Live Review and Photos: The Adults at Meow, Wellington

Estere Meow Wellington
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The Adults Wellington Meow banner

The Adults’ second album, Haja, is one of the better albums to come out in recent months. Vivacious and upbeat, it combines energetic Sudanese percussion with emerging New Zealand pop and hip-hop talent.

I was wondering how they would pull it off in a live context, purely because the album featured a lot of contributors from around New Zealand and Sudan. Many songs on the record revolve around Sudanese Aghani-Al-Banat music, and the women who laid down those beats were unlikely to come all the way to Aotearoa for a few Adults shows. I also wondered what material they would play, seeing as there are two Adults records to draw material from.

Raiza Biza Meow Wellington

Raiza Biza opened the night with some smooth hip-hop. He looked familiar, and then I realised that I recognised him from one of David Dallas’ Hood Country Club album release shows last year. He had a great chilled out style, and his backing music was musical – as opposed to just beats – with horns and all.

After a handful of songs Biza looked over to the door to the green room. “Jon, are you ready? Should I do another song?” he enquired, unsure of how long he should play.

“Keep playing, we want more!” a lady behind me yelled. Biza shrugged, signaled the DJ to start another song, and played a few more

Raiza Biza Meow Wellington

The rest of the band came on after Biza’s set. Trinity Root’s Ben Lemi on drums, Steve Bremner on percussion, Emily Browning on guitar and vocals, Estere on roto toms, percussion, vocals and synth, and the main man himself, Jon Toogood on bass and vocals. A fairly star-studded line-up.

Biza stayed on for a few songs, taking on the rapping parts that he and Kings had laid down on Haja. Toogood was clearly stoked to have him on as part of the team.

The Adults Meow Wellington

I was pleased to hear the group faithfully recreate the Sudanese beats. Bremner and Lemi showed off their obvious proficiency on drums and percussion, with Estere adding roto toms, tambourine and maracas to the mix at times. Toogood complemented this by laying down thick bass, which came through loud and strong.

The mostly instrumental tracks “Haja” and “Like The Moon” were standout. They were able to mess around with the songs – due to the lack of verse/chorus structure – giving them the feel of fun extended jams.

The Adults Meow Wellington

Another highlight was lead single “Bloodlines”. “Oh, this is a good one!” a lady shouted as Toogood announced it.

“I hope so,” Toogood replied, “I thought it was good too. That’s why I’m here to play it.”

He appeared in a good mood – perhaps feeling slightly flustered and under-prepared for the first live performance of this material – but also clearly having fun, judging from his dancing as he immersed himself in the music. He joked along with the crowd as they shouted out, and made sure to direct positive attention to his colleagues.

The Adults is a supergroup, of sorts, and each member tonight proved themself a worthy addition to the band. Browning sounded great on guitar and could sing well, although could have used a volume boost. And Estere was the star of the night, spreading her talent across multiple instruments and leading most of the singing. She took on the parts written by Aaradhna and Ladi6 with ease.

Estere Meow Wellington

They played the all eight songs from Haja, followed by “Nothing To Lose”, the lead single from the original Adults record. This was a brilliant way to end, with everyone dancing along to the strong, bouncing bassline.

A short break was followed by one encore, “Short Change” – a b-side I didn’t recognise that Toogood had co-written with Shayne Carter. Bremner played drums this time, freeing Lemi to come up to play lead guitar.

All up it was a fantastic gig. Lots of talent, lots of energy, and plenty of opportunities to dance. It didn’t feel fully polished – being the first performance of new material – but it didn’t feel lacking either. I would have loved to hear more, but they did play the entire album, so I can’t exactly feel cheated. If you get the chance to see the Adults play any of the rest of the dates as they tour New Zealand of Australia then I recommend you head along and have some fun.

Words and photos by Joseph James

The Adults Meow Wellington  Ben Lemi Meow Wellington Steve Bremner Meow Wellington Emily Browning Meow WellingtonThe Adults Meow Wellington The Adults set list Meow Wellington

Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As The Light Grows

The Dark Third Even As The Light Grows
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You’d be forgiven if Auckland act The Dark Third haven’t popped up on your radar yet, but that is soon to change. Formed in 2013, they underwent a number of changes, before gaining relative success in 2017 by playing support slots for both Tortoise and Alcest when each of those bands played in Auckland. On August 19 they will release début Even As The Light Grows.

