New Staff Picks for June include plenty of variety from synth pop to electronica, shoegaze to ambient, singer-songwriter to Jazz. We hope you find something new you like, or a new genre to explore…
King Midas Sound is the crossover project of Kevin Martin (aka The Bug), London/Trinidad poet Roger Robinson and Japanese artist and singer Kiki Hitomi. It has been seven years since their excellent Hyperdub release, Waiting For You and here, the addition of ambient electronic guitar washes courtesy of Fennesz adds an even deeper phantasmal, immersive air to the deep and soulful lyrical excursions, which could only just be called songs. When beats appear they are slow and shrouded in a smoky gauze, yet there is an odd serenity to this music, something approaching a dubbed out, blissful yet wounded resignation, which could be described as post-apocalyptic lover’s rock. A welcome alternative is the inclusion of a second disc featuring instrumental only versions. (John)
Still in a dream : 1988-1995 : a story of shoegaze.
This well curated collection features five discs and a booklet that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the early ‘90’s UK guitar based genre. The term ‘shoegaze’ arose as these bands tended to look down at their vast banks of effects pedals, so it is to be expected that the sounds here are big, complemented by characteristically fey, melodic vocals. My Bloody Valentine, who arguably started the movement, are mysteriously absent, however, with a strict one track per band policy, 87 bands are featured in loosely chronological order. The first three discs feature expected bands such as ‘The House of Love’, ‘Spacemen 3’, ‘Lush’, ‘Ride’ and ‘Slowdive’, while the last two include international bands such as ‘The Flaming Lips’ and even NZ’s own ‘Bailter Space’. (John)
The ongoing collaborative project of Modeselektor, the German electronic duo, and Sascha Ring aka Apparat, vocalist and electronic producer, has proven more popular than either of those separate ventures, and on their third record they excel, forging a link between underground electronic dance music and pop. While the immaculate production has cleaned up some of the appealing rougher edges of their previous releases, it takes nothing away, creating a rich, luxurious sound that is by turns moody, wistful and celebratory, reconfiguring the trio’s techno origins into a pristine and confident electro-soul. (John)
Pete Yorn was one of those artists that never seemed to live up to the potential of his fantastic first album. His second was a solid follow-up, but the next couple were patchy, and his last effort, 2010’s ‘PY’ with Frank Black, was a total misfire. After that he seemed to disappear, popping up briefly as part of ‘The Olms’ in 2013, whose very short Beatles-esque album had some Ok tracks. However Yorn is back with his first solo album in 6 years on a new label. ‘Arrangingtime’ shifts the guitar sound to a wash of synths on some tracks but he still hews close to the sonic template of his first couple of albums. Sounding invigorated by the break, this collection of melodic synthy rockers is his most consistent and enjoyable for a long time. (Mark)
I’ll forget 17.
Wellington based muso Eddie Johnston, aka Lontalius, aka Race Banyon, has quietly built up an international following over the seven years he has been regularly posting music on his Bandcamp page and now, at 20 years old, he has his first CD released on NY based Partisan Records. Sounding far more world weary than one may expect from someone just out of their teens, he has confidently produced an excellent album of fine and gentle indie-pop. The production is pristine and the arrangements are beautiful, perfectly complementing this sweet and melancholy homage to the emotional turmoil of youth. (John)
Fans of early 80’s post-punk are in for a treat here, as this London based trio breathe new life into a sound template now over 30 years old. Their sound is sparse with driving bass, itchy spiky guitar, primitive drumming and half shouted female vocals that comes across like ‘The Slits’, ‘Gang of Four’ and the ‘Delta 5’ put into a blender and poured out of the staff room teapot of the Rough Trade shop. No surprises then that this is actually released on Rough Trade. These 12 songs, average length 2.5 mins, while danceable, have an edgy urgency about them, and dealing with consumerism, confusion and post-modern relationships, as they do, offer a taut, smart and refreshingly familiar take on indie-pop. (John)
Brian Eno’s 25th solo release, and his first vocal one since 2005’s Another Day On Earth, contains only four tracks, two of which at around 20 mins each, take up most of the disc’s 47min duration. Over the four tracks vocals are used in a variety of ways – from diffused electronically treated murmurings within glacial ambience to half sung, half spoken poems (one about war, generated by a computer algorithm), through vocoded and totally manipulated utterings barely recognisable as a human voice, to the albums closer, a lovely version of Lou Reed’s ‘I’m Set Free’ complete with lush vocal harmonies. It’s a strange, captivating and enthralling journey that stands as a highlight of Brian Eno’s later career. (John)
The first quartet.
Berklee College of Music’s alumni super group, the guitarist John Abercrombie’s First Quartet (with the pianist Richie Beirach, the bassist George Mraz, and the drummer Peter Donald) left 3 albums – Arcade (1978), Abercrombie Quartet (1979) and M (1980) – but they have long been out of print until now (Arcade was once released on CD in Japan). The rumor goes that ECM label owner Manfred Eicher had suspended them because Richie Beirach had a feud with him. In any case, they are essential recordings for both ECM and Abercrombie’s catalogues. Although there are some patchy moments in these 3 albums, music generally remains beautifully refined while taking risks, and their interplays are masterful. Abercrombie’s unique mandolin guitar stands out particularly on Arcade. This is a very welcome reissue from ECM’s ‘Old and New Masters’ series. (Shinji)
Brooklyn, NY, based Parquet Courts make smart, spiky slacker rock following a course set by US bands such as ‘Television’, ‘Pavement’ and even Jonathon Richman, and their third album finds them fine tuning their sound with a collection of highly articulate acrid songs, possibly their most accessible yet, but still loaded with suitable post-punk angst. Despite the obvious influences of ‘The Fall’ and ‘Wire’, it’s a relief to know that bands are still making music like this in our troubled post-millennial times and this may well be the perfect soundtrack. (John)
The Hope Six demolition project.
