Every Record I Own: Scorched Earth Policy – Going Thru’ a Hole in the Back of your Head

Every Record I Own: Scorched Earth Policy – Going Thru’ a Hole in the Back of your Head

This record is a compilation of the two EPs released on Flying Nun. There are a few other cassette live recordings but this is the complete studio recordings.

This band sound like they are on the verge of collapse at any moment. They never quite lock in together. The instruments sound like they’re competing with each other. Violins and pianos float in and out but get drowned out. Guitars disintegrate into squeals. The drums give every beat equal weight, which makes everything a bit unpredictable. The floor toms are used near constantly giving the songs a heartbeat backbone. The bass seems like one of the few constants but also seems to urge the rest of the music faster and more chaotic. You have no idea where this could lead and then everything slows down and the song stops.

The lyrics reference violence, but usually indirectly. talking about flesh and throats and accidents. The vocalists sing like they’re narrators in a horror b movie, at times sounding like they’re passive to the violence, and then at other times sounding like they’re the instigators. Andrew Dawson’s very low and Mary Heney’s higher register feel weirdly interchangeable. When they sing together it’s not in harmony, but like they’re chanting.

Nothing about this band should work as well as it does. It’s anxiety inducing hearing everything hanging on by a thread (or not even hanging on). But it’s too messy to describe as tense. And they are one of my favourite bands of all time.

A couple of years ago both Mary Heney and Peter Stapleton died and both affected me quite a lot. Peter Stapleton as a drummer and lyricist was the constant factor in a lot of my favourite music, and continued doing interesting things all through his life. Mary Heney didn’t release much music after this, but I think her presence was what made Scorched Earth Policy.

I only know small amounts of biographical details of this band, so I’m not speaking to that. But musically this feels unsustainable. I understand why this band had to end after 2 EPs. I’ve listened to this twice in a row while writing this post and it feels like I now need complete silence to deal with having listened.

Most of the members went on to make other music that had similarities with this, but nothing quite comes close to the chaos and darkness of Scorched Earth Policy. I’m from Christchurch, and there’s something about this group of musicians and their music that reflects an essential part of Christchurch which I have to come back to in the future when I return to them.

Fave songs: Too Far Gone, Since the Accident, Turn your Eyes Away. Really everything. Nothing bad on here.

Every Record I Own: Mole Männe – Mole Männe

This is a 12″ EP from a band that I think was from Wellington.

Pretty typical 80s post punk. Lots of use of toms. Songs built up from strong bass lines, John Lyndon-esque (PiL era not Sex Pistols era) shouty vocals. There are two really good songs on this EP and a few ones that are not as good, but still fine. Unfortunately the best song (Search) has the worst lyrics.

They weren’t on Flying Nun, which means they have not been romanticised and canonised like a lot of that stuff. Not that everything on Flying Nun has been canonised, having read the book Needles and Plastic last year there were quite a few records I had never heard of despite having a bit of an obsession with flying nun.

I picked this up at Slowboat once having heard one of the tracks (one of the good ones) on a fan-made compilation of 80s post punk from New Zealand. This is the first time I’ve listened to it in a couple of years, and it’s alright. Not essential but interesting to hear what was happening in Wellington in the 80s.

Every Record I Own: Lucy Dacus – Historian

Soon after this record came out I went through a big Lucy Dacus phase. I was a big fan of some of her first singles which I had discovered when I was doing a weekly radio show in 2016. And then in 2018 I found her first record in a cheap bin at a record store so picked it up.

I was vaguely aware that she had another one out but was too busy enjoying and listening to her first one (I’ll come back to that). And then when her new songs popped up in playlists etc I mostly felt disappointed that they weren’t the same as the ones I knew.

About a year after the album came out some of the songs from it, specifically Night Shift and Addictions had been regularly popping up in my spotify generated playlists. Night Shift became part of my regular rotation. It’s one of those songs you didn’t know you needed to describe a feeling you didn’t know you had.

This blog will come back time and time again to the algorithm and spotify/streaming because it’s something I’m really grappling with at the moment. Because I’m grateful for it for putting these songs in front of me, but I don’t like the way it makes listening so passive.

If I hadn’t already listened to the first Lucy Dacus album and gotten into it, I’m not sure I ever would have clicked through and actually listened to this album. There are dozens of other songs which at some stage I’ve listened to over and over again but have never explored further. And I’m someone who actively searches out new music. It would have been easy for me to instead of clicking through listening to whatever came up after, which I’m sure would have been perfectly good and would have fit well with whatever else was playing around it.

I don’t like that it seems to remove the artist from the songs, putting songs next to each other which have similar vibes. This distills their music into whatever is the most similar to the songs around it and strips away any uniqueness.

But once you explore the artists/albums themselves you start to see how different they all are. I like how her songs always have space. She has a unique cadance to her vocals, which points to a bluesy background but not in a direct way. The songs have a lot of dynamics, but when it gets loud it never seems to get messy.

I saw Lucy Dacus last year which was really amazing. Before that I decided to listen more to her most recent album, which again does a major shift from her previous work. It was exciting to see those songs transformed on the stage. But I’ve always come back to her first two albums when wanting to listen.

