Staff picks : Popular music on CD

Need something new to listen to? Here’s what we’ve been listening to lately…

Cover imageGemini.
Jack Tatum loves 80’s dream pop and has made a record that is such a loving monument to that era and sound that it is very difficult to resist falling under its spell. Though his love of dreamy, fuzzy, handcrafted guitar-pop craftsmanship is undeniable and the details are spot-on, repeat spins reveal a strikingly innate sense of songcraft that incorporates great lyrics and gorgeous melody lines. ‘Wild Nothing’ doesn’t feel like a facile genre exercise so much as honest personal expression borne of intense musical fanhood. Forget about notions of revivalism, playing this record is like stepping into an extraordinarily sweet dream. (John)

Cover imageClaire Denis film scores, 1996-2009.
Although Claire Denis’ film ‘Trouble Every Day’ opens with Stuart Staples’ unmistakable voice, I didn’t realise that the collaboration between Tindersticks and fantastic French film maker Denis has been this long and close. However, it may not be surprising as both are slightly-off-mainstream artists, and a kind of ‘cult’ figures in their fields. Denis is an unconventional director with a great visual instinct and the Tindersticks’ moody, ambient sound is well blended in her intense but beautiful footage. The distinction of the Tindersticks’ sound tends to rely on Staples’ characteristic voice (I call him Aaron Neville of Indie Rock) but in this box set, his vocal is featured in only a few songs. This may be disappointing and may not be the best examples of their music, but almost instrumental music here sounds actually very Tindersticks and even richer. As a fan of both artists, I would like to celebrate that all their wonderful collaborations so far are put together, and needless to say, the music is brilliant in its own right. (Shinji)

Cover ImageSome people have real problems.
This is Sia’s third studio album released early in 2008, her latest album We are born came out 2010. This Aussie singer/songwriter has a pop/jazzy musical style in my opinion similar to Katie Melua. Many of Sia’s songs feature in various TV shows, ‘Home and away’ is one that comes to mind. She’s done covers, backing vocals and duets as well. Tracks from this album feature on TV shows Private practice, and of course Aussie favourite Packed to the Rafters. Among her many celebrity associates and musical works, Sia co-wrote with Christina Aguilera the hit song ‘Bound to you’ for the soundtrack/movie Burlesque, she also appears with Aguilera, as an advisor on the TV show ‘The Voice’. Unfortunately due to ill health, Sia’s future promotional events, shows, and recordings are limited. She is an exceptional talent, and well worth a listen. Oh and gotta love the title! (Ethel)

Cover imageDog man star [deluxe].
British band Suede’s debut album emerged in the early 90’s ushering in a broad genre that would later be labelled by the music press as ‘Brit-Pop’, with a sound that was an amalgam of 70’s sexually charged glam rock & the moody romanticism of 80’s alternative groups such as The Smiths. ‘Dog Man Star’, their second album, became their defining work, but the song-writing relationship between singer Brett Anderson & guitarist Bernard Butler collapsed during it’s making. Anderson regrouped with new band members for the album Coming Up whose shiny guitar-pop spawned 5 top ten singles. But by the time of the following album Head Music his drug problems led to creative stagnation. Attempts to alter the band’s sound divided critics & fans, and they managed one more album, A New Morning before calling it a day. Anderson had a brief reunion with guitarist Butler as The Tears before releasing a few low key solo albums, the best of which is probably his latest Black Rainbows. Butler also released a couple of solo efforts before moving into production, helming Duffy’s first album among others. 2011 saw the release of the band’s back catalogue in deluxe CD/DVD packages with a wealth of demo’s & B-sides, and a re-evaluation of the band legacy’s after they got lost in the Oasis/Blur onslaught that eventually sank ‘Britpop’. (Mark)

Cover ImagePop ambient 2011.
Pop Ambient is a sub label of Kompakt, the German electronic label. Run by Wolfgang Voigt, who’s productions under the ‘Gas’ moniker have gained him international fame, Pop Ambient have released a compilation annually since 2001. For fans of ambient electronic music these releases are always something to look forward to and this year’s release is no exception. Featuring regular contributors such as Jorg Burger under his Triola guise and Thomas Fehlmann of Orb fame, alongside new contributors including Alva Noto, the compositions shimmer in a haze of sound largely devoid of beats. The loops are as repetitive as techno, but are gentle and tend to lull the listener into a hypnagogic state rather than induce hip shaking dance-floor action. Strongly recommended for fans of late night deep listening experiences. (John)

