Staff Picks CDs: Feb-May

A wide range of music styles and artists curated by our avid music fans on staff over the last few months. We hope you find something new to enjoy.

Hammock – Everything and Nothing
After experimenting with post-classical sound, the ambient, post-rock duo from Nashville seems to enter a new phase. This 16-songs-76-minutes-suite is their most pop album, featuring several singers and some rhythmical tunes. However, their distinguished musical world; mesmerising, gradually sublimated emotional sound scape, remains beautifully and enthrals you. Somewhere in the mixture of Cocteau Twins, Sigur Ross and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this album should appeal to a wider audience. (Shinji)

Ingrid and Christine Jensen – Infinitude
Canadian sister jazz musicians Ingrid and Christine Jensen (trumpeter and saxophonist respectively) have played together over the years, but making a collaboration album is something new for them. Born and raised on Vancouver Island where surrounded by an abundance of nature, their Nordic roots is strongly embedded in the music here, and blends wonderfully into modern sonic jazz which shows the shadows of the late 60s’ Miles Davis. The communication among the players is so fluid, and the guest guitarist Ben Monder adds rich textures. Infinitude is a beautiful, sublime album. (Shinji)

Craig Taborn – Daylight Ghosts
One of the most innovative and versatile jazz pianists of today Craig Taborn has found ECM label as his home and this third effort for the label is a sheer magic. Assembled from his long-time friends and master musicians, the quartet shows amazing interplays and integrates Taborn’s enigmatic compositions into the highly skilful group improvisations. It’s a hybrid chamber jazz infused with subtle electronica, post rock, complex rhythm etc. This group is probably more avant-garde on stage but this is an ECM production. Their radicalness is slightly reduced and beautified. However, it worked out fantastically. A masterpiece is born. (Shinji)

Ross Harris – The Kugels play Klezmer
Ross Harris is perhaps better known as the leading composer of the New Zealand classical world or perhaps his pioneering electronic pieces with the Free Radicals. However his latest works are a revelation, the album comprises traditional Jewish Klezmer pieces. Melancholic, lyrical, delicate and beautiful , the music is played with grace and finesse by the Kugels who are the Wellington based quartet to which he belongs . The album pulls off that rare feat of sounding both vibrant and fresh whilst being firmly rooted in the tradition to which the music belongs .
Highly recommended. (Neil J)

Relative Abundance – Golden Pavilion
Golden Pavilion is an ambitions, experimental, emotionally engaging album . A modern classical piece with deep roots in modern electronic ambient works. If you like Steve Reich or Brian Eno or indeed cutting edge modern electronica then this will be right up your street.
The band describes the piece as being like music from a long lost fictional civilisation that might have borne some similarity to Japan, Tibet, Nepal or Indonesia: a work of fictional anthropological field recording. relativeabundance.bandcamp.com/album/kinkaku-ji (Neil J)

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Their music creates a dreamy soundscape punctuated by clicks and snares, overlaid with intriguing lyrics suggesting themes such as the suffering of a Matador in the bull ring, to relationship breakup aftermath, even alluding to Maurice Sendaks “Where the wild things Are”. For me, it is the perfect music to distract from the dreary windy rainy Autumn weather. (Lisa)

Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
The award winning British poet/rapper excels on her second album which is something quite spectacular. The grooves are fat, the tunes are great, and the lyrics, while cutting and acerbic, are drawn from a deeply humane perspective. This is an intensely political record that harks back to the early days of hip-hop as she directs her fine honed literary tirades at capitalism, gentrification, climate change, war, disconnectedness, isolation and more. Yet, surprisingly, the total does not come across as preachy or over wrought, and this is largely due to Kate Tempest’s impassioned delivery and the quality of the music. She obviously cares very much and really wants you to as well. (John)

Machinedrum– Human Energy
US electronic producer Travis Stewart, aka Machinedrum, has slowly built a worldwide profile with his workman like approach, consistently releasing excellent records and his latest is no exception. Last year’s “Vapor City”, his first for the esteemed Ninja Tune label, was a standout, merging genres including dubstep, r’n’b, jungle, footwork and ambient to create something original and very cool. “Human Energy”, inspired by the California new age movement, finds him coming as close as he has come to the popular arena, featuring very catchy tunes, a range of guest r’n’b vocalists, great beats and excellent production to create a summer record of euphoric glitch pop. (John)

Pink Floyd – The Early Years 1967-1972
This double cd features a relatively small selection of tracks from “The Early Years 1967-1972”- the mammoth 27 disc box set released earlier this year. Unless you are a dedicated fan, this selection should satisfy curiosity concerning Pink Floyd’s early time as an arty underground band before Dark Side of the Moon” launched them into the stratosphere. Nicely contextualized by a well-informed booklet included here are their first singles, some early BBC Sessions, previously unreleased soundtrack works, early live recordings and, intriguingly, 2016 remixes of three tracks from “Obscured By Clouds”. (John)

Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
The Chilean producer made a big splash with his 2011 release “Space Is Only Noise” and “Sirens”, experimental releases aside, is his follow up. Difficult to pin down, Nicolas Jaar is a fiercely creative producer who doesn’t simply merge genres; he throws them up in the air and creates something new and fresh with what falls down. His Discogs page tags him as “Electronic, Ambient, Downtempo, Modern Classical, Techno” which gives some indication. Using all manner of instruments, field recordings, lovely vocals, discreet electronics and a range of moods from ambient through downbeat to driving rock he has created not so much a record as a world to explore. (John)

The Radio Dept – Running Out of Love
This Swedish band have gradually built a loyal international following since the release of their 2003 debut “Lesser Matters”. Capturing everything that is appealing about the classic indie sound – gentle vocals, sweet melodies, driving grooves and meaningful lyrics – they deviate only slightly from their distinctive sound on this, their fourth release, by including more electronica in the mix and also incorporating a political awareness into some of their lyrics. Simultaneously nostalgic and forward looking, this is probably their most consistent album that comes as a friendly reminder of what a lovely thing it can be to have warm, intelligent music in your life. (John)

Shirley Collins – Lodestar
A real event within the folk world, 84 year old Shirley Collins, the “faerie queen” of UK psych folk who turned her back on singing and has lived in relative obscurity for almost 40 years, was finally coaxed back to a microphone by devoted fans. Recorded live to laptop in her rural cottage and accompanied by members of the next generation of folk musicians, this is a beautiful document, capturing her moving renditions of traditional British and American songs in a pure and humble fashion that enables times past to live again. (John)

Roman Flugel – All the Right Noises
In these beat saturated EDM times its refreshing to discover an electronic producer exploring more abstract regions yet still creating accessible sounds. Roman Flugel’s third album is “about the solitary time in hotel rooms between gigs, and that strange mixture of peace and isolation”, and he has created a collection of pieces that lie between ambient and dancefloor in the wonderful world of electronic listening music. It’s an imaginative and diverse ride, beautifully produced with sparkling highs and throbbing lows, that moves between a variety of styles and while the whole thing has a slightly unsettling feel, that is part of its charm. (John)

The Clean – Getaway(reissue)
Since their surprise 1981 hit “Tally-Ho” hit the charts, launching the ‘Dunedin sound’ into worldwide consciousness, The Clean have only released five albums and this re-issue of their fourth, 2001’s ‘Getaway’, with great artwork and an accompanying second disc featuring the rare tour-only live eps – “Syd’s Pink Wiring System” and “Slush Fund”, sits well in their scant but highly influential discography. The album sees the band in mature song writer mode and these well produced tracks cover a wide range of styles from the characteristic motorik chug of their early days to slower compositions featuring a range of instruments and a quieter mood. (John)

Kate Bush – Before the Dawn
In 2014 Kate Bush returned to the stage with a series of twenty-two shows and this three disc set is a recording of that show. Surprisingly, the set doesn’t focus on Kate’s hits, featuring only “Hounds of Love”, “Running Up That Hill” and “Cloudbusting”. Instead the focus is on two of her more ambitious works – “The Ninth Wave” (side two of Hounds of Love) and “A Sky of Honey” (side two of Aerial). With the album proudly stating “nothing on the record was re-recorded or overdubbed”, the performances are wonderful – her voice magnificent, with the accompanying musicians supplying sensitive and finely tuned performances. While it is a little frustrating to be missing the visuals of the stage show (with no DVD included) this is a treat for fans and not to be missed. (John)

VA – Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded
British writer Jon Savage’s new book explores how the year 1966 unfolded in music, taking one key song from each month and expanding on a theme. It’s a great book, well researched, and strongly recommended for those interested in the history of contemporary music and cultural development over the past 50 years. This two disc compilation is a companion to that book, featuring many of the key tracks discussed by Savage. The 48 tracks represent a wide snapshot of the times, from The Who’s ‘Substitute’ through Love’s ‘7 and 7 Is’ to Lee Dorsey’s ‘Working In a Coalmine”, and there is even a track from the very first David Bowie album! It’s a fascinating journey and a great listen if you have read the book or not. (John)

Romare – Love Songs Part Two
Romare’s debut album, last year’s ‘Projections’ was one of the years’ best electronic releases, featuring a great collection of sample laden smooth and funky grooves that always stayed engaging, edgy and interesting. His follow up, again on London’s Ninja Tune label, is essentially more of the same – and that is a very good thing. Nothing is too frantic and the grooves keep rolling, created from expertly selected samples from classic jazz, funk, house and soul that steer the tracks unfailingly into expertly layered excursions, some quiet and beguiling, some as seductive and funky as one could hope for. It’s a very cool ride from a talented producer that holds together nicely as an album rather than just a collection of tracks. (John)

Bonobo – Migration
Migration is Simon Green, aka Bonobo’s, sixth release since his 2000 debut, the gorgeous ‘Animal Magic’, and over that time he has become one of the most respected and successful electronic producers on the planet. His last album, 2013’s ‘The North Borders’ was his breakthrough and was toured, with an ensemble of live musos, across 30 countries on four continents to a total audience of around 2 million. His sound has evolved into a gorgeous form of electronic soul that features pianos, guitars, woodwind, strings and guest vocalists interlaced with found sounds and Green’s expertly crafted drum and keyboard programming. By turns melancholic, majestic and celebratory this is music that invites you into its own world. (John)

Brian Eno – Reflection
Brian Eno follows up ‘The Ship’, his 2017 vocals based release, with an hour long piece of generative music that continues on from his wispy 1991 work – ‘Neroli’. These generative pieces are delicate minimal electronic works that represent Eno’s strivings to create music that floats on the air like perfume, that doesn’t seem like music so much as pleasurable sounds that drift by your ears – always different, always the same – like a river. Generative music is created by putting together systems that generate the sounds in random patterns and with ‘Reflection’ comes the option to purchase an iOS app that presents a simple visual that gradually changes colors as the music itself slowly shifts, generating music indefinitely without ever repeating itself. So it seems that Eno has finally created a piece of infinite music. In these anxious times ambient works like this are a welcome respite, representing as they do, a peaceful and calming virtual river to sit beside. (John)

The XX – I See You
The London trio’s third release in seven years finds them continuing their moody brooding indie pop trajectory, however their sound palette has evolved, appearing to have incorporated production ideas from trio member, Jamie XX’s very successful solo electronic venture “In Colour”. This shift is evident from the get go with the first track, ‘Dangerous’, built on a bass groove and skittering hi hats. The lyrics are, as always, yearning, bittersweet love songs, and when Romy Madley Croft sings “I’ve been a romantic for so long” it’s easy to hope that never changes as The XX create their gorgeous and beautifully produced take on pop throughout, arguably, their best record yet. (John)

Sun Ra – Singles: The Definitive Collection 1952 – 1991
This impressive three disc set contains all of Sun Ra’s singles presented in chronological order. The first question one may ask is why did Sun Ra even bother releasing singles? The visionary outer space jazz maestro could hardly have been aiming for top 40 air play and, according to the liner notes, the mystery remains unexplained. Over his career Sun Ra simply decided that certain tunes needed to exist as 45s and he went ahead and pressed them, sometimes in runs as small as 50. Consequently, several are rare collectors’ items now, but thanks to the current media we are able to hear them all in remastered splendour. Beginning with his poem “I Am An Instrument” the listener is taken through the entire of Sun Ra’s career from big band jazz through be-bop to doo-wop to experimental and beyond. It’s a fascinating journey and these short compositions offer a great road into Sun Ra’s universe. (John)

William Basinski – A Shadow In Time
New York sound artist William Basinski made waves in the ambient world fifteen years ago with the first instalment of his astounding work, ‘The Disintegration Loops’. Since then he has regularly released his strange and hypnotically repetitive ambient sound projects and these two 20 minute pieces compare well with the best in his canon of work. The first piece, ‘For David Robert Jones’, a tribute to David Bowie, is oddly moving, and features, as a nod to Bowie’s own saxophone honking on ‘Subterraneans,’ a saxophone loop slowly mutating over the decaying extract from a heavenly choir, while the second piece ‘A Shadow In Time’ is a work of austere beauty, composed for an archaic Voyetra 8 synthesizer. (John)

