EP Review: Far From Here – The Loss

Far From Here The Loss cover
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It’s the type of morning that only a place like Karori can put on. It’s cold. Not cold enough that I can see my breath, but certainly enough to warrant a few extra layers of clothing. Everything is grey. Between the concrete roads, the overcast skies and the dense fog, there is little colour to be seen as I walk to work. But the music I’m listening to keeps me in good spirits.

I’ll discuss the music in a minute, but first I’ll tell you a story to give you context.

Hamish Dobbie Far From Here promo shot

Image: Sam Blythe Photography

When I first met Hamish Dobbie seven years ago his favourite band was Dream Theater. We tried to form a band together at one point, but nothing eventuated from it. Later on down the track he joined some of our mutual friends as bass player for their hardcore band Declaration AD [My review of Declaration AD opening for Bangs is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written]. This was then followed by a string of other hardcore/metal projects, making Dobbie one of the busiest people in the local scene for a year or two.

But now he has tried his hand at a different style.

It’s almost clichéd – going from hardcore to acoustic. Dave Baxter from The Chase started Avalanche City. Dallas Green from Alexisonfire started City and Colour. Derek Archambault from Defeater started Alcoa. And then we have the many punk singers who feature on the Revival Tour: Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, Jon Snodgrass, Dave Hause etc…

And Hamish Dobbie from the local hardcore scene started Far From Here.

His first release is a five track EP called The Loss – poignant pop music with a dash of electronica dance beats.

The EP has been a few years in the making. Dobbie started working as a youth worker in his last year at university, and recently switched to work in the mental health sector. Not easy jobs by any means.The Loss was written in the midst of inner turmoil, and as an attempt to put a language to the experience of suffering.

And rather than writing music in the vein of Terror and Advent, he turned to other musical influences like Broods, JOY, Bon Iver, and Imogen Heap.

It makes for nice listening. The titular opening track sets a tone of mourning through use of guitar and delay, not unlike something Explosions In The Sky would do. A dance beat slowly emerges before everything cuts out. It’s a delicate balance – the sad guitars and the uptempo beat – and although the two elements shouldn’t work together on paper, they somehow create something compelling radiates hope. Just as it seems to gain momentum, the song ends. I wish it was longer.

Two things can be learnt from this first song: first, Dobbie does dynamics well. And secondly, he absolutely nails the guitar tones on this EP.

Despite his best efforts, Dobbie is not the strongest singer. Nor does he pretend that he is. He recruits two friends to help him out in that department. Andy Hockey tackles a verse in “Distance”, and does well to mirror Dobbie’s aching. And Mimi Gilbert features in “I’ve Failed You”. Gilbert’s voice is a showstopper. She recorded it from her home studio in Portland, Oregon, and it took her less than an hour to record all her takes for that song. The vocal harmonies at the end of that track are my highlight of the EP.

If stunning guitar tone paired with Postal Service-esque beats sounds appealing to you, then give Far From Here a listen. If that doesn’t sell it to you, how does incredible vocal harmonies, sublime moodiness and brilliant production sound?

I can think of nothing better on a bleak, foggy morning like this.


Far From Here links:

Bandcamp: https://farfromherenz.bandcamp.com/

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

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/farfromherenz/tracks 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/farfromherenz/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2ecTxAhzY04Dlh7p4fboeg 

 

Album Review: Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels

Emeli Sande Long Live The Angels
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Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels

I first became aware of Emeli Sandé when my younger sister sang her hit single “Next To Me” at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary ceremony. I was taken by the power of it, so made it my business to seek out the original artist. Turns out that Sandé was a pretty big deal – beating chart records set by The Beatles and boosting the biggest selling record of 2012. Four years later, Sandé has released her follow up album, Long Live The Angels.

Long Live The Angels is explores Sandé’s identity. Her half-Zambian, half-Scottish heritage, her failed marriage and strained relationships, her aspirations and desires realised since she dropped her medical studies to pursue a music career. Here is someone who reached such great heights with her début album, but lost herself in the process. Long Live The Angels is the story of a powerful singer desperately climbing back up to her former throne.

