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.


February’s new music for Te Awe: Part 3

Here is part two of our new music picks for February. You can catch up with Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Do we actually know anything about new music? Or, are we just too old to understand what most of this is banging on about? Read on to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

February’s new music for Te Awe: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff Picks: CDs

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

Martin P’s Picks:
Back home / Big Joanie
‘Back Home’ is the second album by London-based black feminist punk trio, Big Joanie. A giant step forward musically from their debut, Sistahs, this album shows the band developing their sound in all sorts of interesting ways. Their influences go back to the 90s, with both grunge and riot grrrl getting a nod. But their music – melodic, stirring, brash – is all their own.

Penguin eggs / Jones, Nic
‘Penguin Eggs’ first came out in 1980, and is the last album of material recorded by British folk singer/songwriter, Nic Jones, before a tragic road accident brought his playing and performing days to an effective halt. Try the opening track, ‘Canadee-I-O’, for a taste of what he can do with traditional material, and his beautiful guitar technique. Fun fact: Bob Dylan recorded the same song 12 years later, ripping off Jones’ arrangement without credit.

Anaïs Mitchell / Mitchell, Anaïs
Anais Mitchell’s eponymous album, ‘Anais Mitchell’, came out in January 2022. Despite the name, it’s actually her eighth album. She was also responsible for the hit alt-musical, ‘Hadestown’, which played on Broadway and London’s West End a few years ago. Try the lovely ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ – a love song to a city as much as a person.

This is a photograph / Morby, Kevin
Kevin Morby has been around for the last ten years, and he’s been getting better and better. ‘This is a Photograph’ was released in May 2022, and it’s full of his rambling, rambunctious folk-tinged rock songs. Try the title track for a flavour of the album – but they’re all pretty good…

Vaughan’s Picks:
Kisses on the bottom / McCartney, Paul
A genuine affection for olde-timey music has been a consistent theme of Paul McCartney’s, even when he was revolutionising rock with The Beatles. So, the only real surprise about this album is that it took until 2012 for him to do it. Collecting a dozen pre-rock jazz and pop standards, along with two originals in the same vein (My Valentine and Only Our Hearts) Macca is in a thoroughly relaxed mood here. It’s the sort of thing you really could envisage listening to in the living room in the evening with a glass of wine. Time has taken its toll on his vocal range but he clearly loves these songs, this is no cynical move from a musician out of ideas but a deeply felt tribute and one of the most purely enjoyable records of his later career.

Randy Newman’s Faust / Newman, Randy
Given his lucrative side hustle composing film scores, and his knack for writing from the POV of all manner of interesting characters, it’s surprising that this is the closest Newman has come to writing a full-fledged musical. Taking Goethe’s classic work and rounding up a cast of famous faces (James Taylor, Don Henley, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt all make appearances) Newman puts a modern spin on the material. The resulting story is a bit overlong and not always easy to follow, especially if you’re not familiar with the poem. The song writing, however, demonstrates Newman’s mastery, ranging from the rousing gospel flavoured opener Glory Train to the hard rock pastiche The Man. Newman takes on the role of (who else?) the Devil, and is clearly having tremendous fun on songs like Can’t Keep a Good Man Down, done in his trademark bluesy shuffle style. The high point though, comes in the form of one of Newman’s most enduring songs, the moving ballad Feels Like Home. Sung beautifully by Bonnie Raitt here and widely covered since, its well on its way to becoming a modern pop standard and all by itself justifies giving this a listen.

Alison’s Pick:
Riderless horse / Nastasia, Nina
When I heard that Nina Nastasia was releasing another album after so long I was extremely excited, but had no idea of the hardships she had endured that caused the 12 year delay between this album and her last. Listening to the album felt bittersweet as I absorbed what had happened to her with the songs she had written about her experiences. She is a rare songwriter, and Steve Albini always brings her vision to life so beautifully and simply. This might be my favourite album of hers to date.

Mark’s Pick:
True north / a-ha
Every established artist eventually plays the ‘Orchestral’ card at some point in their career, and a-ha are the latest to do so. Supposedly inspired by Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ the band set out to record their 11th album live over three weeks in a studio 55 miles above the Arctic Circle in Bodø, backed by the Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra, and with an accompanying visual documentary highlighting the striking beauty of Norway’s nature and environment. Like most ‘concept’ type albums in probably only half succeeds in fusing their synth-pop side with their more organic sound, but nevertheless certain tracks shine, as they embrace a different chamber-folk/Jazz fusion sound that is different than anything else in their catalogue. A bit sedate on first listen, it’s an album that slowly grows on you.

