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.

Kimbra's The Golden Echo

06:08am 19 Aug 2014


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


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


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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Vector's Tuning Fork hosts Americana Fest in October

06:42am 14 Aug 2014


It'd be nice to be able to make the trip to Auckland in October, back to back there'd be the chance to see Robert Ellis and The Delines. I isolate those two from a stunning line-up of artists, Vector Arena's Southern Fork Americana Fest because they're two shows I want to see over two nights and because The Delines' album, Colfax and Robert Ellis' album, The Lights From The Chemical Plant are two of my favourite records of this year. Yes, it's a long list, it always is, but these two are likely to be in that Top 10 at the end of the year. And both arrived with something really great for this cynical old jaded hack: an element of surprise. The Delines

I'd been thinking about how it was time for Willy Vlautin to do something different - though I loved his work with Richmond Fontaine. I'm a fan of his work through his novels too. And then I hear this album by The Delines, I love the (female) voice and I have no idea of the connection but it's immediately obvious that the writing is so strong; the songs are wonderful. And so yes, it's only then that I find through the rudimentary Googling that The Delines is Vlautin's new vehicle. Writing for a female voice now - Amy Boone (formerly of The Damnations) Vlautin's heartfelt, earnest, precise character-sketches.

Then there's the great country/funk feel, bar-room ballads and subtle scorchers. I remember thinking - almost as soon as I'd heard the album - that it'd be pretty wonderful to see these guys play.

The Robert Ellis album arrived out of the blue, in that whilst he was not a total unknown to me it just arrived one day and straight-up knocked me out. That voice, the mercurial guitar lines. I had been asked onto Radio Active's Americana show as a guest one Sunday afternoon, asked to play some of my favourites from the wider genre from across the last decade. That's an impossible ask - so I concentrated on new favourites, the record I returned to was this one by Ellis. His cover of Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years - all but rewriting a standard. The incredible title song from the album. I had a chance to play seven or eight songs on the radio that hour - in-between talking about trends and tropes associated with the music. I played three songs from this Ellis album. Robert Ellis

So, yeah, I'd hope to get up to Auckland to see these two shows - wouldn't that be something. But for anyone else living closer, living in the city, there's also Ryan Bingham and Justin Townes Earle, there's Marlon Williams - and more acts to be announced across a two-week Americana fest. Here's the line-up so far. What do you think? Anything you'd consider must-see there? Any favourites?

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End Times Undone

03:03pm 12 Aug 2014


I wanted to tell you all about the new David Kilgour album today (well, you can click that link for my review). I don't think Kilgour has made a bad album - unless of course you're not a fan, then no amount of persuasion will do the job, right?

But if you're a fan you'll usually find something to hold onto - though he's made a small handful of really great albums and his latest is terrific. I started the week with the album on repeat - playing it over and again, so easy to just hit playDavid Kilgour and The Heavy 8s again as soon as it's finished, no ordeal working through this album. Languid and lovely and that kind of bottled magic that makes him a singular talent, he makes albums that no one else can make.

That wonderful nonchalance so crucial to the sound and delivery, half-songs flicked into the pot and served up suddenly, miraculously, as finished compositions. We're lucky to have him. I wanted to talk more about Kilgour's career outside an away from The Clean.

But then, I lost my train. And it won't come back...

I spent most of yesterday - along with most of Twitter and Facebook - thinking about Robin Williams. This isn't a film or TV blog, it isn't a stand-up comedy blog and I'm not about to shoehorn in references to Williams and music - his Beatles cover version or his stand-up albums released on vinyl and CD - as a way in here.

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