The Spectrum

(I wrote this on the last night my grandad was alive, July 2nd 2013 which is why It’s all in pre-tense rather than past-tense) 

In the last day I have seen both ends of the spectrum. The life that is growing inside my wife right now in the form of our daughter to-be and the life that is drawing to a close in the form of my grandfather. One is about to end as another begins. I suppose it’s all very ‘circle of life’ stuff and That there are seasons to everything, but this is a lot of change.

I’m only just adjusting to the idea of being a dad and having the responsibility of raising a little girl so that she lives a life like this man did. Almost 60 years of marriage to one woman, the willingness to get out and do hard work because it was an opportunity, an equal appreciation of the arts and the sciences, a live lived according to God. These are all part of the legacy of this short, sharp, bespectacled octogenarian who had so much wisdom that his head outgrew his hair.

He’s leaving me with some of the best examples of how to be a parent, how to love your kids regardless of what anyone says, how to look after them and raise them to be good (not to be confused with perfect) people. I would be a fool not to look to him and my grandma as examples of a marriage that works and of parenting that works. In that respect I still also have my parents who are living out the same ethos. 27 years married with three kids who have all turned out pretty well despite a whole lot of external shi…rubbish we went through as kids. My parents brought us up based on the example set for them and now my wife and I will be doing the same.

I’m sad that grandad won’t get to meet his great-granddaughter, but obviously it wasn’t to be. I’m going to miss his wit, his handshakes and his hugs. I’m going to remember his fondness for music and the medical science he tried to teach me. I’m going to remember the hours I spent as a boy in his office on the educational CD-ROMs he has, learning about all the things that laid the foundation for who I am as a music person and as an audio person. I’m going to remember the stamp collection, going for a ride on his 3-wheeled Honda 70, watching ‘Duck Soup’, climbing into bed with Grandma and Grandad on a sunny September morning. 

And that makes me think, what will I be like when I hit that end of the spectrum? When my daughter is married and bringing her kids to visit us and I have to put my teeth in a glass. Am I going to be leaving the same kind of legacy for them as my grandfather did for me? One of a life filled with art and science, with love and compassion and affirmation, a legacy of a life lived rightly? 

I guess that legacy starts right now, even if it is imperfect it starts now, and every hour of every day I choose to live it. 

Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. You’ve given us more than you will know.

Wo-ho-ho.

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Album of the Year: The (not so ) Shortlist so far

You don't need to do that to a record to have sexual relations with it.

The prez grooves to the albums on my Album of the year short list.

Middle of the year, Far-out that flew by! Mostly because I’ve been preparing for becoming a parent and partly because I’ve been studying flat-out since February, but the abundance of great new albums has had something to do with it! The electronic world, in particular is on a mighty roll in 2013. With new releases from The Knife, Lusine, Boards of Canada, Archie Pelago, Shapeshifter John Hopkins and of course Daft Punk already out and with more to come from Bop, Etherwood and Avicii this year is catering well to anyone with a synthy bent. Not all the albums on my (not so) short list are electronic though, so to see which albums made it through to my short list, read on.

Lusine – The Waiting Room (2013, Ghostly International.)

youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoUIpkU3aGA&list=ALGLx1orRGw4XJMiHapkNPIAkncqHuTgre

Long-time readers of the blog this used to be might remember my love affair with the music of Jeff McIlwain and  my track-by-track review of his last release. I hotly anticipated A Certain Distance and played it to bits once it was released. I then spent two of the next four years waiting for the next album. The Waiting Room was delayed by several months, but it came at a time where I really needed the musical solace. I got back to my town of study to find the flat I was going into had been rented out from under me so  ended up sleeping on the floor in a classmates flat while I tried to find somewhere to live, and it was a cherry on the top of the generosity and hospitality shown by my classmates.