The All Seeing Hand – Sand To Glass
Three years on from the excellent ‘Mechatronics’, Wellington trio, The All Seeing Hand return with their fourth album, which finds them refining their electronics driven sound into a subtly more reflective mode without sacrificing any of their characteristic intensity, having said that, there are still all out bangers like the excellent ’Silicon & Synapse’. Imaginative, exciting and powerful, this is a band brimming with confidence pouring their energy into well produced and well-constructed arrangements that make full use of Jonny Marks’ ecstatic throat singing, three guest vocalists and Alphabethead’s grungy electronics, all driven by B. Michael Knight’s excellent drumming. It’s a captivating sound, not quite electronica, not quite punk, not quite metal, not quite experimental and not quite rock and it would be fair to say that no-one else anywhere is making music quite like this at the moment. (John)

Johann Johannsson – Original Soundtrack – Arrival
Since his debut release in 2002, Icelandic ambient composer, Johann Johannsson, has been making consistently excellent music and it was inevitable that he would eventually make film soundtracks, as his composition style is especially evocative, conjuring up complex worlds of the imagination. His latest project was the soundtrack to the excellent sci-fi film “Arrival”, for which he provides a score that is suitably mysterious, spooky and tense, making full use of treated voices that perfectly complement the overall eeriness of the film, and to his credit, the music works equally well as a stand-alone work. (John)

Thievery Corporation – The Temple of I & I
Thievery Corporation have released a record every three or four years since their 1996 debut “Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi”, and their sound hasn’t changed a lot in that time, however, that may not be a bad thing. They perfectly nailed the sound of dubby downbeat early on, and even though this music is more likely to be played in cafes these days than anywhere else, that doesn’t detract from the quality of the music, which has remains consistently high. Their last record, 2014’s ‘Saudade’, explored Latino rhythms and this time around they turn their attention to dub and have made their most roots oriented album yet. Featuring a great horn section, and a different guest vocalist on each track, comprised of male and female toasters, songsters and rappers, the grooves roll on in a beautifully produced bass heavy treat. (John)

Traffic – Five Classic Albums
On his path from vocalist/keyboard player with the Spencer Davis Group as a 14 year old musical prodigy with a voice like Ray Charles, to FM blue-eyed soulboy, Stevie Winwood spent seven years from 1967-74 as core member of the loosely labelled prog rock group, Traffic. Contained here are five of the six Traffic albums that span a range of styles. Their first two releases, ‘Mr Fantasy’ and ‘Traffic 2’ strongly reflect the psychedelic influence of those times, featuring songs by turn enigmatic, playful and moody accompanied by saxophone, flute, keyboards and electric and acoustic guitar. The later records find the group evolving into a cross genre jam band with the fifth album, ‘Shootout At the Fantasy Factory’ featuring the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. It’s good to be able to hear these records back to back, but anyone who wants a shortcut is directed to the double disc set ‘Smiling Phases’ which features highlights across their six albums plus their early singles and includes a booklet that places this music within a historical context. (John)

Matthew Dear – DJ Kicks
US electronic producer Mathew Dear’s excellent contribution to the ongoing DJ Kicks series features his distinctive take on dance music, mixing excerpts from a wide range of tracks over an hour. The slinky minimal grooves roll out seamlessly, featuring vocal snippets, hypnotic bass lines and four to the floor house and techno rhythms which slowly build to the last four tracks, three of which are from Mathew Dear’s dance floor alter ego, Audion. (John)

Howe Gelb – Future Standards
Howe Gelb’s first band ‘Giant Sand’, who’s rhythm section would eventually become Calexico, helped kickstart the alt country movement back in 1985. He has created a vast back catalogue over three decades, breaking style now and again to indulge his love of low key cocktail jazz. Recorded at his home, ‘Future Standards’ is his most overt exploration of that style so far, complete with a classic cocktail jazz trio of tinkly piano, walking bass and soft brush drums. Gelb’s low key crooning is accompanied by guest vocalist Lonna Kelley and between them they offer a languid and dreamlike take on twelve original love songs that are so perfectly rendered that any potential irony is surpassed. (John)

The Bats – The Deep Set
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the Bats debut “Daddy’s Highway” and their ninth album, “The Deep Set”, is remarkable in that neither their lineup nor their sound has significantly changed in that time. What is even more remarkable is how their jangly guitars, gentle vocals and songs of quiet hope have not dated in any way, still offering a welcome respite for the world weary. The Bats are telepathically tight after all this time and this new batch of songs, that keeps a true indie flag flying, are as good as anything they have done.

Staff Pick CDs – More ‘Best of 2016’ selections

2016 was a bumper year for new music (although we admit we might say that every year) so we have some more choice top picks for you to browse. Most genres are covered here, so there should be something for everyone!

Cover imageArrangingtime. Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn was one of those artists that never seemed to live up to the potential of his fantastic first album. His second was a solid follow-up, but the next couple were patchy, and his last effort, 2010′s ‘PY’ with Frank Black was a total misfire. After that he seemed to disappear, popping up briefly as part of ‘The Olms’ in 2013 whose very short Beatles-esque album had some Ok tracks. However Yorn was back in 2016 with his first solo album in 6 years on a new label. ‘Arrangingtime’ shifts the guitar sound to a wash of synths on some tracks but he still hews close to the sonic template of his first couple of albums. Sounding invigorated by the break, this collection of melodic synthy rockers is his most consistent and enjoyable for a long time.

Cover imageSwan song series. Tanya Donelly
One of the most influential female figures in the 90s music scene returned with a 3-Disc collection that rounded up the 5 EPs she released on Bandcamp between 2013-14. Co-founding Throwing Muses with stepsister Kristen Hersh, which she played in from 1983-1991, she then co-formed The Breeders with Kim Deal of The Pixies, before founding her own group Belly. After ‘Belly’ folded she released 2 indie pop albums followed by 2 more introspective acoustic albums before essentially stepping away from music; so it was a surprise when 7 years later she began to release a series of EPs on Bandcamp. Each release featured songs co-written with friends, musicians and previous collaborators, including noted authors. American Laundromat Records collected up all the EPs and some extra tracks for a richly diverse compilation that wandered through a number of genres all anchored by a sense of experience and wisdom, in addition to her lovely voice which sounds as good as it ever was.

Cover imageGive up on your health. Teeth & Tongue
Teeth & Tongue is the moniker of Melbourne based, Wellington raised songwriter and musician Jess Cornelius. Her family moved to Wellington when she was 11, and music was the one constant, her parent’s record collection played a huge role in fuelling her desire to make music. She entered a couple of local “battle of the bands” comps while at school, but it wasn’t until a move to Melbourne at 19 that she fully tapped into her musical potential. Latest album ‘Give up on your health’ is a swirl of Giorgio Moroder 80s synths, but underneath the fantastic production is a set of serious songs that focus on fracturing relationships, isolation, and past regrets. Electro-pop tends to veer towards cool beats, hip choruses and emotional detachment, but Cornelius and her backing band plunder the digital sounds to record the messy analogue organics of real human interaction.

Cover imageThe 11th sky. Electric Wire Hustle
Just when you think Electric Wire Hustle can’t get any better they (or rather Mara TK, the last man left of the original three piece band) up their game yet again. His fantastic voice sits comfortably in that late period Marvin Gaye/Leon Ware pocket, but the sound of ‘The 11th Sky’ is harder and fuller. Moving away from the patented psychedelic Neo-soul of the last 2 albums they move into a sonic realm of darker, heavier, beats that envelop Mara TK’s analogies to Maori mythology, and metaphysical concerns on the pressures of money, love and expectations that weigh down peoples journey towards a better place within themselves. A real sense of searching for meaning pervades the album.

Cover imageAce & Gab’s honeymoon. Maple Syrup
We really liked Vera Ellen’s solo album Monte Casino, and now she is part of Maple Syrup, a new 4 piece that melds a grungy garage 90s alt-rock aspect with the pop sensibilities that were on display on Monte Casino. Riffy guitar lines, catchy melodies, rocking tracks. Makes you remember why you like new bands. The vibrancy and sense of purpose. The adherence to old forms, yet that energy and discovery.

Cover imageI’ll forget 17. Lontalius
‘Lontalius’ is one of the stage names of 19 year old underground Wellington sensation Eddie Johnston, who also records under the moniker ‘Race Banyon’, and has been an active participant in the local live scene since his early teens. After a slew of independent releases on Bandcamp he came to prominence in 2013 via a collection of Casiotone rap covers, which soon found endorsement from Lorde and Ryan Hemsworth. He signed to New York label Partisan Records for full length debut ‘I’ll Forget 17′ and moved away from R&B covers and the Hip-Hop of alter ego ‘Race Banyon’, to deliver an album of intimate alt-pop tinged with melancholy & a lyrical maturity beyond his years.

Cover imageBrothers and sisters of the black lagoon. Orchestra of Spheres
More experimental rock madness from this cult Welly band who are breaking big overseas, signed to Fire Records out of the UK, featuring as The Guardian’s Band of the week, and getting glowing reviews for this latest album. A funky melange of shifting music styles.

Cover imageThe death of all things. Beastwars
More beautifully sludgy metal from Wellington’s premiere purveyors of ‘The Riff’. Internal band dynamics made this the most difficult (and for lyricist Hyde the most personal album yet). Anger and unease seethes beneath every song, but the tension results in what may be their best album yet. On hiatus after a brief tour, one can only hope they return at some point for another chapter in their music.

Cover imageHumid nights. Eva Prowse
Great new album from Eva Prowse, that forsakes the violin country/folk of her first album I can’t Keep Secrets and jumps right into the electro-pop world of bubbly midi’s, bouncy pop tunes, and fond musical memories of growing up in the 80s. Sits comfortably alongside any of the many international artist’s working within this retro synthy sound. Definitely one of the best ‘Wellington’ Releases of the year.

Cover imageBrown girl. Aaradhna
Aaradhna’s albums always have a retro feel which highlights her love of older musical styles, whether it’s 50s doowop, 60s Motown or 70s soul, however she always surrounds those styles with plenty of contemporary sounds & flourishes, and more importantly always brings her unique sense of integrity & emotion to everything she does, as well as the incredible power of her soulful voice. ‘Brown Girl’ is her most personal album yet, directly addressing the racism she experienced growing up and the breakdown of a long term relationship.

Shinji’s Picks:
Cover imageThe Thompson fields/Maria Schneider Orchestra.
Leading jazz orchestra is no easy task both artistically and financially, but that is what Maria Schneider has been doing marvellously for more than two decades. Drawing her influence from modern classical masters such as Ravel and Hindemith, and above all her mentor Gil Evans, she has invented a watercolor-like transparent sound. She seems to hit the top with this landmark album, offering a glorious lyricism as well as a superb dynamism featuring the fantastic soloists. Sublime.

BestOf2016CDs60Aziza/Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, Eric Harland.
Legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland formed another suppergroup with Lionel Loueke (guitar), Chris Potter (saxphone) and Eric Harland (drums) and they superbly unite and present a bouncing funk-jazz with an African twist. Every member contributes two compositions each and they are rather complex which often in irregular time, but these master musicians play effortlessly and groove hard. Holland has been active in the front line for five decades but shows no sign of slowing down. Brilliant.

Cover imageMonoswezi Yanga. Monoswezi
Monoswezi, whose name is taken from the names of the members’ birth countries (Mozambique, Norway, Sweden and Zimbabwe), offers subtle hybrid music of African, jazz and minimal music, centring around Zimbabwean singer Hope Masike’s voice and mbira (thumb piano). It’s a low-key affair but their less-is-more approach somehow gives you a rich musical journey, like some good ECM albums do.

Cover imageApe in pink marble. Devendra Banhart
He has been busy as a visual artist in recent years (had exhibitions at several places around the world) but the ‘freak-folk’ singer songwriter Devendra Banhart is back with another stellar album. It’s an airy effortless music which enigmatic experimental sprits within. There is nothing particularly new here and he probably doesn’t need any changes, but everything; songs, arrangements, performances, come nicely together more than ever.

Cover imageA moon shaped pool. Radiohead
Evolving into something much larger than just a rock band, Radiohead shows tremendous presence and the supergroup aura. They seem to be heading somewhere no one ever got before.

Neil’s Picks:
Cover imageNothing more to say/The Frightnrs.

Cover imageVoid beats/invocation trex. Cavern of Anti-Matter

Cover imageWildflower/The Avalanches.

Cover imageEarth into aether. Bill Baird

Cover imageBloodline. Xixa

Cover imageEyes on the lines. Steve Gunn

Cover imageWe got it from here… thank you 4 your service/A Tribe Called Quest.

Cover imageInner journey out. Psychic Ills

Cover imageThe heavy entertainment show. Robbie Williams

Cover imagePhase zero. Morgan Delt

Cover imageNonagon infinity. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Monty’s Picks:
Cover imageLemonade. Beyonce

Cover imageFlotus. Lambchop

Cover imageBlood bitch. Jenny Hval

Bridget’s Pick:
Cover imageIsland songs/Ólafur Arnalds.

Staff Pick CDs – Best of 2016

John, Axel & Jonathan weigh in with their favourite library CDs from last year…Lots of different genres here so hopefully a bit of something for everyone, and the possibility of discovering something new from last year that you missed at the time.

John’s Picks
Cover imageThe catastrophist. Tortoise
Featuring characteristically complex, shifting arrangements, not quite jazz and not quite rock, it is a pleasure to hear these precise and playful musos creating such compelling music 20 years into their career.

Cover imageWhy choose. Shopping
This post punk inspired London trio present 12 songs, average length 2.5 mins which, while danceable, have an edgy urgency about them, and dealing with consumerism, confusion and post-modern relationships, as they do, offer a taut, smart and refreshingly familiar take on indie-pop.

