Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Friday Music: Some Year

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  • Ken Double,

    Lorde is indeed a piece of work. On her Reddit the other day she said "I can sit down with basically the most intimidating people in the industry and not flinch." Peter Jackson has cojones like that. It's as important as her obvious talent.

    That said, on a personal level I admire Pure Heroine more than love it. I like her intelligence and love the way her hooks rise up unexpectedly, but until she's got drunk, got laid and fucked up like the rest of us she's not really talking to the likes of me. Not in the way that, say, Robyn does. It's why I can't get with her cover of "Swinging Party", one of my favourite songs by my favourite band. I look forward to her maturity though.

    I love a list, but there's too many of them, so I'd just urge the sympathetic to go out and buy two records from a genre no one ever talks about - modern country music. They would be Kacey Musgraves' "Same Trailer, Different Park" and Ashley Monroe's "Like a Rose". Clever, literate women with (particularly in Monroe's case) fantastic voices. After all the moody, ethereal, atmospheric crap ProTools inflicts on the world, the clarity and emotional detail is utterly refreshing.

    Thanks for all the musical heads ups Russell. Really looking forward to hearing the Trick Mammoth album - I first found them when you posted the demos here a while back.

    Wellington • Since Dec 2012 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    LOL autotuned reggae to the tune of Royals!

    My 4 year old picks Triangles and the Talking Heads remix as his favourites in a very eerie prediction of my own likes and dislikes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10655 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    I like her intelligence and love the way her hooks rise up unexpectedly, but until she's got drunk, got laid and fucked up like the rest of us she's not really talking to the likes of me. Not in the way that, say, Robyn does.

    Chur, bro.

    *ahem*

    I miss that - when people would talk about how awesome Robyn-the-Swedish-pop-artist was and I'd pretend they were talking about me.

    Anyway, this year I listened a lot to Yeezus by Kanye Kardashian-West. A lot of people h8 it - and the production is something of an acquired taste - but it's full of good songs with clever lyrics, though I had to top listening to it for a while because it is a very dark album.

    I went to Napier last week and on the bus there and back I listened to Bangerz by Miley Cyrus. It's good! Don't worry, guys - in a record you can't hear twerking or tongue poking or sledgehammer licking so she can't hurt you. The album is full of bright, contemporary pop - just the sort of thing I'd expect from a 21-year-old. "F.U." is a stand-out track, which The Corner accurately described as having a "Jim Steinman-goes-dubstep showtunes vibe". Quality.

    Also, Beyonce's album BEYONCE is good. It remains to be seen whether her surprise-album-and-videos trick will actually be the industry game-changer some are predicting. I mean, you pretty much have to be Beyonce for that to actually work - though the surprise album (sans videos) was a 2013 thing.

    It's a very sexy album, but it doesn't go as far as, say, Madonna's Erotica, which managed to alienate audiences by being too sexy. Beyonce balances it out with some sweet songs, including a pretty good ode to her daughter.

    Here's an excerpt from "***Flawless", one of the fiercest songs from the album. This is the song that also has a spoken-word definition of feminism. And that's a good thing to end the year on,

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Ken Double, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    Chur, bro.

    Pleasure. Loved what you did on "Call Your Girlfriend"!

    Wellington • Since Dec 2012 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    Anyway, this year I listened a lot to Yeezus by Kanye Kardashian-West. A lot of people h8 it - and the production is something of an acquired taste - but it's full of good songs with clever lyrics, though I had to top listening to it for a while because it is a very dark album.

    I <3 this, and your Miley Web. My 18 year old has been hammering the new Drake album Nothing Was the Same at me for weeks telling me how brilliant it is and damnit his Fu is working and I'm starting to like it. Some lovely bits on it, especially the drifts and transitions, really top work but I have needed a push. Here he is with Sampha doing Too Much for a starter;

    And if that ain't your bag, how about Charles Bradley bringing the soul to Black Sabbath?

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 949 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    The Talking Head's remix was sounding a bit Thicke, but after I ran my lappy through my office stereo, I no longer hear this. Phew!

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Mike O'Connell,

    A bit off topic but musical all the same, for those in and around Chch tonight, at a loose end and sick of Christmas/End-of year parties, why not check out the legendary Terminals playing the Darkroom tonight,

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 385 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Yikes. I kept feeling I'd left something out of my faves list and eventually realised I'd missed Ladi6's Automatic. Fixed now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22843 posts Report Reply

  • Mike O'Connell, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And from that very album, here’s Ikarus:

    ...and Shine On (with a spaceship that made me think of the Blake’s Seven Liberator)

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 385 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP,

    Seeing Broods sure gave me an appetite for more. :-)

    Another I'd add to the year is Ophelia, also from The Audience camp. Think you covered them earlier on?

