Premiere: Sora Shima – At the Edge of Hope Is Despair

Sora Shima At the Edge of Hope Is Despair cover
Standard

Sora Shima were staples in the New Zealand post-rock scene for some time. They shared the stage with royalty like Jakob and Mono, and put out some great music.

The band slowed down and fell into a hiatus about five years ago. You know the score – guys get a bit older, work commitments start taking over, suddenly they have families, and the band goes on the back burner. Their last release was the 2014 album You Are Surrounded.

I remember in late 2016 my friend David Zeidler (of Young Epoch fame) asking me to recommend some post-rock acts from my neck of the woods for an A Thousand Arms compilation, which were relatively new at the time.

From memory I suggested Jakob, Sora Shima, Hiboux, Into Orbit and Kerretta. Three of those acts made it onto the first edition of Hemispheres (Hiboux featured in the following edition).

Chatting with Jason from Sora Shima, the fresh surge of interest in his band as a result of that compilation inspired him to revive the band and get things up and running again.

They’ve had a handful of gigs in the past year and have been working on new material and getting back on track. Out of nowhere they’ve dropped two fresh songs.

“At the Edge of Hope Is Despair” is a brilliant return to form. A guitar line at the start reminds me of Tides of Man – which can only be a good thing. And the drums sound immense – really full and vibrant and spacious. So many drummers try to emulate that sound that John Bonham gave us in the song “When The Levee Breaks” and Sora Shima have come darn close. All the instruments come together in a searing, triumphant crescendo that leaves you panting for more. I’m reminded of the recent Hubris album.

“Loss” is more cinematic ambient, full of mournful swells and dense textures. A nice counterpiece to the first track.

Sora Shima

There’s no story behind these tracks, no waffly bio. It’s just shy of 7 minutes worth of music. But it’s damn tasty and exciting to have new content from such a great band. Keep an eye out on the Shora Shima Facebook page for some news being announced in the next week.

While you’re at it, buy their back catalogue off Bandcamp. They’re only asking for $3 for their entire collection, which is criminally underselling themselves.

 

EP Review: distance – over time

Standard

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
Standard

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

Scattering The Rats: An Interview with Donita Sparks of L7

L7
Standard

Mina Perniskie (lead signer of Wellington’s own Secrets of the Sun) chats on the phone with the indomitable DONITA SPARKS of LA band L7. Mina is a longtime fan of L7, first hearing them as a teenager. Her 14 year old self was fan-girling hard during this interview.

Having formed in 1985 with raucous genre defying blend of metal, punk and pop, L7 are back with new album Scatter The Rats. L7 are in their element as a live band, and have a tour of Australia and New Zealand lined up for May. Make sure to get along to one of the shows to get your face ripped off.


Mina Perniskie: I was really excited to see that L7 were coming to NZ, and I believe this is your first time coming to NZ with L7 is that correct?? I know you have been to Australia in the past.

Donita Sparks: I think we were in NZ in either 1992 or 1993, we’ve been there once.

It’s been a while obviously, are you excited to be coming here?

We’re very excited to be coming to NZ.  We were really disappointed that last time we went to Australia, we did not come to NZ, and we thought you guys hated us! We were like, why aren’t we playing Auckland at least? So we’re happy to be playing there now.

And you have two shows, Wellington and Auckland! After a long hiatus you’ve been playing together again now for about 6 years?

I think we reformed in 2016, yeah those were our first reunion shows so this will be our fifth year back, which is crazy!

You are obviously a very influential band, so how does it feel over the last couple of years in particular to be able to write new music, get out a new album Scatter the Rats and tour again after kind of a long hiatus?  Do you feel that this is a great climate for a comeback if you will? With your legacy as well?

