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)
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)
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)
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)