Staff Picks: The Best CDs & Vinyl of 2022

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries. Every month this year my colleague Neil and I reviewed some new material for the music collection at Te Awe Brandon Street Library. The podcast below is a roundup of some the albums we enjoyed listening to most over the course of the year. Some of these titles featured on various critics’ Best of 2022 lists, but others are just albums that struck us as being unique and interesting. Click on the image links to reserve any of these items from the catalogue. Following on from our picks is a selection of titles that other staff members rated as their favourite listens of 2022.


Mark’s Picks:
Goodbye to Love by Claudia ThompsonSgt Culpepper by Joel CulpepperOld friend : the deluxe collection (1976-1998) by Phyllis Hyman

Wet Leg, by Wet Leg

The Slam! years (1983-1988), by Hamid El Shaeri

What dreams may come by Louisa Williamson

Oghneya by Ferkat Al Ard

Thee Sacred Souls, by Sacred Souls

Autofiction, by Suede

Vulture Prince, by Arooj Aftab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neil’s Picks:
How is it that I should look at the stars, by Weather StationVital, by Big BraveKingmaker, by Tami Neilson

Rhythm revolution, by Ferry Djimmy

American Epic

A light for attracting attention, by The Smile

Electricity, by Ibibio Sound Machine

Midnight Rocker by Andy Horace

Recordings from the Åland Islands, by Jeremiah Chiu

The unfolding, by Hannah Peel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “Staff Picks: The Best CDs & Vinyl of 2022”

January’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 3…


via GIPHY

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 also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). Every month my colleague Neil and I cast our 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? Read on to find out…

Here is part three of our new music picks for January. You can catch up with Part 1 here & Part 2 here.

Wrap it up : the Isaac Hayes and David Porter songbook
Mark: What can you say about the songwriting genius of Isaac Hayes & David Porter. The architects of Stax Soul, they created a sound that still sounds fresh and inspiring today, creating classic tracks that are continually covered by black & white artists and frequently crop up on modern movie soundtracks. Like most entries in the Ace Songwriters series, this presents some familiar songs in versions by different artists and some some rarer less familiar tracks. The mix of races, decades, & musical styles on display here is really a testament to the universal truths of these timeless songs.

Neil: If you are a fan of soul music, or indeed want to just dive into its many splendored past, then this lovingly curated compilation of classic soul anthems is a great place to start. There is one unifying link that joins all the tracks on the release, and that is they were written by the legendary writing partnership of Isaac Hayes and David Porter over an incredibly productive four-year period between 1965-1969. Many of the songs were huge hits at the time, and some remain on the core soul tunes canon to this day. A total treat.

The hardest part / Cyrus, Noah
Mark: The name may make you think…hang on, and you’d be right as Noah Cyrus is Miley Cyrus’ youngest sister, and ‘The hardest part’ is her debut full-length album following 3 EPs. This is very different from the music her sister makes, full of shades of pedal steel & banjo’s, and the strong songwriting of someone forging their own path and musical identity after overcoming a battle with substance abuse. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but the songs dig into the emotional complexities of heartbreak, recovery & family bonds with sincerity, she has a lovely expressive voice. Just an impeccably executed set of acoustic country/pop songs.

Neil: ‘The Hardest part’ is the debut album release from actress/ singer Noah Cyrus ( She started her acting career at the age of two and voiced Ponyo in its English version). It’s an album of focussed, mellow, acoustic guitar-pop, often in places evoking the Laurel-Canyon singer songwriter tradition. You can, from listening to the album, tell that Noah extends a vigorous attention to detail in both her lyrics and musical delivery. The songs deal with a raft of subjects and emotions, and are often tender and vulnerable . It is a fully formed work in all aspects and went on to earn her a Best New Artist nomination at the 2021 Grammy’s.

Devotional / Lord (Musician)
Mark: Vocalist and violinist Petra Haden (one of the daughters of late Jazz-bassist Charlie Haden) has had a remarkably eclectic musical career, from early days as a member of cult LA pop band That Dog, to an all-vocals tribute to a classic Who album, to collaborations with Bill Frisell & Mark Kozelek (Sun Kill Moon). Her latest collaboration is with The Lord, the Doom-metal project of Greg Anderson of Sunn O))) & Goatsnake. Just when you think there is nothing that you haven’t heard before, something like this will come along. A stunning suite of wordless, swirling, ethereal vocals, set to doom metal laced with heavy Indian classical influences. Intense, terrifying, meditative, hypnotic, gruelling yet life affirming. Music that almost impossible to describe, but achieves a lasting emotional response.

