Friday, July 31, 2009

Final Conchordance

For the final entry of New Zealand music month, I'm choosing an artist from the 2000s, and was wavering between two choices, either Flight of the Conchords (of HBO fame) or Wing (of South Park fame).

I still don't understand the whole "Wing" phenomenon (just like I don't get William Hung or Susan Boyle) so I'm going with the Conchords. I was an early adapter with these guys (check my archives), jumping aboard after their HBO concert in late 2006, almost a year before the series launched. I enjoyed the interplay between Bret and Jemaine, but was mostly impressed by the quality and variety of the songs.

Here's "Jenny", the first song in their HBO special that hasn't been released on an album or reprised for the series (yet). And it's only been viewed 7 million times on youtube (7,131,817 times actually), so it might even qualify as "obscure" by FOTC standards.

Flight of The Conchords have a new album called I Told You I Was Freaky coming out in October, featuring songs from the second season of the show. There's still a backlong of FOTC songs without proper studio versions, so hopefully they'll crank out some more songs now that the show is on the back burner (or off the stove).


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jesus I Was Evil

One day before the final entry in NZ Music Month, here's Darcy Clay with the 1990s entry "Jesus I Was Evil".

This video was posted to my Facebook earlier this month as a possible entry, but back then (two weeks ago) I wasn't familiar with Darcy Clay. His story was an interesting one, outlined in the wiki page above as well as the comments to this video. His entire output consisted of one 6 song EP recorded all by himself on 4-track, and a live CDR recorded when he opened for Blur in Auckland. A few months after releasing the EP, he committed suicide, two weeks before he was scheduled to perform at an anti-suicide fund-raiser. Oh irony!

A few years later, "Jesus I Was Evil" was ranked #15 on the top New Zealand songs of all time, just above the Chills' "Pink Frost". If Darcy had hung around, I'm sure Darcy Clay could have been the next Beck, at least the next Chris Knox (who wrote a song about Darcy after his suicide).

Anyway, Darcy Clay's one EP Jesus I Was Evil) came out on a small label (Antenna Records) and was released only in New Zealand, so it's pretty hard to find. I can't even find it on sites where illegal mp3s are trafficked. "Can anyone hook a brotha up, Yo?" as the kids would say.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Now for my 80s installment of "top New Zealand songs I didn't know before", here's "Victoria" by the Dance Exponents (#8 all-time on the APRA list).

Any song that shares a title (and a chorus) with a Kinks song is guaranteed to at least be listenable.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

All Th'Young Dudes

And now, the 70's.

One of the first questions I had when I saw the APRA list of top New Zealand songs of all time was "Who the hell is Dave Dobbyn?". Dobbyn has ten songs on the list, more than Neil or Tim Finn, and I'd probably heard his name before, but had no idea what he sounded like.

After going through youtube, Dobbyn sounds like New Zealand's answer to Bob Seger, a living legend in his own country, but completely unknown outside it. According to wikipedia, Dave Dobbyn was Neil Finn's contemporary at Sacred Heart College in Auckland, but he was closer musically to Craig Finn.

Dobbyn's first band Th'Dudes (lame name alert!) sound like the Hold Steady would have sounded if they'd started 25 years earlier and been more Anglophilic than Amerophilic (substituting Springsteen for Ian Hunter and Graham Parker). Their first single "Be Mine Tonight" sounds like an imaginary Hunter/Parker collaboration.

Curly hair and shades never go out of style. After Th'Dudes, Dobbyn formed DD Smash with former members of legendary unknown NZ bands Lip Service and Blue Sailor, worked with Grant McLennan and both Finn brothers, and made a bunch of solo albums that have turned him into a New Zealand "national treasure", like a cold can of Lion Red at a barbecue. Solid everywhere like a rock.

Beatniks and politics

Will Shatner recites Sarah Palin's farewell speech as beat poetry.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Everyone's Gonna Wonder

Everyone probably isn't gonna wonder how I'm going to finish this month of NZ music, but I've decided how to do it. One NZ song for each decade from the 1960's thru the 2000's, Monday thru Friday, starting today with the 60's.

