Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Write On!

03:52pm 31 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I can remember the very first thing that made me want to write about music, the very first experience. It was a school assignment. Sixth Form Journalism - and we'd get these weekend assignments. One time we'd have to do a lifestyle feature on a living grandparent, or interview a pet or whatever. A mate and I made a fake radio show one time too - that was fun.

We made all the stories and spliced in a few bits and pieces from some of my tapes. A group of Chinese jugglers was visiting the school at the time so we concluded with a 'light' story about that. I used the intro from Santana's live album, Lotus as the "interview" - no translation. One nerdy girl in the class felt the need, when it was played to everyone, to point out that this interview was in Japanese. That was all part of the joke I thought...

For an inspirational message we played The Broadcast (from Wings' Back To The Egg). It's probably the only time something from that album was played on radio in New Zealand - pity it was a fake show, huh.

Anyway, as would seem fair, given that result, it is the only time I've been left in charge of a radio show. A pass-mark on that assignment doesn't seem to open any doors 20+ years later. And nor should it.

It was probably my favourite class in high school though and the assignment that sealed the deal for me - the one I'd waited all year for, it seemed - was when we were told to write a review. We had the weekend to hand in a review - TV show, film, book, album...anything that grabbed us. Old or new. We just had to have a go at writing our version of a review.

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The further adventures of Donnie and Joe Emerson

09:32am 31 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

A couple of years ago I wrote about Donnie and Joe Emerson and their "lost" album, Dreamin' Wild. It's a good story, the Donnie and Joe Emerson one. Two kids growing up in the 70s in America, their dad builds them a home studio and concert venue. Seriously. Just figures that's what you do - wants to engage with his children, promote their interest in music. They record an album. It doesn't do much. The family farm is sold off in parts to pay the debts and the record all but disappears.Donnie and Joe

And then the album is rediscovered - a junk-shop find turned into a LightInTheAttic reissue (this label almost always gets it right). And then you have Donnie and Joe Emerson's great song Baby being covered by Aerial Pink. So now they've got new hipster-cred.

But as fun - as interesting - as the back-story is it wouldn't work for me if I didn't like the music. And I heard Dreamin' Wild without knowing the full story. It arrived as a curio - I listened and liked it. Then there was that wonderful story to fill in the where and why, to explain how this reissue had come to be.

Over the last couple of years I've carried on a bit of a love affair with the Dreamin' Wild album. So it was a nice surprise to find out that Still Dreamin' Wild: The Lost Recordings 1979-81 was out and about, a second volume. The leftover efforts.Still Dreamin'

It was going to be the follow-up album. And of course the debut tanked and this second set of songs was largely the work of Donnie on his own. Playing all of the instruments - he was clearly tracing around some of the adult-oriented pop on the radio at the time but there's some real charm to these songs. Though there's nothing that quite reaches the exquisite I just found a long lost gem feel that tends to greet people's discovery of Baby or Good Time from the first album I actually find myself even more impressed by the music - overall - on this collection of leftovers.

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Manic fandom

07:40am 30 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I found out that Manic Street Preachers fans are a bit of a nutty bunch when I reviewed the band's new album, Futurology. Tin-eared lot too, obviously. I mean this album just sounds utterly absurd in places - check out Sex, Power, Love and Money - there's just no way a song like that, if you can call it a song, could ever be on an album that people are considering among the year's best.

But Futurology isn't among the year's best - it's a big, dumb album by a band that's never really had anything to say. But then I've just never understood the appeal of the Manic Street Preachers. A couple of singles that hit the mark during the end of Britpop's reign, but nothing to rave about - unless you're a fan of course. Then they're the very best thing in the land. And hey, fair enough. Fandom does strange things to people. the Futurology of music?

I thought Tool fans were a special bunch. I'm sure they still are. Same with Radiohead fans - they made it hard to like Radiohead for a while. But I wonder if Manics fanatics are the kookiest lot. And I wonder this because at least with other bands you can almost see where the nutter-fans are coming from, you can get why they're charged.

