September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for August. 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…

The returner / Russell, Allison
Mark says: Allison Russell is a member of Our Native Daughters (along with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Amythyst Kiah), but it was her critically acclaimed debut solo album 2021’s Outside child that raised her profile, receiving 3 Grammy nominations and winning several other awards. New album ‘The Returner’ expands her style of Folk into a a much broader scope, not Americana so much as ‘American’ music, as the album seems to touch on everything from Folk to R&B, rock, gospel, blues & funky pop/dance rhythms. A larger stylistic canvas gives a wider scope for her themes of blackness and triumph over adversity. Full of dense and rich lyrical stories that reveal new details with each listen.

Sam says: 4x Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and activist Allison Russell’s sophomore album ‘The Returner’ is an album of many facets. Stylistically fluid with a wide array of instruments, there is a lot to take in here, but the concise and catchy compositions brim with immediacy and are easy to get absorbed in. The recording features additions from the “Rainbow Coalition” band, a collective of all women musicians to great effect, their contributions adding much colour to the songs. Also well-regarded as a poet, Russell’s lyrics here are cathartic and captivating, perfectly complimenting the compelling and dynamic tone of the music. Overall, ‘The Returner’ is a powerful and grandiose effort.

The ones ahead / Glenn-Copeland, Beverly
Mark says: Rediscovered after decades of obscurity due to a Japanese collector’s request for copies of his 1986 album Keyboard Fantasies, the transgender Black Canadian artist became the subject of a a documentary in 2019, [Ed. IMDB] and has gone on to a late career resurgence. New album ‘The ones ahead’ is his first album of original material in 20 years. His voice is beautiful, resonant and lush, but it’s his message that shines through; a future-facing vision of unity, connection & love.

Neil says: In 1986 Beverly Glenn-Copeland released ‘Keyboard Fantasies’, an album that on its re release was hailed as one of the best ambient electronica albums of its time. On first listen to ‘The ones ahead’ there isn’t much that link the two, but closer inspection shows the same aims of healing and restoration running throughout music. The album starts of with ‘Africa calling’ where the African musical influences are obvious, but all the subsequent tracks take on a much more personal and unique character. The album could very loosely be called ambient Avant Garde jazz, with folk touches. And, as that description amply demonstrates, it is rather unique. His voice can sound like Billie Holiday or even Frank Sinatra, or any point in-between, and throughout the album he uses his voice and the supporting musical settings to spread his message of, love, inclusion, acceptance and peace.

Last rays of a dying sun / Rain Parade
Sam says: The Rain Parade found moderate success in the early to mid of the 1980s as part of the LA Paisley Underground scene, releasing two albums before calling it quits in 1986. Reforming in 2012, they have performed sporadically over the last decade before releasing ‘Last Rays of a Dying Sun’, their first album in 38 years. Despite this long passage of time, the new record very ably manages to capture the hazy psychedelic essence of their earlier work, albeit with a more immediate and aggressive tone (in part due to the more modern punchy production style). The compositions and arrangements are rich and thoughtful, making for a worthy comeback album.

Neil says: The Rain Parade originally formed in the very early 1980’s and quickly became one of the acknowledged founders of the American Paisley underground scene, which has been described in its approach to sonic palettes like an updated version of the psychedelic phase of The Byrds. ‘The Last rays of a dying sun’ is only their third album release. It sounds and feels like a perfect follow up to their previous releases with the key ingredients being: sour fuzz guitar, psychedelic hazy pop , laid back and languid melodies coupled with a lyrical sophistication few of their peers could match. Its not breaking any new territory but, that said, if you are a fan of the genre and the band you will not be disappointed.

The land is inhospitable and so are we / Mitski
Mark says: Japanese-American songwriter Mitski Miyawaki returns with another critically acclaimed album. More organic and acoustic based than the 80s synth-pop of previous album Laurel Hell, the sound mines the rich strain of classic Americana, with pedal steel, fiddles and lush, sometimes experimental, orchestral flourishes on certain tracks. Complex songs navigate & decontextualize ‘country themes’ of love, drinking, god, loneliness, the wide open landscapes & the devil. There is restrained strength in her melodic windswept narratives that channel the ghost of Nancy Sinatra, as well as Mazzy Star & Cowboy Junkies.

Sam says: With an illustrious and prolific career that has spanned a little over a decade so far, Mitski returns with her seventh full-length album, entitled ‘The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We’. Rooted in the stylings of Americana country/folk and chamber pop, the music is greatly augmented by lush orchestral and choral arrangements, making for a truly enveloping and larger-than-life listening experience. Although the instrumental arrangements are often somewhat maximalist in nature, the songs are tempered by Mitski’s quietly evocative vocals, making for a listen that simultaneously feels expansive and subdued. The album clocks in at just over 30 minutes and as such, the resulting set of songs are very concise and immediate in their execution. Despite this, it feels like a complete statement and another strong effort from Mitski.

