Staff Picks DVDs: Best of 2018

Some more of our favourite Films & TV Shows from last year. Hopefully you will something you missed the first time around.

Shinji’s Picks:
Faces places.
This is a celebration of people and places as well as creativity. A legend of French new wave cinema, 88 year old Agnes Varda teams up with a photographer and muralist JR, who is 55 years her junior, to hit the road on a tour of rural France. On the way, they learn the histories of communities, some of which are long abandoned, and of people they encounter, and bring new lives to them with gigantic mural photos. This odd couple makes a great team and their friendship, curiosity and vision make it wonderfully charming. Life is beautiful.

Leave no trace.
A remarkable new film from an American indie filmmaker Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), ‘Leave No Trace’ is a subtle but powerful portrait of a post-traumatic-stress-disorder father and his teenage daughter, who cut themselves off from the world and have been living in the forests. Featuring the superb performances by Ben Forster and our very own Thomasin Mckenzie as the father and the daughter, Granik carefully presents just enough information and gracefully brings out deep emotions between them. This haunting tale will be remembered one of the best father-daughter relationship films in years to come.

The other side of hope
Seeing just one frame of a film, you can tell whose work it is. It doesn’t happen very often but Finnish veteran auteur Aki Kaurismaki is such a filmmaker. ‘The Other Side of Hope’, which nicely integrates stories of a Syrian refugee and a Finnish restaurateur, is his response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe. It treats the serious topic with warm humanism; it’s presented with his distinctive style; deadpan characters, droll humours, unique texture and hue based on blue, bluesy nostalgic rock played by old men etc. This is another memorable work but what is believed to be his final film. What a shame.

Sweet country.
The new Australian auteur Warwick Thornton’s marvellous ‘Sweet Country’ dominated the Australian Academy Awards (AACTA) of 2018, winning 6 awards including the best film, director, cinematography and actor. In the typical western-like setting, this manhunt drama exposes the dark side of Australian history; racism. It’s uneasy to watch at times but taking the majestic outback scenery as a part of narrative, it offers lyrical, mesmerising moments as well. Unique flash-forwards are also very effective. Poignant.

Lady Bird.
Actress-turned-writer/director Greta Gerwig’s first feature is a lovely adolescent tale.
With the mother-daughter relationship as its core, it’s about a17-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ (dazzling Saoirse Ronan) who is eager for an escape to a big city after graduating from a Catholic school. Gerwig’s smart screenplay and unique aesthetic make it a charming, beautifully layered coming-of-age drama. It’s sweet, funny and affecting.

Blackkklansman.
Ironically the current state of the divided America seems to get Spike Lee; arguably the most important African-American filmmakers of our time, back in top form. This, his finest film in years, tells the incredible true story of the first black detective in the Colorado Spring, who infiltrated the KKK in the early 70s. This is heavy stuff and not surprisingly, it contains chilling moments, but Lee masterfully put them into a comedic narrative, and makes it a gripping yet entertaining drama. Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington shines as the detective. Invigorating.

Twin Peaks: a limited event series.
David Lynch’s ground-breaking series is back after 25 years’ absence, and it’s a much larger scaled extraordinary journey, which offers everything Lynch has made for cinema. At times it’s almost impossible to comprehend and mysteries bring more mysteries, but there are always humours. This nearly 1000-hours marathon epic can be challenging and demanding to consume, but gives you a joyous, rewarding watch. It’s another landmark work by this one-and-only filmmaker.

Neil J’s Picks:
Lucky.
Lucky was Harry Dean Stanton’s last work, it’s a wry and very deceptive piece. On the surface nothing that much happens it’s just a couple of days in the life of a fictional Harry Dean Stanton; true they are quirky, laconic and slightly strange days . However whilst the film is slender in narrative it is large in underlying meaning and through this strange domesticity of the main characters life the movie becomes a poignant meditation on life, memory, loss, accepting fate and coming to terms with one’s impending demise, all done in a light offbeat fashion. It is a truly marvellous performance by Harry Dean Stanton it might even just be his career best and all made the more remarkable since he was aware that this would probably be his last film. Which it turned out to be.

Lady Bird.

 

 

 

The death of Stalin.
Caustic, pitch black humour of the highest calibre is delivered in Armando Iannucci latest comedy. Set around the events and chaos surrounding the death of Stalin this star studded movie was so controversial that the Russian government banned it. Its wicked, hilarious, merciless and definitely not for the faint hearted. However if you enjoy satire of the very darkest and blackest in nature then this movie is a must watch. And the ever wonderful Jason Isaacs is mercurial as Field Marshal Zhukov.

Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.
The starting point and in a strange way the catalyst for all the action in the film are three billboards by a road put up by a grieving mother with messages demanding justice for her murdered daughter. This multi award winning movie is occasionally funny, but more often it’s a bleak, raw look at loss, grief and vengeance. It boasts several fantastic performances from the lead Frances McDormand as well as Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage and several other cast members. It doesn’t take the easy path plot wise and contains several unexpected twists and turns. All in all the plaudits that have been heaped on it are well deserved.

Faces places.

 

 

 

McQueen.
McQueen is a career spanning but intimate documentary exploring the life and work of the iconic British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Mc Queen rose from humble beginnings to become the enfant terrible of the fashion world his initial rise was I through hard work, native ability, desire to shock and raw talent. ( Though he did get more formal training as he went along ). He was the bright burning super star of the fashion world creating his own fashion house and courting controversy everywhere he showed, His fashion work was often closely inter linked with his own inner demons which were eventually rise up and tragically destroy him. The documentary makes for a fascinating, riveting watch and is a real insight into what drove and created one of the most important and controversial fashion designers of our time.

She shears
It goes without saying that in some areas of New Zealand sheep searing is an obsession, but historically this obsession has always been a very male dominated one. She Sears is a fabulous compelling documentary about a very small group of women shearers trying to break that mould. However what really makes this film work is the fact that it transcends its subject matter the film is far more than just a look at female shearers, it’s more about the shearers as complex individuals, as fully rounded people who shear for a whole range of different reasons, their back stories, their motivations, their drivers both as shears and beyond and the reasons they do what they do. It’s a great watch, a really well-crafted film and like any good documentary less about shearing and more the individuals involved.

Mark’s Picks:
The Good Place. The complete first season.
What actually happens when you die? For Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) she finds the afterlife is a shiny happy friendly neighbourhood of frozen yogurt shops, amazingly accomplished people and pre-determined soulmates, all run by the super nice immortal architect Michael (Ted Danson). However the only problem is that she is the wrong Eleanor Shellstrop, and is in fact a very bad person, who scammed old people for a living and generally lived a completely reprehensible life. As she struggles to hide her true self from all around her and cope with her ‘soulmate’, university ethics professor Chidi, her true nature starts to affect the cosmic balance at play. Currently the funniest show on TV. Just genius.

Radius.
A man (Diego Klattenhoff, Homeland, The Blacklist) wakes from a car crash with no memory. Seeking help he soon discovers that anyone who comes within a certain radius of him instantly drops dead. Retreating to his home he attempts to avoid all contact until a woman (also suffering from amnesia) finds him. She is immune to what is happening and they soon realize that she can nullify the effect he has on others – but ONLY if she remains within 50 feet from him at all times. Together they attempt to get help and find out what has happened to them. The best indie Sci-Fi of the year proves that all you need is a really intriguing idea and a good script. Continue reading “Staff Picks DVDs: Best of 2018”

Staff Picks CDs: Best of 2018 -Part 2

Some more of our favourite sounds from last year. Hopefully you will find a new artist to explore, or something you missed the first time around.

Neil J’s Picks:
Ponguru / Al Fraser, Phil Boniface.
Ponguru is a truly unique album fusing seamlessly the sonic worlds of acclaimed jazz bassist Phil Boniface and leading Nga Taonga Puoro player Al Fraser . The resulting album has many faces and facets its Jazz tinged rather than Jazz, ambient in places and like a complex sonic landscape in others, throughout all its pieces it’s always fiercely original , rewarding and hugely atmospheric. Phil’s bass work is of the highest calibre imbuing the whole piece with a core of beautiful rhythmic structure. And Al’s emotive, nuanced playing shows that he is rightfully regarded as one of the finest musicians working in NZ today.

Tranquility Base hotel + casino.
Sometimes bands find it difficult to stay fresh and new musically especially after initial massive success. This however has never been a problem for the Artic Monkeys. And Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino there sixth album is easily their densest, most experimental and carefully crafted release to date. In this work they’ve invented their own brand of psychedelia. It’s like the bands own musical reaction to 60’s and 70’s science fiction films like Silent Running or 2001 a space Odyssey in places it does sound like an Alex Turner solo album. All in all it’s a brave and interesting and in places an exhilarating new direction for a band who have never sat on their laurels and are constantly in search of somewhere else to go.

Future me hates me / The Beths.
The Beths are at the moment the hottest band in New Zealand. No less than The Rolling stone magazine listed them in their top 100 bands to watch out for and described their album The future me hates me as a “ power pop monument’ . So what’s all the fuss about? It’s true that the power pop format is a tried and tested formula that has been done many times before, but the Beths bring a joyous ear worm infectiousness and exuberance to the party making The future me hates me sound not only new and fresh but fun and bright and it’s this attitude and approach to the music that’s carrying all before them.

Singularity.
Singularity is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as: “A point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially in space–time when matter is infinitely dense, such as at the centre of a black hole.” Now that’s a big concept to get your head round but it does serve as a superb road into Singularity the fifth album by Jon Hopkins. Singularity the album is a vast self-visualised glacial electronic landscape or even cosmos of an album. There’s ambient elements in it, there’s acid house elements in it , there’s certainly beats in there but through it all is a singular unique vision and a real feeling that Hopkin’s is on a trace like sonic journey of discovery that reaches inwards and outwards at the same time.