Here are the Avengers (60's NZ band, not to be confused with the SF punk band or the TV show or the comic) with their 1967 debut single "Everyone's Gonna Wonder".

I learned about this song when it was covered by David Kilgour and Martin Phillips on the Pop Art Toasters EP in the mid 90's. I was such a died in the wool Kiwi completist back then that I would have payed import prices for an EP of "Yodeling Favourites By David Kilgour and Martin Phillips", but the idea of them covering obscure 60s covers is even better. Dave & Martin also covered songs by another NZ band called the Dovers, US bands like the Squires the West Coast Pop Experimental Band, and some obscure British band called "The Who", but the pick of the batch is "Everyone's Gonna Wonder". That song is like two and a half minutes of everything I love about music!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Don't Frighten the Cowbell

One final Mutton Birds track before we go. Here's their cover of "Don't Fear The Reaper" from the 1996 movie The Frighteners (directed by a pre-LOTR Peter Jackson, featuring a pre-Parkinsons Michael J. Fox).

Anchor Me

Wrapping up Mutton Birds week with this NZ star-studded cover of "Anchor Me" recorded to benefit Greenpeace on the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

I'm not sure if I'm more impressed that they'd mark the anniversary by recording a Greenpeace tribute, or that they'd do so by recording a Mutton Birds song. The performance itself is a pale imitation of the MBs original, but the intent is so noble that it makes me want to donate to Greenpeace, which I guess was its purpose.

Five more days of New Zealand music month, but after a week of Finns a week of Flying Nuns and a week of Mutton Birds, I'm fresh out of themes. Trying to find five random NZ songs that are neither Finn nor fowl.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Come Around

Another gem from Envy Of Angels, by the Mutton Birds' "other songwriter" Alan Gregg (with a lyrical nod to Urge Overkill).

Alan Gregg split from the Mutton Birds after Envy Of Angels and made a great solo album under the name Marshmallow, with help from notables like Ron Sexsmith and Bic Runga. Here's their video for "Casting Couch".

Alan also plays (or played?) in the London alt-country band The Desert Downtown, who aren't from New Zealand so I won't talk about them.

Friday, July 24, 2009

She's Been Talking

Another Mutton Birds live track, of a song from their third album Envy Of Angels -- one of the greatest records of its decade.

After this Envy of Angels came out, someone sent me a cassette copy with a note that the band sounded kind of "Crowded Housey" and my kind of thing. I listened to it a couple of times while driving, and by the third listen I was hooked enough to drop 20 bucks on an import copy of the CD. Might be the best 20 bucks I've ever spent!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In My Room

More Mutton Birds, performing "In My Room", a song from their second album Salty (not a Beach Boys cover) on NZ TV in 1994.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dominion Road is bending

The first song from the first Mutton Birds album.

A great song (the 23rd best NZ song of all time, per the APRA, but I'd be hard pressed to find 22 better ones) and great video. There's also a UK version filmed much later, where the band look different.

Dominion Road is an actual road in Auckland, apparently with a halfway house halfway down it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Lounge Bar

Before Flight of the Conchords, there was The Front Lawn.

The Front Lawn was Don McGlashan's theatrical music/comedy duo with filmmaker Harry Sinclair. They were together during the late 80s and early 90s (between Blam Blam Blam and the Mutton Birds) and made three short films and two albums (imaginatively titled Songs From The Front Lawn and More Songs From The Front Lawn).

One of their songs ("Andy") is #83 in the APRA's all time top 100 New Zealand songs. Here's a recent performance of "Andy" by Don McGlashan and Neil Finn.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Week of the Mutton Birds

This third week of NZ music month is dedicated to the Mutton Birds, a band named after this southern seabird.

The Mutton Birds were a great band who were acclaimed and respected in Australia and New Zealand (two songs in the APRA top 100), but mostly unknown above the equator. They only released four albums in the ten years they were together (1990-2000), but leader Don McGlashan and other Mutton Birds have kept making great albums into the 2000.

