IN THE FIRST few years of the new century, it was difficult to avoid the pervasive impact of Trinity Roots, who to all intents and purposes were ringleaders of the scene that celebrated itself, the Wellington “roots” movement that ended up being considered by some to be of such consequence that it got given its own category in the NZ Music Awards. As it happened, Fat Freddy’s Drop came along and eclipsed Trinity Roots, but their two albums of slow, long-form meditations were considered benchmarks by some.
These days, the members of Trinity Roots are scattered around other ensembles like Little Bushmen and Eru Dangerspiel, but they have recently got back together for a few shows, to celebrate the release of this CD/DVD package.
“We’re essentially just two long islands full of bro’s grooving our asses off to the endless slowly gyrating skank, with the heavenly aromas of ‘skunk’ wafting around.”
It’s not clear from the liner notes, and the microscopic print size is too small for my ailing eyes in any case, but the performances gathered herein appear to come from a couple of concerts at the time of their farewell in 2005.
The problem I have always had with Trinity Roots (and to a lesser extent Fat Freddy’s and other projects from the extended Wellington whanau) is exacerbated by these live recordings. At least on the studio-based work they had time to sculpt the pieces into a cohesive whole, and get everything note-perfect; here, there’s a raggedness that’s annoying, including some glitches in the recording (listen for the distortion on the first track) and some really horrendous vocalisations (check out the last track).
I can appreciate that to some New Zealanders, a group like Trinity Roots brings a comforting sense of our place in the world, a sense that we are all one down here in Aotearoa, a sense that we’re essentially just two long islands full of bro’s grooving our asses off to the endless slowly gyrating skank, with the heavenly aromas of ‘skunk’ wafting around, and so much THC-enhanced good-feeling that we might as well join hands and join together in praise of Jah.
But life’s not really like that, and while some find the ethos of groups like Trinity Roots deep, I find it deeply tedious, pandering to foggy notions of groove unity; and worse, it’s got Wellington’s sticky, self-conscious vibe (as well as smelly white-boy faux dreadlocks) to send it plummeting back to earth. Let us not forget that most of these guys are music school graduates, and while they can all play with a good degree of proficiency, there’s a killing lack of imagination on their recorded output.
Having said that, I did appreciate the fact that Trinity Roots were willing to kick back and keep their music airy, spacious, and not fill in, paint-by-numbers style, with “muso” jazz licks. At times, the simplicity, and the willingness to keep it slow, has a smooth rolling beauty that evokes that great Los Angeles band WAR.
But Trinity Roots don’t have whatever magic WAR had. That group could spill a song out to 15 minutes and keep you in a cloud; with TR, the utter tedium of length is almost unbearable, especially on this live album, with one piece going on for an age (actually only 20 minutes). What really gets me about this record is that I actually stuck with it during its entire playing time, by which time I was grinding my teeth and thinking a root canal might be more fun.
At their worst, Trinity Roots are a confusion of reggae and rock that makes you feel a bit ill, as if you’ve had too much to drink and smoke and got too much sun at an outdoor festival, and it’s three o’clock in the morning and you desperately need sleep but the sub-bass keeps on knocking at your ribcage and propelling burning stomach acids into your throat.
“What really gets me about this record is that I actually stuck with it during its entire playing time, by which time I was grinding my teeth and thinking a root canal might be more fun.”
Critics always bang on about progressive rock being indulgent, but really, this is the most bald-faced, outrageous indulgence I’ve encountered in NZ music. Endless jamming with a few “righteous” sermonising lyrics, and no interesting compositional or virtuosic instrumental parts to keep you from becoming catatonic with boredom.
Music Is Choice (great title, guys) is possibly my least favourite NZ album ever, apart from the Earlybirds debut. I would rather listen to Dane Rumble, who at least provides me with something to laugh at. I would rather listen to a ‘70s “showbiz era” Ray Columbus record. Or Dalvanius & the Fascinations do their smoochy soul. Heck, even Howard Morrison doing ‘How Great Thou Art’ is more emotionally honest and more downright listenable than this.
Having said all that, if you’re a fan, you’ll probably love it, and the DVD that comes with it, and hey, it’s got Hollie Smith in a scream-fest that will appeal to all those countless millions who enjoy hearing Hollie Smith screaming. GARY STEEL