May’s NZMM Reviews: Part 3 – Wellington CD/Vinyl Mix

Here is part 3 of our New Zealand Music Month Music picks for May. You can catch up with Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. This is a mix of some recent, and some older, Wellington releases and reissues on CD & Vinyl.

New Zealand Music Month logo - May 2023

I’ll hum the first few bars / Long, David
Mark: The new David Long is a quasi-classical/experimental album of commissioned pieces. The title track for chamber orchestra, electric guitar and mechatronics was commissioned by Orchestra Wellington and recorded with Stroma. The rest of the tracks were composed for Douglas Wright’s dance work, ‘Rapt’, and are performed by David Long and Jeff Henderson. The orchestral track explores the collision of structured string parts with punk rhythm’s and instrumentation, while the unusual instrumentation of the ‘Rapt’ tracks feature feedback, banjos, toy percussion, accordion, making the music a character in the larger drama of the choreography.
Neil: Just last year David Long released Ash and Bone, a gorgeously suite of pieces that defy easy generic categorisation, which David described as a work that makes “a constellation of musical styles but never quite rests in any one of them”. The same holds true for ‘I’ll Hum the First Few Bars’, a recording as texturally rich and sonically expressive as we have come to expect from this bold and inventive composer.

Wāhine / Griffin, Hannah
Mark: Wāhine’ is an album of poetry by New Zealand women set to music. Our catalogue files it under vocalist Hannah Griffin, but like a lot of Rattle Records projects it’s really a collaborative effort by Griffin, pianist Norman Meehan, and Thomas Voyce (ex-Rhombus) on everything else. Blair Latham (bass clarinet) and Nick van Dijk (flugelhorn) provide some additional coloring on some tracks. The poems are from Hinemoana Baker, Cilla McQueen, and Janet Frame, all re-framed into an amalgam of Electronic textures, processed elements & vocals, & Jazz stylings and phrasing. The arrangements are quite varied, moving from moody and minimal to larger soundscapes, and often quite funky in places.
Neil: ‘Wāhine’ by Hannah Griffin is an album of exceptional New Zealand Aotearoa poems by the likes of Hinemoana Baker, Cilla McQueen, and Janet Frame set to music and released on the outstanding Rattle Label. It is notoriously difficult to set poems convincingly to music, perhaps because they contain their own rhythmic structure, but this collection stunningly avoids any pitfalls, largely because the musicians treat the poems as lyrics. This might seem like a small point but it makes a world of difference, allowing the songs to flow. The end result is very beautiful, atmospheric, mellow, melodic and often melancholic work, with minimalist slightly Jazz undercurrents .

Apart / Bergman, Teresa
Mark: Teresa Bergman is a musician originally from Lower Hutt, who finished fifth on New Zealand Idol in 2005. She moved to Berlin a few years later and found success there as a street busker before being signed to a local label. She has just released her third solo album 33 Single & Broke, which has gotten great reviews. This is her 2nd album, ‘Apart’, which was released in 2019 on the German label Jazzhaus Records. She has a distinctive, rich, jazzy voice that merges Jazz stylings and rhythms, with sophisticated contemporary singer-songwriting, to dig into the knotty subtexts and contradictions of modern relationships.
Neil: Teresa Bergman’s rich, powerful and versatile neo soul jazz voice is at the centre of this album about separation. It is a very impressive, and at points intense, pop-soul outing with strong jazz elements and some folk and experimental moments. And definitely displays a deep emotional honesty in its lyrics.

Swings & roundabouts / Lockett, Mark
Mark: Local drummer Mark Lockett took this set of compositions for his 7th album, composed during lockdown, to New York once the travel restrictions lifted. Employing NY heavyweights David Binney, Duane Eubanks, and expat Kiwi Matt Penman, he eschews a pianist to focus on the chord-less playing that he prefers. Harks back to the late 50s/Early 60s Atlantic albums of Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell. But this is structured rather than free-form playing, with this engaging set of twisty rhythmically complex tunes.
Neil: ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ is a straight down the line jazz album by New Zealand drummer Mark Lockett . It’s his seventh release and can be described as an adventurous and fresh free-form jazz album, which avoids the more discordant places some free form jazz albums explore. It displays a very high level of musicianship and creativity and should have a great appeal for fans of this particular musical genre.

