Buried Treasure: La Dispute – Eight

La Dispute Here Hear

Buried Treasure is a semi-regular feature that explores some hidden musical gems – the rare and forgotten B-sides, covers, hidden tracks, live versions and alternative takes that deserve some recognition.

Melodic hardcore band La Dispute just dropped their new track “Thirteen“, so this is a good time to shine a spotlight on some of their non-album material.

La Dispute have three EPs in the Here, Hear series that are wildly different from their regular output. Rather than the intense hardcore we are used to, these EPs include untitled experimental spoken word songs based on literature, poetry, philosophy and prose. When I saw La Dispute play with Balance & Composure in Wellington a few years ago I was delighted that they even included the song ‘Nine’ into their set by playing it as the first encore.

La Dispute here hear liner notes

Setting up for recording in a garage. Picture taken from the Here, Hear II EP liner notes

The series is delightfully low-fi and creative. Most of the tracks use unconventional objects as instruments, like clapping wooden blocks together in a basement. Other examples that stood out as interesting were using a pocketknife as a guitar slide, flipping book pages, or using a pencil sharpener for percussion. You can even hear a dog howling in the song “Seven”.

They draw on a variety of literary sources for inspiration, such as Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic Annabel Lee, and Kenneth Grahame’s charming The Wind in The Willows. My favourite though, is the song ‘Eight’, adapted from the afterword of J. Michael Straczynski’s graphic novel Midnight Nation.

Written in the form of a diary reflection, Straczynski explores the dichmidnight-nation-cover2otomies of his city, with the characters that feature during the day and during the night seemingly from two different worlds. This theme provides the basis for the graphic novel, a story of the lost and forgotten trying to find their way out from beneath the cracks of society.

I love listen to this track through headphones as I go for walks. I picture the narrators story as I explore my city, and try to see the places I’ve walked through hundreds of times with fresh eyes, trying to notice the hidden and forgotten.

Go and listen to Here, Hear series to fall in love with the blend of brilliant music and literature.

Joseph James

Album Review: Declaration AD – Sometimes It’s Us

Declaration AD Sometimes It's Us

I need to admit something before I start. I consider the boys in Declaration AD some of my closest friends. I even lived with a few of them for a few years. And frontman Sam Coates designed the WNF logo for this site. This review cannot be impartial.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve attended more of their shows than anyone else. I was their first show back in 2010, at the now defunct Happy Bar. I tagged along on their first tour. I helped them print their first lot of t-shirts, and I loaned them my lungs when they recorded the gang vocals for their first two releases. I’ve watched them grow and evolve into who they are now. Obviously this is going to be a biased review, but it’s a two-way thing. My familiarity with the band also means I can give an insider’s perspective.

Declaration AD formed in Wellington late in 2009. The Wellington hardcore scene was in a re-building stage at that point, after some of the previous bands who had carried the torch had either broken up, or were in the process of doing so. We would have to road-trip up to Palmy if we wanted to attend hardcore shows.

I still remember the first one they took me to: The Chase on their final tour (I was honestly terrified. It was my first experience seeing people throwing down like they do, and I kept getting hit by backswings.One girl standing next to Kirk got knocked out).

Declaration AD would play shows with pretty odd lineups, simply because that was the only option – there were no other hardcore bands in Wellington to play with. It worked alright when they played alongside punk and metalcore bands, but often they’d play with indie bands, powermetal acts… anyone who was willing to have them on the bill. Last year they even opened for internet sensation rapper Bangs.

Over time the boys have helped to revive the Wellington hardcore scene through constant touring and inspiring friends to start their own bands. They would befriend bands in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Palmy, and then invite them to play shows in Wellington. Our flat was known as The 44 (short for “44 hardcore”) – named after the street number. As Wellington hosts, we’d let visiting bands stay over, crammed into our limited floor space and draped over couches. It was pretty common to have the entire place filled with sweaty sleeping bodies after a show.

The hard work led to success. Declaration AD have shared the stage with heavyweight local acts like Saving Grace and Antagonist AD, as well as international artists such as Terror, Trapped Under Ice and Sleeping Giant. They released two EP’s and a full length album over this period.

Sometimes It’s Us is Declaration AD’s most recent offering, the first that they’ve recorded in a professional capacity. Previously they’ve had help from friends with recording gear, but this time the band saved up to pay for time at a proper studio.

The album begins with static and tuning, like the faux-radio intro to Queens of the Stoneage’s Songs For The Deaf. It kicks off with the furious ‘Spent’, the grooviest track Declaration AD have written in ages. And it’s from this first song that the new dynamics start to pop up. Kirk Hodgson’s guitar playing is eerie and high pitched at times, unlike the usual chugged open chords. And during the bridge vocalist Sam Coates’ delivery is almost spoken word.

