Album Review: Vorn – The Winter Session

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Vorn is a twisted genius.

The man is brilliant. One of the more able musicians I know. Listen to his works and you’ll find him spanning hip-hop, rock, pop, blues, disco … uh … polka… Look, he’s diverse, OK?

He’s also sick in the head. He sings about drowning puppies and delays on the railways caused by suicides. My favourite two Vorn songs are about buying condoms and weed. But his music is good enough that people tolerate his content to the point that no-one has called the authorities yet.

Vorn

Never one to miss a chance for ironic humour, for the video Vorn has the entire band dressed in camo, meaning that you can’t actually see them.

For the latest album, The Winter Session, Vorn has taken a different direction. He and his band recorded and filmed the entire album in a continuous take, like a self-indulgent prog-rock band. Recording 50 minutes of music without break provides challenges. It necessitates good flow. There isn’t the same opportunity to re-tune or rest.

This can be seen as a downside because the music isn’t as varied as we have come to expect from previous Vorn records. At the same time, it makes the album cohesive. We still get a small cross-section of the music spectrum – the hip-hop track towards the end stands out – it just all feels same-y.

The Winter Session has a strong electronica vibe, relying heavily on synths, keyboards and effects like looping pedals. The inclusion of violin provides an interesting baroque-meets-new-wave feel.

In many ways The Winter Session contains elements expected from your typical Vorn record – witty, self-aware lyrics that see-saw between braggadocious and self-loathing; harmonised chanting; catchy choruses; crisp drums with strong focus on alternating sticking on the hi-hats; the signature violin; Vorn’s falsetto; sheer weirdness… But long instrumental interludes bridging songs and the over-saturation of sci-fi sounds add new flavour to the Vorn arsenal. I especially like the tabla beat on the midi keyboard that complement the drums at one point.

Because he is so odd and quirky, Vorn is doomed to both critical praise and public indifference. Thankfully in recent years some of NZ acts who dare to be different have garnered success (Kimbra and Lorde), but it’s still a tall-poppy market. Singing with a Kiwi accent is borderline heresy, so Vorn may as well burn himself at the stake.

But at the end of the day, this is the main thing you need to take away from watching The Winter Session: Vorn has a fender squier strapped to his front for the duration of the recording, but spends the whole time playing keyboards instead of riffing on his guitar.

Who would have expected something so pretentious from a dude from Taranaki sporting a mullet?


Vorn links:

https://vornnz.bandcamp.com/

http://www.youtube.com/vornography

http://www.powertoolrecords.co.nz/

Joseph James <3 Vorn and has drummed with him on a few occasions separate from Vorn’s main project.

Photo Gallery: Skinny Hobos at Valhalla, Wellington

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Skinny Hobos

w/ Brendon Thomas & The Vibes, Nation

Friday 2 June 2017

Valhalla, Wellington

Last night was wild haze. I went to the show at Valhalla … which was awesome… and I woke up feeling quite lost and unwell in a van in Marton … which was not so awesome. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

I spent the rest of today hitching and busing back to Wellington. Here are some snaps I took at the gig.

Brendon Thomas & The Vibes

Brendon Thomas & The Vibes Valhalla Wellington Brendon Thomas & The Vibes Valhalla Wellington

Skinny Hobos

Skinny Hobos Valhalla Wellington

Words and photos by Joseph James

Head Like A Hole at Valhalla – 25th Anniversary Tour

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington Poster 25th Anniversary Tour
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Head Like A Hole playing the album 13

w/ Hiboux

Saturday 20 May 2017

Valhalla, Wellington

A friend of mine has a story from when his band opened for Head Like A Hole many years ago. During HLAH’s set a naked man run onstage and stage dived off. He got consumed by the mosh pit, only to emerge from the midst of it right and the end of the night when the crowd had dispersed.

Imagine being part of that mosh pit. It’s hot. You’re enjoying the music and bouncing between other sweaty bodies. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an undressed man with flailing penis appears out of nowhere, blocking out the light and landing square on top of you.

My friend is now a priest, and although it isn’t very priestly to condone tales of rock n roll like this, he loves sharing it. He grins from ear to ear as he tells his story, giggling about wild times.

