"Dave Black is a new moniker for New Zealand’s (relocated to Melbourne, Australia while recording this album) David Edwards and given the sound presented on 'After Maths & Sciences' (fiffdimension) it’s quite fitting that he chose to put this out under a different name as it’s not quite like anything he’s done before. Derek Bailey-esque improv dissonance hover on top of a riverbed of laptop work and all sorts of various sounds and voices that somehow seems to try to describe the Australian soul. Add to all this the occasional addition of cello, harmonica and shakers and you got yourself an album that demands a lot from the listener but which upon repeated listens will prove to be surprisingly beautiful and extrovert.
Whilst shopping from fiffdimension make sure to get hold of 'Gleefully Unknown', a best-of compilation of Dave Edwards’ music from 1997 to 2005. Unlike the disc described above this is a great starting point to understand where Edwards is coming from. Rough outsider folk-blues mysteries born out of a fascination for Bob Dylan gives way to dissonant rock textures along the lines of the Fall, which doesn’t prevent Edwards’s impressive talent for electric and acoustic improvisations to be all over the place. Edwards strikes me as one of the most overlooked musicians from the fertile lands of New Zealand and if you need a fresh start this might very well be the place."
- Mats Gustafsson, The Broken Face
If you want copies, just email me (fiffdimensionATgmailDOTcom)...
After Maths & Sciences
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman
After Maths & Sciences was recorded by Dave Black (some may know him as David A. Edwards, and if you don’t, then check his website, or the compilation of earlier recordings, Gleefully Unknown 1997-2005) in two parts: From May-July of 2005 in Melbourne, during the winter. And then from Dec of last year to January of 2006 in New South Wales; summer. The album is a travel-document; a response to relocation, a series of sound-sketches and sonic-manipulations designed to confront (and possibly unhinge) the listener; a reflection of several journeys - an aural diary of events from time spent in Australia, evoking the mood of the place (geographically) and the mood of the time (politically). San Shimla’s occasional guitar, Francesca Mountfort’s cello and Cylvi Manthyng’s percussion and shakuhachi (put simply, a type of wooden flute) support Dave Black. As Dave Edwards he has explored fuzzy-punk, free-jazz, spoken word, alternative-folk and demented pop, primarily using guitar, harmonica and voice; sometimes with a band or a backing cast at least - often as a solo artist(e).
Here, as Dave Black, the palette is broadened: banjo, drums and the use of a laptop computer (triggering sounds via Fruityloops, Audacity and Audition programs) add extra textures.
During 2005 Edwards studied journalism, his use of dictaphone and laptop on this recording see him reaching outside of music for influences to use in new contexts. The collages that form the pieces on After Maths & Sciences are modern-day field recordings, contemporary anxieties are explored (a typically frank Australian is overheard at a train station lamenting public transport in the wake of the London bombings). The juxtaposition of banjo (an instrument prominent in the work of Doc Boggs, Earl Scruggs and many of the earliest artists featured on the iconic U.S. Library Of Congress field recordings made by Alan Lomax and Harry Smith) helps to recontextualise the snapshots of modern-day Australia. And the name that Edwards has chosen, Dave Black, as well as having relevance within his family history, becomes a nice reference to the passing of The Man In Black (Johnny Cash) and various (possibly mythic) country-playing banjo pickers. For this is “country” music, though perhaps not as we know it. Birdsong, despite computer filtering, sits pure alongside the country’s archaic (near-redneck) political views. Abrasive bursts of white-noise are channelled via a throbbing electro pulse (Kraftwerk goes on safari sabbatical?)
There are New Zealand artists working in this medium (Montano, Seht, Audible 3) combining concrete poetry, field recordings, found-sounds and electro-acoustic manipulations to sit as aural wallpaper, but Dave Black’s debut release (and a re-birth, if you like, for David Edwards) is an actual document - as much a post-modern piece of Performance Journalism as it is a static batch of “songs” or tracks, After Maths & Sciences is a pleasing challenge of an album. Tough to get all the way through at times, better listened to in parts, it lives up to the cliché of presenting something new with each listen.
I spent a large chunk of Saturday reading 'Saturday', the novel by Ian McEwan - first time in a while I've sat down and read a whole novel in one sitting. Also one of my too-rare forays into contemporary literature - I remember reading good reviews of it last year, so grabbed it at the library the other day.
I'm not going to do a book review here, but it was a good read which I'm happy to recommend, and interesting the use of recent history (the book's set on one day in 2003) with accompanying themes. It confirmed a few thoughts I've been having recently on how the 21st century is a whole different beast from the 20th. Uploading my CD collection to hard drive to make it more portable (just one of many preparations this year for overseas travel next year) has also had me thinking along that track - this technology didn't exist (for the mass market) in the 90s.
And I've been listening to Bach, Duke Ellington, Shostakovitch, and Douglas Lilburn. Is there something wrong with me?
I've also been meaning to delete some of the old entries, probably everything up to the start of 2005, from this weblog. Lots of old irrelevant angst. I got an invitation (bulk email) to a journalism school reunion in June, so I can catch up with some old classmates - now Dominion Post subeditors, or on Radio NZ, or Labour Party press secretaries etc. Thing is, it would mean forking out for a plane or ferry ticket back to Wellington, and I'm not that sure about going anyway.
One of the old irrelevant angsty bits from 2004 that still nags me is the kakariki transfer publicity misadventure. I went into journalism school hoping to improve my chances of further work for the Department of Conservation, but instead things blew up in my face. Then at the end of the year I did my work experience placement at the Taieri Herald in Mosgiel, and decided that working in a windowless office in a dreary town with the country's highest elderly population per capita (aka 'God's waiting room') didn't appeal. And I hadn't passed shorthand anyway, so had to cut short my stay in Melbourne in 2005 to come back and finish it - not fun.
