Archives for category: Dunedin Pop Underground

Dunedin’s hyper-melodic driving fuzzed up guitar-pop maestro Richard Ley-Hamilton returns with a new asta rangu single “I Dream”:

“I Dream” is from a brand new split (digital) single by Dunedin fidgety guitar-pop band asta rangu. Guitarist/ vocalist/ songwriter Richard Ley-Hamilton has added a sonic hardener compound to the style of crafted guitar-pop he created with his previous band Males, which shares the other track on the split single – a previously unreleased song “Clear Lake” from the second Males album “None the Wiser” sessions in 2016.

The two songs side by side show the similarities and the differences in the six year gap between songs. “I Dream” by asta rangu shows how Ley-Hamilton has developed the hyper-active guitar pop he pioneered with Males and twisted it to darker, harder, more intricate and interesting shapes and shades, injecting extra layers of noise and mayhem, while still retaining the pure heart of golden pop in his songwriting.

The band line up in addition to Richard Ley-Hamilton on guitars and vocals is Julie Dunn (Bathysphere) on synths, Angus McBryde (Bye Bye Fishies) on bass and Josh Nicholls (Space Bats, Attack!, Koizilla) on drums.

Starting tonight asta rangu has embarked on an extensive NZ tour/ also including a set of songs from Males:

Wednesday 10th February – The Stomach, Palmerston North
Thursday 11th February – San Fran, Wellington
Friday 12th February – East Street Cafe, Nelson
Saturday 13th February – darkroom, Christchurch
Saturday 20th February – Dive, Dunedin
Saturday 27th February – Wine Cellar, Auckland
Saturday 6th March – Tuatara, Invercargill

Waterfalls (Anber Johnson) returns with a new single for 2021 and a show tonight at Dive in Dunedin along with crone and Death and the Maiden:

“Impressionistic” is an ever-morphing thing, beginning with sparse keyboard and vocals which give no indication of what is ahead. Soon enough the song loads up clanging percussion which adds evolving rhythmic and tonal twists and turns and a popping sequencer synth bass line.

It’s an unusual and glorious fusion of a kind of misty echoing dreampop with darker electronic dance music and looped sampled beats.

Waterfalls performs at Dive in Dunedin tonight, Saturday 16 January 2021, along with another Wellington/ Pōneke electronic duo crone and Dunedin’s electronic dream-pop post-punk electronic adventurers Death and the Maiden.

Prison Choir are a seven member band from Wellington combining a diverse range of musical backgrounds into something intriguing. “Tongue” is their first single, ahead of an EP in 2021.

Prison choir’s “Tongue” starts off sparse, breathy whispered vocals over electric guitar arpeggios, like waking up from a particularly good dream and, in that initial moment of groggy recalibration, trying to make sense of the connection between the dream world and the real world. Wellington/ Pōneke does have a strong ‘neo-folk’ scene creating odd but dreamy transcendent but unusual music (thinking WOMB in particular and the general Sonorous Circles roster), so expectations may be set in those initial moments of the song.

But by the time that trumpet blast kicks in you get a sense this is no longer going to follow the path of Wellington’s neo-folk scene. Instead the song transforms into something more akin to the the fabulous hyper-melodic multi-dimensional world of The Polyphonic Spree. It shifts gear to euphoric bustling chamber pop with instruments swirling in the clouds. It’s a little bit psychedelic – the dream spell is not entirely broken – and there is a lot going on within the song’s 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Prison Choir are Xanthe Brookes (bass, vocals, guitar), Carla Camilleri (synth, vocals), Christian Dimick (guitar, vocals), Josh Finegan (drums), Sam Curtiss (guitar), Tharushi Bowatte (trumpet), and Olivia Wilding (cello). The mercurial craft and brevity of “Tongue” serves as a very effective introduction and a tempter for the upcoming EP.

The Chills have just released a new song out of the (night of chill) blue. It’s both familiar Chills and also a bit different, bold and majestically epic.

