Archives for posts with tag: Astro Children

The idea with PopLib blog was to exclude all the stuff released on Fishrider Records and draw your attention to other unheard goodness, mostly hidden away on Bandcamp. The main focus of PopLib has been on uncovering NZ underground pop sounds, with occasional excursions over the Tasman and around the world.

The next Fishrider Records release creates a dilemma for the self-imposed ‘nothing from Fishrider’ rules here though. It’s a compilation of 13 songs and only 5 are Fishrider-released artists. Almost all the others have featured here on PopLib in the past year.

The compilation is called T E M P O R A R Y, in reference to the transient nature of young musicians, bands and the music scene here in Dunedin in general. It is an extension of what PopLib is about – drawing attention to the stuff you may never know exists. It even comes with a ‘zine (actually a pretty classy words music, writing & art magazine) to help immerse you even more and to kickstart your discovery of each band included.

It’s out in early September here in NZ, has a US co-release on Ba Da Bing! Records and will be also available in the UK with the assistance of Occultation Recordings. You can pre-order it now in a variety of formats at ridiculous pre-order prices from Fishrider’s Bandcamp here. As well as an immediate download you’ll also get into the release shows at Chick’s Hotel on 5th & 6th September (if you are in Dunedin).

As you’ll see if you visit the page there’s only two tracks available to stream at the moment – “All Over The World” by The Prophet Hens and Winded” by Kane Strang .

Another 7 can be found on the Bandcamp pages of the bands. As a quick guide just for the loyal readers of PopLib, here’s a shortcut to some more of what’s what on the compilation. So have a look around, discover more from the ones you like the most… but if you like some of them and want to hear them on vinyl & read about them in print, grab that compilation LP & ‘zine while it lasts.

Side One:
1 Mavis Gary – Dim the Droog

2 Death & The Maiden – Flowers for the Blind

3 The Prophet Hens – All Over The World

4 Males – Dead Aware

5. Mr Biscuits – My Plums Are Ripe

6. Opposite Sex – Supermarket

7. Strange Harvest – Amnesia

Side Two:
1 The Shifting Sands – All The Stars

2 Astro Children – Gaze

3 Kane Strang – Winded

4 Bad Sav – Buy Something New

5 Scattered Brains of the Lovely Union – Party To Your Om

6 Trick Mammoth – Home Video

Astro Children ('Proteus' sleeve, photo by Sam Valentine)

Astro Children (‘Proteus’ sleeve, photo by Sam Valentine)

Day 25 of the song-a-day-May NZ Music Month madness is ‘Jamie Knows’ by Astro Children.

In case you are new around here it has been my custom this year to play Astro Children’s brilliant ‘Proteus’ album loud on Sundays. I’ve also been posting a song from Astro Children every Sunday during May too.

‘Jamie Knows’ is the earliest of the ‘singles’ preceding ‘Proteus’. It is from the gentler side of Astro Children. Astro Children do menacing belligerence (check ‘Shoe’ and ‘Nora Barnacle’) just as well. This song is always a bundle of questions for me (like most Astro Children songs). Who is Jamie? What does he or she know? “Fall, will you help me fall?”… lyrics here don’t really provide any answers or even much by way of clues. Which is perfect. If the questions the song raises were resolved it may diminish its mystery and therefore its hold, its power.

The other aspects of the song are the way the chorus and delay effects, plus a slightly out of tune guitar, give a lush 12 string guitar effect. Doing stuff that is ‘wrong’ but actually ends up right, perfect. And the pounding drumming also reminds this is not what we might otherwise think this song should be – Astro Children do not follow any particular style conventions. The unconventional nature of all of ‘Proteus’ is what keeps it distinct and interesting again and again. Conventions, rules, standards etc. can all stifle creativity. Astro Children show it’s OK to be what/ who you are.

‘Proteus’ is available from Muzai Records here.

