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

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

Image featuring album art from this blog's list.


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 Te Awe library. We also like to 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…
Iowa dream. / Russell, Arthur
Mark: A truly unique figure in music, whose work encompassed everything from electronica, to the avant-garde, Disco and quirky lo-fi singer-songwriter pop. Russell passed away in 1992 and ‘Iowa Dream’ is the latest (2019) collection of unreleased material & home demos. This collection is a sprawl of diverse genres, including commercial 70’s meditative singer-songwriter efforts, lo-fi country twang, 80s Jazz-infected rock and quirky observational pop. A fitting document of a singular talent who followed his musical muses’ wherever they led.
Neil: Arthur Russell’s posthumous 2019 release Iowa Dreams contains 19 unfinished demo tracks, all displaying a markedly consistently high level of quality. Each track showcases the notoriously shy singer-songwriter’s sophisticated, intelligent and thoughtful approach to lyrics and his often genre defining approach to the accompanying musical settings. It’s all a mellow and chilled affair, and provides an excellent introduction to his work if you are unfamiliar with his music.

Observatory. / Aeon Station
Mark: Aeon Station is Kevin Whelan, of the critically lauded cult-indie New Jersey band The Wrens. The long delayed follow up to the acclaimed Wrens 2003 album The Meadowlands was eventually finished in 2013, only to have the bands other songwriter say he needed more time to work on his songs. The relationship between the two men further deteriorated over time, leading Whelan to take his songs for that album and strike out on his own. Adding, as well, a decade’s worth of new material, the result is a great album steeped in classic indie-rock that has the passion of someone rediscovering their love of making music, but also a poignancy of time lost. The power-pop moments are surround by reflective & therapeutic introspections dealing with the frustrations that have plagued his musical career.
Neil: Kevin Whelan, the driving force behind Aeon Station, was a key part of the influential band The Wrens. It was this bands long failure (over many years) to deliver a follow up to their acclaimed album The Meadowlands that is the creative catalyst for this work. Indeed, it features five tracks intended for that abandoned album and two members of the now defunct outfit. The result is a beautiful, melancholic bittersweet debut solo that revolves around the examination of lost dreams.

Ritual divination. / Here Lies Man
Mark: This was on AllMusic’s Best Rock Albums of 2021 list. Here Lies Man are an LA band who merge stoner metal with afrobeat rhythms. This long album, full of epic riffs that shift and morph into different strands, pulls in old school Sabbath elements, Fela Kuti like jams and shades of the Motown hard-rockers Rare Earth. The rhythmic complexity of what’s happening in each track keeps you engaged over the course of the album.
Neil: What can you say about this album? Well, imagine afrobeat mixing with vintage Black Sabbath, sprinkled with art rock overtones and a lot of fuzz. The whole project perhaps wears their 70’s Black Sabbath influence a bit too heavily to be its own thing. That said, it is surprisingly coherent and enjoyable with solid Tony Iommish riff’s aplenty and a gloriously fun listen.

662. / Ingram, Christone “Kingfish”
Mark: Mojo’s best Blues Album of 2021. The 2nd album from the hot young Blues star builds solidly from his dazzling debut. It’s straight ahead blues, but incorporates more R&B grooves and rock riffs this time around, building upon his classic sound and muscular soloing. He isn’t reinventing the wheel with what he’s doing, but the juxtaposition of his young years with his veteran skills gives a weight to everything, and his vocals provide an earnest and honest take on hard times and struggles.
Neil: 22-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram delivers a collection of hard driving blue’s tracks on his album 662. The full gambit of blues styles is on show; some tracks lean towards blues funk, some towards blues pop and even some that are reminiscent of early Zeppelin Blues rock. The energy, technical skill and enthusiasm Kingfisher shows throughout the album never falters. In short, if you are a blues fan it comes highly recommended.

The missing star. / Lunatraktors
Mark: This made 2nd place on Mojo’s best Folk albums of 2021 (after Peggy Seeger’s First farewell). Lunatraktors are an ‘Alt-folk’ band who pioneered the philosophy of ‘broken folk’, taking traditional (& modern) songs and music and re-interpreting them. The first track, for example, is the traditional ‘Rigs of the Time’ with updated the lyrics to include mentions of Brexit, Facebook, Covid-19 and the corruption of politics by UK elites. Other songs feature melodica, harmonium, odd percussion and drones, A mix up of the traditional with takes on Fake news and Leonard Cohen covers, this album is worth checking out if you are looking for folk that mixes the old with some new experimentation.
Neil: The British Folk genre has a long history of politically motivated songs. The Lunatraktors album ‘The missing star’ walks firmly and proudly in those footsteps, with songs about nurses pay, modern British institutional corruption and even Brexit. The setting is less traditional; edgy overlapping Folk harmonies and stripped back percussion all goes into a potent album of what the band themselves, very accurately and provocatively, describe as “Broken Folk”.

