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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.

The best in podcasting

06:59am 17 Dec 2014


Just recently Slate ran a list of the top 25 podcast episodes/moments to celebrate ten years of the medium. That list features some pretty great stuff - interviews and shows worth listening to, reminders of how far the format  has moved - from back when Ricky Gervais' gurning, grinning and goading ruled the medium to the latest sensation Serial. Which I'm suddenly hooked on - even though people are talking about it in the same hushed tones that precedes a recommendation of The Wire or Breaking Bad or Madmen as The. Best. Show. Ever. Serial

Marc Maron's WTF podcast has been top of the list and appointment listening for me since I first got addicted to listening to podcasts.

At some point I went off the show - Maron is frustrating, that's part of the fascination - and then just when I thought I was out he pulled me back in. His interviews with musicians can be amateur-hour excruciating. His interviews with comedians can be a little too in-crowd/-in-jokey for some. But at its best the show remains hypnotic - I'm pulled in. I want to see what he'll say. I want to hear what any of the guests might say. Need to find out who they are, where they've been, where they think they're going.

Maron's two-hour interview with old pal Louis CK was top of Slate's list - the number one podcast episode. Maron re-ran the piece (originally a two-parter, now available for free - Google that yourself - as a two-hour single episode) and it's still a fascinating listen. They cover a lot of ground; always in there is the tension between the two - a history that has been tinged by some professional (and personal) jealousy. WTF

I find myself returning to podcasts now for a bunch of reasons - perhaps chiefly because I'm a bit burnt out from a year of working through a lot of music. I find that music pulls me into my computer, ties me to the chair whereas a podcast frees me up - gets my nose out of a book for an hour or away from a screen. But I'm obviously addicted to listening and to listening-as-learning. Even though I welcome little bursts of silence.

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D'Angelo releases Black Messiah

06:27am 16 Dec 2014


So, overnight - and finally - we have the new D'Angelo album. Soul/R'n'B's answer to/version of Chinese Democracy - just a decade and a half in the slow-cooker.

There were murmurs across the year, hints and hopes - D'Angelo back touring. A couple of filmed interviews and word from Questlove (producer/collaborator). Black Messiah

You can head to iTunes right now and buy Black Messiah - that's the new album (credited to Questlove and The Vanguard). Details are still arriving, a couple of early reviews are about online. But it's too early to say much about this album - it's taken over 14 years. It's not right to review it straight away. Even though everyone will be rushing to do so...deep in the bowels of the internet even James Griffin might be ditching his beloved ukes to think up some thoughts on this one, don't ya think? Nah, probably not...

Questlove is on the record. Also from Voodoo the bassist Pino Palladino is on the record (you might know him from this wonderful piece of work or from his work with - well, just about everyone: Jeff Beck, John Mayer, Adele, Erykah Badu, The Who, Tears for Fears, Go West, B.B. King, Nine Inch Nails...) Q-Tip is on the record. James Gadson (the legend behind the Bill Withers sound) is on the record.

I've listened to Black Messiah a few times already - right away it grabbed me. Because records like this are an event. Because you can hear the sound of Voodoo - a reminder of how ahead of its time that album was; how special, something that truly redefined a sound within music, created something that made a new genre and has gone on to have lasting impact.

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Dud and dumber albums of 2014

09:19am 15 Dec 2014


Alright, earlier in the year I told you about a bunch of the worst albums - that list was only up until May...then I spoke about the most disappointing albums of 2014 (these being records I had actually hoped would be good - Tweedy's solo album/project with his son, the latest from The Roots, the new Johnny Marr...)

So now it's time to complete the list for 2014.Thumbs Down

Here's the rest of the dud and dumber albums I had to listen to this year. (Click on the links for the full review of each album).

Neil Young, A Letter Home - a horrible gimmick.

Ben Watt, Hendra - this solo album from one of the minds behind Everything But The Girl is Nothing But The Worst.

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The best gigs I saw in 2014

06:23am 12 Dec 2014


Yesterday I asked about New Year's Eve gigs (and mentioned a couple of sure-to-be-decent ones). So I figure now is a good time to run through the best shows of the year. 

I still head out to plenty of gigs - many because I want to, sometimes (still) because I have to. I'm still reviewing gigs for Wellington's newspaper, The Dominion Post. And sometimes I just go to a show because I want to - even buying tickets when the freebies are not forthcoming (I'm really not a scab, a comp ticket is just a tool of the trade when you're a reviewer, or should be). I usually end up writing about the gig even if I'm not filing a review for the paper because, well, old habits die hard I guess...

So here we go. The best shows of the year in the order as I saw them.

First up Liam Finn at Puppies - he played two nights. He had Lawrence Arabia as his (secret) opening act. There was plenty of brand new material, in fact he was here to showcase material from his then unreleased new album. Liam's put on some great shows over the years, an always fired-up, excellent performer and this gig was no exception.

Just as few days later, at the same venue, The Clean played a great set. Okay, so it wasn't them at their very best, it was a little bit messy, but it was part of the celebrations in winding up the venue, as Puppies signed off and faded away. Also it was special to see Peter Gutteridge up there with the band. (R.I.P. Gutt-man).

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New Year's Eve gigs 2014/15

05:58am 11 Dec 2014


I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to what's on this New Year's Eve - because I'll be out of the country and on holiday. And though I'm sure there'll be some music involved and some celebration I'll have most certainly signed off from gig-going for 2014.

The holiday - the very thought of it - can't come soon enough. It's been a great year, but I've been busy, I've written about more music this year than any other year since I've been doing this. A bit of time off is certainly required - many of you will be looking forward to me taking a break too no doubt. It's definitely time to recharge the battery.

San FranBut if I was in town and looking for something to do and see this New Year's Eve I'd be at the just-announced gig at Wellington's San Fran. Featuring Bunnies on Ponies and Teeth and then the legendary Hang The DJ set from the wonderful Bill E it's definitely my idea of a great New Year's Eve gig.

Bunnies on Ponies released a very cool album recently - the band features Sam Scott of The Phoenix Foundation with Craig Terris on drums and Phoenix Foundation bassist, Tom Callwood.

Teeth is Luke Buda's new project. It also features Callwood on bass (double-duty for him that night) with Ant Donaldson on drums (he goes back to Six Volts/Front Lawn days as well as being a stalwart of Wellington's jazz/free-improv scene) and David Long (of The Mutton Birds fame - and most recently composer of the fabulous soundtrack to the Ed Hilary documentary) on guitar.Bodega

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