Belinda’s Pick:
Kingmaker / Neilson, Tami
The latest album from powerhouse singer, writer, producer and instrumentalist Tami Neilson. Utter brilliance, but have your tissues ready for the poignant Beyond the Stars, feat Willie Nelson. An absolute must listen, this lady is a gun!

Shinji’s Picks:

Where's the one, by Congotronics International Cure the jones, by Mamas Gun Far Star, by Gilad Hekselman Healing power : the music of Carla Bley, by Steve Cardenas Ali, by Vieux Farka Touré Waiting for Columbus : live deluxe, by Little Feat

WCL podcast: The best albums of 2022


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

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

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

Mark’s Picks:

Goodbye to Love by Claudia ThompsonSgt Culpepper by Joel CulpepperOld friend : the deluxe collection (1976-1998) by Phyllis Hyman

Wet Leg, by Wet Leg

The Slam! years (1983-1988), by Hamid El Shaeri

What dreams may come by Louisa Williamson

Oghneya by Ferkat Al Ard

Thee Sacred Souls, by Sacred Souls

Autofiction, by Suede

Vulture Prince, by Arooj Aftab

Neil’s Picks:

How is it that I should look at the stars, by Weather StationVital, by Big BraveKingmaker, by Tami Neilson

Rhythm revolution, by Ferry Djimmy

American Epic

A light for attracting attention, by The Smile

Electricity, by Ibibio Sound Machine

Midnight Rocker by Andy Horace

Recordings from the Åland Islands, by Jeremiah Chiu

The unfolding, by Hannah Peel

Some titles that came close to our ‘Top Ten’:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October’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? Read on to find out…

Live / Hathaway, Lalah
Mark: Live collection from the five time Grammy award winner, and daughter of soul legend Donny Hathaway, who is performing a tribute to the music of her father for one night only with the NZSO as part of the Wellington Jazz Festival on October 19th. She has a warm, rich, mellow voice with a tibre similar to her father’s but, more importantly, possesses the same sense of spiritual yearning and earthy presence based around real singing and artistry. Recorded at the historic Troubadour Theater in Los Angeles, the same place where her father recorded half of his seminal 1972 album, she melds R&B and jazz elements, covers and originals, and plenty of old-school 70s soul vibes. Sure to be a great Festival show.
Neil: Despite being a winner of numerous Grammy awards, Lalah Hathaway is still, amazingly, not that particularly well known outside R&B circles. However, to those in the know, her live performances are major events and totally unmissable. This re-release of her 2015 live album more than demonstrates why; her mesmerising, scintillating, emotive and technically perfect performance, coupled with her silk-smooth soulful voice, shine through the album

The song is you / Rava, Enrico
Mark: Italy has probably the strongest native jazz scene outside of America and trumpeter Enrico Rava, along with pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, are perhaps the most well known figures internationally. This ECM release pairs Rava with American pianist Fred Hersch for a set of moody originals and classic standards. The album straddles the line: with atonal improvisation and straight-ahead playing, mixing together on both the originals and the standards to create an ongoing tension. It’s not easy background music by any means, as the tracks are full of melodic invention and searching abstraction. Accessible but also challenging at the same time. Reminded me a bit of the classic meeting between Chet Baker & Paul Bley.
Neil: ‘The song is you opens’ with a track that has strong links to the mellow jazz of musicians like Chet Baker. But, just as you think you have a handle on the album, it quickly moves on to more improvisational territory without ever totally losing sight of its late night ultra-cool jazz harmonic core. ‘The song is you’ ventures out into slightly more unfamiliar territory than the opening track might suggest, making the album its own unique self, rather than a homage to the past jazz greats that the musicians are clearly referencing.

