Archives for posts with tag: Muzai Records

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.

Sunken Seas

Sunken Seas

I’ve only seen Sunken Seas play once. It was in their hometown Wellington and the stage was backlit with white light and infiltrated by billowing clouds of dry ice. The band were silhouetted and threw giant lurching shadows out into the crowd. It was a perfect combination of mystery and menace from a band whose sound is untouchable post-industrial noise. Less shoegaze/ dream-pop and more skygaze/ fever-dream-pop.

Their most recent music is on the EP ‘Cataclysm’ released late last year via the always-reliable Muzai Records – a label consistently flying ahead of anyone else when it comes to forward-thinking music in New Zealand. It’s a great slice of atmospheric moody and beautiful noise. They opened for Bailter Space last year and represent a perfect new development of the Bailter Space template of sonic sculpture. However the music of Sunken Seas is more emotionally resonant – and human – than Bailter Space. The slower pace and big wide atmospheric space is also often more reminiscent of the best of High Dependency Unit/ HDU.

Sunken Seas play as part of Last Exit To Muzai – an event celebrating 5 years of Muzai Records – at Auckland’s Wine Cellar on Saturday 17 May 2014. Tickets are available for $10 from Muzai here.

Young Hellions

Two posts in a day… I know. Last one was something from a young woman from 50 years ago. Now from a young woman from the present day. Both joined together by… (thinks real hard for some thematic link)…. shoegaze! Corki Ray’s phased recording on “Whirlwind” from 1964 was proto-shoegaze in my book; the seeds of that miasmatic sound-swirl of the 1990s.

Young Hellions, from the suburban ennui sprawl of Auckland’s inner West, is Maeve Munro, once of the terrific neo-punk two-piece Bengal Lights from about 2008 and then, more recently, the minimalist synth pop of Cat Venom.

Young Hellions is a whole new level of DIY homespun musical witchcraft; placing the entrails of shoegaze, goth, post-punk and sumptuous dark pop into a large reverberating cauldron & giving it a stir & creating a potion to entrance anyone who listens.

So here is the glorious (and it IS) “Sympathetic Magic” from a new digital EP on Muzai Records. While “Sympathetic Magic” is the single why not soak up the whole 4 song EP here:

Then whistle over to Muzai Records & buy youself the EP. Actually you’ll have to whistle over to Flying Out Records as it is exclusively available from their website.

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Astro Children has been a fascinating band to follow here in Dunedin; from hesitant teenagers a few years ago to accomplished performers now. In the process they have created their own distinctive sound and, with quiet self-belief, instructed an audience for it through perseverance and repeat lessons.

The concise but diverse and dynamic ‘Proteus’ is their first album. Here – in the form of childhood friends Millie Lovelock (guitar & vocals) & Isaac Hickey (drums) – is the emergence of intelligent and individualistic talent from the Dunedin music underground incubator in recent years. By accident rather than design, creative communities and spaces like The Attic, supportive live venues that welcome developing bands, and internet services like Bandcamp which provide an effective means of releasing and sharing music as it is created, have all helped nourish an extraordinary flowering of young musicians and bands.

‘Proteus’ was recorded at The Attic by Adrian Ng, another of the young Dunedin music creators, currently in a purple patch with his solo project under the name Mavis Gary, and as Trick Mammoth (which also features Astro Children’s Millie in a quite different persona).

More often than not, studio recorded albums tend to soften and tame the wild energy of a band’s live performance. Not so with ‘Proteus’. This album instead accentuates and adds further depth and intensity to the live two-piece. The occasional careful addition of extra tracks and a crackling live sound courtesy of The Attic recording space acoustics (and a stairwell that lends itself to great cavernous drum reverb) makes the most of Astro Children’s noise.

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‘Proteus’ starts with ‘Sunday Afternoon’ – a dubby experiment in echo and delay, sounding simultaneously tribal and playful and a studio experiment taking them beyond their live shows as a guitar & drums two-piece and setting the direction for the adventure that follows.

The album contains the three songs released via their Bandcamp page this year. ‘Jamie Knows’ & ‘Gaze’ mark the reflective gentle reverb washed dream-pop side of Astro Children. The most recent of the three, ‘Nora Barnacle’ was the first to hint at a darker, more complex direction.