I can feel you creep into my private life.
For this reviewer one of the most interesting and important releases of 2018 was I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life by tUnE-yArDs (aka Merrill Garbus).The album is an extension of her previous works which at its core fuses solid rhythmic structure, influenced in places by dance music with lyrics that are simultaneously personal and global and definitely contain a radical political overtone. In many ways for this reviewer it was the album that summarised the spirit of our age its Zeitgeist.

Here if you listen / David Crosby, Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, Michael League.
In 1982 David Cosby had fallen far, his personal life and finances were in ruin. He was struggling with very serious drug and alcohol abuse problems and was to spent nine months of that year in a Texas prison on cocaine and heroin charges. Yet in the late 60s and early 70’s he had been one of the brightest and biggest creative forces in the hippie folk rock movement. Since then he has had a liver transplant that was paid for by Phil Collins and slowly and gradually rebuilt his life and career welding these dark moments of his life as all true artists do into his work. His 2014 solo album Croz was amongst his finest work. And just recently he released Here If You Listen. It’s a beautiful piece of work, melodic, contemplative, and melancholic at times, uplifting at times occasionally touching the darkness of his past sometimes the light it finds Crosby meditating on his own death . For me this is one of David Crosby’s essential works and ranks up there with his 1971 death of the hippy dream album If I Could Only Remember My Name.

My design, on others’ lives.
It must be one of the most difficult gigs a musician can do. Being the warm up act to a huge star who hasn’t toured for ages and has legions of passionate fans. Estere’s support slot for Grace Jones in Queenstown was a stunning success for this new artist. She handled her time with poise and aplomb gaining a fair few fans in the process. Her self-produced debut album is a lush hybrid beast, a unique combination of sonic elements from pop/jazz melodies to sensual electronica and serious rhythmic cores. She also has a beautiful soaring voice and a fine turn in lyrics, and whilst it is definitely a mainstream album it certainly has some experimental leanings too. This album marks the entrance of a vibrant new voice and sounds to this reviewer, like the kind of album a future superstar would release.

Aviary.
Julia Holter’s fifth studio Aviary is a dazzling nonlinear joyous sprawl of a work. She says she was inspired to create it from a line in a book by Lebanese-American writer Etel Adnan—“I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds”. It simultaneously exudes chaos and calm, structure and randomness there is occasionally the slightest hint of the more experimental Kate Bush about it. It’s a menagerie of sonically beautiful moments swarming and swirling around in some sort of abstract obtuse sonic prayer conceived and created by the artist.

The gristle of knuckles.
Eve de Castro-Robinson is one of New Zealand’s foremost composers and performers amongst her numerous prizes and awards she won The 2018 Best Classical Artist/ Te Kaipuoro Inamata Toa at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. The award was in part a recognition of her most recent work The Gristle of Knuckles .However The Gristle of Knuckles is far from a solo creative work it features a whole raft of collaborators who took Eve’s original compositions as their starting point and reimagined the pieces in their own way. There’s a real diversity to the range of pieces, yet the finished album sounds totally unified and cohesive thanks in no small part to the fabulous production work of Steve Garden. It’s a work classified as classical but in reality it defies genre categories. The pieces range sonically from powerful and muscular to intimate and vulnerable yet thought out the whole piece there’s a real air of exuberant, free spirited experimentation.

Mark’s Picks:
Record.
Tracey Thorn returns with another album of mature pop, her female worldview taking on the on-going struggle for equality (Sister), musical beginnings (Guitar), motherhood (Babies) & the impact of Social Media (Face). Beats merge with the sombre, and her ageless voice never loses its warmth.

Honey.
The Queen of melancholy dance beats returns with her first proper album in 8 years. Repeated plays reveal the interlocking layers of the tracks with overlapping lyrics, melodies and themes. Motivated by the tragic death of friend and collaborator, producer Christian Falk, the breakup of a relationship and several years of intense therapy, this release sees her following her own path once again.

Best local CD & Vinyl releases:
A quiet divide.
Rhian Sheehan returns with a cinematic album that melds post-rock soundscapes with lush ambient warmth, creating an emotional journey in a cascading series of beautiful and reflective moods. Lovely.

 

Mirror.
A wonderful combination of strange Jazz sounds, funky guitar, Swirling vocals, weird noises.

 

 

My design, on others’ lives.

 

 

 

Raconteur / The Frank Burkitt Band.
A musical-meld of influences from both continents – UK folk meets American bluegrass/Western Swing, with touches of his early Jazz influences. From toe tapping workouts to sincere ballads, all the seemingly disparate elements combine into a thoroughly enjoyable set of melodic narratives. It all seems effortless and simple but that belies the skill of his tight backing band, the consistently high levels of song writing and the sophisticated arrangements. No surprise it picked up a Tui for Best Folk album.

Too many millionaires.
The first all-acoustic album for Darren Watson is an artistic triumph on every level. Watson has always been a champion of the underdog, whether in the context of love or social commentary, and his authentic, pointed and gritty songs traverse the songwriting spectrum from the personal to the political.

We light fire.
Six years is a long time in the ever shifting music world and the catchy guitar pop of her last album Modern Fables has shifted into a heavier synth based sound with more layers of production on the tracks. But all the flourishes don’t detract from another set of great songs and that amazingly powerful voice, with its crystal clear range. Beginning with a slow ballad ‘Clandestine’ the album builds up, as gentle guitar strings alternate with washes of synth and grungier beats. Most albums taper off but all the best tracks are stacked towards the end.

Nine centuries.
Third album from Wgtn’s top Metallers marks Bulletbelt’s final album with vocalist Jolene Tempest and guitarist Seth Jackson, who left after the album had been recorded. Guests include Midnight’s Vanik, (solo on Cloak the Night), and Massacre vocalist Kam Lee (vocals on ‘Show Me Your Throat). Lyrically the album focuses on the witch trials of the Dark Ages, the examination of such brutal & violent themes paying off with some intense and aggressive tracks. A punk energy in a Metal framework, raw and powerful.

Seeing things.
Most bands first albums are the result of many years hard work, often resulting in the pinnacle of their sound – which subsequent albums then try to recapture. It’s a rare band that grows better with each release, but Eb & Sparrow were in that category. ‘Seeing things’ shifts their sound from Country/Americana of the first few releases into a more sophisticated lush soundscape. The lap steels are replaced with a more shimmery guitar sound that evokes the languid lines of The Cowboy Junkies or Mazzy Star, all focused around Ebony Lamb’s burnished vocals. A beautiful collection of songs that finds you reaching for the repeat button as soon as the last track fades out.

The hill temple.VINYL
Awesome new album from the ‘witches’ of Hex, with new cohort Jason Erskine. Beautifully soaring harmonies, delicious melodies, crunching guitar lines. All the best elements of indie rock surrounded by a fierce female empowerment aesthetic. Bewitching.

 

Like splitting the head from the body.VINYL
The debut full length album from the fabulous Womb. Every track swirls in and out of beautiful dreamy vocals and layers of languid guitar and synth lines. Music with a sense of grandeur that uplifts the listener on swelling waves of lush sound. Completely sublime.

 

Axels’s Picks:
How to solve our human problems.
Melancholic. Intimate. Pop.

 

 

Jassbusters.
Groovy. Soulful. Eccentric.

 

 

Tell me how you really feel.
Genuine. Stoner. Raucous.

 

 

Sex & food.
Vintage. Mind-altered. Catchy.

 

 

Marble skies.
Melody. Harmony. Energy.

 

 

Nothing is still.
Emotional. Ambient. Deep.

 

 

All melody.
Experimental. Gentle. Sentimental.

 

 

Snow bound/ The Chills.
Uplifting. Bright. Easy peasy.

 

 

Isle of dogs : original soundtrack / music composed by Alexandre Desplat.
Instrumental. Rhythmic. Quirky.

 

 

Suspiria : music for the Luca Guadagnino film.
Ominous. Atmospheric. Hypnotic.

 

 

Make way for love.
Sensitive. Bittersweet. Mellow. Continue reading “Staff Picks CDs: Best of 2018 -Part 2”

Staff Picks CDs: Best of 2018 -Part 1

A round-up of our favourite sounds from last year. Hopefully you will find a new artist to explore, or something you missed the first time around.

John’s Picks:
Konoyo.
The ninth record from Canadian electronic artist Tim Hecker is a sublimely beautiful work that sounds like lifting a veil to expose atomic and sub atomic processes at work, and is quite unlike anything else, including the previous Tim Hecker records.

 

Brainfeeder X : a 36-track compilation showcasing the past, present and future of the label.
With influences ranging across jazz, hip-hop, r ’n’ b, house, and electronica, the Brainfeeder sound is genuinely ground-breaking and this tenth anniversary double disc set shows why the label has grown from a small L.A. based underdog into a global cult phenomenon.

Wide awaaaaake!
The post punk influences are still plentiful, but the new album has a gloss of production that manages to expand their musical palette without losing the bands’ angular garage rock stance.

 

7.
Their most immersive, and possibly their most engaging, album to date with the usual gentle drum programming replaced by a thunderous live drummer that helps move this record into the deeper realms of dream pop inhabited by bands such as My Bloody Valentine.

 

Music for installations.
Brian Eno re-affirms his standing as the Grand Master of ambience with a stunning six disc set filled with gorgeous washes of bells and drones and unidentifiable luminous shimmers moving across widescreen stereo fields, beautiful, always different, yet always the same.

 

No sounds are out of bounds / The Orb.
The driving dub bass lines that propel each track are the only constants over a record that touches many bases, all peppered with The Orb’s distinctive humorous vocal samples, to create, arguably, the most commercially accessible and one of the best releases of their long and befuddling career.

 

Listening to pictures : pentimento volume one.
The former jazz trumpet player, who initiated the idea of the “Fourth World” alongside Brian Eno on 1980’s ‘Possible Musics’, has released, at 81 years old, a remarkable record when most others so long into their career are merely re-treading old ground.

