Some new CD picks from our staff. Plenty of different genres, and lots of local music, to give you something new to explore over the holiday season. We will be back in January next year with a roundup of our favourite music from 2016.
On the cover notes to this three disc set, NME’s Neil Taylor confesses that he always wished that NME had done a follow up to the wildly popular C86 cassette that helped spawn an entire future genre. This lovingly compiled collection represents that compilation that never was, assembling 74 tracks from as many bands, some of whom, such as the Shamen and PWEI, went on to greater things, but most of whom never made it past a couple of singles. In 1987, at the tail end of Post-punk, before Britpop, before Baggy and before the term ‘indie’ went mainstream, there was a fervent underground scene in the UK comprised of disaffected young musicians armed with guitars, drums and songs of love and naïve aspiration and this collection captures that time perfectly. (John)
Radio gnome invisible trilogy.
Australian poet, muso and visionary, Daevid Allen, passed over to that great teapot in the sky last year leaving behind an intriguing and inspiring body of work. A key member of the original Soft Machine, he formed Gong with local French musicians after becoming stranded in France in 1967. They quickly gained a reputation for their highly original sound and commune based lifestyle. Daevid Allen was committed to keeping the playful aspects of the ‘60’s alive through the ever more serious ‘70’s, and this trilogy of Gong albums, originally released in 1970-71 and now available as a 4-disc box set, fully capture that playful spirit. Featuring the Pot Head Pixies who run a telepathic pirate radio station broadcasting from a flying teapot, it would be easy to dismiss these albums as whimsical novelty records, but these highly accomplished musicians, who mix up everything from free jazz, rock, pop, prog and electronics through cabaret and poetry to full blown psychedelic trance, create a bewildering and seductive sound that is quite unlike anything before or since. (John)
Give up on your health.
Teeth & Tongue is the moniker of Melbourne based, Wellington raised songwriter and musician Jess Cornelius. Her family moved to Wellington when she was 11, and music was the one constant, her parent’s record collection played a huge role in fuelling her desire to make music. She entered a couple of local “battle of the bands” comps while at school, but it wasn’t until a move to Melbourne at 19 that she fully tapped into her musical potential. 2008 debut record Monobasic received critical acclaim from Australian media, and her 3rd album Grids led to three The Age Music Victoria Award nominations, for Best Band, Best Album and Best Female Artist. Latest album ‘Give up on your health’ is a swirl of Giorgio Moroder 80s synths, but underneath the fantastic production is a set of serious songs that focus on fracturing relationships, isolation, and past regrets. Electro-pop tends to veer towards cool beats, hip choruses and emotional detachment, but Cornelius and her backing band plunder the digital sounds to record the messy analogue organics of real human interaction. (Mark)
The last panthers.
UK electronic artist, Chris Clark, has become one of Warp Records leading electronic producers, alongside Aphex Twin, Autechre and Plaid. A fiercely creative artist, each of his seven albums since 2001 have displayed a clear musical development, while fine tuning his excellent production skills. His latest project is a fully ambient work, being the soundtrack to the moody UK crime mini-series – The Last Panthers. The sound designs he creates, using piano, strings and electronics are suitably sparse and foreboding, yet possess a strange beauty, complementing the film perfectly. For this CD Clark teased out and reworked the incidental soundtrack music into complete tracks for a stand-alone album and has created an excellent immersive ambient experience. (John)
Young UK producer Matt Cutler, aka Lone, is representative of a new generation of electronic producers who have grown up on dance music and ‘Levitate’ is his seventh album in as many years. His last two releases, 2014’s Reality Testing and 2012’s Galaxy Garden received high critical praise and here he shifts focus slightly, paying tribute to the early ‘90’s rave scene, exploring a breaks based sound to drive his subtle and intelligent take on dance. His distinctive ambient flourishes and synth pads and patches are still evident alongside classic ‘90’s snare rolls which combine to create 33 mins of beautifully produced uplifting electronica. (John)
Golden sings that have been sung.
