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
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.
*Sexbeard, if you’re reading this, plz feel free to correct me on the lyrics if I misheard.
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-
Well! It has been a boomer year for Really Real Review (RRR). Now I am a rich and famous New Zealand music critic and I can afford all the Lonely Hearts bralets I could ever want and all the perfumes from WORLD beauty I can spray on my stinking body. Any normal critic would write a best of at this point but I’m an idiot who can’t be bothered remembering what they last listened to because I’d rather play Mariah Carey’s Christmas album over and over and watch Glitter! or whatever the movie she made was called and maybe watch and E! true hollywood stories over and over and eat hummus on toast.
Anyway ‘Garden Burger’ is a really fucking weird sounding band. The singer sounds like Joy Division if Joy Divison had a piece of fried chicken in their collective mouths. It’s oddly compelling — you want to lean in and listen to more. It’s like an old man on the bus talking into your ear, except he’s trying to talk to his dead wife. Sonically the band sounds vaguely Yo La Tengoesque when Yo La Tengo is at their most relaxed. It’s a little too sterile — instruments are too clear and mixing is kept at a minimum giving the impression all musicians are standing in a line. I mean, they might be standing in a line. Who knows? It might be argued – SOME MIGHT SAY – that recording analog would solve this but there’s plenty of good digital albums, too. Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’ sounds like it was recorded in a closet under a blanket fort but it’s warm and compelling. It’s all about being compelling, isn’t it? Inland Empire is a great film with all these digital artefacts — when you watch it it’s not like ‘oh, this was recorded on one of those fancy RED cameras’. It’s – ‘oh, this was recorded on some digital thing and the image is flat yet compelling’. Do you know what I mean?
I mean, I don’t know what I mean, half the time.
Anyway — the deep vocals, almost lounge-singer-esque, are oddly compelling and that’s why I like this track. It’s too long though. A solid B-.
A new Greg Fleming album is often a good thing. In a country of fake folkies, Fleming is a consummate songwriter (‘Edge of the City’ was one of my favourite albums of 2012), a no-nonsense poet of Auckland’s urban sprawl. Fleming shares a refined lack of pretension with that other great under-rated New Zealand songwriter, Paul Metsers. OK: Metsers has lived in the UK for donkey’s years, but let’s forget that — the vernacular of ‘Farewell to the Gold’ is so rooted in Otago it couldn’t be anywhere else, just as Fleming’s is rooted so firmly in that curious northern city. And like Metsers, Fleming accomplishes so much with so little. Every time Fleming releases an album all this is said of course, yet it’s worth saying again — listen, I used to write for a late, great site for The Corner and then sometimes for The Wireless until Hussein probably got sick of my overwritten florid blah-de-blah reviews and also because I’m consummate at never meeting deadlines. Anyway I got a Greg Fleming CD ’cause I reviewed it (almost half a decade ago now) and sometimes it still gets played every now and again. There are not many CDs from 2012 I still play!
This might surprise some of ya’ll because my favourite music is the type that sounds like it was recorded in a closet by a herd of cats meowing at a murder of crows and Fleming most certainly does not sound like that. This is Big Budget sound. It’s been mastered and everything, probably. The vocals were probably recorded with one of those fancy thousand dollar microphones. It’s unapologetically hi-fi, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those Bob Dylan records in the 80s (‘Infidels’ etc) are hi-fi too, and sometimes godawful (at least Fleming is tasteful) but the writing is strong enough to carry it – there’s an underlying melody which works, most of the time. Fleming is occasionally hokey and occasionally a little cheesy (‘Sick of this Shit’) yet ‘Sick of this Shit’, with it’s funny little Swiftian-hooks and weird Waits-esque phrasing (ok, ok, Ribot-esque, but certainly not Rubenesque!), well, it’s sort of good! ‘Minimum wage/in a tourist town’ hits hard. Unlike The Everson’s recent travesty (see earlier) it’s a redneck sympathy song with heart.
Anyway, a note–
Bandcamp, you are great, but if I am playing a song over and over again it is not because I am some WebPirate (TM)! It’s because I listen to a song lots before I finish my review, because I do this ‘job’ properly! Ergo:
See what you did bandcamp?! HMPH.
Anyway — back to the song. ‘City’s Waking Up’ is a kind of thoughtful and laconic meander through said city. The percussion section continues throughout with this militaristic beat (the kind favoured by our Polly Jean in her most recent incarnation). Clean guitars float as if to punctuate the percussion, and Fleming waits until he is well through the song to drop the crux of the song: ‘well I believed in you/now what do I do’ which is hardly no-bell prize winning stuff yet it’s understated — it’s everyman stuff devoid of florid faux-importance. ‘I wash my face/and change my shirt’ is equally good – could even be Springsteen. Like the great country songwriters (Townes, H. Williams I, George Jones) Fleming uses the everyday as fertile material — it doesn’t need a whole lot else. That militaristic beat is pretty good too — some musicians spend years finding that.