It’s hard to imagine that the album disappointed me when i first put it on, but there was a greedy bastard part of me (that arguably exists in all of us) that was like “Yes, It’s here! …now what?” Listening back to it subsequently has, however shut the greedy bastard right up. McIlwain has matured his sound a little (something that all the AotY nominees currently have in common) and has given us a deeper level of his thinking-man’s IDM. Incorporating more acoustic instruments on tracks like Without a Plan and featuring the benevolent, warm vocals of his wife Sarah on Get The Message and By This Sound (one of the standout tracks for me) The vocals are fully-formed song lyrics, too. They seem to have replaced McIlwain’s traditional chopped-up vocals, although we did get a bit of a taster in 2009 with Crowded Room. Playing back any of the tracks on Lusine albums (or any releases under his variations of that moniker) instantly take me back to hot, hazy, sunny summers and this is no exception. On the one day of the year we actually get Summer in New Zealand I cram as much McIlwain as I can into the day’s listening. The Waiting Room is destined to be another one of those Summer classics, and it was an unopposed shoe-in for Album of the Year…

Until this happened.

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest (2013, Warp Records.)

This is not just the tale of an album eight years in the making. It’s a tale of a clever marketing campaign and a rabid fanbase. In Mid-April, after months of rumors in forums the whole Internet over, six-digit codes started showing up all over the world. In record stores on highly-limited-edition LPs, on BOC fanpages and on NPR’s All Songs Considered  radio show. Once the fans put the number strings together with a URL hidden in the banner at the Twoism forum site they unlocked this:

The Internet basically exploded at this point. Electronica-heads started treating this hotly rumoured album like the second coming. The first album in almost a decade from two of the undisputed masters of electronic music as we know. I wasn’t about to treat it like I would Jesus coming back, but I was certainly pretty amped!

So what did the legions of BOC fans the world over get well ahead of the time their pre-orders were projected to arrive? Well we got a healthy dose of nostalgia for a start. Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin’s trademark analog sound, glowing with tape saturation and warbly, detuned oscillators takes you slightly out of the real world for the 63 minutes Tomorrow’s Harvest runs. That it felt so short originally triggered that g.b. instinct again, but the strength in this new album is that it’s a grower. From the morning after it arrived on my phone I listened through the whole thing over and over again that weekend, through headphones and on my hi-fi at home. After two plays I just couldn’t get enough, and it’s still not like the tracks are phenomenally different to anything I’ve heard from Boards of Canada before. yes, they have subtly brought their traditional sound into the 2010s while parts of it remain firmly in the 1980s but the music of Boards of Canada has such a strength in being largely timeless.

It’s normally a bit of an indictment to say the opening track of an album is your favourite, but as opening tracks go, Gemini has become the new yardstick. Jacquard Causeway and Palace Posy are among the other standout tracks on the Tomorrow’s Harvest. Sandison and Eoin have included plenty of their shorter-form pieces on the album as well, something that seems like it’s a let down until you listen to them over and over and see just how much the duo can pack in to a sub-three minute song, let alone something twice that length.

So the advent of Tomorrow’s Harvest certainly shook up my short list, but it wasn’t the only album to do so, and some of them weren’t even electronic.

The Flaming Lips – The Terror (2013, Warner Bros.)

I have had a soft spot for the ‘Lips’ since my year 12 maths teacher introduced me to Wayne Coyne’s madcap psychedelia in high school. I regard select tracks from The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots as a formative part of my musical adolescence. The thing is, I’ve never been into an entire Flaming Lips album. The Terror, even in the individual, shuffle-ready version available digitally, changed that for me. From the controlled chaos of the opening bars of Look, the Sun is Riding… to the repeating mantra of Always There…In Our Hearts I was hooked on this album and didn’t want it to end. It’s an odyssey of feelings, a journey through a numb dystopia that larger-than-life frontman Wayne Coyne seems to think we are already living in:

“We want, or wanted, to believe that without love we would disappear”, that love, somehow, would save us. That, yeah, if we have love, give love and know love, we are truly alive and if there is no love, there would be no life. The Terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on… we just go on… there is no mercy killing.” – Wayne Coyne in a press release for the album.

