Staff picks: CDs

Here are some music titles that library staff have recently been listening to and enjoying.

Martin P’s Picks:
Sunshine hit me / Bees (Musical group)
Debut album by a British band, came out in 2002, described by Wikipedia as “eclectic and summery, with a range of influences that include psychedelia, Jamaican dub, reggae, indie, 1960s rock and others”. It’s a lovely, melodic bunch of pop songs. They made several further albums, but none as good as this. Great summer record.


Miss America / O’Hara, Mary Margaret
Came out in 1988. The debut (and so far only) album by this Canadian artist. Came and went almost without trace at the time, but subsequently lavished with praise by musicians such as Michael Stipe and Tanya Donelly, as well as having its songs covered by bands from Cowboy Junkies to Perfume Genius. Her idiosyncratic vocals are unlike anyone else, and the album sounds like it could have been made last week rather than 35 years ago. Try Body’s In Trouble for a taste.

Heavy heavy / Young Fathers
Released Feb ’23, this new album from the Scottish trio sees them further developing their unique mix of tribal music, rap and singalong choruses. The production is a little less raw now perhaps, than on their early releases, but their ear for hooks and thought-provoking lyrics is better than ever.


Continue reading “Staff picks: CDs”

NZMM Reviews: Part 1 – Wellington Vinyl

A lot of bands choose vinyl now as the sole ‘physical’ format for an album release. For New Zealand Music Month, we checked out some recent vinyl exclusives for Wellington artists that we have added to the collection over the last year or so.

New Zealand Music Month logo - May 2023

Jazz from the underground nightclubs of Aotearoa. Vol. 5 / Devils Gate Outfit
Mark: An improvisational jazz collective comprised of some of Wellington’s most well known experimental music figures (Anthony Donaldson, Steve Roche, Daniel Beban, Cory Champion etc). Recorded at Meow in 2021, it was nominated for 2022 Jazz Album of the Year at the NZMA. Full of improvisations that take their cue from Wellington’s rugged coastal landscape with sonic textures resembling bird life, cascading crashing streams, and conflicting, driving, waves and winds.
Neil: This is volume five of a series of Aotearoa jazz albums by the Devils Gate Outfit. This live release from Wellington’s very own Meow venue features some of Wellington’s best improvisational jazz musicians. The music has the feel of the 70’s experimental jazz albums of that time, rugged with lots of sonic explorations, deep grooves and tonal changes.

Saturn return / Soft Plastics
Mark: ‘My World/Your Girl’ was a epic slice of Twin Peaks styled dream-pop/shoegaze balladry from 2020, and now leads off Soft Plastics’ debut album 3 years later. The layered, reverby, billowing guitar lines perfectly wrap around Sophie Scott-Maunder beautiful voice, but the band also pulls in traces of new-wave, punk and surf rock, all refracted through a modern lens. As good as anyone internationally mining this genre.
Neil: Soft Plastics are one of the most hotly tipped NZ bands of recent years, already internationally acclaimed. The music is perfectly formed. Fuzzy, shoegaze indie-rock with dark atmospheric, gothic, lyrical content.

+ Other colours / Wallace
Mark: ‘Future-soul’ singer Wallace, previously based in Sydney, returned to Wellington for the release of her debut album ‘+ Other Colours’, following on from her 2017 EP Pole to Pole. Tipped by industry insiders as NZs next big international music star. Slinky beats and a series of eclectic styles meld a visual and emotional sense of personal experiences grief and vulnerabilities. pair this with feminist themes and nostalgic dance-bop groves, you get an album that channels a smooth late night club vibe, where the past meets the future.

Being alone / Wiri Donna
Mark: Wiri Donna began as the indie-folk alter-ego of SOG’s Bianca Bailey, before becoming a fully fledged band. Lo-fi, jangly indie-pop meets heavier melodic guitars, and touches of cello and violin. Confessional, and sometimes confrontational, the songs focus on finding strength in independence and self-honesty, and navigating a male-dominated world.
Neil: Wiri Donna’s independently released EP is a work that amply demonstrates the quality of current NZ musicians’ output and the state of music scene in NZ. It’s really well produced, doesn’t have a weak track from beginning to end, and showcases her strong voice and her emphatic energetic riff rock vibe, resplendent with summery sweet tones and very personal lyrics. In decades past it would have attracted major record label interest, but these days this sort of corporate interest doesn’t seem necessary.