Don McGlashan actually had an interesting career even before the Mutton Birds. He started with the band Blam Blam Blam, who also merited two songs in the APRA Top 100, both from 1981: "Don't Fight It Marsha.." (which McGlashan later revived with the Mutton Birds) and this alternative anthem "There Is No Depression In New Zealand".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Block of Wood

The final installment of Flying Nun week is the Bats, with "Block of Wood", from their debut album Daddy's Highway.

The Bats were led by Robert Scott, who played bass for the Clean, who were the first installment in Flying Nun week. They've been together since the Clean broke up for the first time (more than 25 years ago), and have made seven albums, the most recent being The Guilty Office (which came out last year in NZ, and last month in the USA).

The Bats' output has remained consistent and solid throughout their career, so their most recent album sounds just as good as their first one. They've also kept the same lineup for the last two and a half decades, despite going dormant for years at a time. A lot like Robert Scott's other band, who also have an album out this year.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

She Speeds

Just two more "second wave" FN bands before closing out Flying Nun week. Here are Straitjacket Fits, with "She Speeds" from their brilliantly-titled ep Life In One Chord.

The first time I heard this song on Live 105 in the late 80s, I thought it sounded like music from the future, and I wasn't that far off. It features that same wall of guitars that was later exploited utilized by bands like Ride and the Stone Roses and My Bloody Valentine, matched with something that sounded vaguely like Radiohead before Radiohead was. In other words, music from the future, circa 1988.

After this, Straitjacket Fits signed to Arista (when every major label had to have their own "New Zealand band") and made a couple of albums (Melt and Blow) that used to be easy to find in used bins, and worth finding.

I assumed they were largely forgotten, but the APRA selected "She Speeds" as the 9th best NZ song ever in a 2001 poll, so Straitjacket Fits are still remembered fondly in their home country. Twenty years on, their stuff sometimes sounds very much "of its time", but sometimes it still sounds like music from the future.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Husband House

Sneaky Feelings were the third notable Flying Nun band who got their start via the Dunedin Double EP (along with the Chills and the Verlaines). Sneaky Feelings were more deeply rooted than those other bands, taking their name from an Elvis Costello song, and sounding like a misplaced Northern soul band in the Southernmost city on Earth. That sound was ill-suited to Flying Nun's lo-fi aesthetic, which may have prevented them from breaking out of NZ, which was a pity because they may have been the most talented band on the label.

I'd never heard of Sneaky Feelings until the early 2000s when Flying Nun put out a compilation of their material to accompany Matthew Bannister's book Positively George Street. I picked up the album because people (mainly just one person) had recommended Sneaky Feelings to me, and was astounded at how good they were -- classic pop with hooks and chops. Their biggest NZ hit was "Husband House", which isn't one of my Sneaky faves, but it's the only video they have on youtube.

Sneaky Feelings played a one-off reunion a few years ago for the Dunedin Heritage Festival and one fan flew all the way from California to see them. Definitely further than I've ever traveled to see a band.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Death and the Maiden

The Verlaines were another acclaimed Flying Nun band from Dunedin. Here's the video for their first single "Death & the Maiden".

The Verlaines took their name from poet Paul (not the former Thomas Miller), which when added Graeme Downes classical training and penchant for writing songs with deep musical and artistic allusions caused them to be tagged as "pretentious", which was a bad thing to be in the postpunk era.

While they were cutting this single in Auckland, the Verlaines opened a concert for the Fall which was recorded by Flying Nun for the NZ-only live album Fall In A Hole. When Mark E. Smith spotted a copy in a London record shop a few months later (for an exhorbitant price), he made an angry phone call to Chris Knox for releasing the album for import without telling him. Flying Nun had to reimburse Mark E. for all sales of the album, which caused them to go into financial duress and prevented them from promoting homegrown bands like the Verlaines.

