Album Review: Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Frank Turner Be More Kind
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I consider myself lucky that I got a sneak preview of this new album when I saw Frank Turner play in Vancouver last year. He’s been a favourite artist of mine for many years now, to the point that the very idea of a new record is super exciting. I’ve held out for it for a long time.

Was it worth the wait?

First up, I must mention that this album feels different. The last album signaled an upturn in mood – the very name denotes a shift to a more positive mentality. And following on from that, Be More Kind certainly boasts a happy-go-lucky vibe.

Admittedly, I was unsure about this record at first. It signals a fairly drastic change for Turner. But then, thinking about it, he has always drawn influence from many places. A hardcore kid gone singer/songwriter, dipping his toes in folk, country and rock along the way. And although this record sounds more campfire than punk rock, it’s still a great listen.

For most of this record, Turner has dropped the punk sound, but raised the punk ethos. It is a political record, albeit gently. Turner copped flack in the past when he flirted with political messages, receiving attacks because of his privileged background that included an education at Eton, and because his message didn’t align with that of many of his fan base.

But recent world events have been catalysts that shifted Turner’s stance, drawing him back to political songwriting. He implores us to fight injustice and hatred, to reclaim identity and join in solidarity against the rising face of nationalism. “Sand In The Gears“, Turner’s last release prior to Be More Kind, was the sound of defeat. Trump had just been elected, and Turner’s response was wanting to hang out at the bar or a punk show and forget about the world.

Thematically, “1933” follows on from “Sand In The Gears” with this desire of wanting to escape realities by hanging out at the bar, but slowly emerging from such a passive stance with a call to action – this time drawing parallels between the rise of Nazi Germany and current world events.

On the whole, Be More Kind compels us not to escape reality, but confront it. This is never more obvious than the track “Make America Great Again”, which takes Trump’s slogan and uses it against him, examining what makes .

It’s a weird call to action, considering the man who wrote it is a Englishman with a history of clearly patriotic songs. What right does he have to comment on the state of America? But I get it. I’m a New Zealander, and I love America too. I don’t blame the country as a whole for the actions of their government – much like I don’t often stand by the actions of my own government, even though they are supposed to represent me.

I can see this being one of the more divisive songs on the album. I enjoy both the music and the message, but picture it rubbing some people up the wrong way.

I don’t love Be More Kind as much as some of Turner’s other albums. I have no issue with the pop songs, but too many tracks are slow and drag down an otherwise catchy and fun album. Title track “Be More Kind” is just too tame for my liking, as are “Going Nowhere”, “The Lifeboat” and “Get It Right”. “21st Century Survival Blues” gets a borderline pass from me – almost worth skipping but with a redeemable chorus. It’s the folky songs that bring the side down.

That said, I’ve absolutely adored “There She Is” ever since I heard Turner preview it in Vancouver last year. It’s a slow burner that still sustains energy throughout.

I feel harsh saying this, but I have my critic hat on. I like Be More Kind, but it really is a case of singles that stand out, with filler sandwiched between them. “Don’t Worry” is a fun, carefree number – Jack Johnson meets “The Bare Necessities” complete with hand claps. “Little Changes” is a catchy wee ditty, with an infectious beat and horns. “Blackout” and “Brave Face” are both upbeat and enjoyable, as is the calmer “Common Ground”.

The verdict? Not a strong cohesive album, but still good enough that I’ll keep listening to it. And I’m still super excited to see Turner and The Sleeping Souls play when they come to New Zealand in November.

A cheesy quote springs to mind. Recent Star Wars film The Last Jedi featured a new character Rose, who says something that left me reflecting long after the film had finished:

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

And I think that line sums up the message of Be More Kind. Fight injustice with kindness, make the racists ashamed, show compassion, celebrate life… Be more kind.

 

Joseph James

Buried Treasure: The Nerines – Owls

The Nerines Candle Claps
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Buried Treasure is a semi-regular feature that explores some hidden musical gems – the rare and forgotten B-sides, covers, hidden tracks, live versions and alternative takes that deserve some recognition.

