New CDs for Te Awe

New CDs March 2022


via GIPHY

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


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

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

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

New CDs for Te Awe

New CDs at Te Awe March


via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New CDs for Te Awe

Image featuring album art from this blog's list.


via GIPHY

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


I’m Mark, the Music & Film Specialist at Wellington City Libraries (I also run the Libraries’ Wellington Music Facebook page). Every month, my colleague Neil and I cast our eye over the new material we have been buying for the Music collection at Te Awe library. We also like to pick out some interesting titles, across a range of music genres, to review. Our limit is a few lines only. Do we actually know anything about new music? Can you encapsulate an entire album in just a couple of lines? Are we just too old to understand what most of this music is banging on about?
Read on to find out…
Iowa dream. / Russell, Arthur
Mark: A truly unique figure in music, whose work encompassed everything from electronica, to the avant-garde, Disco and quirky lo-fi singer-songwriter pop. Russell passed away in 1992 and ‘Iowa Dream’ is the latest (2019) collection of unreleased material & home demos. This collection is a sprawl of diverse genres, including commercial 70’s meditative singer-songwriter efforts, lo-fi country twang, 80s Jazz-infected rock and quirky observational pop. A fitting document of a singular talent who followed his musical muses’ wherever they led.
Neil: Arthur Russell’s posthumous 2019 release Iowa Dreams contains 19 unfinished demo tracks, all displaying a markedly consistently high level of quality. Each track showcases the notoriously shy singer-songwriter’s sophisticated, intelligent and thoughtful approach to lyrics and his often genre defining approach to the accompanying musical settings. It’s all a mellow and chilled affair, and provides an excellent introduction to his work if you are unfamiliar with his music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New CDs for Te Awe

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


via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Picks CDs

Staff Picks are back, with a completely random selection of new & old music that Library Staff have been listening to recently!

Invisible cities = Le città invisibili / Winged Victory for the Sullen
New music from this great ambient duo is a collaboration with the theatre production directed by London Olympics ceremony video designer Leo Warner. It’s based on the Italo Calvino’s classic novel ‘Invisible Cities’ which is a series of conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. For this project the duo, once again, creates the stunning, sophisticated score; the medieval feelings are blended masterly in their well-established ethereal, ambient musical world. Sublime. (Shinji)

The pearl / Budd, Harold
I’ve been loving Harold Budd and Brian Eno’s The Pearl- it’s a piece I always return to when I’m doing creative work. It’s a mysterious and beautiful piece of music, that creates an atmosphere of potential. I first discovered it after listening through all of Brian Eno’s Ambient series, and it was also a very wonderful introduction to Harold Budd’s work. (Alex)

Be for real: the P.I.R. recordings (1972-1975) / Melvin, Harold
Nice collection rounds up all the Philadelphia International Records albums from one of the legendary Philly Soul groups, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Melvin’s group had been around as far back as the 1950’s, scuffling through a variety of labels and members, but it wasn’t until Melvin recruited new drummer Teddy Pendergrass in 1970 that their fortunes took a turn. When Melvin heard Pendergrass singing along during a performance, he realised what a fantastic voice he had and promoted him to lead singer. They soon grew popular on the local club circuit and when Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff saw them performing, they convinced them to sign with their new Philadelphia International label in 1972. What followed was a period of hits that melded Pendergrass’ gruff voice with a string of scorching ballads and socially conscious songs, including the iconic tracks ‘If You Don’t Know Me by Now’ & ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, which would become hits again when covered by Simply Red & The Communards in the late 80s. Nice liner notes cover the bands history with PIR and the legacy of their music. (Mark)

Californian soil. / London Grammar
With only two albums under their belt, the art-pop trio London Grammar became a hugely successful band. However, the lead singer Hannah Reid was frustrated with the male-dominant music industry and it led to the creation of this new music. The new album, which Reid calls ‘a feminist record’, finds them in a more edgy mood; melancholic but dynamic. Showing their mutuality and confidence, they seem to be heading toward a supergroup state. (Shinji)

Traveller. / Stapleton, Chris
This singer/songwriter is in Outlaw country with more of a soulful, bluesy sound. There seems to be an underlying theme of alcohol here – ‘Whiskey and You’, ‘Might as well get Stoned’ and ‘Tennessee Whiskey’. “As smooth as Tennessee Whisky, Sweet as Strawberry Wine, Warm as a glass of Brandy, Honey I stay stoned on you all the time”. Parachute is more up-tempo and passionate. I liked it a lot. (Greg)