Neil: So, ‘Devotional’ by The Lord is not a Christian rock album, as the cover and title might suggest. It’s by the musicians who previously released Forest Nocturne an album inspired by Horror film soundtracks, so inspirational Christian album it is not. ‘Devotional’ is also very unlike its predecessor ‘Forest Nocturne’, though it does share a common widescreen, almost polymesmeric, quality. ‘Devotional’ is symphonic doom metal created from interwoven drone guitar and trance like chanting. It has an almost ritual Buddhist quality, in its slowly unwinding repetitive quality and you can also detect the influence of Indian music too. A strange and unusual piece that in its own way is compelling.

She said / Starcrawler
Mark: The 3rd album from these L.A retro-rockers, following 2019’s Devour You. Starcrawler obviously decided that what was lacking in modern music was a band who were dedicated to recreating the sound of Hole, circa Celebrity Skin. If that sounds like a criticism, its not, as this is just awesome fun all round. Huge riffs & catchy songs pay homage to Hole, Kiss, Joan Jett’s Runaways, and lead singer Arrow de Wilde (actually her real name) seems to be having so much fun channelling these glam influences that it becomes something a little better than just pastiche.

Neil: Starcrawler unashamedly channel the dual spirits of 70’s hard rock, and the back to basics 80’s punk of bands like the Runaways. ‘She said’ is their third album, and it’s full of catchy, anthemic, chant songs and glam-rock inspired guitar hooks. There’s definitely a couple of pages from the Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper guitar riff manual in there. Great fun. think Suzi Quatro as channelled by modern day heavy-rock L.A. musical YOOF.

Alpha Zulu / Phoenix (Musical group)
Mark: The well reviewed ‘Alpha Zulu’ has been seen as a late career highpoint for the French synth-rockers. Their 7th album is a super slick affair that also retains an emotional core, being both a post Covid album and also a response to the 2019 death of the band’s frequent collaborator and producer, Cassius member Philippe Zdar. Full of pulsing synths, disco-tinged bangers and plenty of pop hooks, the band deliver their most consistent set of tracks in years in an album that easily sits next to their 2009 Grammy winning breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Super danceable & catchy. A great return.

Neil: French Indie pop band Phoenix have been on the go for a while, and ‘Alpha Zulu’ is their seventh album release. When they first broke through in France they were hailed as the band that’s going to save French pop music, and to a large extent this has proved to be the case, as they’ve won the Best Alternative Music Album at the Grammy Awards and had a string of hit albums and huge critical and commercial success. To fire up their creative energies for this album, they hired a studio in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, in a wing of the Louvre during the Covid pandemic of 2020, stating that they ‘wanted to create something beautiful in a deserted museum’. The resultant album is euphoric pop outing, deceptively simple, with lush production and a fizzy synth pop vibe, with the lyrics providing a supporting role in creating the overall atmosphere rather than being at the fore.

Pigments / Richard, Dawn
Mark: New Orleans singer Dawn Richard was formerly a member of projects helmed by P.Diddy, before moving on to become a leading figure in the alternative R&B/Electronica scene, and Spencer Zahn is an NY multi-instrumental Jazz musician. They have collaborated previously, but this is their first full length album. Intimate, slow, floaty minimalist chamber Jazz that occupies a similar meditative space as Nala Sinephro’s Space 1.8. The low register bass, string washes, lush orchestration and subtle electronics all give the music a dreamy reflective tone, as it transitions from vocal sections to mellow ambience.

Neil: ‘Pigments’ by Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn is a beautiful and relaxing meditative work, that weaves Dawn’s flexible and evocative voice in and out of the surrounding music like the ebb and flow of a spring tide. The supporting music is neo classical in tone, with strong modern mellow Jazz elements. There are sparkling moments, moments of vulnerability, and a lot of very subtle, nuanced and delicate transitions amongst the washes of synths, voices and Saxophones. A very atmospheric release.

1969 / Driscoll, Julie
Mark: Julie Driscoll is an iconic English singer who worked with Blues-pop act Brian Auger and the Trinity in the late 60s. In the 1970s she married Jazz musician Keith Tippett, and her vocal work became more experimental & avant-garde. Two of her albums have been reissued recently, ‘1969’, which came out of the late 60’s Canterbury music scene, and 1976’s more experimental Sunset Glow (under the name Julie Tippett). This is firmly in the folk-Jazz-rock mould, but performed within a more stricter ‘pop’ format, aligning with the then current wave of female singer-songwriters. Her voice is quite soulful and the songs represent the themes of the time, revolving around the quest for social, political & personal freedoms. Like a lot of the spiritual, freedom & protest music of that time it has held up surprisingly well & still resonates today.