He has only two albums under his belt but Ryley Walker has already gained quite a reputation as a singer and a guitarist. His jazzy folk sound, based around his acoustic guitar- playing and characteristic voice, reminds us of Tim Buckley and John Martyn, and with this third album, produced by former Wilco’s Leroy Bach, he made great stride. Walker was born in Illinois but began his career in Chicago playing everything from punk to experimental music, and takes the sonic milieu of Chicago’s post rock band, such as Gastr Del Sol, Isotope 217 and Tortoise, into his music, which makes his music very unique. Showing tremendous confidence and originality, this could be his first masterpiece. (Shinji)
The fifth Metronomy album finds the project reverting back to the solo venture of UK synth obsessive Joe Mount’s debut album. Using old skool drum machines, post acid house synths and irresistibly funky bass lines to accompany his ironic hipster lyrics, Mount creates a cool seductive electro funk pop that sits comfortably alongside other left of centre UK funksters like Hot Chip and Fujiya and Miyagi. Sounding at times like a white, post millennial version of Prince, the earnestness of the songs, the quality of the production and the sheer confidence of delivery serve to frame the retro influences as homage to rather than imitation of music that recaptures the fun of dancing. (John)
The third album from the LA based female quartet finds them further exploring their downtempo art-rock, influenced this time around, in the bands own words, by artists like Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, OutKast, and Kendrick Lamar. The result is moody, atmospheric, densely layered post rock that features their distinctive sound loosely presented within the bruised modern pop idiom of bands like the XX. With surprising grooves lurking beneath the reverb drenched harmonies and distorted guitars and electronics, the sound of Warpaint is tight and confident as they successfully incorporate several styles into an original sound that rewards deeper listening. (John)
Great new album from Eva Prowse, that forsakes the violin country/folk of her first album I can’t Keep Secrets and jumps right into the electro-pop world of bubbly midi’s, bouncy pop tunes, and fond musical memories of growing up in the 80s. She first explored this territory in 2013 with Henry Marks as the duo ‘H & Eva’ and the EP Crazy Eyes but this time it’s her voice & songs that are at the forefront, and that EP now sounds like a tentative stab in a new direction that is now fully formed with ‘Humid Nights’. Sits comfortably alongside any of the many international artist’s working within this retro synthy sound. Definitely one of the best ‘Wellington Releases of the year. (Mark)
Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
This double disc version of the first album from the ‘supergroup’ formed in 1970 that unfairly gets blamed for all the excesses of prog rock , features a remastered original and an ‘alternate’ mix by Steven Wilson. With Keith Emerson’s recent death it only seems fair that his works become fairly appraised and this stands up well. The sounds he created with the moog synthesiser were state of the art at the time and still impress, his classically trained piano playing is beautiful and, backed by the very sharp rhythm section of Greg Lake on bass and vocals and Carl Palmer on drums, this is a great snapshot of an exciting time in music when musicians were actively tearing down genre barriers. (John)
Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, continues his return after a ten year hiatus with a 7 track ep, made with, and named after, one of his favourite instruments – the Cheetah MS800 Synthesiser, that has been described as “one of the most unfathomable instruments ever made.”. Following the experimental Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 EP and the frenetic Orphaned Deejay Selek (2006-2008) EP , yet another facet of this prolific electronic producer is featured here – the tunes being relatively slow paced, the beats simple and the sounds surprisingly warm and user friendly. Throughout these instrumental pieces his exploration into rich timbres and woozy frequencies creates pretty much perfect electronic listening music. (John)
East west moon / Jonathan Crayford, Ben Street, Dan Weiss.
The previous album Dark Light (2014) was a fantastic achievement by the jazz pianist Jonathan Crayford who was born and raised in Wellington. Teaming up once again with New York’s top-notch rhythm section; Ben Street (Bass) and Dan Weiss (drums), he presents another stellar album. Like its predecessor, all music is composed by Crayford, and the trio seems to dig deeper and evolve larger artistically. It’s a melancholic, akin to ECM, ambient jazz, and the shadow of the likes of Bill Evans and Bobo Stenson is evident, but Crayford seems to just stay true to himself. There is no showing off here. He simply crafts his music from his heart and this dark lyricism is something rare. Exquisite. (Shinji)
The looped brass fanfare that begins this CD is a fitting introduction to this strikingly original work by Scottish composer Anna Meredith which finds her entering the world of pop and electronica after 20 years in the classical world. Using acoustic instruments, electronics, guitars, drums and vocals she moves through a range of styles from indie pop to gorgeous strings based instrumentals to sweet electro pop to wildly deranged sequencer driven grooves. Her classical commissions have included making music inspired by MRI scanners and performing body percussion pieces at the BBC Proms and ‘Varmints’, her first attempt at contemporary popular music is, while like nothing you have ever heard before, quite accessible and oddly satisfying. (John)
La araña es la vida.
