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 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.

Top 100 Non-Fiction books from 2022

Highlights of 2022

Our list of the top 100 non-fiction books for 2022 includes the best in memoirs and biographies, poetry, local history, science and technology, health, cooking, music, art and architecture. We’ve selected an eclectic mix of acclaimed local authors, New York Times Bestsellers, Pulitzer prize winners and breakthrough newcomers, meaning there’s plenty of choice for the deep-dive readers and coffee book lovers alike (and everyone in-between).

2022 Non-fiction Highlights — Browse the full list
Browse the full list with all our picks, or browse just the topic you enjoy!

I'm glad my mom died / Jeanette McCurdyMy fourth time, we drowned / Sally HaydenAs ever, the compelling human stories encompassing grief, love, personal trauma and strengths of character shine through, with a hearty selection of memoirs and biographies to choose from, including Sally Hayden’s critically acclaimed My fourth time, we drowned. Topping our most heavily reserved new non-fiction title of 2022 was Jennette McCurdy’s hit memoir I’m glad my mom died. A little further off the beaten path, was Hua Hsu’s ‘quietly wrenching’ coming-of-age memoir Stay True, and the visual delight of Kate Beaton’s graphic memoir Ducks: two years in the oil sands.

Contributions to the local poetry scene were beautifully espoused in Khadro Mohamed’s We’re all made of lightning and in the visual expressions of the poet/painter collaboration within Bordering on Miraculous. Shining locally likewise, the great architectural designs in Making Space and HomeGround, which highlight design as a conduits to push social boundaries in Aotearoa New Zealand communities.

Regenesis / by George MonbiotCalls for climate awareness were made riveting in The Alarmist, Nomad Century and Regenesis. Our oceans were also a focal point for many this year, and explored in great depth, with Jellyfish age backwards, Secrets of the Sea and in Adrift: the curious tale of Lego lost at sea, among others.

The collapse of historic empires, stories of divided nations and political parties in turmoil were explored in a multitude of ways in the vast array of global history titles featured on our list. Included are Legacy of Violence: A history of the British Empire by Pulitzer prize winning Historian Caroline Elkins, and Fragments of a contested past: Remembrance, denial and New Zealand history by Joanna Kidman.

Wawata: Moon Dreaming / by Hinemoa ElderWe let the world’s first astronomers take us on a star gazing tour, and found daily wisdom in Hinemoa Elder’s Wawata: Moon Dreaming. Cap off 2022 by allowing yourself to become enveloped in worlds both near and far, and understand our past, present and future within the Top 100 non-fiction books of 2022 list. Pair with our Top 100 fiction books list, and you’re all set for your Summer Reading Adventure.

WCL podcast: The best albums of 2022


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. Every month this year my colleague Neil and I reviewed some new material that we purchased for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. This podcast is an roundup of some the albums we enjoyed listening to the most over the course of the year. Some of these titles will no doubt feature on various Best of 2022 lists, but others are just albums that struck us as being unique and interesting.

Below are the lists of our Top 10 picks for 2022 that we discuss on the podcast. Along with a some titles from each of us that didn’t quite make the cut, but came close! You can click on the image links from our ‘Top Ten’ to reserve any of these items from the catalogue.

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

Some titles that came close to our ‘Top Ten’:


Space 1.8. / Sinephro, Nala
Mark: Space is the place on this debut album from Caribbean-Belgian, London-based, Jazz composer/harpist Nala Sinephro. Gathering some of the new stars of the UK Jazz scene (including Nubya Garcia), she has created an ambient Jazz classic. Pedal harp, modular synths, and saxophones combine in a swirl of liquid soundscapes to form warm meditative pieces. Like the soundtrack to a journey through the cosmos, or through’s one’s own mind. Deeply relaxing.
Neil: Nala Sinephro uses and blurs the use of acoustic and electronic elements in this ambient cosmic Jazz piece. It is an intimate, mellow, and very relaxing work; yet never dull, more a transfixing lure of sound. It feels like a new movement has begun with albums like this and Promises, the album by Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders in its fold.

