Staff Picks CDs – July/August

Some new CD Staff picks, with plenty of New Zealand picks, some indie-pop, Soul & Jazz and more.

StaffPicksCDs12 (2)Jekyll Island.
AK band ‘Surf City’ have a retro sound that works as homage rather than coming across as merely derivative and their third album in five years finds them settling nicely into their sound. 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. But it all works, and if you are looking for some fresh, thoughtful and melodic indie pop to rock or dream to then look no further. (John)

Cover imageOkains Bay Māori & Colonial Museum / taonga pūoro, Al Fraser.
Sadly, the excellent Film Festival doco about local musicologist Richard Nunns, ‘Voices of the Land’ was not released on DVD, however, the film did spark a resurgence of interest in ‘taonga puoro’, the culture associated with the exquisite and evocative traditional musical instruments of the Maori, that was almost lost. The first new CD features ARA, a Wellington based trio that features vocalist Ariana Tikao, Rob Thorne and Al Fraser, who have each learned to coax the haunting sounds from a wide range of traditional Maori wind and percussion instruments. There are no beats; these original compositions are subtle, dreamlike and ethereal, with the voice and the harmonics invoked from these traditional instruments taking the listener to a mysterious and ancient place. The second disc is by local musician, instrument maker (and WCL staff member!) Alistair Fraser. Alistair approached the curators of Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum on Banks Peninsula with a view to actually playing and recording the traditional instruments gathering dust in their collection. They agreed, and these eight fascinating improvised pieces each feature a different instrument, with some of the pieces multi tracked for effect. (John)

Cover imageSpirits.
Originally from Christchurch vocalist and pianist Brooke Singer and guitarist John Fitzgerald moved to Wellington in 2011 and formed, ‘French for Rabbits’, later fleshing out their sound with local musicians Hikurangi Scheverin-Kaa (City oh Sigh) on drums, and Ben Lemi Wood (Trinity Roots, Newtown Rocksteady) playing bass and singing harmonies. ‘Spirits’ is their first full album release after the 2012 EP ‘Claimed by the Sea’ and is full of dreamy, melancholic landscapes. Singer’s lovely delicate voice, glides ethereally over Fitzgerald’s sinuous guitar lines that at times resemble David Roback’s work with ‘Mazzy Star’. The tempo gets a bit more upbeat on tracks like ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ and ‘Nursery Rhymes’ which channel a more shimmering indie-pop vibe, and the whole album benefits from the expanded musical palette that that the new band members bring as well as the introduction of some lush strings on several tracks. (Mark)

Cover imageThe crystal cowboy.
Better known as Falty DL, Drew Lustman is a NY based electronic producer who has refined a highly distinctive style of cool and complex downbeat grooves. For this release, under his own name, Lustman takes a diversion, paying homage to the early years of Jungle and Drum ‘n’ Bass, filtering the skittering hi-hats and subterranean sub-bass of that formative sound through his creative contemporary lens. Focusing on the jazzier side of Jungle, Lustman applies his creative skills to this engrossing collection of ever shifting sample laden tracks, and has created a standout electronic release. (John)

Cover imageLateNightTales / [compiled by] Jon Hopkins.
The Late Night Tales mix series has been consistent since 2001, with a wide range of artists artists selecting and mixing some of their favourite late night listening. The 34th edition is from Jon Hopkins, and, as expected, it sits on the ambient side of electronic music, taking the listener on an old school ‘ journey’ through a lovely selection of 21 unashamedly beautiful tracks. When beats and vocals appear they are yet another feature of this gorgeous and wonderfully rounded sonic experience. Recommended. (John)

Cover imageSing to the moon.
I’ve been listening to Laura Mvula a lot lately. She is amazing! Her song Sing to the moon on the Album of the same name is such a lovely mix that transports me to the animated post-apocalyptic, mystical worlds of Miyazaki Hayao in Laputa castle in the sky, or Nausicaa of the valley of the wind, both also great movies. This whole album is such a great mix of r’n’b, classic Jazz and orchestral pop. It’s so beautiful, some songs move me to tears! Watch her here with ‘Sing to the Moon’. (Lisa)

Cover imageThe great cybernetic depression.
Aucklander Chelsea Nikkel, aka Princess Chelsea, is a classically trained muso turned popster who has the glam of Lana del Rey but doesn’t flaunt it, coming across as that slightly eccentric but very smart girl next door. She is a star in both South America and Eastern Europe and the Guardian Weekly loves her. After leaving ‘The Brunettes’, she released a solo record L’il Golden Book and to date has 22 million Youtube views for her clip to the single, The Cigarette Duet. Her new record finds her, assisted by her partner, Jonathon Bree, further refining her baroque, multi layered indie pop sound and applying it to songs about the distance between people in the digital era. For those with a taste for twee and beguiling indie pop this is a gem. (John)

