I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say it has been a rough year. Personally, I had a lot of amazing plans that got cancelled. I was planning on traveling throughout Europe, seeing the world, touring with my dear friends Ranges and attending festivals such as dunk!festival and ArcTanGent. Then a pesky virus spread around the globe and put an end to all of that. Admittedly we’ve got it pretty good here in New Zealand. We had five weeks of national lockdown around Easter time, and certainly a lot of gigs were cancelled or at reduced capacity, but we’ve still had live music for a lot of this year, which is an absolute blessing.
Even so, I’ve found it hard for a multitude of reasons. I decided to retire from running the blog earlier in the year. But I have some spare time now that I’m on holiday and I enjoy writing these end-of-year summaries, so I’m back in action for this one last article for the year.
As I mentioned, New Zealand has still been able to have concerts and gatherings for a lot of the year, so this has allowed a lot of NZ artists to stand out a bit more on the world stage. Benee is an example of one artist who has garnered international attention and success. The Beths are another group who have gone from strength to strength. Many of us fell in love with their self-deprecating powerpop with debut album Future Me Hates Me, and follow up record Jump Rope Gazers is just as brilliant. It’s more of a slow burner than FMHM, but still proves just as irresistible and catchy after a few listens, and an easy pick for my top album of 2020. The Beths are also great live and I was delighted to catch them live again this year after a number of postponements. They’re in such demand that they played 5 packed out shows over three days in Wellington, and I imagine they could have even pulled enough of a crowd to play a few more shows too.
Caspian’s last album Dust and Disquiet is phenomenal. They blew my mind playing that material at dunk!fest in 2018 and I was so upset that I couldn’t see them play again this year after my travels were cancelled. On Circles may not quiet measure up to Dust and Disquiet, but it’s still a solid album, just in it’s own way. It’s a more reserved offering, but this seems somehow appropriate for the times. There’s two songs with singing – Kyle Dufrey of Pianos Become The Teeth lends his voice to one track, and Phil Jamieson’s singing on the titular track is sublime and soul restoring. Something else I love about this album is the interesting tones and timbres they’ve gone for. Maybe they’re in alternate tunings, maybe it’s effect pedals, I really have no idea. But these tones, coupled with some cello and violin on a few tracks, make for unusual yet enticing listening.
Regular readers won’t be at all surprised by this inclusion. It’s no secret that I’m a big IIOI fan. They were the first act that I flew overseas to see live. And the last album, Standards, was a great. Figure is a logical continuation of Standards. Brilliant songwriting, great playing. The drumming is complementary and they’ve continued their exploration into interesting tones.
Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings
Again, this should come as no surprise; Biffy Clyro have been my favourite band since I was a teenager. I almost slept on this one though – I pre-ordered the vinyl record and due to covid related complications it still hasn’t shown up. Warner said they’d send a digital download but never did (same case with their last record Ellipsis too, up your game Warner!) After a few months of waiting I figured that maybe I should do some hunting. I eventually got a copy of the album downloaded and I’m glad I did because it’s been on steady repeat ever since. Biffy have always trodden a fine line, making a point of being weird and alternative (at times inaccessible even, especially during the earlier albums), yet at the same time playing stadium rock and writing songs that earn mainstream radio play (more so overseas). And somehow they’ve managed to continue down this path with success. There’s less of the bland radio fodder that featured heavily on Ellipsis, and they’ve managed to evolve and push their style whilst style true to their distinctive Biffy sound.
Other music worth mentioning
Sam Butler released two great solo EPs this year. I reviewed the first EP, over time.
You may know Hause as the singer of punk band The Loved Ones. It’s almost a cliche how punk singers start solo projects along these lines (Think The Revival Tour). Kick is a great album, hopeful and defiant in the face of oppression. It’s in the vein of singer-songwriter, even country styles, something a bit more chilled out, but still with rock roots.
I have no idea how I came across this album but it just hit the spot. A perfect blend of ambient and electronica. I’ve needed more calming music like this a lot this year.
The state of things in 2020
I’m terrified of the ongoing implications of what will happen to the music scene as a result of this pandemic. Musicians who rely on touring and selling merch for a living suddenly don’t have an income. Venues can’t get by because people aren’t allowed to attend gatherings. No venues means no places for bands to play. And it doesn’t just affect musicians, there’s the roadies and drivers and lighting techs and sound engineers and a whole industry suddenly without work.