The Dark Third have created a hazy brand of music that eludes easy description by drawing on a range of styles including shoegaze, post-rock, prog-rock and black-metal. Their style reminds me of other dark post-rock acts that offer similar moody output, like Coma Recovery, The Swan Thief and Blueneck.

They name check prog-rocker Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) as an influence and I can see why. The progressive styling, long songs, and focus on intelligent song crafting over sheer heaviness all bear similarity to Wilson’s own work.

With opening track “The dreams of Lesser Men” a harsh discordant intro segues into hotel lobby piano playing, before transforming into guitar picking. Light floaty segments bookend distorted feedback, but somehow all the parts feel connected. Daniel Hay’s singing sounds weightless and ethereal, but still powerful and emotive.

To me, this strength of this album lies in the second track, “These Things Are Not Inherent”. Primal thumping drums and bass heavy piano chords ground the song, while hypnotic singing draws us in. It’s like Killing Joke minus the aggression. And I can’t get enough of it.

The album repeats itself a lot – not in an annoying way – but revisiting themes across the album through use of reprisals and motifs. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to it so much over the past few weeks, or maybe it’s because many of the songs are fairly long, but I keep hearing segments and getting a sense of déjà vu, that the same chord progressions and melodies keep cropping up again. It’s a good thing though, showing that cohesive elements thread through each song to make the album feel like a fully developed package.

Another neat aspect of this release is that the band includes a wide array of instruments that eschew the traditional rock four-piece expectations. Piano, violin and saxophone all offer different tones and textures that defy expectations. When I think saxophone, jazz comes to mind. Well here, it is used in a completely different context. There are 13 layers of sax in “These Things Are Not Inherent”, which all pile upon each other to create a unique drone effect. And speaking of interesting instrumentation, the end of “The Regressor” turns industrial, sounding like a factory in action, with reversed sound effects.

It’s hard to articulate why I like this album so much. I had the same problem reviewing Coma Recovery’s EP earlier in the year. It speaks to me emotionally, which is hard to convey with words. 

Even As The Light Grows is an album of polarities. Dark and light; heavy and soft; classic and fresh. The album art encapsulates their sound well: looking both serene and sharp at the same time. It’s like a good stout: dark, silky smooth and with layers of depth that stay with you long after your sip. Drink it all in and enjoy

Daniel Hay The Dark Third by Mandie Hailtree

Daniel Hay. Image: Hailtree

The Dark Third links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkThird/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedarkthird/
Bandcamp: https://thedarkthird.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Album Review: The Adults – Haja

The Adults Haja cover
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It was obvious from the first single that Jon Toogood’s new The Adults album possessed something different. The African influence and feminist leanings made the video look like it’d been lifted directly from the recent Black Panther movie. “Bloodlines” is a banger of a track, with raw primal energy, incredible percussion, powerful themes and a hip-hop direction. One listen and Toogood had my attention. I needed to hear the rest of the album!

Toogood released the début eponymous album by The Adults back in 2011. A collaborative project that involved inviting some of NZ’s première musicians to help write and record songs that didn’t fit the Shihad mould. Seven years later, Haja is a follow-up that loosely follows the same set up, but with far different results.

The story behind Haja is neat. When Toogood married his wife in Sudan he became enraptured with the traditional music played at the ceremony: Aghani-Al-Banat – which roughly translates as “girl’s music”. He asked the band to play with him for the new record, and then asked NZ musicians he admired to add their touches.

Now this isn’t exactly low-fi quality, but many of the tracks originate from phone recordings. Not that you’d know. They sound great, brimming with liveliness. Kudos to sound engineer Devin Abrams for creating something so good from what he had.

