Graham Reid | | 5 min read
With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column by the informed and opinionated Yasmin Brown.
You can read her previous columns here and Yasmin's profile appears at the end of these brief but pointed reviews . . .
All of these EPs are available on Spotify
Tomorrow People: BBQ Reggae
For most, reggae probably prompts thoughts of socio-political lyrics, Bob Marley, and thick clouds of marijuana smoke. Traditionally, those who write and perform reggae music have something important to say, and they say it with cool bass lines, catchy drum beats and uncensored story-telling. With this in mind, associating this New Zealand band with such a genre seems insulting to those that made it great. Tomorrow People have created a collection of tracks that are tepid at best.
Differentiating between each track is a challenge, as repetitive beats and lack of vocal range cause you to switch off, and the lyrics are monotonous and generic. There are a few instances that spark something resembling excitement, such as when the female vocals are introduced in No Good, and the more stimulating beat in Where I Stand, but those moments are few and far between. Their decision to record Samoan and Maori versions of Don’t Wanna Fight It was a thoughtful touch, but does little in the way of salvaging this 8 track EP.
Tomorrow People have tried to stand up against critics and turn the negative phrase “BBQ Reggae” into something positive, but as a result have only cemented comments made against them.
SWIDT: Stonyhunga: The Bootleg EP
SWIDT are highly acclaimed in their home country of New Zealand, and yet it’s clear as to why their fame both starts and ends on our fair shores. The EP is introduced by a short voicemail message before launching into Conquer, a bland hip-hop composition accompanied by repetitive and rhythmic rapping. The vocals throughout are flat, with only TeeFlii’s guest vocals in Wait 4 It offering any kind of redemption.
Me Julie starts off promising, with the backing track being a fun metronome beat, making it the coolest track on the EP. Sadly, though, it is followed by The Code featuring Novelist, another monotonous track that fails to engage. Thankfully, Boogie revives the listener somewhat, with vocals and a backing track that mostly align with the song title.
With four featured artists, you might expect Off the Top to be disjointed, and yet the track flows smoothly. If SWIDT’s intention in this instance was to make a sexy track, they have succeeded in that, at least, and the juxtaposition of the sweet female vocals with the unabashed cursing is surely the most interesting moment of the entire EP.
To label Stonyhunga: The Bootleg EP as ‘bad’ would be unfair, since it does contain at least some memorable melodies and interesting juxtapositions. However to compare it - as it has been - to artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z are unwarranted, with it fading into the background along with the scores of other hip-hop artists saturating the industry today.
SYML: In My Body
Seattle native SYML (otherwise known as Brian Fennell) has delved into the rawest and most vulnerable parts of himself to create this sonically simple, yet highly impactful collection of songs.
For the vast majority of the EP, Fennell has taken a stripped approach to song writing, ensuring that the focus remains on his vocals and the consistently honest lyrics. It’s hard to pinpoint the most stand out moments, as the vocals remain faultless throughout as they soar effortlessly between octaves, the musical accompaniment mostly remains soft and romantic, and the lyrics continue to provide insight into Fennell’s thoughts as though reading from pages of his journal.
While the vast majority of In My Body follows this soft, acoustic pattern, a respite from the emotion is offered in track four, Ghosts, which implements synths and vocal effects, sounding more confident than the rest of the EP. This more upbeat sound is short-lived, however, as the penultimate track Harvest Moon is, once again, acoustically driven but this time with subtle synthetic undertones adding more depth to the track than its exclusively acoustic counterparts.
Very few artists choose to save the best until last, despite the frequency with which the phrase is used, but SYML has certainly done that with The War. The track is almost ambient to start with, slowly introducing more instruments and gaining an element of strength that fit perfectly with the lyric, “My war is over”. The In My Body EP incites emotion, and yet identifying exactly why you feel that emotion is difficult.
On paper, each track is simply constructed and yet the complexity of the emotion it makes you feel is unfathomable.
Surly: Trip to Warsaw
Trip to Warsaw is interesting to say the least. An ode to Polish jazz, New Zealand producer Surly stretches beyond the boundaries of what you might expect, taking you on a journey through time as it does so. The title track kicks off the EP with soft wind instruments and harmonised vocals, almost entirely unrepresentative of what’s to come. It’s followed by Thirteen, a track driven by a bass line that replicates a heartbeat, played erratically alongside the melancholy piano, which gradually becomes more vigorous and desperate until its abrupt ending.
While maintaining the same basic jazz elements, 4Q 510-511 has a more tribal sound to it, almost transporting you to a jungle. The track doesn’t make for pleasant listening, with most of it being jolted and out of time, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable. The second half of the EP takes an unexpected turn, to the point where you might question if you’re even listening to the same artist. As Scare Em to Death comes into play, the listener is transported to another time as synths are introduced, and while there are still elements of jazz, this is undeniably a hip-hop track. By the time you reach Wait Til the Stick Comes, the confusion has only intensified as you wonder how the diversion from jazz to hip-hop came about, reaching its peak as Surly implements strings into the final hip-hop track, Train to Lodz.
Trip to Warsaw is weird and incoherent, but it keeps the listener engaged, as each second brings something unexpected.
Yasmin Brown is a dedicated music lover and avid critic, who completed her PGDip in Communication Studies at Auckland University of Technology. She’s at her peak when buried in the middle of a mosh pit, and now continues to pursue her love of live music journalism in Cambridge, UK, often finding herself popping to London to check out her favourite bands, as well as discovering a mass of new talent