The Complicatist : Laneway, 2014
Likely highlights from the best on offer at Silo Park
by Gordon Campbell
Once again, Laneway offers the best festival line-up over summer. On the downside, the Silo Park site can be a drawback. Music that sounds great in a club at 11.30pm isn’t made to be heard on an oversize basketball court in blazing sunshine, and in 2012 – to cite just one of several instances – EMA died the death in the 1pm timeslot. The good news is that all three of the stellar hip hop acts set for Laneway will also be doing a small, intimate club gig in Wellington the following day.( See details below.) With that sole caveat in mind, some highlights of the Laneway line-up in Auckland for Monday, 27th January 2014 look likely to be:
1. Savages : City’s Full/ Shut Up etc
Savages have an album‘s worth of messily romantic songs that drive on through the night like a bullet train. In Camille Bethomier – she’s the French actress who made a terrific ghost movie/love story film in 2005 called Through the Forest – the band has a lead singer with a ton of charisma, and guitarist Gemma Thompson is her equal, and counterpoint. Inevitably in 2013, Savages come across as something of a goth revival band, with the obvious main touchstones being Siouxssie and – given the pulsing repetitions of these songs – the sainted Joy Division as well. This live set recorded for KEXP earlier this year, kicks off with “ City”s Full” one of the the best tracks from the Silence Yourself album.
2. Danny Brown “Rules of Rebel Style,” “Grown Up”
Detriot rapper Danny Brown ( pictured above) is an amusing guy with terrific verbal skills, yet his life story is a downbeat Detroit one. Brown grew up in a family reliant on auto industry jobs, and grpwing up, he did a lot of listening to his half-Filipino DJ father’s Tribe Called Quest records. When the jobs gave out in Detroit and his Dad left home, Brown became a drug dealer and then the rapper he says now he’d always wanted to be. Eventually, Ali Shaheed ( from Tribe Called Quest) became his mentor, and he’s now signed to A Trak’s label, Fools Gold. Brown has a distinctive, high speed delivery think Dizzee Rascal but funnier and more sex-obsessed. Below, I’ve linked to a spoof style guide he did for GQ magazine, and to the touching video for the “Grown Up” track, that’s based on a sample from Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side.” (I‘ve also linked to a self revealing “making of’ interview in which Brown talks how that video came about.) Finally there’s the “Dip” track from his latest album Old.
3. Frightened Rabbit : “ Act of Man, The Twist”
The typical opening line of Frightened Rabbit’s new album : “I am the dickhead in the kitchen /giving wine to your best girl’s glass….” Only Scotland’s mixture of stoic depressiveness and irrational romanticism could produce a band like this. (Or like Camera Obscura.) The bleak, wry humour is an FR constant. On one of the arena-sized refrains on the new album for example, the band’s main singer/writer Scott Hutchison has come up with these cheery singalong lines : “Oh, there’s something wrong with me / there’s something wrong with me..” All together now, lighters in the air : There is something wrong with me !
Hard to pick from among the best FR tracks : “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” “Things” “The Wrestle” The Woodpile” The Loneliness and The Scream” and the early classic ”“The Modern Leper”“ . From 2008-ish, “The Twist” still sounds great….
4. Haim “Oh Well”
In September/October, the Haim sisters were everywhere you turned. Either doing adorably goofy interviews – like this one with Canada’s living treasure, Nardwuar and/or having their debut album Days Are Gone shouted to the skies. As usual with overnight successes, Haim suffered through about a decade of paying their dues, and honing their skills = some of it in family band that their parents had blessed with the adorably cringeworthy name, Rockinhaim. The radio friendly pop of many of the tracks on Days Are Gone ( “The Wire,” “Honey and I” etc- can be misleading. Live, Haim do a great version of “Oh Well” from the Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac – it serves as a showcase for guitarist Danielle Haim, who did years of gigging work with the likes of Jenny Lewis, and with Julian Casablancas of the Strokes before the Haim juggernaut began to gazin some traction. Watch the short docu on the band below for the a capella version of “ Honey and I” where the sisters add percussion by banging on the roof of the car in which they’re re riding.
5. Kurt Vile : “Girl Called Alex” “Goldtone”
Anyone who saw Kurt Vile’s set at the Kings Arms in 2011 will know how relaxed and likeable this guy from Philadelphia can be onstage. He’s compelling out in front of his band or when he’s doing the Applalachian fingerpicking acoustic parts of his set. ( Tracks like “Peeping Tomboy” only came into focus for me at the Kings Arms gig.) Since then, Vile’s albums have blurred into stoner golden haze jams, and the shorter, more melodic stuff from his Childish Prodigy period has largely gone by the board. Too bad. On stage though, I’m sure everything from early stuff like “ Freak Train” through to “ Ghost Town” and recent material like “Goldtone” will all sound just as good. Here, from behind Vile’s wall of hair are a couple of tracks from this year’s Pretty Haze album : a live version of “Girl Called Alex” and the official version of album highlight “Goldtone….”
6. Run the Jewels : “Banana Clipper” “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”
Who would have thought Killer Mike’s socially committed bombast would combine so well with El-P’s deep space paranoia ? Last year, El-P’s chilly, interstellar production smarts and Killer Mike’s high beam delivery resulted in one of the best hip hop albums of 2012 ( ie, Killer Mike’s R.A.P Music ). As Run The Jewels, they’ve now come up with one of the most enjoyable albums of 2013 as well. Killer Mike Render is a big enough personality to take command of the Silo Park stage, and El-P is no shrinking violet either. The “ Banana Clipper” track also features Big Boi from Outkast, and the Christmas song from therir mixtape has a pretty good seasonal message : chill out on the hate, realise the gifts you were both with etc. As El-P says :
Wanna live for the thrill? They’ll arrange it
Got a bevy of imps to spit hatred
Shit’ll get in your head and cause panic
Have you desperately begging to get famous
Get your dignity dirty and left orphaned
Sanity on the fringe of distorted…………
They can never take the energy inside you were born with
Knowing that, understand you could never be poor
You already won the war, you were born rich
Merry Christbus everyone, happy New Year and see you at Laneway.
Footnote : The hip hop line-up at Laneway is really strong. Not only Run the Jewels and Danny Brown….but also Earl Sweatshirt…who emerged a couple of years ago as a 16 year prodigy with the Odd Future crew in Los Angeles. Famously, Sweatshirt was then shipped off to American Samoa by his Mom, after he fell in with a bad crowd. He came back this year with an uneven album called Doris that did contain one instant classic : a terrific, autobiographical hit called “ Chum.” It will be pretty interesting to see whether he can make his introspective style work on stage, in the heat in Auckland. Wellington audioences may be luckier, since the whole hip hop contingent – Killer Mike, El-P, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt will be performing in Wellington on Tuesday, 28 January at James Cabaret, a small night-time venue that should masker for a far more intimate show. ( Tickets through Dash.) In the meantime, here’s “Chum” plus a totally unrelated extra, a track by Chance The Rapper from his essential Acid Rap album – this one is based on a sample of Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” soul classic, and features Childish Gambino, with Chance. Probably my favourite single track of 2014.