Cover imageHuman performance. Parquet Courts
Despite the obvious influences of The Fall and Wire, it’s a relief to know that bands are making smart, spiky slacker rock like this in our troubled post-millennial times and this may well be the perfect soundtrack.

Cover imageBig black coat. Junior Boys
Junior Boys bring the romantic institution of the suave, lovelorn playboy firmly into the 21st Century with their fifth album, which extends their sleek, minimal electro pop onto the dancefloor.

Cover imageIs the is are. Diiv
New York based Diiv have an obvious love for indie rock and make music that has the ability to remind keen listeners of the power, beauty and pure pleasure that the simple line-up of bass, drums and guitars can summon.

Cover imageThe ship. Brian Eno
Brian Eno’s 25th solo release is a strange, captivating and enthralling journey that stands as a highlight of his later career.

Cover imageVoid beats/invocation trex. Cavern of Anti-Matter
Former Stereolab main man, guitarist and synth boffin Tim Gane, and his long term drummer, Joe Dilworth, have a new band, and offer an absorbing journey into a range of contemporary krautrock and experimental compositions.

Cover imageGood luck and do your best.Gold Panda 
Electronic producers such as Gold Panda from the UK do a great job of keeping the IDM flag flying and on his fourth album he excels with an off-beat but very catchy work, great for both the dancefloor and the armchair, and that’s no small achievement.

Cover imageLife of pause. Wild Nothing
While the sound of a talented outsider finally getting his turn in a state of the art studio can often take a few listens to get used to, here the effort is rewarded, as lurking within the highly polished arrangements featuring grand pianos, marimbas, backing vocals, and saxophones surrounding Tatum’s plaintive vocals, the songs are as good as ever, they just require a little more perseverance to reveal themselves.

Cover imageA moon shaped pool. Radiohead
Featuring outstanding production, dense and detailed arrangements, electronics, strings, grand pianos and acoustic and electric guitars swirling around Thom Yorke’s vocals that sound better than ever, this is an immersive listening experience capturing a band that has matured yet continues to explore and expand. Continue reading “Staff Pick CDs – Best of 2016”

Staff Pick CDs for the holiday season

Some new CD picks from our staff. Plenty of different genres, and lots of local music, to give you something new to explore over the holiday season. We will be back in January next year with a roundup of our favourite music from 2016.

Cover imageC87.
On the cover notes to this three disc set, NME’s Neil Taylor confesses that he always wished that NME had done a follow up to the wildly popular C86 cassette that helped spawn an entire future genre. This lovingly compiled collection represents that compilation that never was, assembling 74 tracks from as many bands, some of whom, such as the Shamen and PWEI, went on to greater things, but most of whom never made it past a couple of singles. In 1987, at the tail end of Post-punk, before Britpop, before Baggy and before the term ‘indie’ went mainstream, there was a fervent underground scene in the UK comprised of disaffected young musicians armed with guitars, drums and songs of love and naïve aspiration and this collection captures that time perfectly. (John)

Cover imageRadio gnome invisible trilogy.
Australian poet, muso and visionary, Daevid Allen, passed over to that great teapot in the sky last year leaving behind an intriguing and inspiring body of work. A key member of the original Soft Machine, he formed Gong with local French musicians after becoming stranded in France in 1967. They quickly gained a reputation for their highly original sound and commune based lifestyle. Daevid Allen was committed to keeping the playful aspects of the ‘60’s alive through the ever more serious ‘70’s, and this trilogy of Gong albums, originally released in 1970-71 and now available as a 4-disc box set, fully capture that playful spirit. Featuring the Pot Head Pixies who run a telepathic pirate radio station broadcasting from a flying teapot, it would be easy to dismiss these albums as whimsical novelty records, but these highly accomplished musicians, who mix up everything from free jazz, rock, pop, prog and electronics through cabaret and poetry to full blown psychedelic trance, create a bewildering and seductive sound that is quite unlike anything before or since. (John)

Cover imageGive up on your health.
Teeth & Tongue is the moniker of Melbourne based, Wellington raised songwriter and musician Jess Cornelius. Her family moved to Wellington when she was 11, and music was the one constant, her parent’s record collection played a huge role in fuelling her desire to make music. She entered a couple of local “battle of the bands” comps while at school, but it wasn’t until a move to Melbourne at 19 that she fully tapped into her musical potential. 2008 debut record Monobasic received critical acclaim from Australian media, and her 3rd album Grids led to three The Age Music Victoria Award nominations, for Best Band, Best Album and Best Female Artist. Latest album ‘Give up on your health’ is a swirl of Giorgio Moroder 80s synths, but underneath the fantastic production is a set of serious songs that focus on fracturing relationships, isolation, and past regrets. Electro-pop tends to veer towards cool beats, hip choruses and emotional detachment, but Cornelius and her backing band plunder the digital sounds to record the messy analogue organics of real human interaction. (Mark)

Cover imageThe last panthers.
UK electronic artist, Chris Clark, has become one of Warp Records leading electronic producers, alongside Aphex Twin, Autechre and Plaid. A fiercely creative artist, each of his seven albums since 2001 have displayed a clear musical development, while fine tuning his excellent production skills. His latest project is a fully ambient work, being the soundtrack to the moody UK crime mini-series – The Last Panthers. The sound designs he creates, using piano, strings and electronics are suitably sparse and foreboding, yet possess a strange beauty, complementing the film perfectly. For this CD Clark teased out and reworked the incidental soundtrack music into complete tracks for a stand-alone album and has created an excellent immersive ambient experience. (John)

Cover imageLevitate.
Young UK producer Matt Cutler, aka Lone, is representative of a new generation of electronic producers who have grown up on dance music and ‘Levitate’ is his seventh album in as many years. His last two releases, 2014’s Reality Testing and 2012’s Galaxy Garden received high critical praise and here he shifts focus slightly, paying tribute to the early ‘90’s rave scene, exploring a breaks based sound to drive his subtle and intelligent take on dance. His distinctive ambient flourishes and synth pads and patches are still evident alongside classic ‘90’s snare rolls which combine to create 33 mins of beautifully produced uplifting electronica. (John)

Cover imageGolden sings that have been sung.
He has only two albums under his belt but Ryley Walker has already gained quite a reputation as a singer and a guitarist. His jazzy folk sound, based around his acoustic guitar- playing and characteristic voice, reminds us of Tim Buckley and John Martyn, and with this third album, produced by former Wilco’s Leroy Bach, he made great stride. Walker was born in Illinois but began his career in Chicago playing everything from punk to experimental music, and takes the sonic milieu of Chicago’s post rock band, such as Gastr Del Sol, Isotope 217 and Tortoise, into his music, which makes his music very unique. Showing tremendous confidence and originality, this could be his first masterpiece. (Shinji)

Cover imageSummer 08.
The fifth Metronomy album finds the project reverting back to the solo venture of UK synth obsessive Joe Mount’s debut album. Using old skool drum machines, post acid house synths and irresistibly funky bass lines to accompany his ironic hipster lyrics, Mount creates a cool seductive electro funk pop that sits comfortably alongside other left of centre UK funksters like Hot Chip and Fujiya and Miyagi. Sounding at times like a white, post millennial version of Prince, the earnestness of the songs, the quality of the production and the sheer confidence of delivery serve to frame the retro influences as homage to rather than imitation of music that recaptures the fun of dancing. (John)

Cover imageHeads up.
The third album from the LA based female quartet finds them further exploring their downtempo art-rock, influenced this time around, in the bands own words, by artists like Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, OutKast, and Kendrick Lamar. The result is moody, atmospheric, densely layered post rock that features their distinctive sound loosely presented within the bruised modern pop idiom of bands like the XX. With surprising grooves lurking beneath the reverb drenched harmonies and distorted guitars and electronics, the sound of Warpaint is tight and confident as they successfully incorporate several styles into an original sound that rewards deeper listening. (John)

Cover imageHumid nights.
Great new album from Eva Prowse, that forsakes the violin country/folk of her first album I can’t Keep Secrets and jumps right into the electro-pop world of bubbly midi’s, bouncy pop tunes, and fond musical memories of growing up in the 80s. She first explored this territory in 2013 with Henry Marks as the duo ‘H & Eva’ and the EP Crazy Eyes but this time it’s her voice & songs that are at the forefront, and that EP now sounds like a tentative stab in a new direction that is now fully formed with ‘Humid Nights’. Sits comfortably alongside any of the many international artist’s working within this retro synthy sound. Definitely one of the best ‘Wellington Releases of the year. (Mark)

Cover imageEmerson, Lake & Palmer.
This double disc version of the first album from the ‘supergroup’ formed in 1970 that unfairly gets blamed for all the excesses of prog rock , features a remastered original and an ‘alternate’ mix by Steven Wilson. With Keith Emerson’s recent death it only seems fair that his works become fairly appraised and this stands up well. The sounds he created with the moog synthesiser were state of the art at the time and still impress, his classically trained piano playing is beautiful and, backed by the very sharp rhythm section of Greg Lake on bass and vocals and Carl Palmer on drums, this is a great snapshot of an exciting time in music when musicians were actively tearing down genre barriers. (John)

Cover imageCheetah EP.
Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, continues his return after a ten year hiatus with a 7 track ep, made with, and named after, one of his favourite instruments – the Cheetah MS800 Synthesiser, that has been described as “one of the most unfathomable instruments ever made.”. Following the experimental Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 EP and the frenetic Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008) EP , yet another facet of this prolific electronic producer is featured here – the tunes being relatively slow paced, the beats simple and the sounds surprisingly warm and user friendly. Throughout these instrumental pieces his exploration into rich timbres and woozy frequencies creates pretty much perfect electronic listening music. (John)

Cover imageEast west moon / Jonathan Crayford, Ben Street, Dan Weiss.
The previous album Dark Light (2014) was a fantastic achievement by the jazz pianist Jonathan Crayford who was born and raised in Wellington. Teaming up once again with New York’s top-notch rhythm section; Ben Street (Bass) and Dan Weiss (drums), he presents another stellar album. Like its predecessor, all music is composed by Crayford, and the trio seems to dig deeper and evolve larger artistically. It’s a melancholic, akin to ECM, ambient jazz, and the shadow of the likes of Bill Evans and Bobo Stenson is evident, but Crayford seems to just stay true to himself. There is no showing off here. He simply crafts his music from his heart and this dark lyricism is something rare. Exquisite. (Shinji)

Cover imageVarmints.
The looped brass fanfare that begins this CD is a fitting introduction to this strikingly original work by Scottish composer Anna Meredith which finds her entering the world of pop and electronica after 20 years in the classical world. Using acoustic instruments, electronics, guitars, drums and vocals she moves through a range of styles from indie pop to gorgeous strings based instrumentals to sweet electro pop to wildly deranged sequencer driven grooves. Her classical commissions have included making music inspired by MRI scanners and performing body percussion pieces at the BBC Proms and ‘Varmints’, her first attempt at contemporary popular music is, while like nothing you have ever heard before, quite accessible and oddly satisfying. (John)

Cover imageLa araña es la vida.
Those lucky enough to have seen this band play in Wellington recently will need no convincing to check out the latest release from Kid Congo Powers, who is, arguably, the coolest dude on the planet. Veteran guitarist of legendary bands, The Cramps, The Gun Club and The Bad Seeds, Kid Congo now tours the world keeping the lo-fi, trashy surf guitar, garage rock, Chicano punk flag flying. On the fifth album with his latest band, The Pink Monkeybirds, they have really hit their stride, incorporating electronics alongside the reverb drenched guitars and primal drums to deliver a wildly varied raucous, joyous noise that has to be played loud to be really appreciated. (John)

Cover imageThe 11th sky.
Just when you think Electric Wire Hustle can’t get any better they (or rather Mara TK, the last man left of the original three piece band) up their game yet again. His fantastic voice sits comfortably in that late period Marvin Gaye/Leon Ware pocket, but the sound of ‘The 11th Sky’ is harder and fuller. Moving away from the patented psychedelic Neo-soul of the last 2 albums they move into a sonic realm of darker, heavier, beats that envelop Mara TK’s analogies to Maori mythology, and metaphysical concerns on the pressures of money, love and expectations that weigh down peoples journey towards a better place within themselves. A real sense of searching for meaning pervades the album, and the benefits of being a one man band include the freedom to add whatever you want into the final mix, such as a harpist on ‘Golden Ladder’, lovely strings on ‘I Light A Candle’, and vocalist Deva Mahal (the sister of Ahmed Mahal aka. Imon Star of Olmecha Supreme, who is now based in New York) on ‘March’. (Mark)

Cover imageXiu Xiu plays the music of Twin peaks.
In 2015 Californian experimental noise group Xiu Xiu were invited by The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art to perform a series of Twin Peaks soundtrack covers for a David Lynch exhibition. The marriage of Xiu Xiu’s experimental sound with original composer Angelo Badalamenti’s unsettlingly surreal noir soundtrack works perfectly, bringing an uber contemporary slant to a now classic suite of music. The arrangements incorporate the feel of the originals and actually manage to enhance them using ambient industrial noise, xylophone, guitar pulses, synths and keyboards to not merely create a darkly surreal and engaging homage, but, paradoxically, also a strikingly original work. (John)

