Tono and the Finance Company: Fragile Thing EP (Border)

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Tono and the Finance Company: Barry Smith of Hamilton
Tono and the Finance Company: Fragile Thing EP (Border)

One of the nicest things about small indie artists is the care they lavish on the presentation of their low-key albums. Witness the delightful Tokey Tones albums or even the more rough-hewn albums on Flying Nun where the art was a signifier of the contents.

And so it is with this terrific, confident, witty and repeat-play six-song EP which comes in an "exquisite corpse" cover (the collaborative work of artists in the manner of the Surrealists, or just what you do in restaurants to amuse kinds). It folds out into a large crucifix.

And within are half a dozen songs which are lyrically biting, droll, astute and witty -- all delivered in the context of guitar-driven songs which bristle with energy and smart pop-rock arrangements.

The locale in places and names will resonate with Kiwi audiences as they seem to say much more than mere words suggest: in PJ Harvey's on the Stereo (a stabbing take on early Flying Nun) singer-songwriter Anthonie Tonnon yelps "I grew up on punk, she was raised on grunge . . . just a good boy from the cold suburbs of Dunedin, I like cardigans . . . she's an earthquake from Hastings burning with fire from underground . . . this is love".

That kind of emotional dichotomy is scattered throughout here where nothing is for certain ("we're in love and we're still pretty young" on Tuesday Evening which comes of like Morrissey with less ennui). And on Barry Smith of Hamilton he takes off (with some sympathy) people who appear on Stars in Their Eyes: "Tonight Matthew I will be anyone except Barry Smith from Hamilton, I can sing as good as Ray Columbus and my wife tells me I was just as cute, I was waiting by this river to be discovered . . .")

The title track asks what "a man" is (strong handshake?) and what it is to be one . . . and comes up with no answer other than, "it's a fragile thing".

Politics Will Only Make You Miserable is as contemporary as today's newspaper, again Morrissey comes to mind. 

Tonnon is an intelligent, adult lyricist (and possesses a dark, assured voice) and if the music seduces in its pop-smarts, then be prepared to be provoked into thought by what the subject matter is.

One of the most surprising and rewarding local discs of the year. 

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Shaun - Oct 1, 2010

Wonderful review of a gorgeous ep Graham. I was lucky enough to win this from that nice man at elsewhere, and right from taking the rubber-band off the superb cover to open it out, to giving it a spin on the stereo, to listening to it as I type this, it is an object of beauty.

I know that I'm going to be humming songs from this again for the next few days . . . for my money, Barry Smith of Hamilton has to be one of the New Zealand songs of the year. Graham is right- it is a wonderfully sympathetic song, and clearly "Tono" has a generous affinity for Barry and his contemporaries. The song has that lovely feel of dreams realised- hey, I am performing to an audience; of humour (I will be "Elvis . . . from his final stage of life . . . because I feel like an ice-cream"); and of dreams still held, with a realisation that really, they are lost. It truly is a lovely song, warm, generous, funny and sad, but never mocking or cruel.

Having heard a bit of Tono on Radio 1 in Dunedin (The excellent opening track on this ep "Tuesday Evening" also features as a live version on the R1 compilation "A Century of Seasons"), it is great to hear the coherent, clever and charming collection on this CD. (It also features contributions on tracks from Haunted Love, another act worth checking out, and who also feature on a few other Dunedin releases of late- The Clean; and I think Robert Scott's new album)

I think this is now only available as a download (seems I am one of the lucky 300 to have the physical copy- it is worth tracking down.

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