“Selah” starts the album with a powerful tone. Sandé shows off her gorgeous voice by reducing the instrumentation to a minimum, and instead using the service of a goosebump-inducing choir to add ambiance to her poetic singing. The gospel overtones continue with the uplifting first single “Breathing Underwater” – a euphoric victory cry in ballad form.

I love the production on this album. Everything feels very deliberate. By reducing the amount of instruments in each song, Sandé has more space to let her voice take center stage. Take for example “Sweet Architect”. It’s just piano and vocals, with choral harmonies and organ used to add depth towards the end. But it makes an impact.

In “Happen” we feel Sandé’s despair and loss, until a guitar chimes in – almost squealing – and Sandé answers defiantly. “Hurts” adds urgency with a fast hand-clapped beat and brass section.  Lovely acoustic guitar number “Give Me Something”, however, feels more simple, yet effective.

The album takes a sharp turn half way through, with a more contemporary pop approach. Jay Electronica lays down some rapping for a verse in “Garden”, and the next track “I’d Rather Not” features hip-hop drumming. The two songs don’t fit well within the context of the rest of the album. Compared to the more soulful other songs, these more urban tracks feels forced – with “Garden” in particular clearly manufactured with the intention of becoming a hit. Album closer “Babe” and a few of the bonus tracks come close to straying into this territory as well.

Not to let these urban intrusions derail the album, Sandé saves one of the best tracks for later – the feel good family affair “Tenderly” – a nod to her Zambian heritage. From here on in the mood feels lighter and more carefree. Using her voice to convey emotion and gravitas works, but injecting fun energy into tracks like “Highs and Lows” is simply more enjoyable.

Long Live The Angels feels emotionally raw, covering the entire spectrum from desperation to elation. Sandé uses the album as her phoenix fire, emerging from heartbreak and loss to rise stronger than before. The production is stunning, but not nearly as impressive as her voice.

Simple, effective, and emotional: Long Live The Angels is a defiant statement from a talented singer claiming back her stake in the music industry

Joseph James

Live Review: Jay Power at Meow, Wellington

Jay Power NZ tour
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Jay Power

w/ Spitfire

Meow, Wellington

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Last week when I interviewed Adelaide singer Jay Power I asked her to convince me that it was worth coming out to her gig on Wednesday night. She simply listed the musicians playing, and I could tell just from those names that the quality musicianship would be enough to make it worthwhile.

SPitfire MEow Wellington Jay Power.jpg

Image: Will Not Fade

First up was Wellington trio Spitfire, bringing a spontaneous experimental vibe to the evening. They had loose points of the arrangements agreed upon to navigate their playing, but most of it was improvised. The three musos onstage were clearly having a blast, exchanging glances and bouncing ideas off each other as they worked together to evolve their tunes. Ed Zuccolo held the bass down and led the melody simultaneously with his signature mini moog set up. Drummer Myele Manzanza pushed the time signatures and messed around with the flow. His fills and flourishes were disarmingly fast, and you could see him cracking up as he tried new and interesting approaches to see what would fit within the song.  Justin Firefly Clarke rounded out the tunes on guitar, fleshing out the sound with plenty of whammy.

The hour long set was thoroughly enjoyable. The band clearly had a blast messing around onstage, and I was enthralled with the sheer talent in front of me.

Jay Power Wellington Meow

Image: Will Not Fade

Headliner Jay Power arrived onstage exuding confidence, rocking a fur jacket that would earn Macklemore’s respect. Not only did she look the part, but she had a powerful voice to match. It was one of the colder Wellington days in a long time, not that you’d think it with the warm vibes and live energy that Power and her band brought with them.

They offered up a great selection of groovy pop-meet-soul-meets-jazz-meets-funk numbers from Power’s recent  album The Missing, as well as a slightly tongue-in-cheek cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony”- “My guilty little pleasure”, as Power put it.

A sign with “No Scat

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Image: Cat Power

” written on it had been placed on the wall just side of stage, next to a stuffed dead wallaby. If I hadn’t been to Meow before I would have wondered if this were a deliberate placement. Nevertheless, Power acknowledged the sign, and then cheekily threw some scat into her next song as a sign of defiance.

