Will Not Fade’s 2020 In Review

Will Not Fade Logo jpeg
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I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say it has been a rough year. Personally, I had a lot of amazing plans that got cancelled. I was planning on traveling throughout Europe, seeing the world, touring with my dear friends Ranges and attending festivals such as dunk!festival and ArcTanGent. Then a pesky virus spread around the globe and put an end to all of that. Admittedly we’ve got it pretty good here in New Zealand. We had five weeks of national lockdown around Easter time, and certainly a lot of gigs were cancelled or at reduced capacity, but we’ve still had live music for a lot of this year, which is an absolute blessing.

Even so, I’ve found it hard for a multitude of reasons. I decided to retire from running the blog earlier in the year. But I have some spare time now that I’m on holiday and I enjoy writing these end-of-year summaries, so I’m back in action for this one last article for the year.

My top albums of 2020

The Beths Jump Rope GazersThe Beths – Jump Rope Gazers

As I mentioned, New Zealand has still been able to have concerts and gatherings for a lot of the year, so this has allowed a lot of NZ artists to stand out a bit more on the world stage. Benee is an example of one artist who has garnered international attention and success. The Beths are another group who have gone from strength to strength. Many of us fell in love with their self-deprecating powerpop with debut album Future Me Hates Me, and follow up record Jump Rope Gazers is just as brilliant. It’s more of a slow burner than FMHM, but still proves just as irresistible and catchy after a few listens, and an easy pick for my top album of 2020. The Beths are also great live and I was delighted to catch them live again this year after a number of postponements. They’re in such demand that they played 5 packed out shows over three days in Wellington, and I imagine they could have even pulled enough of a crowd to play a few more shows too.

Caspian On CirclesCaspian – On Circles

Caspian’s last album Dust and Disquiet is phenomenal. They blew my mind playing that material at dunk!fest in 2018 and I was so upset that I couldn’t see them play again this year after my travels were cancelled. On Circles may not quiet measure up to Dust and Disquiet, but it’s still a solid album, just in it’s own way. It’s a more reserved offering, but this seems somehow appropriate for the times. There’s two songs with singing –  Kyle Dufrey of Pianos Become The Teeth lends his voice to one track, and Phil Jamieson’s singing on the titular track is sublime and soul restoring. Something else I love about this album is the interesting tones and timbres they’ve gone for. Maybe they’re in alternate tunings, maybe it’s effect pedals, I really have no idea. But these tones, coupled with some cello and violin on a few tracks, make for unusual yet enticing listening.

Into It Over It FigureInto It. Over It. – Figure

Regular readers won’t be at all surprised by this inclusion. It’s no secret that I’m a big IIOI fan. They were the first act that I flew overseas to see live. And the last album, Standards, was a great. Figure is a logical continuation of Standards. Brilliant songwriting, great playing. The drumming is complementary and they’ve continued their exploration into interesting tones.

Biffy Clyro - A Celebration of EndingsBiffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings

Again, this should come as no surprise; Biffy Clyro have been my favourite band since I was a teenager. I almost slept on this one though – I pre-ordered the vinyl record and due to covid related complications it still hasn’t shown up. Warner said they’d send a digital download but never did (same case with their last record Ellipsis too, up your game Warner!) After a few months of waiting I figured that maybe I should do some hunting. I eventually got a copy of the album downloaded and I’m glad I did because it’s been on steady repeat ever since. Biffy have always trodden a fine line, making a point of being weird and alternative (at times inaccessible even, especially during the earlier albums), yet at the same time playing stadium rock and writing songs that earn mainstream radio play (more so overseas). And somehow they’ve managed to continue down this path with success. There’s less of the bland radio fodder that featured heavily on Ellipsis, and they’ve managed to evolve and push their style whilst style true to their distinctive Biffy sound.

Other music worth mentioning

distance

Sam Butler released two great solo EPs this year. I reviewed the first EP, over time.

