I've said it before. These guys (along w/ Streets of Laredo) converted me to alt-folk. I had seen folk as a stagnant art-form, and with my electronica bent, it was always going to be an uphill effort. But Bird Courage own me now...with their beautiful lyrics, dynamics, textural balance, and exquisite arrangements that have so little going on...but seem to flesh the songs out perfectly. Each new release continues to build on the promise that Erik Meier and Sam Saffery showed as subway performers back in 2011. The raw essence is retained, but now we get violin, cello and trumpet arrangements that polish up the songs - just enough. Bird Courage is one-half NZ, with Sam being the New Zealand contact point here. Sam is one of those rare people who was able to give up the material benefits of a legal career in New Zealand for a creative life that may at times have flirted with starvation. There is an emotional and creative integrity here. Pretty impressive. So what makes this release worthy? Well the usual brilliance is present, but in this offering we have very talented string players, ex-Melbourne violinist cum legal scholar Quyen Le, and virtuoso cellist Jacob Cohen. Sam dragged out his dormant trumpet skills for the track. He anticipates doing more with the trumpet on future material. Apparently upright-bassist Clinton Van Gemert, who joined the band in 2014 is still involved on a part-time basis. The band have been touring actively, having just finished a tour through the USA's north-west. They managed to sell out of their vinyl on the tour so clearly there is a taste for Bird Courage over that way. A point of interest, this stunning, and quite-expensive-looking-but-probably-not video directed by Cody Swanson, features another up and coming Brooklyn-based musician C.F.Watkins. She is in the process of writing a new album after recently completing crowd-funding. Bird Courage are not sure whether their next release will be an album or an EP, but going by the quality of "Channels", whatever turns up may well surpass "Maia Manu's" critical reception. Go and have a listen at the links below.
Bird Courage - Channels
Majestic. Sounding like Ian Curtis just woke up in a bar in Arizona and got up to sing his new material with the resident 80s cover band, this unpredictable post-punk/post-Pink Floyd/country blend gets better with every listen. Introduced to me by a very enthusiastic Calum Robb of Black City Lights, I know now why he was so amped up on the band. With four years, an album already under their belt, and living in Welly, you would think I would know have known about something this good. Better late than never. The band, led on vocals by Michael Keane and Harriet Ferry are currently releasing their sophomore album "With Knees of Honey in Goodbye Canyon", influenced by "the Nevada desert, Utah canyons and instrumental guitarists like William Tyler and Robbie Basho". The band came out of Michael's frustration with his solo work, and a decision to work on country-influenced material with Harriet Ferry, Kane Tippler and James Bennett, all artists from disparate inspirational quarters. The material has since evolved to form what they call "Canyon Rock". The band hooked up with Wellington audio engineer James Goldsmith for the new album, and in "Open Eyed" he has produced something big, organic...but not clichéd, nor pompous. Its ambitious material, so to do so shows an understanding of the band, something they have confirmed in recent interviews. The video from Arty Papageorgiou and Phoebe Gittins comes in from an angle I wouldn't have heard in the song, but delivers with a vengeance. It is a powerful song/video mix. You can buy "Open Eyed" at the link below. The first single "Grounded (Lips)" is also there and no doubt the new album will available at the same link very soon. I will be buying it.
So Laid Back Country China - Open Eyed
Many R&B songs are sung with an intensity that sits at odds with the banality of the lyrics. It is one of the reasons I find it difficult to spend much time with the genre. But occasionally there comes along an artist who brings depth and a new perspective. Thomston (Thomas Stoneman) is one of those. "Collarbones" is not strictly R&B, with an electro-hum reminiscent of my other NZ favourite of 2014, Bad Blocks. But its roots are there, enhanced by superb, spacious production. And the lyrics? The song is about the writer's realisation that a friend has an eating disorder, and the internal conflicts around acting on his concern. The maturity of the writing is stunning. "Collarbones" consistently brings a tear to this writer's eye. There is a care and sensitivity which I believe is no affectation, as my limited interaction with the artist has been remarkable for its courtesy and respect. Although embodying a genuine and personal message, "Collarbones" also has an element of the theatrical about it, and in some ways it could be a signature song within a musical. I find it interesting that Thomas had performed in stage productions at an earlier age as there is almost a Stephen Sondheim feel to the writing on this track. "Collarbones" is from Thomston's latest "Backbone" EP which is available in its entirety through Spotify, linked below. You can buy last year's "Argonaut" EP at the iTunes link. "Collarbones" and "Grey" from the new EP are at the Soundcloud link. I would be very surprised if at some stage over the next two years we didn't see Thomston crack the US market. If you would like to see him live, he has a few live dates coming up. See below. Top marks to Jamie Lawrence of 8com for the stunning video.
May 2nd, St James Theatre, Auckland
May 12th, Les Etoiles, Paris
May 14th, Great Escape Festival, Brighton
August 20, Pukklepop, Belgium
More dates TBA
THOMSTON - COLLARBONES (Official Music Video)