Fave songs: Night Shift, Timefighter, Pillar of Truth.

Every Record I Own: Brian Eno and John Cale – Wrong Way Up

Every Record I Own: Brian Eno and John Cale – Wrong Way Up

In late 2021 I went through a John Cale phase, spurred on by his song Dying on the Vine. I went and listened to most of his work post his Velvet Underground years. It’s an incredibly strong catalogue but the song that stuck out to me the most in the playlist I made was Spinning Away by him and Brian Eno. It has become one of my favourite songs of all time. If you listen to one thing from this blog, this is a good thing to pick.

(This also led me down a Brian Eno phase who I’ve never really listened to before, except for Music for Airports via my old flatmate Simon. Hi Simon! Brian Eno will come up here again in the future.)

I went from listening to Spinning Away on repeat to listening to this entire album on repeat. This was all happening around the end of 2021 when my girlfriend Elly and I went on our first road trip and holiday together, so she ended up listening to this album a lot too.

Then in February, Elly gave me this record for my birthday! What a great gift. What a great girlfriend.

I love this album so much. Even on paper two music weirdos who have always pulled whoever they’re playing with in experimental directions and further away from pop, making a straight up pop album together.

It’s an incredibly balanced album instrumentally. It’s full of strings and horns and synths and driven forward by drum machine or bloopy synths. But everything is restrained and it’s rare for any one part to take over. Just adding enough for the songs. The exception is the guitar in songs like Spinning Away and with the exception of the guitar which breaks out front and centre. The guitar is maybe my favourite bit of this album, which I think was played by a session musician because it’s not like anything I’ve heard from either of them before. (checked the liner notes, played by Robert Ahwai. I looked at his discogs page and he played on dozens of other released including George Michael’s album Faith)

Their voices complement each other so well. Neither has a voice that is particularly suited to pop music. They sing confidently within their abilities, which means quite a limited range and very simple melodies, but these are very effective and catchy nonetheless. I must admit that I find their voices difficult to distinguish a lot of the time.

Often when I get super into an album for a few weeks it ends up falling out of rotation and out of my life. It had already done so by the time Elly bought it for me. But now I get to relive that summer and that road trip and remember my birthday and my great girlfriend every time I listen to it. xxx

Fave songs: Spinning Away, One Thing, Lay My Love, Been There Done That.

Every Record I Own: Fetus Productions – Fetalmania

Every Record I Own: Fetus Productions – Fetalmania

I bought this record by searching for Flying Nun on Trademe in my early 20s. This was in the era when records by The Clean and Chills etc were selling for $100+ but you could buy the lesser known ones for $10-$20. (Just checked my email, I paid $18 for this in 2011)

Fetus Productions hadn’t been represented in the Flying Nun compilations I owned, and I don’t think I had heard much online at the time so it was kind of a shot in the dark buying this record, but I’m really glad I did because it rules.

Using drum machines/synths and effected guitars, they fit more in with the Skeptics/Headless Chickens type of sound than the jangle pop that is usually associated with Flying Nun, but are less abrasive than the Skeptics and have more of a cohesive sound than Headless Chickens.

Where as those other bands often used electronic and effected instruments to create a more aggressive and often inhuman sound, Fetus Productions generally used them to elevate and add a complexity to emotions in the songs, with the second side of this record being particularly effective at this.

Relistening just before I post, this is not how the case with some of the songs, especially the very creepy instrumental opening, I’m a Criminal.

It’s kind of surprising that this band hasn’t had as much longevity as some of the other Flying Nun bands of the same era, although if they had I probably would have not been able to afford this record son I’m glad.

Fave Tracks: State to be In, What’s Going On

Every Record I Own: Aldous Harding – Party

Every Record I Own: Aldous Harding – Party

Before this record came out there was a live version of Horizon at Whammy Bar that got shared online. It was one of the most captivating music videos I’ve ever seen. I thrashed it in the months leading up to this albums release, playing it extremely loud at my old flat. It’s rare for me to get to excited about upcoming released.

I used to see Aldous Harding perform around Christchurch when I was in my early 20s. She played sets almost entirely of covers, but was always a really captivating performer. Often speaking entirely in a fake french accent, or in other silly voices.

When her first album came out I was really impressed by the songs, but it felt like some of that live charisma was lost in the record. The video of Horizon seemed to show that that charisma had only levelled up.

This album definitely does a better job of capturing that than her first, and also has levelled up in songwriting. I think her next album does that again. (both of these will be eventually covered in this blog)

I was first a little disappointed by this, because my hopes were so high. But the subtleties of the recordings have since won me over. She makes weirdo pop singles, quieter reflective album tracks, and an intense performance You can’t go into her music looking for one of those sides, you need to accept them all.

The more I listened the more small moments won me other, and while the singles Blend, Horizon and Imagining My Man all are bangers and hit hard and immediately, some of my favourite moments in the album are from the slower quieter songs.