Saint Speak

A side-project from Spencer of Tides of Man, lullabies for his newborn.

Spencer Gill with Tides of MAn at dunk!festival 2018

Spencer Gill with Tides of Man at dunk!festival 2018. Image: Will Not Fade

Jakob – “HAARP”

A great lost b-side from the post-rock titans.

Lakes

Lakes released my favourite album of 2019, and dropped a few remixes, covers and other tracks this year. This 7″ is my pick of their 2020 offerings.

And two albums not released in 2020 that I listened to a lot

Dave Hause KickDave Hause – Kick

You may know Hause as the singer of punk band The Loved Ones. It’s almost a cliche how punk singers start solo projects along these lines (Think The Revival Tour). Kick is a great album, hopeful and defiant in the face of oppression. It’s in the vein of singer-songwriter, even country styles, something a bit more chilled out, but still with rock roots.

MetavariMetavari – Be One Of Us And Hear No Noise

I have no idea how I came across this album but it just hit the spot. A perfect blend of ambient and electronica. I’ve needed more calming music like this a lot this year.


The state of things in 2020

I’m terrified of the ongoing implications of what will happen to the music scene as a result of this pandemic. Musicians who rely on touring and selling merch for a living suddenly don’t have an income. Venues can’t get by because people aren’t allowed to attend gatherings. No venues means no places for bands to play. And it doesn’t just affect musicians, there’s the roadies and drivers and lighting techs and sound engineers and a whole industry suddenly without work.

Many musicians are resorting to livestreaming performances. [Here’s one that my friends in Ranges did for WherePostRockDwells]. Some people have been able to monetise livestreaming these performances. We will see if this becomes comomonplace in the future.

We all know that streaming is not really the answer forward. Sure, it is a revenue stream, but they pay such a pittance per stream that it’s a joke. Bandcamp have stepped up with Bandcamp Fridays, monthly events that they choose not to take their cut on any music and merch sold in order to help the musicians and labels who need the income so badly now. And it appears to have worked, with millions of dollars worth of transactions happening every Bandcamp Friday.

Thankfully we still have live music here in NZ for the time being. I’ve been paying to a Patreon for our local venue Valhalla because I know that without venues, we won’t have a live music scene.

Live music in 2020

I didn’t see many international acts this year, for obvious reasons. I did see Queen at the stadium (it was a bit of a spectacle but I’m glad I didn’t pay much), I saw Yawning Man at Valhalla, and a few metal bands at Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt. My own band also opened for Sebadoh at a sold out show at San Fran in Feb, which was pretty awesome.

Yawning Man at Valhalla

Yawning Man at Valhalla. Image: Will Not Fade

My best gig of the year was The Wellington Sea Shanty Society at Breaker Bay Hall. It’s exactly what it sounds like. I drank a lot of rum and sang pirate songs. My friends and I all agree that it was our collective best night out since The Beards.

Newtown Festival was one highlight. I spent most of the day there taking photos at the Ferguson St Stage for The Mousai.

Happy Valley at Newtown Festival

Happy Valley at Newtown Festival. Image: Will Not Fade

Some of my favourite Wellington bands at the moment are Happy Valley, Planet Hunter and Adoneye, and I managed to see them all play a few times.

It’s a real shame that Spook The Horses had their European tour cancelled, but I was stoked that they asked my band to open at their album release and they killed it. They livestreamed the night if you want to go back and watch it.

Spook The Horses album release at Meow

Spook The Horses album release at Meow. Image: Will Not Fade

A real indication of how much things have changed is when I went to see local speed metallers Stälker recently. It was packed. Certainly a big change from reduced capacity shows that I’d been going to a few months earlier. The mosh pit was pumping and you couldn’t move because everyone was squeezed together so tightly. I used to live for nights like that, but it felt so uncomfortable after avoiding being too close to others for most of the year.

