Archives for posts with tag: Straitjacket Fits

Following on from the previous PopLib post, Ghosts of the Dunedin Music Scene, Auckland/ Hanoi melodic guitar rock band The Roulettes have released a new album of intriguingly undercooked (in a good way) home-recorded demos called “Demosphere”, which includes two unreleased early 1990s Andrew Brough (The Orange, Straitjacket Fits, Bike) songs. Here’s one of them: “Something’s Changing”:

The Roulettes Justin McLean explains: “We  included these 2 previously unreleased songs by Andrew Brough, which we had demos of, provided by Andrew’s brother Don. Andrew taught these songs to me in 1992 when I played in the first version of Bike,” says Justin. “They recently resurfaced on a clip on YouTube of the first gig we played, and I got to relearning them. I always loved these songs, and wanted to share them with a wider audience. I recorded them using Andrew’s guitar.”

Andrew Brough was Justin McLean’s stepbrother, and a musical mentor for bassist Ben Grant and McLean in their first band Funhouse in Dunedin in the 1990s, producing recordings and giving them invaluable advice. There’s something immediately distinctive and transporting about Brough’s song-writing and these two covers of his early post-Fits songs certainly create a haunting goose-bumps reminder of Brough’s soaring legacy as part of that band, from the guitars to the vocals.

All the recordings for the album were done at home in Auckland by Justin McLean or at home in Hanoi by Ben Grant. The idea was to capture the freshness of the demo recordings before they become overworked. Despite – or perhaps because of – those modest constrained origins “Demosphere” is a strong and cohesive collection of Beatle-esque harmony-filled guitar rock well worth your Bandcamp download dollars.  


Apologies for the relative lack of PopLib postings. I had imagined the coronavirus lockdown in NZ would mean I would have plenty of time for regular postings of mood-enhancing new music discoveries. However working from home from my day-job – and grateful to still have a job that I can do that way – has proved to be full-on.

Following on from the sad news back at the start of February of the death of Dunedin musician Andrew Brough (The Orange, Straitjacket Fits and Bike), Bike’s solitary album “Take In The Sun” is now available in digital form via Bandcamp along with the preceding “bike” EP (1995) and “Circus Kids” EP (1997).

Here’s one of the quieter songs on the album. “Sunrise” is full of coded optimism, perfect for these dark and uncertain times:

I only met and talked to Andrew once. It was at a gig at Sammys in the 1980s. His first band – The Orange – were not playing but I saw him and maybe the others in his band at a table and said how much I loved the “Fruit Salad Lives” EP. An awkward momentary congress of introverts.

Next time I saw him was again at Sammy’s, Dunedin’s large ornate Edwardian era music hall. This time he was on stage with Straitjacket Fits. It was around the time of their “Life in One Chord” EP and they were opening for the Jesus & Mary Chain. It remains one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen. I can still vividly recall the feeling on non-drug-assisted euphoria hearing their songs blasted out with passion to their local crowd like they were playing for their lives… followed by a feeling of dull ennui when Jesus & Mary Chain plodded sullenly through their “Darklands” era set afterwards.

Bike’s “Take In The Sun” is a glorious collection of melodic guitar pop. It was probably out of time in 1997, but it just sounds timeless now. Brough’s vision was “to make beautiful music, which had a lot of feeling: beautiful music, with soaring vocals and guitars” and he certainly achieved that on his Straitjacket Fits songs and in Bike’s “Take in the Sun”.

I bought a copy of the album when it was released on CD in 1997, and saw the band play at Arc Cafe in Dunedin that year. Listening to the album again this year, Brough’s lyrics stood out. So many coded messages that his death may now begin to unlock.

“Sunrise” may for some be a minor track on the album but they melodic flights the vocal melody takes are extraordinary and the dynamics are majestic. The lyrics are a wry kind of reflective Brough positivity too, perfect for these times:

“In the sunrise, there’s nothing left to say/ Raise your glass to save your life/ we wish you well/ may good health prevail

In the sunrise, there’s nothing left to say/ Take a partner by the hand/ and spin round ’til good health prevails

In the sunrise, there’s nothing left to say/ while you’re gone we’ll play a song/ of love and tears/ and maybe you might hear 

Raise yourself/ it’s going to be your sunrise soon/ so let yourself shine.”

Bike album CD

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.”

Dimmer_I Believe You Are A StarHave we reached peak re-issue vinyl yet? How huge is the challenge of running a record label today releasing new music by new or current bands and artists when the new release bins, charts, airplay, print and online media is dominated by an endless run of re-issues, box sets and so on?

