WCL podcast: The best albums of 2022


via GIPHY

Statler: Well, it was good.
Waldorf: Ah, it was very bad.
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: Ah, it was in the middle there.
Statler: Ah, it wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.”
-‘The Muppet Show’.

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

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

Mark’s Picks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neil’s Picks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


via GIPHY

Statler: Well, it was good.
Waldorf: Ah, it was very bad.
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: Ah, it was in the middle there.
Statler: Ah, it wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.”
-‘The Muppet Show’.

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries (I also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). Every month my colleague Neil and I cast our eye over the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. We pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres, and try to limit our reviews to a few lines only. Can we encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? [Ed. This is probably unlikely at this point]. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out…

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

MLDE / Marxist Love Disco Ensemble
Mark: Marxist Love Disco Ensemble are an Italian group who deliver a debut album that mixes European & Mediterranean retro disco sounds and 80s pop, with Marxist political statements. There is a degree of seriousness of purpose, but it all has a somewhat laid back tongue-in-cheek lounge vibe. It’s actually very good, with warm analogue sounding synths, and lots of spot-on vintage instrumentation, and melodic and catchy tracks. In the end it comes across as something quite original and fun.

Neil: Retro eighties lounge disco filtered through the lenses of modern technology, both in production and the modern (but vintage sounding synths) and the distinctive disco European scene. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise to discover that the Marxist Love Disco Ensemble are Italian, as the cooler end of the Euro disco vibe hangs heavy in the air. It is all rather fun, in a sparkly Mirrorball and feather boa fashion.

So wonderful / Scott, Gloria
Mark: Gloria Scott was discovered by Sly Stone, before working with Ike and Tina Turner in the ‘Ikettes’, but is best remembered by Soul aficionado’s for her (until now) lone solo album, 1974’s What Am I Gonna Do, which was produced by Soul legend Barry White. It was a great album, but she remained another artist for whom success never materialised. However nearly 50 years on she has made a follow-up album, ‘So Wonderful’, recorded in the UK, featuring re-recorded versions of 3 demos from an unfinished follow-up to ‘What Am I Gonna Do’, next to a bunch of new songs. The new songs are all in the style of mid tempo 70s soul, with plenty of strings and horn touches, and the album all really works as a cohesive sounding whole. A great comeback. Classy, elegant sounding soul like this never goes out of fashion.

Neil: Gloria Scott was the singer behind the 1974 soul classic ‘What Am I Gonna Do’. And nearly fifty years later comes its follow up. It’s a wonderful modern album that recreates the soul sound of the 70’s, which isn’t that surprising as many of the songs were written and orchestrated at that time for this long delayed follow up, though the actual recordings used are modern. There are new songs that fit seamlessly into the album and her iconic voice is as strong as ever throughout.

Carry me home / Staples, Mavis
Mark: ‘Midnight Rambles’ were what ex-Band drummer & singer Levon Helm called the jam sessions he began hosting in his home studio during the 90s, and featured everyone from Elvis Costello to Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Norah Jones and many others. They eventually re-ignited his career, eventually leading to 2 Grammy award winning solo albums, and this live album comes from the last of those recorded sessions in 2011, as Helm would pass away a year later. As you would expect from such legends as Helm & singer Mavis Staples, this is a vibrant, powerful funk-soul, gospel album that draws all the themes of these religious & political songs together into a transcendent ode to perseverance, survival and freedom.

Neil: Mavis Staples and Levon Helm were both in their 70’s and enjoying late career renaissances when they recorded these tracks in Helm’s barn in 2011. Though from the energy Mavis and the band gives out you’d never know. These brilliant gospel, rock, blues tracks have politics written deep and large in their DNA and sadly the politics have only gained more poignancy over the last decade. A strong, sweet, powerful collection of songs recorded live with a real edge.

As the moon rests / Williams, A. A.
Mark: London-based multi-instrumentalist A.A Williams came from a classical background in piano & cello, and only taught herself to play guitar after finding one in the street. However her 2019 EP was received with such rapturous acclaim that she soon found herself playing festivals and opening for name bands, along with landing a a record deal with Bella Union for her full length debut 2020s Forever Blue. This follow up turns the dial up on the volume, with dark foreboding gothic soundscapes full of grandiose riffs & towering string crescendos, but also quiet, raw, acoustic moments, to create an impressive, darkly beautiful album of hugely varied scope and layered sounds. An album that you don’t put on as background music, but rather to immerse you in its world.