Cure the jones / Mamas Gun
Mark: Mamas Gun are a UK soul group, based around singer/composer/producer Andy Platts, and ‘Cure the jones’ is their fifth album. If you thought that retro-soul re-creations were strictly a US affair this will change your mind, as this 5-piece London outfit delivers a massive slice of Delfonics/Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions/Bill Withers styled 70s soul worship. If you listened to the recent Silk Sonic album & thought ‘this sounds great, if only they weren’t so obviously taking the p***’ then this is the album for you to listen to next. Sublime harmonies, funky rhythms, sweeping strings and lush arrangements; these songs tackle themes of love and intimacy equally as well as those of social issues and unrest. Impressive.
Neil: The fifth release from the UK based soul outfit Mamas Gun finds them very much in classic 70’s soul territory. The lyrics are more up to date, with contemporary issues and the state of the world explored. In places, their classic 70’s soul, rock, and doo-wop sounds are reminiscent of the Delfonics or The Stylistics. It’s a lush and deep soul album, with multi-layered vocals and carefully orchestrated music produced using vintage equipment to help capture that sound. A thoroughly convincing recreation of the soul music of that time that will win them many fans.

Step on step / Stepney, Charles
Mark: A posthumous collection of home recordings from Charles Stepney, a legend in R&B circles as a producer and arranger who helped define the sound of Chicago soul, who had big hits with bands like Earth Wind & Fire, The Dells, Marlena Shaw, & Minnie Riperton’s influential band Rotary Connection, among others. Stepney passed away suddenly aged only 46, and while his work was sampled heavily by generations of Hip-Hop artists he remained a largely unknown figure. The music collected here was created by Stepney alone, a series of instrumental sketches with a few full tracks with vocals, recorded in the basement of his home in Chicago during the late ’60s, early ’70s. Despite a lot of these tracks being demos, some of which would go on to be hits, there is a lot happening with overdubbed piano lines, keys, vibes & drums. His work is so deeply melodic, it’s unsurprising his fans ranged from Burt Bacharach to Elton John to Stevie Wonder. An artist with a singular vision who ranks up there with Thom Bell or Norman Whitfield as a producer, whose lasting legacy is already getting further exploration.
Neil: Legendary R&B producer Charles Stepney died tragically at the age of 45. Before his death he helped define the classic Chicago soul sound, working closely with the likes of The Rotary Connection and Earth Wind and Fire. His output would subsequently be heavily sampled by a whole host of rappers. ‘Step on step’ is an anthology of previously unreleased demo recordings, discovered by his daughters, that displays the intimate side to his music. In the recordings you can hear the blueprints to many classic songs rather than the finished pieces themselves, while some tracks are more complete than others in form. It’s a treasure trove of stems and ideas he would have subsequently gone out and formed into complete tracks, and a fascinating insight into one artist’s creative process.

King Scratch : musical masterpieces from the Upsetter ark-ive / Perry, Lee
Mark: One of the greatest Jamaican producers of all time, his music transformed Reggae forever. To mark the first anniversary of his passing, this posthumous box features material that spans his entire career. Trying to distill it down to two CDs was obviously too difficult, so in addition to this 2CD set, there is also an expanded set that features 4LPs & 4CDs of material. Compiled by Reggae authority David Katz, it also features an extensive overview of Perry’s career and features a lot of rare 12″ and 7″ mixes. Even if you are familiar with his work, there’s plenty to appreciate here.
Neil: For many artists, a four CD Box set would be sufficient to cover all the key areas of their work. But for the late, great, and hugely influential Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, this box set only manages to cover just one aspect of his vast body of work. ‘King Scratch’ focuses mainly on his work as a producer during the 1960’s and 1970’s, when Perry was one of the most important and in demand Reggae producers around. As such, it features mainly 7-inch single mixes aimed at the mainstream Reggae market, rather than his more experimental or adventurous Dub work. That said, there are many unusual and revolutionary elements incorporated into these songs, and many timeless reggae classics in the compilation, as well as a number of rare tracks, some unreleased outside of Jamaica. It’s a nice combination, making it of great interest to both novice and seasoned Reggae fans.

