26 December 2011

Best of 2011

Alphabethead 08So the year's almost over and like every other blog out there I'm going to take a look back at some of my musical highlights from the past year.

There's been a lot of good music out there this year, so it's been tough trying to pick the ones that really stood out - apologies to any band missed off these lists.

Best of 2011

Hollywoodfun-Downstairs-07So the year's almost over and like every other blog out there I'm going to take a look back at some of my musical highlights from the past year.

There's been a lot of good music out there this year, so it's been tough trying to pick the ones that really stood out - apologies to any band missed off these lists.


Alphabethead – I’d been told for years to go and see Alphabethead and once even came close to filming him live for a DVD magazine, but it fell through.  This year I finally got to see him perform and had my mind blown by his turntable wizardry, his amazing mixing ability and his entertaining antics.  Watching him live will change the way you think about hip hop/dance music.

Beastwars – On record Beastwars have a strong sound, but live they elevate things to another level.  A Beastwars show is always an entertaining, sharp and intense experience.  Frontman Matt provides most of that intensity, with theatrics that complement the bands sludgy, doomy brand of metal.

Luger Boa – Having never paid much attention to Luger Boa before, I was impressed by their professionalism and energy in their live performance.  They knew how to get the crowd going, and energized the room.  It’s a stark contrast to bands who amble onto stage, keep the audience waiting while they get themselves sorted out, and then crank out a set of songs like they can’t wait to get off stage.  Luger Boa should be used an example to new bands as to how to put on a performance.

Shihad – Shihad are a band I tend to see at least once a year, but this year they treated us to intimate performances of Killjoy and The General Electric in full (along with a couple of older tracks as an encore, including It from their early EP Devolve).  As if that wasn’t enough, they then returned to their old high school, where the band formed 20 odd years ago, to perform alongside some of the school’s current bands.  It was a pretty cool thing to do and a great performance.

Foo Fighters – It’s kind of a cop out picking the Foo’s because I doubt they ever put on a bad show, and their shows never change – when I saw them a couple of weeks ago it wasn’t much different to when I saw them 3 years ago.  But they are the epitome of the big rock show and do it so well that I had to include them.  If you’ve never seen them before make sure you catch them at least once – their almost 3 hour sets of non-stop rock are a lot of fun.

Mountaineater – Mountaineater were another band that I’d been told for years to go and see.  This year I finally managed it.  They combine the best bits of HDU but take push the sound further than HDU ever did.  They’re also one of the loudest bands I’ve ever seen live.


It’s always difficult trying to remember what albums I’ve heard over the past 12 months, but here’s some that have stood out.

Outrun The Buffalo – I can’t get enough of Outrun The Buffalo’s EP.  It’s quirky, fun, dark, moody all wrapped up into one almost unclassifiable package.  It’s also the best example from the year of a collection of songs working together and complementing each other, with the EP flowing perfectly from song to song.

Black Tusk – Savannah, Georgia, seems to churn out sludge bands like some sort of metal factory.  Black Tusk do it better than most and their latest album Taste The Sin is a fine example of the sludge genre.

Sorceress – Ontario’s Sorceress released a demo this year, available on cassette or download only, and it features some of the hottest sounds in metal I’ve heard all year. Heavy, doomy, raw - it's awesome, and it's just a demo.

Mastodon – The Hunter was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s a departure in style for Mastodon but still features plenty of huge riffs, layers of sound and driving rhythms.  It took a while to grow on me, but it’s now one of my favourite albums.

Royce Da 5’9” – The latest album Success Is Certain has a great sound to it, never takes itself seriously and is probably the best hip hop album of the year for me.

That's it for this year.  I'll be back in 2012 with some new songs for y'all to listen to and more talk on all things music.  

16 December 2011

My Christmas gift to your ears

Here's some new tunes hot off the internet for you to listen to and maybe even buy for your loved ones for Christmas.  And there's no one I love more than myself, so I'd keep most of these for me.

