Album Review: Shihad – Old Gods

Shihad Old Gods
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It’s no secret that I’m a big Shihad fan. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them play, but the figure is near 20.  I’ve got all their albums on CD, as well as bunch of special editions, a live DVD and a handful of EPs and singles. They never quite “cracked America”, but to me, they embody the dream of a NZ rock band who have achieved the dream of making a successful career from their music. They’ve toured the world, shared the stage with rock heavyweights such as Faith No More, AC/DC, Pantera, Motorhead and Black Sabbath; and have just released their tenth album, Old Gods.

The band has changed a lot throughout their 30+ years. Their debut Devolve EP features blistering speed-metal and a Black Sabbath cover. The first time I heard one of the tracks I honestly thought it was a cover of a Metallica song I wasn’t familiar with.

Churn beckoned a more industrial sound, thanks in part to Killing Joke front man Jaz Coleman in the producer’s role. Killjoy was less metal, but still raw and heavy, boasting some of the band’s most enduring riffs.

The self titled record (known by many as the fish album) introduced a more radio-friendly rock which the band honed and perfected with the commercial alt-rock giants The General Electric and Pacifier.

Pacifier was derided by many fans and critics who viewed it as evidence of the the ultimate sin: selling out. I’ll always remember reading a passage written by Grant Smithies, in which he stated he’d prefer to rub himself raw with a cheese grater and throw himself into shark-infested waters than listen to Pacifier. Harsh words, but fantastically evocative writing.

I personally loved Pacifier. I was a teenager obsessed with bands like Linkin Park and Foo Fighters so I couldn’t understand how anyone could find fault with the music.

Love Is The New Hate was considered a penitent return to form, and although much of it was angry, there was a lot of sadness and mellow moments to be found. Beautiful Machine, by comparison, was very much leaning towards the pop side of things. It’s a lot softer, almost 80’s feeling at times. I enjoyed it, but it was more Foo Fighters than AC/DC.

Ignite was the most forgettable album of Shihad’s catalogue. “Sleepeater” was a hit when played live, but the rest of the album seldom gets a mention. When looking at an overall trend, it feels like the quality and “rockiness” of the band’s output had been in decline since the beginning of the 2000’s.

Shihad’s last album FVEY came out in 2014. It’s the first album review I wrote when I started this blog. I raved about the album and how it felt like a return to form with the sheer heaviness of it all. Admittedly, I did tire of it when the new songs featured so heavily during the band’s ensuring tours. It felt a bit too chug-heavy and I wanted more dynamics. But I’ve given the record a few spins recently and I stand by what I wrote seven years ago: it’s a killer album.

The Adults Meow Wellington

The Adults at Meow, Wellington. Image: Will Not Fade

Front man Jon Toogood has a side project called The Adults. Their second album Haja stands among my favourites. I was fortunate enough to catch that iteration of the band at their first show in Wellington, and they even used one of the photos I took to promote that tour [although they didn’t even credit me for my photo, naughty!]

The Adults revealed a different side to Toogood. Stemming from when he married his wife in Sudan, Haja is a feminist pop/hip-hop album featuring contemporary NZ musicians and Sudanese drumming. A real departure from the hard rock of Shihad. And I learnt something else new about Toogood last year that arose from his marriage – he has become a Muslim.

I don’t wish to come from a place of judgement, I think it’s great that he has found a faith. It just came as a surprise. Look at this list of Shihad songs: “Missionary”, “Sport and Religion”, “The Bible and the Gun”, “Waiting Round for God” and “The Prophet”. I don’t claim to understand everything that these songs are about, but they are certainly anti-religion to an extent. And that’s fine that Toogood could write those songs, and then later change his beliefs. People are allowed to change. But I do find it interested that Shihad would name their new album Old Gods after hearing that Toogood has found a faith. To be fair, it sounds like the title track is aimed at those who have traditionally been in positions of power, rather than an attack on any specific religion. But Shihad are still taking potshots at churches, with one song on the album, “The Hill Song” taking aim at a group that shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

FVEY came from a place of unrest. There was never any doubt that the songs were written from a space of defiance against corrupt governments and world powers. I found it really amusing to see that National MP Chris Bishop featured on a podcast about Shihad recently. Bishop is allowed to enjoy whatever music he choses, but I certainly see an irony, considering that Shihad’s last album had songs that were essentially a middle finger directed squarely at his political party.

