Photo credit: Alex Lovell-Smith

“VIC” is the latest single from Asta Rangu, ahead of an epic-sounding first album “ENTRTNMNT” due out at the end of May. The song is a reflection on Western society’s “fascination with celebrity, legacy and progress”.

“VIC” is the least fidgety, most poppy (in a New Wave kind of way) song Asta Rangu have released so far. It’s also their best. Sometimes with popcraft less is more, certainly in turning a hook-filled song into a sing-along classic.

Asta Rangu is the latest music creation entity of Richard Ley-Hamilton, since 2017. Prior to that he led helium-powered Dunedin surf-pop band Males, who combined their first two EPs and single on a release called “Run Run Run/ MalesMalesMales” in 2013 then followed that with an album “None The Wiser” a few years later, both of which are essential listens if you want to tune into Dunedin music in the mid-twenty-tens.

In addition to Ley-Hamilton (who also plays in Space Bats, Attack! and Bathysphere) Asta Rangu also features some heavyweights of the noisier end of contemporary Dunedin music scene with guitarist Julie Dunn (Bathysphere), drummer Josh Nicholls (Koizilla, Space Bats, Attack! Dale Kerrigan) and bassist Angus McBryde (Bye Bye Fishes).

…And while we are in Ōtautahi Christchurch, and still with Melted Ice Cream Records, here’s something completely different from Local Tourist, also released last month. “Colors” is the opening track from a quiet album of introspection called “Other Ways of Living”:

“Other Ways of Living” also features the bassist on the previously featured Best Bets album, Joe Sampson. He’s more familiar as a guitarist, cranking out sublime noise with a variety of Christchurch bands (T54, Salad Boys, etc.) and it’s as guitarist and bassist that he appears here, but in a more subdued, reflective mood.

US born songwriter Erin Umstead was living in Christchurch, New Zealand and frequenting local live music venue Darkroom where she met bassist/guitarist Joe Sampson (Salad Boys, T54) and drummer Rory Dalley (Ben Woods Group). Local Tourist formed, However, the pandemic and visa complications halted any chance of extensive touring and Umstead was forced to leave her adopted home, but not before the group recorded this album, over her last few days in New Zealand.

The album is an immersive listen. If you are familiar with the work of Wellington’s WOMB, and American Analog Set, then you will understand the power of introspection.

While we are talking about guitar pop bands apparently influenced by the likes of Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, velvet Crush, etc., here’s another storming album, this time from Rangiora/ Christchurch band Best Bets. “The Point” here from Best Bets first album “On an Unhistoric Night” is the same kind of bold opening statement of power-pop goodness that “The Concept” was on Teenage Fanclub’s “Bandwagonesque”.

Best Bets were formed by drummer/vocalist Olly Crawford Ellis and guitarist/ vocalist James Harding (both formerly of Christchurch punk band Transistors). They released an EP “Life Under the Big Top” in 2018, with James’ brother Luke and Matt Phimmavanh completing the lineup, before Joe Sampson (Salad Boys, T54) joined afterwards on bass.

Some of those punk roots from The Transistors show through here at times on the album. When that punk approach is mixed into Best Bets big brazen power pop it sometimes evokes the wild euphoric guitar-pop enthusiasm of Doublehappys, which is a good place to be.

Let’s leave the last words to Best Bets: “this is a band with day jobs. They’ve not yet had a hit. The album was made on a shoestring budget in a lock-up in Ōtautahi Christchurch. They care about writing great songs, doing it themselves, and defining their own style whether or not it’s the sound of the week, or the year, or the decade.”

Here’s a welcome guitar pop resurrection of sorts, a contemporary UK band channeling some of that magic melodic jangling power-pop associated with the likes of Big Star, The Replacements, and Teenage Fanclub et al. Ex-Vöid, formed by Joanna Gruesome singers/ guitarists Lan McArdle and Owen Williams, take those familiar precursors and add an occasional blast of hardcore punk ferocity to keep the sweetness under control. “Chemical Reaction” is from the album “Bigger Than Before” recently released on UK label Prefect Records, and also New York punk label Don Giovanni Records.

