Sunday, July 16, 2006

Melancholy: Bleak is the New Black

Some of the best NZ music ever has been melancholic, dark, depressive and even downright gothic (think of the meaning of the word of here, not Bauhaus and The Cure). Bands like The Chills, The Gordons, The 3Ds were all top standard, as good as anything else in the world, but none of them wrote songs your likely to hear at a kids birthday party. And when NZ bands have gone for the happy sound the results have been dire - remember "Melting Pot" by When the Cats Away - or "For Today" by The Netherworld Dancing Toys? Awful!

This month there have been a slew of great releases by kiwi acts that wallow in the melancholy. Bleak is the new black.

First up - Cassette. This band released a stone cold classic EP called EMO in 2000. The EP drew on everything great about laid back country era Neil Young but managed to sound fresh with engaging songs and great hooks. EMO has been on high rotate at home and on my show for five years. Cassette first started talking about an album release around 2001. Five years later Cut For Summer is here. (True to form they're still running late, releasing an album of that title in the midst of winter.)

So, has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. There are a handful of tracks on here, Pieces, Not Home and What a Relief, that could easily have sat on EMO. These songs are vey laid back, so slow they're almost not moving forward. There are a couple of rockers, one of which, Pick Me Up, has a great muted guitar refrain that just gets under your skin. Towards the end a couple of the songs are less engaging, but that seems to be the case with just about every albums these days.

The other thing about this album is that it's a grower. First time through I was thinking "okay", now I'm finding it hard to listen to anything else. You can stream tracks from both Cassette releases here.


A couple of other releases warrant mention too. The Haints of Dean Hall have put out a self released album on Arch Hill Records. Not to everyone's taste, this album is sparse and quiet, many tracks featuring only acoustic guitar and vocal, although a couple of tracks are reminiscent of the great NZ gothic country outfit The Renderers.

A haint is a southern term for a ghostly steam rising off the road, often mistaken to be a ghost, and the songs on this album are ghost like, definitely present but hard to get hold of. I'm still getting my head around this, but if you like acts like Bonnie "Prince" Billy, the great Steve Abel, or quieter moments of the Renderers give it a try. You can stream and download tracks here.


Finally, well worth checking out is the new album from Don McGlashan, Warm Hand. This has had plenty of media, so I won't say too much. However, the standout feature of this album is his melancholic lyrics. My favourite track, Toy Factory Fire, is narrated through the eyes of a New York executive whose company was ran a third world sweatshop factory that burnt to the ground killing 151 workers (a true story). There aren't many people who could turn that into a song without being heavy handed and overly polemic, but Don McGlashan is one.


For these and other depressing songs make sure you tune into Counting The Beat, Sundays at 6pm.