I don’t remember how I first heard of The Nerines. They were from Palmy, and fit within a punk/indie scene. I saw them once playing an opening slot for Title Fight and it was super fun.

They got overshadowed when one of their members, Benny Tipene, entered on of those singing shows. Idol or X Factor or something like that… I was a fan of Benny’s and loved his folky solo work. He had a few lo-fi demo EPs up on bandcamp and they were great. He came to Wellington once to play at Mighty, Mighty, but I missed it because I had work that night. That was pre-fame days.

He ended up in the finals of the singing show, and although he didn’t win, the boosted profile did wonders for his music career. That’s the way it is in New Zealand – once you’ve been on television you’re bonafide celebrity until the wind changes. One of the pop anthems he wrote soundtracked Coca-Cola’s ad campaign that summer. I don’t begrudge him for his success, but I wish I had been able to see him play a small folk show before he blew up.

Anyway, back to The Nerines. They’re great. This song, “Owls” is my fave, due largely to the fun singalong outro.

It’s a fun tune. Strong bass lines that really stand out, bouncy drums, jangly guitars – these guys know how to play! A stop/start pre-chorus makes the chorus sound full of life and energy by comparison. And then it all cuts out.

Cue palm-muted strumming. The chant starts: “Everything looks shit in the sewer”. Talk about articulate! It just builds up and up and up – throbbing bass, then drums, than layered vocals, and soon enough the whole world is having a party. It’s so fun and you can’t help but shout along about how everything is shit but there’s no way you can actually mean it because you’re just caught up in the moment and life is so fun and this song is great and oh my, I’m out of breath, but what a ride!

 


The Nerines links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNerines/

Bandcamp: https://thenerines.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Live Review: King Brothers, Vottones and DHDFD’s at Meow, Wellington

The King Brothers NZ tour poster
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The King Brothers

w/ The DHDFD’s
The Vottones
Unsanitary Napkin
Meow, Wellington
Wednesday 21 February 2018

I gotta say, before you scroll down, be aware that this review and the photos embedded are not safe for work. Seriously. If your boss catches you looking at some of these images during work hours you are going to have to have a very awkward conversation. This is not appropriate workplace content. This cannot be considered decent by any stretch of the imagination. It’s downright depraved. Got it? Well then read on…

Watching Unsanitary Napkin made me regret that I’ve become estranged from the Wellington punk scene. I used to get along to many more punk shows, but the frequency decreased as many of my friends in hardcore bands disbanded. I still crave a taste of that intense abandon now and again, but don’t get my fix nearly as often as I should. Unsanitary Napkin reminded me of when PEARS opened for Strung Out – hyper aggressive and slightly unpredictable. The two guys in the rhythm section sported proper mops – a shaggy one on bass and a Beatles-esque mop on drums. Long hair always has potential to visually enhance a show, and it was great to see the players whip it around as they played. The vocals coming from the girl on guitar came totally unexpected. She was channeling some heavy stuff, because the coarse shrieking didn’t sound natural. It was weird seeing these demons tear through violent songs, only to transform into cutesy “aw shucks” embarrassed kids between songs. I’ll award points for intensity, but then dock a few for the lack of confidence between songs. Fake it til you make it!

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I glanced sideways at my friend Paris. I’d met up with her for dinner last week for a catch up seeing as she had just returned from a big stint abroad. She’d mentioned that she was keen to catch more live music and I invited her to this, the next gig I was planning to go to. Clearly I hadn’t put much thought into that, and now the poor girl was getting irreversibly scarred from this experience I’d recommended.

The Vottones Meow

Next up were Vottones. wow… what a band!

They delighted in vulgarity. Raw, unrepentant filth. I didn’t understand much of what was said, except for lots of “fuck you”s, an MC5 cover, and repeated chanting of the line “I AM DIARRHOEA”. Class, pure class. This is what I’ve come for.

