Shapeshifter – The System Is A Vampire – Review

Artist: Shapeshifter

Release: The System Is A Vampire

Label: Truetone Records

‘We are fearless vampire killers’ – That’s the word from Shapeshifter front-man PDigsss (a.k.a. Paora Apera) stamping the position of the genre-smashing Soul ‘n’ Bass outfit after the release of their long anticipated new album, The System Is A Vampire. In a world currently dominated by vampires of the pasty, oversized-jawed, sparkles-in-sunlight variety, the album stands as an expression of defiance – after a decade striving in the music industry the Shapeshifter boys aren’t standing for any more shit.

Thematically, TSIAV is a step up from the pacific soul enhanced break-beats and conscious energy delivered on Soulstice – staying true to the Shapeshifter vibe but drawing on a darker undercurrent under the surface, seeking to sketch out the negative energy perceived in the system that is the music industry. Although you shouldn’t expect the sunny euphoria experienced previously with tracks like Electric Dream, P Digsss’s soaring vocals feature stunningly to uplift focal points such as the latter part of Twin Galaxies, Longest Day, and the brilliantly progressive and radio-friendly, Dutchies. Pivotal track System provides not only the title to the album – foreshadowed by the brooding dub of Warning it proceeds to warp and evolve into a psychedelic explosion of riffage, capturing the essence of the album in a snapshot and encapsulating the live sound Shapeshifter have long sought to capture. This live essence pervades the entire recording – thanks largely to live drum recording sessions in a cliff-top barn reflecting the pounding surf of Raglan beaches – and it is especially noticeable on the twisted instrumental piece, Tokyo.

The wide range of styles influencing the album (including bands such as Kings Of Leon and Led Zeppelin) is further exposed due to the extent of fretwork from ex-metaller Sam ‘Sambora’ Trevethick and the synth-heavy, hip-hop beats of Fire featuring Electric Puha from The Sunshine Sound System. After all this, soul is still the dominant currency of the album, coming through none more so than on Dutchies follower, Lifetime, which builds around another Devin Abram’s specialty saxophone line to deliver the love in true Shapeshifter fashion. TSIAV is overall not as instantly accessible as its predecessor, Soulstice, but given time and in the context of the entire record, it reveals another considered and passionate aural affair that is guaranteed to hook you one way or another. The fruition of TSIAV begs the question posed in Warning – ‘Where do we go from here?’

Joe Dodgshun.

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CHART DISC 09 VOL. 02 Reviewed by Joe Dodgshun

CHART DISC 09 VOL. 02

Compilation

CHART

Reviewed by Joe Dodgshun

In celebration of the APRA Silver Scroll Awards being held in Christchurch for the first time (heck, the first time in the South Island, even), CHART, the Christchurch Music Industry Trust, have released the second installation of CHART DISC for 2009.  On hearing the compilation was an alt-country, nu-folk themed edition I recall that I may have visibly winced. Then again, on hearing who was in the album, my ignorance of what alt-country, nu-folk actually encompasses reared its ugly head. These were amazing bands from church-town that I loved and was trying to track down tracks from anyway, score!

First and foremost of course, is the glorious track Apple Pie Bed which earned Lawrence Arabia a.k.a. Cantabrian James Milne the APRA song of the year award and it’s no wonder it won, its whimsical harmonies could make even the most cynical spinster swoon.

Lindon Puffin And The Transgressions pick up the reins with a sneak peek into their upcoming debut through Jesus Girl, a swinging track with a subtle rockabilly twang, which then segues into I Can’t Get Your Cruel Love Off My Mind from The Unfaithful Ways. This dapper crew, who came second equal at the RDU RoundUp contest, are insanely tight live and this probably counts as the most traditional country piece on the album, full of longing and heartbreak.

Continuing on, The Eastern are another part of the Lyttelton horde who frequent venues such as The Wunderbar and their song Misty And Jimmy is a full on stomping party, duelling banjo lines against lively acoustic guitars. Kim K continues the energy with a keening voice and acoustic bubble gum folk with her RDU favourite, Marionette.

