February’s New Music for Te Awe Part 1


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…

Outta sync / Letts, Don
Neil Says: Legendary filmmaker, D.J, producer and musician Don Letts has released his first musical project since his work with Big Audio Dynamite in the 1990’s. He has worked in various creative guises with the likes of the Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders and Bob Marley, to name but a few, was a key instrumental figure in the British punk and reggae scenes, and has for many years presented his BBC radio six’s culture Clash radio show. ‘Outta sync’ is a personal album in many ways, and reflects his unique eclectic tastes and worldview. It is a mix of heavy-duty dub bass tracks with spoken word interwoven through, featuring a plethora of musical guests including Terry Hall, Wayne Coyne, Hollie Cook and his daughter Honor. He described the album as “a soundtrack to my mind with some cool bass lines”, which pretty much sums it up.

Spine / Myrkur
Mark Says: Myrkur is the solo project of Danish singer Amalie Bruun. Initially a black metal/gothic metal project, her 2nd live album re-interpreted the Metal songs with an acoustic and choral setting, her 3rd studio album, Folkesange, was actually renditions of Scandinavian traditional music performed with period instruments, and she recently created a folk and metal inspired soundtrack for the Royal Theatre of Denmark’s Ragnarök. Her 4th studio album, 2023 release ‘Spine’, moves further away from Black Metal into more of an ethereal pop arena with layered vocals, soaring choruses and electronic instrumentation, reflecting a pagan celebration of motherhood. Some metal flourishes remain, though perhaps not enough to satisfy purists. However, what is left is intriguing, a sweeping cinematic, Nordic journey.

Sam Says: Over the past decade, Danish musical maestro Amalie Bruun has developed a distinct voice in traversing and melding the sounds of black metal and Nordic folk music under the Myrkur moniker. Her fourth full-length album ‘Spine’ sees her continuing to expand and develop her stylistic trajectory in a well-rounded and fully focused manner, bringing together seemingly disparate elements to form a darkly lush soundworld. The overall feel of the music is as cinematic as ever, albeit in a more accessible way than on previous records. While the harsher black-metal elements are still present in moments across the album, they come across more as decorative than they do stylistic signifiers, with Bruun’s ever-powerful vocals being an ever-present force. Clocking in at thirty-three minutes, Spine is a concise affair, however the musical variety and creative finesse across the record make it feel larger than the sum of its parts.

Fantastic voyage : new sounds for the European canon 1977-1981
Mark Says: If Bowie & Iggy Pop made a mixtape to listen to on the cassette deck as they tooled around the European club scene of the late 70’s it would probably sounded like 2020’s Ace compilation ‘Cafe Exil: New Adventures In European Music 1972-1980’. This ‘sequel of sorts’, compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and the BFI’s Jason Wood, might well be the mix-tape they would have made once back in the UK, their insider knowledge reflecting on the various inter-connections between the burgeoning electronic and art-rock scenes. Icy female chansons sit next to Scott Walker, Peter Gabriel, Daryl Hall, Cabaret Voltaire & plenty of Motorik keyboard noodling.

Neil Says: The list of artists on this compilation album reads like either David Bowies playlist from the time he spent in Berlin with Brian Eno and Iggy Pop, or the people who would, like Bowie, be influenced by both Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and the kosmische Musik scene of those times that informed those works . The album is named after a Bowie track on his Lodger album. It is an album full of fabulous musical ripples in a pond, tracks that emanate out from the explosion of ground-breaking musical creativity and innovation that emerged from Germany post war. A creative maelstrom whose ripples can be heard in all these tracks, and whose ripples are still spreading out to this day.

Drop out / East Village (Musical group)
Mark Says: Jangly UK guitar-pop from this late 80s cult band, whose only album ‘Drop Out’, was recorded in 1990, but came out on the Heavenly label 3 years later, after the band had already broken up. This 30th Anniversary deluxe re-issue has sleeve notes by Jon Savage, and a bonus disc of B-sides, singles and alt takes that probably rounds up their entire output. Their 60’s Byrds-ian guitars provide a wistful romantic sound, similar to LA’s Paisley Underground scene or Teenage Fanclub, and their song-writing classicism stood them apart from most of the burgeoning UK scenes at that time. A real lost gem.

Sam Says: Originally released in 1993, ‘Drop Out’ was the sole studio album by British indie-rockers East Village. This new 30th anniversary edition was recently released on vinyl, CD and digital formats and features bonus tracks and sleeve notes by John Savage. Listening to the album today, the record somehow paradoxically feels both a product of the era that it came from, as well as having a sense of timelessness. The jangly guitars, low-key organs and pleasant melancholic vocals simultaneously make it feel at home alongside other early ‘90s British alternative rock acts, as well as being reminiscent of sixties psychedelia, and more recent indie stylings. Having already broken up by the time of original release, the album still feels like a fascinating full-stop in a career that had the potential to go much further.