Heroine : the Wild Poppies complete collection (1986-1989) / Wild Poppies
Mark: Formed in 1986, local band The Wild Poppies quickly released a debut album, then relocated to the UK and made a name for themselves in the fledgling Oxford music scene, touring with Ride and Swervedriver, before the advent of rave culture came to dominate the UK scene, and eclipsed their sound. This release compiles, for the first time, their long out-of-print “Heroine” LP on Poppie Records, the “Stare at the Sun” 7”, the “Out of Time” EP as well as some later day demos. An interesting slice of local jangle pop history, from a band that made a lot of local headlines at the time. They had a sound that still resonates locally, and perhaps would have lasted longer in NZ, rather than the ever evolving nature of UK music at that fertile late 80s/early 90s period.
Neil: This rerelease covers pretty much the entire catalogue of mid 80’s jangle pop maestros The Wild Poppies . Sadly, fate wasn’t to be on their side, as their jangly pop sound much beloved in the early eighties was soon to be commercially eclipsed and swept aside by dance culture. The band split soon after the release of their swan song EP. Their trademark ‘warm wall of sound’ is very much on display and the album is a must listen for fans of Neo-Psychedelic pop, 80’s indie pop, and especially jangle-pop with its distinctive guitar sound.

Questions in red / Lavën, Oscar
Mark: More local Jazz from go-to local tenor sax man Oscar Lavën, who is part of numerous local ensembles and guested on numerous projects from The Roger Fox Big Band, to the Wellington Shake-Em-On-Downers. The band includes local players Mike Taylor on trumpet, John Rae on drums, Patrick Bleakley on bass & Ayrton Foote on piano. All the compositions are by Lavën, who embraces elements of the old and the contemporary in his playing. These guys have played so many Jazz Festivals and gigs together that you can feel the simpatico musical sense between, resulting in a set of expertly performed Jazz. Improvisational in places, but mostly just a swinging set that lets his sax playing shine in various contexts that are always engaging, with their different musical shades and colours.
Neil: Oscar Lavën’s ‘Questions in red’ is one of those oh so cool late night café Jazz offerings. it oozes mellow, chilled and romantic tones. Superbly executed cool Jazz boasting topflight musicianship with touches of Monk and Mingus, which isn’t surprising as he covers some of their work. Oscar also displays his own joyful exploration of his own jazz musicianship throughout.

Haunted / Mina’s Veil
Mark: Mina’s veil are a neoclassical dark-wave band, so there are a lot of soaring soprano lines backed up with rich orchestral accompaniment. They’re inspired by Victorian Gothic novels, fairy tales, myths & legends and have just released their 2nd album ‘Haunted’. Ethereal meets classical, gothic bells and sweeping orchestrations that have a rich, cinematic feel of dramatic crescendos and interludes.
Neil: ‘Haunted’ by Mina’s Veil is a rich gothic melodramatic work, with strong romantic classical overtones, with lyrics sung in soaring soprano heavily inspired by Victorian novels and fairy tales. It is very cinematic in feel and structure. Music that evokes mist-soaked moors, decaying castles and doomed lovers in flock coats.

Ego death / Bryant, Danica
Mark: Danica Bryant, a singer-songwriter who grew up in Hawke’s Bay, and is now based in Wgtn. We are big fans of hers and actually filmed her gig at Gardens Magic in 2021, which you can find on our YouTube channel. ‘Ego Death’ is her sophomore EP, and moves away from the acoustic folky feel of her debut, for a brighter pop-banger focus. Every track here is just super catchy and melodic, while the biting lyrics reveal a caustic juxtaposition of the bitter & the sweet.
Neil: Danica Bryant is one most exciting and rising stars in the Aotearoa / New Zealand pop World. ‘Ego Death’, her sophomore EP, amply displays why, with thoughtful and carefully crafted pop songs which encompasses catchy sugary pop hooks coupled with her memorable lyrics. This is just her second release but you can hear an artist growing in confidence and musical artistry not to mention skill. Danica is already a major artist whose work seems destined to reach a huge mainstream international audience sooner or later.