Old Gods comes from the same space. Sure, world governments have changed over the past seven years, but there’s still a lot to get angry about. If anything, people feel even more oppressed. One big movement from recent years is #blacklivesmatter. The movement sparked international demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

Another occurrence that sparked the rage was in 2019 when a scumbug came to from Australia to New Zealand and went on a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch. This horrifying event shook us a country and highlighted how New Zealand as a nation is more racist than many would like to admit. Toogood played a number of gigs to raise money to help those affected by the attacks, coming public with his recent conversion to Islam.

In a recent conversation with Grant Smithies (the same guy who wrote the scathing Pacifier review), Toogood shares how he was watching footage of an English crowd tear down the statue of an historic slave-trader. He wrote a song about it. To quote the interview: “That song is about the fact that many of us aren’t prepared for such people to be portrayed as heroic anymore, especially in the middle of the streets where we live.”

I live in Shihad’s hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, and a lot of streets here are named after wealthy colonials who first settled here. It sounds like a lot of these men were not good people. (Here’s a funny song about Wakefield, by local band Housewitches) I’ve got a magazine sitting on the table in my lounge. The magazine is called Massive – the Massey University student rag – and the main head line of the cover is about how former prime minister William Massey was a racist. They’re outing their own namesake. I think that gives a pretty clear example of how far some elements of society have come. So-called heroes are being scrutinised and some of us have decided that we don’t want to glorify people who were responsible for atrocities.

“Tear Down Those Names” is a thunderous cry to action. Sonically, it’s extremely similar to FVEY, with dense, downturned riffing.

My personal favourite, “Feel the Fire” harkens back to Beautiful Machine, with an synth-drenched uplifting feel. I love it so much. It makes me happy and I can happily play it on repeat. It stands out on an album of heavier tracks. There’s still that omniscient bass tone from Kippenburger, but there’s a lot more treble in the guitars, and the song exudes vibes of hope.

“Empire Falling” is also one of the better tracks, with interesting palm-muted rhythmic strumming and a lighter feeling chorus. It’s about how Toogood is kept awake at night worrying about raising his children in a world dominated by so many bigots.

Maybe I’m being a bit dismissive, but some of the themes in FVEY came across as overly paranoid. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the government needs to be held to account more than they are. But naming the album after a collection of spy agencies gives of vibes of conspiracy theories. I leveled the same criticism at Killing Joke in my review of their last record. There’s distrusting authority figures and then there’s going full-blown antivaxer. Head too far down the conspiracy route and people just aren’t going to take you seriously.

I’m trying to say is that the themes of Old Gods seem more realistic than they did in FVEY. Complaining about governments spying on us sounds a bit too James Bond-fantasy. But it’s harder to deny racism when we’ve recently witnessed extreme nationalism under Trump, Brexit, #blacklivesmatter, mosque shootings and so on… And I think that makes more sense given Toogood’s personal situation. But Toogood has a Sudanese wife and two bi-racial children and now he’s witnessing forms of discrimination such as racism in a different light. Suddenly the message seems a bit more targeted than ‘sticking it to The Man’.

In an 2014 interview with NZ Musician, drummer Tom Larkin discussed the impact of Green Day’s American Idiot, and how it was a vehicle for getting planting dissenting ideas in the mind of a demographic of Americans who may not have otherwise been questioning the status quo. Lead guitarist Phil Knight namedropped Rage Against the Machine as a big influence on the new album in a Guitar World profile too.

