Tuesday 24 November 2015, with Nick Bollinger
The Sampler for 24 November 2015
This week in The Sampler Nick Bollinger reviews the electronic art-pop of Grimes; songs about depression and discos from John Grant; and vinyl reissues of a few Kiwi classics.
Art Angels by Grimes
Nick Bollinger investigates the intense electronic art-pop of Grimes.
The fourth album by 27-year-old Vancouver-born Claire Boucher, better known by her performing name Grimes, is bold, abrasive, fiercely contemporary and full of what, in just a slightly different context, might be chart-topping pop tunes. While she employs many of the tricks of current pop – whether it’s her reliance on sampling technology or the way she hammers those auto-tuned choruses – Grimes remains very much a product of the indie alternative world. A painter, video-maker and home-studio auteur, her earlier records were indie by definition; home-recorded electronica released by the small Montreal-based Arbutus Records.
It was her 2012 album Visions, which came out internationally on 4AD, that brought her to a wider audience, and gave a hint of the pop smarts that lurk within this irreverent beatmaker. But with Art Angels she is quite deliberately going wider still. ‘Kill V. Maim’ and ‘Flesh Without Blood’ are pop tunes by any measure, their confrontational titles notwithstanding. But if the hookiest tracks on Art Angels might give Max Martin pause for thought, there is another side to Grimes that is still a long way from the world of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the rest of the Swedish hitmaker’s stable.
That is the side that is about making unorthodox collages and painting with noise. And that’s what you’ll find in a track like ‘Scream’, a collaboration with Aristophanes, a Taiwanese rapper whose own music is every bit as much an art project as Grimes is. At this point Grimes seems poised between two worlds with no shortage of ambition or imagination. Whether she winds up dragging pop in her direction or being dragged into the pop mainstream remains to be seen.
Songs played: Kill V. Maim, Flesh Without Blood, Realiti, Belly of the Beat, California, Artangels, Scream, Butterfly
Grimes plays Laneway Festival, Auckland 1 February 2016
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure by John Grant
Nick Bollinger surveys songs about depression and discos from Reykjavík resident John Grant.
John Grant is in his late forties, gay and HIV positive, which doesn't make him unique but certainly informs his perspective. Factor in a Colorado upbringing in a family of Baptist churchgoers, years of depression and refuge in alcohol and drugs, and you’ll have some of the background to his new album. What that background might not prepare you for, though, is the self-deprecating strain of humour and it runs right through the record. That, in combination with Grant’s musical gifts, makes for a more entertaining package than one perhaps has a right to expect.
After a decade fronting Denver’s alternative rock band The Czars, Grant launched his solo career five years with the acclaimed Queen Of Denmark, which leaned heavily on mid-tempo ballads and centred on Grant’s piano and strong baritone voice. There’s still some of that here, but there’s also a good dose of early 80s dance music complete with squelchy synthesisers, and both are streaked with Grant’s dark yet unexpectedly humorous observations of the human condition – or at least the condition in which he finds himself.
Songs played: Grey Tickles Black Pressure, Voodoo Doll, Snug Slacks, You and Him, Global Warming, Disappointing, No More Tangles
John Grant plays the Auckland Arts Festival 2 - 20 March and Womad Taranaki 18 - 20 March 2016
Classic Kiwi Reissues - The Exponents, Hello Sailor and Darcy Clay
Nick Bollinger celebrates the vinyl reissues of a few Kiwi classics.
The Exponents finest album originally came out in 1992, an era of Fairlights, sequencers and drum machines, and what now makes Something Beginning With C seem timeless is that the Exponents employed none of these fashionable tools. It’s just the sound of a four-piece band, raw and ready, crammed together in a room and going for it. But the album’s greatest strength is Jordan Luck’s songs, which include anthems like ‘Why Does Love Do This To Me?’ ‘Who Loves Who The Most?’ and ‘Whatever Happened To Tracey?’(so many questions!) as well as less celebrated beauties like ‘The Nameless Girl.’
Songs played: Please Please and Thank Yourself, Who Loves Who The Most, Why Does Love Do This To Me?, Nameless Girl
Hello Sailor’s 1977 debut was a milestone: a local album with something approaching the grit and groove of the records coming out of London or New York. Yet it also had a whiff of the South seas in the Ponsonby reggae of ‘All Around This Town’, the Polynesian strum of ‘Gutter Black’, the strut and sway of ‘When Your Lights Are Out’ and the palm tree reverie of ‘Lyin’ In The Sand’. This reissue is an opportunity to replace those scratched and beer-damaged copies, or appreciate for the first time what a breakthrough this was. And with both Graham Brazier and Dave McArtney no longer with us, it also stands as a fitting memorial.
Songs played: When Your Lights Are Out, All Around This Town, Watch Ya Back
‘Jesus I Was Evil’, Darcy Clay’s raw yet unquestionably vibrant slab of one-man, four-track rock’n’roll, was the weirdest kind of ear-worm, but it’s nervy riffs and tormented vocals did just what they were supposed to. Sadly, a little more than a year after it was a hit, Darcy (real name: Daniel Bolton) was dead. But the small amount of music he left behind has continued to make its way in the world. ‘All I Gotta Do’ – from the excellent, just-reissued Jesus I Was Evil EP – was covered not long ago as a B-side by the British rock band (and Darkness offshoot) Hot Leg, while the damaged country rock of ‘And It Was Easy’ could have been cut yesterday.
Songs played: Jesus I Was Evil, All I Gotta Do, And It Was Easy