Opening track “Boomtown” lets us know from the first bar that we’re in for some fun, with pulsating bass, a beat you need to move to, and infectious African background vocals. Chelsea Jade’s cooed singing and hooks contrasts against Raiza Biza’s rapped verse, and both artists add authenticity to the track, having been born in African nations and immigrated to New Zealand. “Boomtown” is a strong, vibrant start to the album.

Title track “Haja” – an Arabic title of respect that means older/experienced woman – blends music from various cultures beautifully. The traditional Sudanise Aghani-Al-Banat music of vibrant drumming and chanting carried by bass lines. Two thirds into the track guitar comes to the forefront, which adds a light boogie feel to an already dance-able song [it reminds me a lot of “Plot A Course” by Barouche].

It wouldn’t be fair to say that “Take It On The Chin” drags, but within the context of the album it certainly lacks the energy of many of the other tracks. That said, it can’t be faulted when judged on its own merits. A lazy bass line, smooth flow courtesy of Kings, and some catchy hooks come together to culminate in a chilled yet triumphant track.

Likewise, “Because of You” is fine, but feels flat stacked against most of the other tracks. The vibrant Aghani-Al-Banat beats that provide a basis for most of the album colour those tracks so brightly that the songs without African drumming struggle to stand out. Toogood’s bass playing is a strongpoint throughout the album, and really carries this track, along with shimmery pads and synthetic sounding metronome that provide momentum.

“That Gold” feels like a throwback to the original The Adults album, with a Police-esque beat and bassline. Raiza Biza makes a second appearance; and Aaradhna’s soulful singing, Biza’s rapping, and Sudanese chanting overlap beautifully to offer complex vocal layers.

Album closer “Gisma” (the name of the leader of the Aghani-Al-Banat band) ventures into The Cure territory, with some introspective lyrics sung as a love letter from Toogood to his wife. It’s a tender side of Toogood that we don’t often see with his main band. I’m reminded of Shihad deep cut, “Lightbulb” from the Beautiful Machine bonus disc, or the acoustic Pacifier sessions they recorded at Radio New Zealand’s Helen Young Studios.

Shihad are one of my favourite bands, and by extension Toogood is one of my favourite singers. So I find it interesting that he has put out a record that you hardly hear him sing on. You could question why a New Zealand male is writing Sudanese music for girls [loosely paraphrased], or why a rocker is making a hip-hop album. But it works. It’s a great record. Maybe it’s wrong to consider it a Toogood record – because he’s not the star, but more the string that ties all these estranged influences together. Of course, this could explain why he chose to put this release out as The Adults, and not under his own name.

Haja is a short yet powerful record, carefully cultivated and packed with infectious energy. I can’t say I expected African feminist hip-hop from the singer of one of my fave hard-rock bands, but here you have it. Give it a listen and let the rhythms sweep you away.


The Adults links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theadultsnz/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheAdultsNZ
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/theadults

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Alien Weaponry – Tū

Alien Weaponry Tū
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Mythical Māori figure Tūmatauenga is known as the god of war, among other things. That should give you a fair idea of what to expect when considering that metal trio Alien Weaponry have named their debut album after him.

 commences with “Waikōrero”, a haunting welcome recorded in some Waipu caves. The air hisses and hums as a purerehua [Māori bullroarer – literally translates as moth/butterfly] spins around overhead, while koauau [traditional flute] pierces the atmosphere with shrillness. Henry de Jong recites a welcome in his native tongue. This is how you set the mood.

Which makes the hard-hitting aggressive nature of first song “Rū Ana Te Whenua” all the more powerful by comparison “Listen up!” they cry: hear our message! Cue savage riffs and frenetic blast beats as they chant about the forces of nature unleashing. Death is coming! They reference caves where the dead lie resting, possibly similar to the caves where they recorded the “Waikōrero”. All this mention of death and destruction works in well with the heavy nature of the music, especially considering the warrior-like cries that the band emulate. The boys derived inspiration for the track from the stories of their tupuna [ancestor], Te Ahoaho, who fought the British at a notable battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) in 1864.

I should mention that most songs on this album are not sung in English. New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori, and NZ Sign Language. [Surprisingly English isn’t an “official” language of NZ, although may as well be considered so by default]. Obviously sign isn’t going to feature in audio music recordings. And Māori is criminally under-represented.