Neil: This critically acclaimed release is a powerful, churning and tempestuous work that both balances and blurs the line between metal, classical, post rock and contemporary prog rock. It is bleak in subject matter throughout, and moves from minimalist piano and vocals to sludge metal and meaty power chords. The loud/quiet structure gives the whole project an epic and grandiose feel.

Strange mornings in the garden / Loyal Seas
Mark: ‘Strange Mornings in the Garden’ is the debut album from The Loyal Seas, which is a collaboration between Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly) and Brian Sullivan (Dylan in the Movies). They both get a chance to shine on individual tracks, but the best moments are when they combine their vocals, as their vocal tones and sparkling harmonies meld perfectly together (his a low register growl, hers the sound of sweet honey). Shimmering, lush, indie folk-pop that mixes a big heartland rock, orchestral elements, washed of synths and reverb laden guitars. A refreshingly original album that moves from sweeping ballads to tightly-knit, kinetic pop-rock.

Neil: Tanya Donelly and Brian Sullivan have been friends and worked together for nearly thirty years, and these decades of friendship show in the easy and relaxed nature of this album. ‘Strange mornings in the garden’ is a glittering, shimmering, gorgeous melodic indie pop work very much its own thing, but it reminded me in places of the more mellow works of bands like The Beach Boys or The Byrd’s. There is definitely an uplifting summery vibe to the poetic lyrics and radiant supporting music. I liked this release a lot.

Raw data feel / Everything Everything
Mark: The 6th studio album by Manchester art rock-band Everything Everything gained some online notoriety when frontman Jonathan Higgs revealed he had used A.I. to help create the lyrics, teaming with a professor at the University of York to feed the machine with text from Beowulf, Confucius, the 4chan comment section and LinkedIn’s terms and conditions among other things. I’m not sure how much this shaped the lyrics, but they seem to deal with distinctly human introspection, trauma & recovery, while the music is a relentlessly catchy synth-pop throwback to New Order beats, snappy and danceable, with soaring anthemic choruses. A surprisingly warm and engaging album.

Neil: Everything Everything’s sixth album ‘Raw Data Feel’ displays the bands continued interest in technology and the mood of our times, be it memes or more weighty issues like terrorism. The band even used AI to self-generate some of the lyrics they used. At times these lyrics are quirky and slightly nerdy, using such devices as numerous Star Trek references. The music itself is electro pop sprinkled with cool, clever, and knowingly delivered vocals, like a modern version of a smoothed-out Devo.

Order of romance / Hoop, Jesca
Mark: Quirky American singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop returns with her 6th full-length album, following on from 2019’s Stonechild. ‘Order of Romance’ is full of complex, idiosyncratic, chamber folk, and unusual song structures that don’t always go where you think they might. The lyrical content is similar, full of metaphysical musings, and socio-philosophical commentaries on everything from gun control, religion, politics, societal norms and relationships. This is not easy listening by any means, as she makes challenging, layered, modern music that requires genuine attention to what is going on both musically & lyrically. Worth checking out if you enjoyed Fiona Apple’s Fetch the bolt cutters.

Neil: Jesca Hoop’s ‘Order of Romance’ deals with the treacherous territory of love and romance in an often multifaceted and opaque way, much like the complexities of the subjects themselves. The music is her own take on rustic indie folk, multi layered, ornate and baroque in feel. The lyrics are idiosyncratic, quirky, and often full of charm, and most of the time delivered in a quickfire fashion.

I walked with you a ways / Plains (Musical group)
Mark: ‘Plains’ is the new project of Katie Crutchfield (AKA Waxahatchee) and Texas songwriter Jess Williamson. The two apparently met five years ago, introduced by Crutchfield’s partner Kevin Morby, and formed an immediate musical rapport and mutual respect. They each brought individual songs to this project, and each trade off taking lead across the album. ‘I walked with you a ways’ is another strong entry in the line of all-female country acts, and harks back to that 90s country-pop era, sounding a bit like an early Dixie Chicks (now just The Chicks) album, full of intelligent tales of heartbreak, liberation & empowerment. It’s breezy, casual sound, belies the songwriting on display here, and even it’s just a one-off project, it’s one worth checking out if you’re an Americana fan.

