Reflecting on people reflecting on things – 2019

Its that time of year again. December-ish and we are all feeling pretty jolly, if not completely exhausted and drunk on the nog. We are celebrating Christian values super-imposed over pagan understanding of harvesting food all while feeling guilty about, well, everything. That’s right everyone, its Christmas time!

We’re intelligent people though as a society we are in the middle of mass consumerism as a culture, a religion or whatever and our synapses are running on empty. As a result, we often turn to critics to help with pressies for the family and friends that we know like music, books, movies or whatever. Our new favourite Christmas tradition is truly end of year lists! To celebrate the tradition of end of year lists, here’s an end of year list about end of year lists.

Best Music

woman standing watching LED light musical instrument

Pitchfork I wank on about music in a wanky kind of way with brief interludes to have a wank and even I find Pitchfork a bit wanky. Their end of year list is much the same. They highlight Big Thief, MIKE and few others I like, but its hard to take this seriously. Soz Pitchfork, but yeah nah.

RNZ – Song Crush Hosted by Kirsten Johnstone and joined by a bunch of other Music 101 stalwarts, this is a really sweet selection of fave tunes. The presenters are so passionate about their song choices and give all kinds of background and choice little details, it really draws you in. International and NZ are split which is helpful too. Some highlights include Michael Kiwanuka and Tiny Ruins.

Rolling Stone RS does the 100 best albums of 2010. Kind of interesting, way too many to get through. Not even that helpful for Christmas presents but way more accessible music than some of these lists. Strong B-

Bandcamp Bandcamp too do 100 albums and that is just from this year so a lot to get through. I’d focus on the top 20 as they are grouped in that way and if you press play at the top, you just get a track from each of the albums which is a nice way to get an idea of what’s going on. Both Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and fave new rapper Billy Woods make an appearance.

The Guardian The Guardian do top 50, top 20 and huge write ups on each. Cool if you already love Sharon Van Etten as I do and want to read a little more about her (or Billie Eilish or other selections), but otherwise a bit much. Maybe calm down a smidge Guardian?

Off the Tracks Simon Sweetman who is NZ’s most controversial music reviewer has a list that encompasses the broadest selection of different kinds of music. A truly eclectic listener, he makes sure Jazz, Rock, Soundtracks and everything in between get a mention. Also, short and sharp write ups. Pretty good all round.

Best Books

books on ground

NZIER Summer reading list for the Prime Minister This is a pretty cool concept of a short list of books that the PM or anyone interested in NZ’s state of play could add to their own summer reading list. Pretty heavy sounding titles though, can’t see myself picking them up.

The New Yorker The New Yorker might still be considered a bastion for High Brow Literature, but this list gives a range of books and quick snappy blurbs making it accessible. Includes the beautifully written On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

The NZ Herald/Canvass

The NZ Herald decided to go with a pay wall in recent times and this list is oddly behind it. You can view online if you are a premium customer and the print edition was very well put together. Not sure why you’d put something like this behind the pay wall though, as this list demonstrates, non-paying readers have so many options to look at similar content for free. Not sure this was the smoothest move NZ Herald, but hey, am stoked all your right wing fuckhead columnists like Mike Hosking are free to the public!

The Listener Another list of 100 which is just so many. The layout is pretty but I thought I might be able to click on a book cover to get more info, but can’t. Nice to see its broken up into Fiction, History etc and with a broad range of authors. Ian McEwan and Marlon James’ new ones unsurprisingly make appearances.

Goodreads This has a peoples choice type element which is a nice touch, but I am not sure I can get behind the idea that book X is the best in each category. I guess one book wins the Man Booker prize (Or not, but it seems odd that we give out firsts in an entirely subjective medium of art. Ah well. Margaret Attwood tops this pool for fiction.

Best Movies

Landry's Happy New Year

Esquire Another list of 50 and I don’t know anyone who has time to see 50 movies before New Years, but hey these won’t go anywhere. Plenty of time to see them in 2020. One of the good and frustrating things about this list as it includes trailers for each entry. Great, I love trailers, but makes the whole list a pain to load. Links please Esquire? Spoiler alert, The Lighthouse takes out #1 spot.  

Wired Similar layout to Esquire, but with a more mainstream feel. A bunch of Marvel entries and no ranking system makes this feel a bit more true to the average schlub like me. Def my pick of movie lists.

Stuff Okay, so Stuff haven’t updated their list since June from what I can see  but I love their film reviewer going in on this animated film. Worst of 2019.

Urban List This is a Netflix specific list which makes sense in this age of streaming. It includes things that have come out in other formats previously as well as new content. The Irishman obviously makes an appearance, but so does Dirty Dancing. Great ideas for the summer Netflix and if you would also like to chill.

