Jordan Reyne – Mother (2014)

coverJordan Reyne’s recently released Mother, the second EP in her “Maiden Mother Crone” trilogy, an examination of the role the ancient archetypes play in modern narratives of women. Unlike Crone, where the songs were held together by spare, darkly industrial vocal loops, on Mother Reyne’s bought her acoustic guitar to the fore.

But that doesn’t mean it’s an album of pretty folk-style guitar picking. Because when playing in this mode Reyne’s guitar figures are repetitive, simply altered chords that slide into each other to form a sound that is reminiscent of the drone of a bagpipe. Over this Reyne layers her Celtic-tinged vocals, full-throated, alternatively seductive or sinister, Dorian-scaled. With some basic acoustic percussion adding a counterpoint the end product is a sound that feels as ancient as the roots of the mountains, yetcontemporary and vital.

In the five songs on Mother, Reyne takes us through the journey of her character, beginning with ‘Don’t Look Down’, where the mother croons sweetly, defiantly to someone (her child, one assumes), that she’s going to save their life, because “no one can do this alone.” As more vocals are layered on in loops, the song becomes insistent, almost triumphant, a cry of certainty.

Which almost immediately crashes into reality in the second song, ‘The Ever Afters’, where the mother discovers the betrayal and pain that comes when a beloved (the father?) moves from the “happily” to the “every after.” “Then came the day you smiled to the smell of new perfume,” Reyne snarls, “don’t touch me, don’t touch me.” Her voice constricting with venom, while the guitar drones and the percussion thumps, as the Mother realises she’s surrendered her childhood hopes and dreams for the love of someone who no longer needs or wants her.

The Mother’s tale as told by Reyne is a harsh one; held up to criticism by a world that feels entitled to judge her, an object for men to observe as they make deals with the mythical ferryman to forever journey between duty and vice. Someone who feels the pain and sadness of a world into which they’ve bought new life, only to see the men who hold power do nothing but further destroy it.

The EP’s closing track, ‘Rulers of Men’, is a short, heartbreaking coda as the Mother reflects on all the promises made by men to fix the world’s problems, political and environmental. “Then they watergated wires to stop the questions and the talking,” laments Reyne, before concluding with a sorrowful lament that her boy is burning, right in front of her, the Mother. Powerless. Outraged at the deceit.

Mother is yet another powerful collection of songs from Reyne, hypnotic, enthralling, emotion-full music, and a powerful statement. Together with the Crone EP, Reyne has now put out, on a very limited budget and with little but social media for promotion, ten of the best songs she’s ever recorded in her career. And with Maiden due to also be released before the end of the year, taken together the three EPs might form together to make one could be one of my favourite “albums” of 2014. I’m looking forward to the third instalment.

Mother can be purchased, both for digital download and on CD, from Jordan Reyne’s Bandcamp page.

Beer match: Smokey, celtic-tinged, deceptively complex. Sounds to me just like the Tāne, from Herne Brewing. I recently had this off tap, and it’s great served that way as well as from the bottle I tried before its official release. Keep an eye out for it. Even better, listen to some Jordan Reyne while you drink it, the match really works!

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Hop Federation – Rakau IPA

Hop Federation Rakau IPA

Crafters & Co is a recently opened little place just on the south-west side of Wellington’s CBD. Situated on Victoria Street, just to the south of the intersection of Vivian Street, it’s a little bit further afield than the other craft beer bars of the capital, but it’s well worth the couple of minutes walk it’ll take to get you up there.

It’s a unique (for Wellington) combination of a cafe, craft beer bar and bottle store, offering good cafe-style food and ten craft beers on tap, which can also be used to fill flagons or you can buy a bottle of good beer to take home from their well-stocked walk-in fridge. In the bar they offer beer from the taps in a range of different glass sizes, and all beers are priced by the size of the glass, not by the strength, or reputation, or price-point of the beer itself; thia makes Crafters & Co one of the cheaper craft beer places in town.

Alongside the bar is another Wellington first, a small brewery where you can, for a reasonable fee, buy the ingredients and assistance for you and a few friends to brew your own beer in a well maintained, well-cleaned kit. They’ll then store it while it matures, before you bottle it and take it home.

