Archives for posts with tag: Dunedin
Too Tone NZ Music Month

Shop display of re-purposed NZ Music Month poster at Too Tone Records (2010-2017) in Dunedin.

It’s May. It’s New Zealand Music Month. It’s time for another tilt at the obsessive-compulsive posting of 31 NZ songs from Bandcamp over the course of the month to try to turn the world on to the kind of sonic lint that lurks behind the glittering facade of  “Popular Music”.  Kicking off the 2019 roll call is the opening track from Shayne P Carter‘s latest solo album “Offsider”.

“I Know Not Where I Stand” is a huge clunking, shuffling beast of a song. Never one to rest in a comfortable spot musically speaking, proficient guitarist Carter (Bored Games, Doublehappys, Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer) set himself the challenge of mastering the piano. His approach is similar to his instinctive approach to the guitar – as much about sound, propulsion, atmosphere, and tension as it is about melody.

Carter’s “Offsider” album is recommended for anyone into seriously good, original, adventurous pop or rock music, and particularly for those who go on about the heyday of Flying Nun Records but stopped buying new music many years ago.

Shayne Carter has written a book. Dead People I have Known is what it is called and it is available in a few days time. It’s a memoir, though it could be a novel. If it was a novel it would be better than Iain Banks “Espedair Street” and David Keenan’s “This is Memorial Device” combined.  The characters in Shayne’s book are also unusual and unlikely but they are real. Many of them are dead, as the title accurately explains.

It’s not the first book by a musician from Dunedin. Sneaky feelings’ Mathew Bannister wrote one that was pretty good in its weird combination of misguided self-loathing and self-importance. I haven’t read Peter Jefferies’ book yet.

Shayne Carter is the only one of my Dunedin music heroes I have not properly met or talked to. He was, and still is, too intimidating. His book makes it pretty clear that being intimidating, or just an occasional arsehole, was a deliberate ploy.

I read the book in one sitting. Partly because it was someone else’s review copy and I was probably not meant to see it. Also because it was, as they say, a page-turner.  Actually I read most of it twice because I have an annoying habit of opening up new books and reading bits at random first, as if to get a taste before committing to a full reading. Then I read it again, from beginning to end to join up all the bits I’d read previously. I look forward to reading it again when I buy a copy upon its release.

A couple of things about Shayne’s writing style struck me. The first was that his ease of storytelling, the way he created the scenes, brings his characters to life through their actions and words, and the associated emotion, reminded me of Tim Winton’s writing.  Like his “Breath” perhaps, but about music, and the characters associated with it, rather than surfing.

The other thing I felt, as the story whizzed along, one outrageous incident after another, was that this was almost like the kind of improbable fictional life story narrated by the central character from an implausible and fantastical Peter Carey novel.

Those were both novelists I really enjoyed, back in the days when I read novels. Nowadays I read almost exclusively music books, finding that with the best of them truth is indeed stranger than fiction.  This is more than a music book. It’s a memoir of course. But it’s also a social history, mostly of a Dunedin that is still almost there, as well as an affecting reflection on life, death, culture, identity, love, self-loathing, ego, regret, creativity, family, and friendship and more.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, it is possible to review Carter’s “Dead People I Have Known” using unaltered snippets taken from reviews or short descriptions of my favourite of Carey’s books:

“Boldly inventive, irresistibly odd.  In this darkly funny novel, death is sometimes a necessary prelude to real life. A story that couldn’t be true unless its teller were mad.  His search for a place in life where he can accept himself and be accepted by others.  A masterpiece of coal-black humour and compassionate horror. Fiendishly devious and addictively readable.”

Seafog_2017Lost at sea in an oceanic fog somewhere north of Dunedin city centre is Port Chalmers’ trio Seafog. After an enthralling, spindly debut album of spiderweb guitar-pop called “Raise Your Skinny Fist” (2015), Seafog delivered a more solid treat on their “Dig it On Up” EP (2017). Now they are back with an audacious double album of blistering reverb-washed jangling guitar noise. Here’s the relatively calm and restrained “Voice” to ease your way into Seafog’s universe.