“You’re Immortal” carries off the kind of ambitious flourishes Martin Phillipps has often strived for (thinking of the recently re-issued “Submarine Bells” and “Soft Bomb” albums released in the band’s early 1990s peak, also available via The Chills bandcamp).

The horns may be intended to convey a kind of Love “Forever Changes” baroque pop feel but it also evokes the film soundtrack music of John Barry and also Ennio Morricone when the layered choral voices come in. It all serves as glorious counterpoint embellishing a classic and instantly memorable Chills song for the ages.

As Phillipps explains: “These are unprecedented times but, as usual, the young feel invulnerable and the elders are concerned. The old people (like me) want to feel more involved but they also know that their time of influence has largely passed. So we learn from the young and admire them as they make their own mistakes yet still, hopefully, shape extraordinary history we could not have imagined.”

“Tell Me” is the second song of an ambitious 14 song double LP of lost Dunedin music by Charcoal Burners. Choosing just one song to feature was a fraught task. “Tell Me” seemed to best encapsulate in one relatively brief song all the jangling, squalling, cyclical, melodic wonder in his amalgam of 70’s rock (Neil Young & Crazy Horse especially), hardcore-post-punk-via-shoegaze (part Hüsker Dü, part Ride, part Velvet Crush), all as re-imagined from within the hyper-busy, perhaps obsessive mind of sometimes Dunedin musician Andrew Spittle.

Since 1990 Andrew Spittle – under his own name and with bands Dating Godot, Das Phaedrus, All Red Cables and now Charcoal Burners – has independently released over 40 albums of original music as well as a handful of singles and EPs titles. The earliest releases were cassettes, progressing to Compact Disc and eventually digital releases via Bandcamp.

Just to confound and confuse, this new release on gatefold double LP called “The Scottish Play”, which is attributed to Spittle’s most recent Charcoal Burners iteration, was initially released as a Dating Godot album in 2002. Spittle was the only remaining member of the band when it was recorded, Dating Godot having dissolved after the release of 4 (!) albums into the void the previous year, so I guess 18 years on he can chose whichever name he wants to release it under.

The album features a few piano based songs, and some acoustic neo-folk, but the predominant theme is overdriven guitar rock, and an unusual but successful blend of traditional guitar rock, post-punk’s hardcore and grunge sonics, appropriated drum loops, and the textured layered soundwalls and submerged vocals of shoegaze. It’s a wonderful album, full of variety, melody, and a lot of mystery and haze.

While the album title references the alternate name used by superstitious thespians for a certain Shakespeare play, this is only loosely a ‘concept album’ and any themes around obsessive ambition and regret appear to be the personal reflections of the songwriter. But, as with the play, the story (lyrics here) sometimes offer coded universal themes.

I’d heard of Dating Godot, and saw their prolific CDs in Echo Records here in Dunedin at the time. But, without hearing them, I didn’t understand where they fitted into the music I liked. So having “The Scottish Play” (re)released in the imposing and enduring format of a double LP 18 years on is a revelation, and the discovery of a seam of ‘lost’ (overlooked) Dunedin music from the past. Having never heard this, or the band, before, there’s no aura of nostalgia. The use of drum loops ‘sampled’ painstakingly from favourite albums also gives the album a curiously contemporary but timeless feel. Like that Scottish castle, this album feels haunted by ghosts.

Spittle has been called an ‘outsider’, but most independent NZ music is made by ‘outsiders’, making music beyond the commercial mainstream, following rules of their own making, or perhaps attempting imitation of, or homage to, a particular overseas style, and failing with original results. The prolific and independent Spittle has also operated outside of any particular scene or label.

Music made in Dunedin has tended to be invisible to the world – and therefore to much of NZ. There have been rare exceptions – the 1980s and early 1990s saw a scene based around the Flying Nun Records label celebrated around the world. Then, in the 1990s Bruce Russell’s Xpressway label provided a conduit to Dunedin’s yeasty underground scene, and again in the 2010s there has been a further modest interest, facilitated by the accessibility of the internet and perhaps some post-FNR/ Xpressway curiosity. But in 2002 Dunedin was all but invisible to the world, and a band outside of recognised scenes at the time would be doubly invisible, regardless releasing 4 albums in a year. Here’s an overdue chance to correct that.