Cover imageSalt on sea glass, If By Yes.
If By Yes was begun by two female artists: Japanese experimental-pop unit Chibo-Matto’s Yuka Honda and a singer (and a violinist) Petra Haden who is the daughter of the Jazz bass legend Charlie Haden. They are both forward-thinking artists and their musical activities have been quite unique. Multi-instrumentalist Honda has issued three avant-garde, electronica albums from John Zorn’s Tzadik label, and Haden made a cover album of The Who’s The Who Sell Out performing with only her voice (a cappella). They have been making music together for some time and finally, by adding two Japanese musicians to the band, have released their music as an album. Their music is somehow different… It’s the music that happens when subtle experimental and dreamy pop music are hand-in-hand. By combining Haden’s expressive voice with intricate rhythms, twisted melody and unusual chord progression, they create a unique fantastical soundscape that gives you a feeling of floating. The notable guests – David Byrne sings on one song, and Honda’s newlywed husband Nels Cline plays guitar on a couple of tunes – also celebrate their debut. While not sensational, it’s sweet and intriguing. (Shinji)

Cover imageFor the record : the Pixie Williams collection, 1949-1951.
A New Zealand music legend, Pixie Williams recorded ‘Blue Smoke’ in 1949 with the Ruru Karaitiana Quintet . In 1951 New York music trade magazines described ‘Blue Smoke’ as one of the major hits of the year – a ‘musical jackpot’ with both jukebox and radio listeners. It was covered by a host of international artists, including American crooner Dean Martin who phoned Karaitiana from the US seeking more songs. Now, more than 60 years on at the age of 82, Pixie’s catalogue of recordings from 1949-51 have been remastered and placed in one collection for the first time, allowing the listener to enjoy her wonderful voice anew. “Music – it’s what keeps you going through good times and bad. It kept me sane in the hard times. Forget the pills. When you’ve got music in your life – you’ll be ok.” Pixie Williams. Inspirational listening and a must for any New Zealand music fan. (Alistair)

Cover imageDon’t explain / Beth Hart ; Joe Bonamassa.
After becoming acquainted with each other from meeting while touring Festivals, singer Beth Hart provided guest vocals on for a track on Bonamassa’s album Dust Bowl released earlier this year. This led to the idea of a collaborative project together, and ‘Don’t Explain’ is the result; an eclectic covers set of old Blues/Soul & Pop songs. As is the wont with covers projects some songs work really well, while others adhere a bit too closely to the source material. Styles vary from the ragged contemporary blues of Ray Charles’ ‘Sinners Prayer’, to gospel infused tracks, to moody stabs at Billie Holiday’s ‘Don’t Explain’ & Melody Gardot’s ‘Your Heart Is as Black as Night’, that sound like attempts at noir-ish soundtrack music. Hart has a huge voice, and it’s a testament to her skill that she can easily move between the different styles on the album, with perhaps the best tracks being a scorching take on Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ with some amazing guitar work by Bonamassa & a soulful version of the old Brook Benton pop tune ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’. (Mark)

Cover ImageWaiata : Maori showbands, balladeers & pop stars.
Back in the day we had our very own rock ‘n rollers, crooners and jazz musicians. Musically gifted and naturally talented the Maori showbands dominated the dance halls, cabarets and night clubs here at home and overseas. Their contribution to the music industry was huge and they most certainly made their mark during this era. Reminisce to the sounds of Prince Tui Teka, the Maori Volcanics, the Howard Morrison Quartet, The Quin Tiki’s, Billy T. James, John Rowles, Dalvanius & the Fascinations, and Mark Williams to name but a few packed into this double disc collection/compilation of true blue Kiwi/Maori culture. A treasure to behold for sure. (Ethel)

Cover ImagePassive aggressive : singles 2002-2010 / The Radio Dept.
Sweden’s Radio Dept. are recognised as foremost in the international ‘dream-pop’ movement. Purveyors of this sound look backward rather than forward and continue the musical movement that grew from the original UK indie scene of the ’80s. This compilation includes a homage to those roots with a cover version of ‘Bachelor Kisses’, a hit for 80’s indie-pop band, The Go-Betweens. This is a two disc collection; the first features the band’s singles A-sides, sequenced chronologically, the second disc devoted to B-Sides. The gorgeous melodies, the half whispered vocals and the soaring guitars are all present in this lovely collection of faultless contemporary indie-pop. Highly recommended. (John)

Cover imageThe complete “jazz guitar” / Jim Hall Trio.
Jazz guitarist Jim Hall’s 1957 trio debut ‘Jazz Guitar’ is one of those albums that suffered the vicissitudes of various record company errors, tinkering & editing. Tracks were edited for the LP’s second pressing, while a third had drums overdubbed, and somewhere along the way the original master tapes of the un-edited tracks were lost. Subsequent re-issues of the album were never able to correct the errors until this 2011 reissue. The tracks are remastered from a first pressing of the LP, so the fidelity is of course not as it would be if it were taken from the master tapes. However all the tracks are in their complete form for the first time since its initial release, thus retaining all the solos & interplay between guitarist Hall, bassist Red Mitchell, & the individaul style of pianist Carl Perkins – who would die only a year later. This set of quietly swinging standards is a gem that typifies the best of the 1950’s jazz. (Mark)