Melanchole / Johann, Daniel [Also on VINYL]
Mark: ‘Melanchole’ is a set of lo-fi pop songs recorded by the enigmatic Daniel Johann in 2012 when he was 15 years old, and originally self-released in 2013 digitally on Bandcamp under the moniker Salvia Palth. The album went on to become a viral internet sensation, garnering over 100 million streams on Spotify and a large TikTok following, which is only growing. The track “I was all over her” alone now has nearly a quarter of a billion streams on Spotify. In 2016, Melanchole was remastered and released on vinyl with a new track listing. The first pressing sold out within the first 24 hours it was released and this is, I believe, now the 3rd pressing, and it’s 10th Anniversary. Sludgy reverb and crackly production define this atmospheric bedroom pop that has become a beloved cult piece, with its (many) musical imperfections somehow coming to define the messy angst of teenage awkwardness & alienation.
Neil: Daniel Johann aka Salvia Palth aka Adore is an artist well worth checking out, as he has adopted a variety of different musical styles and guises over the years. This his 2013 album was released under the moniker of Salvia Palth and it’s a lo fi melancholic, dream pop slow burner, with heavy duty shoegaze and emo influences. It reminded me a little of the iconic Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. The lyrics are about longing, alienation with a dense nocturnal feel to them. The music has that dreamy, bittersweet hypnotic quality to it. If this is your scene, it’s well worth a listen.

The band from Wellington, New Zealand / Dartz [Also on VINYL]
Mark: DARTZ bring their party-pop-punk aesthetic to life in Wellington in a series of short punchy songs that seem to focus on beers, shitty flats, house parties, bad dealers, Toyota corollas, and getting high. However, if the titles of these songs imply a somewhat shallow sense of fun, that is definitely not the case. Beneath the tongue-in-cheek references, the adopted personas, video antics, and seemingly mundane takes of life in NZ, are tracks with reflective and insightful lines that elevate the material, using the genre to touch on social issues around housing, anxiety, politicians, religious figures, colonisation, mental health and more. A funny and clever album, whose success lies in just the right balance of goofy fun and serious intent.
Neil: Wellington party punk band the Dartz started life as a dare. When they went for a support slot for one of their favourite bands the mullet heavy The Chats. Problem was, at that point in time, they were a totally fictitious outfit – not a band at all, just the idea of a band. But after a frenetic couple of weeks actually putting together and creating a band, they did play that support slot and to their surprise had a rapturous crowd, and the rest as they say is history. Their songs are fast, raucous, often laced with sly humour and mainly about drinking, drugging and having wild party times and fun. “Twenty-four beers and only two free hands” indeed.

Unholy rapture / Dark Divinity [Also on VINYL]
Mark: After 4 singles, a debut EP, and numerous personnel changes, including the departure of vocalist Jolene Tempest, Dark Divinity serve up their debut album. Chunky riffs and precise playing highlight the melodic strain of Death Metal on display here. The return to male vocals with Jesse Wheeler and new guitarist Jiji Aligno add different dimensions to the sound. To non-Metaler’s it may sound a bit samey, but within each track they offer up plenty of technical nuances, shifts in speed and textures to satisfy any Metal fan.
Neil: ‘Unholy rapture’ is Dark Divinity’s debut release, but from the sophistication and confidence of the tracks you would never know. There are elements of black Metal and Death metal, but Dark Divinity has higher aspirations than just being a genre follower. Instead they are out to forge and create their own unique sound. If you like your music dark, fast, furious and brutal, but with an inner melodic core then this should suit you.

Te oranga / Little Bushman [Also on CD]
Mark: Little Bushman were a 2000s group with members who had prominent roles in other local bands. Comprised of Warren Maxwell (Trinity Roots), Rick Cranson, and brothers Joe & Tom Callwood, ‘Te oranga’ was the bands 3rd album, now pressed on Vinyl for the first time. Their mix of proggy, psych 60s & 70s influences, with a moody deep roots-rock folk sound, gave their albums a dynamic sprawling feel, full of space for the music to roam. ‘Te oranga’ is a more more mellow, than the heavier Pendulum that preceded it, with a more soulful keys vibe, Te Reo elements and social commentary. Though this often runs up against the ponderous ‘cosmic’ searching that typifies any ‘prog’ influenced music, the juxtaposition of styles works more often than not, giving their a music a unique energy.
Neil: ‘Te oranga’ is the third album by the legendary local band Little Bushman originally released in 2011. This very welcome Vinyl reissue demonstrates their stunning haunting, blues and 60s psychedelic folk rock trademark sound perfectly. The lyrics, as well as having a space rock vibe, also deal with big issues such as the negative influence of technology in the 21st century. The musicianship on show is exceptional and the vocal delivery of Warren Maxwell points the way towards the other hugely acclaimed band he is part of, Trinity Roots.