Seafog’s twin guitar din is massive on “Animal Lovers”. The bass-less trio – Robin Sharma (vocals & guitar), Nigel Waters (guitar) and Marty Sadler (drums) – gets a sonic turbo-charge from another sparkling, resonating echo-chamber production from recording alchemist Forbes Williams (who also recorded recent Dunedin albums by Francisca Griffith and Negative Nancies). The band sound like they are emitting sonic sparks here – a Roman Candle of noise.

There’s a lot to digest on “Animal Lovers” – 16 dense and meaty songs, including a booming revisiting of “Purakaunui” from guitarist/ vocalist Robin Sharma’s previous late 1990s/ early 2000’s band Jetty.

Sharma’s idiosyncratic vocal delivery – including his distinctive stream-of-semi-concious-delerium-fuelled excursions – give the songs personality, even if it sometimes sounds like he’s possessed by forces beyond his control.

“Animal Lovers” is a perfect combination of raw and distressed Sonic Youth-styled wall-of-guitar noise frenzy (showcased on the relentless thundering 12-minute drone-jam “Feelings”) often set to pulsing motorik drumming, and the loose jangling lo-fi charm of bands like The Verlaines and The Clean in their earliest forms (as the more restrained and crisp “Voice” here demonstrates).

“Animal Lovers” is available on vinyl. It’s available now in Relics record store in Dunedin, or from the band. It may be in other NZ shops sometimes. The LP release is on Vienna-based NZ-focused label Zelle Records so if you are in the Northern Hemisphere head there to buy a copy of the LP. It is an essential acquisition.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a song from another of PopLib’s favourite albums of 2018 you probably haven’t heard of. “Sinking Ship” is from Emily Fairlight‘s self-released album “Mother of Gloom”, a slow-burning masterpiece of dark and damaged alternative folk music which has a heart of emotionally-charged pop.

Some would label the music on “Mother of Gloom” as “Americana”. I’ve never been sure what that word actually means. Or how it can be applied to the music of a singer-songwriter originating from the fertile Christchurch/ Lyttelton scene that produced the likes of Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding and helped develop Port Chalmers musician Nadia Reid. Emily Fairlight has also been based in Wellington before a recent shift south to Dunedin.

Sure there’s a hint of country in Fairlight’s music; a slow-strummed acoustic guitar tends to do that. And, although Fairlight is from the South Island of New Zealand, the album was recorded by Doug Walseth of The Cat’s Eye Studio in Austin, Texas, with Okkervil River drummer Cully Symington and multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs (trumpet, accordion, omnichord, vibraphone) adding further exotic instruments to the atmospheric song arrangements. So there is legitimately something of Texas in the mix as well as the unstable geography of New Zealand’s South Island.

However, it is Fairlight’s striking, resonant voice which is the key to breathing these songs into life. It’s a wonderfully distinctive instrument in its own right, full of a dark magic – including a hair-raising vibrato – and carrying the weight of a world of heartbreak and torment.

To compare Fairlight’s voice to the likes of Emmylou Harris, Angel Olsen and Natalie Merchant – which is the kind of company it belongs among – runs the risk of denying its own unique powerful character.

In the end the only place that matters for “Mother of Gloom” is the space – metaphorically-speaking – between the head and the heart. Don’t be put off by the most likely tongue-in-cheek album title – “Mother of Gloom” is a rich and ultimately uplifting album of songs of perseverance and survival.

Emily fairlight Mirrow image

naenaeexpress20181240Carisbrook was the home of cricket and rugby in Dunedin until 2011 when Dunedin’s new covered stadium was opened. Only 10 cricket test matches were played at Carisbrook but some were the stuff of sporting legend. “Carisbrook” is a song from the self-titled album by Auckland band The Naenae Express about the NZ cricketer the band is named after, and his heroic last wicket stand in a test match at Carisbrook in 1985.

“There’s plenty of runs to get/ but nobody’s got them yet.” Chatfield came in to bat at No. 11, and proceeded to score an unbeaten 21 off 84 balls, the last wicket partnership with his captain adding the crucial 50 runs that New Zealand needed to win the match. It remained Chatfield’s highest Test score.