Cover imageI, Gemini.
There’s no need for UK duo ‘Let’s Eat Grandma’ to put on sweet little girl vocals because these two 17 year olds really are not much more than sweet little girls! Playing all instruments, including saxophone, glockenspiel, synthesisers, bass, ukelele and keyboards, they weave sweet harmonies around their dark, fragmented hallucinatory songs that can be sickeningly sweet and disarmingly dissonant at the same time. Sounding a bit like Bjork’s gothic love children, they have been described as ‘somewhere in between the child-like innocence of Hansel and Gretel and the spectral qualities of the twins from The Shining’ but despite their youth these teenagers have created a unique take on electro pop that is unusual and occasionally bewildering – they even rap on one track. An interview and video can be found here. (John)

Cover imageFrom patterns to details.
The second album from Wellington electronic producer Oliver Peryman, aka Fis, has been released worldwide on Bristol label, Subtext. Inspired by the organic patterns that occur in nature, Peryman explores a similar textural soundworld to artists such as Tim Hecker and Ben Frost, who, although not using beats, create dramatic and, at times, unsettling music that cannot be described as ambient, demanding the listener’s full attention. With little room for melody and at times a difficult listen that could be compared to sharing the room with a wild animal, this is nevertheless an impressive work of powerful and visceral electronic sound production. (John)

Cover imageSoft Hair.
‘Soft Hair’ is the self-titled collaboration (long in the making apparently) of Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust (La Priest, Late of the Pier), with the album cover making a pretty good motif for the music within. If Prince’s early 80s backing band crashed on a deserted island populated by decadent, slinky, long haired natives who liked to get down & dirty, this is the kind of music that would probably result. Proto-Indian rhythms, cheesy synths, burbling electronic noodling, pervy lyrics. Is it all a knowing pastiche? A sly nod at the homo-erotica of tough guy rock bands? It’s hard to tell if they’re serious about any of it, from the sometimes deliberately creepy lyrics to the 80s PC game music, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a hell of a lot of fun to be had in listening to all the weirdness. Hailed as part of a wave of New-Bromantic bands. (Mark)

Latest Staff Picks from our CD collection

Our staff picks are always a varied lot, and this selection continues that theme. Genres vary from synth to psychedelia, dark noise to pop covers and everything in between. Have a browse!

Cover imageDay of the dead.
Released on the esteemed UK label 4AD, this beautifully packaged five disc tribute to mark the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead features 49 tracks by a wealth of artists including The War On Drugs, The National, Bonnie Prince Billy, Kurt Vile, Tim Hecker, The Flaming Lips and Real Estate with NZ’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra even getting a look in. From the Dead’s psychedelic beginnings to their mellow latter day songs, all bases are covered, so the collection spans full blown guitar freakouts through to sweet singalongs. The quality throughout is very high (pun intended), and though not all styles will appeal to everyone, within six hours of music it’s pretty certain that everyone will be thrilled by something. (John)

Cover imagesVoid beats/invocation trex.
Former Stereolab main man, guitarist and synth boffin Tim Gane, and his long term drummer, Joe Dilworth, have a new band, and while ex-Stereolab singer, Laetitia Sadier keeps that defunct band’s chanteuse elements flying with her solo releases, this project finds Stereolab’s retro-futurist motorik rhythms being mined far deeper. The first track, a 13 min. hypnotic groove sets the tone, introducing a predominantly instrumental journey into a range of contemporary krautrock and experimental compositions. Guest appearances from Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and Jan St. Werner of Mouse On Mars, help make this an absorbing listen. (John)

Cover imageIt’s hard for me to say I’m sorry / Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke.
Two prominent names of experimental music, Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke are long-time friends but have teamed up to make new music as a duo for the first time. It is intriguing and surely will excite some people. The album contains two lengthy pieces and probably pleases fans of both musicians, as offering the profound sonic collage with the graceful noise. Both tunes seem to be spontaneously developed based around perhaps Fennesz’s lyrical, ambient compositions, and super versatile, chameleon-like O’Rourke responds with subtle but edgy play. They are genius at colouring sound and make this electronic improvisation a rewarding listen. (Shinji)

Cover imageGood luck and do your best.
Electronic producers such as Gold Panda from the UK do a great job of keeping the IDM flag flying and on his fourth album he excels. Inspired by a trip to Japan, this is Gold Panda’s warmest, sunniest release featuring lush acoustic samples from scratchy old vinyl, simple yet funky drumbeats, looped vocal snippets and a wide array of instruments, all arranged with a clear love of both house music and hip-hop. An off-beat but very catchy work, great for both the dancefloor and the armchair, and that’s no small achievement. (John)

Cover imageEverything’s beautiful / Miles Davis & Robert Glasper.
One interesting possibility offered by recent technology is that of a CD being co-credited to two musicians – one alive and one dead! Rather than oversee yet another remix project, US pianist Robert Glasper chose to combine original master tapes of Miles Davis with new input by a host of contemporary jazz, r’n’b and hip hop artists, resulting in what could be considered Black Radio Vol 3. Each track has a different story attached to it, outlined on the liner notes, and, well removed from any ‘novelty value’, what stands is another excellent milestone in the continued evolution of black American music. (John)

Cover imageEyewitness ; Modern times ; Casa loco.
In the 70s, Steve Khan was the most in-demand guitarist crossing over from Jazz to pop and rock, working for Freddie Hubbard, David Sanborn, Steely Dan and Billy Joel, to name but some. He was also a band leader and had a few acclaimed fusion albums under his belt. Turning into the 80s when fusion boom faded away, he made a radical progress and deepened his artistry with this super group, featuring bassist Anthony Jackson, drummer Steve Jordan and percussionist Manolo Badrena, all of whom were also sought after session musicians. This band left three albums – Eyewitness (1981, the title became the band’s name), Modern Times (1982, amazing live performance in Tokyo) and Casa Loco (1983). These largely unavailable albums got digitally remastered and are put in two discs, and showcase Khan’s remarkable talent as a guitarist, composer and bandleader. The superb chemistry of the band allows these recordings to be memorable achievements of jazz/rock music. (Shinji)

Cover imageLife of pause.
US singer/guitarist Jack Tatum’s development over three records and six years has been significant. From the home recorded coy indie kid of 2010’s ‘Gemini’, through the Top Alternative Album awards for the dream-pop of 2012’s ‘Nocturne’ he has progressed to the rich complex arrangements of ‘Life of Pause’. While the sound of a talented outsider finally getting his turn in a state of the art studio can often take a few listens to get used to, here the effort is rewarded, as lurking within the highly polished arrangements featuring grand pianos, marimbas, backing vocals, and saxophones surrounding Tatum’s plaintive vocals, the songs are as good as ever, they just require a little more perseverance to reveal themselves. (John)

Cover imageA moon shaped pool.
A new Radiohead album is always highly anticipated and yet again, there are no disappointments. The strident pizzicato strings that kickoff the chamber pop of the opening track set the tone for another deep cinematic plunge into Radiohead’s elegant sound world. Featuring outstanding production, dense and detailed arrangements, electronics, strings, grand pianos and acoustic and electric guitars swirling around Thom Yorke’s vocals that sound better than ever, this is an immersive listening experience capturing a band that has matured yet continues to explore and expand. Our Thom doesn’t seem any happier but when you can make gloomy sound this cool, who cares? (John)

Cover image1989.
Whereas Taylor’s own songs are much more bright and poppy both in tone and how she tells her stories, Ryan interprets them in a much more solemn, romantic and low key way with the country rock style he brings to songs. So Taylor’s are up and Ryan’s are down. His versions are much more heart felt and filled with yearning, loss, desire and the whole feel of the album is much more melancholic, compared to Taylor’s upbeat renditions. It’s worth listening to both albums to hear the same songs treated so differently but both working as self-contained works. Stand outs for me are Out of the Woods and Wildest Dreams which are vastly different in mood to Taylor’s and make them seem thin by comparison. (Martin)

cover imageTwentyears.
French electronic duo Air ushered in a new wave of laid back Gallic uber cool back in 1995 with their cinematic future-retro lounge music and this compilation, to commemorate their 20th anniversary, is an excellent reminder of what a great band they continue to be. They have made just six albums in that time, but their discography is loaded with EPs, collaborations and soundtracks, and this collection draws from their entire catalogue. Nothing moves very fast in Air’s world, and they have always managed to sound innovative and captivating, employing vintage synths, vocoded voices, vibraphones, smoky saxophones, strings, vocal harmonies and great basslines to create their vintage pop influenced sounds. Disc one is a collection of highlights chosen by the duo themselves and disc two features a collection of session tracks, b-sides and rarities. Lovely stuff. (John)

Cover imageIn a moment : Ghost Box.
UK label Ghost Box has only released around 30 albums from a small roster of artists over their ten year history, but so well formed is the overarching label ethos that each release is like a different view into the same world. This double disc compilation celebrates the 10th anniversary of the label that pioneered the concept of ‘hauntology’ – the idea that music can act as a gateway to a world of subconscious echoes and archived references. Consequently, label founders – musician, Jim Jupp and graphic designer, Julian House – relentlessly reference the cultural landfill and psychic mulch of the mid-60’s to early 80’s to create an entire parallel world. The sounds brim with scientific optimism and the promise of a better world, but there is also poignancy, because something went horribly wrong with the plan. Ghost Box evokes feelings of both childhood innocence and the disappointment of promises unfulfilled, the reassuring authority of the adult world exposed as a sham – no one’s in control after all and the space age is held together with sellotape and velcro. (John)

Cover imagecase/lang/viers.
Although they didn’t really know each other until k.d. lang emailed the others a few years ago, three leading female singer-song writers; Nico Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs became a wonderful joint force. They seem to effortlessly harmonise and relish making music together, and it’s evident in this album. All three singers take solo turns and share the spotlight. It’s not surprising that lang shows great presence on medium/slow numbers and Case shines on country-infused songs, but pleasantly the least known Veirs often takes a lead and bring a freshness. With the help of the master producer Tucker Martine, who has worked with The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket and many more, a timeless album is born. (Shinji)

Cover imageLove streams.
Over 15 years and seven albums, sound manipulator Tim Hecker has explored and refined a highly distinctive style of grand, textured compositions, constructed of highly processed and manipulated sound sculptings layered in a haze of static. His most recent release finds him subtly shifting focus as he works with human voices for the first time, using software to translate medieval choral music to digital synthesis. The listener won’t find any ‘songs’ here, but a deeply melodic and moving music that explores the details of distortion, timbre, tone and harmony. (John)

Cover imageThe digging remedy.
Plaid, the electronic duo that helped define melodic IDM back in the ‘90’s, continue their unwavering path of creativity twenty years on with their ninth record. While their sound is highly distinctive and relatively predictable, no-one ever yawns at another Plaid release, and that is because these two musicians consistently tread an endlessly fascinating and captivating path through the terrain of electronica, albeit aided by glistening guitars and even a recorder. By turns, gorgeous, moody, wistful, majestic and exciting, these complex instrumental compositions are easy to get lost in and are able to remind the listener just why electronic music remains cutting edge and so cool. (John)

Cover imageSwan song series.
One of the most influential female figures in the 90s music scene returns with a 3-Disc collection that rounds up the 5 EPs she released on Bandcamp between 2013-14. Co-founding Throwing Muses with stepsister Kristen Hersh, which she played in from 1983-1991, she then co-formed The Breeders with Kim Deal of The Pixies, before founding her own group Belly. After ‘Belly’ folded she released 2 indie pop albums followed by 2 more introspective acoustic albums before essentially stepping away from music, so it was a surprise when 7 years later she began to release a series of EPs on Bandcamp. Each release featured songs co-written with friends, musicians and previous collaborators, including noted authors. American Laundromat Records collects up all the EPs and some extra tracks for a richly diverse compilation that wandered through a number of genres, all anchored by a sense of experience and wisdom, in addition to her lovely voice which sounds as good as it ever was. (Mark)

Cover imageDJ-kicks : Dam-Funk.
The latest instalment of the popular DJ Kicks series is from LA funkster Dam-Funk and pretty much stands as an introduction for the uninitiated as to where modern funk has currently progressed to. Damon Riddick, aka Dām-Funk, has been running a club night called ‘Funkmosphere’ for the past decade, helping in the evolution of modern funk from it’s ‘70’s origins. Modern funk asserts that synthetic percussion and synthesizer wriggles are as much a part of funk’s evolution as a chicken-scratch guitar line or James Brown grunt; consequently this disc comprises a great selection from across the spectrum of contemporary funk, with most tracks playing out in full – be warned – have your dancing shoes close at hand. (John)

Cover imageHopelessness.
The artist formerly known as Antony and the Johnsons returns under her new alias Anonhi, which comprises a stellar lineup of herself plus critically acclaimed electronic producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Sure, some of the beats are a bit crunchy, but considering the experimental status of the producers, this is a surprisingly accessible and user friendly project, the heartfelt politically charged songs breathing fully within rousing and muscular electronics that complement the vocals with precise elegance and power. What results is a meticulously crafted, epic and glorious thinking person’s record that reconfigures electronic pop as a set of beautiful and bitter protest songs. (John)