There are two key aspects that make Sometime’s It’s Us standout: the energy and the use of dynamics. These songs are heavy. They’re fast and angry. Listen to the blistering ‘Enfleshed’ and you’ll see what I mean. But they’re also well written. There’s the cut outs in ‘Mental Hell’ and ‘Belonging’ that add impact. The different styles of vocal delivery. The changes of pace, the guest spots from other vocalists, and the use of powerful gang vocals. All these elements are used to make the songs more interesting.

One of my favorites, ‘Mental Hell’, is frantic and speed driven, with a doomy break down juxtaposed against the breakneck beat. Towards the end it sounds like Sam is shouting through a megaphone. I also really like ‘Picket Sings & Protest Lines’ because of the enormous sounding gang vocals.

In fact the entire album is pretty relentless. ’04-14′ steps it down a notch for some slow burning self-examination, but on the whole there is a lot of aggression coming through.

Perennial crowd favourite ‘Better Man’ features in its third incarnation. ‘Better Man’ first featured on the NZ Hardcore Compilation CD in 2010. I remember the Declaration boys being so excited during the lead up to the compilation release; recording their first song and featuring alongside some of their heroes. The recording session didn’t go as ideally as hoped though, leaving them slightly disappointed with the end result. Their next attempt was with début EP MMX later that year. Again, they realised that this recording lark was harder than they’d initially thought, leaving them despondent about another recording that didn’t really capture the sound that they had wanted. So they’ve decided to test the idiom “third time lucky” with their first professional recording, and give ‘Better Man’ another go.

I’m reminded of how Anberlin re-recorded their song ‘Feelgood Drag’ as a single, three years after they’d first released it. The song became their breakthrough hit. The re-recorded version sounds darker and edgier. But I prefer the original version that I grew up listening to, simply because it’s more familiar. In the same sense, this newer recording of ‘Better Man’ may be better, but it will take me some time to get used to. Naturally, the song has evolved over time, as the lads have learned to play their instruments better and gel as a band. One of the more noticeable aspects is that vocalist Sam Coates is no longer at the forefront, but sounds somewhat distant in the mix. And the gang vocals are more prominent, as is the case in their usual live setting. Long story short: ‘Better Man’ has finally been given the treatment it deserves. Few people actually have a copy of either of the first two versions, so it’s only right that the band’s most enduring song get’s proper recognition.

Image: Grace Gemuhluoglu

L-R: Dan Drower (bass), Kirk Hodgson (guitar), Sam Coates (vocals and Dave Morrison (drums).    Image: Grace Gemuhluoglu

The stark images throughout the album depict anguish, loss, anger and pain, but the overall there is a theme of hope. There are personal issues laid bare, and although this makes Sam the lyricist vulnerable, it makes him all the more relatable as well. Many of the songs explore identity – who we are, how we act, what makes us feel validated, what we stand for. During the contemplative ’04-14′ he shouts “my flaws are too real to deny”. I’m sure that none of us can deny that we have similar battles. Words have always been Sam’s gift. He’s a genuine, unassuming guy who can brighten anyone’s day with an affirmation. He writes with conviction and shouts with such power that he has always stood out as great frontman.

Sometimes It’s Us showcases improved musicianship from the band. I love how Kirk uses treble to bring balance to the sound – an oft neglected aspect of “heavy” music, with its frequent drop-tuning and distortion. His sound has changed, with a very metal tone, tight riffs and plenty of pinch harmonics and Dimebag-styled squeals. Drummer Dave Morrison has really stepped up this time round, going for the no-fills approach. His efficient style gives the music momentum without over-complicating things. And the times that he does include an aspect like a fill or something flashy, they stand out. And bassist Dan Drower always was known for his musical abilities, and finally gets to cement his role in the band by recording new material, after having joined the band early in 2013.

Sometimes It’s Us is a big improvement for Declaration AD, showing how far they’ve come during the three years since their last release. It’s furious and focused while at the same economic and efficient. They’ve put planning into the song writing and recording that has led to tighter and more dynamic sounding songs. This is easily the longest release, lasting almost half an hour, but it’s also one of their best.

… And it’s also their last. After roughly six years, they’ve decided to call it a day.

I was there at the start, and now I can say I was there until the end. When the Declaration boys look back over their time as a band there will be no shortage of achievements to reflect on. They’ve survived a few line-up changes and left a legacy to be proud of. It’s bittersweet that this album features some of their best work, but they won’t be around much longer to celebrate it.


Declaration AD:      Facebook        Twitter       Instagram        Bandcamp


Joseph James

Live Review: Ur Boy Bangs at Zeal Welly

Bangs Wellington Zeal

Ur Boy Bangs (Melbourne)

w/ Declaration AD (Wellington) and FLYBZ (Melbourne)
Zeal Welly
Thursday 27 November 2014

Sudanese born Ajak Chol, best known by his stage name Bangs, moved to Australia in 2003 and took to building his rap career with great gusto.

Bangs achieved internet notoriety in 2009 with his viral hit “Take U To Da Movies”. At the time of writing the YouTube clip has had 9.7 million views. Honda even commissioned Bangs to help them promote their Jazz range of cars. Bangs was also prolific on the social media. He had so many followers on Facebook that he reached the limit and had to create a secondary account.

