Peter Jefferies

Closed Circuit

EJ 40 CD
released Oct 2001

His fifth album and best work since Last Great Challenge in a Dull World, Closed Circuit brings it all full circle, a continuation of "one man vs. the world." The album cover is as blue as the mood of the album, though there's many tornadic pop nuggets to pull you out of the mire.

"Age for the Innocent" is a sure highlight with an irresistible piano loop and accompanying vocal rounds spouting lyrics that Chance the Gardener would understand. "State of the Nation" stomps darkly along, bleeding fingers and all, a weary voice asking "How can anything ever be enough when you're feeling like a one dollar bill?"

One of his best works to date ("Ghost Writer") closes the album, a gorgeous rolling piano and drum line set to crackling electric guitar provided by Australia's Chris Smith. A soothing baritone comes in two-thirds of the way through, as wistful as it is sedate.

MP3: "Ghostwriter"

Purchase Closed Circuit.

Some reviews:

"There are a number of beginning reference points, however rudimentary, that spring to mind when confronted with the first listen through Closed Circuit: hermetically sealed Velvet Underground rehearsal tapes, John Cale's more wild moments, the Elephant 6 collective if they had a pill habit, Brian Eno's vocal whine, even snatches of The Cure's elegiac loveliness. I promptly realized that these reference points were inadequate in that they only captured tiny Polaroid (RIP) moments, rather than the twitching, living whole. When I threw away these unhealthy preconceptions, I was left with this, a record that is just as applicable listening for a disorienting ride through long underground tunnels then out into the sunlight in a dark blue car, as it is for a quiet night alone where the only other sound is the curtains rustling softly in the autumn breeze.

It's all whispered and squawked singsong instinctive phrasing backed by insectoid guitar, cranky keyboards and insistent drones. With any manner of miscellaneous noises and voices seeping through. This new confusion. Then somehow, someway, around "King in the Clown's New Clothes," a pastoral lament with a sudden, jarring ending about a minute in (too soon), the whole tone of the album shifts into a series of epic junkshop Scott Walker swoons. Fabulous. Synth and piano, gently played and longingly atmospheric, dominate these incredible songs. They stretch out, unhurried, far into a dreamland horizon, filling my 3 AM musings with an outpouring of pure light from a kerosene lamp. Strange and wonderful." - Matthew Moyer, Ink 19

"Peter Jefferies' solo debut following his involvement in the New Zealand post-punk underground groups Nocturnal Projections and This Kind of Punishment was eloquently titled The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World. An exquisite collection of songs rendered in varying degrees of low fidelity, the album drew parallels to the desolate solo work of John Cale, Kevin Ayers, and Robert Wyatt. It mixed post-punk experimentalism with piano-driven ballads, in parts calling to mind the Velvet Underground and Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, and remains a classic influential record in the '80s New Zealand underground. Jefferies followed up with another fine solo album, Electricity, and numerous others that paled in comparison to his solo masterwork. Closed Circuit is as close as he's come to a similar epiphany, evidence that maybe The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World was exactly that, more than a decade prior. That isn't to say that it's a bad album; in fact, it's a brilliant album of songs centered around his favored themes of desolation, paranoia, and confessional blueness. The stark mix of drums, piano, and bass renders the overall sound a little monochromatic, the melodrama a little heavy-handed in places, yet the forms and themes are as arresting as anything he recorded in the '90s. Closed Circuit ensures Jefferies' position as one of the most interesting and influential songwriters of the New Zealand post-punk underground, and is highly recommended to fans of the bleak and brooding atmospheres of John Cale and Kevin Coyne. (Skip Jansen, All Music Guide)

"Sounding like (former musical partner) Shayne Carter's less celebrated twin, PJ has a line in moody introspection that also recalls Chris Matthews and Jordan Reyne. It's a balancing act between pathos and cranky malevolence: "You'll never get me off your back" he threatens in Crocodile. Reflective light to the shade comes in wistful ballads Ghostwriter and Coming Home With You. The angular white backing of bare-bones bass, guitar and piano propels the songs to some heady heights, like in the strident Red Sky. It takes concentration for the lyrical nuggets to unearth themselves, as it's a rather incognito and tight lipped affair, but as Jefferies himself says on Talkin' Bout Nuthin', "There's too many people struck out for the stars..." A wonderfully chilly reception awaits you in a deft State of the Nation ("are you still here?"). Lo-fi, no lie, a journeyman's words of experience, straight up." - Jacob Conner, Musician


EJ 20 CD
released Sept 1998

An active musician in New Zealand since the early '80s, Peter Jefferies gives us his fourth solo album, and it's like none of the ones that preceded it. Before making his landmark debut solo album The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World, Jefferies made a collaborative record with Jono Lonie, At Swim Two Birds (whose initial vinyl micro-pressing has been recently been reissued on CD by Drunken Fish). Substatic is similar in that there are no vocals on either.

Those familiar with the calm washes of At Swim will note that this is a much more emotionally complex record, bursting with stampeding pianodrum rhythms, his instrument of choice. The music isn't angry as much as it is vividly aware of the dark spaces in which it sails.

The final track, the three-part "Three Movements," is a slowly unwinding journey through time that levitates you above the clamor that preceded it. Peter recorded a long basic track of free-association on a grand piano, then added drum, guitar and other parts. It's an uncluttered masterpiece that ends the album with composed perfection.

