cave would sound like if it joined a Bob Dylan covers band with a seal and the famous singer, Seal. Folk, at its heart, is a type of theatre. Woody Guthrie is performing the part of a dust bowl Depression-era citizen. Bob Dylan is an exaggeration of those qualities to the nth degree until he suddenly decides to perform something else – country singer or Frank Sinatra or whatever. More recent folk singers — Nadia Reid, et al, peddle a version of authenticity where the singer is an omniscient entity across the whole album (consider the reverb applied to Reid’s recent outing, ‘Preservation’). So authenticity doesn’t really matter. It’s boring. But ‘Blend’ is still folkie, cold drum line or not. Harding switches between “I” and “her” effortlessly – her lyrics are so specific as to be gnomic: ‘I used to watch you from the van/it was your band’. They feel directed at one particularly person — as the audience we’re left with the husks of lyrics, the hulled shells.

I find Harding more compelling than the current crop of New Zealand folk: Reid, Kane Strang, Marlon Williams, Luckless, et al. Most folk is at pains to reassert its authenticity, to lay some WORDS on you. Lay some authentic FEELING on you. I’m relieved music in the various micro-scenes here has moved away from such sincerity. The band Ov Pain sometimes sounds like characters from a H P Lovecraft story – Tim Player’s vocals as if he were in a B movie in another reality. Harding is at ease with playing a multiplicity of characters. I’m unsure if it is always compelling — ‘Blend’ does go on a bit – it’s like the Ebert scale of rating superhero movies against superhero movies, war movies against war movies, folk singers with folk singers, and so on. B-

 

Lorde – Writer in the Dark

We’ve now had a few days to digest Melodrama. I am suspicious of overly positive reviews so close to the release of an album. “Real” critics have previews, of course. Yet everyone is looking behind their shoulders — thinking, “what if the other critics have differing opinions to me? What if I look stupid?” Everyone’s waiting to see what everyone else thinks. Which is why Stereogum’s hack piece on Katy Perry — I won’t bother linking — is reactionary journalism based on taking the sentiment of the world~. And of course, all the other critics have similar thoughts! Take this sneering headline from Vice: “Sorry Katy Perry, We’ve Seen Your “Performance Art” Before”. Oh Vice! You are killing me with you alternative hot takes! So underground! So very now!

In other words, whilst the other critics are probably very nice people by and large their writing is baseless trash. Now, Russell Brown (via facebook) might claim that metacritic cannot lie. All the critics like it! Here is your evidence metacritic lies. IT’S ALL LIES:

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.21.44 PM

GAG ME WITH NICK CAVE’S FUCKING SPOON. TWO HOURS OF SELF SERVING NAVAL GAZING?!?!!

I

Melodrama is super serious. Even when it is appropriating dance record influences (‘boom boom boom’) it feels a little po-faced, a little self-serious. Obviously the intention is quite different from a dance record — one of the most misguided claims in reviews is that it is a breakup record disguised as a dance record. That sounds pretty clever, no? It’s a great line for parties. Unknown Pleasures is more of a dance record. A dance record has some kind of inward motion which propels it forward, compels it forward. Though I am allegedly reviewing a single here, the whole of Melodrama lacks this kind of momentum. When you are dancing you feel this momentum, willed by the record, and it makes you dance. Melodrama is not a dance record.

II

In my drafts for RRR, there are twenty eight posts. I won’t publish many of them. Three of the drafts are various attempts at writing about Melodrama. Every time the conclusion is Melodrama is like, maybe a B-. The struggle is explaining myself. Writer in the Dark is perhaps the best track, Kate Bush-esque in its exploration of vocal possibilities; that chorus like a circle of English crows. And yet..

III

And yet it feels fair to compare the two. Bush is a noted influence on Lorde, both albums centre around piano ballads. I don’t mean piano ballads in terms of Randy Newman, who uses the piano as punctuation. I mean piano ballads in terms of lush indulgence of the piano itself, a celebration of the piano as instrument. Bush is a lot older. Aerial is a document of domesticity, of being set in place. Melodrama is not about domesticity. It almost seems to be about being not fixed in place, about moving, about being in motion. Bush enjoys herself. “Swishy swashy swishy swashy/get those dirty shirties clean”. As a writer Bush isn’t afraid to seem ridiculous, to play with the accruements of everyday life. Her vocal experimentation follows suit. Writer in the Dark is a lot more leaden. ‘To be a good man for someone else/sorry I was never good like you” has the same self-serious significance any young adult carries around.

IV

I don’t care about Lorde breaking up with her boyfriend and going out to party all night.