Neil: Pop-tinged country and Western music that evokes the “old school” sound and stylings of 90’s country music, which generated huge followings thanks to its easy to relate to truths and home-grown honesty, not to mention its well-constructed and easy to sing-along lyrical content and melodies. The Plains know exactly what they are doing, delivering a finely crafted country star of an album that never sounds forced or gimmicky, and one that should prove hugely popular with country fans .

November’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for November. You can catch up with Part 1 here. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out… [Note: Sadly Neil couldn’t join me this time out…]

I mean to shine / Hoover, Linda
Mark: Linda Hoover is a folk-rock singer/songwriter whose lost 1970 debut was a proto-Steely Dan project. At 19, Hoover entered Manhattan’s Advantage Sound Studio to cut her first album with Gary Katz, Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, and future Steely Dan guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk Baxter, with Fagen & Becker having penned more than half the album. However it all came to naught, as the album was shelved over a business disagreement. Now reissued for the first time, it turns out to be a very pleasant mix of originals and covers with a young Hoover channelling some Joni Mitchell, and Linda Ronstadt influences.

From Capelton Hill / Stars (Canadian band)
Mark: The ninth album from this Canadian indie chamber-pop band, who have now been recording together for more than 20 years. Dual vocals from Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell are pushed out right to front of the mix in the polished production, with pulsing electronics mixing with more organic instrumentation. This balances out the sombre hushed intimacies with the upbeat moments on this bittersweet, reflective album. Lyrically it takes stock of life through the lens of mature adults who have been musicians for half their life, and sifts through layers of hurt and melancholy to find a sense of renewed hope.

Dancing dimensions / Thomas, Ural
Mark: 82 year old soul singer Ural Thomas’s career goes all the way back to the 1960s, when he shared bills with everyone from James Brown to Otis Redding & Stevie Wonder. But the rigours of ‘making it big’ were too much of a compromise, and he retired back to Portland where he would host weekly jam sessions at his home. A local drummer helped him reactivate his career in 2013, and this is now his third album with a generations younger band. This isn’t ‘retro-soul’ in any way, since Thomas was there when it was all going down, and his voice is in amazing shape – it sounds like the voice of a 30 year old. Finger snapping grooves, funky Bill Withers vibes, a soul masterclass from an unsung hero.

Colour my life / Small, Heather
Mark: Best known as the vocalist for British dance-soul act M People this is Heather Small’s first solo studio album in 16 years. It’s a retrospective look back at her carrier, as she reimagines classic M People tracks and songs from her solo career, re-recorded with the London Metropolitan Orchestra, plus a couple of new tracks. While these refined arrangements have a somewhat lesser power than the dancefloor banging originals, her husky distinctive voice once again proves why she is regarded as a national Treasure in the UK.

Tresor / Gwenno
Mark: Gwenno is Gwenno Saunders, a Welsh Electronic-pop musician, who was formerly a member of the UK girl group The Pipettes. This is her third solo album and her second sung entirely in Cornish, with one track sung in Welsh. The songs are apparently focused around the struggles of motherhood, but all great music transcends language barriers, so you don’t need to know what it’s all about to appreciate how good it all sounds. Bouncy, melodic, ambient electronics surround her beautiful singing, which occasionally gives way to dry spoken word sections that sound a bit like a Cornish version of the band Dry Cleaning. This is actually really good, and far more accessible than you would expect.

Supernova / Nova Twins
Mark: The second highest scoring album on Metacritic’s 2022 music ratings (after Motomami by Rosalía) is this album from London rock duo Nova Twins, who combine grime, punk, and heavy rock. The duo are vocalist/guitarist Amy Love and bassist Georgia South, whose debut 2020 album Who are The Girls won Best U.K. Breakthrough Band in the 2020 Heavy Music Awards, garnering fans like Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello. ‘Supernova’ is their follow-up release, an intense and experimental outing full of thundering drums and squealing guitars. They certainly bring the noise with this mix of industrial-nu-metal-punk that still manages to have plenty of confident poppy choruses.

