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Bill Direen and The Bilders - Album Review: Chrysanthemum Storm

22 Aug 2017 // A review by Peter-James Dries

I wasn’t old enough to lament the discontinuation of the vinyl, so I’m not invested enough in the medium to be a part of the resurgence. But I’m not so blind as to know it isn’t happening on the peripheries of my attention span.

Last month, as if just to spite me, Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails went full vinyl with their remastered, reissued, definitive editions, just as I had completed as much of the CD collection as I could be bothered with, and could afford.

Nice Inch Nails may seem like a strange reference when reviewing Bill Direen. I doubt they share a fan base, and people from either camp may stare blankly and ask “who?” The small overlap of audiences that know both will question what I’m on.

When you encounter something unknown and unfamiliar, it is good to find a common ground to build your understanding from. But what common ground could an Industrial band and pre-Alternative Rock group possibly have.

Nine Inch Nails are a group worlds apart in style and sound, yet from what I can see are strikingly familiar in ethos to Bill Direen, who has just re-released his nearly ten year old album, Chrysanthemum Storm on vinyl this August.

Aside from the tenuous connection of the vinyl reissue, the commonality is that both NIN and Bill Direen & the Bilders are experimental bands supporting a central poetic figure, a tragic genius who can’t help but breathe creativity, with a thing or two to reflect upon and a rotating cast of characters to fill in as surrogate fingers on the many instruments.

While I had seen the poster on Cuba Street for the upcoming film documenting Bill Direen, I had never heard the name. Him nor his Bildereens, Bilderbergs, Bilders or otherwise named band.

I didn’t own the original CD, so I can’t tell you if this better – though vinyl purists will praise the warmer sound – but I can tell you, from a cursory Google, that the tracklist remains true to the original release, albeit with a couple of minor name tweeks here and there, the most notable being the change from Luza Sweepaz, a name like a 90's rap group, to Losers Weepers.

That’s probably the stand out track for me, if only because it’s the most relatable to someone with my generational disposition. Where other tracks feel like the music is the soundtrack to a collection of spoken word pieces, Losers Weepers has that rise and fall that fits the Verse Chorus Verse structure of the Rock songs of my age. That and album opener Nobody’s Fault.  

There are pieces of Pink Floyd-like experimentation. Like the Psychedelic Rock jam without the Psychedelic aspect, with the group in tune to each other’s vibrations enough to not devolve into a free-form Jazz session.  

There are husky voiced Leonard Cohen like stories, narrated by Direen, no doubt a poet in another life. Emotion where emotion is due. A whisky, a cigar and a reverie. Reflections on times and peoples gone by. Songs that are real, not candy coated and auto-tuned, that exist to shift units.  

There are pieces that feel like an observational comedian standing in a bingo hall or dive bar (before they were cool) or empty Honky-Tonk floor, narrating the lives of the patrons. Character Studies and word play and humour. A good synopsis of the album.

I’m not the target audience here, I’m not part of the niche market, but that’s OK. I can find references and relatable aspects in the music that I can enjoy. If you remember the band, you’ll probably enjoy it too, or if you’re from the world before our collective imagination and attention span were wiped clean by the instant gratification streaming music and cellphones provide. If anything it’s got me interested in the documentary I saw advertised, just to see the creative process behind the band, and the man, the legend, Bill Direen.

 

About Bill Direen and The Bilders

Bilders is the professional appellation for many different groups led by New Zealand singer-songwriter Bill Direen. Direen began recording in 1978, when working as a community reporter and DJ for a provincial radio station (Radio Marlborough). He is known for literate lyrics, challenging song-subjects and a hands-on recording style that has produced "many genuine classic compositions" [John Dix, Stranded in Paradise]

The first Bilders appeared in 1980 performing material assembled or recorded between 1975 and 1980. Other collaborations have happened in NZ and overseas. The most recent Bilders completed national tours in 2007 and 2008 with Powertool Records. Direen works freely with independent musicians, and collaborations are usually titled Bilders (sometimes... The Builders !) [Bilders poster by Lesley Maclean]


Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Bill Direen and The Bilders

Releases

Cut
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Chrysanthemum Storm
Year: 2017
Type: LP
Beatin Hearts
Year: 2016
Type: LP
Schwimmen In Der See
Year: 1982
Type: EP

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