Following on from the talent of Spitfire was no easy task, but Power and her band managed to keep the bar high as they delivered song after song.Her band members were impressively tight, considering that they had only just recently assembled for this tour. Their sound was crisp, and although they were all seasoned players, I was surprised at how well they had gelled in the the limited time they’d had to do so.

They played to a backing track, so I guess that they had no room for error. Power’s long time guitarist Mikey Chan provided guitar squeals and solos between riffs, and Hollie Smiths’ rhythm section of Darren Mathiassen and Marika Hodgson kept it flowing on drums and five string bass, respectively. And of course they all did an amazing job of support Jay herself, who wailed her way through the set with classy showmanship.

I had been somewhat hesitant to resist the call of my bed and venture out to a a bar to see some bands on a chilly Winter night. I’m so glad that I did though, because the sheer talent was outstanding.


Jay Power is also playing up North over the next few days. Details below.

Friday August 12 – The Old Stone Butter Factory Whangarei

Tickets available here

Saturday 13 August/ Sun 14 August – Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival

 

Interview: Jay Power

Jay Power
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Soulful Australian singer Jay Power is crossing the Tasman to play Meow in Wellington on Wednesday night next week, before heading north for a show at The Old Stone Butter Factory in Whangarei on Friday, and four slots at Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival over the weekend. Will Not Fade shot off some questions to try and get a taste for what to expect at Jay’s shows.

Hi Jay, how are you?

Pretty pumped to be coming to New Zealand for the first time. I hear it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and I will see it for myself!

I can’t argue with that. I’m sure that you will agree when you see for yourself soon enough. For the uninitiated, how do you explain your sound to first time listeners? And what song would you play to show what you are all about?

It’s pop music with soul and jazz flavours over funk and hip hop beats. ‘When You Got Love’ might be a good indication of how I like to play. Laid back grooves with and upbeat feeling.

You’ve just switched from using your real name to the Jay Power moniker. Did this change represent something more?  

It’s partly practical (less letters, more simple ….Google approves) but it’s also liberating to reinvent myself artistically and enter a new phase in my career, which is what I was doing with the music too. I’ve enjoyed doing something new with a new name that’s punchy and to the point.

Sounds good to me. Following on from that, what is your reaction to the following short clip?

It never gets boring, it’s genius every time.

Your bio states that you were a finalist for South Australian Female Artist of the year last year. Tell me about what that involved.

It’s a yearly awards ceremony to recognise what’s happening in the local scene. I’d just released my album and I was nominated as a result of that. It was nice to be recognised by my peers, but I think the best bit about the event was being a part of something bigger and seeing what other artists are creating and achieving. And buying a new dress for it was pretty cool too.

Nice! In fact, your overall bio is an impressive read. What do you consider you greatest achievement to date?

Really? Thanks! The thing I’m most proud of is my album, a labour of love two years in the making alongside some of my favourite people in this world. It’s a big deal, making and album and it’s hard to make something that’s interesting and true to yourself, I think we mostly achieved that.

On this upcoming tour you’ve got both headlining shows, and festival slots. Does each type of performance require a different approach?

Yes it does and that’s part of the adventure. You connect with people in a different way each time and it brings something new out in your performance. In fact on this tour it’s even more varied since we’re playing at a jazz festival, so we might sneak in a jazz tune or two.

Your band boasts an impressive line-up. How did you manage to secure such talent?

Last year I had the pleasure of supporting Hollie Smith while she was touring in Australia. Darren Mathiassen and Marika Hodgeson (both from NZ) played in Hollie’s band and I was of course, super impressed. When I knew I was coming to New Zealand I got in touch to see if they would play with me – lucky me, they said yes. I’m also bringing Mikey Chan with me from Melbourne Australia, we just toured England together and he’s a pretty special guitarist.

You’re playing Wellington on a Wednesday night. Convince me that it’s worth missing out on sleep to come out and see your show.

It’s a Wednesday. What could you possibly be doing on a Wednesday that’s better than coming out to see seriously soul musicians in a great venue like Meow? Add to that the opportunity to see Spitfire play (Myele Manzanza, Ed Zuccolo and Justin Firefly – hell yes!) and I can guarantee Netflix simply can’t compare.