Big fresh / Richter City Rebels
Mark: Richter City Rebels return with ‘Big Fresh’, another unique mix of jazzy big band grooves, squalling brass, funky reggae dance rhythms, soulful vocals, and rap breaks. Raw Deezy, Chris CK, Moira Jean are on vocal duties, along with Troy Kingi on top track ‘Through My Venetians’. The propulsive energy of the music probably better translates in a live context rather than a studio one, but great music to put on to get your party night started.
Neil: The Richter City Rebels’ music is a soulful and heavy blend of funk, RnB, jazz and hip-hop, held together by a torrent of vibrant brass and pounding bass. This is a good album and gives you a feel for what they are like, but their live performances are totally knock-out and the album doesn’t quite catch the lightning in the bottle of their exhilarating live shows.

Goodnight My Darling / Goodnight My Darling
Mark: The music project of Maxine Macaulay. One of the first graduates from Massey University’s Bachelor of Commercial Music, she shifted from electronic music to a more full band indie-pop sound, and wrote the material for her self-titled debut during a seven month lockdown in Berlin, early 2021. Lovely, reflective, lilting, soft-pop with elements of shoegaze. Introspective and haunting, themes include love and loss and integrating life’s experiences. She described the lush tracks as representing ‘an evolution of self…’.
Neil: A perfectly executed album of laid back and chilled out indie-rock, with elements of shoegaze and even very occasionally psychedelia. Maxine Macaulay’s voice soars in a crystal-clear fashion hovering over the music. A very fine album, and a band to keep an eye on.

No drama / Hans Pucket
Mark: The sophomore LP from Wellington’s indie stalwarts Hans Pucket. Melodic, literate, cleverly written indie rock, it functions as a sort of a concept album about modern twenty-something anxiety. Meeting new people, nervous talking, the pressures of socializing, looking back a the past while trying to find a future. Catchy, dancey tracks, feature everything from strings and guitars, to synths and horns.

Journey to freedom / Welch, Devon
Mark: Recent vinyl reissue of Kapiti musician Devon Welch’s 2021 debut. A multi-instrumentalist, he blends a funk infused feel with elements of reggae, hip hop and soul in this series of instrumentals and vocal tracks. Plenty of tasty guitar lines frame that smokey, laid-back, soulful sound that seems to permeate music from the Kapiti Coast. It must be something in the air up there…

Dreaming of the future again / Womb
Mark: The sophomore album from Womb is another slice of beautiful, warm, ethereal dreamy pop, full of layered strings and gentle melancholy. The immediate reverby sound of the album gives it an intimate ‘live in the studio’ feel. The beautiful vocals wash over you, but there’s a muscular tension at play beneath all the smooth dreaminess, a restrained intensity that underpins all the tracks.

Solar eclipse / Clear Path Ensemble
Mark: More jazz from Clear Path Ensemble, which is the jazz project of Cory Champion, who makes electronic music as Borrowed cs. ‘Solar Eclipse’ follows on from 2020s self-titled debut, and contributors include Daniel Hayles, Johnny Lawrence, Michelle Velvin and Ruby Solly, among others. Fully integrated electronics frame an atmospheric melodic groove fest that takes its launch off point from classic 70s fusion & ECM noodling. The jam-like pieces incorporate elements of ambient, experimental, house and funk, synthy hooks and moody soundscapes that all merge into a retro cosmic journey.

Break / Fazerdaze
Mark: Last year Fazerdaze (AKA Amelia Murray) returned with her first new music in 5 years. Burnt out after the success and touring following Morningside, writer’s block, anxiety, and the break up of a long-term relationship; she embarked on a long period of self-realisation and rediscovery. Returning to music with a new found freedom, she eschews a lot of the dreamy, fuzzy pop associated with previous work and delivers an EP of edgier tracks with bigger riffs and samples; it’s full of uncertainty and tension, but still distinctly melodic.

Wax///wane / Johnson, Lucien
Mark: The sound of critically acclaimed local saxophonist Lucien Johnson is a thread that weaves through many Wellington and international albums and projects. His sophomore album, inspired by the lunar cycles of the Southern hemisphere, has a lovely drifty feel. His shimmering saxophone lines are surrounded by the cascading, dreamy tones of vibraphonist John Bell and harpist Michelle Velvin. Searching in places, but always centred, this is a powerful take on the ‘spiritual jazz’ genre that easily stand alongside anything that has come before.

The blessed ghost / Voodoo Bloo
Mark: The sophomore album from this local post-punk outfit, helmed by Rory McDonald who gained a lot of attention with previous band Lucifer Gunne. Debut album, Jacobus, was a deeply personal reaction to the passing of a close friend, and while ‘The blessed ghost’ is less specific, it’s no less intense, presenting the cathartic journey of its fictional narrator. His voice really is massive, easily navigating between power and fragility, as the emotional tones of the album shift in turn with the various styles on display from post-punk, to indie and pop elements.