The decor is quirky and comforting, suiting Crafters & Co’s location in the more bohemian Cuba Street – Aro Valley end of the city. Rustic wooden benches fill the front part of the small bar, offering a view out onto busy Victoria Street, while around a corner are a handful of low tables in a dimly lit, relaxed environment, under a ceiling covered with a wooden lattice that adds visual interest as well as useful sound dampening. Knick knacks and funky objects de art abound, and if you felt the need you could also pick up some locally made craft chocolate or beard oil take also take home.

Crafter’s & Co has a few faults, though. It’s a bit of a cave when you’re out of sight of the big open doors, and I like drinking in the open air while the sun is shining. The food is great but the service is slow, and the only bottles they sell for the FYO are those bulky expensive glass ones. I have a deep affection for those reusable bottles, I do, but I’d like them to be sold alongside cheaper, lighter, plastic flagons. But it’s early days, and what I’ve seen on the bar on my handful of visits so far has me hoping it’ll just continue to improve.

On my first visit I checked out a couple of beers for the first time as well, including the ‘Rakau IPA’ by Hop Federation. Hop Federation beers hail from Riwaka, the heart of New Zealand’s hop country at the top of the South Island, and are brewed by Simon Nicholas, who opened his own brewery after some time as Hallertau’s head brewer. Hop Federation beers, with their distinctive simple, colourful, stylised hop-on-white background labels and tap badges have become more and more frequent around Wellington, but they haven’t always leapt out at me when I’ve given them a try.

The Rakau IPA, however, was quite attention grabbing. Brewed for the 2014 Marchfest in Nelson, this beer featured a huge flavouring of Rakau hops, a new variety getting the attention of some more adventurous brewers. The beer gave off a distinctive aroma of sweetness, of toffee and a effervescent lemonade, but once in the mouth an initial sweetness was soon washed away by a massive wave of intense hop flavours.

Maybe it was Crafters & Co’s studenty-vibe and location close to the hippies of Aro Valley, but when describing the flavours and aftertaste that the Rakau IPA presented to me I kept going towards words like “sticky”, “herbal,” and “skunky”. There was also a fresh, crisp flavouring of pine needles, a naturally “green” flavouring that spoke to me of the freshness of the hops that had gone into the beer.

Ultimately, the beer reminded me that hops aren’t too distantly related from another green, strongly-flavoured herb, with more noted relaxing qualities!

This IPA was well balanced with a sweetness and fullness that helped to rein these very strong hop flavours in, tipping the beer more towards the fruity and floral than the astringent and cloying – though the full sweetness of the beer’s body did give it a bit of a sticky sensation, leaving the hops clinging to the taste buds for perhaps a moment too long.

Hop heads would love that, though, the slow burn and rasping aftertaste of a strongly hopped beers, so while it may not be to my taste, I wouldn’t call this characteristic a fault.

The Rakau IPA, drunken in a new relaxed environment, was a pleasure. And it’s made me reconsider my experiences so far with Hop Federation; I’ll be keeping an eye out to try more and more of their beers as they cross my path.

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Brill BruisersWhat a difference a good single, with a good video can make, eh?

Since encountering them via the linkage with frequent vocalist Neko Case, Canadian indie power-popsters The New Pornographers have been an firm favourite of mine. But, that said, I wasn’t much of a fan of The New Pornographers’ 2010 album Together. It was okay, I guess, but I found the songs an odd combination of too cutesy yet also too long. It didn’t hold my attention, and I’ve barely played it since it was released, while the rest of the band’s back catalogue still gets lots of playtime.

When word of a new album by A.C. Newman and his talented offsiders emerged earlier this year, I didn’t give it too much thought. I knew I’d check Brill Bruisers out, inevitably, but there was no sense of “must have”, no excitement from me.

Until I saw the video for ‘War on the East Coast’. Then I got excited.

The single-take video is masterful. Smart, entertaining, and funny, abounding with sly jokes of a very-Canadian post-apocalypse, matching the lyrical wit of the song. (One in-joke is that the writer/singer of the song, Dan Bejar, isn’t the one singing in the video – that’s A.C. Newman, while Bejar’s the hairy guy walking alongside him.)

Then there’s the music; the chugging, propulsive guitar, the hugely catchy chorus, the effervescent keyboards, the smart-and-poppy danceability of it all. It promised good things of the album.

