Schumann and Psathas in Orchestra Wellington’s Circle of Friends

In this post Corrina, one of the librarians from our Te Awe Library, explores some of the music featuring in Saturday night’s Orchestra Wellington concert at the Michael Fowler Centre, focusing on John Psathas’s new concerto ‘Leviathan’, and Robert Schumann’s ‘Symphony No. 2 in C major’, and exploring some of the books and recordings in our collection that may enrich our readers’ responses to the music of these two remarkable composers.

John Psathas’s ‘Leviathan’ is the second of his works for orchestra and solo percussion to be featured in Orchestra Wellington’s 2022 season, following a performance of his All-Seeing Sky earlier this year.

Leviathan, which was commissioned by Tonhall Dusseldorf GmbH in 2020 as part of the Beethoven 250th Anniversary Year and the Beethoven Pastoral Project, received its world premiere in October 2021 with the Berlin Radio Symphony, soloist Alexej Gerassimez (also the dedicatee of ‘Leviathan’), and conductor Markus Poschner. You can read more about the conception behind ‘Leviathan’ – and its connections with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 – in Psathas’s own words here. Gerassimez will be the soloist at the New Zealand premiere of Leviathan here in Wellington.

We hold a variety of recordings and scores of Psathas’s works, including:


View from Olympus / Psathas, John
Three of Psathas’s best-known works – Omnifenix, View from Olympus, Three Psalms – performed by outstanding soloists Joshua Redman, Lance Philips, Pedro Carneiro, and Michael Houstoun, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marc Taddei.

Gyftiko : violin / Psathas, John
This is a beautifully produced Promethean Editions score of Psathas’s 2011 piece for solo violin Gyfitiko, commissioned by the Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

Sleeper : piano / Psathas, John
A minimalist yet explosive work for solo piano, Sleeper was composed for a recital by Stephen de Pledge at the 2008 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.

Beethoven’s music also has a significant presence in Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C major. Schumann began work on his second symphony, possibly motivated by hearing a performance of another work in C major, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9. Schumann’s ‘symphonic thoughts’ began to translate themselves into musical sketches, but it took almost a year for him to complete and orchestrate the Symphony, before its premiere in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus on 5 November 1846.

Berliner Philharmoniker Sir Simon Rattle / Schumann, Robert

The Symphony includes allusions to other composers, especially Beethoven and J. S. Bach. Following the quiet fanfare that opens the Symphony, Schumann writes Bach’s name into the music (using the notes BACH or B-flat, A, C, B-natural). Later, in the Symphony’s fourth and final movement, Schumann introduces a new – but somehow familiar melody – halfway through: a quotation of the final song in Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved). In Beethoven’s song, this music sets the words:
‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder / Accept, then, these songs
Die ich dir, Geliebte, sang / I sang for you, beloved.

Such ciphers and hidden messages are a recurring feature in Schumann’s music, and this was not the first time Schumann had made a musical connection with An die ferne Geliebte in one of his own pieces: his op. 17 Fantasie for solo piano also contains a fleeting reference to Beethoven’s song cycle. Such subtle allusions to the music of Schumann’s composer-heroes formed a fundamental role in the realisation of his aesthetic and creative ideals.

Schumann : the faces and the masks / Chernaik, Judith
This 2018 biography of Schumann by one of the leading contemporary Schumann scholars illustrates with enticing detail the links between Schumann’s music and his literary interests that helped him to realise his ambition to be a ‘poet of tones’. Cherniak also explores in compelling detail Schumann’s relationship with Clara Wieck, the outstanding pianist who would become his wife, his interactions with other composers, and his responses to the musical events of the day. Cherniak’s command of her subject and her accessible writing style make this a very readable study of Robert Schumann.

Schumann / Schumann, Robert
This 2014 recording on the Naïve label offers three works by Schumann, his Abegg Variations, op. 1, his Kinderszenen, op 15, and the Fantasie, Op. 17 that includes an illusion to Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte. Lisa de La Salle’s interpretation of these early piano pieces by Schumann offers performances that are idiomatic and idiosyncratic. In her performance, de la Salle’s approach to Schumann’s articulation emphasises the eccentric humour of Schumann’s music in ways that other pianists have smoothed over. Reactions to this recording have differed wildly, but de La Salle illustrates the complexities of Schumann’s personality and aesthetics in a thought-provoking style.

Robert Schumann : herald of a “new poetic age” / Daverio, John
Exploring Schumann’s early desire to be a writer, then his quest to become a virtuoso pianist, and finally his pursuit of composition and music criticism, Daverio’s study blends biography with analysis of a variety of representative musical works. In particular, Daverio offers a compelling and readable portrait of a composer and writer who sought to realise the poetic spirit of Romanticism in mid-nineteenth-century music.

The symphonies / Schumann, Robert
All four of Schumann’s complete symphonies – including the 1851 version of his Symphony No. 4 – with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin provide a lively portrait of the composer as a symphonist. The smaller forces instrumental of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe sound crisp and sprightly throughout and lend this music a clarity that may initially seem unsettling when we are more accustomed to performances by full-sized symphony orchestras. Nézet-Séguin’s approach is energetic, his tempos sometimes breathlessly swift, but the orchestra’s ability and artistry are more than equal to their conductor’s demands in this 2012 recording.

September’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…

The girl from Chickasaw County / Gentry, Bobbie
Mark: Bobbie Gentry is an iconic, enigmatic, cult country-pop singer, and one of the first female artists to compose and produce her own material. She retired completely from music in the early 80s, after a run of successful albums from the late 60s to the late 70s, and has not recorded, performed or been interviewed since then. This new compilation collects 2 CDs worth of highlights from her Capitol albums from 1967-1972, an encapsulation of a larger 8CD Box Set released in 2018. A kind of country Dusty Springfield, it’s easy to trace her influence on subsequent country artists and music in general, with her genre-melding mix of swampy southern rhythms with traces of Pop & R&B. The overall mystery surrounding her may never be solved, but the music she left behind continues to enthrall, letting you endlessly pull back its layers in search of some hidden meaning.

Neil: After a spell in Las Vegas in the late 70’s doing her own unique version of an Elvis type stage show, Bobbie Gentry did an American television performance in 1981, and it was to be the last time she was seen in public…. Since that performance she hasn’t performed, released any work, or been interviewed; indeed she has become one of popular music’s great enigmas. Her 1967 chart topping Southern Gothic masterpiece Ode to Billie Joe could be strongly argued as setting the template for the whole genre of Alt country. As an artist she raked up a truly impressive list of hit singles and albums. This compilation represents her musical legacy, and is a revelation in its variety depth and quality. The work of a truly uniquely gifted artist.

Dancing under the moon / Master Musicians of Jajouka
Mark: Jajouka is a village in Northern Morocco, where a collective group of 50 Jbala Sufi trance makers have a mission to spread Jajouka’s 1000 year old musical traditions, which has led to them work with everyone from William Burroughs to Ornette Coleman, to Brian Jones. The musicians split into 2 factions in the 1990s, with this one led by Bachir Attar, who has subsequently recorded with Maceo Parker & Talvin Singh. In 2019, the band recorded these 9 tracks in the Rif mountains, all but one exceeding 10-minutes in length. An intense double album, perhaps digested in small doses, it presents a swirling mayhem of flutes, violins, chats and drums. It’s music that’s almost impossible to describe, at times sounding like atonal free-jazz, at other times like deeply spiritual meditative hymns. You really have to listen to it yourself. In a fascinating YouTube clip Mick Jagger talks with author Paul Bowles (The sheltering sky) during which they discuss his 1959 journey recording Moroccan musicians, as well as Brian Jones’ recording of The Master Musicians of Jajouka.

Neil: ‘Dancing under the moon’ is a two-hour album of ancient folkloric trance traditions by Jbala Sufi musicians. The music is surprisingly varied and features various multi layered reed instruments and percussive drums, and has direct linkage to Persian and Arcadian musicians and mystics. This tradition was first recorded by Brian Jones and subsequently influenced Ornette Coleman, though these recordings are modern one from 2019. The music is intended to heal psychic wounds and chase away demons, so it is esoteric in nature.

Continue reading “September’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1”

August’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is part 3 of our new music picks for August. You can catch up with Part 1 here, and Part 2 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…

White Jesus black problems / Fantastic Negrito
Mark: When he returned to music in 2014 after a long lay-off, Fantastic Negrito described his new style as “black roots music for everyone”. The multiple Grammy award winners 5th album is another swampy mix of blues, rock and R&B stylings, inspired by learning that his ancestors had a mixed race common law marriage in 1750s Virginia and that he is 27% white. While his Grammy awards were in the Blues, he has long pushed the definition of that genre with previous efforts. This album is even sonically richer, taking in Prince influenced funk, country, gospel, delta-blues and seemingly everything in between. A deeply layered musical and lyrical tribute to his two ancestors whose love prevailed in spite of the brutally repressive times they lived through, the parallels from their time that still exist today, and a glimmer of hope that love and courage can forge a new path to the future.
Neil: ‘White Jesus black problems’ is a heady and emotionally charged album in which Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, uses an investigation into his ancestry as its starting point. The tale he uncovers is troubling and dark, going back to Virginia in 1759 and the slave trade, but there’s also moments of light and redemption to punctuate the darkness. Musically the album is a hybrid of several genres, primarily R&B and funky rock, and the result is an album that musically sounds old school and modern at the same time, with deep and hugely important lyrical content.

Where’s the one / Congotronics International
Mark: A ‘supergroup’ featuring members of Konono Nº1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Juana Molina, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Skeletons’ Matt Mehlan. Congolese guitars with psychedelic rock, and features vocals in Songye language by Kasai Allstars and in English by Mehlan. A sprawling double album of African rhythms mashed up with contemporary edges. Incendiary and intense as dissonance and harmony clash, the music is a manifestation of the collision of styles inherent in a meeting of Western experimental rockers and African musicians.
Neil: : Congotronics International are less a band and more a musical community or collective, with a revolving roster of nineteen musicians. This album is a blend of their high-octane live recordings recorded over several years, but with studio elements included in places. It is an exciting bold and brave, experimental Afrobeat album, with traditional and electronic elements fused into a rapturous infectious high energy piece. At points, the energy levels are so high there is a sense of feverish frenzy to the work. Fabulous stuff.

Neneh Cherry : the versions
Mark: A covers album featuring reworked versions of Neneh Cherry songs by an eclectic group of modern female artists including ANOHNI, Jamila Woods, Sudan Archives, Kelsey Lu, Honey Dijon, Seinabo Sey, Greentea Peng and Tyson, as well as Cherry’s rendition of “Buffalo Stance” with Robyn and Mapei. Cherry is really too distinctive a songwriter and performer for this to work as universally well as say the Springsteen covers album we reviewed earlier this month, but I thought this was better than the somewhat patchy reviews implied. The general tone of the covers overall was perhaps a bit too chill and laid back for Cherry aficionados.
Neil: ‘The Versions’ is a ten-track album featuring a range of artists covering Neneh Cherry songs. The re-interpretations are largely done as smooth and at times vibrant pop songs, to the highest of technical and production levels. It is an interesting approach and many will really enjoy it, but for me smoothing out the edgy, rebellious, nature of the originals was a mistake and weakens the songs. To decide which side you’re on, listen to this release then Neneh’s 1989 album Raw like Sushi and decide which you prefer.

Te kaahu o rangi / Te Kaahu
Mark: Te Kaahu is the te reo Māori project of Em Walker, whose other musical persona is Theia, and ‘Te kaahu o rangi’ is a beautiful exploration of her Māori heritage. A series of lovely, lilting, acoustic based tunes that sonically hark back to the 40’s and 50’s. Sunny Pacific/Hawaiian vibes meld with traditional uplifting Maori waiata, and her gorgeous harmony vocals delivering positive messages of peace, love and self-care, along with hope and support to young women.
Neil: Te kaahu o rangi is a collection of te reo Māori songs that channel traditional singer-songwriter structure and melodies into a place grounded in whakapapa. It is a fresh and interesting take on alt pop. The songs cover a wide range of uplifting themes: hope and healing, peace and love. Te Kaahu’s dreamy vocals are placed very much in the centre of the mix, with the musical backing perfectly supporting each songs various sentiments, while the music itself is romantic: warm, sunny with golden slightly nostalgic undertones, firmly rooted in pop.

I’m the sky : studio and demo recordings, 1964-1971 / Tanega, Norma
Mark: Cultish folk singer who never quite made it to a household name, despite being hugely talented. She had a hit single “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”, was closely associated with Dusty Springfield for a number of years (and wrote a lot of material for her), but is perhaps best known now for the track “You’re Dead”, which became the theme song of the film & TV show What We Do in the Shadows. ‘I’m the Sky’ combines tracks from her 2 studio albums, an unreleased album, along with some unheard demos. Her idiosyncratic nature sets her apart from the more traditional folk artists active at that time, and these whimsical, moody, gentle tracks with simple, catchy arrangements and slightly new-agey lyrics are worthy of rediscovery.
Neil: Norma Tanega was one of those artists who was perilously close to becoming a huge star. Her record label just didn’t know what to do with her, and she had a reluctance to enter and take the star making machine seriously. This compilation showcases her pioneering, experimental hippy folk singer-songwriter talents off to great advantage. Norma’s songs are rich and complex in their lyrical content, if rooted a little in their time of creation (there’s a hint of patchouli oil and the flower power generation around several of the tracks). For reference, if you like very early Joni Mitchell or Vashti Bunyan there is a strong possibility you would like this. Norma went on to write songs for the likes of Dusty Springfield, switched her musical focus to becoming a percussionist and had an alternative creative outlet as a painter. In a different reality we would be very familiar with her creative output already.

Home, before and after / Spektor, Regina
Mark: Spektor’s latest album, her 8th in total and first in 6 years, shifts from the arty tendencies of her previous work to a more pop feel. The songs have an overall symphonic feel to them, shifting from soft piano backing to a lush sound reminiscent of Jon Brion era Fiona Apple. Alternating from pathos to humour, her lyrics with their sometimes funny takes on life, love and relationships, anchor the big swirling crescendos of the music, unfolding the stories within like a warm blanket to comfort you.
Neil: Regina Spektor’s previous albums have a definite art punk feel to them and, whilst that is still present here on ‘Home, before and after’, there is definitely a more widescreen musical background to these songs. The album features sweeping string arrangements, Regina’s classical training is very evident in places. A lot of her previous albums also have life, death, and love at their lyrical core, and whilst this album does also, there is a more relaxed haunting quality to the lyrics and her vocal approach. This album is perhaps her most directly approachable vocal delivery so far, and a very different release from the artist that shows a desire to change.

The alien coast / St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Mark: St. Paul and The Broken Bones are an Alabama eight-piece soul band that have been around for a while, releasing four albums and two EPs. Their latest album ‘The alien coast’ is full of slinky, funky propulsive soul helmed by the powerhouse vocals of lead singer Paul Janeway. This isn’t just another retro-soul album, as the music shifts in too many contemporary directions for that, with experimental elements, post-funk, psychedelic and space-rock touches. ‘Apocalyptic dance grooves…’ sings lead singer Janeway in one of the tracks, and that’s pretty much what this sounds like with its eerie, haunting tracks. Like Al Green fronting a soul band at the end of the world…
Neil: While still drawing on their musical roots and inspirations in stoner metal, psychedelia funk and especially soul music, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, the eight-piece outfit from Birmingham, Alabama, have still found their own creative evolutionary path in “The alien coast”. The lyrics blur lines too, wavering between sleep and wakefulness and delivering a surrealist apocalyptic uneasy vibe. The result is an innovative, bold and exciting genre spanning soul work.

Box Set Pick:
The rock box 1973-1979 : the complete recordings / Quatro, Suzi
Mark: Once viewed as an embarrassing genre best forgotten, ‘glam rock’ has enjoyed a bit of a critical resurgence in the last decade or so with several dedicated box sets (Oh yes we can love: a history of glam rock, Can the glam! : 80 glambusters : rockers, shockers and teenyboppers from the 70s) and some serious music criticism dissecting its influence on fashion, theatre, film and contemporary music (Glam rock: dandies in the underworld, Shock and awe: glam rock and its legacy : from the seventies to the twenty-first century). Suzi Quatro was the ‘Queen of Glam’, an overlooked female trailblazer in music, until the critically acclaimed 2019 documentary Suzi Q firmly staked her place in music history. Now she is the subject of a multi-disc retrospective, ‘The Rock Box’, which compiles her 6 studio albums and a live album from 1973 to 1979, along with a bunch of bonus singles & B-Sides, as well as a accompanying booklet with commentaries from Suzi herself on each album. There are a lot of classic tracks here, from covers to many of her overlooked originals. She would influence everyone from Joan Jett, to Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) to Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), and this box is fitting testament to that legacy.
Neil: Suzi Quatro was one of the superstars of the glam rock era, along with bands like T-Rex and Sweet. During that time she had a string of chart-topping singles like “Can the Can” and “Devil Gate Drive”. However, Suzi Quatro’s music is more closely akin to Hard Rock, and has strong roots in the original 1950’s rock n’ roll sound – a fact picked up by the producers of the American 50’s nostalgia TV comedy “Happy Days” who cast her as Leather Tuscadero, a musician from that time. As well as being a 70’s superstar, Quatro was a pioneering musician in the world of rock at a time when it was an almost exclusively male dominated preserve. This box set contains all her releases from, as the Pet Shop Boys would say, “her imperial phase” and includes all her biggest hits and the works she is best known for, as well as lots of other equally interesting songs. If this box set fits the bill, check out ‘Suzi Q’, the fabulous film that charts this trailblazing American rock singers’ career.

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”

August’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is Part 2 of our new Music Picks for August. 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…

Songbird : a solo collection / McVie, Christine
Mark: Christine McVie’s solo career outside of Fleetwood Mac always gained less attention than that of fellow bandmates Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham. The 10 songs in this collection (5 from “In the Meantime” (2004), 2 from “Christine McVie” (1984), 2 unreleased songs, and “Songbird” – which uses the vocals from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977) with a new orchestral arrangement) may not have the immediate pop impact of tracks like ‘Stop draggin’ my heart around’ or ‘Countdown’, but they showcase the classicist songcraft that underpinned her tenure with Fleetwood Mac. Her soothing voice floats over a seemingly effortless display of warm, glossy, melodies, making you wish she had devoted more time to her solo career instead of her band.

Neil: Christine McVie is, of course, best known for her work with Fleetwood Mac, and though there are connections to this body of work this compilation mainly focuses its attention on her two solo albums the 1984 self-titled ‘Christine McVie’ and her 2004 album ‘In the Meantime’. The songs featured are largely remixes from these sources and, as you would expect, are gorgeous, warm, and full of optimism in a very Christine McVie fashion. The album might have been even richer though if the compilers had spread their net further, and selected solo outings from a wider pallet of recordings.

Mississippi son / Musselwhite, Charlie
Mark: The Grammy award-winning blues icon returns to his roots for his first new solo studio release in seven years, featuring six covers and eight new originals. Mississippi born, his connection with the form is real. Now an elder statesman, he was part of the original 60s Blues revival in Chicago befriending John Lee Hooker and others, and on this half acoustic guitar and half electric with band, Musselwhite serves up a dish of swampy back porch delta blues. As he says in one of these tracks ‘The Blues tells the Truth…’ and these tunes are authentic and un-romanticised digs into real life, leavened by his honest & soulful voice.

Neil: A shuffling Mississippi blues album from the Grammy award winning Charlie Musselwhite. Charlie Musselwhite rose to fame during the second wave of Blues in the 60’s and 70’s, a legendary Bluesman with fifty years’ experience and over 40 albums to his name, not to mention a plethora of awards. This release is a joyous straight down the line raw country-blues album, that heavily features his golden baritone voice. You can tell he is enjoying himself on this release, and is just letting it rip.

If you will / Purim, Flora
Mark: ‘If You Will’ is the first studio release in 15 years by Brazilian Jazz icon Flora Purim, who turned 80 this year. The album mixes reworkings of classic material from her back catalogue with new material, helped out by both her daughter on vocals & her husband on percussion, along with her son-in-law, and other longtime collaborators. The comfortable musical surrounding they create lets her deliver a masterclass in Bossa-Jazz, full of Fusion & prog rock touches, looping rhythms, melodic songs, tasteful solos & crisp clean production. This musical journey through her career shows that, while steeped in a certain time, there is a joyful timelessness to this music.

Neil: One of the most celebrated voices in Brazilian music celebrates her 80th birthday in style, with her first album in 15 years, inviting musical friends and family to the celebration. If you are unfamiliar with her work, it could be loosely summarised as catchy and infectious Brazilian Jazz, Funk, with cool Latin American rhythms underpinning the tracks.

Big time / Olsen, Angel
Mark: Seventh album from the indie singer-songwriter who has elevated lo-fi garage & vintage Country to echoey chamber-rock heights. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, she sounds somewhat like an amalgam of Mazzy Star, country torch ballads, Lynch-Badalamenti/Julee Cruise, and the reverby retro-stylings of Chris Isaak. The instrumentation is dialed down from the 14-piece orchestra of 2019’s All Mirrors, yet she still manages to create an intimate and lushly baroque sound. Steel guitars, strings and her otherworldly voice tackle the aftermath of grief, self discovery, new love, and heartbreak.

Neil: ‘Big Time’ is an album that ebbs and flows, with sections of fluid laid back country influenced music, that rises on occasion to Nashville inspired crescendos that fall back again into that more mellow vibe. It’s a personal album, especially with regards to the vocal delivery and lyrical construction. During its recording Olsen came out as queer and this informs many of the tracks, with songs about grief and love both in the past and the present. It is all delivered in her clear voice that carefully navigates the emotional content of each track.

Endless rooms / Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Mark: The third album from the Melbourne indie rockers, following 2020’s Sideways to New Italy. If you haven’t listened to them before, they mine a jangly indie 1980s college rock sound, early R.E.M meets the Go-Betweens, with some 90s slacker Pavement touches – with an Australian accent. They switch things around a bit this time, with some tracks a bit more dreamy, others a bit more dance-floor, and lyrics a bit more darker, referencing climate change and politics. There’s nothing original about their music really, but they do what they do really well, which is deliver relaxed catchy tunes. Music to listen to while hanging out with friends.

Neil: : Jangly 80’s college rock is obviously on Melbourne band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s radar, though they do take that sound and make it very much their own. With three lead guitarists, and no dedicated lead vocalist, it is unsurprising that the guitars, their sound, and placement are very much to the fore – with the overall guitar sound being of that 80’s underground, jittery wound-up, psychedelica. The shared vocals duties are strong, and while the music has an easy going post-punk feel the songwriting is nuanced, carefully crafted, and concerned with subjects such as environmental destruction in Australia.

Special / Lizzo
Mark: Lizzo is back with hewr 4th album, the follow-up to her Grammy-winning major label debut Cuz I Love You. ‘Special’ is more of her patented swagger, as rap, pop & soul blend into a funky melange about body positivity and acceptance. Musically it plays things a bit safer than her breakout, with a focus on a nostalgic Disco-pop sound, and all the songs about parties seem a bit repetitive. However amongst the grooves there are some intimate and vulnerable moments that make you feel she is still fighting to overcome perceptions, but is full of hope & love and is aiming to be around for many years to come.

Neil: Lizzo is so much more than a musician-singer. She already has her own reality television show and has a rising career in film, not to mention three Grammys so far, and being known as the flutist credited by the Guardian as responsible for “the woodwind resistance”. ‘Special’ is her fourth album, a shiny pop artifact that is worldwide one the highest charting albums of 2022. There are elements of rap, pop, hip hop, R&B and soul, however the predominant musical force here is euphoric disco, often with an 80’s feel. Lizzo has been a victim of body shaming and trolling throughout her career and this album, is in one sense, a riposte to those people with its emphasis on body positivity and self-confidence.

A legacy of rentals / Finn, Craig
Mark: Craig Finn is the frontman for The Hold Steady, and ‘A legacy of rentals’ is his 5th solo album outside of the group. Freed from the template of his band, his solo albums seem to exist to give more ‘voice’ to his story like songs, a series of sharply observed vignettes that wind through the weary lives and limited prospects his protagonists face at this point in American history. The music still occasionally has the larger sound of his band, incorporating a 14-piece string section and the odd sax solo on some tracks. Most, though, are framed around the steady drum machine patterns that form the body of these downbeat sketches, as the characters in the songs remember people who are no longer around, and try to find some peace in the memories. Cassandra Jenkins’ harmony vocals dovetail perfectly on a few tracks, adding to the spiraling intensity of the narratives.

Neil: There are lots of big emotions on Craig Finn’s latest solo outing, and a deep emotional honesty in this work that he doesn’t hide or flinch from, confronting some depressing situations or visiting sad places. However, in these melancholic locations he finds a unique sort of beauty and emotional grandeur. His songwriting and storytelling also has a tenderness, and the 14-piece orchestra present on the album is carefully and sparsely used to great effect.

Kingmaker / Neilson, Tami
Mark: The fifth album for the Canadian-born NZ-based country queen. Since moving here in 2007 she has won numerous NZ awards and is one of a handful of NZ artists, like Nadia Reid or Aldus Harding, whose success has gone global. Latest album ‘Kingmaker’ has an overarching theme of challenges patriarchal structures, both within the music industry, as well as relationships, running through the tracks. It’s full of a widescreen cinematic energy, feeling at times like the soundtrack to female fronted Western where the protagonist runs circles around all the men. Everything stands out equally, from her big voice, to the consummate, empowering songwriting & top-notch arrangements. Country legend Willie Nelson duets on ‘Beyond the Stars’, which will surely be looked back on as a defining fork, as her musical journey continues upwards.

Neil: If you follow music in Aotearoa, it is highly likely you will have come across the phenomenon/force of nature that is Tami Neilson. Her unique brand of country, roots and blues music has been wowing audiences for years. ‘Kingmaker’ sticks to those musical roots, and is another fabulous, strong, and powerful work. It hasn’t got a weak song in the whole album, though her duet with Willie Nelson is unsurprisingly the track that attracts all the attention. We already knew she was a superstar, and if Covid hadn’t come along the rest of the world would know it too. This knockout album will surely change this, and deliver the international recognition she so richly deserves.

August’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…

Say Laura / Chenaux, Eric
Mark: Chenaux is a Toronto-based experimental guitarist & songwriter and on this, his 7th album, he delivers a unique interplay of instrument and voice. Semi-improvisational guitar textures, acoustic as well as processed and treated, meld with his relaxed tenor crooning, and other backing including a Wurlitzer and programmed drum beats. It all creates a kind of avant-pop sound, a strange juxtaposition of the smooth and the rough. Mellow yet full of dissonance, these 5 lengthy pieces don’t always go where you think they will, but always hold your attention.

Neil: ‘Say Laura’ by Eric Chenaux is a unique outing. It could be described as jazz-folk that contains minimalist, but precisely focussed instrumentation. Eric’s voice is smooth and seductive throughout, and it’s this juxtaposition of his voice with instruments such as sparse destabilised guitar that make the album. Despite the sometimes-experimental leanings of the album it’s definitely an eminently listenable and rewarding piece of music.