Hang low / Dawson, Elliott
Mark: The debut album from Doons lead singer Elliott Dawson. Full of programming, weird drums and grooves that the songs are shaped around, rather than the other way round. ‘CEO’ channels UK post-punk art-rock, with it’s squalling saxophones and in-your-face lyrics, but the rest of the album has a more considered, almost cinematic vibe, set to an often jarring mix of heavy sounds with smooth laid back jazz vibes. The juxtaposition of the pretty with the abrasive frames a series of character sketches that seem to revolve around the breaking of personal cycles of one sort or another.

Orbit I / Recitals
Mark: Recitals are a local 7 piece ‘supergroup’, consisting of members from the bands Fruit Juice Parade, Yukon Era, Soda Boyz, and Courtney Hate. Formerly known as Prison Choir, they released their debut single, ‘Tongue’, in 2020, and their debut album ‘Orbit I’ dropped last year. Vocals are mixed with unusual instrumentation – trumpet features prominently, as does cello – giving the album a unique sprawling feel. With the juxtaposition of heavy alt-rock indie elements, ethereal folk-pop, and new London jazz stylings; it pulls all the musical influences of the band together, delivering something different with its fusion of the chaotic and the calming.


April’s new music for Te Awe: Part 1


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? [Ed. This is more than likely]. Read on to find out…

Éthiopiques. 21, Piano solo / Guèbrou, Tsegué-Maryam
Mark: In the January issue of Uncut there was feature write-up for a Vinyl only archival release by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, an Ethiopian piano playing Nun. We had nothing from her in our collection, so we decided to track down the original 2006 CD from the Éthiopiques series. So while this is not a new CD persee, since she passed away at the age of 99 on March 26th, it seemed fitting to include amongst our reviews. Her fascinating life plays out like a Hollywood movie: a society upbringing saw her studying Violin at a Swiss boarding school, singing & performing for Emperor Haile Selassie, becoming a prisoner of war on an Italian Island during WW2, declining a place at London’s Royal College of Music to take holy orders at age 21 and live in a convent, ultimately returning to her music and in 2017 becoming the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary called The Honky Tonk Nun. Her piano playing is fascinating, ultimately too stylistically diverse to fit comfortably in the Ethio-jazz tradition, as she melds classical, improvisational jazz, Mississippi Delta, ragtime, religious music and minimalist techniques, into a rich and truly unique voice that tells the story of her own life.
Neil: This is an album of solo piano pieces composed and played by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, a high-born Ethiopian woman who left her privileged life to become a nun in the nation’s Orthodox Church. She was educated and classically trained in Europe, and you can hear those American and European colonial influences in these works. But that is only a small part of the story, as her own Ethiopian musical heritage is also very much to the fore here. The music is unique. There is an emotional lyricism and depth to the pieces, as well as a strong sense of melody, and you can also detect elements of jazz and blues. Consisting mostly of material originally released in 1960s and 70s, this ethereal compilation holds all these elements seemingly effortlessly in a form that is both fluid and structured.

A tribute to Ryuichi Sakamoto : to the moon and back
Mark: This tribute CD, that was released towards the end of last year, was actually part of last month’s additions to the collection. However, since it was announced that Ryuichi Sakamoto had also sadly passed away earlier this month we thought we would include it here. From his work in Yellow Magic Orchestra as well as solo albums and film scores, he was a hugely influential figure within electronic music to scores of musicians across generations and genres. This collection of songs from Sakamoto’s vast catalogue are reworked and remodelled by contemporary artists and previous collaborators. While some are more experimental (Thundercat’s reworking of Thousand Knives), others expand on the original textures of the pieces, capturing their essence while suffusing them with additional emotional shadings of danger, melancholy and reflection.
Neil: The recent passing of Ryuichi Sakamoto brought into sharp focus what an amazing and versatile artist he was. He was at home in so many musical spheres, and totally unafraid to explore throughout his musical career. This album of remodelled tracks, released before his passing, is a fitting tribute that touches on many strands of his music, a complex and multi-layered album with a range of musical giants reimagining some of his works. Some of these compilations, whilst well meaning, are a bit patchy, but not this one. Each track is a valuable piece in its own right. I was particularly happy to hear a remodelled track from his Revenant soundtrack. A great entry point to the rich and varied musical world of one of our greatest musicians.