And the album delivers. With Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers have hooked into a keyboard heavy pop sound full of hints of some of the best smart pop music of the late 70s on. New Wave and Britpop elements spring forth as a natural consequence of songs that revolve around strong, catchy keyboard parts above an anchor of bright rhythm guitar, while the drums lay down a danceable foundation with clever little syncopated fills making your hips twitch.

Above, gorgeous vocal harmonies lay down the chorus after hooky chorus, the band’s many talented vocalists (not just Newman, Case and Bejar – all the band sing, keyboardist Kathryn Calder in particular providing crucial backing vocals on most tracks) all on top form communicating the band’s usual lyrical theme of the oddness of being, well, working musicians.

Brill Bruisers provides superb power pop, taking music that could be a bit old fashioned, and instead fashion something entirely contemporary. Unique, yet through the magic of the structure of the pop song, instantly familiar.

A joyful chorus of vocals kicks the album off with the title track, giving more than a little hint of the pop-history this album’s mining with a reference to the Brill Building song-factory. And the joy, the sound of celebration continues throughout, through songs with just enough variation in tempo, length and theme to keep the ear interested through repeated plays.

But again, as I listen to the album, it’s the keyboards provided by Calder and Blaine Thurier that catch and entice. Moved right to the front of the mix, throbbing, swirling, hooking in with sounds both bright and rhythmic, the keyboard parts (and, beneath them, the jagged guitar) anchor Brill Bruisers into an almost synth-pop sound. But not the moody, dark synth-pop that has been delved into by a few indie bands of late; here The New Pornographers are using the timbre and brightness to bring a smile, to get you dancing. Culminating with ‘You Tell Me Where’, the album’s closing track that hangs one of the most catchy choruses you’ll ever hear over the power-pop keyboards that characterised the last few albums from The Who.

It’s a pure pop head rush, timelessly contemporary, and might be one of my favourite albums of 2014.

Beer match: Bright, bubbly, but a lot smarter than it may appear at first glance. Just like the Garage Project Hapi Daze I wrote about not too long ago.

Black Dog Brewery ‘Malinois’

Black Dog's 'Malinois' with my actual pen-and-paper beer diary. #geek

Black Dog’s ‘Malinois’ with my actual pen-and-paper beer diary. #geek

Black Dog Brewery, on Blair Street, has become a favourite place over recent months. I work down towards the railway station at the other end of Wellington’s waterfront, and putting in my earphones and going for a brisk walk is a favoured way of unwinding at the end of my working day.

Black Dog provides a good destination, if the urge takes me to have a beer before continuing to walk home or to divert back through to catch a bus. Sitting in their spartan-yet-comfortable drinking area, with the kit in which the beer is brewed right there on full show, is quite lovely. There’s a certain something about drinking a beer within metres of where it has been made; almost always brings out the best in the beer. For me, at least.

Black Dog’s ‘Malinois’ is one of my favourite of the beers this brew-pub serve; an effervescent saison / farmhouse style ale, bright and sprightly, with a tart sourness chasing the soft nuttiness of the body. And when in there recently, I and a friend were quite excited to see that the Malinois was being served on hand pull, as well as through the more usual carbonated lines. Doing a side-by-side, tasting how the beer responds to the different methods of serving, is always an interesting experience.

Unfortunately, the Malinois doesn’t quite work when served through the hand pump. While it was cute to see the little mini-keg sitting there below the pump, the served product didn’t quite translate well to the softer serve. The hops were made a bit more astringent, the natural effervescence of the ale softened so much that the spice and tartness of the body was subsumed by a walnut-like flavour.

But it was an interesting experience, and there was no room to be disappointed, because with the beer also available from the carbonated keg I was soon able to enjoy the beer’s best characteristics being shown off. Because with the additional C02, the beer’s crisp and sharply tart aroma really lifts off the top of the glass, while in the mouth the bubbles dissolve beautifully, carrying a sweet softness that fades deliciously to a long, slightly-soured aftertaste.

Not every beer suits coming off a hand-pull. Stouts, porters, bitters and many IPAs suit the treatment nicely, but I’ll put a saison like the Malinois in the “yeah, nah” category. But, good to see Black Dog doing something a little bit different with one of their more interesting beers. I’m all in favour of beery experimentation!

The keg of Malinois, sitting directly below the hand pull.