Sun’s Signature / Sun’s Signature
Mark: ‘Sun’s Signature’ are Elizabeth Fraser & Damon Reece, and while Fraser has provided guest vocals to numerous tracks over the years, this EP represents the first real release from the ex-Cocteau Twins singer since a 2009 single. More accessible than even late period Cocteau Twins her vocals, once buried in a sonic swirl, cascade down like the warmth of the sun itself. Drawing inspiration from nature, these 5 sensual tracks are as beguiling and uplifting as you would expect from someone who was once described as ‘…the voice of God’. As close as music comes to a religious experience…
Neil: It’s been a long time since the Cocteau Twins split over quarter of a century ago. If you are unfamiliar with their work, they almost single-handedly created the genre of dream pop, and are commonly regarded as one of the UK’s most important bands of all time. Since then their singer, the incomparable Elizabeth Fraser’s, irregular one of guest appearances on albums have often been spectacular, take for example Teardrop on Massive attack’s 1998 album Mezzanine. However, it could be said that her solo work has been rare much more patchy and largely unfocused, however ‘Sun’s Signature’ is a 30 minute EP that is a spectacular return. Elizabeth’s always sublime voice is there and showcased to perfection, and as it has matured it has gained a warmth and humanity. The lyrics show this marked difference too. For a start you can understand and relate to them in a way the ethereal and celestial wordless words of most Cocteau Twins lyrics don’t – one critic once described them as ‘lost in beauty’. It’s also a dense and rich musical production, reportedly ten years in the making and enhanced by the distinctive fingerprint production of Damon Reece. Welcome back.

Strange mornings in the garden / Loyal Seas
Mark: ‘Strange Mornings in the Garden’ is the debut album from The Loyal Seas, which is a collaboration between Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly) and Brian Sullivan (Dylan in the Movies). They both get a chance to shine on individual tracks, but the best moments are when they combine their vocals, as their vocal tones and sparkling harmonies meld perfectly together (his a low register growl, hers the sound of sweet honey). Shimmering, lush, indie folk-pop that mixes a big heartland rock, orchestral elements, washed of synths and reverb laden guitars. A refreshingly original album that moves from sweeping ballads to tightly-knit, kinetic pop-rock.
Neil: Tanya Donelly and Brian Sullivan have been friends and worked together for nearly thirty years, and these decades of friendship show in the easy and relaxed nature of this album. ‘Strange mornings in the garden’ is a glittering, shimmering, gorgeous melodic indie pop work very much its own thing, but it reminded me in places of the more mellow works of bands like The Beach Boys or The Byrd’s. There is definitely an uplifting summery vibe to the poetic lyrics and radiant supporting music. I liked this release a lot.

Targala, la maison qui n’en est pas une. / Parrenin, Emmanuelle
Mark: 73 year old Emmanuelle Parrenin is a cult French musician whose debut solo album came out in 1977. A singer, harpist & hurdy-gurdy player she began in the traditional folk genre, but her strange life & musical journey has taken her through punk, techno and the avant-garde. Parrenin spent her first period of lockdown on the edge of the desert in Morocco, having been invited there to play a festival, and this album is a kind of psych-folk meander of ambient harp, dulcimer, synths, guitars, percussion & saxophones, creating an atmosphere that has the feel of a shimmering desert dream. The most unique & original music is being made on the fringes like this, and you won’t find a more interesting or haunting ambient album than this.

Patina / Tallies (Musical group)
Mark: More dream pop with this Canadian Quartet, fronted by singer Sarah Cogan, whose ambition seems to be a note perfect recreation of that early 90s 4AD alternative-pop sound. Their 2019 debut was supposedly such a perfect amalgamation of that Lush/Sundays/Cocteau Twins sound, that it came to the attention of ex-Cocteau Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union label – who snapped them up for this, their follow up release. Shimmery, jangly guitars, shoegaze, sweet ethereal vocals drenched in reverb, it’s all there on this album, but with enough variation on each track to keep things interesting. Dream pop has become one of the most watered down genres of recent times, and while Tallies just seem like another band mining those same influences, they are just so good at it, that it’s like hearing it for the first time all over again. Recommended.