Many musicians are resorting to livestreaming performances. [Here’s one that my friends in Ranges did for WherePostRockDwells]. Some people have been able to monetise livestreaming these performances. We will see if this becomes comomonplace in the future.
We all know that streaming is not really the answer forward. Sure, it is a revenue stream, but they pay such a pittance per stream that it’s a joke. Bandcamp have stepped up with Bandcamp Fridays, monthly events that they choose not to take their cut on any music and merch sold in order to help the musicians and labels who need the income so badly now. And it appears to have worked, with millions of dollars worth of transactions happening every Bandcamp Friday.
Thankfully we still have live music here in NZ for the time being. I’ve been paying to a Patreon for our local venue Valhalla because I know that without venues, we won’t have a live music scene.
Live music in 2020
I didn’t see many international acts this year, for obvious reasons. I did see Queen at the stadium (it was a bit of a spectacle but I’m glad I didn’t pay much), I saw Yawning Man at Valhalla, and a few metal bands at Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt. My own band also opened for Sebadoh at a sold out show at San Fran in Feb, which was pretty awesome.
Happy Valley at Newtown Festival. Image: Will Not Fade
Some of my favourite Wellington bands at the moment are Happy Valley, Planet Hunter and Adoneye, and I managed to see them all play a few times.
It’s a real shame that Spook The Horses had their European tour cancelled, but I was stoked that they asked my band to open at their album release and they killed it. They livestreamed the night if you want to go back and watch it.
Spook The Horses album release at Meow. Image: Will Not Fade
A real indication of how much things have changed is when I went to see local speed metallers Stälker recently. It was packed. Certainly a big change from reduced capacity shows that I’d been going to a few months earlier. The mosh pit was pumping and you couldn’t move because everyone was squeezed together so tightly. I used to live for nights like that, but it felt so uncomfortable after avoiding being too close to others for most of the year.
Stälker at Newtown Sports Bar. Image: Will Not Fade
It’s hard to say what next year holds for us. Guns n Roses have announced a stadium tour in NZ. Is that too ambitious? Only time will tell. Hopefully the covid vaccine is effective.
Beastwars have held an Obey The Riff festival at Panhead Brewery in Upper Hutt over the past few years and it’s been successful. I’ve heard rumours about the potential lineup for 2021 and I’m excited about that. I’m not holding my breath about seeing any acts from overseas anytime soon though.
In terms of releases, I’m looking forward to a new Amy Shark album, and hopefully Adoneye release their debut (bass player Jesse is recovering from wrist surgery). There may also be a live DVD from Opium Eater (Jesse’s other band) and Glassblower are dropping their debut grindcore album. My own band Secrets of the Sun will have an album out at some stage early next year too. Sora Shima are coming back so I’m hoping to see them again, and fingers crossed for some new music.
What are your favourite albums of 2020? What are your predictions for 2021? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!
A lot of celebrities died in 2016. Lemmy, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and George Michael all got a lot of attention for having passed away. It is sad, but all the people taking to social media to complain about 2016 signalling the apocalypse because of an election and some dead celebrities are idiots. 2016 was awesome. If those people had chosen to listen to good music and attend great concerts instead of bitching about life on Facebook then maybe they would realise this as well.
Like every other year, 2016 gave us some outstanding musical releases. We were also blessed enough to have many talented bands come to town as well.
CJ had a great year. His band Ranges released a new album and a 7″ single on vinyl, and by the sounds of it had a great time recording and touring. His company A Thousand Arms released a free post-rock compilation called Open Language, and signed a partnership deal as the USA distributor for Belgium based dunk!records as well.
My year was incredibly busy, having finished university and working full-time as a teacher. Thankfully I found the time to fit in the odd review here and there, and was even asked to contribute to an Arctic Drones write-up! I’ve made some great contacts this year, which leads me to think that I may have some exciting doors opened for me in the future.
And we welcomed Murray to the team this year. He already has his own site, Relative Silence, but we connected over a mutual love of many prog-rock and post-rock bands so he was more than happy to contribute to Will Not Fade.
Best Live Act
After much deliberation, I’ve decided that Iron Maiden are the best live act I’ve seen. The stage set up, the theatrics, the musicianship and the brilliant songs all proved why Maiden have sustained such longevity.
It was a great way to start a bogan weekend, followed by Black Sabbath the following night in Dunedin, and Shihad after lunch in Wellington on Sunday.
My friends all thank me for making them come and see The Beards play Bodega during their farewell tour. They only have one joke, but the joke remains funny.