Songbook / Lazy Eyes
Mark: This Australian band have been around for 7 or so years, but ‘Songbook’ is their debut full length album, following a couple of EPs from 2020. This is classic psych-rock, not that much removed from it’s 60s influences, as well as the looming musical presence of previous Australian acts who have reworked this style for a modern audiences (Tame Impala etc). It all seems a bit overly familiar at first, as they hit all the major touch-points of the genre, with freaky guitars, noodling baselines, woozy affected vocals and vintage synth swirls. However the second half of the album features more proggy elements, ambient touches and straight up ballads, suggesting they have many more musical directions to explore after this.
Neil: Sydney psychedelic rock band Lazy Eyes don’t hide their influences. Quite the contrary, they wear them proudly on their musical sleeves, as the influence of bands like Pond, Tame Impala and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is clear to hear. That said, whilst this album is firmly in the modern psychedelic rock sphere it also shows the bands ambitions to widen their sonic palette. There are touches that remind the listener of the French band Air, and even rubber soul era Beatles. A band in evolution, and a great Gen Z take on psychedelic rock that is sure to please fans of the genre.

Curyman / Rogê
Mark: Rogê is Roger José Cury, a Brazilian musician now based in Los Angeles. Relatively unknown outside of Brazil, where he had 10-year residency at the downtown Rio samba club Carioca da Gema and composed the theme for Rio’s 2016 Olympics, this album has been critically acclaimed as his international breakthrough, following a relocation to the US. Lovely, warm, Brazilian rhythms, nylon-stringed acoustic guitars and emotional husky vocals, funky sambas and bossas, super catchy melodies, lovely backing vocals, this really has everything. Legendary Brazilian arranger Arthur Verocai was apparently convinced to come out of retirement to provide the string arrangements, which really are beautiful. No doubt this will be one of the best Brazilian releases of the year.
Neil: Brazilian singer songwriter Rogê has taken a long time to make it into the international music spotlight, as it is twenty years since the release of his debut album. It is a bit of a surprise, as the Rio samba star’s gently funky and soul influenced take on Brazilian music is instantly approachable, infectiously upbeat and enjoyable, and he has been a major star in his home country for a long time. The album is a sunny, uplifting, heart-warming and exuberant release. A sonic ray of tropical sun to chase away any winter blues.

On & on / James, José
Mark: American jazz singer, José James, who combines jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, spoken word and hip hop is back with a new album celebrating the work of iconic soul singer Erykah Badu, following on from albums that celebrated Billie Holiday in 2015 and Bill Withers in 2018. He has a very smooth and mellow voice but this is not easy listening persee, as his spiritual takes on these tracks dig deep into the universal truths within, flipping the songs to a male perspective with empathy and sensitivity. Improvisational, complex, moody; an album reflecting the growth of jazz to seek out new cannons from within other genres, opening up the music of both audiences.
Neil: ‘On & on’ is a set of seven covers from Erykah Badu impressive catalogue by José James. However, the album is far from a conventional covers album. Instead, José rightly regards the songs as part of the classic soul canon and justifiably reimagines them in his own unique light. As such, there are several aspects to the tracks, such as urban cool jazz and contemporary smooth soul R&B, not to mention blues and gospel. Overall, it is pretty laid back, but it also has real deep depth to the pieces, as his voice conveys truth and emotion and feeling. Reportedly after rehearsing, each track was done as a one track with elements added later. The cover sleeve photo clearly points to José intentions, as it is a direct homage to Alice Coltrane’s deeply spiritual musical Journey To Satchidananda.Whilst sounding very different from this album, the connections between the two in approach are clear. Surely another best of 2023 contender.

Pacific breeze. 3, Japanese city pop, AOR and boogie 1975-1987
Mark: . Japan’s late 70s/80s economic boom saw it become the world’s second largest economy, and also coincided with a technological revolution in the way music was recorded and listened to. All of which led to a sophisticated class of young urban Japanese and the rise of City Pop, a loosely defined form of Japanese pop music that drew its inspiration from R&B, Jazz and emerging Western music trends from funk to lounge and yacht rock. Once incredibly obscure, the rise of anime, YouTube channels, and now Tik-Tok has seen it re-emerge as a minor cult. Light In The Attic has been curating this phenomenon with their acclaimed ‘Pacific Breeze’ series of releases, bringing together a fantastic amount of music that previously has never been released outside of Japan. This is the 3rd volume in the series, an endlessly fascinating compilation of the smooth and funky, the cheesy and the sincere, the loungy and the electronic, presenting a strange and compelling reflection of Western styles subsumed and refracted into something new. Brilliant stuff.
Neil: As the title so succinctly states, this is a collection of Japanese city pop, AOR and boogie from the 70’s and 80’s. So, let’s unpack that a little. It’s a collection that speaks very clearly of its time of creation, especially when it comes to the production and the types of Synths and Drum machines employed. The tracks are bubbly, effervescent, and slightly unusual if you are more familiar with the western equivalents going on at the time, though there are lots of points of crossover. The tracks are largely groovetastic and feature such genres as disco, boogie funk, R&B, techno pop, and this era in Japan even spawned its own genre vaporwave. The cover art perfectly evokes the albums contents. A very different and unusual listen.