 

The loneliest girl.
Difficult to pin down, AK pop chanteuse Chelsea Nikkel confounds with her fourth album of thoughtfully produced bitter sweet songs within which lurks a deceptively subversive baroque take on the pop format that is entertaining from start to finish.

 

The animal spirits / James Holden & the Animal Spirits.
UK electronic producer James Holden has been pushing the boundaries of electronica for most of his career and his most recent album, recorded live in the studio, treads a path far more akin to the wild transcendence of free jazz greats such as Pharaoh Sanders than any current electronic artists.

 

Infinite moment / The Field.
Swedish electronic producer Axel Willner, aka The Field, continues his musical pilgrimage chasing endless repetitive loops to an infinite beyond, creating a masterful album by one of the most original electronic producers active today.

 

Bottle it in.
Kurt Vile’s highly characteristic slacker Americana has by now become expertly crafted and, via the unusual sense of intimacy he is able to create, he maintains interest throughout this long album, which validates his cultural niche as the new millennium’s equivalent of artists such as R.E.M and Neil Young.

Suspiria : music for the Luca Guadagnino film.
This is definitely not sunday bar-b-que music, but the fine orchestral and choral arrangements, the creepy electronica and the gentle, sad, guitar based songs make for some great late night uneasy listening.

 

Toitū te pūoro.
Al Fraser, the Wellington musician and instrument maker takes the listener on a deep, dreamlike and evocative journey into the mysterious, mystical and unique sound worlds created by the ancient taonga puoro.

 

Shearwater drift / Al Fraser, Steve Burridge, Neil Johnstone.
A fully immersive sonic collage that, over 18 tracks, features Taongo Puoro within soundscapes created by synthesisers, percussion, treated samples and other instruments that is not an easy listen, at times it can be quite eerie, but the dark and ethereal ambient atmosphere is the perfect vehicle by which the mystery of these ancient instruments can be experienced.

Collapse.
This five track ep is the latest in a series of EPs that have followed Aphex Twin’s triumphant 2014 return with the album ‘Syro’ and is his most familiar so far, bearing all of the hallmarks of classic Aphex Twin electronica – frantic stuttered beats, rubbery bass lines, beautiful submerged melodies, evocative vocal samples and complex shifting arrangements.

Switched on volumes 1-3.
The UK post-rock pioneers, who have been on indefinite hiatus since 2010, are well on the way to becoming a cult band, with a worldwide dedicated fan base who refuse to accept that they are no more and re-releases like this help keep their myth alive, collecting the band’s three ‘90’s compilations of singles and rarities in one nifty box set.

Singles 1978-2016 / The Fall.
Made especially relevant by Mark E Smith’s 2018 demise, this excellent box set compiles, over seven discs, every single – both A and B sides – from one of the greatest indie bands ever – The Fall.

 

 

 

 

Enclosures 2011-2016.
South Island electronic composer Clinton Williams, aka Omit, is considered by many to be the perfect reclusive genius and this beautifully presented five disc box set, with a written intro from Bruce Russell, contains Omit’s most recent output, previously released as limited run CDRs all hand made by the artist.

The dreaming [2018].
‘The Dreaming’ was her fourth record sitting right in the middle of her transition from ‘pop star’ to ‘serious artist’ and both audiences and critics were slightly baffled at the time (it is referred to as her ‘mad’ album); she suffered nervous exhaustion after the year it took to make, but she produced an unrecognised masterpiece.

Shinji’s Picks:
Snow bound/ The Chills.
Thankfully Martin Phillipps’s health seems better now. Only 3 years after the widely acclaimed ‘Silver Bullets’, the Chills provides another stellar album. A quirky mysteriousness is still there but Phillipps is more mature and optimistic. He keeps his pop-craftmanship in great form and offers the melancholic yet bouncy sound with glorious melodies. It’s The Chills as good as it gets. Brilliant.

Lean on me.
Hello like before : the songs of Bill Withers.
To celebrate Bill Withers’ 80th birthday, two fantastic tribute albums came out late 2018 and they both offer wonderful listens. A star artist of Blue Note Records, Jose James has been performing Withers’ songs on stage, and the album ‘Lean on Me’ features his stoic vocal with deep, slow grooves created by his band. A neo-soul singer, Anthony David, who is often compared with Withers, takes a more straight forward approach, showing full love and respect to Withers. It’s been more than 3 decades since Withers walked away from the music industry, but his honest, caring-for-others songs may be something we need in the state of the world today.

Ventriloquism.
From the big names such as Prince, Tina Turner and Sade to the typical 80s hit by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, they are all songs from ‘85 to ‘90 (except TLC’s Waterfalls in ‘94). A cover album of the 80s R&B classics is rare and what Meschell Ndegeocello does with them is totally original. With the minimal arrangements, she and her band display superb performances and colour them with a murky textured otherworldly ambience. This is an exceptional cover album by the extraordinary artist.

Vortex / Sonar with David Torn.
Swiss jazz-progressive rock quartet Sonar has established an utterly unique sound – often playing in irregular time and creating a minimal stoic groove – and with this album featuring the one-of-a-kind guitarist David Torn, they seem to move to another level. Torn originally worked as a producer but ended up playing on all tunes as well, and brings a sonically inventive soundscape with huge improvisations on some tracks. It’s stoic yet dynamic, a marvellous risk-taking music.

Contra la indecisión / Bobo Stenson Trio.
This album was released in January 2018 but remains one of the best jazz recordings of the year. Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson is now in his 70s but his graceful lyricism shines more than ever and provides one of his finest albums. The trio shows a great cohesion and versatility and weaves beautiful stories. It’s music that grows inside of you like a good wine. Exquisite.

Mi mundo.
Cuban shining new star Brenda Navarrete infuses the traditional Afro-Cuban music with the modern stylish sound, and her debut album ‘Mi Mundo’ (My World) is full of thrilling moments. Navarrete’s expressive voice and her percussions lead the charge throughout, and the Cuban all-star supporting band shows amazing skills, creating smooth yet rich, dynamic grooves. Sensational.

All melody.
Plus.
German composer/pianist Nils Frahm has been a prominent post-classical music artist, and ‘All Melody’, which started with building his new studio, shows his exceptional talent as a producer as well as a player, exquisitely assembling a great variety of musical elements. Somewhere between techno, ambient and classical, it’s a beautifully executed, kaleidoscopic music. Frahm also joined the Danish electronica trio System with graceful keyboard plays. This is a wonderful collaboration, and System masterfully blends Frahm’s organic tones with their minimal yet rich soundscape, and makes it a mesmerising, ambient album.

Johann Sebastian Bach / Vikingur Olafsson.
As if making an ultimate Bach playlist, a young Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson excellently juxtaposes Bach’s compositions, and tackles them from a variety of angles with fresh ideas. His pianism is sophisticated and refreshing, and brings out astonishingly colourful faces of Bach. This incredible Bach should reach beyond the classical music lovers like Glenn Gould did.

Staff Picks DVDs – Nov/Dec.

The last lot of Staff Pick DVDs for the year features a mix of Foreign films, indie Sci-Fi, new TV shows and a poignant tribute to actor Harry Dean Stanton.

Foxtrot.
Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz’s bold first feature Lebanon (2009) shocked the world, depicting warfare exclusively through the gunsight view from the tank. Eight years down the line, his new work appears slightly more conventional but equally impressive. A Tel Aviv couple are devastated to learn that their son, who is serving in the military, has been killed, but it turns out to be misinformation. Then, the story, which uniquely divided into three parts, unfolds with an unexpected twist. Without the scenes of conflicts or gun battles, Maoz deftly highlights the tragedy of war from the different angle. With a superb cinematography, it’s an immaculately crafted, flawless work. The only criticism may be the fact that the whole movie is too perfect and too structured. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable achievement. (Shinji)

Radius.
A man (Diego Klattenhoff, Homeland, The Blacklist) wakes from a car crash with no memory. Seeking help he soon discovers that anyone who comes within a certain radius of him instantly drops dead. Retreating to his home he attempts to avoid all contact until a woman (also suffering from amnesia) finds him. She is immune to what is happening and they soon realize that she can nullify the effect he has on others – but ONLY if she remains within 50 feet from him at all times. Together they attempt to get help and find out what has happened to them. Tense and low key with minimal use of effects, this is another great indie Sci-Fi film that proves that all you need is a really intriguing idea and a good script. Klattenhoff excels at straight arrow good guys, and is perfectly cast. Has a nasty twist at the end that you may not see coming. Solidly entertaining. (Mark)

Captain Fantastic.
This film came out about 2 years ago and went around the film festival circuit winning great reviews all around. If you are anything like me, one look at the cover and the story line will have you interested, yet will fill you with hesitation, this movie screams hard hitting. Rest assured this film is hard hitting, and at times intense, filled with big emotions and questions about life, how we live it and we view and judge each other for the choices they make. Put aside your understandable hesitation and make the time to watch Captain Fantastic. You are bound to be blown away! (Jess)

Upgrade.
More indie Sc-Fi with ‘Upgrade’ a mix of cyberpunk tech stylings and action. Logan Marshall-Green (Quarry) is Grey, an analogue guy in a near-future digital world, a mechanic who fixes classic cars for rich clients while his wife works for an advanced Tech company. When his wife’s self-driving car malfunctions one day in a deserted part of town they are attacked, his wife is murdered and he ends up as a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. After a suicide attempt by overdosing on medication, he is visited by a famous young tech innovator who offers to illegally surgically implant his latest creation, an AI chip called STEM, into his spine and restore motor functions to his body. Healing faster than expected Grey is surprised to hear STEM speak into his mind. STEM says it can help identify his wife’s attackers, and using his new found ‘upgraded’ abilities he decides to take revenge…’Upgrade’ comes off as a more action orientated take on a Black Mirror episode, depicting a world of human-computer augmentation and ubiquitous police drones that doesn’t seem that far off, however like most things in a Black Mirror type world, there is a price for everything… (Mark)