Thirty eight years on from their inception in Christchurch NZ, combining The Clean bassist-turned-guitarist Robert Scott, with ex-Toy Love bassist Paul Kean, guitarist Kaye Woodward and drummer Malcolm Grant, The Bats still rock that original line-up. They’ve just released their 10th album, called “Foothills”. Here’s the closing track, the glorious “Electric Sea View”:

“Electric Sea View” is everything Bats in a song. That familiar melodic chug and jangle, those vocal harmonies, a certain kind of wistful warm homeliness, and an atmosphere of subdued psychedelia hovering in the air.

That atmosphere here (and throughout the album) is largely supplied through the subtle keyboard shadings and minimalist tone soloing from Kaye Woodward’s lead guitar. Over successive albums Woodward has refined those lead guitar lines into things of Fripp-like esoteric beauty, with their thick overdriven saturation and sustain, and tiny bit of tremolo here.

“Foothills” was recorded by the band (bassist Paul Kean) in a house in the foothills of the Southern Alps in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. As Robert Scott explains: “Many carloads arrived at the house, full of amps guitars and recording gear, we set up camp and soon made it feel like home; coloured lights, a log fire, and home cooked meals in the kitchen. We worked fast, and within a few days had all the basic backing tracks done, live together in one room, the way we like to do it – it’s all about ‘the feel’ for songs like ours.”

Tough Age on tour 2018Tough Age are from Toronto, Ontario in Canada, this song title is a reference to Melbourne, Australia band Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and bassist/vocalist Penny Clark sings “I want to be signed to Flying Nun” and “I’ve never been to New Zealand, but if you sign me I’ll go every week.” Are you confused yet?

Sure enough there’s a stereotype Flying Nun guitar jangling guitar strum energy going on here. However, on the evidence of the three tracks shared ahead of the release of the latest Tough Age album, there seems to be as much influence from US outfits The Feelies and Jonathon Richman & the Modern Lovers in that ramalama strumming, as well as the Australian band referenced in the title of this song.

Presumably the desire expressed in this song is to be signed to the mythical 1980s free-form version of the label. There’s no scruffy jangling guitar rock released on Flying Nun Records these days apart from the 80s album re-issues.

Still, this weird, confusing international link up does show how far the idea and influence of the label, or to be more accurate the idea and influence of The Clean, traveled and is still travelling. The best evidence of the influence of The Clean on Tough Age comes in this glorious standalone song “Waiting Here” released in January:

In 2014, not long before the New Musical Express (NME) withered from its physical form altogether, the UK music magazine ran a feature on Flying Nun Records called “Songs in the Kiwi of Life”  with the introduction: “Founded in the early 80’s, New Zealand’s greatest ever indie label Flying Nun Records created a magical roster of bands whose Dunedin Sound continues to exert an influence today…” 

The magazine wasn’t available in Dunedin so no-one could read what it was about. However, some local Dunedin musicians took their default opposition position on what they assumed would be an oldies yawnfest about decades old music regardless.

Sure, there was a bit of that of course in telling the story of the label, but the main angle of the feature observed the label and some of the music it released through the eyes and ears of young people creating music today, and featured UK and US musicians (from Parquet Courts, Veronica Falls etc.) explaining how the music had influenced them.

The young NME writer April Welsh already had some serious Flying Nun nerd credentials too, having previously published a fanzine tribute to the label (still available to read as an Issuu online edition here), further demonstrating the influence of that “magical roster” of Antipodean oddities on a new generation of music lovers.

So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that reverberations about the label as we hear from Toronto band Tough Age are still rippling around the musical world, and even getting conflated with Australian bands (perhaps) at the same time.

[Thanks to Bandcampsnoop for the Tough Age tip-off.]