Well, it’s been amazing.  There’s a documentary on us that’s out called Pretend We’re Dead.  That was coming out, and then we were thinking about doing some reunion shows, and then that kind of happened. And then we were thinking about well let’s do some new music, because if we want to keep touring, none of us wanted to be like an ‘oldies band’ or something, you know what I mean?  You can’t just keep on doing a reunion tour forever, you know! So that’s why last year we put out Scatter the Rats and we’re super happy about the way it came out.  And it’s great, because we’re still touring that record, and there are spots in the world that we haven’t hit yet with it. It’s exciting again.

You can probably find new fans as well as reminding your older fans that you’re around as well with new music, so that’s great.  Your music has always been great and to me really aggressive but in a fun way. It’s soo heavy hitting and I think in the current political and general climate of the world it’s great to have L7 back out there and touring.

We’ve always been heavy hitting and we’ve always had melody in our heavy hitting as well so we’re not just a metal band, we’re not just a punk band and we’re not just a pop band, we’re like all three combined you know? (laughs).  We like a good catchy melody, and we also like aggression and we also like to slow it down every now and then too and play something a bit more introspective maybe.

Absolutely. It’s quite hard to pin down L7 down to one genre, it covers multitudes. Do you like talking about genre, or is it kind of annoying?  I personally hate talking genre, it’s like people have to pin you down to one box. Alternative rock kind of covers it but people want something more specific.

Well I suppose it’s important if your readership or your listening audience has never heard the band.  Most bands that I love are sort of genre defying. You might think “oh you may think they’re this, but then argh there’s this curveball and I never expected them to do this  kind of a song”! Those are the most interesting bands to me. So we’re cool if people wanna talk about it. Listen some people think we’re a heavy metal band you know? But we’re actually from the art punk scene in mid 80s Los Angeles. So we are not even from a metal scene  So we’re cool discussing genre and all that stuff. It’s a valid train of thought I suppose

With having multiple style and taste and influence as a band, you’re quite a collaborative band with all of you contributing to the music.  Is that kind of fun, do you all have different tastes and things that that you bring into the music?

What brings us together is the music, and I think that we all like the different corners and pockets of our band musically.  So any one of us can bring in a song that’s gonna sound like L7. As long as we’ve got Dee playing drums, and us with distortion.. just the way we play is very L7.  It’s almost like anything that comes in is gonna sound like an L7  song. So it works you know. And If we have to make some additions or changes to it we’ll do that too.   But we’re not afraid to play any genre of music. We’ve played songs that just have reverb guitar, no distortion at all.  I’m a sucker for hand claps, and for bongos! Some people think we’re just metal but it’s like what are bongos then? I like surf music. So..there’s that.

True. I was listening to one of your songs and noticed it has a surf element, I think it was “Mr Integrity”.

Yeah and that has bongos! And hand claps. And surf guitar. So it’s like you know (laughs).. and it rocks.

I think that’s what makes L7 fun.  Because you do all these things and it’s surprising and interesting, you know?

I think we feel pretty free to kind of just throw in whatever elements.  I think maybe some bands are afraid to do that, because they are in a very tight narrow genre.  And my God if they fucking break that genre well they’re fucked! Because their fans will not forgive them. But with us it’s like ‘OK whatever, you’re not gonna forgive us you don’t have to be our fan anymore’.  OK fine, you don’t dig it? Go listen to…whatever’.

 

There’s plenty of stuff out there and they don’t listen to you …but hopefully they do! My next question.. so this is around the whole gender issue and you guys probably get sick of talking about this to a point, but I’m gonna ask the question. And quoting from the documentary as well,  you said you ‘wished the whole gender thing would go away’ and ‘please recognise us for our rock’. Do you feel that you’ve achieved this on the whole or is this still an issue today? I feel as women in rock we have achieved some measure of respect now, it’s not as bad as it used to be. But I still think it’s a thing.  What’s your view on that?

Well, we had respect from the get go, from our peers and from rock audiences.  Pretty much. It was sort of the guys with the power, the money guys, the business suit guys who were really kind of for whatever reason afraid to let go of the power.  I think we’ve always transcended our gender. I don’t think anybody really fucking cares.