Which makes Alien Weaponry unique, even within New Zealand. Sure, we’ve got a few token songs sung in te reo that charted here and there. Taika Waititi’s film Boy brought “Poi E” back to public conscious in 2010. I still remember the goosebumps I got when watching Tiki Tane perform “Tangaroa” at the NZVMAs as a teenager. Personally, the only use of reo I had in my music collection before Alien Weaponry was Kerretta using a karanga on “Kawea Tātou Ki Ngā Hiwi“.

This is obviously a big point of difference for the band. And it’s done with authenticity. The haunting mournful cries reflect karanga, and the strong chants could be compared to haka and war songs. They even use traditional instruments, which are effective in setting the tone as well as adding cultural value to the music.

Don’t let this put you off. You may not understand it all (I don’t), but this does little to detract from the music. I think it enhances the music by adding unique elements. Half of the tracks on the album are written in English anyway, with many songs also featuring dual languages.

Alien Weaponry

Lewis de Jong playing in Porirua on Waitangi Day. Image: Joseph James (Will Not Fade)

They touch on some heavy themes. “Holding my Breath” looks at struggling with anxiety, “PC Bro” explores the effects of social media, and how we can create false realities through it, and “Nobody Here” also explores the addictive nature of it. Fighting racism and retaining cultural identity are themes woven all throughout.

There’s also more than a few nods to their whakapapa [family history], with references to pre-colonial times and New Zealand historical events that happened once the European settlers arrived. “Kai Tangata” – the name a reference to war parties and cannibalistic practice – looks at how one Ngapuhi iwi [tribe] slaughtered another iwi with the use of muskets, which obviously outmatched traditional weapons that Te Arawa possessed. “Urutaa” tells a tale of how Europeans brought illness that Māori had no immunity against, which led to misunderstanding and paranoia.

“Raupatu” – the standout track on the album – is heavy, memorable and features a brutal breakdown. It translates as “Confiscated”, and discusses how the colonist government stole the lands from the native peoples, and set about trying to destroy Māori rights and identity. For many years Māori children were beaten at school for speaking their own language, the language that Alien Weaponry sing. But the message from the bridge is unmistakable:

“You take and take 
But you cannot take from who we are 
You cannot take our mana – (dignity)
You cannot take our māoritanga – (cultural identity)
You cannot take our people 
You cannot take our whakapapa – (family heritage)
You cannot take, you cannot take 
Raupatu!”

One criticism (if you can call it that) is that the sample at the start of “Whispers” is an interview with prominently racist politician Don Brash. The problem with this is that he is a lazy and ignorant man, and mispronounces the word ‘Māori’. I just wonder if international listeners would think that this is correct pronunciation, considering that they’d have no reason to know otherwise.

The production is decent. Tom Larkin from Shihad played a part in production, which earns them bonus points from me. I could certainly see an extra guitar coming in useful for filling out the sound, but they trio sound damn good for just a a three piece. And although it is thrash metal, they use dynamics well, as well as the traditional Māori instruments already mentioned, so it’s not all just a chug-fest that gets tired quick.

Put simply – this is an incredible release. A strong statement both musically and thematically, and all the more impressive when you consider that three school boys are behind it all. I am proud of Alien Weaponry for what they have achieved to date (including raising over USD $12,000 to record this album, and signing to Napalm Records), and can only see them gaining more success as they introduce their strong cultural identity to the world.


Alien Weaponry links:

Website: http://alienweaponry.com

Bandcamp: https://alienweaponry.bandcamp.com/album/t-2

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/alienweaponry

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlienWeaponry

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

 

Joseph James

See also:

NGĀ TAMATOA WAIATA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALIEN WEAPONRY (November 2017)

Live Review: Royal Blood at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Royal Blood Wellington
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Royal Blood

w/ Dead Favours

TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Friday 4 May 2018

It’s weird to think that it was just over a week ago that I last saw Jared Wrennall onstage. The Dead Favours singer had joined Skinny Hobos during their set when they opened for Biffy Clyro in Auckland last Tuesday.