Stälker at Newtown Sports Bar

Stälker at Newtown Sports Bar. Image: Will Not Fade

2021

It’s hard to say what next year holds for us. Guns n Roses have announced a stadium tour in NZ. Is that too ambitious? Only time will tell. Hopefully the covid vaccine is effective.

Beastwars have held an Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt over the past few years and it’s been successful. I’ve heard rumours about the potential lineup for 2021 and I’m excited about that. I’m not holding my breath about seeing any acts from overseas anytime soon though.

In terms of releases, I’m looking forward to a new Amy Shark album, and hopefully Adoneye release their debut (bass player Jesse is recovering from wrist surgery). There may also be a live DVD from Opium Eater (Jesse’s other band) and Glassblower are dropping their debut grindcore album. My own band Secrets of the Sun will have an album out at some stage early next year too. Sora Shima are coming back so I’m hoping to see them again, and fingers crossed for some new music.

 

What are your favourite albums of 2020? What are your predictions for 2021? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!

 

EP Review: distance – over time

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Sam Butler is likely best known for his time as the bass player for Banks Arcade. Recent life changes have signaled time for new opportunities, allowing Butler to explore different avenues.

He put the word out last year, wanting to start a post-rock group. I even had him over at one point for a jam in my bedroom. But a shift to the sleepy town of Nelson put those plans to rest, so Butler decided to see what he can do on his own. The result is the over time EP, put out under the moniker of Distance.

The timing seems slightly comical, considering all the jokes circulating about how we are about to get flooded with bedroom albums and solo projects due to the covid 19 lockdown period, but don’t worry, this is actually quality output.

Butler shares with me about the inspiration behind the EP. The immense Nelson Pine factory plant in Richmond is responsible for producing a lot of the MDF, plywood and timber that we use in our part of the world. You can see the constant plume of “steam” churning out from it’s chimneys at all hours.

Butler noticed this during a commute to work one day and it got him thinking about the water cycle. One thing led to another, and before long he’d formed a song in his head that revolved around the concept of water. Wanting to extend himself, he expanded upon the theme, introducing other elements of nature, and in the end settling on five elements he loved about New Zealand: water, trees, sky, mountains and people.

Most post-rock music is instrumental by nature, leaving the music open to interpretation by the listener. But I do love when post-rock artists use an overarching concept to influence and inform the songwriting process. It can result in a more interesting final product, which invites the listener to interact with the themes and messages of the music on a deeper level. Take Ranges, hubris. or Lost in Kiev, for example.

distance over time Sam Butler

“coalescence” is the original water themed track that jump-started this project. Butler shares that “throughout the song, raindrops fall, coalesce, create puddles, rivers and streams, and then finally join the ocean, where they crash about in the final climax.” Guitar notes with plenty of delay and thunderous drums echo within a sparse chamber before sharply plucked bass and monstrous layers of guitar consume everything and engulf you. I especially love the blink-and-you’ll-miss-em drum fills towards the end of the track.

It’s clear that Butler is a fellow believer, having paid his dues at the altar of Jakob. The rolling bass line in “coalescence” and the hollow snare tone on “tectonic” – there’s no mistaking where he drew key inspiration for those aspects of the music from.

Butler utilises wonderful field samples, of rolling water, of crashing waves upon the shore, of tranquil birdsong, of people chatting. These recordings lend themselves to the concept that anchors the music, as well as adding an georgeous textural layer to the sounds.

I just adore the birdsong in “undergrowth”. The music contains tribal percussive elements and grunty riffs that sound like the lovechild of Jakob and Tool.

The heaviest track is “firmament”. It sounds crushing and huge, a dense slab of noise which threatens to overwhelm everything.

One of the better known Māori whakatauki (proverbs) is:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

It’s a nice touch naming the final track “(treasure)”, knowing that the working title was “People”, making me guess that the name is alluding to the whakatauki.