Let the night in. / Elise, Kendall
Mark: Auckland country singer-songwriter Kendall Elise made Graham Reid’s Best of Elsewhere 2021 picks with this album. More ‘country-ish’, as it features some rockabilly, traditional country ballads, rockers, moody torch-noir and dark folk. There’s some top song-writing on display, alongside her natural empathetic voice, that convinces within all the emotional shades of the songs. Definitely worth a listen.
Neil: Kendal Elise’s new album tilts its head at several musical styles from acoustic introspective rock, to folk and blues. There’s even a little bit of rockabilly, whilst largely staying in the country music genre. There is even a rocking country cover, a version of Suzi Quatro’s ‘Your mamma won’t like me’. Her vocals are strong and soulful, with a 60’s feel, and she reads the emotional content within each track with precision.

Foolish loving spaces. / Blossoms
Mark: Super catchy third album from the young UK group of schoolfriends, who rose in the 2010’s from small gigs in their native Stockport with word of mouth EPs, to stadium headliners. This is a really great blend of peppy, synthy, power-pop, that takes elements from Brit-pop, early Strokes and Rooney to create propulsive driving pop songs with wry takes on modern relationships. Really enjoyed this.
Neil: ‘Foolish loving spaces’ is a swirling 70’s disco ball of an album that oozes disco glam from every musical pore. The often-ultra-catchy pop tunes hark back to the golden age of the 70’s, when disco was king. Think of a band that channels Abba or The Osmond’s and you know what you are in for.

Fir wave. / Peel, Hannah
Mark: Shortlisted for the 2021 Mercury Prize, ‘Fir Wave’ sees the Northern Irish composer and producer reinterpreting Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop’s 1972 album ‘Electrosonic’. It is a testament to Peel’s talent that she make this reinterpretation, with 21st century music technology, seem like a collaboration effort between the two women. Deeply hypnotic, this is a fitting homage to one of the great female pioneers of Electronic music as well as a significant piece of music from Peel itself.
Neil: Delia Derbyshire, along with Daphne Oram, is regarded as one of the legendary and founding musicians of modern electronic music. This is especially, though not exclusively, through their work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. ‘Fir wave’ uses fragments and elements of Delia’s work, but instead of trying to create something in the same tone as the originals, Peel takes a much more daring approach. Whilst paying homage, Peel only uses these elements as starting points, crafting them instead into a phantasmagorical, unique, and tightly bound atmospheric sound world with each track possessing and having its own character.

Fleuves de l’âme. / Hedfi, Houeida
Mark: This debut album by Tunisian percussionist Houeid Hedfi was more than 10 years in the making. Hedfi began playing music in a band who played a form of percussive trance music associated with Tunisia’s black sub-Saharan minority. Hedfi wanted to create something that was more melodic, not just rhythmic, and so she began working with a Tunisian violinist, a Palestinian bouzouk player and, as producer, The Knife’s Olof Dreijer. The resulting album was created over a 9 year period in France, Tunisia, and Germany. A sensual and atmospheric journey, as traditional instrumentation meets subtly embedded electronics and drones, evoking memory, yearning, peace and loss.
Neil: This dreamy Tunisian music inspired ambient work is themed around rivers and water. The work is sensual in feel, punctuated with lush melodies and cascading eastern rhythmic components. It shows the limitations of some Western music, being an expansive work that explores other non-western musical legacies. It contains mystical and trance like elements, yet you know from listening to it that the creation of the various pieces shows a very focussed musical mind at work. It rightly featured heavily on many of the best of 2021 lists.

