Clearly my effort of watching one YouTube video amounted to inadequate research, because upon arriving at San Fran I noted that the opening act was not a Mountain Boy, or even a Mountain Man, but rather a fully fledged band.
Mountain Boy is the work of Aaron Clarke. My friend Joram told me about how Clarke had undergone a project which involved writing and recording a song every week for one year, in the same vein as Into It. Over It‘s 52 Weeks. Clarke’s year-long effort was named Project Sinai – hence the mountain reference. (Mt Sinai is a place of religious significance, most notably where Moses met God and obtained the Ten Commandments.)
I had anticipated a solo set, but Clarke had obviously recruited a band for live gigs. And they suited their role perfectly, offering moody folk songs that set the scene for the rest of the night. And the rest of the audience appeared to agree, with a solid turnout that you wouldn’t see so early on for a support act. My favourite was the last track, which gradually grew in intensity, with the drummer pounding away on the toms with mallets, before switching to standard drumsticks for an energetic finale.
This softer styled folk music isn’t as loud as most gigs I go to, and I noticed that throughout the night there was usually a lot of conversations happening in the crowd while the bands were playing. It raises an interesting question surrounding the appropriateness of talking during a band’s set. Is it disrespectful? Or does it indicate that the music makes people feel comfortable and familiar. The talking wasn’t loud enough to make the bands hard to hear, but there was a definite murmur that could be heard almost all night.
It’s funny how surprised I was that The Paper Kites had changed so much over the years, seeing as I’d kept up with them as they’ve released sequential albums. I first saw them a few times when they only had a few EP’s to their name, and stylistically they were a lot different back then. I remember the music switched between kooky indie folk anthems, and fingerpicked love songs, softly cooed for intimate settings.
The more modern material indicated a big shift to a more electric sound. Less cutesy folk numbers, and more searing guitar, albeit still fairly chill. They stood onstage creating murky psychedelic vibes whilst bathed in a rich purple light.
They did play a few throwbacks, like “Arms” and “Bloom” – both from their début EP which had come out a decade ago – but new material like the funked up “Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain” showed us that evolving sound wise can prove worthwhile.
The Paper Kites
Sam Bently is the obvious leader of the band, the key songwriter, and lead singer. But the rest of the band still match him for talent. All of them could sing beautifully, and at a few times throughout the night they formed a semicircle around a microphone and treated us to serene five-part harmonies. I didn’t see much switching between instruments, but if my memory serves me they are all adept at playing different instruments. For example, drummer Josh Bentley came out from behind his kit to play guitar at one point.
Although he seemed quiet at first, Sam proved quite the comedian when he spoke to us. The band chose to play without lighting for one of their more romantic songs. He explained that there were two types of people who came to Paper Kites shows: the lovers and the sad singles. They played that song in the dark to spare the single folk the shame of being seen crying on their own.
It almost felt as if he was breaking the fourth wall, with self-aware humour. He indicated that the band was going off stage, but would return for an encore if we wanted it enough, obviously setting himself up for later in the night.
Whether casting spells with their tender ballads, riding the wave with slow burning songs drenched in guitar effects, or boosting the energy with some upbeat indie singalongs, there is no doubt that The Paper Kites have talent. They’ve come a long way since I first saw them nine years ago, and they show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Last year I travelled to America, where I worked at a summer camp in Maine. My role was to take groups of young girls on hiking and camping trips around the region. Often this required spending hours driving to and from our destination, due to the remote locations of the hikes. Sometimes the girls would bring iPods so they could listen to music during the drive. Sometimes they didn’t, which means I could play my own music, instead of pop hits.
On one drive to Franconia Notch in New Hampshire, one of the girls was going through my iPod and asked me: “Why do you have a playlist called Toe on your iPod?”, clearly amused.
I giggled. “It’s the name of a band. They’re awesome.”
“A band called Toe?!”
“Yeah, they’re Japanese. It’s mostly instrumental stuff, but sometimes there’s singing, or even rap.”
As you can imagine, this was of great intrigue to these girls, who exclusively listened to top 40, and Broadway soundtracks. “You listen to Japanese hip-hop? Why? Can you understand it? Can we listen to it?”
Most people think I’m weird for listening to music without vocals. But music in another language? Unthinkable!
I played on of the tracks (“Time Goes“, from Toe’s latest album), and then left the album running.