Small moments. / Kye, Dan [VINYL ONLY]
‘Small Moments’ by Dan Kye [Ed. Dancefloor moniker of London-based NZ artist Jordan Rakei] is a really cool album! It’s funky, it’s fresh, and upbeat. Bound to get your head bopping. Great for a roadie, or when you need some tunes to blast while you do all your Sunday chores. (Emma)

 

Don’t shy away. / Loma
This project band by indie musicians such as Shearweter’s Jonathan Meiburg, Loma’s first album earned critical acclaim, partly thanks to Brian Eno who complimented their music. Intriguingly Eno Joins in on one track for this sophomore effort which is more expanded and experimental. In the vein of early Portishead or But For Lashes, it features a gloomy yet beautifully crafted ambient soundscape which perfectly goes with Emily Cross’ meditative voice. Marvellous. (Shinji)

Wildflowers & all the rest. / Petty, Tom
Finding Wildflowers (alternate versions). / Petty, Tom
In depth look at Tom Petty’s best solo outing from a prolific, creative & emotional period in his career, a ‘Pre-Divorce’ album, recorded amidst the collapse of his 20 year marriage. Petty always wanted ‘Wildflowers’ to be a double album, but the record company baulked. Some of the extra tracks surfaced in slightly different versions on the She’s The One Soundtrack, but the rest remained unreleased until now, and they’re every bit as good as the original tracks. The nicely constructed set lets you follow the evolution of the songs, from demos through to different takes, completed masters, and live versions. (Mark)

Collapsed in sunbeams. / Parks, Arlo
Growing up in West London and part Nigerian, Chadian and French; singer-songwriter and poet Arlo Parks shows a lot of potential and promise in this her debut album. It sounds like a soothing neo-soul infused bedroom-pop but the influences by Frank Ocean and her love of Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg seem to give more radicalness and the depth to the sound creation and the lyrics. One to watch. (Shinji)

CD cataloguer Neil’s Recent Picks:
Flock. / Weaver, Jane
All bets are off. / Aphek, Tamar
Invisible cities = Le città invisibili / Winged Victory for the Sullen
Morricone segreto / Morricone, Ennio
As the love continues. / Mogwai
Glowing in the dark. / Django Django
On all fours. / Goat Girl
The future bites. / Wilson, Steven
Oh! Pardon tu dormais… / Birkin, Jane
Super blood wolf moon. / Brix & the Extricated
Introducing… Aaron Frazer. / Frazer, Aaron
Spare ribs. / Sleaford Mods
Lemon law. / Mousey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New CDs for Te Awe

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

Californian soil. / London Grammar
Mark: Shades of Beth Orton, Dido, Dot Allison, Jessie Ware. A bit too tasteful maybe, but if you liked their previous albums you’ll enjoy this one.
Neil: Lush strings wash over Massive Attack inspired electro-pop. Sumptuously done and well worth a listen, but perhaps they wear their influences too close to the surface in places.

Scatterbrain / Chills
Mark: Another album of Martin Phillipps’ melodic charm. Reflections on mortality and staying true to yourself.
Neil: The Chills have now existed in one form or another for over 40 years. Their habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is well known and documented in the fabulous documentary The Chills : the triumph & tragedy of Martin Phillipps. And ‘Scatterbrain’ is definitely one of their triumphs. Whilst keeping their core root sound they have expanded it out, and ditto the lyrics which often revolve round the subjects of mysticism and Magic. If you are a long-time fan or a newbie to The Chills, I suspect you won’t be disappointed.

They’re calling me home / Giddens, Rhiannon
Mark: Lockdown album from Giddens and Turrisi, who found themselves stranded in Ireland. Authentic ruminations on homesickness and uncertainty.
Neil: Rhiannon Giddens latest album comprises of Folk songs old and new, with a good few covers thrown it. It glitters with passion and emotion, as her partner the Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, is a perfect musical foil. Giddens puts her operatic training to excellent use (though it isn’t sung in an operatic style) and she is very careful to not let this training swamp, overpower or stylise the pieces. A powerful and beautiful album.