Cover imageStrange little birds.
Of all the older 90s bands that reformed within the last few years after long lay-offs (Mazzy Star, MBV, Lush etc) the Garbage reunion was perhaps the least interesting musically. 4 years later they have returned with another new album. ‘Strange Little Birds’ is more akin to their early sound, endlessly compressed and distorted guitars with Shirley Manson’s voice battling the layers of dark noise. Moving away from the more anthemic pop of their later albums, there are none of the big ‘singles’ here that dominated the last few records, instead it’s an album for people who still like ‘albums’, all slow burn. Eschewing nostalgia, they prove you can still make an album that incorporates all the old elements while still sounding fresh. (Mark)

StaffPicksCDs14Wolf party : New Zealand werewolf sounds from Stink Magnetic / compiled by D. Thomas Herkes.
The title suggests a novelty record but this compilation from Whanganui (!?) label Stink Magnetic Record Co., is a treat for lo-fi garage rock fans and a refreshing diversion from the high production times we live in. Label manager D. Thomas Herkes compiled these tracks from his label’s roster that covers genres including “NZ garage, surf, Hawaiian industrial, experimental country disco, Spaghetti Western, esoteric trash, rap and stone-age punk bands”. The production is appropriately raw with the songs loosely adhering to a lo-fi voodoo rockabilly ethos pioneered by bands like the Cramps and Suicide. This is available to loan on both CD and vinyl so if you want to tear up your speakers and annoy your neighbours then borrow this and TURN IT UP! (John)

Cover imageWarm leatherette.
Grace Jones reinvented herself in 1980, from the disco diva of her first three albums to the sleek, designer ‘80’s icon of the first of her legendary ‘Compass Point trilogy’, ‘Warm Leatherette’ (followed by ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Living My Life’). Producer Chris Blackwell, who owned both Island Records and the Bahamas situated recording studio, was the maestro behind the transformation, carefully choosing the songs to cover, the musicians and the image. Grace Jones modified her vocals to her, now characteristic, half spoken half sung style and took the new reggae crossover sound supplied by the Sly and Robbie rhythm section into a new world of mysterious subterranean funk reggae that helped define the ‘80’s. This re-release includes a second disc of long dub versions, singles and remixes. (John)

Staff Picks CDs for June

New Staff Picks for June include plenty of variety from synth pop to electronica, shoegaze to ambient, singer-songwriter to Jazz. We hope you find something new you like, or a new genre to explore…

Cover imageEdition 1.
King Midas Sound is the crossover project of Kevin Martin (aka The Bug), London/Trinidad poet Roger Robinson and Japanese artist and singer Kiki Hitomi. It has been seven years since their excellent Hyperdub release, Waiting For You and here, the addition of ambient electronic guitar washes courtesy of Fennesz adds an even deeper phantasmal, immersive air to the deep and soulful lyrical excursions, which could only just be called songs. When beats appear they are slow and shrouded in a smoky gauze, yet there is an odd serenity to this music, something approaching a dubbed out, blissful yet wounded resignation, which could be described as post-apocalyptic lover’s rock. A welcome alternative is the inclusion of a second disc featuring instrumental only versions. (John)

Cover imageStill in a dream : 1988-1995 : a story of shoegaze.
This well curated collection features five discs and a booklet that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the early ‘90’s UK guitar based genre. The term ‘shoegaze’ arose as these bands tended to look down at their vast banks of effects pedals, so it is to be expected that the sounds here are big, complemented by characteristically fey, melodic vocals. My Bloody Valentine, who arguably started the movement, are mysteriously absent, however, with a strict one track per band policy, 87 bands are featured in loosely chronological order. The first three discs feature expected bands such as ‘The House of Love’, ‘Spacemen 3’, ‘Lush’, ‘Ride’ and ‘Slowdive’, while the last two include international bands such as ‘The Flaming Lips’ and even NZ’s own ‘Bailter Space’. (John)

Cover imageIII.
The ongoing collaborative project of Modeselektor, the German electronic duo, and Sascha Ring aka Apparat, vocalist and electronic producer, has proven more popular than either of those separate ventures, and on their third record they excel, forging a link between underground electronic dance music and pop. While the immaculate production has cleaned up some of the appealing rougher edges of their previous releases, it takes nothing away, creating a rich, luxurious sound that is by turns moody, wistful and celebratory, reconfiguring the trio’s techno origins into a pristine and confident electro-soul. (John)

Cover imageArrangingtime.
Pete Yorn was one of those artists that never seemed to live up to the potential of his fantastic first album. His second was a solid follow-up, but the next couple were patchy, and his last effort, 2010’s ‘PY’ with Frank Black, was a total misfire. After that he seemed to disappear, popping up briefly as part of ‘The Olms’ in 2013, whose very short Beatles-esque album had some Ok tracks. However Yorn is back with his first solo album in 6 years on a new label. ‘Arrangingtime’ shifts the guitar sound to a wash of synths on some tracks but he still hews close to the sonic template of his first couple of albums. Sounding invigorated by the break, this collection of melodic synthy rockers is his most consistent and enjoyable for a long time. (Mark)

Cover imageI’ll forget 17.
Wellington based muso Eddie Johnston, aka Lontalius, aka Race Banyon, has quietly built up an international following over the seven years he has been regularly posting music on his Bandcamp page and now, at 20 years old, he has his first CD released on NY based Partisan Records. Sounding far more world weary than one may expect from someone just out of their teens, he has confidently produced an excellent album of fine and gentle indie-pop. The production is pristine and the arrangements are beautiful, perfectly complementing this sweet and melancholy homage to the emotional turmoil of youth. (John)

Cover imageWhy choose.
Fans of early 80’s post-punk are in for a treat here, as this London based trio breathe new life into a sound template now over 30 years old. Their sound is sparse with driving bass, itchy spiky guitar, primitive drumming and half shouted female vocals that comes across like ‘The Slits’, ‘Gang of Four’ and the ‘Delta 5’ put into a blender and poured out of the staff room teapot of the Rough Trade shop. No surprises then that this is actually released on Rough Trade. These 12 songs, average length 2.5 mins, while danceable, have an edgy urgency about them, and dealing with consumerism, confusion and post-modern relationships, as they do, offer a taut, smart and refreshingly familiar take on indie-pop. (John)

Cover imageThe ship.
Brian Eno’s 25th solo release, and his first vocal one since 2005’s Another Day On Earth, contains only four tracks, two of which at around 20 mins each, take up most of the disc’s 47min duration. Over the four tracks vocals are used in a variety of ways – from diffused electronically treated murmurings within glacial ambience to half sung, half spoken poems (one about war, generated by a computer algorithm), through vocoded and totally manipulated utterings barely recognisable as a human voice, to the albums closer, a lovely version of Lou Reed’s ‘I’m Set Free’ complete with lush vocal harmonies. It’s a strange, captivating and enthralling journey that stands as a highlight of Brian Eno’s later career. (John)

Cover imageThe first quartet.
Berklee College of Music’s alumni super group, the guitarist John Abercrombie’s First Quartet (with the pianist Richie Beirach, the bassist George Mraz, and the drummer Peter Donald) left 3 albums – Arcade (1978), Abercrombie Quartet (1979) and M (1980) – but they have long been out of print until now (Arcade was once released on CD in Japan). The rumor goes that ECM label owner Manfred Eicher had suspended them because Richie Beirach had a feud with him. In any case, they are essential recordings for both ECM and Abercrombie’s catalogues. Although there are some patchy moments in these 3 albums, music generally remains beautifully refined while taking risks, and their interplays are masterful. Abercrombie’s unique mandolin guitar stands out particularly on Arcade. This is a very welcome reissue from ECM’s ‘Old and New Masters’ series. (Shinji)

Cover imageHuman performance.
Brooklyn, NY, based Parquet Courts make smart, spiky slacker rock following a course set by US bands such as ‘Television’, ‘Pavement’ and even Jonathon Richman, and their third album finds them fine tuning their sound with a collection of highly articulate acrid songs, possibly their most accessible yet, but still loaded with suitable post-punk angst. Despite the obvious influences of ‘The Fall’ and ‘Wire’, it’s a relief to know that bands are still making music like this in our troubled post-millennial times and this may well be the perfect soundtrack. (John)

Cover imageThe Hope Six demolition project.
Following on from her first ‘political’ album, 2011’s Let England Shake, which focused on the first World War, PJ Harvey continues the trend with her ninth record, turning her attention to our war-torn and inequality-ridden world. Written after visiting Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C, a primal pulse moves through these songs, which feature vocal, brass and string arrangements, within which her voice sounds better than ever. Whether the criticisms levelled at the album for its ‘poverty tourism’ stance are valid or not, it’s great to hear PJ Harvey in such fine form and still socially committed and rocking hard 24 years on from her 1992 debut. (John)

Cover imageBuild it.
Wellington based Brockaflower have built up a good local following from their live shows over the past couple of years and they do not disappoint with their debut CD. This collection of deep and soulful bass driven grooves, some sultry, some rocking, breathes confidence, and the extended length of many of the tracks (half are over 7 mins) give the compositions time to unwind in splendour. They are a nine piece band, with the musicians uncredited on the sleeve, but featured are excellent soulful male and female vocals, rapping, brass arrangements, keyboards, guitar and electronics, with a couple of tracks such as ‘Arched’ making excellent use of hypnotic loops. These cool and self-assured compositions deserve a wide audience. (John)

Cover imageFever dream.
Ben Watt’s Hendra from 2014 was his first solo album in 30+ years, the majority of his musical career being spent as one half of the band ETBG. Guitarist Bernard Butler remains an integral part of Watt’s sound on this latest album, the last 2 years playing together having forged a deeper musical connection. A shorter set of songs this time around, built around a classicist 70s singer-songwriter sound, with dark hued tales of aging & the changing nature of relationships. Features guest vocal cameos from Boston’s dream-folk singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler and Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor. (Mark)

StaffPicksCDs5Sleep.
Originally released as a digital file, ‘Sleep’, Max Richter’s “eight hour lullaby” is now also available in a neat nine disc box set. For listeners that choose to follow the project’s original intent and play the entire work while they actually sleep, a Blu-Ray disc is included that will play all eight hours in one go. Those that choose to listen while awake will find over the eight CDs a selection of truly gorgeous ambient tracks that never wander into sugar coated New Age music territory. Dipping at random, for instance, into Disc 3 can be found two tracks of almost half an hour in length, a 7min track and a 16min piece that variously employ piano, strings, electronics and human voices to truly mesmerising effect. Max Richter has produced an ambient masterpiece featuring 31 pieces, each fully immersive yet uncomplicated, which lull the willing listener into an ethereal trance like state. Welcome to Richter’s “manifesto for a slower pace of existence”. (John)

Cover imageBig black coat.
Junior Boys bring the romantic institution of the suave, lovelorn playboy, which extends down through bands including ‘Roxy Music’, ‘Spandau Ballet’, ‘Pet Shop Boys’ and ‘Hot Chip’, firmly into the 21st Century with their fifth album, which extends their sleek, minimal electro pop onto the dancefloor. The production is immaculate and the pristine and sparkling Detroit techno inspired grooves create an uber contemporary complement to Jeremy Greenspan’s songs of love and longing that are difficult not to be seduced by. (John)

Cover imageIs the is are.
Brooklyn, NY, based label, Captured Tracks, have re-issued several classic Flying Nun titles and the bands on their roster have an obvious love for indie rock, none more so than ‘Diiv’, who make music that has the ability to remind keen listeners of the power, beauty and pure pleasure that the simple line-up of bass, drums and guitars can summon. The 17 tracks of their second CD feature reverb drenched hushed vocals over guitars that either wail in squalls of overdriven splendour or chime in glistening cascades, while the bass thunders in melodic harmony driven by metronomic drumming. It is excellent no frills indie rock, some tracks fast and some slow, and is highly recommended for those who love unpretentious music made by musicians who are in love with sound. (John)

Cover imageSongs from a decade : the best of Beady Belle.
Lead by the lovely singer Beate S. Lech (who sings in English), Norwegian jazz/pop band Beady Belle formed in 1999 and since then they have been well loved by fans and critics alike. They have constantly issued their albums with the wonderful Norwegian jazz-and-beyond label Jazzland, and the tour with Jamie Cullum made them an international act. Songs from their first ‘very best’ album are selected with the help of fans, and nicely presents their music; a subtle mixture of pop, soul, house etc. centring around jazz. Although the tracks are not entirely in chronologically order the album shows their development as a band and disc two which is slightly darker and artistically deeper, suggests that they are the real deal. The third disc captures their fantastic live performance and indicates that they are best suited to a cosy club. Enchanting. (Shinji)

Cover imageA mineral love.
Bibio’s sixth album on UK label Warp, finds him celebrating his characteristic pastiche of, ’70s and ’80s R&B, funk, electronica and pop all rolled up into an original funky folktronica quite unlike anything else one is likely to hear. He is creating his own personal summer of love here with a cheerful, candy-colored falsetto funk that seems to be giving warm and fluffy day-glo fingers to any ideas of gloom that may be prevalent in a post austerity UK. It’s not a dance album or indie-pop, nor is it jazz, lounge, folk or electronica; it’s actually all of these things, existing across multiple genres while belonging to one of Bibio’s own creation. (John)

Cover imageAtomic : a soundtrack.
To mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima, director Mark Cousins made the doco “Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise” for the BBC, featuring archive footage intended to provide a comprehensive, visual history of atomic power. Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai, were commissioned to create the soundtrack and this CD finds them reworking the original material into a standout addition to their discography. The soundscapes are grand, beautiful and intense, featuring the bands’ signifying soaring guitars alongside piano and electronics as they move between blistering crescendos and more sombre, haunting passages that create an overall otherworldly sonic experience. (John)