The band operating under the name The Naenae Express create a peculiarly summery New Zealand kind of sports-themed psychedelic pop, at times incorporating a kind of stoned Pavement and Beta Band vibe. Don’t know much about The Naenae Express other than Scott Kendall being the cricket-loving genius behind these well-crafted tunes. The self-titled album is out via their bandcamp page, with a cassette to come sometime.

Seafog_2017Day 8 of PopLib’s 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Music Month marathon is “Dig” which closes the stellar EP “Dig it on Up” released last year by salty Port Chalmers sea-dogs Seafog.

Seafog songs quite often reference bands and reference talking about bands and in among the stream-of-consciousness word-storm poetry of “Dig” guitarist, vocalist, songwriter Robin Sharma sings “we talked about going to see The Dead C…” which is the kind of thing people talk about in Dunedin every so often.

I’ve said this before (and I’ll say it again) – “Dig It On Up” is an essential collection of sounds from beneath the NZ underground. Every Dunedin-origin-weirdo-music-loving home should have one of these 12″ EP/ Mini albums.  And while you examine this artifact, make sure you check out the earlier spidery Seafog album “Raise Your Skinny Fist”, and also the decade(s) earlier music of Sharma’s previous band Jetty.

What’s “Dig” all about? Well, if it’s about anything it’s about communication and confusion.  “Dig it on up, can you dig it all out, can you dig it?” Yes.

Grant Hart Chicks 2010

Grant Hart outside Chicks Hotel, February 2010.

Grant Hart died last week, aged 56, after a battle with cancer. Through Hüsker Dü, Nova Mob and his solo albums he left an extraordinary back catalogue of songs. Here’s the gorgeous “Morningstar” off his last album “The Argument”, which came out on Domino Recordings in 2013.

“Morningstar” is as perfect as his earlier songs with Hüsker Dü – a simple chord change, a vocal melody that hooks you in straight away, a passionate vocal performance, lyrics combining the personal with the esoteric, that earworm keyboard refrain…

My first exposure to Hüsker Dü was in the 1980s via “Radio With Pictures”, NZ’s Sunday night ‘alternative’ music video show (well before ‘alternative’ was a thing). Specifically this video for “Don’t Want to Know if you are Lonely” which mixes live footage with grainy touring footage.

I remember being fascinated by the power of the song, the the total involvement of singing drummer Grant Hart, and the fusion of punk/ hard rock energy with classic 60’s era style of pop melodicism well before ‘grunge rock’.

I only got into Hüsker Dü from their major label releases “Candy Apple Grey” (1986) and “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” (1987). What stood out then was that Grant’s songs were the ones that resonated most for me. I made a tape of all my favourite songs from “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” for the car. They were all Grant’s songs.

After Hüsker Dü Grant’s solo music and Nova Mob albums made an impact here among those who followed his music. His single “2541” was just as perfect a song for winters in cold houses in southern NZ as it was for Minneapolis, US.

I met Grant in 2010 when I persuaded his NZ tour promoter to add a Dunedin show, by guaranteeing the event (one of a handful of ‘PopLib Presents…’ shows promoted down here between 2009 and 2014). The show – held at a packed Chicks Hotel – turned out to be the best of his tour and he played a 2 hour set, feeding off the enraptured enthusiasm of the audience.

As he was flying out to Australia from Dunedin late the following day the tour organiser asked if I could take care of Grant and his tour manager for the day and deliver them to the airport that evening. I’m always nervous of meeting my heroes – particularly ones with the reputation Grant had, but agreed.

Next day I met him at Chicks and asked what he wanted to do on his day in Dunedin. He had read that Dunedin had one of the best used bookshops in the world – Octagon Books – and he loved books. The older the better. So that was our day – a scenic tour of Dunedin via several 2nd hand bookshops. He loved Dunedin; it’s compact size, old buildings, sedate pace, and low-key, friendly people.

In Galaxy books near the Botanic Gardens a customer and her young daughter were talking to the owner. The girl was carrying a guitar her mother had just bought for her. She didn’t know how to tune it. Grant heard this and offered his help. He tuned the guitar and showed the girl how to form the shape of a few simple chords: “that’s enough for punk rock anyway” he laughed.  Her mother thanked him and asked if he did guitar lessons. Grant laughed and said it would be a long way to go to find him in Minneapolis.

