Phoenix Foundation Alumni

The Phoenix Foundation are one of the country's most acclaimed bands, although that hasn't necessarily translated into sales or awards. At the heart of their success is the fact that the band is made up of a bunch of incredibly talented songwriters and musicians. The guys from the Phoenix Foundation are bursting with songs, so much so that no fewer than four solo albums have emerged this year from band members.

The latest solo Phoenix alumni album is Vesuvius from Luke Buda, his third if you count the collection of demos, the C- Sides. Recorded over a much shorter period than it's predecessor Special Suprise, this is a more cohesive album. He worked with Craig Terris and Tom Watson of Cassette, and the country tendencies of that band (also present in early Phoenix Foundation material) seep through into Vesuvius but without overwhelming the strong vein of clever indie-pop that we're used to from Buda's contributions to the Phoenix Foundation. Video for 'Imminent Desire', the first single from the new album is on the video page. Also check out a live performance on National Radio (stream).

Many of the songs on Vesuvius would sit comfortably on a Phoenix Foundation album, and the same is true of the songs on Straight Answer Machine, the solo album released by Samuel Flynn Scott earlier in the year. 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. It's well worth while checking out this and Flynn's earlier solo album The Hunt Brings Us Life - there's a video for 'Giving Up Is My New Morning Sun' on the video page. Worth a listen as well is great National Radio session (stream) with Lawrence Arabia and Craig Terris of Cassette.

Friendly Barnacle is the band headed by Phoenix Foundation bass player Warner Emery. Around the middle of the year Emery released The Tides, a pleasant, if not groundbeaking, album that will be welcomed by any Phoenix Foundation fan, or, for that matter, fans of mid 8os Flying Nun pop or those just digging the Wellington indie scene. (National Radio live performance - stream)

Conrad Wedde is the other Phoenix Foundationer to release an album this year as T.C. Wedde. Bronze is an album of mostly instrumental electronic music with a touch of guitar. Some of the pieces feel like interesting musical doodles, but others stand up as songs and point to the importance of Wedde's contribution to the overall soundscape of The Phoenix Foundation.

While we await a fourth album from the Phoenix Foundation there are plenty of musical goodies in their back catalogue and in this collection of solo recordings.

Download the Counting The Beat - Phoenix Foundation Alumni podcast


2008 Alternatuis

It's that time you've all been waiting for - the 3rd annual Counting The Beat Alternatuis. The Alternatuis, as you can probably discern from the title are our alternative to the mainstream NZ music awards. They differ in many ways -firstly the process is completely subjective - there is no attempt made to have a representative or democratic selection of winners. Secondly, the award categories change from year to year - it's more a case of choosing acts and releases we like and fitting the categories around them. And thirdly, there are no trophies and there is no material gain for the winners - they simply get to bask in the glory of being selected as the very best by Counting The Beat.

Single Of The Year
My criteria for this award isn't necessarily a song that gets released as a single, after all what does that mean these days, but a song that reaches out and grabs you, sticks in your head and is undeniably catchy. In May this year Real groove magazine issued a CD of up and coming kiwi acts to mark NZ Music Month. For weeks after I drove everyone in my house made playing one song again and again, and I still love it now. Monkey Eats Bananas by Princess Chelsea is silly but incredibly compelling. Xylophone, electric piano, a nonsense lyric that doesn't kick in until two thirds of the way through the song, all atop a great rolling bass line. Brilliant.

Band Of The Year
The Broken Heartbreakers are a fantastic band. Their songwriting goes from strength to strength, they're are a great live act and they're always out playing. They have a real sense of how to make each show seem special, they connect and care about their fans. And this year they released an outstanding self-titled album of touching and tender country-folk songs. I've long been a fan but this year is the year that The Broken Heartbreakers have really hit their stride. (Listen to a National Radio live session - stream, or check out the clip of them performing live on TV on the video page)

Newcomers Of The Year
The Sing Songs have made life hard for themselves by choosing a name that makes it impossible to google them, but if they can overcome that they should have a great future. They write catchy acoustic indie-pop tunes that combine simple but memorable melodies with clever leftfield lyrics about things like HTML, pamphlet delivery and the Olympics. Fans of The Brunettes should check this band out. The Sing Songs have gone straight from Myspace to the Waiheke Radio playlist. Hopefully there will be a CD release soon so more people can hear them too. ( The video for their song Pamphlet Baby is on the video page and there's a good profile on Einstein Music Journal)

Rock Release Of The Year
There is not a dud moment of Elixir Always, the debut album from Collapsing Cities. Last year they picked up the Single Of The Year Alternatui, and then this year they released this album on which every song could stand up as a single. Collapsing Cities write great infectious post-punk-pop-dance tunes perfect for dancing but check the lyrics - funny self deferential tales of young adult life - "if I'm still a telemarketer next year I think I'll end my life". This is one of my favourite albums to take along when I've got a long drive, it lifts my energy every time. (Check the clip on the video page and their Myspace remix page for free downloads)

Album Of The Year
It may make for disturbing listening but Renee-Louise Carafice's album Tells You To Fight is a stunning and unique album. By now, surely everyone knows that the songs on the album were her reaction to a period of hospitalisation for depression. On the basis of the early demos she went on to win a major cash prize and then produced this album in the USA. Carafice avoids the trap of producing a bunch of overwrought solo recordings that the subject matter may have suggested. The arrangements and production and Carafice's unique voice result in songs that are dramatic in their content and delivery. This stands out as a great NZ album. (Check the clip on the video page, or take a listen to a live session recorded for National Radio - stream)

So that's it for another year. These are the third Alternatuis and each year we discuss the need to up the ante and the profile of the awards. This year the launch of Waiheke Radio got in the way out for next year when big things will happen -maybe.