Staff Picks CDs – for March/April

Some new music reviews from us. From the old, to the new, to the repackaged…

Cover imageFragile : definitive edition CD.
1971’s ‘Fragile’ was the first to feature Rick Wakeman and was also the first to feature Roger Dean’s distinctive artwork. The album predated the days when Yes tracks occupied entire sides of a record and features only four new band compositions, fleshed out with short solo pieces from each band member, however, despite the brevity, tracks such as ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ and ‘Roundabout’ are high among many fans’ all-time favourite Yes tracks. They are presented here on a CD/DVD set re-mastered by Steven Wilson whose 5.1 Surround Sound Mix is included on the DVD. In addition, for hardcore fans, six early versions of several tracks are included. (John)

Cover imageChorus
The band ‘Lush’ was perhaps the most successful – commercially & critically – proponent of the type of late 80s alternative rock that became known as Shoegaze. Formed in the late 80s around the twin vocals & guitars of Miki Berenyi & Emma Anderson, they soon signed to the 4AD label and released a series of critically hailed EPs. Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) would produce their first album 1992’s ‘Spooky’, which was followed in 1994 by ‘Split’. There was always a strong melodic current running through the bands work & this came to the forefront in 1996’s ‘Lovelife’ which, lumped into the nascent ‘Britpop’ scene, became their most successful album. However their management & label had been continually pushing them to break the illusive ‘American’ market (the aim of many UK bands of that era). Tensions with the label & within the band as to the music’s direction came to the fore as they considered their post ‘Lovelife’ future, but it all came apart with the suicide of drummer Chris Accland in late 1996. Devastated they never played together again. Berenyi disappeared from music altogether, Anderson formed the short lived ‘Sing-Sing’ who released a couple of albums before disbanding, and Lush became one of those cult-ish bands that no one thought they would ever hear again. Offers came & went to reform as Anderson discussed in a 2012 interview, but she deemed the financial & practical logistics unworkable without label support, so it came as a surprise late last year when it was announced on the bands Facebook page that they were reforming with the addition of Justin Welch (ex-Elastica) as the new drummer. A reunion gig in May 2016 was scheduled, followed by a North American tour, and even more surprisingly a new EP Blindspot for release in mid-April. The bands old label 4AD, followed their reunion announcement by re-releasing their best-of compilation Ciao! Best of Lush on vinyl, followed by this Box-set gathering up all the albums & EPs along with some rarities from their 4AD years. While the Box-set reveals the many strengths that still make the band’s music relevant (especially given the recent shoegaze & general 90s revival) along with a number of great B-Sides, and eclectic covers of everyone from Wire to Dennis Wilson & The Magnetic Fields, it is a bit of a bare bones affair without an essay or liners notes of any kind and a lot of the bonus material is crammed onto the discs in a non-sequential way. Still an essential listen for fans and a great way for newcomers to discover one of the most important bands in the shoegaze genre. (Mark)

StaffPicksCDs3The revenant / original music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto ; additional music by Bryce Dessner.
Ryuichi Sakomoto and Carsten Nikolai (aka Alva Noto) are two accomplished electronic musicians who have been releasing regular collaborative albums since 2002’s ‘Vrioon’, voted Wire Magazine’s Electronic Album of the Year. This is their first soundtrack and, aided by Bryce Dessner, guitarist with The National, and Icelandic cellist, Hildur Gutnadottir, they have created a deeply beautiful work. This is ambient/neo classical music, featuring 23 tracks, some only one minute long, that, however, morph into each other, as the sounds unfold at a glacial pace. Evocative and mesmerising, it made me want to see the movie just to experience the music. (John)

Cover imageWe are King.
They have been praised effusively by the likes of Prince, Erykah Badu and Questlove, and featured in numerous sessions including Robert Glasper’s brilliant album ‘Black Radio’. The girls trio from L.A., King has been a much-talked-about artist since issuing their EP in 2011, and their first full-length album has finally arrived. The album consists of mostly medium / slow numbers, and their ‘sweet and lovely’ harmony is an instant allure. The up-to-date electric sound production is carefully applied to their organic presence, and embraces you with dreamy grooves. This retro-futuristic sound; smart sonic arrangements come nicely together with a traditional R&B group style, seems to be the key of their music. Amazingly this is an almost self-made album but the quality is exceptional. A star is born. (Shinji)

Cover imageCentral belters.
As part of their 20th year anniversary, Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai, have released a three disc compilation. Discs 1 & 2 span their discography, loosely chronologically, finishing with ‘Teenage Exorcists’ from their most recent EP, while Disc 3 comprises B-sides, EP tracks and other obscurities. For fans it is a real treat to hear Mogwai’s sound evolve via tracks curated by the band themselves and, for the curious, this collection presents the perfect introduction to the band who are “an instrumental band, except when they’re not; are noise-loving sonic sadists, except when they’re being tenderly delicate; are slowcore saddos, except when they’re making motorik synth-pop. They’re a band you think you know, until you realize you don’t recognize them anymore”. (John)

Cover imageSolo : songs and collaborations 1982-2015.
EBTG singer Tracey Thorn is one of those artists whose voice seems equally confident and comfortable surround by electronic beats as well as soft acoustics, and this cleverly curated collection does just that. Each disc represents a different side of her solo recordings, the first disc is her more acoustic, singer-songwriter work and the second her more electronic, dance-orientated material. Perhaps most well-known to casual listeners through her work with Massive Attack, this compilation offers a great overview of her solo career so far for those not overly familiar with her solo albums, and some nice rare collaborations & remixes for those who are already fans. (Mark)

Cover imageTo those of earth… and other worlds / Gilles Peterson presents Sun Ra and his Arkestra.
To call Sun Ra’s sound strange is like calling water wet – the visionary musician, who maintained he was from Jupiter and dressed accordingly – was one of the most prolific recording artists of the 20th century and is now recognised as a pioneer of free improvisation, modal jazz and for his early use of electronic keyboards. His exploratory music touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing, from bebop to free jazz and from the mid-50’s until his death in 1993 he led the Arkestra, an ensemble comprised of a flexible line-up of musicians and dancers who performed in costumes inspired by a space age ancient Egyptian. There are a few Sun Ra compilations already, but this new one, compiled by BBC DJ Giles Peterson, who chose his personal favourites from the dozens of singles and over 125 full-length albums Sun Ra recorded, is being celebrated as the best introduction to Sun Ra’s parallel universe yet. (John)

Cover imageThe Thompson fields / Maria Schneider Orchestra.
The composer and the big-band leader Maria Schneider is one of David Bowie’s last collaborators (‘Sue’ in the 3-discs compilation album Nothing Has Changed) and the saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose group backed Bowie in his memorable last album ★, is a key member of her orchestra. Unfortunately there will be no more collaboration with Bowie, but she presents a marvelous album. Leading jazz orchestra is no easy task both artistically and financially, but drawing her influences from modern classical masters such as Ravel and Hindemith to Duke Ellington, but above all her mentor Gil Evans, she has invented a watercolor-like transparent sound and received numerous awards. Inspired by her hometown Minnesota’s landscape and her love for nature and native birds, this album offers a glorious lyricism with delicate, intricate arrangements. However, it also has as a superb dynamism as the soloists are given great freedoms to explode. This is a beautifully executed, sublime album which gives you a rewarding listen each time. (Shinji)

Cover imageA Coliseum complex museum / The Besnard Lakes.
Canadian band The Besnard Lakes have a very big sound. Dense, layered vocal arrangements are carried by panoramic, sweeping guitars, banks of keyboards and crashing drums to create a sound that rivals the symphonic grandeur of Phil Spector. Their fourth album finds them confidently expanding the unique vision established on their previous releases, one that draws from prog, indie pop and even the reverb driven guitar sound of alt country. Guitarist Jace Lasek owns the studio where these densely multi-tracked creations are recorded, so cost is not a problem, consequently, the sounds are fine-tuned and mixed to perfectly reflect the musicians’ sweeping vision of a music that is grand yet still rocks.(John)

Cover imageThe catastrophist.
The band from Chicago that ushered in the genre called ‘Post Rock’ way back in 1994, release their first album since 2009’s ‘Beacons of Ancestorship’. A new Tortoise album is always an event and they don’t disappoint. While possibly missing the overall cohesion of their best work, nevertheless, the standout tracks are on a par with anything they have done. This album finds them featuring vocals for the first time, on an excellent cover of the 1973 Davis Essex hit ‘Rock On’ (should that be renamed ‘Post-Rock On’?!) and also on a track co-written by Yo La Tengo vocalist, Georgia Hubley. Featuring characteristically complex, shifting arrangements, not quite jazz and not quite rock, it is a pleasure to hear these precise and playful musos creating such compelling music 20 years into their career, despite the fact that Tortoise may no longer sound like the future because the future happened. (John)

Staff Pick CDs: The Best of 2015 – Part 2

The last round-up of Staff CD Picks that we enjoyed last year….

Shinji’s picks:
Cover imageComing forth by day.
Undoubtedly the prime jazz singer of today, Cassandra Wilson celebrates the centennial of Billie Holiday’s birth in style. Tackling Holiday’s repertoire is challenging but she ambitiously takes this on with a big production, inviting the producer Nick Launay who has worked with Talking Heads and Arcade Fire. A huge variety of the arrangements are applied here but Wilson colours everything in her one-and-only sophisticated deep blues feeling, showing tremendous presence. Rebirthing Holiday’s soul in the 21st century, this is a memorable achievement.

BestOf2015CDs56The best of Soapkills.
Emerging late 90s in Beirut, Soapkills, often labelled as ‘Arab’s Massive Attack’, was the very first trip hop group in Middle East and became the underground superstar there. They don’t offer Massive Attack-like gorgeous dynamism as their productions were much cheaper, but the dark seductive voice of Yasmine Hamadan (you may remember her performing in Jim Jarmusch’s film Only Lovers Left Alive) and the sensuous Arabic flavour take us somewhere we have never been. Take a mystifying musical journey.

Cover imageOnly sky.
One-of-a-kind guitarist David Torn is a multitalented artist. Along with making his own music, he has done a lot of mixing and mastering (mostly for forward-thinking jazz musicians) and composed soundtracks (Lars and the Real Girl, The Wackness etc). Every now and then, he has issued acclaimed albums from ECM and made a unique contribution to the label. Sonically inventive, his music is all about ‘texture’, and this solo project finds him in a very meditative mood. Using only his guitar and electric oud, it’s probably his darkest, most personal album, yet exquisitely elegant. This jazzy ambient music may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is truly original.

Cover imageEpicenter / Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth.
The bassist and the composer Chris Lightcap has worked with prominent jazz artists such as Marc Ribot, Mark Turner and Jason Moran as well as rock/folk musicians like Glen Hansard. He assembled ‘avant-garde jazz all-stars’ for his innovative quintet Bigmouth. West African influenced rhythm and the shadow of Ornette Coleman come together with urban New York essence; the band presents complex yet groovy, enigmatic hybrid jazz. The album ends with the cover of Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (from their debut album), which is simply marvellous.

Cover imageStar wars.
Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Beach House, Deerhunter, Kurt Vile, Joanna Newsom, to name but a few. In 2015, a lot of indie rock stars put out good albums and showed their mutuality. However, the biggest surprise came from this super group. Out of the blue, Wilco released a rather uneven, studio session-like new album. Surely they could have made a more organised, smooth-finish album, but after leaving the major label they seem to have rejuvenated themselves, and in fact, the songs and performance are of a top-notch quality which only this group can display. This album lasts only 34 minutes and is titled ‘Star Wars’ with a fluffy cat on the cover- it’s the best indie attitude of the year.

Cover imageSilver bullets / The Chills.
2015 was also a good year for Kiwi indie music. The likes of Phoenix Foundation, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Don McGlashan issued fantastic new albums, and the most exciting and welcoming one arrived later of the year. Silver Bullets, the first new full-length album in nearly two decades from Martin Phillipps’ The Chills, is a dazzling pop album, proving Phillipps’ pop craftsmanship is still up there. With bouncing melody and catchy guitar riff, it offers perfect balance of cheerfulness and melancholy, and you never get tired of listening. It’s an indie pop music as good as it gets.

Mark’s picks:
Wellington
Cover imageSpirits.
First full album release from pianist Brooke Singer and guitarist John Fitzgerald after the 2012 EP ‘Claimed by the Sea. Full of dreamy, melancholic landscapes. Singer’s lovely delicate voice, glides ethereally over Fitzgerald’s sinuous guitar lines.

WellingtonMusicBlog12_Cthulhu rising.
Backed by Grammy-nominated American pianist Taylor Eigsti and NZ bassist Matt Penman, Bradley creates a series of original compositions based on Lovecraft’s work that are free and searching, yet also inherently melodic. There’s a dark sense of claustrophobia here, as well as a gentle playfulness.

Cover imageGive up your dreams / The Phoenix Foundation.
The synths are pushed to the front on the new album. Fun and playful, the sound feels contemporary on some tracks & nostalgic on others, with shimmering arrangements & propulsive rhythms. Plenty of dry humour undercuts the upbeat funky-space meandering.