Sure enough, word spread around camp that I’m a weirdo who listens to Japanese music – even though he doesn’t understand it – and it’s actually pretty cool. On the next camping trip some of the girls asked about it, and soon enough they were all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe! Toe!” so I would play it to them.
Maybe I am weird… Well… Ok, there’s no denying it, But why would you dismiss great music simply because it doesn’t have singing in English?
Case in point, HIPPOPOTAMUS / PORT ELEPHANT, a recent release from Masaki Hanakata.
Maybe it is a dead giveaway that I’m a trained preschool teacher, but Masaki Hanakata’s latest release is the most delightful music I’ve heard in some time. He captures the sound of youthful joy.
The two tracks are softly sung, backed by tranquil children’s’ instruments like bells and whistles.
Jimmy Fallon and The Roots have a series of youtube videos that follows this style [Here’s a version of “Enter Sandman” with Metallica]. And on of my favourite composers, Rhian Sheehan, also uses children’s’ instruments in some of his work.
Now, believe me, that when a classroom of children get their hands on instruments it sounds absolutely horrid. When I let my four-year-olds old loose with instruments they will shake, blow, bang and play the poor things with all their might. I occasionally bring a keyboard out, which soon leads onto a small group crowding around and jamming on the keys as much as possible. I’ve had a child who barely stands as high as my waist destroy a drum practice pad when I gave him some drum sticks. He wasn’t trying to break anything, he just got carried away with excitement.
Thankfully, Mr Hanakata has had more training than my children, and appears to have mastered many of these instruments. I am being perhaps a touch facetious when I say these instruments are for children. I do not wish to belittle this wonderful music. But we do not hear the standard electric guitar, drums, bass… that I deem “normal”. We hear instruments that sound hollow and dainty, that I imagine are brightly coloured. Melodica, ukulele, xylophone, bells and the like…
Part of the allure is that it sounds so innocent. It’s not perfect by any means. There are so many layers of sound that it border on gratuitous, but it’s so charming and fun that if anything the unnecessary layers enhance the feel. It captures the spirit of what folk music used to be about: fun and vibrant.
I recommend giving HIPPOPOTAMUS / PORT ELEPHANT a listen. And while you’re at it, follow-up with his other two albums, Breman soundtrack, and Lentment. I guarantee that it’ll brighten your day.
It’s the type of morning that only a place like Karori can put on. It’s cold. Not cold enough that I can see my breath, but certainly enough to warrant a few extra layers of clothing. Everything is grey. Between the concrete roads, the overcast skies and the dense fog, there is little colour to be seen as I walk to work. But the music I’m listening to keeps me in good spirits.
I’ll discuss the music in a minute, but first I’ll tell you a story to give you context.
Image: Sam Blythe Photography
When I first met Hamish Dobbie seven years ago his favourite band was Dream Theater. We tried to form a band together at one point, but nothing eventuated from it. Later on down the track he joined some of our mutual friends as bass player for their hardcore band Declaration AD [My review of Declaration AD opening for Bangs is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written]. This was then followed by a string of other hardcore/metal projects, making Dobbie one of the busiest people in the local scene for a year or two.
But now he has tried his hand at a different style.
It’s almost clichéd – going from hardcore to acoustic. Dave Baxter from The Chase started Avalanche City. Dallas Green from Alexisonfire started City and Colour. Derek Archambault from Defeater started Alcoa. And then we have the many punk singers who feature on the Revival Tour: Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, Jon Snodgrass, Dave Hause etc…
And Hamish Dobbie from the local hardcore scene started Far From Here.
His first release is a five track EP called The Loss – poignant pop music with a dash of electronica dance beats.
The EP has been a few years in the making. Dobbie started working as a youth worker in his last year at university, and recently switched to work in the mental health sector. Not easy jobs by any means.The Loss was written in the midst of inner turmoil, and as an attempt to put a language to the experience of suffering.
And rather than writing music in the vein of Terror and Advent, he turned to other musical influences like Broods, JOY, Bon Iver, and Imogen Heap.
It makes for nice listening. The titular opening track sets a tone of mourning through use of guitar and delay, not unlike something Explosions In The Sky would do. A dance beat slowly emerges before everything cuts out. It’s a delicate balance – the sad guitars and the uptempo beat – and although the two elements shouldn’t work together on paper, they somehow create something compelling radiates hope. Just as it seems to gain momentum, the song ends. I wish it was longer.