I love you Jennifer B / Jockstrap
Mark: Jockstrap are a London experimental pop duo, Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, both graduates of the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and ‘I love you Jennifer B’ is their debut full-length following 2 EPs in 2018 & 2020. This really is something completely different, a bonkers deconstructionist melange of elements of chamber pop, electronic beats, introverted cabaret, Jazz, Punk-pop, and Baroque chamber folk based around an 18-piece orchestra & Ellery’s remarkable vocal facility. Full of tonal shifts, chaotic song structures, and eccentric character sketches, all immaculately produced. One the most original albums of 2022.

KiCk i. / Arca
Neil: Hyperpop is perhaps the most uniquely 21st century of musical forms, its origins can be traced to around 2010, and the work of artists such as Sophie and A.G. Cook. ‘Kick I’ is very much a maximalist hyperpop album in that genres mould, and features a glittering array of guest artists such as Shygirl, Björk and Sophie (recorded before their tragic death). If you are unfamiliar with the genre, it’s comprised of high energy, heavily layered, genre jumping, experimental sounds, mashed together into dancefloor tracks. Arca really embraces the joy in this and who they as a person. The album revels in the in-between spaces present in genres, languages, and genders, and is a bold experimental and radical dancefloor album that is genuinely exciting to listen to.

Found light / Veirs, Laura
Neil: ‘Found light’ is a mysterious haunting album, like a collection of ancient and modern folklore song tales and poems set to beautiful music. There is sparse instrumentation here, but the core of the work is Laura’s expressive voice and crystal bright shimmering guitar. It sounds like an artist exploring a vibrant dream, an exploration of passing seasons and weather, fleeting colours and senses, tastes slowly dissolving on the tongue, moments of time that gradually move on and fade. In its own very gentle way, I found the album riveting.

Drive my car : original soundtrack. / Ishabashi, Eiko
Neil: A cool smooth and nuanced film soundtrack. The film which it accompanies explores acceptance betrayal and grief and is an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story. In many circles the movie has been heralded as a masterpiece, and the music soundtrack perfectly mirrors the highly reflective nature of the film.

Staff Picks: CDs & Vinyl

Here are some new, and older, CDs & Vinyl that our Library staff have enjoyed listening to recently.

Gus’ Picks:

 

 

 

 

Most of my musical discoveries this year can be put under the banner of “female-fronted 80s/90s genre-revival art-pop”. Wet Leg’s debut self-titled album (favourite track: Chaise Longue) more than lived up to the hype, with their varied Britpop-esque guitar-heavy tunes about small-town woes and young love. Australian singer Hatchie’s recent album Giving the World Away (favourite track: The Rhythm) and Mitski’s Laurel Hell (favourite track: The Only Heartbreaker) was a nice throwback to the kind of college rock and heavily-produced bubblegum pop of the 90s that I was cutting my teeth on as a burgeoning Top 40 listener. My advice to future artists: if you can somehow blend The Cranberries with Sugababes, I’ll be your fan forever.

Martin’s Pick:
The tipping point / Tears For Fears
If you liked Tears for Fears in the 80s/90s, the big sound, the big voice of Roland Orzabal and the anthemic large scale songs, then 2022 is a good year for you. It’s easy to wallow in the familiar comfort of a well-loved sound but often the ‘new stuff’ of perennial groups, seems like a lesser pastiche of the original that you loved long ago. Those ‘old’ groups that are now old but still churning it out. So you will definitely get that from ‘The Tipping Point’. It’s familiar, there’s the same beats, the same build-up of songs and the same signature sound, but it is very well done. I thought The Seeds of Love was a good album (that’s 1989!!) but with a little too Beatlesy. The Tipping Point has the same feel as Songs from the Big Chair, often quite bombastic, but it’s the tiny details of sounds and the lush flow that takes you along. Orzabal’s voice is still powerful and subtle when needed and there is a good mix of the loud and soft. ‘Stay Don’t Stay’ shows Orzabal’s tone and rhythm, while ‘River’s of Mercy’ is so Tears For Fears and a beautiful song. ‘End of Night’ is punchy and ‘Break the Man’ sounds like a sure fire single. So at the moment I’m loving a return to form.