Of course Head Like A Hole have been known to perform naked and caked with mud in the past as well. Tonight was my first time seeing the band, and they were performing their début album 13 (released in 1992 – the year I was born!). All bets were off, and I braced myself for some madness.

Hiboux opening for Head Like A Hole at ValhallaHiboux

I’ve been following the Instagram account of local post-rock lads Hiboux, and it is clear that they’ve worked hard recently. With a début album now under their belts, the band have filmed videos, written more music, and are planning an upcoming trans-Tasman tour. They sounded great when I saw them open for Alcest last month, and tonight was just as great.

The lighting guy was having fun trying to destroy my photos, employing far too much red light and working the for machine overtime – two ingredients that serve to foil my camera’s ability. I had fun though, climbing up on the side of a speaker rig to find interesting angles.

If you haven’t heard Hiboux yet, I recommend checking them out. Their hypnotic instrumental tunes cast a spell over Valhalla. It was perhaps a bit sedate at first considering that they were opening for legendary wild men, but later on the set the distortion pedals came to the foray and the headbanging material unleashed. Although their music is well-crafted and exact, fantastic energy brims beneath, making the explosive sections of the songs all the more dynamic.

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Head Like A Hole Valhalla WellingtonHead Like A Hole

Head Like A Hole disbanded when I was eight, meaning that although I’m know of them, they have never been at the forefront of music I listen to. They’ve had their share of play on The Rock radio station, and one of Dad’s friends used to bring HLAH CDs to our family BBQs [related story], so I am familiar with a few hits, but couldn’t say I know any of their albums well. Knowing that they had planned on playing début album 13 on this tour, I’ve listened to it leading up to the show.

13 is snotty punk music: fast, aggressive and fun. It captures the band at the start of their career – slightly naïve, yet with obvious potential. The recordings sound dated –  funky alt-rock Faith No More worship with bright popping drums and wiry guitars – but despite this the album remains a fan favourite.

By comparison, tonight when the band played the 25 year-old songs they sounded full and punchy. Not only did they sound great, but they had brilliant presence. We didn’t see the naked mud men of yesteryear, but the wildness was still evident.

Head Like A Hole Valhalla Wellington

Like their contemporaries Shihad, they’ve taken rock music, added an alternative edge, and perfected the delivery. Frontman Booga Beezley – dressed in black leather and hair dripping with sweat – swung his mic stand around and told self-deprecating stories.

“This song [Penut] was written after a night of dangerous drinking.” He revealed, half proud of himself, half cautioning us. “I woke up at Nigel’s mum’s house, having shit myself. Shit was everywhere: on the walls, on the toilet. There was shit on me. Nights like that define who you are as a person, which is how we manage to write such great songs.”

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Crowd Surfing at Head Like A Hole

Valhalla was as full as I’ve seen it in a year or two, sold out and filled with aging rock fans wanting that taste of their teenage years. The pit up the front was in full swing and a handful of punters tried their hands at stage diving throughout the night – with varying degrees of success.

“We’ve come to that point in the night where we are going to play some radio friendly pop hits”Head Like A Hole Wellington Set List Beezly laughed when the band approached the second half of the set, “who wants to hear some Ed Sheeran?”

Despite never having listened to Head Like A Hole much, I was pleased to learn that I actually knew many of the songs from the second half of the set. “A Crying Shame” was great fun, with a signature trumpet hook played by the woman who had given me my wristband at the start of the night. “Hootenanny” earned cries of excitement, with everyone chanting along to the chorus. A cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” brought the mood down, before the band switched it up a gear to turn it into a rowdy frenzy.

The band members live distributed throughout the North Island these days, but a Wellington show will always be a homecoming gig. I’m glad that I finally managed to see Head Like A Hole live, but I bet that the old fans were even happier than me.