Fortunately, the Verlaines went on to sign to a major label and have a long and fruitful career, interrupted by breaking up every decade or so. They even have a new album called Corporate Moronic coming out sometime before the end of this decade.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pink Frost

The Chills were probably the most notable Flying Nun band, especially in these United States. Their first few singles (from the Dunedin Double ep) showed them to be on the verge of greatness, and the fourth one "Pink Frost" went from greatness to transcendence - one of those great songs that seemingly fell from the sky!

The Chills went through a myriad of lineup changes during their early years; the liner notes for Kaleidoscope World showed a different lineup for every one of their early singles with Martin Phillips being the only constant. This bandmember flux has continued through the life of the band.

Over the years, I've been lucky to see the Chills live a handful of times (actually six times between 1988 and 1996, which is probably more times than you've seen them unless you live in NZ), and they've all been some of the best shows I've ever seen. I've seen them opening for lesser bands in 1988 and 1988, selling out the I-Beam and Berkeley Square during the Submarine Bells tour at the top of their reign, and playing for about 60 people on the Sunburnt tour. Hopefully I'll be able to see them again in this new millennium.

Next: How Mark E. Smith ended up steering Flying Nun to bankruptcy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nothing's Going To Happen

Roger Shepherd was the founder of Flying Nun, but the forefather of the "Flying Nun Sound" was Chris Knox. Knox's 4-track was the source for most of the label's early releases, including Knox's own songs with the Tall Dwarfs. Here's "Nothing's Going To Happen" from 1981.

I always want to write that title as "Nothing's Gonna Happen", because it reminds me of another homemade 1981 single from the other side of the world.

The Tall Dwarfs were lo-fi pioneers that paved the way for GBV and the Mountain Goats and many others, and transferred that outlook to the entire Flying Nun label. Chris Knox became an antipodean Alan Lomax, capturing local NZ bands on his portable 4-track before they got corrupted by major labels and slick studios, and Flying Nun released a much this early material on the Dunedin Double EP, which included the three bands that I'm going to profile in the next three days.

Chris Knox went on to release a bunch of material, both solo and with the Tall Dwarfs, becoming the poster boy for the DIY aesthetic. I remember two shows where I saw him play in SF - once at the Kennel Club in the early 90s where he did an amazing set with a cheap Casio and a guitar borrowed from Barbara Manning and wore shorts and flip-flops in the middle of February, and another one at the Bottom of the Hill in the early 2000s where he brought a friend of mine to play guitar with him for the encore.

Another friend of mine wrote a song about the joy of finding a Chris Knox CD in the discount bin of a used record store. Chris Knox recently suffered a stroke, so his performing and recording days are probably over, but he's fortunate enough to live in a country with universal healthcare, and even more fortunate that he had a song in a beer commercial last year that should keep him well compensated.

I just hope Chris Knox can spend the rest of his days knowing how many lives he touched over the years. The roster for the upcoming Chris Knox benefit album reads like a who's who of indie rock, but most of these artists probably wouldn't be where they were if Chris hadn't paved the way.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tally Ho

The most famous brothers in NZ pop (After Neil and Tim Finn) are David and Hamish Kilgour of The Clean.

Their first single "Tally Ho" put both a town (Dunedin) and a record label (Flying Nun) on the rock and roll map in the early 80s.

As well as the Kilgour brothers, this song features guitarist Peter Gutteridge, bassist Robert Scott, and two-fingered keyboard by Martin Phillips -- guys who later went on to bigger things with their own bands. It was a top 20 single in NZ (not a top 20 "indie" single, a Top 20 Single: "Here's Split Enz, here's Duran Duran, and here's the Clean!") and ground zero for the New Zealand's indie scene.

Following "Tally Ho", The Clean made another single and an EP for Flying Nun, but then split up for the rest of the decade. They reformed in 1990 for the Vehicle album, split up and reformed again in the mid 90s for the albums Modern Rock and Unknown Country, then again in 2001 for the Getaway album (which wasn't that great, but allowed them to tour the U.S. as a headliner and opener for YLT).

