Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Despite more than a decade of recording, touring (locally and internationally) and a Silver Scroll nomination for songwriting, Whanganui-based Anthonie Tonnon – who first appeared as Tono and the Finance Company – seemed destined for that netherworld reserved for “critics' favourite”.
Yet his music has never been especially difficult or challenging.
Yes, along the way Tonnon addressed serious issues and offered social observation, but with the insight of Blam Blam Blam/Don McGlashan. And sometimes his lyrics were droll, astute responses to emotional dislocation.
Maybe that is difficult or challenging?
But with his album Leave Love Out of This – collecting a number of singles since his Taite Award-nominated Successor of 2015 – he might step beyond the established and enthusiastically supportive audience he has developed.
Aside from crafting attractively seductive melodies and delivering them in a manner which recalls yearning Rufus Wainwright or late-period David Bowie, Tonnon's gift is the astute juxtaposition of the personal and the political, where social issues revolve around people up against family, lovers, corporate entities or bureaucracy.
But, at heart, love is the pivot.
Tonnon – who writes of fractured desire with uncommon accomplishment – possesses a rare empathy and sees himself in roles where fragile love and social conscience often pay a high price: “I used to be able to take on the world alone, I used to pride myself on having no allegiance at all . . . now I'm wondering where my resources have gone . . . . now I wonder was I was right to fight with the stream” he sings on the self-doubting synth-pop of When I'm Wrong.
The chiming pop-rock opener Entertainment sounds in part a tribute to his former music mentor at the University of Otago, Dr Graeme Downes of the Verlaines (“you gave them everything when you were starting out, you gave them every idea you had . . . you gave me a shot and I'll always remember that”), the electro-pop of Two Free Hands is a lovely ballad and Mataura Paper Mill is another in his lineage of socially aware songs.
On Successor he considered the pace of progress (Railway Lines) and the Silver Scroll-nominated Water Underground was about irrigation, water reticulation and local politics in Canterbury.
Mataura Paper Mill is about the toxic waste from Tiwai Point dumped in smalltown Mataura.
Difficult and challenging?
Not in Tonnon's hands where it becomes a moving lament over low strings.
Alongside these are the mesmerising Old Images, the beautiful and dramatically ascending title track, the conversational Christopher which Wainwright would doubtless recognise, Lockheed Bomber, the ghost of General Douglas MacArthur haunting the uneasy Peacetime Orders . . .
With this sophisticated, pop-crafted and intelligent collection, Anthonie Tonnon – who has created his own aesthetic which never condescends to his audience – may finally reach those who didn't even know they were looking for him.
For more on Tono/Tonnon at Elsewhere see here.