A light for attracting attention / Smile
Mark: The debut album from Thom Yorke’s latest side project, which features fellow Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinnner. Some older material, that had been previously played live by Radiohead, sits next to a suite of new mid-tempo tracks that highlight the best elements of Radiohead’s post ‘OK Computer’ output, and the symbiotic creative dynamic between Yorke & Greenwood. These angular tunes focus more on mournful atmosphere than melody as Yorke’s dissects the horrors of the time we live in, climate change & power brokers, while moody synths pulse away behind his falsetto. Elements of Funk, prog & afrobeat feature, as well as a couple of more acoustic/strings ballads that highlight the 2nd half of the album. While being some of the most easily accessible music of all the ‘Radiohead’ side projects and solo albums, this is still a dense & layered album with a lot to take in musically & lyrically, and more will no doubt sink in upon repeated listening. An album that will no doubt be already slotting into critics ‘Best of the year’ lists.

Neil: Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s latest side project, like much of Radiohead’s recent work, is informed by uncertainty and creeping unease. Yorke is in superb voice and the bass lines and spiky electronica, unsurprisingly, sound like a full-blown Radiohead outing, with some of the album’s lyrics even directly referencing Radiohead tracks and albums. That said, it’s brilliant stuff, with that shifting balance between musical and personal chaos and structure continually explored throughout the piece.

Dolenz sings Nesmith / Dolenz, Micky
Mark: Micky Dolenz’s first new solo studio album in nine years was this 2021 tribute to his fellow Monkee Michael Nesmith, who would pass away later that year. Produced and arranged by Nesmith’s oldest son Christian, it takes a modern approach to these tunes, changing the tempos on some classic tracks while still aiming for deference & respect towards the originals. From synth based arrangements to heavy rock and psychedelica, Dolenz’s 76 year old voice rises to every style with a seemingly effortless energy. A great album that now serves as a fitting tribute.

Neil: This album is an interesting outing, in that both musicians are best known for being members of the 60’s manufactured boy-band The Monkees, who eventually cast of their corporate restraints to follow their own creative stars. This album is an affectionate and great tribute from Dolenz to his close friend and bandmate Nesmith. It is vintage pop, but it’s also sharp and crisp and fresh sounding. My fav track on the album is ‘Circle Sky’ from their Jack Nicholson directed movie Head with its hippy era sitar energetically reinvigorating the song.

Whatever you want : Bob Crewe’s 60s soul sounds
Mark: Crewe was a songwriter-producer best known for his string of Top 10 singles for the group Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, that he co-wrote with band member Bob Gaudio. The Four Seasons were one of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, but Crewe also produced numerous other artists from white pop to doo-wop & Black R&B artists like Ben E King, Chuck Jackson, Jerry Butler and Barbara Lewis. This entry in Ace Records ‘Producers’ series gathers up these tracks & more for another classy overview full of soulful cuts.

Neil: During the 1960’s Bob Crewe was one of the worlds most in demand songwriters and producers, best known perhaps for his work with the Four seasons. This compilation focusses on his soul work of the time, and features a whole host of 60’s soul stars such as Ben E King and James Carr. It’s vintage stuff, in all senses of the word, is choc full of soul classics and , in its own way, is a masterclass on how to write songs in this genre.

Watertown / Sinatra, Frank
Mark: An incredibly divisive entry in the Sinatra catalogue, and a commercial dud upon release, ‘Watertown’, a soft-rock concept album following the life of a single character after a bitter separation, has been slowing gaining in critical stature as evidenced by this deluxe reissue. Mainly written by Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons, the 10 tracks compile a forlorn series of vignettes/’letters’ of a small-town man left to raise his children after his wife leaves him. Sinatra brings all of his accumulated skills to these tunes, his voice older and slightly shaky adding a poignancy to the loneliness inherent in these tracks. In tone this feels like a cycle of songs that at the time was perhaps assumed as the musical purview of Country Music or Folk artists, however the passage of time has shifted all the music boundaries to the extent that this now feels like an album that was far ahead of its time. All the tracks have been newly mixed from the original session tapes, and include previously unreleased bonus material with session outtakes, as well as “Lady Day,” a tribute to Billie Holiday which was not included on the original album.

Neil:: Ole blue eyes 1970 concept album ‘Watertown’ gets a welcome rerelease, remaster, and remix. It’s an album of drama and tragedy, songs that link together to form a sort of story. On its original release fans and critics were shocked at the radical departure from the more well-known Sinatra style, and the album got only lukewarm reviews. But since then it has been widely reappraised, and now many Sinatra fans regard it as one of his finest albums.

This is Brian Jackson / Jackson, Brian
Mark: Composer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jackson was the writing partner & musical collaborator of Gil Scott-Heron in the 70’s, making 9 albums together. After they split he worked with various other R&B artists and released a low-key solo album in 2000, and this is his first solo release in 20 years. Some of the tracks are old, dating from 70s demos, soundtracks, & 80s cuts, but all of it has been re-recorded with new arrangements and produced by Daniel Collás, of the New York psychedelic soul collective Phenomenal Handclap Band, who also co-wrote some of the new tracks. It’s Jackson’s album all the way though, as the socially-conscious lyrics bubble beneath a mix of nostalgic sounding funky-jazz grooves & soul with some modern touches of Hip-Hop & afrobeat.

Neil: Gil Scott-Heron’s former collaborator releases his first solo work in over twenty years, and in so doing reinvents himself. Jackson’s new album is in one sense like many of the albums being released at the moment, in so much as it’s a sort of musical montage of the genres that inspire him, but Jackson as a seasoned and well-versed musician puts all his creative thoughts through a prism of his own musical history & artistry. The result is a generous and open sounding work, with multi genre pieces that tip their cap to soul, hip hop jazz and funk, but is also an album that fundamentally retains Jackson’s own musical uniqueness.

Sun casts a shadow / Fairlight, Emily
Mark: Wellington-based, ex-Christchurch Americana musician Emily Fairlight and Mike McLeod from Dunedin’s The Shifting Sands join forces for an album of acoustic psych-folk. McLeod’s band The Shifting Sands had taken a back seat, after a US tour on the back of their acclaimed album Cosmic Radio Station derailed badly. Picking up music again in 2018 he joined Fairlight’s live touring band, and after a trip to SXSW the two decided to record some tracks with producer friend in LA. The resulting album is an intimate acoustic affair, with low key indie 80’s C86 bedsit sound, and lovely harmonies that sugar coat the heartbroken centre of some of these songs.

Neil: When covid restrictions put plans for a tour on indefinite hold Emily Fairlight, like many artists, retreated into the creative crucible and started writing new material. On this occasion with the creative assistance of Mike McLeod (aka The Shifting Sands) who supplies guitar of a cosmic rock variety and interweaving harmonic vocals on the album. The result ‘Sun casts a shadow’ is a laid-back, stripped-down, album of timeless psych folk pop songs that move from heartbreak to hope, with a spectral quality to the vocals.

Ladies sing The Boss : the songs of Bruce Springsteen
Mark: Part of Ace Records ‘Songwriter’ series, this compilation brings together some covers of Springsteen tracks recorded on various albums, EPs & tribute albums dating from the 70s to the 2000’s by a wide spectrum of female artists across generations, from Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, to Lucy Dacus, Aoife O’Donovan & Soccer Mommy. As with all of these sorts of albums some interpretations are great, some not as good, but all are generally interesting, as the pull of the compilation lies in seeing how the female perspective on these tracks plays out. They all tend to tackle some of the more brooding, widescreen, tracks in his catalogue, rather than the romantic more personal side of his writing, which also shapes the overall tone of the compilation.

Neil: A compilation album featuring female musicians covering Bruce Springsteen tracks. Featured on the release are big names such as Linda Ronstadt and Patti Smith, as well as lots of names not so well known. The range of styles and genres differ widely from full out rock, to more subtle American alt folk. Each artist finds their own way into the emotional core of each song, and this range and diversity of voices and approaches is both the albums greatest strength and its weakness. That said, you are almost certain to find a few tracks you really like in there.

July’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is Part 3 of our new Music Picks for July. You can catch up with Part 1 here, and Part 2 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…
[Ed. Sadly Neil could only fit a couple of albums into his schedule this week…]

Drive my car : original soundtrack. / Ishabashi, Eiko
Mark: Japanese film Drive My Car received rave reviews as a movie, but also for its evocative soundtrack by Eiko Ishabashi, a well regarded Japanese singer-songwriter-musician who has frequently worked with Jim O’Rourke, and whose discography ranges from experimental music, to film soundtracks, to a jazzy tribute to a popular character from TV’s ‘Law & Order’. The film’s motifs are based on jazz rhythm patterns provided by a drummer, and piano, electronics, flute, synth, melodeon, vibraphone & pedal steel guitar fill out the pieces, to provide a melancholy & moody undercurrent. An immersive listen that stands on its own as a suite of music, but also forms a counterpart to the slowly unfolding grief at the heart of the films conversation & car journeys.
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.

Nancy & Lee. / Sinatra, Nancy
Mark: The Light in The Attic label continue their Nancy Sinatra reissue series with her most iconic album, a cult 60’s classic. They had been working together for some time and the album is a compilation of sorts, gathering previously released singles, with some covers and new cuts. His cavernously dead sounding cowboy-vocals, and over the top arrangements, meld perfectly with her girlish sweetness. Their fantastic musical chemistry and sense of fun often hide the depth of her talent in navigating the psychological darkness of the characters in these strange songs. Well deserving of its cult status.
Neil: Fabulous collection of strange and odd tracks from Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. One might suspect this is the kind of music David Lynch grew up listening too. American Gothic that is rooted in country and Western pop, but looking at it from a carnival funfair, distorted hall of mirrors, perspective.

12th of June. / Lovett, Lyle
Mark: Country stalwart Lyle Lovett returns with his first album in a decade, named after the 2017 date he became a first time father to twins. A mixture of covers and originals, it’s the smorgasbord of styles he’s known for, from Western Swing, to big-band Jazz, to honky-tonk bar room country, all with his trademark sense of humour. Longtime vocal partner Francine Reed guests on a couple of tracks. A sense of poignancy exists as Lovett (now 64) reflects on his musical past, the passage of time on relationships, and his newfound sense of family.

Love & fire / Black Seeds
Mark: Local legends The Black Seeds return with their 7th album, and first album in 5 years. With sessions recorded initially in 2018 at the Surgery, Covid restrictions hit, and the album ended up as a project via video chat. While being created in the middle of a pandemic the album doesn’t focus on Covid specifically, but on overcoming struggles generally, from personal relationships to child rearing. The album never drifts far from their established template, but they throw in a few more different elements like Afrobeat & R&B grooves alongside their patented Reggae/Dub. The result seems deceptively simple, but making a cohesive ‘band’ album separately, and also as cheaply as possible due to the lack of touring, is a real triumph, and that vibe flows into the music which brings an overriding sense of hope to the sunny/breezy tunes.

Second nature. / Lucius
Mark: The 4th album, and first original material in 6 years, from the Brooklyn-based indie pop group fronted by tandem lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig – who have also appeared on a Roger Waters album as well as touring as his backing singers, and have featured on tracks from artists as diverse as Ozzy Osbourne, Harry Styles & The War On Drugs. Lucius make classicist AOR pop songs in the ABBA-Fleetwood Mac-dance-pop tradition, and while overlaying electronic beats and synths onto this kind of soncraft isn’t original, their superior writing & vocals have made them stand out. ‘Second nature’ is more classy glistening beats and soaring beautiful duel vocals, that propel the songs into the pop stratosphere. Melancholy in places, yet with an overall feeling of triumph over adversity.

I’ll be yours / Americans (Musical group)
Mark: The 2017 debut album from this LA based roots-rock trio, whose follow up release ‘Stand True’ has just been released. They featured as the ‘house-band’ in the critically acclaimed PBS documentary series American Epic that was produced by Jack White & T Bone Burnett. ‘I’ll be yours’ is an ‘Americana’ album that feels completely authentic and not just another exercise in stylism. Emotional vignettes incorporate elements of power-pop, country-rock, blues, working class rock-n-roll & acoustic ballads, and create a sound that seems to reference everything from Springsteen, to Dylan, to Tom Waits, to The Jayhawks while also sounding completely original.

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.

Box Set Pick:
David Hepworth : deep 70s : underrated cuts from a misunderstood decade.
Mark: David Hepworth is a British music journalist, editor & writer, who launched a number of popular magazines in the 80s & 90s, including Mojo & Empire. In 2021, his book Never a dull moment: 1971, the year that rock exploded was adapted into the Apple TV+ documentary mini-series 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything. He has curated new box set ‘Deep 70s: Underrated Cuts From A Misunderstood Decade’ with the aim of proving his hypothesis that this decade was the most fertile in terms of the music being created and that “More occured between 1971 and 1979 than in any period of music before or since”… Thematically across 4 CDs (one for American acts, one for British acts, one on “hell raisers” from both countries, and one on female performers) he makes a great case with a collection of obscure (though mainstream) gems. Full of great discoveries for the music fan that chooses to seek out the deep cuts beyond the surface charts.

New CDs 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…

Bamanan / Koné, Rokia
Mark: The debut solo album from Malian singer Rokia Koné, a member of West African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique. She teams up with mainstream American producer Jacknife Lee, who has produced albums from Taylor Swift to REM. Melding traditional world instruments with Electronica is almost a subgenre in itself now, but this avoids the pitfalls of appropriation and generic-ness that sometimes occurs in such projects, and is really one of the best examples of this endeavour. The drones, beats, swirls of technology are present and anchor the music, simmering with an urgency.

Neil: Rokia Koné is probably best known for her work with supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique. ‘Bamanan’ her debut solo outing displays her distinctive vocal gymnastics, and gloriously celebrates the vibrant richness of ancestral African music. However, the bonus extra ingredient is the inclusion of modern electronics. Added with seemingly effortless fluidity, this mix of the ultra-modern and ancient are woven into a stunning new and cohesive whole.

The Slam! years (1983-1988). / Shaeri, Hamid El
Mark: One of the biggest stars of the Arabic pop scene, Libyan-born singer-songwriter/producer Hamid El Shaeri found success with string of albums on the Cairo-based SLAM!, Egypt’s most successful record label in the 1980s. This compilation collects the highlights of those albums. Relentlessly-catchy tracks, almost impossibly funky, with fantastic old synths, merge into shimmery mellow bossa nova vibes. Reminded me a bit of the debut album from Japan’s Cornelius with its subversion of Western styles. Really great all the way through.

Neil: We have previously reviewed a couple of the Habibi Funk Records and as regular readers know we are big fans . This is another wild and wonderful dive into the Arab World of hidden ( till now) from the wider global music world. This release showcases the early work of the Arab pop superstar Hamid Al-Shaeri . It’s the Eighties, so synth pop is the order of the day, but coming from this part of the world and from this artist it has its own highly distinctive and unique voice. And from these recordings it’s easy to see why he is to this day such a huge star. The album is simultaneous strangely familiar, and yet exotically different .

Electricity. / Ibibio Sound Machine
Mark: 4th album from the London-based collective. Fronted by English-Nigerian vocalist Eno Williams, with a crew of international musicians, Ibibio Sound Machine meld West African funk and disco grooves from the 70s & 80s onto modern electronica. This differs in approach to the Rokia Koné album above, as they fully embrace the club bangers aesthetic, with vibrant Afrobeat & synthy funk. Pulsing grooves to blow your blues away.

Neil: ‘Electricity’ by Ibibio Sound Machine makes for such an exciting listen right from the get-go. There are elements of Electronica, future funk, Afrobeat and post-punk to name but a few, but all are wrapped up in a solid modern disco vibe. It’s almost impossible to listen to without wanting to get up and cut some shapes on a dance floor. Infectiously groovy.

Gyvas : live at St. Catherine Church, Vilnius, 6 November 2013 / Zalvarinis
Mark: The United Nations placed Lithuania’s unique polyphonic folk songs called sutartines on a UNESCO heritage list, and Žalvarinis are the best known Lithuanian band that combine traditional folk with rock – having been around for 20 years and released 10 studio albums. Originally a Folk-metal band, they moved towards progressive rock influences, and then more folk oriented works. This acoustic album was recorded live at the Church of St. Catherine, Vilnius, with 21 famous Lithuanian musicians of all genres, as well as a full choir. The unique instruments and playing combine with the dual female vocals to create something that is alternately pulsing with energy and also quietly haunting.

Neil: Recorded live in Vilnius this is a beautifully produced, performed, and recorded release. Showcases Žalvarinis a Lithuanian folk-rock band famous throughout their home country who have ten studio albums to their name. The intertwining and interweaving female vocals from the two lead singers, and the use or primarily (though not exclusively) acoustic instruments, gives the album a mellow, haunting, unplugged, delicate, slightly prog rock-sound.

The Radio Tisdas sessions. / Tinariwen
Mark: Reissue of the first Tinariwen album to be released outside of Northern Africa, and the world’s introduction to their Saharan desert style. Driving, sinuous guitars and call-and-response vocals. Recorded by people who has recently been literal warriors, the calmness of the music hides a edge that lies under the serene surface. The beginning of a journey that would see them become influential both within their own country, but also across the map of World Music.

Neil: ‘The Radio Tisdas Sessions’ were recorded at the desert outpost of Kidal, the Tamashek-language radio only broadcasting between 7pm and midnight because it was powered by solar panels. The album captures the bands mysterious, hypnotic desert blues style early on, before the band became world famous, and there is even a live track from the legendary Mali Festival of the desert. It is amazing stuff, and they are already at the peak of their considerable musical powers. This recording showcases their more mellow side, before later work demonstrated their hard-edged rock out. However, both are outstanding .

Midnight rocker. / Andy, Horace
Mark: Hard to think that Horace Andy is 71, as in a lot of ways this feels like a young man’s album, full of energy and vision. Produced by UK dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood the crisp production is full of quality On-U Sound musicianship, as Sherwood reimagines several Horace Andy classics, as well as some powerful new material. The themes of the older material still resonate heavily with what is happening in the world today, and this album as a whole is no doubt a future classic.

Neil: Horace Andy the legendary Dub Reggae musician now in his seventy first year releases his first album in three years. ‘Midnight Rocker’ is released on the British Dub label On-U Sound Records, famous for decades for its Dub output, and the album is produced by its maestro Adrian Sherwood. The resultant album is a late period Dub masterclass on how to create a fabulous work. Horace’s voice in recent years has become grittier and deeper than his earlier releases, but this change in his voices’ quality is used to stunning effect. Bottom line is if you are a Dub fan this is a must.

The more things change : film, TV & studio work, 1968-1972. / Barry, John
Mark: Ace Records compilation that focuses on the peak creative period of the composer most well known from his work on the James Bond films. Reissues most of the contents of his classic cult 70’s album ‘Ready When You Are, J.B.’, and features a mix of studio & soundtrack work from Bond films, TV shows & movies. Full of recognisable themes and motifs, that are by turns atmospheric & brooding or lovely and delicate. Compiled by Musicologist & Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley, who also provides the liner notes, so you knows it’s class all the way.

Neil: Well, what can you say about this it is a compilation other than it features some of the most famous film and television music ever, by a peerless composer whose works are still instantly recognizable globally. Some of the pieces are haunting and atmospheric, some are unforgettable with their catchiness. Just to give you a flavour, it ranges from his James Bond work, to the theme for Midnight Cowboy, from his timeless Persuaders theme, to the evocative and melancholic opening track from Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. A great introduction or reminder of John Barry’s work.

Lost Angeles / Smith, Brix
Mark: Ex-Fall member and currently helming Brix & the Extricated, Brix Smith digs into her past to excavate a previously unreleased album recorded in 1997, with guitarist and singer songwriter Marty Willson-Piper (from Australian rock band The Church). Written at a time of severe loss in the wake of her breakup with Mark E Smith and leaving The Fall in 1989, and again in the early 90s, it was recorded in 1997, but shelved due to her inability to get record deal and her ambivalent feelings towards the raw lyrics underling the album. Fantastic shiny Pop, hiding a swath of dark edged lyrics and themes. Reminiscent of late period Lush.

Neil: The continued re-emergence and rise of the former Fall 80’s stalwart continues after the release of three highly acclaimed albums with The Extricated. ‘Lost Angeles’ was originally recorded in 1997. and never saw the light of day till now. Brix explained that she felt too raw emotionally at the time to release it. It showcases her vocals and song-writing skills, with The Church’s guitarist and singer songwriter Marty Willson-Piper doing a sterling job at providing the musical accompaniment. An album strong with melody and Indie pop hooks, delivered with some really clear and precise vocals.

Versions of modern performance. / Horsegirl
Mark: Chicago female indie-rock trio Horsegirl are the next hyped band of the moment. A Lo-fi, somewhat muddy production aesthetic, coalesces around an set of catchy songs that dabble in indie, grunge, shoegaze, jangle-pop & noise. Production is from John Agnello who produced albums from Breeders and Dinosaur Jr back in the day, so it all has a sheen of direct familiarity. The influences cited reference Sonic Youth, Flying Nun, My Bloody Valentine & Pavement, but to me they sound more like English bands from the late 80s/early 90s. It’s interesting enough that you want to listen to the album again after it finishes, but I’m not so sure it all adds up to something more than a homage to 30 years of indie rock sounds. Still pretty impressive, given that 2 of the band are college freshmen, while the other is a high school senior.

Neil: The debut indie rock outing from Chicago’s Horsegirl helped along the way in its creation by several members of Sonic Youth. The resultant album sounds in all its glory like an album steeped in the drowsy, afterglow of the 80’s and 90’s alt rock, grunge, and shoegaze scenes. The album is an object lesson in recreating the sound of bands like Dinosaur Jnr and the Breeders, and if you are a fan of bands of these genres and these times then it’s a good bet you will enjoy this.

New Music for Te Awe: Part 2


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…

Timbuktu. / Sangaré, Oumou
Mark: The Malian star’s 8th album focuses on social critiques & the turmoils of her home, blending the traditional, sinuous, Malian Blues sound, with western rock & folk influences more organically than her previous album. The music, as ever, revolves around her powerful voice that celebrates Mali – while also standing up for women’s rights and the downtrodden and marginalised. Female choruses soar over a wall of sound of traditional African instrumentation, creating a relentlessly hypnotic grove to carry her messages of hope and solidarity.
Neil: The ninth album from the Malian superstar regarded as musical royalty both at home and abroad. Oumou Sangaré recorded the album during lockdown in her new home in Baltimore, a more personal outing than previous works. Tender and intimate and more subtle in approach, though it still delivers its political statements throughout. Known for combining hard hitting political messages, often about women’s low standing in society, with infectious upbeat music, the music here is meticulously constructed from numerous West African folk- fingerpicking treated guitar styles, as well as kamele ngoni and Koras.

Terror twilight : farewell horizontal. / Pavement
Mark: The iconic indie band’s somewhat-maligned final album gets the long awaited deluxe treatment that the rest of the albums have received. Helmed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich (the altered tracklist of Disc 1 represents his original album sequence) the tighter production and focus on Stephen Malkmus’ songs gives it the feel of a solo album more than a collaborative band effort. The depth of bonus material is less than previous deluxe releases, mostly consisting of Malkmus’ demos, B-sides and some alternate takes. However it serves to showcase some of the underlying tensions with the band, as they struggle to get to grips with Malkmus’ more complex writing, and his evolving musical aesthetic. A fine reconsideration of this outlier in their creative catalogue.
Neil: Pavement were one of the most influential indie rock bands ever. ‘Terror twilight’ was their last album, and this is the definitive release, with outtakes and demos included. The album was recorded as the band were being pulled apart from the inside, with various members wanting totally different things from the recordings and being in the band, and the recording process itself became an expensive stop start process in several recording studios. And you can hear all that tension and unease in the finished pieces. Some are wildly experimental, whilst others are clearly aiming at a more “ mainstream indie” sound. That said, in many people’s opinion it contains some of Pavement’s best and most original work and is definitely a fabulous insight into an obviously fraught creative process. A truly enigmatic work from the band that might have been the ‘American Radiohead’ if things had played out differently.

We’ve been going about this all wrong. / Van Etten, Sharon
Mark: The 6th album from Van Etten moves further away from her acoustic/Americana sound into soaring synths and beats. The gossamer vocals are melded to an epic production, that seems big on even the acoustic tracks. Her writing deals with the detritus of failed relationships and emotional upheaval and this album, written over the Covid period, uses that skill to drill down into the specifics of our collective uncertainties during this time: raising children in isolation, keeping love & life together, moving forward, letting optimism override sadness. The sweeping grandeur reminded me of Mercury Rev at points.
Neil: : Like many of us Sharon Van Etten struggled throughout the pandemic and, like many artists, she used her art to explore and express her emotions and feelings in new music. The songs in ‘We’ve been going about this all wrong’, her sixth outing, are subsequently about the demon’s that haunted her over that period, as well as reflections on and acceptance of past mistakes. The music is like a lot of her work: noirish indie pop with slight nods to the gothic genre.

This is a photograph. / Morby, Kevin
Mark: The seventh solo from American singer-songwriter Kevin Morby (formerly of psych/folk band Woods) was inspired in part by old family photographs he was going through after his father had a serious health scare. There’s a Dylan-esque element to Morby’s work, and this album has been acclaimed as perhaps the best expression yet of his musical vision. Recorded in Memphis the album absorbs that cities mix of grit & style, and these contemplative narratives of middle America are shot through with horns and strings. An album that’s almost impossible to describe, with a grandiose, almost epic, vision to it. Its sprawling themes, and warm tales of family and memory, explore the lives of his parents, the end of childhood innocence, and the bittersweet complications and detours of lives well lived.
Neil: The seventh album from the Kansas city troubadour Kevin Morby is big. Big on sound and vision. An album that veers, as required and needed, from maximalist to minimalist American. It is a vast sprawling work dealing with the big stuff: love, life, family, and death. It is a highly nuanced piece, loud when required soft and quiet, when necessary, all aimed at serving the emotional content at any moment, and in the end a celebration of the richness of life.

Humble quest. / Morris, Maren
Mark: Third major label album from this Texas country singer. Part of the wave of younger artists whose core is a traditional singer-songwriter style, but who reflect the digital age of musical fluidity that happily incorporates glossy pop, indie rock, adult AOR, & R&B into the mix. Thoughtful mature commentaries on love, life & family surrounded by Greg Kurstin’s slick production. The pop quirky-ness of Jewel meets the slick country songwriting of early Taylor Swift.
Neil: Clear eyed country pop from Maren Morris the Nashville songstress, coloured by both her recent motherhood and grief from losing her creative foil and band-mate Michael Busbee. It is a short album, 37 mins long, but there is a cohesive clarity expressed in the deliberate simple beauty of many of the tracks.