I don’t know what it is about the band’s sound that has changed to hook me on the whole album. Maybe it’s the extra harmony, maybe it’s the eulogic, haunting guitar and synth sounds that come to a head on the album’s title track. Maybe it’s deeper than the sound of the album, it could be that the lyrics resonate something even I’m not aware of in my own psyche ..or I could be over thinking the whole thing and it’s just that all the little things about Lips’ albums past have come together in the right way to make this the first full-length Flaming Lips record I’ll own in it’s entirety (hopefully as a double vinyl birthday present, I’d love to hear how the non-shuffle ready version goes!).

The National, Trouble Will Find Me (2013, 4AD)

Matt Berninger has always sounded twice his age to me. The first time I heard Alligator I genuine thought he was getting on for the same age as my dad. His baritone sounds like that of a man who has already lived through everything he sings about. Who knows, Berninger may have already crammed 50+ years of living into his life to date. This album is on the shortlist for one of the same reasons the Flaming Lips album above. It’s the first time I’ve been into the entirety of a record by this band. It’s nice to dip back into guitar-driven music at times, too. The national provide the sort of guitar music that can accompany most of the things I do. While the content of the album is another re-hash of the fallen human condition, this time it seems like the failings of people are something you could almost smile about. The standouts for me are Demons, a song about someone who thinks they’ll change eventually, once they get their sh…act together first and Pink Rabbits which will forever be a song I associate with being warm on a cold winter’s night for some reason. Darn imprinting.

Will Trouble Will Find Me stand the test of time? According to some bloggers it’s already dead. Personally I’m not sure they’re right, but more plays of this album will definitely convince me as to whether or not they’re wrong.

So that’s how my short list is stacking up at the halfway point of the year. I’m not expecting it to stay like this for very long since I’m still waiting on the forthcoming release from Russian microfunk master Bop as well as a new album the most humble metal guitarist I’ve ever come across, Tosin Abasi, with his band Animals as Leaders. They could shake things up even further, not to mention something that could still possibly come in and blow away the entirety of my shortlist to date.

There’s still six months to go. Musically, at the very least, they’re going to be interesting.

An appeal for a sound system

Hi again readers!

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts around other spots online such as Twitter and Instagram, as well as http://funnyplace.posterous.com you will know I’m currently in Uganda assisting my wife with her PHD research. I’ll talk a lot more about the trip later on, but right now I want to talk about sound gear.

I want to make it plain that while making appeals on the blog isn’t something I normally do, I haven’t been hacked. This isn’t a scam and you haven’t been left a large sum of money by a member of the Ugandan royal family. This is a legit request.

The ministry we are interning with in Kampala, Moment of Truth Evangelistic Ministries (MOTEM) are fundraising for a sound system to use both as part of their outreach to the city and as a source of income for the ministry, as well as being a potential source of employment for the city youth this ministry cares for.

The total cost of the system works out to around $NZ2,702.40 which will buy the ministry enough gear to get started with a basic system. Some fundraising has already taken place, leaving the total remaining funds to be raised at $NZ1817.40.

If the money arrives and the equipment is purchased before Susan and I leave Uganda, MOTEM will be utilising my experience and studies to train some of they young people the ministry look after to run the system, so it can be used not only as a ministry tool, but as a source of income and employment so the ministry can be self-supporting and the youth can support themselves towards further studies.

If you are at all interested in helping this cause, please contact me via my about.me page at
http://about.me/andrewwardell
And I can provide you with the documents to prove this is legit. If you don’t want to, I understand and promise never to silently judge you for the rest of my life.

This is a big opportunity for me to use my experience thus far to help these guys out.

Thank you for your consideration.

Happy new near!

