Based in Wellington, Dylan Frater is a recording artist, music producer, music coach and international solo performer. He has released an EP (The Torch Songs EP) and is due to release his debut album, “From Winter to Winter” (featuring Georgie Swan-Hay) in June 2017. Sometimes described as cinematic, Dylan’s sound is all about creating worlds – his atmospheric guitar creates landscapes and his narrative lyrical style takes listeners on unexpected journeys. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – The National, Trouble Will Find Me: This album took its time with me. A friend would often play it when I’d come over for beer and record-listening sessions but it didn’t appeal to me until later down the track and recently I’ve been enjoying it more than ever. The National had never really grabbed my attention in the past, possibly due to the vocal style but I am a lover of a strong lyric and there’s more than a few lines which started to jump out. “I’m secretly in love with everyone I grew up with” from Demons, being one, “Don’t make me read your mind, you should know me better then that” being another (the opening line from I Should Live in Salt). The entire album is dense and cold (but in a good way) and charges along relentlessly, dragging you under a heavy swamp of guitars and drums. Once this album grabbed me, it didn’t let go and given a chance it has made an impact. The songs are also quite short and don’t overstay their welcome, which I think works well for the overall pace the album moves at. The production is excellent, most noticeable for me are the guitars (check out the tone on This is The Last Time as an example). Also, the album seems to demonstrate a masterclass on tambourine mixing, (I’m not kidding!) listen to Slipped. It’s hard to pick a favourite song, they’re all equally strong for me but I do have sweet spot for the closer, Hard to Find. I would also recommend getting this one on vinyl, it’s worth it for the artwork alone.
2 – Keaton Henson, Birthdays: I still remember the first time I listened to this album. Never have ten songs had such a devastating first time listening effect, especially since I had been lead to Birthdays from a YouTube clip of Keaton playing Lying To You (which I wasn’t sure I even liked). But I was curious. At first glance, Birthdays is an album of simple love songs and it convinces you of this for a good portion of the album – up until it changes. By the end of the experience you have gone through all the emotions of Keaton’s break-up. Without giving too much away, listen to this album from start to finish (with headphones). When I listen to it today, I don’t have the initial shock and I can just enjoy the music, it’s far less intense but still a great album. I can’t guarantee you will fall for it like I did, Birthdays is a frightened and haunted album but it’s also beautifully delicate and honest. The lyrics are clever, ruthless and the vocal delivery is so integral it makes you feel like Keaton has just written each song an hour ago and still hasn’t come to terms with them himself. The production features good choices of instrumentation, nothing is there unless it needs to be. My favourite track is The Best Today which is hard to believe could fit on the same album as another favourite of mine, Kronos. In the Morning has got to one of my favourite closing songs to an album.
3 – Metallica, St Anger: I know what you’re thinking: really? But hear me out, this is why I believe this may actually be the most underrated Metallica album and why I have enjoyed it recently. Okay, so the first thing I noticed is how the snare drum sounds like it’s been replaced with a cooking pot and that alone is hard to get past on first listen (and yes, we get it, no one likes Lars). St Anger is not an easy listen but I think that’s the point with this record, this is the sound of a band on the verge of breaking up, they’re fed up, they’re pissed off and the music is too. What I like about St Anger is the way the music bleeds. It grits its teeth, a dog on a chain, snapping at you demanding you to look (even if it’s through a disgusted side-glance). The opener, Frantic, is a mid-range punishing, snarly beast of a song which makes me want to open a bottle of whisky and angrily bang my head along, singing “Keep searching, this search goes on”. I can’t really explain why but I like it. Some Kind of Monster is messy and sounds like it wants to eat you, rather then please you. What may come as a surprise is that there are absolutely no guitar solos, (which must have been an ego-shattering creative choice for lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett). It’s a good decision, if there were solos I think I’d be tuning out. So, there’s no excuse for the drum sound on Dirty Window but once again, there’s something here, somewhere in amongst the shards of broken glass, there is music. We then end up on Invisible Kid, is this the album taking a breather? Nope. My World made me laugh, I think it’s meant to? These are humorous guys, right? I think taking this album less seriously makes for a more enjoyable listen. Probably not one to be played when the in-laws visit but I’d bet there will be at least one time when Metallica’s tooth-pulling, angry mess of an album, St Anger, fits all too well with the feel in the room.
4 – Jeff Buckley, Live at Sin-e: As far as I know, Jeff moved to New York City halfway through a tour with Glen Hansard (from the The Frames, Swell Season) but there seems to be a few different stories so who knows for sure. Live at Sin-e captures the rise of a 24-year-old musician, playing Monday nights in the lower east-side village in Manhattan, often playing 3-4 gigs per night. We hear performances of early unfinished-arrangement ideas of songs such as Lover You Should Have Come Over (interesting to me how different the lyrics are to the studio version) and Grace. Both these songs would later feature on his iconic debut album, Grace. This is the album where we hear up-close and in great detail the level of Buckley’s musicianship and talent. You can occasionally hear the clatter of coffee cups in the cafe but for the most part the audience is dead silent, despite the fact (according to the album notes) the cafe is nearly spilling out onto the streets. What’s really cool about Live at Sin-e is the nice moments where we get more of a sense of Jeff’s personality, he pokes fun at his idols including Led Zeppelin and Nirvana and often asks the audience to help him remember song titles (Note: Live at Sin-e is broken up in a way that you get separate tracks for the monologues). I particularly love his versions of Bob Dylan’s If You See Her Say Hello, (such a beautifully written torch-song) and Calling You (by Jevetta Steele). Jeff uses his guitar and vocals together in way that I never feel like there’s anything missing, in fact it’s hard to believe there can be this much music going on here. There’s a lovely version of Twelfth of Never and a pretty chilling cover of Billie Holidays Strange Fruit. I could talk for days about this album, I never grow tired of it and I learn something new each time I listen to it.
5 – Rob Thorne, Whāia te Māramatanga: When my parents introduced me to Rob Thorne’s music a few weeks ago, it probably wasn’t the best time to do so, I was tired and not really “in the mood” for what they wanted to show me. I reacted in a way I have in the past when being introduced to non-typical, sound based, instrumental music – I really didn’t like it. It turns out I was wrong. This album is the best New Zealand instrumental album I’ve ever heard. It provokes something deep inside me, it does what great music should do – it stirs me in a way I can’t explain. Going far beyond my appreciation of melody, harmony and musical structure and straight to my spine. Whāia te Māramatanga, for me, is literally breath-taking, each instrument is used in way that isn’t just a demonstration of how it can be played, rather, how it can be used to a disarming effect. I sat there and watched the hair on my arms stand up, confused as to whether I was enjoying it or frightened of it. There is a main theme which runs throughout the album, two notes, this melody is hauntingly powerful. Track 12 – Pursue Enlightenment, Pt. 1 (Intention) – brought tears to my eyes, it’s been a long time since I’ve responded to an instrumental piece of music in such a way. Whāia te Māramatanga performs on the bridge between music and art and it left me there, speechless, with the feeling I’d been visited and granted wisdom from one of my ancestors.