Mark’s Pick:
Hi / Texas (Musical group)
Someone stole the first copy we bought of this before it even went out, so I guess there is at least one other fan of this band still out there. Texas originated in the 80s, and basically dabbled in multiple genres (the Americana of their 1989 debut ‘Southside’, the electro-pop of 1997’s ‘White on Blonde’, the soul stylings of 1999’s Hush, collaborations with rappers like Wu-Tang Clan) before all those things became hardened into the retro classicism of today’s music. Similarly to fellow 80s band Sade, they don’t tour much, and seem to have no interest in reissuing their back-catalogue albums as Deluxe or Anniversary issues, so you tend to forget they are actually still around until they put out a new album. Originally this started as a rare archival project, featuring an albums worth of unreleased tracks from their ‘comeback’ album ‘White on Blonde’. In the course of this they found 3 songs which were only half-finished, decided to complete them, and then inspired by the older material wrote a bunch of new songs. The tracks range from disco influences, to folk, country, & synthy 80s sounds, and are mostly upbeat, with the addition of a few heavier ballads that were added post lockdown and following the sudden passing of singer Sharleen Spiteri’s mother. There’s a co-write with Richard Hawley, Clare Grogan from Altered Images duets on “Look What You’ve Done”, and the Wu-Tang Clan and Ghostface Killah feature on “Hi”. There’s a timeless quality to their intelligent and well-crafted pop music, as well as the maturing emotional resonance of Spiteri’s lovely voice, that make this the kind of soothing pop music that always puts you in a better mood.

Continue reading “Staff Picks: CDs & Vinyl”

Staff Picks: Movies at the Library

Here are some new, and older movies, that our library cinephiles have enjoyed watching recently.

Gus’ Picks:


The worst person in the world
Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s latest film which follows four years in the life of Julie, a woman on the verge of her thirties trying to figure out herself, her career, her passions, and her love life. Told episodically in acts, the film is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at articulating that particular Millennial desire to be remarkable in your time, how being anything less makes you feel like the titular ‘worst person in the world’, and the malaise that soon sets in from both the disappointment on never succeeding and the relief of never committing. Heartwarming, hilarious, and not a little profound.

The Matrix Resurrections
I always thought ‘The Matrix’ was the one series that actually deserved a modern reboot; like the ‘red pill’, it’s easier to swallow a concept like the Matrix in a world that has been moulded even more by computers and algorithms than ever before. The question is, what do you say with that idea today? What, for better or worse, has the Matrix, both the film and the concept, done to our culture? Does it still have a place in the era of Twitter and virtual reality? Fortunately, Lana Wachowski (now directing solo without her sister, Lily) has been stewing on those questions, and delivers a sequel that both expertly updates the concept and puts it in context of its own legacy. Don’t go in expecting it to reinvent cinema like the first one, just remember to keep your mind open to the possibilities. Some ideas are just too good to stay dead.

Dune
Denis Villeneuve takes a crack at the ‘unadaptable’ space epic that defined science fiction for decades, and he proves more than up to the task. While definitely feeling like a ‘Part 1’, Dune’s scope, worldbuilding, creature design, and cinematography are second-to-none, and the epic, mesmerising score by Hans Zimmer is the perfect compliment. On a personal note, I think this is the best realisation of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide line “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”.

The courier
Based on the true story of Greville Wynne, a British businessman who gets roped into smuggling secrets out of Russia on behalf of the CIA and MI:6. A solid Cold War thriller, and a reminder that Benedict Cumberbatch is actually a really great actor when he’s not being stunt-cast (see also: Patrick Melrose).

First cow
In 1820s Oregon, a humble cook from Maryland and a worldly immigrant from China meet through happenstance and become fast friends, eventually setting up a business selling ‘oily cakes’ to the hungry trappers and settlers in their neck of the woods. However, the only way they can get the milk for their cakes is to steal it from the only cow around, which happens to be owned by the richest man in the territory. The first half is about two guys in 1820s start-up culture, while the second half is the sweetest, gentlest heist movie you’ll ever see. Perfect for a rainy weekend or a quiet night in.

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Movies at the Library”