“Bigger Than Before” is jam-packed with ultra-melodic pop hooks. I was playing Teenage Fanclub’s classic early album “Bandwagonesque” earlier today before coming across Ex-Vöid. There’s something about the paired lead vocals, the harmonies, the lyrics, the fuzzy jangle and glorious songcraft here that is just as thrilling to hear today as “Bandwagonesque” was all those years ago.

Prior to this album, McArdle and Williams released two EPs as Ex-Vöid: 2018’s Ex-Vöid and 2019’s Only One. McArdle departed Joanna Gruesome in 2015 after fronting the band in its earliest years, last appearing on the group’s second album Peanut Butter. Williams was also in Grubs, and Two White Cranes along with Roxy Brennan, one of the two singers who replaced McArdle in Joanna Gruesome in 2015.

In additional to the previously mentioned former Joanna Gruesome members Ex-Vöid is completed by bassist Laurie Foster and drummer Jonny Coddington. The album is said to be recorded in just over an hour in a studio in Hackney, with minimal overdubs and no breaks, which may explain the uncorked energy here.

While we are back in the world of shoegaze… one of the best – and least known – UK shoegaze era bands is Secret Shine. They were released on their Bristol hometown independent label, Sarah Records, which was perhaps better known at the time (inaccurately) as a ‘twee pop’ label. Secret Shine are still releasing classic shoegaze pop in their distinctive style today, 30 years after they started. Here’s their track “Lost in the Middle”, another highlight of the recent essential compilation of contemporary recordings from Sarah Records associated/ derived bands called “Under the Bridge”:

The perfect pairing of the voices of Kathryn Smith (vocals and keyboards) and Jamie Gingell (bass and vocals) with the sonic miasma of guitar from Dean and Scott Purnell provides the basis for this gloriously melodic song with deliberately ambiguous lyrics, they say, as a meditation of sorts “about total absorption in, or totally letting go in, an experience.”

My introduction to Secret Shine came 30 years ago via their track “Take Me Slowly” on a another various artists compilation “Birth of the True” which was released on tiny Liverpool independent label Sugarfrost in 1992. “Take Me Slowly” from that compilation is one of the great obscure classics of early 90s shoegaze.

Secret Shine don’t just release their best music on various artists compilation albums though. As well as their first album on Sarah Records in 1993 there have been further albums released this century. A CD compilation of Secret Shine’s Sarah Records releases (two singles, the “Untouched” album and “Greater Than God” EP) called “After Years” released on US “modern shoegaze” label Clairecords in 2003 which is worth tracking down, although everything on that (and more) is available from Secret Shine on Bandcamp.

The music on the “Under The Bridge” compilation – released on Skep Wax Records, a label set up by Sarah alumni Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, Tender Trap and now The Catenary Wires) – retains all the essential elements of what made the Sarah Records catalogue so important in the 90s. As the Skep Wax website explains:

Time has moved on, but this coterie of ex-labelmates is making music that is as pure and as idealistic as ever.  Every track on Under The Bridge is a pop gem. Some are punk rock, some are indiepop, others are dreamy swirls of fuzz.  Some are gentle, some are some are full of rage, but all of them are defiantly sensitive, literate and full of DIY spirit.  The bands on this compilation are flattered, maybe, that people spend serious money bidding for 7” singles of their old songs.  But they are far more excited about the music they are creating today.

Back to NZ, where’s there’s been a flurry of new releases as summer turns to autumn downunder. One person Ōtautahi/ Chr istchurch-based shoegaze pop enigma T. G. Shand (Annemarie Duff) has just released a new song “Little Sieve” also available as a very limited edition lathe-cut single.

Compared to the preceding single “Seats” released in December – a thrilling mix of electro-clash of Curve-style crunchy drum-heavy layered guitar rock, clattering post-punk bass, Cocteau Twins-style liquid guitars and a hyper-melodic chorus of layered heavenly voices – “Little Sieve” here dials back the noise for a blissful a lighter-than-air atmospheric dream-gaze-pop song, delivered in a vocal version and in an equally wonderful instrumental version mixed with field recordings.

Ukraine underground music label Muscut has just released a fundraiser compilation Воля (Volia which in English is Freedom) with the proceeds going towards Ukraine’s defense from Putin’s murderous war madness. It’s a glorious compilation of experimental underground music, with plenty to interest fans of the more experimental hauntological field recording aspects of the likes of Broadcast, Eno, Stars of the Lid, etc. Here’s “Smspce” by Mlin Patz.