I’m not sure how much I buy into the whole message. I’m not opposed to the message of fighting the bankers and the politicians, but it seems a bit futile. “Eat the Rich” is a great sentiment (Motorhead and Aerosmith both have songs with that name), but not sure it’s so great in practice. Look at America, where the last president organised an attack on his own government. Nothing appeared to changed for the better or worse.

Voting doesn’t appear to make much of a difference – neither of the two big political parties in NZ appear interested in making changes to improve the lives of their citizens. And governments have refused to acknowledge what the people have voted for in a majority of the referendums we’ve had over the past few decades. Maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe we need more bands like Shihad spreading the fire of discontent so that the population don’t become as jaded as I am.

Final verdict?

I went through Shihad’s albums earlier and explained how the band have continually evolved throughout the years, changing their sound as they progressed. Each record had a unique sound. This has earned them accusations of selling out every step of the way, but it has also meant that they’ve never felt stale.

Interesting then, that after their longest break between releases, Shihad haven’t altered their sound. In many ways, Old Gods feels like an updated version of FVEY. I’d argue that the topics seem more relevant with this album, but the sound and themes are very similar. The gang vocals outro of “Kill! These! Old! Gods!” may as well take the place of the “GCSB!” cry from the previous album.

Remember how I said I got a bit tired of FVEY being so chug-heavy? It does feel a bit more like more of the same. It’s weird, I would have found the premise of an album’s worth of “My Mind Sedate” very exciting as a teen. But I’ve since learnt that too much heavy riffing gets old. Variety and dynamics go a long way. Old Gods is a good record, but could use a few more tracks like “Feel the Fire” .

I’ve got a ticket to see Shihad play next month. It was originally going to be in November but had to be postposed. I just hope that the concert actually takes place, because I could sure use something to make me feel amped up for once.

 

Joseph James

WILL NOT FADE’S 2021 IN REVIEW

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Yet again we faced another unpredictable year. So many tours were cancelled, rebooked and postponed. But creative people need outlets and despite the effects of covid, the music community still pushed to keep the arts alive.

Here are some of my favourite releases of the year:

Ranges – Cardinal Winds.

Obviously any Ranges release is going to get a mention. I consider myself an unofficial member of the band. It’s a real shame that postage issues have prevented me from receiving the record I ordered because I know that they always put a lot of effort into the packaging and design. But the music is great.

Outside Lut's house in Ghent

Ranges and I in Ghent

Lakes – Start Again.

Lakes released the best album of 2019 and now they’ve signed to Big Scary Monsters and given us another brilliant album.

Claemus – Daydream.

Local prog-rockers Claemus have always set a very high standard but seriously, do not sleep on this album. I’ve been playing it on repeat and I’m not even remotely sick of it. I’m excited to see them play again over the next few months.

Claemus

Claemus

Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

I reviewed Halsey’s debut album Badlands years ago and was a bit dismissive, categorising it as music for edgy teenagers who wanted to feel rebellious. But I did genuinely like most of the music, even if a whole album’s worth was too much. This past year Halsey teamed up with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails to create If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. And it is fantastic. You can really hear the NIN touches and Halsey is obviously a great singer. I haven’t watched the film, but I have had the album on regular rotation.

Julien BakerLittle Oblivions

I’ve been a Julien Baker fan since her first album. She has risen in fame a lot since then, especially after taking part in the group boygenius (also featuring Phoebe Bridgers, who was one of the hottest artists of 2020). This latest album is Baker’s most musically fleshed out, with a full band and wonderful intriguing soundscapes and tones.

Amy Shark – Cry Forever

I’m a huge Amy Shark fan, and thrash her last album Love Monster all the time. This latest release sees her ascending further into the pop stratosphere. There’s a few big bangers as well as some intimate ballads. Will she manage to collab with Tom DeLonge on her next record to complete her Blink 182 hat-trick?

Fucked Up – Year of the Horse

Fucked Up drip-fed the four parts of their EP over four Bandcamp Fridays, each a month apart. I’m not sure if that is smart marketing or not but it had my hyped for the full release. At almost an hour and a half long, it takes the listener on a wildly varied journey, but I love it. You need to be committed to get past some of the weirdness, but I think that was already a given if you’re a Fucked Up fan.