The Pacifier album / Shihad [Also on CD]
Mark: 2022 Vinyl reissue of Shihad’s fifth studio album. The 2002 album was a bid for the American market with the band’s name changed to ‘Pacifier’ to avoid associations with the word ‘Jihad’. Derided by fans, and not much liked by the band itself, the music from this period is certainly more commercial, much cleaner sounding, and obviously an attempt at a more commercial sound. Indeed Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland and DJ Lethal (Limp Bizkit) both feature on the track ‘Coming Down’. Listening to it again today it has actually aged better than you might think, and while it is somewhat generic in places, it has quite a bit in common with that mid-period ‘Foo Fighters’ sound, which itself has achieved an almost classicist position with American rock music. Over polished but worthy of reevaluation.
Neil: Shihad’s trademark interpretation nu-metal, post grunge hard rock (not to mention some excellent albums) had led the band to the top of the rock scene in Aotearoa. All they needed to do now was conquer the American market, but like many bands before them it didn’t quite work out as they expected. Indeed, the band nearly split for good whilst recording and touring this album. It’s a testament to their resilience as a band that they released an album at all. In short, the pressure to release a huge, bestselling album led to conflict and division all round. The resulting album divides opinion both within their fan base and the band itself with one reviewer scathingly calling it a “12 track green card application”. It’s not that bad; just too smoothed out and polished for it to be one of their best releases or play to the bands many strengths.

They seek my head / End Boss [VINYL only]
Mark: The debut album, following 2019 single Feral, and 2020 two song EP Heart of the Sky. Stoner/doom/sludge metal 4 piece that features Nathan Hickey from Beastwars, and guitarists Greg Broadmore and Christian Pearce from Ghidoragh. The key weapon, though, is vocalist E.J. Thorpe, who really shows how much difference in textures and stylings a female vocalist can have on heavy oriented music. Big distorted riffs combine with a darkly symphonic sound, occult vibes and hard-rock/bluesy vocals, filtering in unexpected influences from shoegaze to alt-rock, to create a unique blues-metal kind of sound.
Neil: The debut release from heavy rock, sludge metal band End Boss ‘They Seek my Head’ is a powerful, dark stoner release. The tunes are built round a solid bedrock of relentless pounding drums, heavy duty riffs and truly impressive vocals delivered by EJ Thorpe, which are very carefully incorporated into the mix so as not to get lost. They also sound like the kind of band that would peel the paint of the walls live.

May’s NZMM Reviews: Part 2 – NZ Vinyl

Here is part 2 of our New Zealand Music Month Music picks for May. You can catch up with Part 1 here. This is a selection of some recent New Zealand material we acquired for our collection that is exclusive to vinyl only.

New Zealand Music Month logo - May 2023

Pū whenua hautapu, eka mumura / Kingi, Troy
Mark: The Te Reo reworking of Troy Kingi’s award-winning 2020 album Holy Colony Burning Acres. Politically charged reggae of the finest order, reworking the album from a Māori world view, storytelling recreates the beginning of the journey out of darkness, and follows the challenges, struggles and hopes of numerous iwi from Aotearoa, and the larger world around us.

Neil: : Part of Troy Kingi’s hugely ambitious and so far, stunning ten albums in ten years in ten genres project. ‘Pū whenua hautapu, eka mumura’ is the Te Reo Māori version of the multi award winning ‘Holy Colony Burning Acres’, the third instalment of that project. It is an album that demonstrates a deep multi layered awareness of Aotearoa’s history and culture, a storytelling album that has sublime and subtle musicianship and production delivered with heart and passion.