Lucky.
His career spanned more than six decades. Harry Dean Stanton appeared in countless movies, but played a rare substantial role – probably the first time since the memorable ‘Paris, Texas’ – in his final movie ‘Lucky’. In fact, the whole movie pays tribute to Stanton, who was 90 years old when it was shot and died not long after. Following an old man Lucky (Stanton), who lives alone in a small desert town, it’s a subtle study of facing mortality. Although nothing much happens in the movie, Stanton still has a remarkable screen presence, exquisitely expressing the complexity of the character, from loneliness to stubbornness to tenderness. Some of the casts are played by Stanton’s real life friends including David Lynch, who is the best supporting actor here. Harry Dean Stanton wasn’t the biggest name in the industry, but no one was given as good a send-off in this wonderful fashion. Well-deserved. (Shinji)

Rick and Morty. Season 3.
Anarchic animated comedy from the creator of Community, that follows the adventures of an eccentric alcoholic scientist and his good-hearted but fretful grandson across an infinite number of realities, with the characters travelling to other planets and dimensions through portals and Rick’s flying car. Hilariously sick and depraved. (Mark)

Room / a film by Lenny Abrahamson.
The heart-breaking story of a young woman and her five year old son who are kept prisoner in a shed, and what happens to them when they are ultimately freed. (Belinda)

 

The Americans. The complete final season.
Things seem grim at the outset of the final season of ‘The Americans’ set in 1987, three years after the last season, and nine weeks before the pivotal Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Philip has quit intelligence work and is now full-time travel agent, while Elizabeth is still a zealous operative, fulfilling increasingly dangerous missions and training Paige to follow in her footsteps. The cracks in their marriage are becoming increasingly wider, and only worsen as Elizabeth is recruited for a secret Mission by the anti-Gorbachev Soviet Military, and then Philip is asked to return to intelligence work to monitor what she is doing. As the summit deadline approaches can they move past their increasingly separate ideologies to save their marriage and, as FBI Agent (and neighbour) Stan Beeman’s suspicions start to solidify, can they even save themselves? A lot of series fail in the last episodes, but ‘The Americans’ delivers a fitting wrap up for each of its characters, though perhaps not always what you expect, and ends on the same level of high quality that sustained its entire run. Recommended. (Mark)

Staff Pick CDs for Nov/Dec: Part 2

Toitu Te Puoro album cover

The second part of the last round-up of Staff Picks for the year features an eclectic mix of recommendations from Electronica to NZ, to Box-set reissues, and Indie.

Hot burritos! : the Flying Burrito Brothers anthology, 1969-1972.
The outlandishly titled Flying Burrito Brothers are the quintessential country-rock experimenters. Led by the legendary Gram Parsons, the group created a distinctive style of “cosmic American music” that fused country music with R&B, rock, gospel and vaguely psychedelic production. The heart-wrenching pinnacle of the collection is Parson’s stunning, strained and immensely emotive performance on the track ‘Hot Burrito #1’. The Burrito’s influenced everyone from the Rolling Stones to Wilco and left a musical legacy well worth exploring. (Joe)

Switched on volumes 1-3.
The UK post-rock pioneers, who have been on indefinite hiatus since 2010, are well on the way to becoming a cult band, with a worldwide dedicated fan base who refuse to accept that they are no more. Re-releases like this help keep their myth alive, collecting the band’s three ‘90’s compilations of singles and rarities in one nifty box set. This is a great opportunity for the curious to explore this unique band, as it runs from their very first 45 – Super Electric – through to their later more experimental phase on the third double disc compilation – Aluminium Tunes – originally released by Warp Records. The odd marriage of krautrock, exotica and electronics that created their sound has never been equaled (or even attempted for that matter) by anyone else and this collection is an excellent introduction. (John)

The animal spirits / James Holden & the Animal Spirits.
UK electronic producer James Holden has been pushing the boundaries of electronica for most of his career via his aptly named Border Community label and here, on his third record since 2006’s excellent ‘The Idiots Are Winning’, he has finally broken free of any constraints and has made a record far closer to jazz than electronica, playing his wonky synthesiser in a real live band with a drummer and free blowing saxophones and woodwind instruments. The whole thing was recorded live in the studio with no edits or overdubs (on a full moon according to the sleeve notes) and treads a path far more akin to the wild transcendence of free jazz greats such as Pharaoh Sanders than any current electronic artists. Brave and genre defying this is an exultant, joyous album and is highly recommended. (John)

Honey.
The Queen of melancholy dance beats returns with her first proper album in 8 years. Previous album Body Talk was compiled from a number of E.Ps and was almost like a mini-best of. ‘Honey’ moves away from an electronic-pop sound towards a more languid sensual vibe, featuring collaborations with Joseph Mount of Metronomy, Klas Åhlund, & Adam Bainbridge of Kindness. It’s one of those albums that doesn’t really impress on first listen. However repeated plays reveal the interlocking layers of the tracks, which function in many ways as an entire suite with overlapping lyrics, melodies and themes, revealing a more vulnerable state of mind following the tragic death of friend and collaborator, producer Christian Falk, the breakup of a relationship, and several years of intense therapy. Robyn has always seemed a pop star unlike any other, her music never in service to trends, producers du jour, or relentless cross marketing, and this release sees her following her own path once more. (Mark)

Greatest hits vol. 1 : deluxe edition.
The US experimental psychedelic alt-rockers, The Flaming Lips, over 20 albums and countless singles and side projects have become an institution by sheer persistence if nothing else. This three disc set, with excellent cover art, spans the 25 years of their Warners career from 1992 to 2017 with discs one and two featuring highlights chronologically and disc three assembling rare tracks and b-sides. The very fact that such an avowedly weird band can attain the festival headlining status they have enjoyed is remarkable in itself, and this collection includes all sides of their creative impulses from sweet sing along indie anthems to raucous freakouts. Taken in one sitting like this, the stylistic tangents the band have taken make more sense with it all hanging together remarkably well and this collection offers a great chance for the curious to delve into one of the most eccentric and creative acts of the past few years. (John)

Dance on the blacktop.
The shoegaze revival has been underway for long enough now for the style to become more than a nod to the past and a recognised contemporary sub-genre, and US band Nothing have the sound perfected. The production is crytalline and presents the huge guitar swathes in all their harmonic glory, with the half spoken vocals perfectly placed in the mix. This is the Philadelphia band’s third record and they have built a sizeable reputation over their short career as “the world’s unluckiest band” after a saga involving incarceration, a pharmaceutical sadist and permanent brain damage. “Dance On a Blacktop” is prison slang for fighting and here they appear use it to mean riding the chaos of existence with grace – which is a good way to describe their loud, dense and melodic take on indie rock. (John)

Treasure hiding : the Fontana years.
If there was ever a band seduced by beauty it was The Cocteau Twins. Their music is a heavenly ethereal sonic wash but the question that plagued the band pretty much from their formation is, was there more to their music than beauty alone? And perhaps is beauty enough? Well Treasure Hiding The Fontana Years goes some considerable way to answering these questions, sure their trademark ethereal sound is there but this box set contains some of their most experimental, progressive and at times personal works. It’s no secret that the band were suffering from personal difficulties and Elizabeth Fraser uses this as creative fuel bearing her heart in some of the lyrics. Other pieces are much more abstract and obtuse. The fantastic Otherness EP sees the band in an ambient, dubby impressionistic mode very different from their previous works but sumptuous none the less and with grit buried in the strange eeriness of the music. In these pieces you can clearly hear a rich new direction the band could have gone in if their internal problems hadn’t ripped them apart. (Neil J)

Infinite moment / The Field.
Swedish electronic producer Axel Willner, aka The Field, continues his musical pilgrimage chasing endless repetitive loops to an infinite beyond. His distinctive compositional style is either loved or loathed by listeners who willingly enter the hypnotic zones generated by The Field’s everlasting loops or find the very idea claustrophobic and relentlessly boring. Here, six albums in, Axel Willner shows just how finely he has mastered his craft – there are still no breaks, no drops and barely any key changes, instead, the tracks are a little longer, the 4/4 a little slower and the harmonics, melodies and variations that lurk within are a little more subtle; all in all a masterful achievement by one of the most original electronic producers active today. (John)

Bottle it in.
Kurt Vile has, over seven albums, gradually moved from the fringes of alt-rock to inhabit a central place. His latest album consolidates that position, as he applies his distinctive laconic stance to a collection of well written and produced songs, performed with the Violators as his backing band. His highly characteristic slacker Americana has by now become expertly crafted and via the unusual sense of intimacy he is able to create he maintains interest throughout this long album, taken at a very relaxed pace, and which includes several tracks over ten minutes long. Overall, this imaginative and curiously engrossing record ably validates his cultural niche as the new millennium’s equivalent of artists such as R.E.M and Neil Young. (John)

Aquemini.
Best known for their smash hits ‘Ms. Jackson’ (2000) and ‘Hey Ya!’ (2003), Outkast’s magnum opus arrived in 1998. Aquemini captures the pure alchemy of Big Boi and Andre 3000 at their finest, rapping over funky and futuristic beats. Big Boi grounds the group with his streetwise perspective and braggadocious charm while Andre 3000 reaches for the stars with his unique extra-terrestrial philosophy. Blaring horns, a pounding bassline and quirky storytelling make ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ a highlight. Other standout tracks include the anthemic ‘Skew It on the Bar-B’, the iconoclastic ‘Return of the G’ and the catchy head-nodder ‘Rosa Parks’. (Joe)