3 December 2011

Maybe Rolling Stone was right?

Force-Fields-10So this week was going to be a response to a challenge, where I would name my list of greatest guitarists, following on from Rolling Stone naming Jimi Hendrix top of their list of 100 greats.

While I've got a lot of respect for Rolling Stone as a magazine, and the cultural significance, blah blah blah, I think they tend to focus too much on music that was created three or four decades ago (I've heard they have a time machine in their offices that lets them go back to the 70's to interview musicians from then and relive gigs, which is why they can keep coming up with new shit to write about for every issue).  We'll save my rant against what Rolling Stone has become, and what it could have been, for another day.

25 November 2011

Music, music everywhere

Okay, hopefully you know the deal by now.  Every second week, like this one, there'll be some new tunes that I've come across in the previous fortnight.  Alternate weeks I'll somehow transmutate my thoughts on the world of music into words for your eyes to process into electrical impulses that transmit themselves into your brain.  In a way it's just mind-reading.  Hear, that?  You can read minds.  Enough drivel, here's some music.

19 November 2011

Documenting our scene

The-Bats-16Regular readers of these ramblings will know that I spend a lot of my time out photographing gigs.  I've been doing this for about five years now, on and off, following on from a stint filming gigs for bands.

To me photographing music is more than just trying to get a pretty picture of a band I like; it's about recording and documenting the music scene.

Bands come and go frequently and as they change so does the scene.  A band might only exist in the live scene for a matter of months, playing a few gigs, or be around for a decade. Both leave their mark on the local music, through the musical ideas they created and left behind but also through the movement of musicians between bands and cities.

Having a moment of those bands captured allows us to look back and get an idea of their legacy, allows us to  remember the excitement of seeing a band live, to recapture the atmosphere of that moment.  It's another way of keeping the music alive, long after the band has disappeared.

You can check out all my music photos on Flickr, or my personal favourites on my new-ish website Light and Noise.

10 November 2011

Loud, quiet, Loud, quiet, LOUD

Okay you crazy kids, this week we're back to some bandcamp treats that I've come across in the past couple of weeks.  There's a fifty-fifty (or phiddy for you young 'uns our there) split between mellow relaxing tunes and heavy rumbling doom.  Which is basically how I categorise people, so following my logic, there should be something for everyone here.  Enjoy, and as always, drop a comment below to let me know what you think of these tracks, or tell me what new music you've come across recently.

4 November 2011

My earliest musical memories

Some of my earliest memories involve music.  My dad had a huge collection of jazz and blues on vinyl and on the weekends our house would reverberate to some of the greats jazz - Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, Woody Herman, Charlie Parker, Charlie Byrd, probably a stack of other people called Charlie too.

I had my own records too, mostly of children's music, but it was that exposure to jazz in particular that I think led to music being such a big part of my life and an interest in exploring new music, playing music, living music.

28 October 2011

Some hot new Halloween tunes for your aural pleasure

The-Shocking-and-Stunning-09Okay kids, this week I thought I'd start something different on the ol' blog and share some tracks that have been floating out there in cyberspace and, at the same time, floating my boat. There's a high probability that I'll start doing this regularly and alternating this sort of thing with my usual ramblings on the state (both sorry and inspiring) of the music world.

And before the accusations of yet another lazy post start up, I do spend a lot of time scouring through piles of music (metaphorically of course, since digital files don't come in piles) to find these tracks.

So let's see how this goes, eh?

20 October 2011

A couple of reviews

It's been a busy week/month/year, so this week I'm not going to get around to writing anything new for the blog. What you get instead is a couple of previously unpublished reviews of albums that I've really been enjoying lately.  They're two completely different and contrasting albums, so hopefully at least one will appeal to your discerning musical tastes.

Heard these albums yet?  What did you think of them? What new music have you been listening to?  Drop a comment below and let me know all about it.

12 October 2011

Could this be the end of record labels?