At one point the singer gestured to his chest as he introduced a song. Is he pointing to his heart? Because if so, it’s the wrong side. Moments later I see that, no, not the heart. He is definitely pointing to his nips with both hands. Just to hammer the point home, he walked along to the bassist to jerk his shirt up and put his microphone to a saggy man-breast while he played. What is this, singing titty hour?

The Vottones Meow

Abusing the bassist didn’t stop there. The band riffed the tune to Sabbath‘s “Iron Man” as he removed his own shirt, grabbed the mic and stepped down into the crowd to sing. Although he didn’t stop there. He walked through the audience and out of the venue. It got to the point that he’d walked so far the mic lead had pulled out, but that didn’t stop him from furiously shouting into it. Upon returning to the front of stage, the singer jumped down and gave poor bass-man the wedgie from hell. As in, pulled the stressed undergarments so hard that he practically tore them in two. He then crouched down and put his head through the undie hole and allowed himself to get dragged around by his new noose, continuing to play guitar.

They also invited someone from the audience up onstage for a guitar duel at one point. I think they knew him – he could definitely play guitar well – but he could have been a random for all I know. I’ve been in that situation myself, pulled up onstage to play guitar for a band (although I don’t know how to play guitar).

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People think I’m weird for going to these kinds of things. And they’re 100% correct. But they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Last year I saw a guy dressed as an astronaut duet with puppets. A few months ago I played guitar with the legendary Guitar Wolf. These are the experiences that make you know that you are truly living. Sometimes the path to enlightenment involves watching half-naked foreign men violate all concepts of decency in dimly lit bar on a Wednesday night. I don’t make the rules – that’s just how it is.

The hilarious thing is that after the set the guys from Vottones got changed from their leather rock gear into standard clothing. It’s weird to see a man walking around in baggy jeans and a cute sweater, knowing that just 10 minutes ago he was a vile rock lord. It shatters illusions to see that he was a nice guy in comfy clothes commenting on how good the chicken on the menu tastes.

The DHDFD’s came across as a weird cross between Deja Voodoo and The Datsuns. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but that’s how it was – both terribly dero and stylistic. Scott on vocals was rocking the timeless outfit of only stubbies and a trucker cap, while his bandmates either side of him wore dress shoes. It was snotty punk with odd tangents. “We wrote this one after snorting meth, thinking that it was speed”, Scott explained, before popping a Gollum squat on a table amidst the audience for the next song. I would consider this set mad enough on any given day, but sandwiched between two crazy Japanese acts made it look mild by comparison.

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Next up were the headliners- the almighty King Brothers. During soundcheck the drummer let loose and I found my attention snatched away from the conversation I was having with Paris. Dude has chops! It’s unfair really – borderline cheating. I came here to witness energy, aggression. Wild, untamed insanity. Stage dives and gimmicks. But musical talent? That’s just not punk rock!

The King Brothers Meow

The trio dressed sharply in suits, adding an edge of sophistication to their set. The started off with a bang, with the bass and guitar players climbing onto speakers and jumping off in unison.

The lead vocalist with greying hair dominated as the life of the party. “COME CLOSER!” he shouted, beckoning to us. “COME CLOSER!” As soon as a mass of bodies had collected in front of him he sprang off the stage, the first of countless croudsurfing sessions during the set.

The King Brothers Meow

I’m not sure who was most standout in the King Brothers. The floor adverse singer certainly deserves a mention. A madman front and centre, demanding attention and acting out like a toddler. He shouted and swore, climbing on things and calling for people to put him up and carry him around. But then the other two onstage held it down professionally, with their unceasingly good brand of rock. Usually either the music or the show suffers at expense of the other, but in this case both the madness and the talent impressed.

The most excellent moment was when the vocalist ran into the crowd, snatched a girl’s drink, sculled it down, grabbed a dude nearby for a quick pash, and before you know it was back onstage.