    Their EP Face The Sea is on Bandcamp, and I very much like the break out track Not So Frightening, which has gotten some airplay on Kiwi and bFM.

    Video went up 11 December.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2450 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    Music, gee, what to say…

    I don’t see how anyone who is interested in music could not find the whole phenomenon compelling. It’s a record that has shifted the axis of pop music.

    That’s quite an interesting call, mammoth…and interesting. It’s undeniable that No 1 in ten territories (including the Euro digital Billboard chart) is absolutely massive, no question about it, both in terms of pop music and western pop culture.

    As for anyone who may be in interested in music, well that’s a fair swag of ear, most in locations where this hasn’t made a dent. And I’m guessing by ‘interested’ in music we’re referring more to native language listeners who would use ‘authentic’ as a synonym for something akin to ‘genuine’ as opposed to those who would hear authentic as a dominant harmony followed by a tonic.

    Personally I was drawn into this phenomena by a quote in week 3 (I think) of the Publicaddress Lorde campaign:

    Lorde has given an interview to the Huffington Post and in the process given the impression that, at 16, she’s more lucid, thoughtful and centred than most adults I know. If she does go on to have a significant international career, it will be these qualities as much as her musical and writing talents that get her there.

    And I figured that an interviewee whose copy was as compelling as her music must be one hell of a read, but it never struck me as that centred:

    We go to house parties because we’re too young for the club, and we drink terrible vodka which tastes like dust because it’s cheap

    and later:

    I can’t touch alcohol at my age and I’m not sure I even want to when I’m older.

    It simply stopped computing altogether, dead in its tracks.

    No great loss as I only usually ever listen to the music anyway and the music is quite excellent pop music, my appraisal would be similar to Ken Double’s, but there’s always been one thing that I’ve been a little unsettled by and there’s an example of it in your post:

    It was the song, the connection with Lorde’s producer and collaborator Joel Little

    My go to descriptor of Joel Little is; cowriter of US number 1 Royals and US number 1 album Pure Heroine. It’s a case of the centuries old pop phenomenon, where the celebrity is built on the shoulders of others, Elvis or Michael Jackson being recent touchstones. And the last decade has seen a strong revival of this, The solo artist via team, filling the charts with commercials for their moniker, as opposed to the band of musicians where the audience knows the name of more than just the front person. In this sense, from the get go Lorde has reminded me of something akin to the Eurythmics, had they whittled it down to Eurythmic – David Stewart off the tour. A Showbiz approach.

    I think the most entertaining thing I got served this year was a small helping of cultural nationalism:

    It’s fine to celebrate a creative young Kiwi. It’s OK to sell music to Americans as part of getting it to more people’s ears."

    A statement that I find impossible to refute, though it largely overlooked the context; a critique of the American vernacular and accent being used to sell music to the world.

    James Robinson expressed what I was attempting to get at far more eloquently in his guest blog ’here:

    Lorde’s entry into the pop-cultural spectrum in America has been epic. But in Royals, I only hear the sound of the first New Zealander to figure out how to sound seamlessly international. Its greatest asset is not sounding like it came from anywhere that isn’t America.

    I too hear too little of home (which is what I want to hear, listening from afar) in the music, though ultimately that is by the by. The Rolling Stones have fairly well killed with this approach, which is why the nationalism stuck out, kiwi or not. This defensiveess in part could explain what appears to be something of an overcompensation in terms of the hyperbole exhibited in your paragraph Russell.

    We’ve seen some comparisons made on this site, Kate Bush and Bjork as I recall, neither really stick for me. Which is largely a testament to my perception of Lorde’s originality and which to me would be a key requisite to the hits. On first listen the voice reminded me a little of Macy Gray (which quickly passed) while the minimalism echoed Gorrilaz and more recently James Blake via hiphop, these well crafted and produced songs with great lyrics together with a fresh stage presence are really something.

    And to me that something is enough. Golden. I don’t see that any axis has tilted just yet, Kei$sha and Pitbull are hot on the heels of Eminem and Rihanna for the US No 1, so time will tell. And shifting the axis of pop music sounds like a heck of a burden for one (or two people) to bear.

    But yeah, this music blog is compelling! I enjoy it.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to mark taslov,

    I don’t see how anyone who is interested in music could not find the whole phenomenon compelling. It’s a record that has shifted the axis of pop music.