Natural brown prom queen / Sudan Archives
Mark: Brittney Denise Parks is an American violinist, singer, and songwriter who records under the moniker Sudan Archives, this is her second album following on from 2019’s Athena. Supposedly an ode to her hometown of Cincinnati, it’s a dynamic mix of shifting moods and genres revolving around a clubby, sexy, electro R&B vibe. Playful, funny and self confident, she creates a maximalist feminist pop manifesto on the joys of living in the moment.

The band from Wellington, New Zealand / Dartz
Mark: DARTZ bring their party-pop-punk aesthetic to life in Wellington in a series of short punchy songs that seem to focus on beers, shitty flats, house parties, bad dealers, Toyota corollas, and getting high. However, if the titles of these songs imply a somewhat shallow sense of fun, that is definitely not the case. Beneath the tongue-in-cheek references, the adopted personas, video antics, and seemingly mundane takes of life in NZ, are tracks with reflective and insightful lines that elevate the material, using the genre to touch on social issues around housing, anxiety, politicians, religious figures, colonisation, mental health and more. A funny and clever album, whose success lies in just the right balance of goofy fun and serious intent.

November’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 1


via GIPHY

Statler: Well, it was good.
Waldorf: Ah, it was very bad.
Statler: Well, it was average.
Waldorf: Ah, it was in the middle there.
Statler: Ah, it wasn’t that great.
Waldorf: I kind of liked it.”
-‘The Muppet Show’.

I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries (I also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). Every month my colleague Neil and I cast our eye over the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at our CBD Te Awe library. We pick out some interesting titles across a range of music genres, and try to limit our reviews to a few lines only. Can we encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? [Ed. This is probably unlikely at this point]. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out…

[Note: Sadly Neil couldn’t join me this time out…]

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

Dentures out / Proclaimers
Mark: Scottish duo return for their 12th album, ‘Dentures Out’. The wry title track is a coy reference to Britain herself, and the whole album is a series of pointed songs on the social, economic, & political ills facing Britain. Firing on all cylinders they take aim at the weaponizing of nostalgia to stoke the culture wars, but deliver it all in a short sharp bursts, never forgetting that any kind of anthem or social commentary can also be a great catchy pop song. A rollicking social commentary that clocks in at just under 35 minutes.

N.K-pop / Heaton, Paul
Mark: The fifth studio album Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, both formerly members of the Beautiful South. Classicist British bluesy-pop, with elements of skiffle, country, & brassy horns. Their vocals trade off beautifully, with a male/female perspective on these humourous kitchen sink dramas and cherry sounding pop songs, that hide a bunch of put upon protagonists trying to navigate the travails of everyday relationships & work, to the breakdown of modern society.

For all our days that tear our heart / Buckley, Jessie
Mark: Oscar nominated actor Jessie Buckley teams up with ex-Suede guitarist for this intense collaboration, a genuine musical endeavour rather than the musical touristing that these kinds of projects can be. And it’s not just ‘Quite good…’ either, it’s actually pretty damn impressive. Butler’s edgy electric guitar work, intimate acoustics, and dark string arrangements perfectly match her huge soaring vocals, creating a sombre and powerful piece of work that examines pain & heartbreak, through folk traditions, classical, blues and rock. They have a real musical sympathy, and this mature album feels like the peak of a career, rather than a debut.

Take it like a man / Shires, Amanda
Mark: The Americana singer-songwriter and fiddle player’s 7th album, shifts away from her country-folk based sound to a mix of indie rock elements, 70s pop singer-songwriter stylings, and harder, heavier, atmospherics. Pushes the ‘Nashville boundaries’ in a similar way that singers like Allison Moorer did before her.

Surrender / Rogers, Maggie
Mark: American singer-songwriter/scholar who was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2019, after the release of her major-label debut, Heard It in a Past Life. Her acclaimed follow up ‘Surrender’ (also the name of her 2022 Harvard Divinity School thesis) moves away from the folky R&B of her debut, and is a modern female singer-songwriter album, melding pop, country, dancefloor touches, and referencing some clear 90s alt pop/country influences. Lyrically she focuses on things that resonate with her late 20s age, influenced by moving home during the pandemic, as well as her return to college to study religion and its intersection with popular culture. An impressive album from an artist who has stripped back her music and self to the raw essentials, and is clearing going forward on her own terms.