The nearer the fountain, more pure the stream flows. / Albarn, Damon
Mark: The second solo album for the Blur/Gorillaz frontman after Everyday Robots (2014). It was initially planned as an orchestral homage to his adopted homeland of Iceland, until Covid-19 forced a change of direction. The result has the underpinnings of the original instrumental context, with the focus on sonic washes and moody atmospheres, but the added vocals give shape to a meditative concept-ish album built around isolation. Some tracks were better than other, and I’m not sure if it all works as a whole. Worth checking out if you’ve followed his other musical diversions.
Neil: The Gorillaz’s and Blur frontman Damon Albarn is well known as a musical polymath, from film soundtracks to Brit Pop. ‘The nearer the fountain, more pure the stream flows’ is his latest musical departure, and one of his most personal works. It is inspired by, and a meditation on, the Icelandic landscape a country he now holds dual citizenship for. The final work takes this central theme, and effortlessly morphs it into a much wider viewed piece about climate crisis, grief, and loss. It is a classically structured melancholic piece, and a sad musical love letter to his adopted country and, in a more general sense, to our current situation.

Hopelessly in love. / Thompson, Carroll
Mark: This is the 40th Anniversary of this Lovers Rock 1981 classic album from English singer Carroll Thompson. Her beautifully sweet soulful voice , the lilting rhythms, the lovelorn lyrics, the endlessly melodic tracks all make this an enduring classic of British Reggae. You can see the influence this had on future generations of UK female singers. The Guardian included it in their list of “1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die”, describing the album as “a sort of dub-wise version of Joni Mitchell’s Blue”. Can’t say I’m much of a Reggae fan but I really enjoyed this.
Neil: This long out of date album was originally released in 1981. In revisiting this work 40 years later, you can see how this album helped define British reggae and widened the parameters of how Reggae was perceived, especially in the UK. It does so by being much more intimate, with the lyrical contents focussing much more on personal relationships and everyday life. The musical content is simultaneously lighter in tone, and carries a carefully crafted pop sensibility through these elements that was rarely explored at the time, if at all. ‘Hopelessly in love’ it would go on to be rightfully regarded as a ground-breaking work.

Next is now. / Goldman, Vivien
Mark: Goldman is an iconic figure in the Punk movement, through her work as both a musician in the 80s, her music writing & journalism, and her work in education. This is her first solo material in 40 years. Produced by Youth, the album is more dubby New-Wave than punk, full of catchy reverb laden vocals and synthy electronics, underpinning the politically focused songs that address such issues as immigration. Certainly more polished than her previous punk/experimental work, this album chooses to focus on an optimistic take on the future.
Neil: Vivien Goldman is a bit of a musical legend both as a journalist and as a musician, working with the likes of John Lydon and Bob Marley as well as being a member of the New Wave band The Flying Lizards. In ‘Next is now’, political lyrics combine with dubby, funky Tom Tom Club musical settings while being covered with a veneer of punk sensibility. The album resolutely sets out to comment on the tumultuous times we find ourselves in. It reminded me of an updated version of Chumbawamba in feel and political sentiment.

Buffalo Nichols. / Nichols, Buffalo
Mark: This debut album from this 30 year old Texan got lots of good press last year, and deservedly so. The husky voiced singer delivers some searing political commentary alongside some smokey acoustic guitar fingering. Raw and old-school sounding, he paints a bleak picture of modern society in these hard hitting vignettes. Powerful.
Neil: Buffalo Nichols’ album builds on the legacies of many blues luminaries such as Robert Cray or even Robert Johnson, musicians he clearly loves. But the lyrics deal with contemporary issues in America of race and social injustice. And Buffalo’s husky voice and accomplished finger picking blues style ensures that this is a lonesome, compelling blues outing.

An evening with Silk Sonic / Silk Sonic
Mark: Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak team up for this ridiculously entertaining 70’s soul extravaganza. A shameless homage to the sweet 70’s soul-soul stylings of The Delfonics or Blue Magic. The line ‘I’m sippin wine in a robe/I look too good to be alone…’ sums up the tone of what’s happening here. Every musical artifact of this period is precisely re-created (the video’s are hilarious also). Very very tongue-in-cheek…Or is it? They sound so committed to the execution it’s hard to tell…
Neil: ‘An evening with Silk Sonic’ is that rarest of things, an album that walks a razor edge between parody and authenticity whilst never quite falling off onto either side. It does often flip a knowing musical wink at its listeners. It isn’t too surprising, as the original 70’s source material often walked that line too. It is a fabulously well executed project in every aspect, great songs spot on production and lots of infectious disco groove stylings. This album perfectly recreates the 70’s rhythm and blues scene. Think Kool and the Gang, Disco era Marvin Gaye and even the 70s output of James Brown.

