October’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for October. You can catch up with Part 1 here. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out…

Headful of sugar / Sunflower Bean
Mark: Sunflower Bean are a US Brooklyn-based trio, who use dual female/male leads in their catchy mix of indie pop/rock, very much influenced by the type of music that was labelled ‘alternative’ in the 90s. Previous efforts, 2016’s Human Ceremony & 2018’s TwentyTwo in Blue garnered comparisons to Blake Babies, Blondie and classicist 70s pop, but their new album has a more dreamy electro bombast and arrangements that reminded me in places of classic Garbage, a more clubby version of The Corrs, and that trip-hop/pop sound used in the 90s by bands like Sneaker Pimps or Mono. Lyrically the songs are very much a reflection of how they view late stage capitalism as people in their mid-20s.
Neil: New York indie rock outfit Sunflower Bean, lauded for their carefully crafted image, have release their third album. It finds the band still rightfully furious about the state of the world, especially the current situation in America. The album has a much more optimistic overall tone than their previous outings, but still makes bold statements lyrically whilst never veering into truly bleak territory. The music can best be described as cool rock pop, with elements of alt rock and glam. Think the slightly commercial sides of Courtney Love or Shirley Manson.

Extreme / Nilsson, Molly
Mark: Molly Nilsson is a DIY synth-pop artist who has been making atmospheric, lo-fi, melodic, dark goth-pop albums for over a decade. Described as her most radio-friendly release so far, this is a super catchy slice of retro-AOR 80s pop. Guitars add a MBV vibe to some tracks, while others veer into more danceable territory, however at times it’s almost too close to a pastiche. Still, an enjoyable throwback sound. If you ever wondered what Aimee Mann’s old band ‘Til Tuesday would have sounded like if they just played synth-pop, then give it a listen.
Neil: The tenth album from doyen of the synth pop world, Molly Nilsson, opens to the sound of gnarly fuzz box guitars, before more familiar 80’s and 90’s inspired melodic synths arrive resplendent with beats to accompany them. The tempo’s speed for each track varies from dance floor to more 80’s ballad grooves in pace. It’s an album that embraces a kind of heightened euphoric feel to the lyrics,  underpinned with a contemporary “we might just be near the end type undercurrent” that sharpens their intensity.

Done come too far / Copeland, Shemekia
Mark: The tenth album from this American blues singer, who also incorporates rock, soul & americana into her work. Thematically this follows on from her last couple of albums, 2018’s America’s Child and 2020’s ‘Uncivil War’, as there is a more political and social focus amongst her stories. She attempts to understand the racial and cultural divides in modern America, while also casting a compassionate and empathetic light on the varied peoples that make up its modern constitution. Her powerful voice is equally at home on heartfelt ballads, modern blues and tongue-in-cheek swampy rockers; the songs cover everything from racial profiling and social ills, to navigating the landscape of modern America as a Black woman and parent, to falling in love with Honkey cowboys.
Neil: Four-time Grammy nominated Shemekia Copeland’s tenth album is a powerful work of personal and politically rooted blues-roots music, with some lighter songs thrown in. Delivered with Shemekia’s characteristically strong clear gospel blues voice, it’s unsurprising that most of the tracks show she is deeply aware of her surroundings and is unafraid to call out the injustices of the system in the lyrics. It’s a great album written from the perspective of an African American woman, mother and musician, conscious of the flawed society world she lives in.

Clowns exit laughing : the Jimmy Webb songbook
Mark: The latest entry in Ace Records ‘Songwriter’ series features iconic songwriter Jimmy Webb. It’s hard to think of a writer whose songs more defined the 60s than Jimmy Webb. The fact that Glen Campbell had a country hit with ‘By The Time I get To Phoenix’ and then Isaac Hayes had a soul hit with the same song is a testament to Webb’s timeless song writing skills, and the ability of these songs to translate into any musical style and emotional shading. The collection doesn’t just focus on the 60s, but expands to cover the his extensive catalogue of the past six decades: so you get some classic 60s songs, but also tracks from everyone from Nina Simone, to The Supremes, to Waylon Jennings and Everything But The Girl. As usual there are several rare, seldom-heard original versions of songs primarily associated with other artists.
Neil: ‘Clowns exit laughing: the Jimmy Webb songbook’ is a twenty-four-track focussed dive into the song writing work of one of the most prolific and recognisable songwriters of all time, Jimmy Webb. The compilation concentrates on his imperial phase, where he seemed to write a future classic for a major artist every month or two, with tracks such as ‘By the time I get to Phoenix’, Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Macarthur Park’. There are some rare, or rarely heard, original versions of tracks that are better known in other forms. That said, there are original versions of songs by such superstars as Glen Campbell, The Everly Brothers, The Walker Brothers, Nina Simone, and Dusty Springfield to name but a few, making this an essential introduction to this giant of song writing.