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All words and photos by Joseph James

The Family of Strangers Tour gallery – His Master’s Voice & Armed In Advance

The Family Of Strangers Tour
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The Family of Strangers Tour

These Four Walls, Armed In Advance, His Master’s Voice Blue Ruin 

Valhalla, Wellington
Saturday 29 April 2017

His Master’s Voice – The Devil’s Blues

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, WellingtonHis Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Armed In Advance

Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington Armed In Advance. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

All photos by Joseph James

 

Live Review: David Liebe Hart at Meow, Wellington

David Liebe Hart Au NZ tour poster
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David Liebe Hart and Th’ Mole

w/ Tender Moonlight, TV DiSKO & DJFK

Meow, Wellington

Monday 17 April 2017

Earlier today I was stumped. I had tried to explain my plans for tonight, and had no idea where to even start. How does one describe David Liebe Hart? Comedian? Singer? Puppeteer? Visionary genius?

I started with the obvious connection: Tim and Eric – the crazed duo who create absurd clips for the Adult Swim channel. Tim and Eric deal mostly with surreal clips that are deliberately poorly edited – often looking like old video tapes from the 90’s made by people on drugs (which, in all honesty, could actually be what they are). Their style of humour is awkward and shocking.

Liebe Hart was an obvious casting choice for the duo. Quirky, confident and outspoken on his beliefs in aliens. Most of the clips featured him singing about nonsense with grotesque puppets. And this odd comedy is exactly what I was hoping to see at the show.

Tender Moonlight at Meow opening for David Liebe Hart

Tender Moonlight

High energy opening act Tender Moonlight won my heart instantly. I felt like I was in the middle of a movie action montage as he played. He transported us back to the best of the ’80s, pumping drum machine beats and playing squealing guitar solos. He looked the part too, with a peroxide mop, sunglasses, pink lei around his neck, fingerless gloves and a leather jacket over his bare vest. On his legs he wore trackpants with knee pads (for powerslides?), which got ripped off half way through the set. His set was so sexed up that all the girls in attendance should probably go and buy pregnancy tests just in case.

Tender Moonlight at Meow opening for David Liebe Hart

 

David Liebe Hart

Technical issues delayed the start of the set. I guess that it isn’t easy to rig up the technology that they were using for the show. A projector shone images and videos onto a screen. Drum-shaped Donkey Kong video game controllers were plugged into a laptop for use as a trigger pad. Sound man Th’ Mole played a hybrid instrument of a keyboard and midi controller attached to the top of an acoustic guitar. And to clarify – that’s a computer keyboard for typing, not a musical piano-like keyboard. I’ll forgive them for not having all the gear set up correctly, seeing as it is such unconventional gear.

So Liebe Hart – always the crowd pleaser – came out to do some stand up comedy while we waited for the tech guys to work their wonders.

It set a weird tone. Tender Moonlight’s epic set had me in a good mood, and but this comedy routine had me questioning what I was in for. Sure, I was laughing, but what on earth is this insanity? Liebe Hart was full of confidence, rattling off jokes I didn’t understand and making the most outrageous impressions with weird voices. We were in for a unique night, that’s for sure!

David Liebe Hart with Alien singing Salame at Meow, Wellington
Liebre Hart went side of stage and hid once the issues had been resolved. We were treated to an immersive video introduction to the set. The plot loosely revolved around a long-secret alien war that had recently arisen, endangering the future of our planet. Cue David Liebe Hart – aspiring astronaut, alien abductee, and saviour of the Earth!

The next few hours were joyous. Despite being absurd, the music was fun to dance and sing along to. The cluster of the audience just in front of the stage were having the time of their lives. Poorly edited videos projected onto the screen at the back of the stage, visually ushering us into a trippy world of Liebe Hart.

David Liebe Hart at MEow, Wellington

He covered a range of topics – vegetables, vegemite, trains, aliens, romance, technology, ghosts, pornography and spirituality. I couldn’t tell how much was genuine and how much was a joke. Liebe Hart was passionate when discussing matters clearly close to his heart. He even sang a few worship songs, seeing as it was Easter Monday. The Christian Science Church he was a member of was clearly a big part of his life, so why include those songs in a set of comedy songs? Wouldn’t that undermine the sincerity?

But the more I thought about it, the less convinced I was that it was a joke. Liebe Hart appeared to believe in ghosts. He called on the audience to share details about any of their ghostly encounters – no Phony Tonys thank you! He talked a lot about his church, about past relationships. About living clean by avoiding negativity and eating well. The Tim and Eric style of video editing was clearly ironic for comedic purposes, but the actual content seemed sincere.

