December’s New Music for Te Awe


Statler: Well, it was good.
Waldorf: Ah, it was very bad.
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: Ah, it was in the middle there.
Statler: Ah, it wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.”
-‘The Muppet Show’.

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries. I buy music for the CD & Vinyl collections, and also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). My Music Specialist colleague Sam, and Fiction Specialist (and avid music fan) Neil, join me every month to cast an eye over the new material we have been buying for the music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. We pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres, and try to limit our reviews to a few lines only. Can we encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? [Ed. This is probably unlikely at this point]. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? [Ed. This is more than likely]. Read on to find out…

My 21st century blues / RAYE
Mark Says: Debut full-length studio album from English artist Raye, who gained recognition as a songwriter-producer for other artists after she was signed to Polydor at age 17. A mini-album & series of EPs saw her nominated for a BRIT award 4 times, and and become one of the most streamed (2.3 billion) artists in the world. In 2019 she was awarded the BMI Impact Award in recognition of her ‘ground-breaking artistry, creative vision and impact on the future of music’. However after revealing that Polydor has been sitting on her debut for several years she split acrimoniously with the label and became an independent artist, releasing ‘My 21st century blues’ at the beginning of 2023 to universal acclaim. A darkly tinged musical journey through funky soul, hip hop vibes and many other genres, full of emotionally charged writing and unfiltered emotions it digs into various themes with candour, including experiences around alcohol & drug addiction, body dysmorphia, and sexual assault.
Sam Says: Rachel Agatha Keen (known professionally as Raye) is a singer/songwriter from the UK. Having released several EPs over the space of a near decade, in 2023 she has come forth with a debut full-length album entitled My 21st Century Blues. Fusing pop, dance, and R&B, with (true to the title) a notable blues flavour, the music bubbles with vigour and immediacy, the various musical styles fusing together in a way that enables the album to continue to feel fresh and exciting over its full forty-five-minute course. Raye’s vocals are equally energetic and emotive, providing a kaleidoscope of moods to the already colourful music. Overall, ‘My 21st Century Blues’ is a modern pop gem.

Mermaidens / Mermaidens
Mark Says: Mermaidens return with their fourth full length. Gone are the, sometimes obtuse, post-punk/psyche-rock overtones of their previous work for a slicker more pop sound that harks back to the fizzy ‘Alt-Pop’ that ran through bands like Pixies, The Breeders & Belly, with dashes of 80s shoegaze & punk. With Samuel Scott Flynn (Phoenix Foundation) at the helm as producer, there is a real sense of arrival with this album. Every musical element is cleanly locked in place, the song-writing is more immediate & catchy, with plenty of pop hooks, along with more harmonies and shimmery, hypnotic, grooves. Perhaps their best album yet, and clearly one headed for the top in the next local music awards.
Sam Says: Having become one of the most celebrated alternative/indie rock acts in Wellington over the past decade, Mermaidens return with their fourth album, the eponymously titled ‘Mermaidens’. They had previously released albums via legendary NZ label Flying Nun, however this time the band opted for the independent route, funding and releasing the album themselves. The music is more streamlined and focused than before, with some of the more angular and dissonant aspects found in their previous work pared back for a more accessible, yet still heavy-hitting sound. ‘Mermaidens’ does notably mellow over its course, with several songs in the first half showcasing grunge-y, post-punk stomp, which makes way for more expansive and atmospheric pieces as the album wears on. Overall, the album finds Mermaidens sounding more confident in their skin than before and is possibly their strongest statement yet.

Pearlies / Anderson, Emma
Mark Says: Emma Anderson is one of the co-founders of UK shoegaze band Lush, who still cast a long shadow over the genre. Her first solo album, this emerged from tracks left-over from a potential follow up to the Lush’s reunion EP/tour. The album keeps some of Lush’s textured shoegaze trademarks, but focuses more on a layered dream-pop sound, shimmering guitars and electronic touches. Maps’ James Chapman produced the album and added some synth parts and Suede guitarist Richard Oakes featured on a number of the tracks. Perhaps just the start of her new music journey.
Neil Says: Back in the 1990’s Lush were being touted as one the bands most likely to achieve huge commercial success with their populist brand of indie-pop-shoegaze and, whilst the band achieved considerable critical acclaim, that huge commercial breakthrough never quite came. Emma Anderson shared vocal duties in the band, and ‘Pearlies’ is her first solo outing and is created from songs originally intended for a failed Lush reunion project. Sensibly she has steered clear of the Lush shoegaze guitar sound and instead adopts a dreamy, electro pop sound. This album is more reminiscent of Goldfrapp than Lush. It is a very convincing outing with a hypnotic-pop atmosphere.

Desire, I want to turn into you / Polachek, Caroline
Mark Says: Polachek’s ‘Desire, I want to turn into you’, her fourth studio album, finally gets a physical release after it’s digital debut in Feb. Critically acclaimed (94 on Metacritic) it has already made an entry into the top 10 of various end of year music lists, making it to 2nd on Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2023). Super catchy, re-contextualized 90s dance floor pop & jittery beats merge into some of the best produced pop of the year. ‘Fly To You’ features both Grimes & Dido, which probably gives you an idea of how this sounds.
Sam Says: Having enjoyed successful careers both as a solo artist and with her former band Chairlift, Caroline Polachek returns in 2023 with her aptly titled fourth full-length album Desire, I Want to Turn into You. The music is varied and enigmatic, fusing ‘80s-esque art-pop with more modern stylings. It is thoroughly electronic at its core, however a few instrumental surprises pop up along the way, such as the implementation of Spanish guitars and bagpipes, as well as guest vocals from legendary artists Dido and Grimes. Polachek’s vocals often come across as acrobatic, though they are always deeply emotive in their execution. The album has been met with universal critical acclaim and stands as a high point in modern pop music.

