Staff Picks CDs – December and the New Year

We’ve put together a selection of some new Staff Pick CDs for the end of the year. Watch out for our picks for the Best Library CDs of 2015 in January!

Cover imageB’lieve I’m goin down…
Kurt Vile’s sixth studio album, and the third since 2011’s break through, ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, finds him replacing the ‘70’s stoner guitar riffing with more intimate, wistful songs delivered via banjo and piano. The overall feel is melancholic, with Vile’s laconic vocals lending themselves to this mood with great effect. He appears to have simplified things, which enable the melodies and songs to stand out, and this works in his favour, as he is a great songwriter and is proving to be an artist of substantial talent. (John)

Cover imageLa di da di.
Anyone bemoaning that there is nothing new under the sun needs to listen the latest record by NY three-piece, Battles – “blurry and crystalline, fractured and tuneful, programmed and played, it’s rare that a Battles track goes for more than 10 seconds without some conspicuous change”. It’s their third release over eight years, so they aren’t exactly prolific, and their first with no vocals. 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. There is no-one making music quite like this, so analogies are difficult, their sound, while dense and exhilarating, is, at times, playful, and can be challenging, however, those with the courage to dive in will be amply rewarded. (John)

Cover imageBody complex.
The latest release on the Ghostly International label is a work of sleek and warm minimal electronica, more German in design than American. Jakub Alexander, aka Heathered Pearls, recently commissioned Hamburg based, Dial Records label founder, Lawrence to remix one of his tracks and the deep house influence has obviously seeped through. This is the first Heathered Pearls release featuring beats, and they are used here to gently move the layered electronic sounds forward. The rhythmic tracks are interspersed with ambient pieces which gives the whole record a beautiful soothing and elegant feel, creating sounds that are as close to architecture as music. (John)

Cover imageThe original ending.
Janina is Janina Nicoll, whose brother records under the name Stevie Starr. She released an EP ‘Mercy’ in 2004 with cellist Francesca Mountfort, before moving to London for a few years. Moving back to Wellington she engineered and produced her debut herself, alongside brother/musician Stevie Starr. With Janina on vocals, guitar, clarinet, saxophone & Theremin, it welds together an organic framework with electronic beats. Definitely worth a listen if you like idiosyncratic female singers (Bat For Lashes, Feist, Joan as Police Woman). (Mark)

StaffPicksCDs4Compressions & rarefactions.
Taylor Deupree’s 12K label has been around for a while and has developed a very particular aesthetic. You can pretty much guarantee that any release will be highly immersive, quality ambience and 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. Contained here are two tracks, each close to half an hour long, that comprise ‘Compressions’, while the three tracks that comprise ‘Rarefactions’, downloaded via a voucher included when you buy the CD, stretch out over almost five and a half hours. Here’s how one reviewer was affected – “This work speckled my days with expansive, articulate sounds that I sampled from at my leisure. I put it down and picked it up again when I craved its distinct, near-therapeutic timbres, confident I could click in anywhere and have my perspective shifted.”. If you have a taste for ambient music you are encouraged to listen to this and then buy the CD for yourself and download the full work. (John)

Cover imageFrom Sleep.
Max Richter’s follow up to ‘The Four Seasons’, his lovely re-scoring of the Vivaldi classic, is ‘Sleep’, an experimental piece comprised of 32 tracks lasting eight hours designed to be played while one is asleep. That work is only available as a digital file so the seven tracks on this CD are a one hour adaptation that, according to the composer, are designed to listen to while awake. The music itself is warm, gentle and slow moving ambient/neo classical with Richter playing piano, synth and electronics with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble adding wordless vocals and strings. There are no sharp edges here, the music sombre, hymn like and as gentle as wisps of cloud. (John)

Cover imageCovered : the Robert Glasper Trio recorded live at Capitol Studios.
US jazz/r’n’b pianist, Robert Glasper just won his second R’n’B Grammy for ‘Black Radio 2’ and here reforms the acoustic jazz trio from his first two Blue Note albums for a set recorded live in the Capitol Records studio. However, this is not a return to his roots but an acoustic version of his more recent r’n’b style, reversioning “I Don’t Even Care” from ‘Black Radio 2’ and performing instrumental cover versions of artists including Radiohead, Joni Mitchell and Bilal. The trio’s ability to translate neo-soul and indie rock as jazz is impressive, resulting in an engaging and very smooth record that challenges genre boundaries in an impressive fashion. (John)

Cover imageBays.
The new album from Fat Freddy’s Drop begins with a familiar blend of reggae/funk/dub, but then extends the musical palette out a bit with some heavier electronic influences. Some might find tracks like ‘Razor’ & ‘Cortina Motors’ drifting too far into the floors of clubland for their liking as 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. The ‘Bays’ world tour hits NZ in late December. Gig dates here. (Mark)