Well, it’s that time again. We have all made another trip around the sun and the behemoth of 2013 is staring us in the face. While most of you read this I suppose it’s nighttime, which is a little odd to countenance right now since it isn’t even midday in Uganda yet. 2012 has been a really big year for me. I finally got off my ass and started the one tertiary degree I always wanted to do, but that did mean I got on a six hour per week commute to Invercargill and back. It’s absolutely been worth it though! I have learned a whole lot more about the world of audio than I knew previously, and I have had to develop more confidence in my ability to do anything important, since I ended up in positions that had some real responsibility attached! I have made some great friends down south too, you all know who you are, thanks for putting up with all the bad jokes. I produced a bunch of material for my outer sound moniker, Blood Turbine, this year. I haven’t uploaded all of it, but I feel like it’s all a good start to get that experimental aspect of my music creation working well. I also learned a lot more about the complications of wearing in-ear headphones. The ears are weird things and they don’t seem to stay the same from day-to-day, or even hour to hour! Those trusty House of Marley in-ears have still stuck by me throughout the epic commutes and the walks around town, I still highly recommend them.

The music of 2012 has been excellent! Releases from The Divine Fits, Poliça, Tame Impala, Clark, Andrew Bird and many many more have made the soundtrack to my year (which you can find further down the blog.) It’s been interesting to listen to them with the ears BAP has given me, I don’t know exactly what the tutors have done to me, but I can hear the stereo imaging (or lack thereof) in every song I listen to now, and it’s not going to be the same ever again.

You wouldn’t believe it to look at me right now (screw you, African diet!) but I lost a ton of weight and did a ton of exercise this year, which gives me hope for next year that I can work off what I’ve had to eat over here (it’s a high-carb diet in a stinking hot country, enough said.) On a diet tip, though, I have learned the benefits of moderation (in some respects.)

Spiritually I have grown a bit (objectively). I guess I’ve had to with all the challenges I’ve faced this year. I still don’t think I’m that great a person, but Philipians 1:6 combined with the very near-deadly mishap I had on my bike this month make me think God isn’t done working on me yet.

So what of the future?

I don’t make resolutions. I find I can disappoint myself easily enough without setting them. I will be going back to the Deep South within a couple of days of touching back down in New Zealand. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be living yet, but thanks to the wonders of mobile Internet can organise that from abroad. Second year BAP is notoriously difficult, so I’m hoping I can knuckle down and work as much as I did last year, if not more.
I’m hoping to do more work on my other musical monikers. Now that Audiobus has finally been released (I have been waiting all year!) I feel like I can achieve a lot more of the work I hear in my mind using just my trusty iPad. I’ll definitely be exercising more. Now that I know a little more about how to maintain my mountain bike I may be able to afford more cycling next year, and I’m eagerly awaiting season 2 of Zombies, Run! Even though I’ve still got about 30km of missions left in season 1. Music is looking promising in 2013 too. I’ve got Minuit’s new album (released on the 21st) to look forward to, as well as the latest release from my favourite electronic producer Lusine, which will be delivered to my inbox the day we arrive back in New Zealand! I don’t anticipate a ton of new releases that I’ll really get into, but that’s ok because I have about 200 albums queued up on Spotify to play through.

Ok, I should probably wrap this up and get over to lunch now, but I just want to thank everyone for all they’ve been this year and pray an extrapolated version of what I usually pray in the morning, that 2013 goes better than 2012 did, and that 2014 is even better again.

See you (in person) in February.

My band of the year 2012: POLIÇA

Sometimes you have to go looking really hard for a new artist that stands out and even then you have to wade through some of the dross that bands use to earn some kind of notoriety. Weirdly enough though, this band fell into my ears while I was watching TV and they stand out by using what are arguably the scourges of popular music, but in a way that doesn’t make you want to throw rotten fruit at them.

I was watching CSI: Miami late in 2011 and the closing song of the episode caught my attention so that I played through the segemnt three or four times while Soundhound tried to pick up what this strange blend of enectronics and acoustics was. The answer it gave me was Amongster by a band called Polica.

As vocalist Channy Leaneagh’s previous band collapsed, along with her marriage, she started working in Ryan Olson’s project Gyangs. After a while, Olson suggested to her (in an encouraging manner) that she should form a new band. He helped her in this process by finding musicians and handing her some sketches to try out. It all sounds a bit X-Factor but they are unspeakibly genuine. Maybe because Ryan Olson’s running the show, maybe because Leaneagh’s lyrics have depth, meaning and an overarching story.