My objective with the band when we started out, I didn’t want a name that revealed our gender. I was like ‘L7’.  I didn’t want The ‘blah blah blah Girls’ or anything like that. I was just like No. I want people to hear our music and not be able to tell what gender we are. And we definitely achieved that. So yeah I feel great.  Listen, if you were a Doctor 100 years ago, you were a ‘Lady Doctor’..it didn’t matter if you were the best doctor on the fucking planet. So you know, it’s all growing pains and its all you know, somebody’s gotta be the fucking avant garde, in terms of you’re out there first, or second, or third..whatever.  I think in the rock circles we hold our own, and yeah.

I definitely think so.  I’m really looking forward to the show.  When I heard that you were coming and there were tickets  I was like, I’m in there! Done! It’ll be a great show. I’m sure you rock just as hard as ever.  Watching the documentary I was just like…the raw power, the fun..it’s soo rock. So I’m really looking forward to seeing that in person, with my own eyeballs and my own ears!

I feel and I think the whole band feels this way too, that we’re a better live band than on record. We’ve had producers and engineers spend like a month on one of our records and then they go see us live and they say ‘What the fuck have we been doing for the last month!?’.  Because there is this connectivity when we’re on stage together and you feel the power of the band that you just can’t capture sometimes in a recording studio.  So if you want to see us in our element, come see us live.

See you live.  Absolutely. Excellent. Well I think that’s about our time up isn’t it?

Hey, I do wanna tell you one thing though.  We did a collaboration with Joan Jett. We did a cover of her song ‘Fake Friends’ and she’s on our version, singing and playing guitar. We’re going to be releasing that just for the Australia & NZ tour.  So that’s gonna be available just in that market as a single. So you can throw that out there!

Oh wow! Awesome, I will definitely be throwing that out there.  That’s a little tidbit just for Kiwis, I guess. And Australians. That’s awesome news!

That’s exactly right.  Cool!

Was great to speak with you, thank you so much.  I’m really really looking forward to the show when you’re here!

Thanks! We will see you in NZ, finally!

 


Here’s a playlist of Mina’s favourite L7 songs:


Ticket link for L7’s upcoming Australia and New Zealand tour: https://sbmpresents.com/tour/l7/

L7 Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Instinct: An Interview With Neige From Alcest

Alcest Neige
Standard

Daniel Hay: So the main reason I’ve been handed over this interview is because my band actually opened for Alcest on your last New Zealand tour, and you’re one of our biggest influences, so I was given this opportunity.

Neige: That’s great, what was the name of your band?

The Dark Third, we played the Auckland show, which if you recall was in quite a small underground venue.

Ah yes, that’s so cool.

So I wanted to talk about the live side of the music first. I actually went to both shows on that tour, in Auckland and in Wellington, and they were both quite different, which I felt was quite interesting. Wellington was quite a meditative show, whereas Auckland was quite aggressive and a lot more metal. And I recall, you actually changed your encore song from Deliverance to Percees de Lumiere, is that something you do often, changing the songs to fit the room?

No actually, we never really do this, so that may have been the only time. Because we work with a computer project, it’s not simple for us to just switch to another song if we want. So that is strange. But yeah, I remember as you said these two shows were completely different. The first one was quite atmospheric and intimate, and the other one was intimate in a very ‘punk’ style.

It was moved to that venue last-minute. I greatly enjoyed that show, because it showed a different side to your music. The heavier songs, everyone got quite into it, as if it was a punk show, as you said.

Yes, but it was a great show. It was so much fun. People were actually doing mosh pits and stuff.

Yes I remember then fondly. One other thing I noticed from your live setup then was, in contrast to a lot of bands in your area of music, you didn’t have many guitar pedals.