Vanessa Worm

Vanessa Worm originated in the Dunedin underground electronic/ experimental scene that coagulated around the now defunct None Gallery performance space. A move to Melbourne and EP releases on Glasgow’s Optimo dance label followed and now there’s a first album just released, called “Vanessa 77”. Here’s “Satisfaction” from the album:

There is a highly individual non-conformist ‘punk’ element to the music and performance. “Satisfaction” is one of the more ‘regular’ tracks on the album, coming across like Kruder & Dorfmeister re-mixing mid 1970s Can fronted by a demonically-possessed Grace Jones.

To say the album is all over the place is an understatement. The opening tracks are formed on guitar before being dragged backwards towards the thump of electronic dance beats and an ominous tolling bell (send not to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee as John Donne wrote some 500 years ago).

The music has bucketloads of variety and character and Worm’s unconventional vocalising ranges from mouth-sound-effect oddness to a kind of electronic punk sneer.  I guess you could call the music “electronic” or “dance” or “industrial” or “experimental” but it’s not going to fit in any comfortable singular genre.

The music on “Vanessa 77” has more in common with boundary-pushing weirdos of the post-punk avant garde music art scene – a bit of dancefloor Throbbing Gristle malevolence here, some fried Fred Frith guitar deconstruction there. For all those reasons and more it’s gloriously, subversively great.

“Vanessa 77” is available on LP on Glasgow dance music label Optimo Music with mailorder via Boomkat.

Strathcona pl 2020 (2)

Three years on from the release of a 4 song EP strathcona pl return with another intriguing slice of reflective sub-2-minute guitar pop called “in the cities”. The first PopLib post about the first song released by strathcona pl concluded “so now we know everything, and yet we still know nothing at all.” And here we are, three years later, knowing a bit more, but somehow even less than before.

What we do know now is that “in the cities” is “a strathcona public library music group song” and, in place of the mysterious woman’s voice on the first EP, there’s a familiar Dunedin voice – Peter McCall (Fazed on a Pony) – indicating an evolving collaborative virtual music ensemble stretched across a closed down world to/from Brighton in the UK.

“in the cities” shares with its predecessors a gentle folk take on ‘indie-pop’ –  minimal-yet-complex interwoven acoustic guitar/ bass/ drums drifting in and out and the low-key layered vocals, lyrics reflecting on fading memories of life passing, a succession of past lives captured in photographs.

Hopefully this is the first song of another brace leading to a second EP of these beautiful and affecting understated folk-pop songs.

Paul Cathro

Our song for day 30 of New Zealand Music Month 2020 is the opening track “Birth” from Paul Cathro’s recent 4-track concept EP “Birth, Religion and Loneliness”:

Cathro is the bassist and in former Dunedin/ now Auckland based band Ha The Unclear, in which guitarist band principle songwriter is his brother Michael Cathro. Michael has a distinctive Kiwi voice and a lyrical imagination combining observational storytelling with absurdist surrealism.

Paul Cathro here sounds much like brother Michael, and his lyrics take a similar questioning and probing approach, examining the human condition from the somewhat unusual perspective of a newborn baby only seconds old here on “Birth”, and wondering “What if I turn out to be/ A psychopathic business junkie?” before ruefully concluding “I didn’t ask to be out”.

Cathro’s songwriting and vocals on these 4 conceptually-linked songs comes across like a Kiwi Jarvis Cocker; nerdy, awkward, anxious, overthinking, and capable of delivering some of the most skewed lyrical wonders.  The music is also like a thrillingly adventurous mix of Pulp and another UK band Squeeze. 

Unlike the Aussie guitar-pop bands who sing in unashamed ‘strine accents, here in NZ we are mostly still embarrassed about our funny ex-cents and musicians who perform as their natural Nu Zild selves. Our commercial radio stations still prefer overseas sounds and locals who re-heat generic international sounds with geo-anonymous vocals, justifying this on the basis “it’s what the public want” even though it must be hard for their listeners to know what they want – what they really, really want – if they never hear it on the radio.  We should be hearing these songs on the radio, and celebrating who we are. 

NZMM 2020