Sweetheart / SJD
Mark: SJD (Aucklander Sean James Donnelly) returns with another slice of catchy electronic pop, his first since 2015’s Saint John Divine, full of bleeps and glitches beneath the warm melodies. An underrated, yet influential, figure within the NZ music scene, this is another album full of songs offering uplifting hope, optimism and sweet romanticism wrapped in shimmery art-pop, that reminded me a bit of some of the Lightning Seeds work.

Neil: SJD aka Sean John Donnelly’s post lock down album deals with the universal themes of loneliness, isolation and sadness, emotions and feelings that many experienced during this time. It’s called ‘Sweetheart’ after chocolate variety selection boxes that often employ that shape, and because the tracks feature a wide selection of guest contributions from some of NZ’s best-known musicians and singers such as Tami Neilson. It’s an accomplished work with elements of off kilter 70’s synth pop, and also traditional singer songwriter components.

Continue reading “May’s NZMM Reviews: Part 2 – NZ Vinyl”

NZMM Reviews: Part 1 – Wellington Vinyl

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

New Zealand Music Month logo - May 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


April’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

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

Love in exile / Aftab, Arooj
Mark: After the huge critical success of Vulture Prince, it was hard to envision what Grammy Award-winning singer, composer, and producer Arooj Aftab would do next. Back in 2018 she performed a live improvisational, experimental, set with Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, and they subsequently played several concerts together. New album ‘Love in exile’ captures this trio in an improvised live in the studio setting. Soulful piano, and low rumbling bass & synth textures create a lot of space for her beautiful voice to wander in and out with lines of Urdu poetry, and random vocalising, creating a mesmerizing, languorous and haunting musical journey, full of mystery and quiet longing.

Neil: ‘Love in Exile’ was recorded live in the studio and features just three musicians. It is an intensely beautiful work; an album stripped back to an absolute minimum, an approach that ensures that each component shines. Arooj Aftab’s spectral voice weaves in and out of the bass and keys that create the rest of the tracks. There are some very atmospheric Moog synth elements, as well as some electric organ. Aftab’s voice is truly remarkable, and we rightly raved about her 2021 album Vulture Prince. As some reviews have noted the musicians are in almost telepathic communication with each other. Intricate, subtle, expressive, atmospheric and moving. Another truly remarkable work from this musician.

London brew : inspired by Miles Davis’ Bitches brew / London Brew
Mark: London Brew is a British jazz collective including Nubya Garcia, Tom Skinner, and multiple members of Sons of Kemet. In 2020 well known Swedish pop producer (and UK Jazz fan) Martin Terefe assembled some top British jazzers to play a series of gigs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew. Cancelled by the pandemic the collective regrouped for a 3 day studio session after U.K.’s second quarantine ended and this, recorded on the third day, is the result. This is very much an ‘improvisational’ homage, as opposed to a straight recreation of the album, and there is no actual trumpet at all, with the lead instruments being the tenor saxophones of Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings. I can’t claim to be be a fusion fan, but its dense elements, modern touches and interplay provide plenty of threads to pull for those who regard Bitches Brew as a seminal work.

Neil: ‘Bitches Brew’ was fifty years old in 2020 and a series of gig inspired by the album was planned by some of the leading lights of the current London Jazz scene, but Covid put pay to the plans. However, five days after the U.K.’s second quarantine ended the musicians involved went into the studio and this is album is the result. ‘London Brew’ operates at the outer edges of frenetic psychedelic Jazz and, whilst it is true in spirit to the landmark album it references, it is very much its own beast. Eccentric, eclectic dark tinged and constantly changing and in flux. It occasionally utilises some credited loops and samples from the original. I suspect that it very much depends on what you think of the original will dictate your reaction to this work. For the record I loved it, like its inspiration it is imaginative, restless, powerful and constantly in motion. A fabulous reaction to the original piece.

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

April’s new music for Te Awe: Part 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

Here is part two of our new music picks for March. You can catch up with Part 1 here. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out.
[Ed: Neil was busy this week preparing for his CubaDupa exhibition at Thistle Hall, so you have to suffer through Mark’s reviews without any sensible counterpoint…]

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

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

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

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