David Liebe Hart with a puppet singing at Meow Wellington

Well known for his ventriloquism, Liebe Hart made sure to incorporate his puppets into the show. Doug the Dog helped him sing about orange German Shephard ghosts. Chip the Black Boy sang about father/son relationships. A giraffe sang about “kiss[ing] her on the lips” and an alien introduced us to the Korendian [an alien race] concept of “Salame” – their term for greetings and farewells.

It was a genuinely fantastic night, much like the last time I saw a viral internet sensation play. The awkward humour could have been cringe, but the music was danceable, and Liebe Hart was such an entertaining character that all reservations were quickly dispelled.
David Liebe Hart with puppet singing Father and Son at Meow, Wellington


David Liebe Hart links:

Website: http://artbyliebehart.com/

Bandcamp: https://davidliebehart.bandcamp.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidLiebeHart

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/davidliebehart2/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/artbyliebehart

Tumblr: https://artbyliebehart.tumblr.com/

 

All words and images by Joseph James except the tour poster.

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: Hiboux – Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up

Hiboux Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up banner
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Local post-rock band Hiboux (pronounced ee – boo. The French word for owls) have worked hard to get to this stage of their career, cultivating a following as they wrote and recorded the songs on this, their first album, Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up.

They struck me as talented when I saw them open for Tortoise last year [Tortoise live review], and this début release has only cemented that opinion.

Before we start discussing the music, I need to draw attention to the title of the opening track: “East Of Seddon”. For those unaware, some of the more major New Zealand earthquakes in recent years have triggered – you guessed it – just east of the upper South Island town of Seddon. I adore the imagery that the title evokes. Does it indicate that Hiboux are at the epicenter of something big? That their music is earth-shatteringly good? Let’s find out…

The track starts of with some gorgeous harmonising guitars that riff together in tandem. Not like thrash metal riffing, but more elegant and leisurely. The two guitarists each deviate ever so slightly with their picking to keep the ostinato sounding fresh. The rest of the band joins in – bass and keys add atmosphere while the drums add urgency. The song meanders and changes – as you would hope from a nine minute epic – and the guitars split to each adopt different roles. But it’s those dual guitar lines at the start that really make this opening track what it is.

Most of the songs follows suit in much the same fashion. Repeated guitar riffs, band comes in, things start to expand. But this is not to say that the music is formulaic. The riffs are fantastic – musical and memorable. The drumming is sensitive – adding to the overall feel with finesse, but not overplaying.

Something that Hiboux excel at is creating memorable riffs without the need for heaviness. Or creating great sound without the need for effects (that I can tell. I hear little reverb, distortion, delay etc but I am not an expert on such things).  And I hate to focus on the guitars so much at the expense of the other instruments, but they really do stand out.

I always wonder how musicians manage to write and remember such long and complex songs. Ranges have a 24 minute song called “Night & Day“, and “Dominion” by Kiwi heroes Jakob rings in at just shy of half an hour. In a recent interview I learnt that Hiboux take months (or even up to a year) to write and refine their epic pieces. It makes sense when you listen to each track. Spontaneous music is great, but it is clear that these songs are not just ideas picked out willy-nilly from a jam session.

Hiboux Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up Band Pic

(Again, I need to go off-tangent here. Look at that photo! How cool is that shot? And, even better, the band is standing on the wall of old army magazine bunker ruins in Wellington, which was burnt down when bank robbers set alight a stolen van that they had parked inside. So much awesome in just one picture!)

Running a music blog is pretty cool, but I find that after reviewing so many post-rock albums it can be hard to come up with ways to discuss music that sounds so similar. Not so with Hiboux, who have done themselves proud with this release. Yes, it is undeniably post-rock through and through. But it also sounds fresh and innovative whilst sitting comfortably within the genre.

I am always stoked to discover great local bands who can sit comfortably beside their musical peers on a global scale, and with Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up, Hiboux have proven that they fit that description.


Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up is now available for download from https://hibouxband.bandcamp.com/ with a limited run of Digipaks available at shows.

Hiboux links:

Bandcamp: https://hibouxband.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hiboux_band

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/hiboux-official

 

Joseph James