Suspiria : music for the Luca Guadagnino film.
Thom Yorke’s soundtrack for the remake of the 1977 Italian supernatural horror film Suspiria is a surprise because, within the 25 tracks of the expected doom laden strings, suspense laden tinkly piano and creepy ambient electronics, are featured six new songs, which makes it considerably more than a mere soundtrack. In fact, if the two discs were edited down it would make a very fine Thom Yorke solo album. The context of a horror film allows Yorke to fully indulge his ever present melancholia and the results are very satisfying. This is definitely not sunday bar-b-que music, but the fine orchestral and choral arrangements, the creepy electronica and the gentle, sad, guitar based songs make for some great late night uneasy listening. (John)

Toitū te pūoro.
The perfect sound recordings made possible by modern state of the art studio technology is allowing contemporary listeners the privilege of being able to hear traditional Maori instrumentation as it has never been heard before. Al Fraser, the Wellington musician and instrument maker dedicated to the preservation and ongoing enhancement of this rich musical heritage, here, on his fifth CD release, takes the listener on a deep, dreamlike and evocative journey into the mysterious, mystical and unique sound worlds created by the ancient taonga puoro. Many of the sounds here are so fine and subtle as to be almost inaudible, but that is just the point, because in stretching the hearing of the listener, they are then drawn further in to ‘Te Korekore – the realm between being and non-being’. Take some time out to listen yourself. (John)

Solo anthology : the best of Lindsey Buckingham.
The now ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham’s solo albums have always seemed to be overlooked amongst the hype and turmoil of Fleetwood Mac, many of their later albums being structured around a bulk of songs he had set aside for solo projects. This 3-disc compilation includes material from his 6 studio albums, live albums, the collaboration with Christine McVie, tracks from 80s soundtracks, and a couple of unreleased songs. A nice mix of music from the catchy pop of his debut solo album Out of the Cradle to the more acoustic and layered works of later albums. What emerges is a portrait of a great guitarist (the fantastic classical styled playing on his first album still amazes) and songwriter, in search of something deeper than the music he was making in a hugely successful commercial band. Recommended if you’re a fan. (Mark)

Lageos / Actress x London Contemporary Orchestra.
Not an easy listen, but rewarding for the curious, is the recent collaboration between Actress, the London based electronic producer, and the modern classical ensemble, The London Contemporary Orchestra. It is an, at times, wild ride, veering from abstract noise to modern classical drones and treated piano, fractured beats to gamelan style rhythms and finally settling down a little for the last four tracks which have a lovely haunting beauty. The unlikely pairing works overall, creating a work that is intriguing and unsettling in equal measure. (John)

Bunny.
Difficult to stylistically pin down, Mathew Dear has been following a singular path of hybrid electro pop since 2003 across six albums under his own name, as well as producing dance floor techno under a variety of aliases. Since his predominantly instrumental 2003 debut, Leave Luck To Heaven, his solo albums have gradually become more songs based, culminating in his latest, which is as close to pop as he has ever strayed. However, it is a version of pop quite like no other, featuring his gravelly baritone voice amidst an array of funky, wobbly and expansive beats and sounds, mainly electronic, which turn these songs into what one could imagine hearing from an FM station broadcasting, possibly, from Venus. (John)

Vanished gardens / Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams.
Some say that this collaboration pioneers a new genre of ‘Americana Jazz’ and it’s a very good description of this music. For their second album, the legendary jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd and the Marvels invite one-of-a-kind singer Lucinda Williams, and present a wonderful music, bringing together jazz, country, blues and gospel. Not only Lloyd and Williams but The Marvels is also a group of master musicians – Bill Frisell (guitar), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland (drums) – and everyone here marvellously displays their unique genius; unmistakable dusty Williams’ voice, Frisell’s texturized guitar, versatile Lloyd’s rich tone etc., to make a great band sound. Most of the songs are originals by Lloyd or Williams but the album closes with two glorious covers; Thelonious Monk’s ‘Monk’s Mood’ and Jimi Hendrix’s masterpiece ‘Angel’. Sublime. (Shinji)

Staff Pick CDs for Nov/Dec: Part 1

GAS CD Cover

The first part of the latest round-up of Staff Picks features an eclectic mix of recommendations from Electronica to NZ, to Box-set reissues, and Indie. Keep an eye out for part two coming soon!

Suffuse.
Christchurch based guitarist Roy Montgomery’s first band were the Pin Group whose 7” single ‘Ambivalence’ was the very first Flying Nun release back in 1981. Almost 40 years later Roy Montgomery continues to push the edges and his latest release finds him creating six deeply layered shimmering soundscapes, each featuring a different guest female vocalist including Liz Harris, aka Grouper, and Julianna Barwick. These beautifully produced ambient experimental drones are deeply hypnotic and are given an added edge by the vocal component that humanizes the sounds without detracting from their transcendental properties. Overall a very successful project that, in a perfect world, would find cult guitar legend Roy Montgomery a wider audience. (John)

DJ-kicks : DJ Seinfeld.
It’s a sure sign that a new electronic sub-genre has been validated when a leading DJ of the style is asked to submit a mix to the long running DJ Kicks series. Number 64 in the series is from Swedish producer, Armand Jakobsson, aka, DJ Seinfeld, a leading light in the fresh Lo-Fi House sub-genre. Confusingly, Lo-Fi House appears to be an attitude rather than an actual sound – predicated on a deliberately rough around the edges production style and a can-do, outsider attitude. Here we have a cool selection of contemporary electronica, light and groovy, that moves very smoothly through deep house, breakbeats, electro, downbeat and more with, interestingly, eight of the 21 tracks coming from Melbourne producers. (John)

Loving the alien [1983-1988].
There has been a few great David Bowie releases in 2018 including Welcome to the Blackout (live London 78) and December saw the first DVD release of his seminal Glastonbury performance from 2000, often cited as the greatest Glastonbury headline performance ever. There is also the continuation of the fabulous box set releases of his back catalogue, this one entitled Loving the alien (1983-1988), an eleven disc outing that covers his most commercial period. In late 60s Kenneth Pitt, one of Bowies early managers, tried to turn David Bowie into an all-round mass market entertainer and in the 80’s under his own steam that’s exactly what he became. And I guess that’s the only way you can view these releases. They just don’t inhabit the same worlds as his 70’s output- these albums are more Chic, or Michael Jackson, than Ziggy Stardust. However if you listen to them with your 80’s disco ears on there is a lot to be enjoyed! The remastered version of Lets Dance has many pleasures. The Loving the Alien album has one or two fine tracks but the most interesting aspect of this release is the new version of Never Let Me Down. This 2018 version has been totally reworked with many of the classic 80’s elements removed and replaced with completely new elements. This new version is certainly a vast improvement on the original release and free of the 80s bombastic production; it gains a new life with songs being given the space to breathe and so becomes subtle and complex in tone. (Neil J)

All that reckoning.
It was 1986 that the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies played a key part in creating the template for alt-country with their classic Lo-Fi album The Trinity Session. Exactly 30 years on, it’s great to hear, on their first record in six years, that these musos in their 50’s are still creating their beautiful, fiery, fragile sound world. This collection of dark, existentialist songs that deal with political, social and personal situations are beautifully delivered by vocalist Margo Timmins, accompanied by her brothers on guitar and drums, with bass player, Alan Anton. The often delicate songs are frequently shot through with discordant noise and a blurry psychedelic edge, sometimes subtle, other times harsh, to create atmospheres haunting, tender and tense. (John)

Body / The Necks.
Back to the Chris Cutler (Henry Cow/Art Bears)’s ReR label, the world famous Australian cult trio, The Necks’ 20th album finds them a superb form. Once again, it’s a 60 minutes-long improvisation affair, opening and closing with the beautifully executed piano-led ambient sound. However, the chunk of middle part is a frantic electric guitar riff like a storm. This definitely comes as a shock for many but probably not so surprising, if you remember that they have been one of the most forward-thinking, push-the-boundary bands. It’s been almost three decades since they started performing together but they still have fresh ideas and keep evolving. This is one of their bests and confirms again that they are truly original. Phenomenal. (Shinji)

Loop-finding-jazz-records.
Originally released in 2001, Loop Finding Jazz Records was groundbreaking in the, then, new domain of minimal electronica, featuring subtle use of micro samples and flickering glitch generated rhythms to create music that was oddly mesmerizing. This record has become a cult favorite and has aged surprisingly well, the languorous textures and sub-sonic bass creating a timeless sound world, somewhere between ambient and sub-aquatic minimal house. Despite being created with micro-samples taken from jazz records, this album bears no resemblance to that genre, presenting more a strange and dreamlike soundtrack for an imaginary, removed and flawless post-human existence, perfect for home listening. (John)

Re:member.
Its hard to credit that Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds started out as drummer for a hardcore band, as this collection of incredibly delicate and achingly beautiful pieces for piano, cello, orchestra and electronics are about as far from hardcore drumming as can be imagined. Recognized as one of the leading figures in the modern classical genre, Arnalds here applies subtle electronic algorithms to his compositions via the use of software he developed that generates alternate notes on two other pianos from the notes he is playing. The results are gorgeous harmonics that add complexity to the deceptively simple and beautifully restrained compositions which straddle modern classical, ambient and electronica. (John)

Negro swan.
A deeply sensitive and resonant album, Blood Orange delivers beautiful production and emotive vocal performances. Pitchfork reviewer Jason King put it best when he described the album as capturing “the scattershot, jittery, anxious, blissed-out-depressive feeling of what it’s like to be a marginalized person at a toxic and retrograde moment in global culture and politics.” Recommended tracks are ‘Orlando’ and ‘Charcoal Baby’. (Joe)

