Last Night You Saw This Band

9 Mar

An unplanned quiet night at home has seen me pull out a new vinyl record that I received a few weeks ago, but have not had the opportunity to listen to.

I noticed some time back that my record player was running a little slow. A recording I had made of a Sleigh Bells LP showed songs were longer than their mp3 counterparts and the musical pitch was noticeably lower than it should be. Doing some checking, I figured that my turntable was running 3% slow.

The fix for this is a straightforward adjustment of a screw inside the turntable. But by the time I take off the base of the turntable and labouriously count platter revolutions (I have never sprung for a stroboscope) it takes a bit of time; time that I haven’t had recently. Tonight I finally got on to it.

The result has been a sublime listening session with Minuit’s latest recording “Last Night You Saw This Band”. I picked this up through a PledgeMe deal that funded the recording and scored me a digital download of the LP (same as CD, full lossless FLAC format sound).

Well, I’ve had that digital LP for a while now but I never really got into it. Tonight, after sorting my record player issues, I slapped on a slab of Minuit and engaged with this recording like never before.

The record was noisy because I washed it and had briefly forgotten my newly discovered infallible rinsing process. There was electrical hum because my preferred turntable-to-amplifier cables have poor electrical shielding (a bit of a no-no with turntables). There were a couple of moments of frequency fluctuation, due to an irritating speed consistency issue with my turntable that I must address. Despite all that, the record drew me in and held me from start to finish.

And here’s the rub. The sound was not distorted or coloured compared with the digital LP. I was not being tricked by doctored frequency response or retro nostalgia. The vinyl sounded better because there was simply more of what the musicians from Minuit intended me to hear.

The result was a sense of hearing the whole package and getting down for the ride. With the digital recordings I pretty much heard all the same detail as what I heard off the vinyl. My digital playback set-up is nothing to be sniffed at. But with the vinyl it suddenly all hung together and made sense like never before. It kind of helped that I was hearing more of a 3D presentation, the bass was full and rich and the high frequencies were extended and smooth.

Huge kudos to Minuit. This vinyl release was delayed for a couple of months as they ironed out production issues. They obviously paid huge attention to the quality of the product that their committed PledgeMe customers were going to receive. The experience of listening to this recording on vinyl is quite different and far superior to digital. Despite having seen them live several times and having all their CDs on hand, I have got a new appreciation of what this fabulous band is capable of.

The PledgeMe campaign that funded the pressing of 300 records was very cool. You were able to choose from a range of pledge dollar amounts. One of the options was to pledge a bit extra for the privilege of having one of the guys from the band come and mow your lawn with his shirt off. I settled for what was a standard LP purchase price, yet still scored my choice of handwritten lyric from Minuit’s singer Ruth.

“Me and the boy with the aubergine hair” with thank you note:

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Cover and lyric sheet:

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Check out my video of Minuit live at WOMAD 2012 playing their familiar repertoire accompanied by a full Gamelan orchestra.

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Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

14 Aug

Summary: A magical allegory of pigs, alcoholism and climate change. Vincent Ward meets the bayou. Like.

Ignore all the reviews and synopses that come up on the first page of a Google search for this title. They all give a literal reading of the script that is a million miles from the dreamtime experience this film delivers.

In a feral Mississippi delta island community a six year old girl lends us her eyes. Her mind seethes with images provided by drunk and deranged locals, an education in primal survival and cave drawings, and the fear of hurricanes and melting ice caps.

Striking imaginative images and a woozy handheld camera give the film many stand-out stylistic moments. Shot on 16mm film, the grainy look fits well with the gritty existence of the protagonists. Many technically exceptional camera shots provide wow factor viewing.

The bold six year old  hero Hushpuppy, listening to the heartbeats of pigs and standing staunch in the mud, reminded me of the (older) girl in Vincent Ward’s early film Vigil. The allegorical quest elements reminded me of later Ward films.

At its symbolic heart, the film is an allegory of climate change. It uses the fears and symbols of climate change and the setting of the hurricane-lashed Gulf of Mexico to create an unsettling modern day fable.

I see some commentators are already rating lead actor Quvenzhané Wallis’ chances for an Oscar. At the age of nine, she would be the youngest ever recipient. I would not demur; she is exceptional.