Reason to smile / Radical, Kojey
Mark: Debut full-length release from East London rapper Kojey Radical, which has been nominated for the 2022 Mercury Prize. A mixed media visual artist who began in Fashion, this is a carefully constructed debut a decade into his career, after 4 EPs dating back to 2014. Preferring to be defined as an artist. rather than just a ‘rapper’, the album mixes Hip-Hop, neo-soul & Jazz, along with rap & spoken word elements, painting various hued stories and statements on the black experience in the UK. Full of genre hopping style, and clever wordplay, there are moments of humour, but also a dark current of anger that’s channeled into a desire to get listeners thinking as well as dancing.

Last night in the bittersweet / Nutini, Paolo
Mark: Paolo Nutini was signed by Atlantic from his first demo tape at 19, his second album, 2009’s Sunny Side Up, debuted at number one as did its follow-up, Caustic Love. A unique artist who eschews the current music industry norms, the Scottish singer-songwriter is back with his 4th studio album, and his first since 2014. It melds his trademark soul & powerful alt-rock stylings into a cohesive statement, digging into heartbreak, writer’s block, self-doubt, and loss with a bruised romanticism, which he actually manages to sustain over the whole 16 tracks.

October’s New Music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is part 3 of our new music picks for October. You can catch up with Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out… [Note: Sadly Neil could only join me for a couple of reviews this time round…]

Honeyglaze / Honeyglaze
Mark: The debut album from this London Trio who make loungy indie folk, and are signed to the Speedy Wunderground label, who have previously release 7″‘s from Squid, Black Midi, and Black Country, New Road. Tempo shifts, and the proggy instrumental range of sounds within single tracks, enliven the Sundays-esque dream pop/folk on display. A different sound than the South-London post-punk art-pop of groups like Dry Cleaning and the bands above, but lead vocalist and songwriter Anouska Sokolow brings a similar deadpan wit and unassuming sincerity to the jangly melancholia. Quirky & charming.

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

MUNA / MUNA
Mark: Muna are an LA based synth-pop trio, that also embrace a retro pop sound. This is their 3rd album, after 2017’s About U & 2019’s Saves the World, and their first on Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory label (Bridgers guests on the track ‘Silk Chiffon’). They find most of their influences in that power-pop 80’s radio & 90’s club sound, and this may be their most catchy set of songs yet, full of pounding beats and synths. Resolutely upbeat music that hides some downbeat lyrics.

Let’s turn it into sound / Smith, Kaitlyn Aurelia
Mark: Orcas Island-LA based singer whose music focuses on fluid soundscapes at the nexus of New Age/Contemporary classical/experimental music, and is a leading figure in the use of modular synths. Having made an LP of drones for yoga and meditation, a new age album, and worked with Hollywood composer Emile Mosseri (Minari), ‘Let’s turn it into sound’ is more of a poppy electronica effort. Steve Reich-ian minimalism collides with bubbling Electronica & Afrobeat, Jazz, neo-classical ambient, dancefloor rhythms. It has a bit of a ‘hyperpop’ feel, with so many genres colliding it’s hard to get a handle on its abstract ethos, full of wonky angular ‘pop’ sounds, and underpinned by a new vocal processing technique she created. Focus is required, and perhaps rewarded with a glimpse of the future of music.

I ran down every dream / McLain, Tommy
Mark: Louisiana swamp pop singer Tommy McLain was a journeyman musical figure until recently when, with the help of some admirers, he has released his first official album of new recordings in over 40 years. A 1960s cover of Patsy Cline’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ was a hit in the US, and featured a decade later on a UK compilation that became a cult classic, gaining fans from Nick Lowe to Elvis Costello & Robert Plant. The long journey towards this album is almost a movie in itself, with hurricanes, fire and heart attacks along the way, but the reward is hearing the melancholy, dusty-voiced tales of loss and redemption from this 82 year old gem. McLain’s voice rings true, as he brings a life of experiences and hard-won knowledge to these bittersweet tales. A fitting coda to his career, and a testament to the scores of musicians and singers who have the requisite talent, but never gain the success and recognition they deserve.

