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.

Guest Blog: Rowland S. Howard's solo albums

12:25am 17 Apr 2014


You'll remember that I asked you all to Gush Over Just One Album - well Grant McDougall asked if he could gush over two - but both are by Rowland S. Howard. And since he's a favourite (Rowland, that is, not Grant) I said yes. I got to interview Rowland S. Howard a few years ago. He opened the interview by telling me he was dying. A couple of months later he was dead. Here's Grant McDougall's guest post...

To me, the very best music is comprised of several key qualities: a truly original sound and styleTeenage Snuff Film or a highly innovative new slant on an established genre; no or little heed to prevailing trends, fashions or - most criminal of all - what the music industry thinks will sell; songs played with a clear and obvious passion by musicians truly expressing themselves; and, crucially, songs that genuinely display the soul, personality and thoughts of a musician in a stark, uncompromising, raw manner.

Rowland S. Howard's two solo albums, Teenage Snuff Film and Pop Crimes, do all of this and then some.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Howard (1959 - 2009) first came to prominence in landmark Australian post-punk act The Birthday Party, in which his scabrous, serrated guitar lines were a major factor in their feral, fearsome racket. After they split in 1983, he remained in Britain and played guitar in Crime and the City Solution for the next few years, before leading his own band, These Immortal Souls in the late '80s - mid '90s, before returning to Melbourne.Pop Crimes

If you want a more in-depth overview of Howard's life, I warmly recommend the excellent Autoluminescent documentary. It's a fascinating watch which superbly explains the man and his music.

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Guest Blog: Dire Straits - Brothers Arms

09:42am 16 Apr 2014


You'll remember that I asked you all to Gush Over Just One Album - we kick off the guest-post series today with duckduck girl.

Brothers Arms is singularly the most important album of my life. I regularly describe it as the key anchor of my life when I meet new people and that's because it is like an anchor. It's a great touchstone and over the years I've become close buddies with some of New Zealand's coolest musicians because of it, like Greg Johnson and Mark Tierney. There is an invisible chain that ties me back to this album all the way back to 1984 and any time I find myself in doubt or feel like I'm getting too far away from me, well, I just remember Brothers Arms and I can reel myself back in along that invisible chain until I'm back in Levin, high school, 1984, when I used to be popular with the girls.Brothers In Arms

In the first song - So Far Away From Me - Marc Kofler's girlfriend has gone on holiday - "you've been in the sun" - perhaps Spain, or Cairns, and he is alone and therefore sad that he can't see her. He sings the words "so far away from me" about eighteen times in the song, which shows how much he really feels the distance. You have to remember this was 1984 so when Kofler sings, "I'm tired of making out on the telephone" it's because there was no Internet, otherwise he could have Skyped his girlfriend or used Facetime.

No one could reasonably sing, "so far I just can't see" these days unless they were in a very poor country with no world wide web or smart phones - today that would be a slightly more third world version of New Zealand such as Moldova for example. Thus we can see this song is a portrait of the eighties. The hook is gorgeous, chiming, and the synths icy, airy.

The song's closest cousin would have to be something off Heartbeat City by The Cars, that one other classic eighties band whose credibility and fan base has only increased in the years since their disbanding. Listen out for the heavy grunge chord in this song - clearly a precursor to the grunge movement that began four years later with Dinosaur Jr's grunge classic Bug and led to the grunge anthem Smells Like Teenage Spirit by the 90s grunge band Nirvana.

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The Best Album of 2014

10:21am 15 Apr 2014


Right, so it was right around this time last year that I declared Jaga Jazzist's Live With Britten Sinfonia the best album of 2013; so sure was I that there'd not be an album as bold, uplifting, emotional, riveting. And though, it was far early to tell - and of course there were many albums that meant as much or more - that record still figured super high on my end of year list. And still stands out on its own - there wasn't another record like it; there wasn't anything even close to sounding like it, to taking its place. 

I'm calling the best album of 2014 - the one that will most likely mean the most to me - a week earlier this year. It's Dan Weiss' Fourteen.