Strum & thrum : the American jangle underground 1983-1987.
Mark: Bands like R.E.M & the dB’s heralded a new strand of jangly guitar-pop in the early 80s, but lots of other followed this early template of chiming guitars with strong regional success. This compilation captures a hitherto undocumented scene in the evolution of popular music that paved the way for many future bands.
Neil: Unsurprisingly this compilation heavily bears the indelible marks of the founding fathers of the genre The Byrds. A few of the bands associated with the movement would go on to do bigger things, notably R.E.M. It’s a fascinating snapshot of the scene at the time and features a whole host of bands, most of whom didn’t stick around for very long and released only a few pieces of music.

Start walkin’ 1965-1976 / Sinatra, Nancy
Mark: Newly remastered collection from her most prolific years. Focuses more on her left field pop than the big hits. Housed in a deluxe 7″ x 7″ hardcover book, with a lavish 64-page booklet. Timeless pop music, with plenty of Lee Hazlewood duets.
Neil: Frank’s daughter was also one of the most recognisable voices and talents of the 60’s and 70’s. This compilation features all of her big hits such as ‘These boots were made for walking’, as well as some of her stranger and more offbeat tracks often done in conjunction with Lee Hazelwood such as ‘Some velvet morning’. A journey back to the late 60’s early 70’s.

Sweep it into space. / Dinosaur Jr
Mark: Another solid album from the original lineup’s reunion. Nothing really new, but their 90s College Rock sound never goes out of style…
Neil: Their distinctive distorted guitars roar to the fore in this classic Dinosaur Jnr album. Anyone with a familiarity of the band’s history will know this is basically a renaissance album from a band whose resurrection looked highly unlikely when the split up in 1995.

Till another time : 1988-1996. / Smith, Linda
Mark: Fascinating collection from an unsung Lo-fi pioneer. The influence of Marine Girls hovers over catchy melodic cassette recordings, paired with some later day tracks that incorporate a cleaner sound.
Neil: One of the most talented, leading lights of the lo fi bedroom pop movement Linda Smith gets a modern digital rerelease. These tracks were all originally recorded at her home on her trusty four track machine and largely, released and distributed by herself. But please don’t let the lo-fi bedroom production put you off, these are great, carefully crafted, jangle pop songs. The output of a highly talented and singular songwriter, and basically an essential listen if you are into lo fi music.

100 years of theremin : the dub chapter. / Gaudi
Mark: If you create a world where it’s totally legitimate to fuse any 2 musical genre’s together, this is what happens. Like the inside of Brian Wilson’s mind during a band acid trip…
Neil: An unlikely collision of the spaced out 50’s Sci-Fi sounds of the Theremin and dub Reggae. Boasting a roster of guest list of Dub producers that could easily rank amongst the finest in the world. Whether this strange mix works is largely down to the listeners musical sensibilities.

Rootz reggae dub. / Perry, Lee
Mark: More dub from Lee Scratch Perry. If you like his template of sunny good times mixed with social/political commentary you won’t be disappointed with his new album. I’m not sure I’m getting paid enough to listen to this much dub though….
Neil: Another impeccable album from one of the greatest and most eccentric artists of the modern music world. Recorded in Jamaica and the U.S.A.

Beware of the dogs. / Donnelly, Stella
Mark: Debut album from Australian songwriter that is getting a lot of critical attention. Sweet voiced, sunny, catchy, indie pop with lovely soaring harmonies, that hide some savagely biting lyrics. Critic Robert Christgau praised it as a “musical encyclopedia of [male] assholes” which pretty much sums up this set of songs, which takes on sexual harassment, rape culture and other toxic norms.
Neil: Stella Donnelly’s debut album sounds at first listen sugary sweet, but once you listen closely to the lyrical content you realise it has teeth. Stella’s precise lyrics focus their vitriol for abusive men, sexual violence, and personal abuses of power. Big topics and issues explored in a very intimate and personally musical way.


Infinite youth. / Merk
Mark: Woozy, hazy lo-fi bedroom pop. Tracks that drift through memories of slacker days and teen dreams. The musical diversity & minimal instrumentation makes the album feel like the soundtrack to a film in a lot of ways.
Neil: Merk aka New Zealander Mark Perkin’s new album ‘Infinite Youth’ almost defies definition. My best shot would be sparse pop with substance? His wistful, innocent, and intimate vocals are coupled with 80’s pop tinged minimalist synths, percussion, and other minimal orchestration.