I hesitantly asked about Hüsker Dü as we drove around. There was some resentment about Bob Mould, who had just announced he was writing his memoirs. Grant talked about writing his own so the real story would be told. But Grant seemed more sad that the relationship seemed irreconcilable rather than bitter about Bob Mould. He appeared to be open to talking again – as long as Bob made the first conciliatory approach. He did however have a bit to say about SST Records’ Greg Ginn, and that wasn’t so forgiving.

However, mostly what Grant talked about as we drove around Dunedin, triggered by driving past several Masonic Lodges, was the detailed history of the Freemason movement. He explained these derived from the trade guilds in the Middle Ages which provided the support of collective organisations, independent of the political power of the churches, hence the hostility and distrust from the churches towards Freemasonry. The rituals and symbols we had mocked while growing up in Invercargill and sneaking around the local Masonic Lodges to try to look inside for the supposedly satanic symbols, were initially developed as way of protecting the group from infiltration by spies and saboteurs from the churches he said.  Fascinating stuff, and about the last thing I expected to be hearing from the drummer of Hüsker Dü while driving around Dunedin.

We called in to the University’s Albany Street studio so sound person from the show the previous night could show Grant the studio he worked in. Grant played us the rough mixes of his concept album based on Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in the control room. He talked about how he would love to come back and finish the album there. He had a good feeling about Dunedin; a kind of retreat from the world where he could work in peace.

Before heading to the airport I took Grant to St Clair – Dunedin’s surf beach – where we had a last coffee and watched the surfers. The sun was shining and Grant was smiling. He loved the sea, the motion of the waves, the noise of the surf. He walked down to the railing over looking the steps and listened to the waves breaking against the rocks below. A surfer walked up the steps next to him, recognised Grant and and stopped to talk to him, thanking him for the great show the previous night and for coming to Dunedin.

On the way to the airport I asked him if there was anything I could send to him from Dunedin to remind him of his visit. He knew that Dunedin had woollen mills and explained he was a collector of Canadian Blankets from the Hudson Bay Blanket Company (cue another fascinating history lesson). I later found an old Roslyn Woollen Mill blanket in perfect condition and sent it to him. It was a large check pattern alternating crossed bands of pink and blue. Perfect.

We exchanged e-mails through to the end of 2011 over the album which was eventually released as “The Argument”on Domino Recordings in 2013. He sent me working mixes of the album, discussing plans for completing the final mixes and the difficulties he was having finding a label in the UK to release the album.  I’m glad Domino released the album, doing such a wonderful job of presenting it, and helping get him the attention and respect for the work he had devoted so many years to creating.

Although Grant returned to Dunedin last year and played again at Chicks Hotel – with a band this time –  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him in the crowded venue afterwards. I hope he had time to go to St Clair and watch and listen to the sea again.

When we exchanged those e-mails between 2010 and 2011 he always asked about the surf around Dunedin. He remembered that afternoon at St Clair watching the sea and the surf. His last e-mail to me finished: “THE RATTLE OF THE STONES IS A WILD THING TO HEAR . I WON’T FORGET IT.”

Thought CreatureDay 27 of our 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month marathon is a lost classic from 5 years ago by Wellington-via-Berlin band Thought Creature that not enough people have heard. Time to rectify that with a trip to their “Paradise” (play this L O U D)

“Paradise” is a guitar-heavy psychedelic dance groove celebration which would have sounded at home on a late 1980s Julian Cope album when the 1980s psychedelic pop revival was morphing into rave culture’s transcendental dance music.

Thought Creature’s Berlin sojourn in the early 2010s and their transformation into a noisy psychedelic electronica+guitar outfit led to the formation of two of Dunedin’s best genre melting electronica+ bands today – Death And The Maiden and Élan Vital. Both Dunedin bands trace their formation to Berlin around the time this song was released and the common denominator to all three bands is Danny Brady.

There’s another common denominator too: Erica Sklenars, who appears in this live video of “Paradise” from a Berlin house party and is a regular collaborator with Death And The Maiden and Élan Vital for music videos and live performance visuals.

