Grand musical gestures – Part 2

Grand musical gestures. Why not? There's always room to plunge relentlessly over the top.

Continuing last week's theme – check out the Music section at – I'm still buried in the music of artists who have way too much creative energy to release a couple of songs, or a mere album for that matter. I'm struggling.

These guys are just so prolific. My current challenge has been getting up to speed with American indie outfit Sun Kil Moon – essentially just a guy called Mark Kozelek - before they play Auckland's Tuning Fork at the end of the month. It's a big ask.

Since 2013, during which he released three separate albums, Mr Kozelek has released another seven studio albums – one a double – and six live albums.

He has another due next week. Alarmingly, it's all pretty damn good: dense, complex, challenging, and with more lyrics than a short novel. Most musicians seem somnambulant in comparison.

The Magnetic Fields

But the grand musical gesture most exciting me is the beautiful new package from The Magnetic Fields. The Magnetic Fields first emerged with one of the great grand musical gestures of all time. As the new millennium dawned Stephin Merritt – for this is again pretty much a one-man band –released a collection called ‘69 Love Songs'. And it was.

Three CDs, each containing 23 love songs. Love songs about people, places, pets, even love songs about love songs. It is a work of brilliance and I recommend in the absolute highest terms.

Now he's back with another grand musical gesture.

The album ‘50 Song Memoir' is again what it says on the box. This time the songs are spread across five CDs, with 10 songs on each. And, again, it is weird and wonderful, eccentric and touching, funny and clever.

Stephin is an unusual guy. There are many stories, possibly the oddest being how he first met his father – himself a fascinating “lost” folk singer, Scott Fagan – in 2013.

Merritt suffers from a hearing condition called hyperacusis and only wears brown clothes. An interviewer once said to Bob Mould (Husker Du) that Mould was “the most depressed man in rock”. Mould replied: “You've never met Stephin Merritt, obviously”.

Merritt also plays a bewildering array of instruments.

The first page of the (really cool) booklet lists more than 100, from Djembe to Strat, ukulele to vocoder. He really is the master of lo-fi inventiveness, combining eclectic synths with strange percussion, odd-stringed things and anything else that comes to hand. This is music constantly pushing boundaries, all sung in his unusual baritone voice.

And he's an often dazzling lyricist, insightful and also very funny. The song about his cat – a true story apparently – begins: “I had a cat called Dionysus/Every day another crisis”.

So hats off to The Magnetic Fields. This world needs grand musical gestures – thank you for leading the charge!

Back to Tauranga

That's been my world recently and I apologise to those who get irritated whenever I write of non-Tauranga things. That's two weeks in a row and I do take your point.

Since The Weekend Sun – through the great work of journalist David Tauranga and others – is the only paper to really cover local music, every column of mine such as this is an opportunity lost to promote deserving local music and musicians. And to inform you of upcoming gigs, which I realise is possibly the only reason many of you read this column.

So, as a preview, during the next couple of weeks I'll be writing about some of the following shows.

There's a bucketload of stuff so I offer this as advanced warning – get those calendars ready.

The Chills at Totara St performance venue on May 11; Andy Bassett and Juliet McLean at the Katikati Folk Club on May 12; a Ray Charles tribute at The Entertainers Club on May 14; Mark Mazengarb & Loren Barrigar at Baycourt on May 17; The Eternal Sea and three other bands at Totara St performance venue on May 19; and Pete And The Skiffy Rivets in Rosie's Shed on May 19.

Get ready for a busy couple of weeks.


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