Download the Counting The Beat - 2008 Alternatuis podcast

2007 Alternatuis

2006 Alternatuis



City of Sails, the Queen City, the Big Smoke, latte supping drain on the nation, call it what you will but everyone in the country has some kind of opinion on Auckland. And some of our musicians have expressed this in song, ranging from odes to the city's suburbs to ferocious attacks on the city's decay with the odd bit of strangeness in between. Here's a very localised version of one of my favourite Counting the Beat topics - a Place Name Special.

Matthew Bannister is, of course, best known for his time in Sneaky Feelings, the Beatles influences odd one out of the early Flying Nun scene ( I highly recommend his book on this period, Positively George Street ). He went on to form Dribbling Darts of Love, he's dabbled with a solo career and now he's released an album with his band The Weather. His songs have always had a melancholic touch and this album continues in that vein. It's full of songs about suburban life including odes to the area that was his home during much of the writing of the album, 'Aroha Ave' in the suburb of 'Sandringham'.

Ska/punk band The Poisoners tackle a couple of big Auckland issues on their debut self-titled album, including the gentrification of 'Grey Lynn' and hold-ups of suburban shopping centres in 'Pt Chev Shops'. Their album is available through Amplifier.

Ponsonby wasn't always the well-heeled, wealthy area that it is now. In days gone by the gentrified villas of today were rental accomodation for low income earners, students and musicians. Years before they went to Australia and hit the big time with songs like 'April Sun in Cuba' and 'Rain' Dragon lived together in a Ponsonby house and they wrote about their time there in 'Rock'n'Roll Ponsonby'.

Just about every suburb of Auckland is name-checked in 'Auckland' a great satirical look at the city by The Moth, the name adopted by Tim Mahon for his 2003 album Music From A Lightbulb. Tim was once the bass-player in Blam Blam Blam. He has also played in The Plague, The Whizz Kids and Avant Garage. For the album Tim pulled in a bunch of musical colleagues form all of his past outfits to create something that didn't sound any the bands he had been in before. Music From A Lightbulb is a bit of an oddball album - it's big bold and satirical, a little bit left of centre, (a bit) jazzy and avant garde - it will probably appeal to fans of Six Volts and The Labcoats.

The Moth poke fun at Auckland, but others just plain don't like the place. Honourable mention needs to go to Alpha Plan who put a picture of the SkyTower on their 1997 album City of Bastards. But first to express distaste were The Androidss whose ' Auckland Tonight' has he chorus "I don't wanna be in Auckland tonight". The song can be found on the compilation Bigger Than Both Of Us and the video is a must-see, a night-time journey around central Auckland in 1981. You can see it on the video page.

Die! Die! Die! made the move from Dunedin to Auckland, but maybe they didn't like what they found when they got there. 'Auckland is Burning' is from the bands 2005 self titled E.P. and it's a fitting and ferocious way to close. There is a free download of a march 2008 concert from the band at Have You Heard, which includes another Auckland song, 'Britomart Sunset'.

Download the Counting The Beat - Auckland podcast


Free and Legal

You know, not all music downloading is stealing - and Radiohead aren't the only band to give away music for free.

Daytrotter is a fantastic American site based in Illinois site that records and posts sessions by upcoming and indie bands - their mission is to post "exclusive, re-worked, alternate versions of old songs and unreleased tracks by some of your favorite bands and by a lot of your next favorite bands". Earlier this year The Brunettes stopped by for a session and just recently The Ruby Suns recorded three songs including reworkings of early tracks and 'Kenya Dig It?' from the newalbum Sea Lion. The session also gives the opportunity to hear what the Ruby Suns sound like now that they are down to a two piece live unit. (Their is a video for the original song on the video page along with some great live clips recorded on the streets of Paris.)

Jet Jaguar is just one of the many electronic musical projects of Michael Upton from Wellington. On his site he has tracks available from Jet Jaguar, Malty Media, Montano, and Monkey Shuffle. Especially nice are four Jet Jaguar remixes of the Phoenix Foundation.

The Enright House have become a bit of a Counting the Beat favourite of late and they have just released two free online albums, one of remixes and collaborations, and the other - my current favourite of the two - a collection of acoustic versions of previously released songs. The best songs of The Enright House have a feeling of epic grandeur that is retained in both of these new releases despite the different treatments of the songs. The Enright House are associated with A Low Hum, a label with a track record of releaseing fine alternative and underground music from NZ, much of it for free. Check out their site for free downloadable EPs from Secret Knives, Mount Pleasant, and Red Steers. There are two The Enright House clips on the video page and also check out their National Radio live session (stream).

Download the Counting The Beat - Free and Legal podcast