Crooked tree / Tuttle, Molly
Mark: Tuttle’s third full length album & debut on Nonesuch, shifts from her previous roots-pop sound to more traditional bluegrass, with plenty of violin, banjo & guitar picking. The lyrics focus on the heartland life and its people, millers, farmers and moonshiners, the land & the instilled values that are always with you wherever you are. If Maren Morris’ album was about escaping small town life, this album is about leaning into its traditions and culture. Reminded me of Alison Krauss & Union Station in places. Dan Tyminski from that band actually guests on one track, as do Old Crow Medicine Show & Margo Price, so that should give you an idea of the sound.
Neil: Crooked Tree is an upbeat modern, and very stylish, take on traditional American bluegrass music, replete with duelling banjos picked by fingers at a blurred speed and country violins. The music is modern in approach, but has its roots strongly in the bluegrass genre. However, this modern approach is much more prominent in the lyrics: songs about modern America, growing grass, the gentrification of long-standing communities in cities, and especially strong women, are at its core.

Still life. / McHone, Carson
Mark: 3rd album from this Texas-born singer/songwriter moves away from her first recordings, which were apparently more straight ahead honky tonk barroom ballads. Stylistically this almost splits the difference with the previous two country-esque album reviewed above. Not traditional, but not slick country-pop also. This is more akin to the 90s singer-songwriter/Americana sound of Sheryl Crow, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Gillian Welch and the like. An equal mix of outward roots-rock and inward introspection, that tackles the shifting emotions of relationships. A singer on the rise.
Neil: Whilst definitely fitting firmly into the Americana genre ‘Still Life’ deftly demonstrates what a broad church this genre can be. Carson introduces musical and lyrical experimentation in a complementary fashion to the core country sound. There’s southern soul inflected tracks’ a nod to R&B. as well as gnarly rock heavy guitars in places. Carson’s vocal delivery has a gentle beauty to it. which is the icing on top of the cake.

Motomami. / Rosalía
Mark: 3rd album from this Spanish superstar, following 2018’s flamenco-pop smash El mal querer. A fascinating listen, that mixes traditional Latin styles with contemporary pop. Traditional ballads meet rap, bachata, reggaeton, electronica, trap and more, often in the same track. A perfect mix of musical experimentation that succeeds in merging the past and the present, with an originality and singular vision that reminded me of Robyn’s self-titled breakthrough album.
Neil: ‘Motomami’ is the third album from the Spanish singer Rosalia. It is a musical self-portrait, a confessional work, which explores her feelings over the past three years. With sexuality, spirituality, heartbreak, and self-discovery all explored. The album is a genre bending collage of influences: experimental pop in the complex genre style of alternative Reggaeton – which evolved from hip hop, dancehall Caribbean and Latin American music, usually sung in Spanish in a rap singing cross-style. The resulting listen is an exhilarating roller coaster of sounds and tunes.

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…

The pavilion of dreams. / Budd, Harold
Mark: New CD addition of the second album from minimalist composer Harold Budd. Lovely, peaceful, tranquil musical twinklings. Easy to see why he is now hailed as one of the forerunners of the ambient movement. There is a yearning melancholy to these hushed, reverb-laden, synthesiser lines and choral like vocals, and you can perhaps infer an influence on Vangelis when he was scoring Blade Runner.

Neil: A very welcome release of this exquisite, beautiful, very relaxing album, that never falls into the many traps of new age music. It has complexity and depth, as well as sinuous melodic drift. In many circles Harold Budd is a legend, producing an outstanding body of solo work and collaborating with the likes of The Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno, and John Foxx. Brian Eno described him as “a great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician”. Which you can clearly hear why on this album.

Keep on with falling. / Boo Radleys
Mark: The Boo Radleys are a UK indie-pop band that mixed shoegaze, dream pop, & psychedelia who were big in the early 90s, but faded away towards the end of the decade with a couple of uninspiring releases. Deciding to reform in the 2020’s without their chief songwriter, this is their first studio album since 1998, and is actually really good. Sunny feel-good pop, with soaring choruses and dreamy atmospherics. The strong vocal harmonies have a real Hollies/Teenage Fanclub feel. Classicist pop at its best.

Neil: This is the first Boo Radleys album in 24 years and the first without founding member and lead guitarist Martin Carr. The result is a bouncy , punchy Brit pop outing full of catch pop songs. The album is different from the ones that Carr was on, his influence on the band brought a more unusual and unique sonic pallet to the mix, in short, their own brand of psychedelic, creating an absence that some listeners may miss.

Wet Leg. / Wet Leg
Mark: Critics who liked Wet Leg’s viral 2021 debut single Chaise Longue, with it’s amusing spoken word non sequiturs, have been somewhat disappointed at the more conventional album that has followed; whereas those who found the single an over-hyped novelty, have found the album deeper and more varied. Essentially a duo of Isle of Wight, musicians Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, they are certainly the most hyped band of the moment. Full of infectious melodies, their debut manages to balance the silliness of some of their songs, with others that capture the specific rolling anxieties of late 20s millennials. Biting lyrics rip through boring parties, relationships with ex-boyfriends, dating apps, and the malaise of being young women in a small town. Verdict: Lives up to the hype.

Neil: The indie rock duo’s debut album has already attracted a lot of attention. The album itself has clever lyrics stuffed full of modern observational, tongue in cheek, cynicism and self-deprecation, all wrapped in infectiously catchy indie rock tunes. It is all very on point and comments in a very wry and funny way on what it is like to be a young woman in our current times. It is easy to see why they are one of the most talked about debut bands of 2022. Not bad for a band formed at the top of a Ferris wheel as a dare.

Recordings from the Åland Islands / Chiu, Jeremiah
Mark: A similar album to ‘The pavilion of dreams’ is this collaboration from LA based musicians Jeremiah Chiu (modular synths) and Marta Sofia (viola), which is music sampled from the natural environment of the Åland Islands, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea between Sweden & Finland. Piano, synths, and violas merge with field recordings to create a languid, textured, dreamscape. An atmospheric and soothing audio journey, that seems to be leading you deeper into nature’s hidden realms, with the destination perhaps the perfect idyll, an pure isolated space completely untouched by man.

Neil: Another lovely album designed to soothe the soul. The tracks were all created in response to time spent on the Åland Islands, an archipelago in the Baltic Sea. The sounds ebb and flow, but beneath the sonic waves glittering under a tender sun there is a lot going on in these recordings. A work that transports the listener to an almost, too beautiful, golden paradise. Works well in conjunction with the Harold Budd album reviewed earlier.

On the grove. / Soul Revivers
Mark: When reggae producer and label boss David Hill acted as music consultant to Idris Elba’s film adaptation of Victor Headley’s book Yardie, he and fellow label head Nick Manasseh ended up recording a bunch of new music. This led them to assemble this album which features Jamaican legends alongside contemporary artists. Musicians spanning seven decades of Jamaican music combine to create a moody, evocative portrait of the deep musical links between London & Kingston. The combined experience of those involved lends a subtle flow to it all, with solid dub/jazz/soul grooves all the way. Laid back in the best possible way.

Neil: An album of new music that is firmly rooted in the rock steady sound of 1970’s reggae music. The resultant album uses many of the musicians who were around at the time and helped define and create this genre. So, it is no surprise that the music and production are both spot on, evoking both the music of that time and the culture it was created in with ease, delivering a very laidback reggae/jazz-tinged listening experience

Forever on my mind. / House, Son
Mark: An album of lost recordings of this Blues legend, assembled and produced by Dan Auerbach. Rediscovered in the 60’s, like a lot of the original Delta Bluesmen from the 1930s, these tracks come from a casual 1964 session performed before about 50 people at Wabash College, that was recorded by his manager. The bare bones music only enhances these spine tingling tales of loss & pathos. The crystal clear vocals and guitar make this perhaps one of the best sounding authentic blues albums ever released.

Neil: ‘Forever on my mind’ is an album of long-lost recordings from the legendary Delta Blues musician Son House. Listening to the album you can hear raw emotion seeping through every track, both in the Son’s crystal clearly recorded classic blues vocals and his trademark bottleneck guitar playing, which shines throughout the release. These are not mere studio cast offs; instead what we get is a meticulously constructed and curated album from an artist at the height of his powers and on top form, in what was his second rediscovery period as a musician.

Emotional eternal. / Melody’s Echo Chamber
Mark: Third album from the project of French musician Melody Prochet. Since 2018’s Bon Voyage, she has recovered from a serious accident that left her with a brain aneurysm and broken vertebrae, relocated to the Alps and given birth to a daughter. All these changes are reflected in the music, with her airy falsetto offset by warm soaring melodies that sound joyous and uplifting. Comforting, ethereal, psych-pop that glides over you like a warm blanket.

Neil: A blissful slow burn, dream pop release from Melody’s Echo Chamber, Their definite neo-psychedelia tendencies are perhaps more focussed, and slightly more angled to the pop-sensibilities that they have always displayed, but it’s a very fine album and a welcome new addition to their catalogue.

Box Set Pick:
Come away with me [deluxe]. / Jones, Norah
Mark: At the time of it’s 2002 release Jazz purists may have seen Norah Jones’ ‘Come Away with me’ as the end of Blue Note’s credibility, but the album would go on to commercial & critical success. Not only did it become one of the best selling albums of all time, it was hugely influential on music itself, creating the audience for subsequent acts like Katie Melua, Melody Gardot, Madeleine Peyroux, Corinne Bailey Rae, Kandace Springs and many others. This 3-Disc Deluxe reissue for the albums 20th Anniversary includes demos, early sessions, and an entire version of the album recorded with producer Craig Street (who was well known at the time for his work on Blue Note with Cassandra Wilson on Blue light ’til dawn & New Moon Daughter). All of these alternate takes, and session tracks paint a deeper Jazz-Country-tinged portrait of Jones and her music at this time, as opposed to the sophisticated, ‘Coffee-House’ MOR stylings, of the album that was eventually released. A fascinating examination of an album and an artist that would go on to become a global phenomenon.

Neil: The deluxe 20th anniversary release of Norah Jones’ debut album comes with a whole host of interesting and intriguing extra tracks. When ‘Come away with me’ was initially released in 2002 it was done without much of a fanfare. It was, however, to launch a career that has so far sold 50 million records, and gained nine Grammy awards. Norah was only 22 when she released her Jazz-fusion debut (it has elements of Blues, Folk, pop, and country woven in), but it eventually went to the top the US charts, and remains her biggest selling album. What makes this release so fascinating, is the plethora of demos and unreleased tracks which give a brilliant oversight into how the album evolved over time, and also an intriguing glimpse of the various albums it might have become. Indeed, the creative and artistic decisions displayed in these extras show exactly what it takes to create such a hugely successful work.

New CDs for Te Awe: Part 2


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…

Nijimusi. / OOIOO
Mark: OOIOO are a long running Japanese Experimental noise-pop band. While previous album Gamel incorporated two metallophone players, this is (supposedly) a return to a more basic quartet of drums/bass/guitar & vocals. It sounds like a bunch of frenetic musical snippets, spoken-chanted Japanese singing, angular guitars, and muted trumpets all thrown together on top of serious drum grooves. If a musical stew of experimental, layered, polyrhythmic-avant-garde progressive jazz-rock sounds like something you would enjoy, then this is right in your musical wheelhouse. I have to admit that I find this entire genre just too much hard work. Maybe I am too old for this…

Neil: OOIOO is YoshimiO, the drummer from the avant-rock group Boredoms. Nijimusi is the eighth album under their guise of OOIOO. It is not for the unadventurous or faint hearted. The balance throughout the album is between chaos and structure, articulated through insistent, propulsive experimental rock. The repetitive, in the groove, drum patterns become meditative as they progress, and at points are punctuated by ritualistic chanting. As you listen from track to track, the album takes on a kind off shape shifting aura.

Aboogi. / Imarhan
Mark: The best world music manages to embraces traditions, while also being able to sound fresh and modern. Algerian band Imarhan deliver this once again with their second album, following 2018’s Temet. Bluesy guitar lines meld with Tuareg folksong and fantastic harmonies, evoking the primal feel of the desert; the swirling dust around campfires, the tensions and needs of people vs the natural elements of such a harsh environment. It’s a difficult line to walk; singing of the poverty and struggle of your people while also celebrating the richness of its cultural heritage. This album fuses the sound of modern rock to organic folk-lore traditions of lore and spoken word. Imarhan manage to create an album that feels like the soundtrack of a journey from disenfranchisement to hope, while also being just a great rock album.

Neil: ‘Aboogi is a complex, multi layered, Tuareg, desert blues album. The second from the Algerian based quintet, the tracks within it are uplifting, subtle and masterfully crafted with superb melodies and big catchy cords. This highly accomplished album has hope, wisdom and sadness all woven into the often-chilled songs. An album that will win fans old and new.

Sgt Culpepper. / Culpepper, Joel
Mark: Joel Culpepper is one of the artists helming the UK soul renaissance that has been bubbling over the last few years. Older than some of the other emerging artists, his full-length debut album ‘Sgt Culpepper’ was 10 years in the making. The time he spent developing his skills and reputation as a performer and songwriter clearly shows in this work. Full of top notch musicians, song writing and production; the instrumentation has plenty of horns & strings, lots of other layers, but also feels crisp. An amalgam of classic soul and modern attitude. While his voice has the elastic facility of classic soul artists like Marvin, Eddie Kendricks or Curtis Mayfield; the songs are grounded the realities of black life in the UK. Recommended.

Neil: ‘Sgt Culpepper’ is a modern soul funk release which aims high, so high in fact that its title plays off the legendary Beatles album. That said, the music stylistically has very little in common with the fab four; the work is more closely aligned to artists like Isaac Haynes or Prince. The overall sound of the album is a rich retro-future soul; simultaneously very 21st century, whilst referencing 70’s and 80’s artists. It is a very accomplished debut that succeeds in its aims.

The tipping point. / Tears For Fears
Mark: The popular 80s band return after 17 years with a new album. Their shiny 80s synth-pop always hid a spiritual and intellectual side (their name is inspired by psychologist Arthur Janov’s primal therapy), and the 10 year long gestation period of this album imbues the songs with the weighty melancholy of life events (the passing of Orzabal’s wife, health issues). Lush, elegant and perfectly crafted songs soar to anthemic heights, creating a cathartic and uplifting album. A great return.

Neil: In the eighties, Tears for Fears were one of the biggest bands out, however their music was always more than sparking synths and crafted melodies. Think of their first UK hit Mad World. This intimate emotional sensitivity has been evident throughout their career, and carries on through to this release. It is an emotionally balanced album, mixing moments of sadness and grief with acceptance and an uplifting spirit. This mature album that sounds very much like a culmination of their career, both emotionally and musically.

Wild loneliness. / Superchunk
Mark: Alternative rock stalwarts return for their twelfth album, which takes their music is a different direction. This one eschews the alternative rock and punk stylings of previous releases for a more openly acoustic and melodic sensibility. The power-pop guitars create a relaxed musical palette for them to provide a message of hope, as the songs push back against the pandemic, climate change fears and a world in crisis.

Neil: Fear and ambivalence are explored in indie band Superchunk’s twelfth outing. The album sounds like a band building on the lessons of their past, the D.I. Y. punk ethos of earlier albums is largely gone. In its place is a much more polished, fuzzy pop song sound with songs about environmental and societal collapse. It has been described as “bunker bedroom pop”, a term new to me but basically can be described as music to soothe you even if you know the World has gone to hell in a handbag. There are still hooks a plenty in there too; as well as strings, horns and acoustic guitars.

Wires turned sideways in time. / Marquiss, Duncan
Mark: This got a 9 out of 10 in Uncut. I had never heard of Marquiss before, but he is the guitarist in Scottish outfit The Phantom Band (we have their 2014 album Strange Friend). This, his debut solo album, is an electro-acoustic collage of acoustic sounds, treated pickings, drone-ish electronica and acoustic stringed pieces. The album has a reflective and cinematic feel, but it’s not background easy listening. It’s an album of intricate instrumentals with varying shades of tone and expression that pull you into the nuances of each track.

Neil: ‘Wires turned sideways in time’ is an ambient solo album by the Scottish indie outfit The Phantom Band’s guitarist Duncan Marquiss. Layers of textural guitar woven into minimalist drone, synth-electronic, elements form into a filmic, expansive landscape work that could easily be used as a film soundtrack. The result is still sharply focussed and engaging. Imagining Popol Vuh, the band doing a soundtrack for a film like Paris Texas, will give you some idea of the sonic delights in the album.

Love boredom bicycles. / Bakers Eddy
Mark: The debut album from Karori band Bakers Eddy, who are now based in Melbourne. Their debut has had a long gestation period, so a lot of these songs have been road tested live and through demos recorded over the Covid lockdown. The result is 35 minutes of pure fizzy pop-punk exuberance. Most of the songs barely clock in at 3 minutes and capture the raucous energy of youth, specifically the coming of age journey of moving to a new country to pursue their musical careers. While the music is relentlessly upbeat, full of hooks and catchy melodies, the lyrics are often in direct juxtaposition, revealing the struggles and uncertainty of the last couple of years, depression and heavy drinking.

Neil: Australian-based Wgtn. band Bakers Eddy release their debut album ‘Love boredom bicycles’. The resultant music is an exuberant, high-energy, soul of the party, indie-punk outing, resplendent with loads of infectiously catch hooks. Whilst there is nothing particularly ground breaking here, the album is still a joyous burst of punk energy fun, bouncy and full of sparking energy.

The overload. / Yard Act
Mark: New UK post-punks live up to the hype with a cracking debut album. Sinuous guitar lines and catchy grooves underpin a sardonic, playful and wry take on the lives of ordinary people in a post-Brexit UK. Full of acerbic barbs that skewer the establishment, and the kind of dry narration that made Dry Cleaning’s New long leg from last year so enjoyable.

Neil: ‘The overload’ is a wacky post punk debut album from British band Yard Act. It is full of tongue-in-cheek political anger, sometimes delivered straight up and sometimes inter-spliced with cut up surrealist inserts. There are touches of The Fall and Pulp in their approach. The albums lyrics are very of the moment, railing against the current political and social injustices in Britain.

Warm Chris. / Harding, Aldous
Mark: More sweetly charming psych-folk from Harding. This, her fourth album, is full of more imaginistic stories and oblique lyrics but the instrumentation is more minimal; a piano line here, a saxophone there, some occasional banjo. If you are vaguely familiar with who she is and have perhaps heard a few songs here and there, the extent of her overseas reputation may come as a surprise. One of the few NZ artists whose new albums generate reviews from the likes of Pitchfork (an 8.2 for this), The New York Times, The Guardian and NME among others. Her strange, playful, shifting voice, abstract lyrics and weird songs may all seem a bit insular, but she is one of those artists who require some patience until the complexity, pleasure & richness of her music unfolds for the listener.

Neil: ‘Warm Chris’ by New Zealand singer songwriter Aldous Harding has a beautiful and strange childlike curiosity behind many of the songs contained within it. The album is a soft and gentle; psychedelic folk outing, dense in places, charming in its use of free association in the lyrics. The songs build up in waves to form sparse and oblique arrangements. However, behind this seemingly laid-back approach is an incredibly carefully crafted album, both musically and lyrically. Overall, the album takes on the atmosphere of a finely honed piece of sonic abstract art.

To enjoy is the only thing. / Maple Glider
Mark: ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’ is the debut album from Melbourne born-Uk based singer Tori Zeitsch. A wistful and hushed album of reflective indie-piano/folk, the songs weave through the debris of a failed relationship and an upbringing in a religious sect. Themes of isolation, loneliness and melancholy are explored through the lens of finding your own new identity and belief system. The dreamy, ethereal, intimate, chamber arrangements hide the strength of hard won resolutions. An impressive debut. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan of Weyes Blood or Phoebe Bridges.

Neil: Maple Glider’s ‘To enjoy is the only thing’ is a gentle, sparse, hypnotic and introspective release about the ending of a relationship and the singer leaving her religious upbringing behind. At its core, the work is fundamentally about loneliness. The album has been described as threadbare folk, which only partially covers its substance. There is a confessional singer-songwriter aspect to the songs, like some of Joni Mitchell’s early works.

Metal bird. / Adams, Eve
Mark: Third album from this Oklahoma-LA based singer. Moody Americana-torch-songs very much in the nexus of Mazzy Star and a David Lynch movie. Full of woozy meditations on heartbreak and loss, surrounded by spare Noir-folk stylings. There’s an eerie, timeless melancholy to the album and her smoky voice. Haunting.

Neil: ‘Metal bird’ the third album from Eve Adams has best been described as Astral Americana: Americana with slide guitars and evocative vocals, but one that has wide screen cosmic intentions and nuances. Though spacey and unmoored from time and space, Eve Adams’ softly sung lyrics are often precisely and razor sharply honed, whilst the accompanying music is lo-fi, oblique and sparse. The work hovers simultaneously between what Oscar Wilde would describe as the gutter and the stars.

Box Set Pick:
Old friend : the deluxe collection (1976-1998). / Hyman, Phyllis
Mark: If you were to look up ‘Sophisticated elegance’ in a dictionary, there would probably be a picture of Phyllis Hyman as an illustration. The statuesque (6-foot-1) singer spent years singing in bands and clubs before Jazz drummer Norman Connors decided to include her vocals on one of his R&B collective albums, which went Gold, catapulting her career to new heights. She signed to Buddah records and recorded a couple of albums of smooth 70s ‘Quiet Storm’ soul that showcased her mesmerizing voice, but found the more commercial sound of Clive Davis’ Arista Records (who took over distribution of Buddah) more difficult to navigate. Post Arista she found critical & commercial success again in the late 80s, after she signed to the classic Philadelphia International Records. A talented actress also, she earned a Tony nomination for the Broadway musical ‘Sophisticated Ladies’, a tribute to Duke Ellington. She possessed a musical versatility & subtlety – the ability to bridge jazz, Soul, cabaret and black-pop as singer – but unfortunately struggled with mental health issues her whole life, when there were not a lot of support structures in place, suffering from bipolar disorder and depression for years and often self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. Sadly she took her own life in 1995, six days before her 46th birthday. This Cherry Red/SoulMusic comprehensive 9-CD box set collects her entire recorded output, and is a fitting testament to an exceptionally talented singer who always deserved more acclaim during her lifetime.

Neil: So, every month myself and my co conspirator Mark like to pick at least one retrospective box set release to round things off, not really to critically review it, more as an excuse to wax lyrical about how much we love the artist’s work. And so it is with Phyllis Hyman’s ‘Old Friend’. Phyllis Hyman is best known for her releases in the late 1970’s and her renaissance in the early 1990’s. If you are unfamiliar with her work, it can best be described as ultra smooth R & B with, “depending on the album”, elements of jazz, or on occasion disco-funk. Nearly all her work is marked by its sophistication and effortless glamour. Cool chic. She was the artist who paved the way for artists like Anita Baker and Whitney Houston. This extensive box set contains all her releases from the years 1976 to 1998.

New CDs 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…

You belong there. / Rossen, Daniel
Mark: Solo full-length debut from the Grizzly Bear co-frontman/multi instrumentalist. Hewes closely to that GB/Radiohead nexus, but imbued with a greater degree of freedom of experimentation that the solitude of lockdown afforded. A deeply meditative song cycle full of intricately arranged tracks full of creeping anxiety.
Neil: Sweeping intricate guitars leads the free form jazz harmonies that are at the root this solo effort from the Grizzly Bear co-founder. There is so much music referenced in this work; from Nick Drake to Brazilian Folk, not to mention blues and classical. The result is dense and complicated in sound and emotion, an album that is both vulnerable and open to a huge extent, it’s willingness to embrace so much makes the sonic journey worth taking.

In my own time. / Dalton, Karen
Mark: 50th Anniversary edition of the 2nd album from this influential folk artist, and subject of a 2021 documentary. Dalton’s music focused on authentic honesty of a song’s interpretation above technical perfection, and her intense voice & interpretations found fans in contemporaries like Bob Dylan. Kind of a folk ‘Billie Holliday’, her small body of work attracted a much deserved cult following, much like Nick Drake or Eva Cassidy, that only increases with time.
Neil: Karen Dalton’s much overdue rediscovery continues with the re-release of the folk rock legend’s 1971 sophomore album. The singer is idolized by the likes of Bob Dylan and Nick Cave. The tracks are covers, but Dalton totally inhabits each song and makes each one off them her own, thanks in part to the plaintive emotional nuances put on the lyrics by her amazing and unique voice. This was very sadly to be her last release, she famously recorded almost nothing and fell into a spiralling pit of drink, drugs, and depression from which she never escaped. Her tragic life was the subject of a highly recommended documentary recently called KAREN DALTON: IN MY OWN TIME. The album makes you wish there was more of her work out there.

Fear of the dawn. / White, Jack
Mark: The 2nd album that Jack White wrote and recorded during lockdown (the first ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ is due for release in July). Classic rock tropes, guitar freak-outs, Far-Eastern influences, weird samples and soulful jams all form a sonic barrage tied together by a loose overarching concept of eosophobia – a Greek term for a morbid fear of daylight. The cut-up production style (à la William S. Burroughs – who is sampled on one track) has divided opinion, with critics hailing it as either his strongest solo album, or a mystifying ‘mad-scientist’ melange of sounds.
Neil: ‘Fear of the Dawn’ is Jack White’s weirdest most adventurous and imaginative outing yet. That said, experimentation and melodic elements are finely balanced and his trademark blues-rock style is definitely present. There are samples of William Burroughs dialogue and copious usage of overdubs that ensure that any comparisons with the White Stripes are fleeting. There are even prog-rock elements incorporated into the work. A new and strange direction for the White Stripes guitarist.

Chloë and the next 20th century. / Misty, Father John
Mark: More eccentric musing from the former Fleet Foxes drummer and internet provocateur Father John Misty (real name Josh Tillman). Witty and acerbic character sketches form the backbone of his Lou Reed/Harry Nilsson/Jackson Browne nexus of uneasy listening. His music exists in a strange amalgam of sincerity and irony, and this album is more of the same, just more grandiose in its scope and arrangements as he delves deep into a spooky layered nostalgia with these seedy, showtun-ish, vignettes.
Neil: The romance of the American dream as in a faded mirror has often been a staple of Hollywood, and a strong influence on the work of Father John Misty. The silver screen haunts some of his previous albums, but in a very modern way. Father John Misty’s latest outing takes a very different look at this influence. Imagine, if you will, a fabulous richly created evocation of the Hollywood environs, specifically the 1940’s and 50’s, both in terms of the music and lifestyles of the times. That would be very close to what this album sounds like.

Life on Earth. / Hurray for the Riff Raff
Mark: ‘Hurray for the Riff Raff’ is the project of singer/songwriter Alynda Segarra who is of Puerto Rican descent. This, their 8th album, got of lot of great reviews and it’s not hard to see why. A mix of Americana Roots and modern rock sounds surround a set of catchy, melodic songs. Lyrically, this work focuses on our ongoing war on the planet and the shifting turmoil of 2020s politics on marginalised groups. They call the sound of this album ‘nature punk’ and despite the weighty subjects, the focus is on hope and survival.
Neil: The eight album from Alynda Segarras is an intimate work; part nature punk, part indie rock with anthemic choruses in places and even a little bit of hip-hop thrown in. The songs on the album display a raw, honest and self-possessed openness. If you need a reference point, it reminded me in places of a folk punk P.J Harvey. Which is, of course, no bad thing.

