Staff Pick CDs: The Best of 2015 – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover imageVulnicura.

Cover imageOnes and sixes.

Cover imageDivers.

Cover imageStuff like that there.

Cover imageSomething in the water.

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

Neil’s Picks:
Cover imageInsides.

Cover imageCosmic radio station / The Shifting Sands.

WellingtonMusicBlog12_Cthulhu rising.

Cover imageGolem.

Cover imageThe sovereign self.

BestOf2015CDs51The epic.

Cover imageShadow of the sun.

Cover imageFrom Sleep.

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

Jessica’s picks:
Cover imageDivers.

Cover imageI love you, honeybear.

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

Staff Pick DVDs: The Best of 2015

We’ve got a great range of picks from our staff, from docos to dramas, TV shows to true stories. Enjoy our favourites from 2015!

Shinji’s picks:
Cover imageWinter sleep.
The winner of Cannes’ Palme D’or in 2014, Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep is a 3 hours 16 minutes-long haunting chamber drama. Inspired by Chekov’s short stories, heavy dialogue drives the movie, but Ceylan’s rigorous direction together with superb acting by all actors never fails to keep you riveted. Once a professional photographer, Ceylan sets up a desolate but stunningly beautiful milieu, and the whole movie is like an amazing mix of Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. A masterful work.

Cover imageInherent vice.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Magnolia, The Master) conjuring hands make this first ever edition of Thomas Pynchon’s novel a visually dazzling, playful off-beat comedy. Set in the hippie culture of LA in 1970, it’s a rather confusing story as a lot of bizarre characters come and go. However, with an impeccable camera movement, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the drug addled detective, is wonderfully amusing, and the soundtrack (Can, Neil Young etc.) and the narration by Joanna Newsom will help it gain ‘cult’ status.

Cover imageThe salt of the earth : a journey with Sebastião Salgado.
Brazilian photographer Sebastiano Salgado has travelled around the world, often in remote, life-is-severely-harsh areas, and witnessed some of the darkest moments of human history; exploitation of labour, starvation, exodus, genocide and so on. His photographs are truly remarkable and even rather disturbing images such as dead bodies on the road show some kind of dignity. Also a conservationist, Salgado has embarked on restoring the forest in Brazil. This extraordinary person’s life and work are reconstructed by Vim Wenders and Sebastiano’s son Julian, in a sensitive, aesthetic way. It’s a visually stunning, compelling portrait.

Cover imageAmy.
She just wanted to be loved by someone she loved but her wish was never fulfilled. A story about someone who died at the age of 27 is naturally sad and this well-constructed documentary gets more painful to watch towards the end. However, the music holds us and in fact, Amy Winehouse was a genius singer. There are some intriguing performances here, notably the cover of her idol Donny Hathaway’s We’re Still Friends (previously unreleased). Hathaway also died young (jumped off from the 15th floor. He was 33) but he achieved something remarkable, whereas the albums Amy left barely show her potential. If she could remain performing in a small jazz club, her life might have not turned out this way. We all may wonder.

Mark’s picks:
Cover imageNightcrawler.
Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopathic loner who discovers his true calling as a freelance hawker of footage of car accidents & violent crimes to sleazy local news shows to boost their ratings. A cadaverous Gyllenhaal is all bulging eyes & homespun philosophies as he manipulates everyone around him. A scabrous look at the moral corruption that pervades the media world we live in.

2016 was a good year for intelligent Sci-Fi (Ex-Machina, Coherence) but ‘Humans’ gets the nod, as its longer form gives it more time to explore the issues at play. The Hawkins family acquires a new ‘Synthetic’ helper, who slowly begins to exhibit some odd behaviour. Meanwhile a police unit responsible for robot related crime is tracking a group of ‘free’ robots. Works its central plot around the larger impact of robots upon society as a whole – as people begin to feel displaced. Recommended if you enjoyed the recent Charlie Brooker series Black Mirror.

Cover imageLove & mercy.
Excellent music biopic from director Bill Pohlad on famed ‘Beach Boys’ vocalist Brian Wilson, presented in a parallel narrative covering two specific time periods in Wilson’s life. In the mid-60s young Brian (Paul Dano) begins a slow mental collapse as the voices and sounds in his head begin to take over his life & destroy his creativity. Meanwhile in the 1980s old Brian (John Cusack) is alone and isolated from his family, under the control & guardianship of his corrupt therapist Dr. Landy (played by Paul Giamatti). A fascinating and highly enjoyable film, and a unique way to approach a music biography.

