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 album you want to hear in 2015

01:41am 20 Feb 2015


Most lifer music fans are caught up in it for the nostalgia - as well as for seeking out anything fresh and new. This is a blog that is unashamedly nostalgia-based, I still review albums.

The blog is named after a Bob Dylan album - one that was released before I was born.  I write about tapes. And collecting records and CDs. The clues were always there. And they were never just clues... (Also, most lifer music fans would hate being referred to as a 'lifer' - I would hope). 

I get sent links to individual songs by publicists, musicians and other bloggers now - asking me to 'plug' songs. I have no real interest in that. I'll review an EP but not a single. I often get asked to 'review' a new single. That's never going to happen. Not here. Not over at Off The Tracks either.Sleater-Kinney

Now, that's me - and if I'm way off course and not with the program or up with the play then so be it. I have no issue with that. The stuff I do is opt-in, no one has to read it. I don't have to write it. I choose to. You choose to read it. That's how it works. That's the deal we have.

Anyway, I don't mean for that to sound at all defensive - just clarifying my stance, while people are still making albums it's albums I care about. Besides, the death of the album has been greatly exaggerated, don't you think? Now and then a song takes my fancy and I'm happy with just one great song - a killer single. But I like to hear tracks in the context of an album. That's just how I am with music. That's how I got hooked. That's how I know it.

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Perfume Genius plays two shows this weekend

09:23am 19 Feb 2015


Gig of the week this week has to be Perfume Genius - the Seattle-based singer/songwriter (b. Mike Hadreas) is playing at the Kings Arms in Auckland tomorrow night (Friday, Feb 20) and Wellington's Bodega this Saturday (Feb 21). Perfume Genius

It helps that he's bringing his best batch of songs, latest album Too Bright is his strongest record - where, previously, the autobiographical element of his confessional singer/songwriter style sometimes weighed too heavy, the songs claustrophobic, overwrought, the material on Too Bright is easier to digest - still lyrically bold but you don't feel like your eavesdropping, sitting in on an oversharing party. An unhappy party at that.

No, Too Bright is the sound of Hadreas' Perfume Genius persona fully developed. There are two previous albums and some of the songs (particularly on the first) are great, so I'm looking forward to hearing the best of the earlier songs in and around the new ones. Three albums seems a good amount of material for a gig too, you can't quite predict the exact setlist but you can get your head around the options, you shouldn't be disappointed.

I've got high hopes for this one - the phone-in-a-favour/babysitter/make-an-evening-of-it sort of hopes. I reckon it's going to be the first gig-highlight of the year.

That's my tip for this week.

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Picking the best of British

07:53am 18 Feb 2015


At various points in my life I've listened to a lot of British music - I mean exclusively.

I guess it started with watching History of Rock-type docos, reading books too - finding out about The British Invasion. I was a Beatles fan at an early age, then hooked into The Rolling Stones big time, from there - and understanding their need to conquer America, their American tours, carried on to introduce me to the bands that followed in their wake. The Kinks, The Animals, Small Faces, and then on to Cream, Pink Floyd ...Best of British

American music informs a great deal of British music - the rhythm and blues template, country music, jazz - all American forms.

The British music from the sixties is what sent me to Robert Johnson (covers of his songs by the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream and others ...) and the music that bands like The Yardbirds and John Mayall were covering and inspired by. The early Fleetwood Mac too. I got hooked on the blues through a lot of that Brit Invasion/British Blues Boom bands.

Maybe something similar happened to you.

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It was 30 years ago today...

08:57am 17 Feb 2015


It's not often a music-list interests me these days - particularly from the mainstream music mags (Slash is always high on the list of Best Guitarists Ever - seems far too charitable) and then especially when it's from NME: too many mentions of Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Smiths - or the list itself is just silly, the concept.

But I enjoyed a scroll through 50 Albums Released in 1985 That Still Sound Great Today. I enjoyed it because this is a discussion close to my heart, it's right when I first started becoming very aware of what was on the radio and was buying a lot of the albums from around 1984-1987 on tape. Some of them are what I call nostalgic-favourites, I own them on vinyl now (in many cases it was the copy mum or dad bought back from the store at the time) - I can't tell you in any objective way what is 'good' about the album, it's quite possibly very bad, you might even use the term guilty pleasure, but I grew up with the album and it stays in the collection.

There are also plenty of really great albums - no shame at all, nothing close to a guilty pleasure, nothing of the sort. Albums by R.E.M. and Kate Bush, The Waterboys and Tears For Fears, Whitney Houston and Grace Jones - I'd have found my way to them regardless, they just happened to be released in 1985. Some of them I didn't know about at the time, discovered a decade or so later. Others have, as with the nostalgic-favs, been with me the whole time.

Like any list there are some glaring errors - Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms does not still sound great today, no way. In fact that's part of what interests me about this sort of list, I have my own ongoing dialogue - with a few tag-in conversation partners - around the albums from the mid-80s that still stand up, against the ones that have dated horribly.

Brothers In Arms might not have ever sounded great but it's most certainly an album that is stuck in the mid-80s, it's my least favourite record by Dire Straits - and that might seem silly, since it was such a huge success, but it killed the band for me. I'm most certainly in the minority here but I preferred On Every Street, though it would have been treated better/made more sense if it was released as a Mark Knopfler solo album.

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Tuning in for X-Factor?

11:01am 16 Feb 2015


It's a normal Monday morning for me - I'm listening to an album for the final time before reviewing it - a new one from Craig Armstrong, his first non-soundtrack work in over a decade, it's gorgeous - features a couple of songs with Paul Buchanan so it's worth it for those alone.

And then the phone rings - cutting me off from blog-writing and review-planning. Can I speak to Sean Plunket on RadioLIVE? Sure. I do this now and then. The phone rings and I'm available to talk - no biggie.

But today the subject is last night's X-Factor. A show I did not watch.

Well, I told you all last week that I wasn't going to watch it, wouldn't ever watch it, couldn't watch it, not while Willy Moon was involved. Well, I doubt I'd watch it anyway. I understand that Willy Moon's wife - Natalia Kills - might actually be worse than him.

So I tell the producer on the line that I'm happy to talk on the radio so long as they know I haven't watched the show - seems kinda funny to me, I'm forever being told that I wasn't at the same show as other people, that I'm definitely not on the same page and is it possible I never even heard the album or attended the show anyway. In this case - highly possible. So I have a chat on the radio.

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