Mascara streakz / Altered Images
Mark: Altered Images were a Scottish new wave/post-punk band, fronted by singer Claire Grogan, who had a bunch of hits & released 3 albums in the early 80s. The band split after their 3rd album, and Grogan would go on to become an actress, while guitar player Johnny McElhone formed the band ‘Texas’ with singer Sharleen Spiteri. ‘Mascara Streakz’ is the first new Altered Images album in 39 years, and features original members Grogan and Stephen Lironi, with Bobby Bluebell from the Bluebells and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who also co-writes a couple of tracks. Mature electro-pop from someone who was there when it all began, looking back on the ups and downs of life via plenty of dancefloor bangers and a spot on mix of retro and contemporary production.

Emotional creature / Beach Bunny
Mark: Beach Bunny are a Chicago indie punk-pop group, whose hooky melodies are based around vocalist Lili Trifilio. Originally a solo project of frontwoman Trifilio that expanded into a band after her 3rd EP, and became an ‘overnight sensation’ after the track ‘Prom Queen’, from their 4th EP, went viral on TikTok. ‘Emotional creature’ follows on from 2020 debut Honeymoon, which appeared on the Best Albums of 2020 lists in both The New York Times, and Rolling Stone. It’s a similar sounding effort, a more polished album of super catchy tunes and confessional lyrics that navigate the insecurities of relationships from the POV of young women. It may appear simple on the surface, but there’s a lot happening lyrically beneath all the shimmering power-pop. Reminded me a lot of the 90s band That Dog, and that Paramore/Eisley/Best Coast pop nexus.

José Louis and the paradox of love / Kwenders, Perre
Mark: This third studio album from the Kinshasa born-Canadian based singer-songwriter Pierre Kwenders was the winner of the 2022 Polaris Music Prize. A smooth mix of Congolese Rumba, dance, pop, hip-hop, jazz, & R&B beats, sung in French, English, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba. Few things sound unique these days, but the collision of Afrobeat, or other unique ethnic sounds with modern production and Western styles, is where things are really happening musically. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne feature, as well as Tendai Maraire of hip-hop experimentalists Shabazz Palaces. An album of free-floating electronic styles, melding with analogue synths, creating a borderless amalgamation of the past, the present & the future.

Neil: ‘José Louis and the Paradox of Love’ is a rich and vibrant personal blend of R&B, Soul and Rumba rock from the Kinshasa born Canadian based musician Pierre Kwenders. Indeed, there is even a track named after the “ King of Rumba Rock” Papa Wemba. It’s an inventive mix, to say the least, and finely executed, as Pierre carefully fuses all these elements and genres to create his own jubilant globe spanning musical World.

Vinyl Pick:
Sun’s Signature / Sun’s Signature
Mark: ‘Sun’s Signature’ are Elizabeth Fraser & Damon Reece, and while Fraser has provided guest vocals to numerous tracks over the years, this EP represents the first real release from the ex-Cocteau Twins singer since a 2009 single. More accessible than even late period Cocteau Twins her vocals, once buried in a sonic swirl, cascade down like the warmth of the sun itself. Drawing inspiration from nature, these 5 sensual tracks are as beguiling and uplifting as you would expect from someone who was once described as ‘…the voice of God’. As close as music comes to a religious experience…

Neil: It’s been a long time since the Cocteau Twins split over quarter of a century ago. If you are unfamiliar with their work, they almost single-handedly created the genre of dream pop, and are commonly regarded as one of the UK’s most important bands of all time. Since then their singer, the incomparable Elizabeth Fraser’s, irregular one of guest appearances on albums have often been spectacular, take for example Teardrop on Massive attack’s 1998 album Mezzanine. However, it could be said that her solo work has been rare much more patchy and largely unfocused, however ‘Sun’s Signature’ is a 30 minute EP that is a spectacular return. Elizabeth’s always sublime voice is there and showcased to perfection, and as it has matured it has gained a warmth and humanity. The lyrics show this marked difference too. For a start you can understand and relate to them in a way the ethereal and celestial wordless words of most Cocteau Twins lyrics don’t – one critic once described them as ‘lost in beauty’. It’s also a dense and rich musical production, reportedly ten years in the making and enhanced by the distinctive fingerprint production of Damon Reece. Welcome back.