Lately I've been listening to a lot of music on the Bandcamp website, and every time I use it I'm amazed at how simple the idea behind it is, but at the same time, how effective it is as a tool for musicians.

Artists taking control over their music isn't new - Fat Freddy's Drop managed to make it to number one on the New Zealand charts with their independently distributed first album.  I think where Bandcamp's strength lies is in the ease in which artists can get their music out there, and the usability for music fans looking for

2 October 2011

Don't hate the media, become the media

Recently I was asked to review the latest album from Wooden Shjips.  I wrote a review based on what I heard from the album, what I personally thought of it and the impression it made on me.  I was asked to rewrite it to fit with the editorial style of the website I was writing for, which I didn't have too much of a problem with, but I thought it made an interesting point about the difference between a review and a publicity piece.

24 September 2011

I have excellent news for the world. There's no such thing as grunge.

It's the 20th anniversary today of the release of Nirvana's Nevermind and that's got me thinking about the whole "grunge" phenomenon of the 90's.  I've already been into why Nevermind was such a defining album in the 90's so I won't rehash that here.  Head over here to read that post.

I think that the way Nirvana exploded took the music industry, particularly the marketing side of it, by surprise.  Nobody expected it to happen and the prevailing trend in music at the time was definitely pop.  Suddenly, here were these punk kids making a lot of noise, selling a lot of records, and someone needed to capitalize on it.

15 September 2011

My take on the Wellington Music Showcase

Last night I attended a showcase of Wellington music; part of the Going Global summit run by Independent Music NZ, the NZ Music Commission and the Music Managers' Forum to assist bands with understanding how to be successful marketing their music overseas.  You can see sets from the show here.

The showcase was the finale to a day of talks by industry representatives from the UK and USA, including BBC radio programmers and record label reps.   The format involved 6 bands playing short sets, around 25-30 minutes each, with a (supposedly) quick changeover between bands.

It was encouraging to see so many people turn out on a school night to support local music; it can only have given the foreign attendees a positive impression of the New Zealand music scene.

7 September 2011

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

A few weeks ago I headed out to a local music venue to photograph and review and up and coming band.  It was a cold winters night, I think there was some kind of big rugby game on, and no one turned up.

31 August 2011

Here's my super group, where's yours?

There's been a fair bit of hype in recent years over "super groups", although they're not a new phenomenon at all.  A lot of the discussion is around what constitutes a super group and whether certain bands fall into the category or not - the Raconteurs state that they aren't a super group, despite having members from very successful bands; Them Crooked Vultures were definitely considered one.

27 August 2011

Last weeks listening list, for your reading pleasure

Another mixed bag of musical treats got the call up to my playlist last week.  Here's the highlights:

Miles Davis and John Coltrane, two of the jazz greats, together?  What's not to like?  Well, the sound quality on Abstract Impressions mainly.  If you can get past that then this is a pretty good introduction to both musicians, and they're in fine form here.  It's not the cutting edge Miles, that phase of experimentation started shortly after this was recorded, but if you want to hear him, and Coltrane, playing some of the songs that made them both huge names, then this should do it for you.

23 August 2011

This is the best damn party I've been to

First of all, apologies to any bands that may recognise themselves in this week's post.  My intention isn't to offend, upset or criticise, but to mention something I experienced last week; if it helps get people turning out to support live music, and bands recognising the importance of putting on a professional show then that's got to be a good thing.  Right?

Last weekend I was photographing a band called Luger Boa (you can check out those photos at Under the Radar, or the full set here).  I went along with low expectations, having seen them before and not really getting into their sound; when I left the gig I'd changed my mind about them and have been talking them up all week.

I have to admit, I'm still not a huge fan of their sound, although they've improved since I saw them a couple of years ago (I don't know what it is about the music I'm not getting; it's balls to the wall rock n' roll, and that normally does it for me).  What changed my opinion of them was their incredibly professional live performance.