Other notable lists

Best of NZ Politics with The Spin Off

Best Art with the New York Times

Media Person of the Year with Newsroom

Best Memes with the Thrillist

Best Longform articles with

Best Quotes with Wealthy Gorilla

Best Podcasts with Time

Ahhh, isn’t that better? Lists for the summer and more! Happy listing whanau. Nga mihi nui.

brown leather case

Chatting with punk band Die! Die! Die! for HUP (Hamilton Underground Press).

This interview originally appears here

Nostalgia is a bastard of a thing. It serves up all this expectation. It colours things often in ways that aren’t as exacting on a revisit.  Finding out I was going to have a chat to Die! Die! Die! guitarist and vocalist, Andrew Wilson about (among other things) the reissue of their acclaimed album Promises, Promises, I’ll admit I was a little nervous. Promises, Promises was the soundtrack to a particular time in my version of Hamilton, my little Nissan Pulsar and several raucous nights on Vic Street back in 2007-08ish. A CD long since lost or given to an ex-girlfriend but remembered with great fondness.  Had my memories changed the facts or vice versa? I needn’t have worried. The album and its vocalist are just as endearing after all this time, which is probably an insult to a punk band, but never meant that way.

Andrew tells me that he still considers Die! Die! Die! just that, a punk band, though they’ve been called all kinds of other things. Labels like noise pop, post punk are always thrust upon the group never created from the inside and aren’t generally that helpful. I wondered about raising a previous interview where the band recounted playing The China Hardcore Music Festival and felt they were being booed for not being ‘Hardcore’ enough. In fairness, that’s not entirely a labelling issue, and our conversation had moved on. What had occurred in China at that time was that Lachlan Anderson left the group leaving Andrew and drummer Mike(y) Prain once again without a bassist.

Times have turned however as Andrew tells me that Lachie is back, and this change seems like Die! Die! Die! to a T. The band has often had a rotating cast of bassists, several much-needed hiatuses and there are times when Die! Die! Die! just weren’t doing music. Hell, they were meant to be playing their last show in the summer of ‘03-04. Andrew explained that there have been many times the band had stopped being fun, wasn’t sustainable or just in a “bullshit holding pattern,” and so these breaks and personal changes were always on the cards. But the band wasn’t over.

Andrew and Mikey’s friendship is such that not only has the band continued, it produced some of the best music of their careers. The spikey and aggressive EP, O (pronounced ‘Oh’, and not ‘Zero’ as I did in one of my many gaffes’ during the interview) saw Die! Die! Die! with Lachie back in the fold. It became popular in part due to the band’s ability to play it live with stark replication of the record. Previous outing, Charm.Offensive, was heavily produced with plenty of over dubbing and while that produced a noisy sonic aesthetic all of its own, it became hard to duplicate live. Andrew seems spurred on by the relative success of O, and is hoping the re-issue of Promises, Promises, will get enough money together that the band can record again without, “owing anyone”. Andrew did qualify that by saying, “When we release music, we don’t expect it to sell!”

The recent success may also be in part due to the use of bandcamp (and subsequent interview with Nick Fulton there ) and streaming sites. Not that Andrew could tell me much about that, having only signed up to Spotify in the last few months. He recalled the early days of the band when record labels would foot the bill for studio time, including their famous trip to Chicago to record with Steve Albini who produced records for the likes of Nirvana and The Stooges. Things are being done a lot differently now with the band calling their own shots. Andrew explained that every time personalities or professionals in the music industry told them to do something a certain way, it wouldn’t work. So, when the band head back to Chicago next year to once again record with Steve Albini, it will be under their own steam.

Image result for steve albini

First however, they’ve got to get to Hamilton. Yes, they’ve had coveted spots at SXSW and toured Europe, Asia, Russia, but they (unlike many others) have always had time for Hamilton. They’ve even skipped the capital in the past to make sure The Tron gets its dose of Die! Die! Die!, and for that and on behalf of our little town, I said a heartfelt thank you.

I’ve seen Die! Die! Die! play in venues like Soul (RIP), Void (RIP) and Ward Lane (RIP?) over the years and recall a time Andrew swung from a light fitting which we agreed may well have actually been The Mint Chicks’ Kody Neilson. Nevertheless, their high energy live show will be a timely reminder of the legacy of Die! Die! Die! They play Nivara Lounge Dec 13 with old friends The Coolies and hopefully new friends Sora Shima, and OKSUN OX.

Image result for die die die hamilton

Where did all the cowboys go?

