Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?
NZ Reviews From 1986
My first album review column from Wellington’s attempt to do a Metro, Wellington City Magazine, Feb/March 1986.
Hit & Slipped Discs
An Introduction… In the ensuing months this column will review a collection of recent record releases. I will attempt to review as many recordings of New Zealand origin as possible, and those overseas records of particular interest. The column will maintain an internationalist perspective, because local music has reached a stage where it can fend for itself; if a local record is crap then that needs to be said, so advance apologies for any wounded egos.
The Drongos – Small Miracles (WEA)
Originally providers of a musical foil to Red Mole’s theatrical hybrid, the reconstituted and renamed Drongos transplanted to the streets of New York. Sitting pretty in a comfy niche as an American campus fave rave, busking is now unnecessary. This digitally mastered daylight emission from the sidewalks of Manhattan represents a determined one-day backtrack to path and pavement. Friendly, mundane pop/rock with modest musical aspirations, the songs are saved somewhat by lyric wit. Craft, for the most part, of average merit, the entertainment value of which is hopefully confirmed by in-person performance. Perhaps you simply had to be there. A memento? **
Peking Man – Room That Echoes (CBS)
Peking Man on disc are singularly lacking in charm, from Margaret Urlich’s expressionless by-rote vocal stylisms to the band’s ability to merely flesh out a dull dance riff and proclaim it a song of substance. The sound on this single is hi-tech, but the result is not less predictable. Complete with Emulator parts by Bruce Lynch. Wowie. *
Fog – Fatman With A Big Dork (Dist. By Jayrem)
For this noisy bunch of brats, punk and garage are just words to signify the stylistic dissonance that moulds the sound; what we really have here is devil-may-care as a way of life, a cartoon of contempt in a land of the living bored. Four cheap and nasty stabs at songs, the best of which is indisputably ‘Move Your Brain’; play it to the one you love. Fatman With A Big Dork is plagued by shards of unplanned feedback and Sam’s (a woman) deadpan mean aside: “Look where it’s got him/Cancer of the scrotum!” Whew! There’s life in the old fridge yet. ****
From Scratch – Pacific 3,2,1 Zero Part 1/Drum Sing (Flying Nun)
Resounding emptily down the noble halls of failed academia, the previous From Scratch recording ‘3 Pieces From Gung Ho 1, 2, 3D’ quite failed to match its avowed intentions in actual music. Hitting various found and formed objects, subsuming individual egos to work together in highly disciplined polyrhythmic harmony, Philip Dadson, Wayne Laird and Don McGlashan go some way towards capturing the collective spirit sought on these two pieces. ‘Pacific 3, 2, 1 Zero’ and ‘Drum/Sing’ at a side per piece (time: 49 minutes) are best played at substantial volume to capture the ringing resonance to full effect. At best, From Scratch are highly original, mesmeric and liberating. At worst, their architectural aesthetic and visual prognosis allows music that on cold vinyl aptly echoes the sounds of several big fat rubber bands being slapped. These sides, though, have atmosphere, and come complete with the added dynamic benefit of group singing. ****
Various Artists – Tuatara (Flying Nun)
Taking four years to issue forth one lone compilation doesn’t bespeak a lack of good records to choose from. It simply means that now it’s here, ‘Tuatara’ is a definitive summation thus far of Flying Nun’s history. Lots of great tracks are not here, but that’s not the point. The chosen twelve expresses the variety and single-mindedness of NZ’s big little label and succeeds as an album. In fact, virtually everything here is significant or important in terms of modern New Zealand music. By my reckoning all but four of these songs are classics; all but one of the rest are simply great; and that one lesser track is interesting. Without overstating, then, this is one of the year’s major releases. If you’re inclined to pigeon-hole Flying Nun as home of the Dunedin strum, you’ll be shocked by sounds as diverse as Marie and the Atom’s ethereal ‘Isol’, the barely moving somnambulance of The Expendables’ ‘Man With No Desire’, and the hard paranoia of Fetus Productions’ ‘State To Be In’. *****
Dread, Beat & Blood – Tribute To A Friend (Jayrem)
The art of reggae production is a specialized one, and these local Rastas have made an album which highlights none of the noises reggae fans expect. However, a bit of knob twiddling and the sound starts to get some juice in it, and Dread, Beat & Blood emerge as a competent outfit whose major asset sits in the throats of four of the seven members; the singing is lovely, if at times the sentiments are predictable. Song titles include ‘Blair Peach’, ‘Rainbow Warrior’ and ‘Waitangi’, natch. Any wet liberals out there with guilty consciences and dollars to express them with? ***
Note from the author: I’ve always loved writing short capsule album reviews, and am still doing it for Metro magazine, who have put up with my short-form ramblings for around a dozen years now. I still pretty much agree with the Gary Steel that made these assessments in 1986.
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.