False Lankum / Lankum
Mark: Dublin folk radicals return with their fourth album, following on from 2019’s acclaimed The livelong day, in which they teamed up with Black Midi producer John “Spud” Murphy and won the Choice Music Prize (Ireland’s equivalent of the UK’s Mercury prize) for the album of the year. ‘False Lankum’ moves further from the traditional folk sound of their first couple of albums, expanding on ‘The livelong day’s’ dark drone-like atmospherics to create a dense, album comprised of two originals, seven folk tracks and three improvised pieces. Quiet, fragile pieces shift into foreboding laments, and then into funereal howls into the abyss. The album evokes a cinematic crawl through decades of folk references into a modern heart of darkness, with a cycle of songs about life, work, love, family, friends, and death. At 70 minutes it can feel like a heavy emotional journey, but as an artistic statement it has been compared to everything from ‘Ok Computer’ to Sunn O))), to late period Scott Walker.
Neil: Lankum’s fourth album is a deep-rooted gothic folk outing. The album is a very long way from conventional mainstream folk music. It is anchored in a melancholic, mysterious, harmonic centre that the band uses to lull its listeners into a false calm, before throwing them headfirst into a maelstrom of sound. It’s an exciting, intense and powerful listen, and whilst they are a folk band, they are at the experimental cutting edge of this genre. This album could quite easily have been done as a heavy-duty drone piece, such are its sensibilities and power.

Oh me oh my / Holley, Lonnie
Mark: Lonnie Holley is a well known artist working in found-object sculptures, paintings, and installations, who started to perform improvised, free-flowing music in the 2010s. This led to touring with musicians like Bill Callahan, Deerhunter, and Animal Collective, along with collaborative projects including 2018’s politically charged MITH and 2021’s Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection, with Matthew E. White. His latest album has been acclaimed as a career high-point. Produced by Jacknife Lee and featuring guest appearances from Michael Stipe, Sharon Van Etten, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, it’s a musical autobiography that takes you on a frenetic and, at times, harrowing journey through his poverty-ridden background, exorcising plenty of trauma along the way. But this album also celebrates the blessing of life, and the triumph of spirit and will over circumstances. The big name producer and guests don’t actually shift this into any kind of ‘commercial’ mainstream framework, rather the added instrumentation and musical textures just focus and reshape his somewhat impressionistic style into more structured forms. A powerful and emotionally resonant album, whose themes linger long after the music ends.
Neil: Lonnie Holley was born into extreme poverty, and spent some of his childhood in the infamous Mount Meigs community juvenile correctional facility. Even now, at 73, he is still haunted by the abuse, torture and terror he experienced there. This past and pain informs ‘Oh me oh my’, but whilst this album is a deeply moving and emotional work, it is also both an experimental and approachable album that is ultimately a testament to the human spirits ability to survive. It defies classification in the best possible of ways, as Lonnie Holley uses his own musical language throughout. There are some elements of free jazz, and Sun Ra and Doctor John occasionally came to mind if you need pointers. A remarkable album that has a deeply personal and spiritual aspect to it. Quite extraordinary!

March’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for March. 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.
[Ed: Neil was busy this week preparing for his CubaDupa exhibition at Thistle Hall, so you have to suffer through Mark’s reviews without any sensible counterpoint…]

I don’t know a thing about love : Willie sings the songs of Harlan Howard / Nelson, Willie
Mark: Willie Nelson is back with this tribute to songwriter Harlan Howard, a well known Country songwriter, that was released a few weeks before Willie turned 90! Over the course of 6 decades Harlan Howard primarily penned Country songs, but they were so popular and enduring, that each of the big hits has a list of multiple cover versions, that stretch across decades, sexes, and genres (‘Chokin’ kind’, for example, was originally recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1967, but also by Joss Stone in 2003, and the wikipedia entry for the track ‘Streets of Baltimore’ lists no less than 20 different cover versions). Harlan is so revered as a songwriter that both Waylon Jennings & Buck Owens also released tribute albums based around his songs. Willie is very much in his comfort zone here, but that’s a good thing as he brings his expressive, yet mellow vocals, to these classic tracks. Weather breezy, melancholy, sad or reflective, Willie’s years of wisdom imbue these tracks with a lifetimes of emotional shading.