Now, following another eight year absence, the Clean have a new upcoming album called Mister Pop coming out in September on Merge. That's four albums in twenty years -- slow down guys!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Flying Nun week

This week of my NZ music month is dedicated to the music of Flying Nun Records, the legendary NZ label formed by Roger Shepherd in 1981 (and yes he did name the label after the TV show!). The best history I've seen of the label is the "Heavenly Pop Hits" documentary, which is available in eight minute installments on youtube.

Here's the first installment, but the entire program is worth seeing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I See Red

Closing out Finns week with Eddie Vedder rocking out to the Enz's "I See Red" with Liam Finn's band Betchadupa. I've never been much of a Vedder fan, but Eddie & Betchadupa's performance of this song was one of the highlights of the 7 Worlds Collide CD/DVD.

I also had difficulty getting into Betchadupa (even if they did record for Flying Nun, providing a tenuous link between this week's blog theme and next week's theme), but Liam's solo debut I'll Be Lightning proves that the kiwifruit never falls too far from the tree.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Take the weather with you

A wonderful performance of one of my favorite songs ever.

Crowded House are usually categorized as an "Aussie band", but I think 1991's Woodface sounds like the work of a "Kiwi band", especially with both Finn brothers on board.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fraction Too Much Friction

Tim Finn split from Split Enz in 1983 and released his first solo album, Escapade with studio musicians like drummer Ricky Fataar (aka, Stig O'Hara, the quiet Rutle). Tim's first solo single was the aptly titled "Fraction Too Much Friction", which might have been about his brother and former band.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

One Step Ahead

One of the first videos ever aired on MTV, according to wikipedia.

From the same wikipedia, "the video clip has keyboardist Eddie Rayner performing a moonwalk two years before Michael Jackson made it famous. Eddie performed the move walking slowly forward rather than backwards". So it wasn't a moonwalk!

If only the song had been called "One Step Behind"!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Counting the Beat

After Phil Judd left Split Enz in the late 70s, he made a couple of albums with the Swingers. Their biggest (only?) hit outside of NZ was "Counting The Beat", #4 on the list of greatest Kiwi songs ever and a song that deserves a comeback!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Six Months In A Leaky Boat

It's going to be Finn Brothers week here at Hot Rox. Here's brother Tim performing his biggest hit with the Wiggles (I love the idea of pre-schoolers being turned on to this song!).

The song was originally a hit for Split Enz in 1982, but I also like Ted Leo's cover, which told me how Ted came up with an album called
The Tyranny of Distance.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Got You

Back to NZ month, here are Split Enz, making their U.S. television debut on "Fridays", complete with Col. Sanders bolo ties and a young-looking Neil Finn.

Anyone from the Northern Hemisphere who claims they knew about Split Enz before this song or album (True Colours) is probably lying.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

From the coast of California

to the shores of the Delaware Bay,
a Happy July 4th to everyone.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nature enter me

Kicking off my Kiwi music month with New Zealand's greatest song of all time according to the APRA, "Nature" by the Fourmyula.

The original isn't on youtube, but this 1997 performance by songwriter Wayne Mason and Don McGlashan reproduces it fairly faithfully.

Their version rocks a little harder than the original, and sounds like one of Don's own songs. I didn't even know it was a cover until I checked the writing credits. McGlashan and the Mutton Birds also covered the song in the early 90s. Their version rocks a little harder than the original, and sounds like one of Don's own composition. I didn't even realize it was a cover until I checked the credits.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

En Zed

I've been having trouble coming up with an artist of the month to blog about for July, since I'm running out of career spanning artists to profile. So I've decided to dedicate this month to music from an entire country; the country of New Zealand.

I didn't celebrate New Zealand music month when it rolled around in May, so I'm having my own NZ music month in July. The format will either be four or five albums by different "artists of the week", or a series of different artists in chronological order, starting with the La De Das.

Meanwhile, Happy Canada Day!