No, no. It’s because I think having like 20 pedals is bullshit. I mean, you don’t need 20 pedals, I have always had two or three. Distortion, delay and reverb. I am then using my guitar volume and tone control to get different gains during the songs. I’m trying to do more with the least amount of gear possible, because when you travel and when you play that many shows, the more gear you have, the more chance there is that something doesn’t work properly. So we try to have very limited amounts of cables and pedals.

And for me, a song works fine just how it is with melodies, and all the rest is just to embellish the sound and make it even better, but that’s something you do more in the studio.

And with the new record, this is a bit of a heavier one, are you going to change any of your live setup to reflect that?

It’s more or less the same, but I am using a different distortion pedal, so the new one is a bit more metal. But the rest, the reverb and delay, they are the same. My shitty Bose delay, and I have a Hall of Fame reverb pedal that I really love, it’s very simple.

So onto the new album, which I’ve been loving recently. It is a bit of a heavier record, which interests me – a lot of bands in your area of music tend to either get progressively heavier or progressively softer. You’ve sort of jumped around a bit and gone from one extreme to the other, with this being probably the heaviest record under the Alcest name, what inspired you to take this direction this time around?

Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, we’ve already done the heavy band going soft with Shelter, so that’s something that I’ve done already. And this time it’s heavier and darker because I was in a moment in my life when I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of darker types of emotions. And it was after the very, very long touring cycle of Kodama, so I was feeling really exhausted. I kind of lost touch with who I was, because you are on tour, you are always surrounded by people and you’re doing very down to earth things. And I feel I lost touch with my real essence, because I’m a very spiritual person. I like to spend some time in nature.

And you don’t have time to get to nature when touring.

Yeah, or even just being alone and reflecting. That’s something that you just can’t do, so I had this frustration and anxiety accumulating. And when it was time to write new music, I guess everything just came out. In a very violent way, actually.

This almost feels like the first Alcest record with actual metal ‘riffs’ on it, not just black metal tremolos.

Absolutely, yeah.

One other style of music I’ve noticed in this record is at times it feels quite post-punk, particularly in the prominence of the bass guitar. You’ve mentioned The Chameleons as an artist you admire in the past, was that a conscious influence on this record?

Absolutely, that kind of music I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager, so it’s been a really big part of my influences, especially the guitar leads and the guitar sound. I’ve never really been into like ‘heavy metal’ or things like that, I’m more like an indie kid with some black metal. So my type of guitar leads are more like the type of guitar you can hear in The Chameleons or U2 or The Cure, as opposed to Iron Maiden or Metallica.

So all their guitar work has influenced me, for example the chorus that I put on leads. And I love the bass in post-punk too, the rhythmic patterns. But it’s very subtle, it’s not something you can really hear in Alcest’s music clearly, but it’s definitely there.

I think this is the album I’ve heard it the most out of your material. It’s actually quite a groovy record, which isn’t a description you’d expect to put on an Alcest album – for example Sapphire is carried quite a lot by the bass in it.

Definitely, yeah that song has quite a bit of it.

And obviously, I have to throw in the obligatory question about touring New Zealand again. You mentioned Kodama having a long touring cycle, is this one going to be the same?

I really wish we would go back to New Zealand, and I think we will. It’s a part of the plan, probably next year actually. That would be awesome, we really loved touring there, it was the first time for us and we have so many great memories and met great people. And the crowd was very good too, they were… enthusiastic.

Yes it was a great tour, and you’ll have to find a way to the South Island next time. Much better nature there if you need a break too. 

Hopefully. Both shows were a success last time so perhaps we can.

Well thank you for your time, and good luck with the new album release. I’ve been enjoying listening to it and I think the fans will appreciate the new sound. I hope to see you on the tour as well.

Thank you!

Alcest Spiritual Instinct Album Cover ArtSpiritual Instinct is out on Nuclear Blast Records October 25th

iTunes preorder: https://music.apple.com/au/album/spiritual-instinct/1474788010

Interview by Daniel Hay