October’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for October. You can catch up with Part 1 here. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out…

Headful of sugar / Sunflower Bean
Mark: Sunflower Bean are a US Brooklyn-based trio, who use dual female/male leads in their catchy mix of indie pop/rock, very much influenced by the type of music that was labelled ‘alternative’ in the 90s. Previous efforts, 2016’s Human Ceremony & 2018’s TwentyTwo in Blue garnered comparisons to Blake Babies, Blondie and classicist 70s pop, but their new album has a more dreamy electro bombast and arrangements that reminded me in places of classic Garbage, a more clubby version of The Corrs, and that trip-hop/pop sound used in the 90s by bands like Sneaker Pimps or Mono. Lyrically the songs are very much a reflection of how they view late stage capitalism as people in their mid-20s.
Neil: New York indie rock outfit Sunflower Bean, lauded for their carefully crafted image, have release their third album. It finds the band still rightfully furious about the state of the world, especially the current situation in America. The album has a much more optimistic overall tone than their previous outings, but still makes bold statements lyrically whilst never veering into truly bleak territory. The music can best be described as cool rock pop, with elements of alt rock and glam. Think the slightly commercial sides of Courtney Love or Shirley Manson.

Extreme / Nilsson, Molly
Mark: Molly Nilsson is a DIY synth-pop artist who has been making atmospheric, lo-fi, melodic, dark goth-pop albums for over a decade. Described as her most radio-friendly release so far, this is a super catchy slice of retro-AOR 80s pop. Guitars add a MBV vibe to some tracks, while others veer into more danceable territory, however at times it’s almost too close to a pastiche. Still, an enjoyable throwback sound. If you ever wondered what Aimee Mann’s old band ‘Til Tuesday would have sounded like if they just played synth-pop, then give it a listen.
Neil: The tenth album from doyen of the synth pop world, Molly Nilsson, opens to the sound of gnarly fuzz box guitars, before more familiar 80’s and 90’s inspired melodic synths arrive resplendent with beats to accompany them. The tempo’s speed for each track varies from dance floor to more 80’s ballad grooves in pace. It’s an album that embraces a kind of heightened euphoric feel to the lyrics,  underpinned with a contemporary “we might just be near the end type undercurrent” that sharpens their intensity.

Done come too far / Copeland, Shemekia
Mark: The tenth album from this American blues singer, who also incorporates rock, soul & americana into her work. Thematically this follows on from her last couple of albums, 2018’s America’s Child and 2020’s ‘Uncivil War’, as there is a more political and social focus amongst her stories. She attempts to understand the racial and cultural divides in modern America, while also casting a compassionate and empathetic light on the varied peoples that make up its modern constitution. Her powerful voice is equally at home on heartfelt ballads, modern blues and tongue-in-cheek swampy rockers; the songs cover everything from racial profiling and social ills, to navigating the landscape of modern America as a Black woman and parent, to falling in love with Honkey cowboys.
Neil: Four-time Grammy nominated Shemekia Copeland’s tenth album is a powerful work of personal and politically rooted blues-roots music, with some lighter songs thrown in. Delivered with Shemekia’s characteristically strong clear gospel blues voice, it’s unsurprising that most of the tracks show she is deeply aware of her surroundings and is unafraid to call out the injustices of the system in the lyrics. It’s a great album written from the perspective of an African American woman, mother and musician, conscious of the flawed society world she lives in.

Clowns exit laughing : the Jimmy Webb songbook
Mark: The latest entry in Ace Records ‘Songwriter’ series features iconic songwriter Jimmy Webb. It’s hard to think of a writer whose songs more defined the 60s than Jimmy Webb. The fact that Glen Campbell had a country hit with ‘By The Time I get To Phoenix’ and then Isaac Hayes had a soul hit with the same song is a testament to Webb’s timeless song writing skills, and the ability of these songs to translate into any musical style and emotional shading. The collection doesn’t just focus on the 60s, but expands to cover the his extensive catalogue of the past six decades: so you get some classic 60s songs, but also tracks from everyone from Nina Simone, to The Supremes, to Waylon Jennings and Everything But The Girl. As usual there are several rare, seldom-heard original versions of songs primarily associated with other artists.
Neil: ‘Clowns exit laughing: the Jimmy Webb songbook’ is a twenty-four-track focussed dive into the song writing work of one of the most prolific and recognisable songwriters of all time, Jimmy Webb. The compilation concentrates on his imperial phase, where he seemed to write a future classic for a major artist every month or two, with tracks such as ‘By the time I get to Phoenix’, Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Macarthur Park’. There are some rare, or rarely heard, original versions of tracks that are better known in other forms. That said, there are original versions of songs by such superstars as Glen Campbell, The Everly Brothers, The Walker Brothers, Nina Simone, and Dusty Springfield to name but a few, making this an essential introduction to this giant of song writing.