Loleatta ; Cry to me. / Holloway, Loleatta
Mark: Her great southern soul albums for the Atlanta Aware label in the early 70’s. The 2nd album ‘Cry To Me’ features a slew of top compositions from the pen of revered soul man Sam Dees. Her fantastic voice would find fame greater fame with the Salsoul Records label in the Disco era, as well as being sampled prodigiously in various successful 80s & 90s club hits like ‘Ride on Time’ by Black Box & ‘Good Vibrations’ by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.
Neil: Before her transformation into a Disco diva Loleatta Holloway released two gospel inspired southern soul albums, resplendent with swirling strings and songs written by people such as the legendary Curtis Mayfield. This long unavailable album is a reissue worth hearing. Fabulous melodramatic stuff.

The moon and stars : prescriptions for dreamers. / Valerie June
Mark: Americana with tinges of modern Country, R&B & strings that still retains a timeless feel. Her beguiling twangy voice floats over everything, offering up meditations on longing and loss. Stax legend Carla Thomas features on a couple of tracks.
Neil: Multi-talented Memphis based guitarist, singer songwriter and owner of a mesmerising gospel soul voice with just a hint of gravel voice. An adventurous genre spanning album, interspersed with atmospheric tone setting ambient interludes.

The new blue : Pixie Williams reimagined.
Mark: NZ’s first number one pop song vocalist and wāhine Māori artist gets a musical tribute from contemporary NZ artists, most of them Wgtn based. Lovely faithful renditions from locals like Louis Baker, Lisa Tomlins, Kirsten Te Rito, Amba Holly etc.
Neil: Pixie William’s was one of the first ever superstars of the New Zealand music scene. She was a trailblazing pioneer, her song ‘Blue smoke’ a huge international hit in 1951 covered by many artists, including Dean Martin. A compilation of her work was recently rescued from oblivion called For the record : the Pixie Williams collection, 1949-1951 and rereleased in 2011. ‘The New Blue’ is a collection of modern NZ artists paying tribute to her and her art, and covering her best known pieces fabulously well with style and panache, faithfully recreating the feeling and mood of her music as well, as the time it was created. A perfectly executed modern nostalgic time machine of an album.

Ignorance / Weather Station
Mark: The Weather Station is the project of singer/songwriter Tamara Lindeman, who has been compared to Joni Mitchell among others. Her critically acclaimed latest album is a song cycle based around the impact of climate change. All of which sounds very po-faced, but the ‘Climate grief’ is framed alongside relationship heartbreak, and the tracks are all super catchy. Burbling synths and Jazzy Electronica surround her voice, which sounds a bit like 80s Fleetwood Mac, or 90s Sarah McLachlan in places. Destined to be on many Album of the Year lists.
Neil: This collection of heartbroken break up song’s steers well clear of the ever-present danger of falling into Cliché or self-indulgent pity. Instead Tamsara Lindeman skilfully overlays her own personal experiences, with the deep sadness at seeing our natural environment so wantonly destroyed in the name of corporate greed. Her approach makes me think of Talk Talk or some of the more melancholic Joni Mitchell albums.

The queen of Italian pop : classic Ri-Fi recordings 1963-1967. / Mina
Mark: Mina was the dominant chart figure in Italian pop for a run of nearly 15 years, and still continues to release albums with an enshrined place in the Italian music spectrum. A huge voice that can sing anything, and an enigmatic and fascinating personality. A great primer compilation that is only the tip of the iceberg that is her massive discography of music.
Neil: In Italy Mina is one of the biggest pop stars ever. Italy’s answer to Shirley Bassey or Dusty Springfield. She was a staple of Italian television variety shows and was that country’s dominant force in pop music from the 1960’s till the mid 70’s when she stopped giving public performances, though she has continued to record to this day. This a compilation of hits from the early part of her career and an excellent introduction to her work.

Chemtrails over the country club. / Del Rey, Lana
Mark: I’ve never understood why people rate her. Take 1 part Nancy Sinatra, 1 part Hooverphonic, 1 part Mazzy Star, add a dash of Julee Cruise & every James Bond theme. Shake and stir over some minimal piano, circa 2000’s Trip-hop & soaring strings. I’ll admit that her tracks are super catchy and melodic, but there is so much artifice in the lyrics and the ‘characters’ in the songs. Neil, please explain why I should listen to her…
Neil: Lana Del Rey is one of those artists who polarise opinion. ‘Chemtrails over the country club’ is her seventh studio album. It is less slick pop, and in many ways an extension of her last release Norman F******** Rockwell. In it she continues to create her own unique version of modern American of fame and fortune & torch song gothic with, of course, a veneer of 50’s Americana washed over it all. Any objective review of her output shows that, fan or not, she is clearly and undeniably one of Americas most important musical artists at the moment. The album has already been a huge critical and commercial success.

