The self-titled album from Hamilton’s Datemonthyear (https://datemonthyear.bandcamp.com/) has been long in the oven. Head chef/band founder Trevor Faville has been working on this material for the last five years and the results show a true dedication to the craft, both in musical arrangement and aesthetics. This is an album that, despite being created by “independent music bohemians”, is professionally astute. It is paired with quirky lyrics and memorable hooks that will no doubt ensure its popularity.
Opening number, entitled, ahem, Numbers, is a great example of this. The vocals of Emma Koretz float breezily over the instrumental but spike surprisingly in the ear. Lines like, “dancing with Machiavelli’s Ghost” followed quickly with “Supermarket queue on a Saturday” give the elaborate and the mundane so succinctly. The song gives way to the punchy Flowers. Here, the instrumental prowess of Brooke Baker (guitar, keyboards), Tyler Leet (guitar) and Hayley Schwass (bass) come to the fore to support Koretz’ smooth vocal delivery.
July must have been written with out northern hemisphere whanau in mind (“July/making hay while the sun shine’s down”). It is the lead single and sees squelchy guitar and soaring singing keeping fans of everyone from early Neil Young to Fur Patrol hanging onto every note. It would be easy for these songs to be lumped into something quintessentially “Kiwi” with some similar sounds to other local heroes like the basslines of Lucid Three or the understated but complex drumming of someone like Ross Burge of The Mutton Birds, but there is something more here.
That may well be picked up by listeners as far flung as Essex, Argentina and Germany, (where Datemonthyear are already getting airtime) and it may be that artists in general are not being hemmed in by geographical constraints the way that may have been true of the Dunedin Sound for example. The smaller the world becomes, the bigger a band like Datemonthyear will be able to be. It feels like that Datemonthyear are “making faces to the scenery” and taking a journey that is just as emotionally varied as it is not grounded in solely being a “kiwi” band and that makes it a mighty fine record.
One of the most celebrated MC’s in modern rap music, Eminem, dropped a new album, Music to be Murdered By, this week. This is his eleventh album and he remains one of the most popular and controversial figures in rap music, in part due to race, subject matter, beef with other MC’s and straight bravado. He has had the worldwide bestselling album twice, won countless awards and in so many other ways is a pillar of the rap community. On the surface, he seems very much like the two very different personas he presented us over the years with Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers, but neither of those public figures is Eminem. Listening to this record, I found myself asking if the real Slim Shady would ever stand up?
Unlike Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder or Tina Turner, there is something about the majority of Eminem’s work that makes me think he won’t stand up in a historical context. Maybe he knows this too, and that’s why he is so venomous on the intro of his new record to assert his relevance and how his name is used by the media. He has always taken the violence of street rap and turned it darker, more personal and that has helped him stand out in the genre. And yes, being more twisted might get shock value followers, but is it going to be held up as an example of the art form? He might have gained popularity for those early sinister rhymes, but its on this album it feels like he is aiming to be his best self. The problem for Em, is that he has been someone else, insecure and so overtly saying he doesn’t give a fuck for so long, it sounds like he doesn’t know who his best self is.
There is no taking away from his skill though. First (real) track in, Unaccommodating he take Young M.A.’s meandering thought process and puts jumper cables to it. He’s so hot on his verse its almost excusable that he once again uses the most horrific social situations for lyrical fodder referencing the shootings at the Ariana Grande concert. Its less of a shock, because this is his tried and tested trope, but it still feels unnecessary. People died violently that night and trivializing it helps no one.
The next track features Bad Meets Evil partner Royce Da 5”9 and is a great in for raising an interesting issue for Em: Royce da 5”9 is such a staunch defender of anything Em does and as a white MC in an art form started by disenfranchised black men, does Royce (and Dre, D12 even 50 for that matter) give him legitimacy? And is that more so than Mac Millar for example (whose posthumous album was released the same day)? Why is Royce and others able to throw the culture vulture net over other white MC’s (Yelawolf anyone?) but Em is protected? How the hell Post Malone became popular is surely in relation to Em’s history and a fungal ear infection whose symptoms include deafness and seems to come complementary along with any of his music.
There are few “relationship” tracks in there where Em at least pretends to acknowledge women and to an extent D12 that can totally be skipped which is just as much a metaphor for his misogyny as any of his lyrics. The next must hear track on this record is Godzilla which feature the late Juice WRLD. I have mixed feelings about this track and the timing of releasing it. Juice WRLD was taken from us far too young and hearing his vocals saddens me. He provides a hook at the beginning of the song and the remainder of the track Em bodies, and hell does he go for it. I can’t decide if this is a fitting tribute for Juice or an arrogant way of outshining a youngster gone too soon. If it turns anyone onto Juice WRLD’s music than great, otherwise, more insensitive shit form the king of insensitive shit.
What might have been the highlight of the album if Juice was still touring Europe, is the track Yah Yah where Old schoolers Black Thought and Q-Tip show up. Its probably the only song on the album where Em doesn’t go out of his way to out do the feature, though it helps Black Thought comes hot and the hook is super catchy. Yeah Marsh and Little Engine are good tracks with that smooth Em flow, but nothing particular to say. Lock it Up comes curtesy of Anderson.Paak and is the next song that needs to grab you. It almost proves that you can rap at a katrilion BPM, but if you have the funk of Anderson.Paak you can lace a track with it and everyone else shines because of you. The best elements of Slaughterhouse (i.e. everyone bar Joe Budden) show up right at the end of the album. I personally feel Joell Ortiz is one of the best MC’s out there and he proves it again on this track. He and Royce hold their own on the track and the Wu Tang references make the nostalgia of the song swell, Its another stellar outing.
What is clear at the end of this record is Eminem is so concerned with how he is persevered, he keeps hiding behind aliases, ego, and his legacy. He has yet to show the vulnerability of Juice WRLD on a track or the straight funk of Anderson.Paak that makes other people shine, but that distance allows him to be horrendous. And that’s what people want. After the killing Kim lyrics and Slim Shady’s antics maybe no one expects Em to be himself. Maybe they believe he is this arrogant asshole he presents as or maybe no one other Machine Gun Kelly cares who Eminem really is and so this is the best we’ll see from him. Is it an album you need to hear? No, but there are three or four tracks that are so good they send tingles up the spine.
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.