Elan Vital_Black and White_small

Élan Vital – Photo by Phoebe Lysbeth K

Day 13 of our 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month marathon comes from Dunedin trio Élan Vital. It’s the closing track of their “Shadow Self” album and the song is called “Dreams”

“Dreams” has been a fixture in the Radio One Top 11 in Dunedin for the past 3 months. It’s not hard to work out why: it’s a great song with a compulsive kind of rhythm and lyrics most people can relate to.

“Dreams” stands out on “Shadow Self” for a couple of reasons. It’s the singing debut of Élan Vital (and Death and the Maiden) synth and electronic equipment alchemist Danny Brady.  It’s also the most human of the seven tracks which make up “Shadow Self” – a love song even.

When I first heard “Shadow Self” in its entirety the order of the tracks seemed a very deliberate progression from the harsh mechanical world of the opening title track, through worlds (each of the seven songs is a “world” in my imagination) which progressively incorporated more human elements from the voices and lyrics and emotion.

The album is a fantastic dark and richly textured exploration of scientific and human themes, incorporating lyrics and soundscapes inspired by dreams, nightmares, and horror movies. The music features an unusual combination of contemporary electronic dance music with more diverse influences from 60’s garage psych-rock (the swirling hypnotic keyboard parts by Renee Barrance), post-punk and muscular distorted bass playing a kind of mutant disco rhythm.

The closing track on the album, “Dreams”, conveys the clearest human connection of the seven experiences. It’s a song about release and freedom, love and hopefully even redemption.

From the cha-cha analogue drum machine at the start through to the breakdown and the echoing reprise by main vocalist Renee Barrance coming in at the 3 minute 30 mark the whole song is a seductive dance-floor classic. Danny’s morose yet caring vocals are the perfect understated voice for the song.

If you are in Dunedin there’s an extra chance to catch Élan Vital live at the Pioneer Hall in Port Chalmers tonight, Saturday 13 May 2017 along with another PopLib favourite Bad Sav.

Elan Vital LP playing

Asta RanguAfter what seems like (but probably wasn’t) a quiet few months in the never-ending production-line of left-field underground pop-craft from Dunedin, NZ there’s been a bit of a buzz of activity of late. Last week we introduced you to the mysterious strathcona pl, and now it’s Asta Rangu, with “Skip on Trak One”

“Skip On Trak One” is fidgetty pop with almost psychedelic glam-rock feel to the darting twisting guitar runs, the expansive layered guitars in the chorus and the intriguing lyrical flights of fantasy.

Asta Rangu is the solo brainchild and solo recording and performance project of Males‘ guitarist and songwriter Richard Ley-Hamilton. It’s a further progression from the more complex, layered, progressive pop of Males’ recent “None The Wiser” album, which was in turn a progression from the infectious helium-powered guitar-pop of their much-loved debut “Run Run Run/ MalesMalesMales”.

Even more exciting (and “Skip on Trak One” is pretty damned exciting) is that this is the first release on a brand new Dunedin label called trace / untrace records. The label plans to provide a collation and discovery point for a collection of new bands and musicians, and intends to offer digital and cassette releases initially. Bookmark their website – I have a feeling we’ll be revisiting their catalogue a bit over the coming years.



toy-love-live-at-the-gluepot“Pull Down The Shades” closes Toy Love‘s “Live at The Gluepot 1980” album, which first saw the light of day as a Record Store Day release in NZ in 2012. Now it’s available as a digital album via Bandcamp and Goner Records, who were responsible for the initial release along with Auckland record store Real Groovy Records.

Dunedin’s proto-punk band The Enemy – who feature on the cover and inside the recently published photo-book “The Dunedin Sound – Some Disenchanted Evening” – disbanded in 1978 after a move to Auckland.

Three of The Enemy – Chris Knox, Alec Bathgate and Mike Dooley – went on to form Toy Love, adding Christchurch musicians Jane Walker (keyboards) and Paul Kean (bass).

Toy Love called time in 1980. Kean subsequently went on to join The Bats, a band which lasted a bit longer than Toy Love (over 30 years now and they are still releasing fabulous albums, with a new one out soon).

Knox acquired a 4-track reel-to-reel recorder, recording the infamous “Dunedin Double” EP which helped kick-start the careers of a handful of Dunedin bands and their Christchurch label Flying Nun Records.

Knox and Bathgate formed Tall Dwarfs and the rest, as they say, is now history…