Lahai / Sampha
Sam Says: Lahai is the second full-length release by British/Sierra-Leone R&B artist Sampha. Known for his collaborations with big-name artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Frank Ocean, and many others, he has forged a presence in the R&B and hip-hop worlds over the past ten-plus years. Arriving six years after his widely acclaimed debut Process (which won the 2017 Mercury Prize), Lahai finds Sampha operating in a confident and comfortable manner, showcased by the potent songwriting and slick production. The album has an overall more optimistic mood than its predecessor, a sentiment inspired by fatherhood. Featuring twelve tracks over forty minutes, the tightly woven songs and arrangements leave a strong impression, making for a powerful and moving album that will be celebrated by fans of Sampha’s previous work.
Neil Says: ‘Lahai’ (named after his grandfather) is London based musician Sampha’s second solo outing, following his first, Process, which won the 2017 Mercury prize. He has collaborated with some of the most heavyweight musicians in the music world such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, and in this hugely expansive and ambitious album he effortlessly blends grime, African folk, Jazz, jungle, soul, electronica and R&B with a distinctively alternative edge. The lyrical content is equally expansive, exploring such varied but interconnected subjects as fatherhood, Afrofuturism and particle physics. A beautiful and constantly revealing album. It was described as the musical equivalent of creating beautiful chaos by throwing glitter in the air, and we couldn’t agree more.

Hostile environment / Creation Rebel
Neil Says: It has been over forty years since the last Creation Rebel release. The band originally came together in the late 1970’s and comprised of members of the legendary Prince Far I’s backing band the Arabs. They quickly became the iconic On-U Sound label’s house band with a revolving roster of musicians and played a huge part of that label’s success. They performed alongside artists such Don Cherry and The Clash. Their 1980 album Starship Africa is widely regarded as one of the greatest Dub albums of all time. This new release features two tracks with posthumous vocals from Prince Far I (the musician was tragically murdered in 1983), and both are fitting and lively tributes to his legend. It is a compelling and impressive heavy duty comeback album and, whilst it doesn’t break any particular new ground musically, it is sure to be adored by lovers of classic reggae, especially that of the Dub variety.

The father of Libyan reggae / Hesnawi, Ibrahim
Mark Says: In Libya the Reggae genre is not one primarily associated with a particular decade or decades, but rather an ongoing & evolving musical conversation. The genesis of which can be traced back to one man, Ibrahim Hesnawi, who as the title of this Habibi Funk release suggests is regarded as the father of this genre in Libya, synthesising Libyan music with Jamaican, and adding elements of funk, disco & pan-African rhythms. Tradition Libyan music features a rhythm known as Darbuka “Libyan Drum” or Kaska, which is very similar in sound to Reggae, and this along with it’s overarching lyrical message of liberation from oppression and freedom all account for the genre’s ongoing popularity. Classic Reggae stylings put through a different cultural kaleidoscope, refracting back a unique fusion that highlights the best elements in a new and refreshing way.
Neil Says: As regular readers of this blog will know we here at Wellington City Libraries are huge fans of the Berlin-based Habibi funk label, that specialises in eclectic sounds from the Arab world, and has been unearthing hidden gems for many years now. And in this months round up of audio treats we find not one, but two, new releases from this fabulous label. First off the rank we have Ibrahim Hesnawi ‘The father of Libyan reggae’. In this album Ibrahim builds on a strong traditional Reggae foundation, but then seamlessly mixes in elements of funk, disco, traditional Libyan music and even jazz, creating a style all of his own. A really approachable, engaging and, at times, commercial sounding work.

Marzipan / Megarbane, Charif
Mark Says: Habibi Funk’s first full length contemporary release is from Beirut multi-instrumental producer Charif Megarbane. It’s a super cool melange of Library Music and soundscapes evoking every aspect of life, from crowded a Beirut metropolis to soothing sojourns in the countryside, and poolside Mediterranean parties. Funky synths and samples evoke the cool soundtracks of late-night Euro crime flicks, with the jazzy atmospheres of Lalo Schifrin or Isaac Hayes. A star in his own country, this will hopefully expand his fan base.
Neil Says: The second Habibi funk release for this month is ‘Marzipan’ by Charif Megarbane, a contemporary release from the Beirut’s multi-instrumentalist. The album is his own very personal journey through Lebanon and the Mediterranean area, expressed as Charif says himself through “the prismatic sonics of library music”. Charif creates these vivid soundscapes using a dazzling array of instruments including, amongst others, Flute, melodica, various guitars, pianos, bass, electric sitar, Mellotron, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, vibraphone and many more. It is a Kaleidoscopic release weaving many styles of music and instrumentation together into a rich tapestry of sound, creating an energetic sonic picture of the many aspects of a bustling Beirut metropolis .