Neil: Julie Driscoll is perhaps best known for her cover of Wheels on fire, which became one of the defining tracks of the British psychedelic-era in rock music. And also, the theme tune to ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. Julie Driscoll’s ‘1969’ was originally released in 1971, and whilst there are trappings of the flower-power scene to be heard here, the album is much more expansive, experimental and varied to be so easily pigeonholed. Despite its age and genesis, the album stands up remarkably well, and not just in a historical context, but also in a modern one. Some of the reasons for this include the experimental folk-jazz, played by many leading musicians of the Canterbury scene of that time, as well as the quality of the song writing both lyrically and musically. And one of the key factors in this is Driscoll’s voice itself, which is powerfully full of emotion at one point, and wistfully nuanced the next.

Roya / Liraz
Mark: Liraz is musician and actor Liraz Charhi, an award-winning Israeli-Persian singer & actress and ‘Roya’ is her 3rd album. 2020 predecessor Zan (Woman), involved online collaborations with Iranian musicians, but this time she risked recording together live in a secret studio space in Istanbul with female musicians from Tehran. The album serves as a tribute to the women of Iran and the ongoing power of their struggle, mixing six Israeli musicians with five Iranian performers in a melange Middle-East grooves, meets 70s funk, sophisticated 80s pop, analogue synths, orchestration & traditional Iranian lute, tar, violin, viola and guitars.

Neil: ‘Roya’ by Liraz largely is a dialog on many levels between the artist and her sisters (in the widest sense) in Iran. The album would be deemed controversial and banned by the ruling authorities in her homeland for a whole host of reasons, such as recording it in the neutral territory of Istanbul to allow her to use six Israeli musicians and five Iranian ones. Not to mention the lyrics are about solidarity and empowerment. That said, the music isn’t heavy in any way, it’s more a joyous and upbeat celebration of what this movement stands for. An up tempo mix of infectious seventies disco, crossed with modern psychedelic sounds, and all created through the lens of Iranian and the Middle-eastern sounds using instruments such as the Tar and the Lute mixed in with the drum machines and synths.

January’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for January. 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.

Excess / Automatic
Mark: Automatic are a Los Angeles female post-punk trio, who toured NZ for the first time earlier this month. ‘Excess’ is their 2nd album, following on from 2019’s Signal, whose success saw them opening for Tame Impala, and performing at major festivals. Drummer Lola Dompé is the daughter of Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets) so that is perhaps an indication of of their influences, as they meld 70’s underground & early 80s synths with a Sci-Fi narrative that delves into billionaires on spaceships, modern anxiety, consumerism, and hopelessness. Robotically melodic, with catchy tunes, detached chill harmonies, and dark bouncy synths. A bit like Wet Leg if they were a synth band in places.
Neil: Automatic are an American all-female punk trio named after The Go-Go’s song of the same title. ‘Excess’ is their second release, and finds the band moving away from their punk roots and mining a rich vein of 80’s electro pop. The music in the album displays the influence of bands like O.M.D., New Order, and the commercial incarnation of The Human League. There are loads of infectiously catchy bass lines, and some seriously studied 80’s synths. However, they keep to their punk origins in the lyrical content as, beyond the playful mid 80’s sounds, some large and often dark themes are explored.

Big time things / Office Culture
Mark: Office Culture are a Brooklyn quartet, and ‘Big time things’ is their 3rd album. This is something different, a cross between Steely Dan, early 80s British sophisti-pop bands like ABC or The Blue Nile, and the loungy art-rock of Roxy Music. Backed by violins & cellos, the velvety crooning of singer Winston Cook-Wilson is so smooth, it almost seems like a deliberate pastiche. But the songs address the mundainities of city life and relationships with some surprisingly deep and unsettling lyrics. Reinventing soft-pop for a whole new generation.
Neil: ‘Big time things’ is a suave and cool sophisti-pop album from Brooklyn based quartet Office Culture. There’s a studied world weariness and sad mellow humour that underpins many of the album’s lyrics. The music has some lounge-core aesthetics, like a modern sophisticated Jazz-pop version of Steely Dan or Avalon era Roxy music, or even Court and Spark era Joni Mitchell. Lyrics about the strangeness of big city life, love, and sadness. The stuff of everyday life turned into art.