Fucked Up San Fran

Fucked Up

Gojira – Fortitude

I can’t believe that I never listened to Gojira before this album. Simultaneously heavy and accessible, technical and groovy, it’s a great metal release. Thanks to Mark Levy for recommending this one.

Planet of the Dead – Pilgrims

I’ll admit that I’m not usually into doom metal but I’ve got to give Planet of the Dead some love. They did exceptionally well, with plenty of media attention around the globe, and a lot of demand for their latest record. It’s a real shame that most of their tour was cancelled due to covid, but I managed to see them play a few times and they’re an outstanding live act.

Planet of the Dead

Planet of the Dead

Live Music

No surprises that all my favourite gigs of 2021 were NZ artists. The local music scene seems super strong and venues are booked out well in advance.

I only travelled out of town to see one band play this year. I saw legendary trio Jakob play their album Solace in full two nights in a row, in Auckland and Wellington.

Jakob Tuning Fork Maurice

Jakob

David Dallas is one of my favourite artists, so there was no way I was missing him play his classic album The Rose Tint in full, especially with a live band. I know that album so well and had the best time seeing Dallas and his band The Daylight Robbery bringing it back to life.

I did photography at Peachy Keen festival at Easter time and it was super fun. I don’t usually listen to much pop music but I had a great day and discovered some new acts. I’d love to see Peachy Keen become a regular event.

Newtown Festival and Cubadupa are also perennial highlights in the calendar that make me super grateful to live in Wellington. It was a wonderful period where New Zealand felt “normal” and “safe” and we could have events that involved thousands of people coming together to celebrate the arts while the rest of the world was shutting down over a pandemic. Cubadupa especially felt like a revival of sorts, having been affected by covid and Christchurch terrorist attacks the past few years. Sadly, those times of normalcy were fleeting, and Newtown Festival 2022 has already been cancelled.

Personal achievements

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged as much this year. It is just harder to find the time these days, and I’m more involved in other creative pursuits like my photography and playing in a few bands.

One of my photos of Sam Leamy from Opium Eater was included in the From The Pit exhibition that took part in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I’m already good friends with many of the local music photographers but it felt really nice to be included in something that celebrates the talents of the wonderful photographers around the country.

My old band Secrets of the Sun released their debut album Obon. I no longer play with them, but I did record the drums that featured on the album.

My new band Aegir & Ran played four shows, all which were loads of fun. We’ve got some video footage that I’ll get around to editing and sharing at some point. Nothing better than playing great music with some of your best friends.

I also joined another band, Dressed in Wax. We’ve only played one show so far, but are excited to play more in the future. You can hear some of our songs from frontman Ilja Gray’s solo EPs.

2022

Who knows what the future will bring? Much of the population are vaccinated now, but I still think that the pandemic will continue to affect things for a while to come.

I have tickets to see The Beths and Shihad early next year, both events that were supposed to happen months ago but were postponed. I’ll be stoked if the concerts happen, but won’t be surprised if they don’t.

The Beths

The Beths

Karnivool just dropped a new single so may have an album on the way. I’m super keen to get to Australia to see them play with amazing prog and post acts like Cog, sleepmakeswaves and Plini, but I don’t think it’s likely at this stage. The chances of getting stranded in Australia are extremely high, with New Zealand’s MIQ system proving inadequate to meet demand time and time again.

I’m excited about future releases from bands who have been in the studio such as Youth League, Tides of Man and Shipwreck Karpathos.

Tides of Man soundcheck dunk!festival 2018

Tides of Man

On a local level, Adoneye may finally release their debut album next year. Planet Hunter have been doing some work in the studio. And I was super excited to help record backing vocals for an upcoming Wellington Sea Shanty Society EP recently (bring on the tiktok fame!)