Mlin Patz a solo project of Chillera band member Polina Matskevich (electric guitar), an outlet for her experiments with sound collages, field recordings and dub sound. “Smspce” here mixes organic field recordings with submerged echo and delay guitar, creating a haunted unsettling ambient soundscape like a dark out-take from Eno’s “Music for Films”.

The compilation opens with a track from the artist featured on the previous post, Bryozone. The musician behind Bryozone, Ganna Bryzhata, is a member of the Odesa dub-surf-instrumental trio Chillera with Matskevich. Chillera also feature on the album.

From the Muscut Bandcamp page for the compilation:

On February 24th, Russia diabolically invaded Ukraine. The world is witnessing a moral catastrophe and war crimes. As a response, Muscut invited Ukrainian artists to join forces in raising funds to support those in need. 100% of the label sales are donated to the “Razom” initiative’s partners and our friends-volunteers who are fighting back the occupier in different Ukrainian cities.

If you are interested in digging even deeper into Ukraine’s music underground dive into this excellent overview from The Quietus.

On 24 February Russia invaded neighbouring independent country Ukraine, in violation of international law. Russia’s military aggression against an independent sovereign nation has included targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, in violation of international humanitarian law, causing death, and destruction, and turning life there upside down. Prior to the Russian invasion and war, Ukraine had thriving underground music scenes. Buying and sharing music from Ukraine artists and labels via Bandcamp is one small way to help the people involved in those scenes. Here’s a track from an album by Odessa/ Odesa ambient electronic artist Bryozone, called “Vavil”:

“Vavil” is from Bryozone’s “Acid Frog Day” album released in 2013. It’s experimental, ‘light industrial’, immersive ambient electronic music. This track in particular has a weirdly natural organic kind of feel, channeling maybe a little bit of the sprit of The Orb and also Can’s “Future Days”. There’s a more recent EP called “Ifrit” from 2016 on the Odessa/ Odesa ‘pluridisciplinary art project’ label system which is also well worth diving into.

Bryozone is Ganna Brizhata from the southern Ukraine coastal city of Odessa / Odesa on the Black Sea. Brizhata is also more recently the bassist in Chillera. The trio’s “Live from Odesa” recorded a year ago at a celebration for Kyiv label Muscut, is a thrilling journey through loose, trippy, dubby psychedelic surf instrumentals.

Here’s another band from Ukraine, the psychedelic rock ensemble called ME’LERON, who released their English-language album “R” in 2017. The opening track “So Dear To Me” is a psychedelic riff’n’radio-pop anthem.

So Dear To Me” here sounds somewhat adjacent at times to the music of bands like Oh Sees, Tame Impala, Dungen and Amon Düül II, with its riff-heavy psychedelic rock and sweetly melodic chorus.

However, one of the band’s stated influences is Fleetwood Mac, so the album also takes a more sun-dazed melodic rock tangent on a few tracks before the heavy psychedelics kick in again for the trippy instrumental closer “Amorousness“.

There’s also an excellent three song ME’LERON release from 2019 called “Мелимоноль” which is recommended as well.

ME’LERON are from Poltava, which is just south-west of Kharkiv, one of the Northern Ukraine cities to have suffered so much of the terrible Russian bombardment so far in this war of aggression from Russia. Poltava has a similar population to Wellington in NZ, and has a round central city ‘square’, like Dunedin’s Octagon. Here’s hoping the members of ME’LERON are safe and have a chance to resume their music “from the very heart and soul of love, peace and joy” sometime in the future when this insanity ends.

It’s Bandcamp Friday so here’s a quick hunt for music from artists based in Ukraine who could no doubt do with some assistance and moral support during the current Russian invasion.

Онтос is the opening track from a 5-song EP called Таксі Монтеск’є (Montesqie Taxi) by Монтеск’є from the western Ukraine city of Lviv.

Онтос carries the emotional weight of the music of UK post-punk band Kitchens of Distinction – hazy melancholic dreampop. Монтеск’є is multi-instrumentalist Igor Khorkavyy.