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 strange, moody week that was

11:06am 19 Sep 2014


The week started with the terrible news around the passing of a legend in New Zealand music. The week will end with a concert by another legend of New Zealand music. Actually, my working week will end with a DJ set of my favourite New Zealand music.

It's been a funny ole week - a strange mood hovering. We're getting older all the time. I now have arguments with my son over how many CDs he can take in the car with him. He's not yet three years old. These arguments are already intense. He's more of an omnivore, in terms of musical taste, than I - his favourite band, absolutely, is The Beatles. And one of the best moments of this week was listening to the mono record of Revolver for the first time with Oscar. Much as he loves The Beatles he's more a singles man, not so much into letting the whole album run. But he enjoyed everything from Revolver - in order - when Yellow Submarine arrived (track number six, side one) he applauded as if greeting a concert favourite. (It's acceptable to like this song when you're two years old). He correctly assessed that Tomorrow Never Knows is my favourite track from the album. He points out Paul McCartney in all the Beatles album covers and photos in books.

It's hard not to be proud. He also discovered a new favourite band this week. Sleater-Kinney. This too is good news. Even if only for me and not you.

In other tales of how weird the week was I found I couldn't mock Phil Rudd of AC/DC's solo album, well, not much anyway... It's perfectly acceptable to have no interest in this album, to avoid it, to not like it, but if you are a fan of what Rudd does behind the kit, if you're a fan of his day-job/main gig and of those sorts of blue-collar, four-four rock-beat, basic bar-room bogan stuff - and surely there's a little streak of that in all of us, well, not all of us, but I don't mind admitting that I have it - then this record really delivers. A nice surprise. I'm not saying it's any kind of wonderful. But it is so much better than the words "solo album by AC/DC's drummer" could ever suggest. That's the sort of tag-line that makes you shoot first and run to the car. But no, Rudd's album while not subtle - it's called Head Job - is a pretty decent rock record.

And speaking of decent rock records - that safe 3-star/3.5-star area - Ryan Adams returned with his first record in three years, I like the idea of Ritalin Ryan slowing right down. Again, you do not need to hear this record - you can correctly choose to not hear it or not like it because Ryan Adams fans are a funny bunch and there can't be too many that like every single thing he's done (particularly if they like and listen to other music as well). I haven't been all that interested in a Ryan Adams album for about a decade now but this latest one has a great feel to it, some wonderful guitar sounds, and he's done a better job of stealing song-feels and rewriting them in his own style than those people that sold an "Eminem Esque" tune to The National Party.

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Lose yourself in the music, the moment

06:16am 18 Sep 2014


This whole Eminem sues National story brings up plenty of disturbing issues - Steven Joyce can be as smug as he likes (a pet hobby, it would seem) in suggesting this is just a pre-election shakedown (absurd) but a real crime here is that he and National's marketing geeks didn't know about a song that won an Oscar, a song from a film that was released when Eminem as rapper-turned-actor was at the height of his fame, a household name. The song featured all across the movie's advertising, its trailer and played on the radio regularly. It's inconceivable that someone - anyone - didn't know. You could imagine the scene, someone working on the National rowing we're going backwards to show you all the country's going forward ad returning home after a hard day's slog and talking to their partner about it, playing a clip. The ad-person's partner then goes, "hey honey, that's great, but you know that's an Eminem song right".vs.

Of course it's not for Eminem to sue National it's for the protectors of the song's rights to sue the company that has ripped off the song Lose Yourself. National can hide behind the fact that they simply paid a licence to a company that created a piece of music, they "borrowed" the music legally, but the people that "borrowed" the tune weren't allowed to do it.

Ads often feature soundalike music. It's done to trigger thoughts of that original piece in our head. We hear something that somehow sounds instantly familiar, the seed is planted. We're hooked into it because we recognise the music. The idea is actually to skirt dangerously close to sounding like a particular popular song - always hoping to avoid legal issues by being just different enough, by somehow flying under the radar. It's dirty pool of course.

I was quoted in a Dominion Post story at the time that National released their rowing commercial. The journalist had asked for a second opinion around the song and within two seconds of hearing it I was convinced that this was a rip. It turns out the company that created this piece of music even gave it the working-title of "Eminem Esque".

National can get off the hook and point to the fact that they merely paid someone to do a job, it's not their fault - it's the fault of the person they employed. And however you feel about National this is actually correct. The problem lies with the music company using and selling soundalike beats.

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Nurturing the best

05:00am 17 Sep 2014


There are a few election parties going on - and please post below any particular gigs you think worthy of seeing this Friday and/or Saturday night. There are bands planning events to help celebrate or commiserate depending of course on which side of the fence you sit, or stand, politically.NZ

Chali 2na is playing Wellington this Saturday night - so that might be the smart tip if you want to go out and put the election behind you and have a great time seeing a skilled vocalist, a great performer.