Cover imageIn the shallows.
A Portland transplant who spent her time honing the lyrics & arrangements of her debut, until the beautifully rich piano driven songs really shine. Tori Amos is an obvious starting point but there’s a lot happening musically with many other guitar driven influences at play. Great songs, great arrangements, great singing. What else is there?

Cover imageĀiotanga.
Second Te Reo album from Kirsten Te Rito. Lush beats & smooth synths. Imagine the slinky, sensual sound of late night 90s club grooves/electronica reimagined for Te Reo.

Cover imageSun/son.
More Americana styled songs from this Wellington five-piece, helmed by the alternately crooning & dark hued vocals of Ebony Lamb. Atmospheric. Perhaps their best work yet.

Cover imageThe court of love.
Singer/songwriter Emma Davey has been around for a while, performing at both WOMAD and WOW as a member of The Balkanistas. Her first solo album ‘The Court of love’ is a lovely set of self-penned songs. Her voice finds its home in the slower ballads that really work.

Cover imageBays.
DJ/producer Chris Faiumu pushes the sound in a more processed & less organic direction, but there is till plenty of the classic FFD for old fans to enjoy here.

Other
Cover imageDown to believing.
Now 5 years on from her last album she is separated from Steve Earle with a young son diagnosed with autism. This results, unsurprisingly, in an album that may be her most personal & accomplished yet with a set of songs that shift through themes of anger, despair, defiance and ultimately hope.

Cover imageVeruca Salt / Ghost notes.
Reuniting with the original line-up & original producer Brad Wood Louise Post & Nina Gordon deliver a new album that feels like a continuation of the music they were making previously; thrashy guitar pop with fierce harmonies, but welded to a deeper sense of the melancholy of regret and lost time. One of the rare reunions where the album doesn’t seem like a nostalgic cash-in, but forms a vital part of the bands discography.

Cover imageThe RCA Victor & T-Neck album masters (1959-1983) / The Isley Brothers.
Huge 23 disc journey through the various musical styles of the longest running & most influential R&B group in history. From Doo-wop, to rocking with Jimi Hendrix, to 70s funk & 80s smooth ballads. Includes plenty of bonus tracks, demos & a full unreleased live-in-studio album.

Axel’s Picks:
Cover imageHave you in my wilderness.
I will recommend watching the whole KEXP live session that Julia and Co. threw a couple of months ago. Their drums, double bass, viola, Nord, and 3 voices tightly presents us with a solid and beautiful sound which is a pleasure to see. The album gives us added layers of neatly crafted effects and edits, which elevate the audiophile experience. One of my favorite albums of the past years.

Cover imagePlatform.
I knew of Holly Herndon through her 2012 release Movement, one of my fondest albums of that year. Coming from a sonic arts background myself, I always enjoy seeing musicians on this field being popular and recognized for their expertise. ‘Platform’ offers a heavier and beat-driven flow that dances along Herndon’s main instrument; her voice. The climax arrives a little bit over the second half of the album with Lonely at the Top, one of the sexiest recordings of all time. I recommend headphones for a full-blown and intimate participation.

Cover imageDark energy.
‘I am NOT one of your FRIEEENNNDDDS!!!!! WHO do you think you’re TALKING TO?!?!?!’ *grind-core beat and bass follows* This is the opening to ‘Dark Energy’s’ last song, leaving a taste of what just happened 10 songs before. From a minimalist and low-fi midi-stringed beginning the suspense sets in straight away: this could have easily been a darker and concrète version to Darth Vader’s march. Enter the meat grinder: a schizophrenic Ghost Train ride enjoyed by the like of ‘Merzbow’, ‘Aphex Twin’, ‘Die Antwoord’, ‘Clap! Clap!’and ‘Napalm Death’. Adult admission only.

Cover imageDepression cherry.
Beach House have done it for me this year. ‘Depression Cherry’ finds them in different waters than they previously were with their much-hyped Bloom – album I did not at all clicked with. Looks like they dropped some heavy flower-power leaves on their tea, washing the melodies, tribalizing the beats, mellowing the voices, and detaining the whole thing. A perfect listen for a rainy day inside.

Cover imageB’lieve I’m goin down…
If there’s sonething like Shoegaze music, then this would be Stonergaze. If you want to see how that looks like check this out. Kurt has composed one of my favorite summer soundtracks ever, thank you!

Cover imageCarrie & Lowell.
Celestial is the best way I can describe the tunes of Carrie & Lowell. This is one of those albums you would put on in particular moments; to relax, to cry, to rejoice, to ponder, to love. I haven’t found much information about the production of it, but it is evident that tapes and analogue gear were key ingredients for the conception of this moody album. Beautiful.

Cover imageTo pimp a butterfly.
Something happened that evening I came across Good kid, m.A.A.d city, quite by accident, a bit over 3 years ago. I am by no means a hip-hop head, but I instantly felt there was something different in it. I had no idea who the album was by, or how old or how new… it didn’t matter. I played it several times before I bothered reading about this Kendrick Lamar – not that it changed anything at all, given that I was not worried about data; the music spoke for itself. There is little to say that isn’t being said about this release (which made it #1 to the majority of list I’ve seen around), but I thought I share the effect that this man can create in someone like me who feels very detached from the reality that’s portrayed alongside this conceptual album, built upon enough layers to make repeated listening an ever more enjoyable experience.

Cover imageFrom Kinshasa.
I’ve been pumping this on my show on RadioActive.fm on the past months. The album opens with Malukayi, a killer tune that gets us straight up into a cosmic afro-spacial trance trip. The video is as mesmerizing. Electronic and tribal, From Kinshasa will keep you dancing and wondering what’s on the dark side of the moon.

Cover imageSound & color.
Another much-hyped band whose 1st release (Boys & Girls) did not cut it for me. However, ‘Sound & Color’ finds lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard taking her voice to new powerful levels. The rest of the band show the same confidence and hard rocking capabilities, delivering one solid tune after another. This is an album that also sounds great, so I’ve been enjoying it on my high-end setup at home.

Cover imageLateNightTales / [compiled by] Nils Frahm.
One of the best LNT to date. Nils takes us to a journey of Eno-esque landscapes, Cagean tangents, and electronic fields of Orb’s proportions. From the Amazon.uk product description:”I’ve really got off on working on compilations lately. It’s such a wonderful way to delve deep into your music collection. My flat is now crammed with music media of all stripes, from an old hand-cranked 78 phonograph player to 45s and albums on vinyl, my beloved old cassette tape collection, even mini-disks and, lately, WAV and MP3s. It’s all music to me. After spending hours recording from all of these diverse sources, I started to play around with the tunes, layering them, sampling, looping certain parts, extracting phrases and using all the freedom that this allowed me. If I got a little carried away or stepped on anyone’s toes in my quest to do something interesting and original, then I apologise. Some things may have accidentally landed on the wrong speed, while other spooky happening have occurred along the way, whether it’s ghostly additions of reverb and delay or simply subtle edits or reproductions, they’ve all gone into the magical stew I’ve tried to create for your pleasure and edification. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had creating this compilation for you but, suffice to say, I hope it will be a nice journey for your mind and heart.”

Monty’s picks:
Cover imageAnother one.
Break-up album with groove, style and Demarco’s understated baritone voice. Sad, tender and honest but Mac invites all to drop in at the end of album, so maybe he’s just fine now?

Cover imageBeat the champ / The Mountain Goats.
Lively concept album about professional wrestling that includes wrestling moves as titles(‘Foreign object’, ‘Choked out’), pop smarts and a real sense of warmth and connection to its damaged, bruised (and bruising) subjects.

Cover imageVulnicura.

Cover imageOnes and sixes.

Cover imageDivers.

Cover imageStuff like that there.

Cover imageSomething in the water.

Belinda’s pick:
Cover imageBlood to bone.
I am totally in love with Gin Wigmore’s ‘Blood to Bone’ cd. It’s a little bit gritty and has great hooks and melodies. Every song’s a winner and if you wait a while after the last track there’s a surprise track – sorry for just ruining the surprise.

Neil’s Picks:
Cover imageInsides.

Cover imageCosmic radio station / The Shifting Sands.

WellingtonMusicBlog12_Cthulhu rising.

Cover imageGolem.

Cover imageThe sovereign self.

BestOf2015CDs51The epic.

Cover imageShadow of the sun.

Cover imageFrom Sleep.

Cover imageProfessional rapper / David Burd aka ‘Lil Dicky’.

Jessica’s picks:
Cover imageDivers.

Cover imageI love you, honeybear.

Emma’s pick:
BestOf2015CDs4Jekyll + Hyde / Zac Brown Band.

Staff Pick CDs: The Best of 2015 – Part 1

Here is the first instalment of Staff Picks of our favourite CDs from last year.

John’s Picks:
Download a mix selected from John’s top 40 library CDs of 2015 here.
Electronic
Cover imageBody complex.
This release on the Ghostly International label is a work of sleek and warm minimal electronica, with the rhythmic tracks interspersed with ambient pieces to give the whole record a beautiful soothing and elegant feel, creating sounds that are as close to architecture as music.

Cover imageCompressions & rarefactions.
Kenneth Kirschner is an example of the perfect sound artist. His pieces are like having a slowly morphing sculpture in your room, the difference being you can only hear it rather than see it.

Cover imagePop ambient 2015.
Kompakt’s 15th annual compilation of ambient electronica was a great way to start the year and Pop Ambient 2016, which has just been released, is a great way to end it! Both maintain the very high standard set by the previous 14 editions, taking a nicely left of centre approach to the ambient genre and featuring tracks made exclusively for each release.

Cover imageSea Island.
Loscil’s 10th release, finds him refining his deeply immersive sound into an introspective melodic delight. Sonar-like beeps, dub techno pads and electronic pulses rub up against piano, violin and vibraphone on a deep dive into a sound world that remains compelling from start to finish.

Cover imageA year with 13 moons.
Fans of the guitar generated distortion and reverb drenched washes of sound of artists like Fennesz and Tim Hecker can welcome a fine addition to that small sub-genre.

Cover imageSigns under test.
Each of the many sub-genres that make up the world of electronic music features an artist that fine tunes their production skills around a particular sound, and when it comes to Tech House, John Tejada is the master.

Cover imageHinterland.
LoneLady combines a variety of influences into a fresh and relevant contemporary sound, very funky and difficult not to dance to.

Cover imageRivington não Rio.
Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73, presents his most appealing record for some time, offering a series of beautiful and engaging compositions, some instrumental and others featuring a range of different vocalists.

Cover imageStator / Biosphere, Deathprod.
This is deeply immersive ambient electronic music, consisting of pulses, beeps, crackles and drones that shimmer suspended in a perfectly produced and recorded sound world.

Cover imageInsides.
London based Mike Green, aka Fort Romeau, draws from the established styles of house, techno, disco etc to create a deep and rich nocturnal sound featuring infectious four to the floor beats, swirling textures, subtle builds and drops and lovely warm melodies.

Cover imageProjections.
Romare creates sonic collages featuring snippets of various Afro-American inspired music, mixing samples and performance into downtempo house not unlike the cool French house sound of the late ‘90’s.

Cover imageCollaborations.
Cologne electronic duo, Mouse On Mars, have been forging their own, highly idiosyncratic musical path since the early 90’s, and his double CD collection to celebrate the duo’s 21st birthday, features examples from their numerous collaborative ventures.

Cover imageInsomni.
Simon Scott, who plays drums with shoegaze band Slowdive, has slowly built up an impressive body of work as an ambient sound architect and his fourth solo album finds him further refining his mix of field recordings and looped washes of grainy textured sound.

Indie
Cover imageIllegals in heaven.
With Lawrence English adding electronics and field recordings to the Brisbane quartet’s lo-fi garage rock, it is indeed a match made in heaven and will be on many end of year best of lists.

Cover imageHave you in my wilderness.
LA experimental songstress Julia Holter comes in from the cold with her fourth album, a lush cinematic collection of chamber pop, coming across as a bit like Lana Del Rey’s moody older sister.

Cover imageB’lieve I’m goin down…
Kurt Vile’s sixth studio album finds him replacing the ‘70’s stoner guitar riffing with more intimate, wistful songs delivered via banjo and piano.

Cover imageLa di da di.
Imagine math-rock fed into a blender, peppered with some off-kilter electronics and served with a side dish of experimental indie and you may be halfway to imagining what Battles sound like.

BestOf2015CDs22Foil deer.
Think mid 90’s college indie rock – the angular coiled guitar sound; sweet yet detached female vocals; catchy hooks and melodies; and a rock solid rhythm section.

BestOf2015CDs23Currents.
His third record, like the previous two, features Kevin Parker singing and playing all instruments, however, in a stylistic shift he has mutated his psychedelic guitar based sound into a pure and heartfelt alt pop, featuring his appealing and plaintiff vocals over lovingly crafted synth based songs.

Cover imageSub-lingual tablet / The Fall.
All of the expected elements are present – fiery grooves, driving bass, incendiary guitar, garage band organ and Mark E Smith’s delivery of his free form critique of modern culture.

BestOf2015CDs25Instrumentals 2015.
The range of sound and textures is so broad, the compositions so enfolding and the execution so confident that it’s easy to forget you are listening to one guy playing a guitar in his home studio.

Cover imageChoose your weapon.
The ideas flow thick and fast within time signatures that change abruptly, as electronic pulses and bleeps fly around and it’s all held together by the lush and confident vocal delivery of Nai Palm. Somehow, the notion that it is a young Australian band that is stretching r’n’b into the future is oddly re-assuring.