Another side. / Nocentelli, Leo
Mark: ‘Another Side’ is the previously unissued 1971 debut solo album from Meters’ guitarist Leo Nocentelli. Recorded in a New Orleans Jazz City Studio studio (with Allen Toussaint on Piano) while the Meters were on a hiatus, the tapes of fully produced demos were shelved and forgotten at Toussaint’s Sea-Saint studio when the Meters signed with Warner Bros. Thought drowned during Hurricane Katrina when Toussaint’s studio was destroyed, incredibly the album was amongst 16 boxes of tapes from from Jazz City and Sea-Saint studios that surfaced at at a swap meet in Torrance, California, saved from the storm and left in an L.A. storage unit. Distinctly different from the Meters, this is a singer-songwriter album in the the mould of 70’s Laurel Canyon/Bill Withers, full of great bluesy acoustic laments.
Neil: These previously unknown 1971 recordings by Leo Nocentelli “ The Meters legendary guitarist” are a revelation . His trademark nylon string unique guitar sound is unmistakable, though this solo outing is distinctly different from his Meters work. The tapes the album was created from were found at a tape swap and meet event in 2018, and it turns out they were rescued from the vault of the studio they were recorded at after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina. The resultant music is a gorgeous roots-rock outing in places, slightly reminiscent of Dr John or Beck during his Sea Change album phase, and are a very welcome if unlikely sonic rescue.

Tales of common folk, salt & sweet kisses. / Parry, Nigel
Mark: Originally from the UK, Nigel Parry is now a well established voice in the Wellington folk music scene. His new album is mostly original NZ focused material, with a couple of traditional European covers, forming a reflective journey through our history; from whaling in the Marlborough Sounds, to tales of love, the unspoken trauma of war returnees and the changes the modern world has wrought on small rural towns. His delicate picking and mellow voice helm the strong set of traditional folk.
Neil: New Zealander Nigel Parry’s album is firmly rooted in the heart of traditional English Folk music. It’s a perfectly executed genre piece with subtle, delicate and poised songs, many of which were written by Parry himself. His voice is pitch-perfect for the tracks too. As is fitting for an album referencing English Folk music, the songs are stories in themselves. If you are a fan of English Folk music at all, it comes with our top recommendation and well worth a listen if you’re not.

Ghost song. / Salvant, Cécile McLorin
Mark: Cécile McLorin Salvant is an American Jazz vocalist who has won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album three times. Her 6th album (and first for the Nonesuch label) is inspired by Kate Bush & ghosts and is full of her angular take on Jazz; a blend of traditional smokey Jazz ballads, experimental moments and musical theatre/cabaret type numbers. It’s easy to see why she is so acclaimed, but her idiosyncratic approach to singing may not be to everyone’s taste.
Neil: ‘Ghost Song’ is an idiosyncratic and musically playful album that displays an incredibly wide range of sonic pallets in its creation. It is mainly a Jazz singer songwriter piece, though many other influences come into play. The album is a mixture of covers and original compositions, and it includes a radical and beautiful reinterpretation of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.

How is it that I should look at the stars / Weather Station
Mark: Written at the same time as 2021’s critically acclaimed Ignorance, this is a somewhat different album. Mostly piano based songs that are hushed and intimate, there are no big hooks in these somber melancholic soundscapes but the songs are melodic and full of interesting layers that reveal themselves on repeated listens. Very much in the mould of 90s Sarah McLachlan.
Neil: ‘How is it that I should look at the stars’ is a deeply vulnerable, sparse and beautiful album. An object lesson in delicate song writing. The songs are sensitive, cool, fluid, melancholic, but within the darkness is the occasional flicker of light. The album is breathtakingly beautiful in its own way, a quiet contemplative late night album.

Painless. / Yanya, Nilüfer
Mark: 2nd album from this London singer-songwriter, following 2019’s Miss Universe. Her debut album was chock full of all the eclectic musical styles that artists from her generation have been able to absorb and reflect as they figure out their own musical identity. Thus, her sophomore album is the logical progression to a more solidified sound; a smooth, melodic, refined indie-pop. Her voice glides over the tracks, all of which have a tense insular feel. The skittering beats tackling inner turmoil, identity, emotional & physical self-harming, this is the sound of someone about to become a big star.
Neil: Painless by Nilüfer Yanya is a smooth, poised and elegant pop album. A subtle listen in a hooky pop-world type of way. It’s catchy in a sneaky way, with melty and flirtations lyrics and in places reminded me of New Order.

Black acid soul. / Lady Blackbird
Mark: CD release of this album, which was released digitally & on limited Vinyl editions in 2021. Lady Blackbird is the moniker of L.A singer Marley Munroe. The title might suggest this is a funk/Afro-futurist outing, but this is seriously deep Jazz with touches of soul. Minimal guitar, piano & bass frame her amazing voice (somewhere between Nina Simone, Billie Holliday & Cassandra Wilson) as she re-interprets a series of modern songs from Allen Toussaint, Tim Hardin, Nina Simone, The James Gang & the like. She also adds lyrics of her own to “Fix It”, which is based on the Bill Evans classic instrumental “Peace Piece”. Moody, spiritual, intense and haunting. She is definitely on her way to next big thing status.
Neil: The hugely anticipated ‘Black acid soul’ lives up to all the pre-release hype. Sad jazz/soul songs that give you goose bumps, rip your heart apart and then start to sooth it. Think smoky late-night Nina Simone or Mahalia Jackson. The music is stripped back to the essentials, minimalist in approach, but is done with such skill and quality that the work shines. Marley Munroe’s singing is flawless, searching and finding the emotional heart of each track. One of those releases that is bound to be on many people’s best of 2022 lists.

Visitor. / Empath
Mark: 2nd album for this Philly-based quartet, centred around singer/guitarist Catherine Elicson. Following on from 2019’s Active listening: night on Earth, this is a more polished take on their ramshackle pop-punk aesthetic. Brief catchy tunes with manic vocals move from overtly noisy to poppy. Very reminiscent of strains of 90s alt-pop. A lot of the tunes reminded me of a more aggressive version of cult band The Sundays.
Neil: Philadelphia pop-noise merchants Empath release their second album. In many ways ‘Visitor’ sticks in part to their punk roots. That said, they’ve also introduced a more languid dreamy and sedate aspect to this work, making their sound in many of the songs slower, clearer, and more chilled. These new elements give their latest outing a new sound and direction, and perhaps points the way to how future albums might sound. All in all, it sounds like a band who is both in transition and pushing forward.

Gifted. / Koffee
Mark: Koffee is the moniker of Mikayla Simpson, a young female Jamaican singer & rapper who has taken the Reggae world by storm. She became the first female artist ever to win the Grammy for best reggae album, for 2019’s EP ‘Rapture’, and has now delivered her full length debut album, ‘Gifted’. Mellow dancehall vibes meet modern pop stylings and propulsive Hip-Hop wordplay. While not particularly edgy or political, there is a charming earnestness to the album that floats along on a tide of easy going summery vibes. A great album for future beach parties.
Neil: In 2019, Koffee was the youngest ever winner ever of the Grammy for the Best Reggae Album for her EP ‘Rapture’. This, her debut full length album, is a breezy and bouncy good vibe outing which moves seamlessly between R&B, dancehall and especially Reggae. It is an uplifting, positivity laden, shot of summer good times wrapped in Jamaican glow. It will give even more fuel to the many people who have already heralded her as the new superstar of Reggae.

New CDs for Te Awe

New CDs March 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 (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, and pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres to review. Our limit is a few lines only. Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Or are we just too old to understand what most of this music is banging on about?
Read on to find out…

Fall in love not in line. / Kids on a Crime Spree
Mark: This is the second album from this cult Swedish band, after 2011’s We Love You So Bad. Catchy, cool, jangly guitar-pop that merges Girl-group 60s sounds with reverb laden VU touches and 70s power-pop. Very 80s sounding overall; the whole album could have basically been the Soundtrack to Pretty in Pink.
Neil: One can’t help but feel that 80’s rom com classic movies are popular with Kids on a Crime Spree. So much so that the album is full of upbeat, jingly jangly, tunes that would fit perfectly into that time and those movies. It is all done with lovingly recreated sounds from the time, if this is your type of music it’s spot on.

Magma. / Black Flower
Mark: Black Flower are a Belgian Jazz ensemble, who merge Ethiopian jazz, Afro-centric funk & dub, East Asian and Middle Eastern influences into a post-bop jazz framework. This is their fifth album, and it has been hailed as artistic breakthrough. Sinuous Middle Eastern lines collide with Afrobeat, jazz, psych and prog elements. If you enjoy jazz that has moved outside of the Western styles to incorporate different tunings and improvisational techniques, then this is one to check out.
Neil: The album can be described in one word: Unique. It is a hypnotic, psych prog outing; it has a sound that’s heavily rooted in Afrobeat and Ethiopian jazz. There’s lots of non-western tunings, time signatures and instruments being used. If you are happy to try something approachable, but a little off the beaten track, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Continue reading “New CDs for Te Awe”

New CDs for Te Awe

New CDs at Te Awe March


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, and pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres to review. Our limit is a few lines only. Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Are we just too old to understand what most of this music is banging on about?
Read on to find out…

Ash and bone. / Long, David
Mark: Atmospheric instrumental avant-classical pieces from the multi-talented Long (The Labcoats, Teeth, numerous film works). The album merges elements of his various musical identities, from experimental textures, to muted chamber elements, to touches of synths and electronica. A bit on a Tuba may be followed by a banjo or an electric guitar, then some ethereal flute, discordant trumpet and some soothing synth washes. Full of tension & release, the album never settles on a genre, reflective of its composers musical spirit.
Neil: David Long is a New Zealand music legend. A founding member of the Mutton Birds, long time soundtrack creator for Peter Jackson’s films with a plethora of awards for production, composition and playing as well, and that’s just scratching the surface. ‘Ash and Bone’, his latest release on Rattle Records, sees him in full blown experimental mode. The album defies easy classification. Acoustic-electronics, Alt chamber-experimental and instrumental have all been mentioned. This is very much its own creature: a rich, deep, and rewarding listen.

The boy named If / Costello, Elvis
Mark: Have to admit that the last Elvis album I recall listening to was Momofuku, but he seems to be having a bit of a late career renaissance with 2018’s Look Now, 2020’s Hey Clockface and now this new album. ‘The boy named If’ harks back to a late 80s Attractions sound, alongside his trademark lyrical barbs and the tight backing of his long-time musical cohorts. A sort of linking concept ,of a boy becoming a man, frames these swinging melodic rockers and subtle ballads. There’s a real cohesiveness and energy here, someone mining their back catalogue for modern inspiration as opposed to nostalgic re-tread.
Neil: ‘The boy named If” is a spikey and punchy album with a raw edge. Elvis Costello’s latest album sounds like an older version of himself has travelled back in time to the beginning of his career to create a new work. The album is infused with the urgent trademark sound of his first releases,whilst also incorporating his life experience since those days into the work.

Laurel hell. / Mitski
Mark: 6th album from Mitski Miyawaki, following 2018’s Be the Cowboy, where she adopted the persona of a frustrated married woman. ‘Laurel Hell’ shifts back to a more personal perspective, with a super-slick 80’s indie pop sheen. Two tracks (‘The Only Heartbreaker’ and ‘Love Me More ) date from 2021. The former made President Barack Obama’s list of top songs of 2021, which he tweets out every year, and the Guardian recently claimed she is the currently the best young songwriter coming out of the U.S. This is a super catchy, big synthy-pop album that seems destined to be her mainstream breakthrough. Another highlight is the album’s complex layered lyrics that deal with relationships and issues relevant to both millennials & Gen Z. Really good.
Neil: Mitski’s sixth album wears it’s 80’s influences very much to the fore. But this isn’t the cheesy 80’s, this is the sharp and ultra-cool 80’s. ‘Laurel Hell’ comes resplendent with sharp lyrics and infectious synth hooks, all combining to create a strong emotional impact.

Ants from up there / Black Country, New Road
Mark: This might definitely be a case of being too old to fathom this band’s music. Singer Isaac Wood’s has a distinctive voice (a bit reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker), and on the band’s (acclaimed) 2nd album he meanders through a series of moody vignettes with a backing that sounds like free-jazz meets baroque pop. There are no ‘singles’ or anything like that, just lot of impressionistic lyrics that are ultra serious and then dryly witty. Alternately a baffling & fascinating listen.
Neil: American minimalism joins forces with post punk guitars, and Jarvis Cocker vocal and lyrical stylings, in this much heralded and lauded second release from Black Country, New Road.

This quiet room. / Vietnam (Musical group)
Mark: Vietnam formed at high school in Wainuiomata forty years ago, and were active in the Wellington music scene from 1981-85. They reformed in 2017 to celebrate the reissue of their self-titled 1985 debut, leading to a desire to record a final album. The members are now based between Sydney and Wellington. ‘This quiet room’ is a really solid and catchy album, made up of new studio recordings of unreleased material from their live gigs, along with a bunch of new tracks. They wear their influences on their sleeves (The Cure, Joy Division), but it merges with that distinctively NZ 80’s jangle pop sound to give it a different take.
Neil: Wellington band Vietnam has now claimed the world record for the longest period between releases. It’s been 37 years since the release of their self-titled EP! However, listening to the album, it sounds like time has stopped in its tracks for the post punk outfit. This album, with the exception of superior production values, could have been release way back then. If, like me, you’re a fan of music from this point in time, especially in New Zealand, then this may well work for you. It’s an atmospheric, finely crafted, sonic time machine.

No medium. / Rosali
Mark: The 3rd album from Philadelphia Americana artist. This made a Guardian list of Hidden Music gems from 2021. This is a really nice album; A merging of country-rock elements with classicist singer-songwriter pop, focusing on the travails of love & relationships. It sounds a lot like early Aimee Mann in places, so definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Aimee Man. And who isn’t?….
Neil: : There is some dark territory explored in ‘No Medium’. Death, loss, and addiction, to name but a few. The album gets its title from a quote from Jane Eyre, and Rosali has the perfect plaintive voice to convey the emotions to be found in these dark places. Her gifted backing musicians sound like they are channelling the country incarnation of Neil Young’s Crazy horse, and the two fit seamlessly together. It is a taut, mutedly intense album full of raw emotion.

De pelicula / Limiñanas
Mark: This is another album that made the Guardian list of Hidden Music Gems from last year. Psych-rock duo the Limiñanas join forces with DJ Laurent Garnier to create the ‘soundtrack’ to an imaginary movie about a couple of teenage runaways (Juliette and Saul) on a heady booze-fuelled road trip through the South of France. Swirling techno beats, dreamlike loops, and psychedelic motorik grooves pulsate in a hedonistic peon to escapism.
Neil: Designed as a modern French psychedelic rock album that is the accompanying soundtrack for an imaginary cult road movie, De pelicula is very 60’s hip. Lots of fuzzy guitars and mega cool (in a French road movie way). It moves effortlessly from trance, dreamlike elements, to night club cool swing in its psychedelic-ness.

Heisei no oto : Japanese left​-​field pop from the CD age, 1989​-​1996.
Mark: This compilation captures Japanese music from a pivotal time, when technology was drastically changing what ‘sounds’ it was possible to create. The project of 2 owners of Osaka record stores, their version of crate digging was to highlight a bunch of tracks that were only available on CD during this fertile period – when the medium became the dominant force in music listening. Opposed to other collections that focus on music from city environs, or the Japanese idea of ‘Environmental Music’, this compilation takes a broader approach, to encompasses dance, electronica, funk, new age & pop. Full of lost gems.
Neil: Like all compilations of this type, this is a mixed bag. Japanese pop from this period was particularly interesting because it was at this juncture in time that the explosion of New Technology (especially in the availability and cost of mass market Synths and drum machines) really hit. This in turn fuelled new ideas and approaches to music. It’s been lovingly curated through some deep and dedicated music crate diving over the years, and spreads its musical net very widely. Fascinating stuff, linked largely by the effect that this New Technology was having on Japanese pop.

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.

Forfolks. / Parker, Jeff
Mark: Second solo guitar album from the Tortoise guitarist. For this album he created a hook, made a groove on his guitar, sampled this short snippet, then looped it so he can play over and around it – in a similar way to the overdubbing of pianists Lennie Tristano or Bill Evans. Unique rhythms and chromatic changes hold your interest throughout this introspective album.
Neil: Forfolks comprises of eight tracks that could loosely be described as techno dream; Trance, ambient, modern solo classical guitar combined with jazz underpinnings. If all that sounds a bit much, have no fear. This is a soft and gentle work from the Tortoise guitarist. A meditative and inspiring musical work that demonstrates virtuosic experimental guitar playing going with a tranquil flow that never feels difficult.

Seventeen going under. / Fender, Sam
Mark: This made the Guardian’s Top 20 for the Best Albums of 2021. An album of bitter lamentations on the state of life for young people in the UK; it speaks to being trapped in living situations that foster bad habits and poor mental health, and abandoned by politicians and collapsing social infrastructure. Lyrically it’s a bit depressing, but the music is almost a polar opposite – a series of pounding, Springsteen-esque anthems that rouse the blood to fight for your place and overcome whatever sets you back.
Neil: The second album from the English musician Sam Fender is a punchy, bruisingly honest account of his recent years and is written in that orbit where the personal and wider social concerns mix and intertwine. His song writing skills have really expanded and bloomed, bringing the lyrical content sharply to the fore. In some ways it reminded me of the early Jam, with its energy and focus on socio personal themes.

If words were flowers. / Harding, Curtis
Mark: 3rd album from the Michigan R&B singer who fuses vintage soul sounds with touches of contemporary Hip-Hop, indie rock & psychedelica. Harding mines the Southern Soul style for his retro influences, fusing it with various other musical forms to frame contemporary issues of political & social unrest, which he then filters through universal songs about love & understanding.
Neil: Curtis Harding’s ‘If words were flowers’ has all the hallmarks of a vintage R&B/soul album from the 1970’s, but is also aware of our modern music environment, incorporating rap elements in places. As is fitting of music evoking this time, it is a bass heavy, echo laden outing. The optimistic viewpoint of soul and funk music of the 1970’s is also strongly recalled in the lyrics. To give you a flavour of what to expect, if Curtis Mayfield was around today he might well be producing work in this vein.

Lonely Guest. / Lonely Guest
Mark: Musical project conceived by Tricky, featuring guests such as Idles’ Joe Talbot, Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith, Polish singer Marta Złakowska, Oh Land, Breanna Barbara & the late Lee Scratch Perry. Minimalist electronica, Hip-Hop and downtempo ballads all merge in a place where desperation and romance hold equal sway.
Neil: Tricky’s latest musically alter ego ‘Lonely Guest’, finds him collaborating with a whole host of musical guests. The result is a trip-rock, stripped back, dark organic work. While sparse in many ways – the whole ten track album is only 25 mins long – it’s an artistically accomplished and thrillingly varied work that still contains a unified feel. I particularly enjoyed the Lee Scratch Perry collaborative piece ‘Atmosphere’.

One year. / Blunstone, Colin
Mark: The 1971 debut solo album from the frontman of ground-breaking 60’s band The Zombies, reissued for its 50th anniversary. A classic baroque-chamber-pop album, helmed by his immaculate & mesmerising vocal delivery. Gentle chamber-styled acoustic numbers sit next to blue-eyes soul laments and baroque string interludes – all tinged with the melancholy resulting from a crushing breakup. Delicate and wistful music that ponders the universal themes of lost love and regret. If you enjoyed this check out: Tea & symphony : the English baroque sound 1968-1974.
Neil: ‘One year’ is a re-release of the classic 1971 debut solo album from The Zombies lead vocalist Colin Blunstone. It is a gorgeous, sad, and romantic singer-songwriter composition; a breakup album. It is listed in The Guardian’s 1,000 albums to hear before you die and rightly so. If you are unfamiliar with it, it has some similarities to the work of Nick Drake or the solo guitar outings of Neil Young in the early 1970’s, though it is very much its own unique and personal work. If you like this kind of music, then this is a must listen.

Tell me what you miss the most. / Tasha
Mark: Second album from a Chicago songwriter who combines R&B, pop & folk. The songs are focused on the differing stages of relationships in all their shades, specific moments of those relationships with a backing of gentle lilting acoustic guitars and flutes. A lovely breezy ‘guitar-soul’ vibe, similar to Corinne Bailey-Rae or Nilüfer Yanya, while some tracks have a fuller band sound, complete with sweeping strings. It may be a bit too easy listening in places, however dismissing this as quintessential ‘coffee-table music’ negates the level of sincerity and musicianship at play here.
Neil: ‘Tell me what you miss the most’ is a subtle and intimate album that explores various states of relationship. The second album from this Chicago artist, it is a very carefully hewn creation. Everything in the album is stripped away to a bare minimum to reveal the emotional core of the work: vocals, guitar and sparingly, delicately applied atmospheric, instrumentation. It’s another gorgeous solo work that again reminds me of this month’s touch stone artist Nick Drake.

Bloodmoon. I. / Converge
Mark: Metalcore pioneers team up with doom-folk songstress Chelsea Wolfe, her writing partner Ben Chisolm and Cave In‘s Stephen Brodsky. Agitation and unease abound, as pounding and visceral meets symphonic and melodic. The ‘grandiose’ button is firmly pushed into the red… Worth checking out if you’re a fan of either artist.
Neil: Converge have been on a thirty-year musical journey before arriving at ‘Bloodmoon. I.’, their tenth album. The hardcore band have enlisted the collaborative creative energies of Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisolm, and Stephen Brodsky to bring something new to the mix. This is a much more expansive outing than their usual oeuvre; it employs a much wider sound palette and is grander in scale and ambition than much of their previous work.

Private space / Jones, Durand
Mark: More meticulously re-created retro-soul from Durand Jones & the Indications. Synths & velvety strings add a more late night 70s Disco vibe to this one. The opening track addresses the similar kind of social agitation & unrest that The Isley Brothers, The Temptations or Earth, Wind & Fire might have sung about when they made similar music in the 70’s – however most of the tracks focus on a positive groove of togetherness, love, connection, and friendship.
Neil: The full force of a 70’s disco funk soul vibe informs every aspect of ‘Private space’. From the lyrical content to the funky groove rhythms, it is a superbly crafted recreation of the kind of album that wouldn’t have been out of place in 1974, and would have probably featured high in the charts of the time.

Vital / Big Brave
Mark: This 5th album from Montreal Experimental rock trio Big Brave also ended up on the Guardian list of overlooked albums from 2021. Though beginning their career playing stripped down folk, Big Brave developed a more heavier drone metal sound, and this album is regarded as the artistic culmination of that shift. Massive riffs meet slabs of sculptured noise and rumbling drones. A truly immersive album, best listened to on a loud stereo system or on headphones. The female vocals of Robin Wattie also give it a distinct identity within this male dominated genre.
Neil: The experimental Montreal metal trio Big Brave’s latest album has at its core gigantic, thunderous, oceanic raw waves of drone guitar. A Sonic cliff of power that eventually dissipates, crumbles and fades. The anguished emotionally charged vocals interspersed are reminiscent of P J Harvey or Patti Smith. An intense and relentless listen. A powerhouse of an album, best played very very loud.

Projector. / Geese (Musical group)
Mark: Post-punk outfit from Brooklyn, who began playing together at High school. Their 2020 home demos attracted the attention of multiple labels, leading to the release of their acclaimed debut album ‘Projector’ on Partisan Records [IDLES, Fontaines D.C]. They bring an amalgam of post-rock, post-punk, prog and indie-rock elements together. There are hints of influences like The Strokes, Parquet Courts, Television, Coldplay, Radiohead, Alt-J, and Krautrock; all taken, thrown together, and morphed into their own angular sound. An energetic new take on the traditional ‘guitar-rock’, Geese are from a generation that follows no prescribed musical rule book. Ones to watch.
Neil: There has been a lot of hype and buzz surrounding the Brooklyn band Geese, and their debut album ‘Projector’. The album is resplendent with post-punk styled, cut-time rhythms, and angular guitars. It is also alive with edgy energy and inventiveness, reminding me in places of Talking Heads, especially in their early pre-Eno guitar heavy years

Planet Her. / Doja Cat
Mark: Doja Cat is the quintessential 21st century artist, melding everything from Rap to Pop, Trap, R&B, or Reggaeton to create edgy tunes (and social media content) full of her distinctive rapping, pop-culture references and hyper-sexual attitude. All the musical eclecticism wouldn’t work if the hooks weren’t so good, and the production is so crisp and detailed that she manages to glide effortlessly from one style to another. But is it all just premeditated versatility designed to create TikTok dance crazes, rather than a genuine musical identity? Maybe she’s just a reflection of the growing power of Tik-Tok to create stars outside of the traditional music industry.
Neil: Pop-rap queen and social media sensation Doja Cat release ‘Planet Her’ is a loosely themed concept album. Doja Cat is a very 21st century artist, so she wears the ‘concept’ elements of the album with a studied breezy indifference. Musically, the album is an eclectic mix of pop and rap with a strong melodic sensibility.

Staff Picks: The Best CDs of 2021

Image featuring some of our top picks


Mark’s Pick:
Vulture prince. / Aftab, Arooj [VINYL ONLY]
“Vulture Prince” is the third album from Brooklyn-based Pakistani composer Arooj Aftab. It made ‘Best of the Year’ picks even halfway through last year, and has been pressed on Vinyl 3 times since it came out last April – all of which sold out almost instantly. It’s critical & commercial success led to her being nominated for two Grammys, Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance, as well as being signed to major label, Verve Records. An amazing sounding album, a mixture of chamber jazz, Hindustani classical minimalism & neo-Sufi, centered around her crystal clear voice. A truly beautiful and haunting work.

Mother. / Sol, Cleo
There was a lot of Neo-soul this year. A lot. I listened to a good percentage of it, and Cleo Sol’s ‘Mother’ was the best of the bunch. A mellow, tender, beautifully sung homage to motherhood. These lovely delicate songs have a real sense of intimacy, and at times the minimalist production from partner Inflo (who was recently announced as Producer of the Year in 2022’s Brit awards) makes you feel you are hearing a bunch of personal demos that were never meant to be shared.

Lindsey Buckingham. / Buckingham, Lindsey
The ex-Fleetwood Mac-er returns with a delayed album – originally cut in 2018. It is perhaps his most ‘pop’ outing and most FM sounding solo album yet. Mirage-era stylings, double tracked vocals, and catchy choruses surround a set of songs that focus on band & domestic disharmonies. Few artists of his generation can claim to be still making music this strong.

 

Shinji’s Pick’s:
Mother. / Sol, Cleo
A member of the London’s avant-soul unit ‘Sault’, Cleo Sol’s sophomore album is a reflection of herself having become a mother during the pandemic. It’s an intimate affair featuring medium/slow soul ballads. Surrounded by the warm, tender arrangements, her voice is charming and graceful.

 

Nine. / Sault 
Sault’ also released another edgy album ‘NINE’ – more personal than previous albums but black proud and social justice are still its core. The both are a must-listen.

 

 

What we call life. / Rakei, Jordan
The Tokoroa-born, sweet-sounding soul singer Jordan Rakei steadily developes his style with every outing. This latest album from Ninja Tune takes us on an intimate, emotional journey, showing his mutuality both as an artist and a person. His dance/house project Dan Kye’s ‘Small Moments’ (Vinyl only) is also quite good.