Offerings from Hera (the violin drenched The Devil And Me) and The Easy Hearts bring the tempo down to make way for the brilliance of last year’s Roundup champions Von Klap. The alt-country whiskey fuelled slur of Vic’s Town recalls the more paranoid moments of Modest Mouse, perfectly setting the stage for Delaney Davidson. Davidson persists with the darkly themed theatrics and Around The World is propped up with a deliciously bloated tuba line.

Tim Chesney follows with a beautiful indie acoustic song in All We Could Do, echoed by the delicate tones afforded next to a remix by Trillion, a.k.a. Jody Lloyd, of The Bat’s Up To The Sky. Following The Leader is a perfectly formed baroque folk track caught in a daydream, lifted skywards by heavenly lilting vocals and one of many standouts on Ragamuffin children’s latest album. The aptly named Be All And End All from Flip Grater softly ends the compilation on sweet note.

Summing words? Stop reading, go get it! (From places such as Real Groovy, Galaxy Records etc. Go!)

4.5/5

Song: All Of This (Single). Artist: The Naked And Famous. Reviewer: Joe Dodgshun.

thenakedandfamous.com

thenakedandfamous.com

On the first synthetic sounding drum-kicks of All Of This, the newest track from The Naked And Famous initially seems … familiar. So far, so 80s/90s flashback (read: Ladyhawke).

But then you realise that they actually have a drummer as opposed to a drum machine and then their signature electro-fuzzy bass kicks in, marking the track easily recognisable as a TNAF creation. Very little progression occurs in what is essentially a stripped back melody comprised a mere handful of chords, but it is pleasantly spurred by the soft purring vocals of mainstay members Alisa and Thom.

Although feedback subtly creeps up as time ticks on, it is overall low on complexity but high on charm and comes with very high production values. With a complete reshuffle of band members excluding the core duo, this may not quite be on par with the strongest TNAF tracks, but stands as a strong statement of intent for the crew’s revamped line-up.

Bring on the album.

Radio One 91FM – A Century Of Seasons. Reviewed by Joe Dodgshun

Radio One 91FM – A Century Of Seasons

Compilation

Radio One

Reviewed by Joe Dodgshun

If you have ever been intrigued when someone speaks of the ‘Dunedin sound’, then I highly recommend getting your hands on this meaty little compilation. While the Dunedin sound championed by Flying Nun Records has typically been viewed as a portmanteau of low fidelity production and jangly guitar, as evidenced by A Century Of Seasons it has now morphed into a far more complex character. Boasting 40 tracks sprawled over a two-disk set (one disc retro, the other ‘Nowtro’), in order to celebrate their 25th birthday Radio One trawl back through the local annals to explore the music that made and still continues to make Dunedin a hotbed of  underground music activity.

Retro kicks off with a haunting rendition of the iconic track Pink Frost from The Chills recorded live in Auckland’s Rumba Bar in 1982 (incidentally, a year before the death of drummer Martyn Bull), before name checking the likes of Double Happys, Look Blue Go Purple, The Puddle, The Bats, The Verlaines and Cloudboy. In addition to such classics, there are gems such as the gleeful hysteria of David Mitchell’s Dead Dog In Port Chalmers and the rabid feedback of High Dependency Unit’s Fauxtekra, before closing the late 2000s with entries from Die!Die!Die! and The Clean. Surprisingly, Chris Knox and particularly his bands The Enemy, and Toy Love are nowhere to be seen.