    That’s quite an interesting call, mammoth…and interesting. It’s undeniable that No 1 in ten territories (including the Euro digital Billboard chart) is absolutely massive, no question about it, both in terms of pop music and western pop culture.

    It's true. Almost everything else that 'Royals' jostled with at the top of the charts is a product of songwriting factories -- especially the one run by Dr Luke. That's not new for pop, but it's highly notable that a weird, sparse song like that, with a meaning people argue over, could hold out all else for two and a half months. And that it should be recorded in a little studio in a light commercial suburb in Auckland, by an almost unknown producer and a precocious, hip 16 year-old book nerd. It has changed the idea of what can succeed. Read the teenage girls' tweets about her - she's shifted ideals of beauty in pop culture. It is quite a thing to carry.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22843 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Read the teenage girls’ tweets

    That doesn’t sound like something I’d be too keen on truth be told ;) But dealing specifically with just music if possible, the big game changer there as I recall was Beck’s Loser in 1993, written and recorded by Beck and producer Carl Stephenson while he was visiting Stephenson’s home, reaching No 1 in U.S. Billboard Hot Modern Rock and 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Obviously that’s by no means as massive as 2 and 1/2 months holding out all else, but I’m pretty sure you could pick that song out of a line up.

    But that was a different era, as you say, almost everything else that ‘Royals’ jostled with at the top of the charts is a product of songwriting factories. The issue though is that it wasn’t jostling with Gotye and New Zealander Kimbra’s sparse hit ‘Somebody that I used to know’ which did the rounds a while before finally settling at number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks in early 2012, also reaching that position in 27 other territories, it won 2 grammys (Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year) and was recorded in a barn

    If axes do indeed shift, then this was it.

    And we know someone who’s gonna love that I posted that ;)

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to mark taslov,

    Its greatest asset is not sounding like it came from anywhere that isn’t America.

    This part really struck home to me. The first time I hear NZ music it's usually on the radio and it's immediately clear to me that it's NZ music - there's just something about the sound. Whereas the first-time I heard Lorde I thought I was listening to an American; an interesting American albeit. But I'm not knocking this - I don't think there's anything wrong with it, there's a reason why this is the typical western sound and I guess it's because it's what people like.

    Again I like Lorde but I just can't believe she's this massive game-changing phenomenon. To me it just doesn't seem anything like when say Nirvana first appeared where a whole musical paradigm was thrown out almost overnight.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to bmk,

    This part really struck home to me. The first time I hear NZ music it’s usually on the radio and it’s immediately clear to me that it’s NZ music – there’s just something about the sound.

    Which I really don’t hear – seriously, not trolling for a fight but just because New Zealand music is full of the “tyranny of distance” that doesn’t mean its ever existed in total isolation from the rest of the world. Don’t take my word for it, read Chris Burke’s magisterial Blue Smoke if you haven’t already. I think Lorde can simultaneously get wrapped up in both forms of cultural cringe, classic and inverted, and that’s not particularly useful.

    But anyway, apologies to Lorde and Miley, but my album of the year is still Janelle Monae’s wonderful The Electric Lady. I can’t pay it much higher praise than say it’s still giving me the kind of fairground kick I used to get when Prince was dropping one amazing album after another in his 80’s prime.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to bmk,

    Again I like Lorde but I just can’t believe she’s this massive game-changing phenomenon.

    On reflection, I amended it to "slightly shifted the axis of pop music" to better reflect what I was saying. It's not a revolution, it's not the Beatles, but it is one of those records that recalibrates things a but.

    To me it just doesn’t seem anything like when say Nirvana first appeared where a whole musical paradigm was thrown out almost overnight.

    Interestingly, Ann Powers of NPR drew just that comparison earlier this month:

    Finally, there's the hit itself: a no that blossoms into a yes. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was an emerging generation's frustrated battle cry, and like "Royals," it decried the pop industry of which it became a part. Hitting hard, "Teen Spirit" revitalized the idea of what rock could be. Sneaking in, "Royals" suggests that pop can have deeper layers. Nirvana lobbed a Molotov into the charts. Lorde released a virus. Each weapon suited its time.

    Powers' essay is well worth reading, even if you don't buy it all.

    The comments get a bit bizarre. There's a lot of "but what about Eddie Vedder?" I never cared a jot for Pearl Jam. If the paradigm shifted, it really didn't shift far in their case.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22843 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to mark taslov,

    But dealing specifically with just music if possible,

    But pop's never been about "just the music". Part of what's interesting about Lorde is that she's no part of the Disney-trained world of Britney Spears and Selena Gomez. She looks different and she sounds different when she opens her mouth. When teenage girls respond to those things, it makes a difference.

    the big game changer there as I recall was Beck’s Loser in 1993, written and recorded by Beck and producer Carl Stephenson while he was visiting Stephenson’s home, reaching No 1 in U.S. Billboard Hot Modern Rock and 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Obviously that’s by no means as massive as 2 and 1/2 months holding out all else, but I’m pretty sure you could pick that song out of a line up.