The track is very much a nod to the origin of ambient music: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. We hear hustle and bustle, distant sirens, people connecting. Similar to “Coda” from Pillars’ outstanding 2019 record Cavum, it’s a touching track that explores mundane yet magical aspects of life, and a brilliantly soft finish to a great collection of music.

This is an extremely promising release from Butler, and certainly exceeds all expectations in terms of quality, considering it’s a lock-down bedroom project. Looks like I missed a grand opportunity, given that we could have teamed up to start a band when he lived in Wellington. That aside, over time is well worth your attention, with well crafted songs that sound great, and an understated concept of gratitude that we would all do well to remember in trying times such as these.

distance over time


distance links:

Bandcamp: https://distancenzl.bandcamp.com/album/over-time

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkFeC2SN-QY

Spotify et al: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/distance2/over-time

Album Review: Hubris. – Metempsychosis

Hubris Metempsychosis cover
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Hubris. was birthed amongst giants, playing their first ever show with our very own Jakob in May 2015, which also happened to be the release show for their debut album Emersion. 

Five years on the Swiss post-rock quartet have made a bold statement with their third album Metempsychosis, a stunning musical exploration of Greek myths and legends.

I’ll begin by discussing the first track I heard: lead single “Heracles”

Choosing to locate their lead single as the final track on the album seems like a odd, if not potentially risky choice. Metempsychosis is just shy of an hour long, and in this current age of singles and shuffled playlists, how many listeners are going to last throughout the entire album to reach the best song?

I guess it is in keeping with the theme. If you’re discussing legends and writing an opus of an album, you want to end it by smashing it out of the park with a grand climax.

“Heracles” commences with some reverberating guitar chords and some lovely percussive elements that slowly grow, adding wondrous dynamics that sweep you away. They suck you in with fully fledged passages, just to drop out and leave you panting for more. The sleepmakeswaves influences are apparent, and that is definitely a good thing. “Heracles” is a damn strong song and you’d be surprised to find out that it’s almost ten minutes long, seeing how it carries such great momentum.

If you read the description of the track, you can start to understand some of the story behind its composition:

“the song Heracles tells the story of the Greek Hero Heracles, also known as Hercules. He was not only given the chance to be born in the first place when Zeus intervened at the trial of Heracles’ mother who had been sentenced to burn at the stake, but was the only mortal who was granted access to Mount Olympus after his death. The song’s repeating patterns echo Heracles’ own life, as he was constantly tried, most famously by Zeus’ resentful wife Hera. The song is divided into twelve parts alluding to both Heracles’ labours and the different stages of his life, the last two being musical illustrations of his rise to Mount Olympus and his place among the gods until the end of times.”

How cool is that? The composition of the song reflects the story, with twelve parts connecting to elements of the legend.

It’s a shame that I’m not more familiar with Greek legend, which would provide some great context for the stories that inspire these incredible songs. Have you ever considered that music can take on a personality? Thankfully “Icarus” has a spoken-word section detailing the flight and folly of the Icarus, who you may know as the boy who flew too close to the sun and lost the use of his wings when the wax that was keeping the feathers adhered melted.

It’s reminiscent of Range’s title track from God’s of The Copybook Headings, or plenty of Lost In Kiev songs. And true to post-rock convention, the moody music and suitably chosen spoken word track work together wonderfully. The narrative guides us through the tale. We revel in Icurus’ joy as he soars through the sky following his creative escape, and vicariously feel his Father’s terror when as he powerlessly witnesses his son’s demise.

One reason I love concept albums like this is that they invite the listener to unpack and explore the source story or material. Like Listener‘s last album about inventors, or Frank Turner’s recent record that explores inspirational historic female figures, or even Iron Maiden songs based off history, poetry and prose (“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, for example) these themes and concepts are so interesting that they compel you to go searching down a Wikipedia wormhole to learn more about the Greek antagonists that loan their names to these song titles.