Searching for the spark.
Special mention must go to the Steve Hillage Box Set – if only for its sheer magnitude – so make sure you are feeling fit if you decide to access this item, as just carrying the weighty box home presents a challenge. Contained within are 22 CDs and four books which encapsulate the UK psych-rock guitarist’s entire career. While not exactly a household name, Steve Hillage is probably most famous for his role as guitarist on Gong’s cult Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, after which he went on to a solo career – as documented in this box set. Of particular interest are the recordings of and writings about the early Canterbury scene, which he was a formative part of as guitarist for the bands Uriel and Khan. Also included is the first System 7 album, his, still current, techno based project, featuring guest artists such as Derek May, Alex Paterson and Paul Oakenfold. (John)

Rausch.
German electronic producer Wolfgang Voigt has been running his Gas project since 1996 and his music has taken a darker turn for this, his sixth release. His compositions feature processed orchestral samples densely layered, frequently over a deeply submerged 4/4 rhythm, that evoke, if anything, a warm, timeless cocoon. Here, however, the atmosphere has become foreboding with dissonance and anxiety entering into a world that once seemed welcoming. ‘Rausch’ translates as an ecstatic state or fever dream, and this music, which contains bright and beautiful moments emerging from an often imposing and dense gloom, while not for the faint-hearted, offers a rewarding deep listening experience. (John)

Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we? : 25th anniversary edition.
With Dolores O’Riordan’s distinctive voice, The Cranberries were one of those bands you either loved or hated, but there was no denying the success and pervasiveness of their first 2 albums in the early 90s. Last year the band came together to plan a 25th Anniversary Box Set release of their debut album, and following O’Riordan’s untimely death in January, the remaining band members have decided to go ahead with the 25th Anniversary Box Set as a tribute to her. As well as the original album, it includes a plethora of recordings from that era spread across 3 discs, including some rare tracks sourced from their early cassette releases as ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’. It also includes a 52-page hardback book that details the creation of the record and the history of the bands ‘rags to riches’ journey, which is itself a fascinating look back at a Music Industry that doesn’t exist anymore. A fitting tribute to one of the most iconic voices of popular music. (Mark)

The loneliest girl.
Difficult to pin down, AK pop chanteuse Chelsea Nikkel confounds with her fourth album, which extends her previous synth-pop arrangements into a wide array of new areas, with each of the 12 tracks pretty much inhabiting a different pop arena. Produced by alt-pop maestro Jonathon Bree, this is pop, but pop with a distinctly Lynchian feel, as within the sweet vocals and pink ribbons beats a dark heart delivering these thoughtfully produced bitter sweet songs. It all hangs together remarkably well, and beneath the la-la-las there lurks a deceptively subversive baroque take on the pop format that is entertaining from start to finish. (John)

Strictly rhythm : underground ’90-’97.
The latest edition in Cherry Red’s expertly curated re-issue series features a three disc collection of standout tracks from NY based Strictly Rhythm, the label that played a vital role in creating the dance genre known as House. Home to artists such as Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry, Louie Vega and Armand Van Helden, Strictly Rhythm was the leading US house music label throughout the ‘90’s. This retrospective is almost a history of NY underground house music itself, with the biggest hits deliberately overlooked in favor of club classics, hidden treasures and tracks never before released on CD. With all tracks fully restored and remastered this is a great peek into the roots of contemporary dance music. (John)

Anthem of the sun.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead’s second album. Their spacey, sun-tanned San Francisco rock is on form for these groovy and psychedelic tunes. The album is grounded in folk-rock and blues, but takes cues from free-jazz. Keith Richards once said of the Grateful Dead that they were “just poodling about for hours and hours. Jerry Garcia, boring s—, man. Sorry, Jerry.” But on this album, the Dead are tighter than ever. Standout songs include New Potato Caboose and That’s it for the Other One. The anniversary edition includes the 1968 version and 1971 remix of the original album and previously unreleased live recordings. (Joe)

The nature of imitation.
The new album by Oliver Johnson, AKA Dorian Concept, is on Brainfeeder, the LA experimental hip-hop label, which makes sense for a musician who played keyboards in Flying Lotus’s touring band and worked on Cosmogramma…  and the experience shows. This is music “meant to play on our short attention spans” and the live instrumentation inspired by jazz, fusion, prog and funk and subject to an intense process of digital editing, creates surprisingly listenable stuttered, chopped up shapeshifting music comparable to other Brainfeeder artists such as Flying Lotus and Thundercat with a solid nod to Squarepusher. With the fleeting appearance of soulful vocals and untreated piano to mellow things out, this is an intriguing musical ride. (John)

Collapse.
The appearance of cryptic 3D posters on the walls of the London Underground network bearing the Aphex Twin logo was a sure sign that something was brewing and when the video for a new track called Collapse was banned, as it failed the test for TV image sequences that would provoke photosensitive epilepsy, it became clear that Richard James aka Aphex Twin was in the area once again. This five track ep is the latest in a series of EPs that have followed Aphex Twin’s triumphant 2014 return with the album Syro and is his most familiar so far, bearing all of the hallmarks of classic Aphex Twin electronica – frantic stuttered beats, rubbery bass lines, beautiful submerged melodies, evocative vocal samples and complex shifting arrangements. (John)

Staff Pick DVDs – Aug/Sep

A collection of new Staff Pick DVDs & TV Shows. From indie Sci-Fi, to Art intrigue, coming-of-age drama, and savage political satire.

Breath.
Australian writer Tim Winton is regarded by many as one of the finest writers in the world at this moment in time. His collection of coming of age short stories The Turning has already been adapted into a very fine celluloid feature. This latest film adaptation Breath is another coming of age story which was recently one of the highlights of the 2018 NZIFF and it has now been released on DVD. The book and film are about two teenagers on the cusp of adulthood learning about life, death and love through their shared passion for surfing and their occasionally troubled friendship. The surfing scenes are superbly done, and short of donning a wet suit and going out into the ocean yourself the experience and emotion of interacting with this primal force of nature is brilliantly portrayed and realised. The lead performances by the boy actors has a depth, maturity and believability than many actors strive for all their career and the cinematography is of the highest order. All in all it amounts to a thoughtful, nuanced and well-crafted movie. (Neil J)

Waru.
This is a New Zealand DVD. It is 8 (waru) stories that is told by 8 different Maori female directors. It is set in the same moment in time around the time of a Tangi of a young boy who was killed by a caregiver. Very different stories but connected and very poignant. Very sad and powerful. Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Katie Wolfe, Renae Maihi, Chelsea Cohen, Paula Jones, Awanui Simich-Pene, and Josephine Stewart Te Whiu. All names to keep an eye out for. (Brigid)

Rampage.
In recent years Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has almost become his own movie genre. And Rampage is perhaps one of the finest examples of what he does best and why he is so popular. It’s a monster movie with The Rock playing a tough but kind wisecracking primatologist looking after his best mate who just happens to be an albino Gorilla recently infected by a dangerous pathogen. Its big, it’s silly, there’s lots of banging and smashing, it makes no sense at all but boy is it fun. If you are looking for a funny, action packed popcorn blockbuster that is just about pitch perfect then Rampage could be the ideal movie. (Neil J)

Peter Rabbit.
A lovely movie very loosely based on Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Old Macgregor dies and leaves his farm to a young great nephew (Domnall Gleeson- this Irish actor plays famous Englishman a lot) who finds out that not only has he inherited a farm but some very naughty and active mischievous rabbits. Lovely story told with both actors and animated cartoon characters. I found it funny in parts and enjoyed it. Very little kids might need parental guidance when watching it. Rose Byrne plays Beatrix Potter. Sam Neill is Old MacGregor. (Brigid)

Sweet country.
Set in the Outback in the 1920s, an aboriginal worker shot a white farmer. Although it was self-defence and the white farmer was a vicious racist, a massive manhunt was undertaken. This may sound like a typical western story, but this second feature by the Australian auteur Warwick Thornton, who impressed us with his debut Samson and Delilah; a compelling love story of the aboriginal teens, offers a much deeper, poignant drama exposing the dark side of the Australian history. It’s a harsh, devastating story with the colonialist psyche, but taking the majestic scenery as a part of narrative, Thornton manages to deliver lyrical, mesmerising moments. This is a remarkable work by a highly individual filmmaker, and although it doesn’t make you happy, it gives you a profound affection, which only great films can offer. (Shinji)

The death of Stalin.
Caustic, pitch black humour of the highest calibre is delivered in Armando Iannucci latest comedy. Set around the events and chaos surrounding the death of Stalin this star studded movie was so controversial that the Russian government banned it. Its wicked, hilarious, merciless and definitely not for the faint hearted. However if you enjoy satire of the very darkest and blackest in nature then this movie is a must watch. And the ever wonderful Jason Isaacs is mercurial as Field Marshal Zhukov. (Neil J)

Riviera. The complete season one.
There is a lot of money up on the screen in this Art based drama set amongst the Riviera’s rich set. After just a year of marriage to billionaire philanthropist, art collector, and Banker Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia), the immaculate life of ex-Art Curator Georgina (Julia Stiles) is blown apart when her husband is killed in an explosion aboard the yacht of a Russian oligarch. Believing there to be more to the tragedy, she sets out to uncover what happened. Dark truths about Constantine’s dealings emerge, as she begins to realise who she was really married to, but just how far will she go to find out the truth… Stiles is excellent in this stylish but overblown drama. A good escapist watch, reminiscent somewhat of the potboiler novels that were popular in the 70s & 80s by writers such as Sidney Sheldon. (Mark)

The endless.
Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover that the group’s beliefs may be more sane than they once thought. Endless is an independent, science fiction, thriller, horror cross genre movie that has as its literary DNA the writings of H P Lovecraft. (Though the film has a contemporary American setting). It’s well-made, well filmed and obviously done on an independent film budget. What makes it really worth watching is the mind bending storyline that deals with concepts of time, memory and space in an often genuinely creepy fashion . This is very much an underground cult film but if you like thought provoking, original and clever movies of the cult variety then this movie comes highly recommended. (Neil J)

