December 19th, 2011

NZ Music Month

For the first time in however many months...

... I've actually got around to typing up a music review.

This one also comes with an additional disclaimer to the usual set. One or more of the people involved with this music is included within the set "Dave's friends and relatives", and in consequence, because of the way my brain works, this review is going to be harsher than my usual reviewing style (which is generally "tough-but-fair"). It's my way of balancing out the natural tendency to be supportive of anything fitting within the aforementioned set.

Concert Review - Not so Silent Night Christmas Show, Friday, 16 December 2011

This was planned to be four acts playing a Christmas show at the Southland Musicians' Club. As it turned out, one of the bands wasn't available, and as one of the bands shared two thirds of its musicians with another one, I find it easier to think of the show as having two and a half bands performing.

First up were Infinite Thought: the half a band, differing from Formed on Wednesday only in their drummer. They played a short set of originals (with a noticeable Green Day influence) and covers.

Next up were Operation Rolling Thunder (the Invercargill band, not to be confused with other bands of the same name). Led by a noticeably charismatic frontman, they were the most experienced sounding band of the night. They played a set which, as far as I could tell, was all original; their style being an interesting fusion of grunge-influenced rock and dance/pop-influenced drumming. If it is possible to fit Smashing Pumpkins and the Exponents on the same musical map, Operation Rolling Thunder would be somewhere in between the two. Their lack of a bass player (apparently on holiday) didn't affect their music to any noticeable degree and their new drummer (the fifth in two years, the frontman admitted) is worth keeping if this show is any indication.

Next up, in place of the missing band, was a short set of acoustic performances and general horsing around which adequately filled in the missing gap in the schedule.

Last up were Formed on Wednesday, the headline act (complete with CDs-for-sale-at-the-door and everything: something some Big Name bands could do well to emulate. Verlaines, I'm talking about you). They played a mixed set of largely original material, with a few surprises thrown in (an instrument-swapping segment was particularly well executed, and a guest vocal performance on a cover of a song I'm not familiar with, Wagon Wheel, was well received) and a few more not-surprises-at-all (the inevitable Green Day covers). In the eight weeks or so since their Rocktober concert they've developed and matured their sound quite a bit; in particular, their bass player was consistently impressive.

All in all, this was a really good show and I'd have happily paid the usual cover charge to go and see them play at a pub... except that for quite a few years yet, they're going to have problems playing at pubs because the average age of the performers that night would have been around 16. Because these were a couple of bands from my old high school. (I know as an absolute fact that Formed on Wednesday's guitarist is finishing what in my day would have been called the Fourth Form).

If this is the future of rock and roll, then I'd say it's in good hands.

CD Review - Formed on Wednesday - Written on Thursday EP

This is the CD that was on sale at the concert. As far as I know it's still available, and will be until the band manage to sell them all to their friends. At $10 for five songs, it's as good value for money as most of the singles I bought back in my 45rpm record buying days, even before accounting for inflation.

Of the five songs, none are filler material. There's definite hints of influence peeking through the music - notably Green Day and, to a lesser extent, Nirvana - but there's a striking originality to the music and arrangements. The first track on the EP is a rock ballad: a band recording of Tears of the Innocent (of which an acoustic recording by the band's guitarist/songwriter can be found on You Tube). This flows into Sharing Secrets, the band's live stand-out, although the song's studio recording suffers from an abrupt-sounding change of musical gear after the bass intro, just as the guitar cuts in (although the change of tempo near the end of the song actually sounds better on record than it does live). Following on from this is what I'd guess to be a grunge ballad, She Goes On. In this one the lyrical themes running through the band's songs (love, lost love, death and regret) are particularly pronounced in a Pink Frost sort of way.

The fourth track, the out-and-out hard-rocker The Five Of Us are Dying, is the surprise stand-out track on this EP. Its surprisingly complex tune is performed in a pronounced (and probabaly quite unconscious) 1970s style. Rounding off the EP proper is a piano-driven ballad, Till Then, which manages not to outstay its welcome. The music proper is supplemented by an eminently disposable hidden track of five or so minutes' worth of the band and their engineer horsing around while being recorded.

This recording itself has its strengths and weaknesses. The band's performances are crisp and clear (with a particular stand-out being the lead guitar break in The Five Of Us are Dying), but there's a noticeable lack of bottom end (particularly compared with the band's live sound, which had the clubroom walls rumbling on Friday night) which turning up the bass on the amplifier mostly sorts out. The vocals are also perhaps mixed a bit too prominently compared to the instrumental tracks. But there's nothing wrong with the EP that an actual producer (the EP was self-produced by the band) couldn't have fixed.

In all, this is a good EP which with a bit of work could have been a great EP. As it is, it's a worthwhile document of a new band with a huge amount of promise.

And I so want to hear someone like Bruce Dickinson cover The Five Of Us are Dying, because that would sound awesome.