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.

J Mascis continues his winning streak

05:00am 22 Aug 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I'll tell you who is great right now - and by right now I pretty much mean since the early 1980s, but most certainly across the last half-decade - and that's J Mascis. I've been a fan of Dinosaur Jr since hearing Get Me as part of that wonderful compilation, The Trip. From there it was back to scoop up the earlier albums and I caught the band on the tour in support of Without A Sound - I loved their "swansong" album, Hand It Over. And then it was to J's albums with The Fog and to the side-projects. Then of course Dinosaur Jr came back - and the three albums the group has made since 2007 have all been pretty great. They might even be getting better...J Mascis


In 2011 Mascis released his first full solo album and he's just followed that up with Tied To A Star. The album comes out Monday, you can click that link for my advance review. It's very much a sequel to Several Shades of Why - which was described to me, perfectly, as "Dinosaur Jr for old people". That's certainly me. I am most definitely old people.

I still love those first three Dino J albums - especially You're Living All Over Me. I have a fondness for Green Mind and Where You Been, I don't think there's been a bad album under the Dinosaur Jr name. But over the last few years Mascis has been very busy. And it's all been pretty great.

There's his walk-on cameo as part of Sweet Apple, and the Heavy Blanket album. Most recently there's been the live jam between Heavy Blanket and Earthless. That is something else! An hour-long slab of instrumental psychedelic-metal. It's huge and relentless. It was recorded a couple of years ago but released just this year. It's interesting having that alongside the brand new Mascis solo album. He's so instantly identifiable whether picking at an acoustic and letting that crumbling voice fall down around the tunes, or attacking the electric like some eternal teenager, locked in his room with only enough vices to motivate him to throttle his guitar.

So if you prefer the heavy and electric there's the Earthless/Blanket album - you can hear the whole thing here. But the new Mascis solo album has shades of his Dinosaur Jr sound, naturally. It's not totally acoustic, those little smudges of electric guitar - clipped, splattered solos - make themselves known.

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In a perfect world I'd go see Miley

09:39am 21 Aug 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

So, Miley Cyrus is coming to New Zealand, one show - The Bangerz Tour. I'm not joking when I say that I would go to that. Of course I get to say that now knowing that the reality is I won't be going - I'm not prepared to travel up to it and I'm not expecting any free hand-out here either. I'm not desperate to see it - but I bet a lot of people are talking down this show when they wouldn't plan to go to this sort of thing anyway. That's redundant.Miley

The twerking stories from last year didn't really do it for me - and though she'll no doubt arrive in New Zealand with the offcuts from Gene Simmons' tongue and that annoying, over-excited speaking voice and a fake smugness and pretend don't-give-a-s**t attitude - and probably some giant dancing teddy-bear backpacks of course, I still think the show will be spectacular. And sometimes it's good to get along to one of those giant spectacle live gigs.

I saw Lady Gaga and that was about four years ago now and I haven't been moved to listen to any of her music since, including not even bothering with her latest album - but that show was incredible. Surreal even, that I went to that the night after seeing the Pixies and enjoyed Gaga a lot more; not something I could have predicted ahead of time.

Life's different now and I don't get to go gallivanting about to shows - I simply can't afford it - so perhaps this is all meaningless to even say but I reckon a Miley Cyrus show would be pretty amazing. She can sing. There's no denying that - I watched her Unplugged show recently (here's clips of her singing Dolly Parton's Jolene and a, erm, "stripped back" version of Wrecking Ball). She can definitely sing. And take away that ghastly video - and the parodies and all the hand-wringing column inches around it - and it's a pretty great pop song.

Sometimes it's worth surrendering to "The Big Show" - and I reckon Miley Cyrus' Bangerz tour would be a real treat.

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Kimbra's The Golden Echo

06:08am 19 Aug 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

The other week I wrote about The Listener's billing of Kimbra as "the next Lorde". The piece in The Listener was a well-written article - but that tagline stuck out like a dog's balls. It was also unfair. Incorrect. Stupid.