Reset / Panda Bear
Mark: Long time collaborators on various projects, Panda Bear (Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) & Sonic Boom (Peter Kember of Spacemen 3) debut for the first time under their own names for this decidedly retro album. They almost merge into one person on this short, summery, warm, synthy, album that is a pean to the wonder & joy at the heart of music. The Beach Boys are an obvious touchstone, but they also explore other early psych-rock & pop styles, with this cut-in-paste tribute to 60’s pop.
Neil: ‘Reset’ marks the first collaborative joint outing for Noah Lennox and Peter Kember (though the pair have had numerous musical connections for many years). The collaboration seems to suit both parties involved, with the songs having a light and breezy feel. It is a sample heavy album that is built up from mainly elements of 50’s and 60’s pop songs, with electronic & synth elements holding the samples together, and the lyrics are opaque and impressionistic with a distinct surreal psychedelic feel. If I had one reservation with the album, which I did enjoy, it was that the impressionistic lyrics, great as they are, don’t always sit that obviously with the 50’s and 60’s source material, which would have originally been anchored by clear strong story-song lyrics.

Not tight / Domi
Mark: Domi (22) and JD Beck (19) are a jazz duo consisting of French keyboardist Domi Louna and American drummer JD Beck, and the first signees to Anderson .Paak’s new Blue Note imprint, APESHIT Inc. Their 2022 debut album, ‘Not Tight’, features guest appearances from Thundercat, Anderson .Paak, Herbie Hancock, Mac Demarco & Snoop Dogg among others, and was nominated for Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the Grammys. From being backing musicians for acts like Thundercat and Anderson .Paak, to viral live performances such as this one with Thundercat and Ariana Grande, these young prodigies have been hailed as Jazz saviors, bringing back fusion for a new generation. This mix of dense improvisation, vocals, R&B & Hip-Hop elements is a showcase of their synergy & musical chemistry, but like a lot of amazing young musicians and bands out there, it often feels like a triumph of technique more than anything else.
Neil: Zoomer Jazz prodigies JD Beck and Domi Louna have already been described as “ The future of Jazz ! Two alien miracles from outer space”, and such hype and praise before you’ve released an album is a lot to live up to. ‘Not Tight’, their debut album, is a frenetic Jazz fusion album that boasts such high-profile guests as Thundercat and Herbie Hancock amongst others. It’s a virtuosic and dazzling debut, designed to impress and doesn’t really let up at any point. And for me at least, perhaps that’s its weakness. It feels like a sequence of finely choreographed demonstration showcases, that lack any overall emotional cohesion or overarching content.

Anadou ejderi / Akyol, Gaye Su
Mark: ‘Anadolu Ejderi’ is the latest 4th album from Turkish musician Gaye Su Akyol. Before the 1980 military coup d’etat Turkish psych was a distinct musical style, and this is where she draws her primary influence, mixing in some modern Jazz elements, pop & rock rhythms, and soaring vocals. The music is sophisticated, atmospheric and alluring, while the lyrics hint of the political & social turmoil that exist in Turkey currently, without any outright statements, and with a broad enough scope that it can also apply to the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world and their weaponizing of the past.
Neil: Gaye Su Akyol’s fourth album fuses modern pop sensibilities with Turkish folk music, psychedelic sounds, and a hint of goth. Its an intoxicating mix with lyrics expounding the past glories of Istanbul and lamented lost love. Many of these smouldering dark anthems are supported by the inclusion of lush exotic melodies, and complex cinematic orchestration.

Live at the Capitol Theatre / Crosby, David
Mark: David Crosby passed away a week or so ago, so it’s somewhat fitting that this new live album arrived to be catalogued. If all he had done was be a founding member of both The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, he would still be remembered as an iconic figure, but he fought through hard times to experience a huge creative & critical renaissance in the 2010’s, delivering one great solo album after another. This warm sounding Live album is from a 2018 tour, backed by the much younger ‘Lighthouse Band’ (Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League), and the magical chemistry is readily apparent, as they produce a layered instrumental backing and a beautiful shading of female vocals, breathing new life into older songs and new ones. There’s a timeless purity to the music here.
Neil: The legendary musician David Crosby passed recently; he was a musician who lived a life that mixed massive success with troubled times. In the late 60’s and early 70’s he was one of the biggest and brightest creative forces around, being a key player in bands like The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but his fall from grace in the 80’s was tragically almost as spectacular, culminating in a prison sentence on drugs charges in 1982. From that period in his life, he eventually rebuilt, and remarkably went on to released some on his finest work in the noughties albums like Croz and Here if you listen are amongst his best. And now, we have ‘Live at the Capitol Theatre’, recorded at one of his last live outings in December 2018, in support of the ‘Here if you listen’ album. It is a fitting tribute to his late period renaissance; he is in fabulous voice and it is noticeable that he is playing within a band context, rather than surrounding himself with supporting musicians. Which makes for a much stronger dynamic within the recordings, with interlocking vocals and smooth integration of all the musical components, giving the tracks added emotional intensity. If you are a fan, this will definitely work for you.