Nowtro reflects the diversity blossoming towards the end of disc one, entering with the epic grandeur of soundscapists Operation Rolling Thunder (A Matter Of Space). It then moves on to showcase the latest exponents of classic Dunedin guitar style from The Tweeks, The Alpha State, Onanon and the overtly psychedelic Hombre from The Aesthetics. For absence of a better term, Soulseller let loose gritty stoner rock on Year Of The Dog, Knives At Noon let loose synth-rock with Purple Star, Haunted Love play dreamy pop, Nightshade ft Sarah Callander provide soul’n’bass à lá Shapeshifter, SoNic Smith brings glitchy electronica, you get the idea… Nowtro also ups the experimentation stakes with tracks from The Autoharpies (sounds like a young goat being tortured) and Brains, who, while sounding far more cohesive than the former, assail with grating atmospherics and a punk ethos.

A Century Of Seasons shows that amongst expanding genres and experimentation the Dunedin sound of yore prevails even today, but more importantly than retaining any one particular sound, the pioneering spirit of that time is alive and kicking.

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

Grizzly Bear
Veckatimest

8/10

grizzly-bear-veckatimest-cover.jpg

We’re all allowed our opinions, this is one of the fantastic things about freedom of speech within modern society, but at what point do we not care about the opinions of others? In other words, how many “Top Twenty Albums of the Year” lists can we actually deal with? It seemed like the ultimate accessory for the hipster blog last year, systematically throwing together the most-hyped albums of the past 12 months, as if we are all adequately qualified to judge the best and worst ourselves, as opposed to leaving it all down to Rolling Stone magazine or whatever. Doubtless the trend will continue through to this year and Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear’s latest effort Veckatimest will more than likely be sitting atop these lists alongside Animal Collective’s Meriwether Post Pavilion and The Horrors’ Primary Colours, and for very good reason. For once, the critics and bloggers are labelling Veckatimest as a legitimate Indie record, instead of throwing the dreaded ‘I’ word around as a catchphrase regardless of stylistic necessity; the album even features acoustic guitar. I mean, Jesus, really? Acoustic guitar? Unbelievable…

Something that is notably different from their previous releases is the fact that Grizzly Bear have toned-down the reverb-heavy guitars of old and replaced them with weighty doses of orchestral flourishes and off-kilter fuzz that manage to portray an odd juxtaposition that strangely works well throughout the album. Thankfully the strongest element of the band has remained on this record in the form of Ed Droste’s fantastically swooning voice that permeates every track. ‘Southern Point’ starts the album off with a smooth, almost Beirut-like jaunt fleshed together by exquisite guitar parts that set the standard for the rest of the record, followed by first single ‘Two Weeks’ with its lemonade-popsicle-California-bikini-surfing-flirting-Beach-Boys-harmonies and stuttering drum fills that, on paper, would not make the greatest single but strangely (like the rest of the album) manages to become a beacon of discordant unanimity. Stand-out tracks are by far ‘Ready, Able’ (recently and fantastically performed on The Late Show) and the stunningly orchestrated closer ‘Foreground’ that finishes tantalisingly too soon with the heavenly breaths of the Brooklyn Youth Choir.

Alas, the album teems with a sort of prep-school pomposity, like Grizzly Bear have found their feet but don’t want to leave the comfort of the beach as the sun goes down, the will to disappear in to the night lost upon childish naivety smothered in an orchestral lack of wanderlust. Despite the sheer eloquence and lush fluency about it, Veckatimest suffers a fatal flaw, although not severe, that leaves one lacking a vital something that makes an album so quintessentially great: emotion. There is no ambiguity to the soul of the song, nothing that leaves its mark in terms of relative resonance; Droste’s lyrics leaving perhaps a bit much open to interpretation. One thing that Grizzly Bear do well albeit is the music, flawless and yet somehow tarnished, positive yet with enough innuendo to console event the darkest at heart. So, is this album perfect? No, not quite. Is this album worth a high placing in the ‘Top Ten Albums of 2009? Well, of course. They come from Brooklyn after all.