 

All words and photos by Joseph James

Album Review: Ranges – Cardinal Winds

Ranges Cardinal Winds
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Regular Will Not Fade readers should need no introduction to Ranges. I’ve been covering music from the Montana post-rockers since they released “Night & Day” in 2015. I also joined them on tour across America for their 2017 tour in support of their breakthrough album The Ascensionist, and again when they went on tour in Europe and played dunk!festival the following year. CJ (guitar) and Wilson (art direction) also co-own A Thousand Arms, the screen-printing company come distro/record label responsible for the awesome Open Language and Hemispheres post-rock compilations that come out every year.

Most Ranges releases have an underlying concept. “Night & Day” was a 24 minute song that mirrored the 24 hour day. Gods of the Copybook Headings was inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name.  I’ve always liked how their music had extra elements that you could chose to delve into and find deeper meaning in.

CJ playing guitar for Ranges in Lyon

CJ playing guitar for Ranges in Lyon

The albums often have amazing physical elements as well, especially with the two most recent albums, The Ascensionist and BabelHandmade booklets for liner notes on recycled paper; ceramic mugs and shot glasses; screen printed b-side records, wall banners, t-shirts, guitar pedals, cassette tapes with riddles and maps, black market currency…   Seriously, the band made their own coins which could be redeemed in exchange for exclusive merch items that were only accessible on certain days discovered by decoding a calendar.

Loads of their releases and merch have cryptic hidden puzzles and codes and meanings that hint at upcoming releases or unlocking more secret b-sides. I know Aaron “Foofer” Edwards was the first to decipher on of the puzzles that came with a cassette tape the band released.

So it’s interesting how they’ve approached this record. It seems clear that something is coming. They’ve dropped a lot of singles in quick succession over the past month. But no clear news about what was coming. No album title, no pre-order. I guess they’ve always loved the air of mystique attached to their music, and now they’ve built up a big enough fanbase that they can really have fun keeping people speculating.

They’ve even kept me in the dark – and for all intensive purposes I’m an honorary band member. I’ve been able to listen to the album for a month or two, but they haven’t given me any hints. I guess I can review the music, but any true Ranges fan knows that the music is only one component of a release. I guess information about artwork and physical media will be revealed in good time…

Ranges Hard Style

L-R: Joey Caldwell (guitar), Wilson Raska (art direction), Jared Gabriel (bass), CJ Blessum (guitar, band dad). Front: Me (Joseph aka Baggins), Mark Levy (NYHC drum legend)

OK, here are some juicy details you’ve been after. You’ve actually heard most of the songs if you’ve been keeping up with their recent releases. There’s the four tracks we’ve already heard; four interlude tracks named after the directional points of the compass; and the title track: “Cardinal Winds”

CJ was responsible for a lot of recording and mixing duties in the past because he ran a studio, The Low Country. For Babel they chose to give CJ a break so he could focus on songwriting, rather than worrying about taking on too much responsibility. They drove down to Texas and recorded with Chris Commons, an experience that they all enjoyed. But the a global pandemic made it harder just to get out of the house, let alone out of the state, so Ranges went back to self-recording.

This album also saw Ranges reduced to a trio of musicians. Jared Gabriel was the the bass player in Ranges for quite a while, but he moved from Montana to Ohio last year to live with his fiancé, so doesn’t feature on this record. Hope you’re doing awesome Jared!

“Deluge” was the first track we heard, featuring on the recent Open Language compilation put out by A Thousand Arms. It’s a great song to create first impressions with, but actually features as the last track on the album. It starts out with a murky sound that makes me think of whale song, and a great bass tone that gives off Kerretta vibes. The guitar line is fantastic. You can always trust Joey to come up with a great melody and it’s what makes this song what it is. Mark plays some tasty rolling beats on the toms that sound thunderous but not overpowering. And CJ brings the swells and ambience. It’s a solid song but watch out: that melody will get so stuck in your head!