Watching them, I was reminded of how important good stage presence is to a band, to the point that a band that lacks it doesn't tend to go very far or last very long.  Luger Boa knew how to work the crowd; before they even started they had someone come out and announce them with the declaration that "most people will only ever experience one truly great moment in their lives, and this is one of them".  The whole set they never stopped moving and, most importantly, they looked like they were loving every minute of it.

Contrast that with a "new band" night I went to earlier in the week.  While the music was good and the bands played well, for the most part there was little movement from the bands, not a lot of audience interaction and in one case the drummer got up as the band was starting and went to get a drink from the bar. 

The audience tends to reflect the energy and interest of the band on stage.  A band that appears disinterested in their audience and doesn't involve them tends to lose the interest of the audience.  Live bands perform because they want to play in front of an audience, if they don't treat that audience with respect, then it's likely to be reciprocated.  Conversely, put on a great show, be energetic, involve people, and even if your music still needs work you'll probably find your fan base grows quickly as people share their experiences and do the hype work for you.

Have you seen any bands that put on a great show that left you buzzing?  Or saw a band you thought were going to be great, only to find that they were a let down live because they lacked energy of presence?  Drop us a comment below telling us about it (you don't have to name the bands if you don't want to)...

20 August 2011

This week my ears have been enjoying...

Seeing there's a new Incubus album out made me want to listen to some of their older stuff, you know, from back when they were good.  Their sound after Make Yourself seemed to veer too much toward radio-friendly, middle of the road rock, and to be blunt, was pretty boring.  Make Yourself was still interesting, although still softer than the two albums before it, and still rocks now, 12 years after it was released.

16 August 2011

Where's your favourite band from?

Last week I dealt with a question on my favourite albums of all time – something that comes up now and again when people find out I write about (or just have an obsession bordering on unhealthy with) music.  

I also get asked a bit about my favourite local band.  I’m not going to go into who that band might or might not be, or if I even have one – at least not this week.  What I’d rather focus on is the fact that people ask this question in this way, or at all.  It’s never who’s you’re favourite up and coming band/s; it’s usually phrased as a local vs national or international thing – us vs them.

If a band is good and you like their music, does it really matter (should it matter) where they’re from? When I think about the bands that I really like I don’t tend to separate them out into local or international, it’s just a list.

Sure, there are bands that I prefer over others, and my all-time favourites tend to be international, but I think that’s probably more to do with the fact that if they’ve got big enough to get exposure around the world, they’ve had more experience and with that comes a more polished and professional sound.
Local bands tend to still be local bands because they don’t have that experience and therefore don’t have the exposure.  It doesn’t mean I value their music any less and I’d put them into the “up and coming” category, rather than label them as “local”.

Being local, I also get the opportunity to see them more often that some of the bigger national and international bands that I’m into; with that familiarity sometimes comes a form of apathy toward the bands- whereas, when an international band tours it’s a novelty.

So, what can we do to change this way of thinking?  If someone asks about your favourite local bands, tell them who your favourite bands are – local or not; get in the habit of thinking about local bands as up and coming bands, rather than just local.  And most of all, get out there and support bands in your town, city, area.

What do you think about the way bands are labelled?  Is it fair to treat local bands as less important than bigger bands?  If you’re in a band, how does this impact on you?  Leave a comment below…

13 August 2011

Another list of random albums that I've had a listen to this week

After listening to Chino Moreno's new side project Crosses last week I had a hankering for some Deftones.  Diamond Eyes is probably my favourite of the Deftones albums - I think they managed to get the balance between chunky, solid riffs (almost like Meshuggah in some parts) and melodic and atmpospheric sounds just right.  This is a serious collection of solid tunes and I can't get enough of it at the moment.

10 August 2011

These are, like, my all time favourite albums, as of right now, okay.