Autofiction / Suede (Musical group)
Mark: Few artists have regrouped after a decade apart to record new material with as much critical acclaim as Suede. 2013 comeback Bloodsports, 2016’s Night Thoughts and 2018’s The Blue Hour all formed a loose trilogy of sorts full of melodrama with layered strings, theatrical flourishes and foreboding lyrics. They wanted to create a more simple, more ‘punk’, sound for their latest album; they have dialled up the guitars, delivering a squalling and muscular album. This work finds its strengths in the fact that they are a middle aged band looking back at youth, feeling their mortality but punching forward musically. A great reinvention as Brett Anderson’s vocals are in great shape, he abandons the big budget production and abstract writing of pervious albums for more raw, urgent, and personal reflections.
Neil: ‘Autofiction’ is the ninth studio release from Suede, known as one of the 90’s Britpop ‘big four’ who enjoyed huge success, critically and commercially, during that decade. ‘Autofiction’ is a swaggering back to basics release that would not sound out of place had it been released in their imperial phase. Always known for their drama-laden guitar and vocals delivered with fire and energy, this late career album captures the passionate, urgent sound much beloved in their earlier album releases.

Au Suisse / Au Suisse
Mark: The debut full-length collaboration between electronic producers Morgan Geist and Kelley Polar is more 80s influenced new romantic synth-pop. The crystalline production gives it a bit of an icy sheen, and the pulsing synths and echoy soundstage contrast nicely with Polar’s warm vocals.
Neil: Au Suisse’s debut album is a modern, gracefully unfolding work that takes much of its inspiration from early 80’s disco electro pop, an album that reimagines the work of artists like The Pet Shop Boys, Talk Talk (before they embraced their later period expansive sound) and especially Scritti Politti. The album takes these influences and gives them a laid back and chilled out reworking, with layers of lush harmony and contemporary silky-smooth feathery production.

World wide pop / Superorganism
Mark: Eight-piece London indie pop band formed in 2017, with four of the members having played together before in Wellington’s own The Eversons. Following on from 2017’s self-titled album, ‘World wide pop’ features contributions from Chai & also slacker icon Stephen Malkmus among others: as well as more goofy samples, wacky tempos, sweet harmonies, rapping, audio mashups and deadpan vocals from teen singer Orono Noguchi. It’s all super-catchy, but a bit over the top: part silly, part annoying, part genius. Much like hyperpop, it can be a bit tiring, and probably all comes down to how much tolerance you have for this sort of thing.
Neil: The second album from the sprawling indie pop outfit Superorganism finds the international collective of musicians deliver a work that pushes many of the limitations of genre wide open, and does so with the help of a wide collection of guest artists such as Stephen Malkmus, Gen Hoshino, Boa Constrictors, CHAI, Pi Ja Ma and Dylan Cartlidge. There’s a lot of euphoric pop hooks, cartoon samples and experimentation going on, not to mention a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour. It all sound fresh, but perhaps with so many musicians involved it does sound a bit unfocussed at times.

Vulture prince / Aftab, Arooj
Mark: “Vulture Prince” is the third album from Brooklyn-based Pakistani composer Arooj Aftab. It made ‘Best of the Year’ picks even halfway through last year, and has been pressed on Vinyl three times since it came out last April – all of which sold out almost instantly. It’s critical and commercial success led to her being nominated for two Grammys: Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance, as well as being signed to major label, Verve Records, which resulted in this CD issue. An amazing sounding album: a mixture of chamber jazz, Hindustani classical minimalism and neo-Sufi, centred around her crystal clear voice. A truly beautiful and haunting work.
Neil: ‘Vulture Prince’ by Pakistan-born Arooj Aftab is a total revelation. A heartbreaking, beautiful, plaintive, melancholic and quite exquisite album about loss, passing moments and our interconnections. It has roots in Hindustani classical, cool Jazz, and folk. It very carefully balances the deep layered minimalism of most of the album with brief slightly more orchestrated moments. It’s an outstanding work, and there is absolutely no surprise that it made it on to so many peoples ‘Best Of 2021’ lists.

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