EP Review: distance – over time

Standard

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
Standard

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/

Album Review: Masaki Hanakata – HIPPOPOTAMUS / PORT ELEPHANT

Masaki Hanakata Hippopotamus Port Elephant cover
Standard

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.


 

Masaki Hanakata links:

Website: http://masakihanakata.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MasakiHanakata

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/masaki.hanakata

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT6NxTrI3UZdvNUSvIWEx3g

Bandcamp: https://masakihanakata.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James