I'm sometimes asked by people to list my top albums - whether it's best ever, top 3, 5, 10 or whatever.  It seems like a pretty easy thing to do at first glance, but once you start thinking about it, it starts to get tricky.  I can usually come up with a quick list off the top of my head, without really getting into what constitutes a "top" album.  Is it albums that have stuck in my head?  Or perhaps the albums that I connect with significant moments in my life?  Or maybe the albums that introduced me to a band or a genre?

For this post I thought I'd have another go at it and come up with my top 5 albums of all time.  I've selected albums that I have distinct memories of, that had a pretty major impact on my life or musical enjoyment and experiences, and importantly, that I still listen to and enjoy now.  So in no particular order of significance...

Appetite for Destruction by Guns n' Roses.  Okay, so I went into why this album means so much to me in last weeks' post, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time going into it again - you can read all about it here.  I actually stopped listening to this for about five or six years, as I got into a real metal phase for a while, then when I snapped out of it I'd kind of moved on.  Then I had it played to me again about 10 years ago and all the reasons I love this album and what it meant to me came flooding on back.  In terms of where I am now musically, and how I got here, probably the most important album on my list.

Live at the Fillmore East by Miles Davis.  I grew up listening to a lot of jazz - my dad had a huge collection of jazz on vinyl - but when I heard this album it blew my mind.  Recorded over four nights in 1970, this showcases Miles at his best - mellow Miles, traditional Miles, Miles the innovator and experimenter.  After hearing this I went out the next day and signed up to trumpet lessons, mainly because I'd never realized the trumpet could be so cool.  It's definitely the best Miles Davis album I've heard and well before he started to get way into (too far into) electronic music. 

...And Justice For All by Metallica.  The Black album was actually the first Metallica album I remember hearing, although I might have heard some of the earlier stuff before then, but Justice is the one that stands out for me, and got me into Metallica in a big way (and the start of that metal phase I mentioned earlier).  Despite the sometimes shoddy production on it, including the (deliberate?) vandalism to the bass track, the songs are epic slabs of metal and are Metallica at their peak (the Black album is too polished and commercial for my tastes, and coincides with when the cracks started to show in the band and therefore in their music).

Straight Out Of Compton by NWA.  Before I heard this, and I did hear it a couple of years after it came out, it made me realise that hip-hop wasn't all happy Will Smith tracks and Hammer pants.  This was real music, about real situations, created by the people who lived it.  Okay, that last bit might be open to debate, but the feeling in that music, from the strong opening track, right through their diatribes against the police and... oh wait, that was pretty much the whole album, that feeling was what was missing from all the other hip hop I'd heard up until then.  I've been a fan of Ice Cube and Dr Dre ever since (until Dre's releases starting getting worse and worse anyway).

Suck On This by Primus.  Who knew bass could be the focus of a band?  Not me, until I heard Les Claypool noodling away on Primus' first release.  And who releases a live album before they've even released a studio album anyway?  Primus were never going to be a conventional band, right from the start; you could argue that Sausage, the forerunner to Primus, ensured normality was never going to be an option for them.  Their songs are ridiculous tall tales of exploits on the seas, in dark alleys and bars, and on the road, but it's the music that Primus do best.  Tim "Herb" Alexander delivers an amazing performance on the drums, including an impressive solo, and Larry LaLonde ain't too shabby either.  Frizzle Fry, the follow up and debut studio album, is one of my favourites too, but it's this album that introduced me to Primus and made me want to learn bass (see a theme developing here?).

Now, I know it's a top five list, but since I already dedicated an entire post to Appetite for Destruction, I think I'm entitled to one more pick.

Lateralus by Tool.  What's to say about this?  Amazing drumming?  Check.  Big riffs?  Check.  Wicked vocal effects?  Of course.  Solid playing, interesting compositions, fun with time signatures?  All there.  I've been on the Tool bandwagon since Undertow came out, but Lateralus represents the culmination of the Tool journey to me.  10,000 days was a bit same old, whereas with every other release before that they'd pushed the envelope (to quote from Lateralus itself) and destroyed all expectations.  Sure, the previous albums were awesome too, and Aenima got them the attention they deserved, but with Lateralus it's like they didn't care so much about winning over new fans, or getting exposure, they just went ahead and made an album that needed to be made.  And for that I thank them.