Astro Children, Kings Arms, AKL - photo by Ben Howe

Astro Children, Kings Arms, AKL – photo by Ben Howe

Excuse me for repeating myself here but Sunday tradition round these parts involves me frightening the cat & the neighbours by playing Dunedin ‘shoeglaze’ space-punks Astro Children’s ‘Proteus’ album thrillingly loud.

So day 18 of the song-a-day-May NZ Music Month madness is ‘Shoe’ – a face-meltingly visceral two minutes thirteen seconds of fury from Astro Children. Strap yourselves in:

‘Shoe’ has long been a live favourite from Astro Children’s set. Isaac Hickey’s drumming here is the perfect bludgeoning beat willing it on; each piston-stroke compressing the volatile gasses of belligerent retributive anger, causing combustion.

And, as if the temperature isn’t already at a critical enough level here, the moment at 1:06 when the extra explosion of overdriven guitar kicks in is sublime.

This is rock and roll and punk rock at it’s primal scream elemental best; fury & rage channelled into a beat-rocking blast of propulsive plasma – a solar flare from an exploding sun.

I am now metaphorically exhausted… just listen to the song loud & see what you think. Oh & get the album too please… it’s on a lovely limited edition CD from Muzai Records.

Astro Children at the Kings Arms in Auckland, December 2013. Photo by Ben Howe from

Astro Children at the Kings Arms in Auckland, December 2013. Photo by Ben Howe from

Millie of Astro Children plays 'The Really Loud One' at The Crown Hotel 2012. Photo by Roger Grauwmeijer

Millie of Astro Children plays ‘The Really Loud One’ at The Crown Hotel 2012. Photo by Roger Grauwmeijer

As you will know by now, Sunday tradition is for Astro Children ‘Proteus’ album to be played loud (I have the house to myself for a few hours and it’s fun loud).

But today here’s an instrumental interlude called ‘The Really Loud One’ from the first Astro Children EP which was called ‘Lick My Spaceship’ and released on a limited CDR by The Attic in 2012.

It’s a bit of an Astro Children tradition for songs to have explanatory titles. ‘The Really Loud One’ is, in places, fairly noisy. But it also has quiet bits and ebbs & flows. To enjoy it fully though you have to imagine, at about 1 minute 50 seconds, Millie falling to the floor & writhing around on her back while playing, with her head inside Isaac’s bass drum as the rest of the song works itself out.

It sounds better & better the louder you play it. There’s another Dunedin music tradition to the jangling guitar one, involving massive distorted noise sculptures. It started arguably with Snapper and continued through High Dependency Unit (HDU). The teen rebellion music created by Astro Children on ‘Lick My Spaceship’ unknowingly combined their own re-filtered variation on elements of two traditions in their own non-traditional ‘space-gaze’ style. A style since expanded upon brilliantly in their latest release ‘Proteus’.

Astro Children EP art by Robbie Motion

Astro Children EP art by Robbie Motion

Astro Children at the Kings Arms in Auckland, December 2013. Photo by Ben Howe from

Astro Children at the Kings Arms in Auckland, December 2013. Photo by Ben Howe from

Day 4 of this month of NZ music madness is a Sunday. On Sundays it is traditional for me to play Astro Children’s ‘Proteus’ album loudly for the sheer thrill of it.

‘Eden’ stands out as a perfect calling card for the band and the album. It’s pop and punk, gentle and violent, there’s melodic singing and a bit of yelling, it speeds up and it slows down. It combines all the elements I love about Astro Children – it’s theatrical, funny, sweet and strident, rough, dark and smart. I adore it.

Astro Children’s Proteus’ was released last November on adventurous Auckland label Muzai Records (also home of yesterday’s doomgaze stars Young Hellions) and has just been made available in stores in a very attractive limited edition CD package.

Let’s head out of Dunedin (everyone eventually does…) and check the underworld of Auckland’s western suburbs for signs of underground pop.