I think Aldous Harding could release an incredible live album or film. Hopefully it will happen one day.

fave songs: The World is looking at you, Imagining My Man, Party.

Every Record I Own: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood – Nancy & Lee

Every Record I Own: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood – Nancy & Lee

Nancy Sinatra is one of my all time faves. And this album is probably my favourite overall collection of hers. I also have a greatest hits record, but this is one of those perfect albums which is so much more than the songs that make it up.

My old flatmate Simon owned this record and when we stopped living together I missed it so much. I was really happy when I found this at a record shop in Christchurch when I was visiting for Christmas.

Nancy Sinatra’s greatest strength is how she sings with so much charisma. It never feels like she’s just singing, she’s always putting on a show. Her and Hazelwood have such great chemistry, the little laughs and adlibs make them feel like a vaudeville double act and like they genuinely had a great time making the record.

Underlying it all is a seedy undercurrent. Everything is a little slower than you remember it being. Lee Hazelwood’s reverbed soaked vocals always feel creepy. The lyrics, especially in Some Velvet Morning, feel like they’re referring to something unsavory. And Nancy Sinatra vocals never acknowledge this creepiness, she just laughs it off. This tension never really resolves, only sometimes gets interrupted by a swelling string section. It feels very cinematic.

And top of this the songs are just very very good. It’s pretty common for me to sing Summer Wine to myself for the rest of the day after listening to this. Every other song feels like it could be a James Bond theme, which kind of speaks to how influential this sound has been.

Like the Sinead O’Connor record I wrote about, I think this makes really good use of the pop music production of the time (swelling strings, horn stabs, layered instruments, the really 60s drum sound, intense use of stereo) into a off centre dark place without losing pop sensibilities. The bass also sounds so good.

fave tracks: you’ve lost that loving feeling, some velvet morning, summer wine, sand.

Every Record I own: Sinkane – Gettin’ Weird

Every Record I own: Sinkane – Gettin’ Weird

Flying Out did a story on their instagram flicking through their sale bin and there were a couple of things in there I recognised, so I got those, but also streamed a few tracks from the other records to see if there was anything else I wanted, and ended up picking this one up. This has probably become my most played record of the ones I bought that day.

It’s full of big fat synths and drum machines, with additional percussion and layers of strings and vocals. It gets pretty wonky and does get weird, but the experimentation never goes anywhere near being difficult listening.

The music is sort of genreless, about half of the songs built from krauty grooves, and half built in a more songy structure. The track Ya Sudan is probably the most successful in blending these two sides of the record and is the stand out track of the record.

Apparently this release was Sinkane’s chance to try weird things at a studio with a bunch of experienced musicians who knew the studio. It was a real success. I need to now check out his other music to see what it was a departure from.

fave tracks: Everyone, Ya Sudan

Every Record I Own: David Bowie – Let’s Dance

Every Record I Own: David Bowie – Let’s Dance

There isn’t much to say about David Bowie that hasn’t been said a million times. I started writing more but I don’t actually have much to say about this record other than it’s fun and I like it,

My old flatmate Callum Devlin once slowed down the song Let’s Dance for a theater show, as if it was a 45 being played on 33. It sounds great and the saxophone sounds super creepy. I played it on the radio and got so many people calling up to tell me I was playing it at the wrong speed. One person didn’t like that I said it was intentional and called the office to complain about me.

Fave tracks: Let’s Dance, Riccochet, Cat People

Every Record I Own: Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt

Every Record I Own: Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt was another significant artist of 2022 for me. Robert Wyatt was a drummer in a progressive rock bands in the 60s and 70s, but had an accident and was paralysed from the waist down. He then made experimental pop/jazz/indie/psychedelic music for the next 30 or so years. A lot of his work feels like what would be made in a bedroom now from someone playing with synths and drum machines and doing layers of percussion and multi tracked vocals, but it felt he was doing it way ahead of his time.

Early in the year I discovered his song The Age of Self on a playlist and I became obsessed with him. His mid-80s period where he was making weirdo political pop on synthesizers and drum machines was my favourite era.

This 7″ came up for sale when someone I follow on Instagram was leaving the country and selling all their records. Shipbuilding hadn’t been one of the songs that had stuck with me, but Robert Wyatt records don’t come up very often so I thought I’d buy it anyway. I didn’t realise until after I bought it but this is a cover of and Elvis Costello song, but this version has become known as the essential version.

Since buying the record this has become one of my favourite Robert Wyatt songs. Its the type of music that really benefits from a nice stereo. The piano is so full sounding and even though Robert Wyatt doesn’t have a classically amazing voice, his falsetto shines through.

I am not really an expert on protest music by any means. But what I love about Robert Wyatt’s protest music is how specific it is. Age of Self is about how the idea of the working class has been destroyed by changing our identities to consumers rather than workers, Pigs…in there is about factory farming. Shipbuilding is about how much responsibility do workers hold for the work they do? When they’re acting as agents of British imperialism.

This 7″ has been sitting next to my stereo for months. I often put it on in the morning or when I pop into the kitchen to make some toast or something. It’s really a perfect song. The B-side kind of sucks though.