Heaven / Perry, Lee
Neil Says: ‘Heaven’ is the final album from the late great eccentric and pioneering reggae artist Lee Scratch Perry. Written and recorded before his passing in 2021. The album treads a beautiful line between stripped back, solid to the core rhythms, and ambient dub . With Perry’s distinctive vocals and lyrics throughout. It is a smooth carefully crafted classic dub roots album, with chaotic Dub counterpoint moments. As is always the case with Lee Perry’s albums, it’s a fascinating insight into the inner workings of his mind, the lyrics being both meandering and emotionally evocative at the same time. A fitting final album and tribute to this musical genius.

So long before now / Woods [1980s]
Mark Says: Another lost gem form the mid-80s’s resurfaces with The Woods’ ‘So long before now’. With an avant-garde cello player, Velvet Underground styled songs and angular guitar lines, they were helmed by Linda Smith, who would go on to be recognised as a lo-fi pop pioneer. Their debut album was abandoned before completion and this collection gathers all the tracks they were close to finishing. Sparse production& ramshackle playing merge with a post-punk ethos, and some sunny pop & folk harmonies. The band was comprised of 2 men & 2 women, with 3 songwriters, so it’s a album of varied musical tones and themes. A worthy reissue.

Neil Says: The Woods were mainly around in the New York City music scene of the 1980’s . And it’s safe to say they struggled to find much traction at the time . Their brand of sunny, intimate woozy folk psychedelia not chiming with the musical tastes of that particular moment, and leading them to be labelled as perpetual musical outsiders. It’s a strong reflection of current tastes in the music world that this release sounds remarkably contemporary, and could easily have been released this year with its baroque vocal arrangements, fuzzy guitars, lyrics by lo fi aficionado legend Linda Smith, and a distinctly Velvet Underground Fairport Convention vibe going on.

Reservoir / Brown Horse
Mark Says: This next big UK band have eschewed their trad-folk beginnings and gone full country with this, a debut full-length album full of stylistic nods to early alt-country like Uncle Tupelo and Neil Young’s 70s guitar driven desert rock. The six band members collaborate on song-writing and manage to sustain a consistently searching, melancholic, vibe over the course of the album, with languid guitar lines and sepia toned narratives. A band from Norfolk channelling Americana may be too much of a bridge for some, but it’s worth giving some time for the vocal stylings to settle in, as there is a lot to appreciate here.

Endling / Kvelertak
Sam Says: Formed in 2007 in Stavanger, Kvelertak have established themselves as heavyweights in the Norwegian hard-rock and metal scenes. With an extreme metal style that takes influence from rock’n’roll, hardcore punk and hard rock, Kvelertak manage to fuse heavy-hitting riffs and technical performance chops with a strong sense of melodicism and accessibility. Their fifth album overall, ‘Endling’ continues their trajectory in a logical way, and whilst they aren’t making any major evolutionary shifts in their already established sound, they sound more comfortable and confident than ever before. For those who enjoy a good dose of hard-rockin’ fun with a healthy sense of stylistic diversity, ‘Endling’ will certainly hit the spot!

Cyrm / ØXN
Mark Says: ØXN are the first signing in 18 years to the recently revived Irish trad label Claddagh Records. Their debut album, CYRM, is more dark, grim folk in the mould of 2023’s False Lankum, which is perhaps not surprising as the band consists of 2 members from Lankum, as well as the drummer from experimental rock band Percolator, with dual vocals from singer/keyboardist/guitarist Katie Kim & Lankum’s Radie Peat. Relentlessly downbeat in tone, the drone heavy music has more in common with doomy avant-garde band’s than the ‘Irish folk’ your Granddad used to listen to. Oppressive, almost like a pagan horror soundtrack in places, it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you liked the Mercury Prize-nominated Lankum album, then this is another entry in the burgeoning Irish ‘Neo-folk’ sound that takes the traditional music in new and challenging directions. The final track is a rumbling cover of Scott Walker’s ‘Farmer in the City’, from the album Tilt, which is a pretty good indication of where they are coming from.

SonicWonderland / Hiromi
Mark Says: Hiromi is a uniquely energetic Japanese composer, pianist & bandleader who combines everything from power chords, to prog elements & bebop runs into her acclaimed live performances. Active for a number of years she has played at the UN, won a Grammy for her work with bassist Stanley Clarke, recorded a live album with Chick Corea and many other highlights. ‘Sonicwonderland’ is her 13th album as a leader, and is pretty much just what the title suggests, as straight-ahead Jazz elements & licks merge into fusion-y ‘wah wah’ pedals and squelchy synths, funky breaks and old school computer game soundtracks. A great album for those non-Jazz purists, who don’t mind the genre moving forward and crossing over with all sorts of new, old (and sometimes wacky) musical tangents.

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