Consider me convinced! Ed Zuccolo used to play with Adam Page a lot so he is a drawcard for me in his own right. I can imagine that you will be busy on this upcoming tour, but you are travelling through some incredible parts of the country. Do you have any non-music plans for your time in New Zealand?

There will be non-music travel activities, but I don’t know what they are yet. I plan to go with the beautiful flow and see everything there is to see along the way. From my understanding I won’t be stuck for things to see and do.

You will be spolit for choice, trust me. I love my hometown of Wellington, and the places up north are stunning. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope to see you play at Meow on Wednesday.

Thanks for the interview Joseph.

J Jay xx


JAY POWER LINKS

Website

Facebook

Soundcloud

Twitter

YouTube

Instagram


NEW ZEALAND SHOW DATES

Wednesday August 10 – Meow Wellington, with special guest Spitfire

Tickets available here

Friday August 12 – The Old Stone Butter Factory Whangarei

Tickets available here

Saturday 13 August/ Sun 14 August – Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival

 

Album Review: Broods – Conscious

Broods Conscious
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Sibling pop duo Broods hail from my hometown of Nelson. I’ve seen them play once, opening for Ellie Goulding in Wellington. They showed promise at the time, but their sound seemed incomplete. Not bad, but just needing a bit more to boost their sound.

Broods rose of fame on the strength of their debut song “Bridges”, which seemingly garnered international attention overnight. When news broke that the pair had teamed up with Joel Little, the producer behind Lorde, it seemed inevitable that Broods would go far.

While the debut eponymous EP, and following album Evergreen were strong, the solemn and ethereal feel didn’t always grab the listeners attention. Conscious, by contrast, has some stronger tracks that get in your face.

Take, for example, lead single “Free”. Georgia draws us in with a strong acapella, before the industrial beat and the haunting wail solidify the song. It’s edgier and more anthemic than their previous material, signifying a stronger new sound for Broods.

Whether darker, punchier, or more upbeat, most of the songs on this album sound like a musical step up from previous works. “Are You Home” sounds reminiscent of Naked and Famous, with a very “Punching In A Dream” sounding intro, and an overall feel that would sit well on a pulsating dancefloor. Likewise, “We Have Everything”, “Full Blown Love” and “Hold The Line” are infectious and fun.

There are some big players of the pop world adding their touches to the album. “Heartlines” will draw the inevitable Lorde comparisons, seeing as Yelich-O’Connor herself helped to co-write this track. It features one of the more memorable choruses of the album, although with all the radio play it receives, of course it’s more likely to remain in your head. Tove Lo also makes an appearance in “Freak Of Nature”, a tender ballad more reminiscent of the older Broods sound.

As Broods have blown up, they have needed to step up their game to justify their popularity. Conscious ushers in a fuller sound, with multiple layers of production really fleshing out mix to make for a more gratifying listen. Gone is the bare synth/vocals combo, with the industrial style drumming and gorgeous multi-level sung harmonies making a welcome impact. The closing title track showcases this best, with Kanye-esque synths, and a chanting choir making the song sound immense.

This second Broods album is bigger, bolder, more deliberate sounding, and more, well… Conscious.

Joseph James

Album Review: Tancred – Out Of The Garden

Tancred Out Of The Garden
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Kooky, folky and poppy: Now, Now is a delightful listen, somehow being both calm and upbeat in one. Take the cute and quirky Kimya Dawson and add a shoegaze feel and you may land on something similar sounding. Odd drone bits and some deadpan singing create an indie feel that simultaneously offsets and complements the powerpop songs.

Jess Abbott is one third of Now, Now, sharing duties as guitarist and singer. This review is about her side project, Tancred. Out Of The Garden is the follow up to 2011’s Capes and 2013’s self-titled album.

Despite being the third full studio Tancred album, this is the first that feels fully formed and cohesive. It was written over a two year period outside of Now, Now’s touring schedule, when Abbott found alternative work at a liquor shop in a rough part of town. Abbott used the writing process to make sense of her feelings, at first feeling vulnerable, and then defiant as she walked home alone at night in less desirable areas.