The keg of Malinois, sitting directly below the hand pull.

Jucifer – L’Autrichienne (2008)

Jucifer - L'Autrichienne

The description of some albums just raise an eyebrow. And, if you’re like me, perhaps raise your interest. I’d never heard of American sludge-metal wife-and-husband Jucifer before someone mentioned L’Autrichienne to me as a recommendation a week or so back. Such a band doing a sprawling 21-song epic concept album about Marie Antoinette? Ok, count me in.

Iif you’re not like me, maybe such a description would turn you off listening to such an album. And, if so, you’d be missing out on one of the most interesting, exciting, diverse rock albums I’ve heard since, well, since Maximum the Hormone’s Yoshu Fukushu.

The shear range of music on display here is mind boggling and ear bending. It’s all “rock” of some variety, but then the Soundgarden-esque riffing of the opening track ‘Blackpowder’ ends only to throw the listener into screamed ultra-fast hardcore punk of ‘Thermidor’, which just thirty seconds later warps into the gorgeous, melancholic trance of ‘To The Earth’. And that song ends with the sound of a dropped drum stick; an idiosyncratic touch of as-live-as recording that just makes the album more fascinating.

Because, throughout these 21 songs, Jucifer never sits still, and hurls a wide range of rock, metal and punk at the listener, but all done with a stripped back, rawness that reminds that this band really is just a two-piece – drummer (and sometimes bassist) Edgar Livengood, and Amber Valentine, who can treat her guitar like a beast or a beauty, as well as possessing one of the most flexible voices I’ve heard utilised on a rock metal.

One minute Valentine will be screaming out incomprehensible roars over a violent thrash, next she’ll be crooning over a single strummed electric guitar like she was Kristen Hersh. While singing in French. Other times Valentine will be roaring along with some slow doom metal, only for the next track to showcase her transcending scales, adding an edge, becoming reminiscent of 1990s PJ Harvey or Courtney Love.

To keep up the 1990s women-in-alt-rock theme, there’s ‘Armada’, which features a thumped kick drum, a lurching fuzzed guitar, and a lazy, multi-tracked vocal, closely harmonising with the guitar. It could be off The Breeders ‘Last Splash’.

Yes, it is a concept album, but the smart, interesting lyrics do nothing but further fascinate. ‘Armada’, that fuzzed out Breeders-like song, features the hook line “to smash your arrogance on The Rock of Gibraltar.” And, as the album leads us from Marie Antoinette being the glamorous, desirable centre of the French court, through war and revolution, to capture and eventually execution, words and tales can be made out that keep drawing the listener back in, to find out more.

And, sometimes, they trick us. My favourite song on the album is ‘Window (Where The Sea Falls Forever)’. It starts out with a spiky, snotty grunge rock (hi, Juliana Hatfield?) where Antoinette is spits at herself with disgust, for not seeing the signs of revolution, and also for not doing enough to defend herself and her position.

But then ‘Window’ changes, the guitar becoming shrill and Valentine alters her voice, sliding into a husky high register, singing sweetly. The words “beyond the kingdom and the love of mankind I am gone, to the edge of the earth beyond” are heard. Is this regret, is this Antoinette feeling guilt or seeking redemption before her execution.

Oh, no. Because then the words in the sweetly sung, closely-harmonised chorus reveal themselves. “Beyond, beyond there’s another world waiting to be lead, beyond, beyond I’ll have everything again.” Antoinette doesn’t regret a thing; her sadness is for the foolish people who decided to stop worshiping her.

And it’s smart musical and lyrical juxtapositions like that, the huge range of rock music on show here, and the huge wall of sound this band create even in their quietest moments that have made L’Autrichienne a quick favourite. Worth checking out – it can be obtained easily from Jucifer’s Bandcamp page.

Beer match: This album is big, fun, and very interesting. And, yet, it’s a direct and straightforward rock album, mostly just guitar, drums and voice. Is there a style of beer that is “rock music”? Probably pale ales or IPAs. But, this album deserves something a bit more interest. Something that stands up well as a great example of the style. So, my recommendation for this would be Parrotdog’s recently released ‘Jurassic Pale Ale’, a hoppy pale ale that carries both sweetness and fruity hops superbly into one of the best of the style I’ve tasted. And it’s got dinosaurs.