Towards the end the band picked up the drumkit and re-assembled it in the middle of the floor, continuing the set in the centre of the crowd. Our madman friend, shirtless by this point, circled his bandmates above their heads, doing donuts whilst crowdsurfing.

It’s an overused cliché, I know. But dammit I was speechless after that show. I just stood near the bar, mouth slightly ajar, trying to process everything I’d just experienced. Just… just… uh… woah. That was rock and roll. That was a show.

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It’s bittersweet really. I had such a blast. I thoroughly enjoyed every wretched minute. But I am sad knowing that I’ll unlikely ever see a show that good again.

Photographer Connor Crawford recently posted a photo from King Brother’s Auckland show, captioned “King Brothers are the greatest band in the world”. I can 100% see where he comes from. Up until now Iron Maiden and Guitar Wolf both laid claim for my greatest live shows, but I think that I may need to revise this now.

And as for my friend Paris? Well yeah, she may need to get therapy at some point down the track, but she had the time of her life, and was grinning from ear to ear by the end of it.

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

Exclusive Track Premiere: Barracks – Lovestay (Acoustic)

Barracks ACOUSTAY cover
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It has been quiet on the Barracks-front for some time, but now the Bay of Plenty band have returned with a different sound. Taken from the 2016 of the same name, Lovestay has been re-recorded acoustically. This stripped back version showcases Jared Ipsen’s stellar singing abilities accompanied by tender piano playing stunning guitar strumming.

The sparse new arrangement contrasts against Barracks’ usual post-hardcore style, but works well. Moody, chilling, and incredibly well produced, it serves to highlight the introspective nature of the song.

Will Not Fade has a wickedly funny chat with Jared and Tom to learn what Barracks have been up to lately, and get a better picture of how the world looks from their point of view.

‘Lovestay (Acoustic)’ recorded by Barracks at C&T Studios, 2016. Mixed and mastered by Nathan Sowter. Streaming video by Joe O’Connor. Cover art by Conor Coleman.

What have you been up to over the past few years?

Jared:​ At the end of 2016, we released the criminally underrated EP, em>Lovestay. Early 2017, we played a couple of big shows with Baroness and Alexisonfire in Auckland, and will probably ride those sweet waves for a while. After that, we were drummerless, so Hunter (bass / vocals) started learning how to play. We offered Jin an $1,000,000 advance to play guitar for Barracks. We weren’t interested in playing traditional guitar solos anymore, but there shouldn’t be, like, a rule of no solos.

Obviously opening for bands like Baroness and Alexisonfire has earned you someawesome bragging rights. Do you think you’re ever likely to go on tour with an overseas act as the support band?

Jared:​ I mean, that would require going on tour, wouldn’t it?

How do you make it work, with band members living in different towns?

Tom: ​We make it work like any family in an indifferent universe. But we still want to be there for each other… The occasional birthday card. A text sent to say “are you alive?” Or just a simple drum beat tapped out and recorded in the car at the traffic lights for the others to make a song out of. Regular people. Doing regular things.

Tell me your thoughts on music piracy. Is it even a thing anymore, now that streaming is so dominant? I ask because you featured predominantly on the Bittorrent site a few years back.

Jared:​ I think if someone is the type that doesn’t pay for music, they’re never going to pay for music, no matter how much they like it. For me, it was really the difference between people hearing our music for free or not hearing it at all. As far as piracy goes, one of the main ways that people rip music these days is straight from YouTube – we don’t have things like Limewire anymore. If people are just gonna do that, I’d rather them have a good sounding version that it be compressed to shit. Our last royalty cheque from streams was $6.79 for the quarter. Which then has to be split between five people. So you could say we’re doing pretty well.

This acoustic version is quite different from your other material. Are you officially
sell-outs now, or did that happen long ago?

Jared:​ I think there’s an episode of The EPening where you can see the exact moment we sold out.