The actual album opener “Abyss” (debuted on Everything is Noise) comes in strong and intentional.  We’re hit by a barrage of overdriven guitar. I remember CJ saying how he wants to incorporate more tremolo strumming into his playing during the writing of Babel, and I can picture him here rocking back and forward, hands a blur as they flutter over the guitar pickups.  Mark is really laying into his cymbals too and you can feel the intensity of his hits.

This subsides somewhat to allow an opening for the melody line. Joey and CJ work well together, both playing just what they need to complement the other. There’s some lush beauty that the two work together to weave throughout the song, a very rewarding listen. “Abyss” is a strong statement as an opener and it works brilliantly.

We have four tracks that I’ll call the ‘compass’ tracks. They serve as interludes, giving breathing space and breaking up the album. They sound like samples of cassette tapes; of needles on record grooves; static on the radio; or of some forms of analogue media at the very least. It’s ethereal and we hear gales of wind howling through “North” atop a speaker crackling. It’ll be interesting to hear how the four ‘compass’ tracks sound on vinyl. Very meta, I assume.

Ranges dunk!festival 2018

Mark is one of my drum heroes. I have so much love for the guy. I even have a photo of him up on my bedroom wall. He gave me advice when I needed to buy a snare drum, and often recommends music to listen to. My old band just released an album that I drummed on and in all honestly, Mark’s thoughts are the main thing I care about. If Mark approves of my playing then that’s all I need. Mark has a custom drum company named Duradero and if he ever makes me a snare drum I will die a happy man.

Mark had been accused of ‘playing it safe’ in the past, and he openly confesses that it was true. But it’s not true on this album. His playing is just what the music needs. It’s driving and passionate. You can hear the energy of his strokes and how it propels and elevates everything. It sounds great. It’s tight, it’s creative, it’s musical. He’s a beast but his playing serves the music instead of overshadowing it.

Mark playing drums for Ranges in Lyon

Mark playing drums for Ranges in Lyon

“Sojourner” [featured on Heavy Blog is Heavy] feels majestic and powerful, with a pulsing beat. There’s some really cool electronic sounds at play – a wavering, shimmery sound and some warm synth bass – that provide nice textural elements for the guitars and drums to build upon.

Title track “Cardinal Winds” is the song that they’ve saved for the big reveal. I’m guessing that they wanted to keep the album name secret. It commences with a neat percussive sampled intro before launching into the big crescendo sound that is recognisably Ranges. It comes in at just under nine minutes long, so it’s fair to say it’s an epic, comprised of a number of movements.

In fact, there are two other songs of similar length, the aforementioned “Abyss”, and “Solace”.

“Solace” [premiered on the YouTube channel wherepostrockdwells] gives of feelings of solitude freedom, as the name would suggest. 2017’s The Ascensionist was the soundtrack to conquering a mountain, and we return to similar feelings of finding ourselves reckoning with the wild forces of nature here. This is the lull in the album, focused more on ambient textures and tender guitar picking than sheer force or melody. Of course, there’s the obligatory crescendo, but “Solace” is the song that helps you catch your breath.

It’s a shame I can’t comment on the artwork, packaging or merch. Wilson always knocks it out of the park with that side of things. They did such an amazing job with Babel that I’m excited to see what they have planned. I feel that my review is incomplete, but I can at least assure you that the music is worth your time.

These guys are my good friends. I’ve spent 3 weeks in a tour van with them traveling around the world. Of course I have favourable things to say about them. But I truly mean it when I say this is a great album. Their last album Babel was their best work to date, but Cardinal Winds tops it. This record really is a triumph of songwriting. I can’t wait to receive a physical copy and let me neighbours experience it as well when I blast it on my turntable.

Joey playing guitar for Ranges in Ypsilanti

Joey playing guitar for Ranges in Ypsilanti


Cardinal Winds is out on Friday 27 August. There’s a countdown clock at https://www.rangesmusic.com/ but I’m not staying up til 3am local time to see what happens. I imagine there’ll be some awesome content available to purchase at the A Thousand Arms and dunk!records websites.