There's a few other albums that should have made this list but it was hard enough settling on five.  So to round out my top ten, we've got:
  • Reign in Blood by Slayer - best thrash metal album of all time, and has stood the test of time.
  • The Real Thing by Faith No More - funky, fast, aggressive and most of all fun.
  • Killjoy by Shihad - New Zealand's best rock band ever.  Big, loud, chunk riffs and solid playing.  Produced by Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman, so it was always going to be awesome.
  • Back In Black by AC/DC - another album of big, solid riffs.  It's a wall of sound coming down to rock your world and steal your women.  Their best album, and then they went and got into screaming solos.  Shame.
So, let's hear your top five albums... leave a comment with your list below.

6 August 2011

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blues... what I've been listening to this week

New Zealand's the New Caledonia make prog rock for robots and aliens.  Or is it alien rock by robots?  Whatever it is they're making they should keep doing it.  Lotus is an album that I like to keep coming back to because it always continues to interest and surprise me with its layers and soundscapes.  Minimal vocals mean you can really get into what the instruments are getting up to.

3 August 2011

I bought me an illusion and I put it on the wall (or, how Guns n' Roses changed my life)

As a young child I was exposed to the usual mix of children's songs (Wheels on the Bus), 80's pop hits (Locomotion) and mainstream rock (Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet was one of the first albums I can recall owning myself - on cassette of course).  There was also a lot of jazz and blues played in our house, which no doubt had some influence on my musical development; but more on that in a future post.

Then, at 8 years old, I heard Appetite for Destruction by Guns n' Roses for the first time and it completely changed the way I thought about music. 

30 July 2011

This week I've mostly been listening to..

There’s been some awesome new music out over the last week or two.  Here’s my picks of that new music…

Mastodon’s Black Tongue, the first single of their upcoming album The Hunter, is popping up all over the net as a teaser.  It’s not going to please fans of the older, heavier Mastodon sound, but if you were into their last album, and that softer, more melodic sound, then you’ll be well impressed.  They’re definitely continuing to progress and develop their sound.  Can’t wait to hear the rest of the album (out late September).

24 July 2011

We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times

Amy Winehouse’s death, apart from being tragic and a loss of a great musical talent, has exposed the hypocrisy of a mainstream media who revel in the gory details of musicians’ debauchery but pretend that they had nothing to do with the downfall; in some cases even having the nerve to speak out against those who criticise the behaviour that they by turns glorified and ridiculed.

Others have done this as well but the mainstream media is the worst perpetrator of this – showing every photo of every drunken night out, every video of supposed drug use, and every detail of every fight (usually with members of the media who don’t understand an individual’s right to privacy sometimes).

22 July 2011

You pay 10 bucks to see me, on a 15 foot high stage

SPIN magazine posed a question recently to their followers on Facebook – what bands formed after 2000 could possibly go on to sell out a stadium of 95,000 people? I think it had something to do with the size of the stadiums U2 have been playing?

There was a lot of debate on the topic, with no one really coming up with any worthwhile contenders, although plenty of older bands were named, although ineligible due to the “after 2000” caveat on the question.

And that, for some reason made me happy.

21 July 2011

Oh well, whatever, Nevermind, 20 years on.

20 years ago this year Nirvana released their sophmore album Nevermind, an album that somehow changed the course of music in the 90’s.  But why did it become such a popular, well-loved album; an album that an entire generation is able to reminisce on?

Let’s face it, it wasn’t the greatest album ever made – musically it was simplistic, Kurt could barely sing, the ideas weren’t original and the band themselves admitted as much.

Regardless of the facts, it did go on to become an album that effected a generation – from their attitudes and values (or at least confirmed those attitudes and values as legitimate), to lifestyle, to clothing.