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Troy Kingi - Album Review: Time Wasters: Soundtrack to Current Day Meanderings

16 Nov 2023 // A review by Tom Langdale-Hunt
Another year, another Troy Kingi album. With no strings attached, we can anticipate the next annual instalment into his episodic run of the 10/10/10 Series – 10 albums in 10 years, in 10 different genres. Wildly ambitious, such a mammoth task might weigh heavily on an artist, and perhaps even bring fatigue to the extensiveness of the project. In Troy’s case, he maintains a steady course on his next chapter, Time Wasters: Soundtrack to Current Day Meanderings, an instrumental exploration of scene-setting tracks furthering his ambitious long-term project that is undoubtedly destined to stand as a defining and zealous discography.


Being relatively late to the Troy Kingi party, I began my journey of his music with 2020’s The Ghost of Freddie Cesar, an assortment of funky, retro-inspired 70's pieces that drew me in immediately with its instrumental prowess. I have been pleased to attend the live iterations of his albums since, becoming fond of his presence and dedication to his masterplan of genre-hopping endeavours. Time Wasters is another fine showing of his tight, visual-inducing artistry, allowing his voice to take a backseat, and focus on the robust apparatus that usually sits beneath.

The first single, Bastard, is an ambient introduction into the new era. It was clear from the singles release that this stripped direction was not going to just fall into background noise. The production is crisp, the instruments reverberating into a landscape of their own from tasty guitar tones and perfectly captured rimshots.

Cascading guitar lines ring over the relatively simple, but taut backing pieces, acting somewhat as a guide for where the entire ensemble will go next, jumping between soloing licks, to dreamy strums that allow every string to ring out and break up naturally. Starting off reminiscent of a tune like Kevin Morby’s Harlem River, it only builds from here, quickly becoming a fine introduction to the musical prowess of the session musicians involved as one instrument enters the mix after the other, resulting in something akin to closing sections of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. Orchestral waves and fiery keyboards become transformative to the opening scene of Troy's meandering, vibrant vision.

Fantasy League punches through like a rhythmic dash to the next piece of scenery. A funky guitar riff sandwiched between festive percussion and horn sections gives the track a trancey character, of which you wouldn’t find yourself losing attention (let alone stop grooving) regardless of how long it went on for. It’s a stomper of a track, and hard not to visualize the motions a receptive crowd would give it. Backing chants serve as the only vocals, but in place of a lead, a soloing guitar delivers the melody, like a piece out of a Jiro Inagaki record.

This method appears on other tracks, most notably Presidents & Assholes and Chess, somewhat compensating for any deficit anyone might feel which comes in an album without vocals.

Troy's career is in no way limited to just music. The Rotorua native has built a solid statement within Aotearoa TV and film culture while laying the musical groundwork that he showcases today. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Breaker Uppers, and most recently, the gut-wrenching Muru, he is no stranger to our big screen. I am perplexed as to how he finds the time to consistently work on so many demanding projects at any given moment, but it is clear that this artistic combination has served well to bleed into each other, especially so on this project, quoted as saying “Time Wasters was a response to a lot of soundtrack work that I was undertaking at the time. I’d always been intrigued by the way music can accentuate a tone, mood, or feeling in a film, more often than not without using vocals.”

The aura shifts again to centre on the breath between spaces and within the quiet of the sensual Happy Colour. Gorgeous vocal harmonies define the track as the least instrumental (officially) effort in the collection. Synth waves ride in and out of the mix, exhaling warm aqueous lines throughout.

Additionally, Rubix stands out from the collection in a similar space as a slick, groove that places an ensemble of voices at the forefront, bathed in reverb like a chamber choir. I’d hasten to refer to it as an instrumental in the traditional sense, but the rhythm and infrequency of the voices is used in a manner like how the horn sections have been utilized in its predecessors. For me, the real standout performance here was in Marika Hodgson’s bass work, sitting beneath its reverberating counterparts in a clean, rolled-back tone that allows her impressive runs to shine, especially in the higher strings. Troy's professed Khruangbin influence is perhaps most prevalent here as the guitars fill out the sonic space, trading riffs that by themselves would not appear to be cut from the same track but complement each other in conversation.

This exchange switches to synchronicity on the next piece, Sudoku. Guitar and bass in unifying lines sway and jump in and out of concurrency. A low synth hugs the section with drawn out single notes that fill out the mix, but also highlight the track as, to me at least, somewhat uninspired. The first two minutes of the track sees a seemingly improvised lead guitar run through various modes, coated in a similar tone that we have heard for most of the album, becoming a rather unvaried chunk. The piece does change pace, budding with shimmering ride cymbals, prolonged chords and cascading piano lines, turning this latter half into a wildly different, and far more engaging scene. That said, the change does feel disconnected, as if listening to a separate track entirely, consequentially finding myself disconnecting to the piece overall. The track simply did not appear to exhibit to me a defining character that the rest of the compositions possessed, which I do believe to be key within this type of record.