Following on from her first ‘political’ album, 2011’s Let England Shake, which focused on the first World War, PJ Harvey continues the trend with her ninth record, turning her attention to our war-torn and inequality-ridden world. Written after visiting Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C, a primal pulse moves through these songs, which feature vocal, brass and string arrangements, within which her voice sounds better than ever. Whether the criticisms levelled at the album for its ‘poverty tourism’ stance are valid or not, it’s great to hear PJ Harvey in such fine form and still socially committed and rocking hard 24 years on from her 1992 debut. (John)
Wellington based Brockaflower have built up a good local following from their live shows over the past couple of years and they do not disappoint with their debut CD. This collection of deep and soulful bass driven grooves, some sultry, some rocking, breathes confidence, and the extended length of many of the tracks (half are over 7 mins) give the compositions time to unwind in splendour. They are a nine piece band, with the musicians uncredited on the sleeve, but featured are excellent soulful male and female vocals, rapping, brass arrangements, keyboards, guitar and electronics, with a couple of tracks such as ‘Arched’ making excellent use of hypnotic loops. These cool and self-assured compositions deserve a wide audience. (John)
Ben Watt’s Hendra from 2014 was his first solo album in 30+ years, the majority of his musical career being spent as one half of the band ETBG. Guitarist Bernard Butler remains an integral part of Watt’s sound on this latest album, the last 2 years playing together having forged a deeper musical connection. A shorter set of songs this time around, built around a classicist 70s singer-songwriter sound, with dark hued tales of aging & the changing nature of relationships. Features guest vocal cameos from Boston’s dream-folk singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler and Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor. (Mark)
Originally released as a digital file, ‘Sleep’, Max Richter’s “eight hour lullaby” is now also available in a neat nine disc box set. For listeners that choose to follow the project’s original intent and play the entire work while they actually sleep, a Blu-Ray disc is included that will play all eight hours in one go. Those that choose to listen while awake will find over the eight CDs a selection of truly gorgeous ambient tracks that never wander into sugar coated New Age music territory. Dipping at random, for instance, into Disc 3 can be found two tracks of almost half an hour in length, a 7min track and a 16min piece that variously employ piano, strings, electronics and human voices to truly mesmerising effect. Max Richter has produced an ambient masterpiece featuring 31 pieces, each fully immersive yet uncomplicated, which lull the willing listener into an ethereal trance like state. Welcome to Richter’s “manifesto for a slower pace of existence”. (John)
Big black coat.
Junior Boys bring the romantic institution of the suave, lovelorn playboy, which extends down through bands including ‘Roxy Music’, ‘Spandau Ballet’, ‘Pet Shop Boys’ and ‘Hot Chip’, firmly into the 21st Century with their fifth album, which extends their sleek, minimal electro pop onto the dancefloor. The production is immaculate and the pristine and sparkling Detroit techno inspired grooves create an uber contemporary complement to Jeremy Greenspan’s songs of love and longing that are difficult not to be seduced by. (John)
Is the is are.
Brooklyn, NY, based label, Captured Tracks, have re-issued several classic Flying Nun titles and the bands on their roster have an obvious love for indie rock, none more so than ‘Diiv’, who make music that has the ability to remind keen listeners of the power, beauty and pure pleasure that the simple line-up of bass, drums and guitars can summon. The 17 tracks of their second CD feature reverb drenched hushed vocals over guitars that either wail in squalls of overdriven splendour or chime in glistening cascades, while the bass thunders in melodic harmony driven by metronomic drumming. It is excellent no frills indie rock, some tracks fast and some slow, and is highly recommended for those who love unpretentious music made by musicians who are in love with sound. (John)
Songs from a decade : the best of Beady Belle.
Lead by the lovely singer Beate S. Lech (who sings in English), Norwegian jazz/pop band Beady Belle formed in 1999 and since then they have been well loved by fans and critics alike. They have constantly issued their albums with the wonderful Norwegian jazz-and-beyond label Jazzland, and the tour with Jamie Cullum made them an international act. Songs from their first ‘very best’ album are selected with the help of fans, and nicely presents their music; a subtle mixture of pop, soul, house etc. centring around jazz. Although the tracks are not entirely in chronologically order the album shows their development as a band and disc two which is slightly darker and artistically deeper, suggests that they are the real deal. The third disc captures their fantastic live performance and indicates that they are best suited to a cosy club. Enchanting. (Shinji)
A mineral love.
Bibio’s sixth album on UK label Warp, finds him celebrating his characteristic pastiche of, ’70s and ’80s R&B, funk, electronica and pop all rolled up into an original funky folktronica quite unlike anything else one is likely to hear. He is creating his own personal summer of love here with a cheerful, candy-colored falsetto funk that seems to be giving warm and fluffy day-glo fingers to any ideas of gloom that may be prevalent in a post austerity UK. It’s not a dance album or indie-pop, nor is it jazz, lounge, folk or electronica; it’s actually all of these things, existing across multiple genres while belonging to one of Bibio’s own creation. (John)
Atomic : a soundtrack.
To mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima, director Mark Cousins made the doco “Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise” for the BBC, featuring archive footage intended to provide a comprehensive, visual history of atomic power. Scottish post-rockers, Mogwai, were commissioned to create the soundtrack and this CD finds them reworking the original material into a standout addition to their discography. The soundscapes are grand, beautiful and intense, featuring the bands’ signifying soaring guitars alongside piano and electronics as they move between blistering crescendos and more sombre, haunting passages that create an overall otherworldly sonic experience. (John)