What doubly beggars belief is the band’s arrangement. Polica consists of two acoustic drummers, one bass player, Olson’s beats and Channy’s vocals, which are sent exclusively through a TC Helicon 5 vocal processor. That’s right, all the vocals on Polica’s debut album Give You The Ghost are autotuned and you know what? Here, with this band, that works. It’s not to say Leaneagh can’t sing, hell no, this isn’t another Rebecca Black story. She has a vocal quality I would describe as bewitching, I have not come across a pop singer who so accurately fits the term chanteuse before, but it really does suit. You know what else? Those two drummers don’t ever fight for space in the music, call it good arrangement, call it good mixing, but they work. You don’t miss the presence of a guitar either, the relatively sparse arrangement is all the band needs.

I will be watching Polica with great interest indeed.

 

…and that’s all for this year’s Stuff on the Year. I’m off on an overseas trip for a couple of months. I may blog a bit more on here over that period, but if you’re interested in what we’ll be up to, hit up http://funnyplace.posterous.com/

 

Overlook of the Year 2012: GusGus – ‘Arabian Horse’

With all the new music that comes my way throughout the years, I often miss a release or two. This year I discovered that I’d completely missed an album from Icelandic synth-pornographers GusGus. The last I’d heard from them was 2009’s 24/7. A six-track album oozing with pheremonic, sexual basslines, lovingly unhinged modular synth noodlings and beats that get you moving. What I didn’t realise was that in 2011 they released a new album on Kompakt. Here’s a 20-minute taster courtesy of KEXP

Tracklist:

Selfoss

Arabian Horse

Over

 

The new album is 11 tracks long, and while still sounding like a GusGus record takes a more anthemic turn than 24/7. The hooks are infectious, the synth pads take on that hazy quality I like so much and the beats are solid in the same way a block of chocolate is solid. Not so hard they would injur you if thrown at you, but not so soft that Arabian Horse becomes a chillout record. If German modular synth manufacturers Doepfer need brand representitives they don’t need to look too far. Female vocalist Earth returns to sing on a couple of tracks (she hasn’t been on a GusGus record since 2006’s Forever.) while Daniel August Haraldsson has lost none of that androgenously awesome voice (seriously, I used to think his parts were sung by a woman before I actually saw him singing them.) It’s hard to pick any standout tracks because the whole album is of a really high calibre, but I would have to pick Selfoss as 2011’s best opening track ever, Deep Inside for combining that compound time with those pads, and Benched for a low-end that what it’s like to have tiny mining equipment drilling through your eardrums and ossicles.

As with all the recent GusGus albums, Arabian Horse is a serious keeper and I simply can’t believe I missed this last year!

My album of the Year 2012 is…

Music has been as big a part of my life as ever in 2012 and a number of new albums that took my fancy were released this year. Albums from School of Seven Bells, Andrew Bird, Jack White and Alt-J were all excellent listens in theit own way, but for me one album stood out. It’s interesting that I seem to be the only person who likes this album, as other critics and fans say it isn’t the artist’s best work, but I feel like this album – in it’s brevity- is complete and wholly engaging.

 

My album of the year is Clark’s Iradelphic.

This is electronic music as people who have studied electronic music know it. Wonderous and captivating, varied but consistant. The whole album deserves a listen on a hot summer day at the bach (or the crib, or the holiday home, or the camping ground.) There are smooth, hazy blends of guitar and synth, drums that feel programmed, but programmed by a musician instead of,say, a rocket scientist. The vocals lend a slightly twee Belle-and-Sebastian vibe to tracks like Open and Secret, and instruments that morph from their original form into a fluid state of synthesis and re-synthesis. Boards of Canada fans should try a listen if they’re feeling nostalgic (Clark is a labelmate of theirs on Warp Records) and if the 12-track album isn’t enough for you there is an extra disc of material available called Fantasm Planes which was released during our spring. Not only that but Clark and Warp have put some of the outtakes from the Iradelphic sessions up for people to download!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my album of the year 2012