Cover imageDepression cherry.
They haven’t made a record yet that is anything less than great, so what this means is music that is deeply melodic, unfeasibly lush, devastatingly gorgeous and hymn like in its splendour.

Cover imageThank your lucky stars.
Forming a great counterpoint to the lush, soothing sound of ‘Depression Cherry’, the songs on this album were recorded at the same time but are just a bit rockier and gently expand the boundaries of the Beach House sound.

Cover imageMount the air / The Unthanks.
Bearing no resemblance whatsoever to what is usually considered folk music, this collection of traditional songs are interpreted via the contemporary genres of jazz and chamber pop to create a sound that is absolutely beautiful and a landmark in the evolution of British folk music.

NZ
Cover imageRetouched.
It would be difficult to find a better example of the sunny summer NZ dub sound the second collection of International Observer remixes from over the last 22 years.

Cover imageCosmic radio station / The Shifting Sands.
Featuring David Kilgour on two tracks, the sound is all you may hope for from Dunedin – the home of the indie jangle – psychedelic folk pop, fleshed out with some lovely strings on a couple of tracks.

Cover imageEP 1 & 2.
The trio began in NZ and are now spread between Paris, New York and Christchurch, making music via the internet. They mix synthpop, 80’s yacht rock, lounge and soft indie rock into an original and thoroughly enticing sound, all pushed along by the lovely understated vocals of Kim Pflaum.

Cover imageMulti-love.
Their third record finds the raggedy lo-fi production style of the previous two a little smoothed out but evolved into a layered, warped out psych-funk.

Cover imageThe great cybernetic depression.
Auckland based, Princess Chelsea’s new record finds her further refining her lovely baroque, multi layered indie pop sound and applying it to songs about the distance between people in the digital era.

Cover imagesJekyll Island.
Combining the slacker insouciance and motorik chug of the Clean with the jangle of the Byrds and the reverb guitar wash of The Jesus and Mary Chain, they manage to come across as an instantly familiar band even if you have never heard them before.

Cover imageDeath and the Maiden.
The debut full length from Dunedin’s Death and the Maiden is a genuine merging of electronics and acoustics as languid mechanical beats, ‘80’s indie bass and sombre synthesisers underpin reverb drenched guitars while Lucinda King sings her bittersweet songs of hope and despair..

Re-Issues/Compilations
BestOf2015CDs39Sun zoom spark : 1970 to 1972.
As time moves on, it becomes increasingly apparent that Don Van Vliet was a gifted, revolutionary artist and a musical giant.

Cover imageFripp & Eno : live in Paris, 28.05.1975.
It’s a sobering thought that this May will be the 40th anniversary of this live recording which saw Robert Fripp & Brian Eno expose the new concept of ambient music to audiences across Europe for the first time.

Cover imageHistory of the future. Part 2 / The Orb.
These two double disc sets, compiled by founder Alex Patterson to celebrate The Orb’s Silver Jubilee, chronologically trace their development over 25 years via different versions of well-known tracks and obscure remixes. It’s a great trip for fans and an excellent introduction for the curious.

Staff Picks CDs – December and the New Year

We’ve put together a selection of some new Staff Pick CDs for the end of the year. Watch out for our picks for the Best Library CDs of 2015 in January!

Cover imageB’lieve I’m goin down…
Kurt Vile’s sixth studio album, and the third since 2011’s break through, ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, finds him replacing the ‘70’s stoner guitar riffing with more intimate, wistful songs delivered via banjo and piano. The overall feel is melancholic, with Vile’s laconic vocals lending themselves to this mood with great effect. He appears to have simplified things, which enable the melodies and songs to stand out, and this works in his favour, as he is a great songwriter and is proving to be an artist of substantial talent. (John)

Cover imageLa di da di.
Anyone bemoaning that there is nothing new under the sun needs to listen the latest record by NY three-piece, Battles – “blurry and crystalline, fractured and tuneful, programmed and played, it’s rare that a Battles track goes for more than 10 seconds without some conspicuous change”. It’s their third release over eight years, so they aren’t exactly prolific, and their first with no vocals. Imagine math-rock fed into a blender, peppered with some off-kilter electronics and served with a side dish of experimental indie and you may be halfway to imagining what Battles sound like. There is no-one making music quite like this, so analogies are difficult, their sound, while dense and exhilarating, is, at times, playful, and can be challenging, however, those with the courage to dive in will be amply rewarded. (John)

Cover imageBody complex.
The latest release on the Ghostly International label is a work of sleek and warm minimal electronica, more German in design than American. Jakub Alexander, aka Heathered Pearls, recently commissioned Hamburg based, Dial Records label founder, Lawrence to remix one of his tracks and the deep house influence has obviously seeped through. This is the first Heathered Pearls release featuring beats, and they are used here to gently move the layered electronic sounds forward. The rhythmic tracks are interspersed with ambient pieces which gives the whole record a beautiful soothing and elegant feel, creating sounds that are as close to architecture as music. (John)

Cover imageThe original ending.
Janina is Janina Nicoll, whose brother records under the name Stevie Starr. She released an EP ‘Mercy’ in 2004 with cellist Francesca Mountfort, before moving to London for a few years. Moving back to Wellington she engineered and produced her debut herself, alongside brother/musician Stevie Starr. With Janina on vocals, guitar, clarinet, saxophone & Theremin, it welds together an organic framework with electronic beats. Definitely worth a listen if you like idiosyncratic female singers (Bat For Lashes, Feist, Joan as Police Woman). (Mark)

StaffPicksCDs4Compressions & rarefactions.
Taylor Deupree’s 12K label has been around for a while and has developed a very particular aesthetic. You can pretty much guarantee that any release will be highly immersive, quality ambience and Kenneth Kirschner is an example of the perfect sound artist. His pieces are like having a slowly morphing sculpture in your room, the difference being you can only hear it rather than see it. Contained here are two tracks, each close to half an hour long, that comprise ‘Compressions’, while the three tracks that comprise ‘Rarefactions’, downloaded via a voucher included when you buy the CD, stretch out over almost five and a half hours. Here’s how one reviewer was affected – “This work speckled my days with expansive, articulate sounds that I sampled from at my leisure. I put it down and picked it up again when I craved its distinct, near-therapeutic timbres, confident I could click in anywhere and have my perspective shifted.”. If you have a taste for ambient music you are encouraged to listen to this and then buy the CD for yourself and download the full work. (John)

Cover imageFrom Sleep.
Max Richter’s follow up to ‘The Four Seasons’, his lovely re-scoring of the Vivaldi classic, is ‘Sleep’, an experimental piece comprised of 32 tracks lasting eight hours designed to be played while one is asleep. That work is only available as a digital file so the seven tracks on this CD are a one hour adaptation that, according to the composer, are designed to listen to while awake. The music itself is warm, gentle and slow moving ambient/neo classical with Richter playing piano, synth and electronics with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble adding wordless vocals and strings. There are no sharp edges here, the music sombre, hymn like and as gentle as wisps of cloud. (John)

Cover imageCovered : the Robert Glasper Trio recorded live at Capitol Studios.
US jazz/r’n’b pianist, Robert Glasper just won his second R’n’B Grammy for ‘Black Radio 2’ and here reforms the acoustic jazz trio from his first two Blue Note albums for a set recorded live in the Capitol Records studio. However, this is not a return to his roots but an acoustic version of his more recent r’n’b style, reversioning “I Don’t Even Care” from ‘Black Radio 2’ and performing instrumental cover versions of artists including Radiohead, Joni Mitchell and Bilal. The trio’s ability to translate neo-soul and indie rock as jazz is impressive, resulting in an engaging and very smooth record that challenges genre boundaries in an impressive fashion. (John)

Cover imageBays.
The new album from Fat Freddy’s Drop begins with a familiar blend of reggae/funk/dub, but then extends the musical palette out a bit with some heavier electronic influences. Some might find tracks like ‘Razor’ & ‘Cortina Motors’ drifting too far into the floors of clubland for their liking as DJ/producer Chris Faiumu pushes the sound in a more processed & less organic direction, but there is till plenty of the classic FFD for old fans to enjoy here. The ‘Bays’ world tour hits NZ in late December. Gig dates here. (Mark)

Cover imageRetouched.
Ex Thompson Twin Tom Bailey recently returned to London after living in Auckland for quite a number of years. During his time here he released four excellent albums of very cool and smooth dub based grooves under the name International Observer. ‘Retouched’ is the second collection of International Observer remixes from over the last 22 years. Artists remixed include Pitch Black, Bic Runga and The Exponents and five of the remixes here have never been released before. It would be difficult to find a better example of the sunny summer dub sound and ‘Touched’, the first remix collection, comes as highly recommended, as do the last two International Observer studio albums ‘Felt’ and the quite lovely ‘All Played Out’. (John)

Cover imageIllegals in heaven.
Brisbane based Blank realm are three siblings and a friend who are gaining international acclaim and for good reason. This is actually their ninth release since 2007, counting their early CDRs, and over that time they have fine honed their splendidly shambolic lo-fi garage rock sound and learned how to write songs. Last year’s ‘Grassed In’ was shortlisted for the ‘Most Popular Artist’ and ‘Album of the Year’ in the 2014 Queensland Music Awards and this new album is, surprisingly, the first one actually recorded in a studio – even if it was just for one day! With the internationally acclaimed local sound architect Lawrence English adding electronics and field recordings as well as co-producing, mixing and mastering, it is indeed a match made in heaven and will be on many end of year best of lists. (John)

Cover imageCosmic radio station / The Shifting Sands.
It’s nice to know that the classic Dunedin sound is alive and well represented on this album, recorded at various locations around Port Chalmers by three guys who also run ‘Chicks’ the Port Chalmers indie music venue. Featuring David Kilgour on two tracks, the sound is all you may hope for from the home of the indie jangle – psychedelic folk pop, fleshed out with some lovely strings on a couple of tracks. Lead songwriter, Michael Mcleod, attended Graeme Downes’, of the Verlaines, Popular Music songwriting course at The University of Otago and it is great to witness a local musical culture continuing to thrive. (John)

Cover imageThank you.
The sad news early last week on the passing of Scott Weiland will no doubt lead to some reflection on his career & legacy. Derided by critics when they first emerged (as their first couple of albums became bestsellers) STP were hailed as copyists & sell-outs of the worst kind, cashing in on the ‘grunge’ sound that was prevalent at the time. But, much like English band ‘Bush’, STP were never really a grunge band to begin with. They were a great pop band in disguise. From their 2nd album onwards their ‘pop’ side came to the fore with big hooks & melodies, and Weiland’s love of Bowie, glam-pop & neo-psychedelic rock. And while many assumed the bands strength was the DeLeo brothers monster riffs with Weiland just the voice, his 2 excellent solo albums (1998’s 12 Bar Blues & 2008’s Happy In Galoshes) proved he was the groups centre. ‘Thank you’ collects up 15 of the group’s strongest tracks, which the Allmusic review states as ‘some of the best singles of the ’90s’. (Mark)

Cover imageInsomni.
Simon Scott, who plays drums with shoegaze band Slowdive, has slowly built up an impressive body of work as an ambient sound architect and his fourth solo album finds him further refining his mix of field recordings and looped washes of grainy textured sound. As the title implies, this is a night time album, for which headphones are recommended, as the finely tuned edges of this music need the close attention to detail that headphones bring out. What is discovered is a captivating and deeply satisfying pastoral/digital sound world awash with buzzes, drones, reverb and some sparkling acoustic guitar. (John)

Cover imageHave you in my wilderness.
LA experimental songstress Julia Holter’s fourth album, a lush cinematic collection of chamber pop, finds her coming across as a bit like Lana Del Rey’s moody older sister. Her voice is treated as an instrument, multi tracked and layered, with gentle effects added, while the string arrangements are breathtaking, soaring and complementing the heartfelt songs perfectly without ever becoming overblown. Stylistically wavering between jazz and pop, there is no guitar, just stand-up bass and drums backing her various keyboards as she explores the ground laid down by that great LA songstress, Joni Mitchell, while maintaining the art school edge of Laurie Anderson and Nico, yet creating something fresh and original. (John)

Cover imageFoam island.
This follow up to 2013’s excellent ‘News From Nowhere’ find the UK electronic duo leaving their dance floor roots even farther behind, creating a lovely understated record of beguiling indie electro pop. Inhabiting a similar domain to ALT-J, they are found here presenting a collection of lovingly produced and catchy alt-pop songs interspersed with field recordings and vocal snippets of young adults from Huddersfield, a town located close to where Darkstar are based. The duo are obviously concerned about the world UK teens are growing up in and here do their best to offer some solidarity via the music and the cover photos. Their message is pretty well summed up in the videos for Pin Secure and Stoke the Fire…..(John)

Cover imageThank your lucky stars.
For some odd reason, rather than ‘Depression Cherry’, released just three months ago, being a double album, we have a follow up Beach House CD already – and it is definitely not the studio leftovers one may expect, in fact, if anything, it is even better then ‘Depression Cherry’. Forming a great counterpoint to the lush, soothing and expected sound of ‘Depression Cherry’, the songs on this album are a bit rockier and gently expand the boundaries of the Beach House sound. Just listen to the excellent ‘Elegy to the Void’ for some idea. Another great Beach House record and a great way to end 2015. (John)