Tom: ​I’ve always wanted to sell out. I had to wait until the others gave up on their artistic integrity before joining me in the creative slums. But it’s nice to finally have company.

But in all seriousness, why an acoustic version of an old track, rather than a completely new song?

Jared:​ Last year we played a few acoustic shows and a live to air on bFM, and people really seemed to enjoy it – or at least they didn’t tell us they hated it, so it seems fair to make that assumption. We thought it would be cool to record a few acoustic versions of our songs because it’s easy and doesn’t take very long. We have around 10 new songs that we’re working on at the moment, we just haven’t quite gotten the bass tone right.

Lovestay was written a few years ago now. Do you still identify with the person you were when you wrote it?

Jared:​ Yeah, definitely. I’ve tried to keep a theme running through all the Barracks songs, so Lovestay is really just an extension of the ideas from Ghosts, especially in tracks like Fallaway. The EP is about growing up and my pathetic attempts at being as an adult, and I still suck at being as adult, and probably will do for quite some time.

Conor Coleman has his finger in a lot of pies. I can’t even keep up with all the musical
projects that he is part of. He’s currently doing trap music. How did it come about that he did the cover art for this release?

Jared:​ My sister took the original photo for the Lovestay EP over in France. I had been thinking about cover art for Acoustay when I scrolled past Conor’s photo in my Instagram and it was a perfect fit. Then, I slid in to his DMs and asked if we could use it. He said yes. Then I gave him my email address, and he electronically sent me a copy of the photo in the original resolution. After that, I put it in to Photoshop and cropped it into a square.

I adore your social media presence. Do you brainstorm funny things to post, or does it
come naturally?

Jared:​ It comes naturally, unfortunately. All of the vlogs we’ve made have just come about from pointing a camera at each other while we hang out. It seems funny from the outside, but when you have to spend any amount of time with us, it can get pretty old.

What is the band’s consensus on Tenacious D? Is it good or bad to own multiple copies</strong of their CD? [Full disclosure: I’ve seen the D play live three times]

Jared:​ I mean, they’re fine. Say what you will about Jack Black but that dude has pipes, and obviously Kyle is a genius. I had one or two copies of their debut back in the day – it’s just one of those CDs no one remembers buying but every household seems to have a (two) copy(ies), like American Idiot. They’ve been nominated for Grammys and made movies and shit so it’s kind of hard to hate on them when they’re just doing their thing and having a good time. Wonderboy is a jam.

Tom: ​Personally, if somebody was in my car, going through the oooool’ CD Wallet looking for bangaz, and they stumbled across two copies of the ‘D, side-by-side, in the same wallet, I would be proud. Not only proud that I managed to convince someone to get in a car with me, but also that the lucky passenger could not only listen to the ‘D on non-stop rotate, but also hold the ‘D in their hand and appreciate the craftsmanship of that wee devil.

Barracks 2018

Why do you hate drummers?

Jared:​ They take too long to set up, they’re always playing around with other bands on the side, and you have to stop yourself from getting close in case they leave you again.

Tom: ​I wish Jared was a drummer so he would leave, too.

Do you prefer playing R18 or AA shows?

Jared:​ It’s a different vibe. As someone that’s been sucking at putting on AA shows for about 10 years now, I’m probably a bit biased toward them. R18 are usually pretty wild though, the only downside is making money for the Illuminati alcohol industry. The hard part of all ages shows lately has been getting people through the door – there aren’t too many young bands kicking around, so sometimes you just play to the other bands that are playing. We call it ‘communal band practice.’

Do you feel that the new Facebook react emoji things have helped you to express your
feelings better?

Tom: ​It’s a step in the right direction, where people have kind of given up on written and spoken communication. Print is dying, nobody uses phones for talking anymore, and the average age level of spelling and literacy is decreasing. So it’s nice to see emojis step up to the plate and let people know how they feel – with zero effort given (either by actually expressing themselves in well reasoned, thought out sentences or, god forbid, letting somebody actually see their face). I’m rather looking forward to the next step in communication evolution where nobody does anything out of fear of being embarrassed or having their overall life rating decrease.