The Kugels at Breaker Bay. / Kugels
Mark: More Klezmer music from the lauded local quintet. Amazing musicianship as the Classical chamber players cut loose for these rollicking pieces.
Neil: This is the second release from the fabulous Wellington based Kugels the five-piece outfit which specialises in Klezmer and features some of New Zealand’ s finest classical musicians in their line-up. For a long time, they have been a bit of a hidden gem in the NZ music scene, but that changed recently when they did a sofa session with Bryan Crump. This latest release really shows how good they are, and includes emotive and atmospheric renditions of both traditional and original Klezmer pieces composed by arts laureate, and renown classical composer, Ross Harris. A highly recommended listen.

Something to feel. / Teeks
Mark: Debut album from the award-winning New Zealand-Māori singer-songwriter, following on from a 2017 EP. With an amazingly distinctive and arresting voice that jumps out and envelopes you immediately, this is a fantastic modern soul album. Funky and propulsive grooves, that flow into soulful meditations on how to forge a path as a man amongst a culture of toxic masculinity. Having just signed with Beyonce’s publicist this seems just the beginning of global success.
Neil: The warm, mellow, and soulful voice of New Zealander Teeks has rightfully gained him legions of fans in this country. He describes ‘Something to feel’ as the album where he opens up and shows his emotional vulnerability and self-awareness, and seeks to free and heal himself from colonised ideas of masculinity, replacing them with te ao Māori ideas, and surrendering to his emotions. As such it is obviously a very personal, introspective, album where he connects with his inner self. There is a lot of love and care put into the resulting album on all fronts, impeccably constructed and produced, and is likely to gain him a global audience.

Shore. / Fleet Foxes
Mark: Their amalgamation of previous SoCal/Folky 60’s/70’s bands was a taste I never really acquired at the time. The vocal harmonising was pleasant, it was all very beautiful sounding, and you couldn’t fault the musicianship. But it all seemed too much of a pastiche at a certain point, and Robin Pecknold’s voice never really grabbed me enough to make me get past that. The new album has a bit more sunny-pop elements to it, but the whole pastoral folk-men with beards-singing ballads about mountains was an entire genre I could never get into, so I’ll leave this one up to Neil to guide your listening.
Neil: ‘Shore’ bears all the hallmarks of the Fleet Foxes previous releases, but it also feels different. The sun kissed Californian folk dream is still there, both the light and dark side, but the music and lyrics feel more nuanced and focussed. The glorious interwoven harmonies are also still there, and just as infused with warm grace. The fact that this album was deliberately released to coincide with the autumnal equinox definitely says something about its creators’ intentions.

Kologo. / Alostmen
Mark: Ghanaian band Alostmen’s music is based around the Frafra traditions of the kologo, a stringed lute, and using traditional instrumentation in entirely new ways. Rhythmic beats weave in and out of plucked instruments, Stax styled horns, and rap interludes. Apparently more than half of Ghana’s population is under 25, and this generation is re-shaping traditional music, melding all sorts of outside influences to create something new and exciting.
Neil: An infectiously, trance rhythmic, get up and move-your-body-and-dance album from the Ghanaian outfit. Overlaid with rap and occasional strings, supplied by the bandleader Stevo Atambire’s. Kologo (his hand made two-stringed lute) is a raw, gritty, and irresistible release.

Optimisme. / Songhoy Blues
Mark: Amazingly propulsive guitar rock from this exiled Northern Mali band, who featured on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this year. Full of politically charged lyrics, incendiary solos, and anthemic tracks. Definitely worth a listen if you’re an old school rocker into Led Zeppelin or Jethro Tull.
Neil: An album that crosses musical and cultural boundaries at will. ‘Optimisme’ is a joyous explosion of an album. Driving percussion, scorching guitar riffs, political, social and personal lyrics, sung in several languages that fit in perfectly with the music, and never sound laboured or preachy. The music is exhilarating and unstoppable, and you cannot but help feel that many huge stadium acts would be jealous and in awe of the energy pouring out of this release.