2 Oct 2023

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Thrashing Marlin - Album Review: Wildlife

28 Oct 2022 // A review by Roger Bowie

I wasn’t sure about anything, let alone a band, called Thrashing Marlin]. Are they beating a marlin with a rod or are they invoking a marlin trying to shake off a hook? Neither seem ecologically palatable, but it turns out that there is a progressive and alternative Wellington collective which has been around for donkey’s years under various guises and have created, more or less, their own ecosystem of the music of sound.

Known mainly for their work with Plan 9 and Six Volts, David Donaldson and Steve Roche along with Janet Roddick have worked together since the early 80s and also contribute to other obscure bands but mainly they make soundtracks. Sound (as opposed to unsound) tracks of sound. As Thrashing Marlin, Steve and David have released four albums before this latest one, so we have experience and pedigree and strangeness all wrapped up in a singular package along with some homemade instruments such as the electric rubber band box.

You will know Plan 9 as winners at last year’s Apra Sounz Contemporary Award for their album The Bewilderness, recorded in Wellington’s Stella Maris chapel, as is Wildlife, so that tells us these dudes are no acoustic slouches.

So, what sounds like a Thrashing Marlin? What sounds does a Thrashing Marlin make?

Opening track Surface Tension starts off like a poppy Flock song (if such a thing existed) from the 70s, definitely retro, so familiar to this old fart. Compelling, hypnotic, foot tapping with an anarchic diversion into a maze of sound ending with an eight miles high guitar vibe. David and Steve alternating on laid back vocals.

A Walk In The Dark takes us forward into 80s and 90s and maybe further with more conventional psych folk which is decidedly Phish-like. Now that’s who I’ve been thinking about since the first listening.

But as soon as I get comfortable Out of Sight discombobulates in a prog-jazz way with a complex beat and quintessentially Kiwi accents getting caught in the headlights with nowhere to hide. A little bit of chaos to bring eclectic order to the proceedings. Grows on you. The guitarist is Moris Tepper, who has played with astonishing luminaries such as Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey and Frank Black and adds a frenetic flourish to end the song and start the next.

A Doors-like Blood of the Lamb although the vocals only just touch on Morrison, but touch they do, and we have a slice of blues to add to the jazz. She was a healer, so you better believe her shaman like qualities and definitely the Doors.

And on we go. I’m Lost For Words, gobsmacked, but not by this song in particular, because next thing we are off on a folksy psychedelic journey called Damaged in the Same Boat all together. How long have I been doing this? Have I been smoking? Have I been smoked? Have I been thrashed? What kind of Marlin am I?

I’m Sorrow, to know joy is to know it, and I’m starting to feel it, more joy than sorrow and if this hasn’t encouraged you to listen to the rest of the record I Wonder Why. Unless you’re a Slow Learner.

It’s eclectic, it’s quirky, it’s poppy, it’s jazzy, it plays with your mind and takes you phishing. It fills you with pleasant hooks and allows you to thrash in ecstatic cascades of experiment. And then it calms the waters with psychedelic folk. They must be the ones making the music. Psychedelic folk. The music of sound. The sound of Thrashing Marlin.

So, there you have it. Wildlife is not about cruelty to big game, but it is a big game of flow, an ecology of sound to go fishing in to see where it takes you. I’ll wager that your ethereal Worlds Collide.

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Thrashing Marlin

Thrashing Marlin are David Donaldson and Steve Roche. The Wellington musicians and composers have been working together for ages as part of screen composer group Plan 9 and Six Volts. David was a member of 1980's improvising ensemble Primitive Art Group. They also play in The Labcoats and The Devil's Gate Outfit.

Thrashing Marlin has released 5 albums as Thrashing Marlin. The most recent is called Wildlife (2022) and features Riki Gooch, David Long, Janet Roddick and Moris Tepper an LA based guitarist who payed with Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits and PJ Harvey and Frank Black.

Their albums, out on the Braille Records label, are available to stream on the usual platforms and for purchase through Bandcamp.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Thrashing Marlin


Year: 2022
Type: Album
Donkey Deep
Year: 2011
Type: Album
Wits End
Year: 2006
Type: Album
Garage Sailors
Year: 1999
Type: Album
Thrashing Marlin
Year: 1996
Type: Album

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