 

Harbour. / Herskedal, Daniel
Tuba is usually not considered a lead instrument, but the Norwegian tubaist Daniel Herkedal has made his mark as an outstanding player and band leader. Nature often inspires his works, in this album his trio brilliantly transforms images of Norwegian seaside into their music. You can feel a combination of warmth and cool air in the rich, open soundscapes that they create. Akin to ECM, it’s a sublime jazz album.

Phantasmagoria, or, A different kind of journey / Aarset, Eivind
Norwegian jazz guitarist Eivind Aarset is a master of creating inventive sonic layers and tonal richness. Aarset’s new album finds him in superb form. Showing impressive range, from the gentle ambient tracks to the eccentric guitar improvised prog-rock, it offers a sophisticated, expansive musical journey.

Becca Stevens & the Secret Trio. / Stevens, Becca
The ‘jazzy but not quite jazz’ singer Becca Stevens has worked with numerous artists, including David Crosby for his brilliant ‘Here If You Listen’. Her new project with the Secret Trio, who’s roots range from  Turkish to Armenian and Macedonian, offers a unique hybrid music of folk, jazz and world music. This work gets better with every listen.

 

The eternal rocks beneath. / Priddy, Katherine
Praised by the likes of Richard Thompson and Vashti Bunyan, young English folk singer Katherine Priddy debuted with an exceptional album. Showing her love of Nick Drake, her songs are alluring. The band supports marvellously, but it is her captivating voice that takes your breath away. Everything is so natural here, a promising a star is about to be born.

 

Invisible cities = Le città invisibili / Winged Victory for the Sullen
The 2021 album from this ambient duo is a collaboration with a theatre production, directed by London Olympics ceremony video designer Leo Warner. The show, in turn, was is based on Italo Calvino’s classic novel ‘Invisible Cities’. This duo, once again, has created a stunning score which masterfully weaves the medieval feeling into the ethereal, ambient soundscape. Sublime.

 

Déjà vu [deluxe] / Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
[Box set/re-issue]
The 1970 original album climbed up to No.1 and stayed 88 weeks in the USA top 100 charts. In 2021, this iconic masterpiece finally got a deluxe edition (4CDs + 1LP). Including 38 tracks of demos and outtakes, a lot of tracks here have never been released before and, as well as this, they prove how genius these musicians are. The Laurel Canyon community also must have stimulated their creativity, which is evident in the intriguing documentary ‘Laurel Canyon’.

Kid A mnesia / Radiohead
[Box set/re-issue]
The 21st century opened with this revolutionary music. ‘Kid A’ (2000) and ‘Amnesiac’ (2001) were recorded together but issued a year apart. This re-issue offers previously unreleased tracks on the third disc, which is fascinating. Their bold creative mojo and exceptional talent made Radiohead a one-and-only supergroup. 20 years on, they are still standing tall.

Aretha. / Franklin, Aretha
Aretha Franklin, the ‘Queen of Soul’, had a career which spanned 6 decades, and this smartly compiled box set should be welcomed by both dedicated fans and novices to her music. It’s almost an ideal ‘best album’ of her music, and would be a wonderful accompaniment to the nice biographical film ‘Respect’.

 

Neil J’s Pick’s:
Promises / Floating Points
This is my person pick for best of 2021. Many albums strive to be as beautifully mellow and profoundly intense. They nearly always fail to some degree or another. This album is as close to perfection as I have heard in many a year, an outstanding masterpiece that will rightly regarded as such long after 2021 is a distant memory. Recorded over the course of five years, this album is a hybrid of ambient, free-form jazz and classical. The result is an album that is elegant, refined, and full of quiet moments of sonic beauty. Although it is an experimental album, it’s an exceptionally balanced, considered, and timeless work. To really appreciate it, a relaxed deep listen is highly recommended. A perfect way to unwind from the rigors of the day.

Nine. / Sault
The enigmatic and mysterious music collective Sault release another vital album. Unsurprisingly as an ever-changing music collective, there is a rich tapestry of sounds and approaches in ‘Nine’. The overall effect though feels totally unified and coherent. The tracks are urban, dark, and edgy with real grit. In the mix there are elements of rap, grime Afro Beat and even some Tom Tom’s club’s style funk. The content of the album is largely about growing up in modern London. This is a fresh and surprising album, stunning in its contemporary urgency.

Geist. / Lay, Shannon
Shannon Lay’s Geist is a deliberately wistful, transcendent, and spiritual album. Lay uses multi tracked choral vocals with a constantly flowing, and evolving acoustic guitar as its core. The effect is distinctive, expressive, quiet, and lovely. An evocative pastoral psychedelic folk work reminiscent of artists like Vashti Bunyan, I particularly enjoyed her cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Late night’.

 

Buda / Buda, Luke
One of the core creative forces behind the mighty The Phoenix Foundation releases (with a lot of help from his friends) his third solo effort, this time simply called Buda. It is an impressive work, interspersed with a lot of the hallmark touches he brings to his other work in The Phoenix foundation. This album is wryly funny, poetic, serious when it needs to be and shows us why he is one of our finest musicians.

Black sea golden ladder. / Kingi, Troy
The supremely gifted musical chameleon that is Troy Kingi has shown his musical versatility over several wonderful albums on several occasions in recent years, but who would have thought that his latest musical incarnation would be as a mellow folk maestro? The resulting album is a beautiful, and chilled outing, like watching the sun go down on the fragile dream of a late autumn day. Delaney Davidson’s voice adds just a little grit and darkness to the proceedings.

M’berra / Khalab
This is one of those album’s that really transports the listener to new worlds. It is a collaborative work between electronic Italian D.J. Khalab and the M’berra Ensemble, a community of musicians living in the M’berra refugee camp. The resulting album, both ancient and futuristic, is a breath-taking work of fantastically sculptured tracks and diverse sounds, featuring a dazzling array of instruments from traditional Mali instruments to synth bass’s and guitar.

Bright green field. / Squid (Musical group)
An album of angular music, coupled with angry off kilter lyrics that illuminate the song writers’ discomfort with the modern World. In places, it sounds slightly reminiscent of an early English, pre-Eno, Talking Heads. Seemingly unconcerned about creating a single musical identity, they use whatever style suits that particular track from throwing in punk, krautrock, dub, jazz, and funk into this potent mix of an album.

New long leg. / Dry Cleaning (Musical group)
I really loved this album, it sounded new and fresh and vitally edgy. Managing to sound quirky, surreal, approachable and experimental all at the same time, is it a release I strongly suspect will be on lots of best of 2021 lists.

 

 

The new blue : Pixie Williams reimagined.
Pixie Williams was one of the first ever superstars of the New Zealand music scene. She was a trailblazing pioneer; her song ‘Blue smoke’ was a huge international hit in 1951 covered by many artists, including Dean Martin. A compilation of her work was recently rescued from oblivion, called For the record : the Pixie Williams collection, 1949-1951, and was rereleased in 2011. ‘The New Blue’ is a collection of modern NZ artists paying tribute to her and her art, covering her best known pieces fabulously well with style and panache. This is a perfectly executed, modern nostalgic time machine of an album.

Optimisme. / Songhoy Blues
Crossing musical and cultural boundaries at will, ‘Optimisme’ is a joyous explosion of an album. Driving percussion and scorching guitar riffs come together with political, social and personal lyrics that are sung in several languages and never sound laboured or preachy. The music is exhilarating and unstoppable, you cannot but help feel that many huge stadium acts would be jealous and in awe of the energy pouring out of this release.

 

Gus’ Picks:
The blue elephant. / Berry, Matt
Something I can only describe as “what if Tame Impala travelled back in time and did an album with the Kinks”. Hands down the best summer album of 2021.
Favourite track: Summer Sun

 

 

Skin. / Crookes, Joy
A polished, bold debut neo-soul album for anyone with an Amy Winehouse-sized hole in their heart.
Favourite track: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

 

 

Prioritise pleasure. / Self Esteem
A pop solo act that goes big and goes hard one minute and becomes a tender pick-me-up the next. Everyone could use a little Self Esteem boost.
Favourite track: Prioritise Pleasure

 

 

Jubilee. / Japanese Breakfast
An eclectic album of 80s city pop, soft ballads, and dreamy croons. A balanced breakfast indeed.
Favourite track: Paprika

 

 

Call me if you get lost. / Tyler, the Creator
No-one quite nails the feeling unique to creatives of alternating triumph and melancholy quite like Tyler Baudelaire, aka Bunny Hop, aka Wolf Haley etc. etc. Call Me If You Get Lost is more of a fun mixtape jam session than the more emotionally introspective albums of his recent output, and while it took me a while to appreciate, by the end of 2021 it became a staple of my playlists.
Favourite track: CORSO

Dune : original motion picture soundtrack
The space bagpipes must flow! I, for one, am always up for a eardrum rattling from the Zimmer Man, and Dune does not disappoint. Combining electrified strings, throat singing, epic brass, Middle Eastern choirs and the aforementioned space bagpipes, this score truly worthy of a space epic.
Favourite track: Armada

 

Yasuke : music from the Netflix original anime series
With the anime Yasuke, Flying Lotus finally gets to lend his unique blend of hip hop and electronica to scoring an animated series, and he succeeds immensely. As Samurai Champloo creator (and one-time FlyLo collaborator) Shinichiro Watanabe proved, there’s something about blending hip hop and samurai that just works.
Favourite track: Your Day Off

 

Han’s Picks:
L.A.B. V. / L. A. B
Another awesome album from L.A.B, with songs that are funky, chilled out and make you automatically feel free and summery. Favourite tracks on this album are: ‘Under The Sun’, with it’s country twang and catchy chorus, ‘All Night’, which brings the groove and makes you want to dance and their latest smooth sounding single ‘Mr Reggae’.

 

Little oblivions. / Baker, Julien
An emotional outpouring of deep and self-loathing lyrics ,with a voice that is raw, vulnerable and magical, makes for a brilliant third solo album from Julien Baker.

 

 

Sour. / Rodrigo, Olivia
If you have ever had your heart broken and not been sure of yourself, then you will easily relate to the lyrics on this album. Songs like ‘Traitor’ and ‘Happier’ convey familiar feelings of being hurt by relationships breaking down. ‘Brutal’, the first track, is probably the best with all of her thoughts and annoyances with life on display in a snarly pop punk style. Very impressive debut album from this new pop superstar.

 

OK human. / Weezer
This is Weezer in a completely different form, with none of the guitar sound that is associated with the band. Instead, they have opted for an orchestral sound, which is new for them and definitely works as a change. The opening track ‘All My Favourite Songs’ is brilliant and the chorus is incredibly catchy and anthemic. ‘Grapes of Wrath’ is a big advert for Audible, but I don’t mind it as I like all the book references in that track. These songs were written during the pandemic and as a result are extremely relatable.

Van Weezer. / Weezer
In contrast to Ok Human, Van Weezer brings all the guitars back for a more familiar Weezer sound. On the track ‘The End of the Game’, the lyrics are “I know that you would crank this song, air guitaring with your headphones on”’ and it definitely makes me want to do that. So, turn it up and have some fun jumping up and down to this homage to Van Halen!

 

Greg’s Pick:
Leave love out of this. / Tonnon, Anthonie
If you don’t have children, you rely on friends and colleagues to recommend new music to you. This was recommended to me by Martin. This is pop music with social, political and economic messages woven easily and naturally through the lyrics. The title track was nominated for the 2021 Silver Scroll Award.

 

Joseph’s Pick’s:
Godzone. / Sulfate
[VINYL ONLY]
Godzone by Sulfate was a local standout for me.

 

 

 

Martin’s Pick:
Leave love out of this. / Tonnon, Anthonie
A strange mixture. This album sounds like a cross between Ultravox and Gary Numan with some distinctly New Zealand social commentary thrown in. In some ways the music is reminiscent of simple 80’s synth, which I like, but it is also the use of his voice that grabs the attention. It is at both very unmelodic almost banal, but with great range and control. It doesn’t sound, from what I have said, to be so good does it? But it is! It’s interesting, mostly uplifting and overall a joy to listen to. It’s different and fresh and I think positive, which is a rare thing in these times.

Mikaela’s Pick’s:
Jubilee. / Japanese Breakfast

 

 

 

 


Charlotte’s Picks:
Collapsed in sunbeams. / Parks, Arlo
Chemtrails over the country club. / Del Rey, Lana
In these silent days. / Carlile, Brandi
Valentine. / Snail Mail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Neil P’s Picks:
De pelicula / Limiñanas
Earth trip. / Rose City Band
Comfort to me. / Amyl and the Sniffers
Afrique victime. / Moctar, Mdou
Yol. / Altın Gün
Henki / Dawson, Richard
La Luz. / La Luz
Sometimes I might be introvert. / Little Simz
Introducing… Aaron Frazer. / Frazer, Aaron
Invisible cities = Le città invisibili / Winged Victory for the Sullen
Genesis. / Xixa
Forest of your problems. / Snapped Ankles
Black sea golden ladder. / Kingi, Troy
Pale horse rider. / Hanson, Cory
Geist. / Lay, Shannon


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New CDs for Te Awe

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, and pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres to review. Our limit is a few lines only. Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Are we just too old to understand what most of this music is banging on about?
Read on to find out…


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’.

How long do you think it’s gonna last? / Big Red Machine
Mark: Big Red Machine are the National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This is their 2nd album under that moniker, after 2018’s S/T effort. More mellow acoustic alt-folk/pop with looping arrangements and touches of keys and electronics, a bit more straight ahead than their more experimental debut. Guest performers include Fleet Foxes, Sharon Van Etten & Folk-mode Taylor Swift. There’s a shared musical aesthetic at play in the collaborative network of all these musicians, and if you like the works of their individual bands, you’ll find comfort in the dreamy, immersive electro-acoustics on display here.
Neil: Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver have joined forces before, this new project sees them playing to their strengths. So big open piano chords and chilled vocal harmonies to the fore. The result is a deliberately messy, hazy freewheeling album. It is all very pleasant without presenting many challenges to the listener a languid listening experience.

Silver ladders. / Lattimore, Mary
Mark: 2020 album from experimental LA harpist Mary Lattimore. Dreamy and relaxing. Droney synths colour the harp sound on some tracks, giving a moody soundtrack feel to certain pieces. An understated album that sneaks up on you with its relaxing vibe of solitude and contemplation. An album for afternoon ruminations on rainy days.
Neil: Recorded in a remote rural town with few distractions ‘Silver Ladders’ is an album infused with a beautiful sense of stillness, loneliness, melancholy, and a gentle pastoral eeriness. A very calming album that reminded me in places of the work of Laraaji.

Skin. / Crookes, Joy
Mark: South London singer (of Bangladeshi-Irish descent) with a distinctive voice, reminiscent of Macy Gray, or early Amy Winehouse. ‘Skin’ may seem like yet another Neo-soul album, but the songs move in unexpectedly Jazzy directions with swinging horn breaks, Jazz rhythms and cinematic strings. Soulful late night club vibes percolate across a album of strong tracks, as lovely ballads mix with cinematic trip-hop focusing on the socio-political and the personal.
Neil: British Neo soul crooner Joy Crookes’s debut album is a polished masterclass in everything a debut album for an artist looking at global stardom should be. There’s been comparisons to Amy Winehouse’s first album and there are surface similarities. ‘Skin’ is however very much Joy’s own voice, politics, and personality. Retro string stylings, sophisticated melodies, and assured song writing all shine through. This is what the debut work of a star on the rise sounds like.

Anika. / Anika
Mark: Anika has just released her sophomore album Change after 11 years, so we thought we’d check out her debut from 2010. While working as a political journalist, she met producer Geoff Barrow of Portishead who was looking for a female vocalist to work with his band Beak. Their resulting collaboration led to this album, released by Barrow’s Invada label. A bit of a Nico homage, combining post-punk & Girl group tributes, with her detached blank vocal style and distorted arrangements. Though there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, this is definitely a bit of an acquired taste.
Neil: Right from the moody black and white photo cover down to the treatments on vocals and instruments, you can tell that a heavy influence on Anika work on this album is the Velvet Underground, and especially their German songstress Nico. The album is largely comprised of covers and features the sonic talents of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow. These influences are worn heavily on their collective musical sleeves: that said if you are going to base your sound on a band and singer, then Nico are the Velvet Underground are pretty good choices. My favourite tracks on the album are the dub influenced ones that slightly step out of this template.

Juniper. / Fredriksson, Linda
Mark: Debut solo album from Finnish Saxophone player Linda Fredriksson, a member of a couple of well regarded Finnish musical outfits. Described as a ‘Singer-Songwriter’ album, within a Jazz construct. A meditative album, created over numerous years, that incorporates field recordings, personal recordings of friends, rainfalls, humming, lo-fi acoustic guitar parts and much more. Definitely a different take on what is a Jazz album. Really nice.
Neil: Juniper is a delicate softly, evolving jazz album with emotional content in the playing that ropes listeners into its gently shifting moods. At points sounding traditional in tone and feel, at others more experimental in a chilled ambient fashion. The various elements effortlessly flow in and out of each other.

Rest in blue. / Rafferty, Gerry
Mark: This posthumous release from Gerry Rafferty was begun in 2006, and at his death in 2011, remained uncompleted. His daughter finished the project this year, filling out the album with unreleased tracks from various points in his career, removing a lot of the production to give the album a more uniform feel. A surprisingly cohesive listen, full of catchy, finely crafted, mellow AOR.
Neil: The original incantation of Rest in Blue was started by Gerry in 2006, and was still unfinished at the time of his death in 2011. This release isn’t quite that album; instead this album put together by his daughter uses elements from that projected release and unreleased songs that span his entire career indeed, some of these tracks dated back to the 1970’s. The result is remarkable coherent considering the time span involved, and provides a fitting tribute to his career, and incidentally an excellent starting point to his work if you are unfamiliar. The cover is once again provided by his long-time friend the Scottish Artist John Byrne.

Rose in the dark. / Sol, Cleo
Mark: London Soul singer, who is part of the mysterious R&B collective Sault with partner Inflo. She has just released a new solo album, ‘Mother’ (on order) so we tracked down her debut to check out. Old school R&B, with sweet lilting vibe. The intimate songs focus on individual relationships (rather the broader societal focus of Sault) and have that distinctively 70s soul groove, where it was all about love and personal connections.
Neil: There’s a sense of purpose and sensitivity both in the lyrics and playing in Cleo Sols 2020 album ‘Rose in the Dark’. Cleo Sol is a very busy individual having just released a second solo album called Mother (to be reviewed another time) and known for being a member of the R&B outfit Sault (whose album Nine is reviewed later in this Blog). ‘Rose in the dark’ is perfect example of the quality of all her work, an uplifting Neo Soul R&B outing that made it onto may peoples best of 2020 lists. Her newly released album ‘Mother’ is already being touted as a masterpiece of the genre.

La Luz. / La Luz
Mark: All female Seattle band who blend surf-rock and Garage-psych rock. This album, their third, has been tipped as a breakout for the band, with deeper personal songs and slicker production values. Lots of dreamy chamber pop, and moody psych numbers with lovely ‘Girl-group’ type harmonising.
Neil: Alt folk rock outfit La Luz return with a modern Western themed fourth album. It builds on their impressive previous albums and shows a new level of maturity and sophistication, especially with regard to the structure of their songs and their Simon & Garfunkel styled backing vocals. It’s all topped of nicely with lead vocalist Shana Cleveland’s understated indie inflected vocals.

The horses and the hounds. / McMurtry, James
Mark: The first album in 6 years from McMurtry, the son of famed novelist Larry McMurtry. As to be expected his father’s storytelling skills are deeply embedded into his DNA, so what you get here is a fine set of uptempo country rockers that continues a creative winning streak following 2008’s Just Us Kids & 2015’s Complicated Game. Like the great Country acts before him McMurtry has honed the ability to write realistically about a spectrum of characters across social and economic classes with realism, honesty and empathy. You believe in the disillusion, the struggles and the optimism of the people who inhabit his songs.
Neil: The Texan storyteller James McMurtry delivers a humane and highly accomplished collection of songs on his tenth album. His story songs are about the collapse of small-town America, good people in bad places, and down on their luck characters. The result is a modern, relevant meaningful, heartfelt Country and Western album that shows a rawness and vitality that is sadly all too often missing in the modern Country and Western genre.

Fever dreams. / Villagers
Mark: Fifth album from Villagers, the project of Irish singer/songwriter Conor J. O’Brien. Lovely mix of swirling psyche tinged pop. A musical kaleidoscope taking you on a euphoric escapist journey from the travails of modern life through a hallucinatory world of sound. It reminded me of the late 90s classic’s The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin (1999) & Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs (1998) in terms of its musical scope and impact.
Neil: You can tell even from initial listening that Fever dreams was constructed over a long period of time (two years to be exact). It is an album that demands and rewards an immersive listen, rather than just a background skim. The tracks move from woozy modern psychedelic tones, to eerie surreal pop in an elegant, organic, ambitious fashion with an expansive sound pallet in constant use. Sure, to be on several best of the year lists. If you like this try In the Aeroplane Over the Sea the by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Bees. / Belly
Mark: Listening to this without knowing anything about Belly you would assume this is another in the (seemingly unending) line of bands mining that 90s Alternative-pop sound. However Belly were actually one of the bands from that scene, fronted by singer Tanya Donnelly, who had previously been a member of other cult 90’s bands Throwing Muses & The Breeders. ‘Bees’ is a belated compilation of the bands B-Sides that was initially compiled for a Record Store Day release, to celebrate 30 years of the band. A nice collection of B-sides, covers and oddities that makes you realise, despite their scant discography, their lasting influence on the sound of future bands.
Neil: Released on record store day to celebrate 30 years since the formation of the alternative rock band Belly. Bees is a collection of career spanning B sides, covers and rarities. Featuring prominently (of course) the distinctive and unmistakable vocals of Tanya Donnelly. (Who incidentally helped found two other iconic bands of the time Throwing Muses and the Breeders). This release will delight their fans. I particularly liked their cover of The Jungle Books ‘Trust in me’, originally from their 1993 EP “Feed the Tree”.

I don’t live here anymore / War on Drugs
Mark: Philadelphian band who introduced big sounding ‘FM guitar-rock’ to a new generation return with their 5th album. More blue collar rock epics in the vein of Dylan, Springsteen & Petty, with some synth bits woven in and out, to give the music a more contemporary sound. I never really got the hype around this band to be honest. Didn’t The Wallflowers & Pete Yorn already do this kind of thing in the 90s & 2000’s?
Neil: ‘I don’t live here anymore’ is the fifth studio album from stadium filling War on drugs. It utilises and refines on their previous work esp. their Grammy winning album A Deeper Understanding, the songs usually building up from deep and often deceptively simple melodies, slowly and methodically increasing up the intensity. The lyrics depict a romantic American soul-searching journey, and the album has an anthemic qualities without being too bombastic.

Coming in from the dark. / Smith, Hollie
Mark: Hollie Smith mined the solitude of lockdown to create an album blending her Neo soul stylings with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Rwandan-Kiwi rapper Raiza Biza, Sol3 Mio and Teeks. Personal reflections on a relationship breakdown form the core of this introspective album, that looks at loss and healing, both within personally and outwards towards the larger issues facing New Zealanders today.
Neil: The much-loved Kiwi soul artist Hollie Smith (and close friend of our PM) releases her fourth album. It is an immaculately produced work and Hollies vocals soar. It belongs very much to that new sub section of music the Covid lockdown album (Hollie was scheduled to be Touring but like many artists has had to put those plans on hold). Hollie airs her anger and frustration with the current global and political events that threaten to overwhelm us, whilst interweaving these concerns with more intimate themes. The result is a tender, thoughtful and powerful work that is ultimately uplifting and hopeful in its vision of our future.

Nine. / Sault
Mark: This prolific R&B-rooted pseudonymous collective (helmed by producer Inflo) have released some of the most talked about & critically acclaimed music of recent years; 2 albums in both 2019 & 2002, the last of which Untitled (Rise) was nomination for the Mercury Prize in 2021. Latest album ‘Nine’ is more of the same quality, though its shorter length makes it feel a tad more fragmented than previous albums. A melange of musical styles from Rap, mellow R&B, grimy beats and spoken word segments, form a raw, gritty montage of the pressures on a young generation from the dehumanizing systems that surround them, and the weight of prejudice and limited life choices. Powerful music.
Neil: The enigmatic and mysterious music collective Sault release another vital album. Unsurprisingly as an ever-changing music collective there is a rich tapestry of sounds and approaches in ‘Nine’, the overall effect though feels totally unified and coherent. The tracks including some spoken word elements are urban, dark, and edgy with real grit. In the mix there are elements of rap, grime Afro Beat and even some Tom Tom’s club’s style funk in there. The tracks are largely about growing up in modern London. A constantly fresh and surprising album stunning in its contemporary urgency.

Geist. / Lay, Shannon
Mark: Guitarist/songwriter Shannon Lay began her music career as part of the California garage punk scene, but her solo releases moved towards a folky-psychedelic aesthetic. ‘Geist’ is her 2nd album on the Sub Pop label. She has a lovely pure voice, and while the songs may deal with inner turmoil and change, they do so in a series of relaxing, elegant meditations of quiet strength & resolve.
Neil: Shannon Lay’s Geist is deliberately wistful, transcendent, and spiritual album. Shannon uses multi tracked choral vocal and a constantly moving, flowing, and evolving acoustic guitar as its core. The effect is distinctive and expressive, quiet, and lovely. An evocative pastoral psychedelic folk work reminiscent of artists like Vashti Bunyan. I particularly enjoyed her cover of Syd Barrett’s ‘Late night’.

Segundo. / Molina, Juana
Mark: A remastered reissue of the Argentinian singers 2nd album from 1993 for it’s 21st anniversary. Quirky Spanish vocals weave over the mix of electronic and acoustic elements. Apparently she had imagined the sound of this type of new (in 2003) musical style before acquiring the synths & loops to bring it to life, and the resulting album became a cornerstone of the folktronica movement. Hazy and folkish traditional sounds merge pleasantly with bossa-nova rhythms, and robotic blips and bleeps. Deeper and more intricate than say the work of Beth Orton at the time, this is one of those albums that throws up new things with each listen.
Neil: The unique Juana Molina’s second album ‘Segundo’ was named the Best World music album in 2003. This welcome anniversary rerelease very amply demonstrates why. ‘Segundo’ see’s the Argentine artist explore and refine her approach to music, especially her use of acoustic and electronic textures. A master of the intimate and delicate moment, and of teasing out subtle joyous emotions from the music. Since its release it has become one of the defining must-listen-to albums of its kind.

Modern love.
Mark: Tribute albums like these are always understandable tricky for the artists involved. Do you play it safe with a note-for-note version, or do you try something different, shift the song into another genre or make a fast track slow and vice-versa, knowing that any changes risk altering the emotional impact of the original song. So as you may expect, a bit of a mixed bag here. I quite liked the Hics version of ‘The Man Who sold the world’ & Jonah Mutono’s take on ‘Modern Love’.
Neil: There has been a few Bowie cover albums released since David Bowie’s death and ‘Modern Love’ is one of the most smooth and polished of them. The album features cover tracks from across his entire career. However, it is Bowie’s mid 70’s plastic soul era that fares most favourably. With tracks like Khruangbin’s cover of the Young American’s track Right and Léa Sen Golden Years being standouts. That said there’s lots of other interesting covers in there too. It is noticeable though that for a covers album of an artist famed for his experimental approach to music, these tacks often sound very safe and lacking in any real experimental intention.