V

Ok – you say – you’re not the demographic. That’s a point. It’s a record aimed squarely at thin cis white females. If you’re not a cis white female? If you’re trans? Queer? Of colour? then the record can be hard to relate to. This is the pervading feeling that follows around Lorde/Taylor/et al when trying to engage with their work – the feeling when you enter into these spaces of white womanhood: Baby Showers, Hen’s Nights, cafes occupied entirely by thin women in Lululemon tights. It’s not such a struggle to engage with the privilege of wealth. Kanye unabashedly embraces it, rejects it, mocks it with startling clarity.

VI

The best part is the really Kate Bushian part, where Lorde crows ‘I am my mother’s child/I love you til my breathing stops/I love you til you call the cops on me’ because for once Antonoff’s chorus-wall is effective, yet also because it’s Lorde at her most intimate, unafraid to sound like the madwoman in the attic. The accruements of white womanhood are exaggerated (’til my breathing stops’, like some Bridget Jones-esque caricature) til they fall apart, stretch, move about. It takes your breath away. B

 

 

Saturday Night – The River Jesters

Maybe The River Jesters should call themselves The River JETSTARS and then at least they would have a pun going for them but The River Jesters are too serious for puns. They don’t take their music IN JEST. More like The River SERIOUESERS, amiright?

I actually came into contact with this band which sounds like a bunch of walking penises slapping guitars into one another’s ballsacks through a tweet reply to a more talented Dunedin musician, who will go unnamed:Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 5.39.21 PM

What got me was NOT ALL MEN and I cackled and cackled and cackled until I had to have another sip of my Really Really Review Wellness Tonic (TM) and then I thought, with a name like the River Jesters, they’ve got to be goofy, right? Like — at best some middle aged dudes from Tauranga making lute-based prog rock, and I can get into that. But no — Saturday Night is more inane than Friday, by no.1 pop goddess Samantha Black. At least Friday is a no-holds barred lyrical JOURNEY through Samantha Black’s own life. I mean “Gotta make my mind up, which seat can I take” is a real QUAGMIRE many of us can relate to, us car-riding citizens of the world. When the singer in The River Jesters wails out “You want me, yeah you need me” it comes off as gross masculine posturing — I dislike this type of lyrical conceit in general. It can perhaps be pulled off by Bo Didley or Nicki Minaj, but not by some young faux-70s ‘rockers’ who sing it guilelessly without a trace of irony. The guitar solos are as rote as they are dull. The whole of The River Jesters output is inane yet deprived of any joy. In the words of DEAN OF ROCK CRITICS Robert Christmas, what is this shit?

F

Swish Swish – Katy Perry ft. Nicki Minaj

It’s been aprox. 2 years since my last post, so in a last-ditch desperate attempt for relevance I’m BEING INTERVIEWED BY THE SHAKING WRECKS OF FRAGILE MASCULINITY AT ZM. Ha ha that was a Lorde joke. No, but my attempt at relevance is opening up RRR to the whole world, because it was obviously chomping at the bit to be reviewed by this discerning mind. The best thing on Katy Perry’s new album isn’t on it. It’s Swish Swish, which sounds like Blood on the Dancefloor-era MJ. Just listen to that enunciation! (‘A tig-ah‘ ‘you’re cal-u-lated’). Or: it sounds like Katy Perry trying to sound like MJ trying to sound like Trent Reznor. Both Bowie and MJ made albums influenced by wee Trent, but MJ’s are superior by far — supremely odd inflected pop with disregard for slavish devotion. Swish Swish has impeccable timing. Listen to it loud. Wait for the ‘swish’ to drop. Listen to the pristine clicks. Listen to Perry inflect “number” like the deepest cut in a sea of deep cuts (‘numb-ah!’). Listen to Nicki predictably be Nicki (though ‘silly rap beats/just give me more cheques’ is a pretty sly wink and rebuke to Nicki’s recent collaborations with every pop singer ever) (uhm) (ah). A

Bent Folk – Liar

Jesus-Christ, that really real review motherfucker is liking a track over two minutes long? Liar is a drawn out dirge, like finding yourself stuck at a family reunion for a distant branch of your family, and the reunion’s at the TAB, and the food is savouries. There’s a buildup here which feels like Prince Alone in The Studio, come to think of it, but a buildup where all the conceit of Prince Alone in the Studio is gone and all that’s left is bleak landscape. Helen O’Rourke’s drumming is best written in the credits on bandcamp — ‘atmosphere’. It’s shamanic, if shamanic wasn’t such a lazy descriptor. It’s the sound of anxiety brushing against your neck.  Liar is unforgiving to the listener. It makes you feel empty, and spare. Whyte’s vocals have the unadorned and slightly callous quality which makes me think of the late Vic Chesnutt. During the dirge, lyrics come in and out of focus (‘I seeee right thru’ youuu) whilst the guitar lines — long, metallic, plaintive — act as a foil to the drumscape (DRUMSCAPE: THE NEW CONCEPT ALBUM BY PETER GABRIEL). Last time I heard Bent Folk was at Jutland St in 2016 when Campbell Walker gleefully played their cover of Wrecking Ball in all its glory– what a return (have they ever been gone?) A