Dimmer’s first – extraordinary – album “I Believe You Are a Star” has just had its first release on vinyl, so fortunately it’s not a vinyl re-issue but a vinyl first issue. The original album was released on CD in 2001 at the era of peak Compact Disc. It’s an album I love and Dimmer – the band formed by Shayne P. Carter several years after the demise of Straitjacket Fits – are probably a bit under-appreciated outside NZ, so it still fits within the underdog semi-underground focus of PopLib to post something about it before returning to normal new music service. Here’s the opening track “Drop You Off” –

“Drop You Off” sets the template for the album and for Dimmer. Haunting, soulful, naggingly melodic songs built around minimalist guitar funk, scratching an itch over break-beat drum grooves (from former JPS Experience drummer Gary Sullivan) and Fripp-ish guitar+electronic ambient drone atmosphere underpinning things. While different from the euphoric rock anthems of Straitjacket Fits, these songs share Carter’s gift for soulful grooves, melody and pulsing sonic exploration.

As happens so often with vinyl issues of CD-original releases, there is a track missing to bring the album’s running time down from 45 minutes to a more LP-friendly 40-ish minutes. The track missing from the original 11 track CD release is “All The Way To Her”.

The usual reason for dropping a track to keep the running length around 40 minutes is that vinyl fetishists are a peculiar and problematic, hard-to-satisfy breed. On the one hand the audiophiles would complain about the volume of the pressing if it crammed 45 minutes into two sides (vinyl optimum is @18 minutes per side). On the other hand the cash-strapped vinyl collectors (it’s hard keeping up with the habit) would complain about the extravagance and extra cost of a double LP with only 2-3 songs per side. No-one will be satisfied whatever the outcome, so omitting a track is just part of the eternal compromise of life in the vinyl re-issue age. If only we had either (a) never embraced the Compact Disc format in the first place or (b) never fallen out of love with the Compact Disc format in recent years we wouldn’t be having these kinds of arguments now.

Oddly enough the version of the album on Dimmer’s Bandcamp here (which pre-dates the new vinyl edition) includes “All The Way to Her” but omits two tracks from the original CD issue – “Pendulum” and “Powercord”. All this is possibly annoying for some, but the idea that each form of alternative release to the original CD release reduces the content from the original edition does at least preserve the collectible nature of the CD release.

Dimmer are currently playing shows around NZ, ‘supporting’ Straitjacket Fits. It’s a combination that not only provides excellent value for money but also plenty of opportunity for between-song humour from Carter. Read more about the tour – and his autobiography/ memoirs due middle of 2019 – in this excellent recent interview with Carter.

Finally, here’s a live video of Dimmer performing “Drop You Off” in Dunedin in 2008.

Shayne OffsiderHere’s PopLib’s 6th send as a gift tip for the month, featuring “Waiting Game” from Shayne P. Carter’s “Offsider” album.

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.

This song, and the whole “Offsider” album is recommended for anyone into seriously good, original, adventurous pop or rock music, for the person who annoys you by playing Scott Walker records too often and who you wish had something else to fixate on, and for that friend or relative who always goes on about the heyday of Flying Nun Records but stopped buying new music many years ago.

Shayne P Carter 2016Seven years on from the last Dimmer album “Degrees of Existence” here’s Shayne P. Carter back with the brooding and challenging “We Will Rise Again”

Even though “We Will Rise Again” is centered around Carter’s piano playing, it is still recognisably Shayne P. Carter and there are bursts of brutal guitar noise to remind us of the 6-string sonic background we normally associate with this enduring New Zealand musician.

The other musicians playing on the track are drummer Gary Sullivan (Dimmer, JPS Experience),  bassist Nick Roughan (Skeptics), saxophonist Richard Steele (who played on The Puddle’s “Playboys in the Bush” album) and the intense string arrangements from Tamasin Taylor (Nudie Suits, Peachy Keen).

It’s a somewhat experimental, challenging listen in places, even a little bit Scott Walker at times, although without the difficult angles and baffling weirdness. Shayne P. Carter has always been about the tune and about the sensations of emotion and this song is no exception, despite its differences.

The shifting times signatures, sense of foreboding, dynamics, and especially the muted saxophone part at two and half minutes here are even a little reminiscent the kind of thing serious prog-rock legends Van Der Graaf Generator did back in the 1970s.

This progressive experimentalism was signalled in the notes to that 2009 Dimmer album where Shayne set out a manifesto which could equally apply to “We Will Rise Again” –

“i also wanted to make a return to the more experimental vibe evidenced on our first album which remains my favourite dimmer record to this point. i liked that record because it was brave and unafraid and because it didn’t sound like anything, or anyone, else. while “degrees of existence” is sonically a different beast altogether i think it has that sense of trying things while still dealing in ‘songs’. i’m not interested in music that goes from A to B to C in a fashion you’ve heard a million times before. i’m not interested in pastiche or ripping anybody off. i’m not interested in ‘irony’. i’m also not interested in becoming a ‘family favourite’ , a musician a ‘country can be proud of’, going on game shows or gradually diluting my music as i weary with jadedness and age. fuck that. i wanna make the kind of music that i’d like to hear – and that involves originality, vitality, and, yes, the sense of trying things.”

For the uninitiated, a trip through the back catalogue of Shayne P. Carter bands is a trip through the very best of NZ’s post-punk music. Start with his high school band Bored Games, work your way through Doublehappys and Straitjacket Fits to Dimmer.