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

Sora Shima At the Edge of Hope Is Despair cover
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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

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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

EP Review: Suburban Dinosaur – Mountains

Suburban Dinosaur Mountains EP cover
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Suburban Dinosaur is the work of Gonçalo Trindade, a Portuguese guitarist living in Berlin. He deserves applause for his choice of his pseudonym, let alone his music. Suburban Dinosaur: isn’t that just the best name? Trindade is also prolific writer, with this latest EP, Mountains, being his third release so far this year.

Mountains features seven short, calming guitar tracks with light piano accompaniment. This is a slight deviation from some of Trindade’s usual output. His last release sits more within the realms of noise/drone, and I even found some earlier works jarring. But I prefer this ambient direction. Serene acoustic guitar never fails to nourish my soul, and this EP hits the spot just so. The songs feel relaxed, slightly sad and soothing.

These softly picked recordings are intimate enough to let you hear Trindade’s fingers as they slide along the strings. The sparse piano notes only add to the mood, sensitively used to enhance where needed.

Although the EP feels cohesive and boasts the same vibes throughout, there’s enough subtle differences to delineate between songs.  It’s not all entirely acoustic. Second track “Contritum Pecus” employs a delayed loop, almost like a heartbeat. “Heartstrings #1” stands out for its strumming, compared to the other tracks, which are fingerpicked. Whereas “Intertitle(s)” features only piano.

It’s a short EP, but beautiful all the same. Certainly a lovely 20 minutes of music worthy of adding to your collection.

Suburban Dinosaur links:

Bandcamp: https://suburbandinosaur.bandcamp.com/

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

Live Review: Rhian Sheehan at Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Rhian Sheehan Wellington
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Rhian Sheehan

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Friday 12 October 2018

To say I was excited about this gig would be an understatement. Rhian Sheehan’s album Stories From Elsewhere is one of my favourite records. It helped me zone in as I wrote countless essays throughout university. It sets a calm and playful tone as I teach toddlers every day. It helps me unwind late at night, and makes me happy to be alive on sunny weekends.

Not to mention his other works. As a composer, Sheehan is prolific. I guess you have to be, if that’s what you do for a living. From his early electronica albums, to ambient soundtracks, to vivacious planetarium scores, to brand new album, A Quiet Divide, Sheehan’s works have never failed to inspire.

Arriving at my seat in the Michael Fowler Centre only increased the excitement. First off, it’s a great venue, known for brilliant acoustics, and especially suited to a show like this. Secondly, I’d bought tickets as soon as they came available, so had front row seats. Looking upon the stage sparked my imagination: drums, synths, a row of guitars, a grand piano, timpani drums, percussion rigs and an area for the string section. Such an array of instruments told of infinite possibilities.

As well as being a musical concert, it was also billed as a visual spectacular. The first thing that stood out was a prismatic disco ball hung above the stage. Three sheer mesh screens were draped from the ceiling, making a triangle around disco ball. A range of lights and multiple projectors were at the ready, and the room was slowly filling with atmospheric stage fog. Sheehan has been working with local special effects company Weta on a few projects recently, and in turn they’ve helped him to develop a visual show worthy of his music for these performances.

At 8pm the string section took their places, soon followed by Rhian Sheehan and the rest of the musicians. I recognised a few faces: Sheehan’s wife, Raashi Malik (formally of Rhombus), Steve Bremner from the recent The Adults show at Meow, Jakob guitarist Jeff Boyle, Ed Zuccollo with his signature mini-moog. A veritable star-studded line-up.

Golden lights bathed the stage in misty warmth. Strategically placed projectors shone images onto the mesh screens. The music – ah, such brilliant music – plays. Houston, we’ve hit Nirvana!

Of course it all looks incredible. The imagery varies greatly from song to song – sometimes as basic as geometric shapes, lines, boxes, pyramids… but always interesting. Images of spectral figures dancing about, of bustling cities; scenes of serene nature and of man-made destruction. Vast landscapes befitting of epic soundrack compositions. Ethereal animations alternate with powerful time-lapse footage. My favourite was “Soma Dreams”, which was similar to the video clip, with a flying whale, dancing woman and splashes of vibrant colour towards the end.

Of course the music was everything you’d hope for. Many of these songs have soundtracked my life for the past few years, and hearing them played live is electrifying. I write about mostly instrumental music on this blog, but seldom venture to the ambient or neo-classical end of the spectrum, so seeing a string section in a setting like this is a rare treat. And all the more interesting, with the electronic elements marrying the classical elements. Glitches and samples sat alongside harmonious swells. We heard wildly different versions of piano – with the traditional grand piano, and then the digital counterparts like synth and moog adding their own unique timbres. I appreciated little touches that deviate from the recordings – like Zucollo adding improvised solos on the moog, or the intense bass swells from the pedal-boosted cello – that made songs sparkle more in this setting.

This is evocative music. Songs that sweep you off your feet, grab you by the hand and tug you along on an adventure. Songs that explore the emotions that lie deep within the human psyche. Songs of beauty and joy. Samples of children’s music boxes and trickling streams, and busy traffic interplay with the music, grounding it and adding depth. This is the sound of magic.

The show was split into two sets, with a 20 minute intermission between. The first showed more new material, with fresh unseen visuals. The second set included more old video clips. The selection of music was diverse, with a good mix of old and new, studio songs and soundtrack work, and a few electronic tracks to spice up the sets. All up the show lasted two hours.

Rhain Sheehan is not a performer. He’s a studio musician who creates soundtracks for a living. But somehow he managed to bringing his other-worldly music to life in an unforgettable way, creating a audio-visual spectacle that completely enveloped the Michael Fowler Centre last night. I went in with high expectations, and left completely in awe.

 

Joseph James