Sex Beard – Outta Nowhere

Honestly, it’s 2017. Honestly, why am I writing this, if not to savagely take-down another mediocre band? Honestly, why do people still drink sav blanc? And honestly, would I be reviewing Sex Beard if I had not seen their poster around town? The answer is: probably not!

First we need to talk about placing your entire EP on youtube, though. Listen, why not place the EP in seperate tracks on youtube? Nobody wants to listen to an entire 15 minute and 28 seconds ep in its entirety if they don’t know the band — like maybe I’ll listen to Faust as a single video on youtube, but Sexbeard are not Faust. Listen, there’s this thing called bandcamp, and you can put all your tracks on there. Or soundcloud, or whatever. I know I can click around to links in the video description but it’s hardly sane or user-friendly — I mean, do you want DA KIDZ saying “shit son, did you hear 12.58 from Fingerbang?”. JUST GET A BANDCAMP ALREADY.

Anyway: I saw a poster for Sex Beard and thought it’s probably the worst band name ever, like some weird bro-ish throwback to a forgotten rasta ska noise band or whatever. I did not go to see Sex Beard. I probably watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, tbh. I was interested enough to google them, though, and eventually find their irritatingly awkward EP on youtube. The EP is titled Fingerbang, which is also a stupid bro-ish dumb macho disease kind of name. Outta Nowhere starts with a ‘yeah! yeah!  yeah!’ like a Playstation One soundtrack straight outta 1999 — think Gran Turismo , though listening to Ash I understand why I fell for Sonic Youth as hard as I did. I’ve given up italicising things now, by the way. My grandfather was the first person I knew to buy a Playstation, and he only had two or three games for it. I would sit in his workshop and play GT, mostly for the soundtrack, and also for changing the paint colour of my car. I suck at racing games. Anyway, the sense I’m trying to convey is that Outta Nowhere has this kind of hardcore! rock and roll! real punk! kind of sense to it except I can hear the reverb on the ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah!’, the pristinely recorded ‘yeahs’, the overcareful mixing (the drums murmur around in the background, sloshing around here and there), the corny lyrics (‘step into space with a distant gaze’?*), the forceful interjection of ‘c’mon fuck yeah!’ just to assert Sexbeards Real Rock and Roll (TM) credentials.

This could all be forgiven if the corniness was carried to the nth degree. ‘Wild America’ is also corny as hell – the riff is about as menacing as spaghetti on pizza and it’s almost as if Iggy Pop is competing in a Iggy Pop cover competition at a second rate bar only notable for cheap beer and useable toilets. But it’s so dumb and ridiculous it works. Here, the vocalist’s put-on accent is about as compelling as watching Suzanne Paul plant grass-seed — the purpose of the vocal seems confused. Is it just a bleak display of machismo? The guitar riff almost works, but sometimes verges on too many chords, as if the riff is in danger of gaining a PHD. But it’s kind of good — it’s a bit like Denver the last Dinosaur. 

But whatever — the vocals are so unfortunate (dude, we’re not in America, and not in Linkin Park, either) and the whole song feels a bit too self-serious true rocknroll accession.

C+

*Sexbeard, if you’re reading this, plz feel free to correct me on the lyrics if I misheard.

Max Key – ALL THE WAY

The truth is, even if Max Key weren’t the son of a former New Zealand Prime Minister, he’d still be a weirdly vapid Kid Rock lookalike — with his gawkish nose, like a melted second rate ice sculpture, or nu-hippie headband, like a desperate high school boy covering Foo Fighters at talent night. He’d still be disliked because he’s a rich kid without the merits of other rich kids — say, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, of ‘Veep’ and ‘Seinfeld’ fame. So let’s be clear: I dislike “All the Way” because it’s manifestly terrible and only because it’s terrible. It sounds like your fourteen year old cousin Harold’s first attempts at using fruityloops or Garageband. It sounds like the work of someone who’s familiar with French label Kitsuné but has only ever drunk Coronas. It’s stodgy. It’s dull. It’s unimaginative. If Max Key weren’t Max Key nobody would care — he’d be one among the millions of Soundcloud artists who blend into an indistinguishable whole. C-