This all started by trying to find an EP from a Hamilton (NZ) band I love(d) called Wizz Kids. Once upon a time I even wrote a review for it for those cool dudes at Hamilton Underground Press But that was many moons ago and since then, it has vanished…

The link in that review used to take you to a bandcamp page for the EP Humiliations and the band, and while they can still be found on bandcamp via a split album with other Hamilton hardcore heroes, Spiteful Urinator, the EP I was in love with has gone. I downloaded it all those years ago, but since then I have moved at least four times, I’ve moved past my Ipod (broke) onto new laptops (Mrs’) and all records are lost. Now had I bought Taylor Swift on Itunes or similar there would be more outcry had it gone missing form several very white teenage girls and many, many more dads who secretly keep up with pop music. But smaller acts can remove their work from the world by stealth.

Image result for wizz kids hamilton band

I’ve still got my CD’s and my dad’s records but losing the Wizz Kids EP made me ask questions about the legitimacy of ownership of art, particularly music in the modern age. There was a time when publication was final, but no more. Is that fair? And I am aghast partly because this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m looking at you Nadia Reid. And I’m out for answers PNC!

Nadia Reid has shot to stardom recently, but what hooked me on her soulful folk music and striking voice was a track called Good Things. She put up a live recording on bandcamp and there is a brief intro where she explains that a friend of hers told her that all her songs in a minor key were depressing, so she wrote this one in a major key and it was really sad. Someone close to me had just committed suicide and I sat at the top of the hill between Raglan and Hamilton having just heard the news of his passing and listened to that song on repeat. I think I listened to it approximately one katrillion times over the following months. Now, gone.

Image result for Nadia reid good things

A lighter example is the Who Betta Then This Remix that PNC put out with NZ’s best MC’s spitting verses over a 41 instrumental. Louie Knuxx, Scribe and Sid Diamond might give the verse of their careers on that number, but can I get it on Spotify? Nope. PNC (most underrated rapper in NZ anyone?) has some stuff on bandcamp, but not much and I can get it on Youtube so not all is lost, but hardly ideal. I bought his album Under the Influence on CD which was dumb as he was giving it away for free online, but it meant that I could throw it on when I wanted. I actually was in control of recorded music.

Image result for pnc rapper

Perhaps I am looking at this all wrong, I can’t get back those gigs I saw as a younger person. I hold in my head the time the lead singer of Diediedie swung from the light fitting at Soul or the stage dive at a Sommerset concert that ended concussion, but I can’t replay the music. Those memories are some of my favorite. Perhaps my desire to hold onto something tangible is born out of consumerism, addiction, a need to have control of the environment in order to what? Feel something?

I guess what I am missing is the ability of the Wizz Kids, Nadia Reid and PNC to make me feel something and because they did it so well in the past, I’ve become reliant. I should really thank them for sharing their artistry with me in the first place, but the selfish part of me is like, HEY, WHERE IS MY MUSIC?


Bygones by Raiza Biza – album review

Raiza Biza may well be Hamilton’s newest favourite son. Not because he hasn’t dropped some six odd albums already, or because metal still comes to mind when picturing Hamilton music, but because the rapper is just as international as he is local. And don’t we just love it when someone is making it overseas! He is just as happy featuring a Pineapple Lumps skit as he is dropping a verse next to Australian MCs, REMI and B Wise. The cohesiveness his latest record, Bygones is almost exemplified by the inclusion of a feature from US and Mello Music’s hero in residence, Oddisee. Needless to say, Biza has outdone himself.

There is a vibe to this record which includes touchstones of dusty soul, rich and velvety but also with a directness in delivery. His rap is certainly smooth and melodic, but Rwandan born and grappling with African diaspora, being a father of three and “the devil in the billboard” Biza is earnest in his music. He builds on his story telling skills to grow a whole world in this petri dish. Whether he is name checking Trump or binging back embattled X-Factor winner, Beau Monga for a feature, there is a timelessness to this record.

Biza, like so many other worthy NZ artists, feels a little unsung. With the help of long-time collaborator, Crime Heat, he has produced quality album after quality album but hasn’t quite managed the success perhaps afforded to similar artists in Melbourne or Sydney, let alone the States. It might be a smidge of cultural cringe when it comes to NZ hip hop and it’s not just because every white guy you know said, “not many, if any in” the 2000’s.

There is something about the realism of hip hop that can be hard to look directly in the eye. The popularity of foreign/US artists that dominate most of Mai FM’s playlist may have enough physical distance to allow us to glorify their antics or maybe misread them entirely. It might be why we’re calling meth, crack in order to hark back to US street culture, but when it’s at home, whether it be SWIDT talking about suicide or Tom Scott talking about addiction, its potentially harder for audiences to hear.