Heavy heavy / Young Fathers
Mark: Young Fathers are an Edinburgh-based trio who won the 2014 Mercury prize for their debut album, Dead, along with Scottish Album of the Year award twice. ‘Heavy heavy’ is their 4th full-length album, following on from 2018’s Cocoa sugar. The sound of this album immediately made me think of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album that fused of Western Pop & mbaqanga, South African street music. However, Young Fathers extend this further, adding layers of Hip-Hop, R&B, gospel, rock, electronics, experimental noise, and just general exuberance. Huge tracks reverberate with euphoric choruses, warmth, optimism and a pulsing rhythmic energy that seems to reach out from the speakers to embrace you. Truly a unique sounding band, and I fully expect this to make many Best of 2023 lists.

Electrophonic chronic / Arcs
Mark: Arcs are the side project of Black Keys guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach. ‘Electrophonic chronic’ is only their 2nd album, following on from 2015’s Yours Dreamily. These tracks are culled from the original sessions for their debut album, as well as follow up sessions while they toured their debut, a wealth of 80-100 songs that sat unreleased after the sudden passing of band member Richard Swift. These easy going beats send out surprisingly positive vibes, despite the somewhat bittersweet nature of this release. Neo-psychedelic, jazz, soul, blues, funk & space-pop, all blend into a mix of the modern and the retro, as Auerbach’s elastic & soulful voice wanders through the surprisingly emotional layers at play here.

Continue reading “March’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2”

February’s new music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is part two of our new music picks for February. 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.

Turn the car around / Coombes, Gaz
Mark: Coombes is best known as a member of 90s band Supergrass. However he has had a fairly prolific solo career outside the band, and this is his 4th solo album over the last decade or so, the last being World’s strongest man from 2018. A highpoint in his solo output, this album is full of the kind of cerebral, yet catchy, guitar orientated music that was a staple of the 90s with early Radiohead or The Verve. Full of textured instrumentation, double tracked vocals, and muscular playing, it balances anthemic character studies, with soul-searching responses to the chaotic world we live in. An album that could perhaps only exist with the maturity and focus of middle age & family, and trying interpret it all in the best way.

Neil: It has been a long while since Gaz Coombes first burst into the public arena as the frontman of teen rock band Supergrass. A band whose debut album I should Coco entered the UK Albums Chart at number one. Since then, he has established himself as a gifted solo performer, gaining both critical and commercial success with albums like Matador and ‘World’s Strongest Man’. This, his fourth solo outing, builds musically on all his previous releases, and shows a mature and sophisticated songwriter in full flow not afraid to experiment when needed, but also happy to follow the flow of any given song if that is what is required. There are songs of studied sadness and regret, nuzzling side by side with heartfelt songs about his wife and children, not to mention songs about boxing champions and lizards. Arguably the best album he has released so far.

A reckoning / Kimbra
Mark: Kimbra returns with new album ‘A Reckoning’, following on from 2018’s Primal Heart. It’s a bit hard to get a handle on this. She pulls out all the stops, with big production numbers, alongside minimal electro-pop, shifting musical styles with each track. Lyrically the focus is on the mental health, spirituality, and feminism. There are some highpoint’s (‘LA Type’, ‘The way we were’, ‘New Habit’), but the jittery mix & production overpowers her voice to a large extent on a lot of the tracks. In a lot of ways this is the typical album an artist makes after splitting from a major label (Warners). Full of musical directions and open creativity, but a bit hit and miss overall.

Neil: New Zealand’s very own multi-Grammy award winning musician releases her fourth album. ‘A reckoning’ is basically a hybrid R&B outing, with strong elements of Alt pop, electronica, hip hop. Thrown into this heady mix there are also touches of art pop, and occasionally experimental moments that remind me of Bjork. The atmospheric, minimalist, melodic, electro pop is entwined with lyrics that are largely bittersweet and introspective in nature. An album that overall shows an artist expanding her wings, whilst not quite abandoning her more commercial roots.

Continue reading “February’s new music for Te Awe: Part 3”

February’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for February. 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.