Notes: What was once ‘the Trains’ is now ‘The Working Poor’. The drummer here is Wayne Bell, who is perhaps one of those rare drummers who plays exactly what is needed. A
OK – so the reason I am reviewing this is because ‘If it Kills Me’ came up on my twitter feed as one of those promoted tweets — the ones where twitter’s (failing) algorithm predicts what I Might Be Into. Like, for instance, right now I have Smug Man as a promoted tweet:
Well, um, fuck you, Smug Man!
Anyway Decades really sucks. The first 5 or so seconds of ‘If it Kills Me’ are really great, though. The first 5 seconds sounds sort of like ‘The Kills’, funnily enough. Or ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ or one of those melodic rock bands that seemed to grow like a good-natured fungus a few years ago (now I see ‘The Kills’ are on their baby-boomer reunion tour, how time goes by). Then something really terrible happens and vocal harmonies kick in. The engineer puts on Big Budget Production (TM) ie. compressing all fuck out of the track — getting that Big Drum Sound (TM) without an interesting drum sound to make big (the best Big Drum Sound (TM), I guess, might be Phil Collins or Kanye’s use of drums on ‘Dark Twisted Fantasy’ — interesting beats, eh). The whole production kerfuffle makes it sound like Muse. Or rather, a Muse tribute band. Or rather, a Muse tribute band at the end of your friend Susie’s wedding. I hate Muse at the best of times — I think they are the epitome of unimaginative prog rock, the Jethro Tull for a thousand million dull dude-bros doing medical degrees. So here’s how Decades can fix the track: just make the rest of the track sound like the first five seconds. And make it maybe two minutes, max. 3.24 is indulgent – Wagner this is not. C-
For a song which inhabits the hallowed halls of sympathy-for-the-devil tropes in songs (ie. the genre Randy Newman owns — ‘Rednecks’ etc) this is a remarkably inoffensive and unclever song — like recent ‘Black Mirror’ episodes it doesn’t get much beyond the surface. Musically, it’s sort of Ray Davies on a bad day. Sort of snivelling brat-pop but for people with iwatches or whatever they are called. Unsatisfying. C-
I saw the Prophet Hens about twenty years ago when John White was still in the band – this is previous to even their debut record, I think (though I’m too lazy to go and verify that) and they were OK in a jangly sort of way, and now John White (mestar, The Inkadies, etc) makes video games and the Prophet Hens do a sort of half-ok John White impression – breathy vocals sung by tiny pixies from mysterious 2D clouds. Ha ha – here I am, dismissing a band which has probably practiced a whole lot and has two albums to their name – reducing them to band-that-sounds-a-bit-like-John-White-but-less-fun. What a fucking asshole! What do critics know, anyway! Probably sitting in the Really Real Review offices scoffing on a packet of chips hoping their ass gets as big as Kim Kardashian’s. But it’s true, a little bit – ‘Popular People’ has all the elements we’ve come to expect, as pop consumers, of Dunedin-‘sound’ bullshit. The Chills do it really well. The Clean have their moments. Organs, upbeat, slightly flat singing, backing vocals, etc — that jangle. Yet ‘Popular People’ feels as if it’s trying to ape these elements too self-consciously, sounding like an overly-studious pupil’s too-accurate, strangely mechanical rendition. The organ riffs are very clever – at some points feeling like B movie horror outtakes, Vincent Price’s dreams – and the lyrics are damn clever: ’cause popular people/do popular people’. It’s the sort of lyric that you feel rather than process; it makes some kind of sound-logic. What does popular people doing people people even mean? Who cares! It makes the same kind of logic as, uh, The Fall’s “Eat yr’self fitter (what’s a computer!)”
Fun fact: Years ago, when I couldn’t write very well, Jane Pratt (as in Sassy magazine, and now cringe-worthy website for yogurt-slurping housewives ((wait that’s me)) read some of my writing and said “I like how you change your opinion halfway through!” and I haven’t changed that much. It’s not hip to do this. The website ‘Medium’ is like twitter but longer, and basically for Americans to repeat a concept over and over and feel smug about it. Here I am changing horses midstream and wondering if I like ‘Popular People’. It’s the album’s best track. I listened to the whole thing. It’s like that new Hera Lindsay Bird book – does all the right things, and at times you want to like it despite your growing cynicism and addiction to Real Housewives of Auckland – to digress, ‘Keats is dead so fuck me from behind’ is really great and funny and gives us time to pause and think about Keats’ dick, which is surely an overlooked aspect of Keats’ poetry. But! Some of the other poems are not as great and feel like re-treads of Laurie Moore and Frank O’Hara and Peter O’Toole and so on — overly studious interpretations. And that’s the issue with ‘Popular People’, too – at times it sounds good – on the first listen it does and on the 7th listen it does. And yet, at some point, it feels overly practiced – it feels like the only reason I like it is because I like other things that remind me of it. So there. B-
A few years ago Peter Weatherall lived in my town. I’d see him at the library every so often, his head down studiously, more suited to, say, Cambridge (where Weatherall studied some kind of genius degree until he realized he’d never get a Nobel prize so, um, become a beloved internet children’s singer? I’m not making any of this up – I realize part of the signature Really Real (TM) Style is prone to hyperbole but I swear it’s all true. Here is Dr. Peter Weatherall’s homepage, Kidsinglish dot com, where he greets you like an affable yet slightly aloof professor who mostly publishes in journals nobody reads. On the side of the homepage are dozens of albums, mostly intended for children. “Hello Song” has over a million views. In it Weatherall intones, in a accent which is peculiarly neutral, “Hello, how are you? I’m great! I’m fine! I’m OK!”
