Damien Wilkins is the author of six novels, two collections of stories and a book of poems. He was also a writer on the TV series Insiders Guide to Happiness and Duggan. He is the incoming Director of the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, where he teaches Creative Writing. His music project The Close Readers released their first album last year and now have a second one out called New Spirit. You can listen/buy here. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – Chuck Berry, The Great Twenty-Eight: I dug out the vinyl double-album recently. Played the four sides right through. Starts with Maybelline ends with I Want to Be Your Driver. Is there another foundation document that sounds so fresh? (Okay, Sun Sessions and James Brown’s Mother Popcorn). Still, for concrete storytelling delivered in punched rhythms, nothing beats this. Who else would think you could sing a refrain about driving in a car with the word ‘particular’ in it? Berry played a St Louis bar when we lived there in the early 90s but I missed it. (Didn’t make the same mistake with Alex Chilton; I also never travel far without a little Big Star.)
2 – Dylan Hicks, Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene: A man after my own heart – a novelist/musician. Haven’t read the book but this is sort of a concept album in which the writer pretends to be singing the songs his character (Bolling Greene) has written. Listening to it, you don’t need any of that context. Go to his site and play the opening track or Now You Are a Country DJ in Berlin. Then order the CD and you might also get a hand-drawn picture of Mr Hicks. Almost a low-res Steely Dan feel to some of it. (Pretzel Logic is in my all-time Top 20.) I remember Chris Knox saying how he couldn’t listen to Steely Dan because at parties when he was young, those records were always being played and so he came to think of them as the enemy. I feel the same way about Little Feat.
3 – Street Chant, Means: I was slow on the uptake with this band; saw them live for the first time on their recent tour and was blown away. Fast, funny, tuneful. I’ve noticed more than a few people my age (40s to infinity), in embracing ‘refined’ ‘adult’ genres (electronic music, alt country, piano-trio jazz, whatever works in mixed company), acquire a hostility to, well, guitars, pop and shouting. I find that weird and sad. Street Chant will defibrillate you. I also like the way the bass player just grins all the time. ‘Means’ is their feisty debut; the new one could be even better.
4 –Homeboy Sandman, The Good Sun: It didn’t exactly come as a lightning bolt but it did strike me the other day listening to Taylor Swift’s Stay Stay Stay followed by April Fool from Patti Smith’s latest that Swift turns better lines than Smith these days. Or maybe I just prefer “That’s when you came in wearing a football helmet” to “We’ll tramp through the mire when our souls feel dead.” Pop/rock, with a few exceptions such as the wonderful Fountains of Wayne, has ceded lyrical interest to mainstream country and hip hop. Homeboy Sandman is from Queens, New York – a law school dropout who now has a blog on the Huffington Post. Smart, humane rhymes and enough going on behind them to keep the areas below the neck interested. I play this in the kitchen a lot.
5 – Craig Terris, Bleat Your Heart Out: I’m no fan of the prog moment in indie-land – no Grizzlies for me. So I was surprised to be thinking of Yes (my favourite band age 13) somewhere in the middle of Ahead of the Storm. There are some complex things about this music, even some high male voices, but no bullshit. Inventive, felt songs and the closer is a gorgeous lullaby. Performed live this stuff gets epic and tense but Craig is always ready with a joke to make it human. My fave NZ thing of 2012, with the potential to cross-pollinate audiences from hardcore National Radio listeners to people who still think of Jim Mora as the voice of Tux Wonderdogs.