Ranges links:

A Thousand Arms store (USA): https://www.athousandarms.com/collections/ranges

dunk!records store (EU): https://dunkrecords.com/collections/dunk-records-on-vinyl/ranges?sort_by=manual

Bandcamp: https://ranges.bandcamp.com/

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

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

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBJg41ELchEChCEtIRKz4NA?app=desktop

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rangesmusic

 

 

Joseph James (Baggins)

Album Review: Lakes – Start Again

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I’ve always made it very clear that I think Lakes rule. I instantly fell in love with their debut, The Constance [best album of 2019, @ me if you need], and have championed each of their successive releases.

Start Again is the second album from the Watford sextet. They’ve experienced a few changes in recent years – a few new members, a global pandemic, and they signed to the indie label Big Scary Monsters. I think this is great news because this means their amazing music will find a wider audience, and they’ll possibly get chances to tour with other bands signed to BSM and other bands in that sphere, which should hopefully unlock even more opportunities for Lakes. [I’m holding my breath for a tour supporting NZ indie darlings The Beths]

They ease you in on Start Again with “Blind”, which seems more like a nice intro than a fully fledged song, but then we launch into the track “No Excuses” and you know they mean business. It’s lush and busy and charming and the drum parts remind me of Josh Sparks who drummed on the Into It. Over It. album Standards frantic, driving and interesting. Gotta love those noodly guitar lines too. We hear the wonderful vocal harmonies and subtle mathy arrangements that made me fall in love with Lakes in the first place, and then they go and throw in some glockenspiel and cheesy handclaps just to add more magical fun to the mix.

Many of the songs in Start Again explore events that have been rocking our world in recent years. The populace being poisoned by divisive politicking, a global pandemic changing how we function and shifting our perception of normality, and how we cope in the face of all of this. I get it. I had big plans laid out and was hoping to go travelling last year, hoping on even making it to Watford to hang out with the musicians in Lakes. Instead I had a fairly traumatic year and got pretty depressed. But I chose to face my problems and move on, and I’m now better for it.

Like Frank Turner’s album Positive Songs for Negative People, Start Again is about fighting the demons and doing your best to progress and grow in the face of hard times. Heck, both albums even have a song called “Get Better”.

The video for the titular track is a perfect example. The setting is something we’ve all become accustomed to in the past year: Zoom meetings. But it provides glimmers of hope and humour, showing that despite all the disruption we’ve been going through, we can still find ways to connect with each other.

Hmmmm, I hadn’t planned on getting so deep during this review. Maybe this emo stuff is beginning to rub off on me?

For my money, the track “Talk!” is the best song on the album. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but some of the riffs and production reminds me of late 90’s/early 00’s pop-punk. It’s a really fun song. The cherry on top is the final bridge. It’s so cheesy, but you can’t help but love it. You’ve got handclaps, awesome guitar noodling, and gorgeous layered vocal harmonies doing rounds in the outro. Stunning. And the piano at the end is a great touch.


As a New Zealander, it is my duty to focus on the track “Taupo”. It’s just the way we’re wired. Honestly, any time some international talkshow host like Colbert or John Oliver even utters the name New Zealand or mocks our accent the entire national media goes berserk.

Anyway… Taupō is the huge lake at the centre of our North Island. Millions of years ago it was a supervolcano – very similar to Yellowstone in America. It erupted so violently that there are historic records in ancient cultures from around the globe that mentions how the smoke disrupted weather systems. And once the volcano had done its dash it left a crater that filled with water and became a lake the size of Singapore.

If you’re familiar with The Constance LP and the few EPs that Lakes released in those early days, you’ll know that they used to name all their songs after…. wait for it… lakes!

Matt Shaw told me that the two interlude tracks on this record – “Windermere” and “Taupo” are a throwback to how they used to name all their songs after lakes, and are also inspired by the Minus the Bear album Highly Refined Pirates, which used interlude tracks to great effect. [Minus the Bear are also signed to Big Scary Monsters label. Pretty cool huh?]. The interlude tracks work very well to break up the album and lead into new segments, just as intended.

