The three recently recent album on our skirted Records were sent to Nick Bollinger of Radio NZ for potential review. And we were wonderfully surprised when this appeared. Thanks heaps for the positive clip.
Nick Bollinger discusses the rhythms, rants and recent releases of Wellington-based independent musician Mr Sterile.
Here’s an act that has travelled as far and wide and played to audiences as diverse as any band from this country ever has – though that hardly means Mr Sterile is a household name.
Mr Sterile is the performing alias of Kieran Monaghan: drummer, vocalist, occasional bassist, guitarist, and – for these particular recordings – virtually everything else as well.
Monaghan has been performing under the Mr Sterile banner since around the turn of this century, often in collaboration with his partner Chrissie Butler.
There’s a high level of theatricality about what they do. Their stage costumes are like some mash-up between Bride Of Frankenstein and early Split Enz. At times they incorporate other musicians as well. These larger aggregations are known as Mr Sterile Assembly. Otherwise it’s simply Mr Sterile, which is the case with two new releases, which are essentially Monaghan solo works – though that doesn’t mean they are not packed to the gunnels with sound.
The music might not conform to any old-school punk-rock rulebook, still there is a punk impulse behind it – perhaps politically even more than sonically. The lyrics are like wake-up calls; warnings of the various mechanisms and instruments of oppression that threaten our lives.
But there is a satirical as well as a sinister side to the Mr Sterile aesthetic, which you’ll find everywhere from the lyrics to the handmade packaging. Sacred cows and self-congratulation are prime targets. The first of these two recent releases is called The General Pathetic, with both its title and graphics parodying a well-known Kiwi rock classic.
Monaghan’s primary instrument is the drums and this music comes at you rhythm-first. Those rhythms can be layered and complex, as in the industrial waltz of ‘Cast Adrift’, or furious and combatant – try ‘Kraschenbanger’s Return’. At other times the effect is almost folky (‘Setting Fire To Bob’).
The General Pathetic was actually recorded about six years ago, though it has only just been mastered, and is the more lo-fi of the two new releases.
The other album – Haters, Wreckers and Other Friends – is a bit more sonically refined, though sheer ferociousness isn’t compromised. This is music with a lot of sharp edges that seems to combine the sonic force of Fugazi with the angular rhythms of Captain Beefheart. Chimes of gamelan deepen the textures. Tracks like ‘Would We Be Alive’ imply a spiky kind of funk.
A third new release, also from Mr Sterlie’s label Skirted Records, could be heard as the antidote to the other two. It certainly makes for a study in contrasts.
Two Hands Twice comes out under the name DSLB (that stands for Ditsy Squalls Lunch Box) the alias of Mr Sterile Assembly bassist Chrissie Butler, and consists simply of five instrumentals played on a wheezy old pump organ. These are minimal and meditative. Built around single note drones in no discernable tempo over which harmonies are very slowly added and subtracted, it is like music in slow motion. The song of a glacier, or an organic, handmade version of Eno’s ambient music.
After listening for a while my nervous system seemed to settle to where just the addition of a second note became a momentous event. But sometimes the organ is joined by unidentified rattles and bangs – it might be a washing machine in the next room – and something almost akin to a groove enlivens the drone.
With these three releases out in the world, Mr Sterile Assembly are heading back on the road soon, premiering some brand new material. In the past they have toured extensively through South East Asia and Eastern Europe, places few New Zealand bands have ever set foot. But this midwinter jaunt takes them to Christchurch, Dunedin an Invercargill.
Catch them if you can. There’s nothing else like it.
2017 was a very quiet year on the performing front. In fact all aspects of the active side of the band took a long overdue break. But during this period it became apparent that while not songwriting, we could actual tidy up some of the projects on the back burner.
As part of this break, Chrissie took off to the NZ Pacific Studio for a few days and returned home with the beautiful, slow instrumental album Twohandstwice.
Five improvised recordings on an ancient pedal organ. It could be Music for Ports if you will, a contact mic on the lungs of trees, a galleon that sings to the sea in the pitch of night, the play of first light.
Next up is Haters, Wreckers and other Friends.
This is a collection of the most recent solo mr sterile recordings, that were found lurking in files inside a computer. A mixture of more rock songs, mixed with electronic and downloaded app application.
And finally there is The General Pathetic.
This album was recorded on the quiet somewhere around 2012, but the finishing never felt completely complete. So this album, along with the other two, received a new mastering by Warwick Donald to add the little extra oomph they needed. And it’s certainly worth it.
The General Pathetic is a little more lo-fi than Haters, but is the obvious precursor of many of the techniques used on Haters, so they sit like a happy family … if that’s an appropriate metaphor for this grumpy pair.
All albums have a limited edition physical release. Each is assembled into a hand-fashioned card sleeve alongside a collection of images for extra info.
It’s great to have these done, now the attention turns fully to new song writing and already there’s some strong new tunes bursting at the seams. We are really looking forward to playing them out.
It’s been a fair while since any update. Seems like we took a year off.
So feeling rested, reorientated and recuperated we hit the sticks again, with a bunch of new project.
First a number of shows coming up – Wellington, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Plus we are in the early stages of planning for a much bigger tour at the end of the year.
We have a new look, some new stories and tunes to present to you.
And there are two new solo albums and one remastered album to be released on the bands own label skirted Records. The first is beautiful new atmospheric and acoustic collection of five pieces of sound from DSLB, piped out from bellows over the green pasture of the Manawatu. The album is called TwoHandsTwice.
The second is Haters, Wreckers and other Friends by mr sterile. The most recent collect of random ramblings compiled into one particularly rock collection. Putting the uncomfortable in to the comfort zone. UPDATE: And already these’s a nice wee preliminary review from the Organ Mag in London!
And finally is a new remastering and repackaging of the mr sterile solo album The General Pathetic. More lo-fi and chaotic the album spans the some of the solo sounds from 2005-2012.
Each album is to be assembly by hand, limited to 50 physical pieces only and to be released early April
The long procrastinated album The General Pathetic, a solo collection from mr sterile, is officially now complete! and online (only at this point in time) in our SHOP. A limited number of physical copies will be available in a month or two from shows only.
Nine rambling, junkish, stumbling songs. A couple of the tunes were recorded and unearthed from the early to mid last decade, the rest are more recent. Guest appearances by Chrissie Butler and early sterile performer Francesca Mountfort.
A release last year called Setting Fire to Bob, released on 8″ acetate by Root Don Lonie for Cash, is the companion piece to General Pathetic. The track Setting Fire has been remastered and rightfully now belongs alongside the rest of this racket.
So please, pop over and download. It’s up to your discretion should you wish to leave a few dollars for the album, always appreciated, but if funds are an issue, then no worries.
It feels good to clear this from the decks.