Cazimi / Rose, Caitlin
Mark: Caitlin Rose is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. Her father is a label executive and her mother is songwriter Liz Rose, best known for her numerous co-writes with Taylor Swift. Her 2010 album Own Side Now and 2013 follow-up The Stand-In made her a critical darling, with her blend of country and indie-pop. Perhaps the pressure of such acclaim led her to take a step back, as it has taken nearly 10 years for her to deliver another album. She has a sweet voice and a style that mixes traditional honky-tonk, with a Zooey Deschanel-esque indie-pop, and a relatable way with an acerbic lyric. Standout track ‘Getting it Right’ features Courtney Marie Andrews. Definitely worth the wait.
Neil: It’s been close to ten years since the release of Caitlin Rose’s most recent previous album . Her new release Cazimi is an album that is, in some senses a follow up, but one that deliberately likes to blur the edges between things. Sure, it still could be described in the loosest of senses as an alt-country album, but it is like a version of country music reinvented by Taylor Swift. The lyrical content is equally obtuse; the songs are largely about complex emotional situations where the protagonist is barely holding it together, sung in a honey-tinged world-weary voice. All of this is, of course, intentional and used to great effect. One reviewer described the songs as having an ‘impressionistic feeling’ and that summarizes the album well too.

Solo works 96-98 / Raymonde, Simon
Mark: If you have no idea who Simon Raymonde is, he was the bass guitarist and keyboard player with Cocteau Twins from 1983 to 1997 and now runs the famous indie record label, Bella Union. When he started work on his first solo album, Blame Someone Else, the Cocteau Twins were still together, and the other band members feature on some tracks. By the time it was released in 1997 the band were no more, so it became the first album to appear on his Bella Union label. It’s been out of print for 25 years, and is repackaged here (and renamed) with 3 extra bonus tracks. As you would expect, there is very much a dream-pop aspect to these tracks that fits in with the style of the later Cocteau Twins album. Raymonde has been apparently hesitant to re-release it, but it’s all very mellow and pleasant, without being particularly original or pushing any musical boundaries. Weirdly it probably fits in more with today’s music scene than it did when it was originally released, with it’s laid back bedroom-pop charm.
Neil: During 1997 the Cocteau Twins were falling apart, and during that time you could find band member Simon Raymonde in the studio working on material that might, or might not, end up being used on a potential future Cocteau Twins release. As history shows, it turned out that this material was destined to morph into his first solo outing which has taken twenty-five years to be re-released. And although there are some Cocteau Twins touches (indeed both his fellow band members added separate elements to the tracks) the majority of the music is a long way from the Cocteau Twins. Indeed, the album sounds like what more mainstream indie music sounded like in Britain in late nineties. Raymonde does the vocal honours and writes most of the songs, with the exception of Scott Walker and Television covers. The album is both fragile and lush, and has a highly polished sound.

Is it going to get any deeper than this / Soft Pink Truth
Mark: The Soft Pink Truth is a house music side-project from Drew Daniel, who is one-half of Matmos, and this is his 7th release overall. Lush, psychedelic, disco marathons, meets chamber jazz and ambient soundscapes, moving between relaxing vibes to dance floor disco, to moody introspection. Singer Angel Deradoorian adds vocals on some tracks. Plenty of throwbacks to late 70s/early 80s European disco sounds.
Neil: Is it going to get any deeper than this by Soft Pink Truth is a particularly well named album. It starts of interestingly enough, as a wonderful nostalgic exploration of deep house dance music, but it quickly expands into something much more expansive. In places it’s a sexy, camp and lush sonic bubble-bath of an album, but it also organically changes into a rich meditative piece that is inspired by the memories and emotions the musicians experienced during those times.

Billy Nomates / Nomates, Billy
Mark: Billy Nomates is the moniker of Bristol’s Tor Maries, whose music is a blend of post-punk & 80s synths. New album Cacti was out last month, but this is her 2020 debut, that led to her being signed to Invada Records, the label of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow. Spiky, catchy songs with clever, humourous, observational, lyrics take acerbic swipes at pretty much everything and everyone. A fun, caustic, critique of the banalities of modern culture, and the financial & political inequalities rampant in British life. Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods pops up on ‘Supermarket Sweep’. Entertaining.
Neil: Billy Nomates is the first self-titled album from Tor Maries, whose second album ‘Cacti’ has just hit the record shops to rave reviews. On its release this debut album also created waves and was widely acclaimed. The tracks are clever, and largely comprise of sharply observed commentaries about our times. The music can best be described as post punk, but there’s a lot of other genres to be found in the broad palette of styles she uses. She is a fiercely independent singer-songwriter, who has a great capacity to write caustic, and occasionally, funny punk-tinged songs. She describes herself as a “punk with a keyboard”.

