Articles about music

Tunes for the body, heart, mind and soul.

The Ring of the Nibelungen — P. Craig Russell; Rudolf Sabor

I’ve heard of comic operas, but here is a comic based on an opera. My children have some books illustrated by P. Craig Russell, so I was excited to find that he has produced a comic book adaptation of Richard Wagner’s Ring operas. It’s pretty impressive: the opera cycle runs to about 15 hours long, and this comic book adaptation (or graphic novel, if you like) is over 400 full-colour pages.

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Meg is the Italian Björk. And if you think that’s glib, try this: Meg would be the result if Björk joined Fever Ray and they went clubbing in Naples. Glib, yes, but maybe on the right track. Of course there is a lot more to her music than those easy comparisons, but they are a good place to start. Meg’s singing reminds me a lot of Björk, but also of Karin Dreijer (from Fever Ray and The Knife). A lot of her songs seem to come from the same place as Björk’s, from the (mostly) electronic production that somehow still sounds organic, to the huge expressiveness of her vocals. But there is sometimes a slightly unhinged edge to the voice that makes me think of Dreijer. The only thing I can’t comment on is her lyrics, since I don’t understand Italian. She does sound a bit more subdued in her few English-language songs, so I’m sure Italian speakers would get even more out of Meg’s music than I do. Continue reading
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The Lost Albums

When I relocated to (or was it from) the other side of the world 14 year ago, my chattels included 1000-odd CDs. (Some very odd). It took more than ten years for me to finally collate all of them and rip them onto hard disk. Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, a small number of them fell by the wayside. I think I know where they ended up, and with whom. I have since replaced a few of them:

The Orb — Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
I’ve replaced this already, with the super-extended version from iTunes featuring a heap of pointless remixes. It’s still a magnificent album.

The Golden Palominos — This Is How It Feels
I found a secondhand copy of this. Still smooth and sophisticated with a nice keen edge.

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Here Comes Science — They Might Be Giants

Here comes science! This is a great CD/DVD for the young people in your life — and that includes you. I gave it to Jay for his 5th birthday recently. TMBG do a nice line in kids’ music and video, and this is the best so far.

I love TMBG’s regular albums, but their kids’ stuff is understandably not always my cup of tea. No! was pretty good, but Here Come the ABCs was just too simplistic for my sophisticated musical sensibilities. (My pre-school children quite liked it though.) But Here Comes Science is just about on a par with their best. I didn’t like all the “funny” voices on ABCs, but Science keeps them to a minimum.

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Sunny Disposish

Any time the thunder starts to rumble down
Don’t let hope tumble down
Or castles crumble down
If the blues appear just make the best of them
Just make a jest of them
Don’t be possessed of them

At the risk of sounding rather platitudinous
Here’s what I believe should be the attitude in us

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Headless Chickens — live in Auckland

Headless Chickens played their first gig in almost a decade last Friday. The setlist was packed with great songs, the crowd was into it, the sound was excellent. They rocked.

Headless Chickens have been one of my favourite bands since the early ’90s, even though they pretty much called it a day in about 2000. I remember listening to their first recordings on BFM in New Zealand 20 years ago, and then the splash they made in Australia a few years later with their Body Blow album. I still listen to their music now, so imagine my surprise when the Fiona McDonald we met when we moved back to Auckland turned out to be Fiona Headless Chicken, whose sweet yet gutsy voice helped make the Chooks such a unique band. And imagine my even more surprised surprise when I found out that the band were going to re-form for a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

So along we went. The venue was the Powerstation in Mount Eden. The last act I saw there was Beats International, one of Norman Cook’s pre-Fatboy Slim guises, about 20 years ago. I was also there the night they ignored fire regulations and crammed 1400 people into the 600-capacity venue for a Deborah Harry show… now that was a hot night. It all seems so long ago now. Because it was. But this is 2008 and so we went in to see the support band Brand New Math giving their all to a few interested spectators. They made a decent noise, but I prefer their recorded output. Anyway, people came in throughout the evening so by the time the Chickens strolled on stage the Powerstation was full. And they started.