Cover imageMarshland.
Excellent Spanish thriller set in Spain’s deep south in 1980s. The Fascist government has recently been replaced by a new democracy and two ideologically opposed detectives are sent to a small town to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. Full of brooding suspense and atmosphere, with amazing cinematography of the rural region. Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoyed the first season of True Detective.

Cover imageThe affair. Season one.
An affair between a blue collar teacher & a working class waitress, told from both points of view. With superb acting from the two leads (Domenic West, & Ruth Wilson), ‘The Affair’ is an adult drama that deals with the pressures of marriage and responsibility, as well as the cost of desire and betrayal.

Maxine’s picks:
Cover imageGrantchester. Series 1.
Being a girly romantic I really liked the DVD series 1 of Grantchester with the murder solving vicar played by the drop dead gorgeous James Norton and Robson Green as the detective.

Cover imageNoble.
As for films I loved the true one about an Irish woman who went to Vietnam to save orphaned kids.

Not yet on DVD in NZ:
I also liked the latest James Bond’s Spectre and of course Star wars!!!

Janice’s picks:
Cover imageWoman in gold.
A must see, Helen Mirren is amazing!

Cover imageLast cab to Darwin.
Never too late to start living!

Cover imageA royal night out.
Easy going interesting movie. Did the Queen actually have a night out on the town in her younger years??

Katie’s Pick:
Cover imageCinderella.
This is Cinderella as you have never seen it before. The story of Walt Disney’s “Cinderella” is different from its predecessor. Directed by award winning actor, Kenneth Branagh, This version follows the fortunes of young Ella (Lily James). After Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new Stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her ugly-in-nature daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera), and is forced to become their servant, disrespected, covered in ashes and spitefully renamed Cinderella. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her, and she continues to remain positive, determined to honour her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.” Ella’s fortunes seem to turn for the better in the form of a dashing stranger named Kit aka The Prince (Richard Madden) and a quirky fairy godmother, (brilliantly played by Helena Bonham Carter) that will change Ella’s life for the better. Overall a fantastic film that can be enjoyed by all ages. Rating: 9/10.

Pru’s pick:
Cover imagePaddington.
The grandkids and I have just watched Paddington. We are aged from 4 up. It was lots of fun and we all loved it.

Brigid’s picks:
Cover imageOutlander. The complete first season.

Cover imageHector and the search for happiness.

Cover imageThe longest ride.

Cover imageThe equalizer.

Cover imageMan up.

Not yet on DVD in NZ:
Star Wars: the Force Awakens

Monty’s picks:
Cover imageThe jinx : the life and deaths of Robert Durst.

Cover imageParticlefever.

Cover imageInherent vice.

Cover imageSilicon Valley.

Jay’s Picks:
Cover imageEx_machina.

Cover imageThe Martian.

Not yet on DVD in NZ:
Star Wars: the Force Awakens
Merchants of Doubt

Raissa’s picks:
Cover imageEx_machina.

BestOf2014DVDs5Going clear : Scientology and the prison of belief.

Cover imageThe Martian.

Not yet on DVD in NZ:
The End of the Tour
The Big Short

Jessica’s picks:
Cover image

Not yet on DVD in NZ:
Star Wars: the Force Awakens
Mistress America

Bridget’s pick:
Cover imageMad Max. Fury road.

Ingrid’s pick:
Cover imageEx_machina.

Neil’s pick:
Not yet on DVD in NZ:
Fargo – Season 2

Staff Pick CDs: The Best of 2015 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Librarians’ best books of 2015: Part 2

We’ve gathered a few more of our many librarians’ favourite books of 2015. Let us know your own picks in the comments!

Syndetics book coverMy favourite books this year have been biographies. My life in houses by Margaret Forster gives an interesting account of the author’s life based around the houses she has lived in – quite as much a potted social history of England as well as an autobiography. I also enjoyed Kitchen privileges by Mary Higgins Clark – a captivating and humorous story of the very likeable American thriller-writer. My favourite novel was Something to hide by Deborah Moggach – fast-paced, well written, ingenious plot and interesting settings – London, Shanghai, Texas and West Africa.

Syndetics book coverSatin Island by Tom McCarthy
Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick dewitt
Vanessa and her sister by Priya Parmar
Sophie and the Sybil : a Victorian romance by Patricia Duncker

Syndetics book coverAll the light we cannot see : a novel / Anthony Doerr.
This novel intertwines the lives of a two young people, a blind French girl and a young German boy, caught up in the horrors of WW2. Told with great sensitivity and imagination, from both sides of the conflict.