Young Hellions (black magic descendants of Bengal Lights and Cat Venom) is/are the best thing to come out of Auckland since [insert name of favourite underground Auckland band here].

‘Page Seventeen’ here has all the dark energy of a doomgaze band (if that’s not already a thing, I’m inventing it right now) fronted by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.

You’ll find Young Hellions’ splendid self-titled debut EP previewed and a link to purchase here. It’s on Muzai Records – long-time champion of the Auckland underground (and Dunedin – they are the label the mighty Astro Children are on).

Hopefully we will see Young Hellions play in Dunedin this year. Lucky Auckland subterraneans have their chance at the Last Exit to Muzai celebration on 17 May at Wine Cellar. Tickets are only $10 and available here.

'Proteus' by Astro Children

‘Proteus’ by Astro Children

This is not a best of 2013 list, just the albums I played and enjoyed the most in 2013. As is the custom in such lists I have ranked these in order which more or less means the closer to 1 they are the more I played and enjoyed them. Simple…

There is no science in this. Nor is there any particular claim to artistic merit, but feel free to read whatever you want into the rankings (and omissions) – it’s more fun that way!

(If I’ve written something here about the album during the year there will be a link to that.)

So… PopLib’s Top 10 Favourite Albums of 2013 were:

10 – Inside a Replica City – Strange Harvest (self-released)
9 – Pearl Mystic by Hookworms (Gringo Records)
8 – A Pebble & A Paper Crane by Kane Strang (self-released)
7 – Plumes by Ginnels (Tenorio Cotobade)
6 – Tumult in Clouds by Ela Orleans (Clandestine)
5 – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas by Courtney Barnett (Milk!)
4 – Slow Summits by The Pastels (Domino)
3 – Waiting for Something to Happen by Veronica Falls (Slumberland/ Bella Union)
2 – II by Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Jagjaguwar)
1 – Proteus by Astro Children (Muzai Records)

Astro Children at the Kings Arms in Auckland, December 2013. Photo by Ben Howe from

Astro Children at the Kings Arms in Auckland, December 2013. Photo by Ben Howe from

[I think ‘Tumult in Clouds’ by Ela Orleans was first released in 2012. I heard it mid 2013 and it is set for re-issue in 2014 (the original Clandestine pressing sold out). For the purpose of this list I’m treating this timeless double LP classic as a 2013 release.]

Other contenders – Calendar Days by Dick Diver, Any Port in a Storm by Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Tussle by Day Ravies, The Man who Died in his Boat by Grouper, Floating Coffin by Thee Oh Sees, The Flower Lane by Ducktails, Victoria & Jacob by Victoria & Jacob, The Argument by Grant Hart.

The only reasons these albums didn’t burst into the Top 10 are (1) The Top 10 is only 10 and it is already full and (2) I haven’t had as much time to listen to these yet as the others so they are ‘less played’ so far (but not necessarily less enjoyed when they were played).

The album by Victoria & Jacob arrived just before Christmas (from the wonderful Where It’s At Is Where You Are (WIAIWYA) label in the UK). It’s a cracker. If you want to like CHVRCHES but just can’t get past the sugary sheen of their electro-pop or the gratuitous use of “V” in their name, then I recommend the Victoria & Jacob album as a much better exploration of that genre. It’s electronic pop, with beautiful vocals and big beats. But it’s also a bit darker, heavier and somehow dreamier than CHVRCHES & much more satisfying as a result. There’s a slight reminder of early Cocteau Twins and an even bigger reminder of 90s Scottish electro-dreampop outfit One Dove (both favourites here) and I have enjoyed the Victoria & Jacob album a lot in the short time I’ve been playing it.

Here are PopLib’s Top 10 songs for 2013.
Most of these have been featured here during the year, but a few have not. And, yes, all but one are from NZ artists. My PopLib ears have been tuned locally most of the year.
I will add my Top 10 albums later in the month – you can expect a few more international releases there. But not too many more.