Conceptually, this album is stunning. Musically, it’s just as grand. It’s a soaring, sweeping, expansive masterpiece. Hubris. have crafted something legendary with Metempsychosis, befitting of the stories which guided their writing. It’s a stunning album that sweeps you away on a journey from epochs past, drawing from many conventions of the post-rock genre whilst managing to remain fresh and exciting.

Hubris.


Hubris. links:

Website: https://www.hubrisband.com/

Bandcamp: https://hubrisband.bandcamp.com/album/metempsychosis

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

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEhqSOV5UkvvXqMTr–HNwQ

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

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Lakes – The Constance LP

Lake The Constance LP cover art
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I knew I was onto something good from the moment I first heard Lakes. Someone had recommended their new album The Constance LP on an internet thread dicussing Into It. Over It.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big IIOI fan. He was the first musical act that I travelled overseas to see play live. So if I hear someone comparing an act to IIOI, I’m going to check them out.

And good thing I did, because this album is fantastic. Insomuch that The Constance has become my easy pick for favourite album of 2019.

Lakes decribe themselves as “glock-rock”. Don’t let that put you off – it’s not an NSA advertisment – it’s because they have a glockenspiel. Is that significant enough to warrant naming their genre after it?

Well the glock certainly adds to their sound, placing bright accents in just the right spots. The interplay between the glockenspiel and the other percussion in “Ontario” nothing short of sublime.

To describe their sound further: it’s happy music. Sometimes relaxed, usually upbeat. They play mathrock, but the time signatures switch so subtly that you’d only pick it up if you’re listening for it. There are elements of emo, indie and pop-punk threaded through as well.

The vocal harmonies are devine. This much is obvious from the very opening notes of the album. Then we hear the chiming glockenspiel and trumpet come over the syncopated rhythms and it’s instantly clear that this is not your standard pop or rock music.

The singing is outstanding. The Bandcamp liner notes state that the vocal duties are shared between four people throughout the album, but it sounds like more voices are in there. On tracks like “Reindeer”, the singing is ernest and urgent, but for most of the record things feel pretty calm. The tender “Erie” sounds like painful memories, with sparse acoustic guitar and gently layered singing. I just love it all, from the chanted shouts of ‘Hey!’ in “Geneva” to the staccato delivery of the chorus in “Lucerne”.

I hope I’m not being too misleading here, But Lakes remind me a lot of Toe: fantastic musicianship, quirky time signatures, busy drumming that isn’t overpowering, and songs that are perfect for putting you into a great mood.

Lakes didn’t do themselves many favours when they chose their moniker. It’s not an easy name to search for. On top of this, when I’ve had friends give me a lift in their car and offer me a chance to choose the music, I haven’t been able to find Lakes on streaming services. I’ve included a songwhip link at the end of the article that you can use to find them, so they are available, but I’ve never managed to find them on a friends phone when searching for them on Spotify or Google Play when driving in the car.

This is not a criticism of the music. All of their songs are named after Lakes, so it’s an apt name. But it makes it harder for me to share and recommend their music if I don’t have a URL link handy.

It’s a hard choice, but I’d consider “Ontario” the highlight of the album, thanks to the aformentioned glock accents, the vocal hamonies, and the soaring trumpet and great drumming in the outro. Everything comes together into a georgeous package.

Lakes are worth your time. I don’t blame you if you haven’t heard of them, but there’s no more pleading ignorance now. Treat yourself to some georgously catchy and carefree music. Like I said before, Lakes were my surefire choice for best music of 2019. Check them out and see if if you agree.