Jefferies spent the better part of a year molding Substatic's lush production. Nearly all sounds were recorded at his home in Stratford, New Zealand, with an 8 track reel to reel -- with some additional help recording and mixing the record with a few friends.

MP3: "Kitty Loop"

Some reviews:

"New Zealand produces more left-field pop music geniuses per capita than any other country. Consider the likes of Dead C, Split Enz, Chris Knox, Bailter Space, The Bats, and so on. Even in this company, Peter Jefferies stands out by making stark, emotional music that commands your attention. When he sings, his voice is naked, brittle, and sharp, like a male version of Jean Smith of Mecca Normal; Jefferies sounds as if he could burst into tears or fly into a rage at any moment. Substatic, however, is an instrumental album, and as such, it lacks nothing. Jefferies is a renaissance man, playing drums, keyboards, guitar, and bass with equal skill. Able to milk the most desolate or rich sounds out of his arrangements, his instrumentation ranges from the somber, introspective piano of "Three Movements" to the soaring tape loop and guitar tapestry of "Kitty Loop." The songs themselves can travel a wide breadth of emotions, too. In "Index," Jefferies regularly slows down and speeds up the music to shift the tone of the song from joyous to fearful, only to strip most of the instruments away by the end, leaving a lone piano and a wave of uncertainty. Substatic is made up of only five songs ranging from 4 to 16 minutes, but they're all highly charged, mostly toward the negative end of the emotional spectrum. It's not an album you can just slap on at any time, but at the right moment, it's fantastic." - Joe Garden, The Onion

"One of Jefferies' most adventurous releases, Substatic consists of five instrumental tracks, apparently improvisatory in spirit but combined with a sense of collage and specific arrangements. In keeping with his polymath nature when it comes to music, he performs everything from his expected electric piano and drums to bass and "loops," assisted on all tracks but the second by Michael Hill and Anita Galatis-Anker on a variety of instruments. Samples ranging from a live performance by Mecca Normal (though her words are practically unintelligible, that's definitely Jean Smith heard in the middle of "Index") to crowd noise and didgeridoo are all fed into the mixes as well, resulting in a striking, varied album. It's clearly Jefferies' work in many ways -- the driving keyboards, the intentionally and beautifully murky production -- but the avoidance of singing, his first high-profile work in that line since At-Swim-Two-Birds, helps demonstrate just how excellent his music really is. "Signal" is one of the best songs on the album, an exploration of the Velvets/motorik groove that has inspired so many New Zealand acts, but charged with a definite air of building threat, like something's going to go very wrong very soon. "Kitty Loop" takes a similar approach with a more exultant air, an inspiring, uplifting number that sounds like it could fill up the whole sky. Moments like the solo piano conclusion of "Index" and the extended drone float that permeates "Damage" show that Jefferies certainly has not lost his sense of melancholy beauty, making Substatic an even more enjoyable, entrancing listen. The lengthy, majestic "Three Movements" is the wonderful icing on the cake to it all, Jefferies' flat-out lovely piano the core of the extended performance, a requiem to who knows what." - Ned Raggett, All Music Guide

"I thought I was making pretty good time for the wedding. Perhaps it was that sense of security that made me miss the turn-off for the air force base (probably because they got second billing to the Jai-Alai) and find myself on a long stretch of no-U-turns allowed bay bridge. Still, I had just inserted Substatic, and between the sight of the grey road bisecting the blue water and the repetitive nature of the music, it didn't feel like much of a tragedy.

The Jefferies name lies close to the root of New Zealand's independent music scene. It's easy to identify the self-absorbed, fidelity-be-damned approach present on many NZ projects here. These instrumental compositions, played mostly by Jefferies, are easy to sink into, providing soothing washes of guitar or a trickling piano melody in a manner that's not too obvious or garish. The instrumentation might be a bit too organic for most chill rooms, but Substatic would still work well in that context." - Kurt Channing, Ink 19

Elevator Madness

released Oct 1996

Elevator Madness was produced in Vancouver (his adopted North American home) by Jean Smith of Mecca Normal. A native of Dunedin, New Zealand, Peter has been recording and performing uncompromising music since 1981, spending time in bands like Nocturnal Projections, This Kind of Punishment (with his brother Graeme, who now fronts The Cakekitchen) and Plagal Grind (with Alastair Galbraith). He also helped run the excellent XPressway tape and record label with Michael Morley (Dead C. and Peter and Jean's collaborator in the turbulent 2 Foot Flame band).

His first two solo albums, The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World and Electricity, released in the US by Ajax, were hailed as brilliant piano and voice nocturnes mixed with studio experimentation. These records were almost entirely Peter playing piano, drums and voice (usually all at once, a feat that is especially pleasurable to watch live).

Elevator Madness continues the Jefferies tradition of intensely intimate lyrics combined with emotive and passionate playing. There's some swirly guitar-charged rockers, some late-night studio fuckery and the ever present ballads of loss and hope.

"...Jefferies is working in an almost entirely unexplored universe of uniquely personal music, a place that even if inhabited by a wealth of peers, would certainly find Peter at front and center..." (Your Flesh magazine)

MP3: "World in a Blanket"

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