A quiet place.
This is a thriller set on earth after Aliens come through and destroy most of the humankind. The Aliens have acute hearing but no sight so the remaining Human kind have to live their lives in silence. The moment they make a sound the Aliens appear and eat them. The story revolves around a young family who have to carry on their lives out on a farm, around these devastating turn of events It is a really good thriller. Lots of suspenseful parts. It stars Husband and wife team Emily Blunt and John Krasinski as the screen couple. Brilliant story and great acting. Contains violence. This movie is classed as both a thriller and a horror. (Brigid)

Faces places.
From the opening credit, it’s a delightful affair. A legend of French new wave cinema, 88 year old Agnes Varda teams up with a photographer and muralist JR, who is 55 years her junior, hit the road on a tour of rural France. On the way, they learn the histories of communities, some of which are long abandoned, and of people they encounter, and bring new lives to them with gigantic mural photos. It’s a celebration of people and places as well as creativity. This odd couple makes a great team and their friendship, curiosity and vision make it wonderfully charming. At the end of the film, another French new wave giant Jean-Luc Godard makes a cameo in his peculiar way and adds the unique dimension and the depth. Young at heart. (Shinji)

The man who invented Christmas.
This is a movie about the life of Charles Dickens and the events leading up to the writing of A Christmas Carol. It showed well what 19th Century life in England was like. It had dark parts and gave a real insight into the workings of his mind. Creepy in parts. Good character acting although hard at times to work out when he was imagining and what was real. (Brigid)

Manifesto.
Transformed to a feature film from an art installation, German artist and filmmaker Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto is an intelligent, elaborate work. All dialogues in the film are excerpted from published artistic and political manifestos such as communism, futurism, dadaism, situationism, and pop art, and these historical statements are delivered by the 13 fictional characters; from a homeless man to a choreographer to a punk rocker, all performed by Cate Blanchett who displays an astonishing virtuosity. It still gives an impression of the visual art rather than the feature film, but under Rosenfeldt, Berlin’s outstanding talents come together here, including Christoph Krauss who provides magnificent cinematography and two prominent musicians; Nils Frahm and Ben Lukas Boysen who create impressive soundtracks. Germany’s got talent. (Shinji)

Goodbye Christopher Robin.
This movie is the story of the life of A.A. Milne around the time of his writing Winnie the Pooh. It shows his life from coming home from the first world war with PTSD. And his writing block after seeing the horrors he had seen. The sanctuary he sought in the country with his wife and son Chris. It is a lovely movie but shows the reality he was living. Brilliant actor Domhall Gleeson plays A.A.Milne. The story goes through the life of the child Christopher. This movie showed the beautiful relationship between A.A. Milne and his son and the creation of Winnie and the other animals. A really good watch. (Brigid)

Staff Pick CDs – Aug/Sep

Some new Staff Pick CDs, of new releases and older material. We hope you find something to enjoy!

Bon voyage.
The French alt-pop artist’s second album, coming six years after her great debut, is a challenging and rewarding listen. To imagine putting classic French pop, exotica and psych rock into a blender may give some idea of the fertile ideas behind these songs. Driven by standard drums, bass and guitars, the songs evolve and mutate minute by minute, some morphing from what could be a Francoise Hardy pop song, through classic exotica, laden with flutes and strings, to end up as an indie rock out. Somehow it all works in a beguiling and strangely immersive way and fans of imaginative psych pop should be intrigued. (John)

Alterum.
Born and raised in Scottish island North Uist, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis has well established herself as a leading artist of its kind, and this alluring fifth album would give her international fame. The project began to explore Gaelic songs of the ‘otherworld’ or supernatural and it grew to the idea of reaching out to other world while celebrating her own culture. This album features a couple of English language songs for the first time which sit nicely among Gaelic songs, and everything – the well thought out arrangements, the excellent performance by the band, and above all, her gentle yet effective voice and modern interpretation – hit the right note. Although rooted heavily in tradition, her music has a universal charm, and this album should appeal to a wider audience. (Shinji)

No sounds are out of bounds / The Orb.
Thirty years after their debut, UK electronic chillout stalwarts The Orb, throw a real curveball by releasing an album on Cooking Vinyl featuring a host of guest artists that works so well it’s hard to believe it’s the same band that made 2016’s ambient “Chill Out World”. The driving dub bass lines that propel each track are the only constants over a record that touches so many bases, including female vocalists, dub melodica, ambient piano, house beats, mellow grooves and jazz guitar, all peppered with The Orb’s distinctive humorous vocal samples. It’s a wild ride and, against all odds, is arguably the most commercially accessible and one of the best releases of their long and befuddling career. (John)

A deeper understanding / The War on Drugs.
I absolutely love this album. I didn’t know The War on Drugs and came by them from a various best of 2017 cd. “In chains” and “Pain” are highlights but each song has its own interest. Not in any way innovative or surprising but the songs are full and lush and sometimes long, but are complete. Someone called it Dad rock, but who cares, I’m a dad and it is just lovely. (Martin)

I’m all ears.
The second album by the UK teenage duo is receiving rave reviews worldwide and rightly so. That two 19 year old girls making music for teenagers about being a teenager can have appeal across all age groups is remarkable and this is due to the standard of the song writing, the great instrumentation and the original and creative arrangements. Their vocals can take a bit of getting used to – think early Kate Bush – but, once you are tuned in, the journey through their bold and intense contemporary pop is hard to resist. (John)

We light fire.
I recently went to see Julia Dean’s album release and loved it! She was amazing! I highly recommend her album – a must listen! (Lisa)

 

 

Weather diaries.
Remarkably, almost 30 years on the early ‘90’s UK shoegaze sound appears to be in fine form and, following the excellent recent new release from Slowdive, we now have the first new Ride album in 20 years and, yes, it’s pretty good. Come back albums are challenging when you helped create an entire musical sub-genre, however, Ride fare pretty well. Their vocal harmonies haven’t changed at all, the big guitars are in full force and the song writing is up to scratch – the only nod to a new century is the inclusion of London DJ Erol Alkan on production duties who sharpens their classic jangle pop and shimmering guitars for a new era. Turn it up and party like it’s 1989! (John)

Sassafrass!
At the moment I can’t get enough of Sassafrass! by Tami Neilson. She was amazing in concert and this album rocks just as much! Perfect listening for those who love that old-time country/lounge/touch of rockabilly vibe. A great collection of touching songs about family, and brilliantly getting her own back on those who unashamedly tout judgements and double standards. Available on CD and vinyl, it’s most definitely sassy and frassy. (Belinda)

Knock knock.
The German electronic artist who started out as a DJ/remixer has grown into a respected artist and now runs his own label – Pampa Records. His new release is a good intro to the small unique sub-genre he has helped create that generally features warm bass, gently alluring beats and imaginative use of sampling and electronics underpinning a range of guest vocalists. He has a strong sense of the whimsical but manages to balance this, through this collection of lovely wonky downbeat grooves, with a genuine emotional resonance too often absent from electronic music. (John)

Soar / Catrin Finch, Seckou Keita.
Prominent Welsh classical harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora (often described as Africa harp) player Seckou Keita first collaborated together in 2013 and made an acclaimed album Clychau Dibon which won the best album of 2014 in both Froots and Songlines magazine. Four years down the line, their unique bond gets stronger and this sophomore album finds both artists in sublime form, showcasing the elegant, seamless conversations. Their dazzling virtuosities allow the two string-instruments from Africa and Europe to blend into each other and create beautifully textured, glorious soundscape. Most of the music is original but taking also from African griot’s number and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, they are searching for a new musical language by looking back at their traditions. Brilliant. (Shinji)

Shearwater drift / Al Fraser, Steve Burridge, Neil Johnstone.
The delicacy and sublime power of Taongo Puoro (traditional Maori instrumentation) is explored beautifully on this recent release by three Wellington musicians. What is created here is a fully immersive sonic collage that, over 18 tracks, features Taongo Puoro within soundscapes created by synthesisers, percussion, treated samples and other instruments. Its not an easy listen, at times it can be quite eerie, but the dark and ethereal ambient atmosphere is the perfect vehicle by which the mystery of these ancient instruments can be experienced. The whole thing is beautifully packaged in a thick cardboard case that features evocative art by Neil Johnstone. (John)
This is the voyage of a shearwater as it ventures into enigmatic scenery; familiar yet vague, both disturbing and comforting. Alistair Fraser’s deep connection with taonga pūoro sets the backdrop of this story with great sensibility, establishing the melancholic mood that Māori instruments so readily evoke. Over this panorama you’ll encounter the mysterious electronics of Neil Johnstone piercing through the organic weave, juxtaposing the nature of the ever changing reality with those aspects that belong to the future and the beyond. In the midst of this seamless movement are motifs of humanity embodied by accordions, pianos, and other familiar noises which serve as geographic beacons. At times submerged into deep water, at others flying high and fast through the forest, the shearwater glides with grace, undisturbed by the weather or the metropolitan traffic. There is a cyclical aspect to this album, easily lending itself to sound installations or an environment of discovery and inspiration. The overall tone invites you to slow down and ponder, paying attention to the nuances that crop up from all angles thanks to a high quality production. My recommendation is to let the music permeate your surroundings, allowing yourself to drift into what lies in your depths, waiting to be found. (Axel)

Listening to pictures : pentimento volume one.
The former jazz trumpet player, who initiated the idea of the “Fourth World” alongside Brian Eno on 1980’s ‘Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics’, has released, at 81 years old, an incredible record on Ndeya, a sub-label of the UK’s Warp Records. Fusing hi-tech minimalism with world rhythms he has collaged a dream world marked by a flickering, hallucinatory energy and built around stuttering beats through which dense, treated layers of trumpet, synth, piano, and violin edits cascade and undulate. Its a remarkable release from an artist so late in his career, when most others are merely re-treading old ground. This album also features a cover art sampled from Mati Klarwein, the artist responsible for the cover of Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’. (John)

The dark side of the moon [remaster].
The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the bestselling albums of all time. It was PF’s 8th album, and spent 11 consecutive years in the top 100 and 14 years lodged in the same place. It was recorded at Abby Road studios between May 1972-January 1973, and rather than separate tracks the album is one continuous piece of music. With estimated sales are over 45 million, the themes it explored include greed (Money track) conflict and time. (Max)

New audio gear you can borrow: PreSonus StudioLive AR12

Libraries are no longer just places to get books. Need a PA system for a party, a speaking engagement, or a wedding? Playing a live or studio gig? Need to do some recording in the field, or hook up some gear to your laptop and make a new album at home? The new WCL Music Equipment collection has what you need. We love Wellington music at Wellington City Libraries and we are here to help you make it.