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Earth From Space — The Bads

Earth From Space, by The BadsMellow mellifluous melodies. The Bads are a girl/boy duo from New Zealand; you could call them a guitar-based pop/rock group, or even a “popular beat combo” (as John Peel used to say). But that would just be lazy pigeonholing, so if you pretend you didn’t read that then I will pretend I didn’t write it. Anyway, it seems that of the two Bads, Diane does most of the singing, with Brett singing backup and breaking into the lead occasionally. I can’t find any information on what they each play, so I suppose they are both prodigious multi-instrumentalist polymaths.

Song titles such as Feels Like Rain, Trouble Rides A Fast Horse and Bush Fire Sunset make this sound like good ol’ country music. The first of these songs does sound pretty much like that, with its lazy drawl and twangin’ guitar, but the rest of the album shows some nice variation. The opening song Off The Rails has just the most irresistible chorus — I find it tremendously uplifting, in a minor-key sort of way. The driving Carry The Weight is another of my favourites, with powerful guitar and nice male/female harmonies.

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The Lake — Anna Coddington

The Lake by Anna CoddingtonHere’s a set of simple, affecting songs, beautifully sung and sympathetically arranged. The overall theme is Love Gone Wrong, the traditional singer-songwriter preoccupation. But Anna Coddington turns it into something that sounds great — “beauty exploding from despair”, to use one of her own lines.

I was looking forward to buying this CD, since I enjoyed Anna Coddington’s performance a few months ago. Even though it’s been quite a long time since then, I still remember quite a few of the songs. The songs worked really well live, with Anna accompanying herself on guitar; the fuller production on the album adds another dimension without ever overwhelming the basic voice and guitar structure.

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Alec Empire and Nitzer Ebb

I was listening to one of the tracks from the new Alec Empire album “The Golden Foretaste of Heaven” the other day. I was loving it but it seemed a bit familiar. The relentless pounding beat; the hypnotic, discordant basslines; the snarled vocals; the overall claustrophobic intensity of the thing. Alec Empire is a German with an English-sounding name, but his music reminds me of an English group with a German-sounding name. Nitzer Ebb were big(gish) in the ’80s but I only really got into them a bit later. I seem to own all of their albums and quite a number of singles, so I must like them. They released a career retrospective compilation (Body of Work) a couple of years ago; I thought that marked the end of the band, but apparently it just marked the beginning of their comeback.

I was amazed a year or so ago to see that “Nitzer Ebb” were due to play a gig at a local venue here in Auckland. They will most likely release a new album this year. It will be interesting to hear what it sounds like. They started out 25 years ago with noises, shouting, fist-pumping and Futurism (that’s where the Alec Empire connection comes in) but moved more and more towards traditional song structures. Apparently they have already played some of their new material live and broadcast so I can’t wait to hear it.

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Ben Kemp & Uminari / Anna Coddington

Ben Kemp looks like a rugby player, but he has the most delicate falsetto voice and a rather poetic songwriting touch. His band, Uminari, are tight and very cool in a quirky Japanese way, especially the drummer who is so cool he doesn’t need drumsticks. We saw these guys at the Classic Comedy Bar and they put on a great show. But they were supported by local singer-songwriter Anna Coddington, and I liked her set even more.

Ben Kemp is a very nice Kiwi musician who has lived in Japan for some time now. He has gotten together with a group of Japanese musicians to form his band. The music works really well live — they go for extended soundscapes built around each song, with Kemp’s voice sometimes acting as another instrument. The mood ranges from gentle and contemplative to a bit more noisy and experimental on some tracks, where they might try to evoke the sound of the sea or a storm. It’s hypnotic stuff.

Between songs he tells how the songs came to be, and also shares some stories about himself. The show was nice and intimate — at one point he brought out a couple of bottles of Japanese liquor (sake and umeshu) and passed them around the audience. You can’t much more chilled-out than that.

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