Of the new recordings here ‘Eden’ stands out as a perfect calling card for the band. 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’s theatrical, funny, dark and smart and I adore it.

‘Shoe’ – another live favourite – is thrillingly fierce and rage-filled here. The song packs all the malevolent sonic energy of early Bailter Space.

While the word-play title of ‘Big Muff (Strikes Again)’ might suggest a wry nod to Millie’s much loved Smiths, the song is a gentle strum, reminiscent of fine US two-piece The Spinanes.

‘Yonsi’ closes the album in similar experimental style to the opening track. Two gentle chord strums, like waves or slow, deliberate breathing, under attack from the deafening and very un-gentle crash of drums and cymbals and topped with the conspiratorial whispering of a TS Elliott poem that can’t quite be made out over the din.

Astro Children seem free of the burden of anyone’s expectations about what their music ought to be, and how songs ought to be constructed and played. Combining gentle effect-laden dream-pop with fierce personal punk, shoegaze and, at times, tumultuous avant-noise soundscapes, as if all these things ought to belong together on the same stage and album, somehow works perfectly. Lyrics range from the personal (via the unique filter of Millie’s ‘magnetic nervousness’ and introverted world-view) through to cryptic literary entanglements.

After a recent binge of Velvet Underground albums following Lou Reed’s death, I realised that the same thrill I had from listening to their music was the thrill I get from listening to Astro Children. Rules being broken, conventions challenged, noise and words combined as a form of expression that goes beyond the entertainment of pop music. On ‘Proteus’ it’s the stuff they do that’s so wrong which just seems so refreshingly right.

‘Proteus’ is released by Auckland avant-noise label Muzai Records and is available from Astro Children’s Bandcamp page as a pay-what-you-like download.

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.

Astro_Children_Chicks_Hotel

“Nora Barnacle” is a blast from the wild side of the enigmatic Dunedin two-piece Astro Children. It is bound to polarise people even more than their earlier single ‘The One we Start With’ did (which broke some unwritten rules of alternative rock about how much phaser you can use).

The last couple of Astro Children singles have been from the more restrained pages of the songbook: the woozy out-of-focus strum of ‘Jamie Knows’ and the dislocated space-glaze pop of ‘Gaze’. But when Astro Children play live the swirling unhinged fury of songs like ‘Nora Barnacle’ are a big part of their compelling and sometimes challenging performances.

Straight away the sonic template they’ve been given by Dunedin Pop Underground maverick Adrian Ng gives this song an ominous crackling energy of loose wires running across a damp floor in a concrete bunker. The lightly phased and reverb washed drums from Isaac Hickey – the sometimes invisible but never inaudible foundation upon which Astro Children build their alternative otherworld – pulse and push the song forward.

I am the boy
who does enjoy
invisibility
invisibility

Millie Lovelock’s icy detached vocal coda at the start here reminds me of another favourite NZ artist – Claire Duncan as Dear Time’s Waste. But it soon gets blasted into a different realm when the guitar noise and vocal rage builds menacingly to the climax scream of ‘does it offend you!?’ at 2m 30s.

Structurally this is not pop (no verse/ chorus structure, just a building tension and release), nor is it punk or post-punk, nor even post-rock (whatever that is). There’s a reminder here of the power of Dunedin sonic space travellers High Dependency Unit/ HDU, but recorded on a Dunedin DIY budget, using brains more than brawn to fashion a convincing sonic template.

The compelling heart here is bizarre: Millie channelling her imaginary James Joyce (the song appears to reference Joyce’s letters to his muse and wife-to-be Nora) into the heart and soul of this apocalyptic raging starburst of a song. But Millie is a cryptic songwriter and I doubt that is all this song is about.

Astro Children can’t/ won’t be easily categorised. Is their thing space guitar punk pop with phasers set to stun? Is it delicate spaced-out folk-pop? Is it deconstructed post-rock noise? Is it wild crazy fury? Yes, it is all these things.

Unlike most bands, who set out to occupy a particular genre or scene, Astro Children have always just appeared to me to be Isaac & Millie doing what they want to do, whether or not anyone wants to hear it. But within that are puzzles to be unlocked, mysteries to be solved, moments of beauty to be admired and fierce rage to be enthralled/ repelled by. Audiences are either with them or against them; there’s not much middle ground.

