5 Aug 2018

New Horizons: New NZ albums - Model Train Wreck and Bernie Griffen

From New Horizons, 5:00 pm on 5 August 2018

Some new local releases … William Dart takes a listen to CDs from Model Train Wreck and Bernie Griffen.

Kirsten Warner, Bernie Griffen - 'Doors Wide Open' cover image

Kirsten Warner, Bernie Griffen - 'Doors Wide Open' cover image Photo: Reuben Raj, Bernie Griffen and The Thin Men

Four years ago on this programme, I closed a bracket of songs by Model Train Wreck with "Pork Belly Waltz", a gentle, wistful triple-timer, slightly surrealist around its edges.

At the time I wanted a video to tell or perhaps tease me more, especially if the group’s other inventive videos are any indication of how the song might be visually elaborated.

I still find myself returning every now and then to the video for their song "We’re not speaking", featuring the zany animations of Mikaela Pavlatova.

Now, four years on, Model Train Wreck has come up with a new EP, I want that back.

Model Train Wreck described themselves recently as indie rockabilly, but, to my ears, there’s more than a little unabashed pop being perpetrated here.

Songwriter Chris Howard has his own sense of humour. His song "My daughter never grew up", developed from watching his Brussels Griffon puppy growing old at the rate of seven years to our one, relating this irony to people who never seem to age in spite of their years.

I love the wavering between major to minor in the song, "I’ve found someone else". Maybe he has done just that ...  maybe he’s not too sure. Is he asking us to make our own naughty modifications to his lyrics when he rhymes a vision of his beloved "feeding 5000 ducks" with "loving her just as much"?

Ear-twitching sonic smudges were caused by fiddling with the knobs on an analog delay pedal, and an enchanting playout, with chiming vocals, suggests perhaps that nirvana has been attained.

I remember the thrill — and it was a thrill — six years ago, opening up the debut album from Bernie Griffin and his Grifters. Its first track was a real sort of how-dya-do, a statement on the state of things, delivered, it seemed, against the affectionate gristle of a much-loved party LP.

Bernie Griffen’s new album, Doors Wide Open, comes with a cover that’s almost a template in the world of country singers and balladeers, showing Griffen and Kirsten Warner framed by railway tracks, their guitars cased and ready to go.

You’re reminded of the fateful event that brought about this collection. On a flight to Europe for a series of concert gigs, Griffen was taken ill. The flight re-routed to Brisbane and, after hospitalization, the eventual upshot was recording this new disc in Melbourne.

Instead of familiar Kiwi support, Griffen has gathered an all-Australian cast of helpers. Producer, fiddler and mandolin man Luke Plumb once played with the Scottish trad band, Shooglenifty and bassist Rob Mahoney made his name with The Spines.

The power of Bernie Griffen’s delivery, often veering into the ravaged and raw, remains undimmed. Australia may have contributed to the song-story on a track like "I fell out of the sky" but the issues run deeper, much deeper, than just finding himself in this great crimson continent, with burning hills and bodies on the bitumen. Best of all, it sets off with an appreciated taste of Griffen guitar ... and there’s more along the way.

There’s an unsettling air running through the ten songs of Doors wide open. Playing through it, I inevitably come back to one track which highlights the very special partnership of Bernie Griffen and Kirsten Warner.

The song "Sweet Obsession", written by Griffen and primarily voiced by Warner, is stark in its honesty, marking the passing of time, from candlelit dinners to talking to brick walls. Around them, a brooding soundscape charges words that really resonate with Warner’s fragile yet imperturbably calm delivery.

All this in what might be the greatest duet that Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash never got to sing.

Hear all these tracks and others by clicking on the 'Listen' button above.

Music Details

'Song title' (Composer) – Performers
Album title

'Porkbelly Waltz' (Peart et al) – Model Train Wreck
Model Train Wreck
(Model Train Wreck)

'I Want That Back' (Howard et al) – Model Train Wreck
I Want That Back EP
(Model Train Wreck)

'I’ve Found Someone Else' (Howard et al) – Model Train Wreck
I Want That Back EP
(Model Train Wreck)

'Ghost Girlfriend' (Peart et al) – Model Train Wreck
I Want That Back EP
(Model Train Wreck)

'Sometimes I Feel So Sad' (Griffen) – Bernie Griffen & The Grifters
Everything So Far
(Flaming Pearl)

'Reef of Dreams' (Griffen) – Bernie Griffen & The Grifters
Everything So Far
(Flaming Pearl)

'Circus Song' (Griffen/Warner) – Bernie Griffen & The Thin Men
(Flaming Pearl)

'I Fell out of the Sky' (Griffen/Warner) – Bernie Griffen & The Thin Men
Doors Wide Open
(Flaming Pearl)

'Sweet Obsession' (Griffen) – Bernie Griffen & The Thin Men
Doors Wide Open
(Flaming Pearl)





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