On the Counting The Beatmobile Stereo

I've being doing a lot of long distance driving lately, which is a drag. The upside is that it gives me lots of time for listening to music. He's a few new things that have been getting repeat play in the Counting The Beatmobile.

Steve Abel produced one of my favourite albums of 2006. Now he's just released his second, Flax Happy. Again Abel has produced an astoundingly good set of bittersweet folk ballads. He is joined by Anika Moa on one track and the great Texas blues/folk artist Jolie Holland on two. I love a sad song, and Abel is an expert at these - just check out the title of the two songs he does with Holland - 'Cinders of the Sun' and 'Heart of Misery'. You can hear Steve interviewed by Kim Hill on National Radio here (stream). And a video for an earlier song featured in the movie Woodenhead is on the video page.

Trillion is the non-de-plume of hip-hop artist Jody Lloyd. Jody has been around for a while, with a few releases under his belt as Trillion and several more with earlier outfit Darktower. Lloyd produces hip-hop with a distinctly NZ accent. His later work with Trillion has moved on from the more classic kiwi vernacular of Darktower which some labelled as kiwiana. Lloyd's music now is still clearly of and about New Zealand, but that's not because he's invoking cliches but because his music reflects the viewpoints of a politically engaged New Zealander. The album Silent Invisible, tackles topical issues like the envionment and the war on Iraq but these aren't straight forward protest songs. Instead the lyrics come from the perspective of someone who wants to speak up but is fearful and aware of the ironic oppressive and anti-democratic actions of Western governments themselves reacting to threats to democracy. The album comes in an amazing package that looks like a government agent's folio of clippings and info on a suspect citizen, one Jody Lloyd. And while this is hip hop, it sure ain't P-Money or Mareko, although you probably could draw some parallels with the political hip-hop of Upper Hutt Posse. The video for his tribute to Edmund Hillary is on the video page.

Real Groove Magazine recently issued their NZ Music Month edition featuring a CD of 26 up and coming local musicals acts titled Awesome Feelings 2. This is the second year the magazine has carried out this great initiative. There are a great variety of the acts on the compilation, with the one defining characteristic being that they are all young, new and exciting - in fact the CD bears the byline "The Sound of Young New Zealand". Of the 26 tracks I reckon about two thirds do it for me but a few in particular stand-out: Holiday with Friends do sound a lot like The Brunettes, but they do it very well; crazy indie folk duo Bear Cat, another Counting the Beat favourite (who also featured in the What The Folk! episode), have yet another song about Pandas; while Princess Chelsea's 'Monkey eats Bananas' is one of the most addictive catchy, and kind of silly, songs I've heard in ages. (Princess Chelsea pictured)

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Covering The Beat 3

This is the third in an occasional series that focuses on kiwi musicians covering kiwi songs (Links to downloads of the previous two are posted below).

Kicking things off is a version of The Clean's 'Fish' from the 1997 Flying Nun Clean tribute entitled God Save the Clean. Perhaps one of the least expected artists to appear on the album was Gray Bartlett, a country musician who was often on TV in the 70s and has since moved onto tour promotion and a 12 year foray into right wing local body politics. Now he's back on the road and back into the political sphere too. Bartlett recently launched an ill-informed attack on a variety of music funding initiatives which has certainly got people talking. The new Freeview TV show Media 7 ran a debate between Bartlett, NZ On Air chief Brendan Smythe and the Real Groove editor, Duncan Grieve, which is well worth watching. You can also hear Gray Bartlett perform live on National Radio here (stream).

I'm not sure if it was ever released anywhere else but on the Yellow Eye Records 3CD Dunedin music retrospective But I Can Write Songs Okay you will find a version of Look Blue Go Purple's 'I Don't Want You Anyway' performed by The Bats. The compilation itself is great, spanning 40
years of music from Dunedin. I'm not sure if it's still in print but it's worth picking up second hand or try your library.

From She's Lost, an internet only compilation of dark-alt/industrial/electro/experimental acts covering favourite NZ songs, comes The Fanatics with an electro version of The Gordons' post-punk guitar classic 'Adults and Children'.

Cut Off Your Hands have been playing Split Enz's 'Shark Attack' live for a while now but they have just leaked a studio recording of the song as a teaser for their forthcoming album. The track can be downloaded here. In 2006, under their former name, Shaky Hands, the band performed the song live on TV. The clip can be found on the video page.

Finally in this covers round up is a raucous take on the La De Da's' 1966 hit 'How Is the Air Up There?' from the Hasslehoff Experiment, a late nineties outfit about three years too early for the international boom in drums and guitar blues rock duos (pictured right). They were a phenomenal live act and the good news is that there are rumours floating around of a reunion.

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Previous Covering The Beat posts and podcasts here


More May Music Month Madness

Here's a quick run-down on yet more new releases that have tickled my fancy in the last week or two.