My introduction to Dan Weiss was via his YouTube clips where he shows that influence/inspiration can come from anywhere, translating the rhythms of an auctioneer to drum kit.Dan Weiss

Since then I've heard Weiss play in a variety of contexts - but this new album, his fifth as a leader (he's in demand as a session player and sit-in guy) is his masterpiece.

It's impossible to think of it as a jazz album, but impossible to imagine this album happening without jazz, so many of the players involved schooled in improvisation, trained in jazz.

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The 2014 Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame: Nearvana

10:26am 14 Apr 2014


I can't get excited about The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame - it's a business and though there are acts I like to see included (last year's Randy Newman induction was quite a lump-in-throat moment, his wonderful speech, the performance, even Don Henley's induction speech - and I f**king hate Don Henley!) it's not really anything I care to catch up with, if I see it I see it. If I don't - as is most often the case - that's also fine.

But this year the big talk was around Nirvana being inducted - well, alright, there was also KISS and Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens and Linda Ronstadt - and The E Street Band was inducted (by its boss, the, er, Boss). Cat Stevens probably had the line of the night, "they inducted someone who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't throw televisions out of his hotel rooms and only sleeps with his wife. It was a brave decision and a very rock'n'roll one". Nearvana

But the majority of the talk seems to be around Nirvana - or what's left of Nirvana - reforming. The  induction timed so closely with the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. A speech from the woman who killed him, Courtney Love. And a series of guest vocalists, all female, a nice touch most people seem to think, something different.

There was Joan Jett and Kim Gordon and Annie Clark/St. Vincent and Lorde - but did you know her real name is actually Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor? I think that's mostly been kept under wraps until just now...

Whatever you think of Lorde's music - and I'm certainly not a fan, not at this stage - she's had an incredible year. Snapped a photo with David Bowie, when Bruce Springsteen comes to town he covers her song, won some Grammy awards, had a couple of million-sellers, developed an arthritic Wednesday Addams dance move and pretty much kept Metro magazine afloat. Not bad for 17 or 39, depending who you believe. And now she's up on stage with the remnants of the last rock'n'roll band that might have actually meant something, pretty good going for a high school poetess with a drum machine (being programmed for her).
What else should he write?
So Lorde performed All Apologies with the Nirvana rhythm section - and did not ruin it. In fact it's the best she's sounded, it wasn't great - wasn't a knockout - but it was okay. And I it made the world of difference to hear her with a real band. And it's win-win too because anything that keeps Dave Grohl away from making more music as Foo Fighters is doing the world (of music) a favour.

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Friday Flashback: My first gig...

08:30am 11 Apr 2014


As a music blog that's creaking along towards being seven years old I'm sure we've covered first gigs - probably more than once. But this has been on my mind a bit lately, not just in writing about B.B. King this week and in remembering that awful Ray Charles audience. I go to more gigs than you do - most likely. And certainly I don't always go to shows that I want to attend. But I still like to get along to the gigs I love - or hope that I will love.

I'm restricted, cash-wise and with family commitments, so travel is mostly out of the equation. I miss more great shows than I get to see - this year I've missed Dolly Parton and Erykah Badu and in a perfect world I would have been at those shows. But I wasn't. I'm not sure it's any consolation to be seeing Morcheeba. But, as I say, it's a job. Or part of a job.

I'm still hopeful, every single time, that the gig I am about to see is as good as my first time.

When I wrote about B.B. King this week - and I've mentioned it previously, I know - I talked about being prepared for the gig, doing your homework. It's always ridiculous to me that someone would pay $150 - and all the other costs (travel, accommodation or parking, maybe babysitting) and not have some idea of what they are about to see.

When I spoke to Don Walker earlier this week (interview to come on Off The Tracks over the weekend) he said "I should probably tell you, right away, that I don't do any Cold Chisel songs". And that's worth knowing right? And fair enough. He wrote the songs for that band but did not sing them - he writes that material for Jimmy Barnes or Ian Moss to sing. He writes his own songs, in his sideline bands and for his solo records. And those are the songs for him to sing. Fans should know that. They should arm themselves with that information ahead of the gig.

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