Steel Panther was another comedy rock act that put on a fun show, albeit far more crass.
There have been some strong releases this year. My favourite band Biffy Clyro gave us album number seven, and Run The Jewels and Nine Inch Nails have even dropped new content in the past week.
But I cannot stop listening to the new Into It. Over It. album, Standards. Evan Weiss went to a remote cabin in the woods with drummer Josh Sparks and the two of them messed around with sounds and effects and somehow it turned into this masterpiece. I even flew to Melbourne to see Weiss play in October [review] and it filled me with such joy to meet him and see him play. It’s an easy choice for me, ranking Standards in top position this year.
Best Personal Discovery
Technically they are not 2016 releases, but Julien Baker’sSprained Ankle and Winter Dust’s Thresholds were two absolutely stunning releases that I discovered this year. Both have been on high rotate ever since I first heard them.
I also discovered Australian prog-rock act Cog this year. I was raving about The Occupants when they released their début EP last year, so it stands to reason that the band that spawned them would also be incredible.
And as for the year ahead? I’m super excited to see Alexisonfire and Living Colour playing in Auckland next year, and am working on plans to attend the inaugural dunk!USA post-rock festival in Vermont in October.
David Dallas previewed some new tracks when I saw him play at Victoria University during O-Week, and Solemn Sun dropped a new single “Bloom”, so I look forward to new albums from both acts. And of course the new Tool album is due… possibly… sometime in the next decade… maybe?
It is hard finding the time to write and update this site, so big thanks to CJ and Murray for also contributing reviews and for both being a vital part of the Will Not Fade team.
Thanks to all the bands, labels and promoters who sent us music to review, arranged press passes to attend gigs or helped to set up interviews. It is humbling that people value my opinion enough to read what I have to say about music.
And thanks to you, the readers. Feel free to give me feedback about what you like, dislike, or would like to see more of.
I awoke at 4.30am (1.30am Melbourne time) to make it to the airport for my flight to Melbourne for the Into It. Over It. show. As I stumbled out of bed bleary eyed, I quietly thanked myself for having the foresight to have packed my gear the night previous.
I got to the airport without a hitch, seeing as there is no traffic so early in the morning. My flight was delayed by an hour, but I busied myself doing some paperwork on my laptop as I sat in the waiting room.
Once it was time to board I somehow managed to squeeze my 6’3″ frame into the airline seat that was clearly designed for people less vertically inclined than myself. I managed to survive the four-hour flight, despite the lady in front of me deciding to recline her seat into my knees. She then proceeded to slam her body weight squarely onto my knees every two minutes as she tossed and turned, trying to make herself comfortable, and inflicting maximum pain upon my legs in the process.
Landing in Melbourne was mayhem. Nobody appeared to have a clue where to go and the lack of signage and airport staff did little to dispel the mass confusion. It took an hour to get from the runway to a bus that drove us along the tarmac, through customs, and out of the airport altogether. It was a public holiday in Melbourne because of the AFL sports final, so perhaps most of the staff had the day off? I’ve been told that customs officials are on strike tomorrow, so I wonder if I’m going to have an equally unpleasant time trying to get back into the airport?
Whilst not the first time I had flown overseas, or even the first time I’d been to Melbourne, this was the first time that I’d traveled abroad for a gig, and I was wondering if it was worth all the hassle I’d had to endure so far.
My friends picked me up from the airport. We spent the morning in Richmond sampling outrageously unhealthy [read: tasty] food, before heading into the city to stroll down the streets in search of more morsels and to listen to buskers on Bourke Street. It was both a public holiday and school holidays, so town was exceptionally busy and full of life.
I was insistent that we needed to buy some matching red and black checked shirts to wear to the gig. My friend Francie was having no bar of it, deciding that dressing like a lumberjack was beneath her. But I managed to find a beautiful 7XL sized top to wear for $10 (bargain!), and offered my own more modestly sized M sized shirt to Francie’s boyfriend James, who was far too polite to decline. He didn’t seem to stoked on the idea, but I think that he was secretly relieved that I hadn’t bought another of the 7XL shirts for him.
We arrived at the gig at 9pm. Sadly we missed opening act Jess Locke. Time management has never been my forte, and navigating Melbourne public transport was a bit beyond me in my current sleep-deprived state.