The Hobos had done well, but this opening set that Dead Favours played in support of Royal Blood in Wellington tonight was heads and tails above it. The sound wasn’t even that great – TSB Arena is notorious for poor acoustics. The singing and guitar struggled to feature above the heavy low-end mix. Despite this, Dead Favours still managed to do themselves proud.

The crowd response was unbelievable. It was a big turn out for so early in the night – roughly 1700 people at that stage – and they were lapping it up, clapping along without prompting, cheering, and encouraging the band. I attend a lot of gigs and to see this kind of crowd support for a local opener is unheard of. Well done Dead Favours!

It’s hard to believe that Royal Blood have risen to this status on the back of just two albums. In fact, they’d already earned a lot of attention from their eponymous début, and latest album How Did We Get So Dark? only helped to cement their place in modern rock stardom. I was out-of-town when the duo last played Wellington three years ago, but they were already a much hyped-about band back then. The packed out venue tonight goes to show how popular they are. In fact, the crowd started up a chant “Royal Blood, Royal Blood!” after the first song, showing the strength of their collective enthusiasm.

“It’s a shock to come so far from where we live and see so many people here” singer Mike Kerr confessed, “We count ourselves lucky.”

I review a lot of solo projects on this blog, and the odd two-piece. But the fact remains that I’ll always be impressed with what just two talented musicians can pull off. I’d say the standard rock band has five roles: a singer, drums for the beat, bass for the low-end, and two guitars – one for rhythm and another for lead. And often you can get by with fewer players if they are talented enough, but creating a full sound from just two players is quite the feat.

Kerr employs a lot of technical wizardry to pull of the tones he creates with just a bass guitar in most of his songs. He’s like the swiss army kit singer, filling a range of duties, providing singing, banter, bass, guitar sounds, even playing a Rhodes organ at one stage.

Drummer Ben Thatcher is no slouch either. He came across as super casual, wearing a Slayer t-shirt and snapback cap, and spending as much time supping tequila from a red plastic cup as he did playing drums. He only spoke once during the set, coming forward to recite a poem, just to demand that we party with him when screams from the crowd interrupted his prose. But when he played you knew about it. A thunderous back beat, with deft playing that remained unbusy. He had interesting mannerisms. He threw his sticks high into the air as he played, just as he frequently threw his red cup off to the side between songs, only to fetch it and fill it, just to repeat after the next song.

The duo treated us to their arena rock with a hint of danger. A touch of blues, a sinister vibe, a noticeable swagger. Hard hitting, with crunchy riffs and clearly defined beats. They’ve clearly been at it for a long time. I noted that during the breakdown of “Lights Out” they managed to play as a tight unit, despite various tempo changes.

I could draw comparisons from other notable blues rock duos, but that’s just lazy. That said, I did see another two-piece, 21 Pilots play this same venue last year.

21 Pilots are great showmen. It’s all gimmicks and theatrics. They get away with playing as a two piece because they rely heavily on backing tracks. But hey, it makes for a great show. Royal Blood, however, are more straight up. No messing around with backing tracks, video screens, and odd stage costumes. They play hard, and they play well. And I respect them for it.

Royal Blood take notes from top-tier rock legends. The stark lighting show of vertical light bars and blinders could just fit in at a Nine Inch Nails gig. During “Little Monster” they paused, launched into a spellbinding drum solo, built the intensity, and came back to finish the song five minutes later. It’s the kind of move that Foo Fighters used to pull back in their prime.

Two backing singers came on for a handful of songs throughout the night, dressed in glittery black outfits. They were barely audible for most of it, but their haunting coos certainly enhanced “How Did We Get So Dark?”, from the album of the same name.

One of the key attractions is that Royal Blood make things things appear simple. Obviously it isn’t – getting those tones from a bass guitar isn’t normal at all – but it seems simple. Good riffs, fairly straightforward beats, stark lighting. It’s minimal, efficient – even down to the amount of people on stage. No-nonsense rock and roll. And it’s all damn good.

Joseph James