Cover imageRetouched.
Ex Thompson Twin Tom Bailey recently returned to London after living in Auckland for quite a number of years. During his time here he released four excellent albums of very cool and smooth dub based grooves under the name International Observer. ‘Retouched’ is the second collection of International Observer remixes from over the last 22 years. Artists remixed include Pitch Black, Bic Runga and The Exponents and five of the remixes here have never been released before. It would be difficult to find a better example of the sunny summer dub sound and ‘Touched’, the first remix collection, comes as highly recommended, as do the last two International Observer studio albums ‘Felt’ and the quite lovely ‘All Played Out’. (John)

Cover imageIllegals in heaven.
Brisbane based Blank realm are three siblings and a friend who are gaining international acclaim and for good reason. This is actually their ninth release since 2007, counting their early CDRs, and over that time they have fine honed their splendidly shambolic lo-fi garage rock sound and learned how to write songs. Last year’s ‘Grassed In’ was shortlisted for the ‘Most Popular Artist’ and ‘Album of the Year’ in the 2014 Queensland Music Awards and this new album is, surprisingly, the first one actually recorded in a studio – even if it was just for one day! With the internationally acclaimed local sound architect Lawrence English adding electronics and field recordings as well as co-producing, mixing and mastering, it is indeed a match made in heaven and will be on many end of year best of lists. (John)

Cover imageCosmic radio station / The Shifting Sands.
It’s nice to know that the classic Dunedin sound is alive and well represented on this album, recorded at various locations around Port Chalmers by three guys who also run ‘Chicks’ the Port Chalmers indie music venue. Featuring David Kilgour on two tracks, the sound is all you may hope for from the home of the indie jangle – psychedelic folk pop, fleshed out with some lovely strings on a couple of tracks. Lead songwriter, Michael Mcleod, attended Graeme Downes’, of the Verlaines, Popular Music songwriting course at The University of Otago and it is great to witness a local musical culture continuing to thrive. (John)

Cover imageThank you.
The sad news early last week on the passing of Scott Weiland will no doubt lead to some reflection on his career & legacy. Derided by critics when they first emerged (as their first couple of albums became bestsellers) STP were hailed as copyists & sell-outs of the worst kind, cashing in on the ‘grunge’ sound that was prevalent at the time. But, much like English band ‘Bush’, STP were never really a grunge band to begin with. They were a great pop band in disguise. From their 2nd album onwards their ‘pop’ side came to the fore with big hooks & melodies, and Weiland’s love of Bowie, glam-pop & neo-psychedelic rock. And while many assumed the bands strength was the DeLeo brothers monster riffs with Weiland just the voice, his 2 excellent solo albums (1998’s 12 Bar Blues & 2008’s Happy In Galoshes) proved he was the groups centre. ‘Thank you’ collects up 15 of the group’s strongest tracks, which the Allmusic review states as ‘some of the best singles of the ’90s’. (Mark)

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. As the title implies, this is a night time album, for which headphones are recommended, as the finely tuned edges of this music need the close attention to detail that headphones bring out. What is discovered is a captivating and deeply satisfying pastoral/digital sound world awash with buzzes, drones, reverb and some sparkling acoustic guitar. (John)

Cover imageHave you in my wilderness.
LA experimental songstress Julia Holter’s fourth album, a lush cinematic collection of chamber pop, finds her coming across as a bit like Lana Del Rey’s moody older sister. Her voice is treated as an instrument, multi tracked and layered, with gentle effects added, while the string arrangements are breathtaking, soaring and complementing the heartfelt songs perfectly without ever becoming overblown. Stylistically wavering between jazz and pop, there is no guitar, just stand-up bass and drums backing her various keyboards as she explores the ground laid down by that great LA songstress, Joni Mitchell, while maintaining the art school edge of Laurie Anderson and Nico, yet creating something fresh and original. (John)

Cover imageFoam island.
This follow up to 2013’s excellent ‘News From Nowhere’ find the UK electronic duo leaving their dance floor roots even farther behind, creating a lovely understated record of beguiling indie electro pop. Inhabiting a similar domain to ALT-J, they are found here presenting a collection of lovingly produced and catchy alt-pop songs interspersed with field recordings and vocal snippets of young adults from Huddersfield, a town located close to where Darkstar are based. The duo are obviously concerned about the world UK teens are growing up in and here do their best to offer some solidarity via the music and the cover photos. Their message is pretty well summed up in the videos for Pin Secure and Stoke the Fire…..(John)

Cover imageThank your lucky stars.
For some odd reason, rather than ‘Depression Cherry’, released just three months ago, being a double album, we have a follow up Beach House CD already – and it is definitely not the studio leftovers one may expect, in fact, if anything, it is even better then ‘Depression Cherry’. Forming a great counterpoint to the lush, soothing and expected sound of ‘Depression Cherry’, the songs on this album are a bit rockier and gently expand the boundaries of the Beach House sound. Just listen to the excellent ‘Elegy to the Void’ for some idea. Another great Beach House record and a great way to end 2015. (John)