Samuel F. Scott will be best known to you as one of the chief songwriters and a singer in the Phoenix Foundation. Hot on the heels of the Phoenix Foundation's fantastic third album, Happy Ending, Scott has just released a second album under his own name, this time with his band Bunnies on Ponies or B.O.P. Straight Answer Machine will appeal to Phoenix fans but has it's own distinct feel. Scott isn't afraid to try out ideas but avoids the sort of stylistic lurches that were found on the solo album of fellow Phoenix, Luke Buda. There's a warm relaxed playfulness to this album that results in songs that manage to both suprise and seem familiar at the same time. A video for first single 'Lleewellyn' is on the video page.

The Calico Brothers hail from West Auckland. They are three brothers, a cousin and a friend who who have put together a 6 track EP, God Left Town, that is an accomplished pop collection with flavours of Crowded House, classic Californian sounding country rock and John Lennon. Check out a recent live performance on National Radio (stream) and a video of them performing live on the video page.

Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band play a kiwi take on Gypsy and Eastern European traditional music of the type that would fuel a night of drunken dancing revelry. Their 5 track EP, danse macabre, is comprised mostly of traditional tunes with one original, 'Dance of Death'.

'Serenade' is the standout tune from This Machine, an EP by duo Naked and Famous. The EP mixes snatches of indie rock, trip hop and electronica and for four of it's five tracks is really good, but Serenade is something different again - a great exuberant exciting pop song that should top the charts. It has also been released on limited edition seven inch single.

And finally, Tiger Tones, a young Christchurch band who sound as if they have swallowed and regurgitated the Rough Guide to Post Punk, as edited by NZ's Shocking Pinks and New York's LCD Soundsystem. Listen to their self titled album and you will hear snatches of New Order, P.I.L., The Cure and, even Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark but all with a 21st century spin. On their myspace page they even cite the Shocking Pinks hi-hat sound as an influence. I'm enjoying this album a lot and looking forward to hearing how they develop in the future.

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New Releases from Old Rockers

As NZ Music Month dawns the new releases keep coming thick and fast as bands and labels hope to capitalise on the combination of publicity and parochialism that can see local acts' sales figures soar during May. I know I'm sounding a bit cynical but, while there is need for a debate about whether the states' intervention in the NZ music scene has been responsible for the promotion of bland international sounding acts over more diverse talent, I'm actually a fan of NZ Music Month. I like the idea of celebrating local music, after all that's why I put together Counting The Beat - it's certainly not for fame or fortune. My partner also likes NZ Music Month, if only because it means I might buy some new clothes. Anyway, here's another selection of great new releases - all from acts who have been on the scene for a good while.

How many great records has Chris Knox made? And how many units has he sold? Proving there is no universal balance of justice and good the latter figure may be only slightly larger than the first. Slugbuckethairybreathmonster is one of my favourite records of all time, Not Given Lightly is the favourite of many more. Knox's latest is his second album with The Nothing titled A Warm Gun. I think his songs benefit from the organic sound they get in a band setting, and he has some really good players in The Nothing, which appears to be heading towards becoming a real band. The album includes a couple of good old thrash outs but the best songs are the one which provide a sympathetic setting for Knox's lyrics to shine through. There are also some nice touches of strings and horns on some numbers which serve to complement rather than distract from the songs. Bookending the album are two different versions of 'All I Want Is You'. The second takes a bit of an everything but the kitchen sink approach to instrumentation that nicely combines Knox's pop song writing talent with his quirky musical approach. It's songs like this that mean while it may not be up there with some of his Tall Dwarfs' classics this is a record that will stick in your head and be one you come back to.

Shihad are another band I've been listening to for ages, ever since they embraced post-punk to their metal hearts and released the awesomely powerful Churn. They have always been an incredible live band - I particularly remember one show at the Powerstation, where they played the club like it was a stadium and left me soaked and speechless. However, their recorded output hasn't always grabbed me - while I love Churn, the "fish album", and most of The General Electric, Love Is The New Hate just didn't do it for me, apart from 'Saddest Song In the World'. Now Shihad's seventh album, Beautiful Machine is out. This is more of the of the big stadium rock ballads we have come to expect from Shihad and while that is not normally my cup of tea they do it so well I just can't seem to help but like it. You know, returning to the theme of NZ Music Month, I don't know if I would listen to this music if it was from an overseas band. Perhaps it's my cultural nationalist tendencies that overcome my normal reaction of avoiding anything that would play on The Edge.

The third release from an old fave comes from HDU or High Dependency Unit (they seem to use the names interchangably). Metamathics is only their forth album since forming in 1994 and follows a gap of 7 years since Fireworks that was punctuated only by the singles Tunguska (clip on video page) and Stupormodel, both now included on the album. The album doesn't herald any great change in direction, and that is just fine by me. It combines rip-roaring punk songs like 'Stupormodel' and long feedback drenched soundscapes like 'The National Grid' that remind me of a better recorded Dead C (again, no bad thing). The whole album is streaming on the HDU myspace page. There is also an earlier Counting The Beat episode featuring HDU available to download.

Now, go buy some kiwi music - or don't you love your country?

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