Listen to The Constance LP: https://songwhip.com/album/lakes/constance


Lakes links:

Buy physical copies: https://thelpcafe.com/product/the-constance-lp-lakes/?fbclid=IwAR1_QSMl9ft39zXz8ZTc0_A5abs1GlS7b974Lnr57VFKZBoC5T5ULsXyqEI

Website: https://www.ourbandlakes.com/

Bandcamp: https://ourbandlakes.bandcamp.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ourbandlakes

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

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5TizUcJWoPu6QwTZnlsqVA

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ourbandlakes

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/3FsRoxn81LEbOBSHb60T8G

 

Joseph James

Album Review: We Lost The Sea – Triumph & Disaster

We Lost The Sea Triumph Disaster album cover art
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The last ten years has seen the mushrooming of an important and flourishing progressive post rock / post metal /math rock scene in Australia, much centred around Sydney. Melbourne’s Laura had passed the baton to the likes of Meniscus and sleepmakeswaves, while We Lost The Sea started playing around in that blackgaze space – not Deafheaven or Alcest, not Cult of Luna, but bringing some new ideas with their first release Crimea.

Then with their second release in 2012, The Quietest Place on Earth, We Lost The Sea had found their style and were poised to push forward, before the tragic loss of singer Chris Torpy.

Their momentum broken, they hit back two years later with the four stories of sacrifice in Departure Songs without a vocalist. As great as the album was, it relied heavily on a couple of spoken word passages and long intros. It was as though there was not enough confidence to tell a story with music alone, and it meant less of the light and shade was provided by guitar, bass, drums and keys. Closing an album of pure crescendocore, “Challenger Part II” is as triumphant and melancholic a build-up and release as you will ever hear, but we were left with a degree of structural sameness that sold their ability short.

Image: Intrepid Photography

It’s taken four years to release a follow-up: Triumph & Disaster. And it’s certainly a triumph. Built of seven tunes, the epilogue with vocals from Louise Nutting (Wartime Sweethearts), everything good about Departure Songs is there, with a whole lot more. If the code for Departure Songs is found in A Quiet Place, Triumph & Disaster owes more to A Day and Night of Misfortune: Day, but that comparison shows just how much more thought and effort, not to mention experience, went into the new record. I can only imagine the discussions held over which note should be played next.

There are themes that reappear through the album and within songs. A wailing alarm appears as a warning at the opening, only to find it was an unheeded portent as the end of the world is soundtracked by a far more desperate and distressed siren. Within each song phrases and riffs come and go and return, and there is so much depth and variation in the structure and moods and between the songs.

Gone is the reliance on crescendocore, with “Towers” and “The Last Sun” each starting off at full strength with those sirens. Which is not to say we don’t get that powerful and emotional build-up because we do, but WLTS have brought a whole new level of complexity to these tunes.

Where Departure Songs was all about the destinations, Triumph & Disaster is about the journey. It’s a very different experience.

It’s hard not to feel a strong influence from Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, or at least some commonality of ideas and influence, and indeed Ron Pollard appears as a guest on the album and has sat in on performances of “Towers” in recent shows while supporting Russian Circles. What this marriage means apart from subtle intertwined melodies and interlocking phrases, is the intense driving moodiness and darkness that underlies so much of the album.

Image: Intrepid Photography

WLTS already knew how to create long, heavy, driving, repetitious passages and contrast them with sprinklings of dynamic, fluid exploration. Five years of playing Departure Songs has simply given them a treasure chest of ideas that have taken them to the next level of telling a story without words.

And it’s a bleak story. We all die. What can I say? We didn’t listen. If “Give Peace A Chance” and Edwin Starr’s “War” were the songs of the peace movement, it’s hard not to feel right now that Triumph & Disaster isn’t the tragic theme for Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN:

“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money.”

 

Triumph & Disaster is out October 4 via Bird’s Robe Records (Australia) and October 25 via Translation Loss (US), Holy Roar (UK) and Dunk!Records (EU).


We Lost The Sea links:

Bandcamp: https://welostthesea.bandcamp.com

Website: http://www.welostthesea.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/welostthesea

Facebook: facebook.com/welostthesea

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/WeLostTheSea

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

Review by Gilbert Potts. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlbrtPtts1

Photos by Bern Stock of Intrepid Photography.
Taken at Manning Bar in Sydney when We Lost The Sea opened for Russian Circles.