Cruel country / Wilco
Mark: ‘Cruel Country’ was hailed as Wilco’s return to their country origins and, harking back to Being There, another sprawling double album, which finally gets a physical release on CD & Vinyl after coming out digitally last year. Recorded in live takes (like 2017’s Sky Blue Sky) it’s shorn of most of their layered sound and delivers a simple, direct, loose & casual set, as Jeff Tweedy ruminates on the past and the future with no grand statement in mind, just a pondering of the multiple enigmas at the heart of life in modern America. There’s a lot here, and perhaps it would have been better as a single album, but it offers a quietly reflective pleasure, and multiple listenings will throw up different stand out songs each time.
Neil: In ‘Cruel country’ we find Wilco returning to their Alt- country roots and, in part, paying homage to Jeff Tweedy’s earlier work, rather than creating one of their more adventurous rock outings. That said, it will appeal to a lot of their fans and beyond. The six band members returned to the studio for the first time in over a decade to record this double album pretty much live. And you can hear from the chemistry within the recordings that, not only were they relieved that they worked so well together, but also that they are really enjoying the experience. The tracks are stripped back, languid in pace, but largely upbeat in sound. The lyrics are equally nuanced, talking about big issues, but carefully avoiding falling into doom and gloom.

Bell bottom country / Wilson, Lainey
Mark: ‘Bell Bottom Country’ is the second major label album (& 4th overall) from American country music singer-songwriter Lainey Wilson, who won Female Vocalist of the Year & New Artist of the Year at the 2022 CMA Awards, along with 4 other nominations. An unabashedly southern personality who mixes country with pop & Louisiana rock, Wilson is a bit of an old school country throwback, a mash-up of Deana Carter, Lee-Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert & Dolly Parton (2021 album ‘Sayin What I’m Thinkin’ features a song called WWDD (What Would Dolly Do). Debuting as an independent artist in 2014, she has travelled a long road to success as a female artist in contemporary country music, but looks like making it straight to the top with this album, a couple of big 2022 duets, and an upcoming role in season 5 of Yellowstone.
Neil: ‘Bell bottom country’ is the second major album from Lainey Wilson and it’s a big hitting major Nashville country album through and through. Sure, there’s a little bit of sixties hippy chic in the marketing, and the music has a smidgeon of classic rock and a smattering of pop, but with song titles like “Hillbilly Hippie” and “Watermelon Moonshine” you know exactly what you’ve in for. The songs are catchy and full of hooks, both vocally and melodically. It’s the kind of album that will attract a huge following, especially in the USA. Indeed, with the number of country music awards its already nominated for, it looks like an album that’s going to launch a new country superstar.

January’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1…


via GIPHY

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 also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). Every month my colleague Neil and I cast our 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? Read on to find out…

Back home / Big Joanie
Mark: Big Joanie are a UK post-punk trio, and ‘Back Home’ is their debut for the Kill Rock Stars label, following 2018’s Sistahs, which inspired Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to set up a whole new label, Daydream Library Series, in order to release it. Following the success of their debut they went on to support bands like Sleater-Kinney, Parquet Courts, IDLES, Bikini Kill and more, and this added experience has perhaps led to a shift of their riot grrrl/60s Girl group harmonies into a larger musical aesthetic. This is a super catchy album, full of great harmonies, surf-rock & pop stylings, that takes the 2000’s Kill Rock sound & the 90s indie pop of (white) bands like Throwing Muses & Belly, and reshapes it to reflect a black feminist perspective. Really good, and perhaps one that should have also made our Best of 2022 podcast.

Neil: UK trio Big Joanie carves out a serious Black feminist message in their lyrics whilst using an infectious mix of 60’s girl group harmonics and synth heavy post punk riot-grrrl sounds. The various elements are all sensitively fused with electronics and strings to bind the songs together. The fact that Big Joanie has expanded their sound and sharpened their lyrical focus gives the whole album a highly approachable sound. Highly recommended if these genres are your bag.

All the kids are super bummed out / Haines, Luke
Mark: The 2nd collaboration between the The Auteurs Luke Haines & R.E.M’s Peter Buck, following on from 2020’s Beat poetry for survivalists is more idiosyncratic pop. Buck’s guitar gives the album a jangly-psych feel in places, while Haines pushes the British eccentricity buttons to full. Perhaps the most musically varied of R.E.M’s members, Buck indulges his sonic palette without the constraints of his old bandmates, and Haines is obviously having an immense amount of fun with the lyrics, resulting in a sprawling double album that is chaotic & weird, yet always quite listeable & appealing.