Those lucky enough to have seen this band play in Wellington recently will need no convincing to check out the latest release from Kid Congo Powers, who is, arguably, the coolest dude on the planet. Veteran guitarist of legendary bands, The Cramps, The Gun Club and The Bad Seeds, Kid Congo now tours the world keeping the lo-fi, trashy surf guitar, garage rock, Chicano punk flag flying. On the fifth album with his latest band, The Pink Monkeybirds, they have really hit their stride, incorporating electronics alongside the reverb drenched guitars and primal drums to deliver a wildly varied raucous, joyous noise that has to be played loud to be really appreciated. (John)
The 11th sky.
Just when you think Electric Wire Hustle can’t get any better they (or rather Mara TK, the last man left of the original three piece band) up their game yet again. His fantastic voice sits comfortably in that late period Marvin Gaye/Leon Ware pocket, but the sound of ‘The 11th Sky’ is harder and fuller. Moving away from the patented psychedelic Neo-soul of the last 2 albums they move into a sonic realm of darker, heavier, beats that envelop Mara TK’s analogies to Maori mythology, and metaphysical concerns on the pressures of money, love and expectations that weigh down peoples journey towards a better place within themselves. A real sense of searching for meaning pervades the album, and the benefits of being a one man band include the freedom to add whatever you want into the final mix, such as a harpist on ‘Golden Ladder’, lovely strings on ‘I Light A Candle’, and vocalist Deva Mahal (the sister of Ahmed Mahal aka. Imon Star of Olmecha Supreme, who is now based in New York) on ‘March’. (Mark)
Xiu Xiu plays the music of Twin peaks.
In 2015 Californian experimental noise group Xiu Xiu were invited by The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art to perform a series of Twin Peaks soundtrack covers for a David Lynch exhibition. The marriage of Xiu Xiu’s experimental sound with original composer Angelo Badalamenti’s unsettlingly surreal noir soundtrack works perfectly, bringing an uber contemporary slant to a now classic suite of music. The arrangements incorporate the feel of the originals and actually manage to enhance them using ambient industrial noise, xylophone, guitar pulses, synths and keyboards to not merely create a darkly surreal and engaging homage, but, paradoxically, also a strikingly original work. (John)
There’s no need for UK duo ‘Let’s Eat Grandma’ to put on sweet little girl vocals because these two 17 year olds really are not much more than sweet little girls! Playing all instruments, including saxophone, glockenspiel, synthesisers, bass, ukelele and keyboards, they weave sweet harmonies around their dark, fragmented hallucinatory songs that can be sickeningly sweet and disarmingly dissonant at the same time. Sounding a bit like Bjork’s gothic love children, they have been described as ‘somewhere in between the child-like innocence of Hansel and Gretel and the spectral qualities of the twins from The Shining’ but despite their youth these teenagers have created a unique take on electro pop that is unusual and occasionally bewildering – they even rap on one track. An interview and video can be found here. (John)
From patterns to details.
The second album from Wellington electronic producer Oliver Peryman, aka Fis, has been released worldwide on Bristol label, Subtext. Inspired by the organic patterns that occur in nature, Peryman explores a similar textural soundworld to artists such as Tim Hecker and Ben Frost, who, although not using beats, create dramatic and, at times, unsettling music that cannot be described as ambient, demanding the listener’s full attention. With little room for melody and at times a difficult listen that could be compared to sharing the room with a wild animal, this is nevertheless an impressive work of powerful and visceral electronic sound production. (John)
‘Soft Hair’ is the self-titled collaboration (long in the making apparently) of Connan Mockasin and Sam Dust (La Priest, Late of the Pier), with the album cover making a pretty good motif for the music within. If Prince’s early 80s backing band crashed on a deserted island populated by decadent, slinky, long haired natives who liked to get down & dirty, this is the kind of music that would probably result. Proto-Indian rhythms, cheesy synths, burbling electronic noodling, pervy lyrics. Is it all a knowing pastiche? A sly nod at the homo-erotica of tough guy rock bands? It’s hard to tell if they’re serious about any of it, from the sometimes deliberately creepy lyrics to the 80s PC game music, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a hell of a lot of fun to be had in listening to all the weirdness. Hailed as part of a wave of New-Bromantic bands. (Mark)