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

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

Lakes Start Again Album Cover
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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 

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