Staff Picks: The Best CDs & Vinyl of 2023 – Part 2

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries. Every month this year my colleague’s Sam, Neil and I reviewed some new material for the music collection at Te Awe Brandon Street Library. You can check out each of our our Top 10 picks here. Following on from our picks is a selection of titles that other staff members rated as their favourite listens of 2023.

Shinji’s Picks:

Heaven / Sol, Cleo
The U.K. has a long history of producing fantastic female soul singers and now, more than ever, it’s filled with a multitude of talents – Lianne La Havas, Jorja Smith, Yazmin Lacey and Olivia Dean (see below) to name but a few. Among them, the key voice of the mysterious soul collective SAULT, Cleo Sol shines with a unique light due to her mesmerising singing and aura. Both SAULT and Sol have been very active – putting out a lot of impressive albums in a short period of time, and her third album ‘Heaven’ is another glorious work. Listening to this album, which features mostly medium/slow numbers, is an intimate experience. She sensibly keeps everything simple and shares tears, joy, and love with us. Led by her mellifluous yet powerful voice, it’s filled with a warmth and uplifting feeling as if a graceful modern gospel. Incredibly, she dropped another album, ‘Gold’, which is equally wonderful and slightly more defined, two weeks later. There is no doubt that she is an exceptional artist and with her charisma, she could become an influential figure like Erykah Badu. What a talent.

The omnichord real book / Ndegeocello, Meshell
The pandemic lockdown gave Meshell Ndegeocello, one of the most innovative, forward-thinking artists in the last 30 years, an opportunity to reacquaint herself with music. She was tired of looking at the computer screen and started to compose music on an Omnichord, a simple electronic instrument. They bore fruit in this terrific album released from Blue Note Records, collaborating brilliantly with numerous distinctive musicians including Josh Johnson (as the producer as well), Jeff Parker, Jason Moran, and Joan As Police Woman. Drawing from her extensive musical languages, she creates colourful music based on simple motifs which shift around jazz, soul, funk, afrobeat and so on. Her unique bass play as well as the polyrhythmic drums are the core of this impressive music. The album contains 18 tracks with a variety of musical styles and it’s 73 minutes long. Although it’s not easy to absorb at once, this hyper hybrid black American music is a stellar and rewarding listen.

Messy / Dean, Olivia
An alumna from the renowned BRIT school that produced Adele and Amy Winehouse, Olivia Dean gained attention from the very beginning of her career and won the breakthrough artist of the year in 2021 on Amazon Music. Her much-anticipated debut album Messy is indeed a bit of a mess, but a charming one which shows a lot of promise. There’s a touch of Amy Winehouse in her prowess and rich voice that effortlessly drifts between soul, jazz and pop. These songs tell us her personal story – about her Caribbean heritage, family, and love. The album is slightly overproduced, probably to appeal to a mass-audience, but Dean’s presence stays natural and true to herself. The UK has found another fantastic female singer, that’s for sure.

Atlas / Halo, Laurel
She has been one of Wire magazine’s favourite artists and, along with the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never, one of the most prominent figures in avant-garde/electronica music. However, she moved toward post-classical/ambient for this new project. The album is dominated by sorrowful yet beautiful murky sound, reflecting images from her evening wandering around cities. On the gorgeous drone sound palette Halo paints, with jazzy piano on some tracks, meticulously textured abstract watercolour-like electronica. Listening to this music is like a slow journey, melting into the night of the city. Sublime.

Bewitched / Laufey
She has been making big waves with her nostalgic jazz/ bossa nova sound. Growing up in Reykjavik, Iceland with a lot of piano and cello lessons, and music by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker, the Chinese-Icelandic musical prodigy Laufey has a mission – to bring jazz and classical music to her generation. However, with her lovely demeanour and gentle voice, she is more like a girl next door singer-songwriter. She organically updates what you might think of ‘old fashioned’ and makes it so refreshing and timeless, which is evident in this sophomore album. Her mission will continue, but by effectively using social media she has devoted fans and seems to be achieving something very unique. Iceland’s got talent. [VINYL here].

Jelly road / Mills, Blake
He is a gifted guitarist who is admired by many and has worked with numerous artists, as well as performing in over 200 recordings. He is an in-demand producer who has worked with the likes of Fiona Apple, Perfume Genius and John Legend, and was Grammy nominated for Alabama Shake’s Sound & Color. California resident Blake Mills has also been making his own music and put out a marvellous album ‘Jelly Road’ in 2023. Some of his previous works offer guitar-oriented avant-garde/ambient-like music, while the others are indie singer-songwriter albums, and all these aspects come nicely together in Jelly Road. As usual, it’s a low-key affair offering abstract lyricism, but in working closely with Vermont experimental musician Chris Weisman, his cozy, jazzy Americana world has more depth with unique radicalness. Showcasing his potent talent and versatility, this is his best album to date. A quiet triumph.

Archives. Volume 3, The Asylum years (1972-1975) / Mitchell, Joni
Joni Mitchell’s health issue (Morgellons disease) has been dominating the news about this legendary artist in recent years, so it was a great and joyous surprise when she appeared and gave a wonderful performance at Newport Folk Festival in 2022. Although we should not expect new music from her, the brilliant archive series, which she curates herself, continues. Volume 3 (1972-1975) is full of rarities from the years of For the Roses, Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, all of which are masterpieces. While enjoying commercial success including the hit song ‘Help Me’, her music got jazzier, abstract and deeper during these years. This box-set offers demos, early and alternative versions and live performances, and gives us a fascinating insight into maybe the most creative phase of one of the most influential artists.

Riah’s Picks:

The land is inhospitable and so are we / Mitski
Favourite track: My love is all my mine.

1989 : Taylor’s version / Swift, Taylor
Favourite re-record: Style. Favourite track: Now That We Don’t Talk. [VINYL here].

The record / Boygenius
Favourite: not strong enough. [VINYL here].

Gus’s Picks:

Blondshell / Blondshell
Favourite track – ‘Kiss City’.

What matters most / Folds, Ben
Favourite tracks – ‘But Wait, There’s More’ and ‘Back to Anonymous’.

But here we are / Foo Fighters
Favorite track – ‘But Here We Are’.

The land is inhospitable and so are we / Mitski
Favourite track – ‘Heaven’.

That! feels good/ Ware, Jessie
Favourite track – ‘Free Yourself’.

Guardians of the Galaxy : awesome mix. Vol. 3 : original motion picture soundtrack
Favourite track – ‘Do You Realize??’ by the Flaming Lips.


Charlotte’s Picks:

The record, by Boygenius

Red moon in Venus by Kali Uchis

The greater wings by Julie Byrne

That! feels good, by Jessie Ware

My 21st century blues, by RAYE

Alison’s Picks:

Raven by Kelela

No thank you : an album, by Little Sims

12, by Sakamoto Ryūichi

Gentle confrontation, by Loraine James

Miracle level, by Deerhoof

Everything is alive, by Slowdive

The land is inhospitable and so are we, by Mitski

Ideal home noise, by Ellen Vera

Javelin, by Sufjan Stevens


Gemma’s Picks:

The record, by Boygenius

Desire, I want to turn into you, by Catherine Polachek

10000 GECS, by 100 gecs

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