Matt has actually travelled to NZ a few times and shared that “I have very special memories of travelling around New Zealand. We had a campervan and stayed in a campsite right on the river between Huka Falls and the lake.”. Howabout that tour with The Beths then?

Lakes are incredibly talented in an understated way. The way that they can just incorporate weird mathy time signatures, have multiple singers with voices that are simply to die for, use a whole array of interesting instruments (glockenspiel is key to their sound, for goodness sake!) and pull it all off and make it sound so effortless is outstanding. And despite writing songs that have come from some dark places, they emerge triumphant with an infectious fervor to bring joy to the world.

I had very high hopes for this record and as expected, Start Again is wonderful. It’s different to The Constance and shows that Lakes have grown as songwriters, but still contains the elements that drew me in when I first heard them.

Highly recommended. Start with “Talk!” and if you don’t enjoy it, check to see if you have a pulse.

Joseph James

Lakes

Lakes links:

Website: ourbandlakes.com 
Facebook: facebook.com/ourbandlakes 
Instagram: instagram.com/ourbandlakes 
Twitter: twitter.com/ourbandlakes 
Bandcamp: ourbandlakes.bandcamp.com 

Live Review: Jakob at San Fran, Wellington (June 2021)

Jakob Hiboux San Fran
Standard

Jakob

w/ Hiboux
Saturday 5 June 2021
San Fran, Wellington

Hiboux San Fran Bern

Hiboux San Fran Tom

More recorder!

Hiboux San Fran Declan

Hiboux San Fran Duncan

Hiboux San Fran Lester

Local post-rockers Hiboux have gained a lot of great support slots over the years – Alcest, Tortoise, Head Like a Hole, and recently, Mono. But it seemed overdue that they’d get the chance to play with Jakob.

Something I like about Hiboux is that they’re not afraid to play with the lighter shades of music. They’ll get a good groove happening without resorting to loads of riffs and distortion. It’s quite refreshing for me, as someone who likes to listen to lots of heavy music. Their music is meticulously crafted and you can tell. I couldn’t help myself though, and heckled them with a shout of “more recorder!”. I got a few laughs, but I meant it, I love the sounds they come up with and would happily listen to more.

Jakob San Fran Jason

Jakob San Fran Jeff

I’d actually flown to Auckland after work on Friday to see Jakob play at The Tuning Fork, so you you may as well give that review a read too. It was the same deal in Wellington: Jakob playing their legendary opus Solace from start to finish. They even played the same two encores, “Blind Them With Science”, and “Resolve”.

I’ve seen Jakob play here at San Fran at least half a dozen times now. Many times it has been their own gigs, and I’ve seen them support Russian Circles twice and co-headline with local doom heroes Beastwars. They’ve gone on record stating that San Fran in Wellington is one of their favourite places to play, and considering a Jakob gig at San Fran is never shy of perfect, it’s understandable.

Jakob San Fran Jules on guitar

Jules on guitar

One punter was getting extra into it, waving his arm up over his head like you see people do at hip-hop gigs. I have no idea what was going through his head, but he began to try and crawl up onstage from the side, earning him a few menacing looks of disapproval from Maurice on bass.

The lighting was especially cool at this gig, with each member of the trio standing with LED panels directly overhead. It looked like the stage fog was actually coming out from these panels too.

Jules from Spook The Horses came up for a stint on guitar, the same role Jason from Sora Shima had played the night before in Auckland. There were a few gasps from those in the crowd who knew Jules and were surprised by his appearance, which much have earned him major cred amongst his friends.

I don’t have too much extra to say that I didn’t cover in my review of the Auckland gig, but it was still a real treat seeing them play the same set another time. The bass was louder this time, which was good. All though it was earth-shatteringly loud for a period, making the room shake and causing the band members to cast alarmed looks amongst themselves and dial a few knobs on the speakers.

I think everyone there had a great night. A few of us had been to Auckland as well and it was still a treat.

Sam from the band distance with the set list.

Words and photos by Joseph James