February’s New Music for Te Awe Part 3

You can check out our first round up of new music for February here and part 2 here.

Albion / Harp (Musical group)
Neil Says: Albion is well named, as former Midlake frontman Tim Smith and his new musical partner Kathi Zung (who is also a puppet maker who has worked with the likes of Guillermo del Toro) have created a work immersed in lonely, windswept, bittersweet English landscapes where the misty moors are shrouded in perpetual twilight. They sought lyrical inspiration from the poetry of William Blake and musically inspiration from the likes of dream pop pioneers The Cocteau Twins and Fleetwood Mac. There are also, unsurprisingly, a few moments that suggest Tim’s previous band Midlake. A dreamy 80’s dream-pop inspired creation that also encompasses English pastoral music, and has a loneliness and eerie sadness running through it.

Gold / Sol, Cleo
Mark Says: Having released Heaven in September last (which made the Best of 2023 list of one of our colleagues), she followed it up with the surprise release of another album ‘Gold’ later that month. As always her music combines the best elements of neo-soul, classic 70’s soul, Jazz & spiritual touches. There’s just something about her music that makes her stand out from the other (too numerous to list) female artists currently mining the same retro sound. Perhaps it’s the organic minimalism of the music that leaves plenty of space for her brand of hopeful personal lyrics, the lack of processing around her vocals, or the way the albums function as a whole to create a sense of soothing calm and quiet strength. Another winner.
Neil Says: Wow, what an album. Intense, intimate, soulful, euphoric, languid and chilled; but it doesn’t achieve this at the expense of ignoring the darker aspects of life. The lyrics are as strong as the music and vocal delivery; everything about it fits and works perfectly. What makes it even more remarkable, is that it just a part of a creative explosion Cleo Sol is undergoing at the moment. She released another album barely a month before this, and is a core part of the phenomenal Sault outfit. It’s neo-soul with strong gospel influences, with a 70’s feel to the musical arrangements that, in places, reminded me of the mercurial Aretha Franklin. As I said at the start: Wow.

Sadness sets me free / Rhys, Gruff
Neil Says: Unbelievably ‘Sadness sets me free’ is the twenty fifth album from the Super Furry Animals frontman. This time it’s a solo release and tonally the title sums it up; a variety of songs that mix in equal measure joy and melancholy. Gruff employs a broad mix of musical styles, like Nashville, whimsical disco and Tropicana, to explore heavyweight issues in a light feathery fashion. Merle Haggard came to mind when thinking about his lyrical approach, all unified and underpinned by lush orchestration. A compelling release that plays to his the Suppies singers strengths.

Jaguar II / Monét, Victoria
Mark Says: After numerous EPs, Singles and song-writing for other artists (most notably on Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next), this is the debut full-length album from this US R&B singer, a commercial breakthrough that would go on to receive seven Grammy nominations and three wins at the 2024 Grammy’s. While still within the R&B genre, this is almost the exact opposite of the Cleo Sol album. It’s a ‘big’ populist album in every way, with slick production that carefully melds ‘old-school’ vocal & musical stylings with modern techniques, guest appearances and interpolations of classic soul tracks. It reconfigures the legacy of US dance/R&B with her seductive, playful, lyrics that focus on sexuality and empowering your dreams.

Fairweather friend / Umbrellas (Musical group)
Mark Says: ‘Fairweather Friend’ is the second studio album by San Fran indie pop band The Umbrellas. Classic, intelligent, catchy jangly power-pop sees the dual female/male vocals of singers Morgan Stanley & Matt Ferrera’s give individual tracks their own specific feel, but the real magic is when his deadpan monotone combines with her sweet sound. There’s nothing really revelatory here musically for anyone who ever listened to the Sarah records output, or 90s indie bands like Velocity Girl, but their sparring vocals show that, when done well, this kind of jangly pop never goes out of style.
Neil Says: The Umbrella’s are obviously influenced by the likes of Orange Juice and the 80’s Scottish pop scene, as represented by Postcard records. However, they’ve absorbed these influences and created something uniquely their own, in much the same fashion as The Beths did with power pop. The album is full of hook laden, singalong three minute jangly indie pop gem songs that you can dance to, all with an 80,s twist. If this all sounds like your sort of thing, then this album is for you.

Everything I know about love / Laufey
Mark Says: Icelandic-Chinese singer Laufey’s debut album get’s it’s first CD release, after coming out on Vinyl only when it was released in 2022. Hailed as the Gen-Z Jazz saviour, her success soon spurred a lot of hand-wringing from purists as to whether she was ‘really’ Jazz, which was probably exactly the discourse around Norah Jones’ debut album on Blue Note many years ago. All that aside, this really is a very pleasant listen. Her lush, laid back, minimalist Bossa nova vocal stylings, and gentle orchestrations, paint various cinematic vignettes on the highs & lows of falling in & out of love for young people in their early twenties. In a lot of ways she sounds like an artist beamed in from another time. But it’s the direct simplicity of her music, with it’s contemporary lyrics tied to an older music style, that has resonated so heavily with Tik-Tok audiences, who had probably never heard anyone like her before. Her knack of chronicling modern reflections of romantic ups & downs, while bridging genres and periods in music will no doubt make her an ongoing star, as her sophomore album Bewitched and sold out tours have attested to.

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