Biza is covering the same topics he’s always covered with variance, nuance and the intelligence that makes him a great artist, but are audiences here ready to hear one of our (adopted?) own tell the truth? The track Self-Medicated is perhaps the peak of these interacting streams of cultural influence. Here, Biza is waking up to a blunt and the “fade away” bridge could quite happily be on any current hip-hop record from Lil Xan to Lil Wayne. Despite this, he is his own voice and admits that he’s trying so hard to be cool, he could go back to being an asshole. That’s the honesty and self-awareness you won’t find on a Future album. Though in fairness, the hyper-catchy Funds, might be.

Album and other albums for that matter can be found here

Spirograph Studies – Kindness, Not Courtesy

Spirograph Studies are a Melbourne based four-piece bringing their debut album, Kindness, Not Courtesy, to Aotearoa in September 2019. Band leader and bassist, Tamara Murphy utilises the immensely talented quartet to gently herd us through gorgeous soundscapes on this record. Spirograph Studies have captured the imagination of live audiences at jazz festivals in their home country and it is just a matter of time before they do the same here.

This record is cinematic in its breadth and detail. It conjures imagery and the colour pallet of a film score. The opening number, The Opposite of Afar, begins the journey and sounds like a journey in and of itself. Maybe the group are leaving, maybe they’re arriving only to leave again, but they always grab us mid-embrace. This record is a train station or an airport with singular emotions and themes brought into their truest forms – everything is on the move. Pianist, Luke Howard’s graceful improvisational work sparks out over the structure offered by Murphy and drummer James Mclean, only to build and swoon with Fran Swinn’s guitar.

Murphy is behind every sweeping turn, every flung open window or elusive dab of paint by softly nudging and probing. Then Swinn is off again wrapping delicate notes around broad swathes of drums and hi-hats to hold the exquisite tone together. Mclean’s drumming soars above on songs like R & R but it is the interwoven elements of this group that prove to be their strength. Particularly earnest pieces are blended with subtle layering from other members of the quartet to add depth and even playfulness.  And when Howard’s piano is ready to crash, Swinn and co crash up against him like a rough sea in the superb and wild Gromp City.

This album reflects a masterclass in storytelling, in depth and detail and while that alone should be relished, it offers more. It is not often listeners are invited into something so intricate yet still so accessible. This album does something that can get lost in the heady throws of creation and that is allows a space for the listener. This record is an invitation, a warm welcome or the sounds of a new friend at a front door. All I can, do is suggest you walk through it.

Tickets to shows in Auks, Wgtn and Chch

Lies, Lies and more Advertising

I think the florescent supermarket lighting

is designed to make

reading the ingredients in

tiny Times New Roman a near impossibility

even if I squint hard

and make out BHA

am I meant to know that

Butylated Hydroxyanisole is a carcinogen?

Cos it’s in both my dinner

and my medication,

its probably the reason

I need medication.

They gave us the internet and tricked us

into thinking we now know more,

I google cute cat videos and my

ex’s Facebook page

on a tablet encrypted

with planned obsolescence

while eating

chocolate caked in Palm Oil.

I am the problem but

I am pitted against other problems

who are well-resourced, much, much smarter

and sleep on piles of money.

Image result for simpsons mcbain sleep on piles of money

Poem – Center Place is Hamilton’s Tinder

You were waiting outside Glassons

for your sister

and I was late for a job interview

I hoped wouldn’t go well

the walls flashed white and florescent,

the idea of being clean

without ever having to be clean

you ducked your eyes

when you saw me

embarrassed, shy, I looked down

but when our vision clanged together

it was the most intense thing I’d ever felt

like swallowing a flare gun or

shooting Fentanyl just before

your heart stops

That mall was like having the word arbitrary

screamed in your face repeatedly

but you were

a cosmic being calculating more

and more Pi decimal points. I don’t

remember what I said to you, but

I do remember a dream from much later

where Captain Haddock told me to forget it

to forget you,

that moment in Center Place was not love,

just a moment between two trains stopping

at the same platform at the same time.

I tried forgetting you, it, us, but

I follow you on Instagram and like posts

of you and your husband on holiday

in the South Pacific

Poem – Jay Z is a Billionaire (and I don’t even have you)

I tried writing you a poem

like it was 1792. You smiled and

tucked it into your purse. I’m

too schmultzy for this year.

I should have been a rapper so

I could say audacious things like,

I run this city even though

the municipal funds are low and

there’s really a lot of admin.

I could rap

about how I am quite good at rapping

and pretend its really meta.

How did Meek Mill get Nicki? Or Hove

get B when they’re frequent users of

derogatory terms for women

(like bitch)

I’ve got 99 problems and opening up

about how I feel about you is just one.