-James Donaldson

Sonic Youth – The Eternal [7/10]

It’s like a ridiculous weight on your shoulders: the expectation that your next album has to be just as amazing as the last. Too many bands succumb to the temptation of more money and a full orchestra on offer when going to record their second album. But that’s a load of waffle really isn’t it? Sonic Youth never were, and probably never will be, the band that conforms to expectations from the industry and fans – they have legacy stretching nigh on thirty years now, one littered with some of the most influential albums of the past fifty years (see Goo and Daydream Nation), and the few that failed to live up to the aforementioned level (Rather Ripped). Now they make their return with The Eternal released on Matador after their contract with Universal expired, the change of label seemingly reinvigorating the 80’s punk spirit that made them so prominent in the first place. The album kicks off with lead single ’Sacred Trickster’, a four-to-the-floor storm of discord and screaming guitars that harks back to the ‘Teenage Riot’ years, all finished in just over two minutes. There’s the art-stomp of ‘Anti-Orgasm’, all synchronised grunts from Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore and shouts of “anti-war is anti-orgasm!”. The licence for poetic freedom seems to have returned but by the time the album reaches ‘Antenna’, the clashes in sound are starting to become overbearing – minor chords clash with fuzzed out bass riffs, harmonic scrapes over meaningless delay noise, Gordon seemingly screeching over the top. ‘What We Know’ brings in a new direction, post-punk drums beats layered with dual guitars and the meaningless no-wave banter that ultimately becomes the most engaging track on the album. From then on though, it’s just business as usual before ‘Malibu Gas Station’, a charming and quiet sea of exquisite delay-heavy harmonies prior to surf-style licks, Gordon actually singing for once and the effect is somewhat hypnotising. Perhaps this is the real Sonic Youth? Droning squalls and freeform noise that eventually becomes more akin to a degraded lullaby than the teenage garage-band kicks that we come to expect. By the time final track ‘Massage the History’ ends the album with a near 10-minute psychedelic freakout, the feeling of reluctance and alienation is just that little bit too strong. The lack of melody (not to mention the little diversity in drum beats) seems to give over to a sense of “I’m arty – go fuck yourselves” indignation and the feeling that maybe – just maybe – Sonic Youth have passed their prime.

:: James Donaldson

Fat Freddys Drop – Dr. Boondigga & The Big B.W. – Reviewed By Joe Dodgshun

Just as Fat Freddys’ hit debut Based On a True Story was an album drenched with lazy summertime dub inspiring both countless BBQ evenings in the back yard and the pure disdain of one Simon Sweetman, Dr. Boondigga And The Big B.W. is the ‘Drop in winter lockdown mode, proofing against the cold with a maturation period of four years yielding a mix of predominantly soul heavy tracks peppered with embers of jazz, reggae and dub.

DJ Mu has more of a hand in the second outing as witnessed by the increase in synth handiwork alongside retro keyboards in tracks such as Big BW with the reverb laden line dropped amongst supremely slow burning grooves before propping up the madness of Frankenstein-like Shiverman, which at 10 minutes 36 s is prevented from reaching overwrought jam status by possession of a pounding beat, mutating rhythms and a horn- drop to die for.

Boondigga is as smooth as smooth can be, sadly The Raft, is a semi-standard Freddys’ of yore reggae piece that  doesn’t quite stand up to the standard of originality posed by the majority of the tracks. Much more satisfaction is derived from the radio-friendly dub of Pull The Catch and the laid back bluesy riffs of FFD guitarist Jetlag Johnson and sultry tones of Alice Russell meld with those of Joe Dukie to perfection to pull out the sun on The Camel.

The Nod is a fiery track to burn away even the dreary aches and chilblains of  the frigid south, making up for the downright inane vocals much of which involve cooking in the kitchen (perhaps prepping for a FFD/Food In A Minute crossover?) with a tasty concoction of funky jazz and  kooky brass blowouts.

Wild Wind comes across as somewhat of a wasted opportunity, and thankfully Dr. Boondigga clocks out on a high note with Breakthrough beginning with several minutes of ambient noodling before breaking into a euphoria laden FFD classic leaving this reviewer longing for summer to roll around once again..

Approximately 4.4725/5 Stars