On the eve of the election Jeremy Elwood is presenting a comedy event at Wellington's San Fran. Could be good. Neil Finn is also on that night too.

So there's a bit of music to take your mind off things. But you should of course go out and vote this Saturday - who you vote for is of course up to you, but voting is important.

On Sunday I attended the Off-Key concert - a fundraiser for Darren Watson and Jeremy Jones' legal battle around their Planet Key song and video. Politics aside, it was pretty wonderful to be in a bar on a Sunday afternoon, a family-friendly event too, with music. Loads and loads of music. There was a pretty neat vibe right across the event. And if the music wasn't to your taste at one moment then someone else arrived soon after, a new band, a new sound. It ran smoothly and everyone gave their best.

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R.I.P. 'Guttman'

09:19am 16 Sep 2014


Sad news yesterday - the death of Peter Gutteridge - one of the important figures in New Zealand music. His band was Snapper, before that he had been in The Clean and The Great Unwashed - he was a founding member of The Chills too, but he was only really in that band for around five minutes. He made a solo album that was reissued this year, played in other bands, including The Cartilege Family (with Shayne Carter). Recently he rejoined The Clean in a cameo-role, including a walk-on when The Clean played Wellington earlier this year.The Guttman

Yesterday when I heard the news I was torn between reporting it - well, offering a personal tribute - and waiting for the mainstream media to report the news first.

I chose to publish my story. My aim was only to share the news with like-minded music fans. To let people know. Someone from one of the associated bands, someone who knew Peter Gutteridge had told me the news. I wrote my tribute piece and sent it back to that person before publishing. I've never felt so eaten up - I didn't want to look like an ambulance-chaser, I didn't want to appear to be capitalising on this sad, tragic news. Contrary to what anyone might think I never write anything just for the hits - and I only ever write my eulogy pieces for Off The Tracks about people whose work has meant something to me. I can't fall into the trap of marking the passing of anyone and everyone who ever wrote a book or made an album or appeared in a film. It has to be the people that meant something to me.

I arrived at Peter Gutteridge's music rather late in life actually - well, it was that movie Topless Women Talk About Their Lives with its pretty-much perfect soundtrack album. That soundtrack introduced me to a couple of bands and reminded me of several great moments in New Zealand "alternative" music. One of the songs it introduced me to was Buddy by Peter Gutteridge's band Snapper. Prior to that I had heard his name, I knew there was a connection to The Clean - but it was hearing that song, in that context, the soundtrack album, the film, that got me hooked on hearing anything I could find that Gutteridge had done. Actually it wasn't all that late in my life - it was the perfect time. End of school, into university, the Flying Nun sounds known to me but still discovering new bands and associated acts, still joining the dots - this purposeful pop music bellowing in with noise all around it. So beautiful. So messy. So different from anything force-fed via the radio, the music at home, the easily accessible...

I didn't ever meet the man, I didn't know very much about him but I loved a lot of his music. And for all of those wonderful gurgling, lacerations of guitar you could also hear him have his way with a gorgeous piano melody too. He wasn't just a guy wielding a guitar and coaxing ugliness to then turn into a type of beauty.

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A new wave of concept albums

06:23am 15 Sep 2014


Super Furry Animals - one of those bands I checked in with now and then but never really got passionate about. A couple of the albums sat around on my iPod for a while, there's over half of their discography just sitting there still for me to either one day discover or not get to. I'm happy to take tips there - where's the best place to start? Well, in a sense I did start - and more towards the end. I certainly never disliked what I heard but you just can't get to everything and get through everything. So they're one of those bands that I can't really have an opinion on.

But I have followed Gruff Rhys' solo career a little closer - just a handful of albums across the last decade. And I've liked them all to some degree. The most recent is American Interior. This record knocks me out. Some gorgeous melodies, clever songs, sharp writing - and this huge concept, potentially alienating, that informs and drives the album. And yet somehow you could get swept up in the sound of the record without worrying too much about the back-story driving the songs.American Interior

Rhys' latest set of songs is inspired by 18th Century explorer John Evans. He mapped the Missouri River in search of a lost Welsh-speaking American tribe. But if you're put off by the idea of "concept albums" don't worry, I really believe you can enjoy this album for its melodic grace, because of Gruff's voice, his songs, the feel, the performances - the weight of the words might be something to hook into on future listens.

That's not always the way with song cycles and concept albums - sometimes the pitch kills the interest in listening. Too heavy, too weird, too intense, we're told, repeatedly, that the album is dead and that we're living in a singles world, a video-clip world, a viral-hit world, so it's a waste of time engaging with something for 35 or 45 or 50 minutes. No one has that kind of time anymore.

How sad.

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