The PreSonus is a 14-channel Hybrid Mixer that makes it simple to mix and record live shows, studio productions, band rehearsals, podcasts and much more, and is the latest addition to our Music Equipment Lending Collection. The full specs can be found here.

Mixer/Recorder Kit:
Case Contents:
• 1x PreSonus StudioLive AR12
• 1x USB cable
• 1x Power Cable
• 1x Shure SM57 Mic
• 1x Shure SM58 Vocal Mic
$50 rental fee for 4 days
Overdue charge: $10 per day

Terms and Conditions to borrow this equipment are in place to ensure the safe use of the equipment and its timely return. A library fee ($50) will be payable to borrow for this equipment and borrower discounts (e.g. Community Services Card) do not apply. If the equipment is returned late, overdue fines will be payable ($10 per day).

To make a booking, fill out the Music Equipment form, telling us your details, specify the PreSonus Kit (agreeing to the terms and conditions) and a staff member will contact you to confirm your pickup time.

A new batch of Staff Pick DVDs

The Good Place cover

Peruse the latest selections from library staff, from superheroes to sci-fi to coming of age drama, and crime told backwards.

The shape of water.
The Shape of Water takes its initial inspiration from the 1954 B movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, but this is definitely not a cash in sequel to an old monster movie. Instead it is a cleverly constructed complex film which straddles effortlessly multiple genres including romance, cold war thriller, body horror and a straight down the line cult Guillermo Del Toro movie. It is obviously a project the director had a great deal of affection for and it looks great in a shabby downbeat Americana way, and Sally Hawkins in the lead puts in a storming performance. Arguably Guillermo Del Toro’s best movie so far and since he directed Pan’s Labyrinth that is praise of the highest order. (Neil J)

Justice League.
Move over Avengers! There’s a new team of superheroes in town. The world of DC comics and superheroes collides when a great a great evil in the form of Stepphenwolf wants to unleash hell on earth and the heroes, (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg), must come together – and put aside their differences to save the day. Overall a different but satisfying take on all the DC superheroes, with a well balanced mix of action, adventure, comedy and serious moments. The Flash, in particular is hilarious with his one liners, ladies will drool and fall in love with Aquaman and Superman, especially when Aquaman shows his “sensitive side” and as always the heroes saving the day “superhero” style from start to finish. (Katie)

Rellik.
‘Rellik’ (‘killer’) is a story told backwards for the first 5 episodes, with the final episode reverting to normal forward progression starting from where the first episode left off. This, understandably, makes for a confusing watch initially as it needs a fair bit of concentration, and thus the show’s reviews were somewhat polarized. It’s hard to say in the end if the backwards narrative is just a stylistic gimmick or if it really adds anything to the story which is a shame, as it is a quite good slice of gritty UK crime. The 2 leads (Jodi Balfour and Richard Dormer) are both excellent, with Dormer as Met detective, Gabriel Markham at the centre of an obsessive hunt for a serial killer who left a mark on him both physically and mentally. Worth persevering with. (Mark)

Downsizing.
Could this be a solution to the problem of overpopulation and climate change? American auteur Alexander Payne’s (Nebraska, The Descendants) new film is a futuristic fable where people can choose to be shrunk to one-fourteenth of their size and live in a miniature ‘self-sustainable’ heavenly community called ‘Leisureland’. Featuring Matt Damon as an ordinary Omaha resident who takes this experimental opportunity, it offers a unique mixture of sci-fi comedy, political satire, and a cross-cultural love story. Apparently Payne had been thinking about this project for quite some time. Although not everything worked out perfectly, it’s certainly intriguing. (Shinji)

The disaster artist.
The Disaster Artist is much like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood insofar as it is a clever, well made, superbly acted and thoroughly entertaining film about one of the worst films ever made – Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has been dubbed the Citizen Kane of bad movies and since its release in 2003 has gained a fanatical cult following who like to dress up, shout out lines from the film and have a liking for throwing plastic cutlery. The original film was supposedly meant as a serious movie but the outright strange storytelling and truly bizarre acting have lead it to being regarded retrospectively by the director as a black comedy. The Disaster Artist is about the making of the film and the dreams, friendships and dramas surrounding its creation. The Disaster Artist is fine movie about a terrible movie. Just don’t shout SPOON. (Neil J)

Doctor Doctor. Series 2.
Hugh Knight, (Rodger Corser), the heart surgeon/heartthrob turned country doctor you love to either hate or… just plain love is back! And as usual breaking more hearts than fixing them. But things take a dramatic turn for Hugh when his teenage son/foster brother decides to marry his high school sweetheart; Hugh having to donate a kidney to save his dad; his American and troubled ex-wife turning up, having a near death experience to make him realise what/who is important in his life and the icing on the cake – he is in love with his boss, Penny and has various opportunities to finally make his move! The question is will they finally get together or will Hugh stuff it up with his playboy antics? Overall this series is in one word… FANTASTIC! An entertaining TV series and Aussie drama from start to finish! I especially loved the Mustang car race scene with ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ by Jet playing in the background. Look forward to the third season. (Katie)

Hard sun. [Season 1].
Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) and Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) are detectives who, while investigating a murder in the inner city, stumble upon proof that the world faces certain destruction – in five years. They find themselves pursued by MI5, trying to silence them in order to keep secret the truth, and they must use every bit of their ingenuity to protect themselves and those they love. The relationship of the two leads plays against type, as they both try to secure the upper hand with each other and with ruthless Security Services Officer Nikki Amuka-Bird, which is a positive as the latest offering from the pen of Neil Cross (Luther) seems to falter a bit in the telling, as if Cross wasn’t really sure how he wanted the story to play out. Intriguing and gripping in places, clichéd and muddled in others. Still worth a look, as Cross apparently has ideas for further seasons. (Mark)

Twin Peaks: a limited event series.
After 25 years, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s ground-breaking series is back. Most of the beloved characters are also back but this time, a lot of events unfold outside Twin Peaks while time is back and forth. With numerous additional characters, some of whom are played by prominent names including Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, Amanda Seyfried and Harry Dean Stanton, it’s a much larger scaled extraordinary journey which offers everything Lynch has made for cinema. At times, it’s almost impossible to comprehend and mysteries bring more mysteries but he never forgets humour. This marathon epic can be challenging and demanding to consume, but will be remembered as a landmark work by the one-and-only filmmaker. (Shinji)

The Good Place. The complete first season.
From producer/screenwriter Michael Schur (The Office, Parks & Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) The Good Place addresses the age old question of what actually happens when you die? For Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) she finds the afterlife is a shiny happy friendly neighbourhood of frozen yogurt shops, amazingly accomplished people and pre-determined soulmates, all run by the super nice immortal architect Michael (Ted Danson). However the only problem is that she is the wrong Eleanor Shellstrop, and is in fact a very bad person, who scammed old people for a living and generally lived a completely reprehensible life. As she struggles to hide her true self from all around her and cope with her ‘soulmate’, university ethics professor Chidi, her true nature starts to affect the cosmic balance at play… To say any more would give away some of the plotlines of this hugely enjoyable series. Great performances from Bell and Danson. A great antidote to the Winter blues. Recommended. (Mark)

The greatest showman.
This movie just filled me with a sense of the wonders of humanity, and the songs! Well a musical isn’t a musical without good songs. If you are looking for some new additions to your sing-a-long playlist then this is the movie for you! I recommend a double check out, both the soundtrack and the movie. You won’t be sorry! (Jess)

Electric dreams. Season one.
Anthology collection of 10 stand-alone episodes based on Philip K. Dick’s work, written by British and American writers and set in both the UK & the US. This bunch of Dick’s short stories were written in the early to mid 1950’s, so all have undergone some degree of tinkering – from large to small – to reimagine their themes within a modern day context. Executive produced by Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Cranston there is certainly a high degree or production values up on the screen, as well as some quality acting (including Cranston himself), the problem perhaps lies in the fact that so many of Dick’s short stories have already been adapted into films (Screamers, Paycheck, Imposter, Minority Report, Next, The Adjustment Bureau, Total Recall) that those that are left are more straightforward in nature, lacking the same level of layers or ideas. Having said that there are some nice adaptations here, even the one that are more heavily reworked like Safe & Sound or Real Life work in themes common to Dick’s oeuvre. Definitely worth a watch if you are a fan of the author, and also if you fancy something along the lines of Black Mirror but not as grim. (Mark)

Lady Bird.
Known as a comedic actress (Frances Ha, Maggie’s Plan etc.), Greta Gerwig also seems to be a natural director. Her debut feature Lady Bird is a likable little gem. Set in her hometown, Sacramento, California in 2002, it follows 17-year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ (brilliant performance by the Irish star Saoirse Ronan) who is eager for an escape to a big city on the East Coast after graduating from a Catholic school, against her mother’s wishes. It may sound like another often-told adolescent drama but this is something special thanks to Gerwig’s smart screenplay and unique aesthetic. With the mother-daughter relationship as its core, she crafts a beautifully layered story. It’s sweet, funny and affecting. (Shinji)