Glow on. / Turnstile
Mark: The third album from this young hardcore punk band from Baltimore asks the question: What would happen if you fused hardcore punk sensibilities with glossy alt-rok productions values? The result is ‘Glow On’, where grunge, metal, and indie rock collide in 35 minutes of catchy riffs and anthemic chorus’. The tracks shift in interesting ways, with all the genre elements melding together in a cohesive whole. You’ll want to hit play again as soon as the album ends…
Neil: Hardcore Baltimore rockers Turnstile release their most accomplished and experimental album to date. Part post-punk, part stadium rock; this album is solidly heavy, with synths, drum machines and constant shifting tones and atmospheres. It’s all wrapped up in big riffs and powerhouse grooves.

It’s your birthday. / Ellen, Vera
Mark: Vera Ellen is a Wellington singer, formerly the frontwomen of band Maple Syrup, and also a member of LA based girl band Girl Friday. Recently signed to Flying Nun, this is her first album for the label. It melds an early 80’s indie pop sound, 60’s girl-group and 90’s garage rock stylings, all with a strong contemporary female perspective. The seemingly simplistic chord changes and drum patterns hide a sophisticated piece of work, whose disarming harmonies surround an often raw and visceral take on relationships and modern life for someone her age.
Neil: New Zealander Ellen Vera was on holiday in her home country, about to fly back to her new home in L.A., when the first wave of the pandemic struck and she found herself stuck in New Zealand. So, she spent that time productively by going through a stack of rough demos and thrashing them out into a finished album. The resulting album has a deliberately rough and ready Flying Nun production sound to it, and features songs about unease, being an outsider and a separation from the people and things you love.

Henki / Dawson, Richard
Mark: English folkie Richard Dawson and Finnish experimental rockers Circle combine for this self-described “flora-themed hypno-folk-metal” album, that made a lot of best of 2021 lists. Songs written from the perspective of a seed meet proggy vignettes about searching for ancient trees. It’s all as bonkers as it sounds. Like the soundtrack to a horror film in which The Green Man summons trees to go nuts and start killing everyone.
Neil: Eccentric English folk music combined with heavy indie rock is quite a combination, and this is what we have in the latest outing from Richard Dawson. It is intense, deeply felt, very unique and I guess all these factors lead it to be a very marmite experience. People will either love this or hate it. For reference, think of a powerful English folk version of Captain Beefheart at his most uncompromising.

You gotta have it. / Carroll, Tia
Mark: This was Mojo’s pick for the 2nd best Blues album of last year. I liked this more than the ‘Kingfish’ album. She has a great voice, with more of a late night soul vibe on some tracks, and a lyrical focus on female empowerment.
Neil: : It is always great to come across a new powerhouse blues-belter of a singer with real style and grace. That said, Tia Carroll has been around for a long time, a true hidden treasure tirelessly working the San Francisco bay areas live circuit for decades. The combination of classic solid, soul, RnB in her voice, with an excellent backing band, combine with lyrics that often highlight social issues at their heart. If all this sounds like your kind of thing, I would check this album out.

The war on peace of mind. / Swann, Dianne
Mark: The first solo album for an iconic figure of NZ music,  who is a member of When The Cat’s Away & the front woman for The Julie Dolphin, The Bads and Boom Boom Mancini. Decades of writing coalesce in a perfect showcase of her classicist singer-songwriter pop. Optimism and uncertainty mix in these narratives, surrounded by a smooth timeless production with some great background harmonies.
Neil: Dianne Swann has been fronting indie rock outfits from the mid 1980’s. ‘The war on peace of mind’ is surprisingly her first solo album. It’s a work that encompasses a wide variety of moods and emotions, from a rocking call to arms tracks to more directly personal intimate songs.

Desire. / Marea, Desire
Mark: Debut album from Marea, who is one half of the South African performance art duo FAKA. This one isn’t ‘World’ music at all, but a very modern Electronica album. There is the influence of African rhythms on some tracks, along with some Zulu vocals, but this is mostly trancey house beats with swirling atmospheric choral-like vocals. The introspection, sensitivity and vulnerability of the lyrical content push it in a deeper direction than all the beats suggest. Marea achieves the rare feet of seeming like a fully formed artist his first time out. Impressive stuff.
Neil: ‘Desire’ is a wide screen kaleidoscopic work, featuring modern propulsive rhythmic elements that have their roots in African music. This ever-expanding mix of sound adds in synths, acoustic instruments and a whole universe of other instrumentation. The result is an ambitious art pop work that reaches back into the artist’s rich cultural heritage while at the same time it manages, most of the time, to be very approachable. A brilliant work of expansive exploration that is an enjoyable innovative musical journey.