The Listener's decision to lead the story in that way undermined the work of the writer who had chased down a good story, created a strong portrait of a workaholic hopeful pop star. The story really didn't have anything in common with the making of Lorde. 

I'd written previously about Kimbra - she is not the enemy. She is in fact very talented. That's pretty clear when you listen to almost anything she's created - even if you don't like it. You can hear that she can do it - she can sing. She can play. And now she has a new album; the big second album...the difficult second album.Kimbra

The Golden Echo is Kimbra's new album and it's almost wonderful. But unfortunately it's just far too busy - so much so that it's silly. Pop music doesn't have to make sense but you just can't get a purchase here.

Kimbra's record, track by track, sounds kinda wonderful, lush, huge, rich - big. But it's far too big and far too bright actually. These songs ache because they're too full, set to burst at any second. Each track filled with more than an album's worth of ideas. That should be impressive, in the end it's just exasperating.

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A Vinyl Affair: This Saturday

05:40am 18 Aug 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

The last time I attended a record fair I found a couple of gems - things I'd had on CD but hadn't seen on vinyl, or if I'd seen them before it hadn't been the right time. But for just a few dollars - and in decent condition too - I picked up copies of Frank Zappa's Over-Nite Sensation and Roger Waters' The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. You're there and faced with all those records - cardboard boxes and plastic crates jammed full - and you're faced with all these things you don't really need. And then you realise that you might actually need one or two of them. As is your wont.

It was a couple of years ago - and I was there by fluke, by mistake - I didn't know there was a vinyl fair but it was a good way to kill an hour, a wee flick through the crates. I've been obsessed with digging, with flicking through, for some 30 years or so now. Time working in music stores hasn't put me off - it only made it worse I think.

A Vinyl AffairThis Saturday, August 23, sees Wellington's newest record fair - A Vinyl Affair - taking place at the Southern Cross. Created by Si White (check out his Daily Jam page (which offers up a new free-to-download Mp3 from a Kiwi band each day) the record fair is a chance for collectors to buy and sell - it's a chance for the public to have a dig, to meet up with a few like-minded anoraks - to enjoy some of the good booze and nosh at the Cross. It'll run from 12-4pm and it's free to attend.

And they're going to have guest DJs spinning tracks, hour-long slots. If you are there between 1-2pm you might even hear something by Trini Lopez (translation: I'll be playing some records in that timeslot).

I'm hoping to find the next small handful of gems I didn't know I needed, record-wise. And to have a chat with a few friends, meet a few new friends (translation: stand around awkwardly and not talk in a room full of other awkward record-nerds).

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The return of some heroes

11:54am 14 Aug 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I've mentioned Shihad a few times on this blog - how much I loved the doco, how they're one of the world's best live acts and how I haven't found a new Shihad album to dig in quite some time.

So now we have the band's new record, FVEY. And I was excited to hear this - sure. Interested in hearing it, certainly. There'd been a lot of hype - a lot of talk around this as a "return to their roots" album. That talk, for me, first started when I interviewed Jaz Coleman last year. Trying to keep him on topic - or on planet Earth in fact - would be anyone's trickiest task. And in a wide-ranging conversation (he was brilliant to speak to by the way, you just stand back and let him go...) he mentioned that he was going to be at the helm of the new Shihad album and that he was so sure he could fix them, could make them sound like their old selves.Shihad

Then, earlier this year, I interviewed Jon Toogood and though that was ostensibly about his role in a musical/cabaret show for the arts festival we did talk a bit about FVEY; he backed up Coleman's claims and agreed with the general aims; it was a return to Shihad's rocking best.

So now I'm curious to know what you think. The album's out. And I've reviewed it here (and today a shorter capsule-review will appear in The Dominion Post newspaper too). I pretty much can't fault it. It is the best Shihad album in 15 years.

They're still - and always - a great live band. So I'm looking forward to hearing these songs performed on what I'm imagining will be a pretty kick-ass summer tour.

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