Neil: The second collaboration between R.E.M’s Peter Buck and the Auteurs Luke Haines boasts a whole host of guest musicians, but it is this creative duo that is at the albums heart. Buck has abandoned his trademark R.E.M sound and instead ops for a moodier, heavier, and very much psychedelic rock sound. Indeed, the whole album is very much psychedelic outing, with songs resplendent with titles like ‘The British Army on LSD’. The lyrics are free form with sharp surrealist word plays. In places it reminded me of an American 60’s psychedelic version of the mighty Fall.

Where I’m meant to be / Ezra Collective
Mark: The 2nd album from genre-bending British jazz quartet Ezra Collective, who mix Jazz, Afrobeat, grime & R&B. A seriously funky party-band, the album embraces tradition while leaving room for the new, with guest appearances from Nao, Kojey Radical, Sampa The Great, and Emeli Sandé. Kinetic, improvisational & uplifting, the music is full of fun grooves that celebrate positivity and community for the new generation of young Jazz practitioners & their fans.

Neil: The Ezra Collective have long been a highlight feature of the London Modern Jazz music scene. ‘Where I’m meant to be’ is their second release, and shows a band developing and really expanding their already impressive musical vocabulary. To give you a taste of the music in play here, there are elements of UK funk, South African gqom, Salsa, cosmic devotional Jazz, and Salsa to name but a few. The Ezra Collective incorporates, rather than let these elements dominate, and the overall impression the album leaves is of a group of highly talented musicians enjoying themselves, and creating an eclectic work that radiates a joyful Jazz aura.

Palomino / First Aid Kit
Mark: The Swedish sisters return for a 5th album, and move firmly outside of the Americana aesthetic that typified their previous albums. The ghostly instrumentation & haunting intimate vocals are replaced with a wider sonic palette that embraces 70s country and soft-rock stylings, with a definite Fleetwood Mac/Dixie Chicks vibe. Working with outside songwriters for the first time, it’s all a bit more radio friendly, the lyrics more positive and forward looking after the break up blues of 2018’s Ruins.

Neil: ‘Palomino’ is Swedish folk-rockers First Aid kit’s fifth album. As they have said in interviews about this album, their aim was to release a positive and fun work, which they have succeeded in doing in spades. Unsurprisingly, it is much lighter than its 2018 predecessor the break-up inspired ‘Ruins’. There is still emotion and feeling in the lyrics and, although the music still falls clearly into the folk-rock genre, there are also lots of musical nods to their various and numerous musical obsessions, such as vintage rock bands like the Rolling Stones, Americana music in general and, especially noticeable in places on this release, Fleetwood Mac.

Orkos / Maha
Mark: Another great release from Habibi Funk is this obscure album from Salah Ragab’s Cairo Jazz Band vocalist Maha, recorded in Cairo in 1979, and only ever released on cassette. Traditional Egyptian vocals blend with Jazz, swirling strings, and electro-funk elements to form a sultry, atmospheric sound. You can close your eyes and imagine sitting on cushions in a smoky late night club, as the music enfolds. Another lost gem rediscovered.

Neil: Another fabulous long hidden musical gem from the Arab World sees the light of day again thanks to the efforts of the Habibi Funk label. This time the music is from Cairo Jazz band vocalist Maha, though the album is a long way from Jazz. Orkos was originally recorded in 1979 for a very limited cassette release and very quickly faded into obscurity. It is once again wonderful stuff. Imagine an Egyptian disco in the late 1970’s where the music being played is a wonderful mix of Egyptian vocal traditions fused seamlessly with disco, funk, and soul music.

And in the darkness, hearts aglow / Blood, Weyes
Mark: Weyes Blood (AKA vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Natalie Mering) follows on from Titanic Rising, with another album of super polished 70’s styled folky-pop that harks back to stylism of Harry Nillson, Karen Carpenter & Laura Nyro. Her voice is very reminiscent of Aimee Mann, and indeed this sounds very much like Mann’s early albums with its classicist songwriting influences, but layered with more grandeur and a big, lush, baroque, orchestral sound. There’s a huge tonal sense to her music, with definite ambient & psych touches, and a sense of floating inward towards the centre of these tracks.

Neil: Lush and detailed orchestration underpins Weyes Blood’s ‘And in the darkness, hearts aglow’. The album is the second part of a trilogy, and this part is described as ‘a dispatch from the centre of a catastrophe’. The songs contained within are secular hymns and love songs, that lyrically look both inward and outward at the same time. The emotions on display here in the lyrics are influenced by golden age of classic pop, and very much wide screen and universal in both scope, feel and scale. As such, they suit the slow build to multi-layered conclusion most of the music takes. In its own way, a very ambitious album.