What we call life. / Rakei, Jordan
Mark: 4th album form the NZ Born, Australian raised, Grammy nomination, London-based Soul artist (who also records under the alias Dan Kye). More heartfelt introspective beat driven soul. A rich texture of sounds form complex tracks that his soaring falsetto weaves in and out of, with personal songs based on his recent experiences through therapy, and outward looking tracks focusing on Social injustice.
Neil: London-based New Zealand born Jordan Rakei displays a new level of musical and lyrical sophistication on this, his most intimate and emotionally vulnerable album to date. Many of the lyrics found their origin in what he discovered about himself in therapy. That said, the album isn’t downbeat Jordan takes the source emotional material and transforms it into contemplative, but often uplifting music, using equal parts soul, Jazz and R & B, underpinned by upbeat grooves. This emotional ebb and flow high and low balances the album. A song cycle album, from an ever evolving and expanding musician.

Boat. / Pip Blom
Mark: 2019 album from Dutch indie rockers with a love for 90s alt-rock & Britpop stylings [they also have a new 2021 album which is on order]. Dynamic rhythm shifts meet off beat melodies, and jangly guitars. A catchy and fun listen.
Neil: Dutch quartet Pip Blom’s debut album is a fuzz box driven, perky, upbeat, pop punk, post grunge melange. The album is a stream of catchy bouncy songs about ironically, isolation, distraction, and their daily struggle against apathy. It is unconcerned about making big complicated musical statements, instead focussing on a straight-ahead approach to make the album an enjoyable, bop along listen.

Vengeance. / Twelve Foot Ninja
Mark: Australian band that melds alternative-metal with prog and experimental rock elements. Their 3rd album ‘Vengeance’ made Allmusic’s list of the top 50 Metal albums of 2021, and it’s easy to see why. A wild mix of styles slam together everything from smooth lounge pop, to 80’s funk, horror soundtrack aesthetics and video game music, and that’s just the tip of this crazy musical iceberg. Accompanied by (if you can believe it) by a video game, a graphic novel, and a thousand-page fantasy novel, that flesh out the mythology of the album. At this point I think I can confidently say that this is the strangest album we’ve reviewed this year. I’m not much of a metal fan, but this was really enjoyable.
Neil: The church of metal is a very wide congregation with room for many voices and approaches. And Australian band Twelve Foot Ninja are an excellent case in point, known for their experimental approach. ‘Vengeance’ their latest work is their most genre mashing outing yet. The core of the album is still firmly trash metal, but amongst the other musical genres in this fusion work are cyberpunk, trip hop, industrial metal there’s even traces of bossa nova and hard disco funk!

Box Set Pick
The sun shines here : the roots of indie-pop 1980-1984.
Mark: A follow up to Cherry Red’s 2013 Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie Pop, ‘The sun shines here’ digs further into different musical scenes to pull out tracks by bands who went on to be well known, as well as those who disappeared into obscurity. There’s not much quality difference between the two, a testament to the sheer amount of talented artists finding consistently melodic new directions in music during this period.
Neil: The clue to the contents of this album come in the subtitle the roots of indie pop. The years 1980-1984 form the crucial point time when indie music in the UK emerged from the long shadow and scorched musical earth of punk and post punk, and became its own unique identifiable movement. It is also notable for the fact that the regional musical scenes in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow also become serious players, rather than all the focus being on London. The Box set is a fabulously curated, comprehensive, and well researched piece of sonic archaeology, featuring a wide selection of artists. By its very nature it is very diverse, and forms an essential listen for anyone interested in the evolution in pop music in the UK at the time, and by default beyond. The effects of this movement are still very clearly to be heard in many of the bands around today.

New CDs for Te Awe

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 and put our highlights here with some quick reviews of new titles — our limit is a few lines only.
Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Are we just too old to understand what most of this music is banging on about. Read on to find out…

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’.

Buda / Buda, Luke
Mark: Luke Buda returns with his first solo album since 2008’s Vesuvius. Organs and synths fade in and out in a set of woozy pop that focuses on the travails of aging bodies, domesticity and happiness amid global chaos. Three tracks features lyrics by author and poet Damian Wilkins & other collaborators include Don McGlashan, Joe Lindsey and Toby Laing from Fat Freddy’s Drop, Riki Gooch, and Anita Clarke from Motte, who sings on every track. A great fun, catchy, self deprecating album, whose reflective moments pull the threads of everyday life with revealing lines that stick with you. Well deserving of all the good reviews its been getting.
Neil: One of the core creative forces behind the mighty The Phoenix Foundation releases (with a lot of help from his friends) his third solo effort, this time simply called Buda. It is an impressive work, interspersed with a lot of the hallmark touches he brings to his other work in The Phoenix foundation. Wryly funny, poetic, serious when it needs to be, and it shows us why he is one of our finest musicians.

Come play the trees. / Snapped Ankles (Musical group)
Mark: Mysterious and unknown London-based post-punk band who wear ghillie suits when performing. DIY electronica meets Krautrock/Art-rock, with vintage synths underpinning the cacophony. I’m not sure what it was all about though…
Neil: Snapped Ankles 2017 debut release ‘Come Play the Trees’ sees a different side of the band from their live performances. Their well reported incendiary live performances are replaced with an experimental electronic Shamanistic vibe ,with propulsive post punk stylings that have nods to Afro-futurism. It’s a heady mix with deliberately obscure and mysterious. Lyrics rubbing shoulder by shoulder with socio political statements. All very strange and intriguing. Imagine a pagan shaman musician in an ancient forest, creating music from synthesisers he has created from the surrounding trees.

Lindsey Buckingham. / Buckingham, Lindsey
Mark: The ex-Fleetwood Mac-er returns with a delayed album – originally cut in 2018. Perhaps his most ‘pop’ outing and most FM sounding solo album yet. Mirage-era stylings, double tracked vocals, and catchy choruses surround a set of songs that focus on band & domestic disharmonies. Few artists of his generation can claim to be still making music this strong.
Neil: The first solo album in ten years for the ex-Fleetwood Mac stalwart. And he is not happy. His troubled private life has been well documented (often in music). And emergency life saving Heart surgery in 2019, not to mention Covid, have only sharpened his unease and the associated disquiet. It is all couched, as you would expect, in a very polished outing; very melodic in Buckingham’s unique fashion, with occasionally oblique & sometimes razor-sharp lyrics. An album that I suspect will be well received by fans and indeed well beyond.

Year of the spider / Shannon and the Clams (Musical group)
Mark: Melding old 50s Rock N Roll, 60s Girl group & 70s punk vibes, Oakland California’s Shannon & the Clams are one of those under the radar bands that have broken through with their latest album ‘Year of the spider’, a more polished effort produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. More lyrically personal songs, along with crafted backing, elevate their retro-stylings into something original, rather than just an exercise in nostalgia or homage.
Neil: Fuzz box welding Oakland retro rock band Shannon and the Clams really mix it up in this rip-roaring mash up of genres and styles. There are elements of 60’s doo wop, psychedelic moments gritty garage rock and a few other genres thrown in. Nearly all originating in the 60’s or early 70’s. The lyrical content is rooted in the band’s personal troubles, and there definitely individual darkness in there. And it is that dark and personal lyrical content that makes the band sound like themselves, rather than a lot of influences, and that really glues the whole album into a cohesive work.

The ballad of Dood & Juanita / Simpson, Sturgill
Mark: Bluegrass country ‘concept’ album about Civil War Military Veteran (Dood) and his trusty steed Shamrock (a donkey), who pursue an outlaw that has abducted his wife (Juanita) to seek vengeance. Another left turn for Sturgill Simpson, supposedly inspired by his Grandfather & Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. A cinematic Mini-Epic that plays out like an old Black & White Western, as a good man is forced to take up guns for a righteous cause one more time.
Neil: The title of this album, and artwork, very accurately lets you know what you are going to be listening too once you put this album on. A modern Bluegrass concept album, based on tales of Kentucky legends from America’s past. Brought to life by some of the Bluegrass scene’s finest modern exponents. Cowboy tales of feuds and gunfights, horses, and hound dogs. It is all very well-done; a modern recreation of frontier myth-making music, and lots of fun besides.

Iris / Fountain, Reb
Mark: Have to admit I haven’t listened to any of her previous albums, so can’t say if this album is indicative of her overall catalogue. To me, ‘Iris’ sounds musically a lot like Taylor Swift’s folky storytelling from Evermore, or a more moody Suzanne Vega. If Noir-ish folk is your thing, you’ll like this.
Neil: ‘Iris’ is one of those albums written and curated during lockdown. We are very fortunate to have it, as in other versions of reality Reb would have been touring the World gaining legions of fans, instead of finding herself stuck in a pandemic lockdown. ‘Iris’ is a piano driven, often dark and unsettling work, moody, romantic, dreamlike, and poetic. From the opening track ‘Psyche’, the listener is drawn into her sonic world, and Reb (one of the key players in New Zealand’s alt-folk scene) has created a complete and highly accomplished work. Highly recommended.

Old gods. / Shihad
Mark: Strong political & social commentary wrapped up in hard rocking riffs. Jon Toogood’s vocals always sounds ageless. Stradling countries and cultures has given Toogood a deeper perspective, that infuses the bands patented hard rock with added depth.
Neil: A new release from one of New Zealand’s most beloved bands. It’s an album fuelled by righteous angry frustration, and the music shows it. A riff heavy assault of huge guitars in full sonic assault mode, coupled with deep, deep, bass and carefully placed vocals that miraculously don’t get lost in the mix. This album will surely serve as the basis for a massive ear-splitting, adrenalin pumping,?; live tour sometime in the future.

Local valley. / González, José
Mark: The Swedish singer/songwriter returns after a 6 year break. Mellow pastoral folky pop that looks forward with optimism and hope, while relaxing you in the present.
Neil: The ultra-cool, mega mellow smooth as silk voiced Jose González releases his fourth studio album. There’s no radical reinvention or wild sonic exploration going on here, and why should there be? His distinctive intimate fingerpicking, spare arrangements, and honeyed voice serves his muse very well. Music that sounds like a sweet dream, like murmurs of someone trying to lull you to sleep in the nicest possible way.

If I can’t have love, I want power. / Halsey
Mark: New York singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Ashley Frangipane (AKA Halsey) returns with 4th album teaming with Nine Inch Nails duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Big names like Lindsey Buckingham guest on “Darling”, and Dave Grohl on “Honey”. This got a lot of critical attention & good reviews, but it all seems a bit over the top and dated somehow. Auto-tuned pop-punk with gothic sensibilities. A pop singer trying to make an ‘edgy’ album, rather than someone with genuine musical edge.
Neil: Pop sensibilities meet deliberately constructed Gothic, fairy-tale, music in Halsey’s fourth album, produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The result is in places cool, clear light on water, pop production; and in others brooding, lurking, spectral, tightly controlled, under the surface intensity. The lyrics explore Halseys rise to stardom, various aspects of her recent motherhood, and destructive and chaotic aspects of life. My reservation is that it does all sound a bit contrived and over wrought, but that could just be the theatrical nature of the album. Why not give it a listen, and make up your own mind as to which side of the fence you think it falls on.

Dunedin spleen. / Verlaines
Mark: Another solid album from the Dunedin outfit. Classic jangly guitar rock combines with more arty angular tracks, that dig deep into plenty of issues current to life in NZ. Final track ‘Way To Old To Grow Up Now’ provides a musical metaphor for a band who keep finding new things to say musically & lyrically, while never resting on their laurels.
Neil: The legendary Dunedin band The Verlaine’s have just released their 10th album. And Graeme Downes, the bands long time songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist, has built up a lot to say since their last release, this album weighing in with a hefty 19 tracks. Their distinctive trademark sound fuses elements of indie rock, Punk, and Alt Art rock into their own unique Verlaine sound. The result is as sharp and clear eyed as any of their previously works proving, as if there was any doubt, that they are still far from a nostalgia act from the past.

Sometimes I might be introvert. / Little Simz
Mark: UK rapper’s follow up to her Mercury Prize-nominated third album is a masterclass in modern Rap-Soul. Deep songs with great flow address being a black woman in the UK, the cost of success against your privacy, and issues surrounding her personal life. Plenty of interesting collaborations, with ‘Woman’ featuring Cleo Sol (Sault), ‘Two Worlds Apart’ featuring a great Smokey Robinson interpolation, and Nigerian singer Obongjayar guesting on the Afrobeat-inspired ‘Point and Kill’.
Neil: The fourth album from the British rapper Little Simz, is a dynamic balancing act between the public and the private. In places it is heavily orchestrated, featuring lush and luxurious strings, horn sections, choral flourishes, and a whole plethora of musicians; in other parts, it is a much more stripped back and intimate affair. This is rap music on the grandest of scales, yet it retains the personal aspect thanks to the confessional nature of tracks such as ‘I love you, I hate you’.

Tangaroa. / Alien Weaponry
Mark: Alien Weaponry return with their 2nd album. If you haven’t heard their debut album, imagine the Haka set to metal riffs, and that kind of sets the tone for their sophomore effort. ‘Tangaroa’ explores their Maori heritage, via native Maori stories reflecting contemporary issues, all set to a soundtrack of pummelling Metal drums and swaths of furious guitars.
Neil: The mighty Kiwi metal maniacs Alien Weaponry build on the form, shape and success of their intense debut LP outing ‘Tū’. ‘Tangaroa’, their sophomore album, is a relentless and hard-hitting call to arms and action, on a range of issues, from climate change to illegal fishing and some of the more troubled moments in Aotearoa / New Zealand’s history. Fans of their previous work will not be disappointed.

Habibi Funk : an eclectic selection of music from the Arab world. Part 2.
Mark: A follow up to the original 2017 compilation from the crate-digging Habibi label. A selection of funky, sinuous tracks that resonate with an otherworldly sense of time and soul. The bands and singers embrace, distort and offer up their own take on a surprising array of western music influences, from Reggae, Stax type soul, to 70s funk & Disco. Never a dull moment across the whole CD.
Neil: Seemingly compiled by raking through vinyl crates in record stores in the Arab world, this eclectic mixture of music features tracks from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The tracks sound like music that has originated in a slightly altered parallel universe, close to our own but not quite the same. Imagine music to accompany an Arab world James Bond movie; or a Sudanese disco track that sounds vaguely like Madonna; or long-lost Arab World version of Ennio Morricone soundtracks. It all makes for a rather wonderful mixed bag of Sounds. Like a distorted mirror held up to various musical genres: at one level vaguely familiar, at another strangely Different.

Bills & Aches & Blues.
Mark: Compilation celebrating 40 years of the 4AD label, where contemporary artists put a new spin on older & newer 4AD classics. A bit hit & miss, like all compilations of this type. Perhaps functions better as a primer for a younger generation to seek out and explore the labels back catalogue.
Neil: A charity compilation album built around and celebrating 40 years of the venerable London based arty 4AD label that defined much of the best alternative music of the 80’s and 90’s. The rich diversity of the artists on the legendary label’s rota are well represented in this compilation, named after a Cocteau Twins track. And the range of tracks chosen, and the artists who cover them, is eclectic to say the least. And that basically is both the strength and weakness of this mixed bag of covers. Something for everyone, but not necessarily everything for everyone.

Back to the light. / May, Brian
Mark: Brian May Rocks You! with this Deluxe reissue of his first solo outing from 1992. He goes for a bit more of a hard rock sound than Queen at that point in time, but also tries to throw in a bit of everything else, from ballads to Country – no doubt to make a claim to his musical versatility. However this tends to pull the album down at certain points, with some weak lyrics and lightweight production on some tracks. As a singer he’s no Freddie, but he handles all the albums musical styles well enough. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a Queen fan.
Neil: A newly polished re-release of guitar god, and all-round good bloke, Brian Mays’s 1992 solo album. Perhaps not unexpectedly the result is a huge bombastic beast of an album with, surprise surprise, monstrous Queen like guitar riffs at every cut and turn. It’s a good hard rock album, but that said you can’t help having the suspicion that the whole endeavour would have had the makings of a classic rock album had the creative energies and inputs of his fellow Queen band mates been involved.

Good good feeling! : more Motown girls.
Mark: Part of the ongoing Motown Guys/Motown Girls reissue series from UK label Ace Records. These reissues round up some previously unreleased material from the vaults, along with tracks that were only available digitally as part of the ‘Motown Unreleased’ 1963-69 Copyright Extension Collections. Motown would just cut the same song on multiple artists until they felt they had a ‘hit, so there is an argument that this is just a lot of Motown filler that was never released for a reason. However, the average Motown track is still better than most of what passes for neo-soul today. Plenty of catchy & soulful grooves from familiar & lesser known Motown artists.
Neil: During its golden era from approx. 1965 to 1969 the Motown label could do no wrong, creating music that was to come to represent and become the soundtrack for a point, place, and time in American history. And this compilation from the likes of Glady’s Knight & the pips and Martha and the Vandellas, and a whole host of lesser-known female artists on the label, amply shows why, with well-known tracks alonside a few unreleased gems.

K bay. / White, Matthew E.
Mark: Third solo album for Matthew E. White and his blend of retro 60s/70s styles (reggae, vintage pop & R&B). More genres collide on his latest offering, not just within the album itself but also within tracks. A bit like someone crate-digging through their record collection, playing you something different with each track, or swapping genres halfway through a song, like the great track ‘Take Your Time (And Find That Orange to Squeeze)’, There’s a lot of musical textures at play, but it’s a testament to White’s talent that he makes it all work together in a seemingly effortless sprawl.
Neil:: Mathew E White steeps himself in the audio sensibilities of popular American music of the 1960’s and 70’s, without ever slavishly following it. Reputedly his Space Bomb studio is awash with vintage analogue equipment, and you can tell the warm analogue sound of this gear as it seeps into every pore of this release, which is also clearly infused with Mathew Whites own unique personality.

Refuge / Banhart, Devendra
Mark: Mellow instrumental album from the folky Devendra Banhart & producer/engineer Noah Georgeson. Inspired by their parents involvement in New Age culture when they were children, both artists had an interest in meditative ambient music, which they finally realized with this project during some time spent in quarantine. Soothing synthy reverbs, plucked harps and washes of strings. Atmospheric & quietly moving.
Neil: There is a but discernible thin line between the ambient artistically focussed works of people like Brian Eno or Jon Hassell, and the more meditative, mindful of the moment, relaxation music often described as New age music. And Refuge sits in the more meditative camp; long sustained chamber drones, with very slowly and sparsely placed ambient piano interwoven and intertwined amongst it. That’s not to deride this work; it is perfect background music to relax and unwind to, and I suspect that was the intent of the musicians who created it.

Directions in music, 1969 to 1973.
Mark: Every direction Jazz took after Miles Davis’ 2nd Quintet broke up in 1968 was the wrong one…
Neil: In the very late 60’s and early 70’s the ever-evolving musical medium of Jazz was at a crossroads. It had already moved through a plethora of forms since its creation: Swing and Dixieland to Trad and mainstream, on through Bebop and cool Jazz, and was now looking for a new direction a new place to expand into. Directions in music, 1969 to 1973 is a delicious snapshot of this creative cauldron of sound. And features all the key players such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and of course Miles Davis. It doesn’t quite reach out into the intense experimentation of the outer reaches of Jazz at the time, such as Bitches Brew, but is a slightly more gentle introduction to what was in the air at that time. And it could be said that in many senses after this creative explosion Jazz never found its way forward again, instead working around the filaments of creative energy from this moment and its past.

Box Set Pick:
Feel flows : the Sunflower & Surf’s up sessions 1969-1971 / Beach Boys
Mark: I always thought ‘Sunflower’ was a solid album, with ‘Surf’s Up’ less so. This massive 5-disc Boxset excavates the Beach Boys vaults for dozens of previously unreleased outtakes, alternate mixes, and a bunch of related tracks recorded at the same time. With Brian Wilson taking a less active role in the writing, other members of the group stepped up, resulting in a sometimes awkward melding of both forward and backward looking tracks & styles. There’s a lot of good music here that sits outside of the proper albums, but to hear it you do have to wade through quite a lot of less than good music. Perhaps one of those sets where it’s best to create your own preferred version of from the wealth of tracks on hand.
Neil: After the (well documented) fallout surrounding the events of the legendary Smile album, it is safe to say The Beach Boys were never the same again. Indeed, there are fragments from the Smile project dotted amongst these two albums. Their creative leader Brian literally went to bed and only occasionally put in appearances. That meant that the other Beach Boys had to step up to the creative plate. And this box set shows very well what that meant. There are some superb tracks (indeed some of the songs in this box set are amongst the Beach Boys best). Which is saying a lot, as they created some of the finest songs and albums of all time. However, there are also some much weaker works. The poorest pieces are sugar saccharine, middle of the road, songs that sounded dated and corny even when they were originally released. But the good stuff Wow! So, all in all a mixed bag, but if you are happy to sift through it all there are some total gems in amongst the corn.

New CDs for Te Awe

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 and put our highlights here with some quick reviews of some new titles — our limit is a few lines only to distil down why you might want to listen. Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Are we just too old to understand what most of this music is on about (see self-image below)? Read on to find out…

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’.

Doomin’ sun. / Bachelor (Musical group)
Mark: More 90’s inspired pop/rock from collaborative project Bachelor (Ellen Kempner of Palehound, and Melina Duterte AKA Jay Som). There’s nothing original happening musically but it’s sincere and well crafted, with catchy tunes and fuzzy guitars. Enjoyable.
Neil: Bachelor, named ironically after the American reality show Bachelor nation, is indie rock at its most personal and confessional. The lyrics are a vulnerable concoction of tension and joy, love and insecurity intermingled in tales of real-life queer experience. The albums sound is mostly lo-fi minimalism, with occasional bursts of guitar coming through. It reminded me in parts of early Throwing Muses releases such as the Fat Skier.

Downhill from everywhere. / Browne, Jackson
Mark: Alongside Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, Browne is one of the quintessential singer/songwriters of the ’70s, with his folky, mature take on the lives of the Baby Boomer generation. ‘Downhill from everywhere’, his first album since 2014’s Standing in the Breach, offers up more of the same sensitive, introspective, folk-rock with charismatic easy listening tracks, that tackle the nexus of personal & social struggles that the world still offers up no matter how old you are.
Neil: Jackson Browne is one of those singer signwriting legends; a hugely accomplished and acclaimed artist. This is his first release in six years, and he has dropped hints that it may be his last release, indeed one of the tracks on the album is about his life after and beyond his music career. ‘Downhill from everywhere’ finds him in exceptional vintage form. The lyrics deal in a wide and rich detailed array of subject personal and beyond. They are warm, lyrical, and articulate. His voice is undiminished by range and, unsurprisingly, the musicians backing him are of the finest calibre. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the release date on this album, you could easily mistake this for one of his albums from his golden period of the 70’s and early 80’s. It this is to be his swansong, then it is a very fitting one.

Hotel Surrender. / Faker, Chet
Mark: Australian singer/songwriter Nick Murphy resurrects his Chet Faker moniker for another album of electronica, that segues between smooth grooves and relaxed vibes. Laid back cool that drifts along with no particular destination other than chilling you out.
Neil: Chet Faker is an invented musical space in singer Nicholas Murphy’s aka Chet Fakers head. It might sound a bit pretentious, but the music has a laid back 70’s feel to it. The songs live in the moment and ask the listener to appreciate the moment for what it is. There’s a mellow breezy, sunny warmth to the end results. As if you were floating in Chet’s private pool on a warm summer’s day staring up at a perfect blue sky.

Leave love out of this. / Tonnon, Anthonie
Mark: The Whanganui musician (and also new operator of the famous Durie Hill Elevator) is back with his third album of chamber pop meets synthesized sound. Guitars sit next to synth washes and drum machines, and styles shift from ambient house to intimate ballads and swirling vocals. An ambitious piece of work that aims for epic in scale and often succeeds.
Neil: Aotearoan musician Anthonie Tonnon has been perfecting his musical art over many years. ‘And Leave love out of this’ feels like a culmination and synthesis of all this labour. Crystalline slabs of 80’s synth punctuate stylishly crafted balladeer songs, full of empathy and melodic subtly.

Mammoth WVH. / Mammoth WVH
Mark: WVH is Wolfgang William Van Halen, son of guitarist Eddie Van Halen, and the bassist for Van Halen from 2006 to 2020. His debut album ‘Mammoth’, on which he played every instrument, is very much a classic stadium rock album in the vein of classic Foo Fighters or Stone Temple Pilots. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as this album of big fun riff driven songs proves. On the basis of this album Guns N’ Roses picked him as the support act for their recent US Tour.
Neil: Being the son of rock legend Eddie Van Halen and playing bass for your fathers’ band Van Halen for the past 14 years perhaps leads to expectations about what your first solo outing might sound like. However, Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth, in which he incidentally performs all instruments and vocals, is not the cookie cutter album you might have expected. Sure, its mainstream stadium hard rock at its core but there are also elements of grunge, metal, and alternative rock in there too.

Man made. / Greentea Peng
Mark: Greentea Peng is the moniker of Aria Wells, a ‘psychedelic’ R’n’B singer and songwriter from London. On the strength of her 2018 EP she made The Observer newspaper’s 20 for 2020 list of rising stars in music, media and culture. Debut album ‘Man Made’ is Hip-Hop meets dub reggae, with a political stance focusing on the voices of youth, with themes of unity & spirituality. Hazy beats surround positive matra’s and messages.
Neil: Hazy rap with slight nods to the likes of De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest with distinctive elements of cool Jazz, psychedelia and chilled Reggae thrown in. ‘Man Made’ is still very much Greentea Peng’s unique approach to music and life, with its idiosyncratic and distinctive sound. It makes for a very hip and happening summer soundtrack without being too intense.

Peace or love. / Kings of Convenience
Mark: The indie folk-pop duo from Norway return after 12 years with a new album. A distillation of their previous albums sounds, this is a lovely tranquil acoustic set with touches of bossa-nova. Reflective easy listening of the very best kind. Great to relax to at the end of the day.
Neil: Kings of convenience are regarded as part of the “new acoustic” movement, but the Norwegian duo’s elegant, melodic, carefully constructed songs lift them well above this clumsy and lazy description. Dreamy easy listening that is delicate, relaxed, and beautiful.

Prosthetic boombox. / Cola Boyy
Mark: Cola Boyy is Matthew Urango, who was born with spina bifida, kyphosis and scoliosis, as well as a club foot. His debut album, Prosthetic Boombox, was released by the French label Record Makers & features appearances from Nicolas Godin of Air and Andrew VanWyngarden. Deliriously giddy funky disco anthems reign supreme on this debut album, that’s all about fighting for who you are. The (deliberate I’m sure) cheesiness of some of the music only adds to the fun. Sort of like the soundtrack that your cab driver in ‘Grand Theft Auto: New York in the 70’s’ would be playing as you drive to Studio 54…
Neil: Cola Boyy’s debut album sounds like his own very personal and unique take on 80’s disco funk with a slightly psychedelic twist. A playful, upbeat sugar rush of sound that also embraces elements of house. So far so good but there’s much more to Prosthetic Boombox as the title, album cover and lyrics allude to. His powerful struggle with the discrimination and prejudice associated with his disabilities feature in the lyrics often in an upbeat and factual fashion.