I introduced myself to Evan Weiss, the man of the night, who was manning the merch desk. He thought it was hilarious that I was rocking a shirt the size of a tent. I’d got the idea from the brilliant “No EQ” music video [embedded above], which involves everyone dressing up in those red checked shirts and oversized Evan Weiss masks with plastic glasses. To my surprise, Evan told me that I was the first fan crazy enough to actually try to dress like him for a gig. He told me that he hadn’t even featured in the “No EQ” video. He had been away touring while his friends put together the video, almost as a prank on him. At least my friends thought my insanity was slightly more justified after that conversation.
Second support Zzzounds [aka Dave Drayton] started shortly after. Like Weiss, Drayton was doing a solo show without a band for support. And the IIOI comparisons don’t stop there. He sang brilliant heartfelt songs with nimble finger picking on a glittery green guitar, and was never ending with the funny banter.
His guitar style was impressive. Most of his playing was done using two hands on the neck, with a mixture or tapping and finger picking. He sang sad songs about unemployment and lack of money, but it didn’t get depressing because he was devastatingly funny between songs. He employed a gimmick of trying to incorporate nu-metal puns and Simpsons references into his songs. Anyone who writes songs about Juggalos getting confused about magnets gets a thumbs up from me.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hoping that Weiss would have brought a band over, or at least his phenomenal drummer, Josh Sparks. But I was also hoping to hear some lovely singer/songwriter numbers like from his Daytrotter sessions. Turns out that Weiss had chosen not to bring his full band on his first Australian tour, partly to test the waters, and partly because going solo is cheaper than airfares for a full band.
Not that this mattered. Weiss had more than enough presence to compensate for his lack of support. Belting out anthemic choruses one second, and then tenderly cooing into the mic the next, he showed a wide range of proficiency. A few of his rockier songs felt slightly flatter than usual without the drums or guitar pedals that feature in the studio versions, but this was easily forgiven, because he was able to pump out such brilliant tunes using just his guitar and his voice.
And although he joked that it was “sad singer/songwriter night”, nothing was sad about his performance. He was lively and energetic. He shared with us that he’d been nervous about how he would be recieved in Austrailia, but was having such a great time and couldn’t believe how well it was going.
It was a captivating show. I’ve listened to him sing thousands of times on record, so it was something special to sit a few metres away from him and watch him work his magic.
Weiss was at ease on the stage, and commented on how much fun he was having, and how welcome he felt a few times over the course of the night. He shared stories behind a few songs, told us about how his cat was plotting to kill him, discussed his old haunted car, invited us to request songs, and even asked us to heckle him (like they do back in New Jersey).
My favourite story was about the inspiration for “Pinky Swear”. At the time of writing the song Weiss was struggling to make a living as a musician, and his girlfriend was also struggling to make ends meet as someone who made plush toys for a living. The two of them swore to each other that they’d follow their passions, and the song tells of Weiss reflecting on this promise, parked in his car on the side of the road whilst watching a fireworks display.
He was a great sport, taking requests to play super deep cuts. Some of the songs he hadn’t played for many years, but it was the last night of tour, and he was feeling good, so he made a go of it. People in the audience felt comfortable interacting. Some heckled Wiess, tongue-in-cheek, as he had prompted them to. Many shouted out requests. One guy got a shout out for whistling a melody that was absent from the live guitar-only version of a song.
For one request (“Portland, OR”, from the split EP with Such Gold), Weiss had to re-tune his whole guitar, and once he had, realised that he’d entirely forgotten how the song went. He tried to look it up on spotify to remind himself, and had an attempt, before throwing in the towel and just telling us the story behind the song. He had been staying in Portland when he and his mates had invited a girl to the pub with them. She offered to buy him a beer, and when he’d said “thanks, bro”, she’d blasted him and called him a “jock douche”, which inspired the song.
It was nice to see a professional musician show that it’s OK not to be perfect. He will have played some of his songs countless times, but still manages to make mistakes. But he owns his mistakes, and has fun while he’s doing it.
I was tired and sore when I got to this gig. It had been a long day. But the music had been spellbinding. It was magic seeing how music could be used to form a genuine connection between strangers.
I left the gig exhausted, but elated. I’d been awake for almost 24 hours straight and in that time I’d flown to a different country, eaten some amazing food, caught up with old friends, and managed to meet one of my favourite artists and see him take complete ownership of the stage. It made me think about how fortunate I am to be able to pursue my love of music, and attend so many great shows.
“Life gets in the way of living And interrupts the could be, would be, should be That we’re offered everyday And now that you and I’ve been given what we’ve wanted Let’s make a pinky swear that we don’t throw it all away.”