I think that something that helps Barracks stand out is the focus on melody. Is this a conscious effort to eschew the clichéd approach within the genre of trying to sound as heavy as possible?

Jared:​ I don’t think it’s been a conscious choice as such to be more emo – I’d say we’ve always been a post-hardcore band that have lumped ourselves in with heavier bands, out of necessity more than anything. With the size of our scene in NZ, it doesn’t really make sense to split all the bands up into single genre shows. Also, screaming is hard and hurts my head.

Does this new single signal a wave of new material to come?

Jared:​ Nah, probably not.

Tom: ​Jared’s overall nihilism gets me pretty jacked up, so I’m hoping to work with that and try disappoint him further with the doomiest riff ever created and maybe made into a song. Stay tuned. Just don’t hold your breath. Like, tune in… But keep the volume low so it doesn’t distract you. Then when you least expect it, maybe, just maybe…

What’s next for Barracks?

Jared:​ We’ve just started an alliance in Contest of Champions, so we’re going to be going really hard on that for a while, see where it takes us.

Tom: ​A new song. Please. Just anything. If anyone in Barracks reads this… I miss you guys.

Jared:​ If anyone would like to replace Tom as the guitarist for Barracks, flick me a text on 0279038596.


Get Lovestay (Acoustic) here – smarturl.it/LovestayAcoustic

Barracks links:

BANDCAMP + MERCH | www.barracksmusic.bandcamp.com
INSTAGRAM l instagram.com/barracksmusic
FACEBOOK l facebook.com/barracksmusic
TWITTER l twitter.com/barracksmusic_
TUMBLR | www.fuckyeahbarracksmusic.tumblr.com
YOUTUBE | https://www.youtube.com/barracks

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Beneath The Roots – Chasing Light

Beneath The Roots Chasing Light cover
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Beneath The Roots is the psyedonym of Brandon Enderson of Manchester, New Hampshire. Enderson teamed up with local sound engineer Zach Zyla to record this début acoustic pop-punk album, Chasing Light.

This is a truly raw recording, done in Zyla’s home studio. Not to say that it is poor quality, but you can really hear the steel strings of the guitar hum and vibrate as Enderson strums. It soudns intimate and close. Chasing Light is mostly a standard singer/songwriter affair of one man with a guitar, but each track adds something new to the mix.

We could use more of these small extras. Initially, it just takes switching up the strumming. During “Digging Myself Out” Enderson changes to high-pitched strumming, punctuated with a lush fingerpicked tail. Other moments, like delay pedal accents in “The Cross You Bare”, and the keyboards in “Whiskey Song” also help to make the songs shine.

The simple style works well, but when we hear drums come in during the fourth track it sounds so much better. And a fully fleshed out fifth track makes you wonder if they should have done the entire record as a band. I’m undecided about this. On one hand, the evolution that progresses throughout the album is nice, but on the other hand, the tracks with more production are easily superior.

One of my main gripes with pop-punk is the whiny nature of the vocals. Sure, I like Blink 182 as much as the next guy, and Into It. Over It. can do no wrong, but it’s not a genre I can tolerate too much of. That said, there are some vocal highlights interspersed here. The harmonies in “We Are Divinity” strike a good balance between passionate shouting and musical prettiness.

Some of these tracks remind me of A Day To Remember’s more stripped-back material. Good pop sensibilities, slightly whiny vocals, and calm yet enticing delivery.

Beneath The Roots have done well with this début album. Polished enough to sound good, raw enough to boast guts, and good, simple songwriting that offers just enough technical flourishing to stand out.

 


Beneath The Roots links:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/4o71dQEerL6RkFnOdbdG5s
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/chasing-light-ep/1325220194
Bandcamp: https://beneaththeroots.bandcamp.com/releases
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/beneaththeroots
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beneatheroots/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beneatheroots/

Joseph James