April NZ music round-up: UMO, October, Matthew Young and more

On the first day of New Zealand Music Month, Max Tetlow introduces a new monthly round-up of some of the best things to happen in New Zealand music in the previous month.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra drop Sex & Food ahead of a world tour

This album made headlines for two reasons. First, it’s very good. Second, during a shared interview with UMO’s Ruban Nielson, Taika Waititi told the world that New Zealand was “racist as fuck”. The album itself sticks true to the raw and distressed indie sound we’re accustomed to hearing from UMO. It starts with single ‘American Guilt’, all lo-fi psychedelia and gritty vocals. Then UMO goes more upbeat – on tracks experimenting with dreamy, disco pop sounds like ‘Hunnybee’ and ‘Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays’ – and downbeat, on folk-influenced songs like ‘Chronos Feasts on his Children’ and ‘If You’re Going to Break Yourself’. Over 43 minutes, UMO keep reinventing themselves while retaining the organic sound we’ve come to love.

April also marked the start of UMO’s world tour which lands in New Zealand 5-8 September.

17-year-old Church Leon kicks off Red Bull and David Dallas’ 64 Bars series

The 64 Bars series – in which David Dallas invites rappers to freestyle in a studio in front of some cameras – has kicked off its fifth season with one of the country’s youngest rising MCs, Church Leon. David Dallas described the 17-year-old Leon as “wise beyond his years” and you can see why in this video.

Often appearing alongside fellow Auckland rapper AP, Leon takes a chance to shine on his own with wordplay from shouting out his producers Baccyard and Shallow$ to NBA references. There’s not much info about Church Leon out there but a David Dallas co-sign and a clean 64, but we’ll be on the lookout. With just a handful of tracks on Soundcloud and the odd track on streaming services, that catalogue will surely grow this year.

October marks her territory with debut album Ultra Red

The Blenheim-born, Auckland-based “music school dropout” has been floating around the scene for some time. Since last year, she’s released a string of singles and before her debut album, Ultra Red, was released in April.

Across the 11 tracks, we hear influences ranging across generations from electronic synths on title track ‘Ultra Red’ to the bubbly pop sounds on ‘Cherry Cola’ to the booming rock and roll drums on ‘All She Does Is Stare’. Although she takes writing and production credits across every song of the album, she’s had Thom Powers from The Naked and Famous and Joel Little help out (and we all know whose career Joel Little had a helping hand in.)

Read our feature on October here.

Matthew Young continues his impressive rise with ‘Fix Me Up’ + EP and tour announcement

Matthew Young’s music career seems blessed by some higher power. His first two shows were Laneway and opening for Lorde and he’s managed to live up to the hype so far. In his two years releasing solo music, Young has delivered single after single, now we finally have a project, an EP called ‘FRUIT’. His ability to express himself through his songwriting and dazzling vocals, it’s garnered attention from other the ditch too. In part of his ‘FRUIT’ EP release, he’s playing shows across New Zealand and Australia with his Auckland show already sold out.

Mermaidens’ ‘Fade’ video

The Wellington three-piece group were on the shortlist for the Taite Music Prize last month for their album Perfect Body album and have now released their new music video from the album for album-closer ‘Fade’.

Known for their dreamy, lo-fi sound, the visuals are a perfect representation of not only the track but the band themselves. Playing on the Mermaidens name the video is partially set in the after hours of a community pool while cutting between lead singer Emma Smith’s partially lit up face and the band in a community hall. It’s all one big blur, with director Ezra Simmons using the lighting to capture the moody essence of the song.

The group have said it marks the end of the Perfect Body project but they’re already back in the studio and gearing up for another project.

Balu Brigada write a millennial love story with ‘Nightshift’

Balu Brigada is about to make their big jump to New York, but before they leave they’ve treated us to this indie pop bop. The indie, synth-pop track tells the love story familiar to anyone who has been stuck on the night shift. The lyrics (“I know that it’s testing all your patience / I know you really wanna make it work / Girl you’re working too hard / We’re working too hard”) captures the essence of desperately trying to keep a relationship afloat while also trying to afford rent.

Earlier in the month, the duo said goodbye to New Zealand with a show at Dogs Bollix as they head to the Big Apple to hone their craft and take a shot at the big time. I can’t wait to see what records come from it.

The LEISURE and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra show wasn’t your usual

Playing with an orchestra is an ambitious project for any band, but LEISURE seemed to effortlessly make it work, playing the Auckland Town Hall backed by the 72 piece Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. A band full of producers, they’re already known for fusing together unusual sounds, but bringing in a strong classical element took it to another level, delivering takes on hits from their 2017 self-titled album like ‘Hot Love’ and ‘All Over You’. It’s likely that the APO will continue collaborating with other local acts on this concept but they’ll have a lot to live up to.

Read Hussein Moses’ review of LEISURE + APO here.

Leisure with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Photo: Jason Tran)

JessB launches her debut EP with a celebration of women of colour in hip-hop

JessB’s debut EP Bloom was the culmination of years of hard work for the netball-star-turned-MC. To mark the release, JessB put on a block party at Auckland’s Galatos, which was a celebration of women in hip-hop, and women of colour in particular.

The all-female line-up brought together a diverse group of artists: Meer from COOL TAN (formerly Heavy), Ladi6, DJ duo Katayanagi Twins, Oriko, Silva MC, Selecta Rei, Native B, Coven, and, of course, JessB headlining with her hype-woman-turned-DJ Half.Queen on the decks behind her, performing cuts from Bloom including ‘Take It Down’ and ‘Set It Off’.

While she’s performed at Northern Bass and Rhythm & Vines, there was something different about this show. It was a celebration of her hard work and fellow peers, the culmination of much more than an EP.

Read our review of JessB’s Block Party here.

JESSB AT JESSB’s BLOCK PARTY (PHOTO: Beka Hope)


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