Magazine and the correct use of record cleaner

24 Feb

The arrival of a convenient vinyl record cleaner has spawned an orgy of long-neglected-vinyl listening. A couple of Magazine records were uninspiring, and I began to doubt my attraction to this fashionably fringe late 70s band until I hit their 1980 live LP ‘Play’. Their early records were at the cerebral and keyboard-driven end of the punk explosion. The single ‘Shot by Both Sides’ was a stand-out slam-rocker from the Virgin Records double LP sampler Virginity that made big waves amongst my senior high school set around 1979.

So during this vinyl hygiene phase I started picking out the later records of their splintered career. ‘Magic Murder and the Weather’ and ‘The Correct Use of Soap’ are titles that titillated me at the time, indicate the cerebral intentions of lead singer and lyricist ex-Buzzcock Howard Devoto, and contain some fine moments, but don’t hit the sweet spot.

Live LP ‘Play’ includes many tracks that appeared on what was their current release on this particular tour, ‘The Correct Use of Soap’. But unlike the latter, ‘Play’ has just earned my 5-star rating.

Magazine’s first two LPs were classics. ‘Real Life’, followed by ‘Secondhand Daylight’ were clever, energetic examples of songcraft and musicianship. These studio efforts were the basis on which many hoped that Devoto’s career was headed for the motherlode. ‘Magic’ and ‘Soap’ allowed the strain of personnel changes and poor sales to disrupt the flow.

But in the middle of that latter phase, a slightly rough-around-the-edges recording at Melbourne’s Festival Hall in September 1980 revealed what the later studio efforts obscured. Five fine musicians getting into a groove in front of an audience.

I am listening to ‘Secondhand Daylight’ right now. It has a special sense of gestalt that the later albums could not achieve but still has a lot of weak moments. In contrast, ‘Play’ achieves a consistency of draw-you-in energy and excitement with every track.

‘Play’ is not in any way a classic of the Magazine discography. That appellation belongs to the first two albums. But ‘Play’ is easily the most enjoyable of their releases to these ears. Stripped of the calculation and control of the studio, one of Magazine’s lesser-known line-ups delivers the intricate keyboard swirl and treatment-layered guitars that were the band’s trademark with a sense that there were ‘real life’ moments where it all made sense.

Boost for Linwood

30 Oct

Linwood Village shops on Stanmore Road have just had a big boost following the post-quake demolitions.

Hibbards Butchery is back! Having lost their premises in firstly the quake of September 2010 and secondly the quake of February 2011, Hibbards have reopened in the most prominent of the remaining retail spaces.

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The cheerful bright green colour scheme and signs are a welcome boost to our devastated shopping precinct.

Swivel 90 degrees to the left, and you can see empty space where Hibbards’ last two premises were.

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The guys in Hibbards were lucky to survive the February quake. The roof of their Worcester St premises collapsed to the ground at the street front. Fortunately the boys had fled out the back, which remained upright.

Neighbourhood butcher shops are history in most of the city. Linwood has been a pretty special inner city neighbourhood; one of the few suburbs that has retained a local butcher. Huge ups to the boys at Hibbards for making it happen again.

East Christchurch disaster – angels needed

8 Mar

This just in from the indomitable Nikki Berry regarding the appalling situation in East Christchurch and how you can help if you have the time:

Hi, could you please pass this on to everyone you know?

I am helping out in Aranui/Wainoni and Bexley areas. The contrast in these areas is pretty horrifying. I live in North New Brighton. Many residents in my area don’t have power and water, but the streets are clean and though I know it’s a struggle for some, it’s nothing like the crisis going on there.

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Hangman is no more – Castle Rock post-quake

3 Mar

Let’s make it official, a fistful of classic Castle Rock climbing routes were destroyed by Christchurch’s 22 February earthquake.

[Update 2 April 2011: The best source of information on the state of Port Hills crags is the Facebook page for the Canterbury-Westland section of the NZ Alpine Club https://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=273657&id=682996858&l=8ed42e4c91]

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Building Biodiversity: Building New Zealand

7 Oct

Al Morrison, Director-General, Department of Conservation, speaking at Lincoln University, 7 October 2010.

Here’s a question. What connects Elvis Presley, Roy Rogers, Billie Graham, Sir Howard Morrison and probably you?

They all added to their popularity – well, perhaps not you – with a rendition of the popular hymn, How Great Thou Art. Elvis even won a Grammy Award for it in 1967.

My guess is you remember the first verse about the awesome wonder of the stars and the rolling thunder. Do you remember the second?

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