Two things can be learnt from this first song: first, Dobbie does dynamics well. And secondly, he absolutely nails the guitar tones on this EP.
Despite his best efforts, Dobbie is not the strongest singer. Nor does he pretend that he is. He recruits two friends to help him out in that department. Andy Hockey tackles a verse in “Distance”, and does well to mirror Dobbie’s aching. And Mimi Gilbert features in “I’ve Failed You”. Gilbert’s voice is a showstopper. She recorded it from her home studio in Portland, Oregon, and it took her less than an hour to record all her takes for that song. The vocal harmonies at the end of that track are my highlight of the EP.
If stunning guitar tone paired with Postal Service-esque beats sounds appealing to you, then give Far From Here a listen. If that doesn’t sell it to you, how does incredible vocal harmonies, sublime moodiness and brilliant production sound?
I can think of nothing better on a bleak, foggy morning like this.
Auckland singer/songwriter Lydia Cole has just come home from a short Australian tour promoting her second album, The Lay Of The Land, which came out a few weeks ago. She’s in a weird state between excitement and exhaustion.
“On Monday I flew back. I did three shows in four days. It was kind of insane. I have never been more tired or thoroughly exhausted in my mind and body than I was this weekend.
“It was awesome though. Totally pays off and definitely worth it.” she hastily adds.
Image: Josh Yong
Cole will continue the tour locally across our three main centres over the coming few weeks, before emigrating to Berlin in a couple of months. She has spent the day trying to organise the logistics and equipment for her next few shows.
“The stress has been pretty insane over the past month, but I’m learning to break it down. I’m not sure about the details for the Wellington show, because I’m just thinking about this weekend, you know? I’ll worry about Wellington next week, which is the only way for me to cope with everything.
“At the moment it’s literally too much work for me to do. I did the Kickstarter, and there’s something like 260 people that I have to send CD’s or different rewards to. I’m definitely not up with all of that. Maybe half of the rewards are in boxes waiting me to package and address and send out.
“But I figure if those people have waited 18 months than they won’t be bothered about another few weeks … hopefully” she chuckles.
“I’ve never been this busy before. It’s like full-time plus. But I’m really grateful for it, because I know it doesn’t always happen that way.”
A new album
The Lay Of The Land is a stunning follow-up to 2012’s Me & Moon. She’s pleased with the album. Me & Moon left her anxious about what people would think, whereas this time around Cole is has had long enough to sit on the songs and is happy that they represent her well at this moment of time, and realises that they don’t have to define her forever.
“In the studio when I was recording it I was very anxious. And I don’t know if it was because I was subconsciously thinking that there was 260 people hoping to like this. The grassroots support from an array of people – the Kickstarter people – was one of the big reasons why I decided to go that way. Firstly: it was financial, but secondly: I don’t have a label or a publicist or anything – it was just me at that stage, doing my own thing – and I realised that doing Kickstarter was a way to have a few hundred people aware that I was going to release something. They’re waiting, so you already have a bunch of people on your buzz already. They’re loyal. They’ve invested with their money already and they’re likely to tell their friends and follow what you’re doing, so it’s cool.”
Cole had quit her job and sought contributions from her fans via crowdfunding site Kickstarter to help her fund the recording process. She managed to raise the $15,000 within only five days, and since recording the album a year ago has worked hard to piece together the package that has become her album. This has involved finalising the album art, creating music videos, having band rehearsals and waiting for the CDs and vinyl records to get pressed
When you look at what she has put out, you can understand why it has taken so long. Take, for example, the incredible stop motion video for “Telepathise”. Cole teamed up with ex-pat animator Timothy Armstrong to create this brilliant clip that is not only visually stunning, but complements the song so well. It took Armstrong a whole month to make, and could have easily taken three times as long.
There are so many intricate details in the video. Armstrong discussed at length with Cole what types of trees she likes and what animals she wanted featured. He painstakingly created the layered images atop a Lazy Susan table and spent a lot of time manipulating small lights to create the different effects you see in the video [example here].
Cole is also super excited about having vinyl copies of the new album available.
“I was living at home a few years ago with Mum and Dad and they had an old record player. I’ve got a small collection: Louis Armstong, Sufjan Stevens, Ryan Adams, Phoenix Foundation (fun!). Since I’ve gone flatting I haven’t had a record player and have had to shelf them, but listening to records is like making coffee for me. It’s a physical routine: you chuck it on, put the needle down and it’s more of a tangible moment to enjoy.