The reason for this is because his music was so bad. The lyrics didn’t flow, the beats weren’t catchy. His music videos contained plenty of badly green-screened backgrounds like maps of Sudan and Australia, and pictures of cash and sports cars. His attempts at wooing girls by calling them “Shawty” and offering to take them “to da movies”, or chat to them on “the Facebook” were hilarious. So people showed the funny videos to their friends, who in turn show the video to their other friends, and so on.

A rapper who gains worldwide publicity and fame from one song because of how bad it is. Welcome to the internet age.

Since then this has become common practice, things that are bad or unusual going viral. Take Sharknado or Gangnam Style, for instance.

Last time Bangs played in Wellington I decided it wasn’t worth attending. This was mainly because the show started at 10pm, plus there were a number of opening acts, meaning that Bangs probably wouldn’t have even come on until close to midnight. I wasn’t willing to pay $20 and stay up so late on a school night just to see an internet joke in the flesh.

But this time Bangs has announced a last-minute all ages show, two days before playing. This suits me fine because it means I won’t have to stay up so late to watch him.

The joke gets even funnier with the announcement of the opening act: local hardcore band Declaration AD. I was living with Declaration guitarist Kirk Hogson in 2010 and I’m pretty sure it was he who showed me Bang’s video in the first place. Original Declaration bass player Tom White spent a lot of time pestering Bangs over Facebook. I bet he still has a screenshot saved on his computer saying “BStar Bangs likes Declaration AD”. They joked about it at the time, but I don’t think anyone actually expected that they would get to share a stage with Bangs.

Declaration AD were on form, even with their former bass player filling in at last minute’s notice. They’ve just been in the studio putting the finishing touches on their fourth release, so not doubt performing live would be a pleasure after recording in a sterile studio environment. They’re well-known at Zeal so enough of the audience knew what to expect, but it was pretty amusing seeing the shock on the faces of the others present. Imagine young kids showing up to the show expecting to see an internet sensation from five years ago, and instead having four hairy men playing loud hardcore music and shouting at them.

Declaration AD

I would have loved to seen Declaration AD collaborate with one of the rappers, something along the lines of a rap/rock crossover like Aerosmith and Run DMC doing “Walk This Way”.

The turn out was fairly small. Most people present were Zeal volunteers or friends with the boys from Declaration AD. But there were 20 or so others who had shown up to just to see Bangs. I’m surprised at how many young teenagers even remember who Bangs is. If most of the people in the audience are underage, it means they would have been roughly 12 when Bangs was at the peak of his hype.

The second act was another Melbourne based rapper named FLYBZ. FLYBZ was a former child soldier from the African nation of Burundi. He surprised us by being quite good. He worked the crowd and got us dancing and singing along. He even asked one boy from the audience to come onstage and help him by sing the chorus for a song about equality. It was funny how when he decided that a song was finished, FLYBZ would reach over to his laptop and stop the music abruptly, instead of having an outro.

FLYBZ also took over DJ duties and backing vocals for the star of the night, Ur Boi Bangs.

Bangs’ set almost had a linear narrative. He rapped about how his life is hard because he comes from the ghetto. But no matter what you have to keep your mind right. He had a song ready for each point he made. Then he taught us the process for courting a woman. “First you need to meet her somewhere” he told us, before playing “Meet Me On Facebook”. Once you’ve met her you take her shopping. Then you take her “for a deena!” [Dinner]. There was a song about Christmas that interrupted the musical date that Bang’s was taking us on. And of course, he finished with the obligatory “Take U To Da Movies”.

Just like Adam reaching out to the Creator in Michelangelo's famous painting at the Sistine Chapel

Just like Adam reaching out to the Creator in Michelangelo’s famous painting at the Sistine Chapel

Was it worth going? I’ve seen bands that I expected to be bad before for the sake of a joke. Guitar Wolf can barely be classed as musicians, yet I’ve seen them play twice and both times the performances were amazing.

Bangs doesn’t seem to mind the haters. He gave us a speech about it before performing his song “Hi Haters”

“Haters make you famous. If you can’t love your haters you can’t love yourself”

– Ur Boi Bangs

He’s like Tommy Wiseau, the man behind The Room (widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made). His product may be terrible, but it has earned him fame and a cult following so why fight it?

I expected Bangs to suck. I went for one famous song that seemed like a joke. I went to see how everyone would react. I went to see Declaration AD scare children. I went for the nostalgia, because we all thought it would be so exciting to see Bangs when he was all the rage back in 2010.

Bangs surpassed my expectations. It was actually an amazing night. Everybody was having so much fun singing and dancing along and waving their hands in the air. There was crowd surfing and stage diving. I think the Snapchat and Instagram headquarters much have been under extra stress based on the sheer volume of selfies that people in the crowd were taking.

I’m glad the show was cheap. I’m glad that it didn’t run late. And I’m especially glad that I went.


Joseph James