Sharecropper’s son. / Finley, Robert
Mark: Robert Finley is an American blues and soul singer-songwriter who released his debut album at age 63. That led to meeting Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who produced and co-wrote his 2nd album. This follow-up, also produced by Auerbach, is a series of autobiographical tracks based on his upbringing on a crop share in Louisiana. More southern soul than blues, Finley has a fantastically authentic voice, and the tales he tells are of real struggles and hard won successes, the triumph of spirit over circumstances.
Neil: Robert Finley possesses one of those unforgettable husky soul blues voices, that sounds straight out of the classic recordings in that genre from the 50’s or 60’s. But Robert Finlay is not an artist recreating the sound of the past; he is the real deal. He only came to a career in music in his sixties, after a lifetime of experience that included attending a segregated school, having to spend his childhood picking cotton, house fires, car crashes and going blind. He said that going blind lead him to pursue his singing late in life. His previous two albums shot him to almost immediate acclaim. You can hear this lifetime of experience seeping through every aspect of this autobiographical work. The production by Dan Auerbach from The black Keys perfectly complements. A powerful and pitch-perfect, timeless, and instant classic soul blues album.

Thirstier. / Torres
Mark: Fifth full-length album from Mackenzie Scott (Aka Torres) is a slick slice of hooky pop-grunge. She was aiming for a big sound and a larger than life scope, different from the more restrained aesthetic of her previous albums. ‘Thirstier’ delivers that in spades, with a set of uplifting indie rock throwbacks.
Neil: ‘Thirstier’ by Torres is a big sounding, riff heavy, hook laden, euphoric sounding indie rock album, with heavy guitars thrown in. It’s an exuberant upbeat outing, with a grunge rock set free rolling vibe about it. A great happy alternative sing along album for uncertain times.

I be trying. / Burnside, Cedric
Mark: Old school Mississippi country blues, with some modern touches, from the grandson of R.L. Burnside. Perseverance through life’s struggle and your own mistakes, and the power of love are the focus of this update of a storied musical style.
Neil: Cedric Burnside is on a revival and resurrection mission. His album breathes new life and makes fresh the Mississippi blues tradition of giants like John Lee Hooker. The album manages to be reverential to that tradition, whilst not sounding like a museum piece. Indeed the music sounds fresh and vibrant. The lyrics are often of self-discovery, admissions of an imperfect past and the hard lessons learned. A valuable revitalisation of a rich musical tradition that has deep roots into America’s social history.

Gas lit / Divide and Dissolve
Mark: Female Melbourne-based two-piece with Cherokee & Māori ancestry, whose 3rd album is produced Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson. Eight tracks of sludgy doom shift between quiet beauty and cacophonic noise. Dread and unease abound on these heavy tracks, that the band say are an instrumental critique of colonialism and oppression.
Neil: ‘Divide and dissolve’ has a strong dynamic going on, moving as it does from ethereal and haunting melodic moments to intense loud and full-on heavy drone doom metal. It’s quite an achievement mixing political sludge metal with avant-garde classical structured jazz. A ride full of passion and intensity both challenging and rewarding.

Jump for joy. / Louris, Gary
Mark: The 2nd solo album from the ex-Jayhawk arrives 13 years afters 2008’s Vagabonds. Louris plays every instrument on this set of songs, that range through melodic pop tracks, to darker more personal ruminations. Similar in tone to the albums made as Golden Smog, the loose collective featuring Louris and members of Soul Asylum, Wilco, the Replacements, and Big Star. Breezy jangle pop meets Americana reflections. While the Jayhawks continue on as one of the iconic Americana groups, it’s nice to hear him stepping out on his own again.
Neil: Gary Louris from The Jayhawks is very much following the radio friendly singer songwriter path in this album. ‘Jump for Joy’ is his second solo album, and it is a thoughtful and well-crafted outing. The tracks remind me of George Harrison penned Beatles tracks, or songs that would sit well on the first Travelling Wilburys album.

Oil of every pearl’s un-insides. / Sophie [VINYL ONLY]
Mark: There’s no denying the production talent and vision at play here, as Sophie creates her multi-layered tracks without using any samples. Her body of work, though small, erased genre, geographic and emotional boundaries to create a maximalist pop that’s an ongoing influence on young hyperpop Tik-Tokers and Electronic music in general. Her ‘radical futurism’ blended the experimental & the mainstream, and was the direct anthesis of the cultivated nostalgia of so much ‘modern’ music and bands. However if you are unfamiliar with her work, how much you like this album will probably depend on how much helium voices and vocal processing you can stand at one time.
Neil: The death of Sophie Xeon in January this year was a tragedy in so many ways. The personal tragedy of losing someone so young is incalculable, and the loss to music of such a unique hugely gifted pioneering artist is equally immense. We will never know or hear those albums she would have gone on to create. What we do have is Sophie’s only album ‘Oil on every pearl’s un-insides’. This is one of a very few genuine 21st century masterpieces. One of the few albums in recent decades that point to a new musical future, direction, form, and language.

Urban driftwood. / Williams, Yasmin
Mark: Lovely mellow instrumental guitar album. Made a Guardian list of the Best Albums of 2021 so far. Immersive and relaxing.
Neil: Very smooth and immersive instrumental guitar album. Described by Yasmin herself as an abstract diary of 2020. At the albums heart is Yasmin’s virtuosic, serene, and eminently relaxing guitar playing – which is both intimate and immediate. A very soothing listen.

 

Revelation. / Carn, Doug
Mark: Doug Carn was a Jazz multi-instrumentalist whose 4 albums on the short lived but influential Black Jazz label pioneered the ‘Spiritual’ Jazz sound, with its Afro-centric musical aesthetic. ‘Revelation’ was the final collaboration between Carn and his wife Jean on the label. Organ, keys & horns form the basis of modal post bop tunes, including a lovely reading of John Coltrane’s “Naima”, all surrounded and interwoven with Carn’s beautifully soulful five-octave voice. Hugely influential. Carn would later add an extra ‘e’ to her surname and go on to much success as a solo R&B artist on Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label & beyond.
Neil: Rerelease of the 1973 album out originally on the short lived, but hugely influential, Black Jazz label from Doug and Jean Carn. Doug’s name may have been on the cover, but this is very much a joint effort with his then wife Jean. It is quintessentially a very 70’s Jazz album with elements of spiritual and soul jazz. In many ways the album is a fascinating and perfect time capsule of a piece from that time period. Right from the arrangements, to the selection of instruments used, not to mention the subjects explored. That said, it is rather wonderful in its own unique way, and due to the current music worlds obsession with the music and sound of that time, it is bound to win lots of new fans

Memory lake. / Rivers, Colette
Mark: Classy singer/songwriter-country album similar to the work of Kim Richey or Gretchen Peters. Alt-rock elements take some tracks in a different direction and vary things up. An impressive debut from this Wgtn based artist.
Neil: American born New Zealander Colette River’s debut album has many faces, facets and sides, with Colette using a diverse and multi layered sound palette in a tailored fashion to accompany individual tracks. The whole album is underpinned by an American Indie Folk core. Her willingness to use different instrumentation and sounds gives each track its own individual feel. A very accomplished debut outing.

Run deep. / Mahal, Deva
Mark: Born in Hawaii but raised in NZ, Deva Mahal was part of the Wgtn scene in the 2000’s guesting on albums from Sola Rosa & Rhombus, and cutting a live EP. After living in the US for a while, where she released this 2018 album, she returned to NZ in 2020. Her rich voice is framed within a classicist neo-soul outing that travels a musical path of uplifting R&B, piano ballads, 70s funk & 80s pop elements, based around themes of love, heartbreak & empowerment. ‘Wicked’ & ‘Optimist’ liven things up a bit, and ‘It’s down to you’ has a lovely old-school vibe. But as a whole, the album is perhaps limited by the over familiarity of the ‘Neo-Soul’ template at this point.
Neil: Classical Soul music, enriched and revitalised, in a contemporary and modern setting by Deva Mahal in this heartfelt debut album. Echoes of greats like Aretha Franklin’s work lingers on in this strong and substantial R&B offering that feels both relevant and new, whilst also having deep connections to the rich tradition of this musical form. Deva has placed her own unique interpretation of this musical genre into every aspect of this album, much in the same way as Amy Winehouse managed to do so, integrating both her own vision and at the same time paying her dues to this rich musical heritage.

Obviously. / Lake Street Dive
Mark: 7th album from this Boston indie Music-school band who play bubbly slick pop-soul. The band is built around singer Rachael Price’s voice, which has a distinctly classic tone. I really enjoyed this. All the songs are super catchy and, while this album emulates the same genres as a lot of other albums on this list, the songs are just so much better. The arrangements all have a live uncluttered feel, you can hear each instrument in the mix, and how they work cleverly around Price’s voice. Definitely a winner.
Neil: Obviously, there’s something about the early 70’s music scene that attracts a lot of modern bands to that particular period and music. And there’s more sweet 70’s influenced musical vibes going on here, with Lake Street Dive’s seventh studio album ‘Obviously’. This time it’s the funky, soulful pop of the time that the band are taking their musical queues from. ‘Obviously’ is a good time, slightly chilled, summer concert party of an album. A retro sounding, beautifully produced and well executed album, played by highly talented musicians at the peak of their powers.

Box Set Pick:
Aretha. / Franklin, Aretha
Mark: The first career spanning Box Set for the Queen of Soul. Covers most of her well known tracks, though some are in alternate or demo form, as well as some interesting rarities from TV show appearances and the like. What more can you really say about one of the greatest voices of the 20th Century that hasn’t already been said. It’s Aretha…
Neil: Reviewing this career spanning four-disc box set is just an excuse for me to wax lyrical about how amazingly, phenomenally, wonderful Aretha Franklin was and is. The box set is packed with all the well-known tracks (though usually in alternative versions) and career highlights, as well as lost gems from the vaults. Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest singers of all time with a voice that melts, hearts, souls and reaches out and across time. It goes without saying that the music contained in this box set is unmissable and peerless, and the compilers have taken a lot of care to feature alternative takes mixes and rarities.

New Music for your Lockdown listening!

I’m Mark, the Customer Specialist for Music & Film at Wellington City Libraries. Luckily for you (or perhaps not) thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the musical bromance my colleague Neil & I share can continue unabated during lockdown. We sifted through some of the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library to do some reviews for you, so you can now check out some new music during lockdown with the confidence that it won’t all be total rubbish and a complete waste of time…
[Note: With the exception of Disc 2 of the Jimmy London album, all of these titles are on Spotify. However, if you enjoy some of them please take the time to reserve them online, and show our collection some love when the Library reopens.]

via GIPHY

For free. / Crosby, David
Mark: Another strong entry in Crosby’s late career resurgence, with a mellow AOR sheen. Guests Michael MacDonald & Donald Fagan lend further gloss to this smooth album of relaxed harmonies, and 70s vibes. A solid set of songs reflect on growing old, regret, loss and perseverance.
Neil: For an artist totally written off as a drug casualty in the 80’s, David Crosby has in the last twenty years or so staged a truly miraculous revival releasing a series of solo works that rank amongst some of his best work. And considering his output in the late 60s and 70s that is saying a lot. And ‘For Free’ stands as one of these renaissance classics it is a poignant meditation on his own mortality, AND a beautifully constructed and sung album. Songs about life, love, the past and the present, and death. The inner and outer worlds of life as he has experienced them and as he sees them now.

Bridge over troubled waters. / London, Jimmy
Mark: Cheery Red resurrects overlooked Jamaican Reggae crooner Jimmy London with his rare 1972 album reissued with 4 bonus tracks, along with a 2nd compilation disc of tracks from Trojan’s Randy’s subsidiary label. His sweet pure voice lends a wistful romantic tone to these soulful tracks of love & longing.
Neil: Very welcome release of Jimmy London’s classic 1972 album ‘Bridge over troubled waters’. A reggae rock steady masterpiece, the track “A little love” was used by the then major of London Ken Livingston to promote the city.

Quietly blowing it. / Hiss Golden Messenger
Mark: Vocalist/songwriter M.C. Taylor returns with another album under the Hiss Golden Messenger moniker. A melange of Alt-Country, Folk/Pop, and slow 70s grooves provide the backdrop for a melancholic and sometimes angry look at the world of 2021. Rootsy back porch meditations set to upbeat melodies, that aim to provide a sense of optimism going forward.
Neil: A soothing rustic chilled Americana album with country folk stylings recorded, like a lot of recent work, in isolation during the early months of the pandemic in North Carolina. A calming album for troubled times.

Stand for myself. / Yola
Mark: Yolanda Quartey is a UK singer (now based in Nashville) with a love for late 60s/70’s artists who amalgamated R&B, Pop & Country. Producer Dan Auerbach creates a lush layered vintage sound that steeps Yola’s amazing voice in classic style & grooves, built around her strong original songs addressing contemporary themes. Shades of Tina Turner, Minnie Ripperton or Bettye Swann. An impressive follow up to 2019’s acclaimed Walk Through Fire.
Neil: Yola”s sophomore album is another Covid creation in which Yola took the opportunity step away from the star making machine and instead to look deep into who she is and wants to identify herself as, and places this firmly at the core of this album. It is an accomplished and genre jumping work that reminded me in places of some of the great Disco, soul R n B albums of the 70s and 80s, mainly thanks to Yola’s voice, which is set amongst unvarnished, unprocessed musical backings.

Yacht soul : the cover versions.
Mark: This cool compilation turns the tables on white musicians appropriating black music, by gathering together a bunch of Soul artists who interpreted various white MOR 70s FM and 80’s ‘Yacht Rock’ tracks. Unsurprisingly Aretha, Chaka Khan, Billy Paul, Millie Jackson et all add a layer of funky grooves to these white bread staples. Sadly the version of Seals & Crofts ‘Summer Breeze’ is from The Main Ingredient instead of the Isley Brothers version. Still good though…
Neil: Funky, smooth, soulful cover versions of classic AOR, Laurel Canyon Hippie classics with most of the tracks originating in the 70’s and 80’s. It shouldn’t work but it does. Two very different genres looking at each other and bringing out something new and rather wonderful. Imaging sailing on a beautiful summer’s day in 1974 with friends.

Animal. / Lump
Mark: The 2018 album from this side project of Laura Marling and Tunng’s Mike Lindsay seemed a a one-off, but they are back with more weird dynamics. The aim seems to be just to see where their disparate styles take them – through dark lyrics underpinned by meandering folktronica melodies, odd shifts & time signatures. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. Tracy Thorn does this sort of thing far better.
Neil: Mike Lindsay (of Tunng) creates the musical settings whilst Laura Marling supplies the vocals and lyrics, The resulting album is a glittering genre mashing, boundary pushing collection of tracks, the duo are obviously well up some musical explorations, it very occasionally reminded me of Radiohead esp. some of the oblique and odd imagery employed in some of the lyrics, and also some of the angular minimalist musical settings.

Mirror II / Goon Sax
Mark: Goon Sax were still at school when their 2016 debut album Up to Anything came out. Their cute indie-pop garnered natural comparisons to the Go-Betweens, given that frontman Louis Forster is the son of Go-Betweens Robert Forster. ‘Mirror II’ is their 3rd album, following 2018’s We’re not talking, and they eschew the Beat Happening 80s sound of their previous work for a full on dive into the 90s sound with Lemonhead-esque pop, shoegazzy guitars, male/female vocals and new wavey synths. Each member now shares vocal duties and have developed their own particular style as they have grown musically over the course of 3 albums. And ‘growing up’ is really what their song are about – the awkwardness & messy discontent of being young people at this current point in time. Their best album so far.
Neil: The Brisbane dolewave trio’s latest release revels in the complexities, difficulties and embossments associated with being a twenty-something in modern day Australia. Post punk young adult angst for the 21st Century.

Outside child. / Russell, Allison
Mark: Critically lauded solo debut from Montreal native and veteran of the Roots scene with bands Po’ Girl, Birds of Chicago & roots supergroup Our Native Daughters, which also features Rhiannon Giddens. The gentle, enveloping, music with its beautiful layered arrangements frames a haunting ‘musical memoir’, re-telling an upbringing of childhood sexual abuse and street living. It all sounds a pretty heavy listen, but there is a lightness to the melodic, organic, music that enlivens the weighty backstory. Full of powerful odes to her past self and experiences, as well as the city and music that gave her new hope. Sure to be a Grammy nominee and wind up on the Best of 2021 lists at the end of the year.
Neil: French Canadian singer Allison Russell’s impressive debut album is a deep soulful work, hotly tipped by many as one of the albums of the year. It is styled a beautiful classic soul pop album that showcases her gorgeous voice in a series of melodic tracks. Behind the surface production and beauty is an album that is, on occasion, starkly dark and heart rendering. Lyrics about her own childhood abuse and recovery are set in an often-uplifting survivor context.

Exit wounds / Wallflowers
Mark: Jakob Dylan’s band The Wallflowers were essentially a revolving door of different studio & live musicians based around his writing, which led to certain conflicts along the way in terms of the ability to execute his songs. With his return after a 9 year break, Dylan sounds much more comfortable with the bands classic roots-rock sound than on previous album, 2012’s Glad All Over, which never really gelled. A nice set of solid melodic songs about life’s struggles are a reminder of why they were such a consistently good band. Shelby Lynne provides nice harmony vocals on 4 tracks.
Neil: Considering the fact that his father is Bob Dylan and his upbringing was steeped in music it is no surprise that Jakob Dylan, the self-styled cowboy troubadour, is such a gifted and highly literate musician. However, Jacob brings more than his background to the Wallflowers outfit, he also brings passion and personal reflection to his work, perhaps even most pointedly in this his latest outing ‘Exit Wounds’. If you’re a fan of classic 70’s American folk rock or highway ballads, then this album should be right up your street.

Pale horse rider. / Hanson, Cory
Mark: Melancholic folky meditations from the frontman of LA art-rockers Wand. His second solo album, after 2016’s The Unborn Capitalist from Limbo, is pure Americana. Waves of lush lilting arrangements wrap around his mellow gentle vocals. The musical equivalent of a calming walk through a meditative landscape whilst staring up at the stars.
Neil: Another isolation album this time recorded in the Mojave Desert whilst surrounded by cacti and majestic desolate nature. The resulting work is a kind of psychedelic cowboy fantasy, all plaintive steel guitars, drifting sands and sun lazy weirdness, but infused with a gentle vibe throughout.

Love drips and gathers. / Piroshka
Mark: Piroshka is an English Indie-pop supergroup with Lush’s Miki Berenyi, Elastica’s Justin Welch, Moose’s K.J. McKillop, and Modern English’s Mick Conroy, that emerged from the Lush 2015-6 reunion line-up. Following on from their 2019 debut Brickbat, their new album focuses more on their dreamy shoegaze style, rather than some of the New Wave elements introduced on their debut, with strings swirling around layered instruments and vocals. Well worth checking out of you were a Lush fan. And who wasn’t, really?
Neil: A subtle rather surreal and ethereal album, all wrapped up in warm idyllic soundscapes that evoke both beauty, and a kind off early 70’s Roxy music nostalgia.

Mood valiant. / Hiatus Kouyate
Mark: 3rd album from Australian ‘Future-soul’ Grammy-nominated alternative R&B band. Skittery beats that have a Dubstep/D&B feel, underpin neo-soul vocalising reminiscent of Eryakh Badu & Corinne Bailey Rae. The frenetic key & tempo changes, rapid fire vocals, and jittery rhythms occasionally give it too much of a ‘Music School graduates’ feel, but their third album sees them establishing a uniquely individual sound.
Neil: The Australian future soul super group’s latest release is another slick and ultra-smooth release, mixing in their own inimitable way cool jazz, neo soul and R&B. Hugely popular in hip and trendy bars and clubs globally, but perhaps just a little slightly too slick and controlled in all areas for my tastes.

Mother Nature. / Kidjo, Angélique
Mark: Beninese singer, songwriter, and activist Angélique Kidjo returns with her first album of original material since 2014’s Eve, collaborating with a younger generation of musicians like Burna Boy, and Sampa the Great, crossing continents & generations. She uses this fusion of percussive pan-African traditional styles with modern dance, Hip-Hop & trap grooves with her Fon, Yoruba, French, and English vocals, to comment on various current issues around political resistance & female empowerment. Strong messages surround by catchy funky danceable beats.
Neil:Kidjo, Angélique has been described by some reviewers as Africa’s premiere diva and now recognised across the World, thanks in part to singing at the recent Tokyo Olympics. This multi guest album expounds her vision of pan African unity. Infectious rhythms and her love of Zimbabwean township music all play a role in this potent mix. Her fabulous reimagining of the Talking Heads Remain In Light album is well worth checking out too!

Welcome 2 America. / Prince
Mark: Unreleased album from the Prince vaults recorded & mixed in 2010, but then set aside for unknown reasons. None of the songs were ever played live, so its existence & unearthing was big news for Prince fans this year. Prince created so much music in the later phase of his career, so how much you enjoy this will probably depend on how devoted you are to the independent phase of his career, with its shifting styles, and touches of genius buried within lots of filler. ‘Welcome 2 America’ has some great, catchy, tracks on social empowerment (that seem even more relevant today) and some soulful ballads, but also some of the jazz-funk filler that typified his albums from that era. Overall though it’s probably more consistently enjoyable than a lot of his albums from the 2010’s, so its good that it has finally seen the light of day at last.
Neil: Whilst there is no argument that Prince created some of the greatest albums of the 80’s it is also true that the release of material since his death has been patchy in quality. Sadly, this album of totally unreleased tracks falls into this category. It’s is a ‘state of the nation’ album originally scheduled for a 2010 release, intended as a kind of updated version of the brilliant Sign ‘O’ The Times, but it lacks that albums originality, bite and passion. Prince is always worth listening to and there are one or two good tracks on the album, but it is also clear from listening to the final overall work why he choose to leave it unrealised.

The blue elephant. / Berry, Matt
Mark: Actor-Musician Matt Berry (The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd) likes to deliver albums re-creating particular styles of music he is a fan of. Pastoral folk-rock for 2013’s ‘Kill the Wolf’, new age synthesizer music for 2014’s Music for Insomniacs, and country-rock (2020’s Phantom Birds). He is back with a new album square the the psychedelic realm with new album ‘The blue elephant’. All the faders are set to reverb, splashy snares hit every few seconds, chorale voices back meandering tunes as his actor-ish tones and song arrangements hit all the psych buttons you could push. One for fans of the genre. Anyone else might feel like they’ve dialled in a lost pirate radio station from the 60s…
Neil: You might be more familiar with Matt Berry’s as the award-winning actor, comedian in outings such as ‘The Mighty Boosh’ or the 2015 SpongeBob movie. However, he has always run his music career in parallel with his acting one. A prolific musician with nine studio albums to his name. In ‘The Blue Elephant’ he has made a work that is a huge homage to the music of the late 60’s. Let’s be clear this isn’t a comedy album in any sense of the word, instead it’s a serious recreation of the music of flower-power age. And if you enjoy music from this time, then I think you are onto a real winner.

Drama. / Amarante, Rodrigo
Mark: A Rio de Janeiro native who now calls Los Angeles home. Known for the rock quartet Los Hermanos (who were huge in Brazil) and his track Tuyo which is the theme song on the popular Netflix series Narcos. ‘Drama’ is his second solo outing, following 2014’s Cavalo. Lovely atmospheric laid back Brazilian samba/tango rhythms, with 4 tracks in English, shifting from the upbeat to the romantic. A perfectly relaxed, soothing album for the times we find ourselves in. Amarante apparently recorded most of the album himself, and plays no less than 10 of its instruments.
Neil: Born in Rio De Janeiro, Rodrigo Amarante uses his rich cultural heritage to fullest advantage, whilst bringing a large dollop of his own creativity to the party. It is a laid-back party, but no worse for that. It is the kind of music you can imagine taking it easy to on a long hot summer’s day. Another blissful, gentle album, this time Samba inspired with acoustic singer-songwriter elements woven in.

KG0516. / Karol G
Mark: Colombian pop singer who mixes reggaeton, hip-hop, & modern R&B. She spent a decade as a guest and backing vocalist before Ahora Me Llama with Bad Bunny in 2017 launched her solo career. KG0516 is her 3rd album and is a catchy mix of pop-reggaetón, urbano & Latin trap. The US is supposedly in the midst of a second wave of Latin crossover success after the 2000’s and this album, which has already made a Guardian list of the Best albums of 2021 so far, will no doubt place her as one of the key female artists currently in Latin music.
Neil: Colombian singer Karol G’s latest album takes its title from the format of a flight number representing her name. It’s a clever idea and well named, as each track in this album in the artists own words “is a connecting flight that takes you to a new place”. It’s Karol’s own version of a musical journey, the tango tinged modern urban sound and production overlays a versatile range of tracks, each with a slightly different emotional emphasis.

Reason to live. / Barlow, Lou
Mark: 6th solo album from this iconic indie music figure, who has been a member of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, and the Folk Implosion. A homage to his early lo-fi aesthetic (but with better modern gear) he recorded this album at his home, and played everything himself except for drums on one track. Folky, introspective, searching songs that confront anxieties both personal and political. Mature and thoughtful, proof that domestic happiness hasn’t dulled his song-writing skills.
Neil: A million miles away from his Dinosaur Jnr output, Lou Barlow’s downbeat vocals and acoustic guitar driven lo fi production are in places reminiscent of Nick Drake. The lyrics mine a rich vein of heartbreak and critical self-introspection. That all said, there is undoubtedly a warmth and optimism woven through the tracks too. The result is delicate, beautiful, and slightly melancholic and well worth a listen.

After robots. / BLK JKS
Mark: We just purchased the new sophomore 2021 album ‘Abantu/Before Humans’ from BLK JKS, so we thought we would also track down their critically lauded debut from 2009. This will end up in the world section, but it is just as much an alternative rock album, as turning the tables, the South African musicians take on Western music traditions, instead of the other way round. A dense hybrid of 60’s hard rock, proggy rhythms, jazz, afrobeat, reggae and much more. Repeated listens are needed to make headway into this album, which still sounds ahead of its time 12 years on. Challenging but rewarding.
Neil: After Robots is a hugely ambitious project, with the band trying to fuse elements of prog rock, ska, jazz kwaito and reggae (and those were just the genres I spotted) into a cohesive whole. In places it is great, and their ambition pays off. In other places the weight of this ambition pulls it down, and the album loses focus and clarity, but the big sound they strive for is powerful throughout.