Tool sounds like the cleverest music in the world to the urban cavemen entranced by it. But there are a hundred bands better than the Manic Street Preachers. And that was only at the last count. In the time since you've read that sentence several new bands have had at least one song better than anything Manic Street Preachers have ever provided.

Presumably a big part of the appeal - of the story - is in the fact that Richey disappeared. Or rather, that the band carried on without him; I'm not trying to mock this (Edwards was officially presumed dead in 2008 after disappearing in 1995) just trying to understand the appeal of a band that makes thoroughly wet music.

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Taking music films to the people

09:50am 29 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Sunday night, I wasn't in the mood to be honest - but I went along because I had a feeling if I didn't I'd really have missed out on something special. It's nice even to have a hint of that feeling, you go to enough shows over the years and even though people might want to tell you something is special and "not to be missed" that's hardly ever the case. But Sunday night I strolled down to Meow for a screening of the documentary, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton and a DJ set after by Stones Throw Records founder, Peanut Butter Wolf.Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton

In the early 2000s I was pretty hooked on what the Stones Throw label had to offer. There was Madlib and he had half a dozen aliases I was aware of - and several more beyond. But albums he'd made under the name Madlib and also Yesterday's New Quintet, Jaylib, Madvillain and DJ Rels were all favourites.

It was a good time for hip-hop. Even though I'm sure the people who talk far too much about "the culture" of it are still taking it far too seriously it was a good time. Hip-hop's music was extending out beyond its obvious reach, turntablism was valid in the mainstream. I was working in a music store at the time and you'd sell Madvillain albums to people who were also buying Van Morrison and Little Feat. I've always thought that's how it should be.

So Peanut Butter Wolf's mix albums were part of that time for me too. Especially his entry into the Badmeaningood series and his compilation of Jukebox 45s; he was always there, too, as guiding force, head of the label, the tastemaker, the curator. Executive producer sometimes, but you just knew about him because he was Stones Throw. And Stones Throw was a mark of quality.

I might bump into some of that music now and then but it's less important in my life currently. So Sunday night was a nice reminder, a chance to revisit, to stroll back down the avenues of a former life - with the correct soundtrack.

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By the power of Kindle!

09:42am 28 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I've mentioned this before I'm sure - but I'm a total convert to the Kindle way of life; the Kindle way of reading. I still like books - it's not that you have to do away with one to embrace the other, it's not like you're cheating on your books - but I can't quite explain why I favour the convenience of the Kindle format for reading and yet I'm more interested in sitting down to play a record rather than switching entirely to an Mp3 library.

The Kindle became useful with having a child - needing a hand free for parenting. And it's that time in life where I'm streamlining the earlier hoarding, jettisoning books I'll never read again, some records too. But books are heavy to move and take up loads of room. We have heaps of books - some rooms in our house are full of books and that will always be the way, but I'm sold on the Kindle as the new way for reading.

And it's the easiest way to keep up with what's coming out - there are some pretty cool new release autobiographies and memoirs and other music-related books. And I'm even pre-ordering, you pay in advance and then one day - in a month or so, whenever the announced release date may be, the book just arrives, the text rather. It's there on your device. You're away, reading...Kindle Power!

I've just pre-ordered George Benson's autobiography and Herbie Hancock's memoir, Possibilities. I'll get the Benson within a month - the Hancock won't be until late October, but since I have some credit I'm buying up now. I've just picked up the newly released posthumous Rick James autobio and new additions to the 33 1/3 series, books about Oasis' Definitely Maybe (celebrating its 20th birthday) and Kanye's big bloated silly fantasy - or whatever that album was called? Maybe reading the book will send me back to the music and I'll finally understand what everyone decided to rave about. Maybe not.

Reading music books has been a crucial part of writing this blog - finding topics, feeding the blog as it were. And the Kindle has been a revelation. There I am now at gigs reading a few pages in-between acts, it's those stolen moments you need to take; make...

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