The united states of the broken hearted / Nichols, Jeb Loy
Mark: Jeb Loy Nichols is an American-born singer-songwriter, now based in Wales, who incorporates elements of soul, country, & reggae into his folky musings. A long friendship with Dub-master producer Adrian Sherwood has led to some collaborations, the latest of which, his 2022 album ‘The United States Of The Broken Hearted’, was inspired by Gram Parsons’ concept of ‘American Cosmic Music’. Originally from Wyoming Nichols has a husky Americana voice, and an outsider’s perspective, and in these 9 originals and three covers (including a Woodie Guthrie track) he takes stock of his homeland in a kind of ‘State of the nation’ concept. The breezy instrumentation and laid back campfire-vibes, hide scathing commentary and a dark melancholy, as he catalogues the hardships and injustice of modern America, with this 21st century political folk.

Neil: Alternative country folk, with a whole host of genre influences, is at the heart of Jeb Loy Nichols 15th album. The album is full of slow sentimental songs for the heart broken, delivered in an easy laid-back vocal delivery, which just emphasises the emotional bleak darkness expressed in the lyrics, as the songs succinctly explore the dark underside of America. There are some deep soul influences at play here too, and also the tiniest glimpses of dub techniques in the mastering, which isn’t surprising as the work is released on the legendary On-U-sound Reggae label and produced by Adrian Sherwood – though Reggae this album is definitely not.

Voices of Bishara / Skinner, Tom
Mark: Tom Skinner is an English drummer, who plays with jazz band Sons of Kemet, but is perhaps best known now as the third member of Radiohead side-project Smile (alongside Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood). ‘Voices of Bishara’ is his first album under his own name, after releasing a couple of albums under the moniker ‘Hello Skinny’, and it was well received critically, making AllMusic’s overall Best of 2022 list. The band includes fellow UK Jazz luminaries Nubya Garcia, and Sons of Kemet bandmate Shabaka Hutchings, and the albums throws up an atmospheric mix of free moments and structured playing, with the intriguing editing process aiding in the development of harmonic shifts and deep textures that unfold with repeated listens.

Neil: ‘Voices of Bishara’ is an often dense, complex, free-form alternative jazz, release propelled by the dynamic drumming of Tom Skinner. The mood of each segment changes throughout, flowing between tumultuous, exalted Jazz, to more mellow, contemplative, yet unsettling passages. It wasn’t too surprising to learn that the album was recorded live then cut up and radically altered, using the William Burroughs cut-up technique, to introduce random process into the work. The result can be challenging, but yields rewards with repeated listens.

Staff Picks: CDs

Here are some music titles that library staff have recently been listening to and enjoying.

Martin P’s Picks:
Back home / Big Joanie
‘Back Home’ is the second album by London-based black feminist punk trio, Big Joanie. A giant step forward musically from their debut, Sistahs, this album shows the band developing their sound in all sorts of interesting ways. Their influences go back to the 90s, with both grunge and riot grrrl getting a nod. But their music – melodic, stirring, brash – is all their own.

Penguin eggs / Jones, Nic
‘Penguin Eggs’ first came out in 1980, and is the last album of material recorded by British folk singer/songwriter, Nic Jones, before a tragic road accident brought his playing and performing days to an effective halt. Try the opening track, ‘Canadee-I-O’, for a taste of what he can do with traditional material, and his beautiful guitar technique. Fun fact: Bob Dylan recorded the same song 12 years later, ripping off Jones’ arrangement without credit.

Anaïs Mitchell / Mitchell, Anaïs
Anais Mitchell’s eponymous album, ‘Anais Mitchell’, came out in January 2022. Despite the name, it’s actually her eighth album. She was also responsible for the hit alt-musical, ‘Hadestown’, which played on Broadway and London’s West End a few years ago. Try the lovely ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ – a love song to a city as much as a person.

This is a photograph / Morby, Kevin
Kevin Morby has been around for the last ten years, and he’s been getting better and better. ‘This is a Photograph’ was released in May 2022, and it’s full of his rambling, rambunctious folk-tinged rock songs. Try the title track for a flavour of the album – but they’re all pretty good…

Vaughan’s Picks:
Kisses on the bottom / McCartney, Paul
A genuine affection for olde-timey music has been a consistent theme of Paul McCartney’s, even when he was revolutionising rock with The Beatles. So, the only real surprise about this album is that it took until 2012 for him to do it. Collecting a dozen pre-rock jazz and pop standards, along with two originals in the same vein (My Valentine and Only Our Hearts) Macca is in a thoroughly relaxed mood here. It’s the sort of thing you really could envisage listening to in the living room in the evening with a glass of wine. Time has taken its toll on his vocal range but he clearly loves these songs, this is no cynical move from a musician out of ideas but a deeply felt tribute and one of the most purely enjoyable records of his later career.