    That would be a fair call. But I would strongly contend you'd pick 'Royals' out of any lineup too. It still seems hard to believe that it has done what it did without having its spaces filled in, its tempo raised or its chorus embiggened to industry standard. It's a very, very different pop record.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22843 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22843 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to Russell Brown,

    On reflection, I amended it to "slightly shifted the axis of pop music" to better reflect what I was saying. It's not a revolution, it's not the Beatles, but it is one of those records that recalibrates things a but.

    Yep, that sounds about right to me.

    And that article is a very interesting read, I think it's overstating the impact of Lorde a little but can see the point.

    The comments get a bit bizarre. There's a lot of "but what about Eddie Vedder?" I never cared a jot for Pearl Jam. If the paradigm shifted, it really didn't shift far in their case.

    Totally agree! I think that had there been no Nirvana, Pearl Jam would be nothing more than a minor foot-note (which I could think you could argue is all they are anyway). Had there been no Pearl Jam, Nirvana would be every bit as famous and influential.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • bmk, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But pop's never been about "just the music". Part of what's interesting about Lorde is that she's no part of the Disney-trained world of Britney Spears and Selena Gomez. She looks different and she sounds different when she opens her mouth. When teenage girls respond to those things, it makes a difference.

    And this is important too. There is the potential there to change pop-culture, whether this will happen or not remains to be seen. Tying it back into Nirvana, they changed not just music but fashion, hairstyles the very teen culture of the time, in the same way as punk did before it and so on.

    It seems every 15 - 20 years there is a significant culture change (with of course smaller shifts constantly occurring within shorter periods). If Lorde replaces the current bubblegum, sickly sweet teen culture with a darker, gothier version it will certainly make things more interesting.

    Since Jun 2010 • 327 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    ...read Chris Burke’s magisterial Blue Smoke

    Chris Bourke is even more authoritative !

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7948 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    Craig I listened to the Janelle Monae album for the first time properly in the car last night. That woman has so many ideas I don't know how they all fit in one person. She is amazing.

    Read the teenage girls’ tweets

    That doesn’t sound like something I’d be too keen on truth be told ;)

    "The men don't know, but the little girls understand."

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to mark taslov,

    symbiotic synergies ...

    ...from the get go Lorde has reminded me of something akin to the Eurythmics

    Yeah, or sort of like an askew Elton John/Bernie Taupin partnership
    - Ella does the words and vocals and Joel Little does the music,
    but is Lorde, Ella's 'brand' or is it a dual entity?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7948 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    “F.U.” is a stand-out track, which The Corner accurately described as having a “Jim Steinman-goes-dubstep showtunes vibe”. Quality.

    I really wish I liked that more, because it has many Elements of Awesomeness. I just wound up too exhausted by how hard it's trying. :)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov, in reply to Russell Brown,

    That would be a fair call. But I would strongly contend you’d pick ‘Royals’ out of any lineup too.

    Certainly, no question about it.

    But pop’s never been about “just the music…She looks different and she sounds different when she opens her mouth. When teenage girls respond to those things, it makes a difference.

    I’d always figured Adele might inspire a similar response amongst white teens, as I said;

    is absolutely massive, no question about it, both in terms of pop music and western pop culture.

    So I’m quite happy with the amendment you made there Russell.

    With regards to Nirvana, and particularly this lyrical focus;

    “Teen Spirit” revitalized the idea of what rock could be. Sneaking in, “Royals” suggests that pop can have deeper layers. Nirvana lobbed a Molotov into the charts. Lorde released a virus

    I’m strongly inclined to agree. Virus is the word. Personally I’m missing something in the detail, in the sense that when Nirvana broke with that track it didn’t sound like remotely like anything else that had climbed that high in the charts, at least for a long long time. There was an audible shift, and it influenced a world of music, Beijing had a massive punk scene when I first arrived there.

    That the bulk of Royal’s subversion is specifically lyrical means that to the majority of the world who don’t speak English, especially in developing countries, it doesn’t sound that much different to music already being made and so this subversion will take a lot longer to make its impact. For native English speakers and countries with a long association with the language and culture I guess that’s an easy thing to overlook. It’s Dylanesque. but there’s no moonwalk.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

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