Anyway, I've passed the diploma now... so of course I had another change of direction and this year am working on becoming a 'real musician' - great privilege to be able to focus on music fulltime. Couple of bits of good news recently on that front - Powertool Records should be distributing my new albums and the Aussie guy in Finland who I made contact with also liked them. I'm keen to go to Finland - apparently it's way ahead of NZ in terms of environmental sustainability, and also has the highest number of composers per capita...
Term 2, planning for Brisbane in July. Thinking about video multimedia possibilities and doing computer stuff + live instruments. I've just been listening to Douglas Lilburn, and all kinds of early jazz, blues etc. Early Van Morrison the ultimate vocalist, from Northern Ireland, Belfast, where my grandfather's from (as opposed to Dublin). Had a good road trip over the holidays down the West Coast, past Wanaka (tourism-covered to the point of unfriendliness) and through the McKenzie Basin. Whole other world...
Here's a review I wrote the other week:
Chris Knox & the Nothing
by Dave Edwards
Chris Knox & the Nothing sees New Zealand’s original lo-fi pioneer break a few habits – studio recorded, self-released without Flying Nun, and has a human rhythm section of Stefan Neville (aka Pumice) and Jol Mulholland in place of the traditional drum machine, plus additional colour from strings, horns, and keyboards.
Knox apparently saw that some of his working methods, which were boldly innovative in the 80s and relatively adventurous in the 90s, are now de rigeur. He risked getting marginalized by repeating himself, and so it’s good to see him pushing 50 and still doing his job as an artist and trying new ideas. In the last couple of years he’s on one hand made an electro-acoustic album under the name Friend, seemingly to clear out some ideas that wouldn’t fit on his more song-based albums, and on the other had his early recordings with Toy Love and the Enemy re-released. So it seems an appropriate time for something new. And at 70 minutes, the length of Blonde on Blonde, Trout Mask Replica or “the white album”, Chris Knox & the Nothing thankfully feels generous rather than self-indulgent.
There’s an interesting dichotomy between getting extra resources for the recording, but going more independent with the album release. Knox told me that ‘Flying Nun are no longer relevant’ – and besides, he can get $12 (NZ) per album sold this way rather than $2 from Flying Nun.
Chris Knox & the Nothing is no great departure in terms of songwriting – still bittersweet, ironic, well-crafted lyrics and a lot of E-shape barre chord strumming. But it makes some of Knox’s earlier recordings sound like demo versions. As well as the studio-quality sound, real musicians are inherently richer and more subtle than a drum machine: good songs + good musicians is a formula that will never date. And working with younger players keeps it contemporary. Stefan Neville, steadily emerging as an heir to people like Knox, Peter Jefferies and Alastair Galbraith, sticks to drums throughout – much less harrowing than a typical Pumice album - here he’s a sideman, gets a good groove going and creates space to serve the song. I’m less familiar with Jol Mulholland, who’s usually a guitar-player, but Knox said he was instantly attracted to Mulholland’s bass style.
Thematically, a lot of the album is concerned with aging – song titles include ‘A Faded Postcard in the Sun’, ‘the Lukewarm Bath’ and ‘Bitter Ballad of the Patriarch’. Another theme is Knox’s perennial media/cultural concerns - he makes more money as a NZ critic, cartoonist and semi-celebrity than from his music. “She’s an infomercial nightmare with a perfect set of teeth” – maybe his dayjob prevents him simply turning the tv off.
There are moments of absolute gold in the album. The opening track starts off as an angry/comical little gnomic rant - “I’m sick to death of humankind / I wanna leave the whole damned lot of you behind / Just fuck right off / fuck off outta my face” – but then 29 seconds in the tempo decelerates, the drums take on an epic quality, the strings and brass come in majestically, “and then you look at me / with those great big puppy eyes…”
The middle section of the album is a highlight for me, with the minimal acoustic ‘The Flyshit on the Ceiling’ marking one dynamic extreme and carrying incisive, almost Samuel Beckett-like lyrics:
“When you’re struggling to get over all the things that you’ve been feeling
All the things that bug you, like that flyshit on the ceiling
Like the tap that keeps on dripping, like the sound of your own illness
And the silent voice that whispers soft sweet nothings in the stillness
You’re a better man for getting through the day”
At the other dynamic end are a couple of epic rockers ‘Doughnut’ and ‘Outta Here’: “When you’re looking yr best but still feeling depressed, you’ll be outta here / when yr body gives out and yr twist has no shout, you’ll be outta here”. The way I read it, getting outta here’s a positive thing - moving on, keeping things fresh – and playing the song live, Knox looked me right in the eye on the line “when yr losing yr looks and yr songs have no hooks…”
Overall, the emphasis in the album is on the songs. The brass and strings are employed judiciously, without falling into the traps of sugariness or overkill. There’s one instrumental jam, “Happiness is a Warm Jet”, which Knox describes in the liner notes as “live, unrehearsed, and is an edit of a 17-minute self-indulgence in which I was utterly out of my depth”.
The Beatles allusion in that title, the minimal front cover artwork which visually quotes “the white album”, some Sergeant Pepper-esque trumpet lines, and the band’s live (though not on the album) set-closing cover of “A Day in the Life” show Knox wearing influences on his sleeve. His vocals are tuneful and dynamically versatile, with a hint of John Lennon about them, and the abrasive Beatle seems to be one Knox takes after the most. He might even be the closest thing we have to Lennon’s successor these days, and at his best he’s up there with anyone.