Randy Newman’s Faust / Newman, Randy
Given his lucrative side hustle composing film scores, and his knack for writing from the POV of all manner of interesting characters, it’s surprising that this is the closest Newman has come to writing a full-fledged musical. Taking Goethe’s classic work and rounding up a cast of famous faces (James Taylor, Don Henley, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt all make appearances) Newman puts a modern spin on the material. The resulting story is a bit overlong and not always easy to follow, especially if you’re not familiar with the poem. The song writing, however, demonstrates Newman’s mastery, ranging from the rousing gospel flavoured opener Glory Train to the hard rock pastiche The Man. Newman takes on the role of (who else?) the Devil, and is clearly having tremendous fun on songs like Can’t Keep a Good Man Down, done in his trademark bluesy shuffle style. The high point though, comes in the form of one of Newman’s most enduring songs, the moving ballad Feels Like Home. Sung beautifully by Bonnie Raitt here and widely covered since, its well on its way to becoming a modern pop standard and all by itself justifies giving this a listen.

Alison’s Pick:
Riderless horse / Nastasia, Nina
When I heard that Nina Nastasia was releasing another album after so long I was extremely excited, but had no idea of the hardships she had endured that caused the 12 year delay between this album and her last. Listening to the album felt bittersweet as I absorbed what had happened to her with the songs she had written about her experiences. She is a rare songwriter, and Steve Albini always brings her vision to life so beautifully and simply. This might be my favourite album of hers to date.

Mark’s Pick:
True north / a-ha
Every established artist eventually plays the ‘Orchestral’ card at some point in their career, and a-ha are the latest to do so. Supposedly inspired by Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ the band set out to record their 11th album live over three weeks in a studio 55 miles above the Arctic Circle in Bodø, backed by the Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra, and with an accompanying visual documentary highlighting the striking beauty of Norway’s nature and environment. Like most ‘concept’ type albums in probably only half succeeds in fusing their synth-pop side with their more organic sound, but nevertheless certain tracks shine, as they embrace a different chamber-folk/Jazz fusion sound that is different than anything else in their catalogue. A bit sedate on first listen, it’s an album that slowly grows on you.

Belinda’s Pick:
Kingmaker / Neilson, Tami
The latest album from powerhouse singer, writer, producer and instrumentalist Tami Neilson. Utter brilliance, but have your tissues ready for the poignant Beyond the Stars, feat Willie Nelson. An absolute must listen, this lady is a gun!

Shinji’s Picks:

Where's the one, by Congotronics International Cure the jones, by Mamas Gun Far Star, by Gilad Hekselman Healing power : the music of Carla Bley, by Steve Cardenas Ali, by Vieux Farka Touré Waiting for Columbus : live deluxe, by Little Feat

The Music Box Sets Of 2022: Part 1

Box Sets!!! 3 CDs. 4CDs. 5CDs. 6CDs. 7CDs. 8CDs… 8CDs!!

Everything from overviews of Black Music, to British pop, to the avant-garde, to live collection’s, Psychedelica, artist overviews, classic album reissues, and back again.

But they’re all so expensive! The dollar is terrible. And now you get taxed for everything you want to buy on Amazon that your local Record Store doesn’t have. Assuming you even have a local Record Store! It doesn’t seem fair..

But don’t worry!!! We buy these, so you don’t have to…

Against the odds : 1974-1982 / Blondie
“From the first-ever authorized archival release in Blondie’s history, this 8 CD edition features their first 6 studio albums, and the majority of the outtakes and rarities taken from the Super Deluxe Collector’s Vinyl Edition. Remastered from the original analog tapes, with an 128-page book”. (Adapted from Amazon.com)

Yankee hotel foxtrot [deluxe] / Wilco
“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was widely acclaimed as one of 2002’s best albums and also was featured in multiple decade-end lists, with Rolling Stone naming it #3 Album of the 2000s. This 8 CD Super Deluxe Edition of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco’s 2002 Nonesuch debut, comprises the original album, remastered for it’s 20th anniversary in 2022, plus 84 previously unreleased tracks. Reviewed by Library Staff here“. (Adapted from Amazon.com)

Revolver [super deluxe] / Beatles
“This Special Edition of The Beatles’ REVOLVER features a new mix by Giles Martin and Sam Okell, plus the original mono mix, a 4-track EP, 28 session takes and home demos, a 100-page book with a foreword by Paul McCartney, detailed track notes, photos and ephemera…” (Adapted from Amazon.com)

Continue reading “The Music Box Sets Of 2022: Part 1”