Get out of your own way. / Sands, Evie
Mark: Much like Jackie DeShannon, Evie Sands is a pioneering 1960’s singer, who had the bad luck of being the first artist to record a number of well know songs that went onto become big hits for others. She was the first singer to record “Angel of the Morning” for example, weeks before her label went bankrupt & the song became an massive hit for another singer. She spent most of the 70s focusing on songwriting, only releasing 2 albums before retiring completely. After a comeback album in 1999, ‘Get out of your own way’ is her first solo recording in 22 years, and it’s just great. A super catchy set of melodic country-tinged pop songs that sound timeless.
Neil: American singer songwriter Evie Sands began her career in the 60’s when she was just a teenager. Possessing a distinctive powerful and unique blue-eyed soul voice no less than Dusty Springfield described her as her favourite singer. She’s weathered the highs and lows of the music industry for the best part of 60 years. This new collection sounds like it could have been recorded at any point in career, from the mid seventies onwards. Accompanied by a strong band and her undiminished vocals, basically it is a collection of American classic pop-rock ballad songs that have soulful elements.

I know I’m funny haha. / Webster, Faye
Mark: The music photographer/indie-singer returns with a new album after the breakout success of 2019’s Atlanta Millionaires Club. She has a lovely voice, and the album is full of lovelorn ballads and sad moods, delivered in laid back washes of country-ish pedal steel and strings. Her tart lyrics often uncut the sweetness of her drowsy meditations on love & loneliness. Lead off song, the 2020 single ‘Better Distractions’ landed on Barack Obama’s annual year-end playlist. Really enjoyed this one.
Neil: The sad, plaintive and beautiful voice of Faye Webster is put to excellent use in ‘I know I’m funny ha-ha’. A lonesome, indie country, haunting, steel guitar heavy album of songs about the emotional emptiness of life’s sadder moments. It is a testament to the albums musical balance that it never sounds like a dirge, or lacking in emotional conviction.

Home video. / Dacus, Lucy
Mark: The solo artist (and member of ‘Boygenius’, a trio with fellow breakout 20-something singer/songwriters Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers) returns with her 3rd solo album, which looks back on coming of age in her hometown. Her warm emotive voice looks back on her childhood & adolescence with vignettes on relationships, the influence of the Church on young women, and sexuality. These poignant reflections would seem to lend themselves to a folky acoustic mileau, but Dacus rocks out with a power-pop feel to the most traks, leavened with some guitar & keys based ballads. The perspective of her 20s provides a more mature & defined worldview, that pierces the mists of nostalgic memories with sharply pointed observations. Really good.
Neil: As a young person Lucy Dacus was heavily immersed in American Christian youth culture, but as her sexuality emerged this started to raise problems in her life and faith. ‘Home Video’ is her autobiographical exploration of her younger self’s world and her subsequent growth. The songs are catchy, finely crafted and, in a deliberately post adolescent way, address young love, nostalgia, spirituality and emerging sexuality. The lyrics are direct and sharply focussed.

Blue weekend. / Wolf Alice
Mark: 3rd album from this North London band that merge vintage ’90s rock and 4AD styled dream-pop. Previous albums were all a commercially & critical success, garnering a Grammy nomination in 2015 and a Mercury prize for Visions Of a Life, and each release seems to get huger in sound & ambition, navigating multiple genres with ease. This album is even more ambitious, with the music polished to a sheen, and singer Ellie Rowsell’s voice in front, every track seems to be aiming for ‘Soaring anthem’. Already the 4th highest scored album of 2021 on Metacritic. It all sounds amazing, but I’m still not convinced they are anything more than the sum of their influences.
Neil: Back in the day some bands deliberately wrote albums designed to be played in big stadium tours or festivals. Wolf Alice’s latest outing sounds like that was their intention on ‘Blue Weekend’. This isn’t a criticism, as it’s a pristine, extravagant alt-rock/shoegaze work of big performances and sound. I think when they can get back on the road, the music encapsulated in this album will make for a showstopper stadium tour.

Tezeta /
Mark: This long-lost recording captures Ethiopian organist Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band at the Hilton Addis Ababa in 1975. The American owned Hilton was an upscale cosmopolitan refuge from the political turmoil of Ethiopia, following the mid-70s take over of the erg military regime. The Walias band held a residency at the Hilton for almost a decade and, as this rediscovered performance shows, merged traditional Ethiopian popular songs and standards with American funk, soul & Jazz grooves to great effect. Simple chord vamps form the backbone of these endlessly funky tunes that are perfect for background listening, but when you pay closer attention the complexities of his playing reveals itself.
Neil: Ethiopian keyboardist Hailu is best known for his work in the Walia’s Band that regularly played the Hilton hotel in Addis Ababa in the 1970’s, during what is often referred to as Ethiopia’s “Golden age of music”. These long-lost recordings are finally seeing the light of day. Imagine, if you can, Ethiopian cocktail lounge music that also encompasses traditional and modern aspects. Music that is simultaneously fabulous background music, and also innovative in its own way. It’s a really mesmerising mix.

Utopian ashes / Gillespie, Bobby
Mark: The Primal Scream frontman teams up with former Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth for some duets in the vein of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Apparently the album tells the tale of a doomed marriage. Grievances are aired and regret & blame intermingle, as the fictional couple sift through the ashes of their failed relationship. These narratives are set to a moody, lush stringed, country-southern soul sound, and they give the indie-rocker & the post punk icon a chance to showcase a hither-to unknown vulnerability within their respective musical personas. An unlikely pairing that results in a surprisingly effective album.
Neil: Primal Scream and Jesus and the Mary Chain legend Bobby Gillespie teams up with Jehnny Beth, and they go all dark country on us. On paper it sounds like a startling change of direction for both artists, and in less experienced & talented hands it could have gone badly astray. However, both Bobby’s and Jehnny’s instantly recognisable and distinctive voices anchor the piece, and the album does contain some low-key stylistic elements of their previous work. Dramatic and understated, in places tragedy and pain, melodrama and dark tales, are all imbedded in these songs. A highly successful collaboration & an unexpected change for all parties concerned that really delivers the goods.

Box Set Reissue Picks:
The Reprise albums (1968-1971). / Mitchell, Joni
Neil: A collection of Joni’s reprise albums. The pinnacle of her career, flawless, creatively unbounded by convention or commercial considerations, unmatched in their brilliance. The finest songwriter of our time on creative fire.

Everybody still digs Bill Evans. / Evans, Bill
Mark: Lavish & stylish box set from Concord Records speciality Craft imprint. The first detailed career retrospective from 1956—1980, through multiple labels, for the iconic Jazz pianist divides its 5 discs into themes that follow his career: 2 disc of Piano Trio performances, one of Solo performances, another of co-headlining and side-person work, and for the final disc a previously unreleased, live recording form the mid 70’s. Encased in a lovely hardbound book, with photos and a lengthy essay & session notes, the tracks have all been newly remastered. A fitting tribute to perhaps one of the most influential & pivotal figures of modern Jazz.

New CDs for Te Awe

I’m Mark, the Customer Specialist for Music & Film at Wellington City Libraries. Here is some of the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. My colleague Neil & I decided to do some quick reviews of some new titles. Our limit was a few lines only. Do we actually carefully appraise & select the latest new music releases for your listening pleasure? Or do we just buy every third item on the list and hope it works out? Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Are we just too old to understand what most of this music is on about? Read on to find out…

Dreamers are waiting. / Crowded House
Mark: The iconic band regroup with help from Finn’s 2 sons & former producer Mitchell Froom. The immediate accessibility and edge of the early Paul Hester albums is gone, bit it’s been replaced by new blood and songwriters that help craft an album that feels warm and comforting. Tones and melodies that slowly creep up on you after repeated listens. Never really a fan of their later work, but I didn’t hate this.
Neil: Crowded House are one of the biggest and most popular in N.Z., having to date sold over 10 million albums. Their popularity with fans remains as was more than amply demonstrated by their recent series of sell-out gigs touring pretty much of all the major New Zealand stadiums. However, for me I just never got them. They just sound bland and this release didn’t change my mind. They undoubtedly have loyal passionate fans and I strongly suspect they will love this new release, as it has been widely acclaimed as a triumphant return to form, but not for me.

Live in Stuttgart 1975. / Can[VINYL]
Mark: This archival release of a 1975 90-minutes concert in Stuttgart comes from a fan’s live tape recordings that have been newly mixed and mastered. This was rated 100 by both Record Collector & Uncut, and I can confirm that it is indeed 100% noodling that takes 90 minutes to go from zero to nowhere…
Neil: Regarded as one of the Classic German Bands from the 70’s, this live recording captures them at the height of their formidable creative powers. The original, now heavily cleaned up and enhanced, recordings came from a fan recording in the audience. The resultant album finds them at their most unrestrained in a 90 minute free flow improvisational work out, powered by the hypnotic drums of Jaki Liebezeit and propulsive bass of bassist Holger Czukay. The tracks flow in and out of each other, an element popping up here, a motif there; it is one of those releases you just need to let go on, and let it wash over you.

Yol. / Altın Gün
Mark: I really enjoyed this. Turkish singers & Dutch musos meet. The female & male leads alternate the vocals, and the tracks are full of cool, catchy, sinuous Middle-East vibes set to synthy grooves. Like the soundtrack to a cool 60’s Spy Film…
Neil: Turkish psy maestros Altin Gun go all 80’s disco on us, in this audacious fabulous and highly unlikely mash up of time jumping styles. Imagine, if you can, music from the Ottoman empire made during the psychedelic 1960’s but using 80’s synths and beats!

Cavalcade / Black Midi
Mark: Chaotic post-punk jams together dissonant noise with squalling saxophones, buzzing baselines & industrial guitar – then follows it with mellow tracks of lounge era styled crooning. A melange of sound that aims to challenge. Scott Walker would probably have liked them…
Neil: An explosion of sound that effortlessly blends beautiful and melodic elements, with often heavy and frantically twisted rhythms. An anarchic, complex, and very ambitious album.

Wink. / Chai
Mark: The genre hopping Japanese female quartet shave off the guitars, pop-punk edges and mash-ups of previous albums ‘Pink’ & ‘Punk’, and go straight for the pop jugular with this album of so smooth tunes. Woozy 70s organs back tracks with whispery 90s R&B vibes, which alternate with catchy electro-pop workouts. Infectious & charming.
Neil: Chai remind me of the musical equivalent of eating a chocolate coated, frosted sugar bomb; the contagious endlessly upbeat energy of the album shines through the whole work like a sugar rush. It is less punk and more pop than the bands previous releases, but that optimistic energy is still very much present.

Be right back. / Smith, Jorja
Mark: 8 track EP supposed to be a stop gap follow up to her 2018 critically-acclaimed, Mercury Prize nominated debut album ‘Lost & Found’ – for which she won her second BRIT Award for ‘Best Female’ and earned herself a nomination for ‘New Artist’ at the Grammy Awards. Melds Jazz, R&B & Trip-Hop influences around her emotive vocals, with songs focusing of self-awareness and empowerment. Worth checking out if you enjoyed the new albums from Arlo Parks or Celeste.
Neil: Super smooth, ultra-stripped back R & B combined with emotionally vibrant lyrics. All delivered using Jorja’s rich, distinctive, mellow, and delicately phrased voice. Chilled.

Jubilee. / Japanese Breakfast
Mark: ‘Japanese Breakfast’ is the solo moniker of Philadelphian Korean-American musician, director, and author Michelle Zauner (her debut memoir debuted at number two on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list). Her super-catchy third album delivers some sweet 80s indie-pop hooks, and shoegazzy vibes. The self-directed music video for Be Sweet is a very funny X-files homage, with Marisa “Missy” Dabice (from fellow Philly band Mannequin Pussy) and Zauner acting as FBI Agents tracking aliens.
Neil: This indie referenced album is replete with lush horn and string orchestration. A veritable smorgasbord of styles and sub genres, all harnessed to an album that ostensibly about happiness and the pursuit of happiness. It’s an album that in many ways feels like it belongs in this very moment in time. In places it reminded me of ‘War on Drugs’ or ”Wilco’.

Carnage / Cave, Nick
Mark: Deeply reflective pieces. Melancholic music underpins his cavernous voice, as it rumbles through mood pieces that reflect the fear & uncertainty of the last year.
Neil: Nick Caves recent typrich of releases has cemented (as if there was any doubt) his reputation as one of the finest songwriters and performers around. Carnage is a collaboration with long-time friend and fellow ‘Bad seed’ Warren Ellis. The album sits very comfortable within this recent golden period of intense, melancholic and on occasion terrifying works. It is a surreal, stark, and brutal meditation on grief, dark, profound, pained, and melodramatic.

Black sea golden ladder. / Kingi, Troy
Mark: Kingi is now halfway through his 10-albums-in-10-different-genres-in-10-years project. This albums genre is ‘Folk’, a collaboration with co-writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Delaney Davidson, and sees string drenched autumnal reflections sit next to twangy, gentle guitar porch ruminations on the cycle of life, love and the human spirit.
Neil: The supremely, gifted musical chameleon that is Troy Kingi has shown his musical versatility over several wonderful albums on several occasions in recent years, but who would have thought that his latest musical incarnation would be as a mellow folk maestro? The resulting album is a calm, beautiful, and chilled outing. A fabulous mellow outing, like watching the sun go down on the fragile dream of a late autumn day. Delaney Davidson’s voice adds just a little grit and darkness to the proceedings.

Soberish. / Phair, Liz
Mark: No other singer from her era fell as far as Liz Phair did in the eye of critics, as she shifted from the alt-darling of the Girly-sound tapes & confrontational debut Exile in Guyville, to working with ultra commercial songwriters The Matrix and rapping on Funstyle, the last album she released in 2010. ‘Soberish’ reunites her with Brad Wood, who produced her early albums, and while it still has a pop sheen to it she’s no longer forcing the point as hard as she was towards the end of her initial run. There’s a casualness to the whole thing that makes some tracks & musical ideas seem half formed, but also means the more poppy melodies sit next to the lesser formed sketches with more ease. The musical landscape has shifted so much since her last album, and genres have so little meaning to modern artists, that overt pop music and indie-meandering can now co-exist side by side on albums in a credible way that differentiates todays music from the albums of the 2000’s.
Neil: Liz’s first album in 11 years is a sharply focussed slab of Alt rock. In it she delivers an honest, heart felt work about the various faces and sides of love, and the pressures and damages that can be done by early fame – such as her battle with alcohol. The album reveals a clear-eyed depth of emotional clarity. An artist perhaps for the first time really connecting with inner self on record, or perhaps rediscovering who she is.

No gods no masters. / Garbage (Musical group)
Mark: Garbage in the 2010’s only released 2 albums, which were generally seen as riding the wave of 90s nostalgia. The new album ‘No gods no masters’ has been hailed as a bit of a return to form, with it’s pounding industrial beats and anthemic tracks. Shirley Manson’s lyrics have a more political & socio-politico focus on this album, lockdown and the current social tumult taking the album in a different direction than the initial sessions from 2018. She tackles subjects like Religion, patriarchal structure, injustice, late stage capitalism, misogyny, and white supremacy, while still focusing on the personal with a couple of tracks. However, how much you enjoy this new album may just depend on how much politics you like in your musical mix.
Neil: After a long break Garbage return to their swaggering incendiary best with ‘No gods no easily masters’, their strongest album since Version 2.0. They have reconnected with their dark muses in this powerful, hook laden, anthemic, genre blending rock out of an album.

Back to the future. / Sons of Kemet
Mark: Caribbean and Afro-influenced South London jazz supergroup. Opening track “Field Negus” was recorded during the BLM protests, and the song titles that follow form a cumulative historical narrative of the Afro-centric experience. Free jazz squalls mix with Middle Eastern grooves and Afrobeat, with guest players offering up instrumental talents and raps. Melodicism and anger meet within each track. Not the kind of Jazz you mellow out to….
Neil: Black to the future is Shabaka Hutchings politically charged propulsive Jazz album. It features multiple guests, including rappers and singers from both the U.S. & the UK, and is fundamentally a collaborative piece which aims to unite the different strands of the African diaspora. A passionate, angry, and incredibly powerful album that speaks directly about collective oppression.

Laugh to keep from crying. / Nat Turner Rebellion
Mark: Early ’70s Philly soul band whose music was mostly unreleased, now unearthed almost 50 years after the band’s breakup. Sort of like Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff making an entire album of tracks like Billy Paul’s ‘Am I Black Enough for You?’. Politically charged, anti war themed, full of statements of Black pride and power. Similar to a lot of the counterculture era soul songs that Motown released in the late 60’s, that still seem as relevant now as they were then. A bittersweet release, as songwriter/leader Joe Jefferson is the only band member still alive to see time finally catching up with this great music.
Neil: This album works as a nice historical complementary listen to the previously reviewed ‘Sons of Kemet’ album. ‘Laugh to keep from crying’ was originally recorded in 1969 and with the exception of a few tracks was shelved by the record company after tensions with the label, and is only finally seeing the light of day now. It’s a funk heavy masterpiece of the Philly soul and protest music movement sound. This album isn’t a re-release like so many other albums from this time, it is actually a rediscovery of a long-lost solid gold recording.

Sour. / Rodrigo, Olivia
Mark: Who better to assess the zeitgeist of sad girl pop than two middle-aged men? But seriously.. the massive streaming juggernaut that was Rodrigo’s Drivers License is just the beginning for this Disney+ actress, as it’s easy to see from her debut album that she is a genuine musician with a great soaring voice, a clever knack for storytelling & a biting lyricist reminiscent of Taylor Swift – her biggest influence alongside 90s artists like Alanis Morrissette & Fiona Apple. Being the next generation along from artists like Swift & Lorde, there is a much edgier lyrical focus on anxiety, social media, mental health, negative emotions, toxic relationships and far more F- bombs. She is representative of a whole wave of young female artists where the emotional angst is turned up to 11, but it’s the minute specificity of character details and pop culture drops in her lyrics that give her tracks their universal appeal.
Neil: Already thrust into the public limelight as one of the stars of Disney+ channel. Olivia Rodrigo has very quickly been given the mantel of pop’s newest young star. It can be a very heavy mantel to bear as many previous newest pop stars will testify. The main focus for Rodrigo’s debut album is the subject of failed romance. Rodrigo explores the subject adopting a wide range of styles and genres as if she is trying out various musical identities to see which one suits her own best. Which for a major media superstar under the age of 20 thrust into the limelight sounds like an ideal approach to take.

Earth trip. / Rose City Band
Mark: Initially the solo project of Ripley Johnson of Wooden Shjips, the bands third album (after last year’s Summerlong) features more lilting, rambling, indie country melancholy. The cleaner production brings more of a crisper detailed sound, which drifts pleasantly along, like a gentle walk down a country road, verging into dreamy Mazzy Star/J&M Chain territory on some tracks.
Neil: Neo Psychedelic rockers the Rose City Band deliver a J.J Cale-esque, country rock, Psychedelic journey focusing on inertia and isolation.

M’berra / Khalab
Mark: Collaborative fusion of Italian DJ Khalab and the musician residents of the M’berra refugee camp in south-eastern Mauritania. Khalab fuses the acoustic side of Tuareg music with electronic beats, the voices of the musicians and the everyday sounds of daily life of M’berra. A fascinating mash up of traditional sounds and contemporary productions.
Neil: This is one of those album’s that really transports the listener to new worlds created by the musicians involved. It is a collaborative work between electronic Italian D.J. Khalab and the M’berra Ensemble a community of musicians living in the M’berra refugee camp. The resulting album, both ancient and futuristic, is a breath-taking album of fantastically sculptured tracks and diverse sounds, featuring a dazzling array of instruments from traditional Mali instruments to synth bass’s and guitar.

Afrique victime. / Moctar, Mdou
Mark: Mdou Moctar is a Tuareg singer/songwriter and guitarist from Niger, who found fame via the cell phone music-trading networks of Africa’s Sahel region, before achieving international success through a series of albums that include a Tuareg-language homage to Purple Rain, and a psychedelic album recorded in Detroit. ‘Afrique victime’ is his debut album on indie heavyweight label Matador Records. Gentle acoustic reflections sit next to explosive and driving desert rockers full of fantasticly slinky guitar lines.
Neil: Superb explosive desert rock served up with fiery Psychedelic energy. The album was recorded piecemeal while touring, and the band very deliberately avoided professional studios and engineers seeking a more organic less controlled sound. Listening to the album furthers the ever-increasing evidence that the real beating heart of rock is in African, not some vacuum wrapped L.A. studio. A vibrant, electrifying and brilliantly uplifting album.

If I could make it go quiet / Girl In Red
Mark: Debut album from the Norwegian indie pop musician, following her hit single I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend. Full of noisy punky pop with Swiftian melodies, and later in the album slower synthy R&B sounds. What differentiates her music is the assertive anthems all have a queer focus, with raw lyrics about sex, desire. confusion and self loathing. An artist to watch for future releases.
Neil: Norwegian musician Marie Ulven’s pop punk debut album release was delayed like a lot of things due to Covid 19. It is finally here (she was already an icon in her home country due to herself confessional single releases). In ‘If I could make it go quiet’, we get an album full of candour and self-examination with a maximalist production. The lyrics are often raw and honest explorations of her anxiety, queerness, and moments of depression.

Promises / Floating Points
Mark: Keyboardist and electronic music producer Floating Points melds the tenor sax of Pharoah Sanders with the violins, violas, cellos, and double basses of the London Symphony Orchestra in a series of mellow Movements. Sanders sticks to soft gauzy tones that drift in & out of Orchestral washes that often sound like the quiter scenes in Blade Runner, or shades of old Bernard Herrmann scores. Dramatic strings evokes a melancholy yearning, and a nostalgic, dreamy, cinematic vibe to relax to.
Neil: Recorded over the course of five years this hybrid very tranquil, ambient, free-form jazz and classical inflected album is elegant, refined, and full of quiet moments of sonic beauty. Although it is an experimental album, it’s an exceptionally balanced, considered, and timeless work. To really appreciate it a relaxed deep listen is highly recommended. A perfect way to unwind from the rigors of the day.

Fine anyway. / Fakhr, Rogér
Mark: Part of Berlin label Habibi Funk’s series of reissues from Arabic-speaking parts of the world, ‘Fine anyway’ is another story of great music being relegated to obscurity due to the circumstances in which it was created. While Habibi Funk boss Jannis Stürtz was working on sourcing material for other projects, the name of Lebanese guitarist, singer/songwriter Rogér Fakhr kept coming up – followed by huge praise of his music and songwriting talents. Stürtz managed to contact Fakhr who sent him some tapes of music recorded in the late 1970s in Beirut, which included tracks from ‘Fine anyway’, which had been copied onto around 200 cassettes at the time. Initially reluctant to have his music re-released, Fakhr agreed a couple of years later to have 2 songs included in a compilation Solidarity With Beirut — to raise money for the Lebanese Red Cross in the wake of the tragic explosion in a Beirut port in 2020. After his tracks were included in that album, Fakhr came around to the idea of the full album being re-released, and it really is an amazing listen. A fantastic set of acoustic ballads and jangly chamber pop-rock that sounds like it was recorded in sunny California in the 60’s or 70’s. Shades of So-Cal pop & The Left Banke. A real gem.
Neil: Another album that for all intents and purposes isn’t a release, more a recovery of long-lost music. Back in the 1970’s when Lebanon was still a major cosmopolitan city Rogér Fakhr’s music and tapes circulated round the city’s chic cafes and bars. His smooth, mellow hippy inflected singer songwriter voice and songs could have made him a major artist somewhere else in the world. But it wasn’t to be, as very sadly history and events changed the course of that city and the trajectory of Rogér Fakhr’s career. These recordings show the exceptional song writing skills Roger had, and this release has definitely got a distinct Searching for Sugar Man vibe about it in many ways.

Archive series. Volume no. 5. / Iron & Wine
Mark: Recorded while Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam was a student at Florida State University in the late ’90s, this album is a prelude to his Sub-Pop label debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle. Sparse acoustic lo-fi musings, that offer a nascent portrait of the forthcoming success that Iron & Wine would have in reviving the folk genre for an indie audience. Iron & Wine’s musical palette would broaden with each album, but the simplicity of these early songs shines through.
Neil: The mellow alt country of Iron & Wine has very understandably a huge dedicated cult following. This very early collection of archival recordings sounds more like a lost early album than a collection of discarded outtakes. Even the earliest songs sound confident and fully formed, and reveal that Iron and Wines distinctive sound was there right from the onset.

Bright green field. / Squid (Musical group)
Mark: Squid are the next big UK Art-rock band. Post-punk indie with grooves from just about every other genre mixed in. Agitated lyrics about the dystopian nature of modern life set to jagged tunes that branch off in all sorts of musical directions. Pretty crazy. Worth checking out if you want something different to challenge you.
Neil: Angular music coupled with angry off kilter lyrics that illuminate the song writers’ discomfort with the modern World. In places it sounds slightly reminiscent of an early English pre-Eno Talking Heads. Seemingly unconcerned about creating a single musical identity, they use whatever style suits that particular track throwing in punk, krautrock, dub, jazz, and funk into this potent mix of an album.

Metaphysics. / Ibn Ali, Hasaan
Mark: Enigmatic Philadelphian Jazz musician said to have been the influence behind John Coltrane’s so-called sheets of sound style. One of only two albums to feature the pianist’s unique harmonically advanced polytonal compositions and playing style. Resurrected from a recently found tape copy, after the original master was destroyed in Atlantic Records infamous 1978 Warehouse fire. Truly amazing playing by any decades standards.
Neil: An album presumed missing for 56 years, after being lost in a fire, finally sees the light of day. Hasaan Ibn Ali played piano on a few ground-breaking albums by Jazz drummer Max Roach but has subsequently been viewed as a side note in jazz history. All that may be about to change as his sole recorded work as a band leader is about to see the light of say. It’s a slab of classic jazz from what some (misguided) regard as its golden age. It’s a major and important find, and is likely to force a major reassessment of his talent and role in the evolution of jazz.

…Keyboard fantasies… / Glenn-Copeland, Beverly
Mark: Slightly ‘New-Agey’ album recorded with just a Yamaha DX7 keyboard and a Roland TR-707 drum machine. Self-released as a cassette in 1986, it remained in obscurity for decades until it was rediscovered by Japanese music collectors during the 2010s. This led to multiple reissues of the album, and made the, now septuagenarian, artist an international touring star and subject of an award winning documentary, with younger artists such as Blood Orange, Moses Sumney, and Caribou claiming him as an influence. Lovely lilting, mellow music that can float in the background, or reveal hidden layers upon close listening.
Neil: A long deleted album given a rerelease. ‘Keyboard fantasies’ is regarded as a New Age masterpiece. And that pretty much defines whether you will like it or not.

New long leg. / Dry Cleaning (Musical group)
Mark: More London Art-rock fronted by Florence Shaw, whose rambling, mundane, spoken-word non sequitur’s are supported by the band’s melodic post punk of pulsing bass and catchy guitar lines. On paper the lyrics sound laughably pretentious, but it’s weirdly compelling to listen to; her deadpan sardonic tone reeling off bizarre lines about Antiques Roadshow, platform shoes & food that make no sense. Really good. Already making lists of the best albums of 2021 so far.
Neil: I really loved this album it sounded new and fresh and vital edgy. Managing to sound quirky and surreal both approachable and also experimental all at the same time. Another release I strongly suspect will be on lots of best of 2021 releases.