1. “Eden” by Astro Children.
My favourite music this year has been from Astro Children. Millie & Isaac were 19 when they recorded their album “Proteus” earlier this year (following up their Mini-album debut “Lick My Spaceship” from 2012). And, not content with recording one great album in 2013, Millie also recorded an album called “Floristry” with her other band Trick Mammoth (set for NZ & UK release early in 2014). It has been hard picking just one song from Astro Children. “Gaze” was an early favourite. Then “Nora Barnacle” stunned with it’s caustic boil of fury. But “Eden” is just perfect enough to top them all. It combines all the elements I love about Astro Children – sweet & strident, rough & smart.

2. “Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett
Best ever song about a panic attack. Or gardening in a heat-wave. The two EPs released by Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett are brimful of character. Short stories set to song, and most songs pack golden choruses to match their wry verses.

3. “Winded” by Kane Strang
Baroque psychedelic folk from world-travelling Dunedin troubadour Kane Strang. On this song he expands his usual acoustic guitar & vocal template with assembled instruments including a bowed saw. As with every song on the album, the vocals become an instrument and an essential part of what makes the songs on his self-release debut album – “A Pebble & A Paper Crane” [now removed from Bandcamp by Kane] so perfect.

4. “Sugar C” by Misfit Mod
Minimalist electronica & voice. Just perfect. And made even better by being available as a delicious 7″ single with screen printed cover.

5. “Dim the Droog” by Mavis Gary
Alter-ego of Trick Mammoth’s Adrian Ng, Mavis Gary is an evolving – and intriguing – solo project from Dunedin’s shy over-achiever. The songs are generally darker and stranger than his Trick Mammoth fare, although some eventually end up as Trick Mammoth tunes. But the ones that don’t – like “Dim the Droog” – have a dark pop brilliance that draws you into the seedy underworld of Mavis Gary.

6. “Dear _____” by Death & the Maiden
Dunedin electronic trio Death & the Maiden add some post-punk to their dark-wave electronica and make songs of strange longing and distracted beauty. I’m hoping 2014 is the year they find the courage to release their developing songbook.

7. “Field Recordings of Animals Noises” by X-Ray Charles
X-Ray Charles are from Christchurch & their “Selph Titled” mini-album release is a fine lo-fi 4-track cassette-recorded slice of mangled melodic rock. It seems as much influenced by “Bee Thousand” era Guided By Voices as it does The Clean. Yet this song also echoes the descending perfection of Pere Ubu’s “Waiting for Mary” (which I doubt they have ever heard).

8. “Amnesia” by Strange Harvest
This Dunedin electronic duo self-released a wonderful album this year & this song is my favourite from it.

9. “Infinity Kiss” by LTTLE PHNX
‘Bummer-synth’ is a great genre to invent. The LTTLE PHNX album is sweet & sad & resigned to its fate (whatever that is). I first warmed to the Suren Unka re-mix which was just a shade more shimmery and bright than the album & But the more I listened to the album I preferred the original oppressive bass thrum and enervated vocals. A crushingly beautiful song to infiltrate your mind.

10. “Complicity” by Sonny Carver/ Opposite Sex
Not sure whether this should be attributed to Opposite Sex (as it is on this fine Sunday Porch Session live video) or Sonny Carver (the name Lucy Hunter & Reg Norris play under when they have performed this live). I’ve also seen Lucy play it solo. Whatever & whoever it is I adore this song. It started life as “My Murders are Fine” & is now known as “Complicity” & its southern gothic theatrics have haunted me since the night I first heard it.

I’ve excluded anything I’ve released via Fishrider Records, because that’s an alternative list for me in its own right.