Doggerel / Pixies (Musical group)
Mark: This is the 4th album since The Pixies reunited with 2014’s collection of EPs Indie Cindy, with Head Carrier following in 2016, then Beneath the Eyrie in 2019. No band could claim as big a legacy and lasting influence as The Pixies, and so starting again without Kim Deal was always going to be an uphill climb. Observing this new journey was often a painful experience, but each album was better than the previous effort, culminating in ‘Doggerel’, where the band seems more comfortable than before in melding a more conventional indie rock sound, with some of the idiosyncratic music and lyrical content of the past. There’s still a quiet menace and strangeness beneath their work, but the raw screaming power has been left behind, perhaps fitting for the now decidedly middle aged band. Supposedly begun as material earmarked for a retro-Americana solo album by Black Francis, reshaped for the band it presents an engaging, sophisticated, roadhouse rock-along, slow burn.
Neil: For many the Pixies created modern alternative rock, rescuing it from the indulgences of mainstream rock of the time. Their loud/quiet/loud/quiet structure and lyrics: a potent mix of lust, surrealism, Latin-American themes, Old Testament Biblical tropes and sci-fi, leave a big legacy to live up to. ‘Doggerel’ is their eight album, the fourth in their reunion configuration, and is easily the best of their albums under the new line-up. All the vintage trademark sounds and themes are in there, plus a measured and more matured approach to the songs. It’s a great album that will definitely please fans, but as totally entrancing and accomplished as their classic gold standard albums of the past? Perhaps! Why not listen and decide for yourself.

Revenge of the she-punks
Mark: Revenge of the She-Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot is an acclaimed 2019 book by punk musician & journalist Vivien Goldman. The punk genre, perhaps more than any other, embraces the political power of popular music, with its critique of culture and push for change and recognition. The book told the story of female punk via thirty-eight songs from women all over the world, not just Western musicians, and while this new compilation was inspired by the book, it can’t quite cover that same breadth of material. However, it does a pretty good job to showcase a representative selection and shows how women adopted the genre for completely different reasons than men: using the music to create self expression while marginalised and disenfranchised, critiquing repressive social and cultural norms, carving out demands around identity, protesting, as well as creating supportive local communities. A great tribute to female musicians whose music shaped the environments around them, as well as making some great music.
Neil: Vivien Goldman “ the punk professor” was a pioneering punk musician herself. Her 2019 book Revenge of the she-punks takes a long overdue feminist look at the pivotal and central role women took in the musical history of the movement, and especially why punk proved to be a particularly liberating art form for women. The punk movement was always an approach to life, art and society; its music always embraced a much wider musical spectrum than the stereotypical loud, fast, three-chord power song, and this was especially the case with female punk musicians and bands. This new compilation demonstrates female punks boundary smashing ethics to the full. The release spreads its net widely: we have artists as diverse as X Ray Spex, Grace Jones, Patti Smith, The Selecter, Blondie and Neneh Cherry, to name but a few. The strong links between Punk and Reggae and Ska are explored, as well as many other musical genres. It’s an awesome compilation in its own right, and the fact that it shines a different light of the movement is wonderful to hear.

Box Set Pick:
Yankee hotel foxtrot [deluxe] / Wilco
Mark: This super deluxe edition poses the question: ‘Is a single album really worth an 8 CD set of extended material’? So much has been written about this album already, and some of the surrounding events were captured on film, but few modern rock albums have managed to achieve the ‘Behind the Music’ aura of drama that shrouded the creation of ‘Yankee hotel foxtrot’. One of the most complete box sets ever assembled to excavate an album’s creation from demos: to works in progress, to the final released product, to its live counterparts and it’s a journey along many (many) roads not taken. Each song seems to have been tried in a myriad of genres and arrangements, all of which could have resulted in completely different albums: from the style of their original country origins, to the power-pop of previous album Summerteeth, to a more abstract sample driven aesthetic. There is plenty of material that never made the final track list at all, making for a fascinating insight into the creative process for hardcore fans. A great hardback book also accompanies the set, with interviews and archival quotes telling the warts and all story of the albums evolution.
Neil: Much has been written about the creation of Wilco’s fourth album ‘Yankee Hotel foxtrot’, indeed there is a whole mythology that has grown up to surround its creation. There were major arguments with the record label, who initially refused to release it. The band entered an almost hermetic existence when they were recording the songs. They also ended up sacking their first drummer in the process, all documented in the film I am trying to break your heart. Since its release, however, the album quickly came to be regarded as one of the greatest albums of the 2000’s; it’s an atmospheric, arty and complex work that employed the bands own take on psychedelic music, with more experimental components than previous outings. When it was released, it went on to become Wilco’s best-selling album, and this super deluxe version has the remastered original album, demos, alternative versions of tracks and rare live recordings. Rolling Stone made it number three in their 100 best albums of that decade, and Pitchfork gave this deluxe release a perfect score of 10.