I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries. Every month this year my colleagues Sam, Neil and I reviewed some new material for the music collection at Te Awe Brandon Street Library. The list below is the Top 10 picks from each us for 2023, the albums we enjoyed listening to most over the course of the year. Some of these titles featured on various critics’ Best of 2023 lists, but others are just albums that struck us as being unique and interesting.
Sleepwalker / Post, Louise
One of the most successful female fronted ‘Alt-Rock’ bands of the 1990s, whose influence still features prominently in a lot of contemporary bands, Veruca Salt‘s original line-up split acrimoniously after 2 full length albums and an EP, as founding members Louise Post & Nina Gordon went their own ways. Post continued with a couple more heavier albums & EPs under the ‘Veruca Salt’ moniker, while Gordon delivered a couple of much more commercial sounding solo albums. Hatches were apparently buried in 2013 when the bands original line-up, like a lot of other bands of that era, reunited to tour and eventually released a 2015 reunion album. Post & Gordon collaborated with Skating Polly on a 2017 EP, but following some touring in 2018 the band had been dormant. However Louise Post’s return to music was one of the surprising releases of last year, with her first solo album Sleepwalker. Apparently arising, like a lot of material, out of the Covid lockdowns she whittled down 50 or so tracks to the 11 that make up the album. As perhaps to be expected of someone her age, it’s a darker-tinged adult oriented ‘album’, rather than a set of singles. She really digs into mature stories of the domestic comfort/discomfort of long term relationships, alongside more upbeat tracks that work as homages to her own pop past. What’s perhaps the most surprising is how great it all sounds, as she works in a lot of genres and different instrumentation, but never loses focus on investing each track with a hooky, melodic line, disproving the long-held theory that it was Gordon who brought the ‘pop’ voice to Veruca Salt’s original albums. Her immediately distinctive voice is in great shape, and the sympathetic production puts it above the mix, so there is a real clarity to the album & it’s sound.
Rat saw God / Wednesday (Musical group)
Wednesday are a US alt-rock band from North Carolina and ‘Rat Saw God’ (a nice Veronica Mars homage), is their 5th album and first on the prominent indie label Dead Oceans, was hailed as a career breakthrough and ended up on a lot of the Best of 2023 lists last year. Helmed by singer-guitarist-songwriter Karly Hartzman the band takes it’s name from cult UK 90s band ‘The Sundays’. They fuse the vocal stylings of that band’s indie pop with the shoegazy rock of Swirlies, 90s grunge, the noise-pop of Sub Pop bands like Velocity Girl or Spinanes, as well as some alt-Country influences akin to Mojave 3. The twangy distortion creates a dirty/clean sonic aesthetic, and the combined – seemingly disparate – musical elements deliver something that, while obviously trading on past styles, still feels new & fresh. It’s an album of character studies, biting lyrics, and narratives of pain and suffering that reflect both the messy and euphoric moments of the protagonists. While they have been around for a while, there is a real sense of ‘next big new band buzz’ with this album.
Mermaidens / Mermaidens
Mermaidens returned with their fourth full length in 2023. Gone are the, sometimes, obtuse post-punk/psyche-rock overtones of their previous work for a slicker more pop sound, that harks back to the fizzy ‘Alt-Pop’ that ran through bands like Pixies, The Breeders & Belly, with dashes of 80s shoegaze & punk. With Samuel Scott Flynn (Phoenix Foundation) at the helm as producer, there is a real sense of arrival with this album. Every musical element is cleanly locked in place, the song-writing is more immediate & catchy, with plenty of pop hooks, along with more harmonies and shimmery, hypnotic, grooves. Perhaps their best album yet, and clearly one headed for the top in the next local music awards. (VINYL here for Mermaidens).
Continue reading “Staff Picks: The Best CDs & Vinyl of 2023 – Part 1”