The Verlaines 1985

The Verlaines 1985

Late in 1985 The Verlaines released their debut album ‘Hallelujah, All the Way Home’. Already serial over-achievers, the album was an extraordinary offering by anyone’s standards. Right from the gatefold sleeve, ornate Middle Ages themed cover art through to the music within (classical horns, strings, choirs… but also still that aloof coolness rubbing up against raging fury & scorn) this album demanded to be taken seriously.
I was writing about music for The Southland Times in Invercargill at the time, having badgered my way onto their weekly ‘Music Scene’ feature because no-one was covering the remarkable music happening two and a half hours drive up the road. The only thing that prevented their ‘dark, brooding masterpiece’ from being my album of 1985 in my year-end list in the Times was the small matter of The Go-Betweens ‘Springhill Fair’ also released that year and a fixture on my turntable.

Review from The Southland Times 18 January 1986

Review from The Southland Times 18 January 1986

Twenty-eight years later the same line up of Graeme Downes, Jane Dodd & Robbie Yeats performed the album at a Christmas party at the Kings Arms in Auckland on 20th December 2013 billed as ‘Jangle All the Way Home’. The show was hosted by Flying Out Records (mail-order operation of the now revitalised Flying Nun Records) and also marked the re-issue of ‘Hallelujah, All the Way Home’.

It was a majestic performance. Graeme Downes – who these days looks a combination of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, kept whippet-thin on cigarettes, whiskey & nerves – was as brilliant and biting as ever as guitarist, singer and band-leader. Bassist Jane Dodd played with the kind of calm steady propulsion that belied the fact her only two performances on bass in the past decade have been for one-off Able Tasmans and The Chills original line-up re-unions a few years ago now. Robbie Yeats likewise played with a fluid ease and loose perfection that was the opposite of his usual deconstructionist drum antagonism with the Dead C (and anyone else he sits in with).

The party (and it WAS a real festive party spirit) also included Surf City (Auckland/ Arch Hill Records sonic descendants of some of The Verlaines Dunedin peers) and a set from the current line-up of The Verlaines (including ‘Death & the Maiden’).

Flying Out had the presence of mind to include some of the newest progeny from Dunedin’s alternative music gene pool, representing two of the labels they also sell via their website – Muzai Records represented by the thrilling ‘space-glaze’/ ‘punk-gaze’ Astro Children and (my own label) Fishrider Records – represented by ‘flower cult pop’ band Trick Mammoth.

The photos here from Arch Hill/ Flying Nun boss Ben Howe tell the story of the evening in pictures.

Trick Mammoth at the Kings Arms Auckland 20 December 2013

Trick Mammoth at the Kings Arms Auckland 20 December 2013

Venn Trick Mammoth
People get confused as to who is who in Dunedin’s current Pop Underground, or, as Did Not Chart blog calls it, The Sound Of Young Dunedin.

So, in the interests of clarifying confusion and shining a light on the stuff that keeps people awake at night, here’s a Venn Diagram showing just four of the current bands with new releases – Trick Mammoth, Males (being released soon on the label I run – Fishrider Records), Astro Children (Auckland label Muzai Records) and Mavis Gary (via Dunedin cassette label The Attic).

I’m considering expanding this but it would soon get very huge and messy. Maybe there’s a computer application that will automatically do it…? For example Males link to Dunedin legends The Clean in one easy move through a band called Kilmog which Males’ guitarist/ vocalist Richard Ley-Hamilton plays in along with Robert Scott (The Clean and The Bats).

Plus, if you added an historic overlay you’d find Richard, Sam Valentine and Adrian Ng all playing together in Mr Biscuits and then, briefly, Blonde Hash. But let’s not get too carried away here.

All this might explain why Dunedin keeps producing more great pop bands per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Is it cheating? I don’t think so. It’s just that the weather here is pretty lousy a lot of the time, there’s not that much to do of an evening or weekend, and the kids have music in their DNA. Being in just one band doesn’t keep you busy enough – there’s only so many times a band can play here in the 4 or 5 live music venues in the city. Plus there are never enough drummers.