ABoneCroneDrone / Chandra, Sheila
Mark says: Sheila Chandra was an early pioneer of World fusion, weaving Indian instrumentation and vocalizing, and this is a 2023 reissue of her 1996 album ‘ABoneCroneDrone’, the third in an acclaimed trilogy of albums she made in the 90s on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records Label. She experiments with drones – a single sustained note or chord – enhancing their harmonic and melodic structures with various instrumentation, textures, and her amazing voice to create a series of 6 tracks that are challenging, yet also sustain a soothing, trance like feel over the course of the album.

Neil says: Sheila Chandra originally made a name for herself on the musical scene in the late 80’s early 90’s with her highly successful fusion of Western pop and Indian music. After several hugely commercial albums she eventually left the commercial mainstream to sign to Real World Records to pursue a more unique and creative path free from commercial constraints . She sadly had to retire from the music world in 2009 due to health reasons. ‘ABoneCroneDrone’ was originally released in 1996. The album is an experimental, ambient work featuring amongst other elements vocal harmonics and slowly evolving vocal lines. It incorporates elements of Indian classical music , atmospheric natural sounds and interweaving and interlocking drones. It is an album with a spiritual, meditative and trance like quality.

Villagers / Califone
Mark says: Essentially the project of Chicago musician Tim Rutili, Califone have been around since the late 90s. Originally a solo offshoot from his band Red Red Meat, it has morphed into a working band with a series of regular contributors. They mine an experimental Folk/Americana niche, and latest album ‘Villagers’ has been hailed as the bands warmest and most approachable yet. Like a literary short-story collection, it’s full of odd disparate elements, with everything from AOR rock stylings to Jazz & experimental touches & girl group/doo-wop style backing vocals. However it all surprisingly makes for a pleasant easy listening whole, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek lyrical references. Reminded me a bit of the early Americana sound of Wilco or Son Volt if they had taken a broader approach to incorporating differing styles simultaneously within their music.

Sam says: Chicago-based experimental rockers Califone have enjoyed a long and prolific career, with more than fifteen releases over the span of a quarter century. On Villages, the band feels as inspired and innovative as ever. Their typically idiosyncratic indie-driven sound is augmented by a ‘70s soft rock aesthetic, with the amalgamation of folky acoustic and experimental electronic elements providing a feel that is both quirky and warm. The compositions and arrangements are immaculately crafted, forming the wild smorgasbord of elements into a cohesive, singular sound. Containing a lean nine tracks, Villagers may initially appear slimmer in scope when compared to some of their previous work, however the inventive and cohesive writing makes for an ever-thrilling listen where not a moment is wasted.

History / Bokanté
Mark says: Guitarist Michael League League met Guadeloupe-born singer Malika Tirolien in 2012, when her band opened for his band Snarky Puppy in Montreal. He invited her to sing on the band’s Grammy-winning 2013 album Family Dinner—Volume 1, and she was the first name that came to mind when he decided to form a new project based on the blues diaspora. The resulting group, Bokanté, are a world collective, featuring members from five countries and four continents, with different cultures, genders and age groups. On this, their third album, they did deep into Blues traditions via a World perspective, with the focus on Tirolien’s Guadeloupean Creole singing, textured guitar sounds, and African/Arab string & percussion instrumentation. The lyrics convey various current social and political issues, with the perspective of bringing a voice to the ‘voiceless’, along with a mantra of unity.

Sam says: Masterminded by Snarky Puppy leader Michael League and Canadian singer Malika Tirolien, Bokanté are an experimental pop group featuring a vide variety of world music flavours. Whereas League’s more well-known group are deeply entrenched in the world of modern jazz-fusion, here this influence is tangential at best. Their third album ‘History’ sees them embracing the blues, with West African and Arabic influences shining through. Most tracks feature lyrics sung in Guadeloupean Creole and feature a wide assortment of traditional non-Western instruments alongside more contemporary sounds, to make for a dynamic and colourful sound. Celebrating black history, global unity, the futility of war, identity, decolonization and alternative histories, ‘History’ is an album that is equally earnest and powerful.

João / Gilberto, Bebel.
Mark says: Bebel Gilberto is a best selling Grammy-nominated Brazilian musician. She is also the daughter of João Gilberto, the legendary guitarist, singer, composer and pioneer of bossa nova music. This tribute album was perhaps inevitable at some point in her career, and it’s inception lay in a tribute concert to 60 years of bossa nova that she participated in after his death in 2019. In her own words ‘I finally learned how to sing my father’s songs’, and so now the album ‘João’ is a heartfelt tribute to her father, and the music she had experienced first-hand since her childhood. Pared back empathetic arrangements and tender vocals make for a very soothing album.

Neil says: Bebel Gilberto is well known for her own unique brand of electronic bossa nova, a style that has made her one of the best-selling Brazilian musicians ever. The bossa nova connection is perhaps not so surprising, as her father was the legendary bossa nova musician João Gilberto with whom she travelled when he toured, and who she credits as teaching her about music. ‘João’ is a tribute album to her late father featuring covers of his work. It is an album of intimate melancholy with tender delicate guitar, and constructed from organic Brazilian rhythms and sparse minimalist components. This self-imposed sparseness forces Bebel to make the most of every element and musical moment. It is a lovely album, a fitting tribute to both her father and a legendary musician.