Syndetics book coverGone girl / Gillian Flynn.
I finally remembered to try this book, late to the literary party as usual. It kept me up, it kept me guessing, it kept me frantically turning pages. My workmates (who’d all read it!) gathered round in the break room watching with big grins,saying things like ‘You try and guess the ending, and we’ll laugh at you’. But I could never have guessed it, and I didn’t. You have to read it.

Syndetics book coverRoom by Emma Donoghue was by far the best book I read in 2015 and unlike anything else I’ve read before. Raw and honest, the story captivated me from the very beginning and was very hard to put down! I’ve recommended it to at least 10 library users since.

Syndetics book coverSlade House : a novel / by David Mitchell.
For Christmas I got myself the latest from David Mitchell, Slade House. I like his style of writing, as well as the new worlds of imagination that he opens up, and this one did not disappoint.

Syndetics book coverHaving now read Radioactive by Lauren Redniss, I can definitely say it is one of my favourites in a long time. It is a very interesting biography of the Curies, but mainly Marie, where science and love have an equal part, told in a sophisticated picture book format. The book is cleverly divided into chapters that refer to and illustrate the different stages of nuclear reaction. Marie Curie’s life is punctuated by stories of events and facts surrounding the effects of nuclear power & radioactivity to this day. Beautifully illustrated with cyanotype collages, this is an engrossing read and a visual feast that I would highly recommend to anyone. To top it all off, the book cover glows in the dark. How magical is that!
You can watch Lauren Redniss’ TedX talk eloquently explain the concept and design of this unique book.

Syndetics book coverLook who’s back / Timur Vermes ; translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch.
A satirical German novel about Adolf Hitler waking up in a very transformed Berlin (run by a woman no less!) where everyone takes him for a very convincing actor, shooting him to internet then television stardom. Very comedic with Hitler’s obvious confusion as to his circumstances, as well as touching on modern German politics where some of Hitler’s populist attitudes are taking off, particularly where immigrants are concerned.

Syndetics book coverMy favourite book of 2015 was Voices from Chernobyl: the oral history of a nuclear disaster by Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Keith Gessen) – Alexievich has collected personal accounts of the disaster, arranging them into monologues. The result is a fascinating, if often horrific, view of one of the major disasters of the 20th century.

Syndetics book coverThe other book I thought ruled was Zone by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell) – one big 500 page sentence about 2000 years of (really) bad stuff in the Mediterranean. Don’t be scared by people saying it is strictly for English Professors, it is a wonderful and insightful read.

Syndetics book coverM Train by Patti Smith is the favourite book I recall from last year. I knew going into it that I’d probably enjoy it, having loved her Just Kids memoir. But I loved this book even more for its stream of consciousness style, riffing on her travels (including the search for good coffee), her love of detective shows, and her discovery of the joys of Rockaway Beach and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Syndetics book coverBeing mortal : illness, medicine and what matters in the end / Atul Gawande.
Gawande fairly and thoroughly assesses and critiques the geriatrics industry and US attitudes to an increasingly older population. At the very centre of this well written book are touching and humane case studies of older patients and direct family adding substantial pathos and depth to revealing statistics and medical stories.
Never moves far from direct human experience, and at its best, often prompts honest self-reflection from the reader.

Syndetics book coverOur endless numbered days : a novel / by Claire Fuller.
Beautifully written novel dealing with a brutal coming-of-age, as a girl who lives with her father in the deep forest discovers that the world is not as she has been told.

Syndetics book coverThe first foods book : 130 yummy recipes from weaning to the big table.
It’s not just a receipe book, it also has colourful photos of children eating. If you show this book to your toddler during meal time, you will find feeding time much easier!

Librarians’ best books of 2015: Part 1

We read some good, great, even excellent books this year. Here are a few WCL librarian favourites that we read this year, maybe they’ll make it on to your 2016 reading list! Happy new year from Wellington City Libraries!

Syndetics book coverPen & ink : tattoos and the stories behind them / Isaac Fitzgerald, Wendy MacNaughton
A question like “what does your tattoo mean?” can be difficult to answer, especially if there is a deeply personal or painful reason behind it, and the people featured in this book tell stories that range from funny to heartbreaking. Reading this book feels like listening to ‘Desert Island Discs’ – oddly voyeuristic, and utterly engrossing and fascinating.

Syndetics book coverFinnikin of the rock / Melina Marchetta. (first in the Lumatere Chronicles)
Sometimes with teen fiction you can see where a story is heading, but I couldn’t with this one. The characters were layered and complex. I felt like the author revealed details about their pasts only after I had drawn my own (often incorrect) conclusions about them, so I was constantly rethinking my feelings about each character. A strong focus in the novel was the fate of refugees who cannot return home and this was thought provoking as well since I was reading it at the height of media coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.