Fittingly, Auckland label Muzai Records – a label that has never shied away from taking on and championing uneasy listening iconoclasts and misfits – is releasing the album – Proteus – this song is from.

As Shayne Carter observed in 2011 about musicians in Dunedin – “…people have had nothing to lose, or more pertinently, nothing to gain…. You’re braver when it doesn’t really matter, less self-conscious when you think nobody’s listening. Rock music is best when it’s not being careful,”

Does it offend you?

Sam Perry Zen Mantra

Day 28 of the 31 days of May New Zealand Music Month via Bandcamp challenge comes from a Christchurch bedroom, soon to find it’s way to the world.

The debut album ‘How Many Padmes Hum?’ by Zen Mantra (Christchurch teen guitar pop wunderkid Sam Perry) came out on CD last year on Auckland’s Muzai Records. It was one of my favourite albums of 2012 and no surprise to see it being picked up by UK label Stroll On Records for vinyl release shortly.

‘Fossils’ is the pre-release single and it sums up the appeal of the album for me.

As I noted in my 2012 album round up:
“Very melodic and jangling pop which is also a bit sonically messed up… These songs are great – instantly memorable, well-crafted, noisy pop fun. Those with a love of classic psychedelic pop, ‘shoe-gaze’ pop or guitar pop from any era should give it a listen.”

full-moon-fiasco

Day 25 of the 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month via Bandcamp challenge is from an album I somehow missed a few years ago. Although I’d heard the name Full Moon Fiasco I’d never heard the music associated with the name. Inexplicable really…

Full Moon Fiasco is mostly from the imagination of Will Rattray of Thought Creature and is exactly like it is described on the wrapper: “Washed out Psychedelia From the Bottom of the Earth”

“Freedom Town” is from the album “Cosmic Palms” and the CD is on sale (at the bargain price of only $7.50) at Muzai Records right now.

[Postscript: Sources tell me this splendid album (it really is one of NZ’s lost/ forgotten psychedelic masterpieces) was recorded on Chris Knox’s old 4 track reel-to-reel recorder – the same one that many of the early Flying Nun Records recordings were made on.]

Full Moon Fiasco

Sharpie Crows

Day 19 of the 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month via Bandcamp challenge is another pleasantly dark song, perfect for a gloomy autumn Sunday.

“Thank you Ladies for the spread
I really like sausage rolls and rye bread”

Sharpie Crows develop something a little malevolent out of the New Zealand tradition of the Country Womens’ Institute ‘Ladies a plate please’ local community hall afternoon tea – do we still do those here?

I love everything about this song. The icy disdain of the vocals, the Can shuffle of the drums, the big reverb twang of the guitar, the Euro-funk of the bass line, the synth dabs… and especially the layers of stern Eastern European military brass that come in; incongruous but perfect.

The music (but not the vocals & lyrics) reminds me a little of some of the earliest work of The Associates (The Affectionate Punch album) but infused with some of the sardonic darkness of 80s NZ industrial music too.

Sharpie Crows have an album out on Flying Nun Records. They are related to Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing (Muzai Records) who you should also check out if you like this.

Wilberforces_red

Here’s day 14 of the 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month Bandcamp challenge.

Wilberforces doesn’t sound like the kind of band name I’d normally associate with a rather dark and singular guitar band, notionally ‘post-punk’ in sound. Which highlights the perils of judging a band on its name. Their EP ‘Paradise Beach’ (available in glorious 12” vinyl format) which this track comes from is as fine a slice of angular, sharp-edged guitar rock as you are likely to find. Anywhere.

There’s variety across the 6 tracks on the EP too. I get a hint of The Clean and The Modern Lovers in the scruffy garage rock of ‘Magdalene Brothers’ while closing track ‘Fire in the Hills’ turns down the volume but unsettles in different ways with choppy guitar over ghostly vocals and cathedral choir/ synth backing.

Wilberforces ‘Paradise Beach’ is on Muzai Records of course – New Zealand’s premier alternative noise rock (and a bit more) label. Muzai Records celebrates 4 years of releasing great music with an event at the Wine Cellar in Auckland this Saturday

I guess I’ll have to steel myself to buy the 12” vinyl some time. As a surfer, that cover image will ensure it won’t sit at the front of my vinyl stack, particularly after a close encounter in the water off Dunedin earlier this year with one of these. But it’s what’s in the spiral groove that matters most…