Autofiction / Suede (Musical group)
Mark: Few artists have regrouped after a decade apart to record new material with as much critical acclaim as Suede. 2013 comeback Bloodsports, 2016’s Night Thoughts and 2018’s The Blue Hour all formed a loose trilogy of sorts full of melodrama with layered strings, theatrical flourishes and foreboding lyrics. They wanted to create a more simple, more ‘punk’, sound for their latest album; they have dialled up the guitars, delivering a squalling and muscular album. This work finds its strengths in the fact that they are a middle aged band looking back at youth, feeling their mortality but punching forward musically. A great reinvention as Brett Anderson’s vocals are in great shape, he abandons the big budget production and abstract writing of pervious albums for more raw, urgent, and personal reflections.
Neil: ‘Autofiction’ is the ninth studio release from Suede, known as one of the 90’s Britpop ‘big four’ who enjoyed huge success, critically and commercially, during that decade. ‘Autofiction’ is a swaggering back to basics release that would not sound out of place had it been released in their imperial phase. Always known for their drama-laden guitar and vocals delivered with fire and energy, this late career album captures the passionate, urgent sound much beloved in their earlier album releases.

Au Suisse / Au Suisse
Mark: The debut full-length collaboration between electronic producers Morgan Geist and Kelley Polar is more 80s influenced new romantic synth-pop. The crystalline production gives it a bit of an icy sheen, and the pulsing synths and echoy soundstage contrast nicely with Polar’s warm vocals.
Neil: Au Suisse’s debut album is a modern, gracefully unfolding work that takes much of its inspiration from early 80’s disco electro pop, an album that reimagines the work of artists like The Pet Shop Boys, Talk Talk (before they embraced their later period expansive sound) and especially Scritti Politti. The album takes these influences and gives them a laid back and chilled out reworking, with layers of lush harmony and contemporary silky-smooth feathery production.

World wide pop / Superorganism
Mark: Eight-piece London indie pop band formed in 2017, with four of the members having played together before in Wellington’s own The Eversons. Following on from 2017’s self-titled album, ‘World wide pop’ features contributions from Chai & also slacker icon Stephen Malkmus among others: as well as more goofy samples, wacky tempos, sweet harmonies, rapping, audio mashups and deadpan vocals from teen singer Orono Noguchi. It’s all super-catchy, but a bit over the top: part silly, part annoying, part genius. Much like hyperpop, it can be a bit tiring, and probably all comes down to how much tolerance you have for this sort of thing.
Neil: The second album from the sprawling indie pop outfit Superorganism finds the international collective of musicians deliver a work that pushes many of the limitations of genre wide open, and does so with the help of a wide collection of guest artists such as Stephen Malkmus, Gen Hoshino, Boa Constrictors, CHAI, Pi Ja Ma and Dylan Cartlidge. There’s a lot of euphoric pop hooks, cartoon samples and experimentation going on, not to mention a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour. It all sound fresh, but perhaps with so many musicians involved it does sound a bit unfocussed at times.

Vulture prince / Aftab, Arooj
Mark: “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 three times since it came out last April – all of which sold out almost instantly. It’s critical and 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, which resulted in this CD issue. An amazing sounding album: a mixture of chamber jazz, Hindustani classical minimalism and neo-Sufi, centred around her crystal clear voice. A truly beautiful and haunting work.
Neil: ‘Vulture Prince’ by Pakistan-born Arooj Aftab is a total revelation. A heartbreaking, beautiful, plaintive, melancholic and quite exquisite album about loss, passing moments and our interconnections. It has roots in Hindustani classical, cool Jazz, and folk. It very carefully balances the deep layered minimalism of most of the album with brief slightly more orchestrated moments. It’s an outstanding work, and there is absolutely no surprise that it made it on to so many peoples ‘Best Of 2021’ lists.