Most beloved internet children’s singers would’ve stopped there and carved a career out the Hello song. Not Weatherall. Here is a song on Platonic solids, best line: “we should thank Euler too, because F+V-E=2” (sung by a whole goddamn chorus of Weatheralls).
I mean. I MEAN. The man covers it all. You could conceivably have a solid understanding of all of humanity’s greatest achievements, albeit one with unconvincing brass synths and one taught by an all-seeing all-singing god, but still! If aliens were looking into ‘humans’ and kingsinglish dot com was the only thing they had as a source, they’d probably scratch their heads and go “well, at least they know f+v-e=2” and the other aliens would all shrug and go ‘that’s something’ and get back to analysing the only other bit of source material they had (I know I just said Peter Weatherall was their only source, but one of the other Aliens – Bob somebody – found another source while they were listening to the 10+ years worth of music on Kidsinglish dot com). And the other bit of source material the aliens have, aside from this, was like – maybe an episode of “I wanna Marry Harry” (the show that tricked women into thinking they were marrying that Prince Harry).
Anyway – my friend J and I used to swap Weatherall tracks and discuss him the way you discuss any other musician you have a mutual interest in. I feel here – the part where the writer talks about their personal~ experience with a musician and how they relate~ is probably the most boring bit of most memoirs/movies/etc. Like, “man, John and I were so into Bob Dylan and we’d listen to his records all night long and it was groovy, man”. So let’s skip that. The important bit I want to convey is how we both genuinely like Peter Weatherall, and not with the feigned admiration that woman you know who never gets rips in her stockings likes ‘outsider artists’ like ‘that Daniel Johnstone, ooh, I saw a documentary about him, that Daniel Johnstones’
Then Peter Weatherall moved away from town and I got a job and moved away too, for a while, and then, then! All of a sudden. All sudden-like. Peter Weatherall blessed us with a ‘serious’ album, and then another, all with stories and videos, just like Bey. In “Men in Blue” he shows us his ‘typical recording setup’ and sings with beguiling charm a chorus which becomes more sinister – ‘men in blue/we love you/we love everything you do’. Each verse becomes more pointed, the satire sharper, yet sung in the same sing-song manner with which Weatherall might sing “The Hello Song”. Weatherall wryly quips “you perform strip-searches” as innocuously as a checkout operator says “have a good day” (bonus points if you notice Weatherall is WEARING blue as his sings “Men in Blue”).
Men in blue, we love you,we love everything you do (do, do, do)/You’ve got batons, you’ve got tasers, you’ve got pepper spray/and you’ll use them on protestors that get in the way/Men in blue, we love you…
Partially the genius of “Men in Blue” is Weatherall’s reliance on the classic verse/chorus/verse formula, which is not unlike Randy Newman’s use of tinpan alley formula, or even the great, gnomic Tom Lehrer, who I’d be surprised if Weatherall was not familiar with (Lehrer did write the prototypical science song, after all). Partially it’s the vocal overdubs, which are faintly ridiculous when juxtaposed with the less ridiculous content – it feels like a out-take from The Beatles’ “White Album”, a McCartneyesque melodic object which didn’t quite make it. But that’s what’s so refreshing about Weatherall – he lacks the pretension of latter-day Beatles, he wants to show us his recording set-up, his keyboard, his soul – in another universe “Men in Blue” is probably in the top 40. A+
OK I AM BACK MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!! It has been so long! Because! I! Forgot! My! Login!
Or, NZ music criticism was dead for three months: now I am back. Thanks for holding down the fort, Sasha Free-Jones. Thanks for holding down the fort, Joan Didion. Etc.
Let’s start with Lawrence Arabia, because I go to great lengths explaining why he is not the real Lawrence of Arabia and how this can be confusing and how it’d be better if he really were the real Lawrence and not just some guy from Christchurch or wherever. Arabia sings in dulcet tones – when they are good they are very good, like Brian Wilson straining his vocal chords whilst bedridden and producing Smiley Smile. I’m a sucker for Do-Wop. And yet, something about the track bothers me – as if it’s written for National Radio. In fact, I had National Radio playing in the shower the other day, and Another Century came on. So I guess there’s some truth to my glib mean girl comments. I’ve never been a big fan of Arabia’s work. It’s too mannered, too well thought out. This is why I cry out with joy when his voice only just makes it through, when the dulcet tones contrast with trying to find something. What I mean is Death of a Ladies Man, the greatest Leonard Cohen record, is also the greatest Do-Wop record because it captures this incredible tension between Phil Spector and Cohen and the lyrics benefit from it, Paper Thin Hotel actually sounds like a paper thin hotel. Here there’s a feeling of pastiche, like he doesn’t quite mean it, a kind of wink-wink-how-clever-am-I? type deal. The line about farmers/disaster is good, though. C+