Cover imageMoonbuilding 2703 A D / The Orb.
London based duo, ‘The Orb’, pretty much invented the concept of the chillout way back in the heady days of early ‘90’s rave culture. They have made a lot of records since then, often collaborating with people like Lee Scratch Perry and David Gilmour yet, surprisingly, this is possibly the most “Orbish” sounding record they have made since 1997’s Orblivion. Comprised of four long tracks loaded with their distinctive sub dub bass lines and delay rich textures and samples, this 50 minute space-time odyssey of slowly morphing dub techno grooves sounds like the “automatic processes of two sleepless machines that have been programming beats and synthetic swells since the dawn of time and feel like they’ll keep on playing long after our sun burns itself out”. Anyone keen to discover how this sound evolved is recommended The Orb’s two double disc retrospective compilations ‘The History of the Future’ Vols 1 & 2.
Go here to see a clip about the making of Moonbuilding 2703 AD. (John)

Cover imageThe fade in time.
Sam Lee’s debut Ground of its Own put fresh air in the UK folk music scene and he made radical progress with this sophomore album, in which he covered the Gypsy Traveller songs he collected himself. Lee, who has learnt traditional songs firsthand from the ‘Travellers’, invited Penguin Café’s Arthur Jeffes as a producer and Brian Eno’s right hand man Leo Abrahams did mixing. Applying a large number of instruments, including traditional folk instruments from all over the world such as Japanese koto and conch (seashell horn), with polyrhythm, he crafts a fantastic collage of music which is rich and refreshing, and gives a new insight into the old songs. This is one of those rare albums which will offer you something new with each listen. (Shinji)

Cover imageThe race for space.
This UK duo gave an outstanding performance at the WOMAD festival earlier this year, enthralling the crowd with their guitar and electronic grooves laced with a variety of entertaining archival BBC sound bites. On their second album the soundscapes are beautifully crafted and the grooves are cool, while the choice of archival spoken word material is restricted to the years of the “The Space Race”, from 1955–1972, when the Soviet Union and the United States vied for supremacy in spaceflight capability. Entertaining and surprisingly informative, the project is not as satire laden as their first album and comes across as a poignant, enchanting and slightly off-centre tribute to a bygone era when the myth of progress reigned supreme. Also recommended is the recently arrived DVD version of their debut album Inform Educate Entertain which contains a video version of the entire record, with all clips made from archival footage. (John)

Cover imageEP 1 & 2.
Its difficult to think of a more summery sound to listen to through the depths of winter than the warm gorgeous indie pop of Yumi Zouma. 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. This CD contains their two EPs, which have received excellent reviews in both the US and the UK. (John)

Cover imageComing forth by day.
The year of 2015 is the centennial of Billie Holiday’s birth and Cassandra Wilson, undoubtedly the prime jazz singer today, pays a tribute in style. It’s a big production supported by the likes of T Bone Burnett, the rhythm section from Nick Cave’s ‘The Bad Seeds’, and produced by Nick Launay who has worked with ‘Talking Heads’ and ‘Arcade Fire’. The variety of the arrangements is immense; from the blues rock to the gorgeous strings arranged by Van Dyke Parkes to the subtle whispery voice. However, rebirthing Holliday’s soul, Wilson shows a tremendous presence and colours everything in her one-and-only, sophisticated deep-blues feeling. It’s another remarkable achievement by this today’s ‘Lady Day’ and a fantastic addition to her stellar career. (Shinji)

Cover imageRivington não Rio.
In 2001, producer Scott Herren, aka ‘Prefuse 73’, virtually ushered in a new phase of instrumental hip-hop, taking the genre to the next level with his debut, ‘Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives’. He has been consistently making great records ever since under several different guises, and this, his first ‘Prefuse 73’ release in four years, finds him successfully toning down the experimental edge of his last couple of ‘Prefuse 73’ releases by incorporating aspects of the warm and soft feel of his Savath and Savalas side project. The merging works well, resulting in 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. (John)

Cover imageMulti-love.
Everybody loves the underdog made good and Ruban Nielson is certainly that. After the failure of the ‘Mint Chicks’ in the US he had given up music, when a single Bandcamp upload of a lo-fi home recording, Ffunny Friends, went viral. Now, four years later, he is working with Frank Ocean and the ‘Unknown Mortal Orchestra’ are being name dropped by the Guardian Weekly as “one of the must-see live acts this summer”. This record sees the solo project pretty much evolved into a duo with ex-Mint Chick and brother Kody playing drums and keyboards as well as co-writing and co-producing. ‘Multi-Love’ is their third record and this one finds the raggedy lo-fi production style of the previous two a little smoothed out but evolved into a layered, warped out psych-funk.. It takes a few more spins than their last two but the distinctive voice and unique magic is still there – and they even mention Gisborne! (John)