Abbott hired two producers for this album, the first being That Dog vocalist/guitarist Anna Waronker – whose influence is unmistakable. The second producer is OFF! bassist Steven McDonald. I saw OFF! open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers several years ago, and I’d wager that they are as close to a modern day Black Flag as you’re going to find. For her band, Abbott recruited Walking Oceans sticksman Terrence Vitali to lay down beats, and Terrence Vitali to round out the trio on bass. Between them, these five capable musicians have enough attitude, skills and experience to make one very exciting record. (They all have vocal parts on the album as well).

The crunchy guitar riff hook that starts off album opener “Bed Case” foreshadows a fun listen ahead. The distorted guitar – coupled with the catchy hand clap styled chorus – makes for a perfect pop number.

 

I must say that the album seems a bit formulaic. And although somewhat predictable, don’t confuse formulaic for bad. The structure seems to involve lots of palm-muted strumming to build tension, before launching into a chorus that reminds you why Tancred is so worth listening to. Next we hear plenty a guitar solo in the bridge that dies down just before a triumphant end chorus.

This is not to say it all sounds the same. Trashy drum tones and aggressive grungy distortion give attack and attitude to an otherwise quite sweet sound. “Hang Me” stands out from the rest of the album, with a stripped back melancholy feel, with “Sell My Head” bringing the mood back up at ripping pace with a cutesy disjointed guitar solo. I also love how “Pretty Girls” channels the same sound as the rest of the album, but seems stripped back, with acoustic sounding bass, and drumsticks tapping on drum rims in a linear pattern.

 

Tancred by-Chloe-AftelLyrically, Abbott sounds unsure of herself and where she fits in, with lines like “I’ll just never be cool/ I’ll never be one of you”, and “I would kill to be one of the boys”. However she certainly sounds bolder, with more exciting playing, and stronger vocals than I’ve heard from her previously, verging on showing off with plenty of gorgeous “ooh’s” and “ahh’s”. It’s a bit of a dichotomy, with self-assured music disguising underlying insecurities. It is as Abbott says, “sugary, but when listening closely, unsettling.”

Out Of The Garden is a tale of finding confidence, or at the very least, projecting it. Abbott selected some great collaborators to help her create this record, and this is her best work to date. Go ahead and listen to Tancred, and you’ll be rewarded with half an hour of deliciously fun indie powerpop.

EP Review: Kacy Hill – Bloo

Kacy Hill Bloo EP cover
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It sounds like Kacy Hill is one of those lucky right-place-right-time people. She started out as a model (which could explain why she looks familiar, especially if you’ve ever seen American Apparel advertisements). This modelling work somehow led on into dancing, which landed her a role as a stage dancer on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. Hill somehow managed to capture Ye’s attention, and after listening to her demo backstage, he decided to sign her to his label G.O.O.D Music.

If you’re not a Kanye fan, don’t let this put you off. This isn’t a hip hop release. Although it is definitely manufactured pop.

HIll has a great voice. The most similar name I can think of is Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine).

First track “Foreign Fields” features crackles and static to give it a warm, vinyl-like feel. It’s a simple song that showcases Hill’s stunning voice, accompanied by crisp piano. There is a trip-hop vibe to it, with a handclap metranome transforming into an electro drum beat. The chorus feels messy with extra effects that make Hills sound distant and echo-y, but it helps to contrast against the slightly sterile verses.

EP highlight “Arm’s Length” takes us into Florence + Machine territory, with upliftingly cooed choruses and ethereal bridges. It’s a joyous anthem that marries delicacy with club music.  “Shades of Blue” brings the mood down. The thunderous drums are cool, but I question why Hill chose such a gloomy song as the closing track. When a début EP like this only contains three songs, each song needs to be strong enough to all make a positive statement. Ending on a depressing note taints the overall experience.

The piano-led gospel-come-pop works well, although the overproduction and excessive effects don’t always serve to enhance the music. The songs work best when striped right back to the basics of just piano and vocals. As they say, less is more. Hill’s voice is gorgeous, and I’d far rather listen to her than half the tripe that plays on the radio these days. This short taster is a promising show of Hill’s potential. Let’s just hope that in the future she can let the songs do the talking, instead of hiding behind unnecessary overproduction.

Joseph James