-Into It. Over It. – “Pinky Swear”
And, as if I hadn’t managed to embarrass my friends enough that day, I fell asleep on the train ride back to their house, draped in an tragically over-sized flannel shirt.
How does one describe Into It. Over It? Sometimes a solo folksy singer-songwriter, sometimes rocking pop-punk band. Always kooky. And the “E” word gets thrown around a lot. Does “really good” suffice for an accurate description?
Into It. Over It. is Evan Weiss, in the same sense that Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. Weiss is extremely prolific, having released countless compilations and splits around his IIOI studio albums, as well as playing in a number of other projects (Stay Ahead of The Weather, Their/They’re/There, Pet Symmetry). He usually rocks the stereotypical folksy/hipster combo of a beard, thick glasses, and checked shirt, and most of his lyrics are introspective and poetic. And did I mention that his music is great?
I first heard IIOI featured in split EPs alongside the likes of Such Gold and Koji, and on a Fake Problems tour sampler. Later I fell in love with the adorable Daytrotter sessions. Discovering Weiss was so rewarding, because there were so many avenues to explore. One project, 52 Weeks contained a whopping 52 songs, written at the rate of one per week for an entire year. And all of the music is so diverse, yet irresistible.
Despite being so incredibly prolific, Standards is only the third full studio IIOI album. The first, Proper (2011), was lovably addictive upbeat pop-punk. Follow up album Intersections (2013) was less accessible, partly because Weiss chose not to include choruses when he wrote the album. And Standards? Read on to find out.
Look back through Weiss’ previous work, and you’ll notice that he is a man obsessed with location and environment. Many of his songs are named after places and towns. It is interesting then, that for this album he choose to go to the middle of nowhere in Vermont. Isolated in a cabin in the woods with drummer and collaborator Josh Sparks, surrounded by snow and little else, they had no choice but to write.
We are introduced through “Open Casket”, with lightly picked guitar and xylophone, but become antiquated with the energetic IIOI sound in second track “Closing Argument”, which brings in the attitude in the second verse.
Lead single “No EQ” centres around a mantra that reminds me of a doorbell my parents had when I was a child. The drumming is frantic and busy, while Weiss sings calmly in the verses, with more urgency in the chorus. Sparks’ style of urgent, hurried drumming is noticeable in a number of songs on the album “Vis Major” sounds straight up punk, with added flourishes of complexity, and “Adult Contempt” follows suit with highlights on cymbal bells and plenty of wash. “Bible Black” also standouts as a drumming track due to the odd trashy percussion that punctuates the song with attention grabbing tones.
Tracks four and five signal a slump in the album . The slow burning “Your Lasting Image” seems to drag for almost 5minutes, full of swirling swells and echoing accents. Weiss sadly sings “I can’t remember your touch”. The dreamy hazy music runs seamlessly into “Old Lace and Ivory”, which keeps the mood low, but sounds more hopeful than forlorn. There’s a lovely extended bridge of guitar picking over simple drumming, slowly building up and gaining fuzz to lead us back into the more energetic songs on the album.
“Who You Are ≠ Where You Are” has a delightful bouncing riff that stops abruptly while a hi-hat beat dances merrily in the background. For a man touted as the figurehead of the new wave of emo, this album sure sounds upbeat. He does show versatility though. Weiss rates “Anesthetic” as one of his proudest moments. It’s another soothing slow-burner, rich in atmosphere and layered with distant vocal tracks.
This is truly an album, not just a handpicked selection of songs. You can tell by how the transitions between tracks sound so flawless. Weiss commented on a recent Reddit AMA that he had been inspired by “mostly instrumental ambient stuff when it came to most of the textures. brian eno. harold budd. yes. michael hedges. 60’s prestige and blue note stuff.” You hear the fuzzy tones, odd percussion, quirky doorbell riffs. You hear distorted acoustic guitar, moog synthesisers, and a range of effect pedals – weird sounds, textures and tones that all add to the appeal and make the album cohesive. There’s also a lively feel that could be attributed to the less-than-perfect analogue method of recording the album, at the insistence of producer John Vanderslice.
With Standards, Into It. Over It. still defy clear genre definition, with the tender songs full of folksy finger picking somehow fitting seamlessly next to punk belters.
Urgent. Intimate. Upbeat. Quirky. Perfect. Evan Weiss, the emo revival figurehead, went reclusive with his drummer and together they churned out some of their best work to date.