Staff Picks CDs – January

This month’s selection includes a selection of contemporary, electronic, local and overseas acts, as well as a highly recommended audiobook.

Cover image#7885 electropunk to technopop.
This career spanning compilation, curated by Richard Kirk himself (one half of the duo), serves both as an excellent entry point for the curious and as a great reminder for fans as to how cool CV actually were. It’s a fascinating take on the band’s evolution, including 19 tracks, many of these singles, from 1978-1985. Moving from the noisy industrial sound of “Nag Nag Nag”, through the post punk of “Seconds Too Late” to the electronic dance cut-up of tracks like “Sensoria” without compromising their sound was quite a feat and the inclusion of essays by Kirk and Mute’s Daniel Miller helps explain just how it was all done. (John)

Cover imageOur love.
Each release under the Caribou moniker from Canadian producer Dan Snaith, slightly shifts the template and his latest release, four years on from 2010’s ‘Swim’, finds him incorporating more of the dance floor flourishes of his electronic side project, Daphni. So what we get this time is an excellent collection of beautifully produced electronic alt pop. Snaith has developed his vocal style considerably and here his fragile falsetto is beguiling and curiously effective in delivering these gently off-kilter, and at times austere, songs around the theme of love immersed in a rich and rewarding sound. (John)

Cover imagesIn the wild.
It seems that releasing a record on the Ninja Tune label gives artists a good motive to side step their usual production styles and explore the more lush and atmospheric aspects of their music. NY producer FaltyDl’s fourth record is a good example. His first release on the label, 2012’s ‘Hardcourage’, was a lovely set of downtempo compositions and “In the Wild” veers even further from the beat driven side of things, incorporating a soundfield that is like the great outdoors (hence the album’s title), in which cloudlike melodies echo and fade, or sometimes get blown away completely. The tone is of a faded melancholia but with occasional vocal samples and expertly programmed beats adding colour, beauty and depth to a surprisingly mature work. (John)

Cover imageSyro.
His first album for 13 years finds Richard James on top form, producing, arguably, his best record yet. With not a dud track this is pretty much as good as electronic music gets. Between the gentle vocal sample of the first track to the lovely ambient piano of the last, most electronic music genres are referenced in one way or another, yet the overall feel of most of the tracks is of a relentless ongoing organic unfolding. To be able to come up with a sound as fresh and original as this is remarkable, especially when coming from a veteran electronic producer who started out way back in the early 90’s. Surprisingly accessible, and to quote Pitchfork Media: “Sixty-five minutes of highly melodic, superbly arranged, precisely mixed, texturally varied electronic music that sounds like it could have come from no other artist”. (John)

Cover imageMystery girl [deluxe].
Deluxe CD/DVD reissue of Roy Orbison’s last album features nine unreleased tracks, comprising of studio demos and a previously unreleased song, while the DVD features a new hour-long documentary on the making of the album, featuring interviews with Steve Cropper, Tom Petty, Mick Campbell and Jeff Lynne. Even though he made some great albums during his tenure at MGM in the late 60s-70s’ & was still hugely popular touring in Europe, most of the 70’s & early 80s were lean times for Orbison. His hit making days seemed over, but the use of his song ‘In Dream’s in David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet reignited interest in Orbison, and when he joined a ‘collaborative’ band formed by friends George Harrison & Jeff Lynne that became the Travelling Wilburys his comeback seemed complete. But more was to come; excited by his musical rejuvenation Orbison had begun working on a new album, produced by Lynne. Tragically his constant work schedule took its toll on his health & he died of a heart attack before the album was released. On its release in 1989 the album was a huge commercial success, a Top 5 hit, eventually earning Orbison his first platinum award for over 1 million sales, and featured the worldwide Top 10 smash ‘You Got It’, and Orbison became the first musician since Elvis Presley to have two albums in the Top Five at the same time. The success of the album, which sounds little different from the majority of his 60s hits, was a testament to the timeless-ness of his song-writing and amazing voice, and this new deluxe edition is like rediscovering the album all over again. (Mark)

Cover imageHappening is happening.
German electronic producer Roman Flugel’s music defies pigeonholing. This follow up to 2011’s ‘Fatty Folders’ finds him again deconstructing and reconfiguring house, techno, 70’s krautrock, ’90s IDM and even ‘80’s electro into interesting hybrids that inhabit an ever-transforming musical landscape. Close listening reveals a meticulous producer at work, looping and modifying sounds in a bewildering array of textures and rhythms, sometimes dreamy, sometimes four to the floor, but always melodic, accessible and absorbing. Released on Lawrence’s Hamburg based Dial label, this is a fine example of an accomplished electronic producer finding an original voice. (John)

Cover imageMidnight blues : Paris, London, 1968-72.
This CD comprises tracks drawn from three out of print releases by ‘60’s French chanteuse Francoise Hardy. All sung in English, the songs are a mixture of original compositions and interpretations of material by contemporaries such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. She was by far the most successful female French vocalist/songwriter of the time and her style and looks ensured her role as a fashion icon. Listening to this is an escapist’s dream, like being transported to a strange and beautifully innocent world, lovely, harmonious and unashamedly twee. The re-mastering is great, with her voice, gentle guitar and the string arrangements sounding gorgeous, and to help put it all into context there are extensive liner notes written by Bob Stanley of St Etienne. (John)