Syndetics book coverMr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore / Robin Sloan.
This is a mystery with a touch of fantasy and magic. It is narrated by Clay Jannon, the main character, and describes his discovery of a 2nd hand book store, his eventual employment there and his deepening suspicions of a mystery involving the store and its owner. The ultimate revelations and outcomes were totally unexpected but satisfying. Also, if you borrow the book, check out the cover in the dark – gave me quite a surprise one night after I had put it down and turned out the light

Syndetics book coverA god in ruins : a novel / Kate Atkinson.
A sort of follow up to Life After Life but much more convincing. Follows the life of Teddy from age 11 to 98 and the effect his wartime experiences had on his philosophy and personality.

Syndetics book coverFuture days : Krautrock and the building of modern Germany / David Stubbs.
A brilliant history of not only the music but the cultural evolution of post-War Germany and its effect on music and Western civilisation.

I also enjoyed Yeah yeah yeah: the story of modern pop by Bob Stanley and Clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music, boys, boys, boys by Viv Albertine.

Syndetics book coverWonderstruck : a novel in words and pictures / Brian Selznick.
One of the best graphic novels/chapter books I’ve read this year! Selznick smartly weaves 2 parallel stories –one in letters, the other one in drawings- which are neatly synchronized, so that both characters somehow live the same, though in different time periods. Impressive!

Syndetics book coverThe Z was zapped : a play in twenty-six acts / Chris Van Allsburg.
Amazing illustrations by one of the best: Chris Van Allsburg. This book – shelved under the “Sophisticated Picture Books” – will keep you guessing what is happening to each letter of the alphabet. We already know the Z was Zapped but it’s not as easy as you might think! Kids will surely learn some cool words in the process 😉

Syndetics book coverThis one summer / Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki.
A coming of age graphic novel. Has the dreamy-ist tones with a touch of mystery and concern for growing up.

Syndetics book coverThe edible woman / Margaret Atwood.
My first Atwood novel and it definitely lived up to expectation. The main character is almost too relatable in her confusing regarding her place in society. Though the things that were going on throughout the book could have been dramatic there was a calmness that made it a pleasure to read. I also enjoyed the little references to other books and authors scattered throughout.

Syndetics book coverThe wrong place & The making of / Brecht Evens.
Such incredible artwork! Not your typical graphic novel in terms of layout, with some images spanning both pages and a sense of Where’s Wally about them which finds you staring for hours (or minutes, but let’s over exaggerate!). Not to mention that the stories are fantastic. Of the two I favoured The Making Of for its night time forest scenes. It’s really something that has to be seen rather than described.

Syndetics book coverStranger than we can imagine : making sense of the twentieth century / John Higgs.
Every once in a while a book comes along that can cause one to become a bit annoying to friends as it seems perfectly obvious that everyone should read it and it should be made required reading in schools worldwide immediately. John Higgs book struck me this way and all I can say is, if you want to know why we live in such befuddled, mixed up times then you may find out by reading this book.

Syndetics book coverSaga / Brian K. Vaughan, writer ; Fiona Staples, artist.
In 2015 I finally discovered Saga, one of the most incredible (and beautifully drawn) comic stories I’ve ever read. It follows a couple whose differing races are in an intergalactic war with one another, and the couple’s struggle to survive and keep their family together while on the run from the ruthless robot prince. We’ve got volumes 1-5 in our collection so you can gorge on it too, for a bit.

Syndetics book coverMore happy than not / Adam Silvera.
This is a young adult contemporary novel, but with a sci-fi twist. In this story, everything is as we know it, except that the technology to allow memory alterations exists. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel – it’s extremely well written and gripping! I can’t wait to see what Adam Silvera writes next.

Syndetics book coverThe conductor / Sarah Quigley.
New Zealand author Sarah Quigley gives a great insight into the gruelling reality of daily life during the brutal Siege of Leningrad, in 1941-2. The novel centres on conductor Karl Eliasberg, his love/hate relationship with composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the musical elite of Leningrad, and the way extraordinary circumstances change people for better or worse. One of the book’s themes is Shostakovich’s struggle to complete his Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony during the Siege and a CD is included so you can listen to this powerful symphony as you read.

Syndetics book coverHow to thrive in the next economy : designing tomorrow’s world today / John Thackara.
A fascinating and easy read examining the ‘ecocidal’ practices of western/global systems and the contemporary initiatives that are actively reshaping them.
One of the few design perspectives out there that considers the health of our soils, forests, rivers and oceans as the backbone of quality of life, which urgently helps lead the way into a new economic age built around existing ecosystems.