This slight dip is re-energized in what I consider to be a real highlight of the album within the following couple of tracks. Minesweeper is a pulsing groove to a sweet cacophony of guitars that romp over an excellent rhythm section. Small handheld percussion instruments add to the vibrant texture as the multiple guitars once again serve a melodic purpose, but the tone of each one is shaped to their specific role in the ensemble perfectly. Distorted, horn-like lines thunder over a cleaner, echoing spiel, dancing in an exchange. This track, in its body of dazzling elements, had me conjuring lyrics that were not even there along these melodic pathways; something I have scarcely done while hearing an original instrumental, taking the experience to a new level of captivation.

The sultry setting of Link Link Link is another absorbing addition to the run-sheet, this time pulling us into a retro backdrop where Earth Wind & Fire meets Masayoshi Takanaka in its weave of string-soaked grooves, harmonizing overdriven guitars, and syncopated basslines, topped off with a mega key-change in its closing stages.

I would consider these two pieces to amass everything that works about the album and becomes a fine culmination of every engrossing theme, every great idea, and every masterful performance.

Sequence rounds the 10 tracks off in a similar space to where we started. Tight low percussion, synchronized instruments with flurries of runs and improve between. The personality of the tune moves through various stages, reflecting much of the albums journey. Organs layered atop one another, restrained, yet almost battling for supremacy in the mix come alive in a subtle, but vibrant key change. A consistent acoustic with string scrapes accentuated with reverb gives the track a further dash of human expression while a Stratocaster bends and trembles over the top in a jangly tone.

Officially, that is where the album concludes, but a final delightful treat remains. The bonus track Krispy Kreme is a welcome, and deeply sincere conclusion to Time Wasters, teeming with soul. The spell of the instrumental assortment is broken to make was for the vocals of Aio, Troy's 9-year-old daughter, whose eloquent and staggeringly mature vocals command the piece and uplift the finale. It almost seems as though the album has been building up to such a cathartic moment. The instruments take the backseat to allow the lyrics and the heartfelt performance shine. “Let all the words you wanna speak be heard. Leave your regrets now. Leave no stone unturned” she croons amongst her self-made harmonies in call-and-response. It’s a warm and tender release at the end of the wander, the surprise vocal at the end of the Kamasi Washington epic, the balmy sundown on the final scene.

It is not often that we are handed a musing instrumental album that relies so heavily on guitars, and yet, create a space that does not have this as the focal point of the album. No intricacies, no flashy speed runs; instead, a pivoting participant that finds its place amongst a scene-setting collection creativity and sensation. He has delivered a collection of tracks that works well as a background to everyday Kiwi life, as well as an opportunity for engagement, analysis, and perhaps deep reflection, largely in part to just how much is going on in each piece and the variety of evocative emotions within. This is no easy feat, as many artists might rely on lyrics to achieve such a connection, but in Troy's case, he is clearly confident to let the albums production and spirit speak for itself.

I am lucky enough to be seeing Troy once more in a week's time to witness this new iteration. This will be held at Wellington’s San Fran on the 25th of November, and to my local companions (and nationwide audience for the wider tour), I implore you to attend and completely escape into this screening. We are fortunate to be having this at a standing venue because, sweet Jesus, I cannot imagine being planted in seating while listening to this. That, in itself, might be all I need to say about such a hypnotic body of work.

 

About Troy Kingi

Troy Kingi (Te Arawa, Ngapuhi, Te Whanau-a-Apanui) is an actor and multi-award-winning, multi-genre musician from Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Described by the New Zealand Herald as “One of our finest Songwriters ”, Kingi rose to fame after the release of his first two multi-award-winning albums Guitar Party at Uncles Bach and Shake That Skinny Ass All the Way to Zygertron, along with memorable major roles in Kiwi films including ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’, ‘The Pa Boys’, ‘Mt Zion’ and ‘The Breaker Upperers’.

Since then he has gone on to roles in multiple New Zealand Films, TV Series, and television commercials.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Troy Kingi

Releases

Pu Whenua Hautapu, Eka Mumura
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Black Sea Golden Ladder
Year: 2021
Type: Album
The Ghost of Freddie Cesar
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Holy Colony Burning Acres
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Guitar Party at Uncle's Bach
Year: 2016
Type: Album

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Jeremy Redmore is one of the most recognizable voices in NZ music of the last decade, in part thanks to his tenure as the singer and main writer of a little local band called Midnight Youth but has since evolved into an extremely distinctive and transposed independent solo artist. Partnering with Levi Patel, one of Aotearoa’s budding composers/producers, they have crafted the Migrations EP to be a short burst of remarkably gentle and captivating exploration that will stand apart to their other works, but still demonstrate their distinctive emotional intensity.
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It’s one thing to experience an increasingly rare high-attendance Rock n Roll Revue, but it’s another thing entirely to have been successfully transported into a time period decades before your existence. In a freshly renovated St James Theatre, Tami Neilson’s Rock n Roll Revue marks my first time back in the lush venue since my childhood – an experience that somewhat lines me with the rest of the crowd in association to these songs and performance style.
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