Cover imageNaga.
Tucked away in the ‘Other Instrument’ section in Central Library’s CD collection is a new Wellington gem ‘Naga: New Music For Gamelan’ (CD Other instruments NAG). Gamelan arrived in New Zealand in 1975, when ethnomusicologist Allan Thomas imported an antique Gamelan from Java. Since then, Gamelan has become an integral part of Victoria University’s School of Music. The gamelan’s core group of regular players comprises mostly current and former students, alongside interested members from the wider community who meet regularly to play, and in 2013 the two troupes (one playing Javanese style, the other Balinese) toured six Indonesian cities playing 14 performances over three weeks. The core of their performances were 12 original pieces, composed specifically for the tour, featured on this CD. Produced by Jack Body, this is an entrancing work and one can only marvel that this hypnotic and astoundingly beautiful music was composed and recorded here in Wellington. (John)

Cover imageShelter.
London based house/techno producer Moire, named after the term for the result of patterns superimposed on one another, chose his name well, as repetitive loops form the basis of his deep and vaguely unsettling introspective take on dance music. Signed to Actress’s Werkdiscs label and licensed to Ninja Tune this is a record that interprets Detroit techno through a filter recognisable as the dark electronic London sound of Burial and Actress. The results are fascinating, with ultra-deep grooves and lush synth washes surfacing and submerging into murky layers of endlessly looping samples and handclaps. Fans of both Actress and Moodymann should enjoy this. (John)

Cover imageSound of lies / The Jayhawks.
Following the departure of key songwriter & co-founder Mark Olson, it was uncertain if the remaining members would even continue recording under the ‘Jayhawks’ moniker. Fortunately Gary Louris took the bands helm on 1997’s ‘The Sound of Lies’ and crafted a series of emotionally resonant songs that touched on his split with Olson & the turmoil of a recent divorce. Louris also moved the band away from the traditional country-based sound that had dominated through a series of acclaimed earlier releases & cemented their reputation as one of the founders (along with Uncle Tupelo/Wilco) of the what came to be called ‘Alt-Country’. The wider sonic palette featuring harder guitars, Beatle-esque pop, organs, mellatrons and strings, bringing the sound closer to the psychedelic tinged power-pop of, say, someone like Matthew Sweet – who provided guest vocals on ‘Sixteen Down’. While some older fans objected to this new sound, others consider ‘Sound of Lies’ to be one of the band’s best albums. But it’s the songs that count in the end, and Louris stepped up to craft one quality song after another, the rich harmonies with Karen Grotberg adding a whole new dimension to the band. This 2014 reissue features a nicely remastered sound & adds 5 bonus tracks to the original running order. An essential 90s album. (Mark)

Cover imageAimer et perdre = To love & to lose : songs, 1917-1934.
Two compilations, each featuring collections of songs and tunes from an America long gone, re-mastered from rare 78’s. The grandfather of graphic novels, American artist Robert Crumb, provided the illustrations for ‘Aimer et Perdre’ which place the music in its 1930’s context perfectly, and this double disc collection is worth checking out for the packaging alone.
Cover imageWork hard, play hard, pray hard : hard time, good time & end time music, 1923-1936.
The second three disc set is largely drawn from the collection of reclusive now deceased collector, Don Wahle, and was literally rescued from a dumpster in the middle of the night. With extensive liner notes and great attention to detail, US re-issue label Tompkins Square have done a great job in dusting off these ghosts to be enjoyed by a new audience who live in a different world that has surprising similarities with the past as the sentiments and heartaches expressed remain universal. (John)

Cover imageI, Partridge : we need to talk about Alan.
This six disc audio book version of the autobiography of Steve Coogan’s creation – radio jock Alan Partridge – is a great listen that offers many laugh-out-loud moments. If you haven’t read the book then this is a great way to sit back and be entertained by one of the most talented comedians around today. (John)

Cover imageTemporary : selections from Dunedin’s pop underground 2011-2014.
If this were the only CD of new indie music listened to this year then you would be well served. Maybe there’s something in the water down in Dunedin because when they put their minds to it the local southern musicians seem to unfailingly hit a rich creative vein of fresh alt pop. From the metronomic groove of Mavis Gary through the haunted jangle of Death and the Maiden to the lovely organ driven harmonies of The Prophet Hens (and they are only the first three tracks!), this collection of tracks by 13 young Dunedin bands embraces a wide variety of indie styles with hardly a dud offering, and presents a dazzling reflection of the region’s rich musical heritage through sparkling new glass. (John)

Cover imageSoused / Scott Walker + Sunn O))).
When Scott Walker sings, in all his operatic baritone splendour, “No raindrops on roses nor whiskers on kittens” as Sunn O’s guitars howl and swoop menacingly in the background like enormous twin raptors you get the idea this is definitely not a Walker Brothers revival project. Like the best experimental theatre, Scott Walker alienates a large percentage of his audience, but the remaining brave souls regard him as a contemporary genius. Many critics considered ‘Bisch Bosch’, his last release, unlistenable, consequentially this represents his most accessible work for some time, featuring, as it does, a suggestion of melodies as he earnestly croons his surreal lyrics into a compelling cavern of dark sound created by Sunn O’s gigantic and ominous overdriven guitars. An intriguing work that makes more sense the more it is listened to. (John)