Let yourself be loved. / Denalane, Joy
Mark: German Soul singer of German/South African descent, who can sing in English, German & Xhosa. MTV called her the queen of German Soul, she is the only German to be signed to Motown records for ‘Let yourself be Loved’ (her 5th album). It originally came out in 2020 but was re-released internationally in 2021 as a Deluxe version. A great slice of retro 70’s soul styled originals (sung in English). Maybe it’s because she isn’t American, but this seems less forced and derivative than a lot of contemporary neo-soul. Or maybe her long experience in music gives her the skills and confidence to subvert the vintage stylings to suit her personality and her own vision of this classic sound. Classy.
Neil: Hailing from Berlin, singer Joy Denalane’s fifth album is also her debut album on the legendary Motown label. To summarise the music on the release, it is an album that fits perfectly into the label’s illustrious back catalogue. Denalane’s talent and personality are stamped throughout the work, which is a modern take on the 60’s and 70’s soul music the label was largely responsible for creating.

Prioritise pleasure. / Self Esteem
Mark: Self Esteem is the moniker of Rebecca Taylor, who spent a decade as part of the duo Slow Club. ‘Prioritise pleasure’ is her second album as Self Esteem, and was the Guardian’s pick for Best album of 2021. Forthright and confrontational, the album pulls no punches lyrically as it addresses the raw anger and fears of women in society today; the guilt and self doubt that contemporary culture promotes, the normalisation of misogyny and other hefty topics. All this is wrapped around a glossy pop sheen, pounding beats, pulsing strings and epic, soaring, choral vocals. Powerful & honest.
Neil: Self-worth and self-exploration are at the front of the newly crowned queen of pop’s sharp and often wittily observed lyrics in ‘Prioritise Pleasure’. Artist Self Esteem AKA Rebecca Taylor’s second album is a huge sprawling and grand pop edifice. It contains infectiously catchy pop tunes, sexually explicit lyrics about the artists intimate life and a huge dollop of humour to round it off. The Guardian made it their album of the year. An interesting side fact, her logo is based on Freddie Mercury’s signature.

Wary + strange. / Kiah, Amythyst
Mark: The 3rd album from this Grammy nominated Tennessee country-blues singer-songwriter/guitarist, who is also a member of Our Native Daughters. Alternately fierce and tender ruminations run through these authentically gritty and real songs, focussing on her life as a Southern LGBTQ+ woman.
Neil: ‘Wary + strange’ is an intimate work about being an LGBTQ+ Southern Black woman. Kiah has a great understanding of how to build up the emotional tension throughout a track, whilst also allowing her independent spirit to soar. The accompanying music flows with the emotional tone of each track, moving from delicate finger picking to country-blues and even a bit of alt rock. That said, Amythyst Kiah is far too independent to make this anyone’s album but her own, It all makes for a powerful emotional listen.

Juno. / Wolf, Remi
Mark: LA singer whose music is a chaotic hybrid of funk, disco, bubblegum pop, R&B, skater-pop and a mélange of other influences. Her musical world is all about chanted choruses and wry wordplay, but the relentlessly fizzy tracks also deal with real world issues like getting sober and finding your place in the adult world. Fun & hyper.
Neil: Hyper stylised, self-referenced, Cartoon Californian, day-glow bubble gum hip-hop pop. Remi Wolf’s album is an upbeat hallucinogenic playful sugar rush of an album. Danceable and fun.

Remember her name. / Guyton, Mickey
Mark: Mickey Guyton became the first Black woman to be nominated for a solo country music Grammy in 2021. It was, however, a long road to recognition. After being named “New Female Vocalist of the Year” in 2015, it took her a full six years of being stuck in industry purgatory to release this debut album. This points to the ongoing struggle for Black female singers within the Country genre, which she addresses within some of the songs on this album. While from a musical perspective there is nothing particularly revelatory happening here, a lot of it sounds like Faith Hill or other 90s country-pop, it’s all about the perspective. Songs like ‘Love My Hair’ or ‘Black Like Me’ form part of an emerging conversation, and Guyton is part of a new wave of Black female singers reclaiming Country music as a genre for all Americans.
Neil: Billed as the rising star of the Nashville country music scene, Mickey Guyton has in fact spent the last ten years building up to this point in her career. The album is part of the movement moving mainstream country music away from its long history of racial exclusion. The album addresses and talks about the continued bias and tokenism the singer experiences. It’s a slick country outing, with important things to say, that points the way towards a much needed, more inclusive, and diverse country music scene.

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.