“Look, I’m not a big sound-y person and don’t understand technical stuff very much but I did have an inkling that the warmth and the textures – a lot of the synth sounds on this album – would suit a vinyl sound. It was real cool when the test pressing arrived and I chucked it on. It sounded so good – I think it really suits it. I’m stoked with that.
“And they’re selling really well at shows and online as well. I sold a whole bunch to people in Germany and all through Europe, which is awesome! Hopefully they all make it in one piece!”
Nic Manders on keys. Image: Josh Yong
Berlin represents a fresh start and new challenges. Going from support slots for big name artists and Silver Scroll award nominations to being a nobody on the opposite side of the planet.
“I’m very aware that I’ll become nobody. I’m excited to start afresh and meet people and go to gigs and busk and see who reacts to me on the street. I’ve always had Nic Manders produce my stuff, and he won’t be there. Over there I’ll be doing home recordings and stretching myself in that way as well.
“I’m a real big fan of sustainable and thorough growth. Like, chipping away at your character, chipping away at a project that means a lot to you instead of hoping for that overnight success that doesn’t actually mean anything. I apply that to my music and to my personal growth. I think that the slower you grow, then the more concrete that change will be.”
Connecting with musicians
We spend some time enthusiastically discussing the Sufjan Stevens shows we had each been to when he came last year. He embodies that type of musician Cole aspires to be like, just an upfront guy who is also a talented musician. She shares that these are the types of people she tries to share a stage with as well.
Luke Oram on guitar. Image: Josh Yong
“A guy called Chris from Christchurch is coming up to Auckland to support me. He messaged me on Facebook to say ‘Hi, here’s a link to my latest song on Soundcloud and I’d like to support you’. I really liked it. I’ve never met him and have seen no footage of him playing live so it’s like a fun little risk that I’m taking.
“In Australia it was real interesting trying to find people to support me. And I was lucky with that too. I got a couple of real cool people. I think musicians have pretty amazing stories a lot of the time so it was cool to bump into more people who have crazy stories.
“People who play music in similar genres to what I play – they’re writing from the heart and writing about stuff that matters to them. Usually when I click with someone like that it’s often on a personal level as well, so you make a really good friend out of that, which is nice.”
Authenticity is something Cole values. She presents herself as she is, flaws and all. She chooses not to wear makeup and her personal lyrics can leave her feeling incredibly exposed, but she’d prefer to be seen as genuine than perfect.
“When I was younger I thought that not needing a day job meant you’ve made it, but I’ve changed my perspective on what success means.
“Success to me is balance and health. The past little while I’ve been working part-time in a café, and doing music the rest of the time. The café work helps keep me social and personally healthy, and not going all crazy in my head. And it pays the bills. And that to me is success.”
Lydia Cole has four more NZ shows before moving to Germany to continue her personal and musical growth. With hundreds of people paying to help fund her music and a likely three sold out shows on this tour, it’s hard not to agree that she has done well for herself. We wish her the best of luck starting afresh overseas.
Something caught me off-guard when I first listened to Daniel Amedee’s forthcoming EP, Everything Will Change. The opening riff is almost identical to one my band wrote for a song we played at Rockquest (a battle of the bands for New Zealand highschool students). While this is by no means an indicator of quality, it made me like the song due to its familiararity.
And to be honest, the entire EP is likable. It’s fairly low-key, but with interesting touches. I can’t tell what it is, but there is an ambient effect that reminds me of a chorus of birds during the first song. And there are other subtle touches hidden within the other songs – the reverberating glockenspiel in the chorus of “Let Love Out”, the trashy cymbal punctuating the verses in “Love Is Not Gone”, the lovely percussive beat in “Swimming Through The Unconscious Disconscience”- small elements that enhance the overall feel.
Photo credit: Llamaryon
I love the deep bass that gives a warm tone to the songs. The opening title track features a drone that sounds like didgeridoo. It is clear that Amedee has put plenty of thought into how he uses rich timbres to colour his sound.
And that is what I think makes Everything will Change so endearing – the warmth and the obvious human elements. Amedee’s voice isn’t perfect, often wavering at times, but his singing style is both haunting and earnest. With a message of hope, and a reassuring feel, Amedee’s music is an affirming listen.
Everything Will Change release date: February 2, 2016