Sod’s toastie / Cool Greenhouse
Mark: Cool Greenhouse are a post-punk London band, and this is their 2nd full-length album. Angular post punk, wonky riffs and deadpan non-sequiturs from vocalist Tom Greenhouse (for example “Thank f…. Christ if you can find the end of the Sellotape in under 15 minutes”). If it sounds a bit similar to Dry Cleaning, Yard Act, Black Country, New Road and the like, The Cool Greenhouse actually pre-date all those bands, having debuted as a solo project by Tom Greenhouse back in 2017. Blurring the everyday with the surreal, in a dead montone they chronicle the absurdist nature of the reality we are all trapped in.
Neil: Cool Greenhouse are uncompromising in their approach, a post-punk band that employs fractured, repetitive, rhythms and melodies, and surrealist, existential, hard to fathom lyrics with wry humour thrown it. It’s this dogged, self-imposed discipline and clarity of vision that makes the album work. Though it does take time to tune into their wavelength, it eventually pays dividends. Just for reference they reminded me at points of a modern version of Devo.

Lady for sale / Kirke, Lola
Mark: Lola Kirke is a British-American actress/singer, whose father is Bad Company’s Simon Kirke, and Lady For Sale is her sophomore full-length album. A deliberate attempt to create an 80s female-country album sound along the lines of: Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’, Barbara Mandrell, Juice Newtown, Tanya Tucker or The Judds – the groundbreaking female artists that preceded the Shania Twain country-pop era. It’s somewhat campy and sparkly in places, with slightly dinky production, though that all may be entirely deliberate. It mostly succeeds as more than a nostalgia project, with strong, catchy, swinging, songs that focus on the balance between empowerment and love.
Neil: Just last year Lola Kirke was told that her age would count heavily against her chances of becoming a successful actor or pop musician. Furious at the situation, and undeterred, she turned her focus to country music to make her creative mark. What emerged is a classic 80’s era country pop album, with songs about broken down hearts and proud but damaged people struggling on through life. It reminded me in many aspects of Real Love era Dolly Parton, with heavily polished slick slide guitars and eighties synths to the fore. An album that fully embraces the glam and glitz of 80’s country.

Folksongs & ballads / Blake, Tia
Mark: This is a 2022 reissue of the only album by young American singer Christiana Elizabeth Wallman, recorded in Paris when she was only 19 years old under the stage name Tia Blake. Hailed as a lost classic, her pitch perfect, warm, emotive voice winds around a set of traditional Appalachian and British folk songs. Sparse arrangements and subtle guitar lines surround her darkly haunting and unaffected vocals. Other than 3 later tracks performed in 1976, she never recorded any further music, becoming a writer and eventually settled in North Carolina. She has been compared to many artists: Nico, Karen Dalton, Bridget St’ John and Nick Drake, so definitely worth a listen if you appreciate any of those artists.
Neil: This album definitely falls into the category of “Lost Classic”. It was originally released in 1972 and disappeared without trace. Even at that point in time, it was an album that was looking back into the past of the great American folk song tradition. Tia Blake made her own distinct mark on these legendary songs, recorded with minimal orchestration and largely just Tia’s superb smoky powerful voice and two guitars. It was to be her only recording indeed nearly every known recording by her is on this release.

Don’t give up on me / Burke, Solomon
Mark: Reissue of the 2002 Solomon Burke comeback album. Burke was one of the founders of 60’s R&B, scoring a string of hits for Atlantic in the early 60’s, melding gritty R&B, county and gospel. However, by the 90s, like a lot of the soul originators, he was recording on smaller labels and smaller budgets and was largely forgotten to the general public. His fortunes changed after signing to the Fat Possum label, where producer Joe Henry surrounded him with a series of original and previously unreleased compositions by top-rank songwriters: Tom Waits, Dan Penn, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison and more. This delivered a comeback that would go on to critical acclaim, commercial success and win a Grammy. The close live-in-the-studio sound that Henry achieved, along with the sparse arrangements and instrumentation, free Burke’s voice to inhabit the stories in these songs, cutting straight to their emotional heart. Deep soul at its best.
Neil: The late great Solomon Burke is regarded as one of the founding fathers of R&B music. His output in the 60s was legendary, you can check out some of those recordings on the Atlantic R&B compilation series. He fared less well in the 80’s and 90’s, when tastes changed and he was given often poorer material to work with. However, this 2002 album is a revelation. Recorded live in the studio over four days with no overdubs, with sparse production that highlights his voice, it features new songs by some of the finest songwriter out there: Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits and Brian Wilson to name but a few. The results are spectacular, and his vocal performance is stunning. The album went on to win best contemporary blues album at that years Grammys.